By Windstar and Zee
Disclaimer: The story and characters belong to the authors no you may not take any part of it and post, copy or borrow without their consent. This story has blood, guts and sex. For those of you still with us have a fun read and Happy Halloween.
A big thank you to shesgottaread who beta read the entire thing for us and put up with our bad grammar, punctuation and occasional spelling problems. I don’t know about Zee, but I always seem to have a problem with the — their / they’re thing.
The bathroom door opened and a head peeked around the door looking around. Finding the bathroom empty, the head moved further in followed by a female body that looked recently abused, if the torn and bloody clothes were any indication.
Dark, curly hair that just brushed the collar of the jacket she was wearing was matted with dirt, one of the jacket pockets was torn off, and her knuckles were bruised and split open. She walked up to the sink and studied her face for a moment before snorting and clearing her throat until she spat out a wad of blood and phlegm into the sink.
Shaky hands started the tap and with a wince, she ran her hands under the water. She kept looking up at her reflection, checking herself. Finally, she spoke to her reflection.
"I hate you."
Her reflection didn’t talk back.
She could do this. She splashed water on her face, finding the cool water soothing on her skin.
She turned off the water and then moved into a stall and sat on the toilet seat. The stall was tiny, her knees practically touching the door. Her dark-brown eyes closed and she let out a breath and leaned sideways letting her face rest against the tile, trying not to think of what germs and filth might be there.
She could do this, she could resist it and somehow she would just get her old life back. She missed being a nobody, a mousy little librarian. Actually she didn’t even have enough chutzpah to be a librarian; she was just a research assistant. Meek and mild Lauren Espinoza, going through life unnoticed. Never had the guts to tell off the guy who delivered the papers to the library, even though he leered at her and undressed her with his eyes everyday. Never took her drink back to the coffee counter when they made it wrong. Somewhere in the Bible it said the meek would inherit the Earth, but she couldn’t see how, because they’d never speak up when their aggressive overachieving older sister stole it.
She sighed and felt the trembling start in her hands. God forgive her but she hated Susie, her older sister, perfect in every way. Susie, who wasn’t a research assistant but a lead scientist in a government think tank. Susie, who was beautiful, smart, and self-assured.
Susie, who was dead, and had taken her secrets with her. Susie, who had changed her into a person she didn’t even recognize.
The bathroom door opened and someone stepped inside, footsteps heavy on the tile floor.
Lauren felt the hairs rise on the back of her arms and neck, followed by pain exploding from the back of her skull, as her stomach did a flip.
She gave a shuddering sob; a hand fumbled with the good pocket on her jacket and pulled out a slim case; with a practiced flick of her thumb, the case opened revealing a small vial filled with something dark and oily, and a syringe.
The footsteps got closer, as she stabbed the needle into the liquid and pulled the syringe’s plunger back, filling its belly like a large mosquito.
Her door rattled.
"Occupied." She grunted out.
Once upon a time she’d been a decent human being, paid her bills and taxes, secretly read lesbian romance novels that she hid under her bed because she still lived with her parents, and dreamed of falling in love.
Now she was a twisted parody of that Lauren. Jaded and miserable, a misanthrope one-step out of touch with the human world. She pushed the jacket sleeve up, revealing a needle-track along the vein.
The door rattled again.
"What are you, brain-damaged? I said fucking occupied." The old Lauren would never have spoken like that. The needle rested against her skin.
Something heavy hit the stall door, the metal dented and groaned on its hinges.
Startled, she nearly dropped the syringe.
"I can smell you human." The voice that spoke was high and piercing, not meant to be heard by human ears. "Demon killer." It laughed. "A human demon killer, funny, a funny, funny thing. Lucky is what you are. Lucky and stupid. Your luck ends here."
Lauren screamed--the voice was painful, it felt like it was rupturing things inside her head, in her ears. She pushed the plunger down, shooting the darkness inside her, inside her veins. In a second it was hitting her heart and she screamed again.
Bonelessly her body slumped to the side, even as something heavy hit the door again. The hypodermic fell out of her arm and hit the floor shattering. A drop of blood beaded up, welling out of the puncture mark.
Hands gripped the door at the top and then pulled; the lock groaned. The hands switched position and pushed, the top of the door bent and swayed until the screws on the lock gave up and it fell off.
Chuckling filled the bathroom and the door was slowly pushed open.
Lauren’s eyes snapped open and she lifted her foot, kicking the door shut. Her eyes were dark, the pupils swallowed in the darkness. Her skin bubbled and then went still before rippling again.
She grabbed the sides of the stall, fingers sinking into the metal, and hauled herself up and over the wall surprising the pissed-off demon there to kill her.
It blinked as if not quite believing what it was seeing.
In her world humans didn’t fight demons, the human race was too weak, only able to overwhelm demons and destroy them with sheer numbers. To kill one demon it could take the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of humans to do it. This would explain why the human species bred like rabbits.
The church had in the Middle Ages started a breeding program where they used young women as bait. Then they raised the half-breed demons to be demon hunters. It sounded barbaric but what did you expect from a period of time where women were property? Of course there were a few demons that could impregnate only in human males, but the church had apparently chosen not to use them as bait. On occasion a full-blooded demon would find God or Jesus and be a born-again and hunt their own kind, but generally humans could not stand up to a demon in a one-on-one fight.
Until Susie had used her as bait, just as the church had done to those women all those decades ago. Of course, now Susie was dead, as well as their parents.
She was suddenly so angry. She couldn’t stop herself. She charged the demon, angry with Susie and the demon, the stupid demon that seemed to think she wasn’t a threat. She screamed, rage pouring out of her as her fists pounded into its thick skin; it was gray and wrinkled, like an elephant’s knee. She didn’t know where that thought had come from and she almost laughed at the oddness of it.
She staggered out of the bathroom, a cut healing on her forehead. She absently patted her pocket reassuring herself that the vial was there. Her drug of choice. She squinted against the fluorescent lights as she moved slowly down an aisle stocked with shampoo and deodorant. There was an uneasy feeling in the department store. The hairs on the back of her arms stood up as a body was suddenly in front of her. A gun in her face.
"Stand down, it’s just a civilian." The voice boomed around her. Annoying.
"You need to leave, there’s a demon in here. These nice police officers will get you to safety."
She glared at him. He was a born-again demon. She could see the cross, worn against a pale, scaled chest. Self-importance wafted off of him making her want to gag. A sanctimonious piece of shit. Demons killed. Demons feasted on the flesh and blood of the weak. How did he resist? Did he resist? Or late at night did he go trolling back alleys for the blood and murder of those that would not be missed?
But she let the police take her away to safety. Back on the street she looked around at everyone streaming around her, going home, going to work, oblivious to the horror taking place not twenty feet from them. She missed it. She wanted to be them, be the mindless sheep happy in ignorance.
A small ranch-style house, painted a happy sunshine yellow, had several police cruisers in the driveway and on the street in front of the house. Several local police officers walked around the lawn and in and out of the house.
It was a quiet neighborhood; there had never been a demon attack before, and some of the neighbors just shook their heads or stared confused at the bustling house full of police activity, not quite sure what this meant. Some thought about buying guns, others about finding religion and others ignored it focusing deeper on their everyday lives so they wouldn’t have to think about it.
Detective Quinn stood back watching the crime scene unit examine the bodies. There were three total. The male had been lucky in comparison to the two females. He had died from two stab wounds to the skull. The spine had been severed and the brain turned into goop. The females, however, had been mauled, and the skin from their faces removed as well as their hearts. Quinn was waiting for CSI to tell her what she already knew: it was demon. What she didn’t understand was who had killed the demon that was face down in the front lawn. Or that would be, if his head hadn’t been twisted around so his face stared at the sky.
She might buy that if her dead demon had claws but he didn’t, so she was still looking for one that had claws. Different breeds of demons weren’t known for working well with each other. She rubbed her forehead. She was going to have to bring in a half-breed to sniff it out.
She flat-out refused to work with reformed demons. Sooner or later they all fell off the wagon. Half-breeds weren’t much better in her book, but there was a part of them that was human, so she tried to give them a chance. Besides if she took on a demon by herself, slinking around in the shitholes and psychic black holes they loved to live in, her chances of coming out alive were far less than a half-breed’s.
Demons, just another reason to hate Hitler.
Up until World War II demons had only been seen once a year according to history, squeezing through cracks between this world and Hell. But Hitler and his fascination with the occult, and his little secret army of occult researchers had opened up huge doorways, as he had hoped to win the war with an army of demons on his side. The psychically-black smeared sites of his concentration camps had been perfect doorways. Only demons didn’t care. They killed Nazis and Allied forces alike. Quinn sighed unhappily, fucking Hitler.
“You’ve got three different types of demon blood. I can’t tell you what kind until I get the samples back to the lab. Also, one of the women’s fingerprints came back. She’s government, Susan Espinoza.”
Quinn blinked and tried to focus over her headache to what the tech was telling her. “No, a Lauren Espinoza lives here with her parents.” She mumbled out.
“Then she’s missing, because that’s not her body.”
“Christ.” Quinn muttered. This was getting worse by the minute. A missing woman and a dead government employee, which meant they’d be calling her every 15 minutes for an update. She wandered out to her car and sat down, shutting the door. For a moment, she enjoyed the silence. Then she booted the laptop and opened up the database on registered half-breeds wondering whose day she was going to make suck.
The bartender popped the cap off a bottle of beer by slamming it against the ancient hardwood bar top and slid it across the bar to the man who’d ordered it. The regular nodded in thanks, staring down into the mouth of the bottle. She left him to it, knowing he preferred his drink alone.
It was early afternoon, well before the bar would be officially open for the night, but she made exceptions for Bob. She had not, however, made an exception for the other patron in the bar.
"Detective Quinn, forgive me if I don’t seem excited to see you in my bar."
"You never are." The cop sat down without being asked. "That’s the price you pay for flirting on the edge of the Zone. I’m surprised some church group isn’t outside trying to save souls." She looked around in distaste. An Irish pub being run by someone so obviously not Irish. Her ancestors were crying in their graves.
Dianna Theron sighed, brushing a hand through her short, artfully arranged, bright-red spiky hair. "Don’t tell me, you’ve come here to take me up on my offer of a night you’ll never forget?" The bar owner leaned up against the bar top, well aware of what that position did in making her breasts strain against the tight-fitting T-shirt she was wearing.
"I swore off bad girls and those that need saving when I got my badge." Her eyes didn’t even drop from the half-breed’s face, although it was a skill she had strengthened over time, only 21 tries until she kept her eyeballs from straying.
"I don’t need saving." Dianna gave her a sly smile. "Although, I could be persuaded into it, if you wanted to play it that way." She was good at the game and more importantly, she knew she was good at it.
Theron was a lot of things, most of them wrapped up in a beautiful package. A package that could cause internal bleeding. "I’m activating you for a case."
Quinn didn’t doubt that a lot of good Catholic girls had lost their way between Dianna’s thighs under the veil of trying to save a lost soul.
"Fuck." The redhead gritted her teeth, shoving back from the bar and heading down the bar away from the cop. "Why don’t you just go get one of those little tame demons of yours to do your dirty work? I’m busy."
"Because we know that phrase ’tame demon’ is an oxymoron; there is no such thing. Sooner or later we find out they go out at midnight for a little late night snack of the homeless guy in the alley. Or missing kids are bones in their basement. You at least have half a soul."
"Get someone else, I’m not interested!" Dianna yelled, yanking open the door to her office. It stuck a bit so she always had to pull hard to get the wood door open. Usually that was a bit annoying, but this time she rather enjoyed having it slam off the opposite wall.
"Got a whole family murdered." The cop said, pulling out the file and started putting pictures on the bar. "CSI found three different types of demon blood. Now what would make different demons work together?"
The redhead paused, her back to Quinn as she closed her eyes. "Find someone else." She asked quietly, a pleading note in her voice.
Quinn threw down another photo, it was heartless, but they had the luxury of living while those in the picture did not. "I have a missing woman, Lauren Espinoza, pretty enough, in a timid, lost lamb way. Says she was a research assistant at the University Library. Have to wonder what those demons are doing to her?"
"I’m not interested." Dianna growled, her fingers tightening on the worn wood of the .doorframe. It grounded her and she needed that right now. "This is my place, Quinn; I have things to do here." She didn’t want to look at those pictures; she could feel the darkness practically radiating from them.
Down at the other end of the bar the only other patron lifted his head, sniffing the air.
"Husband killed quickly, wife and older daughter mauled; the skin from their faces ripped away as well as their hearts."
"Stop!" Dianna whirled, the whites of her eyes wide around the pale-green irises. She stalked forward, sneering, commanding at the policewoman. "Stop it!"
"Why? You don’t care, apparently that piece of soul you have doesn’t work." She started gathering up the photos.
“Get out.” Dianna growled, posture stiff as Quinn’s words hit home, probably harder than the detective thought they would. “Take that shit with you.” She whirled, ready to slam the door to her office.
“Fine.” Quinn slid a business card on the bar top, leaving it with the photos. “Call me when you find that piece of humanity.”
The half-demon growled, slamming the door to her office shut behind her as Quinn left. Down at the other end of the heavy, oaken bar top the lone patron sniffed the air again, mumbling to himself as he bent down over his drink again.
Twelve hours later, the redhead lay naked in bed, smiling up at the ceiling above her. That - she reflected as she sat up and reached for the cigarettes she kept next to the bed, had been exactly what she’d needed. Brushing sweat-dampened locks of red hair out of her face, she lit up, taking in a deep drag of smoke and sighed in pleasure.
Behind her a mussed blonde head peeked up over the rumpled blankets. The room stank of sweat and the sex they’d been having for most of the very early morning .
Dianna stood up, sliding a brightly colored silk bathrobe on, “Get your things and get out.” She grinning at the startled squeak behind her.
“What?” She turned, smiling coolly at the blond. “Did you think you were going to stay? Sex is sex. That doesn’t entitle you to cuddling or some shit. Get out.”
The bartender took another drag of smoke, smiling to herself as the curses rained down on her as the human woman got dressed. The shouting didn’t abate until the blonde was gone and Dianna shook her head in amusement.
Humans. Would they ever learn?
Another one trying to save her soul.
The smile slipped a bit as Quinn’s words echoed in her mind. Fucking Quinn, Dianna thought, stabbing out the cigarette. Just the thought of the policewoman had ruined her good mood.
“Damnit.” She growled, running a hand through her hair, which only resulted in more spiky tendrils.
Wearing only the bathrobe, the bar owner padded barefoot through her rooms, pausing at a window to watch the human stumble out of the front door to hail a cab. Certain that her guest had left; she resumed her path toward her private sanctuary. This was her domain, the world she had built for herself. The turn of the century brick building had once housed a slaughterhouse, and had been scheduled for demolition when she’d found it.
It had been perfect.
High ceilings with charred wooden beams, thick brick walls, and most importantly, lots of space. It was the perfect place for the bar she’d always dreamed of owning. That it was located on the edge of the Gray just made it all that much better.
Her rooms were above the bar, a definite bonus after a long night of tending to customers.
She passed through her kitchen, snagging a glass of OJ on the way. Dawn was just starting to break the horizon and she’d be getting some sleep soon. Even a half-breed needed rest, although she needed a lot less of it than humans.
One of the few perks of her little birthright.
“Morning, Sissy.” She called as she shoved open the door to her office, after unlocking it. There was no answer of course, but she said the same thing every morning anyway. “Sleep well?”
She kept talking, setting her glass of OJ on a desk precariously over-piled with papers and invoices. The study was ringed with mismatched bookshelves and overstuffed chairs anchored the corners of the fireplace.
Dianna carefully took down the large portrait that hung above that fireplace in the place of honor and carried it to the windows along one side of the room. They looked down over the back of the bar, where she’d had a garden grown.
Not by her of course, but someone who didn’t have the ability to kill plants by just touching them.
The portrait was placed on a stand already centered on those windows and Dianna smiled at the figure in the painting. “There, you can watch the garden all day. I’m going back to bed though.”
She turned to go, and paused.
There, in front of the door, were the photos Quinn had brought over.
“No!” Dianna whirled on the portrait. “I shredded those for a reason. I am not getting involved in this.”
The teenage girl in the portrait continued to stare lovingly out, gaze directed down at the garden below. There was a family resemblance between the two, the same hint of Greek descent, Mediterranean skin tone and strong jaw.
“Damnit, Sissy, I said no.”
There was no answer and Dianna sighed, hanging her head. “Why do you always have to be right?”
She left the photos where they were, avoiding looking at them, and picked up the business card set next to them. It was five thirty in the morning and she got a little pleasure in knowing she was probably waking up Quinn as she dialed the private number on the back of the card.
“Ello?” A sleepy voice answered the phone on the fifth ring.
“I’ll do it.” Dianna leaned against her desk, watching the sunrise color the sky. “Tell them I’ll visit the crime scene later. I’ll tell you what I find and then that’s it, I’m out.”
“Dianna?” The human started to ask, but the redhead was already hanging up.
“There.” She glared over at the back of the portrait. “I did it. Now I’m going to bed.”
She walked around the photos, leaving the ever-smiling portrait staring down at the gardens below.
A Harley would have been in keeping with the image that Dianna enjoyed maintaining of herself, except that it tended to rain a lot in the Gray zone. It could be perfectly sunny and beautiful weather in the rest of the city and inside the Zone it would be drizzling and cold.
This meant she’d bought the next best thing in her eyes, her baby, a BMW M6 convertible. It was horribly expensive, completely vain of her, but she loved that car and it had been the second thing she’d bought, right after the bar.
There was a patrol car parked outside the house and the obligatory yellow tape. She slid out of the car, the leather thigh-high boots, tight pants and tailored shirt were all done to attract attention. Which she got from the cop watching her walk toward him at the tape.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one there and her lips twitched as she spotted Quinn waiting at the house’s front door.
“Didn’t trust me to show up, Detective?” she asked, sliding under the tape close enough to the young cop to make him blush as he saw down her shirt.
"Stop teasing the rookies." Quinn said, sliding away from the wall.
As she did, a small muscular man who looked reptilian, with gleaming white scales, and a large gold cross was revealed. "I told you I wouldn’t be needing your help, Paul."
He drew himself up, becoming larger. "Why go with a substandard model?" He hissed out.
“Who the fuck you calling substandard, reptile boy? You looked in the mirror lately?” Dianna raised an eyebrow. “I mean, really, small children must go screaming away from you every time you slink through a playground. Not that I’m saying you’re a pedophile or anything.”
He hissed angrily, his hand going for his gun.
"I haven’t brought you in on a case; you draw that gun I’ll have to arrest you." Quinn was well aware that she was human in moments like this, and Paul, the born-again demon hunter could crush her like a bug.
He hesitated. Then his hand slowly moved away from the gun. "I apologize; she just has a way of getting under your skin."
"Go back to the department; I’m sure the Chief has something for you." She said tiredly.
He nodded and left, not before giving Dianna a glare.
“Real nice to see you again, Lizard boy, I mean Paul.” Dianna smiled sweetly back at Quinn. “It’s so nice that we can get together like one big happy family isn’t it?” In her best southern accent.
Quinn just gave her an unamused look. "It was the Chief’s idea; he thinks those born-again types that have found God are the bee’s knees." She cracked her neck and moved to the door. Absently she told the rookie, "Make sure we are left alone until we finish up.”
“Chief would know, if the rumors about him in the Gray zone are true.” Dianna quipped, just to see the reaction she’d get from the rookie. She wasn’t disappointed by the glare he leveled at her and she laughed as she walked in with Quinn. “You always walk around with a high school kid as your muscle?”
"The scene is cold, bodies removed, no leads: three dead humans, a dead demon, and a missing woman. Why would we bother ourselves with seasoned professionals? Just a bouncer to keep the weirdos away who collect photos and souvenirs from sites like this. I’ve got them to hold off on the psychic cleaners for 48 hours, after that this place gets scrubbed. They don’t want the demons expanding the Gray Zone," Quinn said matter-of-factly. She moved to the living room window. "On the lawn where the day-glo orange flag is, was the body of the demon. His head was twisted around so he could see where he’d been.”
“Anyone ever tell you how depressing you are?” Dianna asked, staying at the doorway where she’d entered the house. “Bet you’re all sorts of fun at parties, if you ever get invited, that is.” She didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to enter this place. She could hear the echoes of screams already and she’d barely entered.
Evil had walked through this house and a part of her wanted to walk along with it.
“What do you want from me?” She asked to delay the inevitable.
"I want a lot of things Theron, but I’ll settle for finding the woman, Lauren Espinoza, that’s her name by the way. Finding her alive would be better, but sometimes we settle for just having closure on a case." It was an odd thing--she’d never even really know they had two daughters, not by all the photos of the oldest daughter. She moved deeper into the house to the stairway. "The oldest daughter worked in DC, they have pictures of her with all sorts of important people. I’ll keep the Feds away because they’ll just fuck this up. They’ll want justice for one of their own and the woman will die." If she wasn’t dead already.
“You’re going to owe me for this one, Quinn,” the half-demon said, reluctantly stepping into the house. Her entire body was tense as she felt the sensations whirl around her. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and lowered the mental barriers she’d spent a lifetime learning how to keep.
“They were all here, together.” She murmured, turning left and entering the dining room with its piles of dishes and moldering food. “They were eating together, a family dinner.” Her lips twisted in a mock smile. “How domestic, the perfect little American family.”
And if there was a note of envy in her voice, she purposefully ignored it. Turning, the redhead moved deeper into the house, nose twitching as if she smelled something, but it wasn’t a scent, it was something much more profound than that. These were marks that would last until the Psi Cleaners did their work and wiped it all away.
“There were two of them.” She swallowed, heart starting to beat faster as she felt the demons. Felt their pleasure.
“They came through the kitchen. One stopped to kill the dog, it ate it.” She licked her lips, swaying slightly as she turned again. “They caught the mother in the hallway, the father was going for a gun, but he never made it. The sister was…” She hesitated. “One was trying to stop the other from doing… something.” She frowned; sweat beading against her skin, dripping down her face and back.
“They killed the father quick; they took their time with the mother though.” Dianna shivered, torn between the pleasure she felt and the revulsion at feeling it. Her fingers balled into fists and she moved into the living room, where the blood was still on the carpet. “The sister made it into here before they killed her; one of them was going to rape the body but…”
She paused, frowning, turning in place. “The other sister.” Dianna breathed, eyes opening as she stared at the hole in the window and out it, at the spot where one of the demons had died. “She’s the one who killed the demon.” The redhead turned, brushing sweat-dampened hair out of her face to look at Quinn. “Your missing sister, Lauren; she killed a demon with her bare hands.”
Quinn was silent, looking at Dianna, the look was guarded. "Are you pulling my leg?" She said quietly, a dangerous undertone to it. "One human against a demon?" It was impossible, maybe 20 or 30 against a demon or some soldier armed to the teeth, but one woman?
“It’s what happened.” Dianna snapped, exhausted as she walked for the front door. “I did what you wanted, have fun.”
"Fuck." Quinn blurted out. "Wait, help me find the girl, this Lauren. That’s what I wanted." She followed quickly to the door.
The outburst let Dianna get out the door and into the fresh air, something she really appreciated after being inside that house. “What? Do I look like some kind of bloodhound to you? I told you the girl was alive, the rest is up to you.”
Quinn’s face became stony. "Guess that soul you have is just for show then. Fine, leave, you’ll get your check for your time." The Detective snarled out. "Coward." She couldn’t make the half-breed stay. If she pushed, Dianna would turn on the charm and Quinn’s free will would fall into her pants.
Anger clouded the half-demon’s pale eyes and she took a step toward Quinn, face dark. “You can’t just guilt me into doing your dirty work for you all the time.” She bit out, angry at the manipulation. “This is the last time, you understand me? I’ll poke around the Gray zone for your little lamb, if she isn’t there, then you’re on your own.”
"Watch your anger Theron, or you can start dealing with a bunch of inspectors in your place. There are church groups with deep pockets so I’d be careful that some of your one-night stands don’t start filing rape charges. Enough scandal and they’ll ship you off back to one of those church states in Europe and no one will ever hear from you again." Quinn’s eyes flashed equally with anger. She didn’t like feeling impotent, unable to help her own people when they were murdered.
“Lovely.” Dianna curled her lip, turning and stalking toward her car. “I’ll let you know when the human turns up.” She yanked open the door to the car. “But she’ll probably be dead if she’s in the Gray Zone.”
Lauren shuffled around the University. She knew it well, she had gone to school there and then naturally had just taken over the job she had been doing as a student. She didn’t go to work; she didn’t dare. But it was easy to live here unnoticed, before the University had upgraded its heating everything had been steam. There was what felt like miles of steam tunnels under the University. She had made a home there. Stealing clothes out of the laundry rooms in the middle of the night, sneaking food from the kitchens and showers from the student gym.
Nobody even looked at her funny. She just looked like a ragged freshman. A freshman who couldn’t stop staring at the young woman across the quad that was wearing a low-cut top, wondering what the woman’s screams would taste like. She paled at the thought and hurried away down the sidewalk as the lights came on signaling night was falling.
“What did you do to me, Susie?” She muttered to herself, wondering yet again what her sister had done to her. Those thoughts came more and more, she had followed one woman back to her dorm, she had felt it when the perfect moment had come, the exact moment when she could have dragged the freshman into the dark and held her down and taken everything she wanted. She had known how easy it would have been to dispose of the body when she was done.
She had thrown up into some lovely flowering bushes and run off, just as she was running off now.
Three weeks ago, her sister had come to her work and asked if they could have lunch. An odd thing, Susie never had time for her. She was a bigwig in Washington, DC.
“I’m working on a drug trial for anxiety disorder.”
Lauren had fidgeted, her fork playing with her salad. “Good for you?” It had been a question, not certain what Susie wanted from her.
“I would like to use you in the study.”
“I…well… Susie, I don’t…”
“You’ll be perfect.”
And that had settled it. It was a drug trial and Susie had started coming home on weekends to inject her and take back samples of her blood. What could be easier, she didn’t even have to go to Washington, DC. Except Susie had lied.
She pushed the heavy dumpster out of the way; it hid a metal grate that led to her new home. Night was coming and so was the rage. She slid the metal back and slipped inside; after a moment it was replaced, looking as it always did.
Quinn sat at her desk, staring at the photos from the crime scene. It had been five days since she’d seen Dianna, and there’d been no call. She still wasn’t certain she believed what the half-demon had told her.
"Quinn!" The Captain stuck his head out the door of his office. "You got Feds on the way up; they just showed up demanding to see you."
She just smiled, "Thanks." Inside she wanted to hide under her desk.
"Get rid of them. This is our case, not their’s." He grimaced, looking like he’d just bitten into something rotten, and disappeared back into his office.
"I’ll do my best, sir." Our case--like he’d been out to the house of horrors or been pounding pavement or losing any sleep.
Her phone rang, startling her, and hesitantly she moved her hand over to pick it up. Not sure she wanted to know what else could go wrong.
"Hey, it’s Chip down in the lab, um, sorry I didn’t tell you this sooner, the information got lost on a Post-it note . . . anyway . . . ” The sheepish voice paused to clear its throat. "Um, so we found three different samples of demon blood. One matched the DOA at the scene; the other has been sitting in our cooler for the last five days."
"What?" Her voice hit a note she was embarrassed to realize only dogs could hear. “Yeah, I’ll be down later today." She grumbled. "How’d it die?"
"A runner that Paul killed, it attacked him in the bathroom of a department store. Looks like a broken neck, pretty battered."
She frowned; Paul was big on his gun, probably compensating for something. "What about the third sample?"
"Corrupted. Seems to be a mix of human and demon."
"A half-breed?" She blinked, thinking about what Dianna had told her.
"No. Half-demons have a genetic sequence; this is just smeared together." There was a heartbeat of embarrassed silence. "Sorry, I’m not sure how to explain it simpler than that."
"It’s okay." She waved off her annoyance, because it was probably going to be the least annoying part of her day. "Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be down as soon as I’m done with the feds."
She hung up the phone and started putting the crime scene photos away. Wondering what kind of DC attitude she was going to have to bend over and take today.
"Is there a half-breed involved in the case, Detective Quinn?" A voice, very close to her, spoke up. The owner of said voice was leaning against the desk beside hers, a sardonic smile on his face as he watched her. He looked like a fed, dark suit, tie, pale shirt and shiny black shoes.
"No, just corrupted blood evidence." She said not moving, not showing surprise, dealing with demons did that. "How can I help you?" She plastered on the same smile she used for her boss. "Agent . . . ?"
"Green." He made no motion to move from the desktop he was leaning on. "And that is Agent Ferris." He hiked a thumb over his shoulder at the large black man with the bald head and nasty scar across part of his face. "We’ve been sent to help you with the investigation." He smiled, a charming relaxed smile meant to put people at ease that went well with his boyish face.
"That’s great if we needed help and this fell under your jurisdiction, which it doesn’t." She kept talking knowing he was going to argue. "I understand that . . . Susan Espinoza, did some sort of work for the Pentagon, and I know it’s hard to lose one of your own. I promise to keep you informed as I learn anything. But at this time it looks as if the demons involved have been killed."
"Detective." He smiled again. "We’re both on the same side here and this is an informal visit. However, there are national security concerns which take precedence. Your Captain is going to be getting a call from the Department of Justice soon. All we’re asking is that you keep us apprised of your progress."
"Or lack of it." Agent Ferris grumbled from behind.
"I will. But unless any more leads open up, I’m afraid we might be at a dead-end with the perps killed. You might try talking to our freelancer Paul, he’s a reformed demon, he’s the one that killed the last one." She smiled again, her face hurting. "Once I get the autopsy notes, I’ll send you my report."
"That would be nice of you." Agent Green stood up. "We’ll wait for that report then." He paused, turning to look at her again. "Has there been any sign of the sister?"
"No, at this time we can only assume the demon, did what demons do to her and her body will show up."
"Let us know if you find her." The smile was still there but there was an odd look in the fair-haired agent’s eyes. "We’ll see you again soon, Detective."
"Of course. Sorry to have you come all this way for nothing." She hesitated. "Susan wasn’t staying at her parent’s house, and I’ve been blocked from her credit card report to see where she might have rented a room. You don’t happen to have that information do you?"
"We’ll see what we can find out for you, Detective." He gave her a wave as he left, Agent Ferris following behind like a silent guard dog.
"You do that." She said to herself. She reached down and opened up a drawer and pulled out a disposable prepaid cell phone and dialed Dianna’s bar.
It was picked up on the third ring. "What?" An annoyed sounding voice demanded on the other end.
"Heads up. Feds are in town and they’ve got a hard on for this case. Don’t know if you’ll be seeing them, but I just thought I’d give you a warning."
She was amused to have woken the half-demon up, returning the favor.
"Quinn?" Dianna groaned, sheets rustling as she moved. "Feds are involved now? Great, thanks a lot."
A female voice asked something in the background and the phone receiver was muffled for a second. There was a heated exchange of words and a door slammed before Dianna uncovered the phone.
"You know it’s sometimes nice to sleep with the same person each night."
Dianna snorted. "Variety is the spice of life." She cradled the phone to her ear as she picked up a cigarette and lit it. "What do the Feds want?”
"The dead sister worked for the government; the more I look the bigger the stonewall. I . . ." She hesitated. "I have a gut feeling and it’s not good on the older sister. Any feelers on the sister we can’t find?"
The half-demon groaned, arching her back and popping the vertebrae into place. "She’s either left the city or hiding in a deep hole somewhere." The redhead grinned crookedly as she pulled on clothes. "Or she’s cut up into very small pieces at the bottom of the river."
"Thanks for that last one." She was silent. "I’m sorry for strong arming you, but most of the time I have to be an asshole to get things done." That’s all she was going to give the half-breed. "Anyway, we’re probably going to be closing the case. Paul killed the second demon involved at the house; the third blood smear is corrupted. The case is dead unless something changes in 48 hours."
She frowned, like Dianna would care.
"So both your killers are dead and the sister’s probably permanently missing." Dianna smiled, things were looking up. "That means I’m done. I’ll let you know if the sister ever shows up, but don’t count on it."
"Yeah thanks for nothing, Theron." She hung up and hid the phone again before grabbing her jacket and heading down to the meat locker.
Halfway across the city and, in some ways, even further away, Dianna hung up with a self-satisfied smile. Excellent, she was off the hook for helping Quinn, everything had all tied itself up nicely. Now she could stop pestering everyone she knew to keep an eye out for the human, Lauren and she could get back to her own life.
Yes, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror, as she rearranged her hair, things were looking up.
Lauren was breathing hard, blood coming from cuts on her arms and her knuckles were raw, swollen, and bruised. The room she was in had probably been used for storage but the stone walls were thick and sturdy, easily able to withstand the rages that came over her with the falling of night. They never lasted long but it was like a switch going off in her brain until her mind had time to process the changes that came with the dark.
She fumbled with the metal doorknob and wrenched the door open, stepping into her new home. A place where the rest of the world was safe from her; bedding in a corner, a desk and a chair from a dumpster, a pile of clothes in a duffel bag stolen from the gym. On the desk was Susie’s black bag, it was filled with needles, syringes, and six vials of dark liquid, her body would ache just looking at them.
Wanting them, but when she used them she got worse, like more of her humanity slipped away. She rummaged around in a cooler, one side had been bashed in but it still held things. The warm beer tasted good, funny thing was she never drank before Susie had started the drug trial on her. Her stomach wanted more, wanted red things full of blood and protein, and she almost threw up; shakily she set the drink down and closed her eyes.
It was dark, had to be because she had become aware of herself again; hands bruised, a pinky might have been broken. She reached up and wiped blood off her face. She had clawed her face this time. She staggered out of the room, and went straight for her lukewarm beer. An ache started in the back of her head, like the onset of the flu. Absently she set the beer down and slowly exited her lair.
Shadows slid over her as she made her way through the quad, passed carefully manicured lawns, trimmed trees and bushes, the taste of fall in the air, giving it a bite. Near one of the Halls, the freshman one she thought. Blood and fear coated the air, washing over her, she liked it, it was almost arousing, part of her wanted to throw up.
Between the Residence Hall and the Dining Hall, a sidewalk disappeared into the dark of night. She moved through that dark into the empty space between buildings, there was a strong smell of wasted food rotting in metal. There were two shapes highlighted from a dim and dying light that lit up the back door to the Dining Hall.
She smelled demon and rushed forward, overcome with a rage to kill. The girl he was mauling she didn’t even notice.
The demon was surprised; he had not sensed anything that would be a danger.
When it was over there was blood. She stared at the mess knowing that she needed to clean it up and dispose of the body. The girl was alive but she didn’t care. She couldn’t draw attention to her place.
Lenny wasn’t much of a human, he wasn’t much of a demon either, which was one of the reasons he lived on the very edge of the Gray Zone. The thin man with a receding hairline and scraggy goatee was always shifting from one part-time job to another, always certain he was right on the edge of becoming rich. He owed a lot of people a lot of favors though, another reason not to wander too far into the Zone where some of those people might just find him. Tonight he was handling parking for a nightclub not far from the university, which involved a lot of standing outside, listening to the loud music inside, and keeping track of people’s keys.
Sighing, he bit at the fingernail on his thumb, worrying at it as he watched the small amount of foot traffic go by, bored.
“Hey! Valet, can we get our car?” An older man and his young wife were waiting at the foot of the stairs and Lenny winced. Damnit, he wasn’t going to get a good tip out of this one.
“Sure, sorry about that sir, do you have your ticket?”
Wordlessly the man held up the small printed ticket and Lenny forced himself to take it.
He riffled through the keys until he found the one with the right number and stood up. “I’ll be right back in a….” The words trailed off as he stared past the old man’s shoulder as a face he’d been watching for all week ducked down the side alley and disappeared from view.
“Hey!” The old man said angrily. “You getting my car or what?”
“Get it yourself old bastard.” He tossed the keys at the man, ignoring the curses as he turned away, fumbling in his pockets for the cell phone Dianna had given him for this purpose.
It was late, or maybe it was early, Dianna really wasn’t sure how normal people considered three am in the morning. She didn’t really care either of course, as she locked the car behind her and started walking. If Lenny had pulled her away from the bar and a very promising lay for the night for nothing, she was going to hurt the man.
Lauren had never been this close to the Gray before; she didn’t like the way it made her feel. It was seductive and she wanted to move closer in to its foggy embrace.
There weren’t many people around this close to the Gray at this hour of the night. There was more of a possibility of running into a demon than a human out here right now and Dianna scowled, walking faster as she scanned the area. Lenny was crazy, the human was dead somewhere and she was out here on a fool’s errand.
Lauren cut through the parking lot. Tired, her skin buzzed at being so close to the Gray, she was slightly in shock she’d killed again.
Dianna’s steps slowed as she felt the skin along the back of her neck crawl. She wasn’t alone. Something was behind her, pacing her and she started walking faster again. It felt powerful, she could feel its hunger even from here, and the walk became a jog and the jog a run, which turned into a sprint as she heard a roar. A glance behind her and she could see it, dark and winged, a full demon then, no human form to speak of as it raced after her.
Lenny was going to get a fist to the nuts if she lived through this, the redhead promised herself, ground flying below her as she fled through a parking lot, dodging the two parked cars in it.
Lauren gasped in pain as a headache exploded at the base of her skull. She stopped sniffing the air and changed course. She shouldn’t have come here.
Strange things drove her now, especially after dark.
Grifton Park wasn’t far ahead; she could make it there and then double back to her car. Then she could get out of here before . . . All those plans died in her mind as the thing behind her kicked a car. The force sent it squealing sideways on its tires, slamming into her side and sending her flying.
The demon roared again, its clawed beak of a mouth gaping wide as it scented blood.
Lauren was moving faster. She jumped over a car and raced down the street.
"All right," Dianna growled, getting up off the ground, spitting out a piece of asphalt. "Fine. You want to play. We’ll play." It was a full demon, stronger than she was, faster and definitely uglier.
It growled, swiping at her and she ducked as its claws dug half-foot gouges into the wall near her head. She punched at him, and it didn’t do anything other than piss the demon off.
Lauren grabbed a lamppost and used her momentum to flip her around, her feet crashing into the creature and pushing it off its course. She tried to land on her feet but her momentum carried her too far and she slipped and slid on cement on her hands and knees.
Dianna had seen her death coming at that moment, had seen the claws coming at her head and no ability to stop it. Then the demon was twisting, moving to attack a girl who suddenly leapt at it out of the darkness and Dianna was back up. "Watch the claws! They’re poisoned!" Dark ichor had dripped from them before.
The demon roared, wings flaring as it did a little hop up and over the ten feet at the human.
Lauren heard a voice shout out something about claws. She shook her head and growled out, hyper-aware of the demon coming at them. Her skin rippled and bubbled and then settled.
"Where you going?" Dianna yelled, leaping out and grabbing a hold of its scale covered tail. Grunting she held on, boots skidding on the asphalt as it pulled her toward the human, wanting blood.
Lauren roared back wanting blood of her own. The sound was weak compared to the roar of the demon but it still was shocking to the demon; it confused it, this challenge to war. The human should be running away. It blinked as the human actually charged at it. Then there was the half-breed pulling its tail.
Lauren ran, legs pumping like pistons, she charged like a bull straight at it.
The demon hissed annoyed with Dianna and turned to snap at her to get her off its tail.
Then it snapped its head back around.
Lauren jumped bringing her hands together and up over her head and then as she fell she brought her clasped hands down like she was swinging an axe.
The demon squealed, a high-pitched painful sound that echoed around the street, as its beak of teeth was smashed and shattered, the sound of multiple bones breaking was heard slightly under the squeal of pain.
A clawed hand caught Lauren across her arm and chest, clothing sliced open but across her skin the claws just skidded over them not able to penetrate, scraping across like nails on a chalkboard and then gone. Lauren fevered, nearly insane for a kill, moved in under the demon’s arm and punched into its chest.
The demon’s tail lashed sideways, giving Dianna a brief taste of flight. It was quite pleasant, right until she crumpled in to the side of a car; it’s high-pitched alarm puncturing the night around them as car lights flashed.
She groggily slid to the ground, the world slewing around her crazily. Which was the only way to explain why she saw the demon rear back, the human climbing onto its shoulders and grabbing its head.
She was hallucinating, Dianna thought groggily as she tried to get up to her feet. Seeing things that were impossible.
It was hard, to twist the head and crush the spine. Harder than the others had been, but the human managed, and they collapsed together back onto the street. She was panting, her lungs desperate for air. Then the shaking that came after the thrill of the kill left her cold, though something inside her was satisfied. Her skin bubbled again and she screamed as the hardness of her skin was undone. Her hands were shaking and she was vaguely aware of tears.
It was easier to kill demons, it eased the sense of guilt in her mind, but she needed to kill, with each kill something loosened and eased inside her. And each time she did, something changed and she thought that she lost more and more of what made her Lauren.
“What the fuck are you?” Dianna groaned, holding her side as she stood up. Behind her the car alarm kept on its insistent bleating, with a Dianna-sized dent in its side. The half-demon stared at the human woman and the dead demon she was crouched over.
Lauren flinched, surprised by the words, she hadn’t really noticed the other person. She scrambled to get to her feet so she could run away, but she slipped in the blood and then caught her foot on the demon’s tail. Arms windmilling, she tried to regain her balance only to fall back. Her head cracked against the ground and darkness swallowed her.
Dianna blinked, staring down at the woman who’d just knocked herself out. Now that was more along the lines of what she expected from humans. Except… she glanced at the demon who’s head whose head almost off its body… except for things like that.
“Aw shit.” She grumbled, limping over to the unconscious human. She couldn’t just leave her out here, not this close to the Gray zone. What she should be doing was calling Quinn and dumping the human in the detective’s lap.
Again, there was a problem. The human had probably saved her life. “I don’t turn people in to the police who I owe.” Dianna muttered, torn between what she should do and what she wanted to do.
Finally she simply gritted her teeth, picked up the slight woman and started back toward her car. They’d figure things out in the morning.
Lauren gasped and sat up.
Blinking she looked around. This wasn’t her place, her shithole under the university. This, this . . . was a place with windows and sunlight. There was a slight buzz at the back of her head but not the pain-inducing headache that drove her into a killing madness.
The room was simple but bright and airy. Tall cathedral ceilings made the room feel even larger than it was. Old brick walls were adorned with a few hanging antiques and a random painting. The bed was the newest thing there, a comfortable queen size mattress and neutral bedding. Somewhere, deeper in the house, music was playing and the sound of chairs moving against wood, and glasses clinking, could be heard.
It was a painful reminder of normality. She threw the sheet that was covering her off and then scrambled for it the moment she realized she was naked. Wrapping it around herself she wondered where her clothes were.
She paused in her winding of the sheet around her body as she noticed three black marks, almost like scorch marks that started on her biceps and ended at her sternum. They didn’t hurt, the skin only slightly tender, she winced at a flash of memory. A clawed hand, those claws with poisonous black tips, and then it was gone.
"I want answers!" Someone from deeper in the house yelled, the female voice sounding pissed. A male voice answered, but the low bass voice was lost in the music. Chairs scrapped against wood and a door closed, leaving only the music.
She’d never been to a toga party and it took a couple of tries to keep the sheet from slipping. The voice made her cringe and fear started, followed by the shaking in her hands. She’d need another injection soon. Killing the demons seemed to burn through whatever Susie had gotten her hooked on quicker.
She’d need to inject herself soon.
She looked around but she wasn’t going to go far without clothes. She padded silently around the room. There was an undercurrent of suffering to the brick walls, the smell of smoke and beer. Finally she realized she would have to move to the door and that angry voice; there was no other way out, unless she threw herself through the window.
Wood creaked as footsteps made their way up the stairs from below, heading up to the same floor she was on.
Lauren swallowed, wanting to flee, for a moment part of her told her the window would be no problem, she’d survive the glass and the fall. It was the new dark part, it scared her.
She put her hand on the doorknob, thankful that dark voice had less sway in the daylight and cracked it open.
A shape moved down the hallway, dark clothes and a shock of red hair as the female started toward the door that Lauren was hiding behind.
Lauren stood uncertain sweating nervously before she opened the door. The woman was intense in a way that was scary, and the ache at the base of her skull intensified. "Um . . ." She squeaked out as bravery failed her.
The woman paused, surprise flickering across her face before it was carefully blanked. "You’re awake."
"Um." She said again. "I . . . Yes, yes I’m awake. Can I have my clothes?" Her voice was quiet and shy and she didn’t make eye contact.
"No." The redhead brushed a hand through her hair, leaving it a bit spikier than it had been before as she muttered something to herself. Sighing she looked back at Lauren. "Your clothes were ruined." She frowned. "What’s your name?" Best to make sure.
Lauren tensed, not sure if she should give her real name. Those things had been looking for Susie, maybe they were looking for her. She twisted her hands nervously, then sadly realized she’d taken so long to think about what she should do that she might as well answer truthfully, as it would probably seem like a lie. "Lauren."
"Lauren." A sardonic grin from the stranger and she turned on her two-inch heeled boots, walking away from Lauren. "I’ll get you some clothes; someone must have left something that will fit you. Then you’re welcome to some food while you decide what to do."
"Okay." She said uncertainly. Decide what to do? She hid. Hid until she learned to control herself and they stopped looking for her.
Or maybe until she grew so disgusted with herself she ended it. In the mornings she thought about suicide a lot, so far the biggest reason holding her back was she’d been raised Catholic suicides went straight too hell, she’d seen enough demons.
"Okay." Dianna yelled back, walking through a door at the end of the hall. She emerged a few minutes later, a bundle of clothes in her hands as she carried them back toward Lauren. "Here. These should fit. I’ll be downstairs when you’re dressed." She shoved the clothes in Lauren’s arms.
The redhead started back the way she’d come, stopping at the top of the stairs. "Don’t go into the doors at the end of the hall. Got it?"
"Okay." Lauren said uncertainly clutching the clothes to her chest.
"I mean it." The redhead pointed at Lauren. Getting a quick nod in response she went downstairs, muttering to herself.
Once the woman was gone, Lauren quickly dressed. The clothes smelled funny, and it was odd to wear jeans without underwear but that was just, eww. Now dressed, she made her way out the door and down the stairs; it didn’t even occur to her to look where she’d been told not to. Susie would have been braver, mouthier, or just handled it better, but Susie was dead and she was not.
The stairs descended into the kitchen of the bar. Dianna wasn’t anywhere to be seen but an ancient looking woman was stirring pots of soup and stew over the industrial stove tops. She peered up at Lauren, wielding a wooden spoon. "Sit." She said in a heavy German accent. "Eat!"
"Helga, stop scaring the girl, she’s had a bad night." The redhead was back, dragging a chair over to straddle it across from Lauren. "That’s Helga, she does all the cooking here."
Lauren suddenly found herself starving, she was considerably thinner than she used to be, and started stuffing the stew and bread into her mouth. Embarrassed, she swallowed. "Thank you Helga." She whispered out before trying to take more ladylike bites.
The German woman waved the wooden spoon.
"She doesn’t talk much." Dianna said, arching an eyebrow. "You don’t talk much either do you?"
Lauren swallowed. "Um, what would you like me to say? You haven’t told me your name or where I am, so really I think you should be talking."
"Right." The redhead winced, rubbing a hand through her hair. "Dianna Theron. This is my bar." She watched Lauren eat, pale eyes narrowing a little. "Thank you." She said it grudgingly. "For last night."
For a moment Lauren was wondering if she’d actually managed to have sex, but the memory flash of fighting a demon made her think otherwise. "Last night?"
"The demon." Pale eyes watched her intently; behind her the German woman kept stirring, ignoring them completely. "For killing him, before he killed me."
Lauren looked at her and her hands started shaking as more bits of memory hit her. "You’re, uh, welcome." She pushed back from the table. "I should go. Thanks for the food, it was really good . . ." She babbled.
The shaking was getting worse.
"Wait." Dianna stood, frowning. "Where are you going to go? Not that I care of course, but you should probably have a plan. The police are looking for you."
That only made things worse. Panic was followed by a craving spike in her gut for an injection. "Police?" She backpedalled, her eyes darting for an exit.
"Police." Dianna watched her, expressionless. "They think you know something about a family that was killed." She shouldn’t do this; she should just let the mouse flee back into her hole. But she’d saved her life.
Dianna moved, following Lauren.
Lauren’s face became chalky. "I didn’t . . ." A memory of a demon retracting two boney claws out of her father’s head, the stunned expression on his face and Susie shouting at her to save them. In the end, she’d been too late to realize what Susie had done to her.
Her stomach twisted, she needed a fix. "Please, I need to go." The woman with the red hair stood between her and the only exit.
"Where?" Dianna kept moving, stepping between her and the doors. "Where would you go? Where would be safe for you?" The woman’s hands were trembling she noticed.
It rose up in her, her skin bubbling and rippling before becoming solid, like stone. "Someplace safe." She growled out, trying to shove the woman out of her way.
"Not good enough." Dianna knocked away those trembling hands. "What is it? What are you addicted to? Meth? Heroin?"
"I don’t know!" She shouted and then pushed back harder, knocking the woman back out of her way. "Sorry, sorry, I can’t control it . . ." She apologized as her skin rippled, the hardness underneath breaking away, and then she ran out of the kitchen.
Vaguely she noticed the bar and then the headache tightened like a vice and her head whipped around looking at the lone patron staring at his beer.
"Bob!" Dianna yelled a few steps behind Lauren. The man at the bar didn’t seem to hear her, staring down at the beer bottle in his hands. The baseball cap was pulled down low over his face and his thin white hands clutched the bottle tightly.
The voice did it, broke her focus. She blinked and black eyes changed back to brown and she dashed for the door.
Lauren got the door ripped open and was gone. She could feel it now. The Gray, the place that anchored demons in their world and gave them refuge, she was too close to it.
She ran faster down the street, her bare-feet shredding and bleeding against the cement.
It was in Dianna to chase after the stranger. To go after her, but at the threshold of the bar she paused. "What the hell am I doing?" The half-demon asked, watching Lauren disappear around a corner in the bright sunlight. She wasn’t her problem, not anymore.
Frowning she turned, closing the bar door again.
“Where is the little one?” Helga demanded as soon as Dianna returned to the kitchen.
“Gone.” Was the simple answer as Dianna moved to get her own bowl of food. Only to have her hand thwacked by the heavy wooden spoon that Helga wielded like a weapon. “Ow!”
“No guest, no early lunch.” The German woman said, turning her back on the bar owner.
“You know, I’m really starting to think you don’t know who you work for.” The half-demon growled, sucking on a bruised finger. Helga cackled and said something in German too fast and far too fluently for Dianna to follow. Although, she had the sneaking suspicion that she was being told off.
Muttering to herself the redhead turned and strode for the stairs. Since her entire morning seemed to be ruined, she might as well take care of some of the invoices that were waiting for her on her desk. It had never really occurred to her how much paperwork was involved in owning her own bar.
Not that she regretted it, but it certainly seemed to keep her busy.
The heavy metal key was in her pocket, like always and she slid it into the keyhole of her personal office.
“Sissy, I’m AH!” She yelped, ducking as a book went flying at her from one of the bookshelves. “Hey! Stop that!”
Another book went flying for her head and she had to duck behind a chair, the heavy dictionary thudding into the leather chair back instead of her head.
“What the fuck! Come on, she ran away on her own. I did what I was supposed to right? I found her, well she found me, but I tried, she just didn’t want any help.”
The third book hit with enough force to make the chair rock back on its legs.
“Sissy!” Dianna peeked around the edge of the chair, looking at the smiling face of her sister’s portrait. “This isn’t our problem!”
A fourth book went flying by her face so close she felt the pages brush her cheek.
“All right! All right.” Swearing to herself the half-demon stood up, warily, ready to dodge back behind cover if more books leapt off the shelves. When they stayed where they were she relaxed. “I’ll find her and get her somewhere for recovering meth heads or something.”
Grumbling to herself she grabbed the old black rotary phone from on top of her desk. The police weren’t a normal number she called, but she thought she’d rather leave a message for Quinn instead of talking to the detective right now.
“Hi. I’d like to leave a message for Detective Quinn.”
Quinn stood outside the bar, feeling naked out of uniform. She wasn’t certain this was a good idea, too close to the Gray at night, but she couldn’t shake the feeling the Feds had a tail on her. She sucked in a breath and pushed the door open.
She actually liked the bar; for all she knew most of it was imported from Ireland just like Dianna claimed. It was just the fact that Dianna, who wasn’t remotely Irish owned it struck a nerve. She got a few looks but she ignored them, trudging up to the bar and found an empty stool, it was a weeknight so it wasn’t packed.
"Whiskey neat, and make it something suitably Irish." She said to the attractive man behind the counter, but brushed off his attempts to flirt. Dianna would find her, then ignore her, but eventually they would talk. It had been a day since the woman had left her that cryptic message.
Elegant fingers slid a glass of whiskey, neat just like she’d ordered it, in front of Quinn. “Knappogue Castle Reserve, just for you, Detective.” Dianna’s voice was as honey-toned as the whiskey she’d just set in front of her. The half-demon leaned against the other side of the bar, showing off a fair bit of cleavage in the tight shirt she wore. “Was wondering when you’d stop by.”
"I wouldn’t have to if you would have just returned my phone call during the time I told you I’d be at my desk." Quinn knew it was Dianna’s way of taking control and for now let her have it. "I have a feeling I’m being followed." She said quietly over the rim of her drink before downing it. She winced as it burned down her throat.
"So you want to go into more detail of your message?”
The red-haired woman shook her head. “Always business first with you, Detective.” Reaching behind her she grabbed a bottle, refilling the woman’s drink for her. “You should treat that drink with more respect, it’s a forty-year-old single malt whiskey. The bottle costs more than most people’s mortgage payments.” Dianna smiled. “I rather doubt whoever is following you would be stupid enough to follow you in here.”
"Maybe, or maybe they have their own half-demons and demons to do work for them." She said with a shrug. This time she sipped her drink. "You know what they say about cops--even when the uniform comes off, we’re still on." She grinned humorlessly as the man sitting next to her shifted nervously.
She let out a breath. "I’m sorry and how was your day today?" She frowned as soon as the words were out of her mouth the civility feeling weird in their normally uncivil working relationship, and even that was grasping at straws for what they were.
Dianna gave her a toothy grin, ignoring the man who suddenly decided he needed to move away from the cop. “It was fine, dear, how was yours? Did little Timmy get to school on time?” She thoroughly enjoyed getting under Quinn’s skin, the Irish woman had a good handle on her temper but it flared every once in a while.
The bartender grabbed a beer from a passing server, giving her a wink and taking a gulp of the cold liquid. It was a good night, enough patrons to keep the place busy but not so many that it got chaotic. She was delaying of course, avoiding Quinn’s question.
There was a flash of old pain, not that Dianna could have known about how much her response hurt. Five years ago she used to have someone to go home to, someone who she could have exchanged those questions with, and his name hadn’t been Timmy, it had been Connor, named after her Da.
"Look." She said darkly, recovering, pushing the pain back down. "You want to talk about the phone message or not?
Dianna’s lips came off the rim of the bottle with a wet sound and she watched Quinn through her lashes. “Actually. I think I’d rather talk about why you just looked like you wanted to rip my head off.”
Quinn ignored her, taking a sip of her drink, settling her thoughts. That was the problem with demons, even half-breeds; they fed on pain and suffering, got off on it even. Working with them you had to be nearly emotionally dead. Which didn’t really speak volumes for the human’s integrity. "Theron, that is not a can of worms you want to open. Maybe I’ll tell you someday, after I tell you what my first name is. Until then let it drop." She was proud that the neutrality was back in her voice.
“But I know what your first name is.” Dianna smiled teasingly, accepting the defeat for now. “I’ll just wait to use it when I can scream it out in delight though.” She licked her lips, loving the way Quinn’s eyes reacted even if the other woman’s face was shut down.
"Don’t flatter yourself. I don’t swing that way." Sometimes with demons it didn’t matter you’d go there despite yourself, you just couldn’t resist.
She got up. "Thank you for the drinks, Theron. Don’t call me again if you’re going to waste my time." She pulled out enough bills for a tip and threw them on the bar. Maybe she’d schedule a raid on the bar just to make herself feel better. Honestly though, Theron really seemed to be more human than demon, she doubted they’d find anything.
“Your lips say one thing, your eyes another.” Dianna stood up from her leaned-over crouch, sighing. “You really need to work on your social skills, Detective. I’ve got something on your missing girl. Care to follow me upstairs?”
Quinn sighed and rubbed her nose. Everyone who saw her go upstairs was going to think they were having sex. "Sure, fine, but I’m not going to try to save your soul. I know a lost cause when I see one.”
“That just makes it all the more fun, Detective.” Dianna purred, walking up the stairs with a sway to her hips. She could feel the eyes on her from below. One of them would be spending the night with her, a pity it didn’t seem that would be Quinn though.
She walked down the hall, going in to the guest bedroom and picking up a plastic bag. Inside were ruined clothes that she tossed over to Quinn. “There.”
Quinn frowned and looked inside. "And the rest of her would be where? And do I want to know how you got her clothes off of her?”
That earned the Detective a smirk. “Use your imagination. As for the rest, I don’t know. She fled out of here after I told her the police wanted to talk to her.” Best to leave most of that confrontation out of it, Dianna thought. She leaned a hip against the side of the bed board, watching Quinn.
Quinn let out a breath, that didn’t sound good. That almost made it seem like the youngest daughter was guilty of something. "You know that doesn’t sound very good. Makes it seem like she’s involved some way with the murders." Normal people didn’t run away from the police. Damn it. She rubbed her nose again. "But she’s alive." They were 48 hours from cold-casing it.
“Very alive. Although I think she might be on drugs. Not sure which, maybe PCP? She had a burst of” Dianna grinned “inhuman strength.”
Quinn remembered what Dianna had said at the house. "You’re still fucking with me. She worked for the University, in the Library, to be around anyone who might be underage all employees must have a background and blood test to make sure they are human. She’s a human and a human can’t twist a demon’s head around until they can look at their ass.”
“Detective, if I was fucking with you, I guarantee you’d know it.” Dianna pushed off from the bed, annoyed with the entire thing. “I have people looking for her, but she’s obviously got a nice deep hidey hole somewhere.”
"You have to be related to a nymph or a satyr. You have sex on the brain all the time, everything is innuendo with you." She wondered if she should bother to find the young woman who didn’t want to be found. "I’m going to close the case, unless I find anything that links her to the murders. She’s an adult, if she wants to be a junkie and hide away from the world . . ." It would make sense, a young woman who sees her family killed maybe escapes into drugs to hide the memory.
That she could understand.
"Um, there’s nothing I can do about that. I already have five new murders on my plate.”
“You’re not going to search for her?” The half-demon’s gaze sharpened. She’d been hoping that this entire mess could be handed off to Quinn.
Quinn’s gaze hardened. "What do you think I’ve been doing? You’ve had more luck than I. I can only do so much. My life isn’t a cop show. My caseload is overflowing; I have feds following me, asking me inane questions because they are lying sacks of shit. I work overtime almost everyday, sometimes if I’m lucky I get lunch that doesn’t come from a vending machine. We can’t all be oversexed bar owners." But it sounded nice.
Anger was okay although it was a turn-on for some demons, she was fairly certain Dianna wasn’t one of those; she did however, make an effort to calm herself. "48 hours and then it’s a cold case.”
“So if I find her in 48 hours I can hand her over to you?” Dianna asked, just to be crystal clear on this one. If Sissy was going to force her to do something, she didn’t want to be stuck looking after some addicted human.
“Yeah sure." Quinn replied. "If that’s all, I’ll leave you and your regulars alone." She turned for the door smirking. She was going to ruin Dianna’s reputation; she hardly looked like she’d just been given a good time.
The bar tender pursed her lips in thought, watching the detective go, too preoccupied by the complications to her normally orderly life to protest.
High-pitched voices gibbered in an infernal tongue, the words and phrases echoing in the dark cavernous room. Pale, fish-belly-white demons, no bigger than a small child, painted symbols on to the cold concrete floor. Their brushes were made from bone and hair and their movements delicate even though they only had three fingers and no eyes.
Somewhere another door opened and different demons came in pushing metal tripods; on top of each tripod was a metal circle that held something tan, it was pulled tight, connected in place to the metal circular frame. They pushed two tripods into the center of the symbols. The tan on top of the tripods was revealed to be stretched skin; two empty eyeholes and pale, bloodless lips opened in a never-ending scream of torment.
Exiting the symbols, two demons bumped into one of the painters and a fight broke out, screams of pain and rage echoed, until a cold, bored voice said, “Stop wasting my time.”
The fighting stopped and the combatants dropped to their knees gibbering and bowing.
The voice was attached to a female body, ripe with lush curves and dark hair that cascaded down pale skin. “Very good, looks like we are ready. Where is the Blood Witch?”
When there was no answer the woman turned around, red eyes blazing. “Find me the Blood Witch; time is wasting here.” Her voice promised pain and the demons got up, bolting in all directions.
Finally the Blood Witch emerged; her lower half was that of a giant snake while her upper torso was that of a woman. She was naked other than bones and skulls that decorated several large necklaces around her neck, the bones were human and demon, There were odd patterns painted on to her skin, some flashed dark red on occasion while others remained dormant.
“I was watching the stars in a bowl of blood.” She snapped out.
“I’ll divine my future in your entrails if you don’t quit the attitude,” the demoness said darkly, promising pain.
The witch swallowed and then bowed. “I beg forgiveness, sometimes I spend too much time looking into the mysteries that I forget my place.”
“Whatever. Find out which one is Susan.”
“As you command.” The witch moved forward, scales dryly rasping over the concrete. She moved to the circle of symbols checking everything carefully. “Very good. Bring me the hearts.”
A box was brought to the witch and she pulled out the decomposing organs with a sniff of disapproval, “Next time, a cooler full of blood is better.” She began to hum and chant and then squeezed the hearts over each taut skin like a lemon.
The skins began to twitch and the mouths open and shut, and then agonizing screams wailed throughout the room.
The demoness approached, a pleased smile on her face. “Which one of you is Susan Espinoza?”
The faces contorted in agony. “What have you done to us?” They wailed.
“Oh, shut up. Or I’ll eat your damned soul. Now who is Susan?”
“You leave my baby alone.” One of the faces shouted.
“Thank you. Take that one away and burn it.” Demons scampered to do as they were bid.
The demoness moved over, pushing the Blood Witch out of her way. She snapped her fingers and a chair was brought. She swept her tail back so she could sit comfortably.
“Susan, you’re a smart woman. You knew I was on to you. Did you guess I had corrupted your boss? It wasn’t that hard, not really. I know your little project is a failure, but did you know that someone noticed you taking vials out of the lab? So tell me where your hidden little lab is, so I can destroy any more freaks you’ve created.”
The flap of taut skin that used to be connected to the rest of Susan struggled. “There’s no lab,” she said hollowly.
“Then why were you stealing the blood samples?” She asked, checking a blood-red painted fingernail, bored.
“The volunteers were not suitable, criminals became too violent once the injections began and the blood started to mix. They flew into rages and killed everyone, not just demons. I theorized that we actually needed a more passive pool of test-subjects, ones not prone to violence.”
The demoness went very still, “Who’s your test subject, Susan?”
“Why? Scared?” Susan taunted back.
“What’s there to be scared of? You made half-breeds, big deal.”
“The Great Wyrm and Stone-skinned Soul Eater out of Tibet .” Susan smiled as the demoness’s skin became pale. “All those things that make demons scared of the dark.”
The demoness glared. “They’ve been hunted to extinction Chinese occupation of Tibet and Wyrms are easily distracted.” She sneered in response.
“A half-breed hid the last one away. His family worshiped it, and cared for it through the centuries; all because demons murdered his heart’s true love. He harbored it out of hatred. And we pitiful humans found it.”
The demoness was standing now, red eyes blazing like a house fire. “Who is your test subject? Where can it be found?”
Susan’s mouth opened in a painful wail trying to resist. “Blood of my blood, she was at the house. She’ll kill you. Because she must.”
Lips tight together the demoness stormed off. “Put it in a box.” She might need to talk to Susan again.
Three AM probably wasn’t the best time to be wandering around the Gray zone, or even out of it for that matter, but Dianna Theron couldn’t leave earlier. No matter what Quinn thought, there were a lot of things she had to take care of at the bar. There were employees that had to be paid, fights to break up, and customers to mingle with.
A quickie with a rather stunning brunette had taken the edge offthe night’s troubles quite nicely.
This unfortunately left her leaving the bar, in Bob’s capable hands, at three a.m. to meet with a demon who she hoped would be able to find the missing human. Then maybe, finally, Sissy would stop throwing books at her every time she entered her own study.
The demon was waiting for her outside the back of the bar. It wasn’t one of the ones who could ever pass for a human, like Paul. The hulking beast was more like a saber-toothed cat then anything else, although the slime shine of its reptilian hide made even that comparison difficult.
“You’re late.” The thing growled.
“I had things to settle, Challa.” Dianna dug into her pocket, pulling out a small scrap of cloth and holding it out for the thing to sniff. “Can you track from this?”
Challa snorted, turning and loping through the darkness as Dianna sprinted to keep up
Lauren woke sluggishly. She had injected herself with a different vial wondering if it might have a different affect on her. It had. This one made her sleepy and when she did venture up into the quad, she kept getting drawn to shiny objects and valuable ones.
Made her feel vaguely raccoon like. There was a buzz again in the back of her skull, the beginnings of headache, one she had come to associate with a demon being nearby, she was meek not stupid.
Slowly she got up and dressed. Thirsty swept the watches, rings, and bangles off the cooler onto the floor and pulled out a beer, downing it quickly. It helped keep the edge off the headaches. Slowly she snuck out of her hiding hole.
It was late or early, not yet dawn but the fullness of night was gone. On a weeknight, even most students were asleep at this time.
Challa slowed, and Dianna was glad it did. They’d crossed what felt like most of the city at a run and she was seriously regretting the heeled boots she was wearing. Her legs were starting to burn as she slowed, watching the scaly demon scent the air with a forked tongue. "Your prey is near." Challa growled, turning to look at Dianna through yellow eyes. "I have brought you here. Payment now."
"Pushy, aren’t we?" Dianna reached into her pocket, pulling out a sealed plastic baggy. "Here you go." She tossed it at him and the demon snatched the bag and the white pills in it, out of the air. "Demons and ecstasy." She muttered, shaking her head as she started walking deeper into the university grounds.
Her pace quickened as she saw movement in the shadows of one of buildings, a library if she remembered correctly. "Hey!" She called, changing direction and moving toward it.
Lauren froze, recognizing the voice; it was the woman who wanted to take her to the police. "Fuck." She grumbled. The woman was too close for her to get to her hideaway without it being discovered.
"Hey!" Dianna really didn’t want to run again. "I want to talk to you."
She lifted her head and sniffed almost as if she were scenting the air. There was a demon nearby; the pain in her skull increased. She moved toward the garishly redheaded woman intent on going passed her. "Look, I don’t want to talk to you." She said absently following in the direction the demon had left.
Dianna grabbed her arm, yanking her to a stop. "I know that, but it’s important," the other woman insisted.
Lauren’s eyes flickered for a second, going black. "I need to . . ." She trailed off and gave the strange woman her attention. "What?" she asked, looking at the hand on her arm, knowing how easy it would be to break it.
The flicker of Lauren’s eyes made Dianna pause for a second, but she shook it off. The sooner she did this, the sooner she could be home. "It’s obvious you’re in trouble and I know you’re high on something. I owe you for what you did two days ago, let me help you."
Lauren laughed and easily shook the hand off. "A month ago you could have helped. Not now, go away before I hurt you too."
The brush-off actually stung a bit and Dianna rubbed her wrist, eyeing the human. "Fine." Damnit, why was she even out here? "You just self destruct all by yourself. Live in filth for all I care." She wrinkled her nose. "Or should I say keep living in it?"
Lauren paused. "I’m sorry . . . I just . . . you’re attractive, it makes it hard . . . you should really not be here." She took a deep breath it was easier when she wasn’t so close.
"Little girl, I’m not . . ." Dianna paused, head tilting to one side. Something had changed around them.
"What . . ." She mumbled, turning in a circle. Behind them Challa strode into view large, tusked mouth open, serpentine tongue flicking. "Challa." Dianna frowned. "What do you want? I paid you already."
The human’s shoulders drooped and bent inward almost if she was trying to make herself disappear. She blinked at the very obvious thing that was a demon.
"You did not pay me enough." The demon tracker hissed, laughing as forms stepped out of the shadows behind him. Dianna froze; jaw tightening as she realized she’d been double-crossed.
Lauren’s skin rippled and she hissed as it thickened into hard scales followed by the sound of tearing flesh as wings emerged from her back. That was a bit painful and startling for Lauren.
Something bad was happening behind her, but Dianna dared not look away from the four demon hounds that were advancing along with Challa. She’d never seen four of them together, hadn’t known four existed.
Lauren stumbled a bit not quite knowing how to use her wings. "What the hell?" She grumbled. "Hey kid, I’m here to help you, I only brought a few friends to kill you." She mimicked Dianna.
“Obviously not as much my friend as I thought." Dianna snapped back, slowly stepping backwards.
She hissed and then with a stumbling hop, step, and a jump, she got the wings to carry her up with a powerful contraction of muscle. She was up and over the strange woman and then sailing downward at one of the demons, feet first. Her foot knocking it down as it just stared at her, perplexed to what it was seeing.
Dianna would have laughed if the circumstances were different. The demon hound, which was different from a hellhound, had looked up with the most confused expression on its face as the kid sailed down at it.
Thankfully the previous night had given the half-demon some new wariness and she hadn’t come to the meeting empty handed. The pistol had been tucked away in her pocket. It was small but the bullets were blessed with holy water. It made a large impact on the nearest demon hound as she shot it in the head.
"Run, idiot!" She yelled at the human.
The urge to kill was overwhelming, almost as bad as the headache that throbbed throughout her skull. The wings were annoying, although she could pull them around her body for some protection and quickly learned to flare them out to knock her attackers back. She roared out as the demon she had first knocked down bit her in the leg.
Lauren kicked out sending a demon flying back and then caught another and snapped its neck. She roared out enjoying the scent of blood and the feeling of the demonic life force snuffed out. Part of her was horrified and once daylight hit she would purge the contents of her stomach.
They were staying back now, watching her warily. "This place is mine." She growled out, body tense, ready to kill again.
Her leg throbbed and it was still bleeding but she ignored it, ignored everything but the enemies in front of her.
The two remaining demons slunk backward, melding into the shadows. "See you again soon, Challa!" Dianna yelled after him, grunting in frustration when the demon hound escaped. Only then did she take in the changes to the human. The pistol slowly lowered. "What are you?" The half-demon whispered.
Lauren wanted to go after them and her body trembled with tension for a moment then the wings absorbed back into her back through the ruined shirt. Her skin rippled and the scales melted away. She collapsed to her knees, crying. "Go away." Right before she vomited up the beer she’d had earlier.
"Yeah, like I’m that much of a bitch." Dianna shoved the pistol back into a pocket. Stepping around the vomit she bent down, holding the woman’s hair away from her face as she wretched. "You can’t stay here. They’ll be back. You’ve made some big enemies if Challa flipped sides."
Lauren breathed out. "I can’t control my thoughts, my emotions, my . . . anything. Where else am I going to go?" She sniffed and then sat back wiping her mouth with the back of her ruined shirtsleeve.
“That we just ignore until we figure out what to do about it.” She held up a hand, quickly, before the human got upset. “Look. You need a safe place to stay and I’m, for some reason, offering one to you until you figure out what’s going on. Obviously you’ve got problems.”
Lauren automatically grabbed the hand, letting go once she was on her feet. "I . . . okay. I need to get my stuff." She thought about leaving it, but sooner or later she would need it again. Then there was a fear that someone else might find it.
She wasn’t certain this was a good idea, but she was out of options, if those things had been here for her. "I didn’t want any of this." She said to herself.
“We never do.” Dianna said, watching the area around them. “Get your things, we can’t stay here long. Challa’s probably going to be back with friends as soon as he can get to the Gray zone.”
Lauren nodded. Her back was cold, the night air licking across the skin through the ruined shirt. She shivered a little and then started moving toward her dumpster and the grate. With a little push, the dumpster was moved away from the wall and she pulled the grate out, sliding inside. The only thing she wanted was the bag. Everything else she would leave here in case she needed to come back.
“You were hiding in the sewer?” Dianna’s voice echoed off the walls around Lauren. The redhead had stopped at the sewer grate, not moving an inch closer to the area where Lauren had just climbed down. She was staring into the black hole incredulously. Sure, she’d heard legends of people desperate enough to do that, but come on! No one really did that unless they were a rat, did they?
"Steam tunnels." Came the reply. "They stretch everywhere under the University. I can go to the gym and take a shower; I can get to the Dining Hall and get food, and other such things." She emerged with a simple leather satchel and a beaten up duffle bag.
The half-demon raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything as she turned and started walking back the way they’d come. “We need a taxi. I’m not running all the way back to the Gray to try and beat Challa. You all right with moving vehicles?”
Lauren nodded. She followed quietly, not certain what to say. "Why are you doing this?" She asked, suspicious but it wasn’t like her options were that great. Being on the fringe of the human world gave her fewer people to interact with, to hurt, but she remembered this woman’s bar was on the edge of the Gray, but then there was the problem of the Gray itself.
“It’s complicated.” Dianna sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Let’s just say I’m doing my good deed for the year?” She didn’t think Lauren believed her but then again it wasn’t really the truth either so she couldn’t blame the other woman. “Are you hurt?”
"I . . . . . ." She suddenly remembered her leg and looked down. "It’s healing." The scales had made it hard for the thing to do much damage.
“You should have been cut in half by that winged demon by the way.” Dianna kept her voice conversational and her eyes on the street ahead of them as they walked. It was too late to get a taxi in the university area but a few blocks over they should be able to find something in the nightclub district. “I saw its claws hit your chest. They went through cement.”
That would explain the odd, dark marks on her skin. "I-I-I don’t have any answers for you. I don’t know what she did to me." Then she clamped her mouth shut not certain if she should say anything to this woman. There was a chance it had all been a setup, those demons attacking them, a ploy to create camaraderie between the two of them.
“She?” Dianna glanced over at the haggard woman at that. Expression softening at the look on Lauren’s face. “Come on, let’s get you somewhere you can sleep.” She said gruffly, stepping out into the street and holding up a hand in front of a taxi. As far as she knew, that was the best way to actually force oneto stop for you.
The horn blaring and the screech of tires as the cab slid to a stop was really just sort of a bonus. “Here.” She yanked open the door, shoving a hundred-dollar bill at the cabbie to get him to shut up before the cursing really got started.
Lauren felt a certain lassitude, envelop her now that the fighting was over. She had used a different vial and had gotten different results. The wings had been a very big different result, not that she had used them particularly well. Her eyelids closed slightly and she just really wanted to curl up someplace warm and sleep. Now that she’d killed, and the headache had gone away.
They rode in silence, she was uncertain what to say, and honestly the woman next to her was a little unsettling, in her tight clothes and with her boobs all . . . there.
“You don’t talk much do you?” The half-breed asked, watching the human woman’s reflection in the bulletproof separator between them and the driver in front as the taxi started moving.
Lauren fidgeted. "I . . . um . . . no." It was easier not to talk or say anything. Everything she said or did was held up next to her older sister’s accomplishments. Everything became a backhanded complement. "I’m not really good with them.”
“With words or talking to people?” Dianna smiled, keeping it as nonsexual as possible. It was pretty clear that if she teased too much the human was going to bolt right out of the taxi, no matter what speed they were going.
"Uh, with people." She fidgeted some more and looked out the window. "I just don’t want to hurt anyone and sometimes . . . sometimes . . . I get urges to do things that I never did before. It’s not like, I like living in steam tunnels and stealing clothes from random laundry rooms. I just know the University and it’s easy to hide there." The words were stumbled over and hesitant, it was easier to talk when she was looking out the window at the city passing them by.
“When did it start?” Dianna asked, conversationally as if they were discussing what sort of coffee they enjoyed drinking. It wasn’t the strangest conversation she’d ever had, but it definitely was the strangest she’d ever had with a human.
Although, come to think of it, there hadn’t been too many normal conversations with humans other than in her bed or with Quinn. Which wasn’t a fact she enjoyed dwelling on, so she didn’t.
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she held them back. "Seven . . . nine days ago, doesn’t seem that long for so much change. Demons came to the house they attacked us . . ." She trailed off, thinking. "Before that my sister, she . . . volunteered me for a drug study she was working on in Washington, but the first change came when those demons came into the house and attacked my family. I killed one of the demons, he was going to . . . rape my mother . . . I just snapped. It hurt, I remember the pain. Like my skull was going to split open." She thought she might get sick again and leaned forward letting the cool glass of the window press against her forehead.
Dianna closed her eyes as well, but for a different reason. Her nostrils flared as she gripped the seats. Damn, she’d forgotten how deep humans could feel things. There was no reserve with most of them; all of their feelings were just there out in the open, begging to be felt by everyone around them.
She could feel Lauren’s pain and it was delicious.
“Stop.” She ground out, gritting her teeth. “Think about something else. Anything else. A puppy or something.”
Lauren looked at the woman quizzically, "I don’t understand." Her expression changed to a frown. A hand tightening on the doorknob. "What’s going on?" She was wary now. Uncertain if she was safe. Her monster moved closer to the surface, making her eyes golden.
Uncertainty was better than pain and Dianna let out a slow breath, hands unclenching. “The pain. I could feel your pain very strongly.” She husked, keeping her eyes on the window on her side of the taxi. She just needed a moment.
Lauren considered tearing the taxi door open and fleeing. The only things she knew that could feed off of darker emotions were demons. Logic held her back. There was no headache, no urge to kill, and this woman Dianna, who was dressed like sex on a stick, was holding back. A demon wouldn’t have held back.
She was quiet for a while as she focused on her breathing and counting imaginary sheep in her head. Her hand came off the door handle and then after a little more time she said. "The fact you’re a half-demon should have come up sooner." She frowned. "I actually thought about killing you." What kind of fucked up thought was that? She’d thought about killing someone, she never used to have those thoughts.
Then she winced realizing she had. The delivery guy, she’d thought about ripping his nuts off and handing them to him, and the coffee guy who always fucked up her order, she’d thought about him slipping in some spilled coffee and bashing his head in on the counter. So she hadn’t been as gentle as she thought, but she certainly hadn’t acted on these thoughts before.