Sometimes People Only Spy Because They’re Genuinely Curious
“Which one of them poisoned you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do.”
“I don’t. Knowing would require me to have evidence.”
“No,” Ron said, standing firm, crossing his arms. They were sitting in the damp cabin of one of the boats the Red Clan lived on. The Coven meeting would cover two more days after today, but James said none of it was really going to matter. “This is important, you can’t do the sagacious thing where you know stuff but don’t tell me. Someone tried to kill you and you know who it was. Tell me.”
James looked at Ron. Ron looked at James. James glared. Ron glared back.
James sighed, looking away. “It’s actually not fair that you always win the real arguments. I should be allowed to win those sometimes.”
“You want me to tell you how I do it?” Ron asked, taking James’s hand and pulling him to sit on the narrow bed.
“I only start real arguments when I’m right.”
“Oh.” James was pouting now. Or pouting more than he had been since he’d realized they were going to have to sleep on a boat, anyway. “That doesn’t seem like a strategy I can steal from you. It was Cassiopeia. She didn’t hand me the beans but she did cross her hand over them while Timothy did. That’s not evidence, it’s just what I saw. Just her hand, not the poison. Not enough to accuse her,” James said, looking at his fingernails.
“I think it’s enough to accuse her,” Ron disagreed. “The Coven is a lot of things but it’s not a court. Whatever she did, she did publicly, so that’s how we’re going to confront her publicly.”
“James, just because you don’t like confrontation…”
“You don’t either.” James sounded tired.
“I don’t,” Ron agreed. “But your friend tried to kill you and she almost definitely did it because she’s working for Sam.” Which meant that Sam had tried to kill James, even now, after everything. But ‘everything’ was basically just two dinners, and Ron should have known those were never going to be enough. He had hoped they would be, though.
“Yes. Which is why we’re not going to confront her,” said James. “Ron, she thinks we don’t know she’s working for Sam.”
“James, do you really want to do the whole her not knowing that we know what she knows about whatever?” Ron asked. “What is the actual benefit of that?”
James was quiet for a second as he thought about that. “I guess nothing,” he admitted.
“Right,” said Ron. He put his arm around James now. “So the best thing we can do is confront her and let the Coven deal with her.”
James nodded. “You’re right. I like it better when you’re wrong, because it means I get to be right.”
“I know. Maybe next time.” Ron grinned as he rested his head on James’s shoulder. “Would it help if I took my clothes off?”
“It would help if I took your clothes off,” James corrected. “Stand up. Oh, you know what else would help? If I stopped attending Grand Coven meetings, since they’re going to be the staging ground for assassination attempts.”
“I agree,” said Ron, who’d drastically rethought his position on Grand Coven meetings in the last few hours. “About both things.”
“Right, but the undressing is more important, and you still haven’t stood up. But before I spank you for being a disobedient little runt, we should do the polite thing and make sure our interloper is aware that he can leave if he’d rather not watch.”
The room’s air was very still, but James nodded at a corner under the window, which was clean but dark. Darker than it ought to be, actually. Ron looked at it and, when he concentrated, he could just hear it humming. “Oh, I didn’t even notice that,” said Ron. At home, nobody would have been able to pull that on them, but it was so much harder to hear magic here. The boat always moving didn’t help.
“It’s very cleverly hidden,” James agreed. “We’d like you to come out now.”
The shadows seemed to rustle, and then lightened with a huff, and a boy in a green hood covering a close-shaven head was crouched there. He stood, brushing his knees off. “Hi. I wasn’t spying on you or anything. I was just listening to you to see what you were talking about.”
“That’s actually what spying is,” Ron told him.
“Whatever, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t going to come back here and plot against my clan,” the boy muttered. “That happens a lot with the Red Clan, so it seemed prudent. But if all you’re going to do is have gross sex, then I’m out of here.”
“Do you have a name?” James asked him.
“No, we don’t actually have names in the Green Clan, we communicate in nothing but whistles and tree bark.”
The boy’s sarcasm rolled right over James, who just stood there, watching him. The boy stood there awkwardly for a minute. James let him stand there. The awkwardness stretched.
The boy sighed. “Jed.”
“Was that so hard?” James asked, lifting Ron’s shirt over his head. “I’m James, and this is my husband Ron, and I promise we weren’t plotting against your clan.”
“I’ll never know if that’s true because you knew I was here,” Jed muttered, looking away, but only a little.
“You’re welcome to continue spying on us, but we are going to have sex now.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” Jed said, heading for the door. He paused halfway there, as James undid Ron’s pants. “Did the Purple Clan really try to kill you?”
“Their leader did.”
“You say that like there’s a difference.”
“There is, and it’s important,” James told him. He pushed Ron’s pants and smallclothes down.
“Don’t know about that.”
“There is,” said Ron, lifting up a foot when James prompted him so James could take his boot off.
“Well, obviously you’d say that, you’re married to the guy who said it five seconds ago. Okay, I’m going.”
Jed took another step, then stopped, looking back. “Is it true you have a god living in your forest? Like a real god?”
“Inasmuch as any gods are real, yes,” said James, doing his best not to sound impatient. Ron was proud of him. James took Ron’s other boot off, leaving him naked. “He’s sleeping. We don’t want him to wake up.”
“Lot of that going around lately,” Jed said, clearly not looking at Ron’s cage. “Isn’t it so annoying that my brother didn’t know more about the whole giant monster sleeping under the world that’s going to wake up and kill us all thing? But he was telling the truth, he’s just an idiot and really doesn’t know anything aside from that it’s there.”
“We know,” Ron promised. He hadn’t thought Jocasta was lying either, despite what Obadiah had kept insisting. James pulled Ron over his lap. “Don’t worry. The Yellow Clan and Purple Clan are going to help the Green Clan look into it.” All the clans would, but Jezebel and Cassiopeia were the two who seemed to have the most ideas, or at least the two who’d contributed the most ideas.
“The Purple Clan like the evil Purple Clan that’s trying to kill you?” Jed asked, eyebrow raising. “Because don’t let me tell you how to run your Coven but they seem like someone you shouldn’t trust. You know what, whatever, you run your own life, it’s fine.” He took another step. “You guys do forest magic too, right?”
James sighed. “Would you like to stay and have a cup of tea?” he asked. “Ron and I are still going to have sex, but I don’t mind if you watch.”
It wasn’t like Ron hadn’t known that was going to happen, but hearing it made him shudder. He nodded. “We’d love to tell you about our forest, if you’ll tell us about yours.”
“The Catech isn’t a forest, it’s a wood. There’s a…”
“Difference, I know,” James said, gesturing to their table. “Why don’t you tell us about it? We’d love to know more about your clan.” He gave Ron a smack. “Why aren’t you making the tea, runt?”
“Sorry, sir,” said Ron, trying to get up.
Another smack. “You have magic.”
“Sorry, sir,” Ron repeated, focusing on the kettle across the room, willing it to boil.
“Wait, I know what this is?” Jed said, narrowing his eyes. “You’re trying to spy on us now. Get information about us so you can enslave us and steal our territory. I’m wise to your tricks.”
“We’re really not interested in stealing your territory,” Ron told him, over his shoulder.
“Why not?” Jed asked, defensive. “It’s awesome. The Catech is…vibrant.”
“I don’t believe you,” said James. He spanked Ron again. “You’ll have to work harder than that to convince me.”
“Fine, I will.” Jed took a seat. “I want sugar in my tea.”
“Can do,” Ron promised, trying to levitate the sugar.
Jed nodded. “Well, first of all, the Kyainese call it the Catech. It calls itself the Source. People think it’s dark, but it’s actually really bright when you go in at night and the plants wake up for you…”