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not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

VIII La Leyenda

by Pen

"That's him!" AJ hissed. Howie straightened up from the table he's been wiping, and looked surreptitiously over toward the bar.

"Guys, guys!" It was Nick, who as usual thought he was being a lot more discreet than he actually was. "He's here. That scary dude."

"The one we think's working for LPE," AJ added, just in case Howie had failed to grasp the full picture. Because with these two in the house, painting everything in neon colors, he was so likely to miss the point.

The scary guy didn't look particularly offensive from this angle, but he had Howie's boys rattled, and they usually coped pretty well, so he wasn't going to dismiss this lightly. Brian was behind the bar now, and taking the stranger's order with a bland smile. Okay, there was probably something in it, if Brian's smile was bland. Howie trusted Brian's instincts.

"I'm on it, guys," he murmured, finished setting the last couple of tables in order, took one more careful look around the place, and headed casually back to the bar to polish a few glasses and look busy. Usually he greeted new arrivals at the door, but it was quiet so far tonight, and it looked like a priority to talk to the mysterious stranger, if he could.

His practiced eyes identified the mojito Brian slid in front of the stranger, who sipped at it indifferently. The guy was tall, over six feet of chiselled, dark-haired—not fair, Howie thought, sending me tall, dark and handsome to steal my livelihood out from under me. Our livelihood.

"Place is kinda quiet," the stranger said. Definitely not fair, a slow, deep drawl, a voice that made Howie's insides tingle.

"The night is young," he replied, cheerfully, and set a double bowl of snacks handily by the stranger's elbow, salted cashews and miniature crackers. The stranger took a couple of cashews and nibbled at them thoughtfully. He had a very nice mouth, Howie thought, resignedly.

In fact, he was pretty damn fine all over. Dark suit, but he was wearing a black T-shirt instead of a button-down, and a very beautiful amulet on a thin leather thong around his neck, a silver dragon with furled wings and exquisitely-drawn details, scales, claws, bright emerald eyes. Probably real emeralds, Howie thought, judging by the quality of the workmanship. "That's a very fine dragon," he remarked.

The handsome stranger, whose eyes were as incredibly green as the amulet's, and quite a lot more beautiful, smiled at him. Oh, shit, Howie thought, that really is not fair.

"It's a Guardian," the stranger said. "Keeps you safe."

"Sounds like something I could use," Howie said.


"You could say that." Ironic, really, if this guy was a minion from LPE. Not that minion seemed like the right word, he didn't feel like a minion. Too much... presence. There was a kind of quiet menace around him, no, not threatening exactly, but, Howie thought, you couldn't ignore the guy even if tall, dark and handsome wasn't your thing.

But he really didn't need to tell a stranger his troubles. "Oh, you know," he replied, carefully vague.

"Work, family or love life?" The stranger offered his hand across the shiny bar. "I'm... Kevin."

"Nice to meet you," Howie said, shaking the hand briefly. Just the right amount of firm in the handshake, of course. The guy—Kevin—was apparently perfect. Just his luck, really.

"So, which is it?"

"Oh," said Howie. "The first two, I guess." Nick, Brian and AJ were as much family as they were colleagues. And he didn't have a love life.

"Business not doing too good?"

The place was unusually empty for this time of the evening. Howie wouldn't have expected it to be full by now, but aside from the handsome stranger at the bar there were just two girls at one of the front tables (AJ was flirting with them) and a couple in one of the booths, obviously not interested in anything but one another. Not exactly a bustling scene. Brian had disappeared off to get some more limes, and Nick was lurking near the door, trying to pretend he wasn't watching Howie's conversation.

"It's usually busier than this. We're... We're trying to fight off a buyer," Howie said, almost defiantly. "There's a consortium, runs a bunch of night clubs across the state, they want this place."

"And you don't want to sell? They offering a crap deal?"

"Yes, I mean, no, we don't want to sell, and yes, they're offering a crap deal. We—the four of us bought this place a while back, we wanted it to be fun, different, not the kind of run-of-the-mill soulless hangout they run in their other places. And we'd be taking a loss if we sold it for what they're offering. Wouldn't even pay off the loans." Howie was the business head. He knew what the accounts looked like.

Kevin looked around at the near-empty club. "If this is all the business you got..."

"It's not like this, most nights. This is weird. I don't know what happened." He had an idea, though. He had an idea that LPE's heavies were probably parading up and down the street right now, 'advising' people not to go inside. And he couldn't think of a thing to do about it. If he let Nick or Brian have an inkling what was going on they'd be outside before they even thought twice about it, and the kind of people LPE employed weren't going to baulk at broken bones. And he couldn't see any other way of scaring them off. If they were, in fact, doing what he thought they were doing. "Was there anyone outside when you got here?"

"Mmm," said Kevin, and took a drink. Howie watched the curve of his throat as he swallowed, and told himself not to be a fool. "Four big apes, told me some tale about there being a better place to spend an evening a couple blocks away."

"Shit," Howie said.

"You know," said Kevin, his green eyes wide and compelling, "I could probably persuade them to leave."

"You could?" Sure, if Kevin was one of the high-ups in LPE, he could tell them to go—except, why would he?

"I'd need a reward," Kevin said, gently.

Howie almost laughed. Here it was, the hook with the poisoned bait. "What do you have in mind?" he said, leaning forward across the bar, chin up, challenging. He might be outmatched but he sure as hell wasn't going to give up easy.

"I believe the appropriate payment would be a kiss," said Kevin.

Howie blinked at him. But, hey. What the hell. "Best offer I've had all night," he said, and leaned forward. Kevin's mouth opened against his lips, the taste of the mojito and salted cashews and smoke and something like hot pepper; Howie moaned quietly and sighed as Kevin drew back.

Kevin gave a slight, conspiratorial smile. "Done," he said, and slid off his barstool. Howie, whose brain seemed to have seized up, watched him leave.

Brian materialized next to him. "Dude," he said. "Is that a technique from one of your business books?"

"Because damn, it's effective," said Nick, who had of course been watching.

Ten minutes later, customers started arriving. But Kevin did not return.


Customers started coming inside in the usual pattern the following night, and the night after that, but there was no sign of Kevin. Howie tried hard to convince himself that this was a good thing. Maybe Kevin didn't work for LPE at all. Maybe he did, but LPE had recognized that La Leyenda wasn't for them after all... it wasn't very convincing. It certainly didn't convince Howie.

And it didn't stop him dreaming about smoky, spicy kisses, either.

It was Friday night when they showed up in force. The heavies from LPE, six of them, like walking walls with serious attitude problems. Howie, greeting at the door, was slammed casually backward into the paintwork. As he tried to catch his breath he sought desperately around for Nick, who would be killed if he—but no, Brian had him, Brian was holding onto him with a grip that would leave bruises. AJ? No, he was safe, too, up there on the stage—he'd stopped singing, but Howie saw him tense, then visibly make the right call. He wouldn't put himself in a fight with six huge, hulking invaders. The band faded, one by one, and there was silence.

One of the goons picked up a bottle from the nearest table, and casually smashed it down. Someone screamed. And—

"Excuse me."

It was—how did Kevin get in here? Howie had not seen him—

"That's not polite. You need to leave. Now." His voice was calm, matter-of-fact, not even loud.

One of the goons swore, and Kevin's face changed. Anger—pure, white-hot, like the wrath of God. Howie could have sworn smoke plumed from Kevin's nostrils, which couldn't be, but—

The lights in the club seemed to have gone out, the place was shrouded in black, as though they were all under the spread of enormous wings, and there were tearing sounds, rending, and shrieks, terrible shrieks, babbling, and a singed, metallic smell.

And the lights went up, and the goons were... not there.

AJ, bless him for ever, leaped back onto the stage and urged the band back into action, belting out a frenetic version of his new favorite song, twice the usual speed and with definite overtones of hysteria, but it was music and it was loud and it helped make the place seem normal again.
Brian hauled Nick behind the bar just in time, before a wave of overexcited customers reached them, gesturing and waving and making enough noise to drown out AJ and the band, almost.

Howie walked over to Kevin, who was standing right there, just six tottering steps from him, cool as you please. And kissed him.

"You should probably..." Kevin waved in the direction of the bar, where Nick and Brian were under siege, but Howie didn't care.

"They can manage," he said. "I need to talk to you. Come outside." He took Kevin's hand and led him through the staff door and up the metal staircase that led to the roof.

They stood there, looking out over the twinkling lights of nighttime, and Howie took a deep breath to ask. "Who are you? How did you—what did you—"

"I told you," Kevin said. "Guardian." He fingered the dragon amulet on his chest.

"I don't understand."

"I won't let you be harmed by malice or greed."

Uh. Wow. "Um. Care to add a little explanation to that?"

"You won't believe it."

"No, most likely not," said Howie, because the things he was thinking were, well, unbelievable. In fact, he was beginning to be sure that he'd gotten a concussion from being slammed into the wall, and this was all fantasy. "Tell me anyway."

"I'm a dragon," Kevin stated. "This dragon," he tapped his amulet, "only a lot bigger, normally. The amulet holds the rest of my essence when I take human form."

"Okay," said Howie. "And you're my dragon guardian, for some reason?"

"Not just yours. Four charges I have. I've been watching all of you for a while, but you didn't seem to need me until recently."

"I can look after myself," Howie agreed. "Except when, well."

"Exactly," said Kevin.

His eyes were incredibly green.

"So," said Howie. "Can I kiss you again?"

Even after the disappearing heavies and the sudden darkness and the metallic scent in the air it was Kevin's kiss that convinced Howie. He tasted... like a dragon ought to taste, only better. It was addictive, at least, Howie didn't want to stop. This was a very good fantasy.

"I didn't expect you," Kevin said, when eventually their mouths separated. "I didn't know that being human would feel so good."

"I can do better," Howie told him. "Come home with me, I'll show you."

"Would you like to fly there?" Kevin sounded almost shy as he made the offer.

"I—yeah. I would." Howie was beginning to be really impressed with his imagination. Probably his club was being trashed while he was lying here hallucinating, but what the hell. He'd never get another chance to fly.

The dragon that stood before him on the roof was huge and silver, with great dark wings and a head trailing spikes. Beautiful emerald eyes. Around its mighty neck it wore a tiny amulet, a little human figure in a circle. With infinite care, the dragon closed one great clawed hand around Howie, lifting him snugly as it rose into the air and flapped high. Almost soundlessly it flew to the edge of town, set him down, and landed in the road just outside his little house.

"Wow," Howie said. "That was amazing!"

And Kevin was there again, wings gone, and the dragon around his neck.

"Okay, then. Come on inside, and I'll show you what humans do that's even better than flying."


When Howie got to work next day, the club was clean and tidy and the safe was full with last night's takings. And thereafter, La Leyenda was filled with happy customers, and it prospered, even as LPE foundered and sank. And sometimes at the end of a long evening, Howie got to fly home.



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