Part 24: Demons and Fate

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The werewolves were restless.

All of us gathered on a tiny strip of boat landing/beach by a huge man-made lake.  The werewolf biker gang huddled together in a big pile of leather and hair at the end of the trail that led to the national park.  They hovered just at the very edge of the line of gravel, under the shade of the trees, as though to step on the sand was to cross the Rubicon.

The two demon agents in their matching suits and sunglasses stood in the center of the hot sandy strip, like two dark spots on the sun.  Their posture was loose, but ready.  As always, they carried with them a sense of danger that was difficult to pin down, but yet very… present.

I was near the water’s edge.  Valentine stretched out on his back at my feet, propped up on his elbows.  He was completely naked.

I’d given my ultimatum.  I’d go with the agents, but not as a prisoner.  I wanted to get back to the business of solving crimes.  The agents seemed to agree, but no one had made any move yet.

The werewolves shifted restlessly at this strange standoff.

Mac glared between the agents and me.  Jett’s thin lips curled into something very much resembling a snarl.  With her hands crossed in front of her chest, Jett said, “Fine, you can take her, but we escort you back to the station.”

“As you wish,” Tengu said, and a deal seemed to be struck.

Nevermind that I’d said no one was ‘taking’ me anywhere.  I was going of my own accord, on my own terms.

Valentine stood up.  He let out a sad sort of sigh, even as he tried to put a little humor into his voice as he said: “I suppose this means our get-away is off?”

“For the moment,” I said. I turned to him and looked up into his face.  I never grew tired of that sharp, predatory gaze in his stormy gray eyes or the way his long hair hung like a black curtain in front of his pale, angular face.  I didn’t want to disappoint him, but this new knowledge he’d given me about myself was going to take time to digest.  I supposed that was why he’d kept it from me for so long. “I need to… I don’t know, figure out who I am, I guess.”

His smile was thin, but patient.  “Your human half coming out, no doubt.”

I gave him a little teasing punch on his sand-encrusted shoulder.  “Hey! That’s an insult.  I can tell.”

He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Seriously, I’ve never known a dragon who had to ‘find’ themselves.  Humans, meanwhile, seem perpetually uncertain of where they are.”

“Indeed,” said Tengu.  He’d done that silent thing again, and suddenly seemed to appear at my elbow, making me jump.  “Demons are the same.  You are what you are.  There is no changing your nature.”

His partner made a noise in his nose like a snort.  “Fuck fate, I say.  Nothing wrong with a little soul searching,” Furfur said.  He shoved his hands in his pockets.  Unlike Tengu, he kept his sunglasses on, covering his eyes. “You have to know where you stand so you can take a stand.”

Tengu raised an eyebrow, but made no comment.

Valentine, meanwhile, seemed to sniff the air for a moment before pronouncing, “Ah, a Fallen.”

His words oozed with insult, which, again, was made only a little ridiculous by Valentine’s utter nakedness.  Though, I had to say, he looked damn impressive nude.  I mean, despite the obvious manly attributes, Valentine was also showing off all his hardened muscles and taut skin.  His complete lack of shame was kind of hot, too—like he was a guy who gave no fucks whatsoever for what you thought of him.

Furfur may or may not have pinned Valentine in his gaze—it was impossible to tell with those mirrored shades of his—and said, “Dragon.”

Now, I didn’t know anything about the way the universe really worked, but I would have thought that given all the religious imagery, that dragons and angels might be enemies.  I mean, who hasn’t seen St. Michael stabbing a snake or wyrm or dragon coiled at his feet?  But, so, if that was the case, shouldn’t demons and dragons be on the same side?

Then I suddenly remembered that confusing conversation I’d had with the two agents when I first met them—they claimed demons were ‘natural’ magic.  Meanwhile, somehow, dragons were ‘unnatural.’

So… apparently not friendly, then.

Before the boys could get into a fistfight, I turned to Valentine again.  “Are you coming with?  Because, we should probably find you clothes if you are.”

I glanced over at where the werewolves were huddled by the end of the path at the edge of the tree line.  Mac was there with a few others, who watched us warily.  I couldn’t tell, but it looked like maybe Mac clutched a towel.  I remembered him saying something earlier about fetching clothes for Valentine. Before I could wave Mac over, however, Valentine turned and walked into the lake.  “Find yourself,” he said. The waves lapped higher and higher with each stride.  “You know where to find me.”

“You shouldn’t leave the state,” Furfur informed Valentine.  “I gather you’re a suspect.”

Valentine’s only answer was to arc into a dive.  As his body curved into the water, it transformed.  Pale skin became glittery alabaster scales.  Black hair shifted into to ebony spikes that ran along a serpentine spine.  Hands and feet shifted into powerful claws, tipped with wicked, jet-black talons.  A long tail grew from Valentine’s backside and slashed at the water like a fin, sending spray splashing to the shore.

As I watched him leave, I wondered.  Despite what Valentine said, I thought, perhaps, my choice to stay had hurt him.

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