Dev glanced up as Nica approached, only giving her a brief smile before stating, “You look dead on your feet, hawk.”
“You look like you’re about to molt yourself.” It was perhaps a bit petty to point it out, but Dev had started it. Nica felt she looked fairly good considering that Ariella’s training had left her with a single night’s sleep over the course of the past week. She had an idea of what the demon’s excuse was – opening portals over large distances was hardly an easy feat. Let alone how the news of Az’s return was wearing on her.
Any sympathy Nica may have been feeling for the demon died with the sharp look Dev gave her. “It was a long night.”
Dev’s gaze slid past her to where Naj had disappeared behind the curtains. “How’s the new dancer?”
Nica responded with an elegant shrug as she leaned on the bar. “He’s adjusting, albeit slowly. His version of feral isn’t at all what I would have expected from a red cobra though.”
She gave Dev a sidelong glance that was more than a little disapproving. “I can’t believe you left him to Marie, by the way. The poor guy nearly passed out when she was using him as a pole for her rehearsal earlier.”
The demon looked amused as she wiped some imaginary dust from the counter, leaning in to Nica. Her lack of concern only served to annoy Nica. “Did he now… How interesting. Will he still be able to dance?”
“Of course.” Nica pressed her lips together to keep from making promises her pride may not be able to keep. “I suspect his style and mine will be quite suited to one another, but I’ve no inclination to push him. We’ll see if he’s up to dancing privately first, then whenever he may be ready, I’ll introduce him to the stage.”
Dev’s jaw tightened. Nica took a bit of pleasure in that, petty as she knew it was. It seemed the pair of them couldn’t help but needle the other sometimes. Kain had commented on it more than once and try as she might, she couldn’t quite bring herself to care. It was simply how their relationship worked. If Dev ever stopped taking digs at her, Nica would be left wondering if the demon was sick or up to something. That was bound to be more stressful than the working relationship they had going now.
Nica broke the building silence with the matter that had been niggling at her almost since the moment she’d gotten home. “I see Maleo still holds his old grudges.”
Dev gave her a look that wasn’t quite surprise, but close. “Mal? Now what’s the old bird done?”
“Nothing yet, but he was certainly working his way up to it. He was watching Marie and Naj dance when I got here.”
“The top balcony.” Nica turned to watch Dev take another swipe of the already clean counter.
The demon sighed. “Well, he wasn’t going to do much from all the way up there.”
“All the way up there is a mighty short flight, Dev.”
“We should be grateful he’s not a raptor then.”
Nica’s patience gave way first and her tone sharpened. “I won’t have him in this nest if he’s going to jeopardize Naj’s recovery.”
Finally, she had Dev’s full attention. “And what? You’re going to rescind the invitation of Asylum? Isn’t that a dangerous precedence to set? Ferdy is still sniffing around you know.”
Nica’s eyes narrowed at the implied threat. She didn’t care if it was coming directly from Dev or not. She was too tired to dance this dance today. “You brought him into this nest, Dev. Are you really going to justify it by claiming you were offering him asylum?”
The demon’s gaze fell as she returned to wiping the shiny surfaces around her. “My hire, my fire, is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying that you never gave me the real reason you accepted his application to this nest. He’s a zt-s’aehr-xaehr dancer, only passingly familiar with tech, and his personality has always clashed with those around him. So now I’m asking you, Dev – what does keeping him in this nest truly gain us?” Nica’s voice ended in a low hiss as she remembered that while their tones may keep their conversation private, their agitated auras would give away secrets of their own.
Well, her own agitated aura. Dev’s was pulled in strangely close, almost as if the demon were trying to hide it. She never bothered to pay enough attention to the subtle differences in the shapeshifter races, so was she just being overly cautious in trying to keep Nica from reading her aura, or was it something else?
“Let’s just say it’s bought us a manner of peace unto itself. Alright?”
Nica stared at the demon for several long moments. “From who?”
Dev raised an eyebrow, meeting one hard look with one of her own. “Don’t ask questions when you don’t want the answers, hawk. Just take this one for what it is.”
Nica forced herself to stand upright, trying to encourage her spine to loosen back up from its rigid posture. Her fingers tapped the counter, fingertips striking a dull beat as she choose her words carefully. “Fine, Devin. I won’t ask again, but if he jeopardizes anyone in this nest, I will not hesitate to protect them first and your machination second.”
Not trusting herself to speak further, Nica left the conversation to head downstairs.
Travis’s attention was entirely on the cord in his hand as he pushed through the curtain. It didn’t want to twist in order to loop back on itself and he couldn’t seem to get it –
And then he was falling over someone. The pair of them stumbled together down the three small stairs off the stage and Travis hit his knee to avoid falling completely.
He blinked at the guy next to him, then brightened. “Hey, new guy!”
Naj rolled and was back on his feet in an instant. His hiss and flash of fang turned into a sputtering cough as the wolf’s friendly aura washed over him. It was hard to stay on high alert in the face of such good will. Still, Naj would have to work on not startling so easily. Just the long day,. Such a long day.
“I’m sorry! You startled me- though I suppose I was the one in the way, wasn’t I?”
He realized he was babbling at the wolf’s wide-eyed look. Best to start over. “It’s Travis, right?”
Travis grinned, getting to his feet and scooping up the cord as he did so. “Yep! I’m Travis, general klutz and lighting guy.”
Naj gave his new compromise of a half-bow, knowing it was more or less only for his own benefit. “I am called Naj. Nica had mentioned you were the one to speak with if I wanted to learn more about the lighting work.”
“Did she?” He puffed up a bit, proud that Nica would recommend him for teaching someone else. He knew he was pretty handy with the stuff, but knowing she agreed always made it better.
He clapped Naj on the shoulder. “If you’re into it, I’d be down to show you whatever you like. Lighting really isn’t that hard.”
The last of his tension melted away under Travis’s hand. “I’d appreciate that. I feel vaguely in the way back here. I’d love a chance to help out without being too much a nuisance.”
“Oh yeah, getting out of the way is a specialty of mine.” He laughed as he finished winding the cord. “There’s always stuff to be done that involves corners or catwalks though.”
Travis moved further into the backstage area, looping the cord over a hook on one wall. “What sort of things are you into?”
Naj followed at a companionable distance, wanting to watch Travis work, but not wanting to crowd him. “I suppose it’s not much help to say ‘I have no idea’, but I really don’t. I have a good sense of balance, and excellent rhythm, but that’s not really what you’re asking, is it?”
Travis flashed him another grin. “Not really – though that kinda stuff will make you more useful on stage than me.”
“I meant if you had more interest in prop set up, lighting, working with sound… And if you’re still wanting something that makes you useful but keeps you off stage, the bar needs a hand on the weekends.” He shrugged. “At least, that’s what Dex says. I dunno, I stay clear of any area that involves that much glass.”
He nodded with every task Travis listed off, though he still wasn’t sure what would be the best use of his talents. Other than dancing, as Travis had said. All in good time. He still had much adjusting to do.
“I suppose the best place to start is with something where my inevitable mistakes will do the least harm.”
He realized that the wolf had finished his chore, and Naj suddenly felt bad for keeping him. “Don’t let me be a bother to you now. I’ll learn at your leisure, of course.”
“Sure, I figure if you’re into it, we could start with something tomorrow.” He hooked his thumb towards the downstairs door. “I was going to shower and grab food, you heading that way?”
“a’par-” He shook his head, stopping himself with a small grin. “Thank you, I’d like that. On both counts, actually.”
“Cool!” Travis grinned back, waving to Naj as he headed downstairs. “My turn to hang with the new guy.”
As Travis headed downstairs, he called over his shoulder to Naj, “you want to get clean or fed first?”
Naj hurried after him, losing ground to the lanky wolf’s stride. “Whichever is the least trouble– and thank you again. I’m sure you weren’t looking for more work when you came back here to put everything away.”
“Psh. Friends aren’t work.” Travis glanced around the empty Great Room and kitchen, then glanced down at his hands. “Well, need to clean up anyway before eating, so shower it is!”
He grinned back at Naj as he headed towards the left hallway. “You already know where everything is? I figure someone’s given you a tour by now.”
He paused, not remembering much from the night before. Only that Marie and Nat’s room was in the other direction.
“Ah, not really, no. I’m sorry.”
His gaze lowered to the floor, but he quickly looked up again when Travis threw an arm around his shoulders. The wolf had come back for him. Naj didn’t know why, but that small gesture filled his chest with a bubble of joy.
Man, the new guy sure liked to apologize. He wondered if this was his version of pulling a Lena, hiding away behind super polite manners until he was ready to come out of his shell. He’d have to try to remember not to spook him, then.
“Hey, no worries. This is only your first day after all. I’ll give you a tour of the fabulous left hallway—waaay more better than the right hallway. We have all the party animals. …though they do have the hot tub…”
As they turned down the left hall, Travis chattering about a million things Naj didn’t understand, he tried to remember what he did know about the layout. Someone had told him both hallways were more or less identical, right? But Travis clearly preferred the left one? Only one way to find out.