Chapter 12'"Thetis," he said after several more moments of silence, "talk to me here." I looked up sharply. "What do you want me to say? You already know the answer. They wouldn't lie. Well, actually, they lie all the time but not about something like that."
He nodded and set the bowl and spoon on the coffee table. Slouching back on the couch, he didn't look at me, instead staring off across the room in thought. I could guess what was going through his mind. He knew what I was and what I did. But it was one thing to have a superficial knowledge of it and another to suddenly know there was tangible evidence each time I had sex. He would recognize the glow now and know that I had just come from someone else's bed, that not so long ago I'd been in someone else's arms doing the most intimate things two people could do. Things I couldn't do with him."I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else I could say. "For what?" "For…this. For doing what I do." "Why? It is what you do. It's what you have to do, right? There's no need to apologize for your own…uh, nature."
"So…what? You're okay with that? Knowing what
I'm doing with other guys? Or rather, when I'm doing it?"
"'Okay' is a funny word, but yeah, I guess. What I'm not okay with is…" He paused, as always considering his words before speaking. "What I'm not okay with is you being afraid to tell me about this. You must have seen how…entranced…I was. But you never brought it up or explained it to me."
I poked at the melted remains of my ice cream. "It's not that easy, and you know it. It's got to be hard enough for you to accept that I'm sleeping around on you, so to speak, without real evidence to confirm each time it happens.""Why don't you let me decide what I can or can't accept."
He didn't sound angry exactly, but I'd never heard him so sharp and assertive. The arrogant part of me didn't like being spoken to like that, but I knew he was justified in the comment. And, I had to admit, that confidence was kind of a turn-on. Alpha males. Yum.
"I know what you are," he continued, "and I know what you do. I had to acknowledge that from the beginning of the relationship. It bothers me, yeah, but that doesn't mean I can't go on with the knowledge." He laid his hand over mine, his fingertips absentmindedly stroking my skin. "But you can't be afraid to tell me the truth. Not ever. Even if it's ugly. What we have isn't about sex—like that wasn't already perfectly obvious. But if we don't have honesty either, then there's nothing left."I forced my eyes up to him and smiled. "How can you be so young and so wise at the same time?" "I'm not that wise," he said, pulling me to him so I leaned against his shoulder. He didn't challenge the "young" comment. Looking at our ages objectively, one could practically accuse me of cradle robbing. I sighed and snuggled into him. "It means nothing, you know. All that stuff I do. I don't even remember their names." "I know. You've told me. Although…" "What?"
"Sometimes that's not exactly comforting. Sex isn't supposed to be about 'nothing.' I don't really like the idea of you being with guys you don't want to be with. Even if you're technically my girlfriend…I'd rather you at least liked what was going on. "
"Well…in the ultimate heat of it, I sort of do
like it. The energy I get from sex…well, you can't really
understand it. But it…it's literally what I live for. So even if I
don't want to be with someone before and after the deed, there's
still that one moment, no matter how brief, when I want them." I
tried to give him a reassuring smile. "Besides, don't feel too bad
for me. Things are a lot better than they used to be. I have more
of a choice about who I'm with now, which makes a big difference.
It's not like I just take whoever comes along."
"What do you mean you have a choice now} Haven't you always?"
I laughed uneasily. "Oh, come on, Seth. You know women didn't start getting any real rights until about a century ago. Men haven't always been kind or considerate in their relations with the fair sex—especially those in the lower classes."He stared at me, shocked, and pulled back a little. I loved how expressive those eyes were, even if their current emotion wasn't exactly positive. "You're talking about…it…it sounds an awful lot like rape." I shrugged, immediately realizing we needed to steer out of these waters. "It's hard to rape a succubus. In the ultimate climax, the succubus is the conqueror—especially if the guy ends up blacking out." "You aren't really answering my question." "And you aren't really asking it." We lapsed into silence. A moment later Seth took me back into a tight embrace, burying his face in my shoulder this time. "Hey, now. Don't let it bother you. Don't judge the past by the standards of today. It won't work. They're incompatible." "I don't like the idea of you doing things you don't want to do," he said gruffly. "I wish I could do something…wish I could, I don't know, protect you." "You can't," I whispered, kissing the crown of his head. "You can't, and you have to accept that." We went to bed together after that, the first time since the kissing incident. Seth held me tightly all night, even in his sleep, clinging as though I might slip away if he let go.
Again, I marveled at his understanding. And again, I questioned whether I was in love yet. How would I know? What was love anyway? I ticked off a list as my hands held tightly to his back. Affection. Connection. Understanding. Acceptance. All these things he gave me. Those were parts of love. All these things he offered freely, no matter how terrible each new discovery about me was. I wondered whether I returned as much as I received. Did I have any right to be in this relationship? Somehow I doubted it, yet it made me want him all the more.When we drove to the bookstore the next morning, he held my hand with a thrilling possessiveness. He didn't let go until we actually cleared the bookstore's door. "Did Doug come in today?" I asked Beth after I'd made a sweep of the store. "Yeah. He was here earlier. I think he's in your office." I walked to the back. The office was dark. When I turned on the light, I found him hunched in a corner, his body curled up in a tight ball. I immediately dropped down beside him. "What's wrong?" After several seconds, he lifted his eyes up to mine. They were dark and troubled. "Nothing." To contradict him seemed both obvious and pointless. "What can I do to help?" He laughed bitterly, a terrible sound. "Don't you get it, Kincaid? Nothing helps, that's the problem. There's no point to any of this. You know that as well as I do." "Do I?" He gave me a cynical smile. "You're one of the most depressed people I know. Even when you're smiling and flirting and all of that. I know you hate this life. This world. I know you think it's all stupid. " "Not true. There's good in the bad. There's always hope. What's gotten into you?" "Just reality, that's all. Just woke up and realized how stupid it all is. Dunno why I even bother." I touched his arm. "Hey, you're kind of freaking me out here. Did you get any sleep? Do you need something to eat?"
He leaned back against the wall, face still bleak and full of snide humor. "Kincaid, I need so many fucking things, it's not even funny. But you know what? We don't get them. That's how it is. What's that saying? Life is brutish and short?""Er…close enough."
I sat there with him for a long time, listening to him go on. His words were an outpouring of bitter anger and black despair. A frightening combination. I'd never heard him like this. Not upbeat Doug, always ready with a joke. Doug, the guy who never took anything seriously. His bleak face reminded me of Casey's when I'd found her in thecafé, butshe hadn't been this down.
As the clock ticked, I wondered what I should do. He certainly couldn't work today, yet I feared sending him home. Who knew what he might do in this mood? Previously, I would never have worried about him hurting himself, but all bets seemed to be off now.
"I want you to stay here," I finally said, standing up and straightening the kinks out of my legs. "I've got to get back out there, but I'm going to check on you later, okay? Promise you'll find me if you need me. We'll eat lunch later on. I'll get us some falafels from that place you like."He only gave me a twisted half-smile, face stormy and mocking. I left, taking the letter opener with me.
His mood didn't change as the day wore on; even the falafels did no good. Once more, I wondered desperately what I should do. He had no family in the city I could call. I knew the hospitals had psych emergency services; should I contact one of them?Shortly after lunch, Alec showed up. He avoided Casey's pleading eyes and gave me a smile that tried too hard. "Hey Georgina, is Doug around?"
I hesitated. I didn't like Alec, but he was sort of Doug's friend. Maybe that would help. I led the drummer to the back. When Doug saw him, he leapt up with an astounding burst of energy, his face both desperate and rapt."Jesus Christ, man! Where have you been?" "Sorry," said Alec. "I got held up." They huddled together, then looked uneasily over at me. Sensing I was unwanted, I backed out of the office but not before I saw Alec reaching into his coat and Doug looking very eager.
It was Alec, I realized. Alec was feeding Doug whatever drug he was addicted to. The realization made me want to go in there and throttle him, wipe that stupid grin off his face. Yet, when the two emerged a half hour later, the change in Doug was so marked that I couldn't bring myself to act.A swagger had returned to his step, the normal cheery grin back on his face. Janice passed by, and he made some playful remark that caused her to laugh. Seeing me, he pranced up and saluted. "Ready for duty, boss. What do you have for me?" "I…" I stared stupidly, which only made him smile more. "Rein it in, Kincaid," he said with mock severity. "I know that as a good groupie, you're ready to take me anytime, anywhere. But, as literary professionals, we've got to control our passion until after hours." I was still staring. "Um…why don't you, uh, grab a register?" He saluted again and clicked his heels together, military style. "Can do." He turned to Alec. "I'll see you at the rehearsal tonight?" "Yup." Doug flashed both of us a grin, then sauntered off.
I stood there alone with Alec. He waited expectantly, like I was supposed to say something. The words "fuck off" seemed appropriate, but I changed my mind. I smiled at him. It was a slow, sweeping smile that started with my lips and then shone in my eyes, the kind of smile that said I'd just noticed something I'd never seen before. Something I suddenly liked—and wanted.Alec's own smile faltered. I think hitting on me had become so automatic, he didn't expect a response anymore. He swallowed and then turned his own grin back on. "A rehearsal, huh?" I said. "You guys got another show coming up?" "Next weekend. You going to come?" "I'll try. Are you going to have another party after?" "Probably. Wyatt's having one tomorrow if you wanna go to that." "Are you going to be there?" I asked silkily, catching his eye meaningfully. "You bet."
"Then I'll be there." I turned to go, still giving him the hypnotic smile. "See you then." As soon I was out of his sight, my smile lapsed into a grimace. Ack. I hadn't thought it was possible to loathe that guy anymore, but I'd been proven wrong once again. Still, flirting with him, I'd realized, might be the best way to figure out what was going on with Doug. I felt pretty sure Alec had tried to push whatever he had on Casey. If I appeared to fall prey to his so-called charm too, he might let me share in the goods.Doug, as I soon discovered, certainly wasn't going to provide any help in the matter. "You've got something," I teased later when he and I ran into each other in the fantasy books. I gave him the lethal smile. He returned it. "Magnetism? Sex appeal? Intelligence? Babe, I've got it all." I stepped forward and pulled playfully on his shirt, looking up into his face. "That's not what I mean. You've got something good, something you aren't sharing." He stayed close to me and tugged on a lock of my hair in return. "Don't know what you're talking about."
"The hell you don't. Do you know how many hours I've been working for you and Paige lately? Good lord. It's driving me crazy. Grey Goose only goes so far. If you've got some stash, you need to spread the love.""Hey, I'll spread as much love as you want. Name the time and place."
"I thought we were friends." I pushed lightly on his chest and stepped back with a pout. "You're holding out on me. No way could you have perked up so quickly. Not after how you were this morning. You took something. "
"Bah, mood swing. You're a woman; you understand. Just woke up grumpy, that's all. A little falafel and some Kincaid charm, and now I'm good to go. Great even." He took a step back toward me, apparently hoping I'd renew the flirtation. Heat burned in his eyes, something a little darker and more intense than our typical bantering called for. "In fact, I'm downright unstoppable now. A god, babe. Come on back to the office, and I'll show you."I walked away, giving him a taunting look over my shoulder, still playing it light. "Not my religion, babe."
He laughed as I left him. We'd been flirting for years, and I knew he'd probably take no offense at my teasing or baiting. I, on the other hand, was pissed. Bad enough this shit of Alec's could push Doug into over-the-top exuberance and inappropriate behavior at work. Dragging him into the pits of despair, however, was an entirely different matter. I was going to find out what was going on and put an end to it— even if it meant cozying up to that sleaze, Alec.Remembering one of the other complications in my life right now, I called Bastien later that night for a status check. "Don't even ask,Fleur.The clouds of failure are gathering."
"What the hell is it with you depressed guys
today? Why do I have to be everyone's goddamned cheering-up
I ordered him to drive to Queen Anne immediately. When he arrived, he was still whining. "Dana's being really nice to me," he conceded, "but nothing intimate. She can't ever come over alone either. She's always got Jody with her or some other CPFV freak. My odds are probably better at getting her sidekicks into bed as a group than ever nailing her. They're all trying to get me to join their cult. I suppose making the gesture can't hurt, but I think I'll see more of her if I pretend to be a hesitant convert. You know, she also asks about you a lot."
It was ironic, really, because just then Bastien noticed the Victoria's Secret bag still sitting on my counter. My privacy apparently not a concern, he emptied it out and looked through the lingerie with approval."You want to try something on?" I asked wryly, noting his scrutiny.
"You always did have good taste." He held up the black mesh bra and peered at me through it, as though imagining how it would look on. "Although I still don't know why you buy this stuff. Just shape-shift it.""I have a respect for 'intellectual property.' Whoever designed this deserves their pay." "Even if it was constructed by third-world labor?" I made a face. "Come on, let's get out of here." "Where to?" "A piano bar." Surprise put his malaise on hold. "Are those still around?" "Yup. There's actually a couple of them in Seattle."
In fact, one was even nearby, less than a fifteen-minute walk away. As we went, however, Bastien wouldn't stop worrying about the Dana thing. It drove me crazy. I hated her too, believe me, but I couldn't figure out what was making this such a maniacal obsession for him.
Fortunately, the piano bar was just wacky enough to distract him—as I'd hoped it would be. We ate yummy bar food and drank froofy drinks like Midori martinis and Sex on the Beach. Meanwhile, dueling pianists sang everything from Eminem to Barry Manilow. As the evening passed, getting a request played cost more and more money. However, the patrons grew drunker and drunker, so they didn't mind putting the cash down.
Knowing this in advance, I had brought a stack of bills, and Bastien and I took great amusement in seeing just how well the piano players could keep up with our increasingly older and more obscure requests. Bastien and I sang along beautifully. Shape-shifting, in addition to so many other benefits, could modify one's voice and vocal cords. The piano players had an astounding knowledge of our requests, and we were so impressed—and drunk—by the end of the night that we gave them a hefty tip.Before we could leave, however, Bastien made me wait to hear one more request. "I slapped a fifty down with it," he said. "They've got to play it soon. I picked it just for you." "If it's ‘Superfreak,' I walk," I warned. He laughed. "You'll know it when you hear it. It reminded me of you and your writer. "
Sure enough, I immediately knew which song his silly sense of humor had led him to. The smile cracking his face was sort of a giveaway too. Pulling half of me onto his lap, he sang along loudly with Fiona Apple's lyrics:"I've been a bad, bad girl I've been careless With a delicate man And it's a sad, sad world When a girl will break a boy Just because she can. " "You're truly a creature of hell," I told him, trying to wiggle away. "You know that, don't you?" "I just tell it like it is." He held onto me and kept singing. "Heaven help me For the way I am Save me from These evil deeds
Before I get them done…" When we finally left the bar, both of us laughing and humming, we passed a group of girls even more drunk than us. A few of them gave Bastien open looks of invitation, and I glanced at him expectantly. He shook his head."Too easy. Besides, I'd rather go home with you. So to speak."
He walked me back toward my apartment, holding my arm as he had once done when social mores dictated it for anyone of good breeding. The pavement was slick from earlier rain, and a moist chill hung in the air. Not far away, the Space Needle gleamed watchfully above the nearby buildings; it would have Christmas lights on it soon. Bastien tightened his hold on my arm and turned his gaze absentmindedly toward the cloudy sky for a while before looking over at me."Fleur,do you want to know why I'm so gung-ho about this Dana business?" I willed myself to sober up, suspecting something big was about to come. "You mean other than your righteous fury at her?" He smiled gently and looked down at the pavement, watching our feet. "I'm in trouble. Big trouble." He sighed. "You ever heard of a demon named Barton?" "No. Should I have?" "Maybe. He works in Chicago. Very high up. Very powerful. He's one of those who expects 'favors' from his staff."
I nodded in understanding. It was one of the occupational hazards succubi and incubi faced, and probably something else Seth would be happier not knowing about. As workers in the sex industry, so to speak, our demonic supervisors often thought we wouldn't mind one more "customer." Many saw it as our duty. Whatever his other failings, Jerome at least had never demanded anything of that nature from me.
"So…anyway, Barton has this succubus named Alessandra. Relatively new. You know, a century or so. Beautiful. She has as good an eye for exquisite physical detail as you. And she's bright. Wicked sense of humor. Outgoing."I stared at him in astonishment. "Are you in love, Bastien?" "No, but I was—am—very attracted to her. Hard not to be. We got to know each other, and well, one thing sort of led to another…" "As it often does with you." "Yes," he admitted ruefully. "But let me tell you, it was amazing. That woman…wow."
"So how are you in trouble?" "Well, the thing is, Barton's kind of possessive about his people. He expected Alessandra's body to be exclusively for his use—mortal business aside, of course.""And he found out?"
"Yes. He turned unbelievably jealous." Contempt filled Bastien's voice. "Stupid emotion for our kind. Of course, demon or no, I suppose he might have had reason to feel insecure knowing his girlfriend had been with a sex-master like myself. I mean, once you go Bastien…""Keep telling the story, ego-master. What happened?"
"Well…to say he was pissed off would be an understatement. Honestly, I don't think I'd be enjoying your lovely company today if Janelle hadn't done some serious intervening." Janelle was Bastien's archdemoness in Detroit. "But mostly she just protected me from physical torture. Everything else is a mess. My career is in shambles. Barton has powerful friends, and Janelle's made it clear she's not going to cover my ass anymore."
We had reached my building and stood outside it now. He ran a hand through his dark curls, face suddenly weary. "I'm on everyone's shit list all of a sudden. Plans are already in motion to transfer me somewhere else, and I know it's going to be horrific. Like Guam. Or Omaha. That's why I need this Dana thing. A big hit like this—a public humiliation for the other side. It'll put me on top again. They won't be able to punish me, not if I've got a takedown like that on my record."I started to understand his obsession with the radio host. "But the takedown isn't exactly taking." "I don't know what else to do. I've tried all the old tricks, all the textbook moves plus a few exclusive Bastien moves. None of it's working." I reached out to him. "You might have to accept that she's got a strong will,Bas.It happens." "I know." He sounded so miserable, it broke my heart. "Hey, come on. Don't give up the fight yet. I taught you everything you know, remember? We'll find a way out of this. We'll get that wench wet yet."
He laughed and brushed a finger against my cheek. "You always make me feel better when I'm around you, you know that? It's one of the wonderful things about you. That and— if the rumors are true—your mouth. ""The rumors are true, and I'm going to help you with this, you'll see. Besides, nothing else works on her, there's always hard liquor, right?" "Ah yes, the old standby." He hugged me tightly and kissed each cheek. "Good night, my sweet. Thanks for a lovely evening." I kissed him back. "Anytime." I had my hand on the door handle when I thought of something. "Hey, Bastien?" He turned from where he'd been walking away down the sidewalk. "Yes?" "Why'd you do it?" "Do what?" "Alessandra. You must have known how Barton felt about her, right?" "I did." "So why risk it?" He looked at me like he could scarcely believe I had to ask. "Because I could. Because she was beautiful and wonderful and I wanted her." I knew better than to argue with that. It was textbook incubus logic. Smiling, I went inside.