Chapter Twelve: Ashe
And Then There Were Two
“That was a really shitty thing you did, running out like that without even telling me you were leaving.” Jaxx’s arms were crossed, and his bottom lip jutted out a little. He was quite cute when he was angry.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to get any more mixed up in… whatever this is. The government men, the key…”
Jaxx frowned. “I thought you said he had hallucinated all those things.”
Ashe pulled the key out of his pocket. “I found this when I burned his old duffel bag, up on the mountaintop.”
“You burned it? Never mind. I saw the fireworks. But that’s not important right now.” He held out his hand. “Can I see it?”
Ashe gave it to him.
Jaxx held it up against the almost-full moon, squinting. “There, just like I thought. Look.”
Ashe dismounted and stood next to Jaxx, staring up at the key, aware how close the two of them were. His hands trembled a little. That was the other reason he’d decided to leave.
There was a faint blue glow around the edges of the key.
“It’s spelled,” Jaxx said. “Maybe your father had it done before he hid the thing.”
“Yeah. My mother knew a guy—Alvin—who used to dabble in it. Well, that and love charms and potions.” His brow knit in concentration. “It could be almost anything. Something to preserve it against corrosion. A charm to ward off someone, or something. Even spell-encoded information. From the color, I’d say that’s most likely.”
Ashe looked at Jaxx with newfound appreciation. “So how do we find out which it is?”
“We?” The look of annoyance had returned to Jaxx’s face. “So it’s we now?
Ashe sighed. He deserved that. “Yes. I admit it,” he said grudgingly. “I… need your help.”
“Let today be marked as the official date of the first time that Ashe Heyoka ever admitted he needed someone else’s help.” He grinned wickedly, and there was a gleam in his eye.
“I’m sorry, Jaxx. It’s been a difficult day.”
Jaxx’s frowned, his expression once again serious. “I know. I’m sorry, I can be an ass sometimes.” He handed back the key. “You must be in real pain after your loss this afternoon.”
“I can’t think about that right now,” Ashe said, pushing it to the back of his mind.
“So how can we find out about this spell?”
“I can take you to Alvin’s shop in the morning. But for now, you’re coming home with me.” He didn’t sound like he was in the mood for an argument.
Ashe indicated the bike with a nod of his head.
“For now, you are following me home,” Jaxx corrected himself. He kissed Ashe on the cheek, and climbed back into his car. The engine started with a rumble and a belch of black smoke.
He pulled back onto the road and turned around, heading back down into town. Ashe followed on his bike, relieved to have someplace to go.
Jaxx’s house was a small, tan, rectangular box of a home, stucco-covered brick on a dirt lot just off of Grant Road. Someone had made a half-hearted attempt at landscaping, with a knee-high grey cinderblock wall encircling a front yard that was full of dead weeds.
“Charming,” Ashe said, though his own home wasn’t much better.
“Oh shut up,” Jaxx said, leading him inside. “It’s a rental, it’s cheap, and it’s close to work.”
Ashe looked around. It was a small place, maybe 600 square feet in all. The kitchen and living room were one space, and what he guessed was the bedroom took up most of the rest. A back door led out into a sunporch.
“So, here we are.” Jaxx gestured grandly around the small place.
Ashe nodded. “I can sleep out here, on the couch.” The old orange and green upholstered sofa didn’t look too uncomfortable.
If Jaxx was disappointed, he didn’t show it. “Sounds good. There’s one bathroom. We can take turns showering and getting ready for bed. Tomorrow, we’ll go see Alvin.”
So why did Ashe feel disappointed? “Sure,” he said. “Sounds good.” Inside, he was remembering what it had been like to share Jaxx’s bed. All and all, he was in a good place. He was with a friend, and he had a place to stop and rest and a shower to wash off the grit of the road. He gave Jaxx a hug. The satyr stiffened for a moment, then returned it. “Thanks for helping me out.”
“You’re family. I hope you know that.”
Ashe nodded. “I do.”
He headed for the shower. In fifteen moments he was washed up and laid out on the couch, and in five more, exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep.
Ashe was enjoying the luxury of another shower in the morning when the bathroom door swung open.
“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” Jaxx said, but he sounded serious. “Your father was right.”
“What’s that?” Ashe rinsed the soap off his head and grabbed his towel to dry off the fine feathers. He wrapped it around his waist before opening the glass shower door. They were just friends, after all.
“There were two men here a minute ago, looking for you. Guys in black suits.”
Ashe’s skin went cold. “Oh crap. What did you tell them?”
“That I hadn’t seen you since yesterday. I’m not sure they believed me—they asked me about the bike out front. I told them it was my brother’s. But I think we need to get you out of here.”
Ashe put his head down. “Don’t worry. I’ll go.” He didn’t want to cause Jaxx any more trouble. He stepped out of the shower and ran a hand through his feathers, smoothing them down. “Just give me five minutes.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Jaxx blocked the door. “I’m coming with you. But we have to sneak you out the back.”
Ashe looked Jaxx in the eyes. “You don’t have to do that. I don’t even know what these guys want. They’re clearly dangerous—”
“All the more reason you’re going to need me.”
Ashe tried to stare him down, but his friend wouldn’t relent. Jaxx had all the stubbornness of a ram, and with his horns, Ashe didn’t relish trying to him.
He sighed. “Okay, what do we do?”
Ashe hiked himself over the fence between Jaxx’s and Mrs. Gonzalez’s yard, alert for her Rottweiler as he ran across the bare dirt toward the house.
Jaxx had been fairly sure she would be out walking the dog at this hour—apparently she always did at about 7:30 in the morning—but he hadn’t been able to guarantee anything.
Ashe had just reached the fence at the front of the yard when he heard a low growl behind him. He turned to see Petey—such an innocuous name for such a hard bundle of muscle and teeth—staring up at him, crouched as if he were about to leap.
Rather than run and risk being bitten in the ass, he stood his ground. Drawing on his animal training, he said in his most commanding voice: “NO, Petey. SIT!” He let the fire flare up along his arms to reinforce the command.
Petey immediately stopped growling and sat down, looking bewildered.
“Good boy,” Ashe said, and turned to hop the fence before Mrs. Gonzalez came out to investigate.
Hopefully Jaxx was already waiting for him at the curb.
There was no red hatchback in sight. Ashe glanced nervously up and down the street, knowing how out of place he would appear as a stranger in the little neighborhood.
Finally, he saw Jaxx’s car swing around the corner.
“Get in!” Jaxx said, glancing at the street behind him.
“What took you so long?” Ashe said, slamming the car door.
“Sorry. Mr. Jeffries wanted me to water his yard next week. I told him I was taking a couple weeks off, and came as fast as I could. No problems then?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Ashe glanced at the back seat. The new bag Jaxx had loaned him was there, along with Jaxx’s own suitcase. “Wait, you’re taking time off?”
“I called in this morning.”
Ashe felt a surge of gratitude toward his ex.
For the first time in a long while, he didn’t feel alone.