Chapter 18:

New Year

There's a Demon in my Basement!

Once again Blake had to admit that he had underestimated the Demonlord. They had managed to repair his house and the street in a matter of a day, leaving his neighbours none the wiser.

By the time he came back from the doctor (who had been more than just a little bit shocked at the arrow in Blake's arm - and even then some since he had obviously not gone to a doctor immediately), it was almost done.

Not that Blake was in any mood to do much more. He felt exhausted enough that he didn't even feel bothered by Astaroth constantly clinging to him. And that was the only reason - he was just too tired to care. Nothing else.

Just like that, New Year's Eve came around.

"I can not wait to see the sky explosions!" Snow was euphoric as ever, just like Astaroth who were currently eying the fireworks Blake had bought. Mostly harmless things like sparklers and bang snaps. It wasn't like he was afraid of any of his roommates hurting themselves - he just feared for everyone and everything in the near surroundings. So he had decided to stick to those kinds of pyrotechnics one would give a child. Even though he was positive that Drake would manage to somehow turn that into a bigger explosion. So he was sure they would have their fun. (Not that he cared about that in particular, but a disappointed Astaroth was worse than anything else.)

He shook his head before taking his mug (which Astaroth had insisted on Blake buying for them, so they could gift it back to the human since it said '#1 Bestie') and went back to the kitchen to get some more coffee.

The smell of eggs and bacon filled the room. Ciana was creating the said dish in a much more professional manner than Drake usually handled cooking. Or slaughtering the plants. Whatever you'd wanna call it. At least this latest edition of unwanted roommates™ (even though he had yet to understand what Ciana was even doing here, given the fact that he knew very well that she had a home) was able to handle herself around the house without accidentally setting the curtains on fire. (Somehow it had already happened twice and somehow in both cases, it had been Snow who was responsible.)

"Almost done," Ciana grumbled. Ever since the whole incident where they fought each other, she was way less annoying. And way less into socializing. Blake couldn't be bothered less by this. It meant more peace for him. That and… somehow she also seemed more relaxed. He hadn't noticed it earlier but now that he had a comparison he couldn't help but feel like she had before tried desperately to keep on an act she hated.

Not that he cared or anything, it was just an observation. Nothing more.

"Sure," he finally answered, "Thank you."

They stayed silent like this until Astaroth ran into the kitchen, a turned-on sparkler in their hand.

"Blake, look!"

He didn't let the demon finish. "Not inside the house, you bloody idiot!"

"Oh, sorry!" The demon threw the sparkler towards the open window but missed it by a few centimetres. Instead, they hit the curtain, getting said fabric to catch some of the sparks and thus starting to burn. Dumbfounded Blake looked at it.

"It wasn't Snow this time," Ciana snickered.

A few minutes and an extinguished fire later Blake had eaten breakfast and just sat down, trying to contemplate his life. And certain life decisions. Especially the life decisions.

He decided that was a lost battle from the start and so he did the thing most Mortals did whenever they didn’t want to think about their life. He pulled out his phone and scrolled through some funny pictures. In his endless wisdom, he had planned ahead and occupied Astaroth by giving them a Rubik’s Cube. That should keep them busy for a-

“Done!” they exclaimed happily.

In disbelief, Blake stared at the solved puzzle. Of course that had to be the moment they showed the whole sage thing. “...Great.”

Snow entered the room before he could think of another way to distract the demon and killed any chance of peace he had in an instant. She had this look on her face she always had whenever she found something new she wanted to try. “There was one of those open colorful letters in the mail today.” Snow held up the flyer, an excited glimmer in her eyes. “There is a huge show for sky explosions tonight!” With a bright smile, she pointed at one of the pictures, this one detailing the location. It was at the winter market they had visited a few weeks ago.
Blake sighed and could already feel the exhaustion this evening would bring him. “And you want to go?”

“Do you not?”

“To be perfectly honest: No.”

Instantly her face dropped. “Oh… That is quite the pity…”

“You can just go without us!” Astaroth floated next to him lying on their back. “I’ll keep Blake company!”

Now that caught his attention. “You don’t want to go?”

“Nah. Kinda feel like being lazy today, you know?”

This was weird. And completely out of character for the demon. Should he keep digging as to why they didn’t want to go? Or should he just accept this?

He decided to do the latter. The last two-and-a-half months of this year had drained him. A break was all he wanted right now. Even though he still had to classify this kind of tiredness. It wasn’t the same he felt after spending all night studying or running a few miles. It was different. Somehow cozy and comforting. The sort of tiredness that lets you fall asleep after a satisfying day of work.

It was only a matter of minutes for Snow to convince Drake and Diana to accompany her. The three of them were a weird trio, but Blake let it slide. Ciana was with them and she knew her way around mortals. So he just shrugged it off. Whatever they were planning to do, it wasn’t his problem. It only meant that he had a more quiet evening. If only Astaroth would have accompanied the others… Well, you couldn’t have everything. And in comparison to what he expected spending the night alone with them would be more than sufficient. “Sure. Have fun.” He looked back at his phone. Since Astaroth moved in he didn’t spend too much time with it.

Snow nodded enthusiastically. “We will. You should also amuse yourselves.”

Without him noticing it, Astaroth and Snow silently bumped each other's fists in a celebration of victory.

Normally he wouldn't have left the house just to see some fireworks. But Astaroth wanted to and he was still on the fence when it came to letting the demon roam around alone outside.

“You know…” Astaroth looked up. “I think from up there we would see it better, right?”

Blake shrugged. “I guess.” He already knew he couldn’t talk the demon out of this idea. “Just don’t fall.” Even though he knew they wouldn’t hurt themselves in a stunt like that, he still disliked the idea of something like that happening.

“You’re not coming with me?”

"Huh?" It was only now that Blake realized it had been an invitation. "Uh… sure." ...Why did he agree? It had been the perfect opportunity to finally have some time alone. Well, no turning back now and he'd rather not think about it too much. He just knew that it was absolutely definitely and in no way because he liked the demon in any way shape or form.

Sitting back to back like this felt kind of familiar. (Of course it did, they had already spent some time like this.) Blake just closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth radiating off of Astaroth. They truly were a mobile heater.

"You know, I don’t really know when exactly, but…” The demon paused for a short while. Maybe they were looking for the most coherent way to continue their sentence. But maybe it was just the courage to continue that was amiss. “At some point, I did see you in my future."

Immediately Blake opened his eyes again, trying to contemplate what he had just been told.

"It was… a long, long time ago." A melancholic smile was on their face, Blake was sure of that, even though he couldn't see it. "So long ago I don't really remember." They grabbed his hand.

Blake could feel the blood rushing into his cheeks. Did the demon even know what they were doing? How was he supposed to interpret this gesture?

"But I do remember how happy I was when I found you. And how excited I was at the idea of finding an actual friend." Their voice was filled with a mix of excitement and… regret? Astaroth sighed and gave his hand a squeeze. "I'm glad we got to meet each other, eventually."

Internally Blake was screaming. How was he supposed to react to this? How did he want to react to this? He knew the answer to the latter question - that didn't mean he wanted to accept it. Or could do that from a moral standpoint. He still had to tell Astaroth about his meeting with Hades and while he knew the demon wouldn't understand, how could he keep it a secret from them while literally holding hands with them? He should tell them. He had to tell them.

"Blake." It was Astaroth who broke the silence. "You know, I think tomorrow I might be done here."

The human blinked. "What… what do you mean?"

"I don't want to destroy this world. But I also don't want to keep you waiting any longer. I don't think I will ever have seen enough of this realm. So if I don't do it tomorrow, I might never."

Distantly he heard a chorus of people counting down the last twenty seconds of the year. He felt panic rising inside him. What was he about to do? He couldn't- he didn't want-...

Astaroth didn't give him the time to sort through his confusion. They turned around putting their arms around him.

Blake could feel his heart beating in his chest, almost hard enough to be painful. He couldn't talk, couldn't think, couldn't even move. Even breathing was hard. He could feel how Astaroth put their chin on his shoulders. "I love the Mortal Realm. I love all the people we met." They sighed leaning more into him. "But I love you so much more."

For a short second Blake felt nothing. He heard nothing, smelled nothing, saw nothing. His heart had stopped just like his breathing. Maybe time itself had stopped and ceased to exist, just like the world surrounding them.

Then the fireworks started. Simultaneously he started laughing. And crying somewhere in between as he turned around and hugged the demon back while leaning his forehead against theirs. "I love you, too," he whispered, almost too silent to be more than just a breath. Maybe he would keep his meeting with Hades a secret for another day.

Real Aire