Violet eyes gleaming, he chuffed with amusement. “That is not how children are made. One day you will know how children are made.”
I raised my brows. I’d figured out how children were made when I was five years old, sitting unsupervised in front of a TV all day with the remote control. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear how he thought children were made. “If she doesn’t eat, she may die.” Assuming she didn’t expire from shock first. “I’ll be back with food and water.” As I turned toward the door, I shot a withering look over my shoulder. “I mean it. Let her go. She’s terrified of you.”
He sniffed. “Riveted by my prowess.”
“Catatonic with shock.”
“Overcome by my magnificence.”
This could go on all night. “Pinned by your paw,” I said dryly. “If you’re so certain of yourself, try removing it and see what happens.”
“She will remain in my thrall,” he said confidently.
I shut the bedroom door as I left. The last thing I needed was a horde of hostile Pallas cats coming after me, attacking my ankles. I could imagine too many ways things could get even weirder than they already were.
I had seven Pallas cats in my bedroom.
It wasn’t the first time Shazam had brought something unusual home with him, but none of those things had ever been alive and required sustenance. Although I stock fresh meat and blood for Shazam, there was no way I was taking bowls of it into my clean, cream-carpeted bedroom, which already sported an odor challenging enough to eradicate. No doubt I’d be tearing the damn carpet out. Or moving again.
My eating habits have changed over the years. Unlike most people, I have little to no emotional attachment to food. I see it as necessary energy and prioritize it in that order: fat first, protein next, carbs last. I need it fast and efficient so I stock my various residences with canned tuna, canned coconut milk, chocolate bars, and high carb snacks.
I glanced at the closed door of my bedroom, down the hallway, and finally let my laughter bubble free as I grabbed bowls and began opening cans of tuna.
* * *
Twenty-five minutes later the Pallas cats had devoured nineteen cans of tuna and nearly a gallon of water.
They were going to need to pee. And do other bad-smelling things. Not that I believed the odor in my bedroom could get much worse. I spend my nights in the dirtiest parts of the city. I like to spend my days in tidy surroundings.
I was stretched back against the tufted velvet headboard of my bed, legs crossed. Shazam was sitting on the dresser, alternating between peering beneath the bed at his “mate” and her family and giving me the evil eye.
I waited in silence. He tended to come around to my viewpoint more quickly if I gave him time to work things through himself, offering the occasional gentle nudge.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said finally, sourly. “I get bored when you’re gone.”
“So, come with me. You used to all the time.”
“I miss something, Yi-yi,” he said plaintively.
Oh, my friend, so do I. Many things. I said softly, “What?”
“Something,” he said, his eyes filling with tears. “I don’t know.”
Beneath the bed I heard claws scratching the carpet as it was prepared for use as a litter box.
“If you return them, Shazam, we’ll figure this out. I don’t want you to be lonely. If it’s a mate you want, we’ll find one. But you can’t abduct a wild animal and her family and decide she’s going to be yours. You have to move slowly, give her time to get to know you. And it has to go both ways or it’s ownership. Living things aren’t property. You can’t take them simply because you want them.” It was my job to teach my bombastic, powerful friend how to live among us and I took it seriously. I didn’t cite the rules and expect him to obey; I tried to help him understand why the rules mattered.
He slumped in a puddle of depression. “She can’t talk and she hardly even thinks. She doesn’t know the world is bigger than her cage, or this room. She’s never seen the stars and hunted on wild planets. I’m not what terrifies her. Everything terrifies her.” His head drooped to the top of the dresser and he put his paws over his eyes.
“She’s not your equal and never can be,” I said, vocalizing what was bothering him.
He said wearily, “She is not.”
I smiled wryly. Over the past few years I’d done what passed as dating for someone like me. Each time I tried, I ended up feeling more alone, not less. Fascination isn’t love and pedestals are hard, uncomfortable, and only big enough for one. Some people get a home with family and friends, some people get a pedestal. Perversely, those on the pedestal hunger for the normalcy of a home and family, while those with the home and family hunger for the glamour and excitement of a pedestal. Further compounding things, the magic of the Song enhanced my sidhe-seer gifts. I’m physically stronger and have to hold back all the time. Careful, restrained sex is an oxymoron in my book. I get more release from exploding a few of Ryodan’s punching bags.
“Will you return her, then? All of them,” I added. Precision was a must with my moody beast.
“Yes, Yi-yi,” he said with a gusty sigh. After a moment, he lifted his head from the dresser. His violet eyes narrowed and shot a meaningful glance at my left hand, which was still cold and black. “It’s happening again.”
“Bigger now. It doesn’t hurt?” he fretted.
“No. I’m fine.”
He assessed me intently, as if seeking reassurance of that, then his body disappeared and only his head remained, his large, expressive eyes gleaming with love.
I smiled. “I see you, too, Shazam.”
His disembodied head nodded regally. “I will return after I’ve hunted, Yi-yi.” Then all of him was gone.
I dropped to the floor, peered beneath my bed, and watched with relief as the Pallas cats popped out of existence, one by one.
* * *
I stood beneath the spray of a long hot shower while he was gone, washing my hair, shaving my legs, and considering my left hand. The stain had retreated to beneath the crook of my elbow. Although my hand was still black, even the nails, my fingers were no longer quite so cold.
I had no idea why it happened or what caused it, if anything. It was possible it was simply random. Sometimes when my hand turned black, I was in the midst of a dangerous situation. Other times, I could tie it to nothing threatening in my vicinity. Each time it happened, I felt oddly shaky afterward and had found eating helped allay the strange enervation.
I flexed my hand beneath the warm spray. It didn’t hurt. Well, aside from the brief stabbing pain I’d felt earlier when it shot up beneath my nails. The wraiths in the cemetery had been repelled by it.
What had the Hunter done to me that night so long ago?
I hadn’t seen any of the enormous winged beasts in our skies for years and I’d been watching, waiting. I had questions.
I’d found no reference to the Hunters in the abbey’s vast libraries. But then, I still had the lion’s share of the collections to wade through. It was slow going, sorting through the bits and pieces of my sidhe-seer heritage. I read for hours a day, sitting with those at the abbey who were scanning the ancient fragile scrolls and books to create an electronic library with cross-referencing tags that will never decompose. It should have been done long ago, but the prior headmistress of our order had been more inclined to let our secrets rot than share them.
I turned off the water, wrapped a towel around my body, and used a second one on my hair. As I toweled it dry and sorted through the damp tangle of long red curls, I turned my thoughts back to the problem of Shazam.
He’d been different lately, with fewer moments of lucid brilliance and more of emotional angst. I was worried about him. When he got back, we were going to have a long talk, and I wasn’t going anywhere until I figured out what to do to snap him out of his funk. If an emergency came up, he was going with me to take care of it. I should never have let him stay at home while I’d gone out patrolling the past few months. After nearly seven years together I knew being alone and unseen, as he’d been on Olean, was the worst thing for him.
I smoothed a light oil into my hair to keep it from going completely wild, grabbed my clothes off the counter, tugged on a pair of faded, ripped jeans and one of Dancer’s old, faded tee-shirts, a white one with HOLY SHIFT, LOOK AT THE ASYMPTOTE ON THAT MOTHERFUNCTION! emblazoned on the front. Wearing his clothes made me feel like a part of him was here with me, although I wasn’t sure he’d be particularly impressed with my life. Lately it positively brimmed with…routine. Epic adventures were a thing of the past, Fae battles forbidden.
Sighing, I retrieved the sword that I wasn’t allowed to use for its universe-given purpose from its perch within reach of the shower.