Normally he would have rolled his eyes and made some comment about Alan being a mother hen, but Nick was still frowning at the pillow. It didn’t take Alan long to turn back to Mae and begin talking about Latin.
Later Alan brought up the subject of Mae again. Nick was trying to get to sleep when Alan came in after his shower with his glasses fogged up and his hair dripping onto the shoulders of his I’M A LIBRARIAN, NOT A FIGHTER T-shirt. He tried to towel his hair dry and talk about his feelings at the same time.
“I know that she’d eaten the fever fruit and everything, the night of the Goblin Market,” he said. “But she did pick me. I mean, that might mean something.”
Nick stared at the ceiling and said, “I guess so.”
“It wouldn’t be right to ask her while she’s living with us and relying on us to help her brother,” Alan went on, worried about all the usual little details only he would have worried about. “Afterward, though, I thought I might ask her if I could give her a call. Sometime. What do you think?”
“I don’t know why you always do this,” Nick said. “What’s the point? You want to get married and have babies and have to run with them all over the country, like Dad had to run with us?”
It sounded more savage than he’d meant it to. When he levered himself up on one elbow and threw his brother a baleful glare, Alan looked a little pale.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said. “I don’t — it’ll be years before I start thinking about getting married and things.”
“But you do want to,” said Nick. “Someday. That’s what you’re saying. Why?”
His brother flinched. “You really don’t understand why someone would want a family?”
“I have no idea!”
Alan clenched his fists around the damp material of his towel, looking like he wanted to throw it in Nick’s face. He went dark red and snapped, “I want somebody to love me.”
“Oh my God,” Nick exclaimed, turning violently away.
When he turned around again, which was not for some time, he saw Alan reaching under his pillow to touch that stupid book as if for reassurance. All of Alan’s pictures stared at Nick from the bedside table: Mum and Dad on their wedding day, looking as young as Alan was now, Nick a scowling child in the uniform of a long-forgotten school. When Nick closed his eyes, he saw the hidden picture as if it was lined up alongside the others.
“Alan,” he said quietly.
“Do you get scared?”
Alan laughed, a small fraught laugh like something tearing, and said, “I’m scared all the time.”
The answer was so unexpected that Nick opened his eyes. He’d never thought of Alan as being scared. Alan always had a plan, always stayed calm and knew what to do. He looked at Alan, and his brother’s face looked just as it always did, calm in the low light, but his face lied just as well as the rest of him.
Later that night Nick woke to the sound of Alan talking to demons in his sleep, words Nick couldn’t make out broken up with cries. He rolled out of bed as fast as if it was an attack and shook Alan roughly awake. Alan stirred, opened his eyes, and then recoiled violently from Nick, his back hitting the wall.
“Hey,” Nick said. “Hey, it’s me.”
Alan was breathing hard, fresh lines of pain around his mouth and sweat shining on his face. In the moonlight the sweat had a silver sheen; beneath it Alan looked gray. He looked like he’d been fighting, and of course he had. The demons were trying to put the third mark on him. He could only hold them off for so long.
Eventually Alan smiled a bad copy of the smile he used to reassure children, all strained around the edges.
“Right,” he said. “Okay, I’m all right now. I’d like to sleep.”
But when Nick climbed back into bed and lay silent for a while, listening in case Alan had any more dreams, Alan did not sleep. There was a click, and a circle of yellow light pooled against the wall across from Nick’s bed. When he glanced over he saw Alan’s thin back, saw the silhouette of his hands. The shadows of Alan’s fingers were like long black ribbons in the yellow light, and he knew what his brother was staring at. As if he couldn’t get back to sleep without looking at her.
The next morning when Alan got up to make breakfast, Nick stole the photograph.
THAT DAY AT BREAK TIME, NICK DID NOT GO AND HANG around with his new crowd. He went out into what passed for school grounds in London and, standing behind a sad-looking hedge that had been coaxed into half life by the coming of May, he made a call. It was to the local paper in Durham, and he asked them to put in a certain advertisement.
“I’ll scan the picture and e-mail it to you,” Nick said. “Underneath put ‘If you have any information about Marie, please call.’”
He gave them his number and the details of the emergency credit card Alan had insisted he should have. He went into the computer room, scanned the photograph, and sent it off, using an e-mail address he’d just made for the purpose. Nick had never wanted to e-mail anybody before.
He did not give the blond girl’s smiling face more than a cursory glance this time around. He’d decided he didn’t like her. He would find out what she’d meant to Alan, make sure it was over, and then never have to think about her again.
That done, Nick skipped his last class and went outside to wait for the car. It pulled up, and Nick was enormously unsurprised to see Mae in the passenger seat. He climbed into the back alongside Jamie without comment, and they were off. The journey lasted a little over two hours, though Alan insisted they stop at some place called Andover for sandwiches, in case they missed dinner while they were hunting magicians.
They chose the car park beside the railway station in Salisbury as an unobtrusive place to stop.
“I still don’t see why we’re going to the city,” Jamie said. “If the magicians want to call up demons near Stonehenge, shouldn’t we go there?”
“I’ll drive up to Stonehenge and take a look around,” Alan told him, “but it’s most likely the Circle is staying in Salisbury. It’s the middle of the day. They’re not going to want the tourists to see them conjuring up demons.” He hesitated. Silence fell and lingered, seeming embarrassed to be there. “Er, Nick can see illusions, so he’ll be going into Salisbury. Who—?”
Now there was a question hanging in the car like very awkward air freshener. Nick saw Mae’s hand reaching for the handle of her door.
“I’ll take Jamie,” Nick said, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and hauling him out of the car. He kept talking over Jamie’s startled squawk. “You have Mae.”
Alan looked absurdly delighted, but he kept himself together enough to say, “Let’s meet at Salisbury Cathedral in an hour.”
“Right,” Nick answered. “Where’s Salisbury Cathedral?”
“Um,” Jamie said, “I think that’s it over there.”
Nick looked over his shoulder and saw the cathedral, looming against the sky and brandishing its turrets in all directions. The gray, spiky thing reminded Nick of the cathedral at Exeter. There were supposed to be scattered bones under every inch of ground in Exeter Cathedral close. He wondered how many bones were buried around this one.
He nodded at Alan, and the car peeled away just when Jamie had nerved himself to say, “I’d really rather go with—”
Jamie looked somewhat forlornly after the disappearing car. Then his eyes slid uncertainly over to Nick.
Jamie had seen Nick at school, at home, and at the Goblin Market, which meant that Jamie knew him better than anyone but Alan.
It only now occurred to Nick that he was fairly sure Jamie was scared of him, and here they were stranded together in Salisbury.
Well, he was helping to save Jamie’s life. Jamie could learn to cope.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go check out the pubs.”
Jamie blinked. “Sorry?”
“Magicians like pubs,” Nick answered. “Same reason they like cities. Gives them an opportunity to mingle with people and choose a victim. If someone’s drunk enough, they can get marked in the bar and never know what hit them.”
“I’m on the wagon,” Jamie said. “Starting now.”
Nick made a noncommittal noise and started off down the road. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that Jamie was behind him. Jamie was, trailing unhappily in his wake, and something else occurred to Nick. The boy had been thin to start with, and now his face was pinched and too pale. There were deep lines on either side of his mouth. The world had taught Nick a lot of things, and one of them was too-certain knowledge of what someone in pain looked like.
“The dreams the demons send you,” he said. “They’re bad?”
Jamie looked startled. “They’re not good. It’s cold, cold enough to really hurt, and there are voices whispering all the time. In the dream I can never see anything, but every time it’s colder, and every time the voices get closer.” He stopped and looked at Nick in that ridiculous, wide-eyed way, and Nick remembered him babbling about empathy. “Alan’s tougher than I am,” Jamie added softly. “I don’t think he lets the dreams bother him much.”
It was true that Nick would have noticed Alan getting thinner. Most k tho;
“Alan is tough,” Nick conceded, and eased his pace so Jamie might have some hope of keeping up. “Don’t look so worried,” he added. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Jamie seemed more surprised than reassured. “You won’t?”
“No, I won’t. Alan would kill me.”
Jamie blinked. “I’m very touched.”
They started at the unimaginatively titled Railway Tavern, proceeding on to places called the Bird in Hand and the Old Ale House. The pubs had all the usual fittings: a bar, a bartender, and customers. The Bird in Hand even had a sign that showed a young woman lounging on a gigantic hand, but no magicians.
Nick had never been to Salisbury before. The city seemed mainly residential and comfortable with that. He and Jamie walked down several streets, lined with aged rectangular houses that gave the impression of standing about in cozy groups, to get from one pub to the next. The buildings got older and Nick got more annoyed as they crossed a bridge and found little churches and shops rubbing shoulders, and still no sign of magicians.
They even stopped by some hotels on their quest from pub to pub. Jamie peered too closely at people’s faces in the street, searching for any resemblance to the magicians’ pictures Alan had drawn from the descriptions of Market folk, and Nick was on constant alert for the sight of something too perfect, too real, which would signal an illusion being used.
They were in a pub called the Chough when Nick returned from his investigation of every corner of the place to find Jamie sitting at the bar exactly where he had left him.
He had not left him penned in by two men, however. Nick’s first thought was of magicians, and he reached for his nearest knife before it occurred to him that Jamie’s earring probably had more to do with this situation than his demon’s mark.
It had been a long and frustrating search already. Nick was itching for a fight.
“These guys bothering you?” he asked Jamie softly, and gave the two men his coldest look. One of them stepped back.
“No, no, no,” Jamie said at once, looking wildly around at empty air, as if Nick had started to throw knives.
Nick could throw knives quite well, but that was beside the point.
“If you say so.”
“I do,” Jamie said. “That is, in fact, what I say. So — I hear there’s an antiques fair in town. We should check it out!”
Jamie, who rarely touched Nick, was so overwhelmed by concern for the people who’d been harassing him that he grabbed Nick by the elbow. Nick refused to move for a moment, staying immobile with no particular effort, and watched the men. Time stretched, weighed down with the growing fear and hesitation of the two strangers.