He started barking as soon as he saw the man get out of the car. He kept barking happily as the man limped up to the porch.
“Hey, Ash.” Stephan ruffled his hair.
Ash smiled at him. “Hello, Stephan.”
Stephan’s eyes widened, then he broke into a huge smile. “Hey, you said it in person-talk that time.”
“And I’ve stopped chewing on Magda’s shoes.” Ash nodded happily. When Stephan stared at him, Ash started laughing. “The look on your face.”
“You’re still a shit though.” Stephan just shook his head. “How’s things?”
“Come see what Magda got me.” Ash grabbed his hand and pulled before dropping to all fours and rushing eagerly into the cabin. He grabbed the stuffed ewok in his teeth before bringing it back to Stephan.
“That’s awesome.” Stephan crouched. “Does it —” Ash squeaked it. “That is cool. So I guess you won’t be needing this.” He reached into the bag he’d brought in with him, and pulled out something wrapped in newspaper.
“What is it?” Ash took the ewok out of his mouth and stared fixedly at the present.
“I don’t know.” Stephan stood up. “It looks like you’ve got enough toys.”
“What is it what is it what is it?” Ash bounced.
“Maybe I’ll just put this away for —” Stephan cut off with a laugh when Ash tackled him.
Magda walked into the living room and stared. Ash had Stephan most of the way pinned, but Stephan was still managing to keep a wrapped package out of Ash’s hands. Both men were laughing and playfully growling at each other. “Children…”. She smiled as she shook her head.
They both stopped and looked up at her. Ash got off Stephan and pointed at him. “He started it.”
“Did not.” Stephan shook his head as he sat up. Then he squeezed the package in his hand. It made a squeaking sound.
“Gimme.” Ash tackled him again.
She just sighed.
“He’s getting better.” Stephan accepted the coffee she handed him.
“Some.” Magda nodded. “He has nightmares sometimes. Bad enough he won’t actually talk again for days.” She sighed. “And if I try to talk about any of it, he regresses entirely to dog again. Hell, if he thinks I’m upset at him he regresses entirely to dog again. I cussed at the fireplace and he hid under the bed for three hours.” She shrugged. “At least most of the time he wears pants now.”
“Think he’ll ever come all the way back?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged, then looked at him. “So why are you really here?”
“I, uh…” Stephan rubbed the back of his neck. “Got fired.”
“What?” She stared at him. “Why?’
“Well, technically, it’s ‘administrative leave’, but…” He sighed. “With everything that went down, they were looking for an excuse, and I uh…” He folded his arms. “May have given them one.”
“What did you do?” She leaned on the door frame.
“They assigned me a new partner. Some dumbass rookie and…” Stephan took another drink from the coffee. “I told him to redo some paperwork. He called me a nigger. I bounced his head off my desk. Camera caught that, but not the…” He took a deep breath. “That part was his word versus mine, and to be blunt it really wasn’t an excuse. I think I was on my way out, anyway. Captain’s been using my leg as an excuse to chain me to the desk.” He sighed. “I was done there.”
Magda sighed. He’d given up a career he’d loved, given up his life, to cover for her. She turned to look at his car, and noted just how much stuff was piled in the back. “Stephan…” She shook her head. “That really all your shit?”
“All the important stuff.” He smiled. “You need someone to watch your back, Mags.”
“Yeah.” She smiled back. “I do.”
Ash curled up, and laid his head in Stephan’s lap. “You’re staying?” He hoped he’d heard right. Stephan was good. Stephan would play with him and pet him and not push. He liked Stephan.
“Yep.” Stephan ruffled Ash’s hair. Ash rubbed his head into the caress, enjoying the petting.
“I’m glad.” Ash smiled. He hesitated a moment. “When you were here, before…” He looked up at Stephan. “I couldn’t say it then. I’m sorry I got you shot.”
Stephan smiled. “It’s okay, Ash.” He left his hand on Ash’s shoulder. “Nothing that happened was your fault.”
“Thank you.” He snuggled back into Stephan’s lap.
She stopped in the doorway and looked at the couch. The movie was still going, but Ash and Stephan had both fallen asleep on the couch. Her boys. Her pack. Magda smiled. It was strange, having a… She took a deep breath. Having a family again.
“Any leads on the bitch?” Stephan raised an eyebrow.
“None.” Magda shook her head. “You?”
“Yes. Just not sure how to follow it up.” He took a file out of his laptop’s bag, and spread it on the table. “The one you killed first. They finally found her body, and identified her as Carol Rousseau. And also as Bethany Roche and Violet Travert. Violet Travert had several bank accounts, including some off shore ones that would have added up to a lot of money if someone by the name of Aditi Darzi hadn’t emptied them. Sima, incidentally, means ‘limit’. Aditi, on the other hand, means ‘limitless’.”
“You’ve got a money trail.” Magda sat down across from him.
“Not as much of one as I’d like.” Stephan frowned. “None of Aditi’s accounts are US based.”
“Where?” She raised an eyebrow.
“It’s all in here.” He shoved the folder to her.
“Sima was older.” Stephan and Magda looked at each other before turning to where Ash knelt in the doorway. He swallowed as he crawled to the table, then hesitated before standing and sitting in the chair. Ash shivered just a little, and both of them reached to put hands on his shoulders. “She had a pack, but most died and the rest separated. There was another pack, but there were two alphas. One drove her away. She only ran with Lisa a few years.
“Do you…” Magda hesitated. “Remember any of the names?”
He shook his head, cringing just a little as he did. “She never said them. I just heard her talking to Lisa once.”
“Thank you, Ash.” Magda glanced at Stephan for just a moment before leaning forward and kissing him. “That was good.”
“It was.” Stephan nodded before tousling Ash’s hair.
She frowned at the sound of Stephan’s voice, then went to the basement door. Immediately, she went down the stairs. Stephan was sitting at the bottom, holding a laundry basket. “Are you alright?”
“More…” He sighed. “Embarrassed than anything. I slipped, bum leg couldn’t catch me.” He sighed again. “And, um…”
“I think it’s just sprained.” He grunted when she just picked him up and carried him up the stairs.
“Ash.” She glanced over to see him coming into the house. “Would you please go get Stephan’s laundry?”
“Is he hurt?” Ash’s eyes widened.
“I’m fine.” Stephan shook his head.
“That’s what I’m determining.” She gave Stephan a worried look. Ash nodded to her and headed into the basement. She knelt, and rolled Stephan’s pant leg up to feel the ankle. He hissed a little. She frowned, then nodded. “I think you’re right. Just a sprain.”
“Great.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “Now both legs don’t work.”
“Stephan.” She sat next to him.
“Sorry.” He took a deep breath. “Just feeling somewhat useless at the moment. Can’t even fucking handle doing laundry.”
“You had your leg ripped open by a werewolf, then shot by a completely different werewolf.” She put an arm around him. “Most people don’t survive a fight with one of my kind. You’ve gone up against three.” She chuckled. “Four, if you count how often you and I sparred.”
“You were holding back a lot.”
“True.” She chuckled, then leaned her head on his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” Ash said as he set the laundry basket down. He came over to join them on the couch. He put his head in Stephan’s lap. Stephan put his hand on Ash’s head, and tousled his hair gently.
Magda smiled. “Come, it’s late. I’ll help you to bed.”
“Can I stay with Stephan tonight?” Ash looked up at her.
“That, uh…” She glanced at Stephan, who gave her a slightly wide-eyed look. Then he closed his eyes for a heartbeat before nodding. “Might be a good idea. You can fetch if he needs anything.”
Ash curled up on the end of Stephan’s bed and laid his head down on his arms. He hesitated a moment, then crawled up to lay next to Stephan. Stephan opened his eyes and blinked at him. “Ash?”
“You can sleep with Magda and me. I don’t mind.” Ash smiled at him.
“I, uh…” Stephan closed his eyes again and took a deep breath before opening them again. “That’s not appropriate.”
“But you love her.” He blinked, and then cringed a little. “Don’t you like me?”
“I do, in both cases, but…” Stephan took another deep breath. “You’re my packmates. My family. Brother and sister.”
“Oh.” Ash nodded, then smiled. “I always wanted a brother.” He snuggled into Stephan before closing his eyes. It took a moment, but he felt Stephan’s arm go around him. Ash let out a contented sigh before going to sleep.
“So…” Magda tried not to laugh. “Most awkward night ever?”
“No.” Stephan shook his head. “Taking him up on the offer would have been the most awkward night ever.”
That time she did laugh. “While it would not have been my first threesome…”
“Mags!” Stephan winced. He shook his head. “Look, I don’t mean it as an insult. I mean, you’re older but still a beautiful woman. It’s just…” He rubbed his neck. “You’re my partner and not that kind of…” He shook his head. “Help?”
“You are a brother to me.” She shrugged. “Occasionally a son. Awkward would have been…” She chuckled. “An understatement.”
“He was right about one thing.” Stephan smiled. “I do love you.”
“I love you too, partner.” She grinned.
“And you and Ash are kind of sweet together.” Stephan shrugged. “Really, really weird, but sweet.”
“You’re okay with it, then?” She raised an eyebrow.
“He is.” Stephan nodded. “I guess I am too. Just…” He shrugged. “He’s kind of becoming a little brother to me, so just remember…” He smiled. “You would not be the first werewolf I’ve tazed.”
Magda laughed. “How’s the leg today?”
“Good. Walking I can handle. Might even try my hand at vacuuming.”
“Alright. I’ll leave the house to you and Ash. I’m going to work on getting the barn cleaned out. There are some weights and an old heavy bag still in good shape. Might pick up an exercise bike or something.”
“I’ll spring for some yoga mats and a medicine ball. I’m sorta supposed to be using those for PT anyway.”
“Stephan…” She narrowed her eyes. “How much PT are you supposed to be doing?”
“Um…” He winced. “More than I have been?”
“Okay, see, right now, it’s a son thing…” She glared. “And I am giving serious consideration to putting you over my knee.”
“Want to go fishing tomorrow?” He shifted a little to look up at Stephan. “Rain makes the fishes bite.”
“As long as I don’t have to eat what we catch, sure.”
“More fishies for me.” Ash snuggled into him happily. Then he frowned and sat up. “Car.”
“Heard it. Get down.” Stephan rose and peeked out the window. “It’s a truck, pulling a camper.”
A whimper escaped him. Sima had talked about an RV. He whined up at Stephan, who nodded in realization. He drew his sidearm, and limped to the door. Then he frowned. “It’s a guy and a couple kids. Maybe just lost tourists?” He put his sidearm back in it’s holster, but didn’t secure it. He also picked up his cane. “Stay down.”
He crept to the window and peered out, careful to keep out of sight. The guy walking toward the porch was huge. He had at least six inches and fifty pounds on Stephan, and all of that was muscle. “Can I help you?” Stephan asked.
“Who the fuck are you?” The man narrowed his eyes as he came to a stop. “And what the fuck are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
The big man shook his head. “You don’t live here. You’ve got five seconds to tell me who the fuck you are.” The big man moved his jacket a little, revealing he was also carrying a gun. The two kids were already moving out of any line of fire.
Stephan shifted his weight a little. “Mister, I don’t know who you think you are, but — ”
“Time’s up.” The man narrowed his eyes and started moving toward Ash’s pack brother. As the man’s feet touched the stairs, Stephan lifted his cane and touched it to the man’s shoulder. The big man suddenly cried out in pain and staggered backward, falling to one knee. His head came back up, and Ash felt a chill go through him as he realized the man’s eyes were now golden. Stephan must have seen it too, because he started reaching for his gun as the big man rose again.
“Matthias.” Magda’s voice rang out sharply from where she’d just come around the side of the cabin.
The big man whirled toward her, and his face paled just slightly. He swallowed. “Uh…” He swallowed again. “What are you…” He glanced back at Stephan, then shifted his weight a little bit awkwardly. “I, uh…” Then he took a deep breath. “Hello, Mother.”