Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
Starkweather booted up his computer, then turned back to Caleb and folded his hands on the desk. The pose offered Caleb a nice view of those biceps beneath the tight shirt; he tried not to stare.
“Let’s start with an easy one. You said the people you were with in the abandoned house knew to find Gray there. How?”
Oh yeah, “easy.” Christ. Of course Starkweather would begin with ratting out on Melanie and her group, whoever the fuck they were.
He sensed Gray’s attention, the tiger lifting its head from its nap.
“Melanie. Your brother’s wife.”
A confused impression of her face flashed through his mind, like an old black-and-white film. Melanie laughing; Melanie dancing; Melanie under him, body arching—
No! God, no; it was like having a memory of fucking his sister. Even though the recollections were all but lifeless, without taste or feel or color, bile rose in his throat. It took all his concentration to shove the memory back where it belonged.
“Caleb?” Starkweather asked, an edge of alarm in his voice.
“It’s all right.” Caleb held up a hand, hoping he sounded steadier than he felt. If he lost it now, would Starkweather send him to some cell in Spec-HQ? “It’s just…Gray has-has memories. From other…people.”
Damn him for guessing. “Yeah. It wasn’t…pleasant. For me. Just…I don’t want to think about it, all right?”
“All right.” Starkweather’s voice was pitched to soothe. Caleb didn’t know if he should resent it or be grateful. “You can talk to Gray?”
“Sort of.” Caleb took a deep breath. Calm. Control. “He’s always there. Watching.”
“Can he tell us anything about Ben’s death? Anything to help us find the NHE responsible?”
“The final moments of a life are seldom recorded.”
Of course not. That would actually be helpful.
Caleb dutifully repeated back what Gray had said. “Huh,” Starkweather said, tapping his fingers on the desk and frowning into space. “It makes sense, I suppose. If death comes quickly enough, the last few minutes wouldn’t be recorded in long-term memory.”
Caleb looked away, bands tightening around his chest. “Yeah. Makes sense.”
Starkweather winced. “Sorry. This is your brother we’re talking about. I didn’t mean to sound clinical.”
“I thought you wanted to ask questions about Gray.”
The agent accepted the change of subject without protest. Maybe he really was sorry. “Until now, Gray has never taken a live human, correct?”
Memories flickered, too fast and jumbled to interpret.
I don’t understand. Is it correct?
“Does it matter?”
Damn it, if you aren’t lying, if you don’t hate me, just answer the fucking question.
The presence inside him stirred uncomfortably.
“Yes. Only dead flesh. I thought I understood.”
No answer. Just a feeling of unease sliding along his nerves, something which didn’t belong to him.
Caleb rested his hands on the desk in front of him. He’d bitten his nails to the quick over the last couple of weeks. “Right. There are…memories. Fragments. Lots of them, I think. But they’re weird. Everything feels distant. Muted. There’s no color, no scents, barely any feeling.” He shook his head. “Maybe because the b-bodies were dead? I don’t know.”
Starkweather leaned across the desk and put his hand on Caleb’s. His fingers were warm and strong. Caleb imagined pulling away, but instead found himself turning his hand palm-up. The touch made his heart race and his breathing quicken, but it grounded him at the same time because it was normal. Human.
“Don’t apologize,” Starkweather said, his fingers curling gently around Caleb’s. “You’re doing great. Just let me know if you need to stop.”
He never thought he’d take comfort from a Spec. “I will.”
“There’s a lot we still don’t know about NHEs and etheric energy. Even now, it’s barely a science and more a lot of wild guesses mixed in with old superstition.”
Caleb couldn’t suppress a snort. “I’d noticed.”
“The one thing I do know about is manipulating energy, which is what an exorcist does to remove an NHE. If I’m going to help you, I need to find out if there’s any precedent for this situation, and if there is, how the drakul was exorcised. There are a lot of vampire myths from practically every culture across the world, most of them contradictory. Which means research might not be much help. Since Gray is being cooperative, can you ask him when and how he was first summoned?”
Impatience. The urge to get out, to run, to hunt.
Where did you come from? What are you?
Indifference. Run. Hunt.
Caleb let out a shaky breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “He doesn’t care. About the past. He’s not being stubborn, he just doesn’t understand why it matters to us. It’s irrelevant as far as he’s concerned.”
Starkweather leaned forward, those intensely blue eyes focused on Caleb, his fingers tightening gently. “Ask again.”
“You can ask for yourself. He can hear you. I—”
Memories, coming in a jumbled torrent. Moving through the storm, within the storm, being the storm. Swooping and hunting and diving, while smaller things scattered at his coming.
Then, suddenly, a high platform. The dense confines of a physical form around him. Women chanting in the torrential rain.
Caleb blinked sluggishly. The office felt distant, unreal. “There’s a building…mud brick? I don’t know. Guess I should’ve paid more attention in my ancient history class, huh?
“You’re doing great,” Starkweather murmured. “Go on.”
“It’s big, kind of like a pyramid, but with a flat top. And people chanting. And…” he swallowed convulsively, even though the memory held no color or scent, “blood. A lot of blood. And-and bodies.”
“This…had not disturbed me before. It simply was. I dislike this questioning. You will stop now.”
“What else?” Starkweather prodded. “What are the people wearing? Can you see any cars, or power lines, or—”
“No. The knives—they’re stone. The priests cut their throats, cut out their hearts, and some of them are children, oh God—”
Caleb reeled, almost falling out of the chair, his thoughts scattered like a stack of papers swatted aside by an angry paw.
He was on his knees, Starkweather’s solid arms supporting him, and he had no idea how he’d even gotten there. And even though he knew he shouldn’t trust a Spec, he couldn’t help but lean into the other man. The clean scent of soap and aftershave filled his nose, mingling with warm male skin.
Fingers stroked his hair. “Come on, Caleb. Talk to me.”
“I’m all right,” he whispered. “I’m fine.” If possessed but still mostly himself qualified as fine, anyway.
Starkweather drew back a little, but he didn’t entirely let go. “What happened?”
“Gray…the memories bothered him. They didn’t before.” He couldn’t quite bring himself to pull away from the only source of comfort he had, Spec or no. “I’m sorry. I can’t—I can’t think about this. Not now. Please?”
Starkweather gave him a long, assessing look. “All right. We’ll call it quits for today. Do you want to watch TV? Read a book?”
TV with a Spec. Not normal…but approximating it, anyway. “Sounds good.”
“All right.” Starkweather helped Caleb to his feet. “I hope you like NASCAR.”
John sat at his computer, wondering what the hell to put in his case notes. It was getting late; the sun had long ago set outside the big windows. Caleb slept in the bedroom across the hall, and the rest of the building was silent, except for the occasional creak or groan of the old beams shifting as the temperature outside dropped.
Did Gray sleep?
No one knew. Maybe NHEs had some kind of circadian rhythm, but no one had ever thought to ask the question until now. Hell, he’d never before truly realized just how little anyone knew about the etheric entities which existed alongside the physical world. There was barely a consensus they came from this world at all, rather than emanating from some other dimension.
Nothing about Gray made sense. If the drakul was telling the truth, if the knives really had been stone, he’d have to be several hundred years old at the minimum. Assuming he’d been called up by the Aztecs, anyway.
But mud brick pyramids didn’t sound like Aztec design. It sounded like ziggurats. Mesopotamia.
No. That was just insane. There was no possible way Gray had spent ten-thousand years jumping from corpse to corpse. Someone would have exorcised him long before now.
Unless they’d tried and couldn’t. Unless whoever had called him up in the first place, with blood and sacrifice and power, had let something loose in the world which couldn’t be sent back.
It would certainly explain how indifferent Gray seemed to all of John’s poking and prodding. Except…he hadn’t been, not completely. He’d gotten upset at the memories, ones he’d presumably been carrying for quite a while, no matter how old he was.
So why now? What had changed, other than he possessed a living body? Caleb’s body?
John shut the computer off without typing anything. Right now, there was nothing to record except wild speculation, none of which would help Caleb. He needed to get to HQ and dig into the library there, try to chase down anything fitting Gray’s description.
Single entity, 10,000 years old, seeks same. Must be into inhabiting dead bodies and drinking the blood of the possessed.
Maybe it would be safe to go in tomorrow, just for a few hours. Everything had been fine thus far. Gray hadn’t shown any inclination to take control since the attempted exorcism. It was a risk, but what about this case wasn’t?
“Listen to me, John,”
Sean had said on the street outside, as he handed over the bag of clothes he’d bought.
“This is…this is crazy. You’ve always been reckless, but lately, I swear you’ve got some kind of death wish. I think you need help.”
“This wasn’t my idea, remember? If you want to blame someone, blame Kaniyar.”
“Oh, I do. She’s taking advantage of the fact you never could pass up a challenge. And it’s going to get you killed.”
Sean just didn’t understand. He’d gotten spooked and now he was taking it out on John. Annoying, but nothing to get worked up about.
On the way to his bedroom, John paused outside Caleb’s door. Holding his breath, he very carefully eased the door open, just far enough to see the bed and the figure in it.
The only light came from the street lamps outside, filtered through the curtains. Caleb sprawled on his back, his head turned to the side. He looked painfully vulnerable, with his hair tumbled over his forehead, his brows and mouth relaxed instead of drawn into a scowl. One hand lay on the pillow by his cheek, loosely curled.
But the vulnerability was an illusion. Fierce Caleb had taken up demon hunting when he thought he had no other choice, to give peace to the brother he’d obviously loved. He might be a vegetarian hippie peacenik, but there was a strength in Caleb to match the drakul’s.
John wondered what would happen if he crossed to the bed and smoothed the lock of hair off Caleb’s forehead. Did the sheets and blanket cover a pair of the tighty-whities Sean had bought for him, or did Caleb sleep in the nude?
His mind helpfully conjured up the image of Caleb writhing beneath him, long legs draped over John’s shoulders, cock glistening with precome while John pushed deep into his tight ass. Because obviously he needed to be fantasizing about someone who was not only under unofficial house arrest, but possessed by an entity as powerful as Gray.
Damn. Now he was fully hard. Maybe Sean had a point. Maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly at the moment. Gray was an unknown factor. Sure, he
he didn’t snack on the unpossessed, but NHEs didn’t always tell the truth. Some of them lied very, very well; good exorcists had died believing those lies. If the drakul showed up in John’s bedroom tonight, it wasn’t going to be to fulfill some kink he’d never even realized he had before now.
He didn’t think Gray would prey on him, or he wouldn’t have agreed to go along with Kaniyar’s request. No matter what Sean said.
Shutting the door as quietly as he had opened it, John crossed the hall to his bedroom. Once inside, he hesitated only briefly before taking out athame and chalk, and casting a protective circle around his bed.
Just in case.
* * *
Caleb stared out the big front window of Starkweather’s condo. The cobblestone street outside was damp and slick from the heavy mist rolling in off the ocean. Everything on the other side of the glass was veiled in gray.
Starkweather had left a few hours ago, promising to be back by nightfall, and making it clear Caleb was not to leave the condo under any circumstances.
“I hate having to do this,” he’d said apologetically, even as he scrawled strange runes over the doorstep. “I trust you, but my boss’s head would explode if she knew I’d left without setting up a simple spirit ward.”
Caleb wondered if Starkweather was telling the truth. Maybe the whole thing was a setup and the agent really didn’t trust Caleb at all. “I don’t know what a spirit ward is.”
“Sorry. Basically, anyone possessed won’t be able to cross the threshold.”
“Great. So if there’s a fire, I get to sit here and cheerfully burn to death?”
“Pro tip: don’t become an arsonist while I’m gone.”
“I’ll do my best. Let’s say I’m happily dying in a fire, and I spot a horrible car wreck outside the window. What then?”
Starkweather pointed at a piece of paper beside the phone. “I already wrote down my cell number. You can call me—or 911—to save any mangled pedestrians, little old ladies who need to cross the street, or kittens stuck in trees.”
Ass. But a charming ass.
Now, less than an hour after Starkweather left, Gray was getting antsy.
“We must leave. The other mortal is keeping us from hunting the demon.”
It was harder to ignore Gray when there was no one else to talk with. Tension vibrated through him, the desire to move, to search, to feed growing more urgent. How long would Gray tolerate a delay? How long before he had to feed?