Zane Walsh walked down Sixth Street with a purpose in mind and it wasn't to be stopped or bothered by drunken partiers or irritating college students who should be home studying for finals. Austin, Texas was a beautiful town. So the fact that he had to spend all of his time walking up and down Sixth Street looking for his soul mate instead of, say, anywhere else in town irked him. He gritted his teeth. Eden, the Outsider's resident seer, kept insisting Raquel--that was his other half's name--was somewhere on Sixth Street and thus on Sixth Street he remained.
"Anything?" Gabriel popped up next to him, nearly scaring Zane into decking him. He really wished the other man wouldn't do that. Just because someone could appear in and out of somewhere at will didn't mean they necessarily had to all the time. To Zane's count, Gabriel had come and gone in the last twenty-four hours at least twenty times.
Zane took a deep breath. "First of all, wear a bell if you're going to do that or announce yourself with some loud bang. I'm spending half my time looking over my shoulder to see whether or not you're about to appear."
Gabriel laughed and fell into step with him. "What are you doing that you're worried I'm going to see? Jerking off in a back alley?"
"Shit, Gabe. The things you say." Zane laughed.
The few weeks he'd spent officially as an Outsider and within the Outsider compound had brought him an appreciation for Gabe's strange sense of humor. The other man was soul mated to one of the kindest people Zane ever met. Loraine managed Gabe's constant swearing and warped sense of right and wrong like it was no big deal at all. Of course maybe that was the point of having a soul mate; they were supposed to get each other.
"You said there were two things and, given that I don't see a woman holding your hand, I'm going to assume you haven't found your mysterious Raquel. What's the second thing?"
Zane rubbed his head. "Is it possible Eden is wrong? Could she have seen the wrong place?"
"Sometimes we can alter what she sees in her visions if we get to the place she's seen in enough time. Like she sees Kal blowing up and we can make that not happen. But, I don't think the location of your soul mate is going to be one of those things she gets wrong."
A loud boom sounded above them and a blast of hot air the likes of which Zane had never experienced before threw him backwards. He would have hit the ground but Gabriel grabbed him midair and Zane landed instead on his bed back at Outsider headquarters. He hated the caves but he'd never been so glad to be somewhere other than Sixth Street and whatever had exploded.
Except...shit. The truth dawned on Zane and he sat up on the bed. "Put me back, Gabe."
His buddy groaned and then shook his head. "You want to go back to the explosion? It's probably demon sent."
"It's my soul mate." He'd been waiting all day and she'd blown him up. Or almost had. That was how his world rolled. "Put me back."
Gabriel sat up and swore. "Fuck. Fine. We'll go back to the fire. Why the hell not?"
Zane hated travelling via Gabe's teleporting skills. They made Zane dizzy but he couldn't complain about the fastness with which Gabe did it. Zane's head spun as he was set down on the street back where he'd left seconds earlier. Sirens sounded in the distance as flames danced from the second floor of the building in front of him. Glass was everywhere and people screamed as they ran down the street away from the very scene Zane feared he was going to have to charge straight into.
There was no way Eden sent him to Austin, Texas and he didn't wind up engulfed in a blaze. That was his karma, or the Outsider equivalent. Or whatever.
"We going in?" Gabriel groaned next to him.
Zane appreciated the sentiment but if he'd learned anything by listening to the others for weeks it was that he was going to have to handle this mostly himself. The whole meeting his soul mate bit was going to fall to him.
"I am. You're staying out here. I'm not going to be responsible for Loraine getting mad. She'll sic that dog on me." Gabe's soul mate's ability to speak to animals resulted in her having some kind of friendship with a dog named Futon. The creature came and went as he pleased. Zane got the impression the canine had more to him than the average dog. Some kind of angelic abilities. All part of the same fight they all found themselves in.
Although no one would call Zane angelic. Ever.
"Oh, come on." Gabe laughed. "You're going to make me wait outside?"
That was when he saw her. The woman he kept running into everywhere. Once outside his window when she'd stared up his apartment from the street. With the rain pouring down on her, she'd been like something out of a movie. Beautiful, wet, and right there for the taking before she'd run off. He'd felt, rather than seen, her weeks later when he'd unsuccessfully been trying to rob a safe. She'd spoken in his head, telepathically was the word, and left him aching.
She was his soul mate. He'd known it. The other half gifted to him by destiny. Together they were to fight in the battle to end all battles, at least in their dimension during their lifetime. If the stories were true, they'd been together many times and fought multiple battles together. Sometimes they all won, sometimes they all lost. But they all did it together, joined with their other halves.
Eighteen souls to take down only one. Of course, their enemy was one badass motherfucker.
She stood, staring up at the scene. Like he and Gabriel, she wasn't running away. Tears ran down her face and she didn't even try to wipe them away. Unable to stop himself, pulled both by her presence and the small sound of chanting which filled his ears, he walked toward her.
"Hello." He tried to speak to her in their minds as they once had before. Such a caress, such a private ability to be able to talk to her in a way no one else could hear. Not all the Outsiders could do it.
She jumped and when she finally saw him, she took a step back. A quick shake of her head told him to stop advancing toward her.
"Why not?" He had to understand. You must know who we are together. "Who we are meant to be."
Or maybe she didn't. He'd only recently learned himself and he hadn't bought into the whole nine yards until he'd gotten to see it firsthand himself. Now he was deeply invested, whether he wanted to be or not.
And he was willing to throw it all in and play ball if it meant he got to see her...
A man stepped in his view, coming up to his goddess. He immediately felt bereft for losing sight of her. Dark hair, almost black, and short like a pixie. Boy cut, some might say, but there was nothing unfeminine about it on her. She had a long nose and big brown eyes to surround her impossibly high cheekbones. A cleft in her chin completed the picture. She wasn't traditionally beautiful--although he didn't feel beautiful went even far enough to describe her--but hers was a face no one would ever forget.
And had been in his dreams for his entire existence. Like he saw her in a forest...or a garden. Zane blinked.
The man in his way had gripped her arm and made her already pale skin fade even further. Rage rose in Zane's blood. He wanted that man's hand off of her immediately.
"Easy." Gabe's voice in his ear. "I take it this is she, the woman made for you."
His head throbbed and his hands burned for action. "He's touching her."
"I remember when I first met Loraine, before things cemented between us, I felt crazy. I hear Kal was much worse. Try to breathe through it, use your head. You get in that guy's face you're going to draw a lot of attention to yourself. That's not good for any of us."
Gabe was right. But Zane didn't care, not even a little bit. There was a man between Zane and his lady. To compound things, the guy gripping her arm was making her upset.
"Don't come closer, he's dangerous."
Her voice, with her Eastern European accent, moved through him. He'd have to ask her to be more specific about where she was from when he knew her better. Eastern European was too vague; he wanted to know where she'd grown up. Everything about her.
"I'm sure he's dangerous. Of that I have no doubt. But I'm always the most dangerous person anywhere. Take a step back."
Her eyes widened slightly and the man who hollered at her raised his voice. "I told you dead. What part of dead didn't you understand?"
She shook her head, wrenching out his grip to tug herself backwards.
"Grab her, Gabe. Come back for me."
His friend nodded before popping out of space next to him, reappearing next to the girl and disappearing again, this time with Zane's woman along.
Watching, he was able to take a deep breath. It would only be a moment before he himself was taken back to Outsider headquarters, and likely the last time Zane saw Gabe for the rest of the day. All the flying through space would exhaust him.
Zane walked forward to the man who had put himself between Zane and his goal. The stranger whirled around looking for what had happened to Zane's woman. The movement told Zane more than anything else would have. He was dealing with a very human problem and not a magical issue.
"Hey." Zane spoke over the sound of the fire trucks which had finally arrived. Their sirens blared and firemen rushed everywhere securing the scene. Zane was going to have to move, soon. "Did you see that man vanish with that woman?"
Up close, the male who intimidated Zane's woman wasn't at all worrisome to Zane. He was smaller than Zane, pudgier, older...and very human. Being an Outsider never felt so good.
"Who are you?" The man's accent matched Zane's girl's.
"Try to come at her again and you're going to learn my name, real fast."
A sound popped in the air next to him and instead of Gabriel, Drew Dubowski, another Outsider appeared. Zane didn't know him as well as he did Gabriel, but Drew shared some powers from every Outsider. Teleportation was one of them.
Drew grabbed his arm. "Gabe's fried. You got me."
"Let's go. Just saying goodbye to this problem in front of me."
His fellow Outsider laughed. "Let's get out of here."
Zane appeared in the main room of the Outsider caves. A fire burned in the hearth, books lined the shelves--in place for once, someone must have cleaned them up after the last attack--and Zane's woman sat on the couch, looking very small compared to the hugeness of the furniture. Next to her, with a hand on her back, was Marina, Drew's soul mate.
"See? I told you he'd be right back." She stood. "Zane."
"Thank you, Marina."
His woman spoke. "It's so strange to be here with you. I've been hearing your names for so long, hearing your stories. I never thought..."
Marina smiled. "Well, I'd like to hear more about that. But I think I'll leave you two alone. Until dinner. When we make whatever disgusting thing we're eating tonight."
Drew snorted and Zane shook his head. She wasn't wrong. They had to do something about what they were eating. Dried, burned chicken or dried, burned steak wasn't really cutting it for him. The day he'd stopped living on the streets he'd sworn he'd never be so badly fed again.
When Marina and Drew left the room, his woman looked up at him.
"I understand your name is Raquel. That's what Eden says. But, I haven't let myself even think it. In case she's wrong." He realized how completely inane that sounded. He was so not good with women. "Is it?"
"Raquel. Yes, that's my name. Zane." She rubbed at her face. "I do appreciate the rescue. I haven't been back to Austin since I was born. Or, well, arrived. I spent most of my life in Europe with the man you saw. I got away. He found me again. I got slammed into Austin against my will, teleported, suddenly and there he seemed to be. Waiting. Like he was in Maine."
She shuddered and rubbed her arms.
He rocked back on his heels, to resist rushing to her. They didn't know each other. She would probably not appreciate a hug. "He can't get to you anymore."
She raised her eyes to look at him, her brown eyes finally touching his own with her gaze. How easy would it be to simply stare at them forever?
"That's nice of you to say. And, for now, I'm sure we've shocked him. But Michael Dorstore always finds me. I had a foster family once, he found me there too. Wherever I am, he finds me."
Zane sat down next to her, keeping some distance between them even as he ached to reach out and touch. "Not here. Unless he's got some kind of magical abilities, he can't even see this place. You're safe. With me."
Zane Walsh. Raquel Tate couldn't believe she was in the room with him. The voices hadn't told her their official meeting was about to happen. Not that she should be surprised. They didn't tell her everything she needed to know all the time or ever help if things went really badly.
They abandoned her every time Dorstore came back in her life.
She wanted to sigh with contentment. Zane was so...beautiful.
Tall; dark hair with blond streaks here and there--he made her heart beat faster. His features were hard, chiseled and the growth of a shadow on his chin made him appear even tougher. But it was his eyes, blue and piercing, which showed he'd seen the weight of the world.
And if the voices who told her stories about him were right, he really had. Not that her own experience had been at all rosy. Still, Zane...survived whereas she faltered.
She took his hand in hers, lacing their fingers together. "You may come to regret bringing me here."
He stared at their joined hands. "Not going to happen. I'm pretty new here myself. Yet, they seem to like having me around. I can't imagine it wouldn't be fine to have every Outsider on the planet here. It's what we're supposed to do."
"Do you always do what you're supposed to do?" She couldn't help the question.
If he turned out to be a real rule follower, which was not her impression of him given what the voices said, they were going to have problems.
"Almost never." He leaned forward. "Why would we regret bringing you here? Because some human might find you?"
"Because I have a tendency to set things on fire. Sometimes when I'm asleep. I try not to conk out for more than four hours a night. After that, the risk of fire starts getting worse."
There. She'd said it. He had to know how risky she was, why she'd kept herself away for so long, avoided him on the street, and never called out all the times she wanted to.
Zane scooted closer to her on the couch. "You must be perpetually exhausted. That's not enough sleep."
What? "That's not exactly how I expected you to react. I told you I start fires in my sleep. Why aren't you running away in fear?"
He shook his head, some of the dark, streaked with blond hair falling in his eyes. "I've never run away from anything in my life. Well, that's not true. Occasionally the cops. But, not because I was afraid. I didn't feel like going back to jail." He stopped talking, holding her gaze as though he expected a response. With his free hand, he reached out to trail his fingers down her arm. "Why aren't you running away in fear? I told you I've been to jail."