Cold Days
Page 22

 Jim Butcher

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After our dance, Mab returned to her high seat and surveyed the chamber through barely open eyes, a distant figure, now garbed in pure white and untouchable again. As my head came out of the cold, numb clarity of wielding Winter, the aches and pains the Redcap had given me began to resurface in a big way. Fatigue began piling up, and when I looked around for a place to sit down, I found Cat Sith sitting nearby, his wide eyes patient and opaque.
"Sir Knight," the malk said. "You do not suffer fools." There was the faintest hint of approval in his tone. "What is your need?"
"I've had enough party," I said. "Would it inconvenience the Queen for me to depart?"
"If she wished you to stay, you would be at her side," Cat Sith replied. "And it would seem that you have introduced yourself adequately."
"Good. If you do not mind," I said, "please ask Sarissa to join me."
"I do not mind," Cat Sith said in a decidedly approving tone. He vanished into the party and appeared a few moments later, leading Sarissa. She walked steadily enough, though she still had my handkerchief pressed to her mouth.
"You want to get out of here?" I asked her.
"It's a good idea," she said. "Most of the VIPs left after your dance. Things will . . . devolve from here."
"Devolve?" I asked.
"I don't care to stay," she said, her tone careful. "I would prefer to leave."
I frowned, and then realized that she was trying to get a read on me. I simultaneously became acutely aware of a number of Sidhe ladies who were . . . I would say "lurking" except that you don't generally use that word with someone so beautiful. There were half a dozen of them, though, who were staying nearby, and whose eyes were tracking me. I felt disconcertingly reminded of a documentary I'd once seen about lionesses involved in a cooperative hunt. There was something about them that was very similar.
One, a ravishing dark-haired beauty wearing leather pants and strategically applied electrical tape, stared hard at me and, when she saw me looking, licked her lips very, very slowly. She trailed a fingertip over her chin, down across her throat, and down over her sternum and gave me a smile so wicked that its parents should have sent it to military school.
"Oh," I said, understanding. Despite my fatigue, my throat felt dry and my heart revved up a bit. "Devolving."
"I'll go," Sarissa said. "I don't expect anything from you simply because we arrived together."
A Sidhe lady with deep indigo blue hair had sidled up to Miss Electrical Tape, and the two slid their arms around each other, both staring at me. Something inside me-and I'd be lying if I said that none of it was mine-let out a primal snarl and advised me to drag both of them back to mycave by the hair and do whatever I damned well pleased with them. It was an enormously powerful impulse, something that made me begin to shift my balance, to take a step toward them. I arrested the motion and closed my eyes.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, they look great, but that isn't a fantasy come true, Harry. That's a wood chipper in Playboy bunny clothing." I shook my head and turned deliberately away from temptation before I opened my eyes again. "We'll both go," I said to Sarissa. "It'd be a bad idea to stay." I offered her my arm.
She frowned thoughtfully at me for a moment before she put her hand on my arm. We left, again preceded by Cat Sith. Once we were in the icy hallways, she asked me, "Why?"
"Why what?"
"Leave," she said. "You wanted to stay. And . . . let's just say that the, ah, appetite of Sidhe ladies has never been overstated. And nothing excites them more than violence and power. There are men who would literally kill to have the opportunity you just passed up."
"Probably," I said. "Morons."
"Then why turn it down?" she asked.
"Because I'm not a goddamned sex doll."
"That's a good reason to avoid attention that is forced on you," she said. "But that isn't what happened. Why pass up what they were offering?"
We walked for a while before I answered. "I've already made one choice that . . . that took everything away from me," I said. "I don't know how much longer I'll be around, or how much of a life I can make for myself now. But I'm going to live as much of it as I can as my own man. Not somebody's prison bitch. Not the flavor of the day."
"Ah," she said, and frowned faintly.
I blinked several times and suddenly realized what she'd been trying to find out. "Oh. You're wondering if I turned them down because I was planning to have you instead."
She gave me an oblique look. "I wouldn't have phrased it that way."
I snorted. "I'm not."
She nodded. "Why not?"
"Does it matter?" I asked.
"Why always matters."
It was my turn to give Sarissa an appraising look. "Yeah, it does."
"So, why not?"
"Because you aren't a goddamned sex doll, either."
"Even if I were willing?" she asked.
My stomach jumped a little at that. Sarissa was attractive as hell, and I liked her. I'd made her smile and laugh on occasion. And it had been a while.
Man, story of my life. It seems like it's almost always been a while.
But you have to think about more than what is going to happen in the next hour.