My knee took a hard one the last time I went doing the business of Angels. Walking, it doesn't bother me much. Doing anything harder, and it reminds me that it didn't heal quite right. Holding it in a, what is euphemistically termed, 'a stress position', that makes it complain, and loud. Not that I had a choice - Lannette's car wasn't all that roomy, and that's not considering I had to ride part of the way in the footwell.
Still, we're out, and I'm flexing my leg to get the pain out. I have a theory about pain - you do something stupid and get some set amount of it. It either all comes out in a big ouch, or it just nags you for hours or days. I'm all for getting it over with.
"That was like out of a movie or something." Brynn's eyes dance as she giggles. How easily kids get excited. Why do we grow out of it?
"I was thinking that, too. I half expected one of the uniforms to pull me over like it was a checkpoint or something."
"Ja. Vhere are your papahz?" Humour is a great painkiller. Lanette gives me that youthful giggle again. Brynn gives me a wrinkled brow.
"Before your time, kiddo." She gives Brynn's hair a mussing. "Tad, take care. And don't feel bad about Greg. I'm glad he's still who he is, even if that's a selfish jerk." She smirks, and her wink gives me the double-check I need.
"Thanks, Lani. For that, too. I'll try to stop by on the way back. Hopefully, things won't be so crazy, but I can't promise --"
"--And I know better than to accept one, anyhow. Now, get going before Forrester misses you." She crouches and gets eye-to-eye with Brynn. "You take care of him, okay? He's big and he's dumb, but he's got a good heart."
"Uh-huh!" She nods with that earnestness that only a kid can summon.
She also can eat with an appetite that only a kid can summon. We're back at the airport because, aside from the hotel and a music club nearby, there's nothing much edible. Mentally, I'm running the numbers and coming up a little short. I mean, I can pay for this meal, and I have enough to get to Oklahoma City and all that, but I'm running low on cash, low enough that I'll probably coast in on fumes. I have a credit card that's pretty much unlimited, but I don't know if Forrester put some sort of tag on it or something. So, it's cash or bust. And I'm not a fan of being busted.
"Do you think I can be a pilot one day?"
"Huh?" My thoughts scatter, but because her voice is so cheery, I can't even be annoyed. "Oh. I guess so. Why do you want to be a pilot?"
"To fly, to see all those different cities. Have you been a lot of places?"
"A few." And those are the ones I want to remember. "Probably more than a dozen cities, but we usually drove. I flew in here a few times, though. Work." I realize too late that my left shoulder is clenching. Another souvenir.
She studies her ice cream. "With... your partner?"
"Yeah. It wasn't fun, and wasn't really safe. Our work, uh, my work isn't like being a pilot. You're right though, being a pilot does sound like a lot of fun, doesn't it?"
"What's a partner do? I mean, what do you do?" She's not buying the sidetrack. I guess if I'd been through what she had, and still kept it together, I'd have some serious willpower, too.
"Well, I told you about the whole Demon thing. You remember?" I wait for her nod before continuing. "And you remember Mr. Hannigan, and how I fought with the Demon in him?"
She mutters something into her milkshake.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"I said, he made me call him 'Uncle Mike.' When he visited, I mean." She pushes away the sundae and the cup. I can't blame her.
"Yeah, uh, okay. Anyhow, you remember how I got the Demon out of him? That's what I do. I go to people who have Demons in them, and get them out."
"Sort of like those church guys in the movies."
It takes me a second before I get it. "Yeah. You mean priests. Uh, did you watch a lot of those films? Didn't your parents stop you?"
She snaps her head up and locks eyes with me. "They didn't care. They watched those films and laughed. They said it was funny, that they did it wrong. They said it was bull--"
"Shh. Shh. It's okay. They're gone, out of your life for good. I'll make sure you never see him, or Hannigan again. No, not 'Uncle Mike.' You won't ever have to see him again, so you don't have to call him that. Okay? I promise."
She blinks a few times, then looks down at the kiddie menu, already marked up some with crayon. She nods, or at least her scalp does, as she finds the green one and doodles some more on it.
"What did your partner do? What was her name?"
"Madison. Madison Latham. She... well, she gave me Power. The stuff I do takes Power, and she supplies it. Supplied."
"She was a nice person. I can tell." Brynn holds up the music box.
I nod. Smart kid. My turn to study my plate.
"So, didn't you say I was giving Power? Back at the hospital, I mean."
"Yeah, but the wrong kind. The kind I can't use, but that Demons can." I get the puzzled look I expect, and go on. "I don't know why, but positive emotions give me Power. Maybe because they're … I don't know. But, I know that when you're scared or angry, you're like a Demon buffet."
"But didn't I give you Power, too? Back at the hospital?"
"No, I'm sorry, but you couldn't have. It takes months for partners to build up that trust so Power flows between them."
She looks up from her doodling. "Why?"
I'm getting tired of saying, "I don't know." I shrug and say it again, adding, "I think it has to do with how the Power works. I mean, Dark Power is pretty, well, sloppy. Big punches. Pushing, breaking things. My Power is pretty precise. It's how I get the Demons out - I kind of cut them out from the person, but not with a knife. It's hard to explain."
She smiles. "I trust you, so I'm not going to ask you to show me. Does that help?"
I can't think of an answer right away, so I shove in some mashed potatoes. Two chews later, I try. "Princess, look. I wish I could, but it's real dangerous. It's not like I left Madison back at home - if I'm fighting a Demon, it can take a lot of Power, and I have to have her close by so I can get more. And, besides, you're giving off Dark Power right now."
"Huh? I am?"
"Yeah. I'm guessing fear, doubt. Not really anger, so it's not strong. It's just a whiff. But it's not the good sort of Power."
"I smell it, too."
"Really? I know you want to be my partner real bad, but please don't say you can when --"
"It's kinda sweet, but not like candy. It's a little … a little like old ham. Right?" Her eyes are full of hope, wide and pleading.
This sucks. "I don't know. Every person smells these things differently. I mean, those of us who can do it. It takes a while to learn, so you may be smelling someone's dinner." Laughter helped my knee earlier. Maybe it might help her feelings?
She's not sharing my smile. "It's not fair. I trust you, Tad. You're the only one. Why can't I help?"