He could hear the groan of the metal through the water as the cage was ripped nearly in half. Silt swirled up around them, making it impossible to see what was at the cage. Greg felt Yala’s arms around him tighten, then he felt the other man shift into his fully aquatic form. A kick of the powerful tail, and they were rocketing through the water away from the cage. He wrapped his arms around Yala and hung on for dear life.
They came up together some distance from shore, with Yala shifting into the amphibious form as he surfaced. “What…” Greg glanced at him, and saw Yala giving a huge smile. Xue’s ship was being dragged out in the other direction at a rapid speed. “Yala?”
“She came.” Yala laughed. “She came.”
“Are you alright, Greg?” Yala touched his cheek.
“I’m freezing, but yeah.” Greg nodded.
“Yes.” Yala frowned. “Humans should be warmer than you are now.” He shifted his grip on Greg and then began pulling him back toward the shore.
“How about you?” Greg adjusted his position so he could kick with his own legs, as much to get his blood flowing again as to help Yala propel them. “Are you alright?”
“I am tired.” Yala nodded. “I need to sleep, but then…” He glanced at Greg. “I will be fine.”
“Right.” Greg exhaled. “Let’s find a safe place to hole up and contact the girls.”
Natalya started the jeep. They were far enough from the arriving cop cars that they should be fine. She glanced over her shoulder at Phil. He exhaled, then nodded. “Head back to the garage. We don’t want anyone knowing we were involved in this.” He hesitated a moment. “I’ll claim Xue’s men were the ones that took me hostage.”
“Xue is going to still be trouble.” Adele gave a worried look over in the direction of the flashing lights as Natalya started down the road. “Don’t go too far. We want to be able to pick Greg and Yala up.”
“They won’t have phones.” Phil settled back in the seat. “We should have set up a meeting point or something if we got separated.”
“In a pinch, Greg has my email address memorized.” Natalya turned onto the road. He’s okay, she told herself again. Greg will be okay. Then she pulled over, and leaned her face against the steering wheel.
Phil’s hand touched her shoulder. “Hey.” He gestured for her to move to the back. Adele sat beside her, wrapping her arms around her as Phil moved to the driver’s seat.
They were still a few hundred feet from the shore when he started to falter. Greg turned onto his back so he could pull Yalathanil close to him, then he got them the rest of the way to shore. Yalathanil shifted to human, but that effort took the last of his energy. He tried to get his legs under him and failed. Greg bent, and simply picked him up. “Greg…”
“You’ve done your part.” Greg smiled at him. “I can take it from here.” He carried Yalathanil up into the trees. The other man was still shivering from the time beneath the water, but the air around them was warm.
“Yes.” Yalathanil let himself relax. It was still a little strange, realizing that a human he’d known only a short time was the person he quite possibly trusted most in the world. Greg set him down gently as soon as they were out of sight of the water. “I need…” He swallowed.
“Rest a bit.” Greg sat down next to him, then pulled him close. “I’ll keep an eye, and wake you in an hour.”
He raised a hand to caress Greg’s face, then nodded before putting his head on Greg’s shoulder as the other man pulled him all the way into his lap. Yalathanil smiled as he closed his eyes.
“Okay, well…” Phil sat down on the edge of the desk. “We wiped the guns clean, which…” He exhaled. “Which means the only person they could trace back to is Jim.”
“Who apparently doesn’t actually own this garage.” Adele folded her arms. She’d given Octopus to that man. She sighed. “Who does?”
“According to my Google…” Natalya looked down at the phone’s screen. “Something called ‘Gungnir Industrial’.” She sighed. “And still nothing from Greg or Yala.”
“We’ve only been back here half an hour.” Phil gave her a reassuring smile. Then he held out his hand. Natalya stared at him a moment. Phil sighed. “Nat, I need to call in. To…” He exhaled. “At the very least, ensure that if Greg and Yala get picked up nobody thinks they are copkillers.”
“Yeah.” She handed him the phone.
Adele ran a hand through her hair. “I should call my dad. Tell him…” She leaned forward. “Tell him I can walk again because a mermaid healed me and by the way we may be in a huge mess of legal trouble and we just finished disposing of a lot of weapons that were used in a…” She waved a hand. “Whatever the hell we want to call that.”
“Clusterfuck?” Natalya sat down next to her.
“Yeah.” She leaned onto Natalya, and felt the other woman lean back. Across the room, Phil was pacing as he talked. From his facial expression, the conversation wasn’t going as badly as they’d feared. She heard him giving and then confirming Xue’s name. “Think we can actually take Xue down?”
“We have to.” Natalya nodded. “Or else he’s going to keep coming after us.”
He looked at where the line had been sheared. “I thought you said this could handle several tons.”
“It can.” The mercenary was staring at the line with a slightly dumbfounded expression on his face. “Sir, I’ve seen tanks use this shit to play tug of war and it held up.”
“But that’s definitely broken.” Xue frowned. “Not cut.”
“Yes.” The man glanced at the surface of the water. “No way anything big enough to do that is in that lake. It’d take a fucking megaladon and…” He shook his head. “Sir, it hauled this boat halfway across the lake with the engines going full steam.”
Xue took a few deep breaths. “Get us to the docks.” Sael was a merfolk. “Tell our people to collect Sael. He has some things to answer for.” He could still extract his cure. Sael needed him and his contacts. “Did Genna get clear?”
“Yes, sir.” He was answered by a man behind him. “They already checked in. They’ll be waiting for us at the helicopter.”
“Tell her to go on ahead.” Xue shook his head. “I need Genna back at the office as soon as possible. We’ll catch another flight.”
“Yes, sir.” The man hesitated a moment. “Sir, what about the women?”
“I…” Xue rubbed his head. “Find them. Bring them in. Alive, if possible.” Adele’s familial relations could still be a problem for him. “Adele, especially.”
Keeping on watch with a sleeping Yala in his arms was proving a little more difficult than he’d anticipated. Greg brushed a little of Yala’s hair back from his face. Fortunately, Yala didn’t snore. Yala had come back for him. Greg smiled down at the man in his arms.
Then his head came up sharply when he heard a twig crack. A tall, elegant looking woman stood a few feet away, her skin so dark as to nearly be jet. Her hair was done in braids, each decorated with beads and bits of metal, and she wore what looked to be a pale blue sarong. Not exactly someone he was expecting to meet in the rural woods of Michigan. “Uh…”
She smiled. “Are you both alright?” There was something oddly familiar about her voice.
“We…” He blinked. “Who…” In his arms, Yala stirred. Greg loosened his hold as Yala turned toward the woman.
Then Yala’s body went still for a moment before he smiled. “Grandmother.”
Okay. That was… Maybe family resemblance meant something different to merfolk. “Grandmother?” Greg looked at Yala.
Yala started to stand, but stumbled a little. Greg steadied him before rising himself. “You came.”
“You called.” She inclined her head gracefully. “I trust the situation warranted my involvement?”
“Saelethil…” Yala showed his teeth. “Is my mother alive?”
“Yes.” The woman nodded. “I had a friend…” She twitched a shoulder. “Request her assistance on a matter. Saelethil dares not directly incur his wrath.” She lifted her gaze and focused her warm brown eyes on him. “You are Greg.”
“Yes, uh…” He hesitated a moment. “Ma’am.”
“Yalathanil claims you saved his life.” She smiled.
Greg shook his head. “He had that a little backwards.” He glanced at Yala. “He saved mine.”
“There were others with us.” Yala frowned. “Do you know if —”
Her face darkened slightly, but her voice was reassuring. “They are safe, for now. There will be political fallout from this. I fear…” She sighed. “Your lady friends will be easy enough to cover for, as it seems your other companion…” She nodded at Greg. “Has borne the brunt of Xue’s maneuvering. I am limited in what I can do to aid him on that front.”
“Uh…” Greg glanced at Yala.
He got an odd look in response, and then Yala’s eyes widened. “No. You were not there. You got yourself shot.” Yala chuckled a little. “Saving Jim. This —”
“Clarify.” The woman interrupted, her voice firm.
“Clarify?” Yala blinked as he turned back to her.
“He got shot…” She folded her arms, and her eyes seemed to glow just slightly. “Saving Jim?”
“That was a very foolish thing to have been allowed to happen.” Her eyes narrowed. Yala tilted his head and gave her a confused look. She waved a hand at him as though telling him to continue.
He hesitated a moment, then turned back to Greg. “This is my grandmother, Mbaba. She of the sunrise wings.”
“Sunrise…” Greg gave him a confused look. Yala certainly didn’t have wings. Did he? “Wings?”
“I…” Mbaba inclined her head toward him again. “Am a dragon, young man.” She turned. “Come. Both of you. It would be better if the authorities did not find you.”
They had a story worked out. And people were believing it. That was good. Natalya rubbed her hands against her arms. There was still no sign of Greg or Yala, but divers had found the cage. The door had apparently been ripped off. They’d all played dumb on that, and the whole merfolk thing hadn’t come up in conversation at all.
Their story was that they’d taken part in an experimental treatment for Adele, only to end up with some unscrupulous individuals coming after them to drag them back to the lab. She was pretty sure if Phil hadn’t backed them up, nobody would have believed it. Phil’s badge and testimony that all of them had been kidnapped by Xue was going a long way, as had a telephone call to Adele’s father.
Everyone had still been skeptical until about an hour ago. Then apparently someone had discovered a link between Xue’s company and a human organ trafficking ring, and things had sort of spiraled from there. If she knew Greg and Yala were alright, she’d probably be feeling pretty good about now.
She looked up to see Adele’s father, Richard, enter. One of the police officers started to say something to him, only to nearly get barreled out of the way as the congressman rushed toward his daughter. He stopped in his tracks when Adele stood up to greet him. “Oh…” Tears were visible in his eyes. “Oh, baby girl.” He closed the last few feet to pick her up in a hug.
Despite everything, the sight made her smile. She felt someone next to her, and looked to see Phil. He too, was smiling. “You okay, Nat?”
“Any sign of Greg or Yala?” She fumbled for his hand, and felt him squeeze hers in return.
“Nothing yet.” He sighed. “I’m choosing to consider that a good sign.” He turned toward her. “Xue made it onto a helicopter, but they arrested a couple of his men. They are interrogating them now, but based on what we have so far, neither Greg or Yala were recaptured.”
“Hopefully they are just laying low.” She took a deep breath. Yala could heal them, but she had no idea of he could heal himself. “They could be hurt.”
“We’ll find them, Nat.” He squeezed her hand again.
“Are you fired?” She turned toward him.
“Officially I just rescued a congressman’s daughter.” He chuckled. “I think my boss is going to beat me to death with a medal.”