"You're right," Chloe said into her phone, staring across the street at the house at 1327 East Kensington. It was a well-loved, well-lived in, and-- to her senses-- very magical home, hosting at least two if not more generations of powerful witches. "The magic here isn't at all subtle, but it's not exactly traditional either, so it's no wonder the reports kept getting roundfiled. If I didn't know better, I'd say it's based in iron and fire, rather than more traditional elemental sources."
"Definitely iron, not just fire?" Kaulder replied, his deep, roughened voice lifted with intrigue. "That is unusual. Whatever ancient race mixed their blood with humanity's was not exactly a fan of heavy metal."
"It's the only explanation that makes sense," Chloe shrugged. "The strongest artifact I can sense is the Charger parked in the garage, the one that's triggered half the reports; that's how I found the house actually, I traced it from a race out in the desert. But there's rune work and potion-infused paint on half the vehicles on the block. Are you certain there aren't any covens in the area?"
"None I was ever called in to hunt, but that don't always mean there aren't any, just that if they are there, they've upheld the peace," Kaulder replied with a verbal shrug.
Chloe snorted, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth. "The letter of the peace, at any rate. What do you think the odds are they've never used magic while racing against a human?"
"What do you think the odds are that you never, ever served a human in your bar?" Kaulder replied, a curl of amusement warming his voice.
"The bar you still owe me fifty thousand dollars for? Gee, let me think," she smirked.
He was right, of course; everyone fudged the rules a little. But any human she had served, including Kaulder himself, had been in the know, usually brought to her bar willingly by a friend or family member. She'd never believed nonmagical humans were lesser; just differently gifted. After all, an accident of heritage had left a traditionally dark gift sleeping in her blood; another had given the world Kaulder, born without magic yet destined to save the world a thousand times over. Who was to say where on the scale the people of 1327 fell?
"Five thousand. And you can't say I've never done anything for you in exchange," Kaulder teased.
Chloe shook her head, glad he couldn't see her face. He could do more with tone and expression than any other man she'd ever met, no surprise after his eight hundred years or more on the Earth. But she had no ambition to join the ranks of stewardesses and maids and tourists who'd passed through his bed over the years. She'd seen a little of where he'd come from when she'd been forced to walk his dreams to save his life early on in their acquaintance; she knew how deeply he was capable of feeling, after seeing glimpses of the wife and daughter whose deaths had sent him after the Witch Queen the first time. She wasn't going to settle for anything less if she chose to take him on, partner in hunting or no.
"Anyway," she said, returning her attention to the target as the front door opened and someone stepped out. She'd been waiting for a glimpse of whoever lived in the two-story craftsman bungalow, to take a picture for Dolan the 36th's new apprentice to feed through the local law enforcement databases. The Dolan might not be a fan of computers himself, but he'd yielded to Kaulder on that particular subject. "I wouldn't be surprised if..."
Her voice trailed off as the man exiting the house turned to face her, and she finally got a good look at the owner of the home.
"Fuck," she blurted, stunned almost to speechlessness. He couldn't be who he looked like-- obviously, since she was on the phone with the original owner of that face at that exact moment-- but in every particular she could see, from the shape of his nose, the shaved head, the color of his skin, his height, and the breadth of his shoulders, it was as though she was staring directly at a copy of Kaulder.
"What?" Kaulder asked sharply. "Chloe, what's wrong? Did someone attack you?"
"Uh, no, it's nothing, it's just..." She took a step back, hoping the rust browns and olive greens of her clothes would mostly blend into the tree abutting the sidewalk behind her, and watched as the familiar stranger turned back toward the open door, speaking to someone still inside.
"Not nothing. C'mon, Chloe. Spill. Or do I need to come down there?"
"Did, uh." She fumbled for a reply, still staring as she finally picked out a difference between the other man and her partner. Kaulder-- at least the Kaulder she knew-- preferred nice shirts, suit jackets, bleeding edge tech, and expensive cars; nothing too flashy, but not exactly middle class either. He lived up to the standards he could afford; and he could afford a lot, after nearly a millennia of investing his money under the aegis of the Axe and Cross. The stranger lived in an ordinary family home, wore jeans and a ribbed white tee, and drove workhorse American muscle, however magically souped up it might be. "Did you ever have any kids? Other than your daughter Elizabeth, I mean?"
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line; then Kaulder replied, tone more serious than she'd heard it in quite awhile. "No. Not that I know of. But I've never been a monk, and effective birth control's kind of a recent development. Why do you ask?"
"Is it possible the Witch Queen's immortality did more to you than just keep you alive?" she continued as the obvious implications occurred to her. Really; she was surprised the issue hadn't come up before... unless the Axe and Cross had been suppressing these kinds of reports, the way they'd been hiding the Witch Queen's heart from the very beginning.
"Chloe," Kaulder said warningly, his voice like a thousand miles of graveled road. "Where are these questions coming from?"
"I think there might be someone here you'll want to meet?" she replied breathlessly, watching the stranger finally walk away from the house, followed by another man with short, dark blond hair.
She paused again as the second man abruptly stopped in his tracks, laying a hand on his friend's arm and staring directly toward her.
The new witch had blue eyes in a suntanned face, glinting with magic; as he stared at her, whispering something under his breath, she could see the first man turn toward her too, a steely shine echoing in his gaze as well. She felt the questing touch of magic reach out toward her as a large, heavy-looking wrench seemed to appear in the Kaulder look-alike's hand: the blond's more traditional abilities and the strange, metal-based magic of the other working in tandem, as if used to having one another's back.
It took her a moment to deal with the blond's charm-based spell; if she hadn't been a dream walker, she might not even have been able to tell what it was he was doing. It felt like some variation on the spells she'd seen Danique's stable of models performing in that old-money highrise in New York: fooling the eye, but in more of a perception-based way than skin-shifting. He wanted her to think nothing about the scene in front of her was remarkable; that she was bored, and had somewhere else to be, and no reason to remember what she'd seen there.
He was good. But she'd faced far stronger magic when she and Kaulder had gone up against the Witch Queen; it only took her a moment to find a mental anchor and fight back, shedding the spell.
"...loe? Chloe? Chloe, can you hear me?" The hand holding her phone had fallen to her side, but she could still hear Kaulder's concerned voice sounding through it.
She cleared her throat, blinking the last of the magic away, and gave the men across the street a wry, knowing smile as she lifted the phone back to her ear. "I'm here, I'm here. Nothing's wrong, I swear. Just go back to the hotel, all right? I'll talk to you when I get there."
She hung the phone up over his furious objection, then surreptitiously thumbed the camera icon a couple of times before slipping it into her pocket. Proof, later, in case this meeting didn't go well, but she didn't think she'd need it. The men's first reaction had been to defend themselves, though they clearly had the strength for more; she was trying to suppress the urge to hope, but was swiftly losing that battle.
"Who the hell are you?" The Kaulder-alike asked as she crossed the street, hands open and eyes wide to emphasize that she wasn't using any more magic.
"Watch it; she's got some kind of mental gift," his friend said, frowning from beside him.
"Nobody important," she said, grinning at them. "It's my friend that I think you'll want to meet; his name is Kaulder. Maybe you know it?"
The blond tensed, just like any witch whose parents had used the legendary warrior as a bogeyman in bedtime stories to their children. "The Witch Hunter," he said. "But-- you're a witch like us."
His muscular friend's reaction was subtler and far more interesting. His eyes widened, and his grip tightened on the wrench, but he seemed defensive, almost defiant, rather than wary or fearful. "Like you, you mean," he said grimly, aside to his friend. Then he scowled at her. "He's never come here before. Not in my time, or my father's. Why send someone now?"
"Because he's stopped working for the Axe and Cross, so they're not censoring his news anymore. Mister...?"
He stared at her outstretched hand, casting a shrewd eye over her, very reminiscent of Kaulder checking out a potential threat. Then he took it briefly, testing the brush of his magic against hers. "Toretto. Dom. You're not from one of the local covens, then? They've never been all that... welcoming."
"Chloe," she offered in return, smiling more widely at him as the tension in the air began to ebb. "And, no. Though I'm not surprised. Iron and fire? If any of them ever noticed the resemblance...."
Dom's friend glanced between them, brow furrowing more deeply as the conversation flew past him. "What's going on here, Dom? What's she talking about?"
Dom didn't take his eyes off Chloe as he replied, though he chose his words with care. "There's a story my grandmother told. About my father; why his magic was so different. And his kids, and now yours too, Brian. Never really believed it. But her being here says there might be more to it than I thought."
That seemed to fill in enough of the gaps for Brian; his eyes widened, and he turned to stare at Chloe again. "And now he wants to meet you?"
"He would have, if he'd known," Chloe assured him. "We were actually just here for the car-- you're not subtle, guys-- but once I saw you, I knew. He's staying in town; how would you feel about meeting on neutral ground somewhere tonight? A restaurant, maybe? Your choice of venue, of course."
A grandson! And from the sounds of things, a granddaughter and more than one great-grandchild, too. Kaulder had been alone for so long before he'd met her; until he'd defeated the Witch Queen a second time, broken from the organization that had used him like their own personal weapon for more than eight centuries, and set out to pursue a course of his own. The 36th Dolan had gone with him, as a friend rather than a handler; and she'd stayed with him too, tied to him by both the battle they'd fought together and the glimpses she'd seen of the vulnerable heart buried beneath the confident Witch Hunter persona.
But that was still just two people, against nearly a millennia of emptiness. And now... this.
Brian and Dom looked at each other again; then Brian shrugged. "More your call than mine; though you'd probably better run it by the others, too."
"Not like we're shy of babysitters," Dom agreed, consideringly. "You with me on this?"
Brian snorted and broke into a smile, all white teeth and dazzle, and Chloe suddenly had absolutely no doubt how the pair of them and whatever coven they'd gathered around them had managed to remain below the magic radar so long. It wasn't just the strange nature of the Torettos' magic that had deflected official notice. It was a good thing Belial hadn't had a witch like Brian on his side.
"You have to ask?" Brian replied, grinning.
"Good," Chloe replied, resisting the urge to bask in that smile. "I'll give you my number, then, and just be on my way; call and let me know, and I'll arrange things with Kaulder. He doesn't bite, I promise!"
"We'll see about that," Dom replied. But he didn't object as Brian took his phone from his pocket and entered the number Chloe gave them; or when Brian gave his number to Chloe in return.
"Be seeing you, later," Chloe said when that was done, walking away with a wave of her hand.
A surge of magic followed after her, briefly lighting up the pavement before incandescing along the side of her car: a much more sensible model than Kaulder's. Or, at least, it had been. Her mouth dropped a little in surprise as a band of the plain, glossy black paint from the front of the car all down the side suddenly lightened in color, taking on a pattern a lot like the repeating motif in one of the bracelets she was wearing; her favorite, in fact.
She glanced back at the place where the pair had stood on the opposite sidewalk, now vanished from view, probably back into the house. Then she laughed to herself, got into the car, and headed back to the hotel.
Chloe had promised Kaulder, once, that he'd never be alone again. A better sign that she'd been right to offer that promise she couldn't have hoped to find.