A police car ramped off a car parked on the side of the road, launching twenty feet into the air before it began to flip end over over. At the apex of its flight it exploded into a fireball that obscured the entire vehicle before its forward momentum and gravity brought it out of the flaming cloud to crash back onto the street. With a bounce, it landed on its somehow still intact wheels and the smoke covered driver floored the accelerator pedal, resuming their chase of the escaping bad guys.
Aside from its missing windows, omnipresent smoke stains, and some artful tongues of fire that were still burning, the car showed no discernible reduction in capacity related to the “Battle Damage” it had sustained after being hit with a rocket launcher.
“You know even with actual magic, I don’t think that would be possible,” Tam said, closing her eyes and leaning back against the lower part of her couch.
Cynthia, sitting on the couch above Tam, took the opportunity to adjust where she was massaging Tam’s head before answering.
“That’s the joy of these movies,” she said. “If you think about them at all you get brain whiplash.”
“No. Must. Overanalyze. Must. Science. Silly. Film. Geek. Cred. Demands. It.” Tam said in her best robotic voice.
“I thought you were going to rest that big juicy brain of yours tonight?” Cynthia asked, running her fingers slowly through Tam’s hair.
“Nitpicking movies is how my people rest,” Tam said, feeling tension that she hadn’t imagined she was carrying in her scalp melt away under Cynthia’s careful minstations.
“Well, lucky for you then, the stunts get a lot less plausible after this,” Cynthia said as the police car on the TV screen slid through an impossibly sharp turn and somehow wound up racing horizontally along the side of a building.
Tam chuckled when the car managed to reorient itself to land on its wheels in between camera cuts.
“Now that one, I could do,” she said. “But it would have to be near the middle of winter and I’d need a bucket of untainted spring water blessed by two opposing religious factions.”
Cynthia paused her work on Tam’s head.
“You realize I have no hope of figuring out when you’re being serious and when you’re pulling my leg, right?” she asked.
“Lying about magic is no fun,” Tam said. “It’s too easy, even with other magicians, and usually the truth is so much weirder and more interesting.”
“So everything you tell me is the truth?” Cynthia asked, both playful and serious at the same time.
“I hope so,” Tam said, curiosity rushing in with a thousand guesses as to where Cynthia’s question was leading. “I mean, I can always be wrong about things, but I don’t want to ever deceive you. I do that too much in both of my jobs. And I’ve seen what lying can do to a relationship. Or what it always does.”
“Yeah, I’ve lost a few thanks to one or both of us not being honest with the other,” Cynthia said. “It’s never pretty.”
“I don’t know that it’s something people grow out of,” Tam said, “but I hope that’s not going to be an issue for us. I feel like at 30, I should have learned enough of those lessons by now that being an actual grownup with a woman I care for shouldn’t be all that much to ask of myself.”
“I know what you mean,” Cynthia said. “Being with you is so easy, but there’s a part of me that’s still waiting for me to make one of the thousand stupid mistakes I made as a kid.”
“Maybe we should,” Tam said.
“Make mistakes,” Tam said. “I don’t mean we should get into a fight for no reason, or go on a wild bender that leaves us with warrants across five states, I mean the simple screw ups. The things we can talk about. You’re so great to be with, but you don’t have to be great all the time. I want to be with you even if you’re feeling pretty mediocre. I want to be with you even if you’re feeling terrible. No matter how you are, I want to be with you.”
Cynthia let her hands drift down to Tam’s shoulders.
“Ok, well then maybe I should ask this,” she said. “What would you think about moving in together? I know we’ve only known each other for a few months now, so I will absolutely understand if you want to let things develop more gradually. I don’t want to rush you at all, I was just thinking that you need someone to watch your place while you’re on the road anyway and it’s always easier to cover rent with a roommate and…”
Before Cynthia could list off anymore reasons, Tam placed her hands over Cynthia’s and leaned her head over to hug Cynthia’s leg.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to ask you that for the past week,” she said, with a chuckle.
“Yeah,” Tam said. “I mean, I’ve kind of felt like I was going with the sneaky weasel option of achieving the same thing by just being over here all the time anyways lately, but, yeah, I’ve been thinking I should ask you if you wanted to make it an official thing for a while now.”
“God. I’ve been trying to figure out if it was too soon, and how I should ask you, since the second time you slept over for two nights in a row,” she said.
Tam shook her head and sighed.
“Would you believe I talked myself out of staying a third night that time because I didn’t want you to feel too crowded?” she said. “Yes, I am a grownup. A grownup idiot.”
“Hey! We already did it then!” Cynthia said. “You said we should make mistakes together right? Look at us, on the ball and having it covered even before we knew we were supposed to be trying to mess up. Go us!”
Tam laughed and then turned around to climb up and meet Cynthia’s gaze at eye level.
“I am very lucky to have found you,” she said. “I know that and I think I’ve been holding back because I’m afraid if I show you how much you mean to me it’ll seem freaky, and I know I’m already super freaky as it is.”
Cynthia looked startled for the length of a heartbeat but then leaned forward and gave Tam a quick but gentle kiss before replying.
“Dating you has literally been out of this world,” she said. “I love the freaky parts of you and the regular parts. I love you, so you don’t need to hold back. I want you, all of you, or at least all you’re willing to give me, because I know I am very lucky to have met you too.”
Tam heard all of that but three simple words in the middle of it bounced back and forth in her head and drowned out all the rest.
She wanted to kiss Cynthia back. She wanted to make an even grander, more romantic gesture, possibly involving magic, or stagecraft, or both. She wanted to at least say those three words in return to Cynthia.
But her phone rang.
Before Tam could stop her, Cynthia reached over and picked it up.
“I’m your answering service tonight, remember?” she said.
It was part of Tam’s enforced rest that Cynthia had insisted upon. The world might be in dire need of Tam, but it was also as likely to be calling for tech support or to schedule something that could wait till later. Without putting up much resistance, Tam had agreed to the notion that Cynthia could handle any incoming calls that seemed important enough to answer in order to weed out the ones that Tam really didn’t need to deal with.
“Hello, you’ve reached Tam Le’s personal assistant, how may I handle your call?” Cynthia asked and after a moment added, “Oh, hi Val. Yeah, she’s in, is this important though? She’s still pretty wiped out.”
Tam waited and felt the tension that Cynthia had massaged out of her scalp starting to gather again.
“Refugees from an old west ghost town?” Cynthia said and Tam felt herself deflate.
She knew what that had to be a reference to. She’d been lining up hundreds of potential cases, but the one revolving around the Old West town of Bright Springs had been in the Top 10 likely problem areas. That Val was calling about it suggested James had been able to track down the missing contract information and Bright Springs had gone from Top 10 to Number 1.
A pang of guilt passed through Tam at the thought that Anna and Val had been forced to deal with the problem without her, but she had to also admit that in the state she’d been in she would have been more of a liability that an asset.
The idea that the resolution had left them with refugees to deal with bothered her too though. It suggested a more destructive end to the case than she’d foreseen in her research on it. That was another sign that she’d been slipping from fatigue but also a sign that Anna and Val might have been in a lot more danger than they’d planned for.
“Ok, I’ll see what sort of shape she’s in tomorrow then and we’ll head over after breakfast,” Cynthia said before hanging up.
“Did Bright Springs explode or something?” Tam asked once Cynthia put the phone down.
“Umm, yes, I think?” Cynthia said. “Val didn’t give me the whole story but it sounds like there was a town with people from another era that need a place to live now. So I’m guessing the town they were in isn’t there anymore?”
“That’s not great,” Tam said. “The town I left them notes for, it was a place called Bright Springs, had some really complex magic woven into it. If it blew up, there could be all sorts of problems that rush to fill in the void the town left.”
“Like what? And is it something they can handle without you?” Cynthia asked.
“I’d need to study it in person to know for sure, but there could be bits of wild magic, or unstable portals to other places or times left behind,” Tam said. “Most of it would dissipate before too long, unless someone like our friend Sycorax decided to lay claim to the torn up threads of magic and weave them into something new to suit their own purposes.”
“You said James wasn’t good at field work right?” Cynthia asked.
“Yeah, it’s an area he knows that he struggles with,” Tam said. “He’s really brave, but new places and especially new people in new places he finds really challenging. That said though, he could do a lot to investigate Bright Springs without leaving his own Sanctum, so they’ve probably got that part covered.”
“And the people who lived in the town?” Cynthia asked.
“They’re a different story,” Tam said. “If Anna and Val are moving them, someone is going to need to go with them and make sure they don’t get snarled up between all the spells they’ve been living under and any existing magics of the place they move too.”
“Kind of like getting inoculations when you travel to a distant place in the world because the germs there are different than the ones we have here?” Cynthia asked.
“Basically,” Tam said. “We all adapt to the areas we live in, and that includes the casual magics that surround us. For normal situations, travel from country to country is trivial, magically speaking. There’s so few enchantments and spells that anyone runs into that carrying a thread of magic from Egypt into Greece wouldn’t even raise an errant spark, unlike a few millennia ago where it could have started a war. With a town like Bright Spring though, I’m guessing the among of lingering magic will be pretty substantial.”
“So are these Old West refugees going to start a war?” Cynthia asked.
“Not if someone can make sure that wherever they wind up is able to welcome them with basic human decency,” Tam said.
“Is there a place like that?” Cynthia asked, her cynicism having been sharpened to a fine edge by an awareness of human history, and especially recent examples thereof.
“There is if we make one,” Tam said, standing up and knowing that she’d gotten all the rest she was going to be able to afford to take.