Wren set the orb down, then stretched. Her muscles protested a bit, and she glanced at the clock. Then she glanced at it again. She’d been there almost two hours. It was far too easy to lose track of time when focusing on the orb. She started for the wet bar, then heard a slight coughing sound. A glance over her shoulder revealed the source. “Sybille.” She smiled as she poured a drink. “Did you have something for me?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sybille stepped all the way into the room. “You asked us to keep tabs on the Wu family.”
“I did.” Wren nodded. Apparently, Lidia had flown somewhere recently, but she’d been flagged as acting as Ryuu’s agent. Which meant she was untouchable at the moment. “I already know about Lidia.” She’d really never liked that old prude.
“Ma’am…” Sybille held out a document. “Coraline Wu got on a plane to Holland two days ago. Our info says she arrived there yesterday morning.”
She snatched the document out of Sybille’s hand and frowned at it. “Three tickets purchased together. Jim Gordon and Adele Miller?” The names weren’t familiar. She shook her head, then handed the document back to Sybille. “Have all three of them brought back here.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Sybille nodded before turning to leave.
“Coraline is to be unharmed.” Wren called after her. Then she grinned as she took a drink. Adam was going to be thrilled to see his sister again.
Bridget stared. “I can’t believe you seriously gave Ash a list.”
“Please.” Khait waved a hand. “Picking up on —”
“No, I can believe you picked up on some of the ladies checking Stephan out…” Bridget rolled her eyes. “I just can’t believe you actually compiled an organized list.”
“I…” Khait opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Then he shook his head and glared at her. “You are a very bad influence.”
Abigail snickered, then switched position so her feet were in Khait’s lap. He removed her shoes and began rubbing them. “I think it was sweet. I like Stephan. He seems like a nice guy.” She shrugged. “And he is kind of cute.” She blinked, then sat up a little to look at Khait. “Why’d you stop?”
“I was suddenly struck with a sensation I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before.” Khait tilted his head to the side.
“What sensation is that?” Bridget sat down. They were dealing with a lot of magical forces, and she had let people handle the ring. If somebody had messed with Khait…
“No, it’s just…” He went back to rubbing Abigail’s feet. “When Abigail said…” He twitched his shoulder. “I felt a momentary loathing for Stephan.”
“You…” Bridget’s eyes widened. Then she started laughing. “That’s called jealousy, Khait.”
“That…” Khait frowned. “Huh.”
“Wait…” Abigail sat up. “I fucked guys on the bed next to your unconscious body, and yet this is what made you jealous?”
“Well, you never expressed attraction to them.” Khait shook his head, then sighed. “I do admit this seems completely irrational.”
“Oh…” Abigail sat up, grabbed Khait’s head, and pulled him to her for a kiss. “Khait.”
“Does it make you jealous when I check out Abigail?” Bridget raised an eyebrow.
“Of course not.” Khait kissed Abigail again before looking up at Bridget. “You’re my best friend.”
“I…” She swallowed. Then she laughed before shifting to join them on the couch. Khait’s arm went around her shoulders. “Does this mean I get foot rubs too?”
“Your wish is my command.” He grinned at her.
Ash grinned as he tucked the list away. Magda just rolled her eyes at him but smiled. The smile faded after a moment. “Ash, if…”
“If he’s not ready, I won’t push.” Ash looked up at her, then hesitated a moment. “I, uh…” He looked away again. “When you were gone, I woke up next to Stephan and um…” He exhaled. “I don’t like men.”
“Ash?” Magda blinked. “What…”
“I don’t know.” He sighed, then moved to sit on the cot. “I love you, and I love being with you. I…” He shrugged. He’d practiced the words in his head a dozen times, but now… It was all he could do to speak human words. “I fucked Adam.”
“Excuse me?” Magda stared at him.
“Please don’t be mad.” He sat up, holding a hand out to her. “It wasn’t, I mean…”
“When…” Magda slowly nodded. “Is that what you mean, when you said Adam let you hurt him instead of…” When he nodded, she reached up to touch his cheek. “Oh, Ash. I won’t hold anything they made you do against you, ever.”
He smiled, then put his hand on top of hers. “I don’t like men. I mean, I thought maybe I’d be attracted to Adam again, after, but…” He shook his head, then shrugged awkwardly. “But when I woke up next to Stephan, I wanted him.”
“You love Stephan, and he loves you.” Magda leaned forward to kiss his forehead. “It’s perfectly normal for you to be attracted to someone you love, even if you wouldn’t otherwise be attracted to someone like them.” She rubbed her thumb over his cheek. “I loved a woman once, until the day she died.”
“So it’s not…” Ash stared at her a moment. “It’s not because I’m fucked up?”
“Oh god, Ash.” Magda shook her head. “No. No, there is nothing wrong with feeling the way you do. It’s normal.” She sighed, then moved her hand to the back of his neck before pulling him close to her. “So, who on the list did you have in mind?”
“Khait said the redhead, Liz, can speak Klingon.” Ash snuggled into her.
Matthias moved as quietly as he could, trying not to wake the others in the room. Of all the things to forget to grab. He winced when the trunk made a slight squealing sound, then glanced over his shoulder. He started to look inside the trunk for the lube, then felt a chill go down his spine. The trunk lid slid out of his fingers and closed with a thud. The man on the cot didn’t move. “Fuck.” He rushed over to where Stephan was laying, then fumbled to put his fingers on the man’s throat.
A sigh of relief escaped him when he felt the faint pulse. His eyes went back to the empty cot. “Erilon.”
“Matthias, what…” The light in the tent abruptly came on. “Oh, no.”
“Get Daniel in here, now, and alert the —”
“Already on it.” He saw lights starting to come on in the surrounding tents. “I will…” The light bulb burst, sending a shower of glass.
“Gabriel isn’t here.”
Michaels paced, trying not to give into the urge to hit something. “I thought you were tracking everyone.”
“I was —”
“Then where is he?”
“Enough.” Khait’s voice answered before Erilon’s could. “There is nothing she can do if he chose to shut her out of his head.” Khait exhaled. “Just like I can’t find him to teleport to him if he doesn’t want me to.” He glanced at Bridget. “Even if Bridget wishes me to.”
“You, uh…” He sighed. “You tried that already, then.”
“The moment the alarm went up.” Bridget nodded from where she sat cross-legged next to Abigail.
His eyes went to where Lidia sat between Ash and Magda, tears flowing out of her eyes. Ahit stood behind the woman, though she had a hand on Lidia’s shoulder. Apparently, the situation was grave enough for Ahit not to be objecting to Matthias’s presence. He started to open his mouth when the tent opened, and Daniel entered, followed by Professor Kravitz. “How is Stephan?”
“My magic just slid off him as usual, but I was able to get enough of a read to say he’s going to be fine.” Daniel glanced at Magda, who let out an audible sigh of relief. “The Professor…” Daniel glanced at the other man. “He, um…”
Professor Kravitz rubbed the back of his neck. “Adam made a study of sea creatures, and made a reference to being able to duplicate neurotoxins.”
“Adam wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Lidia started shaking her head. “He wouldn’t —”
“No one is suggesting Adam did it willingly, ma’am.” Matthias nodded in her direction. He took a deep breath. “Though that raises another question.” He looked up, briefly meeting Michaels’ eyes before looking around the room. “Did he knock Gabriel out too, or did, uh…”
“You think Gabe went with him willingly?” Michaels stared at him.
“No.” Daniel held up a hand. “But if Gabriel had to choose between going with him or them using the talisman to force Adam to hurt someone here…” He glanced at Lidia before continuing. “Or using the talisman to threaten Adam himself?” Daniel met his eyes. “Michaels, it’s Gabriel.”
“Fuck.” Michaels banged the back of his head on a tent pole.
Adele couldn’t help but grin at the young woman. Part of her wished Yala could be here for this meeting. Coraline had been going on about the benefits of seaweed and algae for the better part of an hour, extolling the virtues of the substance as a source of food and oxygen.
“Not think it end like this.” The man sitting across the table leaned his head back. “Dead of boredom.”
“Come on, this is fascinating.” The younger man grinned. “I mean, think about it, this stuff can be modified to eat oil spills.”
“Dinosaurs not taste good first time around.” The older man closed his eyes.
Coraline stared at him a moment, then looked at the younger man. “He’s not really old enough to have seen dinosaurs, is he?”
“You know…” Christophe shrugged. “I’ve never managed to get a straight answer to that question.”
She just rolled her eyes. At first, the collar Christophe wore around his neck had concerned her. At least, it had until Christophe had given his name. Considering the young man wasn’t concerned about the consequences of hanging up on a dragon, he had to have been telling the truth about the collar being a choice. Adele smiled when Jim set a tray down. “Oh, bless you.” She took one of the coffees.
“These…” Coraline grabbed one of the pastries. “Are the best.” She took a bite.
“You did good work today.” Jim smiled at Coraline. Then he leaned back, and put an arm around Adele’s shoulder.
“I was just thinking…” She leaned into him. “We should get in touch with Yala about some of these.”
“That may have to wait.” Jim frowned. “He’s still settling matters. It may yet be a few years before he can truly start making contact.” He rubbed her shoulder gently.
“Like better when they stay deep.” Lykos made an annoyed sound.
“That’s because you don’t like anyone.” Coraline grinned at him. “Grumpy.”
Lykos opened one eye to glare at her. “What I say about Disney?”
“Something about pixies and spoiled milk and should have squished them all when you had the chance?” Coraline chuckled, then slid her laptop around so Jim could see it. “Like this.”
He leaned forward. Adele did the same thing, then gave a low whistle. “You really have been thinking about this.” The hydroponics set up was the kind of thing she’d have expected from grad student engineers, not a girl who had just gotten her driver’s license.
“Email it to Zeke.” Jim nodded. “And let’s see what he can do.” He took a sip of the coffee, then set it down before looking at Coraline again. “You’ve got a lab?”
“Dad says I can have the whole garage.” She turned the laptop around and started typing again. Then she looked up. “Will it work for what you need?”
“I certainly hope so.” Jim raised an eyebrow. “Does this mean you’re willing to help with…?”
The young woman took a deep breath, then nodded. “Yes.” She met Jim’s eyes. “Yes, I am.” She grinned. “Now, if you want.”
Jim smiled. “Coraline Wu…” He inclined his head. “I am in your debt.”
“You don’t have to do this.” Adam glanced at the man in the driver’s seat. “You could pull over. We are far enough away from the camp that…” He exhaled. “Gabriel.”
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” Gabriel turned the wheel slightly as the road curved. “You’re a good man, Adam.”
“You know Merlin isn’t going to just let you walk back out, right?” Adam shook his head. “And he knows you are coming.”
“And I also know that if I don’t go to him…” Gabriel took a deep breath. “He will come to me. This way…” Gabriel glanced at him.
“At least the others will be safe.” Adam leaned back, wrapping his arms around himself. “Mom will be safe. And Laura.” He reached up to rub the back of his neck. “Stephan will be alright. I mean, I didn’t…”
“I know.” Gabriel nodded. “I assume you just drugged him?”
“Low level neurotoxin. I’ve experimented with it, so I could be sure of dosing and…” Adam nodded. “He’ll be out for a couple hours, and have a bit of a hangover after that, but then he’ll be okay.” He sat up straighter again. “I’ll help, as much as I can. I don’t know how much good I’ll be against a dragon, but uh, I’ll try.”
“No.” Gabriel shook his head.
“Gabriel, I am not going to just stand there while Merlin kills you.” Adam clenched his fists. “If for no reason other than Laura would never forgive me —”
“Merlin isn’t going to kill me, Adam.” Gabriel reached over to put a hand on his arm. “Everything is going to be alright.”
“How can you say…” He trailed off as Gabriel glanced over at met his eyes. There was a faint golden glow in the other man’s eyes. “Gabriel…”
“Have faith, Adam.” Gabriel turned his attention back to the road. “The one thing Merlin cannot risk in this confrontation…” He pulled the vehicle onto the interchange. “Is killing me.”
“That doesn’t…” Adam swallowed. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Adam, I’m immortal.” Gabriel smiles. “If he destroys this body, all that will happen is that I go back.”
“You go back…” Adam’s eyes widened. “You go back?”
“And when I get back here…” Gabriel’s smile showed teeth. “I won’t be alone.”