"I . . . have a form of congenital dementia," she said. "I watched what it did to my older sister and . . ." She shuddered. "Doctors can't help me. Mab can. Have you ever killed anyone who wasn't trying to kill you?"
I looked down at my shoes. "Twice," I said quietly. "I cut Lloyd Slate's throat to become the Winter Knight. And-"
A flash of memory. A ruined city full of howling monsters and blood. Flashes of light and roaring detonations of magic tearing asunder stone and air alike. Dust everywhere. Friends fighting, bleeding, desperate. A stone altar covered in a thick coating of dried blood. A terrified little girl, my daughter. Treachery.
A kiss pressed against the forehead of a woman I was about to murder.
God, Susan, forgive me.
I couldn't see through the blur in my eyes, and my throat felt like the Redcap might be garroting me again, but I forced myself to speak. "And I killed a woman named Susan Rodriguez on a stone altar, because if I hadn't, a little girl and a lot of good people would have died. She knew it, too." I swiped a hand at my eyes and coughed to clear my throat. "What were the terms of your bargain with Mab?"
"That as long as I remained myself, and sane, I would attend her and do as she bade me for three months out of every year. Summer vacation, when I was in school. Weekends, now, except for lately. Taking care of you meant that I'd have months and months off to make up for it." She fidgeted with the bloodied handkerchief. Her split lip had stopped bleeding, and a line of dark, drying blood marred it. "The whole time we worked on your therapy, I think you said something about having a dog and a cat once. But you never spoke about any friends or family. Why not?"
I shrugged. "I'm not sure," I said. And then I realized that I was lying to everyone in the room. "Maybe . . . maybe because it hurts to think about them. Because I miss them. Because . . . because they're good people. The best. And I'm not sure I can look them in the eye anymore, after what I've done. What about you? Do you have any friends?"
"There are people I sometimes do things with," she said. "I don't . . . I'm not sure I'd call them friends. I don't want to make friends. I have the attention of some dangerous beings. If I got close to anyone, I could be putting them in danger. Don't you ever worry about that?"
"Every day," I said. "I've buried friends who died because they were involved with my work, and my life. But they wanted to be there. They knew the dangers and chose to face them. It isn't my place to choose for them. Do you think it's better to be alone?"
"I think it's better for them," Sarissa said. "You're healthy now. Are you going to go home? To your friends and family?"
"Home isn't there anymore," I said, and suddenly felt very tired. "They burned my apartment down. My books, my lab. And my friends think I'm dead. How do I just walk back in? 'Hi, everyone. I'm back, and did you miss me? I'm working for one of the bad guys now, and what good movies came out while I was gone?'" I shook my head. "I'm making fresh enemies. Nasty ones. I'd be pulling them in all over again. I know what they'd say-that it didn't matter. But I don't know what I'm going to do yet. Mab seems to trust you. What is it that you do for her, exactly?"
Sarissa smiled faintly. "I'm sort of her humanity Sherpa," she said. "For all of her power and knowledge, Mab doesn't always understand people very well. She asks me questions. Sometimes we watch television or go to movies or listen to music. I've taken her to rock concerts. We've gone ice skating. Shopping. Clubbing. Once we went to Disneyland."
I blinked. "Wait. Your job is . . . You're BFFs with Mab?"
Sarissa let out a sudden torrent of giggles, until her eyes started to water a little. "Oh," she said, still giggling. "Oh, I've never thought of it like that, but . . . God, it applies, doesn't it? We do something every weekend." She shook her head and took a moment to compose herself. Then she asked me, "Is there anyone special for you? Back home?"
But I didn't dare use her name. No telling what other ears might be listening.
"Maybe," I said. "It was . . . sort of starting up when I left. I'm not sure where it would have gone. I'd like to think that . . ." I shrugged. "Well. It was bad timing on an epic level. You?"
"Nothing more than casual," she said. "If I was close to someone, well . . . it would create a target for Mab's enemies, which I sometimes think is practically everybody in Faerie. Killing the lover of Mab's pet mortal would be an insult while remaining oblique enough to not allow her room to respond." She took a deep breath and looked at her hands. "I saw you speaking to her on the dance floor. I saw your face. Who did she tell you to kill?"
I hesitated. "I . . . I'm pretty sure I shouldn't say. It's information that could get you into trouble."
I looked up in time to see the wariness returning to Sarissa's features. "Ah," she said. "Well, I suppose our little exchange is over, then." She bit her lower lip and asked, quite calmly, "Was it me?"
That one caught me off guard. "Uh, what? No. No, it wasn't you."
She didn't move for several heartbeats. "I . . . see." Then she looked up, gave me a pleasant and false smile, and said, "Well, it's late. And you should still try to rest as much as you can."
"Sarissa, wait," I began.
She rose, her back straight, her shoulders tense. "I think I'm going to my bed. Um. Unless you'd prefer . . ."
I stood up with her. "Don't think that I'm against the idea, as a general principle. You're smart, and I like you, and you're gorgeous. But no. Not like this."
She chewed on her lip again and nodded. "Thank you for that. For understanding."
"Sure," I said. I offered my arm and walked her back to the door of my lair.
("Lair" worked so much better in my head than "suite.")
At the door, she looked up at me. "May I ask you a question?"
"Are you going to obey Mab?"
My brain started gibbering and running in circles at the very thought of what Mab had asked me to do. But I forced it to sit down and start breathing into a paper bag, and then I thought about it for a second. "Maybe. Maybe not."
"Why?" she asked.
I rocked back onto my heels. It felt like that one little word had thumped me between the eyes with a Wiffle ball bat. Sarissa had hit exactly upon what most bothered me about Mab's command.