Jaenelle sniffed. "He says growing up is hard work."
Daemon smiled sympathetically. "It is that."
"He says every living thing struggles to emerge from its cocoon or shell in order to be what it was meant to be. He says to dance for the glory of Witch is to celebrate life. He says it's a good thing we'reall different or Hell would be a dreadfully boring place."
Daemon laughed, but he wasn't about to be sidetracked. "Teach me." It was an arrogant command softened only by the gentle way he said it.
She was there. Instantly. But in a way he'd never experienced before. He felt her sense his confusion, felt her cry of despair at his reaction.
"Wait," Daemon said sharply, raising one hand. "Wait."
Jaenelle was still linked to him. He felt the quick beating of her heart, the nervous breathing. Cautiously, he explored.
She wasn't inside the first barrier, where thoughts and feelings were open for perusal, and yet this was more than the simple inner communication link the Blood used. And it was more than the physical monitoring he usually did in bed. This was sharing physical experience. He felt her hair brushing against her cheek as if it were his own, felt the texture of her dress against her skin.
Oh, the possibilities of this kind of link during . . .
"Okay," he said after a while, "I think I've got the feel of it. Now what?" His face burned as she watched him warily.
At last she said, "Now we walk on air."
It was queer to feel that his legs were both long and short, and it took him a couple of tries to stand on the bench again. Amused, he just shook his head at her puzzled expression. Naturally, if all the other friends had been children, they were probably all close to the same age and the same size. And the same gender? He pushed that thought away before he had time to feel jealous.
After that, it was amazingly simple, and he reveled in it. He learned by experiencing her movements. It was similar to floating an object on air, except you did it to yourself. They practiced straight walking parading around the alcove. Next came straight up and down. Pretending to climb stairs took longer to get the hang of, since he wanted a distance more compatible with his own legs and kept tripping on nothing.
Then the link was gone, and he was standing on air, alone, with Jaenelle watching him, her eyes shining with pride and pleasure. When he lowered himself to the ground with a graceful flourish, she clapped her hands in delight.
Daemon opened his arms. Jaenelle skated to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. He held her tightly, his face buried in her hair. "Thank you," he said hoarsely. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Daemon." Her voice was a lovely, sensuous caress.
Holding her so close, with his lips so near her neck, he didn't want to let her go, but caution finally won over desire.
He didn't push her away. Rather, he gently held her shoulders and stepped back. "We'd better get back before someone comes looking."
Jaenelle's happy glow dimmed. She carelessly dropped to the ground. "Yes." She looked at the bed of witchblood. "Yes." She walked out of the alcove, not waiting for him.
Daemon stayed for another minute. Better not to come in together. Better not to make it obvious. To keep her safe, he had to be careful.
He glanced at the witchblood and bolted from the alcove. As he glided along the garden paths, his face settled into its familiar cold mask, the happiness he'd felt a few minutes before honing the blade of his temper so sharp he could have made the air bleed.
If you sing to them correctly, they'll tell you the names of the ones who are gone.
Everything has a price.
Whatever the price, whatever he had to do, he would make sure one of those plants wasn't for her.
Daemon pulled the bright, deep-red sweater over his head and adjusted the collar of the gold-and-white-checked shirt. Satisfied, he studied his reflection. His eyes were butter melted by humor and good spirits, his face subtly altered by the relaxed, boyish grin. The change in his appearance startled him, but after a moment he just shook his head and brushed his hair.
The difference was Jaenelle and the incalculable ways she worried, intrigued, fascinated, incensed, and delighted him. More than that, now, when he was so long past it, she was giving him—the bored, jaded Sadist—a childhood. She colored the days with magic and wonder, and all the things he'd ceased to pay attention to he saw again new.
He grinned at his reflection. He felt like a twelve-year-old. No, not twelve. He was at least a sophisticated fourteen. Still young enough to play with a girl as a friend, yet old enough to contemplate the day he might sneak his first kiss.
Daemon shrugged into his coat, went into the kitchen, pinched a couple of apples from the basket, sent Cook a broad wink, and gave himself up to a morning with Jaenelle.
The garden was buried under several inches of dry snow that puffed around his legs like flour. He followed the smaller footprints that walked, hopped, skipped, and leaped along the path. When he reached the small bend that mostly took him out of sight of anyone looking out the upper windows of the house, the footprints disappeared.
Daemon immediately checked all the surrounding trees and let out a gusty sigh of relief when she wasn't in any of them. Had she backed up in her own tracks waiting for him to pass her?
Grinning, he gathered some snow in his gloved hands, but it was too fluffy and wouldn't pack. As he straightened up, something soft hit his neck. He yowled when the clump of snow went down his back.
Daemon pivoted, his eyes narrowing even as his lips twitched. Jaenelle stood a few feet from him, her face glowing with mischief and good fun, her arm cocked to throw the second snowball. He put his fists on his hips. She lowered her arm and looked at him from beneath her lashes, trying to look solemn as she waited for the tongue-lashing.
He gave her one. "It is totally unfair," he said in his most severe voice, "to engage in a snowball fight when only one combatant can make snowballs." He waited, loving the way her eyes sparkled. "Well?"
Even without reading the thoughts beneath it, he could tell her touch was filled with laughter. Daemon bent down, gathered some snow, and learned how to make a snowball from snow too fluffy to pack. This, too, was similar to a basic lesson in Craft—creating a ball of witchlight—yet it required a subtler, more intrinsic knowledge of Craft than he'd ever known anyone to have.
"Did the Priest teach you how to do this?" he asked as he straightened up, delighted with the perfect snowball in his hand.
Jaenelle stared at him, aghast. Then she laughed. "Noooo." She quickly cocked her arm and hit him in the chest with her snowball.