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Wriggle & Sparkle: The Collected Tales of a Kraken and a Unicorn by Megan Derr (1)

Lynn wiped iced coffee from his face and glared death at the teenager who had crashed into him trying to catch a football. "I promise, whatever it is you think I'm about to do to you, it's ten times worse. Get out of my face before you get what you deserve for being the kind of idiot who plays football inside a crowded building. And while you're improving your life choices, find friends who don't run and leave you behind."

Making a squeaky noise, the guy turned tail and fled like his ass was burning. He was lucky Lynn had no control over fire. The way his week had been going, the entire world should be grateful. Damn it, he was supposed to meet his new partner in twenty minutes. That was barely enough time to make it to the office.

He grabbed a handful of napkins and mopped up what he could of the spilled coffee. That was what he got for going with a size up from his usual. At least his cheese danish had survived—if the brat had ruined that, too, Lynn would have ensured he never played sports again.

Tossing the napkins, he booked it out of the Alta building, bolted across the street right before the light changed, and hustled the four blocks down to his own workplace, the Dryden building. The Bureau of Paranormal Security and Investigation occupied floors seventeen through twenty-four. Lynn worked on eighteen, one of two floors devoted to the Violent Crimes portion of the Bureau.

The woman at reception gave him a raised eyebrow and a mouth two seconds away from letting laughter slip. "Get dumped again, Lynnie?"

"Fuck you," Lynn said, giving her the finger as he kept walking. Pushing through the second door, he kept the finger raised, moving it around with every smirk and snicker and snarking word thrown his way. "Fuck all of you. It was some dumb kid. Why do I still work here with all of you losers?"

"'Cause you're a loser, too, and watch your language," snapped Comber, leaning out of his office, cigarette smoke wafting around him. He settled the cigarette between his lips and beckoned sharply with large, ink-stained fingers for Lynn to get in his office now or else.

Lynn shot a last look over his shoulder at his smartass coworkers, promising that lunch would be a buffet of death and dismemberment, then hustled into the office and dropped into the seat. "Yes, principal?"

"There's been a situation."

"If there wasn't a situation, I wouldn't have a fucking—damned—oh, fuck it. I wouldn't have a goddamn job if there wasn't a situation on a near-hourly basis."

"I mean with your new partner."

Lynn groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face before bracing his elbows on his spread knees and burying his face in his hands. "What now?" he asked, slowly looking up. "It was all arranged. He's supposed to be here in like five minutes. What gives?"

"Your new partner was arrested late last night. Remember that case about goblin hearts going missing?"

"You've got to be fucking kidding me."

Comber snorted and finished off his cigarette, then immediately pulled a fresh one from the half-empty pack on the desk.

"Smoking is bad for you."

"At least they don't throw drinks on my overpriced suits."

Lynn huffed, mentally weighing the pros and cons of throwing a heavy object at his boss.

"Whoever replaces me would be worse."

"Shut up," Lynn groused. "It's too early in the morning to put up with you."

Rolling his eyes, Comber gestured. "Get out. Go home and change. I know you'll be pissy all day if you're not looking nice and pretty when your new new partner shows up."

Not even bothering to reply to that, Lynn stood and left. At his desk, he pointedly ignored the stupid smirking faces all around him and pulled out his phone. His sister was headed downtown that morning, anyway, she could bring him a clean suit. When he'd finished calling, he shoved the phone back in his pocket and scowled around the office. "Any of you try to talk to her, I will destroy you."

"So she's still single, right?" Ted asked and then ducked with a yelp when Lynn threw his stapler. It banged against the back wall.

"You break it, you buy it!" Comber bellowed from his office.

Ignoring him, because everyone knew Comber's threats were largely empty, Lynn opened his computer and left it to wake up, mentally making a note to harass Janice again about giving him a new one. He headed into the breakroom and dug a couple of bucks out of his wallet, fed them into the vending machine, and punched the buttons for a cranberry juice. He narrowed his eyes when the bottle got stuck and pounded his fist on the plastic front.

The juice dropped, thankfully, because they'd been warned that if another vending machine was destroyed that quarter there wouldn't be another one for at least a decade. The first three hadn't been his fault, and the one last year… Well, Thomas should have kept a better eye on that stupid, punkass brownie.

Carrying his juice back to his desk, Lynn dug his vitamins out of the topmost drawer and downed them in two swallows. Making a face because even juice couldn't hide that nasty taste, he opened up the reports due the next day and began to work quickly through them. He paused halfway through the second. "Hey, where the hell did that tanooki wind up?"

Jack, whose desk butted up and faced off with his, stared at him blankly for a moment, mug pausing halfway up. "Which—oh, that one. Uh. Amsterdam, I think. Don't ask me why. No one ever told me. Why, did you want a second date?"

"Haha. If you consider that catastrophe a date, it's no wonder you can't get one."

"I get plenty of dates, and mine have never thrown drinks on me."

"That was one time!" Lynn snapped. "And I told you assholes—this," he jabbed at his chest, "was done by some spotted sixteen-year-old with a dubious ability to make decisions."

Jack snorted and took a sip of his nasty-smelling earl gray. "That's all sixteen-year-olds. Like you ever made a wise decision at that age?"

"I'll have you know I was a very smart girl at that age."

"I don't believe you," Jack replied. "For instance: why would you shift into a man when you could look like your sister?"

"And everyone says I'm the asshole," Lynn muttered and shot him a disgusted look. "My sister didn't become my sister until college—until then she was my brother. We are gorgeous in all shapes and sizes, so fuck off."

"I always forget how fluid krakens are. You ocean types in general are good at that, right?"

"Some krakens argue they aren't fluid, at least not the way most people mean that word. It's natural to krakens to be born 'male' and shift to 'female' in middle age. And that's all most of us do. My sister and I are fluid, however. But yes, broadly speaking, ocean types tend that way."

"Bet she makes a better man than you," Jack with a grin.

Lynn lightly punched his arm and went back to work, leaving Jack to his snickering.

He didn't stop working until he felt the familiar prickle along his skin that told him his sister was close. He stood and strode back to the front to meet her just as she stepped inside. "Good morning, Les."

She beamed at him and leaned in to kiss his cheek. "Hey, bro." Pulling back, she held out the suit she was carrying, still bagged and on a hanger. "This is the one you wanted, right? Jeez, look at the mess you made of that one—that'll never come out!"

"I know," Lynn agreed sourly, looking down at the white and gray ruin. "Stupid kids. Thanks for bringing the new one. I hope your meeting goes well today." Movement caught the corner of his eye and he turned to scowl at Jack—but too late as Jack waved at Leslie, who cheerfully waved back.

"How's it going, Jack?"

"Fine, fine. How are you, goddess?"

"Shut up," Lynn said. "I will break your face."

Leslie reached out and pinched his stomach hard. "Behave," she hissed. "I'll tell mom you're being a brat."

"Where do you think I get it?" Lynn muttered, but he settled into morose resignation as the whole damn building showed up to chat with Leslie. He didn't understand how she could be so nice all the time. Being nice made people more annoying.

Miguel touched her shoulder a beat too long and Lynn finally lost the last of his patience. "Keep your filthy hands to yourselves, or you know how enthusiastically I will remove them." Casting them all a look to emphasize it was no idle threat, he slung his suit over one shoulder and headed down the hall to an empty office where he could change.

When he emerged several minutes later, he was dressed in his second-best Hugo Boss, a beautiful black suit with purple pinstripes, complete with vest and a tie the loveliest shade of deep, rich purple. His mother liked to say it was the color of a bruise, but she constantly wore that ugly slime-green hoodie she couldn't seem to live without, so who was she to judge?

He fussed with his octopus cufflinks as he made his way back to the main work area—and paused as he realized the ruckus had grown exponentially. Everyone was noisier than usual and nowhere near their desks. "Where's my sister?" he demanded.

"She left, something about a panicked call from her boss," Jack replied. "She said to tell you she'd see you this weekend for brunch and not to forget to bring… something I can't pronounce, sorry. I don't speak Creature of the Deep."

"It was probably French, asshole. I always buy something at the French bakery my mother likes." Lynn pushed him out of the way to try and get better look at what was causing all the chaos. "So what the fuck is everyone going so nuts about?"

"Your new new partner has shown up—way early, to judge by the kittens Comber just birthed." Jack's mouth curved in a slow grin. "You've got a unicorn."

Lynn gave him a harder shove, sending Jack tumbling back to land heavily in his chair. Ha. No one would send a unicorn to such a tumultuous office. Unicorns were pretty much useless for the more violent, bloody end of the field work spectrum. "You're a filthy liar and—" He broke off as the crowd shifted just enough that he could see that Jack was not, in fact, a liar.

Unicorns were so effortlessly pretty that Lynn wanted to… well, do things that were stereotypes he refused to perpetuate. He scowled at the little unicorn, who managed to be pale-skinned without being the fish belly white that Lynn suffered. His hair was an utterly ridiculous gold-silver shade of blond. At least it wasn't some atrocious pink or lavender that had to be dyed. If he cleared five feet, Lynn would die of shock. Lynn was only average height in human form, and the stupid unicorn would still barely even come halfway up his chest.

Ugh, and unicorns were always so… unicorn. He gave it an hour before his new partner got offended or freaked out and demanded a transfer. Damn it. Just once couldn't he get a partner that had a strong possibility of sticking around?

But until further notice, that was his new partner and everyone needed to back off. "Get the fuck out of the way, you nosy bastards," he said. "Move it, move it, or I'm going to go Jules Verne on all your asses. Get the fuck out of the way, Norman, you're already on my list."

"God is on your list," Norman groused but backed away. "Keep your ink to yourself."

Ignoring that lacking-in-wit jibe, Lynn finally reached his new partner and scowled down—way down—at him. "Are you sure you're in the right place, unicorn?"

The unicorn stared up at him, eyes a pretty blue-purple-red swirly affair, then smiled in a way that made Lynn think uncomfortably of his mother. "2076 Lady Beth St., Suite 1803, loomed over by a sour-faced attitude problem in a suit that costs more than what anyone here makes in a month. Yeah, I think I've got the right place. Take a step back so I can smell more than overpriced silk and iced coffee."

Lynn scowled, not certain if he was annoyed or enchanted.

Wrinkling his nose, the unicorn gave him a shove when he didn't move, pushed back the loose strands of his ridiculously curly, artfully tumbling hair, and said, "I hope you don't always smell that much of coffee."

"You don't like coffee?" Lynn demanded.

"Coffee is fine, but you don't have to smell like you bathed in it."

That deserved a sneer, and Lynn happily gave it. "What's your name?"

"Ask nicely and maybe I'll tell you."

Rolling his eyes, Lynn walked over to his desk. "Let me finish a couple more reports and then I'll show you—"

"Lynn! Anderson! In my office now!"

Glaring in the direction of Comber's office, Lynn closed his laptop and rose. He followed Anderson—really, Anderson? Weren't unicorns usually named like Sparkleson or something? Earth-type creatures were so bizarre.

"Close the door," Comber snapped.

Lynn did as told and then took his seat, frowning at the distinctly green cast to Comber's skin. At least the scales hadn't come out yet. "You're that stressed already?"

"As of five fucking minutes ago, yes," Comber snapped and shoved a file across the desk. Lynn snatched it up before Anderson—seriously, that was a horrible name for a unicorn who looked like he modeled for dolls or magical ponies or whatever—and opened the rather ragged, worn, dark green folder.

He forgot everything else as he stared at the mug shot scowling up at him. Slowly dragging his eyes up to meet Comber's increasingly red ones, he said, "You're fucking kidding me."

"Do I look like I'm fucking with you, son?" Comber asked, heaving a sigh. "We think it's him, but there have been no actual sightings reported. I want you to dig around before you go swimming, so to speak, but it sounds like it could be him."

"Who is him?" Anderson asked and snatched the folder out of Lynn's hands. "Oh," he said quietly. "Him."

Something in Lynn's gut twisted to hear him say it in that particular tone—disgust, fear, loathing. All the things people usually felt when they discussed one of his kind. He might make snarky comments about unicorns, but he would defend their right to be obnoxious, delicate, pretty pretty ponies to the death. It was depressing that people looked at Lynn's race and death was the only thought in their heads. "Not all of us krakens are like him." He looked at Comber. "Did nobody fucking tell Sparkleson here what his partner was?"

"Sparkleson, really?" Anderson asked, sliding him a look that was so derisive Lynn almost fell in love. "I don't have a problem with krakens, Wriggly. I have a problem with this kraken-dragon asshole. He—well, he's done a lot of shit, and I used to live out by Bottomless Lake."

Lynn scowled, old hatreds turning fresh and new. He looked at Comber. "Where has he surfaced now? I was sure he'd finally slithered under a rock for good."

"We're never that lucky. They didn't want to give you the case, what with the family connection—"

"Family connection?" Anderson asked, eyes pinching at the corners, mouth pulling down.

Lynn sighed and stole the file back, flipping to the page listing information on family and close friends and jabbing at the lines for parents. "My half-brother—we have the same mother. My sister and I are pure kraken, but we have six siblings who are half-dragon, half-kraken."

Anderson's brow furrowed. "Aren't krakens and dragons distantly related?"

"According to lab nerds with nothing better to do with their time, yes, there is an ancient connection. But we're hardly the same thing anymore. Do I look like I hoard shiny things and breathe fire?"

Giving him a look, mouth curving in an extremely irritating way, Anderson took a long, slow look at his expensive suit, his ring, earrings, cuff links, and glittering tie bar before he replied, "I'm going to assume that question was rhetorical, though I'd say you're more inclined to throttle than burn."

"I'll show you throttle," Lynn muttered, staring back down at the file.

Comber heaved a long sigh. "Boys, if you please. I know it's your first day, and I was really hoping to break you in easy, but Lynn is the only one who is likely to keep Wynn in one place long enough for us to catch him and… well, for the moment, you're not going anywhere, Anderson. Agent Lynn Seymour meet Agent Anderson Meadows."

"Meadows? Really?" Lynn looked up. "I bet Anderson isn't your real name. It's probably Frolick, middle initial 'N'."

Anderson rolled his eyes. "Are you always like this?"

"Yes," Lynn and Combers said together. Combers spread his hands. "You're stuck with him for now, but if you want a transfer after this case, we'll discuss it."

Stuck with him. Ha! He was the best agent in the state and ranked—well, respectably high in the country—and anyone should consider themselves lucky to work with him. Though Lynn admitted that being stuck with his damned half-brother right out of the water was a bit much for anyone to have to endure.

He stared at Wynn's picture, old fears and loathing curling through him, making him ache to be back home in the safety of his own pool. He wasn't much better off than the humans he was imitating when he assumed their shape, but in water, in his own skin… even his stupid brother couldn't mess with him. Not that Wynn would ever conveniently present himself for the ass-kicking he deserved. "Let's get going—" He paused, one hand on the doorknob. "Where the fuck is Wynn skulking this time?"

"You're not going to enjoy what I have to say about your language at your performance review," Comber said. "He was spotted in Parkview, about—"

"I know where Parkview is," Lynn cut in. "Let's go, Sparkleson."

"Right behind you, Wriggly."

Heaving a sigh, Lynn returned to his desk long enough to grab everything he would need, watched as Anderson grabbed a book bag he'd left on an empty desk in the far corner of the office, then led the way out of the building. "We're stopping for coffee first." Parkview was a good two hours south of the city; it was a perfect excuse to visit his favorite, but usually out of the way, coffeehouse.

Twenty minutes later he parked at the curb about a block down from the coffee shop. He could practically smell the lattes already. "Hurry it up, Sparkleson." He waited until Anderson joined him on the sidewalk, then set off down the block.

The barista, Timmy, looked up as the bell above the door jangled and broke into a beaming smile when he saw Lynn. "Hiya, tall, dark, and handsome. Long time no—oh. It's you." The smile turned into a death scowl. Lynn turned to see what the problem was, taken aback when he realized it was Anderson. He turned back to Timmy. "What's wrong? I know the suit is a knock-off Calvin Klein—"

"Oh, fuck you," Anderson said, though without much heat. "We can't all afford a few new Hugo Boss every season."

Lynn almost kissed him, but he wasn't certain he liked Anderson yet, even if he had correctly identified his suit, and Timmy was still glaring death. "Seriously, what's wrong?"

Timmy just shook his head and stomped over to the counter. "Want the usual?"

"Yeah, and a chocolate hazelnut croissant." He glanced at Anderson. "You want anything?"

"No," Anderson replied, gaze locked on one of the strawberry and crème cupcakes in the display case. Unicorns.

Rolling his eyes, Lynn said, "Add a white chocolate mocha and a strawberry cupcake to the order. Oh, stop your glaring, you're making money right? Don't worry, I won't let the evil, violent unicorn bite you."

Grumbling under his breath, Timmy took the cash Lynn held out, gave him change, then stomped over to get their food before he went to glare ominously at the espresso machine. Lynn tore off a bite of the croissant, humming in pleasure, licking chocolate from his fingertips. "So what did you do to my barista? Blind his mother with the power of your sparkle?"

Anderson flipped him off. "Ex-boyfriend."

"Ah." Lynn ate another bite of croissant. "I dated a brownie once, too. That was the one who threw coffee on me. Morons in the office still give me hell about her. Anyone who says krakens are clingy has never tried to break up with a brownie."

"Clingy, I like," Anderson said. "Controlling, not so much." He took a vicious bite of his cupcake, getting a bit of frosting on his nose. Scowling, he wiped it off, then sucked the frosting from his thumb. "Still, you won't find better loyalty. Or coffee."

"And that is why I no longer date where I order my coffee," Lynn agreed.

Timmy brought their drinks a couple of minutes later, beaming at Lynn and offering a sunny, "Have a nice day." He cast Anderson a scathing look as he turned away.

Sighing, Anderson led the way back outside. "Thanks for the drink and cupcake. I'll pick up lunch."

"Awesome," Lynn replied. He set his coffee in one of the cup holders then reached into the back of the Charger to grab the file off the back seat. He pulled out the most recent reports and read through them, handing them off to Anderson as he finished each one. "Neighborhood is split almost. Three people have been reported missing, but the cops can't connect them and have no reason to suspect foul play past there's, you know, three of them gone. Paranormals know better, of course, and contacted us. Common factor is that they all went for a run or a walk in the quaint little woods surrounding the area. There's apparently a large pond/small lake out there. I'm surprised he went with the lake. He's usually much more of the 'yay, cave' method of eating people."

He paused to take a swallow of coffee, and Anderson asked, "Yay, cave method? I thought he was predominantly kraken, for all he's half-dragon. Wouldn't water be more his thing?"

Lynn shook his head and flipped to a medical report at the back of the file, then shoved the folder at Anderson. "He's pretty evenly both, but each form also contains bits of the others, so he never looks entirely… whole, I guess, whatever form he picks. More annoying is the fact he doesn't need a ring to shift, making him hard to contain." Lynn lifted his right hand to indicate the heavy ring he wore—a custom piece that had cost him a fortune but was infinitely preferable to the government issued ones that were both ugly and glitchy. His ring was platinum and shaped like a little Cthulu, with bright purple shifter gems for eyes. Because he had taste, something the whole of the United States federal government sorely lacked. It was also worth the money to have a ring that would let him shift howsoever he pleased, instead of having to request a new ring if he ever felt like having breasts again. "When he can find a cave or something similar from which to eat people in dragon style, he prefers it. Dragon is much more versatile than tentacle monster, after all. His favorite snacking ground is rich, secluded McMansion neighborhoods."

"Why hasn't anyone ever been able to catch him? Even with being able to shift at will, he's not unstoppable."

Taking another swallow of coffee, Lynn then replied, "For one, he's a dirty little cheat. For two, ever tried to wrangle a dragon or a kraken? Neither one is easy, and when you combine those two? Forget it."

"But you can do it?"

"I stand a better chance. I grew up with him; I know all his dirty tricks. I'm also far, far larger as a kraken—but I need a great deal of water, so we'll see."

Anderson's brows shot up. "You're even bigger? He's huge in kraken form! I remember how much of the lake he took up whenever they showed the news reports. Even in human form, he's enormous. He's also an asshole outside of the whole murder thing."

"You've met my brother?"

"I was a bus boy at a diner he used to frequent in Bottomless Lake."

"Right. That must have been pleasant." Bottomless Lake still held the record for the most people killed and eaten by Wynn.

Anderson made a face. "I really hope the Bureau is able to catch the sick bastard somehow."

"Me too," Lynn said. "On top of everything else, it pisses me off how much he fucks up everyone's image of krakens."

Wynn was one of the many reasons no one was willing to work with Lynn. He was lucky the Bureau wasn't allowed to get rid of him simply because he was a kraken. But being everyone's least favorite option meant he always got stuck with problem agents. Made him wonder what a cute little unicorn could have done to get stuck with him. Unicorns were grade ones—sparkles and sunshine and sugar. Not the kind usually put with a problematic tentacle monster suffering from arrogance, vanity, and extreme possessiveness. Although no one seemed to mind his possessive tendencies when they were dating him, right up until the moment they did, but he refused to dwell on that and ruin his mood. "So how did you get stuck with me?"

"Politics," Anderson replied with a sigh, bracing his elbow against the car window and resting his chin in his hand. "I'm from the Raleigh office. Was dating an accountant there. Broke up with him. His father is a higher up and does whatever his children want so they'll leave him alone. So here I am."

Lynn turned the car on and, once it was all clear, pulled into traffic. He stopped at a red light and cast Anderson a side look. "You have a thing with exes, don't you?"

"No," Anderson muttered. He folded his arms across his chest and slumped in his seat. "Maybe a small thing."

Grinning, Lynn put his attention back on traffic as the light changed. "So should I call you Sparkleson McSlut, or Slutterson McSparkle?"

"How about you go fuck yourself. I was in that office fifteen minutes and I heard all about just how chaste you are."

"I'm not a unicorn who will catch ten times the hell for it. Everyone sort of expects tentacle monsters to be slutty."

"Stereotypes are unbecoming and shouldn't be perpetuated," Anderson said sourly.

Lynn snorted in amusement. "Says the man in a shiny pink and yellow tie with a jeweled flower for a shift ring who devoured a bright pink cupcake in thirty seconds flat."

"Fuck you, monster of the deep. I've heard how bitchy you get about everything you think belongs to you. They told me all about how tetchy you get when your sister is around."

"Yes, well, I have to prepare them. If they aren't willing to brave the obnoxious, over-protective brother, they'll never survive my parents or, more importantly, my sister. She's way worse than me—she just hides it so it hurts more later. She's secretly sadistic, trust me."

Anderson made a soft noise that might have been derision or amusement, Lynn couldn't tell quite which. He liked the idea of amusement better, so decided not to ask, focusing instead on merging onto the highway. "We've got two hours until we reach Parkview."

"I'm going to make a wild guess and say you're not the kind to travel in silence?" Anderson asked.

"You would be correct. What do you want to start with: sports or office gossip?"

"Office gossip. Have you heard the BS about vacation time?"

"Don't even get me started," Lynn said and launched into a tirade.

*~*~*

Though he was sorely tempted to go straight to where his half-brother was hiding, Lynn knew better. It hadn't actually been confirmed that Wynn was the perp, so interviews and investigation were the name of the game. That meant talking to the witnesses who had filed reports, which was always so much fun.

Their first stop was a house so tooth-achingly perfect suburban McMansion that Lynn wanted to vandalize it just to restore balance. He parked on the curb and climbed out, sneering at the white picket fence with meticulously arranged yellow and pink roses growing in front of it.

Anderson pushed open the gate and led the way up a white stone walkway. Lynn sneezed from the overabundance of flowers perfuming the air, swatting irritably at a bee as it buzzed around them. Reaching the white door, Anderson ignored the bright gold knocker in favor of rapping the door firmly with his knuckles. Shadows moved in the hallway beyond, just visible through frosty glass and gauzy curtains, and a beat later the door was opened by a woman who looked like she'd stepped out of a movie about creepily perfect housewives from the 1950s.

The file had said this particular couple were goblins, which explained it—they were so determined to avoid being seen as typical goblins they had tipped too far the other way. "Mrs. Moore?" Anderson greeted as they pulled out their badges.

"Oh." She clucked. "It's about time you got here. Come right in, please. The drawing room is right this way. Something to drink? Water? Tea? Coffee?"

Lynn shook his head. "No, thank you." She led them into a room as magazine perfect and creepy as she, everything expensive looking but bland. A man sat on the couch reading an old-looking book, hair perfectly frosted, a pink sweater around his shoulders, and a delicate-looking cup of what smelled like orange-infused black tea on the end table. He held out a hand, and they exchanged handshakes before Lynn and Anderson took the seats indicated.

"This is my husband Charles. I'm Jennifer. We were starting to think no one was going to come about poor Jacob and those girls."

"We came as soon as we got the report, ma'am," Anderson said quietly, folding his hands in his lap. Not even half a second later, however, he started to fidget, clearly as twitchy as Lynn felt. Worse, probably. Back in the days no one liked to talk about or acknowledge in any way, goblins ate basically everything, and they were only one of many creatures that preferred unicorn on the table rather than at it.

Lynn leaned forward, drawing their attention away from him. "Can you tell us what you saw, why you think this is a matter for the Bureau?"

Puffing up with offense, Jennifer replied, "Of course it's a matter for the Bureau! You can smell that thing if you get close enough to the lake. You should have gone straight there!" She wrinkled her nose and gave Lynn a brief, disapproving look, nose lifting slightly. "Krakens have a very distinct odor—you won't be able to miss it."

Lynn gave her a tight smile, biting back comments on both procedure and the fact she had no sense of smell if she wasn't appreciating his Armani cologne. "Indeed. So you've been able to smell him for quite some time, but did not bother to report it until after three people had died? You must have suspected something to react so quickly after people went missing."

Jennifer smoothed her hands along her summery blue skirt, fussing over non-existent wrinkles. "It is not our place to judge the way others choose to live. He had not hurt anyone. It's not a crime to live in a lake, and we can hardly call up the Bureau over an unpleasant smell. If that were possible—" she snapped her mouth shut as her husband lightly rested a hand on her thigh. "Well, we thought he was harmless enough, until he wasn't."

"Who was this…" Anderson looked down at the file he was holding, "Jacob Little."

"An ordinary, does something with computers. Goes running every morning," Charles replied. "Smells like soda pop and fried chicken with chocolate and orange notes."

Lynn quirked a brow at him.

"I have a sensitive nose," Charles said stiffly. "I know what everyone says about us, but we only eat meat we buy from butchers and in grocery stores." Lynn might have believed him if he hadn't cast the briefest, wistful look in Anderson's direction. Just how many people were they going to wind up arresting?

One problem at a time, and Wynn was more dangerous and time urgent. Anderson looked ready to bolt, but pressed on. "So Jacob Little disappeared on a morning run?"

"Yes," Jennifer replied. "Around seven thirty, give or take a few minutes. He was running a bit late—normally he heads out at seven on the dot."

Lynn shared a look with Anderson. "Right. Can you tell us anything about the others? Bethany Parish and Tanya Roberts?"

"They're new to the neighborhood." Jennifer pursed her lips. "I invited them to my monthly barbeque, but they did not come. I cannot tell you anything about them."

There was a finality to her tone that said they wouldn't be getting much more from the interview. He glanced at Anderson, who gave a minute nod. Standing, Lynn held out a hand and shook theirs again before holding out a business card. "Thank you for your time. If you think of anything else, please give me a call." He led the way out as quickly as he could without giving in to an urge to run. Outside, he wished it was late enough in the day for a drink. "That was interesting."

Anderson made a face. "I haven't felt like a piece of meat in a butcher shop in a long time. It's one thing to be looked at like that in a club or on a date, where everyone knows the eating is metaphorical. I hate when they look at me like that and we all know they're trying to decide between a balsamic marinade or lemon and rosemary." He huffed out a breath. "Are we certain it's your half-brother we're after?"

"We'll come back for them, believe me," Lynn replied. "They might bitch about how I smell, but I know damn good and well they'd snack on kraken too if we came in a manageable size." Anderson wrinkled his nose. On Jennifer, the gesture had looked ten kinds of absurd. On Anderson, it was a dangerous sort of adorable. Bad Lynn. No sexy, bitey thoughts about partners. Especially a partner he'd only known a few hours. "Let's hope the next interview contains fewer crazy people. Two overly enthusiastic carnivores is enough for me."

"Agreed."

Of course, of course, the way his fucking day had been going, the second house was ten kinds of worse.

"I beg your pardon," Anderson said in a low, dangerous tone that might have been ridiculously hot under different circumstances. Under current circumstances, alas, even if Anderson was oiled up and chained to a wall for a little bit of ritual sacrifice role play it would not have been hot. That was a good cheer up thought for later, though.

The two men in the doorway stiffened at Anderson's tone and recoiled slightly but did not back down. David, the shorter of the two, said, "I'm sure you understand."

Anderson looked ready to express his understanding by way of a swift uppercut. "No, I don't, actually. I'm afraid you'll have to spell out for me why you 'cannot permit someone like me to enter the premises'."

Looking increasingly uncomfortable but determined to stay the course, the two creepy-perfect unicorns shared another look, some silent conversation that would probably make Lynn go monster of the deep on their asses if he could hear it. They finally turned back to Anderson—still treating Lynn as if he were just a bit of shrubbery—and Simon, the taller one, replied with infuriating gentleness, "Unicorns should maintain certain standards, and we cannot permit deviants on the premises. Never mind…" they cast a look at Lynn.

"Yeah, the world might collapse if prudish unicorns mingle with slutty ones, and oh my god, let's all beware the dangerous kraken. You really gotta be careful of the ones dressed in a three piece Hugo Boss and Gucci loafers," Anderson said, the chill in his voice making them both recoil even further into the house. "How's this for a standard?" He held out his badge. "We need to ask you some questions about the recent disappearances."

The unicorns frowned. "We spoke with someone on the phone."

"And we need to hear it for ourselves and ask follow up questions," Lynn replied, stepping in close just to see them back up another step, the stupid little fuckheads. "We can discuss it here, where all your neighbors can watch, or we can go inside, or I can drag your asses all the way to HQ and ask you there. I'm sure the neighbors would love to watch you get carted away by feds. Up to you."

"We don't have to speak to anyone," the taller unicorn said, so much better than thou art in his voice that Lynn might have been impressed if the guy wasn't such a stupid fucking asshole.

The door closed in their faces, and Lynn rolled his eyes. "You know, I'm starting to think I don't fucking care if Wynn eats every last fucking one of them. The paranormal world could stand to be rid of all these assholes. The fewer bigots, the better."

"Yeah," Anderson replied, trying to smile and failing miserably.

Lynn scowled because like fucking hell were a couple of old-fashioned, narrow-minded fuckholes putting a damper on his partner. "Seriously, fuck them. Anyone with that sort of 'sex is shameful and wrong' attitude deserves the misery they make for themselves. Don't waste energy on feeling shitty like they want. If I'm going to be stuck with a sparkly unicorn for a partner, at least it's a unicorn who isn't a judgy asshole and doesn't think less of me for being what I am. The last fucking thing I need is a prissy, by-the-book partner who writes up a formal complaint every time I cuss or say something inappropriate."

"That would be a lot of reports," Anderson said with a smile. "Four and a half hours and you've stereotyped me, threatened me, and called me a slut. We'd be up to report fifty by now—probably one hundred—if I have to file one for each use of the word 'fuck."

"Fuck you," Lynn retorted, mouth twitching.

Anderson's smile stretched into a grin that reached his eyes. "Maybe I'll just buy a little notebook to keep in my pocket and start up a tally."

"Ha ha." Lynn gave him a shove down the walkway. "I don't need a smartass partner either."

"Well, too bad. You're stuck with me."

They stopped at the end of the walk, and even if he'd been capable of resisting, Lynn was pretty certain he wouldn't have bothered trying. He moved in close, baring a crooked, toothy grin. "I suppose if you get too mouthy I could eat you."

Anderson gave him an unimpressed look but didn't move away—if anything, he leaned in closer. "I can't tell if that's literal or innuendo. I'm not sure which would be lamer."

"I don't eat things that can talk back," Lynn replied. "Zero out of ten for edible: would not eat. Seven out of ten for fuckable: would bang if possible."

"Seven?" Anderson narrowed his eyes. "Why the hell am I only a seven? Don't make me rate you, asswipe. Why isn't fucking me possible?"

Pleased that all thoughts of the asshole unicorns had been forgotten, Lynn leaned down and nuzzled Anderson's cheek. His skin was even softer than it looked, and he smelled like warm sugar and fresh bread. "I learned the hard way—twice—not to sleep with my partners. I am really tired of changing partners."

"Third time's the charm? Well, changing partners, I think like what, five hundredth time's the charm?" Anderson asked.

"Seventeenth," Lynn muttered. "That I recall. Some of them didn't last twenty-four hours, so I don't really remember them."

Anderson laughed softly as his lips dusted over Lynn's cheek. "I'm not going to be a seven because you're gun shy, Wriggly."

"I'm not gun shy, Sparkleson."

"Prove it."

"Oh, fuck you," Lynn muttered and then did the very stupid thing he wasn't supposed to do but had probably decided to do the first time Anderson snarked at him. It didn't hurt he was pretty certain the assholes in the house were watching through their curtains.

Anderson tasted like cupcakes and sunshine, and Lynn would go to his grave before he ever said that aloud, but it was true. Lynn wanted more. He cradled Anderson's face in his hands and ate at his mouth, sucking and nibbling at those lush lips before licking into his mouth, tasting every crevice before sucking on his tongue. The kiss was hot, wet, sloppy, and utterly addicting. His sister would call it a third date kiss; Lynn preferred to call it a damned good reason to make it to a third date.

Not that they'd had any dates.

The reminder cooled him down enough to draw back, though one look at Anderson's wide pupils, the flushed skin, and wet, dark pink lips nearly had him diving in for round two. Anderson licked his lips, which wasn't helping matters at all. "I bet you get really interesting performance appraisals."

Lynn scowled. "Only on attitude problems and inappropriate language. I must be doing something wrong if you're thinking about work."

"I was thinking about grossly inappropriate uses of office furniture and the company car."

"Tempting," Lynn replied with a grin, though he'd much rather drag Anderson back to his condo and into his pool, shift enough to wrap tentacles around him, hold him tight, feel and taste him inside and out, make Anderson his

And wow, it had been a long time since his blood had heated up enough to draw out that mine mine mine streak.

"We do have to figure out what the ever living fuck is going on around here in creepy town, though," he continued. "Then we can be inappropriate."

"What happened to not sleeping with your partners?" Anderson asked.

Lynn shrugged. "Impulsive, reckless, and argumentative with a propensity for placing himself in volatile situations—that's what my performance appraisals usually say. Along with the whole stop cussing thing. But I close too many cases, including some cold ones on the rare occasion I'm bored, to ever get more than slaps on the wrist. They'll get me eventually, I'm sure, but right now my attitude problems don't outweigh my value."

Anderson laughed and pushed him out of the way so he could head on down the street. "Which house is next?"

"Down a couple, I think," Lynn replied. "Mr. and Mrs. Wright. I will refrain from mockery."

"No, you won't."

"Not a fucking chance. If the last two stops are anything to go by, Mr. Wright is actually Mr. Wrong Six Ways to Sunday."

They walked up a brick walkway that, unlike the last two, was not perfectly maintained to the point of horror movie creepy. It was opened by a handsome, friendly looking man with gray-touched brown hair and hazel eyes framed by blocky, brown and gold glasses. He was dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved black tee, and only the bone-white pallor of his skin gave away what he truly was.

He was also exchanging surprised looks with Anderson. "Anders?"

Lynn snorted a soft laugh. "Let me guess—ex?"

Anderson shot him a quelling look. "Yes, actually." He turned back to Wright. "It's been what, ten years? How've you been, Mikey? Did I hear correctly there was a Mrs. Wright now?"

Mikey beamed. "Yes, there is! It's good to see you again." He gave Anderson a quick hug, then ushered them inside. "So what brings you and your friend to see me? How did you even know where I live?" He winked over his shoulder as he led them into a large, sunlit kitchen done in green and brown with a huge island in the center. "I'd accuse you of stalking, but it's not really your style."

"Yeah, unicorns would rather be stalked, preferably through the woods or a meadow—" Lynn broke off with a grunt of pain and rubbed at his stomach where Anderson had driven an elbow into it.

Chuckling, Mikey went to the fridge and pulled out two bottles of soda and a larger bottle of club soda. "Who's your friend, Anders?"

"This is my partner in the Bureau," Anderson replied, waiting until Mikey returned to the island with a glass and a lime before he continued. "We're here about that missing persons call you placed."

Mikey paused in the process of squeezing juice from the lime. "You're with the Bureau? Cool. You really did manage to avoid working for your family."

Lynn's brows rose. "What is the family business? Tell me, tell me."

"I'm not telling you anything, asshole," Anderson replied. He picked up the bottle of soda Mikey had set in front of him, an almost clear crème soda.

Mikey slid a glass across the island toward Lynn: club soda and lime on ice. Lynn smiled, surprised. "Thank you."

"My wife's best friend is a kraken. Comes over all the time and drinks those things like they're going to disappear forever in the next five minutes."

"Blech," Anderson interjected. Lynn flipped him off and sucked down a generous swallow of his bitter drink. Anderson rolled his eyes and turned back to Mikey. "I'm surprised your neighbors tolerate a kraken visiting, especially on a regular basis."

Mikey's lips curled, showing off a hint of his drawn-up fangs. "Met the neighbors already, have you? As you say, they do not approve of Karen. They disapprove of my wife more, however, because Jesse is half-brownie, half-ogre." He went over to a small desk on the far side of the kitchen and came back with a photo: Mikey in a pair of bright orange board shorts, pasty white and hair plastered to his head; a large, pretty woman with curly brown hair in a bright red one-piece swimsuit; and a taller, broad woman with short spikey hair in a black two-piece swimsuit.

The broader woman was clearly the kraken—even in a picture Lynn could pick out one of his own. The other woman he would have pegged as a brownie just by her smile and brightness. If she was also part ogre, she could also probably bench press six of him. He could just imagine how scathing the oh-so-perfect neighbors were. "A vampire, a brownie-ogre, and you hang out with a kraken. Positively disgraceful."

Mikey just sighed and ran his fingers through the condensation on his own barely-touched green apple soda. "Who did you talk to, if I may ask?"

"The Moore family and the Thompsons."

"Oh, lovely," Mikey muttered. "I'm astonished you're still here. Those two couples are the worst offenders. They're eighty percent of the reason we're moving in a few months."

Lynn really wanted to gossip, but work came first. "So, what did you see that provoked you to notify the Bureau? So far we've been told people went into the woods and never came out and that you can smell the kraken that ate them and that it's been there for some time." Which… now he wasn't creeped out or pissed off, that didn't make sense. "Something is funky. Wynn is only half-kraken. If he was around, they would have commented on a dragon smell, too. He smells more like dragon than kraken. Goblins hate dragon, generally speaking. They smell so strongly of ash and smoke, it tends to ruin the flavor of everything else."

"The only kraken that's ever out there is Karen. She and Jesse go swimming all the time when she's visiting." Mikey took a swallow of his soda, shaking his head as he set it down. "That's why I called when those people went in and didn't come back out. Normally those woods are safe as safe can be. No one is going to do much of anything when they can smell the presence of a kraken. So when I saw Jacob talking to the Moores and then never saw him come back from his run… At first I thought I just missed him. But later that same day, the two women my wife is always chatting with—Bethany and Tanya—did the same damn thing. That was stranger because my wife always goes out to talk to them when they're done. I did the same because Jesse is out of town and I wanted to let them know. I went out a couple of minutes early… and they never showed. That was too strange for me, especially with the Moores acting all funny, actually going out to chat with them and Jacob. They never do that. Jacob is normal, and they've been steadily pushing all the normals out of the area. Beth and Tanya are werewolves, and you know how that goes down with the snobbier crowds." He made a face and finished his soda, then got up to throw the bottle away. "What did the others say, if I'm allowed to know?"

"Not much," Anderson replied. "The Thompsons refused to speak with us, and the Moores wanted us to shoot first and not ask bothersome questions. No one mentioned they spoke to all the victims before they vanished." He took a swallow of his crème soda. "This all seems very sloppy."

"It seems like them," Mikey replied, pulling another bottle from the fridge. This one was marked with a black, white, and bright red label, a discreet gold symbol in one lower corner marking it as government. Lynn's sense of smell was his worst one, but even he could smell blood as the cap was popped. Mikey stuck a straw in it and sucked idly between sentences. "They're always getting rid of people, usually through old-fashioned bullying. We've tried to mitigate where we can, and they've learned the hard way to leave us the hell alone, but it's a losing battle. Most folks don't have the time, money, and power to counter them. Even we're leaving in a few months, and my wife is no one to be trifled with, let me tell you. They're sloppy because they don't care—as long as the mess is out of sight, they're done with it."

Lynn looked up from the reports he'd been skimming as they talked. "Hey, Sparkleson, look at these reports again. The Moores and Thompsons called in to report missing persons and a suspicious kraken almost at dead the same time—just a couple of minutes apart."

"Not necessarily suspicious," Anderson replied. "They could have been talking or something and noticed the weirdness at the same time."

"Reports are almost verbatim."

Anderson rolled his eyes. "Sloppy—like, almost too sloppy."

"I think Mikey is right in that they just don't care. They probably thought we'd show up, confirm a kraken had been around, and go gallivanting off when we realized he'd fled. The missing persons would be blamed on him and they could have carried on with Project Cleanse the Neighborhood a little bit longer. Given they were the only ones to notice and report—so they believe—they look like the good guys. They just didn't bank on an attentive vampire gumming the works. Your report came an hour before theirs and is nothing at all the same. Obviously genuine."

Of course, the unicorns had been watching them as they left, so they were probably aware of a third witness by now and that didn't bode well. Nothing to be done at that point, though, except to forge ahead and be extra cautious.

"Jacob was a good guy," Mikey said quietly. "He was stoked his girlfriend was getting back from a study abroad in Spain. They were going to move closer to her parents at the end of the year, get married. Beth and Tanya were half-sisters, had the same father. Good kids. I hope those stupid assholes get what they deserve."

Lynn smiled, cold and toothy. "Oh, they will, just as soon as we can find evidence to nail them to the wall." He closed the file and stood up. "I think out best bet is the pond."

"Agreed. Let me call in and update the home office because I think we'll want backup on standby when we do bring them in." Anderson pulled out his phone and slipped away into the hall.

Finishing his drink, Lynn carried it to the sink.

"So how long have you two been together?" Mikey asked. "I don't think I've ever seen Anders that sparkly."

Lynn snorted. "We've been partners for all of five hours, if that. If he's sparkly, it's because he's still buzzing from a cupcake and white chocolate mocha."

"The way you two act, it seems longer than that."

"Everybody loves me, what can I say?" Lynn replied. "And who could possibly hate a magical sparkle pony? Well, other than some exes and other unicorns?"

Mikey laughed, but Anderson returned before he could get out the reply he started to voice. "They're sending backup, said they'll move in the moment we give the word."

"Let's get to the pond-lake-whatever it is, then," Lynn replied. He shook Mikey's hand. "Thanks for the help, Mr. Wright. We'll be in touch."

Mikey nodded, then gave Anderson another quick hug before showing them out, ordering them to come for dinner sometime.

They walked in silence until they reached the sidewalk and started back down the street to go past the first house they'd visited and into the woods. "So that's the only ex of yours I've met today who hasn't been hostile."

"Vampires are pretty mellow, most of them," Anderson replied. "He never took offense that we clearly were never meant to be together for the long haul. I can't wait to meet his wife."

"So how often are we going to run into exes who want you dead?"

Anderson shoved him into a cluster of smelly bushes. "Shut up, Wriggly. I don't care if you're asking from morbid curiosity or that mine-all-mine tendency you krakens have, it's none of your business. I'm your work partner, not your life-partner, so no getting clingy."

"I don't get clingy."

Shooting him a look that said I am thoroughly unimpressed by you, Anderson replied, "So you'd be perfectly okay if, say, that fancy tie bar went missing? How about if I rearranged all the contents of your desk—"

"Stop!" Lynn snapped, feeling twitchy and bitey and… tentacley just at the thought of someone mucking up all his stuff. "Anyone would be annoyed by that stuff. Even if it would piss me off, that doesn't mean I'm all clingy about you, Sparkleson."

"Yeah, yeah," Anderson said, but Lynn didn't miss the hurt quickly hidden by a toss of hair and a smirk. "Speaking of you and your stupidly expensive stuff, how are those fancy Gucci loafers going to like a hike through the woods?"

Lynn glared at the woods in question and mentally calculated how soon he could wheedle new shoes out of his sister. "I'll survive." He pointedly ignored Anderson's soft snicker. "But I'm not getting wet."

"You're a lake monster!"

"Sea monster," Lynn corrected, bristling. "I'm not some stupid fresh water poser, and I've already ruined one suit today. Like hell am I ruining another one. You can get wet, Sparkleson."

"Nobody likes a whiner." Anderson sauntered several steps head, picking carefully over the uneven ground, pausing briefly to throw a smirk over his shoulder. "Unless, of course, I'm making you whine and beg and plead."

"Nobody makes this sea monster beg," Lynn replied. "Least of all a magical sparkle pony."

Anderson flipped him off. "I'd make a stallion joke, but I refuse to lower myself to your level of humor."

Not bothering to dignify that with an answer, Lynn instead rolled his eyes and asked, "So where are you staying since you're all new in town?"

"The Tremont Hotel. Haven't had a chance to look for an apartment, yet. Any recommendations?"

"Several. What are you looking to pay in rent?"

"Not what you're paying." Anderson jumped neatly over a large, exposed tree root, then glanced at him, mouth tipped up at one corner.

Lynn sniffed. "It's rude to make assumptions about a person's income."

"I'm not making assumptions, I'm making mockery." Anderson dodged when Lynn attempted to swat him. "I've known you long enough to know you're as pissy about where you live as you are about what you wear." He grinned. "What's a monster of the deep doing with so much money, anyway? Do you go out on the weekend and sink ships, devour the sailors and steal their treasure to sell elsewhere? Wait, I know. You demand sacrifices—how did it go? Twelve chests of gold and jewels and twelve virgins? What do you suppose that comes to in the modern age?"

"Fuck you," Lynn said cheerfully, lunging forward, snagging Anderson, and jerking him close. He itched for a more useful form, a way to wrap and squeeze and hold tight. "I can't speak to the behavior of my ancestors, but my money is from an adoring, generous aunt who left me everything when she died several years ago combined with sound investments. Also, my sister is an in-house fashion consultant for a ridiculous hotel-spa-club-secret escort service thing. I get all kinds of deals and bargains."

Anderson laughed. "You gave up gold and jewels and virgins for an investment portfolio and an in with a fashion consultant? Some monster of the deep."

"I'd rather have slutty unicorns than virgins, though if you want me to chain you to a wall…"

"I don't do chains on a first date," Anderson said, hands settling on his shoulders, leaning in close to just barely rub their noses together, smelling like frosting slowly melting in sunshine.

Lynn brushed a soft kiss across his mouth. "Well, it's good to know you have standards."

"One of us probably should. Don't even try to tell me that Hugo Boss counts as a standard, because it doesn't." Lynn scowled, making Anderson snicker. After another soft, teasing kiss, he drew back and resumed walking.

Lynn reluctantly followed him, eager to get the job done and move on to vastly more interesting activities. He should have been more annoyed with himself about breaking his 'no sleeping with partners' rule, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

They rounded a bend in the walking path and came right up on an enormous man-made pond—big enough a small kraken could swim comfortably in half-shift form, or for others to swim or take out paddleboats or whatever.

He frowned when he spotted a familiar looking plant. "That's monkshood. Dragons aren't all that fond of it. If my half-brother had been around, he would have vacated immediately or torn all of it out." He pulled out his phone and took several pictures. "I don't really smell kraken."

"It's there, but faint. Exactly as Mikey said—like a kraken goes swimming here from time to time. I…" he wrinkled his nose. "I smell blood, but only barely. It's even fainter than the kraken. I could simply be wanting to smell it, and there's always the chance it's from Mikey." He hesitated. "There's life residue, but it's faint, like someone tried to get rid of it, but I can't read it much in human form."

"We should be certain," Lynn said. "I'll stand guard. You shift into true form and get us better info."

Anderson shot him an amused look. "You're a true-former?"

"Please tell me you're not one of those 'non-human forms are a curse' cultists."

Snorting, Anderson replied, "Would I be with the Bureau if I was? You know what, don't answer that. I'm a two-form supporter."

"Oh, good. I don't have to kill you now. Make with the changing, Sparkleson. The sooner this is over with, the better."

Anderson stripped off his clothes and laid them over a bush. He shot Lynn a look, as if daring him to say or do something, but Lynn only smiled and kept his gaze firmly on Anderson's face. There was a time and a place for being obnoxious, and he did not harass a man who was naked by necessity rather than choice. Anderson gave him a brief smile then fussed with his shifter ring. Lynn smelled the sharp, metallic bite of shift magic and a silver-green glow encompassed Anderson. A few minutes later, the glow faded off to reveal a large, beautiful unicorn. His coat was the color of cream with the faintest gold shimmer to it. His mane and tail were long, thick, and curly, a bright silver-gold in color. His horn was a spiral of bright silver and gold bands that came to a fine point.

Lynn felt a sudden sharp, needy ache to wrap tentacles around him and drag him down into the deep, dark wet of the sea where no one else could get to him—where he belonged to Lynn alone. Shaking off the sea monster mode, he said, "Get out of direct sunlight before your sparkles blind me."

Anderson lowered his horn and nudged him playfully with it, then turned around and began to pick and prowl around the edge of the pond.

"It is rather strange," Lynn mused. "Mikey saw the victims talking to the Moores, but unless they were particularly stealthy about it—which really doesn't seem to be part of their skillset—no one went into the woods after the victims. Even Mikey's report says they were in their houses when the victims went missing."

Anderson made a soft noise of agreement but did not pause in his investigation of the ground and edge of the water.

"So who else is part of this and making the kill? Unless they have another method of killing them and dragging them off… wherever. I really hope we don't have to go looking for ye old creepy cabin." His suit would never survive, and he hadn't brought a change of clothes. They were supposed to be arresting his brother—which, granted, probably would have ruined his suit anyway. "Four people responsible for murdering at least three, and let's face it, the number is probably a good deal higher than that. Given how quickly they put the blame elsewhere, they must have known they'd be missed. I—" He broke off as he watched Anderson wade into the water deep enough to thrust his head into it. "If there's a body, you're going in after it."

After a moment, Anderson lifted his head again and returned to Lynn, shaking off the water.

"Hey! Watch the suit! Ruin it and I'll ruin you." He narrowed his eyes at the look Anderson gave him. "Screw you." He folded his arms across his chest and waited impatiently while Anderson shifted back. "So?"

"So tell your Hugo Boss goodbye because there's a secret passage or something down there and we're going." Anderson went to put clothes back on.

"You get written up for reckless behavior and disregarding procedure, don't you?" Lynn countered. "I'm not convinced this is worth ruining my second best Hugo Boss. Can't we make back up do it? That's what they're for!"

"You're a kraken! It's water!"

"It's Hugo Boss and that's freshwater."

Anderson gave him a scathing look with a touch of I want to drop a heavy object on your head. It shouldn't have been so hot, but it really really was. "Stop being so ridiculous and get in the water, or I swear I'll do a lot worse than throw coffee on you."

"Fine, but someone owes me a suit. And shoes." He continued grumbling as he fished a large ziplock bag out of his pocket and shoved his gun and phone into it. He held a second bag out to Anderson.

Quirking a brow, Anderson took it. "You're bitching like a five-year-old, but you came prepared?"

"If there is one thing I've learned with this job, it's 'be prepared, especially on days when you wear your favorite suits'." He tucked the bag away and sighed. "Where under the water is it?"

"You won't be able to miss it. Going to shift?"

Lynn shook his head as they waded into the water. "Only if necessary—even in my half form, I take up a lot of space. And if we come across trouble, I'd really rather not be facing it naked." Again. "What tipped you to look for something in the water?"

"Life residue, an extremely thin trail of it. Easy to miss if you don't have the training and experience. Lead the way, Wriggly."

Heaving one last sigh to mourn the suit he was about to ruin, Lynn dove smoothly beneath the water. It took his eyes a moment to adjust, but then the secret passage was impossible to miss. It was just a tunnel, the entrance ringed by stones that glowed a faint, dull yellow just bright enough that poor eyesight would see it, but not so bright it was visible from the surface.

Lynn swam to it and once Anderson had caught up to him, pushed on through—and nearly ran smack into the stairs just a few feet in. Grabbing them, he hauled himself out of the water and into what proved to be a damp, dully-lit tunnel. Insects skittered along the concrete walls. Like so much else about that neighborhood, it smacked of bad movie. In two minutes they were going to get attacked by one of three things: slimy lake monster (but sea monster trumped lake monster, so probably not that), grossly inaccurate and highly offensive "natives" of some sort, or a badly wounded victim who was secretly the real killer. Of course, that was assuming it wasn't a chainsaw movie. He hated chainsaw movies, although he hated 'harpoon the sea monster' movies a hell of a lot more.

"If some chainsaw wielding asshole comes after us," Anderson muttered as he came up behind Lynn, "I'm letting you take the hit."

Laughing softly, Lynn turned around, shoving hair out of his eyes. He cupped Anderson's face and dropped a quick kiss on his cool, wet lips.

Anderson stared at him. "What was that for?"

"You're all right, Sparkleson. Let's get this over with." He fished out the ziplock in his dripping suit, retrieved his gun, and led the way down the narrow tunnel until it ended several yards later at a rather innocuous looking door, the kind always used for fire exits. Lynn pushed it open, gun ready, and flinched when he hit a wall of ice-cold air. It swirled around them like a mist as it met the warm air from the tunnel, made him shiver hard in his wet clothes. He looked around at the racks of shelves piled with containers of various shapes and sizes, boxes on the floor, meat of all types hanging from hooks. "It's a fucking freezer."

"And I'd wager through that door we'll find a butchering station," Anderson said quietly, nodding at a black door off to the right. There was another one parallel with the tunnel door. "That probably leads to whoever's house is connected, or a shed or something."

Lynn grunted. "House, likely. Easier to rig the wiring and shit. I can't wait to bust these assholes." There was no reply. Frowning, Lynn turned—and drew up short when he saw what had snared Anderson's attention.

In a large tub, someone had left the remains of a unicorn—the head, minus tongue and horn. One dead eye stared at them, and the accusation in it might have been a figment, but it stung all the same. Lynn reached out and pulled Anderson back against him, soothing his trembling with soft, calming noises, nuzzling his cheek. "Come on, Sparkleson. Let's get them. This won't be allowed to happen again."

Anderson nodded, reached up to squeeze his arm, and then stepped forward out of his embrace and turned around. "Our best bet is to remain here and catch them in the act."

"Ugh," Lynn replied. "First you ruin my suit with mucky fresh water, and now you're going to freeze me to death?"

Patting his cheek, Anderson replied, "Not used to a partner who makes you work?"

The words were meant as a joke, he knew that, but they stung all the same. "Something like that." Lynn looked around for a good place to hide. "How about behind that rack? The shelves are so full, we wouldn't be easily spotted, and we should be able to see through stuff pretty well if we rearrange a bit."

"You're avoiding my question."

"It's my specialty."

Anderson heaved a sigh and followed him over to the shelves, a large metal monstrosity on wheels that held four rows of plastic containers, some of which appeared to contain some truly stomach-churning items. After a few minutes of silence as they adjusted everything to suit their spying, Anderson said quietly, "I don't actually think you're a lazy fuckhead. I think you're an obnoxious fuckhead."

"Most go with lazy and obnoxious," Lynn said, mouth twitching with reluctant amusement.

Anderson pursed his lips thoughtfully before finally replying, "I think it's possible to be obnoxiously lazy, but I don't think you can be lazily obnoxious. So you're just obnoxious."

"Obnoxiously awesome."

"I'm not agreeing with that."

Lynn grinned and leaned in close. "I'll just take it as a given."

Anderson fought a smile but quickly lost the battle, fingers curling into the edge of Lynn's blazer as he tugged him in just close enough to kiss briefly. "Do people really think you're lazy? You're a lot of things, but that's not on the list."

"I'm fussy and whiny and high maintenance. That's usually associated with laziness, for reasons beyond my comprehension. It takes a lot of work to be as successful and awesome as me." He lifted his hands to randomly stroke and pet Anderson, hating the cold, wet clothes but enjoying the soft skin and smooth hair, body aching to let loose tentacles to wrap Anderson close, map him inside and out.

That he was so attached so quickly was a bit disconcerting, but he'd never shied away from it before. The only one likely to run was Anderson. "There are some empty apartments in my building. Rent is reasonable. You should come over to my place this weekend. I can show you around."

"After you show me your place."

"Yeah, after that," Lynn replied and leaned in to steal another quick kiss—

The sound of someone unlocking the far door made them freeze, break apart, pull their guns, and silently wait. After a moment, the door swung open and two figures stepped inside: Charles Moore and Simon Thompson. "I still don't like they talked to that nasty bloodsucker."

"Drop it," Moore said. "I'm bored to tears talking about it, and it doesn't matter. All they want is that kraken thing that's always in the bulletins. They'll be gone soon enough. Hurry up and help me get Jacob down. Jenny will bust my balls if we don't get started preparing him for Friday."

Simon's mouth curved in a smirk as they moved to a large, bulky object in a white cloth bag hanging from one of the hooks in the middle of the room. "Normals. So much more appealing basted and broiled. Hiya, Jacob." Snickering, the men got the bag down and started to carry it off toward the black door.

"Freeze!" Lynn and Anderson bellowed together, raising their weapons as they swung out of hiding and came at the pair. "BPSI!"

"On the ground!" Anderson snarled, aiming his gun at Simon's face when it looked as though he was going to bolt. "On the ground!"

Once they were down, Lynn quickly got them handcuffed. "Call it in."

*~*~*

In the end, Lynn didn't see home again until Monday morning, thereabouts of four AM. He dropped an equally exhausted Anderson off at his hotel, then went home and face-planted. By the time he rejoined the waking world, it was well on to six PM.

Yawning, Lynn dragged himself to the shower and scoured with a salt scrub until he felt kraken again. Half-heartedly drying off, he pulled on a pair of boxers and wandered down the hallway, through the living room, and into the kitchen. Turning on the espresso machine, he quickly made three shots—one to drink immediately and two more to go in the latte that followed.

Smiling at the aroma of a well-made hazelnut latte, he carried it outside to his 'yard', looking out over the city as the business day shut down and the nightlife took over in glittering lights and snatches of music and raucous laughter.

Closer to him was the sound of running water from the miniature waterfall that kept his salt water pool churning. It took up nearly all of the outdoor space, and having it installed had been no small feat—just finding a building that could handle it had been exhausting. But it was all worth it in the end as he set his latte aside, discarded his boxers, and slid into the pleasantly cool water. He used his thumb to press on a special tentacle on his Cthulu ring, body aching slightly as the shift overtook him—partial shift only because his true form was simply too fucking big for anything other than the ocean or an enormous lake.

He sighed as it settled, happiness thrumming through him as he spread his numerous tentacles—some more traditional to octopuses, suckers and all, others thin and smooth, ranging in color from black to deep blues, greens, and purples.

Closing his eyes, he enjoyed the sounds of the city and the warm, nutty flavor of his latte. Only good company could make it better, but he had no idea where he'd left his phone when he got home and wasn't interested in going to find it.

Snaking out a tentacle, he hit the button on his stereo system. As throbbing music filled the air, he finished off his latte and sank into the water to go for a swim. He was just starting to consider finding food half an hour or so later when the music abruptly cut off.

He surfaced in the center of the pool, tentacles fanning out, ready for trouble—but he immediately relaxed when he saw it was Anderson. A single, thin tentacle slid out of the water and nudged under the hem of Anderson's loose workout pants to coil around his ankle. Awareness thrummed through him when Anderson shivered, waking slumbering, patiently waiting nerves. Lynn's smaller, smooth tentacles turned oil slick as he glided easily through the water, closer to the edge where Anderson waited. "How did you get in?"

Anderson snorted. "'Not exactly hard to figure out where the kraken in this building lives. Everybody is more than happy to either praise you or bitch about you. Flashed my badge at the doorman and security let me right up. Your door was unlocked. Figured if you were asleep, I'd let it be. But you're not, so…"

He wore only the thin, faded workout pants and a loose, navy blue tank top, probably had left his shoes at the door. Lynn could feel the heat and rush of his blood, the increasing pulse rate. Another tentacle slid from the water, reaching up to twine around a wrist and tug until Anderson laughed softly and sank slowly, tantalizingly, to his knees. His ridiculous hair fell in bright gold waves around his face, and he seemed only further amused when two more tentacles pushed and played with it, leaving slick, rainbow smears on his cheeks. "It's hard to take you seriously as a monster of the deep when you look more like some spoiled party boy. Your condo is as ridiculous as you."

"Jealousy doesn't suit you," Lynn replied loftily—then shot several tentacles out of the water, wrapped them tightly around Anderson, and dragged him down into the water, making short work of his clothes and letting them float away across the pool.

He could feel Anderson's pulse, beating faster and harder than ever, blood rushing hot and fast through his body, his muscles tensing, flexing. The taste of want spread through the water, spiking Lynn's own desires. He shifted his hold, wrapped tentacles tight around Anderson's thighs, and spread his legs wide, wrapping more tentacles around his back, holding him as he fanned his hands over Anderson's smooth chest and leaned in to nip sharply at his collar bone. He still tasted like sticky-sweet frosting and sunshine, which mingled oh so nicely with the bitter saltwater. He nibbled his way up the long line of Anderson's throat, lingering at the point where his pulse beat strong, then bit hard where jaw met neck, absorbing every shiver and sound that earned him.

"You go from zero to a hundred fast," Anderson said, squirming oh so pleasantly, not managing to do more than ensnare himself further in Lynn's sinuous coils.

"Complaining?"

"Only that you're still going too slow."

Lynn pulled back to look at him, then gave a slow, hot smile. Surging in, he took Anderson's mouth in a toothy kiss, biting at his lips, licking them to soothe the bruises, fisting his hands in Anderson's hair to hold him in place before he deepened the kiss, tongue surging in to explore and taste, reaching for more of that cupcakes and sunshine flavor. He felt Anderson try to move, but the tentacles held firm, keeping Anderson pinned securely.

That was usually the point where his dates got nervous—if they made it as far as the tentacles at all—and Lynn backed off. But Anderson only shuddered and relaxed, letting Lynn take his weight. Lynn ended the kiss and drew back to continue sucking up marks on Anderson's delectable skin, lapping at the places where his tentacles left slick, glistening trails, writhing inside and out at the taste of himself and Anderson combined. Murmuring soft noises of approval, he licked across one nipple, grinning at the way Anderson arched up into him. He drew up one slender tentacle to toy with the second nipple while others dipped and curled. One teased along Anderson's balls, cupping them gently before leaving off with a gentle squeeze to wrap firmly around his cock.

He slipped two more behind to rub along Anderson's crack, pulling his thighs even further apart, stretching him wide, taking his mouth to swallow the soft, hitching breaths and suck on Anderson's tongue as one slick tentacle teased at his hole. He scraped teeth along Anderson's skin, tentacles bunching, rippling, tightening, feeling every minute sensation, making him feel almost too warm, the cool water offering little relief.

The tips of Anderson's fingers danced along what bits of tentacle they could reach, soft, fluttering sensations that made Lynn shiver. He continued to feed at Anderson's mouth, hands splayed across his torso as one tentacle slowly pressed inside Anderson's body. That earned him another sweet noise, a sharp intake followed by a soft moan, Anderson moving, trying to cling and twist away all at once. His skin was flushed as pink as the edge of sky where the sun was setting, patches of gold staining it where sunlight streamed through glass.

"Lynn—" Anderson swallowed and tipped his head back, hips jerking faintly in Lynn's hold as he took the tentacle deeper. Lynn licked the edge of his jaw, his cheek, nibbled at the corner of his mouth. Another tentacle came up to twine around Anderson's throat briefly, leaving oily, rainbow-hued residue before painting his parted lips with it and pushing inside his mouth.

Lynn groaned at all the delightful sensations: the tight heat of Anderson's body, the warm wet of his mouth, both such a contrast to the cool water of the pool, even hotter than the points where their skin pressed together. He kissed the corner of Anderson's mouth again, lips brushing his own tentacle, making him shudder and moan as he relished how the two of them tasted together.

He wrapped his arms tightly around Anderson's waist, held him close, kissing every patch of skin he could reach as he pressed another tentacle inside Anderson's body to join the first, moving them in and out in tandem, needing more of the groans and whimpers and soft, ragged pleas that Anderson gave him, needing to see him come apart, desperate to see him wrecked

Anderson screamed, Lynn's name coming out in broken, ragged pieces as he tensed in Lynn's hold, spilling hot and wet between them, body clamping down on the tentacles fucking him. His cheeks were bright red and his eyes wide, pupils blown as he caught Lynn's gaze, tipping Lynn over into his own climax, everything going bright and sharp and hot as sensation overloaded him.

A few moments later, Anderson slumped forward, panting breaths hot against Lynn's skin. He adjusted his hold to cuddle Anderson close, tentacles slipping from his body, the milky cloud around them slowly cleared away by the churning water. Lynn nuzzled against him, lapped at lingering drops of sweat and water on his skin. "It's been a long time since I had a unicorn in my grasp," he murmured, nosing at Anderson's ear, teasing the shell with his teeth, tentacles tightening briefly when Anderson shivered.

"Been a long time since I played with a kraken," Anderson said, lifting his head and looping his loosened arms around Lynn's neck. "And the only other one was nothing like you. She was only half and preferred freshwater."

Lynn made a derisive noise, lazily trailing tentacles over his skin, enjoying how easy and pliant Anderson was. "Cold, yet?"

"Nope." Anderson leaned in and kissed him, slow and wet and lazy, biting Lynn's lip as he finally drew back. "So am I still a seven out of ten?"

"I think you've moved up to an eight and a half," Lynn replied and cut off Anderson's crude reply with a kiss and a questing tentacle or three.

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