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Lost Souls

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The full moon was out tonight...

I paused in my brisk walk down the empty, orange-lit street to briefly admire it. When was the last time I’d seen a full moon, and such a luminous one at that? I couldn’t remember. Which was a shame because the one up above me now looked nothing short of startling against the rest of the pitch black sky which had only a few dots of stars to light it up. One of the downsides of living in a town, I guess.

When my friend, Dawn, had invited me on a night out, I initially refused. I had a multitude of excuses on hand - I wasn’t a night person, I’d prefer to stay at home, in my PJs, binge-watching a show on Netflix - but, in the end, they were all in vain. My friend’s stubbornness had won out and here I was now, on my way to the meeting place.

Plucking my phone from my handbag, I checked the time only to groan lightly under my breath. Ten at night. Late. Too late, as far as I was concerned, though there were many, including my friend, who would disagree. ‘You act like an old woman,’ she’d probably jest.

I glanced over my shoulder. Maybe I should just go back and think up a good enough excuse for why I couldn’t come. Yeah, that sounds good…

Left to my own devices, I probably would have stood there debating what to do for god knows how long (the irony did not escape me). However, just then, I jumped as a loud noise broke through the silence.

I looked in the direction it had come from - one of the alleyways, it seemed. My first thought was that it might be a stray cat, but, looking closer, it seemed to be two men...

***

Blubbering fool. They always think they're so badass until they know they're about to die. This on in an alley behind a dumpster, no less.

After chasing him for miles from a college Halloween party I'd chosen to hunt at, I was in no mood to be merciful. I wanted the bastard to suffer the way he'd tried to make a young woman suffer when he'd forced himself upon her. His soul was a bountiful feast of falsehoods and malice. An entitled, privileged brat of a son to the mayor. He wouldn't be missed.

Oh, but what's this? What's a lass like that doing walking the streets alone?

“Please…” The frat boy whimpered, once so proud and full of machismo, now cowering pathetically on the ground. “Please, man, let me go. I-I’m sorry, I thought she was just playing hard to get. I-I-I swear I won’t do it again.”

And then he noticed the little beauty across the street, illuminated by a halo of street-light, and he shot to his feet and raced towards her. “HEY! Hey, you! Call the police! HELP ME!”

Predictable.

A tendril lashed out like a whip and wrapped around the ankle of that sniveling idiot, yanking him back into the darkness with me. Quickly, I grabbed him by the neck, choking the life out of him as I drank in his soul with such force that he shook and shuddered with pain.

I wasn't planning on an eat and go, but when your meal decides to try and escape, one has to improvise.

Footsteps padded in our direction from across the street. They wouldn't find us here. The lifeless husk was pitched into the dumpster, and I traveled upward to get a better view of my quarry.

***

Slowly, cautiously, I approached the alleyway where the noise had come from. In my right hand, I clutched my mobile phone, partly to help me see since the alley was sorely lacking in light (though a lot of good it did), but mostly in case I needed to call for help.

...God, I hope I don’t have to, I thought, faltering at the entrance. I still wasn’t entirely sure why I was doing this, why I hadn’t kept on walking like a smart person would. Did I want to be attacked or, worse, wind up dead? That proverb ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ didn’t exist for nothing!

Because you’re a decent human being who can’t ignore someone if they’re in trouble. I sighed, putting that line of thinking to rest. Pesky conscience.

I came to a stop as I reached a grotty dumpster that stunk to high heaven. From what little I could see, the alleyway was completely deserted. Odd because I could have sworn I heard a cry for help, and I knew I hadn’t imagined those two figures.

There was a dead end up ahead. The only way out was via the entrance and I would have seen them if they left that way.

So...where were they?

The more I pondered on it, the more things started to become a whole lot creepier.

Nope. Fuck this, I’m out! I shook my head and made to leave.

My mind was officially made up: I was definitely returning home now.

***

The fear that poured from her was so rich, so decadent, that it took all the restraint I possessed not to claim her then. And her soul...full of potential for corruption and ripe for the picking.

But this felt different from the others. It wasn't enough to simply tag it for later. I wanted to be near it, to be near her. I had no reason for it other than that it was intoxicating and alluring.

I followed her home, silent and unseen. Someone had to look out for her, after all.

***

The journey home was a quick, if not incredibly tense one. My fears ran wild, imagining danger round every corner, human or otherwise. I was fully aware of how irrational that sounded, but, given the circumstances, I think I could be excused just this once.

It wasn’t until I was through my front door and had drenched my house in light that I let myself relax.

Home, safe and sound.

I knew that come tomorrow I would be laughing over how much I’d scared myself over nothing. But, at this moment in time, I couldn’t have been more relieved to be back in the safety of my own home.

***

She's not much different from other meat sacks. Maybe a bit more pleasing to the eye, a bit smarter. But her soul…

If it had been anyone else, I wouldn't bother. Laying waste to the voids - dark souls - in the world, that's my business. Other demons lured humans into corrupting themselves, but some do that enough on their own. Either way, I clean up the worst of ‘em, leaving just enough for the groundlings below to torment as they please.

But souls, like this shiny bauble in the window, are in short supply. They're the kind that some would kill to corrupt. The type that would either make outstanding demons...or a delicious meal.

And as I watched her through the window as she settled in, I knew I was in for something interesting.

Or, perhaps, she was.

***

A contented sigh escaped my lips as I wrapped myself further into the soft duvet. My friend, no doubt, would call me sad, but I’d take being all snuggled up in bed with Bob’s Burgers or The Simpsons on in the background anyday over drinking shots in crowded, noisy nightclubs.

What could I say? It didn’t take much to please me.

Speaking of my friend, Dawn took my no-show to her girl’s night out better than expected. Thankfully, even she understood why I was so spooked out.

Fully settled in and secure in the knowledge that every window and door in the house was locked up nice and tight - nothing was getting in here - I turned off the light and closed my eyes. After getting myself so worked up earlier, I was now physically spent and could barely keep my eyes open.

It wasn’t long until I fell into a deep slumber.

***

I'd never wanted to peer into someone's mind more. Why not? The time was right. She's dead to the world, and her mind was wide open.

A second of thought, and I was inside her bedroom. Crawling up onto the ceiling, I came to a stop once I was looming over her prone form.

There are very few humans who are aware of us, who can proof their minds to keep us from messing around with them.

It's good strategy, except for two flaws: That kind of shit only works on low-level demons. And humans eventually have to sleep.

In sleep, defenses are completely down. The energy that it took to keep them up is depleted, and you have to recharge. So - unless you've miraculously come into possession of a powerful ward meant to keep all demons - including myself - away, here's a news flash: we most certainly can - and will - play havoc upon your dreams.

But not her. Not tonight, anyway. Just a little peek out of curiosity. A single touch to her temple and…

Oh. Oh…well, this is fascinating.

I could have fun with you, lovely bauble. I think I may have to keep you for myself.

I brushed a lock of hair from her face and mouthed an incantation. Nothing harmful, just a simple brand to hide beneath the skin. The message was loud and clear to any demon that happened upon her: PROPERTY OF THE DEMON KING.

Sleep well, lass. I'll see you soon.

***

I opened my eyes as the repetitive noise of my alarm clock broke through the birdsong outside and awoke me.

Not quite ready to get up and begin my day, I turned it off and continued to lay there, resting. As I did, last night’s short but vivid dream replayed in my head.

Rope. Lots of it. I’m trussed up like a turkey, gag in my mouth and unable to move my limbs. It’s both terrifying and intoxicating.
Hands gliding over my skin, bringing both pleasure and pain.
And eyes. Eyes as red as Hell itself, glowing, and sweet yet poisonous lips part against my throat...to reveal long, jagged teeth that bite into me.
Lord have mercy! Save me!

It’s a good thing dreams are privy only to the dreamer. If someone were to see the outrageous stuff my mind conjures up when I’m asleep, I think I’d die of embarrassment.

Having grown up an only child to unwaveringly strict God-fearing parents, I was deeply ashamed by my dreams and fantasies as I was raised to believe such things were sinful, that sex shouldn’t even cross my mind until I was married, and even then it was only to procreate, not for pleasure. To my mother and father, religion was a life-long prison sentence of prayers and repression, all to please a vengeful God so they wouldn’t go to Hell when they died. It was a belief they'd passed onto me, too.

I don’t speak to my parents anymore. The few I’ve mentioned this to find it quite saddening, but, for me, it was a bitter fact, one I couldn’t do anything about. (Plus, if I were honest, I was a happier person without them in my life.)

Fully awake, I stretched my arms and hopped out of bed, heading for the bathroom so I could make myself presentable.

***

People have this strange idea that demons hate the daylight. Like it frightens us or weakens us, or some other trite bullshit. Many actually quite enjoy the light. Sure, we can get up to so much more under cover of night, but there's a certain elegance to the mischief done in full view of Heaven and the angels.

What it comes down to is simple: choice. Humans have a choice. Whichever they choose, they are choosing a bedfellow for that moment. It's always a battle, one that no one else sees, and only one can win the day.

Because seriously, have you ever seen a demon and an angel coexist peacefully over a human soul? Strangest three-way you'd ever witness.

What I find surprising is it appeared that no one was clamoring over this particular soul. She's a unique case. No claim upon her for one or another. I wondered what set her apart, why she's flying under the radar.

It was a curiosity that only grew as I watched her begin the day.

***

Today is a good day, I thought to myself as I pushed the trolley around the supermarket and picked up the items on my shopping list.

As someone who enjoyed simple pleasures and tastes in life, the fact that it was a gorgeous day out - warm but not uncomfortably so, and a clear blue sky that stretched as far as the eye could see - made me very happy. I hadn’t planned to, but I decided, once I’d got my weekly shop out of the way, I’d pay a visit to my local park. On a day like this, it’d be a crime to stay cooped up.

“Aaand done.” I announced as I crossed the last of the items off my list. “Now to pay and get out of here.”

That had been the plan, at least until I neared checkout and ran into a familiar face.

“AJ? Is that you?” My eyes widened in shock. “Oh my God, I haven’t seen you in ages! How have you been?”

I recognised her, but barely. She’d changed since I’d last seen her a year ago. The AJ Lee of my memories was this sweet, docile woman, doe-eyed and brimming with innocence.  

But now... Now she lacked any of the softness she used to possess. Her brown eyes were cold, while her demeanor was one that was both sultry and hostile. She was as far from the AJ Lee I remembered as she could possibly get, so much so that I instantly regretted calling out to her and wanted nothing more than to turn around and hide down one of the aisles.

Thankfully, this didn’t happen. Twiddling her index finger around her long, black locks, she completely ignored me, skipping right into the arms of a man with platinum blond hair (her boyfriend, I presumed). “Dolphy, don’t leave me for too long next time. I missed you.”

“Babe, I was only gone for fifteen minutes.” Huh. I guess she doesn’t recognize me?

However, as the pair were leaving, she glanced over her shoulder at me with narrowed eyes, proving me wrong. She recognized me alright.

And then, as if things couldn’t get any weirder, a big smile randomly came over her face.  

I shuddered. That smile was unnatural. She looked unstable.

I was quick to pay and leave after that, just on the off-chance she decided to come back and strike up a conversation with me. I liked to think I was a good judge of character and I only needed to take one look at AJ to tell that she was now the type of person you should steer clear of.

She’s changed so much. I wonder what happened to her… I found myself pondering as I made my way back home.

***

Ah, AJ Lee. Classic case of vanity and lust. Beautiful, vibrant, ambitious. And incredibly conceited.

She wasn't always so. At one point, she had a rich, full life ahead of her. A fast-track to her dream career, a close-knit circle of friends, and a loving fiancé who shared her dream of white picket fences and the pitter-patter of tiny feet.

Until the day she made a new ‘friend’, someone who convinced her that she was making the biggest mistake of her life being tied down. Someone who shook up her perfect little world.

I'm rather proud of Paige’s work converting this one. Not just because of the awe-inspiring chaos that ensued upon AJ discovering her fiancé in flagrantè delicto with her work rival - impaling his beloved dog on a pike, destroying his beloved Mercedes-Benz with an ice pick, and setting his entire wardrobe on fire in front of his parents’ home - but because her mental stability was forever destroyed as a result.

Now, she was a temptress and bunny boiler of the worst kind. Her boyfriends were as disposable as Kleenex, her patience as thin as onion skin, and her heart as black as midnight to match the fading of her soul.

I’m looking forward to accepting AJ Lee into our ranks.

***

“Here you go, miss.” The ice-cream vendor said as he handed over a ice cream cone . “That’ll be $2.79.”

“Thanks!” I paid and resumed my walk down the path, enjoying the scenery.

I wasn’t the only one making the best of the good weather. To my right was the playground, filled with squealing children enjoying themselves. And to my left were families and couples, sitting in the field and having picnics.

As I strolled, I heard a loud whistle nearby - a catcall.

Looking behind me, I saw that it had come from a blondish-brown haired man who was lounging about with a group of his friends, drinking beer. A blush soon rose to my face when I saw that said catcall had been directed at me of all people. This was the first time something like this had happened and I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t wearing anything too revealing, just a simple floral dress, tights, cardigan, and flip-flops. Maybe it wasn’t so much what I was wearing as the fact that I was the opposite sex?  

Deciding to just ignore it, I continued on my way. My ice cream was melting at a shocking rate and I still had more of the park to see.

Fifteen minutes later and I heard footsteps approaching from behind and a voice with a Texan accent calling out. “Hey! Hey, you!” Turning around, my heart fell when I saw it was none other than the catcaller.

He came to a stop before me, expression indignant. “Where do you get off ignoring me like that, missy? I was complimenting you! Don’t you know who I am!?”

“No.” I said simply. If I continued to ignore him or antagonised him, things could potentially get real ugly. As it was, I’d wandered down into the more deserted section of the park…

“I’m John Bradshaw Layfield, and let me tell you, I’m a man who doesn’t like to be ignored. Especially by some little tease such as yourself! What, you think you’re better than me or something?”

Despite my growing worry, I stood my ground. “Look,” I said in a slow, steady voice, hoping it would calm the man down. “I’m sorry if I offended you.” I took a step back and made to leave. “Let’s just leave it that, okay? I don’t want any trouble.”

Before I could so much as take another step, his hand grabbed my arm, pulling me back. “Get your ass back here! You think I’m gonna let you just walk away after acting so uppity with me? Now, I suggest you show me the goddamn respect I deserve and and give me a real apology this time otherwise there’ll be plenty of trouble coming your way!”

Smack!

The second he put his hand on me, my mind fell into a panic and I acted on instinct, slapping him right across the face as hard as I could. I had hoped the shock of it would cause him to release me, but, unfortunately, it didn’t. If anything, his grip tightened to painful levels.

I gulped. Shit. I’m in trouble.

***

First, the shrew. Now, the fool. He would surely pay for what he's thinking of doing.

I'd come out from the alleyways and taken on my human form, dressed for the weather with my favorite leather jacket. (It should be noted that we demons don't put much stock into possessions. Doesn't mean we don't have our favorite items though.)

I crept up behind him, just as he was about to raise his hand to her in retaliation, and grabbed him by the shoulder to spin him forcefully around to face me.

“Hey fella, I'm pretty sure the lady said no.”

Red-faced and belligerent, he snarled, “Go find your own, kid - this one's off-limits!”

Calmly I replied, “To you, perhaps. You've been nothing but disrespectful since you saw her. If a lady says no, she means it and deserves to be listened to.”

“She's a snobby little bitch that needs to learn her place!” He shoved me back. Well, tried to. He pressed, but I would not be moved. The silly bastard kept trying though. It was all I could do not to laugh aloud.

I smirked instead at his frustration. I could smell the fear on him, pouring off in rivulets.

He turned in shock, following my movements as I stood between him and what was mine. I could practically see the cogs whirring in that brain of his, trying to figure out why his bullying tactics weren’t working like they usually did. It was a good thing the little lass was here because, if she hadn’t been, humiliation and a wounded ego would be the least of this Texas businessman’s worries.  

Look at him. Close to pissing himself. And I was willing to bet that all I needed to do to chase him off was to flash my eyes black and say, “Boo!”

Oh, would you look at that? It worked.

***

My heart thudded in my chest as I watched the loudmouthed, hot-tempered man turn on his heel and run away. I should have felt relief, but I didn’t. He’d been drinking with a group of men before he followed and harassed me. What’s to say he wasn’t planning to rally them together and return to cause more trouble?

I have to get out of here. Now.

Nervously, I called out to my saviour. “Erm, excuse me?” My impatience soon got the better of me and I tugged the sleeve of his black, leather jacket. “Come on,” I urged him. “Let’s get out of here before he comes back with his drunk friends.”

Without waiting for a response, I half lead, half pulled him out of the park entrance nearest to us and onto the street of houses. Once there, I kept my eyes firmly on the park, lest the man appeared.

“Hey, I’m sorry to be a pain, but co-could you walk me back to my house, please? Just in case he tries to follow me again?” I asked shakily. I was too afraid to go back alone, not after what had almost happened. I’d spend the whole walk fearing he was stalking me, waiting till the time was right to make his move.

***

I kept close as she asked. Surprised even me, if I'm honest. Her fear was sweet and trembling, a magnolia standing firm to a branch despite gale-force winds.

For her peace of mind, I stayed (and pretended to act) as a lookout for those drunk assholes.

No one followed. They wouldn't dare; shit, I'm more terrifying than anything out here.

As we drew closer to her place, I could tell she was less tense than before, yet not completely certain. Carefully I asked, “You alright, lass?”

***

I drew out a shaky breath at his question. “Not really. At least I won’t be until I’m back home.” Somewhere amidst the panic, in the back of my head, I thought: He’s Irish. God, I love the accent. It was largely drowned out by my worry, but it was there.

After walking for what felt like forever, my small detached house came into view around the corner and I let out a sigh, the tension leaving me. Now I could relax.

“Oh my God, that was so scary!” I half laughed, half gasped, burying my face in my hands. Even now, I couldn’t believe how quickly things had escalated, how close I’d come to getting seriously hurt or worse. “I can’t believe that really happened, I just can’t!”

And then I remembered that this man was the reason I was standing here now, safe and unharmed, rather than lying in a hospital bed and I turned to properly address him.

“Thank you so, so much for saving me back there. If you hadn’t come when you did, I don’t even want to think about what might have happened. Is there anything I can do to repay you?” I told him sincerely. “Erm, what is your name anyway…?”

Now that I was no longer preoccupied with my safety, I was finally able to get a decent look at the good samaritan who had stepped in when others would have simply walked away.

I wasn’t prepared.

Oh. Oh wow. He’s gorgeous.

Whatever I had planned to say next died in my throat, too busy admiring the man before me. Soft dark hair and beard, striking glacial blue eyes, and a lean, chiseled body that took one's breath away at the sight of it… Add in the fact that he was Irish and had one hell of a sexy timbre and it was fair to say I was blown away.

Jesus Christ! Is he a model or some movie star? It should be illegal to be that attractive!  

And then, before I could stop myself... “I love your eyes. They’re so pretty,” I murmured, unable to stop staring.

Congratulations, you probably weirded him out. This is why you can’t have nice things!

***

I huffed a laugh. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. It was actually quite adorable watching her fawn and trip on her words. And, despite what her mind tried to make her believe, I wasn't bothered or ‘weirded out’ at all. It was normal for humans to be beguiled by demons. We were there to tempt them, after all.

I took a look into her expressive, entranced eyes, being charming without being invasive. “Same can be said of you.” I held out a hand in greeting. “I'm Finn Bálor. And you are?”

***

Did he just compliment me back? He thinks I have pretty eyes, too?

...Yeah right. He’s probably just being polite.

“My name’s Teagan. Teagan Dunn.” I smiled back, shaking his hand. It felt positively huge in my petite one, his slightly calloused fingers practically swallowing up my digits. The handshake itself was firm, stronger than I anticipated.

Finn Bálor. I repeated the name in my head. Nice name. It suits him.

He was well within his rights to leave me then and there, his duty done, but he didn’t. Instead, he continued to walk alongside me until we reached my front porch.

I opened the white door before turning back to him. I knew this was the point where we parted ways, but I really didn’t want that to happen. “Thanks again, Mr. Bálor. I’m really sorry if I kept you from anything important, like your family or friends…” And then, shamelessly testing the waters, “...or girlfriend.”

Ah, who am I kidding? Of course he does.

***

Direct, yet subtle. I liked Teagan Dunn already.

“That's thoughtful of you, Teagan, but I wasn't off to meet anyone. And I'm sure my girlfriend would be plenty pissed off...if I had one.”

I leaned in a bit closer, raising a had to the side of my mouth as if telling a secret. “Frankly, if keeping a lovely woman like yourself safe from rude bastards is enough to set her off like that, I wouldn't want her anyway.” And then I winked at her.

I could tell she wasn't believing that this conversation was happening, that she felt she wasn't deserving. Whoever affected her self-esteem like this was getting a one-way ticket to the pit if I had a say in the matter.

“Oh and please, call me Finn.”

***

“Cu-Cut it out,” I stuttered, very nearly laughing in his face at such an absurd statement.

I was trying very hard to keep a hold of myself, but failing abysmally. Was it because he was standing so close to me (what a lovely, pleasing scent he had)? Or was it his flirtatious ways? Probably both.

Hope sprung up inside me at the mention that he was single. Shock soon followed, because how the heck did a man looking like him not have a girlfriend? I suppose it could be he just wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. Or, looking at it more cynically, maybe he was something of an Irish Don Juan, not boyfriend material at all.

That’s fine. Not like I have a chance with him anyway. I thought bitterly.

And yet, despite this...I still wanted to give it a shot. I spent my whole teenage years letting my crushes pass me by because I thought there was no way any of them could be interested in a girl like me (a side-effect of being raised by my mother). And, besides, Finn seemed like an alright guy. I figured even if he did turn me down, at least he wouldn’t make me feel like shit in the process. That was one silver lining, right?

I steeled myself, then took the shot. “Hey, Finn, listen. I know you’re probably sick of me already, but if...if you’re not busy, would you…”

Do it! Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. DO IT, DAMN YOU!!

“Wo-would you like to get some coffee sometime?” I finally managed to blurt out, face aflame. It was all I could do to meet his blue gaze.

Of course, as soon as I did, I lost my nerve and went into damage control. “Bu-But if you don't - and I totally understand if that’s the case, really - I mean, I’m not asking you out or anything! It’s just coffee, my way of saying thank you.”

“It’s okay if you don’t want to. I...I just thought I might as well ask, you know?” I finished, already gearing myself up for disappointment.

***

“I'd love to, Teagan.” It wasn't even a question. It was, however, exactly the invitation I'd been looking for. She was clearly enamored, and I hadn't needed to lie to her once. Yet.

“Do you have a place in mind?”

***

“Wait, what?” I blurted out with what had to be the most undignified response ever. I couldn’t help it, though. I was so sure that he was going to reply with a “I’m flattered, but…” or a “I’ll have to get back to you...”, that to hear that he’d actually accepted, and with a “I’d love to” at that, took awhile for me to accept.

When it did, I just stood there, mentally screaming Oh my god! Oh my god! over and over in my head. This was really happening. I’d actually just managed to land myself a date with a ridiculously good looking man like Finn Bálor!

I shook myself back to reality at his question. “Erm...the Starbucks round the corner? There’s also a Costas nearby, if you’d prefer that instead…?”

***

“Starbucks sounds good, actually. Maybe more so because of the pleasant company I get to be around,” I said with a light smile as I held her gaze.

This really was too easy. “Does tomorrow afternoon work for you?”

***

Hey, for you, anytime works. “Sure!” I nodded, unable to stop myself from grinning.

Unwillingly, I tore my eyes from him and stepped into the hallway of my house. “So, erm, I guess I’ll meet you there round one tomorrow, okay?” I waved to him as I slowly closed the door. “Bye.”

The second the door was closed, I silently whooped and jumped up and down. I must have looked like such an idiot, but I really didn’t care.

I’d been wrong about today. It hadn’t been a good day.

It had been a great day!