Amun, bloodhound to Loridan, prince of the fae, arrived at the underground compound too late. Ash littered the ground, and black smoke still rose in thin trickles from the ventilation shafts. He showed off a badge, spoke authoritatively about being part of a task force representing kidnapped Americans, and the Mexican policía
grudgingly let him through. Amun could smell death, the same sickening stench that had never left his memory, despite the passage of three thousand years. Images flashed before him: bodies burning, fae screaming as they died...
“No survivors,” one of the policía said in Spanish, jerking Amun out of his flashback. “We counted fifteen dead either from burns or smoke inhalation.”
“I wouldn’t mind having a look myself,” Amun said. It wouldn’t be easy, as he already felt far more raw and vulnerable than he’d expected. He had to keep reminding himself that he’d come because of Loridan, who’d taken ill because of what had happened here. Amun accepted the breathing mask before he descended, flashlight in hand. Flame had scoured the place, leaving blackened, scorched walls and skeletons of furniture. The place went on for hundreds of yards -- room after room that held a single bed, a shelf, a sink, and a toilet. Cells, Amun thought with a shiver. And the policía was wrong about one thing -- there were more than fifteen bodies, just not ones he could recognize.
Fae had died here, dozens of them. Amun’s discomfort grew as he counted. No wonder Loridan had been so badly stricken; nearly every cell he passed had a pile of dust on the floor that, to Amun’s eyes, still glowed faintly. Some had the healthy golden glow that a fae should have, while others emanated an odd shade of green Amun had never seen before.
Puzzled, he stooped down beside one of the greenish piles. He scooped some of the dust into a cloth bag and tied it shut. Loridan was spiritually tied to every fae; perhaps he would know what to make of it.
Amun continued on into a larger room that resembled a laboratory. The fire must have started here; nothing remained intact. Metal twisted and bent by heat pinged against Amun’s shoes. Glass crunched beneath his feet. Fae had died here too; Amun counted three glowing piles of dust.
He studied the room uneasily, feeling as if he’d been here before. He’d once known a half fae with a laboratory quite like this one, and he prayed that the two had no connection.
A scratching noise in the corner caught his attention. At first he took it to be debris falling, but -- no. A glow emanated from the far corner of the room, one far too bright to belong to someone dead. He started forward, the policía just behind him. Amun didn’t need the flashlight, but one of the policía aimed his beam into the corner.
“Madre de Dios
,” the policía said and crossed himself.
A naked, filthy young man raised his arm to ward off the blinding light. “Put the light down,” Amun said in Spanish. His voice sounded hollow through the mask. The policía lowered the flashlight from the survivor’s eyes, and slowly the young man moved his arm so Amun could see his face. With his matted brown hair, he looked hardly older than eighteen or nineteen, which in fae years meant he was at least two or three times that age.
He looked warily at the policía, but his eyes widened when his gaze settled on Amun. “Who are you?” he asked in English.
“My name is Amun. I’m a special agent come to investigate the fire here.”
At that, he panicked. “I didn’t do it. I swear I didn’t! She came after me, and she burned.” He shuddered, a look of terror on his face. “The fire came from her and touched everything. It hurt...” His voice trailed off.
Amun held his hands up in a gesture of peace. His heart went out to the young fae. “It’s all right. We don’t think you did. We just want to know what happened.” Something about the young man drew Amun toward him. Amun had the irresistible urge to comfort him, to hold him and kiss him and --
One of the policía had the same reaction. He went toward the boy, the bulge in his pants making it obvious why. Amun put his arm out to stop the man. “I’ll handle this.” He removed his jacket and wrapped it around the young man. Almost instantly, the policía relaxed, although he still looked a bit like a hound after a bitch in heat. Gods. Not only did this fae have some sort of extreme talent for healing, but he had a sexual glamour as well, and even if he knew how to turn it off, he was too traumatized to do so.
“What’s your name?”
“We’re going to take you someplace safe, all right, Shane?” Other than a few layers of dirt, he looked perfectly fine. No burns and he breathed regularly despite the smoke that had filled this place. He shivered, but whether it was from fear or cold, Amun couldn’t tell.
“Are you my new owner?”
So he’d been a prisoner here. Amun had guessed as much with the number of dead fae. Someone had collected them. “No. I’m a friend. I’ve come to take you home.” And the sooner the better; the policía had already started to gossip. “I’m going to carry you out. I don’t want you walking around here in bare feet.”
“My hero,” Shane said but gamely wrapped his arms around Amun’s neck.
Amun picked his way carefully through the debris. Taking care of the boy kept his mind off his own terrible memories and his suspicions about the compound’s owner. A few steps and Shane went limp. He’d fainted. Amun’s worry spiked. He needed to get the boy to Loridan, but he couldn’t do that until he got Shane alone and a fair distance away from the policía.
He carried Shane outside, relieved to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. The policía followed behind, muttering among themselves about el fénix
. One of them set a hand on Amun’s shoulder. “The doctor is here. I will take you to him.”
An ambulance sat a few feet away with paramedics waiting. Amun’s heart pounded. Physical human contact would traumatize Shane further, and Amun couldn’t risk letting them strip him for an examination, because they wouldn’t be able to control themselves. “The Americans requested that I see to any survivors personally. I’ll look after him.” He’d had plenty of time to learn about the finer points of healing fae.
The policía scowled, then shook his head. “You can’t take him. He’s got to go in for questioning.”
Amun gave him the imperious look he’d learned from Pharaoh. “In this condition? He’s filthy, scared, and exhausted. Let him rest for tonight, and you can ask him whatever you want tomorrow.” Hopefully the policía wouldn’t be able to find them tomorrow. Amun planned to be long gone by then.
The policía obviously had the same idea. “There’s a motel back in town. You can look after him there. We’ll take you and post a man with you. For your own protection, of course.”
“Of course.” Amun forced a smile. There would be no easy way of getting Shane back to the Otherworld. Amun could only open the door outside and away from any man-made structures.
The motel room was cheap and small with only one large bed and a radio atop a small table, but at least it had its own bathroom. Shane hadn’t stirred during the ride over, but he roused enough to let Amun help him in the tub. He watched Amun as if he expected something. Sex, probably, which meant that his trauma came from more than the destruction he’d seen. Physical contact with humans slowly poisoned a fae’s mind; sex tripled the effect.
Amun’s gut curdled at the thought. No telling what Shane had endured in the compound, especially with that sweet, trusting face of his. Amun filled and emptied the tub twice more before he deemed Shane clean. It struck him how much the boy looked like a younger version of Loridan, with that shock of dark hair and the lithe, pale body, just waiting for Amun to --
He took a deep breath. Two. It wasn’t fair to put his own desires onto Shane just because of his worry about Loridan. He made to help Shane stand, but Shane surged upward and wrapped his dripping arms around Amun’s neck.
The sudden warmth sent a thread of desire straight to Amun’s groin. Gods. Not here. Not now. The body tucked against his was willing and perfect with no sign of any injuries. Shane’s hips moved against his with an erection that encouraged Amun’s throbbing cock to join it.
Amun kicked himself mentally. Stupid, stupid to be so attracted to this one. He’d rescued thousands of fae and never once had this kind of reaction. The glamour. It had to be the glamour. Fatigue and stress had decreased Amun’s defense against it. Loridan. He had to think of Loridan, not this young fae who looked so much like him.
Gently, he extracted himself from Shane’s arms. “I won’t ask that of you.”
He ignored Shane’s visible disappointment as he handed the younger fae a towel. Shane made no move to take it but kept watching Amun with that pleading, needy gaze. With a sigh, Amun lightly dried him off and wrapped the towel around his waist.
Someone knocked on the door. Amun opened it to see one of the policía had been thoughtful enough to bring food for both of them along with a pair of plain cotton pants and a loose shirt that looked as if they might fit Shane. Another policía still guarded the door, rifle in hand. Amun wouldn’t be leaving. Not through the front door, anyway.
Shane’s eyes lit when he saw the fresh tortillas, beans, rice, and tacos. He didn’t bother to wait until Amun had set everything out on the bed. As they ate, Shane edged closer until their legs touched. Shane’s hand wandered over to caress Amun’s inner thigh.
“No,” Amun said with reluctance. He moved Shane’s hand away. “I want to talk to you.”
“We can talk and play at the same time.” Shane ran a finger down the center of Amun’s chest. “Come on.” He shoved the food wrappers onto the floor and tried to push Amun onto his back.
“Shane...” He stayed upright because of his greater strength. “Can you tell me what happened at the compound?”
Shane’s playfulness vanished. He went still and looked Amun in the eye. “Everything burned.”
“Yes, but how
did it burn?”
Shane reached out to touch Amun’s face. “You’re different. Like me. Like the others, the ones who --” He broke off abruptly.
, Amun had the feeling he meant to say. Gods. He was fae, and he didn’t know it. “Tell me about them. The different ones.” Shane didn’t answer. “Do you remember?”
“Not much,” he admitted. “I remember Vince -- Vincenzo. My owner.”
Amun went cold at hearing the name. Vincenzo. He shuddered as he brought to mind the image of the young, angry half fae that he’d caught using his gift to torment humans. Vince had a talent for alchemy, for exploring the chemicals and elements of life. In a better world, he might have been a superb doctor or scientist. Instead, his gift had darkened and turned inward. Amun had brought Loridan in the hopes of saving Vince. Vince might have cooperated had Loridan agreed to his one request: to change him into a full fae as he had Amun. Loridan refused. Vince had disappeared, bitterly angry.
Shane continued, heedless of Amun’s unhappy memories. “He liked to bring me visitors. Most of them were regular people who wanted sex. I didn’t mind. Some of them could do things, like walk on the ceiling or start fires without a match.” He shivered. “Hold me.”
Amun shouldn’t. He knew he shouldn’t. But he couldn’t deny the young fae. Shane’s trembling quieted as soon as Amun wrapped his arms around his shoulders. “Tell me about that one. The firestarter.”
“She wanted sex too. I meant to. I tried. But she went crazy and lit the mattress on fire. I ran toward the lab. Vince should have been there. He should have helped me, but the fire girl followed. There were so many bottles and jars. Everything exploded from the heat. Some of it caught fire. People were screaming...”
Shane’s body shook from sobs. Amun rocked back and forth a little to soothe him, but he knew from experience that such a trauma would not be easily dealt with. His own emotions leaked through: his hatred at anyone keeping another person captive for their own amusement, the grief he shared because he knew the anguish of watching others die.
He let Shane wear himself out before prodding him again. “This Vincenzo. Vince. Why did he want you and the others?”
“Dunno,” Shane said. “He never said. If he did, I don’t remember.”
And there was the crux of it all. The only survivor of a disaster that had deeply wounded Loridan, and Shane was too badly burned by human contact to remember anything of use. Amun bit off his disappointment. He’d have to get the boy purified before he had any hope of getting any useful information out of him.
Shane drew back enough to see Amun’s face. “How come you don’t want me? Everyone else would have been fucking me by now.”
“I can see through your glamour. It doesn’t affect me.” He didn’t mention the lingering ache in his groin.
Shane shook his head in puzzlement. “I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
Amun didn’t have the wherewithal to explain. Not here, not now. He was as worn-out as Shane and worried sick about Loridan. “Sleep on it, then.”
“Leave the light on. I don’t want to be in the dark again. And don’t let go. Please.”
Amun balked at the request, then chided himself. It wasn’t sex. He was comforting a terrified fae, which Loridan would want him to do in any case. So he lay down with Shane still in his arms and tried not to think about how nicely Shane fit there. Since Loridan had rescued him, Amun had never been intimate with anyone else. He didn’t intend to start now.
He didn’t intend to fall asleep either.