If there was a schedule, by now they were running late though Humphrey had given no indication.
First they had stopped to pack a suitcase for Cedric, then they had stopped for ice cream cones, and because Cedric hadn’t wanted to wait for a car from Orion they had taken the underground rail back toward the Cygnus building. Cedric didn't want his golden afternoon of near-freedom to end. He could pretend so long as they weren't encased belowground that he was out for a normal afternoon albeit with some extraordinary companions. Besides, he couldn't remember the last time anyone had walked him down the street for an ice cream and he rather enjoyed it. Soon it would be too cold for that kind of treat.
Rukawa polished off a green tea cone in short order, and Humphrey got French vanilla. Cedric went for a double scoop partly to thrill in the illicit joy of having something neither of his companions knew he wasn't supposed to have, and layered amaretto truffle over chocolate ripple fudge. He was still slurping at the last bits while Humphrey hovered at the ready with a napkin when they disembarked from the subway.
"They have you somewhere safe?" Rukawa prompted as they walked up the street, and Cedric came to the realization that he'd been cagey about where they were going, and of course Humphrey wouldn't be divulging anything at all.
"Oh!" Cedric said, tipping his head back to meet the eyes of his much taller friend. "Yes, very safe. In fact...I hope it won't be too much fuss to let you in when we get there." He frowned and imagined all sorts of security hurdles and alarms. It reminded him of the ident disc stowed in his pocket; he had been granted access, to the lower levels no less where he imagined a limited number of staff were allowed. As he pondered, ice cream dripped over his hand, and he was just about to lift up the sticky mess and lick off the trail of chocolate when Humphrey blotted it for him with his napkin.
The big blond bodyguard caught Cedric's eye, glanced at Rukawa, and nodded gravely, by which Cedric took it to mean having his friend cleared through at least rudimentary security for the visit would be all right. Which, Cedric realized in the next instant, was a matter of course since Humphrey had acceded to a visit in the first place. Besides that he'd gotten the visit cleared through someone - Ms. Carson, he presumed. He wondered at the way Ms. Carson had gotten he and his brother cleared through building security the day before, and wondered what kind of special procedures were in place for that kind of exception, because surely it had been such.
He hitched his bag higher on his shoulder, almost losing the last pointy remnant of his cone and the pooling chocolatey fluid inside. It had been a selfish idea, taking the subway instead of waiting for a car when they had ice cream and Cedric's suitcase to juggle, but Rukawa had said yes at once and there had been a glimmer in Humphrey's eye that denoted approval. He wondered then if waiting for a car would have left them vulnerable in any respect. At the very least, this trek was a big departure in his schedule for anyone watching.
"We don't need to go inside if it's too much trouble," Rukawa put forth diffidently. He paused for a moment, then blinked at Cedric as if struggling to express something non-verbally or perhaps he was searching for the word to fit, the way Cedric felt he often did. "I could go home."
"No!" Cedric exclaimed, then stammered hastily after, "Not after coming all this way, I mean, we ought to at least give you a tour because then you would have just basically walked me home. Even though it's such a long way now." It had been half an hour from school including the stop at home and the walk to the ice cream store, then another half-hour to take the subway and walk to this point.
"That's all right," Rukawa muttered, looking elsewhere up the street.
Cedric lifted his chin. It wasn't all right to him. Friendship was about balance, equity. He had a sinking suspicion that Rukawa had skipped kendo practice to accompany him even though he'd said he didn't have any, and Cedric didn't want to ask partly because of the potential answer, and partly because it would seem like he didn't trust Rukawa to tell him the truth.
"I think there's an arcade in one of the upper levels," he said thoughtfully, glancing sidelong.
Rukawa almost cracked a smile. "I'd rather play chess if they have it."
"I heard Kellan say over breakfast that there was a tea shop that had a few boards," Cedric said happily. "We can go there." Old man's hobby, Roman called it, even though his brother would play a game if entreated or bribed and didn't have much trouble holding his own, despite all his complaining that his brain was the cranial equivalent of mush and his temperament suited only for such undemanding topics as modeling and sex.
Humphrey swung in front of him all of a sudden, and there was an explosive pop like a particularly loud firecracker going off nearby. A mist of red flew up before his eyes and the last bite of ice cream cone flew out of his hand and Cedric was tumbling as a raw, hoarse-grating voice barked "Get down!"
Cedric was on his back on the pavement and the world swam. Rukawa was atop him, dark eyes surprised. That was the first thing to register, the sudden change in their positions; then Cedric realized his face was warm and wet. He lifted a hand to his cheek and his fingers came away dripping red.
"Am I shot?" he asked, his voice coming out small and strained. Rukawa shook his head, looking up and to his left. Humphrey was still on his feet, a gun in his hands that had appeared from somewhere well-concealed on his person, his back to them as he swept his gun over the crowded street. The right side of his midsection was covered in blood.
Humphrey glanced over his shoulder, searing blue eyes seeking Cedric and registering momentary relief when they found him, prone on the pavement beneath Rukawa's sheltering bulk. "Cygnus," Humphrey croaked, flinging one arm out to indicate they should continue.
It was just up the street, Cedric realized; they were close. "I should call Ms. Carson!" he called back, and Humphrey shook his head adamantly, shifting his urgent gaze to Rukawa and jerking his head.
Rukawa nodded, accepting the unspoken charge. He got to his hands and knees, hovering protectively over Cedric as Humphrey turned his attention back to the street, lunging forward to meet the charge of a tall, orange-haired woman with the muscles of a body-builder.
"Let's go," Rukawa uttered, and before Cedric could struggle or reach for his phone his senior had scooped him up, beginning to jog forward with Cedric in his arms, interposing his body between Cedric and the majority of the street in an awkward half-turned sort of sidestep.
This is a bad idea, the thought pulsed through Cedric as he stretched to look over Rukawa's shoulder. As they passed Humphrey and his opponent the woman's head turned and she glared straight into Cedric's eyes. Her own eyes were gaslight-yellow, angry, something looming in their depths that frightened him into hunkering down until his face was pressed against Rukawa's chest. It was strange, the thought wormed its way to the forefront even in these circumstances; he and Rukawa weren't so very far apart in age and yet the disparity in their physiognomy was so pronounced.
"We're not far," Cedric cried, even though he couldn't see clearly and everything was a blur as Rukawa hustled them along. He was still in a state of suspended disbelief that this was actually happening. In all likelihood he would jerk awake from another nightmare in the middle of class and all told, he would prefer that alternative. "It's the gray stone building with the big gold 1001 by the doors."
Rukawa didn't answer.
Cedric clung to his jacket-front with both hands and tried to figure out what was happening; they were being attacked by a demon, a Nephilim, but why would they target him and not his brother? He didn't have any tactical value, he didn't know anything, his only connection to Orion was Gabriel; he, Cedric, wasn't even fully fluent in half the languages over which Gabriel had mastery.
As near as Cedric was able to tell from his limited visibility they were very close to the Cygnus building. The shockingly random "Where's my suitcase?" ran through his mind and he wanted to look for Humphrey again, but Rukawa was holding him in too unwieldy a manner. Then Rukawa coughed and stumbled, and they wiped out on the pavement, hard.
For the second time in a short span Cedric lay stunned, trapped again under Rukawa's larger bulk. He looked up at the blue, blue sky and pieced the moment together. Rukawa was a heavy weight on top of him, pressing him to the pavement this time. He pushed at his friend's shoulders and Rukawa lifted his face, eyes soft-focus, expression groggy.
"I'm sorry," Rukawa said quietly, coughed again, and looked surprised. His lips were rimmed in red and he went limp with frightening bonelessness, head lolling beside Cedric's.
"What's going on?" Cedric demanded, alarmed. He pushed at Rukawa's weight and wriggled, mind telescoping around a sudden understanding of the word "deadweight." He began to pant as he struggled to get Rukawa on his side and squirm out from underneath him, some of it exertion, the larger share for panic. Rukawa's eyes had fallen shut and when Cedric maneuvered himself clear, he found a spreading stain that radiated from the left side of his body, flowering bright and fast enough that Cedric knew even with his limited experience that something vital had been hit. "Rukawa! Rukawa, open your eyes! Rukawa!" He pounded on the other side of Rukawa's chest, panicked. If they could get inside the building, if Rukawa would stand up with that enormous strength of his and they could just get help...
"Sorry," Rukawa repeated, opening his eyes briefly. A red froth bubbled at the corner of his mouth. "--wanted to protect you."
"What have you got to be sorry for, you're fine!" Cedric exclaimed, clasping at Rukawa's shoulder, plucking at the front of his uniform. "Get up. Come on, it's time to get up, we have to get inside, we have to--" He broke off, nearly in tears as Rukawa's eyes fluttered shut. He leaned in close, frightened, and was on the verge of truly panicking when sensed the feeble rattle of continued breath against his face. No, no, no, this was not happening. Cedric froze for a moment as time hung suspended on those wheezing breaths.
"No," he gasped, laboring to roll Rukawa over, his cell phone and potential calls for help completely forgotten as he leaned over his friend. Rukawa gave a long, bubbling sigh and Cedric freaked, eyes snapping wide as he sensed breath stopping, energy fading. He leaned over Rukawa's chest and placed both hands on him as if to shock him awake with the force of his own will. "You can't, I won't let you!" He shuddered over the loss of that breath. His fault, this was all his fault, he hadn't wanted to wait for a car; he had asked Rukawa to come visit him; for protecting him, Humphrey had gotten shot and now Rukawa-- Cedric tipped his head back and shrieked.
A hot sensation slammed through him, like lightning, like fire jolting through his veins. It rushed through him and whispered to him with the sound of leaves on the wind, distant voices in rooms just beyond reach, the murmur of running water or a hundred dust motes sifting through a broad shaft of light and Cedric tasted the power of it, and knew what to do. He set his hands to Rukawa's chest, one over the seeping stain, and rode the power - or it rode him; there was no difference in that molten moment while everything blazed around him and the only two things in existence were Rukawa, and the quickening.
A heaving intake of breath pushed up the chest beneath his hands and Cedric gasped, pouring more power into him like tipping an overly-full pitcher over a cup, letting it run over freely. He sobbed without sound, without tears as he willed his friend to open his eyes.
Then Rukawa did.
Cedric found himself on his back again, Rukawa crouched over him in a protective position. His eyes were locked onto Cedric's face, wide and dark and all pupil.
"Are you all right?" Cedric ventured.
Rukawa looked down at him with incomprehension, as if the question had been voiced in a foreign tongue. A shot rang out, then another; they banged like a hard engine backfire, a sound so mundane Cedric had to remember they were under attack. Rukawa's arms closed around him and he lifted Cedric as though it were no effort at all. His mouth was still smeared red but his exhalations were normal, reassuring. He was alive. There was a heartbeat under Cedric's hand.
He spared no time for amazement and Rukawa was running, sheltering as much of Cedric in his arms as he could. There was another shot and Rukawa jerked, but this time didn't stumble. They were passing a façade that Cedric recognized.
"This one!" Cedric called out, tugging at Rukawa's jacket. Three men pounded out of the doors just as they reached them; none of them familiar to Cedric, all of them heading for Humphrey and the oversized woman, who were grappling hand to hand now. "Inside, in there!"
One of the men heading for Humphrey called out to his companions, "There's a shooter, find him!" then Rukawa hit the door and they were inside, they had reached shelter at last.
Rukawa looked around wildly, holding Cedric close to his chest. The lobby area was deserted for now but Cedric had a feeling someone would show up soon. He had to find his ident disc, his proof that he belonged here. He was set gently onto his feet and Cedric looked up at his Rukawa-senpai, flush and frightened and excited all at once, because Rukawa was okay and that was all that mattered, right?
The eyes that met his had a steady crimson-pupiled glow.
Jo Carselyle didn't like waiting around on idle at the Orion Corporation and so he found things to keep him occupied, sometimes with mixed results. One memorable occasion had been when he stumbled across the research division after arriving early for a meeting that had been rescheduled until much later in the day; a roomful of specialists with an actual demon hunter to pump for information were somewhat intimidating.
Carson had asked him to stick around after the midnight briefing, so after crashing for a night and filing his report the next morning, they left him more or less unoccupied though the tactical head's prompt return message thanking him for his quick analysis had indicated there would probably be a meeting later that very day. Jo's place was several city rings over, so it wasn't worth it for him to even try and make it home. He would have time to get there, maybe shower and check mail or loaf on the sofa, then would have to start right back again.
He had a sometime lover who worked in the Cygnus building, the aboveground levels, but of course was too busy with daytime work to meet up with him.
It wasn't really in Jo to loaf while he was nominally at work, so he found a lower-level terminal that had the access privileges he needed and started calling up bounties. Like a lot of the hunters who worked for Orion Corporation, Jo worked on a freelance and contract basis for missions like this, but even more frequently he pulled in paydays by bringing in bounties posted on wanted Nephilim or demons.
He scrolled through the classified list first, the one not available to casual hunters or the general public - all the Nephilim were on that one. The general public didn't know about the demons that walked in human shape, attributing the flashier abilities to really strong human magic, and Orion Corp wanted to keep it that way. If everyday people knew that the demons against which they were fighting for their lives were actually in some cases living in their neighborhoods, going to their schools, or working side by side with them, riots and innocent dead were the first predictions on the list. Jo wasn't sure he entirely agreed with Orion's reasoning; after all, everyday people had been able to accept people with superhuman abilities like Nara or Reims. He supposed even he qualified as extraordinary but it was more a result of Syd's painstaking work rather than anything for which he was personally responsible.
That was how Orion wanted to play it, with most people. He'd met plenty of half-breeds who were casual about revealing their blood heritage, but then, that was in the company of those who already knew or had clearance.
There were a lot of bounties on the list today. Jo had checked the day before, had actually been on the verge of starting out in pursuit of one when he'd gotten the call from Orion for a special rush job.
Someone had approved the capture of what had to be the majority of "unregistered" Nephilim in the city - some were hard captures, meaning a kill was okay, but most were soft captures, meaning alive, and should be contained discreetly. He whistled a low, impressed note for the price tags on some of them. Carson's unit must have been hard at work all night, this had her hand in it. She probably hoped to gain more info on Bowen or at least put some pressure on him, picking up some of the individuals who were surely his agents within the city.
Jo scrolled past the classified bounties to the more easy targets, ones that were available in the buffer zone, city sewers, some in the inhabited regions just outside the Walls. Slim pickings lately, partly because their Defense Corps was just that good.
There was nothing he particularly felt like tackling, so it was a good thing Carson had asked him to stick around. The classified hunts looked to be challenging, especially since most were "soft" captures that would likely resist apprehension, and all the unclassifieds were too easy, and weren't worth the time for someone like him - they wouldn't pay enough.
When he scrolled through the classifieds again, one caught his eye in particular - a Nephilim or part-blood with wavy golden hair and wraparound sunglasses. He recognized that one from yesterday's retrieval mission; it was Fenrir, Gabriel Vaille's abductor. The bounty had gone up to a legendary price and his last known location flashed below known stats: Long Island. No one would be able to bring him in unless Fenrir got stupid and tried to return to the city.
Jo found himself thinking about it anyhow, strategizing, projecting how he would make the push and ended up shaking his head. Even with the massive protections and offensive capabilities that his glyph afforded him, a hard capture would be almost impossible to pull off and come back alive to collect the bounty with less than a competent, well-trained team of twelve, and a soft capture like the bounty sheet was asking for was out of the question. Long Island was still mostly unknown territory and they probably shouldn't have left it that way - as the unknown quantity of Granac Bowen was now proving itself to be a tactical error - but Jo at least knew enough to leave well enough alone.
During the time that Jo had been a hunter, Orion had been proactive about protecting the cities, but there hadn't been a whole lot of instances taking the fight back to the demons. And the Nephilim, for the most part, seemed content with the gains they had made directly after the Rising. He supposed they could afford to be laid back about it; they had the long view, after all.
Jo logged off his access ID for the terminal, blanked the screen, and got up to stretch his legs. He was surprised to find that quite a bit of time had passed. He had slept in late, had a leisurely breakfast-type affair that was more an early lunch and too late to qualify as brunch and done some people-watching, not that there was much fodder even in the aboveground levels during work hours. He had done a thorough job on the report and that had taken a reasonable interval of time. It had to be mid-afternoon now, and he was somewhat surprised he hadn't been called for some kind of tactical meeting or another briefing of some sort. He was glad he didn't have to do analysis on this one.
He checked his chronometer. It was still too early to call above-stairs to see if some lovin' was to be had, but late enough that he hoped to be called for some kind of work soon. Once again, it was time to check out the entertainments of Cygnus.
The third underground level, B3, was crammed with shops, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment sufficient to keep a building full of shut-ins well occupied for the duration of an indeterminate siege. It also had enough coffee and tea shops to make devotees of either swoon with joy. The length and breadth of the mall made him wonder every time he passed through if the city knew the full extent of this and other underground Orion facilities, or if they'd managed to keep it a secret even from developers. The ultimate function of Cygnus was, after all, to provide shelter to essential personnel in case the Wall went down and a full-scale invasion penetrated the city past saving. That meant not everyone would be able to pile in, not even all Orion personnel who worked in the building, and so the less who knew about it, the better.
Then as usual Jo chastised himself for such grim thoughts and sought out the nearest coffee purveyor, getting himself a cup of tall black. After he'd ordered, he turned and found himself face to face with a couple of fellow employees.
"Mornin', Jo," Nara greeted him, shaking back cornsilk-white hair and turning up a smile. She was so tiny, especially in contrast to her tall ever-present shadow.
"Good morning, Nara, Reims," Jo returned. "You two waiting around for the call, too?"
Dark-skinned Reims inclined his head, laconic as usual.
"Want some company?" Jo offered, knowing that it was polite to ask especially in Nara's case. Being a psychic was like being in a constantly-crowded room with all kinds of different conversations going simultaneously at varying volumes and comfort levels, and she could only turn it off to an extent. So far as he knew, Nara normally lived in shielded quarters - he knew because she'd mentioned that Orion had to outfit special quarters like her arrangements at home, soundproofing and white noise to drown out any ambient thought. When she had off-time, she seemed to prefer peace and quiet.
"Oh, sure," Nara said, still smiling. "I come out when I'm feeling sociable." Her eyes were normal today, pupils contracted. She had a special kind of sight in addition to her other psionic talents.
Both Nara and Reims had placed bar drinks, and they waited to retrieve those before moving on to find a table. Contrary to what Jo might have guessed, the double cappuccino -- straight coffee -- was Nara's, and the single-shot extra size peppermint mocha turned out to be Reims's. They settled at a table near the thoroughway because Nara mentioned that Reims enjoyed the people-watching, too.
Jo supposed most people would find it uncanny to associate with Nara, with the mind-reading and all, but he found it convenient. He didn't mind if she read any of his surface thoughts, anyhow, and figured it would be very boring for her most of the time.
"So," Jo said, laying his hands on the table and inclining his head in Nara's direction. "Do you know any more about this than I do?"
Nara's fingers tapped against the side of her cup. "Not much, I haven't seen Alicia since the briefing. We got a message, probably same as you, that they want us to stick around on call because they believe we'll be needed." She glanced at the thoroughway beside the coffee shop, an obscure smile curling her lips.
"Do you believe we'll be needed?" Jo asked directly. Even if she didn't have it, Nara managed to project a sense of having more information than the rest of them. They had been in the room with some key players last night, though, and Jo was pretty sure either Shemyahza or the teenager, Arashi, had access to some high-up information. Alicia did as a matter of course, but Jo had learned from Nara long before that Alicia leaked very little ambient thought, she had iron discipline and possibly some training in the past to shield herself.
"Oh, yes," Nara said, fitting both hands around her cup and widening her eyes at him. "Yes, can't you feel it? Something big is brewing. A storm. It extends far beyond last night, you know." She returned her gaze to the walkway beyond the glass, a vague smile drifting over her face again, sharpening to a frown.
Jo bit off the urge to prompt her for more information. She knew he wanted to know, and he knew she wasn't being deliberately irritating. Sometimes it was an effort for Nara to articulate. He glanced at Reims, who appeared oblivious as usual as he gazed as the infrequent passersby.
"Shemyahza knows this one," Nara said at last. "New York has been under siege before but not like this. Most of the Nephilim are cunning, yes, but angry...power-mad. Controlled more by emotion than reason and their hate is above reason and so they fight. This one is different, he is...patient. He has an understanding of humans, Shemyahza thinks. And he will not let arrogance or anger cloud his thinking unless greatly moved."
Jo cocked his head and pondered this. "So, possibly the worst threat to New York that we've come across in a while, if Granac Bowen won't leave us alone?"
Reims glanced around pointedly and gave Jo a look; they were not in a restricted-access area.
"Maybe," Nara said with a frown. "But, the real danger is, Orion has something that Bowen wants. Shemyahza believes he has the means and the patience to follow through until he has achieved it."
Once again Jo reflected on the reams of analysis that would be necessary for this particular thorn in Orion's side, and he was glad he wasn't in on it. He filed his report, they told him what direction to march, he went out and took care of the problem. That was the level of involvement that he preferred. He sipped at his coffee and pondered how long it would take to get called in by Alicia Carson.
A portable unit on Reims's belt began to buzz, and he unclipped it, glancing at the display. "A shot was fired outside," he announced, getting to his feet. "Carson wants an area scan."
"Ay me," Nara sighed, picking up her coffee and twitching her eyebrows in Jo's direction. "You coming with?"
Jo's ears perked. "Could be a bounty," he said thoughtfully, and joined them. He was inclined to trust Nara's instincts, which were usually sound.
Reims set a fast pace on the way to the elevator. Jo fiddled with his own portable as they rushed for the elevator, but couldn't turn up anything before the metal doors closed on them. Under their current circumstances, there was a razor-thin margin for coincidence. Any shot fired nearby Cygnus had to be treated like a hostile attack.
By the time the three of them reached the lobby, two other operatives had reached the ground floor. Jo recognized them from other campaigns; the Wynne brothers, tall, solidly reliable Kyle and mad-grinning flashfire Kory, they had worked once for the Wall and City Defense Corps until they wised up to the monies to be had contracting for Orion.
"We stay here," he heard Reims instruct Nara, curt.
"Yes, yes," came Nara's resigned reply.
"What's the sitch?" Jo demanded, reaching the exit a step behind the Wynne brothers, who hit the doors in tandem like their heartbeats were synchronized. Which, in a way, they were from working as partners their entire demon-hunting career. Jo was more than happy to let someone else take point for a change.
"Dunno," Kory responded at the same time as Kyle's shrug.
They paused outside the door in the brightness of the afternoon long enough to spot Humphrey, beleaguered. "There's a shooter!" Kory exclaimed, taking off with Kyle at his heels. Jo glanced at the struggling pair of boys near the entrance long enough to do a double-take; one of them was Cedric Vaille, his face covered in blood but otherwise seeming unhurt, the other wore the same school uniform and as Jo's eyes fell on the dark-haired boy the skin between Jo's shoulder-blades burned. They were both bloody but didn't move as though wounded, and so he turned to scan the street. The Wynne brothers could back up Humphrey, but if there was a shooter, it might be something he could take care of.
Jo cast his gaze up and down the sidewalk. Whatever pedestrians had been on this stretch of block had fled; New Yorkers had finely-honed instincts and this was one of those instances where discretion was the better part of valor. The sidewalk was clear, so he checked out windows and store-fronts for any tell-tale glints, then looked upward for a rooftop sweep. He didn't even know if his glyph would protect him from anything short of a demonic assault or magical intrusion. That would be too rich, Syd seeing to the highly-wrought glyph, a lifetime's achievement that protected him from about every way a man could die in violence then having it all end with a sniper's bullet.
He was moving before the thought completed itself, rolling to the side as bullets whizzed past his ear and drawing the hip-holstered gun concealed by his trench coat. There hadn't even been a glint to warn him, but he thought he'd sensed the piercing needle of malevolent intent. Sighting along the bullet's trajectory, Jo fired and held the trigger down, pouring a torrent of lead into his would-be killer.
At least, that was the intention. The reality was a shattering of broken glass and a shriek of rage; a dark figure streaked a blur past the windows of an empty store-front across the way. Jo fell to one knee and kept firing, correcting his aim to hit a point beyond the creature's flight. There was another hoarse outcry, then nothing. Jo kept his gun trained on the store-front as he glanced to the side to judge how well the other battle fared.
It was over. Humphrey and Kyle stood over a body, its head twisted at a deadly angle. Kory was heading his way, scanning over the street with battle-readiness. Jo stood, keeping his gun trained thataway. "Cover me," he invited Kory.
"Time to claim the kill?" Kory asked.
"We'll find out," Jo returned, grim.
There was no traffic, indicating that a report had gone through to the Defense Corps and they had placed blocks on this street already. Prompt, that. He and Kory crossed the street with their guns leveled at the shattered windows, covering all the obvious exits from the front.
Jo went in first, keeping his gun at the ready. Times like this, he wished he could provoke his glyph into some sort of pre-emptive action like scanning ahead or giving him infra-red vision to determine whether his target was alive or cooling. Instead he went in with his instincts and the weapon he had to hand.
Another body lay on the floor, crumpled under a black coat. Jo didn't bother checking, he fired at the head, a short burst that spread an arc of red ruin across the floor.
"Czernebog, Jo," Kory uttered, taken aback.
Jo shrugged, thumbing the safety on and holstering his gun. "It's the only way to be sure." He had seen too many companions felled by what they'd thought was a dead cert. This way, Jo's mind was at ease and if the bounty had been a soft capture, he'd willingly take the lower price. "This one had some serious ammo." He moved forward to grab an arm and drag the corpse toward the front door.
"Here, let me help with that," Kory said, slightly exasperated. He moved around to get the corpse's legs. "This is not standard operating procedure."
"Careful, Kory, you might start to sound like your brother," Jo warned him, tossing a grin over his shoulder.
Between the two of them, they got the payday back to the lobby of Cygnus, where some forward-thinking individual had obtained some black tarps and laid them out, probably Nara. Kyle was already there, standing over the orange-haired Nephilim that had been attacking Humphrey. The silent one himself was gone, probably to the infirmary. Huddled on a bench between Nara and the bigger, black-haired boy was Cedric Vaille, his face wiped mostly clean of blood and now pale to the point of translucence, his huge green eyes roaming tragically around the lobby.
"Holy cats, child, what have you done!?" Nara exclaimed, aghast, and Cedric jerked beneath her encircling arm.
The dark-haired boy leveled a hard glare in the psychic's direction but she didn’t even spend a glance on him. Instead she took Cedric Vaille's face between her hands and looked into his eyes. The boy let her, though after a moment he whimpered and Nara pulled away, expression blank. The dark-haired boy put a hand to Cedric's shoulder, urging him to scoot back away from the psychic and more toward him. "Rukawa," Cedric said, his voice hitching as a prelude to a sob, and Rukawa gathered Cedric back toward him. He cast a glare around the lobby and once again Jo felt that burn between his shoulder-blades when those dark eyes settled briefly on him.
Dismissing the enigmatic drama for a moment, Jo turned to their felled opponents. He examined them both, the details of the bounty list still fresh in his mind. He recognized them, but only just. The one he had downed had very little facial features left to identify and it would probably come down to a DNA scan, if they had entry records. "They're both soft captures," he pronounced, looking up and meeting Kyle Wynne's gaze.
"Damn," said Kory, tsking. "You just couldn't go for the good wound."
"This one is a split with Platt," Kyle said, nudging the orange-haired one with his foot. He cast a wry glance at his brother. "You know with these two there was no good wound."
"Fine, fine," Kory said, waving a hand. "Jo, this one's entirely yours."
"Yeah, if they can get the ident on him," Jo grunted.
Kory gave him a cheerful grin. "That's what you get for making so damned sure." He twitched the tarps closed over the bodies and strode over to a wall-display by the inner doors, punching up someone from one of the lower levels. "We need a clean-up crew and there's two specimens in the lobby for retrieval. Hard captures."
"Acknowledged," returned an unenthusiastic voice on the other end. Hard captures combined with a clean-up call usually meant blood and guts.
Jo grinned briefly then looked back to the tableau of Cedric and his dark-haired protector, and Nara and her own tall, dark bodyguard on the other end of the bench. That was not a happy sight. He strolled over, hooking his thumbs in his belt and trusting to the Wynne brothers to log the kills properly. "I think we should be getting the two of you to the infirmary," he said, and three pairs of eyes swiveled to fix on him. Nara's eyes were wide and unfocused, her pupils dilated until only a thin rim of blue remained of her iris; Cedric's pale green eyes were unhappy; and Rukawa's made Jo want to take a step back. His solid dark eyes had a core of distinct red and it was that crimson center, the chaos seething in his gaze, that had made Jo's glyph itch. It was a kind of warning.
His first instinct was to blurt, "Cedric, you have a part-Nephilim classmate?" but Nara's quick but subtle shake of the head made him hold his tongue.
"Nara?" he said instead, cautious. What's got you so unsettled, he wondered, looking from her to the fragile boy and his bigger schoolmate, who had his hackles up even if he wasn't quite looming over the smaller form of Cedric.
"Infirmary is a good bet," Nara agreed, standing. Reims edged closer to her, keeping his eyes on Rukawa all the while.
The tension hummed so loud in the air for a moment Jo was on the verge of drawing his gun. "Cedric, if you would, please?" Jo requested, instinctively seeking a way to defuse the situation.
Cedric popped to his feet. An attempt had been made to clean his face of the blood-splatter, but his skin was so fair that the remaining flecks still stood out. Mechanically, he drew an ident disc from his pocket and headed for the inner door. Rukawa trailed after him, throwing a dire glance around the room.
What's happened? Jo thought in Nara's direction, and she turned those wide dilated eyes on him, giving him a frown and another brief headshake. Jo resigned himself to staying in the dark unless someone felt like enlightening him. He considered whether Cedric was going to need a bodyguard reassigned -- not him, he wasn't qualified, and in any case wouldn't want to be responsible for a child rather than an adult -- and decided since he'd been pulled in anyhow, he might as well follow the boy even though they were presumably safe within Cygnus's walls. At least until they knew more about Humphrey's condition or a new bodyguard arrived for the boy.
It was a silent, somber trip in the elevator as they sped belowstairs to one of the levels with a fully-equipped infirmary. Jo kept his attention divided between Cedric Vaille, who was biting his lip in an anxious display, and the one called Rukawa, who seeming to be aiming to put as much distance between Cedric and everyone else as the small space could afford. Nara followed them, making Jo wonder again - this time as to whether she still considered herself involved to a degree due to whatever she had sensed in the lobby.
The infirmary was a wide, long room sectioned off by curtains, stacked with hip-height medical bays and cordoned off by a reception area. A white-jacketed woman in a severe bun was seated there and she looked up with a professional smile. "Reason for your visit?" she said, eyes roaming over their motley group.
"Two full work-ups for the boys," Nara said with an air of the imperious. The receptionist blinked. "Also we're here to see Humphrey Platt, just injured."
"They were upstairs in that?" the receptionist queried.
"Yes," Nara put in.
Jo hung back. There was no reason for him to speak up when Nara was running the show, and if he let slip he'd been out there during a firefight, they'd want to look him over as a matter of course even though he knew he was fine. If he'd taken a hit by now it would have started to hurt like hell; he had been wounded before despite the best efforts of his glyph and remembered the pain of coming down from adrenaline after getting injured.
The receptionist stood, gesturing the boys behind the counter. "This way, please."
Rukawa hesitated but Cedric was already going forward, a good little boy obeying orders. Jo was almost positive from the look of the boy that he was in shock and someone should notify his family. As the thought occurred to him, he tapped out a quick query on his portable unit to Alicia Carson; as the Orion personnel nominally in charge of this mess, she should be responsible for notifying the boy's family anyhow even though Jo was on the scene. He knew Gabriel Vaille, but not that well.
Nara hung back as the boys were led off into the infirmary, presumably to respective medical bays to have their vitals taken by the nurse on duty. Once Jo slipped his portable back into his pocket, he gave the psychic an inquiring look.
"What do you know, Nara?" he asked point-blank.
Her brow wrinkled. "I'm still not sure," she hedged. "It's all so strange. That's why I want the full work-up. It worries me, if what I suspect is true, I have never seen anything like this before. In fact, I highly doubt it's ever happened before."
"Quit being so cagey," Jo told her, and Reims took a step forward, expression darkening as if his partner had been threatened.
Nara brushed her fine white-blonde hair over her shoulders. "Jo, I believe that Cedric Vaille is Nephilim-blood, and has awakened early to his powers."
"That's not so unusual--" Jo began, and Nara held up a hand to stem the flow of his words.
"His friend, Rukawa -- Cedric thinks he died beneath his hands. Perhaps he did. He's alive now, though, and he bears the core of Cedric Vaille's demonic power."
Jo gaped. "Come again?"
It was a beautiful afternoon outside, but Roman Vaille had no incentive to cut class as he normally would on a day of such infinite perfection. The sky stretched into a forever kind of blue, the kind he could get lost in as the class droned around him and he gazed out the window with a hand propped under his chin. Today, though, the world had been turned upside down by kidnappings and the revelation of true evil in the world, the kind that walked amongst them. And the dusty ancient research that his older brother Gabriel had wrapped himself in for all this time had gained a sudden relevance.
To Roman, it didn't matter so far as the too-faithful watchdog that hovered over his every move. He'd liked Felicia at first with her no-nonsense manner and her wicked tattoos, her tough but fair approach, but that scene before lunch had really been the absolute end! He would complain to Ms. Carson but he had a strong suspicion the woman didn't like him and she'd been the one to assign Felicia to bodyguard him in the first place. 'Non-negotiable,' she had said.
After school he dodged the usual crowds of admirers, well-wishers, and those who simply wanted to be near him and bask in his glory. Arashi had left part-way through the day, the lucky bastard, probably summoned off to Orion for whatever it was he did best. Half that seemed to be "being an asshole." With a sense of the doomed Roman consigned his nascent hopes for a liaison there to oblivion; Arashi had made his distaste plainer than a fist in the face and Felicia had gotten on his case earlier to showcase his lack of privacy. He was too scared to ask if he was allowed to have sex with his own boyfriend even though she'd indicated she liked Damon.
As they hit the sidewalk outside the school Roman had finally gotten over enough of his mad to look at Felicia. "Can we stop at my place so I can get some of my things?" he asked, plaintive. "I mean, if we're going to be staying at Cygnus for an undetermined length of time--"
"It's fine," Felicia assured him, as if she'd expected the question. "We have time. I'll call for a car on the way over, unless you want to make other arrangements?" She crooked a finger at him.
"By other arrangements I can only assume that you mean Damon," Roman said, wry.
"Got it in one."
"...Do I get some alone-time with him if he meets us there?"
"Hell no," Felicia said, straightforward. Her muscled arms caught the sunlight and flashed it back; the glyphs on her arms seemed to catch and concentrate illumination, and the arm-cuffs she wore were brilliant. "I told you, didn't I? Once we're back inside Cygnus you can have your privacy back, more or less. If you'd ever had a hit out on you before you'd understand, Roman. Better embarrassed than dead, you know?"
"Fine," Roman muttered. He slouched for most of the way back to the Carrack building. It was a good low profile to keep his head down, anyhow. He was getting to the point where going out in public was becoming a proposition of moderate difficulty. Only half the major companies in the city had literature or pictures of him plastered all over the place. He fished his phone out as they got close and dialed his boyfriend, who picked up on the fourth ring.
"What kept you?"
"Contrary to your popular belief, River, the world doesn't revolve around you," Damon told him, lightening the harshness of the words with the amusement in his tone.
"Yours does," Roman purred, then flicked a glance at his too-vigilant bodyguard. Damn. It took a lot to make him self-conscious but Felicia was managing it.
"The studio is pissed," Damon said point-blank. "They've already had to reschedule the shoot and postponing it indefinitely made the assistant producer have kittens."
"It's not like I have a whole lot of say in the matter!" Roman protested, sweeping the hair back from his face, then switching his phone from one ear to the other.
"I know that, but you try telling that to someone under the gun for a production deadline," Damon said. "I think you're going to owe the gal your firstborn."
Roman snorted. "I'm not having any children."
"Oh, not even a composite?" Damon said, chock-full of mournful overtones.
"Ugh, don't be ridiculous," Roman pronounced. Cloning and recombinant DNA could give two men or two women a child of both their bodies, but that didn't mean one should just go ahead and do it, as far as Roman was concerned. And while it was romantic on the face of it to go ahead and spawn a child that belonged to both halves of a couple, Roman recognized objectively he was one of the last people in the city suited for child-rearing. Besides, in his case he kind of thought being gay was like natural selection. A genetic indicator not to breed.
Damon laughed, then sobered up. "At any rate, you're going to owe some massive favors once they let you out of seclusion. What's going on? Are you early, or do you need a ride?"
Roman wrinkled his nose and checked his chronometer. "Not early at all. I'm going to swing by the apartment to pick up a few suitcases of stuff, you want to come pick us up?"
"What am I, your fetch and carry boy now?" Damon asked, but the question was tolerant. "I'll be over soon."
"Okay, I'll buzz you up."
Roman stowed his phone away. The bantering exchange had braced him when the day he'd just been through had put him through another low after the high of finding Gabriel brought home safely. And, if he was reading Felicia right, he'd be able to get his sexual fix once they returned to Cygnus. He wasn't accustomed to doing without if he was otherwise in the mood. Thinking about sex reminded him in turn of the other night, and the spiked whatever-it-was that he'd eaten, and the vigorous, repeated rounds with Damon. He had to bend his head to let his hair partially veil his face, because that brought a distinct heat into his face and, like his brothers, he had a damnably fair complexion though he was a far cry more difficult to embarrass.
When they reached the apartment, Felicia trailed after him to his bedroom. Roman almost asked her to wait in the living room area, but figured she'd reject that suggestion as she had everything else that had come out of his mouth. As he levered open the closet in search of a few cases, she stood in the doorway, jaw dropped.
"What?" Roman asked defensively after a few moments of this. He struggled with a valise and dumped it open onto the floor. Some wizened black items rolled out and disappeared under the bed. In their original state they could have been just about anything.
Felicia's mouth worked; her dark eyes traveled over the heaps of junk, crusty plates that had formerly held food, scattered clothes dirty, clean, and questionable, the detritus of forever unfinished assignments and more. "Your brother is a bachelor," Felicia said. "Isn't he." It wasn't a question. She did that sometimes.
"Uh, yeah," Roman said, scratching at the back of one ear. "Problem?"
"Problem?" Felicia repeated, her neck moving like a striking snake. "Boy, you ain't goin' nowhere until you clean this hell-hole you call a room!"
"What!?" Roman demanded, aghast. "Wait a minute, who appointed you the boss of me?"
"I just did," Felicia said, adamant. "Now where are your garbage bags? We'll start there and work our way down to the floor."
"Damon's on his way," Roman whined.
Felicia glared over her shoulder on the way out the door. "Well, when he gets here, we'll put him to work too. And maybe the poor boy will think twice about marrying you after he sees the way you keep house."
"M-marry--" Roman choked. He froze; his life flashed before his eyes. Too young, was the repeating thought, and it had been his refrain ever since his sixteenth birthday. He was too damned young for that and now it was like Felicia was going to try to finish raising him. He had a horrible sudden vision of himself trussed up like a bride and Felicia walking him up the aisle in the manner of an old-traditional wedding, the kind practically no one put on anymore.
By the time he regained his wits Felicia had returned with trash sacks, one of which she thrust in his direction with a look that brooked no argument.
So they cleaned.
When Damon arrived to rescue him, Roman had been forced to rediscover not only the surface of his desk, but also the floor, long since given up for lost. They worked the edges of the room and were on the verge of finding the bed. When they returned to the apartment to live, Roman was sure his little brother would cry with happiness when he went past the open door. Cleaning mostly accomplished, Roman had managed to pack for the most part as well, chucking all of the clean and cleaner items of clothing into his suitcases, personal effects as he uncovered them, and a few other odds and ends rescued from Felicia's purge. He dragged the suitcases with him when he went to answer the door, and hung from Damon's neck the moment his lover put a foot inside.
"Save me," he gasped out melodramatically, and Damon patted his back, looking beyond him into the apartment with an infuriating grin.
"Let me guess," Damon said. "Your bodyguard--"
"Made me clean my room!" Roman growled, restraining the childish urge to kick his smirking boyfriend's ankle. "Let's get out of here before she makes me spelunk the depths of the closet."
Damon cracked up, but he grabbed a suitcase.
As Roman picked up his own, Felicia came out of the bedroom area fast, her expression grimmer than usual.
"We've gotta go," was all she said.
Roman clutched the suitcase to his chest and opened his mouth to object, but Damon took one look at the bodyguard and seized his elbow, drawing him along. Once they were in the elevator, Roman looked at the two of them, shrugged, and thought 'the hell with it.' "What's going on?" he asked Felicia.
"There's been trouble outside the Cygnus building," she said tersely. "We've gotta get back there, and soon."
"What kind of trouble?" Roman said cautiously, then looked at his watch again. "Shit. No, no, no. Please tell me it's not my little brother."
"Won't say a word," Felicia said, and preceded them on the way out of the elevator.
"Shit," Roman repeated, as they hurried out to the car.
"Unimaginative, aren't ya?"
"Tell me what's going on?" he demanded, tossing his suitcase into the back seat and climbing in after, in no position to argue over who got shotgun when the one with the bigger muscles -- and the gun he had no doubt was somewhere on her person - was the undisputed winner.
"All I know is that shots were fired, your brother and Platt are in the infirmary, and no one's dead," Felicia told him, sliding into the front seat and snapping her seat-belt around her. "There, now that's not enough information for you to feel better or worse, is it?"
She was right. Roman clenched his fists on his knees and glared out the window. He was in limbo, again. He wasn't even sure how he should feel. He pulled his phone out and called Cedric. It went straight to voicemail; unavailable. He did the same for Gabriel, and narrowly avoided hurling the tiny device across the car. "Fuck, Gabriel, turn on your fucking phone for a change!" Then he remembered; his brother was probably still in the lecture hall, at this hour. "Damn it! You'd think in an emergency he'd at least set it to vibrate."
Damon guided his sedan through the streets with speed and smooth handling, taking the vehicle through holes in traffic Roman hadn't realized were there until they were through, fast but not absurd enough to get pulled over. The computer warned of a cut-off on the destination street and Felicia leaned over and punched in some kind of override.
"Keep going," she said, giving him a nod. "There's a parking garage."
Roman gripped the door-handle, his knuckles white. Shots fired and his brother were two concepts that had no place in the same sentence. He was scared and off-balance again, and he hated it.
He tried Gabriel about five more times though he knew it was useless as Damon guided the car into the lower levels of a parking garage attached to the Cygnus building. Felicia leaned over twice to give him entry codes, signifying a high level of security. After five tries and five instances of getting sent straight to voicemail, Roman gave up and tossed his phone into his school-bag. There would be no help from that quarter, which scared him silly, which in turn made him angry again. He, Roman, should not be the one in charge. As usual, he was off-balance when it was something he couldn't control.
Their entry to the armored elevator required individual validation from each of their ident discs; an automated voice informed them that it had scanned the presence of three humans and required matching confirmation in order to proceed. Roman was impressed against his will by the thoroughness of the security system, which he hadn't fully appreciated the day before when coming through the front entrance.
"You know where this infirmary is?" Roman asked with the sense of one superfluous as Felicia punched a B-level button in the elevator. The woman gave him a short nod, her dark eyes meeting his briefly. She faced front again, looking at their blurry reflections in the brushed metal surface of the elevator doors.
"Humphrey is good, Roman," she told him quietly. "He ain't Nephilim, but he knows what he's doing. I'm sure your little brother is fine."
Damon's hand squeezed down on his shoulder, and Roman stared at the panel of buttons on the elevator, dry-eyed. There was a massive number of basement-level buttons. He'd never known any facility could extend so far underground; wasn't there a city limitation? "He's in the infirmary," Roman said, numb. Of course, they didn't know what that meant yet. He was going to have to try and stay collected this time, and not collapse or have hysterics like yesterday. If he was the one nominally in charge of his family - and he was, in Gabriel's absence; seeing that he was sixteen and had reached his majority - he was going to have to keep it together and look out for Cedric.
Felicia didn't have any response for that.
They reached their floor and the corridor beyond was empty. His bodyguard led him through that standard maze of identical, sterile corridors. Roman was able to pinpoint today why he disliked the Cygnus building, as they were on their way to an infirmary; when they weren't in the welcoming hominess of the living-quarter suites, the place reminded him of a hospital. He despised hospitals and yearly physicals with a passion.
"And here we are," Felicia said at last, gesturing for Roman to precede her through a pair of extra-wide double doors. One was partially open, and a few people that Roman recognized were standing around in the reception area - three of them had been at yesterday's pre-rescue mission briefing, and then they had filed out of the room after Gabriel had come back to him. The short, pretty blonde's name came back to him -- Nara. She had never said what she did for the team, which had rolled right past him at the time but he found it noteworthy now.
"I'll be responsible for it," Nara was saying to a dark-haired man in a very official uniform. They were standing close and speaking in low, urgent tones.
"This is counter to protocol, Nara, you can't just do as you like, you know," the dark-haired man told her with a scowl. "This is a breach of security. We don't let unregistered Nephilim into this building, ever. Saying that you're responsible isn't good enough--"
"He was not Nephilim when he woke up this morning!" Nara snapped, and her tall black bodyguard stepped up to the security officer until they were eye to eye. "I'm telling you, it's complicated! This boy is human, but he's been infused with another's Nephilim essence! Check your DNA records on his city entry, you officious prick!"
The uniformed man inhaled. "That wasn't necessary, Nara," he said quietly.
Nara sighed and swept her white-blonde hair back. "I'm sorry. I know you're doing your job but these are exceptional circumstances. If we could get Ms. Carson to explain--"
"This is not Carson's area of oversight, she's tactical," the man said stiffly. "Any exceptions have to go through the head of security, Nara, you should know that, and I'm the deputy this shift."
Now the diminutive blonde exhaled noisily. "You disgust me, Ballard, you're just as good as telling me you have the authority but you won't do a damned thing about it just because you don't understand what's going on!"
"I don't mean to interrupt a perfectly good argument, people, but what the hell *is* going on?" Roman asked, caustic anger overriding his sense. Damon gripped at his shoulder, warning. He shrugged off the touch and strode forward to join the trio. "First my bodyguard tells me that shots have been fired outside the building and I come here to find my little brother is in the infirmary, and a member of my brother's rescue team is arguing with building security? If our own people can't get along, heaven help us when the demons come!"
They broke off their argument and stared at him, then the blonde Nara cracked into a grim smile. "Roman Vaille," she said. She glanced up at the security officer. "Ballard, this is the boy's older brother, are you going to hold up proceedings?"
The uniform looked uncomfortable. Roman sized him up and moved forward, putting a touch of sinuous grace into his step. "Mr. Ballard, I'm sure I don't know what's going on, but I hope you can help me get this straightened out," he said, looking up through his lashes at the taller man. "I'm very worried about my brother and I rushed over as soon as Felicia let us know something had happened."
Behind him he heard a strangled sort of noise, like a smothered snort, and Roman ignored it; whether it was his bodyguard or his boyfriend, he didn't bother trying to figure it. He edged closer to the security person and looked up and down the length of him, thinking of peeling off those tight dark pants over the man's hips and licking up his thigh and taking the soft nascent heat of hardening penis into his mouth, suckling it until it grew hard and firm and slid into his throat. Evidently these thoughts were clear enough on his face to make an impact because the man gulped, a reddish tinge appearing at his collar line and rising up his neck.
Nara stepped away, tugging at her bodyguard's elbow and retreating to the far side of the room as if ceding the field to him.
"He's my little brother," Roman said softly, persuasive. "Are you saying he's one of the demons? He was given an ident disc just yesterday afternoon, so what's the problem?"
Ballard swallowed, looking down at Roman as if he'd like nothing better than to unbutton his crisp white uniform shirt and unzip his school uniform pants and go for it right there. Roman gave him a demure smile, sensing victory. He didn't even think Ballard was the type to go for guys, normally, but objectively Roman knew he was pretty enough to qualify as androgynous and a certain percentage of the men he'd been with didn't care who the head came from so long as it was attractive.
"Your brother isn't a problem," Ballard said, his voice strained. "It's the boy who came in with him. He set off our security system in a major way." His mouth skewed in an apologetic sort of half-smile, begging Roman's indulgence.
Roman blinked, snapped out of the heady control of the moment. "He what? Who?"
"Akito Rukawa," Nara put in from her corner.
Roman looked from the security officer to Nara and back again. "Rukawa? Are you sure? He's about as normal as they come..."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Nara said to Ballard, her voice rising. "There's been a power transference. I've never seen, nor heard anything like this before, the situation is unique. He's authorized to be here--"
"He's not human," Ballard said stubbornly, glancing at a portable electronic unit in his hand, then stowing it. "She cleared a human teenager, so where is he?"
"On one of the medical bays in there!" Nara burst out, frustrated. "I am telling you, Cedric Vaille put his own awakening power into Rukawa in order to save his life. He was shot. Talk to the nurse, she'll confirm it!"
Ballard shook his head, confused, looking from Nara to Roman. That, of course, was a mistake. Roman licked his lips and sidled closer, giving Ballard a sultry look and imagining the officer turning him over the nearest convenient surface - the reception desk, say - and stripping his pants down just enough for access, then paddling him until he'd worked out his aggressions and Roman was squirming and begging him to stop, then the shiver of a zipper going down and getting split with it right there, Ballard's hard cock shoving into him with precious little preparation.
"What will it take to get your sign-off on this?" Roman murmured, giving him hopeful eyes. "You're the man with the power, after all." He wanted to see his brother, and smoothing the way past this officious prick as Nara had rightfully called it was a key factor but now he was getting turned-on by his own rights. It had been over twenty-four hours since he'd last gotten laid, after all, and for Roman that was spare rations.
Ballard swallowed again, his Adam's apple making a convulsive bob, and he looked from Roman to Nara and back again. "I'm not supposed to--" he began, apprehensive.
"We have clearance," Roman assured him, hoping that was indeed the case as Nara's words implied. "It's just a little irregular, because things got fucked." Now he gave Ballard a small wink, and thought for a moment the security officer might cream himself then and there.
"Take a look at his DNA reading, the nurse will have it by now," Nara urged. "It will confirm what I'm saying. That's why you are getting conflicting readings, you know. He's human but he's had Nephilim power infused into him."
Ballard hesitated a moment longer, a struggle visible in his face. He was good-looking in a square-jawed, clean-cut way that Roman associated with "mostly hetero," not normally the kind that appealed to him but if turning on the sex got him his way, Roman did it more naturally than breathing. He was just being a little more blatant than usual today because he was in a hurry. Then the security guard's eyes bored into his for a moment and made Roman realize that unless he intended to follow up on all he'd implied, he shouldn't let himself be in any sort of situation that had a chance of him being alone and cornered with this man.
A little smile crept over Roman's face in spite of himself. He was a bad, bad boy; the thought of being cornered into sex half-willing had always been kind of a turn-on. Even in extremis he couldn't switch off that part of himself.
"All right," Ballard said hoarsely. "I'll check him out."
"Thank you," Roman said with deep sincerity as if he hadn't just had to use his wiles to get the man to do his job.
Nara snorted, then retreated over to her partner once more.
"So can I see my brother?" Roman asked, looking past Ballard to a white-jacketed woman. A receptionist, he inferred, and the woman looked up at him with a parted mouth and unfocused eyes. Great, another one, Roman thought ironically, and waved a hand to get her attention.
"He's just...there..." she said vaguely, waving a hand to the curtained areas beyond her desk.
"Thanks," Roman said, and brushed past Ballard to circle around the reception barrier. He passed another member of his brother's rescue team, the swarthy, handsome man with dusky chestnut hair. He wore it in a most unusual style, short at the nape and long at his brow, falling into two braided forelocks to either side of his face. Roman paused. He didn't remember the man's name and it was bothering him. "You helped rescue my brother?"
"Yes," the man confirmed, his handsome face creasing in a smile that somehow managed to be solemn, for the occasion that brought them here, but wry. "I'm Jo Carselyle."
Roman noted how the man did not make boasts over whatever it was he'd done to help, and that was a damn sight better than Shemyahza's arrogance. "Thank you," he said quietly. "Do you know where my little brother is?"
"Haven't been back there yet," Jo said easily, hooking his thumbs into his waistband, fanning his brown trench coat around his lean hips. "Shall we?"
Roman glanced over his shoulder to ascertain that Damon was close behind him, then nodded. His lover drew abreast of him and stayed in step with him as they passed the first few medical bays.
Half-way through the long, wide infirmary, Roman heard his little brother before he came into sight of him.
"--but I'm fine!" Cedric was protesting in a fretful voice that Roman recognized all too well. Whatever shocks his little brother had been through that afternoon, he'd come sailing out the other side into overwrought and was now on the verge of a tantrum. "I don't want any more tests, and I want to see Rukawa!"
All that Nara had said earlier had barely processed with Roman, while he was caught up in the struggle to get past the reception desk. Now Roman realized he was going to have to ask for some explanations; he was going to have to pull himself together, act like an adult, maybe even make some decisions. He compressed his lips and rounded the curtain, containing his own shock as he took stock of Cedric's ghastly appearance.
The little brother who had presided happily over breakfast just that morning was now blood-streaked, a wide spreading stain of it all down the front of his white dress shirt, and there were splatters around his face and neck though someone had made a job of trying to clean that off. He looked up at Roman with huge, tragic, exhausted eyes and he was so pale he was practically see-through.
"Roman," Cedric said brokenly, holding out his arms. Roman rushed around the bay to his brother, edging out a blue-smocked nurse and gathering up the slight body into a close hug.
"It's okay, baby, it's okay," he assured Cedric, though he had no certainty of that himself. He looked over his head at Nara, then Jo. "Someone tell me what happened."
"Humphrey and Rukawa got hurt because of me," Cedric piped up against his chest, muffled.
"Don't be ridiculous," Roman said fiercely, and there was a murmur of reinforcement from Nara and Jo.
"This is no one's fault but the demons," Jo said firmly. "The demons are targeting your brother, and they tried for you this afternoon because they probably thought you would be easier to get to. They were wrong."
"But...but Humphrey," Cedric wailed, his face crumpling. "And Rukawa, he was bleeding, it was happening so fast, he was going to die so I...so I..." He broke down and clung to the front of Roman's shirt, shoulders heaving with the effort not to cry.
"It's okay, baby," Roman soothed, stroking Cedric's back. He looked to the nurse now. "How are they?"
"They're going to be fine," the nurse said, with a warm and unhesitating smile. "As I've told young Mr. Vaille already, but he won't settle down for a blood-draw."
"She won't let me see them," Cedric hiccupped, sniffling against Roman's shirt.
For once Roman didn't have a care in the world for snot or how his clothes looked. He scowled at the nurse, drawing Cedric protectively close. "If he doesn't want blood drawn, I don't see why he should have to," he declared. Maybe it was a poor decision on his part, but his brother was in shock and he, Roman, was in charge. He wasn't going to force Cedric to submit to anything that made him feel even more insecure.
The nurse inhaled, looking past him. Roman glanced over his shoulder and met Nara's eyes, who looked at him gravely.
"We need to find out what happened," she said obliquely. "A full work-up will help."
"Yes, but do we have to do it right now?" Roman questioned.
Nara sighed. "I...I suppose not," she conceded.
"He wants to see his friend," Roman said simply. "It looks like something horrible happened, and he just wants to make sure everyone is all right. Isn't that natural?" He stroked his brother's hair and Cedric snuggled against the front of his shirt, arms clinging around his midsection the way he was wont to do after nightmares, when he was much littler.
"It's fine by me," the nurse said.
Nara nodded. "I don't have any authority here," she said, surrendering graciously. "In your absence, it seemed the best thing to do."
"You must not have any experience with children," he said, wry, smiling half-heartedly to take the sting out of it.
A fist dented his hip and Roman pretended to jump. "I'm not a kid," Cedric declared.
"Of course you're not," Roman said, and coaxed his brother off the medical bay. "Let's go see them, all right? Your heroes." He was starting to piece it together, even though no one had yet told him a damned thing of any substance.
Cedric hit the metal-plated floor with a thud, grasping at Roman's hand automatically and tugging him further down the infirmary. A few curtains over, silent Humphrey was tucked beneath a sheet, hooked up to an IV that stood beside his bay, its crimson fluid draining into his arm. Both Vailles hauled up short, appalled.
Another blue-smocked woman drew the curtain further around the bay, giving them both an encouraging smile. "Come, now, it's not nearly so bad as it looks," she told them. "He was hit, of course, and he lost a couple of pints so we're replenishing his supply. But Humphrey is a fast healer, we expect him to be on his feet by the end of the day."
"Really? That's great!" Cedric said, loosening his grip on Roman's hand and venturing to the end of the bay. He stood at Humphrey's bedside, plucking at the sheet over the edge of the bed, and looked overwrought again. "I'm so sorry."
Humphrey reached out his left arm, settling his broad hand atop Cedric's head and mussing the strands of hair there, giving him a gentle smile. He glanced at Nara, blue eyes seeking her out, asking her something.
"He wants you to know it's a bodyguard's greatest honor, to know he's taken a bullet to protect his charge," Nara spoke up from the foot of the bay. "Don't fret anymore, Cedric. He'll be just fine, and soon. Humphrey is happy that you're all right, that's his only consideration."
"Okay," Cedric said, surrendering now that it was Humphrey's words of reassurance.
Nara hesitated, then continued, "He would like to know how Rukawa is doing. He was hit, Humphrey."
Humphrey's pale blue eyes blazed and he attempted to sit up.
"He's going to be all right," Nara began, lifting a placating hand, but Cedric had already started to cry. Roman moved quickly around the bay to put an arm around his little brother, offering the line of his body as solid support. Humphrey subsided against his pillow but the confusion was writ clear on his face.
"I think it's about time someone explained to me exactly what happened," Roman said, giving his brother a squeeze to make sure he knew that he wasn't angry with him. Cedric was just about ready for a nap, though he'd doubtless deny it with every fiber of his being.
Nara looked at Humphrey, who looked back, helpless. The man didn't talk, but the woman - who was evidently a psychic of some sort - hadn't been there, apparently.
"I'll start," Nara said at last, sizing up Cedric's fragile state. She pressed a hand to her temple as if trying to press back the sudden onslaught of a headache. "Cedric, will you speak up when you're ready? Aside from Rukawa, you're the one who probably knows the most, okay? I can only make an educated guess."
The pieces were slowly fitting together. Nara had said something about the transference of Nephilim powers, and if it wasn't Humphrey, and if Rukawa had "woken up human," then she was talking about... He looked down at his little brother and as if reading his mind, Cedric tipped his head back to meet Roman's eyes upside-down. Not possible.
"Humphrey saw a glint and heard a muffled gunshot that he recognized from a sniper's rifle, and interposed himself between Cedric and the shooter," Nara said. "He turned around and Rukawa had hit the pavement, taking Cedric down with him; he recognized the boy had good instincts, so he told Rukawa to take him to safety, the Cygnus building. Then a half-blood hit him."
Roman saw Jo wince, and intuited this was bad news.
"He didn't see anything beyond that, because he was engaged in the fight," Nara finished up, and crossed her arms over her chest, rubbing at her arms. She looked around, as one bewildered, then sought out Reims, looking up into his face. This seemed to reassure her enough to turn around and join the semi-circle around Humphrey's bay again.
Cedric shivered beneath his arm, and Roman bent down, whispering into his ear, "Do you want to go? We don't have to stay here, you know. You can tell me the rest later."
"No, I...no," Cedric said, but he leaned against him. "I want to see Rukawa, and you want to know what happened, so I have to say." But still he fidgeted for a moment, looking down.
"It's not your fault," Nara said out of nowhere. "The demons came after you today. Would have been much worse, if your Rukawa had not been there to help. By yourself, you did not have the power."
As helpful as she had been, for a moment Roman willed her to shut up. Cedric had gone tense in the half-circle of his arm.
"He got shot," Cedric spoke up, and he was trembling. "He got shot and we fell and it was spreading really fast across his front. The blood. Then he stopped breathing, and I...I..." He frowned and fell silent.
Nara was alert as a coursing hound with its ears pricked. "The power came," she supplied. "And you pushed it into him, and willed him to stay and fight."
"I just wanted him to open his eyes!" Cedric burst out. "I...I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know if it was something wrong!"
"Shh, shh," Roman soothed his little brother, cupping those thin shoulders with both hands and glaring at Nara. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"He stayed and fought for you," Nara said. "You gave him power and he took it. You transferred your essence, didn't you, Cedric? The heart of the power inside of you."
Cedric was shaking his head. "I don't know," he said doubtfully. "How could I have any power?"
It clicked forcibly in Roman's head right then. Everyone's eyes were on them. His looks, so highly-prized, the whispers of "demon-bait" since he was little... "We're a part of it, aren't we?" he muttered, then cleared his throat. He spoke louder, "We have blood of the Nephilim, all three of us." There wasn't much he, or they, knew about the Vaille family tree. If demons were real, there was only one direction that was headed.
"Yes," Nara said softly. Her blue eyes burned on his. "All three of you."
Roman tightened his hands on Cedric's shoulders until his little brother squeaked, then he relented and wrapped his arms around him, hugging him. If he were being true to form soon Cedric would tire of it and push him away, asserting independence but for now Roman needed the comfort, and he needed it from his own blood. "But he didn't give all his power to Rukawa, did he? I mean, how could we?"
The intensity of Nara's eyes was turned in Cedric's direction now, appraising, and they...unlidded. That wasn't the right word for it, but that was what Roman thought of it as he watched Nara's pupils dilate suddenly and impossibly wide, pushing the ring of her irises out to the thinnest of lapis-lazuli rings. She looked his brother's face over, taking a few steps closer, and Cedric turned in her direction, lifting his chin.
"No," she said after a moment. "I believe Cedric had a great deal of power, more than you - more than your brother. I believe he transferred the core of it to Rukawa, to save his life, and of course he didn't know what he was doing so perhaps he gave too much. Or perhaps only so much could have saved him. This has never happened before; it's a very un-Nephilim-like thing, to give over power so unselfishly, so there is so much unknown--"
"What's left?" Roman asked, hugging Cedric to him.
Nara blinked, and her eyes reverted to normal as suddenly as the earlier switch. She put a hand to her head, and wavered. Reims was at her side in a flash, not touching her but there, available. "I don't know," she admitted. "It would require more extensive testing."
A unit on Reims's belt buzzed, and he tugged it free of his belt, glancing at the display. "We have to go," he said, just as Jo's phone chimed.
"Sorry to leave you in the lurch," Nara apologized.
"No, it's...all right," Roman said with a frown. There was only so much anyone could do, right? He would have to ask later if what Cedric had done was irreversible. Nara turned her head, met his eyes, and gave him a shrug, her smile faint but obscure. Ah, great. There was no telling.
Nara and Jo departed, Reims trailing after them. Damon stood beside him, hands in his pockets, looking pretty well overwhelmed but he gave Roman a game smile when their eyes met.
"Will you still love me if I'm of demonic blood, darling?" Roman cracked, but the smile didn't quite meet his eyes. Cedric elbowed him, not amused.
"I never made it conditional, so the answer is yes," Damon replied, a small smile playing over his mouth.
Cedric squirmed free of his arms at last, placing both his hands over Humphrey's large one. "You're going to guard me later, right? You told Nara you would be all right soon."
Humphrey nodded gravely.
"Before I leave the building?" Cedric pressed, with the air of one who'd had too much taken out from underneath him of late.
Humphrey nodded again, breaking into a craggy smile.
That important matter taken care of, Cedric turned from Humphrey's medical bay and looked up at him, then the nurse who had hovered discreetly in the background. Whatever she had heard, Roman hoped she was one of those classified personnel, or whatever -- someone capable of keeping secrets, at any rate.
"I want to see Rukawa," Cedric declared, and there was steel in the glint of his jade-green eyes.
As it turned out, the dark-haired senior was laid out a few medical bays down from Humphrey, eyes closed, his clothing cut off his shoulders laying bare a rather impressive physique for someone in the ninth grade. Roman felt like he should turn his back or something to give the two of them privacy as Cedric hurried up to his side, eyes sheening over with suspicious moisture. He couldn't remember the last time his brother had cried, barring severe frustration.
"Sorry, but we had to sedate him," said the blue-smocked nurse, apologetic. "He was becoming violent."
"Rukawa!?" Cedric exclaimed, shocked.
"He didn't want to be examined, but there was blood all over him and we had to extract a few bullet fragments," she continued blithely.
"Is he...is he..." Cedric ventured, teetering between tears and astonishment.
"Totally fine," the nurse assured him. "He seems to have a repair factor on the order of a quarter-blood."
"You're telling me Rukawa is healing like he's a quarter Nephilim?" Roman repeated, deciphering her technical-speak.
"That's right," she said with a smile, tossing some bloody rags in a red biohazard bin and pulling her gloves off, heaping them after.
"Wow," Cedric whispered, lifting on his tiptoes to peer into Rukawa's unconscious face.
Had his little brother really done it? Roman wasn't convinced, but there was no more compelling evidence. He checked the time, then pulled out his cell phone, glancing round. Damon touched the back of his neck, enough to let him know he was there. Roman turned and gave him a tired smile.
"You want to try your brother again?" Damon murmured.
"Yeah, he should be out of lecture by now for sure," Roman said, and rolled his eyes. "Though I don't misdoubt he's forgotten to turn his phone on after class, as usual. That's Gabriel. Ugh...I wonder if I should phone Ms. Carson and ask if she has that Guile's phone number, he's escorting him around today." The thought made Roman's skin crawl, but his need to have Gabriel here and up-to-date overrode his dislike of the full-blood Nephilim.
"All right," Damon said, nudging him. "Go ahead, I'll stay here with Cedric and his vigil."
Roman nodded, drifting through the wide infirmary past the curtains, moving toward the reception area and more privacy. He wondered if Felicia would have the demon's cell number, then he spared a wonder for where his bodyguard was, period. Waiting somewhere?
He had his phone out but before he dialed a hand cupped his elbow as Roman hovered near one of the empty med-bays.
"I got that friend of your brother's his clearance," said a quiet voice in his ear. "What say you and I find a nice private place for a little while?"
Roman glanced over and into the security officer Ballard's flushed, eager face. He entertained a brief but pleasant fantasy of ramming the guy in the nuts and running off into the hall to take his phone call. Then, looking at the man, he was projected straight into another kind of fantasy of being pushed over into one of the med-bays while the man drew the curtain shut around them; and having his mouth gagged with medical gauze as he was violated briefly but thoroughly. Disgusted, Roman shook off the hand at his elbow.
"I hate hospitals," he said.
"We don't have to stay here, there's plenty of places nearby--" Ballard began, keeping his voice low, looming close enough for Roman to feel his body heat.
"Roman! There you are, boy!" a female voice rang out, and Ballard jumped. He took a few hasty steps away, looking over his shoulder at Roman, then kept going as Felicia Ark advanced on him. "Everything all right? I figured with all the fuss and me not being family I should wait in reception, but then I figured, boy probably doesn't have enough sense to make sure his brother was notified so I came lookin' for ya."
"Thanks," Roman said, and he actually meant it for a change. Ballard slunk off with one last covetous look. Under other circumstances, maybe, Roman thought; then kicked himself for giving in to it. Only when he was super-horny would he consider that kind of liaison; Ballard had "this would be trouble later" written all over him.
Felicia stopped babbling the moment Ballard was out of earshot. She put her hands on her hips and just looked at him.
"I wasn't going to!" Roman protested, calling up Gabriel's number on his phone and giving her a defensive look. There was no way he was going to admit she'd just saved his ass, quite literally.
The phone went straight to voicemail yet again and Roman groaned. "Demeter's frozen tits, Gabe, what the hell are you doing?"
There was little point in returning to a thrashed-out office when all the materials he needed for classes throughout the day, both the ones he taught and the ones he attended, were on hand. Roy Masters missed his office, though, for the haven it provided from the busy atmosphere of the day and the precious solitude or illusion thereof while he concentrated on his subjects. With Kellan tagging at his heels during the course of the day, Roy went from class to class in something of an abstract daze. It was rough to find the world so altered in such a short span of time.
His cousin called him before his third teaching session of the day, her warm, sultry voice wrapping around him providing welcome comfort. "Roy, what the hell is going on over there? There's been a bounty declared on every single unregistered demon-blood in the city." Her words shattered that implied comfort in a couple of seconds.
Roy gaped at his notebook background with its neat rows of icons. "Uh, I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
"Oh really?" Yuuko sounded impatient. "First I hear from you yesterday letting me know you're 'all right' even though you've been moved to a secure facility - one of the secret underground ones, by the way, in case you don't recall - and today a bounty on everything? The two are not coincidence, fair cousin!"
"I can't tell you anything," Roy said, drawing his finger over the surface of his flatscreen notebook. The cursor followed his finger; he opened his planner. Today he was saved by the fact that he planned at least a week in advance always. It meant he didn't have to scramble to catch up and he could basically coast through the day's classes, a good thing when he only had half a brain to spare. "Aside from what I know, I mean. Gabriel was retrieved last night."
Yuuko gave a low, appreciative whistle. "That Shemyahza is the real deal," she said, impressed. "That was fast. Less than twenty-four hours?"
"Yes," Roy confirmed.
"From Long Island, no less..." Yuuko sounded speculative. "But I take it the Nephilim who kidnapped him is still at large."
"I honestly can't tell you any more, but I think so," Roy said. "I mean, they're keeping us in the Cygnus building for now even though they've let us out for classes and so forth."
"I'm surprised," Yuuko said obliquely, then shifted gears. "Wanted to check up and see that you were all right, cousin mine. That's a special project you're working on." There was an odd inflection to her tone.
Roy shifted in his seat, casting a look around the empty classroom. He was early as usual to set up his materials and go over the lesson plan, and Kellan was waiting outside the only door to a windowless room, so he had privacy for now. He supposed he'd better cherish it. His bodyguard had been checking out everything before he went there, including bathrooms, and sometimes staying when he'd really rather be alone. Like in bathrooms that happened to have more than one exit.
"Do you know more than I do?" Roy asked quietly. He and Gabriel hadn't had any time to themselves since the professor had returned, but there had been a strange bright-eyed aspect to Gabriel's presence over breakfast, one Roy had seen before - when the gears were churning and he was on the verge of a major breakthrough.
"I have very high clearance," Yuuko said, not quite an answer. "Be careful, Roy."
"They assigned a bodyguard to me, even though I don't think I merit my very own security," Roy said, wry. He rubbed at his chin. One thing he was glad for over their limited freedom outside Cygnus was the license to go and get their personal things. He needed his own razor to have a proper shave. "She's very competent, I hardly think she'll let me come to harm."
"There's that," Yuuko said. There was the blare of an over-loud announcement in the background, feedback enough to make Roy wince, then his cousin was continuing. "It's also the nature of the work itself, Roy. I mean it, watch out for yourself."
Roy frowned. "You're going to have to give something a little less cryptic than that, Yuuko," he said. "It sounds like you think I should walk off this project."
"Let's just say this is something for which human eyes really weren't intended," Yuuko hedged at last, sounding sorry she had ever brought it up. "Look, Roy, I have to go, but take care."
"That's the third time you've said it in a minute. I get it. Don't worry, if I think I can't take it I'll ask to be excused from the project. Gabriel won't think any less of me."
They said their goodbyes and Roy thumbed his phone off, puzzled. This was the first time Yuuko had ever said such a thing about his work, though her own was far more what he'd consider to be anything remotely dangerous - and she worked in an administrative capacity. He didn't get it. He worked with books, and even though the demons wanted the particular tome he and the professor were working on right now, Yuuko had made it sound like the book itself was the danger.
He made a mental note to ask Gabriel about it later. He had a feeling the professor had had a breakthrough of sorts while being held in the enemy camp. Of course, the demons would have a better idea of where it came from and what to do with it because they had been the original creators.
For his third teaching session he had prepared a handful of set exercises. Roy praised his own foresight; it enabled him to pair off the students into smaller discussion groups while he worked ahead. He had the contents of his lesson plan from the year before loaded onto his notebook, and all he ever needed was minor adjustments to both his and Professor Vaille's to keep them up to date. Still, for today he had to focus some actual thought on it; the topic for next week was a comparison of contemporary cultural tropes and their corresponding analogue from an earlier time, as well as the function it served in both. In one class he used current news to illustrate the tropes, and he had to find new articles to replace the ones from last year.
He navigated the class without much of a challenge and the students left still chattering away about their topics. After that, Roy usually had lunch in the teacher's lounge, but today he was feeling anti-social as well as not inclined to explain the presence of Kellan. In some of his classes, the ones with windows where she had been obligated to keep him in her line of sight, he'd passed her off as a potential transfer auditing classes. It was new enough in the semester that it was a plausible scenario. Instead of his usual lunch routine they had sandwiches at a café across the street. Near the end of the meal, Roy's pocket began to vibrate and Kellan widened her amber-brown eyes at him.
"Roy, I think your pocket is happy to see you," she told him, perfectly deadpan.
"Thank you, Kellan," he said, giving her a wry glance. Before yesterday, the thought of having lunch with Kellan Raye from Orion would have been a hoot. Anyone looking at them would think they were on a lunch date. From her brief stints as courier for one project or another, he never would have thought her to be the sociable type, yet she was proving to have a sly sense of humor on the order of his own.
"This is Masters," he said, after checking the unrecognized number.
"Roy?" said a breathless Kieran O'Bannon into his ear, and Roy's heart did a slow tumble into his stomach. The boy added unnecessarily, "It's Kieran."
"Oh, Kieran, good to hear from you...are you all right?" Roy said quickly, concerned. Kellan frowned across the table at him, collecting herself like a panther ready to leap into action. It made his pulse speed up and he was cursing over what an oversight it had been, not to assign the boy a bodyguard, when the boy answered.
"Fine, I'm fine," Kieran hastened to reassure him. "Sorry. I wanted to make sure to catch you, I didn't know when your last class was."
"I have a four o'clock for my post-grad course load," Roy said. "I'll be finished by five."
"Oh, good, that leaves me time to get some things together and meet you, right?"
"Yes, it does, if you don't have a four o'clock," Roy said, thinking of the earnest cheer on the boy's lovely young face and going a bit gooey. "Kellan's having a car come to pick us up then we'll swing by my place and return to Cygnus."
"All right," Kieran said, sucked in a breath and held it for a beat, then continued. "See you at the office at five?"
Roy tried to think of a place to meet besides there; it was depressing to think of the wreck they had left behind. Then he reconsidered. If class ended on time or early as usual, he'd have time to tidy up somewhat. He didn't think that Gabriel would have the leisure with his own pushy bodyguard in charge of his schedule for an indeterminate amount of time.
"See you then," Roy said softly, and hung up the call before he could say something regrettable. He dropped the device into his pocket and avoided Kellan's eyes, tackling his sandwich with enthusiasm for something to focus on him.
When they were finished, delicious greasy evidence disposed of and wrappers crumpled and tossed on the way out the door, Kellan preceded him and flashed one of her rare smiles over her shoulder at him.
"Oh, what," Roy grumbled, shielding his eyes from the brilliance of the sun outside as they stepped onto the sidewalk.
"Not my place to say," Kellan replied, and fell into step beside him.
The afternoon classes sped by in as much of a blur as the morning that had gone before. The last class of the day was one that had an impact on the thesis he was developing, so Roy did his very best to bring the better part of his attention to bear, but he couldn't. He kept coming back to Kellan's words of the day before, pronouncing that it wasn't a spur of the moment job and that the demons had them under surveillance, perhaps for a while; Arashi's coolly matter-of-fact statement that Wall 'breaches' occurred all the time; Yuuko's unsettling phone call intimating that he wasn't safe, perhaps not even from his own work. Perhaps the safety they had all taken for granted this whole time was the greatest illusion of all. That, and the passing of Nephilim into human society for such a very long time.
Roy thought back on a paper of Gabriel's he had read, one that had been written hypothesizing of the presence of a high, human-intelligence order of demons long before he had been initiated into classified levels of Orion Corporation that confirmed exactly that. Not only were they an intelligent blight on the earth, but they had a human enough appearance to pass amongst them. Gabriel had "known" before he knew, but so few people saw clearly. Perhaps there were other truths the human brain shielded itself against; maybe while they thought they were engaged in resistance and prevailing for the most part, the demons with their long-term sight, their resources and their cunning, had already consigned it as the last throes.
"Why do they want to destroy us?" Roy asked of Kellan as they walked back from the Allerton building, location of his last class, to the faculty building across the Quad.
Imperturbable Kellan gave him a startled expression. "Excuse me?"
"The demons," Roy clarified. "Why do they want to destroy us? Not just our cities but our way of life, I mean, nearly four billion people died in the Rising, we don't have an exact count. Know your enemy, know his motivation and you know against what you truly fight."
Kellan shrugged, shaking her head and twitching the long, sleek tail of her chestnut hair over one shoulder. "I've never put that much thought into it, Roy. We fight to survive. Perhaps they think they're doing the same. Who knows? They're demons, they don't have human motivations."
Roy frowned. He thought he had something; he made a mental note to ask Gabriel later as a prompt. His mentor would find it a good question and perhaps a productive jumping-off point to a sound discussion.
Walking into the office wasn't as much of a wrench as he expected it to be. Someone had gotten there before them and tidied up the worst of it, sorting books and scattered files onto one table, piling precious hard copy onto another and securing it under a plastic vacuum seal for later deliberation. "Gabriel got here first," Roy groaned, distressed. He hadn't really meant for his mentor to see the office in the state it had been when he and Kieran had left yesterday, but a part of him had been avoiding it anyhow or he would have made the push to come before his first class, or during lunch. "Damn it, I should have gotten here earlier. He must have been devastated."
"You really care about him, don't you," Kellan observed dispassionately. "For such a highly respected professor he seems very, hmm, detached and unworldly."
"Gabriel?" Roy chuckled. "He's a big flake. Helpless, you mean. The practical aspects of just about anything are not his strong suit. Yes, of course I care for him -- and care after him, it comes with the territory. I--"
Kellan raised a hand, cutting him off. Roy paused beside the table with its piles of roughly-sorted materials, freezing as she stalked toward the front door of the office, putting a hand to her hip and jerking the door open, bringing up a gun into the face of a very startled Kieran O'Bannon.
The boy jumped as if she had actually shot him, and gasped.
Kellan let out an exasperated growl, easing back her gun and pointing it toward the floor. "You little idiot," she said. "Right now is a bad time to eavesdrop; it's not good for your health. You got that?"
Kieran nodded, blue eyes impossibly wide, then skittered into the office making a beeline to Roy's side, who was doing his level best not to twitch, quirk his mouth, or otherwise betray his desire to laugh. He put a hand to Kieran's shoulder and the boy crowded as close as one could without actually huddling against his side.
"Do you think she actually would have shot me?" he asked sotto voce.
Roy considered it. "Maybe," he said thoughtfully. He was pretty sure she wouldn't have shot through the door without checking who it was.
Kellan withdrew a phone from her belt, checking it briefly then putting away her gun. It disappeared into its well-concealed holster. "Sorry, Roy, it looks like you've won the bad luck jackpot."
"You're kidding me," Roy said, disbelieving.
"Carson sent a car, and she wants us back now," Kellan replied, shaking her head. "You want to try to argue with her?"
Roy thought of those cool ruthless eyes and shuddered. Now there was someone who wouldn't hesitate to shoot to kill. "Can we at least send someone for my stuff?" he asked, plaintive.
Kellan nodded. "I'll arrange it. Later. Now, let's go."
At this rate, Roy thought dismally, they should have left classes canceled indefinitely. He foresaw another nocturnal night ahead of them.
Kieran brushed against him as they left the office, and stuck close to his side. Roy looked down at him, his pale, earnest face focused on the hallway ahead of them, and his heart was a little lighter.
If hope was an illusion, it was one he couldn't give up.