Malik wishes for sleep. Instead, he receives company and a command from his most confusing housemate.
Malik can’t bring himself to go back to bed – back to the place where dark thoughts and waking nightmares burst into reality in the less than pleasant darkness of his room. Instead, the djinn walks the short distance from his room to the common area that he shares with his housemates.
This late at night – or this close to dawn, really – the common area is empty.
The others are in their own rooms and have been for a while. Sabre, a succubi-sided cambion, has been tucked in bed with human lovers since getting off her shift at the casino. Cleo locked her room and hasn’t left it since the day before when the latest shipment from the Library of Alexandria were delivered to their door. And Leeshi, who works from home amidst his hoard, rarely leaves it in the first place.
There’s no one out and awake to catch Malik drifting, fingers sliding over sleek leather as the weak and wavering light from outside paints everything with stretching shadows.
Malik frowns, mouth twisting with annoyance. He isn’t human, doesn’t have even a hint of human ancestry the way that some of the others do. He can do for days without eating and weeks without sleeping. Maybe that’s why he’s so angry with himself and so close to the edge.
It’s been a long time since Malik has used his bed for sleeping.
One of the bedroom doors in the very back of the apartment opens with a creaking squeal that is almost painful to Malik’s senses. He flinches, fingers digging into the back of the couch until his sharp nails threaten to puncture the leather.
Honestly, Malik isn’t sure which of his housemates will come trotting down the hall. He isn’t even sure if he has a preference as to which one of his fellows will come and catch him pacing, wandering around their home like a vampire. He stiffens his spine, shoving off the weariness that suffuses him just in time to see his housemate Cleo clear the corner.
Cat-eyed Cleo walks into the common area on bare brown feet that make no sound in the quiet room. Dressed in a thin linen shift and with her ink black hair falling down in a curtain that comes straight down to her knees, Cleo looks disarmingly harmless. She looks like a girl from the front, not like when she turns and Malik glimpses the fluttering of her feathers or the slinky sway of her gold-tipped tail.
“I could hear you brooding from all the way in my room,” Cleo says, her voice a rich murmur that lingers in the air. She pauses to smile at Malik, lush mouth opening wide enough that the points of her sharp teeth are well on display. “What’s wrong now, Malik? Can’t sleep?”
Malik scowls, sliding his fingers through the curls of thick black hair cropped short around the thick base of his spiraling horns.
“I didn’t know that I was bothering you,” Malik says, his voice thick with reproach. “You should’ve told me, texted me. You didn’t have to come out –”
Cleo cuts Malik off with a rattling chuffing noise. It’s a big cat’s sound coming out of every lovely, very sweet-looking mouth and it shouldn’t fit. But then, it’s Cleo and while Malik usually thinks about her as his least annoying roommate, he knows that she’s never very far away from shifting sphinx and clawing something to shreds.
“I didn’t come out to scold you,” Cleo say with an exaggerated role of her amber eyes and a flick of her tail. She tilts her head to one side, all of that thick black hair swinging in the air like a pendulum. Cleo smiles again, softer this time as if she’s listening to a joke that only she can hear. “I came to distract you.”
Malik feels his mouth dry. “Distract me?”
Cleo dips her head in a shallow nod.
“That’s what I said,” she murmurs. “You distracted me from my reading and now I’m going to distract you from all of this.” Cleo waggles her fingers in Malik’s general direction as if that makes any sort of sense.
And all right, maybe it does to her.
Malik is a djinn. He’s almost two thousand years old to the day and yet this impish daughter of Bast can clear the sense from his head with only a look. Malik returns one of his hands to his hair, claws catching on curls before he gives up and gives Cleo a look he knows to be searching.
“What do you want/” Malik finds himself asking, snapping as he watches Cleo all but wag her gold-tipped tail.
Cleo shrugs, shoulders gleaming with coppery red notes in the dim light. “Oh, so many things. World domination, a new e-reader,” she purrs with amusement heavy in her rich voice. “But I’ll settle for some of your mother’s catnip tea with milk and a good brushing.”
Malik blinks, frowning.
“Is that all you want,” Malik asks. “Just some tea and grooming for distracting you. If it was anyone else in the house –”
“But it’s not,” Cleo hisses, her sharp teeth bared for a tense second before she subsides and tucks calmness around her like a cloak. She pats away several imaginary wrinkles in her shiftdress until she can look up at him without her slit pupils widening. “You’re not. I actually like you and besides, I haven’t had a good brushing in a long time.”
Malik licks his lips for lack of anything else to do.
“Should I be thankful,” he murmurs, “Or scared?”
Cleo laughs, uttering a loud and utterly delighted sound that should wake up the rest of their housemates and their neighbors on top of that. She turns her back on Malik as she clambers over the back of the couch and her hair goes everywhere, falling all the way to one side and giving Malik a glimpse of pale gold wings too small for flight.
Once situated on the couch, Cleo tilts her head back and smiles at Malik with her eyes crinkling up at the corners.
“Get the brush and you’ll find out,” she says, teasingly.