Saving Raphael Santiago

Page 3

The sobbing had rendered Raphael worn enough that he was docile. Magnus brought him to his own home because he had not the faintest idea what else to do with him.

Raphael sat, a small tragic bundle on Magnus's sofa.

Magnus would have felt painfully sorry for him, but he had stopped in a phone booth on his way home to ring up Etta at the small jazz club where she was singing tonight, to tell her not to come around to his place for a while because he had a baby vampire to deal with.

"A baby vampire, huh?" Etta had asked, laughing, the same way a wife might laugh at her husband who always brings home the strangest items from a local antiques market. "I don't know any exterminator in the city you could call to deal with that."

Magnus had smiled. "I can deal with it myself. Trust me."

"Oh, I usually do," Etta had said. "Though my mama tried to teach me better judgment."

Magnus had been on the phone gabbing with Etta for only a couple of minutes, but when he'd gotten out, it had been to find Raphael crouched on the pavement. He'd hissed, fangs white and needle-sharp in the night, like a cat protective of his prey when Magnus had approached. The man in his arms, the crisp white collar of his shirt dyed crimson, had been already unconscious; Magnus wrenched him away from the hissing vampire and propped him in an alley, hoping he'd think he'd been mugged.

When he came back to the sidewalk, Raphael was still sitting there, hands curled into claws and pressed to his chest. There was still a trace of blood on his mouth. Magnus felt despair hollow his heart. Here was not simply a suffering child. Here was a monster with the face of a Caravaggio angel.

"You should have let me die," Raphael said in a small, hollow voice.

"I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"Because I promised your mother I would bring you home," said Magnus.

Raphael went still at the mention of his mother, as he had back at the hotel. Magnus could see his face in the glow of the streetlights. He had the blankly hurt look of a child who had been slapped: pain and bewilderment and no way to handle either of those feelings.

"And do you think she would want me home?" Raphael asked. "L-like this?"

His voice trembled, and his lower lip, still stained with a man's blood, wobbled. He swiped a vicious hand across his face, and Magnus saw it again: the way he pulled himself together in an instant, the stern control he exerted over himself.

"Look at me," he said. "Tell me she would invite me in."

Magnus could not tell him that. He remembered how Guadalupe had talked about monsters, those who walked in the darkness and preyed on innocents. He thought of how she might react-the woman who had given her son a cross-to a son with blood on his hands. He remembered his stepfather forcing him to repeat prayers until once-holy words tasted bitter in his mouth, remembered his mother and how she had not been able to touch him once she'd known, and how his stepfather had held him down under the surface of the water. Yet they had loved him once, and he had loved them.

Love did not overcome everything. Love did not always endure. All you had could be taken away, love could be the last thing you had, and then love could be taken too.

Magnus knew, though, how love could be a last hope and a star to steer by. Light that went out had still shone once.

Magnus could not promise Raphael his mother's love, but since Raphael still loved his mother, Magnus wanted to help him and thought he might know how.

He prowled forward, over his own rug, and saw Raphael's dark eyes flash, startled, at his sudden purposeful movement.

"What if she never had to know?"

Raphael blinked slowly, almost reptilian in his hesitation. "What do you mean?" he asked warily.

Magnus reached into his pocket and produced the glittering thing inside it, held cupped in the palm of his hand.

"What if you came to her door," Magnus asked, "wearing the cross that she gave you?"

He dropped the cross, and reflexively Raphael caught it in his open hand. The cross hit Raphael's palm, and he saw Raphael wince, saw the wince become a shudder that ran all through his thin body and made his face go tight with pain.

"All right, Raphael," Magnus said gently.

Raphael opened his eyes and glared at Magnus, which was not what Magnus had been expecting. The smell of burning flesh filled Magnus's room. He was going to have to invest in some potpourri.

"Well done, Raphael," Magnus said. "Bravely done. You can put it down now."

Raphael held Magnus's gaze, and very slowly he closed his fingers over the cross. Tiny wisps of smoke filtered out through the spaces between his fingers.

"Well done?" echoed the vampire boy. "Bravely done? I'm just getting started."

He sat there on Magnus's sofa, his whole body an arch of pain, and he held on to his mother's cross. He did not let go.

Magnus reassessed the situation.

"A good start," Magnus told him in a condescending tone. "But it's going to take a lot more than that."

Raphael's eyes narrowed, but he did not respond.

"Of course," Magnus added casually, "maybe you can't do it. It's going to be a lot of work, and you're just a kid."

"I know it's going to be a lot of work," Raphael told him, biting off the end of every word. "I have only you to help me, and you're not terribly impressive."

It dawned on Magnus that Raphael's question in the vampires' hotel-Are you stupid?-had been not only an expression of despair but also an expression of Raphael's personality.

He was soon to learn that it was also Raphael's favorite question.

In the nights that followed, Raphael acquired a good deal of horribly monochrome clothing, chased off several of Magnus's clients with caustic and unkind remarks, devoted his unlife to rattling Magnus's cage, and remained sternly unimpressed by any magic Magnus displayed. Magnus warned him about Shadowhunters, the Angel's children who would try to chase him down if he broke any of their Laws, and told him about all that there was to offer and all the people he could meet. The whole of Downworld was laid out before him, faeries and werewolves and enchantment, and the only thing Raphael seemed interested in was how long he could hold the cross for, how much longer he could hold it for each night.

Etta's verdict was that nothing razzed that kid's berries.

Etta and Raphael were distant with each other. Raphael was openly and insultingly surprised that Magnus had a lady friend, and Etta, though she knew of Downworld, was wary around all Downworlders but Magnus. Chiefly Raphael stayed out of the way when Etta came by.

They had met at a club fifteen years before, Etta and Magnus. He had convinced her to dance with him, and she said she had been in love by the end of the song. He told her he had been in love before the beginning.

It was their tradition that when Etta came in after a late night during which Magnus had not been able to join her-and Magnus was missing many nights, because of Raphael-Etta would kick off her high heels, feet aching from a long night, but keep her fancy beaded dress on, and they would dance together, murmuring bebop into each other's ears and competing as to which tune they would dance to the longest.

The first time Etta encountered Raphael, she was a little quiet afterward.

"He was made a vampire only a few days ago," she said eventually, when they were dancing. "That's what you said. Before that he was just a boy."

"If it helps, I have a suspicion that he was a menace."

Etta did not laugh. "I always thought of vampires as so old," she said. "I never thought about how people can become them. I guess it makes sense. I mean-Raphael, the poor kid, he's too young. But I can see how people might want to stay young forever. The same way you do."

Etta had been talking about age more and more in the last few months. She had not mentioned the men who came to hear her sing at clubs, who wanted to take her away and have children with her. She had not had to.

Magnus understood, could read the signs like a sailor knew which clouds in the sky would bring a storm. He had been left before, for many reasons, and this one was not unusual.

Immortality was something you paid for, and those you loved paid for, over and over again. There had been a precious few who had stayed with Magnus until death had parted them, but come death or a new stage of their lives where they felt he could not follow, they were all parted from him by something.

He could not blame Etta.

"Would you want it?" Magnus asked at last, after a long time swaying together. He did not make the offer, but he thought it, that he could have it arranged. There were ways. Ways one might pay a terrible price for. Ways his father knew of, and Magnus hated his father. But if she could stay with him always-

There was another silence. All Magnus heard was the click of his shoes, and the soft shuffle of her bare feet, on his wooden floors.

"No," said Etta, her cheek pressed against his shoulder. "No. If I could have it all my own way, I'd want a little more time with you. But I wouldn't stop the clock for it."

Strange and painful reminders came to Magnus every now and then, when he had become accustomed to Raphael as the always irritated and irritating housemate who had been wished upon him. He would be surprised with a reminder of what he already knew: that Raphael's clock had been stopped, that his human life had been viciously wrenched away from him.

Magnus was constructing a new hairstyle with the aid of Brylcreem and a dash of magic when Raphael came up behind him and surprised him. Raphael often did that, since he had the silent tread of his vampire kind. Magnus suspected that he did it on purpose, but since Raphael never cracked a smile, it was hard to tell.

"You're very frivolous," Raphael remarked disapprovingly, staring at Magnus's hair.

"And you're very fifteen," Magnus shot back.

Raphael usually had a retort for whatever Magnus threw at him, but instead of a reply Magnus received a long silence. When Magnus looked up from his mirror, he saw that Raphael had moved over to the window and was looking out onto the night.

"I would be sixteen by now," said Raphael, voice as distant and cold as the light of the moon. "If I had lived."

Magnus remembered the day when he had realized that he was no longer aging, looking in a mirror that seemed colder than all other mirrors had before, as if he had been viewing his reflection in a shard of ice. As if the mirror had been responsible for holding his image so utterly frozen and so utterly distant.

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