Ted brought him a cup of the good coffee. Michaels nodded before taking a drink. “Thanks.” Fortunately, he’d still had a pair of shorts at Ted’s from when they’d helped him set up his dock. Diana’s business card had been in the pocket of the pants he’d been wearing. His blood had rendered it illegible. It was stupid to be pissed about that considering all the other reasons he had to be pissed. That didn’t stop him from being pissed about it.
He sat on the back patio, his legs in Ted’s hot tub. If he’d had a swimsuit… Eh, fuck it. He slid all the way into the water. Laura sat on the edge, and put her own legs in. She reached over and rubbed his shoulder. “You smacked a werewolf in the mouth with a tree branch.” She patted him. “That was totally bad ass.”
“You stopped a bullet. That was some serious Jedi shit.” Michaels looked up at her. “Thanks for…” He took a deep breath. “Do not do that again, baby girl.”
“You’re family. The stupid big brother I didn’t know I wanted.” She started shaking her head as tears welled up in her eyes. Then she let out a small sob before splashing down into the water next to him and throwing her arms around his neck. “I was scared for you.”
“Yeah…” He hugged her back. “I was a little scared for me too.”
“Michaels.” Gabriel pulled up a chair next to the tub, then leaned forward. “She’s right.”
“Gabe, you beat the shit out of a ten-foot-tall werewolf. When it comes to bad ass, you kind of redefine the term.” Michaels managed a smile. From the slightly loopy feeling starting to rise in him, he was pretty sure Ted had dosed the coffee with something. “I appreci—”
“I wasn’t talking about the badass part.” Gabriel shook his head. “You’re not just my partner or sidekick. You’re my brother. Whatever it is these people want from me, they don’t get it unless you’re alright with it. We clear?”
“You shitheads make me cry and I’m gonna start punching things.” He swallowed past the lump that rose in his throat, then coughed. “Ah fuck.” He wiped at his eyes.
Magda sat down next to Ash, who had retreated into the camper. “You tried to protect Daniel. You did —”
“It was wrong.” Ash’s voice was quiet.
“Ash…” Magda reached out to put a hand on Ash’s shoulder.
Ash jerked away. “It was wrong. That man screamed when…” He shook his head violently. “It was wrong. It was bad and it was wrong.” He moved away from her to sit on the other side of the camper.
“Ash —” Magda sighed. “We thought —”
“No excuses. Sima had excuses. ‘This is your fault. You broke the rules.’” He stood, then put his hands on the sides of his neck. “Begged her to stop but talking was against the rules. It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong and you’re supposed to be better. You’re Magda. You protect people.” There were tears in his eyes.
She looked away, her face burning with shame. “You’re right, Ash. What we did to that man was wrong.”
A soft whimper escaped him. He opened his mouth again, but no words came out. He closed his eyes for a moment before making a whining sound. Then he started looking around frantically. Her heart was heavy when she realized he was searching for someplace to hide. He curled in on himself as he went to all fours.
She moved to the bed alcove and lifted up the covers. Immediately Ash moved, crawling under them and cowering. She let the covers fall again, then sat down next to the mattress. She felt tears rise in her own eyes as she heard Ash crying softly. If nothing else, she should have considered what their actions would do to him. She looked up and caught Stephan’s eyes as he stood outside the camper.
Months of recovery. And all of it based on teaching Ash that he could trust her and Stephan. Who knew how far they’d just set him back? She exhaled. Stephan stepped into the camper, and she stood to meet his hug as they drew some comfort from each other.
“What did you give him?”
Ted looked up at Gabriel’s question, then sighed and rubbed his neck. “A valium. I have a valid prescription.” He shook his head. “Haven’t taken one in months. Considering it at the moment.” He exhaled. “Good god, Gabriel, he was covered in blood. What happened?”
“Between when Erilon got us his location and the time we actually showed up…” Gabriel felt anger rising again. “A werewolf was flaying him with its claws. If they hadn’t had someone who could heal —” He heard a snapping sound, and looked down, startled. “I uh…” He offered Ted both halves of the fireplace poker. “Sorry.”
“I think…” Ted took them from him, and set them on the countertop. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you…” He gave Gabriel a worried look. “Lose control even a little.”
“Side bonus of working with Erilon.” Gabriel leaned against the wall. “When she’s not heightening my abilities, she’s helping me suppress them. That’s uh…” He twitched a shoulder. “Why you can leave marks on me, but bullets can’t.”
“I had wondered.” Ted nodded. He glanced into the living room. “Where is Laura?”
“She threw a sleeping bag on the floor of the guest room you put Michaels in. Doesn’t want to let him out of her sight.” He sighed. “Michaels is pretty angry we let Laura come along. Once everything else gets…” He looked down. “Dealt with, we’re going to hear about that.”
“He called me…” Ted blinked. “Feels like a century ago but I suppose it was only yesterday. Asked if I’d help Laura file for emancipation, and said…” Ted smiled. “That if it helped with the case at all he’d adopt her formally.”
“That would make her a Michaels too.” Gabriel shook his head.
“Terrifying thought.” Ted nodded. “She’s bad enough when she’s just her.” He tilted his head, then put the last dish in the dishwasher and closed it. “Gabriel, I can take you downstairs and fuck you until you can’t see straight, but as much as it pains me to say this…” He took a deep breath. “I think it might be better if we just talked.”
He shook his head. “You dragging me downstairs is the kind of pain I like.”
“Gabriel…” Ted shook his head, then his voice became the firm tone he used when dominating Gabriel. “Talk to me. Now.”
Strange how much easier that made it. He nodded. “The werewolf was out. Even back to human. Unconscious and not going anywhere.” Gabriel took a deep breath. “If Erilon hadn’t made me stop, I’d have unloaded my gun into it’s head.” He looked away. “Not self defense. An execution.”
“And that would have been wrong.” Ted put a hand on his arm. “But we both know that Erilon can’t actually make you do anything. You’ll do the right thing, Gabriel. I know it. Both you and Michaels.” He reached up and put his hand on the back of Gabriel’s neck, then pulled him closer before kissing him gently. His voice however, went back to the firm tone of the man who regularly mastered him. “You’re exhausted. Come to bed.”
“You’re a good guy, Ted.” Gabriel managed a smile. He hesitated a moment, then kissed Ted again. “That’s why I love you.”
For a heartbeat, Ted just stood there, staring at him. Then he swallowed. His voice was slightly ragged. “I love you, too.”
“Not really sure how we go about apologizing for…” Daniel rubbed the back of his neck. “I mean, what, do I bake a cake that says ‘sorry my boyfriend and I tortured you?’”
Matthias put his arm around Daniel, pulling the smaller man in close. “Cops make shit pay. Can find out how much forgiveness a cool million buys.” He exhaled. “We weren’t exactly…”
“No.” Daniel sighed. “No, no excuses. That’s not…” Daniel rested his forehead against Matthias’s shoulder. “I promised you I wouldn’t let you go down that kind of path again, and then I held your hand and skipped down it right next to you.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry, Matthias.”
He held Daniel close, then kissed the top of his head. “When I heard you scream, I…” He took a deep breath. “I kind of lost it a little. All I could think was that my mate was injured and…” He shook his head.
“Your mate.” Daniel’s voice was soft.
“Yeah, Boss.” He caught Daniel’s chin, then lifted it before kissing him. “You followed me home. Hope that means you plan to keep me.”
“Yeah.” Daniel smiled. “I do.” He exhaled. “Guess this means you have to help me bake the cake.”
“Right.” Matthias nodded. “But I’m taking the million out of your account.”
“I want the other gun.” He didn’t look at Gabriel.
“I assume you mean the one still loaded with silver bullets.” Gabriel’s voice was quiet.
“Yep.” Michaels nodded.
He turned to see Gabriel offering it to him, holster and all. “You’re not going to argue?”
“One, you’re a better shot than I am.” Gabriel shrugged. “Two, he starts any shit I’ll beat him to death with his own car.”
Michaels took the gun. “I don’t even know how I’d explain that to my homeowner’s insurance.”
“Freak tornado?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“Not sure I’ve got coverage for that.” He put the gun on his belt. Then he met his partner’s eyes. “I’m pissed. But I think I’m going to be okay.”
“I mean, it’s not going to be today or even tomorrow but…” Michaels nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be okay.”
“Good.” Gabriel nodded. “Because I…” Gabriel shook his head. “Not really sure I know what I’d do without my sidekick.”
“Get mobbed by groupies?” Michaels smiled.
“That’s why I’m glad you’re around.” Gabriel nodded. “You can always fight them off with your dick.”
“Fuck, partner.” Michaels started laughing. “Maybe you have been around me too long.”
Stephan followed the others into the house. Ash was being quiet. It had taken considerable coaxing to get him out of the camper and walking on two feet. At the moment, he wasn’t capable of human speech. He was a little concerned what would happen if the young man tried to bolt, but they hadn’t liked the idea of leaving him by himself. He shut the door behind them before taking a look around the room.
Unmasked, the young woman proved to be just a kid barely old enough for a driver’s license. Her hair was done up in elaborate braids that had been dyed a very bright blue. There was another man, one who looked to be in his fifties. And the guy who’d beaten Matthias certainly qualified as angelically handsome, even with a frankly hostile expression.
“Alright…” Magda exhaled into the uncomfortable silence. “We fucked up.”
“From what I hear…” It was the older man who spoke. “That is something of an understatement.” He gestured. “Sit. Your names?”
She nodded, and gestured for the rest of them to sit. He noted Michaels had seated himself next to the young girl, and that the guy Anna believed was her broken angel had positioned himself standing behind them both. The man’s stance made his attitude clear. He was going to back his partner. Magda glanced at the other three before turning her gaze back to the older man. “I’m Magda Gunnarson.” They’d decided to use their real names. “This is my son, Matthias.” She nodded to each of them in turn. “Daniel and Anna Thatcher. My partner, Stephan Evans, and Ash.”
“I’m Ted. These are Gabriel, Michaels, and Laura.” Ted nodded. “I believe Erilon may also be present.”
“I am.” Laura’s voice echoed strangely, as it had before. A moment later, she sounded like an ordinary young woman. “She’s listening in and monitoring. They try any hostile magic, she’s going to make them bleed from every single one of their orifices.”
“As far as magic goes…” Magda glanced at him before looking back at Ted. “Daniel is a healer. Anna reads minds and has some precognitive ability. And Stephan here cancels out other magic. Matthias and I are both werewolves.”
“And him?” Ted nodded toward Ash.
“He’s an ordinary human.” When Ash shifted a little under their stares, Stephan put a hand on his shoulder. Magda glanced at them before again turning back to Ted. “Rosa was an old friend of my son’s. She called us, asking for help, saying people were trying to kill her. We arrived here to learn she was dead and…” She took a deep breath before glancing at Michaels. “Drew some very erroneous conclusions.”
“I see.” Ted folded his arms.
“There is…” Magda took another deep breath. “More. Anna here was…” She shook her head. “Are any of you familiar with a group called the Cabal?”
“We have heard of them.” Ted nodded. From the glances Michaels and Laura gave him, that was news to them. “And from what we have heard, they are unpleasant people.”
“They are. They impregnated Anna as part of a ritual. When Daniel learned of this, he took his sister and ran.”
“Why not go to the police?” Ted raised an eyebrow.
“His stepfather, who oversaw the ritual, was the chief of police.” Magda put a hand on Anna’s shoulder. “She just turned thirteen years old. Daniel and Anna found Matthias, and he took them under his protection. He brought them to me, and since then we’ve been trying to get information on the Cabal.” She turned her eyes to Gabriel. “And looking for you.”
“Why me?” Gabriel narrowed his eyes.
“Because —” Magda started to speak.
“Because if they get her, they’ll make her bad.” Anna took a step toward Gabriel, but Magda put a hand on her shoulder to stop the motion. “You’re the one that can stop them from making her bad.” She put her hands on her belly. “She’ll just be a baby but they’ll hurt her and twist her and make her bad and…” She started shaking her head. “Please. They’re sorry and they know they did bad but please, you have to help her.”
“Gabe…” Michaels turned back to look at his partner. Then he exhaled. “You’re helping the girl.”
“Yeah…” Gabriel nodded. “I guess I am.”