Author's Note: And finally, we've reached the end. Thank you to those of you who have made it this far! I'm honored that you took the time to read this story, and I hope you've enjoyed the journey, just as I hope you enjoy this final chapter. Thank you all!
I knew she was there. I hadn't open my eyes yet, hadn't even been conscious for more than a heartbeat, but still, I knew.
And the heartbeat I measured my time by was hers.
"Shouldn't you have stolen my car and run away to your beloved family by now?" I murmured, and her scent enveloped me as she drew me onto her lap with more strength than I'd ever expected her to have.
"Vera!" she said in a passionate whisper, her arms tight around me, warm and familiar though I'd never been in them before. Her body jerked once, then again, and I realized that she was crying. "Thank God you're okay."
I cracked my eyes open and instantly squinted them nearly shut again, unaccustomed to direct sunlight without my sunglasses. "Have you learned nothing, silly girl?" I teased gently, and she lifted her head from my chest to focus her teary gaze on mine. "We thank Satan for our good fortune, not God. Satan's the one who wants us demonfolk to live long and prosper."
She laughed, and her smile was almost brighter than the sun, but I wouldn't have looked away from it for all the pairs of sunglasses in the world. "Oh, Vera!" she cried, pulling me to her chest in a chokingly tight embrace.
I let my arms slip around her, and for a moment, I just basked in it — her scent, her heat, her…affection. But nothing ever stopped the dark thoughts from intruding, and I sighed. "Why are you still here, Lauren? You should've taken off the second that nameless bastard hit the floor."
She leaned back to stare down at me, her smile considerably softer now. "Well, my original plan was to find your car, find a way to get you in it, then try to find my way back to your place, but there's a…uh…problem."
"A problem?" Oh, no. Oh, God, no. If it was what I thought it was…
"Well, you see, I figured that your car would be parked along the street outside of the building, but it's…kind of…not."
It was what I thought it was.
"Hell no!" I shouted, springing to my feet, only to collapse again as pain tore through my limbs. She caught me as well as a human girl could and helped me back onto her lap, and I continued to yell obscenities until I was blue in the face. "Fuck! Shit! Damn it! God damn it! Fuckers stole my shit! Why did I fucking leave the Goddamn keys in the fucking ignition? Why did I have to be so Goddamn, fucking desperate to get to you that I left my fucking keys in the fucking ignition? Fuck!"
I put my hands over my face, all but oblivious to how she gently rocked my body from side to side. "That thing was half of my damn urban legend," I whined. "Don't go near red cars because some creepy-crawly will steal and eat you, you know? That was my thing. And that car was my baby. What the hell am I supposed to do now?" Finally, I became aware of how she rocked me, and I lowered my hands to look up at her. She regarded me silently, frowning, seemingly having nothing to say. Suddenly, a soft smile curved my lips. "But the myth dies today, doesn't it? Why would I need to kidnap more humans when I have you?"
Her eyes widened. "Really? You're really going to give it up?"
I cocked an eyebrow. "Would you really have stayed with me if I hadn't?"
She shrugged and averted her gaze. "I don't know. I…I never really saw myself doing anything but staying."
"Likely with the intent of convincing me to change my ways, no doubt." I put a hand over hers where it rested upon my arm and smiled. "I would have expected nothing less from you, you stubborn girl." My free hand ran along her hair, soon catching a handful and pulling her face down to mine. Our lips met in a sloppy crash, and after a moment of hesitancy, hers began to meld with mine in an eager tangle of slick skin and tongues.
"You taste gross," she said the moment we'd parted, blood smeared around her mouth from mine, and I nearly cackled, I laughed so loudly.
"Oh, my God. You knew I was covered in blood, but you kissed me, anyway? You're even better than I thought." And when I pulled her in for another kiss, I could feel her smiling.
And this time, she didn't even hesitate.
Picking demon flesh from my teeth, I shoved the door to the bar open, smiling at Lauren's wrinkled nose as we stepped over the threshold. She'd been watching me do it the whole walk over, and I'd found that nothing gave me more joy than watching her squirm. Part of me wished she'd stayed in the warehouse while I'd devoured the corpses, but part of me didn't want to scar her that way. I hated it.
As I met Furboy's eyes, my smile grew cruel without losing a hint of its mirth. "Hello there, bartender," I said jovially, hopping onto a stool at the bar and observing his transformation intently. His eyes grew to the size of golf balls, his face lost every ounce of its color, and his scent…Ah, the smell of fear again! Finally! "Have anything good for me to drink today? Lauren and I are here to celebrate. We took down the Demon Council! Can you believe it?"
"That's…That's not possible," he all but whispered, and I chuckled, watching his hold on the counter's edge tighten until his knuckles turned as white as his face beneath his mangy fur.
"What, that I came out of it looking so good?" I joked. He started to step back, to pull away from the bar, his look every inch that of an animal ready to bolt, but I caught his wrist and shot him a smile full of saccharine shade. "I've taken to eating demons now instead of humans. I figured, if I can't live with my own kind and continue to build my power naturally, why not just eat the demons who have come to the surface and take their power as my own? And look! It's working wonders on my skin. And my strength." Barely tapping in to my newfound power, I snapped the bones in his forearm with a sudden squeeze.
He cried out, struggling to pull free of my hold, but I jerked him across the bar by his broken arm and bared my fangs in his face. "Why'd you do it, Furboy? Why'd you throw me to the red-eyed wolves?"
"I didn't…I didn't think…"
I tightened my grip on his arm, and he yelped but didn't fight me. "You didn't think I had the power to turn you back, did you?" He nodded numbly, and I went on. "And their precious leader came barging in to this fine establishment with promises of cotton candy, rainbows, and turning you back into a demon, eh?" Another nod, and I sighed, dropping him behind the counter and leaving him to cradle his arm. "I never thought you'd be so dumb, Furboy. I thought you knew better than to assume me the weakest link."
He stepped back until he hit a shelf, bottles clanking loudly at the impact, and he glared weakly. "Excuse me for assuming that a half-dead, human-warped woman would lose to four hand-picked demons at full power."
I rolled my eyes and turned my attention to the blood caked beneath my fingernails, vaguely wishing that my transformation from demon to human lookalike had taken all the grime with it along with my dark skin and claws. "What really has me confused is how you suddenly changed your mind about my capabilities in regard to your little fur problem." My eyes flicked to his face, and he looked startled, almost as if he was seeing my glowing crimson eyes for the first time — and maybe he really was. "You virtually begged me to help you before. You had total faith in me. What changed?"
"When the man who was picked to lead a band of demons for his raw strength and ferocity comes knocking and tells you that he can work a miracle, you tend to believe him over the blonde drifter who only knows who you are because she's a hardcore boozer," he answered darkly.
I smiled coolly. "I suppose you forgot the bit about how that entire band of demons and the all-powerful man chosen to lead them were brought together just to take down little old me." His pallor returned, and I let loose a hearty laugh. "Don't worry about it, Furbaby. We all make mistakes." I leaned against the counter and flashed him a mischievous smile. "And I'll gladly prove my strength by turning you back, if you're still interested." Lauren made a little noise beside me — surprise? — but I ignored her, focused wholly on the bartender's tightening features.
"Do it," he said, determination adding a dark edge to his tone, and I grinned.
"Gladly." I hopped off of my stool, threw myself over the bar, and stretched my hand out to catch hold of his broken arm once more. He tried to jerk back as I squeezed, knocking several bottles to the floor and filling the air with the scent of my beloved vice, but my hold never wavered. Unsure of just how to break a warlock's curse, I did the one thing I knew how to do without fail: I flooded him with my mana.
Something sounded within him, a hollow humming whispering through my mind as my power dug deeper and deeper into his body. I could almost see it, the curse — a faintly glowing shell of pitch black that encased his entire form. Naturally, I guided my mana outward, pushing at the magical bindings from the inside, but the second the two energies made contact, pain shot along my arm and into my head, and I had to clench my teeth to keep from crying out. If I hadn't been attempting to prove something to the little pissant, I would've stopped, but as it were, I pushed on.
I poured more mana into the assault, and with it came more of that searing agony, more of that odd, ringing hum. Why did everything have to go for the head?! Aggravated, I pushed even harder, throwing everything I could muster into the attack, doing everything I could to evenly distribute the power, to keep it battering the curse's outline at all sides. Finally, as the hum rose to a breathy scream, I felt the walls around the man's form beginning to crack. Another push, a rough shove of raw energy, and the curse completely gave way like a mirror shattering beneath a brute's fist.
I sagged against the counter and let go of Furboy's arm, releasing a breath I hadn't realized I'd held and drawing in a fresh one to steady myself. "There, Furboy," I said, looking up from where my gaze had fallen to rest at his feet, and my eyebrows shot up my forehead. "Whoa." In the place of the hairy human-esque bartender, there now stood a six-foot-something, musclebound, snowy white demon. His hair was the same tousled mess it had always been, but now, it was limited to the top of his head, and it was raven black, nearly the color of my demonic skin. And his horns…
Good God. They had nothing on mine, but they were bone-white, tightly curling masses to either side of his head, close to his skull — and I couldn't deny that they were quite nice to look at.
"It's really a shame that you turned out to be such a fine demon," I said with a sigh, leaning nonchalantly against the counter. He paused in his ogling of his own thick arms and body to turn to me, and I gave him what I hoped came across as a sad smile. "You're almost too hot to kill, and what a waste of lineage!" Mana already racing to fill my balled fist, I swung.
"Vera," Lauren said, her voice low in warning, as she rested her hand on my shoulder.
I jerked to stop, my knuckles inches from Horntastico's raised blocking arm, and turned to look at her, annoyed. "What?"
"Don't you think you've killed enough people today?" Though her tone was casual, I could see the pleading in her ocean-blue eyes, the deep wish that this could all just be over, and I lowered my arm without another moment's hesitation.
"You're right," I said, smiling brightly at the bartender, who regarded me with a confused scowl. "I think I've made my point. Remember this day the next time you want to accuse me of being weak."
I started toward the exit, Lauren close at my side, but Snow White just had to let out a derisive grunt. "Are you really going to let that human tell you what to do? Is she really going to be the boss of you now?"
I paused with my hand on the door and smiled at him over my shoulder, not a spark of rage lighting within me. "I've had enough of chicken-shit pansies like yourself who bow down to me without question. I rather like her this way. She wears her backbone well." And with one last dazzling smile, I opened the door and stepped into the sunlight.
Lauren's arm slipped through mine, and she leaned against me as we started down the sidewalk at a leisurely pace. With my corset and skirt torn to the point of being nearly useless, and with my sunglasses a pile of jagged plastic shards back at the warehouse, we had to stick to the rarely traveled side streets, but she didn't seem to mind. "Can we go home yet? I'm tired, and I'm pretty sure I won't think any of this is real until I wake up from a nap."
I smiled. "We just have one more loose end to tie up. It won't take long."
She twisted to frown up at me, her cheek pressing against my arm. "What is it?"
I looked back to the road ahead, pensive. "You remember all those girls in that garage, right? The blonde ones who looked like me?" She nodded against me, and I smiled to myself. "Don't we still have some people to hunt down for that?"
They can't be this dumb, I thought as I made my way up the sidewalk toward the burnt remains of the house, Lauren still on my arm. I mean, I know they're dumb enough to think that they should go toe-to-toe with a demon, but to make it this easy? I rounded a corner and continued down the walkway alongside the house, hopping over charred debris as I went, Lauren moving with me in glorious unison, never missing a beat. I could see what she meant by thinking this was a dream. There was no way that this human woman was still with me, still holding on to me, still walking alongside me at a crime scene — and yet, here she was.
"Oh, my God," I muttered when the garage came into view, still intact with light streaming through the grimy windows. "They really are that stupid."
"They're in there?" she gasped, and when I looked down at her, I found her staring up at me with wide eyes. "They're seriously in there? Right now? Right by the site of a police investigation? Right by the house that you burned to the ground so they'd go the hell away?"
I chuckled, turning my attention back to the house and walking along the back sidewalk now, through the center of the yard. "You're starting to sound a bit like me, don't you think?"
"I didn't use the word 'fuckers' once in that sentence, thank you very much," she remarked with mock snideness, and my smile only grew.
"I can't believe that nameless son of a bitch trusted these fools with the knowledge of how to easily kill a demon," I went on, stopping just shy of the door. Deep voices rumbled through the thick wood, and I rolled my eyes. Men. Always men.
"I can't believe they're seriously dumb enough to be using that gross place as their new secret hideout. It's not, like, totally obvious or anything. Not at all."
I shrugged. "I came here to search for clues of their whereabouts, but hey, this works out even better." I smiled down at her to show off my slowly elongating fangs, sliding my arm around her waist and pulling her to me roughly. Her little bell jingled obligingly, and my excitement spiked. "May I eat them, m'lady?"
She laughed lightly, resting her hands on my shoulders. "I thought we agreed that you've done enough killing for the day?"
"But you saw what they did to those girls, and you know what they wanted to do to me." My smile grew, and my fangs poked deviously into my bottom lip. "Plus, you know I have a hard time turning down a good meal, especially one lain out so beseechingly before me."
She sighed in feigned annoyance and rolled her eyes, though the smile never left her glossy pink lips. "I guess there's no harm in eating one of them, but the rest go to the police." Her arms slid around my neck, and she held me in a way that sent thrills creeping through me — a way I'd never been touched before, an affection I'd never received, a woman who never should've been there, not with me. "Keep it clean, though. Don't forget that you've already promised to meet my family after we get some rest tonight, and we don't need the cops out looking for you."
I chuckled lowly. "You know I'm an icon of self-control and cleanliness." I gripped her ass and pulled her to me anew. She laughed quietly.
"I know you're whatever you need to be," she said softly, and passion, meaning, made waves in the ocean-blue depths of her eyes. "And before you go in there, I just want to say…I'm not sure that I can ever completely forgive you for what you've done in the past, but I honestly believe that you'll keep me safe and happy for as long as you can, as well as you can, and I promise, with all my heart, that I'll do the same for —" Then my lips clashed with hers, and she melted into my kiss.
And I melted into her.