Ship It

Ship It by Britta Lundin

EVENTUALLY THIS WHOLE business with Heart is going to kill him.

But Smokey hopes it’s not today.

Ignoring every screaming signal in his body pleading with him to stop, Smokey forces his legs to carry him faster, through the woods, away from danger.

Away from Heart.

Finally, his lungs on fire, his legs rubber, gasping for air, Smokey breaks into a clearing, drops his battle-ax with a thud, and falls to his knees as a dozen birds take flight in alarm. Letting his chin fall to his chest, he notices he’s dripping blood on the ground from a long gash across his forearm.


In the furor of the battle, he’d underestimated how badly he was hurt. Smokey had seen worse injuries in his long history fighting demons, but still, each new slash reminded him how fragile his mere human body was.

He presses his palm to the wound and closes his eyes, letting his breath return to him. He decides to take a short break here before continuing on, feeling certain Heart couldn’t have tracked him, particularly not after he spent half a mile wading through that river an hour back. He lets his shoulders relax. He’s alone, he’s safe—for the moment.

Smokey had vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to atone for the damage he caused by allowing the demon portal to open. In the long run, he doesn’t stand a chance against the onslaught of horror pouring out of the portal every day, but still he fights, killing demons one by one. Doing his part. It’s the least he can do, considering.

So when the Dragonbeast emerged from the portal, Smokey had no choice but to fight it. He’d heard the rumors about the Dragonbeast, that it had killed eight hunters already, that it was fearsome and mighty… yadda, yadda, whatever. None of that mattered, because at the end of the day, he’s a hunter and the Dragonbeast needed hunting. He’d waltzed into the fight with the same swagger he used in every situation, and look, it had worked, hadn’t it? The Dragonbeast lies dead and Smokey is alive—although his damn arm hurts like hell.

And the demon portal? It’s still perfectly functioning and spitting out demons faster than he can take them down. But he’s yet to find a way to deal with that particular shitshow.

Lord, he needs a drink.

“He got you good, didn’t he?” Heart’s voice cuts through the silence.

Smokey leaps to his feet and draws his ax with his good arm in one swift motion as Heart appears from the shadows, looking like he just stepped out of a Lands’ End photo shoot, not the depths of demon hell.

Damn. He may have underestimated Heart’s tracking skills. Or is he just that bad at hiding his trail? Because Smokey managed to slay a Dragonbeast—a Dragonbeast!—and escape with his life, only to be tracked down by Heart, the most annoying demon on the planet.

He and Heart had rumbled before, of course, but Heart had always managed to escape Smokey’s ax. Heart insists to anyone who will listen that he’s different from other demons because he has a (wait for it…) heart. Like the organ, like in his chest. Yeah, we get it, you on-the-nose asshole, you’re a demon with a heart. Love the name.

But Smokey suspects that what really sets Heart apart is the fact that he’s the most self-righteous, obnoxious, soapboxing ass he’s ever met. And he’s always there, showing up at inopportune times, making a nuisance of himself, and refusing to get killed. He’s even provided the cover Smokey needed to escape danger one or two times. By accident, Smokey is sure. Because they’re enemies. They have to be. Internal organs or no, a demon’s a demon, and demons all belong in hell.

“Not another step,” Smokey warns Heart, his ax trembling from exhaustion.

Storm clouds rumble overhead, threatening rain. Smokey ignores them.

“You’re bleeding,” Heart notices with… is that concern? He reaches up and rips the sleeve off his own shirt, exposing the thick bicep underneath. “Give me your arm,” Heart growls, stepping toward Smokey.

“I said stay where you are.” Smokey keeps his ax in battle position, but Heart just brushes past it and Smokey finds he doesn’t have the reserves to keep up the struggle. Heart starts wrapping Smokey’s wound with his torn sleeve.

“What are you doing?” Smokey demands. Is this a trick?

“Trying to keep you from bleeding out,” Heart says simply.

“Why, so I can be alive and healthy when you kick me down to hell?” Smokey growls.

Heart just levels him with an annoyed look and continues to work on Smokey’s arm. It already hurts less, under the pressure of Heart’s makeshift bandage and his hands, too warm from demon blood. Smokey curses himself for his weakness. Heart is a demon, Smokey is a hunter. They’re mortal enemies, not soldier and nurse.

“The opening of the demon portal,” Heart murmurs as he works. “You know it’s not your fault.”

Smokey scoffs. That’s not remotely true. It’s entirely his fault. Smokey failed to stop the seven commandments that led to the demon portal opening and the Commander stepping foot on earth for the first time in millennia. No one else was there to stop it but Smokey, and he 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it failed.

“You did everything you could,” Heart says.

Smokey feels Heart tie the bandage off tight, his hands strong, secure.

“Why are you saying this?” Smokey asks, afraid of the answer.

“Because you’re a good man,” Heart says. “Maybe the best.”

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