My college life was delightfully boring.
I had classes every day, and when I wasn’t at school, I was working at the cute little coffee shop my father bought out when my dad stopped working there. If it wasn’t school or work, it was sleep or swimming in that gorgeous pool in the backyard of Castle Ritsu. It was all wonderfully, blissfully boring.
Most of the time.
Every once in a while, reality would bitch slap me in the face like a week old fish, rotten and sour, leaving a bad taste in my mouth for days. It came when my father had his dark days where his demon half was boiling with rage, so furious that even my dad’s beautiful white aura wasn’t enough to calm it. Or when I came to class to find a demon perched on a student’s shoulder or slinking in their shadow. But more often than not, it came in the form of an annoying redhead who I was pretty sure just wanted my ass. Sure, he said he came for advice from my father, but that was a little hard to believe when he stared at the back of my jeans the whole time.
“Here. Just the way you like it- girly as hell,” I said, sliding the cup across the counter to my father before I poured coffee for myself. Black, and strong enough without the ridiculous crap in my father’s to curl my toes.
He gave me a grateful smile, the circles under his eyes darker than usual. His obligatory soft, satisfied moan slipped out of his mouth after the first sip, and he blushed the second after- as much as he ever blushed, the tips of his ears burning red in the most amusing way. As if he hadn’t made that sound every damn day since he had accidentally adopted me.
“Thanks, Kelly.” My father’s smooth, deep voice was always comforting- and irritating as hell at the same time.
“How many god damn times do I have to say-”
“My name is Keller.” Everybody in Castle Ritsu’s big, gorgeous kitchen spoke at once, and I gave them all the same deep scowl.
Makena chuckled, bumping me with her hip on her way past me. She took the milk from my dad, who was pouring his morning cup of the nasty white stuff, before she turned to smile at me. “When are you going to figure out that’s useless?”
I crossed my arms over my chest and gave them my best stubborn expression. “When he stops calling me a girl’s name, I’ll stop correcting him.”
“I’ve known you all for just a couple months, and even I know that’s not going to happen. Breylin’s a stubborn ass.”
Though everybody else laughed, I was busy doing my damndest to pretend the man who had spoken didn’t even exist. If I acknowledged him, I’d also have the acknowledge everything I wanted to forget. Nothing could pull me back into the world of spirits any faster than Makena’s apprentice. There were several reasons I wanted nothing to do with hunters, and Jackson was most of them. I hated him, with his pretty red hair and those gorgeous green eyes, the lips that just begged to be kissed. Lips that also chanted out spells while he hunted the very things I wanted desperately to ignore. No matter how pretty he was, or how much he liked my ass, he was a hunter- and that meant he had to be invisible to me.
Because I was not touching that can of worms, not when I’d been left with a chunk of demon trapped in my aura the last time I opened it.
“So.” My father’s voice pulled me out of my silent rant. “What’s terrorizing the city this time?”
It was like he flicked a switch. Everybody stiffened, reminded that we weren’t having the usual Sunday breakfast while the sun set, since none of us had ever been able to switch back to a normal sleeping schedule. We had to talk about spirits instead. Business as usual at Castle Ritsu. I only wished it wasn’t too cold to dive into the pool. Hell, I would have done it anyways just to escape and dealt with the pneumonia; knowing my father would lecture me for hours and I would risk agitating that inner demon of his was the only thing that kept me inside. That was the last thing I wanted.
So I was stuck standing in front of the coffee machine, the counter digging into my back as I tried to sink into it and disappear. Slapped in the face yet again by that bitch we called our lives.
“I’m not… really sure,” Jackson admitted, his gaze dropping.
Those words had fear gripping my heart. The last time he said that, Makena had nearly died- along with a bus full of preschool children when a demon had decided rolling the bus would be a fantastic idea.
Breylin leaned forward, his gaze sharpening. Though he had officially retired, deciding to devote his time to his husband and taking down the occasional small spirit to satisfy Luca’s thrill seeking nature as well as his own darker urges, it was impossible to take the hunter out of him after so many years. “Tell me what you know.”
Jackson nodded, his expression uncharacteristically serious. “It’s strange. Odd levels of activity are being picked up on my sensor wards around the college, but there haven’t been any deaths so far. I know it’s not Keller- I tuned them so it wouldn’t pick up on the chunk of demon in his aura. And even if I hadn’t, this is way too strong. Unless he’s been actively using that power-”
“I would never!” I could hear the outrage, the disbelief, in my voice.
Jackson gave me a slight frown, and it was so different from his flirtatious smiles that it actually shut me up. “Like I was saying. Unless he’s been using it, there’s no way it would register this high. There’s something going on at the college. Something is building up power, and since its dormant power is this strong, I’m worried about how powerful it will be when it wakes fully.”
Breylin made a soft sound, a breathy sort of growl that meant he was contemplating something he really didn’t like. He let his head fall forward and stared at the counter while he considered it. Since he was keeping quiet, my dad spoke up, unusually calm and reasonable.
“Have you seen anything odd on campus, Keller?” Luca perched on the edge of the counter, and he might have look nonchalant to anybody who didn’t know him. But I could see the tension in his shoulders and the lines of his face, the way he held his glass so tightly his fingers were turning white.
I pressed my lips into a thin line and looked away from the expectant gazes fixed on me. “You know I make an effort to not see this stuff, right? Of course I haven’t seen anything.”
Silence filled the kitchen again, the way it always did when I reminded them I was trying to do my damndest to be normal. It was still strange to them. Luca, while accepting, had been a little shocked I wasn’t going to follow in my father’s footsteps. Makena, on the other hand, had been positively furious I wouldn’t use my ‘talents’ to help save people. They both conveniently forgot about my decision more often than not because they were certain I was going to change my mind one day.
My father was the only one who understood it, who had immediately accepted my decision like it was obvious. Because he knew. He knew what it was like to have to see them all the time, to put the people you loved in danger over and over again simply because you had the misfortune to be able to see spirits. Breylin understood, and he taught me the spell to block my Sight; I used it as often as my aura allowed without making me sick or tapping into my personal demon. It didn’t always work because of that limit- but it worked often enough to make me believe I had a chance at being normal.
Of course, every time I believed that, Jackson came crawling back to fuck it all up and make me start over again. It was really starting to piss me off.
Luca let out a slow sigh, sipping from his glass as he stared thoughtfully at the back of Breylin’s head. “Right, sorry,” he mumbled, so thoughtlessly I knew it was just reflex after years of apologizing to me because he just couldn’t understand. A thrill seeker at heart, he couldn’t get it- though I didn’t blame him for it.
I huffed at him, not that he noticed, and leaned against Breylin’s back. Arms draped over his shoulder, my face pressed against the back of his neck, I breathed him in. That dark scent that was all his, mixed with Luca’s softer, sweet smell, all layered over with the clean scent of the soap they used in their shared showers. It was a scent I had come to know and love since they saved me from that nasty aila, and it was the most comforting thing in the world. The only thing better was Breylin’s soft hum as he reached up to cup my hands between his, pulling them up to breathe on my fingers before rubbing my hands because he always thought I felt cold.
It relaxed me, and in just seconds, Breylin was supporting my whole weight. Though I was nearly as tall as him, and nearly as packed with muscle though I was leaner than him, he didn’t budge at all. Barely seemed to notice my weight as he kept rubbing my hands. It would have been perfect- if Jackson hadn’t cleared his throat. I raised my head to rest my chin on top of Breylin’s head, giving the younger hunter an evil glare. My father must have been glaring, too, because Jackson’s face grew pale.
“U-uhm… I think this spirit at the college is something we should really be worried about,” he said, his voice shaking hard enough to bring a smile to my face. Served him right, coming in to ruin nearly a month of peace. He deserved to be scared by my father.
Unfortunately, Breylin was a much better person than me. Heaving a sigh, he squeezed my hands tightly before he spoke again. “As much as I hate to admit it, I think you’re right. Luca and I can drop by the college later today and see if we can find any traces of-”
I felt my father’s shoulders tighten at Jackson’s interruption. Even without looking, I could see the disapproval and rising anger, one questioning eyebrow raised as he started to decide whether to be pissed off or not. “Is there something wrong with that?”
Jackson’s face turned a shade closer to bone white, and he was stuttering hard when he spoke again. “W-well, I just think it’s a waste for you to go to that much trouble when Keller goes to the college every day for classes. If he would just open his Sight-”
I was surprised to find I wasn’t the only one who had spoken, the only one who snapped it out viciously- my parents did, too. Luca’s hands settled on my shoulders protectively, his face next to mine as he stretched up to our height so Jackson could properly see that fierce scowl. What probably had him looking truly frightened wasn’t us. It was Kit. Even with my Sight closed, I could see him perched on the counter in front of us, hackles raised and teeth bared in a snarl as the usually adorable fuzzball turned into a beast hell bent on protecting us. Protecting me.
I would have been touched, if I wasn’t absolutely fucking furious.
All I could do was glare at Jackson while he flinched back from Kit. My mouth opened, brows furrowed, and god only knows what I would have said if Breylin hadn’t spoken first.
“Jackson…” That wasn’t his voice. It was the demon’s. The half of him he had never truly come to terms with. I didn’t blame him, when I couldn’t even handle my Sight, and I could remember all the things that had happened when he found out the truth. It was a miracle he hadn’t killed himself when he found out he was fathered by the same kind of demon which had killed his first love, especially considering how many times he tried. But he was still alive, and kicking, and totally badass.
I felt Luca growing tense behind me, and I didn’t need my Sight to know the beautiful light of his aura would be growing in response to his husband’s darkness. “It’s not happening, Jackson. Not for a second. We will not let you force Keller into anything he doesn’t want to do. Not for a single moment, do you understand me?”
Jackson nodded vigorously, almost falling off his seat as Kit took another step forward and growled. “O-okay! I get it! I just thought that, with this being so nasty and you two being retired… I mean, Makena has told me about some of the things that happened when Keller was a kid. I just wanted to keep you from getting hurt again!” His voice was high pitched, squeaky, but I knew that calculating look in his eyes. He was about to play me, the manipulative bastard, and there was nothing I could do because I knew exactly what he was going to say next. “I just wanted… to try and keep you two from getting hurt again after you’ve done so much to deserve your retirement. But if Keller doesn’t want to help, then I guess we’ll risk it. I’m sorry I dragged you into this again.”
That… mother… fucker. He knew. He knew that, once he brought the safety of my parents into it, I would have to help. I’d seen them almost torn apart too many times, and knew it had happened a dozen times before they adopted me. How could I ever stand by and watch it happen again? He had me by the short hairs and the bastard knew it- but so did my parents.
Breylin squeezed my hand so tightly it almost hurt, and Luca’s grip on my shoulders was growing more painful by the second. Taking in a deep breath, I pulled my hands out of Breylin’s and stepped out from between them. I’d barely made it two steps when Breylin reached out to catch my hand. “Just… be careful, okay?” he said, his voice soft. “There’s no point if you get hurt. You’re my son, and if something happens to you, I’ll destroy the city to find the one responsible for it.”
The worst- best?- part was I knew he wasn’t kidding. He loved me nearly as much as he loved Luca. If he lost his light, Breylin would burn the world, lose control of his inner darkness and destroy everything. If he lost me, even with Luca there to help him stay out of the worst of the darkness, he’d do anything to at least get revenge. It was terrifying… but it was also a little heartwarming.
“Yes. Careful. And deck him a good one later. Freaking jerk…. can’t believe he guilt tripped you like that,” Luca muttered, sounding a lot more like the dad I knew and loved. No filter, and it caused my father more than enough grief. Luca threw his arms around me, hugging me tightly, and I knew he was still glaring at Jackson over my shoulder because Kit hadn’t relaxed yet.
“It’s okay, dad. I’ll come back in one piece, I promise. Jackson, on the other hand…” I felt a smile pull at my lips. “No promises there. Now let me go, or I’ll be late to class. The last thing I want after this asshole’s nonsense is for Professor Kingsley to get mad at me. His husband would kill me, that damned delinquent.”
Breylin snorted, the darkness beginning to drain away and give way to amusement. “You know, I’ve met Maddox. Shreds a guitar like no other, and that voice… it’s no wonder he’s a famous rockstar. He’s not actually a bad person, just a little…. rough around the edges.”
“Of course you would say that. I bet you were the king of delinquents, you ass,” I groaned, prying my dad off me so I could grab the keys to my bike from their hook by the door.
Breylin just gave me a shameless grin as Jackson stood up and backed quickly away from the counter. He was all the way across the room before Kit relaxed. Finally returning to his adorable fuzzball form, he scampered up Breylin, using his head as a springboard to launch himself into Luca’s arms. I snickered at my father’s aggrieved expression, his muttering about being second best while Luca laughed and shifted Kit up to wrap around his neck- and I knew I was making the right choice.
It might suck ass, but it was better than letting them get hurt.
“Let’s go, Jackson,” I said, my defeat and annoyance clear in my voice.
“Yes, sir!” Jackson gave the counter- and Luca, with his little guardian spirit on his shoulders- a wide berth as he followed me into the garage. I waited for it to close before I turned around, using the momentum and all of my considerable strength to punch that smug smirk off his stupid fucking face. The startled, pained noise he made was almost as satisfying as the widening of his green eyes- well, the one I could see, since his hand was cupped over the other and I couldn’t wait to see the bruise he would have in an hour or two.
“And don’t think you’re getting on my fucking bike, either. You can walk for all I care,” I told him, turning my back on him. My beautiful bike roared under me when I turned the key, the familiar sound like a drug, lifting my spirits and making my pulse race.
Jackson scrambled to his feet, looking almost panicked. “Keller, wait!”
It was too late. The garage door was open and my bike was begging to be let out. So I gave him the only response he deserved- I flipped him off. “See you after class, asshole.”
Then I was gone. After class my ass- I’d have it figured out and taken care of in half an hour. Rub his face in it. Then he was going to leave me the fuck alone even if I had to punch him a half dozen more times.
Because I was bound and determined to have my boring, normal life, and I wasn’t going to let anything ruin that.