Kris Starr used to be famous. Rock and roll. Sold-out shows. Literal magic. Empathic talents and screaming fans.
But he has a problem or two. He's having a hard time writing new music. It's Midwinter, which means he's surrounded by depressing holiday cheer. And he's in love with Justin, his manager, who has a talent for rescuing almost- or once-famous bands ... and who's hiding secrets of his own.
Justin Moore, on the other hand, is very good at keeping those secrets -- he's had to be for years. One secret involves a demonic inheritance that would make him a target of suspicion. Another involves his past.
And the third involves Justin's feelings for Kris Starr, rock and roll icon and now his client ... and a powerful empath of his own.
The world swirled. Vertiginous and rushing, melting and merging and falling away. Kris had once liked teleportation -- he'd had one or two friends with minor telekinetic talents that extended to location-hopping -- but had in later years decided that lurching disorientation, even if brief, wasn't worth saving five minutes. Most people had extremely short ranges, so there wasn't much point other than showing off.
Justin evidently didn't have a range limit. But then: demon. Right.
Justin stumbled over nothing, caught Kris's shoulder for support. Pale under the wavering heat-flare that surrounded him, disturbing penthouse atmosphere. I might pass out, he'd said; Kris grabbed him and eased him down onto the sofa. His abandoned scotch-and-coffee cup from that morning goggled at them from the table. "Justin? Justin! Say something!"
"I'm fine ..." But trembling. Shock. Reaction. Kris snatched a blanket, some designer gift he'd resolutely ignored, off a chair. Justin's thank you came small and instinctive: automatic niceness asserting itself.
"Your hands are cold."
"That's just being scared." Justin, under the blanket, looked younger, despite the scent of bonfires and caramelized sugar, despite the inhuman scarlet glint in those eyes. He looked desperately unhappy, and beautiful, and like someone trying very hard not to fall apart. "I don't know if they got a good look at me. I don't think so. It was too fast."
"Don't," Kris said, "don't worry about it, I can deal with the media, I've done it for years, stay put, I'll get you a drink," and ducked into the kitchen for the good scotch. His own hands shook slightly when he picked up the bottle; he reminded himself to breathe. Justin. In his apartment. On his sofa. A demon. Half-demon, Justin had said.
A half-demon who'd just saved a baby.
Who loved classic rock and sugary nutty coffee.
Who needed his help.
He came back out, handed over a cut-glass tumbler, and said, "So you're a demon, then, does that mean you know what happened to Elvis? Did he really get carried off by fifty succubi?"
Justin laughed, exhaustedly. Consumed a large gulp of scotch. Shut both eyes, and opened them again. "Not as far as I know, though it's one possibility ... how're you so calm about this?"
"I don't exactly see you as the type to go round nicking anyone's immortal soul." He plopped down on his couch next to the bundle of blanket-wrapped half-demon. "Tell me if you are, though. Mine's not worth much these days, but I could let you have it cheap."
"You'd be surprised how much you're worth." Justin took another sip. Looked at his glass in some bemusement, as if only now realizing he had it. "I'm sorry about panicking. I'm okay."
"Yeah," Kris said, and got refills, "you look completely one hundred percent, sure, let's pretend that's true. Want anything else? Coffee? Food? I don't have any appalling healthy tea, sorry, only Earl Grey."
"... you're not scared?"
"I saw what Reggie once did to a hotel toilet in Glasgow on tour. You're not even close." Light words, batted about like petals on a breeze; covering over yawning cracks in the foundation of the earth. Justin -- his Justin, his manager, made of long legs and music trivia and playful hair and sunshine -- was a demon.
Demon was a misnomer, in fact. Humans tended to apply familiar labels to the magical realm; leprechauns weren't products of Celtic myth, and gnomes would bite your ankles if referred to as lawn ornaments. But demons, oh, demons ...
The term had got plastered onto the collectively less savory magical beings sometime in the fifth century, and like most outside terminology provided a good catch-all phrase while simultaneously reducing near-infinite diversity to zero. Demons came in many shapes and sizes, from the Elvis-rumor succubi and incubi to sandstorm ifrits and crawling arachnids; they did, however, possess two traits in common. Firstly, they dwelt, like most purely magical beings, in a space not quite human, a kind of parallel world between raindrops and mirages; in the case of demons, this had become known as the underworld.
Secondly, demons were inimical to humanity. They fed on human energy -- not exactly a soul, but similar enough -- and they had a propensity for deals, twisted bargains, seductions, and general mischief. They didn't all want the same things, but it was true that they tended to be the wickeder fairy types; this contributed to the legends and lore and perpetual distrust.
Demons existed in stories. In rumors. In tales told to frighten children: don't go outside in the dark, don't make deals with strangers, don't accept a visit to the underworld, beware of men with red eyes, they'll steal your soul ...
Kris asked, curious now, sitting close enough to reach out if his demon looked wobbly again, "How does the half bit work?"