Chapter Two:

Red, Red, Red, or Red?

Crimson attraction, cherry crush, and cerise adoration—or was it cardinal crush and carmine adoration? Pan nibbled his thumb, lost in thought. It was definitely scarlet lust, he knew for sure, but then again, scarlet looked so much like vermillion it made his eyes hurt to try and tell the difference. Vermillion curiosity, roseate infatuation, and ruby devotion—or was it dahlia devotion? No, that couldn't be right.

Pan resisted the urge to groan aloud. Whatever happened to "Red = Love" anyway?

Frustrated, he glanced to his assignment sheet once more. Robert Romanov—twenty-two year old lawyer-in-training well on his way to inheriting quite a hefty fortune—and Maxine McGuire—free-lance artist, cashier, and high school drop-out. Pan frowned.

Honestly, who came up with this stuff?

Sighing, he tucked the information back away. No matter, in any case. Successful completion of this final Rank C mission would earn him official, full-fledged C.U.P.I.D. status, and the Consulate of United Pixies' Intimacy Division didn't accept just anyone. Handling emotions, as he had been told many times, was a tricky business—especially with humans—but, when it came down to it, it was the only one he wanted to deal in.

Of course, these days, with ever-increasing inter-realm awareness, many of the richer humans, or half-breeds, cheated the "true love" system. Money had a language all its own, and ever more C.U.P.I.D. missions, Pan was sad to see, were nothing more than mercenary shots—paid arrows to persuade unwilling innocents into the beds of aristocrats with ties to the magic world.

His current case, for instance, screamed "set-up," but Pan decided not to dwell on it too harshly. Who was he to say what fate ordained?

So, putting his misconceptions behind him, Pan shouldered his bow and quiver and pushed up from the wall he'd been leaned against: a schoolboy with a book and satchel to all but fellow magic-folk as he trotted the last block to his target area. It took him less than a minute to arrive. Apparently, Mr. Romanov, too, was right on schedule, and Pan grinned. Easy pickings.

A bell tinkled merrily when he entered the store, announcing his arrival, but Pan paid it no mind, his mind already busy scoping out the area, looking for a clear, unobtrusive shot at the front counter—one that wouldn't turn a million heads. Not that anyone was likely to notice; at least, not anyone who would see it as out of the ordinary. He ended up back near the end of a candy aisle, faking a child's interest in a large lollipop selection as he waited for Robert—who had been right on his heels on the way to the store—to make an appearance. He didn't have to wait long.

Almost immediately, the man headed for the counter, and, just as quickly, an argument struck up. Pan sighed and shook his head. Lovebirds.

As they feuded, he glanced over his arrow selection. The existing assignment prescribed vermillion—a curiosity arrow, often used simply to strengthen a binding—for the man, apparently already quite attracted to the female target, and roseate infatuation for the woman, currently turning down every advance according to both his ears and the case sheet. Again, Pan's thumb found its way between his teeth.

Vermillion or scarlet; vermillion or scarlet?

Whoever had the brilliant idea of color-coding curiosity and lust so similarly deserved strict punishment. But then, the other customers in line seemed to be getting antsy, and, sensing his window of opportunity rapidly disintegrating, Pan shut his eyes, snatched two arrows, bit his lip, and drew, letting them fly on the wings of a prayer to the goddess of luck and justice.

Two solid hits.

Pan opened an eye just in time to see a demon collapse, arrow solidly lodged in his chest, and almost every bustling customer in the store stirring up and gathering close.

Well, fuck.

Apparently the goddess was temporarily out of her office.

A long, proliferate string of curses running through his head, Pan tucked away his bow and darted forward. Maybe if he did a real good job cleaning this up and sorted it out before anyone noticed, he wouldn't lose his job for it. Maybe.

"Excuse me. Excuse me, please, thank you," he said, scooting and squirming his way through the crowd to kneel before his unlikely victim.

The arrow had, of course, by that point disintegrated, leaving nothing but a smattering of—vermillion or scarlet?—feathers across the thin cotton of his shirt, the likes of which Pan quickly gathered up, stuffing into his pockets for future reference, but the fact remained that C.U.P.I.D. had designed arrow magic for use on humans, not other magical entities, and Pan had little to no idea what to expect.

'Come on, come on,' he pleaded silently, waving a hand over the unconscious face before him. 'Get up, get up, get up…your life might depend on it! Hell, my life might depend on it! Which, now that I think about it, is slightly more important to me, but…'

Pan dug into a pouch at his waist, ignoring the battery of questions from the growing crowd as he pinched a speck of wake dust and snapped it before the demon's eyes. "One," he counted, barely above a whisper, "two," nothing, "three…" and still no response. "Oh, come on, please-"

Moments from desperately shaking his victim in a frenzy, the demon's eyes shot open—two very dark, very green eyes—and Pan stared.

"I-" he began, but got little farther than that.

Before making it to a second syllable, hands shot up, clamping his forearms in a vice grip and slinging him a hundred and eighty degrees like one might toss a rag doll. In the time it took to blink, Pan found himself pinned, on his back, with a blade to his throat, those same green eyes staring down with an unsettlingly careless curiosity, as if putting knives to people's throats were an everyday activity.

Pan swallowed. When he opened his mouth, however, the blade twisted, tapping his chin, and he immediately shut it again.

"Who the hell are you?" the demon demanded. For some reason, the deep, rumbling inquiry was not the least bit reassuring, and Pan winced.

"I-"

"On second thought," Again, the blade twitched, once more prompting instant silence, "don't bother. If I ever wake up to your face again, I…" His captor trailed off. Puzzled, Pan followed his line of vision—to the cashier. The wide-eyed, pink cheeked, and very much infatuated cashier. Pan groaned.

"Wait," he warned, "don't-"

"Hold these," the demon interrupted, pressing the blades that were, seconds before, at his throat flat to his chest, leaving them there, and rising without so much as a backwards glance.

"But-" Pan watched with helpless trepidation as the demon stalked to the counter, and something about the way his tongue flicked, barely perceptibly, across his lips as his eyes darted up, then down his prey made Pan strongly suspect he was slightly more than "curious" about the enraptured salesclerk. Pan scrambled to his feet.

"Wait! This is all a big mistake," he rushed to say, a little voice in the back of his mind absently wondering how many times that had been said before. "Listen to me for a second…" He might as well have been speaking to a brick wall for all the attention he received. "Demon, you have to stop. You're not thinking clearly. Demon…"

When, again, he received no acknowledgement, Pan grit his teeth, shut his eyes, and took a breath, unhappily forced to resort to drastic measures.

"Demon, I highly recommend that you halt immediately," he began curtly, this time drawing his own weapon—a small firearm similar in appearance to the pistols of common human law enforcement—and aiming it at the retreating back of the demon. "The human girl Maxine McGuire is under the strict jurisdiction of C.U.P.I.D., and, by association, under my protection. If you so much as lay one hand on—hey!"

In one swift leap, the demon went from floor to counter, landing in a frog crouch by the cash register and startling several scattered screeches from the gathered crowd. Then, he had the girl up, in his arms, and slung over his shoulder like a sack of hay, and half a second after that—much to Pan's dismay—he was sprouting wings.

'Of course,' thought Pan, scrambling to take a step or five back as spiked, blue-black bat wings burst onto center stage like a butterfly from a cocoon in a moment's notice, sending people, paper, and merchandise flying in every direction imaginable. 'Of course I had to accidentally shoot the violent, non-communicative, flying demon into a mad, lusting frenzy.'

As Pan watched his target, his job, and very likely any chance he ever had of a happy future in general be whisked out the door in the arms of doom, death, and destruction on wings, he began to seriously second-guess the wisdom of getting up that morning. Only after the demon took off, launching into the sky and out of sight, did Pan finally shake his head and pull his thoughts back together.

"Today," he muttered, holstering his gun and forcefully weaving his way through the stunned crowd, "is going to be a long day…"

C.U.P.I.D.'s recovery team and mind-wipe crew were going to have a lot of work on their hands.