As we left the diner Jess leaned into me and I armed her, extended the umbrella, and the rain smoked on the sidewalk.
In typical Jess fashion, she tries to discuss the scrambled eggs, but even exchanging thoughts requires energy to transmit, and so I can "hear" (if you can even refer to how we're communicating like that) the drowsiness in the voice that sounds in my mind. It is palpable:
The mortals of that tavern lay a fine table, shield carrier, she says in my mind. If only I could sleep. The food, delicious though it was, causes me to drowse. She collapses on a wet bus bench, throws up the hood of her jacket, brings her knees together, and plants her face in her palms. A pox on shadowlords and their ceaseless vexations!
I sit next to her, umbrella extended. Yeah, a pox on shadowlords, I send to her mind. I place my hand on her back, and she shakes it off. Royalty. I'm touching the queen, and she sometimes remembers her status, but I can't help myself sometimes. Sure, in Jess's world she is the Red Queen and I am some strangeness, but to me, in this city, in the rain, she's just a friend in crisis, whose tired, annoyed, scared, confused, and in very real danger. I have a vivid recollection of the color and smell of blood.
You can sleep, Jess. We can find somewhere to sleep. I can get money.
She looks at me. An ambulance screams and howls by and sends a blade of water up and I see the red and white light glimmering on her pale face. Her eyes are too large to be human, and they have changed color. Again. And this time to an unearthly shade of angry (read "red").
You have no sharp sword, shield bearer! Knives wait in shadow!
I sigh. My phone chimes in my pocket. Text message.
"Suit yourself," I say, but to the hooded passerby who scrambles past, I am speaking to myself.