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16. Reception

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A long trip seems infinitely longer when every inch of your body aches. No matter what position I curled myself into it made sleeping impossible. There were just too many questions, too many unsolved issues along the way. Who the hell was Angyl Hunter and what reason did she have to beat me nearly senseless on the street? How did Seven find herself amidst all this madness and handle it without even the slightest uncertainty? Had Marco survived the accident? Hyde and Damiano? The more names I put into my mind, the less sense any of it made. I decided to just wipe the slate clean and leave all business relating to my new life upstate. Right now I had to speak to Dacien, I had to put the old life back together one last time.

If you don’t learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it. I was getting really tired of getting beaten senseless for being the slow one at the party. And I wouldn’t tolerate it anymore. Or so I kept telling myself. Dacien had allowed me my chance, my peace of mind, and I would have it. I’d left her city – I hadn’t bothered with any of the details that could affect her life or her business. But here I was, still entirely dependent on her somehow. She owned me, in her own way, and she knew it. I could almost envision the smile creeping across her lips as the bus slipped through the night, grinding into the station as the sun crept wearily over the horizon.

Home.

Or was it?

Perhaps home was nowhere, and this was merely a distinct memory of another time and place. Another person. Another life. Perhaps.

It was nice to think about. To wonder if perhaps all my greatest sins had been committed by someone else. All my fallen friends weren’t really fallen, but on prolonged vacation. But no matter how hard I tried to lie to myself, I never could sing myself to sleep at night with such deceit.

The bus was mostly empty, so I didn’t have many people to fight through as I crept off. My bag slung across my back, I returned to solid ground apprehensively. I looked up at the bench, finding a figure sitting there, waiting patiently. They got up off the bench slowly, moving towards me with a sort of sinister step I recognized immediately. She reached over my shoulder to carry my bag for me, a small smile slipping across her lips.

“Welcome home, Deacon.”

“The pleasure’s all mine, Dacien,” I responded, a small hint of irony in my voice.

She started down the street, and I fell into step at her side. I was much too tired for questions and simple concerns, so I was prepared to follow her wherever she deemed necessary. We walked in silence until we reached a building from my more dormant memories, an apartment complex hidden in shadows against larger buildings. She led the way, motioning for me to follow. This had been her brother’s safe haven when he was alive, the place where I’d come to murder him. I shook off the memories and carried on, eager only for a soft bed.

After moving up countless stairs, we finally came to rest at the familiar apartment of Linkon Ransom, may he rest in peace; or as much peace as a soulless bastard like that can find in Hell. I shuffled in past her, dropping into the first chair I could find. She moved further in, leaving my bag in a room tucked away from the door.

“Anything to eat? I set up a bed for you, I’m sure you’re beat.” Her tone was neutral, revealing nothing. I tried to figure out what she wanted or needed from me. Dacien Ransom’s kindness never came at a reasonable price. I shook my head slowly. She seemed to think about something suddenly, running off. She returned with a first aid kid she flipped open immediately, reaching out to take hold of my chin.

“Dacien…why…” I muttered. Suddenly the travel and grime caught up to me, leaving pleasantries at the door. She had started to douse cuts with alcohol, her hand locked on my chin despite the constantly grimacing. Her eyes locked with mine, a cold, empty gaze I remembered distinctly, but with a new sort of flame to it.

“What’s done is done, Deacon. Our business is past. You’ve come here for help, which I am offering you. I’m proud of you actually.”

I laughed a bit, despite myself. “So does that mean you won’t shoot me this time?”

She turned the idea over in her mind a few times, considering it. “I don’t know if I’d go that far just yet.” She smiled slowly, the usual evil grin, but ended it with a chuckle. “Not unless you give me reason to.”

I nodded slowly, slightly relaxed. One survived longer in the world if they remembered to never drop their guard, especially around someone as dangerous as Dacien Ransom. She concluded her alcohol treatment, then moving on to bandages.

“Well, that’s the best I’m able to do tonight, though it might not be a bad idea to see a proper doctor. I’m sure you’d rather rest for awhile before we get down to any serious talking.”

I nodded slowly, picking myself up from the chair. My ribs were on fire, which Dacien could tell by my motions. She helped me to the bedroom, the weariness suddenly overwhelming. I collapsed on the edge of the bed, my fingers wrapping around the edge to keep balanced.

“Dacien…” I started. She turned on her way out. “Thank you, for everything.”

She smiled slightly, nodding her consent. Without another word she left, leaving me to my rest. I don’t know what had brought around her sudden change in attitude, whether she had outgrown the maliciousness I knew she was capable of, or there was some ulterior motive. One way or another, it was too much to consider right now, and I allowed sleep to take over.

I slept until well into the afternoon, waking up with a start. Pain was familiar and suddenly stronger, requiring twice the energy to pull myself up in the bed. I had been conscious for a mere few minutes when Dacien returned, almost on cue.

“Sleep well?”

I nodded slowly, still struggling to sit upright without wincing. She sat herself on a chair nearby, trying to assess the damage I was recovering from.

“Angyl Hunter sends her regards,” I whispered, finding my center. She nodded knowingly, seemingly expectant of my words.

“So how is old Angyl these days? I lost track of her after her sudden death some time ago. She never could just stay down, could she?”

I replayed the line in my head slowly. “Death, but…”

Dacien laughed a little. “People like us die often. It’s part of surviving. In order to carry on and fight another day we need to disappear and start fresh a few times. Death is the best, and tentatively most permanent, escape of all. I’m glad to hear Angyl’s well.”

“She races motorcycles and beats up younger contenders for fun mostly.”

Dacien smiled wider. “Sounds like her. She the one that roughed you up?”

I nodded slowly. “What did I ever do to her?”

“Nothing. And she intends to keep it that way. Consider it a sort of reminder to keep your mouth shut when you return to town. Angyl wants to remain hidden, and works very hard to remain so. Everyone here is convinced she’s dead and she hopes to remain dead. If you tell anyone else what you told me, it would destroy her new life. Understand?”

“What was she talking about, with the baby? How does she know?”

Dacien took awhile to consider her answer her, equally confused as to Angyl’s source of information. “You said she races. Do you have a personal relationship with any of the racers?”

Suddenly it clicked, and Dacien saw it happen in my eyes. Caine. Caine would have reported my illness to Angyl, confused and afraid. Angyl would have recognized all the signs instantly. I felt foolish for not putting those pieces together sooner. Dacien smiled slowly.

“I don’t understand what’s going on here.”

“Let me show you something then.”

Dacien got up slowly and rustled in a dresser a few feet away, pulling out a neatly maintained folder. Returning to me, she laid it across her lap slowly. She handed a picture across to me of a child, innocent and free, a slightly sinister grin creeping across her face. Her eyes seemed to pierce my very being though, a familiarity that I couldn’t deny. A little girl, about three, she had her arm wrapped around another little girl of equal intensity. It’s hard to imagine children being so deep at such a young age, but their ancestry demanded it. I let my fingertips slide over the surface of the image slowly. Dacien leaned over slowly to point.

“That there, is Morrison Lazarus. She’s mine.”

I racked my brain for the name, trying to figure out whom I had known, if anyone, with such a last name. Dacien seemed to enjoy my confusion, allowing me a few seconds more to contemplate the possibilities. The other child I ignored as best as I could for now, knowing without knowing whom it was. Dacien handed me a piece of paper, folded meticulously. I unfolded a birth certificate, pristine and fresh.

Morrison Lazarus, born October 31, 20__ to Miss Dacien Ransom and Mister Jekt Lazarus. Jekt. My old love, my warm embrace, my refuge. Dacien’s satisfaction nearly oozed from her pores. She had picked up where I left off. After destroying my life, she’d let Riley keep Dusk and moved on to Jekt, making absolutely sure that my life was better without me in it. Nobody died since I left town and everyone seemed happier. I turned the picture around slowly, finding a date and description scrawled on the back in what had to be Dacien’s elegant hand.

Morrison Lazarus and Doryn Ransom, age 3.

I flipped it around instantly, staring wide-eyed at the image again. The child, my child – her knowing eyes, her dark smile. She was a perfect replica of myself, housing only slight features of her demon father, long since dead. I stared up at Dacien, lost and confused. I didn’t know whether to apologize or explain, though there was so little to say.

“Dacien, I…”

She waved a hand dismissively. “I don’t expect an apology. I’d actually like to thank you for allowing her a chance.”

“I thought she’d be better off with a fresh start, free of all of us.”

Dacien smiled warmly, though a twinge of guilt tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Which was noble of you. However, Ransoms will always find one another, and naturally she’s Morrison’s best little school friend. For the time being. Perhaps they’ll outgrow each other, but I doubt it. I intend to move away from here in the long run anyway, give Morrison a proper chance to grow up without the madness. And she’ll have a more important job to do soon enough.”

I raised an eyebrow curiously, unsure of her allusion. She cleared her throat abruptly, shaking my mind up.

“How far along are you? A few weeks? Something we both have in common.”

I coughed slightly, amazed at what I was hearing. The lioness herself, the most dangerous woman I’d ever known, was pregnant? Again? I couldn’t figure out how I’d not heard about the first child, but then again I had tried my damnedest to keep myself out of Dacien Ransom’s clutches for some time. Guilt took as I thought of all the nights I spent with Jekt, while his daughter was hidden away in the world. Maybe that was part of it though? Dacien scripted every step of the dance, nothing was done without purpose; with her position in the world, a child would be a target, and she knew it. Years after Linkon’s death, with the war concluded and power established – she could rest easier now. Her children would inherit the business, if she allowed it. Which, from the tone of this conversation, it seemed she didn’t want to.

“Boy or girl?” I found myself curious, fighting to deal with the sudden reality of the past 24 hours. She wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

“Girl. The women are taking over. I want to take them away from here, with Jekt, and have a proper family, the kind people like us only read about. I want them to have a chance and a future vastly different from the one we had. Your child deserves that chance too, and you know it. There’s nothing more for you to run from, Deacon.”

“Where will you go?”

She pondered the question for a moment, debating whether or not it was safe to tell me. “Your part of the woods seems pretty popular for people escaping their big city pasts, might consider heading that way. It’s always nice to have some friends in town.”

“My daughter, Doryn…”

Her smile got severe for a moment. “And my niece? She’s settled into a nice foster family with proper values. I cannot force her out of such a peaceful lifestyle. Maybe in later years I can be of some assistance to her, but she needs to experience life as a child, pure and simple first, without people like us to cloud things up.”

I nodded my consent. As much as I felt the villain for abandoning my child, I had to let her live her life. She would never recover if I tried to pull her back now; I had to let go. And as much as I’d turned tail and run three years ago, I missed her everyday despite the lies I told myself to get to sleep at night. I had done what was best for her, as I was entirely unfit to parent anything back then, but it didn’t make my maternal longings any weaker. Yet, I had a new chance, which Dacien was trying to draw my closed-minded attention to, and I had to make the best of it. Another child, a fresh start – one I could settle down and raise with Caine, like a proper family. Assuming we could establish a proper setting when I returned.

“He will accept you back, you know,” Dacien whispered, seeming to read my mind. She’d been following my puzzled expression for some time.

“I know. I just wish he didn’t have to.”

“What we wish and what we have are never one and the same, my dear. You of all people should know that.” She got up with a sort of hop, collecting her paperwork into the folder and replacing it in the dresser. “Rest some more, shower perhaps, and if you’d like we can go down to the bar and catch up with old friends before you head back.”

“Back?”

She moved towards the door, her hand resting on the handle. “I’ve got you a return trip booked for tomorrow night. You wouldn’t want to let things fester with Caine too long, and besides, you have some planning to do I’d hope.”

She clicked the door quietly closed behind her, leaving me on the edge of the bed even more confused than before. Who was that and what happened to the Dacien Ransom of ruthless times I’d known before? Why was everyone having children? What had the world come to? Questions seemed to multiply at a mile a minute, but no matter what came through my mind, only one thing seemed to click.

No matter what, it was all going to be okay, one way or another.

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