It was a dramatic enough affair for his two brothers to get themselves and their entourages to their respective institutions of learning that Roman Vaille was much relieved when his boyfriend volunteered to drop him off at school - with the too-faithful bodyguard Felicia Arks standing by. The occasions that Roman stayed the night over at Damon's were few and far between enough that it was a change of pace indeed to be driven up to the broad semi-circle that deposited students near the front steps. His bodyguard took to the curb first, scanning the surroundings.
"Kiss," Roman declared, feinting as if to give him an air-kiss, then grabbing his lover's head in both hands and laying a very thorough, enthusiastic kiss on him, delving for tongue and getting himself felt up in return. "Mmm, nice." He grinned and Damon licked at the corner of his mouth before subsiding back into his own seat.
"Be safe," Damon abjured him.
"Darling. Aren't I always?" Roman mugged, then dropped it in favor of a tired smile. Damon never asked him to be good, as if suspecting it was against Roman's general nature, but he almost always laid injunctions to be safe on him, wanting at least that much. "Don't worry, I'm not inclined to do anything stupid today."
"What a relief. All my fears are put to rest," Damon said, deadpan. He rested his hands on the wheel. "I mean it, all right? You listen to your bodyguard if there's any trouble. Fortunately I'm under the radar for Orion, so I can actually get some work done today."
"You should consider yourself lucky you're not considered a potential target," Roman muttered, cracking the car door. "Just because my brother was abducted doesn't mean the demons are stupid enough to snatch me...well, whatever. I'll see you after school?"
"Yes, I'll pick you up."
Roman shielded his eyes from the glare of the cloudless sky as he climbed out of the car, noting with pride that Damon's was the best-looking vehicle in the line of cars pulling up to drop students off for their daily regimen of mental abuse. Although Gabriel had been missing for that shaky, uncertain interval and he had even met a full-blood Nephilim in person the day before, he was having a hard time internalizing the fact that his family was, effectively, under siege. Now he was expected to put in a normal day and that made it even more difficult. Then he turned his head and took a look at the tall, dark-skinned woman waiting on the curb for him, her dusky flesh inscribed with those golden tattoos that seemed to catch and concentrate the sun's glow.
"Now there's something out of the ordinary," Roman said under his breath, pacing toward the entrance to the high school. Felicia fell into step beside him, scanning the grounds. "You don't really expect me to get attacked on the front lawn of my high school."
"We don't know," Felicia told him candidly. "They could strike any time. They might have operatives in the city. The fact is, from what I heard of that debriefing, we don't know what our opposition knows so far as the Vaille family is concerned so it's best to be safe."
"Right," Roman muttered, thinking his way through the rest of the day. She didn't expect to accompany him to the men's locker room when he changed for gym, did he? There was a loophole right there. He wondered if Arashi counted as a substitute bodyguard; he worked for Orion, after all.
He sauntered through the hallways with none of his usual pit-stops for socialization. He was pretty sure they had cleared his bodyguard through the school administration, but it would be deliciously rich if he could get himself sent home on the basis of being a disruption in class. Again. He heard a few sotto voce comments as he made his way to class, mostly along the lines of "what, he's got his own bodyguard now?" and a few "who does he think he is," the latter from some of the older jock-types.
"Aren't you going to stop by your locker?" Felicia prompted, when they reached his classroom door.
"What for?" Roman replied with a shrug. "I travel light, anything I need fits in my portable. The only thing I use my locker for is changes of clothing."
Felicia shook her head and followed him into the classroom. "Sure has changed since I went to school."
"Ha, I bet that wasn't even that long ago," Roman scoffed. To his extreme surprise she clipped him one on the ear.
"You mind your elders," she warned, and when he gaped at her, she gave him a brief wink.
Not sure whether to be intimidated or laugh it off, Roman decided to ignore it. He'd barely taken a few steps inside, noting the teacher wince as he caught sight of him, before he was impacted with an armful of Char.
"You jerk, the message you left really scared me!" Charlotte Mead scolded, putting him at arm's length and examining his face as if that would give her all the clues she needed to what had happened. "I wouldn't have thought anything of it if you hadn't called, I mean, you've skipped out on afternoons before--"
"Yeah, I figured as much," Roman said, leveling her with a cocky grin, then peering over her shoulder at a cluster of hangers-on both male and female. "Crisis averted. Well, mostly. I have my shadow, here, for the time being." He tipped his head to indicate the impossible-to-miss Felicia.
"Pleased to meet you," Charlotte said politely, bobbing her head. "You're watching out for Roman?"
"That's the plan," Felicia said, giving Char a nod in return. "That is, if he doesn’t try to run out on me. Then I get to be his judge and executioner."
"You forgot jury," Roman protested.
That flat utterance wasn't a question, and once again Roman breezed past particulars, taking Charlotte's arm and propelling them in the general direction of their seats. "So, did I miss anything?"
Char rolled her eyes. "I might actually give you my notes this time, because you apparently missed class for more-or-less legitimate reasons." She peeked over Roman's shoulder, where Felicia had paced him and taken up a position near the window. "Uh, he did, didn't he?"
"He did," Felicia confirmed, inclining her head. "Can't tell you more than that, though, hon."
"It's okay." Char waved her hands. "I don't want to know. I've thought for a while though that River should have a bodyguard, maybe not during school but the rest of the time for sure. He gets mobbed!"
Felicia quirked a dark brow at him as if to say, 'River?' Roman shrugged and grimaced back, communicating that it wasn't pretension on his part. Not his fault that his people had chosen a 'modeling name' for him shortly after his career had started, to help with image branding. Maybe it was silly, but he was one of the top-paid models in an industry that had collapsed at first, only to finally pick up again after all this time.
"E-Excuse me, Vaille?" The teacher was approaching like a nervous thing. "Could your bodyguard wait, uh, wait somewhere else?"
Felicia folded her tattooed arms and stood stock-still by the window near Roman's desk. "I can wait right here," she said implacably.
"Oh." The man rubbed at his balding head and wavered, dropping his gaze to the floor then back at Roman, then Felicia, then to the floor again. "Well. It's just. I think the presence of a guard would be very distracting in an institute of learning, if there was any chance of waiting elsewhere..."
Roman glanced sidelong at his bodyguard, who had planted her feet and looked as if she'd be comfortable waiting an hour or a week. "What if you switched me with someone in the back of the room?" he suggested.
"Uh, umm..." The man wrung his hands and looked around the classroom. "I suppose that would be fine. Jacobs is out sick today, you can take his seat instead."
"Thank you," Roman said, scooping his bag off the seat where he'd left it. He raised his brows and widened his eyes comically at Felicia, who didn't even crack a smile though there might have been a glimmer of answering amusement in her dark eyes.
"Oh, oh, Mr. Brown!" Char exclaimed, madly waving a hand. "Can I--"
"No, Mead," the teacher told her, though it was soft and apologetic. "You and Vaille are too disruptive when you're seated together."
Roman grinned and gave his friend a little wave. Now Felicia could stay in the room with him, and he could catch up on his sleep. It all worked out. "I'll see you at lunchtime, Char," he soothed.
"You'd better," she crabbed. "I'll save a seat but I won't save it forever, you know!"
Roman shrugged; if lunchtime was the only period he could get laid, she could hardly blame him. Then again, she could, seeing how she disapproved although she was good about not mentioning it. In that case, she'd probably enjoy his latest news about their glacial transfer student, and how Arashi had made it clear if they were the last two people on earth he'd probably still use his own right hand for extra-curriculars. Though the female population might get let down on account of how Arashi had been receptive, at first, though clearly not enamored with Roman himself.
To speak of the devil; Roman's erstwhile seduction strolled through the door at an unhurried pace with a few moments to spare. Arashi's aloof gray gaze turned his way, resting on him long enough to note his presence, then he took his seat without a word, settling back in his chair and closing his eyes in a clear dismissal of any would-be conversationalists.
It was terribly tempting to call out to Arashi and suggest they find someplace secluded to nap together, but Roman had promised to be safe, after all. He kind of still recalled the last time Arashi had slammed him into a wall and hissed threats to him point-blank and he didn't really go in for that sort of rough play. Also, he liked his nuts where they were and didn't want to risk their relocation.
For the rest of the world, classes started when the bell tolled; for Roman Vaille, it constituted nap-time. He hadn't done the reading anyhow so there was no question of his participation, though it was usually a moot point anyhow. Roman had gotten good if not spectacular grades up through puberty, then he had discovered the true joys of his penis and the rest was history. It wasn't precisely coincidence that he'd begun modeling around that time.
He had a tacit arrangement with most of his teachers: he didn't disrupt the class, and the teacher didn't call on him. Roman's riots were legendary amongst the teachers, there wasn't anyone quite on par with him so far as stirring up shit in the classroom went. He still fondly remembered his dissertation on the gaps in private school curriculum on the subject of human sexuality during his freshman year - he'd brought the male half of the class to their feet in a standing ovation. That hadn't been the last time a teacher had invited his participation in open discussion, but the rest of the faculty had learned rather quickly.
Today if he was inclined to sleep, they would let him sleep. Everyone knew he had work outside of school in any case, probably attributed yesterday's absence to said work, and no one thought for a moment he couldn't drop out any day if he felt like it and support himself with no problems. No one had ever used the insult "trust-fund baby" on him because he'd never tapped that a day in his life.
He drifted off reminiscing on his morning quickie with Damon, and dreamed of sex, as par usual.
Roman was shaken into wakefulness and confronted with a caustic "Damn, boy, why even bother attending school?" Felicia scowled down at him.
He blinked and swiped hair out of his eyes, casting a look around. The bell had rung and it hadn't even registered. All around him his fellow students were getting up, packing things away, or queuing at the door on their way out. Arashi had vanished, of course. He still had the remnants of the last dream upon him, his legs wrapped around someone's hips, slow pumping that went on forever and forever and there was no way he could stand up right now unless he used his school bag for a shield. Oops. He wondered if it had been Arashi in his dreams, or Damon, or someone else. It kind of bothered him that it didn't really matter so far as his libido was concerned.
"I mean, you're paying for your education, right? It's a private school," Felicia said, cocking her head at him.
"Yeah, my brother pays tuition, same as anyone not on scholarship," Roman replied, laying his head on folded arms. He concentrated on the question, on Felicia's dark aquiline features, and willed the leftover desire to go away. It was rather disingenuous to show up for gym class with a hard-on. "Just because my family owns the campus doesn't mean I get to attend for free."
"No shit?" Felicia remarked. "Your family owns the campus, I didn't know that."
"Oh," Roman said. "Yes. My father is a Vaille but my mother was a Vanderbrant."
"Really," Felicia stated, eyes widening slightly. "You've got powerful connections."
Roman snorted. "My uncle would deny the connection if he could, believe me. He never liked our father, I remember that much from when my parents were still alive, and I can't even tell you the last time we were invited to a family reunion. After Grandpa Donough died, Uncle Richard stopped pretending."
"Fascinating as it is to hear blueblood dirty laundry aired," Felicia said dryly, "you've got 'bout five minutes to get to your next class, if I'm not wrong. And you may have slept through the morning but I don't exactly think you can sleep through phys ed."
"Watch me," Roman said cheekily, getting to his feet. He was able to move freely now, he noted with relief.
Their almost-camaraderie had allowed Roman to forget Felicia's function in accompanying him during his daily routine, until they reached the locker room and he found out that his bodyguard did indeed expect to follow him there, too. Roman balked. "No way!" he stated, pulling out his cell phone. "I'll call Ms. Carson! This is unreasonable, there's no way you're following me into a locker room full of naked guys."
"Got your clothes in your locker?"
"Grab your clothes and we'll go to an empty boys' bathroom, then."
"Absolutely not," Roman said flatly, flipping his phone open.
"Go ahead, call her," Felicia said, crossing her arms, imperturbable. "She's only going to tell you I'm doing my job the way I need to. She's a professional, and so am I. Trust me, I'm not interested in your skinny white ass."
"Thanks so much," Roman retorted, shutting his phone and frowning. This was not going to work. "I don't even get to go to the bathroom by myself?"
Felicia stared him down. "If it's a single-occupant room, you do."
"This is a school," Roman said, shaking his head. "Not even the teachers get single-occupancy bathrooms." He clutched at his hair and moaned. "Hell with this, I will skip the rest of the day if I have to take you into the locker room with me."
"Don't be a baby," Felicia said scornfully. "Get your clothes. At the rate you're dithering, we'll hit the locker room after everyone else has gone to class."
Roman sighed and looked at her with mournful eyes. "So if I tell you to get lost after gym class because I want to consummate a hook-up, I guess you're gonna tell me the same thing."
Felicia stepped into him, forcing Roman to take a step back to make way but she kept advancing, her dark face looming over him, impassive unto hostility. He thumped against the row of lockers behind him and she poked him in the chest.
"What!?" he squeezed out, outraged.
"For the duration of this contract, I want you to understand you have NO privacy. None," Felicia ground out, poking him in the chest again. "You wanna live? You wanna make sure your pretty brothers don't cry their eyes out because you hauled off and did somethin' stupid? Then you do what I say, when I say it, and if it means you can't take a pee-break without me there to watch you shake your dick off, then so be it. You know what? You'll live. Bigger and more macho men have put up with worse. You want to tell me to get lost because you want to bust a nut? You got another thing coming." Felicia took a step back as if she'd let him up, then shook her head and poked him in the chest yet again. Her nails weren't long, but they hurt.
"What the hell!?" Roman exclaimed. Weren't they done with the lecture?
"That one's 'cause I LIKE Damon," she said, and turned away, giving him room to step away from the lockers and maybe recover his dignity. If she didn't fucking poke him again.
"So?" Roman said warily, moving away from the lockers and catching up with her. The halls were already empty, but now the bell rang. He was officially late. Not that it was a new circumstance by any means.
Felicia glared at him. "So, that's it. I know you're still a kid, but do you really have to prove it all the time?"
Roman maintained a frosty silence on the way back to his locker, but he was actually thinking for once. No one had ever really put it to him like that. Of course, even if they had, he needed to learn through multiple repetition anyhow.
Between his gutted office and the dissolution of his filing system, Gabriel Vaille would have been adrift at sea for his morning classes if not for Roy Masters. His eminently capable teacher assistant put lesson plans in his hand, the day's roster of screen-file presentations, and handed over a notebook with his daily schedule before disappearing for his own backlog of work. He left Gabriel with everything he needed to get through the day, plus a tall, trench-coated specter of a bodyguard and the overawed young assistant they had just recently hired. Due to his involvement in Gabriel's work Roy merited his own bodyguard, a very competent-seeming woman by the name of Kellan whom Gabriel recalled from prior secure deliveries.
"Well," Gabriel said, shifting his armful of teaching materials and endeavoring not to drop any of them. It took him a moment to recall the boy's name. "Kieran. You'd better go about your schedule as usual, I suppose."
"How can I?" the boy asked blankly, looking from him to the towering Shemyahza beside him and back again. "I mean, I'm sorry, Professor, that was rude of me."
"Not at all," Gabriel said, frowning and wondering if it would be wise to recommend that the boy visit a campus therapist. Then again, the kind of shocks he'd received were those that would be unwise to divulge even given patient confidentiality. "There's no need for you to stay with us, truly, but--"
"But the work!" Kieran interjected, looking positively distraught. "Oh, professor, please don't dismiss me just because it's a little dangerous!"
Beside him, Shemyahza produced an inelegant snort, but said nothing.
Gabriel forbore to look in his direction. "Your enthusiasm is commendable, and I was about to say, there's no safer place than Cygnus if there's any trace of danger to you due to your involvement in the project." He smiled at the shine in O'Bannon's eyes. "See Roy after your last class. You have his number?"
"Yes, sir," Kieran replied, an indecipherable expression crossing his face. "I'll see you later, professor. Have a good day!"
Gabriel lifted a hand as the boy said his goodbyes, backing away then nearly tripping over his feet before taking the corner at the end of the hall. He then squared his shoulders and sighed, heading for his cannibalized office. Even seeing the transplanted work at the room that Roy had prepared didn't fully prepare him for what awaited him. Gabriel hovered on the threshold of the outer office for a long moment, horrified.
"You all right?" Shemyahza Guile's deep voice punctured the silence.
"I will be," Gabriel said dismally. He winced when he caught sight of crumpled documents near the door, precious paper that could never be one hundred percent replaced, not since the ban on paper products. Even though the composition eventually caused the material to age and decay, there was nothing that took the place of a good wood-pulp paper document, as far as he was concerned - and this from someone who'd been raised long after the ban had been imposed.
"They trashed your office?" Shemyahza demanded, pacing forward into the room, casting about through overturned piles of notebooks, portable files, even some of his precious old-fashioned textbooks.
"No," Gabriel said, and pulled another long sigh. "This would have been Roy and Kieran, hurrying to get everything potentially related to my key research out of the office. They didn't have time to be careful."
"Ah," Shemyahza said. He glanced around, his ankle-length silvery-gray trench coat belling open around his tall, powerful form. "I'm sorry. Do you think they damaged anything irreplaceable?"
Gabriel bent to retrieve the crumpled documents, juggling his planner, screen-files, the portable with lesson plans and shifted all those to the crook of one elbow, unfolding the wad of paper. It was a precious anthropological remnant from before the Rising, an economic report across several industries. "I had everything scanned and backed up, of course," he said vaguely, casting a look around his gutted office. His mouth twitched; he didn't know whether to laugh or whimper. "Of course, Kieran cleaned in here the day before I was abducted, so it's long odds as to whether I'll ever restore anything to proper order." He flicked his eyes warily toward Shemyahza, who was more absorbed at the moment in studying the massively detailed map that was mounted on the wall. It depicted old New York City as it had been in 2019, the year before cataclysm.
"Now, excuse me, I need to take a look at these plans," Gabriel began, shifting his armful again in an attempt to keep the lot of it from slipping from his grasp.
Shemyahza turned. "I go where you go," he uttered, leveling that forceful crimson gaze on him.
Gabriel shrank back toward his inner office. "I - I'm just going in there," he said, edging toward the smaller room.
The Nephilim gave him a shark's grin. "Afraid to be alone with me?" he purred, stalking over the intervening space.
Gabriel backpedaled, slipping on debris underfoot and nearly stumbling yet not willing for a moment to take his eyes off his bodyguard, who engaged the kind of fascination in him that a mongoose surely felt before the coiled cobra's strike. "Not afraid, precisely," Gabriel denied, even in his intimidation seeking to be truthful. Shemyahza provoked in him unease on the same order as Granac Bowen, but of an entirely different caliber. "I recognized you when you came through that door. I don't know why I should when I've never seen you before in my life..." He trailed off, unwilling to say the rest; that Shemyahza provoked sensation in him that he wasn't familiar with and wasn't ready to face. There were a host of secrets, it seemed, in his blood and all he'd ever to do was look at himself in the reflection of a full-blood. Saying it out loud was admittance.
"Shall I tell you?" Shemyahza asked, taking slow steps for him, giving Gabriel every chance to try and retreat - or run.
"Mr. Guile--" Gabriel began and was cut off with a curt "Don't. That's a distancing tactic, and to you of all people I am only Shemyahza."
Gabriel stared at the approaching Nephilim, eyes wide. He was dwindled, diminished, helpless as Cedric before the approach of such a one.
A sharp rap on the door broke the tableau, and Gabriel really did drop his armful now, his grip slipping as he turned toward the knock. With an exasperated sigh he bent to retrieve the articles, calling "Come in," and noting with relief that Shemyahza reverted to the background, turning from Gabriel and resuming his perusal of the wrecked office.
A thin, brown man of average height stepped cautiously through the door, casting a look around his surroundings with evident distaste. He wore a neatly-pressed suit and possessed an air of officious self-importance. "Professor Gabriel Vaille?" he asked.
"That's me," Gabriel said, brushing a wisp of pale lavender hair from his face. He shuffled his items into a more manageable pile and got to his feet, clasping everything to his chest. "I'm Vaille."
The man held up a green screen-file, making no attempt to cross the room. "This is for you."
Gabriel joined him by the door, mentally calculating the distance between himself and Shemyahza and the likelihood of any escape trajectories that didn't involve getting himself into a more advantageous position before his unexpected visitor left the room. "What's this?" he asked, shifting everything to the crook of one arm again to accept the screen-file.
"You've been served," the man told him, words so simple that for a long moment Gabriel failed to understand.
"Wh-what?" Gabriel stammered.
"Vanderbrant is filing suit against you," the man clarified.
Gabriel pondered over the brief drama of dropping the screen-file and crushing it under his heel, but that would accomplish nothing. "Over trusteeship of the foundation, I presume." Perhaps it wasn't the proverbial last thing he needed, but it certainly ranked very, very low on the list of things he would expect or want to deal with given his recent shift in priorities.
"It's not my place to discuss details of a case pending litigation," the man said fussily, as if Gabriel had tried to twist his arm for underhanded strategies Richard Vanderbrant might be attempting.
"Thank you, I'm sure my lawyer will be in touch," Gabriel said politely. Normally an attempt to break a conservatorship enshrined in a will such as Donough Vanderbrant's was unshakeable, but Richard was a powerful man with influence far beyond that which Gabriel exerted. His own 'corporate tie' notwithstanding.
The man gave him a slight, disbelieving sneer, then retreated from the field.
"Well." Gabriel stood in the open doorway for a moment, trying to sort things out. He didn't dare look in Shemyahza's direction again. "I, I had better get to my first class, then." He neglected to say it didn't start for another hour. He did, after all, have some set-up work to do and he could go over Roy's prepared lesson plans for the entire day.
"You going to tell me what that was all about?" Shemyahza inquired, following him out of the office, hooking the door shut behind them.
Gabriel waved a dismissive hand. "Family politics. Very boring, I assure you, and no real concern." He was surprised to realize as the words left his mouth that he was concerned. If Richard Vanderbrant saw fit to actually file suit to try and wrest the Vanderbrant Foundation from Gabriel and his brothers, that meant his team of lawyers considered it a decent case. And he, Gabriel, did not want his corporate-minded uncle in charge of an educational trust. "Let's...just get to class." That said, he led Shemyahza out of the administrative wing into the more densely-populated hallways, ensuring that they wouldn't be left alone again.
At least, not until his classes were over.
The day's roster passed in a blur; between hewing to Roy's lesson plan and coping with an influx of concerned students in the between-times, Gabriel had has hands full. He accepted lunch with a couple of colleagues who came to ask after him at noon, a practice he wouldn't normally engage in but today Gabriel had an active interest in distracting himself from the fact that he was the sole focus of a pair of heavy-lidded silvery Nephilim eyes. As expected, so long as Gabriel surrounded himself with people Shemyahza remained in the background, arms crossed over his chest, tall frame arranged somewhere as inconspicuous as one could manage when one was nearly seven feet tall. Gabriel fielded a number of questions over the hunter's presence, but less than he expected. More people inquired directly after him, what had happened the day before to cause his sudden disappearance and a notice that his classes were indefinitely canceled, and their surprise that he'd returned so quickly.
"Uh, it was, well, a family matter," Gabriel stammered in response to the constant sally of questions and indelicate probes. On some level he was aware that he was moderately popular at the university, but he had always attributed it to the subjects he taught and Roy's fine lesson plans.
Throughout the day he was continually aware of Shemyahza's gaze, no matter where he focused his attention. He stuttered more than usual during his lectures, dropped the threads of conversations when his students showered him with questions after class, and ended up canceling open-office hours near the end of the day, causing a general groan to arise amongst the body of lecture attendees. Not that his office was in any shape to entertain. Even so, it took a good half-hour for the lecture theatre to clear after his last class had ended.
When the last student disappeared, he made quite a busyness over shutting down his notebook, shuffling the screen-files into a semblance of order, stowing things in his briefcase. If he had been planning ahead he would have tried to get Roy to meet him after his last class, avoiding the circumstance in which he now found himself.
"You're a good teacher," Shemyahza put forth the neutral topic.
Gabriel stowed his notebook in its special padded slot within his briefcase. "Thank you," he said, fussing over the already-ordered files, the portable loaded with his calendar, and he thumbed through the week. Roy had everything in order. The man must prepare a week or more in advance, otherwise nothing would have been ready today; he would have to ask him. "I have a very good protégé, he helps me a good deal."
"You're the one who delivers the lectures," Shemyahza said. His footsteps echoed across the floor as he moved at last from the discreet stance he'd taken up in the line of sight of Gabriel's lectern.
"Oh, I suppose I have a solid command of the subject, but my delivery leaves much to be desired," Gabriel said with a self-deprecating chuckle. He snapped his briefcase shut at last and turned, pulling in a startled breath at Shemyahza's sudden looming proximity. "Oh, stop doing that!" He snapped his mouth shut, a most uncharacteristic flush rising to his cheeks again.
Unexpectedly, Shemyahza laughed. He took a step back and raised his hands, turning a mocking grin on Gabriel as if to intimate he came in peace.
"You've been sniffing around me like a bloodhound since last night, it's got to stop," Gabriel told him, avoiding the eerie eyes above him with a superstitious fervor.
"You know more than you're letting yourself realize," Shemyahza countered. "I was present for your whole days' worth of lectures, Gabriel. I can read between the lines. How long have you known about the Nephilim?"
Gabriel shook his head and adjusted his glasses with a trembling hand. "I don't know what you're talking about," he declared, and strode for the closest exit from the theatre. For a wonder, Shemyahza let him leave, though he could hear the thud of boot-heels behind him that signified his bodyguard was sticking close by.
Behind him there was an indrawn breath, as if the hunter would sigh or tackle the subject from another angle, but Shemyahza did neither. He followed Gabriel to his gutted office and waited by the door like the perfectly unobtrusive shadow Gabriel had thought a bodyguard to be when this whole thing began.
After ten minutes of sorting through the remnants of documents, books, and trampled paper, Shemyahza spoke up. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Gabriel was on his knees fetching a few screen-files that had skittered to the furthest point under a desk. "Certainly, if it's a book or electronic device, gather it up and place it on the largest unoccupied table. Thank you." They spent a peaceful silent twenty minutes collecting the odds and ends scattered about his offices, during the course of which Gabriel discovered that Roy had indeed taken with him everything essential to the grimoire, and left behind all other reference material and items of his collection, no matter how valuable or irreplaceable.
"It makes me want to reconsider the evacuation plan and have it drawn up again from scratch," Gabriel sighed, bracing himself against the edge of the now-cluttered table.
Shemyahza raised his dark green brows. "Did they get everything that was absolutely essential?"
"Then it's a good plan," Shemyahza cut him off. "You can lose things, even irreplaceable things, but so long as there's no loss of life it can only be considered a success."
Gabriel cast a sharp glance in his direction. "You're not at all what I thought you'd be."
Shemyahza leaned up against the table, too, tossing an amused grin his way, exposing a hint of elongated canine. "What, sane?"
"One of the good guys," Gabriel said, casting his thoughts back to Granac Bowen, a roomful of crackling firelight, tea and sandwiches and the most urbane manners he'd encountered in a while. Yet through the entire encounter something beneath his skin had itched, crawled, his senses warning him not to trust the creature even as his consciously engaged mind was tempted to accept what he offered.
"Ah, well." Shemyahza shrugged his broad shoulders. The nap of the silvery-gray trench coat glinted when the light struck it just so, and Gabriel found himself wondering if the coat was soft to the touch. It didn't look like leather. He had a superstitious certainty that touching Shemyahza would be a mistake. "The other Nephilim, most of the ones out there, consider me to be insane. We all have our reasons for siding with the humans."
"What are yours?" Gabriel found himself asking, and glanced up inadvertently, meeting Shemyahza's eyes. They were the same silvery gunmetal color as the coat, and as the demon leaned closer he could see those crimson pupils again. Shemyahza was a collection of impossible coloration, with the exception of his cinnamon-colored skin, reminiscent of indigenous American tribes.
Shemyahza broke off the eye contact, focusing on a point over Gabriel's shoulder. "We should go," he rumbled, and pushed away from the table abruptly.
Gabriel resurfaced from the introspection of those eyes, having been immersed in whole contemplation of Shemyahza, and blinked as he collected his thoughts. He'd never been so wholly absorbed in something outside of texts and artifacts. Was it the mere presence of a full-blood Nephilim, one who'd surely been walking the earth longer than Gabriel cared to contemplate?
"I have to go home," Gabriel said vaguely. "To the Carrack building. If we're to stay in Cygnus much longer, I'll need personal effects."
"Fine," Shemyahza acceded, striding over to the door. "We're done here?"
Gabriel's brow creased as he regarded that trench-coated back, now turned against him. Had he missed something? He turned his attention to gathering his sundry articles of academia. There wasn't anything beyond his briefcase that he needed to take with him, fortunately. Roy had locked the office during the evacuation proceedings, otherwise he might have had to worry about something stolen; though who would want to steal old tomes and documents when there was no secondary market outside the intelligentsia escaped his train of logic. After a last once-over he joined Shemyahza at the door.
"It's within walking distance," he offered, locking the door behind him, relieved there was no crowd of underclassmen waiting outside as sometimes occurred. That was another reason they'd hired Kieran, he recalled; not just to assist with the research but to screen his would-be visitors. "Then we can take my car back to the Cygnus building."
Shemyahza grunted an absent affirmative, his gaze roaming over their surroundings. He seemed to be putting more than his usual intensity into it, and Gabriel thought he sensed a hint of exertion not his own, a kind of déjà vu settling over him as something twitched at the back of his mind like a muscle long-disused. "I recognized you when you came through that door." "Shall I tell you?"
"What are you doing?" Gabriel said, eyes widening when the question came out unexpectedly loud in the quiet hallway. He stopped and Shemyahza halted beside him, flicking a brief scrutinizing glance his way before orienting himself in another direction, fixating on a wall.
"Scanning," Shemyahza told him curtly, then aimed a sardonic glance in his direction. "I thought you didn't want to know."
Gabriel shook his head, clutching at his briefcase. Pale hair obscured his vision and he brushed it aside. "I don't," he said vehemently, and resumed walking. Shemyahza's heavy tread paced after him, then when they had nearly reached the double doors that served as entrance and exit to the building, Shemyahza caught up to him and gripped his arm.
"Wait," Shemyahza told him, glowering down at him.
Gabriel's lips were parted as he looked up. He hastily closed his mouth and adjusted his glasses; anything to break that gaze.
"I go first," Shemyahza told him in no uncertain terms, and pushed the door open, holding it there with one hand until he was sure Gabriel had it. "All right. Let's go."
It was strange to make the walk home with someone beside him. On occasion Roy had joined him, to work through projects or collaborate on lectures and lesson plans or for the simple pleasure of a shared meal, but aside from his friend and protégé Gabriel didn't have guests over. Roman and Cedric occupied the remaining share of his attention in their respective fashions, whatever part of him was leftover from his obsession with the ancient world and demonology, and there had been no one else, friend or lover, since college. Even in those days relationships had been a pale shadow to his burning passion for academia and Gabriel had reasonably concluded that a person only had so much drive to devote to any assorted endeavors, leaving him with little to no sex drive.
Even in Roman's case his younger brother had been the aggressor, the instigator, seducing Gabriel and initiating all their encounters.
Now, though, Gabriel found himself thinking of the full-blood walking beside him, the very epitome of his field in the flesh, and he was unable to turn his focus back to the pages of the grimoire that had so occupied him before his abduction.
Once they were in the Carrack building, Shemyahza's aura of vigilance relaxed. It was a difference in the very air around him, as if the hunter had released a tension that had built up around them. Gabriel shivered and knew without looking that Shemyahza's eyes were on him, but he didn't dare ask.
"Was it unsafe?" he ventured, once they were on the elevator and it was rising steadily toward the top floor.
"Not that I could determine," Shemyahza said, deep voice thoughtful. "But it very well could have been. They know your patterns, Gabriel."
"Fenrir did," Gabriel replied, thinking of the lion-maned man with very sharp teeth.
"Fenrir's with Granac Bowen now, on Long Island," Shemyahza said. "Which is why you're still at risk, Gabriel. They'll try to find another way inside if they can - or they could already have operatives here, human or not; there's simply no way to be sure short of having a hundred Naras sweep the city." He leaned against the elevator and jerked his chin upward.
"We’re not even safe here," he continued. "If someone's watching through means I can't detect - cyber-witchery, for example - it would be child's play to cut power to this elevator and take us right here."
Gabriel blinked, taken aback. "We could have taken the stairs," he objected, now rendered uneasy. Though not claustrophobic by any means the thought of being trapped in a powerless elevator while the demons came was an unsettling one. He'd seen enough up-close specimens yesterday to last him a decade at least. "If we got stuck here--"
"I'd punch through the wall," Shemyahza said calmly. "We'd go straight out the elevator onto whatever floor was closest." He put a hand up behind his head, and it looked as though he were scratching his head until the rasp of steel heralded a blade clearing its scabbard.
"You've had a sword on you all day?" Gabriel exclaimed, though it was pointless to act shocked now.
"Of course," Shemyahza rumbled. "Why do you think I never sat down? Because I like standing?" Gabriel looked at him helplessly. "How big is that sword?" he wondered aloud, then flushed and faced front resolutely. A non-sequitur like that should never have left his lips.
"Oh, big enough to get the job done," Shemyahza said cheerfully.
He'd been right, Gabriel thought; he shouldn't have said it.
For the first time since his parents' death, the door closing behind him as he entered his home was an oppressive weight. Gabriel hesitated in the entryway, noting the row of shoes both larger and smaller than his as well as a scuffed pair of his own loafers, the half-open closet with coats lined up on their hangers, the crooked runner that covered the smooth-polished wooden floor and always ended up at that slight angle because Roman kept taking the corner fast no matter how many times Cedric straightened the rug. How long would it be until they returned here as a family?
Leaving his briefcase by the door, Gabriel moved through the rooms like one who had already left for good and returned now as a haunt. He was aware of Shemyahza following him with a light tread, so quiet he must have left his boots behind him by the door. If he paused at the kitchen threshold, he could see his little brother Cedric at the counter atop his step-stool, stirring a pot on the stove. If he lingered at the open door to the study, he could see Roman curled up in his armchair, dozing and waiting for him to finish a project. Gabriel shook his head, continuing for the bedroom, common sense admonishing that was the last place he wanted to lead the demon on his heels but he had come for his personal effects, after all.
"Be careful," Shemyahza cautioned him.
Gabriel came to a halt and tossed a puzzled glance over his shoulder. "What do you mean? Here?"
"No, be careful not to get lost."
Gabriel frowned. He'd only been thinking on the past. "I don't understand--"
"Of course not, it's one of those things you don't want to talk about," Shemyahza said, smooth and infuriating. "Tell me, Gabriel, do you think your father didn't know, or was it just that he chose not to burden you with it?"
Gabriel opened his mouth to dissemble, hell, maybe even to lie; this tall pushy demon hunter was backing him into a corner and it had to stop.
"You have Nephilim blood," Shemyahza said flatly, holding his gaze captive.
"No," Gabriel said, shaking his head, trying to decide between pushing past Shemyahza and returning to the other side of the house or retreating to the bedroom. Either way there was really no escape. "That's--"
"Crazy?" Shemyahza supplied helpfully, leaning in to scrutinize him as Gabriel slumped against the wall, eyes faraway and mind working furiously.
It wasn't a surprise, the words Shemyahza had strung out for him all in that order. He had a dissertation stowed away somewhere, the one that had brought him to Orion's attention, on how the highest order of demon had surely been responsible for the Rising, and they'd gone unnoticed for so long because they had been able to pass amongst the humans as one of them. Moreover, many of them would have insinuated into or established themselves as powerful, wealthy families. Like the Vailles, a long and wealthy lineage of which Gabriel knew very little...only that his father Carson had been one of the last, and if he had any relations besides his mother's side of the family they were a mystery to him. His coloration and that of his brothers; the fact that Carson had been a renowned archaeologist of demon, not human culture; Richard Vanderbrant's intense dislike of the Vailles and his consistent refusal to treat them as...human: it all factored into his family equation.
"No," Gabriel said, the word lacking force. He tipped his head back.
"Is it really such a shock?"
Gabriel swallowed. No, the world wasn't unfurling. If anything, it was opening a window.
Shemyahza's hand touched the side of his face; a thumb stroked over his cheekbone, soothing. "It doesn't make you any less human, you know. You're still who you are when you woke up."
"I don't think I know half of who I am," Gabriel said quietly. "I feel...as if I've been asleep for most of my life."
Shemyahza raised a brow at this, then reached down and seized his wrist. He dragged Gabriel into the kitchen, and of course by this point Gabriel had no resistance in him. He let the larger man direct him to the breakfast nook. Below the surface, his thoughts continued to churn furiously. He had been fluent in five languages by the time he was eight, and one of them was a principally demonic language, of the higher order. Who had taught him? His father had uncovered treasures from the distant past as if he had homed in on them, known exactly where to find them each time.
"You look like a tea-drinker," Shemyahza said, hunting out a steel kettle and filling it from the tap.
It had the touch of the absurd, and it was exactly what he needed. The Nephilim demon-hunter who'd unsettled him sat him down in his own kitchen and brewed him a cup of Earl White tea and crooked a sardonic grin at him as he raised his own cup in an unspoken toast before sipping his own.
"You must have known," Shemyahza said after a peaceful interval, setting his cup down.
"I never thought about it," Gabriel replied, turning the cup in his hands.
"You've had trouble concentrating before, haven't you?" Shemyahza asked him.
"Almost all of the time," Gabriel confessed, frowning. "Except when I'm focused on a field of interest, of course, and even then it seems like there's--"
"Too much information?" Shemyahza offered.
"Yes!" Gabriel exclaimed.
"That will get better. That's an easy fix," Shemyahza told him, lowering his cup and studying Gabriel. "I can teach you the control. It's a different way of looking at the world, really; like filtering things out, or in."
"So...so that's why," Gabriel said after a moment, meeting Shemyahza's intense crimson-centered silver eyes with a touch more certainty.
A hint of a smile touched Shemyahza's broad mouth. "That's why, what?"
"Why you've been looking at me like that," Gabriel filled in, pleased to have finally settled that matter. "You wanted to...well, you wanted to get me to admit...er..." He trailed off because the demon hunter's jaw flexed briefly, then Shemyahza gave him a slow, unmistakable smile, one with hungry overtones as if he hadn't been fed during the lunch hour and Gabriel was on the menu.
"Oh, I think not," Shemyahza said, so soft Gabriel had to strain forward to hear him. "It's not an admission of your demonic blood I'm after, though that might make things a bit easier for you. I'm sure you're already familiar with the fact that Nephilim mate for life?"
Gabriel tried to swallow and found that, despite having just downed a cup of tea, his throat was already dry. He nodded.
"Good," Shemyahza purred. "I hope you sowed your oats while you had a chance, Vaille, because your ass is mine."
Gabriel set his tea-cup down in its saucer, slow and precise. "There must be some mistake," he said, plaintive. He was still trying to process the first shock, of having something explicated so clearly when he'd just realized it the night before, and had been happily engaged in trying to lock it away in the vaults of his trick consciousness before Shemyahza teased it out. He was indeed familiar with the fact that when Nephilim did choose an exclusive partner, they did so for life, but such occasions were rare and anyhow, what about the fact that he was human, and male? He continued uncertainly, "Perhaps you meant Roman?"
Shemyahza loosed a short bark of laughter. "Roman? No, devoting myself to an incubus would not be my death of choice."
"An incubus," Gabriel repeated, diverted now. His frown deepened.
"Sorry, perhaps I'm assuming," Shemyahza remarked. "That's how his energy comes across. It's always reaching out, blatantly sexual, and he has a strong desire to touch people, be the center of attention?"
Gabriel would gladly accept a change of subject if it meant diverting Shemyahza from that ridiculous proposition. Not only did the hunter not seem the type to settle, but Gabriel was married to his work. Roman was lucky to pry what concessions he could from him.
"I thought he was attention-starved," Gabriel admitted shamefacedly. "Because I was always immersed in my work--"
"I'm certain a boy like Roman has plenty of friends, and has never lacked for people around him when he wants it," Shemyahza said. He brushed a long wing of dark green hair over one shoulder, fixing Gabriel with that thousand-yard stare. "And I'm also willing to bet he can play your emotions like a lute and switch on guilt or desire like turning the tap."
"You make it sound like he's doing it on purpose," Gabriel protested.
"He is," Shemyahza said, lacing his long, dark fingers before him. "He just doesn't realize what the tools are that he's putting to such effective use."
"And he's a model," Gabriel said, wondering. Was that the biggest expression of his need to drink in the adulation of others? It made sense on the face of it but it was hard to hear Shemyahza ascribe all of Roman's behavior to what essentially amounted to manipulation on his part, and none of it the inner workings of a sensitive, moody boy.
"The little boy, though...he could be difficult," Shemyahza mused, looking into the bottom of his empty cup.
"What?" Gabriel demanded.
Shemyahza looked up. "Later," he said, waving a dismissive hand. "You think I'm going to let you change the subject so long as we're conveniently alone?"
Gabriel had been rather hoping. "You can't," he protested weakly. "You're my bodyguard."
"Hmm, well, yes," Shemyahza murmured, rising from the kitchen table. "And what better incentive have I got to guard you than once I've staked my claim?"
This was not happening. He would squeeze his eyes shut, and when he opened them he'd either still be in Granac's drawing room and this would be some elaborate ploy to wear down his resistance for something else, or he'd be in his own bed or perhaps the one he'd woken up in at Cygnus this morning, alone for the first time in an age.
"You're mine, Gabriel. Did you think you recognized me just for the demon blood?" Shemyahza continued in soft, persuasive tones. "You recognized something there was no leisure to consummate. We have time, now."
"What if I don't want to?" Gabriel rallied at last.
Shemyahza smirked at him. "Think of it as an arranged marriage," he said, grasping Gabriel's hand, turning it over, bending over the wrist with a loop of dark hair sliding over one shoulder to sweep against Gabriel's skin. His mouth unfolded fire against Gabriel's palm, the tingle from just that touch jolting up his arm. Gabriel jerked his hand away, rubbed his hand convulsively against his thigh, and retreated out the opposite end of the breakfast nook.
"This isn't possible," he avowed, making a beeline for his shoes and the front door.
Shemyahza got there first, blocking the way, his brows arching amusement as he slid the lock home and simply leaned there, folding his arms. "For a bright man," he remarked, "you do have a hard time accepting truth you've already recognized for yourself." He waited a beat, then as Gabriel continued to play frozen statue, he sighed and began to shrug out of his coat, stripping it off and letting it pile on the floor, exposing bare-muscled dark arms shown off to advantage by a sleeveless red vest. Giving Gabriel the eye, he began to unbutton that.
There was no help for it. Gabriel turned and fled.
He tripped on the runner at the exact corner where Roman always skidded, and that nearly downed him right there. Gabriel put a hand out against the wall, pushing off and keeping his edge of half a hallway's head-start. Shemyahza probably hadn't expected him to run. Hell, Gabriel himself wasn't quite sure why he was running, but for the fact that his fight-or-flight drive had been engaged, and what was that about mated? He dipped his hand into the inner jacket of his suit, hand closing around his cell phone as he loped up the hallway for his bedroom. He could call Ms. Carson.
What good would that do?
Gabriel stopped on the threshold of his bedroom, phone still gripped in one hand, looking at the expanse of the immaculate bed. He could try to barricade himself into his bedroom and call the cavalry, but why? It shouldn't have to be that way. If he wanted to put a stop to this, he should be able to say 'no' with conviction and that would be the end of it. Besides, he was certain Shemyahza would be atop him before he could finish dialing even one phone call, Orion or emergency services.
He turned and a tall apparition was pacing toward him, red vest unbuttoned and baring a strip of cinnamon-colored skin from sternum down clear past his navel. Shemyahza's hair was loose and long around his shoulders and his handsome face was serious, intent. He was undeniably attractive and Gabriel acknowledged for the first time the visceral tug of his fascination. He was...overwhelming.
Gabriel put up his hand in a 'stop' gesture, bracing himself against the frame of the door, preparing his arguments. This was too sudden, there was no room in his life for a romantic or sexual attachment, they barely knew one another, his life was supposedly in peril and Shemyahza was supposed to be guarding him... Shemyahza didn't stop, though; he kept advancing and Gabriel had no room in which to retreat and so Shem walked right into the hand Gabriel held out to keep him away, until Gabriel's hand lay against Shemyahza's chest and the Nephilim was looking down at him. The full weight of those silver eyes was on him and there was no mockery or condescension, no amusement, only Shem at the center of his concentration, warm skin beneath his fingers and heat flaring, something stirring inside of him.
Shemyahza's hands were at his sides; only Gabriel was doing the touching right now. Beneath his hand, Shem was alive in a way he had never connected with anything outside his own skin. That square of flesh beneath his hand was the beat of another's pulse on his tongue, enough warmth to wrap him up in strength and swallow him whole, enfolding comfort like a thick blanket on a solitary chill night, vibrant dawn and a world waking. Gabriel sucked in a harsh breath and met Shemyahza's eyes, seeing him now with true sight as perhaps he hadn't done since that incorporeal gaze had locked on him the night before in a moment that was now more like a dream. Shemyahza's eyes were steady upon his in return. He wouldn't look away, and now Gabriel knew that to ask him to stop would be useless. As he'd said, this had already been set in motion the night before.
He pulled his hand away with an effort and stumbled back over the threshold and into the bedroom proper. His skin was tingling from where he'd laid it against Shemyahza's chest and he was hard as a rock. Gabriel gasped, casting about for a last escape. There was his dressing screen; there, the entrance to the wide, luxurious bathroom. Behind him was the solid breadth of the Nephilim, who was stripping off his red vest and tossing it to Gabriel's feet, tossing impossibly long hair over one shoulder, hooking a thumb into his waistband and looking at Gabriel.
It was all so surreal, and the fact that only moments before they had been sipping tea in his kitchen added another layer to the implausibility of this. Gabriel's knees buckled and dumped him onto the edge of the bed. His cock was so hard he wanted to touch himself, unzip his pants and ease confinement, look up into the intensity of those eyes and watch them dilate, see the silver in them shift into liquid heat as he let his erection lengthen along his palm. And what was stopping him? Shemyahza wanted this, he was going to make this happen.
Shemyahza's eyes flared and he swooped forward, breaking Gabriel's resolve and making him scuttle back as instinct won out again and urged him to flee. He twisted awkwardly on the spread, intending to crawl toward the headboard though what good that would do was a mystery; there was no place to go, he just hadn't admitted it yet. The weight of Shemyahza landed over his thighs, holding him in place. Gabriel grunted, struggling to get himself to hands and knees. A hand pulled at his collar and Gabriel squirmed, hands going to the front of his shirt and popping buttons, seeking to relieve the pressure at his throat from where the shirt-collar bound him.
His jacket and vest were summarily stripped from him and tossed aside. Gabriel was on his knees, the larger body behind him as a hand reached around him, touched his chin, his throat, and molded him against the torso behind him. The fingers on his throat held him into place firmly and Gabriel panted at the touch, just a simple touch but hotter than a branding iron, heat that ran a straight line from where Shemyahza gripped him down to his groin. It was all happening so fast it made his head spin; he didn't understand, and so he struggled with it still.
"This is cruel of me, and I'm sorry," Shemyahza murmured, his mouth dwelling on Gabriel's nape. "But you'll be safer, after, and you'll probably forgive me when you understand more."
"What's there to get!?" Gabriel growled, bucking against the strong arms that held him, the wiry thighs clamped to either side of his hips that locked him into the submissive position spooned against Shemyahza's larger body. The ridge of Shemyahza's hard cock pressed against his still-clothed buttocks. "You're -- ahh!" He stiffened as Shemyahza's other hand smoothed over his stomach, fingers tracing down the nearly invisible trail of silvery-lavender hairs that led further down.
It was the matter of a few buttons to expose him and Shemyahza did so with a flick of his fingers. As Gabriel panted and wriggled a bit and tried to think, Shemyahza made thinking impossible. His nimble fingers slipped under the elastic of Gabriel's underwear, traced over the sensitive skin of his lowermost belly, and ran through the downy nest of hair surrounding his cock before taking him in hand, tugging at his vitals.
"You...ah..." Gabriel leaned his head back, and there was a strong shoulder to lean against. He arched as those fingers shaped him, found a hard driving rhythm for him at once, and stroked his cock the way he'd been aching for it.
Teeth found his neck, biting down and suckling on him. When Shemyahza toppled him to the spread Gabriel went without a fight now, the hand on his cock and the teeth on his neck riveting all of his attention. He wanted...something, now. He wanted more. Shemyahza released his throat and began to strip the pants from him one-handed; Gabriel wriggled, recovering the agency to maneuver his own pants down over his hips. Then Shemyahza was humping him, thrusting the hard covered erection against him, fisting Gabriel's hard cock toward a fast completion.
He heard the split of a zipper behind him and flinched. Shemyahza thrust against him again, groaning low in his throat, and an obscure disappointment filled him when no more skin touched him besides Shem's hand. Gabriel's shirt separated him from that broad naked chest and Shemyahza shifted, taking himself in hand as he continued to work a hand over Gabriel's long slender cock.
Gabriel was finding he did want more, after all. He thrust, looked at the dark hand around the comparatively pale blushing skin of his cock, then the other hand pumping Shemyahza's thick shaft to the same rhythm, and imagined the two of them together against that broad dark palm. With a startled shout he jetted the first gout of his orgasm, and thrust as he kept his eyes on their hard cocks, close but not touching.
As he came, pushing frantic into Shemyahza's pumping fingers, he was aware of a spurt of warmth against his hip. He looked down to the dusky heaviness Shemyahza rolled against his other palm and watched, detached and floating in his own pleasure, as the Nephilim aimed the head of his cock and spattered the rest of his release over Gabriel's stomach.
Then he was thrusting his hips into Shemyahza's hand, tipping his head back and closing his eyes against the avid, intrusive stare as the last wave of climax crashed over him. Shemyahza's skillful hand worked at him, that touch of his inexplicably hotter than any blowjob, any hot tight fuck he'd enjoyed before had ever made him. The pleasure took him away and made him over. He lost all sense of...everything.
By increments, Gabriel returned to awareness of the flesh. He rolled over onto his back, eyes traveling the length of sweat-slick dark skin beside him. "Th-that's all?" he questioned, obscurely disappointed. Neither of them had even managed to get their pants off.
One lazy eye unlidded, crimson-within-silver seeking him out. "That's all you can handle for now," Shemyahza informed him in no uncertain terms, flexing an arm over his midsection. He stroked Gabriel's hipbone and the touch made him shudder, push his hips up a little and want sex, even though he should be spent.
"Oh," Gabriel said weakly, and went limp against the coverlet. Apparently, it wasn't that he had a low sex drive after all.
"Let's get you cleaned up, we need to get back to Cygnus," Shemyahza said, and Gabriel thought about that hand on him again, then looked at Shemyahza's mouth and lost his train of thought there for a moment before his words made sense, as the cooling presence of splattered come intruded on his consciousness.
"Whose fault is that?" Gabriel said, all indignance, and pushed himself up on his elbows. There were scattered articles of clothing here and there on the bed. They hadn't even kissed, and Gabriel still wasn't sure he wanted to.
"Yours," Shemyahza said, rolling off the bed and onto his feet in one lithe motion. He zipped his pants and went hunting for his vest. "If you'd never gotten yourself lost, I never would have found you."
"Your instincts are correct, as usual," said the handsome young man, putting a hand to the workstation and swiveling his chair to face her. "You have a mole, Ms. Carson."
Alicia nodded, tapping one fingernail against the polished surface of the war room's conference table. The man beside her was young, somewhere in her age bracket like a large number of the highly competent individuals in his field, but his appearance was entirely not in keeping with the image most cyber-Wiccans chose to cultivate. But for his stunning blue-green eyes and high-cheekboned good looks, Rue Pierce would have fit quite well into the role of any number of the corporate inner-city young executives from his immaculately knotted tie to the high sheen of his dress shoes. He was almost too good looking, and if not for his pronounced talent in a high-demand field he might have been scouted long before in the up and coming model industry.
That was neither here nor there; she contracted for Pierce on a semi-regular basis when he was available because although his going rates were expensive he was discreet, quick, delivered what he said he would, and through long association with Orion he had a high security clearance. He even lived with one of the city's part-Nephilim, so there were no surprises there.
"That's what I thought," she said at length, then asked the question she had been dreading. "Who is it?" If it was Reims, or if it had been the division head's assistant, it would take a far more thorough investigation - and a nice fat paycheck for Rue - to determine the extent of the damage to their operations.
"Michelle Stamos," Rue replied, turning back to his console and passing his hand over the surface, then ejecting a screen-file and handing it to her. "I'm sorry."
Alicia shrugged, keeping her face neutral. She had lost a fair number of friends over the years of her work for an employer that was essentially waging war for the fate of the human race. It never failed to infuriate her when a human being turned to the other side. How could instant gratification override the more driving concern for the survival of their race? It also concerned her on a technical level, because whomever had passed information had also passed Orion's psych and background screening, both traditional evaluations and the post-hire psionic scan.
"Tell me what you know about how that information changed hands," Alicia ordered.
Rue sighed, pushing his chair back from the workstation and scrubbing a hand over his face. "Well, it was definitely her," he began. "Her access ID was the common factor every time sensitive information was downloaded. She used several different terminals, common display panels, never her own workstation. It was like she was trying to cover her tracks but she really didn't know how. She should've known her access ID would be logged."
Alicia bent her head to the screen-file in her hand, scrutinizing it as if it held the key to the whole damned mess. She turned it over between her fingers, turned it again and again. "What if someone swiped her access ID and password?"
Rue grimaced. "Probably what she was going to claim when she got caught, which is why you hired me," he said, spreading his hands. "I placed her presence at every one of those terminals at those precise times. It's an elementary spell that any practitioner can verify for you, but I'm willing to bet you've got forensic teams that could check for fingerprints, DNA evidence, and psionic trace. It was her, Ms. Carson."
"I don’t doubt that," Alicia said, setting the screen-file down. She looked up, meeting his clear blue-green gaze. "This makes things easier, Pierce, thank you. There's less damage to contain. What else?"
Rue leaned over his knees, tilting his head and giving her a small smile. "If it's any consolation, this information passed hands more than once. I'm almost certain that Stamos thought she was simply passing along product information to a competitor."
"That doesn't make it any better," Alicia said sharply.
"No, of course not," Rue replied, shaking his head. "But for her it can mean the difference between discharge and exile, am I right?"
Alicia looked away and pointedly let her lack of an answer speak for itself. She'd spoken truthfully, there was less damage to contain than there would be if the leak had been from anyone higher up. The thought of Reims being the leak had given her a few nightmares, because if Reims was selling information, then Nara knew about it, and if Nara was compromised then they might as well hand the keys of the city to Granac Bowen effective immediately. She wasn't the most powerful psychic they had, but she was the most consistent, reliable, and most importantly sane psychic they had available. Besides that, most of the really powerful ones couldn't bear mental contact with demons. Still, the damage that this information leak had caused was bad enough and she still had yet to hear the extent of it. She'd had to bring in an outside contract and reveal a lot of highly classified information to him, though she knew Rue was utterly trustworthy. This might yet affect more people than Stamos, if she'd gotten hold of some of her information through the fault of someone else being careless.
"She tapped information on the recent archaeological dig that uncovered your treasure trove--" here Rue gave her a skeptical look, because she hadn't shared the exact nature of that find "--the draft to contract out for a specialist to look at it immediately, the record log for the fact you delivered it personally, the name and address of the contractor - your Professor Vaille - and a retrieval of all available contracts on which Professor Vaille had previously worked for Orion."
Alicia smacked the conference table, angry. "I'll bet some of that was declassified, too," she said with a scowl. "That's enough information to give knowledgeable parties a good idea of what it was." She lowered her brows at him.
Rue held out his hands palm-up, giving her a deprecating look. "I have a good idea based on what I've looked at, but I refuse to believe it's true," he said.
Alicia snorted. "This coming from a cyber-Wiccan who deals with this kind of stuff on a daily basis. And you're partnered to a quarter-demon who rates as a half-blood by the Chiba scale."
"That's my reality," Rue said, giving her a wry look. "That other stuff, uncovering mystical tomes of demon lore powerful enough to level cities and continents? Next thing you'll be telling me one of those books was responsible for the fall of Atlantis."
Alicia blinked at the ancient reference, then leveled her fiercest expression at him along with a cautionary finger. "Not a word to anyone, Rue, not even to Cal."
Rue's sea-blue eyes widened in surprise. "I don't want to know," he said after a moment, shaking his head. "I never heard a word of it. If any of that's true, then none of us are safe, so I won't believe a bit of it."
"A wise head-in-the-sand policy," Alicia commented with a twist of her lips.
Rue shrugged. "I've given up trying to worry over things that I have no control over," he said, giving her a boyishly shy grin as if that were an embarrassing admittance for him.
Truly, she remembered Rue from the days when he'd first begun to take up contract work and he had been very uptight in those days; she'd pegged him as more than a bit of a control freak, being able to recognize her own kind. Fatherhood had blunted his sharp edges and having been with his partner must have done him some kind of good as well. The past four years he'd been far more relaxed and cheerful, and he'd been up to the task of increasingly more complex and challenging assignments.
"At least one of us is able," she said with a touch of humor. She drummed her nails on the table, the bite of stress reminding her as to the urgency of her task. "What else can you tell me, Pierce?"
"Her retrieval items changed hands no less than four times before they were no longer available as electronic media," Rue said, tapping a hand over his console. "I put a handy flow chart on your screen-file there for the higher-ups. All of this work can be cross-checked, of course, by another cyber-Wiccan--"
"Don't worry about it, Rue," Alicia told him. "I don't think I'm letting too much slip when I tell you we rarely cross-check your results anymore, unless you turn up something that happens to be a topic of dispute. You've proven to be extremely reliable."
"Well, thank you," Rue said, averting his eyes and smiling sheepishly at nothing in particular. With the flick of one finger, a holographic display hummed to life above the conference table, outlining the path that the data had taken once it was retrieved by Michelle Stamos. "At any rate it went from your employee to a junior staffer at one of Kline's subsidiaries--"
"Not a reporter," Alicia exclaimed, horrified.
"No, no," Rue soothed. "Besides, it would've ended up getting sold to a trashy broadsheet; no one would believe this even if your division head leaked it directly to a senior news reporter. Really."
"I suppose you're right," Alicia said. She drummed her nails and her brow gathered a stormcloud as she examined the holographic flow chart. "From the junior staffer it went to her boyfriend?"
"Yes," Rue confirmed. "He's an executive type, works for some international industry cluster."
"That means Vanderbrant is involved," Alicia muttered, varying the pattern of her drumming across the table's surface and wishing she hadn't given up gnawing at the lacquered tips.
"Much as I'd love to nail him for something," Rue said with a hint of malevolent cheer, "I don't think Vanderbrant upper level management is involved with this one. You see, after the executive type, it got sold to a temporary terminal that was purchased and destroyed shortly after receiving the retrievals."
Alicia sat up straighter, frowning at the flow chart.
"That was used by a full-blood Nephilim male," Rue finished up, pressing another button on the console. "I was able to retrieve a visual imprint." A pic was projected above the table: a strong-featured man with a flag of wavy gold hair. His upper lip came down a little too far, as if he were pulling it over to conceal something. Wrap-around sunglasses shielded his eyes.
It was Fenrir, she recognized at once. "That's exactly the confirmation I need," Alicia said, knowing Arashi would have a field day with this. "Rue, you're invaluable."
Rue chuckled. "You could pay me accordingly," he jested, manipulating his console again. The two-dimensional image collapsed.
Alicia pondered briefly whether to act as if this were the only breach of information, or go into paranoid mode and have a full scan done. That would take most of the resources they had at the moment, when she had to throw everything available at making a fast, tough decision and implementing it. This went beyond keeping the Vailles under protection. Her gut instinct was telling her this wouldn't be over until Granac Bowen and his key players had been taken out. Otherwise they would whittle down the city's defenses and take what they wanted. Still, she had a few reports to read yet and there was always the hope she would uncover good news.
"Pierce, how did she access the classified information?" Alicia asked finally. That was the other question she was dreading.
Pausing in the action of reaching over to snap his black briefcase shut, Rue threw a puzzled glance in her direction. "Ms. Carson, she had just gotten a promotion. She was assigned a new level of security last week, shortly before your archaeological discovery. None of the information she retrieved was beyond her access ID level."
Alicia tsked and palmed her forehead. "Of course. I think I even remember her mentioning something to the effect; she had some kind of lunch outing last week to celebrate the promotion but I was busy." She groaned as the implications sank in. "I'll bet she didn't have a full understanding of what was classified and what wasn't."
"That doesn't make it any better," Rue said quietly, offering up her words of earlier.
"No, it's no excuse," Alicia agreed. Michelle was a bright young woman and she should have known better. Now she'd made a serious mistake and she would get fired, but not exiled. She hadn't deliberately sold them out. "The information went through such circuitous paths it's possible no one knew they were selling to a Nephilim, am I right?"
"I'm no empath," Rue said. "I can't give you motives, just the hard facts."
"And how old is your son again?" Alicia said interestedly. Jayce Whelan Pierce had been tested a few years back by their own Nara and proven quite strong as well as unexpectedly well-adjusted on the empathic scale, in addition to other gifts inherited from his Nephilim blood.
"You never mind that," Rue said, turning fierce eyes on her. "Below the age of majority, that's for sure, and Jayce can make his own decisions about working for you in due time. I want him to graduate from high school, at least, though Cal and I might have to fight to get him into college."
"Vanderbrant High is a good elevator school," Alicia commented. "Provided he can pass the exams, he'd be automatically granted eligibility to the university."
Rue pulled an expression of comic dismay. "I'd prefer to do without Vanderbrant if I may."
"Ah, but the schools are administered by an independent board of directors, as far as I know," Alicia said. She waved her hand, dismissing the subject; Rue was an able parent insofar as she knew, and would research and make his own decisions on the matter. On to the next item of contention... "How about Cal? Any chance he'd come to work for us?"
If her gut feeling proved true, and it usually did as Rue had mentioned at the start of his results discussion, then a counterstrike of the magnitude this might take would require every resource at Orion's disposal - if Loire would greenlight the mission - and if they could borrow a powerful Chiba-scale half-breed like Cal in addition to Shemyahza they would have a better chance of success.
"Cal's not available if you have something dangerous in mind," Rue said coolly. "Besides, what's his incentive? He gets a 5% raise every time you make him an offer."
"Damn." After the Code 6 assault on the west Wall over four years ago, Alicia had been at the holo-display of the front lines and she'd been able to witness the full capabilities of Cal Pierce first-hand, so to speak. No one, not even his commanding officer, had expected him to be capable of what he'd endured and proven powerful enough to do that day. She'd been scouting him for Orion ever since, but when she'd inquired after his going rate, Redhawk -- commander of the City Wall and Defense Corps -- had grinned in the most infuriating manner possible and assured her she couldn't afford it. She'd found out later when the Wynne brothers came over to Orion as contractors that Redhawk had given Cal a 10% raise on top of an already absurd bonus while he'd been out recuperating on disability leave. Her budget person had told her to drop it; they could barely afford Shemyahza on limited contract as it was.
"Is that all?" Rue prompted, swinging his chair from side to side. It reminded her of his son, and she tried to remember when she'd seen the little Pierce do that; then she recalled she'd sat in on the boy's testing session - behind glass, and even then he'd known she was there and asked to meet her near the end of the session.
"Yes, thank you," Alicia responded, hastily bringing herself back on track. Between forgetting Stamos's promotion and going off into tangents, she either needed sleep more badly than she thought or a round of target practice to wake her up. She passed a hand over her console to wake it up, then sent off an order to have Pierce's account paid by the time he left the building. "I appreciate your promptness and discretion, I don't think we'll need a full sweep this time." She rose to her feet.
"Good," Rue said amiably, standing and tugging at his dress shirt to smooth out the creases from being seated for so long. "You pay well, Ms. Carson, but with a corporation your size, doing a full security sweep for leaks would take a year, and that's if you gave me some staff to do the grunt work."
"Maybe some day, if you ask nicely," Alicia promised, deadpan. "It would be easy money, no?"
"It just doesn't feel like work if I'm not risking my hide on a semi-regular basis," Rue joked in return.
She didn't need to escort him out; Pierce contracted with them often enough that he maintained a high level of clearance and underwent the annual background and screening checks that their regular employees submitted to. She walked him to the door, instead, and trotted out an antiquated expression to bid him farewell: "The check's in the mail."
"Always a pleasure," Rue said, tipping an imaginary hat, proving once again he was either widely read or had obscure taste in old film-era cinema.
When the door slid shut behind him, Alicia allowed herself a long sigh. It was better than she thought, with no major damage control, but still disheartening. Still, she could downgrade this issue to a minor one, and delegate the handling of its aftermath while she focused on the essentials. She stood for a moment and weighed the screen-file with its evidence in her hand, then pocketed it. She'd pass that over to Loire's assistant and have him take care of it. Stamos wasn't part of her division so the termination would fall under someone else's sphere of responsibility.
Alicia returned to the workstation she had just left, allowing her eyes to roam unfocused over the idly cascading patterns of the screensaver for a moment, then leaning her cheek on one hand. She called up the OS and checked her mail for pending items. "Well, hallelujah," she muttered, clicking one of them open right away. Shemyahza Guile had filed his report at 11:59:59, still technically morning.
As soon as she was finished, she'd page her team, including Arashi. It was time for scenarios and options.