“It took almost two days…” Coraline let herself fall back onto the couch and put her feet up on an ottoman. “But I have ridden one of every type of animal that can support human weight.”
Lykos tilted his head. “Just land based, or include water ones?”
“I…” Coraline frowned. Then she stood back up. “Excuse me, I need to go find my brother.” She vanished back out the door.
Magda rolled her eyes, then glanced at Stephan. “No ill effects or anything from wearing the ring?”
“Not unless you count being spontaneously and randomly hugged by Wus and a Russian lady who I’m pretty sure can bench-press me.” Stephan shrugged. “She spent most of the morning trying to figure out how to apologize to Ash.”
“Did she?” Magda walked over, leaning over the couch to look down at him.
“She bought him this five billion-piece Lego battle of Yavin star destroyer death star kit thing.” Stephan grinned up at her. “And I haven’t seen him or Iggy since.”
“They are in the greenhouse.”
“Back keeping tabs on everyone?” Magda raised an eyebrow.
“I still cannot track Adam, when I attempted to put tabs on Adele Jormun growled at me, I can only get a vague sense of Christophe due to the ward Lykos placed upon him, and Lykos also did the growling thing, though he combined it with a threat to seal me inside coprolite and flush it down the toilet if I tried peeking into his head.” Erilon’s voice trailed off.
“Khait?” Stephan leaned back.
“I am watching for when he wakes. Nothing is known until then.” Erilon’s voice went silent for a moment. “I did not expect that from him.”
“Don’t think anyone else did either.” Magda sighed.
“Gabriel did.” Stephan’s voice was soft.
“Stephan?” Magda looked down at him.
“Gabriel left the hilt with Ash, Mags.” Stephan shook his head.
“So that Ash could —”
“Mags.” Stephan turned around to face her. “Yeah. He left Ash the option of going into battle. And yeah, I can’t deny that it was clearly good for Ash to be able to go in and fight alongside us. But Mags…” Stephan took a deep breath. “Ash clearly knew what he was doing when he went up to help Khait. His eyes were glowing. He was channeling something, or someone. And the only one who could have…” Stephan smiled. “If Ash was going Skywalker, who do you think was Obi-wanning him?”
“I…” Magda frowned.
“I hate that I understood that last sentence.”
Abigail’s head came up. She stared down at where Khait’s hand was in hers. A moment later, she felt it twitch again. “Khait?” She swallowed, then squeezed his hand. A ragged gasp escaped her when Khait squeezed her hand back. “Khait.”
His eyes blinked open, and he made a soft groaning sound. Then he shook his head, closed his eyes, and shook his head again before reopening them. “I’m not dead.” He looked at her. “And this isn’t hell.”
“You sure?” She pressed her lips to his hand.
“You’re here.” He smiled at her. “I feel…” He reached a hand up to rub his head, then his eyes flew all the way open. “Adam?”
“He’s fine.” Abigail nodded. “You caught his soul before any damage could be done.”
“Then…” Khait frowned. “Then how…”
“How do you feel?” She leaned back a little as he sat up, and she saw Christophe start coming toward them. “Do you need Daniel?” She looked up at Christophe. “Get Daniel.”
“Already told him. Khait?”
“Is everyone alright?” Khait caught her hand in both of his before bringing it to his lips. “Bridget?”
“Has plans to kick your ass once you’re recovered.” Abigail smiled. “You scared her.”
“I don’t understand…” Khait swallowed. “How…”
“Daniel managed to get to you in time. He kept you together, with some help from Jormun. Then, uh…” She took a deep breath, then pointed at the silver item that had been lying next to him. “Then he and Ash bound you to that.”
“To…” Khait turned his head, then stared at the hilt. He started shaking his head. “No, that’s not possible.”
“Well they did it.” Abigail reached up to brush his hair back from his face.
“Abigail, my love…” He exhaled. “I’m a demon. That’s Gabriel’s blade.”
“That’s what Erilon said.” Daniel walked toward them.
“Repeatedly.” Erilon made a sighing sound. “I was surprised to see Ash could wield it, but Gabriel had been training him. I assumed he put some sort of secondary enchantment on the thing, a residual link of some kind. Ash is an innocent; such a thing would be possible.”
“Define innocent.” Abigail frowned.
“Well, for one, it means Ash is innocent. He’s never committed any of the mortal sins.”
“Uh…” Abigail blinked. “I’ve seen the way he flirts with Magda sometimes, don’t tell me that boy has never experienced lust.”
“Lust isn’t…” Khait rolled his eyes. “I swear, you people get so many things wrong.” He shrugged. “In addition to being a kind soul, Ash also, well…”
“What Khait is trying very hard not to say is there is about a 1 in 16 chance he’s Ash’s ancestor.” Erilon paused. “Actually, because we are talking about Khait, the odds are probably much greater. Ash has traces of angelic blood. It’s not something that grants him any particular power, but when you combine the two traits…”
“That’s how Ash could act as Gabriel’s agent or vessel or whatever you call it.” Abigail nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
“It…” Daniel blinked. “Does?”
“Sure.” Abigail nodded. “I’ll buy that Ash is part angel. I mean, I’ve met the guy.”
“Yeah…” Daniel chuckled. “I see your point.” He turned his attention back to Khait, laying his hand on Khait’s shoulder. “Alright, you still feel a little low on gas, but otherwise you seem healed.”
“Let’s check your wings.” Abigail gestured for him to stand. He unfurled his wings, and she took a step backward, nearly stumbling over the chair she’d been sitting in a moment ago.
“Holy —” Daniel stared.
Khait angled his left wing forward, bringing it partially in front of him. He stared at it. The leathery, bat-like demon wing was nowhere to be seen. Abigail put her hands over her mouth. Khait’s wings were still black, but they were feathered, giving them the appearance of raven wings. “Oh.” Khait’s voice was small. She saw tears start to well in his eyes as he reached out to touch the feathers. “Oh.”
“Khait…” She stared. He met her eyes as he started to smile, and then he used the feathered wings to catch her, pulling her into his arms. She met his kiss with a smile on her face.
“Aren’t you a little old for legos?” Adam raised an eyebrow.
“Cállate pendejo.” Iggy glared at him.
“Va te faire enculer, branleur.” Adam glared back.
“Language.” Lidia’s voice was sharp. They both winced. “Or languages, in this case.” She gave a small shake of her head, then rolled her eyes. “Adam, who is your friend?”
“Oh, right. You…” Adam rubbed his neck. “Guess we did kind of forget about proper introductions.”
“Don’t look at me, Jefe.” Iggy shook his head. “I was carrying a dragon.”
“How do you two know each other?” Lidia raised an eyebrow.
“I’m, uh, kind of the leader of Iggy’s pack.” Adam shrugged.
“Uh…” Sean started shaking his head. “How?”
“Well, I was the oldest and strongest, and uh, strongest leads, and then uh…” Iggy waved a hand. “He kind of beat me up. Like…” He shrugged. “A lot.”
“You’re an alpha werewolf.” Sean stared at Iggy.
“Saw Baby Bear eat an alpha once.” Stasya twitched a shoulder. “Was bad-ass.”
“That’s gross.” Iggy wrinkled his nose at Adam.
“I didn’t eat him!” Adam glared at Stasya. When she kept looking at him, he shook his head. “I chomped and spit. No eating. I don’t eat people.”
“You can’t imagine how relieved I am to hear that.” Sean closed his eyes, but he was having trouble not smiling. Lidia was just staring at Adam.
“Anyway…” Adam sighed. “Iggy, these are my mom and dad. So, uh…”
Iggy pointed at Lidia. “Boss?”
Adam nodded. “Boss.”
“Got it.” Iggy returned the nod. Lidia couldn’t quite stop herself from smiling.
“I left her quite a bit of money, so uh…” Adam shrugged. “Should be able to keep paying you guys.”
“How much are you paid?” Lidia frowned as she gave the young werewolf a considering look. The guy didn’t look any older than Coraline, though werewolves apparently aged much slower than humans. Matthias was apparently over a century, though he looked only a couple years older than Adam.
“We’re paid up until April.” Iggy shook his head, then smiled. “And uh, he pays us good, but it ain’t about the money.”
“It’s…” Lidia blinked, then glanced at Adam before looking back at Iggy. She had only the barest inkling of what the last few years had been like for her son. Stasya had filled her in a little, enough for her to know that her little boy was carrying around a heavy burden that had nothing to do with her powers. Now there was this werewolf pack to consider. “Then what is it about?”
“Before Adam, we were shaking folks down, being muscle for not nice people, and we were even supposed to kidnap that professor guy and beat him for information.” Iggy smiled. “Then Jefe beats me up and gives Felipa his like, business card thing, right? Calls us in to back him and the blue-haired chick up, and straight drops 20K on us for that when Felipa only quoted him an even grand. Hires us for more work after. Take out this pedophile fuckface guy, then go bust up his ring of sickos. After that we rescued some little girl from these shitasses who wanted to sacrifice her to this demon thing, and then after that he had us bust up these sick fucks that were experimenting on kids with magic to try to steal their powers or something.” Iggy showed his teeth. “Jefe sends us on some serious hero shit.”
Lidia stood there, staring at him for a few more seconds. He didn’t look old enough to vote, and he was helping Adam with… She turned toward her husband. “Honey, we’re going to need a bigger dining room table before next Thanksgiving.”
Watching his parents readily adopt Iggy was kind of heartwarming. Ignacio was still slightly freaked out about the company he’d found himself in but was adapting. Adam started to head back into the house when he realized he wasn’t alone in the small courtyard. He turned to see… To see the man who’d once complimented his sketchbook, way back… “Ishi.” He exhaled. “How the hell did I miss that?”
“Can we talk?” Ryuu raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah.” Adam nodded. “I suppose we’d better.” He rubbed the back of his neck, then followed Ryuu into the gardens. When they stopped, he took a deep breath. Then he nodded. “Alright, first things first…” He held up a hand before Ryuu could speak. “You didn’t have to protect my family. But you did. You didn’t have to give Stasya good work to do, but you did. And whatever else, uh…” He nodded. “Thank you. For that.”
“It was…” Ryuu slowly nodded. “The very least I could do.”
The silence dragged on long enough to become awkward. Adam leaned back, sitting on the edge of one of the low stone walls. “What happened to my mother?”
“She attempted to recover an artifact from Pachua’s territory and was killed.”
“Did Pachua know…” He swallowed. “Who she was?”
“The relationship between your mother and myself was a closely guarded secret. Had Pachua known of…” Ryuu swallowed. “Things would have gone much worse. She died clean and painless, though I understand if that is small consolation.” He glanced back at the house. “She kept…” He hesitated a moment. “She kept your father from knowing the things she was truly involved in, hoping ignorance would protect him.”
“It almost did.” Adam folded his arms. “If not for that hag, I…”
“I intended to look in on you again. One of your scholarships, the uh…” Ryuu sighed. “It doesn’t matter now, but I intended to reach out to you through the college. Perhaps offer you an internship or…”
“If that hag hadn’t…” Adam took a ragged breath. “It took me a couple months to figure it out. How it worked, how I could do it without her forcing the change and…” He shook his head. “Would I have had magic, if she hadn’t?”
“That was my mistake, Adam. When I saw you didn’t have magic, I assumed you were safe. I don’t know why you weren’t born with a spark. I thought it a miracle. It happens that way sometimes, and I just thought Haru and I had gotten lucky. I intended to look in on you, observe any children you had to…” Ryuu nodded. “See to their protection and training if needed, or in a worst-case scenario…” He looked away. “Handle the matter before it did too much damage.”
“You’d have killed my kids.” Adam stared at him.
“I would have done all I could to avoid such a thing being necessary, Adam.” Ryuu met his eyes calmly. “But if that failed, then yes.”
“I…” A few years ago, the notion would have driven him into rage. He might even have launched himself into an attack. He’d seen a lot since then. “So, what now? Jormun said you convinced the council to spare me.”
“Merlin’s absence allowed that. I should thank Jormun for…” Ryuu nodded. “But the decision is made. The world remained intact with three nephilim present for a few thousand years. Having three nephilim present once more should not, therefore, be cause for panic.” Ryuu clasped his hands behind his back. “You can return to Las Vegas with your family. There is a place for you there. There is the University, and talented musicians and artists can generally find work, or if you want to…” Ryuu shrugged. “I’m about to demolish one of the older casinos and put something new in, if you want to uh, try your hand at…” He shifted a bit awkwardly.
“The family business?” Adam smiled.
“My point is…” Ryuu met his eyes again. “If you wish to come to Vegas, I will not ask you to use your powers for…” He sighed. “You can lay down your sword, if you wish.”
“I, uh…” Adam nodded. “I appreciate the offer, but…” He straightened. “You’re the Marvel guy. You’ve got to know the line.”
“With great power…” Ryuu inclined his head. “Comes great responsibility.” He smiled. “Your family will remain under my protection, and if anyone wishes to object to your mother’s involvement in recent events they may bring said objection to me.” He twitched a shoulder. “And I will remind them that when the mood strikes me, I do breathe fire.”
“Thank you.” He smiled.
“Would it be safe to check in on your mother and ask her the status of that Nazi art thing?” Ryuu raised an eyebrow.
“She’s still pretty pissed at you.” He shook his head.
“Right.” Ryuu sighed. “I’ll just leave that with Ahit then.”
He was still a demon. His wings had changed, but he was otherwise still himself. Mostly. He’d tested a few of his powers and found them intact. The other power was still out of his reach, like it had been every time he’d tried to grasp it save for when he’d saved Bridget and Abigail. Yet it no longer felt like it was taunting him. It felt like it was waiting for him. Khait sighed. Having questions he couldn’t answer was an unpleasant novelty. He found the man he was looking for in the greenhouse, assembling a triangular spaceship made out of small gray interlocking squares. “Ash?”
“Khait.” Ash looked up at him and grinned. “You’re back up.”
“I’m told…” He sat down cross-legged, then picked up one of the squares. “You had something to do with that.”
“You were willing to die to save Adam.” Ash stuck another piece on the spaceship, then glanced at the instructions. “You love Abigail.” He looked up at Khait. “And you want to be worthy of her love.”
“Well…” Khait nodded. “My brother put himself in harm’s way to save Adam. I couldn’t let that be for nothing.” He swallowed. “And Abigail, she…” He laughed softly. “She makes me want to be better.”
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Ash clicked another part onto the model. “First Corinthians, chapter 13, verses 4 through 8.”
“Ash?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I think you’re wrong.” Ash frowned. “Gabriel is willing to help Adam because it’s was the right thing to do, and that’s just what Gabriel does. He saves people.” He shook his head. “But if you think about it…” He looked up at Khait. “I mean, it makes just as much sense to say he’s here to save you.”
“To…” Khait blinked. “Me?”
“Of course, he is Gabriel, so…” Ash shrugged. “Saving you is also the right thing to do, and that’s what Gabriel does. Like when he knew what to say, to reach me when I was under the bed. I didn’t have to tell him. Erilon didn’t tell him. He just knew.” He smiled. “Kind of like how you know what people are wanting when they are horny.” He grinned. “I followed your advice and Magda really…” He let out a low whistle. “That was fun.”
“Well, I’m glad you two enjoyed yourselves.” He chuckled. “You think Gabriel was looking out for me?”
“You’re family, Khait.” Ash nodded. “Thats what family does.”
“I…” Khait slowly smiled. “I see your point.”
“Woof.” Ash shrugged. “Also, the little voice in my head said that balance is what keeps us together. You’re a demon. A real one. It’s an angel blade. Using it as an anchor for you just made sense, right?”
“Little voice in your…” Khait blinked. “What?”
“I thought it was Gabriel, but it said it wasn’t. And Gabriel quoted the light side code. The voice in my head quoted the gray.” Ash turned the model over to start putting pieces on the bottom. “The Force is all things and I am the Force.”
“You’re crazy, Ash.” Khait smiled. “I think that’s what I like about you.” He took the hilt out of his pocket. “Here. You should have your sword back.”
“It’s not my sword.” Ash shook his head. Then he grinned at Khait. “It’s yours.”
“It’s…” Khait blinked. “What?”
“What did Erilon mean when she told Daniel you were my great great great great grandpappy?” Ash raised an eyebrow.