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Black Magic Sanction: Page 68
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"I think they're all up there," I said, pointing to shafts opening up about two pixy lengths over my head. Pierce sighed, and I looked around for something to stand on. There was an arrangement of cushions and chairs in a lowered pit, which was no help. But between it and the now-cheerful fire was a long table made of popsicle sticks, stained red and dovetailed together to make it longer. Maybe we could prop it up against the wall, like a ramp.
I was just about to suggest it when a scuffing from the ceiling jerked our attention upward. Wasps? I thought in fear.
"Jenks?" Pierce called out, and I tensed when a harsh clatter of wings came and went.
"Who's here? Jax, is that you?" said a slurred voice from the high patch of sun. " 'Bout time you showed up. I gotta tell you about the water rights with the clan next t-t-to ours."
"It's me, Jenks!" I called out, thinking it was one of the dumbest things I'd said in a while, but I was so relieved to know he was alive I didn't care.
"Rache?" The shadow between us and the light staggered, then fell backward. There was a crash followed by a weak "Ow."
I looked at Pierce, then the upper patch of light. "There's a room up there," I said. Another brilliant observation. "How are we going to get up there?"
"Stairs," Pierce said, pointing, and I realized that there was indeed a thin excuse for a stair, without so much as a hint of a banister, snaking upward in a wide spiral running along the outside wall of the main room.
"Who, by Tink's little red thong, put the floor up here?" drifted down.
Oh God. He was drunk. I gathered up my skirts and dropped Pierce's light into them, anxious about what I might find. The higher I went, the brighter it got. The air, too, felt different. Moister. I wondered why there were stairs at all, seeing that pixies could fly.
Finally I reached the top, blinking in the strong sun. Jenks was flat on his back beside a fallen wire-and-cushion chair. Dropping my skirts and Pierce's light, I went to him.
Pierce came up behind me in a soft padding of bare feet. "I swan, this is the most beautiful room I've ever seen," he said as I knelt beside Jenks.
The bottoms of six glass pop bottles were wedged into the earth wall to let the sun in, but the ceiling was actually the stump. The long, curving room was moist, and the soothing sound of water dripping came from somewhere. Moss grew on the floor with tiny white flowers growing from it. Even the benches under the windows were covered in green, making soft hummocks. A small table made from a big button and plastic-coated paper clips stood before an empty fireplace that looked like the bottom of a throat-lozenge box. The chairs were of wire and cushions, and I recognized them as looking almost exactly like the tables and chairs from the island resort at Mackinac Island. The top of a saltshaker was in a corner half full of dirt, and infant seedlings grew close to the windows. Manicured grass rose tall at the back to hide the wall.
No wonder Jenks is here, I thought as I pulled on his arm to get him up. Matalina's grace was everywhere.
Jenks finally focused on me as I got him upright, his wings bent behind him as he sat on the floor. Not a glimmer of glitter was on him anywhere, and he was still stained from the battle. "The Turn take it, Rache," he said, pushing my hands off him as he sat propped against a hummock. His wing was caught under him, and he shifted a tall vial of honey to his other hand to reach back to free it with a tug. "Can't you just let me die in peace? Matalina died in peace."
Pierce sighed. "He's corned!" the witch said, and I looked at him, annoyed.
"Of course he's drunk," I said sharply, trying to get the vial of honey away from Jenks. "He just lost his wife." Oh God. Matalina was really gone, and my heart ached for Jenks.
Jenks wouldn't let go of the vial, and I gave up. With a huff, he tilted it up, and a slow avalanche of honey fell into him. "I'd have to be drunk to imagine you're in my s-stump," he stammered after swallowing. "Wearing Jih's dress. And a little furry man with you." Squinting, he looked closer. "Pierce! Son of Tink. What are you doing in my nightmare?"
Wings humming, Jenks started to collapse.
"Look out, Rachel!" Pierce exclaimed, lunging forward to catch him about an instant too late. With a whoosh of air, he landed on me, pinning me to the floor.
"Holy crap, Jenks," I said as I wiggled out from between the two men and tripped on Jih's dress as I found my feet. "You're heavy."
"Watch the wings!" Jenks slurred. "Fairy farts, I don't feel so good."
Shaken, I watched Pierce help him to a bench and drape a rough-silk blanket over his shoulders. Crouching, the witch forced the pixy to look at him. "How long have you been like this, old man?" he asked.
Jenks's bloodshot green eyes focused from under his curly, smoke-stained bangs. "Forever." He raised his glass in salute and drank some more. I didn't like seeing him like this, but being drunk was probably why he was still alive. With a surge of recognition, I realized his pointy-bottomed glass as a solstice lightbulb with the wires removed.
Concern and empathy were heavy on Pierce as he stood and looked down at Jenks. "Time to sober up, pixy buck. Rachel wants to talk to you."
"I'm not a buck, I'm a schmuck," Jenks slurred. "Mattie. Oh, my Mat-tie." His head bowed, and a faint dust slipped from his eyes. "She's dead, Rache," he said, and my heart broke again. "She's dead, and I'm not," he lamented as I knelt and gave him a hug, my own tears starting. "That's not right," he slurred. "I should be dead, too. I'm dead inside."
"You're not," I said, holding him tight. It was worth it. All the smut was worth it. "She wanted you to live. Jenks, please. I know you love her, but she wanted you to live."
"I've got nothing." Red-rimmed eyes met mine when he leaned back. "You don't understand. Everything I did, I did for her. Everything." His head drooped, and he was silent. His fingers opened, and the vial of honey hit the floor. Pierce plucked it up before the honey could spill, and set it aside. Just that fast, Jenks was asleep.
"Do you want to take him out now?" Pierce said. "Ceri twisted a curse to turn him big so you could keep an eye on him."
Jenks took a slow breath, his honey-stupor sleep giving him a respite. Slowly I stood and looked down at him. "No. He'd never forgive me. Let's let him sleep it off."
"Mattie," Jenks mumbled. "Don't leave me. Please..."
I eased Jenks down onto the moss-covered bench, chest heavy as I went to the table before the fire and sat where Matalina must have sat a thousand times before.
I put an elbow on the table and dropped my head into my hand. Saying nothing, Pierce crouched at the fire.
I felt awful. Jenks would be awake again in five minutes, tops. This time he'd be sober. "Am I making a mistake?" I whispered.
Pierce looked up, his gaze on the fire poker as he tried to figure out what it was. I couldn't place the thin piece of hard plastic either, but I was sure I'd seen it before. "I don't know," he said simply. "It's a sin to end one's life, but judging Jenks by human or witch morality isn't fair."
"He loved her so much," I said. "But he's got his entire life. He might learn to love again. Maybe pixies marry for life because their lives are too short for second chances."
Pierce rocked to the toes of his feet, still crouched before the fire. "Ask him what he wants." His blue eyes flicked to Jenks, now snoring. "When he's sober," he added.
I looked at the slant of the sun, wondering how this day would end. "Am I being selfish?"
Not answering, Pierce went to the miniature carved statues of insects on the mantel. "These are beautiful," he murmured. Even wearing a pixy buck's trousers, long-sleeved shirt, gardening jacket, and hat, he didn't look anything like a pixy. Not only was his hair not right, but he was too muscular. Feeling my eyes on him, he turned, his expression making my heart jump.
"Where do you suppose Matalina is?" I asked softly.
From behind us came Jenks's dead-sounding voice. "She's in our bedroom, pretending to be asleep."
Warmth flooded my face, and I spun to see Jenks's eyes open, watching us. "I'm sorry," I said, realizing he was sober already. "I didn't know you were awake. Jenks, are you okay?" Yes, it was dumb, but I didn't know what else to say.
Jenks sat up, elbows on his knees and his head bowed as he held it. "My head hurts," he said softly. "You shouldn't have taken smut to help me. I'm already dead. My heart knows it, but my body won't listen."
Feeling awkward in my borrowed dress, I went to sit beside him. The sun was warm on my back as it came in through a circle of thick glass, but I felt cold inside. "What's another layer of smut?" I said, believing it. "Jenks, I'm sorry if it sounds trite, but it's going to be okay. It just takes time. Hundreds of people in Cincinnati lose the person they love every day.
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