He glared. Ash made a whining sound, then pawed at his leg. “Mine.” Ash whimpered. “You ate your share already.” Ash stuck out his lower lip, then nuzzled Stephan before whimpering again. “Fine.” He handed the rest of the container of fries to Ash, who grabbed them and immediately retreated before Stephan could change his mind. “Butthead.”
Magda just rolled her eyes. “Ash, it’s your turn for cleanup duty and puppy eyes are not going to get you out of it.”
“Okay,” he said around a mouth full of curly fries. “Dibs on the TV.”
“No. We’ve watched Star Wars three times already this week.” Stephan shook his head.
“We’ve watched Star Trek five times.” Ash glared at him.
“There are like eight Star Wars movies. There are hundreds of Star Trek episodes spanning several different…” He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you growl at me.”
“I’m pulling rank.” Magda shook her head. “We’ve got a clear signal, and I’m watching something that does not involve space ships, lasers, or people in rubber masks.” She laughed as they both turned to growl at her. Then she picked up the remote and turned on the TV. The signal from their little satellite wasn’t quite good enough to get every channel, but she was able to find a comedy.
As soon as she sat down on the couch, both men joined her. Ash curled up with his head in her lap as Stephan sat down next to her on the other side. She put a hand on Ash and petted his hair. before leaning against Stephan. Stephan’s arm went around her shoulder as they settled in for the evening, and it was all she could do not to let out a contented sigh.
“So the horned ones have magic, but the flying ones don’t?” Matthias tilted his head as he tried to make sense of what was on the screen.
“No and yes. They all have magic but the unicorns have the most magic and can cast spells.” Anna sat under a blanket and a pile of stuffed horses.
“I’m getting diabetes just watching this shit.” Matthias shook his head.
“Yet you’re actually watching it.” Daniel grinned before snuggling in closer. Matthias wrapped his arm around him.
“It’s like a train wreck.” Matthias pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t make myself look away.”
“That’s the power of friendship.” Anna nodded.
“I think I just threw up a little.” Matthias sighed. “We’ve established they can paint, so why doesn’t she just paint one of those marks on herself?”
“It’s a metaphor for breasts.” Daniel snickered.
“Oh….” Matthias nodded. “See, now it makes sense.”
“It is not. Cutie-marks are about finding your special talent because everyone is good at something, and they just don’t know what they are good at yet so they can be good at anything and that’s just as special.” Anna waved her hands. “And how having friends makes everything better and can I have a tattoo?”
“Only if it’s henna or otherwise temporary.” Matthias shrugged. “And the kites are a metaphor for crashing and burning but having fun anyway?”
“Yes.” Anna bounced. “Now you’re getting it.”
“I told you you’d like it.” Daniel kissed his cheek.
“Your approval fills me with shame.” He sighed as he watched the colorful cartoon horses frolicking on the television screen. “Anyone finds out about this, I’m putting you over my knee.”
“Promises.” Daniel grinned.
He brought Stephan the cane, then helped the other man to his feet. “Stephan?”
“I’m alright.” Stephan smiled at him. “Just a little stiff. Too much sitting yesterday.”
“You could take me for a walk?” Ash smiled at him.
“You going to pee on any fire hydrants?” Stephan gave him a suspicious look.
“No promises.” Ash grinned. Then he lowered his voice. “I want to get Magda a present, but, uh…” He shifted a little. “The store has strangers and…” He made a soft whining sound.
“I’ll go with you.” Stephan nodded and reached for a clean shirt. “What do you want to get her?”
“I…” Ash exhaled. “I don’t know. You’re easy to shop for. I just pick the stupidest thing in the shop and you love it.”
“Hey, that…” Stephan shrugged. “Okay, that is true, but you don’t have to say it like that.”
Ash looked away, then exhaled. “You two gave up everything for me. I…” He swallowed.
Stephan pulled him into a hug. “You don’t have to do anything, Ash. Just be you. I promise, that’s enough for us both.”
“But I want to get her something.” Ash hugged him back.
“She, uh…” Stephan shrugged. “She hasn’t replaced her knitting basket yet, and knitting is something she can do in the truck.”
“Oh, yes, and yarn comes in balls.” Ash grinned.
“If you start acting like a cat…”
Ash hissed at him playfully, then grabbed his hand. “Come on.”
Magda set the finished baby bootie in the basket. She hadn’t decided yet what pattern to use for the blanket, but it only took a quick look at Anna to make it clear she better get started soon. So far the girl seemed healthy, though they had to keep her fairly sequestered to prevent awkward questions. Anna was watching her with rapt fascination, a set of knitting needles in her own hands.
“I think they are based out of France.” Stephan frowned at the laptop.
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” Matthias shrugged. “Cabal goes back further than the US does.”
“Makes it harder to hunt them.” Stephan shook his head.
“Nah, plenty of them in the US. Were you able to do the transfer?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
“Four million to your alias, another two to Daniel’s.” Stephan nodded.
“That could buy so many squeaky toys…” Ash stared.
“Wait…” Daniel’s eyes nearly fell out of his head. “You just gave me two million dollars?”
“Told you, boss.” Matthias nodded. “Always have running money. Mom, you covered or, uh…”
“We’re good.” Magda nodded. Most of her accounts were overseas, but Stephan had created a joint account for them that was easily accessible.
“Two million dollars is a hell of a lot more than running money.” Daniel folded his arms.
“Boss, past a certain point, money is just how you keep score.” Matthias shrugged.
“We’re gonna have a talk about this later.” Daniel shook his head.
“How are we doing on cash?” Magda raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve got about four hundred thousand still. You?”
“About a hundred thousand cash, and a cache of diamonds.” Magda nodded. She wasn’t sure the exact value on those, but they were unmarked and easily moved. Plus she did still have some contacts of her own. Plus diamonds were easily hidden and didn’t take up as much space as large amounts of cash. Sometimes, there was no school quite like the old school.
“Still with the diamonds?” Matthias blinked at her.
“Cash is heavy and traceable.” She smiled. “And you never know when you might need to bribe a dragon.”
“Wait…” Daniel blinked. “Dragons really are real?”
“Oh, yes.” Magda nodded. “Ryuu is an old —”
“He set me on fire.” Matthias glared.
“He gave you two warnings. Most only get one.” Magda gave him a level look.
“He set me…” Matthias shook his head. “On fire.”
“Matthias, you are my son, and I love you…” She picked the knitting needles back up. “But you absolutely had that one coming.”
“Two million…” Daniel stared. “That’s not okay.”
“Most people, upon finding themselves millionaires, are considerably more pleased.” Matthias folded his arms.
“Matthias, I…” Daniel exhaled. “Anna and I have cost you a hell of a lot already, and I’ll never be able to pay you back for —”
“Hey.” Matthias shook his head. “Hey, I…” He shook his head, then caught Daniel by the front of the shirt and pulled him into a hug. “Boss, somehow, you and Anna…” He kissed the top of Daniel’s head. “You pulled me back out of the dark. And that’s worth a hell of a lot more than money.”
“You should have said something before just…” Daniel leaned his forehead against Matthias. He took a deep breath. “Most money I’ve ever been responsible for is three hundred bucks.”
“Eh, let Anna take care of it. Way she works, with a two million stake she’ll own Atlantic City inside a week.”
“Not Vegas?” Daniel blinked. He’d always kind of wanted to go to Vegas, but Matthias had been pretty adamant about not going near the place.
“Let’s not fuck with dragons, alright?” Matthias shook his head. “Cause being set on fire sucks.”
Daniel shrugged. He put his arms around Matthias’s neck, then stood up on tiptoe to kiss him. Then he grinned before leaping up into Matthias’s arms. A smile came to his face as Matthias caught him without staggering even a little. He locked his ankles together behind Matthias’s back. “Does this I’m going to pay you in cash rather than sex from now on?”
“I sure as hell hope not.” Matthias glared at him before tilting his head. “Uh, where is your sister?”
“Your mom is teaching her to knit.” Daniel grinned, then raised himself up a little to whisper into Matthias’s ear. “So we’ve got the camper to ourselves.”
“Heh.” Matthias started carrying him to the bed.
The burner phone rang. It took Matthias a moment to find it. The number was unfamiliar. He shrugged, then hit the button. “Hello?”
He blinked. “Rosa?” He saw Daniel’s eyes widen.
“Oh, thank god. It’s you.” She sounded terrified. “They found me.”
“Rosa…” All things considered, people finding her wasn’t really his problem. “What are —”
“The cabal, Matthias.”
“The cabal?” Still not his problem, but they did need a starting point. He gestured at Daniel, who immediately went to the camper door and gestured to the man outside.
“Please, Matthias. There is no one else I can call. They already killed…” Her voice shook. “Please.”
Stephan stepped into the camper, and Matthias nodded to him. “Alright, Rosa. Where do you want me to meet you?”
“I’m in Washington. West coast one.” Rosa exhaled. “Myralis city. Just get here, Matthias. I’ll find you.”
“Myralis city, Washington state.” He saw Stephan make note of the location and start pulling up information on his phone.
“Please hurry.” She sounded near tears.
“We’ll be there tomorrow.” They were close enough to the west coast that should be manageable without breaking any traffic laws.
“I need to move.” The phone went dead in his ear.
“Stephan?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
“Got it.” Stephan held up the phone. “It’s about six hundred miles. We can do that in a day. Looks like…” He shrugged. “Good sized city, off the coast.” He looked up at Matthias. “You think she’s on the level?”
“She sounded scared and for Rosa…” Matthias exhaled. “Level or not, it’s a lead and…” He took a deep breath. And for better or worse, he and Rosa did go back a hell of a long way. “Yeah, I think we need to go, but we need to be careful about it. They might be counting on her calling me in.”
“I’ll round up the posse.” Stephan shrugged.