Dutch drew in a breath and prepped for the fight that was imminent. He looked down at his chest and concentrated. He centered on the slight pull, right at his solar plexus. The line linked him to his power, connecting him nice and tight to an Archangel.
The shadows danced along the brick of the dismally lit alley. The trio of elemental demons was on their way. He pulled open his bomber jacket and withdrew a sacred blade from the hidden sheath.
Jessica's first mistake had been letting Kathy in her office. When she wanted something, Kathy pummeled and persuaded like a force of nature. Her second mistake had been hearing her happily-in-love co-worker out. A blind double date. Tonight. The third nail in the coffin of Jess's Friday night had been her automatic nod, signaling her assent. Or rather, her concession.
"I'm telling you, Jess, he's super cute. Totally your type." Kathy gushed, grabbed Jess's shoulders, and dragged her into a celebratory hug.
Her type? What was that, exactly? The only thing her last few dates had in common was boredom. Watching cement dry, grass growing...dullness. Scattered over the previous few months, her dates had been as uninteresting and average as they had been sporadic. No, Jess amended to herself, average was too kind. Just once she wanted a man to separate himself from the picket-fence pack, raise her pulse. Surprise her.
She laughed at herself. Too much to ask, Jess was sure. Which was why she had decided to withdraw entirely from the dating scene. Until now.
When Kathy pulled back from the embrace, Jess raised her eyes.
"What's his name?" Jess asked, resigned to her fate.
Kathy paused. "Dutch."
Jess scrunched up her eyebrows. "First or last?"
"Not sure." Kathy smiled brightly. "But Walt said they've been throwing darts at the bar a few times a week for a month now. Dutch always wins. Walt's made it his mission in life to beat him."
"Great character reference." Jess rolled her eyes.
Having accomplished her mission, Kathy trotted happily out of the office.
Left in the wake of her friend's unfailing and misguided optimism, Jess sighed.
Should make for a more interesting night than most.
She hoped. She really did.
Dutch stared at the slim pickings of his hotel closet. Leather, ripped denim, dirty boots, and t-shirts with weird and inappropriate sayings. That about covered it. No impress-a-girl apparel in sight. Didn't usually need it. The demon-fighting wardrobe was as basic as it was functional. He flipped through, trying to find the least wrinkled and least offensive t-shirt he owned. He pulled one out, hoping the girl had a sense of humor. And that she liked dogs.
He had agreed to go on a date. On a date. A date.
The loneliness was creeping up on him again. Had to be. It was the only explanation for accepting the invite.
In a couple days he would celebrate his birthday. His one hundredth and seventh birthday of being born human, and the eighty-second anniversary of the Archangel putting his mortality on pause in exchange for killing hell spawn.
He scowled, thinking of the night prior. Three elementals and he had only managed to bag one. The other two would be out to play soon. And now with a vendetta. He sighed and rubbed at his chest.
Every so often the solitariness of his existence would sneak up and sucker punch him. Land a solid blow right between the eyes and drop him straight to his knees. Usually he would hover around the great-grand nieces and nephews for a while, until he creeped himself out. The purpose? Re-convince himself all his effort—the battles, the blood, the wounds—was worth the soul-crushing isolation.
So...new tactic. A date. A strategy he had never tried before. His last date was back in 1931. A few tiny things had changed since then. Kinda felt like he was squaring off against a demon of unknown origin. Except a demon he had some clue how to fight.
And maybe that was the problem, he was thinking about a date as if it were a battle.
Man, he really did need some new hobbies. And clothes.
They had arrived at the bar a few minutes early. Walt, Kathy's beau, had gone to the bar with the first drink order of the night. It wasn't yet nine, so the wood-paneled dive had plenty of open seating. They took the table nearest the darts, at Walt's puppy-dog expression.
"Jess, quit fidgeting." Kathy grabbed Jess's twitching hands and squeezed. "It'll be fine. It'll be fun."
Jess gave her friend a disbelieving half smile and glanced to the door, back to the table, and to the door again. She was back to the eyes-on-the-table rotation when a movement at the door shifted her gaze up again. Bomber jacket, ripped jeans, easy stride. Soft brown eyes and hair, tan and lean.
At the internal mention of his name, the man's eyes met hers.
Jess's hands stilled their tapping on the table.
He smiled wide, showing white teeth, not quite perfectly straight, and strode toward her.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and Jess jumped.
Kathy chuckled and leaned close to her ear. "Told ya he was cute."
In seconds his long legs covered the distance between them. His eyes switched from Jess to Kathy and back again. Brownie point for him. "Jessica?"
She jerked her head up and down, belatedly adding a smile. Feeling a jab in her ribs a-la-Kathy, Jess said, "Jess is fine. Dutch?"
His smile grew wider. "The very same."
She lifted an eyebrow. "First name or last?"
He shrugged off his bomber jacket and threw it over the seatback next to her. "You pick."
She crinkled her forehead and received another insightful whisper from Kathy. "He's flirting. Don't frown."
Dutch had on a black t-shirt that proclaimed 'I did it. I let the dogs out.'
This was date apparel? He obviously wasn't trying too hard to impress her.
Jess studied him as he walked over to the darts and ponied up for a game. Dutch moved like an athlete. The snugness of the t-shirt showed he had the body of one, too. Broad shoulders, slim hips. His forearms were nearly as large as his biceps.
Jess was still assessing him when Walt returned with four drinks. Three rum and cokes and something bright green in a Martini glass.
"I hope you're still drinking this pansy drink 'cause I owe you from last game," Walt said.
Dutch returned to the table, clapped Walt on the shoulder, and grinned. "Don't hate on the Apple 'tini." He sipped and sighed in delight. "So glad prohibition is over."
He opened his eyes and Jess didn't hide the fact that she was studying him. Dutch was decidely—odd. Jury was still out if it was good odd, or bad odd. She got the distinct impression it would take something incredible to rattle him. Which meant he was good at keeping secrets. Only way a guy got that smooth was practice. Jess's initial hormone surge quieted as her mind pegged the man in front of her.
Dutch stifled a sigh. Really out of practice. Horribly. Why hadn't someone warned him this was why he shouldn't date?
Jess was reading him cover to cover. Those hazel eyes met his and he swore he could feel the laser beams shooting out the back of his skull. He had only been able to sneak a couple covert glances, but even sitting down, she was two steps up from pretty. Still, it was those eyes that made him respect her instantly. His blind date had some serious brain matter backing that beauty. She wouldn't be removing any clothing for him tonight. Not that he'd ask. He cleared his throat.
He cursed himself. Why had he agreed to this? What exactly did he think would happen? No such thing as just hanging out and having fun. Too much expectation in this generation. He could feel the weight of future decades—a memorable proposal, matrimony, three point two kids, a couple of gray hairs rocking on the porch—all that time and effort balancing precariously on the pinhead of tonight. The first date, a million possibilities. For her. But not for him.
Any other guy and he'd applaud her self-defense system and her discretion. For him, it was a serious buzz-kill. A reminder of the loneliness instead of an escape from it.
Watching her shrewd pretty eyes assess him, he knew her type. Smart, discriminating, she was the type who needed to trust before she'd open up. She needed some offering that he wasn't here to be a jerk, get a free taste test before sampling the next woman on the menu.
Except, what did he have to offer?
Occupation was off the table for small talk. As was family, felony record... He wasn't able to confide his deepest and darkest to her. Couldn't. So yeah, he had precisely zero to offer her.
In a couple days he'd be moving on in any case. Once he found those last two elementals and destroyed them, he was out. New assignment, new town. So he'd do his best to be polite, give her a handshake at the end of the night. This was going to be a one-nighter in the most anti-climactic sense of the word. He chuckled dryly. A damn shame, too.
Still, didn't mean he couldn't be a gentleman.
"You wanna throw a game?" Dutch asked her, not shirking from her inquiring stare.
She pursed her lips and evaluated, finally tugging her lips into a slight smile. "I hear you're pretty good at tossing little plastic darts."
Ohhh....no she didn't. His gaze slid over to his bomber jacket where his two considerably-larger-than-dart blades were hidden, waiting to annihilate some demons.
"Among other things," he said evenly and offered her the darts.
"Love the shirt."
He gave himself a mental high five. "Dog person?"
She shrugged. "More of a cat person."
Jeez, throw him a bone here...Oh, right, she was a cat person. No bones in sight. His ego wasn't merely deflated, more like a blow out on the side of the road. He was at a loss.
Distracted, he stepped in front of her as she let her first dart fly. She gasped. He caught it easily out of its flight path to his eyeball and laughed. Hoped like hell a regular human could've done that.
"I'm so sorry," Jess sputtered. "I didn't mean to..."
He smiled and offered her dart back. "No worries. I was just going to be overly cocky and suggest you tell me where to throw my dart."
She smelled like strawberries. Oh yeah, he was in her personal space. He needed to back up. Needed to, yet he stayed. She was tall for a woman, only a couple inches shy of his six feet. With her heels they were nearly eye to eye. Now it was her not shirking his gaze. Not in the slightest. Yep, a damn shame.
He coughed. "Hopefully that's not meant to be prophetic."
She smiled and fiddled with the darts in her hand.
He turned to the dart board and, with a barely a pause, sent his first dart to land squarely into triple six territory.
Jess watched Dutch's corded forearms flex and aim. Ok, so he's seriously skilled at darts. It did not a good date make, she reminded herself. He was making an effort and she was being prickly as a bed of sandpaper. Probably because he was cute and charming. Not to mention almost blinding the poor man with her first dart.
She watched him as he placed his last couple darts, no doubt exactly where he wanted them. Jess felt Kathy come up from behind her. Kathy set her drink down and her chin on Jess's shoulder.
"Should Walt and I make some excuse to leave?"
Jess spun around, knocking her friend's head off her shoulder. "No." She hissed.
"But you're clearly into him," Kathy said, confused. "I only suggested a double in the first place so you'd agree to meet him."
"I don't know anything about him."
Kathy nodded. "You've been off the scene for a while, but that is the purpose of a first date. It's the 'getting to know you' phase."
"You drove," Jess said, desperately. She didn't want to be alone with him. He...damn she couldn't come up with a good reason. But there had to be one.
Kathy shrugged and downed the last of her drink. "Call me later if you don't want him to drive you home."
Out of excuses, Jess looked helplessly at her friend. "You are the worst kind of evil."
Kathy grinned and hugged her. "Nah. I'm sure there are worse."
Kathy waved Dutch over, who had been demonstrating dart-throwing technique to Walt. "We gotta go. Family issue."
Walt's expression fell, like Kathy had just stomped on his favorite toy, but he apparently knew better than to argue.
The couple gathered their coats and waved good-byes. Jess watched their forms stride away, toward the door. Her hand tapped the table in front her again.
Uncomfortable, itchy silence.
She jumped when Dutch spoke from directly behind her. "We don't have to stay."
Why did he have to be so agreeable and reasonable? Worse, he had picked up on her discomfort. Awkward.
She turned to him and he smiled at her. Nice-guy smile. He was trying. Her resolve was really taking a beating.
Love was a myth that kept society going, she reminded herself. It didn't really exist, a convincing magic that eventually dissipated leaving disappointment and disillusion in its wake.
Watching him, it was easy to see the why behind the world-wide love illusion. His eyes sparked with good nature and probably a clever sense of humor. But she hadn't given him a chance, had she? Her guard dropped for a beat.
"My parents divorced when I was eight." She blurted the confession and then snapped her mouth closed, but she didn't look away from him.
The humor in his eyes turned circumspect. "So you and relationships aren't on friendly terms."
She shook her head.
"And Kathy set this whole thing up."
Her silence answered the question clearly enough.
Dutch had hoped for a fun, stress-free evening. He knew it wouldn't go anywhere. Couldn't, by definition. But hey, call him an optimist, he had hoped at least to enjoy himself. Jess seemed like a nice enough girl, but she was wound super tight. Usually his easy-going nature helped people relax, but he seemed to wind the coil in Jess tighter.
He couldn't stand the anxiety swimming in her eyes. He stretched his neck from side to side to break the tension spilling over from her.
He sighed and grabbed his jacket. "Are you comfortable with me driving you home or do you want me to call you a cab?"
She finally looked down and drew a breath. "I wouldn't mind a ride."
Any other woman and he'd laughingly repartee that comment. Not Jess. He didn't want to upset her. He was clueless as to what he had done to set off her ice maiden-radar in the first place. But she definitely wasn't digging him.
"Yeah sure, no problem. I'll go get the car. Stay in the bar, I'll come get you," he said.
She nodded but didn't meet his eyes.
He walked to the door, trying not to be depressed his night out had turned into such a cluster. He swung the bar door open and breathed in the cool night air. He hadn't really realized how oppressive the bar air had become. He rolled his shoulders, attempting again to break the tension that had built in his muscles.
He strode around the corner, heading to the public parking lot a block over, when the link to his power pulled tight in his chest. He threw his back against the brick of the building and disappeared into shadow.
The elementals were nearby. And getting closer.
Jess dropped her head into her hands. She had thought the worst thing that could happen tonight was a repeat of her last few dates. Boring, average, uninteresting. Nope. The worst thing that could happen was her interest would get piqued. Get her curious about some random dart-throwing bar-goer wearing a weird t-shirt. Then she'd have to face the truth of her dating life.
She was terrified.
So much easier to pretend there were no good or interesting guys. So much easier to keep a wall built around her. Much easier than meeting the challenge head-on and giving it an honest-to-God effort.
She lifted her head and stared at the door Dutch had walked out.
Stuffing her fear down past her resolve, Jess stood, grabbed her coat and purse, and strode out after him.
Dutch backed against the wall, one of his blades already unsheathed and ready for use. The elementals' presence grew stronger. He was reasonably certain humans couldn't sense them, not as clearly as he could, and they certainly couldn't fight them. Elementals latched onto human prey and sucked the life force right out. An unhappy meal equaling heart attack and death for the human.
He took slow, even breaths and let adrenaline rush into his system, jazzing him up... man, this was the best part of the job... The elementals approached from the opposite direction the bar, thirty feet away and closing.
His head whipped toward the feminine voice.
Jess stood there uncertainly, shifting her weight from foot to foot. "I want to apologize."
Thank God she hadn't seen the—
"Is that... is that a knife?" Her voice trembled and she backed up.
Approaching her would triple her panic, so he stayed firmly put. His job had just gotten exponentially more difficult. The two elementals were almost on him. On them both.
He held her eyes and put as much raw pleading as he could into it. He raised a finger to his lips and slowly pointed the opposite direction.
Her chest still heaved with fear, but she followed the direction of his finger, pointing to the mouth of an alleyway across the street. At first her face only registered confusion, but he saw the moment her expression morphed to terror.
"Trust me," he whispered. Please, he added to himself.
Between the scare of seeing Dutch wielding a shiny blade the size of her forearm and watching those weird shadows roil across the pavement, Jess was frozen to the spot. Trust him? Was he serious?
The shadows continued their menacing approach and Jess's eyes darted back to Dutch. His body tightened up, then exploded into action. The blade in his hand zipped through the air, end over end, and made solid contact with one of the shadows. It howled inhumanly and stopped moving forward, writhing like smoke.
Dutch stalked toward it, removing another huge blade from his jacket. He pulled the weapon from the downed shadow in the same instant he took the other blade and slashed a 'z' pattern through it. The shadow began to dissipate, hissing like acid dripping through the concrete.
The second shadow closed in toward Dutch's exposed back.
"Dutch," she yelled. "Behind..."
In an instant the shadow shifted focus, turning on her. Though she could see no distinct features, she knew it was eyeing her like a grease glutton to a feast of fried food. Suddenly, the shadow was closing in.
Oh no....no, no, no—
A blade in both hands, Dutch had never felt so helpless. He was quick, but elementals were shadow and smoke. The bastards could really move when they wanted. If only Jess hadn't warned him, hadn't alerted the elemental to her presence. To warn him, at her own peril. Courageous, that.
He bolted for her, arms pumping and feet punching hard into the concrete.
He was going to be too late unless he threw a blade. But there was a serious risk of the elemental moving and him nailing Jess instead.
A second, no more, to make the decision. In mid-stride he raised his arm and prayed. With a grunt, he let the sharp missile slice through the night air.
Jess screamed and for one sickening second Dutch thought his enemy had sensed his attack and moved. Then the elemental echoed her scream.
His feet continued to pound, nearly there, and he pressed the dull edge of his remaining blade against the inside of his forearm, raised his arm across his chest.
Thank you, Jesus. Jess huddled against the brick, shaking like a meth-head in withdrawal. Snarling, he turned his attention to the injured and last remaining elemental. Drawing three deep slashes, the elemental hissed into steamy oblivion. The blade still lodged in the dying demon clattered to the ground.
Jess was beyond frightened, but as her eyes darted around the darkness, she didn't see anymore of those crazy monsters. Her eyes lifted to Dutch. He studied her, not approaching, not saying anything. His expression was somber, the blade gripped in his right hand a reminder of what had just happened. Jess looked down and saw the other knife gleaming in the streetlight. She reached down and picked it up. It was really heavy and had some rune-like markings etched into the steel. Her hand warmed as she gripped it.
She offered it to him. "Thank you," she whispered.
He took it and made a disgusted noise, turning away. "I put you in harm's way. Please, hold your applause."
She swallowed and tried to digest the past three minutes of her life. First date, monsters, rescue. But average... average was the ying to Dutch's yang. This was the moment to decide. If she wanted it—really wanted it—interesting to the nth degree was being offered to her, right here.
"Life in your world isn't boring at all, is it?" she mused.
His head snapped back to her and his eyes widened. "Um—no?" He grimaced. "Lonely, sometimes."
Poor guy, he wasn't sure about this but he was making an attempt, and now she had an idea just how hard he was trying. And he was really macho-sexy standing there, holding a blade in each hand and looking confused.
Jess hazarded a guess. "No way I'll ever beat you at darts, right?"
Dutch flipped a blade in the air, spun and caught it behind his back. Turning around, Dutch's smile had returned and amusement peaked out in the lift of his lips. "Nope." He sheathed both blades back into his leather jacket.
"I'm not—" he began and rubbed the back of his head absently. "I haven't been on a date in a really long time."
She shrugged and held out her hand. "Wanna get some dinner?"
Dutch's smile faded and Jess's confidence waned. Maybe he wasn't interested anymore?
"I'd love to," he said and reached out to her.
Jess tried to suppress her grin as Dutch's warm hand enveloped hers. She had no idea what would happen next, but she could cross average off the list of possibilities.
© A.B. Sevan