Michaels sat on the tailgate of the truck, his face empty. Laura was in his lap, crying softly as he held her. Magda swallowed past the lump that has risen in her own throat. Even knowing the man as short a time as she had, she knew something precious had been lost. Not for the first time, she regretted coming to this city. “He told Gabriel it was good to see him again.” She turned at the sound of Daniel’s voice. He looked like a lost little boy as he leaned on the tree next to Matthias. When he saw her looking, he shrugged. “Ryuu. He knew. How could he know?”
“I once asked Ryuu how old he was.” Magda exhaled. “He said the Cenozoic era was boring, but things picked up during the Cretaceous period. I was never entirely sure if he was kidding.”
“We…” Michaels stood, and set Laura down. “Assholes still have Ash. Let’s go find him. Get me a likeness or something of Sima and I’ll start on the desk clerks at the hotels. Someone will have seen her.”
“Michaels…” Magda started to put a hand on his arm.
He pulled away, and shook his head. Then he squared his shoulders. “Someone needs help, and I’m still a fucking cop. Gabriel and I swore to serve and protect. Now let’s go get the rest of these fucks.”
“Semper Fi.” Matthias straightened. “Let’s go.”
“Gabriel would help.” Laura nodded, drawing herself up to her full height. “Ash is in trouble. Let’s save him.”
Magda nodded, then met Michaels’ eyes. “Thank you.” She put an arm around Laura as the girl hugged her. “Thank you both.”
“Stop.” Ted was surprised to find himself using the voice he usually used during their games. He was even more surprised when the being in front of him stopped. Gabriel’s face. Gabriel’s features but it wasn’t Gabriel behind those eyes. There was nothing human in those eyes.
The being tilted its head as it looked at him. First one way, then the other. Then it turned, and started to walk away. “Wait.”
When the being stopped, Ted took a couple steps forward. “Gabriel.”
Slowly, the being turned around again. Ted walked closer. “Gabriel, do you know who I am?”
“You are Theodore Mullins.” The voice managed to be both Gabriel’s and completely alien at the same time. It tilted its head again. “You are not an enemy.”
“No. No Gabriel, I’m not your enemy.” He held his hand out, then blinked back tears when the being before him just stared at it uncomprehendingly. “Gabriel.” He took another step forward. “Gabriel.”
Suddenly the being whirled. Ted caught a glimpse of someone running. Gabriel moved so quickly Ted’s eyes couldn’t follow. There was just a glimmer of white wings and the scream of a man in a tactical vest. The scream was cut off by a blow from the flaming sword. He swallowed, and started once again toward the being that wore the face of the man he loved.
“He’s not here.” Stephan tried to control the rising dread. They’d only visited one hotel so far, and there were many more. This was not a time to panic, yet he couldn’t quite stop herself. Could Sima have already taken Ash away?
“I’ve got people on the airports.” Michaels turned toward him. “They can’t get a private plane off the ground without a cop checking it out, and the TSA is chomping at the bit to catch more ‘terrorists’.”
“But if they went by car…” Magda trailed off and took a few deep breaths. He saw her looking at Michaels, and couldn’t help but feel just a bit selfish. Michaels and Laura had grief of their own, and dragging them to search wasn’t exactly fair. And yet, it was Ash.
“We’ll find him.” Matthias put a hand on his shoulder.
“There is the witch. She could create a glamour, and we could walk five feet from him without ever knowing.” Magda shook her head. She should never have left Ash and Stephan alone.
“Not with Erilon and I here.” Stephan squared his shoulders. “We’ll find him, Mags.” And then he planned to applaud while Matthias tore that Sima bitch apart.
“You’re here to protect a child, Gabriel.” Ted held his hand out again. The being’s head came up sharply at the sound of Ted’s voice. Once again he raised the blade as he started to come toward Ted. “Stop.” Ted kept his voice firm. The being stopped. The blade lowered. “Gabriel, do you know who I am?”
“You are Theodore Mullins.” The being started to turn away again, seeking another target. An implacable, unstoppable force. Who had given Gabriel his name? His family was deeply religious. It could be a coincidence that the man bore the name of an angel. Then again, the fact that he’d ended up with a family that was deeply religious and yet still made up of good people seemed an unlikely coincidence.
“She calls the child Jehanne Celeste.” Ted followed him, swallowing past the lump in his throat. The being was hunting down enemies, and had recognized him as not one of them. That meant he knew something of what was going on. Erilon possessed Laura. Maybe this was just some other form of possession. That Gabriel worked with Erilon seemed to make that a more likely possibility.
“They seek to do the child harm.” The being nodded. “Evil creeps forth, to blacken the child’s soul, to cast it into shadow.”
“And you agreed to help. To protect her.” Ted took a deep breath. “Is that why you are here?”
“Who…” Ted started to take a step closer. “Who are you?”
“I am Gabriel.” The being seemed to scent the wind. Its eyes locked onto something Ted could not see, and then it was moving. Ted looked away as something or someone screamed. Then he squared his shoulders, and followed again.
“We could split up.” Daniel hesitated. “Half with Erilon, half with Stephan. We could cover more ground that way.”
Laura sighed. “Erilon doesn’t have a lot of gas left.” Her voice trembled. “She got a lot more from Gabe than she got from me, and that’s…” She made a sobbing sound as Michaels put his arm around her and pulled her close.
“Maybe you should take…” Daniel put a hand on her arm.
“No.” Laura turned to glare at him. “I’m not letting them have Ash too.” Her fists clenched. “There’s already too few good people out there.”
“Let’s keep looking.” Michaels nodded. “Come on.” Michaels started walking. “There are six more hotels up here, plus bungalows. They’ve got to be here somewhere.” He took a deep breath. “The ones we’re hunting now…” He looked back over his shoulder at them. “They’re the ones running this op, right?”
“Most likely.” Magda nodded.
Michaels looked down at his gun and checked to make sure it was fully loaded before putting it back in his holster. “Let’s go fuck em up.”
“If you aren’t here to protect the child, then why are you here?” Ted caught back up with him. At the sound of his voice, the being again whirled and raised the blade. “Stop.” It stopped. The blade lowered. “Gabriel, if you’re not here to protect the child, why are you here?”
“Again I observe under the sun: crime is where justice should be, the criminal is where the upright should be.” The being’s eyes seemed to look through him. “You were not to avenge yourselves.”
“Gabriel…” Ted started to stretch out his hand again.
The being’s head turned, and its eyes seemed to lock onto another target. Then it was moving once more. Ted closed his eyes for a moment. “To protect. Not just the child.” He started after the angel once more.
Wren made a frustrated sound. “They’ve all stopped reporting in.” She turned toward Sima. “None of them are answering.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense. We sent enough forced to the house to keep them occupied.” Sima frowned. “They left only one behind at the hospital.”
“It was the one that put you through a wall.” Wren leaned on the railing, and dialed another number. “Pick up the damn phone.” She looked up at Sima. “We should have handled this personally.”
“The moment they detected our presence, they would have come for us directly.” Sima shook her head. “As powerful as you are, my dear, you are still vulnerable to a coordinated assault.”
“I can’t believe these buffoons couldn’t collect one newborn infant. These guys are supposed to…” Wren exhaled. “And if I send Adam, we’ve got no one to watch our backs. They’ve got at least one person who can resist my magic.”
“We need to regroup. Lay low for a couple days, then figure out a way to divide and conquer.” Sima nodded.
“Let’s get back to the hotel.” Wren exhaled. “And make sure Adam’s got what he needs to kill an alpha.”
“I must say…” Sima chuckled. “I’m rather looking forward to sending your pet after Matthias. It’s going to be quite satisfying when that wolf gets what is coming to him.”
“How many more?” Ted tried not to look at the corpse.
This time when the being turned toward him, raising the sword. This time it lowered it before Ted could speak. It was almost as though every time Gabriel looked away he completely forgot Ted was there. “That was the last.” The being turned, and started walking away.
“Wait.” When the being stopped, Ted shook his head. “Where are you going?”
“That was the last.” Gabriel turned back toward him. “The child is safe.”
Before it could turn away again, Ted called out. “Gabriel.” It stopped. He took a step forward, again holding out his hand. “Do you know who I am?”
“You are Theodore Mullins.” The being tilted its head.
He shook his head. “Gabriel, do you know who I am?”
“You are Theodore Mullins.” The voice was still alien, and still Gabriel’s.
Ted took another step forward. He was only about three feet from the being now. “Gabriel, do you know who I am?”
“You are…” The being was silent for a moment. It tilted its head again, then tilted it back the other way before those glowing eyes locked onto his. “Ted.”
“Take my hand, Gabriel.” He stretched out his palm. “I love you, Gabriel. Please. Take my hand.”
The being’s hand closed over his. The glow vanished as he pulled Gabriel into his arms.
“Desk clerk hasn’t seen anyone matching any of the descriptions.” Matthias shook his head. “Stephan, Erilon, anything?”
“I don’t exactly function as a detector.” Stephan was leaning heavily on Michaels. He was pretty sure it was more willpower than Stephan’s leg keeping the man upright.
“Erilon, anything?” Matthias turned toward her. He liked Ash. And even more than that, the look on his mother’s face every time they turned a corner without finding him was making him want to put his fist through a wall. And Daniel looked about ready to cry. “Erilon?” He frowned. Laura’s eyes were glowing faintly, but she was staring off at nothing. “Erilon?”
“He did it.” She started smiling. “He did it. He actually did it.”
“Uh…” Matthias frowned. “What?”
Laura’s face suddenly broke into an expression of pure joy. “Ted, you beautiful, wonderful man.” She turned toward them, glowing eyes shining. “Ted called him back. Ted brought Gabriel back.”