50.

Coherency comes in stages. Kloud lets himself float along for a while, testing his fingers, then wrists, his arms. There's a strange pressure in his chest, and something tells him that if wasn't for the drugs he was clearly on that pressure would be much more pain like.

He opens his eyes and Donnie is looking right at him. The moment they make eye contact his best friend blows out a breath in a sigh that comes from a deep, dark, scared place and slumps back into his chair.

"Stars and fucking stones. Don't ever do that to me again, Hunter I mean it," Donnie says weakly with his eyes closed.

"How long?" Kloud croaks out.

"Two days. They took you off the ventilator this morning. We've been on pins and needles all day waiting to see if your oxygen levels crashed."

"We?" Kloud asks, confused. Donnie is the only one in the room.

"Sari and Ty are getting something to eat," he explains quickly.

"Jade? Where's Jade?" the detective queries. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his memory and he can remember nearly everything that happened. Jen asking what was wrong when his breathing suddenly went strange and gasping. Her grip on his shoulder as she assured him that help was coming. That the professor was dead. Things got kinda fuzzy somewhere around paramedics descending on him, but he knows he heard police sirens as well as EMS.

"She's in Boston. The NYPD extradited her the morning after, once she was stabilized."

From the well of his memory, Kloud hears Kai's voice echo up…You're killing her!

"She's okay?"

"Physically? Yea. She's alright. Doctors had her under observation for a few hours while the pressure in her brain came down. Apparently, Ty's abilities and the curse she's under put a hell of amount of stress on her grey matter. Doctors said it was kinda like having a concussion everywhere."

Kloud licks his lips, Donnie instantly reaches over and hands him a plastic cup with a straw already full of water. He drinks gratefully.

"What about emotionally?" Kloud asks, knowing that if Donnie made the distinction then there was something more to Jade's over all state than just her body.

"She's…not doing well. They've got her under suicide watch."

"They really think she'd-"

"She tried to shoot herself, Kloud." Donnie interrupts tiredly.

Kloud stares at his friend, poleaxed.

"She…what?"

"You were already down behind the counter when she made the attempt. There was a brief second where she wasn't under anyone's control. She attempted to shoot herself in the head."

"But…why didn't she shoot the professor? He was right there, she'd have been justified."

"That's a question you're going to have to ask her, Kloud. I don't know."

Kloud wants to ask more about Jade, wants to know if Donnie had a chance to see her before she was taken away. He wants to know what she said, if Alex went with her, if she has anyone with her. He wants to know what she looked like, did she seem tired? Defeated? Hopeful? Is anyone planning on driving to Boston to see her? Will they let Kloud tag along? What about her court case? How can he help her defense?

But the door swings open loudly and an irritated Sari puffs in, a much more serene Ty following behind her, his hands full of drink cups.

"Hunter!" Sari cries in surprise and flings herself across the room as if she intends to embrace him. Donnie must have seen something, because he's already in-between them, putting a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"You can't hug him, Sari, you'll aggravate his lungs."

She shrugs out of his hold, clearly annoyed. "I wasn't going to Donnie. I just wanted to take his hand." Then she steals his seat and makes a sarcastic show of picking up his right hand with her own.

"How are you, Hunter? Is there anything I can do?" she asks sweetly, smiling a look of genuine concern at him. He knows she's genuine. That has always been part of the problem. With him, she really does care. He's never had any doubt what so ever that she does indeed love him.

Kloud pulls his hand free.

Sari frowns at him. "What's wrong?"

"I know what you did." Kloud says simply.

"What?" she demands.

Kloud steals a glance at Donnie and Ty, but both of them just look confused. So they don't know. That doesn't really surprise him. With how all of this has shaken out, the professor dead, Jade already in Boston and him unconscious, there isn't anyone around to suspect Sari's involvement.

"Did you think I wouldn't figure it out?" Kloud asks quietly. He stares at her, meets her eyes directly, and tries not to feel vindicated when she looks away. "Why do you think I was at the shop in the first place? I found the phone numbers you wrote down."

Sari pales, but there is a stubborn cant to her chin that Kloud recognizes easily. He knows what is coming next.

"I was doing the right thing." She hisses right on cue. Kloud drops his head back against his pillows and feels the last shred of hope that he harbored about this woman dissipate. It is not a painless process.

"You called that crazy bastard?" Donnie demands hotly. Ty's face looks thunderous as well.

"All I did was let him know that she was in Brooklyn. He did the rest of the work. He promised me that Kloud would get credit for the tip!"

"Credit?" Kloud whispers, horrified. "You thought I would want credit for this?"

"This kind of arrest, Hunter, it could mean things for you. It would mean your name would be out there, and when it came time again for promotions…" she trails off, uncertain for the first time while she studies Kloud's face.

"Sari," Kloud says weakly, "We've talked about this already. I don't want to be promoted into command staff. I want to keep working cases, not managing people."

"You feel that way now, but that's going to change in a few years," she rushes to assure him, placing one of her hands on his wrist. "You could be the Commissioner someday, Hunter. A couple more high-profile cases and with help from my family you can climb all the way to the top."

Kloud draws away from her.

"You've got this life that you keep planning out for us," he tells her. "And you don't listen when I tell you, over and over, that I don't want any part of it."

"I'm trying to help you."

"At the cost of other people's well-being, Sari. Jade is going to end up in prison, probably for the rest of her life."

Sari's entire demeanor changes at the mention of Jade. All traces of entreaty and concern vanish, and is replaced by something sharp and jealous.

"Jade. It always comes back to her, doesn't it? You did all of this to protect her."

"Yes," Kloud admits freely. "It's called being a police officer."

"Police are supposed to enforce the law, not help people hide from it," Sari spits.

"I'm not going to argue semantics with you," he replies, stung. "But I wasn't helping her hide from the law, I was helping her hide from her psychopath professor who wanted to enslave her. And as if that wasn't enough, you swore to me that you would keep her a secret."

"I didn't know he was going to do that!" She snaps, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "He said that he would pass my tip on to the FBI saying it came from an NYPD officer! He never said he was going to come here himself and try to get her."

"You saw what he did to her," Kloud replies coldly, "You were there. Don't stand there and tell me that you didn't suspect what he was capable of! Stars and stones, Sari he nearly killed a room full of people just so he could get to her!"

"Why do you fucking care so much?!" Sari explodes at him, leaping up from her chair. "This always happens with you! You let people get under your skin and you fucking insist on taking on their problems on to yourself! Don't you get tired of martyring yourself so much?! Don't you realize it's going to get you killed?!"

"You need to leave." Kloud states firmly.

Sari stands up straight, her arms by her side, her hands clench into fists. "If I leave, I will not be coming back, Hunter Kloud. Consider that request carefully."

Kloud looks her over once. From the top of her head, where he has pressed countless kisses, to the bottom of her boots where he once showed her how to buff scuffs from the leather. He tries to find in him a drop of hesitancy or reluctance.

"Get out." He repeats.

Sari doesn't flinch. To her credit, she merely lifts her chin up a fraction higher, turns on her heel and shoves past Donnie on her way out the door. It rattles in its frame when she slams it shut behind her.

Kloud lets the tension in the room sustain him up for a couple of seconds longer before slumping back down against his hospital bed and placing an exhausted hand on his aching chest.

"Yes, I want my coffee," Donnie suddenly says, clearly answering a question that Ty must have mouthed or signed. "Did you happen to bring any bourbon to put it in it? No? Fail, Ty. Epic fail."

"Both of you just shut up," Kloud sighs tiredly.

"No can do, my man," Donnie chirps, his voice only slightly strained as he drops back into his chair. Ty drags over one of the doctor's stools and perches on it next to Donnie. "You just had the definition of a terrible break up. We definitely need bourbon."

"I probably can't have any considering the painkillers I'm on."

"Hm. Fair point. Ty? You're drinking his share for him."

Kloud just rolls his eyes at them both. "Gods above, what a mess. Do I even still have a job?" He wonders aloud.

"As far as we know, yea." Donnie replies. "I mean your Lieutenant has been here twice to ask after you. Says that the whole station is pulling for you."

"So, they don't think anything weird about me being at the shop?"

"They just figured you stepped out to get something to eat. That's what we assumed you were there for, though no one knows what you were doing in the kitchen."

"Came in the back way. Jade told me that Hyper tends to keep the doors unlocked since the building has a tendency to just let people in when they want anyway. I wasn't sure if the professor had made it to the shop already or not, I wanted to element of surprise just in case."

"Well, you'll probably need to come up with a different excuse than that one for your boss. The cameras show what happened pretty clearly." Donnie explains as he sips his coffee and grimaces. "Where on earth did you get this swill?"

Ty sighs, sets his cup down and signs quickly, "Hyper's coffee has you spoiled. This isn't great but it's all the hospital has."

"It tastes like crap. Badly filtered crap."

"Ty," Kloud says getting his cousin's attention, "Are you okay? You haven't spoken in – I mean are you in any trouble for using your abilities?"

"They cleared me. I was acting in accordance with the self-defense and defense of others clauses."

"What about everyone else?"

"We're all in the clear, Kloud, honest." Donnie assures him. "Even Hyper."

"What'd Hyper do?" Kloud queries, confused. "I thought she was outside at the time? Jade yelled something about her and Mega when she came in?"

"She and 'Mega were the first ones that the Professor attacked. He bound Hyper with an asphyxiation bind of some kind and then threatened 'Mega with her life. He made 'Mega bring the blessing down in exchange for the bind's forms."

"Stars, and 'Mega was able to do it in that short a period?"

Ty picks up the story there, "He says that he's been studying it for years. He wouldn't have been able to do to it cold. He got lucky he says."

"Phhft. That is way more than luck, that's talent. But Hyper is okay?"

"'Mega broke the bind on her…by taking it on to himself." Donnie explains quickly. "But he's okay as well. Hyper came into the shop right as the professor was about to shoot Ty. She stabbed him in the back with a pair of scissors. Killed him."

"Hyper killed him? Hyper?"

"Hyper."

"And you said she's been cleared?"

"Yep, professor was seconds away from shooting your cousin dead, that was perfectly apparent on the camera footage and was backed up by plenty of witnesses."

"Good. I'm glad no one else has been swept up in this mess." He pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts together.

"What's the status of Jade's case? Where are they trying her? Do they even know yet?"

Donnie and Ty share a fast glance.

"There's just…a lot in the air right now. And you're healin – "

Kloud holds up a hand, forestalling the rest of Donnie's sentence. "Don't bullshit me, Phillips. We both know you're going to tell me everything."

"Kloud." Ty signs slowly, "Not more than 24 hours ago the doctors told us that there wasn't anything they could do for you. Either you started breathing on your own or you didn't and died. Stress can make it harder for you to heal. You know this."

"You think I'm going to be less stressed when I don't know what's going on? Have you met me?" Kloud shoots back dryly.

Donnie heaves another sigh, this one more aggrieved than relieved. "How did I manage to forget that you're such a smartass?" he asks no one in particular.

"No clue," Kloud answers anyway. "Now, start talking both of you. I clearly have a lot to catch up on."

51.

Here's something that most people don't know: to be officially classified as a Nullifier, there is actually a series of tests that one has to take.

The tests are pretty straightforward: have a supernatural and preternatural of every type attempt their kind of ability or magic on you. If they cannot affect you, have them sign off on your form and move on to the next one. Once every box has a signature, turn in the form to the government and you are officially acknowledged as a Nullifier.

It's a tedious process that often takes years and there are many people who probably are Nullifiers that never manage to complete the entire form. There are a lot of different kinds of magic users out there.

But Kloud has the distinct advantage of living in New York City, which hosts one of the largest and most diverse magical populations in the world. Second only to New Delhi.

He learns a great deal in the 5 years that it takes him to complete his form. Donnie's signature is the very first one he ever gets. The second is from the Empath that lives two streets over. She's a nice woman, a bit strange, but Kloud figures that if she really is constantly picking up the emotions of other people she's entitled.

"She's not the one for you, you know." She tells him that afternoon, after sitting with him for an hour trying to pick up even the tiniest whiff of his emotions.

"What?" Kloud asks startled from the silence they had been enjoying. She nods to the arm chair in the corner where his girlfriend Sari has curled up and fallen asleep. She agreed to tag along when Kloud admitted that he was nervous to approach strangers and ask them to try their best to ensorcell him.

"She's not the one for you."

"What makes you say that?" Kloud half demands, somewhat offended. He likes Sari – she's driven, fiery and passionate. She has a kind of pull to her that's utterly intoxicating.

"She is not without compassion. But she doesn't understand it. She's never been in a position in her life where she has been desperate for or dependent on the good will of others. So she is never going to understand your need to help others. She will always admire you for it, and she will always resent you for it too – because she will never be the absolute center of your world."

"Are you calling her selfish?"

"Selfish? I suppose. If she isn't careful, she might let it grow into malice."

Kloud stands up, "Are we done?"

"Yes, I can't get a single speck of emotions from you from my abilities. Though I can tell you're quite angry with me right now just from your body language."

Kloud thrusts his form booklet at her. It's the size of a passport with his information on the front page and each subsequent page divided into eight sections. Each section has the name of a supernatural or preternatural and enough room for a printed name and signature. She calmly flips to the page with the Empath section, produces a pen from somewhere, prints her name and then signs. She closes it and hands it back.

"Good luck, Mr. Kloud," she says. "Please remember what I've said."

He tries not to.

But he does.

The very last signature he earns is also the one that takes the longest. The mage that lives in a rundown mostly abandoned apartment building at the very edge of Brooklyn is an old and embittered man. He's also fucking crazy.

"Find someone else," the mage orders the first time Kloud meets him.

"You're the only one in the city that hasn't demanded I pay him to test me." Kloud explains.

"Wait, I can charge you for this?"

Kloud groans.

He tries again a few weeks later, and finds the mage hunched over a scratched, teetering work bench with a lit burner and a beaker bubbling away.

"Are you working on a casting?"

"Christ no, I'm making coffee you imbecile."

Kloud tries again a month later. The mage is still hunched over his work bench, this time scribbling away in a ratty journal.

"Will you please just test me? One casting and a signature, that's all I need."

"Why is this so fucking important? Nullifier status doesn't get you anything except more attention than you need. Bit like being a mage really."

"I want to join the police academy. It will give me a leg up on getting the assignments I want."

"Stars and stones, you want to be a cop? Get out."

Kloud keeps trying.

"What is your freaking problem? I thought mages were supposed to be this great pinnacle of human achievement. The best minds solving the biggest problems and answering the most important questions."

Mages were supposed to be a force of good. The best that science and magic has to offer teaming up and making things better. All the major advancements of mankind in the past 250 years can be traced back to magery. The world still mourns their eradication during WW2 and every nation is trying desperately to see the number of trained mages rise back to the pre-war levels. There are special tests to find mage potentials young, special schools that start their training as early as 8, special university programs and special colleges to focus their studies to prepare them for the rigorous exams that every mage must undergo in order to become certified.

The mage breaks out into hysterical laughter. There's an edge to it that unnerves Kloud. The younger man has described the mage as unhinged to his friends. Crazy. But this is different. For the first time, Kloud honestly wonders if the man is seriously disturbed.

"Pinnacle of human achievement? Is that what they are calling us now? Gods above the world has such a short memory. Do they not remember the killing fields? Do they not remember how Dresden burned? Do they not remember the camps?"

The mage rakes his arms across his work bench. The glassware, tools and burners go crashing off to the side. Kloud jumps and quickly places himself close to the door. The mage turns and fixes Kloud in place with his eyes alone.

"When I was a child, learning how to bend the universe with my brain, they told me that magery was a bridge. A glorious bridge between science and magic and it will help us make everything better." He coughs up that last word as though it burns him to speak it.

"But you listen to me boy, magery isn't the bridge, it's the chasm. Do you understand? It's the abyss. And if you spend too much time probing the depths of that space, it will crawl into your soul and hollow you out as well."

"Then why do it at all?" Kloud manages to ask, curious despite how afraid he is.

"Because there isn't anything else like it in the world." The mage answers truthfully. "It takes away everything. And in exchange, gives you the universe in a grain of sand."

"Is there anything you've done with your magery that you're proud of?" Kloud queries softly, trying to tread carefully around this man turned landmine.

The mage shifts, looks over Kloud's shoulder at something that probably isn't there.

"When I got back from the war, there weren't the kinds of programs there are today you know. Most people didn't even think shell shock was a real mental disorder. And there were a lot of men with shell shock, we couldn't hold jobs down sometimes. We'd wake up and we were back on those fields…" the mage trails off and raises up his hand. Kloud flinches, but the old man is just holding his pen from earlier. Incredibly, he starts sketching in the air, lines of glowing blue running from the nib of the pen and hanging between them.

It's a three-dimensional drawing, lines connecting round orbs of light, swinging around an as of yet un drawn center point, following beautiful arcs that he sketches out with easy flicks of his wrist. After the lines and arcs comes the words, in perfect calligraphy in languages that Kloud doesn't understand.

"I made us a place," the mage speaks again as he writes, "A place that would always be open to us, always safe, a place that we could always find, even if we were locked in our memories rather than on the streets of New York. It would call to the lost souls, the wounded, the desperate, the needed…and it would lead us home."

He finishes the last of the lettering with a flourish that somehow sets the entire thing into motion. It's a shifting puzzle, a tangle of glowing art that moves almost too fast for Kloud to make out the individual parts.

"It's…beautiful," Kloud mummers as he watches it swing overhead. "Why are the most beautiful things the most dangerous?" he asks himself mostly as an afterthought. When he looks back at the mage, he finds the old man staring at him intently.

"Beauty is subjective, boy. Danger is not. Have a care with that heart of yours."

The mage picks up his journal, opens it to blank pages and then gestures sharply at the design he created. It obligingly shrinks in size and somehow folds out flat, landing neatly across the pages of the journal. He snaps the book closed with a huff.

"Give me your booklet, I'll sign it." The mage announces.

Kloud blinks in surprise.

"But you haven't casted anything on me."

"You moron, what do you think that was? A light show? That was the strongest casting I've ever created and you didn't do anything but call it pretty. Christ, you're a Nullifier all right."

Kloud numbly fumbles his form booklet out of his pocket and hands it over. The mage impatiently flips through it, finds his section and uses the same pen to fill in his square. The ink still glows blue. He tosses it back at Kloud who leaps forward to catch it.

The young man backs up a few more steps, holding his form to his chest with a sort of overall sense of disbelief. He did it. He actually managed to collect all of the signatures he needs.

Something thumps at his feet, startling him yet again. It's the journal. He looks up, utterly confused.

"Take that with you."

"What am I supposed to do with it?"

"Not a fucking clue, boy. But as the only person who's going to be able to read it, you'd better have it."

"…I don't understand." Kloud says carefully.

"Stars and stones, this isn't difficult you moron, it's ensorcelled. Mage equivalent of encrypted. You're a Nullifier – those casts don't work on you."

"So you're just giving it to me?"

"Do you see an apprentice hiding in here? Who else am I going to give it to? At least you know what it is, after I die and people go through this shit hole it's likely to get thrown out 'cause it looks fucking blank to the rest of the world."

"Why don't you send it to Harvard or something?"

The entire apartment rattles around them. The mage's shoulders have drawn up tight around his ears, he looks like he's trying to hold himself back from attacking someone. Things somehow darken, the light suffocates. This isn't just darkness, it's emptiness and it's terrifying.

"I ain't sharing shit with those cunts. Ever. And you ain't going to either. That journal ever leaves the counties of New York it'll crumble to dust. Keep that in mind. We're done here, get out."

"But-"

"I said get out!" the building heaves, and somehow Kloud is suddenly outside, standing in the sunshine of a calm spring day. The journal lays in front of him, exactly where it fell on the floor inside. The apartment building, rundown and dilapidated is gone.

Kloud is standing in an empty lot. People wander by on the sidewalk as though nothing has just occurred.

He ends up taking out a safety deposit box that afternoon. He puts the journal in it, without opening it at all, and tries his best forget about it.

He never does.

52.

"Detective Kloud, what can you tell me about Jade Oba?" the prosecutor asks, an easy smile on her lips as she circles closer on her narrow heels.

"She makes amazing cinnamon rolls. Loves to read. I've gotten her hooked on Vonnegut and Angelou. Patient. Kind. Self-sacrificing. A good person," he answers, shifting in the uncomfortable witness chair. There's a microphone poised in his face, and he takes a second to stare straight at the camera in the audience gallery that he knows is broadcasting all of these proceedings live.

The prosecutor approaches the witness box and rests her arm on the railing, leaning into his space in a friendly manner.

"You have the unique position of being a witness for both the prosecution and the defense, don't you?" she queries.

"Yes."

Kloud's eyes drift over to the defense table. Alex sits, straight backed wearing what can only be described as a 'power suit'. Her hair is pulled back into an impressive French twist. Jade sits to her left, shoulders rolled forward, appearing meek and solemn in her simple blue dress. She keeps her eyes on the table in front of her and Kloud takes a moment to drink in the sight of his friend.

"You have maintained for the entire trial that Jade Oba does not deserve to be imprisoned. Is that still your position?"

"Absolutely. She broke the law, I don't deny that, but she has never acted in malice against anyone."

"This is the same woman almost killed you. You nearly died from complications at the hospital."

"I nearly died yes, but she saved my life."

"She shot you twice in the chest, how on earth does that equate in your mind to saving your life."

"Simple," Kloud says firmly, looking over at the jury along the wall, "She could have shot me in the head."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Jade is a mage, finding creative ways to think around problems is part of what she has been trained to do. She was ordered to kill me, but Professor Leicester didn't specify how. Normally shooting someone in the chest twice will definitely kill them – Jade used that assumption to satisfy the requirements of the curse. But she also knew that I was wearing a bullet proof vest."

Kloud made eye contact with each of the jurors in turn. "She had to shoot me with the intention of killing me. But she made sure to shoot me in the one place that I had the highest chance of surviving."

"You're making a lot of assumptions about her motivations. Do you have any proof for your faith in her?"

"Faith by definition requires no proof," Kloud fires back. "But since you and the members of the jury aren't Jade's friend like I am, I will offer you this: you all have seen the security video from the shop. You saw that in the couple of seconds that she had when she wasn't under anyone's control she didn't strike out – justifiably – at Leicester, she instead tried to kill herself."

The prosecutor frowns, and walks away from the witness box back towards the prosecution table. She looks down at the stacks of files, and boxes of evidence that the state has gathered against Jade and crosses her arms over her chest. Turning around, she looks at Kloud again.

"What do you think should happen to Jade Oba? Should she be punished for what she did at Harvard?"

Kloud takes a deep breath, his eyes flickering over Jade's hunched form again.

"Can I ask you a question before I answer?"

"You may."

"How many requests, from how many separate organizations, domestic and foreign, has your office gotten regarding Jade Oba? How many different people have asked for permission to examine the curse that Jade Oba is under?"

The look on the prosecutor's face instantly sours.

"I don't have to answer that," she replies quickly.

Kloud sighs, "Your face already has. Dozens, am I right? The fact of the matter is that Jade Oba is of interest to countless parties around the world because she is the last copy of a previously unknown curse that can actually compel the magic of a mage. A completely unheard-of feat. Ms. Magrath has already testified that Leicester was the only one who might have been able to reproduce it given enough time and he's dead. No matter what she has done, no matter what her motivations, no one deserves to spend any amount of time as an unwilling lab experiment."

"She broke the law, what of her punishment?" the prosecutor demands tightly. "She broke laws, international treaties not to mention endangering the lives of millions of people. How would you hold her in account for that? What would you have us do?"

"Not force her to bear the lion's share of responsibility for these events just because she's the only one left. Jade did break the law and I'm not saying punishment shouldn't follow. But for Gods' sake, consider the mitigating circumstances. This curse is unbreakable, and she stopped that evil, vile man from inflicting it on children."

The court room falls quiet and for the first time, Jade has raised her face and is looking straight at Kloud. He hasn't had a chance to speak to her at all. The prosecutor's office has been extremely hesitant to give permission for anyone to see Jade. The severity of her crime, the nature of the curse and her mage abilities mean that the government has a great deal of power over her accessibility. As it is the only person in the past seven months that has really been able to see Jade at all is Alex. And they have mostly only communicated through letters.

The burden of that isolation is plain to see in the eyes of his friend. And it breaks his heart.

"I think that it is time for a recess," the judge suddenly announces in the ensuing silence. He checks the clock on the wall, glances over at the jurors and nods to himself. "We will break for lunch now and pick back up at 1:30 this afternoon. Detective Kloud, you will continue your testimony then. Court adjourned."

"All rise," the bailiff intones as the judge stands. Everyone rises as well; the judge sweeps out and people begin jostling for the exit. Kloud pushes open the little wooden gate and climbs down from the witness box. He quickly steps across the front of the courtroom, and passes by Jade as she is lead out by the court officers. Their shoulders brush as they pass. He feels a shudder run through her, and for half a heartbeat he feels her press against him before moving on.

He continues down to where Alex is stacking her papers into her briefcase. She gives him a tired smile, and asks, "Lunch?"

"Yea, I'm starving. Will Jade be given something?" he asks, curious.

"Yes, the officers will arrange for her to have something. Usually whatever the jurors end up having."

"Good. I'd say let me buy you a drink, but…"

"Ha! Buy me one when we win this."

"You win this, and we will all by buying you drinks until you die, Alex."

"You better believe it."

The courtroom empties around them, once the last person vanishes out the door, Alex falls back into her chair and slumps down. It's the first time Kloud has seen her unbend all day.

"Be honest," Kloud begins softly, "what are her chances?"

The lawyer groans, and curls forward until her forehead rests against the table.

"Not great." Alex admits.

Kloud nods, "I was afraid of that."

"It isn't a matter of the arson charge, or even the destruction of property. It's the last charge, depravation of rights, with what Jade did, she could get more than ten years on that."

"How on earth did you leverage Magrath's testimony?" Kloud asks. "I was stunned that she admitted to helping the professor scout out children to kidnap."

"Plea agreement with the prosecution," Alex says simply. "You have to remember Levi didn't manage to pinpoint her until just before the trail began. By that point, all the evidence that Magrath and Leicester had rigged against Jade in the first place had fallen apart. So she was already the center of a very serious inquiry. GJ just made it clear when he went to get her that there was no way she could outrun the investigation forever. And once she found out that Leicester was dead, well, it was obvious she didn't want to be the only one that the hammer came down on. So, she pled out."

"What'd they get her with in the end?"

"Conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Obstruction of justice."

"Time?"

"Three years."

"Gods. Nothing for cursing Jade in the first place?" Kloud demands.

"That she wouldn't admit too. Claimed that Leicester did that all on his own and that he didn't bring her in until after Jade was cursed."

"Well she isn't a complete moron then apparently."

"Sadly no. But her testimony corroborates Jade's reasoning for the fire so at this point I don't give a fuck."

It burns, but Kloud can't help but agree. He hasn't been in Boston for long, couldn't take much more time off from work considering that he was laid up for weeks healing from the shooting. But he arrived in time to hear Jade's own testimony earlier this week. When she was asked what it was like to be cursed, she had stared helplessly at Alex and then at the jurors.

"Try," Alex had bid her.

"I can't," Jade had replied. "There aren't words for that."

Altmega, amazingly, had no such issues. He described, in full detail, exactly what it took to suppress the curse, twice. He went over each step, what it required, and what Jade went through as a result. Kloud didn't want to make people unhappy or uncomfortable, but he won't deny the vindictive vindication it gave him to see some of the jurors turn distinctly green when Altmega described how Jade had screamed.

They need to understand, Kloud thinks as he looks over at the empty jury box. They all need to understand what she went through.

Shouting erupts from the door that Jade left through with the court officers, making both Kloud and Alex jump in surprise. They share a fast glance and then are both bounding over to the door. Kloud wrenches it open and peers down the long hall to the left where the noise comes from.

There, at the very end, there are two court officers standing guard outside what must be the entrance to the prisoner holding area. Confronting the two men are four men, two in suits and two in honest to god body armor, with long guns strapped to their chest.

"We have a lawful order allowing us access to the prisoner!" One of the suited men was shouting angrily, waiving a piece of paper in the face of the court officer on the right. The court officer says something in reply but it is too quiet for Kloud to hear.

He glances back at Alex who is pressed up against his back peering over his shoulder to see.

"Are there any other cases being heard today?"

"No, not in this building."

"So they're talking about Jade."

"Definitely."

"Can you get the prosecutor? Or the judge down here?" he asks softly.

Alex clenches a hand on the arm of his suit jacket.

"If I have to drag them down here myself, I'll do it."

"Fast." Is all he adds as he breaks away and starts striding down the hall. He hears Alex's heels click back into the courtroom and the door shut quietly behind him.

One of the suited men goes to push by the court officers, only to be checked when one of the officers places himself into the door way.

"Hey!" Kloud yells, getting the attention of them all. "What the hell is going on here?"

"Who the hell are you?" the aggressive man in the suit fairly snarls at Kloud.

"I the hell am a police officer," Kloud snaps back, arriving at the court officers' sides. "What are you trying to do barging in here like this?"

"I have a court order to meet with the prisoner in there. These two are blocking my way."

"You have an order to interview someone and you decide to execute it during a trial? Those must be some burning questions you got to ask." Kloud says, trying to sound amicable but really only managing to sound annoyed.

"That is confidential."

"What agency are you with, anyways?" Kloud tries instead.

"What jurisdiction do you have? This is a federal courthouse." The man argues back. Kloud is surprised and looks over to the court officers.

"What credentials did they show you?" he asks.

The officer on the left, the one that had blocked the doorway glares at the men. "They didn't show us any. Which is why we blocked them. I don't care what that paper says, unless you identify yourselves you're not getting into these cells."

The hair on the back of Kloud's neck rises, and he feels a sinking sensation in his chest. His first thought is of his service weapon, locked safely up in his gun safe. In his apartment. In New York.

Shit.

"Well gentlemen," Kloud says, keeping his tone even and as unruffled as he can. "Seems that this is a pretty simple fix. You show us your ID and we let you in."

"We seem to have left our ID in our car," the other man in the suit says, speaking for the first time. Unlike his partner, he seems reasonable, almost sheepish in his mannerisms. He holds his hands up as if in supplication. "Don't suppose you'd be willing to let us slide by this one time? It's a long walk back to the parking garage in this heat."

The man's easy-going smile puts Kloud even further on edge. If the man is that relaxed he is either very assured of his right to speak to Jade, or very assured of his ability to get to Jade. Neither of those options will probably mean good things for the woman in question.

"I'm afraid that we must see some credentials if you want to speak with the prisoner," the other court officer states tightly.

The second man in the suit heaves a disappointed sigh. "Well, that figures."

Kloud sees the men with the guns, tense and shift. The men in the suits both step quickly to the side, clearing themselves from the lines of sight.

"Inside!" Kloud shouts, shoving the officer next to him towards the door. To his credit, he seems to be thinking the same things Kloud is – that usually the prisoner section of courthouses is behind steel enforced walls. His partner, on the other side of the door has her service weapon in her hand inside a single heartbeat a draw speed that Kloud will be deeply impressed with later. She gets the first shot off, taking one of the gunmen in the throat, then ducks down. He squeezes a single round off in reply before crumpling to the floor with a gurgle.

The round imbeds itself in the wall just next to Kloud's ear as he pushes the officer in front of him into the hall beyond the door. Automatic gunfire rings out, the other officer screams in pain.

Jade is sitting in the first cell inside the long room, about 15 feet from the door, her hands cuffed in front of her while she stands, tense and surprised.

"What's going-" is all she gets out before the court officer that Kloud had followed in is turning around, gun in hand planting himself firmly between the door and Jade. Kloud takes up position next to him without a word.

"Left ankle," the officer spits angrily. Kloud crouches and comes up with a small revolver.

"Let's be reasonable about this gentlemen!" the voice of the easy going man in a suit comes through the door. "There's no need for anyone else to get hurt!"

The officer trembles a little, reaches up with one hand to his radio and clicks the line open. "Hostiles in the courthouse outside the inmate holding cells. Four male suspects, three white, one black. Two are dressed in suits, the others are wearing black body armor. Armed and dangerous. We have an officer down."

"Well that was just unnecessary, officer." The other man sing songs replies from the hall. There's just you and your buddy. We will be taking Ms. Oba with us, so you two either stand aside and let us do it now, or we do it while walking over your dead bodies."

"You aim for the first through, I'll target the second." The officer says to Kloud tightly.

"Got it," Kloud confirms.

A canister is tossed in, rolling loudly across the tiles.

"Tear gas!" Kloud hisses, sucking in a deep breath and falling back so that his back is pressed against the bars of Jade's cell. That way, even blinded he knows what direction he will need to fire in. The court officer is right there next to him as well, bracing his shoulders against the door to the cell.

The canister begins leaking yellow gas and Kloud waits for the burn to begin.

Only…it doesn't.

The yellow gas builds and builds in the room, filling the entire space but it doesn't burn at all, it doesn't even make them cough. Confused, Kloud tries taking in a few deep breaths, and still there isn't even a tickle.

"O-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile," Jade says quietly from behind them. "More commonly known as CS gas."

Kloud turns, and through the haze he can see her standing directly behind him.

"You altered it?" he asks.

"Transmutation was my specialty. A few tweaks to the chemistry and it's just air."

The court officer spares a single moment to stare at her in bewildered surprise before refocusing on the doorway.

There aren't any more pithy comments from the men in the hallway, it must be clear to them by now that their tactic isn't going to work, not with a fully trained mage in the room.

"Christ, and to think I complained to my boss that we didn't have mage dampeners in here," the court officer mutters to himself. Kloud doesn't have a chance to offer a snarky reply because there's movement in the doorway. The body armored man charges in, the men in suits, each with hand guns following directly behind using the first man as a shield. They don't even wait; the first man lays down a long stretch of automatic fire. Kloud and the court officer fire back without hesitation, knowing that they will have seconds before the bullets cripple them entirely.

Only…they don't.

Their attackers and their own shots don't find their targets. Instead the rounds seem to both meet in the middle, caught in some kind of force field that has sprung up between the two parties.

Kloud again, steals a glance over his shoulder at Jade. She has her cuffed hands extended in front of herself, wrists pressed together with her fingers splayed wide. Her eyes are fixed ahead, brows furrowed as she clearly concentrates hard on the casting.

Everyone stops firing, realizing at the same time that it's useless. Then the other men all shout in surprise, dropping their weapons. The guns fall, smoking, to the floor, the grips and metal glowing red hot. The men all look up, staring at Jade with fear in their eyes.

"Put your hands in the air!" The court officer shouts. The field that Jade had been holding falls, and the bullets come down in a series of almost musical plinks on the tile.

The man in the body armor complies instantly, the seemingly reasonable man in a suit does as well. The aggressive one turns and tries to run.

He runs right into the other court officer, who is bloody, out of breath but on her feet with her service weapon right in the man's face.

"Get on the ground, right now." She snarls.

He pauses, hesitates and the officer's face turns thunderous. Jade speaks up from the cell again.

"Do what she says, or I will make you." The mage says softly, power in every syllable.

All three men drop to their knees.

The court officer secures the two in front of him, then keeps his gun on the last while the female officer cuffs him. While they sort out communicating with their superiors on the radio, Kloud turns to Jade while tucking the gun into his suit jacket pocket. He reaches through the bars and takes her hands.

She walks forward and leans against the bars, close enough that he can shift his grip from her hands to her arms and then around her shoulders. The bars hurt where they press into his skin but he doesn't care he just draws his friend as close as he can and holds on.

"Thank you," he whispers quietly.

She just shrugs. "I wasn't going to let them hurt anyone because of me."

"That seems to be a running theme with you."

Jade just sighs. "I miss all of you. Please tell them."

"Of course I will."

A shudder runs through her, from head to toe, Kloud curls his fingers into the fabric of her dress. Her breath hitches against his collarbone.

"Sir? I'm going to need you to let the prisoner go, and come with us." The court officer says from his shoulder. Kloud glances over and sees that there are a lot more people in the small room now. Plenty with important letters spelled out across their jackets.

Jade makes a wounded sound in his arms, as he draws back. She reaches out and snags one of his hands, and holds it between her own. He squeezes her fingers. She bows her head over their joined hands, pressing her forehead against his wrist.

He can't pull away from her. There's a physicality to it, an actual inability to let her go. The thought of leaving her behind like this is inconceivable to him. But the court officer isn't going to wait, so he puts a hand on Kloud's shoulder and guides him back. Jade, to her credit doesn't try to cling or hold him there. She lets his hand slide free of her grasp.

Jade instead grips the bars until her knuckles turn white, and falls to her knees as though the fight has gone right out of her.

Kloud chokes back the sudden urge to cry.

53.

Despite it being well after closing, the coffee shop is lit up when Kloud approaches. His shift today had been a long one. His promotion to detective had been announced and everyone was offering congratulations or advice. Honestly, he just wanted to go home and crawl into bed with Sari, but he knew that Levi was likely still there and wanted to check in on the young man.

The door is unlocked when he turns the knob and swings open readily, a loud burst of music greets him cheerfully as he enters. Shutting the door behind him, and unwinding his scarf Kloud looks over the usual suspects with a grin. The tables and chairs of the shop have been pushed back, clearing a large space in the center. There, with varying levels of competence, Hyper, Donnie, Sunny, Jade, Kai and Levi are dancing.

Sunny is clearly an expert and is working closely with Levi, taking him through the rote movements of a box step, building up the boy's confidence. Hyper is being spun about by Kai, and Donnie is trying to coax a highly suspicious Jade into a dip.

"Kloud!" his best friend greets with a shout. Jade hesitates, uncertain, and the pair stumble. "Oh good you're here. Come help me with Jade, you're a far better teacher than I am."

Kloud rolls his eyes and hangs up his jacket on the hall tree by the door.

"When did Hyper decide to hold dancing lessons in the shop?"

"When we discovered that Levi and Jade don't know how." Hyper replies blithely as she and Kai waltz by him. The music is modern, but it has a clear beat that is easy to mark off into thirds.

Kloud casts a surprised glance at Jade, who is resolutely looking at her feet as Donnie shuffles from side to side.

"By the stars, Philips. Your mother would be horrified – I know you can dance better than that." Kloud chides. He should know, Kloud had been talked into taking the same dance classes that Donnie's mother sent him too.

"Just having a teeny bit of trouble with trust," Donnie explains.

"You steered me right into the counter," Jade accuses in a deadpan.

"Hence why your presence is such auspicious news!" Donnie cheers. "Like I said, you were way better at teaching. You taught all my sisters how!"

"That because all your sisters like me better than you." Kloud responds. He's tired, but the atmosphere of the shop is cozy and relaxing. The stresses of the day slip from his shoulders as he holds out his arms in invitation. Jade glances at him, momentarily unsure but Donnie gracelessly dumps her right into his hold.

"Who wants coffee?" the oracle asks while making his way behind the counter.

"You break that coffee machine, Philips and I swear to all the gods I will break you." Hyper calls.

"Noted!" Donnie says back. "But we both know it likes me the best!"

The machine for its part, spits hot water all across Donnie's shirt. Hyper and Kai both double over in laughter. Jade, stiff in his arms snorts in amusement, and goes back to staring at her feet.

Kloud lets go of her hand and uses his forefinger under her chin to bring her head up.

"Don't look at your feet." He advises. "They know how to walk, how to run. They can dance without you watching them."

Jade gives him a highly skeptical look, but keeps her whiskey brown eyes fixed on his blue grey ones none the less.

"Now then, do you trust me?" he asks, only somewhat jokingly.

"Yes," Jade answers, her voice serious.

"Alright, good. Trust is the most important part of dancing. You have to trust me to lead you, and I have to trust you to follow." He straightens his back and squares his shoulders. Jade instantly mirrors him, her entire frame becoming more structured.

"Have you ever heard of a box step?" he asks as he adjusts her grip on his shoulder, moving her hand closer to the ball joint and away from his neck.

"Vaguely. From that oaf you call a friend." She replies, smiling.

"Box step is a basic set of movements; a lot of dances can be built on it. Now for me the first step is left foot forward, which for you means – "

"Right foot back," Jade finishes seamlessly.

"Exactly."

Ignoring the music, he walks Jade through the steps, never letting her look at the floor. Donnie must have managed to teach some of the basics, because she manages to follow him without too much explanation.

"You're doing great," he compliments after they get through a third set. Jade's lips quirk into a half smile.

"I'm an amateur. I've never danced before."

"Not even the awkward grind at prom?" Kloud asks, recalling his own prom with a self-deprecating grin.

"We didn't have a prom." Is Jade's simple reply.

"What? Really? Gods I thought proms were a punishment that ever student in this country has a right too."

"My school was…a very different place from most other schools, I think. I listen to Jen and Hyper swap stories about their scholastic years and mine just do not really fit."

Kloud is slowly, ever so slowly easing their speed up with each complete set. He has half an ear on the music, trying to see if he can get Jade up to matching it at half speed.

"How do you mean?" he asks, curious.

"You know I went to mage schools, yes?"

"Yea."

"The culture at these schools is very focused. If it doesn't deepen our understanding of our magic, then we were not give time for it."

"So prom was not a thing? What about sports? Or music?"

"The only time I studied music was during mathematics. We didn't have sports at all, beyond what we were required to do to stay healthy."

That sounds horribly boring to Kloud, but he keeps that thought to himself.

"Does that mean that all your classes were mage focused?"

"Yes."

"So, things like, I don't know home economics? Literature? History?"

"We didn't take those," Jade says. "I haven't had a literature class since I was nine."

Kloud comes to a stop, gaping at her. Jade stops as well, still looking at him. She must see something in his face because her entire demeanor starts to change. Her shoulders drop, her eyes look away and the tension in her arms falls. In every way, he watches her pack herself back up into a little mental box and Kloud wonders at how many times she has had to do that in the past. What parts of her was she forced to excise in order to fit in to her school?

"That's…not what I expected." Kloud says finally in response. "I always thought that the mage schools were some of the best in the world."

"They are," Jade replies quietly. "For learning magery. But not for anything else." She still won't meet his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he says suddenly. He wants her to come back. The woman that he has been dancing with for the past ten minutes he wants her back. "I love reading, you see. So finding out that you haven't – I mean that since you've not been allowed to – gods above I'm fucking this up aren't I?"

"It's okay." Jade assures him.

It isn't. It really isn't. He tries to imagine a childhood that is so focused on one goal that you are forced to forgo every other thing that makes a childhood fun. Recess, reading, four square, checkers, art, field days, computer chair races down corridors, all the things that actually made school bearable, that made it worthwhile when you're 11. He can't actually picture it.

"Do you want to keep dancing?" Jade asks.

"Yes." He states firmly. "Yes, I really do."

She comes back to him a little for that. Her grip on her shoulder tightens and he starts the box step back over. Jade follows him without hesitation.

"Is that why you left? Because it was so narrowly focused?" Kloud asks, unable to stop himself.

"For the most part," Jade answers. He listens closely for any unease but doesn't hear any. "I became afraid that I was missing out on a lot of what made life fun. Like baking. Or dancing."

She gives him a cheeky wink, which makes him chuckle.

"I like reading," he admits. He speeds them up a little more, she follows him readily. "I'm a complete bibliophile. Always have been. I love that I can feel anything I want to feel, experience anything I could imagine – all in a book. I can live a thousand, million lives, as many as I want all within my own lifetime."

"That does sound like fun. Do you have a favorite?"

"Do you have a favorite pastry?"

"No, it really just depends on my mood."

"Same deal."

"Oh." Jade seems to closely consider this answer for a few seconds. Kloud edges their dance along just a little faster. "Well, if I was going to bake something for right now, for dancing with friends on a Wednesday night in December, I'd do almond butter croissants. Sweet, but not too much, filling without being heavy. What book would you want to read?"

Kloud laughs, he laughs and his arms guide Jade into a spin. She looks surprised, but follows him without a word or moment's hesitation. He spins her out, and then pulls her back into his arms. Her hand settles back on his shoulder in exactly the correct place.

"I wouldn't want to read right now, Jade. I'd rather be dancing with you."

She blushes, just a little bit. The flush spread across the bridge of her nose and the tops of her cheeks. She bites her bottom lip, but doesn't drop his gaze.

"That's flattering," she says.

"It's not flattery if it's the truth." He replies cheekily. Jade giggles at him.

"You dunce, I'm trying to ask for book recommendations."

"Of which I have thousands. I will happily bring you a stack tomorrow before my shift. But right now, we are going to give the traveling part of dancing a try, you up for it?"

Jade is all smiles now, absolutely radiant with it, and he wants her to look like this always.

"I trust you," is all she says in reply.

54.

His phone rings while he is in the middle of pulling on his coat. Kloud fumbles both, nearly dropping them but manages to get the phone to his ear without losing either.

"Hello?" he asks, not having checked caller ID as he awkwardly tries to shake his arm free of his sleeve.

"Are you doing anything right now?" Donnie asks, his voice devoid of any of his usual playfulness.

"Other than going home because I've had a shit day? Nothing." Kloud replies tentatively. He will of course help Donnie with whatever he needs, but it really, really has been a shit day and he's hoping that all he has to do is slog home through the snow and slush to his bed.

"Can you stop by the coffee shop on your way home?"

"What's wrong?"

"Hyper needs back up."

"Back up? Why?"

"Just…this one needs a more objective intervention than Jen or 'Mega could provide. Plus she's there by herself right now."

Kloud glances at his watch, it is after six so the shop would be closed. Ever since the blessing fell, and the media attention that Hyper's shop received during the fall out she has never had to want for customers. In fact, with the influx of business she had to hire a full staff, now it is practically unheard of for anyone to be manning the counter alone.

"What am I walking into Donnie?"

"So you're going?"

"Of course I'm going. But some background information would be helpful – for instance do I need to bring my taser?"

"Nope, just your fine, fettered self will do."

"Donnie-"

"Gotta go man, someone is about to check out 50 Shades of Grey, I need to save them."

"Donnie!"

But the line goes dead and Kloud huffs in annoyance. This is the first time he's called Kloud with vague instructions to just go somewhere, and it certainly won't be the last. One day, Kloud thinks to himself, I will learn to tell that man no.

The detective then snorts in amusement at the unlikelihood of that every happening. Kloud picks up his coat and successfully shrugs into it this time. The coffee shop is a short walk away, that despite the freezing November weather only takes home a few minutes. As expected the shop is already closed for the evening, but Kloud can see that the shades haven't been drawn yet and Hyper is standing behind the high counter her arms crossed, a strange, strained frown on her face. Someone else, who's back is to Kloud is gesturing sharply as she speaks to Hyper.

Taking a deep breath, and with one more unflattering comment about his best friend, Kloud tries the door. It's unlocked, and swings open obligingly. Hyper looks up and shoots him a relieved look. The woman who she was speaking with, doesn't even glance over her shoulder at him.

"The shop is closed, go away." The stranger snaps. Hyper rolls her eyes.

"He's not a customer, Stella. He's a friend. Come on in Kloud." Hyper invites. The woman turns to look at him now, and Kloud can see the strong family resemblance between her and Hyper.

"I don't mean to intrude," Kloud begins slowly. "I can come back later."

"Please do," the woman retorts.

"Stella!" Hyper cries, annoyed. "You don't get to dismiss people from my shop just because you feel like it."

"We're not done talking," Stella says, firmly.

"I kinda think we are," Hyper replies a weary sigh in her voice. "You've already made it very clear what you and the family think of my shop, I don't see how beating this horse any further is going to add to the experience."

"You've finally come into your powers, there's a place for you now."

"I can hear some things, but not consistently and not at the kind of range the rest of the family has. You don't need me."

Kloud has to bite his tongue because he wants to snap savagely at this woman that Hyper doesn't have to have her Charmer powers in order to earn a place anywhere. Least of all with her damn family.

As tempting as it is to lash out at her, Kloud can already tell that his ire and reasoning would be lost on her.

"You need us," Stella emphasizes, tapping a finger on the counter between her and Hyper.

Hyper stares at Stella, serious.

"No, I don't."

Kloud silently cheers at Hyper's words. Stella pulls back, obviously bewildered.

"Hyper. You're a Kenyon, a Charmer. You're family. You belong at home with us."

Hyper only stares down her family member, her face remains unchanged, still solemn. She uncrosses her arms, places her hands on the counter and leans forward.

"No." She repeats emphatically. "I don't."

Stella purses her lips, her whole mouth pinching down in disgust.

"I told your father this would be a useless venture."

"Then by all means, return to him and tell him you were right."

Stella snorts in derision at Hyper, turns sharply on her heel, storms past Kloud and out the door. Hyper slumps wearily over the counter top.

"Please, please, please, lock that damn door. I'm so done for the day."

Kloud obligingly does so and even goes as far to pull down the shades over the front facing windows. Once done, he sheds his heavy coat, drapes it over one of the bar stools and has a seat.

"Any change you can convince that machine of yours to part with some hot chocolate?" he asks, unsure of where exactly to start. The shop owner chuckles.

"Yea, sure."

In a few minutes, the two of them are sitting side by side, mugs in hand contemplating the silence.

"I'm glad you told her to fuck off." Kloud says finally, wanting to at least say something – acknowledge that Hyper had accomplished something difficult.

"I didn't actually tell her that," Hyper points out.

Kloud chuckles, "Oh yes you did. And if I ever have to recount these events on record, that's how I'm saying it happened."

"That's perjury."

"Meh. Worth it. Do you want to talk about it?"

Hyper looks down at her mug, running a dainty fingertip around the edge.

"What is there to talk about? My family only cares about me if I have Charmer abilities. I've finally made peace with that, and will not let them drag me back into that quagmire. End of story."

"I'm sure there's more to it than that."

"Yea, there is. But I've already told that story," she explains gently. "I'm sorry, but I'm only willing to relive the Cliff Notes at this point."

Kloud nods his head, "Fair enough. I'm here though, if that ever changes."

"I know," she assures him. "And I'm grateful you showed up when you did. Stella is very contentious about appearances. She would have put up much more of a fight, dragged us around in circles for hours if you hadn't shown up."

"Donnie called me."

Hyper huffs in annoyance, "Damnit, he'll want free coffee tomorrow for that help."

Kloud opens his mouth to respond with a pithy comment, but a knock on the door interrupts him. They both glance over at it, but as Kloud had pulled the shades down they cannot see who's outside.

"We're closed!" Hyper shouts.

There's a sort of uncertain kind of pause that Kloud can honestly feel coming from the other side of the door. And then, very quietly, they both hear a familiar voice make an entreaty.

"Please?"

Hyper is off her stool like a shot, bounding across the shop floor before Kloud can even stumble to his feet. The shop owner flicks the lock and wrenches the door open to reveal an exhausted looking Jade.

The mage stands, shifting nervously from foot to foot, ankle deep in the snow. Hyper grabs her by one shoulder and all but drags her inside, shutting the door behind her with a snap. That taken care of, the Charmer wraps the other woman in a tight hug.

Jade drops the bag she is carrying and hugs Hyper back, a thin shiver wracking her frame. When Hyper pulls away, she swipes at her eyes, while Jade doesn't even bother looking over her friend and then Kloud with tears on her cheeks.

"Hi," she says with a pained half laugh.

Kloud closes the distance between them and opens his arms as well. Jade falls into them for another welcoming hug.

"How'd you get here? The news and Alex said you were going back to South Carolina to be with your family." Hyper asks.

Jade rests her head on Kloud's shoulder for just another second, pressing close against him so much so that the snow that had fallen on her hair and clothes melt into his. He doesn't care one bit and instead holds her tighter. But she needs to answer Hyper so she pulls away to face them both.

"I did go back to South Carolina," Jade begins. "But…well. I just can't…be there right now." She clearly struggles to find the right words. Kloud is reminded painfully of watching her testify during her first trial.

"Why not? Did something happen?" Hyper queries, clearly concerned.

"No, nothing. My family has all been really supportive – they're fantastic. It's just I don't…they're just…strangers." She says the last word with an explosive sigh, like she had tried finding a less harsh one but couldn't.

"They're strangers," she reiterates. "I haven't seen them or spent time with them since I was 10. And all I could think about was getting back here. Coming back to you all. I missed you."

Hyper laughs, and launches herself at her friend again. Jade almost overbalances but Kloud manages to steady them both at the last second. It turns into something of a group hug Kloud is not ashamed to say.

"Hot chocolate! You need hot chocolate!" Hyper announces, breaking away to dash around the counter to her machine which whistles appreciatively. Kloud helps Jade out of her coat before they sit down on the stools.

"How has the press been treating you?" Kloud asks, knowing that the paparazzi probably had followed her to South Carolina.

"About 50/50," Jade replies. "Half say that they shouldn't have pled me out, and the other half say that the life time ban is too draconian."

"What do you think?" Kloud asks, because he honestly hasn't had the chance to speak with her since her last day in court. The entire group had traveled to Boston for Jade's final court appearance. And in the aftermath of the press coverage, and interviews, and just…all of it – none of them had a chance to say much of anything to Jade.

"I think they let me off easy," Jade answers a kind of ironic twist to her mouth. Not happy, not sad, but resigned.

"You're banned from practicing magery for the rest of your life. How is that easy?"

Jade sighs and gives him a somewhat chiding look, "I've never actually liked it, you know."

"Why not?"

"Because it's…it's not as great as people imagine it to be. It's difficult, and ruinous sometimes. To be able to…bend your mind to magery, Kloud, you have to be a bit…well…unbalanced. To hold to conflicting beliefs at once, and believe them with absolute certainty? That's already the stuff of the mad and to practice magery, to play in that dark place, it only makes it worse."

She fixes her eyes on his, holding his gaze, making him unable to look away. He can almost see a little of what she means – there's a kind of edge to her that reminds him painfully of the only other mage he's ever met. There's a dark space in her somewhere, and he can see it frightens her.

"Magery makes you worse, not better. There's a reason famous mages all die young, Kloud. There's a reason that magery labs are all warded to the hilt and come with lock down procedures designed to keep people in."

She finally looks away, and finishes, "So no, being banned from magery isn't a punishment, it isn't a sacrifice. If anything, I'll probably live longer."

He stares at her, taking in as much of her as he can from the exact arch of the curls of her hair, to the cant at which she holds her shoulders, the beginnings of the inked words wrapped around her wrists and the way she carries it all. Still present. Still trying.

For a moment, just a split second, Kloud feels the way Donnie must sometimes fee. Like he's looking down the wrong end of a telescope at something tiny in the far off distance – tiny, far away and yet still tantalizingly possible and clear.

He could love this woman. He could love her with every ounce of his entire self and be unbearably happy at the chance.

But that is not a thought for today. And so the detective shoves it away, picks up his mug and changes the subject slightly.

"When do you go in for your monitoring tattoo?" he asks, while Hyper brings over another mug of steaming hot chocolate. She stays on that side of the counter, dragging her own cup over to herself.

"I've got to get in touch with my parole officer here in New York, but probably before the end of the month. Why?"

Kloud reaches over and fishes something out of the pocket of his over coat and thumps it down on the counter.

"I've been carrying this around for a week and a half, debating what to do with it," he explains as Jade picks up the worn, leather journal. Her eyes narrow the moment her fingers touch it.

"This has a magery casting on it." She says, looking up at him confused.

"I got it off a mage that lived here in Brooklyn years ago. He died when I was 20, and he gave me this. It's his casting journal."

Jade hesitantly flips it open, but he can tell from her blank look that she can't read it any more than Hyper can who is also looking at it, perplexed.

"I can read it, the castings don't work on me." Kloud says, "That's why he said he was giving it to me. This is the same mage that cast the blessing on this building back in the 40s."

Hyper looks up at him, hope written plainly on her face.

"Did he write how he cast that blessing down?" she all but demands.

"He did more than that," Kloud replies, flipping through the pages of the journal to the very last two, tapping the corner of the book with his forefinger, "He actually placed a complete copy of it in the pages."

Jade looks up at him sharply, her whiskey brown eyes still narrowed and disbelieving. She is clearly having no trouble following his train of thought.

"You're joking."

He shrugs, "You want penance. You want to do something good for people. This blessing did that, it could do it again."

Jade looks over at Hyper, "You cannot seriously want this blessing back. It'll kill your business."

"Jade, you honestly think I'm still in this business because I'm interested in success? You and I both know that this place was supposed to be a sanctuary. I liked, no I loved that it was a safe place for people to come and be. It's how I met each and every one of you – if I could have it back I'd do so in a heartbeat." Hyper explains earnestly, reaching out and placing one of her hands on Jade's wrist.

"What do you say?" Kloud asks playfully. "One last act of magery, one last casting."

"I cannot believe an officer of the law is encouraging me to break parole."

"Justice is blind. I'm pretty sure she's that way so that sometimes, she can look the other way, so to speak."

"They'll know it was me."

"Really? How?"

"Don't be obtuse. I come back to New York and the same day the blessing goes back up over this building? People aren't stupid."

"Circumstantial. Magery cannot be traced back to a specific mage, as you well know, other wise we wouldn't have had such a hard time proving Leicester was an evil fucker. They'd need a witness and I don't see me or Hyper ever saying anything."

"What if I don't want to risk it?"

"That's hilarious coming from you, Miss Class One Mage Fire."

Jade actually laughs out loud at that, head tilted back full bellied laugh. She calms and looks over at Hyper.

"You really want it back?"

Hyper nods frantically.

"It's been almost a year Jade and it's gotten to the point where I don't want to get up for work in the mornings anymore."

Jade looks down at her hands for a long time. She reaches out and places a palm over the center of the open journal, pressing down hard so that the skin along the edges of her fingers goes white. A strange glow begins to emanate from the pages, icy blue in color – a half remembered design flares under her hand.

"Well," she breathes, "We can't have that."

The building rumbles joyfully around them.