Daily Life With A Lilim Chapter 24


~Discharged~

Stanley made good on his promise to pick Natalie up the next day. Thankfully, nothing untoward happened during her overnight stay, and while the doctor was reluctant to clear her there really wasn’t much he could do for her. So she ended up leaving with the couple, and upon stepping outside, Natalie stretched her arms, basking in the morning sun and taking in that not-so-fresh city air.

“Freedom!”

“You’ve only been in there for a couple of hours.”

“I don’t want to hear lip from you of all people!” she snapped “as if you could survive overnight without a laptop, phone, or WiFi.”

“…point.”

“We’re getting sidetracked from the issue at hand here,” the woman said with all seriousness. “I want to know what the hell happened in the year, or so I haven’t seen you.”

“Would you believe me if I told you I stumbled on a new lease on life and have made it so that I am now a regular contributing member of society?”

Natalie stared at him flatly for a moment before answering that question with an equally flat “no.”

With a neutral expression himself, Stanley shrugged, “Hey, it’s been a year and clearly I’ve changed, so who’s to say that’s not what happened?”

“Oh, I have no doubts that you’ve gone through changes, Stan.” Natalie nodded. “I’m not an online conspiracy theorist too stupid not to see what’s right in front of me, and while I can see the optimistic story of a guy overcoming his own deficiencies to make something of himself, I’ve known you literally your entire life. The only way I can see you changing to this degree is if you had a near-death experience or something happened to you that was so profoundly shocking that it made your stubborn ass change.”

And to that, Stanley gestured to his left, “I met her.”

As one, both siblings turned to Ezraphel, who stood off to the side, a little ways away, more than content to watch their interaction as if it were rare footage from a nature documentary. So wrapped up in the view she was that once they turned their attention to her, she was momentarily shocked.

“Um…”

For her part, Natalie gave her a slow once-over before nodding, “That’ll do it.”

“Yep”

“And that’s another thing we need to talk about.”

“Well, can we talk about it later?” he groused, “preferably when we’re not out in public.”

Natalie glanced around, and while there weren’t many people around at that time, the few that were gave them glances, well they gave Ezraphel glances, though she seemed ambivalent to the attention.

“Fine,” she acquiesced.

And with that, the trio ventured to the car, and upon arriving, Stanley posed the question, “Are you still living in that apartment?”

“No, I moved,” answered Natalie as she went for the front passenger’s side.

“What?” he paused. “When did you move?”

Ezraphel carefully yet silently entered the vehicle through the backseat behind the driver’s seat.

Natalie paused from opening the door, making a so-so gesture: “Eh, a little bit after I quit my job.”

“You quit your job!?” Stanley exclaimed, “why?” He wasn’t able to catch himself from finishing that syllable, and an awkward silence ensued.

In the backseat, Ezraphel cringed, ‘Oh Stanley…’

Natalie gave her brother a mirthless smile. “It doesn’t seem worth it to keep an expensive apartment and work 9-5 when I’ve only got a few months left to live at best.”

Then she opened the door to the backseat and slid inside, leaving Stanley to stew in his mistake. Pinching the bridge of his nose, the short man took a deep breath and slowly exhaled before silently entering the vehicle.

‘It’s shit like this why I don’t deal with people.’

The sentence is hyperbole at this point since he has actually gotten better with social interactions. Through a combination of his innate Incubus instincts and a form of exposure therapy via his various outings with Ezraphel, Stanley found that he could navigate his way through the social stratum if he cared to. More often than not, he deliberately kept interactions short, and he wasn’t particularly mindful of how it came off to others.

Not with Natalie, though; not with family.

God, it felt like he was transported a decade into the past when dealing with her. The whole endeavor left him feeling tired, and it was with this countenance that he posed a question.

“Where am I going?”

As Stanley drove away from the hospital to his sister’s apartment, said individual turned her attention back to the disguised Lilim, causing Ezraphel to stiffen. Logically, she knew it was ridiculous to be nervous considering how well they hit it off the night prior, but this time was different, or rather, Natalie was different. Last night’s conversation with Stanley left her in emotional turmoil, plus Ezraphel’s appearance and the nature of her relationship with her brother made the woman too shocked, disoriented, and preoccupied to do much of any critical thinking.

Natalie had the entire night after they left and the morning before they arrived to get her thoughts together. Now she regarded Ezraphel with all the scrutiny of a protective older sibling.

How did she know this?

“So, how did you and Stan meet?”

Because that.

She spoke casually; however, that casualness was betrayed by her keen eyes. Before Ezraphel could answer the question, however, Stanley beat her to it.

“I found her lying in my backyard one morning,” he informed while keeping his eyes on the road. “I thought some asshole was trying to frame me for murder, but she was just unconscious, so I dragged her in the house on some dirty sheets and waited for her to wake up before I called the cops. She ended up sticking around longer than I expected.”

Upon his explanation, both women looked at the man in various stages of shock. For Ezraphel, there was an added layer of concern as his explanation was very different and noticeably more truthful than the one offered to his friends.

As for Natalie, “there is so much wrong with that sentence,” she grumbled.

In response, Stanley scoffed, “if you’re getting uncomfortable by this, then strap in for a wild ride.”

Natalie blinked, then looked from her brother to his girlfriend and back again a few more times. “You know what? You might be right, and now I’m even more curious.” Her gaze settled back on Ezraphel. “Is that really how you met my brother?”

“I…” She glanced at Stanley for a bit before nodding reluctantly, “more or less?”

“More-more or more-less?”

“…yes.”

“Hmm, now I have even more questions,” she began, “but for reasons I’m afraid of the answers.”

“Probably for the best,” he grumbled, though both women heard him.

“I see what the problem is here now,” she nodded to herself. “Stan, I’m going to need you to shut up and keep your eyes on the road from here on out.”

“I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”

There was a beat of silence for a moment before Natalie turned to Ezraphel and asked, “Would you be interested in learning about some of Stanley’s embarrassing secrets?”

Stanley stiffened behind the wheel.

Ezraphel did not miss a beat. “Yes!”

“Enthusiastic, are we?”

“Nat,” he said with a warning tone.

“Stanley hardly shares his past with me” Ezraphel admitted.

“Really?” She gave her brother a look of disappointment. “Shame on you.”

“Don’t-” he began.

“I wonder where I should start.”

“I am warning you.”

“Maybe I should start with the Laura incident.”

“I will crash this bitch, Nat!”

“Death doesn’t frighten me; I have terminal cancer.”

“Bitch,” he muttered under his breath.

Natalie’s eyes narrowed. “What was that?”

“I said BITCH!”

“Aw I love you too lil’ bro,” her gaze went back to Ezraphel. “Now, where were we?”

Ezraphel could hardly believe what she had just witnessed. It wasn’t so much the byplay that surprised her, as it was the emotions behind the interaction. The Lilim had the feeling that even if Natalie wasn’t currently ill, the outcome would have been the same. That is the outcome of Stanley actually backing down from an argument rather than engaging it as he usually did when riled up, and make no mistake, Stanley was most definitely riled up.

In the absence of her words, Natalie continued, “I have to say Ezraphel-geez, isn’t that a name?” She muttered, “You mind if I just call you Ezra-no Ez instead?”

Ezraphel blinked “Ez is fine.”

“Great,” she smiled. “So from the top, I want to know exactly how this relationship started because the last time I saw him, Stanley wasn’t exactly in the mental or physical mindset of wanting a relationship, and even if he did…” She trailed off for a bit, glancing at her brother and saying, “No offense, but you’re a bit, uh, out of his league if you catch my meaning.”

“Stanley mentioned something similar to that effect before.”

“Well, he’s nothing if not self-aware.” Natalie giggled, and Ezraphel joined her.

And on that lighthearted note, Ezraphel swallowed her trepidation. Last night, she and Stanley discussed the matter of how they would explain the origins of their relationship to Natalie. And unlike the rather rushed and ham-fisted explanation they gave to his friends that teetered precariously on the edge of believability, they spent a significant amount of time crafting a backstory, and unlike before, this one was a lot more credible. Naturally, this was an uphill battle already, considering that even in the absence of the fantastical elements, the truth as it was was just far-fetched.

It started with their first meeting.

“So he found you passed out in his backyard? What were you doing?”

“I was experimenting against my better judgment, and well, I can’t actually remember what happened after I took the plunge. All I know is that I woke up in your brother’s living room, lost and disoriented, with a startled man next to me.”

“I hope you didn’t jump to any conclusions about that.” Natalie then paused, “although since I didn’t get a call from the local precinct about paying bail, things sorted themselves out.”

“In a manner of speaking,” Ezraphel spoke with a tilt of her head. “Stanley was not very receptive to my presence.”

“Let me guess he told you to fuck off?”

“No”

“Oh well, that’s surprising.”

“He called me creepy, said I was fat, then told me to, and I quote, get the fuck out of my house.”

“…”

Stanley could feel two pairs of eyes on his back as he studiously kept his eyes on the road. Internally, however, he was fuming and swore to the heavens that he would make Ezraphel pay. Sure, she was telling the truth, but goddammit, Natalie didn’t need to know that shit!

After that too long beat of silence, Natalie broke it with a dry remark: “I can’t imagine that it was his charisma that made you fall for him.”

“Well, it just so happens that I apparently have strange tastes in men.”

That caught Natalie off guard a bit, but as she really thought about it, “Okay, that goes a long way to explaining your current predicament, but strange tastes in men or not, I don’t see how any of what you told me endeared him to you.”

“Well, for all his confidence in attempting to curse me out, he certainly lost much of his bravado after I stood up,” she says this while being almost two whole feet taller than the man.

The image of a yapping Stanley suddenly being cowed into silence by a standing Ezraphel drew giggles out of Natalie.

“Oh my God!” She laughed, “What happened next?”

This time the smirk melted: “He threatened to shoot me with his airsoft guns.”

Unlike the Lilim, Natalie didn’t lose the smile, though it did turn wry “a real modern David vs. Goliath moment there. He didn’t actually go through with that threat, did he?”

“…”

Now the smile was completely gone. “Did he?”

Ezraphel pursed her lips but said nothing, and she could almost hear Stanley’s thoughts.

“What the fuck are you doing!” he seemed to say in his silence.

“Excuse my language but what the fuck bro!?

As Natalie went on a heated rant as a mother would a child (though with more than a few expletives), Ezraphel started to regret letting slip that little nugget of information. In truth, she just wanted Stanley to face some kind of reprimand for that. Yes, she still held a bit of a grudge for what he did back then, but she didn’t expect it to spiral like this.

“In his defense,” Ezraphel tried to defend, only to be interrupted.

“Don’t you dare try to defend him!” Natalie snapped, “Who the hell shoots BBs at someone especially when they were unconscious and clearly in need of medical attention? Unless you were threatening him with bodily harm, he doesn’t have an excuse.”

Ezraphel kept her expression neutral at that, though unlike before, she did not let the silence permeate long enough for Natalie to think something amiss. Using the discomfort of the previous topic, Ezraphel forcefully moved on. It turned out to not be an easy thing initially. Natalie was already interested and critical of their relationship before Ezraphel’s screw-up but she became especially interested once it was understood that Ezraphel encountered Stanley before his current changes.

If there was a silver lining, it was that Natalie was more interested in their relationship as opposed to her origins. It certainly helped that Ezraphel herself was being zealously sincere about her love for Stanley. On more than one occasion, Stanley has mentioned that Ezraphel was the only person who can pull off making enthusiasm a spectacle without it seeming disingenuous or over-the-top ‘cringe.’

She didn’t quite understand his meaning especially with the latter, but she has taken note that whenever she gets passionate or enthusiastic about something, such as various forms of media, Stanley seems to become more enraptured with her reactions than the entertainment itself. Natalie was much the same as when the Lilim managed to get into speaking about her relationship with Stanley she stopped asking questions for the most part, letting the Lilim ramble and gush about her love for her brother.

It might have been curiosity about the timeline of events, it might be the incredulity that she managed to succeed where so many had failed in steering Stanley in the right direction, or it could have been Ezraphel’s aforementioned passion and charisma, but in any case the Lilim had Natalie fully enthralled. Natalie’s outrage at her brother and suspicion towards Ezraphel were replaced with utter bewilderment and curiosity.

Naturally, Ezraphel omitted elements, but even with the censorship, there was plenty there to leave Natalie in suspension of disbelief because, in Stanley’s words, their relationship was straight out of fiction. Eventually, however, all things come to an end, and for them, it came in the form of Stanley’s announcement.

“We’re here.”

~Packing Up~

‘Something’s up.’

That was Natalie’s thought as she exited the vehicle and led the duo into the three-story building. She knew something was up for a while now, but that story more or less confirmed her suspicions.

‘They’re hiding something.’

Natalie really didn’t want to think like this. Her brother was finally getting his act together, and despite only knowing her for a few hours, she really liked Ezraphel. She would even say that they made a great couple. They say opposites attract, but that kind of stuff doesn’t account for diametric opposites. There needed to be a middle ground, a mutual commonality for which both sides could come together to make the relationship stick; otherwise, it would collapse.

So far, Ezraphel and Stanley were diametric opposites who didn’t seem to have anything in common. At least Ezraphel didn’t seem to have anything in common with the Stanley she knew. Her abridged (and obviously censored) retelling of their time together as well didn’t present anything that would point to either of them having a commonality on something. Stanley was a simple man with simple pleasures when all is said and done, and unless he developed new interests in the year since they last spoke, they ultimately boil down to a few things: airsoft, videogames, movies, and TV, with a sprinkle of internet meme culture.

She could cross airsoft off that list of commonalities. Just from the way Ezraphel spoke about it, Natalie could tell the woman did not like airsoft.

‘No shit’ she thought bitterly, ‘who the hell shoots someone with airsoft after they just woke up from a drinking bender?’

Fucking Stan, that’s who.

And speaking of which, they arrived at her apartment room, and after entering, the man himself finally deigned to speak.

“This is where you live now?” spoke Stanley as he looked around, obviously not liking what he was seeing.

Natalie turned a glare towards the shorter man, but only briefly, for she could not muster any heat behind it. She knew why he had such a reaction, and she couldn’t really blame him for it.

“I had to do a downgrade after I quit my job,” she informed.

Natalie had dragged Stan to her old apartment a few times in the past. He wasn’t happy about leaving his suburban haunt, but she was determined to have him stretch his legs. In any case, while she wouldn’t go so far as to call her current abode a filthy hovel, it was still a significant demotion from her old apartment.

“You quit your job?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to keep working nine to five while my impending death was on the horizon.”

He didn’t wince at her words; however, she could see the tension ramp up in both his body language and expression. She really shouldn’t be so flippant about her death, but that’s how she’s choosing to cope—by making other people uncomfortable. The more obvious or visceral the reaction, the more the individual cares…at least that’s how she rationalizes being a bitch about it.

“Let’s just get this over with.”

Not at all a difficult prospect considering there really wasn’t much to pack, something that was quickly noticed.

“What happened to all your stuff?”

“I gave away some, sold the rest, but kept the most important stuff in storage.”

“Why?”

Natalie rolled her eyes at the suspicious tone. “I had to find a way to fund my globetrotting tour, little brother.”

“Globetrotting tour?”

The question came from Ezraphel, who turned away from fiddling with Nataie’s kitchen appliances to give her a curious expression. A curiously cute as fuck expression:

‘Dammit woman, focus!’ She mentally shouted.

“Yeah,” she said, turning away from the other woman, “I’m going to travel the world and check off my bucket list… or die trying.” She added.

“Tch, no, you’re not,” scoffed Stanley.

This caught Natalie’s attention as she turned towards her brother, who had his back turned away. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re not going to die.”

“…” Natalie pursed her lips, a pit beginning to form in her gut.

She opened her mouth to say something; however, a side glance towards Ezraphel saw the other woman gain an uncomfortable expression that took the wind out of her sails. Following this exchange, the rest of their time was spent packing in silence, which became uncomfortable as time wore on. Thankfully, this oppressive silence did not last terribly long as Natalie caught sight of Ezraphel unceremoniously dump some of her stuff in a trash bag.

“Whoa-whoa-whoa, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Taking out the trash,” Ezraphel answered as if it were obvious.

“I can see that,” Natalie scowled. “Why are you throwing out my stuff?”

She noted that some of her kitchen appliances and utensils

“Oh, did you want to sell these too?”

“What? No!”

“Then does it matter if I throw these out?”

“I need these to make and eat food with,” she explained.

“Nonsense” Ezraphel waved her off easily, “Since you’ll be living with us, you won’t need them.” She then rested a hand against her ample chest, “I will take care of everything.”

“But-”

“Unless,” Ezraphel interrupted, “you don’t want me to.”

And as she said this, Ezraphel’s expression became sad and uncertain, causing Natalie to flinch.

“No, I mean…” Natalie began to trail off.

The longer she stared into Ezraphel’s big blue eyes, the more she felt at a genuine loss for words until…

“Uuugh…proceed…”

And with Natalie’s reluctant blessing, Ezraphel’s expression immediately brightened, and with a peppy “excellent!” she practically skipped away, humming a tune with the widest smile on her face.

Natalie watched the other woman go about her business for a while with an expression of incredulity.

“What just happened?”

“You fell for it.”

With a jolt, Natalie turned to find her brother standing right next to her. “Jesus Stan!”

In response, he rolled his eyes. “You have poor situational awareness.”

“I don’t want to hear that from the guy who gets so locked in to his games that he doesn’t even know when someone’s coming into his house.”

Stanley scowled. “That only happened once, and you had a key to my house.”

Natalie ‘snuck’ into his home once and basically jumped scared him when he went out of his office to use the bathroom. After that, he changed the locks on his doors, added additional ones, and installed HD security cameras all over the house, whose feed can be accessed from his phone and tablet via an app that is hidden behind a security scanner. It would be several months before Natalie got the key to the new locks, but regardless, Stanley took his security very seriously after that.

“What do you mean I fell for it?” Natalie cut through his thoughts, “What did I fall for?”

“The oldest trick in the book,” he answered “the puppy dog pout.”

Natalie paused before glancing at the oblivious girl, thinking back to their brief interactions before narrowing her eyes.

“Clever girl.”

“When she wants to be,” Stanley agreed.

“How long did it take for you to find out?”

‘When she flashed her tits to make me drop my guard and tackle me to the ground’ he thought, ‘so…”

“The same day I met her.”

Nothing of note happened afterwards as they managed to pack up Natalie’s meager possessions, though not without some protest.

“Look, I get why you don’t like them, but why throw away perfectly serviceable utensils and cutlery?”

She was, of course, speaking of Ezraphel’s insistence on discarding her collection of admittedly cheap kitchen utensils. The woman was oddly vehement on this, which actually threw Natalie for a loop. Stanley, on the other hand, could only roll his eyes at his girlfriend’s actions.

“She’s a food snob.”

That was his excuse for her, which begs the question of what Stan’s kitchen looked like since, as far as she knew, he had the same idea she did about kitchenware. The idea being that as long as it gets the job done, then who gives a fuck?

As for Ezraphel, the woman answered in a rather prim and, dare she say, snobbish way, “serviceable? Hardly,” she scoffed before holding up the trash bag. “In any case, I shall not allow them anywhere near my kitchen.”

Once again, Natalie found herself at a genuine loss for words and looked to her brother for aid. Stanley gave her a look that practically read, “You’re on your own.”

Instead, she sighed, letting the issue go: “meh, it’s not like I’ll be needing those things anyway.”

“Of course not,” Ezraphel nodded, “for I will be taking care of your meals from now on.”

“Are you sure you up for that?” Natalie smirked “I am very particular about my food.”

“Hmph, I will have you know that Stanley is so taken with my meals that he has stopped eating food delivered to him.”

“Wait, you managed to wean him off of takeout?” Natalie asked with a smile while looking at the man.

Ezraphel smiled triumphantly as she turned her nose up. “Of course! Now he constantly sings the praises of my cooking and cannot live without it.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the reticent man scowled.

“That’s not a denial though,” Natalie noticed, and Stanley’s silence once again confirmed it. “Well, damn, now I’m feeling hyped for lunch.”

“As you should be,” there was a glint in Ezraphel’s eyes. “I can promise that you will never taste anything better in this world.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.”

“Stanley can attest to it.”

“It’s true,” he admitted begrudgingly before glaring at his girlfriend, “but you don’t need to be so smug about it.”

Natalie couldn’t help but chuckle. “No offense, but I’m not so sure Stan here is the best metric to measure your culinary skills.” thumbing the man, she continues, “this guy will literally eat anything so long as it tastes good.”

“That is also true,” he admitted.

“So I’m not that surprised he got hooked on your home cooking.”

“Are you doubting my culinary skills?” Ezraphel asked with a flat expression.

“No, I’m just saying-”

“That I’m not as good as I think I am?” The woman interrupted with a clenched fist and a narrow-eyed glare.

Natalie suddenly felt a touch of nervousness—the sense that she was poking the sleeping bear. She knew there was danger afoot, but god damn if she wasn’t curious to see where this was going.

And so, with that in mind, she dug her heels in, stood up a bit straighter, and answered “yes.”

A beat of silence followed, and then Ezraphel drew up to her full height, drawing attention to the fact that Ezraphel was very tall, taller than Natalie herself, who was actually tall for a woman.

Then the blonde spoke the words “challenge accepted.”

The words rang with a heavy feeling that had Natalie instinctively swallowing her apprehension and instead giving the other woman a smirk.

“Don’t disappoint.”

With further narrowing of her eyes that had Natalie internally cringing, Ezraphel strode off with a huff, picking up two heavy suitcases as easily as she did the garbage bag before leaving. Now left alone with her brother, Natalie’s bravado collapsed like a house of cards.

And as she slumped she couldn’t help but ask “what just happened?”

In response, Stanley walked up next to her and showed his phone screen. “Hey, see this?”

When Natalie turned to look at the screen, all she saw was the digital clock face. “What?”

“Take a good long look, Nat, because that’s the exact time you fucked up.”

“What?”

But he said nothing in response to her query, merely chuckling in dark amusement.

And so, following a conversation with the landlord and her abrupt move, the trio left the apartment building and drove towards home. Unlike before, there was a clear divide between Natalie and Ezraphel, the latter of whom steadfastly ignored the former’s presence, having clearly taken great offense to her insinuation. The silence was getting awkward the more time went on, and it hasn’t even been five minutes yet.

“Ez, you know that I didn’t mean to.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” the woman interrupted.

That shut Natalie up but also gave the other woman an incredulous look:’ she’s that offended!?’

It was ridiculous, and even then, her reaction was almost cartoonishly over-the-top, to the point where Natalie was almost convinced she was doing a bit. Unfortunately, her brother would be of no help here if the shit-eating grin he sported when their eyes caught in the rear-view mirror was any indication.

It looks like I’m on my own’. She mentally sighed, ‘now, how do I fix this?’

It took another minute before she found a possible solution, and in a moment, she turned to rummage through the back of the car where her belongings were stored.

“What the hell are you doing back there?” questioned Stanley.

“Eyes on the road and off my ass” was her only response.

Eventually she found what she was looking for: an old digital camera, but unfortunately, years of neglect saw its battery without power. That was okay, however, as the real prize was the memory card, or rather the smaller chip slotted into the memory card, which she slipped into her tablet.

After a minute or so, she smirked in triumph and said, ‘it still works.’

At that moment, the car stopped at a traffic light, and her eyes left the tablet screen to look at Stanley’s via the rear-view mirror. As if sensing her gaze, Stanley met it, and the smirk she sported grew ever wider as his expression went from curiosity and confusion to realization and indignation with a hint of apprehension.

Not taking her eyes off of him, “hey Ez~”

“I’m still not talking to you.”

The words were ignored as Natalie soldiered on: “Wanna see baby pictures of Stanley~?”

Ezraphel’s head moved so fast that Natalie feared she might have gotten whiplash from the movement. That concern, however, was immediately forgotten as she beheld the abnormally intense gaze Ezraphel leveled at her.

“What did you just say?”

“I found the memory card for a camera I used to take pictures of little Stanley with when we were younger.” She paused. “Now that I think about it, it’s less baby pictures and more kiddy pictures.” Natalie admitted

“Gimme!” Ezraphel practically lunged across the seat, scaring the hell out of Natalie.

By some miracle, Natalie managed to keep the tablet out of reach of the larger and stronger woman.

“Tell you what. We can go through this together, but first you have to forgive me. What do you say?”

At this, Ezraphel paused, looking from her to the tablet and seemingly weighing her options. Suddenly the car came to a halt at the side of the road, and as both women glanced to the front, the tablet was swiftly swiped from Natalie’s hand.

“Hey!” Natalie yelled, bewildered.

“Aw~” whined Ezraphel.

Stanley said nothing as he exited the vehicle with a tablet in hand.

“Shit, gimme a minute,” Natalie cursed as she left the car on the opposite side, careful of any oncoming traffic.

Once outside, she saw her brother going through the pictures, not even sparing her a glance as he spoke, “Why do you have this?”

“What, I can’t have pictures from a camera I bought?” She questioned him, walking around the car towards him.

Stanley grunted but said nothing as he continued to finagle with the tech.

“What are you doing?”

“Editing,” and as he spoke, his fingers flew across the touch screen with the speed of fingers on a keyboard.

“Don’t delete anything!” Natalie panicked as she went to swipe the tablet.

In one smooth motion, without taking his eyes off the screen, he avoided her attempted grab and stepped a few paces away.

“I’m not deleting anything,” he grunted. “I’m doing damage control.”

“Damage control?”

This time he did spare her glance, albeit a brief one: “Did you even think about what’s on this thing before you started sharing family secrets?”

He showed her a full-screen picture that had the woman wincing something fierce. “Oh.”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m not the only one with secrets on here.”

Natalie recovered well enough. “I don’t think it matters at this point unless Ezraphel has a problem with-”

“She doesn’t,” he interrupted. “Trust me, she doesn’t have any problems with that. Besides, that’s not what I’m really getting rid of anyway.”

“Is it mom and dad?”

“…”

“Does she even know what they look like?”

“…”

“You seriously going to pretend they don’t exist?”

“You want these left in or what?” he asked, completely ignoring her question.

Natalie stared for a moment before answering, “just put them in a separate folder or something.”

After a few more minutes of this, he handed the tablet back. “I hid the other stuff in a folder in the trash.”

She gave a sardonic smirk “naturally.”

Stanley said nothing as he re-entered, leaving Natalie alone for a brief bit.

Behind her, the car window wound down, and Ezraphel stuck her head outside. “Are you okay?”

‘No.’

“Yeah, don’t worry, I’m coming in now.”

Ezraphel pursed her lips but nodded “okay,” but before the other woman could walk around to re-enter, Ezraphel stopped her and said, “Oh, and Natalie?”

“Yeah?”

The blonde smiled, “I forgive you.”

Natalie stared for a moment before chuckling though even Ezraphel’s beatific smile could not cast away the gloom she felt at the conversation “thanks”

Moments Later…

“HEEEEE~”

Ezraphel’s excited squeal made things better as Natalie showed a picture of a toddler Stanley holding a balloon while giving a wide smile to the camera.

~Moving On Up~

It’s been going on for what felt to him like hours now, and Stanley was starting to think that this might be his villain origin story.

“And this is when Stan dressed up as Negima for Halloween,” Natalie explained from the backseat as she showed Ezraphel her tablet.

Next to her, Lilim let out another coo: “He looks so cute~”

“…”

‘I will not kill my sister… I will kill my sister. I will not kill my sister. I will not kill my sister.’

Thankfully, thoughts of moving up Natalie’s timetable to an early grave were stowed away as they finally arrived home.

After parking in the garage, Stan got out of the car with a grumble, “Come on, let’s unpack your shit and get you settled.”

“Aw, feeling embarrassed, Stanley?” Natalie teased me as she got out of the car.

‘…for someone with a terminal illness and only a few months left to live, she’s sure in high spirits.’

Which means that she already went through the five stages of grief.

‘Thank fucking God. he thought to himself

He loved his sister, but he will concede to her point about him not really being able to play the role of emotional support. It’s a good thing then that she hit it off with Ezraphel, with the two women striking up a friendship as they animatedly talked to each other even while moving the luggage.

‘If only this wasn’t being done at my expense.’

But for all that he felt slighted by her antics, he couldn’t really bring himself to air his issues out verbally. If anything, this is definitely proof that Natalie hasn’t really forgiven him for basically ignoring her existence for a year, and that’s fair, all things considered. So what if Natalie seems to have made it her mission to have her last act on earth be to humiliate him as much as possible?

What’s a bit of humiliation to someone like him?

After a decade of being an opinionated dickhead on the internet, he’s got the thickest skin in the game. Even if the method by which she chose to administer said humiliation ends up being particularly effective against him,

How did she do this?

By regaling Ezraphel, who happens to have a particular brand of obsession with him, with embarrassing stories about his past with visual aid. Ever had to drive while enduring someone in the backseat giving what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation on your embarrassing childhood?

‘Why the fuck does she even have that!?’

A few years ago, Natalie bought a digital camera and started taking pictures and even a few videos throughout the years. Somehow Natalie not only saved the camera, but the memory card within was still functional. If it’s any consolation, then at least they weren’t pictures from your old photo album, as in the one with actual baby pictures. If Ezraphel ever saw those, they might just lose a couple of windows from her excitement.

‘Speaking of excitement…’

As the two ventured into the house proper, Natalie couldn’t help but pause and marvel at the interior.

“Wow~” Natalie breathed as she slowly spun around while looking around. “It feels like I just stepped into the Twilight Zone.”

Ezraphel, who was still busy with the tablet, looked at the amazed woman with a tilt of her head and said, “Truly?”

At that, she gave her a look. “Girl, I know you know what this place was like back when Stan lived alone.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes, it was.”

‘Yes, it was’ Stanley silently echoed.

Natalie continued, “For one, the room doesn’t smell like stale takeout, and my feet aren’t sticking to the carpet,” she demonstrated by marching about in place for a bit. “If the rest of the house is like this, then it’s no wonder he let you stay here. And I can see that’s also not the full extent of your work either,” she whistled while looking around further.

Seeing what the other woman meant and beamed with pride, “Stanley, let me indulge in some redecoration.”

Stanley never really kept active stock of the extent of Ezraphel’s redecoration effort. Sure, he knew about them but he didn’t pay too much attention. Now that they were talking about it, he could contrast the current changes from what they looked like before and come to a conclusion.

‘Ez did more than I thought.’

In actuality, the room and the entire house were virtually indistinguishable from how they were a year ago, when Natalie last visited. Stanley didn’t really put much effort into aesthetic presentation nor was he one for change. Aside from the odd addition or replacement to his furniture or appliances, things have mostly remained the same in the past three years or so. Really, the only place that he put any kind of serious consideration for aesthetics into was his office.

Incidentally, it’s the only place where Ezraphel’s design effort hasn’t touched beyond cleaning and only when he’s also in the room. He’s even allowed her to redecorate the basement where he kept his airsoft collection.

Shaking the thoughts from his head, he addressed the two conversing women, “You two mind picking this up after we get this stuff sorted?”

As he spoke, he gestured to the haphazardly placed luggage, to which Natalie replied, “Well, don’t let us stop you.”

“…” he said, saying nothing but glaring.

Eventually Natalie raised her hand in surrender, “kidding! Geez, and I’m supposed to be the one dying,” she added with a roll of her eyes.

“You’re not going to die,” Stanley grumbled, turning away from both women.

As he turned his back, Stanley missed the twin frowns both women sported with various degrees of concern.

After putting away Natalie’s luggage, Stanley declared his work done and locked himself in his man cave—oh, sorry, she meant his office, leaving Ezraphel with the burden of giving her a tour of the place. Natalie didn’t need a tour, even though it’s been over a year since she was last there, but with Ezraphel being so enthusiastic, she figured why not? Her tune about not needing a tour changed quickly enough as she became reacquainted with her brother’s abode as well as the extent of the changes brought on no doubt by Ezraphel herself.

Natalie was seeing it, but she still could not quite believe it. Despite the exterior of the house looking more or less like how she remembered it, stepping through the garage door felt like she was transported to a whole other house. Right off rip, she saw the changes in the new paint, new carpet, new furniture, new drapes, and even a several new appliances. All of it was tastefully arranged and made the room look like somewhere a person with actual taste lived.

Then there were rooms that seemed to have been completely overhauled in ways that boggled the mind. One example is the bathrooms, where, much like the house, Natalie found that the rather humble exteriors did not match the almost extravagant interiors. It somehow felt larger and more grandiose than it should be, as if actual renovations had taken place.

Though those paled in comparison to the kitchen, she was absolutely certain renovations were involved considering the extent of the changes. The kitchen went from relatively normal to something she’d seen in a big YouTube chef’s personal kitchen. The comparison seemed especially appropriate since Ezraphel admitted to getting into cooking from the start of her stay and has watched copious amounts of YouTube food channels and followed a number of certified chefs and professional cooks.

After everything was said and done, with Ezraphel going into great detail with the reasons behind her choices, there was still one unanswered question that Natalie posed immediately following the end of the tour.

“How the hell did you manage to convince Stan to let you do all this?”

Stanley is a frugal man, extremely so, to the point where it’s sometimes ridiculous. Natalie understood why; having grown up in the same household, they both learned to appreciate the value of a dollar. It made sense all those years ago, but not now, not to such a degree at least. Stan is a legitimate multi-millionaire, making hundreds of thousands a month, yet his lifestyle is that of a college dropout living pay cheque to pay cheque.

You’d think, having struggled financially for most of his life, that the influx of cash, especially at such a relatively young age, would cause him to splurge, but he’s never done that. The first things he did with his wealth was pay off his debts, buy a house, a car and hire a financial advisor. The only thing he’s ever truly spared no expenses on that involved his hobbies. The largest scale spending he ever did that did not involve said hobbies, future investments or directly benefitted him was when he paid off Natalie’s student loan debts, loaning their mother money which she uses to finance their youngest sibling through highschool.

The point is Stanley wasn’t one for frivolous spending most times, not to the extent she’s seen with the redecoration and certainly not for renovations done for what basically amounts to his girlfriend’s hobby. That is simple behavior, and the Stanley she knew would literally rather take a taser to his nuts than partake in that particular degeneracy. So she had to know how Ezraphel managed to convince him to spend what must have been tens of thousands on her whim.

Ezraphel, for her part, took a long moment of consideration. Two minutes, to be exact, and the entire time she stared at Natalie unblinkingly, which was actually creeping her out.

Finally, she broke the silence. “Do you really want to know?”

“…yes.”

Another moment of consideration, as before, Ezraphel looked about the area as if thinking Stanley would be there with a judgmental glare, ready to curse her out. Finally, she made a gesture and leaned forward into her personal space.

‘Whoa, what the hell?’ thought Natalie as she reflexively leaned back.

Her eyes caught a bounty of the other woman’s cleavage, though her attention was diverted when Ezraphel got in close—really close—to whisper a single word in her ear.

“Sex~”

The single word said in such a low and sensual tone sent shivers down Natalie’s spine, even as she momentarily blanked.

“Eh?” Ezraphel, now taking a step back from her personal space, smiled, and Natalie felt her incredulity rise. “Seriously? That’s-” she cut herself off with a breath while collecting herself before ultimately sighing, “Of course it’s something so simple.”

Perhaps she overestimated her brother, but taking a look at Ezraphel, she couldn’t find it in herself to be too disappointed. Frankly, Ezraphel looks like the type of person for whom wars were fought back in the olden days. Her thoughts were then interrupted by the subject raising a hand to her mouth and giggling. The sound was like legit music to Natalie’s ears.

Swallowing a bit, Natalie couldn’t help but ask, “What’s so funny?”

“I’m sorry; it’s just that I find your reaction amusing.”

“You know, I notice that you have a funny way of talking.”

She didn’t want to bring it up but the way she spoke made it seem as if she’s reading lines off a screenplay for a period piece.

To that, Ezraphel grinned, showing perfectly straight pearly white teeth. “I come from a very formal household,” she explained. “This is how I am taught to speak.”

“That right?”

‘Now that I think about it, she never really talked about where she came from.’

“But I digress,” Ezraphel unknowingly interrupted the other woman’s thoughts, “what I said before is not the full explanation.”

“I hope not!” she exclaimed with some amusement “though it wouldn’t really surprise me.”

Ezraphel shook her head “as much as I would love to say that my womanly charms were enough to gain Stanley’s favor, the simple yet complicated truth is that I merely offered Stanley myself. That is, my undying loyalty, my eternal companionship, my timeless body, and of course, my everlasting love.

The words spoken by anyone else in real life would have been corny as all hell; however, when spoken by Ezraphel, Natalie could not help but take them seriously. There was power behind those words, even more than the previous times she has spoken about her love for Stanley. Not that she believed Ezraphel’s love wasn’t genuine when she said it those other times.

Natalie would have never believed someone could love another person like that, and even if that were indeed the case, she would have found the declaration to be so corny or cringeworthy that, on some level, she wouldn’t have taken it seriously.

That was not the case with Ezraphel.

Natalie knew on an instinctual level that her love for Stan was real.

And the fact that you managed to convey this with a straight face and honest sincerity without coming off the least bit disingenuous or (God forbid) cringeworthy is a miracle of the highest order in today’s modern age.

And this caused Natalie to take a step back and really think about the situation.

With how vehement her brother was against relationships and simp culture in all forms, including decrying marriage, she knew that he was on some level full of shit. Not the type of hypocrite that would spout one thing but would jump to do the very thing they claimed to be against. No, she pegged him as the type of guy that would almost immediately fold when presented with something that could get past his front.

There’s a certain level of respect to be had for a guy to stick with his guns the way Stan did with his opinions on relationships. Unlike most of those manoshpere clowns or incel losers on the internet, it wasn’t misogyny, delusion, or laziness that fueled his anathema towards relationships but rather a combination of unpleasant past experiences. She wouldn’t go so far as to say trauma but it is her genuine belief that even if Stan looked exactly as he did now back then, he would still not have gone for a relationship after those experiences.

And all of it stems from several rather nasty experiences with relationships and certain women that, while it didn’t turn one bad day, ultimately shaped his view. He never recovered from it despite her efforts to help him, though she recognized that she didn’t do nearly enough for him. After so long with this mindset, it became something she thought he was unfortunately stuck with in the same vain as his adherence to a certain lifestyle. And unfortunately, there was virtually no way for him to overcome it, or at least that’s what she thought.

And looking at this stunningly beautiful, incredibly kind, and not to mention patient woman, Natalie couldn’t help but say…

“Thank you”

“Hm?”

“For taking care of my brother.”

‘For saving him.’

Ezraphel paused, then smiled. “You are welcome. Now I can only assume that there is a modicum of truth to the rumors about hospital food.”

The change in topic made Natalie chuckle: “It’s not a rumor, it’s a fact.”

It’s not that bad, but let’s just say she wouldn’t actively seek out the stuff if given the chance.

“Regardless, it is approaching the hour for lunch.”

Natalie looked at the time and said, “Well, I’ll be damned.”

“I’ll go prepare something special.”

“Sure.” As Ezraphel turned away, Natalie’s eyes veered in a certain direction. “I’ll go have a chat with Stan.”

It’s time for another heart-to-heart.

‘With hopefully a lot less angst this time,’ she thought while making her way towards the man-cave he called his office, ‘though that’s just wishful thinking.’

~Sibling Bonding~

Stanley originally came here to do what he always did which was play videogames or trolling the internet but this time around he couldn’t muster the desire to do any of the usual. Instead, he has been watching Ezraphel give his sister a tour of the house via the various security cameras. It really put into perspective the extent of the changes she brought on, both known and unknown to him.

*Knock-knock-knock*

“The door’s open,” he called out, making sure to exit the security camera app and put away his phone.

At the confirmation, Natalie let herself in and began looking around before whistling, “Wow, this place looks exactly the same.”

“Can’t fix what ain’t broken.” He answered easily enough, “What do you want?”

Natalie locked the door behind her before she answered, “Something to drink would be nice.”

To that end, Stanley got off the chair and reached for the minifridge. “I got Coke, Mountain Dew, Monster Energy, G-Fuel, and Gamersupps.”

“I thought Ezraphel got rid of those things because of your diet.”

“She got rid of the ones in the kitchen fridge, but she’s not touching anything in my office,” said Stan while Natalie grabbed the second gaming chair in the corner and dragged it over towards him.

“Yes, truly, this room has never seen the touch of a woman,” she wryly noted before plopping herself on the chair.

He raised an unimpressed brow. “Virgin gamer jokes, really?”

Natalie gave him a cheeky smile while leaning back to stretch out like a cat. “You make it so easy, little brother.”

“Whatever,” he said, rolling his eyes. “So you want that drink or…” He purposefully trailed off.

“I’ll take the coke,” she eventually answered. “You can’t go wrong with coke.”

“What about Pepsi?”

“You shut your whore mouth, blasphemer!”

Stanley snorted at the exaggerated retort, tossing her a can and taking out a bottle of Gamersupps he premixed in a ‘waifu cup.’

Upon seeing the image on the shaker cup, Natalie paused in her drink to say, “See, it’s stuff like this that gives people free ammo to make fun of you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m young, rich, successful, and have the hottest girlfriend in the world” he shot back not even looking smug “and I did it all without generational wealth, online grifting, doing crypto scams, or making a fool out of myself for other people’s entertainment.”

“Not so sure on that last part,” Natalie commented with a cheeky smile.

Stanley said nothing as he took a swig from his shaker cup before asking, “So what did you want to talk about?”

For a while, Natalie said nothing as she took a languid sip of her carbonated beverage, all the while keeping her eyes on her brother. Finally, she leaned forward, holding both hands on the can while keeping her eyes on him.

“God, it really is so weird seeing you like this.”

“Yeah, sometimes I wake up in the morning, catch my reflection in the mirror, and think some dickhead broke into my house.”

“Wouldn’t you be the dickhead then?” she snickered.

“Point still stands,” he said, ignoring the jab. “I get that I don’t look the way I did last time we saw each other in person.”

“No kidding.”

“Just do what I do.”

“What’s that?”

“Get over yourself.” He answered plainly and with a straight face.

For a moment, Natalie stared before breaking out into laughter. “Oh my God! I don’t know why I expected something profound for a second there.”

“That is weird,” he said as he took another swig of her beverage.

A moment later, Natalie’s laughter died down. “I missed you, Stan.”

She grunted in response.

“So articulate,” she quipped, though the smile diminished as she reached a hand to swipe her left bang behind her ear. “Look about what I said yesterday; I’m so…”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” he interrupted.

“Stan-”

“We’ve been over this, Nat,” he was scowling now. “I’m trying to get over it; you should too.”

Natalie wanted to say something but hesitated before ultimately discarding the topic entirely: “Okay, fine, but you have to do something for me.”

He straightened up. “What’s that?”

“I need you to get over my impending death.”

This made Stanley’s scowl return in full force: “You’re not going to die.”

“YES, I AM!” Natalie suddenly yelled before taking a breath to calm herself. “Yes, I am Stan. Terminal cancer is a bitch like that.”

“What if it doesn’t have to be?”

“What are you talking about?” she groaned.

He put away his shaker cup for his next word as he pinned Natalie with a serious look: “What if you didn’t have to die?”

“What part of terminal cancer do you not comprehend right now?”

“Hypothetically,” he began carefully, only to be interrupted.

“Stan, just stop,” Natalie said with an air of solemn finality.

“…fine”

He grabbed his shaker cup and took an aggressive swig, uncaring of the drink running down his chin and splashing on his shirt.

After wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Stanley posed the question, “Now what?”

Natalie drummed her fingers on the chair’s armrest for a moment before answering, “Ezraphel.”

This caused him to stiffen. “What about her?”

“What’s her deal?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that woman is clearly not from around here. Even if the accent wasn’t a dead giveaway, the way she talks, the way she moves, how she expresses herself and the way she looks…” Natalie trailed off before shaking her head “I’m pretty sure she’s a foreigner because they don’t grow them like that out here unless she’s been under a surgical knife half a dozen times at least” her eyes narrowed “and I don’t think she has.”

“She hasn’t,” Stanley confirmed, “and if she has, I sure as hell didn’t pay for it.”

“Normally, I’d believe that, but it’s pretty obvious she has you wrapped around her finger with how much you let her get away with.”

“Bullshit”

“Then how the hell do you explain the new furniture and renovations?”

“Magic”

The answer was unexpected enough but how he said it so promptly without missing a beat and with a straight face actually gave Natalie pause.

“Uh what?”

“You heard me,” he said, folding his arms.

“Magic?”

“Yeah”

“Is this your excuse for turning into a simp in the year that I wasn’t looking?”

“I’m not a simp.”

“Yes, you are.”

Ignoring the retort, he continued, “And I didn’t spend a single dime on any of Ez’s renovations.”

“Forgive me if I’m skeptical about that.”

“Ask her yourself.”

“I think I will…later,” she added. “As for now, I want you to explain this.”

As she spoke, Natalie fished out her phone and showed him the screen. Upon said screen was…

He made a face. “You use Tik Tok?”

“Focus Stanley.”

He already was, and the video in question was of a familiar place, taken from the shaky first-person view of a go-pro attached to a helmet. The caption on the screen read: Playing Airsoft Against Batman, and the video itself was of the time Stanley managed to pull what he deemed the ‘Arkham maneuver’ where he used his superhuman abilities to go around the maze-like corridors of the field and pick other players off one by one. For the last guy who, by that point, was panicking and twitchy

“Shit-shit-shit, where is he!” were the panicked words of the unfortunate airsoft player as his head moved about.

“Behind you,” came the gruff, growl-like answer from directly behind him.

“AAH!” he spun around, but unfortunately he was shot before he even managed to make the full turn, and the video ended with the go-pro catching sight of Stanley’s dye mask.

By the end, Natalie pulled the phone away with a raised eyebrow. “Well?”

Whatever she was expecting from him, clearly, his reaction to the clip was not in that realm of possibilities.

“What the fuck!?”

“Not the reaction I expected.”

“Where the hell did you get that?”

“It’s from an account that does reposts of viral clips.”

“Viral…” Stanley muttered before his eyes widened, and he swiftly turned in his chair towards his computer, hoping against hope.

Stanley knew that his stunt in the Airsoft arena would generate some buzz. Despite being a recognizable recreational activity, Airsoft is still rather niche, but it has its own community. That aside, he and his friends are all currently relevant content creators with decently large followings. He took all this into consideration when he went along with his plan and figured that whatever he did wouldn’t generate enough interest to be noticed by a wider audience, and even then, it wouldn’t gain enough traction to last more than a day at best.

It helped that out of his friends Jamie was the only one who could and had Stanley’s permission to make a video out of the footage and post it on his main channel without any issue. It was one of the benefits of being a variety channel with a focus on the weird, wacky, and obscure. The video titled I Beat the Airsoft God was posted, and it was a resounding success, earning over a million views within hours, but despite the success of the video, nothing really came from it other than some initial interest that was rather mild.

It made sense; after all, despite having millions of subscribers and being an internet icon in his own right, Jamie was only one person. It also helped that his unique and dry editing style of the video didn’t lend itself to sensationalizing. As a matter of fact, Stanley was barely in the video itself, as the bulk of it was taken by Jamie doing his unique style of commentary with a spattering of highlights from his camera perspective. Jamie went out of his way not to implicate him. None of his friends, not even Amelia, were clout-chasing content whores and respected his privacy enough not to opine on the events through their own content.

Unfortunately, as he began to peruse the various social media platforms in regards to that clip, he found that he had overlooked something that, in hindsight, he should have taken into consideration. He and his friends weren’t the only ones recording footage that day. The other team had people who were apparently also recording, and the reason he hadn’t seen any of their clips this past month was because they posted the clips on Tik Tok.

Stanley didn’t use Tik Tok, so the finer details of its mechanics and how it functions as a platform are mostly obscure to him. Really, the only thing he knew about it was that it primarily operates via short-form videos, is the most popular social media platform for Generation Z (aka Zoomers), is infamously known for the proliferation of online brain rot, and is owned by a Chinese company that may or may not put spyware in it. Though at this point what social media platform didn’t have some form of spyware in it?

Well, clearly, he underestimated the damn thing because the clips featuring his Airsoft performance managed to go viral on it. It wasn’t an instant sensation, but from his investigation (brief as it was), the situation was more like the clips caught the attention of a Tik Tok creator with a large audience who reposted them. From there, he’s assuming it then got shared on Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube.

“Fuck!”

“So I’m taking that reaction as a ‘yes’ to my question,” commented Natalie as she took another sip of Coke.

Stanley sighed “How did you figure?”

“You know I follow you and anyone you actually hang out with on social media.”

Stanley nodded as she told him this before with the excuse that “of course I’m going to keep tabs on the people my grumpy anti-social little brother befriends.”

Natalie looked back at her phone. “I didn’t think it was you at first since you looked so different, but after seeing you and Ez, I made the connection.”

Wait…

“What does Ez have to do with it?”

In lieu of a verbal answer, she brought up the picture of Ezraphel with one hand slung over his neck, squishing his face (thankfully covered by a dye mask) into her right boob while the other made a piece of art over her eye while she winked and made a kissy face at the camera.

“I told her to delete that shit!”

“Come on, Stan, you already know the rules about posting anything on the internet.”

“I know that!” Stanley snapped.

You put anything on the internet, especially in the past decade, and it’s there forever.

‘Which means it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out that I’m the one behind the mask’ he thought before pinching the bridge of his nose.

Surprisingly, the thought of people finding out was not as alarming as it otherwise would have been.

‘Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad,’ a traitorous part of his mind thought.

The clips themselves weren’t too bad; they certainly didn’t show even a fraction of the frankly incredible things Stan did to effectively run circles around that team. Actually, none of them had that kind of footage—not the opposing team, not his friends, and not even Stanley himself. It turns out Stanley’s camera wasn’t of high enough quality to catch his feats of superhuman speed, resulting in a good chunk of footage that was basically a blurry, unusable mess.

“What are you thinking?” Natalie asked.

“Just wondering if I should rip the band-aid off and reveal I’m the guy in that video.”

Natalie’s eyes widened. “Like a reveal-reveal?”

“Hell no,” he scowled.

He will never willingly show his face on the internet. That way leads to unnecessary drama and harassment.

“I mean if you play your cards right, you could totally milk the attention for some adsense revenue,” Natalie spoke while rubbing her chin “maybe even a sponsorship from those airsoft brands.”

“That’s not what I was actually going for.”

Sure, Stanley wasn’t above doing stuff like that, specifically when the thing he is milking is something directly related to him, but not in this particular instance.

His sister posed the question, “then what were going for?”

“I was actually thinking about expanding my brand.”

“To include airsoft?”

“…yeah.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t do that already.” She commented, “It’s not like it’s a secret or anything.”

She was right about that; he freely admitted on livestreams that he was an airsoft enthusiast and even showed off some of his gear at one point to curious viewers. He even almost showed highlight clips on his channels but opted not to since he wanted to preserve the authenticity of his channel, which focuses on gaming. He was also a bit self-conscious about posting IRL stuff in general.

“What changed?”

Natalie’s question gave him pause.

What changed, indeed?

“Some stuff happened recently, and I’ve been reevaluating my life.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“I…” he trailed off.

After a stretch of silence, Natalie sighed, “Look, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“But it’s healthier if I do, right?”

Natalie scoffed. “Yeah, but when do you ever do what’s good for your health if it’s not enjoyable?”

“Since Ezraphel managed to convince me, she cares more about me than anyone or anything in the universe, including me,” he said with a far-off expression.

Natalie’s eyes widened. “Wow, you managed to say that with a straight face.”

Just then there was a knock at the door before Ezraphel poked her head inside. “Sorry for interrupting, but I just wanted to let you know that lunch is ready.”

“And speak of the devil,” Natalie swiveled her chair around before getting to her feet. “Right on time, I am freaking starving right now.”

As Natalie walked closer, Ezraphel’s gaze went to Stanley, who remained seated. “Aren’t you coming, Stanley?”

As she said this, Natalie turned to look at him as well.

“Yeah just give me a minute.”

Natalie’s frown became pensive, while Ezraphel simply nodded. As the two left, Stanley’s enhanced hearing picked up the beginnings of a conversation.

“You know Stan was just talking about you.”

“Was he?”

He tuned them out right then and sighed, putting back the drink in the mini-fridge before wiping his face.

“What the hell am I doing?” he groaned before shaking his head as he headed out.

‘It’s fine; I still have time. I don’t need to rush this.”

[It’s not like her life depends on it or anything.]

Stanley paused as the urge to hit something abruptly spiked before he took a very deep and calming breath.

‘Tomorrow, I’ll talk to her about it tomorrow.’

~To Be Continued~

Author’s Notes: For advance chapters or just for general support check out my Patreon at www.Patreon.com/Streggaeworks

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