Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
If so, all of this could be laid at John’s door. Ben Jansen had been his case, even if Caleb didn’t know it. As to why he hadn’t brought himself to mention it to his guest…he had his reasons. Good ones. He just had to come up with them.
“If we have an organized Fist cell in Charleston, we need to know,” Kaniyar went on, apparently oblivious to John’s inner turmoil. “Apparently” no doubt being the operative word. “Anything Mr. Jansen can tell us about his sister-in-law or the deceased could be invaluable.”
“I’ll do what I can. I should wrap up here and—”
The low note of a huge bell went off, right in his ear. Letting out a startled yelp, he leapt to his feet, his hand going to the Glock beneath his arm even as he scanned the office.
Nothing. And worse, Kaniyar was staring at him like he’d lost his mind.
Shit. The bell hadn’t been by his head—it had been in his head, the single clear note a warning.
Something had broken the spirit ward at his condo.
* * *
Caleb shut the condo door and stared at the old wood without really seeing it. Fuck. Melanie had looked scared. Terrified…of him
She was the last family he had. And she couldn’t stand to look at him.
He—it—spoke as if tasting the concept.
“This is a thing important to mortals.”
“Yeah,” he said aloud. “It’s fucking important. And now, thanks to you, I don’t have any left.”
A collage of memories, too fast to truly process: the full spectrum of human experience, from the purest love of a mother for a child, to the abusive rape of sibling on sibling, to everything in between. Dying in childbirth; dying in defense of a parent. Weddings and funerals and christenings, but all of it colorless and dull, rendered flat and empty by death. Just the fading flickers of decaying neurons.
God. No wonder the monster in his head didn’t understand anything.
“I hate you,” he whispered, leaning his forehead against the door and closing his eyes. “You did this to me. You wouldn’t let Ben rest, and now you’ve driven Melanie away. I wish you’d fucking die. If I could put you in a bottle myself, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
“I did not choose this. The mortal is foolish to fear us.”
“There is no us.”
“There is only us. You must adapt.”
“Fuck you!” Caleb screamed, loud enough his throat burned. Dashing tears from his eyes, he stumbled into the kitchen and began throwing cabinets open randomly, until he found what he wanted. Starkweather’s liquor stash.
A bottle of vodka was the first thing he spotted. Not his usual drink of choice, but what the hell. Anything would do, as long as it let him forget the mess his life had become.
Tossing the cap on the floor, he upended the bottle and took a long pull directly from it. The alcohol slid down his throat far too easily—this was top-shelf. Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this; after all, Starkweather had probably spent good money on the booze.
Starkweather. Special Fucking Agent Fucking Starkweather. Government mal with beautiful eyes and gorgeous body, who imprisoned him here with a damned spirit ward. The one who flirted and grinned, and promised to get rid of Gray, but didn’t.
So fuck him too.
A pleasant buzz began to settle in Caleb’s veins when he had a quarter of the bottle drained. Just a little more, and he wouldn’t care about Gray, or Starkweather, or any of it.
The buzz went away.
The bottle was empty, and he wasn’t even drunk. Shouldn’t he be passed out on the floor by now?
Maybe that was the secret to this top-shelf stuff—it went down smoothly because it was mostly water. Caleb had never been able to afford it, so what did he know?
Leaving the empty bottle on the counter, he sorted through the cabinet until he found a low-end brand of gin. Maybe left over from a party, or an ex, or God only knew, since otherwise Starkweather seemed to favor the better brands. Wherever it had come from, Caleb knew from experience it would do the trick.
Once again, he drank straight from the bottle. For a while, he hovered on the edge of a pleasant buzz. And then, once again, it went away.
“What the fuck?” he said out loud.
Gray stirred, a brush of something big and strong in the tiny dark room of their shared brain.
“You are alive. This body heals.”
“Heals?” Caleb repeated dumbly, staring at the empty bottle.
“Yes. But this takes energy. So stop damaging it.”
saying he couldn’t get drunk anymore?
“You are drinking poison.”
“You should not do this. I will not allow our body to be damaged.”
With a stifled shriek, he hurled the bottle at the wall. It shattered into glittering shards, the remaining gin puddling on the floor, but he didn’t give a damn. The last person he could call family was terrified of him, he was under house arrest, possessed by a demon—
“I have already told you: demons are food.”
—and he couldn’t even get drunk?
Caleb started to laugh. It wasn’t funny, and he tried to stop, but the laughter kept coming, until he was bent double. Gray’s alarm resonated through him, but Caleb couldn’t make himself care.
“I have to get out of here,” he gasped, chest heaving from the hysterical laughter. “I just…I can’t…I have to get out!”
Gray agreed with him, and maybe that was a bad sign, but he didn’t fucking care. He ran to the door, flung it open—and stopped, hovering on the balls of his feet. The spirit ward wouldn’t let him cross—or so Starkweather claimed.
What would happen if he tried? Would it zap him? Burn him to ash? Throw him back on his ass?
“This cannot hold us.”
Not remotely comforting, and he should probably sit on the couch and calm down. But he was sick of it: of the condo, of the voice in his head, of losing everything he loved.
He was through the door before he could think too much about it. His ears popped as he crossed the threshold, and sparks flashed against his skin, but that was it.
He was out. Free.
Caleb’s feet pounded through puddles, sneakers soaked through in an instant. Not caring where he went, he raced down the walkway, into the cobblestone street—
The blare of a horn coincided with the movement in his peripheral vision. Acting on instinct, he jumped—
And cleared the car easily, like a runner over a hurdle.
His feet hit the ground on the far sidewalk, and he stumbled, more from shock than anything else. Someone let out a shout of alarm, and for a moment he wondered if he should stop…
He ran. Or maybe
ran; he wasn’t even sure anymore. Every jolt of foot against pavement was clear in a way it had never been before, accompanied by the exquisite sensation of muscles singing, blood coursing. The cool air of a winter day filled his lungs, bringing him all the scents of the city: exhaust fumes, frying shrimp, garbage, and the salty decay of marsh and sea.
He cut through the narrow streets, angling away from the ocean and the tourists. The houses here were all built sideways to the street, in clusters of two, facing one another across long courtyards. He’d never been athletic, not in his entire life. Now, for the first time, he felt perfectly in tune with his own body, every nerve alive like never before. He jumped onto a tall garden wall, leapt to the second story veranda, and swarmed up to the roof without pause.
The roof tiles rattled under his shoes as he ran the length of the house. There was a good fifteen-foot gap between this roof and the next, but he didn’t slow, didn’t hesitate, adrenaline and exultation cresting as he cleared the space with ease.
He didn’t keep track of how far they ran, leaping from roof to roof, swift and sure as some jungle cat. He didn’t think anyone caught more than a glimpse of them, just a blurred shadow, there and gone in the growing darkness.
Eventually, they came to a church, its buff-colored stone glowing in the sunset. Its steeple was the highest point in the area, and they made for it, climbing past the clock into the arched space which had once held bells, and now contained nothing but dust and spiders.
From the high vantage, Caleb looked out across the blocks separating the church from the sea. The mist had rolled away, but the tattered clouds caused the sunset to blaze in the west. Its myriad colors reflected in the rolling waves of the ocean, turning them an odd shade neither pink nor bronze, but something in between. The humid wind reeked of salt and decay, as if the Atlantic had stretched out a hand to caress his face. In the distance, Caleb could just make out Fort Sumter, a dark stain against the heaving waves. Closer in, a pod of dolphins splashed in the shallows.
He shouldn’t have been able to see such a distance in such detail, but he didn’t care. It was beautiful. Everything was beautiful: the brilliant sunset, the lights of the city below, the heaving ocean, the hummingbird thrum of his heart in his chest. So many little things he’d taken for granted, never seeing their vitality, never tasting their simple joy.
“Are you doing this?” he asked softly, because he had to know.
Gray was with him, like a second self, as close as they could get and still be two separate things. The…all right, not demon. Drakul? The drakul’s joy spilled into his, like different shades blending in a watercolor.
“This is…not like my previous existence. The sensations. The emotions. I never realized.”
Caleb’s mouth twitched in an involuntary smile. “It’s not like my previous existence, either. I never realized.”
“How is such a thing possible?”
“You’ve changed me.” He whispered the words, even though it made no difference to Gray if they were spoken, unvoiced, or screamed. “Everything is so sharp. Clear. Running, jumping…it feels natural. Comfortable.”
“Yes. But the colors. The smells. They are your doing.”
God. Was it possible for something good to come out of being possessed? Or was that the last thought a faust had before he turned into a monster?
“Is it the last thought of the demon?”
“You really don’t know?”
“How would I? I…have never done this before.”
Reluctance, tinged with shame.
“Perhaps I have misjudged. Perhaps there is more to this world than hunting and feeding.”
Huh. He knew Gray was changing him. Was it possible for him to change Gray?
The wind shifted slightly, and the sea breeze became darker, tainted with something like rotting flesh and corruption.
Caleb’s stomach cramped reflexively, although it took him a minute to recognize the cause. Not revulsion, but hunger.
Because the stench on the wind smelled good
It smelled like food.
* * *
John pulled up in front of the condo in a squeal of tires. Flinging himself out of the car, he drew his athame with his left hand and kept his right free in case he needed the gun.
Which, please Sekhmet, he wouldn’t. Let there be some stupid, perfectly benign reason the spirit ward hadn’t just been tested, but broken. Not because John had made a mistake trusting Gray. Not because the drakul was now next door drinking the neighbors’ blood.
The door was slightly ajar. John pushed it cautiously open, then slid inside, his athame held at the ready and an incantation on his lips.
The condo was empty; he knew it instantly from the absence of Gray’s energy. The air reeked of spilled alcohol, and the shards of a broken gin bottle gleamed on the living room floor, a dent in the wall above attesting to how it had broken. There wasn’t enough liquid around it for there to have been much left when it encountered the wall. An empty bottle of vodka stood mournfully on the kitchen counter.
Damn it. What happened? Had Caleb gotten drunk and just decided to take off? Although with almost two bottles of liquor in him, how far could he go?
Hell, maybe he’d died of alcohol poisoning, and Gray had happily run away with his corpse, back to snacking on demons.
Whatever had happened, John needed to report back to Kaniyar. They’d have to initiate a manhunt, because if things did go horribly wrong, if Gray attacked someone…well, no amount of secrecy was worth the risk.
The door behind him swung farther open. John spun, the blade of his athame sparking blue in the presence of etheric energy.
Familiar energy, and he relaxed almost before his eyes registered who had come up behind him. Which, on reflection, was damned stupid; he shouldn’t trust someone he’d just met, let alone two someone’s, one of them not even human.
Caleb—and it was Caleb, despite the swirl of power trembling in the air around him—gave him a manic grin. His long hair was out of its ponytail, tousled and wind-tossed. His clothes were damp from rain, but the look on his face was excited, wild. The sparks on the athame reflected in his eyes, and John thought he caught sight of an answering flash, like a lightning strike on the horizon.
“The demon—NHE—whatever the fuck you want to call it—is still here!” Caleb said, before John could speak. He came farther into the condo, shutting the door behind him. “We couldn’t find it, but we smelled it. It’s still in the city.”
“Wait a minute.” John put away his athame, holding up the other hand to slow Caleb down. “What the hell happened here? Why did you leave the condo?”
Caleb’s eyes went to the broken glass, and he winced. The energy pricking at John’s nerves slid away, like a snail retracting into its shell. “Sorry about the mess. I was upset. Feeling sorry for myself and mad at the world. I started drinking, except I apparently can’t get drunk anymore. Just like I don’t need glasses anymore.”
John frowned. “Some NHEs have accelerated healing, but it usually only manifests after they’ve fully taken over their host’s body.”