“Okay, this Wren person?” Abigail leaned back on the couch, folding her arms. “She sounds like an utter bitch.”
“I cannot say I object to the notion of her getting her comeuppance.” Professor Kravitz accepted the tea Bridget handed him, then glanced at where Khait and Erilon were glaring at each other. Considering one of them was a glowing woman of fire reflected in a mirror, it was more than a little bit surreal. At least Khait had stopped glowing. “Adam is a good man.”
“That was our assessment as well.” Magda leaned on the back of the couch. “He saved someone very dear to me.” She took a deep breath. “Tomer, my crew and I will make sure your students stay safe. We wouldn’t ask if —”
“I already agreed.” Professor Kravitz glanced at Khait. “Admittedly, before I knew…” He exhaled. “Abigail, I…” He looked back at her. “Your boyfriend kills people by kissing them.”
“Only if they deserve it.” She winced a little. “We clarified that with him a lot.”
“I am not permitted to kill anyone that doesn’t register as at least a five on the scale of bad unless Bridget gives permission or it is necessary to save the life of another.” Khait didn’t stop glaring at Erilon.
“I don’t even want to know what registers to you on the scale of bad.” Erilon folded her arms.
“We clarified that with him a lot too.” Bridget nodded, then grabbed a notebook off a side table and offered it to the professor. “See?”
He took it and started flipping through it before paling a little. “Absolutely no killing professors for giving a failing grade?” He stared up at Abigail.
“Oh, you weren’t in danger from that.” She sat up and spoke hurriedly. “He likes you.”
“If we could get this back on —” Magda started to sigh.
“We should probably clarify where Matthias ranks on the scale, cause uh…” Laura tilted her head.
“Khait, no killing members of the…” Bridget blinked. “What was it again?”
“The Crimson Crusaders.” Laura grinned.
“Hang on, time out.” Abigail made the gesture, then pointed at Laura. “The vigilantes out in Washington are your people?”
“Who, exactly, are —” Professor Kravitz took a deep breath. “Alright, I’ve met Laura, Erilon, and Gabriel. Magda is obviously a werewolf. The others—”
“Werewolves and witches.” Erilon was still glaring at Khait. “Couple of full mortals in the group, but they either stay out of trouble or come packing a lot of ammo. Since you three are also mortals, you’ll be staying out of trouble as well.”
“Bridget and I can take care of ourselves.” Abigail shot her a dirty look.
“I can confirm that.” Khait nodded. Then he shrugged. “They manage to keep me in line most of the time. That’s more than anyone else has ever managed.”
“That’s not…” Erilon made a growling sound. “Entirely unimpressive.”
“Gee.” Bridget rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”
“I would feel more comfortable if we were heading down there.” Ash shifted the way Gabriel indicated. As much as he knew Magda was a werewolf, she was still his Magda and he didn’t like the thought of her being near anyone who could toss her halfway across the planet.
“Erilon was adamant we all stay here, and Magda backed her up.” Gabriel demonstrated the next position.
“Still, I would feel better if…” He gave Gabriel an awkward smile. “If you were there to protect her.” He shrugged. “Not like I could.”
“You underestimate yourself, Ash.” Gabriel moved behind him, then corrected his form with a few small touches. “I saw you fight for them.”
“Yeah, and I got tossed back out of the fight by Laura.” He shook his head.
“She was possessed at the time.” Gabriel shifted into the next form, and Ash hesitantly followed. “Michaels said you got the hang of making bullets.”
He left the form, and kicked one of the pads across the floor. “You don’t have to patronize me, Gabriel.” He exhaled.
“You’re right.” Gabriel took a deep breath, and nodded. “I apologize.”
Ash gave a bitter laugh. “Everyone else denies they are doing it.” He leaned on the wall. “I, uh…” He looked away. “Magda doesn’t want me to use a gun, in case I have an episode and panic and…” He rubbed his hands over his upper arms.
“Alright.” Gabriel nodded, and walked over to a cabinet. “No guns.” He opened the cabinet, and pulled a couple items from it. Then he tossed Ash one.
“I…” He looked down at the wooden practice sword, then back up at Gabriel with an annoyed look. “Seriously?”
“Hello…” Gabriel raised his own blade, then pointed it at Ash. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Laughter bubbled out of him, and he shifted his hands to the blade’s hilt. A few memories came back, and he blinked back tears. His father had taken him to the Star Wars movies, then spared with him with toy lightsabers. He’d even signed Ash up for a fencing class and had taken it with him. He closed his eyes, and spent a moment enjoying the memory. It brought a smile to his face. Then he took a deep breath. “There is no emotion, there is peace.”
“There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.”
His smile widened. Somehow, it didn’t come as a surprise that Gabriel would know the Jedi code. He assumed the starting stance for a fencing match. This was a sword rather than a foil, and the grip was different. But it seems as good a way to start as any. “There is no passion, there is serenity.”
“There is no chaos, there is harmony.” Gabriel gave him an approving nod.
“There is no death, there is the Force.” Ash raised the blade, and came in for an attack.
Gabriel parried easily. “Wrists, not shoulders.” He continued giving instruction as they moved through the impromptu practice circle.
Sweat dripped off him as he parried Gabriel’s strike, using the form Gabriel had just shown him. He was about to try the counter strike when the door suddenly opened and Daniel stumbled through. He stared at them a moment. “Oh, you’re wearing…” Then he turned bright red. “They said you were doing yoga and I thought…
“Woof.” Ash rolled his eyes.
“Woof indeed.” Gabriel sighed.
“Dragons are real.” Professor Kravitz stared at the table in front of him.
“There are nine of them.” Magda nodded.
“Only nine?” He looked up
“There were twelve.” Khait was sitting, Abigail in his lap. It kept him from glaring at Erilon, which was something of a relief. Having two of the most powerful beings she’d even encountered making it clear they wanted to rip each other to shreds was very disturbing.
Then what he’d just said clicked in her mind. “Wait, what?”
“Khait.” Erilon gave him an annoyed look.
Magda stared. “I’d heard, I mean, there were stories that there were ten, and the other nine had to come together to…”
“They did that to prevent the mess that occurred with the other two.” Khait shrugged.
“That was eons ago.” Erilon gave him an impatient look. “Humans hadn’t figured out how to bang rocks together when all that happened.”
“Wow.” Laura gave a small laugh. “You know, sometimes I forget how old you are.” She shook her head. “I mean, didn’t Ryuu say once that he like, remembered the Jurassic period or something?”
“He wasn’t Ryuu then.” Khait leaned back. “Energies coalesced, becoming…” He waved a hand. “Well, you could call them souls, I suppose. It’s as close as you can really come to the concept. They were given shape —”
“Given?” Professor Kravitz. “They didn’t become?”
“The greatest became the dragons, the lesser the fey.” Khait put his arms around Abigail. “Humans came some time after that, the rotten little upstarts.” He smiled up at Abigail affectionately, and the young woman bent her head to kiss him.
“So the fey killed the other two dragons.” Magda nodded. “Guess that’s why they aren’t around anymore.”
“You could say that.” Erilon shrugged.
“But you’d be wrong.” Khait ran his fingers through Abigail’s braids. “Sadly, the fey were driven out mostly by humans, after the dragons convinced the fey to lay down their role of shepherds. Some kinds were actually killed off entirely.”
“I guess when you are immortal, you can play the long game.” Bridget shrugged, then glanced at Magda. “If you’re as old as you claim, how come you don’t know about this already?”
“Because the dragons prefer some things be kept secret.” Erilon shot another glare at Khait. “And are willing to go to extremes at times to keep said secrets.”
“But the fey…” Bridget slowly nodded. “They can kill dragons.” She sketched her finger along the table. “So the dragons ensured they were out of the picture by sicing humans on them. But the dragons keep each other in check.” She shrugged. “I guess that’s good.”
“Well, it’s not exactly like they have a choice in the matter.” Khait looked up.
“You need to stop talking.” Erilon narrowed her eyes.
“If you think your people are too stupid or untrustworthy to know the facts, Erilon, I can always ship them back to the Sahara.” Khait rolled his eyes.
“I am trying…” Erilon flamed brighter. “To protect them.”
“Right. Well, let’s make sure they are really safe. We can rip out their souls and lock them in a crypt for five centuries.”
“There are rules, Khait!”
“Not all of us crawled back on our bellies, Erilon.” Khait’s eyes started glowing again.
Professor Kravitz put two fingers in his mouth and let out a loud whistle. Both demons jerked their heads around to look at him. “Unless you two have something to add to the actual conversation, do stop interrupting.”
“Yes, professor.” Erilon inclined her head.
“He’s cute when he gets forc —” Khait cut off when Abigail smacked him in the back of the head. “You’re cuter.” He pulled her down for another kiss.
“Magda just called.” Stephan caught hold of the rail and headed down the stairs. His leg felt stiff after a couple hours on the computer. “They’ve more or less hashed out a working plan and are on their way back.” He looked over at Matthias. “Think you and Michaels can fit all the gear you want into a five by five by ten shipping crate?”
“Well…” It was Michaels who answered. “Not all the gear we want, no…”
“But Gabriel won’t let us have any drones, so, yeah, probably all the gear we are actually bringing.” Matthias nodded.
“I don’t even think I want to know where you would get drones.” Stephan started to head to the camper, then stopped. He frowned. “Okay, does that restriction include camera drones, cause if it does…”
“You can fit your little toy into your carry-on.” Matthias rolled his eyes. “Let Daniel know they’ll be back for dinner.”
Ted poked the chicken with his fork, then sighed. Normally, this was his favorite dish. And his favorite restaurant. And his favorite dinner partner. He sighed again, then reached for his wine. “Twenty three.”
He blinked, then looked up at Gabriel. “Twenty-three?”
“You have sighed twenty-three times since we sat down.” Gabriel set his fork down. “I’m starting to think I may be poor company.”
“No.” Ted smiled. “No, you’re never…” He swallowed a sip of wine, then gave a small shrug. “Even if everything goes perfectly, you’re still going to be gone for a month.” He barely stopped himself from sighing. “And if things don’t go perfectly, I’ll be an ocean away from being able to help.” He set the glass back down.
Gabriel reached over and put his hand atop Ted’s. Ted turned his wrist over so he could grasp Gabriel’s hand. “I need you to stay safe, Ted.”
“When you…” It was hard, remembering how it had been when Gabriel’s eyes glowed. When it wasn’t Gabriel standing in front of him. “What if it happens again?” He blinked back tears. “Twice I’ve almost lost you. I don’t…” He took a ragged breath.
“I don’t need to shave anymore.”
The change of subject made him blink. “Gabriel?”
“Before…” He rubbed a thumb over Ted’s hand. “I had to get up in the morning, shave off fuzz. Not that I ever had a lot of it, but I did get whiskers after a couple days, if I didn’t shave.”
At least twice a week he woke up next to Gabriel. He saw him every day. He didn’t notice whiskers, and he saw none now. “You don’t shave anymore.”
“Not since…” He looked away, and took a deep breath before looking back. “And the last time I had a haircut was two weeks before the others first rolled into town.”
That brought his head up. Gabriel’s hair still looked the same. Long enough to run his fingers through, to grasp and use to direct his head, but short enough to be neat and professional. As it had been for the last… “Gabriel.”
“I’m twenty six, Ted, and uh…” Gabriel exhaled. “And I think I’m not going to get any older.” He looked up, though he couldn’t quite meet Ted’s eyes. “I don’t know what that means, for anything or for…” He swallowed. “For us.”
“I’m over fifty, Gabriel. I just…” He felt tears pricking at the back of his eyes. “I just want you for as long…” He trailed off.
“You took the weekend off, right?” Gabriel looked up at him.
“Yes, I figured —”
“Call the others. Let them know we won’t be home tonight.” Gabriel signaled for the server to bring their check.
“Gabriel…” He gave an embarrassed chuckle. “My place is overrun with werewolves and Stephan and Michaels turned your place into a lab.”
“I know.” Gabriel smiled. “That’s why we aren’t going home tonight.”