“Hell with it,” Angus says, pushing his chair back from the desk. Common Sense, in its scabbard, bumps against the wheels of the chair. “I want a damned hot dog and I’ll by the gods have one.”
Jack doesn’t bother hiding his grin, just shakes the car keys at the older man.
“Treaty says you need a babysitter. I say I need a hot dog. Maybe three. Proper ones. We can make this work if and only if Kyna never finds out. Deal?”
The big Scotsman rolls his eyes and ruffles Jack’s hair, an easy gesture that’s taken hard work from both of them.
Chicago traffic is never good in the Loop, but 2:00 pm is after the lunch rush and before the first workers start sneaking out early, so the stoplights are just stoplights right now with no uniformed officers directing traffic. The armored SUV rolls through the streets looking only slightly out of place, first dwarfing taxis then eclipsed entirely by a Hummer limo. Jack scowls as he yields extra space to the limo for a turn, muttering something about waste.
By silent agreement they head for the ramp down to Lower Wacker, planning a route north that avoids even the sight of Sarah Maelstrom’s brooding black office building, topped with the polished golden spire that Jack once called “that dildo thing” while Angus was mid-sip of his morning coffee. They both had to see Genji for the burns from that incident. Jack still considers it worthwhile; he’d been saving the joke for almost a month.
The summer streets have more motorcyclists than usual, which always makes Jack a little nervous. He hates maneuvering round them, hates trying to be considerate and leave room, and hates the way they don’t leave enough room themselves, pressing close around the vehicle and zooming off in unpredictable directions. Today is particularly bad, but by the time his generalized anxiety coalesces into a Very Bad Feeling, it’s already too late. The mirror-helmeted rider zips forward and away, leaving the magnetic pack stuck just under the car’s center of gravity and behind the passenger side door.
“Hang on, old man; it’s about to get bumpy,” he has time to say, before the explosive does its thing and flips the vehicle neatly onto its side, skidding along the Jersey barrier between the road and the ramp down and fetching up against the next median.
By the time Jack shakes his head clear and starts to wriggle out of his seatbelt, Angus is already climbing out the window above him, sword in one hand and hair standing up in smoldering spikes. There’s barely time to get his hands off the steering wheel before the big man’s boot comes down on it, pushing up and out.
Jack sighs inwardly and follows, peering out between Angus’ ankles as the huge Scot bestrides the SUV, looking for the enemy. Beyond them, a car caught in the backblast smolders in the other median. Traffic has halted and drivers are fleeing the cars closest to them, heading into the maze of buildings in the Loop.
“If you get me killed, you answer to my wife,” Jack calls as Angus leaps down, heading for the source of a grenade that he bats casually from the air with his sword. The grenade returns to its source and there’s a hail of cursing as riot-geared men scatter. Jack uses the distraction to dive clear of the SUV, get its bulk between him and the enemy. He finds a narrow V of space between the vehicle and the Jersey barrier that seems safe enough. Through the shattered glass and twisted metal he sees Angus stalking forward as he’s done in a dozen combats.
Something isn’t right, though.
The bullets aren’t stopping. They’re not deforming against Angus’ skin, and when he puts up a hand to catch one he’s left staring at his three remaining fingers in disbelief. With a roar he settles that hand back on Common Sense’s hilt and continues advancing, the air around him beginning to shimmer with the beginnings of his warp spasm.
Peering out from his vantage point, Jack can see enemies down, but not enough. Their blood is red, not black, and it’s disorienting. The voices aren’t changing, not like he’d expected. Instead, they’re rising in panic, anger. Jack’s heightened senses pick out a dozen individual voices, all of them shouting variants of murder. “Kill him! Kill The Bastard,” one yell cuts through the din like it’s using Angus’ proper name. The accent is distinctly upper-crust British, like being in a Bond flick gone horribly wrong, and Jack tries to remember if Kyna got her hands on that copy of Skyfall after all. Peg swore not.
He knows what his duty is when the shit hits the fan. He knows he has to run. Angus’ warp spasm doesn’t distinguish friend or foe. Run, call Genji, call Tobin or god forbid Sarah. But that British son of a whore has stepped out from between two cars and jammed something between Angus’ shoulderblades that drives the larger man to his knees.
The dead man wasn’t expecting two .45 rounds in the back of his head. Nobody ever does, Jack thinks, before something slams him in the shoulder and knocks him back behind the car. He hunkers down in that safe space, smelling smoke and blood and ozone. Beside him the Jersey barrier is pocked with bullet scars, and he can smell tainted blood on the metal scrapes and shavings left behind. If they’re shooting Angus with that, it’s going to be a real problem.
As the car begins to dissolve in a hail of bullets, Jack can see a second man duck into the combat. The new man seizes Angus by one shoulder and his dead companion by the other and teleports away. Jack’s cry of rage and loss can’t be heard over the firefight, but the sound of approaching motorcycles cuts cleanly through the noise. I know those bikes, Jack thinks, as the first powerslides into one of the shooters and Deon leaps clear of the mess and turns to face his first opponent.
Jerold yanks off his helmet, snarling, as the remainder of the British team vanishes, taking their fallen teammates with them.
It’s too late, of course, and Jack squeezes his eyes tight shut, fighting back tears of rage and frustration. Boys don’t cry. And men… men fix things like this. So he has to fix it. Because the last thing his father said as he vanished wasn’t Help me or I’ll get you for this, it was please protect my son.
When he opens his eyes, he sees Genji’s face, and beyond him the ruin of the SUV. Genji looks worried. He’s doing something with the front of Jack’s shirt, and Jack wants to push his hands away, get back to business, but his own arms are so heavy, and the shirt is so warm. And soaking wet. And Jack’s suddenly aware that he can hear the cars on the street starting to move again, he can hear Deon’s footsteps and the muffled voices of Team Jade trying to get a fix on the teleport, but he can’t hear, for the first time since his ignition, his own heartbeat.
Genji’s hands begin to glow, cherry petals rising among the darkening day. It’s ok, Jack tries to say, knowing already it’s too late for healing, even for an Elder. But there’s no air, no words.
And then in the quiet, a heartbeat. More than a heartbeat, a systolic thump that lights the world on fire. He can’t hear anything but the drumming, see anything but the lightning of his own ignition. Protect my son. His own voice, screaming in fury.
Genji’s voice, calm, penetrates the din. Makes a quiet space in the middle of the storm that seizes him. Explains and defuses the fury, talking him down from the warp spasm he shouldn’t have, adopted child that he is.
The day returns.
Beyond him, the lump of slag that was once the SUV. A burning tree, a scorched place in the sidewalk. Asphalt melted back to slick black tar under his feet. As the storm calms, Teams Delta, Viper and Jade emerge from refuge, eyeing him warily.
Genji’s suit is smoldering. Jack brushes at it with a vague apology, suddenly aware that his own clothing is in ruins and shit is about to get real awkward, real fast. Genji teleports a kimono in from somewhere, wraps him in it.
“Golden Crown” is all Jack can grit out when they ask what happened. Those British bastards have his father. And they’re going to pay dearly for it.