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Rowena pulled the key from her pocket and slid it into the lock of apartment 26B, hearing the satisfying click and pushing the door open. She stepped inside, closing the door behind her, and dropped her backpack on a nearby chair, relieved to finally have the weight off her back. She relished in the darkness of the apartment before flipping on a light switch, and her jaw dropped at the sight before her.
Weaving through doorways and filling rooms, or more accurately filling the entire apartment, was Devastator Putnam, her orange and black scales gleaming from the moonlight pouring through a window.
“What the. . .?” Rowena couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Dev, what are you doing here?” She looked around, wondering how the boa constrictor could have even fit through a door or anything to get in here. “How did you even get in here?!” She located Devastator’s head, which was currently stuck in a doorway, unable to move forward or backward. Her tail thrashed angrily, knocking a picture frame from the wall across the room, sending a photo of Rowena and her brother to the floor. Upon closer inspection, Devastator’s multicolored scales were duller than ever, not only from age but also the strange disease slowly wracking her massive body. In the past years, her orange eyes had lost all use, leaving her a blind and bloody mess.
Devastator’s tongue flicked out rapidly, tasting the air. “Get in where? I tasted you on the air and followed it here, I don’t know where I am.”
“Dev, you’re in my apartment. In the middle of the city. How did nobody notice you?” Rowena asked, her brow scrunched up. She attempted to wiggle Devastator’s head free from the doorway, eventually bracing her feet against the wall and simply tugging roughly on Devastator’s head, which broke free from the doorway, eliciting a small hiss of pain from the boa.
The large reptile stretched before replying, “I honestly have no idea. You see these things in my head called eyes? Well in case you didn’t notice, mine don’t work, so I generally have no idea where I am. I’m just glad I don’t have to hear any more of those infernal human automobile sounds.” The way she said ‘automobile’, as if testing out the word, brought a smirk to Rowena’s face.
She wrapped her arms around Devastator’s middle in an awkward hug. “It’s good to see you again, Dev, it’s been a while.” In truth, it felt like it had been forever to Rowena. When Rowena ran away from her family’s small-town home ten years ago after the death of her girlfriend Morrie, she had left the boa behind to live peacefully in the woods after the two had said goodbye to each other. But the two had missed each other too much, and Rowena would often sneak back home to visit Devastator, but never had Devastator come to visit her in the city, it was too dangerous.
It was then that Rowena noticed the sores spaced along Devastator’s body, oozing a gross pus that dripped onto the floor in some places.
“Are you okay?” Rowena asked her, a look of concern evident on her face.
“That’s why I came to you, I—” She stopped mid-sentence and writhed in pain, hissing loudly. “It burnsssss!” she wailed, her blind eyes leaking tears from the pain. Rowena ran her hands along the reptile’s body, unsure how to help, feeling useless. Her helplessness reminded her of Morrie’s death, and she shook her head to clear that image from her mind. Rowena had never been good at dealing with deaths, but none of them hurt as much as Morrie’s, not even when her mother died three years ago.
Slowly, Devastator’s writhing came to a stop, and her breathing slowed to its normal pace.
“You’re sick,” Rowena said, more of a statement than a question. “You came to me looking for help?” Devastator nodded. “Dev, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”
The boa turned her head to look at Rowena, the milky eyes unsettling. “So, what, you’re just going to let me die? Have I not been a loyal companion to you for eleven years?” Her voice rose in anger or hurt, Rowena couldn’t tell which. “After everything I’ve done for you, you’re going to let me suffer like this?”
At that moment, the door to apartment 26B opened, and both the boa and Rowena turned their heads to see Linfred Norsworthy stop in his tracks when he saw Rowena standing next to a gigantic boa constrictor, a talking one no less. After what felt like minutes of him standing in the doorway in shocked silence, he seemed to regain control of his legs, and took slow and deliberate steps towards them, coming to stand beside Rowena.
“Hey, honey,” he said, his voice slightly more high-pitched than usual, and kissed Rowena on the cheek as if to make sure this weren’t a dream. “This must be the boa you talk about. . .” He didn’t seem sure whether the sentence should go on or be a question or anything. He simply stood there, his eyes traveling over Devastator’s body, taking in her dull orange scales and her oozing sores. When his eyes found her largest sore, he put a hand to his mouth, holding back a gag.
Devastator dipped her head in greeting, saying, “I’ve heard a lot about you, Linfred Norsworthy. Rowena speaks highly of you.”
Okay, okay, she talks too, he signed absentmindedly. That’s cool. Had he been speaking, Rowena knew there would have been a somewhat hysterical voice coming from her boyfriend. He raked a hand through his black and green hair, and Rowena knew he was wondering what a boa constrictor was doing in their apartment.
Ignoring him for the moment, Rowena turned back to Devastator and sighed. “I’m sorry, Dev, but there’s nothing I can do.”
Having apparently heard the rest of their conversation earlier, Linfred tapped Rowena on the shoulder and signed, What about Michael? Rowena’s face paled at the mention of his name, and she shook her head immediately. Think about it, Linfred signed, his hands moving so fast Rowena was barely able to discern one sign from the next. If anybody knew how to cure this, it would be him.
She lowered her voice so that only Linfred would hear this, “Don’t you remember what I told you about him? About the. . . business we conducted? If I go crawling back to him, I won’t come back alive.”
I know, he sighed, his hands now moving slowly as he thought carefully. He circled his open palm over his heart, which was the sign for both ‘please’ and ‘sorry’. Rowena didn’t know which he meant now. Seeing her confusion, he continued, You don’t have to do anything, I am merely mentioning an option. Rowena knew what he really meant by that; go back to Michael or let Devastator die. And he was right, Michael was the only person who would be able to help.
“Let me think about it,” she muttered, squeezing the bridge of her nose to ease the pain of her sudden headache.
“Think about what?” Devastator asked, reminding Rowena that she was only privy to Rowena’s half of the conversation with Linfred.
It was better not to tell her, Rowena didn’t want Devastator to feel guilty.
“Nothing,” she replied a little too quickly.
Rowena lay there in bed in complete silence, except for the surprisingly relaxing sound of Linfred’s gentle snoring beside her. She glanced over at the clock on her nightstand, happy to see it read 2:45 in the morning. She stealthily got out of bed without waking Linfred, pulling on a pair of boots and throwing on her trusty leather jacket. She crept out of the bedroom and across the living room to the door out of the apartment, relieved that she and Linfred had somehow managed to get Devastator situated on the roof of the apartment complex, where nobody would see her. She slipped out of the apartment, wincing at the creak of the closing door. She descended the stairs to outside, blending into the shadows that covered the sidewalks of the next few blocks. After about twenty minutes of walking, she reached the empty storefront of Johnson’s Pawn, which had been out of business for two years now. Its front windows were broken and graffiti liberally coated the door, evidence of the gangs who frequented the area at night.
She glanced at her watch; 3:08. She was on time, as always. Late last night, she had called Michael to tell him she wanted to meet with him, and he had agreed to it as long as they met in the alley behind Johnson’s Pawn at 3:15 in the morning. Rowena knew meeting a man of his form of business in the middle of the night in an abandoned alley by herself was a foolish and terrible idea—as if begging for a slashed throat—but she had no choice if she wanted Devastator to live. Rowena couldn’t bring Linfred, she didn’t want him to get involved in Michael’s messy business.
She crept around the corner of the empty store, stepping into the pitch-black alley, seeing that Michael wasn’t there yet. She waited there, mulling over the possibilities of how this meeting might go. Would he come alone? It had been four years since Rowena had last seen him, but she knew him well enough to expect him to come alone, but have his henchmen nearby if necessary. They’d been needed to restrain to Rowena when she’d attacked Michael at their first meeting, and even with six henchmen, she’d still managed to land a punch on Michael’s too-perfect face, giving him a shiner he’d never forget. She smirked at the memory, but her smirk quickly died when she saw Michael approaching from the far end of the alley. Alone. Rowena stood there, arms crossed over her chest, wide stance, waiting for him to reach her. Even in the darkness, Michael Jonas was as handsome as ever, his dark curls hiding one of his gleaming amber eyes as his gaze traveled up and down Rowena’s body, forcing her to hide a shudder. He had fared well in these past years, then again, in his line of work, staying alive constituted as faring well.
“Well, well, Rowena Morainn, it’s really you,” he purred, stepping closer to her and extending a hand, something he’d never done before. Rowena didn’t bother to shake it, and he stepped back, unphased. His eyes traveled over her yet again, and she didn’t like it. He let out a long whistle, “Damn, still as beautiful as ever.”
“I came here for a reason, Michael, so let’s get to it.”
A muscle in his jaw clenched, he always loved to be the one in power, to be dominant. “And what is that? Must be a hell of a reason for you to come crawling back to me.”
She bit her tongue before a stinging retort could leave her mouth. “Remember the greenies?” She asked, using the term the both of them had used in the past to refer to the disease that Devastator currently had. When no recognition of the term registered on his face, she continued. “It killed Damon, you must remember that.” For the briefest of moments, Michael’s walls slipped and Rowena got a glimpse of the man in pain, and she knew how to make him hurt. “Your own brother. You knew you had the cure for it, but you held on to it selfishly, worried that you might get sick and need the cure for yourself.” Each word she said seemed to stab Michael in the gut, his amber eyes welled with tears. “Damon begged for it, pleaded with you, the pain was too much for him. But you let him die,” Rowena said, dragging out each word. “You watched your own brother die in your arms because you only ever cared for yourself.”
“I loved him!” Michael roared, a tear escaping his eye.
“Not enough, apparently,” Rowena murmured, and I knew he had heard it like I’d intended by his sharp intake of breath. “Wasn’t he the one who got you me?”
Michael leapt forward and Rowena felt the sting of the back of his hand as it whipped across her face. Rowena fought the urge to hit him, she wouldn’t get the cure from him that way. “Don’t you dare say a word about Damon,” he snarled dangerously in her face, some spittle landing on her nose. “I’ve had enough of your mind games to last me a lifetime, Morainn. Don’t you forget that I have my own ways to control you.” An open threat, how surprising from him.
“Just tell me where I can find it, then you’ll never have to see me again.” Rowena realized her unfortunate wording a moment too late, and he pounced on that.
“I’ve seen more of you than anybody else, that’s not the problem.” He paused. “Who’s it for?”
She considered lying and saying my mother to maximize the tiny ounce of sympathy he had in his pitiful heart. “A friend,” she said simply.
“I can’t help you Rowena. I’m sorry, I truly am,” he said, turning to walk away.
Rowena snatched the knife from her boot, the sound making him step mid-step and turn to look back at her. “There’s more than one way we can do this, Michael,” she growled.
Michael sighed, as if exhausted with our usual games. “Haven’t we fought enough, Rowena? Is this cure really that important to you?” He raised his hand as if he were about to gesture towards something, but thought better of it and lowered his hand. Rowena’s eyes looked him up and down before they spotted a hint of a chain necklace around his neck. There. He had given away where the cure was. Of course he would keep it on him, he’s paranoid.
“Yes,” Rowena replied, licking her lips.
Michael pulled the chain over his neck—a small vial of the special liquid attached to the chain—and tossed it to her. “Then take it. I’ve got no one left to care about, you still do.”
She caught it, completely shocked, and watched as Michael turned and walked away.
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