It's a Cruel World, Sir

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17 | Being

When we pull up to my house, Calvin gets out to help me down, but Trent beats him to it, hopping over the edge and lending me his hand.

“Wow, Trent, you’re being personable,” Calvin notes, grinning. “Thought you were into girls like Nikki—you know, the ones that change their minds every ten seconds so you don’t have to put up with them for too long?”

“Ha! Coming from the Casanova himself,” Nikki retaliates from the driver’s seat. Leon has his arms around her waist, but if he didn’t, I’m sure she’d be hanging out the window. “Say it again, and we’ll see how you get home, Casanova.”

“Whoops. Caught~”

“Thanks,” Trent says gruffly under Calvin’s loud voice.

I smile. “No problem.” Louder, I say, “I’ll see the rest of you idiots tomorrow.”

“Idiots?” Nikki repeats. “Excuse you? Don’t confuse me with the hound dog, please. I’m clearly the queen.”

“Yeah, Queen Indecisive,” TJ cracks.

“That’s it!” she shouts. “The next person who says anything about my personality is getting my foot up their ass!”

I laugh, turning on my heel. “Have fun~” I throw over my shoulder, taunting.

“Hey, you shut up too! And try not to kill your sister!” Nikki yells back.

As always, they don’t drive off until I get inside. Thankfully, the house is dark, which means Cassadee is either asleep or out. I don’t care which one—she’d sleep through an earthquake if she wanted to, so it’s not like she’ll hear if Darestin shows up—it’d just be nice to have a peaceful morning.

Letting out a breath, I head upstairs for a shower. It’s been a night full of fighting and running, all in make-up, a skin-tight dress, and a wig, so I feel disgusting. The dress feels matted against me with sweat, and stickiness from the tape used to keep the wig on is starting to irritate my skin.

Turning the water up to scorching, the steam fills the room as I hunt down one of my dad’s old shirts and a pair of boxers. When I get what I want, I strip down, peeling the dress off before stepping under the spray. Instead of the burning pain I expect, the water is warm, easy. It kneads the muscles in my back like always, but it doesn’t hurt.

What the—

Nothing you own is strong enough to hurt you.

He meant everything?

Angry, I shut off the water, ripping open the curtains to yank a towel down. I wrap the towel around me and roughly clear some steam from the mirror, staring at my reflection.

There’s nothing wrong with me, per se. If anything, I look better than I have in... well, ever. My skin is smooth, practically poreless. There isn’t a single blackhead, no discoloration, nothing. I don’t have scars anymore—even the ones on my thighs are gone—and the birthmark on my hip is wiped clean. My brown eyes are bright, lively, and there aren’t any bags under them even though I didn’t get much sleep last night. My hair’s light, full, healthy. The breakage and split ends that were there thanks to bleaching and dying it are virtually gone now.

It’s literally as if Chase kissed the life into me.

“He gave you essentia,” a voice says.

I whip around to Darestin, eyes wide. “What?”

“I guess in English it’s called ‘essence,’ but it literally translates to ‘being,’ I think.” He shrugs. “I’m not good at translating the old tongue to English. There are so many variations, and then you get into what modern day people know it as; it gets taxing.”

I gape at him. “What the hell are you talking about? Are you saying Chase gave me some of his soul?”

He chuckles. “He doesn’t have a soul to give, Vixen. Only living things have them.”

I blink. “Wait. You two aren’t alive?”

“Not technically,” he confirms, shrugging. “We don’t have a heartbeat, and we don’t need to breathe. I don’t even think we have a brain if you wanna know the truth.” He looks contemplative, tilting his head as he rubs his chin. “Huh. On the list of things I don’t think about, that’s probably on the top.”

“What hell are you two?” I ask. “Zombies?”

He snorts, shaking his head. “Chase was right: you’re not very creative.”

I huff. “Well, excuse me for not guessing strange enough species. Until I met Chase, I didn’t believe in ghosts, let alone whatever you two are.”

He chuckles. “Sorry for destroying your view of the world.”

“Whatever.” I cross my arms, determined not to let him get away without answering anything. “Will you at least tell me why he would give me... what did you call it? Essen-a?”

"Essentia,” he corrects, grinning. “Get dressed. We’ll talk more when you’re not only in a towel.”

“As if it matters,” I mutter.

“It does,” he assures me. “When Chase finds out that I’m here and comes to take me away, it won’t look too good if you’re only in a towel, now will it?”

I roll my eyes. “Like he’s gonna care.”

Darestin’s grin is wicked. “Keep telling yourself that.”

The dubious look on my face makes him laugh as he shuts the bathroom door, leaving me to myself so I can get dressed. I shake my head, trading the towel for the black tee and yellow boxers. I’m not sure what’s with everyone and implying that Chase has some sort of attraction to me, but I wish they’d stop: it grates against me for some reason.

After throwing my hair up in a towel to keep it from soaking the back of my shirt, I step out of the bathroom.

Darestin’s sitting on my bed, one hand pushing his hair back as the other stares at a pair of shorts. “Never pictured you as the type to wear daisy dukes. Not that I’m against the idea of you showing more skin,” he says, his wolfish grin making me roll my eyes for the umpteenth time.

“They’re Nikki’s,” I say, hopping onto my vanity dresser. “She left them here a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been home long enough lately to do laundry.”

“Oh~ Is Nikki the feisty one who doesn’t like Chase?”

“No, that’s Whitler,” I answer.

He nods. “I like her,” he says, flashing me a smile. “She’s like a volcano: gorgeous but deadly.”

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I’m not comfortable with the way his eyes flashed silver when he said that. “She’s out of your league,” I retort.

“Ouch,” he says, holding his chest like I shot him. “Careful with those sharp words, killer. What if you hurt my feelings?”

I roll my eyes. “Can you stop messing around and tell me?”

“So impatient,” he tsks, leaning on his hands. “What is it that you want to know?”

“About Chase,” I say instantly, not thinking about it. “I want to know why he’s taken it upon himself to do...whatever it is that he’s been doing.”

“Should’ve guessed,” he says, smirking. “But that’ll take a while to explain,” he warns.

I stare at him expectantly.

“Alright, alright.” He lets out a sigh. “First, you should know that Chase is infamous in the UK, but not for his looks. Yeah, the man is attractive to both humans and non-humans alike, but he also has a...quirk, if you want, that makes him stand out even more: he finds humans interesting.”

I raise an eyebrow. “So?”

Darestin grins. “This may surprise you, but most of our kind hates humans. In fact, most Ethereal creatures hate humankind so much they go out of their way to kill them anytime one comes within a mile radius of them. Even I have a hard time caring about them from decade to decade, though I would never kill one in cold blood.” At my questioning look, he says, “Any time genocide breaks out, I become apathetic to humans. And it breaks out too often for me.”

“Ah,” I mutter, nodding.

“To Chase, though, humans are driven, always working towards some goal, and constantly changing. Chase doesn’t see the stagnant, repetitive species that we see; he sees a species that has to learn for themselves, which just happens to include repeating past mistakes. I guess, technically, humanity’s ability to hope for better despite evidence pointing that it won’t is what draws his attention.”

“I get it: Chase likes humans,” I say.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t say that. I said he thinks they’re interesting.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Chase may not hate humanity, and he may think they’re interesting, but he still sees them as little more than ants. Or maybe rats is a better comparison.” He thinks about it before shaking his head. “Anyway, Chase likes playing with them. His favorite pastime has always been putting them through certain trials and watching their reactions. Chase loves how the human mind works, so he loves trying to predict what they’ll do.”

My mind flashes to what Trent said earlier. In the beginning, it felt like we were experiments to him...

“Experiments,” I breathe.

“Bingo.” Darestin’s grin is mischievous. “And can you guess who his most recent test subject was?”

I tilt my head, trying to think. “Us?”

“Not all of you,” he says, looking pointedly at me.

“Me?” I repeat. “Why—”

“Because you’re a Protector,” he interrupts, guessing what I was going to ask.

I let that sink in for a second. “Tonight, after you left, he said something about testing to see how I would react,” I note softly. “I didn’t think anything of it then, but was it...”

Darestin nods. “It was more than just that day,” he confirms. “To be honest, the whole reason Chase is here is because he was getting bored. Nothing exceptionally interesting happens in Europe, especially for long stretches of time, but when those murders started up here, I knew it was something up his alley, so I made a few calls and got him a job at the delinquent university on the edge of Silverstein.” He smirks. “Imagine my surprise when the first night he visits, instead of countless notes regarding the population’s morbid obsession with the murders, he’s more interested in a human kid.”

“I’m not a kid,” I mumble automatically, unable to say anything else.

He chuckles. “I’ve existed for eons, killer. Compared to me, everyone’s a kid.”

“Even Chase?” I challenge.

“No,” he admits. “Chase and I have existed for the same amount of time.”

I raise an eyebrow but shake my head. “Was the first night he visited you a week ago?”

“It was the night he ran into you at Circle K, so yeah, guess it was,” Darestin says.

“How’d you know he was with me? Did he tell you?”

He thinks about it for a minute. “Yes and no.”

I sigh. “What does that mean?”

“When he finally got to my house, his car was saturated in a sweet smell. I know you don’t get this, but just so we’re clear: there aren’t many people that smell as good as you—you’re friends come up at a close second, especially that Whitler girl, but even they can’t match it—and it’s a strong scent. As soon as he was within a mile of my house, I could smell it. I didn’t know about you then, though, so I assumed one of two things happened: either he’d eaten you or slept with you.”

I sputter. “S-s-slept with me?”

“That’s the part you latch onto?” he asks, laughing. “How innocent.”

“S-shut up,” I grumble. “Why would you assume something like that?”

“Because that’s usually the only reason someone scent is so strong,” he explains, trying to hide a smirk. “Sex heightens a lot of feel-good chemicals most of the time, not to mention the amount of sweat, so it only makes sense that someone would be more appealing after having sex.”

“I guess?” I’m so thrown off that it sounds more like a question. “What about the whole... ‘eaten’ thing?” I wonder, trying to change the subject.

“Well, it’s not as if we literally eat them,” he says, pursing his lips as he takes a minute to think of a way to explain it. “We’re beings that use the essence of living things, so it’s more like consuming you on a spiritual level.” He shrugs, like we’re talking about McDonald’s. “The sweeter the smell, the sweeter the soul, and since Chase has a sweet tooth, I just figured that he decided to... have a snack if you want. It’s possible to take a bite of someone’s being without completely consuming them, and if you’re as good as Chase or me, it’s also possible to do it without any bad side effects attached.”

I roll my eyes again. “So he did tell you that he gave me a ride?” I check, trying to direct the conversation back to the original point.

He grins. “Actually, he growled at me. Straight hunched his shoulders, bared his fangs, and growled. It was great.”

I blink. “I’m sorry, I don’t get it. Why is it great? And what does that have to do with anything?”

“I forgot you’re only nineteen,” he mutters, clearly deflated by my lack of reaction. “For starters, Chase is very protective of his test subjects—something about if other factors that he doesn’t want in the equation mess with his subject, then the data is inconclusive—but he’s also protective of his students. Despite not being human, he takes his job as a professor seriously. Taking that into account, imagine how protective he is of you since you’re both his latest puzzle and his newest student.”

“I see,” I say absently. “That explains why he’d give me something like essentia.”

But Darestin shakes his head. “Sorry, killer, it’s not just that.”

“What do you mean?” I demand. “You just said—”

“Yeah, but even as protective as he is with both, he has never given essentia to a human before, and he’s had plenty of subjects that were also his students.”

“Then, why—”

“Yesterday, Chase came over,” he says over me, standing up from the bed to stretch a little. “He said he spent the afternoon with you.”

“Yeah. A friend of mine wasn’t answering my texts and I was getting worried, but I’m not allowed to wander the streets alone.” I shrug. “Chase offered to come with me.”

He looks at me, taking a step closer. “Did something happen while he was with you?”

My mind flashes to the welt on my palm, the brush of his tongue, and I can feel my face heat up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“He healed you,” he states, taking another step. “You know, the palm isn’t the most sensual place someone can lick, but your face is pretty red right now.”

“It’s just...” But I can’t think of anything, mind going blank. “It wasn’t that it was... was sensual... or anything... just...”

“Just?” he repeats, smirking as he gets in my personal space.

I feel claustrophobic, like he and the walls are caving in on me, and push him away out of reflex. He doesn’t tumble backward despite the amount of force I put behind it, just takes a few steps back to respect my need for space.

“That’s what I thought,” he says, looking too triumphant.

“You have the wrong idea,” I decide, ruffle my hair. “Chase feels sorry for me. I... I told him too much about my family. My mother is abusive and neglectful, my half-sister is self-centered and sadistic, and my dad, the only member of my family that was sane, is dead. So whatever it is that you think is going on in his head, trust me: I’m a charity case.”

He stares at me, expression unreadable.

“A puzzle, a student, and an orphan; I’d say that’s be the jackpot for someone like him, wouldn’t you?

“I get it now,” he murmurs, looking at me. The brown in his eyes is suddenly gone, consumed by silver. “Your lack of self-worth is both infuriating and fascinating.”

“What are you—”

“How about I show you just how wrong you are, killer?” he says, leaning in so close, the words are practically breathed on my lips.

“What do you mean?” I ask cautiously.

His smile is dangerous. “This.”

I don’t know what I expect, but it’s definitely not Darestin closing the distance and planting a soft kiss on my mouth. I’m so surprised, I clamp up, muscles tight as he wraps his arms around my waist.

But he’s not having any of it. Before I can react, he lifts me off of the dresser and presses me against him, forcing me to wrap my arms around his neck as his tongue runs along my lips, asking. I listen and open my mouth automatically, earning a grin from him as his tongue slides inside.

Then it stops. Just as fast as it started.

“It’s wrong to peep on others when they’re enjoying themselves,” Darestin says, the same evil smirk on his face as he looks at my window.

“Looks like you’re the only one enjoying yourself,” Chase retorts, leaning casually against the paneling of my window.

Except I know that window was closed before I took a shower.

Darestin keeps me close. “That’s just because I didn’t want to scare our little Vixen. Would you like me to show you just how much she can enjoy herself?”

The room’s temperature drops below zero, but Chase’s eyes are blazing. With a neutral tone, he says, “If I were you, I’d let her go.”

Laughing, he sets me back on the dresser and takes a few steps away. “I was just proving a point; don’t get so riled up.”

“And what point, exactly, requires you to involve yourself with my student?” he wonders. His voice sounds composed, but his eyes are nearly black.

“Student?” Darestin repeats, raising his eyebrow. “Still playing that front?”

It’s not my imagination—Chase’s eyes are turning black, the silver in them burning charcoal the longer Darestin defends himself—but all he does is raise an eyebrow, practically daring Darestin to say something else.

“The point, my friend, was that you’re not the type to play guardian angel out of pity,” he explains.

Chase tilts his head. “And you couldn’t just say that?”

He shrugs, smirking. “Some people need more than words. Thankfully, your actions have always spoken loud enough for both of us.”

“At any rate, I think it’s time you leave,” Chase says, stepping down from the window sill.

“Whatever you say,” he says. “Just don’t be too hard on her, yeah? I’m the one who did it.”

“Trust me: I know.”

To me, Darestin asks, “Still think you’re just his charity cases?” before disappearing, vanishing in thin air.

I blink. “Where did he go?”

“He shifted,” Chase answers automatically, “though there wasn’t a real need for it.”

“Shifted?” I repeat. “Like changing shape or...?”

He shakes his head. “I think it’s closer to teleportation in today’s age.”

“Oh. So you guys can... what was it? Shift?”

“It’s also not the point,” he says, his voice edging with anger. “What were you thinking, allowing Darestin to come into your house while you were alone?”

“That he could answer some questions,” I say, raising an eyebrow.

“And that kiss?” he challenges.

“That kiss...” I bite my lip. “I don’t know,” I admit.

Chase lets out a long sigh. “If you don’t want me to know, then that’s fine.”

“What?” I say, dumbfounded.

“I won’t push it,” he repeats. “As long as it was consensual, then I won’t say anything.”

“Wait,” I interrupt, suddenly panicking. Why does he look so cold? “It wasn’t like that, Chase. It’s just...”

“You don’t have to explain it, Vixen.” He doesn’t look back at me, stepping onto the paneling of my window again. “I have to make sure Darestin doesn’t make any more trouble. Be sure to lock up.”

He jumps down, landing lightly on his feet, and walks down the street, never once turning back to me.

I sink to the floor, staring at the opened window blankly.

Is... Is Chase mad at me?

Poor Vixen; she was so shocked, she didn’t realize Chase was mad until he was gone.

Well, things are taking a turn now, cupcakes. Darestin has stuck his nose into it, but did he really help or just make it worse? Vixen doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on, but maybe Nik can help her figure it out.

Can’t wait to find out! And as always, I hope you enjoyed this chapter (even though I don’t know if I like how it turned out)!

Happy reading, cupcakes~

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