All I Want for Christmas is You
My eyes flicked to the front door, as the party continued.
“Hey, Atina!” The fairy smiled, a cocktail in one hand. He must have raided my liquor cabinet, which was fine, because I’d been trying not to drink. For four miserable months when the weather and waning sunlight made me desperate for a drink. “Great Christmas Eve party!”
“Thanks, Sir O’Malley.” I smiled.
“Now, about a pact-“
“Sorry, I need to keep circulating. Enjoy the party! Have some popcorn!” I slipped away from him with grace that just barely avoided being rudeness, moving among the crowd. I was grateful to see Li Fang Fen standing in the midst of a crowd of some of the younger undead- Which meant they started at twice my age, and moved up from there. “Hello, Li.”
“Good evening, darling. Beautiful party!”
“Well, you know how it’s been.” I smiled. “Been a good year. When you’re experiencing good times…”
“You have to share them,” she said, and smiled. “How’s Roy been?”
“He had to go visit family,” I lied, smoothly. “Should be back some time soon.”
“He didn’t make the time for Christmas? The cad.” She winked. “I’ve dumped men for lesser abandonments.”
“Hah,” I said, instead of laughing.
It had been four months since he’d left. It had been at the height of the weird dreams back in September. I hadn’t heard anything from him since then. Meanwhile, the United States had accepted a refugee population of fish-people in the waters off of Long Island. It had dominated the 24 hour news cycle for a full week, and then the election had gotten heated about something, and they’d been relegated to the human interest stories. A brand new race of fish-people with human DNA who claimed to use gods as tools, and the media’s attention had jumped to a story about someone saying something racist.
Atlantis was real, and people wanted to know what the Atlantean Queen was going to wear for Christmas. That was all kinds of depressing.
“I still believe it’s a fluke. The Atlanteans, for their odd appearances, are still very essentially human. They don’t feed- Oh, hello, Atina.”
Lady Ann Willing smiled warmly as I approached. She stood with the elite of the Undead of the city- I recognized Dean Morton, Edwin Link, and Tadodaho. I bowed my head politely. “Good evening, everyone. Discussing going public?”
“Somewhat,” said Edwin, rolling his eyes. “A lot of old habits die hard. And secrecy, well…”
“Mmmm. I could take or leave it,” said Tadodaho, the spectral Onondogan grimacing, though more out of habit than actual anger. He had resting ghoul face. “If people cared to look at the world around them, the truth would become clear to them in no time. As it stands, they are blind to the truth of their world because they do not understand what questions to ask, which figures to trust. I might care more about that if…”
The conversation continued on, as my eyes drifted back towards the door.
I’ve lived most of the last ten years on my own. For a week, a week, I lived with Roy directly. My boyfriend, spending every day with me. Coming home to find there were meals waiting for me, having him embrace me whole-heartedly every night, and… other things. It was wonderful. And then he disappeared.
He was something very few people understood. I didn’t even really know what he was. He made a lot of wild claims, and I would dismiss them all if not for the time he beat up a goddess in front of me.
I shook my head, and stiffened slightly. Chaac and Jenny stood there. Jenny was the one who’d addressed me, but Chaac was watching me very closely. She was the goddess who had been beaten. A Mayan Camazotz, a form of vampire so old, so powerful, and so rare that she’d been capable of threatening the entire city. The only two Camazotz in existence were standing in front of me. “Yes?”
“I wish to speak with you,” murmured Chaac. “Just the two of us. About a matter that concerns the two of us.”
I nodded, and the two of us stepped into the front yard, below the skeletal tree growing out of the small, terraced lawn. Its branches shivered under the slow snowfall, the wet snow piled up almost comically thick on even the thinnest twig. My breath fogged in the cold air; hers did not. “How have you been, Chaac?”
“At loose ends,” she said, unsmiling. “My life lacks meaning. It has many restraints, but where to go from here remains a terrifyingly broad choice… I do not know, Atina. It is unpleasant to be without a purpose. And your guardian has disappeared.”
“And you’re going to make me pay for what I did to you?”
“No,” she said, shocked. “Never, Atina. My purpose was awful. It was a self-destructive madness that I held onto. You forced me to let go of it. That hurt, but it was for the best. My concern is for you.” She was silent for a moment, watching me. “You make enemies, Atina. Almost compulsively. You have been very protected for the last year by his presence, passive though it was. The knowledge, among your enemies, that there was something about you. Something that could humble me. That has kept you safe. But there is only so long until someone foolish, or arrogant, or ignorant, prods you to test if the defenses still stand.”
“I’ve got protection,” I said, my eyes flicking to the house. “Thank you, though.”
“Do you know where he is?”
I didn’t answer her. Chaac’s expression became curiously sympathetic, so I said, “Look, he’ll be back.”
“Faith is a wonderful thing. As is love.” She was quiet for a moment. “Can you love something like that?”
“You’re the ancient goddess, you tell me.” I wrapped my arms around myself, shivering a bit. “Why do you even care?”
“I suppose that’s a good question.” She looked to one side. “It’s… nostalgic. Watching a young woman, waiting for her man to come back from a dangerous journey.”
“About being at loose ends,” I said, now desperate for a change of plans. “You hear that song?”
She tilted her head, frowning. “The one playing inside? I don’t know it.”
“All I Want For Christmas is You. There’s a phenomenon in the US where most Christmas songs were made when the Baby Boomer generation were young. This song’s weird, because it became a huge Christmas hit starting in 1994. It’s one of the few songs that’s managed to break through that seemingly impassable barrier.”
“Your metaphor is elusive to the point of outright obfuscation, Atina.”
“You think that things are over. That there’s no time to do anything else. The thing is, there’s always time for a new path. Take up a hobby, find a romantic interest in someone, maybe go travelling, start a damn soup kitchen. Choose yourself a goal. The world is full of things. If you can’t decide on one, flip a damn coin. New Christmas songs happen all the time.”
She smiled softly. “A silly point. But a good one, nonetheless. Good night, Atina. I hope he comes back soon.” Her eyes danced wildly for a moment. “Your dragon.” I watched as she stepped back inside, rejoining the crowd, and looked out across the icy night, the stars twinkling in a sky as clear as glass.
“He’s not mine,” I whispered softly, and the only sign that I had spoken was the small wisp of condensation even now drifting away and tearing apart.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, the party drifted apart. The siren call of home. Jack Knife, the itinerant serial killer knife, was the only one left in the house, curled up in the back room with a cup of cocoa in her hands, staring out at the snow drifting down. She had a wool blanket curled around her, one of the old heavy German wool beach blankets my father had used when we went out to the seashore. I studied it, and felt a melancholy building.
How long had it been since I’d been to the shore? Sitting by the beach? Fire crackling in a pit of sand, roasting marshmallows? What would I do for that?
But it wasn’t really the beach I wanted. I could do that any time. It was the nostalgia of being a child, of not knowing what was out there, of having all the possibilities in front of me.
“Do you need anything, Jack?”
“No,” she said, her voice soft as she stared out at the snow. “Thank you, Atina. Merry Christmas.”
I was quiet for a moment, and smiled to myself. She was looking better, a bit less broken up. “Merry Christmas, Jack.”
“I, uh…” She looked over her shoulder, embarrassed. “I didn’t get you anything for Christmas. I considered stabbing someone, but-”
“Not stabbing someone is all I need for Christmas,” I said, softly, a grin on my face. She smiled back. We both knew she’d been joking- My gift to her was that she could make those sort of jokes. “Sleep tight, Jack.”
I lay in bed, and went to sleep, wishing there was someone warm next to me.
There was a rumble of waves.
My eyes snapped open as a cold wind blew across my face.
The waves rumbled across Indian Wells. My eyes flickered across the beach. It wasn’t the most unique of beaches, but every sand dune, every inch of it, had been carved into my memory as a child. Out on the tip of Long Island, the southern edge. There was no mistaking this place. It was night time, and the moon was a crescent sliver, hanging on the edge of the sky. It was tremendously dark, and my heart shook. Was this an echo of those damned dreams? The seashore, and the darkness-
Light erupted, as flame caught on a set of logs arranged carefully in a small pit of sand. And there, sitting across from me, dressed in his usual understated casual clothing, was Roy.
Roy was not what one would call conventionally handsome. Hell, he was shorter than me, although most people were. He could easily be called skinny, and that mustache and chin-scraggle were not doing him any favors. It was all part of the appearance he affected. I suspected he could choose exactly how he looked, and like most men, he didn’t care about his appearance.
“You know, even the little romantic gestures seem designed to scare the hell out of me.” I waved an arm at the beach. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t tell you about the times my family spent here.”
He didn’t answer me, simply taking out a bag of marshmallows, and a pair of long sticks. I sat up, pulling the blanket tighter around me, the thick German wool blanket settling over my shoulders.
“Did things… go alright? With whatever the hell you were doing?””
“Of course. I’m sorry I was away.” He looked up at me, his eyes flashing. “You were safe, you know. I am never far.”
“Thanks, stalker,” I said, smiling wryly. “Stop sitting there like you’re mister lone badass. I’m cold over here. Warm me up.” I gently patted the sand next to me. “Please?”
He grunted, and stood up, circling around the fire. The flames whipped wildly as he stood between them and the wind, before taking a seat beside me. I wrapped my arms around him, and he was like a furnace, almost painfully hot to the touch, breaking the wind and keeping me warm. “You missed me,” he said, almost an accusation.
“Of course I did,” I murmured.
“What would you do if I left, and never returned? I could.”
“I’d miss you, and probably die. Are you going to leave?”
“How can I?” He asked, and shook his head. “With a shackle like that around me.”
“You don’t have to care about what I think,” I said, grinning. “We both know the only shackles you’re wearing are the ones you made yourself.” I looked down at the fire. “Thank you for being here.”
“I am always within reach. All you had to do was sacrifice your dignity and beg me to be here.”
“Pride against Pride, huh?” I grinned. “You think you’ll win that?”
“I already did,” he said, grinning smugly. “When you whispered all alone on the yard.”
“That’s really sweet. And really stalker-y.” And really sweet, I thought to myself, leaning in a little bit harder, feeling him support me effortlessly. I closed my eyes. “How are we getting home?”
“The same way we got here. Don’t worry, Atina. For just a few short hours…” He smiled. “You don’t have to worry.”
And so I didn’t. I had everything I wanted.
Do You Hear What I Hear
“Boss, it’s nearly eight.”
I looked up from the great raft of paperwork. All the little gears that kept the largest police department in the world working smoothly. The Atlantean delegation to the UN was transferring members and there had been a credible threat against them by a human nationalist group; Some cop had shot a guy in Staten Island which had both the mayor and the police unions breathing down my neck trying to push me to one side or another; And Trump was visiting his wife, which would throw midtown into chaos and almost certainly result in someone getting violent. Hector stood in the doorway. “Right, right- I’ll finish up in another hour, and get some sleep-”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” he said, softly, and the words struck me like a hammer.
“Right,” I said softly. “Fuck it. The paperwork will all be here in the morning.” I set down the jar with my eye floating on it on top of the stack of papers, marking where I had been, and stood up, walking to the door.
“You’ve got to learn to delegate better,” said Hector. “Ain’t the commissioner’s job to be crossing every T and dotting every I.”
“Yeah, I know. Transition team is coming along. I’ll get the hang of this stuff, probably just about the same time I’m forced to step down.” I rested my hand on my hip, where Tonfa waited. There was a pulse of affirmation, a warmth that bled off of him, and it made me feel a bit stronger. “Bastet’s been calming things down in town, but we’ve still had a lot of weirdness. The bank robbing by those masked guys that grabbed every ingot of platinum and left the rest, the kidnapping cult, that weird albino guy that was harassing people on the subway-”
“He was just a regular hobo, boss.”
“Well, sure. But he was still weird. Mayor’s been demanding an explanation, and he keeps focusing in on the Atlanteans.”
“This town was weird long before they showed up.”
“I know that, and you know that, but the public doesn’t acknowledge it.” I growled. “Fucking morons.”
He patted my shoulder companionably as the two of us stepped out into the night. It was raining. Light, spitty, just the wrong side of freezing. It was going to be a wet Christmas. I caught a snatch of some song, and turned my head momentarily, trying to follow it. The wind snatched it away, and I sighed. The golden eye in the open socket was cold as hell in this weather, which was both a bit uncomfortable, and strangely calming. “What’s the matter, boss?”
“Just… a lot of memories.” I looked up as we approached the pub. We walked in. Marco stood inside, with a round of drinks. I’d stopped drinking as much, but I wasn’t a full teetotaller. And besides, it was Christmas Eve.
“Do you remember Jillian?” asked Hector, as the four of us- Me, Marco, Hector, and Tonfa- sat around the table, each of us with a drink in hand.
“Jillian?” Said Marco, an eyebrow raised. “She was the one who joined before me, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said, softly. “She was the toughest bitch I’ve ever met. Headbutted a monster, once. It grabbed her head, tried to bite her face, she broke its teeth with her forehead. Most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She was a hell of a fighter. Gave John a good run for his money.”
“How’d she… retire?” asked Tonfa, his voice soft. The question was rhetorical. He’d been there, on my hip.
“There was this thing,” I said. “People were losing pets. Then a kid went missing. We went down into the sewers, tracked it down into its lair. She saw the kid, lying there in the detritus, still breathing. She ran forward, and the thing was lying in wait. Ambush predator. It tore through her femoral artery, she bled out right after breaking the thing’s neck. Died asking if the kid was okay. And you know what?” I took a long drink, feeling the cold, bitter beer wash away some of the helplessness. “He was.” I burped. “Kid’s going to college, now.”
We all sat in silence for a minute or two. My eyes flickered over to the wall, where we kept the portraits. It was an incomplete list, for obvious reasons, but I’d done my best to find out who belonged there. All the cops in the NYPD who had fallen while fighting the supernatural. Either dead, or retired, or discharged because they couldn’t handle it after what they’d seen. Jillian was up there. John was up there, victim of a serial killer with the power to get into people’s heads in a serious way. He was retired, now, living on the Maine coast. And my dad was up there.
I’d never found out what, exactly, killed him. It didn’t matter what exactly was responsible, because I couldn’t just kill the monster responsible and call it a day. I wanted to make the world a better place. But didn’t everybody?
I raised my glass, and took another drink.
“Me and Hector have been thinking about making an official memorial somewhere,” said Marco. “Something, you know. Classy. A way for people to know what happened to the cops who died doing the right thing.”
“People,” I said, “don’t care. By and large, people don’t really want to be reminded about all the people who die just to let them eat cheap food and crap and watch bad TV. They just want to go through life without being hassled. Most people, when they realize what people have sacrificed for them, feel like their life is a waste. I think it’s better if people don’t know. If they can just pretend we don’t exist, that the monsters don’t exist. That’s why I do what I do-”
The door opened. There was a blast of cold wind, and a snippet of the same song I’d heard before. It was tremendously familiar. I turned.
John stood in the door. Gray-haired, his face lined, but smiling. “Hey, everyone.”
“John!” said Hector, grinning as he stood up. “You made it!”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just here for the drink.” He paused for a moment, looking at the wall. “Seriously? You chose that photo for me?”
“You look good in that photo, man,” said Marco, grinning as he walked over to the bar, grabbing another beer and setting it in front of John. We all shuffled around to make room for a fifth person as John leaned over heavily on the table, resting his chin on his hand. “So, how’s retired life?”
“Dull as dishwater. Just the way I like it. Planting trees, watching them grow, whittling, fishing. All the stuff that makes for some real fun.” He smiled. “You didn’t really think I was going to miss Christmas Eve, did you? We retire to get more chances to bitch and remember the past.” He sighed, and smiled.
“Still having nightmares?” I asked, softly.
“Still having nightmares,” he said, and shrugged. “But who isn’t, these days?”
“Hey, John. What do you think? Should we do a memorial? Something public, something for people to know what we did?”
“Nah,” he said, softly. “If people knew about these things- What good would it do? It’d terrify them. I grew up during the Cold War. People knew that they might vanish in atomic fire, and it warped them. Terrified them. People deserve better than to know they live in a nightmare.” He took another swig of beer. “You know that song, Do You Hear What I Hear?”
“My dad used to love that song,” I said, softly.
“Written during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pleading for the world not to end. Begging people to not just burn everything to the ground.”
“Shit,” I murmured. “That makes the song a lot less cheery. I thought it was just a standard Christmas carol.”
“Yeah,” said John, softly. “The fewer people know, the better.”
The radio went quiet for a moment as one song finished, and then another one started.
“Well,” I murmured, as Do You Hear What I Hear started, in the low and crooning tones of Bing Crosby. “Speak of the devil.”
A star, a star. I closed my eyes, and listened to the song. There was the sound of the door opening, and closing, and another gust of cold air filled the room.
“Oh, good, you’re all here.”
I turned, and stared at Betty. Bastet. The cat. She stood with a hand on one hip, a large trenchcoat wrapped tight around her, looking utterly miserable, her ears flat against her head. Her ears were out. “Betty, your goddamn ears are showing.”
“Like there’s anyone to see it,” she grumbled. “Stupid inclement weather. Why did you humans ever leave the savannahs? You’re no more suited to this frozen moonscape than I am.” She shook her head once, combing her fingers through her hair. “Horace is having a Christmas party tomorrow. You’re all invited. He insisted you come.”
“Shit,” said John. “Kid’s still going, huh?”
I smiled. “A party… A home-cooked meal sounds good, I’ve got to admit.” I smiled at Tonfa. “No offense.”
“Not at all, it’d be nice to not have to cook.” He winked, and Betty groaned.
“Yes, yes. I need to go get home before I freeze to death and make Horace feel excruciatingly guilty.”
“Hey, Betty,” said Marco. “John and Dane both think that it’d be a bad idea to do a memorial for the people who die fighting the supernatural. That it’d be depressing or scary, or that people just wouldn’t care.”
Bastet let out a soft snort, her tail flicking once, her hands on her hips as she stepped forward, leaning lightly on John, making the man stiffen. “People need to know these things. They must be made aware of the sacrifices made for them. It may make them uncomfortable, or unhappy, but that is because it shames them. It reminds them that they could be doing the same, that they should be doing the same. If a few more people were willing to take that weight on their shoulders, Horace and you five wouldn’t have to work nearly so hard. People need to know, to be reminded that they’re not doing anything, so they can at least be grateful.” She grinned at me. “Why do something grand and noble, if nobody knows that you’re doing it?” She turned, and opened the door. “That’s why Horace is making you a meal.”
Then she was gone, as the song kept playing. I stared after her for a long few seconds, and felt Tonfa’s arm slide around me, warm and comforting, his other arm going around my waist, squeezing me gently. I relaxed into his grip, and felt better. There was something about talking to Betty that was always deeply genuine, cutting through all the bullshit and delusion to explain what mattered.
“Hector, I’ll talk to the mayor about it. You’re right. Maybe not the exact details, but people deserve to know.” My eyes flickered up to the wall. “They owe it to the people who fought in the silence.”
There was something pure about fighting the monsters. No ambiguities, no violence, no repression, none of the things that made people hate police. None of the things that I hated about being a cop. Just making sure that people lived, that they saw tomorrow, that the monsters didn’t have free reign to terrorize. Protecting everyone, rich and poor, who was a part of the city.
Tomorrow, there’d be compromise and shame and questionable decisions and mistakes. Tonight, we could just talk about the heroes. I smiled, and raised my glass to my father’s picture, tossing back a drink as his favorite Christmas song played.
Tomorrow, there’d also be a feast.
Baby It’s Cold Outside
Horace’s life was getting crowded.
Between the snake, the car, the other snake, and whatever Ammit was, he was being spread thin. And that meant that I wasn’t getting to keep him all to myself. That was an indignity no Cat should have to deal with.
Ammit and Jormungandr were, by their nature, wanderers. They were untamed, creatures that had never learned the sacred pact between man and beast, the warm fire and the food and the rest at the end of a day of hunting. They wandered the city streets, pacing their territory. My territory, technically, but so long as they made it clear they understood that, I could let them satisfy their more bestial desires. They had walked out into the darkness early that day, and there was no sign of them. They would be back tomorrow, for Christmas Day, and presents, and food.
Li and Ford were more difficult. They were clingier, and more loyal. They wanted to stay around Horace. Feed off of the warmth bleeding off of him. By right, that warmth belonged to me, but when I tried to tell them that, they’d just stare at me like I was crazy. The proper way to discipline them was to smack them around a bit, but I knew that they’d run to Horace, and he’d chastise me, and give them even more attention and affection.
Life was so hard.
Not least because of my current state. I was bedraggled, a rare and awful state for a cat to be in, my ears plastered against my head, my tail curled up under the jacket. The weather was cold, wet, and disgusting, and I had been forced to go out into it. There had been something burrowing through the fabric of the city’s fiberoptic cables, some old god of light that had become lost and feral. I’d caught the thing and trapped it in a jar. I might ask Horace to help the creature, at some point- when he was less stressed. I’d also had to deliver the invitation to Dane and her friends, and that stick, because she hadn’t been checking her cellphone, and Horace wanted her to be taken care of.
I stepped into the lobby of the apartment. Horace could, barely, afford it of off of the royalties of the books Harold Schmooli had sold, but his resources were stretched by feeding a large group of freeloaders. They didn’t know how to earn their keep. Not like me. Obviously, I earned my keep by stopping the gods who threatened Horace’s world, and being so adorable and cuddly.
I sighed as I stepped into the elevator, the air warming, but still feeling wet and awful. Life was so hard, and nobody understood.
Li stood in the entrance hallway, on top of a ladder, dangling Christmas lights from nails. They glittered softly, casting little rainbows throughout the room, sparkling. I stared up at them for a moment, entranced, forgetting about the cold and the damp. Then I sneezed, and shivered. “Where’s Horace?”
“He’s been cooking. He just went to use the bathroom a moment ago.”
“Still?” I said, frowning. “It’s way too late for that kind of thing! It’s nearly 9!”
“Apparently, he still needs to get some things. He put together a list, and planned to go out to pick up the rest of the groceries.”
“In this weather?” I crossed my arms. “No. No chance. Do you have the list?”
“It’s in the kitchen.”
“Good. You’re going to go get those groceries.”
Li turned towards me, an eyebrow raised. “But it’s cold out there.”
“You’re warm-blooded in this shape! Get out there.” I planted my fists on my hips. “You wouldn’t make Horace go out there, all on his own, would you? You can at least make his life a little bit easier, right?”
“You’re going to fuck him, aren’t you,” said Li, her eyes narrowed.
“So what if I am? He’s mine, after all.”
She stared at me.
She grinned. “I wonder, if I come back, all shivering and cold… Will he want to embrace me? I can tell him about how you forced me to go out to pick up the groceries-”
“Grah!” I stormed forward, into the kitchen, and grabbed the list, setting the jar of lost god on the table. “Fine! I’ll do it!”
I stormed back out into the bitter cold night. The nearest grocery store was closed. So was the second. The third was open, but they insisted on being paid money for the groceries, which lead to a brief skirmish, and a long run in the cold rain and wind carrying my prize. I returned, more bedraggled than before, my ears plastered to the sides of my head, shivering with the cold. Li covered her mouth as I walked in, carrying the bags. “Dear me, Betty. Are you alright?”
I hissed at her, stalking past the ladder, and into the living room. The pine tree there had been decorated by everyone, all together, and sparkled brightly. It had been planted with roots and all in a sizable clay pot, an act of pure folly by Horace, who hadn’t wanted the tree to die for Christmas. Dozens of presents hung beneath it. Horace had insisted, and offered the money to pay for the presents to each of us. He’d spent the last two weeks working every last shift he could get, running himself ragged. I had barely gotten a pet on the head the entire time. They sat there with colorful wrapping paper, adorned with bows, thirty of them crowding the tree until it barely covered them all.
Ford-bee sat by the tree, staring at the presents. She rested with her hands on her lap, her eyes sparkling as she took in the bright and shining delights, her eyes wandering across the gifts.
“Where’s Horace?” I asked, shivering violently under the jacket, setting the groceries down on the living room table.
“Getting his coat on,” she said, softly, her eyes focused on the tree and its glittering gifts. “He found a store open on Christmas Eve that had something Dane was looking for. A silver flask. He said he needed to get down there quickly.”
“You can get it, right? You know where the store is?”
“Yes, I can get it. That’d be very useful of me, wouldn’t it?” She smiled up at me, and then frowned. “What’s a flask?”
“It’s- It’s like-” I closed my eyes, and kneaded my forehead. I was soaked down to the bone. My whole body was painfully cold. I was built to stalk the savannahs, lean as a poorly built house. “You can handle this on your own, right?”
She looked out the window. “It looks very cold out there.”
“Fuck,” I growled, and stalked back out, past a smiling Li.
“But it’s cold out there!” she said, and I hissed at her again as she giggled.
The store was in downtown. I rode the subway, and fought through the ice cold rain. I ran to the front door of the store.
The man behind the glass door turned a key in the lock just as I reached it, and it clicked shut. The lights went off. He smiled towards me, and flipped me the bird. I smiled back at him as he stepped away from the glass, and deeper into the store. I looked to either side. There was a police officer on the corner, directing traffic. I judged distances, and the slipperiness of the sidewalk. I turned back towards the glass window and the display of goods.
The silver flask sat in that display. Only a couple of feet, an inch of glass, and all of society’s laws and strictures separated me and my goal.
None of those three things stopped my fist. Alarms rang as the rude shopkeeper started running towards the front, the policeman turning towards me. I sprinted away, stashing the flask into my jacket. Frankly, I was glad the shopkeeper had been rude; I didn’t have the money to pay for the flask anyway, and this allowed me to feel very justified as I sprinted into the cold and the wet. The rain came down around my ears as I ran, the sound of sirens erupting behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and hissed. I hadn’t noticed the police car, and it was following me on the street, the streets too empty of traffic to slow it. I was more maneuverable, but it was faster, and there were few alleys. I ran harder, faster, and raced towards a fire escape.
Ten minutes later, I came down from the rooftops, and let out a breath of annoyance. All of that energy spent meant that I was even colder and more miserable than before, my face feeling frostbitten from the cold. I also had to walk nearly half a mile to the nearest subway, sinking into the subway seat.
When I finally returned home, I was practically limping, carrying the ice-cold flask in both hands. I entered the apartment. Li and Ford-bee sat on the couch by the tree, both of them holding a mug full of steaming hot tea. Li smiled at me. “How’s the weather, Betty?”
“It’s cold outside,” I growled, my eyes narrowed. “Where’s Horace?”
Horace stepped through the door from the back rooms, where his- and my- bedroom waited. He wore a jacket. His eyes widened. “Betty, what happened to you?”
“Where are you going?” I asked, my own eyes widening. “You’re not going out, are you?”
“I got a call, from Ammit and Jormungandr. They’re out in the Bronx. They needed a ride home. I was going to go pick them up.”
“But it’s cold outside!” I wailed, my eyes wide. After all that- It would take at least two hours for him to pick them up, and when he returned the house would be absolutely packed with people, all of whom were nosy.
“I’m sorry, Betty,” he said, smiling apologetically. “I need to-”
“Actually,” said Li, standing up, “I can go get them, with Ford-bee’s help. Betty has been working very hard, taking care of everything, like I told you. I think that she needs to be warmed up. Please, let us take care of this, while you take care of her.”
“That’s very kind of you, Li,” said Horace, smiling, as I stared at the snake. She stood up, tugging Ford-bee to her feet, and walked past me.
“Merry Christmas, Betty,” she whispered. Then she and Ford-bee were leaving, the door creaking open and closed, leaving me and Horace alone in the living room.
“God, Betty,” he said, looking me up and down. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve been through a war zone out there.”
“It’s cold outside,” I whimpered. He smiled, and pulled the soaking-wet trenchcoat off. Then he stared.
“Betty, why were you going outside with nothing under this trench coat?”
I just purred, and leaned against him. He was warm as a fire, and his arms went around me, squeezing me close. He ran his fingers through my hair, and slowly sat down, pulling me with him. I curled on top of his lap, nuzzling my face into his neck, continuing to purr loudly, my chest vibrating as I clung to him. His hand kept stroking through my hair, as he pulled a blanket around me, tugging me up against him. I felt my head sway slightly as I leaned into his embrace, grateful for the warmth and the embrace, and the way he cared about me. He cared enough to make up for all the cold and the wet outside.
After a couple of minutes, I stood up, my hands still holding his, pulling him up. He stood up, head tilted. “What’s up, Betty?”
I pulled him along, leading him on into the bedroom, the lights still off, the darkness warm and serene. I lay down on the bed, and pulled him down with me.