Tam had a day off. Several days in fact. It felt alien. Like time that existed in some nebulous, unreal space.
Except she’d been in unreal spaces. Three of them the previous week. Those had been fun to deal with. Fun in the “this shouldn’t be happening, and we’re all probably going to die sense”.
So, normal 9 to 5 stuff.
This day off thing though? That was weird. Creepy almost.
“You look like you want to start climbing the walls but you’re afraid the walls will try to eat you,” Cynthia said, a hint of amusement coloring her voice to the accompany the smokey, wood-fire scent she wore after getting off duty.
“The walls haven’t done that for at least a month,” Tam said, eyeing them closely nonetheless. Turning one’s own apartment into a carnivorous beast was the sort of thing one neither forgot quickly, not lived down easily, even when one’s significant other was endlessly understanding and forgiving of slight magical mishaps.
“And you know they’re not going to do anything today,” Cynthia said. “Isn’t that right?”
She wasn’t talking to Tam. Which was good, because it wasn’t Tam who answered.
“We’re not even hungry today,” the eastern wall, also known as ‘Artie’ for the various pictures hung on him, said. “Plus we can’t eat you. Where would we get new decorations from if we did?”
It turned out that walls, or at least the walls in their apartment, loved having pictures hung on them. Also bookshelves. And random chotchkies. Pretty much anything but motivational posters. Those tended to spontaneously catch on fire within a minute or two of being displayed.
Tam drew in a breath. It wasn’t the weirdness in her life that was alarming when she reflected on it. It was how comfortable it all felt. Talking walls should have been at least a little unsettling, but when she tried to imagine moving to a house that didn’t speak to her at odd moments the thought left her cold.
“I thought you were going out?” Cynthia asked.
“I was,” Tam said and then amended, “I am.”
“And you weren’t going to go looking for trouble right?” Cynthia said. It was more a reminder than a question.
“Right,” Tam said. “Just going to go and have an enjoyable, and completely mundane day. No magic for me.”
There wasn’t a particular reason she had to avoid magic. With Sarah, James, and a half dozen other club members helping, she’d been able to ease back on the amount of casting she had to do on a day to day basis. She’d avoided magical burnout, or overload, by a narrower margin than she’d have preferred, but thanks to people looking over her she had avoided it.
That was better for the less advanced club members, the part-timers who hadn’t been pulled quite as far into the supernatural as she had been. Tam scaling back her efforts gave them more of a chance to deal with some real issues too, which helped them grow both as casters and people. For the problems that turned out to be a bit bigger than expected, James was there to make sure that none of the learning experiences proved to be ones were the lessons could only be absorbed posthumously.
“No magic.” Cynthia’s eyes were narrowed in suspicion. She knew that’s what James had suggested, and she knew Tam had agreed to it readily. She also knew her girlfriend though.
“Really!” Tam said. “I will be good. I promise.”
Technically she didn’t have to defend herself. It wasn’t like Cynthia was going to scold her if Tam cast a spell. Probably.
“You’re always good,” Cynthia said. “Come here and let me give you a stinky hug before I hit the shower and the sack.”
The wood smoke odor was mixed with a fair amount of sweat, but Tam didn’t mind it Cynthia had been in regular duty for the last week, and so smoke and sweat had become hard wired in Tam’s brain as a signal that the woman she loved was nearby.
“If any actual problem comes up…” Tam began.
“…you’ll probably know about it before I do,” Cynthia said, holding Tam in close. “If a call comes in here though, I’ve got three different ways to contact you, and that’s not counting getting the club involved.”
“And you will right? No ‘let Tam rest, she needs this day off’ nonsense?”
“I’m not sure how good a case you can make for it being nonsense, but yes, I will definitely call,” Cynthia said. She yawned. “Assuming I’m awake.”
“That’s fair. I’ll be back by tonight so we can head out to Silver Specter’s show then.”
One problem with Cynthia being on regular duty meant her hours didn’t line up with Tam’s perfectly well. That wasn’t a problem when Tam was busy since she was either at the Second Chance Club or so engrossed in her studies that literal bomb blasts had low-ish odds of attracting her attention. When Tam didn’t have a crisis to distract her though, she tended to tinker and as that occasionally produced bomb blasts it wasn’t the ideal sort of activity when someone else needed to get a reasonable allotment of sleep in.
Their compromise to that dilemma had been to make plans for the nights Cynthia was free and for Tam to promise to find something to do with herself for at least a few hours each day so that Cynthia wouldn’t risk self-immolation at the next fire she fought due to being over-fatigued.
It was a good plan, except for the part where Tam discovered that she had no idea what to do with herself when she wasn’t dealing with an ever escalating series of crisis.
In a sense, the crisis were still growing. Her vision of the Earth’s impending fiery demise remained unchanged. Future casting showed the end of the world drawing steadily closer, but Charlene had been adamant that they not try to tackle the problem directly.
“If fate is a river that runs from the past to the future, you don’t overcome it by wrestling it onto a new course,” she said, before providing some more concrete details around what she was thinking.
Tam would have worried more about taking a ‘hands off approach’ to the end of the world, except that wasn’t what they were doing either. There were plans in motion and work being done. The key that she’d finally understood was that she didn’t have to be the one to make all of it happen.
With that in mind she let go of Cynthia and turned to look for her messenger bag. She wasn’t going to need any of the spell materials she routinely carried, and probably could have left the laptop behind as well, but somehow abandoning all of that felt like she would be abandoning too much of herself.
“Do you know where you’re going yet?” Cynthia asked as she started to get ready for her shower.
“I was thinking I’d play it by ear,” Tam said. “There’s a lot of things I could catch up on, we’ll see which ones wind up being the most appealing.”
The answer to that question turned out to be “heading back to work”.
Tam knew how that looked. The Second Chance Club should have been the last place she wound up on her day off. She justified the trip to herself by noting that she wasn’t heading towards her sanctum, or any of the meeting rooms, or working on preparations for any of the operations that were upcoming or underway. She a specific destination in mind and a specific objective, which was completely selfish.
“Haven’t seen you in a long time,” Jim said, as he slid out from under one of the club’s delivery vans.
“I think this is the first time I’ve been able to get away from things in a month,” Tam said, knowing that the real answer was noticeably higher than that. When she said she’d been working round the clock for half a year though, people tended to worry.
“Going to put on few miles on your bike?” Jim asked.
“I was thinking something like that. Unless it’s still under repair?”
“Well, I might have been tinkering with it a bit a few days ago, but it should still run just fine,” he said.
Tam thought back to the last time she’d seen her motorcycle. Unsurprisingly it hadn’t fared well when a Sewer Octopus had decided to crush in four of its tentacles.
To be fair to Squillioog, the Sewer Octopus, he had been very contrite afterwords and had offered to pay for the full repair. Tam had assured him that transdimensional cross cultural incidents were covered in the Second Chance Club’s basic operating budget. Getting him back home after that had been simple enough, though getting him there safely had been an adventure and a half.
Jim rolled out the fully restored motorcycle, which did indeed seem to have a few more bells and whistles worked into its design. Apart from those however it was exactly as it had been when she’d taken it out on the ill-fated Sewer Expedition.
“You know people give me all the credit for working amazing magic, but I swear you’re the actual miracle worker on our team,” Tam said, running her hands along the blemishless frame.
“Nah, what I do is simple stuff,” Jim said. “A little bit of welding here, some polish there, new coat of paint on top of it all and it’s good as new.”
“I can’t even find the welds here,” Tam said, tracing a finger over the midpoint of the gas tank which she was sure had been torn in half.
“I wanted to make sure they were solid,” Jim said. “So I spent a bit of extra time on it.”
“Thank you,” Tam said. “I feel like we don’t say that often enough.”
“Ah, no need for thanks. We’re all part of the same team.”
“Same team should mean same recognition,” Tam said. “You work hard to keep what you do invisible though don’t you?”
Jim cocked his head to one side and leaned back against the side of the delivery van he had been working on.
“I never thought about it like that,” he admitted. “I guess a mechanic’s job is to make sure you don’t have to think about the things they’ve done though.”
“But you’re always there for us,” Tam said.
“Well, to be fair, more than half the time it’s Jimmy B who’s got your transportation needs covered,” Jim said.
“Yeah, and he’s enough of a ham that he gets plenty of thanks for it,” Tam said. “You handle more the operations teams though. In fact, when was the last time you had a day off?”
“It’s been…” his voice trailed off as his gaze grew distant.
“Longer than it’s been for me, hasn’t it?” Tam asked, detecting the familiar signs of someone who’d let their work become their life.
“Well, yeah, but it’s not the same.”
“Right.” Tam said. “Because my long hours are obvious to everyone, and so they dragged me away from the pile of work I was under with a team of wild horses eventually.”
“I can’t help but notice that they didn’t drag you fall enough to get you out of the building,” Jim said.
“I’m a tankful of gas away from changing that,” Tam said.
“If that’s all that’s holding you up, I can have you topped off in two minutes,” Jim said.
“And what about you?” Tam asked. “What’s holding you here? Are there any critical projects you have to tackle?”
“There’s always maintenance to do,” Jim said. “But I’m waiting on some parts for the two major restoration projects I’m going to tackle next.”
“Sounds like the perfect time to get out of the shop then,” Tam said. “If you need a riding buddy, I’d be happy to head out in any direction you’d care to name.”
Jim chuckled at that.
“No offense, but I’m pretty sure I can’t keep up with one of your days. I’m fine if things get rough, or if the road’s a long one, but I kind of need things like gravity to work more or less all the time.”
“You’ve been talking with Cynthia haven’t you?” Tam said, feeling slightly sheepish. It had only been one date that had landed them in a dimension with variable gravity. And a few others where gravity was more or less absent. But really, she thought, those weren’t bad odds.
“She’s kind of inspiring,” Jim said.
“Yeah,” Tam said, nodding in agreement before offering Jim a bright smile. “But she also made me promise that today wasn’t going to be like that. No magic. No weirdness. Just a calm, and peaceful, normal day off.”
“And if the wild and weird comes looking for you to change that?” he asked.
“The, if it’s very lucky, the wild and weird will live to regret that choice,” Tam said, without her bright smile fading at all.