Boone told me about searching Noah Smith’s apartment. He mentioned the oddity of the empty safe but didn’t imply any suspicions of my involvement. When I asked him what he expected to find in there, his guess was pretty spot on. He missed the specifics of the leather-bound book and the dagger, but I counted it as close enough when he said demon summoning supplies. I watched interrogations of Smith’s men while running a lie detection spell for Boone’s benefit. They all denied another person’s involvement who could have broken into the safe. I could tell Boone didn’t like having a loose end. He couldn’t justify keeping the case open without proof that the safe wasn’t empty all along, though. Sal asked me to join her for lunch once we wrapped up the last interview.
“I have a favor to ask,” she said as I unwrapped my deli sandwich.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Will you add protection spells to the null boxes?” she asked.
“I doubt there’s anything I could do to reinforce them. You made them so well,” I said.
“No, I mean protection against anyone moving them,” she clarified. “It’s not like there’s someone specific I don’t trust here. But those knives are too dangerous. If I could destroy them, I would. The next best thing is ensuring no one can get their hands on them.”
“Oh, uh, yeah. Of course, Sal.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I include myself in that group, by the way. Not that I’d be tempted to do anything with them, but if someone could coerce me to get the boxes, I wouldn’t be able to live with the consequences.”
“Okay. I can do that,” I agreed.
“Good,” she said.
We finished eating our sandwiches, and Sal told me about her latest enchantment idea. She wanted to create a bracelet for Boone that protected him against mundane weapons. If it worked as well as the one she made to protect him from magic, he’d be unassailable. She offered to make one for me, too. I accepted and suggested I help supply the energy for it. If my own magic played a large part in the object’s enchanting, I’d be able to alter it more easily. She agreed immediately. Apparently, one reason the rest of the DPI agents didn’t have matching bracelets was Sal’s power limits. She did her best to supply DPI with useful enchantments, but she’d need an outside source if she wanted the energy to outfit the whole staff.
After we cleaned up, I cast my best protections around the null boxes. Sal tried to take one off the shelf and got knocked backward. I’d expected it, so I easily caught her with a suspension spell. She grinned at our success and high-fived me. I remembered her comment about needing another active magic user around. I realized I’d miss Sal, too, if I quit working for DPI. That alone wouldn’t be enough to keep me. The more I thought about it, though, the more I came up with reasons to stay. I could watch the organization closer from the inside. And I liked the idea of helping people for a living.
By the time I clocked out for the day, I’d made a few decisions. For one thing, I’d stay with DPI. If things there turned against the supernatural community, I’d have the chance to fight it or get the people I cared about as far away as possible. I went from the office to the Lyndale Market to act on my other decisions. The Bentons welcomed me, eager for an answer to their proposal. I accepted their offer to compete in a one-time special event. Despite my confidence that I’d taken enough from Smith’s safe to pay them off, I like the idea of holding on to a portion for emergencies. Returning to the ring for one night to cut my debt in half would facilitate that.
After giving them my conditions for the competition, I left them to plan the specifics. I had one more thing to take care of. People watched me as I made my way through the market. I pretended not to notice them staring. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, anyway. When I arrived at Lee’s technomancy shop, he greeted me with the smirk I’d grown so fond of. I’d considered staying away. But with the demon trapped by its own magic, the threat had passed. My life might still be dangerous as I kept working with the DPI, but Lugh and Flynn taught me something. I shouldn’t take away other people’s decisions. If Lee didn’t want to be part of my life, that was his choice. But if I didn’t let him decide, I’d always wonder what could have happened.
“Welcome back, demon slayer,” he said.
“I’m vetoing that as a term of endearment,” I joked.
“I didn’t come up with it,” he argued.
“It’s inaccurate,” I said.
“Your fans don’t care about accuracy. Plus, demon banisher doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.”
“So you’re still a fan?” I asked.
“The biggest,” he flirted.
“I seem to remember a claim attached to your demand for me to survive,” I said, matching his flirtatious tone.
“Come closer, and I’ll prove it,” he said.
I stepped forward, and he leaned over his table of merchandise. The booth’s blue and gold tapestries closed, shielding us from sight as Lee’s lips touched mine. I wanted to climb over the table and press my body against his. We still had a lot to learn about each other. Hell, we still hadn’t even been on a normal date. I couldn’t wait to change that. Maybe he’d grow as important to me as Flynn and Lugh, or maybe we’d call it quits in a week. But in that moment, I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be.