Bargains

by Teresa Cain

Part 7

 

 

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"Good thing I don't have the sort of job you call in sick to," I murmured, wrapping a thick lock of white hair around one finger. "This would be embarrassing to explain to a boss."

"What?" Aerael muttered against the side of my breast where his face was pressed. 'Sorry, Mr. So-and-So, I can't come into work today because my legs won't work.' Sounds fine to me. Perfectly innocent."

"Heh. Well, at least I know why it's mainly the menfolk that complain about incubi seducing women. No woman in her right mind would complain about this."

"Mmm."

Well, I would have been content to just lie there all day with Aerael curled up to my side, holding me in place with one arm and heavy wing draped over me. Unfortunately, the terror that was Eli Thorn was creeping up on me again, shredding the sleepy afterglow of damn good sex. I needed to go talk to Morte.

"Come on," I sighed, patting his head. "Let me up."

I felt him smile against my breast, and then he nuzzled it gently. "Sure you want to? I can make you a better offer."

"I have to go discuss something with my tutor, Aerael. As much as I'd like to try, I can't hide from Eli in your bed."

"Sure you won't try?"

"Come on, I'm not strong enough for this temptation. You know I need to get up."

He let out a melodramatic sigh and scooted away, sliding his arms under a pillow and burying the side of his face in it. "All right, go on. Go prepare. I'll just lie here and rest and do a little preparing myself."

I was slipping off the bed when he suddenly raised his head and fixed me with a very serious stare. "I'll be at your side, Roselyn. You know this."

"I know, Aerael," I said with a smile, reaching for my robe. "It makes me feel a lot calmer knowing that."

Robe tied snugly around me, I left Aerael to sleep and padded out of the bedroom, closing the door gently behind me. Then I slipped into my room, took a quick shower that regretfully washed away Aerael's scent on me, then went to my closet and pulled on a pair of jeans that were more holes than material and an old They Might Be Giants tour shirt. I looked at one arm as I slipped it through an armhole, noting it was still shadow black. I hadn't shifted back to a human mein yet. Funny, I usually hated staying like this for any length of time. It reminded me of just what got me into this mess in the first place. The only reason I'd gone to Aerael like this was because I knew how much he'd appreciate the trust implied in the gesture. But I was still wearing it. Now it just felt... right.

I shook my head and shoved my hands deep in my pockets as I walked out of my room and down the hall to the sitting room. Morte had chosen to sleep on the couch in there because he wanted to keep an eye on the French doors leading out to the balcony. The idea of him taking on Eli single-handedly again frankly scared the piss out of me, but he wouldn't be deterred. Jade had been blasť about it, but had whispered something in my ear about unseen backup should it be needed. Cryptic bitch.

He was already awake and heading towards the kitchen when I bumped into him. Well, nice to see I wasn't the only one walking around in true form. Of course, he looked a lot better in his than I did in mine. Damn, male shapeshifters have the best bodies. But those blond curls against that shadow dark skin.what a contrast. Still, that smirk on his face that told me he knew just what I'd been up to for the past 3 hours was cooling any admiration I had for his form.

I glared at him warningly. "Not. A. Word."

"Moi?" he gasped, hand pressed to his chest. "Why should I bother? I don't think I could make you blush any harder - well, I think you're blushing. So hard to tell with skin like ours."

"Morte - "

"So how do we get breakfast around this place anyway?" he went on, draping an arm around my shoulders and propelling me towards the kitchen along with him. "You'd think as much money as she has, she'd be able to hire some help."

"No one will work for her. Do you blame them? Oh, we've got someone that comes in twice a week and cleans up the place, but none of us are home when she's here... Morte, do you think I have a chance in hell of winning this fight?"

He looked down at me, then rolled his eyes. "Couldn't even wait until I got some food into me, huh? Or you, for that matter. You really want to talk about this on an empty stomach?"

"Considering the fear that Eli inspires makes me wanna puke? I'd think so."

"Oh, come on. You've gotta be hungry after last night's... activities."

"Morte, don't make me kill you. I need you."

He laughed as we paused outside the kitchen door. "All right, all right. I'll drop the fact that you've been playing with the incubus while I was risking my neck watching the doo-erk!"

The "erk" was my suddenly gripping him in a very delicate place - a little shutter-upper Jade had taught me once. There are just some things a guy won't do to another guy, but a girl will do them with great avenging glee.

"Shut the hell up and I'll give you your balls back, 'kay?" I asked sweetly.

"'Kay," he squeaked.

"Great." I let go and reached out to flip on the kitchen light. "So, how do you like your eggs?"

Sometime later we were sitting at the small table in the kitchen with a bowl of fluffy scrambled eggs, a plate of near burnt bacon, a basket of biscuits and a bowl of breakfast gravy between us. Having been raised in the South, I'd grown up on breakfasts meant to clog arteries. Morte didn't seem to be complaining.

"Damn, girl!" he exclaimed happily, completely forgiving me with just one look at my small feast for trying to sterilize him earlier. "What are the chances of getting you to move in with me?"

"None to nil. You look like you snore. Besides, your apartment is smaller than my bathroom closet. Now, about Eli - "

"Wait, wait... let me fill my plate first before you start ruining my appetite. I thought you were a Southerner, Carlie. Where's the grits?"

"Morte! Come on, this is serious!"

He paused in his plate loading to give me a glare. "I know that. You know, you used to deal with life-threatening situations with a bit of humor. What ever happened to that?"

"I've never been in this much danger before," I admitted, picking up a fork and stabbing half-heartedly at my eggs. "It's hard to find my normally acidic edge. And this is coming from a girl who used to get taken on her daddy's hunting trips. And we're not talking deer and ducks here."

"Eli used to take you demon-hunting?" he asked incredulously.

"Yep. Of course, this was before I started showing my true form...but before my faery self showed up, he was teaching me all sorts of crap: sword, gun, knife, hand-to-hand, explosives - " I blinked owlishly. "Huh, I'd forgotten about all that. Actually, I'd pretty much forgotten everything before my 13th birthday. The events of these past years sorta blacked them out."

"Damn, sounds like you had a pretty cruddy life all around."

"No," I said thoughtfully, gaze turning inward to sudden childhood memories flooding my mind's eye. "Not really. I had a lot of fun with Eli before...well, before. He used to be a lot of fun. It still wasn't a truly normal father/daughter relationship, but when you've put your child in danger just by being her father...I guess he was being really responsible by making sure I could take care of myself. And he seemed to get a real kick out of teaching me all these fighting techniques and sparring with me. Hell, I remember he dragged me on this one job where I got to fight this weird-looking demon thing that looked like a cross between a monkey and a Doberman. Wasted it, too," I added proudly. "I-I really did love him once. I used to be proud to call him Dad. And - I think he actually really loved me."

The food on my plate was getting blurry. Puzzled, I blinked and my vision cleared as the tears ran down my cheeks, only to cloud up again as more took their place. I opened my mouth to say something and surprised myself with the sob that choked its way out. I heard a clatter of silverware on china, and suddenly I found myself in a comforting hug. Morte knelt by my chair and ran a hand over my hair, whispering some sort of calming nonsense in my ear that only served to make the tears come faster. I wrapped my arms around his chest and buried my face in his shoulders, sobbing wildly again for the second time in 24 hours. I wasn't usually this weepy. But the first time had been out of fear. But these were wails of mourning.

Now I suddenly had memories of a good and kind father, one that had actually loved me. I also had memories of a psychotic freak that had tortured me for six years before I got away. The two images were clashing severely in my mind, only making me cry harder. I wanted my real daddy back, and there was no way I'd ever have that again. All because of this fucking stupid blood!

I caught sight of my skin again, but the sight of the shadow dark coloring was no longer welcome. I tensed in Morte's arms, glaring until my skin was the creamy pale of my childhood. He suddenly let go as I started to shrink a little, watching me with pitying eyes as I took refuge in a smaller form. I huddled in clothes now too large for me, glaring at him through wide, teary, childishly large eyes... which made sense, as I'd taken on a form I hadn't worn in 14 years.

"Turning 5 again isn't going to help you, Carlie," he said gently, touching the side of my face. "Shifting doesn't turn back the clock."

I pulled my legs up into the chair and hugged them to my chest, rocking gently. "I want my daddy."

"Come on, kid, don't lose it completely. This isn't going to save you."

"Whadda yoo know, poo doo head."

"Roselyn."

I jammed my fingers in my ears and started singing nursery rhymes to shut him out. I was halfway through "Old King Cole" when he grabbed my fingers and yanked them down, snarling, "Knock it off, Thorny. We don't have time for this."

Thorny? That sounded familiar."Daddy used to call me Thorny. That and Thorn-in-my-Side. He never really meant it though. He was always laughing when he said it."

"Did he? If you acted like this when you were 5, I think I can sympathize with the man. Look, pull yourself together. You've given me a good ray of hope here, but this is ruining it."

"Hope?"

"I thought you were going to have to face Eli with nothing but a good pair of running shoes and your wits... which are frankly scattered to the four winds right about now. Carlie, if we can get you some weapons, do you think you can remember how to use them?"

"Um... maybe."

"If you don't, your body might. It's amazing what the body will remember when the mind's forgotten. Still, it's better than nothing." He stood up and patted my head, grinning devilishly. "Come on, grow up and finish eating. We've gotta go shopping."

An unenthusiastic shrug later and I was back to my usual grown-up but still immature self, shoveling in food as I muddled over what he said. Damn, did I actually have a chance here? Could I remember enough of what Eli had taught me as a kid for it to be any use? And why had I forgotten this? Here I'd had the means to get away from him a lot sooner and could have saved myself a lot of grief and scarring.yet I hadn't used it. Why?

Because no matter what he'd done to me, blood was thicker than water. He was still my father no matter what he'd done to me. How bad was it going to have to get before I took up a better defense against him? No wonder I was so terrified of him. I was up against a foe I couldn't bring myself to kill. Dammit! What did he need to do before my survival instincts kicked in? Then inspiration struck.

"Hey," I said carefully, staring at my last bite of food. "Morte."

"Yeah?"

"What happens to the non-human people that die in New York? I know they can't be allowed to be taken to any kind of regular human morgue, so I'm guessing we have our own, right? Run by our own kind?"

"Er... sort of. Right. Why?"

I put down my fork and pushed the plate away, then met his curious gaze. "I want to go see Renaeka."

 

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