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a little bit of peace (in a bathtub's embrace)

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Bobo’s motorcycle was his pride and joy — unlike the other vehicles in the trailer park, his was only one that wasn’t communal. Trucks, cars, SUVs — all of those were free game to whoever could locate keys, or hotwire them in a case where speed was paramount. But the Harley with the tattooed sides, that was all Bobo’s.

That day, though, after a vexatious meeting with Constance Clootie and the usual cattle wrangling — which these days was more akin to herding cats — of the Revenants, Bobo was wound tight with stress and only a few incidents away from losing his temper. He ignored the buzzing of his phone and turned the contraption off entirely, knowing that whatever scuffles occurred in his absence would either work themselves out or he could deal with the aftermath. The motorcycle purred under him as he guided it along the road, the tires eating up the pavement as the seemingly endless fields flew by. Purgatory always seemed to be cold, but even the road between it and the city was nearing arctic temperatures. A few more days and there would be snow, and the motorcycle-riding days of the season would be over until spring.

There was a garage in the city, in the shadier part of town, and that’s where Bobo parked the bike. The young man working on the truck nearby — little more than a boy, likely not even shaving yet — stared, as if he had never seen such a sight before.

“Jake, get back to work,” said a gruff voice, and Bobo offered a shark-like grin when the boy continued to stare. A short man in overalls plodded out of the garage, and the boy scurried around to the other side of the truck, out of sight. “Bobo del Rey, as I live and breathe. It isn’t often you bother to visit the big city. What brings you to town?”

“The usual,” said the Revenant, and smiled wider — he could see the boy peeking around the truck, could smell his fear — he paused only to embrace the old man like the old friend he was before being led into the garage office. “Your boy new, Edward?”

“Yeah, he started last week,” said the old man. “And I’ve told you, every single time you come in here, that you’re the only one who still calls me Edward.”

“‘Eddie’ doesn’t suit you,” said Bobo, but the old man smiled — he knew that the Revenant was teasing him, in his own way. Both of them watched through the window as the boy — Jake — left the truck and circled the motorcycle, peering at the gleaming chrome and even daring to touch the black paint with one reverent finger. “Is that— Sherrie’s boy? He’s gotten tall.”

“Sure is,” said Eddie, and Bobo could see the pride in the old man’s eyes, in the way his chest puffed out as Eddie tugged at his suspenders. “He’s about to graduate high school in a few months, can you imagine?” He glanced at the Revenant, eyes twinkling. “Feels like he was just a babe in arms only a year ago, doesn’t it?”

“The same could apply to you,” grumbled the Revenant, and Eddie laughed.

“Sure, old man,” he said, and Bobo snorted. “I wasn’t expecting you after you missed last month’s rendezvous, but it won’t take me more’n a jiffy to get something set up. Same place?”

“Yeah,” said Bobo, wandering to the display cabinet against the wall as Eddie sat down at the desk and began typing slowly away. There were photos and ribbons, and a single trophy for a spelling bee — all the photos showed proud relatives, with Eddie somewhere in the photo at various stages of life, and the newest ones all had the boy Jake in them, looking nervous but happy. “You all grow up so fast.”

“And you never change,” said Eddie, eyes fixed to the computer screen — he was squinting, deliberately ignoring the reading glasses next to the computer keyboard. “What I wouldn’t give to be as young-looking as you again.”

“That isn’t a price you’d be willing to pay,” chided Bobo. Eddie shrugged, and the Revenant let out a sigh. He knew that the old man was speaking in jest, that he didn’t really wish for the eternal youth that the Revenant’s had (or in some cases, eternal old age, with all the creaking bones and aching joints that came with it). Not at the cost that had been paid, that they all still paid daily.

“All right, I have a reservation for you,” said Eddie. “You want to leave your things here, same as usual?” He asked this every time, as if Bobo was going to give him a different answer — the Revenant nodded, and Eddie gestured toward the closed door that said Staff Only. “Same as usual,” he said. “Still got your key?”

Bobo held up the keys to the bike, and the neon orange locker key jangled with the rest. “Thank you, Edward.”

“Anything for family, you know that,” said Eddie.

Bobo ducked through the staff door and into the break room, locating the beat up aluminum lockers along the back wall — number 4 had been his for as long as Eddie had owned the garage, and the lock was nearly as old as the locker itself. What was inside the locker, though, was newer — items that Bobo had replaced through the years as they wore out or ran out, depending on the item. A flannel jacket and coat hung on a hook in the back, and he traded them for his heavy fur coat — he felt almost naked without its reassuring weight. His black boots he traded for a pair of tan workman’s boots, and a beat-up baseball cap completed the ensemble.

From the black duffel bag at the bottom of the locker he pulled a metal tin and smeared the greasy contents into his beard — a temporary dye that would mask the oddness of the colouring, at least for a while — and dumped the closed tin back into the bag before hoisting the bag itself over his shoulder.

As he turned back toward the door, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror — for a moment, he almost looked like a normal man, just on the way home from a normal job, to a normal house and a normal family. Maybe a wife and kids, maybe a dog.

All things he could never have.

Bobo hefted the bag and closed the door with a little more force than necessary.

“Don’t break that,” said Eddie drily looking up from the computer. The printer on the table behind him was shrieking away as a paper slowly creeped into the output tray. “Doors are expensive these days.” He nodded to the printer. “I’ve got your reservation printing, it’ll be right out. You need anything else while you’re here?”

“No,” said Bobo, and forced himself to add, “thank you,” on the tail end of the word in a slightly kinder tone. Eddie was good to him — of all the descendants of his brother that Bobo had contacted through the decades, Eddie was the one who had seen him for what he was.

Lonely.

The first time they had met, Eddie had been very young, an age that Bobo couldn't even remember being himself. Bobo had been in the city for the day, running Revenant-related errands — namely, bringing the pain to one of the Revenants who had tried to slip the metaphorical leash Bobo had painstakingly bound him with — and had been spotted by Eddie’s mother, Cheryl. She had dragged her eight-year-old son across a busy street to corner the Revenant — who had shuffled his feet to hide the blood on his boots — and interrogate him on his wellbeing. Have you been eating properly, Robert? You’re too skinny by far. Why don’t you stop in for dinner next week, we’ll put some meat on your bones. Have you met Eddie? He’s eight. Top of his class in maths. Eddie, this is your… uncle. Uncle Bobo .

He’d never taken her up on that offer for food — a month later, she had died in a car crash, long after he had forgotten the invitation had been given in the first place. He went to the funeral, and little Eddie had climbed onto his lap in the church pew, and had tugged on his tie for the rest of the ceremony. Afterwards, Eddie’s father, Daryl — Daryl and Cheryl, weren’t they such a cute couple — had approached him.

Didn’t recognize the name on the register, ” Daryl had said. “Were you a friend of Cheryl’s?”

She was kin ,” he had said, and Daryl had assumed, and hugged him like he was one of the family. Eddie had hugged him, too, on the cue from his father, and Bobo thought that had been that. One less descendant to worry about, to check in on periodically through the years.

Eddie had found him in a bar, when the boy was barely twenty, and had sat down next to him and offered his hand to shake like the old-fashioned soul he was. “ You’re my uncle, aren’t you? ” he had said. “I remember you. ” Eddie never forgot a face, or a car — he had seen the silver Pontiac outside and recognized it from Bobo’s last trip.

That had been the car’s last visit to the city — Whisky Jim had borrowed it not long after and it had been smashed to bits, wrapped around a tree.

I’ll make you a deal,” Eddie had said. “I’ll work for you for a year, if you’ll help me pay for school.” He’d had pamphlets, grainy Xeroxes of school announcements, an informational packet from the financial aid office. A good school, a trade school, but more than his father could afford and more than Eddie could make in two years working at the local garage.

Bobo had funded Eddie’s two-year degree, and had invested the down payment on the old building that would be turned into Eddie’s garage, a business that prospered and had him in good financial standing for the next fifty-three years. Now Eddie was inching toward seventy-five and was still going strong, but he was showing his age.

You never age, do you? ” he had said to Bobo, a decade after he had approached him in the bar. “I wondered, the day we made our deal. You looked exactly as I remembered you.”

Eddie had tried to pay him back, but Bobo had refused the money — instead, he requested for Eddie to keep a locked storage container in his garage, for the Revenant’s use when he came to the city. Before long, Eddie was acting as his unofficial travel agent, booking hotel rooms for him when he came to visit, making sure the items in the locker were kept clean and all accounted for.

“All done,” said Eddie, and handed him a folded piece of paper still warm from the printer, and a set of keys. “The car’s out back." Eddie looked up at him — gone were the days when they had been near eye-level, with Eddie’s shoulders stooping with age — and searched his eyes. “I worry about you,” he said. “You work too hard. Even immortals need a vacation, once in awhile.”

“I ain’t immortal,” said Bobo, but he allowed Eddie a hug — the old man felt brittle under his touch, and he wondered again how long it would be before he was once again alone.

“Travel safe,” said Eddie, as he always did, and Bobo slipped out the back door, trusting that Eddie would keep Jake from causing too much damage to his motorcycle.

It was a short drive to the hotel Eddie had chosen for him — the little black car was nondescript and clean, the way Eddie kept it, although the seats were a little more worn and the paint a little more faded. Bobo had been to the hotel before, and he smiled to himself as the valet took his keys. One of the more luxurious spots that Eddie had on file for acceptable destinations.

“This way, sir,” said the bellhop, once he had confirmed his reservation and the attendant had verified his name — that’s Mr. Edward McCready, yes? — led him to the elevator.

Once he had tipped the boy and closed the door, alone in the room, Bobo let out a heavy breath and rest his forehead against the door. There was little to speak of for privacy in the trailer park, not with thin walls and close quarters, and the sheer number of bodies wandering the park at all hours.

Here, though, in a hotel room under a fake name, and wearing strange clothes, Bobo could let go of all the burdensome responsibilities he toiled under day in and day out.

No Revenants whining and champing at the bit.

No Earps sneakily trying to cut down their numbers.

No Constance Clootie ragging on him to dig faster, dig deeper — find her boys.

Here in the hotel room, it was just a demon who had once been Robert Svane.

Bobo had a system — an almost ritual, of sorts. First, he had to check every room, every closet; any suspicious places where bugs might be hidden, or assailants hidden away. Once the room had been cleared, he moved on to the furniture: any moveable, unnecessary furniture, such as tables or vanities, were to be dragged in front of the door, which was to be locked, and bolted if that added security was available. This room had a antique, mirrored vanity, likely older than he was, and it was heavy enough that moving it across the shaggy carpet made him curse and set a sheen of sweat over his skin. It was solid, though, and when he pushed against it with it pressed against the door, it didn’t sway.

Next, the windows. They had to be locked as well, the shades drawn. This hotel had opted for heavy brocade curtains, and they were a satisfying weight in his hand when he tugged them closed. He switched on a single lamp by the bed to illuminate the room with a yellowed glow, and finally, finally began to undress.

The tan boots he left by the foot of the bed, rolling the socks and tucking them into the boots — an old habit, muscle memory. He laid the coat and jacket on the chair by the desk, and tugged his black shirt over his head, folding it loosely before draping it over the chair as well, and set the baseball cap on top for good measure. He stepped out of the jeans and let them pool to the floor, the fabric stiff from the accumulated dirt of his travels. They were due for a wash, but laundry days in the trailer park were few and far between — usually the familiars would reach their breaking point and just do it for them, when it became too much, but after Bethany’s death, Bobo had let his cleaning habits slide.

He walked naked to the bathroom and crouched by the bathtub — a huge, sumptuous thing, just what Eddie had known to ask for — and opened the faucet, letting the water spill forth until it ran hot enough to steam before he lifted the lever to stopper the drain. Some days he felt like the only thing keeping him from freezing was the hellfire burning through the brand on his back, and he reveled in the heat of the water.

“Shit,” he muttered, rising to his feet and stepping back into the main room, unzipping the duffel bag he had left on the foot of the bed and pawing through its contents until he found what he was looking for — a bar of soap wrapped in waxed paper and a small bottle of shampoo.

Back in the bathroom, the tub was nearly full, so he turned off the spigot and tested the water — hot enough to almost hurt, a gradual line of heat creeping up his skin as he submerged his hand. As an afterthought, he closed the bathroom door and locked it, too — it would buy him a few extra seconds should someone break through the door and get through the vanity — before stepping into the tub.

Bobo let out a groan as he submerged himself, leaning back and ducking his head under, relishing the burn of the near-blistering water on his cool skin, lifting his head to splutter as water ran up his nose and into his mouth. He spat, wiping his eyes as he sat up and rested his arms on the edge of the tub, watching the brown dye from his beard swirl in the water and dissipate. He would have to reapply the colour before he left, but for now it was satisfying to unwrap the bar of soap, inhaling the soft pine scent and rolling the bar in his hands to let the suds form, and use the fluffy, hotel-provided washcloth to scrub the dye from his beard and the dirt and sweat from himself until his skin was raw and pink.

The water had turned a murky grey and he opened the drain to let it gurgle down in an inverted cyclone, hissing at the cooler air and shivering for a moment until it was done and he could close the drain before he opened the faucet again, replenishing the steaming, clear water.

Only then did he open the bottle of scentless, combination shampoo and conditioner, squeezing a quarter-sized amount into his palm and working it through his hair until it was slick with soap. He let it sit for a while, relaxing against the side of the tub and letting the hot water soothe the tension from his muscles before sinking further into the water and massaging the soap from his hair. When his lungs began to burn for air he rose up again, settling back into a comfortable lounging position, and let his head fall back against the cool ceramic, closing his eyes and breathing in the hot steam and the scent of pine.

Bobo stayed in the water until it was more balmy than searing, until his shoulders no longer felt like the weight of the world rested on them — the water sloshed as he rose from the bath, and a decent amount splashed onto the floor. The full towels provided were even softer than the washcloth, and he groaned as he pressed one to his face, dripping on the tiled bathroom floor as the water drained from the bath. He gave himself a cursory rubdown before discarding the wet towel to the floor and snagging another from the shelf, wrapping it loosely around his waist before unlocking the bathroom door and sauntering into the bedroom.

The duffel bag was unceremoniously dumped to the floor before Bobo sprawled facedown on the bed, the towel slipping to indecent levels as he buried his face in the luxuriously opulent pillows, and there he stayed for a blessedly long time, simply breathing and savoring the simple, physical comfort of being clean in a clean bed.

It was hours later, by the clock on the wall, when he woke to find himself curled half under the down comforter, the towel tangled around his ass and between his legs. He rolled over onto his back and for once it didn’t hurt — he hadn’t used his telekinesis in days, and the hot water had helped the sore muscles that seemed chronic most days and just an annoyance the rest. He breathed in deeply, and out, allowing himself one blessed moment of peace, and slowly stretched his arms over his head, rolling his shoulders and curling his toes, shedding the lethargy of sleep until he felt loose and limber.

The peace wouldn’t last, but for now, as he let the towel slide to the floor and pulled on the spare jeans from the duffel, he could enjoy a semblance of normalcy, of being human for a brief moment again. He tugged on the black shirt again — it was clean enough — and folded the dirty jeans into the plastic grocery bag Eddie had tucked into the duffel for just the occasion. The socks from his boots joined the jeans, and he rolled clean ones on before lacing the boots and pulling on the flannel and coat, the fabric feeling coarse and irritating after the softness of the sheets. Almost as an afterthought he fished the little tin from the duffel bag and rubbed just enough of the dye into his beard to mask the white, checking the hue in the mirror once before calling it good enough to pass muster.

The Revenant dragged the wooden vanity away from the door and shoved it back where it had been, grinning at the trail of dust it had left on the clean white carpet, and shouldered the duffel bag before unbolting and unlocking the door. There was still some daylight left, enough for him to return the car to Eddie and drop off his duffel, and make it back to the trailer park before the twilight made the roads dangerous, to return before his absence could be viewed in a suspicious light.

The peace wouldn’t last, but it would keep him sane for just a little longer.

Just a little while longer, to get his lead…