Authors: Pippa DaCosta
“There’s plenty of room for demons at Fairhaven.”
I needed to keep Torrent close. If he was bent on causing trouble, I wanted to know about it before any hint could get back to Allard.
Maybe he should stay with me…
I really didn’t want him sleeping in Del’s bed, but could I let him out of my sight and trust him? I stopped at the end of the empty bed.
It made sense for Torrent to stay with me. I didn’t trust him in the least. Even if he was just a wall away, he could slip out and tell Vanessa anything—everything. If that was his game, it was a dangerous one. Playing Allard off against Vanessa just delayed the inevitable. Allard
Torrent seemed genuine, but he’d seemed fairly docile too until I’d seen his demon.
“Where is he? Your brother?” He interrupted my thoughts.
“Missing,” I replied softly. “And I need to do something about that.” I fixed my glare on Torrent’s. “Unless you have something better to be doing, come with me. I need to pay someone a visit.”
He spread his arms. “I’m all yours.”
hen Torrent realized
I walked everywhere or snuck rides on public transportation, he revealed the motorcycle parked outside his house on Pacific Street was Vanessa’s—and by extension his—and it would make travelling around LA a whole lot easier. It did, especially when Torrent drove like he was on fire.
Riding on the back of a bike with my arms clamped around Torrent’s waist and my knees pressed against his hips was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. I’d tucked my head against his back, squeezed my eyes closed, and thought about frolicking naked in the snow—anything to stop LA’s streets blurring by at terrifying speeds.
When Torrent pulled the bike into the LAPD parking lot, ice glittered along his coat seams. My element had leaked. He took it well, laughing and shaking ice from his hair as he helped me off the bike.
Unaccustomed to losing control of my element and desperately trying not to throw up, I’d growled because I couldn’t find the words, snarled at him to stay beside the bike, then changed my mind and snapped at him to follow. He’d taken it all without comment, but his damned green eyes laughed. I was
not in the mood.
We sat in the waiting room. Or Torrent did. I paced from one side to the other. It was still dark out. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept or eaten. But I didn’t have time for those things. Whatever Allard was doing to find my brother, it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t wait any longer.
Torrent’s green eyes watched me pace back and forth, back and forth. My boots clomped, the clock behind the desk ticked, and Torrent didn’t say a word, although I could see from his studious attention he wanted to. He leaned back in one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs, an arm draped across the back of the one beside him and his ankle propped up on his opposite knee.
I still felt queasy from the ride over or maybe because I hadn’t eaten. Or maybe it was the thought that my brother was out there somewhere, and something had happened to him.
Ramírez finally emerged from a side door, buttoned up in her black uniform. She smiled a professional, non-committal smile. “Hello again, Gem. What can I help you with?” She cast Torrent a clinical once-over look, probably reading everything about him in that glance, from his torn coat to the awkward bulge of the crossbow at his hip.
“I want to report a missing person.”
“I’ll see if I can get an officer from the MSU to—”
“Can’t I do it through you?”
Ramírez’s sharp blue eyes flicked to Torrent once more. I didn’t follow her line of sight, but I could bet he was smiling or doing something equally as infuriating.
“Gem, you seem… Agitated. Would you like to chat alone somewhere?”
“Yes, but he comes. I can’t let him wander off. He’s... we’re...” I didn’t have a hope of explaining why Torrent was stuck by my side, not in a way Ramírez would understand. “He stays with me.”
We followed Ramírez into an interview room. As soon as she shut the door, the gray walls, lack of windows, and institutional feel started gnawed on carefully buried memories.
“It’s my brother,” I blurted.
“Yes, you mentioned him at the hospital. Gem, please sit. Would you like a drink, some coffee?”
Torrent leaned against the wall beside the door, pretending to examine his nails.
“You need to calm down.” Ramírez sat behind the table and woke up the computer. “I can file the report, but I’m going to need some information from you. Name, address, date of birth. The exact circumstances when you last saw the brother.”
Name, address, date of birth… None of it is real.
I paced again. “We were hunting in the nw-zone when a swarm of
attacked us. It was probably something to do with the one I’d caught. There were too many. And Del, he…” Damn, I didn’t want Torrent knowing too much about Del, and now he’d looked up, tuning into my hesitation. “We fought them off, and when you found me, my brother was gone.”
She blinked, which wasn’t a bad reaction considering everything I’d just told her. She wet her lips and pushed away from the computer. “Gem, if this is demon related, the LAPD can’t intervene.”
“It’s not demon related. He’s my brother. He’s missing. How is that anything demon related?”
“But by your own admittance, you’re demon?”
She hesitated. “Okay, but still demon.”
“Yes, but…” I stopped pacing. “Also half human. Maybe you can half help me out?” I tried to smile, but it must have shown on my lips like a sneer because she flinched. “Please.”
“I don’t know what you want me to do. You and your brother, you’re not…” She hesitated again, clearly about to say
, and sighed. “As far as the law is concerned, you don’t have any rights. You’re lucky I don’t report you as demon.” She added quickly, “You and your…friend shouldn’t even be here.”
I pulled a folded photograph from my back pocket and handed it to her. “He’s called Del.”
Ramírez took the photo booth strip and ran her gaze down the four pictures of Del and me. Not long after joining Allard’s family, we had found the photo booth on Venice beach, and by some miracle, it still worked. That strip was the only photo of Del I had.
“Just… Just keep an eye out for him?”
She sighed but placed the strip beside her keyboard. “And how am I supposed to get a message to you? Carrier pigeon to the Santa Monica pier?”
“The demons will eat it.”
Torrent choked on a laugh.
Oh, right, she was joking. I’d known that.
Officer Ramírez paled. She was not amused. Demons had wrecked her city, maybe her life, probably the lives of people she’d known, and here I was making jokes.
“We’re not all bad,” I said. “Some of us are just looking for a home.”
Torrent’s leather coat creaked. He pushed off the wall. “C’mon, she’s right. We shouldn’t be here. People cops can’t help you.”
“Alright, Gem.” Ramírez’s nice eyes narrowed. Clearly, she didn’t take kindly to being told what she couldn’t do. “Give me twenty-four hours to see what I can dig up. But I can’t make any promises.”
It wasn’t nothing. Her helping me without wanting something in return was everything. I nodded and swallowed around the alarming lump in my throat.
We’d made it half out the door when Officer Ramírez said, “Sir, you seem familiar. Have we met?”
Torrent froze in the hallway. His hand went straight to the key on its cord, tucked beneath his shirt. He squeezed it tight enough to whiten his knuckles. “No.” That single word was as cold and hard as I’d ever heard him. It punctured the background chatter and ringing phones and shut Ramírez down. His element shifted, rippling unseen across the floor before he got a hold of it and drew it back with a deep inward breath. Then he strode off like nothing had happened.
I followed, well aware of Officer Ramírez’s glare riding our backs.
I lasted about three strides outside the front doors before asking, “What was that?”
He ignored me and strode on toward his leaning bike. The sun was rising, flooding the lot with warmth.
“Hey…I asked you a question.”
“Yes, you did.” He flicked his coat back and tossed his leg over his bike, rocking it upright. “Doesn’t mean I have to answer it.”
Okay, sore subject.
I stood beside him, shielding my eyes against the glare of the low sun, and tried another angle. “
you know her?”
“I don’t remember her. No.” He planted his feet, holding the bike upright, and leaned back with a practiced look of boredom.
Was that a lie? I really,
wanted to know more, especially as he’d shut down and wiped all the good humor from his face. “She seemed to think she might know you.”
He shrugged. “Maybe I’ve got one of those familiar faces.” The smile crawled back across his lips. He liked his smiles, wore them as armor. His eyes were more honest, and they weren’t smiling now. Actually, he was running his honest gaze over me, eyebrow quirked. “You getting on?”
Ugh. The bike. My lip rippled.
“Steady there, Icy. How about if I go
and we swing by this nw-zone where your brother went missing?”
but wasn’t about to refuse a chance at having a second pair of eyes go over the scene. Ungainly mounting the back of the bike, I clamped all the necessary limbs around Torrent. I appeared to be correctly perched on the back when Torrent grabbed my arms and pulled me so close I could feel his warmth through his coat. My chin grazed his shoulder, and I snuck a quick in breath, tasting his scent: well-worn leather combined with the fresh saltiness of the ocean. It was a demon indulgence—testing his scent—but one I enjoyed.
“Can’t have you falling off.” He grabbed my thigh, fingers warm and firm, and tucked my leg in tight then did the same the other side. “Allard would probably feed me to his stock.”
“Mm, half blood kibble,” I mused, still filing my senses with Torrent.
His deep, illicit chuckle rumbled through him and subsequently me, sending odd little pleasurable licks way down low where they gathered and conspired. He started the bike, and the mechanical burbling overrode the really rather lovely feel of him tucked beneath me. I melted against his back, filled my head and other senses with his Torrent-ness, and forgot my fear. I could indulge. I’d earned it, hadn’t I?
After some miles that all blurred by in a haze, he rolled the bike to a halt beside the nw-zone cordon, leaned it over on its stand, and cut the engine. As the quiet rushed in, I blinked back to myself, released him from my steely grip, clambered off the bike, and focused on straightening my clothes while Torrent swung himself off in one graceful, dismounting motion that had me wondering what it might be like to be under him—
Whoa, okay. Drowning in his scent was clearly not such a great idea. Meds.
Once I got back to Fairhaven, I was taking my meds before I could further embarrass myself by drooling and fanning my wings.
“Okay?” he asked.
“You look kinda”—he circled a finger at my face, earning a scowl —“lost.”
“Yes. What? No. I’m fine.” I cleared my throat and swept a gesture at the zone beyond the cordon. “It happened right over there. There were thousands of
. I was lucky to get out.” I cleared my throat again, rolled my shoulders, and shook out my hands, trying to anchor the human parts and drive back the demon urges. We could see into the zone, although the ground, the buildings, and even the sky were tinged a violent purple.
“Weird, that they’d swarm like that,” Torrent remarked, mostly to himself as he drifted between the barriers. The air hung still. The constant drone of LA’s city noises faded behind the background crackle and throb of chaos energies. Those energies kept people away and attracted demons.
“Yeah, I thought so too.”
He stopped on the other side of the cordon. Blue and white light from the warning lights washed over his back in rhythmic waves. “Let’s go take a look.” He stepped through.
The real netherworld air burns. It’s toxic to humans. The nw-zones left over here had enough netherworld air for lessers to breathe but enough normal oxygen-rich air for me to comfortably breathe. It laced my throat and burned my eyes briefly, but my demon soon diluted the effect until I barely smelled or tasted it. But I’d see the purple haze unless I completely called my demon.
Torrent summoned enough of his demon to give his eyes that green-blue liquid swirl, but he pulled his element in close rather than sending it off to check out the nearby rubble and abandoned buildings. Poking around in the dark with your element was a sure way to wake up something nasty.
Gravel crunched under my boots, and I retraced my steps along the cracked road. “They came from those buildings.” I nodded at the empty warehouse. “And over there.” The department store.
Something large let loose a territorial screech. The empty streets gathered up the noise, and the breeze carried it to us, but it sounded far enough away not to cause us any trouble. Yet.
Torrent lowered his hand over his crossbow. “Allard gets his demons from these zones?”
We settled into a slow walk. “Yeah, this one, the one south of the pier, and there’s another one at the end of your street. We haven’t ventured to the one near the airport or the one in Hollywood. It’s too far to drag captured demons all the way back without being seen.”
“And he sells them?”
“To zoos and laboratories, mostly, but some as exotic pets.”
“He saw an opportunity.”
“Is he from beyond the veil? He seems…well adjusted.”
“I assume so.” But I had to agree. If Allard was from the netherworld, he hadn’t taken long to craft himself a believable human vessel and slip unnoticed into society.
Another screech pierced the quiet, but this time further away. I sent a little of my touch outward, relaxing my control where it didn’t matter so much.
“You have a tight leash on your demon.” Torrent faced ahead, eyes scanning the vacant buildings. Distorted sunlight brightened the lighter tones in his hair.
I’d forgotten it hadn’t been long ago I’d had my fist in his hair and tried to kill him. “Is there a question in there somewhere?”
“Just making an observation.”
“And you don’t control yours at all, do you?”
“Sure I do.” He flashed me a quick smile. “Mostly.”
I couldn’t imagine how he could even function as a normal person with the demon whispering in his ear the whole time. Did he dream demon dreams when he slept at night? How did he manage all the
need, want, take
urges and all the rest of the demon chatter.
“Don’t you ever just…let your hair down?” he asked.
“My hair is down.”
His puzzled expression was back. “You say the oddest things sometimes.”
“You’re the one talking about my hair.”
“No, I mean…” He laughed a little. “It’s an expression. Let your hair down. Go wild. Let loose. Relax. You seem so…” He groped for the right word, and it had better be a good one because I didn’t like the way this conversation was going. “Icy.”