Johnny smiled and waved at the Tasker he’d gotten to know a little bit when he’d started working for Crimson as a tech advisor. However, he put his hand down with a quickness when he realized the guy wasn’t exactly happy to be at HQ.  Johnny watched as three Crimson Guard walked in front of Jean-Michel Raudine and three walked behind him as they made their way past the back entry and into the hidden building.

“Whoa…” he whispered. Crushing his cigarette, he moved to make his way back to his seat inside – where he could patch himself into the security system and maybe figure out what was going on.

Also, he knew to contact Mr. Weylyn and Mr. Evansworth whenever he got the feeling something bad was going down with this particular Tasker, so he sent the appropriate texts. He made sure to add in the “it could be nothing, but…” portion.  

“Shit..” one of the other techs snarled their nose up at his language. Johnny rolled his eyes. He was frustrated. Skinner’s office. It was a no fly zone for electronics of any kind and apparently for magic, unless you happened to be the big guy himself.  

Jean was led to the Director’s office, where he opened the door himself and walked in to face Skinner.   

“You’re making a mistake.”

“What? Not even going to try on the French accent anymore?”  Ezekiel was busy getting a couple of folders from a box on the credenza at the back of the office.

“Why should I bother?” You know all you need to know about me, and things that are none of your business, it would seem.” Raudine was tired and playing games wasn’t his thing. Not when it came to Ezekiel.

“You’ve lost your teaching gig at the university.  You disappeared on me while I needed your insight. You reappear in places you weren’t expected, doing things I never expected…” Skinner tossed a photo on the desk of he and Gabriel at the vineyard in an embrace, kissing.  The sheet of paper next to it was a listing of all the books Gabriel had recently touched on the subject matter of dragons.

“What’s he trying to do? Get his lover freed? Make a case for you all? Tell me.” Skinner placed his hands on the desk and kept his cold glare on the Tasker.

“I have no idea about that. I was there to help out with the research on the connections of demons and to see if Petrard slipped up. He did. Case closed. Though, I can tell you right now, you stepped too far with Dante.  I don’t know that…”

“Not your concern…” Skinner didn’t budge.

“It is my concern, because it puts people in danger….”

“Not your concern!”

“It IS my concern when you put my Councilor…my friends in danger over something you didn’t test…” his voice was growing stronger with each statement.

“NOT… your…Councilor… NOT your concern.” Ezekiel slammed his hand on the desktop to get the Tasker to stop arguing, and when he saw the man open his mouth again, he stood up straight and pointed a finger at the creature.  

Senias found that his vocal chords were no longer working. He glared at Skinner. He wanted to kill the man.

“There’s that look. I like it. But know that you will never get the chance. I’m not as stupid as William Kennedy. I don’t make as many missteps as others you’ve killed. You belong to me. You have belonged to me ever since you made that nasty little deal for the vampire that hates you. You act like you don’t belong to me, and maybe that gives you too much confidence in that tongue of yours, but you do belong to me. And today was just me pulling on your choke chain and reminding you that you don’t belong to Gabriel Kennedy or Miranda de Salucet. You belong to … ME.”

Having heard enough Sebastian opened the door to the office and entered. “Hate to intrude, but I was told that my Tasker had been re-assigned. Care to explain that to me, Director Skinner? To my knowledge Melinda has done nothing to warrant such a change.” He didn’t look the dragon’s way because to do so would key the Director in on something he’d rather not share at the moment.

“Ever hear of knocking and waiting for permission before entering?” Skinner placed a manila folder over the picture that was still on his desk.

Stepping back two paces Sebastian knocked on the door and stood there a moment before lifting a brow towards Skinner.

“Melinda’s specialties are needed in the other realm. I told her that there would come a time when this would happen. In the meantime, I have a Tasker here that doesn’t have a Councilor and a Councilor that doesn’t have a Tasker. What a perfect coincidence.”

“Excuse me?” Sebastian looked from the Director to the dragon and gave a slow shake of his head. “No.”

Raudine had his arms crossed over his chest already, a gruff scornful look on his face. He still couldn’t talk. Skinner knew it.

“Councilor Evansworth, you seemed to have no trouble inserting yourself into this particular Tasker’s life over and over again as of late. That tells me, you might just be the perfect pair.” Ezekiel smiled and when he did, he very much looked like the fox.  

“What about Councilor Kennedy?” While he had worked seemingly well with Senias on the doppelganger situation, that did not mean he wanted to be saddled with the man permanently. “I don’t think this is a good idea. I’d much rather get Melinda back if you don’t mind.”

“There’s already been a request for a Tasker placed for him. Since the man just got back from a mission he was running in the other realm, he’s available. Councilor Kennedy is handled. He has a new Tasker. Melinda is on assignment tasked by me in the other realm, and you have…him.” Skinner sneered.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with him?” Sebastian was being very serious with the question. Senias didn’t listen to Gabriel Kennedy and he actually cared for him, there was no way the damned dragon would listen to him.

“Oh, we were just discussing something similar, weren’t we Jean-Michel? I believe I’ll use a similar answer to your request and tell you, it’s not my concern. You have a Tasker. He has a Councilor to serve, so long as I am apprised of the Task per protocol – I prefer knowing before the proverbial and literal shit hits the fan.”  He moved his fingers up and swirled them before pointing to Raudine’s throat and then to his door. “Now, I have business.”

Jean-Michel’s glare lingered on Skinner, even as the man moved to sit in the chair at his computer. He was imagining the joy of taking the man’s head and ramming it through the screen, hearing the electrical sizzle, smelling the cooking skin…

With a disgusted sound Sebastian turned and started out the door, “Follow me then, Raudine and don’t make me repeat myself.” Pulling the door open he marched out of it without looking back to see if the man actually listened. He wouldn’t say anything more until they were away from the college and truly away from Skinner’s eyes and ears. Until then it would appear as if Evansworth and Raudine were still the mortal enemies that they were believed to be.

Very slowly, the Tasker turned and moved out of the office and out through the University side of the building, where people thought Ezekiel Skinner was a Dean and he was a washed up part-time history professor.  Some of the students that had the audacity to like him waved here and there. Jean-Michel found himself smiling and nodding to them. They were not his problem.

He followed close behind the vampire, not saying a word.  He supposed he would need to clean out his office on campus. If they hadn’t already done so…  Gabriel had already been assigned a Tasker? Had requested one? What was his kindred up to? Everything was happening so fast.  

“I need a drink.”  

“You aren’t the only one.” Sebastian muttered under his breath as he moved towards the vehicle that he knew was Raudine’s.

“Make this look good and don’t fuck it up.” He walked to the passenger side and climbed into the truck. Seeing that the dragon’s head was in other places the vampire clapped his hands once loudly to pull him back to the here and now.

“I’m not your chauffeur,” Raudine kicked the gravel beneath his feet. “You said you needed a Tasker…”

“Get your ass in here and get me out of the sun.” It really wasn’t a good time of day for him, but the message that their inside techie had sent didn’t leave him much choice as to whether to wait or not. ~ Stop worrying about the human and worry about yourself for a change. ~

Sen made his way to the driver door. He slammed it and cranked the thing before taking off from the lot.

“Where are we going?” the Tasker muttered.  He didn’t care right now. He just needed a goal in mind and then if Sebastian wanted to berate him he could.  

“For a drink. Find a bar, I’m sure you’re familiar with all of them around here.” He wasn’t being easy on the dragon, because it wasn’t his job to do so. If Senias needed coddling the dragon could seek out the human for that.

As the truck rumbled along the way, Sebastian pushed his shades on to shield his eyes from the sun. “Care to tell me what all that back in the office was about?” It didn’t really matter, but he liked knowing what he was getting himself into.

“What part? I have no idea what to tell you unless I know what you want.” He was being stubborn, sure. But he seriously had not felt the vampire show up, he’d been so pissed off.  So he had no clue what to tell Sebastian. “It was a lot of not my concern and a blur of reminding me who I belong to, because apparently one master isn’t enough.” He jerked the wheel into a tight left hand turn and made his way down one of the back streets to get back out toward his own home. He didn’t feel like dealing with crowds.  

“I was talking about me ending up stuck with you. Now where exactly are you going?” Sebastian glared at his Tasker through the dark shades.

“If I’m gonna get shitfaced, I’ll do it in my Sanctuary, where nobody can come and fuck with me,” he growled before making a turn up through a non-paved area and then bounced the truck over a small cement curb to end up in the cul de sac near where his house was situated.  He drove to the driveway and parked there.

“Do you really feel this is appropriate?” Sebastian exited the vehicle but didn’t move to follow his Tasker.

“I’d say given the circumstances, it’s very bloody appropriate,” the dragon muttered as he unlocked and stepped through the gate on the drive that led to the back of the house.

Behind the shades Sebastian’s gaze was moving from Raudine to the gate he was moving through. There was no way that he was going into this particular house. Raudine’s Sanctuary  meant he shared it with very few and the vampire had a pretty good idea who he’d shared it with.

“You’re being stupid and acting like a love sick human teenager with this foolishness.” Sebastian looked for shade as he muttered beneath his breath. Senias had been a fierce warrior that few dared tangle with. Now to see him like this, well it was a shameful sight.

Those words had Senias stopping before he could turn the corner to get away from Sebastian. He put his hand on the corner of the house and leaned upon it. He was listening. He wouldn’t listen for long. The vampire had a lot of gall to try and call him out on lovesick behavior considering what Bastian had put himself through when he’d caught his previous lover during mating season.  What a dandy fucking mess that had ended up being.

“Isn’t it odd that Skinner suddenly felt the need to put you in your place when you’ve been the same ass for decades that you currently are being? And what is this about the demons? How in the hell did they get involved in your cluster?”

Sen turned around to face the vampire.  His eyes narrowed.

“You saying you’re willing to help me figure this bullshit out? You’re willing to help me get back to what’s mine instead of helping Skinner put further distance between me and Gabriel?”

Adjusting the cuffs of his trench coat over the base of his gloves to assure that light didn’t touch his skin, Sebastian responded as straight forward as he could given the subject. “Seeing as you gave yourself to Skinner to get me out of the cell I put myself in, I’d say getting you back to Gabriel is the least I can do.”

“You heard that,” it was more of a statement than a question, as Senias digested that his secrets were being tossed about willy-nilly.  “I never wanted you to feel beholden. What’s done has been done. You understand that, Bastian?” This time, his words were softer when he spoke them. He stepped back to the gate.

There was a deep intake of breath as Sebastian finally moved to step through the gate, “Let’s just get this figured out so that you can get back to where you should be and we can get back to our lives.”

The dragon nodded before closing the gate behind the vampire.

Instead of heading for the door, Sebastian went for the back porch. He’d entered the gate, but he wasn’t entering this house regardless of what words spewed from the dragons lips. Standing in the shade Sebastian turned to look at Raudine as he shoved his shades up on top of his head, “Now let’s put some thought and no emotion into this shall we?”

Senias moved around to the far side of the patio, which was actually underneath the upper deck. This way, Sebastian would be completely out of the sunlight and more comfortable.  He motioned for his new Councilor to take a seat on one of the wooden chairs. He did the same across from the man.

“It’s a mission Tasker and we need to get on board and get our evidence to build our case, whatever the case may be.” He pulled his gloves off and tucked them into his pocket, thankful his illusion was in place.

“It’s difficult to build a case when you have no idea what it is,” the Tasker pointed out.  He steepled his hands. “I need paper. I need to be able to put word to paper.” He got up to go inside. “Want to come in? Or should I bring you something? Water for the heat?”   

“I’m fine here and water would be good thank you.” Sebastian didn’t remind Raudine that the temperature didn’t affect him in such ways. It was obvious the man was focused on other matters. He could use the drink though he didn’t partake often of such things.

Sen came back out with two tall glasses of iced water and a large sketch pad and two pencils. They were charcoal drawing pencils, but he didn’t feel like looking for the proper instruments.  

When the dragon returned, Sebastian let him know what he was thinking. “What if your predicament is simply a smoke and mirror act? How better to keep you and Kennedy out of the demonic affair then to give you something else to focus on? See? Right now, Dante is not your priority, getting back with Gabriel is. Skinner put a target on his head to keep you busy, but why?”

“But he put Gabriel in danger from both Inea and Mira and Gabe knows it. He promised Mira he’d do everything in his power to get Dante out of there. So didn’t that work against Skinner’s plan?” Senias paused and held up a finger, “Or…he knows we’ll both be so fucking rattled that the thinking and research Gabriel usually has no trouble with will be too difficult for him to accomplish. If Gabriel can’t free Dante, the boy’s gonna be banished like his father or worse. And at that point, Gabriel’s life will be forfeit.” He shook his head. “Two birds, one stone.”

“We need to find out that link to figure out why all of this is going on. You’re more familiar with Skinner and the demons so where would you begin?” Sebastian took a small sip. His Tasker was overlooking a very important addition to that scenario. What might happen to Senias of Morias should his love and kindred be killed?  It seemed to the vampire, this might be a case of 3 birds; one stone.

“Skinner was helping cover up the doppelgangers. I don’t have proof. You were there – we never could prove anything. But he kept interfering and he kept showing up at the wrong places. Angela helped us prove that the Tel’Secus exists and that they were funding the illegal transition of the doppels to this world to take over positions of power.  If they were both helping toward the same goal, stands to reason…” Senias would let Sebastian finish that thought.

“They were working together.” Sebastian watched the dragon put the pieces into place.

“Skinner had Dante and Mira brought in before the Council meeting.  Dante and Mira had helped the doppels, but they sold them out when asked. Said it had just been a business deal.” the dragon wasn’t sure why that felt relevant, but he wasn’t sure if Sebastian knew all of the details, so he was laying it all out for him.

“And then Skinner comes to Gabriel about a possible treasonous human Councilor in Paris – the very city that the twins come from. Wants us to investigate it.” Sen punched his knuckles lightly on the table, “No! He sent Gabriel without me. He fuckin’ knew I was still hurt. He sent Gabriel alone – or would have. He baited him. But Eva went with him at first, then we traded out once I was better.”  

It’s all 3. For some reason either Tal’Secus or Skinner himself wants dragons, demons and the Kennedy’s out of the way. Too many coincidences to brush off.” There was a moment of silence before Sebastian’s gaze snapped to Raudine again, “Competition! Can’t have dragons combining with a powerful magical family.”

“But I’ve always been a slave to the Kennedy Clan. Inea was until recently. He doesn’t know about any of the others, though. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.  So long as we’re blacklisted, he doesn’t have to worry about any of us truly becoming a problem…” Senias looked up at Sebastian. “Gabriel’s research.” He closed his eyes and flopped backward in the chair, his fingers began rubbing his temples.

Now Sebastian was confused, “What does some research have to do with this? Kennedy is always researching something.”

“Demons and dragons are both competition or might stand in the way of Tel’Secus. He knows we aren’t extinct, but we might as well be so long as we’re blacklisted – and Gabriel’s been pulling tomes and historic documentation about dragon indictments and judgement and…” He let off a frustrated sigh. “He wants us free, Sebastian. He aims to prove our case so we can be free – so I can be free. This part is my fault.”

“Your fault how?” Sebastian scowled, “Did you somehow demand this of him? Gabriel Kennedy doesn’t strike me as someone that takes orders from anyone really well. Or do you mean because of his feelings for you and the fact that he’s maybe using this act to prove it?”

“He has nothing to prove. He just wants to help us and I doubt he would have gotten involved if not for me is all. Maybe this was why so many people wanted us to stay apart. I feel like, looking back now, my stubbornness and my thoughtlessness, it’s put him in danger. I could have said no.” Senias felt so guilty for crossing all those lines that Amelia had put down, that Devon and Eva had warned him about.  He closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath before reaching forward to grab his water for a gulp.

The look that Senias had given him had said it all and Sebastian didn’t want to go down that road with him. Better to push past it and get back on focus.

Sebastian took a drink and sighed, “Point is -now that we have a theory, we know what the case is, now all we have to do is find proof.”

“The task is to find proof that  Skinner or Tel’Secus or both want to eliminate dragons and demons from power. Correct?” Senias looked to his Councilor.

“You also may need to stay away from Kennedy for a few days. At least until Skinner is off of your asses.” Sebastian paused because Senias was deep int thought across from him. “What?

“I know something that I’ve not looked into. It may have absolutely nothing to do with this, or – it might be exactly what we need.” The Tasker’s memory moved backward to the very last task that Skinner had assigned to him.

“I had to find and either rescue or eliminate an agent who had been captured by a bunch of shitheads calling themselves a coven. I got there and it was too late for her. I get the feeling Skinner already knew that. Killing her was mercy, believe me,” the pain in his eyes betrayed the fact that even though he rationalized it, his conscience would never forget it. He let his memory recall the moment with clarity.    

~ What do you have on him that makes you so important, Lin? ~ he asked, forcing his mind to speak directly to her mind. In this addled state, she had no defense at all. He hoped his question would be answered by images or at least some breadcrumbs on where to find a weakness in Director Skinner.

Lin relaxed and let him in to see what she’d found. There were several images that went from pictures in a file marked case 32 that were of holding tanks and chambers, there was also at least one of him shaking hands with a dark-haired male that Crimson knew ran the black markets.

“He knew she had something on him and so he eliminated her. But I read her mind before releasing her.  She let me see pictures in a file or a drawer or something… marked #32. I saw tanks and cells…”

“Tanks and cells? Experimentation maybe?” Sebastian played his fingers through the condensation on his glass as he thought it over. “We need to get into case #32. That girl died for seeing it and now the demons, you and Kennedy are all going down. It’s as if he’s tying loose ends and we need to find out why.”

As the sun went higher Sebastian felt the drain more. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked Sen’s way. “Now we just have to figure out how to get into it.”

“You need to rest or go back to your lair, Bastian.  I can work on things myself until you’re better able. The sun does you no favors.”

“Can I trust you not to get into more trouble while I sleep?” the vampire asked.

Senias presented a trademark evil grin, “You can trust me.”


~  Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018