Authors: Matthew Burkey
“The longer that we leave this guy out there the worse the situation is going to get,” Ryan sighed. “We need to find him and we need to find him soon.”
“No one is debating that fact,” Aadesh responded. “But we still need time...”
“It’s been three months!” Ethan exploded, slamming his fist down on the table.
“Calm down,” Ryan warned.
“He does have a point,” Gabriel admitted. “All we’re doing here is treading water.”
“We don’t have any other options,” Jonathan admitted. “I understand your frustrations, we all do, including the council. But for now all we can do is our job. When information about Sainte-Pierre’s ally becomes available, I promise you all that you’ll be in on it.”
Gabriel knew that Jonathan was only saying that to assuage their current feelings. But at the moment, he was entirely too tired to really care. He couldn’t recall the last time that he got more than four hours sleep and most of that was on a plane, not in his comfortable bed. Looking around at the rest of the team, he had a sense that they felt the same way.
A look around the room showed that not even Ethan had the energy to protest that statement.
“You’ve all be doing triple shifts,” Aadesh said. “I’m placing everyone on here on medical leave for the next three days, as enhanced as you all might be you still need adequate rest to work at your fullest.”
“I’m fine,” Ethan jumped in.
“This isn’t negotiable,” Aadesh ordered. “And includes all of you.”
No one else seemed to want to debate the topic.
“Alright,” Ethan relented. “But no more than three days.”
“Oh don’t worry, there will be plenty of demons, vampires, and other monsters to kill when you get back, I can pretty much guarantee that,” Jonathan sighed.
They stood and filed out of the room without any further comments toward their operational status. Though no one appeared to like the mandate, they could all understand it and they all, on some level, knew that it was the right thing to do.
“So, does anyone want to do anything?” Cody asked, as they made their way down the hall.
“You mean aside from finding my bed and just falling into it?” Ryan asked, rolling his neck. He could feel the muscles tensing and knotting. Had Ethan not been standing right there he would have given serious thought to asking Elise to massage it like she had done months before. The only good thing about all the attacks was that Ryan didn’t necessarily have to think about his feelings for Elise or whether or not he should act on them.
Of course, that wasn’t to say that he still didn’t think about Elise.
They headed toward the elevators in relative silence. It wasn’t until they were outside again that Ryan spoke up. “You guys want to come over and veg out for a while; we could order a pizza and watch really bad horror movies.”
Tony and Gabriel looked at each other and shrugged.
Ryan’s den was well equipped with the latest in home media systems, although it seldom saw use. Ryan’s parents were away again, this time working in Ireland on the case of a Banshee. He didn’t know much more about it than that, in truth they had only seen each other in passing over the past few months. Usually in the wee hours of the morning when they were both coming back from a mission.
They had let Tony pick out the movie. As he went to put it in the DVD player, they all flopped down on the oversized couch. As soon as Ryan sat down he started fidgeting, constantly shifting to try and find a comfortable spot. Tony had picked out a movie from 1980’s where everyone’s hair was entirely too big and they used entirely too much fake blood.
Ryan shifted around on his place on the couch again, trying to get comfortable. His whole body felt like it was tied up in knots.
“Ugh, they do know that blood doesn’t really spurt out like that, right?” Gabriel asked, making a face. “I mean really, come on.”
“Hollywood likes to get it wrong,” Tony shrugged. “I’ll be right back, I need to take a leak.”
Ryan groaned, rolling his neck again. He could feel the tight knotted muscles protesting with every single movement.
“Tense?” Gabriel asked. “You haven’t sat still since we got here.”
“Yeah...I haven’t been sleeping well.”
“I know that feeling,” Gabriel sighed. “Hang on a second.”
Gabriel bounded off the couch and moved to stand behind where Ryan was seated.
“What are you doing?” Ryan asked, his brows coming together.
“Just relax, I learned this from Aadesh,” Gabriel said, interlacing his fingers and cracking them. “Like I said, all I need you to do is relax.”
Ryan tensed when Gabriel touched the back of his neck.
“Now, take a deep breath and let it out slowly,” Gabriel commanded.
“Just do it and trust me.”
Ryan did as he was told, he felt Gabriel move his hands, placing his thumbs on either side of his spine right below his neck. He felt a slight pressure as Gabriel pushed down...and then he sucked in a breath. A wave of relief seemed to radiate out from the points under Gabriel’s thumbs, washing through the sore and tense muscles of his shoulders and neck.
“Holy hell man,” Ryan breathed. “What was that?”
“Nerve points,” Gabriel smiled. “Take another deep breath.”
Ryan felt Gabriel move his thumbs down a few vertebrae and then repeated the same pressure. Again, Ryan felt an overwhelming sense of relief and relaxation pass through his knotted muscles, commanding them to start unraveling from their knotted states. His body was already starting to relax, he could feel it and not just where Gabriel had applied the pressure but throughout his whole body. He moved down just a few more spaces and applied the same pressure one more time.
“Wow,” Ryan finally sighed, settling back into the couch. “Seriously, walk up to any guy and do that and he’ll be putty in your hands...well except me because you find me, what was that again...oh yeah repulsive.”
“Yup,” Gabriel nodded. “That’s exactly right.”
Tony came back into the room and did a double take when he saw Ryan settled back into the couch.
“Wait a second...why does he look all relaxed now? Did you drug him?”
“I didn’t drug him,” Gabriel frowned. “I just did some pressure points that Aadesh taught me.”
“And you got him that relaxed?” Tony asked.
“I can’t believe that I am saying this but it felt awesome,” Ryan admitted.
“Okay,” Tony said, sliding into the chair next to the couch. “You have to teach me that, it could come in so handy.”
“Do. Not. Teach him that,” Ryan ordered.
“What!” Tony exclaimed. “I promise to only use my powers for good!”
“Right, that seems unlikely.”
Tony opened his mouth to continue to protest but both Ryan and Gabriel shoot him looks that told him that he was better off leaving this particular subject alone, at least for now. They finished the rest of the movie in silence and when it was over, Gabriel appeared to be the only one that konked out. In fact, ever since Gabriel did that nerve pressure or whatever it was, Ryan felt more awake than he had in a long time.
“It’s been three months,” Tony said. “Do you know what that means?”
“That you’ve successfully added another eighteen notches to your bedpost?”
Tony frowned. “You know there is more to me than sex, right?”
“Right, I totally forgot about the explosives and guns part.”
Tony’s brows came together again. “Seriously? You really think that there is all to me? Sex, guns, and explosives...that’s harsh dude, how long have you known me?”
“Since we were like five.”
“And you really think that all I care about is getting it on and blowing stuff up?”
Tony looked almost wounded as he asked the question, prompting Ryan to wince slightly. It was true that everyone pretty much knew that he was a bit of a womanizer and that he loved to make things go boom but not everyone knew him the way that Ryan did.
“I know there is more to you than that.”
“Could have fooled me,” Tony grunted. “Did Gabriel talk to you about what happened while he was being held captive by Sainte-Pierre?”
“He didn’t want to,” Ryan answered. “Not that I blame him. I know that he went through official debriefing with Jonathan and Aadesh but after that he didn’t really say much. I didn’t think that it was a good idea to ask.”
Tony sighed heavily. “I was worried about him too you know.”
Ryan put a hand on his friends shoulder. “I know you were man, I know.”
“I just don’t want him to think that I don’t care about him, I mean I do...I really do, he’s one of my friends...I wanted to throttle Sainte-Pierre so bad on the back of that boat.”
“I think that everyone did,” Ryan agreed. “And he knows you care about him and if you don’t think that he does then maybe you need to say something to him.”
“Ugh,” Tony grunted. “That would involve sharing feelings and whatnot.”
“Generally speaking, yes.”
Tony shook his head and smiled. “I’ll take that under advisement, now about this whole Elise thing you have going on.”
Ryan knew what was coming; in fact he was surprised that Tony had taken this long in opening his mouth about it. He braced himself for the verbal lashing that he knew was going to come at any moment.
“You haven’t told her yet, have you?”
Ryan picked at some nonexistent lint on his shorts. “Um, not really.”
“And why not?”
“Because I haven’t really had a chance,” Ryan protested. “We’ve spent so much time out on missions lately; we haven’t really had a chance to spend any time together...”
“Stop right there,” Tony ordered, holding up his hand. “That’s a crap excuse and you know it. She pretty much stared at your rear end the entire walk down the hall this morning. You can’t deny that she thinks you are hot man.”
“But she dated Ethan!”
“Oh boo freaking hoo,” Tony said, rolling his eyes. “Dated meaning past tense, as in they aren’t any more. Grow a pair and go ask Ethan if it’s ok, we both know that he’s had other fun since they broke up.”
Ryan sighed heavily, part of him knew that Tony was right and another part of him was terrified at even approaching the topic with Ethan. He still wasn’t sure that Ethan was over it and they swore a long time ago that they would never let a girl come between them.
“You can never tell with Ethan.”
Ryan got up and started pacing around the den, trying to calm his nerves. Even thinking about revealing his feelings to Elise made his palms sweaty, his heart race, and butterflies swirl around the inside of his stomach. He had never been affected by a girl this way.
“He says that he’s over her, he acts like he is over her but then there is the way that he looks at her,” Ryan said, running a hand through his short, tousled brown hair. “I still think that he has feelings for her, even if he won’t admit it to anyone.”
“So, then you ask him.”
“No way, not in a million years. I’ve known Ethan for as long as I have known you and he never talks about his feelings. He barely cried when Dominic died and the two of them were inseparable. I know Ethan has feelings but he’s even more protective of them than us normal guys.”
Tony pondered that thought for a moment. “All you can do is ask him, if he says that he’s not cool with it then that’s your answer.”
“I am not going to let my angst ruin this team.”
“Pft,” Tony snorted. “I’m pretty sure that we have survived worse. After all we did weather Ethan and Elise breaking up.”
“If you recall they beat the tar out of each other every day for pretty much a week straight.”
“And they got over it, I’m sure things will be fine. Ethan will have plenty vampires, zombies, demons, and monsters to take his aggression out on.”
“You know for someone that hasn’t ever kept a girlfriend for longer than a few weeks, you give remarkably sage advice on how to deal with them,” Ryan smiled, sitting back down.
“Hey, I take offense to that.”
“Did Everett ever figure out what that glowing necklace was all about?”
Tony nodded. “He called it a Nature Stone, a pretty rare artifact that could manipulate nature and creatures closely related to nature, hence why the tree huggers went all nuts back there. Everett pointed out that there aren’t really that many of them lying around, he thinks that Sainte-Pierre’s ally might have gotten from our vault when he got the war golem.”
“I thought that we have everything accounted for?”
“Now, believe it or not, I think that they actually made a sequel to this flick and I just happened to have brought it with me, poke Gabriel and wake him up so that he can join in the fun.”
“We wouldn’t want him to miss out now.”
Gabriel awoke with a start, his heart hammering and his breath coming in ragged gasps. He looked over at his alarm clock, which read a lovely 9:20am. He groaned, falling back to his sweat soaked sheets. The nightmares still came, although not as often as before. He still hadn’t told anyone about them yet, although he knew that couldn’t last. He had a feeling that if he wanted answers he would have to confide in his friends sooner or later.
The nightmares ended the same way; with his death. He had no clue as to the identity of the figure in them and all his attempts to find out who or what he was had failed miserably. Luckily, the sheer exhaustion that he had recently been facing meant that the dreams didn’t come every night. That was a small blessing.
Summer sun streamed in through the open window and he knew it wouldn’t be long before Sean would come bounding into his room to beg him to take him and Tim down to the lake for a swim.
Gabriel swung his legs out of bed and headed toward the bathroom. He showered, changed, and headed downstairs. He could hear voices from the kitchen, which told him that Sean and Tim were already awake as well. He entered the kitchen and nodded in greeting to his brother.
“Yo,” Sean responded.
“Sleeping beauty finally decides to grace us with his presence,” Tim smiled. Gabriel rolled his eyes at his brother’s friend before browsing through the good in the fridge. He pulled a yogurt and then crossed the kitchen, sliding into a chair opposite Sean, who was already chowing down what looked like a plate of bacon.
“You know that’s stuff’s not good for you right?” Gabriel pointed out.
“I’m a growing boy, plus I run five miles a day, I think that a few slices of bacon won’t kill me.”
“What are you and Tim going to do today?”
“We were thinking about going down to the lake, do you want to join us?”
“No thanks,” Gabriel said, finishing up his yogurt. “I’ve got to go into work for a few hours and check up on some stuff. Do you guys need a ride?”
“Nah,” Sean answered. “I already got one. You do know that it’s summer right? Like I mean now that you are all muscley and everything you should try and spend some time outside to actually get a tan and show off the goods.”
“I can’t decide whether I am amused or disturbed by the fact that you want me to go parading around shirtless.”
“I want you to find someone cool guy to date,” Tim responded. “And we both know that men like eye candy. You look great, it’s time you actually started dating.”
“And you think me showing skin will help that?”
“Duh!” Sean exclaimed. “You’re a guy, you know how a guy’s brain works, so yeah I think that showing some skin would do wonders...well that and actually going someplace where there might be other gay guys. Your friends are cool and all but they aren’t into what you are into, at least not in the romance department.”
“No way are you talking me out of this,” Sean responded. “You are going to have to put yourself out there sooner or later man.”
A car honked from the driveway.
“Alright, that’s our ride,” Sean added. “Try and have a good time today.”
Sean and Tim bounded out the door, leaving Gabriel standing alone in his kitchen.
What was really bothering Gabriel was still the death of Sainte-Pierre. He had been over it dozens of times in his head and logically speaking, he didn’t have a choice. He had a broken arm and there was no way that he could have taken Sainte-Pierre alive. No one had blamed him for the action that he had taken, despite the fact that they needed him alive.
And maybe if they took him alive they we wouldn’t be in the situation that they were now it, Gabriel thought. Although, given what Sainte-Pierre’s mysterious ally had already done it was unlikely that it would have altered their plans. It wasn’t the defending himself that he took issue with, after all he had killed numerous vampires and demons after the death of Sainte-Pierre.
But they had all been trying to kill him and they weren’t defenseless. Plus he had no personal feelings toward them. They hadn’t tortured him, they hadn’t threatened his friends, and they hadn’t tried to haul him off to some mysterious figure. He was worried that although he logically didn’t have a choice, he might have let too much of his heart do the thinking. He had gone into the fight wanting to kill Sainte-Pierre and that was exactly what he had done.
Gabriel grabbed his car keys, phone, and backpack and headed out the door toward his car. He turned on the radio and switched to it the local rock station, pushing up the volume as he took off down the street. Although they were technically off for the next three days, he wanted to head back to Aegis and then to Veritas to talk to Imogene. If there was anyone that could help him understand his conflicted feelings about what had happened, she was the one.
“Welcome back young Phoenix,” Imogene spoke.
After the vampires broke the treaty Imogene had moved to a much larger forge and weapons crafting area in Veritas. Gabriel had only been back there once, after Aequitas received some minor damage and needed repair. The scope of the new area amazed him, although not as amazing as the speed in Imogene seemed to glide from station to station and weapon to weapon.
She had acquired several assistants in order to keep up with the demand for her weapons now that the Guardians were engaged on nearly every continent.
“Wow,” Gabriel stared, looking around. “I can come back later if you are busy.”
“Until they find a way to end this war I shall be busy no matter what,” Imogene stiffened. “But I always have a few moments for you young one. Please, come this way.”
Imogene led him to a small area away from the hustle and commotion of the forges and other weapons crafting stations.
“Does your blade still serve you well?”
“I have a feeling though you have more to ask about then your weapon.”
Gabriel sighed. “I do, it’s about Sainte-Pierre.”
“Ah,” Imogene said, her brows coming together. “The one whose mysterious partner has apparently incited this conflict. I hear that you did well in combat.”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about,” Gabriel remarked, picking at the table. “Logically speaking I know that I didn’t have choice, I had to kill him or he would have taken me captive and killed my friends...I just...well…”
“You are worried that because you did it with malice in your heart that you might have crossed a line?”
“Yes,” Gabriel admitted. “I went into that battle wanting to kill him, despite what I told Ethan and the others. I wanted to make him suffer after what he did to me.”
“But you didn’t make him suffer,” Imogene shrugged.
“I killed him! How is that not suffering?”
“Because you did so cleanly, if I recall the story correctly, you shoved your sword through his throat, his death was instantaneous. It is not as if you toyed with him before you ended his life. And you have killed many since then, demon and vampire alike that have attempted to harm innocents.”
Gabriel wanted to protest but he knew that Imogene was speaking the truth. Since killing Sainte-Pierre he had been forced to take the life of several vampires, demons, and monsters and he did so without a second thought.
“I understand your reluctance in this matter,” Imogene soothed, reaching out to stroke the side of his face. “All great warriors have these feelings, the fact that it bothers you as it does merely shows that you haven’t let darkness take hold.”
“Part of me was glad when he died.”
“As would anyone be after suffering at his hands, you are a human after all. It is only natural to want revenge on those that hurt us or the ones that we love.”
“But revenge isn’t the Guardian way,” Gabriel protested.
“There are many things that the Guardians have done that aren’t the Guardian way.”
Gabriel stopped short of responding. Something about the way that Imogene said that made him think back to the comments that Sainte-Pierre had made while he was captured. He wasn’t sure that Imogene had been briefed on the particulars of that mission. Somehow, however he was sure that she got all sorts of information that she normally wouldn’t have access too.
“Sainte-Pierre said something exactly like that.”
“Perhaps there was something to his statement,” Imogene added.
“What do you mean....”
“My young Phoenix,” Imogene responded. “There are many things in this world that you have yet to discover, keep your mind open and eventually all will be revealed to you.”
“Now wait a minute...” Gabriel stammered.
“I have to get back to work,” Imogene said, standing. “I do always enjoy it when you come to visit.”
She smiled and then went back to work, leaving Gabriel sitting there. Gabriel sighed heavily, he was used to riddles inside riddles coming from her but he really thought that she would have had something else to tell him. He shook his head and headed back toward the portal room. It appeared that he would have to solve this riddle on his own.
“I can’t believe this thing! Work damn you, just find me the information that I want!”
Elise tensed as Marissa smacked the display several times. Generally speaking the only one that did a lot of smacking around of equipment was Tony and sometimes Ethan. Usually, though Marissa had a lot more patience for most of the technology that the Guardians used.
“Do you really think that will work?”
“No,” Marissa hissed. “But I’m so annoyed I figured that I would give it a shot.”
“Very Ethan like.”
Marissa shrugged the comment away. “How is he doing by the way?”
“Why would you assume that I would know anything about that?”
“You two did date for several months...oh hell no, you did not just lock me out of the system you overgrown paperweight!”
“What in the name of god are you doing anyway?” Elise inquired, looking over her shoulder.
“I’m trying to get a look at Imperial Medical’s files,” Marissa responded. “And in case you can’t figure it out I’m not exactly meeting with mountains of success.”
“Isn’t that the medical technology company that Marcus DeVore owns?” Elise asked.
“One in the same,” Marissa responded. “They posted a record profit last year, there is a rumor circulating that they might have a viable artificially created fluid that can carry oxygen out for battlefield trauma in the next forty eight months. Nothing has been confirmed though. Did they find out what the glowing necklace was all about?”
“Everett said that it was pretty old school and that there were not that many of them around anymore.”
“That doesn’t exactly fill me with a feeling of joy,” Marissa grumbled.
The doors to the command center opened and Jonathan walked in, looking intently at his tablet like usual. He glanced up and noticed both Elise and Marissa standing there.
“What are you two doing here? I thought that Aadesh gave you strict orders to rest.”
“He did,” Elise responded. “But at the rate things are going down here we decided that you could use an extra hand, don’t worry we slept a full eight hours and won’t be here anymore than twelve, we both know that you could use the help.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“Any new intelligence reports?” Elise asked.
“Nothing as of yet, Europe is getting hit with some pretty nasty demon swarms but they appear to be holding their own for the time being. There was a curious case though, hang on I’ll transfer it to your display.”
“Lycans taken captive?” Marissa read. “That doesn’t really fit, I thought that the vampires wanted to just wipe them out, at least that was their MO in the past.”
“We were talking about that on the roof,” Elise added. “How they seemed intent on hunting down the women and children, this might be more of the same behavior.”
“No one seems to know,” Jonathan answered. “So far there has been only one case of vampires taking the lycans captive that was earlier this week in England. We’ve started looking at the previous attacks to see if we may have missed something.”
“There are too many unanswered questions,” Elise sighed. “And we still haven’t found out whose Sainte-Pierre’s informant is or was for that matter.”
“That’s assuming that he is still around,” Marissa offered. “Our operations against defending the lycans seem to have gone off without a lot of interference from the vampires, I mean aside from the usual. Maybe whoever his person on the inside was, they moved on.”
“That doesn’t make much tactical sense,” Elise frowned. “It would make more sense to leave that person here since we clearly haven’t been able to figure it out yet, let them lay low until they are needed again.”
“I assume that you haven’t made much headway on that front either?” Marissa inquired.
Jonathan shook his head. “No, though the investigation is still ongoing. We’ve been doing our best in an attempt to track down the spy but this war between the vampires and the lycans is stretching us pretty thin. We’re lucky that we haven’t lost more men.”