“You know, I actually thought this task was going to take all day.” Ted looked around the room. With Gabriel having to work, he’d planned on renting some hand carts or perhaps even a pallet jack to get the truck unloaded.
“We keep Matthias around for a reason.” Daniel grinned at him. “God, Ted, this place is awesome. I wish my hometown had something like this.” He ran a hand down the machine in front of him. “Why pinball?”
“Once, a long time ago, I was a child.” Ted chuckled. “Used to love it. When I saw these up on an auction website I couldn’t resist.” He pointed. “The game consoles have been in here a while, and get used so much I have to replace the controllers every couple months. I thought perhaps they might enjoy these as well.”
“Alright.” Matthias slid out from under one of the machines. “That’s the last one. Everything should be working.” He stood. “I remember when these things were everywhere.” He tilted his head. “Kind of craving a malt now.”
“Oh, almost forgot.” He headed over to the storage closet. “I know Anna wants to go to the fair, but in her condition that much walking might not be wise.” It took him a moment to pull the item he was looking for free, then he pushed it toward Daniel. “This might help.”
“She might object to being pushed in a wheel —” Daniel cut off as Ted offered him the bright pink bike horn with attached streamers. “Yep, that’ll work.”
“Hey, Ted…” Matthias shrugged. “How much does it cost you to run this joint?”
Ted shrugged. “Less than you might think. Erilon, through methods I really prefer not to think about, has managed to keep the licensing fees pretty minimal and we do get donations. Plus most of the labor is volunteer.”
“Generous as you’ve been to us…” Matthias shrugged. “Like to make a donation.”
“That’s not necessary.” Ted smiled. “Given your situation, it would be best to conserve your resources.”
“Money ain’t one of our problems. The whole uh…” Matthias rubbed the back of his neck. “Being one of the good guys thing is sort of new to me. Might be one of the reasons I’m not great at it.” He shrugged. “Lot of people out there willing to pay a guy like me a hell of a lot of money to get shit done.”
“You…” Ted exhaled. “You’re telling me you used to be an assassin.”
“Among other things.” Matthias nodded.
“Not really sure what to say to that.” Ted exhaled. “Well, Matthias…” He shrugged. “There will be a lot of charities at the fair, some of which do better work and are much more desperate for funds than I am. If you are looking to buy some forgiveness, that would be a good place to start.”
“Can I dye my hair like Laura’s?”
Magda inhaled. She’d been expecting that question ever since the two girls had met. “Not until after the baby is born.”
“Can I dye my hair like Laura’s?” She narrowed her eyes at Ash, and he grinned back at her. “Cept I want mine to be purple.”
“Oh, oh…” Anna bounced a little. “Then you’d be a grape dane.”
She ran her hand down her face as the two of them started laughing. A knock on the door made her look up, and she smiled before opening it. “Sister Doris.”
“Magda.” The nun returned the smile. “Just checking in on Anna.”
“Magda says I can’t dye my hair like Laura’s until after the baby is born.” Anna held up the picture she was drawing. A vaguely human figure with bright pink hair and a unicorn horn. “But I would be awesome with pink hair.”
“You certainly would.” Sister Doris nodded.
“You should dye yours pink too, when it’s done growing back out.” Anna looked down at the picture again. “You’re here to talk about me going back to school, aren’t you?”
“I am. Is this a good time?” Sister Doris glanced at Magda.
“It was actually last night’s dinner conversation.” Magda nodded.
“I know. Gabriel called me. He suggested enrolling Anna in our home study program.” She sat down and began going over a few of the details. The nun didn’t have to try very hard to sell them on the program, and promised get them the paperwork and log in information. Then she oohed and aahed over Anna’s drawings for a while. Ash didn’t say anything, but he smiled at the nun.
Once Anna and Ash headed back outside, Sister Doris turned toward Magda. “The young man is…”
“It’s a complicated situation.” Magda hesitated. “Your nephew is aware of the details.”
“I will trust to his judgment.” Sister Doris nodded. “And yourself?”
“I…” Magda blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Self-care is important, Magda. Are you seeing to your own needs?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I am, thank you.” She could very much get to like this woman. For a moment, Simi’s face swam up out of her memories. “You remind me of someone I used to know.”
“From the look in your eye…” Sister Doris inclined her head. “I feel I should be honored.” She picked up her papers. “I should be going.”
“Take some cookies with you?” She gestured at the plate.
“How did you convince them to work in a dunk tank?” Stephan raised an eyebrow at Father Williams.
“They asked me to exorcise the stripper they had in the trunk of their car.” The priest shrugged amicably. “Now you —”
“I’m going to need you to repeat what you just said.” Stephan stared at him. When Father Williams simply lifted an eyebrow, Stephan rubbed his forehead. “So you’re probably going to believe every word of the story I’m about to tell you.”
“Werewolves abducted and tortured a young man and drove him to have a psychotic break.” He nodded. “My nephew filled me in already.”
“Sorry, I just…” Stephan laughed a little. “Kind of not used to being around people who are clued in to the whole…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Weird shit thing.”
“Is he a religious man?” Father Williams tilted his head.
“You know, uh…” Stephan frowned. “I don’t actually know.” He narrowed his eyes. “I hope you aren’t along just to win converts.”
“I am quite capable of praying for someone silently.” Father Williams shook his head. “For some in turmoil, a rosary can provide comfort by it’s very presence. I simply wished to ascertain if this young man were one such.”
“I don’t think so. He, uh…” Stephan chuckled. “He likes squeaky toys, rocks, and Star Wars.” He led Father Williams up to the deck. “Ash, could you come here a moment?” Ash started to move toward him on all fours before catching sight of the priest. For a second, he was afraid Ash was going to go hide, but then the young man stood and walked over. “Ash, this is Gabriel’s uncle, Father Williams.”
Ash glanced at Stephan nervously before nodding to the priest. Father Williams nodded. “Good morning, Ash. Gabriel indicated you could help me with something?” When Ash tilted his head and made a curious sound, Father Williams set the small box he’d been carrying down on the small patio table and opened it. Stephan blinked when he realized it contained a bunch of rocks and what looked to be labels. “I…” Father Williams gave Ash an embarrassed smile. “You’ve met my sister, Doris?” When Ash nodded, Father Williams continued. “I knocked over her rock collection. Think you could help me sort it before she notices?”
A smile came to Ash’s face as he sat down at the table and started looking at the rocks.
“He knocked over Sister Doris’s rock collection?” Magda watched the scene on the patio. Ash had yet to address Father Williams directly, but he was telling Anna how to tell the differences between the stones. She smiled. “Isn’t there a commandment about lying?”
“Wasn’t a lie.” Gabriel shrugged. “He just left out that he did it on purpose and with her approval.” He turned toward Laura. “All set for the fair?”
She held up a camera. “All ready for you in the dunk tank. Tell me you’re wearing a speedo.”
“Shorts and a shirt.” He shook his head.
“Gabriel…” She put her hands on his shoulders. “It’s for charity. Take your clothes off.”
“I’m starting to be concerned you’re a bad influence on Erilon.” Michaels shook his head at Laura.
“You’re at least wearing a speedo, right?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Shorts and a shirt.” Michaels smirked.
“I think it’s unfair that Stephan doesn’t have to get in the dunk tank.” Matthias walked in, followed by Ted and Daniel. All three carried grocery bags.
“His leg makes it unsafe.” Gabriel shook his head.
Matthias sniffed, and gave a small frown before shaking his head and setting the bags on the counter. “Need help putting things away?” He glanced at Daniel.
“Ted and I got it. We’re grilling dinner.”
“I’ll go get the grill set up.” Michaels nodded before heading for the door.
“Wait…” Daniel grabbed a bag and started after him. “I’ll need to get the smoke box set up too.”
Laura shrugged, then started after them. “I’m going to go watch Michaels singe his eyebrows off again.”
“One time!” Michaels shot a glare at her before going out to the deck.
“I’m not entirely certain…” Magda glanced at Ted. “Is he her brother or her father?”
“She’s sort of adopted him as both.” Ted smiled. “Would you mind making some of your biscuits?”
“No problem.” She joined him in the kitchen, then looked up when Father Williams entered. “Are you staying for dinner?”
“I would…” He stopped, staring at Matthias for a moment. Then he shook his head before turning to look at Gabriel. “Is there a reason why when you told me the situation involved werewolves you left out that there was one present?”
“You…” Gabriel glanced at Matthias before glancing back at his uncle. “You know Matthias?”
“How do you know Matthias?” Magda glanced at her son, who was looking at the priest curiously.
“I served in Vietnam.” Father Williams clasped his hands behind his back. “He…” He shrugged. “Made an impression.”
“I…” Matthias slowly nodded. “Oh. You uh…” He exhaled. “Shit. We know each other, back then?”
“It was…” Father Williams shook his head. “A different life. Perhaps it would be better if we left it that way.”
“Yeah.” Matthias nodded again. “Maybe it would.”
“As much as I would like to join you for dinner, I still have some things to do before the fair tomorrow.”
“About the —” Gabriel started to shake his head, then Father Williams simply raised an eyebrow at him. Gabriel exhaled, then clearly changed what he was going to say. “What time do you want us there?”
“Sister Margaret is running the dunk tank. Talk to her to get your shifts.” Father Williams shrugged. “I will see you all tomorrow.”
“I’m guessing by the size of the line…” Laura snickered. “It’s Gabriel’s shift in the dunk tank?”
“Gabriel’s first shift.” Ted nodded.
“First shift?” Laura blinked. “He actually signed up to do more than one?”
“Margaret sent over the open shift list last night and I talked Gabriel into signing up for all three of the ones left open.” Ted smiled.
“Ted…” Laura slung her arm around his shoulder. “I think I love you.” She snickered. “He didn’t try to get out of it?”
He’d tried just about everything to get out of it. Ted smiled at the memory. “I convinced him. It is for charity, after all.”
“Can I borrow —” Ted handed her a stack of tickets. Laura kissed him on the cheek. “You’re awesome.” She ran off toward the booth.
Gabriel narrowed his eyes when Laura took up position, bouncing the ball in her hand. They were technically on the church grounds, which meant Erilon probably wasn’t going to be helping her. “Seriously?”
“Ted gave me like a million tickets.” Laura nodded.
Ted had tied him up with approximately two hundred feet of rope before informing him of how many shifts were still open. Then he’d spent the next four hours making Gabriel beg before finally telling him he wouldn’t be released until he agreed to work them all. Erilon had been giggling the entire time. “Yeah, turns out Ted is secretly a super-villain.”
“Always the ones you least expect.” Laura grinned. Then she flung the ball. It hit the target dead center, and he hit the icy water.
When he came up a moment later and glared at her, she just shrugged. “Six years of softball.” She picked up the ball for her next throw. “Back on the chair, Detective Pretty Boy.”
Daniel snickered as he saw watched Matthias shake the water out of his hair, deliberately ensuring it got as many of the observers wet as possible. A hundred years of military service had given Matthias a rather long list of creative taunts, even with keeping his language clean. The big man climbed back onto the seat and started taunting the next kid in line. He was starting to suspect Matthias was actually enjoying himself.
Anna was making no secret of the fact she was enjoying herself. Laura had taken one look at the wheelchair and pronounced it in need of work. Some cardboard and a pink blanket, and Anna was now a princess on a throne. And best of all, it hid her condition. Anna could have fun without having to answer awkward questions. She already had a rather impressive amount of loot. Stephan was pushing the wheelchair, using it as a walker. That was something of a comfort. It meant Anna wasn’t employing her powers to get prizes.
He blinked when he saw Michaels in the line, then covered his smile when Michaels proceeded to dunk Matthias with all three throws. “You do realize…” He blinked when he realized Michaels hair was already wet. “You made sure your shift was before his.”
“First one of the day.” Michaels smirked. “Before the crowd showed up.” He shrugged. “Ash dunked me though, before it got too much for him.”
“He’s up at the church watching movies with Sister Doris. She just came off a round of chemo and tires easily, so they are keeping an eye on each other.” He shifted awkwardly. “You know her better than I do, think she’d notice if I, uh…”
Michaels gave him a suspicious look. “If you what?”
“I healed a guy with leukemia once. Not sure what kind of cancer she has but she’s been great to Anna and…”
“You…” Michaels stared at him. “You think you could cure her cancer?”
“It’ll wipe me for a couple days, so I’d rather be sure Sima isn’t around at all beforehand, but yeah.” He nodded. “I can.”
The other man was silent for a moment. Then he nodded. “She’ll notice. And she’ll know it’s not the grace of god.” He met Daniel’s eyes. “Do it anyway.”
“Okay.” He nodded.
She was considering taking a break from helping in Ted’s game booth. Daniel had missed when attempting to dunk Matthias, and it was tempting to go show the young man how it was done. She started to turn to let Ted know, and stopped short at the sight of the man standing in front of the booth. He was an older oriental man several inches shorter than she was, dressed impeccably. As he always did. “Magda.” He inclined his head, then glanced at the sign describing the center. “You’re involved in this?”
“It’s run by a friend.” She nodded in Ted’s direction. The man was talking to a few of the center’s youth.
“The cause is good, though?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Very much so.”
“Hmmm…” He quickly wrote something on a check, and dropped it into the donation box.
Magda hesitated a moment, a little bit afraid to ask. Then she inhaled. “What brings you here?”
“There is a matter we should discuss.” Her stomach sank as he offered her a card. “I rented a domicile overlooking the sea. You and your new friends should join me for dinner there tomorrow evening.”
“We’ll be there.” She took the card from him, willing her hand not to shake.
“Do enjoy the games, my dear.” He smiled before turning and vanishing into the crowd.
“Magda?” It took her a moment to realize Ted was talking to her. “Is everything alright?”
“I, uh…” She looked down at the card again before tucking it into her pocket. “No.” She shook her head. “Probably not.”
“Ash, look what I got you!” Anna waved a toy lightsaber at him. Ash grinned when he took it. “It’s a Sith one though, so you have to be the bad guy.”
Ash nodded before turning around and stabbing Daniel with it. Daniel made a gasping sound before staggering and falling to the ground in a heap, complete with elaborate death throes. “Smart.” Michaels said as he stepped over him. “Always take the healer out first.” He patted Ash’s shoulder when Ash made a woofing sound of agreement.
“Of course you realize this means I’m obligated to swear eternal vengeance.” Matthias chuckled before also stepping over Daniel.
“Woof.” Ash stuck out his tongue.
“Alright.” Magda clapped her hands. “I need to talk to everyone.”
Ted nodded before going to sit at the table. He opened the donation box. “I assume this is about that gentleman who disturbed you earlier?”
Matthias turned toward her with a raised eyebrow. “Mom?”
“Sit down.” She gestured toward the couch.
He shrugged and obeyed. Daniel stood up and went to go sit by him, and Matthias put an arm over the younger man’s shoulder and pulled him in close. It was tempting to disapprove of that, but considering his own relationship with Gabriel it felt somewhat hypocritical. He started setting the checks aside as the others arranged themselves. Laura sat down across with a ledger and started entering the checks onto it while he counted the cash.
Magda took a deep breath. Then she clasped her hands behind her back and squared her shoulders. “Ryuu Ishi is here. He’s invited us all for dinner tomorrow.”
“And for those of us who —” Michaels started to say.
“Ryuu Ishi is here?” Matthias sat up straighter. “As in here in person?”
“Isn’t he the reason you can’t go to Vegas?” Daniel glanced at Matthias.
“Yep.” Matthias nodded.
“Did you say…” Laura stared at one of the checks that had been made out in donation to his center. “Ryuu Ishi?”
“And Vegas?” Laura looked up at Magda.
“Yes.” She gave Laura a curious look. “Why, do you know —”
“So his check is likely to be good?” Laura glanced back at it.
“If he wrote you a check it’s good…” Magda frowned. “Why do you —”
“It’s for a million dollars.” Laura held it up.
“It’s —” Ted made a choking sound as various others registered their own incredulity.
“Okay.” Gabriel turned toward Magda. “Explanation?”
“Let’s start with Ryuu is not one of the bad guys.” When Daniel started to speak up, she held up her hand. “He had a perfectly legitimate reason to light Matthias on fire.”
“I like the guy already.” Michaels leaned back in the recliner.
“He’s also not one of the good guys. You could call him a neutral party in most things. I can guess why he’s taken an interest in things…” She glanced at Anna. “But I don’t know what his intentions are.”
“You think he might hurt…” Ted swallowed before glancing at Gabriel. If this Ryuu were what Gabriel needed to protect Anna from, then…
“If he were here with the intention of hurting anyone in this room…” Magda shook his head. “He’d have already done it and left.”
“So why are we going to this dinner?” Ted raised an eyebrow.
“Because when a dragon invites you to dinner…” Laura’s eyes glowed red as Erilon spoke. “You show up. On time, properly attired, and with a bottle of good wine.”
“And praying you aren’t the main course.” Matthias shrugged.