"Of course not."
"Then quit fucking around and try to understand that everything doesn't revolve around your heartaches."
David took a step forward, fists clenched and face tense. "Oh, I understand, believe me. I've played chess with you too many times not to. But I'm not going to let you use her as a sacrifice pawn, Jonathan. Something's happened to her. She's been taken."
"I know." Jonathan propped his head against the glass wall with no evidence of comfort. "Patrick arranged it. Look, I know you don't approve, but she needed to learn the ropes. It was the best thing."
"Fuck!" David kicked the wall hard enough to draw a humming sound out of the hard surface. "You incredible bastard. You arrogant son of a-"
"-bitch," Jonathan supplied, and closed his eyes. "You've called me that before, you know. And trust me, in this particular case, flattery will not get you a free pass out of here. She needs this if you want her to survive. Don't be stupid. She's perfectly safe with Lewis . . . magically speaking, anyway."
"Stupid?" David repeated, and turned slowly to face him. Oh God. The look on his face . . . He lunged across the space, braced himself on stiff arms, face-to-face with Jonathan. "You think it's Lewis that has her?"
Jonathan's eyes flashed open. Just a second of doubt in those old, tired, very powerful eyes. He didn't answer.
"It's Yvette," David whispered. "Don't you understand? I don't know how, but she's got Joanne. You know what she'll do."
Jonathan might have flinched-barely-but whatever impulse he had toward concern shut down fast. "Better her than you."
David pulled back a fist, cocked it, looked ready to slam it straight into Jonathan's face.
He still didn't flinch. Didn't blink. David backed away, sank down in a crouch against the wall a few feet away, and buried his face in both hands for a few seconds.
"Does it ever occur to you that maybe she might be as important as I am? As you are?" he asked.
Jonathan cocked both eyebrows toward sarcasm. "Frankly? No. Never occurred to me. And wait . . . no, not occurring to me now."
"Let me go. Yvette wants me," David said. "Don't pretend you don't know that. She always has. She tried to talk Bad Bob into it half a dozen times. Give her an opening, she'll jump at the chance. I know how to manipulate her. I can be free in a matter of hours and bring Joanne with me."
Jonathan puffed his breath out impatiently. "And your point is ... ?"
"I can do this. Joanne has no idea what she's up against. I do."
A half-second of hesitation, which was probably more than the idea deserved, and then Jonathan said, quietly, "No. You're staying here. Believe me, you'll thank me later."
"Will I?" David was doing something odd. He stood up, shrugged out of his olive drab coat and let it slide to the floor, then unbuttoned his white-and-blue shirt with jerky, nervous motions. He added it to the pile. Stripped off the soft gray T-shirt next, revealing gold-burnished skin. While I enjoyed the view, I wondered what the hell he was doing. "You've never been claimed, Jonathan. Never, in your entire history. You have no idea what it's like."
"I know what it's like," Jonathan said, in a tone that meant it was an old, boring argument. He was watching David with a frown that was getting deeper by the minute. "And what the hell are you doing?"
"It's rape," David continued. He unbuttoned his blue jeans, unzipped, slipped them down. "Having your will taken away from you, forced to do whatever they want you to do. Not even owning yourself. No matter how pure the intentions, how kind the master, how much good comes out of it, it's still rape. Don't you get that? You gave her to Patrick. Patrick gave her to Lewis, and maybe she submitted to that, but this . . . no. You have no idea. And I'm not leaving her in Yvette's hands, not alone."
No answer this time. Jonathan continued to stare up, no change in his expression. He might have been thinking about the merits of Guinness over Sam Adams, for all I knew. Or the secrets of the universe.
David stripped off underwear, dropped them on the pile, and turned back to the glass. Spread his arms wide. Naked, he gave off a halo like polished gold. I felt him drawing in energy, felt the gigantic swirl of power on the aetheric level. He extended his hand out to the glass on the window and touched it, pressed his palm flat against it.
"Are you going to let me go?" he asked.
"No, because you have no plan beyond throwing yourself blindly on the grenade and hoping somebody will mop up the mess." Jonathan didn't sound in the least worried. "Put something on before you catch a cold."
David went very still, and I felt the lancing burn of power flash out of him. Straight into the glass, fine as a laser. It slammed into the barrier, bowed it outward, turned it opaque as milk, kept pushing.
"Never gonna happen, Davy," Jonathan said. "Trust me. You're bleeding off so much power to keep that girl alive that you couldn't shatter a soap bubble right now. And hey, you want my opinion, I think the girl's pretty tough. Maybe she'll surprise you. Maybe the last thing she needs is for you to come galloping to the rescue, that ever occur to you?"
I felt David pulling hard on the umbilical that still bound us together, trying to access whatever power I had stored, but it was like a trickling stream trying to fill up a huge dry riverbed. God, was he really that drained? That weak?
Jonathan continued to stare, lips pressed tight, eyes dark with knowledge. "You're going to kill yourself. Stop it."
"No." David was weak, draining fast, but he was still pouring everything he had into the effort to break the prison. "You stop holding me here."
"Put your goddamn clothes back on, David. What kind of a point are you trying to make? That you're leaving all of this behind for her? Being reborn? I got it, already! Symbolism 'R' Us!"
No answer. David was fiercely focused now, hands trembling. I could feel the intensity of his commitment. He wasn't going to stop.
Jonathan must have known it too. It was in his raw plea. "David!"
The clothes lying on the ground ignited into white-hot flame. David was glowing like a gas flame, using himself ruthlessly. Destroying himself.
"Let . . . me . . . GO!" It was a deep-in-the-throat growl, furious and enraged. The glass was bubbling with the force of the attack.
Jonathan had gone sallow-pale under his tan. I could sense how deep this went between them, how much trust was being ripped apart in this moment.
How much love was being destroyed.
"Fine," he finally whispered. "Go. Kill yourself, dammit."
The glass exploded like a bomb. David misted and was gone before the first glittering shards fell.
Jonathan, left behind, closed his eyes and sank down against one wall of the prison-the refuge?- and braced his forehead against his hands.
The bottle sealed itself without a sound, walling him in.
The dream faded into a gray, sick, constant light, sparked with cold blue flashes.
Don't, I murmured in my sleep. Don't do this for me.
But I knew him better.
The next time I got poured out of the bottle, things were different. For one thing, I was in another room-clean, this one, scrupulously Martha Stewarted, from the stacked pyramid of oranges in a low green tray to the matching rug and throw pillows.
The place was so coordinated it could have joined the Ballet Russe. I felt claustrophobic. Patrick's digs had been louche and tacky, but at least they'd been bursting with energy.
There was only one word for this room. Soulless.
When I put on flesh, I was standing on champagne-pale carpet in my spike-heeled pumps, looking like a hooker at a Suzy Homemaker convention. The expression on Yvette Prentiss's face was almost worth the incredible embarrassment of the outfit.
"Kevin!" Yvette said sharply. She was sitting on a vanilla cream satin-striped sofa, looking gorgeously, deliberately casual, much like the room. Nothing casual about it-you don't get that artless elegance by just tossing on some jeans and touching up the lipstick. Hours of prep had been involved.
Kevin, on the other hand, looked like he'd just been rousted out of bed. Wrinkled, unkempt, wearing a faded-out gray T-shirt with a tear in the sleeve and a pair of jeans so wide-legged they flared like gauchos. Naturally, the jeans were about three sizes too big, so they could ride fashionably low on his hips and display at least two inches of not-very-clean BVDs. I didn't think his hair had ever been visited by either the Comb or Shampoo Fairy.
He had a three-second delay to her angry snap, probably because he was still in awe of the Magenta outfit he'd managed to stick me with. "Um, what?"
"Did you open the bottle before?"
"No!" Patently a lie. He was terrible at it. "I might've, ah, peeked. Just a little."
She just gave him a scorching look of disgust, stood up and came to walk around me. I waited for her to kick the tires and ask how much mileage was on me. Oh, I so wanted to tell her to kiss my French-maid-costumed ass, but naturally, I couldn't. I couldn't do anything but stand there, simmering. What did you do with Lewis, you incredible bitch?
"Get rid of that," she said to Kevin.
"The outfit. Obviously."
"Oh." Kevin seized the opportunity. "Take off your clothes," he said to me. It was a direct, unequivocal order. I thought fast, and removed the apron with a flicker of consciousness. He waited, in vain, for me to do the rest. "All your clothes," he amended. Crap. I shut my eyes and did it, shedding stockings, shoes, skirt, corset, thong-everything. Standing in bare feet on carpet, feeling air conditioning breathe its way across my skin.
Yvette groaned. "Oh, for heaven's sake, put her in something decent. Conduct your perversions on your own time."
Never thought I'd be grateful to her, but I opened my eyes and stared at Kevin again, waiting for the order. He was too busy drooling. Yvette reached over and smacked him on the back of the head, hard, and he winced and ducked and said, "Okay! Put something on. Something, you know, nice."
I went for a severe black pantsuit in peachskin, a form-hugging pale silver shirt, and some discreet low-heeled Stuart Weitzman shoes, with tassels. I reached in the vest pocket of the jacket and fished out a nice pair of Ray�Ban sunglasses to finish it off.
"Better," Yvette approved. "You have good taste."
"Thank you," I said. Pretty much meaning fuck you, but without the actual words.
"What's your name?"
Since she wasn't my master, and it wasn't a Rule-of-Three question anyway, there was no reason for me to tell the truth. "Lilith," I said. Sounded exotic and faintly evil. Hi, I'm Lilith, I'll be your evil servant today. Yeah, I liked it.
"Lilith," she repeated. She did the walking-around thing again, checking me out. "You'll do."
"For what, exactly?" I asked. She looked shocked. Apparently, Djinn were not quite so aggressive in her experience. "Who are you?"
She wasn't going to answer questions from the help. She glared at Kevin, evidently blaming him for my bad attitude, and said, "You understand what to do?"
"Yeah," he said, and looked as resentful as I felt. "I get it."
"Don't screw it up."
"You know how important this is." God, she was picking at him like a scab. She'd probably say that she was just reinforcing the point, but I saw the light in her eyes. She just plain enjoyed making him squirm. It was an uncomfortable sort of fascination.
Kevin, of course, got defensive. "I got it, already! Jeez, Mom! Take a pill!" I almost felt sorry for the kid. Messy, hormonally overloaded, unattractive, burdened with a stepmom from Hell . . .
And then I remembered him checking me out like some fifty-year-old drunk in a strip club, and the impulse toward sympathy went away.
"Okay." Kevin took a deep breath, clenched his fists, and said, "Yo. I want you to do something."
I was unimpressed by the buildup.
"I want you to cause a really big fire in-" He shot a look at mom, who was staring at him like a harpy ready to pounce. "-in a town called Seacasket, Maine."
What the hell . . . ? Didn't matter. I could already feel the circuits kicking in, the Djinn hardwiring powering up. "Yeah, sure, okay." I was already figuring all the ways I could stretch that one. A really big, pretty, contained fire that didn't burn anything. Spectacular, not dangerous.
Yvette made a frustrated sound in the back of her throat that sounded like a purr, and addressed herself directly to him. "The whole town. Destroy everything and everyone in it."
"Uh, yeah. What she said," he said to me. He didn't sound enthusiastic. "Big fire. Destroy the town and everybody in it. Now. Uh, and you can do that misty thing to get there."
The part of me that couldn't be controlled was already reaching out for power, tapping into Kevin's potential, drawing it down into me in a rich blood-tide flood. God, it was so strong ... I'd thought it was just Lewis that had this much power, but to find it in someone like Kevin ... it was incredible. Immeasurable.
And I was about to use it to roast an entire town alive. Oh God, no.
"Go," Kevin said, and waved his hand around awkwardly. "Do what I told you."
To my utter horror, I found I couldn't stop myself.
I was already misting out. Kevin, the Martha-Stewart-perfect room, Yvette ... all fading into nothing.
He hadn't told me to travel the aetheric, so I stayed in mist form, moving as slowly as real-world physics would allow. I was a hot storm rolling through clouds and sky, burning with purpose, out of control, and lives were going to be lost when I arrived, no question about it.
I had to think of a way to stop this. How? I wasn't in control of it, not at all. It was controlling me, I was just the conduit through which the power would flow. Fine, if I was a circuit, maybe there was a way to insulate myself. Muffle the damage I was going to do. How? Think, dammit! All that training in weather, and none of it was any help at all now . . .
Or was it?
I reached out and grabbed a spangled net of storm energy from the sea and dragged it behind me like a train on a wedding dress as I arrowed past, heading for Seacasket, Maine.
I knew, without having to ask why, that there were 1,372 people in Seacasket. Not to mention pets, farm animals, birds, insects, plants, all the things that made up the ecosphere, that made life possible and desirable.
I had to find a way to save them.
It felt like a long time, but it could have only been a few hours at most between leaving the Prentiss house and landing at the corner of Davis and Cunningham, right next to a sign that said seacasket chamber of commerce welcomes you, decorated with the seal of the Rotary Club and logos for Hardee's and McDonald's. A smaller sign below read home of THE CRIMSON PIRATES, STATE CHAMPIONS LADIES BASKETBALL 1998.
Seacasket, for all its rural sensibility, had a Starbucks directly across the street from me. There were five or six people in there, sitting at tiny uncomfortable tables sipping mochas or cappuccinos or half-caff skim deluxe grande lattes. There were a couple of kids running down the sidewalk chasing a runaway beagle puppy, and a few cars driving by, people talking, laughing, oblivious to the death I was bringing with me.
No. No no no no.
I tried. I tried with all my might to stop it, but my hands went out, and the power that I'd sucked out of Kevin, that rich textured power that filled me to bursting, it shot up into a hot dome over the town.
I couldn't stop it, but I could try to mitigate it. At the same time as that compulsive part of me started authoring destruction, the other part of me-the part that was still partially free, at least-started desperately weaving together the wind. Not enough time for this, not nearly enough; weatherworking required subtlety, delicacy, like neurosurgery. This was more like a battlefield amputation, with the patient alive and screaming. I increased the density of the air, heated it faster than a microwave oven, created a corresponding cold front and slammed the two together.
Instant chaos. Overhead, beyond the hot fury of fire that was gathering over the town, I saw clouds exploding in blue and black mushrooms. Silent, but incredibly powerful. I watched it in Oversight as the cotton white anvil cloud boiled up, and up, and up, hot air struggling to climb over cold, water molecules slamming together in so much violence that the energy generated exploded outward in waves. The collisions sparked even more motion, forced expansion against the unmoving wall of the low pressure system.
Go, go, go! I was begging it to move faster, even though it was the fastest I'd ever built anything like this-fifteen seconds, from clear sky to first pale pink flash of lightning.
I wasn't looking for rain, though. Rain wouldn't even begin to derail the firestorm I was about to unleash on this place. It would instantly evaporate into steam, and for all I knew, kill even more people. The kind of power I was carrying wasn't something that could be put out with a fire hose, anyway.
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