“Are you all right?”
I snorted. “Oh, yes. Absolutely.”
Cran gave me a sidelong look. “I was only asking.”
“And I was only answering.” I shifted so’s he couldn’t see my face, and stared out the window. “Of course I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be? It was only a small demon, after all.” My jaw twitched as I tried to hold back the sarcasm.
Silence for a moment, then I heard the rustle of cloth as he stood.
He left without saying a word.
I was glad.
I waited a while to be sure he wasn’t coming back, then I went to the sideboard and poured myself a few too many finger heights of lemon vodka. I glanced away so I didn’t have to see my hands tremble.
I was fine. The demon was gone. It had needed barely any prompting, even; just a splash of holy water, a garlic sandwich and a quick prayer – and gone.
A tiny demon.
So why did I feel so damn messed up? Violated, even.
I gulped down the alcohol, ignoring the burn in my throat, and slumped back down on the lounge. I stared out the window, smiling half-heartedly as Molly, the insane labradoodle, chased the neighbour’s cat across the lawn.
Yesterday, if someone’d told me what was going to happen, I’d’ve called them insane. Actually, I’d’ve prob’ly called them a bloody idiot, get out of my way now, thanks very much. But whatever.
I closed my eyes and draped a hand over my face. The sunlight seemed extra bright and shiny today, and it hurt my eyes to look outside for long.
Something moved behind me and I jumped, whipping out the crucifix from down my shirt. “Dammit, Cran,” I said. “Did you have to come in so suddenly like that?”
He looked abashed. “Sorry.”
Cran never said sorry. My grip on the crucifix tightened and I found myself wishing I could switch my alco for water – the holy kind. “What did you say?”
He glanced up at me. “I said sorry. I know you’re pretty jumpy still. I’ll try to make more noise.” He tried on a grin.
I narrowed my eyes. Was it just that my recent freak-out had put me on edge, or did something about him seem different to normal? A tightness around the eyes, a twitch of the lips, something in the carriage of his shoulders.
The crucifix dug into my palm. I set the drink down and shoved my hand into my pocket, looking for the last stray clove of garlic. It came up empty. Hell.
I edged towards the kitchen. “So, uh, big plans for today?” I asked.
Cran shrugged. “Game’s on tonight, I was thinking of heading over to Mickey’s to watch.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said with deliberate casualness. The demon was good, very good. I could almost believe I was just making the whole thing up. If it hadn’t just possessed me yesterday, if I hadn’t seen its tics and mannerisms up close and personal, I’d’ve missed the whole exchange going on on Cran’s face: demon versus man, the internal struggle for control.
“Yeah,“ the demon said with Cran’s voice. “You?”
I stuck my bottom lip out nonchalantly. “Nothing much. Still, you know.” I held up my free hand and stared at it, transfixed for a second by the shaking. Bastard, I thought. You did this to me and you know it. I’ll kill you this time. What was it that killed demons for good, again?
Cran gave me a sympathetic look. “Yeah. That. Not much fun, I reckon.”
I shrugged and made it to the kitchen, sliding in behind the bench and pretending I was rummaging for something to eat. “I lived,” I said. You won’t, I added in the privacy of my own skull – which, thank God, was private once again.
Bastard demon. First me, now Cran. It wasn’t going to get away with this.
Stakes, that was it. Like vampires, their cousins. One big happy life-stealing family. I ground my teeth.
Cran moved toward me. “So how long do you think it will take? To, you know, recover?”
I fished around in the utensil drawer for the big bamboo chopsticks. A stick was nearly a stake, right? Near enough was good enough, or at least I bloody well hoped it would be. “No idea,” I told Cran. “S’pose it depends.”
“Yeah?” He – the demon – responded. “On what?”
I shrugged again. “Things.”
“Can I help?”
Hell, he was right behind me. I could feel him breathing down my neck. I shivered. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, you can.”
He put his hands on my shoulders. “How?” His mouth was right next to my ear. His breath was warm.
F—ing bastard. Why Cran? Why the only man who’d ever loved me in my entire miserable life? Bloody, bloody hell. “Like this,” I whispered.
I twisted around, one clean movement, but too quick for him to react. The crucifix slammed into his forehead, the bamboo stake into the side of his neck.
His eyes went wide. “What the—“
I pushed him off me and he crumpled to the floor, and I tried to pretend I wasn’t crying. “You bastard,” I said through the tightness in my throat. “I name you Azazel.”
The air shimmered in front of me. “You rang?”
I blinked, regained my senses, scrambled backwards. “What the hell?”
The faint outline of the demon lifted an eyebrow. “You called. I appeared, despite the warmth of your reaction last time. To what do I owe the honour this time?”
My gaze flickered between the hazy demon, hovering in the middle of the kitchen, and the crumpled, broken body lying beneath it. “You possessed him. You bastard, you possessed the only man I ever loved!”
The demon glanced down. “That hunk of meat? Hardly. So few brain cells it would be like ingesting water to stave off famine. And the few that he has – had – were far too good to be pleasant.” It shuddered. “No, thank you. I have better taste than that.”
I stared. “No. You possessed him. I saw you!”
The demon huffed. “If you think, even for a second, that I would possess something like that…” It trailed off, head tilted, staring at the bamboo skewer in my hand.
I followed its gaze and stared horrified as the blood trickled down to meet my fingers.
“Oh, you didn’t. You didn’t!” The demon cackled. “Oh, my precious, that is just too lovely.” It cackled louder. “Well done!”
I drew in a shaky breath. “Get lost,” I said.
It clutched its sides, laughing uproariously.
“Now,” I said, anger hardening in my chest. I stood, took aim, threw the stake and the crucifix all at once.
The laughter cut off. The shimmer snapped out with a shriek.
I stared at the body lying glassy-eyed on the floor. The demon was gone.