Miranda had fallen asleep after episode four. I couldn’t say I wasn’t relieved. If I had to sit through one more Stephan and Elena scene I was going to scream. The angst was just a little too much for me at the moment. I turned off the television and pulled out a blanket from the ones Miranda’s mother kept rolled up under the entertainment center and spread it out over Miranda’s sleeping form. We’d left a mess in the kitchen and although I was sure her mother would just be thrilled Miranda had made cookies and actually eaten a few I didn’t want to leave the mess for her to clean up.
Picking up the large plate with the remaining cookies and our two remaining glasses of milk I made my way to the kitchen. Once I stepped inside the doorway I saw Leif sitting at the table with his elbows resting on the tabletop and his gaze fixed on me, I almost screamed and dropped everything in my hands. I managed to swallow the startled scream in my throat and keep from making an even bigger mess in the kitchen.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to remain calm as I walked over to the sink and put the glasses in the soapy water then placed the plate of cookies on the bar.
“Waiting until she fell asleep so I could see you. It is Valentine’s Day, you know. I’ve been waiting years to spend it with you and have you actually remember. This was supposed to be my year. You’d have been with me eternally by now if Death hadn’t lost his head once he got a look at you.”
I rested a hand on my hip and glared at him. I wasn’t in the mood for this. Not now. Not this week especially. “Listen Leif, you know what I’ve been through this week. Can’t you respect that and just back off?” I snapped.
A look of tenderness flashed in his eyes and he lowered his gaze to his hands still resting on the table in front of him. “I’m sorry for your loss, Pagan. But if Dankmar hadn’t screwed with fate you’d have never experienced the pain of losing Wyatt. The two of you were to have been the tragedies that hit our small town this school year.”
My mind instantly went to Miranda. She’d have lost us both. Ohgod, that would have completely devastated her. She’d have crumbled. But Dank had stopped that. He may not have been able to stop Wyatt’s fate but he did change mine. I’d be here to help Miranda heal and she’d be okay. She’d make it.
“Well then, it’s a good thing Dank decided I was worth saving. Miranda could have never handled losing both of us only months apart.”
Leif sighed and leaned back in the chair letting his hands fall to his lap. “Do you always think about others first, Pagan?”
His question surprised me. Of course not. Only a selfless person thought of others first and I wasn’t selfless. When I wanted something I went after it and screw whoever stood in my way. “I only put those I love first but so do most people.”
Leif shook his head, “No, they don’t. Most humans put themselves before even those they love the most. It’s their nature.”
This conversation was getting off track. I wanted Leif gone so I could clean this kitchen and go to bed. “Just say what you came to say and leave, please. I don’t want to chat with you.”
“I told you I wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with you this year. I even brought gifts,” he flashed his crooked smile and from thin air pulled a dozen black and red roses along with an actual voodoo doll with a silver necklace around its small neck. The pendant hanging from it was a ruby cut into the shape of a moon.
I lifted my eyes to stare at him unsure what to think of this gift. “You got me a voodoo doll and black roses?” I asked incredulously.
Leif chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “I thought it would make you laugh. The necklace is your actual gift. And the roses as well. I happen to like black roses. They remind me of home.”
Backing up some until the entire bar was between me and those very odd scary gifts I watched him closely. I didn’t want him coming anywhere near me with that necklace. I knew that voodoo was big into talismans and if that was a talisman I didn’t want it anywhere near me. No spirit was going to possess me.
Leif’s amused grin fell into a frown. “You don’t think it’s funny, do you?” The voodoo doll and black roses were instantly gone and only a dozen red and pink roses remained along with the necklace that terrified me.
“Um, no, it’s the necklace I want you to get away from me,” I explained not taking my eyes off it as it lay harmlessly in his hand.
“Necklace? You’re scared of the necklace? Why?”
“Because I don’t want to be possessed by an evil spirit,” I spat, backing up some more. I wondered if I screamed for Gee if she’d hear me. But then I’d risk waking up Miranda and this was not something she needed to witness.
Understanding dawned on him and Leif once again laughed. This was not funny. Why did he have to seem so amused all the time?
“You think this necklace is a talisman?”
“Yep, I’m not stupid Leif. I hang with Death, ya know.”
Leif sighed and placed the necklace on the table. “I would never hurt you. I’ve told you that but you refuse to believe me,”
I didn’t take my eyes off him as he stood there spreading the necklace out like it was a precious piece which only convinced me more it was full of all kinds of evil. Once he had it displayed on the table to his liking he lifted his eyes to mine.
“You know Pagan, fear can turn to love.”
I stared at the necklace lying on the table unsure what to do with it. Heck, I was even afraid to touch the roses he’d left behind. Would picking them up and throwing them outside be dangerous? Maybe I should leave them there and go find Gee, or better yet, Dank.
Walking over to the doorway I peered into the living room to see Miranda still sound asleep. Good. I had time to do something about these gifts that really didn’t need to be in her house before she woke up.
Her voice stirred me the moment she called out my name. I was standing outside her house preparing myself for the confrontation I was about to have with her mother when her voice reached me.
She was standing outside Miranda’s house on the back porch when I reached her. A surprised gasp escaped her and then she smiled letting out a breath she must have been holding. “Oh, that was fast. Thank God,” she said in a rush and ran over to me and wrapped her arms around my neck.
So far this was good. I’d have been here much sooner tonight if I’d thought this was the kind of reception I would get. Pulling her tighter up against my chest I inhaled the smell of her shampoo and kissed her temple. “Mmmm, this is nice,” I muttered against her head. She sighed in my arms and then pulled back enough to see my face.
“I’m afraid it all goes downhill from here,” she explained.
Not what I wanted to hear. I was hoping the next move would be her asking me to kiss her and then maybe take her home so I could cuddle in bed with her.
“Leif was here,” she began and I tensed tearing my complete focus off her to let my senses scan the area for spirits. But I felt nothing. Except a small icy cold somewhere close by. It wasn’t strong enough to be an actual spirit but it wasn’t good either. Holding Pagan closer to me I reached further for the unwanted presence and realized it was inside the house.
“Who’s inside?” I asked placing Pagan behind me and heading to the backdoor.
“What? No, he’s gone. Miranda’s in there sleeping,” Pagan hurried to keep up behind me but at the mention of Miranda being alone I closed the distance quicker than a human could possibly travel and opened the door to find the throbbing dark essence lying on the kitchen table in the shape of a moon. The red stone almost had a pulse the evil inside it was so strong. Red and pink roses lay beside it and I stared at the items trying to figure out what it was I was seeing.
“That’s what I called you for,” Pagan huffed out after finally making it inside.
“The necklace?” I asked
“Yes, Leif left it and I’m scared to touch it.”
My eyes shifted back to the roses. Had Leif brought those too?
“It isn’t a necklace. It holds part of a voodoo spirit. Not the entire being, just enough so when you are near that spirit you will feel an attachment to it.”
I heard the hiss of her breath as Pagan inhaled. “I knew it was something like that,” she muttered angrily. There was my girl and her spunk. The voodoo prince had pissed her off. If I wasn’t so upset about those dang roses I’d laugh.
“Where did the roses come from?”
“Leif, why? Are they full of evil crap too?”
So Leif had brought her the roses. Wait. There was something I was supposed to remember about today. The heart shaped boxes of chocolate I’d seen everywhere today as I’d retrieved souls.
It was Valentine’s Day.
And I’d forgotten.
“No, they’re just roses,” I replied. I didn’t point out that they were beautiful roses. The kind only magic can produce. They’d probably never die. They’d be eternally beautiful if she placed them in a vase in her room. And then I could remember what an incredibly lousy boyfriend I was every time I saw them. Why is it that a voodoo spirit is better at this than I am?
“I still don’t want them. Can I burn them?”
My heart didn’t feel as heavy at hearing her distaste. I snapped my fingers and the roses caught on fire.
“Dank! What are you doing? You’ll burn down the house or at least the table,” Pagan ran over to the sink and I glanced back to see her filling up a pitcher of water. Crazy girl didn’t think I’d protect the table. I snapped my fingers for effect and the fire went out leaving nothing behind. Not even a small pile of ash.
The water turned off behind me and I heard Pagan let out a small laugh. “Guess I saw fire and didn’t think things through.”
“It was cute,” I replied and she blushed adorably.
“What about the necklace?” she asked her gaze flickering to the evil stone on the table.
“I can get rid of it just as easily if you promise not to run to the faucet for a pitcher of water this time,” I teased.
Pagan giggled and nodded, “I think I can refrain.”
I didn’t even bother snapping this time. Instead I stared at it while the flames erupted and within seconds nothing remained.
Once there was nothing left behind by Leif, I turned my complete attention to Pagan.
“I’m sorry I missed Valentine’s Day.”
She smiled up at me, “It’s okay. I spent most of the day with Miranda. We ate cookies and watched Vampire Diaries.”
Tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear I remembered I did have something for her. I’d been waiting for the perfect time to show her and I couldn’t think of a better time than now. “Come outside with me, I have something for you,” I whispered before bending down and pressing a chaste kiss to her lips.
“Okay,” her voice was soft and wispy. I liked knowing I still affected her even after everything I’d put her through.
Holding her hand I led her outside and down the stairs of the back porch until we were in the flower garden located in the far corner of Miranda’s yard. I nodded my head to one of the ornate stone benches that lined the garden and then reached behind my back grinning. The crisp smooth texture of the wrapping paper I’d selected filled my hands and I pulled it around watching as her eyes lit up at the sight of the iridescent pale blue package.
“Nice trick,” she teased grinning up at me.
I knelt down in front of her and placed the box in her hands. “Yeah well, I’m good for a few entertaining side shows now and then.”
Biting her bottom lip anxiously she reached for it. “I almost hate to hurt the paper. It’s beautiful.”
“I’ll buy you a whole roll, Pagan. Just open it.”
Nodding, she ripped open the side and the paper was forgotten as it fluttered to the ground. The white satin box sat in her lap as she slowly opened the lid. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember exactly what it was but I thought I’d wait and see if she worked this out on her own.
Pagan lifted the small gold brooch from the box. The flicker of emotion across her face told me she was working through the memories attached to the brooch in her hand. I’d been holding onto it for over fifteen years. Reverently she touched the pink glass stones that decorated the heart shaped filigree.
“Grandma gave this to me. I was sick and in the hospital and she’d come to stay with Mom at the hotel nearby. They took turns staying with me. Then Grandma had to go home because her heart was bothering her and her doctor wanted her home under observation. The day she left she brought me this brooch. She’d cried so hard as she’d told me to hold it close to my heart always. So I’d always know she loved me.
Pagan lifted her awed gaze to meet mine. “Then when... when...” she trailed off shaking her head in frustration. The memory was there. I knew it was and I wanted her to recall it without my help. It was one I’d waited patiently for her to remember since she’d discovered exactly who I was.
Her expressive green eyes showcased so many different emotions. Finally, she opened her mouth and whispered, “ohmygod,” and I knew she’d remembered.
“Then you, Dank, YOU came to talk to me. To tell me that I was going to die but I’d get another life. My body was sick. That when you came back I was to go where you sent me and I’d come back again. Ohmygod,” Pagan stopped and took a deep breath. “I gave you this brooch. I told you that I wanted to take it with me. You said that could be arranged and you slipped it into your pocket...but--”
“But you never saw me again. Because your soul was erased off the charts. The only reason I remembered you was because of this brooch. I knew there had been a soul that had been spared. Sometimes that happens. It’s rare but sometimes the Creator changes his mind. I thought that had happened to you. So, I held onto that brooch given to me by a little girl who wanted to take something from this life on to her next. I figured once your name appeared on the books again I’d make sure you got your brooch just like you requested. But your name appeared so much sooner than I expected. It intrigued me. I couldn’t understand why the Creator would stop your death as a child to take it only a few years later on the brink of adulthood. So, I came to watch you. To see what about this soul was so unique. Why it had broken all the molds I’d grown accustomed to over my existence.”
Pagan’s hand covered her mouth as a small sob escaped. I hadn’t meant to make her cry. I’d just wanted to give her something she’d once held very dear.
“Oh, Dank,” she cried flinging herself into my arms. “I can’t believe I didn’t remember you.”
She was crying because she’d forgotten she’d met Death as a child?
Holding her in my arms I was at a loss for words. How did I comfort her about something like this?
“This is the most precious perfect gift anyone has ever received. You gave me back a memory that I will cherish forever. You gave me something from my grandma I didn’t know I had. And you kept it and it led you back to me. It gave me you.”
I felt a wetness in my eyes and I blinked confused from the strange sensation. A small trickle of water ran down my cheek. I stared into the darkness as I held Pagan in my arms in amazement. Death had just shed a tear.