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“Dude, you’re not alone, and we really don’t want to join your personal porn session.”
Milo shook his head and forced his eyes opened to see Zeke standing over him. “What are you talking about?”
Another voice made kissy noises, and Milo propped himself up on one elbow. Across the room, Nate was messily making out with his fist. Milo looked back up at Zeke. “What am I missing?”
“That,” the other mage pointed at the albino, “is the noise coming out of your bunk for the last few hours. We tried to ignore it—I mean, come on, your hot vampire girlfriend left you alone—but after a while, yeah, well, we were feeling a little gay.”
Milo felt the heat rise in his face. “Oh, damn, I’m sorry.” He peered around his friend at the other people in the room. “I’m really frakin’ sorry.”
“I thought it was sweet,” Bri said, her head poking into the bunkhouse. “If more guys would acknowledge the fact that they dream about their women, the world would be a better place.”
The other men chuckled, and Milo swung his legs out of the bunk, mumbling an ‘excuse me’ as he exited the room. He almost ran to the bathroom, but he didn’t see a point in giving his friends more to talk about. He hit the urinal and then the sink, splashing cold water on his face.
His watch read five o’clock. They had slept most of the day away, and he took the rest of the groups jovial jesting as a sign that they had recovered, at least physically, from the previous day’s ordeal. He felt better, too. And it was obvious from the commentary that he had achieved REM sleep.
Sure, he was achy still, but that was to be expected, everything considered. He ran a hand over his bristling facial hair. I should shave, he thought toward his reflection, she likes it when I’m shaved.
The thought was bittersweet. It had been odd, when she had fled—because she had most definitely fled from their last conversation—he had felt almost moved to follow her. Only the cynic side of him had held his legs at bay.
She had destroyed his life, the lives of his friends and co-workers. She had enemies, larger than life big bad asses, who had clearly defined boundaries for her existence. Now, Milo was the first to push against boundaries, not one to be fenced in by stereotypes and pre-defined restrictions, but this was more than that. Her risk taking, her complete disregard, her utter selfishness...
“No,” he growled at his reflection. “That’s too easy. That’s the coward’s way out.”
Yes, he was angry about the danger they were now in, how she had honestly believed that walking away, pushing him away, was the only solution. And if she had been anyone else, he might have believed her and let her just go. The minotaur didn’t want them, the supernatural humans, though that may have changed now, he was willing to admit.
He was also willing to admit that he didn’t want her gone. As much as she frustrated him. As much as she acted like a complete lunatic. He knew it was her fear, and with enemies like hers, he could understand why she was acting the way she was.
And he was pretty sure she felt the same way about him. Or at least he wanted her to badly enough to dream it into truth.
He hadn’t intended to go to the copse, but it had felt familiar. Madeleine looked human there, and the sun looked good, right, against her skin. She had had a vulnerability in the dream he had only glimpsed in real life, snippets behind her carefully crafted façade. Her fear had surfaced in her words, her tone, and she had wept as they kissed, real tears, not bloody ones.
It had been in that moment, in that very human kiss, that he had realized for all the chaos that he was in love with her.
“I love her,” he whispered. “I love her.”
“You know, if you say it often enough, you might manage to actually tell her.” Milo refocused and saw the wererabbit leaned up against the first stall. “Coffee?” She held up a large paper coffee cup with a familiar green symbol.
“You went out for coffee,” he turned around and took the proffered beverage.
She shrugged. “Beat sitting around listening to you guys snore. I mean, I know Arthur’s a necromancer, but you’d think he was the undead, how loudly he snores!”
He took a sip. Ah, coffee, nectar of the gods! “Didn’t you sleep?”
“Sure, but I don’t need much to replenish my body or my magick. It’s not like I was kicking minotaur tail yesterday. My significant other doesn’t require blood to survive. He doesn’t fly either. So you can see how much less stressed out I am than you are.
“How are you feeling, by the way?” She took a long draw off her own cup.
She cocked her head with an incredulous look. “Fine. Liar.”
Milo sighed. “I’m still tired. Not exhausted. No longer frazzled along the edges. But I’m all right. Don’t want to go up against that minotaur again any time soon. Or his freak of an employer, that Patrick guy. But today, tonight if I can just see my girlfriend, maybe get a little chow, maybe pretend, even for fifteen minutes, that we’re human and normal.”
“And boring.” She hid her smile behind her cup. She raised her hand as he opened his mouth to further clarify. “No, no, I get it, the want to be normal, to blend in with the mundane folk, even if it’s just pretend. I just...”
There was something about her pause, that note of pain held in those last two words, that piqued his interest. Today was proving to be an interestingly insightful one. “What? What’s wrong, Bri?”
“I don’t know if you’re going to get your fifteen minutes. I don’t know if what’s going on, all this gobbledygook that’s been so violently stirred in the past twenty-four hours, is going to allow you five minutes. I don’t think any of us have that luxury right now, least of all the two of you.”
She ran a hand through her hair, eyes closed, and shaking her head. “I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, Milo. To the contrary, I want to give you hope that you’ve made the right decision, that she is the right decision. Granted,” she gestured toward the mirror, “it seems you’ve come to this conclusion rather nicely, all on your own.”
“We don’t have much in the way of time, so I’ll stop talking now. She’s about to call you soon anyway. And now I could use a nap.” Bri smiled at the mage, dropped her cup into the trashcan and walked out of the male restroom without another word or glance.
It took him a minute to follow suit. Just a minute. He carried his cup out with him and rolled the words she had spoken around in his head in wistful contemplation.
Coffee was good, helpful even, and it wiped away the threads of his dream about Madeleine until they were just a pleasant memory. No time to second guess her intentions. Or his for that matter.
How he felt hadn’t changed. If it was meant to be, it would happen. They’d survive through this craziness and deal with the aftermath, well, after everything was said and done. And really, the rest was outside his realm of control.
By the time he had finished the thought, Milo had made it to the conference room. The mound of earth that had carried the vampire in was gone without leaving even a scent of dirt behind.
Something told him that Bri was holding a broom and dustpan for appearances, and when she winked at him from across the room, he knew he was right. He raised his cup into the air, and she raised the dustpan in reply.
“Hey, you all good now?”
Milo turned to see Zeke winding up lengths of shiny silver rope, palm to elbow, as it poured from his other hand. He nodded. “I’m good.”
He waved the other mage off. “I would’ve done the same to you, if not worse. I mean, what good is being friends if you can’t crack jokes, right?” He reached out to touch the rope. “What are you making?”
Zeke pulled it away. “No touchy. It’s magick rope.”
“Got that.” Milo took another sip as he watched the other man continue with his task.
“Um, you shouldn’t touch it, because it’s, well, it’s kind of a nullifying rope. Kind of like Wonder Woman’s lasso, but instead of making you tell the truth, this one makes you mundane. Figured it might come in handy.”
“As long as none of us touch it.”
Zeke smiled sheepishly. “Well, yeah, there’s that. Hell, if I wasn’t weaving the damn thing, I’m pretty sure I’d be impotent right now.” He raised the rope-spewing hand as Milo opened his mouth.
“Let me just say ‘Fuck you’ now, because I’m pretty damn sure anything that’s about to come out of your mouth is going to involve my dick and ED issues.”
Milo laughed. “You know me too well.”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” his friend gestured toward the door with a tilt of his head. “Night will be falling before we know it, and you know you might want your honey-do list all finished, so you can squirrel away some time with your vampire chick.”
“She tried to kill you.”
Zeke smiled, small but a smile nonetheless. “Dude, yeah, I know.”
“And…” Milo rolled the words in his head around his mouth. “You’re okay with this.”
The other man shrugged. “Hey, look where we are right now. At work. On our day off. Sure, we’re here because you choose to date a crazed vampire chick with a crazier ex-lover who surrounds himself with, oh, yeah, big ass minotaurs and who knows what else. Are we going to die when this shit all comes down? Eh, maybe.”
He considered his position. “Yeah, no, probably not, if we’re being honest. No sense lying if these might be the last days of our frickin’ lives, right?” He didn’t wait for Milo to answer. “See, here’s how I see it: This is what we were meant for. I mean, sure, there are more supped up folks, but there has to be a reason for it. So what if this is it? It’s not saving the damn world, Buffy-style, but this is our world, and I don’t know about you, but I think it’s worth saving.
“And it’s Madeleine’s world, too, even if she hasn’t been human for as long as us douchebags have been alive, all combined. So if we’re going to go down, I say we go down fighting.”
Milo crossed his arms, amused. “Done with the speech, coach?”
Zeke chuckled. “Yeah. Pretty good one, though, right?” He tied a knot around the ring of rope and stuffed it into one of the office’s abyss bags. All that dangerous magick tucked away in a beck and call ‘hole’ at his waist. Convenient, safe…not a bad deal when you’re headed to war. “I’m serious, though. End of the world. Hers. Ours. Superheroes. Yeah, I’m down with that. Get your ass out of this building and into a shower and then eventually,” he winked, “into your girl.”
Milo opened his mouth to respond, but his friend just waved him away. “Go, go, before I go all ‘let’s hug out the pain’, ok?”
And so he left.
He panned through the list on his phone that Arthur had so nicely sent out when the necromancer had woken up in his office. Oh, technology. There was a little supply collection, a little magickal prep, even an order to rest and eat. The way he looked at it, all doable before Madeleine would be awake again.
That made him smile.
And that was good.