Los Santos was a popular city amongst the supernatural community for two reasons. One: it was off the mainland that allowed the supernatural community to gather together in droves without pissing off human mobs. And two: the only humans who would ever tangle with a coven of witches or a pack of werewolves were the ones that could hold their own. So Los Santos thrived with crime and black market deals. There was the appeal of lawlessness in the town that made it desirable for the world’s undesirables.
Which was why Gavin considered it his home.
He came to this country five years ago. After some failed attempts at finding work and getting desperate, he was spontaneously hired on by a man named Geoff. He was in need of an assistant type person.
Which was exactly how he explained it.
“You know, just to run errands for me. Get some things from people I have dealings with. You feel me?”
He didn’t, not at first, but Gavin took the job anyway because he needed money and, well, there was something persuasive about Geoff’s attitude.
Gavin was human in a city full of the supernatural. He should’ve been more concerned about that fact. While most supernats (the shortened form for the community) wouldn’t prey on a suspecting human, there was always the one off exception to the rule. A prowling, feral vampire. A rabid, mangy werewolf. A predatory fae. Or, if you were unlucky enough, a demon.
But Gavin didn’t come to this city unprepared. He knew how to keep himself safe. What spells worked best. What charms he’d need to wear, and how to keep people out of his apartment, which was the safest place for him to be at any point in time.
After a few weeks of running ‘errands’ for Geoff, he was surprised that the other man came to visit him at his apartment. He was dressed casually, but threw a jacket over top of his band shirt.
“Hey, Geoffrey, what’s, uh, up?” Gavin was always slightly wary of people who came to his apartment. He had a list of people he had explicitly invited in before so he knew if they were supernat or not. You could never be too careful.
“I’d like to discuss something with you. A proposition if you will.” Then he looked down the hallway in both directions. “Can I come in? It’s, uh, a private matter.”
“Um.” Gavin blinked. Yeah, Geoff was nice. He paid well and he never asked more than what Gavin was willing to do. He was quite fair as bosses could be, but there was something about him that made Gavin look twice.
And now, in good lighting, unobstructed, Gavin made out the colour of his eyes. A very deep, dark red. More burgundy than anything, but it was the distinct colouring of a vampire’s eyes. They’d be blood red if he needed to feed or if he were in a rage, but they were just a calm dark red.
Inviting a vampire was a serious commitment. Because it meant—in the vampire understanding—they could come and go as they pleased. Depending on how old Geoff might be could mean that every once in a while Gavin might have an unwelcome vampire roommate.
But Geoff had done nothing for Gavin to mistrust him or fear him. So Gavin said, “Yeah, sure. Come on in.” He stepped back into his own apartment.
Geoff didn't try to rush past him. In fact, he even stayed right near the door, only a few paces from the exit so Gavin wouldn't feel like he was taking advantage of the invitation. Not trying to stake his claim on a place that wasn't his. Vampires could be very territorial. Especially the old ones. So maybe Geoff wasn't actually that old.
"I'm putting together a few people," he started. His eyes tracked Gavin as he fiddled within his kitchen, cleaning up the remains of his dinner.
(He wondered if Geoff liked to eat vicariously through his friends. Surely, food must be a missed luxury.)
"People for what?"
"A crew. Some thieves. Some muscle. Some good at logistics."
"A crew for what?" Gavin was intrigued. Geoff was pretty good at delivering on his promises, and so far, Gavin was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"You ever fancy yourself a Robin Hood type?"
"Steal from the rich? Give to the poor?"
Geoff shrugged. "And maybe skim from the top. Just a little bit. For, uh, living comforts and such."
It was a dubious proposal, but Gavin wanted to hear him out, so he invited Geoff to sit at his small kitchen table with room enough for two wooden chairs. Geoff laid it out before him. They'd start by working odd jobs offered by someone else. A woman named Ashley who was interesting in hiring out for some of her work. But she needed someone she could trust, she'd said. And she'd known Geoff for a while and that Geoff knew the right amount of people to make a crew work without too many egos getting involved.
"All right," Gavin said once he had all the fine details. "Next question is, who do you have in mind?"
Geoff had four other people in mind. Plus a selection of others if his top picks fell through, or if he needed an extra set of hands.
The first was his longtime partner--in life and in crime--Jack. A banshee, that had, at one point, been attached to Geoff's family as a protector. Even after Geoff had become a vampire, she stuck around.
(She'd saying something to Gavin much later on like "He would've been staked a dozen times by now if it weren't for me. Motherfucker doesn't have a sense of self-preservation. In fact, it's even gotten worse since he became immortal.")
The second was Michael, a shapeshifter that preferred the form of a bear because what's more terrifying than an 800 pound grizzly bear in the suburbs?
The third was Jeremy. A magic user of some sort. Geoff hadn't figured out the details, but there were rumors swirling around him that he dabbled in blood magic and dark magic. That he apparently sold his soul to a devil.
"He also has a quirk about talking in the third person," Geoff added. "Annoys the fuck out of me."
And that left Ryan as the fourth member of their merry band. "I think he's a ghoul? Or possibly an undead. Got a wicked scar across his neck, so I don't think he's human. He's a bit odd, but he's good. Reliable. Likes to wear masks though, and I haven't figured out if that stops or continues on into the bedroom."
After putting the pieces together, Gavin came to the quick realization that he would be the only human on this team. "And is there a reason why that is? It's not like I got any super strength or nifty skills." A small part of his brain said he was going to end up as a human blood bag.
"But that's the best part," Geoff said. "One human. Five supernats. You can pass alongside us undetected. Go where only a human can. And before you jump to conclusions, I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want to. You feel bad about a situation, I'm going to trust your gut instinct, okay?"
Gavin was being given a considerable amount of pull in this situation. He liked his odds, so he said, "When do we start?"
Like any other human living in a dense population of supernats, Gavin had his wards and charms. When he first moved to Los Santos, he carried a backpack around with him everywhere he went. Filled with enough stuff to keep him safe for every possible supernat encounter. Now, he just carried a bit of iron with him because he found fae to be the worst and most mischievous. Even if they didn't want to hurt you, they would still deceive you in some way, so Gavin didn't want to risk it. Not when he was without a support network for the first few months he lived there.
He used to carry around a bottle of holy water as well. He'd never seen or met a demon in the flesh before, but stories and rumors said you never wanted to. Better to 'splash and dash' as the saying went.
But as it was, crowdsourced Reddit pages said there hadn't been a sighting of a demon on the San Andreas state in decades, so Gavin started to leave the holy water behind at the house in an easily accessible place for the possible 'what-if' scenarios.
He met the additions to Geoff's crew. It took a while for them all to warm up to each other. He found he clicked with Michael easily. Michael, who was quite gruff at the start, was a ball of sunshine at the end. He was energetic and liked to make Gavin laugh. They fit well together and Michael, at some point, made it his mission to keep Gavin safe. Always threw an arm in front of him if they were coming across some testy supernat or gang on the streets.
Jack was the same way. She was strong-willed, opinionated, but when nothing was going on, she really liked to kick back and relax. Geoff wasn't kidding when he said she was a banshee. When she needed to use her voice to take control of a room, she'd do it without remorse. That and she was constantly hauling Geoff back by the collar of his shirt whenever he was going to do something particularly dumb.
Jeremy was peculiar. When he was very into his work--be it stuff for the crew or his own personal 'side projects'--he was one track minded. Hardly paid any attention to what was going around him. Gavin tended to avoid him when he was in these moods. He offered a drop of blood to Jeremy once, and after that, he knew to steer clear when he was practicing his magic. But beyond that, he was a ball of fun. A bit chaotic. A bit messy at times, but he did his best and that counted for something.
And then there was Ryan. Ryan didn't make a lot of sense. He was like a bunch of pieces sewn together that made a human. And he wasn't talking about the literal scars on his body that made it look like he was a necromancer's project gone wrong. No. Ryan was something else. He was terrifying when he was 'in character', which meant he had his black skull mask on, black face paint around the eyes, and stiff leather jacket. He laughed like he was madness. He had an intense focus whenever he was on the job, to the point that it was terrifying. But when he was off the clock, Ryan was a . . .
He was a huge dork.
He fumbled over the simplest words, which Michael, Jeremy, and Jack teased him for relentlessly. He had what looked like an addiction to Diet Coke. He was very smart about computers. In fact, he started out as the computer guy for when Geoff needed alarm systems to be handled before Gavin proved himself to be of use in that department.
It made Gavin wonder if Ryan was a modern supernat. You could usually tell with the older ones. Like how they would have memory gaps or come to a realization that some new form of technology had been invented even if it'd been around for twenty years already. But Ryan was hip to all the trends, so maybe he'd been around for a few decades.
But then there was the incident.
"Hey, Ryan," Jeremy said. "Do you have a buttfor?"
"Buttfor?" Ryan asked, frowning. "What does that mean?"
And like kids on a playground, they pounced on him.
So Ryan wasn't that in tune with modern jokes. Stuff that's definitely been around for the last three or four decades. So he might just be mid-century or a bit older.
When he was off the clock, he was intriguing. He knew a lot of random facts and enjoyed in sharing them with other people. He liked to play games with the others and he had a good working relationship with all of them. As a group and individually.
Gavin started to worry less about Ryan when they started to work together more closely. Ryan seemed to have it in him to protect whoever he was paired up with. Protect to an almost violent extreme. He'd put himself in any situation that was considered dangerous because he said, "Oh I can take it." He'd come back a little bloodied and bruised, but he'd be smiling. He liked the danger, it seemed, but it made Gavin wonder what he really was.
"So what is it then?" he asked because he couldn't sit on the question any longer. He knew it could be seen as crossing a line. Invading into someone's privacy, but he felt close enough to Ryan to ask these questions and he already knew there was something up about him.
They were stuck in a van together, on watch for the others, so it was only natural that these sort of questions would come up. And to Ryan's credit, he decided to play along. "What's what?"
"You. You're . . . Geoff said you were either a ghoul or an undead. So which is it?"
"Well, I don't really need to eat human flesh to live, so I guess undead?"
"What? You mean you don't know? And what do you mean by 'you don't really need to'? What kind of cryptic bullshit is that?"
Ryan shrugged. "Never liked the label aspect of it." Then his mouth formed a wicked smirk. "And who's to say if I've tried human flesh or not? There's certainly a market for it."
"Now you're just being weird on purpose."
"Guilty as charged. No, but, uh, living dead is probably closest to what I am. Even if I don't know."
Gavin turned his head to look at Ryan. It was dark outside and they didn't have any of the interior lights on so it was hard to make him out in full detail. "How do you not know?"
"Being dead, it's . . . it's hard to think of that moment. When you actually die. Because it's like falling asleep. You're not aware of the moment you fall asleep until you wake up. And hours have passed and you might be somewhere different. I don't really know what happened. If someone did something to my body afterwards, I'll never know. But I'm here now and I'm okay with it."
Gavin angled his body further towards him. He had a lot of questions. There was a lot he didn't know about undead because the science often got mixed up with myth and it was hard to find the truth in it all.
"What are you thinking?" Ryan asked.
"I can see you have your thinking face on."
"My thinking—you can't see. It's dark in here. You can't see that."
"I have twenty-twenty vision in every setting, baby." Gavin could feel the wink and he laughed to brush off the nerves.
"Hey, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, we're heading out. You better be there when we get out."
Michael's rough talk broke the moment and Gavin repositioned himself in his seat.
"Guess we have to cut our 20 Questions game a bit short," Ryan said. "But don't you worry. Pretty sure you still have seventeen left."
"Of course you would count."
Ryan turned the keys in the ignition and the van started with a low rumble. "Someone has to."
Gavin began his research phase two weeks into their little . . . thing. He didn't know if Ryan was flirting on purpose or if that's just how he was in life. But needless to say, Gavin started to research undead in earnest. They were different from ghouls and nowhere near zombies. Ghouls were souls inhabiting dead bodies, not necessarily their own. Zombies were enchanted dead bodies without souls, which explained how mindless they were. Undead were bodies declared dead but for some reason—magical or divine—the soul tethered itself to the body and couldn't leave. They were considered immortal, but could still go through the motions as any other human even if everything they felt was muted. Dulled. They didn't hunger in the same way. They didn't get sick. They hardly felt pain. They were considered to be quite unstoppable, but it was said to be a miserable experience.
There were discussion forums online about partners of undead and undead interested in loving their partners. Because they were considered 'clinically' dead, there were a lot of things undead couldn't really do. Their hearts beat sluggishly. Their blood ran cold, and when you were trying to be, well, intimate that made things difficult.
'my partner [M34] and i [G32] are trying to have sex. he's undead and we're trying to find ways for him to get it up in the bedroom. does anyone have any suggestions on viagra equivalents for undead couples??'
' i [F33] have been undead for a few decades and i've found someone i really love. it's hard for me to be intimate because my libido is so low. i don't even like to masturbate because it's not like anything happens down there. but i really want to try this time around. any suggestions for an old bugger like me?'
It did bring up some interesting questions at the very least. But questions that Gavin wasn't going to ask any time soon. He was just curious.
"So do you still need to breathe then?"
Ryan shrugged. "It's hard to tell. You know how most of the time you're going through life unaware that you're breathing in general? It's kind of like that, I guess."
It was late. Gavin couldn't sleep. He was still at Geoff's condo, and Ryan was up with him.
"Do you need to sleep or is that just for kicks?"
"I like to think I sleep. I'm not sure if my brain needs it since I'm technically dead and all. Sometimes I just like to drive around town."
Gavin stretched out on the floor. The rug was thin. The hardwood floor beneath bit into his shoulder blades. Ryan tossed him a pillow.
"Have you ever asked anyone about what you could do about it?"
"A little. There weren't any clear answers." He didn't elaborate.
"How'd you meet Geoff then?"
At this Ryan laughed. It was a cute laugh if he did say so himself. "It's, uh, funny story. It was back in the sixties when cults were a popular thing. Geoff was out in the desert following one for shits and giggles and got lost. I found him out there, half starved, so he bit me and yelled at me for my nasty tasting blood. Got him out of there eventually."
"Jack wasn't around then?"
"No, met her after, though. She lost track of him and we sort of kept in touch even since. How'd you get here though?"
"Well," Gavin said, staring up into the dark. "I don't think there's much to it. Not much of a life left there for me."
"England has lots of fairies doesn't it?"
"Is there a difference?"
"Linguistically sure. I'm surprised there aren't that many fae in this country. You ever meet any fae here?"
"Once or twice. Only looked at them from afar. Decided they were too much trouble. Now, demons, though. This country has more than its fair share."
"Yeah? Why do you think that is? I've never had any run-ins with demons before."
"England has old buildings, sure, but this country is huge. Lots of history and cultures. Different beliefs fighting against each other. Lot of chaos for a demon to find a place there. Wouldn't want to meet one of them, though." Ryan stretched his hand over the edge of the couch and bumped into Gavin's raised knee. The touch left a slight tingle in its wake.
"Why's that? You speak like you have experience."
"Well, I've seen one before. It was when I was in Georgia. I grew up there. On a farm. Watched my parents drag it out of the Great Depression by the skin of their teeth. A lot of people left then, so a lot of farms were abandoned. A lot of buildings left to rot. So there was this church, and I went by it. Curious as to what might still be behind. Any loose change in the collection plates or something. And I guess something about unconsecrated ground is appealing to them. Newly abandoned by its flock and god. It was up there in the rafters, this dark, inky shadow that crept along the ceiling. It didn't really have a form, but I felt it looking at me, and we just stared at each other until I left. Never went back there."
Gavin leaned his knee against the couch, coincidentally leaning against Ryan's hand. "You know a lot about this stuff, don't you? Supernat and what not."
Ryan's hand twitched against his knee. "I've had time to look into it. There weren't that many communities around where I grew up. All of us farmers, human. Religious and God-fearing, so there wasn't much time to look into it. And then I . . . died and I had to make it on my own. So I started to do research, found some people to travel around with and I learned as I went."
"Do you miss it? Being human?"
"Sometimes. But it's been a while. Decades, so I don't really know if I know what being human is like anymore."
"So what's with the Diet Coke then? I assume you can’t really taste and you don’t eat much."
"It’s true. I don’t really need to eat? My metabolism is just really slow so it takes me forever to digest stuff. And as for the Diet Coke? I just like the bubbles. Carbonation is fun."
Gavin found himself smiling. "You're a weird dude, you know that?"
"Oh, I know."
Gavin yawned and stretched his arms above his head, arched his spine. "What made you get into this life then? Crime and all."
"Boredom. I may be immortal, but I'm not indestructible. This just seemed like a lot of fun."
"What's with the mask then? I mean, yeah, it's terrifying from afar, but it's cheesy now."
"I think people are just as intrigued by skeletons as they are afraid of them. When you find one, you wonder what happened there. You fear for a moment before you walk closer and closer until you no longer see the danger line."
It was a lot to hear in that moment. A lot to consider.
"Surprised a country hick like you can speak so eloquently."
Ryan nudged his leg. "That's country bumpkin to you, sir."
This time Gavin laughed. "If someone offered you the answers to you being a living dead, would you take that chance?"
Ryan breathed deeply. "I think so, yeah. Wouldn't you?"
Gavin blinked. "Never thought about it that way." He closed his eyes, started feeling drowsy. "Are you happy here, Ryan?" he asked softly.
"Yeah, Gavin, I am."
See, they were friendly with each other and the others in the crew knew it. Michael was a horrendous tease and gossip about it, but he treated Gavin like a younger brother. It was a dynamic that worked.
But whatever Ryan and Gavin had between them—chemistry, a good working relationship—Gavin didn't act on it. He didn't know how or if he should. He didn't know if Ryan would return the sentiment. He saw how he acted around the others. It looked the same to him. He was laid back, relaxed, joking with the others as he would with Gavin. And Gavin wasn't hurt by this. He wouldn't say that he was. That would make him feel petty. He was friends with Ryan. And he would prefer to keep it that way if he could. He liked Ryan's company.
A few months into Geoff's arrangement with his so called friend Ashley, they'd gotten comfortable with things. They started getting more regular work, a lot of stuff that was higher profile too. One day they got the heads up that they needed to do a bit of undercover work. Geoff had learned there was another crew in town. Had been for a while now and they were only catching wind of it.
"They're original to the city. Means it's probably a crew of supernats, so we have to deal with this carefully," Geoff said. "Right now it's just reconnaissance. Figure out the danger and if we need to be concerned."
"What sort of reconnaissance?" Jeremy asked. "Because I can be stealthy, sure, but it's not the way I like to go, you know?"
"Jeremy, you are the least stealthy person in this room," Jack said. "Besides these guys are going to know when a blood mage comes running around their place. You ooze."
"Yeah, you're an oozer," Geoff said. "Sorry you had to find out this way, buddy. Besides. We already chose our dynamic duo for the job. Gavin and Ryan over there."
Gavin sat up straight at the mention of his name. "Oh, really?"
"The crew operates a high dining restaurant as a cover," Jack explained. "We need you two to pose as a couple and go in for surveillance. See if there are any wards or spells on the place."
"And why those two?" Michael asked. "No offence, but out of the six of us, those two don't really have any special abilities."
"And that's the beauty of it," Geoff said. "A human and one guy that's mostly human. At least by our standards. Figured we just tape a hot water bottle to Ryan's chest and make him a bit warmer."
"Doubt that's going to work, but I'll give it a try," Ryan said.
"Gavin?" Geoff said and Gavin suddenly realized all eyes were on him. "What do you think? You up for a little Mr & Mrs Smith action?"
"Ugh, sure. Yeah, I'd love to do it."
"Perfect! You guys have a reservation in a week. I'd suggest you two start working on your back story."
This wasn't what Gavin had anticipated for a Friday night, but he found himself standing outside La Maison de Amusante, a high end French restaurant with insane reservation times and a gorgeous front entrance. It was in the older part of the city where the buildings were made of brick—tall, narrow, and pressed together on all sides. The windows out front were tall and narrow, showcasing the open concept interior of the restaurant and the soft light of the lamps on each of the tables. It definitely felt cozy. Plus it was a nice distraction from how Ryan's hand felt on his lower back.
They had parked the car a block away and walked up together on the street. First, hands linked together loosely, and then a guiding pressure on his back as they near the entrance. Gavin didn't know if he was going to combust on the spot later tonight. Why did he say yes to Geoff on this? Posing as a couple? It was only his fantasy come to life only that his fantasy partner didn't return his feelings.
"Looks gorgeous, doesn't it?" Ryan said. His tone had changed since they had walked from the car. There was this hint of adoration in his words, and he looked at Gavin like he hung the moon, and Gavin could get used to looks like this. But he knew it was a one-time deal.
(Maybe. Maybe not. Not if Geoff wanted them on more assignments like this. And then maybe they could become an actual Mr & Mrs Smith couple.)
"I can't believe you chose this place, love," he said and he couldn't help the pet name there. It just felt natural.
"Oh, anything for you. It was worth the wait." Ryan gave him a sultry little wink, a big smirk fixed on his face, and he looked handsome. He looked beautiful, and Gavin knew that he was in love with him.
They entered the building and waited at the threshold to be seated. Ryan didn't let his hand drop. In fact, he dragged it over Gavin's shoulders, leaving him to feel warm and over sensitized.
A waiter comes up to the podium before them, smartly dressed in black slacks, a red wine vest, and a long-sleeved black shirt. His profile fit more a bouncer than a waiter with the broad shoulders and well sculpted facial hair. But he smiled, and his eyes crinkled and his voice carried that faux-eager customer service lilt to it, but Gavin didn't get any bad feelings from him. Not based on all the charms he was wearing underneath his suit. He knew Ryan was also packing a few things. Iron, for one. And silver to keep away any predatory vampires and werewolves.
"Welcome to La Maison de Amusante," the waiter said. "How can I help you?"
"We're here for a reservation," Ryan said. "Haywood. For two."
The waiter scanned the list in front of him and nodded eagerly. "Of course. We have a table set up for you in the back. Follow me if you could." The waiter cut his way through the room expertly and showed Gavin and Ryan to their tiny but quaint table. The waiter then set two menus down in front of them. "James will be with you in a moment. I hope you enjoy your evening."
"Thank you," Gavin said. He took the excuse to look through the menu and distract himself. He felt flushed. Ryan's foot was pressed up against his, and Gavin didn't want to move.
"Haven't eaten French in a while," Ryan said. "We should get dessert. I'm just saying, I'm all in for a meringue."
Gavin smiled. "We haven't even had the first course yet. Forgot you were such a sweet tooth."
"You should know," Ryan said with a smile that was saying more than it was letting on.
(It was part of the act, he had to remind himself. The touches, the looks. Part of the act.)
"Oh, darling. I do.” He threw in a wink just to be cheeky about it.
Their moment was interrupted when their waiter arrived. A tall, blond hair, blue eyed living Adonis with a trim waist all encased in the standard get-up. Gavin had to blink twice to look away.
"Welcome! I'm James. I'll be your waiter for tonight. Can I get you two gentlemen anything to drink?"
"I'll take a Diet Coke if you have it," Ryan said. "And the gentleman across from me will have a beer. Craft if you have it."
"Oui monsieur," James said with an impeccable French accent. "I'll be right back with your orders."
(He could be French. Maybe one of those statues from the Louvre come to life. Those cheekbones certainly look like they were cut from marble . . . Wait. How did he get on this train of thought?)
When James turned and left, Gavin felt as if the spell or whatever that was had been broken. Ryan nudged his leg, stretched out his hand along the table. "You good?" Gavin set his hands on the table, tried to relax. He felt Ryan's fingers on the top of his hand, tracing the veins there.
"Just distracted," he said, because he wasn't sure what to call it.
(Ryan's fingers were distracting.)
"You think he's something?" Ryan asked, dropping his voice to a whisper, still looking at Gavin like he was in love, keeping up appearances.
"Maybe, I . . . something strong on that guy."
"Oh?" Ryan's eyebrows rose up. Then he smiled. "Do I have to be jealous?"
Gavin laughed and the tension in his chest broke a little. "Oh, no. I have my hands full with you."
James returned with their drinks and set them down before them. "Have you had a chance to look at the menu, or would like a few more minutes?"
"I think we're good now," Ryan said, smiling softly in Gavin's direction. He hadn't yet removed his hand.
"Excellent. Well, let's start with the gentleman on my right then."
When they had their orders in, they made idle small talk. Speaking of their 'co-workers', things they were looking forward to, new life advents they wanted to inform each other about. Gavin was starting to feel like he knew Ryan better. He knew of his interests and his dislikes. He loved reading terrible sci-fi, hated the actor Sean Penn. He liked keeping up with pop culture, but liked older phrases and slang because he didn't get the language and how quickly it moved in this day and age.
"I don't know what 'yeet' means and at this point I'm too afraid to ask," he said.
"Did you miss out on Vine too?"
"Oh, my god, Ryan, you and I need to have a serious talk after this because you missed out."
It was fun just to talk like this. Enough fun that Gavin forgot what he was really here for. And then Ryan stood up from the table. He blinked. "Where are you going?"
"Just to wash up," Ryan said and gives him a soft smile and then Gavin understood. He meant to do some looking around. "I'll be back soon. Don't wait up." He pressed in close and gave Gavin a soft kiss on the cheek. Just a quick press of the lips on skin, but it was enough to make Gavin blush and giggle to himself like he was five years old.
He watched Ryan leave and took another sip from his beer. If it was a craft brew, it was good. There was this underlying hint of sweetness to it that he liked.
"And how have you been finding things to your liking?"
He was startled by James's sudden appearance. For a moment everything faded away--the chatter of the other customers, the soft music being played over the speakers.
"Everything's great," he said. "This beer is amazing. Is it from a local brewery?"
James nodded. "Home brew actually. A secret recipe." He added a wink and Gavin found himself smiling. He took another sip.
"Oh, come on," he said. "I won't tell anyone."
"Oh." James crossed his arms. "Is that a promise? Well, I guess one look wouldn't hurt. Come. Follow me."
And Gavin stood and followed him. He couldn't explain why. He just did. It felt . . . right.
James led him to the back of the dining floor, past all the other tables and servers like it didn't matter. Like they wouldn't be noticed.
Gavin was led out onto the back patio. He didn't know this place had a back patio, but it was beautiful. Like a whole different world. A lattice had been erected over top so that vines and creeping flowers could grow over top of its structure. Fairy lights had been hung to create an alluring atmosphere. There were more people back here, exclusively couples from the looks of it. They all seemed to be enthralled with each other, eyes only for whoever was sitting across from them.
James led him to the very back of the patio to where a large, long table had been set up, laden with food and drinks. On the center sat a large wooden cask from which James poured a new glass of beer. Or mead maybe. Maybe that's what this was. Why it had such a sweet aftertaste. He turned and offered it to Gavin.
"The best stuff for you," he said with a wink. Gavin blinked sluggishly. "Go on, take a drink. I promise, it'll take your breath away."
Gavin raised his hand, which felt heavy as lead. Everything felt as if it were glazed in molasses. Like time meant nothing back here. He saw a woman with hair that could've come straight from the seventies, a man in an old wide brimmed hat and wide tie, a get-up popular in the 50s.
"Go on," James said. "Drink."
He raised the glass to his lips and before he could take a sip, the glass was smashed away from his hand. It shattered on the ground. He blinked. Ryan had somehow materialized to his right and was staring down James with a fierce determination on his face. James smiled as he was forced to back up against the table with Ryan's approach.
"Ryan," Gavin said, feeling his legs wobble. Why did he feel sick? "What's going on?"
"Oh," James said, smiling—sneering. "Is that what you call yourself these days? Or is it the name of the meat suit you're carrying around?"
"Watch it," Ryan said, voice like steel. "I should've known what you were the moment we stepped in."
"Ah." James held up a finger. "But you didn't."
"Ryan, I don't feel, ugh, I don't feel well." He still felt clouded and as if he had a stomach ache from eating too many sweets.
Ryan turned around at the wobble in Gavin's words and gripped him by his shoulders tenderly. There was a furrow on his brow. "Gavin, did you drink anything? Eat anything?"
He shook his head.
"What did you do to him?" Ryan said, glaring over his shoulder at James.
"Nothing that a little magic can't clear up, wouldn't you say?"
Ryan snarled and brought his fingers to the center of Gavin's forehead. Immediate relief and comfort flooded him, and he felt clearheaded for the first time since he set foot in this place. He took stock of his surroundings and the patio had suddenly turned more sinister than previously. The people, the happy couples all chatting, looked drained, sickly even. Even the food and drink on the table didn't look normal. An odd sheen to it that wasn't there before.
"Wha—where are we?" Gavin asked and then he looked to Ryan and found himself looking into eyes that weren't Ryan's sky blues but yellow with goat pupils instead. He jerked back from surprise. The image didn’t clear when he blinked.
James laughed, sharp and cruel behind them. "He didn't know? Oh, and I'm sure you'd love to accuse me of some nasty things, but is it really as bad as a demon hiding in plain sight?"
"You didn't . . . you're a demon?" Gavin said. "And you didn't tell me?" Thoughts were swirling around in his head. He felt hurt and confused and sick underneath it all.
A demon? Was this real? It all felt like a dream at the moment.
"Oh," James said, pouting and pushing away from the table. Ryan was too shocked to move as James rounded behind Gavin like a viper in the bush. "How sweet. Did you enjoy time with your little human? Did you feed off his sweet essence without him knowing? His aura is rather irresistible, if you know what I mean." And just as James trailed a finger along Gavin's shoulder, Ryan moved rather ferociously.
Gavin was knocked to the ground. Ryan had James pressed up against the nearest wall. He had him by the throat and was reaching for something from his pocket—a chain with an iron nail attached to it. He pressed it against the skin on James’s neck until he screamed.
"You should be lucky I have a vessel," Ryan sneered and it was then their scene was interrupted by a slight blonde woman.
The man from the front door came in full of bravado and Ryan backed off, pulling away from James and leaving a terrible burn on his neck. The man steadied James just as the woman stepped forward, cupped his face, stared directly into his eyes, and said, "James, you are tired. You need to rest." Her words were slow, measured.
"Yes," James said, sounding as if entranced. "I am tired."
The woman pulled her hand away. "Adam, take him away. I'll deal with our guests."
The two men departed, and the woman came towards Gavin, but Ryan stepped in front of him. Gavin felt trapped. He tried to creep back on his hands along the floor. He was only human. Only human in a den full of supernats. And one demon.
"Let me pass," the woman said. "I can help him."
"Your fae just tried to husk my partner," Ryan said. "What makes you think I'm going to let a siren anywhere near him?"
"James gets curious. He overstepped his boundaries—"
"And that makes keeping husks okay? I should tear this place apart."
"And you, demon, are trying to play the ethics game with me?" She laughed. "We choose our victims purposefully. Not just any rando that walks off the street. Only the worst of the worst. Now let me pass so your human doesn't have a heart attack and die here."
Ryan let her past and she dropped down to Gavin's level, touched the side of his head, and the rest of the world faded away.
"You have seen a lot this night. Take it in stride and rest."
He woke up in the car. He had a splitting headache. He sat up and groaned. "Ugh. What was . . . what did I drink? What just happened?" And then, with startling clarity, everything came back to him in a rush. The strange waiter. The drink. The siren. Demon eyes.
He whirled to face Ryan who was keeping his eyes resolutely fixed on the road. Gavin returned to looking out his window. "Would you have told me yourself?"
"No. I don't want to hear any bullshit excuse from you. I deserve to know what happened tonight."
Ryan sighed. "You do." He sounded tired. "But I think enough has happened tonight. I can drive you home if you like. I'll explain everything to the crew and make sure they don't bother you."
"Yeah." He wrapped his arms around himself. "I think that'd be best."
They didn't speak for the rest of the night. They didn't say anything as Gavin got out of the car and made the quick walk to his apartment. He set every lock and made sure he had all his protection charms and objects out and in arm's reach. He found where he tucked away his holy water and he held it for a moment. He then questioned if it would actually protect him from a demon.
He didn't know much about demons except from the religious side of it all. There was a lot of speculation as to what demons were outside of religion. Yes, there were angels, but angels and demons were rare. They didn't exist in the same way humans did. Fae and other humanoid supernats were vaguely human shaped. Or had been human at one time. But angels and demons were entities that no one knew where they came from outside of the religious explanation. What made demons react to holy water? How did they possess people? What did they truly desire? Were they driven to corrupt human essence?
He didn't know. And now he was faced with the truth that Ryan, someone he trusted, allowed into his home, spoke to on many private and personal topics, was a demon. And that he was lied tot. Lied to and deceived. Yes, Ryan had saved him from a worse fate this night, but Gavin was still betrayed. He was still hurt and confused and he felt all too very human now. Like suddenly he realized how insignificant he could be in the eyes of a supernat.
When he finally managed to fall asleep, he dreamed of nothing. No nightmares. No dreams. Just endless, dark sleep. He woke feeling well rested but he was still heavy with all that he had learned the previous night. There were several messages and missed calls when he checked his phone. All varying levels of concern from the crew. Geoff had left a message at least, saying he could take his time and no one would expect him back until he was ready. He took his message to heart and stayed within the safe confines of his apartment.
He didn't see Ryan until three days later when Gavin had decided to brave the world and at least go to Geoff. He wanted to get the full story of what happened that night at La Maison de Amusante. He was still foggy on a bit of the details other than there was one wicked fae that worked there with a siren possibly leading the whole operation.
Geoff and Jack were the only two there when he arrived. The condo was strangely quiet and Geoff looked depressingly apologetic. "If I'd known, I wouldn't have sent you. I swear." He seemed genuinely torn up over the idea of sending Gavin to what could be considered a fae's personal den, but Gavin waved him off.
"We didn't know. It's not your fault. It's just, um, revelations were made and, and identities were exposed and I guess I know why people don't fuck around with fae. Whatever underworld shit they had going on down there."
They eventually took up a seat around the dining room table. Jack had coffee prepared and Geoff dug out snacks to be munched on even if he couldn't participate in the munching bit.
So the facts were finally laid out before Gavin. Jack said Ryan had explained it all in detail. How he realized there was a powerful and ancient fae in the building and how the business doubled as a husk operation.
"I've never heard of husks before," Gavin said. "Should I be worried about it?"
"It's not a common practice," Jack explained. "But it's what some fae do when they trap people in their circle or their realm. They get them so hopped up on fae food and drink that it drains the essence from them. The emotions that they can then bottle and sell to others. It's generally frowned upon and if caught in time, the people can recover. But if they're stuck for too long, then they become husks. Just human bodies without a soul attached to it."
"Knowing an operation like that is in town is already pretty bad news," Geoff said. "But it'll take a bit more digging to know if we need to deal with it."
"Yeah, and what about the siren bit?"
"If a siren is calling the shots, then she's probably in control of the fae. Probably the only person who can be, so she's the one we need to worry about. Not the fae. And if they let you and Ryan go, then maybe they won't bother us."
"Yeah," Gavin said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Ryan."
Jack and Geoff shared a look. "Gavin, we didn't know." It was easier coming from Jack. Gavin didn't know if he'd believe it if it came from Geoff. "When we met Ryan, we thought he was living dead. He told us and lived that way. He gave us no reason to suspect otherwise."
Gavin didn't know if it hurt to hear it. That Ryan had deceived all of them because that was what demons did. They deceived and lied for their own gain, but was that what Ryan was doing?
"Has he done anything to you, Gavin?" Geoff asked. "We know you two like to hang out a lot."
He shook his head. "Never. He was just . . . himself I guess. D'you suppose he's still possessing someone? Shouldn't we do something about that?"
Jack and Geoff shared a look. "No," Geoff decided on. "He isn't and we shouldn't. Look. If you're up for it, he'll explain it to you. But I won't blame you if you just want to leave after this. Or if you ask us to deal with Ryan for you."
It was still a lot for Gavin to consider. They knew more than they were saying, but they had lines they didn't want to cross. Clearly, Ryan had said a lot when he told them what happened at La Maison. More than he probably wanted to, but the fact that they know was testament that Ryan wasn't going to hide what he really was. He wanted to have their trust again.
"I'll . . . I'll deal with Ryan," he settled on. "Is there anything else you need to tell me about that night?"
"Other than we're glad to see you here," Jack said.
"And that if you don't want to do anymore undercover stuff, we won't make you," Geoff said, tapping his hand on the table to make sure that Gavin got the message.
For an old vampire, Geoff was certainly oozing care and concern. Most vampires tended to shed their emotions the older they were because they were becoming less and less human every day.
He hung out at their condo for a few more hours before he decided to throw out a text to Ryan, see if it was interested in explaining himself. Of course, his response was immediate. Gavin could see it now. Ryan tripping over himself to get to his phone as soon as he got to the notification and sending off the quickest and shortest reply ever for efficiency. For a demon he sure had a lot of personality. Or maybe that was just how Ryan was.
Gavin left in the afternoon. Geoff said he had nothing on radar for the next week so to take this time as like a mini vacation. Gavin was going to take his words to heart because if this next conversation with Ryan went badly, he had no idea what he was going to do other than to sulk.
Jesus. Look at him. Not even in a relationship with the guy and he already felt like they were taking a break. And he didn't even know if Ryan liked him in that way. They hadn't had the time or the setting to have a discussion like that.
He invited Ryan over to his place because he felt more comfortable in an environment he knew he controlled. When Ryan's knock came at the door, he waited politely to be invited in officially before crossing over the threshold. He looked a bit worse for ware, which was saying something. Like he hadn't rested or eaten anything substantial in the last few days.
He took a seat at Gavin's table when Gavin offered it to him, declined any drink when it was brought up. There was the awkward silence that settled between them when Gavin finally decided to sit across from him. If he had to put a word to it, he thought Ryan looked a bit bashful to be here. Nervous, even. Like at any moment he expected Gavin would revoke his privileges to this apartment.
"Do you want to start or should I?" Ryan asked.
"Depends on what you want to start with." He was fine with leaving it in Ryan's court. He had a good understanding of the situation so far. And if he had to, he knew what sort of questions he should ask and what sort of answers he should expect.
"Maybe from the beginning?"
"That might be best."
Ryan folded his hands together and pondered. "I want to be clear with you about this. I'm not . . . I'm not possessing anyone. That's usually the first conclusion people jump to. Is that the demon took over someone you love and they were just masquerading as that person. But that's not what I'm doing."
"So then what are you doing?"
"Existing? Living? I don't know. I found this body. Newly dead and I . . . I wanted to see what it was like."
"What was what like?"
"To be human. In a way. But people knew I was different and they pointed me out as a living dead so I just rolled with it. I thought I'd give it up after a while, but it was a new experience. I met new people. I built a life for myself. So I kept going with it."
"Why didn't you just tell us? Tell me? I'm sure we could've--"
"It's so much more than just telling people, Gavin," he said softly. "You should know that. Come out and say I'm a demon? We already got a bad enough rap sheet as it is. I just." He sighed heavily. "I wanted to tell you. Only you. Work my way up from there."
Gavin didn't even have time to let it all sink in before Ryan continued on in a nervous ramble.
"I've never felt this way about someone before. I've been around in this body a few decades, yeah, and a whole lot longer than that, but I've never had this experience before."
"And what—" Gavin sat forward, arms on the table, licked his lips. “—would that be exactly?"
"To sound cheesy? Love." He shrugged. "Or at least I hope so. It's, uh, something new to me. And I wanted to break it to you, because you never shied away from me before. You had no problem in going on stake outs with me and you always asked me questions the others didn't. And that . . . that was pretty nice."
Gavin ran a hand down his face. "I can't believe I'm having a conversation like this with a demon."
"Hey," Ryan said with mock hurt. "I'm not all doom and gloom. Not all the time."
Gavin eventually sat back in his chair. Ryan was consistently sneaking glances at him, a very human thing. A nervous tick and he wondered if Ryan picked that up from the decades he'd spent as a living dead. Somewhere between human and not.
"Why me though? Why not someone else? You've been around the block before, I bet."
Ryan shrugged. "Not in the biblical sense, but there was just something about you that stood out. You're just so . . . human. So unique. You're here, in this city, working with this bunch of creatures, and you just roll with it. And I wanted to get to know you more but I couldn't find a better way of saying it."
Gavin was silent for a long time. He had questions, but they seemed pretty insignificant to what he was learning now.
"Is there anything you want to ask me?"
Gavin regarded him across the table and saw how open he was, the soft expression he had on his face. He knew facial muscles were complex things just based on a biological level. And that one of the easiest way to tell if someone was possessed was by their facial features and if anything seemed off. Like if they smiled weird, or couldn't smile at all. But here, Ryan looked like, well, Ryan. Like he'd always known him to be.
"Is your name Ryan?"
"It might as well be. I don't know who was in this body before me, and no one I met seemed to know. So I chose a name. And I liked it."
"So it was a social experiment then."
"Kinda, yeah. But then it evolved into something else, and I liked it better that way."
Gavin sighed and stood away from the table to get something to drink. He felt tired all of the sudden, exhausted with everything that he'd learned so far and would have to sit on. He poured himself a glass of water before returning to the table.
"What was that thing you did to me last night?" he asked. "Before that fae made me take that drink."
"Well, I, uh, had to use some of my gifts to help you. Give you 'clear sight'. It helped clear your mind of the fae's magic, but unfortunately you saw other parts of me."
Gavin shrugged, took a sip from his water. "I wouldn't say unfortunately. I'm actually kind of curious now as to what you look like. You got wings and a tail back there I should know about?"
This got Ryan to smile and relax more. "You like your demons horny? Is that what I'm getting?"
Gavin laughed. "I feel like I've always been more curious than most. 'sides. Never seen a demon before."
"Not many people want to."
“The fae. James. He said he knew you.”
“He does. I’ve been around the block. Went by many names and forms. There’s not much history there if that’s what you’re curious about. Only encounters. I didn’t know he’d be here. But he’s fae so he saw right through me. I didn’t have much of a choice then but to try and make the best out of the situation. Expose myself but save you.”
It was the softness and sincerity in his words that made Gavin consider that maybe Ryan was as genuine as he appeared. He could understand why he hid the nature of his being. How many people would give him a second chance? Even Gavin knew other supernats were wary of demons. And here was Ryan, offering up an olive branch for any shred of human decency.
"I want to try with you," Gavin said. He didn't know how best to phrase it. 'I've had a crush on you since we met' seems a bit on the nose for him. "In a lot of ways. I don't want this to be nothing. Or to have all been a waste."
"I don't want to make you feel afraid," Ryan said. "Or that you can't trust me for what I am. If I ever make you uncomfortable, all you have to do is give me the word and I'll leave."
The air in Gavin's lungs went out in a harsh swoop. That was a lot of control Ryan was giving him over the situation.
"I think we should hammer out the details first before we get to that part," Gavin said because he wanted to take this slow. He wanted it to mean something.
"Another round of twenty questions?"
He laughed again because Ryan always knew how to make him smile.
"Sure. I think that'd be great."