Jesse flew as high as he could while still staying under the radar level. Cold air rushed into his neck and burrowed past his coat. This wasn’t the first time he’d flown in broad daylight over the city. He’d done it last month when he’d picked up Tori from the Kennedy Center to take her to a mission. No one had seen him—or at least no one had filmed them and posted it online. He might not be so lucky this time. The fog could only do so much to obscure him, and since the EMP attacks, everyone was being more careful and watching the sky for anything suspicious.
A risk worth taking, though, if dragons attacked today. The Slayers didn’t have the time to be careful.
A few feet away from Jesse, Ryker sped through the air with Willow. Even though her jacket was hooked to his, she held tightly onto his shoulders. She’d never liked flying and always refused to look down at the ground. Today it wouldn’t have mattered much. The land went in and out of focus like the fog was a magician performing a shell game. They’d have to depend on their GPS today.
“So what’s the plan?” Willow shouted over the wind. “How am I going to convince a stranger to let me touch his head?”
Jesse flew closer to Ryker to make it easier to talk. “We’ll tell him Rosa sent us to take him to a meeting spot.”
“And,” Ryker added, “Rosa gave Willow something to deliver to him—a kiss. While you’re kissing him, you touch his face. Easy.”
Willow’s mouth dropped open. “Easy?” she sputtered. “I can’t just kiss some stranger while the two of you hang around watching. That would be completely weird.”
Ryker gave what passed for a shrug. “We don’t have to hang around. We can give you some privacy.”
Willow smacked Ryker on the back of his helmet. “Privacy isn’t the issue. The issue is me kissing a stranger who likes my friend.”
Ryker looked over his shoulder. “So you’re saying you do want us to hang around?”
There had to be another way for Willow to touch Leo’s face, but nothing came to Jesse. His thoughts were too cluttered with other issues. Where was Overdrake most likely to strike in DC? And when was he going to do it? Every minute Jesse flew farther away from the city increased the time it would take to return if the other Slayers needed his help.
“Hello, do you even know me?” Willow went on. “I’ve never kissed a guy before, and you want my first kiss to be while luring some stranger to let me touch his face?”
Ryker laughed at her protest. “If you need the practice, you can kiss Jesse beforehand. He’s an expert.”
She smacked Ryker again.
“Hey,” Ryker said, “don’t abuse the only thing keeping you from plummeting to an untimely death.”
“You’re not helping,” Willow said.
“Of course I am.” Ryker gave Jesse a knowing look. “Jesse needs someone to help him get over Tori.”
Jesse’s turn to smack him. “You’re not helping.”
“I don’t hear either of you coming up with ideas,” Ryker said.
Yeah, well, that was the problem. The last time Jesse had seen Leo, the guy hadn’t appreciated the way Jesse flung him across stairwells and dragged him over rooftops in order to evade Overdrake’s men. Leo probably wouldn’t be happy to see him now.
“Just try to act non-threatening,” Jesse said. “I’ll explain things to him.”
Willow relaxed a bit. “Good.”
Jesse didn’t know exactly how he’d explain any of it. Even though Leo had run into Bess’s shields and flown with Jesse off the rooftop, he still didn’t believe what they’d told him about Slayer powers. He thought they’d used some sort of tricks to perform those feats.
The group didn’t speak again until the GPS informed them that they’d almost reached Leo’s house, then they dropped through the fog. A blue two-story on a cul-de-sac came into sight, sitting pale and unsuspecting with the other homes. A dusting of scattered brown leaves covered the lawn.
“There it is,” Jesse said. Fortunately, none of the neighbors were outside. No one to witness this. If Leo was looking out the window and saw them land, he’d realize this wasn’t a normal visit. He might even freak out and bolt. And what was Jesse going to say to him? Hey buddy, we just stopped by to see if you wanted to fight some fire-breathing dragons with us…
Jesse slowed and descended, skimming over the street. Ryker followed, and for the first time, Willow let go of her death-grip on his neck.
When Ryker was about three feet from the ground, he asked, “Ready?”
In answer, Willow leaped from his back and took running steps to slow herself. Jesse and Ryker landed on Leo’s lawn next to her.
Leo didn’t appear in the window. At least, Jesse couldn’t see him peeking through any of the blinds. The group pulled off their helmets and strode to the door. They placed them on the porch where they wouldn’t be as noticeable—no motorcycles in sight to explain them—and then rang the bell.
A few moments later, Leo opened the door, phone in hand. He looked much the same as he had when Jesse had seen him last, long dark hair with bangs that swept over one eye. He wore a gray T-shirt and black fingerless gloves. So unlike the shy, slightly awkward guy he’d been at camp. This Leo looked like he was on his way to some brooding goth concert.
Leo blinked at them and took a startled half-step backward. “Jesse,” he coughed out. “What are you … How did you know where I live?”
“I came to talk to you about something.” Jesse forced a smile and hoped he looked friendly and not menacing. “It’s important.”
Leo didn’t move to let them in. His gaze flicked over Ryker and Willow then returned to Jesse. “The last time you said you had to talk to me, one of my friends flipped out, pulled a gun, and shot at us.”
Jesse lifted his hands and gave a half shrug. “That wasn’t my fault. You need friends who aren’t on Overdrake’s payroll.” Jesse didn’t have to ask what had become of Ryan. Dr. B had kept tabs on Leo since the incident. Ryan dropped out of Georgetown and left his apartment without a forwarding address.
Leo raised an eyebrow at Jesse’s response but still didn’t move. “You hauled me off three rooftops to evade the police.”
“We hadn’t done anything illegal,” Jesse pointed out. “It’s not a crime to leave a party, really quickly.”
Leo pushed his bangs away from his face. “Look, I don’t know what the deal with you is, but the next time you’re trying to get yourself killed, don’t drag me into it.”
Willow pursed her lips. “Well, that suddenly makes our trip here seem wasted.”
Jesse wasn’t going to comment on that. No point in getting ahead of himself. “This is Willow and Ryker.” He gestured to them as though this was a casual meeting. “They’re friends of mine. Can we come inside for a minute?”
Leo looked behind them to the cul-de-sac then slipped his phone into his pocket. “This isn’t a good time. I’m expecting someone. I thought you were her, actually.”
Ryker put on a polite smile. “Rosa isn’t coming. She sent us to, um, explain.”
Leo’s eyes narrowed and went over Ryker again, giving him a more thorough examination.
“Can we come inside?” Jesse repeated, impatience leaking into his voice. He still had to fly to Danielle’s and Alyssa’s. If Overdrake attacked while he and Ryker were in the suburbs, Tori would be on her own in the sky fighting a dragon.
Leo shook his head warily. “My parents aren’t home. They wouldn’t like it if I had people over.”
His parents weren’t going to like a lot of things about today. Willow folded her arms. “You just said you were expecting Rosa.”
“And she’s worth breaking the rules for,” Leo said.
He wasn’t going to make any of this easy. Ryker nudged Jesse and made an upward motion with his hand. He wanted to grab Leo, fly off with him, and have this conversation somewhere else. Probably a few hundred feet in the air.
Jesse gave a slight shake of his head. Not a good idea. Leo would scream and it would alert neighbors.
Ryker made an upward nod of his chin. He didn’t want to waste more time trying to reason with Leo.
Perhaps Willow could read Ryker as well as Jesse could because she sighed, then turned and smiled at Leo, all forced confidence. “Rosa wants us to take you to her. And she wanted me to give you something from her while you’re waiting.”
She stepped forward, put her arms on Leo’s shoulders, and leaned toward him.
Leo’s head jerked in surprise and he took a step backward. “Uh…” He laughed uneasily. “Thanks, but no.”
He took another step backward, trying to break Willow’s grasp. He couldn’t. Slayer strength had its advantages.
Still smiling, Willow stepped into his house, following after him like this was all a game. “If it’s any consolation, I feel even more uncomfortable about this than you do.”
“I doubt that.” Leo’s eyes were wide.
This was just getting worse. Jesse went inside, motioning to Ryker to wait on the porch. No need to alarm Leo any more than he already was, especially since Leo had his phone and it wouldn’t take him long to call 911. Leo’s parents didn’t need to come home to a squad car on the driveway.
“Willow isn’t going to kiss you,” Jesse assured Leo. “But she does need to touch your face for a few moments.”
Willow lifted her hand. Leo batted at it. “Are you all crazy?”
“No, but we’re in a hurry.” Jesse rose off the ground until he was a foot in the air. “You’re one of us, Leo. It’s time you remembered that.”
Leo stopped struggling and stared at Jesse in stunned surprise. He swore and shook his head as though trying to clear it. “How are you doing that?”
Jesse floated toward Leo. “We need you to shield. You have no idea how much we’ve missed you.”
Jesse landed beside Leo and put a hand on his shoulder. It was more than a gesture of friendship. He was holding Leo still for Willow. She rested her fingers on his cheeks.
Leo tried to jerk away. “Let me go.” He grabbed Willow’s wrists but couldn’t break her grip. He couldn’t even budge it. “What are you doing?”
“Helping you remember who you are,” Jesse said with more patience than he felt.
Willows fingers ran up to his temples then threaded through Leo’s hair. She shut her eyes, concentrating.
“Seriously, let go of me!” Leo’s face flushed with anger. “I mean it. I don’t…” The anger faded and his words drifted off. He blinked several times and his eyes went unfocused. He seemed to be seeing something that wasn’t in the room. Perhaps past summer days were coming into focus. The days when he’d been a different person.
Leo took several deep breaths and swayed. The color in his cheeks had drained away, leaving him pale and trembling. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
That had not been the reaction Jesse was expecting.
Willow didn’t move away but her eyes fluttered open. “Does that mean you remember being a Slayer or you don’t?”
Leo sucked in another breath and then grimaced like he was in pain. “What have I done?”
Jesse let go of him. “He remembers.” Jesse knew because that phrase was exactly what he would say if he’d done something stupid that cost him his powers.
Willow dropped her hands away from Leo and stepped back. “Do you know who the Slayers are?”
Leo wouldn’t meet Jesse’s eyes. He stared across the living room trying to catch his breath.
Willow cocked her head uncertainly, waiting. “Do you remember who you are?”
Leo rubbed his hand across his face and his eyes. His voice was no more than a ragged whisper. “I remember who I used to be. I’m not…I’m not that person anymore. I messed up and lost everything.”
Right. He was back. He could work through his guilt later. Leo needed to pull himself together now. “It’s not what you’ve done that I care about,” Jesse said. “It’s what you’re going to do now. Willow restored your powers. Once you’re near a simulator, they’ll turn on. Which is a good thing because DC will be under attack soon and we’ve got two dragon lords to stop. We need your help.”
Leo coughed. “Two dragon lords?”
“Three,” Willow said, “if Aaron goes bad.”
“Who’s Aaron?” Leo asked.
Jesse had forgotten how much Leo didn’t know, how much he had to get caught up on. They’d have to explain on the flight back to Rock Creek Park.
Willow headed to the door, glancing over her shoulder to answer Leo’s question. “Aaron is Overdrake’s twelve-year-old son.”
“Turns out Dirk is also Overdrake’s son,” Jesse said. “See, you’re not the only one that messed up.”
“What?” Leo asked, shocked and unmoving. “Dirk is a dragon lord?”
Willow opened the door. “Tori is too, but she’s on our side.”
“Tori?” Leo repeated.
Jesse strode to the door, motioning Leo to follow him. “It was a busy summer.”
Ryker was waiting for them on the front porch, helmet back on. He held Jesse’s under his arm and was spinning Willows on the tip of his finger.
“Are you coming?” Jesse called to Leo.
“Are you ready?” Ryker asked at nearly the same moment.
Leo slowly stepped outside. “I’m not ready, but I’m coming anyway.”
Jesse grinned. Leo was back. One down, two more lost Slayers to find.