Bracing myself, I led the way inside.
Flame’s gaze roved around the apartment. “You got some weird tastes, Girlie.”
The walls were weathered gray stones with plants intermittently sprouting between cracks. The kitchen island, or maybe the table, I wasn’t sure which, was a giant slab of stone draped with moss. The cabinets were small caverns, and the kitchen appliances were made up of stone statues in the figures of flowers and mushrooms. The apartment looked like abandoned ruins with a hint of whimsy.
I sighed. “It’s not my tastes.” Then I yelled, “Tavor!”
Flame jumped, spinning to stare at me with wide eyes. He backed up a step as his gaze jumped around the apartment.
Orange light swirled in front of us, thickening until it coalesced into Tavor.
“You’re the one who stole the McMichaels’ universal genie?!” Flame exclaimed.
“I did not!” I snapped. “A bird dropped him in my lap.”
Flame gave me a double take. He opened his mouth as though to ask something, then shook his head, instead turning his gaze to Tavor. “And she knows your real name.” His body held a tension it hadn’t at the museum, though I couldn’t tell if it was fear or caution.
Tavor stepped between me and Flame, his eyes cold. “It’s been an interesting few weeks. Ali, why are you hurt?”
Flame’s eyes widened, and he held both hands in front of him, shaking his head. “Whoa, no, I didn’t hurt her.”
“She’s burned.” Tavor’s eyes flashed dark orange.
“He didn’t do this,” I said.
“Then how did you get hurt? And where did he come from?”
Frustrated tears sprang to my eyes at the question. I wanted to pretend that today had never happened, not immediately recall everything. My words tumbled out in a jumbled mess.
“There was a stupid gem exhibit from the stupid McMichael family and I didn’t know it was theirs. I touched the ruby because it was pretty and I’m an idiot, then we set off magic traps and there were laser gems—that’s where the burn is from—and shadow fossils that tried to eat us and a shadow mummy that tried to bury me, and now I have two genies when I don’t even want one—”
“Whoa, whoa.” Tavor lifted his hands in a stop motion. “Let’s not start that again. You’ve had a long day and need rest. You can tell me more later. But before you go . . .”
He took my hands in his, running his thumbs over my wrists. Liquid coolness flowed up my arms. As it reached the gouges from the fossil, the throbbing eased, then disappeared. The coolness continued to my shoulders, erasing the ache from my burn. From there, it flowed to the rest of my body, eliminating every ache and pain like it had been a bad dream.
“You healed me.” I pushed Flame’s makeshift bandages down my arms to make sure the skin was whole.
“Of course,” Tavor said. “But I need permission to use magic at the museum so I can erase the memory of anyone who saw you. We can’t leave behind anything that might lead the McMichaels to you.”
I hesitated, not wanting to ask for this favor since the damage to the museum was, in part, a consequence of my actions and not Tavor’s problem, but the damage still broke my heart. “Could you fix the museum? The traps caused a lot of damage—and we caused even more getting around them.”
Tavor crossed his arms and studied me, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ali. I know you love museums, but no. If the fire genie is gone and there is no evidence of tampering, the McMichaels will think a new player has entered the game, which is the last thing we want. If the fire genie is missing and the traps were clearly sprung, they’ll blame existing factions.”
“Like genie hunters?”
Tavor’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, then he snorted, turning to Flame. “Did you accuse Ali of being a genie hunter?”
Red rose to Flame’s cheeks. “She was a human who knew about genies but clearly wasn’t part of The Society. What was I supposed to think?” He glanced between the two of us. “I still don’t know what’s going on.”
“I’ll tell you later,” Tavor brushed off. “Ali, I’ll ensure the museum receives a generous donation so they can repair any damage. That’s the best I can do.”
Again, I hesitated. I didn’t know enough about how magic worked. Did a “generous donation” mean Tavor would make money magically appear? That he would steal the money? That he would force someone to give the museum money? I didn’t want to ponder moral dilemmas and how Tavor’s magic functioned. I wanted to collapse in my bed; Tavor had taken away my pain, not my exhaustion.
The Museum of Horton might go under without help because of my foolish choices—but I wasn’t the only one who’d made poor choices that led to the museum’s damage.
“Could you make the donation come from the McMichael family?” I asked carefully, as though my words trod on dangerous ground. Stealing was wrong—but so was gaining your fortune by turning immortal beings into your slaves and endangering a public museum and any people in it for the sake of bragging. Guilt pangs assaulted my chest, but this solution was better than taking the money from somewhere else or letting the museum go under.
Tavor’s mouth curved into a smirk. “Yes.”
“Okay, let’s do that. I grant you permission to use magic at the Museum of Horton. Now, I’m going to bed. Good luck.”
I’d only made it one step when Flame called, “Wait!”
I turned back to see he had one hand stretched toward me. His eyes flickered to Tavor, looking young and vulnerable. A different look I couldn’t decipher flashed through his eyes as they moved back to me. He straightened. “If Tavor trusts you with his name, then I trust you with mine.” His gaze moved to the wall, as though one of the plants required his immediate attention. Pink dusted his cheeks as he rubbed the back of his neck and muttered, “It’s Rajan.”
My heart skipped a beat. I didn’t understand why knowing a genie’s name was special, but from how Tavor and Rajan acted, it was. Tavor studied Rajan, who remained staring at the wall.
“Rajan,” I repeated, staring at him, but he didn’t return my gaze. I didn’t know what it meant for a genie to give you their trust, and I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted, but it wasn’t something I wanted to betray either. “Thank you, Rajan.” I didn’t know if I was thanking him for trusting me with his name or for his help that day, and he seemed too embarrassed to ask. Tavor had also tried to pass off that telling me his name wasn’t a grand gesture, but I got the feeling it was.
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