It's just a book.
That's what I keep telling myself, even as I share the step with Olga. Dark leather binding reinforced with thin sheets of ebony, long iron chain to wrap the whole thing into one neat package. A bound lump of old hemp paper that could K.O. Muhammad Ali.
So it's a big book.
It's half the reason I'm sitting here, even though I was looking for Dr. Vukavitch. Knowing there's a spellbook up there... let's just say they're not exactly high on my list of favorite things. Not after Karentec blew through town.
Now there was a scary guy. Out to save the world, and he didn't care who stood in the way. Not the people in the Labyrinth. Not Talon, who's not a bad guy when he's not throwing electricity around. Not my team.
He would have killed my team. He would have made me kill my team.
The French Fry says the extra safety measures would've kicked in before that could happen. That her little bit of neurolinguistics would've knocked me out if I targeted anyone in H.E.A.T.
Wish I could be that sure.
I stare at my hands, note how red polish is flaking off the corners of short nails. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Not like you can keep a manicure in this job. Between the acids, the latex gloves, the seawater...
I know Nick's dropped just about everything out of his wardrobe that can't stand getting soaked in salt water. Poor guy; if he doesn't end up drenched, he gets licked. Not that he doesn't look cute wet. Hair spiking out at odd angles that just begs to have fingers run through it.
Nick loves my hands. Touches them when he can, when he thinks nobody will notice. Rubs along the callus that comes from hauling in equipment from the deeps, traces the little scar near my knuckles with a gentle fingertip. Kneads knots of hard muscle, when we all want to drop in our tracks.
Held them, even when they were still hot from green fire.
I curl a little closer on myself. I'm a paleontologist. An expert in animal behavior extinct, living, or newly-created. I'm not a mage.
I'm not like Karentec.
But I can almost hear that book.
Soft steps behind me, quick with controlled annoyance. I squeeze closer to the wall as Nick stalks downstairs, obviously bent on finding whatever's ticked off Godzilla and stomping it flat.
Thank God Hicks is busy setting up a cordon around Manhattan. All we need is one idiot pointing a rocket launcher the wrong way, and our friendly neighborhood Major just might find out how well Monique's lessons have sunk in.
Those are a bit more dangerous than they used to be. Nick has to keep his shields up while Frenchie throws him all over the room, or we've got a lizard on the doorstep. And if Godzilla goes after something in the middle of practice - let's just say it's a good thing that it was Monique and not Randy, and our Secret Service agent does not like the taste of mat.
Footsteps stop. "They think they've figured out what Demona used," Nick tells Olga. "Egon seems to think that's half the solution."
Hope shows clear, even under jade brow ridges. "Thank you."
A smile flickers over Nick's face like passing starlight; there and gone. That dark blue gaze is staring through brick, itching to get out to his foster child. Godzilla annoyed is Godzilla potentially in trouble, and Nick would move the world to keep his kid out of harm's way.
Just like he'd do for us.
But Nick holds back a second more, brushing a few stray strands of scarlet out of my face. Laying his hand over mine, with a smile bright as sun on water. It feels warm, suddenly; like being wrapped in sunlight. Like all the joy and tenderness in the world, holding me close.
Annoyed tenderness, maybe. But what the hey.
And he's off, striding across the Ghostbusters' garage with the Stalk O' Doom. Gargoyles and gryphons beware.
Got to tell Monique he's projecting, I make a mental note. She said that might happen as he got better at handling the bond. According to her sources, empathic abilities usually start focused on people, then spread out to other creatures. Nick seems to be doing it backwards. Figures.
Not that our French watchdog's the last word on the subject. Some of the stuff I've run across in the occult research journals hints at a subcategory of people that fall into the cracks between psychics and the magically talented. Anincantares, was the term I finally tracked down; spell-breakers, in plain English. People so resistant to magic, they can outlast the Wild Hunt. And unlike ordinary psychics, they tend to have hereditary connections to mystical creatures. Particularly dragons.
Ordinary psychics. Gaah.
I think Nick would die of embarrassment if he knew we had a subscription to Who's Who and What's That.
Dr. Spengler. Face wary and compassionate. Better be careful, Spengler, I think, walking up to the lab. I can hear Janine above us, showing Maza the way to the roof, and Frank's heading down toward Olga with two cups of hot cocoa and the look of a man on a mission. Here, it's just me, Randy, Monique, and the technical side of the Ghostbusters. Thank goodness. If you've picked up Nick, Monique will make you into very small pieces.
"We've run into a slight difficulty," the tall blond says, gesturing to an open page, with Monique's scribbled notes beside it. "I believe we've identified the counterspell to neutralize Demona's guardians. Namely the mist and the gryphon."
Not Nick. Relief takes the starch out of my shoulders. "And?"
"We need someone to cast the counterspell."
And my gut congeals into a lump of ice.
I swallow, lick my lips. "I thought you guys could handle that." I was sure I'd seen an article by Drs. Stantz and Venkman to that effect; "Casting Counterspells Under Conditions of Naiveté and Extreme Stress: Physiological and Psychological Consequences."
Ray looks up wistfully. "I could try-"
"I doubt we'll have a second chance. Ray." Egon never looks away from me. "Unfortunately, we have two anincantares in the local vicinity. Neither of which will recognize you as harmless."
Monique has that carefully-still look on her face that means she'd really like to break some heads. And the way Randy's folded his arms, the computers here are going to go down hard. "So what's that got to do with Elsie?"
"I am not a psychologist," Spengler mutters, finally looking away. "Dr. Chapman. Mam'selle Dupres. I appreciate your desire for privacy. Even in this day and age, those with paranormal abilities are misunderstood and persecuted. Ourselves included." He looks out over the street. I follow his gaze, watch that tilt of a massive head that means Nick's in Godzilla's line of sight. "But we must counter Demona's spell. And you are the only available person the anincantares will not instinctively block."
The room fades out. I shake myself mentally, start breathing again. It makes sense. Sort of. Nick breaks spells. Seirian breaks spells. Neither of them really know Ray.
And when Nick doesn't know someone, they fall into the category of potential threat.
Not his fault, exactly. Nick just can't trust people, not the way most of us can. People have a habit of dying on him, or hounding him mercilessly, or disappearing without a word when he's given them the keys to his heart. Damn Audrey.
I barely recognize my own voice. "What makes you think I can do this?"
"Your biorhythms are quite distinct." Egon's gaze is frank as he hands over the notes, points to the flowing words on the ancient page. "You don't have the raw power for most attack spells, but the lesser magics are well within your range. Counterspells require far less PKE to cast."
I don't want to do this. I really don't want to do this. I'm not Karentec. I won't be Karentec.
But my team needs me.
I wipe sweat off my hands, take the book. It feels warm. Like fire. Prickling, heady fire; full of possibilities, of potential...
I pull back from that feeling. Remember blue eyes, a flash of smile like sunlight. "Okay." My voice shakes. I don't try to stop it. "What do I do?"
Right. I'm going to go out there and face down something Godzilla can't fry, with nothing more than a lump of paper and a physicist's phonetic translation. It's just a book!