Warning: Sexual references and magical drug use
He wasn’t wearing his glasses. Funny how that was the first thing Bella noticed here and the first thing she’d noticed at his wake.
He looked old without anything to steal attention from the lines around his eyes. She’d never thought of him that way in life; he’d always seemed as forever young as the rest of his family.
In his youth he’d been considered “too” pretty, but the baby face had aged well on him into middle age and beyond. He'd come from a background even more stifling than Bella's own, with a father that respected art as much as hers appreciated magic.
He was a completely different species of man than Bella’s father, brother, husband or pretty much any of the male population of Sunset Valley. That men like him truly existed was a discovery made too late.
Much like the discovery that, as hard as it was to take care of one baby in the house, she had also married one.
Before, the excitement of sneaking out of her father's house for forbidden graveyard trysts had been enough to quench Bella's thirst for romance. Ironically, it was removing the obstacles between their love that left Bella with romantic wants unfulfilled.
Mortimer was the only man for her, but back then he'd still been a boy. A boy who's parents had bought his way into "giftedness" with smart milk and expensive telescopes when Bella was forbidden to use the gifts she'd been born with, who'd wanted for nothing when she'd been shamed for wanting the wrong things.
None of which was really his fault, but none of which he even understood.
Could you really blame a vulnerable 18-year-old mother with daddy issues for falling for the charms of a mature older man who could paint, play the guitar while protesting injustice, and volunteer to change diapers?
Fate had put her in a position to be easily taken advantage of.
But she wasn’t a teenage girl anymore.
“Thank you, Bella. I know this is the kind of magic you prefer to stay away from, but I also know you’ve broken that rule before.” Half his charm was in his accent, just the right balance of playfulness and formality, able to make any sentence sound like a flirt.
“Why would you come to me of all people?”
“I’ve only been able to haunt the few from my last living memory, and you’re the only one in any position to help me.”
“What do you want?”
“I think I’ve been murdered.”
“You’re not sure?” It wasn’t so hard to keep your outer cool when your insides had turned to ice.
“You saw me there that night; I was nowhere near the brink of death. Even the Reaper was surprised to see me.”
“I just assumed it was a magical substance overdose that the human autopsy couldn’t pick up.”
He raised a bushy eyebrow. “What kind of magical substances do you think I was on?”
“You were on something. A man your age doesn’t ‘carry on’ the way you did without a little ‘help’.”
“All right. You got me.” He licked his lips. “This past year, I started taking this potion from a gal in Magictown. For Jen, so that I could keep up with her as I got older.”
“A love potion?”
Jon gave her a look that said he found that accusation more offensive than she did. “Bella, you know me better than to even have to ask that.” He narrowed his eyes at her and shook his head. “It only affects the mind and body of the person who drinks it; there’s no magical effect on anyone else whatsoever.”
“It made me feel young again. More alive.” He shrugged. “Some women found the ensuing confidence boost sexy, but there was nothing supernaturally coercive about it.”
“I didn’t notice any difference, so I suppose I can believe you,” she said, willing the blush away from her cheeks. “I need you to tell me where this potion is so that I can test it in the laboratory.”
He chuckled. “Need to spice things up between you and Mortimer?”
“You know what I mean!”
“Joking aside, it’s all natural stuff. Nothing dangerous.”
“Was this ‘gal in Magictown’ a licensed apothecary?”
“She had a pointy hat.”
Bella slapped a hand to her forehead. “Oh for goodness sake. No wonder you’re dead!”
“That’s not why I’m dead. The potion worked fine.”
“A little too fine. Did it ever cross your mind that a magical potion made in some back-alley witch’s basement might have side effects? Like increased fertility?”
“I take it you’ve heard about about Loren.”
“Your lovechild?” She regretted her tone as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
“My son,” he hissed. It was enough to make Bella shudder, but he didn’t draw out his anger past those two words. “His mother was a friend, but we weren’t exactly in love.”
“I’m sorry - ”
“I know,” he said gently. “Have you seen my boy? How is he?”
“You haven’t seen him?” Something dawned on her. “Not even at your funeral? With his mother and your other... friends?”
“Just darkness and a few hints of sound. His cry, Jen’s song… like I said, I can’t haunt them like I can with you. This is my world, Bella. There’s a veil between myself and the living.”
“So you-” Bella phrased her words meticulously. “You haven’t seen any of your children since you died?”
“I’ve tried.” His voice was weak. “I know my girls will be all right; they don’t need me anymore. I know they’ll be there for their brother and his mother along with the rest of the family. I just wish I’d...” He couldn’t finish.
“Jon, you were a better father to that baby in the time you had than mine's been in thirty years.” She knelt down beside him where he'd sank to the ground. “I don’t think I’m the right person to get you up-to-date on everything that's been going on, but I can assure that your son is… not alone.”
“There’s nothing more important to me than family. Nothing. That’s why I need your help with this. To protect my loved ones.”
"Jon..." There was no use putting off the question any longer. “Was it my elixir that did this to you?”
“I think so.” He looked up, his face stoney. “But I don’t blame you, sweetheart. Not for this.”
“But nobody knows about the elixir except the two of us.” It wasn’t the right time to mention if she went to the Magictown authorities they’d find out she used an illegal cowplant to make an illegal elixir, leading to her arrest, public shame as a dark sorceress, and the world using her as proof that even ‘good’ witches had dark secrets. “And your wife.”
“No.” He said it so simply, as if she'd she'd just asked him if he wanted a tuna sandwich.
“There has been ‘talk’ about you two.” She quickly added, “Not that I believe it! But you can see how if word of this gets out, this whole situation will look very bad for all of us? I mean, she didn’t even cry at your funeral.”
“She can’t cry. Fairy tears are made of magic.”
“All I’m saying is that there are more than a few who suspect her of getting fed up with your excessive behavior.”
He scoffed. “What are you even talking about?”
“You slept with everything that moves!”
He grinned at the perfect setup and she already knew what he was going to say.
“Well, except you, darling.”
"And thank goodness for that," she choked.
"I don't want to hold that over your head, because I know you're still embarrassed, but I wish you wouldn't wouldn't resent me for seeing you in that moment of weakness. It feels like you're trying to project your own shame onto me, rather than finding a way to forgive yourself."
Bella looked at him, eyes wide and lips pursed, and said nothing.
“Look, I know it’s hard for you to understand, but jealousy was never an issue between Jennicor and I. I never broke any vows; it was her idea to love as freely as we did. The worst spat we ever had was just this past year when she drank that stuff you made.”
“Because it made her older.”
“She’s just as gorgeous with silver hair as she ever was. It was the backyard death ritual that disturbed me. 'Would have been nice if you two had at least given me a heads up on that.”
“We don’t have to ask your permission for anything.”
“No, but a warning would have been considerate.” He grimaced. “And then I would have been able to tell you that there was someone else here that night. In this room. And I know for a fact that they saw you make that elixir.”
“My goodness! Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
“I’m not eager to implicate anyone for murder. Particularly not someone I'd have considered myself close to.”
“Kvornan?” Bella asked.
“No! It’s no one in my family. I’ve been reluctant to tell you because I don’t want you to jump to conclusions.”
“What other conclusions could there be? This MURDERER obviously stole some of the elixir and poisoned you!”
“She might not have been acting of her own free will. She’s got a... dark past. Of the supernatural sort.”
“So it’s a she, then?”
He sighed. “I wanted to help her. Save her, even. I probably just made things worse. Her demons may in fact be literal.”
"So you were done in by one of your 'friends'. Shocking."
He shook his head. “Before you act on this I need you to consult Jennicor as a voice of rationality.”
“She’s running around naked with a crossbow.”
“Bella, please, just listen. Do you remember the last conversation we had? And who else was there?”
“Yes, you were - Ohh my goodness, the bartender! Did you get her pregnant too?”
“You really think I’m that irresponsible?”
"Er...so it was the bartender then?”
“No, Bella, it’s not --”
“Hey, Bella, can I talk to you for a second?”