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Debts Owed and Paid

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When Stephen Bloom is sixteen, he comes across a bleeding bobcat. “Your species has never been indigenous to these parts.”

At the bobcat’s look, he adds, “Sorry.”

Kneeling down, he looks at the wound, digs out his flask of whiskey, and says, “Here, this probably won’t taste good, but it should help ease everything.”

Drinking, the bobcat quickly slips into sleep.

Sighing, Stephen examines it –her, he sees- with his fingers and hands, and when he’s done, he closes his eyes for a long moment.

When he reopens them, he takes out his pocketknife and quickly slits her throat.

When Bloom is born, an elderly nun in a full habit kneels down. “Names are powerful, child. If you desire to take care of your brother, be very careful in who you let know his name.”

Kissing Stephen on the forehead, she stands and places the baby in his arms.

He looks down at his fussing brother, and when he looks back up, she’s gone.

One day, Bloom turns around to find a woman sitting in the kitchenette.

She ignores him, his questions, and his attempts to get her to leave.

When Stephen comes in, a sharp smile settles on her face, and powerful, accessing eyes take him in.

For his part, Stephen simply greets, “Hey, Bloom. Who’s your lovely new friend? I’m Stephen, by the way, has my brother told you about me?”

Bang Bang steals books for Stephen.

“We don’t know for sure she steals them,” he idly tells Bloom one day.

“I’m pretty sure she steals them,” is Bloom’s only response.

The books are sometimes rare and pristine and sometimes torn, stained paperbacks written by hack authors. Some of them are written in old languages such as Gaelic, Latin, French, and Old English. Poetry, religious texts, mythology, cookbooks, Gothic horror, romance, and science fiction dystopias all find their way into his hands.

She occasionally produces gifts for Bloom, too, but though Stephen will read to her whenever she presses a book into his hands and looks at him with waiting eyes, Bloom simply says, “Thanks, Bang Bang.”

When Stephen Bloom is thirty-six, Bang Bang hands him a newspaper clipping about an heiress by the name of Penelope.

“There’s no last name given,” he notices.

Bang Bang gives a sarcastically wide-eyed nod before going back to shoving apple seeds through the hole she cut in a Barbie doll’s eye.

Bang Bang never has her own compartment.

Usually, people assume she and Stephen are married.

As long as no one addresses her as ‘Mrs Bloom’ or ‘Mrs [Insert Fake Surname]’, this is fine.

Bloom knows there’s no sex involved, because, Stephen flat-out told him, “It’s not like that, Bloom.”

Most of the time, she’ll curl around Stephen and fall asleep listening to him read.

Occasionally, she’ll fall asleep on a sofa or in a chair as she watches Bloom sleep.

One day, Bloom gets up the courage to ask, “Do you want it to be like that? With Stephen, I mean?”

She seems to ignore him, but he has the feeling his coffee somehow ending up cold and spiked with pomegranate juice even when he makes a fresh cup alone for about a month is her doing.

One night, Stephen stops reading and closes his eyes.

When he reopens them, he says, “I’ve had to make adjustments to the plan. I’m going to tell you Bloom’s name. And you aren’t going to betray me.”

There’s no wide-eyed, playfully coy look of innocence or sleek, sharp assessment; she simply nods and looks up at him.

Stephen Bloom dies shortly after turning forty.

Only-

Opening his eyes, he greets, “Hey, Bang Bang.”

Except, he realises, he’s standing, there’s no blood or bullet, and the creature standing in front of him is Bang Bang, but she looks nothing like she once did.

“Huh.”

When she starts walking and motions for him to follow, he barely hesitates.

When Bloom is thirteen, he tugs Stephen’s sleeve and inquires, “Hey, Stephen, you know all those stories about humans selling their souls?”

Setting his book down, Stephen looks at Bloom with all seriousness. “Yeah. What about it?”

“Do you think a demon could sell their soul to a human?”

Stephen considers the question. “I don’t know. Maybe. But why would they want to?”

Bloom shrugs. “In English, we read a short story about a fairy, uh, a fae, who fell in love with a human. I don’t remember how it ended,” he confesses.

Making a slight noise of disdain, Stephen declares, “I could understand if the reason was something like an escape clause, find a human willing to take them, and they get out of hell, but love? Why would a fairy or a demon or anything preternatural fall in love with a human?”

“What’s preternatural,” Bloom asks.

Bloom has always known the reason for most of his life is his brother’s fiercely unconditional love.

He won’t know until he’s dead, but the reason for most of his life is also:

A debt was owed: a peaceful death for a peaceful death.

Owing a debt doesn’t require respect or fondness, and it certainly doesn’t require love. Often, it begets none of these things.

However, what Stephen may never understand no matter how many times he lives, dies, and stays between the planes of both is: Asking why when it comes to creatures of any sort falling in love rarely produces an understandable answer.

For now, when Bloom comes across Bang Bang in a bar, he gives a slight smile. “Glad you’re okay.” The smile fades. “Stephen isn’t. He’s dead. Did you know that?”

She sets a blood-dried bullet on the counter, and he tries to choke back a sob.

When he gets control over himself, he puts a hand on her shoulder. “Take care of him for me? Please? Don’t ever hurt him, yeah?”

Giving him a salute, she hands him a drink.

They clink glasses, and he when he downs his shot and looks up, she’s gone.

He pockets the bullet.

...

He’s in his favourite suit with his most prized hat atop his head.

After going through his pockets, he inquires, “Why do I have a pocketknife?”

It seems vaguely familiar, but he’s not sure where and when he’s come into contact with it.  

Winking, Bang Bang gestures down to a human.

Accepting the non-answer, he sits down beside her. “Do we like this one or not?”