Often there Are More Things Keeping People Together than they Realize
“Yeah, all one stroke.”
“How far down?”
“Just to the belly button.”
“Just saying, it would be fun if it were lower.”
“Just paint, Ron,” James sighed, holding still as Ron ran a paintbrush from his sternum to his belly button, completing the magical something that James had painted on himself. It was unusual for him to need something like this, but it was part of the spell his grandmother had shown him for getting rid of the huge roots. Ron had also painted his arms and upper chest, and this was the last part.
James looked good in paint, and Ron wondered if he could talk James into wearing some for non-magical reasons later.
“I’ll think about it.”
Ron looked up as he finished painting, stepping back. “Don’t read my mind.”
“I wasn’t. I was answering what you said earlier. I’ll think about letting you paint me more after the spell.”
Ron smiled, going to put the paint away. “You’d have to take more clothes off.” James was shirtless, but currently in pants, which was unfortunate.
“I’ll think about it. You’re not using this paint, though. This is valuable.”
“It’s magical?” It didn’t seem magical to Ron. But by now he knew better than to assume something wasn’t magic just because it looked like normal red paint.
“No, it’s just hard to make. It’s made from specific plants that I don’t have a lot of. Um…” James looked up at the roots. “The spell doesn’t call for this. The paint is a tool to aid focus, since the spell is tricky. They use it in island witchcraft.”
“Then how do you…” Ron thought about that. “Your dad taught you this?” James’s father was from an island somewhere, he remembered.
“Yes. Well, not this exactly, but the principle. I got this design from one of his books.”
Ron finished screwing the lid on the paint and set the brush in a cup of water. Then he got up, put his hand on James’s lower back. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” James said quietly.
“I’m proud of you.”
A scowl. “For what?”
“Half a year ago you’d never have used something your dad taught you unless it was an emergency. You’re getting better at, I don’t know. Distancing what he taught you from what he did.”
James was quiet for a second, nodding slowly. “I guess. It helps that it was my mom calling all the shots that night. But I guess you’re right. I’m…trying to be less afraid. Of my power.”
“So I’m proud of you,” Ron repeated, rubbing a small circle in James’s back. “Okay. You should do the magic.”
“Yeah.” James looked up at the wall of roots, and approached it, stopping about a foot away and holding out his arms. “Hey, Ron?”
“What is it?” Ron had gone back to clean the paintbrush.
“Can you…um, can you put your hand back on my back? Like you were before, I mean.”
“Oh, sure.” Ron headed back over there, did as he was told. “Like this?”
“I’m not going to distract you?” Ron asked, feeling a hum now.
“No. It…will help me focus, I think.”
Ron coloured, shifting his feet. “Okay. Just tell me if you want me to do anything else.” He liked this, it felt nice.
James nodded, letting out a long breath through his nose. Then he went still, and the hum got louder, joined by all kinds of other sounds, music rising gently around them.
Not just from them, Ron heard. The tree roots were singing too, and the other plants around them. Ron could hear all of them, and he could feel something. Something big, beyond James. It was, he thought, where part of the song that James was exuding was coming from.
James took in, let out another breath, and he directed his song right at the tree roots, harmonizing with them. They writhed, coming alive under his attention, and they sang back. Flower petals fell in front of Ron’s eyes.
Ron didn’t know how long he stood there, watching James conduct an orchestra, but eventually something changed in the music. James and the tree roots were in harmony, and now James was taking the song somewhere else, in a direction Ron oddly thought of as backwards, returning to motifs that had disappeared nearer the beginning of the song.
And the roots responded, singing along as they untangled, and started to shrink. Ron watched in awe as they receded—not dying or withering, but shrinking, sinking into the ground where they belonged, their song fading but not disappearing, joining into the more complex one being sung by the trees and plants all around them, rejoining the forest.
When they were all gone, all that was left was broken ground, turned soil, unearthed rocks. James lowered his arms with a sigh, his song fading as well. “There,” he said, leaning a little into Ron’s hand. “Thank you,” he said to Ron.
“You did all the work,” Ron said, smiling and wiping his eyes when he realized they were watering. “That was beautiful.”
James paused, turned around. “You heard the music?”
Ron blinked, nodding. “Yeah. It was really loud. It would have been hard not to.”
James looked at him for a long minute, before reaching out and brushing Ron’s face, then plucking a petal out of Ron’s hair. “I…you shouldn’t have been able to hear that,” he said quietly. “Only I’ve ever been able to hear the music.”
Ron felt his heartbeat quicken a little, worried he’d done something wrong. “I’ve been hearing music on and off since I woke up,” he said. He’d never really thought much about why.
James hand came down now, rested on the discoloured scar on Ron’s chest. He was thinking, it was obvious on his face. “I wonder if…”
“If what?” Ron asked when James trailed off.
“When I did this to you, I wonder if I…accidentally connected you. To the forest.”
“Like you are?”
James nodded, taking his hand away.
Ron reached up, held it there, keeping James’s hand in contact with his skin. “Good.”
“Good?” James looked worried.
“That means it’s something we share. Something that connects us. Forever, right?”
James went red, and he nodded. “Yeah. I guess so. The plants have always liked you, you know.”
“They like you too,” Ron said. “They told me.”
“You didn’t know they were talking to you until ten seconds ago.”
“No, but I knew that.” Ron smiled, and he took James’s hand up and kissed it. “You’re precious to the forest. Just like you are to me.”
James let out chuckle, and he leaned forward and hugged Ron, the paint smudging all over both of them. “I love you.”
“I love you too, James,” Ron said. “Forever.”
“Forever,” James repeated, nodding into Ron’s chest. “Forever.”
All around them, the forest sang.