Hazel was wrapped around Jean’s arms when he woke. Smiling, he pressed his lips against the crook where her neck and shoulder meet—”Happy birthday, babe,” he had whispered as well—and gingerly unwound himself from her. He carefully sorted the duvet over her before he left the room.
Stood in nothing but boxers in a sunlit kitchen, he began cooking breakfast. He had only begun toasting two slices of bread and tossed several slices of bacon onto a hot pan when he heard a familiar, blood-curdling voice.
“Your time is running out, djinn.” Jean whirled around with his heart in his throat; the sound of bacon sizzling in the pan seemed to amplify tenfold. “Or should I say Jean?”
“M-Momargas,” Jean said as calmly as he could. He hoped his trembling voice did not give way to his fear; he felt sick to the stomach. Momargas was one of King Suleiman’s underlings—and one of the more daunting ones. He had played a major part in imprisoning all djinn into hollowed objects. Not just lamps, but clay pots and bottles, too. “T-to what do I owe t-the pleasure—”
“There is no need for sardonic greetings,” said Momargas in his booming baritone.
Jean could not help but flinch. That was not meant to be sardonic at all. He hated that his formalities always came through around other djinns. It was archaic. After having spent so much time around mortals, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat self-conscious about it. But this was Momargas he was addressing and he was not going to risk anything.
“How did you get here?” Jean braved himself to ask.
“That is none of your concern, but know that I have my ways of tracking down runaways.” Momargas grinned an sly one. “Oh, yes. Did you think you could escape, djinn?”
Jean’s grip on the frying pan tightened as though he might fling it at Momargas. “What do you mean? Have you come to take me away?”
“I will save that for later, unless you wish to not cooperate.” When Momargas took a step forward, he seem to grow an whole foot taller. He gestured his head towards the stairs. “Why do you still owe your mortal three wishes?”
Jean averted his gaze. “Because she does not have any.”
Momargas raised an eyebrow. “Any?”
“N-none at all.”
“That’s impossible!” Momargas spat out. “All mortals have wishes. That has been the way of the world since the beginning.”
“Not her. She is happy with her life and could wish for nothing else. A-at least, that is what she has told me.”
“Happy?” Momargas rolled the word around like it was alien to him. It probably is. “How so?”
“Well . . .” Where to even begin? Jean thought. “Her childhood was not particularly the happiest, but she has a job as kindergarten teacher now. She loves being around children. And she paints in her spare time because it relaxes her. She is content with her life.”
And so am I with her.
“She does not wish for things from me,” Jean continued. “She only asks that I lend a hand. I run her errands, pick up her art supplies and groceries. I rub her back and shoulders whenever they ache. She never asks more of me.”
“But you are capable of so much more than these petty tasks.”
“I do not wish to intervene more than I already have. I have tried on multiple occasions to persuade her but things have changed since. All I wish is to make her happy and she is. She wants nothing more than to—”
“You had one purpose and you could not even fulfil that,” Momargas roared, and when he did the whole room trembled. “At this rate, you are nothing but a failure.” There was a beat before he continued. “Have you looked at your hands lately, djinn? How sooty and frail they have become? Does this not worry you?”
Jean looked down at his palms. “I . . . I have been wondering. I do not know what is happening to me.”
Momargas scoffed. “Then you are more foolish and naïve than I realise. Your countdown has begun long before you’ve realised. You were born out of a smokeless fire and, unless you still owe the mortal all her wishes, soon you will return to it.”
Momargas must have sensed Jean’s discomfort because he said, “You will die unfulfilled, djinn. But I can promise you this, should you convince her to have some wishes, I will consider keeping you alive. But until then, the sand in your hourglass is trickling fast.”
There was a part of Jean that wanted to revolt, that wanted to scream at Momargas how one cannot force another to have wishes, that he did not care whether he lived or died at his hands—or even King Suleiman himself. He just wanted to be with Hazel and be happy.
But he knew that was not possible unless he did as he was told. So he said nothing.
In that moment, the fire alarm went off. “Fuck,” Jean said as he realised that his bacon had turned to char.
“I will see that you have granted her wishes by my next visit.” When Jean turned back around, Momargas had vanished.
“Babe,” came a soothing yet sleepy voice from the top of the stairs. Jean’s heart raced once more. “Who was that you were talking to?”
“Um, just a guy from work,” Jean quickly said.
“You must’ve been a quite a discussion,” Hazel said, wrapping her arms around his waist, to which he returned, and kissing him on the cheek. She then noticed the pan. “How dare you leave bacon unattended like this?”
“I’m sorry, babe. I wanted to cook you breakfast in bed and, well, unforeseen circumstances and whatnot.”
“Just, you know, stuff.” The phrase was an inside joke between them so Jean knew that he was guaranteed no questions.
Hazel smiled and buried her face in his chest. “God, I love you so much. Wish we could stay this happy forever.”
Jean’s eyes lit up at her words. “Do you really?”
“Mmmhmm” She looked up expectantly. “Don’t you.”
Jean squeezed her closer to him, silently cast his spell at the same time she giggled. “More than anything, my love. More than you can ever imagine.”