“How many times are you going to make me beg for your help? People are suffering and you have the power to fix that. What the hell do I have to say to get you to put down the beer and step up to the plate?” Mike inhaled deeply and stared at the mirrored wall opposite the bar where they sat. Their location was generally safe for him, but he still had to be on alert. There was no telling when things would take a turn and when he would need to fight his way out of a shitty situation.
“Hey, I’m not forcing you to do this Mike. You could just as easily drop the issue and we could go back to just being friends. Hell, I’d like to enjoy my beer without defending my position of not taking part in this new world order mess.” The dark man eyed the pair of beers they ordered that say seductively on the other end of the bar. “I’m quite happy with my place in this. Neutral is the way to be.”
“When are you going to join us, Jinn?” A fresh pair of beers had just touched the bar, left behind by a curvy woman who winked at Jinn and frowned at his friend. She tossed the long locks of red over her shoulder and sauntered over to the other side of the bar.
“I told you, I’m not a part of this.” Jinn put the bottle to his lips and took a swig. The cool liquid was the refreshment he needed after traveling through the heat of the Scorched lands to meet his friend. It didn’t seem to matter what season the calendar said it was, for the Scorched lands it was always the middle of the hottest summer. That’s what the combination of magic and nuclear warfare did to the land.
He watched the bold woman who tended the bar. Every so often her eyes would dart to him and then away to something he knew wasn’t holding her attention. She recognized him. He could tell by the way she looked at him. There weren’t many places he could go without getting that look. He was unaligned, Switzerland in a world engulfed by war and hatred. This meant no one would mess with him, but no one trusted him either. The risk simply wasn’t worth it. If someone were to discover that he had chosen to side with someone more powerful and they messed with him… well, that would be a risk to their lives that was not worth taking. Not to mention that he was, in fact, a djinn, powerful enough to turn the hands of fate if he so chose to, and he was no longer bound by a vessel. Without a vessel, he could work his magic without requiring someone to make a wish.
“How can you continue to say that you aren’t a part of it? Man, you were the start of this! Can’t you see that?” Mike shook his head and focused on his breathing. He needed to calm down. When he got too excited, his words would stretch syllables in what most would find to be an unnatural way. The subtle hissing was a characteristic he tried to mask when not at home. He had a better chance of blending into the world around him if he could avoid adding the slithering sound effect to all of his statements. This wasn’t the first time he tried to convince the man to align with his side, and it wouldn’t be the last. Jinn never had the guts to tell him, if he wanted to pick a team, a band of outcast shifters wouldn’t be his first bet.
“How was I the start of all of this shit?” Jinn placed his beer on the table and turned in his seat to give his company his full attention. He heard the bartender sigh as his arm braced his weight on the bar and the leather jacket he wore tightened around his muscles.
“Come on, the first djinn to ever be set free, to live amongst the humans. Everyone knew who and what you were! Did you think no one else would see that and want that kind of freedom for themselves? I swear, that wish, the one that got you out of that bottle for good, that was the catalyst for everything that is happening now.” Mike leaned back in his seat. “Say what you want, but yeah, you’re patient zero.”
“You’re seriously going to sit here, drinking the beer I paid for, and try to blame this mess on me?” The world was a bleak place and someone making a wish to right a wrong wasn’t the cause of it. People, both human and not, were greedy and selfish. They would do whatever it took to get what they wanted. Jinn was firm in the belief that his getting out of the bottle had no impact on that.
“Hey, I’m not blaming you. Hell, if anything we should all be thanking you. Now we’re on top and the humans bow to us. They run and flee, as it always should have been!” The man laughed and slammed his empty bottle on the bar, signaling the waitress to bring another.
“This is the world you wanted?” Jinn chuckled. “I think you’ve had too much to drink, buddy.” They’d had more conversations about the topic than he could count, and each time the discussion ended the same, with Mike complaining about how the world was a shitty place and they needed to make a change.
“Hell, it's better than the one I had before. The one I spent crawling around sewers, hiding in the night, and never knowing what a good life above ground was! Now I’m free to do as I please!” He stretched his arms out and winked at the woman who handed him another beer before quickly getting out of his reach. When he received a frown in response before she moved away from his side of the bar, he lifted the bottle to his lips and hissed just loud enough for her to hear. When she looked back, he stuck his tongue out and allowed her to see it shift from the solid form of a human to the slit tongue that was characteristic of his reptilian side.
“Must you do that?” Jinn shook his head.
“Hey, if she wants to treat me like a snake, I’m going to act like one.” Mike chuckled and took another drink of beer.
“You still live in the shadows, Mike. Let's be real, the only difference is now you're hiding from something much more terrifying than humans.” What he said was the truth. No, the slithers―shifters who turned into snakes and other reptilian creatures―weren’t banned to the sewers anymore, but they weren’t exactly accepted into society either. Their bodies, though bipedal and human-like, were covered in scales. Some had green tones, others, like Mike, were more fortunate. He could almost pass for normal if you didn’t look too closely at him. In a dark bar, after a few drinks, no one could see the difference. His ability to blend in with the grungy bar scene made their little meetings a lot easier to accomplish. That was unless he allowed himself to have one too many tequila shots. Tequila brought out the anaconda in him in a big way. The last time ended with Jinn transporting him home moments before the Fairy guard got to them.
“Hiding? Me? No. Hell, I'm right here, aren't I?” He smiled as he lifted his fourth beer to his lips.
“Yes, you are… in a hole in the wall bar in the middle of nowhere, that you chose. How about next time we do this, we meet at RJ’s?” He challenged him with the name of a popular bar in the inner city. Both knew that Mike would never make it past the outer rim before he was caught and either given the boot or put in jail, depending on which of the fairy patrol found him.
“Look, that's beside the point. We're getting off-topic. When are you going to join the cause?” Mike pushed the beer bottle around the bar top. He was nearing his limit and needed to keep his wits for the conversation.
“The only cause I have is my own. Hate to burst your bubble, but that would mean I’m all joined up.” Jinn smacked his friend on the shoulder. “I’m pretty sure this alliance thing is a one membership at a time kind of deal.”
“You know, partnering with us would actually help you with that.” Mike gave him the same look he’d given him whenever they played spades together― it was the kind that said he had an ace up his sleeve and wasn’t afraid to use it.
“How exactly would joining a bunch of outcasts and rebels be able to help me?” He launched the low blow, knowing what he said would piss Mike off. To his surprise, the tipsy slither managed to keep his cool. Mike simply nodded his head and smiled. Yeah, he had a one-two punch coming.
“Us outcasts, we know a lot about what goes on inside the hives. Each one of these new bordered lands that we aren’t allowed to cross into, we were once a part of them. Hell, some of us still are. Everyone has their dirty little secrets and some of them are covered in scales. We have inside info, floor plans. Secret passages. You scratch our back, and well, we’ll return the favor.” He pulled an envelope from the pocket of his worn jacket and slid it across the bar to Jinn. “Trust me, what’s inside here will make you change your mind.”
“Yeah, no thanks,” he said without looking at the envelope and got up to leave. “Besides, I’m not on the shit list with you, I can go in and out of wherever I damn well please.”
“You and I both know that is far from the truth. No one is out to get you, but not everyone is welcoming you with open arms.” Mike laid his hand on the shoulder of his stubborn friend, stopping his exit. When Jinn turned to him, he picked up the envelope from the bar and shoved it in his hand. “Take it.” Jinn looked at his friend and chose to humor him. He placed the envelope in his pocket, shook his head, and turned to walk away. “One of these days you're going to take me up on my offer!” Mike shouted after him as he pushed his way out of the heavy bar door.
His prized possession, an Indian Chief Dark Horse motorcycle which he had taken extreme care in detailing the onyx frame with accents in ice blue waited for him outside the bar. It roared to life as he pulled away from the bar, leaving behind Mike and all the peering eyes. The tires kicked up the dirt into the face of the man who waved and gazed longingly at the bike he’d never be able to lay a hand on—it was an unwritten rule. Being one of the last ones ever made, the classic was something most envied. Good thing they had the smarts to fear the owner.
As he drove away, his thoughts drifted back to Mike. Others may have viewed him as the scum of the earth, but to Jinn he was a true friend. They’d met years ago when the wars with the humans began. He found Mike seconds from death, with a nuclear bomb headed straight for his way. As Jinn saved his life, Mike uttered they would be friends for a very long time. If he’d known then what that really meant, he might have reconsidered diverting the bomb.