"You can't tell me you actually agree with the stuff Preacher Davidson says," Abby said as she drove them home from her grandmother's. "So why are you still going?"

"You don't either," said Marlon. He kept rubbing at his pocket, she assumed to check and make sure he hadn't dropped his wallet or something. "I promised. A deal's a deal."

"Mars-Bars." She sighed. "You don't make deals with God."

"It's working out so far."

"How did you make a deal with Someone you don't believe in anyway?"

"Desperation," came Dominic's reply from the back seat. "You'd be surprised what you'll bargain with if it's your only hope."

"Never said I don't believe there's..." Marlon shifted and scratched at the back of his neck. "I mean, maybe there is Something there. Someone. Whoever it is kept their end, so I'm keeping mine. Besides, it's just one more year, right? Then we can tell Davidson good-bye."

They came to a stoplight and she turned to look at him. "I appreciate the company, don't get me wrong. But we both shouldn't have to suffer." She smiled. "I know you said if I changed churches, you'd follow. But when I go back to Mass, I'll be fine."

"It's no big deal, Abs." He took hold of her cross; he still wore it alongside the pendant bearing his family's crest. He started running it back and forth on the chain. "If I ever wanna quit you'll be the first to know, OK?"

"You might as well drop it." Dominic laid his head on his paws, tail dangling off the seat. "He's a Samson. They don't break promises."

Abby just shook her head as she pulled into the parking space outside her great-aunt's apartment. More the stubbornness is inherited. She got out and unlocked the back door to the 1985 Monte Carlo she'd inherited from her parents. There's no reason he should... She couldn't think of the words.

"Do what you've had to all these years?" suggested the Dragon. He slipped past her as she grabbed the bag with her birthday gifts and slammed the car door. "Misery loves company."

That's pretty much what I just said. Abby hung the bag on her arm, then shifted to get to the apartment key. But before she could unlock the door, Marlon laid his hand on her arm. She turned and met his nervous gaze.

"Abs?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small circular charm. "Um, I..." He reached out and clipped it to her bracelet, right beside the dragonfly. "Here."

Abby raised her wrist to get a look at the charm. It took her only a moment to recognize his family's crest. She kept her eyes on the charm as her face heated up. "Marlon... uh..."

"It's no big deal," he said quickly. "Just... you're family, Abs. And... well." He scratched at his neck and looked at her sheepishly. "I was thinking... uh... canwegosteadynowplease?"

It took Abby a moment to make sense of what he said, then her jaw dropped. She felt her mouth move, but no sound would come out. Did he really just say that?!

"Do not be dense, Abigail," came Aeneas' voice. "It does not suit you."

"That's my line," complained Dominic. He nudged her side. "Are you going to answer the boy, or what?"

Aunt Gladys won't... Then again, Gladys constantly praised how well "that boy" was doing "despite his troubled home life". The fact Marlon was at her side every Sunday, silent and his eyes locked on the Preacher as if his life depended on it, went a long way toward changing minds. Abby was one of the few who was aware it was as much a show as her own.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Marlon fidgeted then took a deep breath. "If... ifwe'rebetterasfriendsthencoolwecallitoff." He started babbling too fast for her to follow.

"The boy is going to bite his tongue off at this rate." Dominic shook his head. "What's the problem? It's not like he's down on one knee, after all." He rolled his eyes. "And even if he was, he wouldn't be as cheesy as the rat. St. Valentine's of all days."

Hopefully those two getting married isn't what prompted this. Swallowing hard, Abby reached out and took Marlon's hand then smiled. Whenever she'd considered their becoming official, it had been sometime after high school graduation. At least Mel and Drew are happy. She took a deep breath. "Yes."

Marlon froze in place. "Yes?" He grinned like Christmas had came early. "Really?"

Abby couldn't help but laugh as she nodded. "Marlon, seriously. It's been unspoken for almost a year." And I was perfectly fine with that. They loved each other, and both knew it. It didn't need to be shouted from the rooftops. "And obvious enough to get teased for."

"Grandpa's a dork sometimes." Marlon rolled his eyes, relief written all over his face. "See ya tomorrow, Abs." He squeezed her hand then headed to his apartment next door. "Thank you."

"See ya, Mars-Bars." Abby turned and unlocked the door, then went straight to her room. At least Aunt Gladys and Mrs. Davidson aren't back yet. She set her gifts on her desk and pulled the chair out. The new charm caught the light and she smiled. She started to sit down then stumbled backwards when she met no resistance, slamming into the floor. A hiss escaped her as she rubbed her hip. She turned and glared at the chair. "I know I'm not that …" Familiar laughter rang out and she scrambled to her feet, backing up to the wall. "No."

Dominic's low growl echoed in her ears. "You -"

"Hey kids," said Bjarte with a grin. "Miss me?"

Aeneas materialized beside her and glared. "Child's pranks?" He moved to Abby's side. "Is there no low you won't sink to?"

"Why so surprised, Abs?" Bjarte folded his arms and leaned against her desk. "You seriously didn't think ya got rid of me that easily? Told ya, you aren't a priest and even if you were, you're stuck with me…" His grin widened as he smirked at Aeneas. "Can't have one without the other."

"Go away," said Abby, ashamed to hear her voice tremble. She reached up and stroked the cross Marlon had given her for Christmas. "You aren't welcome here."

"Don't matter," said the demon. "I'm assigned to ya, remember? Gonna have to learn to deal." His eyes went to her hand on the cross. "Still, seems you'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, Ginny."

"Her name is Abigail," snapped Dominic as he put himself between them, his tail lashing like a whip. "Even a child remembers the names of its toys."

"I ain't a child, and she ain't either." Bjarte gave Aeneas a dirty look. "Seriously Annie, knock off the puppet show."

Abby took a shaky step forward. She took comfort in the illusion of digging her hand into Dominic's mane. Just because it was all in her head didn't make it less real. She drew a deep breath. "I've… I've got this, Grandpa Nick." She narrowed her eyes. "Sorry to disappoint, but there's no mask here for you to wear anymore. Now, maybe I can't get rid of you, but that doesn't mean I'm listening to you. So scat!"

Bjarte stared at the dragon, a stunned expression on his face.

Dominic laughed. "What's the matter, deceiver? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"That's not fair!" Bjarte's voice rose in fury. "It's always been one player per team. He can't be here playin' sidekick!"

The Dragon shrugged. "Take it up with your 'boss' if you don't like it. You don't have to take our word for it."

"Maybe I will!" Bjarte stomped his foot, turned on his heel and vanished.

"Might not be a child," Dominic noted, snorting. "But he sure acts like one."

Abby slid down to her knees, shaking. "He's back. Oh… what am I going to do?"

"Ignore him like the tantruming child he is," said Aeneas. He rested a hand on her shoulder. "Your fate is yours to shape."

Easier said than done, she thought, digging her fingers into the carpet.

To Be Continued...