She passed within two inches of David, and I could see the effort it took him not to reach out and do something fatal to her.
Lewis asked, "Who the hell was that?"
Paul sighed. "Trust me. You really don't want to know. And you really need to get the fuck out of here before somebody who knows your face takes a look in here. You're just lucky she hasn't got a frickin' clue who you are. Believe me, there are black widow spiders, and then there's Yvette. She might be totally fuckable, but you probably wouldn't survive the night."
Guy talk. Jeez. What I'd missed when I'd been corporeal.
Lewis nodded, stuck his hands in his pants pockets, and walked toward me. I stayed in his way, willing him to say something, anything. He adjusted course to miss me by an inch or so.
As he passed, he whispered, "Find me. We need to talk."
I could tell you about the memorial service, but really, you know how it went. People got up, in varying degrees of discomfort, and said nice things about me. Some of them were actually heartfelt, like Paul's; some were political correctness gone wild. I mean, to hear some of these people talk, I made Mother Teresa look self-centered. Truth was, I'd never been what you could call a saint-mouthy, attitude-challenged, headstrong, and with a love of the bad-girl side of life. Give me a choice between serving at the soup kitchen and a night slamming down tequila shots with hard-bodied guys, and I'd be reaching for the salt and lime every time.
About the time I heard the fourth person I barely knew use words like heroic and selfless I had to take a walk outside to clear my head. A few people were still milling around the reception area, gobbling up the rest of the shrimp and ladyfingers. One of them was the walking hormone factory who'd introduced herself as Yvette Prentiss. She wasn't wasting her time listening to the fictional story of Joanne Baldwin; she was bending the ear of a middle-aged, very rich-looking gentleman with a London suit and an Eastern European accent.
David appeared next to me. Literally appeared. I almost knocked over a spindly-legged table holding a discreet black-bordered stand announcing that my memorial service was By Invitation Only.
I put my lips close to his ear and whispered, "So? How do you know her?"
He shook his head. "Later."
He gave me a resigned look and guided us to a small alcove near the back, where we'd be out of the way of foot traffic. Also well away from any potential eavesdroppers, who might have found a conversation coming out of empty space disturbing.
The fire had faded out of his eyes, but he was still wired; I could feel it coming off of him in waves of static. He said, "Her name is Yvette Prentiss."
"Heard that the first time. Evidently there's more to the you-and-her than introductions."
"A little." He looked past me, toward her, then quickly away. "She was a friend of Bad Bob's."
David's former sick, demented master. Okay, I could believe that, and it didn't raise her in my estimation. "How good a friend? The come-on-over-and-watch-a-movie kind of friend, or the come-on-over-and-sweat-up-the-sheets kind?"
David avoided my eyes. "Let's just say they had appetites in common."
"Let's say a little more than that."
"Because it's creeping me out that she's in mourning and I've never met her."
He focused back on her with that scary intensity. "Oh, she's not in mourning." Which I could believe, seeing her flirt and tease at the other end of the room. She was currently sucking sauce off of a shrimp, to the delight of the middle-aged guy hovering near her like a bee on a flower. "She's hunting. Bad Bob paid her bills. She's looking for a new source of income."
"David." I drew his eyes back to me. "What's with the two of you?"
"There are things I don't want to remember about my time with him. She's one."
That sounded dry and uninformative, but he was shaking. Shaking. "David?"
He reached for me and captured my face between his hands, leaned his forehead against mine. Lips close enough to taste. "You're an innocent," he said. "I want you to stay that way. Don't let her near you, and whatever you do, don't let her know you're Djinn. There are things-I can't tell you. And I hope you'll never know."
Across the room, Yvette Prentiss laughed. She had a sweet little-girl laugh that no doubt charmed the pants off of rich old guys arrogant enough to believe she loved them for their personalities. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought there was a deep, midnight black thread of darkness in it.
I felt the laugh rip into David like a claw, and did the only thing I could.
I said, "Let's blow this place and go home."
Two days passed. Nice days. There's nothing bad about lazing around a fancy hotel room with the sexiest guy in the world and unlimited pay-per-view movies.
Not that it was all fun and games. I was learning things, like the physics of being a Djinn. They were entirely different than the physics I'd learned as a human being, and believe me, I'd been a specialist. Handling the weather with any degree of skill requires an absolute knowledge of little rules like conservation of energy, and it was full of detail work. I can't even count how many times disarming hurricane-force winds boiled down to something as simple as turning down the subatomic thermostat, changing the world one whirling atom at a time.
But operating as a Djinn was the difference between a two-dimensional game of tic-tac-toe, and a three-dimensional Rubik's Cube of consequences. There were still scales, and they still had to balance- if I wanted to control the weather, I could still reach up into the aetheric and create a little warm air cushion moving counter to the cold-air mass streaming in from the sea, and voila, rain. In human terms, that would have cost me personal energy.
As a Djinn, I had to balance the physical world, the aetheric, and about ten other planes of existence to create that rain, all without pulling anything out of my own essence. Because, as a Djinn, I didn't have any essence, really. I drew power from the earth, the sun, the life around me. It was surprisingly difficult to do.
And, I discovered, I was pulling power from David. Lots of it. A big silvery conduit of it, flowing from him into me up on the aetheric plane, like a sleek, barely visible umbilical cord.
"It's nothing," he said, when I brought it up. "Training wheels. Once you start feeding yourself from other sources, it'll stop."
It was a lot of power. I wondered how hard he was having to work to keep himself strong. The image of a transfusion kept occurring to me-blood flowing out faster than the body could replenish it. Juice and cookies probably wouldn't be enough, not when he kept bleeding like that.
All this learning was tiring. And Djinn, I found, really did need sleep-not as much of it as humans, or in the same physical ways, but the pull still existed, and on the seventh evening I fell asleep in David's arms to the comforting flicker of Jay Leno telling political jokes. It was the first time I'd slept since I'd died.
I woke up with a shock, jerking myself out of a dream. Nightmare. A burning house, pain, screaming, my soul being shredded and consumed . . .
"Shhhhh." David turned on his side and raised up on an elbow to look down on me. It was dark in the room, although I could see gray fingers of light curling around the edges of the blackout curtains. Dawn, it looked like. How long had I been asleep? "You're dreaming."
I blinked and focused on him, wondering how he knew. I had a heartbeat-or at least, I did because I believed that I did-and maybe that was it, maybe he could feel the fast, panicked tap of my pulse in my skin. Or maybe he knew because he just knew. I had no idea really how powerful David was; I was barely starting to realize how powerful I was, come to think of it. Or, to be more accurate, how helpless, at my level of development.
"Dreaming," I repeated, and had a surprising thought. "Djinn dream?"
"Sure." His eyebrows arched, thick and expressive. "Why wouldn't we?"
"Oh, I don't know . . . You don't really have brains?"
"We," he corrected. Yeah, I kept forgetting that Djinn included me, now. "Dreaming isn't a function of an organ-or of the body. It's a function of the soul. Like . . ." He moved the sheet and put his palm flat over my heart, but he never looked away from my eyes. "Like this," he finished. "Understand?"
"Let go." I wasn't holding anything. I opened my hands anyway. He shook his head. "No, let go of your body."
"Um . . . okay . . ." I'd just spent the last seven days learning how to stay in my body. "Hang on a second . . ."
He dissolved into mist before I got the last word out of my mouth.
I could still feel his hand warm on my skin.
I slowly relaxed my grip on the world and let it blur around me, let myself slide up into the aetheric, where the world took on different spectra and realities and possibilities. I was real here, too, but different.
David was still with me, still holding his hand on my chest, but neither of us were flesh.
Understand? he asked again. Not a physical voice, not a mental one-kind of a vibration that translated itself into words somewhere in my head. It was dim and distant, but I could still understand it. Oddly, it felt like it was vibrating through that silver power connection between us.
How can I feel that without having-
A body? I couldn't see him, but I could still sense him, and what I sensed translated to me as a smile. You always have a body. Come on, Jo, you know physics. Matter into energy. Matter exists in three states . . .
Solid, liquid, gas.
At least in the physical world. And does the form of the matter make matter less real?
That doesn't explain how I can feel you touching me.
You think touch is a sense that's hardwired into nerve endings? He did highly inappropriate things to areas of my body that didn't exist in any corporeal way. I still felt heat inside, felt parts of myself that no longer strictly existed start to ache and need. You think any of this has anything to do with bodies?
Well, I don't think I'm ready for making love with you as a gas.
Too bad. His voice-or my interpretation of it- vibrated inside me, intimately. What about liquid? Want to get wet?
You're a very bad influence, did you know that?
I felt his smile like lips against my skin. It's been said.
Would you stop that?
Stop what? If you don't have nerve endings . . .
All right, I get the . . . the point . . . How can you gasp for breath when you aren't breathing? Can we go back now?
I was starting to adjust my senses to the aetheric; it wasn't that I could see him exactly, but I still sensed him. It was a little like night vision-an outline that glimmered in a there-not-there kind of fog, in silvery shifting layers. Beautiful. Ghostly. I'd spent a lot of time on the aetheric level as a human, and I'd never seen anything like him up here. But then maybe my eyes-even my eyes in Oversight- hadn't been equipped to view the spectra on which the Djinn radiated.
Speaking of which, the plane stretched on, unbroken to the limits of perception, and it was . . . beautiful. Even more beautiful than before. Where, as a living breathing girl, I'd seen things in Kirlian outlines of reds and greens and blues and golds, in Djinn-sight the aetheric was deeper, richer, and more complex. Layers of colors, swirling together like oil on water. Outlines were both more and less distinct-still familiar, but more difficult to recognize because of their depth. I wasn't seeing the skin of things anymore. I was seeing the skin, the muscles, the bones, the organs. The very heart of life.
Humans displayed as flickering ghosts, pale and transparent; some glowed hotter than others, and those, I understood, were probably Wardens. People with power over the various elements. Hundreds of thousands of them crowded the place in confusing eddies, drifting and pulsing, combining, melting into each other, giving and taking. I was watching the entire flow of life on the spiritual plane.
It was breathtaking. Humbling.
Circling in and around them were the multilayered fogs of Djinn. I couldn't really focus on them-they tended to disappear when I tried to zoom in-but I had the unnerving sensation of them being everywhere. Jeez, I breathed, virtually speaking. How many of them-us-are there?
He didn't answer me, which was odd; I couldn't see his face, of course, but I had the sense somehow that his attention had shifted away from me. Watching . . . focused somewhere else.
What the hell is that? he asked absently.
He stretched out a-hand?-and brushed it through empty air. I didn't see anything. No, wait, I did . . . just the faintest glimmer of light. You know that cold phosphorescence that fish have, in the deepest black of the ocean? A kind of cold light, in tiny little blue specks.
It was like that. An insubstantial fairy glitter of blue, few and far between.
And I felt a sudden rush of tension from him. Can you see that?
Sure. What is it?
I don't know. From the tone behind that, he obviously hadn't run across anything like it before, and it was worrying him. I can't feel it.
I reached out and experimentally tried it, too. Where I touched, there was a phantom coldlight sparkle, just a few tiny lights firing. Huh. I don't feel anything.
Exactly. Energy is being expended, or it wouldn't show up as light. Yet we don't feel it.
That's ... I tried a half dozen thoughts on for size and discarded most . . . interesting?
Yes. Interesting-bad, I presumed, from his tone. He did something I didn't quite see, created a clear bubble of energy. Inside of it, some of those coldlight sparkles twinkled like fireflies. He studied it, moving closer. Shit!
The fireflies had flown through the globe like it didn't even exist. David pulled back, took me with him, to a healthy distance. The sparkles faded into darkness.
Are they still there? I asked.
Don't know. He didn't seem inclined to check, either. That shouldn't happen.
Any of that.
Oh. I waited for inspiration. Nothing arrived. What now?
We leave, he said, and I felt a sudden hard tug that, if I'd still been flesh, would have tipped me off balance. As it was, it felt like the fog that made me up flew apart and settled back together.
Had I thought we were moving fast before? No. We dropped out of the sky, heading straight back down at supersonic jet speeds, and I couldn't control a squeak of alarm. Not that impact with anything would hurt me, in my present state, but instincts are hard to overcome.
David braked us with professional ease, and we drifted the last two feet down to the bed.
This was where being a Djinn really differed from my experience as a human. I'd walked the aetheric before-lots-as a Warden, but I'd always had a body to anchor myself to. The Djinn didn't have that. Their-our-bodies are made of potential energy, so it required a state change to enter the real world again.
It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to do that. I understood how; that was knowledge that seemed to come as standard equipment with entering the Djinn lifestyle. What I didn't quite have yet was the muscle memory, the instinctive control. Like a baby learning to walk.
I built myself from the inside out. Cell by cell. Bones, complete to the delicate honeycombed structure of the marrow; then a complex interweaving of nerves and muscles and blood vessels, organs, tissue; then, finally, I wrapped it all in skin and stretched.
Ah. Not bad.
When I opened my eyes, David looked deeply unsettled.
"You have ... no idea how that looks," he said.
"Yeah, well, it's pretty damn weird from this side, too-Crap!" I dragged a handful of my hair closer to look at it. "That's not right."
My hair had always been straight. Dark, straight, worn long. For some bizarro reason, I was now blessed with curls.
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