“You told her you don’t run with that pack anymore.” Daniel sat down across from Matthias.
“Look around. You see a pack?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
He wasn’t exactly sure what he was doing. The last time he’d pried hadn’t exactly turned out well. And yet, Matthias had agreed to help them in the first place. That didn’t seem to fit with a man who had done… “Vietnam ended about forty years ago. I’d put Rosa about fifty. She can’t have been that angry over something you did there, and you said her father was bad news so there had to be more to it than that.”
“Kid…” Matthias sighed. “You’ve got to learn to stop asking questions when you really don’t want to know the answers.”
“But I do want to know.” Daniel shook his head.
“Why?” Matthias narrowed his eyes as he stood up. “We fuck a few times and you think you can fix me? I told you, I don’t need therapy from my fuc —”
“Red light.” Daniel said the words softly.
Matthias cut off in mid-sentence. “What?”
“Red.” Daniel met his eyes. “Light.”
Matthias went quiet for a moment, then nodded. “Alright then.” He shrugged. “Your sister asleep?”
“She’s watching a movie with her headphones on.” Daniel shook his head. Then he stood. “If you answer me, we can go back behind the camper and I’ll ride you until you can’t see straight.” He shrugged. “Or you can keep being an ass, and I’ll blow you and go to bed.”
It took a moment, but Matthias started laughing. “Well played, boss.” He folded his arms. “Except your end was anything I wanted.”
“You amended it.” Daniel mirrored his stance. “I don’t want to be scared of you, Matthias.” Daniel met his eyes. “Show me I don’t need to be.”
“That’s the problem, Daniel.” Matthias shook his head. “You really should be.”
“Alright.” Daniel nodded. “I’ll come back out when she’s —”
“It was a hospital.”
Daniel blinked. “What?”
“We were hired to do a hit.” Matthias sat back down. “Make an example of someone. They told me it was an old building. I was willing enough to kill the man, but not to…” He sighed. “They were going to plant charges in the room two floors below his. Idea was to take out the whole wing. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about his guards or getting spotted, but…” He looked down at his hands. “It was a fucking hospital. We’d have killed a couple hundred people whose only ‘crime’ was being sick in the same place he was. I told them I wasn’t taking the job, then learned they’d taken it without me.”
“And…?” Daniel’s eyes widened.
“And what, kid?” Matthias shrugged. “The bomb didn’t go off. I just had to kill four people I called my brothers to ensure that. The Alpha and one other weren’t there. She finds me, she’ll do her damnedest to kill me. Same goes the other way, but…” He shrugged. “That ain’t a fight I’m seeking.”
“So you stopped it.” Daniel started to smile.
“I ran with that pack for sixteen years, Daniel. That wasn’t the first time we’d…” Matthias ran a hand through his hair. “That one was just…” He sighed. “I don’t know. There was no message. No cause. Just a mark who hadn’t paid his bills on time and that’s not…” His laughter was bitter. “That’s not war, and there was no way I could tell myself otherwise.”
“I get it.” Daniel nodded. “You’re a believer.”
“Oh bulls —”
“I don’t mean religion.” Daniel quickly shook his head. “Just faith. You did the wrong thing because you thought you had the right reasons. Until you didn’t, and it crashed down.” He put his arms around his knees. “You said you were a hundred and six, so…” He took a deep breath. “How long did you fight monsters before you became one?”
They lay on the sleeping bag, panting. He expected Daniel to head back to the camper, but the young man lay beside him, looking up at the stars. “World War One was what, 1914?” Daniel shifted to put his head on Matthias’s shoulder.
“I was a kid for that one.” Matthias nodded. He hesitated a moment. “My father died there, along with the woman who was more or less my grandmother. The pack broke up then, and my mother brought me to the US.” He shrugged. “Where we had a lovely Depression just a decade later.”
“So, World War Two.” Daniel was quiet for a time. “You were a soldier.”
“That must have…” Daniel swallowed. “I mean, war is ugly but that was the holocaust.” He shuddered. “Your scars…”
“War draws wolves. The Axis had a few on their side. My squad ran into a pack.” He put his arm under his head. “Five of them. They came at us, and I turned. Figured I could at least buy the squad time to run.”
“How’d you survive?”
“They didn’t run.” Matthias was surprised to feel a small lump rising in his throat. “They backed me up. Bunch of…” He swallowed. “They weren’t much older than you, most of them just farm kids who should have been holding plows instead of guns. They held their ground, and we took out the pack. And after…” He smiled. “After, they kept their mouths shut. But they knew what I could do then, and what they could do. We got ourselves a reputation, and we…” He nodded. “We did a lot of good. War ended, they pinned medals on the seven of us that made it through, then sent us home. And uh…” He shrugged. “They got older, moved on with their lives. I didn’t.”
“When did you…” Daniel shifted a little. “Stop aging, I guess?”
“It’s not stopped, just slowed. Otherwise I’d still look seventeen.” Matthias shook his head. “First time I shifted.”
“I’d put your age at just under thirty.” Daniel nodded. “I, uh…” He raised himself up on his elbow, and looked at Matthias. “Anna’s a seer.”
“No, you didn’t.” Daniel shook his head. “Because Anna’s a seer. She knows things. And…” He tilted his head. “She’s not afraid of you.”
“She’s also just a kid, whose world should resolve around those stupid horses and…” Matthias sat up. “Dinosaur poop.”
“Yeah.” Daniel nodded. “And a monster wouldn’t have cared enough to make sure it does.” He leaned forward and kissed Matthias. “Come to bed?”
“I…” Matthias nodded. “Alright.”
Anna pointed. “Lookit the kitty.”
“For the record…” Matthias turned to look at Daniel. “I am not getting her one.”
Daniel chuckled as he watched the lions. “Oh, come on. They’re adorable.”
“They smell.” Matthias wrinkled his nose. “Whole place smells.” He shook his head. “I think one of the elephants is sick.”
“I, uh…” Daniel’s eyes widened, and he gave Matthias an apologetic look. “Sorry, I didn’t consider —”
“Cotton candy!” Anna grabbed their hands and started dragging them toward a vendor.
“And she is out like a light.” Daniel chuckled as he looked at where Anna had passed out in the back of the truck, still clutching the stuffed lion.
“Thinking of getting a motel for a couple nights.” Matthias frowned. “Clean out the camper, get the tanks refilled, do some laundry.”
“Yeah, we could stand to wash the bedding.” Daniel nodded. “And do a bit of restocking.” He hesitated a moment. “How are we doing on funds?”
“Money isn’t a problem.” Matthias shrugged. “We’ve got a good cash reserve, and I’ve got accounts. I’m going to see about getting you an ID. Not a full one, just something you can flash if you need to. Pick a new last name.”
“Okay, I…” Daniel frowned. “You know, I still don’t know your last name.”
“Currently I’m using ‘Croft’.”
“Maybe we should all use the same one? Might mean fewer questions.” Daniel blinked. “Or more questions, I don’t know.”
“Folks thinking we’re related could lead to some awkwardness.”
“Oh.” Daniel nodded. “Right.”
He fed the coins into the machine, then picked up the laundry basket. He started to turn around and then… “Danny?”
Daniel nearly dropped the basket as he turned. His eyes widened. “Grace?”
She smiled. “Oh my god, it is you.” She rushed forward and hugged him. “Where the hell did you go?” She frowned. “We’ve been worried sick.”
“Stuff, uh…” He swallowed. “Happened. What are you doing here?”
“I’m here with my parents for my great-aunt’s funeral.” She grinned. “Come on, I’ll buy you a burger and you can tell me what’s going on.”
“Grace, I…” Daniel sighed. “Look, you can’t tell anyone you saw me, alright?”
“Danny?” She frowned. “Danny, is something wrong?”
“Yeah, kinda, but…” He took a deep breath. “I can’t talk about it. Look, I promise, when things are…” He smiled at her. “I’ll call you, alright. Just don’t tell anyone you saw me, please.”
“I, uh…” She nodded, and then quickly wrote her number down on the back of a receipt and shoved it into his hand. “Alright. But you will call me as soon as you can. Promise.”
Matthias pressed Daniel against the shower wall. His legs were wrapped around Matthias’s waist, and his arms around Matthias’s shoulders. “Oh god…” Daniel moaned. Matthias felt Daniel shudder as the younger man came, then grinned as he kept going. He came a few minutes later.
Daniel nearly fell when Matthias finally set him back down, and had to cling to him for balance. It was a strangely pleasant experience, having a handsome young man hanging onto him in the warm shower. “You alright?”
“Damn you’re strong.” Daniel smiled. “The, uh…” He laughed a little. “I tried that once in the high school locker room and uh…” Daniel shrugged. “The guy sprained a muscle and dropped me on my ass.” He chuckled. “He was on the wrestling team.”
“How’d you guys explain it?”
“I fell down the stairs and accidentally took him with me.” Daniel frowned. “Pretty sure his girlfriend didn’t buy it, as she dumped him a week later.”
Matthias snorted. “Serves him right for cheating.” He turned the shower off and stepped out, handing Daniel a towel before taking one for himself.
“Have you, uh…” Daniel hesitated a moment. “Have you been with women?”
“Yeah.” Matthias nodded. “Tend to prefer men.”
“Lucky for me.” Daniel smiled. “I had a girlfriend, early on in high school back when I was still…” He started drying his hair. “We tried, uh…” He shrugged. “It was really awkward and I think she was a little relieved when I told her a couple days later that I was pretty sure I was gay and it had nothing to do with her.”
Matthias sniffed the camper. The slight funk that had begun to permeate it had finally been defeated. Unfortunately, it had also been replaced. He sighed before going to Anna’s alcove. “Okay, x-nay on the strawberry body spray.”
“But it’s glittery!” She shook her head.
“I can literally smell you from a mile away.” He shook his head. “Jesus fuck, we’re going to have to wash all this stuff again.”
“It smells pretty.” She glared.
“It smells.” He glared back. “Open your window, it can air out while we’re on the road. And shower again before we go. Where’s your brother?”
She climbed out of her alcove. “He said he was going to take a long shower before we got back on the road.”
Daniel yanked his pants on, and opened the bathroom door. He stared down at a gun pointed at his face. “Danny.” The man on the other end of the gun smiled. “Where’s your sister?”
“I don’t know.” Daniel shrugged. “Did you check under the bed?”
“Funny.” Trent grabbed him by the hair and yanked him out of the bathroom. He tossed Daniel down at the feet of another man. The other man grabbed Daniel and shoved him into a chair before grabbing his hands and starting to tie them behind his back. Trent turned to the other two men in the room. “She’s around here somewhere. Tell the others to spread out and keep looking.”
They’d just gotten up the stairs when someone called out. “There she is.” Two men made a beeline for Anna. Matthias stepped into their path, and both men reached for weapons. “I suggest you stand aside.” The one who’d spoken previously narrowed his eyes.
“Not likely.” Matthias saw a couple more men coming their way. If they were this close, then…
“Anna, we’ve got your brother.” The man who’d spoken stared at Anna. “Come with us.”
“Danny.” Anna made a scared noise.
“I’m sure you want him to stay safe.” The man held out a hand to Anna. “Come along.”
Anna looked up at him. Matthias looked around. Two in front, two in the hall, two coming up the stairs behind them. All armed. And a lot of civilians. He took a deep breath.
Then he grabbed Anna. He twisted to shield her before crashing through the window. He landed on the ground five stories below and started running, still carrying Anna.
“They went out the window?” Trent was staring at the man who’d just reported to him.
“Five story drop.” The man nodded. “Not sure that guy is human, because it didn’t even faze him.”
Trent nodded before turning back to Daniel. “Tell me about this man.”
“How about…” Daniel shrugged. “No.” A moment later, he saw stars as Trent backhanded him. Blood trickled from his lip, and he spat some out.
“Your mother wants you back in one piece, Daniel.” Trent crouched to look him in the eye. “You wouldn’t want to disappoint her now, would you?”
“She’s got to be used to disappointment by now.” Daniel glared. “You two have been married how long now?”
“You know…” Trent chuckled. “All you’re doing right now is making it so I’ll enjoy beating the information out of you. Tell me about this man.”
He knelt down next to where Anna was hiding in her little alcove. He’d moved the camper to another location. If they’d known about it, they’d have been waiting for them inside it. She’d be safe enough here for a while, anyway. “Anna…”
“If you’re not back in three hours, call Rosa.” Anna looked up at him.
“I…” Matthias blinked.
“That’s what you were going to tell me, right?” She clutched a stuffed unicorn to her. “Did they smell me?” There were tears in her eyes.
“No.” He handed her the card with Rosa’s number.
“Where are you going?” She sniffled.
“To get your brother.” He rose, and picked up the guns.
Daniel wasn’t sure where Trent had gone. The questioning had been taken over by another man. The man blew out a ring of smoke before pressing the lit end of the cigarette into Daniel’s torso. Daniel’s cry of pain was muffled by the hand over his mouth. “What is this man’s name?” The man puffed on the cigarette again.
“John Jacob Jingle-heimer Schmidt.” Daniel glared at him.
The man laughed. “Funny. That’s my name too.” He took the cigarette back out of his mouth, and pressed it to Daniel’s skin again. He put it back to his lips before raising an eyebrow. “Try again. What is this man’s name?”
“Bond. James Bond.” Daniel could smell the combination of cigarette ash and burned skin. It made his stomach roll. How had they… His eyes widened. “What did you do to Grace?”
“Nothing. Her mother called yours. So worried you see.” The man shrugged. “Scared you got mixed up with bad men. Your mother sent us to check on you. Tell us about this man.” He smiled. “Is he bad?”
The door opened. “You have no fucking idea.” Matthias’s first shot hit the man behind Daniel, the second the man with the cigarette. The third man reached for his own gun, but wasn’t fast enough. Matthias fired twice, then put a third round into the man’s head before doing the same to the man with the cigarette. “Daniel?”
“Where’s…?” Daniel’s eyes widened.
“Safe.” Matthias moved behind him and swiftly cut him loose. “Incoming, get down.”
He threw himself behind the bed as two men came through the door, guns in their hands.
His shoulder burned where a bullet had creased it, and he heard sirens. “Daniel?”
“You’re hurt.” Daniel started to reach for him.
“Not right now, kid. I need you conscious.” Matthias shook his head. “Need anything still in this room?”
Daniel grabbed his shirt. “Nope.”
“Right.” Matthias grabbed the chair and flung it through the window, shattering the glass. Then he grabbed Daniel. “Hang on.” As soon as Daniel’s arms were around his neck, he jumped. Daniel made a small frightened sound as Matthias cleared the twenty feet between the window and the roof of the next building and started running.
“What about the security cameras?” Daniel gave Matthias a worried look.
Matthias held up a couple of tapes. “They still used old school ones. It’s why I picked that hotel.”
“It was Trent.” Daniel nodded. He gave Matthias an apologetic look. “I fucked up.”
“Daniel?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
“I ran into somebody I knew. I told her not to tell anyone she saw me, but…” Daniel winced. “I should have told you.”
“Jesus fuck.” Matthias stood. “How much does this friend of yours know?”
“Nothing. I just told her I was dealing with some shit and I’d be in touch when it cleared out and please don’t tell anyone she saw me.” Daniel shook his head.
“Did they cancel the ward?” Matthias took a deep breath.
“I…” Daniel frowned. “I don’t think so. They didn’t do anything like what Rosa did.” He looked up at Matthias. “I didn’t tell them anything, I swear. But they know you’re not a muggle.”
“What the fuck is a muggle?” Matthias blinked.
“Uh, an ordinary doesn’t know shit about magic human.” Daniel rubbed his head. “Like from Harry Potter.”
“The fuck is…” Matthias closed his eyes, then shook his head before reopening them. “Never mind. They’re going to be watching the…” He kicked a cabinet door. “Do they know about the camper or anything?”
“No. At least, not from me. And Grace never saw it or anything.”
“Then we need to get on the road before they start circulating pictures of you and Anna. We need…” He sighed. “We’re going to need to hole up for a while.” He took a deep breath.
“Where?” Daniel winced a little as he moved.
“I, uh…” Matthias sighed reluctantly. “I know a place.” He leaned on the counter, then he turned back to Daniel. “Are you alright?”
“I think I’ll be okay. I found burn ointment in the first aid —”
“Daniel.” Matthias sighed. “Are you alright?”
“Grace’s mom called mine, and she told Trent where to…” Daniel swallowed. “She had to know what he’d do, I mean…” He felt a tear run down his cheek. “She had to know and she told him where to —” Matthias pulled him up and wrapped his arms around him. Daniel buried his face in Matthias’s chest as he clung to him.