“So the devil is in the details?” I joked.

He nodded, looking serious. “Heroes are quick to sacrifice themselves for others. So when the demon looks into you and says, `You will make a deal with me, or we shall make your sister’s skin do terrible things?’ Responsible people do the responsible things.”

“Yeah, the lone hero conundrum. ‘I can’t make connections with people that can be used as hostages against me, so I need to be so chill and cold that no one will be my weakness.’  I do read comics, you know.”  And not just Spider-Man.

“But what about the strength such connections provide?” Eve asked. “I am stronger with my friends.  I am more capable with my friends.  I am their fury, I am their patience.”

“Who let you in the conversation?” I teased her.

“No, it is important,” Roberto responded. “The implication is that your friends are somehow less capable than you. The proper answer may be, ‘Try. My sister will make you suffer in ways I can not even imagine.’  But then it gets more difficult.  It is your friend’s child, or an innocent, and this time they do not ask, they take.  And it is one life, and a second, and you are paralyzed because you are responsible. Is the person the demon has taken innocent? Did they take on the demon as you must to save someone in their life? Is there another choice?  Will killing the host kill the parasite?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I put my hands up “No one is talking about killing people. That’s… murder.  And I’m not even involved in this discussion because I’m not an accomplice or an accessory.”

Roberto just looked at me. “That is why we have you.”

“To kill people? What? Just because some people used to call me Doc does not make me an evil assassinating supervillain.  I mean, I know the rules of naming but that’s just a nickname.  You’ve got the wrong person.”

“No, you are the missing ingredient. You and all of the other guardians of the gates. You control what comes through, and you can send it back.”

I paused. “I guess the -cubi are generally considered demons.” I shook my head. “But this one’s different.”

“How? Demon is thing that wants to come in, you send it kicking back. Host gets life back, if with a lot of therapy,” Eve said, as if washing her hands of it.

“Not so simple.  First, we don’t know about the host. That therapy stuff isn’t kidding. How much is keeping them alive contributing to their pain? I mean…” I fumbled for a moment, “It’s awful. It’s violating. The -cubi want fun for a night, and they leave so much assault in their path… but survivors are a thing… I don’t know. It’s not something I can quickly rock a quip off and pass over.  If Roberto here says what demons do are worse, I can’t imagine living like that.”

Eve looked at me seriously for a moment. “You lost a year of your life.”

“I can’t even tell you how angry that makes me,” I said, after a moment. “I can’t even confront it. It’s … so many little things.  Little changes in slang, cultural touchstones, movies and shows I missed, political events… ” I shook my head. “But while yes, my place here was stolen, my… integrity was maintained.  I wasn’t molested or abused, my body wasn’t made to hurt anyone. I had agency. Yes, any theft is awful, but I can get acclimated pretty quickly with the internet.  I can’t say there are no support groups for the possessed, but I kind of doubt it.”

Roberto offered a tidbit.  “There are now over 50 exorcists in the United States, up from about a dozen.  At least, in the Catholic Church. I don’t know the numbers for other faiths, but I expect they’re increasing as well.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’re fun at parties,” I teased. “No, maybe it’s not just trivia.  The… person in my line of work who gave me this task suggested there was a reason the three of us I know here had congregated in the area.”

“Gave you or geas’d you?” Eve asked.

“Gave. At least, I don’t feel compelled.  Except to do what is right,” I admitted, “I mean, that sounds really dumb to say it aloud.”

“You were always a gamer,” she sighed. “Yeah, it sounds dumb and noble and white knight-ish.  You sure it isn’t because she’s a girl?”

“Um,” I considered it. “No. I wasn’t really attracted to her. It was weird with Zach at first, but…”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Not like that. Nevermind, just, it’s a magic thing.  I’m still cishet and okay with it.  My white male guilt switch is on, and I regret the word dumb, and while I’ve seen some sexy ice skaters, I’m just not interested in other penises.  Penii?  Penipodes?”

“Stop.  Just stop there,” Eve shook her head.  She looked at Roberto who very carefully had stayed quiet and out of the conversation, then nodded and continued. “So you’re doing it because…”

“Because I felt it. And it was evil,” I said. “Is that even worse to say out loud? I kind of…” I shrugged. “I need to do it. I can.  I have the power and the responsibility.”

“I always took issue with that phrase,” Eve said. “I mean if Absolute Knowledge is Absolute Power, knowledge is evil, and that goes back to biblically epic amounts of anti-science, if I may say so.”

“You speak of science with similar worship, though,” Roberto said in that tone that I recognized as a fellow man who has relationships.  It was that, “I know this is going to cause an argument but as much as I tried I can’t let it go,” tone.  I backed up out of spoon range.  “The scientific method is flawed when it comes to the immeasurable.”

“Like when your computer stops working for absolutely no reason, or when your IT person walks into the room the thing you’ve been trying a thousand times suddenly works the thousand-and-first,” I tried, helpfully.