He raised an eyebrow when Laura stopped the car still some distance from the university. Kravitz shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He really couldn’t blame the guy for being disturbed. “Um, Adam…” Laura turned around to look at him. “What do we do now?”
“About…?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Once they learn the files are encrypted they are totally going to come after him again, so we can’t exactly just take him back and drop him off.” She glanced at Kravitz. “I mean, unless you’ve got a good place to hide?”
“I teach a class that starts in an hour.” Kravitz sighed.
“Yeah, you should call in a sub or a TA or something cause um…”
“He’s a professor, Laura. He’s been gone long enough already that questions are going to be asked.” Adam leaned forward. “We didn’t exactly give him time to say he was going out.”
“Well, that’s why I’m asking you.” She waved a hand. “You’re like, the professional here.”
“Two options. One, we stash him somewhere —”
“Do I get any input on —” Kravitz frowned.
“No.” Laura shook her head at him. “Option two?”
“We stay with him. Shadow him. That’s got complications.” He nodded to her. “You stand out in a crowd, and I can be ordered to bring him in.”
“There is Erilon.” Laura shrugged.
“Who is —” Kravitz looked from Adam to her and back again.
“She’s a demon. The one you saw in the mirror.” Adam leaned back.
“A…” Kravitz’s eyes widened and he went pale again.
“You know, you could have broken that to him a little nicer.” Laura glared. “I mean —” She cut off when her phone rang, then glanced at it and picked it up. “Hey Daniel, how is things?” She listened for a second. “Nah, I’m in Berkeley right now.” She listened. “Well, at first I was just touring colleges then I sort of ended up kidnapping a professor and now we are doing some Indiana Jones shit to find some missing artifacts.” She listened for a moment, then glared at the phone. “I am not. We really did kidnap a professor.” She held the phone out to Kravitz. “Tell him we kidnapped you.”
“Oh for the love of…” Adam banged his head on the back of the chair.
“Ugh.” Laura put the phone back to her ear. “Oh, we means Adam.” She nodded. “Yeah, that Adam.” She shook her head. “Nah, if they find out he’s helping me shit will hit the fan so we are playing it low key right now.” She glared. “Kidnapping a professor is too low key.” She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t need you to call Michaels. Daniel… Daniel… Daniel if you call Michaels I am going to have Erilon do Monty Python scenes in your head every single time you and Matthias have sex… Yes, that is fighting dirty so don’t call Michaels… Ha, Anna wishes she were that good… We’ve got this. Adam has a plan.”
“I do?” Adam blinked.
She just nodded to him, and he sighed. “Yeah, we’re good. But hey, we might need Stephan at some point so maybe keep your phone around… Yeah, you too. Bye.” She hung up the phone, then looked up at Adam. “So, you had a plan?”
Adam sighed, then glanced at Kravitz. “I am so, so sorry.”
They got around her braids by simply giving her a Muslim style head scarf. Kravitz was handling himself fairly well, and the lecture itself was genuinely fascinating. If she did decide on Berkeley, she was absolutely going to take his classes. He’s vastly more accurate than many historians. Adam was somewhere, but apparently, he didn’t actually vanish so much as take the form of small insects. They’d had to pause in the parking lot while she got all the ‘fly on the wall’ giggles out of her system.
After class, she followed Kravitz back to his office. “They probably know where you live, so…”
“They had a tail on him.” Adam abruptly reappeared next to her.
Laura jumped and yelped. “Gah, don’t do that.” She blinked. “Alright, so we need to get him out of here without alerting the tail. Erilon, we…”
“Tail was a vampire.” Adam shrugged.
“Oh shit, that’s…” Laura turned toward him. “Was?”
Adam just smiled. Kravitz leaned on his desk. “Vampires are after me.” He was pale again. “And they were werewolves earlier.”
“Alright, Adam, I think we should stash him in my hotel room. Nobody knows where that is, and…” She frowned. “Okay, you saved Ash, so apparently you can like trick them and shit, so what are the dangers of you knowing where my hotel room is?”
“If they tell me to kill you I’ll know right where you are.” He shook his head. “Though it’s more likely they’ll order me to bring you in alive.”
“I can neutralize you long enough for them to escape, should it be necessary.” Erilon’s voice floated around them.
She noted Adam visibly relaxed at her words. “Good to know. Yeah, your hotel room —”
“How…” Kravitz took a deep breath. “Ms. Croft, how old are you?”
“Just turned seventeen.” She frowned. “Why?”
“You want to hide me out in an underage girl’s hotel room.” Kravitz sighed.
“Yeah, I think the plan here is not to destroy his life.” Adam shook his head.
“So, we’ll stash him in yours. That’s totally the last place anyone would think to look for him, and you’re legal.” Laura shrugged. “Come on.”
“Do I get a say in —” Kravitz straightened.
“No.” Laura shook her head.
The eyes of both Laura and Kravitz widened as they stepped into the suite. “Oh, my, god.” Laura stared. “This is like…”
“Your hotel room is larger than my apartment.” Kravitz stared.
Adam shrugged. “I have an expense account. Abusing the shit out of it is one of my few pleasures in life.” He waved a hand. “Kitchen and mini-bar are in there. You can charge room service directly to my account by ordering on that line. Anyone does show up, just tell them Adam ordered you to keep your mouth shut and stay in the room, and if they have any questions they can bring them up to me.”
“Is that enough to keep him safe?” Laura turned toward him.
“They know what I am.” Adam nodded. He grabbed his backpack, then slung it over one shoulder. “I don’t use this room much though, and they know that, so odds are they won’t come here looking for me. Just don’t tell anyone where you are and you should be fine.”
“Right.” Kravitz nodded.
He gave the man a room key, just in case, before leading Laura out again. She was being quiet, and that was making him nervous. “Laura?”
“There is a lot of gilding on that cage.” Laura’s voice was soft. “How much are you risking by helping us?”
“The only thing left they could take from me is safe.” He shook his head. “All I’m risking is your lives. Wren finds out I’m helping you, she’ll make sure I’m the one sent to kill you.”
“Can she really make you kill?” Laura looked up at him.
“Ash didn’t tell you?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
His own voice was quiet. “I’m the one that killed Patrick.”
It had been fun, up until that moment. A lark, a chance to be a Crimson Crusader all on her own. Adam’s quiet voice echoed in her ears. Patrick had been his friend. The only thing Adam had demanded in return for the help he’d given them, for saving all their lives and ensuring Sima died, was that his friend’s body be treated with respect. Even having seen what Sima did to Ash hadn’t prepared her for realizing just what they could do. So when you say they bound him… That is why he feels empty, Laura. His soul is no longer part of his body. He is no more capable of resisting an order from his masters than you are of resisting the urge to breath. Laura blinked back tears as the elevator descended. “How?”
They were all the way to the street before he answered. “A hag tied me to an altar and ripped part of my soul away. Put it into this kind of phylactery or something.” He swallowed. Rather than take a cab, they walked. “I can’t even touch the thing without passing out, and unless it’s got a witch to draw power from it’ll decay in just a few days. I’ll die if that happens.”
“I’m sorry.” The words felt a bit hollow.
“I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“What if we —”
“Power corrupts. You want to know how much, I can give you my file on Matthias.” Adam shook his head. “I already exchanged one master for another, Laura. I saw what power did to her. Not a game I’m interested in playing again.”
“My friends aren’t —”
“Aren’t they?” Adam kept walking, his voice low but furious. “You have no idea how fucking hard it was sending Ash back to you. He’s not in his right mind, completely incapable of actual consent, and you think I don’t know Magda’s fucking him whenever she feels like it?” He gestured angrily.
“It’s not like that, Adam.” She started shaking her head. “They…” She sighed. “Magda is good people.”
“I saw what she did to Sima.” Adam smirked. “Good people don’t kill that slowly. Wren used to…” He shook his head. “There was one person in the world I trusted with that talisman, and Wren made me kill him. There is no saving me. Best case scenario is I take the fuckers with me.”
“I…” Talisman. Talisman. “A talisman?”
“Done talking about this, Laura.” He glared. “I tracked the tail back a way, but the place he went to doesn’t open until midnight.”
She wanted to keep talking, trying to reason with him. To tell him that a dragon of all things had hired them to get the talisman away from the witch. If he would tell them where it was. “Adam, we can —”
“Done. Talking.” He narrowed his eyes. “One more word on the subject, I turn into a hawk, get the fucking encryption from Kravitz, and vanish. We clear?”
“Yeah.” Reluctantly, Laura nodded. Now that you know him, can you track him? No, but if I’m in the vicinity of the talisman I can identify it. That will have to do for now. “Alright, we’ve got five hours to kill, so…” She looked around, then nodded at a nearby restaurant. “You like karaoke?”
“You…” Adam stared at her. “Have got to be kidding me.”
He had ID that put him at over 21, but he wasn’t sure Laura did and drinking in front of her just seemed rude. “Each get an entree and split the crab leg special?” Laura looked up at him.
“Sounds good.” Adam nodded. There were a few trying out the karaoke machine. It was mildly painful. He let Laura place the orders, though he was pretty sure he was going to end up paying. “How’d you hook up with your crew?”
“Well, I was using Ted’s center, and then they rescued me from vampires.” She shrugged. “Kind of hard to not end up liking people that save you from vampires.” She grabbed the tablet computer on the edge of the table, and began looked at it. “I’ll let you pick a song for me if you let me pick a song for you.”
“Tell me you aren’t serious.”
“I never…” She looked up, her eyes narrowed. “Joke about karaoke.” She rolled her eyes. “Though it pretty much takes an act of god to get Gabriel up on the stage. He’s really good though. Last time we made him sing he got eight different women shoving their phone numbers into his pockets.” She shrugged. “And four men.”
“I imagine Ted found that amusing. Stasya was pretty happy to volunteer to stake out his place.” Adam shrugged. “I could have done without seeing the pictures though.”
Laura dropped the tablet as she stared at him. “You’ve got pictures?”
“Details.” She reached across the table and grabbed his hand in both of hers. “Now.”
“You will give me details or I will make you get up on that stage and do a Beatles medley.” She blinked. “You know he’s dating Ted?”
“Yeah, uh…” He smiled to himself. What the hell? “Apparently Ted makes Gabriel do naked yoga for him.”
Her eyes nearly fell out of her head. “Naked…” She tightened her grip on his hand. “Yoga?”
“Ted makes him…” Her eyes widened even more.
“Ropes and handcuffs were apparently involved at some point.” Adam shrugged. “Stasya claimed she had a great shot of Gabriel over Ted’s knee that involved a leather belt.”
“Adam…” She pulled his hand toward her. “I need those pictures.”
“Sorry.” He shook his head. “She took them with her.”
“You…” She let go of his hand, and stared at him. If looks could kill, he’d be on fire. “You dick. You taunted me.” She grabbed the tablet again. “That’s it. You’re singing.”
Laura chuckled as she watched Adam go up to the stage. She’d had to sing before she could get him to agree, but finally he’d just rolled his eyes and let her pick him a song. Naked yoga? Erilon’s only response was silvery laughter. She sat back, prepared to poke fun at Adam for messing with her. He had to be messing with her. There was absolutely no way Gabriel, who could juggle cars, was… Right? More laughter answered her. You are mean sometimes.
Her eyes widened when Adam started to sing. Well, shit. He’s actually good. She leaned forward. Like really good. Not quite as nice a voice as Gabriel’s. Yeah, but he’s putting more into it than Gabriel does. Gabriel’s humoring us. Adam is… Actually singing. A smile came to her face as she watched his performance. He got into the song, moving to the melody as he belted out the tune, and several of the observers started clapping for him.
When he rejoined her at the table, she shook her head and grinned. “All that reluctance, and you…” Laura chuckled. “You’re good.”
“Used to play guitar. Write a little music.” He shrugged.
“You were a musician?”
“Nah, not that dedicated. Mostly I just painted.” Adam smiled a little. “Still do, sometimes.”
As they ate, they chatted. Not about the artifacts or about the other world. Just about life. She could talk to her boys, but even Gabriel was so much older than she was. Adam turned out to be not even 21 yet. The best part was when she got him speaking French. Her own was stumbling and hesitant, but he didn’t make fun of her at all. “Are you French?”
“No. Louisiana though, so I grew up hearing the sounds from the Cajuns.” He smiled. “Paris is nice though. Good museums.”
“Paris never really interested me, but I’d really love to see Stonehenge. And the Louvre. And maybe just tour all the old castles.”
“Notre Dame was incredible. I kind of…” Adam shrugged a little. “I shifted into a cat and took my own tour a couple times.”
“That must have…” Laura blinked. “Oh god. The cat.” She pointed at him. “That was you.”
“I…” He exhaled. “Yeah.”
She started laughing, and he gave her a startled look. “Oh shit, I can just imagine what that must have been like when Ash picked you up and started giving you belly rubs and…” She kept snickering.
“It was…” Adam took a drink of water. “Pretty awkward, yeah.”
“You were purring.” She giggled.
“Can we change the sub —”
“Oh, for the love of…”