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When Jason finally felt like opening his eye – only one was available, the other pressed against Jane’s warm skin – he saw the line of needles still sticking in her back, like strange little cel-towers on a warm skin-toned landscape. They’d stopped glowing, the tiny filigreed wires spiraling back in to protect the gems now that the healing was done. Jason sat up, seeing Jane and Isabella lying with eyes closed, breathing easily. Down at the foot of the bed Patrick was sitting quietly, looking at the two women, his hands now folded reverently in his lap.
Reaching for the crown of Jane’s head, Jason carefully withdrew the needle, wiping it down with a surgical cleanser before placing them one by one in the inlaid box. After the third one Jane smiled and stirred, turning her head silently to watch Jason. Isabella still rested, eyes closed. Patrick began untying the ropes slowly so as to not disturb her. Both men moved with a careful ritualistic reverence, only stopping on occasion to caress the Jane, who gave soft, happy murmurs at their touch. As the last coil of rope unwound from her calf Jane carefully slid off to the side of her sleeping friend. Now that the magic had calmed, there was a strange, post-orgiastic awkwardness in the room.
“You’re more than a barista, aren’t you, Jason?” Jane asked softly. He didn’t answer. He turned and rummaged some more in the lacquered case at the foot of the bed. Jane watched to see if he would answer, finally sighing and looking over at Isabella. Her wrists and legs were marked with the impressions of the hemp ropes. Her body sprawled lush and relaxed, her mouth slightly-open with a soft snore.
Jane smiled, patting the redhead’s cheek. “Thank god you won’t remember, dear one. I can forgive you, but you’d never forgive yourself…” She glanced with her eyes up to Patrick. “Does Alec know she’s…?”
The big man paused from coiling up the ropes and nodded towards the mic still attached to his shoulder. “Yeah. He knows what’s going on – at least, as much of any of us do.” He looked over at Jason, still studiously avoiding everyone’s eyes as he put away the tools of the Qadishtu. Patrick sighed and continued. “He said he’s glad it worked.” He paused, and the awkwardness filled the room again. “He wants to talk to Isabella…later.” Patrick nodded upward, where the faint sounds of shouting bikers and the occasional crash were still drifting in from the outside chaos. Patrick smiled wearily. “I think he wants to have a little more fun with the Incubikers before coming down to say hi.”
Jane nodded, and winced as the motion sent pain through her broken nose. “Gods damn it,” she muttered to herself, fingering gingerly around the swollen bridge. “That fucker Doukas was right. I’ve got no idea what they did after they dosed me, but Ba’al it hurts…” She noticed Patrick had resumed his kneeling position at the foot of the futon.
Carefully, so as not to aggravate her nose, she propped her head up on a pillow. “So, tall, dark, and rescuey, who the fuck are you?” She shot a glance over at Jasion, who had run out of things to do with the box and was simply sitting, thoughtfully, gazing at the floor. “And what are you and Jason really up to here?” She waved her hand vaguely in his direction and winced again. Jason looked up, grimaced, and reached back into the box to grab some gauze. Jane’s nose had started bleeding again.
Patrick smiled sardonically. “I’m Patrick Troismarteaux, ma’am, and I’ll be your Sex Ninja for this evening.” Jason snorted at that, his moustache poofing out a bit with the exhalation, but he continued be silent as he cleaned Jane’s face. “I’ve been – well, sort of ‘on call’, I guess you’d say – for something like this…” His voice trailed off as he looked at Isabella and Jane, and he shook his head. “Scratch that. Not for anything like this, but for something that – ah, hell. Jason can tell it better. He’s in charge.” He waited for the other man to take up the explanation.
Jason seemed not to notice as he finished wiping the last bit of blood from Jane’s lip. His brow furrowed as he looked down at her. “You know, when I started washing this, your nose was broken. I’m sure of it. And now it’s not even swollen.”
Jane’s face broke into a wide and merry grin. “Would you believe that I’m especially susceptible to the healing power of cum?”
Jason returned her gaze evenly. “I dosed the wrong patient, then.” Now it was Patrick’s turn to snort, and the barista held up a warning finger. “Don’t get cocky, kid, You might need to donate next.” Patrick’s smile abruptly flattened, and he looked down at the floor, as if reminded of an unpleasant memory.
Then he shook his head and looked up. “Damn, Jason. You really know how to kill an afterglow.” Jane gave a soft hmmmph of agreement and Jason yielded an embarrassed shrug. Patrick continued. “Fine, if we’re gonna talk business now, you wanna tell me how a simple recovery mission turned into a fucking spaghetti western?”
“Recovery mission?” Jane asked, turning back to Jason. “You mean you weren’t just out to rescue the fair maidens?” She blinked and put on a fake pout. Her lips were almost completely healed from the earlier abuse.
“No, not just out for you.” Jason still didn’t smile at her . “But you knew that, didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question and he simply waited for her to answer.
Eventually she dropped her gaze, swearing softly. “Fuck. Never was any good at the Innocent.” That made both men snort, and her eyes flashed a wry glare at both of them. “Hey, there was a time – when I was about three, I think – back in – ” she cut herself off, then clumsily added “…back in…where I came from.”
“Where is that exactly, Miss Jane?” Patrick asked softly. “Because Jason and I have seen some pretty freaky stuff, as such things go. It’s kind of what we do, in fact. A merry little ragtag bunch of sex mages, doing our best to stick it to the Man in whatever orifice we can.”
“The Man,” Jane said softly. “There’s always a ‘Man’ who needs sticking, one way or another.” She breathed deeply, and seemed to come to an internal decision. She sat up and reached a hand over to Jason’s arm. “Ok, you’re both right. Especially after what just happened, I owe you something of an explanation.” She squeezed Jason’s arm, looking intently into his eyes, then over to Patrick. “But you both have to understand that there are some things that I simply won’t be able to tell you. Even if I wanted to.” She tapped her head. “I’m…I guess you would say I’m kind of hardwired against it.”
Patrick snapped his fingers, eyes wide with epiphany. “Hardwired! That’s how you did that trick!” Jane looked surprised, then nodded to him as she understood his meaning. He slapped his hand down on his thigh with a loud slap. “God-DAMN that’s cool. Any chance I could – nah, never mind. I know I can’t.”
Jason cleared his throat, impatient to be let in on the secret. Patrick explained. “When I broke in to the compound I caught a glimps of what was going on.” His face lost the wonder and turned grim. “Basically the Doukas brother were beating the shit out of her just for the hell of it. She wasn’t holding back, but she was babbling in some language that sounded kind of Spanish, but wasn’t. Wasn’t Portuguese, either. Had this…round lilt to it…” He looked over at Jane. “Something South American, maybe?” He went on before she could answer. “Whatever it was, it was confusing the hell out of Michael and Tony. They couldn’t figure out why their super truth serum stuff wasn’t working on her.” His grin widened. “But it did work, didn’t it? You answered all of their questions, just not in English. In…something else.”
Jane gave a modest nod, smiling acknowledgement of Patrick’s enthusiasm. “Tagalog, actually.” Her voice sounded tired. “Basically I hardwired my brain so that I heard English but replied like a Filipina. It’s not actually that far beyond…something you have here.” Her brow furrowed. “I think it’s called ‘Neurolingus Programmatica’ or something…”
Jason’s voice was soft. “Neuro Linguistic Programming. What do you mean, ‘over here’, Jane?” His eyes were hard as he leaned forward, reaching out and enveloping her wrists in his large hands. Jane simply sat there calmly, unintimidated by his frustration.
Patrick spoke up. “Take it easy, Jason, buddy, she’s been through a lot – ”
“I’m not gonna take it easy, Patrick!” Jason angrily cut him off. “You know why! We know exactly who can play around with people’s brains like they are rebooting a new operating system.” He glared at Jane, still gripping her wrists. “We also know how much they would want something like this kumir strast’i”
Patrick’s mouth shut abruptly as he listened and his face went flat, eyes darkening as he looked at Jane with a new suspicion. Isabella chose that moment to waken, a loud exhalation pushing through her full lips as she suddenly opened her eyes, rubbing them.
Oblivious to the tension between the other three, she rubbed her eyes and sat up. “Oh, jesus, that was a fucking incredible orgasm.” She beamed down at the foot of the bed. “You, sir, whatever your name is – you have the hands of a god.” She scooted down the futon and threw her arms around Patrick’s neck. As she leaned in to kiss him something in his expression finally clued her into the mood. She looked over her shoulder at Jason, still holding Janes’ wrists in her lap. Her eyes widened and then she sighed, resigned, and gingerly disentangled herself from the big man.
Isabella moved deliberately to the center of the futon and crossed her legs. She looked at each of the others in turn, finally holding up her hands plaintively, “Ok, this is confusing…we did just have fantastic sex together, all full of tantric woo-woo magic and shit, right? Did I just dream that? Because you three look like you’re Jehovah’s Witnesses at Beelzebub’s birthday party.”
In spite of their glares Jason and Jane couldn’t help but smile at that, and even Patrick’s expression lightened a shade. Isabella looked around, encouraged by the thaw in the icy tension. “And by the way, not that I want to seem materialistic, but things kinda got hazy there for a while, and while I don’t really care about my clothes…I’d kinda like to know what happened to my necklace?”
Something about her wide eyes seemed a little forced, her tone pushing the nonchalance a bit beyond credibility, and now Jane’s eyes widened as she turned her head to look at Isabella. “You…bitch!” she murmured, affectionate tone belying the insult. “You knew all along what it was you had!”
Isabella laughed uneasily. “What, my necklace?” She looked away, waving a hand unconvincingly. “Oh, it’s just this little amber thing that I found at a market…”
“Kumir Strast’i.” Jason said, flatly. “The Eidolon of Lust. And when you wore it, people became obsessed with you, didn’t they?”
Her vanity pricked, Isabella sat up straighter, her breasts pushing out round and smooth in the flickering candlelight. “Listen, Mr. Moustache, it’s not my jewelry my fans get obsessed with. They loved me long before I ever got that.”
Jane chuckled, unabashedly appreciating the show. “Yes, darlin’, I’m sure they did. You certainly weren’t accessorized when we fucked in the shower.” Her tongue touched pink to her upper lip for a moment, and her eyes grew distant as she remembered. “But when you wore it, people were different, weren’t they? More than just fans, more like…acolytes, devoting themselves to you.” Her eyes widened, and she clapped her hands suddenly. “You were wearing it when Michael kidnapped you, weren’t you?”
Jason looked surprised, unsure how Jane had escaped his grip, but now it was his turn to swear as he realized. “Of course. That’s why he kept her – he couldn’t really help himself.”
“Yes. That’s what the kumir strast’i does. It removes consent.” Her eyes were filled with a mixture of anger and sadness and fear, all at once. She sighed, as if picking up an unseen but familiar burden. “And that’s why I’m here.” Jane looked back Jason, holding her wrists, her eyes intent on his. “I don’t know what you fight here, qadish. But I believe I know the type. This kumir strast’i came from-“ she paused, trying to work past the blocks that kept her secrets, “the same place I did. It was created by some rather unpleasant people a long time ago. We had it locked away, where we thought it would do no harm.” She grimaced. “Then, of course, some people got lazy and stopped watching, and some idiot went and stole it, and brought it over – um – here.” She saw Jason’s eyes narrow skeptically, and she hurriedly continued. “I know, I know! You want to know where there is, and I wish I could tell you. Hell, with that moustache, I wish I could take you there. We need more of your kind – you’ve got it so good, here.”
“Good?” Patrick spoke up, his voice flat as a knife. “You call what we have here good?” He shook his head ruefully. “Lady, that, more than anything else you’ve said, more than anything we’ve seen, convinces me you are not of this world,” Jane’s eyes widened, and he held up a hand. “Yeah, that’s right, I can say it, even if you all can’t. It’s not that far a stretch, especially for somebody who gobbles up Kameron Hurley books like they were candy.”
Patrick stood suddenly, wincing as his knees cracked from sitting so long. He looked down at Jane and pointed at Jason. “I dunno what it’s like where you come from, sweetie, but that man is the most gifted and power-skilled sex mage I’ve ever met. His fetish channels more energy than anyone I’ve ever seen, and I don’t even know what his fetish is.”
Jason made as if to speak, but Patrick waved him silent. “I’m not done! Like me, he can channel sexual desires, his particular carnal pleasures into power. He can use it – to heal like we did here, to shape events, hell, once I saw him flatten a bear with it at fifty paces.” Patrick kept his voice low but the words seemed to gather density and fill the silence more than any shout. “But the Man doesn’t want people like us having that power. The Man knows that everything is about sex except sex, and as the poet says, sex is about power. The Man wants to control that power, dole it out in pretty little sexy packages that hook people like rats on coke and then jerk the chain, making them dance to the tune of their guilt and shame about what should come naturally.” Patrick’s voice went hoars at the last word as emotion overtook him. Isabella lifted her hand as if to comfort him but paused, afraid to touch the compressed rage and pain that filled the man’s eyes.
Jason finally broke the silence. “Patrick’s a casualty of the war,” he said softly. His eyes were shining with tears as he looked at his friend. “One of the few of his generation still alive, in fact.” He gave a bitter chuckle. “Like me, I guess. Too dumb to lay down and die.”
“Thank the gods for that,” Jane responded fervently, looking up into Jason’s eyes.
He looked down at her, then at his clenched hands, and with a release of breath finally let go. “As if you wouldn’t kick both our asses if it came down to it anyway.”
Jane just smiled and coyly dipped her head as if she was embarrassed, but she didn’t contradict him.
Jason continued, “Patrick and I – and others, scattered all over – qadish, sex mages, leathermen, tantrikas, nawashi, masters, kajirae, whatever people want to call themselves. We do our best to survive, to keep the Man from completely controlling sex, but at best it’s a draw, usually – “
Isabella suddenly pounded her fist into a pillow with a soft thud. “What the fuck are you talking about, Jason? Who the fuck is this ‘the Man’?” Her face was flushed in anger. “Goddamnit, I’ve trusted my son with you, because I thought you were a nice barista. Now you say you’re some kind of sex warrior, a – what was it? Kaddish? I thought that was Jewish or something, and it makes no sense, because I know you’re not circumcised!” As she finished she seemed to hear what she was saying, and her anger fizzled into a helpless giggle that verged on tears.
Jane reached out a hand to stroke her flowing red curls, calming the woman with a soft murmur of comfort. She looked up at Jason, wordlessly asking permission to answer the confused mother. Jason looked surprised, and nodded, curious to see how Jane would explain.
“You know the Man, Isabella. He’s been around, somewhere, all your life. He’s the father who tells his daughter to stop dressing like a slut, the Führer who tells his followers that the different ones need to be killed. The Man is the voice that hates wild beauty and chaos magic and tries to drown it with cement and resin.”
Jason cleared his throat. “Resin?”
“Um…plastic, I mean.”
“Uh-huh.” Jason nodded, slowly. “Well, Isabella, she’s right. Around here, the Man is usually one of those people with the trim haircuts and dark suits earnestly explaining why sluts like us are ruining our culture, why you don’t deserve to be a mother, why you should really wear the burkha and shut your mouth until one of them wants to fuck it.”
“Oh.” Isabella nodded, a sour look on her face. “Yeah, I know that type. Conservative assholes. ”
Jason held up a finger. “Or liberal ones. ‘The Man’ is also a woman, trying to rescue sex workers by creating more laws, or calling the desire to mingle pain and pleasure ‘patriarchy’ when it’s been part of birth since before humans had words for it. She takes the power of what’s natural and twists it into something dirty and shameful.” Abruptly Jason shut his mouth, aware that he was slipping into a rant. He swallowed. “But…that’s just part of it. There is an actual Man behind it all. He uses it to…feed.” Jason swallowed, his voice emptying to a whisper. “We all learn it: Addiction and compulsion are the hands of the Man…”
“ Shame and guilt his tools,” Patrick’s eyes were distant as he continued the words like an incantation.
“And consent his bane,” Jane finished, her voice filled with reverence. “Always.” Jason and Patrick looked surprised, as if they’d not expected her to know the words. Jane ignored them and looked at Isabella. “Isabella, love – were you forced into using your body to make a living?”
Isabella shook her head resolutely. “Hell no. I chose to be a whore! Sure, at first I just wanted to piss off my mom, but hey, I found out I love making porn, making people happy. It’s hard work, but damn if I don’t end up making some beautiful shit.” She smiled ruefully. “Besides, who else gets this kind of money? What was I supposed to try, real estate?” She sighed. “Not for young Ms. Andreini. Nope. Alec supported me at first, and then I got to where I could support him, and my son…” She paused, eyes lost in loving thoughts of her family. Then she focused again on Jane. “When I got the necklace, things just got that much better, that much easier. I mean, not just fans, not just bookings, but everything. People just wanted…to take care of me.”
Jane nodded. “Yes, hon, but not by choice.” Isabella’s shoulders dropped. “It’s ok, honey cunt. You didn’t know.” She tilted her head. “Now that you know what it does – basically the same thing as that fucking brew the Doukas brothers used on us – do you still want it back?”
Isabella looked up, face sad and thoughtful, debating. Finally she sighed and shook her head. “No. Not really.” She sat up straighter, thrusting out her breasts, lifting her chin and raising her hands as if presenting herself. “I mean, if this ain’t doin’ it for them, they’d best go somewhere else, right?”
All three of the others smiled and nodded. Jane laughed softly. “Completely right! Unfortunately, not everybody is as…um, confident in their endowments as you.” She paused a moment, letting her gaze rest on Isabella’s outthrust breasts, and gave a happy sigh. Then she shook her head and looked up again. “That’s why we need to get the kumir strast’i back where it belongs.”
Patrick looked at her sharply. “Not to be contrary, Ms. Jane, but what makes you think we’re going to just let you take it? You and whoever is back where you came from lost it in the first place. Maybe it’s safer here with us.”
Jane looked sad and shrugged. “Patrick…I believe Jason when he says you are a casualty of this war you have here.” She looked down at her lap for a moment. “All I can tell you is that ‘the Man’ isn’t quite so subtle everywhere he feeds. There are places where your war – our war – is not underground. Not at all.” She stared past him into memory.
“There are places where the Onyx Ornithopters kill the majestic dirigibili with slashes of flame, where qadishtu wipe tears of blood from their lost eyes with their palms because their fingers have been torn off lest they pleasure themselves. I have seen the hideous catastrophe that is ‘the Man’ when he is not underground, Patrick, Jason,” her voice grew hoarse with emotion, “and I tell you there are worlds far worse than this one.”
She let her words hang there in the air, and then her voice went back to a casual tone. “They sent me because I get what I come for. Because my fetish is sowing chaos and then shaping it to get what I want.” Her eyes locked with Jason, seated at the foot of the bed, but she reached out and grabbed Jason’s knee at the same time, her words meant for both of them. “So, my pretty sex magi, if you think you can keep it from me, you’re welcome to try.” She waved a hand upwards, vaguely indicating the chaos outside. Men shouting and the occasional explosion punctuated the moment. “They did.”
The two men looked at each other, and then Jason cleared his throat. “Tell you what. Let’s actually get the damn thing first. Then we can all whip them out and measure together, ok?” He looked at Isabella. “So. Where is it now?”
Isabella looked back at him blankly. “Wait…you don’t have it?” Seeing three faces darken with suspicion, she threw her hands up, shouting. “I don’t have it! I wore it when I went to the chapel, when I thought Padre Innocente was still devoted to me–“ She broke off, suddenly realizing. “Oh…god. He was still devoted. That’s why he couldn’t let me go…”
Jane nodded. “Yes. Exactly. It varies from person to person, like any addiction. Some, like Michael Doukas, control it better than others. I suspect Padre never knew what hit him once he saw you wearing it.” She grimaced.
“But – if you don’t have it–“ Patrick began, then his eyes unfocused. It took a moment for the others to realize he was listening to his earpiece. His face looked worried “Alec!” he shouted suddenly. “Alec, get out of – aw, fuck.” He looked at Jason. “They tracked Alec to his control room. Theo’s got him.” Seeing Isabella’s look of sudden worried terror, he hastened to add “It didn’t sound like they got your son, though.”
Jane moved like a cat off the bed and was suddenly standing between Jason and Patrick. “Well, we had to go in there anyway. We don’t have the kumir strast’i, Tony and Kitten. were lucky to leave with their clothes, Padre Innocente is dead. That leaves the Doukas brothers.” She didn’t bother waiting for agreement, her voice taking on a tone of command. “So, I need to get up to my rucksack and grab some stuff. Isabella, you need to get your son and go. We’ll send Alec after you when we get him, but we need you and the boy safe now.” Impulsively she leaned down and kissed her tenderly. “Eris willing, lover, our paths shall entwine again.”
Isabella looked a little dazed and flushed. “Eris…what?” But Jane had turned towards Jason.
“You have any combat training?”
Jason nodded. “RCMP SWAT.” Jane gave him a blank gaze. Jason realized the acronyms meant nothing to her. “Er…yes. I have.”
“Good,” she said, and nodded towards Patrick. “You two are tasked with getting Alec the fuck out of there, and back to his kin.”
“And you?” Patrick asked, sounding like he knew the answer.
Jane shrugged. “I’m going to go ask Michael and Theo, very nicely, to give me the kumir strast’i.” Her eyes widened and for just a second she managed to almost look the innocent.
“And if they say no?” Jason sounded like he knew the answer.
All innocence disappeared into Jane’s wicked grim smile. “Well, then, I’ll just have to be persuasive, won’t I?”