Daniel sat down across from Ash. “Alright, Ash, I’m going to have to touch you for this. Is that okay?”
The guy tilted his head and gave him a quizzical whine. He knew the guy could talk, because he apparently talked to Magda and Stephan. But around anyone else, he just acted like a dog. He’d spent half of yesterday playing fetch with Anna. It occurred to him that probably should have weirded him out more than it did, but the last few months had completely thrown off his definition of what qualified as ‘normal’.
Ash was a kid not much older than he was, who’d been through hell. He didn’t know if this would work, but it was worth a try. He reached out and put his hands on either side of Ash’s head.
Nothing happened. He concentrated, trying to focus on the stir of energy he’d felt the times he’d healed Matthias. There was nothing. Ash looked confused, and Daniel frowned. “It’s not working.”
“It was worth a —” Magda started to let out a dejected sigh.
“No, I mean…” Daniel shook his head. “I mean my power. It’s not working.”
“The wards shouldn’t be interfering with that.” Matthias frowned as he turned toward Magda.
“They shouldn’t.” She nodded. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t.”
“My powers don’t work in the house.” Anna spoke up from where she was sitting. “I can’t look into any of your heads in here.”
“Which implies you’ve been trying…” Matthias gave the girl a look.
“I figured it was the wards.” Anna shrugged. “I mean, that’s why we came here, isn’t it?”
“Let’s try outside.” Daniel stood. Ash followed, crawling after him as they headed for the porch, and the others followed as well.
Magda paced by the river. “The wards don’t extend this far.”
“I know they don’t extend this far.” Daniel looked down at his hands in confusion. “Cause Anna stepped on a rock yesterday and I healed the scrape.”
Stephan sat on the bank, his arm around a clearly dejected Ash. “Then why isn’t it working?”
“I hate to suggest this…” Matthias sighed. “But maybe it’s him?”
Ash whimpered, and Stephan pulled him in tighter, petting him. “It’s okay, Ash. It’s not your fault and nobody here is mad at you.”
“One way to find out.” Matthias shifted partially, using a claw to cut open his arm. Then he extended the wound to Daniel, who glared at him.
Daniel frowned after putting his hand on Matthias’s arm. “Nothing.”
“Walk around.” Magda frowned. “Figure out where it does work.”
After a couple minutes, Daniel suddenly smiled up at Matthias. Matthias felt the slight surge, and this the wound closed. “Got it.” Daniel yelled back in their direction. Matthias kept a hand on Daniel’s back as the others brought Ash over. He felt Daniel go tense again after putting his hands on Ash. “Uh…”
“Daniel?” Matthias gave him a concerned look.
“It’s not working again.”
“Anna…” Matthias turned toward her. “How close do you have to be to get into our heads?”
“Um…” She frowned. “I don’t know. I mean, I think the furthest away you ever were when I was looking in was other side of the parking lot at dinosaur poop place.”
Matthias frowned, then nodded. “About two hundred feet. Everybody go to a different part of the yard. Anna, keep tabs, figure out when and where you can sense people.”
“Map the wards.” Magda nodded. “Figure out if they are shifting. Good plan.” She suddenly frowned. “Ash, stay by Anna. Anna, don’t go in Ash’s head.”
They gathered back on the porch. Magda gave Anna an encouraging smile. “Well?”
“I’m kinda confused.” Anna shook her head.
“What’s confusing?” Magda sat on the porch step.
“Earlier, I couldn’t sense anybody in the house. But both times you and Daniel went in, I could sense you in here. Sometimes all of you would vanish and come back, but it was all over the yard. It’s not working now and…” She pointed up at Stephan. “And I never found him at all.”
“Oh for…” Magda started laughing. “Stephan, start walking that way. Anna, tell us when you can sense us again.”
Stephan was fifty feet away when Anna suddenly sat up straighter. “You’re all back again.”
“Stephan?” Magda glanced at him.
He shrugged and limped back. Anna blinked. “You all disappeared again.”
“Hey Stephan…” Magda ran a hand down her face.
“I’m doing it?” He gave her a sardonic look.
“You’re doing it.” She nodded.
“That uh…” Stephan winced. “So what I’m hearing is that unless I figure out how to stop doing it, magic boy can’t fix my leg?”
“That…” Stephan exhaled. “Sucks.”
“No kidding.” Anna shook her head. “You’re like the worst witch ever!”
“What the hell are the odds that…” Matthias turned toward Magda. “First humans we bond with in decades, and they are all witches?” Ash made an insulted woofing sound. “Except him.”
“It’s somewhat less surprising than you think.” Magda smiled. “Some primal recognition of each other likely influenced the bond in the first place. Explains why Stephan was the first partner I ever put up with for longer than three months.”
“Maybe if we knock you unconscious I can fix your leg?” Daniel raised an eyebrow.
“Now there is an experiment…” Stephan laughed softly. “How drunk do I have to be to forget magic is real?”
His pack brother stayed on the porch this time, watching them as they went down to the river again. Ash glanced at Daniel, then back at Stephan. It didn’t seem fair that Stephan couldn’t be fixed. If they were both fixed, they could go back to being cops. He knelt, looking up at Daniel as the young man put hands on his head again. This time, he felt something. The slight pain in his elbow where he’d bumped it earlier vanished. But he didn’t feel different.
Daniel gave him a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, Ash. It’s not…” The young man sighed. “It’s not something I can fix.”
Ash looked away, and swallowed past the lump in his throat. When Magda went to put a hand on his shoulder, he shoved it away from him. Then he fled back to the house, tears in his eyes. He heard Magda call his name, and ignored it. In her room he dove under the bed, crawling into the darkness and curling himself up tightly. His entire body shook as he started to sob.
Daniel felt tears start to fall as he saw the young man flee into the house. Matthias put his arm around Daniel, pulling him in close. “I wanted to help him.” Daniel’s voice trembled.
“Thank you for trying.” Magda’s voice was soft. “It was…” She exhaled. “Worth an attempt.”
“They made him kill her…” They all turned at the sound of Anna’s furious voice. “They hunted her down but they didn’t kill her. They made him do it. They made him do it.”
“Anna…” Magda turned toward her.
“That fucking bitch!” Anna shook her head. “That Sima thing made him kill Sarah.” She turned toward Matthias. “You should have killed her. Next time, you kill her.” Her fists clenched as her voice raised to a shout. “You kill her.”
“Yeah.” Matthias nodded to Anna. “We find her, I’ll kill her.”
Anna stared at him for a moment, then turned toward the river and started vomiting into it. Daniel went to her, focusing his power. She wiped her face. “You told me not to look but I wanted to see if it was working.” She shook. “Sima needs to die.”
“On that…” Magda slowly nodded. “We are all in agreement.”
Stephan lowered himself to the floor, then crawled under the bed. He heard Ash make a sound somewhere between a whine and a growl. He didn’t touch the other man, just laid there under the bed with him. Then he swallowed. “Lisa fooled me. Completely. I was…” He took a deep breath. “I was half in love with her. And all the time she was a monster who was hurting my little brother.” He exhaled. “Can you forgive me, Ash, for not seeing what she was sooner?”
It was a couple minutes before he heard Ash’s voice. “She asked if I wanted another puppy to play with. I did. I smiled at her. I didn’t realize that meant…” Ash swallowed. “She meant you.” He shifted so that he was looking at Stephan.
Slowly, he extended a hand, and felt Ash grip it tightly. “I’m sorry, Ash. I’m sorry we didn’t find you sooner. We should have saved you.” He pulled Ash’s hand, and felt the other man come closer, snuggling in beside him. He wrapped an arm around him, and laid there next to him under the bed. A shadow told him Magda had come into the room, but she simply sat on the edge of the bed. Silence reigned for a time, then Stephan shrugged. “You know, I think you’re onto something with this whole under the bed thing. Nice, warm, and cozy down here.” He looked around. “Not as dusty as I was expecting.”
“I cleaned it.”
“Good boy.” He tilted his head to press his cheek against the top of Ash’s head. “Want to go fishing later?”
“You don’t like fish.”
“No.” He smiled. “But I like you. I never got to have a dog or a brother.” He hugged Ash. “Now I’ve got both. Ash, it’s okay to…” He petted Ash. “To be scared. To leave reality behind sometimes. I do it too.”
“You bark. I speak Klingon.” He chuckled. “We all have our ways of coping, you just have a hell of a lot more to cope with than most people do. Ash, he couldn’t fix you because you aren’t broken. You’re dealing, just in your own way. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just…” He kissed the top of Ash’s head. “Really really weird. But hey…” He shrugged. “We’ve got two werewolves, and apparently the rest of us are witches, so when it comes to weird…” He looked down. “You’re in pretty good company.”
“I love you, Stephan.”
“I love you too, Ash.” He reached out, and caught Magda’s ankle. “Hey, get down here, partner. Family snuggle time.”
Magda laughed as she joined them under the bed.
Matthias put an arm around Daniel, pulling the smaller man to his side. “You okay?”
“It’s what we’re going to do now, isn’t it?” Daniel looked up at him.
Daniel leaned into his chest. “Witches. Werewolves.” He took a deep breath. “We’re going to hunt the monsters.”
“Yeah, boss.” He nodded. “We are.”
“I won’t let you become one again. You’ve got a good pack now.”
“You know what I find really annoying about you, boss?” Matthias leaned back, then caught Daniel’s chin and kissed him. “How often you’re right.” He hesitated a moment. “I love you, Daniel. That’s not something your sister put into my head.”
“I…” Daniel threw his arms around Matthias’s neck, and kissed him back. “I love you too, Matthias Fredrik Ingvar Sigurdr Jarlson.”
“You ever use my full name again, I’m putting you over my knee.”
“But it’s such an awesome name. Matthias Fredrik Ing—” Daniel squealed as Matthias swept him up and tossed him over his shoulder before walking toward the camper.