Authors: Marcella Burnard
Her body insisted that too much of him remained in the form of his biology.
Isa screwed up her courage and set fingers on the back of one of his bloody hands. “Murmur?”
He sucked in an audible breath.
A hollow echo of ebony power flashed into her. He’d exhausted his magic, something she hadn’t thought would be possible.
Golden magic soared to meet what did remain, to entwine sunshine and darkness. Fireflies dancing at midnight.
Her breath caught.
Murmur was back.
Murmur groaned and turned his hand to capture Isa’s. He pulled.
“More,” he rasped.
“More what? You look like hell,” she whispered, resisting. “Smell a little like it, too. You were fine when you came to heal me. You were supposed to be well taken care of.”
“I wasn’t fine,” he countered. “I don’t know how.”
To be human? To be free?
“Come with me,” she ordered, tugging on his hand.
He shook his head, clearly exhausted.
When first he’d been put on her, he’d fed her his strength so they could escape Daniel’s prison. Surely she could return that favor. Get him on his feet?
Dipping into the river of power running through her, she brought magic into her body. She directed it into him.
He sucked in an audible breath and groaned. His hand tightened. He opened his eyes to stare into hers.
The shock of meeting Murmur’s gaze inside Daniel’s body tingled all the way through her.
Desire clouded his emerald eyes and Isa recalled how it had impacted him the last time she’d turned magic upon him—though he’d been in her body at the time, not Daniel’s.
His fingers caressing her jaw jolted heat straight through her core.
“Can you stand?” she rasped. “I have to get you out of here before Steve shows up.”
He grunted and accepted her tug up. He closed with her, still holding her hand, and followed her up the stairs.
“We’ll get you cleaned up. When was the last time you had something to eat?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
Apparently, there was a lot about being human that wasn’t as self-evident as it ought to have been.
Troy had spilled the news.
Nathalie hovered behind the reception desk, eyeing the door when they emerged. Her stare went straight to Murmur and her eyes widened. She finally glanced at Isa. She grimaced an apology. Her lips pressed thin in implied promise.
They’d keep their mouths shut.
Isa nodded and led Murmur out the door.
He knew the way to her apartment as well as she did. Though it took another dose of magic to get him up the stairs to her apartment door.
“They won’t know you in this body,” Isa warned when Gus’s tags jingled on the other side of the door. They’d only just started to get to know him in her body.
“Your animals didn’t know Daniel?”
“He was before their time.”
“You wanted to be free,” Isa said.
“I am free.”
“Not if you shackle yourself to me.” But neither was he free if he had no idea how to survive in the world. Maybe she hadn’t released a demon upon her world so much as she’d abandoned him to it.
She opened the apartment door.
Gus, his hackles up, looked from Isa to Murmur and back to her. He crept closer, his nose working. He sneezed. Then his tail wagged once, thumping against the wall. The fur between his shoulders settled into place.
“You need a shower first. I’ll get food started. We’ll have to come up with clothes because you cannot go on wearing those. Are those the clothes Daniel was wearing three weeks ago?”
She bit back the demand of why he hadn’t asked for help sooner. She suspected she knew the answer. It had taken three weeks of privation to erode his pride.
Three weeks in the clothes Daniel had died in. Her skin crawled. “Right. Those get burned. Come on. Strip. Put the clothes outside the bathroom door. I’ll deal with them.”
She marched into the bathroom, turned on the tap in the bathtub, showed him how to adjust the water temperature, and left him standing in the middle of her fuzzy rust bath mat.
The buzzer for the downstairs door sounded.
Isa pushed the intercom button. “Hello?”
“California roll delivery.” The intercom rendered Nathalie’s alto as tinny and remote.
Isa buzzed her in. Not that she needed it. Nat had a key, since she often helped take care of Ikylla and Gus. She’d spent the six weeks Isa had been missing living in the apartment. She loved them, too. So even though she often came up to feed the critters and walk Gus under the guise of helping Isa, they both knew it was the only time Nathalie got to spend with the dog and cat.
Isa unlocked the front door when Nat’s footfall reached the landing.
Gus galumphed to the front door, tags jangling, and danced in circles as Nathalie poked her head in and glanced around before coming all the way in.
“Shower,” Isa said, tilting her head in the direction of her bedroom door.
“Here,” Nathalie said, thrusting the container of sushi at her, then bent down to thump Gus’s rib cage. “You need anything else? Are you going to be okay?”
The dog flopped over on the entryway stone, begging for a belly rub.
Nat complied, but shot a glance up at Isa.
She nodded. “I’m okay. He’s exhausted. I’m in triage mode. Then we’ve got to figure out what went wrong. He was supposed to take over Daniel’s life.”
“That would have made sense,” Nathalie said. “I’m guessing that since he didn’t, there’s some complication?”
“What can I do to help?”
“I don’t know yet,” Isa said. “And I don’t know what he’ll allow me to do to help.”
“Yeah, Troy said he was being uncharacteristically nice.” Nathalie pulled one of her blue curls and frowned. “Why didn’t you tell us, Ice?”
Isa barked a laugh. “Would you have believed me? I barely believed me.”
She grinned. “You’re the one with all the magic. You should be used to weird shit.”
“Weird shit is finding exactly what you’re looking for when you go searching for it,” Isa countered, referring to Oki’s particular manifestation of magical ability. “I don’t think there’s a classification for what’s happened to me this year.”
“I get that,” Nat said, giving Gus a final pat and standing. “And you know, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to believe you if you’d told me Murmur had taken over Daniel. But I sure would have liked the opportunity to try.”
She pressed her lips together, smiled, and nodded.
“Right,” Nathalie said. She sighed and turned to the door.
“Thanks for the food,” Isa said.
She left, pulling the door closed behind her.
Isa threw the bolt and took the food to the table. Maybe she could find a can of soup to supplement the sushi.
In the bedroom, Ikylla meowed a strident, demanding cry.
“What is it, baby girl?” Isa asked, crossing to the bedroom door.
The cat sat outside the closed bathroom door, glaring at the handle. When the cat saw Isa, she meowed again, and stood up against the door, tapping the knob with her paw.
Gus sauntered in and joined forces with the cat, parking his butt in front of the door, a beseeching look on his red-and-white face.
“Murmur doesn’t need your help in the shower,” she said. She scooped up his filthy, stinking clothes. Trying not to let them touch her more than they had to, she carted them out to the entryway, then went for a plastic trash bag that would seal in the reek. She hoped.
She didn’t know what made her go through his pockets. Habit? The patently crazy notion that he must have something to his name?
But there was a thin, black leather business card case. It contained five of Daniel’s cards and one business card that made her catch in a sharp breath.
He could be the answer to Murmur’s problems.
Isa grimaced. And the beginning of hers. She didn’t have to call him. She could clothe and feed Murmur without . . . she cut off the thought.
Daniel had resources. Money. A business. A penthouse condo downtown. Things that would facilitate Murmur’s pursuit of freedom.
For him, Isa could suck up her neediness and make a single phone call.
Determination didn’t keep her hands from shaking as she dialed the lawyer’s office. She could at least leave a message. No lawyer worked at ten o’clock at night.
The line rang, clicked, rang again, and picked up.
Isa started. “Oh. I—Sorry. Mr. Delmedico, this is Isa Romanchzyk. Perhaps you remember me.”
“Ms. Romanchzyk,” the lawyer said. “You were making baseless accusations against a client of mine as I recall. And now you have my confidential phone number. You are an inconvenience, aren’t you? I’m sorry I don’t have time to—”
“That client you mentioned is in my apartment,” she said, interrupting his attempt to brush her off.
“Ms. Romanchzyk, would you repeat that?” he finally said, a thick blanket of wariness cloaking his tone.
“Daniel Alvarez showed up at my door, his clothes dirty and torn, as if he’s slept on the streets for the past three weeks,” Isa said. “He’s exhausted. He asked for help.”
“Where is he now?”
“In my shower.”
Another stretch of silence.
Did she get points for rendering Daniel’s high-priced lawyer speechless twice in one day?
“In your shower.”
“He smelled like a dog who found something dead to roll in,” she said. “He’s in the shower and his clothes are in the trash.”
“Ms. Romanchzyk,” Delmedico said, “if you still believe Mr. Alvarez kidnapped you, why didn’t you call the police when he arrived?”
She crossed to stare out the window at the street below shining in the streetlights. The clouds had coalesced enough to rain, it seemed. “That’s harder to explain.”
She swallowed “fuck off.” Murmur needed this man’s help. If she wanted to be a part of helping Murmur learn to be human, she’d have to pretend she knew how to play well with others. Especially her enemies.
“You may be aware that there was an event a few weeks ago that resulted in the deaths of a number of police officers, healthcare workers, and a pair of gang members,” she said.
“I don’t have details,” he replied, “but yes.”
“Daniel was there.”
“Are you making yet another accusation, Ms. Romanchzyk?”
“Stating fact,” she snapped, trying to think how best to frame what had happened when Daniel had died and Murmur had taken over his body. She had to keep the lies small. “He saved my life.”
“Now that’s interesting.”
“I thought so, too,” she said. “I don’t know how much you know about magic, but we both took a big hit when the spell in the room blew apart.”
“When you blew the spell apart, you mean?”
“I guess you do have a few details, don’t you, Mr. Delmedico.”
“Ms. Romanchzyk, why did you call me and not the police? Or an ambulance?”
“He isn’t physically injured,” Isa said. “The episode three weeks ago changed things, Mr. Delmedico. Daniel changed. You understand that the spell I blew apart was pulling Living Tattoos off their hosts, right?”
“I didn’t know the police had reached a determination on what the spell had been for,” he said.
She suppressed a groan. Nice going, Ice, putting out a detail the police had undoubtedly been withholding until they had a suspect in the case. Never mind that she’d done her damnedest to lock the guilty party out of this world.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d pretend I never said anything about it,” she countered. “Daniel had Live Ink. When I blew that spell, his Ink had come off of him. The tattoo is gone. Daniel is changed. I can only assume that surviving the unraveling of his Ink has done some mental or emotional damage.”
“He seems disoriented. Confused. It’s like he doesn’t remember who or what he is. I called you because if anyone can discreetly help him recover from the trauma of losing his tattoo, it’s you.”
“I see,” the lawyer said.
Isa heard the creak of what she suspected was leather as he leaned back.
“I should put this phone call down to what? Professional courtesy?”
“If it makes you feel better,” she allowed.
“What would you call it?”
“Look. Are you going to help out or not?”
“Ms. Romanchzyk, I’m a lawyer,” he said. “When you call me for help, it’s from a legal standpoint.”
“From a legal standpoint, do you want me to be the one taking Daniel back to his penthouse and leaving him there alone while he recovers from magical injuries?”
“You said he wasn’t injured.”
“Three weeks ago, he was injured physically. We both were. When I blew the spell apart, our physical injuries healed,” Isa said.
Something a missing friend, Patty, had once said rang through her head.
You think Daniel is your biggest problem. You’re wrong.
No one else needed to know what Murmur had taught her to heal.
“Everyone inside the hold of that ship took injury from the shrapnel of the spell,” Isa said.
“You don’t seem confused or disoriented, Ms. Romanchyk.”
“My injury manifests differently. My point is that I didn’t call an ambulance because Daniel’s magical injury isn’t something that can be treated by a doctor. As for not calling the police . . . jail isn’t very good at healing magical injury, either. I’d hoped you would bring him a change of clothes and then take him home, where you could help him remember how to be him. Preferably before the police find out he’s here and come to arrest him. In his current state, he won’t be able to handle questioning.”
“Why did he not call me?”
“Think of this as a head injury. He has a unique form of amnesia. He remembers who he is. He remembers parts of his life. But there are gaps where the shards of exploding magic sliced through his synapses. He’s perfectly capable of re-forming those synapses, but it will be a process of having someone like you filling in the gaps for him. That’s the long way of saying that he had your number in his pocket, but he couldn’t remember that you were someone who could help him.”
“You’re an older memory,” the lawyer guessed. “One that wasn’t damaged and that’s what brought him to your door?”
“That was my guess,” she lied. “If the police find him here in his current state, he’ll go to prison or a mental hospital. I don’t think he’ll survive either.”
“Aren’t you’re dating a police officer?” Delmedico finished for her. “I’ll be right there.”
He hung up.
The water shut off.
Isa set her phone on the table and took a single step toward the bedroom door as if drawn. She grabbed hold of one of the chairs, resisting the pull.