Adele glanced down at the timer on her phone. She’d seen Jormun go off into the woods, but he hadn’t — All clear, my love. Cancel protocol. Her knees turned to liquid, and she sagged into the robot that stood next to her. Christophe caught her arm, and then sat her on the couch. “Jormun says we are clear.”
“Yeah…” Stephan shook his head. “No disrespect to Jormun, but I’m a going to wait on the glowing folks for the all clear.”
She turned her head to see the four figures by the lake. “No, no I absolutely under…” She turned to look up at where Father Williams was staring at the water. “Father, any chance —”
“My nephew…” Father Williams exhaled. “Has a lot of explaining to do.”
Michaels looked up at where the dragon had vanished. The logical thing seemed to be to go after it, to end the threat and cross Merlin off permanently, but something told him that might not be the best idea. It would not. The collateral damage would be catastrophic. Guess that’s why the other dragons put up with Merlin’s shit. Michaels looked at the other men around him. The other… Uh… His eyes went to Ash, who was smiling. Khait and Gabriel were expressionless, though they likely knew a little more about what had just happened.
What had… He swallowed. We cannot remain. We bent rules to come this time. Michaels found himself nodding in response to the words, even though he knew they weren’t being spoke aloud. Are you harmed in any way? Michaels blinked at the question, then shrugged. “No?” I do apologize for the intrusion. We should not have come uninvit — “Buddy, I’ve got only the barest inkling of who and what you are, but if you’re a friend of Gabe’s…” Michaels smiled. “You’re welcome anytime.”
That is good to know. Farewell, my friend. Then he could feel his body again, complete with a few aches and bruises. Not bad or incapacitating, but enough to let him know he’d seen… He frowned. “Did I get thrown into —”
“Woof…” Ash grinned at Michaels.
Gabriel started shaking his head as the glow left his eyes. He frowned, looking around himself with a confused expression on his face. “Gabe?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“Why are we at Ted’s place?” Gabriel turned a full circle before coming back to look at Michaels.
Khait started snickering, and Ash grinned. “Woof.” He looked down at the sword in his hand, once again made of steel, then offered it to Gabriel hilt first. Gabriel took it from him, his expression still confused.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Michaels put a hand on his partner’s shoulder.
“Arriving at a stronghold with Adam.” Gabriel frowned.
“Yeah, going to kick your ass for that running off thing, but later.” Michaels grinned as he started steering Gabriel toward the house. “Can’t wait to fill you in on the part with the hot air balloons.”
“I’d start with the volcano, personally.” Khait fell into step with them.
“Can I tell him about the sharks?” Ash’s grin widened.
Daniel took his hands off Adam, then chuckled as Stasya and Laura both immediately rushed forward to check on the other man. Adam was blinking, his face slightly dazed as he came back to consciousness. “Did we win?” Adam rubbed at his face.
“Merlin tucked his tail between his legs and ran off.” Daniel nodded before going back to sit next to Matthias. Matthias pulled him into his lap.
Adam started to look up at Jormun, and Jormun pointed at where Gabriel stood. Adam’s eyes widened. “When…” He gave a small shake of his head. “And how did he get here?”
“Pachua stabbed Ted.” Jormun sat down and draped an arm over Adele. Then he glanced at her. “Send a memo to all my operatives. Absolutely no stabbing Ted.”
“I did that five minutes after Adam informed us they were dating.” Adele shrugged. “Guess Pachua’s spies didn’t pass it on.”
“You got stabbed?” Gabriel turned toward Ted, his eyes wide.
“Daniel already fixed me.” Ted smiled, putting his hand on Gabriel’s arm. His smile faded, and he shook his head. “Pachua killed Monica.”
“I’m sorry.” Gabriel sighed. “The center?”
“The kids got out. Everything else can be rebuilt.” Ted smiled. He hesitated a moment, then pulled Gabriel closer before kissing him.
“Matthias…” Michaels tilted his head, then gestured at where Matthias was standing. “When did you regrow your leg?”
“Regrow —” Daniel’s eyes widened, and he whirled toward Matthias.
Matthias put his hands up. “Relax, I’m fine. I think.” He rubbed the back of his head as Erilon’s voice made a coughing sound. “Alright, well, I uh…” He shrugged. “I sort of died, but…”
“You what?” Daniel felt his heart skip a beat.
“He fixed it.” Matthias pointed at Gabriel.
“I did?” Gabriel stared at Matthias.
“Yeah, we kind of need to fill Gabe in on like…” Michaels chuckled. “Everything.” He pointed at Jormun, then raised an eyebrow at Gabriel. “Do you know who that is?”
“Not a clue.” Gabriel shook his head.
“I’m mildly offended.” Jormun pulled Adele a little closer to him and kissed the top of her head. “Cancel the fruit basket.”
“Is maybe good thing.” Lykos glanced at Jormun.
“He’s got a point.” Christophe shrugged. “Last time you were in the Pacific Northwest you kind of armed four nuclear bombs.”
“What?” Gabriel straightened, narrowing his eyes at Jormun.
“Perhaps some explaining…” Ted glanced at where Iggy was standing behind Adam. “Is in order.”
Christophe hesitated, taking a deep breath before stepping into the room. “Uh, Jormun authorized funds to help rebuild the uh…” He nodded to Ted. “Since he was kind of what Pachua used to knock the walls down.”
“It’s appreciated.” Ted set his cell phone down. “I just got off the phone with the fire department. They got the flames out and the crime scene people are…” He exhaled. “I have absolutely no idea how we are going to explain anything.”
“I admit…” Christophe glanced at the man standing protectively behind Ted. “I’m not…” He looked up at Gabriel. “Jormun says the others were possessed, but you’re…” He swallowed.
Gabriel’s eyes flicked to the collar around Christophe’s neck, and his eyes darkened just a little. Then his eyes went to Christophe’s. “Matthias is trying to atone for his past. Is Lykos?”
“I…” Christophe felt a slight chill settle into his belly. “It’s complicated.”
“That is not…” Gabriel shook his head, just once. “An answer.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this…” Christophe blinked and turned at the sound of Khait’s voice. The demon stood in the other doorway. “But yes, Gabriel. In his way, he is.” Khait shrugged. “Possible Matthias and I both owe that jackass our lives, and Stephan as well.”
“Jormun is gathering shepherds.” Gabriel slowly nodded. “I guess that explains digging up the seal.”
“It…” Khait blinked. “Yeah, I was coming in here to ask you about that. Why did…” Khait twitched a shoulder. “I mean, not that I’m complaining. I got to saddle up.” He grinned.
“I have no idea.” Gabriel put a hand on Ted’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. Ted put his hand atop Gabriel’s and smiled. “Ted says I told him where it was and to dig it up, but I don’t remember any of that. The other side of me apparently thinks I don’t need to know.” He rolled his eyes.
“It’s to go to the sanctuary.” Ted looked up at Christophe.
He stared, his eyes widened. “How do you…” Ted gave him a look, then squeezed Gabriel’s hand. “So, the other guy, uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Knows about…”
“I think I helped build it.” Gabriel’s voice was soft. “I’m going to go check on the others.” He squeezed Ted’s shoulder again, then turned and walked out of the room.
“Thank you.” Christophe nodded to Khait. “For speaking up for…”
“Do not…” Khait raised a hand, pointing a finger at Christophe. “Tell Lykos I did that. Ever.”
“Okay, seriously…” Christophe ran a hand down his face. “Did you two used to date or what?”
“Are you sure…” Magda was giving Ash another worried look.
“Tell her I’m fine.” Ash turned toward Gabriel.
He shrugged, then nodded to Magda. “Woof.”
“And you?” Magda looked him over. “How are you…” She put a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, frowning in a way that reminded him strongly of his own mother. “You aren’t injured from when Merlin held you captive, are you?”
“If I was…” Gabriel shook his head. “I don’t remember any of it.” That part was more than a little annoying. He had a gaping hole in his memory of over a week, a week in which his companions had been in often mortal danger. “I’m told Wren is dead?”
“Stasya shot her in the head.” Ash’s voice sounded almost gleeful. He held up fingers. “Three times.” Then he shrugged. “Then Adam cut her head off and kicked it into the lake. And Laura said something about a bonfire, and…” He nodded to Gabriel. “Yeah. She’s dead.” He lowered his hand, and his voice became hesitant. “Do you remember leaving me your sword?”
Gabriel nodded. “Yes. That part I remember.” He smiled. “I’m told you used it —” He was cut off by Ash throwing himself forward to glomp him. Gabriel sighed, then patted Ash’s arm before leaning down to whisper in his ear. “I knew you could.”
“Thank you.” Ash’s voice was partially muffled. He drew back a little. “Erilon says Khait might be my great grandfather. If he’s your little brother, does that make you my uncle?”
“I…” Gabriel laughed softly. “Cousin, at the very least.” He reached up to ruffle Ash’s hair. “Which means you are going to have to come to the Sunday family dinner. Mom’s biscuits are better than Magda’s.”
“No.” Ash shook his head. “Not possible.” He folded his arms. “Just not.”
Magda sighed. “Are you sure…”
“Woof.” They rolled their eyes.
“Are you sure…” Laura shifted her weight from foot to foot. She smiled when Adam and Michaels both turned to glare at her. “Hey, fairly recently both of you had wings. I don’t think I’m unjustified in my concern.”
“I admit…” Adam took a deep breath. “I’m a lot more intimidated about asking you out now.” He glanced at Michaels before shrugging at her.
“Good.” Michaels folded his arms and smirked.
“I mean, I’m still going to ask you out…” Adam grinned at her. “I’ll just listen when he says to have you home by two.”
“Midnight.” Michaels shook his head.
“Seriously?” Adam raised an eyebrow.
“She doesn’t turn eighteen for another four months.” Michaels narrowed his eyes.
“Seriously, though…” Laura sighed. “Are you alright?” She glanced from one to the other.
“I’m fine.” Adam nodded. “Daniel checked me over, and Jormun even confirmed. Plus, Wren is dead, so I’m…” He spread his hands. “Fucking awesome. I’m going to get Mama Bear a tiara.”
Her eyes went to Michaels. He twitched a shoulder. “Well, if the bible got it right, I was recently possessed by the archangel that kicked old Lucifer’s ass. So, uh…” He leaned back. “Still processing. But yeah. Fine.” He looked back at Adam. “I’m guessing you’re going to want to spend some time visiting your folks in Vegas, but if you do want to come back and stick around for our kind of trouble, there is another bedroom at my place. I can pick up a litter pan.” He grinned when Laura directed a punch at him, dodging it easily.
“I…” Adam laughed softly. “I really hadn’t thought that far ahead. I…” He took a deep breath, then closed his eyes. “James and I were supposed to go to college.”
She felt her eyes grow wet, then blinked when Michaels stepped forward and pulled Adam into a hug. Adam hugged him back, clinging to him fiercely. Michaels voice was soft when he spoke again. “There’s a support group I go on Thursday nights. Folks coming back from war zones and…” He patted Adam’s back. “You should come with.”
It took a few moments for Adam to nod and step back. He wiped at his eyes. “Yeah, I uh…” He nodded. “It might. Sorry for…” He rubbed the back of his neck.
Michaels shook his head. “You’ve got nothing you need to apologize for, kid.” He put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “And if you don’t believe me on that, I can drag an archangel over here that will tell you the same thing.” He squeezed Adam’s shoulder. “It takes time, son. But it does get better.”
Laura watched them and smiled to herself. Think this means Dad approves of him? Well, he fought a dragon to save you. He’s met at least the lowest of the standards Michaels has for the guy wanting to date his daughter. “Does this mean you are okay with Adam and I going to see a movie?”
“Are you okay with you and Adam going to see a movie?” Michaels raised an eyebrow at her.
She blinked. “Well…” She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then it’s fine by me.” He reached up to lightly tug one of her braids. “Midnight.”
“Yes, Dad.” She grinned before reaching out to take Adam’s hand.
Matthias glanced over to make sure Daniel was occupied, then headed over to where Khait was flipping through the newspaper. He sat down across from the other man. Khait raised an eyebrow. “Matthias, what can…”
“With all the shit that…” Matthias took a deep breath. “When that drug…”
Khait waved a hand. “You thanked me already. Or Daniel did. Same thing, really.” He flipped to the comics. “It’s fine.”
He hesitated, then shook his head. “I raped you.”
For a moment, Khait was still. Then he set the comics down. “If anything, Matthias, it was the other way around. You were not in your right —”
“You are not in your right mind…” Khait held up a hand. “And I focused the full extent of my power upon you.” He shrugged. “So, if there is an apology necessary for that incident, it is on me.”
“You…” Matthias started shaking his head. “If you hadn’t done that, I’d have killed you and Lykos both and then —”
“Actually, Lykos would have killed you.” Khait picked the comics back up. “He’s a dwarf, Matthias. Motivate him enough, and he can turn the iron in your blood to silver.”
“So, you…” Matthias shifted his weight in the patio chair, feeling it creak a little beneath him. “You let me fuck you and nearly claw you to shreds, to save my life?”
“I must say, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Daniel after —” Khait started to grin.
“It’s not funny.” Matthias shook his head.
“I’m an incubus, Matthias.” Khait nodded to him. “I appreciate your concern, but I am fine.” He glanced down at where Daniel was talking to Ash. “I assume you’d prefer Daniel not know of this?”
“I’d prefer if I were the one to tell him…” Matthias shrugged. “As soon as I figure out how, anyway.”
“He’ll understand, Matthias.” Khait shook his head. “There wasn’t a lot of choice or free will involved in that incident.”
“You know…” He frowned. “I don’t get you.” He leaned back. “Or Erilon, for that matter. Both of you have risked your lives to save mine, and you…” He shook his head. “You nearly gave up your soul to save Adam. How the hell are…” He looked down at his hands, then back up at Khait. “How the hell are people like you demons?”
The comics fluttered a little in Khait’s hands as the incubus went still. “Matthias, I like you…” His eyes glowed faintly red when they met Matthias’s. “But don’t ever ask me that again.”