m/m urban fantasy
Chapter 2: Enlightening Dinner
“You’re making too much,” Taylor said, catching Gabriel’s hand mid-stir to kiss it. Gabriel chuckled and shooed him off.
“I’m making just the right amount.”
“It’s only one additional person. It’s not like you or Callan will eat.”
Ever since Gabriel bonded with him, Gabriel cooked his dinners. It was a treat, as the demon quickly mastered modern conveniences and advancements in the kitchen. He was a genius at cooking, just as he excelled in everything else, but his one weakness was cooking too much for a single person. There were always leftovers that Taylor ate for breakfast and lunch, and while Taylor and Natalie went to the cafeteria a lot now, they ate lunches that Gabriel prepared. Sometimes Gabriel cooked things specifically for lunch, adding to the amount of food available.
Gabriel ignored him and continued stirring the rich red sauce, dotted with green peppers. He slowly added chunks of sausage. There would be meatballs as well, served separately. Taylor wasn’t a fan of meatballs and normally Gabriel made him whole sausages to go with the bits cooked into the sauce, but Gabriel insisted that Jordan would want meatballs. Taylor would try them, of course. He hadn’t ever had Gabriel’s meatballs, just his mother’s and was basing his preferences on hers. These were probably far superior, and he might end up loving them. Taylor watched for a few minutes, then leaned against the counter and faced him.
“So, are we going to talk about what happened?”
A flush rose in his demon’s pale cheeks. “I’m sure you’ll learn a lot tonight.”
“Tell me honestly, can you and Callan prevent me from listening to you?”
Gabriel glanced at him in surprise. “I don’t think so. Maybe. I’ve never tried it.”
Taylor considered. “If you were a demon, would you be able to talk so other demons couldn’t hear?”
“Yes.” His easy assent wasn’t what Taylor wanted to hear, even it made sense. Humans could lower their voices and whisper so people could eavesdrop. It made sense that demons could do the same. “But I don’t have the same control, and she might want you to hear.”
“But you don’t.” Not a question.
Gabriel sighed. “I want to protect you.”
“I don’t want to be protected.”
“You do,” his demon said. “You just don’t know it.”
Taylor pressed his hand into the counter, fighting a wave of anger. “How do you know what I want and don’t want, what I should know and what I shouldn’t? You’re not a demon. You can’t read me anymore.”
Gabriel flinched, and Taylor could feel his pain and insecurity. Instantly, he softened. “I’m sorry. I know it’s an adjustment. But it’s true. You don’t have the same access.”
“I remember.” His voice was harsh. “You haven’t changed in key ways. You’re still the same person.”
“I’m a demon now.”
“Yes, you are,” Gabriel said, wiping his hands on his apron before stroking his cheek. Taylor leaned into the affectionate caress hungrily. “But you’re still the same person I fell in love with. Aren’t you?”
Taylor stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Gabriel’s waist, turning his demon to face him. Now he stroked Gabriel’s face. “I still love you. I’m still the same.”
He leaned into Gabriel, who kissed him sweetly. Although he wanted to grab his demon and distract him from his pain with a deep, passionate kiss, the kind that kept him fed all day, he didn’t. He could sense that Gabriel still needed to cook. While his demon was more than happy for this brief disruption, he needed to get back to the sauce. Taylor broke away with a laugh.
“Should I be offended that you care more about the spaghetti than me?”
Gabriel grinned. “You can’t always come first.”
Taylor rolled his eyes, and Gabriel pushed him towards his desk. “Go study. We have half an hour before they come, and I don’t want you falling behind.”
The time passed quickly, and soon there was a knock on the door. Taylor took a deep breath, then answered with a smile. Jordan greeted him awkwardly. Although Taylor had tried to let him down gently after he confessed his feelings, he knew there had to be some resentment. Still, Jordan had taken care of him while he was recovering after being shot. Their friendship was intact. Just a little different now.
Callan swept in after him, scouring him with a look he couldn’t interpret, but he felt naked before her. Gabriel was in the kitchen putting the final touches on the food. It was timed for them to eat immediately, no talking first. Clearly, he wanted this evening over as soon as possible. At least Jordan was here to defuse the situation.
As Gabriel took off his apron to join them, Jordan went to the couch and plopped down. Gabriel’s lips curved downward.
“The food is ready. We should eat.”
Callan sat next to Jordan and glared. “I think we have time to talk first.”
Gabriel’s lips tightened, but he went to the stove and set everything to simmer. Taylor could feel his displeasure, partially about the conversation, but a large part of it was that the noodles would get cold. He tried to hide his amusement at that as he sat in the cushy chair facing the couch. Gabriel came to perch on the arm, clearly not wanting the other chair that was on the opposite side of the room. His feelings were chaotic and that void in his mind loomed large, and Taylor could sense that he wanted to be close right now because he didn’t know what exactly Callan would risk saying in front of Jordan.
“Thank you for helping today,” Gabriel said almost reluctantly. “I was afraid there might be violence.”
“There might be when I’m not around to help. You’re really leaving for the summer?”
Taylor frowned. “Why wouldn’t we? I need to see my parents. It’s summer break.”
She traced a hand along the sage suede of the couch. “You could stay. Your parents could come here.”
Gabriel glared. “We’re perfectly safe there.”
Taylor felt Gabriel’s resolve crumbling under that glare. Was Gabriel seriously going to agree to this?
“I’m sure we are,” he said quickly. “My dad’s there. He’ll protect us. He always said my mark was blessed, so I’m sure he’ll think Gabriel is too, since his mark matches mine.”
Callan glanced at his wrist. Instinctively, he turned it to avoid her gaze. Every demonborn had a mark, but his was different. It was slightly imperfect, and he grew up ashamed of it, frightened that it meant no demon would ever bond with him. Instead, he found a demon with exactly the same mark, imperfections and all. They were destined to be together, and his father seemed to know to expect great things from him. He had been targeted by demon hunters who knew Gabriel’s mark looked like, so it wasn’t too hard to imagine that his father knew about Gabriel’s unique mark as well and predicted that Taylor would bond with him.
“Your father may have had other reasons for welcoming the demon prince into his family,” she said, and Gabriel stiffened.
“You shouldn’t talk of that here.”
The empty space in his mind widened, and Taylor scowled. “Talk about what?”
Callan glanced at Jordan, then back at Taylor. “Gabriel’s presence may trigger a revolution among the demons. Some will want to love their humans, and some feel that it lessens their abilities.”
“But Gabriel’s still just as strong.”
“That hasn’t been tested.”
He glanced at his demon, whose fists were clenched. Gabriel’s mind was a whirl of anger and… fear? Was he afraid that he was weaker now? He was still stronger than any other demon.
Callan waved a hand dismissively. “That’s one problem with what happened to you. But there’s another, much darker threat. Jordan,” she said, turning to him and setting her hand on his. “I’m going to have you fall asleep now.”
“What?” Jordan paled. “In front of everyone?”
She laughed. “No one will judge you.”
“But I want to know, too. If it effects Taylor, I need to know.”
He sent a shy glance at Taylor. Their friendship was unchanged even though Taylor didn’t return the romantic or sexual feelings, and Taylor was touched that he was so concerned. Or was curiosity driving him? Probably a combination. Well, his own curiosity was too great and if Jordan needed to be asleep for Callan to speak openly, he would support it.
“You can lie down on the couch,” he offered. “It’s pretty comfortable.”
“We really should eat first,” Gabriel interrupted, irritation blossoming in his mind. “It won’t be the same if we have to reheat it.”
Callan laughed. “Of course. Why don’t we do that, and then Jordan can sleep.”
He still didn’t look pleased by that, but he didn’t voice any more objections as they went to the table. Gabriel served them, and soon Jordan was compliment the food and the two demons were shooting each other meaningful looks. No words between them, or at least words Taylor could hear, and he tried to enjoy the meal. The meatballs were tasty, but nothing he would request. A good treat, not a permanent addition to their weekly pasta night.
Dinner was beyond awkward as he and Jordan made small talk, ever aware of the demons and the upcoming conversation. Soon, Jordan lay down on the couch. Callan stroked his shoulder, then his body went limp. Taylor shivered. Sometimes it was unnerving how much control demons had over their humans. He had that kind of control over Gabriel, he realized, and eyed the demon. Would he ever dare?
Callan led them back to the table where Gabriel had cleared the dishes. The kitchen was also spotless, as Gabriel cleaned while he cooked and put away the leftovers while Jordan fell asleep. He pulled a chair next to Taylor while she sat opposite. She eyes their closeness.
“You haven’t told him, and that’s a risk.” Her words were blunt and Gabriel’s mind filled with that same combination of anger and fear.
“I don’t want to worry him.”
“You might cause exactly what we’re trying to avoid.”
Taylor looked between them. “What’s that?”
Gabriel said nothing, so Callan spoke. “The demon king isn’t the first demon. There’s another, much older demon. He’s her child.”
Taylor’s eyes widened. She continued. “When he fell in love, she forbid it. But the heart can’t be controlled. She was one of the reasons his human died. In retaliation, he locked her away behind a seal. That was the end of the war. Some demons, as I said, supported his love and were willing to risk her hatred. Some didn’t like the idea of giving their humans control, and blamed the king for her rage. She was the one who killed most of the demonborn, because she blamed humans for her son’s romance.”
“I suppose she doesn’t rely on a human,” Taylor ventured, and Callan nodded.
“She’s the original demon, born before humans evolved to nurture us. She actually created the demonborn, altering humans to be able to feed demons because her children were starving to death. She never understood why they needed to feed, but she nurtured them. And then the king grew too close, and wanted to share his soul with a human.”
This was a lot to take in. He had never heard any of this before. No hint of any demon beyond the demon king, and there were only a few stories about him from when he last existed in the human realm.
“So the king locked her away? That ended the war?”
“Yes. The demons who feared her decided the king’s actions in sealing her overcame his actions in falling in love. That resentment sparked when he made a son in his image, but since Gabriel’s never been able to find love before, no one acted against him. Now, though, he succeeded where his father failed. The demons won’t take kindly to that.”
Gabriel took Taylor’s hand. “They won’t, and there might be a war. I don’t see any way around it. I don’t see what she has to do with any of this.”
“What if the seal is released? What if she comes back? She’ll see that you, her direct grandchild, have succeeded where your father failed. What will she do to you, to Taylor?”
Taylor shivered, and Gabriel squeezed his hand. “Which is exactly why I didn’t want him to know. It’s not going to happen, so why worry about it?”
Callan just stared at him. Gabriel’s mind was a whirl, and Taylor caught a glimpse of that void within him. He saw the demon king telling stories of his mother and her rage, and the consequences of Gabriel finding love. Despite that, the king encouraged him. And when Taylor was dying, he had given him his body and wings to save him. He wanted Taylor to survive and become part of Gabriel. They shared a soul now, which was exactly what the king wanted for himself. When he sacrificed his wings, Taylor hadn’t understood what was happening, but looking back, he knew that the king had no regrets, and wanted nothing more than for Gabriel to be happy. And loved. But now, Taylor saw the fear in Gabriel’s mind that his father had warned him about, the fear that his death would release the seal. The king likely hadn’t known that he would have to sacrifice his life for Gabriel to be in love, so he always encouraged him. He hadn’t hesitated in helping Taylor, but at what cost would it really be? Would his death unleash something worse than a war between the demons?
Gabriel wrapped his arm around his shoulder. “It’s all right, Taylor. We’ll be fine.”
“Will we? The king is gone now.”
“But you’re here,” Gabriel said. “You took his body and his powers. You took his wings. That means part of you is holding the seal.”
“What part?” The question was a frightened plea, and he could feel that Gabriel didn’t have an answer.
Callan leaned forward. “That’s exactly why you should have told him. He needs to figure out how to preserve the seal before his ignorance releases it.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“We can help,” she said. “All of the demons who support you. We don’t want her here any more than those on the other side do. They might even help. We’ve had peace for so long. No one wants to destroy that.”
“But there might be a war,” he pointed out.
“There might be,” she acknowledged. “But it would just be between us. No demonborn would be harmed.”
Gabriel scowled. “You’re sure about that?”
“They need to feed, too,” she snapped. “The demonborn will be fine. But her… she didn’t hesitate to take them out, even though she created them, even though it killed us. She can always make more demons, and more demonborn. She can wipe us out and start over. Do you want to risk that?”
Silence as Gabriel stroked his shoulder. “No,” he finally said. “I don’t want to risk it.”
Another long silence, then Taylor’s brow furrowed. “But what does that have to do with my dad? Surely he wouldn’t be against me. From what my mom says, he’s delighted I bonded with Gabriel, and isn’t put off by the fact that I’m a demon now. Most people are. Even my mom avoids the subject.”
Callan looked away. “There are some—a few—who want the demon mother to return. I suspect he’s one of them.”
“What?” Taylor thought of what he knew about his father. Since his father existed only in his mother’s mind, he didn’t know anything concrete, just what she reported to him. He had long suspected her of lying about certain things, and never had a good sense of who exactly he was, but surely he didn’t want to unleash someone who could destroy the demonborn. “But based on what you’re saying, she’ll hate me. She’ll try to kill me and Gabriel. Right? Why would he possibly want that?”
“I’m not sure she’d kill both of you,” she said slowly. “Our royal line is special. That’s another reason the king survived the war. He’s the only one besides her who can make more demons. The demons he creates are loyal to him, too. Almost all demons are his, so his life wasn’t really in danger except from her. I don’t know if you have that ability, or even if Gabriel does, but she might want to preserve it.”
Gabriel shivered under his hand. “I can do it.”
“I haven’t had a chance.”
“Then make one.” Her gaze was even. “Maybe they would support you more if they knew you inherited all his abilities even though you’re partially human now. They think you’re weak. Show them you’re not.”
Yet another silence as Gabriel’s mind filled with worry. His words were confident, but his mind wasn’t. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do it, and afraid Taylor couldn’t, either. There were currently plenty of demons, and they were immortal, but demon hunters killed them off fairly regularly. Sometimes it was justified when they went insane from hunger, but often the demon hunters targeted perfectly healthy demons. It was one reason they were so hated in the demonborn community. Without someone creating new demons to fill that void, would demons slowly go extinct?
Gabriel shook off his worry. “I think we’ve said enough. Why don’t you wake Jordan.”
It was a command, not a question, and she nodded. “Fine. But Taylor, start thinking of anything you’re doing that might be holding the seal in check. And whatever you do, don’t release it.”
He gulped. What if thinking about it triggered it? Should he risk it? But if he didn’t, maybe his carelessness would do the same. For the first time, he regretted the king’s decision to save him. This was too much responsibility, and he now understood why Gabriel had kept quiet.