He'd looked startled, then said, simply, "No."
Nothing more, just that one word. With anyone else, it would have been a rebuke for having pried. With Nathan, it was a mark of trust that he'd answered at all.
She could only suppose that human women didn't ring his chimes. Pity he rang hers so well.
The whistling of the teapot drew her back to the kitchen. She took down the glass jar where she kept the herbal mixture, filled a mesh tea ball, and placed it in a glass mug. The herbs had an odd, not unpleasant aroma dominated by the anise scent of giant hyssop. As soon as she'd poured the hot water she covered the mug with her left hand and began chanting. Heat and moisture dampened her palm as she repeated the chant three times, then thanked the Powers. She covered the mug with a glass saucer and left the tea to finish steeping.
In the bathroom she pulled on her faded flannel pj's, put her clothes in the hamper, washed her face, and brushed her teeth. Her contacts went into their case and the world turned blurry, but she didn't bother with glasses. She retrieved the mug and brought it into her bedroom, where aqua walls and white wicker unknotted some of her tension.
Color mattered. Kai knew that better than most. She could see the way people responded to the colors around them. She'd painted this apartment as soon as she moved in last year - aqua in the bedroom, a warm tan in the living area, sandy tan in the kitchen, with a turquoise stripe wrapping the two areas to unite them.
She tugged down the covers and turned off the bedside lamp, leaving the one on in the kitchen. Childish, foolish... she promised herself again to stop with the name-calling, but it did embarrass her. Eleven years after the accident, and she still didn't like the dark.
She cozied into her nest of pillows and drank the tea in three big swallows. And shuddered.
The stuff tasted nastier than it smelled, but it worked fast. Even as she snuggled down flat, warmth opened in her middle like a blossom and began sending out tendrils.
She lay in the darkness breathing quietly, listening to the wind as it kicked up a fuss outside. Warmth continued to spread, reaching places that made her think of Nathan and wishes... a wish that hovered in the air, its wistful lavender woven threaded with silver and red. A nice carnal shade of red.
A sensible woman would be glad their relationship hadn't gone in the direction she'd wanted. He was leaving, wasn't he? He'd told her that three months ago. People he worked with were beginning to be suspicious about him. He couldn't stay in Midland much longer.
Surely it would hurt worse when he left if they'd become lovers. As it was, loss already ached inside her like a tooth going bad.
Maybe he wouldn't leave if...
Yes, he would. Dammit, she knew that.
Rain tapped its first, uncertain fingertips on the window. Time to finish putting herself out... not for her own sake, but for everyone else's. Her Gift might not be empathy, as she claimed, but it was skewed.
Which was just as well, since that was probably why she wasn't crazy. Telepaths usually were.
Kai didn't read minds. She saw thoughts and the emotions connected to those thoughts, and sometimes she changed minds. Literally. If she stayed awake for tonight's storm, there was a good chance that some of her thoughts would split off to tangle themselves up in other people's heads.
This wasn't unusual. The biggest null on the planet left a residue of thoughts and feelings behind, but such a faded wash that only a strong psychometry Gift could read anything from it. Strong emotions caused many people to project, and a few others were natural projectors.
But normal thought-bodies evaporated soon after separating from their origin. Kai's didn't. Her stray thoughts might cause her neighbors no more than a brief confusion or bad dream, but it could be worse. Much worse. And with the way her Gift had strengthened since the Turning, she couldn't take any chances.
Kai no longer needed to speak the entire spell aloud. Long practice plus the focusing property of the tea allowed her to carry only a single word deep inside, where she released it. In a dizzy, immaterial shift she slid into white fog, a place diffuse and warm where thought slowed... and slowed... and faded away.
It was the sobbing that woke her. Kai hung in the blurred state between sleep and waking, eyes closed, hearing the wash of rain drained of its earlier frenzy, the wail of her neighbor's Siamese cat, and the sobbing: Deep sobs, bereft of hope, aching with a terrible loneliness.
And familiar. She'd heard this before, in other dreams. Oh, sweetheart - there now, you aren't alone, I'm here. I'm...
Her eyes opened. The sound of that terrible sorrow died, but the colors of it lingered for a second in alien shapes of black and silver before dissolving.
Kai sat up, shaken. She'd brought those thoughts back with her. That had never happened before. And she never experienced the emotions connected to thoughts.
Was her lie somehow coming true? Was she was turning into an empath as well as a weird-ass telepath?
That fear, put into words, sounded so silly she was able to set it aside. She'd been asleep, after all - normal sleep, not in-sleep; the trance state never lasted more than a couple hours. She'd connected with someone's thoughts, but her dreaming mind must have translated colors and shapes to conjure the experience of grief instead of the sight of it.
Could it have been Nathan's mind she'd touched?
She frowned, not liking the idea. She'd caught such a quick glimpse of those thoughts... for some reason they hadn't struck her as human, but she wasn't sure why. Nathan was lonely, though. Deeply so. That was one reason she'd reached out to him when they first met, both of them out running in the early morning.
That, and his incredible thighs. And shoulders. And...
And that was enough of that sort of thinking. She shook her head at herself and glanced at the red numerals on her clock, bought because the numbers were big enough for her to read them without contacts or glasses.
Well, shit. She grimaced and reached for her glasses. No point in trying to go back to sleep. The in-sleep state rested her deeply, and with a couple hours of real sleep on top of it, her tank was topped off. She might as well read for awhile.
Someone pounded on her door.
What the... it couldn't be good news, not at this hour. Kai swung out of bed, heart pounding, mentally sorting through various disasters as she hurried to her living area.
The police, arriving with some terrible news? A drank? A neighbor with an emergency?