“Hey Mooney, how’s it hangin’?”
Mooney looked up from the beer bottle he’d been alternately nursing and peeling the label off of to see Mayor Gil walking up to him. He nodded once and then chugged the last few swallows before waving the empty over his head. By the time Gil had made it over to the back booth he’d taken over, the waitress was arriving with a tray of five more. She didn’t take the previous empties, though. He’d chased her away the first time she’d tried to.
“You’ve got about $20 left on the Benjamin you started off with, Moon-dawg,” she said flirtatiously as she set the next round down on the table. He didn’t reply, so she shrugged and went away.
“You planning on tipping your wait staff?” Gil asked archly as he slid into the booth opposite him.
“I tipped both her and the bartender when I first came in,” he rumbled. The rumble turned into a growl when Gil reached for one of the bottles. Gil paused and pulled his hand back carefully. The waitress was back, depositing a shot of the whiskey Gil preferred and an ale to chase it with. Gil wen to reach for his wallet but the waitress stopped him.
“Moon-dawg’s got it,” she chirped cheerfully. He said to keep ‘em coming at to bring something else for you when you showed up.”
“So you knew I’d be coming,” Gil said quietly after the waitress had left again. Mooney shrugged and downed another beer—he was now on the second of this last round and somewhere around eighteen for the night.
“You always show up when I’m getting a drunk on,” he muttered.
“You usually get into a butt-load of trouble when you start drinking like this,” Gil shot back. Mooney just shrugged again and began peeling the label of the new beer bottle. You had to catch them when the condensation was trying but not too dry, or you just shredding them.
“You also haven’t done this in a while. Where’s Marissa?”
Mooney looked at the small man across from him, trying to decide if the monkey-turned-squirrel-turned-wolf had some ulterior motive for asking about his mate. He’d better not. Mooney had had just about enough of the nasty, snide comments being thrown at her this past week. Gil seemed to understand that he was treading on thin ice, though and sat back to nurse his whiskey.
“Did she leave you,” Gil asked after a long while.
“That’s none of your goddamned business Mr. Mayor, sir,” Mooney snarled. He didn’t look up from his beer. “I fuck shit up all the time, you know. You do, Louie does. Heck, everybody does. But not Marissa. She just cleans up everybody else’s goddamned messes and never even gets a thank-you for it.”
“It’s not that we don’t appreciate her—” Gil started, but Mooney didn’t want to hear it.
“Stow it, Mr. Mayor, sir. Save it for someone who didn’t just watch his life mate lock away her powers out of shame.” He stared at the bottle and shoved it away. “Fuck it,” he said as he got up and stumbled out the door. “You pecker woods ain’t good enough for her and your too stupid to know what this town just lost.”
Gil pounded hard on the door to Lex’s apartment. He was getting worried. He’d tried to blow off Mooney’s words last night as drunken ravings, but this morning when Java Joe’s didn’t open…
“Goddamnit Lex, open this door!” he yelled and pounded again.
“I’m not home at the moment,” Lex said from behind him. Gil spun and looked down at the suave sphinx cat/demigod walking up the stairs as soft-footed as, well, a cat. “Well, not quite yet anyway. What can I do for you this fine morning?”
“Ah,” Gil said, starting to realize that it was going to look silly for him to be this upset about Java Joe’s not being open. No way was he going to admit that he was more panicked about Mooney’s declaration that Marissa had locked her powers away. How the hell could he explain that without looking like a creeper. He looked in his friend’s eyes and saw a glint of hard, sarcastic mirth, and realized that Lex already knew why he was there. And the asshole was going to make him say it, too.
“So, where you been?” he asked as Lex unlocked the door to his apartment and entered. He followed Lex in and shut the door behind him. Lex half smiled at him and he knew the ancient temple cat was laughing at him.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I just returned from the airport.”
“Dropping someone off?” he asked, feeling apprehensive. Was that why Java Hoe’s hadn’t been open? Because Marissa had left town? Crap, he though harshly. He really needed her not to leave. It wasn’t because she had enabled him to shift into a wolf, either. To be honest, once he’d done it a few times, all thrill of being a werewolf had faded. He wasn’t really bothered by the thought that he wouldn’t be able to shift into a wolf once the spell wore off in a month.
“Yes, actually,” Lex said with a frown. “Gilbert, why are you this worried? Is something wrong?”
“No,” he said innocently. Lex looked at him hard and he caved. “Look, the various factions in town are a little bit pissed off about being turned into horses,” he finally said.
“Yes,” Lex agreed, nodding his head. “That’s part of why I sent her away.”
“Yeah, but Monney also said something about her locking her powers away,” Gil said, though he was slightly reassured to know that Lex knew how to get ahold of her again if needed.
“Ah, yes. I discovered her down in the basement last night, about half way through the ritual.”
“And?” he said anxiously. “Did you let her go through with it?”
“Let me tell you something about my ward,” Lex said as he put away his jacket and moved away from the foyer. Gil followed him deeper intp the spacious loft-style apartment and took a seat at the dining bar in the kitchen. Lex began his usual, highly intricate ritual for preparing tea.
“Marissa,” he said as he filled the tea kettle, “has never in her life made a mistake.”
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Gil shot back.
“Not Marissa,” Lex corrected. “Oh, there have been times when she failed because she didn’t have the skill necessary to complete a task. But, she has never, ever made a mistake.”
“That’s,” Gil began but faltered. “That’s not normal,” he finished lamely. “To err is to be human, as they say.” Lex nodded thoughtfully as he scooped loose leaf tea into a diffuser.
“Be that as it may, she has not. Ever.” He slipped the diffuser into a fine china tea pot and then poured boiling water over it. “Not until last week.”
“She has no idea how to handle it,” Gil said in awe, finally making the connection.
“Correct,” Lex said as he laid out tea cups and saucers. “Not only does she not know how to deal with having made a simple mistake—”
“It wasn’t so simple,” Gil interrupted. Lex glared at him.
“Oh, it was quite simple, Gilbert. He lost her temper. Everyone does, as you so purblindantly pointed out a moment ago.”
“It was huge, Lex!” he said.
“And it hurt no one,” Lex replied.
“That hear of beasts Dante—” Gil began.
“—were already a problem,” Lex interrupted back. The fact that they were in horse form actually caused them to run around not killing anyone for a while. Am I correct?”
Gil sighed and nodded his head in agreement.
“So, no one was hurt. A few people were offended and those who were already inclined to cause mayhem did so, just as they would have done anyway. But because of Marissa’s mistake, they got out of being blamed for it.”
“Lex, no one was being overly mean to her. Not that I know of, anyway,” Gil said.
“They didn’t have to be mean about it, Gilbert. She doesn’t know how to deal with it. As you pointed out, it’s not normal to never make mistakes. Think about that for a moment. Think about what that could mean for a woman of her power and background.”
Gil drank his tea like a good little boy and thought about it. This was a side of Lex he didn’t see often, the godhood side of his personality that Lex usually kept very well hidden. There was a side of Marissa that never showed, eight. Marissa had literal be sold to Lex by her crack-head black witch mother when she was eight years old. God, the things she must have been exposed to as a child, Gil thought. For her to have turned out to be such a loving, responsible adult… And then he understood.
“She’s afraid that since she’d messed up once, she’ll do it again and it won’t be so harmless next time.”
“Correct,” Lex replied, smiling like a benevolent uncle at a particularly bright child. Gil wanted to be offended but the fact was, Lex was over four-thousand years old. To him, most everyone in Talbot’s Peak was a child.
“Can’t you help her?” Gil asked, knowing he was whining but not able to stop himself.
“No,” Lex said with a sight. “I wish I could, but this is something she must come to terms with on her own. I sent her and her family away so that she could do just that. It’s called growing up, Gilbert. No one can do it for her.”
“The problem is, Lex, that she was doing a lot to keep things under control here,” Gil said, finally admitting to what was bother him. “I can almost feel the mood of the town becoming unstable. Lex nodded in agreement.
“She was. As a white witch, Marissa hated strife and did what she could to keep it at bay.”
“So what am I to do now? The Khans are pissed off, the Hancock’s are riled up. The bunnies are even starting to cause problems, for Christ’s sake!”
“It’s called growing up, Gilbert,” Lex said blandly. “The town has been relying on her too much. It’s time you all also grew up and learned to deal with reality as it is and not as how you wished it were. Just as Marissa needs to come to terms with her power and innate weaknesses, the town, too, needs to learn how to deal with its power and weaknesses.”
“I’d rather she just come back and fix it,” Gil grumped.
“You’ve let her take care of your problems to her detriment too long as it is, Gilbert. There are other witches in town who can learn to keep the balance between Gaia and the supernatural. One might argue that they really need to learn to do it. There is a massive storm brewing, the likes of which has not been seen in over two-thousand years. I prepared my ward for it but humanity cannot afford to rely on her alone.”
Lex watch his very young friend stew over the information he’d given him with sad amusement. It had been a very long time, but he had once been an idealist who believed that righteousness and goodness would always prevail, too. He had learned, tough, when he ended up being cursed to serve the pharos as a bloody pet that having good intentions did not ensure a good outcome. Now, he weighted his options very carefully before doing something altruistic. He knew that there was every chance he was going to have to pay a very high price and he always made sure the gain would be worth the cost.
It was in this case. The evil he felt lurking over the mortal realm was bad, very bad. It had to be resisted. That was why he arranged things so he gained custody of Marissa fifteen years ago. He knew than that she was uncommonly powerful and with the right training, would be exactly the kind of warrior the world would need on its side. He had not meant to grow to love her, but that, too, had been inevitable. As his grandfather once said, he had entirely too much love for humanity in the first place.
The fact was, he did not want is sweet monkey-child to suffer. This was a trial she had to face, though, and facing it now, before the great battle ensued, was for the best. Yes, he had allowed her to bind her own power. She needed to learn to trust herself, to come to understand that the power was not a separate entity from her. That it did nothing she didn’t want done. Tat the only way she would “accidentally’ do something truly harmful was if she had unconsciously intended to do harm all along.
Armageddon was coming, and she had to be willing to use her ability to its fullest to be the weapon he had forged her into.