When Jared wakes up again, it's about noon. He yawns, sits up and stretches languidly for a bit before finally getting out of bed and going to look out his window.
The gremlins are gone, but he can see a group of massive spiders crawling along the walls of his apartment building, apparently trying to get in. He frowns and, as much as he's honestly kind of happy that this is happening (which is beyond fucked up, he knows, but whatever. At least he's not crazy anymore), he hopes that somehow Jess listened to his advice and spread it around. He gets the feeling that the media might be more willing to listen to paranormal investigators at this point, if there's even any media to listen to.
It is this thought process that makes Jared decide to go to the living room and turn on his television. It opens to the Food Network, which is, predictably, not airing anything, so he starts going through various news channels. Most of them are off-air, which starts to worry him because what if there really is no media? Isn't the news kind of essential in a crisis like this?
Finally, he lands on CNN, which still has a feed going. The anchor onscreen looks absolutely terrified and is quite disheveled in appearance, but otherwise she appears unharmed and is still doing her job to the best of her ability, which makes Jared smile. It's nice to know that not everyone in the world besides him is out getting killed or eaten.
"—still hasn't stopped, and everyone is still advised to stay indoors at all costs and not venture out for any reason. Do not answer your door under any circumstances unless you have devised a secret greeting, because the monsters can disguise themselves. Under advice given earlier from paranormal investigator Jessie Williams of Jeepers Creepers Inc., you should remain safe if you do not unwittingly invite the monsters in by opening the door and keeping away from children's bedrooms, where the seem to be able to enter, but not leave. People have been calling in and confirming that this method works well and—"
Jared turns the TV off and goes to the kitchen, feeling hungry now that his initial worry about the rest of humanity dying has worn off. He's actually kind of impressed that Jess actually listened to him, but then again, he supposes that if this has been going on since the wee hours of the morning, they were probably running out of options on how to properly defend themselves. She might have just been grasping at straws, especially given that Jess thinks Jared is, under normal circumstances, certifiably insane, but it's nice to know that he's being listened to for once.
He pours himself a bowl of Cheerios, munching away while reading a Discover magazine he's had lying around for a while. He puts the bowl in the sink when he's done, and as he's putting the milk and cereal away, he hears some noise coming from outside his front door. Knocking.
He pauses, frowning. He wonders if maybe it might be a friend seeking refuge (which would be dumb, by the way, didn't they listen when he told them to stay inside?), or maybe just some random stranger. Or it could be a monster. Deciding to play it safe, Jared goes to his bedroom to grab his garlic mace before going back to the front door and opening it cautiously.
"Hello?" he says, looking up and down the hallway, and for a moment, he doesn't see anything. Then a hot, muggy gust of air brushes past his neck. He turns his head.
A giant beast-like creature, seven feet tall and covered in dark, blood-matted fur stands next to his door, grinning widely, showing off a mouth full of sharp, pointy teeth. Jared feels his insides freeze in terror for a second before he darts back into the apartment, trying to close the door but the thing gets a hand in before he does and yanks it open, barreling inside the apartment and pinning him to the wall with one massive paw.
Jared yells and lashes out, kicking the thing in the groin and it howls, dropping him. He aims his garlic mace and moves to spray, but then it's being knocked out of his hand by a now throughly pissed monster and holy fuck he just lost his only defense what the hell is he going to do now?!
He dives for the ground, under the monster's arm, making for the kitchen in a blind panic to hopefully find some garlic somewhere but the thing is coming after him, slamming into the wall when Jared dodges and laughing evilly. "What's wrong, little human?!" he roars, jumping over the island counter. Jared drops and darts between his legs, mind racing, trying to think of anything that can help him at this point—
Something wraps around his waist, lifting him and he lashes out with his leg, barely thinking, and he hears something crunch. It's followed by another howl and then he's dropped again, and out of the corner of his eyes he sees the container of garlic mace. He makes a mad dash for it, moving faster than he ever thought he was capable of doing, reaching for it—
Something grabs his leg as soon as his fingers wrap around the bottle, and the next second he's face to face with a snarling, furious beast and he doesn't even have to think as he smashes his elbow into the thing's already bleeding nose, twisting the cap off the bottle, and then throwing the entire contents at its face.
The ensuing scream is horrifying, but Jared doesn't stop to see what happened, just darts to his room, slamming the door behind him and locking it on instinct. He slumps against it, heart pounding against his ribcage, mind racing with fear and panic because he's just realized that not every monster knows him and at this point, they don't care how in tune with them he is, they just want food.
The thought sends him reeling because he's never had to deal with this problem before, and it's only in a haze that he manages to make it to his nightstand, grabbing his cellphone, hoping against hope that somehow the networks are still up and running and typing out GARLIC HURTS THE MONSTERS USE IT'S YOUR ONLY CHANCE IF THEY GET INTO YOUR HOUSE and sending it out to everyone he knows.
Miraculously, it manages to go through. He collapses onto his bed, body still reeling, panic weaved into every fiber of his being. For the first time since looking out the window this morning, the full enormity of what a monster takeover means really hits him, and he realizes that unless humanity figures out how to fight back really fucking fast, they're all screwed.
The thought makes him nauseous and he barely makes it to the trash can in time to heave the entire contents of his stomach, and then proceeds to have a complete mental breakdown.
By evening, he's calmed down again. He reasons with himself that even if the rest of the world is screwed, he'll still be relatively okay, because he's pretty sure most of the monsters he knows personally will be willing to vouch for his character in the grand scheme of things. He might have to work a bit to fight for his friend's safety too, but seeing as he really doesn't have any except for Meredith, maybe his co-workers if he can manage it, it isn't much of a problem.
He leaves his room to see if he can grab some food, since he's pretty sure his door got ripped off its hinges, which means that any monster can come into his apartment, but to his surprise, the only one he finds there is an old hag. "Mrs. Lipchitz," he says, shocked. "What are you doing here?"
"Protectin' yer sorry ass, boy!" she snaps. "Wha' th' hell were ya thinkin', openin' yer door when ya dinna know who it was?!"
Jared cough, flushing darkly. "Um, yeah," he says sheepishly. "I know it was dumb—"
"Dumb don' even begin ta cover i', boy! Do ya even know how many monsters were here when I came?! Ha'ta tell 'em yoo were under stric' Council protection ta get 'em ta leave!" She snorts. "Honestly, boy, I thought yoo were smar'er 'en tha'."
"So did I," Jared admits, flushing sheepishly. "Thanks for getting rid of them, though. And fixing my door."
"Ah, 's alrigh'." She grins at him, every crooked yellow and black tooth showing. "Pu' a spell 'round yer door, too, ta keep 'em from comin' in even if 's open."
Jared smiles at her, feeling so grateful he can't even begin to put the feeling into words, though he tries anyway.. "Thanks, Mrs. Lipchitz. You didn't have to—"
"I know I didn' have ta, boy, I wan'e' ta." She levels him with a sharp glare suddenly. "So don' yoo go ou' lookin' fer trouble, ya hear?"
He grins. "I hear." Then he frowns. "Is it bad out there?"
She nods, grimacing. "Th' Underworld police 'er starin' ta coom in an' ta' care o' everythin', so most o' 'em 'er tryin' ta ge' in tha' last bit 'o fear. Should start' ta clear up by tomorrow, though."
He nods, feeling a bit of the weight he didn't know had settled on his shoulders lift. "Do you think they'll be able to get everything under control?" he asks anyway, still nervous.
She shrugs. "Hard ta' say," she says. "The Chief o' Police is pretty smart an' they know tha' monsters an' hoomans 'll have ta live tagether, but he needs support, an' there ain't much 'o i'." She notices the way his face fall, and smiles. "Bu' don' yoo worry yer pre'y li'l head, boy. I'm sure i's only a matter o' time afore someone finds out 'ow badly we react ta garlic."
He laughs a little despite himself. "I guess," he says, and then smiles at her. "Thanks. Again, I mean."
She shakes her head. "T'aint nothin', boy. Jus' keep outta harms way an' don' do anythin' stoopid."
His smile brightens into a grin. "I'll try." But he's certainly not making any promises.
When the end of the year comes, Agni is completely floored. It seems like just yesterday he was agreeing to read to Jared, and now, he'll have to quit his position as a temporary Haunter. The Council only requires the one year of service, and he can't continue if he doesn't have a license.
A messenger crow sends him this message three days before his time is up, and when Agni reads the letter, he feels sick. He isn't supposed to visit Jared tonight, but he needs to tell him, and then they can spend what little time they have left doing anything the boy might want to do, so when Agni leaves, he'll still have the memories.
He doesn't even try to sneak quietly into the room that night, just appears on the side of the bed, making Jared squeak and jump, clutching their latest book to his chest tightly. "Jeez, Agni!" he scolds. "You almost gave me a heart attack!"
"My year is almost up," the monster says, ignoring him. Jared takes a moment to process this, and when he does, he blinks and frowns.
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"I mean that in three days, I'll have officially completed my year of service as a Haunter and won't be able to come visit you anymore."
"... Oh." Something tight, dark and hot pulls sharply at his chest when Jared's face falls, eyes wide and sorrowful, looking completely crestfallen. "Is that... I mean, is it... final...?" he asks timidly, and Agni hates the desperate tone of his voice.
"Yes," he answers, just as quiet. "I'm not true Haunter, only a temporary one. It'd be illegal for me to continue to see you."
He wonders if that horrible, coiling feeling deep inside is guilt. He wouldn't know. He's never really had to feel guilty about anything before. "I'm sorry," he whispers, the words awkward on his tongue. He's not familiar with them; he has a friend in the monster world, Sullivan, that he had to comfort often many years ago, but other than that, he has never had to deal with anything like this. It feels foreign and strange, and he hates it.
"It's not your fault," Jared says, still quiet. "I mean, I wouldn't want you to break the law, just for me..."
Agni would. Very much.
But he doesn't know how to tell Jared that.
"We still have three days," he offers feebly. "We could... Anything you want to do, we'll do it. I realize that's not much, since I can't leave this room but..."
Jared looks up. "Why can't you leave the room?" he asks.
"Underworld law. Monsters aren't allowed to cross into the human world without clearance except to scare children. It's to protect you."
"Oh." His brow furrows. "So... We can't leave the room?"
"No. But... Anything I can do here." He tries to smile, though it doesn't quite succeed. "I could even show you some magic, if you like."
For the first time that night, Jared looks up at him. "Really?" he says, and his voice doesn't sound quite as broken. He's always wanted to see magic, but the monster hasn't because technically, it's breaking the rules. "You would... You would do that?"
Agni shrugs, holding out his arms as if to say 'who cares?'. "I only have three days," he reasons. "Wouldn't be very wise to waste them, now would it?"
The smile of Jared's face is small, and weak, but it's also there, and that's enough. "No," he agrees. "It wouldn't."
The first night, it's all about the magic. Agni's never been very skilled with it, always having preferred to use his claws and teeth to get his point across, but every little spell, from a palm full of flames to dancing orbs of multi-colored light, fascinate the boy. His eyes grow wider with each spell, his jaw drops further, and by the end of the night, when Agni twists the shadows away from the walls and transforms them into animals that move around the room, even going so far as to curl up against the boy, he has to tease Jared that if he keeps his face like that, it's going to freeze that way.
He doesn't leave until well past midnight; far later than he ought to, but Jared had begged him to stay, and at this point, he thinks he probably wouldn't be able to deny the boy the world if he asked for it.
The second night, Jared asks him to play games.
"All we've ever done is read and talk a little," he says while he shuffles a deck a cards awkwardly, hands too small to be able to hold them well. "I always wanted to play a game with you, but it just... I dunno, I never thought of it when you came." He looks up at the monster and smiles. "So, this is okay, right? Do monsters like card games?"
Monsters adore card games, mostly because they love to gamble, but Agni doesn't say that. "Yes," he says. "What do you want to play?"
He's expecting Go Fish or maybe Concentration, but apparently Jared's intelligence extends far beyond reading and wit into the realm of strategy, and Agni ends up getting his ass kicked at Rummy, Gin, Crazy 8's, Speed, Pinochle and Cribbage.
"Are you even trying to win?" Jared accuses after he beats Agni for the seventh time in a row.
"Yes!" the monsters insists, and he is. He really is. "I don't know how the hell you keep winning! I swear you're cheating."
Jared grins. "Maybe you just suck at card games," he teases, and Agni growls, mostly because it isn't that far off the mark. Agni has never been great at card games that involve more strategy than luck.
Still, you'd think he'd be able to win at least one game.
"Let's play something else," Jared suggests.
The boy doesn't answer for a moment, but then he frowns thoughtfully. "Do you know how to play chess?" he asks finally.
"Do you?" the monster responds, and to his surprise, Jared shakes his head. "Really? All those card games, but you don't know how to play chess?"
"Grandpa taught me how to play cards," Jared explains. "But he didn't like chess very much. I've always wanted to learn, though." A sudden flush appears on his cheeks, and he opens his mouth, but Agni beats him to it.
"You want me to teach you how to play," he guesses, and at Jared's nod, he grins. "Fine. But we have to play with my board."
As horrible as he is at card games, Agni is a master of chess; the board that he summons from the shadows was given to him two hundred years ago as a birthday present. The black pieces are various monsters, and the white are different types of Fey, and they have magical attacks that destroy each other. And it's cursed, naturally.
"... Wow," is all Jared can manage as he stares at the board in awe. "That. Is so. Cool."
Agni smiles. "Thought you might like that," he chuckles.
It isn't hard to teach Jared; the child soaks up everything says, asks all the right questions when he needs to, and within an hour, he's actually playing a pretty good game. Agni still beats him, of course, but not as easily as he might have expected. He's impressed despite himself.
"Are you sure you aren't secretly a genius?" he jokes as they start a new game.
"Of course I am," Jared replies. "I just don't act like it so I can fool people."
"Why would you need to do that?"
"Because," he draws the word out, like it should be obvious, "that way, when I begin my hostile takeover of earth, no one will suspect me."
It takes a moment to sink in, but when it does, Agni roars with laughter, and tries very hard not to think about how much he's going to miss this boy.
It's almost dawn when Agni finally leaves, but Jared tells him it's okay. He'd rather spend time with him than pay attention in school, anyway.
The third night, he feels sick. When he arrives, he materializes right next to the boy, and while he jumps a little in surprise, within a moment he's curled up against Agni's side, clutching at his arm and looking up at him with wide, tearful blue eyes. "I don't want you to go," he whispers, and Agni wonders if this is what heartbreak feels like.
"I know," he replies, softly, moving his arm to draw the boy closer. "I'm sorry."
Jared doesn't respond, just makes an odd choking noise and buries his face into Agni's torso. The monster feels something wet seep through the cloth of his shirt and knows the boy is crying, which makes his stomach lurch horribly and his heart constrict tightly in his chest. "I might still be able to see you," he tries, curling his hand around the boy's small shoulder. "It... It would just be once a year, but it'd be something."
Jared looks up, tears still streaming down his cheeks. "Wh-when?" he manages.
"Halloween," the monster says. "Monsters are allowed to cross over to earth on Halloween. I could... could come visit you. Maybe even take you trick-or-treating if you like."
Jared swallows thickly. "I'd like that," he says, voice nasal and rough. "But... That would be it?"
"Yes." He closes his eyes, because he can't look at him anymore. He hears Jared sniffle loudly, and then sigh.
"I g-guess that'd be okay," he murmurs. "B-but you h-have to promis-se that you'll c-come."
"I promise," Agni swears instantly. "Every Halloween. From now until you die."
Despite himself, Jared smiles, just a little. "Isn't that a little extreme?" he asks.
"Maybe. But I mean it."
They fall into a silence, Jared still crying a bit, Agni not saying anything and not looking at him even as he keeps a hand on his shoulder, because he doesn't know how to deal with this. It's tearing him apart inside.
"What do you want to do tonight?" he asks after a long time, and Jared sniffles, not answering. Agni lets him take his time.
"You said that monsters have stories, right?" he asks finally.
"What do you mean?"
"Like, children's stories. Fairy tales, stuff like that." He looks up at the monster; Agni can feel his gaze.
"Could I... Could I hear some of those?"
He should say no, he knows; monster fairy tales are not the kind of thing human children should be hearing, especially at night. But then he makes the mistake of looking at Jared, and he gets caught by the look on his face, sad and scared and kind of desperate, and he crumbles.
"What would you like to hear?" he asks.
So he begins. First the Medusa and the Black Lagoon, then the Seven Harpy Sisters, to the Troll of the Cursed Mountain and Banshee Agnes and her Bloody Ring; How the Fey Lost his Heart and the Spider Widow, Brother Goose and the Demon Squirrel, Dracula's Three Wives and the Phoenix and the Vampire. Somewhere along the way he loses track of the time, because Jared is enraptured and he doesn't want this night to end.
It isn't until he glances out the window and sees a streak of pale blue across the dark sky that he realizes it's almost dawn, and he has to stop.
"We stayed up all night," he says, and Jared just smiles tiredly.
"It was worth it." He yawns and rubs at his eyes tiredly. He looks at his alarm clock. "I have to get up in an hour."
"Then you'd better get to bed," the monsters says, and moves, picking the boy up and placing him under the covers, tucking him in with a tenderness he thinks should probably be melting his teeth. And when he's done he just sits back on his heels and looks at the boy, who looks right back.
"I'm going to miss you, Jared," he says softly.
"I'm gonna miss you too, Agni," the boy replies. "You promise you'll come back for Halloween?"
"May Hecate strike me dead where I stand if I don't."
"'Kay." There are tears in his eyes again. "Guess this is good-bye, then."
"Yes. It is."
He doesn't leave though. Not until the first rays of sunlight pass through the blinds and touch his skin, burning where they touch. "Good-bye, Jared," he whispers, and covers the boy's hand with his own, squeezing. And Jared squeezes right back.
He starts his descent into the shadows, not letting go until he absolutely has to.
And when he does, it hurts, more than almost anything he's ever felt in his life.
It shouldn't have been like this.
But he can't bring himself to care that it was.
Wednesday passes quickly. Jared putters around his apartment and reads old magazines and books, and watches CNN occasionally for updates on the situation. By early Wednesday morning the Underworld Police arrive and start battling against the wave of monsters, aided by ones that have spend long amounts of time in the human world and want to defend what they have come to see as their kin. (Jared's pretty sure he sees Mrs. Lipchitz in the background ripping a harpy to shreds, which is pretty freaking cool, actually.) One of the newscasters even gets the courage to interview what they are calling New World monsters, ones that have lived in the human world or near it long enough to recognize that monsters and human can, in fact, live together peacefully. To be fair, the monster in question is an incubus, which really aren't all that dangerous unless they're in heat, but Jared supposes it counts for something.
By Thursday night, the monsters have been mostly subdued, or at least the police have managed to convince them that if they kill all the humans an earth, there won't be anybody left to feed from and then they'll all die too. Whatever the reason, Jared just stops worry about it and goes to bed, sleeping soundly.
Within the week after Agni has officially left, Jared begins to realize how much the monster means to him.
He doesn't have any friends at school. Whether it's because he prefers to read while the other boys play sports, or because he tells them that he believes in the monsters that hide in the shadows of his bedroom, or because they simply labeled him as a freak long ago and continue to exclude him on principle, he can't remember a single person in his life other than Agni that he has ever really been able to call friend.
He never really noticed before, but now that the monster is gone from his life, Jared is acutely aware of just how alone he is. Even his family, who are supposed to love him unconditionally, don't pay much attention to him. His parents are always too busy with work or paying attention to his brother Leo, who, being the superstar child that he is, doesn't have time to play with his weird little brother. Jared can count on one hand the number of times Leo has actually been a brother to him, versus the numerous and varied times he's just roughed him up and called him stupid.
So he reads. He goes to the library and checks out books on monsters, things far too easy and things far too hard, so he can be closer to his lost friend. He immerses himself in fantastical words were vampires roam the rooftops and werewolves prowl the streets, where ghouls hide in the shadows and things that go bump in the night are more tangible than your own body. It's not quite the same, because nothing in the books can quite recreate what he had with Agni, but for now, it's good enough.
Slowly though, it's effectiveness begins to fade, and Jared finds himself wishing more and more than Agni were back, if only so he had someone to talk to. By the fourth week, even reading can't distract him anymore, and he can't think much beyond how much he wants the monster back. He wants to find him, beg him to return if he has to, but he can't.
The only connection he has to Agni now is the shadows under his bed.
So it's a long shot when he writes the letter, but it's the only thing he can think of. He's not exactly sure how it will get to Agni, but he has to try.
He thinks he might actually need him.
The letter reads like this:
Please come back. I miss you A LOT. I am very lonely without you. I don't really have any friends. People think I'm weird. You were the only real friend I ever had. Please please please come back. I need you.
It sounds desperate and pathetic, even to him, but it's the best he's got. So he folds it up nicely, put it in an envelope, puts Agni's name on it, and places it under the bed, praying that the shadows will take it to him.
He doesn't expect anything to happen right away, but he does hope; so he can't help but be disheartened when a few days go by and the letter doesn't disappear.
A week passes, and it isn't gone. He tries to tell himself that these things take time, but it doesn't stop him from feeling miserable.
Another week passes, and it's still there. He beginning to lose hope.
A third week goes by, and it hasn't moved. He tries very hard not to be crushed, but it fails. Horribly. He spend all night crying in his room, quietly begging Agni to come back because, dang it, he misses him.
The second night Agni visits the girl's room, she screams as soon as she sees him and goes running to her mother again, who drags her back and informs her quite sternly that if she doesn't stop making things up, there are going to be severe consequences. The girl keeps babbling about him all throughout, insisting that he is sitting in her chair, at her desk (which he is), so why can't her mother see him? Eventually the mother relents a little and finds her a nightlight, and, for the girl's sake, Agni pretends that it hurts him and goes back.
The third night, she screams again and tries to ward him off by turning on her bedroom light, which does cause him to hiss and his skin to burn in pain, but he can't go back early two nights in a row and she's going to have to get used to him anyway, so he endures and seats himself at her desk again, catching up on his paperwork. She tries to get her mother again, but comes back alone, crying. Agni tries to offer her a tissue and she just screams and runs to hide in her closet.
The fourth night, she stays hidden under her covers, lights on full blast until her mother comes in and demands that she turns them off, because that's what the nightlight is for.
The fifth night, she just stays under the covers, peering out occasionally to glance at him before diving back in, until at least she manages to fall into a fitful sleep. Agni considers it progress.
The next several weeks continue in the pattern of the fifth night, though eventually the girl (he can't remember her name, but he thinks it starts with an A) begins to fall asleep earlier each night, though Agni suspects this may partly be because her body is exhausted and forcing her to sleep even if she doesn't want to. He tries his very best not to be scary, even going so far as to don human clothes, and never says a word, only works quietly at the desk, the only sound in the room the scratching of his fountain pen and her rapid breathing and occasional whimpers.
Even those begin to peter out eventually, and finally, after about two months of his being there, she doesn't dive under the covers at the first sight of him. Her eyes follow him around the room as he seats himself at the desk, and continue to watch him as he pulls out his work and begins writing.
He's not sure how long she continues to watch him, but after what seems like perhaps an hour or so, she says, in a very high-pitched, absolutely terrified voice, "If you're going to stay here, can you please do something to make yourself stop looking so scary?"
It comes out mostly as squeaks, but Agni manages to get the gist of it. He sighs. "Unfortunately, no," he says. He could glamour himself, but his less than optimal magic skills make it a severe drain of his energy and he usually can't keep one up for very long without utterly exhausting himself. "But I could try and do something to make myself less scary."
She shivers when he responds and curls up a little tighter under her blankets, though she continues to watch him. "Like what?" she squeaks.
"I had a child once that liked me to read him bedtime stories," he suggests. "And he thought my flaming hair was cool."
She squeaks again and dives under the covers for a moment. "No flaming hair!" she cries, her words slightly muffled, and Agni sighs.
"Alright, I won't do that," he says. "But I could still read to you, if you want."
For a moment, she doesn't answer. Then, slowly, she begins to shift under the covers, and the top of her head peaks out from under them, just to her eyes. "What would you read?" she asks.
He shrugs. "Anything you want," he says. "I'll even do funny voices if I have to."
Several moments pass in which she continues to eye him warily, fear still evident in her eyes, but after a long while, she moves the covers away from her face. "The book on my nightstand," she says quietly. "And you have to stay over there at the desk!"
Agni nods and gets up, walking over to the desk to turn on the bedside lamp and pick up the book. He frowns as he reads the cover.
"This is a scary book," he says, looking at her. "Are you sure you want me to read it?"
The fear and uncertainty in her eyes is momentarily replaced by anger and indigence. "It's my favorite book," she says defensively. "And it's not scary, it's creepy. There's a difference."
He raises an eyebrow at the semantics, briefly reminded (with a pang) of Jared, but shrugs and walks back over to the desk, sitting down and opening the book.
"Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house..."
He reads two chapters before he notices that her eyes have drifted shut, and against all odds, she is asleep, and soundly. He sets the book down carefully on the nightstand, gathers up his work, and disappears back into the shadows.
He's pretty sure he can count tonight as a victory.
Agni isn't really sure how the letter got to him. The portal to Jared's room is closed because he told them the boy was growing up and becoming immune. He doesn't want any other monster infringing on his child.
But somehow, when he comes home from work late one night, there's a messenger crow at his bedroom window, four red eyes staring out at him intently. When he lets it in, it drops an envelope on his bed and then flies off.
It has his name on it in large, child-like letters. Agni feels a lump start to form in his throat and when he opens it, he sees that his hands are trembling ever so slightly.
He reads it.
It makes him feel sick.
He doesn't sleep that night, only lies in bed, staring at the wall, thinking about the small human child that somehow managed to become his nearest and dearest friend in only a few months. Jared's letter makes it sound like he's absolutely miserable, and if Agni's honest with himself, he kind of is too.
He misses him. He didn't think he'd ever miss anybody in his life, because he generally tends to think that everyone is either stupid, weak, a bigger jerk than he is or combination of all three. But Jared is none of those things, and it makes his ill to think that he might really never see the boy again.
When morning comes, he can't take it anymore. He writes work to tell them he's taking his vacation and goes to library, checking out several books on highly illegal spells, leafing through them all one page at a time until he finds the one that tells him how to make a portal to the human world. It's extremely long and complicated, and Agni thinks that there's no way in hell he's going to be able to pull this off.
He tries anyway.
He almost loses his soul to a hungry demon.
After managing to fend the demon off and giving his injuries a day or two to rest, Agni decides to take more risky course of action, which is tricking the Haunters Association into letting him back in.
It'll be difficult. The Haunters Association does a very strict screening process on all of its employees and seeing as Agni was only temporary and mandated by the Council, they'll suspect foul play immediately. He's baking on his position as an officer of the Underworld Police Department to give him a little wiggle room, but he knows it won't be much. His main problem will be trying to convince them to let him back, because if the child was so scared of him, why did he leave in the first place?
Except really all that happens is the the Regional Director stares at him like he's Christ Reborn and asks in a voice that sounds like he might cry, "Really? You... You want to go back to your child?"
"Um, yes." Agni looks at him oddly. "I know that it's unconventional and that I'm not a qualified Haunter and I know that I lied about him not being scared anymore but—"
"Who cares?!" the Director exclaims, jumping up and grabbing his hand, shaking it vigorously as he stares at Agni with misty eyes and a wide smile. "Quite frankly, Mr. Ravana, we need all the help we can get at this point. Fear imports are at an all-time low and the guys up top refuse to change the standards for hiring new Haunters so we're stretched way too thin. Just having one extra monster on board will help us out more than you can possibly imagine."
"... Okay?" Agni says as he's suddenly hauled up and led out of the room, thinking that if actually cared about what happened to the Underworld he's probably feel guilty that he's not actually going to be brining any fear in, but he doesn't, so it's fine.
The Director takes him to the portal wing, telling one of the assistants to get Agni's file, and within five minutes, they have a portal to Jared's room up and running. "Thank you, thank you so much for this Mr. Ravana," the Director tells him again as he gets ready to leave. "We really, really appreciate this."
"No problem," Agni answers, not exactly sure how he managed to get this lucky or when the notoriously vicious and cruel members of the Haunters Association became so weak and pathetic, but he supposes he's not really complaining.
And with that thought, he steps through the portal and into the shadows.
One night, when Leo's teasing becomes too much, Jared kicks him in the shin and pushes him into a bookshelf. He gets sent to his room without any supper, so he just curls up under the covers and falls asleep.
He wakes up again suddenly just a little after midnight. At first he's too sleepy to really register what happening, but then the distinctive feeling of being watched crawls over his skin, and he shivers. He moves his head a little, just enough to look out into the darkness, and then he freezes.
Agni is sitting on the edge of his bed, staring down at his lap. Jared's note is held in his hands. He knows because he wrote it on light blue construction paper and drew a big sad face at the bottom.
For a moment, he can't move.
Then Agni seems to realize that he's awake, and slowly, looks up at him.
His breath catches in his lungs, and he can't speak, can't blink; he can only stare.
Agni holds his gaze steadily for what feels like forever, before he looks back at his lap, and Jared finally manages to sit up. He can still only stare.
And then Agni speaks.
"I'm breaking about fifteen laws by being here," he starts. "And I wasn't even going to come originally. But then I went to the the library the other day," he says softly, "and I saw a book out on display." He reaches to the side and brings up a thin paperback. Jared can't see the cover. "I asked a librarian about it and they said it was all the rage in the Underworld, a delightfully creepy read. And the oddest part was, it was written by a human." His head moves, and then he's looking at Jared again, sickly yellow eyes holding him in place without any effort at all. "And I was thinking... You might like it."
Jared can't say anything for about a minute.
"Does... Does that mean... You're coming back?"
Agni cocks his head slightly. "Do you want me to?"
Jared nods shakily.
And Agni smiles, softly, unlike anything he's as ever seen on him before. "Then yes."
For a moment, everything stops.
Then Jared lets out a noise he can't even begin to describe, and launches himself at the monster, tackling him to the bed.
Agni cries out in surprise, and his claws accidentally scratch Jared as he flails, but he doesn't care because Agni's here and he's staying, and Jared honestly doesn't think he's ever been this happy in his life. He wraps his arms around Agni's middle and holds on as tight as he can, laughing and crying at the same time, and eventually he feels a hand on his back, cold and heavy but comforting all the same.
"If I get caught, I'm going to say you blackmailed me," the monster says, and Jared laughs, and looks up, grinning madly.
"Fair enough," he agrees. "So, what's this about a book?"
Agni hands him the paperback, and he takes it. The cover says Coraline. "I've heard of this," he says. "It's supposed to be really good."
"Should we find out?" the monster asks, and Jared looks back at him.
Grins so wide his cheeks hurt.
They read the whole book in one night, partly because Jared doesn't Agni to leave, but mostly because it's too good to put down.
"I think that may be my favorite book of all time," Jared says when they're done, and Agni is tucking him in. He blushes faintly and ducks his head away. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Agni says, making sure the covers are above Jared's shoulders. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
Jared smiles, big and wide, feeling happier than he ever has before in his life. "Okay."