The door burst open and Derek charged into the room, followed by two female shapeshifters.
I held out the maps. "Here. That's twice in one day. You owe me."
Derek took the maps from my hands and sniffed them, while the two women checked the window.
"He's gone," the younger woman said.
Derek's face trembled in fury. "I'm going to find him. Nobody does that to us twice."
"What's going on?" Curran stepped into the room.
Derek paled. Good luck explaining that monumental breach of security.
Bran snapped into the room in a corkscrew of mist, jerked my robe open and down to clamp my shoulders, and kissed me. His teeth clicked against mine. I kneed him, but he expected it and blocked with his leg. He realized his tongue wouldn't make it into my mouth and let go. "I'll still get you," he promised.
Curran lunged at him and caught tendrils of mist.
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
"Did he hurt you?" Curran said.
If my eyes could shoot lightning, I would've fried him on the spot. "Depends on how you define hurt. What kind of show are you running here, anyway?"
"Very impressive," I told him. "He can't hear you."
I pulled my robe shut, again, climbed into my bed, and covered myself with my blanket. I had had entirely enough embarrassment for one night.
I WOKE UP BECAUSE SOMEONE WAS WATCHING ME. I opened my eyes and saw Julie's face an inch from mine. We looked at each other for a long minute.
"You're not going to die?" she asked me very softly.
"Not right this minute." And, of course, saying something like that usually resulted in immediate demise. I braced myself for a stray meteorite falling through the roof to crush my skull.
"That's good," she said in a voice that suggested anything but happiness.
She crawled on my bed, and curled up in a corner, hands fastened over her knees.
"I got scared. I get scared when Mom goes to work." She put her head on her hands. "And when Red leaves."
"That's a hard way to live."
"I can't help it."
I didn't know what to say. Kids don't usually understand death. They feel immortal and secure. Julie understood the full extent of death the way an adult would, and she couldn't deal with it. And I didn't know how to help her.
"There is something you said to Red that I wanted to ask you about." If I just could figure out the right way to do it. "You said you would give him what you had. What did you mean?"
She shrugged. "Sex. Red knows a ritual that would give him my powers if I do sex with him."
I stared at her, speechless. There were so many things wrong with what she said that my brain experienced a momentary shutdown.
"I don't need it. It's not a big thing. So I can see magic's colors, so what? If I give it to him, he'll be stronger and he can protect us both. I'd do it now, but he wants to wait. He says if we do it when I get fully grown, he'd get more power."
"Julie, do you trust me?"
The question caught her by surprise. "Yeah."
I took a deep breath. "There is no spell that transfers power from one person to another."
"Let me finish." I sat up and tried my best to adopt an even tone of voice. "There is a witch spell that lets you mimic someone's powers for a little while. And yes, it involves sex, and yes, you can do it in such a way as to make the other person think that their powers are gone, but they aren't. Not really. Your power is who you are. It's in your blood, it's in your bones; it's in every cell of your body. That's why people burn their bandages, because their magic lingers in their blood even after it's separated from their bodies." That's why if anybody ever got their hands on my bloody bandage, I'd have to kill them.
She opened her mouth.
"Let me tell you something about the spell. It's called mirror lock. You know how sex works?"
For a second she struggled between proving to me that I was full of shit and wanting to show off her adult knowledge. The need to impress won. "Yeah. The man puts his stuff..."
"...penis into the woman."
"And what happens at the end?"
"And what causes orgasm in a man?" Kate Daniels, the sex-ed specialist. Kill me, somebody.
"Sperm comes out. He ejaculates."
"That's how you get pregnant." She nodded.
"Now remember that blood has magic? Well, sperm has magic, also. It's the man's seed and it's very potent. Lots of magic. The way mirror lock works, the witch, a woman, has sex with the man. His seed is now in her body and it can stay alive in there for up to five days. As long as the seed lives, she can use this seed to mimic the man's powers. Those powers won't be that strong, but if she has done everything right, she will have them. Now at the same time while she and the man are having sex, she casts spells that numb the man's senses and make him very tired. He feels weak. He can try to do magic, but he doesn't feel his own power. And then the spells wear off and he's back to normal."
I've run across the mirror lock twice, and both times the victims had killed the witches responsible. It was a nasty spell, used almost always for the wrong reasons.
"Do you understand now why it only works when a woman is casting it? The woman's fluids simply don't enter the man's body in a large enough amount for the spell to work the other way."
I watched it sink in. I wished we could have stopped right there.
"Somebody, probably a witch, told Red about the spell. It's a dangerous spell, Julie. Many things can go wrong. Red knows enough about magic to figure out that it's risky and, if he stopped to think about it long enough, he would also figure out that it can only work one way. But he wants the power so much, he didn't even think about it. He jumped on that chance."
She got a hint of where I was headed. "Red loves me!"
"Red loves power more. What kind of boyfriend is he that he would try to rob you of your power? To use you this way? Sex is..." I struggled for words. "It's an intimate thing. A loving thing, or at least it should be, God damn it. You should do it because you want to make the other person and yourself happy."
She was blinking back tears. "If I gave him my power, it would make him happy and then I'd be happy!"
It's good that Red was hiding somewhere far away, because if I could get my hands on him right this second, I'd wring his little neck.
"You're a sensate. One in ten thousand. You and your mom always worry about money, right? Julie, with a little training, you could make three or four times as much as I do within a couple of years. People will bring you money in truckloads. They will pay for you to go to school, just so you could tell them what color of magic something is. But even if you had the most useless power in the world, even if all you could do was to make a fart sound with a flick of your fingers, I would still tell you the same thing. You shouldn't give up what you are to make somebody else happy."