Stag

His own agonized scream startled Kyle awake. Every muscle in his body burned, and he couldn’t force any of them to relax enough to allow him to lie comfortably in bed. Dripping sweat and panting like he had just run a marathon, he stared helplessly at the ceiling, stars dancing in front of his eyes.

Until just recently, he had experienced pain like this only once before. And it was in reliving that fateful night in his dreams that he had begun to experience it again. He knew that he mumbled and moaned in his sleep as he was forced again and again to make his contract with Ryka, but it had only ever looked to others like he was hurting; the dream itself was actually quite innocuous. Now, the sensations that woke him nightly were almost as unbearable as they had been the night he had become a demon’s host.

Kill me, he thought. Please.

I won’t.

As the pain began to diminish and Kyle finally regained some control of his body, he rolled onto his side. Tears streamed down his face, and he could see them glistening on his cheeks, reflected in the mirror above his dresser. Although his breath came only in uneven, ragged gasps, he still managed to ask, “Why not?”

Because I love you. And I won’t let you do it yourself, either.

Kyle closed his eyes. A few weeks earlier, when the torment had only just begun, he had asked the same thing. And Ryka had coolly explained that if Kyle tried anything, he’d summon himself. Which left Kyle no choice but to suffer.

“What’s happening?” he inquired. This, too, had become part of their new ritual. But, for the first time, Ryka answered.

If I knew for sure, I’d tell you. I can only assume it’s punishment.

“You sound so guilty. You’re not doing this, though.”

Never, Master. But … it could be to make up for all the other pain I save you from. Hangovers, getting run over, that kind of thing.

“Great. I’d rather a hangover than this. A thousand hangovers at once still wouldn’t suck this much.”

Ryka laughed weakly, and Kyle could tell the demon was trying to force his own will upon Kyle’s stubbornly unyielding muscles. They relaxed a little more, and Kyle’s breathing finally returned to normal. Go back to sleep.

Still a little shaky, Kyle fumbled for the alarm clock. “It’s already three. I may as well get up and do some work.”

Really, Kyle was scared to go back to sleep. Once a night was more than enough to feel like he was being repeatedly run over by a freight train. He knew Ryka could tell exactly how he felt, but said nothing. It was one of the rare times when Kyle didn’t appreciate his silence.

 

The morning bell was enough to stop Kyle from nodding off at his desk. He watched through narrowed, blood-shot eyes as his students streamed into the room and quietly took their seats. In a sleep-deprived stupor, he began lecturing, frozen in place in front of the blackboard, supported only by Ryka’s desire to prevent his host from ruining their reputation. Without the demon’s help, Kyle knew he wouldn’t have been able to get out of his chair, never mind remain standing during an eighty minute class.

Somehow, Kyle made it through two periods. By lunchtime, though, he was as exhausted mentally as he was physically. Not since Ryka’s rebellious stage had he gotten so little sleep. And back then, he had only been tired and a little sick. Even though he had been awake for hours, the pain still lingered. Its persistence worried him, but he was too tired to dwell on it.

As soon as his second class ended, he hobbled to the teachers’ lounge and let himself fall onto the couch. Don’t sleep here.

“I know,” he mumbled. He certainly didn’t want to. The rest of the staff was already terrified of him. Waking up, screaming and thrashing, wouldn’t help. But his eyelids felt so heavy, he couldn’t stop himself from closing his eyes. Just for a moment.

And when he found himself staring across his bed at a smaller, cuter version of Ryka, he tried to force himself back awake. It wasn’t working.

The only thing that saved him the agony and embarrassment of the dream was Adam shaking him awake. “Probably not a good spot for a nap.”

“I wasn’t planning on it. It just keeps happening.”

“Why don’t you have them call a sub so you can go home?” Adam suggested, concern evident in his words.

“It doesn’t matter. I can’t sleep for long. I’m pretty sure this is what they mean by ‘no rest for the wicked.’”

Kyle had tried to explain to Adam what had been happening to him, but had yet to give him Ryka’s interpretation. Before anyone else walked into the room, he did just that.

“So, this could go on for how long?”

“I don’t want to think about it.”

“Well, at least school’s done in a week.”

For that fact, Kyle couldn’t have been more grateful.

 

Drawing on Ryka’s seemingly limitless strength, Kyle managed to finish off the school year without collapsing in front of his students. He was still only getting a few hours of sleep each night, but the thought of three months with no work energized him more than a little. And an invitation to go out drinking helped, too.

Especially since it meant staying out late. Anything that helped him avoid going to bed quickly became a beloved new pastime, and Ryka was enjoying this new trend. Kyle let the demon spoil him, and did his best to return all the attention. He was tired, but at least he was satisfied. And a well-behaved parasite made the situation a little easier to handle, too.

Still, Ryka found it impossible to be entirely obedient, so he was the one who was there to greet Adam when he arrived at the house. Adam expected some sort of harassment, but Ryka only said, “Don’t let him sleep,” before handing back control of their body to his host.

Barely avoiding unconsciousness after the transformation, Kyle struggled off the couch. “I just need some caffeine or something first.”

“No problem,” Adam quickly replied. He would do everything in his power not to disappoint Ryka.

***

The bar was crowded, but not claustrophobic. Kyle wished he was awake enough to enjoy it more. As much as he liked O’Rourke’s, it was nice to go somewhere else. But his vision was starting to blur, and he could feel his eyelids begin to droop. Adam nudged him. “I’m just going to the bathroom. I’ll be back in a sec. You’ll be okay, right?”

“Yeah.” He wasn’t so sure, but he didn’t want Adam to worry.

At least don’t waste the beer.

“Fine,” he murmured, preparing to finish what was left in his glass in one swig. But all thoughts of his beer, or of almost anything else, vanished when a man wearing a black leather trench coat and spurred cowboy boots walked into the room and sidled up next to Kyle at the bar.

“Evenin’. Mind if I sit?” he greeted in a thick Southern drawl. “Pardon me for not makin’ eye contact - I know it’s rude - but lookin’ at you gives me sorta double vision. Seein’ both of you at once like that ain’t easy.”

The newcomer may not have been able to look at him, but Kyle was staring dumbstruck at the man. No one could see it, he knew this by now, but the horns that curled back from behind his temples and, when he shifted his coat aside to sit, the tail coiled around his left thigh were obvious to Kyle. Just as obvious as his complete lack of wings.

“Ah, you’re wonderin’ about my lack of flight gear. Reapers don’t need it. Too hard to hide all the time, besides.” He glanced sideways at Kyle, garnet eyes glowing. “He might not even know much about us, we spend so much time stuck here. But before that, forgive me again, I failed to introduce myself. Name’s Pike.”

“I’m Kyle. And this is Ryka.” It felt strange to have no one but himself to motion toward, but the words came out of his mouth quite naturally.

“Pleasure.”

Pike ordered himself a drink, and didn’t speak again until he’d drained half of it. “I’ll gladly answer your questions, but may I ask a few of my own first?” Since Pike seemed nice enough, compared to the few other immortals Kyle had encountered, he nodded. “Thanks very much. Now, how long you two been together?”

At first, Kyle couldn’t say anything. Though he could feel his cheeks getting hot. Finally, he told him, “Eleven years.”

“And judging by the look on your face, ‘together’ for you two has more than one meaning. But a gentleman doesn’t pry. Not when he’s done his own fair share of messin’ around.” Pike took a few sips of his beer and kept a close watch over Kyle’s shoulder. Unable to stop himself, Kyle turned to follow his gaze and saw Adam heading back toward them. His friend looked surprised to see him having a conversation with a stranger, when he had been so near to falling asleep moments before.

I don’t want to talk in here, Ryka said, helping Kyle make a decision about what he should say to Adam. And I don’t think Adam needs to hear anything Pike is going to say.

So, when Adam took his seat again, Kyle turned and told him, “We’re just going to step outside for a minute. I think some fresh air will help me wake up a little more.”

“Sure. Want me order you another beer?” By now, Adam knew better than to ask too many questions. If Kyle didn’t tell him, he was probably better off not knowing.

“Yeah, thanks.”

He and Pike both polished off their drinks before heading outside. “This way,” Pike said quietly, inclining his head toward the back of the building before starting in that direction. Kyle followed him. “I’m glad Ryka knows enough to realize I’m not a threat. I’ve run into some young demons who throw one Hell of a fit when they see me.”

“Um, well, I hope this doesn’t sound too straightforward or anything,” Kyle started, only realizing as he spoke how catching Pike’s good manners and heavy accent were, “but what does a Reaper really do? I mean, not what we think, but what you actually do. Is it different from what a Hell Hound does?”

“And at least you’re smart enough to know there’s a difference, even if you’ve been unlucky enough to meet a Hound. They hate me, too.” Pike leaned back against the building, letting his tail unwind from around his leg. “Well, Hell Hounds are the Devil’s eyes up here. That’s why they have two sets, you know. Help him keep track of what all those sinners are up to, so that when their souls go home, he’s got some good inspiration for keepin’ ‘em occupied for all of eternity. And as a reward for their huntin’, Hounds can take whatever lives they need to keep strong and healthy. Hidin’ in this world ain’t always easy. Sometimes makes me wish I had a host. Then I’d have company and a good food source.” Kyle seemed a little shocked at that, but Ryka purred just loud enough for Kyle to hear. Pike’s words seemed to make him appreciate what he had. Just as much as it made Kyle feel like a walking buffet.

“As for Reapers, we make sure sinners don’t redeem themselves. As soon as it looks like they might do somethin’ good to shift the scales back toward salvation, we give ’em a little touch. Like this.” Slowly, he reached out with one long, wickedly clawed finger and tapped Kyle on the shoulder. It felt like his blood was about to freeze solid in his veins, but Ryka remained completely unfazed.

“That’s all it takes?” Pike nodded, and the slightest grin turned up the corners of his thin lips. Kyle felt his skin crawl. With a weatherworn face and hair graying at the temples, it looked like Pike had spent more years sowing fields than he had reaping souls. The disconnect between his unassuming appearance and good manners, and his obvious delight for his job made Kyle a little nervous.

“Won’t work on you, of course. You’re not any of my business. And now I see that if I did think to mess with ya, I might get in big trouble for it.”

Before he even had the chance to look and check his hunch, Kyle noticed the faint red light now shining on him and Pike. Ryka’s shadow was watching them.  It gave him chills whenever he saw the portal through his own eyes, and he always felt it was better if Ryka was out if the shadow was. “Ry, do you want to come out for a minute? I’m not feeling good again, anyhow.”

Sure. And maybe he knows some tricks. I’m pretty sure he’s really fucking old.

It was a little uncomfortable undressing in front of Pike, but the Grim Reaper continued to play the gentleman and focused instead on getting a cigar out of jacket pocket. “Could I bother you for a light?” he asked Ryka.

Before extinguishing the small flame dancing on his pointer finger, Ryka lit a cigarette for himself. The two demons stood in silence for a few moments, Pike calmly puffing away on the cigar clenched between his teeth. Ryka started to ask Pike a question, but was cut off.

“Save your breath. I know what you wanna ask. Well, let’s see. I’ve been on Earth long enough to have met Judas in person.” He paused when Ryka let out of a low hiss. “Maybe you don’t like that name, but it’s something to consider, ain’t it? Anyhow, I was made about seven thousand years ago, I’ve been on this planet nearly four thousand years, and in this country long enough to pick up this friggin’ accent I can’t seem to shake.”

“Something to look forward to.”

“Hopefully not. Now, what’s troublin’ you two? Even you look about ready to drop.”

Through Ryka’s eyes, Kyle now stared down at the pavement. Ashamed as he was about his host’s poor condition, Ryka couldn’t force himself to look Pike in the eye. But he still explained what had been happening.

Five long minutes passed after Ryka finished speaking. Finally, Pike told him, “You know, I really miss home. When I first got here, it’s all I could think about. I dreamed about bein’ back, sleepin’ in my own place. Just dreamin’ about it made me feel better.”

To Kyle, this sounded more like an old man reminiscing about his youth than any sort of helpful advice, but Ryka nodded. “Thanks.”

“No problem. It was nice chattin’, but I got a bus to catch. I found some time to sightsee, and I’m takin’ advantage of it.” Pike dropped his cigar, crushed it with the heel of his boot, and started back toward the street.

He’d only gone a few steps when he stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “Maybe one more hint, for Kyle. You know, I was bored once, so I let ‘em catch me and try me for murder – they tried to give me the chair. Man, I’ve yet to find a woman that can make me feel as good as that shock did. And believe me, I’ve tried a lot of ‘em.” Winking, he snapped, and red sparks flew from his fingertips, sizzling when they hit the pavement. And then he was gone.

What was that about?

“Fire feels good to me. Really, really good.”

You want me to burn you? Kyle asked in disbelief. There were a lot of things he had done to Ryka, and let Ryka do to him, but this seemed to be crossing some sort of line.

“Yeah, except that you can’t actually hurt me like that, remember?”

Still… Knowing he needed to change the subject before he got dragged into something he really wasn’t ready for, he continued, Adam’s probably waiting. With my beer.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. You’re such a prude.” Disappointed as he was, Ryka gave up arguing and retreated.

Back at the bar, Adam was carefully guarding his friend’s drink. “Feel better?” he asked when Kyle sat down.

“Not really. But I’m fine.”

“I hope so. Because I did want you to come to my bachelor party next weekend.”

“It’s already that time, huh?” Maybe Ryka’s skewed sense of time was starting to affect him, because it seemed to Kyle that Adam and Kate had only just started going out. Now, their wedding was only a month away. He’d been sent an invitation, at Adam’s request, he was sure. But it was obvious Kate didn’t want him there. Why else would she have the ceremony at a church and the reception at a church hall when neither of them had attended a service in years?

“I’m sorry about the wedding. It’s just what she wanted, and …”

“Don’t apologize. Assuming I’m not dead by then, I’ll come to the party. I mean, it’s not going to be anything crazy, right?”

“No, I hope not. One of my friends, Dan, said we can have it at his house. His wife was going to take the kids to visit their grandparents for the weekend. But Dan’s loaded, and so is his wife, so their house is basically a mansion. Huge pool, hot tub, home theater, all that.”

“As long as you’re sure it’s okay for me to go.” That sounded like just the sort of place Ryka would have a field day trashing. He looked a like a rock star, and he definitely acted like one.

“Of course.”

***

Yawning, Kyle climbed into bed and tried to make himself comfortable. He still ached, and he knew it could get much, much worse, but he was too tired to resist any longer. And the alcohol hadn’t helped. “Please spare me,” he whispered, though who would answer the wishes of a sinner such as himself, he really didn’t know.

Let’s try something new tonight. Pike might have had a really good idea.

“I still don’t know how you got something out of what he said.”

You’re dense.

“Thanks. Now I’m tired and emotionally wounded.”

Suck it up, princess. Let’s go to sleep.

The moment Kyle heard the word, he drifted off. And as soon as the dream started, he regretted letting himself doze off so easily. At least until he realized that tonight, things were under Ryka’s control.

It had been months since Ryka had last let them be together in dreams, and as much as Kyle enjoyed it, he didn’t see how that would help him any. Because afterward, he really would sleep, and undoubtedly dream.

So, when Ryka lay down next to him and pulled him close, he tried to fight his way out of the demon’s embrace. “Where you going, stud?”

“Even like this, I’m too tired.”

“You sound like some old housewife or something. Just shut up and let me hold you.”

“You’re not going to-?”

“Don’t tempt me. I’m trying to be good. So stop struggling.” Kyle allowed himself to relax, and Ryka held him against his chest, keeping one hand over Kyle’s eyes and a wing protectively over them both. The heat from Ryka’s body was soothing, as was his quiet purring, and before long, Kyle was falling asleep, while asleep.

He awoke gasping, his body already assuming he was in pain. But the sun was already up, and the worst that had happened was his hand falling asleep because he’d lain on it all night. For the first time in weeks, he felt refreshed. “Ry?”

Shut up. Let me sleep.

“Sorry. And thank you.”

Uh-huh.

***       

Although he was a little lonely without Ryka’s company during the day, it was nice not to be in pain and on the verge of keeling over. Of course, he was sure the loophole they’d found would be closed soon enough, but he hoped to take advantage of it as long as he could, and as long as Ryka was willing to help. Which, he thought with a smile, would probably have been forever.

 

Adam hadn’t been kidding; his friend Dan’s house was enormous. Obscenely large, even. Kyle was sure he could have fit four of his house in it, and never mind the expansive, golf-course perfect lawn that sprawled out around it. “Best behavior, right, Ryka?”

Yes. For the fifteenth fucking time.

“Okay, okay. Sorry. Go back to sleep.” All week, Ryka had been ensuring that his host slept well, which meant losing out on plenty of shut-eye himself. Because to make sure the dream he created didn’t end, he had to lie awake next to a peacefully dozing Kyle. It was incredibly boring, and a temptation almost too good to resist. But he had managed to keep his hands, and everything else, to himself for his Master’s sake. To have Kyle feeling better was worth it.

Night.

“Good night, Ry.”

Kyle parked behind Adam’s car in the driveway, which he thought might have been longer than the street he lived on. As soon as he stepped out of his car, Adam came out to greet him. “Hey. You found it okay?”

“I don’t really think I could miss it,” he replied, looking at the house again.

“Kinda sad, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. But I knew what I was getting myself into when I started teaching.”

“The exact opposite of this. But come on in. They bought a couple kegs, the bar’s stocked, and his wife left all kinds of food.”

After grabbing a backpack with a few necessities out of his backseat, Kyle followed his friend toward the house. He noticed Adam eyeing his bag, and said, “I am going to try to stay at least for tonight. This week’s been a lot better.” In fact, the night before, he’d managed to get a solid eight hours sleep without any assistance. Only a week had gone by, and it seemed now like nothing had ever been wrong. Ryka, however, was still far from caught up on all the sleep he’d lost.

“I’m glad.”

A group of six other men was waiting in the living room. Adam introduced Kyle to them, and Kyle could tell that Ryka woke up long enough to quickly check everyone out. Since he went right back to sleep, Kyle assumed he hadn’t noticed anything worth worrying about. And really, Kyle hadn’t thought he would. They were all Adam’s college friends and relatives.

So, Kyle made himself at home, just as Dan and Adam insisted everyone do. Dan gave a tour of the inside of the house then led everyone outside to the patio. Maybe it was the sinner in him, but Kyle felt a little envious. The outside of the house was nicer even than the inside. There was a huge in-ground pool, hot tub, and an outdoor kitchen with the biggest grill he had ever seen.

“Jesus Christ,” one of Adam’s cousins exclaimed, “do you guys roast whole fucking pigs on that thing or what?”

“Man, I’d love to try,” Dan returned, beaming like he was boasting about a child and not a piece of cooking equipment.

Like he had told Adam, Kyle had never expected to live a life on luxury on a teacher’s salary. But this was making him feel inadequate. I can get you anything you want, Ryka rumbled, sounding only half-awake. That didn’t stop his words from sounding any less sinister. All you have to do is ask.

“I’m fine,” Kyle replied, trying not to let anyone see him mumbling to himself. But Ryka needed to be answered, and quickly. He hadn’t been above cheating at the casino; he certainly wouldn’t have any qualms about killing Dan so Kyle could have the house.

When Kyle returned his attention to the conversation, he found they were still talking about the grill. “Yeah, it took six guys to get it off the truck. It’s a beast. Hopefully it’ll be nice tomorrow and we can do a little grilling for breakfast. My wife left steaks in the fridge for us.”

Thinking about the cold, bleeding piece of meat Ryka had ordered at the casino, Kyle had to force himself not to gag. “You okay?” Adam quietly inquired, watching his friend turn a sickly shade of white. Kyle nodded. “Good. Because it’s time for beer.”

               

Based on the amount of alcohol Dan had purchased for the occasion, Kyle thought he expected the event to go on for at least a week. At least it seemed that way until they actually started drinking. Only two hours had passed, and one keg was already empty. Two bottles of rum had suffered the same fate. Feeling good?

“Very.”

I bet we could find a way to make you feel even better.

Between the loud music now playing, and the fact that everyone else was at least as buzzed as he was, Kyle didn’t think anyone would notice him chatting with Ryka. Still, he put on the Bluetooth headset he had bought for just such occasions – a replacement for the first one, which the shadow had devoured just for the fun of it - and wandered toward the pool. “I don’t know about right now, Ry.”

When the rest of them are asleep, then.

The beer made him less opposed to this idea than he might otherwise have been. “We’ll see.” He paused, looking back toward the house. Adam motioned for him to come back over, but Kyle pointed to his earpiece.

Even over all the racket, Adam’s next words could be easily heard. With a knowing smile, he turned to his friends and explained, “He’ll be back right. He’s on the phone with his boyfriend.”

If they hadn’t been drinking, Kyle was sure no one would have said anything. But if alcohol was good for nothing else, it surely loosened tongues.

“Whoa, hold on,” Dan nearly shouted, his voice travelling much farther than the confines of the patio, “Kyle’s a f-”

For a moment, Kyle thought he’d gone deaf. The music, the voices, everything stopped. There was only silence. Then came the familiar sounds of tearing fabric and the leathery rustling of demon wings. Time had slowed to a crawl. Through Ryka’s sharp eyes, he noticed that Dan hadn’t even finished spitting out the horribly offensive word he had started to say. And he quickly realized he never would.

The grill landed not three feet from where Dan stood, stopping him cold before he’d even made it through one entire syllable. With eyes like saucers, the men stared at the pile of scrap metal that, when whole, had left a foot-deep crater in the patio. Adam was the first to notice something missing among the wreckage, and the first to look up and see Ryka stalking toward them.

“Dan, shut up, shut up,” he urged his friend.

“Huh?” Dan managed, finally coming to his senses. They quickly left him again. Because he now saw what Adam had, and what their other friends had already noticed.

“Missing something?” Ryka asked, holding the grill’s massive propane tank in one hand. In the other, lifted over his head, hovered a ball of red flame. “I was going to ask Master just to buy a little torch for us to play with, but this is going to be so much better. Like being home, almost. Especially if you all scream nicely for me while you roast alive.”

Now feeling quite sober, Adam decided to intervene. “Ryka, we’re sorry. It’s my fault. I said something unnecessary.”

“Now, now, big boy, no need to martyr yourself. You’ve been good to Master, so I’ll let you live. This fucker, though, cooks.” He pointed an accusing finger at Dan, whose knees buckled.

Sobbing and pleading for mercy, Dan dropped to the ground. “I didn’t mean anything by it, I swear. Please, please, I have a wife. Kids.”

“Like I give a shit. Maybe you should think for a minute before opening your big fucking mouth, huh?”

You know, you’re starting to sound more like a drunk than a demon. Kyle actually thought it was an improvement, but Ryka didn’t take it that way.

“Sorry, Master.” The fire in his palm grew to encompass his forearm, and he tightened his grip on the propane tank, crushing the handle like it was a piece of paper. “You mortals never think about the consequences. So how about a little taste of Hell? Something to remind you that no bad deed goes unpunished.”

When Adam saw Ryka preparing to puncture the tank with one of his claws, he panicked. “Ryka, please don’t.” This, he knew, was one of the things Kyle had warned him never to do. Further pissing off an already furious demon was a huge mistake. But he felt compelled to try and stop him anyhow. “Please. What would Kyle say?”

To his complete astonishment, Ryka extinguished the flame and set down the propane tank. His wings, still outstretched, were lowered to be level with his shoulders. They dragged behind him as he took a step forward, away from the dangerously explosive gas canister. Little did Adam know, but this was a sign of Ryka’s submission.

“I’m too tired for this shit tonight,” Ryka said, covering up his embarrassment with another version of the truth. Given that he couldn’t lie, it was the best he could do. As much as he wanted to have some fun, he knew Adam was right.

Almost too relieved to understand what was happening, Adam stood up and risked a few small steps in Ryka’s direction .”I’m sorry. So is Dan. He really didn’t mean anything by it. He’s more understanding than that.” Dan got to his feet, nodding and looking apologetic. And more than a little scared for his life.

“Whatever. Fuck up again and I’ll choke all you idiots with each other’s intestines.”

Adam flinched. “Thank you, Ryka. Really.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m going back to sleep. And seriously, the next person to wake me up is going to die.”

To add a little more weight to his threat, Ryka reached down and grabbed a handful of what had recently been a grill. A length of molten metal flowed after it, tapering ever so slightly as Ryka lifted his hand up to shoulder height. Adam recalled what Ryka had done with his whip at the prom, and he was sure leveling the house wouldn’t be much more difficult for him than slicing a car in half had been.

“Sweet dreams, then. We’ll save you something to drink.”

Now smiling broadly, Ryka opened his fist, and the beginnings of the whip coiled back onto the pile of scrap metal, cooling and hardening almost instantly. “Nighty night.”

Kyle came to with a bloody nose, the result of having fallen face-first on to the patio the instant his body was back under his control. “Damn it, you could have at least sat down or something first.” There was no reply, and Kyle just shook his head. “I’m so, so sorry. I’ll pay for everything,” he continued, his words directed at Dan. He couldn’t bring himself to meet the other man’s eyes, so he instead stared at his shoes.

“No! I’ve got it, really.” The other man’s voice cracked, and Kyle was struck with a sudden overwhelming guilt.

Staggering to his feet, and trying not to look at the small blood stain on the ground, Kyle started toward the front yard. “I should go.”

“Come on, don’t leave,” Adam called after him. He caught up to his friend, then turned him around to face the patio again. “We all want you to stay. That was no big deal. Really. Help us finish the kegs, okay?”

Kyle mustered the courage to look up at the rest of the group, and was surprised to see they were all smiling. Not the most natural smiles he had ever seen, but they were trying. “I guess I should at least stay and explain, right?”

“Right.”

***

Once they had started drinking again, the earlier incident was, if not forgotten, completely disregarded. Around three, they had begun wandering off to bed. Kyle had offered to take the couch, but Dan was adamant about him having one of the guest rooms. Nervous as he was about another potential painful nightmare, Kyle accepted.

But when he drifted off, he awoke in his dream to find Ryka waiting for him. “I thought you were never going to come to bed,” Ryka purred in his ear, before starting to lick it.

“H-hold on. I need to sleep. And couldn’t they, um, hear me or something?”

“Even if you did get a little noisy, I don’t think they’d be stupid enough to say anything, do you?”

“Well, no, but-”

“And I’m sorry, but tonight, I get what I want.”

“Huh?” Usually, Ryka was quiet obedient in these situations. But when the demon effortlessly flipped him onto his stomach, he realized that tonight, things weren’t going to go according to his wishes. “What are you doing?”

“You haven’t figured it out yet? Well, stud, I’m going to rape you.”

“No, wait, Ry, hold on.”

“Can’t.” Ryka already had Kyle’s arms pinned behind his back. With all his might, which didn’t amount to much when compared to the demon’s, Kyle tried to work his wrists free. All he succeeded in doing was nearly popping his arms out of their sockets. “Guess where my other hand’s going to end up if you don’t quit fighting me.”

It took a few seconds of blinking to assure Kyle his eyes were still in his head. “Wait, I-”

“And don’t say ‘I thought you loved me.’ Of course I do, Master. Why else would I have sat and watched you sleep all week? So let me have this. If you don’t fight, I’ll make sure you feel good.”

But as impatient as he seemed, Ryka didn’t do anything else. Slowly, his frustrated growl subsided into something much more calm and steady, and Kyle understood why Ryka had initially been so rough with him. “Hungry?”

“You have no fucking idea. And my meal earlier was ruined.”

“Sorry. But thanks for listening to Adam.”

“I’m still doing whatever I want tonight.”

“I know.”

There was another pause, during which Ryka loosened his grip on Kyle’s wrists. Relieved, Kyle rolled onto his back. His relief was only temporary, as Ryka leaned in close and told him, “Later, you’re going to the hardware store and buying some sort of torch or something.”

Kyle nodded. “You just have to be careful not to burn the house down.”

“Fine. Now, are you going to let me do this, or do I have to force you?”

Blushing, Kyle replied, “You don’t have to force me. I’m willing.” Ryka kissed him, and when their lips parted, Kyle fell back into the pillow, panting. “You’re trouble.”

“Mm hmm. But you don’t need to worry about that anymore. I’ve already damned you.”