Jaq had selected her outfit carefully for tonight's dinner with her parents, in which she would introduce them to her fiance, Chase Young. She wore an elegant cheongsam because Chase liked the look of them on her, and in his colors as well; black, with threads of gold and green. Her hair was styled in an elegant twist, her make-up impeccable.

For all of that, she jittered nervously as she and Chase walked up the steps to the front door.

"Okay, okay, okay," Jaq muttered half to herself. "So . . . . . Mom likes Asian antiquities and Dad likes . . . . likes . . . . money and um . . . . . Dad really didn't take this well. I don't know what he's going to do. Please don't kill them, Chase."

Chase glanced at his nervous little bride-to-be and settled his hand on her back, rubbing slightly.

"Little ghost girl, you are far too nervous," he chided gently. "I have no intention of slaughtering your parents tonight. They wish to meet me and you have asked it of me. I am in the mood to indulge you. Trust that I have the ability to handle suspicious and worried parents."

A tiny smile broke through Jaq's mask of anxiety and she laid her head on Chase's shoulder with a soft sigh and a grateful hum.

"I love you, Chase," she murmured, obviously from the bottom of her heart. "I'm so glad you're in the mood to indulge."

The albino witch paused just before the front door and leaned up to kiss her betrothed gratefully.

The door opened on the kissing couple and a soft, but audible gasp was heard.

Jaq meeped and blushed as she broke the kiss to see her parents standing there. Her mother was also blushing, but her father was staring in stark disapproval.

"If you two kids are done canoodling on the doorstep," Mr. Spicer said gruffly, "perhaps you'd like to come in to dinner?"

Jaq blushed, huddling against Chase. The dragon lord put his arm around his lover and escorted her into her parents' house.

"Um . . . Mom, Dad . . . I'd like you to meet Chase Young. Chase, my parents; Martin and Sylvia Spicer."

Martin and Sylvia glanced at each other, and then back to the man who was clearly holding their... offspring... in a protective manner. He was a beautiful man; clearly a young adult, just out of his teens if the smooth creaminess of his skin was any indication.

Martin held out his hand. "Welcome to our home, Mr. Young."

Chase treated the couple to a dazzling smile and shook Mr. Spicer's hand.

"Thank you for having me, Mr. and Mrs. Spicer," he purred, turning on the charm. "And thank you for bringing the light of my life into the world."

The two men shook while Jaq smiled up at her lover happily. Then, Sylvia stepped forward and Chase bowed over her hand, earning a pleased titter from his love's mother.

"Well, shall we settle in the parlor for aperitifs?" Sylvia asked brightly. "It will be another few moments before dinner is ready."

The four of them moved through the house after Martin shut the door, and in the parlor, a butler served them various alcoholic beverages. Chase and Jaq settled on a couch together, while Sylvia and Martin took up chairs across from them, which left Jaq with the vague feeling that she and her lover were being interrogated.

"Ah . . . so! Chase, how did you and Jackie meet?" Sylvia asked with forced cheerfulness.

Martin leveled a dark look at the young man sitting across from him and took a stiff gulp of bourbon.

Jaq glanced at Chase nervously, but he easily caught hold of her hand and held it with his own.

"I met... Jackie, as you call her, when she still went by the name of Jack," he said smoothly. "I am a Tai Chi master. Jack was intent on learning how to be a warrior and sought my attention. It became fairly obvious, however, that Jack was not... comfortable, for lack of a better word, in his then-form. He went away from me and, the next time I saw Jack, 'he' had become 'she'."

"You knew him when he was still a boy?!" Martin blurted, shocked. "And you still wanted him as a girl?!"

"Martin!" Sylvia hissed. "It's *sweet* that he liked Jack enough to be romantic with Jackie!"

"Sweet?" Martin blustered, aghast. "More like--"

"Yes, Dad," Jaq said, and *smiled* at her father. "It's *very* sweet."

"Don't you take that tone with *me*, young man!" Martin snapped back.

"Woman!" Jaq corrected. "I'm *female*, Dad. All my dangly bits are long gone."

Martin shuddered even as Sylvia frowned and said, "Jackie, darling, don't be crude."

Chase allowed a smug smile to tug at one corner of his mouth.

"Jaq is every inch a woman now," he seconded. "For which I am truly grateful. Jack as a male was intriguing enough to frustrate me. I have no interest in men. But when Jaq appeared as a female, well . . . . all those frustrations were gone." Chase looked over at his affianced, affection obvious in his gaze. "My beautiful little ghost-girl."

The sweetness of the nickname was diminished a bit as he reached over to stroke the snow-white knee that peeped out of the slit that ran up the side of her skirt – and made no effort to disguise what he was doing.

Martin actually growled. When his wife gaped at him, he realized what he was doing and stopped, but then demanded, "Would you kindly stop molesting our... *daughter*... in front of us?!"

"Dad, it was just an . . . affectionate touch," Jaq growled, scooting closer to Chase.

The dragon lord looped his arm around her waist and pulled her snugly to his side.

"My Jaq adores . . . affectionate touches," Chase answered. "She is nervous enough that I seek to comfort her."

Sylvia made an attempt at a charming smile. "Jackie has no need to be nervous! We're her parents; we love her. And... well... To be honest, Mr. Young, this *is* a shock for us. For weeks, now, we'd feared the worst when Jack vanished. Then, he comes home as a *woman* without letting us know what he'd planned, and... in a relationship with another - with a man! This is difficult. But we won't turn our backs on hi-her."

"Thank you, Momma," Jaq said quietly, her cheeks flushed a delicate pink and smiling in her pleasure.

"Thank you, Mrs. Spicer," Chase echoed. The immortal dragon lord was honest in his thanks. To see that pleased look of happiness on his beloved's face was well worth spending the evening in this mundane manor with these extremely mundane people.

Martin muttered something unintelligible and took another drink.

"Oh, please, call me Sylvia," Mrs. Spicer simpered. "So, ah... what do you do, Mr. Young?"

Jaq forced down a smile. Trust her mother to ask the "Do you have a job and money?" question, while not being terribly subtle.

"Whatever I wish . . . Sylvia," Chase said with a smug smile. "I have the good fortune of possessing land, wealth and treasures that have been in the Young family for . . . oh, fifteen hundred years or so."

He tossed a bemused look at Jaq, hoping she appreciated the inside joke.

Martin went still for a moment, then stomped over to the drinks cart and poured himself another stiff one.

"Well, that's done it," they could all hear him muttering. "He mentioned old things. We'll be talking antiquities all night."

"Oh, hush, Martin," Sylvia chided, her voice fondly exasperated. "I'll be sure to let you two talk politics and money and other manly things. But, yes...!" She turned her attention back to Chase. "You have items that are *fifteen-hundred*-years-old?"

Jaq grinned and snuggled against her lover while muttering under her breath, "She can't have it; it's *my* toy."

Chase bit back a laugh. He hugged Jaq briefly to his side in an affectionate squeeze.

"All yours, little ghost," he assured her in the same stage whisper. "I'm afraid my oldest pieces are not that impressive, Sylvia," Chase said in a normal tone, turning his attention back to his beloved's mother. "A few rusty swords, some ancient armor, one very special spear . . ."

Jaq said nothing, but she smiled slightly. She knew what spear he was talking about, of course: It was the one he'd had from the days when he'd been training to be a Xiaolin Dragon. It had been his primary channeling medium for his Fire magic, and he'd kept it; taken it with him when he'd defected to the Heylin side. That spear had seen innumerable clashes, quite a few of them against Master Monk Guan.

It was, besides her, Chase's most treasured possession. If anything happened to it, there'd be no living with him.

She hazed out for a little while as Chase and her mother talked antiquities; her mother trying desperately hard to get invited to Chase's home to see his treasures for herself, and Chase adroitly turning aside each attempt.

Then, she noticed that her father was staring at them - at her and Chase, cuddled together on the couch, with a look of dark malevolence, and felt a chill of sorrow and fear.

Chase noticed instantly. His speech about his personal preference for the dyeing techniques of the early Qing dynasty textiles faltered.

"Little ghost? Are we boring you?" he asked gently.

Jaq didn't answer right away, only glanced at her father. Chase's eyes followed hers and for the barest second, Martin got a brief glimpse of something hateful and powerful and somehow not quite human behind those golden eyes.

The butler arriving to announce that dinner was ready saved them all from awkward questions.

Chase rose smoothly to his feet, guiding Jaq to hers. He made it a point to keep himself between Jaq and her father as he escorted his lover into the dining room. With impeccable grace and manners, he handed her into her chair. When he noticed that Martin failed to do the same for his wife, Chase performed the same service for the older woman, who tittered her pleasure at him.

Then, smirking subtly at Martin's dark glower, Chase settled himself in his chair.

"I propose a toast!" Sylvia declared, lifting her wineglass. By now the elder Spicer female was positively smitten with her daughter's beloved. "To Jackie and her new love! May they have all the happiness in the world!"

Jaq smiled at the cheerful wish, though a part of her remained feeling cold and sad when her father only grunted and drained his own glass.

"So... ah... we were thinking of having the wedding in the next few months or so," Jaq said. "Naturally, you're invited. And we--"

That was as far as she got. The butler had wheeled in a lovely cart that held the first course dishes. It was some sort of fish dish; something with a creamy sauce that had lots of dill in it.

Jaq wheeled out of her chair, stumbled over to a potted plant, and barfed into the container.

In an instant, large calloused hands were stroking her hair back away from her face as she heaved into the pot.

"Jaq? What's wrong?" Chase asked. "You've barely touched your wine; you cannot be drunk . . ."

"WEDDING?!" Martin roared, completely missing the fact that his daughter was vomiting into a potted plant. "What wedding?!"

Sylvia gestured at the butler, who went off to fetch a cool cloth and something to soothe Jaq's stomach upset.

"Oh, Martin! They mentioned it when we were in the parlor! You were too busy knocking back scotch to listen!" she snapped.

To Chase, she said, "Mr. Young, try not to worry. Jackie has always been prone to this if he -- *she* -- stirs herself up into even a small anxiety attack. She'll be fine, I promise."

"She has never become so violently ill in the time we have been together," Chase said coldly. "Jaq? Are you all right?"

Jaq spit and coughed, bringing up the last of it. "I'm..." She broke off for a wheeze and to spit sour-tasting fluid. "I'm *fine*. Just... the *smell*. Oh, gods, please, get it out of here!"

"The smell?" Chase echoed. "The scent is very mild. I thought you enjoyed fish. Nevertheless . . ."

The dragon lord gestured sharply and a maid who had come in to assist the butler quickly pushed the cart back into the kitchen.

Jaq groaned. "I usually do. In fact, I wouldn't mind some very delicate and tasty sushi. But that..." She shuddered and leaned against him.

Martin snorted. "Stop being so delicate, Jack. You're ruining your mother's evening."

Martin was treated to another 500 megawatt death glare from Chase Young. When Sylvia sighed roughly as if agreeing with him, the dragon lord briefly threw an evil look her way.

"Jaq . . . *my fiancée*, your *daughter*, is ill. This does not concern you?"

Sylvia fidgeted. "Mr. Young... it's not that we don't care about Jackie, but... well. Jackie's always been ill. Delicate constitution, you know. The least little thing, and there'd be fever and vomiting... usually from a panic attack. It's... the therapist said don't *coddle*...."

Chase considered this for a moment.

"It may interest you to know that in all the time we have been together, Jaq has never been ill. Not even after drinking too much or . . . . women's issues. She has always been hale and healthy. And she loves to be coddled. Apparently it's something she didn't get during her formative years."

The dragon lord looked back to his urpy bride-to-be, brushed a phantom lock of hair away from her face and kissed her temple.

Jaq sagged against him, her eyes closed and struggled to get her breathing under control.

"Thank you, baby," she said quietly, more in love with Chase Young than ever.

This man - this evil, malicious, cruel man - by all rights should have been saying the same thing as her parents. 'Get up! Stop wimping out!' Instead, he was *coddling* her; protecting her and spoiling her, and she loved him for his generosity to her.

"I love you," she whispered. "Oh, Chase... I *love* you."

"I love you," Chase returned with a small smile. "My beautiful bride . . ."

"Oh, stop!" Martin snapped. "Or we'll all be puking in the plants!" The man swayed in his seat; the alcohol he'd been downing clearly taking effect.

"I don't know what you're tryin' t' prove, Jack! Like, like, you're showing up as a woman with some *man* all over you like you're a real girl now . . . chopping your balls off and getting implants doesn't make you a woman! It just makes you a neutered boy in a dress! Freak!"

Jaq flinched and pressed her face against Chase's chest. "Oh, gods... I knew it! I knew coming here was a mistake! Chase! Please! Take me home!"

"No!" Sylvia cried, leaping to her feet. "Jackie, please, no! Your father's drunk! He doesn't know what he's saying! Martin, SHUT UP! I'm not losing him again because of you!"

"Don't you tell me to shut up! This is your fault; you always wanted a girl!"

Chase watched the warring couple through slitted eyes.

"Little ghost? Is the 'no slaughtering' rule still in effect?"

Jaq said nothing. Instead, she clung tightly to her beloved and cried.

A low, inhuman growl ripped through the room, causing Mr. and Mrs. Spicer to fall abruptly silent. It was a horrible, godawful sound, promising pain and death to all who heard it. It took the married couple a few seconds to realize it was coming from their future son-in-law.

Chase Young snarled ferociously at the pair, clutching Jaq to his chest.

"You are both extremely fortunate that I promised Jaq I would not kill you tonight. Tomorrow you might not be so lucky."

With that, he was gone, teleporting away with his lover wrapped tightly in his protective embrace.

In the next instant they were home, in a sitting room they both favored, with a roaring fire in the fireplace and an oversized couch just waiting to be snuggled on.

Jaq just couldn't seem to stop crying. All she knew was that Chase was there, holding her and snuggling her and crooning into her ear as he stroked her back, kissed her hair, and made promises that everything was going to be alright.

She believed him, she honestly did, but still... the tears flowed.

It seemed as if every hurt her parents had ever dealt her was finally finding release.

"Jaq . . . my Jaq, please don't cry. I love you; it doesn't matter what those wretched fools think. They don't know you as I do; they don't love you as I do. No one can. You have my immortal heart, little ghost. There is no reason to weep. Please smile, my beautiful little ghost girl. I want you to -- *say one word and I'll return you to flesh just so I may brutally murder you!*" Chase snarled.

Wuya, floating nearby, decided she didn't feel like tormenting Jaq just then.

Jaq, startled, lifted her head and looked with wide eyes at her lover. Seeing the direction of his gaze, however, she turned and saw Wuya hovering nearby.

Rage took her, then. A horrible, black rage that filled her soul with poison.

In an instant, Jaq was up and off of Chase's lap, whirling to face Wuya.

"You *BITCH!*" she howled at the ghost, and was utterly unaware of the fact that black magic crackled from her naked hands, or that *every* part of her eyes was glowing red. "You horrible, vicious, *petty* bitch! You came here to *laugh* at me! *Again!* Just like you *always* did! Even when I was the only one you could depend on, you *laughed* at me! You never thought maybe I could have made you *human* again, just with technology! And now you're here to laugh at me *again?!* Ohhhhhh, I *HATE* YOU!"

With that, she lashed venomous energy at Wuya.

The witch screamed and writhed from the pain the hateful energy inflicted on her. Her insubstantial body twisted and contorted with agony.

Chase ignored the dead witch's screams and poured himself a snifter of brandy as he took pleasure in watching his beautiful little ghost girl practically *glow* with hatred and malice. How arousing . . .

Jaq screamed hate and rage and pain at Wuya, who was unable to flee from the corporeal witch's assault. It wasn't until Jaq staggered back, drained of energy and panting tiredly, that Wuya was finally given surcease.

"H-How did you make me feel pain?" the ghost witch cried, her voice jittering with ghostly sobs. "I'm insubstantial! How did you make me feel pain?!"

Jaq's arms hung limply by her side and she stared with dark loathing at the ghost.

"I *wanted* you to," Jaq muttered, and then she turned and went back to Chase.

Chase stood as she approached him again and kissed his lover deeply, passionately.

"So *incredible*, my love. So beautiful, so hateful, so powerful . . . . do you feel better? Would something make you feel better? Just name it, love, and it is yours."

Jaq shivered and clutched at him.

"I want you," she whispered. "I want to feel like I'm worth something. I want to be special and pampered and *loved*."

"You *are* loved, little ghost," Chase assured her. "You are completely beloved by me and I shall spend the rest of time making sure you feel special and pampered. I –" Chase broke off sharply.

Jaq sniffled and looked up at him questioningly.

A smug smirk tugged at the warlord's lips.

"Do you feel up to going out, Jaq? I know just the place to make you feel special and pampered."

"'Out'?" Jaq echoed.

There places in the world normal people could never go.

The doorways were hidden in switchbacks and back alleys, accessible only with the proper knowledge and power. With very few exceptions, the places on the other side of those doorways had very little to do with alleys and forgotten side streets.

Chase and Jaq were in such an alley now.

Makeup touched up, teeth brushed and hair repaired, Jaq hung off of Chase's arm while he spoke to someone on the other side of a heavy door. Jaq got the niggling feeling the speaker had more eyes than just the two that were showing.

"Have you brought me to a speakeasy, Chase?" Jaq murmured as the door was opened.

Chase snorted with amusement.

"You are closer to the truth than you know, little ghost," the dragon lord purred. "Those with power and magic are always interested in keeping our entertainments to ourselves."

The heavy door pulled back and the dragon lord and his witch stepped through the dingy passageway and emerged into supernatural luxury.

Jaq was reminded of the paintings of Heaven from her mother's collection of antiquities. The overall theme was Chinese, which made sense since they'd started off in Beijing. Carved pillars soared ten stories in the air over a fantastic courtyard where musicians played in the lower levels and acrobats sported on a trapeze strung between the upper levels. There were also prettily-painted young men and women who appeared to be flying up and down.

Given the magical entrance, that wasn't outside of the realm of possibility.

Chase started forward as if he didn't see any of it, tugging Jaq along with him. The albino witch looked over her shoulder at the doorman. A red-skinned Chinese demon with three eyes blinked back at her.

'Nailed it,' Jaq thought to herself.

"Ah! Lord Young! Oh, we haven't seen you in four hundred and thirty-six years! What a pleasant surprise!" A voice cried.

Jaq whipped her head back around to face front only to find herself face-to-face with a pretty young woman in an off-the shoulder gown and a red lacquered Chinese hat. The woman's hair was styled in gravity-defying loops and swirls and a red jewel rested over her ajna chakra.

"I had no pressing need to return," Chases stated coolly. "Now I require a table for two someplace quiet . . . romantic."

Jaq blinked up at the soaring pillars and balconies. This place was a restaurant?

"Oh?" The jewel-foreheaded woman asked. Her eyes flew to Jaq. Then she blasted them both with a brilliant smile.

"Of course!" She cried in a voice that was just smidge *too* loud. "When the infamous Chase Young wants a romantic table, you can be sure the Gates of Heaven Café can deliver!"

Jaq nearly goggled like an idiot. She called this place a café? What the hell would a full blown steakhouse look like?

Then turning heads caught the albino witch's eye. The immediate room didn't look like dining; it was more of a wine-and-nibbly-things area. Beings lounged about, chatting, laughing, and drinking from cups that ranged in size from thimbles to cauldrons.

More than a few of them were turning towards Chase and Jaq. They glanced at the dragon lord briefly, as if to make sure it really *was* Chase Young, then their eyes roamed over Jaq.

As they began to follow the waitress deeper into the restaurant, the evil-boy-genius-turned-evil-witch got the feeling she was being sized up in every way imaginable.

"Chase," she began uneasily.

"Yes, darling?" The dragon lord said.

Jaq nearly tripped over her own feet.

'Darling?' When the hell had Chase called her 'darling'? When he got verbally affectionate with her, it was 'little ghost' and 'pretty little ghost girl' and 'beloved', not 'darling'. It was almost weirder than hearing Chase say: 'honeybunch'.

Jaq stared hard at her affianced. After a moment, a grin tugged at her lips.

"Chase . . . 'sweetiepie' . . . you wouldn't happen to be putting on a show for these nice peop -- *beings*, would you?"

Chase's smirk deepened.

"Little ghost, I have garnered something of a reputation for being a shut-in."

"No way; *you*?!" Jaq teased with a mock gasp.

Chase gave her a sour look and slapped her on the rump. Jaq squeaked, drawing more looks as they climbed a beautifully carved set of stairs after the waitress.

"Saucy," Chase growled, but there was no heat in his tone. "As I was saying, the last time I came to this particular place, it was to be *seen*. I dragged along some little fire imp who's name I couldn't remember then *or* now, flirted shamelessly with the waitress and, if memory serves, ended up fucking one of the acrobats in the washroom."

Jaq snorted with laughter and buried her face against Chase's shoulder.

"When you hit a café, you hit a café," she chuckled wickedly.

"Be that as it may, I wish to make it very clear that things have changed from the last time. Then, I was a bored bachelor seeking a moment's entertainment. Now . . ." Chase paused and placed a chaste kiss on Jaq's cheek. "Now my little ghost deserves to be shown off."

"Oh Chase . . ." Jaq breathed, getting misty-eyed.

The waitress cleared her throat. The young woman waited for the pair in an elaborated decorated elevator. Her brilliant perkiness seemed to have faded quite a bit. Jaq wondered if she were the same waitress Chase had flirted so shamelessly with four centuries before.

The pair entered the elevator and scandalized the waitress further by necking in a corner as the box rose to the top floors.

By the time the doors chimed, Chase, Jaq, *and* the waitress were all rosy of cheek, though for entirely different reasons.

"I hope this table is suitable!" The waitress said with a forced grin, gesturing to a small table inlaid with an elaborate scene of Chinese mythology.

The chairs were carved to look like coiled dragons, a red padded seat held between their limbs. Behind each chair was what Jaq at first took to be replicas of the terracotta soldiers of Emperor Qin, but when one pulled out her chair for her and the other took her wrap, she realized that the terracotta soldiers of Emperor Qin were probably replicas of *these*.

Another pair behind Chase's chair assisted the warlord in getting seated comfortably, then went back to being simple stone statues.

"Tea to start," Chase growled to the waitress as she laid down menus. "Original Da Hong Pao."

When the waitress dipped a curtsey, Chase waved at her to go away.

"Da Hong Pao?" Jaq echoed when the bejeweled woman had left. "Isn't that the rarest tea in the world? They only harvest about 3.3 ounces a year from 350 year old trees?"

"It is the rarest tea in the mortal world, little ghost. Gods and monsters have more access to it," Chase said with a smug smirk.

Jaq took a deep breath of fresh night air and observed her surroundings. The table they had taken was on the second highest level; one more tier of tables ran along the length of the building. Over their heads only a roof shielded them from any bad weather that might be had. A small fountain erupted from the wall below them to trickle into an ornamental pond one floor below. A few tables were set up around it.

Jaq idly wondered why the waitress hadn't set them *there*, but from this seat she could look down into the courtyard at the acrobats and musicians or look outside the building to the countryside beyond. Looking out across the deep green forests, spotted here and there with lantern light, Jaq smiled widely.

"It's beautiful," she breathed. "If I asked where this place was, would the answer make any sense?"

"Not really," Chase answered. The warlord rested his chin in his hands while he took a moment to simply look at Jaq. "You are so very beautiful."

The albino witch blushed demurely at her love's compliment.

At that moment, a teapot and two cups appeared on the table. The terracotta statues stepped forward again to steep the tea and pour.

"So what's good to eat here?" Jaq asked.

"Everything. But I would like to share an ogre-sized dish of Dragon and Phoenix with you, little ghost. I'm feeling . . . . sentimental and I like the idea of you being the Phoenix Empress to my Dragon Emperor," Chase stated calmly.

Even as Jaq blushed prettily again, her dragon lover picked up the menus and slapped them against one statue's chest.

"You heard my order, flowerpot. Also, my beloved bride-to-be desires your most delicate sushi for an appetizer."

The magical statue nodded and transferred the warlord's words to the waitress. Down in the kitchen, the waitress paused as she put together the tray of complimentary appetizers. Chase Young's *bride-to-be*?

Green eyes flaring wide, the waitress calmly put in the dragon's order, then slipped to the office of the restaurant and picked up the phone.

"Wu Fei? You still have that photography gig for *Evil People*, right? I think I have a hot tip for you . . ."

Jaq grinned helplessly again, flattered to the bone that Chase had remembered her comment from earlier.

Earlier . . . why *had* she thrown up? Was it just from being back in her parent's house again? She had been stressed to tears, but she didn't *feel* like she was having a panic attack. It had just been 'chat, chat, chat, sicky mcbarfpuke'.

Weird . . .

"Are you remembering your parents, little ghost?" Chase asked. "Please don't; I brought you here to feel pampered and adored."

"No, no, it's nothing like that," Jaq said, waving her hands. "I was just wondering what set me off to get sick is all."

"The company would do the trick," Chase growled, sipping his tea.

Before the albino witch could comment one way or the other, the waitress levitated up over the edge of the balcony with a tray of sushi in one hand and the tray of complimentary appetizers in the other.

"Here we are! And may I say congratulations on your impending nuptials?" She simpered, laying out the trays and snapping her fingers.

At the snap, golden chopsticks inlaid with precious gems appeared beside their plates.

"You may," Chase said with a small smile.

When the waitress turned to go, the warlord's eyes lingered on her for a moment. Jaq fought down the urge to stab the parting waitress with her chopsticks.

"See something you like?" she growled.

"I like her hairstyle," the warlord admitted. "It would look infinitely better on you, however, my jealous little ghost."

Jaq flushed while Chase grinned in amusement.

"I wouldn't know how she keeps it that way," Jaq admitted.

"With spells, of course," the warlord stated simply.

"She uses magic to *style her hair*?" the albino witch echoed, looking back the way the waitress had gone.

"Most magical women do," Chase stated. "How else do you think they maintain such ridiculous lengths and styles?"

"Really? I thought I was just . . . not keeping up." Jaq wrapped a finger around a skein of violent red hair that hung down over her shoulder. "Seems like kind of a waste."

"You have power to burn, hair spells don't take a great deal of power and I *like* ridiculous length," Chase stated, tucking into a plate of sizzling dumplings.

"Hmmm," Jaq paused for a bite of sushi. Once the eyerolling and orgasmic groaning were over, she fixed her ruby eyes back on her beloved. "How ridiculous a length are we talking here?"

Chase had to swallow *hard* and shift in his seat.

"I should like it to drag the ground when loose," he admitted hoarsely.

Jaq's eyes went wide.

"Drag the *ground*?"

The witch shook her ponytail back over her shoulder again. She thought it was pretty long already, but if Chase wanted it longer . . .

"All right, baby. If you say so, I'll look up the spell when we get . . . home . . ." Jaq trailed off as Chase gestured for her to let him get his hands in her hair.

The albino witch turned her head sideways so that her betrothed could wrap his hand around her ponytail.

Without warning, Chase *yanked hard*.

Instead of her neck being snapped violently, as Jaq was expecting to happen, the end of her ponytail suddenly reeled out like a tape measure; growing longer and longer with no apparent pull on her head at all.

Chase released the hair, which spun out another foot or two before starting to drift towards the ground as lightly as a feather.

Jaq jerked her head back around to face her future hubby. Her hair lifted and flared out behind her, still floating weightless, then settled gently around her shoulders. The albino witch studied the endless fall of hair, then gave her lover The Eyebrow.

"You just *happened* to have a 'Ridiculous Length' spell *and* a 'Weightless Spell' in your back pocket?" she asked.

Chase made a show of nibbling some wontons.

"I may have looked into the matter," he said coyly.

Jaq giggled and shook her head, watching the crimson lengths stir and dance and float.

"I'm like that chick from *Heavenly Sword*," she giggled.

"Chase Young!"

All the patrons in the immediate area looked towards the shout. A warrior woman in a gi of red, black, and yellow strode towards the table.

"You have a lot of gall to show up here!" She cried.

"Who's that?" Jaq asked.

"I've no idea," Chase admitted polishing off his appetizers.

"And old flame?" Jaq questioned, arching an eyebrow.

"Entirely possible," the warlord said. "Women were simply an indistinguishable blur before I met you, little ghost."

Jaq couldn't keep the grin off of her face.

"Shameless flatterer," she teased.

Feeling secure in Chase's total disinterest in the other woman, Jaq turned her attention back to her sushi.

"Don't ignore me!" The woman snarled.

Jaq iwanted/i to at least glance at the other woman, but Chase calmly kept eating and looking at iher/i instead. Deciding it was more important to support her future husband, Jaq continued to lock gazes with Chase.

The woman standing by their table curled her lip. Little flames began licking up from her hair and clothing.

"How idare/i you?" she hissed. "You filthy pig - how idare/i you show your face here again?!"

Chase skewered a dumpling that had grown colder than he appreciated and held it over one of the flames sparking from the woman's sleeve.

"Am I to assume by that statement that we've met here before?" he asked in a bored tone.

She slapped the dumpling out of his hand. The chopsticks went with it, clattering to the floor.

"Don't you idare/i treat me so disrespectfully!" she said coldly. "You brought me here on a date four hundred years ago! The entire place heard the little slut you had your way with in the bathroom while I was left alone, mortified, at our table!"

Chase squinted slightly at her face.

"Oh yes . . . . mmmm, I still can't remember your name. But if you were as tedious and graceless then as you are now it's no wonder I sought relief with an acrobat in the washroom. Be gone! You are bothering my fiancé!"

Jaq smirked slightly, but she gathered black magic around her hands.

This bitch idared/i to slap Chase's chopsticks out of his hand?

"My iname/i is Syrdalla!" the woman said viciously. "How idare/i you--?"

That was as far as she got.

Bonds of red lightning wrapped around the woman, making her shriek with agony before she was lifted bodily and flung off of the building. Those watching followed the woman's progress down to crash into the dark trees.

Jaq gave a prim little sigh.

"*Nobody* smacks *my* man's hands and gets away with it. Uppity bitch."

An acrobat suddenly drifted down onto their little balcony. She looked down at the scorched mess that had been Syrdalla, and then turned and smiled flirtatiously at Chase.

"I'm the 'little slut' that everyone heard screaming," she said. Giving him a wink, she added, "I remember iyou/i bivery/i/b well, Lord Young. In case this date goes as badly as the last one did, I wouldn't mind having you again."

Chase gave her a cold glare.

"This date will *not* go badly. I am taking my betrothed out for an evening's entertainment," Chase said, gesturing to Jaq. "Not dragging some floozy out in an attempt to be social. Go bother some other warlord, 'little slut'. This one is taken."

Jaq felt her heart warm at Chase's words. She smiled at him, then gave the acrobat her most charming smile.

"It's a pleasure to meet you! Now if you don't quit sniffing after *my* dragon, I will break you into even tinier pieces."

The acrobat sneered at the white-skinned woman.

"Sweetie, you may ilook/i demonic, but you have mortal stink alllllllll over you," the woman said with clear condescension. "How long do you really think you'll be able to keep a dragon like him? He's rich, gorgeous, supremely powerful, and fucks like a dream. There's a ilot/i of women out there who'd like to have him for themselves."

"Like iyou?/i" Jaq asked icily.

The woman grinned meanly. "Why not? I wouldn't mind marrying up. Besides..." She suddenly bent herself into a seemingly impossible, yet extremely lewd position. "I'm bendy in really ifun/i places."

Unbeknownst to the albino witch, a crow spirit was perched on the other end of the courtyard, taking picture after picture with a zoom lens.

Jaq eyed her suddenly ridiculously long ponytail, then reached out with a manipulation spell. The skein of red hair suddenly coiled like a snake and lashed out at the acrobat's face.

The woman flinched back from the attack, lost her balance on the balcony railing and toppled down into the courtyard.

Jaq sighed and leveled ruby-red eyes at her affianced.

"Am I going to be doing this *all night*?"

Chase smiled. "Please don't be offended, my love, but I'm rather flattered at watching you fight for me."

"I'd be crazy not to," Jaq growled.

At yet another female form looming into view, the albino witch turned, ready to blast.

The waitress tried to hide behind the enormous platter of food she carried.

"Your –your order, madam?" She squeaked.

"Put it on the table," Jaq growled, and then made a show of standing far to the side so the waitress would actually iapproach/i said table.

She was watching the meal being put down when black-as-midnight-in-Dracula's-castle hands suddenly took hold of her face and turned her toward their owner.

A ibeautiful/i male creature with bat-style wings was perched on the balcony, eyeing Jaq critically.

"Marvelous," it murmured. "So mortally delicate, yet the coloring is perfect and that ibody/i.... oh, my, that imouth/i. Yes. Yes, you will do, girl."

It looked up and met narrow gold eyes and said, "Lord Young! I fancy your witch. Will you sell her to me for 100 virgins and the wealth of the Lost City of Atlantis?"

Before Chase could say a word, another male creature appeared on the balcony.

"Oh, I don't ithink/i so, Crozanos!" the green-skinned, white-haired being said hotly. "You're not snapping ithis/i tasty young thing up so fast! Young! iDouble/i the virgins and your own idimension/i for the witch girl!"

A low, menacing growl shook the immediate area. Chase's hair was spiking, his fingers clawed and the tell-tale ripple of scale under his skin hinted that he was very close to transforming.

"Duke Crozanos, I will ithank/i you to take your hands off of *my* witch! I will thank the iboth/i of you to make yourselves scarce! Jaq is to be my queen! I haven't brought her as far as I have just to *sell* her like some cheap trinket! She is not for sale! Not at ibany/b/i price!" The dragon lord roared.

Crozanos tightened his grip on Jaq. "You're being iselfish/i, Young."

"Don't chastise him, Crozanos," the green-skinned guy said. "If I had a witch like that, I'd be pissy about anyone else getting near her, too."

He then looked at Chase and said, "You're not iseriously/i going to bind her to you?"

"I am," Chase stated, arching an eyebrow. "I know when I have met perfection. She will be my queen and give me strong heirs and I *said* take your hands off of her, Crozanos!"

Crozanos glared. "If she is as perfect as you say, then I--"

That was as far as he got.

A raging, destructive wash of black magic slammed into Crozanos' face. He fell from the balcony -- Jaq jerking free of his grip -- and plummeted down to land on the two women who had already been decimated by Jaq.

The green-skinned guy leaned over to look, then turned and gave the infuriated warlord a sheepish smile. He held his hands up in a "You win!" gesture, and then vanished.

Jaq leaned over the railing to take a look herself, then sighed.

"If this keeps up, we'll never get to eat," she said petulantly.

Chase chuckled.

"Not to worry, pet; now that we've proven our willingness to fight for each other—" the warlord suddenly broke off, squinting at the far balcony.

Chase crooked his hands into a clutching grip and a youth flew from the other balcony to smack into the dragon's outstretched hand.

"What do *you* want?" Chase growled.

"Nah-nahtink!" the boy choked.

"Nothing? Not a thing? You aren't a scout for some randy lord or a pawn for some scorned woman?"

The boy twisted his head to look at Jaq.

"No . . ." he wheezed, pawing feebly at Chase's hand.

"I think I get what you meant by being flattered," she murmured, and smiled when Chase looked at her. "I'm so iturned on/i watching you throttle these guys just to keep me!"

Chase grinned and pulled the youth closer so that he could wrap both hands around the boy's neck

"Shall I tear this one's head off for you, lover?" he purred.

As the dragon lord pulled the youth closer, he turned his captive towards Jaq in the hopes that she could see the brutality closer. Instead, the youth snatched up a camera that had been hanging around his neck and snapped a few photos of the albino witch.

"Damn paparazzi!" Chase roared, flinging the boy over the railing.

After a few stories of plummeting, the crow spirit took his natural form and flew away, camera still hanging from his neck.

Jaq blinked and shook her head, hoping to clear the sparkles from the bright flash in her eyes. "Chase? What's going on?"

"That crow spirit was a member of the press. I fear you've made the celebrity rags sheets, dearest," Chase sighed roughly. "And people wonder why I'm a shut in."

Jaq blinked again... and then smiled.

"You mean everyone is going to see that little scene and know that iI'm/i the lucky witch you've chosen?" she said, strolling closer to him, her hips swaying. "Everyone will see that Chase Young fought to keep ime?/i"

Chase's mood quickly shifted from irritated to bemused.

"Indeed they will. Just as everyone will see my beautiful witch fighting to keep me to herself."

The warlord's hands snaked around her waist, pulling her tightly against his chest.

"Beloved little ghost," he purred. "What do you say we take our meal to go and eat it in bed? We can get the sheets quite messy and then spell it clean."

Jaq shivered and relaxed against him; her body language was her declaration of trust in him.

"I like that idea a lot," she murmured, and began kissing his chin and jaw. "And then, I can show you that iI'm/i 'bendy in really fun places', too."

Chase growled with muted pleasure and lingered long enough to gift his lover and mate with a long, deep kiss.

A dove spirit hiding under an ogre's table got splendid photos of the kiss.

Chase snapped his fingers and the contents of the table disappeared. Several large weights of gold appeared there instead.

Then, still kissing his beloved, he snapped his fingers and the pair of them disappeared from the Heaven's Gate Café.

Chase was already up when Jaq sashayed down the stairs for breakfast. The beautiful albino witch was clad only in a black satin robe that gaped open to reveal her long white legs and bountiful cleavage. She came up behind Chase, slid her hands over his shoulders and down his chest, then slipped one hand under his throat and tilted his head back so she could treat him to a long, slow, sleepy kiss.

"Good morning, baby," she purred in a tone so warm and inviting it was practically an invitation back to bed.

Chase grinned smugly. Then again, he had every right to be smug. Last night, he'd successfully fought for his witch (and her honor), and then he'd taken her to his bed and rung her bells but good. Now, the gorgeous woman was slinking up to him; purring and kissing and sounding so pleased with life that Chase wondered how he could get his name submitted for godhood status.

"Good morning, my beautiful ghost," he murmured to her, and watched her slink around the table. The way she moved said she was feeling ivery/i sated at the moment. "Do you still require... cheering up?"

Jaq prowled past him, making sure to flip her extra-long locks. She'd actually had to extend the hem of her robe into a train so that her hair wouldn't drag on the ground.

"Chase, if I get 'cheered up' any more, I think my happiness will surpass the ability of flesh and blood and I'll become a being of pure energy."

Jaq deposited herself into the chair opposite Chase and stretched and yawned hugely. Once this was done, she looked around at the assembled jungle cats.

"Diol!" she called softly.

A black jaguar slunk out of the shadows and curled up at her feet. The albino witch lifted her bare feet from the cold marble floor and propped them up on the cat's ribcage. Milk-white toes wiggled into black fur.

Diol tried hard not to meet his master's eyes; the cat looked as if he was all too aware of how embarrassing this should be and didn't care in the slightest.

Chase snorted as he looked up from his furry minion to meet his woman's gaze. He leered at her - a sexy expression on him, to be sure - and poured her some tea even as he teased, "Too bad. The sight of you in that robe and the throaty little hums you're giving have me much in a mood to perk you up again."

He enjoyed the laughter she let loose with as he settled back in his own chair - stretching his bare feet out to rest against hers on Diol's warm fur.

Jaq took her tea and sipped it even as she played footsie with her fiancé on the back of a jungle cat.

"I love you," she murmured. "Even with my parents being jerks, even with the paparazzi and the idiots trying to *buy* me, last night was incredible."

Chase gave her a warm and approving look. "It most certainly was."

He laughed when she tapped his foot roughly with her own and said mock-chastisingly, "Is sex all you ever think about?"

He pulled the gossip column out of the newspaper and tossed it to her.

Jaq's brows rose at the sight of the picture of herself and Chase kissing on the balcony. She smiled as her eyes quickly skimmed the article.

"'Chase Young appears to have broken his long seclusion only to pop up with a fiancé! The young witch accompanying him to the Heaven's Gate Café last night, known only as 'Jack'' – that's Jaq with a 'Q', morons – 'was identified many times by the dragon lord as his betrothed. The Evil Journal hopes more public appearances are made so that we can deduce more about this mysterious young lady.' Well, isn't my face red?" Jaq teased, laying the paper down.

Chase smiled and stroked the arch of one delicate white foot with a big toe.

"No - it is still that glorious, creamy white that has always fascinated me so dangerously," he murmured. "However, despite their obvious ploy to get more ratings... I find I ido/i wish to squire you about and show you off. Shall we have many more dates, my queen?"

Jaq beamed at the offer.

"Yes! I shall learn how to do something with all this *hair* you've requested," she teased, tangling her fingers in the long mass. "And dress to suit your reputation. I'll be everything my evil king desires."

Bracing one foot against the floor so that she wasn't standing on Diol, Jaq leaned across the table to kiss her affianced.

"My wonderful, evil king who shows me off and fights for me and lets me steal all his shrimp."

Chase kissed her back, but gave her a puzzled frown. "Shrimp?"

"Yeah, last night? The Dragon and Phoenix?" Jaq asked, settling back down. "It's really shrimp and chick-en . . . it's *really* dragon and phoenix, isn't it?"

Chase gave her an amused little smile. "Yes, little ghost, it was. Although, I confess I was torn. On one hand, it was very... ienticing/i... to see you sucking down all that dragon. On the other hand, I was jealous even of the ifood/i because the only dragon I want you eating is ime/i."

Jaq laughed out loud.

"How about this: I promise that *you're* the only dragon I'll eat without cream sauce and baby carrots!"

Jaq started to lift an English muffin with blackberry jelly to her lips. Suddenly, the smell of the jam went from sweet to sickly sweet. The albino witch's lips quivered. She dropped the bit of toast, stumbled over Diol and fled from the room.

Chase stared in surprise as he watched her go. Yanking his feet from Diol's fur, he stood up and ran around the table, wondering what was wrong--

--and skidded to a halt an instant before he would have stomped a fuzzy little kitten flat.

One of his female jaguars came over and abashedly collected her cub, and then retreated to a corner where her mate rested with the other kittens. As Chase watched, the mother groomed the wandering cub with her tongue, and then encouraged the fuzzy little thing to eat.

Chase stared at the sight of the nursing kitten and somewhere in his mind, a dark light clicked on.

Craning his head around to face the direction his lover had fled, he whispered, "Little ghost...?"