Azriel woke to sunlight seeping through the drapes onto him. It had been a long time since he had slept this well. The blankets were warm, the bed was soft, and the satin feel if Lilly’s skin against his had lulled him into the deepest sleep he had had in longer than he could remember. Slowly he became aware of the sensation on his back.
Lilly was awake and delicately tracing the outline of one the tattoos on his back with the tips of her fingers. She had a feather touch that hung just on the outside of tickling. There was no mistaking which one she was tracing. The stylized tribal image of a bear with its arms wrapped around a lily flower hidden within the design that mirrored hers of a lily in full bloom with a bear’s paw stylized into the pistil; their unity tattoos. They had gotten them the day they were married years ago. The nature of their respective work required that their union be kept secret; only Raziel, Crowley and a few of those who worked at the Garden knew; and this was the next best thing to rings that they could think of. Everyone looked for rings, but no gives a thought into the meaning behind tattoos.
Azriel sighed contentedly and rolled over to meet her gaze.
“Hey,” she said softly, “who said I was done with that?”
“Good morning to you too. How long have you been up?
“Long enough.” She began gently tracing around the edge of the scar on his ribs. Their first night together she had given him that with a point of her knife. She called it a memento for the only one who was ever decent to her; and in those days, this place being what it was, that was more than likely true.
Azriel threw the covers off of their naked bodies and Lilly almost immediately squealed as she curled up into a ball. The Garden was climate controlled to mimic the change in seasons to a degree while still keeping it comfortable for patrons and those who live there alike; but even with that, the interior October air could be bracing if you weren’t ready for it.
“You’re an asshole!” she shot at him.
He just grinned down at her before getting up and heading into the bathroom. The recent run to Tirtaringire had not had the most ideal of endings. He could still remember the way the blood had drained from Lilly’s face when Hemlock had carried him in with the white lily still in his hands after his strength failed him at the door. He had only seen that look once before, and on that night he was still somehow able to drag himself in. He could only imagine how seeing him carried in would have stopped her heart.
Scot and Balthazar had done what they could in the field, but to really heal he needed time and someone who could do more and for longer. The Garden was the only place he could think of to find such treatment without having too many intrusive questions asked. It had taken several days of treatment, some magic, and a lot of bed rest, but he was finally getting back to normal.
He peeled back some of his dressings and looked himself over in the mirror. The wounds on his shoulder were fading quickly, the stitches in his back were holding up well, and his broken ribs were almost completely healed. Even the bits of skin and hair that had been singed with Jackie’s grenade had healed themselves up. A few more scars to add to the tally, but he was alive.
“I’ll give this to Lavender, she really knows her medicines,” he said to her from the bathroom.
“You were lucky she was here. Another day or two and she would have been on her vacation in Hawaii.” Lilly had gotten out of bed and was busy preparing herself for the day. Azriel could smell the coffee pot in the room brewing the morning pot for the two of them. “You owe her big time you know. She was kind enough to put it off so she could put you back together for me.”
“I’ll try not to make a habit of it,” he said as he exited the bathroom.
“See that you don’t,” she shot back.
She was already half dressed, jeans and cowboy boots pulled on, and was digging through her laundry for a shirt. Her chestnut hair fell in cascades over her shoulders and draped down to her chest as she stood up. He drank in every facet of her; every curve, every nook, every intoxicating line that even her tattoos seemed to accentuate. She was inspecting the shirt in her hand when she noticed him and an almost sheepish grin spread across her lips.
“What?” she said as she looked herself over, trying to find the flaw he was focusing on so intently.
“Nothing,” he grinned. “I was just thinking.”
“About…?” she let the word trail off and had a quizzical look on her face.
“Well Lavender has done such a good job patching me up. I’m pretty sure that we couldn’t do any damage that couldn’t be slept off later.”
A coy smile spread across her lips as she threw her shirt into Azriel’s face. Azriel cast it aside just in time to catch her as she was leaping through the air at him. Pain gripped him for a moment as the pair spun down onto the bed in an embrace of passion, and it wasn’t long before her nails were beginning to trace their telltale trenches across his back.
Having showered and had his morning coffee, Azriel made his way downstairs. The Garden’s several live in workforce had grown accustomed to his being there and treated him like one of the family, and he in turn did the same. He would have even if Lilly wouldn’t cause him all manner of pain if he didn’t, but it was good to have the added incentive.
Lilly was standing with Lavender and Hemlock, delegating the day’s tasks just inside the bar as Azriel hit the bottom of the stairs. Their eyes met and he smiled and turned to leave, but barely managed to make it more than two steps before her voice stopped him.
“Hold it!” she called as she bounded over to him. Lavender receded into the main room and took up a place at the bar as Hemlock moved towards the back of the establishment, his heavy footfalls resonating through the room even after he had left it.
“Yes?” he said as he turned to face her.
“Walk with me a moment.” She looped her arm in his and began to lead him around the exterior walls, past several of the plants with their sweet smelling flowers. Some looked like stands of verdant fire as their leaves were changing from green to hues of orange and scarlet. Azriel loved the look of the changing leaves, but his attention was cautiously on Lilly. She may have a smile on her face and a gentleness to her touch, but with her that could only spell trouble and Azriel knew it.
“So,” she began, “I love that I get to see you so much now, and I wish you could stay more.”
“I know, I know. I’ll work on cutting back on visits and-“
“No, that’s not it at all,” she cut him off with a smile.
“What, this doesn’t put off some of your clients at all?”
“On please. You know me well enough to know that business is just business, same as it is with you. It’s all for appearances. Besides, I told you, nobody shares my life in that fashion anymore. And anyway, we like having you around.”
“Well, yes. Everyone here likes you, and not just because I tell them to. Even Nightshade and Hemlock have taken a shine to you. They see that you make me happy, and that’s good with them. The point is that you don’t always have to leave. This is as much your home as it is theirs, and there’s no reason for you to always lay your head elsewhere.”
Azriel stopped in his tracks at this. They were just in front of the stage now and he could see Lavender across the room trying to surreptitiously watch them. The thought of living in the Garden with Lilly was enticing. More than enticing, it was almost irresistible. It would be the closest thing to having a home and family since living at the compound with the other Seraphim. With Lilly, however, things were never that simple; especially where he was concerned. The whole situation was beginning to turn his stomach in knots.
“What’s the catch?” he said cautiously.
“Well,” she said, taking his arm again and continuing their path around the Garden. “You recall this morning when I said you would owe Lavender big?”
“Yes,” he responded. Then it dawned on him. He was sure the look he was giving her was somewhere between surprise and abject horror.
Oh, no. Oh God no.
“You can’t fucking be serious,” he said.
“Oh yes. She’s going on her trip and I need someone I can trust behind the bar with me. Besides, this will give you a chance to work down that tab that you’ve been running up.”
“What tab? I’ve paid you for everything; even replaced that U.C.A.S. 12 year.”
“Let me rephrase. You can work down the tab that Crowley has been running up on your behalf.”
“That son of a-“ Azriel started. He could feel the tension of frustration beginning to well up from below. Lilly was all smiles about the whole thing and was biting her lower lip in an attempt to stop. “And you just let him do that?”
“He’s your friend. Besides, why would I miss the chance to see this look on your face?”
“I’m going to kill him,” he said almost too calmly. There was no use arguing. He had tried that before and it always ended poorly.
It’s a dream. This is all just a bad dream. I’m going to wake up and it will all be fine.
Lilly had lead him around the edge of the room and planted him at the edge of the bar where Lavender was waiting on the verge of laughter. She glided behind it and withdrew a black three button vest and a bowler hat.
“You’ll be needing these,” she chimed as she placed them before him.
“What, you want me to look like a fragging Chip-n-Dale?!” He looked down at the cloths incredulously and hoped he would somehow wake up from this bad dream.
“Awww, but you’ll look so cute,” Lavender chimed to him. She had her arms wrapped around him playfully and he could swear she was on the verge of pinching his cheek. “Just think of all the lovely ladies you’ll be bringing in.”
“And men,” Lilly added to which Lavender nodded.
Please wake up. Please wake up. Please wake up. Please wake up.
Azriel’s mind was racing. The day had started off so well and now here he was trapped between a rock and a hard place. A beautiful rock and hard place, which is possibly what made it all the worse.
“You do realize I don’t know the first thing about being a bar tender?”
“Nice try, but we both know you’re too smart to really rely on that.” Lilly was not letting him out of this. “We’ll just have you pour the taps and the rest you’ll learn. Besides, would working with me really be all that bad?”
She leaned over on the bar and rested her head in her hands, batting her eyes at him. She was mocking him, and Lavender was quivering with stifled laughter. Lilly had set her trap and he had walked right into it. The worst part was that this most likely wasn’t confined to just Lilly and Lavender. The entire Garden in all likelihood knew about it well in advance. Lilly loved to play this game, and it was almost infuriating how good she was at it.
“I really don’t have a choice do I?” Azriel sighed dejectedly.
Lilly shifted her head to one hand and sighed mockingly. “No… you really don’t.”
Lavender threw her arms around Azriel’s neck and hugged him tightly.
“Thank you so much!” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll bring you back something nice from Hawaii, Wolf’s bane.”
“Wolf’s Bane?” he asked incredulously.
“Of course, you work for the Garden now. Besides, Hemlock wanted to call you Buttercup,” Lilly said, straightening up.
“Nightshade voted for Sweet pea,” Lavender added.
“But we figured since you were kinda stuck doing this, we’d at least give you a something a little bit more befitting.” Lilly came back around to the front of the bar and draped her hands on Azriel’s shoulders.
“Well, I’ve got a flight to catch!” Lavender gave each of them one last hug before bounding off towards the door. “Thank you again so much!” she called back.
Azriel sighed again. “I’m going to literally kill him.”
“Oh come on, it won’t be so bad,” Lilly said. “I won’t even make you wear the vest and hat. Besides, think of all the secrets that little birds and bees might drop in and tricks you’ll pick up. Who knows what will come in handy on your runs? And I’ll be there the entire time. I promise I won’t even bite… much.”
“You’re so thoughtful,” he said. Despite being strong armed into it, she was right. New tricks and talents could prove invaluable on a run, and who knows what kind of information could fall into his lap. Crowley however, would be made to pay for this none the less.
She smiled that simple smile that always managed to melt him and stroked his hair a bit before kissing him. A long moment passed before they broke and she pulled away, moving back to lean against the bar.
“Now then, why don’t you go help Hemlock unload today’s shipment?”
Defeated, Azriel stood and began to make his way towards the door receiving a swat on the butt from Lilly as he went.
“One way or another, you’re going to be the death of me,” he said as he went.
“Don’t you worry Manto,” she called after him. “I’ll be the best boss you ever had!”
She giggled as she turned back to the bar and got to work. Azriel began to softly beat his head against the door frame. Finally, he turned and headed off towards the back door to meet his new mountain of a co-worker.
I should have stayed in bed today.