Karen had made up her mind. She was going to enjoy her last dinner with her family and then say goodbye. They wouldn't know she would be leaving, they wouldn't know anything and she planned to keep it that way. She just needed one more family dinner, one more normal night at her parents' place and then back through the rift. She wasn't sure what she would return to, but if Cef was there it was going to be Ok.
"What the-?" She had expected the hallway to be empty when she stepped into her childhood home. She hadn't even considered that she would be greeted by anything other than the off white, soft floral wallpaper with the matching picture frames of pressed flowers, and the cream dresser with the usual pastel vase perched on top. But instead she walked straight into a ladder, making it wobble unsteadily and making her father curse out loud as he was the one balancing on top of it. "What the hell are you guys doing?"
"David, be careful!" Karen's mother, Constance, hissed and waved her arms about, trying to steady him without actually touching him. A quick glance at Karen, "Hi, Kare-bear," before she returned her attention to the swearing man atop the ladder. "Don't drop it," she commanded. David continued swearing and wiped his brow clear of sweat.
Then Karen saw it, the massive monstrosity of a chandelier in his hands that he was struggling to hang up. "What is that?" she huffed out in surprise.
"Isn't it lovely?" Constance beamed at her, "It was a bargain, really, it'll make our entrance stand out in the neighborhood."
"Yeah, it's something, it's definitely something alright," Karen murmured, almost afraid to walk under the giant shiny ball of glittering crystal pieces clanging together.
Constance sighed deeply. "Pat down the street is going to be fuming with jealousy," she said and smirked, "Always going on about her prized Ming vase," she sneered, huffing at the thought, "Oversized flower pot is more like it, but this, now this is a statement."
"Oh my god, mom, no one is going to care about a stupid lamp." Karen caught sight of her sister, sitting on the bottom step of the staircase. Dani rolled her eyes at her mother and shook her head, making Karen laugh out loud.
Constance was about to snarl a comment at her oldest daughter when David interrupted. "Here? Is this the spot?" David's strained voice, thick with struggle as the chandelier was almost too heavy for him to handle.
Constance narrowed her eyes, moving around to see from other angles before finally nodding with determination. "Yes, hang it there, don't move it an inch-Karen!" she suddenly exclaimed and whipped around to face Karen who was just about to step further into the hallway when her mother made her jump. "Watch my carpet, dear, your shoes are dirty."
Karen sighed and shook her head at her mother, kicking of one shoe. "They're shoes, mom, it's kind of what they do. They're there to keep your feet from being dirty." She kicked off her other shoe and wiggled her toes on the carpet. "Look at that, it worked, they did their job."
Constance wasn't amused at her joke. "Karen, your sense of humor is worrying."
"Oh my god," Dani groaned from the staircase, "Can we just hang up the damn thing and go eat? I am starving."
Only then did Karen notice the wonderful smell coming from the kitchen, the amazing scent of her mother's home cooked meal. The thing Karen missed most of all living on her own. Please be lasagna, please be lasagna, she repeated in her head as she scooted closer, letting the scent drag her away and she ducked under her father struggling with both chandelier and drill trying to get the monster of a lamp into the ceiling, and padded over to her sister. "Lasagna," Dani announced and held out her hand for a high five that Karen happily gave her. Oh yeah!
"Stay out of the kitchen, we're not done here!" Constance warned when Dani got up, ready to join Karen in pouncing on the lasagna that was just teasing them with its scent.
"But I'm eating for two now," Dani whined sitting back down again, "I need the extra sustenance."
Karen joined her on the step. "Yeah? What was your excuse all the other times you've stuffed your face before I got a chance to get mine?"
"Shut up," Dani nudged her sister with her shoulder.
"Where is Steven tonight?" Karen asked.
"Whining at home. Man flu, would you believe it? I'm the pregnant one, on a bad day I throw up all over the place, and I'm still the one taking care of him. Men!" Dani rolled her eyes. And then noticed Karen's altered tattoo under her short sleeved black t-shirt. She quickly pulled the sleeve up. "Oh cool," she exclaimed running her finger along the tree shaped scar from the lightening strike in Hell. Karen had almost forgotten she had that. "Scarification? When did you get that done, it looks awesome, baby sis."
Karen awkwardly pulled her shirt down again, it didn't completely cover it but it was enough. She didn't want to think about that just now, too many memories. "Oh just... a while ago," she managed to utter.
"And that?" Dani pointed at Karen's bandaged arm, "Scarification too? What are you having done?"
"No, no," she quickly said and shook her head, "No that's just- that was an accident." Dani nodded, noticing that Karen didn't want to talk about it and let it go.
"Karen." Karen looked up to find her mother watching her, her head cocked to the side in an alarmingly intense stare with a deep frown. "A word?" She motioned to the living room and walked past her, disappearing behind the door. Karen stood up. So did Dani, only she had a mischievous smile splayed on her face, but before she could bolt for the kitchen Constance yelled from the living room, "Don't you dare touch that lasagna!" And Dani groaned again, turning around with a sigh.
"Karma's a bitch, eh?" Karen teased and followed her mother.
"Here, Dani, grab me the screws from the dresser," Davis ordered, waving frantically at the screws he couldn't possibly reach.
Karen closed the door after herself just before hearing her sister gasp dramatically and clutching her belly, that was not yet showing any signs of pregnancy, and say, "You're making me work? In this condition?" Before she handed him the screws.
The smile that had been on her face faded the instant she saw her mother waiting for her, standing in the middle of the living room with her hands on her hips, eying her daughter suspiciously. "Karen, I want you to tell me where you have been?"
"I already told you," Karen coughed out nervously, "I was just out of town with Amanda, no big deal, just a girl's only trip out of state."
"You don't know any Amanda, Karen, I know you don't," her mother pressed.
"How would you kno-?" Karen stared spitting out in a hollow laugh, but stopped when Constance raised an eyebrow at her.
"Tell me where you have been," she repeated, "I need to know, Karen."
There was no point in keeping up the charade, her mother could read her like a book and the more she tried hiding from her the more she always picked apart her lies. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Karen eventually said.
"Try me," Constance demanded, walking closer to her daughter she grabbed her shoulders and Karen felt her fingernails dig into her skin. Her expression darkened. "Have you been in the forest? Tell me!" she urged her, shaking her slightly.
"Forest?" Karen snorted in confusion, "What forest? No I haven't been to the forest? What's going on, Mom?"
Constance took a deep breath and released her. "I'm sorry, Karen," she offered, with a shake of her head she returned to her old self again. With a soft smile she continued, "I want you to tell me where you've been, darling."
"Mom," Karen breathed, not sure what to say.
"I don't want to hear another story about vampires and werewolves and what not," Constance scoffed at her, "Surely my daughter would know to stay away from danger," she added under her breath. She didn't have time to register that sentence before Constance grabbed hold of Karen's chin, caressing her cheek as she continued, "Please, Karen, just tell your mother where you've been. Ease my mind, tell me you haven't been to the woods."
Karen felt at a loss for words. She tried taking a deep breath, wanting to explain herself calmly and steadily, but what bubbled out of her was a laugh she couldn't control. "No," she laughed and shook her head, "I haven't been to any fucking woods. If you must know, I have been dragged through a desert as a slave, I have sailed on a yellow ocean, attacked by sea serpents, I have fought demons, I have led humans in a revolution." She continued laughing at the absurdity of it all when suddenly a sob escaped her. "I fell in love," she said and felt the tears stream down her face, "Deeply," she added, "And I had to leave him, and it tore my heart out."
Constance wiped her tears, and hugged her daughter tightly, stroking her hair and kissing her forehead. "My Kare-bear," she cooed, "That sounds like quite the adventure."
"I haven't been to any forest, no, but I think I have to leave, I have to go to him, mom," Karen mumbled through sobs on her mother's shoulder. "I need to go back."
"Nonsense," Constance continued to hold her tight and stroke her hair, "You're home now, you'll go no where, I won't allow it."
Karen raised her head from her mother's shoulder, wiped her face and forced the sobs to settle and the tears to stop. She was about to argue with her mother's statement when there was a knock on the door and Dani's head popped inside. "Mom, seriously, I am starving, and dad's done, can we eat now?"
"Your dad's done?" Constance perked up immediately, "Oh exciting!" Pushing Karen out into the hallway, joining her father and sister, the four of them stood looking up at the monstrosity, still slightly dangling from the ceiling. David folded down the latter and packed it away in the cupboard under the stairs before admiring his handiwork with the rest of them. "Yes, that will do, that will do," Constance sighed contently.
"It's too big," Dani mumbled, "It's massive, mom, really. I mean, you'll smash your face into it if you jump."
"Well no jumping in the hallway then, problem solved," Constance snapped and returned to staring lovingly at her new decoration. "It is magnificent, look at it, it's so shiny and elegant-" The rest of the words that were supposed to come out of her mouth never did make it. The front door slammed open, a tall person in the doorway, with two long strides he was inside the hallway. The sound of nails on a chalkboard, pipes being hit with hammers, smashing plates, and Karen recognized it all as demon cursing. His face had collided with the chandelier, his horns tangled up in the wires and before they could stop what has happening, the chandelier had fallen from the ceiling, and crashed down on his shoulders, only to continue to fall to the ground. The bulbs flickered, and went out. "No!" Constance cried watching the sorry mess on the ground.
"Son of a bitch," David yelled out at the same time when he saw the work he had struggled with so long being destroyed. But then both of her parents eyes travelled upwards, up naked legs, the loincloth, the bare chest and the wide shoulders, the hard face and to top it all off, the thick black horns sprouting from his head. And then they said nothing.
"Uhm, good evening," the intruder mumbled in a gruff accented voice.
No one said anything. The hallway was silent. Karen took one sharp intake of breath. "Cef!" she yelled, both in shock and surprise. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't move. She didn't believe it. "Cef," she repeated, covering her mouth with her hand, "I don't- What?."
"Karen, who is this man?" David demanded, pushing Constance and Dani behind him, "What is he doing in our hallway? Are those horns? Who are you?" he asked pointing a shaking finger at Cef.
"You are one annoying little creature," Cef grumbled, ignoring her father completely, he had eyes for no one other than Karen. Brow furrowed, his eyes searching her features. His big hands clenching and unclenching at his side as he tried to control his breath. "You have no idea how difficult you've made my life, how difficult these feelings have made it, how I have suffered because of you and these damn feelings," he spat angrily. He stepped towards her, she swallowed in anticipation. "And all because of you, Karen."
"Karen, stay away from that man, Constance, call the police," David yelled.
"It's all right, dad," Karen breathed, with a cry of joy she threw herself at Cef, he caught her in his arms easily, crushing her to him. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her hands on either side of his face as she took in his presence. She needed to touch him, needed to feel that he was real. She touched his eyebrows, his cheeks, his nose, trailing her fingertips down his face. Cef kissed them lightly as they bushed over his lips. His eyes softened, his eyebrows no longer furrowed and the ragged intake of breaths showed he enjoyed feeling her as much as she did him. "But how? How are you here?" Karen whispered, "It's not possible."
"You can thank Jesper for that, his blood returned me here. And also my mother for disobeying a direct order and not destroying the stones like I had said, she knew I would want to return to you."
"I was just coming to see you," Karen breathed, resting her forehead against his, "I was going back."
"Perhaps, it is better for us here, in this world," Cef whispered. "I have missed you, so much, my Karen. I had to be with you."
"Are you back?" she whispered, almost too afraid to ask, "Are you back for good?"
"I can't say goodbye to you a third time, each time hurts that much more." Karen couldn't hold it in any longer, a little squeal escaped her as she pressed her lips to his. He welcomed her, deepened the kiss with his hand on the back of her neck, not letting her escape. Not that she wanted to, her hands were firmly tangled in his hair, squeezing him tight between her thighs, forgetting all about their surroundings until someone cleared their throat.
"Karen, could you please explain what is going on here?" Constance broke into Karen's conscience. With a laugh karen wiggled out of Cef's embrace, stepped down on the ground, and landed on the crunchy glass that had broken all around Cef. "My chandelier," Constance gasped in agony.
"That man has horns, Karen, why does that man have horns?" David demanded.
"Cef, these are my parents, mom and dad, and my sister," she introduced them with an elated giggle and motioned to each one in turn, still clinging to Cef's side as if he would disappear if she let him out of her clutches for only a moment. Wide eyed they eyed him up and down, unable to say anything but a quick nod in greeting. "This is Ceftion, former Warchief and leader of the armies of Hell, also known as the Desert Wind, leader of the rebellion taking back the Empire and the demon savior of humans." She wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him close. He smiled down at her, running a few fingers along her jaw, his thumb brushing her lower lip. "And my mate," she added, earning her a satisfied groan from the back of Cef's throat.
It was difficult for Cef tearing his attention away from Karen, but felt he had a responsibility to at least try to make her parents at ease about the situation. He hadn't even considered them when he had marched to this place, the only thing on his mind had been Karen. He had appeared in Central Park, woken up under a bush. Dazed and dizzy he had dragged himself to the Dead End Diner, hoping she would be at work, but once Sylvester settled after the surprise at seeing, him he had explained it was her night off and told her where she would be. He should have thought it through, he should have considered her parents. But her scent had pushed him forward, forced him to burst into the house. And then it was too late, they knew of him now.
He lifted his foot off a string of dangling glass crystals. And now he had damaged their property. "I am sorry about- about-" he tried apologizing, but he couldn't for the life of him recognize what he had broken. "I am Ceftion." He extended his hand to her father.
"Ceftion?" David stuttered, unsure whether to take his hand or not, he still had the thought in his head to call the police. "From- from Hell?" Cef shrugged but kept his hand out, David eventually shook it.
"I need to sit down," Dani breathed, unable to take her eyes off the strange demon.
"I need an explanation," Constance hissed angrily and stepped forward, "What is going on?" Cef turned to her, prepared to explain further, when he suddenly hesitated. She smelled like Karen, stronger than Karen. There was something about her scent that threw him off. He snorted and shook his head. No, it was not the time, he had trespassed on their territory, he would not bring up such things when Karen obviously still believed she was only human. Constance tapped her foot on the floor impatiently. "I want an explanation, and from the beginning," she hissed.
"I should explain," Cef offered calmly, holding on to Karen by his side, "We should explain," he corrected himself with Karen grinning up at him.
Constance sighed, threw her hands in the air and shook her head in defeat. "Tell me, Ceftion, do you like lasagna?"
As it turned out, Cef did like lasagna. And that was the beginning of a long, long night, Cef and Karen doing most of the talking, only interrupted by members of her family with little questions. David had to bring out wine to flush down the tale they were telling, and Dani cursed the fact that she couldn't drink, she was finding the whole thing hard to swallow. Cef spoke of the rift, the way demons had come through, his relationship with them. Karen spoke of the diner, what it had been like to work there. They spoke of the Weres, the Vamps, the Witches, the Ghosts. Karen spoke of her meltdown, the reason for it. Cef spoke of Hell, what he achieved. They spoke of their mutual journey there, they spoke of their love that they couldn't deny even if they tried. Only leaving details out that would be too uncomfortable for them to hear.
By the time Cef was telling about his mother sending him here, aided by Jesper's blood, the clock on the kitchen wall struck three am. None of them had realized they had been sitting around the table for that long, completely engrossed in the story. A story they wouldn't have believed if it hadn't been for Cef's shiny black horns that none of them could forget.
Karen and Cef left her parents house not long after, letting the information marinade. She giggled walking down the paved path from the house to the road, Cef wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressing her back to his chest, making it difficult to walk while placing little kisses on her neck. She felt so happy she thought she might explode, it was still hard to believe her demon was back. And he was back for her. And she was going to take him back to her apartment to show him just how much she had missed him.
Early next morning the familiar bell rang out through the diner. The sign had been turned to Closed but the door was not yet locked. The smell of coffee brewing from the kitchen gave Sylvester away, he was expecting them. He greeted them from his usual place behind the counter, refilling his glass. He lifted it in the air in a toast when they stepped closer. "To the happy couple," he announced, "Rejoined in the same bloody dimension, once again. Good times."
Cef placed his hand on the small of her back and led Karen to the counter. She sat down in front of Sylvester and watched him take two coffee cups from the hatch, steaming with fresh black goodness, and placed them in front of them. Cef sat down next to her, sniffing the delicious smell of coffee and lifted the cup to his lips with one hand, the other hand placed protectively on Karen's thigh and he gave it a soft squeeze.
Karen suddenly felt bad when she saw how much enjoyment Cef took from the coffee and remembered how he had missed it. "I'm sorry, I should have given you coffee at home, it didn't even occur to me," she said.
Cef swallowed and grinned at her. "We had more pressing matters." Before leaning over pecking her on the lips, making her grin.
"Aw, well aren't you two just sickening," Sylvester drawled from behind his wineglass, and leaned down on the counter on his elbows.
"I plan on being as sickening as I can for a long time, Sly, get used to it," Karen said mockingly placing her head on Cef's shoulder. Cef continued to savor the coffee and didn't reply. He was wearing clothes now, his own. Karen had admitted to him she kept most of it packed away under her bed, even his dumb old boots she had hidden away. His beanie she had to return, even if she had taken to wearing it herself. Soft paws interrupted them when Alyssa jumped up, settling herself into a regal position next to Sylvester's elbow. Her tail swished back and forth before she curled it around her feet.
"I'll be damned," Cef spat out and started laughing as he stared down the large gray cat, "It's true then."
"I'm glad to see you both," Alyssa stated, "Back where you belong."
Those words rubbed Karen the wrong way. Back where she belonged. Alyssa kept using them and it was starting to piss her off that no one would explain why. "Where have you been?" Karen blurted out, "I've been waiting for you."
"Most likely found an interesting alleycat somewhere," Sylvester said and winked at Karen, "A fetching little tomcat perhaps, Alyssa?"
"Business of the witchy variety," Alyssa said ignoring him, "Never question a witch, most of the time you wont like what you hear."
"Oh," Sylvester raised an eyebrow at her, "I was right then."
"Sly, stop," Karen pleaded without taking her eyes off the cat, "I think I want to hear it anyway," she said to her, and leaving her steaming coffee behind she stood up, motioned to the kitchen and said, "We need to talk, Alyssa."
Alyssa stood up on all fours. Stretched her paws out in front of her, claws out scratching at the surface with a large yawn that shoved off her sharp fangs. She licked her lips and twitched her ears. "Yes, I've heard from Sylvester you might want to discuss a few things with me. Let us go."
Karen followed her through the kitchen and into her office, she barely entered through the door before Karen blurted our the question on her mind. "What am I?"Alyssa jumped up on her desk, stretched again and curled her tail around her feet. She said nothing, continued to watch Karen with round yellow eyes. "I know I'm not human," Karen continued when the cat didn't, "So what am I?" She wasn't even angry, she didn't feel rage or anything like that. She was merely exhausted with this whole charade and wanted it to end.
"I can't tell you at this time, Karen, if I could I would."
"Bullshit," Karen mumbled, crossing her arms across her chest, huffing at the cat. "I've literally been to Hell and back and I need to know." Alyssa was silent, carefully she stretched out her paw and licked it. Making Karen's frustration grow. "Where is Derrick today?" Karen hissed.
"Sent home, there was no need for him today," Alyssa answered.
"Because I wasn't here, no doubt," Karen stated, "Why did you hire him for me? Was that really necessary?"
Alyssa sneered at the floor and rolled her eyes, yawning once more. "I didn't hire him, he's been ordered here by The Witches."
"The Witches? Those fucking Witches." Karen shook her head. "What do they have to do with me?"
"You'll find that the Witches knows all, they have their claw like fingers on the pulse of everything in this city."
"I spoke to Cef," Karen breathed, taking to pacing up and down the floor in the small room. "He said that when you saw me in the park, going up against that bastard Garth, you saw something in me. What did you see? Surely you can answer that."
"I did see something in you. I saw a human, but also something else that I did not know what was at the time," Alyssa confessed, "I saw something that I needed to keep close."
"But now you know what I am?" Karen whispered, walking closer to the cat. "Tell me."
"I have orders, Karen," Alyssa snapped, standing up quickly, her soft paws padding around in a circle on her desk. Mumbling to herself in frustration. "If I could tell you, believe me I would, I want nothing more than to tell you. But my orders-"
"Fuck your orders!" Karen finally yelled and groaned, throwing her head back she rubbed her eyes. Snapping her head back to look at Alyssa she demanded, "Tell me now."
"Haven't I suffered enough?" Alyssa said, she wasn't yelling, but the force behind her words hit Karen like a brick and she stumbled back on her feet. "Karen, look at me, I am already feline, no longer a witch like I used to be. Do you think that amuses me? I have given much to help you in the past. I have already suffered the consequences the Witches have enforced, do not make me break more orders. I beg you." She sat back down on the desk, her hard eyes burning into Karen's. "You have your demon, isn't that enough for now? I can give you nothing else."
Karen bit her lip, contemplating what she could possibly say to that. As if on cue Cef appeared in the doorway. Leaning on the frame with an amused smile on his lips, his head cocked to the side as he studied Alyssa. "I just had to have another look at the cat," he said, walking in pulling Karen into his embrace and kissed her softly. Running his fingers through her short hair. As soon as he touched her she felt her body relax against him, felt the world click into place. Having Cef is enough, her thoughts told her as she took his hand and led him back out to the diner, to the waiting Sylvester and her coffee. He smiled down at her, winked and draped his heavy arm over her shoulder. Yes, having Cef is definitely enough.
Right, I've realized that I need to mess around with these last 3 chapters, I have to rearrange some things. And it bothers me that I uploaded before I realized this. Not that it changes anything, same things happening, just in a slightly different order. Luckily I can now go over the story as a whole and edit the shit out of it. Yay.
So, obviously, I've left Karen in a horrible situation. She needs to know what she is. I've drizzled clues and hints throughout the story, that amused me to no end haha, but yeah she does need to know. Which is why there is a third book, Dead End Darkness, that I'm going to do eventually. But first I have a couple of other stories that I desperately need to get out of my head before they drive me insane, so I'll do those first. Also I'm still working on the plot line of Darkness, trying to sort a few things out. If you've read this whole thing and is interested in Dead End Darkness when I do start it, I'm going to make a little announcement chapter here in this story. Just cause I can.