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Dinner Date

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It had been a long and cold February day.

Snow fell throughout the afternoon. Not the soft and picturesque sort of snow that drifted lazily to the ground in fat fluffy flakes, but the miserable and wet kind. As Sasha made her way home from the tube station, her walk was plagued with slush, and by the time she got back to her flat she was chilled to the bone.

She'd stayed late at the archives to catch up on some work. It seemed like every day, there was a new problem, and while the mundane difficulties were admittedly less bothersome than anything to do with worms or supernatural beings or dangerous furniture in artifact storage, that didn't make it any less frustrating. Jon was getting more out of sorts as time went on, and not communicating clearly with anyone about it. Sasha's own tasks were piling up, and no matter how much time she spent trying to complete them, she couldn't manage to get ahead.

It was a relief to come home, throw on a warm jumper, put on some quiet music, and set about making something to eat. Outside was dark and unfriendly, but as far as Sasha was concerned, she didn't need to let any of those troubles inside her home.

She was halfway through cutting vegetables for curry when something made her stop and listen. Her mouth was suddenly dry, the hairs on her back standing at attention. There was a curious shift in the air, as if from a draft, or a door suddenly opening.

But that didn't make any sense. She was alone. The windows were sealed tight. And there was nothing behind her except the door to the pantry. Still, she'd had enough odd encounters to know by now that sometimes things didn't make any sense. And sometimes, things that didn't make any sense were dangerous.

Right, Sasha thought. Let's take a look, then. Gripping her vegetable knife, Sasha turned around.

The door to her pantry was gone, and in its place, there was a large yellow door. It took up far more space than it ought to, and it absolutely was not supposed to be there.

Relief washed over her – and more than a little exasperation. With a sigh, Sasha turned back around, and resumed slicing carrots.

"It's rude to show up at someone's flat without an invitation, you know," she said.

There came a laugh from behind the door, high and breathless and echoing, as if what she'd said was the most hilarious thing that someone had heard in ages. The door's hinges creaked as it opened, and a voice came from inside. "I'm sorry?"

"No, you're not. You aren't sorry at all."

There was another laugh. Somehow, it also contained an audible shrug. Sasha could easily picture how Michael must look, long-limbed and exaggerated and careless, but she wasn't going to bother to give him the satisfaction of turning around to greet him. "It's fine," she said. "You can stay." Not that she was under any impression that he would leave if she told him to go. Would he?

His arms coiled around her. Sasha glanced down. Michael was making the effort to appear human today. His arms looked completely normal, and the fingers on his hands were an ordinary length. The hold was hard and awkward, and in spite of what Sasha's eyes saw, her body told her that there was something very wrong with the way those arms wrapped around her. Still, she was glad that he had gone to the trouble. There were times when he had been less considerate, and in those moments it was difficult to look at him, now matter how much she didn't want to tear her eyes away.

There was a carefulness in the way he held her, fingertips resting gingerly against her clothing. Sasha very briefly considered what might happen if he dug them in. Swallowing harshly, she tried to put the thought out of her head. "Why are you here?"

"You did say that you wouldn't mind seeing me again."

Michael's voice by her ear sent Sasha's cheeks flushing scarlet. "I... yes, I guess I did."

They had been meeting off and on for months. Usually she would encounter him at the cafe where she'd first met them, and she would try fruitlessly to get answers out of him while he would tease her and pretend to drink his coffee. Or she'd meet him on the street, and they would have a walk together, looking for all the world like two people out on a perfectly normal date. Michael would dangle information in front of her and give cryptic replies to all of her questions, and Sasha would sneak sideways glances at him or past him, staring at the way his reflection twisted and distorted whenever they passed by a shop window.

The last time they'd seen each other, she'd let curiosity get the better of her. She'd become too interested, too attached, too attracted, and had invited him up to her flat. And they'd done much more than have coffee.

Last time had been a mistake. Probably.

She leaned back against him and considered what to do. It felt like leaning against a stack of thick coiled springs, but she didn't mind. His head perched on her shoulder, and his long hair was soft against her cheek. Sasha closed her eyes, thinking that it would be difficult to get rid of him. She knew that she should try anyway, but she also knew that she didn't really want him to go. "Well," she said finally. "I know you don't really have to eat, but do you like curry?"

"What?"

"Since you're here, you might as well stay for dinner. Do you want some?"

There was a long pause. "Michael liked curry," said Michael. Then he laughed. The high, soft sound bounced around the room and made Sasha's ears ring.

"Right," Sasha said, clearing her throat and putting away the curiosity that threatened to spill out of her. It wasn't the first time he had said something like that, but it had been a very long day, and she was exhausted. She wasn't going ask about it tonight. "In that case, you can help me make it."

He let go of her, moving to lean against the counter top, one eyebrow raised and a wide smile spreading across his face. "You want my help? Of course, we're friends, but I didn't realize how much you trust me."

"If you were planning to do anything weirder than usual tonight, I think you'd have done it already."

She handed him a potato. She didn't need to hand him a knife. Michael peeled it, his suddenly long and sharp nails stripping off the skin as easily as if it were an orange.

The sight was unnerving, but compelling. Sasha watched as Michael took another potato in his hands. He hummed softly as he worked, slowly slicing off the peel in one long, spiralling strip so thin it was nearly transparent. It was gradual, deliberate, as if he knew she couldn't look away from the movements of his hands and those long, narrow, impossibly sharp fingers.

Finally, Sasha lifted her gaze, meeting Michael's eyes. He was smiling, but this was softer than usual, a strange contrast to the sharpness of his hands. She remembered how gently he'd touched her a moment ago, and wondered how much effort that must have taken.

"Thanks," Sasha said, trying to keep her voice even as she slid the cutting board over to him. She refused to look as he set the potatoes down and cut them. That didn't stop her from hearing the sharp wet sound as his fingers sliced through them. "At least you're more useful than some dinner guests I've had."

A moment later, Michael was close to her again, face pressing into her hair. "Maybe you should invite me next time."

Sasha swallowed hard. For a moment she stood still, taking in how close he was, how he seemed to wrap all around her without moving at all. Michael was someone she shouldn't want anything to do with, and yet... "Maybe I should."

She had no doubt that she would.