Time: Just before Potato Surprise
Place: Orbiting space station, Earth
Shax yanked Verin into the doorway of a closed shop, gesturing for silence.
What? Ver mouthed, though he was aware enough to look anxious instead of irritated.
The tension in Ver's arm ratcheted up the second he spotted them, though. No need for Shax to explain. Three granite trolls wearing Infernal Enforcement uniforms stomped down the station's shopping concourse, heads swiveling as they searched the crowd. Shax pulled the shadows closer around them, only exhaling when the troopers had passed.
"They can't be looking for us already," Ver whisper-growled, but he didn't look convinced.
"I don't know how the alarm sounded so quickly, but they are. I heard one of them mention us." Shax chewed on his bottom lip, thinking hard and fast. "Change of plan. We can't go to the travel office and book passage on anything, spaceliner or otherwise. They'll be watching there and even if I use a less obvious name and account… We don't have time for me to finagle that."
"So what the fuck do we do?"
"Convince someone to smuggle us out."
"Seedy bar time?"
Shax patted his companion's shoulder. "Yes. Quick trip to the lockers for a change in clothes, then seedy bar time."
They both knew the drill as they walked briskly, but in a confident, I-have-somewhere-to-be manner, toward the rental lockers where they'd stashed their luggage. Verin stood in front of him while he shimmied out of his work pants and into skin-tight leather and a gold mesh shirt.
"How're we playing this, mud-for-brains?" Verin closed up the locker as Shax shrugged back into his jacket so he wouldn't be quite as attention attracting as they walked.
"Clueless, feckless demon tourist and surly boyfriend, I think."
Verin nodded. "Sounds right."
With an offended snort, Shax smacked Verin's arm before getting into character. Ver offered that same arm and Shax clung to it, looking appropriately wide-eyed and goggly as they took a leisurely stroll through the corridors to the less respectable part of the station closer to the loading docks. They'd both been to the Earth transit station enough times to know exactly which bar they needed and managed to reach Space Junk without running into any more Infernal Enforcement officers.
In order to properly shimmer and slink, Shax handed his jacket off the Verin at the door. They proceeded with a sharp eye to the patrons, mostly hard-bitten men and women drinking alone.
"Any targets?" Verin muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
Shax lifted his chin. "That one. Over in the far corner. All alone and already half soused."
"That's most of the fuckers in here. Why him?"
"Seriously, Ver?" Shax tsked. "Captain's jacket on the back of his chair. He's too shoddy to fly corporate, so it's more likely he's an owner-operator. We may be able to do better than beg a ride."
Verin only answered with a grouchy harrumph and a puff of steam. Completely in character, so it worked. With a little skip and a bright smile, Shax sidled up to the presumed ship owner who was trying to kill his brain cells.
"Oooh!" Shax wriggled and petted the worn jacket. "Are you a starship captain? How exciting!"
The human glanced over blearily, but something registered in that pickled brain since his eyes traveled up and down Shax's body before he attempted to sit up straighter. "Cargo hauler." The man stopped for a semi-polite belch. "Wouldn't call it anything fancy like starship."
Shax waved the bartender over and bought their new friend three more drinks, which started to vanish with alarming speed. "But I bet you get out of boring old Sol system, don't you? You must see all kinds of things."
"Oh, yeah." The captain's head wobbled in an approximation of a nod. "All kindsa…things. Ha." He finished off the third and Shax had another set ready.
"Is it difficult? Copernicus drive travel?" Shax leaned a little closer, hip just brushing his mark's.
"Eh." The human flapped a hand. "Copernicus…schmernicus…the AI does mosht of it."
Shax looked over the barfly's head and nodded to Verin. Bingo. Interstellar craft.
"Does it? Oh my. I thought you'd need just an enormous crew for all that."
Captain Barely Conscious put his arms on the bar and rested his head atop them. "Nah. Ish jus' me an' Ivana. All I ever…"
He trailed off into an alcohol-induced nap. When he started to snore, Shax slipped his hand into one cargo pocket after another on his work pants, taking anything that looked useful, though he left the human the spare credit chits in his left pocket. No need to rob the man entirely blind. Finally, he slipped the wrist comm off the man's arm and nodded to Verin to grab the jacket.
"Sorry, Captain." Shax kissed the top of his head. "I truly am. But our need is far greater right now."
Shax slipped into the captain's jacket once they'd left the bar, ignoring Verin's raised eyebrow, and they hurried back to the lockers to retrieve their meager luggage. It wasn't much, but it had been all they could pack in a panicked frenzy before anyone could catch on that Shax knew. Hells gates, yes. He knew they were doomed if they stayed, doomed twice over if he simply refused the suicide job, and possibly still doomed if they couldn't get away.
"Docking chit. He's at berth nine." Shax murmured as he went through the human's things. "Let’s hope one of these things provides entry."
They had to hide once more in a dimly lit cross-corridor when the Hell goons tromped by. Once they were out of sight, they both lost their nerve and raced through the hallways to the docking bays. Nine wasn't too far down, thank all the unholies, in the section for smaller cargo ships. Shax made an educated guess and held the stolen comm link up to the pad for the access portal. He allowed himself a huff of breath and a grin when it cycled open.
"We'll be okay now, Ver. Promise."
"Better be." Ver gave him a little shove into the access tube. "Go. Let's get the fuck out of this system."
Shax hurried along and into the ship, which, granted, had probably seen better days, but looked sound. "Away, away. Where the long arm of Hell has no jurisdiction and the powers that be can't travel. Oh, Ver. This will be such fun."
Time: After Beside A Black Tarn
Place: New Bangkok, Barbary
"Where you off to looking like a thundercloud, Ver?" Corny straightened from where he'd been fussing with Rosa's hooves.
Damn it. Verin had hoped he could slip out without seeing anyone. "Somewhere."
"You need company? I might could come along if you give me a minute."
"No. Did I ask for company?" Verin cringed inwardly. That was harsh.
"All right, then." The hurt in Corny's voice was muffled as he bent back to Rosa's hoof. "Don't mind me."
Trailing steam, Verin stomped out of the cargo bay. Fuck it. I don't have to explain myself. Never made any promises that I'd tell him everything or shit like that. This is me still. My life. And I'm gonna do whatever the fuck I want.
People scattered from his path as he stomped out of the spaceport and into the streets of New Bangkok. Because he could, and because he was running a little late, he hailed a tuk-tuk, surprised when the first one stopped for him. Usually took a few passing him before one stopped. He climbed in and gave the driver the address.
The driver's eyebrows rose. "You sure that's where you want to go, Mr. Demon?"
"Yeah, I'm fucking sure. I tell you where to go. You drive. That's how this works. First day?"
"Ha. Funny demon." The driver snorted and eased back into traffic, heading uptown.
Once they arrived, he paid the driver a little extra for not making any smartass remarks. Yeah, this place was in a fancier part of town than he'd normally go, and yeah, it was kinda pricey. He got why the driver didn't think he belonged. Didn't mean he appreciated it. Ballsy judgmental humans.
No sign hung over the door to the establishment. Just a plain black door and a person either knew the place was there or they didn't. Verin squared his shoulders, strode in like he belonged there, and only let out a little puff of smoke when he saw they had another new receptionist.
She gave him the hairy eyeball as he approached the desk. "Can I help you, um, sir?"
"Yeah. I'm here to see Gino."
Her perfectly applied cosmetics threatened to crack when she wrinkled her forehead. "Do you have an appointment?"
"No, I'm just here to cause trouble 'cause I'm a demon. Of course I have an appointment. You could check first before going all snooty as gold shit on me."
"Sir, there's no need to take that tone—"
The heavy red curtains behind the front desk flipped open, revealing a beautiful human in skintight shorts and crop top, his makeup much more artfully applied than Ms. Thing's at the desk. "Tara, is my ten o'clock— Oh, there you are, Mr. Hammer! Right on time. Why don't you slide on back here with me? Tara will sign you in."
The receptionist stared from one to the other and Verin was more than happy to stride past and leave her gaping. Gino took his arm with a smile, hips twitching as he walked Verin through the velvet-lined corridor.
"The usual today, handsome? Or did you need something…special?"
"Usual's good, Gino." At the alcove where Gino held the curtains aside for him, Verin stopped and scuffed a clawed foot on the carpet. "Maybe horns, too?"
"They do look like they need some attention," Gino crooned, stroking along the outer curl of the left one. "Hop up on the chair, sweetie, and put those glorious scaly feet in the water for me."
Verin did as he was asked, knowing the foot tub Gino used for him was three times bigger than the normal one. Good to have a place that understood. He let out a grateful sigh as his feet went into the ginger-scented, Epsom salt water. Hell's fucking gates, that always feels good.
Perched behind Verin on a stool, Gino started on his horns while his feet soaked, filing away rough spots, polishing them to high shine. "Sure you don’t want any color today? You know I can do your nails in a nice black if you want."
"No." Verin let the steam trickle from his nostrils, doing his best not to sound so short and sharp. "Thanks, Gino. No color."
He let Gino chatter away at him, the stream of small talk swirling around him in soothing waves while he had his claws clipped and filed. Gino fussed at him for letting one of them split so badly, but even that didn't annoy him. This was time away from everything, away from the galaxy and all the weird shit in his life.
When he returned to the Brimstone a couple of hours later, he was relaxed enough to be thinking of an apology for Corny. He hadn't meant to hurt his cowboy. It was all just so…
"There you are." Corny's hands slipped around his waist from behind, his chin on Verin's shoulder as he drew in a deep breath. "My, my, someone smells powerful nice."
Strong hands took him by the arms and turned him. Verin expected Corny to be laughing at him, but those eyes were full of understanding instead. "Bull-headed sometimes, Hammer. You are that. You should know better by now."
Verin frowned. "Know what?"
"That I ain't gonna be makin' fun or saying you're unmanly for things you hanker for. You got your nails and your horns seen to. They look damn good. Ain't nothin' to be ashamed of."
"But it's… It's a fucking pedicure. I mean, fussy demons like Shax might get that done…and then they always wanna add some damn color, too. It's not, you know, a really butch place."
Now Corny did snicker. "Sorry. I was just thinking you could call it a horny-pedi. And if you wanted color, so what? Could paint your claws bright red and you'd still be twice as tough as nails."
Verin rested his head on Corny's shoulder. "Good. Shit… Yeah. It's good. Wanna come with me next time?"
Another soft chuckle rumbled through Corny's chest as he wrapped his arms tight around Verin. "You know, I think I just might."
Time: After Beside A Black Tarn
Place: Aboard the Brimstone, in transit
"So who's your favorite human hero?" Julian asked as he stirred more sugar into his tea. So bitter. Let it steep too long again.
"Well, we're all for damn sure who yours is." Corny poked him in the ribs. "Since you made us watch all them James Bond movies."
"Not all of them. I spared you Moonraker. Though if you wanted to watch it…"
"Oh fuck no." Verin snarled. "Stupid movie."
They had been discussing demon heroes over breakfast—Abaddon, Mephistopheles, and so on, and an interesting mix of clever and brutal they were. Julian didn't know enough demon lore to pick one, though. Saying Shax was his demon hero would've sounded saccharine and probably would've ticked Ness off. Redirection had been in order before Julian started feeling out of place. More out of place.
"I'm partial to that Jane Goodall," Corny offered. "She didn't take nothin' from nobody and, well, animals."
Shax reached for a second cinnamon bun. Why he never gained an ounce with all the sweets he scarfed down, Julian would never understand. "I agree with your assessment, Corny, and she was an unquestionably admirable human, but I thought we were speaking of fictional humans."
"Oh. All right." Corny's forehead creased as he considered. "I'll pick that little Miles Vorkosigan I'm readin' through now. Great big brass balls on that one and he's always thinkin', even in the worst spots. Kinda reminds me of you, Cap, a little. In your demon tornado moments."
"Thank you? I think?" Shax shook his head with a quirk of a smile and leaned his head on his angel's shoulder. "Ness?"
Ness turned his coffee mug in his hands, staring into the depths for so long that Julian wondered if he was already ticked off about something and refusing to answer. Finally, he flushed pink as he said, "Eowyn. She's a true hero who didn't let what others thought of her get in the way of being a true hero."
"She is pretty badass," Verin said, a sentence so unexpected that all eyes whipped over to him. "What? All those idiots telling her what she couldn't do and she's like fuck you all, I'm doing it."
"So, Ver. What's yours?" Shax reached for yet another cinnamon roll and Ness smacked his hand. He turned an actual pout Ness's way, which on him looked absurdly fetching, but Ness pushed a plate of bacon in his direction instead.
Ver let out a puff of steam. "That's easy. Mine is that Cuchulain fucker. All the rage and destruction. Good stuff for a human story."
"Cap? Guess yours is someone like Robin Hood, huh?" Corny ventured.
Shax regarded him in wide-eyed horror. "Great bubbling sulfur pits, no! What a complete git. Why would you go to all the trouble of stealing pretties and give them all away? Absolute lunacy." Shax drummed his fingers on the table while he considered. "I do like that Deadpool though. The ability to spread chaos like an industrial farm sprinkler is something to be admired. And keep a sense of humor while doing it."
"Yeah." Verin nodded. "All that destruction and shit. Good stuff."
Shax's smile grew wistful as he crunched on his consolation bacon. "He would have made an excellent demon."
About The Brimstone Journals
Extra treats for our Brimstone readers, Brimstone Journals will post every Tuesday. Short scenes from characters' lives before, after or during the stories.
About the Author