Renegade, 7

Knowing That Happiness Is Fleeting Makes it Easier to Appreciate the Short Moments of it You Get

Ao3 Link


“Yeah,” John said, sitting on the altar stone with his eyes closed. He could feel the power of the island thrumming through him.

“Okay, start the spell.”

“Right.” John paused. “Wait, me?”

“Yes,” said Dad. “I’ll do the background work this time. I’ve seen what you can do, you’re ready to do the heavy lifting.”

“Well…okay.” It wasn’t like John didn’t know how to do this spell—it was a simple barrier spell around the island to prevent it from being found with magic that they’d been re-casting every new moon since they’d come to live here. But usually Dad did it and John helped, not the other way around.

He sat there with the island for a second, feeling its power, And John dipped part of himself in it, gently swirled it around them, all around itself, forming it into a barrier. Dad’s hand was on the power as well, shaping it, doing what John normally did but more smoothly, spinning the magic into a vortex, a force with high and strong walls that would shield them.

As he did that, John, at the centre of it, felt something else pressing on the barrier, pushing it in. “You have to anchor it,” Dad said.

“Oh,” said John. Dad had always talked about anchoring the spell before, but John had never quite realized that there was a whole other power there. It was…it was the ocean. He knew that. The ocean had a power all its own, a big one. That made sense. He’d foolishly thought Dad was anchoring the spell to the boundaries of the island or something, but the shore was a temporary thing that was reshaped with every wave. Of course if the barrier was connected to something as deep and old as the ocean, that made it all the more powerful.

So John took a breath, reached out to the ocean’s power, and gently, as gently as he could, attached the barrier to it. He was a bit surprised when it worked, the swirling stopping, solidifying, the barrier around the island snapping right back into place.

The power rushed out of him, and Dad was there, making sure he didn’t fall over. “Good work,” Dad said, smiling proudly. “That was really good, John.”

John shook his head, leaning into his dad a little. “It was the same thing that you do every month.”

“Yeah, but you did it perfectly on your first try. Most people feel how strong the ocean’s power is and try to use brute force on it, but the ocean never responds to that. You have to be gentle, and you were.”

John felt himself blush. “I was just…doing what felt right. Near Pungja there’s a big dormant volcano. I used its power a few times in my experiments, and you have to be really, really careful with it because…well. It’s a big volcano.”

“Right,” Dad said. “That makes sense. There’s a volcano on Revi, the big island north of here. There are all sorts of wards keeping it contained, though. Someday we should go to Pungja together. I’d like to see your volcano.”

John grinned. “I’d like that too! I’d love to introduce you to my friends there. And if you go up the mountains a little there are all these lakes that are really beautiful, and they have the coolest birds. They’re huge and colourful and they’ll come right up to you if you’re quiet enough.”

“That sounds amazing,” Dad said. “We’ll definitely go there sometime.”

“Yeah,” John said. He didn’t think they would. “We definitely will.”

“We should get back to the house,” Dad said. “It’s lunchtime.”

“Yeah,” John said. He let Dad pull him to his feet, and they gathered up the ritual paints together. “I guess we should go to the beach first, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll wash you off,” Dad agreed, looking at John. “How would you feel about a new tattoo?”

John blinked, looked down at himself. He definitely had room for more. “Like…the ones you have?” Dad had a few, on his chest and upper arms. They were more abstract than John’s, to help focus his witchcraft.

“Yes. It’ll make our rituals easier for you, and we’d be able to paint you less every time.”

John had liked his dad painting the red and blue paints all up and down his arms, sides, and back, but he would also like his dad giving him a tattoo. He nodded. “Yeah. I’d really like that.”

“I thought you would.” Dad patted John’s butt. “Ready to go?”


They started down the path, side-by-side. John looked down at his dad’s hand, so close to his. Swallowing, he reached out and took it. Dad smiled, squeezed his hand and they walked like that. It was nice. It felt normal. Their power mixed as they went, swirling between them.

“I love you,” John said, because that was what he was feeling and he wanted his dad to know that. “I’m really happy that we can…do this.”

“Me too.” Dad kissed him on the cheek. “I love you too, son.”

“Mom’s not home yet, right?”

“No, not yet.”

John nodded. “She’s been at the Sorcerer King’s castle a lot lately. Do you know what she’s doing?”

“She’s plotting something with him. They’re trying to trap James,” Dad said, voice tight.

John’s heart clenched, and he felt his power recoil from Dad’s a little. “Is she going to kill him?” He was thinking about his baby brother—not a baby, not anymore. He was older now than John had been when they’d left the forest. He’d been powerful. He’d already been so powerful as a kid.

“I think she’s going to try, yes,” Dad said.

John nodded quietly. “Okay,” he said, and that wasn’t what he was thinking. What he was thinking was that James had always been capable of things John would never have dreamed of doing, that there was a reason why they’d ran away instead of fighting after James had refused to join them, and that maybe James would kill her instead. John wouldn’t mind that. Any thought he’d once had that he’d be upset if he lost his mother was gone. She’d kill him if he annoyed her. If she died, there’d be nobody to threaten him. He could leave. He could go to Pungja. He could do his work again. He could be happy. He could…

John could be happy.

No, he thought. No, he couldn’t. His mom wasn’t the only thing in the world making him unhappy. There were plenty of those things. But she was one of them.

“John?” Dad asked, sounding worried. “What’s wrong, baby?”

John was crying. Shit. He wiped his face with his free hand. “Nothing. I just…James is so much better than all of us. And he hates us for what mom… For what happened. What if he kills us?”

“He won’t. He’s not better than us, John.”

“He is.” And they all knew it.

“He’s more powerful,” Dad corrected. “He’s not better. You’re smarter than him. You’re a more skilled practitioner than him. Think about what we did today, John. Great magic isn’t about having the most raw strength, it’s about using what you have in the best way.”

John knew Dad was just trying to make him feel better, and he sighed. “You don’t have to lie, Dad. It’s okay.”

“I’m not lying. I’ve read your notes. Your work is remarkable, way more than anything I or any of the rest of us could do.”

It wasn’t really, or John would still have his soul. “I just hope…I just hope it goes well, at the castle.”

“Me too,” Dad said. He pulled John closer, put an arm around him, and kissed his temple. “Come on, let’s get you down to the water. If you’re good during your bath, I’ll give you a sweet after lunch.”

John smiled. “What kind of sweet?”

“It’s a surprise. And then you’re going to lay down and take a nap.”

“I don’t need a nap, I’m not tired.” John was always tired.

“You will be by the time I’m done with you,” Dad promised, and he led John to the beach.

John let his daddy clean, feed and put him to bed, and he felt so happy and taken care of that he forgot to worry about James or his mom or any of it. He was happy right now. That was what mattered.

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