Returning to the bar wasn’t easy. I parked and took a deep breath. It had been a long night. Survived another round. I picked up my gun from the passenger seat. Its familiar weight steady in my hands. I was thankful to have it, and my prime bullets, back in my possession. I made my way up to the door as I had thousands of times before. I didn’t want to rest, didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to go to Ohio, to find the pendent and end this, end everything. I was getting tired of playing games. Tired of seeing my pack covered in their own blood.
The key turned easily in the lock, it was still open. May not have been as late as I thought. The wooden doorway to my world seemed less solid. Aisha helped me put up wards to keep the evils out, but it wasn’t strong enough to keep out the demons. I walked through the doorway into the dim room. It was empty save my bartender and waitress, counting up the day’s earnings. At one time, they were all I had to worry about, now there was so much more. I picked my way through the tables, putting up stools and taking stock of the room. Posters had been put up like band-aids to cover bullet holes. Bloodstains blended into the dark wooden floors. Dried and unseen, but I knew they were there. My fingertips brushed the surfaces of the tables, the booths. I paused where a Jack Daniel’s promotional poster masked a fist-shaped hole that had yet to be repaired. A sinking feeling settled in my stomach. Your month is almost up.
“Hey boss,” Rita’s voice called to me over the counter, “You ok?”
I nodded absently, touching the hollow wall. This place had taken a beating, but it had never been invaded, not like tonight. I was tired. “Thanks for holding down the fort.” I walked towards them, “Anybody still around?”
“Dante’s out back with two swords and a bottle of wine.” she motioned to a room behind the bar, a reinforced steel door separating it from the normal bar. It had become our base of operations. Soundproofed, protected. Usually it was how we came in, if I wanted to maintain any semblance of business, we couldn’t be coming through covered in blood. Despite being a shifter bar, it wasn’t the best look.
I sighed, leaning against the solid wooden bar, seasoned with years of spilled beverages. “Any word from downstairs?”
Rita shook her head, blonde curls bouncing around her ears. “Quiet.”
“What did your pack get yourselves into this time?” Tony turned to me from the bar holding a glass and a bottle of whiskey in his tattooed hands. I faced them, my Kin, my family. I accepted the drink gratefully.
“Demon King finally noticed us,” I answered.
“At least this one’s not playing jingle bells,” Rita flashed me a smile I couldn’t bring myself to return. Maybe not, but Sam’s afraid.
“No,” I downed one glass and poured another, staring at the bar. “You guys should head out.”
A silent look passed between them, one I had been seeing too often lately. They wanted answers. Wanted to know why we came back like soldiers from the front, covered in blood and exhausted only to to get drinks, go to the war room, and go out again. Wanting to know why the drink orders nearly quadrupled since the massacre as we tried to fight, and fought to win.
“Lydia, you know we’re here for you,” Rita put her hand on mine, she squeezed.
“Just keep doin’ what you’re doing. This place wouldn’t run without you.” I forced a smile. “But go home and be safe. I’ll see you both tomorrow, or later today.”
“Get some sleep,” Tony squeezed my shoulder as he followed Rita out. I was left alone. Methodically, I began to take apart and clean my shotgun.
This place used to be my sanctuary. No one could hurt me here, no one would dare raise a hand against me in my own establishment, but now... I shivered as I thought of the cage. I hated that room.
Half a day ago, evil descended on this place, stole us away into the night to play a Demon’s game. Now the new memories just blended with the old. I closed my eyes. It’s not safe. But I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t have any fear left.
I wanted to find Dante, but knowing him, he wanted to be alone; seemed everyone wanted to be alone. Sam at the Caern, Dean with Aisha, Jake back at his place. Sam’s afraid the Demon will take control, force him to kill the pack, our family. I knew as Alpha it was my responsibility to maintain my pack, to make ensure that the scenarios running through my beta’s head would never come to pass. Dante stopped him once, and got bit for his efforts. He hated the scars that circled his shoulder. Another downed glass of whiskey.
Your secret little romance…You could run, just the two of you. The demon’s taunts played through my mind. I wasn’t running, and neither was Dante. I trusted them, and I loved him. How does it feel, just being able to watch…
Like a demon could understand. When I watched my men fight, it was not anger I felt, it wasn’t a desire to join them or to protect them. No, what I felt was pride. I knew that they’d survive. The demon is the one who should be afraid. He took our abilities, pitted us against hunters to scare us. All it did was demonstrate our strength and solidify my belief that we would fight, and we would win.
The look that crossed Dante’s features when he saw me injured surfaced into my memory. I’d do everything in my power to never see that face again. My bastet was angry. Angry from being stolen; angry to be locked in a room; angry being forced to listen to the demon, to work with the mage. I didn’t blame him, I just didn’t have the energy to feel much of anything.
My weapon cleaned, there was nothing more to distract me. I took a route out to the war room. It smelled like him. An empty bottle of wine and a fallen glass shattered across the floor proved that the cat had been there. I smiled picking up the broken glassware. Small things that reminded me life wasn’t all just this war.
I took a step out into the alley behind the bar onto the icy pavement. His back was to me, cutting the frigid winter air with his spirit infused khopesh and his newest weapon, a machete. “You’re going to make the Klaive jealous,” I said from the stoop. He lowered the weapons and turned to me, his cat-like ears twitching under his dark hair, a soft layer of fur covering his skin in the darkness.
“You’re back,” his voice rang in smooth monotone. It was like that a lot lately. Sometimes it seemed there was nothing left inside of him but the warrior. The mission. We all wanted the kings to die.
“Yeah. You need anything?” I asked.
“Are you ok?” His voice softened with his stance. His stare probed me, but my wounds healed earlier in the night.
“I’m fine,” I answered, tasting alcohol on my breath. Whisky vapors dissipated, hot on the cold air. “Sent Rita and Tony home. Need to prepare for the hunters, for Ohio round two.” Dante nodded and turned from me, taking up his swords, swinging them to warm up his wrists. I watched him for awhile, his swings arcing in graceful sweeps, his footing sure on the ice. Moonlight and a streetlamp dancing on his blades.
“Are you coming back in?” I asked as the chill permeated to my bones.
“Eventually,” he said to the moon, pausing to answer me. “Want to hunt.”
“OK. Don’t go too far and be safe.” He nodded. I stood and approached him, tentatively wrapping my arms around his midsection, avoiding the weapons. I felt his heat against my bloodied skin, his scent over the stink of the city. I brushed my lips against his, a brief kiss goodnight. He held me in an awkward hug, keeping his weapons well away from my back, his smooth fur warm against my cheek. He kissed me once more before we broke apart. “I’m going to go get a shower and try to sleep. You’re welcome to join when you’re ready.” I didn’t want sex, not tonight. But I wouldn’t mind falling asleep to the sound of his purr, surrounded by silky black fur.
“Mm.” He replied, inflection returning to his voice. “I’ll stand guard for awhile. Sleep well.”
I love you. The thought hung frozen in my thoughts as he returned to practicing his forms, probably talking to the spirit in that klaive of his. The murder sword had been happy with his recent anger, his blood lust.
I trudged up the stairs, dragging my shotgun off the bar. We were getting used to this. Exhaustion descended as I climbed up to my own sparse apartment. It had begun to smell like Dante too. His presence comforted me, made me safe. I washed the grime from the warehouse and the storage lockers off of my body, taking stock of my own scars and I watched blood and dirt circle down the drain. Just another night.
I stalked back to my bedroom, leaving wet footprints in my wake. I prayed I’d actually sleep. Gaia knew I needed it.
I checked that my guns were loaded and within reach. Standard issue these days, although the only thing I actually shot at when I woke was my own reflection in the mirror. That disrupted pretty much everybody.
The nightmares would come tonight too. I turned off the light, closed the heavy curtains to block the coming dawn, and closed my eyes, drifting quickly into an uneasy sleep.
Jeremy’s face appeared as it did on the TV screen. Only this time, I was alone, again without my gun. “You think they need you?” he taunted. I didn’t hesitate this time, tried to tear the TV off of the wall. As it crashed to the floor another lit up. “You’ve failed them.” Screens lit. “They were yours, now they’re mine.”
I saw them in cages. The dinosaurs shifted into velociraptors, Dante meditating with his klaive in hand, Jake priming his gun.
“You lie,” I shouted back. “You can’t break my pack!”
“So you think. A scared princess without her knights. How will you ever survive?”
The walls gave way and I looked around me, but saw nothing. A velociraptor scream pierced the silence and a gun went off. It ran through my chest, but I barely felt it and my skin closed around the wound. “I thought you wanted things to be fair!” I shouted at the demon.
“That was against humans. You’re a wolf. Where’s your pride? Your strength? This IS fair!”
“What happened to ‘scared princess’?” I murmured under my breath, a spotlight shining on me, shrouding the rest of the room in darkness. I didn’t want to hurt my pack. I lowered my gun and shifted into the beast. At least in this form I could fight, or run. I heard them move around me, claws and paws padding on the floor. My pack. My family.
Dean will kill me first, if he and Sam don’t finish me off, Jake will shoot my head, or Dante… No. He wouldn’t. I heard the footsteps approach and got ready for battle. The velociraptors came first, tearing at me with their jaws. Their speed and strength overpowered me. They took me down, one of each arm. I felt the bird fly down, pecking at my face, my eyes. Blood poured from the wounds as the demon laughed. “No.” I protested. “Guys! Stop! You know me!” But our pack link was gone. White noise was all I heard in my head. They were lost. Jake continued to peck at me, obscuring my vision. Suddenly, a throbbing pain erupted from my chest as cold metal cut through my skin, and sliced between my ribs. I gurgled, struggling to heal, to breath. Joy emanated from the klaive, wet with my blood, and the zombie eyes of my bastet loomed over me.
“This is the second lover who tried to kill you. Maybe this one will succeed.” The demon’s laughter rang through my head. Dante swung the klaive again and Jake flew out of the way. “NO!” I pulled my muscles, breaking free of the dinosaurs and rolled out from where the klaive struck the ground, inches from my head. I rolled to my feet, ignoring my wounds. Ignoring everything. The world turned black as lights flickered out and I turned on my friends, my allies. Tasting their blood, feeling their flesh give way under my claws, reveling in the power of it, the joy of battle. The demon laughed in the background, his howls ripping through me, egging me on.
The dinosaurs fell at my feet. Jake was nothing more than a pile of feathers when I turned to Dante. I couldn’t. His eyes were blank, his soul gone. He raised his klaive to attack me, to kill me. The weapon buried deep into my chest. Dante stood back, panting as my strength left me. “You’ve killed your own pack!” The demon’s voice came over. “You are mine.”
“We belong to no one!” I howled. I wasn’t going to give him Dante. I grabbed my assailant, and sliced his neck, his blood running down my claws, down my fur. “And now they are free.”
“You are dying.”
“Better to die than allow my family to succumb to your power.”
Around me, blood pooled back into their bodies, reanimating the dead. I felt my own blood return, tainted by death. “You will kill and you will die. Over and over I will watch my mice play. And every time you will lose.”
The fight went on…
CRASH! I bolted upright in bed gasping for breath, a scream silent in my throat. Instincts activated and I reached for my gun. A lamp from my night stand had rolled onto the ground, disrupted from my thrashing. I registered my surroundings and sought out Dante, but he had yet to return. I checked the clock. Only forty five minutes had passed since I fell asleep. I fell back on my sweaty pillow, or maybe it was just wet from my hair, trying to control my breaths.
The door pushed open and Dante bounded in, taking his preferred form of a black cat. He scanned the room for trouble. “It’s ok,” I assured him. “Just another nightmare. I’ll clean it up later.” Concern crossed his features and he approached my bed, shifting into sockto to pick up the fallen lamp.
“You sure?” He wrapped his arms around me, holding my head to his chest. My heart still pounding against his. “They’re getting worse, aren’t they?” His voice rumbled and the vibrations resonated through my body. Safe. He kissed my forehead, fine whiskers tickling my skin.
“Well,” I sighed, pulling away to see his face. “At least they’re still worse than reality.”
“That’s getting worse too.” A frown crossed his features, dark anger simmering under the surface. “It’s not safe here.”
“I know,” I replied slowly, thinking back to how flimsy the door felt coming into the bar, the violation of my sanctuary. “But this is home.”
“Do you want me to stay?” he tried to keep his voice calm though his protective grip tightened. Yes. I couldn’t lie, but I wouldn’t tether him either.
“It’s up to you.” I finally answered. “If you want to hunt, I don’t mind.” I forced a reassuring smile, knowing I’d wake up to him meditating across the room and a collection of dead rats outside the bar. “Though you need rest. I can take over guard duty in a few hours.”
“I’ll check on you soon.” He ignored me as he usually did whenever I implored him to sleep, but his gaze softened. He murmured in Gaelic, soothing my heart as he smoothed my tangled blue curls, his fingers soft against my face.
“You ever gonna tell me what that means?” I muttered, my eyes feeling heavy with sleep calling me back into its clutches.
“Bastet keep their secrets,” he answered, adjusting my disrupted covers as he moved off the bed, righting my shotgun.
“Jerk.” I yawned, pulling him into one final kiss, his lips firm against mine.
“Just go back to sleep,” he purred, shifting back to a cat. He nuzzled my cheek, and then I was alone.
I took a few deep breaths to steady my heart, clutching the packstone that lived around my neck. Everyone was fine. No one was lost or wounded. At least the nightmares are still worse than reality. I closed my eyes and whispered as I always did. “The pack is strong. We will win. The demons will be vanquished and the nightmares replaced.”
Not an easy thing to believe in the darkness.