Chapter Twenty

I watched, sickened, as he reached out for her . . . . . . grabbed her by the hair, and slammed her face down on the carpet.

Still no change in him. Controlled, calm, utterly emotionless.

Oh God.

He rolled her over, and the flushed, breathless excitement on her face said it all. No wonder this place reeked of sickness. Yvette was one very sick lady.

I dropped the concealment. She spotted me instantly over David's shoulder as I walked slowly forward, and the insane glee in her eyes was almost as nauseating as what she was about to force David to do. I remembered the dream, David's desperate attempt to make Jonathan understand. It's rape.

"I thought you were there," she said. "Excellent. Maybe I'll have you join us."

"David," I said calmly. "Would you like for me to do something about this?"

He couldn't speak, of course. Couldn't do anything. He was fixed on her, and I thought I read utter despair in those dark, alien eyes.

"What do you imagine you can do?" Yvette asked me, sugar sweet, looking ravishingly beautiful spread out on the floor. So very pretty. So very twisted. "Other than admire his technique."

I crossed my arms and maintained my cool. "Well, I could do what your son suggested and kill you. What do you think?"

She froze, staring up at me, and her face was for a few seconds comically surprised. "You're lying."

"Well, yes, we Djinn do that. Believe me or not."

I shrugged to show the depth of my not-caring. "Suit yourself."

I looked at David, who was still frozen, waiting for her command. Leashed, but far from tame. She got up, still watching me, and put her hand on his shoulder to bring him up with her. Slid it in a proprietary way along the warm glory of his skin, up his neck, over a well-shaped ear, to dig her fingers luxuriously into his hair. No protest from him, and no flinch. I knew he had more latitude than that-didn't he?-but he wasn't refusing anything from her. Maybe she'd already given that command before I came on the scene. Or maybe he was drawing her in, making her careless.

I hoped.

"Did he used to be yours?" she asked me, and made the hand into a fist, jerking his head sideways toward her. Still no change of expression from him. I tried to listen, to see if he was sending me any whispers along the shared bond between us, but all I heard was silence. He'd gone deep, and far away from me. What was left might be something I didn't know and couldn't count on.

"I don't own people," I said. God, I sounded self-righteous. I decided that was okay, because I felt pretty self-righteous, too. "We freed the slaves in this country, or did you flunk history along with your sanity test?"

She turned and looked at David, pulled his head closer to hers and whispered something in his ear, then turned back to me, cheek pressed against his.

They both smiled. I felt a cold streak form along my spine, felt goosebumps rising under it, because those smiles were soulless, and dead, and dreaming of something awful. I remembered David smiling at me, the day I'd met him on the road after I'd spun the car out in a cloud of dust. I remembered the sharp, intelligent wit in those beautiful eyes. I remembered his skin, waking and shivering at my touch.

She couldn't own any of that. What she did own was a shell. Skin. A ghost.

I kept telling myself that, but I couldn't stop the sick, awful horror of this from threatening to choke me. Her hands were still moving on David. I wanted to rip them off at the wrists.

"My little Kevin finally grew some balls? You're bluffing, sweetie pie. He couldn't."

I looked around the room. "He's been in here, hasn't he?" No answer. Yvette sat up. Her blouse had popped a couple of buttons, but the view didn't impress me. "You and little Kevin, playing games. How heartwarming. And you think he wouldn't want you dead? Honey, I just met you and I so want you dead."

"So you come here and warn me?" She was regaining her composure. "Not likely."

"I'm not all that eager to be Kevin's little love slave, either," I said. Everything I was saying had the ring of truth, because, well, it was. "I'm here to offer you a deal."

She blinked. Deals were made from positions of power. We both knew I didn't have any. "Don't be ridiculous. You were entertaining for a few seconds, but you're getting boring. I hurt things that bore me."

When I smiled, I borrowed a trick from Rahel. Shark teeth. The flinch was well worth the discomfort. "There's something you want more than David," I said. I was guessing, of course, but with someone like her there was always something else. Toys got old the instant she had them in her hands, and besides, she'd had David before. No thrill of corruption there. "I can give it to you."

She actually froze for a few seconds, considering me, and I saw the hot light of greed flicker in those green eyes. "And what exactly would that be?"

I shrugged. "You know well enough." Ah, the Djinn talent for misdirection. Still serving me well, thank God. "If you want to waste me on a fool like your stepson, that's your right. But think how much more you could accomplish, if you had me."

She didn't know. To her mind, I was already assuming legendary powers and proportions ... a human reborn as a Djinn. She couldn't have any idea of how much of a handicap that was. In fact, she probably thought that was what I was offering her. Life as a Djinn.

Over my dead body. Spirit. Whatever.

"Not very loyal to him, are you?" she asked. "Why should I think you'd be any more loyal to me?"

I shrugged. "The kid's weak. You know that." So was she, in a totally different way. Weak and greedy and sick. "You want to use David as some kind of cheap toy, that's your prerogative. I just thought you should expand your horizons a little. The world's a little wider than your bedroom."

"You think I'm not ambitious?"

I didn't have to fake the cynical smile. People like her were always ambitious.

"You made a mistake," I said. "You could have had Lewis on your side. Now you've made a bad enemy. You're going to need help to stay alive once he gets back on his feet."

"Lewis?" she asked blankly, and let go of David. She'd completely forgotten about him.

"Lewis Levander Orwell? Yeah. That guy. The one you were rubbing like a magic charm to get your hands on me. You traded down, honey. Having Lewis would have been quite a feather in your cap. Talk about advancement . . . Only now, of course, you're just the bimbo who bashed his head in, not the one who brought him back to the Wardens."

That shook her. She'd had victory in her hands and walked away, and that had to hurt.

"You're a lying, treacherous bitch," she said, low in her throat, and wrapped her hand around David's bare arm. "You really think you're going to make a deal with me? I don't deal with the likes of you. Ever. You serve me, or you suffer. Your choice."

Kevin's instructions to kill her were starting to look really, really tempting. Maybe if I just hurt her a lot ... no, I'd seen the look on her face as David threw her down to the floor. She'd probably think it was foreplay.

"Serve me or suffer."

"Already got a boss," I said, and spread my hands. "Such as he is."

She didn't like being denied. "Take her," she said, and released her hold on David.

He lunged for me, and God, he was strong. I yelped and tried to break free but his hands were crushing my arms, holding me still, shoving me back against that wall that, in Oversight, still dripped psychic blood. I wanted to mist away, but Kevin's command earlier effectively prevented that. Trapped. Blue sparks zipped and swirled around me, thicker now, thick as a bag of glitter dropped from the ceiling. I blinked to clear my eyes. The things were swarming over David, too, clustering on his skin.

"David!" I whispered. Nothing sparked in the dark, dead eyes. I wondered what she'd told him to do to me. Wondered if it was anything I'd be able to stop. The things that had happened in this room . . . they crowded like phantoms, brushing at the edges of awareness, given strength by my fear and David's aggression. I could almost see some of them, and just the hints made me feel weak and ill. What had David told me? She and Bad Bob had tastes in common.

Like Kevin, he'd been made to do things, probably here in this room. Things I couldn't begin to understand, even with the ugly hints I'd already been given.

He twisted sharply at my arm, and I felt bone shatter with a dull cracking sound. Pain screamed through me, and in the next second it took on another horrible dimension as more bones in my body began to break. David's doing. Destroying my physical form.

Instinct made me rebuild, but I couldn't do it fast enough. His power ripped at me like a wild thing, shredding muscle, pulverizing bone, exploding vital organs.

I couldn't even scream. My mouth opened, but all that came out of it was a hot bitter trickle of blood. I collapsed against him. Something in me kept struggling to reassert the template of my natural form, but he was stronger at this, better. He knew exactly how to hurt me.

He eased me down to the carpet. I lay struggling to move, feeling life energy leaking out of my broken body, and begged him silently to stop.

Yvette had moved closer. She leaned over him now, staring down at me, a blank-faced goddess with unclean eyes. "You know what I want," she told him, and caressed his hair again, running the short auburn strands through her fingers. Petting him, the way she'd pet a particularly glorious and dangerous animal. "Make it last."

He reached for my throat.

I felt another will impose itself over mine.

Right on cue, I vanished.

I collapsed in a heap, blind with shock and pain, and knew I was somewhere else. Where?

Ground-in, Day-Glo orange spots in the rug just inches from my face, and a few more feet away, a grease-stained pizza box with its top partly open. A fat brown-shelled roach was scuttling along the top of it. It stopped to waggle its antennae inquiringly, then decided I was no threat to its conquest.

I couldn't breathe. My lungs had been ruptured. My body-human, not human, whatever it was-was shutting down. That wouldn't kill me, I sensed, but it would trap me inside of a dead shell. Not the way I wanted to escape, especially since it meant I wouldn't be going anywhere.

"Yo!" Kevin's pimply, pallid face appeared in my field of vision, pointed at a weird horizontal angle. He was bending over, staring at me. He waved a hand in front of my eyes, snapped his black-fingernailed, blunt-cut fingers. "You okay?"

I couldn't answer. I slowly blinked my eyes, which was about all that my body was capable of doing for me at the moment.

"Oh," he said, and straightened up. He prodded me with the toe of a particularly crappy-looking sneaker. This close, the smell of his feet was rancid, like mold-ridden buttermilk. "She got to you, huh? Yeah. Thought so. So, can you fix yourself?"

I blinked again. If ever I needed the kid to catch a clue . . .

"You can't, can you? You need me for that." He crouched down, staring down at me. "You need me. How about that? Not so high and mighty now, are we?" A thick finger prodded at my flaccid arm, and broken bones grated together. "What if I just leave you here, huh? What's your game plan then, bitch? Lay there and bleed on me? Some fucking guardian you are."

He sounded surly, but there was a tremor deep down. He was scared, all right. Not of me. He knew what she was capable of, and he wanted a friend. Protection. Something.

I tried to move my lips, but it was useless. I couldn't even blink anymore. My eyes were fixed and staring. I heard my heart murmur one last, regretful beat, and then the blood in my veins slowed and stopped.

Death was anticlimactic, as a Djinn. I kept waiting for something, anything. I still had senses-I could hear the rustle of Kevin's baggy jeans as he paced back and forth, could smell the unwashed aroma that eddied off of him through the room. Under the bed, the cockroach emerged from the pizza box with a couple of its friends, paused, and tried to figure me out. I must not have looked tasty. They went the other way.

Kevin's bedroom door suddenly blew open. Locks tore off of the frame and hit the far wall with enough force to put holes in the Sheetrock. I didn't have a good view, but I heard Kevin's pacing stop and stagger backward. He stumbled right into me, lost his balance, and fell. I felt him roll across me, hot and sweaty and tense with panic.

The swirl of power that went through the room was unmistakable.

David was here.

Kevin grabbed my limp, broken hand and yelled, "Fix yourself, dammit! Stop him! Don't let him hurt me!"

Game on.

I felt my body instantly begin to heal, drinking in power from him to rebuild itself, and before I was anywhere near better I rolled away from him, away from his grip, and came fluidly to my feet to stand between him and David. Blue sparkles flashed all over me with false Vegas cheer.

Yvette was with him, of course. Still smiling.

"You left." She pouted. "It was just getting interesting. We're going to have lots of fun, sweetie, aren't we?" The butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth tone turned cold and cutting as she focused past me, on her stepson. "Tell her to submit."

"Yeah?" His voice wavered, but didn't break. "Maybe I won't."

Why the hell had she ever taken a chance and given him a Djinn? No, I knew why . . . because she thought he was completely under her control, and she knew that having two Djinn under her direct control could be dangerous. Well, arrogance was part of her pathology.

David moved a step closer. I matched him like a mirror image. Kevin's order had me, of course. If David made any aggressive moves at all, I was free to stop him, and to use every ounce of power Kevin possessed to do it.

"News flash," I said aloud, straight to her. "Not the submitting type. You want to take me, you can try, but it's going to be one hell of a fight, and believe me, the damage won't be anything you can patch up with base makeup and a couple of Band-Aids. I will hurt you."

"Yeah," Kevin agreed. "And I'll let her. No, I'll order her to do it."

Her green eyes flicked to him, and the look on her face ... If I'd had any doubt that she'd played her sick little games with him, that put them to rest. The pure, nauseating hatred made me feel filthy to see it.

"You stupid little bastard. I give you a toy, and you try to threaten me with it? You're pathetic. David, I want you to-"

"Kevin, I want to take you out of here," I interrupted her, and looked straight at the kid. "I'll take you out of here if you want me to."

He was no fool, even with the obvious social handicaps. He smiled, showing me crappy dental hygiene, and said, "Yeah. Take me somewhere. Somewhere else."

It meant leaving David, oh God, I didn't want to do that, but I didn't have a choice. I had to do what I could. Patrick had said it. First, preserve your life. I didn't think I could die here, but I'd damn sure wish I could.

I grabbed Kevin, wrapped him in my arms, and pulled on that vast pool of energy stored inside of him to take him . . .

. . . back to Patrick's apartment.

Not a smooth ride through the aetheric. I tried to avoid the worst of the blue flares, but it was worse now, burning everywhere. A cheery fairy-dust snowstorm.

Patrick's apartment place was empty. Bloodstains on the carpet, already dried. No sign of Lewis, or Patrick, or Sara. No sign that Rahel had ever returned.

I let Kevin go, shook off another thick moving layer of sparklies, and knelt down to touch the stiff brown-soaked fibers on the floor. Lewis's essence. Through it, I could trace him. Find him . . .

"What now?" Kevin asked me. He avoided the bloodstains and went around to the other side of the couch, where he wouldn't have to look at what he'd done. "She'll come after us, you know. She's not going to let us go. All she has to do is tell him to find us."

He had the perfume vial in his pocket, stuffed in among a pack of condoms that at this rate he probably would never need. Nothing hard enough for me to shatter the glass against. Pure luck, probably. He wasn't clever enough to protect it on purpose.

I stayed where I was, in a crouch, touching the evidence of his guilt. "Yeah, well, if you still want me to kill her, I'm up for it."

"Really?" Hope and dread, all packed into one word. "Holy shit."

Lewis, where the hell are you? I really didn't feel well. Maybe it was the cost of David's deconstruction of my body. Dying had to come with a price. I needed Lewis, not just because I was worried, but because as a human he could physically take the bottle away from Kevin and shatter it. Lewis was my only real hope of freedom, unless Kevin made a monumental error. Which was not beyond the realm of possibility, if I stayed alert.

Speaking of being alert. . . my brain finally caught up with the fact that Kevin wasn't giving me orders, he was listening to me. And my clothing had stayed the way I'd chosen.

He wasn't seeing me as a slave just now. He was seeing me as a friend.

"I need some help," I said aloud. "Your stepmother's got power, and now that she has David, she can do a lot more. We need to talk to the Wardens. They can help neutralize her without too much of a fight."

All true, again. I was trying not to lie to him, because I knew it would come back to haunt me later.

The blood told me that Lewis had lain here unconscious for a long time-hours, maybe-before he'd finally come to his senses and left. Things were vague, from then on. He might not have been thinking clearly. Still alive, though. That came through with a clarity that eased a knot deep inside of me. I'd really feared that we'd left him here to die.

"The Wardens would never take my side," Kevin said. He flopped down on the leather couch, folded his hands on his chest and stared up at the mullioned ceiling that had previously been far too X-rated for a kid his age. "They'd kill me. The old guy said so."


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