I watched him walk back towards the train station. He turned around twice before he turned the corner. I waved at him each time and when he disappeared around the corner. Once inside, I headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
My breathing was elevated, but it was nothing I wasn’t used to already when I reached the right floor. Dae’lin was waiting for me outside the conference room. We didn’t have an interrogation room because we don’t normally interrogate our marks. I was the only one who brought them in. Even then we didn’t interrogate them. This was different.
The female dragon was sitting in the glass enclosed room looking rather broken until she saw me standing outside then she perked up. I could see the pattern’s Dae’lin was using to hold her bonds.
“Can I go in?” I asked Dae’lin.
“That’s why you are here,” she smiled at me though it didn’t reach her dark eyes.
I walked into the room and her eyes went wide as I sat down and the bonds around her released. I waved at Dae’lin. “You will stay put or I’ll have to put them back on.” I wrapped her up in a weave of air in that moment. When she froze I let her go.
“Got it?” I asked.
“My name is Nox. You are?”
“Naomi.” she said.
I nodded. “What’s your son’s name?”
She smiled. “Drake.”
I laughed. “Ironic?”
“I suppose. Gordon liked it.”
“The man with you?” I asked.
“He’s going down for your robberies you know that, right?”
“Your son? Tell me why you freaked out when I said to let the dragons come get him.”
“He’s half human. You know, damn well, they’ll kill him. It’s the law.”
I grinned. “And yet you are robbing banks and breaking human law. See we have a problem. If I can promise you protection for you son, will you tell me about what The Dragon wants.”
I waved my hand and Dorian came in. “Dorian, can I protect the half dragon boy?”
“Only way you can keep him from the dragons is to put him under Venatori protection. No one here will put him under their protection.”
“Can I put him under my protection?”
Dorian smiled. “You are of legal consenting age, so yes.”
“How do I protect him?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I wanted Naomi to understand.
“You could adopt him. It would be easiest.” Dorian put papers on the table. “I had the papers drawn up. The Dragon Council will not take him from you, he’d become one of us like a human would.”
“And all I have to do is sign the paperwork?”
“And the parents of the boy if they both survive.” Dorian pushed the papers to Naomi.
She looked at me. “You will personally protect my son?”
“That’s what I’m proposing if you tell them about The Dragon.” I stood up and smiled. Dorian handed her a pen.
Naomi signed the paper and set the pen down. I signed the paper after her. “Dae’lin, she’s all yours. If she doesn’t tell you everything. Tear up the paperwork.” Naomi gasped as I walked out the door. Dorian had followed me.
I turned to look at my friend and mentor with a smile, “How did you know?”
He grinned at me, “I have known you since you were five, Nox. You don’t think I learned anything at all about you?”
“That’s not it. I get that you know me, how did you know that would satisfy her? You knew I’d sign the paper, but you knew nothing more than that she wanted to keep her son safe. That paperwork had my name as guardian printed on it. Meaning you knew what I’d do.”
Dorian smiled. “I knew you would protect that child with everything you had. And I knew without a shadow of a doubt you would not let that child grow up like you did – alone and parent-less. And I knew you were ready to be a father. What I hadn’t gathered was that you were ready to be an adult.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. We headed towards the stairs, Dorian was one of the few people who always took the stairs with me. He disliked the fear in my eyes, even though I rode the glass elevator.
Dorian chuckled at me as we started up the stairs. “That you actually wanted to settle down. I figured I’d be doing a lot of babysitting while you went out at night to find a new coping mechanism to satisfy your desire for human companionship.”
“You’ve been talking too much to Margo, Dorian.”
Dorian laughed. It echoed in the stair well as we walked up the few flights of stairs to the Academy. Dorian never asked me where I was going, I think he knew already.
“Will you tell Margo of your blue-eyed boy tomorrow?” Dorian asked.
“Of course. There is a lot to tell. And not just about him.”
Dorian touched my arm, and we stopped in the middle of the stairs. “I’m proud of you. Not only do you stand up for what you believe in, you carry it through. You…”
I smiled at Dorian. “I got it, you don’t have to say it and make it all mushy and uncomfortable.”
“Your father is proud of you, too.” Dorian said with a smile as we continued back up to the Academy. I wished to ask the little dragon if he wanted to stay with me. He had to wait until he was under my care, but I didn’t want him to freak out either. But the subject of my father made me frown.
“He has a funny way of showing it.” I laughed.
Dorian nodded. “He never showed home much he cared as a father. I do not regret keeping the secret, Nox. You needed a father, but Kai wasn’t going to be the father you needed.”
“And you were?” I asked.
Dorian shook his head. “No. I never wanted to be a father to you. You were my charge. I cared for you in only that manner at first. It’s why I missed Garrett. You were the first child I’d had custody of in the legal sense. I was not the parent you needed anymore than Kai was.”
I smiled. “But you and Margo were the guardians I got. I’m the man I am because of your direction. I like who I am. So don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m not a complete screw up.”
Dorian laughed. “Some would beg to differ.”
“Some always will.” I stopped and hugged Dorian. He had frozen when I wrapped my arms around his shoulders but he relaxed and let me, he even wrapped his arms around me. I felt the complete urge to pull away, but I didn’t. I was learning to let people in.
Dorian was chuckling when he let me go. “Sage, has known you what? Three days, and already the scared little boy is retreating into the man he became.”
I grinned. “I’m learning. I’m trying.”
Dorian nodded. “Don’t fall too far down the rabbit hole too fast. Climbing out will not be as easy as falling.”
I laughed. “I know, but I think I already fell all the way down and I have to learn to climb back out.” I added as we climbed the stairs. “I’ve told him things, shown him things only you and Margo know. He knows about my nightmares. He’s seen the damage. And the funny thing is, his life is as messed up as mine. His parents died. Sage was separted from his brother. He bounced around foster homes because he was a terror, which was likely his untrained technopathy. He got caught by a good FBI agent who took him in and became a loving father. But that man is also a wolf.”
Dorian’s eyes went wide with the knowledge, “Dominic Olmos’ group?” I shook my head and Dorian relaxed. “Hell’s Kitchen at least is friendly to you. Sheridan is a good man.”
Dorian knew what Adrian had done for me as a kid. Dorian hadn’t liked it but when Margo had agreed with him Dorian’s opinion didn’t matter. “So Sage?…”
“Did you know I was part of the pack?” I asked Dorian.
“Adrian has always considered you family. I assumed he brought you in for your protection. You didn’t know?”
I shook my head. “I was thirteen when Adrian first found me. I didn’t understand a lot then.”
“You don’t feel the pack then? Humans always do. Or those whom we’ve spoken to in the past.”
“Sage does.” I answered. “But I don’t. I feel their energy when I’m close but like now I don’t feel connected to them.” I blurted, “I gave Sage my power.”
“Why?” Dorian asked in shocked wonder.
“Because I needed him to have it. He needs the power to protect himself if word ever got out that he’s dominant over me. They’ll have to go through me to get at him now.”
“You always surprise me, Nox. Always. I’m surprised you gave up control so easily.”
I laughed. “Dorian, I don’t want to be in control. I control it so I don’t freak the fuck out. If someone else wants the control, they can have it.”
“He’s willing to control everything, Nox?”
I shook my head. “He doesn’t control everything..”
“You can’t be passive in your relationship, Nox.” Dorian warned.
“I know. I have a lot to work on in a relationship. Worry about whether Sage likes Mexican shouldn’t be one of them. And you know I’ll freak out making the plans – the change alone is gonna kill me, the planning?” I sighed. “Besides, he likes telling me what to do. He spoke with Adrian after I’d been with his friend.”
Dorian shook his head and opened the door to the landing of the Academy where Drake was being held. The school was just as I remembered it. The halls, the smell – especially the smells. So much of my anxiety was linked up in smells I could feel the stress just filling my bones. I took a deep breath and focused on what I should be doing – meeting my potential new roommate.
He was more than that, but right now we didn’t know each other. One step at a time.
Dorian lead me down the hall to the toddler enclosures. They were rooms with half walls where the kids played with toys while their teachers were teaching other classes. It was more daycare than actual teaching at this age. And nearly every child of Venatori between the ages of 8 weeks and 4 years old was in these walls at the same time.
If you wanted to wipe the future of the Venatori off the planet, you only had to blow up one building. This one. There were strict measure in place to prevent a near extinction level event like that. Short of planes flying into the building we we’re good. Though New York City’s record for flying planes into building was pretty tarnished thanks to the events of 9/11. That was one fucked up day!
I was 9 the day the Twin Towers fell. It had happened across town, but I remember the world collapsing around us. The shake of the ground as they fell. The panic of the City, and the brotherhood it had inspired afterwards. All of it etched into my small mind. That event helped fuel my discomfort in flying. I’ve flown once after that and it was pure terror. I felt like I was five years old again. When I came back to New York City to work, I drove back. I’ve not driven a car since then either – but that’s not out of fear – that’s out of why the fuck would I want to when I can walk anywhere I need to or hop a bus or train and get there without having to deal with traffic myself. No stress is my way of life.
Dorian tapped my shoulder, and I turned into the room he’d indicated. My mentor knew me too well. I smiled at him and he led me through the hall to where Drake was partioned off from the rest of the classes. The half door was painted orange, and I frowned. I looked at Dorian and he only nodded.
The orange door meant these kids were potential fire-starters, or they were. Inside five kids played. Drake looked no different from any other toddler until he looked up at me and sniffed the air. Dorian chuckled. “He reminds me of you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You use to do the same thing every time I walked in the room. You don’t remember?” He was watching me watch Drake.
I shook my head. “But, I guess, I did it. I know I always, even now, smell you before I see you.” I grinned at Dorian, “And I mean that in the best possible way.”
“I know. Cinnamon and vanilla – I smell like cookies to you.” He chuckled.
“That’s not how I thought of it – the best part of apple pie.”
“You hate apple pie.” Dorian said as he frowned at me.
“I hate eating it, the smells however are very hard to make me see the evil that is apple pie.” I was frowning now – the bad memories overriding the good ones always happened when apple pie came up.
A little girl who couldn’t be over six looked up at me. “Why don’t you like apple pie?”
The answer was simple, but how do you tell a child you hate apple pie because your mother made it and it was the only good memory you had of a bad mother. So I told a half truth. “It brings up bad memories.”
Dorian added in my mother’s defense, “And a singular good one. Tell them.”
I sighed. “When I was younger than you, my mother made apple pies all the time. I remember the smell of the crust baking in the oven before she would do anything else. The clean crisp scent of the apples cooking down in the vanilla and cinnamon.”
Another little boy looked up at me and waved his hands at me urgently. The same girl grinned and said, “Joey says that sounds like a good memory.”
I nodded. “It is. But all the bad things my mother did afterwards kinda ruined the whole thing.”
Another boy asked, “What she do that was so bad?”
I looked to Dorian, and he nodded. He leaned over and whispered, “They all have troubles too. Tell them.”
I sighed. “My mother had been out. She’d been hunting, and I was excited to see my mother, and my Nanny was sick so I made myself cereal. I made a mess. My mother came in and she was angry. She shook me and I was afraid. I was five when my ability first came in that moment. I watched as the curtains caught fire out of my fear.”
I looked past the children at the far wall and I could see the flames rising higher and higher in my minds-eye. “My mother rushed for the fire extiquisher and put it out. I was staring. Afraid of her and the fire and I didn’t know what was going on. My mother threw the red tube at me missing my head. She yelled at me, spat at me, called me a monster and sent me to my room.”
I remembered picking up the little red dragon that was my only true friend and holding him tigh. “That evening my mother packed my bag. And early the next morning she was dragging me on to a plane. I was crying and dragging my feet and it only made my mother worse. I freaked out on the plane so bad my mother had to give me medicine that knocked me out. When I woke up I was waiting at the airport terminal. That was when I met Mr. Dorian for the first time. He smelled like cinnamon and vanilla. He made me feel safe. I needed that then.”
Drake looked up at me and smiled. “You smell safe.”
I smiled. “Do I? What do I smell like?”
He frowned, “Like Mama.”
“Why are you sad?” I asked him.
“I miss Mama.”
I nodded. “I bet you do. I missed mine too when she left me with Dorian.”
“Did she come back?” Drake asked.
I sighed and shook my head. “No, Drake, my mother didn’t love me like your mama loves you. She asked me to take care of you for her while she’s not with you. Will that be okay?”
Drake smiled. “Go now?”
I shook my head. “After school. You can come home with me, okay?” I looked at Dorian and he nodded, “The paperwork was pushed through this morning without the signatures.”
I grinned at him. “You know me well.”
Dorian smiled. “I knew even if she doesn’t tell us about The Dragon you’d take him in. Without a shadow of a doubt.”
I grinned down at Drake. “I will come and get you when you get out. If I’m busy, Mr. Dorian will pick you up and take you to his house and I will get you there, okay?”
He nodded. “Play now.” I nodded in return and Drake went off to play with his friends. I waved at the five little ones and Drake waved back.
“So which one was your son Dorian?” I grinned at him as we walked away.
“How did you guess?”
“I know you you as well as you know me. You were comfortable walking in to the kiddie rooms. No one questioned you being there.”
“The little red head. His name is Aidan. He wasn’t planned.”
I laughed. “Obviously not. You don’t like women, Dorian, so how does one accidentally have a baby? I’d sure as hell like to know how that worked out for you.”
Dorian sighed. “You remember those six months I was out of town?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that was like five years ago. They’d been hounding you.”
“I left to decide if I could preform. I hooked up, as you’d say, with a human girl. Accidents happened, but she failed to inform me before I told her I was gay. That any relationship would fail because I was incapable of making her happy. After Aidan was born, her mother found my contact in her phone and sent me a nasty email. I’ve been sending her money since. When Stella lost her job a few months back, I arranged for her to get a job here.”
I frowned, but I understood. “Taste like shit when it happens to you, huh?”
Dorian nodded. “I know you forgive me for not telling you about your father, but yes it does. Stella is having issues with the whole Venatori life style, but both you and I know Aidan needs to be here.”
“So what’s up with the rest of the kids then?”
“The twins – Joey is deaf so the whole care thing is difficult, but since his sister can speak with him she’s here, though she’s not in the ‘troubled’ child category. Henry is shy and when he’s not he’s mean. So he’s a disciplinary problem. Aidan’s still integrating and they keep him here until he and his mother do.” Dorian sighed.
“Well good thing she survived, or you’d be beating yourself up more than you already are. You’ll be a great fad, too bad that don’t count.” I grinned playfully at him.
“I know, right? Proof is in the pudding though, so now I have to. Can’t deny that it’s not a biological impossibility. Any tips?”
I laughed, “On having sex with a woman? For you? Doggie style works, don’t let her get nekkid. Wham bam, thank you ma’am.” I smacked my hands together like I was dusting them off.
Dorian turned a dark shade of red and muttered, “Forget I asked.”
I laughed. “You knew what I would say.”
“No, actually I didn’t. You’d think I’d have at least known the gist of it though.” Dorian rolled his eyes. “So, your blue-eyed boy? How’d breakfast go?”
“Great. He then took me home, and that happened and I saw his childhood bedroom. And then Dae’lin called.” I smiled. “I should go check on Naomi.”
Dorian nodded. “The boy’s things will be delivered to your room for tonight. He has nothing from home, maybe you can go get some since you know where they lived. He might feel more comfortable.”
I nodded. “That sounds like an excellent thing.”
Dorian laughed, “Maybe you can walk with your new boy toy.”
I smiled. “He is most definitely not my toy. I might be his though.”
Dorian blushed again. “You’d think I’d learn. Behave, Nox. I’ll see you later I’m sure.”
We parted ways, and I went down to check on Naomi.
The Last Phoenix (in order)