The Problem with Having Visitors Is that They Always End up Overstaying Their Welcomes
“I don’t suppose,” said Jocelyn, who was standing in the centre of the room, “that James gave you a timeline for when he planned to arrive?”
He hadn’t. “No,” said Sam. “Just that it will be sometime today.”
“I see. So we could be waiting here for hours. Assuming he comes at all.”
“He’ll come,” Sam said, though of course he had no way at all of knowing that. He was standing here in this room with Jocelyn and her husband and two children, waiting for James. Henry wasn’t here.
“If you insist.”
Before Jocelyn could say anything else—and it was going to be her, none of her family seemed to be able to talk—a knock sounded on the door, and then it opened. “Excuse me, your Majesty,” said Todd.
Sam scowled, Todd’s voice making him want to stab someone, preferably Todd. It was supposed to be Derek. “What?”
Todd shuffled his feet. Sam wondered if he was wearing clothes. Or standing on his feet. He didn’t care much, he just wondered idly. “Derek told me to come get you, your Majesty.”
Sam was going to have to have a word with Derek about the proper use of a lackey. “I have to go deal with something,” he told Jocelyn. “I’ll be back shortly. If James appears, do entertain him until I get back.”
“Of course, your Majesty,” Jocelyn said, as Sam left the room. He tried not to breathe too deeply since Todd was there. Todd smelled horrible. Not as bad as Scott, but Sam was starting to wonder if he was trying to compete.
“Where’s Derek?” Sam asked him.
“He…” Todd swallowed audibly. “He asked me to come find you, and…”
“I asked you where he was.”
“I don’t know, your Majesty, I’m sorry. He asked me to come find you and tell you it was about to start but he didn’t say what.” Todd said it all in a rush, afraid he was going to be hit, probably.
Sam didn’t hit him, but he did enjoy the feeling of Todd’s flinch as he stepped closer. He put a hand on Todd’s bare shoulder, patting it. He’d gotten taller. “Will you stand the fuck up to him for once? It’s what he’s waiting for you to do. Unless of course you want to be his messenger boy for the rest of your worthless life.”
“I…” Todd sounded like he had been hit.
Sam turned away. “I shouldn’t be having to give you fucking hints,” he growled, walking away. Todd was smart enough, at least, not to fucking follow him.
The castle shook when Sam was about fifteen steps away from Todd, and Sam put his hand on the wall to steady himself. For all his declarations the other night that he’d be dealing with this, there wasn’t much he could do about some dragons attacking the castle, which must be what was happening now. As much as he hated to, he had to trust that Derek would stop them like he said he would.
Dragons were magic-proof, so killing them was going to pose a problem for Sam. But according to Derek, they could also shapeshift into smaller forms, which would make beheading them a lot easier. Though if they actually could be reasoned with, that wouldn’t be necessary.
Pretending that he wasn’t worried, Sam headed for the other side of the castle, where Henry was waiting. It was a room similar to the one he had Jocelyn in, with the only difference being that this was the room James was actually going to appear in.
The castle shook one more time before he got there, and then didn’t again, so maybe Derek had done whatever he was going to do. “Is it ready?” he demanded of Henry, banging the door open. “I’ve convinced Jocelyn and her useless family to stay on the other side of the castle, but I don’t know if they’ll stay there long.”
“Why are you asking me if it’s ready?” Henry asked, against the far wall. “Do I seem like a sorcerer to you?”
“Shut up,” Sam said, flicking Henry with magic just to remind him which of them was a sorcerer. He strode into the middle of the room, feeling for the portal. He’d only set half of one up, an invitation, so James didn’t just step out into whatever part of the castle he wanted to. James had to open up the other side.
It was the same as he’d left it. “What the fuck is taking him so long?”
“Maybe someone’s trying to kill him too,” Henry suggested.
“They can wait in fucking line.” James had better not be making him wait so he could deal with some lesser murder attempt carried out by lumberjacks or whatever was dangerous in the fucking woods. Since nothing was happening, he said, “I told Todd he had to stand up to Derek.”
Henry snorted. “That should end well. Todd’s idea of doing that is going to be to call Derek names or try to hit him.”
Probably. “In which case it’ll be amusing to know he’s sleeping in a kennel all winter,” Sam said.
“I suppose there’s a chance he’ll do it properly.”
“Probably not. He doesn’t do anything properly.”
“The air is shimmering.”
Sam stepped closer to Henry, feeling what he was talking about. The portal opened with a snap that Sam felt in his knees, and he heard two sets of feet hit the stone floor. James’s power filled the room, big but manageable now, something Sam could actually feel the shape of. Sam ran crackling power into the floor, and it ran into the circle he’d constructed all around this room, blocking all magic but his. “Hello,” Sam said, restraining his glee. “I’m glad you could make it.”
Wood tapped the floor. James didn’t answer right away, perhaps realizing he’d been trapped. “Of course. Thanks for having me. I get the impression that we’re similar and I don’t much like having guests, so I imagine you don’t either.”
Henry was so tense beside him, but there was no reason to be. Sam tapped his foot, just to check the spell was in place. It was. He felt nothing from James. “No. Which is why we’re just going to kill you. I’ve got other things happening today, so I don’t have the time to torture you that I’d planned.” He hadn’t been planning to torture James. Just like Solomon, he was someone Sam just wanted gone.
Metal rang, James’s servant drawing his sword, but it stopped abruptly. “I’d like to talk about your pet monster,” James said, calmly as he’d been back at his house. As if he were the one in control here.
Though Sam had a second where he wanted to ask why James wanted to talk about Scott, he ignored it. “You’re not here to talk.”
“He asked me to kill you,” James said flatly, not even waiting for Sam to finish.
He’d done…what? Why the fuck would Scott…Sam felt Henry’s elbow touch his arm. “You’re lying,” he realized. Of course he was. James knew he was trapped and he was hoping to talk his way out of this.
“Why would I do that?” Another tap of wood on stone. James must have brought a walking stick with him or something. It was annoying; Sam wanted to break it over his head. Maybe he’d rape James’s servant with it after James had died. “You have a contract with him that forbids him from hurting you. I’m guessing that it doesn’t forbid him from getting other people to hurt you.” That was…he was right, Sam thought. James went on. “And if you die, there’s nobody to uphold that contract, and he will be free. He is far, far too dangerous to be allowed to be free, Sam. Please, I came here for the specific purpose of asking you to send him back where he belongs before he can destroy the world.”
James sounded sincere to Sam. Though he’d started to sound stupid at the end. “Oh, don’t be so fucking dramatic. He’s not going to destroy the world.” Latching onto that made it easier to ignore the other things James was saying. Henry shifted at that, barely perceptible.
“That’s literally what he said he wanted to do.” Who the fuck was that? It took Sam a second to realize it must be the voice of James’s servant. Did Sam know his name? He didn’t care.
“I’m sure it is. Scott says a lot of stupid things,” Sam didn’t want to talk about Scott. “You came here because I wanted to kill you. That’s all. Now…” The castle shook again, more than before.
“Did you know your castle’s under attack?” James asked calmly, as if nothing serious was happening. He never seemed to care about anything. The benefit of being so powerful. But that arrogance was what had would soon have gotten him killed.
“I did know that,” Sam said, feeling irrationally like he should answer James’s question. “I’d be handling it, but I’m here wasting time talking to you.”
“By all means,” James said, with another tap. “Go handle it. I can wait.”
“No.” Sam didn’t like this. Something was wrong. James had to have known this was a trap and he was too confident, too calm. He must be up to something. Sam called his power, let it track all up his body, preparing to strike. “You’re going to die now.” His heart was pounding. Steel rang as Henry and James’s servant drew their swords.
Sam lashed out with his power, unleashing it against James, letting it fly and flaying James alive and…it didn’t work. He had the stone in his pocket and his power just flowed out of him and into the stone, into the circle, powering the spell in the room. And Sam was powerless again. “What the…what did you do?” This was impossible.
“I haven’t done anything, Sam. What do you think I’ve done?” James asked, in a voice that told Sam he’d been a bad little boy. It was the same calm sneer that Solomon had used to use.
“You know, you were much friendlier when you visited me before.” Another tap of that wretched wood. That must be what was doing it. He’d managed some sort of spell, or… “What happened, Sam?”
It wasn’t the same as Solomon, Sam realized. James sounded playful, almost. He didn’t seem like he was sneering at Sam, or looking down at him. It sounded like he was playing a game.
“The spells on this room should have cut you off from your power.” Sam needed to buy time. Henry’s hand was on his back, keeping him in place. How had James done it? It should have been impossible, there was no way for him to touch his power here.
“Oh, is that what they were supposed to do?” James sounded impressed. Proud, almost. He was starting to sound like Henry in a way that Sam really didn’t like. “I don’t consider my power as separate from myself, Sam. Do you?”
“You…” Henry, Henry was here. He could just take James’s head off.
But before Sam could order that, noise and masonry filled the room. Sam felt Henry’s body over his, dust filling his lungs and then it stopped, and Sam felt a strange magic. A shield, but it wasn’t James making it. Was his servant also a witch?
They were on the floor. “The room exploded,” Henry said in Sam’s ear. “An attack from the outside, my guess is one of Derek’s dragons.”
Sam growled wordlessly, pushing himself to his feet, wanting to lash out and kill something. Henry stood with him. “Are you okay?” James asked, because he hadn’t even had the decency to be killed by falling stone, as if Sam had time for him to be drawing breath right now.
“Shut up.” Sam was leaning against Henry, but tried not to. “What the fuck is this? You said Derek was dealing with this.”
“You’re letting Derek deal with a dragon?” James asked. His tone had barely changed from before, as if the wall hadn’t just been ripped open. Hot air moved across Sam’s face. “He’s a child.” That part sounded reproachful.
“What the fuck,” James’s servant muttered, and Henry grabbed Sam’s elbow. Sam could feel it in the air. A presence, not quite like magic. A dragon, he presumed.
“Language.” James paused for a second, the wind howling. “Go to sleep, please.”
The presence disappeared, a second later Sam heard a crash.
“What the fuck?” Sam echoed, taking a step forward. He didn’t understand what was happening. “What did you do?” Dragons were immune to magic. James couldn’t have hurt it. Sam could accept that he’d broken through the spell, accept that he’d out-planned him, but that was just flat-out impossible.
“I just…oh, there are two.” James sighed. “You know, if this was a bad time, you could have said so and I’d have come tomorrow.”
God, Sam hated him. But before he could say that, another presence appeared, this one accompanied by flapping, hot air, and the smell of rotting meat. Something grew, and Sam didn’t need to be told it was an attack. The room and circle were destroyed and Sam’s powers were back, and he snarled at nothing as he flung them out, not into an attack like he desperately wanted to, but into a shield that blocked the fire, heat and all, from the dragon’s attack.
Sam couldn’t attack it, he didn’t know what James had done before, he didn’t know what was happening, he didn’t know…he needed help.
There was no way, absolutely no way, that Sam was asking James for help. But he could feel him there, doing nothing, as if waiting, waiting for Sam to admit weakness to him. And if Sam didn’t, James would watch him die.
“You could fucking do something,” Sam said, making it a command instead of a request. It was all he could do. It didn’t matter if James knew it was a lie. It didn’t matter if Henry knew it was a lie.
“Stop swearing and give me a second,” James said calmly, continuing to do nothing.
“Castor.” Sam hadn’t heard Derek approaching, which wasn’t surprising with all the noise. He brushed by Sam, standing in front of him at what must be the ledge. “Stop.”
“Derek.” Sam wanted to know what the fuck was happening.
“It’s okay.” The presence retreated, and then came back.
“Shit,” hissed James’s servant, but he didn’t do anything.
The dragon vanished from Sam’s mind, and feet hit the ground. Derek had said they could shapeshift. “Derek, are you okay?” a rough, worried voice asked.
“I’m fine,” Derek said, voice hurried. “I need you to stop attacking, Castor.”
“Derek, what’s going on?” demanded Castor the dragon.
“Listen,” Derek said, all of his usual stupid pleasantness absent. “You do as I say or we’re both going to die, got it?”
They scuffed closer to him, and Derek huffed out a breath. “Your Majesty, this is Castor.”
Sam tried to collect himself, remembering who he was. “Castor and his friend have damaged my castle, Derek.”
“I know, sir,” Derek said. “And I’d say they feel bad about it but they don’t. Most of the other rebels are contained, the attack is over. Castor is going to surrender to your mercy on behalf of his brothers.”
“What the fuck? Derek, I’m not going to…”
“Then the king is going to kill us, Castor,” Derek snapped. “Starting with me. Is that what you want? You said you’d do what I asked from you. This is what I’m asking from you.”
Sam hadn’t promised to kill anyone, but he didn’t say anything for now, listening to Castor’s silence.
Finally, Castor sighed, angry. “I…”
Before he could say the rest of it, Sam felt the floor rumble, and then he lost his footing, and then everything collapsed out from under him. And all he could think was that Henry was going to die. So he pushed Henry backwards, slamming him into the wall, and Sam fell.
It was only a few seconds that felt like forever, and there was no time for him to think of anything except that he was going to die, and he was going to do it because the fucking floor had fallen down. Of all the stupid, fucking stupid things to kill him, it was this. It was…
Sam stopped falling slowly, so much that he almost didn’t notice it until he hit the ground with only a gentle thud. “What the…”
“Falling isn’t because you’re heavy, it’s because the earth is pulling you down,” James said, still calm. He was breathing more heavily now, though. “If you know the trick, it’s possible to ask the earth to pull you with less strength.”
“That doesn’t make any fucking sense,” Sam growled, standing. He wasn’t hurt, but he felt like he’d been hit by something.
“Magic never does. Are you okay?”
Sam took in a bracing breath. He wished Henry was here…Henry. Henry had better fucking be okay. “I’m fine. Is it just us?”
“Derek and his friend are coming down now,” James said. “Ron and Henry are still up in the castle, I expect.”
“You expect?” Sam snapped. “You fucking expect?”
“Language. I’m not all-knowing, Sam.” James tapped that stupid piece of wood on the ground again. Sam very nearly reached for it with his power and snapped in it two. “I know you’re worried, but they’re probably fine. We need to worry about ourselves first.”
“We are fine.” Sam tried to orient himself. The castle was probably behind him. “We…”
“Do you believe that the floor collapsed on its own, Sam?”
A gust of wind and some footfalls suggested Derek and the dragon were here now. “Of course it did,” Sam said. “The castle’s falling apart.”
“Hm,” James disagreed. It was obvious that he was disagreeing. “Would it surprise you to learn that we’re surrounded by centipedes?”
That made Sam’s blood run cold, and he had to force himself not to take a step closer to James. “Scott,” he demanded, voice as steady as he could make it. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Heh, you ruined the game, Joy,” Scott said, voice coming from directly behind Sam. “I had a whole surprise planned, too. I was here to break your fall in case it came to that, Sammy. Nothing nefarious, promise. Can I eat the dragon?”
“No. You can…” Sam hesitated. He was about to tell Scott to kill James. Then he remembered what James had said up in the room. He asked me to kill you. “You can go back to the pit where you belong.”
“I can?” Scott asked, a screech on a wire. “That’s so nice of you, Sammy! But I’m going to stay here, actually.”
“Sam,” James said. Suddenly he sounded far less calm. “I don’t care what you’ve been told. That thing is not under your control. You have to send it back to where it came from or it’ll kill all of us.”
“I will, will I?” Scott asked, seeming closer. “Will I, I will? I suppose it’s not a bad idea, but don’t you know, I love Sammy way too much to kill him, Joy. Why would you ever think otherwise? I’d hug him right now but I’m not allowed cause he’s so mean.”
“That’s enough,” Sam snapped. “Go back to the pit, Scott. I don’t want to hear you again until I call you.”
“Okay, okay, I know when I’m not wanted,” Scott said, receding, both his voice and his poisonous power. “See you soon. Oh, Joy, it’s not me you should worry about. Look behind you.”
And then he was gone.
Sam didn’t need to be told what Scott was talking about. As soon as he was gone, he could feel it, a power like James’s. “Hello, son.”
“Mother.” James’s voice had lost its calm, and gone right to cold. It made Sam want to shiver. In all that had happened, he hadn’t yet heard James angry, he realized. And he was now.
“Are you ready to come with me?” Jocelyn asked. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Don’t waste my time. You’re coming with me.”
Jocelyn snorted. “I don’t think so.”
“Jocelyn,” Sam interrupted. “Nobody is going anywhere until I say so.”
“Your Majesty, I can’t say that I appreciate you trying to distract me,” Jocelyn drawled.
“I can’t say that I appreciate you trying to betray me,” Sam said back.
“Oh, is that what I was trying to do? All I want is my son.”
“Monsters don’t have children,” James said quietly.
“Now, that’s not a very nice thing to say…what the hell?”
That strange magic from before, the one that had blocked the dragon’s attack, appeared, and it seemed to rest in between Jocelyn, James and Sam. “Kid,” a buzzy voice said. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, Spike.”
“Removing a faery from the forest?” Jocelyn asked. “A bad idea.”
“Fuck you, bitch,” Spike the buzzy faery said, and what the fuck was happening?
At that point magic erupted from all three of them, a shoving contest that Sam stayed out of, unsure who to side with. Jocelyn was losing, unless he missed his guess. James must have been weakened from everything if he wasn’t just killing her, but he wasn’t losing.
“Your Majesty?” Derek was at his side after a few minutes had passed. “Should Castor and I help? He’s magic-proof.”
“No,” said Sam, trying to follow the fight. “Stay out of it until there’s a winner. Then we’ll kill them while they’re distracted.” This wasn’t his business. If Jocelyn and James wanted to kill each other, he could just let them do it and give the stone to Cassiopeia afterwards. Three problems solved at once.
“Understood,” Derek said. “The leaders of the rebels seem to have disappeared,” he added. “I think they’ve abandoned their people here. The attack’s over.”
“About time,” Sam muttered. “We’ll talk later about how bad you are at managing attacks on the castle.”
“Yes, sir.” Derek withdrew with Castor, not far off. What was taking Henry so long to get down here?
“You should have come with me, James,” Jocelyn said. She sounded just like Solomon. “We would have been something great. You would have been something great with me.”
“No,” James said, barely audible. “I wouldn’t have.”
“Kid didn’t need you to become great, you evil…”
A surge of a different kind of magic, necromancy, and Spike was cut off. “Spike!”
And then so was James, with a gurgle.
“Sentimentality was always your weakness,” Jocelyn said to her son. James was moving closer to Sam, falling over. Sam prepared to attack Jocelyn. “You should have come alone. You’d have won.”
The Forces shook, just for a second, and Sam only noticed because he was drawing on them. Something metal hit the ground between them. “What the fuck was…ah!” Jocelyn’s power flashed, and Sam heard Castor yell Derek’s name, and then…all three of them vanished.
Sam had no fucking idea what was happening. But he was alone with James now. Slowly, he moved closer. He was breathing, coughing. Sam could just barely smell blood in the air.
Sam could kill him right now. He could suffocate him, or even just sit here and let him die. He didn’t have to do anything and one of the most dangerous people in the world would be dead.
James could have killed him up in the room and he hadn’t. He could have let Sam fall to his death and he hadn’t. He could have killed him back in the woods and he hadn’t. Jocelyn was right. Sentimentality was his weakness. Sentimentality would get him killed. It would…
It would convince him Sam was his friend if Sam used it against him. He put his hand on James’s chest, hot blood on his palm. And, hoping this wasn’t a mistake, ran healing magic through James.
It only took a few seconds. Jocelyn had been fucking around instead of seriously trying to hurt him. She’d wanted to gloat. Sam healed the wound without any trouble. “James!” That was James’s servant, racing over. It was about fucking time. “Get away from him.”
Sam moved out of the way because he was all but shoved. “Oh, calm down, he’s not dead,” he said.
“What happened?” James’s servant asked, not Sam.
“Sam healed me.” James was already awake. He sounded unsurprised. Sam moved away.
“Why’d you do that?” Henry asked Sam, in a whisper.
“Because now he’ll help us,” Sam said back. “He’ll help us against the shadow, against the Sea King if we need it.”
“If we need it.” Sam didn’t want to consider the consequences of them needing help against Scott.
“He’s just as dangerous an ally as they are,” Henry warned.
“No. Because they’re doing it for power and they’ll kill me to get it. He’s going to do it because he’s stupid and thinks it’s the right thing to do,” Sam explained.
“I seem to remember you saying he was like me,” Henry said. And he didn’t explain exactly what he meant by that, and Sam wasn’t going to ask.
“I’m really tired,” James said to Ron, barely audible.
“You can stay here,” Sam told them, because he was friendly. “In the castle. Until you can leave. I won’t even try to kill you.”
James cut his servant—Ron?—off. “Okay. Thank you.”
“Just like that?” Ron asked.
“Just like that. Help me stand up. I want to make sure Spike’s okay before I do anything else.”
Sam stood there with Henry while the two of them got up, moved somewhere else to do whatever James was going to do. They were left alone for a moment. “Derek says the rebels have surrendered,” Sam said. “Their leader’s vanished.”
“And where’s Derek?”
“He disappeared with Jocelyn. He…” As Sam spoke, a portal opened beside him and spat Derek out, judging by the squeak. Someone landed on him. It was Scott’s portal, though. “I told you to go back to the pit.”
“The part of me on Tipsy’s island thought you might want your toys back,” Scott said in a jeer. “Going to the pit, bye!”
And he was gone. Sam really hated him.
“What the fuck happened?” Henry demanded of Derek and Castor.
“I’m not…super sure?” Derek asked. “It all happened very fast. I think Jocelyn got away, though.”
Sam sighed. “Great.” He was about to add something when a growl shook him, and he jumped. “What the hell is…”
“It’s the other dragon,” Henry said, hand on Sam’s arm.
“Oh, Claudius is awake,” Derek said, voice picking up with cheer. Why was he fucking cheerful? This was all a disaster. “Castor, go get him? I’ll tell the others you guys are okay. And on my side.”
“Tell him I have Max,” Derek interrupted, something sharp in his voice.
A very tense silence passed between them, and Castor stalked away.
Sam wasn’t about to let Derek call the shots here. “Put those two somewhere until tomorrow,” Sam told him. “And your rebels as well. I’ll talk to them tomorrow. They can stew for a night while I decide what to do with them.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Derek said easily. “Anything else?”
“No. Go away.”
Derek did, and Henry took Sam’s hand and guided him towards the castle. “I’m tempted to kill them all just so Derek doesn’t get what he wants.”
“But that also takes away potential allies from you,” Henry pointed out.
“I know, I know.” Sam was really tired. “How much of my castle is still standing?”
So a lot of it wasn’t. Fabulous. “This is such a fucking mess I’m surprised nobody died.”
“I expect a lot of servants and guards did.”
“Nobody I know,” Sam amended. “Not even James. It’s rather remarkable.”
“And you even managed to make friends,” Henry teased. “Wonders never cease.”
“Don’t ruin this by talking. I’m having a bad enough fucking day as it is.”
“Yeah. You’re covered in dust. Let’s get you a change of clothes.”
Sam let Henry lead him into what was left of the castle, thinking that put in perspective, today could have gone a lot worse than this.