I opened my eyes and blinked taking in the velvet darkness that caressed everything, except the faintly glowing marble tiles on the ground that I was sprawled out on. I sat up and looked around, rubbing my head. I was sore, but I had expected that when Aksa ripped me from my body. What I wasn’t expecting was to find myself someplace other than that lab where Robins was facing off against Étta. I hoped he and Aksa were safe.
At first I didn’t see anything in the darkness, but as my eyes adjusted, I saw a line of people in the distance. It was a terribly long affair and the near silence was eerie. I heard the shuffle of the people, but no one spoke. Not even a whisper was passed along.
There was little color that I could see that wasn’t muted. The tiles had a sickly green tint under the glow, but that was the most vivid thing.
Where the hell was I? I’d have to have a few words with Aksa when I got back. This was not pleasant. I put my hand out to help me stand and saw that I was still missing bits of my soul. My little finger was gone completely, and that was a gut twisting reminder. Now I was deformed too, fucking Reds.
Gritting my teeth I got my feet under me and I stood on legs that felt like jelly. I looked down and saw the hole in my chest was still there too. I was a mess. I was a little more whole than last time I got a gander at the state of my soul, and I knew I had the Master Tech to thank.
Without much else to do I wandered toward the line of people. Maybe I could ask someone what this place was. I got closer and saw that they were interested only in their destination. I waved my hand in front of a portly man’s face and he didn’t even blink his glassy eyes. With a sigh I walked along the line to see where they were headed.
From the depths of the darkness I found an immense gate. It was made out of green tinted metal that twisted and twined in mind numbingly delicate detail. I tilted my head back to look it over and the top of it was not even visible. I was at a gate, yeah. There was a line of mindless people waiting to pass through this gate, yup. I suddenly wished I hadn’t followed the line and figured out where I was.
I was at the Gates. The poor saps in line were all dead, waiting to be judged and sent to their heavens or hells. Perhaps they would be giving another chance to prove themselves, but they were all dead as doornails.
I turned away from the Gates and scanned the darkness for anything else. I didn’t want to hang out there, just in case someone got it in their heads I needed judging too. Then I saw a speck of white in the distance and wandered toward it. I felt bad for the people in the line, but there was nothing I could do.
The white speck turned out to be the shirt of a young man seated at a small table. He was alone and playing with a worn deck of cards. I made no noise as I approached. I didn’t know if I should impose on a stranger, especially at the Gates, but I really wanted some company and he was alone, too.
He paused as he made a move to place a card, then looked up at me. I found myself caught in his neon cobalt blue eyes. I couldn’t look away, let alone move, as he shifted and stood. He was taller than me and stray strands of black hair fell into his blazing eyes. He smiled, and his did too.
I once had said something about Étta’s beauty, but this young man was the most handsome person I had ever seen. My mouth was dry and I couldn’t form a single thing to say that wasn’t something a Neanderthal would drool out.
He moved closer and breathed my name out in a deep baritone that made me shiver in delight. His satin voice was going to be some serious wet-dream fodder. I could just imagine him saying my name like that as he leaned over me, eyes smoldering in-
Wait. How the fuck did he know my name? I blinked and lifted an eyebrow at my soon to be wet-dream star. “Who are you?” I asked, pleased that my voice didn’t crack from my nervousness.
He laughed. “You don’t know. That’s just my luck. I’ve wanted to see you for so long that I thought I had somehow conjured you up. But you really don’t know me? How old are you?”
I backed up a step, this guy was nuts. “I really, really don’t know you nor understand what you’re talking about. I’m seventeen, probably.” I hadn’t meant to tell him, but I hadn’t been able to stop myself either. Aska’s balls this guy was a stunner to my brain.
He nodded sagely, then motioned at the table. “Sit with me?”
I thought of my options. Leave him and wallow in darkness, or enjoy some gorgeous company. He may have been nuts, but he was easy on the eyes. I took the seat offered and picked up a card. “Fine. What are you playing?”
He sat as well and studied my hand. Then moved to study the rest of me with a quiet concern. “Your finger, when did you lose it?”
I glanced at my hand and sighed. “I just did, actually. Why?”
He shook his head with a sad smile. “I’ve been curious about it.”
I put the card down. “Why do you talk like you know me? Who are you?”
“I do know you, Ty. I’m a spirit, you can call me Vin.”
“Vin? Okay then, Vin, what are you doing at the Gates?”
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“Are they going to die?”
He laughed and began to shuffle the cards. “I hope not.”
“Okay. Then what am I doing here?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Did Aksa send you?”
He knew a lot about me it was really creeping me out. “Aksa?”
“He’s your deity, right? I expect he had something to do with it, since you’re not dead and he’s willing to go to great lengths to keep you safe.”
“Am I safe here?”
Vin looked up and caught me with his blazing gaze again. “I will never let anything happen to you. That’s a promise I aim to keep.”
“Okay. Whatever you say.” I didn’t recall a promise, but maybe Aksa had talked to him. I studied him as he focused on the cards. He was fit and well built. I could tell he would be broad shouldered when he was done growing. His white button-up dress shirt was too big and a pale blue tie hung loose around his neck. His sleeves had been pushed up to his elbows and his arms were well toned. They flexed a he dealt out the cards. We both ended up with half a deck and he smiled when I scowled. I disliked War. He knew it, too. Bastard.
We started playing without much discussion and he waited a bit to ask me anything. When he did I wondered again, how he knew so much.
Vin spoke. “How’s Frankie?”
I blinked and told him the bastard was fine. If a bit cocky.
“Is Loup Sorne around?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t paid much attention to him. Your turn.” It was frustrating. I had nothing to ask him and Vin was full of questions. They kept coming.
“Are you able to use telekinesis as a spirit?”
I stared at him.
He looked up and tilted his head. “Can you?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
He nodded, like he’d been expecting that answer. “I think you should try. Do something with the cards.”
“Vin, I don’t think I’m ready for it.”
I gestured to my body, full of holes.
My companion shrugged. “Yeah? So you can’t even give it a try?”
I frowned and huffed a breath. Without a word I looked down at the cards and tried to move a single one. Nothing happened. I tried again and again for a good while without any progress. Defeated, I fell against the back of the chair with a groan. “It’s no good.”
Vin’s brow was furrowed and his eyes narrowed. “You’re too worn out but you need to learn how to control your Skill better. If you trust me, I’d like to try something.” He stood and brushed of nonexistent dust from his over-sized black slacks.
I watched him and explored my feelings for him so far. He was absolutely bat-shit crazy, painfully attractive, and honest seeming. I didn’t know if I was friends with him or anything else, but I did know that I weirdly trusted him. Unconditionally. There was no one I had ever been drawn to in such a way and even Étta was okay that I didn’t trust him completely. Hell, Vin was a spirit, so what could he do anyway? Throw cards at me?
I sighed and stood as well. “What is it?”
“Close your eyes,” Vin said, grinning.
I glared at him then did so. I started when I felt his hands caress my face, but before I could pull out of his gentle grasp, his lips were on mine in a soft kiss. I resisted for as long as I could, which was about a second, before I pressed against him eagerly. His lips were soft and I was lost in the feel and taste of them. I reached up and dug my fingers into his hair and then the kiss deepened and we breathed each other in with each shift of our lips and flick of our tongues. There was something electric about him and I was tingling. His hands left my face and traveled to my waist to pull me closer.
I don’t know how much time passed as we swapped spit, but when I was released from Vin’s spell I was still tingling. I was dazed and confused, he was smug.
I gave him a half-hearted scowl. “That was my first kiss. My first kiss and a spirit stole it…”
Vin’s grin widened. “I’m rather pleased to hear that, Ty. Never forget it either. Do you feel better?”
I stretched and my back popped exquisitely. I felt like I had slept for a whole year and that the energy was just begging to be used. I wanted to run and pick a fight with Frankie because I could take him with my hands tied. I couldn’t keep the grin from my face and I met Vin’s gaze with excitement. “What did you do?”
“Something I’ve been dying to do since I saw you. I just used it to transfer some energy to you, as well. I think you should try moving the cards again.”
I licked my lips and savored his taste. I wanted to kiss him again, he was addictive. I wanted to reach out and pull his head down so I could slide my tongue against his and moan as I leaned into him pressing-
I blinked and turned to the cards. This was hardly an appropriate time to imagine something like that. I was at the Gates and chatting with a stranger. I really needed to focus. I reached out and the cards fled in every direction.
Vin started laughing and went to gather the cards again as I gaped at the empty table.
“Next, see what you can do with your eyes closed. I think you’ll be surprised.”
“I expect you already know I can’t move what I can’t see,” I replied, rolling my eyes and joining him in fifty-two card pick up.
My companion snorted. “You’ve done it on a few occasions. What makes those times different?”
I thought and looked away into the darkness. “I’m trapped. I’m so scared that I panic and I lose control of my Skill.”
Vin hummed his agreement. “So if you practice, you should be able to use telekinesis while keeping your eyes shut without the panic. You could learn the control and use it to fight and defend yourself.”
I recalled how if felt when I was following Mavic into the Wall and looked at the kind of edge I could gain. I knew where everyone was and, in a fight, that would be invaluable. How did Vin know I could do that at all?
“Who are you really?”
“I’m yours. Just not yet, and we’ve been together for some time as well. I look forward to meeting you again, even if I don’t know it still. Now, let’s get your Skill mastered.”
I set my cards on the table and turned to study him thoughtfully. “You’re absofuckingly insane, Vin. But I like you.”
His answering smile caressed me and enveloped me in a heart-melting warmth.