EXCERPT: Fiends, by Sol Crafter. Chapter One. [mm romance]

Title: Fiends
Author: Sol Crafter
Genre: supernatural mm romance
Word count of excerpt: 5,240

Summary: The fiend Teablossom has been given the task of corrupting a young human man.

This is the first chapter. My current priority :)

by Sol Crafter


Henry Lerner was a fool. A good-looking fool, but still a fool.

The fiend, Teablossom, rolled his eyes as he watched the human fumble for a napkin. The coffee had spilled everywhere and people were turning from all corners of the restaurant to watch the show.

The rather no-nonsense looking blond waitress hurried across the room with a rag in her hand. She didn't look exactly thrilled, but she didn't seem angry either. "Here, sir. I've got that."

"I am so sorry. I don't know what happened, but I really am sorry," Henry babbled. The color was high in his cheeks and he didn't seem to know what to do with his hands.

"That's all right," the waitress said with more than a touch of impatience. "I'll clean this right up, no harm done. Why don't you sit back down and I'll bring you a new cup in a moment?" She began to blot the floor with her towel, a line pinching between her brows.

Teablossom knew that he was, for all intents and purposes, invisible, so he had no problem staring at Henry. Not that the guy was doing anything really interesting.
Humans are so boring, he thought, taking a sip of his cappuccino. He licked a dab of foam off of his upper lip, then took a bite of his banana nut muffin.

If he could have, he would have just gone back home. He'd never been one of those fiends that were desperate to see the mortal world. To him, there was very little for him to care about and humans had never seemed all that interesting.

If he hadn't been ordered to collect Henry Lerner, he would have much rather been out with his friends.

He watched Henry quickly eat his food, his shoulders hunched away from curious eyes. He looked like he was worried about being hit. His ears were flushed red where they poked out from under his dark brown hair.

Teablossom sighed. He really didn't understand why he was here for such a useless looking human. It didn't seem worth it.

* * *

After making a complete ass of himself, he was tempted to just leave. Except he'd just ordered his food and the waitress hadn't yelled about the spilled coffee, so he didn't really want to be rude to her. So he just had to deal with the embarrassment of being a clumsy idiot.

Henry sighed and twisted his napkin on the table in front of him.

He'd never been one of those people that were comfortable in their own skin. Instead he was easily embarrassed and terribly shy around people he didn't know well, which had earned him a reputation for standoffishness.

"Here you go."

He twitched in surprise and hurriedly moved his hands out of the way for the plate she plopped down in front of him. "Thank you," he said, offering the waitress a tentative smile.

"You're welcome," she said. "Can I get you anything else?"

He shook his head. "No, this is great. Thank you."

"Enjoy your meal," she said, already walking away before she even finished speaking.

Henry fought a strong surge of loneliness and lifted his fork to begin eating. It wasn't as though this was the first meal he'd eaten by himself. There'd been so many in fact that he should be more than used to it.

Ever since the funeral, he'd had to get used to the idea that he was alone. And that had taken place close to two years ago now, so he should just stop waiting for someone to slide into the seat across from him and give him that butter-won't-melt grin.

He blinked hard a couple of times, forcing his steak and eggs back into focus. Mechanically he began to eat.

He'd been told repeatedly that he needed to stop wallowing in the past. Letting his grief rule his life didn't help him to move forward, and he was tired of being stuck in one place.

Before he even knew what was happening, Henry found that he'd finished his food. He hadn't even really tasted a thing.

Sometimes he wondered if he'd even notice if he was eating chunks of Styrofoam. All of the flavor and joy had been sucked out of his life, which just made it all the harder to go on.

Depression had become his greatest friend, and there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it. No matter what he tried to do, he just kept being dragged back down.

He stood with a sigh and walked over to the cash register. The waitress was filling the napkin holders at the counter, but paused to look at him.

"Can I get the check please?" he asked, unable to meet her eyes.

"Oh, sure." She jammed a handful of napkins into the metal holder she held, then thunked it down on the counter before walking to the register. "That'll be $11.50."

He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. "Here," he said, "keep the change."

"Do you want a receipt?" she asked.

He waved her off and walked toward the door. He figured she deserved the money after having to clean up after him.

Pulling his plain black jacket tighter around him, he pushed open the door and stepped out into the March chill. It had seemed like winter was finally leaving, but it had returned with a vengeance, including a few snow flurries. It just seemed so fitting that the weather would suck so bad.

He tried not to make the comparison between the miserable weather and the day Riordan had died. He just couldn't help himself.

* * *

So that was the guy? Teablossom shook his head with a sigh. It looked like it was going to be one of those assignments.

"More cappuccino, please," he called, raising his hand and bringing himself back into mortal focus.

The waitress looked like she was going to call him on his pseudo-rudeness, but he poured on the charm and she melted in the face of his devilish allure. It gave him a cool thrill to see her fall all over herself to please him.

He reached into the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out the small moleskine notebook he'd taken to using back in the seventies. Some might have thought it a bit pretentious, but he'd gotten used to carrying one around.

Teablossom turned to the page marked by the attached red ribbon and studied what information he'd been given about Mr. Henry Lerner. There wasn't a whole lot, but he was sure he could make things work.

How hard was it going to be to seduce such an introverted man? He figured he could have this whole mission wrapped up in just a few weeks and he could be back home where he belonged.

The waitress sashayed up to the table with a blue cafe mug held carefully in her hands. He could see a cloud of foam rising over the edge of the rim with a few curls of shaved chocolate resting on top temptingly. His first cup hadn't looked like that.

"So," she said with a smile, "are you new in the area?"

He raised an eyebrow. It looked like he'd hit her with a bit too much charm and now she was putting out a nauseating cloud of pheromones.

"I'm just here for work," he said shortly, refusing to meet her gaze. He nudged his old mug toward the end of the table suggestively.

She stood there for a long moment, shifting her weight from side to side. Finally the uncomfortable silence got to her and she wandered off with a few backward glances.

He sighed. Humans were much too easy to seduce. A little bit of charm and he could hold their wills in the palm of his hand.

It made him wonder why his father even bothered with them.

Stupid insects, he thought, emptying eight sugar packets into his cappuccino and stirring it thoroughly.

He flipped through his notebook, not really reading anything. He didn't have to review the information he'd been given; it was a pretty straightforward assignment.

Teablossom was to seduce Henry Lerner and have the man sign over his immortal soul. Simple.

If he was lucky, he'd be home before the week was out. And seeing as this was his nine hundredth soul, he would finally earn his promotion and the raise that came with it.

Anticipation shivered through him at the thought of being able to lord his new position over his brothers. They were going to be so deliciously jealous.

Teablossom made a mental note to up the security around his living quarters. The assassination attempts were going to really start coming. He could barely wait.

* * *

One of the worst things about working from home was the loneliness. If he wasn't careful, he could find himself not seeing another human being for weeks at a time. And it was so easy to lose any kind of social skills.

Riordan would have been upset to find out just how far he'd let himself fall. He would have been even more horrified to think that his death had been the cause. All Henry had to do was picture Riordan's sad eyes and he would feel a stabbing pain somewhere in his chest. More than anything he never wanted to think that he might have brought Riordan sadness.

So once a week he would eat dinner at various restaurants around the city, and every day around lunch time he left the townhouse and walked to the Sunshine Deli and Coffee Shop where he would sit and people watch for a while. It was a pretty pathetic attempt at socialization, but it was better than the none he really would have preferred.

Rain was a cute college-something that had worked at the deli for as long as he'd gone there. She always made sure his usual spot was clean and ready for him and she knew to bring him an iced mocha first thing.

Today her hair was a vibrant green color and had been braided here and there with a rainbow pattern of beads. She was wearing a green smock shirt-dress thing that left her legs bare all the way down to her little elf boots.

"You look like the Legend of Zelda," he blurted out.

She laughed and brought his drink over to him. "You mean I look like Link," she said, "and thank you. I'm not sure what my girlfriend was going for, but I think I like being mistaken for a video game character more. Just don't tell her that or she's gonna get upset."

"I won't," Henry said, hanging his jacket on the back of his yellow chair before sitting down. He'd never met Rain's girlfriend and wouldn't have recognized her from a stranger on the street. Though from everything Rain had let slip, "Jinky" sounded like a real character.

Rain leaned against the side of his table, the beads in her hair rustling when she moved. "You would not believe how crazy she's driving me," she complained affectionately. "She's on some kind of cat bend and wants us to get a kitten."

"And you don't want one," he surmised.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not exactly the world's greatest animal owner. I've got a history of dead pets following me around. She just says I'm silly and she would make sure our cat is all right, but still."

He looked at her thoughtfully. Her tone had been joking, but there was a serious fear in her eyes. All her dead pets had really traumatized her.

"Maybe you're just not ready for a pet," he offered.

"But she really wants a cat," Rain sighed, "and our neighbor is giving away kittens right now. She has her eye on a little female calico."

"Well, if she's going to get it, maybe you could just think of it as her cat until you get used to the idea of having a pet around," he suggested. "Once you're more used to the idea, then you can start thinking of it as part yours."

"Maybe," she said slowly.

He shrugged. "If she really wants a cat, there's a good chance she's going to end up with one, even if it's not the little calico. And life's way too short to spend it arguing about something you just can't change. Some people are just cat people."

"Hm," she hummed. Then her eye was caught by a blond woman walking toward the deli counter. "Oops, gotta go."

Henry watched her hurry off and sighed.

She just seemed so young and carefree. It made him want to yell at her to cherish her happiness and make sure Jinky knew she was loved every moment of every day. Because death lurked around every corner and there was nothing like grief to make you regret everything you never said or did.

He bit his tongue and focused on his drink, examining it with forced intensity.

He knew that he had problems. He'd been told repeatedly that he wasn't handling his grief well. It was just impossible for him to help himself. Riordan had been the center of his world, and now that center was gone.

"Hey, you mind if I sit here?" a voice broke suddenly into his thoughts.

He looked up at the young man standing next to the open chair. "Huh?"

The guy shrugged with a self-depreciating laugh. "Well, yours is the only open table. Do you mind if I sit with you?"

Henry looked around and was surprised to find that all of the tables had filled up without him noticing. His really was the only one with an open seat.

"Oh, well, yeah," he babbled, then blushed. "Of course you can sit."

"Thanks." The man pulled the chair out and sat with a sigh, plopping a white paper wrapped sub sandwich and a soda down in front of him. "It's too cold to eat outside and I really didn't want to take my lunch back to work with me. I was really glad to get out of there for a while."

"Oh, you're on your lunch break?" Henry asked.

"Yeah. I just got changed from the night shift, so now I have to get used to an all new routine." He stared unwrapping his sandwich, then paused. "My name's Abel T. Moss, by the way. And thanks for sharing the table."

"It's fine," Henry said, wondering if he should offer his hand. "I'm Henry."

"Nice." Abel took a big bite of his sandwich, dropping shreds of lettuce everywhere like a little kid.

Henry felt a bit awkward, but Abel seemed so relaxed that Henry finally had to be too.

Sucking his drink through the straw, Henry couldn't help examining his new companion curiously. There was just something about him that seemed interesting, though he couldn't have said why.

Abel wasn't a very tall man and he had rather sharp features, almost vulpine. He had high cheekbones and a sharp blade of a nose and laughing black eyes. His hair was the inky black of a self-dye job, though there were no roots showing to give away his natural color. From his eyebrows, Henry thought the guy might be a ginger, though he couldn't be sure.

"So, you work around here?" Henry asked.

Abel looked at him, then swallowed, a visible bulge going down his throat. "Yeah, at the hardware store down the street. Working days is way different than I'm used to. More customers and less re-stocking the shelves."

If Henry would have known his simple question would release such a flood of chatter, he probably wouldn't have said anything at all. But listening to Abel babble about 1/8-th screws and sorting the bolt bins was actually pretty soothing.

He'd lived so long in a well of silence that he'd forgotten how nice it was just to listen to someone else's voice.

He watched Abel's animated face and the way he talked with his free hand or sometimes forgot himself and ended up waving his sandwich around. And Abel talked so much that all Henry had to do was nod or throw in a "Yeah" or "No" every once and a while.

He hadn't had such a completely easy conversation in a long time, longer than he liked to think about.

Then all of a sudden Abel was crumpling up his sandwich wrapper and glancing at his watch. "I have to get back to work," he said.

"Oh," Henry said regretfully. He just had the sense that he was never going to experience such a casual conversation ever again. "Well, have a good day."

Abel stood up with a grin. "I always do. See you around, Henry."

"See ya."

Henry watched the younger man go and had to resist the strange urge to call him back. He didn't even known the guy, so why should he feel so badly about seeing him go?

He sighed heavily and stared at his empty cup. Maybe the reason why he'd liked having Abel there was because for one shining moment he hadn't felt so completely and utterly alone. It had felt like the darkness had lifted a little and brightness had come trickling in. Just a little, but more than he'd seen in a long time.

And now his world seemed even darker than before.

* * *

Walking down the street, "Abel" allowed himself a sharp grin. It had been a lot easier than he'd thought it would be.

Teablossom stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and whistled a merry tune as he headed toward the hardware store where Abel worked. He believed in verisimilitude, something some of the younger devils really slacked off on.

He believed in putting quality into the lives he built. Because what was the point if he was just going to do a half-assed job? If he just wanted to hit a human with his allure, then why go to all the trouble of making up a story?

He could just show up, flash a few smiles, and fuck some innocent human into signing over their soul. He could be like his brothers and deliver already damned souls to their father. There were so many ways he could cheat to make his job simple, but that just seemed incredibly cheap to him. And it made him think of a pet trying to please its master.

No, the thing he loved best was corrupting the souls himself. It really made him feel as though he were part of something. Plus, an innocent soul turned to darkness was worth much more than an already corrupt one, no matter what his brothers tried to tell everyone.

Henry Lerner's soul reeked of quiet innocence and grief. He had suffered loss in his life and he wasn't handling it very well, which left an opening for a fiend like Teablossom.

He whistled softly, a lilting melody from his childhood. He could already tell that he was going to have fun playing with dear Henry. The best kind of fun.

* * *

The apartment seemed too quiet and lonely when he dragged himself home. He hung his jacket on the hook next to the door, then looked around.

It was a nice apartment, and his sparse furnishings really didn't do it justice. He had given away or sold most of the things he -- they -- had once had, mostly because he couldn't stand to look at any of it. The memories and regrets had been killing him. And then after that, he simply had never bothered to replace anything.

His life was simpler now, if a bit emptier. Some part of him seemed to figure that he didn't need to have nice things, not when he was the only one to enjoy them.

Henry sighed and tossed the pile of mail and his keys on the small table next to the couch. He never got any personal mail anymore, no racy postcards with promises jotted on the back, no subscriptions to magazines he'd otherwise never read. Instead it was all just bills and "Thank You" letters from the various charities he donated to.

His was a very lonely life, but he didn't know how to fix it.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and carried it into the spare room he used as an office. He had his desk against the wall and a couple of bookcases overloaded with books lining the walls. There was no television, but he did have a speaker set up for his old MP3 player.

He set his cup down on his desk over top the old coffee rings staining the wood and sat down in his chair. It was the most expensive single piece of furniture in his place, but he had spared no expense to protect himself from future back trouble.

Henry turned on his desktop computer, then reached out to switch on his MP3 player. There was a scratchy crackle before music began to fill the room.

Using his mouse, he brought up his word processing program and his latest project. It was a novel he'd been working on for nearly eighteen months and he'd just about given up on the idea of finishing it, though he just kept plugging away day after day.

Sometimes he doubted whether he had ever really been a bestselling author. It just seemed like the days when he'd felt on top of the world had happened to someone else. Someone that had been blessed to know real love.

Henry tried to focus on his story, but as always seemed to happen, he couldn't help thinking of Riordan. Every sentence he tried to write kept twisting in his head until he couldn't remember what he'd been planning.

He stared at his computer screen, but the words simply would not come. It made him want to give up, but that seemed like such a cop-out. So he stayed in his chair, stayed pretending that things were going to fix themselves.

He was going to waste another day trying not to think of Riordan and failing.

* * *

The human brain is really quite a malleable organ, so easy to poke and prod into a new configuration. Memories added to or overwritten were quickly absorbed by the brain.

With a single "push" of his magic, he had the owner of Pacey Lane Hardware, Michael Bean, absolutely convinced that "Abel Moss" was his newest and most favorite employee. From there, he was introduced to his fellow employees who were suddenly completely certain that they had known him for several months. It was pathetically easy to manipulate humans.

Teablossom stayed at the store the few hours until his shift ended, then went to find himself a place to live. Just a stroll down main street and he found what he was looking for -- a "FOR RENT" sign in the top window of a three-story townhouse.

He casually walked up the four wide cement steps to the front door. The knob turned easily and he walked into the small entryway, his head moving back and forth as he looked around.

There was a set of narrow stairs going up in front of him and an open door to his right. There was the murmur of a television and a small boy sitting on an ugly orange couch. He had knobby knees poking out from khaki colored shorts and extremely dirty bare feet.

The boy looked up from the TV at the "click" of the front door closing and hurriedly hit the MUTE button on the remote control cradled in his hands. "MOM!" he yelled, his mouth opening frighteningly wide. "Someone's here, Mom!"

"I'm coming!" a voice called back from deep in the apartment.

The boy looked at Teablossom out of large brown eyes. "My mom says she's coming."

"Okay." Teablossom tucked his hands into his jacket pockets. He stood in the middle of the entryway and waited patiently. A faint smile curled his lips.

This place was perfect.

The entryway and what he could see up the stairs showed him a clean and well-maintained building. There were a few scuffs here and there, and areas where the black paint was peeling on the banister, but it was all minor stuff. This was the kind of place that a single man with a minimum of funds would live. It was the kind of place where Abel T. Moss would live.

There was a scuff of footsteps and a woman came out of the doorway next to the couch. She looked to be in her late twenties and had glossy black curly hair and olive skin. She was wearing a hippyish peasant blouse and blue skinny jeans. Like her son, she was barefoot.

"Hello, can I help you?" she asked, approaching him cautiously.

"Hi, I'm Abel, and I'm going to live here," he said brightly.

Her welcoming smile seemed to congeal on her face and her eyes went glassy and dull. On the couch, the boy was staring at the TV and didn't notice a thing. He probably wouldn't have comprehended what was happening anyway.

"I live in the apartment that was for rent," Teablossom said. "Please give me the key."

She nodded slowly, then turned and headed past the couch and back through the doorway she'd come out of.

Teablossom stepped forward and examined the room.

There was the television on a rickety looking cart and the brown couch. There were bookcases against one wall and a couple of plastic chairs around a rectangular table. There was also a large clear plastic tub full of children's toys.

"What is this room?" Teablossom asked, looking at the boy.

"You don't know?"

Teablossom shook his head.

"It's the TV room," the boy said with a weary sigh. "Everyone gets to use it."

"Hm, interesting," Teablossom said. "And what's that room there?"

The boy followed Teablossom's chin jerk to the door his mother had disappeared through. "That's where we live," he said in a "no duh" voice. "We get to live there because Mommy takes care of everyone that lives here."

"Ah," Teablossom said, then went back to ignoring the child. Human spawn were nothing he wanted to deal with.

The woman popped out of her apartment and walked over to hand him a set of keys on a metal ring with a little plastic disc hanging from it. "Here you go," she said in a cheerful voice that would have seemed normal if her eyes weren't so blank.

He took the keys. "What's your name?"

"Erin," she said, "Erin Dempsey."

"And the boy?" he asked.

A smile tugged at her lips as she thought of her son. "Ryan."

"Thank you," he said, then sent a white-hot jolt of magic straight into her brain.

She went stiff and still, her mouth falling slightly open. Her breath sucked into her mouth with a shuddery inhale that shook her whole body as he quickly rewrote her memories in one smooth sweep. He'd always had a talent for manipulating the minds of humans. It was one of the skills at which he truly excelled.

"Well," he said, "I'll see you guys later."

Erin blinked hard, then her eyes were back to normal. She smiled at him. "You don't always have to run off, you know that Abel. We'd love to have you join us for our Thursday night knitting club."

"I've told you," he said, "I don't know how to knit."

"So you'll be like Bill. You can just hang out with us and listen to music and chat. Tiffy makes the best margaritas I've ever tasted."

Teablossom shrugged and edged toward the stairs. "I'll have to think about it," he said.

She gave him a thumbs up. "Just let me know. I'm sure that if you come you'll have a great time."

He nodded, then started up the stairs, his sneakers making little squeaking sounds on the glossy black paint. It definitely matched the aged exterior of the building.

He passed the second floor landing and continued up.

There were four doors lining both sides of the narrow hallway. He glanced at the plastic disc on the keyring and saw that it was decorated with "3B" in black permanent marker. So at least he wasn't going to have to try doors until he found a match.

He unlocked and opened the door to 3B, stepping into his new home. The first thing he noticed was the scent of some pine cleaner.

Teablossom closed the door and examined the small apartment. It was the perfect size for one person, perhaps two if they weren't worried about any kind of privacy. White walls, pale gray carpet, and an open kitchen to his left. It seemed that he had one living area, a bathroom, and a bedroom. Not bad at all.

Once he figured he'd seen enough, he walked over to the living room window and took down the "FOR RENT" sign, burning it to nothing in his curled fist.

Teablossom stood in the middle of the empty living room, smiled, and closed his eyes. He felt heat rising from within to coat the outside of his skin. Magic filled him, stretched him, until all he had to do was want and the world around him warped and changed.

He let the excess energy drain from him and opened his eyes to look around with a sense of satisfaction.

The apartment looked comfortably lived in with cheerfully mismatched furniture and a bright and cheery circular rug laid out on the living room floor. It definitely looked like the kind of place where "Abel" would live.

There was something so satisfying about creating a new persona. For someone that put as much detail into it as he did, it was more art than trickery.

He made Abel real, and that was something his brothers and sisters never tried to do. Their simulacrum were never more than the bare outlines of people. He saw that as shoddy workmanship.

Teablossom walked into the bedroom and flopped face-down onto the bed, his clothes melting away like wisps of dream. He tugged the blanked around until he could roll himself up in it sausage-style.

He sighed and closed his eyes. It was always harder performing magic in the human world where everyone was so literal about what was and wasn't real. All that doubt and disbelief floating on the air, firmly grounding all the dreamers... it was a slow poison, one the poor humans never realized was killing the amazement in their souls.

That was where he came in. He brought the magic back, just a taste, and all those desperate people came running, offering anything and everything just to experience a little bit of wonder in their humdrum lives.

Mostly he felt pity for the humans. Their lives were so pathetically empty, and most of them didn't even realize it. They just sleepwalked through every day and thought that they were happy.

Teablossom yawned widely, exposing sharp canine teeth and a longer than human tongue. He snuggled his face against his pillow and relaxed his body.

He would seduce Henry Lerner as quickly as he could and return home in triumph. There wasn't a single doubt in his mind.

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