The four Cepts she’d taken as soon as she got off the Church grounds were starting to cool her still-boiling blood when she walked into Trickster’s bar—surprisingly crowded given that it was only past eight—twenty minutes or so later. Funny. The Church wasn’t the only place where her relationship with Terrible was now public information; everyone in Downside knew now, too.
So the people she worked with had started worrying and avoiding her and thinking something was wrong with her, and the people in Downside…well, they avoided her, but they’d always done that to some extent. People were scared of witches; they tended to think she had a lot more power than she actually did. She didn’t exactly go out of her way to correct them, either.
The difference, as she made her way through the tight-packed crowd of people waiting for a beer at the bar or making out or getting ready to do either of those things, was that it wasn’t just fear in their eyes anymore, or even the bland acceptance she got from people who’d seen her around enough to get over being afraid. What she got now was deference, even more than when it was just common knowledge that Downside’s Churchwitch worked for Bump. People got out of her way with cast-down eyes; when she passed she felt those same eyes follow her. Vendors in the Market tried to offer her discounts or free stuff in respectful, hopeful voices. Restaurants served her better food.
They’d been afraid of her before because of her abilities, but they were more afraid of Terrible. Way, way more afraid. With good reason, too; he took his job as Bump’s chief enforcer very seriously, and he was very good at it.
That probably shouldn’t have made her as proud as it did, but whatever. Maybe she was a “bad guy,” too. She certainly couldn’t argue if somebody wanted to call her that, no matter how much she would have liked to. She had too many crimes under her belt at that point, too much damage done.
The red-gelled blacklights that always made the interior of Trickster’s look like some sort of hazardous materials alarm had just gone off inside also made it harder to see at first. Her eyes had finally adjusted by the time she got past the bar, and she started hunting for him. He’d probably be against the back wall, where he usually was, keeping an eye on things. Giving Trickster’s what their protection money paid for, at least in part. Being visible.
White-hot joy burst in her chest when she saw him over the heads of the crowd. It felt like days since she’d seen him, like weeks, instead of just that morning. Yeah, he’d been asleep when she left, but still. She had seen him for an hour or so the day before, and the day before that.
It wasn’t actual time making her feel like it had been years since she’d gotten to talk to him; it was the sense that when he wasn’t around the minutes crawled. She’d always thought that was sappy bullshit, lies made up by bad songwriters to make normal people feel both inferior and desperate, but it wasn’t.
A cloud of kesh smoke wafted through the stale-beer-and-sweat scented air; almost unconsciously she sucked it in as she passed through it. He hadn’t seen her yet. He was looking down at someone or something she couldn’t see.
Someone. A girl. Probably a little younger than Chess, and a hell of a lot more scantily clad, with light brown hair curling over her blue halter top and almost to her bare waist. She was smiling up at him, and as she talked with bright animation her hand snaked out to touch his arm. What the fuck? Who the hell did she think she was? She ought to watch herself, with that flirty look and—Chess caught herself. What the fuck, indeed. So some girl was trying to flirt with Terrible. So what? As if he’d even care, or respond.
But that…that jealousy, that sudden red-hot explosion of Back Off He’s Mine in her head, shocked her. That had never happened to her before; well, she’d never had anyone for it to happen to her for. Not like that. Why would she be jealous because some guy she didn’t want to see again hooked up with someone else the next night?
She wasn’t. She never had been. So her response to seeing that girl was…interesting. Not good, but interesting.
The girl drifted away, dropping one last smile like a lacy handkerchief. Terrible looked up; his eyes found Chess’s. Those glowing red lights washed over his face, mellowing the few bruises and scratches still fading from his skin. Just looking at him made her rage disappear, melted it in a sweet sticky flood. When they’d first met—when they’d first met, and for a couple of years afterward—she’d thought he was ugly, with his nose crooked from multiple breaks, his heavy brow and jaw, his scars and hard deep-set eyes, predator’s eyes old before their time. His massive frame, the threat implied in his every movement…there was a reason nobody had ever called him anything but Terrible, and she’d thought that was exactly what he was.
She’d been insane and stupid. Every scar and crag told a story, and all those stories added up to the most amazing person she’d ever met, the one she was so fucking lucky to be with.
“Hey, Chess,” he said—the way he always did—when she got close enough to hear. “You right?”
“Yeah, right up. You?” It was so hard to get close to him and not grab him, slide her hands all over his chest and press her head against it. But she didn’t. Yes, public knowledge, blah blah blah, but that didn’t mean they had to put on some kind of free show—and the news was still fresh enough that people were watching.
He did kiss her, though, a brief kiss that nonetheless managed to make her entire body vibrate. He probably didn’t have much time—she knew he didn’t, he’d said in his text that he didn’t—but maybe he had enough to run home for a few minutes? She just wanted to be alone with him, to be close to him, to let him chase away all the shit she’d picked up at Dana’s and the depression over her lousy new case.
His hand came to rest on the back of her neck, sliding under her hair to touch her bare skin. Another little vibration, a shiver that her insides all participated in. “Aye,” he said. “Busy, though.”
“Who was that?” She tipped her head in the direction the girl had gone, irritated with herself for asking but unable to not ask.
“Chloe. Been helping, dig, knows she some people. Got a brother works the corner, too.” His thumb rubbed the sensitive spot where her head met the side of her neck, slow little circles. “What you been doing?”
Finding out my co-workers think you beat me up, she thought, but she didn’t say it. “New case.”
He looked at her more closely, those dark eyes—black in the red light—searching hers. Looking through hers. Nothing could hide from those eyes. “Ain’t a good one?”
“I doubt it.”
The question passed across his face, but he didn’t ask it. She was glad, too. She didn’t want to talk about Elder Griffin. She didn’t want to talk about anything, actually, especially not because his thumb kept moving and it was like he’d found a nerve that ran straight down through her stomach to all points below. “Better though, aye? Be a challenge or whatany. So you ain’t all bored up by easy shit.”
The first real smile she’d managed all day felt good. Almost as good as his leg against hers when she shifted closer to him. Definitely not as good as his warm skin, though, when she slipped her left hand around to his back, and up under the t-shirt he wore beneath a black bowling shirt. “Yeah. Why have things been so dull around here lately? It’s been like three weeks since the last time we almost died. You really need to get something moving.”
His head dipped forward in acknowledgment. “Be this dame I’m living with, guessing. Keepin me busy.”
“Oh?” She hooked two of her fingers just inside the waist of his jeans, slid them back and forth. His body didn’t move, but even in the fluorescent red glow of the room she saw his eyes change, saw sparks go off deep inside them. “She sounds lame.”
“Naw,” he said. “Only she ain’t should keep doin that with she fingers, lessin she got plans for more.”
Oh, she had plans. She’d had plans ever since she walked in—hell, she’d had plans since she’d left that morning.
Months before, she’d learned the not-as-disturbing-as-it-should-have-been Truth that when faced with an essentially unlimited supply of drugs, she didn’t stockpile or regulate very well. She just took more. Living with him was pretty much the same thing. He was always there, in his bed—their bed—right next to her, a big strong sexy temptation, and she couldn’t seem to set him aside for later. She just wanted.
Like she did at that moment. And if he was going to make threats like that… She ran her hand around to his front and stopped just before the thin line of hair on his stomach started, very close to where she knew he wanted her to go. So close, in fact, that she could tell just how much he did. “Looks like I’m not the only one with plans for more.”
“Ain’t know what you talkin on.” But his grip on her neck tightened and shifted, tilting her chin up as he leaned toward her, and his other hand squeezed her hip to pull her closer.
Discordant guitar notes jangled loud over the speakers, startling her; the first band was starting to set up. She hadn’t even noticed them moving around, or the way the crowd had shifted to the side to let them pass. Actually, she’d pretty much forgotten that anyone else was around at all, much less a room packed full of Downsiders on their way to whatever kind of stupor they liked best.
Shit. That meant it was getting closer to nine, and he’d have to get to work soon. Her heart sank. Not all the way—not only was she feeling more cheerful than she had all day thanks to him, but her Cepts had really hit so she didn’t think her heart could sink all the way if it tried, and fuck wasn’t that nice—but a sink just the same. Getting to see him and touch him and feel whatever googly lovesick warmth was all well and good, but if googly lovesick warmth was all she wanted she’d get a fucking puppy.
Apparently she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. If time was running short, Terrible seemed determined to make the most of it; he finished the movement he’d started before the noise distracted them, and his mouth met hers hard enough to let her know he wasn’t about to let her just leave.
Now. Normally I would say “more tomorrow!” but…unfortunately, I won’t be able to post the next section tomorrow. I’ll be away most of the day (and tonight), and by the time I’m able to get to it, honestly, it might as well wait until Sunday. So Sunday it is, and I’ll post an extra-long section then to make up for the delay. I’m sorry, guys; I hadn’t planned for there to be a break at all, but life has intervened.
So I really hope that’s okay, and I hope you’ll all be here Sunday–or Monday, of course, because I’m sure you guys have busy weekends ahead, too–for more.