chapter 5

Jesse stood next to Theo’s van, pulling on his boots over his bulletproof pants. He couldn’t help checking the sky every few moments for Tori and Kody. The van was on the shoulder, down the road from the intersection Ethington and Voodoo would have to use to get to the main street. Jesse should have been keeping his gaze on that.  Instead, he let Ryker and Theo handle that task.

Finally, he spotted Tori and Kody in the sky. Her hair was loose and streaming out behind her, something that made Kody tilt his head to avoid being whipped by the strands.

Jesse’s eyes scanned her, checking for injuries. He hadn’t quite recovered from hearing those gunshots on her feed. It wasn’t ever going to get easier, knowing that she was in danger and not being able to protect her.

Beside him, Ryker said, “Just tell her you want her back and be done with it.”

Jesse pulled on his gloves with more force than the task required. “Getting back together would only make things worse. We’d both be even more distracted. I need to put the nation’s safety first.”

He expected Ryker to agree. Instead Ryker said, “You know, every once in a while, you can put what you want first.”

For a moment Jesse considered that idea, imagined what it would be like to hold onto his own happiness and let all his other responsibilities topple around him. Tori would be at the center of that happiness and he would keep her safe.

Happiness. It seemed so easy. It wasn’t, of course. If he protected Tori and people died because of that choice, how would he live with himself afterward? At the same time, how would he live with himself if he didn’t do everything he could to protect Tori and she was killed?

It always came down to that—a stalemate between two horrible sorts of pain. Back when Jesse had joined the Slayers, he’d thought that choosing to sacrifice his life for the good of the country would be the hardest choice he’d ever have to make. Now that decision seemed like the easy one.

He never should have allowed himself to fall in love and if he was smart, he’d do everything he could to keep emotional distance from Tori until they were all through defending the country.

She and Kody landed by the van door. Her jeans were peppered with tears and spots of blood dotted them. Gunfire wounds? Worry pricked his stomach. “What happened to your legs?”

Tori helped Kody unhook himself from the back of her jacket. “Either bullets or bark. I’m not sure which.”

“What?” Jesse stepped closer for a better look. “If you’ve been shot, we need to take you to a hospital.”

Theo handed Kody a stack of gear without any concern. “If she’d been shot, she’d know it. Must just be wood shrapnel.”

Dr. B’s voice came from over the line. He couldn’t drive as fast as the flyers and was still a few minutes away. “Not necessarily. Adrenaline can mask pain. Check for excessive bleeding.”

Tori ran her fingers across her jeans, unhappily. “Oh no.”

Jesse’s worry spiked. “Bullets?”

“No.” She dabbed at a spot. “But how am I going to explain to people why I have all of these shrapnel cuts on my legs?”

“Shaving accident?” Ryker suggested.

She took a pair of bulletproof pants from Theo and began pulling them over her jeans. “Yeah, because I want people to think I’m incompetent with a Bic razor.”

Jesse picked up a lockpick and tucked it into his jacket. “Look, I’ll take Kody and handle this. You need to get your wounds taken care of.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “And I’m not letting Senator Ethington take those guns anywhere near Capitol Hill.”

Theo gestured toward the road. “Ethington’s car just pulled out. Looks like Voodoo is behind him.”

There wasn’t more time for discussion. He put on his helmet and took to the air so fast the wind rushed around him. For the rest of this mission, Jesse needed to concentrate on protecting the country. And he’d just have to obsessively worry about Tori in silence. Later, he would talk to her about the two of them. Or not. Depending on whether he was feeling patriotic or like a normal teenage boy. Could he even be a normal teenage boy anymore?

Kody and Tori shoved their helmets on and attached themselves together. Theo barely had time to hand them rifles and tranquilizer guns before they were lifting in the air.

Ethington’s Cadillac turned right. The SUV turned left.

Jesse headed left, making sure his rifle’s suppressor was on before he slid its sling. The quieter they could keep this, the better. “We’ve got the SUV.”

Dr. B’s voice came over the line again, his words quick and firm. “J-bird and Chameleon you follow the senator’s car. T-bird and Wyoming, you take Voodoo. When they reach less busy streets, you may stop the vehicles. No casualties.”

Jesse inwardly groaned. The SUV was the more dangerous vehicle. Tori would have to face a bunch of underworld thugs, while he and Ryker dealt with only one marksman and a middle-aged senator who probably couldn’t shoot straight.  But Jesse had been given a direct order to follow Ethington. The other Slayers weren’t going to let him ignore it. Ryker had already flipped in the air, changed directions, and was tailing the Cadillac. Reluctantly, Jesse did the same.

Ryker muted his mic so the others wouldn’t hear him speak. “She’ll be fine. She’s got better firepower than we do.” Kody literally had firepower and freezing blasts as well.

Ryker didn’t unmute his mic, which meant he wasn’t done with this line of conversation. Jesse muted his mic as well. Kody and Tori were using a separate channel, but Dr. B was still listening in.

Ryker glided through the air, arms relaxed at his side. “Really, you need to talk to her. The way the two of you flirt and then act like you’re part of a tragedy is getting old.”

“We don’t flirt.” Jesse was careful to tamp those feelings down and Tori had acted aloof towards him since he’d broken up with her.

“Back at the lake, she couldn’t take her eyes off of you.”

“Really?” Jesse’s voice rose in hope. He couldn’t help himself.

Ryker laughed at his response. “Seriously, what’s the point in dying with your pride intact?”

“You’re sure I’m going to die?”

“Well, you are the favorite in the first death bets.”

“Nah, most of the money is on you. If for no other reason than I put a hundred on you myself.” Jesse hadn’t but was going to now, just to spite Ryker.

“Doesn’t matter. You’ll always be the favorite. Everyone knows you’re too self-sacrificing.” Ryker said this as though it were a bad thing.

“That’s like accusing me of caring about the rest of you too much. It’s impossible to be too self-sacrificing.”

Ryker shook his head, a motion indicating he thought Jesse was a lost cause. “We’ll put that on your headstone: It’s impossible to be too self-sacrificing. And hey, if you can manage a few miracles, the Catholic Church might offer you sainthood.”

“If we manage to stop Overdrake, that will be miracle enough.” Jesse flipped his mic back on. It was time for him to get his head in the game.

He was soaring so high above the road, he could see it stretch out in front of him for quite some distance. Only a few cars besides the Cadillac hurried along, unhampered by the usual evening traffic. After a few minutes, the senator’s car slowed, a sign he’d be turning off soon.

Ryker swung his rifle from its sling on his back and checked the safety. “We’re probably following Ethington for nothing. What are the chances Voodoo handed over the weapons without getting full payment first?”

“Maybe he knows Ethington is good for the money.”

“He didn’t strike me as the trusting sort.”

“True.” Jesse pulled his rifle from its sling as well. “But I won’t feel bad trashing his car anyway.  The guy just shot at my girlfriend.” He caught his mistake immediately. “Ex-girlfriend.” Jesse paused, could feel Ryker’s reaction to his slip bubbling up. The words: See, that proves you want to get back together with her were about to jump off his tongue. Jesse held up a hand. “Don’t say it.”

Theo’s voice came over the line with mock innocence. “Was that instruction meant for me or Chameleon? Because I usually don’t get to weigh in on your love life.”

And he still didn’t get to. “It was meant for both of you.” Jesse should have used Tori’s code name when he was talking about her. He was getting careless. Or pathetic. “Aren’t you following T-bird and Wyoming?” he asked Theo. “Why are you on this channel?”

“Doctor You-Know-Who switched with me. He wants to be closer to the SUV. So now you two get to benefit from my expertise and knowledge. Of course, you’ll ignore it. You always do.”

“I’d comment about that,” Jesse said. “but I’m ignoring you.”

Dr. B would still be monitoring both channels. He didn’t chime in, though even now while they were talking about him. As a policy, he made no unnecessary remarks during missions that could distract the Slayers.

The Cadillac turned onto a side street, heading away from the river. A golf course and some neighborhoods lay up ahead. No other cars were nearby. Best of all, the senator’s car was coasting toward a stop sign. At almost the same time, Jesse and Ryker dropped lower. The Slayers could shoot with fair precision at five hundred feet away—too far away for most people to accurately respond in kind.

As Jesse dipped closer to the car, he noted that the bodyguard wasn’t driving, Ethington was. Only one reason for that. Ethington was worried about being followed and wanted the better marksman to have his hands free.

“I’ll take the right side,” Jesse said. “Call me self-sacrificing. Wait, you already did.” Without giving Ryker a chance to argue, he dived downward, rifle at the ready. Since the bodyguard sat on the right hand, he would undoubtedly shoot at Jesse, not lean across his boss to aim out of the other side to hit Ryker.

Jesse fired at the back tire, then the front. The bullets hit the rubber with satisfying thwacks, echoes of Ryker’s shots on the other side.

Almost immediately, Jesse took return fire. There was a popping sound, then bullets whizzed past him like angry bees. Those had been closer than he expected. The bodyguard had been watching for them and he wasn’t a bad shot.

The sky didn’t offer any cover, but it was hard to hit what you couldn’t see. Jesse darted directly over the top of the car and motioned for Ryker to do the same. This way, if the bodyguard wanted to reach them, he’d have to lean out of the car to do it.

The Cadillac lurched through the intersection and sped down the street. Jesse followed, hovering over the car while he waited for it to sink to the ground. Shouldn’t take the tires long to go flat.

This didn’t happen. The car kept moving, traveling faster than it should have been able to.

Ryker made a grumbling noise. “Bulletproof tires.”

“He’ll have matching glass.” The problem with bulletproof glass was that it protected passengers inside the car while still allowing them to shoot out.

“We can work with that.” Ryker flew higher and pulled ahead of the car enough to get a clear shot of the windshield, then fired several times.

Undoubtedly none of the bullets made it through, but each hit made the glass crack and craze, leaving it white with damage so it was opaque and distorted. “If Ethington can’t see, he’ll have to stop.”

The bodyguard leaned toward the windshield for a counter attack. More popping sounds stuttered through the night. Ryker had to rocket away to avoid being shot. Even with a suppressor, the noise had been too loud.

The car picked up speed. As long as any part of the windshield was undamaged, the senator could keep driving.

Jesse motioned for Ryker to come back to the top of the car. “If we keep shooting, people will hear the gunfire and call the police. We need to throw something into the car’s path and make it crash.” There had to be something around they could use: a trailer, a discarded Christmas tree, an unsuspecting shed.

While Jesse scanned the area, he tuned to Tori’s channel. “Our vehicle’s bulletproof. Yours probably is too.”

“Understood,” she said.

In the background of her feed, a man shouted out death threats. That probably wasn’t a good sign. “What’s going on?” Jesse asked.

“Wyoming turned the SUV’s back wheels into wheelcycles, and when someone got out to see what was wrong, our man: Mr. Statehood sent a fireball inside. The men all exited and now we’re picking them off with tranquilizers.”

“Wyoming for the win!” Kody crowed.

Somewhere near Tori and Kody, a man screamed an obscenity, making the word stretch out like a rebel yell.

“That guy sounds too close,” Jesse said.

“He’s not close,” Tori said. “He’s just really loud.”

“Be careful.”

“I always am.”

That was part of the problem. Tori really thought she was being careful as she took on too many armed men, or got too close to dragons, or almost as bad, too close to Dirk. “Be more than your usual amount of careful,” Jesse pressed.

“How are things on your end?” Tori asked.

The question was enough to remind him that he was supposed to be doing something besides hovering over the senator’s car like a party balloon. “We’re still working on it.”

“Yeah,” Ryker said, “We’re sticking close to Ethington’s car, hoping that eventually he’ll run out of gas. When that happens, he’s ours.”

Okay, granted, Jesse had gotten a little distracted talking with Tori, but that wasn’t a reason for sarcasm. “Gotta go,” he said and switched off her channel.

The Cadillac veered down a side street, making its way through an upscale neighborhood. A scattering of houses stood back from the road, keeping their distance behind winding driveways. The senator wasn’t heading toward his house. He either was trying to lose Jesse and Ryker or he was driving toward someone who could give him backup. The second scenario seemed most likely, which meant they needed to strike soon.

Ryker peered down the street. “Why don’t any of these people have easily throwable boats?”

Jesse’s gaze darted between the houses they passed. “We’ll have to settle for something else. Fortunately, the attacks have made people patriotic.”

He spotted what he was looking for around the next curve. A large American flag that hung over someone’s balcony. “I’ll be right back. Cover for me.”

Ryker slid to the left, rifle raised, and shot Ethington’s side window. While the bodyguard was adjusting his gun so as not to accidentally shoot his boss, Jesse arced backward toward the house with the flag: a well-lit two-story brick mansion.

He flew to the balcony, took hold of the flag, and ripped it from the pole. Only after the material was in his hands, did Jesse notice two pajama-clad boys, staring at him from a bedroom window. One looked about ten, the other eight, and both were gaping at him with open mouths.

“It’s gotta be that Augustus dude,” the younger yelled. “Now he’s stealing people’s flags!”

Well, even if Jesse had wanted to explain, he didn’t have time. He jumped off the balcony and glided, upright, across the grass. That way if the kids snapped a picture of him, at least he wouldn’t look like he’d flown away.

When he was out of sight, he missiled upwards. “Position?” he asked Ryker.

“Going north-east. Nearing a church.” The banging noises in the background were proof that the led was still flying. Apparently Ryker had given up any attempt to be stealthy.

Jesse wheeled north-east, searching for a steeple.

Tori’s voice came onto his channel. “We searched the SUV. The weapons aren’t here. Have you guys stopped Ethington’s car?”

“No,” Ryker said, “but he can’t have more than a half a tank left. You know what gas guzzlers these luxury sedans are.”

“Do you need our help?” She had the grace to sound surprised.

“We’ve got it under control,” Jesse assured her. He didn’t want her to face even more gunmen. “How are your legs?”

Tori didn’t seem to hear him. “Voodoo might have stashed the guns somewhere in the woods. Someone else could be picking them up right now.”

That, in retrospect, would have been the smart thing for Voodoo to do if he’d suspected he would be followed. Although he probably hadn’t worried much about that outcome. Not many people were foolish enough to follow a vehicle filled with automatic rifles.

“If you don’t need us,” Tori said, “we’ll double back to check that area.”

“Understood,” Jesse said. “Hopefully we’ll find the guns in Ethington’s car. Then we can move them to Edison’s van.”

“Only if there’s no police around,” Theo cut in. “I’m listening to their dispatches. I can’t risk being pulled over for breaking curfew and then being caught with illegal weapons. I’m too pretty to go to prison.”

“Hate to break it to you,” Kody said with a snort, “but you ain’t that pretty.”

Dr. B cleared his throat. “Concentrate on finding the weapons. We’ll worry about the quality of Edison’s prison life later.”

The chatter went silent after that. Jesse skimmed over the church steeple and spotted Ryker flying above the Cadillac’s roof like a persistent shadow. He’d stopped firing, and from what little window glass was still clear, Jesse could see the bodyguard twisting in his seat to search the night sky.

Jesse needed a way to descend in front of the car without getting shot. “When I say the word, make a distraction. Copy?”

“Copy.” Ryker dropped lower, still staying centered over the car roof.

Jesse waited until the road began to wind through another curve, then sailed passed the car to get in front of it. He sunk, in a few more yards would be in the bodyguard’s line of sight. “Now.”

He’d expected Ryker to fire at something in the street, make some noise. Instead, Ryker plummeted down, momentarily landing on top of the Cadillac’s roof. Perhaps not the safest distraction since the bodyguard immediately swiveled his gun that direction. He didn’t shoot, though. Bulletproof ceilings had their drawbacks.

Jesse dropped until he hung almost directly in front of the car, the flag stretched between his arms. He let it go and the material fluttered for a moment, fell like a sigh, and then the car smacked into it. The flag pressed against the windshield, completely obscuring Ethington’s view.

Jesse was just able to dash out of the way before the car hurtled by him, brakes squealing. It rattled off the road and slammed into a tree. Bits of bark, plastic, and headlights exploded from the car. The tree shuddered from the impact, its branches waving back and forth in reproach. The hiss of airbags sounded and the headlights flickered off.

Had the entire neighborhood heard the crash?

Jesse and Ryker both lifted in the air, watching the car from a wary distance. Two houses were near enough that Jesse could see their front doors. No one came out to check on the noise. Neither Ethington or his bodyguard climbed out of the car.

“They could be hurt,” Jesse said.

“Or waiting for us to come close so they can fire on us.”

Jesse needed to get to the trunk but didn’t want to be that close to the car doors if two armed men were about to get out.  The Cadillac’s windows were so pocked and fractured, the glass looked like it was covered in snow in places. Only blurry shapes were visible inside. They moved a little. Someone moaned, low and long.

Perhaps the airbags hadn’t worked as well as they should have. “If they need medical care,” Jesse whispered, “we’ve got to help them. I can’t tell my mom I killed off her favorite presidential candidate.”

“And that’s why we don’t tell our parents stuff. After we’ve got the guns, we’ll call nine-one-one. Edison, are you close?”

“Two minutes away. But I’m not coming within firing distance unless you disarm everyone.”

Another moan came from the car. Was that real pain or a ploy to lure them closer?

Either way, Jesse needed to get the trunk unlocked. He’d be vulnerable as he flew down behind the car. The darker it was, the safer he’d be. He took aim at the nearest streetlight and shot. The glass cracked, the light blinked out, and bits of debris tinkled onto the pavement. There was still more light than he liked but extinguishing all of it would be impossible. Too many lit windows.

“Give me a diversion,” he told Ryker. Then Jesse plummeted toward the ground.

Ryker careened forward and shot the front windshield, trying to focus the men’s attention there. It only half worked. Ethington returned fire at Ryker. The bodyguard let loose a round at Jesse.

A spray of bullets hit his chest like a hammer swing, stealing his breath and pushing him back through the air several feet.

“Got one!” the bodyguard yelled.

Jesse dived for the Cadillac’s back wheels. He reached them, was safe for the moment. In this position, no one in the car could see him here, let alone angle their gun to hit him. He ran his hand across his chest to reassure himself that none of the bullets had penetrated his Kevlar or body plates. No blood there, just a bruised feeling.

“You okay?” Ryker asked.

“Yeah.” Jesse adjusted himself into position, crouching behind the trunk.

Ryker had moved above the car roof again and batted a tree branch out of the way. “Those guys were way too happy about hitting you. That should cost Ethington your mom’s vote. Just saying.”

That and a lot of other things. Jesse pulled out his lockpick. “They’ve got to be using Voodoo’s rifles.” The bullets had come too fast for handguns and besides, Ethington hadn’t expected to be followed tonight. He wouldn’t have brought so many rounds of ammo with him. “Maybe the guns aren’t in the—” Jesse didn’t finish the sentence. When he touched the trunk handle, an electric current slapped through his arm.

Jesse dropped the lockpick and shook his hand, trying to bring feeling back to it. “The doors are electrified.”

The senator certainly had tricked out this Cady.

Ryker cursed. “If this turns into a waiting game, Ethington wins. He’s probably already called for help.”

“I don’t know about Ethington,” Theo broke in, “but someone called the police. You’ve got about four minutes before this place is crawling with cops. I’m down the street but I’m not coming closer and I can’t stay long. Maybe two minutes.”

Ryker surveyed the Cadillac, hands on his hips. “We’ve got to disarm the battery so you can take care of the lock.”

If they tried, they’d be too slow.

Dr. B spoke, his voice a forced calm, “You may have to abandon the mission.”

“We still have two minutes,” Jesse said. “How’s the front windshield’s visibility?”

“Completely gone,” Ryker said.

Good. “We need it darker. Hit the rest of the lights.”

Ryker flew upward until he had a clear view of the other streetlights.

Crack. One light snuffed out. A second crack. The night grew even darker. Now the only light came from house windows, which annoyingly all seemed to be turned on. But it was dark enough.

“What’s the plan?” Ryker asked.

“Blunt force.”

The Caddy’s motor grumbled in an effort to start. Ethington had probably seen Jesse in the backup camera and was attempting to back up and run over him. Fortunately, the motor didn’t manage to turn over.

Fine. If the senator and his bodyguard were watching, they could watch Jesse disappear under the car and wonder what he was doing under there.

A moment later Jesse emerged from Ethington’s side of the car and flew to the windshield. Bullets from the outside might not be able to pierce the glass, but the two men had very considerately shot dozens of holes from their side.

Jesse aligned his gun to one at the very top of the windshield. “Open the trunk or I start shooting.”

To emphasize the point, he let the end of his barrel clack against the glass.

Immediately, both men fired on the area under Jesse’s gun. Shots cut through the night in an insistent drumbeat. Bits of glass burst from the windshield, sparkling like glitter. Even bulletproof glass had its limits, and the men had just breached that limit. When their ammo ran out, large chunks of the window were missing.

None of the bullets had hit Jesse. People who couldn’t fly just assumed that others kept their feet below them. Jesse was hanging upside down, arm outstretched, most of his body angled behind the car roof. He’d moved his hand as soon as they started shooting.

Now, still hanging upside down, he lowered himself to take advantage of the new, bigger holes. Both men were in the process of reloading. Jesse pointed his gun inside the car before they could achieve that goal. “Drop the weapons!”

The bodyguard scowled and reluctantly let his rifle fall to the floor, fingers twitching in anger. Ethington dropped his gun almost as slowly. “Think this through, boy. I know who you are. I may not know where to find you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make Tori pay for this.”

Jesse had never wanted to kill anyone before. Now he was tempted. “Open the trunk.”

“Overdrake’s men will be here in ten minutes.” Ethington kept his hands raised, made no move to open the trunk. “You take anything of mine, and they’ll hunt you down.”

Ryker joined Jesse, gun in hand. “I’ll worry about that in ten minutes.”

Ethington scowled at him. “All three flyers are out tonight. I feel special.”

Jesse pulled out his tranquilizer gun and pointed it at Ethington with his left hand. “You’ll feel more than special if you don’t open that trunk. I won’t ask again. I’ll lean over your limp body and do it myself.” Let him wonder which gun Jesse would use.

Ethington pursed his lips and hit a button on his dash. The trunk latch clicked, releasing the door.

Jesse jutted his chin in that direction. “See what’s there.”

Ryker glided to the back of the car. “Jackpot.”

Ethington growled out another threat, but Jesse hardly heard it. Theo was talking. “The police will be here in two minutes. I’ve got to go.”

“We just found the guns.” Ryker began stacking boxes in his arms. “You can wait another sixty seconds. If we try to carry all of these, we’ll drop half of them.”

“Sorry,” Theo said. “I left my get-out-of-jail card at home.” The sound of a gunning engine came over the line.

“That better be you driving in this direction,” Ryker said.

But Jesse had just thought through this scenario. “Never mind,” he said. “We’re not taking the guns.”

“What?” Ryker asked.

Ethington smiled. “Having second thoughts? Smart boy. You might live through the night.”

Tori’s voice came over the line. “J-bird, you can’t let him have those weapons.”

How long had she been tuned to his channel? He allowed himself one second to wonder if she’d been worried when she’d heard him getting shot at. “Sorry,” Jesse said. “It’s safer if we leave the guns.”

“Safer for who?” Tori protested.

“What are you thinking?” Kody added.

“Hold on,” Jesse told them, then fired the tranquilizer gun twice. Easy shots to the neck.

Both men swore and grabbed the darts, pulling them out. “What did you do that for?” Ethington yelled, rubbing his neck. The bodyguard reached for his gun.

Jesse turned his rifle on him. “Hands back up. Those were just tranquilizers. That way you won’t shoot us as we leave.”

Sixty seconds until they passed out. Jesse would stick around until then. Or until the police showed up.

Ethington muttered a stream of curses while the bodyguard tried to burn holes in Jesse with his eyes.

“J-bird,” Tori said. “If Overdrake arms people on Capitol Hill, my father and sister could be killed. You know Overdrake wants revenge.” Her voice broke. “My family—they’re the only ones who couldn’t go undercover.”

Ethington worked in the same office building as her father and sister and that alone put them at greater risk. And that’s why Jesse stayed where he was, waiting for the sound of approaching cars. “I know. Trust me.” He didn’t want to say more, not with Ethington listening. No point in letting him know what Jesse was thinking.

She can trust you,” Ryker said, “but I’m taking these.”

If Ethington and the bodyguard heard Ryker fly off, they made no sign of it. Their eyes were still fixed—and mostly alert—on Jesse’s gun.

Tori dragged in a deep breath. “Is trust supposed to feel like I want to rip my hair out? Because that’s what happening.”

Despite himself, Jesse smiled. “Your hair is too pretty to rip out.”

Ethington and the bodyguard exchanged a puzzled glance before staring at Jesse again. “Who are you talking to?” Ethington asked.

Yeah, Jesse’s last comment had probably sounded strange. “You,” he said. “I’ve always been a fan of your hair.”

Senator Ethington wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Touch me and I’ll make sure you’re…you’re…” He blinked, then blinked again. “You’re…”

“Is this a fill in the blank sort of thing?” Jesse asked.

No answer this time. Senator Ethington slumped in his seat, fighting to keep his eyes open. The bodyguard’s hands dropped to his lap, and his head lolled forward. His face thunked against the dashboard. That was going to hurt when he woke up.

Headlights shone down the street, flitting through patches of trees as they came closer. “That’s my friendses,” Ethington slurred.

It wasn’t. A squad car was hurrying toward them. A second set of headlights from the other direction was joining them. When the officers got here, they would find that Senator Ethington and his bodyguard had been knocked unconscious in a car crash. The car had clearly been part of a shootout, which would require a police investigation.  The officers would notice both the guns in the front of the locked car and the ones in the trunk. Unlicensed, illegal, and in Senator Ethington’s possession.

Jesse took to the air, only pausing to note two other squad cars were converging on the scene.  Good. Even if one or two of the policemen happened to be on Overdrake’s payroll, the others wouldn’t be. They would make sure the rifles went to the proper authorities.

“J-bird, are you okay?” Tori’s voice. It was nice that she was worried about him, even though she didn’t understand what he’d done.

“I’m fine,” he said. “And here’s my explanation: If we’d taken the guns, Ethington could have just gotten a hold of more. We wouldn’t know when or how to stop him. But once the police find him with smuggled assault rifles, yeah, he’s not going to be able to sneak a water bottle onto Capitol Hill, let alone a bunch of weapons.”

Tori made a sound that was half-sigh, half-laugh. “I knew there was a reason I trusted you.”

“And the reason is I’m awesome,” Jesse said.

“You are,” she agreed.

The compliment alone was enough to power his flight back. Every once in a while, Ryker had said, you can put what you want first. How often was every once in a while? Should he talk to her, change the way things stood between them?

“I trusted you too,” Ryker said. “Mostly. But now what am I supposed to do with my armful of illegal contraband?”

“We’ll put them with our other slightly illegal supplies,” Dr. B said. “We made need them someday. And that someday may be sooner than we’d like.”

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