Her Gift was linked to water, and she wore its colors often. The soft flannel she wore tonight was a pale green that made him think of one of the many bright pools in the Summer Lady's land. Her throat rose from the neck of her pajamas, a strong and beautiful pillar the color of warm, wet sand. She would smell so good right there, in the hollow between neck and collarbone.
He took a moment to rein in his body, but the smile lingered inside. "I've been searching for the killer."
"I know that. I don't know why you were at the morgue. Or why you were shot for being there."
"I wanted to see the bodies of the two who were slain. I didn't have permission." The two victims had been killed within city limits, so the city police were handling the investigation. Chief Roberts didn't play well with others, particularly those in the sheriff's office. "I hoped to pick up a... a scent. Traces left by the killer."
"Are you a - a werewolf? A lupus, I mean."
"Eh." The question startled him. Kai had always been careful not to pry, not to ask too many direct questions. But she was his friend. He knew her secret; he could give her more of his. "No," he said, then decided that wasn't enough. "This is the only realm with lupi. They're native to it. I'm not."
She nodded solemnly.
His muscles loosened in relief. She didn't fear him, wasn't upset - and she didn't go on to ask the obvious questions, the ones he wasn't sure he could answer. "I said I wanted to find the killer's scent. I meant the physical scent, but I... there's more, for me. I pick up other traces, psychic traces, but sensually, as a smell. Like you receive thoughts visually."
"Oh." She cocked her head. "I like that. It makes me feel less of a freak to know your talent works a bit like mine."
"You are not a freak."
She tapped her head. "This knows that." She touched her chest. "This doesn't. Did you get a scent from the bodies?"
He grimaced. "I never reached the bodies. The police have them under guard."
"I guess the morgue usually has someone there. An attendant."
"I allowed for that," he said dryly. He'd been sloppy, but not that sloppy. "I didn't expect officers to be stationed at the bodies." He could have killed or disarmed them, of course, but one action would have been immoral, the other stupid. He shook his head. "I don't understand why they were there. Chief Roberts is narrow, not stupid. He must have some reason to guard the bodies, but I can't come up with one."
"He may be thinking of vampires. A lot of people are right now. The bodies were drained of blood, right? So he might have posted people to watch and make sure they don't - well, rise or something."
Nathan snorted. "If he's trying to find a vampire, he's wasting his time. They don't exist. Not the way they're depicted in fiction."
"But... they do exist?"
"Blood-drinkers are real, but not native to this realm. Most of them aren't intelligent, and none of them reproduce by endowing their victims with the ability to rise from the dead."
She grinned. "Or go around seducing young virgins?"
They'd watched Interview With the Vampire together last Halloween. Funny show. He'd chuckled at what she claimed were all the wrong places. "Exactly."
"So you think it's a human who killed those people?"
"Unlikely. A deranged or evil human might drink blood, but he or she couldn't suck out the entire ten pints in the average body. Nor is it easy to drain a body completely in other ways, and the victims were apparently exsanguinated in the same places the bodies were found."
"Then it's an animal of some sort. Something that came in on the power wind."
"Probably." He considered his words for a moment. "By 'animal' I don't just mean inhuman. I mean a species incapable of complex communication."
"Communication? You think that's the dividing line between animal and, uh... I guess I can't say human, but I'm not sure how to put it."
"Sentient is the closest word in English."
"Okay, then. I would have thought the level of sentience depended on intelligence, the ability to reason."
"Reason can be denned in different ways, and intelligence is a slippery scale to apply. Is a severely retarded man a beast?"
She grimaced. "You make your point."
"Sophisticated communication which conveys concepts rather than just 'danger' or 'food' is essential because without it, intelligence and moral reasoning don't develop. A potentially intelligent being that is unable to communicate effectively never develops its potential. Take cats, for example."
"Cats are potentially sentient, but only those who live closely with other sentients develop fully because they lack the stimulus of clear communication. Not all cats develop a high level of sentience," he added. "But some do. The ones with good telepathic skills."
"Cats." Her voice and expression were blank. Then a smile spread across her face like the early colors of dawn. She shook her head, rueful, smiling. "I think I'm weirded out. Also wiped," she said, rising. "And so are you. Do you want to stay here for what's left of the night?"
"That would be good." Healing drained him. Delaying the healing drained him more. "Did you see that in my colors?" he asked, suddenly curious. "That I need rest?"
"Not the colors so much as the way they're behaving. Droopy and sluggish."
He nodded. That made sense - his thoughts felt sluggish. "Thank you. For the offer of your couch, and for helping."
"You're welcome. I'll get you a pillow and a cover." A yawn caught her, and she stretched.
Long-buried feelings stirred inside him. He had to be stern with his body in order to quiet it before she noticed. "A sheet would be welcome. I don't need a blanket. Is it all right if I remove my jeans? They're wet."
"Sure." Her smile came a shade too quickly, a tint too bright. "I'll get you that sheet."
He didn't remove his pants yet. He'd do that after she was in bed. Kai couldn't regulate her body the way he did, nor could she hide her response from him. He couldn't hide his response from her, either, for that matter - she'd see it in his colors if he allowed himself to become aroused. So he hadn't. He didn't want to raise expectations. But he allowed himself the rare indulgence of enjoying the way her body moved beneath her loose pajamas as she left the room. Maybe...