34. Fast Forward

“You get out!” Jaz grabbed the nearest thing at hand, a half-full jug of milk, and hurled it at Costello. “No fighting in my shop!”

He had been taken by surprise at Bracken’s sudden defeat, and ducked too late. The jug hit him in the chest, and he staggered back, nearly falling. He straightened only to dodge another milk jug—this one was full—and then a syrup bottle, which smashed against an overturned table. Next came a heavy portafilter, which shot past his head and cracked a window.

Costello stumbled backward, guarding his face with raised arms as Jaz continued to launch things at him. She went along the counter, toward the register and her shotgun beneath it. She threw all of the syrup bottles and moved on to milk-steaming pitchers. The pitchers pinged brightly, some hitting Costello and some sailing past, bouncing and skipping across the floor.

Clara strode into the line of fire, teeth clenched, hands balled in fists alongside her swishing skirt. Placing herself between Costello and Jaz, she made wide circular gestures with both hands. Sudden gusts of wind rose around her and sent the pitchers spinning off to either side. The wind swirled her skirts and tugged brown wisps of hair from her bun so they floated around her face like seaweed in water.

Jaz reached for another pitcher, but she had run out. She grabbed the shotgun and pumped it, but the chambers were empty. So she threw it instead. “Get out of my shop! Get out!

Clara continued making her circular gestures to maintain the gusts for a moment, in case Jaz found something else to throw.

Instead, Jaz’s attention turned to Bracken, and she vaulted over the counter, crunching shards of glass beneath her boots as she landed on the other side. She dashed over to Bracken as Clara lowered her hands and the wind died away.

Jaz slipped in the blood spreading from Bracken’s body as she neared him, crashing to her knees. Davin knelt beside him already, supporting him in a sitting position with one hand pressed against his back, staring intently at Bracken’s chest. A small hole had opened up there, leaking pale pink blood.

Jaz grabbed Bracken’s shoulders and looked into his face. “Bracken. Bracken!”

Bracken raised his head. His eyes were solid black behind his fluttering eyelids. He wheezed a sound but couldn’t draw breath back in. His body trembled. His clothes, which were really just his skin, began to lose shape and color. He raised shaking hands and clutched at her shoulders.

Davin pushed Jaz away and began making a pulling, twisting gesture in front of Bracken’s chest with one hand, as if drawing out an invisible string. His other hand pressed firmly against the middle of Bracken’s trembling back.

***

The rocklike pain in Bracken’s chest seemed to bulge, then stretch, and then it tunneled out of him toward Davin’s moving hand. Bracken spasmed as the thing left him—and suddenly he could breathe again. He gulped air. Jaz leaned in and pulled him against her, wrapping her arms around him while looking over his shoulder to Davin.

“It was trapped inside him,” Davin told her. “It’s all out now. We should get some bandages and stop the bleeding.”

“What was it?” Bracken asked hoarsely.

“Air,” answered Davin.

“Oh,” said Bracken, and passed out.

***

Moving him only made the bleeding worse so they left him on the floor. Jaz ran to the workspace and found a pile of bar towels to tuck under his head.

Davin nudged a suitcase under Bracken’s legs to elevate them. “I’ll go and find a medic.”

Jaz cradled Bracken’s head in both hands. He seemed smaller than usual, as if all his mass was draining out of him. Medicine wouldn’t help him, she was certain, nor Alchemy. Nothing in Davin’s world could. “Sure, yes. Go. Get them.”

He dashed out. Jaz waited until the doors closed behind him, then laid Bracken’s head carefully on the towels. She ran across the empty cafe—Clara and Costello had gone, at some point, along with everyone else—locked the doors, and raced back to Bracken. He looked worse than ever, his body too thin and flaccid as she pulled his head and shoulders into her lap.

Please, no. No. No. Please don’t go. Please don’t…

“Janus!” She cried, her voice rising to a scream. “Janus!!”

Janus appeared, sitting on a nearby suitcase. “That doesn’t look good.”

“Shut up! You have to help him.”

Janus crossed one knee over the other. “The wound is beyond healing, you realize. To save his life I would have to—”

“I know!”

“You know I can’t use such power on him. Not without his permission.”

“You have mine, now do it!”

Janus uncrossed his knees and leaned forward. A sharp expression came into his face. “If I do this for you, I’ll want something in return.”

“You always want something, don’t you? You can’t save a life just because it’s a life, can you?” Jaz cried, her voice breaking.

Janus shook his head. “It doesn’t affect me who dies or lives in these worlds. You want his life to continue, not me.”

“What, then?” She hissed, clenching her teeth against a sharp sob. “What do you want?”

“I want you to let me speak to him without interfering. Or trying to dissuade him from making an agreement of his own with me.”

“So his life only matters if it benefits you,” Jaz growled.

“Fortunately for you, yes.” Janus stood, shimmering with waves of iridescence traveling down his body into the floor. “Do we have an agreement, then?”

Jaz looked down at Bracken. “Yes. We have an agreement. Dammit.”

Janus nodded. He turned and looked up at the ceiling, a slight smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Athamas isn’t going to like this…”

Iridescent ripples shot across the floor, up the walls, coating everything in the shop.

Then the shaking began: A violent, deep tremor hanging in the air like discordant base notes, flooding and pounding through every inch of the room.

Jaz curled over Bracken, hugging him to her. “It’ll be okay…just hold on a second longer. Just one more second…”

And then the shrieking began, like the sound of wheels on metal, and a slick, rushing sound like a record played at high speed.

The hands of the clock above the doors accelerated. The second hand spun too fast to be seen, while the hour hand advanced smoothly, passing the hours until they both stopped at midnight.

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