Bascun hadn’t fallen asleep. He’d closed his eyes, but each time she moved away from her table she could feel them on her. It was unsettling, but oddly comforting too. Robert’s staring was always sickening, he’d glower at you until you surrendered without knowing exactly what got him angry this time. Bascun’s eyes didn’t carry that and she supposed his reasons to keep an eye on her were different, thus she wasn’t bothered by it. She heard his wings touching the ground every now and then, making her think of peacock tails instead of two batwings decorating his back.
Leaving right after lunch break through the valley was the only option she could think of. This tended to be the time the place became deserted in the middle of the day. The only ones insane enough to come here were runners or those, who were praying on them. Her logic was, she had the biggest predator following her like a dog so no idiot would try take them down without thinking they’d had wee too much to drink.
Every now and then she glanced at the clock behind him on the wall and waited for the minutes to pass before the town clock banged two. Hers was two minutes off, it turned out. It would have bothered her had she ever used it aside being general reference.
She got up and checked the valley and determined the rainy day had indeed turned it into green desert. The clouds above it had done a good job scaring office folks back to their concrete heavens. Bascun pushed up from where he’d lay and stretched his back and neck muscles. She didn’t have to tell him, it was time, they both knew he’d been waiting.
“Isn’t this a bit lonely place to go through?” He asked about half an hour later, when I’d sneaked him out from the back, where I knew were no cameras. He had to squeeze his wings against his sides hard to push himself through the tiny door, but as it was the only one that didn’t have camera coverage, then it had to do.
“You prefer the city center?”
His jacket crunched lightly when he shrugged. “Wouldn’t mind that at all.”
She bet he didn’t – with his ultra modern look and gadgets worth showing, he’d fit in perfectly in a modern Halloween with other fops. She would mind, she thought. All her decorations included couple of earrings and a nose ring and the closest thing to modernism was her smart phone.
They were about half way through, when he took up his pace and reached her side. “Why are you helping me?”
Wasn’t that obvious, she wondered, eyes still searching any possible encounters they could end up with.
“Hey, Veronica!” he called out to her and she realized he’d stopped altogether. She turned around, ready to set him straight, but the way his head was cradled between his shoulders, hands in his pocket, like not sure what to do with them, she couldn’t.
“Before I go any further, I want you to look straight at me and tell me, why are you helping me?”
“So I can sell you on online auction after killing you in my hideaway.” She said, close to snarling. Couldn’t he see there were far safer places for this kind of conversations? He didn’t look amused and she wondered how many times he’d actually faced that threat before. Why had she thought he’d know what sarcasm was? “You’re my cousin now.” She offered another quick explanation and it made her insides squirm with warmth. “If Selene is married to your brother, as you say, then that makes you my cousin.”
“Even if that’s a pretense?”
“Selene was my cousin, more real than any of mine have ever been, so to you it maybe pretense, but to me it was real and I’d like to hope, it was the same for her. Blood ties have never determine my family.” She meant it. She chose, who she shared her life with, no one else. Even if it seemed stubborn to him, she didn’t care. “What you should be concentrating on is that I’m helping you.”
At least he didn’t toss me back that he didn’t need it. Instead he kept looking at me with a strange sorrow in his eyes. “You speak of her in past tense, did you notice?”
She thought back on what she’d said and gasped.
“She’s not dead, Veronica, she just doesn’t live here anymore.”
Was that suppose to calm her? She felt herself heave, feeling the nightmares attacking her in pure daylight. “Someone left me a note thanking me for my friendship and pile of cash in her name! What will I do with that junk? She needed it more than I ever did! I have a job, a new life, but she…” No, she couldn’t let herself fall in that black hole again, so she steadied herself, gulping down the tears and frowned, her brain desperately trying to pump adrenaline back in her veins, anger surging all the way to her fingertips. “I don’t know if she is alive or not! I have only your word for it!”
“Why are you so set on finding her corpse?” He must have sensed her resentment.
“’cause that’s what people do after leaving you their money and a note like that!” She shot back, empty again.
God, he was right! She WAS grieving! She had been numb for a week, spent the next month desperately trying to find her – turning to police, them declaring her missing after short four days they spent on searching, and then herself starting going over everybody and everything she had ever touched. And now this. She was angry on a man with bat wings dressed in modern clothing and looking at her as if he was waiting for her to finish up with her frustrating outburst she couldn’t stop, because she was overflowing with every roller coaster of an emotion she could name and many she couldn’t. She was so angry that her body was reacting while her brain tried desperately to get through, form the words on her lips…
“False alarm,” she tried to use the therapist’ words to calm down, “it’s just a false alarm.” She shot her arms up, surrendering and backing away a bit in attempt to put some distance between them, but instead she was shocked when she looked up and he wouldn’t budge from his place, looking a bit out of place, watching as she was falling apart there like a crazy woman. She decided she wanted him to hug her instead of having this damp weather surrounding her. “Would you PLEASE hug me now?” She yelled. His inadequacy to accompany her grief was making her dizzy no matter how weird it didn’t sound to her brain.
He strove straight at her and clamped his large muscled arm around her, pressing her strong against his chest and not letting go even when she struggled to get away. His smell was overpowering her, the earthy scent he carried. It was subtle, not strong at all, as if it was coming from him, not from an aftershave. It was just her nerves again, her body fighting against her nerves.
“Don’t you know how to read a woman already?” she mumbled into his chest and felt it rumble with quiet laughter.
“You really are alike.” he said, squeezing her harder and she wondered what he’d done to earn that from Selene. She didn’t want to let go yet, so she dug her fingers into his jacket, keeping him in place. After awhile his laughter died and although he didn’t release her, she knew he was frowning, mulling over her words.
“Selene couldn’t be the one, who sent you those.” He said quietly over her head. “She hasn’t used any gates since she arrived – she doesn’t know there are any working gates left.”
“I know and it doesn’t matter, the money was taken by police anyway…” she held on to his warmth as if it was a lifesaver and it was indeed warm, but the moment what he said registered that she felt how cold it really was around them. And it started drizzling. She let go reluctantly, but he didn’t. He kept his hands planted on her back, fingers twanged. “You kept it from her?” she turned my eyes up to see his face when he responded. He smiled, his eyes way tender than she expected to see.
“No! She hasn’t shown any interest to return, so we haven’t told her.” He realized his words didn’t make her feel any better, but then he squeezed her harder on her back and gave her his warmest smile. “Had I known she left somebody behind…”
That was a bullet to her brain and she quickly pulled away, letting me go. “That- she didn’t leave anybody behind!”
Despite the painful jolt that ran through her chest, she had to cling on to that and started walking on towards her apartment. She didn’t leave her behind. She left…
“Hold on,” she turned back to him, “you said it wasn’t her. Who else would do it? The note said, it would be to her next of kin. If I didn’t know any better, it sounded like it came from an employer. Do you know, who hired her?”
He shrugged, but his face carried a shadow now that said he did. But he wasn’t sharing the information to anyone, including me.
She let it go, turned and started walking again. His wings dragged behind him for a feet or two and then he sighed heavily, picking them up and although she didn’t look, she could mentally picture him swatting them cleaner from the dirty sand covering the pathway.
“City center would have been better!” He snarled to himself. “At least you’d clean there!”
She burst into giggles – a clean freak gargoyle.
“Where are you taking me?” He finally asked. She had began to wonder if he had everything right in his head, to wait so long before showing interest up like that? He wasn’t their chief, that much she could gather, but he didn’t look like the bottom of the pecking line either.
He glanced ahead and at the city block which heads started to show on the other side of the large park. “If it’s an apartment with large windows, I was better off in that office!”
“Only for an hour or so, then…” she trailed off. Yeah, then where?
“Where are all the people?”
“We’re in the middle of your city in the middle of a day and I’ve only seen two guys walk past us on the riverside.” He left unsaid they’d taken a long round tour and ran the moment they thought they were out of reach, but Veronica hoped they’d be far gone before they got to police.
“It’s raining, and besides, nobody comes here during the day or night this time of year. It’s a fantastic place during summers, but the moment it gets cold, it’s only wild life.”
“That’s why you’re so tense?” he snickered.
“If you have a good plausible explanation for your existence without starting a demon hunt, be as relaxed as you want.”
“Demons exist.” he said, serious.
“Yeah, well, that needs a definition, right? Asian demons, Judaic demons, mental health demons, personal…”
“Hatangy has demons – bodiless, mean and with no other thing in their little mind than eating up anyone, who passes their way.”
“Well…” she didn’t have comeback on that. I shrugged. “We don’t.”
The familiar flashing cocky smile was back and he strove past me, whispering to my ear. “Don’t worry, girl, I’ll protect you from those, who don’t exists!”
From yourself then too? She wondered. For as far as she was concerned, he didn’t exist in this world either. He kept his pace slow and even so she could catch up with him easily. He still didn’t know where they were going.
“By the way, that reminds me – if you don’t want me to be turned against you, you and I, we need to make a contract.”
She snorted – a mind reader too? “No.” She put it bluntly. She wasn’t having anything more to do with him than she had to. He was gonna help her with Selene and that was it. No more tying up past that.
His hand gripped around her elbow and he halted her. “I mean it.”
She turned her eyes up. He looked frantic and his stare was dead serious. “I am helping you back home – that’s that. And, well, you’ll help me see Selene that she’s OK, but that’s that! I’m not signing anything!”
“You don’t trust me?”
She glanced at the hand holding her in place. “Too early to talk about trust. We both want something from each other and agree to give it to each other – that’s oral contract. I’m not signing anything on paper.” She winched uncomfortably and hinted by pulling on it. It didn’t budge.
“No,” he shook his head, but the arm stayed, “if you don’t enter the contract and I’m signed off to anybody else while I’m with you, they can ask me to terminate you and I have to do it. You understand?”
That hand in his grip was starting to really bother her. “So, the fact that we now know each other plays no role?”
“Of course not!”
Well, he was right. It mattered not, but still she didn’t want to give herself to anyone. Robert sort of cured her of that disease.
“Look, I don’t want to…”
He let out a low growl and tossed the hand back to her, pushing her away and turned around to calm down. That gave me a wonderful look on the tattoo snaking over his right wing. She couldn’t tell what it was exactly, the detail’s color stood up only a bit from his wing color, but it was massive and indeed detailed. He swung around, visibly calmer, but she doubted it, because the gleam in his eyes was still as bright as before. There was something odd about his left eye… As if sensing her reading too much out of them, he immediately grabbed his sunglasses and put them back on. So that’s what he was doing! He wasn’t hiding from the sun at all, he couldn’t get himself reserved enough to play the cool guy?
“I can’t come any further if you don’t sign the contract with me! I would be a threat to you!”
Oh, for love of -! He was fine just a minute ago!
“And I will leave you here! How’s that for a stand off?” she snapped back, turned around and started walking, furious. Was he really thinking he could pester her into signing anything? Like hell! This was her world! And in her world, keeping yourself from junk contracts was daily life!
She knew he’d follow, despite the moment she really believed he’d actually stay and then she would’ve been in trouble. But his instincts probably said he was better off with her, with the contract then or not. It would have been fine hadn’t it actually planted the seeds of fear in her that he might be right – that he might indeed be dangerous should she get too cocky and for some reason someone would sign a contract with him in this world before me.
He was sulking. His wings were again dragging behind him as if he didn’t care. As if! His entire look screamed “presentable to every girl that winks at me” and now he didn’t care? It amused her to hear him grunt and pull up his wings and hear him slap the ends clean. How she wished to see him glide in this fog filled park road…
“Did Selene need a contract?” She asked him instead, when he took up his pace behind her.
“I don’t know.” He said honestly. “She did after she entered in our world. I don’t know if she had any with Thorwald.”
So Thorwald had entered in our world too? She slowed a bit so they were again shoulder to shoulder and glanced towards his face. He was indeed gloomy when he was sulking and the muddy weather around us with just as gray color hues didn’t make it any better. Still better than bright sunlight, given the circumstances. She didn’t want him sulking. But she didn’t want to give in and sign anything either.
“How often do you come in our world?”
“I’ve been here few times, Thorwald swore off never to return.” He huffed quietly as if the last statement was humoring. “There are those, who pass off as humans easily and who aren’t affected by the sun so much, so those come to do business. Others not.”
She let it sink in. Perhaps those legends about winged creatures weren’t that imaginative as she thought. She started rumbling through library in her head trying to pinpoint the last of the legends about winged creatures she could remember. 19th century? Maybe 20th news article? The one with foggy image.
“Do you have feather winged creatures there too?”
He finally looked at her. “Who? Like us?”
“Have you seen any?”
“No, it’s just… never mind.”
The quirky smile pulled tips of his lips upwards, dragging out his thick beard.
“Go on,” he urged, “I rather you speak than keep silent.”
Yeah, that seemed about right – talking about things that had no connection to them seemed easy enough topic to fill the time. And neither of them wanted to talk about themselves right now.
“Old manuscripts claim, there are angels in our realm, creatures with large white bird wings. Or, at least they claim so and I wondered if they also came from your world?”
He huffed, stretching his wings, scraping her lightly. “Those tick festered feather cushions…” He eyed her with a wide grin. She must have looked exited and expectant enough to humor her with a long meaningful pause before he exhaled and flatly added: “Never heard of them.”
Her shoulders slumped. Not because he’d debunked her belief in angels, which wasn’t there in the first place, her mind was too skeptical for that, but because he managed to pull her ear.
“What wings do I have?”
“You said they have bird wings.” He searched around with his eyes before pointing out a crow searching for food nearby. “I gather these are the birds. Then what do I resemble?”
“A bat?” she offered. “You can’t see them in daylight, they fly around in twilight. Or, well, they don’t fly around at all at this time of a year – their sleeping somewhere, probably.”
“Because of the cold?”
“Yes, because of it. We’re here.” She pointed him out the light blue plastered house on the corner of Tooman street.She saw her house peaking out in the corner of the park. It was a small one with four apartments and old, but it offered enough comfort for any bohemian loner and at this point of her life, she considered herself as one. “I’ll just grab few things, take the car and we can go.” She hastened up.
“In a forest?”
“I’m not a forest creature.”
“I know, but we have annual fair coming up this week-end and keeping you here tied up in my apartment would…” she let a meaningful eye over his fancy modern look that screamed adrenaline and extreme sports. “Drive you nuts in no time. It’s not far from the city, and you have me and the car in your disposal, so I can play the chauffeur for now, so…”
“So if I find a gate that isn’t sealed, you will drive me there like tamed little kitty?” He huffed, finding it both amusing and irritating.
More like a puppy, she mused, but left it unsaid. How the might have fallen, she wondered, nodding. He sure didn’t like being in mercy of anyone despite not being their chief or he’d act differently.
“Do you have any gate addresses?”
“That’s settled then.” She offered him a warming smile and fussed with the keys. “We’ll go to my hideout and there we should have enough time to figure out, where we ought to go.”