Chapter 18"That's not funny," I said. "Seems like a reasonable question." I looked at him and then wrapped my arms around myself. "Is that all you're going to say?" "I…I don't really know what else to say." "This is the part where you yell at me." His eyebrows rose. "Oh, I see. I didn't know this was already scripted out. " "That's not what…look. I slept with someone else. And not just slept. I didn't have to do it…not the way I have to with humans. You get that, right?" "Yes," he said, still dead calm. "And I wasn't drunk or anything. Tipsy maybe, but still in control of my senses." "Yes." "So aren't you mad?" "Stunned is the dominant emotion at the moment. Finding out someone impersonated you is almost more troubling than the sex part." "He didn't impersonate you, perse…I mean, I knew it was him." "I know. But it's still weird." When he fell silent again, I could only stare with incredulity. He caught my look and retuned it. "What do you want?" This time he did sound annoyed, almost angry. "Do you want me to be mad? Will that like…punish you or something? Is that what you want?"
I said nothing and realized that was exactly what I wanted. I had read a book once where a guy accidentally killed a girl while driving drunk. His powerful family had managed to keep him out of jail, and he'd hated it. He'd wanted the cleansing catharsis of real punishment, of paying for his crimes. Right now, I needed the same thing."I deserve it," I told Seth.
His voice was cold. "Well, I'm not going to give it to you right now. You can't dictate what I feel. Sorry." My mouth started to drop open, unsure what to do with this turn of events. The ringing of my cell phone interrupted my rumination. I glanced at my purse, then let the phone go to voice mail. A moment later, it rang again."You should answer it," Seth told me.
I didn't want to talk to anyone. I wanted to crawl into a hole. But I got the phone and read the display. No one I recognized. Sometimes that was Jerome. If I didn't answer, the demon was likely to teleport on over, and that was quite possibly the only thing that could make this scenario worse."I'm sorry," I said softly to Seth, just before I answered. I didn't know if I was apologizing for the interruption or what I'd done with Bastien. "Hello?" "Hey, Georgina. This is Wyatt." It took me a moment. From Doug's band. "Hey, how's it going?" "Bad. I didn't know who else to call. I'm at the hospital with Doug. " My heart stopped. "Oh my God. What happened?" "He, uh, took some pills." "What kind of pills?" "Not sure. But he took a whole bottle of them." Wyatt's news spurred Seth and me to action. It was funny how tragedy could override anger. Whatever unresolved issues ensnared us, we put them on hold as I drove us downtown.
Wyatt had briefly told the rest of the story as I'd left my apartment at a run. Alec hadn't come through with his latest shipment. Doug had crashed again, plunging into that frightening darkness I'd observed before. Wyatt didn't entirely know what had triggered the overdose. He blamed everything from a suicidal urge to a desperate attempt at recapturing the high through other means. The emergency room had pumped his stomach, and the doctor said he was okay for now, but he hadn't yet regained consciousness. Wyatt had called me because Doug had no family here, and no one knew how to contact the ones who lived out of town.Corey and Min were there when we arrived. They elaborated a bit more for us and said there was no change in Doug's condition. Seth stayed silent, but I could tell he was as concerned as I was.
I asked if I could see Doug, and a nurse told me I could. I entered the room alone and found him asleep, hooked up to tubes and a bleeping machine. I had watched medical technology change over the years, from leeches to defibrillators, but that didn't mean I felt comfortable with any of it. Machines that kept people alive rubbed me the wrong way. They weren't natural, even if they did good.
"Oh, Doug," I murmured, sitting at his bedside.
His skin was pale, his hand cold and clammy. The bleeping machine
registered a steady heartbeat, so that was something. None of the
other readouts meant anything to me.
I watched him, feeling helpless. Mortals, I thought, were fragile things, and there was nothing I could do about that.
Many, many years ago, Bastien and I had worked at a dance hall in Paris. Dancers in those days were almost always prostitutes too, but I hadn't minded. The opportunity had provided me with both succubus energy and monetary income. Bastien had been a bouncer and ostensibly my lover. This allowed him to sing my praises, bolstering my reputation and sending me a large clientele.
"There's a young man who shows up every night," the incubus told me one day. "He has 'virgin' stamped all over him, but he's rich too. I've talked to him a few times. He doesn't like the idea of paying for sex, but he's completely obsessed with you."
The news pleased me, and when Bastien pointed out the gentleman, I made a lot of eye contact with him throughout the performance. Sure enough, a manservant of his discretely solicited me on behalf of his employer afterward, and I hurried to prepare myself backstage."Josephine," called a voice beside me. I turned and saw another dancer, an especial friend of mine named Dominique. "Hey," I told her, grinning. "I have a nice prospect I've got to get to." Her grim face made me pause. "What's wrong?"
Dominique was small and blond, with an almost waifish appearance that made her look like she wasn't getting enough to eat. That wasn't a surprise, however. None of us in that profession ever got enough to eat."Josephine…" she murmured, blue eyes wide. "I need your help. I think…I think I'm pregnant." I stopped in my tracks. "Are you sure?" "Pretty sure. I…I don't know what to do. I need this job. You know I do." I nodded. From the wings, Jean—the man who took cuts from our liaisons—yelled at me to hurry up and meet my young man. I gave Dominique a quick hug. "I have to go do this. I'll find you later, okay? We'll figure something out."
But I never really got a later. The young man,Etienne,proved to be adorable. He was much younger than my apparent age, and engaged to be married. He was torn on the issue of sex. Part of him felt he needed to be pure for his bride; the other part wanted to be experienced on his wedding night. That was the part that won out, the part that brought him to my bed and gave me the succubus bonus of both a moral corruption and an energy yield.He resented me for both my lifestyle and my hold over him, but that didn't stop him from coming back every day for the next few weeks. "I hate you for this," he told me one day after we'd been together. He lay back against the sheets, in a sweaty, postcoital repose. I stood near the bed, putting my clothes on while he watched. "Marry me." I laughed out loud, tossing my hair—then honey blond and curly—over one shoulder. He flushed angrily. He had dark eyes and hair and a perennially brooding look. "Is that funny?" "Only because you hate me in one breath and love me in the other." I smiled as I laced up my undergarments. "I suppose there are a lot of marriages like that." "Not everything's a joke," he said. "Maybe not," I agreed. "But this comes pretty close." "Are you turning me down?" I pulled my dress over my head. "Of course I am. You have no idea what you're asking. It's ridiculous." "You treat me like I'm a child sometimes," he declared, sitting up straighten "You're not that much older than me. You have no right to act so wise…especially since you're a…"
I grinned at him. "A whore?" He had the grace to look embarrassed. "And that, sweeting, is the problem. Never mind your family's scandalized reaction. Even if we managed to pull it off, you'd never get over that. You'd spend the rest of our marriage—which would probably be short-lived—obsessing about all the men I'd been with. Wondering if one of them had been better. Wondering if I'd done something with them that you thought was new and novel with you."Angry, he stood up and pulled on his pants. "I would have thought you'd be grateful." "Flattered," I said coldly, "but nothing more."
That wasn't entirely true. The truth was, despite his youthful certainty and mood swings, I likedEtienne. Alot. Something about him appealed to me. Maybe it was because all that emotionality and pride came from an artistic nature. He painted as a hobby. There it was again, my unfortunate obsession with creative men. Luckily, at that time in my life, I had enough sense to avoid deep entanglements with humans."I wish you could choose who you love," he said bitterly. "Because I wouldn't choose you, you know. But, here we are. I can't stop thinking about you. I feel like there's some pull to you I can't fight." "I'm sorry," I said gently, surprised at the small ache in my heart. "Wait until you're married. Your wife will make you forget all about me." "No. She doesn't even compare." "Plain?" Egotistical of me, perhaps, but I heard it a lot. "Boring," he replied.
Then I'd heard a scream, a bloodcurdling, horror-filled scream. I forgot all aboutEtienneand tore out of the small, dank room. Down the hall I ran until I found a congregation of people and the source of distress.It was Dominique. She sprawled over a narrow pallet, lying in blood. "My God," I gasped, kneeling beside her. "What happened?"
But I already knew. I didn't need the forthcoming explanation from the other dancers. I had neglected her pleas for help a couple weeks ago, caught up in my own whirlwind romance. So she had sought her own solution, as so many lower-class women often did. Unfortunately, there were no machines or sanitizing in those days. An abortion was a dangerous, often deadly, business."Oh God," I said again. I had never lost the need to appeal to my creator, despite my theoretical renouncement. I clutched her hand, not knowing what to do. A half-dressedEtienneappeared in the crowd. I looked up at him desperately. "You have to go get a doctor. Please."
Whatever injured pride he harbored over my rejection, he couldn't refuse me in that moment. I saw him make motions to leave, but Bastien grabbed his arm. "No, it doesn't matter." To me he said: "She's gone, Fleur."
I looked at Dominique's young face. Her skin was pale, eyes blank and glazed over as they stared at nothing. I knew I should close them, but suddenly I didn't want to touch her. I dropped her hand, slowly backing up, staring in horror.
It was by no means the first time I'd seen a dead body, but something struck me about it then I'd never really considered with such shocking clarity. One moment she was here, the next she wasn't. Oh, the difference one heartbeat could make.
The stink of mortality hung in the air, painting the awful truth about humans. How short their lives were. And fragile. They were like paper dolls among us, turning to ash in the blink of an eye. How many had I seen come and go in over a millennium? How many had I seen pass from infancy to a gray-haired death? The stink of mortality. It threatened to overwhelm the room. How could no one else sense it? I hated it…and I feared it. Feeling suffocated, I backed up further.
Both Bastien andEtiennereached for me in some fumbling attempt at comfort, but I wanted none of it. Dominique, barely out of childhood, had just bled her life away in front of me. What fragile things humans were. I had to get out of there before I became sick. I turned from those who would console me and ran away."What fragile things humans are," I murmured to Doug.
The feeling that welled up within me now as I sat beside him was not sorrow or despair. It was anger. White-hot anger. Humans were fragile, but some of them were still in my care. And whether that was foolish or not on my part, I could not shirk my duty. Doug was one of my humans. And someone had nearly cut his time short.
I stood up, gave his hand a last squeeze, and strode out of the room. From the shocked glances Corey, Min, and Wyatt gave me, I must have looked terrifying. I hit the pause button on my righteous fury when I noticed something. "Where's Seth?""He said he had to go," said Corey. "He left you this." He handed me a scrap of paper with Seth's scrawled writing.
Thetis, I'll talk to you later. I stared at it, suddenly feeling nothing. I went numb. My mind would not allow me to focus on Seth just then. I crumpled the paper up, said good-bye to the band, and left the hospital. When I reached the lobby, I took out my cell phone and dialed."Alec? This is Georgina." "Hey, Georgina!" I heard the anxious note in his voice. Almost desperate. "You were right," I began, hoping I sounded anxious too. "You were right. I need more. Now. Tonight. Can you do it?" "Yes," he said. There was palpable relief in his voice. "Absolutely I can do it."
We set up a meeting spot immediately. It couldn't be too soon for me. I'd been on an emotional roller coaster in the last twenty-four hours, and I was about to take it out on Alec. I couldn't wait. The fact that he seemed so eager for it was icing on the cake."Oh, hey, Georgina?" he asked, just before we disconnected. "Yeah?" His voice sounded strange; I couldn't decipher the emotion. "You have no idea how glad I am you called."