“Batman has has entered the building. Repeat, Batman has entered the building.”
“Didn’t he say for you not to call him that?” Ted rubbed his forehead.
“Batman is now glaring at me in a threatening manner.”
“So, situation normal.” Laura’s voice came over the radio.
There was a pause before Michaels spoke again. “Batman wants to know why you are still on the radio after 10 PM on a school night.”
“Did Batman miss the part where I am a juvenile delinquent dropout?”
“She’s doing a self-study GED program.” Ted smiled.
“Batman is pointing out —” There was a small thudding sound and Michaels yelped. “That doesn’t change that there is a 10PM curfew on school nights.”
“Relax, I’m in Lloyd’s living room.”
“One, I’ve asked you not to call me that, and two, you broke into my fucking house again?”
“Kindly do not cuss in front of the minor.” Ted tried not to snicker.
“Yeah, don’t fucking cuss in front of me. I don’t need to hear that shit.” Laura’s voice drawled. “And I didn’t break in, I used your spare key.”
“Who told you where my spare key was?”
“Alright, one, why are you telling people where my spare key is, and two, how the fuck are you even transmitting over this channel?”
“I am not getting a lecture in morals from a succubus.”
“The Batman thing is dumb.” Laura sounded like she was eating something.
“You’re just mad we won’t let you Batgirl.”
“No.” Laura didn’t even bother to disguise the fact she was lying. “But Batman’s been done. He needs something new. How about…” She swallowed. “The Crimson Crusader?”
“If that man owns a single article of red clothing I will give you a hundred dollars.”
“You’re going to have to pay up. The volunteer shirts from the park thing are red and he actually showed up to help like he promised.” Ted laughed.
“Ted asked you to watch your language.”
“Yeah, Ted asked you to watch your fucking language.”
“How come you aren’t yelling at her about her language?”
“I find her usage precocious and adorable.”
“And we girls gotta stick together.” Laura made a small slurping sound. “You know, with her on the team, we should probably incorporate fire or demons or something into the name. The Hellfire Avengers?”
“No.” Ted started shaking his head.
“Batman wants to know if anyone other than him has actually done any real work on this case?”
“Right.” Ted looked down at the folder on his desk. “I’ve got the location the other missing person was last camping…”
The mask itched. They never really covered that part in the movies or comics. Michaels glanced at his partner. All joking about superheros aside, going off the reservation made him uncomfortable. At least Gabriel felt the same way. They still didn’t know if this case was supernatural. Two people acting really weird and out of character before going missing could easily be a drug or medical thing rather than even an actual crime, and the sad truth was homeless people vanished all the time.
Except one of them was Laura’s friend, a veteran who had looked out for the girl in her first days on the street. The man had been dotty and suffered from PTSD episodes, but Laura had been adamant that whatever Josh’s issues were, the man wasn’t violent. The day before he’d gone missing, Josh had put two people in the hospital. There was a warrant out for his arrest, though both injured men had been adamant they didn’t want to press charges. They just wanted to get Josh some help.
So here they were, breaking and entering because they couldn’t get a warrant. “You went to Catholic school, right?” He glanced at Gabriel.
“So how come you know how to pick locks?”
“Doors in St. Adrian’s are old. Had to do some maintenance now and then.” He glanced up at Michaels. “You know, you could just give Laura a key and not have to worry about hiding the spare.”
“If I thought she’d actually take it, I would.” Michaels shrugged. “Breaking in she’s okay with. Moving in is too big a step for her right now.” He sighed. “Ted lives too far out of the city and your place is tiny.”
They both froze. “Erilon?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“There was a presence here. One…” Her voice trailed off. “Not quite like me, but similar.”
“A demon?” Michaels couldn’t quite keep the fear out of his voice. He’d seen just a glimpse of what Erilon was, and it had featured in his nightmares a few times since.
“No. It is a manifes…” She made a sighing sound. “Yes, fine, it’s a demon, but only because you people get your demons all mixed up.”
“You mean the missing persons may have been possessed?” Gabriel frowned.
“Shit.” Michaels frowned. “Okay, no offense to those present but uh…” He tilted his head. “What does stop her from possessing you?”
“Under normal circumstances, they can only possess someone who has magic in their blood.” Gabriel began looking around. “And it requires their consent. It is full possession. Erilon isn’t exactly…”
“Those are more like ghosts. Manifestations of strong emotions given power through belief and magical vortexes combined with the occasional actual displaced soul of a…” Erilon trailed off. “It’s complicated, and I lost you when I used the word ‘vortexes’.”
“Yep.” Michaels nodded.
“Demons are part of the natural order. Ghosts fuck the natural order up.”
“See, that I can get my head around. Sort of.” Michaels nodded. “So, Gabe is your partner rather than your possession.”
“I prefer the term ‘pet’.”
“And that’s why you can’t soup up the rest of us? Because Gabe’s the only one with magic in his blood?”
“More or less. And the additional power he provides me lets me keep tabs on the rest of you. You help him, he helps me, we all win.”
“But since you are a demon, isn’t this pretty much fated to blow up horribly in our faces someday?” Michaels frowned. “Are we like, all going to hell now?”
“It’ll be fun.”
Gabriel sighed. “If we could focus on the problem at hand?”
“Possessed?” Laura’s eyes widened. She was chewing on the end of one of her braids. “So, we are dealing with people who can do what you do?”
Gabriel shook his head. “Possession strengthens what is already there. Unless the person already has power, we’re just dealing with people not in their right minds.”
“Erilon said it’s not going to be much different than dealing with a guy that’s on PCP. Not entirely a comfort, but considering Gabe can throw a car at someone…” Michaels leaned back in the chair. “But if it’s got a victim, why…”
“The ones that don’t have magic burn out.”
“What?” Laura glanced at the mirror they’d set up at the table.
Erilon’s image appeared, the vague figure of a woman wreathed in flames. “I could, as Michaels phrased it earlier, soup the rest of you up. Make you stronger and faster, even heal you. But it would be like lengthening the wick in an oil lamp. A brighter flame…”
“At the cost of burning the oil out quickly.” Gabriel folded his arms.
“Those that have magic pull energy from elsewhere. They don’t burn out.”
“You’re saying…” Laura’s lip started to tremble. Gabriel put a hand on her shoulder as Ted rose to make her a cup of tea.
“I’m sorry, child. Yes. Your friend is gone.”
“I know, I just…” Laura sighed. “I’d hoped.” She looked down at the table.
“Why possess them just to burn them out?” Michaels frowned.
“A bit less metaphor?”
“I can see the world. I can only interact with it because of what Gabriel provides me.”
“This thing is killing people so it can live among them.” Ted set the tea in front of Laura, then put his hand on her other shoulder. “That is…” He sighed. “Terrible for many reasons.”
“We need to stop it.” Laura nodded.
“They’ll have something in common. Some place all of them were, or some item all of them interacted with.” Gabriel shook his head. “This type of demon or ghost is tied to something.”
“Are we containing it or exorcising it?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“I hate exorcisms.”
“It’s killed people. A bit late for containment.”
“Can uh…” Michaels frowned before raising an eyebrow at Gabriel. “Is that something they teach you in seminary school?”
“If you picked the right major.” Gabriel shook his head. “I majored in psychology. We are going to need a priest.”
“Exiting, stage down.” Erilon vanished from the mirror.
Ted smiled as he looked down at the sleeping man. The handcuffs dangled from Gabriel’s left wrist, but the marks he’d left had already healed. They were on the couch, with Gabriel’s head resting in his lap. Initially, they’d just been waiting for the lasagna to rest so they could eat dinner. Then Gabriel had fallen asleep. Taking a strap to the man he was willing to do. Waking him was another matter entirely.
Gabriel and Michaels had been out most of the night trying to track down another man that had been acting oddly. Then they’d both gone and done their jobs. Heroes by day and by night. At least he’d been able to make sure they both ate breakfast instead of just subsiding on vending machines and coffee. And with Laura all but living at Michaels’ place he could worry a little less about her as well. Michaels complained, but the last time someone had tried threatening Laura it has been Michaels who’d bounced the man’s head off the hood of his car.
Demon or no, Erilon was proving to be an excellent resource for helping him take care of his little bunch of crazy people. She’d let him know when their refrigerators were growing barren, then unlock their doors for him to go in and restock. He had to tread a bit more carefully with Laura and her need for things like clothing, but Michaels helped with that pretty reliably. He just left cash in a bowl at his place for Laura to ‘steal’, just like he left his spare key hidden for her to ‘break in’.
Erilon had even informed him Laura had a girlfriend. The center had condoms and the like available for the kids, but he was still trying to figure out how to actually get Laura to the doctor for a full physical. And to the dentist. He’d caught her squinting at things a couple times as well. He picked up his cell phone, then texted the null number. Did Michaels make that doctor’s appointment like he said he would?
No. Erilon’s text appeared on the screen. So I made it for him. 3:15 PM Tuesday the 6th and I told him if he skips this one I’ll ensure he doesn’t get laid again until Halloween.
How about we just bribe Laura? She goes in for a physical, I’ll take her shoe shopping?
Two birds with one stone. She’s smart enough to see what you’re doing there, but she really wants a pair of those knee-high boots.
Do they at least have decent arch support?
That was probably a no. Ted shook his head and set the phone back down. His eyes went back to the sleeping man stretched out next to him on the couch. The naked man stretched out next to him on the couch. He smiled and put a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder. Then he settled in to let his young lover sleep.
“You found him on the church doorstep?” Michaels blinked.
The priest laughed, a warm and hearty sound. “Went to put the cat out before getting ready for the morning service on Sunday, and there he was. Basket and everything.”
“That’s some crazy shi —” Michaels coughed. “Er, pardon the language, Father.”
“You do understand that exorcisms are not small affairs. They require sanction among other things.” Father Williams arched an eyebrow.
“That’s for exorcising people. We’re asking you exorcise a house or an object or…” Michaels shrugged. “Okay, before we get into the will you, let’s start with the can you.” He shrugged. “Can you?”
“He can.” Gabriel nodded.
“An exorcism is a ritual that requires —” Father Williams took a deep breath before turning to Gabriel. “Are you asking me this as your priest, or as your uncle?”
“I am asking as a police officer, trying to protect the people in my city. At least four people have already fallen victim to this thing.” Gabriel met the priest’s eyes. “Four souls lost.”
“If you can…” Father Williams slowly nodded. “If you can prove to me this thing is what you say it is, then…” He sighed. “Yes. I will help you.” His eyes narrowed. “You missed Tuesday’s choir practice. Do let me know if you are going to miss next week’s as well.”
“Yes, Uncle Oliver.” Gabriel nodded.
“You’re in the choir?” Michaels turned to look at his partner. Then he glanced at the priest. “Does that mean he can sing?”
“Yes.” Father Williams smiled. “Beautifully.”
“So what else hasn’t he told me?” Michaels folded his arms.
“Well…” The priest’s smile widened.
“No.” Gabriel started shaking his head.
“Ski masks are just lame though.” Laura shook her head. “And if you don’t get out ahead of this soon the papers are going to come up with something other than ‘masked vigilantes’.”
“No costumes.” Gabriel shook his head.
“Come on…” She followed him into the kitchen. “Crimson Crusader is an awesome name.”
“Crimson doesn’t exactly lend itself toward stealth.” Ted handed Gabriel a stack of plates to set the table.
“Well, he’d mostly wear black but with crimson highlights. I sketched it.” Laura began digging her sketchbook out of her bag. “Capes and everything.”
“No capes.” Michaels shook his head as he came in. He held out a bottle to Ted. “This the right one?”
“Yes, thank you.” Ted took the wine from him.
“Capes are awesome.”
“Until they get caught in a door or something.” Michaels rolled his eyes at Laura.
“Ugh. You guys are too young to be such old farts.” Laura threw herself onto the couch dramatically.
“Hey.” Ted sent a mock glare at her. Then he took the roast out of the oven. “Ten until dinner.”
“See, plenty of time to pick a name and a costume.”
“We’ve got a costume.” Michaels shrugged. “Sort of.”
“No, you’ve got bullet-proof vests and flak jackets. It’s very old school ‘Punisher’ vibe, but that’s not what we are going for here.” Laura flipped open her sketchbook. “Something more streamlined would —”
“I am not wearing tights.” Michaels immediately started shaking his head at the drawing.
“The vests are necessary.” Gabriel handed Ted the wineglasses.
“For Sidekick Boy, yeah, but —”
“Sidekick Boy?” Michaels stared at her.
“You’re bullet proof or something.” Laura went to the next page. “You need utility belts.”
“And better names. Crimson Crusader.”
“I am not going by Crimson Crusader.” Gabriel accepted the filled wineglass back from Ted.
“Fine. Amethyst Avenger.”
“She does not need your help, Ted.”
“Sorry.” Ted took a drink of his wine and smiled at the glare Gabriel sent his way.
“Ugh.” Laura tossed the sketchbook aside. “Well, you need a theme.”
Ted picked it up and glanced at the drawings. “Some of these are…” He flipped a few pages and then his eyes went wide. “Uh…”
Immediately Laura turned red. She leaped off the couch and grabbed the sketchbook out of Ted’s hands. “You uh…” She closed it. “Those are…”
“Laura if you can get him to wear that I will buy you a car.” Ted grinned.
“Perverts.” Michaels took a drink from his own wine.
“I don’t even want to know.” Gabriel sighed.
“Utility belts could be useful though.” Michaels frowned. “Could use more pockets.”
“You need…” Laura sighed.
“Laura…” Michaels smiled at her. “The whole purpose of the masks and sneaky stuff is that we don’t want to be noticed. The superhero stuff is cool, I will definitely admit that, but we do need to be pragmatic here.”
“He has a point.” Ted patted Laura’s arm. “This way, the bad guys must be wary, because anyone could be the masked vigilantes, and they have no way of knowing just how many of them there are. That’s better than them knowing there is just…” He shrugged. “Hero Man and Sidekick Boy.”
“Sidekick Boy?” Michaels glared. “For fuck’s sake, I’m a decade older than he is.”
Gabriel shrugged. “So Hero Boy and Sidekick Man?”
Michaels tilted his head. “Yeah, I can live with that.”
“Alright then.” They shook hands.
“I…” Laura glared. “Hate you both.”
He waited until Michaels and Laura had left before smiling again. “Crimson Crusader would be —”
“No.” Gabriel shook his head and continued loading the dishwasher. He closed it and started to turn around. “I’m not —”
Ted grabbed his hair and yanked him over for a kiss. “I can’t say I’d mind seeing you in a cape.” He kissed Gabriel again. “And nothing else.”
“For you…” Gabriel shrugged. “Maybe.”
His hand caught Gabriel’s wrist before he pinned the younger man to the wall. Even had Gabriel been an ordinary man, he’d have been hard pressed to keep him captive there if the struggling was real. And Gabriel was no ordinary man. In the back of his mind he knew the only reason he could manhandle Gabriel at all was that Gabriel wanted him too. And that just made it so much better. “Actually all I think I want you wearing tonight, tough guy…” He smiled. “Is handcuffs.”
“Back pocket.” Gabriel smiled.
Ted slid his hand into Gabriel’s back pocket, and retrieved the handcuffs. Then he stepped back. “Lose the shirt.”
Gabriel pulled his t-shirt off, and Ted caught his arm. He spun Gabriel and pressed him into the wall again before securing Gabriel’s hands behind his back. Then he kissed Gabriel’s shoulder before sliding his hand forward to unfasten Gabriel’s belt. And since he was already there, he undid the button and zipper. “I’m not going to beg.” Gabriel shook his head.
“We’ll see about that.” He took off the belt and put it around Gabriel’s neck, then used it as a leash to pull the younger man into the bedroom. Gabriel resisted just a little, enough that Ted had to pull. He liked that part, that he had to exert a little power. Once in the bedroom, he shoved Gabriel to his knees and grabbed hold of his hair with one hand. With the other, he unfastened his own pants.
A gasp escaped him when Gabriel’s lips closed around his cock. His lover’s tongue caressed him gently, and there was never a hint of teeth even when Gabriel struggled or resisted. Neither of which he was doing now. Ted closed his eyes, and rubbed his fingers through Gabriel’s hair as he luxuriated in the feel of that mouth on him.
The night, however, was still young. He pulled Gabriel away before Gabriel could bring him to orgasm, then hauled him toward the bed. Gabriel struggled when Ted used the makeshift leash to pull Gabriel across his lap. “Resisting is only going to make it worse for you, tough guy.” He slid his hand down Gabriel’s back and into the waistband of Gabriel’s pants. With the button and zipper already unfastened, sliding them down was simple.
Beneath the pants, Gabriel wore the black satiny underwear Ted had bought him. It looked great on that firm ass. Gabriel renewed his struggles as Ted pulled the underpants down. Ted smiled. He did kind of like having a moving target. He brought his hand down hard on Gabriel’s ass, making the younger man yelp. “Just going to warm you up a little first.” He spanked Gabriel again.
“Pervert.” Gabriel squirmed in his lap, and he could feel Gabriel’s own erection pressing into his leg.
Ted smiled. There was one advantage age did give him. He caressed Gabriel’s ass before leaning down just a little. “Slowly.”
“Son of a…” Gabriel yelped again when Ted brought his hand down.
“Until you beg.” Ted rubbed the red mark he’d made.
“Not gonna…” Gabriel made a growling sound.
He laughed. “We both know that’s not true.” He smiled, and settled in tease his lover.
He woke to the sound of a phone ringing. It took him a moment to locate his pants. “What?”
Immediately his eyes opened all the way. “I mean, good morning, Aunt Margaret.” He glanced at the alarm. “Aunt Margaret, it’s 4 AM.”
“It’s…” She was quiet for a moment. “Oh dear. I messed up the time difference.”
“No, it’s…” He waved for Ted not to get up, and stumbled out of the bedroom. “So how is England?”
“Well, that’s why I was calling. I want to send you the pictures I took and I can’t…”
Gabriel smiled and shook his head before he started walking her through the process of attaching files to an email for the nine hundred and seventy third time. By the time he was finished, Ted was halfway through making breakfast and trying not to laugh. Gabriel just sighed as he hung up the phone. Ted flipped over a pancake. “Not tech savvy?”
“She’s…” His phone dinged a moment later to alert him to an email. It dinged again before he could get the app open, and he sighed. “Sending them one at a time.” He opened the picture, then smiled. Eight nuns stood in a group, smiling in front of a fountain. He showed the picture to Ted.
Ted blinked. “Um…” He blinked again before starting to plate up the food. “Your aunt is a nun?”
“Aunts.” He pointed at one woman. “Margaret.” He moved to another. “Doris.” When Ted raised an eyebrow, he shrugged. “I wasn’t kidding about the found on a church doorstep thing.” He accepted the plate Ted gave him. “My father was the only member of the family not officially part of the church, though his brother is a priest. My mother was the church secretary. She miscarried and was told she couldn’t have children just a couple days before I was found.”
“Seems like fate.” Ted sat down across from him.
“Uncle Oliver and Aunt Margaret always thought so.” He shrugged. “Aunt Doris told me there was a pregnant teenager who’d stopped coming around the church after I was left. She said it was likely the girl had left me there knowing Mom would take good care of me.”
“I take it they don’t know about the…” Ted raised an eyebrow. “Superhero thing?”
“No. And I would really like to keep it that way because…” Gabriel took a deep breath.
Because can you imagine explaining me to a couple of nuns?
“Oh.” Ted nearly choked on the bite he’d just taken. “Oh, no, that would…” He shook his head. “Just no.”
“Gabriel…” Ted’s voice came over the phone. “One of my kids just reported his brother acting strange.”
“Last night they went to one of the condemned apartments down by Seventeenth. Urban decay photography. The brother went to check out downstairs.” Ted took a deep breath. “Cal said he came back a couple hours later, picked a fight with his girlfriend over nothing, dumped her, and went to the strip club.”
“So we have a location and a possible victim.” Gabriel nodded. “And clue where the brother is now?”
“Cal said Jim picked up one of the strippers and they left.”
“We’re on it. Thank you.” Gabriel glanced at Michaels before looking up at the rearview mirror. “Strip club, can you pick up anything?”
Erilon’s fiery eyes reflected in the mirror. “On it, pet.”
Laura put her hands on the desk. “But if we can wreck the spot where the thing is manifesting, we can cut it off at its source, right? And Jim will be okay?”
Ted put his hand on top of one of hers. “Laura, we don’t have any idea how this works. Let Gabriel and Michaels handle this. They have Erilon to —”
“Ugh.” Laura shook her head. “If I wanted to sit on the sidelines I’d still be a cheerleader.” She stuck out her lower lip. “It’s not fair.”
“It never is.” Ted squeezed her hand. Then he looked up at the sound of a knock on the door. “Come in?”
He blinked when the door opened to admit a man wearing a priest’s collar. “Excuse me, are you Ted Mullins?”
“Yes, Father.” Ted rose. “Can I help you?”
The priest smiled. “My nephew let slip he had recently done some volunteer work for your center. I thought perhaps I would stop in, see…” He trailed off as two rather flamboyantly dressed young men walked by, holding hands.
A small snicker came from Laura as the priest turned just a little bit red at the sight of the two girls kissing each other goodbye at the door. Ted came around the desk, and held out his hand. “Welcome to Spero Center.”
“Thank you.” The priest shook his hand. “May I inquire as to…”
“We are a support center for GLBT youth. Spero Center provides a assistance to children who have been thrown out of their homes or otherwise endangered due to their sexual orientation, as well as support groups and other assistance for children and young people in need of a safe haven.” He kept his tone friendly even as he hoped some poor kid hadn’t just been outed.
“I…” The priest shifted awkwardly. “I see. Well, uh…” He took a deep breath and collected himself. “Well, this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but…” He drew himself up. “As I was saying, I thought perhaps I would stop in, and see if perhaps your organization was interested in participating in our upcoming fair. We like to partner with local charities and support groups to make sure everyone in the community can get the help they need.”
“And this fair…” Ted raised an eyebrow. On his desk, his cell phone started to ring.
“Games, a couple bounce houses, a silent auction. Fun for the whole family.” The priest smiled.
“That sounds wonderful.” Ted started nodding. “I’d love to…” He trailed off as he saw Michaals heading down the hall. “Excuse…”
“Ted, we…” Michaels blinked. “Father Williams, how’d you…” He shook his head. “Never mind, great timing.”
“Michaels, what is?”
“Ted, can we borrow your basement cause um…” Michaels looked over his shoulder. “We kind of have a possessed stripper in the trunk of the car.”
“A possessed…” Ted grabbed the keys before following Michaels. The priest and Laura followed.
“Look, the situation…” Michaels sighed. “Escalated quickly. Gabe managed to keep anyone from getting killed, then we grabbed Linda Blair and we…” He frowned before glancing at the priest. “You brought the stuff for the thing, right?”
“I have absolutely no idea what is going on here.” Father Williams shook his head.
Michaels blinked. “Gabe was calling you. He didn’t…”
“I haven’t spoken to him since Friday.”
“Then what were you…” He scratched his head.
“Do you actually have a woman in the trunk of your car?” Father Williams stared at him.
“A possessed woman.”
Ted frowned. “Why would…” His eyes widened. “You’re Gabriel’s uncle.”
“Detective Pretty Boy has a priest for an uncle?” Laura raised an eyebrow.
“Who…” Father Williams started to turn toward her.
“People.” Michaels held up his hands. “Focus. Demon stripper. Trunk of car.” He frowned. “Laura, get out of here.”
“But…” She started shaking her head, sending her braids whipping around.
“Demon stripper equals dangerous.” Michaels glared at her.
“Ugh.” She stomped off. He knew she wouldn’t actually go far, but hopefully it would be far enough.
“Come on.” He gestured for the other two men to follow him. Ted quickly unlocked the door to the center’s basement. Michaels went to the other door. “Coast is clear.” Gabriel entered a moment later. Kicking legs stuck out from the sack he had slung over his shoulder. “Your uncle is —”
“What are you —” Father Williams visibly paled.
“We can…” Ted sighed. “Explain. I think.”
“We can explain, right?” Ted gave him a worried look.
Gabriel sighed before setting his burden down. Then he pulled the bag off the woman’s upper body. Immediately, she tried getting up, only to stop in her tracks at the sight of his uncle. “You…” Her voice echoed strangely. “I am not going back there.” She snarled before launching herself at him again. He stepped to the side and simply clotheslined her. She landed flat on her back.
“Ted, handcuffs?” He caught the thrown item before dragging her over and securing her to a pipe. Then he stood up. “Uncle Oliver, we…”
“She’s possessed.” His uncle held up a hand. “Alright, you…” He took a few deep breaths. “I’m going to need a few things.”
Can’t drive it out without setting it loose, pet. We need to find the source before the woman burns out. “We need to figure out where it came from before it just —”
“Traitorous bitch.” The woman started yelling. “Hypocritical cunt.”
Also, it can hear me. You could have mentioned that earlier. Gabriel grabbed a rag and shoved it into the woman’s mouth. Ted tossed him a roll of duct tape, and he used that to secure the rag in place. “We’ve got to destroy it’s anchor or it’s just going to find another victim.” Ted turned toward Father Williams. “We can secure it in here. You two can find the source while Father Williams prepares.”
“You okay keeping an eye?” He raised an eyebrow at Ted.
Ted nodded. “We can tie her a little better. I don’t want her getting loose in here.”
“Gabriel…” His uncle turned to start assisting. “When this is done I expect a full explanation. And you will be working one of the game booths.”
He winced. “Yes, Uncle Oliver.”
Ted watched Michaels and Gabriel leave again. Then he heard Father Williams clear his throat. “If I ask how you and my nephew know each other, will I regret it?”
“I…” Ted shrugged. “Yes.”
“I see.” The priest nodded. “I will get what I need. It shouldn’t take long.”
No sooner hat the priest left than Laura came out from where she’d been hiding. “Detective Pretty Boy has a priest uncle?”
“And both his aunts are nuns.” Ted nodded.
“So he’s working with a sex demon and having premarital gayness with you.” Laura shook her head. “He is like the worst Catholic ever.”
“I suppose…” His eyes widened and he whirled to face her. “You…”
She snickered. “Unlike Detective Not-the-pretty-one, I have eyes.”
“Yes, well, I, uh…” Ted exhaled and rubbed his neck.
“Hey.” She raised her hand, palm out. “High five.”
“Ted.” She waved her hand a little. “Scale of one to ten, you’re scoring with a twelve. High five.”
He laughed before slapping her palm.
“This is the place.” Michaels got out of the car and closed the door. “So these manifestation ghost spirit demon vortex things are what, strong feelings?”
There are times it pains me to attempt communication with you.
“Just answer the question.” Michaels rolled his eyes. “Actually, just simplify it. Are we looking for a victim or a perp?”
We are likely looking for someone who was both.
“I hate those kind of cases.” Michaels sighed.
“It’s not a soul, at least not how you think of one.” Gabriel started toward the building. “That’s passed on. This is just a really strong echo.”
“So Erilon was something like this once?”
“You mean you’re like an actual biblical demon thing?”
Who are you calling a demon thing, Sidekick Boy?
“Sidekick Man.” Michaels frowned as they began searching through the building. Quite a few of the apartment doors were still locked. He debated putting his shoulder into one, but if it was locked it was unlikely the kids had gone into one. “I’m serious though. I mean, I saw you yank somebody through a mirror and into a fiery pit. I’d kind of feel better if I knew that what we are hunting here can’t do that.”
It cannot. It is, in its most base nature, human. I am not. And Michaels?
You need not be afraid. You are one of mine. I will not allow anyone or anything to take possession of you.
“That…” He nodded. “Thanks, Erilon.”
You are welcome.
“Am I still going to hell?”
You regularly use your cell phone while at the theater.
“Michaels…” Gabriel gave him a disapproving look.
“She’s, uh…” Michaels shook his head. “She’s kidding, right? People don’t really go to hell for that…” He shifted his weight uncertainly. “Do they?”
He held up a hand when he heard voices ahead. Against ordinary threats, Michaels was no slouch in the tough guy department. The man was a former linebacker and had been a marine. In their day job, he hung back and let Michaels play the hard-ass bad cop. But Michaels was smart enough not to make it an ego thing. Situation turned supernatural, Michaels got out of Gabriel’s way. The question was how extraordinary were these circumstances?
From the sound of the voices, they were dealing with a couple teenagers. He gave a short nod to Michaels. Immediately, Michaels straightened back up. They both retrieved their badges, and headed into the room. “Police. Nobody move.”
Four young men froze in place. That lasted for about three seconds before the tallest of them hissed and dropped the lighter he’d been about to use on a joint. “Uh…” The oldest looking one started shifting from foot to foot, then quickly tossed the joint aside. “It’s not what it looks like.”
“We were just, uh…”
“We were about to call you guys. We found this stuff here.”
“Yeah, we found it.” That one’s voice actually squeaked a little.
“You do realize you’re out here after curfew on a Thursday, right?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“We forgot to change over our clocks.”
“That was last month.” Gabriel shook his head.
“What’s the capital of Georgia?” Michaels narrowed his eyes.
“Um…” One shifted. “Savannah.” His eyes widened. “No, Atlanta.”
“Ninth president?” Gabriel nodded at one of them.
“Wait that was…” The kid frowned. “I know that one. Shortest term. Harrison.”
“Square root of 4,761?” Michaels nodded to another.
“Uh…” The kid looked scared, then grinned. “69.”
“States in which weed is legal?” Gabriel nodded at the tallest.
“Not, uh…” The kid winced. “This one?”
“Alright…” Michaels shrugged and stepped aside. “Get your asses home.”
The first three went out the door like rockets. The tallest grinned as he headed out. “You guys are alright.”
“Did you hear that?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “We’re alright.”
“Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.” Michaels nodded. “No vortex of evil in here.” He sniffed. “Actually some pretty good shit.”
“And you wonder why you are going to hell.” Gabriel shook his head before continuing further into the building.
Father Michaels returned with a sack over his shoulder. He gave Laura a slightly disapproving look. “Were you not told to be away from the dangerous situation?”
“I’ll stay upstairs, but uh…” She shrugged. “Got nowhere else to be.”
“I…” He slowly nodded. “I see.”
“Laura ordinarily stays with Michaels, but since he’s in the field at the moment…” Ted shook his head. “I thought she’d be safer staying here where I can keep an eye on her.” And ensure she didn’t go off to follow Michaels and Gabriel. “What can I do to help?”
“This isn’t…” The priest took a couple deep breaths. “This is highly unorthodox. Normally, there is a whole approval process and…” He sighed. “Doctors evaluations and…” He swallowed. “And I never thought I’d actually be called upon to do anything like this in my life.”
“Father?” Ted raised an eyebrow. “Are you alright?”
“I will have to trust my nephew knows what he is doing.” Father Williams nodded. “Notify me as soon as they have found what they seek, and I shall begin.”
“You want some coffee or anything?” Laura shrugged.
“Yes.” Father Williams nodded. “Coffee would be wonderful.”
They were downstairs when there was another voice. “You…” A young man was there, his eyes wide. He twitched a little as he stared at them. “You two stole my girlfriend.”
“Jim, I presume?” Gabriel kept his weapon holstered. Erilon, is he possessed? No. He’s strung out. My guess is the thing tried but whatever shit he is on kept it from getting a good hold. So it jumped to the stripper. “You need to…” The young man drew a gun from the back of his jeans. “Not do that.”
“Put the gun down, kid.” Michaels drew his tazer. “Nobody needs to get hurt.”
“He said I could have her.” Jim’s voice sounded dreamy. “Any girl I wanted. I deserve so much better than Hanna.” He swayed a little from side to side. The gun was still pointed at the ground.
Slowly, Gabriel started toward him. “Jim, I need you to give me the gun.”
“I’m gonna save her you know…” The kid scratched at his arm before shivering. “Take her away from all this.”
“I’m sure you are.” Gabriel came closer.
“I love her.” Jim smiled. Then he narrowed his eyes. “You’re gonna hurt her.”
“Nobody is going to hurt her.” Gabriel shook his head. He kept his hands visible and away from the gun, keeping the kid focused on him.
“He’s gonna help me take care of her, but you…” Jim blinked. “I need to stop…” He jerked his head to the side and frowned again. Then he started to bring the gun up.
The prongs of Michael’s tazer hit before Jim could fire. Gabriel immediately grabbed the gun and threw it away before shoving Jim to the ground. He zip-tied Jim’s hands behind his back. Jim made a few confused protests. “Kid’s out of it.” Michaels frowned.
“Drugs and demons don’t mix.” Gabriel started looking around. “Erilon?”
Got it, pet. Her voice went quiet for a moment. He killed eight women, then he killed himself.
“What do we need to do?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
Burn it down.
“That’s, uh…” Michaels frowned. “Arson, and it’s kind of illegal.”
He killed himself in this room. It needs to be cleansed by fire.
“Let’s get Jim here into the back of the car. We’ll, uh…” Michaels shrugged. “Kids smoking shit, we got here in time to keep the fire from spreading?”
“Sounds good.” Gabriel nodded.
He added a healthy dose of whiskey to the coffee before bringing it to the priest. “You alright, Father?”
“Strange how one can believe something for their entire life…” Father Williams accepted the coffee. “And still have the confirmation of that faith shake him.”
“Amen to that.” Ted smiled. “She, uh…” He shrugged. “She doesn’t remember anything. I told her she passed out in the rec room and sent her off in an ambulance.”
Father Williams downed the coffee. “I should…” He looked at the cup. “Probably call a taxi. Gabriel and his partner, they…?”
“They are taking some junkie to the hospital. Gabriel said to tell you he’ll explain things tomorrow.”
“He and Michaels are the masked vigilantes?” Father Williams raised an eyebrow.
Ted sighed. “Yes.”
“Tell my nephew he can forgo the explanation. The less I know, perhaps the better.” He stood. “But not only are all four of you going to be working game booths at the fair, he and his partner will both be taking turns in the dunk tank.”
“I…” Ted shrugged, and nodded. “I will let them know.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you.”
“Please, call me Ted.” Ted accepted the man’s handshake. “It was nice to meet you, Father Williams.”
“Anyone who helps me perform an exorcism may call me Oliver.”
“That was totally anti-climactic.” Laura put her feet up on the desk, only for Michaels to shove them off.
“Anti-climactic?” Michaels stared at her.
“He just threw water around and prayed really loud in some weird language.”
“I ended up on fire!” Michaels glared.
“No, your shirt did. Your skin didn’t even blister.” Laura rolled her eyes. “Wuss.”
“Children.” Ted rubbed his eyes.
“There wasn’t even projectile vomiting.” Laura put her feet up on the desk again.
“Which means you didn’t have to clean up projectile vomit.” Gabriel glanced at her.
“I…” Laura blinked. “Okay, fair point. And you know, if you’d listened to me about the costume thing, Michaels wouldn’t have caught fire.” She reached for her notebook, and flipped to a page. “Check it out. We could make this one out of the material firemen use.”
“You realize that stuff weights like twenty points per square foot of fabric, right?” Michaels looked over at the sketchbook. Then he tilted his head. “Actually, that one is…” He shrugged. “I like the trenchcoats.”
“Yeah, I mean, they have the whole flowing cape thing going, but totally more practical. And these ones will be like, leather, so they’ll be protective too. Like the gear motorcycli…” Her eyes lit. “You guys need motorcycles.”
“Hold up —”
“And you still need like a symbol or something.” She started bouncing in her chair. “I was thinking like hawks, cause they fly all over the city and can see everything going on and that’s like…” She started sketching as she talked.
“Now look what you did.” Gabriel sighed at Michaels.
“I know. I’m sorry.” Michaels took a deep breath. “Laura…” He put his hands on the desk. “How exactly are we supposed to change into our costumes? What if someone looks in our stuff and sees them?”
“I…” Laura gave a frustrated sigh. “I mean, you don’t have to wear them all the time. Just like, when you know you’re going out to do the crime fighting thing.”
“It is starting to get cold.” Ted leaned back in his chair.
“That would make having them justifiable if we aren’t dumb about it…” Michaels started to nod.
And they are coming back into fashion.
“Fine.” Gabriel banged his forehead into the desk. “We can get trenchcoats.”
“YES!” Laura bounded up out of her chair and held the sketchbook up triumphantly. “I’ll find ones that will work with the utility belts.”
“I didn’t say we were getting utility belts.” Gabriel started shaking his head.
“But you will, you —” Laura opened the door to the office and stopped in her tracks. “What are —”
NO! Gabriel and Michaels were both on their feet at the sound of Erilon’s shout.
The sound of the gunshot echoed off the walls.
“No, no, no…” Ted nearly tripped as he got out of his chair. Gabriel caught Laura as she staggered backward, twisting so that the second and third shots hit him instead of her. Michaels was through the door a moment later, hitting the gunman with a full on tackle. The gun made a clattering sound as it was knocked away.
He fell to his knees next to Laura. The bullet had hit her square in the chest. Laura was shaking, panic on her face. “Laura?” Gabriel lowered her before putting his hands over the wound. Blood pulsed through his fingers.
“He shot Laura!” Michaels hit the gunman in the face, then hit him again.
Ted stood and went through the door. Michaels was a good deal larger than he was, but it took surprisingly little effort to pull him away from the prone gunman. It took him only a moment to recognize Jim. Michaels had already knocked the man unconscious. The younger man shook his head a couple times, then yanked out his handcuffs. Ted pulled the phone out of his pocket and started dialing 911.
“Stay with me, Laura.” Gabriel pressed down on the wound.
“It hurts.” Laura made a small whimpering sound. “It hurts.”
Michaels finished cuffing the unconscious gunman, then stood. “Gabe?” He swallowed. “Gabe, is she…”
Laura made a choking sound, and then coughed blood. “It…” She gave another watery cough.
Tears blurred his vision as he started talking to the 911 operator. Micheals dropped to his knees on Laura’s other side, then put his hand under her head to turn it a little, letting her spit the blood out easier. “Hey, little sister, you’re going to…” Micheals caught Laura’s hand. Tears were falling from the man’s eyes as Laura’s eyes started to flicker shut. “Laura, Laura…”
She’ll die if you don’t.
She’ll die if I do. I would heal her only to burn her out.
Gabriel, I can’t. There is no magic in her blood to draw upon.
Then use mine.
Pet… I… No.
You don’t know what that will do to you.
Laura will die if you don’t.
But what if you remember?
Remember…? Erilon, it doesn’t matter. Save her.
Michaels felt Laura’s hand in his go limp. “No. Baby girl, stay with us.”
On the other side of Laura, Gabriel winced. He made a sound as though he were in pain. Then his eyes started to glow. A moment later, Laura’s did as well. Red at first, like embers. Slowly, the glow became brighter, turning to a white light. Gabriel removed his hands from her chest, and Michaels gasped when he saw the wound starting to close. “Laura…?” Ted lowered the phone.
Laura’s body jerked, and she cried out. The glow in her eyes dimmed, then vanished. There was a hole in her shirt, blood all around it, but the wound was gone. She blinked, and then her eyes seemed to focus once more.
He had just enough time to breath a sigh of relief before Gabriel collapsed bonelessly onto the floor.
The phone fell out of his hand. Dimly, he could hear someone’s voice on the other end. “Gabriel.” Ted immediately went to the side of the unconscious man. He started fumbling for a pulse.
Laura started to sit up, then caught sight of Gabriel. “No, no what happened?”
“It’s alright, Laura, he’s going to…” Michaels swallowed. “Ted?”
He pressed his fingers into the side of Gabriel’s neck. Nothing. He shifted their placement a little. There was no pulse beneath his fingers. “I can’t find…” He started shaking his head. “Gabriel.”
“Move.” Michaels pulled him aside. “Take care of Laura.” He pressed his fingers against Gabriel’s neck, then cursed before turning Gabriel onto his back. “One. Two. Three. Four. If. You. Die. I. Will. Kill. You.” He pushed down with every word, keeping a steady rhythm.
Ted picked up the phone again, and heard the operator’s voice asking what was happening. He swallowed twice before he could respond. “Officer down.”
“Ted…” Laura turned toward him, her eyes wide.
“It’s…” He grabbed her and pulled her toward him, hugging her tightly. “Laura, are you…”
Her body shifted slightly, and when she spoke her voice was different. “Laura will be fine. Her life…” She turned to glance at where Michaels was performing CPR. “Is no longer the one in danger.”
“I’m sorry, Ted. It took all I had to aid the girl. Right now, I haven’t even the strength to leave her.” She turned back toward him. “I had to pull from him. He…” She bowed her head.
“He told you to.” Ted touched her arm. “Just…” He blinked back tears.
“I…” Laura’s body shifted again, and her voice returned to normal. “He…” She let out a choking sob.
“Michaels…” Ted went to kneel at Gabriel’s other side. “Do you need me to…” He positioned his hands over top of Michaels’, preparing to take over compressions.
“I. Need. You. To. Get. The. De. Fib.” Michaels kept pumping.
“Defibrillator. Right. Going.” He scrambled to his feet and headed for the gym.
Ted was on his way back. He could hear the footsteps. Michaels forced air into his partner’s lungs again, then checked for a pulse. Still nothing. A couple curses escaped him as he returned to the compressions. He winced when he felt Gabriel’s ribs crack, then a chill went through him.
He’d seen Gabriel jump off roofs and take close range shotgun blasts. Just a few moments ago, the man had been shot twice, and been uninjured. And he’d just broken Gabriel’s ribs. He took his hands away and checked for a pulse again. “Come on, partner. Breath for me.” He shifted to force air into the other man’s lungs again. “Breath for me.”
“Michaels?” Ted was kneeling on Gabriel’s other side again, the case in his hand. “What do I do?”
“Take. Over. Here.” He waited until Ted had his hands above his own, then moved aside to let Ted do the compressions. His shoulders were killing him as he started to get the kit out. Then he grabbed Gabriel’s shirt. “Lift your hands for a sec.” As soon as Ted did, Michaels ripped Gabriel’s shirt open. “Keep up the compressions.” He placed the pads. “Get clear.”
As soon as Ted moved away, Michaels hit the button. He heard the robotic voice, then hit the button. Gabriel’s body twitched slightly as the shock was delivered. Immediately, he went back to doing compressions. “One, two, three…”
After a couple minutes, he started the AED cycle again. He could hear sirens. How the hell were they going to explain this? There was another twitch as the shock was delivered, and then…
A pulse. “Oh thank you god.” Michaels exhaled. “Come on, partner. That’s the heart. Need the lungs now.”
“Is he…?” Laura’s voice was small.
“Ted, go get the paramedics in here.” When the older man just kept staring, Michaels raised his voice. “Ted, the paramedics.”
“Right.” Ted climbed to his feet and headed out the door.
“Just hang in there, partner. Help is coming.” He sat down next to Gabriel, then checked his pulse again. A faint flutter, but there. “Just hang on.”
Lying to paramedics and police officers was something he’d never done before. He really hoped it was something he’d never had to do again. In the story they told, Jim had hit Laura in the face, causing a bloody nose. Then Gabriel had tried to get the gun away from Jim, and Jim had choked Gabriel before Michaels had been able to intervene.
Michaels was a cop. After he’d vouched for the story, the others had stopped questioning it. He’d identified Laura as his CI and claimed he and Gabriel had been there to talk to Ted about Jim. Michaels had gone in the ambulance with Gabriel. Ted and Laura had gone to the hospital in the back of a police car to get Laura checked out.
Laura wrapped her arms around herself. “She keeps telling me everything is going to be okay, but she’s not even strong enough to say it loud enough for you to hear.”
“Don’t…” She shook her head at him. “Don’t try to tell me it’s going to be okay, Ted, cause it’s not okay. It’s not.” Tears fell from her eyes. “Not even an hour ago I was dying of a big fucking hole in my chest and now I’m not and I don’t even want to think about what that might have cost.”
Ted sighed, and sat down next to her. He put an arm around her shoulders, and pulled her to him. He didn’t want to think about that cost either. “He obviously thought you were —”
“There are monsters in the world, Ted. I saw them. You saw them. And the guy who could get between us and them is…” She shook her head. “He was wrong. I’m not worth —”
“Don’t.” Ted stood. He put his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t you ever say that. Don’t you ever think that.”
“How can you say that?” She looked up at him. “He’s your —”
“Laura…” He pulled her into a hug as she started sobbing again. He felt tears of his own fall, and buried his face in her braids.
He found Ted and Laura in one of the waiting rooms. They both looked up at him. “They, uh…” Michaels rubbed his neck. “They had to restart his heart again in the ambulance, but he’s stable now.” He glanced over his shoulder. “His mom is with him.”
“But he’s alive?” Laura’s eyes were huge and filled with tears.
“He’s alive.” Michaels nodded. Then he shook his head and strode forward to pull her into a hug. He felt her hug him back, and exhaled. “How are you?”
“I…” She choked back a sob. “I won’t know until I know if he’s going to be okay.”
“Michaels, I…” Ted took a deep breath. “How are you? Did you get any aspirin or…”
The question made him painfully aware of how his shoulders were threatening to cramp. “I, uh…”
“I’ll get you some aspirin.” Ted started nodded. “And water.” He stood and started out of the waiting room.
“Ted.” Michaels sighed. “Ted, sit. I’ll be…”
“For fuck’s sake, let me…” Ted all but growled the words. “Do something.”
“I…” Michaels sighed, and nodded. “Could do with a coke.”
“Coke sounds good.”
“So Laura is currently possessed by Erilon.” Michaels glanced over his shoulder again, apparently reassuring himself nobody was close enough to overhear.
“Yeah, but she’s really weak.” Laura shook her head. “I think…”
“Whatever they did nearly killed her too.” Ted sighed. He stood and started pacing again. “Shouldn’t they have —”
“They said they’d tell us if his condition changed.” Michaels leaned back.
“We aren’t next of kin.” Ted rested his forehead on the wall. The man he loved was laying in a hospital bed, and the only reason they had what information they did is Michaels had a badge and a willingness to bulldoze anyone between him and answers. “They don’t have to —”
“He’s stable.” He turned at the sound of the familiar voice.
“Father Williams.” Ted nodded.
“His pulse is regular, but he isn’t able to breath on his own. I…” Father Williams looked away. “If you were dishonest about the cause of his condition, you could be jeopardizing his recovery.”
“Father —” Ted took a deep breath.
“Did this have anything to do with…” The priest inhaled. “Is there anything I should be doing to assist him?”
Being helpless just made everything worse. Ted slowly nodded. “Prayers couldn’t hurt.”
“Praying I’ve been doing.” Father Williams sighed. “I should be getting back to Patty. I just wanted to check on…” He looked at each of them. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Gabriel and his mom need you right now, Father.” Michaels managed a smile. “We’ll bunk down here, let us know if you need us.”
He set the small box down next to the woman in the chair, and tried not to notice that Gabriel’s mother was the same age he was. Even knowing Gabriel was adopted didn’t make that any more comfortable a realization. Patricia Williams was a short woman, with cappuccino colored skin and soft brown eyes in a kind face. Despite there being no physical resemblance between her and her son, there was no mistaking her for anyone other than his mother. “You’re Ted, right?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He nodded. “Thought you might be hungry, and hospital food is always…” He shrugged.
Her smile trembled as she looked at the box. “Bear claws. My favorite.”
“He mentioned that, once.” Ted glanced at the man on the bed. Gabriel looked unnaturally pale, and there were tubes and wires and lights and beeping and… He exhaled. “How is he?”
“The doctor said his pulse is stronger.” She squeezed Gabriel’s hand. “There is brain activity. Doctor said he’s in a coma, not a…” She swallowed. “They’ve still got him on oxygen, but he’s breathing now.” She looked up at Ted. “There was a girl who was hurt? How is she?”
“Laura’s fine. Gabriel’s partner, Michaels, took her home a couple hours ago.” He wanted to take Gabriel’s other hand, to cling to it and feel the other man’s heartbeat.
“He’s talked about Laura a couple times. You as well.” Patricia nodded. “I’ve been trying to get him to bring you both around for dinner, but I still haven’t managed to get him to bring his partner over.” She wiped at her eyes with her free hand. “He tries to keep the cop part of his life away from me. Doesn’t want me to worry about him.” She patted his hand. “As though that stops me.”
“I should…” Ted shifted awkwardly. He fumbled for his business card, and then set it atop the donut box. “I’m not far. Call if you need anything, or…” He exhaled.
“Thank you, Ted.”
“Alright, what…” Michaels took a few deep breaths. “What exactly happened?”
“The only way to heal Laura without burning her out was to pull from Gabriel. He…” Hearing Erilon speaking with Laura’s voice, wearing Laura’s body, was as disturbing as fuck. “I tried talking him out of it, but…” She exhaled. “You’re his friends.”
“He knew the risks.” Ted’s voice was quiet.
“And what about you?” Ted raised an eyebrow.
“I will recover my energy in time, and separate again from the girl.”
“Any way we can speed that up? I mean, help you whatever so you can go back to helping him and…” Michaels rubbed his arm with his other hand. “I mean, you can help him, right?”
“I am a succubus, Michaels.” Erilon shook Laura’s head. “While yes, that is technically possible —”
“Then what do we need to do for you —”
“I feed off sexual energy.”
“And you’re currently…” Ted leaned back. “Stuck in the body of a fifteen-year-old girl.”
“What Gabriel and I did gave Laura a spark. She’s pulling magic now, I won’t burn her out by being in here. Once I am stronger again, I can protect her, but right now…” Erilon sighed. “We are both mortal.”
“Oh.” Michaels fumbled for a chair. “You mean if something happens to…” He sat down. “You’ll die too.”
“Outside the fact that it’s you and we…” Ted folded his hands. “How bad will that be?”
“It will not be anything cataclysmic. I am not a unique enti —”
“Yes, you are.” Michaels looked up at her.
“I…” She hesitated. “Thank you.”
“You and Laura are our friends.” He stood again. “We’ll keep you safe until Gabriel is back on his feet and…” He swallowed, then took a deep breath. “Erilon, I broke his ribs when I was…” He looked away. “Will he still be…” He sighed. “There are vampires in this world, Erilon. Please tell me we aren’t on our own.”
“Gabriel’s nature is the reason I came to him in the first place. He…” She shook Laura’s head again. “In truth he gives me more than I give him. I…” She rubbed her arms. “I don’t know. This is not something that has been done before. Were he any less than what he is, I would have killed them both and possibly you two with them trying.”
“Are you sure there is nothing we can do?” Ted looked up. “I mean, what if you did pull some energy from us?”
“I could drain you both dry and it would be like throwing a bucket of water over Niagara Falls when it comes to helping Gabriel.”
“What about to help you, then?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“I…” She looked genuinely startled. “You’re offering to help me?”
“You’re our friend, Erilon. Whatever you need” He nodded. Then a terrifying thought came to him and he started shaking his head. “I mean, as long as it doesn’t involve having sex with Laura because that is wrong on so many levels that I think I’d rather shoot myself in the head.”
“Maybe you aren’t going to hell after all.” She smiled. “It would…” She slowly nodded. “As exhausted as Gabriel and I are, once we are connected again there is a…” She looked down. “I could kill whoever he…”
He saw Ted visibly pale. Michaels was sure he did as well. “Killer nookie.” He exhaled. “Out with a bang.”
“I take back what I said about you not going to hell.” She gave him a look.
“I can connect with you less intensely. Like sipping through a straw rather than taking a gulp.”
“So, Ted and I need to go get laid a lot. Heroically.” Michaels rubbed his eyes. “God, this sounds like the plot to the worst porno of all time.”
“I don’t think Ted is currently in the mood, so…” She patted Michaels shoulder. “Go save the day with your dick.”
“This sounds like the setup to the worst porno of all time.” Michaels glared at her.
“And do try to remember there are flavors other than plain old vanilla.”
“You’re going to be in my head…” Michaels winced. “While I have sex?”
“Is that what…”
“Is that what its like for Gabriel?” Ted stared, his expression horrified. “You watching when…” His eyes nearly fell out of his head.
“He spends a lot of time telling me to shut up.” Erilon nodded.
“I’m not going to hell.” Michaels sighed. “I’m already in hell.”
“Any change?” Ted raised an eyebrow.
Father Williams sighed. “He’s stable. The doctor has said repeatedly that is a good sign.” He shrugged. “He’s said it often enough now I am almost starting to believe it.”
“How is Patricia?”
“I had my assistant take her home to get some sleep.” He straightened. “Told her I wouldn’t leave him by himself.”
“May I…” Ted hesitated.
“Please. Sit.” Father Williams nodded at the other chair. He was quiet for a moment. “It is clear my nephew considers you a friend, and that he trusts you. I am sure he would appreciate your presence.”
“He’s a good man.” Ted sat down. Hesitantly, he put his hand atop Gabriel’s. The skin was cold, and he could feel the needle in the back of Gabriel’s hand.
“A few months ago, he came to me and asked me to bless several stakes. I can extrapolate from what I read in the papers to what likely occurred.” Father Michaels sat up straight. “You are involved in the…?”
“I help how I can.” He rubbed his thumb against Gabriel’s hand, uncertain of how much to tell the priest.
“His father died when Gabriel was only three. A house fire two doors down from where they lived. Stuart got two children out, and went back for the third.” Father William’s voice shook a little. “He got her out, but…” He closed his eyes. “This is room 107. His father, my brother, died in room 108.”
“I’m sorry.” Ted stared at the man across the bed.
“Patricia is…” His eyes closed. “Margaret and Doris got in this morning. They are with her now, at the church. I should…” His eyes reopened. “Will you stay with him?”
“Yes.” Ted nodded.
He waited until the priest had been gone for a few minutes before rising and pressing a kiss to Gabriel’s forehead. “Please be okay.” He kissed Gabriel’s hand. “Please.”
“How is he?” Michaels entered, accompanied by Laura.
“He’s…” Ted looked up, then blinked. “Why do you have a black eye?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Michaels glared.
“I’m trying to figure out a polite way to ask…” Ted winced.
“Erilon’s sticking around in my head for a bit, conserving her strength.” Laura sat down. “This is…” She exhaled. “Weird.”
“His mom and his aunts have been taking turns sitting with him.” Ted glanced over his shoulder. “I think it’s Aunt Doris in there now, but…” He rubbed his neck. “I’m honestly not sure which aunt is which.”
“Have you gotten any sleep?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“One of the nuns told me I wouldn’t be allowed to check in on him again unless I was showered and had at least five hours of sleep.” Ted nodded.
“Nuns.” Laura gave an elaborate shudder.
“Was that you or her?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“Little of both.” Laura shrugged.
He reached over and yanked one of her braids, and she stuck her tongue out at him. Then he shrugged. “Not that anyone cares, but the junkie asshat is apparently going to be fine. He isn’t coherent about anything that happened and uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck before glancing at Ted. “And you stopped me from doing him too much damage so I’m not in trouble. They’ve moved him to the psych ward and he’s going to be there for…” He shrugged again. “Probably a long time.”
“I suppose in the grand scheme…” Ted exhaled. “That’s probably —”
A nun skidded to a halt at the door to the waiting room. She caught herself on the frame, and looked in with a huge smile on her face. “He woke up.”
“Thank god…” Michaels felt as if a hundred-pound weight had been lifted off him. Ted’s knees gave out and he fell back into his chair. Laura started crying again. “Can we…”
“He was only conscious for a couple minute, but…” She was beaming and rushed forward to hug him. “He’s going to be okay.”
Michaels felt just a bit awkward as he hugged her back, then watched her go hug Laura and Ted before leaving the room again, hugging a random bystander, and rushing off once more. “So that was Doris?”
“I think that one was Margaret.” Ted’s voice was shaky. “He’s going to be alright.”
Laura stood before seating herself in Ted’s lap and putting her arms around him. Ted hugged her. Michaels sat down next to them, then just shrugged and put his arms around them both. “Yeah.”
“Don’t you ever, ever do anything like that again.” Laura folded her arms. “Seriously, don’t.” Erilon glared through Laura’s eyes.
“You’re lucky we didn’t give you tattoos while you were out, partner.” Michaels joined her in glaring.
Ted just shook his head at both of them. “We’re glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks.” Gabriel smiled weakly. “Now go get a wheelchair and get me out of here.”
“No.” Ted shook his head.
“Absolutely not. No way in hell.”
He gave Laura a look. “I take it I missed some things the last couple days?”
“I’m letting Erilon ride along until she’s stronger again. Then she can help you out, and then we will bust you out of here.” Laura nodded.
“How is…” Gabriel started trying to sit up, and Ted put a hand on him to arrest the motion.
“Michaels is letting me feed off him.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Michaels turned a little red.
“Good, cause I really don’t want to know.” Gabriel took a deep breath.
“There is going to be some talking, but it can wait a bit.” Ted gave him a level look. “Your mother said the doctor said you’re recovering quickly, and you’ll probably be able to go home in the next couple days.”
“At which point an entire flock of penguins is apparently going to descend upon you.” Laura patted his shoulder.
“They aren’t penguins. They are nuns.” Michaels shook his head at her.
“Hide me?” Gabriel winced.
“We had to take like forty casseroles to the center’s deep freeze.” Laura shook her head. Then she shivered a little. “The short penguin is making me one of those yarn blanket thingies. She pinched my cheeks.”
“Actual cheek pinching. Seriously, grabbed them both, and made squealing noises.” Laura shook her head. “And she keeps hugging, like, everyone.”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “That’s Aunt Margaret.”
“And he’s now Mikey.” She jerked a thumb at Michaels.
“No, Laura. He’s ‘That Darling Mikey’.” Ted tried to hide a smile.
“No.” Michaels glared.
“He’s Sidekick Man.” Gabriel managed a shrug.
“Damn straight.” Michaels grinned. “Now get your ass better, Hero Boy.”
He stopped in the door of his apartment, and looked around. “Uh…”
Father Williams sighed. “I tried to stop them, but…”
“What did they do to my curtains?” Gabriel stared.
“Something about natural light and…” Father Williams glanced at the light lacy things hanging on the windows. “Your old ones are in the cupboard. Freshly laundered. Like very other scrap of cloth you own.”
“It smells like…”
“Your mother got you some of those scented plug in air fresheners and…” He shrugged. “You might want to sit down for a bit before going into your bedroom.”
“New duvet.” Father Williams patted his shoulder.
“At least they only rearranged the furniture.” He fell heavily onto the couch.
“I’ll tell them you were pleased and grateful.” His uncle’s lips twitched.
“I am, I just…” He sighed. “Wish they wouldn’t.”
His uncle sat down on the chair. “Will you tell me what really happened?”
“I…” Gabriel exhaled. “There was a junkie and —”
“Gabriel.” Father Williams narrowed his eyes. “I have known you since you were an infant.” He shook his head. “I don’t care what he was on, no scrawny little junkie strangled you.”
“Uncle…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I can’t tell you everything.”
“Do you think I won’t understand?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I think you…” He looked away. “Won’t approve.”
“Since when has that mattered?”
“That’s always mattered. Uncle Oliver…” He closed his eyes for a moment before turning back to him. “Not every threat against this world can be faced by mundane means.” He rested his hands on his knees.
“He says, to the priest.” Father Williams smiled. It faded after a moment. “You have always had a purpose, Gabriel. I thought for a time, it would be in the church. But if this is the path you have chosen for yourself, then…” He nodded. “Then do not hesitate to come to me if you have need.”
“And don’t think ending up in the hospital is going to get you out of working in the dunk tank.”
“Yes, Uncle Oliver.”
He stood, and started for the door before pausing. Then he sighed, turned around, and came back. Slowly, he sat down. “I was…” He took a deep breath. “You know I was a soldier before I was a priest.”
“Yes.” He looked up. “Uncle Oliver, what’s wrong?”
“Gabriel, my son, if you and your friends continue this path, you will draw the attention of…” He swallowed. “Just because something operates with mostly mundane means does not mean it is not a great evil, Gabriel.”
“I know, I…” He frowned. “You know something.”
“I think that…” Father Williams exhaled. “That it is time I told you the truth about those days and…” He met Gabriel’s eyes. “And about a group that calls itself The Cabal.”
He used the key to gain entry, hoping the others had already cleared out. Fortunately, his hopes weren’t dashed. Gabriel was by himself, sitting in his recliner. A half empty bottle of beer sat next to him. “Ted.”
“Are you…” Ted frowned before going to sit on the couch nearby. “Gabriel, are you alright?”
“I, uh…” Gabriel picked up the beer, then just looked at it before setting it back down. “I don’t know.”
“Do you need anything? A pain pill, or —”
“Kind of like you to drag me into the bedroom and fuck me until I can’t think straight.” Gabriel shrugged.
“As much as I’d love to do just that…” Ted sighed. “Pretty sure that would be against doctor’s orders.” He gave a small shake of his head. “You almost died, Gabriel. I’m still not sure what did happen.”
“Laura’s okay. That’s the part that matters.” Gabriel gave him a half smile.
“Except it’s not. She’s terrified that by saving her…” Ted exhaled. “It spelled the end of the Crimson Crusader.”
“Under no circumstances —”
“Gabriel.” Ted reached out and put his hand atop Gabriel’s.
“I’m exhausted, but, uh…” Gabriel waved a hand. “Can still throw a car at somebody if I need to. Couple more days of rest and I’ll be fine.”
“Then…” Ted frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Uncle Oliver and…” Gabriel picked up the beer again. This time he drained the bottle before setting it back down. “We talked.”
Ted leaned back. He wasn’t sure what topic of conversation was responsible for Gabriel’s current mood. “I’m listening.”
“He, uh…” Gabriel looked away. “Did you know he’s only the half sibling of the others? He was already in the army when my father was born. Joined up in 1959, just in time for…” He shifted position, leaning forward so he was looking down at the floor.
“Vietnam.” Ted nodded. “Is that what drew him into the priesthood.”
“No. And yes. He uh…” Gabriel leaned back again. “He did some things. Not nice things. Worked with some people. Not nice people. And uh…” Gabriel looked up at him. “He joined a group called The Cabal.”
“That sounds…” Ted took the empty bottle away, and grabbed two fresh ones. “Well, that doesn’t sound like something good people call themselves.”
“He turned against them and they went after his family. Killed his dad and stepmother. He took the kids and ran, changed his name and theirs. Every…” Gabriel looked down at the beer bottle. “He’s been living a fucking lie ever since.”
“He’s a murderer. Among other things.”
Ted felt a chill run down him. “Gabriel, I…” He felt shocked. “I don’t know what to…”
“He said if we keep doing what we do, we’ll draw their attention. And that they’ve grown neither weaker nor kinder over the years.”
“I…” Ted took the bottle from Gabriel and set it next to his. “Come here.” He wrapped his arms around Gabriel as Gabriel came to him, and held the younger man tightly. “You need some sleep. Come on.” He pulled Gabriel toward the bedroom.
“Stay the night?”
“I will.” He pushed Gabriel’s shoulder, getting the younger man into the bed before pulling the covers over him. “I’m with you, Gabriel. No matter what comes.”
He woke in Ted’s arms, with the other man pressed against his back and holding him tightly. Gabriel started to move away, and Ted pulled back. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I…” He blinked. “Well I was going to say work, but uh…”
“It’s Sunday, and you’re on medical leave.” Ted kissed the back of his neck. “So you’re staying here.”
“I uh…” Gabriel chuckled. “That a gun in your pocket, Ted, or are you just happy to see me?”
“Don’t be a smart ass, or you’ll spend the day tied to the bed.” Ted smiled. “You want breakfast?”
His stomach rumbled. “Apparently.”
“Your aunt brought over a half dozen quiches. Michaels stole a couple of them, but I wouldn’t let him take the one with the prosciutto.” Ted kissed him again before rising. “I uh…” He shrugged. “Laura knows.”
“Laura knows…?” He started to sit up, and changed his mind.
“About you and me.” Ted shifted awkwardly.
“That a problem?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“It’s…” Ted blinked. “It’s not?”
“I prefer to keep my private life private, Ted, but…” He shook his head. “Don’t ever think I’m ashamed of you in any way.”
Ted’s smile nearly split his face in two. “Strange as…” Ted laughed softly. “I kind of like it being a secret. Something just ours.”
They sat around the table, digging into a beef and potato casserole. “Your aunt can cook.” Michaels took a huge bite.
“I gained ten pounds just putting all those casseroles in the freezer.” Laura nodded. “How the hell are you so skinny?” She stared at Gabriel.
“Exercise.” Gabriel shrugged. “Usually Aunt Margaret does the cooking for the senior meal program, but uh…” He stabbed a bite with his fork. “When she told them her nephew the cop was in the hospital they all pitched in to ensure I didn’t need to cook again this century.”
“The center appreciates the food donation.” Ted smiled. “And your aunt has been making noise about coming over and teaching a cooking class or two for the older kids.”
“Yeah, what’s this about us all being volunteered for a dunk tank?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“It’s for charity.” Ted shook his head. “Deal with it.”
“Ugh.” Michaels shoved another bite of food into his mouth.
“Alright.” Laura helped herself to seconds. “I have to know.” She looked up at Michaels. “How’d you get the shiner?”
“I don’t want to —”
“Erilon is definitely stronger now…” Laura’s voice became sing song. “So we know what you’ve been doing.”
“You just turned sixteen.” He glared across the table. “I’m not having this conversation with you.”
“Fine.” She shrugged. “Erilon, how’d Sidekick Boy —”
“Get the black eye?”
“Don’t you even.” Michaels started shaking his head. “It’s completely your fault anyway.”
“I…” Ted gave a resigned sigh. “Great. Now I actually want to know.”
“Spill.” Laura bounced in her chair.
“Everything was going fine until she uh…” Michaels turned a little bit red. “Got strong enough to start ‘helping’.”
I was just trying to offer some advice. Not my fault you —
“Completely your fault.” He winced before looking at Gabriel. “Seriously, how the hell do you get any, uh…” He shrugged. “With her commentary in your head.”
“I tell her to shut up.” Gabriel took a drink of water. “A lot.”
“See, I tried that…”
Only he did it very rudely and he never learned to think quietly and the redhead he’d been flirting with thought he was talking to her.
“She punched you?” Laura raised an eyebrow.
“No, I managed to talk my way out of that but then…”
Then he thought it would be smart to hit on —
“Shut up and let me tell the story.”
You’ll leave the good parts out. Anyway, he decides he’s going to hit on the other redhead in the group, cause it never occurred to him —
“You hit on her sister?” Ted blinked.
Who by the way had overheard the earlier exchange. And was a lesbian there with her partner. Then he picked exactly the wrong moment to take my suggestion about not being so vanilla, and —
“I propositioned her and her roller derby girlfriend for a threesome, alright?” Michaels exhaled.
“And the roller derby girlfriend gave you the black eye?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
No he ducked that and got her in an arm lock but it turned out the whole team was there. So then —
“Where the fuck is an exorcist when you need one?”
“Let me see if I understand this…” Ted took a deep breath. “Shortly after lighting yourself on fire because you decided to light a ‘strike anywhere’ match on your stubble while wearing shirt that had been splattered with gasoline…”
“How the fucking hell did you make it to adulthood, let alone through basic training?” Laura stared.
He turned toward Gabriel, who was trying not to laugh. “Refresh my memory. Why do we keep them around?”
He washed the last plate and set it to dry. The weekly dinner of his little bunch of crazy people had become his favorite night of the week. Watching Michaels and Laura bicker was always entertaining. Despite Michaels being old enough to be her father, they’d settled on a big brother / little sister dynamic, and he often felt like a parent to both of them. He had a family. It was… Kind of wonderful. Ted smiled, then turned toward Gabriel. “So Erilon is in your head whenever…”
“She’s watching when you and I…”
“I, uh…” Gabriel winced. He shifted his weight awkwardly. “Ted, I…”
“Does she at least enjoy the show?” He raised an eyebrow.
Oh you have no idea.
“How is his health? He back to a hundred yet?” Ted tilted his head.
Closer to 99.9, cause Laura kept a little. But he’s recovered.
“Does this mean Laura has powers now?”
We are still experimenting. She’s trying really, really hard to see through walls and clothing. Or turn invisible.
“Uh…” Ted shook his head. “Warn us if she pulls us off either.”
As if. I got my girl’s back.
“You know…” Gabriel sighed. “I’m not really sure which of them is the bad influence on the other.”
“So she can get into Laura’s head now.” Ted frowned.
“And Michaels, since he let her in to…” Gabriel shrugged. “Well, pretty much to stop me from killing the next person I have sex with.”
“Yeah, I need to bake him a cake or something for that.” Ted grabbed Gabriel by the front of the shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. Then he shoved Gabriel to his knees. “That’s not a gun in my pocket, tough guy.” He tangled his fingers in Gabriel’s hair as he began unzipping his pants. “Go slow, or I’ll…” He gasped as Gabriel’s mouth closed around his cock, sucking forcefully, then gasped again when he felt Gabriel laugh a little. “Oh, you…” He pulled Gabriel back, then shoved him. “Crawl to the bedroom, tough guy. I’ve got some plans for you.” He smiled. “You scared the shit out of me, and I think you need to be punished for that.”
“Now I’m scared.” Gabriel started crawling.
It was more difficult than he anticipated not reaching for his full strength and pulling free of the restraints. Ted had spread-eagled him on the bed, and then spent the couple hours teasing him to the brink and then not taking him over. Gabriel thrashed on the bed. “Please.”
Ted straddled his legs before trailing a finger up his inner thigh. “Not yet.” He flicked the tip of Gabriel’s well-bound cock. Gently, he lifted Gabriel’s hips and entered the carefully prepared passage with a single forceful thrust. Gabriel arched his back to allow Ted better access. With his own member imprisoned, release was unobtainable. He moaned as Ted fucked him mercilessly.
For once, Erilon was silent in his head save for some occasional low humming. He threw his head back as Ted’s rhythm picked up speed, then cried out softly as he felt Ted twitching inside him. “Please.”
Teeth raked lightly against his throat. “You’re being punished, tough guy.” Ted kissed the side of his jaw. “It’s going to be a long, long night for you.”
“Medical leave is up, partner. Time to stop being lazy.”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Right. Because you did all the work dealing with that lizard thing.”
“I helped.” Michaels glared. “I shot it.”
“And after the first eight shots did nothing, you reloaded and shot it a couple dozen more times.” Gabriel chuckled.
“That kept it distracted while you set it on fire.” Michaels shrugged.
“Out of curiosity, how do you explain how much ammo you go through?” Ted raised an eyebrow.
“I buy my own instead of requisitioning through the department.” Michaels sat down at the table where Ted was setting out the meal. “Ted how the hell did we survive without —”
“Yes.” Laura did a fist pump from where she was sitting on the couch going through the newspaper.
“I…” Gabriel looked at her. “I feel this strange sense of foreboding.”
“Yeah.” Michaels. “And I’m really afraid to ask.”
Laura held up a page triumphantly. “My letter to the editor not only got published, it got mentioned on the front page.”
“Your…” Gabriel felt his stomach lurch a little. “Laura.”
“Relax, you guys aren’t in any trouble.” She waved the article before handing it over.
He read through it, then found himself nearly overcome with the urge to roll the paper up and smack her with it. “Thanks to the effort of the masked vigilantes, who call themselves…”
“The Crimson Crusaders.” Laura started dancing. “The Crimson Crusaders. Duna-na —” She shrugged. “You need a theme song.” She kept dancing. “Crimson Crusaders. Crimson Crusaders.”