I stood in front of the mirror looking at the black and gray tattoo on my tanned, muscular chest. I was still in awe of how cut my body was. This was a physique that would cost most guys hundreds of gym hours and gallons of protein powder.
The way the tattoo wrapped around my entire chest was also nothing short of impressive. The massive image still reminded me of a landscape from the show ‘Joy of painting.’ I watched it all the time as a kid. Bob Ross, the kind old man would always start with a simple concept, and then create an image from his mind, or rather his memory. I knew that he lived in Alaska when he served in the military.
I traced my hand down a pine tree that went from my left pectoral to my ribs.
I closed my eyes as I felt my beautiful fiancée’s hand doing the same. Azzy had done this to me; this was her mark. I now belonged to her: mind, body, and soul.
“What are you thinking about, Johnny?” Azzy whispered.
“A lot of things,” I replied with a shrug.
“Things like- finalizing your med school application?”
I had told Azzy I didn’t want to start medical school until after the wedding. I sent in the application along with my transcripts. I even talked to an academic advisor. With my work experience, I was pretty much guaranteed a place. But I loved my job as a nurse and, if I’m being honest, I was a little scared of change. I placed my hand on Azzy’s porcelain skin, caressing her elegant fingers. “I want to take you to Alaska.”
“For the honeymoon?” she asked with a chuckle.
I could feel her long black hair dripping wet from the shower.
We had been planning a small, courthouse wedding. The honeymoon would likely be at a local hotel. “Maybe next summer.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Azzy kissed my shoulder as she pulled on her red t-shirt for work.
“How are things at Target?” I asked.
It had been a little over a month since Azzy dismembered her supervisor and then put Remy, her long-haired surfer friend, in the vacant management position. “Remy’s a total flirt, but at least he’s not the horrible bitch that Jasmine was.”
“Does he actually get any work done?”
“Yes, he’s a great manager. Customer complaints have been down by sixty percent.”
“Because he hits on anything with a pulse, or because they’re all dead?” I muttered.
I suddenly felt a tree branch touch my back. Azzy had lifted her shirt to extend her leaf-covered wings. “I can hit a lot harder.”
“Sorry, I know he’s your friend.”
Her wings retracted. “Remy has been through a lot. He deserves some compassion.”
“I know, I know.” I turned to my closet to get dressed for work. “That’s why he’s lucky to have a guy like Lucas.” Remy’s boyfriend was the one part of him that I could stand because at times, Lucas seemed to be as sick of Remy as I was. When we would eat dinner at their luxurious downtown Los Angeles apartment, Remy would spend the entire evening drunk or stoned.
Lucas and I would chat on the fire escape, united in the fact that we were both humans trying to make it work with our fairy-demon partners. Lucas told me about how Remy was obsessed with going to clubs, nightclubs, strip clubs (for both genders) even sex clubs. He would get drunk and high, to the point of showing off his plant-based wings. And it would fall to his thin, blond boyfriend to attempt to drag Remy’s ass to the car before the other messed up people tried to tear off chunks of his body.
A week ago, at our last “dinner party” I tried to comfort Lucas. Remy had only been in California for a little over a month, after spending years in Nebraska. It was possible this was just a phase. “Cajun- Hawaiian fuckboy,” I muttered.
That got a smile, even as Lucas held his cigarette with thing trembling fingers. He had told me the story of Remy’s lineage. His father was a Cajun demon from the Louisiana bayou. He relocated to Hawaii, for a change of scenery and to feed on unsuspecting tourists. That was where he met, kidnapped, impregnated and subsequently murdered a young Hawaiian girl.
Remy never knew his mother: yet another reason to pity him. But I pitied Lucas more.
“He parades me around like a trophy,” Lucas sighed as he smoked cigarette after cigarette. “Remy made me; he paid for my degree, even got me my dream job.”
“First of all,” I said as I attempted to move downwind of the secondhand smoke. “You told me that Remy networked you, your dream job by screwing someone’s secretary.
“He met the CEO’s son at an orgy.”
Of course he did. “And Remy may have paid for your degree with his daddy’s money but you were the one who graduated from UCLA.”
Lucas was smiling, but it was hard to tell if his joy was genuine or if his spirit was just so broken all he could do was laugh at his situation. “I miss him.”
“We don’t talk much anymore.” I watched Lucas turned to look in the window at Remy smoking weed while Azzy laughed. “But no matter what, I love him.”
“Why?” I muttered to out loud to myself. I knew it wasn’t my place to judge someone else’s relationship but to me, Remy was a total douche.
“I don’t know. The same reason you love Azzy. Despite how they treat us, we would not be complete without them.” Lucas put out his cigarette on the metal of the fire escape, causing the bright ashes to flutter away like fireflies. “Can I tell you something? You have to promise not to tell Remy or Azzy.”
“Sure,” I replied, noticing the fear in his voice.
“For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting really bad headaches. And then yesterday, at work, I had a seizure.”
“Did you see a doctor?”
“No, and I don’t think I want to. I honestly don’t even care if I live or die.”
Anyone with ever a single brain cell could figure out what that meant. “Is Remy screwing around on you?”
“Technically.” Lucas pursed his lips. “In a moment of weakness, I may have agreed to an open relationship.”
“Jesus, man. What the fuck?”
Lucas shrugged. “That’s what love is. You do whatever it takes, to make that special someone happy.”
I was shaken from my thoughts by the sensation of Azzy grasping my hand. She placed it on her slender stomach. “I think I’m pregnant.”
“What?” I turned to face her. She was holding a urine test stick, the kind that showed a digital readout. ‘P-O-S-I-T-I-V-E.’
“But you’re only part human. Does it work like that?”
“That’s why I said ‘I think.’” Completely dressed she grabbed her purse and headed out the door. “I’m going to try to get a blood test later today.”
“Ok, uh bye.”
Azzy rolled her eyes as she left, slamming the door behind her.
“I-I love you,” I said to the empty room. The idea of being a father was terrifying, but for Azzy I needed to be strong. I just really wished I had asked more questions.
I made a mental note to call her on my lunch break.
I assumed Azzy’s potentially life changing news would be the most emotionally taxing point of my day. But two hours into my shift I was plummeted into hell.
“We need all hands on deck!” A call came over the loudspeaker. “There has been a massive fire in downtown LA, we have ten ambulances headed our direction. Any available staff please report to the emergency room!”
I knew what the announcement meant- as soon as the ambulances were emptied they needed to be sent back into the field. “Where do you need me?” I shouted at one of the doctors.
“Room 19 has a twenty-six-year-old male going into cardiac arrest. They’ll need someone to start a PICC line.” I watched as the gurney rushed by. The man had long blond hair. “Lucas?” I said out loud. No, there was no way. This was California, there had to be thousands of twenty-six-year-old men with long blond hair.
The man’s eyes were swollen shut and his mouth was filling with blood. It was clear he had been hit in the face with debris. “Johnny?”
I gripped his hand, even as the paramedics tried to shove me out of their way. “It’s me, I’m here.”
As the paramedics cut off his clothes I could see Remy’s mark on Lucas’s chest. What was once an elaborate tribal tattoo was now covered in blisters and burns. And after the doctors were forced to open his ribs to massage his heart, the marking was all but destroyed.
I did my part and put a PICC line into my friend’s neck, since finding a vein in his arms would have been much too difficult.
When his vitals were stabilized Lucas turned to me. “Tell Remy I died.”
“I’m not going to do that.”
“He won’t want me. I won’t be able to work. I might not be able to walk again.”
“Then he’ll take care of you. That’s what love is.”
Lucas shook his head and turned away. “You don’t understand.”
“Look at me! Love works both ways!”
Lucas looked at me with his sad, pain-stricken, blue eyes. “When a pet dies you just get a new one.”
Lucas required skin grafts to try to save his hands. But his body was so damaged within hours he fell sick with fever. The intensive care doctors assumed it was sepsis. They took blood and urine samples to try to determine what kind. That was when they found gonorrhea. Remy, that son of a bitch, had given Lucas an STD.
I stayed by Lucas’s side, my eyes locked on his stats. His heart was still weak. His pulse was erratic. But worse, was his oxygen. After a few hours of his oxygen level dropping below eighty percent, Lucas could no longer breathe on his own and was put on a ventilator.
It was a little after midnight when Azzy met up with me outside the intensive care ward. There were tears in her eyes as she held me.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“Who?” She looked at me with her innocent gaze.
“Remy. Where the fuck is Remy!?”
Azzy shrugged. “He didn’t want to come with me.”
“Ok, that’s fine.” I power-walked towards the fire exit.
“Johnny?” I could hear Azzy running after me. “Johnny wait!”
I kept walking, pushing through the emergency exit, not caring about the alarm. “I love you Azzy!” I screamed. Did she even know what that meant? Or was she a monster like her ‘friend’?
“I love you too, Johnny.”
I turned. Azzy was touching her stomach.
I realized I never asked her about the blood test. “Azzy, I’m sorry.”
She turned and ran.
I immediately called her phone. “Azzy, please! Baby, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s ok,” she said calmly. “I’ll be back.”
I returned to the ICU waiting room and curled into the fetal position to get some sleep. I awoke to the sound of thunder. Looking at my watch it was two in the morning. The lights flickered.
“I’ll kill them all!” Remy’s voice roared.
A wave of electricity swept through the room, sucking the air from my lungs.
“Remy stop it!” Azzy cried. “This isn’t what Lucas would want!”
They were headed for the ICU. I sprang to my feet, rushing towards the sound.
The doors to the ICU had been forced open but time appeared to be frozen. In the middle of the corridor, in front of Lucas’s room was a mass of branches forming a cocoon.
“Please stop,” Azzy whispered. She opened her wings to reveal Remy’s shivering body.
“T-the fire was arson,” Remy sobbed.
“The police have a suspect in custody,” Azzy explained to me. “It was on the news.”
“You humans are so cruel to one another!” he cried.
Azzy’s branches held Remy by his biceps.
“What did he take?” I asked.
“I don’t know. All I know is he didn’t want to come with me. But then I saw how upset you were that he wasn’t here and I…” Her wings retracted allowing Remy’s limp body to collapse forward.
I gripped his face, forcing Remy to look into my eyes. “Do you want to see Lucas?”
Remy nodded like a tired puppy, so I helped him to his feet. We walked together through the door.
Lucas’s eyes were open, but with the breathing tube he could no longer speak. He shook his head, tears streaming down his face. I knew why: it hurt him to see Remy so upset. This was love, at least from Lucas’s side. That was my problem. Looking at Lucas and Remy was like looking at my own future. Lucas reached for my hand. I could feel Lucas’s life energy flowing through me as I allowed him to speak using my voice. “You don’t have to stay.” Lucas’s eyes stared into Remy’s.
“W-Why wouldn’t I stay?”
“You followed your ex to Nebraska then didn’t come back for three years!”
“I-I wanted to get my degree, to be more than a fuck up.” Remy pursed his lips. “But that’s all I’ve been since I came back.”
Lucas sent two more words to my lips. “Get clean.”
I looked at Remy. “What are you on?”
“I’m not on drugs.”
Lucas closed his eyes. He shook his head with a look of disdain.
“I’m not on drugs!”
I focused my eyes on Remy. “You’re choosing something over your relationship: there’s something that’s causing him to not trust you.”
Remy nodded. He took off his shirt, revealing his wings made of sugarcane. He held Lucas’s hand. “For you, I surrender it all.”
“No!” Azzy screamed, “You can’t!”
The room shook. I looked down at the floor to see an ocean of hands and feet.
“I call upon my power- my clan!” Remy’s body glowed with a demonic fire. “I love you, Lucas. I pledge my loyalty only to you!”
Before I knew what was happening Remy grabbed my hand and held my palm to his chest. We now formed a circuit. I closed my eyes and when I opened them I was in a dark alleyway on a cold rainy night.
My body, or rather Remy’s body, wore a dirty denim jacket and jeans. Everything hurt; my legs my back, even my chest.
A security guard walked past. “Hey, man,” I said in a weak voice. “I need help, I think I’m sick.” The man only rolled his eyes.
Remy’s long hair hung over his shoulders, as I hugged myself, shivering. I looked around, trying to find any source of light. Across the street was a Burger King.
I remembered the story: Lucas worked at Burger King when they first met. Lucas was going to appear any moment, he was going to help me. Minutes turned into hours. The night became darker, the rain became colder. I didn’t think it was possible to be this cold in California.
My stomach hurt. I cupped my hands to catch some water if only to have something to drink. Then I remembered Remy’s blood was made of sugarcane: he could drink his own blood for sustenance. Looking at Remy’s scarred hands it was clear that this was an option he went for often.
But he had no knife or weapon of any kind. “Teeth it is.” I took a breath to brace myself before biting down on Remy’s wrist. The pain was not as bad as I would have assumed but the blood would not stop. After only a few minutes I started to feel light headed.
“Are you ok?” asked a voice. It was Lucas. He looked younger, a little overweight with glasses and acne. And he was wearing a large yellow raincoat, like something out of a cartoon. “Do you need a place to stay?”
I wiped the blood from Remy’s lips. “Y-You don’t even know me.”
“I’m originally from Oregon where my father ran a food kitchen, so it was kind of ingrained to me to be kind to people. If it was closer to seven I would offer to give you a ride to the shelter but at this time of night they’re usually full.”
“You’re not a Christian are you?”
Lucas chuckled. “Do you have something against Christians?”
“My ex-lover was a missionary. He left me for a church position someplace in the Midwest.” I breathed on Remy’s bloody hands to try to warm them. “You got a cigarette?”
“Yeah, is Marlboro okay?” Lucas pulled a pack from his pocket. His hands were getting soaked by rain. “Maybe we should wait until we get indoors.”
“Sure, man, where’s your car?”
Lucas drove a beat-up green Honda that looked older then he was. I climbed in the back, trying to make myself comfortable, despite being soaking wet.
“Sorry, I don’t have heat, but we don’t have far to go.” Lucas drove us to his studio apartment. It had a sofa, bathroom, and kitchen. “I’ll fix the sofa bed while you take a shower.”
I took off my clothes, eager to get warm. I held a clean towel to my wrist, the blood had stopped. I was actually beginning to feel calm. Only as I stood naked did I become conscious of Remy’s wings. I ducked into the shower. The curtain was opaque but I was certain my shadow was visible. I sat under the shower head, in the fetal position unsure of what to do. Lucas was human: he was going to freak out. I suddenly felt someone turn on the shower.
“Are you ok?” Lucas was holding a washcloth and began to gently wash Remy’s wings. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”
“Y-You’re not afraid?”
“I have no reason to be. All of God’s creatures are beautiful and worthy of compassion.” Lucas lifted Remy’s face. “I made some ramen noodles and tea. It’s not much but it should keep our stomachs full for tonight.”
I closed my eyes and when I opened them I was back in the ICU watching Remy, and Lucas. The room filled with disembodied souls passing through, upwards. Who were all these people?
Azzy put her arms around me. “Twelve generations of victims, thousands of souls, all released in the name of love.”
I watched as Remy’s wings turned to ash, a metallic silver powder covering both their bodies.
Azzy was in tears, but I could see Remy’s act for the shallow gesture that it was. The majority of those souls weren’t even his to free: Remy was living off his daddy’s magical trust fund. I stood up and grabbed Remy by the hair, slamming his head into a nearby wall.
“What do you want from me?” he cried.
“I want you to know true pain,” I said, as I kicked him in the stomach. “Some fucked up terrorist may have burned Lucas’s body but you killed his soul. He gave you his heart and you gave him an STD!” I kicked him again. “You will bow down and lick the floor like the low-life trash that you are!”
Remy looked to Azzy. “Please, sister, rein in your pet!”
Azzy stood by my side. “He is not my pet, he is my king.”
Empowered, I placed a hand on Lucas’s chest. He was dying, that much was certain. I clenched my fist, picking up a handful of the powder. My heart filled with rage: it should be Remy in this bed!
I heard Lucas gasp. My eyes shot to the monitor. A smile emerged across my face as his stats normalized. He was breathing on his own.
I opened my palm to find a dark mass the size of a golf ball. Was this the physical manifestation of Lucas’s pain? All I knew was that I had an overwhelming urge to shove it down Remy’s throat.
“No!” Azzy grabbed my arm. “He needs to take it willingly.”
I looked at Remy. “What do you say?”
Remy held out his hand. “Yeah, sure.”
Lucas was shaking his head. His hands were reaching for the breathing tube in his throat.
Remy took his hand. “It’s ok, I need to do this.” He quickly swallowed the darkness like a cold pill. At first, he appeared to be choking, but he was forcing it down. His eyes turned black as ink-like liquid oozed from his eyes and ears. He took a few breaths as if trying to avoid vomiting, but he failed miserably.
I left to get Remy a cot. “Is he going to be ok?” I asked Azzy, as she help me lay his unconscious body down.
She only shrugged.
Lucas would be hospitalized for the remainder of his life. Remy took a leave of absence from his new job to care for him. I watched their interactions during Lucas’s physical therapy. Remy was like a new person; loving, supportive and kind.
It broke my heart when Lucas suffered a major setback. The sepsis had returned, taking root in his brain. He suffered violent seizures. And little by little, he started to lose his sight. Remy never left his side.
The day of his death, I knew Lucas had contracted pneumonia. But Azzy and I were at the hospital for a very different reason.
With all the stress of the past few months, we had put off getting married until after the baby was born. In addition to Lucas’s illness, my disabled sister Olivia was moved into a halfway house and lastly, there was the issue of the baby itself.
Azzy never stopped working, until she was six months along. She started bleeding. According to the doctors our baby was going to be born prematurely. We were mentally preparing ourselves for the worst.
During her scheduled c-section the lights flickered in the operating room. The team of six doctors and nurses, several of them I knew from work, all look terrified. But I felt calm.
The lights went out completely. I knew the backup generators would kick on momentarily. But no one was moving; not Azzy, not the medical staff. Time was frozen. I suddenly felt a cold hand on my back.
“Hi Johnny,” Lucas said. His voice sounded like an echo.
“Hi Lucas,” I replied, tears choking in my throat. “Did you have a chance to say goodbye?” I turned to face him.
He looked beautiful: a glowing ghost with blond hair and blue eyes like that ending scene from the Beauty and the Beast cartoon. “Promise me you’ll take care of Remy. He won’t be able to stay in the apartment by himself.”
“Emotionally or financially?” I wondered out loud. Ever since Remy surrendered his powers he appeared to be living a more humble lifestyle.
“Emotionally, I mean, Remy is still filthy rich. See if you can get a place together, just so he won’t be alone.”
I nodded, knowing fully what he meant. “It’s easy for him to fall off the deep end.”
“Yeah,” Lucas said sadly. “When I first met him he had been living on the streets for weeks. Remy had his daddy’s money. He was just too depressed to do anything with it.”
“Until he met you,” I whispered. I meant to say it in my own head, but I had a feeling he would be able to hear me regardless. “I’ll take of him. I’ll be the friend he deserves.”
“Promise me you’ll let him hold the baby.”
Lucas smiled. He looked over at Azzy’s frozen body. “She’s going to be a wonderful mother.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead before vanishing.
The lights came back on and time resumed; the yelling and screaming. Azzy had not been injected with any anesthetic but it would no longer be needed. A tidal wave of blood came from between her legs and with it an abnormally small baby boy.
I caught the child. On instinct, I grabbed a nearby scalpel and cut the umbilical cord. The little boy opened his bright blue eyes: Azzy’s eyes.
I looked over at my future wife, the mother of my beautiful son. I put the baby in her arms. “Our Lucas.”
My word caused her to cry. “Lucas? Did you see him?”
I nodded. “He’s asked me to make sure Remy held the baby.”
Azzy looked at the baby’s face. “Are you our Lucas?”
The baby blinked his eyes before he was taken from Azzy’s arms, and placed in an incubation box. I knew that my son would be headed to the pediatric ICU for observation.
I decided to stay with Azzy as she was taken to the maternity ward. The nurse pressed the button to call the elevator.
When the doors opened I stood face to face with Remy. “Hey, man.”
Remy’s hair was in his face, but I could see his eyes were red with tears.
“Remy, there’s someone I want you to meet.” I motioned to the incubation box.
My son turned his head. His little arms stretched as if reaching for Remy.
Remy cupped his hand over his mouth, falling to his knees sobbing. The baby’s hand kept reaching.
The elevator arrived at the maternity floor. Azzy and the baby were taken out to their respective rooms. But as soon as the baby was taken out of view he started to wail.
I sat with Remy, leaning against a wall, before deciding where to go. “I’ll walk with you to the pediatric ICU, or else they might not let you hold the baby.”
“Yeah, since I’m not family…”
“You are family.”
“Thanks,” Remy said with a weak nod. “I’m going to have Lucas cremated, and send his ashes to his family in Oregon. Did you know, I never had the chance to meet his parents?“
“He wanted me to, but I was always such a selfish prick.”
“You gave up your powers,” I pointed out.
That fact made him cry even harder. “And now I have nothing; no powers, no clan…”
“You have me and Azzy.” I stood up, offering him my hand. “I think it’s time for you to properly meet my son.”
My little Lucas was still crying, as we entered the pediatric ICU, much to the concern of the nurses. He was attached to a heart monitor and the nurses were about to start a feeding tube. But as soon and Remy and I stepped in the room, the baby went silent. He even appeared to smile.
The head nurse on duty was a young Filipino woman named Ava. “You work here, right?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I’m Johnny, this is Remy. He’s my wife’s cousin.” The lie was enough to allow Remy to stay with the baby while I left to check on Azzy.
I knocked on the door. “Azzy?”
She was standing by the window, naked, looking up at the moon. She looked happy and energetic for someone recovering from child birth. “The night is so beautiful. This world is so,” her smile was so full of happiness and light. “So blessed!”
I approached her from behind, reaching out my hand to touch the soft skin of her back. “Do you love me?”
Azzy turned. “Of course, why would you ask that?”
“Do you love me enough to relinquish your powers?”