Magic is, inherently, selfish.
Taking the world and twisting it to make something of your own—twisting reality to make a thing you find more appealing—that is the nature of magic. The nature of fiends.
The nature of faeries.
And what an overwhelming, overpowering, magic it is.
That was what he’d told me. How he’d explained himself. And I told him something else. Something different.
Faeries are not the only ones with magic.
“We don’t exist well together,” he said, looking at me, and then away again. “Some of us don’t, anyway. Above all else, faeries look out for themselves. We don’t care much for anything that isn’t part of our individual beings.”
He said it factually. As if it were a brick wall I was meant to run into.
I nodded at him solemnly, unafraid and unabashed.
“So… why not take my food then? You didn’t want to owe me, right?”
He shook his head. “No, that isn’t quite why. I mean, yes, that is also a good reason not to. But, as I said: faeries are selfish. We don’t do kindness. At all. We don’t give it, and, therefore, we don’t care to receive it,” the phouka explained, his ears flicking to and fro, alert.
I couldn’t really blame him.
“So, who wants you dead, then?” I continued. “Is that…” he glared at me, warning me not to say the “f” word. “Is that, um, ‘Good Neighbor’ an important one?”
He nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. And, all important faeries are powerful faeries. Me being here is extremely dangerous for you, you know,” he pointed out. As if that were my cue to toss him out, like a flea-ridden stray beast.
Of course, I didn’t do that.
First, I shrugged at him. Then said, “I already set up a few horseshoes around the house, and there’s iron in every room. I figured if you were being hunted, it wasn’t by people or animals. So I thought it’d be best to be prepared, just in case.”
He blinked lazily at me, the gold in his eyes swirling until they turned into a dandelion color. “That is quite…” he rumbled. An almost-purr that was also nearly a growl.
“Unnecessary,” he finished his statement. Again, colored in fact. As if I were going to run into that wall anytime now.
I laughed once.
“Oh yeah? Why is that?”
“Because I intend to leave once my wound is healed. And I should never return.”
I did my best not to show. To not slow my bandaging of his arm, or to change my expression.
His words were a bit… shocking.
He snagged my hand, startling me into looking at his fierce yellow eyes. Gripped me hand tightly, a dangerous look resting beneath the surface of his iris. He spoke solemnly. Steadily. As if giving a verdict for a very serious case.
“I should never return for the sake of your safety. As a way of repaying my debt for using your porch, and for bothering you to bandage my wound: I should leave your home and never return.”
That was it.
What a stupid faerie-creature reason.
Upon seeing my understanding, he released my hand. Avoiding eye contact as he admitted—through the side of his mouth, “Sleeping under your porch was probably dangerous enough. I should never have done even that much. I’ve completely thrown everything out though, apparently. Seems that I’ve lost my mind,” he muttered.
To himself, I think.
Though, of course, I heard him.
I think it showed just how long he’d been alone. How long he’d longed for company.
Even the company of a strange human.
I laughed once, surprising him.
As he sought explanation, I dodged. Giving, instead, a compromise. “Alright, well, in the morning, you can leave. I want to re-bandage you before you go though. And I want you to take some food with you. And water. Wait—do, um, you ‘Good Neighbors’ even eat food?”
He nodded, his ears—which kept changing shape and color, moving between fox, coyote, possum and rabbit—flattened in the air a moment as his head dipped.
“We do,” he admitted. “We also have our own foods that come from Wonderland, or the Nevernever, or Neverland, or however you’d like to call it. Those foods are best for us, but we can eat your human foods too.” He acknowledged. “But, I can’t take more from you than I already have, so I must decline—”
His ears twitched. Flicking, as if they’d been hit by a sudden gust of wind.
“I beg your pardon?”
I nodded at him firmly. Convinced.
“You can’t. You’re already in my debt, so I can make a demand of you, right? That’s how it works?”
One of his ears dipped, apprehensive as his face showed his displeasure. “…Yes.”
I nodded. “Then my demand is that you stay one night. Let me check your wound in the morning, and also send you on your way with provisions.”
His other ear flattened, displeased. “That’s more than one demand.”
“You’ve been under my porch more than one night.”
“Hmph,” he pouted. Backed into a corner. Grimacing, he relented. “Fine. I’ll wait until morning to leave. Strange human…”
I nodded at him.
“I also have one more demand.”
Glaring, his ears pulled back. Hovering protectively over his skull. Suspicious. “What is it?”
I made myself very serious then.Made myself dire. Made myself understood. Looking directly into his eyes that looked like dying light, I made my final demand. Told him how we could come out of this evenly:
“You have to promise me: if you’re ever injured, or in trouble, and you need help, you’ll come find me. Promise me. If you need help, find me, okay? That’s the only way—the only way—I’ll consider your debt repaid. I want you to swear to me that, if you’re in trouble, and able to run, that you’ll run to me. Alright?”
Clearly, it was not.
His obvious first instinct was:
His eyes narrowed further. Ears moving back and forth, roving the room, searching the house through his hearing. As if he might find something lurking. Ready to pounce.
“Why? Why do you care so much? I just told you that I’m a phouka, a faerie creature, and that we are—almost by definition—quite selfish. Extremely selfish. We don’t care for others. Why go out of your way to help a creature like me?”
He seemed so…
As if my demand were a trap. As if I—a lowly human—knew who was after him. Knew that faerie personally and was in cahoots with whoever it was. As if I would care to trap him.
I laughed a little, despite trying not to.
“You… you’re kind of ridiculous, don’t you think?” I chuckled as he glared at me, his gaze angry now. Shaking my head, I explained. “I mean, how long have you been alive? Haven’t you seen humans? We’re selfish all the time—all the time—but, still. That doesn’t mean we all are, or that we’re selfish all the time, or that we, in turn, ought to be selfish. Right? Selfishness might make the magic you’re used to seeing, but I think kindness is a magic all on its own. And it isn’t one that you can keep for yourself, you know.”
He didn’t agree.
I could see the rejection of my explanation clearly on his face. Reflected in those topaz-colored eyes. Hardening, glistening. Not allowing those words to sink in.
And that was fine.
As long as he agreed to my demand, it didn’t matter.
He’d see it one day.
I’d show him.
Selfishness wasn’t the only thing that could create change. That could twist fate. Make the world something different. Something other.
For every push, there is something that pulls. And I firmly believe, because I’ve seen:
There are more magics than one.