Once outside the Revenge House, Ezekiel fell unconscious. It was amazing how Eneizar got over the original shock of having his sign changed and asked a passer-by to call for an ambulance; moreover, he went with them.
The demon stood by Zoe’s side until the others came, Chen running to Ezekiel and Mehrdir to Zoe’s side. It was interesting how much fuss was created around him but Eneizar could only watch from the side.
Beelzebub got over his anger when he got informed that Zoe was safe. On the other hand, he got annoyed that Eneizar got the endless knot on his wrist.
Iaosur laughed and teased Eneizar about it. It was noisy and the vanity demon got in deep trouble with Lucifer but aside that, he was kind of happy to be part of Zoe’s family.
“So,” Zoe started. “When are you going to leave?” She asked bluntly.
Eneizar was worse than Mehrdir, standing there in the corner, watching her like a hawk.
“When you’ll be discharged,” He responded, leaning against the wall lazily. “Why? Don’t you like me by your side?” The demon teased her.
“No.” Her response was cold.
He didn’t care at all what she was accepting and what she hated therefore, he didn’t budge from his seat for the rest of the day.
Friends came over a few times, Henry being very cuddly suddenly; also, Jake came around once or twice with Andy keeping a close eye on how their discussions would go. Mark and Luke came as well but their presence was not as bright as before.
She was distant and built a wall between her and people, especially those who lied to her.
“How are you feeling?” Mark’s bright face was visibly not as bright and positive as before.
She’s been having the same wary expression with everyone who came and visited; after all, who knew if they weren't hosts for demons or something else.
Mark sighed and rubbed his forehead, growing annoyed with the whole issue, “Look, Zoe, it’s not like it was a secret.”
She raised an eyebrow and stared at him with an unreadable face.
“You’ve been lying to me from the very first time we met.”
Mark shook his head, “We didn’t know who you were. We’ve been through some hard times and when we got this deal, it just opened so many doors,” He explained.
She scoffed and leaned towards him, “You made a deal with Leviathan and Belphegor. They personally take over your bodies when they feel like it. Does this sound like an opportunity?”
He sighed and tried to grab her arm but she moved it quickly and narrowed her eyes at him, “I thought we were friends,” She hissed.
“We are! We are friends, Zoe. We genuinely like each other and we get on well with each other. I really believed Ezekiel when he told me that you left with your family and that you let your cousins stay in your apartment,” Mark continued in frustration.
Zoe chuckled and rubbed her face; she was going crazy. It was really funny how messed up everything was.
“Why did you move next door?” She asked.
Mark's frown was an expression she had never expected to see on his face. Luke got smacked in the head when he tried to enter and explain his own faults which only made Mark cringe.
Mehrdir was outside, guarding her like his own life was depending on it which kind of was. He grabbed Luke by the collar of his shirt and pulled him out, throwing him on the waiting chairs like he was a doll.
Mark turned to Zoe after the commotion ended and Mehrdir closed the door, “Sometimes, I do things at night and have no memory of it in the morning but there was this time when I could remember. I dreamed about you and I dreamed your address,” That was creepy on so many levels, “I’m sorry but I had to find you and see it for myself. You were real, surprisingly and you were a genuinely nice and lonely person. I didn’t understand why you were so important but I do now.”
“I am the commander,” Zoe started in a plain voice, “I make demons go against their natural flow. I make them care and in exchange I get lies and pain. I’m dangerous. Maybe you should move as far away as possible from me.”
Mark looked down at his hands chuckling, “No. We’re not going to do that," He rose his head and stared into her blue eyes, "I was serious when I said you got stuck with us. We’re not going to leave you when you need us the most.”
“I heard that before. He’s standing right outside this door but he’s never there when I need him. Never.”
Mark followed her sight and sighed heavily, "I'm not Mehrdir,"
The greed demon was not outside her door when she mentioned him; he left his position to eneizar, which was quite a common thing for him, and entered Ezekiel’s room.
Walking closer to the human, he couldn't help but feel bad for him but at the same, he was a bit jealous; Zoe was ready to give her life for Ezekiel while Mehrdir could rot for all he has done to her.
“You should have said no to me. You should treasure your life more,” The demon started, his eyes narrowing at the human.
Ezekiel wasn’t stupid. He was planning to fake sleep in case Mehrdir wanted to talk about Zoe but once the demon addressed him, the human opened his eyes. Mehrdir was an idiot and Ezekiel couldn't pretend he couldn't hear.
“I do but I treasure Zoe too. She’s been deceived by so many people and that's why she needs someone to take care of her; genuine care with nothing to gain and nothing to lose,” The human responded.
Mehrdir rolled his eyes,“So that’s your job?”
The human laughed, which quickly changed into coughing since his wound was serious and he still felt pressure on his chest.
“No. That’s your job,” Ezekiel emphasized, pointing at the demon, “You better do your job from now on,”
The demon gulped and took a step back, feeling threatened for some unknown reason.It was only a human but his words touched something in Mehrdir's being; something very deep within.
“I’m going to pa-“
Ezekiel shook his head, “No. You do your job and I will do mine. I’m her best friend, I’m her brother, I’m everything but I’m not the one she loves with her entire being. That’s you.” Ezekiel pointed at the demon again, “Take responsibility,” The demon opened his mouth to speak but Ezekiel wasn’t done yet, “Iaosur and Eneizar admitted how much they treasure her; I did it; Mark, Luke, Andy, everyone did it. Even Beelzebub cares what happens to her. You're the only one who's still in denial,” The human finished.
Mehrdir wasn’t taking it well at all. He was biting his lip and he was building up a lot of anger inside, feeling like he was going to implode soon enough.
“Do I have a choice?” He retorted sarcastically.
Suddenly, Asmodeus’ words rung in Ezekiel's ears; those words left quite an impact on him. It made sense; no one involved had a choice or a chance to escape. They were all bundled up in a bubble that was floating in the middle of the ocean and no one knew they were there thus no one was going to save them.
It was around midnight when Zoe was squirming in bed. She tried to sleep but every time she closed her eyes, she could see Lucifer’s black eyes; it was scary.
Once Mehrdir entered her room, she instantly calmed down, just like before. He stopped by the edge of the bed and stared at her his eyes softening as he remembered what Ezekiel told him about denial and responsibility.
She opened one eye, peaking before she started bluntly, “I hate you.”
Zoe opened her eyes and tilted her head to the side, watching him blankly.
“I really, really hate you,” She continued firmly.
Mehrdir got next to her before he leaned in and touched her nose with his.
“I know,” His eyes moved down to her lips; those rosy dangerous temptations. Mehrdir walked around the bed, his hands trailing along the sheets as his eyes looked into hers. Once next to him, he leaned in but she moved her head to the side.
“I’m sorry, Zoe,” He whispered.
“Me too. Now, I’d like you to leave me alone.” Mehrdir raised an eyebrow and backed away; she wasn't done, “Not only now, Mehrdir. If you decide to leave, do it and never appear before me ever again. But if you don’t, stay.”
The greed demon was taken aback, “You can’t choose in Hell, Zoe,” His response was childish and was only making her feel worse.
She tried to cover it by chuckling sarcastically, “But we’re not in Hell, now. You’re in my world and in my world, you have to choose,”
He looked to the side, a look of frustration and genuine fear. she thought he was probably going to stay and she was already preparing to tease him but he left. The little evil smirk on her face fell and she could feel her heart break a little bit more.
Life was unfair.
Zoe’s wounds were minor and was discharged after two days. On the other hand, Ezekiel’s wound was deep and needed more time to recover; however, he hated hospitals and begged to be released. The doctor sighed and agreed on one condition: he had to stay in bed and be careful but when he got home, his parents became annoyingly pestering. He called Zoe the next day and told her to prepare the couch because he was coming over.
Days passed, weeks passed and in no time, life took a normal, common turn.
Eneizar and Iaosur came back to normal, playing around and getting Jasper in trouble, Eneizar was finding that extraordinary satisfying. Surprisingly, Elijah was a good ghost guardian for the inheritor because whenever he was around, Eneizar was uncomfortable and would ignore the inheritor.
Jasper realized that having a ghost watch over him wasn’t as bad as before, especially after Elijah begun talking and telling him stories. The inheritor assumed that everything will get better.
That idea shattered quickly when Gakhas entered the picture and Elijah started to disappear for days. Unlike Eneizar, the sloth demon couldn't give a crap about anyone, really; but he was smart and perceptive and Jasper swore he saw Gakhas manipulating Mark and Luke into buying him stuff.
As for Mark and Luke, they didn’t leave; instead, they started to drag Zoe out of her apartment to different bars and shows. Mark found it his personal mission to gain back her trust.
Zoe, on the other side, had until March to decide if she wanted or not to take the job at K University as a professor of Juridical Psychology.
Months passed like that and Christmas came around.
"Why are you so stiff? It's the holiday season. You have to be happy!" Ezekiel cheered her up. That sounded a lot like something Chen would say, not him.
"I have to?" She repeated, "Do you even know how dangerous Christmas is?"
Ezekiel rolled his eyes and jumped next to her. He was ready to say some argument but her phone rang. Her eyes widened and she pulled her legs closer to her chest, looking at her phone warily.
"Christmas parties," She whispered in horror, "Don't!" Ezekiel was ready to respond when she stopped him, "My mother will blackmail me into going to her Christmas party. She will even use my dad as leverage. She's evil."
Ezekiel stared at her blankly. Evil; Zoe was in no position to talk about that.
"Why is the phone ringing? Again,"
Eneizar decided to visit since he didn't know much about Christmas. Of course, after he found out the story behind it, his opinion changed but still, he liked sparkly things and Christmas was sparkly.
"Don't know. Don't care."
Iaosur on the other side was in a bad mood. Mammon seemed to be excessively grumpy because of Belphegor. Iaosur was really curious how those two could get along so well when one was greedy and bossy while the other one was lazy and couldn't be bothered to move from his chair.
It was lousy down there with all those war preparations and it was lousy up in the Middle World, as well.
"Don't respond. She will go all crazy on you if you do," Ezekiel warned them but it went right past them; the two demons looked at each other and smirked. "You're looking for it," Ezekiel ran away before Zoe could blame him; he went to meet his girlfriend.
Alice didn’t remember what happened or that she almost died and Ezekiel took advantage of that. He became very careful around her but he liked to squeeze information from her as well; the one she knew unconsciously.
"Should we or should we not? That's the questions," Iaosur commented, the phone ringing again.
"If you want to stay here, you should not," She was just passing by to get in the kitchen when she heard them speak.
Eneizar rolled his eyes, "Who cares what she says? We are free to do anything we want," The vanity demon grumbled.
"No, you are not. Coincidentally, I marked you both," She passed through the living and went back into her room.
The two demons sighed in defeat; they couldn't argue with her last statement.
"Still don't know how she marked me," Eneizar's vanity mark was almost impossible to change but she did.
"That's because you wanted it," The demons turned to Gakhas. He magically walked through the kitchen door and jumped on the couch, "You can change your sign if you want to. She is powerful enough but she also needs your agreement. You gave it to her long time ago," He emphasized.
"Ain't you so smart?" Eneizar asked sarcastically.
The phone started to ring again and their heads turned to it. Gakhas blinked and stretched a bit so he could grab the phone.
"Who's this?" He responded.
Eneizar and Iaosur glanced at each other. She was going to fume in about an hour.
"Oh, a Christmas party? Very nice. Sure she'll be there. Bye!" Gakhas hung up and turned to Eneizar, "What's Christmas?"
For someone who knew so many things, that was unexpected.
When Zoe got a phone call one day, she hoped it was from Dan. She had a lot to explain mostly because she kind of vanished for a while.
Surprisingly, it was from Terrance.
"Your mother called me and told me we will have dinner together this weekend," He started, Zoe immediately becoming silent, "I had the same reaction. I told her that you're probably busy and can't make it but it seems she is expecting you home for Christmas."
Her head snapped to the door, throwing it a very nasty look.
"And whom exactly did mom talk to?"
"A guy. She doesn't know his name,” He took a break and continued, “ I didn't know you live with a man."
"I don't. I babysit them."
"Them?" He just wanted to be sure he heard right.
"Yes. Anyway, I guess I'll see you Friday." She hung up and threw the phone on the bed.
Zoe walked in the living room and scanned the place. Eneizar was not there and she knew that he got an assignment. Iaosur was next door with Luke, playing video games and the human boys were actually home. They had families of their own; especially Ezekiel who left reluctantly and she practically had to throw him out.
"Gakhas," She trailed, finding her culprit.
No matter what she was going to tell him, he was already exiled from Hell and sending him back was only going to create problems for her. Zoe sighed and went back in her room, slamming the door behind her. She had no choice but to go home.
"Are you sure you don't want me to haunt you while you're there?" Andy was worried and he had every reason to. He knew how overprotective her mother was and even if Zoe was already an adult, she was going to feel like an outsider and be questioned.
Zoe smiled at Andy but shook her head, "No. It's my home and I have to get over the past with dignity not with another prescription to a psychiatrist."
Andy didn't seem to share her confidence, "What are you going to tell them if they ask what's your job and who are you living with?"
She clicked her tongue and opened her dresser, taking a quick glance over her shoulder at the ghost, "I will tell them of my new job in your university. I'm living alone, in case you forgot,"
Andrew scoffed, "Four demons and Ezekiel; and let's not forget two hosts next door and Jasper with his ghost guardian. Oh, and me,"
"That's a lot less than hundreds of dark fairies and scaries," she mumbled, grabbing clothes from the hangers and placing them on her bed, "You should go haunt Jake; it became you hobby, hasn't it?"
That reminded him of their past discussions about helping lost souls find peace, "He's talking to me, now. Well, he's talking to himself or the air and I think I am more of an imaginary friend for the moment, but that's a step forward for me," He admitted, unconsciously smiling.
Zoe chuckled and took a break, sitting on the bed next to him, "I'm happy for you, Andrew. but, that doesn't mean I'm going to help every ghost I come around,"
"How did you feel when you helped Chen?" He suddenly asked, Zoe freezing at the memory, "Like you have done something remarkable and meaningful? Did you feel a sense of achievement?"
She puckered her lips and thought about it, "Not at all. I felt pressured and I wasn't ready to assume the role of a liar and manipulator only to help someone on the brink of death. I felt disappointed because it wasn't my choice; I was forced by Mehrdir, who sent an innocent soul to me,"
Andrew blinked twice, completely taken aback by her blunt and rather rude response, "It's been two years and you haven't changed at all,"
Zoe shrugged and got up, getting back to packing.
On the way to Essex, Zoe was making up lies and false explanations to convince her family of those lies. Her mother knew she wasn't working as a therapist but she didn't know she was working as a webtoon artist; besides, she still had chapters to complete and give Alec. Christmas in publishing was pretty much for one day and the rest was work.
"Are you scared?" The female fairy looked up at Zoe and noticed her frown, "Your mother sent you to an Asylum before, didn't she?"
Luckily, Zoe had the ear phones on so she could speak comfortably.
"Yes. That happened a very long time ago," The fairy tilted her head to the side and blinked innocently, "I'm an adult now." Zoe added.
"But she's still your mother," Well, that was true,"Wouldn't it be better to tell her the truth? It's better than lie to her." The fairy continued.
"It's a little too late for that."
"But what will happen when you will suddenly die or leave and she won't be able to see you ever again?"Zoe turned her head and looked at the fairy, "It's better for her to know the truth even if she may not believe it. Consider just how much pain being the commander caused you. You don't want your parents to go through that."
"No. I don't."
Zoe never thought about it like that; she never considered her mother's pain and issues, especially after what happened in the past. She was selfish and had reasons too but Zoe has seen Hell and lived through it and didn't want her parents to feel anything close to that.
When Zoe got off the train, she started to get all these crazy memories from her past. She was lying if she ever said she didn't have good memories there.
The commander walked past the store where her mother used to buy her sweets and the store where she first met Terrance. She walked past the park where she first saw a ghost and noticed the woman was still there. Without thinking, she entered the playground.
When Zoe was young, that woman looked so weird and out of place; people where going right through her or were ignoring her pleads.
“You can see me. You can see the darkness, can’t you?”
“Shh. This is a secret. Even if you tell her, she won’t believe you.”
Those were the wisest words she heard when she was a child and that ghost warned her of how her life was going to be; back then, Zoe cried in fear but now, she understood that the ghost never intended to hurt her in any way but to help her.
The ghost noticed the young woman staring right at her and she couldn't help but wonder who and how.
The ghost appeared right in front of Zoe,"Do I know you?"
She didn't look as bad as before; she wasn't ugly or suspicious. The ghost was a 40 years old woman who has been hanged, the marks of the rope still prominently showing around her neck.
"I did it," Zoe admitted,"I did tell them I see ghosts,"
The woman's eyes widened and took a step back in both fear and surprise.
"Little Zoe," The ghost whispered, "You look so different,"
"I grew up. I'm 27 years old,"
The ghost chuckled and placed her hands on her shoulders. It was weird that she could touch a human.
"It's not that. Your eyes changed. That little girl I met before was innocent; she was a victim of the Underworld and its rules. But now, look at you; you have the eyes of a vanity demon and the sign of Hell. You're surrounded by darkness yet there is still something pure about you,"
Zoe's eyes softened. That woman was seeing right through her mask.
Zoe looked down and placed her hands in her pockets, shuddering at the cold, "I'm not the victim anymore,"
The ghost noticed someone walking behind Zoe and vanished.
"Then what are you now?"
She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone she hadn't seen in a long time.
Terrance was still the same baby faced boy she met in school. He was radiating with positive energy even when he was facing her. She was void next to him, who was an extraordinary young man.
"Nothing," She sighed and looked to the side, not able to look him in the eye.
After their coincidental meeting, Terry decided to walk the rest of the way with her.
"I didn't expect you to come,"
She chuckled, "I didn't either. This place hurt me more than you can imagine but it's my home and I did have some great moments here,"
"Have you ever read my letter?"
His face was contorted into a frown and he was worried he might say something that would make her mad.
"I didn't." She answered,"I didn't have to, it wasn't your fault. We both know how my mother is. I should have expected you to talk to her since she is my mom,"
"You used to come in class all beaten up and you were always scratched or had this annoyed expression on you face. I was worried," His big brown eyes were full of mixed emotions.
Unfortunately, hers weren't; she wasn't feeling anything at all, no remorse and no guilt.
"It's fine. I found out why I was beaten and scratched. I found out who tortured me during school years," She continued.
Tery nodded, curious who that was.
"He made my childhood a disaster," Zoe admitted yet she still loved him. No matter what Mehrdir did -and he did a lot- she was still madly in love with him.
"I'm glad you're fine now. I met a friend of yours, actually. He was interested in your past but he was already understanding you better than I ever could,"
Her right eyebrow twitched; so Ezekiel came to talk to Terry and that was how his jealousy gradually faded away. She was going to have a talk with that little bastard.
"He is one of the guys I live with," She explained, "He is not my boyfriend; if anything, sometimes it feels like he is my son."
Or a brother but lately, she had to take care of him a lot since he became a magnet for trouble; making bets and asking favours from Asmodeus and Mammon was not good.
Terrance glanced at her from the corner of his eye, "He knew about you,"
She nodded, "He- it's complicated. He is one of the people sent to me, to help me," Or make her life more complicated; it was still a mystery.
"So there are more," Terrance trailed,"It seems like you finally know how to control your gift."
She raised an eyebrow and stopped,"Gift?"
Terry smirked,"Someone smart explained to me that what you have is a gift, not a curse. It depends on how you use it,"
Zoe laughed and patted her childhood friend on the back, "Good, good,"
Terrance couldn't help but feel better seeing her smile and laugh; she was well and healthy. Zoe was radiating like a light in the tunnel and Terrance was sure it was all thanks to the people she met and lived with.