Magda stopped the car, and stared up at the small house. For the first time in decades, she was grateful she hadn’t been able to bring herself to sell the place. Twice a year she came up, checked on things, sealed it back up tightly. She’d missed the last check. She sighed, then looked over at the young man watching her from the back seat.
He hadn’t spoken since they’d found him. He’d respond to his name with curious looks or a barking sound, but trying to coax actual words out of him had just resulted in him whimpering and cowering like a beaten dog. She’d managed to get him to wear a pair of sweat pants, though they were too short for him. Trying to take the collar off had just made him whimper and cringe. What the hell had those bitches done to him?
“Ash.” He looked up at her. “Ash.” She gestured to house. “We’re here.” He made an inquisitive whining noise. Magda opened the door and got out. She’d only gone a couple steps before she heard Ash bark at her. She frowned, then sighed before going back and opening the door for him. She wasn’t sure if she felt more frustrated or sick at the fact that he started crawling after her instead of walking. Stephan had a point. They’d have taken Ash to the psych ward. And with his father dead… She wondered if he even knew.
It took her a couple tries to get the generator started. Ash followed her though the house as she looked around, crawling after her as she checked each room. Everything was dusty, but usable. Better than she’d expected from a place she hadn’t set foot inside in almost year. She turned the well on, then waited until the water ran clear. Ash stared quizzically at the glass she offered him, and reluctantly she poured the water into a bowl and set it down. He drank it before following her into the living room.
When she sat down on the couch, he hesitated before crawling up next to her. To her surprise, he curled himself into a ball and laid down with his head in her lap. When she just stared at him, he whined softly, and she could feel him start trembling. Slowly, she brushed her fingers through his hair. “It’s alright, Ash.” She felt him start relaxing. “You’re safe here. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
He woke slowly. He was curled up on a worn but comfortable sofa, and his head was pillowed on a thigh. A warm hand rested on his shoulder, providing a comforting presence. Ash turned his head, and his eyes widened a little when he recognized the sleeping woman. Magda. It wasn’t a dream then. Magda was his Alpha. She’d saved him. She’d promised to protect him.
A smile came to his face when her eyes opened and she looked down at him. He whined happily before nuzzling her hand and sitting up. Worry filled him when she gave him a confused look. Was she unhappy with him? He drew back a little, and let out a small whimper. “It’s alright, Ash.” She gave him a reassuring nod.
Ash barked, then nuzzled her hand again, rubbing his head against it. After a moment, she started petting him. He grinned, and pushed his head into her hand. Her smile was sad, but she tousled his hair affectionately. “Are you hungry, Ash?” He barked. “Alright, let me see what I can make us for breakfast.”
Magda made up the bed in what had once been her son’s room. It no longer contained anything of his save for various tool marks on the built-in desk. Then she went into her own room. She didn’t realize Ash had followed her until she saw him sitting near her bed. “Ash?” He looked up at her. “I made you a bed.” He gave her a confused look. She sighed. “Ash, come.”
Obediently, he followed her out of the room. She patted the other bed, and he crawled up onto it. Halfway back to her room, she realized he was following her again. Crawling after her on his hands and knees, as he had done most of the day. She led him back, and patted the bed again. He gave her a confused look, but climbed back on. “Ash…” She gave another sigh. Feeding into his delusion could be counterproductive. “Stay.” Reluctantly, he curled up on the bed. He made a small whimpering sound as she left.
She’d been in bed less than an hour when she heard him crying. Magda took a deep breath. The sobbing sound continued. She shook her head, then got up and headed back to the other room. Ash cringed when she turned on the light. His face was stained with tears, but there was terror in his eyes when he looked up at her. Magda closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and sat down on the bed. “Come here, Ash.”
He crawled to her, and to her surprise, lay across her lap. She felt him tense. Her stomach lurched when she realized he was expecting her to beat him. Beat him. For crying. When she did catch Sima, she was going to kill that bitch slowly. Gently, she rubbed his back, as she had her children when they were small. “It’s alright, Ash. I’m not angry. I’m not going to hurt you. Will you sit next to me?”
Ash moved until he was sitting next to her. She put an arm around him, and he responded by snuggling into her. He actually nuzzled her shoulder. “Do you want to sleep in this bed, Ash?” He made a whimpering sound. Magda ran her fingers through his hair. “Do you want to stay with me?” He smiled and made a happy whining sound. She sighed. “Alright, Ash.”
Ash followed his Alpha back to the other bedroom. He was confused. She’d clearly been upset, but she hadn’t punished him. He’d tried to be quiet. The old Alpha had always made Mistress punish him when he’d cried. His new Alpha petted him and was letting him sleep on the bed like a good boy. His Alpha had always been kind to him. He curled up on the foot of the bed, rested his head on his arms, and closed his eyes.
She texted the burner phone’s number to the other burner, then sat back and waited. Ash was laying on the rug in front of the fire. After the fourth time he’d brought her a stick, she’d bought a rubber dog toy in town. At least that she could keep sanitary. He carried it everywhere, and seemed to take an unholy delight in making it squeak. She hadn’t figured out how to get him to stop crawling. Hell, the only way she’d managed to get him to wear any of the clothes she’d gotten him was to bribe him with a stuffed squeaky duck toy. Even then, he wore no more than the briefs. A month of no progress.
It was almost an hour before her phone rang. She picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hey Mags.” A familiar voice came over the other end. “I was starting to worry.”
“Stephan.” She smiled. “You’re alright?”
“Doctors said the leg will make about an 80% recovery.”
Magda sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, I’m the one that got caught.”
“You’re not in trouble though, right?”
He was quiet for a moment. “Official story is that I figured out you were up to something and went after you to find out what. You shot me to keep me from stopping you. You went in to confront the kidnappers in a trap, only the building blew early. They, uh, decided you were having an affair with his old man and went off the deep end after…” She could almost see him shrug. “That part wasn’t me.”
“It’s alright, Stephan. I’ve left reputations in worse shape.” She smiled. “You’re the one I’m worried about.”
“They think I fucked up, but they don’t think I’m guilty of anything.” Stephan sighed. “I’m still on medical leave. You’re officially dead. Ash is still technically ‘missing’. I told them I couldn’t be 100% sure he’d been taken into the building since they’d gone around to the side door where I couldn’t see. That way, if he gets better, he’ll have an easier time reclaiming his life.”
“Good thinking.” She looked up at where Ash was making the toy squeak.
“Is he?” Stephan asked. “Getting better?”
“Think you could get away for a weekend? You can see for yourself. I’m only about six hours from you. You can tell people you’re going fishing, need to clear your head.”
“Where do you want me to meet you?”
“Drive up to Silver Lake. I’ll meet you at the park area.”
Ash leaned into the Alpha’s hands as she lathered his hair. He hadn’t figured out yet what he’d done to make her mad, but at least she wasn’t anymore. She was letting him get in the shower with her now and get clean, though she had told him to stop when he’d tried to pleasure her. It had made her angry for some reason. He must have done it wrong, like he had at first, but she hadn’t let him try again or told him how to do it right. She washed him, but didn’t let him wash her.
Out of the shower, she toweled his hair dry before telling him to put the underpants on. He obeyed, then stretched his neck toward her so she could replace the collar. She sighed, but put it back on him. That was good. He didn’t want to break the rules.
He was leaning heavily on the cane as he started walking toward her. She sighed when she realized it was no longer going to simply be an affection of his. “Stephan.” Magda hugged him.
She got her shoulder under his and took some of his weight. “Are you sure you should be driving?”
“Eh, doctors.” His smile was slightly pained. “What do they know?” He let her help him into the car. “It’s my left leg, so I can drive alright. It’s walking I’m not supposed to…” He blinked when Ash popped his head out from between the seats and barked at him. “Hello.” Ash barked again, then tilted his head. “You remember me?” Ash nodded. “Gonna bite me?” Ash shook his head and made a small whining sound. “Good.” Stephan smiled.
Ash made a happy whining sound before getting back into his seat. Magda tousled his hair when he put the seatbelt on himself. “Good boy.” He barked happily at her. When Stephan raised an eyebrow, she sighed and climbed in the driver’s side. “Things are getting better.” She pulled out of the space.
“They are?” He glanced over his shoulder at Ash.
“Sure. At least he’s…” She trailed off as Ash rolled down the window and stuck his head out of it. “Nevermind.”
Stephan threw the bone, and he brought it back, staring at it until the man threw it again. This time, he tugged at it when Stephan tried to take it, and growled playfully. “Oh, you’re gonna be like that now?” Stephan tugged it back, and let out a small growl of his own.
Ash bounced with excitement as he tugged. Then he threw himself to the side and tugged the other way. Stephan let out a small cry of pain when Ash’s hand pushed against his leg, and he released the toy. Immediately, Ash dropped it and crawled closer to Stephan, whining softly. The Mistress had hurt Stephan. He’d forgotten. He nuzzled Stephan’s hand, and whined again. “It’s alright, Ash.” Stephan petted him.
“Stephan?” The Alpha gave him a worried look.
“I’m fine. Still just a bit tender.” He shrugged. “Last of the stitches don’t come out for another couple weeks yet.” He chuckled. “They wouldn’t let me keep the bullet. And you wouldn’t believe how much shit they give me about getting shot with my own gun.” Stephan reached into the backpack he’d brought, and pulled out a nerf gun. “They gave me this one at the hospital.”
He sniffed at it. Stephan smiled at him. “What, you like this?” Ash barked. Stephan tossed it to the rug in front of him. “All yours.” Ash pounced it, then tilted his head at it. He frowned, then looked up at Stephan before picking it up in his teeth and carrying it back. He set it down on Stephan’s knee, then used his nose to push it closer to Stephan. Stephan narrowed his eyes. “I bet you think you’re funny.” Ash barked at him.
When he heard the Alpha laughing, Ash wriggled happily.
She took a drink from the beer. “As near as I can tell, he full on thinks he’s my dog.” She turned the bottle around in her hand. “Except for…” She sighed.
“Mags?” Stephan raised an eyebrow.
“They must have raped him, taught him that was…” She sighed. “First time I took a shower, he tried to get in with me. Whimpered like I’d beaten him when I told him no. Eventually, I realized the only way to get him clean was to…” She took another drink. “So, I let him get in so I could wash his hair, and when I was done he tried to…”
“Perform oral?” Stephan leaned back.
“Yep.” Magda nodded. “The saddest part is he acts like I’m punishing him when I won’t let him.”
“Conditioning.” Stephan nodded. “They raped him, then as time went on, sex became a reward they offered.” He took a deep breath. “I did some reading, on…” He folded his arms. “Fear of punishment can break a person, but if a reward is also offered, then the fear becomes a desire to please. It’s scary how easy it can be to break a person. Sex is pleasurable, and they twisted him up enough that he began to view their raping him as his reward for…”
Magda took a deep breath. “Lisa threatened to do the same thing to you.”
“And then you tore her heart out.” Stephan nodded. “I’ll be honest, the fact that Sima’s still out there somewhere scares me more than a little.”
“Any leads?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I’m still locked out at the station. Medical leave, and the chief is pretty pissed at me.” He sighed. “Consensus is I fucked up, should have seen what was going on with you earlier, done something in time to…” He shrugged. “They think I should have saved you from yourself.”
“I left you a hell of a mess to clean up, Stephan.” She put her hand atop his. “I’m sorry.”
“You did the right thing, Mags.” Stephan nodded to where Ash was laying out in the front yard, apparently enjoying the sun. “He needs you right now, and…” Stephan took a deep breath. “Maybe he needs this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Dogs are simple creatures. I wonder if…” He straightened. “I don’t think it’s just conditioning. I think he might have had a full psychotic break. Retreated from reality entirely, because he couldn’t handle it.” He turned toward her. “I mean, hell, I’ll admit I nearly shit myself when that first wolf came at us. I froze up, panicked…”
“But you handled it.”
“Yeah, because I had you to help me through it. I saw a werewolf defending me, and it turned out to be someone I knew and trusted with my life.” Stephan nodded toward Ash. “He saw the women who’d hurt him turn into monsters, the kind of monsters a human doesn’t stand a chance against. And I’ll bet you money he not only saw them kill Jacob and Sarah, but he watched them kill his dad as well. Even without the werewolf part, that’s the kind of thing that can make someone put a wall up between them and reality.”
Magda finished her beer, then looked back at Ash. “So what do I do?”
“What you have been doing. He ran from reality because it wasn’t safe. Make it safe.” Stephan sighed. “I don’t know. I’m not a shrink. I just can’t think of a shrink we could trust with…” He took a deep breath. “Let’s say he comes back to reality. His reality involved werewolves, Mags. The psych ward would work on convincing him that none of that happened, and that would just make things worse. He needs to find reality, not a new fantasy. Get him a new collar.”
“It’s symbolic. You’re letting him be, letting him stay safe until he’s ready, but you’re also making it clear he’s not theirs anymore.”
“I…” She nodded. “I’ll try that.” She smiled. “I miss you, partner.” She leaned her head on his shoulder.
“I miss you too.” He leaned his head atop hers.
Ash stared at the bright red collar. He bounced happily around Stephan before coming back to Magda and letting her put it on him. It even had a tag with his name on it. He barked happily, and Magda tousled his hair. He had a new collar. His Alpha had marked him as hers. He bounced again. Then, because he couldn’t reach the Alpha, he leaned over and licked the face of his pack brother.
The Alpha immediately started laughing, and his pack brother put him in a headlock and began ruffling his hair. Ash growled playfully before pulling his head back. Then, mindful of his pack brother’s leg, he pounced, tackling Stephan from sitting position onto the floor. Stephan’s hands came up and started ticking Ash. Ash laughed before he began retaliating.
“Oh, good lord.” The Alpha was laughing. “If you two break my furniture you’re both sleeping on the porch.”
Stephan tilted his head at the Alpha. And then, to Ash’s delight, Stephan barked at her before going back to trying to tickle him.
Magda petted Ash’s hair as he looked out the window and whined. “Yeah.” She smiled down at him. “I miss him already too.” She took a deep breath. “If you go on two feet, we can go for a walk down to the river.” She held up the new collar’s matching leash.
Ash barked happily. And then, he stood up. She blinked back tears, then fastened the leash to his collar.