“Okay. Time to spit it out. You’ve been dodging for over half an hour already.” I stated, having just glanced at the time. James continued spacing out as I stared at him, so I said, “Yo! James! Come back to me. Seriously, what’s eating you?”
He exhaled suddenly and took a deep breath. The he looked at me and told me “I’m sorry. This has been bothering me for a while, and I have been trying to think of a way to tell you ever since my birthday, when Aaliyah revealed some things to me.”
“Whoa.” I replied, holding up a hand. “This isn’t one of her secrets, is it?”
If he was about to put my life at risk, I wanted to accept it with full knowledge of what would happen, but he looked at me questioningly.
“Huh?” he asked. Then his expression suddenly changed as he said, “No. Of course not. By the way, how does it feel knowing you were trained by the world’s only assassin?”
I shrugged and said, “Bit strange, really. Makes sense when I think about the forms she taught me, but don’t get sidetracked.” Keep James focused on one thing was proving exceptionally difficult tonight.
He nodded before saying, “Yeah, well… Aaliyah unloaded a bunch of secrets on me. Remember how she promised me answers if I gave her the ‘right cake’? Turned out that I was supposed to give her ‘birthday cake’. Figures, doesn’t it?”
“That’s Aaliyah for you. She’s very good at telling you things and not telling you a thing at the same time.” I agreed as I laughed.
“Well, Aaliyah somehow figured out why I absorb residual energy. My body utilizes it in a number of ways, apparently. Unfortunately, I can’t control how I use the stuff. I just do… and… I’m sorry.” stated James, looking glum.
I rolled my eyes and said, “Sorry for dragging this out? Say it already!”
“Yeah. Sorry. One of the things my body does is to… umm… make people like me.” he muttered.
I laughed, thinking about how useful that was. “That’s great stuff!” I exclaimed.
“Jarod! Seriously. I don’t know the specifics, really, but I give off some sort of enchantment that grows more powerful as I absorb energy. Anyone affected by it is forced to view me more favorably.” he insisted, sounding disturbed.
I couldn’t stop laughing. Only James would worry about having such an incredible gift. “Dude, that’s the coolest ability you could ever want!” I argued. “That’s great! Seriously, you have the perfect magic for your job.”
“But I don’t want to manipulate people!” he complained.
I stopped laughing as I looked at him. He was really being eaten up by this revelation. “I know.” I assured him, still smiling. “That’s one of the great things about you.”
“How do you know you don’t feel that way simply because my magic’s messing with you?” he asked.
James had probably thought through every last possible negative aspect of his ability dozens of times, but he wasn’t able to consider the good. Nodding, I said, “First off, that doesn’t matter, James. Relax. You have magical charisma. That’s just part of you whether you like it or not. Your actions, however, are made by your own choices. I know you’re a good person because I’ve been your best friend for years. I’ve seen the things you do to help people. From the day we met, you’ve always helped me, and I’ll always be grateful for it. If you weren’t such a great person, Aaliyah probably would’ve been hired to take you out by now, since you’d make one exceptional villain. Think about it… no judge or jury would want to find you guilty!”
I couldn’t resist teasing him a little more. His ability was sooo cool! James still looked a bit glum, but he seemed to be slightly more relaxed. “So what else can you do?” I questioned.
“Huh?” he asked, having obviously been lost in his thoughts again. Catching up to what I asked, he exclaimed “Oh! I can tell if people are lying.”
“Wow. Really?” I asked, but times James never seemed to notice someone lying to him popped into my mind. “I think that power’s broken.”
“Huh? Why?” he asked.
“You rarely say anything even if people are obviously lying.” I pointed out.
“Calling people out all the time would be a bit rude, and I haven’t always trusted my gut, although I have more often of late.” he explained.
James did worry about manners a great deal more than most. He had tried to correct mine a number of times over the years, but there was only so much propriety that I could stomach. Nodding, I said, “I take it that there isn’t some flashing warning light in your head then.”
“I just get these feelings when people are talking with me.” he stated. “I don’t really know how to explain it, but I think it’s how I tell the twins apart. After some time with them, I just developed a feeling of which was which.”
I laughed again, caught up in the utility of such a gift. “Wow. That’d be handy and yet is so odd.” I insisted. Knowing the minds of the twins were very closely connected, James could be said to know the truth of their bodies, which could lead to all sorts of funny conversations. Then were the games I wouldn’t want to play against James, knowing what he could do.
“Jarod, what’s up?” he asked.
“Nothing really.” I assured him. “Just thinking about all of the games I don’t want to play against you now, like poker.” I teased with a laugh.
James’ expression had changed. Did he sense something?
“So was I telling the truth?” I probed.
He shrugged and said, “No clue. Seemed partly true.”
“Yep. Was also thinking about how to test you.” I told him, though there were plenty of other thoughts as well. “This is pretty awesome!” I exclaimed, considering more things James could pull off.
“Oh great. I’m going to be a lab rat now.” he stated.
“You bet! At least you know you’ll be treated well, since everyone will like you!” I teased.
“Har har. Very funny.” he replied, attempting to be dry even as he started to laugh.
“I knew you wouldn’t mind! Now let’s cut you open and see how this works!” I suggested with a grin.
“Okay, okay, okay!” he exclaimed. “I’m relaxed now.”
“About time. You have these wonderful, useful abilities which make me insanely envious, so please don’t make them a burden. That’d drive me nuts! I would absolutely love to be able to use magic. I’ve sought the supernatural for most of my life and can’t quite be a part of it even now that I know it’s real.” I confessed.
“Sorry. I really don’t mean to rub your face in it or anything.” he insisted, looking all too serious.
“Please, just relax.” I ordered, interrupting him before he said anything more. “I’m not all brokenhearted over here. I’m glad to be part of your business, and I love getting to see all the cool spells people do. I was just wanting to emphasize the point that you should appreciate what you have, not let it drag you down. As I showed Duncan, I’m not precisely defenseless anymore, and I’ll be even less defenseless after I create a suit to my liking. If you manage the magical defenses for me, my second suit should give me the strength needed to keep up better.”
“I’ll do what I can. Mind if I consult with Alma some?” he asked. “She has been teaching me of late.”
“Not at all. I’ll gladly take whatever help I can get.” I assured him. “Besides, she might be willing, since you can magic her into liking you more if she refuses.”
Shaking his head, he said, “No, not really. Alma can block that enchantment to some extent. She’s known about it longer than I have.”
I nodded but said, “Still, she obviously likes you. That’s gotta help your chances.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I have a horrible time understanding her. Seriously, why would someone that incredible see me as anything other than a… a… well, lab rat to be studied?”
“Maybe she likes good people?” I suggested. “I don’t know. I’m not entirely certain what you see in her either.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, seeming surprised by the idea. “I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with her on a number of things, but I really thinks she means well. You should see her talk about saving people. That’s really what she’s into. Kinda like Portentia, but with a different outlook on who needs saved. I know you may not have noticed with a twin on each arm, but Alma’s incredibly beautiful. When I look in her eyes, I have trouble looking away.”
Laughing, I said, “I’ve noticed. You can’t seem to take your eyes off her half the time.” I do my best not to look at her at all. Someone other than James staring too much would probably offend her, and offending her was dangerous. Besides, she probably would figure out that I was examining her.
“I’m not that bad.” insisted James. “I’m being serious here! I believe Alma’s a good person at heart. She just has to deal with far more than an average person.”
“I’m being serious too. You’re obviously into her. Admit it to yourself at least. For me, she’s a bit creepy. I’ve seen werewolves and werelions. I commonly hang out with a guy who can change his shape to some extent. Brenna can change her hair, skin, and eye color. Emma’s practically the goddess of plants. Yet I still feel that Alma is the most inhuman ‘person’ I’ve ever met. Her eyes and skin don’t look natural at all. She barely seems to have a sense of humor. Plus, her movement seems to defy physics with her speed and strength. Oh yeah. She also has a temper and tends to combust things when annoyed.” I explained, hoping I hadn’t gone too far in my rebuttal.
“Yes, she has a temper and doesn’t always keep it in check. I know she’s extremely fast as well as strong. Though not a shade of violet I’ve seen in nature, you have to admit that her eyes are quite remarkable to behold. As for humor, she’s British aristocracy. You can’t expect her to laugh at the same things we do, but I assure you that she’s quite beautiful when she does laugh. I’m not planning on dating her or anything. Even if she is still willing, there’s just so much of a gap between us.”
I laughed and said, “Keep telling yourself that, but she doesn’t seem like the type to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
James was completely hooked on her. Yes, Alma was inhumanly beautiful, but she was very much inhuman in mind as well as body from what I had seen. Her temper was her most relatable aspect, and even that had a fierceness rarely seen in humans. Furthermore, she was incredibly dangerous. The little the twins told me revealed that the show Alma had put on for us when James had gone to fight her was nothing more than that, a show. All I could think to do was consult with Aaliyah on ways to protect James if his relationship with Alma turned sour. There had to be a solution.