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What Lies in Wait

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Once upon a time, being selected to complete the Watch was considered a high honor. The idea that a single priestess could intervene with the spirits to save all those around her is an old one, but perhaps no longer relevant. It used to be that a priestess selected would then be in the running to be selected as the high priestess later, that she would receive the adulation and love of the people she served. Now, though, the high priestess is more often selected based on whose family can line the sisterhood’s pockets with the most gold. None of the electorate will look twice at you, you know. 

Your village is small, considered provincial and poor by your closest neighbors. The forest is to thank for that. Its ancient trees cut off your community from the others and mean that when there is drudgery or hard work to do, a priestess from your village is usually called. The priestesses from your little hamlet are more spiritual, it is said; they have to be, to survive passage through the forest so often. 

But the truth is that you are viewed as expendable. Strange. You haven’t produced a high priestess in any extant memory. 

It also means that none of the young women around you want to dedicate their lives in service to the spirits—the same spirits the outside world is trying hard to relegate to the land of dark myths and bedtime stories. Whether spirits were real or not was not forefront in your mind when you took your pledge as a novitiate. No, in your childhood idealism, all you were sure of was that your grandmother was the last priestess in your village, and you did not want her to carry that burden alone. 

So you spent the last of your childhood years learning the healing arts and how to commune with the nature spirits that keep the wheels of your world moving. You learned all of the rites you would have to carry out and the omens you would have to watch for to keep your people safe. The Watch is just another of them, rarely called into use.

Just your luck, then, that it's necessary now.

When the wolf moon glows red, that is a sign that the forest spirits are growing restless. Hungry. A priestess is selected to carry out the honor of serving her people by keeping the spirits in the forest at bay. It's a winter full of long hours and wandering through the haunted trees. 

At least it doesn't happen often; the last time anyone could remember a Watch being necessary, your grandmother was a small girl. Far from being the honor it once was, you think now that it just sounds miserable. You'll be cooped up in a tiny cabin until the snows have gone—which can take months— with nobody but yourself and the woodland creatures for company. And the spirits, you suppose, be they good or bad.

The spirts summoned by the red wolf moon are said to be twins, but you don't know that much about them other than their ceaseless hunger and the fact that only one of them has ever really been seen. Famines tend to follow their arrival if you're lucky, mass slaughter if you aren't. These spirits fall decidedly within the bad category, at least as far as your human sensibilities go. 

The destruction and death is what you are meant to stand in the way of by protecting the borders and placing your charms. It's an attempt to keep the spirits' machinations within the borders of the no-man's-land of the forest. Just you and your scribblings of holy ink against ageless, godlike creatures.

Completely fine.

At least the cabin, when you get there, will be stocked. The villagers made sure of that once the soothsayer predicted the red wolf moon, so that you would not starve or freeze to death. It is, literally, the least they could do to make sure you have dried foods and enough grains to get you through the winter.

The food on the sledge you pull behind you is not meant for you—or any human, really, but especially not you. It’s full of delicacies, like little chocolate squares and fresh river fish you’ve never been able to taste. Cask after cask of fragrant nutmeg, cardamom, and saffron are as tempting as the little container of rare sugar. You think you saw a few jellies and pies and all sorts of things you’ve heard of but never had a chance to try yourself. 

And it’s all for the spirits, to keep them sated. The luxuries you drag along behind you are meant to protect your people just as much as your charms are. You sure hope the spirit knows how to cook the damn things, you think sourly. Because you have no idea how to dress or cook a peacock yourself.

Wasteful, you think as you stomp your foot through the thin rime of ice on top of the snow that’s already fallen. Everything is monochrome shades of white and grey and deep, dirty browns where the tree trunks or patches of forest floor peek through. The only things that stand out at all are the colored wrappings on the tributes and the thick red cloak wrapped tight around your shoulders. 

Red is supposed to be the spirit’s color, which is why he is summoned during the red wolf moon. It’s also why you’re meant to wear it when in the forest, so that the spirit knows you are not a threat. Your grandmother made you the cloak when you first commenced your priestess duties; perhaps she knew that it would be needed in your time. 

Regardless, your hands chafe from the cold and the rough rope you’re pulling the sledge by. Your arms are half numb from the strain and how long you’ve been walking, but you still have a while to go and no path to walk on. There are no paths through the forest—at least, none made by humans—and so you spend more time hauling yourself and your parcels over fallen logs and around boulders and wide trees than you do making what feels like actual progress. Winter birdsong and the groans of tree branches as they settle under the weight of snow are the only things aside from your heavy breathing you can hear in all of the forest. 

Until everything falls silent, like the snow has swallowed everything up. You’re too focused on pulling your sledge over a tangle of particularly stubborn and old roots, so you don’t really notice it at first. What finally does draw your attention is the unfamiliar form you fall into when the runners finally make it over the roots, sending you careening backwards.

“You should be careful,” the man says, steadying you with two huge hands on your shoulders. 

“I’m fine,” you say, trying to keep the embarrassment and irritation from your voice. Of course you’d almost fall on your behind in front of a stranger. You’re supposed to be a priestess, the image of elegance and wisdom, not a clumsy bumpkin tripping over ice with curses on your lips. He only offers you a wide smile that says he doesn’t believe you in the slightest. Your eyes are drawn to the fur around his neck, the fur that trims the oversized coat he’s wearing. Wolf fur. Your eyes narrow at him in suspicion. Either he’s not from the area or he’s got a death wish; wolf fur is forbidden. It might anger the spirits in the forest he’s already trespassing in. 

“You need company,” he says with that same smile. One that in any other circumstance would offer you comfort but now only makes you nervous, sets you on edge. 

“I need to be on my way,” you counter, trying to step around the hulking mass of the man. Your sledge will slow you down, if you have to run. And you can’t just leave it behind. It’s with irritation and the beginnings of fear that you realize you will not be able to outrun this stranger wearing wolfskin. 

“Nowhere to go, though.” He looks around as if a house might have sprouted up between the ancient trees and you scowl, but otherwise refuse to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging that he spoke. He must be a stranger. Nobody would walk the forest so casually if they knew what was housed within, and nobody would attempt to waylay a priestess on her way to the Watch. So. A stranger. That, at least, is manageable.

“Nowhere to go for you perhaps. You are better off finding lodging in the village that way,” you point over your back in the direction you came from. No path in the forest is marked and so a stranger would be easily lost. He should be fine, you decide, as long as he walks straight. “Follow my footsteps back, and you will be safe.”

You stare up at him, half afraid that he might move if you blink for too long. He looks at you hard as if weighing the truth of your words. Even though nothing you’ve said is a lie, an absurd feeling of guilt still works through you. 

“I’m hungry,” he says instead of being on his way, gaze flickering to the ropes you clutch tightly in your hands, the ones that trail back to your precious cargo. The food in it is delicious, no doubt, but it is for the spirits that live in the wood and keep your village safe. But being a stranger, he wouldn’t know that. And as a priestess, you are meant to give alms to those in need. 

You reach into your cloak and pull from it the bread you kept for yourself. It was meant to be your repast once you made it to the priestess’s cabin, but you suppose that you might be able to make do with whatever has been left there for you. You’d been hoping to avoid cooking tonight, knowing that you’ll be too exhausted to tend a cooking fire. 

“Take it,” you tell the man, watching the bread longingly as he reaches out and snatches it from between your fingers. He swallows it in what looks like one bite, but you know that can’t have been the case; it’s simply not possible. Still, he looks at you like you’ve perhaps hidden more underneath your cloak.

“Well,” you say, not certain how to end the strange little conversation. “I really must be on my way.” You hope he takes the hint. You pray he takes the hint; there are precious few things in the world you’d like less than being stuck out in this forest once the sun starts to set. “Like I said, just follow my footprints back to the village. There’s a public house in the village center, and travelers stay there.” You don’t bother to tell him that there’s really only one room available to let, so rare is it to get an outsider. 

“And you’re not going to this public house?” He mimics your words like he’s unfamiliar with the phrase, and your eyebrows shoot up towards your hairline. Surely there are priestesses where he comes from that perform similar ceremonies. There’s a sea spirit many leagues away—though you’ve heard that sometimes they call it a demon, and that discourtesy makes you shudder—who you’ve heard requires sacrifices of artwork of all kinds. So it can’t be so uncommon that he’d be unfamiliar with some sort of rite happening.

“No,” you tell him primly, clenching and unclenching your fingers to try to work life back into them. Every time the wind blows through the trees it tugs at your red hood, stirring your hair and sending the chilled air to your neck. “I am staying in the priestess’s cabin for the Watch.”

He appraises you and the items you carry in a new light, and the strange wonder of his ignorance washes over you again. There are orders of priestesses all over the world, or so you’ve been taught. Surely you are not so rare a creature that he’s actually surprised. 

“Maybe I’ll see you later, then,” the strange man says, still wearing his smile. He’s bright enough to almost remind you of the sun. In the cold and grey of the winter, it’s almost welcoming—but then you remember that he’s a stranger in the forest on the cusp of a red wolf moon. There’s no comfort to be found in the reminder, so you take a step to the side and pull around him. 

“I doubt it,” you reply, your eyes on the snowy ground before you. The last thing you need is to stumble across a hidden stone and upturn either yourself or your sled in front of the stranger. 

“Careful of the demons in the forest,” he says, sounding incredibly earnest in a way that almost makes you laugh. Demons. You haven’t thought of that word in a long time, but here it is cropping up so frequently and so suddenly. It’s true that spirits once were called demons, ages and ages ago, until it was decided that spirits was a better—and far more respectful—term to use. 

He lets you go, this time, and you remind him with a firm nod towards your footprints to find the public house back in your village. When he sets off, it’s in the direction you pointed out. 

Finally, you think as you continue on your way. The sun has reached its apex in the sky ages ago and by the way the shadows fall onto the forest floor, you estimate that you have perhaps an hour to get to the cabin before the sun sinks too low to light your way. And the last thing you want is to try to pull your sledge behind you one-handed while trying to wield a torch in the other. Perhaps you should have asked the strange man for help… But no, you shake the thought from your head. That would only have meant that he was walking around the woods at night; and besides, as a priestess you are meant to bear this task alone. It’s part of the ceremony, after all, to carry the burden of the forest on your shoulders in solitude. 

So you continue on by yourself, working diligently to keep the thought of how strange his teeth seemed when he smiled.

You pile up the sacrificial goods just inside your cabin, beside the door. Setting them up properly can wait until sunrise tomorrow, when you’ve settled better and can actually see in the forest. Even though the moon is working towards fullness, the forest is still too deep and dark for you to feel comfortable. The little hairs on the back of your neck and the tops of your arms stand on end whenever you look out the window or think about your solo trek through the forest. It felt—and still does—like you were being watched closely. There are predators in amongst the trees, of course; things that you know to be wary of. Wolves and bears are chief among them. But your red cloak marks you as protected by the peaceful spirits in the forest living alongside them; those things, at least, are meant to leave you alone. 

The red cloak, however, will do nothing to protect you from the little dropoffs or hollowed-out parts of the earth that come from being on the side of a mountain. Those are perhaps what concern you the most in the dark of the night; nobody will come looking for a lone priestess completing her solitary Watch, and so nobody would stumble upon you should something happen. Not even the stranger with the too-big teeth who should be safely in your village by now. 

You try to push him from your mind as you finish the last few chores you can accomplish by candlelight. There’s no reason to think about him at all, even if he was very peculiar and you’d love to know what, exactly, he was doing wandering around in the forest. Perhaps it’s better not to know. 

So you blow out the candles and let the bitter smell of their smoke help you drift off to sleep. If you dream at all, you don’t remember them by the time you wake. 

There is a cave not too far away from the cabin you’re to live in for the next few months. You've been to it often enough with your grandmother to pay respects to the mountain spirits or to ask them to bring prosperity to your village. Whether or not those prayers have ever worked, you don’t actually know. What you do know is that the spirit of the red wolf moon is said to awaken within the mountain and roam through the forest with his brother, and so that is where the offerings must be laid out. You arrange the offerings in the traditional manner—more perishable goods out front, sweets to the side, savory items to the middle—and let yourself sink to the forest floor, just outside of the mouth of the cave. The last thing you want is to step inside and rouse the interest of some beast. 

“King of the forest spirits,” you say over the food, your eyes closed tight against the blinding light reflecting from the snow. “I ask that you take what you will from these offerings in return for protection for my village. I ask that you remain within the lands that have been kept for you.” And on and on and on until your voice is near cracking with the pleas and the repetition. 

You kneel there until the cold has soaked through your clothes to your legs and you’re filled with a creeping numbness. The spirit won’t come out with you right there, though, so you stand on bloodless legs and walk off into the forest. Your paper charms are tucked safely away into the bag at your side and the edge of the forest you want to start with is more than just a quick walk away. The forest, as best you can estimate, spans miles , most of it uncharted. Your cabin, for as long as it took to get to, sits comparatively close to the edge. 

As you walk, you tie the charms to the tree branches you can reach, creating a magical web to trap the spirits inside the forest. Of course, once the line is drawn, you can’t cross it—and neither can any other human. That’s why it was so important that the man wandering around yesterday made it to your village. Just in case, you move a little slower than you might normally. The way your fingers tremble with the cold doesn’t help either, but the gloves you have make it much harder to work the charms. 

And that is how you spend your first day of solitude, wandering the forest so that the spirits cannot leave when the red moon rises. Birdsong and the sound of your footsteps in the snow follow you between the trees, but so do your thoughts. The reality that this will be your life for the next few months settles on your shoulders like a water-soaked cloak. Just you and the emptiness of the forest on the mountainside—and the spirits, but you hope that you won’t meet them. They’re supposed to keep to themselves as long as they’re contained. 

That’s what the stories always said, anyway. That’s certainly what you hope, especially when you stumble upon footprints that baffle you. 

They start out human, familiar enough shapes even if you don’t recognize the tread. You follow them because they’re going in the direction you need to be, anyway, even if it does strike you as odd that they’re still so visible. You’re capable enough at hunting that you won’t starve to death, but you’re not so capable that you can tell exactly how fresh these footprints are. They have to be old; after all, everyone living at the forest’s edge knows not to trespass—especially so close to the red wolf moon. 

But then the prints start to change into… something else. Other. They condense with every step that you follow until you find that you’re not following human steps at all. Something wilder walked this path before you, and as you stare at the wolf prints—prints large enough to rival the size of your whole hand. 

You hope these prints are old and that whatever left them behind is long gone, out of the forest and far on the other side of the mountain. The idea that you’d started by following bootprints is far out of your mind as you crouch down and look at the marks the claws have made in the snow. 

That, and the way the sun is threatening to set, is what finally sends you back to your cottage for the evening. You light the fire in the hearth and let the heat seep into your bones, freed from the many layers you have to wear. From where you are you can watch the sun slip down behind the trees, hastening the sunset and ushering in the dark. You pull a heavy curtain over the window; there’s nothing in the forest that would be looking in, you know, but you still don’t like the idea of anything being able to look in when you can’t see out. 

You let the hours pass as you write out more charms for tomorrow, letting the fire light the main room of your cabin. It’s almost surprisingly quiet, even for winter. You’d expected to hear some animal activity—nighttime hunters, prey scurrying around, the wind in the tree branches—but there’s nothing at all, like the entire world is holding its breath. This is what you listen to in between charms, when you crumble off some of your cake of dried ink into the little bowl of waiting water. All that you hear is the popping of the fire behind you and the scratching of your nib on the paper.

Gradually, you become aware of something else, a harsh noise that isn’t the grind of quill against rough paper. You pause in your work and hold very still, as if any slight movement of your muscles might drown it out. There’s no real need; as soon as you realize you’re hearing it, it’s impossible to ignore.

It comes from the door and sounds like something is trying to scratch its way in through the thick wood. There are no trees and no bushes close enough to the door to create that noise. No reason you should be hearing it at all even if there were because the wind isn’t strong. 

It’s rhythmic, metered, regular in a way that the wind could never replicate. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Pause. As if the thing on the other side of your door is listening as intently to you as you are to it. When you don’t move or make any noise, it starts again. 

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. 

You hold your breath and stare intently at the door, imagining that a wolf might burst through. Perhaps it followed you back from when you were doing your rounds. Perhaps it thinks you will be an easy meal—and it might be right, if you were to open the door. Instead, you blow out your candles and try hard to ignore the noises of the beast at your door. 

Sleep, you think is what you need. Sleep and a new day will wash away the frights that the evening brought. But the scratching follows you into your slumber and stalks through your dreams. 

The morning brings a new revelation: you are absolutely not alone in the forest. You could have ignored the noises in the night or passed them off as you being overtired, exhausted from the work of the day and drained from the prospect of your solitude. But the furrows in your front door ground it all thoroughly in reality, exactly where you don’t want it to be. 

You run your fingers over the scars in the wood, wincing at how deep the grooves go. Game must not be bountiful if the animals in the forest are drawn to your cabin. And you. With a shudder you pull your hand away and resolve to be back at your cabin well before nightfall. The wards go up easily and you feel accomplished in your day’s work until you remember just how vast the forest is and that the red moon is set to ride tomorrow night. The hours you have to work your magic are slipping away, leaving you only with the knowledge that you are the only thing standing between your people and their total destruction.

And all for very little thanks.

It shouldn’t bother you, you know. But it would still be nice to be treated with the adulation you feel the position deserves. Those thoughts are impure and unkind and you do your best to banish them from your mind as you paint fresh protection sigils along the doorframe. Strength, to reinforce the door against further assault. Protection, for what resides within. Allowing yourself to think selfishly for a moment, you start to write the sigil for happiness before you smudge it with the side of your hand. 

This is the Watch; it is not a vacation. Frivolities are not meant for you. 

You settle into your evening and watch wax melt down the side of a candle as you ignore the scratching at the door. The windows are closed. You make sure that they’re latched as well as you pretend not to hear the steady scratch scratch scratch pause scratch scratch scratch grating on your nerves. When you change into your nightclothes and burrow under your blankets, you hum a tune from your childhood. Grandmother used to sing it to you, you think. 

As you fall asleep, the scratchings and your heartbeats seem, to your tired ears, to meld until you can’t pick them apart. 

Your dreams are full of cold and darkness and glinting teeth, all of which scatters like dead leaves in a gale under the force of your sudden consciousness. With your heart hammering in your chest and the cracking of the fire, you can’t remember what woke you.

Until it happens again. 

The three knocks against your door reverberate around the inside of your cabin. You stare at where they’re coming from, blankets tangled around your legs, hands fisted in your lap. Nobody should be in the forest. You haven’t seen another living soul for days , at least none that walked on two feet. You remember the strange footprints. You remember the man you sent back to your village. But he should have been long gone; he has to be, especially now that you’ve started stringing up the wards. 

Three knocks ring out again, dragging you from your spiraling thoughts and back into your reality. Wolves don’t knock. Neither do bears or any of the other forest creatures that you think might be sniffing around your cabin—and a spirit would just enter. 

You stumble to the door, throwing a blanket over your shoulders as you go. The same wind whistling in your chimney helps the door swing open wide, hard enough to almost knock you off your feet. You lean against it to stabilize yourself and peer out into the darkness.

Or what would have been the darkness, were it not for the man standing in the halo of firelight spilling out from your doorway. 

“You.” It’s the same man from before, the one wearing wolfskin. Perhaps there’s some accusation in your voice; if there is, you think it’s warranted. After all, you told him ages ago to find shelter in your village, that he shouldn’t stay in the forest. Wind carries snowflakes into your cabin, where they melt on the floor. 

“You shouldn’t be here,” you tell him, blinking once as you try to piece together what he could have been doing since you last saw him. It’s freezing. And now that the sun has set, the snow has started up again, and most of the wards have been completed, there’s no way he can actually go back. The man only shrugs in answer and stares at you as if you haven’t quite given him the response he’s looking for. 

“You can come in, I suppose.” It is, quite literally, the very least you could do. There’s nowhere else for him to go, now that he’s trapped on the mountain. And you only have enough provisions for yourself. You try not to feel resentful as he ducks his head to enter the cabin, flashing you a soft, almost embarrassed smile as he does so. 

He takes a seat without asking and makes a show of warming himself in front of the small fire you keep burning all of the time now. He pulls the fur tight around his shoulders before shaking like a dog, sending little droplets of freezing water scattering to your floor; they hiss when they land too close to the hearth. You wait for him to offer an explanation as to why he’s still in the forest—to give you anything, really—but all he does is stare into the fire like he’s never seen one before.

“You shouldn’t wear wolfskin, you know.” You hold out a towel to him so that he can remove the offensive article of clothing, but he only drapes it over his head instead. “It’s offensive to the forest spirits.”

“Is that what you’ve been told?”

He’s a stranger, you have to remind yourself. He doesn’t know your customs or traditions. There’s no reason at all to believe he has any secret knowledge of the spirits in the forest. You take a steadying breath and nod once.

“That’s how it always has been,” you explain patiently, just wishing he’d take the damned thing off. Your windows are shuttered tightly, but outside of them you know that the red wolf moon has already risen; if a spirit was going to notice his offense and take umbrage to it, it would be tonight. 

But he’s already brushed you off once; you’re tired and you don’t particularly feel like having to explain everything here and now. After all, you’re inside and far from their prying eyes; you tell yourself that and the wards you etched into your door will be more than enough. For the moment, you settle for spooning some of the stew still resting over the fire into a bowl for him. 

“You’ll have to stay here, I guess. Since you didn’t listen when I warned you.” It feels more like you’re speaking to the air than another human because all of his attention is focused on the bowl in your hands as you offer it to him. In the low light his eyes look almost purple, which you brush off as a trick of the flames to his side. 

He hums to indicate that he at least heard you, even if you doubt he’s actually listened to your words. Again. You sit beside him and let the warmth from the hearth soak into your bones, thinking about how you could still be asleep right now if he’d just heeded your words when you first met. Too late to be angry about it now, you suppose. And it might be nice to have company during your Watch, even if it means you have to ignore, for the time being, the threat of possible starvation. 

“Thanks for letting me in,” the man says, and when your eyes slide over to him you notice with a start that he’s already finished his stew and is reaching for the ladle to pour himself some more. You should stop him, you know. You want to stop him. But then you remember that he must have been wandering in the woods since you last saw him and stay your hand. Tonight you can allow the gluttony; tomorrow you will have to have a conversation about resource management. 

In between him gulping down mouthfuls at an almost inhuman rate, you ask his name.

“Beelzebub,” he tells you when he finally puts his bowl down. You reciprocate the gesture by telling him your name, not that you think he’s paying that much attention to what you have to say; he seems far too preoccupied by digging around in the pockets of his coat. A brilliant smile blooms on his face when he finds what he’s looking for, holding it between his fingers. 

“That’s meant for the forest spirit,” you say, staring at the orange fruit in his hands. It smells so good , tangy sweetness rising from the rind as he peels it back. You’ve heard of them, of course, but being little more than a priestess from a poor village, you’ve never been able to taste it. Unlike him, you didn’t dare tamper with what had been offered to the forest spirit. 

“The forest demon,” he corrects you, fingers delving between the carpels. He offers a little slice of the orange to you pinched between his fingertips. 

You should say no. You really should say know; it’s not even a question. The offerings were not meant for you—they’re not meant for him, either, but that hasn’t stopped him. And it’s just the two of you in the cabin. And it wasn’t you who raided the sacrificial goods, after all…

You reach out, fingers brushing against the soft flesh of the fruit. One taste couldn’t hurt, could it?

“... I can’t,” you finally tell him, yanking your hand back to your chest. The look that he gives you almost makes it seem like he pities you, which is both embarrassing and infuriating at the same time; you can’t tell if the heat in your cheeks is from shame or anger. “And you shouldn’t have either. You had better hope that the spirits didn’t see you take that.”

The scolding isn’t necessary, but it does make you feel a little bit better, like you have some control over the situation. It’s bad, bad bad. 

You don’t know how to salvage it.

Your stranger doesn’t talk all that much, not unless you prompt him to. He’s quiet and keeps to himself, offering you as much space as he can while he goes about his own errands. You’re not sure what they are and you don’t bother to ask where he goes when the sun rises each day; as far as you’re concerned, he’s simply wandering around the forest to stave off the impending cabin fever. All of the wards that you’ve placed remain as you left them, so you see no need to follow him around and look over his shoulder. 

Aside from the one trespass that first night, when he pulled out an offering meant for the spirits, he’s been respectful to your duty as a priestess. The subject of a sleeping arrangement hadn’t even come up before he offered to take the warm spot in front of the hearth. 

You’ve never met a true gentleman before, but you think that if you ever were to, you might find yourself comparing him to Beelzebub. 

Not that the man currently sharing your home is anything like the weedy specimens you’ve heard of from the stories of travellers who have passed through. You can’t imagine Beelzebub lording himself over any vassals or worrying over which fork to use. (You can, however, see him calling for a great feast. This fact causes you no small concern whenever you look over to your already dwindling resources.) Instead, he almost reminds you of the great heroes the ballads speak of. The ones who might save an entire kingdom with one sweep of their sword. 

He could do it, you think as you watch him eat over dinner. If anyone could quell the spirits rising—if all of your efforts failed this wolf moon—then Beelzebub could do it. Beelzebub could do it, and you could be free the angry, seditious part of you thinks before you can stop it. Freedom, once the snows pass and the threat of the spirits has melted away with them, is so close. Maybe it’s even closer with Beelzebub so near. 

“Sorry,” he says, swiping at his face when he catches you staring. You blink at him as you try to remember if either of you has said something that warranted an apology. 

“No, I—” need a distraction , you finish internally. Because you can’t explain to the stranger that the priestess who took him in is regretting the course her life has taken him. Not that you regret taking him in. Not that you’d ever tell him that, if you did. You’re tired, not evil. 

“I was thinking that you don’t have to sleep on the floor,” you say, only realizing what your words are as they leave your mouth. Beelzebub looks up at you and just stares and you feel your face heat. You want to tell him that what he’s thinking is absolutely not what you meant, but if you humor that line of conversation then you might have to explain what it is, exactly that you didn’t mean. And with his blank expression, there’s no guarantee that he even connected your clumsy words to your current line of thinking. 

“Are you allowed to do that?” Beelzebub asks after a long moment, and your heart sinks. 

“I’m a priestess,” you tell him, trying your best to sound haughty. “I may do as I please.”

And that is how you find yourself crowded into the corner of what had once only been your bed, but has now become the one you share with Beelzebub. He doesn't pilfer the blankets per se , but your whole setup had definitely been arranged with only one person in mind. Adding a second has complicated matters entirely too much for your liking. 

You can’t even be mad about how close you are to touching him because it isn’t his fault he’s roughly the size of one of the hibernating bears tucked away in one of the mountain caves. Eventually you give up and bury your face into your pillow. It’s warm beside him, at least. Warmer than you’ve been the past few days alone, and in the dead of winter on the side of a mountain, that can only be a good thing. 


At night you dream of howling wolves and pawprints in the snow, of ice that creeps in through your window panes to coat the inside of the cabin. During the day, you keep an eye out for paw prints and any signs of your wards weakening. He’s taken to following you as you complete your work, offering to carry the heavy cords of wood you collect as he asks you about the finer details of your duty. 

Sometimes when he smiles at you, your heart feels lighter.

Other times, you wonder if his teeth are growing sharper.

But that must be a trick of the light because Beelzebub is kind. Beelzebub is your friend , and over the weeks you’ve gotten to know him, you can’t bring yourself to think that he could hurt anything. It must all be a trick of the light. 

It’s almost unbearably warm in the cabin, and half-asleep, you wonder if Beelzebub has been stoking the fire. Your limbs feel heavy and it’s a struggle to try to open your eyes. What time is it? You wonder. Surely, it can’t be morning yet. It can’t be because Beelzebub is still beside you, and for all that you are an early riser, he is earlier still. 

And as you collect your unspun thoughts and the sensations crawling along your body, you realize that you feel so heavy because Beelzebub, the man in your bed, is holding you down, laying against you like he’s searching for any source of warmth he can find. That would almost make sense if it wasn’t sweltering between the two of you, like he’s brought embers to rest in the scant space between your bodies. You swallow hard and wonder if you have the strength to reach for the water pitcher you keep not too far away, and that is when you feel the teeth at your throat.

Your eyes flutter open long enough for you to peek between your lashes, long enough for you to see Beelzebub with his mouth pressed against your pulse. It strikes you as odd, like you’re disconnected from the jaws threatening to snap shut around you.

“Beel?” Even to you, only half awake, your voice sounds reedy and thin. Weak. “What is happening?” His mouth closes as he pulls away, just enough for you to feel his lips press against your skin in some facsimile of a kiss.

I must be dreaming still, you think, because there is no other way to explain the inhuman glint in his eyes or the way he stares down at you with such hunger. 

“I’m hungry,” he tells you, a mournful expression fighting for prominence. His hips shift against yours as he sits up; and just like that, his almost contrite expression is gone again. If you could think straight at all, you might try to decipher him. “None of the offerings have been able to sate me. I’ve eaten them all, and I’m still hungry.

You swallow hard and imagine that you can still feel the ghost of his teeth against your skin. Sharp teeth. Hot breath. You cradle your neck in your hands and try hard to keep from looking down at the ground. 

“What do you mean, none of the offerings have been able to sate you?” Your voice shakes, but you try to keep your gaze steady. He showed up right before the red wolf moon, and found himself unable to leave even when you pointed the way out to him. And now…

“They usually work,” he explains with a shake of his head. “But this time they haven’t. I don’t understand.”

The offerings…

Around you, the world grinds down to a halt. Outside, you imagine that the snow has frozen in the air. That the rabbits venturing out from their warrens have paused mid-leap. The only thing that moves is your pulse, thundering through your veins like an avalanche down a mountain. 

“You’re the spirit? And you were going to eat me?

His silence and the way he avoids your gaze is answer enough; you’re not sure which revelation is the most hurtful. You sit up and try to scramble away, to put as much space between yourself and the spirit— he called himself a demon , you remember, a new surge of fear curdling in your stomach. 

He has the decency to look at least a little guilty as he holds his arm tight in one of his hands, like he’s forcing himself to hold back. Maybe he is. You scramble back and land in a heap on the floor, nightgown twisting around your thick leggings. This isn’t how it was supposed to go at all: you were mean to spend the Watch alone, to keep the beast—man?—in front of you locked up in the forest until the celestial heavens pulled him away again. 

But nothing has gone according to plan, and you realize, as you stare up at him, shaking too badly to try to stand, that you may actually die here. Without an apprentice, without any way of signaling to your village that there is danger lurking so, so close by. Where would they be, then?

Fuck that, you snarl at yourself with a grim twist of your lips. Where am I , now ? If your legs could stop shaking, you could try to run. But from there, then what? The snow is piling up and the night drags the temperature down far below freezing. And the spirit—demon—knows the forest far better than you ever could. 

“I don’t want to be here,” you hiss, only realizing that you’ve voiced your desperate thoughts when Beelzebub looks at you again. He lets go of his forearm and reaches out; the expression he wears almost tricks you into thinking he wants to offer comfort. But you know better: there is no comfort to be found from a demon, especially not one whose teeth were against your skin so recently. 

“Don’t,” you order, holding your hand up to him, palm facing outwards. “Do not touch me right now.” 

He recoils as if your words were laced with magic, and the realization that you’ve just ordered a demon, the spirit that you’re meant to be binding, washes over like meltwater. There’s no running, at least not until the sun rises. And even then, your chances are incredibly thin. But your magic has held so far, and he doesn’t seem too eager to eviscerate you now that you’re awake. 

“Explain to me what that just was.” If he’s going to be following your orders, you might as well take advantage of it. Beelzebub, for his part, perks up once he realizes that you’re willing to speak to him. 

“I was hungry.”

As if that’s enough of an explanation. 

As if you’re going to forgive that. 

“Try again,” you snap on reflex, before you realize that you should at least pretend to be kind to the preternatural creature you’ve been sharing your bed with. His expression falls again and you curse the pang of guilt that courses through you. It’s unfair. He was your friend. And now…

His jaw works as if he’s chewing on the words still stuck in his throat, but he doesn’t take his eyes from you again. 

“I’m always hungry,” he starts, and you almost tell him off again until the pained look on his face halts your tongue. 

“But I don’t think… This isn’t the hunger I’m used to, I think. I don’t know what to do with it.” He holds his hands together almost in supplication, as if you’re truly the one with the power here. You, slumped on the floor in your sleeping clothes. You, the priestess of some tiny, backwater village. The scenario would be laughable if you weren’t directly in the middle of it. 

“You're not allowed to eat me.” Your words come out stronger than you feel, and when  he nods in agreement you feel a little better. Not safer, but… better. Maybe there’s a way out of this.

You know better than to attempt to calculate your chances. 

“I won’t,” Beelzebub promises, holding his hands to his chest. Honesty real enough to feel coats his words. At the very least, you think, he believes himself—even if only for the moment. For tonight, you are safe. 

Tomorrow may be another matter entirely, but you’ll have to  face that when the sun rises. The adrenaline from when you were ripped into consciousness has already burned itself out in your veins, leaving you more exhausted than you’ve ever been in your entire life. Sleep tugs at you and the hand you outstretch towards the demon on your bed. 

Thinking of him using that word feels like metal grinding on metal in your mind. 

Beelzebub watches your movement warily, as if he imagines your positions reversed. He’s wary , you realize. Wary of you and the sudden (but surely not unexpected) distrust emanating from you. The fire catches his eyes in a way that almost makes them glow, that lights them up from within like twin stars in a dark sky. Like a wolf the ghost of a thought breezes through your mind before you forget it. 

“We can shake on that, then,” you tell him when he doesn’t seem to pick up on the attempt at reconciliation you’re offering. You won’t be sleeping on the bed with him; the hard chair by the fire will have to do for one of you until you figure out how to handle housing a demon in what is meant to be a holy place. Specifically housing a hungry demon. 

For tonight, you decide to take the chair. Kicking him out of your warm, cozy bed for misleading you (perhaps not technically lying; you never specifically asked him if he was a spirit, after all) seems heartless in a way that you’re not prepared to be. Especially when he looks so wounded over your reaction. Especially when, despite all of the very good reasons you should , you can’t quite give up the friendship you’ve forged. 

Loneliness is exhausting; you’re already so tired. 

Beelzebub reaches out and engulfs your hand with one of his own, and that breaks whatever spell his hunger has spun between the two of you. 

He exists in perpetual famine, you learn as he speaks you through the night. The sun rises as you listen to him describe in painful detail how when he woke into this life, the first thing he felt was the sharp pangs of starvation clawing at his ribs. How his brother—of ephemeral existence, you conclude—did his best to sleep away his existence. Contrary to what you intend to do, you fall asleep like that, hand in hand as the morning sun creeps over the horizon.

You’re better at picking up on his shifting moods, now. He is made of still waters, but you’ve divined what the subtle changings of his tides can mean. Tonight, as you sit curled over a sock you’re trying to darn, you know that he is thinking hard. And by the way he sets his jaw every time you try to clance up at him through your lashes, that thinking likely has to with that persistent hunger he described. 

But he promised, you remind yourself. He promised not to eat me, and he’s been so very good.

Sometimes during the day he wanders out into the forest and you don’t see him for hours; when he returns, it’s usually with several braces of rabbits slung over his shoulders. You offer to help him skin them and try hard not to think of the damage being done to the rabbit population of the forest. Better them than you, you keep telling yourself. 

Except now he’s sitting too still in his seat, like if he pretends he doesn’t exist then maybe the hunger gnawing at his stomach might just disappear too. With your watch drawing to a close—the snow seems thinner in most places, and Beelzebub seems cagier and cagier by the day, no matter how hard he tries to hide it—you’ve been hoping that you might just be able to squeak through to the end without a repeat of that one night. 

Sometimes you still dream of teeth tearing through your skin.

Sometimes those thoughts follow you through to your waking hours, when you find yourself with a quiet moment. 

You lick your lips and try not to wince as your distractions sends your needle into your fingertip. Sharp pain blooms and a bubble of skin appears when you pull it away, not wanting to stain the thick wool. But more than that, you don’t want Beelzebub to notice. He’s like a caged wolf, sometimes; you never know what he’s going to react to.

“You’re hurt,” he tells you, voice thick as if he’s just woken up from a deep trance. 

“I’m fine,” you demure, your finger already halfway to your mouth when you feel his hand close around your wrist. A burst of alarm cuts through the haze of your surprise. Part of you chastises yourself: he’s not human. Naturally, he doesn’t move at human speeds. 

But the rest of you is trying hard not to pull away, to yank your hands back from him so that your bloodied finger isn’t resting between his lips. 

“Beelzebub,” you warn, twisting so that you can look into his eyes. Their half-hooded darkness isn’t unfamiliar, but you wish you weren’t seeing it. It brings bad tidings: rapid-beating hearts and fear and the desperate wish that you’d never, ever followed in your grandmother’s footsteps. It’s a quiet secret that you’d finally admitted to him one night when the wind blew too hard and you half-hoped that it might take away your words with it. “Beelzebub, the Watch is almost over. If we can just make it to the end—”

His grip tightens around your wrist as he pulls your hand away from his mouth the slightest bit. Not hard enough to hurt, but enough for you to feel the tension that runs through him as he processes your words.

“I don’t want you to. I want you to stay here.”

It’s rare that he vocalizes his wishes so often, like he’s accustomed to having them ignored. Usually he frames his desires as if they’re small things to be brushed aside—a small want for an extra roll at dinner, or maybe for you to run your fingers through his hair like he likes as you sit in front of the fire. Always little things that he phrases as if he’s already preparing for you to deny him them. 

But this crashes down over you like a blizzard, clouding your thoughts with fuzzy dread. 

“Maybe… Maybe, if I eat you, you’ll stay with me forever.” 

“No,” your voice sounds strained to you. “Now, you can’t just—you can’t just do that, that’s not how it works.” It doesn’t occur to you that maybe that is how it works for spirits until after the words are out of your mouth and hanging heavy in the air. When you try to pull back your hand, you find he’s still holding tight. 

“But…” he pauses as if working through a particularly difficult puzzle. “You told me that I could take what I wanted. From the offerings,” he adds, as if you’ve forgotten your invocation from all those weeks ago. Your tongue feels too big and too dry in your mouth as you try to swallow.Of course you weren’t part of the offerings. Of course he knows you weren’t part of the offerings, but trying to reason with him when it’s his hunger in control is a fruitless effort. Better to try and plead your case to the unyielding stone of the mountain. 

“I wasn’t part of the sacrifice.” You know this, you don’t add. He ducks his head and avoids your eyes, drops your hand like you’ve burned him. 

“But you don’t want to go back,” he counters after a moment of silence that stretches too long. “You don’t have to go back. You could stay.”


Your words dry up and blow away as your heart hammers in your chest. You want to tell him that you can’t stay with him, that you have duties and obligations and an entire village resting on your shoulders, but… 

But you don’t want to go back. You’ve said so. You’ve told him. If there was one very good excuse to never return, you might just take it. 

“I’m hungry,” he tells you, the memory of those words ricocheting around the inside of your cabin. You have enough time to suck in a breath and close your eyes, to hope that he makes it swift and painless.

He moves forward.

You wonder if you should have tried to run, if your last memories are going to be of… of…

Lips against the side of your mouth? Far from the fangs sinking into your shoulder you expected, it’s his lips against yours asking for entrance. 

“Beel—” you try to say his name, to beg him to give you a moment to breathe, to think, to get him to consider what exactly his hands are doing at the hem of your sweater. Despite everything, he’s your friend , the one being that has kept you sane these weeks alone in the winter forest—a friend that you have very carefully kept at arm’s length. He’s leaving soon, you reminded yourself every time you caught yourself smiling too brightly in his direction. He’s a demon, you’ve very carefully kept yourself from following up with; but the thought has been living like a ghost in your head ever since that night and comes roaring to life now when he looks at you with eyes that shine with a light of their own. 

Beelzebub kneels in front of you as he lifts your sweater up slowly—almost too slowly because now you have too much time to think, too much time to catalogue every heavy heartbeat that sends hot blood coursing through your veins and the way his touch feels like sparks shooting across your skin. You allow one arm to slide out of your sleeve to fall limply beside you before you come back to yourself.

“Wait—” you gasp out when you feel his tongue at your navel, licking a hot stripe up. Hands fist in his hair and it takes you a moment to realize that they’re your hands, that he’s gazing up at you with pleading eyes because you’ve stopped him. Why would I want to do that? You think, dazed, before you remember. 

You remember.

“Beelzebub, I can’t —I shouldn’t— you shouldn’t—” 

Shouldn’t what? Want a human? He shouldn’t be here at all, but that is so far and beyond where you are now that it feels like another life entirely. 

“You said you were hungry,” you try instead, your own eyes wide to match his. “Let’s find you something to eat, okay?” It’s one last attempt at finding the delicate normalcy you’ve built up so cautiously around him before it shatters. Beelzebub only huffs and ignores the hands you have in his hair before returning his mouth to your skin, heedless of the way you’re shaking. 

“Different hunger,” he rumbles against your skin, so deep the vibrations roll through you in a delicious shudder. 


Your mouth feels dry. 

“Okay,” you breathe out, trying to steady yourself. Okay, okay , you chant internally, letting him slip through your grasp so you can slide your other arm through the sleeve covering it. The sweater falls to the floor, forgotten as soon as it leaves you. 

If you were a liar, you might tell yourself that you are doing this solely to sate his hunger, to keep your village and neighbors safe until he’s called back to his own realm. But you are not a liar, not even to yourself—when you can help it—and so you are mature enough to acknowledge that the demon in front of you has fostered a hunger within you that has only come roaring to life in this moment. 

The same sort of hunger, you think, currently eating at him from within. 

You step backwards, hoping to guide him towards the bed you haven’t exactly shared, only to have him grab your hips and tug you forward. He forgets, sometimes, that you are only human and he is other , that his strength outmatches your own no matter how capable you are. He forgets that a single tug could send you sprawling to the floor.

And if he were less careful, less courteous even within the throes of his own desire, he might have let you. Instead of the hard floor you expect, you fall into his arms, one hand pressed into your back as he lowers you. You only notice that you’re safe and unhurt when he licks up and across your ribcage and your eyes sweep open and you see the ceiling. 

And, and, and, and—so many things feel like they happen all at once that you can’t keep track of them all. Not the way he drags down your leg coverings until they join your sweater on the floor beside you. Not the way he slides a calloused hand between your thighs and guides them apart. Not the way he grabs your hand with his other and silently urges you to roll a nipple between your fingers while he sinks lower. 

Your face feels hot, and not because of the fire to your side. 

He angles your hips towards his face and sucks a bruise into the inside of your thigh, dangerously close to the apex of your legs. You abandon the task he set you on to bury your hands in your hair when he sucks hard against your clit. He doesn’t pay you any mind. Quite the opposite; aside from the fact that he has his mouth on you, he barely acknowledges your squirming presence. 

Beelzebub, ” you gasp out when the flat of his tongue swipes against you hard, tugging his hair to bring him back up to you. He only grips your leg almost hard enough to bruise with one hand as he spreads you open with his other. You don’t know whether to beg him to slow down or to urge him on when he slides a finger inside, but he makes the decision for you when he starts pumping. 

He slides another in and works until you’re shaking around him, breathing hard from the exertion of trying to keep yourself still. You know what that was; the creeping guilt about it is no match for the hazy satisfaction seeping through you, filling you so completely you’re afraid you might burst. The harsh breaths your drag in and out of your lungs start to quiet, and that is when you find the courage to look down at him. 

Framed by your legs the demon looks almost small, but it’s his eyes that give him away. They still hold that impossible purple shine, the one that tells you his hunger is still not sated. 

“I think I’m still hungry,” he says, more to himself than to you. In your chest, your heart continues to beat like a drum as he crawls up over you. “And you still look so delicious.” You should run, you know. You should get out from underneath the hungry demon and try your hand at surviving in the woods until whatever has overcome him has passed. You should.

But when he presses an experimental kiss against your cheek, his mouth still sloppy, you know that you won’t. When he presses his mouth against your throat like he’s taking its size, a thrill of sick pleasure runs down your spine. 

“Maybe it should be your turn,” you tell him, voice low as you press your hands against his shoulders. This brings his attention back to your face, and you realize with a jolt that you might actually be in love with him. Him, of everyone else you’ve ever met: the demon who tried to eat you at least once. “Just wait,” you whisper into his skin as you trail your lips over the column of his mouth. He looks so innocent, staring at you in silent trust as you guide him onto his back. So innocent that it’s almost impossible to believe that he’s probably lived eons longer than you, that he’s seen kingdoms rise and fall and be forgotten in turn. So innocent that it’s hard to reconcile him with both the monster who woke you up with teeth against flesh and the one who was just between your legs. 

But he follows your guide and lets you remove the clothing that still separates you, lets you explore the muscled planes of his body with your hands. When those same hands card fingers through his curls—the same vibrant red-orange as the hair on his head, you realize with a small smile—his gaze sharpens once again into something almost predatory. 

“It’s okay,” you whisper to him as you climb onto his lap, positioning him against your entrance. He doesn’t say anything, only offers you both of his hands to hold onto and leverage yourself with as you try to sink slowly down onto him. Beelzebub’s fingers tighten around yours as you descend, giving you the only indication that he feels your presence at all. 

If there’s a chance—any at all—that you can help him to feel as full as you felt, then you’re going to take it. And you’re going to relish in it, you know. 

You stop almost but not quite at his base, feeling more stretched than you did on his fingers. But Beelzebub doesn’t give you any time to adjust or prepare or even to breathe before he places his calloused hands on your hips and yanks you down sharply. A wounded-animal cry escapes your lips as you slump forward and take deep gulps of air. 

“Beelzebub, please—”

“I don’t want to wait,” he cuts you off, running a hand up and down your spine in a way that makes you sit up again. You shudder and splay your hands across his chest, dragging your nails across sensitive nipples. Two can play that way, you think, biting the inside of your cheek hard enough to bring sense, sharp and clear, back to your mind. The hands as your hips are steadying, but they also mean that it’s the demon in complete control. 

You grit your teeth against the sensation of him fucking up into you mercilessly, dragging you up and down his shaft as you try to peel one of his hands off of you. Regaining the security you felt when you were holding his hands just moments ago is almost impossible with the ferocity unfolding out of him and the aggressive gleam in his eyes. It’s not unlike the faraway look he had when you woke to his sharp teeth against the delicate intricacies of your throat. 

The reminder that you should be careful in dealing with Beelzebub washes through you like cold water.

Words are not going to get through to him, not when he seems to have half-forgotten that you’re even there. You guide the hand that you’ve peeled from your hip up to your mouth and lick one of his fingers tentatively. When he doesn’t respond immediately, you suck it into your mouth and bite down. Not hard enough to draw blood or bring any serious harm to him, but hard enough, you realize with satisfaction, to bring his attention back to you. 

“Gentle,” you scold him, your voice muffled from around his hand. For a moment his hips stutter as he processes your word, though the impact of it is lessened by the way you have to pant it out. Gods, but he’s big; you can feel him nudging you in places you’ve sure have never been touched before. The hip that he still has a hold of is bruising—you can tell that much just by the murmurs of pain welling up under his fingers. 

“But,” he whines like a chastened whelp, “I want—” You swirl your tongue around his finger and then suck hard, and he almost chokes on the air in his lungs. Your victory will not last for long, you know. As soon as he has time to refocus himself, he will. So you do what you can and move your hips at a shallow, slow pace, hoping that he’ll pick up on your not-so-subtle hint and move with you. 

And for a moment, he does. For a moment he wears the contented grin you’re accustomed to seeing by now, the one he usually wears when digging into something he particularly enjoys. It reminds you forcibly of the quiet fireside nights, the ones that let him into your heart so easily. He can be so gentle, when he wants to be, so caring and soft and warm that it makes you forget, sometimes, that you’ve seen him eat rabbits whole and that he sometimes stares at you like he still wishes he could eat you. That he’d mentioned wanting to keep you with him that way only a scant few minutes ago. You breathe out a heavy sigh and lean forward slightly to press your forehead against his, sweat making a mess of your hair. 

“Let me have you,” he says so softly, a return to his plaintive whispers from before. He’s so sweet as he moves in you that your eyes flutter shut and you sigh against him again. Beelzebub pulls his hand from your mouth and trails his wet fingers down your front, pausing to swirl around a peaked nipple before delving once again down to your swollen clit. “Please?”

Yes.” It’s a gasp more in response to the way his fingers move in tight little circles around you than an answer to his request, as always, he chooses how he interprets your words with a sunny smile. You miss the breaking dawn that is his smile but do not miss the way your world seems to turn upside down, or the way you slam back down into the cabin floor. For a few pained moments you can only gasp and try to make your vision stop spinning, try to account for the jarring pain in your back and hips. 

The breaths that you manage are hard won, competing as they are with the way Beelzebub pumps himself into you like you are ambrosia and he a starving god. 

“Don’t leave,” he pants into your neck as you try to gulp down air, your knees pressed almost up against your ears. You want to tell him to slow down, to give you just a moment to have a coherent thought, but when you open your mouth to do so all that comes out are wanton moans and his name. 

“Stay with me,” he continues as you grip his biceps, hoping to find something—anything—to ground yourself with. You slur out his name in answer as you clamp down on him, white-hot ecstasy burning away your vision. 

But his kindness and softness has turned to merciless consumption, and he bites down on your shoulder—hard enough to draw blood this time. It wells up in the depressions his teeth leave and trickles down the plane of your arched back until it drips onto the wooden floor below you. To you, it feels like yet more heat sliding across your skin. 

When he pulls back and presses a kiss to the side of your open mouth, you don’t know where the blood has come from. 

“I like you,” he whispers as he continues, heedless of the tears welling in your eyes or the high-pitched keening coming from your throat. Too much, you want to tell him, but every time you try he hits against your depths in a way that makes you forget how to speak. “You taste like happiness. I’m going to keep you.”

When he finally spills inside of you it feels like a benediction, a mercy and a cruelty leaving you bereft all at once. He curls himself up beside you, covering you with as much of himself as he can as you start to shiver, sweat chilling you despite the crackling fire behind you. Everything hurts , all doused in the same pleasure pain, and you find that you can barely move unless it’s to reach out for the demon beside you. 

“I’m going to keep you,” he says, sliding his hand over your sweat-matted hair one more time as he gazes at you with something you might call adoration.  

When the snows melt and the villagers come looking for you, it is as if you never existed at all.