In spite of that, he was looking from Alan to Nick and back again, and he looked protective. As if Jamie could possibly do anything to protect Alan.
“Everything’s fine,” Alan replied, but he looked grateful.
Nick crossed his arms over his chest and asked Alan, “What did you want to talk to me about?”
He was rather glad that Jamie was there. It had always been him and Alan in the past. It would have been too familiar, too easy to fall back into the habit of acting as if they were a team, but Jamie’s presence made it clear that everything had changed. Alan belonged with Jamie and other normal people, and Nick was one of the magicians. They were not family.
“There’s a spell,” Alan said slowly. “It’s just a small spell. The magicians’ name for it is the blood calling spell. It means your family can always find you.”
“Explain further,” Nick ordered.
He was talking in the way he always talked to people he didn’t know well and didn’t like much, every word the equivalent of throwing a stone. He knew Alan recognized it.
Alan did not rise to the bait. He kept his eyes on the plastic sheen of their tablecloth, and he explained. “Say the name. Say the spell. Spill a little blood, and then you can follow the trail of that blood.”
“Follow the trail of my blood,” said Nick, because Alan didn’t want to say it and Nick wanted him to hear it at least. “To my father’s.”
“You knew Black Arthur was my father all along,” Nick remarked thoughtfully. “You could have done this spell at any time. Why didn’t you?”
Alan did look up at him then. His eyes looked hurt, but his whole white, bruised face told a story of pain, and a little more could make no difference.
“I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t ever want you to know any of it.”
“Your concern is very touching,” Nick sneered. “And you risked your own stupid life because you couldn’t bear to tell me something so horrible? How noble. Only, wait — you risked Jamie’s stupid life as well. That’s not very noble.”
He gave Jamie a deliberate, amused look from under his eyelids, seeing how the boy received this news. Jamie’s face betrayed nothing, but his hands were shaking as he made himself a cup of tea.
“I put you first,” Alan said in a tired way. “I always have. And no, it’s not very noble at all.”
Nick threw a kitchen knife at him.
Jamie almost dropped his tea, and Alan caught the knife by the handle with no fuss, looking thoughtfully at the serrated edge. Nick didn’t want to waste one of their hunting knives on himself. The kitchen knife would do if he stayed still.
“Very thoughtful of you,” Alan said, laying down the knife and drawing a blade from his belt. “But actually, I’ve got one of my own.”
Nick recognized the knife, the wickedly sharp point and the signs for power and protection carved in the steel hilt. He remembered weapons glittering under the lights of the Goblin Market, being happy about his brother’s present and hearing Alan say so casually, I’ve been thinking we could use an enchanted knife.
He wondered how long Alan had been planning this.
He asked, “How much blood do you need?”
“Jamie,” Alan said, “could you fetch me a saucer?”
Jamie put down his mug, tea slopping onto the kitchen counter, and mutely fetched down a saucer from the cupboard with the door askew. He put it in the center of the table. Nick strolled over to the table and took the chair opposite Alan. He had his gaze fixed at a point beyond Alan’s ear at first, but then Alan flinched, so Nick looked directly at him. Alan blinked, looking exhausted and owlish and a little stupid, and Nick put all the chilly distance he had been feeling these past few days into his eyes. He made his stare long and cold as winter.
“Come on, then,” he said in a low challenge and held out his arm, elbow on the table and hand half-curled into a fist, as if they were going to arm wrestle. “What are you waiting for?”
Alan’s gaze was steady now and entirely blank. “Take off your talisman.”
It was so strange that Nick paused. Alan had always stressed how important it was for Nick to keep his talisman on if he wanted to be safe.
Well, Nick had always hated the thing, and he wasn’t particularly interested in being safe anymore. He drew the talisman off and put it down on the table as if he were laying down his‹layhin stake in a card game. Alan looked at him steadily, recognizing and accepting the stakes, and reached out for him. Nick forced himself not to pull away.
Alan trailed two fingers along Nick’s arm, the touch light and expert. The blue veins stood out clearly against the dead-white skin, and Alan traced the largest vein until he chose a spot. Nick wanted him to get on with it. He was glad when Alan took his hand away: He preferred the knife.
“Say the name,” Alan commanded.
Nick said, low, “Black Arthur.”
Alan cut swift and deep. There was no hesitation, nor any trying to spare Nick pain, which would have cost him more pain. There was just the slice of the knife and the moment of shock.
A line appeared in the knife’s wake, beaded with blood, and slowly the line opened into a jagged cut. Blood dripped down Nick’s arm and he angled it so that the blood fell into the saucer, which filled drop by drop. A splash of blood on white china looked almost like a flower, but then Nick squeezed his arm slightly to create a steady flow of blood, and the flower was swallowed up in a pool.
“I claim the right of kinship,” Alan said. “I claim blood and bone.”
Nick saw Alan dip his finger into the blood and put it to his lips, but he was more concerned by the sudden stir in the blood still in his veins, as if the iron in it were being called to by a magnet very far away.
“I claim the right to follow you,” Alan continued. “I claim you for my own.”
They were silent then, waiting for enough blood to flow, loosing the blood so it could call out to another body. Nick lifted his eyes from the blood snaking down his arm and met Alan’s eyes, closer than he had expected.
“You didn’t have to include yourself in that spell. You didn’t need to taste the blood.”
“It makes more sense this way,” Alan said casually. “Now both of us can trace him.”
The cut in Nick’s arm was starting to throb dully with the pressure he was putting on it. He kept looking at Alan. “How many times have you lied to me?” he asked in a soft voice.
Alan replied, equally softly, “I’ve lost count.”
The saucer was brimming with blood by now.
Alan leaned forward to inspect the cut. “That’s enough,” he said, and produced their first-aid kit from under the seat. He was unrolling a bandage when Nick snatched the kit away.
“I can do it for myself.”
As he wrapped the bandage ruthlessly tight around his arm, he began to feel a tingling sensation. It was like the time Alan had persuaded him to donate blood, the tightening of his veins and the pull at his blood. Only this time there was no point where the blood could drain away, and the tug was not only in the veins of his arm but in all the veins running through his body, as if the tide of his blood had turned and was roaring toward a strange shore.
He was at one end of a line. The line stretched out somewhere in this city and connected him to his father.
Jamie’s voice rang out, sounding all wrong in the tense silence, like a discordant note played on a taut string.
“Did it work?”
Nick nodded slowly, not taking his eyes off Alan.
“I’ll get Mae.”
Jamie dashed out, and they heard his headlong rush up the stairs. Alan rose abruptly.
He must have been sitting on that chair for hours, getting his leg stiff. He must have been more tired than he knew. Nick rarely saw Alan stumble.
He stumbled now, and would have fallen, except that Nick leaped up and caught his elbow. Alan’s weight hit Nick’s palm hard, and a bolt of pain shot up Nick’s arm. He realized that he had reached out thoughtlessly and caught Alan with his injured arm.
He kept his face impassive. Alan righted himself in the space of a breath, but when Nick let go of him, Alan grabbed his wrist.
“Don’t leave me,” Alan said.
Nick tilted his head to look at him from another angle. No matter how he looked at him, Alan still made no sense. “I hurt you,” he said slowly. “Why would you want me to stay?”
“Oh God, Nick!” Alan said, his voice cracking. “Can’t you even understand that much?”
Nick didn’t understand at all. It made no sense until he remembered how big Alan was on kindness. Nick wasn’t his brother, but he would let Nick stay out of pity, the same way he’d adopt a stray kitten.
He fixed Alan with his coldest look, the one that made everyone back away, and promised, “If I stay, I’ll hurt you again.”
Alan did not back away. He did not even look away.
In the end, it was Nick who let his eyes drop. His gaze fell on his talisman, and he picked it up and slipped it on over his head almost automatically, and then felt furious with himself for doing so.
He went to the door, still not looking at Alan, and added over his shoulder, “But I won’t stay.”
He walked into the hall, and Mae, from the top of the stairs, ordered, “Don’t go anywhere!”
“Beg pardon?” said Nick.
She ran down the stairs looking flushed and purposeful, her jewelry jingling as she went. “What’s the address?”
“We did a spell — we didn’t leaf through a Tourist’s Guide to the Magicians of London,” Nick snapped.
Jamie, standing behind Mae, said tentatively, “Maybe if you visualized yourself walking through all the possible stages that the — the spell wants you to, that might help finding a location.”
Nick was about to growl at Jamie to shut up and stop talking to him like a teacher, but the spell tugged at him particularly strongly for one sharp, sweet instant, and he closed his eyes and did envision taking every step the spell wanted him to take, going through a rich neighborhood he’d never seen before. A street sign hung in the darkness behind his eyes for a moment.
Somewhat to his amazement, Nick opened his mouth, and in a voice that did not sound like his own, gave her an address off Royal Avenue. He was still standing stunned when Mae grabbed her coat.
“I mean it, Nick,” she said. “Stay put.”
She was gone in a whirl of green coat and bright jewelry. Nick heard the sound of her shoes drumming on the pavement outside. She was going somewhere at a dead run, and he couldn’t imagine that she was taking a taxi to go see the evil magicians.
Nick shook his head and went upstairs. He was going to try and sleep a few hours in a proper bed so he could be fresh when the time came to kill.
When he came downstairs, it was past noon and Mae had returned. She, Jamie, and Alan were clustered around the kitchen table, talking loudly. Spread over the table was a floor plan of Black Arthur’s house.
“Where did you get this?” Alan asked. “Did you go to the Market people?”
Mae blinked. “I went to planning information at the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and pretended to be Arthur’s niece doing a school project.”
“Oh,” said Alan. “Yeah, I guess that might work too.”
Jamie was beaming at his sister with fond proprietary pride. Nick looked down at the cork tiles.
“Soon she may break out a graph. She gets the businesslike practicality from Mum,” Jamie said. “I got the blond genes. Clearly, I win.”
“Shut up, I’m nothing like Mum,” Mae said, scowling. “Though speaking of business — this floor plan does come with a price.” She lifted her chin. “I’m coming with you guys.”