Something about a tie on a man made them far more attractive, especially a tie on my man. "It isn't too much, is it?" Seth asked, straightening out his clothes in the mirror. He used his fingers to brush back the locks of hair that had fallen into his face, looking much more like a grown-up than he used to. Esther had insisted he took out his piercings for today, neither of us liking her request.
"You look incredible," I assured him, crawling to the side of the bed to get off of it, stepping behind him to help adjust his tie so that it covered the buttons of his navy-blue shirt. "Are you getting anxious with the ceremony getting closer?" My hands were on his shoulders now, slowly drawing down towards his hands, gripping those tattooed fingers tightly between my own. I nestled my nose in the crook of his neck, his cologne still smelling of mint and vanilla, a fragrance that had become my favorite when Seth had started wearing it more.
"I'm really fucking nervous," he murmured, laughing once then furrowing his eyebrows. "For fuckin' real, I never thought I'd be able to get my horns. Like it had just been something that I accepted as normal." He exhaled slowly, the way he so often did with me to help get me to calm down. "This is okay, right?"
"What do you mean?" I engulfed him tightly in my arms, preferring his taller, muscular self to the smaller, lithe body he had been in for the past month while we continued to stay with Paul in our regular apartment.
"Like. . . it's okay that I'm getting my horns and everything, even after letting Baal have you? You don't think I don't deserve them, right?" His throat bounced from where he swallowed hard, his green and blue eyes flashing over our reflection in the mirror.
Rolling my eyes, I stepped away from him and spun him towards me, hoping that I was giving him a 'you big idiot' look. "You deserve them more than anybody. Not many demons can say they've done what you have. Babe, you fought the Devil and survived. Do you know how big of an accomplishment that alone is? And you defeated him by risking your own life. Yes, Seth, it's okay that you're finally getting your horns." I kissed his forehead, my lips lingering there for a beat. "Now isn't the time to doubt yourself. You're sounding like me."
"Oh, fuck, don't want that now." He smirked, then threw his arms around my neck, pressing our bodies close. "So when do I congratulatory sex?"
"Well now you're never getting it." I left a trail of kisses down his forehead, to his nose, and stopped at his lips. "Seriously, though, that may have to be put off some since we have Dad's Christmas party right after. Maybe when we get home tonight?" There were still three days until Christmas, but our apartment had been decorated for over a month, due to Seth and Lonnie.
"Why not right now?" he purred, taking his index finger to slide it down the front of my torso, stopping at the hem of my shirt.
Grabbing his lude hand, I gave him a pointed look. "I'm pretty sure your dad's exact words were, 'it would behoove you to not get distracted'." I knew they were his exact words because he had said it very deliberately, knowing how his son could get. They were said with a drip of poison, warning me to get his son to the ceremony on time or else I'd have to face the wrath of Mikhail. Not even Seth could save me from that. "Besides, weren't you just panicking about this whole thing? Go back to being nervous."
"The prospect of sex made me feel better. If that's off the table, though. . ." Grinning, he went to kissing me hard on the mouth, his fingers tight on the collar of my shirt. "Congratulate me later, then. With your mouth." He looked behind me, raising an eyebrow. "And that ass because, fuck, those pants hug you so damn well."
"Have I ever told you how annoying you are when you're turned on?" Scowling at him when he smacked my ass, I stepped into the bathroom to make sure my hair looked fine. Seth ended up liking it a little bit more grown out, right where I had bangs that stopped at my right eyebrow and my hair flipped up in random spots from my curls. I hated it, but I did love when he would run his fingers through it. "Have you decided which horns you think you're going to have?" I called to him, getting him to lean against the doorframe and watch me smooth out my shirt.
He had gone back and forth for a few weeks now, figuring out which horns he thought he would have. He thought they would be conical and point up like his dad's, while Esther and I thought that he would just get small ones, just because of how much that would suit him. For a demon, he wasn't very frightening, usually. Short, stereotypical horns would look cute on him.
"I think something like Malificent's horns would be cool," he murmured, touching the side of his head.
"You'd look like a human gazelle. A pretty gazelle, but still."
"You can just stay here if you're gonna be rude." He glanced at me in the reflection of the mirror, pouting while I grinned. His stuck-out bottom lip curled upwards when I embraced him again, squeezing him to me. "You're such a jerk."
"I'm going to love you, no matter what your horns look like. Even if they just give you one, and you look like a narwhal." This calmed him down, his laugh echoing in the bathroom. It was so nice to laugh and not have the joy dulled by an overbearing fear of dying or being possessed. While it sure as hell wasn't normal to be dating a demon, it was so fucking nice to be able to enjoy him. "Ready to go find out if you're a gazelle or narwhal?"
"As long as you won't be calling me either one of those." Drawing his nail across his wrist, he used his blood to draw out the portal to Mikhail's house, now having a special place on my wall to design the portal. He had wanted to paint the portal onto my wall, but we decided against it since we had planned on moving in a few months, and painting it would have been a pain in the ass when we would just have to cover it up again.
Esther poked her head around the corner from the kitchen when she heard Seth warning me to watch my step as we came out of the portal. "I'm surprised at you, Seth. You're on time for once!" She dusted off her hands and came over to us, giving us tight hugs to welcome us. "Your father is getting the living room ready, and Ebenezer and Remmie should be here in just a few moments. I just put up sugar cookies to take to Jim's, and your grandfather is in the den." The last bit was said quickly, Seth's face morphing from placid to annoyed while Esther tried to maintain her wavering smile.
"You didn't have to invite him. All he's gonna do is pick on me about my horns, you know." His hand tightened around mine, probably more anxious than angry.
"It's an important day in your life. He deserves to be here, even if you don't see eye to eye with him." Her blue eyes trailed to the floor, then back to the kitchen, looking everywhere except for Seth's. "We may have also invited the Trestala family, and they got permission to come."
"Lucifer's fall, Mom. Did you invite Michael and Uriel and all the archangels, too?"
"They couldn't make it today." She said it like it fixed everything. "They did send you a card, though. It's rather lovely." She dipped into the kitchen, reappearing with a golden envelope in her hands, much like the ones that she used to send to Seth while Aberdeen still had her.
"Is it an apology letter for needlessly holding us in prison for three months?" Seth sneered, turning the envelope over until he found the seam. Using his middle fingernail, he pried it open, pulling out the thick letter inside of it. "'Dear, Seth, on the day of your ceremony for becoming a full demon, or at least on the outside'." Seth paused, scowling. "He's so damn condescending. I should've punched him harder when he arrested us." Subconsciously, he rubbed the scar on his eyebrow, a line cutting through the blond hairs now. "'I understand that this is a great honor to demons so that they don't have to stay in the puny forms that you chose to stay in for quite some time.' Mom, I swear to your god that I'm going to kick Michael's ass next time he's here."
Smiling curtly, Esther took the letter back from her son, opting to read it instead. "'Because this is such a great honor for your kind, I am including one written permission form for you to visit Gehanna for a single week. You may use this at any time over the course of the next century or until the lifespan of Dalton Mackey runs out, whichever should occur first. Please note that this only grants you permission and nobody else, especially Dalton Mackey. Use it wisely, like for a friend's wedding, a family reunion, a. . .'. Oh, good Lord, he just lists a bunch of events that you could use this for. You get the gist."
"What a dick," Seth murmured, eyebrows furrowing.
"I think that's very kind of him to do. He could have sent you nothing." Esther looked at the other document behind the original letter, the forms several pages long.
"But this is completely useless. I'm not going anywhere without this guy—" he jutted a thumb at me "—so I can't even use this gift. And who the fuck am I going to see in Hell that I don't already have here? Cain? Gramps?"
"You should save that, just in case," I advised, tapping his arm with the back of my hand. "You never know. You may get homesick."
He turned to me, still having to look up at me with him being about three inches shorter. "There's no point. If you can't go with me, why would I want to go somewhere? Besides. . ." He took my hands into his, rubbing the backs of my hands with his thumbs. "How can I get homesick if home is when I'm with you?"
Esther made a sound that almost resembled a choked sob. When we looked at her, she was fanning her eyes. "Sorry, I'm just not used to Seth being so. . .loving. It's so sweet." She exhaled quickly, gathering her composure again. "Anyway. You two go ahead into the living room. This should be less than an hour, then we'll head to Jim's Christmas party afterwards."
"Thanks for helping him organize it. Mom usually did it, so I know he was a little lost without her this year." I accepted the warm hug she gave to me, always squeezing me a little tighter whenever my mom was brought up. Personally, I was dreading Dad's party since I was used to seeing Mom there to greet everyone for the past fifteen years since she had started hosting the holiday party. It wouldn't have felt like Christmas without having one, though. Dad seemed to think the same thing.
"You know we're always here for you and your father, Dalton. You're family. And when you and Seth finally get married, I'll be there to help plan that, too!"
"Mom," Seth scolded, his cheeks taking on a pale pink color.
"I think I hear your father calling. Go on, then." She shooed us along, grinning now, a look in her eye that was similar to Seth's when he had gotten a bad idea in his head. That part of Esther was rare to see, but it explained a lot about Seth's personality. They were both the type of people who would burn down a building then feign innocence while holding the box of matches.
"She's in a good mood today," I commented, leading the way towards the living room. Seth was usually in front with me in tow, but the nerves of today were starting to settle on him.
"Yeah, a little bit of too good a mood. She invited Cain and his family. And fuckin' Gramps, too. They're the last people I want to see, especially today of all days." Rubbing his eyes with his fingers, he sighed, stopping behind me. "I want my horns then for this to be over. Promise me we'll go to your dad's as soon as this is all done." He glanced up from beneath his eyelashes and snarled some, and I followed his eyes to see what he had noticed.
"Already planning your grand escape?" Cain asked, the first one through the new portal that had opened in the cleared living room. He looked more put together than usual, the pale blond hair brushed back instead of stylishly tousled. He had even opted for regular slacks instead of his usual leather. Behind him, Remmie, Ebenezer, and both of his parents stepped through, all dressed semi-formally. It was unusual seeing the two High Priests in plain clothing and not in robes, but when three more High Priests came out after them dressed in a similar fashion, I realized how important they took this event.
All were in their regular demon-forms: horns, fangs, and red eyes on display. I would have been intimated if I hadn't had punched Cain several months before and if I didn't know that Remmie was actually a big softie. Having Baal embedded inside of me tended to help, too.
"For some reason, I'm not too big on the idea of a bunch of people who piss me off being in my house," Seth responded, sending his glare at Isaac now when he emerged from the den with Mikhail at his side. "So we're gonna make this quick, then we have to bounce to go to another obligation."
"Always in such a rush," Isaac commented, flicking his wrist so that several plush armchairs appeared in the empty space of the living room, enough for everyone to have a seat. "It's your day, though, so if you want to get this done quickly, let's get it done quickly." He waved once at Ebenezer, motioning for him to get started.
Everyone but Seth and the five High Priests took a seat, Esther and Mikhail on either side of me, Esther reaching for my hand. Seth's jaw had set tightly, hating to be the center of attention, especially when the High Priests formed around him in a semi-circle, Ebenezer standing right behind him. He placed his hands on Seth's shoulders, jarring my demon some from the touch. "Seth Veretti, child of Mikhail and Esther Veretti, grandson of Isaac and Natasha Veretti. Well known as the Wild Child of Hell." Ebenezer seemed proud of that nickname still, his lips curling up when he felt Seth go rigid. "It seems that nickname can no longer apply to you since you have proved yourself worthy of the bloodline you carry and of the bloodline that you protect."
"'Bout fucking time I got rid of that stupid nickname," Seth grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.
"You punched an angel. I'd say that's still suitable for the nickname," Cain responded quietly, cocking an eyebrow at Seth.
"Don't tell me he didn't deserve that."
Cain shrugged, unable to argue with Seth. "Fair."
"Anyway," Ebenezer continued, blinking slowly as he looked at Cain, warning him not to say anything else. "As a child of a demon and an angel, Seth, it is quite unusual for you to be receiving horns. I believe you and a small group of others are the only ones who have received this honor." He didn't need to say Aberdeen by name. We all knew he was thinking it. "For you to be receiving this, you have shown yourself worthy of your dark magic and worthy of your demon side."
"You have demonstrated courage and bravery by staying with Dalton's body while it was a shell and for fighting Baal on your own," Remmie continued. "You showed cunning by way of rescuing Dalton the first time from Aberdeen and by using the water from Heaven to get him out of the host body." I winced when he referred to me as the 'host body'. I thought we had made improvements since he had used my actual name instead of calling me Last Blood or Last Hope. "You put yourself on the line almost daily, even lunging yourself back into battle against Aberdeen when you knew it would be foolish." He glowered at Seth for a moment before softening his face again. "It isn't often that we find a demon this dedicated to their job, and it's even rarer to find one so dedicated to a human."
At that, Seth finally relaxed, winking at me and mouthing "I love you". I had to bite the inside of my cheek from smiling like an idiot, but a grin still escaped me. I mouthed it back to him, enjoying how much his demeanor changed from something so simple. But, fuck, did I love him so damn much and how he was so proud of himself and how he kept trying to play with his lip ring that wasn't in and how. . .just how he existed on this planet.
Remmie said a few more things about Seth, my focus only on how Seth was handling being in front of everyone. He switched the weight from his left foot to his right several times and couldn't decide what to do with his hands, leaving them fisted or in his pockets or just folding his arms over himself. He was fidgetier than usual, probably from being in front of people for too long. I hoped they would hurry up with him before he began to get frustrated.
Finally, the High Priests all settled one hand on Seth's shoulders or head, and Seth made a face of confusion, looking at me as if I had answers for what was going on. Beside me, Mikhail was laughing softly, amused at how his son was taking this. "I remember this. It's always been a strange way of giving a demon their horns, but it's tradition," he explained to me, not loud enough for Seth to hear, wanting to leave him perplexed. "Don't worry—it gets much more cult-like."
Almost on cue, the priests began to chant in what I thought was Latin or that dead language Seth sometimes spoke in when he was casting spells. Seth's eyes began to flutter, almost reluctantly, judging from the way he growled lightly, trying to force away whatever was going on with him. "Let it happen, Seth," Mephisto encouraged, the older demon nodding at him to keep him going. "You're doing fine."
"This is part of the process," Cain added, seeing how Seth was still making an attempt to fight against the High Priests and the spell they must have been using on him.
"Although one of you may want to catch him," Isaac spoke up, looking pointedly at me.
"What?" Seth asked, voice drowsy, knees buckling. He barely had a chance to look at me before his eyes finally closed and he started towards the ground. I darted to him and caught him before his head could hit the tile.
"This is normal?" I asked, glancing at Mikhail, who didn't seem too alarmed.
"Typically, demons faint faster, but I assume that Seth's angelic side was fighting back, which is why it took him a bit longer." He rose from his chair and crouched next to me, grabbing my wrist to remove my hand from Seth's body. "You may not want to touch him. He's about to have a surge of magic, which can get hot. He'll be awake again soon. His body is going through a sort of metamorphosis to prepare for the new amount of magic that it can handle. His horns sort of serve as a . . . magic antenna, so he can channel more of it and a lot easier. He also won't get as tired as frequently when he does use his magic now."
Seth sucked in a gasp of air, and I thought he was waking up, but the blue haze around his body said otherwise. On the left side of his face, those black glyphs began to appear, growing dark immediately, staying on only one side, while his fangs and nails elongated, Seth's appearance changing in a way that I had only seen a small number of times. He tried so hard to keep this side of himself maintained and closed off from me, knowing that it left me with an instinctive sense of fear.
The cerulean magic all began to gather at his head, lining the top of his head like a glowing crown. Once again, he drew in a breath of air that I thought signified him waking up, only to be disappointed when he still didn't. Soon, the magic illumination began to fade from around him, clearing away so that we could all see two horns located right above his ears.
Chomping down on the inside of my cheek again, I stopped myself from saying what I had wanted to. Fuck, he's even more precious now. The onyx and ivory horns almost resembled small bull horns, curving some with the tips of them straight up. They were shiny and smooth and fit his delicate features so incredibly well and, fuck, I didn't think he could get any cuter.
"You gonna keep staring or are you gonna let me get up?" Seth's voice was soft and sleepy, one red eye and one blue eye now staring up at me, the black markings still on his face. Mikhail and I both stood, giving Seth space so that he could sit up, his hand immediately going to his horns. "Not a gazelle or narwhal, then."
"A bull, more like," I said, smirking when he blanched, both hands at the horns now. "But a pretty bull."
Esther materialized a mirror for him while he was still on the floor, sitting crisscross now. "You're still very handsome," she assured, handing him the handheld mirror to let him examine the new additions.
Seth looked at himself from different angles, rearranging his hair here and there to make it work around the horns. His face showed brief disappointment until he waved his hand over his lips and nose, his usual piercings appearing in their proper places, finally getting him to smile. "There, now I look cool as fuck."
"You like them, then?" Remmie asked, pleased with himself when Seth gave him a thumbs up, still checking himself out in the mirror. "We thought a bull's horns were suitable for you since bulls can be quite a challenge to tame, unless you know how to work with them." A furtive glance in my direction.
"Yeah, these are dope as hell. Not too flashy or anything." He pushed himself back up into a standing position, surprising us when he went to hug Ebenezer and Remmie, then shook hands with the other three priests. "Thank you so much. I'm really fucking excited about these. Thank you." He went back to touching the horns, rubbing his fingers over the points to test the sharpness. "I already feel a lot stronger. It's really weird, like I tapped into all of my magic without having to get mad or anything." When he held his hands out in front of them with the palms facing upwards, small sparks of blue light twinkled on the fingertips, almost like electricity buzzing around the digits. "This is so fucking awesome. Thank you, seriously. I'm really happy."
"You deserve them," Ebenezer stated, giving him the same look he had given him when I had first met the High Priests. That seemed like forever ago, when we were at Seth's home in Gehanna, the day after Seth and I told each other how we felt. Things were much calmer now compared to then. "We're grateful that you included us in your rite of passage. That's a big deal to us."
Seth shrugged like he had just gotten them a glass of water, trying to play it off as no big deal. "You two have always been there for me." Realizing he had been too soft for longer than he was accustomed to, Seth clapped his hands together and looked over his shoulder at me and his parents. "Let's say our goodbyes then get the fuck out of here."
Esther was quickly engulfed in a conversation with Mephisto and Nadine, catching up as if they were old friends. The disdain that Mephisto used to have for Esther seemed to have dissolved, talking with her nicely like it was something he had always done. Mikhail was involved in his own conversation with Isaac and the High Priests, leaving Seth and I with just Cain left to talk to.
"Congratulations on finally doing the bare minimum of what's expected of a demon," Cain said, voice as painfully monotonous as usual.
"Congratulations on changing out of your BDSM clothes finally," Seth retorted, holding his hand out for Cain to shake. The gesture was friendly enough, the corner of Cain's mouth twitching some. I hadn't seen him since being kicked out of Gehanna and Michael arresting everyone, and I almost missed his stupid face and bad attempts at trying to maintain his mellow personality. "Thanks for coming, even if I didn't really want you here to begin with."
"Always glad to try to ruin your day in some way." He finally met my eyes, exhaling shortly through his nose. "Dalton. I assume you've been taking care of him since he looks healthy and happy."
"For some reason, our relationship has been doing great since we don't have to worry about things trying to kill us almost daily." That earned me an amused expression, showing that he was still willing to be friendly to me, so I could show him the same gratitude. "How have you been doing?" I was almost going to ask about Lilith but thought better of it, figuring that was a sore spot for him since Seth said she was still imprisoned up in Heaven and would be indefinitely.
Cain paused, lips parted to say something, thinking better of it. "Rather well. I've gotten closer with my mother and father, and I've been considering becoming a High Priest since there's now a vacancy." Red eyes darted around the room, finally settling back on me and Seth, looking anxious when Seth narrowed his eyes at the taller demon.
"What else?" Seth pried, hands on his hips. Admittedly, he almost appeared intimidating with his horns and full-demon appearance now.
"I have nothing else happening. My life has become quite average since Baal has been taken care of and the whole incala and incura strife is over." But he did something strange for him, which was purse his lips. Cain was never the flustered type, always cool and poised. I had learned that about him quickly, hating him for it, wishing he would crack. Now that he was cracking, I wasn't sure how to react.
"You're fucking somebody, aren't you?" Seth hissed softly, receiving a questioning look from Isaac. "I know that look. You always gave it to your dad whenever he asked what sort of thing we had going on." He quickly snatched my hand in his, probably feeling the instant jealousy rise up in me at the mention of him with someone else. "Being antsy isn't a good look on you."
"You're too crass." Cain almost groaned, settling to make a gentle sound of protest and wrap his arms around himself. "Father sent me to group therapy to help people who have family in jail, and I met someone there. We're only talking at the moment, but I think it may lead to something." A light dusting of red rose to his cheeks, and I tasted blood from how quickly I had sunk my teeth into my bottom lip to stop laughing and calling him out. Cain was blushing. That had to be a sign of the apocalypse, if we hadn't just prevented it a few months before.
Seth handled it much better than I did. "That's really awesome, man. I'm happy for you." Then, before it could seem too sappy: "Even robots need love."
"Well if idiots like you need it, then I suppose robots do, too." He nodded one last time at Seth before looking back at his parents, asking if they were ready to go.
We went through our rounds of good-byes and "thank you for coming"s rather quickly, Esther being the only one to hug everyone while the other three of us opted to shake hands. When the house had finally cleared of everyone but the four of us, Mikhail sighed loudly. "That went well. Seth, are you still feeling okay?"
Seth nodded, feeling the horns again. It reminded me of when I had my braces taken off when I was fourteen, and I couldn't stop running my tongue along my smooth teeth. "Yeah, I'm still feeling great. It's so weird. And it's gonna suck when I have to hide these at Jim's house. I can't imagine why humans aren't so accepting of demons." It was said sarcastically, but I knew Seth was truly confused about why people didn't like the idea of real demons wandering around society. "At least I can show them all the time when. . ." He paused, shooting me a toothy grin, the kind he would give me when he was up to something. There was the look in his eye again, too, the same one Esther had given us earlier when she told us about our guests. "Should we get going?"
Mikhail and I glanced at each other, a silent question forming between us: what was Seth hiding? Shaking it off, Mikhail sighed and led us towards the den, where Esther and Mihail must have liked the idea of having a room dedicated to portals like at Cain's home. There were a handful of portals painted on the wall, all with plaques above them to label where they transported people to. One was my apartment, another was my dad's, and the rest were for spots around Gehanna: their house, Cain's house, the Chamber of the Beast, and a few other places I hadn't heard of before.
The portal to my dad's dropped us in my dad's toolshed, which I thought was brilliant since the only person who would be out there was Dad. It also helped avoid the awkward, "where did you come from?" questions from any guests. Judging from the laughing and music in the house, there were plenty of those over. All the lights in the house were on, casting shadows of people against the closed curtains. It was the busiest the house had been since Mom's memorial service.
We went around to the front door, and I was about to open it until I realized Seth was still sporting his horns and one red eye. "Babe, the uh. . ." I waggled my hand around his head.
"Fuck, thanks. That would've made for an interesting conversation with your family." He pouted some when he pointed his fingers at himself, the horns fading out of sight and his eyes and demonic features returning to normal. He passed for any regular human, making me miss his regular form when he didn't have to hide anything.
I let us into the house, finding the foyer to be filled with people dressed in reds and greens and golds, standing around with glasses of wine or small plates of food. My stomach twisted up into knots because of how well Dad and Esther had decorated the place, looking identical to how Mom would have it. Lights wrapped around the room while garland hung from the two front windows. Little knickknacks of Santa and reindeer and snowmen spotted the room, on the coffee table and end tables. There were a few Christmas cards pinned to the wall, and a small Christmas tree sat in the corner.
It even smelled the same way, with pine and cinnamon filling the air, hints of different spices looming there.
"It's just like if Jewel did it all," Mikhail muttered, placing his hand on Esther's back. "You did an amazing job." Especially since Esther had been locked away with Aberdeen during all of the Christmas parties. It was beautiful.
We found Dad in the living room, talking to his sister, my Aunt Linda, and her husband, Frank. The living room showed even more festive décor, with the fireplace mantel that held the three urns decorated in a blanket of fake snow, a tall Christmas tree standing next to it that housed ornaments from over the years. I spotted a few that I had made for my parents while in elementary school, which Seth was immediately drawn to. There were Santa-themed pictures on the wall, Nana's nativity scene laid out on the coffee table, and jazzy Christmas music playing from the TV.
"Dad, it looks amazing in here," I told him, stepping over to him, interrupting his conversation with my aunt and uncle.
"Hey, there you are," he responded, turning to hug me and Esther, then shook Mikhail's hand. "Esther helped me a ton. She gave it that woman's touch that I couldn't give." He winked at the blonde angel behind me, then looked over at the tree to find Seth. "How did his thing go?"
"It went very well." Mikhail looked over at his son. "He's excited about it, even if he isn't showing it."
"Oh, is that the boyfriend?" Aunt Linda asked in a whisper, casually pointing to Seth.
"That's him," I answered, watching the way Seth gingerly fingered different ornaments, notably the glass one with my painted handprint on it. I had made that in third grade, so he probably remembered me doing it. "And this is his mom, Esther. I don't think you two have met. And you remember Mikhail, right?" I let them finish their introductions so that I could head over to Seth, now studying an ornament that had a picture of me on Santa's lap. "That one was Mom's favorite."
"It's so fucking cute. I remember you getting this done, and you were so pissed off because the photographer kept telling you to smile, but you didn't want to." He released the photo to hold my hand, leaning his body against mine, his skin warmer now than before. "By the way, I haven't gotten a chance to tell you how proud if you I am."
Furrowing my eyebrows, I looked down at him, his eyes still taking in all of the ornaments and lights on the tree. "What do you mean? I haven't done anything."
"You've done so much more than you know, sweetie. And you growing up to be the person you are makes me happy." He finally met my eyes, a delicate expression there. "I'm so proud of who you are, and I love you, Dalton. You don't know how much you mean to me."
Embarrassed, I laughed stiffly, tightening my hold on his hand. "I love you, too. Where's all this coming from?" Seth had been tender plenty of times in our relationship, but I had seen it more today than I had in the past. As strange as the behavior was, I was enjoying it.
He shrugged, already turning so that he could drag me back to the circle of our family. "I just don't tell you enough how I feel."
We mingled for a while, Seth taking the time to get to know all my relatives, like my grandparents and cousins on my dad's side of the family. Seth was impressed at the size of my dad's family, especially given how I was the last person alive on my mom's side, which was already small enough as it was. I had to keep reminding him of names, especially when we got to friends of the family and started meeting people that I barely knew, like Mom's old coworkers. Some kept making comments about how much Mom would have loved the party and how I had grown since the last time they saw me as a kid or teenager.
If anyone had a problem with me and Seth being together, nothing was said about it.
Esther loved Bingo and seemed to have charmed everyone enough so that nobody got annoyed when she won four rounds of it, collecting the cheap prizes that she and Dad had bought for it. She was amazed at the pineapple corer that she won, and I had to hide my face to hide the laugh that was trying to break free. This is the woman who was a second mom to me, an angel from Heaven, impressed by a kitchen tool.
The only round that Seth won, he was rewarded with a shirt that said, "World's Tallest Elf", and I know he had to fight back hard to stop from getting offended at it. "If you say anything about my pointed ears, we're going to fight," he whispered to me after a new round of the game started.
"Oh, I wouldn't say anything. I don't want to pull you away from your toy making, don't worry." I was glad we were seated on the floor or else we would have fallen off the furniture with how we started playfully pushing each other.
Being able to act like a regular couple was the best thing possible. This is the kind of stuff we had missed out on for months, worrying about when I was going to die or if Seth would be killed or stressing about the potential end of the world. Things were normal. I was finally able to enjoy Seth for who he really was, not the anxious, scared demon that I had gotten used to for a while.
After two rounds of charades, which Seth and I opted to sit out of, Seth got up and went over to my dad. I started to get up, but Seth flagged me to sit back down, forcing me to stay in my spot and try to figure out what he and Dad were discussing. Seth had a sincere look on his face, while Dad's was full of understanding and what seemed to be admiration. He was smiling at Seth and patted my boyfriend's back before Seth came back over to me. "Come on," he urged, extending his hand out to me to help me up. "I need to talk to you about something."
We made it halfway down the hallway to my old bedroom before I stopped walking, tipping my head at him the way he sometimes did to me. "Is this a ploy for sex?" I asked softly, knowing we were alone, but still fearing to speak too loudly about anything explicit in front of family.
"You make it sound like I'm a damn nympho. No, this isn't a ploy." Despite what he said, he still closed and locked the bedroom door behind us and sat on the bed. "I wanted to talk to you about something, but I've been trying to figure out how to start."
Staying by the door, I narrowed my eyes at him. "I'm not too well-versed on relationships, but usually when someone in the relationship says that, it isn't a good thing."
"I found us a house, you dork," he said flatly.
That caught me by surprise, and I darted over to him, taking my spot beside him. "You did? When?" We had started our search for an apartment or house a week after he had gotten back, having no luck because we never found anything that we liked. Seth said that I deserved the best house he could find, none of the previous places we looked at being good enough for him.
"Dad and I went to go check it out last week when you went shopping with Paul and Lonnie. It just came on the market, and it's only twenty minutes from our apartment right now and about ten from your school. Dad said he's willing to put the down payment on it, and I have more than enough from inheritance to pay the mortgage and all that shit." He waited for me to say something, tongue playing with his lip ring.
"Seth, that's amazing. Do you have pictures of it?" I greedily grabbed his phone when he pulled up the photos, the gray brick and steep roof already making me love it. The inside had ash gray flooring, a newly refurbished kitchen with a contemporary design, and walls that were painted in different tones of grays and whites. There were three bedrooms and two and a half baths, a walk-in closet, and a porch that already had a swinging bench on it. The house resembled something like out of a storybook. "Seth, I can't believe this," I whimpered.
"Oh, fuck, are you crying? Do you hate it? I-I can keep loo—"
"I love it." I dabbed at my eyes before pulling him to me, pressing him tightly to my body. "It's so perfect."
"You sure? I can definitely look somewhere else if it isn't." He sounded relieved, despite his offer.
"No, this is perfect. Really, I love it." I pulled away from the hug to kiss him hard on the mouth, cupping his cheeks in my hands. "I love you so much. I mean, we're getting a house together, holy shit. I love you, Seth." We could have ended up staying at our current apartment, and I still would have been happy. As long as I had him, it didn't matter where we were.
"Then I'll call the realtor tomorrow and get the process started." He returned my kiss and tousled my hair, knocking our foreheads together. "We'll finally have a place to ourselves. Then I can walk around with my horns out all the time, and you can walk around without any clothes, and I can screw you in every part of the house without fear of Paul seeing." He snickered when I lightly hit my hand against his chest. "I'm joking. . .some."
"Is this why you were acting weird before we got here? And what you were talking to my dad about?" I couldn't resist holding him, pulling him down on top of me so that we were both lying down, our legs intertwined, his body halfway on top of mine.
"Yeah. I wanted to let him know so that we didn't catch him off guard or anything." He traced little shapes on my chest with his finger, nudging his head under my chin. His excess amount of magic made his body temperature higher, making him even more comforting to hold. "So, hey, while we're doing this whole life-changing thing, do you want that ring now?"
I snorted, laughing quietly to myself at how ridiculous he was. It was so typical of him to not make a big deal out of anything, including proposing to me. His grandmother's ring had been in the back of my mind for months now, but I never wanted to bring it up, remembering how the last time we had discussed engagement, he was wary about it due to Baal. My answer hadn't changed, and the past two months since we had been able to act like a typical couple only solidified that I wanted to be with this dork for the rest of my life. "Of course, I'd like the ring, you dweeb. You didn't have to ask."
He rearranged himself so that he was straddling me, and I propped myself up onto my elbows. "Well I didn't want to assume. You could've come to your senses about the moron you're dating as soon as you got asked." Sliding the silver and ruby ring off his own finger, he slid it onto my left ring finger that I had offered to him. The last time we did this, I was about to put my soul into it. This time was for a much better reason. "Dalton Veretti does sound nice, you know."
"What, you don't want to take my last name and be Seth Mackey?" I teased, closing the space between us to kiss him.
"Oh, you silly Irish bastard, Veretti is such a better last name." He licked my lips some. "I couldn't care less who takes the other's last name. Be Dalton Mackey-Veretti for all I care, I just want you to be mine forever."
Although I wasn't sure how or who started it, our clothes became scattered across the room, and I ended up being inside of Seth, my demon murmuring something about using his magic to make the room soundproof when I warned him about his moans being too loud. When he gripped my hand tightly, I couldn't resist looking at the familiar contrast of our skin together, enjoying how my new ring looked against his skinny tattooed fingers.
"You can. . .show your horns," I panted, eyes halfway closed, enjoying the way he felt as he moved on me, grinding his hips to help push me deeper inside of him.
"Are you sure?" I almost came just from the way his voice sounded, sensual and full of need. My own voice got choked up in my throat, so I could only nod, my skin tingling from such close contact with him as he let himself embrace his more demonic appearance, the horns and claws and singular red eye returning.
"You're so goddamn beautiful." Flipping him so that he was now on his back, I went straight to kissing him, unable to stop myself anymore. I had to touch all of him and smother him with all the love that I could give. He was the man I'd be spending the rest of my life with, something that made my heart flutter and my stomach do flips, both in the best way possible.
About fifteen minutes later, at least according to the alarm clock on my nightstand, we were pulling our clothes back on, accidentally grabbing each other's pants instead of our own at first. Like earlier that day, we had to fix each other's hair and smooth out wrinkles on our shirts, opting to leave the ties off. "Do you think they'll notice we were gone for half an hour?" Seth asked after he returned to his more human appearance.
"Probably. Our parents definitely will. But in our defense, you didn't want to make a big deal out of us getting a house and proposing to me, so we had to do that privately." I opened the bedroom door, poking my head out into the hall to make sure it was empty. "You're sure you made the room soundproof?"
"I'm sure. It's how we've been able to get away with fucking in the apartment. This ain't my first rodeo." He elbowed me in the ribs, a wide smile on his face. "Get it, because I was riding you?"
"Ha ha," I said flatly.
"Just think: you get to deal with my humor for the rest of your life. You can back out now if you want."
I pretended to think about it for a moment, stopping our walk back to the living room just to mess with him. "Nah, I think I'm good. I guess I'll keep you around." We held hands back to the living room, making sure to hold his hand with my left one so that people could see my ring when they looked at our hands.
Esther was the first one to notice, her eyes widening and her lips pressing together like she had just been told about a big surprise that she couldn't tell people about. "My boys," she cried softly, pulling both of us into a tight squeeze, almost crushing us with her deceptively strong arms. "Mikky, Jim!" She flagged our dads over, indicating to the ring on my finger, not wanting to call attention to us from everyone else at the party.
"So this is where you've been," Mikhail commented, raising an inquisitive eyebrow at us. He didn't press it any farther, opting to congratulate us instead. "For someone who said he doesn't do funerals or dating, I'm proud of you for maturing some, son. That's a big step for you."
"Figured I should grow up at some point. We're also going to try to buy that house, too. Gramps is gonna have plenty of material to make fun of me for." Seth didn't seem bothered about that at all, though when he turned his attention to my dad, he suddenly looked more frightened. "Is this okay? I know I only asked about the house, but the timing was –"
Dad held up his hand to stop Seth from talking. "As long as you promise to keep him safe and happy, you have my blessing," Dad responded.
"I promise to do my best." He put his arm around my waist, shifting his weight again like he had earlier when he was starting to get uncomfortable from the focus being on him.
"Why don't we get back to the party, and we can celebrate our engagement sometime after Christmas?" I offered, trying to alleviate Seth some.
"That's a wonderful idea," Esther agreed, hugging us once again before joining everyone else at the party, Mikhail and Jim following cue, knowing that we wanted to have a minute before throwing ourselves back into the crowd.
"That went well." Seth nodded to agree with me, seeming to enjoy the two of us standing off to the side without anyone bothering us. "You look so ready to go home."
"I definitely am. I just wanna go back to the apartment, tell Paul and Lonnie our news, then go to our room and cuddle while watching a shitty horror movie. I'd even settle for a Christmas themed horror movie." He sighed, starting back towards the party, dodging past people and headed towards something other than the people. We stopped right in the archway that went into the kitchen, Seth's eyes locked on something above us.
"You're so cheesy," I teased, spotting the mistletoe.
"Look, if I'm doing a Christmas time engagement, I'm doing the whole Christmas thing right." He started reaching for the top of my shirt, the way he liked to kiss me, then recalled that we were at a party with my family and thought better of it. Instead, he held my chin in his fingers like the way I had held his when we kissed for the first time, and he gave me a chaste kiss on the mouth. "I love you. Merry almost Christmas, Dalton."
"Merry almost Christmas, Seth." I returned his kiss, my hand on his cheek, the ring glistening from the surrounding lights. "I can't wait to spend forever with you." The fact that I could say that and make that a reality was something I never thought I'd be able to have, not with everything that I had been dealing with for the better part of a year. Standing there under mistletoe with my demon, wearing his engagement ring, showed me that things could always get better. Seth took his time with me and gave me a chance to love him.
I couldn't wait for our life together.
Thank you to everyone who's read, favorited, followed, and/or commented on this, especially since it took me years to write this. I appreciate you taking the time to read it! I may eventually go back to these characters since I do love them, and it's bittersweet to finally finish this piece.