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Missing Things - Hollis Shiloh

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Shiloh

Story copyright: May 2017 by Hollis Shiloh. 

All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from the author. All characters and events are fictitious, and any similarity to real people or events is coincidental.

Original art created by TatianaOnegina: www.tatianaonegina.deviantart.com

Copy-editing and proofreading by Martin O'Hearn.

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About the story:

Is there a way to save the captive fae?

Jocelyn and Ellis, magicians and life partners, grapple with dilemmas and a miasma of magic and mystery.

Jocelyn searches out magical artifacts, and struggles with the troubling gap in his memories — and the feeling that his and Ellis's partnership is falling apart. 

Meanwhile, Ellis works desperately to dig into a wicked injustice being perpetrated against a kidnapped fae...and finds it may be too much for him to handle alone. 

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43,000 words

Men of Magic book 2

Very low heat

Missing Things

(Men of Magic #2)

by Hollis Shiloh

Jocelyn leaned over to kiss his beloved, smiling and pleased.  But only for an instant.  He had been thinking about how terribly fortunate he was to have Ellis Porter in his life and in his heart — in a word, in love with him.  But Ellis jumped.  He jumped, at that surprise little kiss, and Jocelyn drew back, brow wrinkling.

I'm sorry, my dear.  Did I startle you?  The magic connecting them was so intense at this point in their lives that he did not think it was possible.  He would always be aware of that bright, sweet connection to Ellis, and it shocked him that he could ever have surprised his beloved.

And then he saw that he hadn't.  Ellis's jump had been something else indeed.  Jocelyn's heart plummeted as he gazed with dismay at Ellis, with his hand slapped over his drawing. 

Ellis was quite the artist.  But he had never before tried to guiltily hide something from Jocelyn.

It was strange, hurtful, unnecessary.  If Ellis didn't want Jocelyn to look, of course he would not, but that guilty start hurt like a stab wound.  They stared at one another, gazes locked.  Ellis's expression wavered, as if he was thinking about and discarding some explanation or other that would not be the truth.

Jocelyn held up a hand to forestall it.  Don't...don't bother, he said unsteadily.  It doesn't matter.  He face twisted in a pained grimace he couldn't avoid as he turned away.  It would not do; it simply would not.

Of course they wouldn't tell each other every single thing about their lives, or be always in one another's pockets.  Of course Ellis had the right to keep anything he wanted to himself, and the guilty start, well, perhaps that hadn't really meant anything at all — just instinct at work.

But it had never worked like that between them before.  It was always so natural, the trust between the two of them.

Things had changed subtly in the last couple of weeks, however.  Ellis had been admitted to the ministry as a fully-fledged agent, with the proviso that he work with Jocelyn (or some other agent) on each case he worked, for a period of at least one full year.  It had seemed reasonable, especially since they worked best together anyway.

Jocelyn wondered uneasily if Ellis had found someone else with whom he would rather work. 

Ellis's eyes held a bright, comprehending sorrow, stronger than apology, agonized yet unspoken.  His eyes glittered with unshed tears.  Yet he did not speak, or uncover his drawing.  He did not say a word, as Jocelyn got his coat — groping for it blindly on its hook, and finally freeing it — and headed for the door.

I'm going out, he announced unnecessarily.  I may be some time.

He managed to slip it on in the hall, and had even buttoned it in the correct manner by the time he reached the street.  It only took two tries to get it lined up evenly with his trembling fingers.

Ellis couldn't be fed up with him already, could he?

The bond, for Jocelyn, at least, had been permanent, deep, rejuvenating and scarring in the best possible way.  There was no way to carve Ellis out of his heart, to leave him behind.  He was a wholly new person, a better and realer him than he'd been before because of Ellis.  The magic between them had subtly altered them both, binding them together: not a force to be reckoned with, but something beautiful and sustaining, something that made him feel whole and real.

What if it affected him more strongly than Ellis?

He was well aware that he was not quite good enough for Ellis, and there were many things he did not always understand about him or his life.  Jocelyn could be dense about things, but he tried not to be, and Ellis knew he cared.  Surely he always knew that?

He stopped under the third street light he passed, a warm and steady glow above him.  His hands were still unsteady.  He forced himself to concentrate, to breathe, to focus on the air and fog in his lungs, the scent of the night air still reeking of horse shit and burned sausages and making him want to cough.  Ellis would not leave him — and, well, if he did, Jocelyn would find some way to get him back, to fix things.  It was not as bad as it felt; of course it was not.  Hiding one drawing did not mean the end of the world.  Naturally it did not. 

Be reasonable, he told his gently shattering heart.

It would not do so.

A figure approached, with the quiet steps of a quiet, self-contained man.  Jocelyn knew who it was without looking, of course.  He could never be surprised by Ellis's approach, not at the most unexpected of times.

Ellis moved nearer to him, to join him under the light.  He had not bothered with his disguise, Jocelyn noted dully.  He had no magical disguise overlaying his true countenance.  His honest black face, his sensitive eyes, his soft mouth and the regret in his expression.  He pushed his hands into the pockets of his overcoat.

Perhaps I should explain, he said softly. 

Jocelyn made a jerky movement, which was meant to be a shrug.  His fingers still trembled.

Ellis reached out and put a hand over his fingers, to soothe and still.  He met Jocelyn's eyes with sadness, regret, and apology.  I'm not sure you'll like it, he admitted.

Jocelyn was fairly certain he would not.  But he would damned well try.

Please don't leave me, whatever you do.

ELLIS

I had been accepted as a fully-fledged agent with almost disheartening speed.  If I had trusted the ministry completely, which I most certainly did not, I would have questioned their judgment on this point.  It ought to be enough to give anyone pause. 

They were short on manpower, and I had magic; I worked well with Jocelyn Powers, my life partner, and the ministry needed all the agents it could get.  But there was no denying I was still getting my land legs, so to speak, after Jocelyn had gotten me out of the mental sanatorium. 

While I was fairly healthy, emotionally and mentally, and my memory was working much better than it had been, there is no denying there were moments when I was not quite sure I trusted myself.  I remembered things better than I had, I could do magic well, and most of the time, I was as close to perfectly normal as any magician gets.  But I still had quite a bit of anxiety, did not remember a lot of my past, and could only really do magic with any confidence if I was near Jocelyn.  It seemed pretty shoddy of the ministry to give me full access as an agent. 

Oh, but there was one small stipulation. 

For the first year, you can't work any case alone, my new boss, Mr. Burnfield, informed me.

How strange.  The one rule they did give me was the one I was certain to break.

While it was true that I could not and would not wish to work apart from Jocelyn on anything serious — I trusted his judgment, and handled magic better when we were in it all together — there was a case that I had to investigate without him, terribly serious and unavoidable.  I also must hide it from the ministry as much as humanly (and magically) possible.

I had to investigate why, and how, they had trapped a fae, and were now keeping it in a certain secretive building, when supposedly there were no fae left in this realm, and that one in particular had officially been freed and sent back to its rightful realm.

It was a pretty pickle of a situation!  Not only did I feel a certain amount of responsibility — for Jocelyn and I had discovered it together, during a routine job, and then dutifully reported its whereabouts to the ministry — but I also couldn't let it hurt Jocelyn again.  It had struck out at him, either in malice, fear, or some shadowy motivation I could not hope to understand, and hurt him in much the same way I had once been so damaged myself.

I had no notion of what had made me lose my memory.  Most likely it was trauma from the war and my part in it.  (It had been a terrible thing, such that I did not like to think of or imagine, and was often glad I could not remember much of it.) 

The fae had struck out at my dear Jocelyn and made him forget.  It hurt him every time he was forced to try to remember anything at all about the fae.  He was vulnerable to anything to do with it, going paler than he already was, his face pinched, revealing his pain and confusion.  I hated to see him like that.  I for one knew exactly how terrifying memory loss could be.  It was like you could not feel safe even in your own head.  It hurt in a way that was physical and also more than physical.  I both knew from my own experience and from the mere sight of him when suffering. 

We were quite connected, Jocelyn and I.  We had quickly become special to one another.  We were in love, we enjoyed each other's company, we enhanced one another's magic, and we planned to share the rest of our lives together.  We were a team.

But the fact remained that I was going to investigate the captive fae (and, I hoped, get it free and out of our world) without his help, and if possible without even telling him what I was doing at any point in the process.

I could not stand to see that pain on his face again, or a vague lost look enter his expression as he struggled, tried, and failed to remember...  I wouldn't put him through that again if it could be avoided.  And I thought perhaps that it could, especially with my new clearance.

If I did not trust the ministry, I still could not deny that I had an awful lot more resources working through it than working outside of it.  Even if what I was doing would ultimately be working against them.  If they were keeping fae captive, then they deserved to be worked against.

There was a great deal of fishy business going on in the magical world lately — illegal activities, spies and traitors in the ministry's midst, and a lot of disorganization as well.  Had it been this bad during the war?  I was inclined to think it had been.  Whoever had decided we magicians needed to be used as weapons had a great deal to answer for — and a great deal of blood on his hands.

No doubt the war would have been costly either way, but magic is a nasty way to kill or be killed.  Very nasty indeed.  It is supposed to be good.  I knew that in my bones, from my first hint as a child that I could touch the magical energies, even before I realized I was connected with something larger and stranger than other people could access. 

Sometimes I could almost be thankful to have lost many of my memories.  Though I still didn't know exactly why I had done so, no one specific event or piece of magic that had triggered the loss, the fact that so many of the missing pieces were of those war years told its own eerie tale.  Sometimes I looked down at my palms and wondered how much blood was on them.  Did every soldier or ex-war magician have such thoughts?  I wondered how they could bear to live with them if they did.

For a time, I had not been able to bear it.

My attempt at suicide was officially what had prompted my incarceration in the mental hospital.  I did not remember anything of that, or anything else for quite