There was still a lot of tense and awkward silence. Ted had his own few minutes of frustration when he learned that Anna was not under a doctor’s care. “The ability to heal is not the same as the ability to ensure health. She’s a child. She should be getting blood tests to determine what supplements are needed to prevent cumulative damage to her body.” He glared at the young man, Daniel.
“I’ve uh…” Daniel glanced at Michaels and Gabriel. “We are kind of fugitives from the police too. Trent made sure there were warrants out on me.”
“I’ll call up a couple of the nurses that work with my center.” Ted shook his head. “They’ve worked with abused children before and will be discreet.” He sighed, then looked over at Anna. “Do you need anything, young lady?”
“They do take pretty good care of me.” Anna shook her head. “Matthias cuts the vitamins in half and everything so I don’t choke on them.” She gave him a reassuring smile.
Reconciling a man who’d tortured his friend with a man taking care of a little girl was extremely difficult. Ted nodded. “I meant at this particular moment. Juice or anything?”
“Oh, yes.” Anna nodded. “Thank you.”
“So your magical ability is you not only don’t have a magical ability you make everyone else not have a magical ability?” Laura tilted her head at Stephan.
“Pretty much.” He nodded.
“That is simultaneously awesome and totally ass sucking.” Laura exhaled.
“What are your powers?” Daniel frowned. “I mean, his we saw…” He nodded at Gabriel. “And then you did the bullet stopping thing…” He nodded at Laura. “But what about the rest of you?”
“Oh, the bullet stopping thing was all her. I haven’t figured out what my power is yet.” Laura shook her head.
“Michaels and I do not have any powers.” Ted shook his head.
Magda and Matthias exchanged a look. Magda frowned. “But this demon, Erilon or whatever, Anna sensed her in his head.”
“Yeah, cause she tried to get in and Erilon bolted the door.” Laura sent a glare at Anna. “Don’t do that shit. It’s really fucking rude to go where you aren’t invited.”
“The point was that if he didn’t have magic, the demon taking possession would have killed him.” Matthias glanced over at Michaels.
“Shows what you know.” Laura stuck her tongue out at him.
“With all due respect…” Magda straightened. “I am almost four hundred years old. This is not my first encounter with witches or demons.”
“Bull.” Michaels narrowed his eyes. “Shit.”
“Nah, she’s actually telling the truth there.” Laura turned toward him. “Werewolves live a lot longer than humans, or would if they didn’t piss people off all the time.”
“I was born before World War I…” Matthias nodded. “And fought in World War II.”
“That’s…” Ted blinked. “Certainly something.”
He had to give credit where it was due. These guys were listening a hell of a lot more than he would have in their shoes. They still weren’t sure on how exactly Gabriel could protect Anna, but considering the guy had taken him on and won having him on their side wasn’t a bad idea. Laura and Anna were talking now, and it was clear Laura had her crew as wrapped around her little finger as Anna had them. Maybe they should all just sit back and let the little girls work it out.
Slowly, they’d started to break into smaller groups, dividing up the sharing of information and question asking. Stephan was talking to Michaels. Looking in the direction of the guy he’d nearly skinned alive was a bit tougher than he’d anticipated. Stephan had started out the conversation by flat out apologizing for tazing the detective. The detective appeared to have grudgingly accepted the apology, though he was quick to point out he had no intentions of apologizing for shooting anyone.
Matthias figured it was probably best if he just kept his mouth shut. Ash had apparently decided the same thing, and the young man had retreated to sit behind the sofa. He was petting a small gray cat, and appeared to be blocking out what was going on around him. Probably best. He glanced over at Michaels again, and then blinked. In a short sleeved shirt, the tattoo on his arm was visible. “You’re a Marine.”
Michaels glared up at him. “Yeah. That a problem?”
“No, it’s…” Matthias rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t miss that Gabriel shifted position so he could keep an eye on the conversation even though he continued talking to Daniel. “Been one since ‘39.” He shrugged. “Where, uh…” He looked up at Michaels. “Where’d you train?”
“Pendleton.” The voice of the other man was just a hair shy of outright hostile.
“They uh…” He shifted his weight a little. “They still got the buffalo wandering around?”
“Technically…” Michaels shook his head. “Those are bison.”
“When I signed on again for the Gulf War, we convinced a couple recruits from New York that, uh…”
“This why orientation includes a ten minute lecture on the fact ‘cow-tipping’ is not actually a real thing combined with a list of penalties for violating the endangered species act?” Michaels raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah…” Matthias nodded. “Probably.” He exhaled. “Look, this ain’t something I can apologize for, but if you want to punch me in the face or anything I’ll give you a free shot.”
“My partner hit you with a tree, and you got back up so…” Michaels shook his head. “Pass.”
“Half of what it is she sees appears to be metaphors.” Daniel shifted his weight. “Not sure why she latched onto you as an angel, but uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “She also talked once about having to be careful around birds.”
“Possible it has something to do with Erilon.” Gabriel nodded.
The kid rubbed his foot against his calf. “I’ve got no excuses, Mister. I mean, the Cabal tried torturing me for information and Matthias busted their asses for it so it’s not like we didn’t know it was wrong we just weren’t thinking straight and it’s not an excuse just an explanation cause we royally fucked up here and I get that you’re mad but Anna’s just a kid and like I said we aren’t making excuses and I just want you to know that we’re sorry and we should have done better and Ash has been guilt tripping us all over it and you especially can’t be mad at him because he tried to stop us and —”
“I…” Daniel took a deep breath. “Okay.” He gave Gabriel a hesitant look. “So you’re not mad?”
“I’m furious.” Gabriel kept his voice calm and quiet.
“I get —” Daniel started nodding.
“Anna’s a child. The rest of you knew better.” Gabriel met Daniel’s eyes, and saw the younger man wilt a little.
“Yeah.” Daniel nodded. He glanced at the other young man with their group, who had seated himself behind the couch. “Especially after…”
“What’s wrong with him?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“He got captured by some other werewolves. They uh…” Daniel flinched a little. “Tortured him for almost a year, until he had a psychotic break and uh…” Daniel shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Now he doesn’t always do so good around strangers. Um, look, if we offered to like buy Michaels a car or something to try making it up to him would that work or just piss him off more?”
“Would it solve Ash’s issues?” Gabriel folded his arms.
“I…” Daniel winced. “Shit. I…” He exhaled. “No.”
“Would it be to help Michaels, or to make you feel better about what you did?”
“The uh…” Daniel shuffled his feet. “Second one, mostly. I mean, we’d want it to help him but it would be…” He wilted a little more under Gabriel’s stare. “Shit, you are really good at the guilt thing.”
Magda took a deep breath as they all regrouped a little. She’d told Ted about what had befallen Ash, and the man had started to offer to put her in touch with a psychiatrist before shaking his head. Then he’d offered to introduce them to a priest who was aware of the supernatural world and had training as a counselor. Considering how badly they’d recently screwed up, she’d agreed to take him up on the offer.
Ash didn’t come to the table when the pizza they’d ordered arrived, so she brought him a couple slices. He let her pet his hair and smiled at her. She petted the cat on his lap before glancing up at where Michaels was sitting. “What’s your cat’s name?”
“I don’t…” Michaels blinked. He turned toward Laura. “Do we have a cat?”
“No.” Laura shook her head.
Michaels stood and looked over, then shrugged. “I think he belongs to my neighbor. Window was open this morning, he must have gotten in.” He shrugged. “I’ll let him back out.”
Almost immediately Ash held the cat closer to himself. Magda sighed. “Mind if he sticks around a little longer? Ash is…”
“Let the cat stay, Michaels.” Ted nodded.
“Fine by me.” Michaels sat back down, then accepted the plate of pizza Ted handed him.
She rubbed Ash’s hair again before joining the others. There was silence for a couple minutes before Matthias sighed and set his slice of pizza down. “I uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, I do kind of need to know what did happen with Rosa.”
Gabriel and Michaels exchanged a look, then Gabriel nodded. “We were on our way back from speaking to a witness in another case when we heard someone shout for help. We came around a corner and saw Rosa being accosted by two women.”
“Rosa freaked out just a little when she saw us. Not sure why…” Michaels shook his head.
“Rosa was an oracle.” Matthias leaned back a little. “Could read the future in her cards, and had a premonition she’d die the same day she met him.” Matthias nodded toward Gabriel.
“That uh…” Laura tilted her head. “That’s kind of fucked up.”
“Little bit.” Gabriel nodded. “One of the women told us to run, and it was clear something was going down, so we identified ourselves as police officers.”
“That’s when one of the women started growing claws and fur. I shot her a couple times but uh…” Michaels shook his head. “Didn’t do much good, so Gabe her grabbed her and tossed her into a dumpster. Rosa ran and the other one went after her, so I went after them. The other one had some straight up telekinesis shit going, cause she threw things into Rosa’s path then yanked my gun out of my hand. Rosa ran out into the road and…” Michaels sighed. “Wasn’t anything I could do. She was dead before she hit the ground.” He gave a small shudder. “The woman was mad about it, said they wanted her alive, then she tried to get into my head. Erilon kicked her out about the same time Gabe kicked the werewolf through a wall, and they both lit out.”
“There was a name.” Gabriel tilted his head. “The other one called the wolf something. Sandra?”
“Nah.” Michaels shook his head. “It was like that old crappy clear-beer. Zima.”
“That’s right.” Gabriel nodded. “Zima.”
Michaels frowned as the name got a reaction out of everyone at the table. The most dramatic, however, came from the guy who’d been hiding behind the couch. He dropped the cat, scrambled down the hall on all fours, and dove under Laura’s bed. “Uh…” Before he could get anything out, Magda and Stephan were going after him. “Take it you guys have heard the name.”
“Sima…” Matthias nodded. “Is one seriously fucked up bitch.”
“Magda mentioned the name earlier.” Ted turned toward him. “She is the one responsible for Ash’s, er…” Ted sighed. “Condition.”
“Sima’s here?” Anna’s eyes widened. “Sima’s here.” She turned toward Matthias. “You have to kill her. You promised.”
“Nobody is killing anybody.” Michaels glared at him.
Laura’s voice suddenly became Erilon’s. “That’s a promise he should keep. I will happily assist.”
“Uh…” Michaels frowned. He really didn’t want to think about what Erilon taking a personal interest meant for what the guy cowering under Laura’s bed had gone through. “Okay. Objection withdrawn.”
“Not that uh…” Matthias shrugged. “I mind having back up, but aren’t you a demon? I mean, she’s evil, so why are you —”
“I highly suggest…” Erilon narrowed Laura’s eyes. “That you stop talking before you annoy me further. Do not presume you know what I am, or that you can fathom my nature. I am not one of those pathetic twisted cretins you ignorant fools mistake for demons.”
“Erilon is one of us.” Michaels nodded. “You want our help, you be polite to her.” He started to turn toward Gabriel, only to see the man get up and head in after Magda and Stephan. “Erilon, is the guy going to be alright?”
“That depends on how one defines the term. I think, Michaels, that you would feel the answer to the question is no.” She exhaled.
“Anything we can do to help?” He raised an eyebrow.
“They are already doing it.” She nodded, then the red glow left Laura’s eyes. “There isn’t anything under my bed that can get messed up by being there. I don’t mind if he needs to stay there a while.”
“Perhaps it would be better if they got a more reasonable place to stay than a campground.” Ted leaned forward, his arms folded on the table. “They can bring their campers up to my place. It’s private and some distance from town. The young man will not have to worry about strangers.”
Matthias sighed, then shook his head. “You folks really are the good guys here, aren’t you?”
Stephan looked up when Gabriel entered. “She did this to him?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Magda nodded. “Those wolves are also the reason Stephan needs a cane to talk. Sima shot him so I couldn’t chase her, or…” She looked down at her hands, and Stephan realized her claws were out. She took a deep breath, and made them retract.
Gabriel sat down next to the side of the bed. Underneath it, Ash was whimpering. “What did she do?”
“She tortured him, turned him…” Stephan sighed. “She treated him like a dog, and when he broke that’s uh…”
“How he copes.” Gabriel nodded. “Disassociation.” When Stephan gave him another look, Gabriel shrugged. “I’m a psychology major.”
“He trusted us, then he saw us…” Magda looked away.
“May I?” Gabriel nodded at the bed.
“If you think you can help, then…” Stephan nodded.
He glanced at the bed, then took a deep breath. His voice was calm when he spoke. “Your name is Bernard Rudolf Achterberg.” Beneath the bed, Ash’s whimpering slowed. “You are a cop, not a pet.” There was silence. “You are a person, not a dog.” Stephan heard Ash move a little. “Her name is Sima, not mistress.” Gabriel put his hand under the edge of the bed. “It was mercy.”
His throat caught when he saw Ash’s hand grab Gabriel’s. Gabriel repeated the words again. “Your name is Bernard Rudolf Achterberg. You are a cop, not a pet. You are a person, not a dog. Her name is Sima, not mistress. It was mercy.” By the time he got halfway through, Stephan heard Ash saying the words alongside him.
There was silence for a moment. Then Ash’s voice came from under the bed. “Was it?”
“Yes.” Gabriel squeezed his hand. “It was.”
Slowly, Ash crawled out from beneath the bed. He looked at Gabriel. “It was mercy.”
“It was mercy.” Gabriel nodded. “You are not a murderer.”
Ash bowed his head, and then Stephan saw him start crying again. This time, though, sounded different. When Magda put her arms around him, he clung to her, sobbing. “It was mercy.” He choked the words out.
“Yes.” Magda held him tightly.
Tears of his own threatened, and Stephan wiped them away with the back of his hand. He looked up at Gabriel. “Thank you.”
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” Gabriel stood. “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” He touched the back of Ash’s head. “Love never fails.” When Stephan raised an eyebrow. “First Corinthians, chapter 13, verses 4 through 8.”
He smiled a little. “Starting to think I’ve figured out why Anna calls you an angel.”