Waking up after the weird dream, I stared groggily at my phone. There was an unread text from Sani, and my heart leapt slightly.
Sani: We have a lot to catch up on. I’ll be by in thirty.
I hoped that did not mean he had been waiting around for me. The text was sent hours ago!
I had to reply quickly, even though I was barely awake. I sent a geotag to his phone indicating my exact location in the Gulf of Mexico and followed it up with a text.
Me: Here’s the location, Sani.
Sani: On my way.
It was a simple reply, but it gave me hope. I rolled over in bed, exhausted, and looked out the porthole. “How is the sun going down? It was dark when I went to sleep last night.” I sighed and debated going back to sleep. Maybe I did because the next thing I remembered, an owl was pecking on the porthole.
I rolled toward the glass and opened the window with a smile. “Hi, Sani.”
The owl shifted into human form, a smile on soft lips. Sani took the clothes out of his bag and dressed quickly. “Hello, Val.”
I blushed for a moment and smiled, still in my PJs. “How have you been?”
“I may have figured out how to contain the rage,” he replied happily. I could not help but be glad for him. I knew this was a long time coming.
“That is great news!” I sat up and smiled again. “Did you find someone to help?”
“I… I did. I came across a shaman in town.” I watched as the skinwalker shifted uncomfortably on the balls on his feet and refused to make eye contact.
I pulled the blankets back up, suddenly self-conscious around him. “What is it, Sani? I am glad you found someone to help you.”
“The woman I met… she’s the great-granddaughter of someone from my past. They look just alike.”
“Well, that is awkward. This someone, she must have been important to you?”
“We were… engaged,” he replied in almost a whisper.
“And meeting this great-granddaughter has brought all those emotions back?” Why did I care? I knew Sani and I did not have a future, even if my nuptials did not happen.
“It’s made the hurt and pain come back.”
I nodded lightly. “I can understand that. What do you plan to do? She is helping you calm your rage, right?”
“She put some kind of spell around me and my house to contain the evil inside until we can figure out how to get rid of it for good.”
“Ah, well, that is good then.” This shaman did what I could not. I was happy for him, really.
“But how to get rid of it is another question entirely. And the dreams are getting worse. Many of my dreams have been about her.” Sani’s voice was small and reluctant. I wanted to comfort him, but it was not my place now.
“I am sorry for that.”
“I can’t seem to escape my past, no matter how hard I try.”
I nodded, understanding what he meant. “I get that. I really do. I am sorry I cannot do more.”
Sani walked over to where I was sitting on the bed and took my hands. “You do. You make me forget the past.”
I looked down at them, then at him, and once again, his eyes averted from mine. “So why then have you barely looked at me?”
This brought his eyes to mine. “Because I was afraid you wouldn’t want me around with my past popping up. I was bracing for the worst.”
I sighed and lowered my head. “Do you really think so little of me?”
“It’s what I’m used to, people running at the first sign of unease. When it’s happened to you for hundreds of years, you tend to forget what it looks like when someone is loyal.”
“Did I run when you told me of your past?”
He looked at the deck like a wounded puppy. It would be cute if it did not break my heart. “No.”
“Did I run when the blackouts started?” I asked kindly, noticing the defeated look in his eyes. I squeezed his hands to reassure him.
“No. You stood by my side the whole time.”
“Did you run when you found out about my past?” He shook his head again. At least Sani was looking at me this time. “Well, then?”
“Thank you, Val.”
“You are welcome, Sani. As I said, I wish I could do more.” It was true. I had done nothing for him.
“Enough about me. Where have you been? I feel like I haven’t seen or heard from you in ages.”
“Oh! I have been busy, Guardians and Aces. You know Mardi Gras is one of our busiest times.” I had been swamped with work. Gideon had basically forced me into a short leave of absence because so many of the staff at Aces had been sick recently, and we were packed daily.
Sani nodded but eyed me carefully. I was not sure what was on his mind. “That’s all? Something seems… off since we took that trip through the French Quarter.”
I paused for a moment, unsure of whether to tell him. “I had a strange dream last night…but I should not bother you with it, not when you have so much going on.”
He chuckled a little and sat down. “I know all about strange dreams, Val. I am Navajo, after all. Try me.”
I lowered my eyes to the deck and ran a finger over the ruby pendant unconsciously, the pendant I barely realized was around my neck. “I think…I think I dreamed of a demon,” I whispered.
Sani arched an eyebrow. “You don’t dream about demons, Val.”
“Me, or in general?”
“In general. You don’t dream about them. They visit you.”
“Oh…I guess…I suppose it worked then.” That confirmed my suspicions.
“Wh-what worked, Val?” Sani’s voice was lined with worry, and I shivered slightly.
“Huh…months ago, shortly after I returned to New Orleans, and before I met you, I attempted to make a deal with a crossroads demon. I saw Estran at Aces one night and followed him. I only stopped because…”
Huh, I had completely forgotten why I stopped chasing after Estran until just now. “Because I caught Alaran’s scent. Alaran is my brother. He has been missing for over ten years. When I realized I had lost Estran, Tania suggested talking to a crossroads demon and making a deal.”
“What exactly did you make a deal for?”
I shrugged and fiddled with the pendant again. “I do not know. I remember going in with the intent that my soul was not on the table. I had hoped to offer information. Until now, I thought I had failed.”
“You didn’t offer to be their bitch, did you?” Sani ruffled his hair, but his voice was ice.
“Sani, I do not remember anything! But…” he looked at me intently, as if waiting to hear what excuse I could offer. “It would explain what happened in the Quarter…and when my girlfriends dropped by a few months ago.”
He rubbed his temples slightly. “I’m going to have to kill a demon.”
“Sani, I do not think you can.”
“Oh, I can. I have before. It’s just not easy. Especially a crossroads demon.”
“Sani. I am now fairly certain that if I was successful in this endeavor, I need him for something.” I got up slowly and pulled a housecoat on, covering up a little. “Just the dream. It shook me.”
Sani draped his arms around me and pulled me against him. “I wish I could have helped you before you turned to this demon.”
I shivered and smiled up at him. “Like I said, it was before we met, a couple of weeks before. How was I supposed to know my knight in shifty animal armor was about to appear?” I chuckled softly.
Sani barked out a laugh. “If only I had come to Aces sooner.” He looked over his shoulder and turned back to Val. “Turns out Alo really likes you.”
“Does he?” I smiled in the direction that he turned his head.
“He wanted me to find you to help you and me. He knew of the deal.”
That caught me by surprise. I did not even know Sani at the time. “He did? That is… interesting…”
“Alo is an interesting one, for sure.”
I chuckled softly, glad that we seemed to be getting back to normal. “It seems to be familial.”
He stroked my cheek lightly, and I leaned into him. “We need to find a way to get some of these memories back. We need to figure out what exactly you gave him and what exactly he is supposed to give you.”
“The only way to do that would be to summon him again, I think. But what if we summoned someone different?” I shivered. “That would be disastrous.”
“Then I’d have to kill two demons.”
“Sani! I am sure I had a good reason and a good bargaining chip!”
“What? I don’t like demons.” He shrugged as if that was all so simple.
“Still, I need whatever information he can give me on Estran. I am sure that was what I asked for.”
Sani sighed reluctantly. “Fine. I still want to know what his intentions are.”
I kissed his cheek lightly. “Thank you. I get the feeling he does not mean me any harm. Last night’s dream, interaction? It was more relaxed… exotic… familiar than I expected demon visits to be.”
“He better not harm you, or else all gloves are off.”
“I know, I know. I wish I knew more. I could reassure you.” His desire to protect me was heartwarming, just a little.
“Is it okay if I stay with you until your next trance?”
I blushed. “Sure, I guess… but I do not know when that will be…” It was not like I had control over these visits or when the urge to follow an unknown command would strike.
“I’ll be glad to be away from the cabin for a while and not stuck with whatever demon haunts me.”
“If you are sure… the company would be welcome, certainly.” Oh, maybe he is only using it as an excuse to avoid her.
“Whatever you have to do next, we’ll do it together. I want to know what exactly it is he’s doing.”
“Thank you, Sani. You are a good man. But… What of this shaman? Will she not look for you?” I could not believe I was asking that. Of course, she will be looking for him.
Sani pulled out his cellphone and looked at the screen. “I still have service out here, so she can reach me if she needs me. I’m only about an hour’s flight from home.”
That did not really make me feel any better, but I could not examine why yet.
“Okay. Good. Yep. So… anything you would like to do?” I was skittish, and I did not know why. All I knew was that Sani wanted to spend time with me, and at the moment, that would be enough.