They met at Jamaica—it must have been years since Ari had eaten at a restaurant, outside her personal security bubble. Had this incarnation ever? But she wouldn't have Jordan in Alpha Wing, and he wouldn't have her at his and Paul's apartment; couldn't, with everything in boxes, ready to be shipped out tomorrow. That was part of why he'd accepted her invitation—curiosity, to see if she'd go through with it, how she'd handle it. Another part was that he owed Paul and Justin a chance to say goodbye without a fight, a chance he wasn't sure he could provide if he were present. And another part was that Ari owed him—she owed him, damn it. If she was willing to pay, let her pay.
Blue light from some Terran ocean on the wall-screens played across Ari's face. She speared a morsel of chicken. He knocked back half his glass of wine. Pell Bordeaux, and it might have been the rotgut he kept in his own bar for all he tasted it, but hell—let her pay for it all.
"I wish you'd reconsider. I wish you'd stay." A slight widening, as-if-innocent, of her eyes. "I need all of my grumpy uncles."
"Uncle, hell," said Jordan. "This is the brave new era of information, isn't it? At the University, I can study what I want, publish what I want—so what has Reseune got to fucking offer me anymore?"
"Immortality? Giraud Two took his first steps last week. He loves watching the skinks. I'm sure we'll have room for Jordan Two around here somewhere, when the time comes." She fiddled with her straw, not that Jordan believed she ever did anything absently, for the nervous physical relief of it. "Your current Parental Replicate being unsatisfactory."
And there it was, the familiar expert punch to the gut. He said worse about Justin himself, of course, all the time, but from her—"Justin's not unsatisfactory."
"I haven't found him to be."
"Little bitch," Jordan growled. "It's never been about Justin, has it? You've wanted to get at me for years; you, your predecessor, whatever. Well, here I am, for one more night at least. What do you say we cut out the middleman?"
Ari laughed. That was different than the laugh of the Ari he knew—light and girlish, almost a giggle. "Do you know, your son made me the same offer."
Justin had—what? She could read his confusion in his face, he knew: a point for her.
"Grant," she said. "I suppose I ought to have said, your other son. Take me, leave Justin alone. I didn't take him up on it, in case you were curious. Were you curious?"
"Don't change the subject."
"Is that all Grant rates from you? 'Don't change the subject?'" There was something in her posture, in the tightness of her fingers around the glass, that bespoke real anger. "He's worth more than that to me. And to Justin. Consider that, the next time you wonder why he changed loyalties."
Changed loyalties—it sounded brisker, so much more professional, than betrayal. Like repainting the walls of an old room. What difference does it make, Dad? Everything changes.
He'd meant to take Justin with him. That had been his condition for leaving Reseune, once. But Justin was an adult, he'd made his bed—or hers—and any fool could see that he and Justin had gotten along better during his years at Planys than at any other time in Justin's life.
Jordan cut a slice off his steak, looked at it, couldn't find the appetite. Signaled the waiter for more wine. "Did you invite me here to get one last round of insults off before I leave? Charming."
"No." Contrition, real or feigned. "Truly, not. I wanted to make you the offer I did, to have you reborn. And I will, whether you stay at Reseune or not. If you're willing."
"Because you're good. In your own particular field, the best. God knows, the way Yanni's project at Eversnow is going, we're going to need the best we can get. Because you think I'm full of shit, and I need someone who thinks I'm full of shit."
"There's an easy solution to that. Let yourself die a natural death, and you won't need anything anymore. But that's not in your sets, is it?" The waiter arrived with the wine; perversely, Jordan decided he'd rather eat his steak. It was good, very, savoring of pepper and blood. "People complain about my ego. But I've never thought that my indefinitely prolonged existence was necessary to human civilization. There'd be something very wrong with human civilization, if that were the case, wouldn't there? Or more likely just something very wrong with my psyche."
Ari laughed again. "That's telling me I'm full of shit in a lot of words. Think about it, Jordan. Don't make up your mind right away."
"I've thought about it. The answer's no."
Ari gave a brief nod. The display behind Jordan must have changed, because Ari's hair stick, the glitter on her lips and the reflectors on her neckline, all went from blue to red. She sipped at her vodka, looked away, looked back. "And I've thought about your offer. The answer's yes."
Another point to Ari—he hadn't been expecting that. But did he feel like retracting, in the face of that challenge? In the face of—he didn't even have to look at her; he remembered well enough. An opportunity he hadn't thought would be coming his way again, and a damned sight more appealing than a second childhood. What the hell, he'd be out of here tomorrow.
She pushed her plate away and leaned across the table—a nice view, no two ways about it. "Let's skip dessert. I've got a brilliant pastry chef at home."
"Sounds good to me," said Jordan. Home. So he was going to be admitted into the fabled Alpha Wing after all. He supposed Ariane Emory could scarcely have a quick fuck in a hotel room. Though the expression of Ari's bodyguard Caitlin—hovering at Ari's back far enough for the illusion, if not the fact, of privacy—suggested that she'd rather the hotel room. Carefully cleared first by Security. If it had to happen at all.
The first Caitlin hadn't liked him either.
Hell, Ari didn't like him. He didn't like her. Like wasn't the point. The point was the way she moved, the way the air between them seemed electrified as they walked through the halls without touching, the adrenaline rush a double-edged smile of hers triggered in his hindbrain: fight, flight, fuck.
The point was this: her mouth, hot and hungry on his; her hands on his waist; her hair tumbled over his hands after he yanked the hair stick out. Familiar as anger, effortless as falling, mysterious as love.
She fell asleep afterwards. That was unnerving. Naked, knees drawn up, one hand cupping her cheek—without the animating personality, the intelligence he knew just about as well as his own, she seemed a stranger—and very, very young. He swung his legs over the side of the luxurious bed, and she stirred and mumbled, "Justin?"
That was a point for him, for sure. As much as admitting what she and Justin had always denied. But he didn't feel like pursing it. He pulled on his pants and shrugged on his sweater and got out.
Ari's other bodyguard Florian was waiting in the living room, by the fish wall. Very blandly, he handed Jordan his jacket and a small paper bag of something that smelled of cinnamon and honey. Ari wasn't taking any chances; there were two more guards waiting by the door, ready to escort him back to his apartment.
His apartment, for one more night. Paul had probably returned from his dinner with Justin and Grant and was no doubt finishing up some last-minute packing.
Paul wouldn't mind. Hadn't, first time around with Ari—except for the fights—nor the few brief affairs he'd had with other CITs since. But how was he going to explain this to Paul? How did he explain it to himself?
He could explain Ari's motivations easily enough. It was her damned psychogenesis program, after all. Hatesex with Jordan Warrick, check! he could imagine her telling her computer, when she woke up. Seventy years early, too; aren't I precocious. But as for himself . . .
He was done with Reseune. Done with its Security spooks and its revenants; with its attempts to manipulate what it couldn't understand, to control what couldn't be controlled. He would die—not for many years yet, he hoped—and when he did, he would be done. He wanted no part in a madwoman's quest to surround herself with the people she knew, unchanging, forever.
But until he died, he knew, he wouldn't forget the taste of vodka in Ari's mouth, the way her hair lay on her breasts as they rose and fell in her sleep. So there was that. And, because he wasn't insane, maybe that was enough.