“Do you think he’s right?” Gabriel looked up from washing his face to catch Michaels’ eyes in the mirror.
“I don’t know.” Michaels folded his arms as he leaned on the post. If this Merlin fellow new about Gabe, then… “You can’t go to meet Merlin.”
“I wasn’t planning on it.” Gabriel shook his head before grabbing a clean shirt.
“Good.” Michaels exhaled. “Because I am not explaining to Ted that I let you get yourself in trouble.”
“You’re adorable.” Khait snickered.
Michaels rolled his eyes. “Somebody has to look out for the rookie.” He hesitated a moment. “Even if said rookie does have a pale horse in the stable. Shit, Gabe.”
“I am not pleased about this information having been shared.” Erilon manifested in the mirror, arms folded and fiery eyes glaring at Khait.
“Lying is a minimum of 0.1 on the scale of bad.” Khait folded his arms and glared right back. “And lying to friends is worse.”
“It’s not relevant.” Gabriel shook his head.
“How is it not relevant?” Michaels stared at him. “Gabe —”
“As long as the seals are intact, that part of me is beyond reach.” Gabriel leaned on the sink. “Erilon may be able to pull up other parts of my nature, but she cannot reach that one.”
“You have…” Khait lowered his arms. “Absolutely no idea how relieved I am to hear that.”
“Relieved?” Michaels shook his head. “Okay, speaking from the perspective of the only mortal in this room —”
“Did you not explain it to him?” Khait turned back toward Erilon.
“Michaels…” Gabriel took a deep breath. “If that aspect comes into play, it won’t be me driving. The other…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Michaels that part of me drew a sword on Ted.”
“Wait, what?” Michaels felt his stomach twist into a knot. “But Ted called you back, he…”
“Ted is an innocent.” Erilon’s voice was soft. “So is Ash. The rest of you…” She gave a small shake of her head. “I understand why you nearly beat that junkie to death, Michaels. Gabriel…” Her pronunciation of the name was different.
“I’d rather not risk your blood on my hands, Michaels.” Gabriel met his eyes. “You’re family.” He glanced at where Khait was standing.
“Oh I would be so dead.” Khait ran a hand down his face.
“Yep.” Gabriel just nodded. “For that matter, so would Erilon.”
“Oh.” Michaels sighed. “You know, I was so happy at learning we had a nuke on our side I didn’t think about the fallout.”
“If Adam is a Nephilim…” Khait lowered his hand.
“I’m not going to hurt Adam.” Gabriel immediately shook his head.
“Gabriel no one knows better than I do how difficult it is to resist the power of a talisman. That he has done it for so long is…” Khait took a deep breath. “I admire him. I’ll go so far as to say I like him. But…” He gave a small shake of his head. “I was there during those wars, brother. I’ll teleport that boy into the sun before I let something like that happ —”
“Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside the Father’s care.” Gabriel looked up at Khait.
Khait managed to hold Gabriel’s gaze for only a couple heartbeats before turning away. “Two for a penny.” Khait sighed. “And damn the cost.” He looked down at his feet. “I’m not going up against Merlin. Not —”
“Usariel.” Gabriel put a hand on Khait’s shoulder. “Please.”
“I…” He closed his eyes. Then he shrugged. “Fuck. Not like I’m just going to leave Bridget and Abigail anyway.” He opened his eyes again. “They’ve got that stupid human compassion heroism thing, just like that guy there.” He waved a hand at Michaels. “I hate that thing.”
Gabriel chuckled before patting his cheek in an affectionate gesture. “No, you don’t.”
“Shut up.” Khait glared at him, but a smile danced on the edge of his mouth.
Wren hung up the phone, then looked up as Merlin entered. She smiled. “The site is pretty busy. It’s going to take him a bit of time to isolate the guy and get him out without anybody spotting him.”
Merlin chuckled. “They’ll be here tonight, my dear.”
She blinked. “You’re sure?”
“I am.” He nodded.
“I got to say…” She grinned. “I’m looking forward to getting some payback on this —”
“No.” Merlin shook his head.
“No?” She blinked. “Master, he killed —”
“I’m aware of what tangling with him has cost, dear girl.” He sat down across from her. “Had I known the extent of what was going on in Washington I would have ordered you not to set foot in the place. I am…” He exhaled. “Not pleased that the Cabal has drawn his attention.”
“What do you want me to do?” She leaned forward eagerly.
“I want you to loan me the talisman.” He held out his hand.
“I…” She frowned, then took the chain off her neck and put the talisman into his hand. “Why?”
He examined it a moment before putting it around his own neck. “Adam is more useful than he fully realizes.” He took a deep breath. “Do not use your powers on Gabriel.”
“Wren.” His voice became firmer. “Under absolutely no circumstances are you or anyone else to take any action that could damage Gabriel’s mortal shell.”
“His…” She sat up straight again. “Mortal shell?”
“As a human, he is contained. Bound. Freeing him from those bonds would be…” Merlin stood. “A mistake.”
“What do you intend to do then?” She also rose.
“Negotiate.” Merlin shrugged. “And when that fails…” He turned toward her, then touched the talisman. “Negotiate more…” He chuckled. “Strenuously.”
Adam laughed. “A sword.”
Ash grinned back, then offered him one of the swords, hilt first. “Want to try?”
He glanced at Stephan, then shook his head. “Got a pretty short leash at the moment.” He glanced at where his mom was talking to Magda. “Don’t want to abuse Stephan’s good nature.”
“Eh, he’s a pushover.” Laura put her hand on his shoulder. He smiled at her and saw her smile back. One of her braids had come loose from the bundle, and it took almost more self-control than he had not to reach up and fix it.
“In the sense that I am unfortunately easy to push over…” Stephan shrugged, then went back to staring at his computer screen. “That said, Adam, I’ve got a better handle on my range than I used to. I can cover the circle.”
“Swords aren’t exactly my style.” He shrugged. “Stasya showed me knives, but uh…” He looked down at his hands. “It’s mostly the tooth and claw thing.”
“Or snakes.” Ash frowned. “That wasn’t fun.”
“Yeah, sorry about…” He winced when Laura lightly smacked him in the back of the head.
“What did we tell you about apologizing?” Laura rolled her eyes at him. “You…” She winced as his mom smacked her in the back of the head.
“Don’t hit my son.” Lidia smiled at her.
“Yes, ma’am.” Laura returned the smile. “Did you teach him how to dance?”
“Laura…” Adam started shaking his head. He could feel a little bit of heat rising in his cheeks.
“No, that was his Dad.” Lidia put her arm around his waist. “I taught him to sing and play the guitar.” She looked up at him. “Do you still play?”
“Not uh…” He sighed. “Not as much as I used to.” Wren had bought him a Les Paul and made him play for her a few times, but fortunately she’d gotten distracted again. Performing like a trained monkey had taken some of the joy out of the music.
“We uh…” Lidia took a deep breath. “We still have your things. I couldn’t…” She wiped at her eyes. “I couldn’t bear to clean out your rooms. Yours or James’s. All your stuff is in boxes, in a storage place in Vegas.” She took a ragged breath. “You should see the museum. Coraline helped put it together.”
“I will.” He kissed the top of her head. “I will.”
Matthias was going over the map again, frowning. Daniel raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?”
“Merlin.” Matthias exhaled. “Boss, I annoyed Ryuu, and he set me on fire with less than a flick of his fingers. Khait is…” He looked up. “Guy teleported Mom halfway across the planet in the blink of an eye, and Isis was able to rip his soul out.” He looked down at the map. “Boss I cannot even begin to describe how much I don’t want to take you into a situation that is going to get a dragon pissed off at us.”
“Matthias, the Cabal…” He sat down. “They…” He put his hand on top of Matthias’s. “They destroyed my family. How many others have they…?” He leaned back. “I can’t help thinking about Adam’s friends. Patrick and Stasya.”
“Or Father Williams.” Daniel sighed. “He was part of the Cabal once. Thought he was —”
“Thought he was fighting monsters.” Matthias put his hands behind his head and stretched his neck back. “Like me.”
“Adam said Patrick joined because vampires killed his brother.” Daniel looked down. “If we cut off the head, maybe the others can find a better path. Maybe…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe we can help them find a better path.”
“Boss, I don’t do so hot with the whole —”
“I was thinking more your mom, actually.” He looked up at Matthias.
“Oh, well, then…” Matthias smiled before bending down to kiss him. “That makes a lot more sense. Maybe Ted as well. Father Williams.” He exhaled.
“We just have to kill a dragon.” Daniel twined his fingers around Matthias’s. “Or, you know, cheer Gabriel on while he does.”
Khait looked up. “Michaels. Did you —?”
“I’m worried about Gabe.” Michaels folded his arms. “And what you said the other night.”
“Yes, well…” Khait leaned back. “I’m not sure —”
“You’re his brother.” Michaels sat down across from him.
He hesitated a moment. Then he nodded before looking up at Michaels again. “So are you.”
“Why, uh…” Michaels gave a small shake of his head. “No, I won’t ask. I tried to ask Erilon, and now she’s not talking to —”
“You want to know why we are demons.” Khait exhaled.
“You implied he is breaking rules by being here.” Michaels looked up. “I want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to him, cause…”
“Because that would be apocalyptic at best.” Khait nodded. “Gabriel, he, uh…” Khait looked away again. “He won’t do what I did. It’s not…” He shook his head.
“You can’t —”
“Gabriel could solve a lot of problems by eliminating Adam from the picture.” Khait stood. “And he knows it.” He looked back at Michaels. “But he won’t. He…” Khait looked down at his hands.
“Hero Boy.” Michaels nodded. “Every step of the way.”
“He’s not angry at me.” Khait clenched his hands into fists, then exhaled. Then he nodded. “If this is important to my brother, then I’m in.” He smiled at Michaels. “I’m in.”
“Past few years…” Michaels nodded. “I’ve done more good at his side than I ever thought possible. So yeah, if he wants this fight…” Michaels smiled. “I’m in.”
“Well, then…” Khait put a hand on Michaels’ shoulder. “I hate to break this to you, but uh…” He grinned. “I think you and I are going to be friends.”
“Well…” Michaels returned the grin. “Shit.”
He was sitting at the table, waiting, when the figure entered the tent. “I’m sorry.” Gabriel looked up. “I’d hoped Stephan’s power would be enough.”
Adam’s eyes were a little wet. “Me too, but uh…” He took a ragged breath. “It’s not Wren holding it right now.” He gave a small shake of his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t…” He shook his head. “I have orders.”
“I know.” Gabriel stood up.
“Please…” Adam exhaled. “I don’t…”
“It’s a hostage situation.” Gabriel nodded.
“No, I don’t want to hurt —” Adam started shaking his head again. “Please don’t make me…”
“It’s alright, Adam.” Gabriel put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “I won’t let them hurt you.”