Lance pulls his van to a stop and rests his hands on the steering wheel, staring at the diner. When he'd received the letter saying Great Aunt Magwina had left him something in her will he'd expected a token amount of money or some kind of keepsake – not this, the Demonia's Diner.
The bequest had been a shock, because one, Lance hadn't even known Great Aunt Magwina owned a diner, and two. Why him? The lawyer had had no answers, his parents reminisced about the time a tiny Lance had crawled onto Great Aunt Maywina's lap and fallen asleep cradled against her formidable bosom. Stacy had suggested Great Aunt Magwina had simply gone insane. Whatever reason it had been obvious everyone expected Lance to sell.
He hadn't. A rush of blood to the head, a determination to prove to his parents he wasn't a child any more, and Lance had packed his bags and headed for Morgville, a small town so off the map it had taken Lance almost ten minutes on Google Earth to find it.
Now, after nearly two days of travelling, one sleep in the back of his van, six snacks from the cooler his mom had packed full, Lance has finally arrived at his property. Which even in dark shadows is an obvious mess. Lance gets out of the van, stretches the kinks out of his back and takes in his new home and business. The sign with the missing letters, the weeds growing in the plant pots next to the door, the windows filthy, and inside, blinds torn through in places. It's one of the most pathetic and depressing sights Lance has ever seen; and he relishes the prospect of getting inside and making things his.
Not that getting inside is easy. The lock sticks and increasing pressure leads to the key snapping in half. Sighing Lance steps back, careful of the cracked step and makes his way around the diner, pushing past thorny bushes that have grown over the path. Reaching a small court yard he absently licks at a scratch on his arm as he examines the windows and back door. They're all closed, except for one window that's slightly ajar. Freezing in place, Lance listens, and hears the first sign of near-by life. It's not human, the heart-beat too fast, and Lance grins as his stomach growls. Blood packs are all well and good but nothing beats a live snack.
Slowly, carefully, he curls his fingers around the edge of the window and eases it open, nostrils flaring from the stink inside. Damp and rotten food and the musk of animal. Lance hopes it's a rabbit because he hates snacking on dogs, especially when they look at him like he's some kind of demon. Which is unfair because it's not like Lance kills them, he's not a monster.
The window open, Lance contemplates his plan. He could speed in and do the deed in seconds, or sneak inside and enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Lance enjoys both ways, but tonight, he thinks, is the night for a hunt. Soundlessly, he climbs inside, excitement rising as he takes in his diner. The booths with red leather chairs, the tables with their metallic legs and wipe clean tops, the bar that stretches along one wall and the bell hung beside it.
It's all kinds of thrilling and Lance's attention is divided, until suddenly, there, he spots prey. It's some kind of shaggy dog, its paws twitching and fur matted and Lance curls his lip at the thought of sinking his fangs through something so dirty. Still, he is hungry and Lance stalks forward, enjoying the sensation of his fangs lengthening in his mouth. Closer, and he sees the dog is a dark brown colour and has a studded leather collar around its neck. Closer still and Lance opens his mouth and prepares to pounce.
Which is when the dog lifts up its head and says, "If you're going to bite me do it next to my groin, it feels better there."
"The fuck?!" Lance feels his fangs retract and he closes his mouth with a snap, staring at the dog. "Dogs can't talk."
The dog pricks up its ears and despite the muzzle and beady dark eyes manages to give Lance a look like he's the stupidest person alive. "Obviously dogs can talk, because I'm talking to you now."
Lance shakes his head and points a finger. "No, they can't. They don't have the right kinds of vocal cords to talk. It's impossible."
"It's also impossible for people to stay alive by drinking blood and die every day," the dog says, "and yet there you are."
It's a good point, and Lance would concede that except for one thing. "I don't die. I just happen to sleep during the day."
"Sure you do, and I'm really a truck driver from Texas."
Lance takes another step back and perches on the end of one of the tables, looking down at the dog. It doesn't look like a truck driver from Texas, but it's a dog that can talk, who says it couldn't drive too? He focuses on the dog's paws, imagining how they could wrap around a steering wheel. "You don't have opposable thumbs."
The dogs stands and shakes its head, its ears flapping. "And you apparently don't have a brain. Jesus."
"Hey..." Lance's protest dries out when the dog suddenly begins to change. Its limbs lengthening and body straightening, the dog's face rearranges, its muzzle pulling in within seconds. Eyes open and mouth wide, Lance watches as the dog turns into a man, naked except for the collar that remains around his neck.
"Better?" the man says, and grimaces as he boosts himself onto the counter, his bare feet swinging. "See, this is why I stay a dog at night. It's much warmer with fur."
"You." Lance clears his throat and stands, walking closer. "You were a dog."
"Your powers of observation astound me," the man says, and rolls his eyes when Lance comes closer. "You've never seen a shifter before?"
"I've heard of them," Lance says, and he has, in stories told by other people and doom-laden warnings issued by the minister of his church. "Do you plan on seducing me and then defiling my body with your forked tongue?"
"I wasn't planning on it." The man crosses his legs and bends forward, picking at his big toe. "I can if you want but there'll be no forked tongues, because, hello. Weredog not weresnake."
"Well if there's no forked tongue..." Lance says, regaining his composure now the shock of the transformation is wearing off. "What are you even doing here?"
"I live here." The man stops picking and brushes his hands together, says, "Chris Kirkpatrick. Short order cook."
"Lance Bass," Lance says. "Owner of this place."
"You're Nia's grandson?" Chris says, sounding slightly disbelieving. "She didn't say you'd be so..." He waves a hand in the air, obviously searching for a word.
"So vampire like?" Lance suggests, and frowns when Chris bursts out laughing.
"I was thinking more naive, young, sheltered, dumb...."
Lance brings himself up to his full height, cutting Chris off. "I'm fifty-seven, I'm not young."
"Nia was seven hundred and twenty-six," Chris says, pushing himself off the counter. "She also knew all about supernaturals. Unlike you."
"I know about them," Lance protests, and purposely doesn't backs away when Chris comes close, seemingly not caring about being naked at all.
"Really?" Chris says, and circles around Lance. "You know all about weres and the fey and the multiple other races that used to come here?"
Lance thinks about lying, but suspects Chris would know the lie within seconds. Instead he says simply, "No."
Chris sighs. "No wonder Nia suggested I stick around." He stops moving in front of Lance, fixing him with a stare. "You are planning on re-opening?"
Truthfully Lance thinks he's landed way over his head, but he looks around the diner, imagining it full of people. "I am."
Chris grins, says, "Good."
Lance spends the day in a huge chest freezer. It's not the most dignified place that he's slept and Chris had pointed out Great Aunt Magwina's coffin in the basement but it hadn't felt right to sleep there, especially when Lance saw the coffin had pink padded sides and a patchwork blanket folded at the bottom, one that smelled faintly of lilac and blood. Lance isn't actually sure where Chris slept, or even if he did, but when Lance wakes and pushes open the freezer lid he sees Chris sitting on the floor, a note book open on his lap and a pen held in his hand.
"I've made a list of all the stuff we need," Chris says, and writes something else at the end of what seems like a very long list.
Lance yawns and scrubs his hands through his hair, trying to wake up. "Good. First, I just. I need..."
Chris looks over. "I brought in your cooler, it's under the main bar, or if you're wanting something fresh, there's rabbits living behind the diner. Tasty rabbits."
Lance considers, on one hand fresh caught rabbit blood is always a treat, but on the other, he's got a lot to do and taking time to stalk prey is something he can't really afford. "I'm going for a blood pack, you coming?"
"If you're offering," Chris says with a leer, then laughs at Lance's horrified expression. "Fuck, kid. I don't cross the lines, relax."
Which is easy for him to say, he's not the one having to constantly watch Chris walk around naked. If Lance hadn't been existing on blood packs for the last few days he knows he'd never stopped blushing, not when Chris apparently has no shame. "I am relaxed," Lance says, and then adds quickly. "It's just. If you don't have any clothes you can borrow some of mine."
"You sure you're Nia's kin?" Chris asks, but he also changes direction and heads toward the stairs to the basement. "I've got clothes. I'll even wear them to save your delicate sensibilities."
Refusing to feel guilty, Lance makes his way into the main diner, surprised to see that the lights are on and all the blinds pulled down as best as they can be. Crouching, he picks up the cooler and sets it on the counter, then reluctantly takes out one of the remaining blood packs. By now they'll taste stale, and Lance thinks of the breakfasts he has at home, fresh cows blood in his own special cup, and on Sundays, maiden blood as donated by the girls who supply the town. Mouth watering at the thought, Lance steels himself and swallows the blood pack in one gulp, gagging before he can get it down completely.
"That smells rank," Chris says from behind Lance. He walks around the front of the counter, peering at the empty blood pack, thankfully while wearing clothes. "How do you even drink that shit?"
Lance picks up the empty bag and refastens the stopper. "It's better than starving to death."
"That's like eating something out of the garbage when you could be feasting on steak." Chris shakes his head and sits on one of the stools, his arms crossed on the counter. "There's millions of norms out there. Give one the evil eye, pop a vein and there you go. Steak."
"It's not that easy," Lance mutters, concentrating on folding the bloody bag.
"Of course it's that easy," Chris says, then stops speaking, sniffing the air. "I don't believe it, you're a fang virgin."
His cheeks flushing, Lance bitterly regrets drinking the blood pack as he protests, "I've drank norm blood before."
"Never said you hadn't," Chris says, looking amused. "But no way have you taken it, sank your fangs into a willing neck, chomped on down on an inner thigh." He leans in closer, as if sharing a secret, "I'll tell you a tip, necks are all very well but the inner thigh is the way to go. I mean, I haven't drank it that way because of the whole not vampire thing, but if the taking feels as good as the giving, hello party time."
"I'll keep that in mind." Lance moves along the counter slightly, busying himself with repacking the cooler. "The lights are on, they weren't last night."
"Nothing gets past you," Chris says, and pulls his note book out of his hoodie pocket. Opening it he puts it on the counter, pointing at the list where 1- get power back on has been crossed out with a black line. "I flipped the fuses while you were dead."
"Technically," Lance says. "I'm always dead."
"Okay, fine. I flipped the fuses while you were deader," Chris amends.
"That'll work." Lance bends forward slightly so he can see the list -- the very long list. "All that's to get the diner open again?"
Chris shakes his head. "That's to get the place habitable again. It was fine for a dog but you won't find it very comfortable, and neither will I when I'm like this."
Lance reads through the list. How he needs to check the boiler and water supply, get a coffin that's not pink lined. Re-connect the cable and internet, arrange for a supply of fresh blood and multiple other things. There's a lot but nothing he can't handle, and he feels positive as he straightens, ready to get to work. "Right, so I do all this and then work towards opening. That makes sense."
"Ah, yeah," Chris says, and glances over his shoulder toward the front of the diner. "There's something you need to know first."
"Oh god." Lance steels himself, imagining what's coming. "Tell me there's not weresquirrels in the roof or ghosts in the stove."
"You do know ghosts aren't real?" Chris says, giving Lance a sideways look. He slides from the stool and starts to head for the back door. "It's best I just show you, come on."
Briefly Lance considers not following, but his curiosity wins out and he hurries after Chris. "Are you going to tell me where we're going at least?"
"Nope." Chris forces open the back door, stepping into the courtyard. "But it's not far, we'll be back before any sun touches your pretty skin."
Lance steps outside, careful not to trip on the trash strewn on the ground. "Good, I'd hate to prove my mom right and die on the second day here."
"Not dying is always a good goal, or dying again in your case," Chris says, and then moves away from Lance. "I'm going doggy style, it's easier that way."
Watching Chris change from man to dog is just as weird as the other way round. Lance keeps back as Chris drops to his knees, his limbs and body changing until he's back to being a shaggy dog with matted hair. Stepping out of the pool of clothes Chris shakes his head and arches his back, says, "Jesus, you stink."
Pointedly Lance looks at Chris. "You've hardly got room to talk. When's the last time you bathed or had a brush?"
Chris looks wolfish and Lance knows that he's grinning. "Nia used to give me baths, she knew the right spots to scrub." He pads over to Lance, bumping against his leg. "How are you at brushing."
"Terrible," Lance says, stepping deliberately away. "You were going to show me something?"
"I was." Chris scratches at his ear with his back paw and then starts walking forward before breaking into a run. "Keep up!"
Lance easily keeps up, even when Chris leads them through a wood where they weave between trees and then jumps over a stream before scrambling up a steep hill. Reaching the top Chris sits, his mouth open and panting as he points down with a paw. "Down there."
Lance looks down, and sees a brightly lit building, its parking lot full of cars. A short distance away he also sees his van, still parked next to his own diner. "That's my diner, just up the road."
"It is," Chris says, and lies down on the grass, his head on his legs. "But we didn't come here to see that. The building below, that's the Fatone's Diner."
"The Fat Ones," Lance says, looking at the neon sign. "That's a bit obvious."
Chris twitches an ear. "It's the Fatone's, Joey likes the corny option. The point is, they're your competition, good competition."
Lance thinks of the papers he'd been given by Great Aunt Magwina's lawyers, the way he'd studied them before making the decision to take over the ownership. "I saw the figures, they can't be that good that they'll affect my trade."
"Ah." Chris' whole body flattens, like he's trying to sink through the ground. "The thing is, you know she was turned much older than most and the longer she lived… Well, she got a bit strange toward the end. Customers tend to stay away when threatened with skillet to the head and then the incident with the boggart was the last straw."
"It didn't die." Chris lifts his head so he can look at Lance. "I got it out in time and told people Nia got a little confused, but they started to stay away and go to the Fatone's instead. You can't blame them really, not when you could be mistaken as a chicken nugget and thrown in the oven."
"That would suck," Lance says, and then drops to the ground when he sees the door of The Fat Ones open. Hands and knees sinking into the damp grass he hisses, "Someone's coming."
Chris sits, says, "It's only Joey."
Lance lifts his head but all he can see is a faint flash of white, as if a plume of smoke had drifted outside. "There's no one there."
"That's because he's here," Chris says, and stands as the tiniest man Lance has ever seen flies close and lands on a rock. "Lance, meet Joey, he's a fairy."
Joey puts his hands on his hips. "Fey, Chris. I'm a fey. I know you know that." Purple and silver wings fluttering, Joey flies upwards and over Chris' face where he flutters his wings extra fast, so Chris' muzzle and head is covered in silver sparkles. "Now tell me why you're spying on my place with a vamp."
"We're not spying." Chris sounds indignant as if there's some other reason he's hiding on top of a hill with Lance. "I was just showing Lance your diner and telling him how awesome it is."
"Right," Joey says, and sits on Chris' head, his legs hanging between his eyes. "And Lance is?"
"Sorry." Remembering his manners Lance kneels up and tries to clean his muddy hands by rubbing them together, then stops when he realises he's got no idea how to shake hands with someone who's only a few inches tall. "I'm Lance, I'm taking over Demonia's Diner."
Joey grins. "Nia's kin, we heard you might be coming. You have to come down and meet everyone."
Lance stands and looks down at his dirty knees. "I should go and change first."
"No need," Joey says, flying from Chris' head. "There's no dress code and we let Chris is, so."
"Hey." Chris leaps up, snapping his mouth at Joey. "You're not so sweet yourself you sparkling midget."
"Takes one to know one." Joey zooms over Chris and does a loop in the air before starting to fly back toward his diner. "Come on or there'll be nothing left."
"Like that'll happen," Chris says, but follows Joey down the hill as Lance does the same.
It doesn't take long to get to the diner, when they're close Lance hurries forward, about to open the door, then stops, shocked when Joey hovers in place then suddenly grows -- a lot.
"How did you do that?" Lance steps close, seeing how Joey's wings are tucked in against his back and that he's even taller than Lance now. "It's physically not possible."
"Do I have to go through that whole vampire and blood sucking point again?" Chris says, padding up next to Joey. "Lance is innocent in the ways of the non-vamp supernatural."
"Then you've a lot to learn," Joey says, and starts to go inside, then stops, looking puzzled as he stares at Lance. "How did you think we ran the diner that small?"
"I don't know," Lance says, and doesn't look at Chris who's flopped on his back, laughing while he wiggles his legs in the air. "Magic. Or tiny little utensils. Something."
Joey sighs. "Kelly doesn't let us use magic to cook. She says it cheapens the process."
"Too right I don't!" A woman strides forward, a tiny girl fairy sitting on top of her head and holding onto a curl. "Kelly Fatone, and the munchkin up top is mine and Joey's daughter, Briahna. You must be Magwina's grandson, we heard you'd arrived. I was coming over with a welcome basket later but you've beat me to it. Anyway. Come in. Any kin of Magwina's is a friend of mine."
Lance finds himself steered to a table near the counter, seated between a table of lizards drinking sap from a shared bowl and a cloud of mist that hovers over a chair.
"What can I get you?" Kelly's behind the counter now, opening the door of a display cabinet that's full of blood-filled bottles. "We stock all the usual kinds, cow, sheep and chicken. Or we've got human of all types."
"Erm, I'll have human O, please."
"Great choice," Kelly says, and selects a bottle before pouring the blood into a glass. "Body temp or hotter?"
"Body temp's fine." Lance stands, about to get the glass but Kelly waves him back. "No, sit, Joey will bring it over. Now what about you Chris? Are you changing back or do you want raw meat?"
Chris lifts his head from where he's been curled up next to the table. "Make it raw meat. Lance is frightened of my naked body."
"I'm not frightened of it," Lance says, pulling back his foot when he feels a wet nose against his ankle. "It's just, people don't walk around naked where I'm from."
"Your aunt never seemed to mind," Chris says, and Lance ducks, looking under the table at Chris.
"You used to walk around naked in front of Great Aunt Magwina?"
Chris looks up through the hair that falls above his eyes. "I did more than that, I used to keep her warm at day if you know what I'm saying?"
"That's my great aunt! She was old, you can't, not in her coffin!"
"I think you'll find I did," Chris says, and licks at Lance's ankle. Then whines when Kelly walks over and kneels, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck.
"Stop with your lies you mangy mutt, you're going to make Lance crazy."
Chris pulls himself forward with his front paws and lies his head on Kelly knee, looking up her beseechingly. "But it's fun."
"You know what else is fun?" Kelly says, and waves her hand in the air, creating a cloud of sparks that solidifies into a ball which she throws along the length of the diner and out of the opening door. "Fetch, doggie."
Chris scrambles up and away, his claws scrabbling against the lino as he runs after the ball. Kelly grins as she watches him go, then pushes herself up and sits next to Lance. "He hates that he can't resist chasing balls."
Mentally filing away that information Lance takes the glass of blood that Joey hands over. "Thanks."
"No worries." Looking around, Joey sits and holds out his hand to Briahna, who releases her hold on Kelly's curl and walks onto Joey's fingers, where she starts spinning in a circle, her dress flaring around her and tiny specks of gold filling the air.
"She adorable," Lance says, and smiles when Briahna bows before flying back up to Kelly's hair.
"She takes after her mom," Joey says and leans over, smacking a kiss against Kelly's cheek. Then stands when Chris comes back inside followed by two people dressed head to toe in black robes. "I need to go make earn my keep. Nice meeting you, Lance."
"And you," Lance replies, and means it. He feels comfortable here and he takes a sip of his drink as Kelly follows Joey and then goes into what has to be the kitchen.
"See what I mean? They're good." Chris jumps up on the chair opposite Lance and looks at him across the table. "When we open we'll need to be something special."
Surprised, Lance puts down his drink. "You're sticking around?"
Chris rolls his eyes, which is frankly unnerving when seen on a dog. "I though the whole making lists thing would have clued you in. I don't do that for fun."
"You know I've no money to pay you," Lance says, and stares when Chris slaps a paw on the table and starts to wheeze with laughter.
"Believe me, kid. Money's not an issue."
Lance waits until Chris stops laughing then says, "Something else you need to show me I assume?"
"You know it," Chris replies.
They head back after Lance finishes his blood and Chris his raw meat.
Taking the direct route, Lance listens to the animals that rustle in the nearby bushes and watches as Chris trots along the sidewalk, his tail wagging slightly. It's nice, reminding Lance of all the walks Lance took with the family dog. Not that he's going to tell Chris that, Lance had seen how Chris had devoured his raw meat with his sharp teeth.
When they get close to the diner light bleeds through the holes in the blinds. Somehow the addition makes the diner look even sadder than the night before, the light highlighting ever blemish and flaw.
"It used to look awesome," Chris says suddenly, looking back at Lance. "I kept up with the worst of the repairs, but I couldn't do everything. Then well, when Nia died I didn't have the money."
Confused, Lance hurries to catch up. "I thought you said money wasn't an issue?"
"It's not for you," Chris says. "You're Nia's kin, the owner of this place. I wasn't about to touch it."
"You should have used what you needed," Lance says but Chris shakes his head.
"It wasn't my place."
Together they go around to the back of the diner and Lance pushes open the door, going inside where the kitchen is full of shadows and the equipment badly in need of cleaning. Still, already the diner feels like home, and Lance runs his hand over the cold grill, imagining how it had to look in the past, when the diner was popular and Great Aunt Magwina ruled the roost.
Caught in his imagination, Lance jumps when Chris suddenly speaks from behind him. "We need to go to the basement."
"Lead on," Lance says, and sees that Chris is back in human form, and also thankfully dressed as he makes for the stairs. There's no lights on down there, not that it matters to Lance, and Chris seems to have no issues as he by-passes the mahogany coffin on its raised platform and heads for the corner of the room. Once there he crouches down and pushes at a brick, and a whole section of wall swings to one side, revealing a space packed full of bundled bills, and further back, what looks like gold coins and piles of jewellery."
"Nia wasn't one for banks," Chris says, and steps aside so Lance can look inside. "She had an account to pay bills but most of her riches are here."
Lance reaches back and picks up a diamond necklace, draping it across his hand. "Do you even know how much is here?"
Chris shrugs, says, "Last time we counted there was half a million."
"Half a million," Lance gasps, shaking a little as he replaces the necklace. "Do the lawyers know it's here? I should tell them, she couldn't have intended me to have half a million."
"They know." Chris steps back and rests his hand on the coffin. "And it'll be much more when you add in the gold and jewellery."
Lance sits with a thump. "But why? Why give me all this? I can barely remember her."
"She remembered you," Chris says. "She used to tell us all about you, how you had the Bass spirit."
"The Bass spirit," Lance says, trying work out what spirit Chris actually means. Because Lance is just Lance, nothing special at all.
"She meant stuff like this." Chris climbs onto the platform and gently eases back the lid of the coffin. Standing on tip-toes he leans inside, groping around until he brings out a book and sits on the platform, lying the book on his lap. The book is old, its pages brittle with age, rustling slightly as Chris carefully looks through it until he points at a page. "See, this is what she meant."
Lance stands in one easy movement and goes to sit next to Chris, looking down at the cutting that's been pasted into the book. It's an article from Lance's home town newspaper and shows him lined up with the other kids from the show choir, their hands out and smiling wide. Lance remembers it as if it were yesterday, even if it was decades before. "She kept that."
"With her other favourite clippings," Chris says, and turns the page to show a newspaper clipping of Great Aunt Magwina wearing a flapper dress, kicking her legs despite her always advanced years. "She wanted you to have all this. She knew you'd make it a success."
"But what about the Fatones?" Lance feels bad, like he's betraying his aunt in some way, but the facts are, the Fatones are huge competition, and Lance can't see how the diner can ever go back to how it was before.
"They are a problem." Chris closes the book, his hand resting against the top. "We could take them out, vampire and shifter against two Fae, easy."
He's joking, Lance is sure of it but he still gives Chris a sideways look. "You're joking right?"
Chris looks back at Lance. "I'm not about to go eat them. But we do have to do something. The town isn't big enough for two diners."
Lance agrees, and he slumps back, wishing he had a long drink of blood. Then sits forward, turning so he can look at Chris. "Drinks."
"Sorry, I don't open a vein on the first date, you'll have to go for the rabbits."
"No, I don't mean that," Lance says. Standing, he begins to pace. "There's no bar here, right? Like, one that sells blood and alcohol and snacks. I didn't see one driving in."
Chris clutches the book against his chest. "That's because there isn't one."
Lance keeps pacing, so fast he's going from wall to wall of the basement in seconds. "So we make one. Change this place to a bar, get a licence to sell alcohol and blood. It'll be different to the Fatone's diner and supernatural's drink, right? We can stay open all night."
"Well I drink," Chris says. He taps his fingers against the book, obviously thinking, and then looks up at Lance, his mouth curling up into a smile. "You know, I'm beginning to see what Nia saw in you."
Lance grins. He knows this is going to work.
Hefting up the freezer, Lance sets it to one side and picks up his broom. Brushing the dirt from the floor he scoops it up with the shovel and then grabs the bucket full of hot water and detergent. Kneeling, he plunges his hand into the water and gropes for the cloth then starts to scrub at the tiles, cleaning up the grease and dust that's on the floor and baseboards. When he's satisfied they're clean he squeezes out the cloth and looks at the dirty water before standing, picking up the bucket and going outside.
In the last few days the court yard has been cleared and Lance tips the water down the drain before taking a moment to just stand, enjoying the cool night air. He feels grimy but more than that, hungry, enough that he makes his way inside, heading for the fridge. Inside are two beakers of blood, fresh from the rabbits Chris caught during the day. Lance had found them when he'd woke, scraps of fur in the garbage and a note set under the blood, saying how Chris had gone to the city.
Which has left Lance cleaning the kitchen, not that he minds, especially when Chris has already done so much work before leaving. Taking a beaker of blood Lance goes into the main area, too hungry to nuke it to body temp. Leaning against the counter he takes a long drink, taking in the changes that have happened in only a day. While the blinds are still ragged the windows are clean, the floor shining and all the fittings dusted and washed down. The juke box has been plugged in and Lance takes another drink before heading over, looking at the selection of songs.
There's a lot he doesn't recognise, and acting on impulse, he digs out his wallet, taking out a coin. Sliding it in the slot he picks five random numbers, then jumps at the resulting screech as the first song begins to play.
"The Wailing Wombats, nice choice," Chris says, while opening the front door that they'd finally unstuck the night before. He's carrying a stack of forms and they thump against the counter when he sets them down. "I picked up the licences, they all need filling in and returning." Shuffling through the stack he sets some aside. "Catalogues, you need to buy new blackout blinds."
The pile of forms seems huge and Lance rubs at his eyes, dreading filling them in. "We need to fill all of those in?"
"You need to fill those all in," Chris says and holds up his hand, which he then transforms into a paw. "No opposable thumbs, remember?"
Lance stares. "Now that's just weird."
"Says the dead man drinking blood out of a glass."
Which okay, point. Draining the glass Lance sets it down and pulls the catalogues toward him. He'll fill in the forms soon, but while he's letting his blood digest he can do something more fun. Opening the first one he sees it's full of black-out blinds in various colours and designs. Barely glancing at the pages of pastels and neons, Lance stops on a page of dark navy. "I like those."
Chris looks where Lance is pointing. "Boring but classic, you'll need the supe special kind."
"The what kind?" Lance says, and his eyes widen when he sees the price list, and how the supe special is the most expensive by far. He reads the listing aloud. "Resistant to all kinds of magic, bewitching and flames. This special coating will ensure your establishment is the safest it can be."
Chris scowls as he looks at the torn blinds at the diner windows. "They hadn't perfected the magic repellent when Nia got these. After she died I wasn't on my game and a fucking unicorn got in and slashed everywhere with its horn. Vicious bastards that they are."
Lance feels it's a step forward that he's not surprised that unicorns are real, but he does say, "Unicorns are vicious?"
"It's the lack of virgins these days," Chris says. "Less purity in the world leads to vicious unicorns. It's a sad state of affairs."
"Right," Lance says. "Moving on from the social commentary, I'm thinking the dark navy supe special."
"I'm thinking you're right." Chris pulls the catalogue toward him and turns the pages until he finds the contact number. "The owner's a norm but he keeps a vamp on staff if you want him to come measure up when you're awake."
"The vamp, I...." Lance stops talking when he sees a flash of white go past the window, then Joey's flying inside the diner, circling around Chris' head. "Hey, Joey."
"Hi." Joey somersaults in the air, avoiding the swats Chris aims his way and then lands on the counter, sitting on the pile of forms. "You're buying from Brian. Great choice, he's the best at what he does."
This is the first time Lance has seen Joey since he met him at his diner and Lance can't help feeling a little awkward. "You know that we're re-opening?"
"As a bar, yeah." Joey grins and flutters his wings, making a flurry of purple sparkles surround him. "It's a great idea. I have to go to the city to drink right now, and last time I did that I nearly ended up splattered against a truck windscreen."
"He tried to fly back," Chris says. "Because he's a moron."
Joey sends a comet of sparkles in Chris' direction. "Like you didn't end up in the back of the pound van. If it wasn't for Justin you'd have been neutered and chipped."
Lance winces and says, "Justin?"
"I keep forgetting you haven't met him," Joey says, and wanders closer to Lance. "That's the thing about being friends with a scryer, he knows about you but you haven't met him yet."
Lance pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to remember what he knows about scrying; which isn't a lot. "So, this Justin sees the future and has seen the future me. But isn't talking about the future bad? Like, change the past bad."
"You've been watching too many Back to the Future movies," Chris says, then adds, "But you're right, Justin shouldn't be going around telling what he sees. Or spying on people."
Joey takes off from the counter and twists in the air before changing size mid-flight and gently settling down sitting on one of the stools next to Chris. "You really need to let that go. Justin didn't spy on purpose, it just happened."
"The same way it just happened he ended up getting a job in the same place as me? Right."
"Paranoia is a terrible thing." Joey shakes his head sadly, the sparkles in his hair glittering. "I told you, he needed a job so I offered him one."
"Because Justin Timberlake wanted to work as a pot washer in a small hick town, sure."
"That's my hick town, and yours," Joey says and turns to Lance. "Justin's an old friend, when he called and mentioned needing work I offered him a job."
"An old friend that can see the future," Lance says.
Joey grins. "And the past and present. He uses pots of water for the reflective surface, it's like watching your own private TV show."
"Starring people he shouldn't be watching," Chris says bitterly and grabs the catalogue. "So, are you phoning Brian or shall I?"
Lance's cell is under the counter, put there for safety while he was cleaning. He grabs it, holding it out to Chris. "Can you arrange a night measuring? I'd like to be there."
Chris takes the phone. "Fine. I'll leave you ladies to gossip."
Lance watches as Chris stalks out of the room and then hears the door to outside slam. "Is he mad?"
"Certifiably insane," Joey makes a circling movement next to his head, then says, "Justin's a bit of a touchy subject. He'll be over it soon."
What Lance wants to do is ask for details, but Joey's reaching for a catalogue of bar equipment and Lance knows the topic is closed. Leaning in, he looks at the glossy pages of ice buckets and cocktail shakers and something that looks like a giant silver toad.
"It's a skrull bile toad," Joey says, apparently seeing where Lance is looking. "It's one of the latest fads, the supes are going crazy for it."
"Bile," Lance repeats, and he shouldn't find that so gross, not with the whole blood drinking thing, but he just can't imagine willingly drinking bile.
"It's awesome stuff," Joey enthuses. "But you have to be careful, too much in one drink and it's fatal. So you need a good bar tender if you're going to stock it."
"I hadn't even thought of staff." Lance sighs and reaches for the note book and pen that's on the shelf behind him. "Where do you even get supernatural bar staff? Advertise in the supernatural job paper?"
"Or on supework.com," Joey says, laughing at Lance's surprised look. "You really were closeted. Did you town not have any supes at all apart from vamps?"
"Not that I knew." Lance writes down supework.com and find good bar staff, underlining it twice. "Hopefully I can find someone good."
"Well, there's always JC," Joey says, then claps his hand over his mouth. "Forget I said that."
Confused, Lance says, "Who's JC?"
Joey starts to shrink in size, says, "No one. I need to go, I can hear Kelly yelling for me."
Lance concentrates, and while he can hear the clatter of plates and music coming from The Fat Ones he can't hear Kelly at all. "No she's not."
"Tell Chris I'll see him later," Joey says, and zooms off, leaving a trail of sparkles behind him.
"Weird," Lance says to himself, and goes to find Chris. He finds him in the kitchen, sitting on one of the metal benches. Lance's phone next to him.
"Kevin's coming out to measure up tomorrow night."
"Awesome," Lance says, and before he can stop himself is asking. "Who's JC?"
"Fucking, Joey," Chris says, but he doesn't sound angry, more resigned. "JC's my ex. We split up years back, before I came here."
Lance boosts himself up on the bench opposite Chris, even more confused and also disappointed. "That's it? The reason why Joey went flying off. I thought supes would be more progressive."
"What?" Chris stares at Lance a moment then laughs. "You've got the wrong end of the stick. I could date a warlock and no one would care. He took off because he knows I hate people talking about my personal business."
Relieved, Lance says, "He wasn't really. We were talking about needing bar staff and he mentioned JC."
"Ah." Chris drops his shoulders, appearing less tense. "JC's used to work behind a bar, he was the best there was."
Which sounds perfect for Lance, they need the best to make the bar the best, and if JC is that good. "Think he'd want a job here?"
"Hell no," Chris says immediately. "He's got his own life. There's nothing for him here."
Lance doesn't agree, and even though he knows that it's wrong, that already Chris is his friend, it can't hurt to get in contact with JC. Sliding from the bench he walks close to Chris, looking directly into his eyes. It's been days since Lance used his vampire powers of suggestion, but that doesn't matter. It's so instinctive that it takes seconds before he knows Chris is under his spell.
As always, Lance revels in the feeling of power, the knowledge that he can compel anyone to do anything he asks. "Chris, I need you to give me JC's phone number." Chris does, and Lance picks up his phone, storing the number. Satisfied, Lance jumps back on the counter and snaps the connection between them. Vowing to call JC as soon as he can.
Lance has just started to push up the freezer lid when the shouting begins. Climbing out, he heads for the fridge, needing blood before he can investigate the noise. Grabbing a carton he drinks as he goes into the main diner, and finds Chris being faced down by a stranger.
"Chris?" Lance drains the last of the blood and wipes at his mouth with his hand. "What's going on?"
Chris keeps standing his ground, staring up at the stranger. "Fuck knows, Justin just barged in and started screaming."
"Don't bullshit me, Chris." Scowling, Justin points at Chris with his finger. "You know exactly what's going on. All this time and JC's coming here. All the years you said you wanted him to stay away and I believed you."
"What?!" Chris takes a step back. "I didn't call him."
"It had to be you," Justin says. "He doesn't know you're here, I made sure of that."
"It wasn't me," Chris protests. "I wouldn't call him. I've been keeping away from him all this time, why the hell would I change that now?"
"Because you're stupid, because you still love him, pick either one." For a long time Justin looks intently at Chris, then says quieter, "You really didn't call him."
"I told you I didn't. Go look in the sink if you want proof."
Justin shakes his head. "I don't need to, I know you're telling the truth. But I will use the sink, see who did call him."
Chris crosses his arms across his chest. "Maybe you should have done that before coming up here screaming like a wounded banshee."
"Probably," Justin agrees. "JC's call took me by surprise. The last thing I expected was him coming here."
"Tell me about it," Chris says, "All the lies, hiding in the middle of fucking nowhere and having you live so close and now he's coming here."
"Maybe it's time he did," Justin says, unflinching when Chris growls a reply.
"It's not time. It'll never be time." Chris indicates the kitchen. "Go do your stuff so I know whose head I have to rip off."
"Erm, before you do." Lance steps forward so he's standing between Justin and Chris. "It was me."
"You phoned JC?" Chris says, his voice icy. "Why would you even do that?"
"Because you said he was good, and we need good to make this place work, you know that," Lance says, refusing to drop his gaze despite the way Chris is glaring. "He'll be a great fit for the bar."
"He will be," Chris says, and goes on, "You'll make this place great together."
Before Lance has the chance to reply, Chris is changing, bounding away in dog form, his clothes left lying on the floor.
Crouching, Justin picks them up and starts to fold the hoodie and jeans. "That was a stupid thing to do."
Movements clipped, Lance picks up his glass and rinses it in the small sink behind the counter. "You're hardly a genius yourself, coming here and yelling like that. You're a scryer, you're supposed to know what's going on."
"If I look for it," Justin says, sitting down, his elbows propped on the table. "And I don't watch Chris, not now."
Justin sounds like he's telling the truth, and when Lance looks at him he sees how tired Justin looks, like he's carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders. Setting the glass on the drainer, Lance tries to makes amends for this first bad meeting. "Do you want a drink? There's coffee or I could make tea."
"Coffee's fine," Justin says, and Lance goes back into the kitchen, where the coffee jug is still half full. Filling a mug he takes it back through to Justin.
"Sorry, there's no sugar or milk."
"Black's fine." Justin takes a long drink and then sets down the mug with a sigh. "This is such a mess."
Lance can't help feeling guilty, and he picks up a cloth and starts to polish the counter. "Chris said they'd broken up, but that's all. I thought it would be okay to call."
Justin cups his hands around the mug. "Yeah, well it wasn't."
"I can see that." Lance keeps polishing until the counter is gleaming. "He'll come back, right?"
"Eventually, it's whether he'll stay is the issue." Justin drains the rest of his coffee and stands. "I need to go, I'm supposed to be working. When Chris comes back. Tell him. Fuck. I don't know. Tell him to call me."
"I will," Lance promises, and stops polishing, watching as Justin goes.
Something clatters in the kitchen and Lance jumps, the pen scraping against the paper. Annoyed at himself for being so jumpy he stands, pushing the half-completed forms to one side. "Chris? Is that you?"
"No, it's a backpacking Kelpie," Chris says, his nails pattering against the tiles as he walks in. When he does so Lance takes an involuntary step back at the immediate over-powering smell.
"The hell? You reek."
Chris grumbles as he slides down to the floor, water seeping out from around him. "I was chasing rabbits and wasn't watching where I was going. I fell in a bog."
Lance puts his hand across his nose. "There's bogs around here?"
"Well yeah, where did you think the will-o'-the-wisps live?"
"I don't even know what a will-o'-the-wisp looks like," Lance says, trying to breathe through his mouth. "How would I know where they lived?"
"Maybe because most supes do," Chris says, and shakes his head, splattering fetid water against the tables and counter. "Except I forgot, you're Lance Bass the closeted vamp. You don't know anything."
Lance looks at the splattered floor and furnishings. "I know that you're in a foul mood for some reason and that when you turn back you're going to clean up."
"For some reason!" Chris exclaims, both of his ears pricking up. "I've got every reason. I liked it here and now I've got to move again."
"Because this JC is coming?" Lance asks, trying to understand why things have gone so wrong. "What about the bar? About helping me get it up and running again?"
"Then you shouldn't have meddled and used your vamp mojo on me," Chris snaps, and starts to lick at his back leg. Then stops, glaring at Lance again. "I know that's what you did, it's the only way you'd have found JC's number because Justin wouldn't tell."
"Okay, fine, I did use my so called vamp mojo on you," Lance says, beginning to get annoyed. "I didn't think it was such a big deal. You said you'd broken up, that's all. No huge drama."
"Well you're wrong, it was a big deal, the biggest."
Lance sits back down, trying to think what to say. "Look, I'm sorry. It wasn't right getting the number like that, or using it, but there was so much to do and I just thought. Well I didn't think. I'll tell him not to come, that I've found someone else."
Both of Chris' ears droop, so they're lying close to his head. "That won't work. If he said he's coming here he'll be coming here. I just need to be gone before he arrives."
"But why?" Lance asks, his hands pressed against the top of the table. "You like it here, I like you being here. Why run? I don't understand."
"Because I ruined his life!" Chris gets to his feet and starts to pace, and all Lance can do is watch and wonder how this is his life, sitting watching a talking dog have some kind of breakdown.
"That seems a little extreme," Lance says softly, hoping to calm Chris down.
"You'd think." Chris stops pacing and sits, his head hanging down. "But I did."
Lance looks at his watch and then at Chris. "I'm getting hungry, how about I warm up some blood and coffee and you can tell me all about it?"
Chris tilts his head to one side. "I'm sensing you're not comfortable discussing relationship issues with a dog."
There's no point in lying, the fact is, it is weird and Lance heads back to the kitchen, careful not to slip on the slick tiles. "You're a dog. Call me crazy but I'm not used to having serious conversations with dogs."
"Dogs are great conversationalists," Chris sniffs, but when Lance gets back, a glass of blood in one hand, a mug of coffee in the other, Chris is back in human form, dressed and sitting on one of the stools.
"Changed. Better now?"
"Much," Lance says, and puts the coffee down next to Chris before walking around the counter and sitting too. He takes a long drink of blood, enjoying the smooth taste of maiden, and then prompts, "You were going to tell me about JC."
"There's not much to tell." Chris is gripping his mug, looking down at the coffee. "He was a wizard. I was a weredog. We dated seriously for years, and then one night we got carried away and I bit him too hard. Two weeks later I woke up next to a springer spaniel and one day after that JC was disowned by his family and thrown out of the wizards' guild."
Lance sets his glass down with a thump. "They disowned him because he turned into a dog? His own family?"
"They're wizards. I'd have been more surprised if they hadn't, especially when he'd lost all his magic." Chris' shoulders are slumped and he pushes his coffee to one side. "JC wasn't like most wizards. He was driven and smart, like really smart and magic came so easily to him. He was always talking about taking it to the next level. And I took all that away."
"You took his magic away," Lance says. "But how did you take away him being smart? Or driven? Surely that's everything to do with him and not that he could do magic?"
"You don't understand." Chris rests his elbows on the counter and slumps forward. "Magic is what he did. He used to closet himself in his room and practice new spells. Complex shit like turning candy into gold and making himself fly. He used to gather moon beams in jars and talk to toads and I took all that away."
"But it was an accident," Lance protests. "It's not like you did it on purpose, he has to know that."
"Accident or not, I took a part of him he can never get back. He has to hate me."
"Hold on," Lance says, struck by something Chris has said. "He has to hate you? Don't you know?"
"No," Chris says simply. "The best thing for him was for me to get out of his life. So I left."
"You left?" Lance can hardly believe what he's hearing. "That's...."
"Cowardly, stupid, pathetic," Chris interrupts. "Justin and Joey have said all of those, Kelly a whole lot more. But it doesn't change it was the right thing to do." He stands then, picking up his coffee and draining it in one gulp. "I'll be leaving at sun up. I clean this mess before I go."
Lance has no idea how to change Chris' mind, all he can say is, "You'd better."
Lance stays awake as long as he can, past the time he can feel the sun creep over the horizon, rising so fast that Lance physically feels weak, his head heavy as Chris bodily grabs hold, keeping Lance upright as he pulls him toward the freezer.
"You need to die already, you moron." Chris pulls open the freezer lid, tipping Lance inside. "I'll be in touch one day, promise."
"I'll be waiting," Lance says, his eyes closing as his body shuts down.
The last thing he hears is Chris saying, "I know."
Lance can remember a time he used to wake to silence or the sound of his mom shaking his shoulder and telling him it was time to get up. Tonight he wakes to people arguing -- again. Following his new routine he climbs out of the freezer and grabs some blood, gulping it down as he leaves the kitchen for the main area of the bar. Where he finds Justin arguing with some stranger who has to be JC.
"Because I promised Chris I wouldn't tell you," Justin is saying, and looks relieved when Lance walks into view. "Lance, you're up. This is JC, he's just arrived."
"Hi," Lance says, finishing his drink and licking over his teeth to make sure they're not bloody.
"Hey." JC smiles briefly, but it's a smile that does little to hide how exhausted he looks or how he's fighting to keep back his anger. "Justin says Chris was living here. Do you know where he went?"
"I wish I did," Lance says, genuinely regretful. "He just said he was going. He didn't say where."
"Then it's up to you, Justin." JC turns to Justin, looking determined. "You need to look for him, show me where he is."
Justin runs his hands through his hair and glances over his shoulder toward the door. "I told you, I can't. I promised Chris I wouldn't scry him anymore."
JC frowns, says, "It sounds like you promised Chris lots of things, but I don't care, because you owe me. All those times I called and you said you didn't know where he was, all the times you were lying to me."
"That's not fair," Justin says quietly. "You don't know what it was like. I saw you two, saw how much you meant to each other and then you got turned and everything went to hell. He ran and when I looked at you I saw he'd broken your heart. Looked at him and he was falling apart."
JC rounds on Justin. "So what? You thought the thing to do was keep us apart? That makes no sense."
Justin stills, his hands pressed against his sides, then, like something has snapped he shouts. "Chris asked me not to tell you. He was in a mess and you were in a mess and I was stuck in the middle with Chris threatening to claw out my throat if I told. What was I supposed to do?"
"Ignore him," JC says. "Chris is stupid sometimes, we all know that."
Justin shakes his head. "You weren't there, JC. He needed to hide up and lick his wounds. He was devastated about what happened; it's why I followed him here."
"He was devastated? JC says, his voice rising. "I woke up changed into a dog, do you know how scarring that is? I needed Chris and he left."
Justin wraps his arms around his body. "He thought you'd be happier without him."
"Do I look happy?" JC asks. "Has Chris been happy? We were meant to be together, Justin. The only reason we're not is because you never said he was here."
"For good reasons," Justin protests. "I saw you, JC. You didn't get out of bed for weeks when Chris left. He spent weeks chasing squirrels and howling at the moon"
"You know that's kinda creepy you know that," JC says.
"I don't watch all the time," Justin says, unfolding his arms as he looks at Lance. "Is it okay if I use your kitchen?"
"Go for it." Lance steps to the side, letting Justin into the kitchen.
"Sorry for meeting like this." JC moves so he's standing next to Lance, both of them watching as Justin fills up the sink. "You phone to offer me a job and I end up arguing with Justin."
Lance shrugs off the apology. "I wake at first dark anyway, and it sounds like you'd issues to sort out."
"That's an understatement." JC's mouth turned down at the corners and he inhales deeply. "I can smell Chris, it's like he's here but not. I can't believe I got so close."
"There's still time to catch him up," Lance says. He's not actually sure if that's true, or even if Chris has gone as dog or human, but he has to say something when JC looks so sad.
"You think so?" JC asks and Lance is trying to think what to say when Justin beckons them forward.
Lance isn't sure if that means him too, but he goes anyway, getting as close to the sink as he can. Justin's taking up most of the room his brow furrowed and hands held palm down over the water, which is showing a picture of Chris in dog form. It's a moving picture and Lance leans in closer, transfixed as the Chris in the picture runs along a dark road, a small bag held in his mouth.
"You can do that for everything? Past and future?"
Justin grins and waves his hands, the image in the water destroyed by ripples that reform into an image of Lance lying in his coffin at his family home. "I can show you most things. Not your death though, that'd be wrong."
"At least you have some morals," JC says. "Put Chris back on."
Justin does and peers down at the image before saying, "That's the road close to the city. He must have decided to run instead of waiting for the bus."
"Running again, figures," JC says and steps back. "I'm going after him."
Lance holds out his hand. "Wait!" It's too late, already JC is changing, limbs shortening as he falls to his knees, head down and back arced. The transformation isn't as smooth as Chris', but eventually a springer spaniel is standing in a pile of clothes, a studded leather collar around its neck.
JC turns his head to the side, one ear pricked. "Did you want something? Because I need to get going."
"Yeah," Lance says. "I was going to offer to drive you in my van. It'll be faster than you running."
"Oh." JC steps out of the clothes and over to Lance. "That's a good idea. Thank you."
"And I'm coming too," Justin says, picking up JC's clothes and handing them over when he turns back to human. "I can scry for him if we can't find him."
Busy wriggling into his pants, JC gives Justin a look and says, "As long as you send us in the right direction."
"If he doesn't he's on grill cleaning duty for good." Joey, who's just flown through the open back door and landed on JC's shoulder. "I thought I heard you."
"You know JC?" Lance asks, confused about how everyone seems to know everybody else.
Joey flutters his wings, making JC laugh when they tickle against his neck. "We met back in the day, when he and Justin were in the Modern Magic Club."
"So how did you all meet Chris?"
Joey waves his hands, sending a cloud of sparkles that land in Justin's hair. "Justin met him first. Or sometimes me. It depends who you talk to."
"It was a long time ago," JC says, touching the collar around his neck. "You said we could use your van."
Lance is more than capable of taking a hint. Together they walk outside and Lance locks up before joining the others who're waiting at his van. The back is empty now but Justin and JC crowd together in the front while Joey sits on the dash, his arm wrapped around the nodding Dracula. Fastening his seat belt, Lance pulls out onto the road and says, "Which way?"
"Left at the next turning, you need the main road," Justin says.
Joey spreads his wings as the turn around a corner. "Then you can tell me where we're going."
"I though you were listening in?" JC says, and gently touches Joey's chest with his finger.
"I was telling Bri a bedtime story. I only heard you when I came downstairs." Joey grins and grabs hold of JC's finger. "You need to come see her, man. She's almost as big as a snowdrop."
"I will," JC says. "I intend sticking around."
JC's sitting next to Lance, and despite the casual way he's talking Lance can feel how tense he is, almost vibrating in place as they turn on to the main road. Each time they see something vaguely dog shaped JC takes in a sharp breath and by the time they've been travelling almost half an hour he's not talking at all.
"We'll be at the city soon." Joey's turned around, his wings resting against Dracula so he can look out of the front window. "Maybe we should find some water for Justin?"
"I'll call in the nearest gas station," Lance says, trying to remember if the travel dog bowls are still in the back of the van. Then jumps when JC suddenly yells.
If Lance's heart actually had a beat it would be thundering as he jams his foot on the brake, bringing the van to a stop.
"What did you see?" Joey's flown to the front of the van, his hands against the windshield. "There's nothing out there."
"There is," JC says, and urges Justin out of the van. "Chris is out there, I can smell him."
Lance sniffs hard, expecting to smell the lingering stench of bog, but all he can smell is hair product, blood, sugar and the slightest hint of wet fur, the same combination that he's smelled for the last half hour. But JC can obviously smell something different and he stands in front of the van, looking toward the dark fields that are on either side of the road.
"Chris! I know you're out there. I can smell you. I can sense you." JC walks toward the field on the left and reaches up, touching his collar. "I've still got your collar, Chris, I've never taken it off. And if you don't stop hiding I'll find you. If you run I'll follow you. And I won't stop."
There's a rustle, and then Chris is slinking out of a ditch and onto the road. He opens his mouth and drops the bag, says, "You shouldn't have come here."
"Lance asked me to come," JC says, and stalks toward Chris. "And I'm glad that he did. At least someone in that town isn't stupid. What the hell were you thinking?!"
Chris' tail is quivering as he says, "You lost your magic, you got disowned by your family, I turned you into a springer spaniel."
"Who says I don't like being a springer spaniel?" Suddenly, JC changes into his dog form and takes steps closer to Chris. "Don't you get it, I don't care what I look like or what I am. I just want to be with you."
"You don't know what you're saying," Chris says, looking at nothing but JC. "You were a wizard. You did magic. Now you're a dog. How can you not hate me for that?"
"Because I love you, moron." JC presses his nose against Chris'. "All these years, I've been sad, disappointed, fucking furious at you, but I've never stopped loving you. Not for a moment."
Chris whines and licks JC's muzzle. "I'm sorry."
"You should be," JC says, and then looks back at the van. "Me and Chris are going to walk back. Can you take his bag?"
Sure." Lance goes and picks up the bag, holding it as he watches Chris and JC walk away, their tails swinging in unison as they keep bumping flanks.
"They're adorable," Joey says, and makes a heart out of sparkles that twinkle bright.
Lance has to agree.
"I'm just saying, you should give it a try," JC says, his whole body shimmying as he shakes the cocktail shaker. "The bile mixed with blood of virgin gives one hell of a kick."
Justin groans, his head in his hands. "That last one had enough of a kick, my brain is melting."
"Sorry, J, your brain melted years ago." Chris is standing behind Justin, shouting directly in his ear. "There's nothing left but slush."
"Radioactive slush," Justin says, groaning again.
JC frowns. "Radioactive isn't good. I'll add more adder venom next time."
Lance tugs on one of his new blinds, making sure it hangs just so. "I hope you're not planning on killing my customers."
"How about I just kill the ones that are already dead?" JC says and pours the mixture out of the shaker into a tall glass. "I call it a zombie slammer."
Lance eyes the drink, and the steam that's wafting from the surface. "Is that safe to drink?"
"Perfectly," JC says, and takes a sip before holding it out to Chris. "Come taste."
Reassured, Lance crouches to pick up a speck of dirt from the floor. He doubts JC will serve Chris anything lethal, not when they've spent the last week attached at the hip.
Chris takes the drink from JC, grimacing as he drinks. "Holy shit, that burns." He takes another drink. "But it tastes good."
"No getting drunk," Lance says, pulling down his sleeve and polishing one of the new mahogany tables. "You've got work to do."
Chris waves his hand dismissively. "I know, I know, I'll be back there cooking bar meals."
"And I'll be making drinks," JC adds, and Lance nods, trying to relax.
"I know, it's just. What if Great Aunt Magwina wouldn't want this? What if she'd be against me running a bar?" He looks around. At the new furniture and cosy booths, the new art work on the walls and supe special blinds, ready to keep any supe safe. Lance wants the bar to work, but he also wants to know he's made the right choice.
"She'd have loved this," Chris says suddenly. He moves to stand next to Lance, draping his arm over Lance's shoulder. "Wherever she is she'll be proud. Her and Augie."
"Augie?" Lance asks, and Chris' expression softens.
"He'll have been your Great Uncle Augastine. Nia's first and true love. He was staked centuries ago. It's why she walked into the day. She was ready to meet him again."
"I didn't know."
Chris laughs and squeezes Lance before stepping away. "Colour me unsurprised. The day you know something is the day I'd date a cat."
JC looks over from where he's adding something thick and black to a glass. "You'd better not date a cat, we can arrange a threesome one day but no dating."
Lance straightens a chair, needing a distraction before he imagines how that could actually work. Chair straight, he looks at his watch, has his mouth open to talk when Joey comes flying into the room. Changing size in mid-air he lands as a full sized man and tucks away his wings.
"Sorry I'm late."
"I thought you'd be working," Lance says, and Joey shakes his head.
"And miss the opening of The Black Fang? No way."
Lance can't help feeling pleased. He hasn't been here long but already he's made good friends, ones that are here to watch as he takes the next step in his life.
Lance walks toward the main door, turning his head when a blurred shape near the juke box catches his eye. Excepting it to be Joey, Lance freezes in place – it's not Joey at all.
It's Great Aunt Magwina, faint, but definitely there. Like the last time he'd seen her she's got her hair pulled back in a tight bun and is wearing a long black dress, her hands clasped together as she nods and then smiles.
"Great aunt Magwina," Lance says softly, then points, adding louder. "Look! Over there."
"It's a sweet juke box," JC says, expertly juggling bottles of blood.
"And one that's been there since you got here," Chris adds, giving Lance a searching look. "Do you need blood? You look pale – paler."
Lance shakes his head, because how can they not see? Great Aunt Magwina is right there. He takes a step toward the juke box, his arm outstretched. "It's Great Aunt Magwina's ghost, she's here."
Joey stands and jumps, changing size as he flies over the juke box -- and through Great Aunt Magwina's head -- before landing on Lance's shoulder. "There's no such thing as ghosts, Lance. Seriously."
"But…" Lance protests, and blinks when Great Aunt Magwina fades away with a wink.
"But nothing," Chris says, from behind the counter where he's tying on his apron. "Stop stalling and open up, you've got customers."
It's true. Looking outside Lance sees a sheep wandering toward the door, closely followed by two vampires and a troll.
A last look toward the juke box and Lance walks to the door, turning the sign to open.