Jonathan's eyes flicked past me to David, who said, "I didn't steal it. I took it. From myself."
Jonathan nodded. "Yeah. David ripped out half of his life and gave it to you. Which means . . . what exactly does that mean, David? Enlighten us."
Jonathan rolled his eyes, reached for David's untouched beer, and took a swig. "You know, you've got one hell of a martyr thing going, maybe you ought to drop by and try it out on the pope. Nothing. Bullshit. You're committing suicide by girl."
David cut in, sounding very reasonable. Too reasonable; I could feel the wire-fine tension still singing in his muscles. "You're overstating things, Jonathan. I'm not committing suicide. So I went from the second most powerful free Djinn to a middle-ranked spear-carrier. So what?"
"Oh, for crying out loud . . . so what?" Jonathan squinted, rubbed his forehead, and stood up to pace. Back and forth, restless energy crackling like the fire that wasn't really burning in the fireplace, on creaky floorboards that didn't really exist in any way that humans could understand. "That's like saying giving Albert Einstein a lobotomy wouldn't matter because he still had a pulse. We need you. And we need you full strength. We're at war, David! I have to remind you of that?"
David didn't answer. His hand on my arm was tight enough to hurt.
Jonathan stopped pacing to stand right in front of me, glaring. "What David did was about as smart as ripping his heart out with his bare hands and calling it organ donation. It's possible to do what he did. It's just pathetically stupid."
"I'm fine," David said.
"You're not!" He rounded on him and leveled a finger at David's face. "Don't even start with me. You're bleeding energy all the hell over the place. You tell me . . . can you stop it? Or are you just going to bleed yourself dry to keep her alive? It's like trying to fill a dry lake with a teaspoon, David. You can't do it. You can't make a human into a Djinn because they don't goddamn well work that way!"
David didn't answer. Jonathan's face tightened up.
"And you don't give a crap what I say," he said, resigned. "Well, that's kind of what I thought."
He turned away, walked to the fireplace and picked up a vicious-looking black poker that he used to jab at inoffensive logs. Flames crackled, popped, and swirled. I looked back over my shoulder at David, who was quiet, steady, focused.
"Is he right?" I asked.
"No," David said. "I've been losing some energy, the same way a human might lose blood from an injury before it heals. It's nothing."
Jonathan whirled and tossed the poker back in the wrought-iron holder with a sharp clang of metal. "It's been seven days." Jonathan's dark eyes were fierce with emotion. "I've sat here and watched you bleed into the aetheric for seven damn days! I'm not sitting on my all-powerful ass while you die."
"Not your business."
"Not your business, Jonathan!" David's copper eyes were blazing, furious, molten. Jonathan's were as black and cold as space. Neither one of them moved, but I felt defenses snapping into place, and my whole essence screamed at me to get the hell out of the middle.
Not that I ever listened to sensible advice anyway.
I rounded on David. "What cheap-ass archetype hero myth did you step out of? I didn't ask you to kill yourself for me! I would never ask for that! You can't just make me a Djinn and die, dammit! Hear me? You can't!"
Jonathan laughed. "Please. He didn't make you a Djinn, don't you get it? He made both of you half a Djinn."
I felt my hair start to curl again as my concentration slipped. I lost that dove gray focus David had tried to get me to keep, and felt my eyes change- flare-go silver. "Half?"
"Half. As in, two halves make a whole." Jonathan's mouth twisted into bitterness. "A whole what, I have no idea. Probably an idiot."
"Fine. Then fix it," I said. "Undo it."
"No!" David again, and this time he moved, took me by the shoulders and physically moved me out of the way. Sat me down on the couch with a decisive shove. "You don't understand. I told you to keep quiet."
"Hey, she asked nicely," Jonathan said, and pointed at me.
"No!" David flung out a hand, palm out, pushing Jonathan away even though Jonathan hadn't taken a step in our direction. He stepped forward, sank down on one knee in a puddle of olive drab wool coat, and took my hand in his. Warm skin on skin, truth shining in his eyes. "Joanne, this is between me and him. Let us solve it."
Jonathan upended his beer, drained it, and tossed the bottle into the fireplace. The crash of glass was lost in the roar of flames as the fire leaped up, eager as a pet. "Fuck. Heartwarming as this is, David, it's totally screwed. You can't make her one of us. You can keep her alive, you can give her power, but the price is too damn high. You really think I'm going to stand by and let you do this?"
David smiled, but I could tell he wasn't smiling at me. This was bitter, private, and painful. " 'Behold, thou art fair, my love, behold, thou art fair . . .'"
"Hey! Don't quote that to me. You know I hate that." Jonathan stalked back over, stared down at the two of us. After a long, silent moment, something melted out of him. The anger, maybe. Or the determination. "You'd really do this."
David's fingers tightened around mine. "It's already done."
"You'd die to give her life."
"I don't think I'll have to, but if it comes to that, yes, I'm not afraid."
Something inside me went still. Very, very still. Focused on him, on his eyes, on the power pouring out of him into me.
Power I now understood was sustaining me.
"Please." David's voice had gone soft, low, resonant in the back of his throat. "Jonathan. Please. It's my choice."
He put emphasis on the last word, and I saw it hit home in the other Djinn, who folded his arms across his chest and looked away. Covering up pain.
So much between these two I didn't understand, and knew I never could. I hadn't even known him a week; they'd had half of eternity together. No wonder Jonathan had that hard, hurting edge to him. And no wonder he wanted me dead. I'd have the same impulse, if somebody showed up to rip apart a friendship that had that kind of history.
"Your choice," Jonathan repeated. "Oh, you're good. If I take away your choices, I'm no better than the last asshole who held your soul in a bottle. Is that what you're getting at?"
He was staring out the windows of his house. Before, it had showed a frosted white landscape, a washed blue sky. Now it looked out on a city street, masses of humanity moving like corpuscles in a concrete artery, every one of them alone. Gray sky, gray buildings, gray exhaust belching from the tailpipes of passing taxicabs.
He said, "You know how I feel about them. They're like a plague of locusts out there, consuming everything. And now you want to open up our world to them, too."
"Not them. She's a person. One person."
"One mortal," Jonathan corrected. "And there are days when every single one of them deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth."
It didn't sound like idle conversation. Jonathan turned back to face us, looking at the two of us. "But you're not going to listen to me. You never do. Even if this works, one of them will find you, just like last time, stick you in some damn bottle and make you a slave. You won your freedom, David. It's a precious gift. Don't waste it like this."
"I'm not wasting it," David said. "I'm spending it on what really matters."
Jonathan took that like a knife, with a soft grunt of breath and a flinch. He went back to the window, staring out, and suddenly I had a sense of something I'd missed before. All this power, all this massive ability-and he was trapped. Trapped here, in this house, in whatever reality he'd created for himself. Staring out at the world through those safe, distancing panes of glass.
And maybe, being what he was, being as powerful as he was, he didn't have a choice, either. He is the one true god of your new existence, little butterfly, Rahel had said.
A god who didn't dare leave his heaven.
"What if I die?" I asked. I must have surprised both of them; I felt David's reaction, saw Jonathan's as his shoulders bunched up, then relaxed.
"You're Djinn," David said. "You won't."
"According to him, I'm only half. So I can, what, half die?" I cleared my throat. "If something happens to me, does David get his energy back?"
"Nothing's going to happen to you," David murmured.
"Not talking to you right now."
"Yeah, well, you shouldn't be talking to him."
Jonathan answered my question. "Depends on whether or not he's stupid enough to die with you, or let you go. But yeah, if he let go ... he'd be himself again."
"So what you're talking about, when you say you want to fix him, is that you want to kill me."
Silence, from both quarters. Jonathan didn't deny it.
"Wouldn't advise you to try. I may not look it, but I'm pretty tough to kill," I said. "You can ask around. How many people you know survived having two Demon Marks?"
Jonathan half turned and gave me a sarcastic, onesided smile. "Half a Djinn, and she's already giving me grief. Must be your influence."
"Not my fault. Like this when I met her." David's smile was delighted, warm, proud. "You'll like her, Jonathan. Trust me."
The flickering response-so close to being love- died in Jonathan's eyes. "I did trust you," he said. "Look what it's gotten me." He turned back to face the window. "You broke the law, David. You brought a human into our world. That means you have to pay the price. If the price isn't giving her up, then it has to be something else."
The fire suddenly flared and died to dead, black ashes. Light faded outside to a cold gray. When Jonathan turned around, he was no longer masquerading as a regular guy. The house morphed around me. Couches disappeared. The homey wooden walls changed to unyielding marble.
And Jonathan became something so bright, so powerful that I turned away, eyes squeezed shut, and struggled to control a surge of pure fear.
He is the one true god of your new existence.
I didn't realize that Rahel had meant it literally.
I felt David go down on his knees, and I followed, kept my head down and my mouth shut. This was what David had been warning me about. This was the Jonathan you didn't argue with. I felt power surge through the room, as bright and vivid as lightning, and wanted to make myself very small. I couldn't. Whatever powers I had were frozen in place, helpless. I couldn't even get myself up off my knees.
"David, will you let this woman die?" It wasn't a voice, not really. It was thunder, it was a dark, silky wind wrapping around us. Too big to be sound, to have ever come from anything like a human body.
"No." David's voice was just a raw rasp, barely audible. I couldn't imagine how he was able to talk at all, given the pressure on us.
"Will you let her die?"
"I ask a third time: Will you let this woman die?" He was asking it in the traditional Djinn way. The answer David gave now would be the truest one, the reflection of his heart and soul. He wouldn't be able to lie, not even to himself.
From David, a hesitation. I couldn't help it; I forced my eyes open and saw him struggling back to his feet. Standing tall, lonely, defiant.
"No," he said. "Never."
The light sighed. "Yeah," it said. "Figures. Well, I had to ask."
The incredible brilliance died and left me blind. I heard footsteps. As I blinked away darkness, I saw the temple morphing again, turning back to cabin walls, tapestries, overstuffed comfortable couches. No pressure now. I forced myself shakily back upright, holding on to the back of the couch for support. Fabric dragged at my fingers, real, so damn real. All of it, so real.
Jonathan stood in front of me, back to merely human again, shoulders strong and tensed under the black shirt, eyes as dark as space. He glared at us, locked his arms across his chest, and said, "If you won't let go of her, the only way to get rid of her is to kill you, too. But you already know that."
"Yeah. I know."
The glare continued full force. "Crazy son of a bitch."
David's luminous smile warmed the air around all of us. "And you already knew that."
Jonathan's fierce look softened. "So I did." They looked at each other for a few long seconds, and then Jonathan dragged himself back to dad mode with a visible effort. "Here's what I've decided. I'll give her a week to learn to live on her own. One week, counting from now. Then I cut the cord. If she can't draw power on her own, she'll go the way of the dinosaurs. Maybe you'll die with her, maybe you won't. I'm not making that decision for you. I'm making one about her. Got it?"
He did, and he didn't like it. David frowned. "Jonathan, a week's not long enough-"
"It's what she's got," he interrupted. "Be grateful. I don't even have to do that much." He turned to me, and I found myself standing straighter. "You. You understand what I just said?"
"I have a week to figure this out or I die. Got it."
"No, you don't," Jonathan corrected. Those dark, cold eyes weighed me and found me wanting, again. "David's just said that he won't let go. If I cut the cord and he doesn't release the hold, you both bleed to death up there on the aetheric, and nobody can help you. Not me, not anybody. Get it?"
I swallowed hard. "Yeah."
"This is on you now. You fix this, or you might take him with you."
David, dying for me because I dropped the ball? No way in hell. "I will," I said. "I promise."
"Good. Glad we're in agreement."
I wasn't prepared for it, so when hands closed around me from behind and yanked me into an iron-hard embrace, I squeaked like a field mouse instead of fighting back. The hands that held me were feminine, perfectly groomed, with fingernails glossed in bright neon yellow.
"Don't fight me," Rahel's voice whispered in my ear. "Neither one of us has a choice in this."
David whirled to face us, but Jonathan held out a hand and instantly David was frozen, unable to move. His face was chalky and strained, his eyes molten, but he was helpless.
"Here's the deal," Jonathan continued. "I need David with me right now, Djinn business that can't wait. So you're going to have to go to boarding school. No boyfriends to coddle you, no special favors, you get to earn your place with us the hard way. Understand?"
I didn't, but I discovered that I couldn't say a word, anyway. I threw a desperate look at David, and found him just as horrified, if not more. I could practically feel the no! vibrating the air between us.
"Master," Rahel said. "Where do I take her?"
Jonathan's narrow dark eyes swept over me one last time. Judging me like a drill sergeant assessing a particularly scrawny new recruit.
"Patrick," he said. "Take her to Patrick."
David let out a strangled cry of protest, but it was too late. The world-Jonathan, David, the cabin- disappeared around me as Rahel took me out of the world.
And then, with no sense of transition at all, we were standing in an alley in Manhattan. Well, Rahel was standing in an alley in Manhattan; I was drifting around like Pigpen's dirt cloud trying to figure out how to put my skin on again. Crap. I'd never get the lime green Manolos right.
Rahel crossed her arms and stared at the not-space where I was. Amused. She inspected her flawless fingernails and evidently decided that neon yellow was no longer the color of the day; her pantsuit morphed to a hot tangerine, and her nails took on a rich sunset blend of orange, gold, and blue. Even the beads in her hair changed to amber and carnelian.
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