January 21, 2015
Author: M. Raiya
Pairing: James and Ambient from Another Healing
“Are you ready?”
“No,” Ambient said quickly, heart pounding. “James, I can’t do this!”
“Yes, you can,” their friend Jules said.
Ambient shook his head emphatically and gave James what he hoped was a pitiful look. James—his lover, fiancé, and demon—looked back, face set and unreadable.
Jules laughed. “You two are hopeless.”
“No, just scared,” Ambient said.
James and Jules were sitting next to each other on a large boulder the glaciers had abandoned on top of the hill a few thousand years ago. Ambient stood on the grass about twenty feet in front of them. It was a still, dark summer night, moonless and warm: perfect for witches and demons to practice their arts unobserved by Vermont’s more human population. No one was awake for miles, but they hadn’t risked a fire, just in case. All three could see well in the dark.
“Forsooth,” Jules said. “Thou both agreed to enter into my training, choosing myself over the esteemed Dr. Anderson to develop and hone your talents to prodigious heights. By doing so, thou didst pledge to let me determine the pace and subject matter of thy learning. Therefore, thou both must trust me and accept my judgment as law.”
“Jules, going all Elizabethan doesn’t make this easier.”
“Ancient phrasing doth indeed open the channels of the ancient ways and power into which we tap.” The jewelry maker nodded sagely. “Here on this hill beneath the sky, the earth and the heavens do meet and cradle us in the hands of the old ones, that their memory be not erased from this earth.”
“We only chose you because Anderson is too busy training my sister,” Ambient said. “And the poor old ones will never be the same again if they’re trying to cradle James and me.”
Jules flung back his head and let out his big, comfortable laugh. Even James cracked a smile, Ambient noticed, which was saying something. He knew James was really nervous too.
Jules, an experienced witch, had been instructing them since last fall. They had raced through the preliminary skills because James was damn good for being self-taught, and he was a powerhouse as well. Ambient was a quick learner, even though he hadn’t known he was a witch until a few months ago, and had almost gotten killed shortly after discovering his birthright. A few renegade demons had wanted to experiment on him and James. One of them had been Jules’ ex-demon. It was due in no small part to Jules that the two of them had survived to become the working team he was trying to make them. They trusted him implicitly. But that didn’t make what Jules had planned for tonight any less frightening.
Ambient was going to learn how to fly.
“Are we going to do this?” James asked, jumping down from his perch on the boulder.
“But of course,” Jules said. He stayed on the rock, crossing his legs casually and folding his arms. “Ambient, we have discussed the technique many times. You and James have become very proficient at stacking wood without touching it. It is time to move to the next level. You are in control and may draw power from James. James, your role is to bolster Ambient, anticipating his needs, feeding energy through your link even before he requires it. Your shared concentration must be perfect.”
“Don’t you think we could touch each other for this one, while we start?” Ambient asked.
“No,” Jules said firmly. “You cannot count on being able to touch James or even having your diamond to draw power from. I want you fully accustomed to working on your own. Only when you’ve mastered your exercises may you have the luxury of working in contact.”
Ambient sighed. Jules was right, of course. But was Jules so adamant about it because he’d had lost his own partner years ago?
“Fine. James, be ready to heal me if I fuck this up.”
James’s gaze was steady. “I won’t let you fall.”
Ambient drew a deep breath. How the hell could James be so confident all the time? James hadn’t been fazed by anything Jules had had them do. On the other hand, James always had his feet on the ground. It was Ambient who was the focal point, the one in charge of the working. Tonight, he could literally break his neck if he didn’t get it right. This was the most difficult exercise they’d worked on so far, and the most dangerous.
The problem was that he could make even simple exercises dangerous. He’d dropped a chunk of wood on Jules’s foot a few weeks ago, trying to stack it, and broken one of their mentor’s toes. Last week he’d almost gotten them struck by lightning, just trying to make a little rain cloud. And they wondered why he was worried now.
“Jules, have you ever actually done this?”
He saw their mentor hesitate. “Only once. And I’m not going to delay your first experience by telling you the story. Gentlemen, please calm your bodies and focus your minds.”
Well, if he was going to break his neck, he’d better get on with it.
Ambient drew a deep breath, let it out, and raised his eyes to James’s. In the shadows, James’s dark eyes and hair and tanned skin blended into the night. All three of them were all dressed in black.
After a moment, James’s eyes began to glow red. It was a warm, comforting light; it was a feeling of tangible strength and love.
Ambient let his next breath out with a sigh. He might feel jittery, but he knew in his soul that he would never come to harm. Not when James’s single wish in the world was to keep him surrounded by a bubble of love.
James was his demon, destined to be his magical partner before either of them had been born. He was also destined to be far more.
“You’re still thinking,” Jules said.
“Sorry,” Ambient said. He centered his mind, letting go, letting James’s steady gaze fill his senses. For a moment, he thought about what their lovemaking would be like later tonight. Using magic hit James like an aphrodisiac. Then Ambient let even that thought slip away until he closed his eyes and held his own essence in balance.
“Deeply centered,” Jules said. His low voice was a familiar anchor.
Ambient perfected his balance and then poised himself, ready.
“Now, James,” Jules said. “Reach out and surround him. You are becoming the air that holds him and the air he breathes.”
Like a soft tendril, Ambient felt James’s touch. He opened himself to it, felt the warm sensuousness of it, felt the power. So much! He didn’t even have to draw on it; it was as though he and James were one, and the power was theirs to share. He could feel it surrounding him as Jules had directed. It held him and filled him. It was wonderful. Their magic had never felt like this before. He had no idea what they’d done differently this time. Maybe it was just the natural result of the months they’d been working together. Whatever it was, Ambient felt for the first time that maybe he really could fly.
“That’s it,” Jules said encouragingly.
Ambient opened his eyes, wrapping the power around himself like a cloak, and locked gazes with James again. Despite Jules’s encouragement, he waited for James’s nod. Then he spread his arms like wings and drew on the skills Jules had taught him. This time, instead of seeking to move a chunk of wood, he focused on himself.
For a long moment, nothing happened. It felt strange and awkward to twist the energy back around himself instead of sending it outward. He felt James seeking to help him, but this was in the range of abilities that only witches had, leaving him alone to figure it out. All James could do was offer support by firming the air around Ambient as Jules had directed.
And then, suddenly, he had it. Holding his body motionless, he practiced in his mind. It was a bit like driving a car in reverse, using mirrors. Cautiously, he felt it out, working backward, experimenting, going from side to side until he found the middle of the road. Then, more confidently, he began to pick up speed.
“You’ve got this, Ambient,” Jules said.
Amazed, he realized that he did.
“I’m with you,” James said, moving forward a pace.
Ambient held his breath, gathered his courage, and lifted himself into the air.
Despite his new confidence, he fully expected to crash down. But he didn’t. He was floating a whole foot above the ground! He heard himself laugh with delight.
“Stay focused!” Jules said sharply.
Ambient’s focus was the last thing in the world he would give up. This was the most amazing thing he’d ever done. He bent his right leg and raised his arms higher. This felt incredibly like swimming. Then he tweaked the energy just—so.
He rose higher with ease, as light and free as he’d dreamed he would be. He stopped when his feet were as high as James’s and Jules’s heads, held there for a moment, and then flung back his head and soared.
“Ambient!” Jules shouted.
The earth was too far away to possibly matter, to have anything to do with him. He was part of the wind, part of the clouds, a song that rose and glided across the heavens in the light of the stars that burned so close….
A sudden memory came to him. Eighth-grade English class in a hot and stuffy room, part of a life that meant nothing to him now that his world was filled with power and magic. Old Mrs. Eldridge’s voice came to him: “But Icarus flew too near the sun, and its warmth melted the wax that held his wings together. Without them, he plunged to his death in the sea….”
But oh, what a glorious death it must have been.
A tug from far below. His anchor, his mentor. Jules.
“Ambient, get your fucking ass down here now!”
No! He was the sky! The land spread out below in a patchwork of trees and fields, cut by snaking roads and rivers, all silvery in the moonlight, shimmering like the sea in the wind.
But something else tugged at him. Someone he did care a great deal about. Someone familiar and sensuous and… James! God, how could he have forgotten James? The lure of flight and the desire for his partner warred within him for a moment, and then, reluctantly, he started downward.
Suddenly, exhaustion burned through him. He became aware of channeling energy again, aware of how much strength it took. Shit, what if he’d drawn too much from James? Swiftly, Ambient let himself plummet. Wind tore at his clothes and hair, filling his ears with its rushing sound. When he slowed, sounds from the ground reached him again—a car horn, a dog barking. Then trees became individuals instead of a waving green mass. He slowed and aimed for the clearing below. Even as tired as he was and as strong as his love for James was, letting go of the sky was brutally hard. Only the knowledge that he could do this again soon kept him going down. The clearing became a hilltop with a round boulder in the middle. At last, he could see the two men standing beside it.
He wanted James’s arms around him again. The pull of that longing brought him the rest of the way down. Something in him, some of the wild wind that was now part of his soul and would be forever, made him pause and then gracefully sweep in a circle around the boulder before coming to land lightly on the balls of his feet, chin raised. For a second, he poised there, and then he let gravity have its way with him again. He lowered his arms, fully expecting both of them to light into him about being a reckless idiot.
But Jules had turned away and was leaning heavily against the stone, his head buried in his hands. Before Ambient could figure out why, James swept him into his arms and gave him a kiss that threatened to explode Ambient’s mind. Passion seared between them with such intensity that, had they been alone, they would have been naked and on the ground behind the boulder in moments. As it was, only the knowledge that James had to be angry with him made Ambient pull back and look cautiously into his partner’s eyes.
James sent him a look that clearly said the kiss would be continued later and whispered, “Do you have any idea how fucking hot you looked?”
Ambient stared at him. “You aren’t furious with me?”
“Hell, no! I had you all the time. It was effortless. You knew exactly what you were doing. You could have stayed up there an hour. I only tugged you back because Jules was freaking out.”
Ambient shook his head. “I was starting to feel the strain, at least once Jules called my attention to it. I shouldn’t have gone so high. I was totally caught up. How much were you feeling through me?”
James’s eyes burned with so much exhilaration that he didn’t even have to answer. “Can you lift me with you too?”
Ambient only had to think about it a moment. It would take some major reconfiguration, but… “Hell yeah!”
James started to pull him back into his arms, but Jules cleared his throat.
“If you two are through congratulating each other.” Jules’s voice was curt and snappish. Ambient braced himself again. James might have understood, but their mentor could not have been pleased with Ambient’s loss of attention, to say nothing of common sense. Jules hadn’t specified how high Ambient could go, but Ambient didn’t think it would do him any good to point that out.
They turned to him.
But all Jules said was, “We’ll meet after breakfast tomorrow,” and stalked off toward the woods, not toward the path that led down to the farm.
Ambient shivered. The three of them had always walked home together after a training session. God, Jules must be really furious. Ambient felt worse than if Jules had lit into him.
James hesitated a moment, then ran after Jules. Ambient groaned, knowing that was just going to make it worse. If Jules needed time to cool down, they ought to let him take it. But Ambient couldn’t help going after James.
“Hey!” James called.
Jules didn’t pause. He was almost at the tree line, about to disappear under a large pine. Ambient couldn’t shake the memory of how the tree had looked from above. He longed so badly to see it that way again that his feet actually left the ground for a few steps. This was going to take some getting used to.
“Jules!” James called again.
He didn’t stop.
Let him go, Ambient thought. This is only going to make him angrier. Usually James was so perceptive. Why was he doing this?
“How long ago was it that you flew?” James called to Jules’s back.
Oh, Ambient thought.
He caught up to James. When Jules finally turned, Ambient realized that he’d completely misinterpreted the situation. There were tears running down Jules’s face.
“Damn it, I thought I had this under control!” Jules wiped at his eyes furiously. “It was a long time ago. It doesn’t matter.”
“Jules,” James said. “It was the night you broke up with Allen, wasn’t it?”
Jules drew a ragged breath and looked away again. Holy shit, Ambient thought. James had really figured this out fast. Then Ambient shuddered. Oh, how he understood what Jules was feeling right now. How thoughtless had his question been when he’d asked Jules if he’d ever flown?
“I would kill Allen right now if James and I hadn’t already done it,” Ambient said.
Jules finally faced them. “Allen killed himself. You two just assisted him. But what was between Allen and me was a long time ago. I’ll see you both in the morning. I’m sure you have urgent, pressing needs to deal with.” Jules attempted a grin.
Ambient and James exchanged a quick look and came to an instant agreement. James said, “I’m not sure we’ve ever really thought about the sacrifice you’re making to teach us.”
Jules looked up at the sky, where Ambient could see the moon trying to break through thinning clouds. He fought an urge to feel moonlight in the air, and he looked away quickly. Jules was clenching and unclenching his hands as he struggled with his emotions. “I wanted to teach you,” Jules finally said. “I can deal.”
“Do you want to talk?” Ambient asked quietly.
“Nothing to talk about,” he said quickly, but made no move to continue on into the woods.
“Damn it,” Ambient said, moving closer to Jules. “After what I just experienced, I can’t imagine breaking things off with James and making it so I could never fly again. It would kill me. What did Allen do to you, Jules?”
“Oh, hell,” Jules said. He roughly leaned against the pine trunk, then let his shoulders slump in defeat. “Allen was a bastard however you looked at him. I don’t know if he was always evil or just grew to be that way, but he was corrupt by the time we recognized our connection. At first, I was thrilled because I’d known Allen for years as your family chauffeur, James, and I figured he must be all right because he worked for good people. I—”
“When was this?” James interrupted.
“After we’d graduated high school and you were trying out college. I never had any idea you were a demon. I didn’t even know Allen was until the day Anderson introduced us and we both felt the connection. I’d always known what I was. My parents were witches; I was trained from my first breath. When I finally found my demon, it was wonderful. At first. Then I began to realize we had vastly different interpretations of what witches and demons were. He chose a more—I don’t know—stereotypical understanding? And he began to force those values onto me. I resisted. Our relationship suffered. Suffice it to say that the day I flew for the first time—and was caught up in the emotions of it the way you just were, Ambient, the way a person should be—he twisted me in a horrible way. He got me to fly through a woman’s open window to steal a jewelry box full of family heirlooms. It was for me to gain inspiration from, he said, because he knew I was opening my own jewelry store and making my own pieces. He made me think it was all right, until I had the box in my hand. And then when I faltered, he sent pain through our link.”
James gave a low groan. Ambient darted him a look, remembering the time James had told him it would be just as easy to kill as it was to heal with his powers.
“When I came back to land—without the box—we fought. It was terrible. But I proved stronger, and I cut him out of my mind and burned our link. I tried not to hurt him. I tried to make him see the other choices he could make, but he was not having it. What I ended up doing left him with only a shadow of his own strength, he had put so much of himself into me to control me. And you two know well what a wreck of a man that made him. My mistake was that I didn’t know he could still be dangerous to our kind. And to make up for that, among other reasons, I am offering my knowledge to you two.”
They both stared at him.
Jules pushed himself away from the tree and ran a hand over his eyes again. “So yeah, it hurts like hell to see you flying, Ambient. But at least I get to feel your joy tonight. Allen did not, since he is finally dead and gone.”
Ambient suddenly found James’s arms around him. He hadn’t realized he was crying too, until he was sobbing into James’s shoulder. The emotions of what he’d just been through were still rushing around inside him, and it was impossible to reconcile Jules’s terrible story to some place in his mind where he could process it later. The agony in Jules’s voice hurt so bad.
Deep inside the link in their minds, James whispered, I can help him, if it’s all right with you. And he shared his plan with a few quick images.
Love blossomed up in Ambient’s heart, and gratitude for this wonderful demon who was so truly his partner in all things. Do it, he whispered back.
James let him go and turned to Jules. He stood before him with open hands. “Draw on me. Fly again.”
“What?” Jules looked completely stunned.
For answer, James closed his eyes and let the power flow.
“No!” Jules gasped. “That’s between you and Ambient. This has never been done!”
“Who cares? I’ve been raised outside the system, and I’m a healer first and foremost. I’m constantly trapped in situations where I can’t heal without revealing myself. Please let me do what I love to do when I can. Besides, I’ve got a shit-ton of power. You’re an incredibly talented witch. Fly.”
He shoved so much power at Jules that Ambient, watching, felt like James just slung Jules into the night sky. The moon came out an instant later, and through a fresh wash of tears Ambient watched their friend fly higher and higher. He stood silently beside the motionless James, reveling in a different kind of flying. For the first time, he understood what it must feel like to be James when he healed.
James’s eyes never left Jules’s dance in the stars. But after a while, James reached out and pulled Ambient into an embrace, physical and mental. Together, they soared with their friend.
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