Fictober, Prompt 12 – “You keep me safe.”
Warnings: stalking, implied past abuse, threatened violence, monster, horror-adjacent, hopeful ending.
The man was there again.
He stared up at the house, searching the windows eagerly for any flicker of light, any sign of movement…any sign of her.
I had already warned him off twice, and slow anger coiled through me to see him here again, in my territory. He was standing just off the edge of the property that went with the house, but that was irrelevant – the human notions of property lines were not applicable to my kind, and my territory stretched far out beyond the neighborhood around us. I had chosen one of the more distant houses, set back from the street and a yard filled with mature trees, though those admittedly obscured less of the view now with half their leaves on the ground.
I contemplated the man from the shadow of one of those trees, knowing that he had not seen or sensed me yet.
Ellie had neither requested nor required any promises from me, regarding what I could or could not do to him. She had asked only for sanctuary, an honor I had not expected, even though she had known my true nature for many years now.
But, as glad as she was to rest for a time, I knew that this could not go on much longer. She had her life yet to live, and he would try to prevent that from happening. Still, her very silence on the subject made me hesitate.
Thrice, I decided, was both traditional and sufficient. I would warn him once more, and give him a little bit more incentive this time to stay away.
He would not stay away, and the next time he came, I would do what needed to be done.
I waited for the thickening clouds to cover the moon, and moved, swift and silent under the rustling dry leaves. To him, it seemed as if I appeared suddenly at his back out of nowhere, and he spooked, swearing and beginning to turn.
I clamped a strong hand around the back of his neck to prevent him from moving.
A scaled hand, claws pricking at his skin, cold.
“I have warned you twice already, human,” I told him lowly, voice modulated only just enough to be understandable, “to cease haunting her steps, and to stay off my territory. If you come again, you will not leave. No,” I commanded when I felt him draw breath. “Do not speak. Turn to your left. Leave. Come again at your peril. Pursue her or harm her anywhere at your peril. Nod if you understand me.”
He nodded, and the hard edges of my scales scraped against his skin unpleasantly.
“Then go,” I said, and shoved him away, using magic to shroud myself even as I backed away into the shadow of the trees again. Sure enough, he stumbled a few steps and then looked around, equally frightened and suspicious. He hesitated, but then good sense temporarily overruled him, and he left, not quite running down the sidewalk and out of sight.
I sighed. Showing him my other form might have been more effective, but I could admit to myself that I wanted this to be over, finally and properly. He would see that form when it would be his last sight.
Regardless, he would not be back tonight. A glance up at the house showed the curtain of Ellie’s room swaying slightly, in spite of the window being shut. I had hoped she would be asleep, but knew that it did not always come easily to her. I finished returning to my human skin, and went inside to find her in the kitchen, a low light now on, as she brewed the kind of tea that sometimes helped her to rest.
“You keep me safe,” she said as I came in, pausing to bow in thanks. I put a quick end to that.
“It is my honor to protect one who has come to me for sanctuary,” I told her, not for the first time. “I am only sorry not to be better or swifter about it.”
Ellie smiled wryly and shook her head, turning back to her tea. “You’ve done so much for me already. I’m afraid he’ll be back.”
“If he values his life, he will not,” I said, watching as she paused again, only for a breath, then turned and met my eyes.
She nodded acceptance at whatever she saw there. “I only…I know that it might be an inconvenience, if the human authorities were to get involved.”
“I am not concerned about them.”
She huffed a laugh this time, and nodded, staring into her mug. After a moment, she admitted, “It would be a relief…to know that it’s truly over. To know that he could never hurt anyone else, either.”
“I am almost sorry I did not do it tonight,” I sighed, “but it will be easier to keep the human authorities out of it if I am better prepared. If he comes again, it will be done.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, and I did not deny her when she sought an embrace. I had learned better how to be human in the ways that mattered, over the last months. Or at least, how to be a…friend, as well as a protector. It did not come naturally, little about the human world did. But it was not impossible to learn, and it did not repulse me, not as I had once been taught it would.
I would protect Ellie, and when that task was done, I hoped that we could remain friends, even if she no longer needed a protector.
When she went to turn off the timer for her tea, and gave me a proper smile before saying good night and returning upstairs, I thought that Ellie might want that too.