Chapter Twenty-nine

Kevin threw a sideways look at Jonathan, clearly realizing that Vegas, move your ass didn't qualify as a proper command. Which meant David had the upper hand. "You. Mojo guy. You think you can take me?"

Lewis said, "I didn't save your life to arm wrestle with you."

"But you're strong, right? Stronger than anything?"

"Not anything."

"But almost anything." Kevin looked sly, shot a greasy look at Jonathan. "Hey, I've got a better idea. We can do Vegas anytime." He looked over at me, and the craziness in his eyes made me feel weightless and sick. "You should've been nicer to me, bitch."

I think I knew, somewhere deep inside, what he was about to say, but there was no way to stop him. No way any of us could have stopped him.

Kevin pointed at Lewis and said, "Give me all his power. I want it all."

A clear, unequivocal command, one Jonathan wouldn't have any choice but to follow.

Lewis cried out, arched forward, and a river of white light flooded out of him, slammed across the empty space and into Kevin's narrow T-shirt-clad chest. David, still held by the previous command, couldn't act, and this was so far outside of my area of expertise that there was nothing I could even think to say, much less do.

Lewis went utterly limp. Unconscious. Out of the fight. Which meant that David was powerless.

Kevin opened his eyes, and smiled. Smiled. Flexed his arms like a weightlifter striking a pose.

"Kevin, don't do this. You can't hide," I said. My voice was shaking. I gathered Lewis's limp body in my arms and felt how hot he was, how fragile. How human. Like me. "Kevin, they'll never forgive you for this. Humans or Djinn. They'll hunt you down. They'll destroy you."

He lowered his arms and looked like a sixteen-year-old kid again, scrawny, nervous, arrogant. "Yeah? Well, you tell them, they try it, I'll kick all their asses. Count on it."

I just shook my head. He didn't know. He didn't understand.

Kevin snapped his fingers at Jonathan. "Now. Today. Take me to Vegas. We've got some fun to be having."

"Stop him!" I pleaded with David. He looked stunned, angry, and completely baffled.

"I can't. Lewis-" He looked down at the man I held in my arms. "It's gone. All his power. There's nothing to draw from."

Too late, anyway. A sensation of rushing wind, and Jonathan and Kevin were gone.

"Can you track them?" I asked. David crouched down next to me and nodded. "Oh, God, David . . . can you fight them?"

"Not alone," he said. "Not like this."

I closed my eyes and looked inside myself, felt the warm red swell of power. I'd been put back into human form with all my potential included, which meant that maybe I was the only one qualified to do this thing. The only one with enough raw energy.

But I had to do something I'd sworn I never would. And no matter what anybody said, it would change things. Forever.

As always, David knew me. He said quietly, "You know you have to."

I took the bottle from Lewis's limp fingers, and felt the sudden rush of strength, the giddy sensation of David's allegiance transferring itself to me.

He looked at me with those copper eyes, smiled so warmly I felt the embrace of the sun fold around me, and said, "It's about damn time. What took you so long?"

My lips parted as I felt the two halves of us knit together in a partnership like nothing I'd ever felt in my life. Equals. There was nothing subservient about the Djinn, not like this . . . He was me, part of me, more than me. And I was more than him.

I gently eased Lewis down to the carpet and stood up to face David. He reached out, put his hands on my shoulders and slid them up to gently cradle my face. Thumbs traced my lips and left a memory of fire. He was so damn beautiful it made me want to explode.

"We'll do this together," he said, and kissed me. A long, sweet kiss that fired me deep inside, a pilot light kicking in with enough force to make my knees go weak.

"Yeah," I murmured into his open mouth. "Can we win?"

His smile was a warm ghost against my lips. "Don't know. But it's going be one hell of a good fight."

I was warned by the clatter of metal and the creak of a heavy door at the far end of the hallway, but there was no point in getting flustered by the fact that the Wardens had finally dug themselves out of their chaos and come looking. "Freeze!" somebody roared with the authority of a man with a big gun. I wasn't worried. I'd faced down worse.

I opened my mouth to give David my first command . . .

. . . and I heard a loud boom, loud as the world, saw David's pupils expand in shock, felt my body jerk hard against him.

Oh, shit, I thought.

They'd just shot me in the back.

I had time for one last command. David was already readying himself for battle, for killing, for more death.

"Back in the bottle," I whispered, tasted blood, and saw David's eyes go even wider in anguish as the wind sucked him down, into the bottle.

I was crying when I slammed the stopper in place, and curled up on the ground, gasping for breath against the growing, howling pain with his bottle held in both hands, against my heart.

Some shadows leaned over me.

Darkness.

I woke up slowly, to the beeping of machines and the dull mutter of voices.

I opened my eyes and focused slowly on the man who was sitting next to me, his large hand wrapped around mine.

"Jo?"

Not David's voice, not his touch. Dots of light swirled and settled into the haggard outline of Lewis's face. Pallid, lined, textured by at least a day's unshaven growth of beard. Greasy hair.

"You look like shit," I whispered, and his dry lips cracked into a smile. He was wearing a hospital gown, one of those designs that flatters nobody. So was I. There were tubes tethering my arms, and a dull ache in my lower back.

It came back to me in flashes, pieces. David's eyes. The sound of the gun. Don't hurt them. That brought a surge of adrenaline that forced back drugged calm. "David-oh God please tell me they didn't take him-"

Lewis reached out, opened a drawer in a stand next to the bed, and took out a blue glass bottle. He handed it to me. It was stoppered.

"He's fine. I ..." Lewis wavered and licked his lips. "I kept him safe for you."

"Some asshole shot me."

"They didn't know. All they knew was that there were dead Wardens, and the vault was breached. They couldn't know."

I made a not-convinced noise. "Hurts."

"I know." He reached out and traced the curve of my cheek with his fingers. "You've been out for two days."

Time delay before the dread set in. Two days? Two fucking days? I struggled to sit up, but drugs and Lewis and weakness kept me down. "Kevin-he took Jonathan-"

"I know." Lewis's voice had that silvery calm that Martin Oliver had been so famous for. "Jo, it's okay. We've got teams on his trail. We'll find him."

"Not okay!" Lewis didn't understand. Couldn't understand. He didn't know what Jonathan was. What Kevin had at his command. The powers of the strongest Warden in the world, plus the monstrous power of the single greatest Djinn . . . They'd sent teams? They might as well have sent packs of Girl Scouts. "Got to go. Get after him."

His strong hands pushed me back. "You're not going anywhere for a while."

I clenched my fingers around David's bottle and, before he could stop me, dragged the rubber stopper out of the mouth.

Zero to sixty. David was there instantly, fast as thought, staring down at me from the other side of the bed. Still trapped in that instant of panic and fury, thinking I was dying.

His hot-penny eyes flashed to Lewis, to me, and then he reached down and gathered me up into his arms.

I hadn't known how cold I was until I fell into his warmth.

David was whispering words, but I didn't know them-languages long dead, but the music was universal. Love, and fear, and sheer relief. He kissed me, kissed me hard, and I let myself melt into him.

When he pulled back, I realized that Lewis was talking. Urgently. "David, you can't be here. They don't know about you. You have to leave this to the Wardens now. She's getting the best of care-"

"Quiet." David hissed it, and when I looked up I saw the two of them exchanging a full-force stare. "Leave. You can't do anything for her."

Lewis's eyes betrayed him with a flicker, and I remembered that he'd been stripped of power. Emptied. He was no more than any other mortal out there, walking around oblivious. David meant it literally. Lewis couldn't heal me. Couldn't do anything but hold my hand.

I couldn't imagine how that felt, for someone like him who'd held the power of the world inside of him.

"Don't say that," I said, and drew David's eyes back to me. "He's my friend. Always."

That eased some of the darkness in Lewis's eyes, at least. He gave me a very small, pale smile.

"So ... as a friend . . . how much trouble am I in, exactly?"

He started to answer, but in the next few seconds there were footsteps ringing on tile, and then the white curtain around my bed got whipped away in a shriek of metal rings, and an entire delegation was standing there. I was, I realized, in a familiar room. The same one where I'd done the French Maid lap dance for the doctor-who was standing in the corner with his arms folded across his chest, looking none too happy. Next to him was a weary, bleary Paul Giancarlo. Next to him was Marion Bearheart.

David let me go and stood up. Shield and protector. I took his hand and squeezed it lightly. "No," I said. "Relax, David. Friends."

I wasn't sure of that, actually, but a battle wouldn't do any of us any good. David settled-outwardly- but I felt the tension in his grip on my fingers.

"Friends," Marion echoed softly. "I see. You assume a lot, Joanne."

"I assume you wouldn't have saved me if you didn't think I was worth the trouble." It was a long speech. I felt winded at the end of it.

Marion cut a look toward Paul, who slid his hands in his pants pockets and looked secretive. He didn't volunteer a comment, so she continued. "The boy. Kevin. Do you contend that he was to blame for all of the . . . chaos?"

Boy, that was a loaded question. "Blame is kind of a broad term. If you're asking, did he kill people, yes. He did. And he's got a very powerful Djinn under his control, not to mention a couple of bottles of quarantined ones." I had to pause for a couple of breaths. The dull ache in my back was blossoming into something hot and immediate. "He was on his way to Las Vegas. You know that?"

Marion nodded. "We know. What we need to know is how powerful is he, exactly? Can you tell us that?"

I could. I wasn't actually sure if I should. My hesitation made Paul sigh and step forward.

"Jo, dammit, we've lost enough people. Not to mention a full fifteen Djinn. Don't screw around, here. I don't want a higher body count out of this."

I felt a headache start pounding between my eyes. "You lost a team already, didn't you?"

Nobody answered, and then Lewis said, quietly, "Three people. We think they're dead."

I sucked in a deep breath-it hurt-and nodded. "You'll lose more. Pull them back. Track him, don't try to take him."

"Somebody has to try," Marion said grimly.

"Fine. I will." I struggled to sit up. The doctor and Lewis and David all tried to stop me, but I wasn't having any. Screw internal damage. I had a fix for that.

"David," I said. "Heal me."

I'd never understood what it meant, before, when that command was given. It wasn't just that the way opened for David to touch that deep well of potential ... It was a path that moved both ways, a true and perfect union. Through him, I touched him. And something else. Something even greater.

He looked back at me with a dawning astonishment in his eyes. He reached out to take my other hand, holding both, staring down at me.

And the power that flooded through me, God, unbelievable. I knew it was my own, purified and refined through him, but the richness of it was staggering. There was pain, but more than that, there was pleasure. An amazing amount of it.

I gasped out loud, held on tight, and rode it out. When it subsided to aftershocks, I gasped, "You ever felt that before?"

His smile burned, it was so glorious. "Never."

"Me neither." I yanked tubes out of my hand and swung my legs over the side of the bed. People made protests. I ignored them and put my weight on my feet, felt the world go steady and sharp around me. I looked down at my hospital clothes and felt a sad regret for my lost ability to design my own wardrobe. "David? Clothes?"

Dark peachskin suit settled gently over my skin. A silk shirt, sharply tailored. On my feet, lethally beautiful shoes. I glanced up at David, who lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug.

"I learn," he said. "What now?"

The rest of them were silent. Nobody was trying to stop us. I looked from one of them to the other- Marion, Paul, Lewis-and finally at David.

"Are you ready for this?" I asked him. For answer, he let go of my hand and stepped back, and settled an olive drab ankle-length coat around his shoulders. His copper eyes hid themselves behind human brown, and round spectacles. He looked mild and gentle, except for the strength of his smile.

"I'm ready," he said. I turned to Paul and held up a hand. He echoed the gesture.

"Las Vegas?" he asked. "Just so I know where to send the body bags."

"You in charge now?"

"Until things get settled. This place isn't all that under control right now."

"You'll do fine," I said. "Paul. Keep your people out of my way."

Marion cleared her throat. "My people will help."

"Your people will get killed," I corrected. "This is my fight. Mine and David's."

"He's just a kid," Lewis said. He hadn't gotten to his feet. Hadn't done anything but sit quietly, watching the show. "Go easy."

I looked at him in Oversight, and saw something terrible. Something I should have known all along.

Lewis was dying. The emptiness inside of him was like cancer, eating away at him; his aura was already pallid, turning necrotic. Kevin had already killed him; Lewis's body was just still fighting the inevitable. If there was any chance at all to save him, it had to be reclaiming his powers from Kevin.

This had to be done. For him. For Jonathan. Even for Kevin himself.

It just wasn't going to be as easy as, oh, fighting your average demigod.

"What do you need?" Paul rumbled.

I turned a smile on him, saw him warm in response, and said, "Besides a vacation? I think I need a really fast car."

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