Part of her wanted to reach out and put a hand on his shoulder, but given the circumstances touching him was probably a bad idea. Adam leaned against the wall, bent over with his elbows on his knees. He gave a small shake of his head before looking up at Laura. “I’d have died for her.”
“I’d have died for her, and it was because…” He straightened. “When I shift, change forms, every single bone in my body breaks. I can feel my teeth being smashed into another shape. I told her it felt like being put through a wood-chipper, begged her not to…” He shook his head. “And she still couldn’t wait to try the spell out.” He wiped a hand across his eyes. “And I still loved her after that.” He punched the wall. “I killed for her.”
Her stepfather had broken her arm once. She could remember exactly how bad it had hurt. Adam changed form in the blink of an eye, shifting from creature to creature in his fight with the werewolf. And she’d thought Michaels was tough. “I wish I knew what to say.”
“Let’s get that damn…” He took a deep breath. “Let’s get the information and make sure she never gets her hands on it. She’s fucked things up enough with the power she already has.”
They moved deeper into the tunnels. Thralls ahead. “Erilon thinks this is the place.” Two. “Two thralls.”
“Right. Stay here.” He nodded to her.
“Adam?” She caught his arm. When he raised an eyebrow, she hesitated. “You don’t have to do this. I can call in Gabriel or someone and…” She exhaled. “You don’t have to hurt anyone.”
His smile was warm. “It’s alright, Laura.” He shook his head. “To be a thrall, you’ve got to get in with the vampires willingly.” He checked his gun. “Taking out the trash doesn’t bother me.”
The door was locked. That really wasn’t much of a problem, because there was a nearly two-inch gap at the bottom. He shifted, entered, and looked around. The amber lidded box was there, and still contained the memory card. Rather than tuck it into his pocket, he passed it under the door to Laura before shifting and exiting. By the time he was back through, it had vanished to somewhere on her person. And with her particular power, she could undoubtedly wipe the thing if necessary. “Let’s get back to the professor.”
They hailed a cab, but just to be safe he had the driver take them to a different location. They walked a bit, then hailed a different cab and went to the hotel. Professor Kravitz was asleep on the couch. From the looks of things, he hadn’t taken advantage of the room service or the mini bar. “Hey, professor.” Laura walked over to him.
The professor blinked, sat up rapidly, and fell off the couch. “What?” He blinked again. “Where…” His eyes started to focus on them.
“Sorry, professor.” Adam shrugged. “Wasn’t just a bad dream.”
“Oh dear.” The older man stood. Then he gave them a concerned look. “Are either of you hurt?”
“Nah. I’ve got a demon bodyguard and Adam’s just that badass.” Laura shrugged before turning to him. “Can I raid the mini-bar?”
“You’re not legal.” He shook his head.
“Pfft.” She rolled her eyes. “Neither are you.”
“I’m not raiding the mini-bar.”
“Okay, so if you’re like super-shapeshifter dude…” Laura tilted her head. “What the hell is you being drunk even like?” She folded her arms. “Cause I’ve seen drunk werewolves, and they are pretty hilarious.”
“Drunk…” The professor blinked. “Werewolves?”
“Hey, what happened to your werewolf friends?” She turned toward him.
“I’ve known them for approximately six hours and our relationship started by me beating up their leader.” Adam sighed. “Not kind of doing the ‘trust’ thing right away.”
“You’ve known me for like, a day, and you’re letting me watch your back.” Laura gave him a pointed look. “And you’ve known him for like, less than that, and you let him camp out in your hotel room.” She waved a hand at the professor.
“You’re insane…” Adam shrugged. “And he’s scared of me.”
The professor rubbed his forehead. “He does make a very good point there.”
“Eh…” Instead of going to the mini-bar, Laura just snagged a couple of his sodas from the fridge. She tossed one to the professor. “We got the thing. Or I’ve got the thing. So now we just need to keep you locked up over the weekend and have you hold out over the interrogation, and the world is saved.”
“I…” The professor took a deep breath, then sighed. “I’ll just tell everyone I had an acid flashback. I’ve got tenure.” He gave her a hesitant look. “What did you mean by —”
“Okay, Adam…” Laura was looking over his table. “There is still one thing I just don’t get…” She held up one of the text books. “What the fuck is up with the biology textbooks? These are like the nerdiest reading material in the world.”
“You should not make fun of the young man for trying to improve his understanding of the world.” The professor frowned at her.
“I have a vested interest in studying biology.” Adam sat down and pulled one of the textbooks over to him.
“Marine biology? You’re into fish?”
“Well, I did once turn into a great white shark and eat a werewolf.”
“What?” The professor stared.
“It’s really hard to get your hands on a tank in Florida.” Adam grinned.
She flipped open the textbook to the page he’d marked with a post-it note. “Okay, why are you fascinated with octop… She frowned. “Octopi? Octopod? What the hell is the plural for octopus?”
“Octopodes.” The professor glanced at the book.
“It’s latin.” Kravitz turned toward Adam.
“It’s actually greek.”
“Hey, he’s the history professor.” Laura pointed at Kravitz.
“And I can turn into an octopus.” Adam shrugged.
“Logically, however, that does not make either of us experts. We aren’t linguists.” Kravitz shrugged.
“Speak for yourself.” Adam grinned. “I’m rather cunning.”
“That…” Kravitz winced.
“Sorry.” Adam shrugged. “Couldn’t resist.”
Laura rolled her eyes. “So why the books?”
“I’m a shape-shifter.” Adam leaned back, taking a drink from his soda. “If I turn into a jellyfish, I can duplicate their toxin. I got curious as to how it works and started playing around with this thing I can…” He stood. “Let me show you something.” He flipped off the light, plunging the room into near darkness.
“Adam…” She started shaking her head, and then her eyes widened when he held up his hand. His skin began to glow, forming a pattern of swirling stripes. “Okay, that…” She stared. “Is just…” Impossible.
“Cool.” Kravitz was also staring.
The glow vanished, and Adam switched the lights back on. “Bio-luminescence. Seemed a safe enough thing to experiment with, rather than try to turn my sweat into poison or something.”
“When I shift into a werewolf, I can heal.” Adam shrugged. “Trying to figure out a way to duplicate that without having to wolf out cause…” He exhaled before rejoining them at the table. “I can’t do that one fast. Takes a good thirty seconds to go werewolf and that uh…”
Her eyes widened. He’d said the transformation hurt. “The glow thing, was that…” She looked down at his arm. “Did it hurt?”
“Kind of like sticking my arm in boiling water.”
“If it…” Kravitz stared. “Young man, why do it?”
“I’m a supernatural freak show, professor.” Adam took a long drink from his soda. “Might as well fuck around with it.”
He let Laura take the bed, and gestured for the professor to take the couch again. He simply shifted into the form of a cat and laid down by the door. That way nobody could open it without alerting him, and they were high enough up that he wasn’t particularly worried about anyone coming in the window.
The hag had claimed those of the supernatural world could recognize each other. It was instinctive. He and Patrick had certainly bonded quickly, even before either had known the other had a gift. His gift though, wasn’t the kind someone could discover by accident. The initial pain of the transformation would have stopped any kind of experimentation had it not been forced.
Wren had recognized him instinctively, and her power had taken hold of him. He’d seen a girl, new and uncertain, and greeted her with a joke. Like he had others. Wren had followed him into the lunchroom and… He stretched his paws and laid his head down on them. And he’d followed her to a table instead of to where he usually sat.
Except they had been good together. When he’d been painting landscapes, she’d packed picnic lunches for them and gone with him all sorts of places. She’d been there, listening and smiling proudly when he’d composed a piece of music, and had baked him his favorite cookies the first time his work had been rejected by a gallery. She’d spent hours reassuring him that particular gallery was staffed by the blind and stupid who couldn’t recognize quality when they saw it, and had insisted he take his work and try again rather than accepting the rejection. And when Bethany Clarkson had messed up one of his paintings Wren had broken her nose.
Sleep came, and he found himself dreaming of other days. Him and James, teaching Coraline how to climb a tree. He woke far too soon, and returned to human form before going out onto the balcony. The professor and Laura were both still asleep. He didn’t seem to need as much sleep these days. Outside, the city was blanketed in fog. It was almost like living inside a cloud. He shut the balcony door behind him, and sat, looking into the mist. Nearly half an hour past before the professor opened the door and stepped outside to join him. “Young man, I…” Kravitz sat down. “Are you alright?”
“My girlfriend is a witch and has been mindraping me since we were in junior high.” He put his feet up on the railing. “I’ve killed a hundred and eighteen people in the past year. Not all of them were bad guys.” He let out a bitter laugh. “And I kissed Laura.” He glanced at the professor. “You?”
“A shape-changing hit man and his arch enemy have teamed up to kidnap me in order to protect me from vampires and werewolves.” The professor leaned back and put his own feet on the railing. “Compared to you, I’m fine.”
“You should write Laura that letter of recommendation. She’s smart.”
“She terrifies me…” Kravitz glanced at the door. “Just a little.” He turned back to Adam. “It’s not like anyone will believe me if I tell them any of this, so if you need to talk, I…” He smiled. “You are taking considerable risks on my behalf.”
“I still love her.” Adam shook his head. “She made me kill the best friend I ever had, and part of me still fucking loves her. And I don’t know if any part of that is real or if it’s just…” He shook his head. “There was never anyone but Wren. I barely even noticed other girls and then I was dancing with Laura and…” He looked down at his hands. “And I don’t know if that’s real either, because she’s got a fucking succubus sharing her skull.”
“She…” Kravitz blinked. “She made you kill your friend?”
Adam rubbed his thumb into the palm of his other hand. “Patrick, uh…” He laughed a little. “He’s the guy who taught me how to shoot. How to…” He shrugged. “How to separate the levels. The tao of Roadhouse. Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Whenever possible, take it outside. And be nice.” He looked up. “Until it’s time to stop being nice. And don’t make it personal.”
“But he’s dead…” Kravitz slowly nodded. “So it’s personal.”
“Sima manipulated Wren rather than come at me directly. She wanted to teach me a lesson.” His smile was vicious. “I learned.” He shrugged. “Patrick was right about that part, too. Killing gets easier, whether you want it to or not. You want to know the really fucked up part, professor?” He laughed. “My consciousness, you see, it doesn’t live in my body. So short of finding some way to completely vaporize myself, I uh…” He shrugged. “I can’t even take that way out. I tried.”
“You’re not even twenty-one.” Kravitz stared at him. He shook his head. “I should be writing a letter of…”
“I’m a killer, Professor. I’m good at it. Part of me enjoys being good at it.”
“It doesn’t matter if you enjoyed it, young man, if it was done against your will.”
“I…” Adam stared at him. He swallowed, then took a few deep breaths. “Thank you, professor.”
It was nearly noon when they left the hotel room again. This time, they just took Kravitz with them rather than take the chance of someone wandering in and finding him. The professor knew the city well, and gave them the full historical tour. Laura glanced at Adam from time to time, and caught him watching her sometimes. As much as she wanted to talk to him about the kiss and about everything, she wasn’t sure what to say.
Darkness had settled over Golden Gate park when Adam fell into step next to her. “Will you let me go?”
“I can’t exactly stop you from leaving.” She shrugged. “I mean —”
“If you get the talisman…” He swallowed. “Will you let me go?”
“Yes. We’ll set you free.” She met his eyes. “Though, uh…” She hesitated a moment. “Though I hope you’ll stay.”
“It’s a ring, but I think only the gem is important. Wren wears it around her neck on a chain, because it’s too big for her and uh…” He took a deep breath. “I feel any damage done to it. She’s worried the trauma of having it resized or otherwise damaged would kill me.”
“Where is she?”
“France, usually, though she stays on the —”
Trouble. She held up a hand to cut him off as Erilon’s warning flooded her mind. “Erilon says we…” Several people began stepping out of the woods. She moved defensively in front of the professor as Adam moved defensively in front of her.
“Well now, look what we’ve got here.” The leader sneered.
What are we up against? Most of them are ordinary people, but at least two are witches. I won’t know what their powers are until they use them. But Laura, all of them are armed. “They’ve all got guns.”
“That’s, uh…” Adam took a deep breath. “A bit more trouble than I’d like.”
“Drop your weapons, hand over the professor, and nobody gets hurt.” The leader smirked, and he didn’t miss the leer the man sent at Laura.
“He’s lying.” Laura narrowed her eyes.
“Yeah. Got that.” Adam looked over the scene. The trouble was none of them were bullet-proof. Even if he did act as a shield, he could only defend one of them and from the look of what some of the guys were carrying the bullets would just go right through him. “The odds could be better.”
“You could start running.” The leader waved a hand. “Chasing is always fun.”
“Laura, he’s got a good suggestion. Grab the professor and run.” If he went big, he could give them enough cover and focus the fire on him.
“The three of us can take them.” Laura shrugged.
He and Kravitz both turned to give her a disbelieving look. “Unless you gave the professor here a tank when I wasn’t looking…”
“Oh.” Laura smiled. “I wasn’t counting him.” She pointed. “I was talking about him.”
Adam blinked when Gabriel quietly stepped out of the trees. “Gentlemen.” Gabriel looked over the scene. “Park closed to foot traffic fifteen minutes ago.”