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Erika, Ian and Kaito were gathered in a waiting room with Jason’s mother, Cheryl, and her brother, Robert. Emi had been left with Amy and her children. This was something Erika had come to regret, given her increasing suspicions surrounding Jason and the visit Emi had paid to her Grand Nanna the previous evening.

Jason arrived in the waiting room at a stride, Hiro trailing behind. The shocked expressions of his mother and maternal uncle made them look like they’d just been slapped.

“G’day all,” Jason said. “That’s a nice pantsuit, Mum. Uncle Robbo, it’s been a while. Doctors still giving you the run around? I’ll go see if I can’t give them a kick in the bum.”

Erika, Ian and Kaito had all turned to Cheryl who was still looking at Jason like she’d seen a ghost. Jason started marching off again, then stopped and snapped his fingers like he’d just remembered something.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, turning and absently pointing a finger at his mother. “Not dead. Obviously. Forgot to say. We can talk in a couple of days; I’m a bit busy at the moment. You know how it is.”

He then resumed marching away from his startled family, with Hiro staying behind but Erika quickly trailing after him.

“This is how you let Mum know?” she asked.

“Apparently,” Jason said. “She’s hard to pin down.”

“This is because of how she treated you after, you know.”

“I’m not unaware of my own motivations, Erika.”

“That’s another mess I’ll no doubt be left to clean up. Do you ever leave your phone on?”

“I was meditating in an alternate dimension, Eri. The Telstra network doesn’t cover that.”

“I am not going to let you distract me with your lunacy.”

“You say that,” Jason said, “but we’ll see.”

He spotted the ward reception and went over.

“I need to see the doctors for Glenda Pottsworth,” he demanded of the nurse there.

“You’ll need to wait,” he said. “As I told the rather assertive young lady beside you, the doctors will make themselves available when they can.”

“Tell the doctors that Jason Asano is about to start poking around and see if that doesn’t free them up,” Jason said, not waiting for a response before walking away.

Erika followed again and pulled him up short.

“You did have something to do with this,” she said.

“Yes,” Jason admitted.

“What the hell is going on, Jason?”

“Look, Emi asked me if I could help Nanna. I wasn’t sure; Alzheimer’s is a tricky one, but I thought maybe I could. I gave it a go and it looks like it worked.”

“Like what worked? What did you do.”

“The doctor’s here,” he said, looking over at a door marked staff only. Moments later they saw a doctor through the glass in the door, who and buzzed himself out to join Jason and Erika in the corridor.

“Mr Asano?” the doctor asked. The man had no magic, but Jason had sensed the man’s nervous fear approaching. It seems the Network had told him at least something about Jason.

“Eri, go back and tell the others that we’ll have news soon.”

“If you think I’m leaving you alone for…”

The look Jason turned on her wasn’t backed up by his aura, but the unflinching authority in his gaze made him seem for a moment like a total stranger, taking her aback.

“Tell the others that they’ll be able to see Nanna soon,” he reiterated. “Isn’t that right, doctor?”

Jason didn’t turn away from his sister to ask him, but the man hopped nervously like a raw recruit on a parade ground.

“Of course, Mr Asano.”

Only then did Jason turn to face the man.

“There’s somewhere you can brief me on my grandmother’s condition?”

“Follow me, please.”

He led Jason through the doors, when he suddenly stopped dead when his senses picked up something. It was retracted and hard to sense, but not hard enough. It was unmistakably a silver-rank aura.

Jason turned a look on the doctors that could melt steel, fear crossing their faces.

“I hope you haven’t done something very, very stupid,” Jason snarled.

The increasingly skittish doctor led Jason to a small office that contained the silver-rank aura Jason could sense, leaving him outside the door and scuffling off. Jason was ready to unleash Colin if these people were foolish enough to try something on as he opened the door.

Inside was a woman with magically perfected looks he had come to expect from silver-rankers. She had shampoo commercial dark hair and flawless, alabaster skin, but Jason was well past the point of being distracted by such beauty. He had kept more than his share of company with beautiful people.

“Jason Asano,” she greeted.

“Random silver-ranker who better not try anything with this many of my family in the building,” he greeted back coldly.

“That’s not my intention at all,” she said. “Take a seat.”

The diminutive office she had appropriated only had space for two to sit with a small desk in between. Trying to dodge Colin in the limited area would be an exercise in futility, which gave him a level of comfort as he took a seat.

“My name is Gladys Williams,” she introduced herself. “Silver-ranker. That’s what you call a category three, right? Based on the spirit coin of that rank?”

“Yes,” Jason answered coolly.

“You really aren’t worried about the power disparity, are you?” she asked. “Most cat twos get real nervous this close to a three.”

“You wouldn’t be the first category three that I’ve killed.”

“I’m a healer, you know. I can counteract a lot of the powers you use.”

Jason took on the grin of a cat who had just spotted a mouse with a pronounced limp.

“So did the first silver-ranker I killed,” he said. “He died screaming his lost faith to the sky. The archbishop wasn’t much of a martyr in the end.”

“You’re not talking about any of our local religions, are you?”

“No. Now you’ve got some nuggets out of me, it’s time to tell me about my grandmother.”

Gladys nodded.

“Have you ever tried healing Alzheimer’s before?” she asked.

“No,” Jason said. “Chronic problems usually get dealt with before they get to that stage in the other world. There’s a god of healing who seems like a good guy.”

“You say that like you met him.”

“Briefly. Friend of a friend.”

“I can’t tell if you’re making things up or not. Your aura is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Anna will want you to commit to helping our people learn to do that with their auras.”

“We need to settle things regarding my grandmother before I’m going to talk about any kind of arrangement with your organisation.”

Gladys nodded.

“After examining her,” she said, “As best I can tell, you sucked out all the sickness and then fed her a potion.”

“Yes,” Jason said. “Was that not the right approach?

“It’s not the worst approach you could have taken,” Gladys said. “The basic idea is sound. Excise the disease and then repair the damage. Alzheimer’s is tricky, though. Especially with advanced cases like your grandmother.”

“I was worried about that,” Jason admitted, his expression softening. “Healing magic restores the body using the soul as a blueprint, but I was concerned about what years of dementia had done to affect her soul.”

“That’s precisely the issue,” Gladys said. “You seem to know a bit about magical healing.”

“Just some foundational magic theory,” Jason said. “Do you have some kind of treatment?”

“We do,” Gladys said. “As it is, she’s more or less fully lucid. The memory gaps aren’t going to come back. What we can do is a regime of regular therapy and some more nuanced magical treatment. Over the next few months we can work on consolidating body and soul into a healthy balance and prevent complications from arising in the future.”

“So, my grandmother needs to be in the Network’s care.”

“I’m not just saying this for leverage, Mr Asano. I have better ethics than that. Since you seem to have some grasp on the theory, I can take you through it in more detail, if you like.”

“Yes,” Jason said. “That’s exactly what I’d like.”

***

After Jason appeared, only to leave again immediately, there was a commotion as his siblings tried to explain his revival to his mother. This was made harder by not really understanding it themselves.

“Well, if you’d actually shown up to the family meeting – which I made very clear was important,” Erika told her, “then you could have asked him these questions yourself, Mother.”

The doctor re-emerged, giving the family some vague explanations that Ian immediately picked out as sketchy. As a doctor himself he knew when another medical professional was talking nonsense, plus every doctor involved with his wife’s grandmother was someone he didn’t know. He had only been working in the area for a year, but as a regional physician he had made a point of making connections in the local hospital.

Erika had insisted that they wait for Jason before Ian started throwing his weight around, and shortly after Jason arrived, the doctors told them they could see Nanna Glenda.

“No more than two or three at a time,” the doctor insisted. “She’s lucid, but has a lot of confusion and memory loss. You need to be gentle.”

“Mum and Uncle Robbo,” Kaito said. “You’re her children, so you go first. Erika and I will go after.”

Right after Cheryl and Robert were led away, Jason was suddenly back without any of the family having noticed him arrive.

“Jason, what is going on?” Erika asked.

“I’m leaving,” he said.

“Are you kidding me?” she asked.

“Jason, what’s going on?” Ian asked. “I have no idea who these doctors are, I’m certain they’re lying and the whole debacle is shady as a long autumn dusk. Why are they suddenly cooperating?”

“Have Uncle Robbo take Nanna to stay with him,” Jason said. “I’ll pick up Emi and take her back to my place. Once you’re done here, bring Hiro, yourselves and Dad to my place. It’s at the marina; Hiro can show you. I’ll explain everything. Really everything.”

“I’m not sure I want Emi to be part of that,” Erika said.

“She already is,” Jason said. “She knows more than you do.”

“Jason, we’re her parents,” Erika said fiercely. “That should have been our decision to make.”

“I know,” Jason acknowledged contritely. “I acted on impulse, sorry.”

Kaito looked on, excluded, but didn’t speak up.

“I’m going,” Jason said to Erika. “I’ll see you soon. Can you call Amy and tell her I’m coming?”

“How did you know Amy has her?” Erika asked.

“Didn’t I tell you? I’ve got magic powers.”

***

Jason walked from his car parked out front to Kaito and Amy’s front door. It was a house he had visited almost every day of his childhood, and approaching under current circumstances felt very strange. The strange swirl of emotions was mirrored in Amy’s aura, inside. She had apparently seen him arrive, so he waited by the door instead of knocking and she opened it.

“What did you do to me last night?” she asked. “I wasn’t just imagining it, right?”

“No.”

“So what was it?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Well, not without some convincing, but that will have to wait.”

“That’s what you’re giving me? You really weirded me out, Jason.”

“Well you threw my heart into a wood chipper, carved my family in half and sent me spiralling into a years long depression during which I basically scuttled my whole life.”

Her gaze drifted over to Jason’s car.

“Your life seems to be going alright.”

“That didn’t come cheap, Amy.”

“So, you’re rich now?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean, Jason?”

Jason untucked his shirt and lifted it up to reveal a torso covered in small scars, plus one thick, savage one extending diagonally across his abdomen.

“Jason, what the hell happened to you?” she asked as he dropped his shirt back down.

“You know the saying about not knowing who you are until you’ve walked through the fire?”

“Yeah.”

“I found out who I am.”

“And who is that?” she asked.

“Someone who doesn’t get to live a quiet life. I wanted this to be you and me, Amy. Why wasn’t I good enough?”

His morose expression transformed into a sparkly-eyed smile and moments later Emi came pounding down the stairs.

“Uncle Jason!”

He caught his niece in a hug.

“Ready to go see my house boat?” he asked.

“Is it all mouldy and gross?” Emi asked.

“No, it is not,” he said indignantly.

“Boo,” Emi jeered.

“At least wait until you see it,” Jason complained. “Say goodbye to your Aunt Amy.”

“Bye, Aunt Amy.” She said at they set off for his car. “Uncle Jason, tuck in your shirt. You look unemployed.”

“I prefer to think of myself as independently wealthy.”

They started walking across the front yard to Jason’s car and Amy called out after them.

“Jason.”

“Yeah?” he asked, pausing and turning around.

“I know I did everything wrong,” she said. “How badly I hurt you. You didn’t deserve that just because I didn’t know how to end things. I really am sorry.”

“I know,” he said.

Her memory of his impish grin went back longer than most things she could remember. When he flashed it for her briefly, it wasn’t the same. He looked at her with the cold eyes of a stranger.

“It just doesn’t matter anymore,” he told her.

“Come, Uncle Jason,” Emi said, tugging on his hand.

“I do not look unemployed,” he merrily complained to his niece, letting himself be dragged towards the car. “I look like a dashing man about town…”

 

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Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

  • Australia

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