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CBATM: Outtakes and One Shots

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Faraday doesn't immediately notice when the two strangers wander up their driveway because he's locked in a battle of wills with Teddy.

"Okay, seriously? Seriously? Let it go. I can't throw the damn thing if you won't let me have it, kid. That's not how this works. Gimme it! Just gimme the damn Frisbee! Jesus!"

Teddy, because he's just as much of an asshole as the rest of his pack mates, chooses the exact moment when Faraday's mid-tug to finally release his grip on the toy, and the resulting absence of force from his direction sends Faraday catapulting onto his ass with a heavy thump. "Damnit, Teddy!" He barks, having landed mere inches away from a set of thorny looking bushes. "Think you're funny, do you?"

Not at all chastised, Teddy dances back and forth in front of him, yapping happily, and from off to the side comes a distinctive wolfish snicker - indicating Alejandro is enjoying the show.

Craning his neck around, Faraday glares at the older were. "Laugh all you want, fuzzball," he says darkly, "but I suggest you remember that I have more ways to get revenge on you than I do him."

From where he's lying sprawled on his side in the sun, Alejandro thumps his tail a few times and endeavours to look innocent. Faraday doesn't buy it for a second, and is about to tell him so when someone clears their throat in front of him.

"Huh?" Surprised, Faraday turns back around and finds they have unexpected company in the form of an older man and a woman about his own age. "Uh, can I help you?"

He looks around for a vehicle and his confusion only grows when he fails to spot one. They're far enough off the beaten track that no one would walk here by accident, and these two look more than a little lost.

"I hope so," the man says. He points back behind him, possibly to indicate the direction from which he and his companion had come. "We found ourselves breaking down about a mile away and both our cellphones chose a terrible time to die. Any chance you could help us call for a tow?"

"Uh, sure," Faraday says, only belatedly realizing he's still sitting on the ground. Blushing, he scrambles to his feet. "There're plenty of phones down at the house. I'm sure we can get you folks sorted out." He gestures with one hand, but neither of their visitors makes a move to follow him.

"Sorry," the woman says when he raises an eyebrow at them. "It's just - are the dogs friendly?"

Faraday blinks and then can't quite hold back a laugh. "You mean these two?" He asks, encapsulating both Teddy and Alejandro with a wave of his hand. "They're harmless, not a mean bone in their bodies. Hush, you," he adds when Alejandro makes an affronted noise behind him.

 The man looks satisfied with Faraday's assurance, but he thinks the woman isn't convinced. Still, that's not his problem, so he shrugs and starts heading for the house, moving slow enough at first that the newcomers can catch up and fall into step beside him. "You folks from around here?" He asks in a weak attempt to make conversation.

The man shakes his head. "No, we're in town visiting my sister, or we're supposed to be that is. The car trouble's made us a little late, I'm afraid. I'm Thomas, by the way, and this is my daughter, Rosemary."

"Joshua," Faraday replies, tipping his head at them. He's not surprised to hear the two are related. There's a family resemblance now that he knows to look for it.

Thomas grins a little, "And what are your furry friends called?"

"Hmm? Oh." Faraday glances as back at where Teddy is now happily shredding his Frisbee into bite sized pieces - there went the third one this month - and notes that Alejandro has decided to follow them, slinking up close until he can nose at Faraday's arm, clearly seeking attention. "The young fella's called Teddy, and this big brute is Alejandro."

"He's gorgeous," Thomas acknowledges, nodding at Alejandro. "Though, if you don't mind my saying, that's a hell of a name for a dog."

Alejandro pulls up short to give Thomas the wolf equivalent of a glare, and Faraday bites back the urge to groan. Enough time in the pack's company always makes it clear they're not normal dogs, which is fine if it's someone they trust, and an entirely different story when it's a complete stranger. In an effort to subtly remind Alejandro of this, Faraday reaches back and tweaks one of his ears, earning himself the barest graze of teeth over his fingers for his troubles. "Jackass," Faraday says fondly, pulling away before Alejandro can nip him again.

Rosemary shudders from where she's watching the exchange with a wary frown. "No offence, but I wouldn’t want any part of me near that thing's mouth."

Her father gives her an embarrassed look. "How about you try not to insult the man who's doing us a huge favour, Rosie? Or his dog for that matter?"

"Sorry," Rosemary mumbles, her face flushing.

Faraday, who had in fact been about to protest Alejandro being referred to as a 'thing', deigns to accept her apology. "S'all good," he says. "Though you’re doin’ him a disservice. He wouldn’t hurt anyone unless provoked."

They've reached the house by this point, and Emma chooses now to materialize through the front door as if she's been summoned - or, as is more likely, as if she's been watching them approach through the living room window. "Who're your friends, Joshua?"

"Just a couple of lost travellers," he tells her, indicating Thomas and Rosemary with a wave of his hand. "They need a phone to call a tow truck."

"What, they couldn't get cell service?" She asks, and Faraday rolls his eyes. Some days paranoia and Emma went hand and hand.

"Obviously not," he replies, "and they need the number to call too. Just let 'em use the landline."

"Fine," she grumbles. She turns around and heads back inside the house. "It's this way." She calls over her shoulder.

"Right, thanks." Thomas says, hurrying after her. "You coming, Rosie?"

"I think I'll wait outside, thanks." She decides.

Faraday's a little surprised - if dogs make her uncomfortable, why stay out where there's one Alejandro’s size right by her feet - but doesn't comment, choosing instead to settle himself down on the porch steps and stretch his right leg out in front of him. It has a tendency to act up if he stays on it for too long, so he may as well treat it right while he's got nothing else to do.

Cautiously, Rosemary settles herself down beside him. "Your, uh, wife doesn't much look like she wants company."

Faraday lets out a choking noise against his will, one that Alejandro echoes from where's he's down on the ground and investigating something in Emma's flower garden. "My what?" He asks. "Lady, have you got the wrong idea."

"Oh, sorry," Rosemary says, clearly flustered. "I just assumed - she was wearing a wedding ring and everything."

"Well, I didn't give it to her." Faraday says sharply, more sharply than he'd intended to be honest. He's not about tell this woman he barely knows that Emma'd lost her husband little more than a year ago, but nor is he about to be confused for having entered into marital bliss with her either. "I assure you, Emma and I are certainly not together."

"Oh," Rosemary says again, less flustered and more ... something Faraday can't place. "But you live here too?"

Personal questions much, lady? Faraday thinks but doesn't say aloud. He shrugs instead. "We're cousins," he lies. "I got hurt at work a few months back, and she let me stay here while I was recoverin’."

Alejandro snorts from somewhere in the depths of Emma's sunflowers. Faraday has no idea what he might have found to interest himself in there, and distantly hopes whatever it is isn't alive.

 "That was nice of her," Rosemary says, apparently determined to make polite if inane conversation until the end. "Are the dogs hers, then, or yours?"

Faraday shrugs. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Alejandro re-emerge from the garden, thankfully without anything in his mouth. "Depends on which dog you mean."

"So one belongs to you, and one belongs to her?"

Faraday gives her a sharp grin. "That would work if there were only two dogs."

Rosemary's eyebrows go up. "There are more of them?" She asks, not sounding happy about the prospect.

"There are more of them," Faraday admits, gleefully pleased as he does so. "Wanna guess how many in total?"

"Four." She suggests, and Faraday has the sense she thinks she’s going to one-up him with this.

He snorts in return. "Not even close."

"You're kidding." Her eyebrows now verging on connecting with her hairline, Rosemary shakes her head and looks around suspiciously, as if she’s half expecting to be jumped by rabid animals at any moment. "How many, then?"

"Eight." He says, and laughs when her eyes go wide.

"That is too many dogs." She says firmly, even though now she's laughing too. "Especially if they're all as big as this one." She adds, pointing a finger at Alejandro.

"They run the gamut, actually. You've seen the smallest and largest." Distantly, he notes that Teddy has vanished from his earlier position. Hopefully, wherever he is, he’s behaving himself.

Rosemary laughs again. Shuffling a little closer to him, she gives him a grin. "You still haven't answered my first question. Are any of them yours?"

Wishing he could move back a bit, but prevented from doing so by the porch railing, Faraday racks his brain for a suitable answer that won't have him sleeping on the couch tonight. "Well, I mean," he stutters. "It's such a complicated thing - dog ownership. Can any of us really say we own - Jesus fuck!"

He lets out a whoop as Alejandro scrambles up from somewhere and tries to bodily squirm into his lap. "What in hell's name?" He starts, groaning when a heavy paw digs into his kidneys. "Shove off, would you?"

"Thinks he's a lapdog, does he?" Rosemary asks, and for some reason she gives Alejandro a dirty look, even though he’s not touching her.

"Not usually," Faraday grits out, paying only a little attention to her because he's busy trying without success to wrestle Alejandro off him. He's used to Red and Teddy climbing all over him at the drop of a hat, but Alejandro doesn't do this and he weighs more than they do to boot.

Finally, with enough pushing and tugging, Faraday gets him mostly down, though he's still got his muzzle resting in Faraday's lap, big brown eyes looking up at him balefully. "S'matter, handsome?" Faraday asks, scratching gently behind his ears. "Somethin' got your back up?"

Alejandro makes a contented rumbling noise as Faraday keeps up his ministrations, and then casually flicks an ear in Rosemary's direction. It's a subtle gesture, one nobody who didn't know what he was would even think twice about, but Faraday can read it just fine. Apparently Alejandro wants their company to go away now.

Faraday glances over at Rosemary, who really is sitting too close for his comfort, and also seems to be gearing herself up for something.

"Will he let me pet him?" She asks, raising a tentative hand.

It's on the tip of his tongue to give her an affirmative, simply because he's used to the pack accepting pats and scratches and rubs like it's their due, so he's surprised to say the least when Alejandro's ears go flat and he lets out a short growl that nevertheless makes it clear he's going to bite if she tries to touch him.

"Hey!" Faraday snaps, startled. He grabs Alejandro by the scruff of his neck and shakes him. "What's with the attitude, big guy? Sorry," he adds, giving Rosemary an apologetic shrug before turning back to peer at Alejandro in confusion. "This is not normal behaviour for him."

Rosemary pulls her hand back like it's been burned and then scoots away across the steps for added measure. "Well," she says tightly, "I've heard that dogs can get jealous when their people don't pay enough attention to them. Maybe he doesn't like you talking to me."

Or maybe he doesn't like you talking to me, Faraday thinks as a belated lightbulb goes off in his head. He turns an incredulous state on Alejandro, who doesn't even have the grace to look ashamed.

You idiot, Faraday thinks fondly, leaning forward for a few seconds so he can bury his face in Alejandro's thick coat. "You're ridiculous, sweetheart" he says, hoping the fur is enough to muffle his words and keep Rosemary from understanding them.

Not bothered in the slightest, Alejandro pulls back from his grasp and climbs nimbly up the steps to where he can plant himself between Faraday and Rosemary, the entirety of his bulk providing a solid barrier that neither of them can get around. Since he has no desire to do so anyway, Faraday doesn't care, but Rosemary's resulting pout makes it clear she'd rather Alejandro was anywhere else right now.

"Let me guess," she says tartly, “this one is yours."

"He's mine and I'm his," Faraday chuckles, ruffling Alejandro's fur. "Even if he is dumb as a brick sometimes," he adds pointedly.

Alejandro nudges at him with one front paw, an obvious demand for Faraday to keep doing what he's doing, and then has the audacity to flick his tail up and catch Rosemary in the face with it.

"He's also somethin' of an unrepentant asshole," Faraday acknowledges when he sees this happen.

Rosemary gives him an unimpressed look as she climbs down off the porch. "I can see that. I think I'll give him some space."

Faraday shrugs and doesn't try to stop her. "Not a dog person, are you?" He asks as she goes.

"I prefer cats." She admits, and Alejandro lets out a dismissive snort, as if to show how not surprised he is to hear this.

"Well, you won't find any of those around here," a voice says. Emma raises an eyebrow when they all move to look at her. "Well, you won't," she says again. She holds the door open, allowing Thomas to follow her through it.

"The tow truck's been called," he tells his daughter, "and Emma here's been kind enough to offer us a ride back to the car. I figure we may as well head out now."

Rosemary wrinkles her nose. "How long of a wait are we talking about here?"

"I have no idea," he admits, "but I don't want to risk it showing up and us not being there so we should get going."

Emma shakes a set of keys Faraday hadn't realized she was holding, and points to where her car is sitting in the driveway. "That one's mine, and unless you want one of the dogs trying to climb in over you when they realize someone's going for a drive, we should get moving."

She and Thomas carefully make their way down the stairs - the care necessitated by the roadblock Alejandro is currently acting as - and onto the lawn. "I swear to god, I've never seen a bigger dog in all my life," Thomas says. "Oh, but you're a handsome fella," he adds, bending down and burying both his hands in Alejandro's fur before anyone can stop him. "That you are."

"Dad, don't!" Rosemary protests, but there's no need for it. Alejandro, the utter bastard that he is, takes the impromptu belly rub as his due, and his tongue lolls out of his mouth as he preens under the attention.

Thomas looks over at his daughter. "Something wrong, Rosie?" He asks.

Safely out of the old man's line of sight, Alejandro gives Rosemary a mocking look that's easy enough to decipher despite it being on a canine face, and Rosemary, her hand raised to pull her father back out of Alejandro's reach, slowly lowers the appendage in question. "No, nothing," she says after the silence has stretched on a moment too long. "I just didn't think he was overly friendly."

"Who, Alejandro?" Emma asks. She's jiggling her keys back and forth in her hands, obviously anxious to get going. "He's probably the friendliest one here, except maybe Goody, who you haven't met. Absolutely loves people."

"Huh," says Rosemary, and Faraday doesn't think he's imagining that she looks a little offended. "You could have fooled me."

"Rosie doesn't really get on with dogs." Thomas explains when Emma looks confused.

"Liking dogs isn't a requirement to go through life with." Rosemary says firmly.

"It is around here," Faraday shoots back. He still has one arm curled around Alejandro in a deliberate move to make his position known, and Rosemary gives him an expression that's much frostier than her previous ones.

"Some people have no taste," she says.                                                              

"And on that note." Thomas yanks his hands away from Alejandro's coat and nods at her. "We should head out before Emma decides she'd rather see us walking back to the car. Joshua," he adds, giving Faraday a friendly nod, "thanks for your help."

Faraday nods in return and watches as the three of them climb into the car and drive off. He keeps his eyes on the bend in the road where the car could last be seen, even as he feels fur receding under his touch. "You," he says smugly, "just made a jealous ass of yourself."

"Did not," Alejandro mutters. His voice comes out in a gravelly register, like it always does when he's recently shifted, and he rubs his cheek against Faraday's thigh where his head is still pillowed in his lap.

"Did too." Faraday replies, not bothering to hold back his laughter. He idly brings up a hand and lets his fingers trail through Alejandro’s hair, catching on the dark curls as they go. “And you weren’t subtle about it.”

Alejandro lets out a contented humming noise, but otherwise doesn’t react.

“You’re going to fall if you keep lying on the stairs like this,” Faraday says then, noting how Alejandro’s position has gotten more precarious now that he’s a different shape than he was before.

“You’ll catch me before that happens.” Alejandro determines.

“Are you sure about that?” Faraday asks. “What if Rosemary comes back and whisks me away?”

Alejandro looks up at this, both of his eyes narrowed dangerously. “If she comes back, I will bite her for real.”

“Not nice, sweetheart.” Faraday chides, poking him lightly on the forehead. “She didn’t do anythin’ wrong.”

“She was practically in your lap!”

Faraday huffs out a laugh and pokes him again. “Pretty sure that was you, big guy. Hell, I’m pretty sure that’s still you.”

Alejandro makes a face at him. “Yes, but that’s me. I am allowed be here. Strange women are not.”

“Well, I do know what one I prefer.” Faraday says, and then he falls silent, waiting for the inevitable response.

It doesn’t take long, as Alejandro lasts all of five seconds before he reaches up and prods Faraday in the solar plexus with a bony finger. “You prefer me, yes?” When Faraday doesn’t answer, he jabs him again. “Joshua!”

Faraday wheezes a little – the second poke had been fairly sharp – and catches Alejandro’s hand before he can repeat himself a third time. “Yes, yes, of course I prefer you, even when you’re tryin’ to crush me to death as a fuckin’ dog.” He says, and brings the captured hand to his mouth so he can drop a kiss on the back of it for added measure.

“You were not being crushed,” Alejandro says mulishly. He wriggles around until he can get into a more comfortable position, and then settles back with a sigh.

Equally content to lie back in the lazy afternoon sun, Faraday doesn’t say anything.

Chapter Text

They're about halfway through January when Teddy comes down with the flu. Personally, Faraday doesn't think anything of it, figuring that bugs like this are a fact of life and that Teddy will bounce back after a few days, good as new and practically none the worse for wear.

"I'm afraid you don't understand, Joshua." Goodnight tells him the morning after Teddy has woken up pale-faced and snuffling, with a hacking cough that sends his whole body shaking every time it comes loose. "I mean, you're right, Teddy will be fine, but he's going to be miserable in the interim. We don't get sick very often, hardly at all really, and because of that we're, well, bad at it."

Faraday blinks and watches as the older man stirs the soup pot in front of him. "You're bad at it." He repeats, wondering what in hell's name that's supposed to mean. How can a person be bad at being sick?

When Faraday asks him as much, Goodnight shrugs and shakes his head. "You'll see." He promises in an ominous tone. "Especially if Red picks it up too, which he likely will since they share a room."

"I imagine Red can handle a little flu bug." Faraday decides, and then he resolves not to think much more on it. Anyone who gets sick will get sick. They live in close enough quarters that they've all no doubt been exposed to whatever it is Teddy's picked up, and if anyone else goes down they'll just have to deal with it.

"You say that now," Goodnight warns, "but you've never had to deal with a sick werewolf. We can be, shall we say, somewhat obnoxious."

Faraday snorts. "You say that like you're not that way already."

Goodnight doesn't respond, and in hindsight Faraday figures that was probably his first warning sign.

*****

As it happens, Red doesn't get sick. He sails through the whole mess with his usual taciturn grace, the only indication he finds anything amiss with the situation being the way he stops picking fights with Teddy for the duration of the younger were's illness. Likewise, none of those who appoint themselves automatic caregivers - in this case, Goodnight, Jack and Emma - pick up so much as a sniffle.

"Honestly," Faraday remarks as he wanders into the bedroom a few nights after Teddy had first started sniffling, "I don't see what all the fuss is about. So the kid picked a cold, who hasn't done that before?"

Closing the door behind him, he notes how Alejandro is already burrowed under the covers of their bed and then keeps talking. "I mean," he says dismissively, "I can safely say I've come down with the odd flu in my time, and I survived without needin' to be waited on hand and foot. Christ, I'm pretty sure Goodnight tried to spoon feed the kid at one point, who does that?"

 Alejandro's sole response is to pull the blankets up over his head, obscuring his body completely, and Faraday frowns from where he's just kicked off his jeans and is in the process of changing into a pair of flannel pajama pants. There's a chill in the air that necessitates sleeping in more than his underwear, but Alejandro's taking things a little too far if his newly formed cocoon is any indication.

Crossing over to the bed, he pulls the covers back just enough to meet the glare Alejandro levels his way. "What's the matter with you?"

In response, Alejandro sneezes.

*****

"I am dying."

"You're not dyin'," Faraday sighs. He's pretty sure he's had to utter that phrase no less than three dozen times since finding out Alejandro had inherited Teddy's flu the night before.

Alejandro huddles even further into his blanket nest and sniffles pathetically. "Yes, I am," he groans, the words coming out all mumbled thanks to his clogged nose and throat, “and it's not fair. I had so much life left to live. Why couldn't this thing have taken Sam instead? He's old."

"I'll be sure to tell him so." Faraday promises. He pats Alejandro's shoulder as best he can through the layers of blankets. "Are you sure you don't want some of the soup Goodnight made? It's freshly done."

"I'll just throw it back up. Again." And hadn't that been a fun trip. Faraday's never been gladder to have the one bedroom in the house with a bathroom attached, since it meant Alejandro had barely had to go anywhere to empty his guts into the toilet.

"Okay," Faraday agrees, patting him some more, "no soup, but you're drinking some of the water I brought."

"Don't want it," comes the sullen reply.

"Pity for you it wasn't a request." Faraday informs him. He shifts his hand, doing what he can to wrangle Alejandro into an upright position. "Come on, sweetheart. You're goin' to get dehydrated if you keep this up."

"So, I'll be thirsty when I die, so what?" Alejandro makes a weak show of resisting Faraday, but in the end settles back against the pillows in a position that's at least slightly more vertical than horizontal.

"There we go," Faraday says. Reaching back, he grabs the glass of water in question and offers Alejandro both it and a bottle of Tylenol. "I want you to take some of these too."

"Won't do any good, they don't work on us."

Faraday sighs and shakes the bottle at him. "Humor me, please. You've got a hell of a fever kickin' up right now, and every little bit helps."

Alejandro sighs, but inevitably deigns to accept both the water and the medicine so Faraday feels justified in considering it a win for him. Then, once this is over and done with, he helps Alejandro settle back down and starts trying to arrange the blankets into some semblance of order - a Herculean task if ever there was one thanks to the way Alejandro has them all pulled into a solid, tangled mass.

"Seriously?" Faraday asks as he yanks at a blanket that is somehow wrapped at least twice around Alejandro and also over one of the bed posts at the same time. "Sweetheart, the flu isn't gonna kill you, but you stranglin' yourself might. How did you manage this?"

Alejandro's only response is another one of the ridiculous groans he's been using to communicate throughout most of the morning, and Faraday has to fight the urge to roll his eyes. "Alright," he says instead. He eyes the blankets critically, but figures they're as good as they're going to get, especially since Alejandro is already rolling back onto his side like he keeps trying to do.

"You can't breathe like that, sweetheart," Faraday says when he notices this. "Stay on your back, why don't you?"

"I can't breathe period." Alejandro snaps, something Faraday suspects he immediately regrets when it results in another coughing fit. "And I can't sleep on my back," he adds once the coughing has subsided, “I hate it.”

As it happens, this is true. Alejandro can sleep just fine on his side or even his stomach, but roll him onto his back and he's going to bitch to the high heavens about how he can't get comfortable. In the months they've been together, Faraday's learned to let him do what he wants and not comment on it. Except today, with the way it's making matters worse, that’s not so easy.

Still, Faraday knows when he's beat. Letting out a sigh, he raises his hands in surrender, and doesn't protest when Alejandro flops onto his stomach and immediately starts hacking again. "Oh, darlin'," he says quietly, and runs a hand through Alejandro's sweat dampened hair. He briefly rests the back of his hand against the man's forehead, not liking the way the skin there burns at his touch. "You really are miserable, aren't you?"

Alejandro's answering whine isn't necessary, but it serves to prove Faraday's point nevertheless.

"Okay," Faraday says then, "you try and get some rest, and I'll come check on you in a little while."

Alejandro's eyes, which had fluttered closed while Faraday had been petting his hair, snap open. "You're leaving me?" He asks, giving Faraday the most pitiful look imaginable.

"It's the middle of the day." Faraday reminds him. "I can't waste it all lying around in bed when I'm not sick."

"You do not have anything to do today," Alejandro protests, "and I'm dying."

"Oh for the love of - you are not dyin'," Faraday groans. "You have a cold, a bad one, yes. I might even go so far as to classify it as a full on flu, but we ain't livin' in the eighteenth century here and otherwise healthy people don't die of the flu. Stop bein' such a baby."

Alejandro makes a noise that's distressingly close to a whimper, and Faraday curses whatever cosmic entity it was who'd seen fit to put them in the same bar at the same time all those months ago. He also curses his own weak will.

"Fine, alright!" He throws his hands up to fully concede the win. "I'll stay with you, but if you get me sick, you'd better damn well wait on me hand and foot while I suffer. I will accept nothin’ less."

Alejandro doesn't respond, and Faraday wonders if this means he's reconsidering his position. Standing he takes a couple steps away from the bed, making it barely nowhere at all before Alejandro makes a grab for him with one sweaty hand. "I'm just gonna take the soup downstairs." He says, cutting off whatever complaint Alejandro is about to make. "If it gets put back in the fridge now it won't go to waste. I'll be right back."

"You better be." Alejandro mutters darkly, and immediately stuffs his exposed arm back beneath the bedding. Faraday gets a hold of the soup, the empty glass and all the other utensils that had come with them, and heads for the door. He has to fumble it open with his elbow, which is no small feat, and is just clearing the threshold when Alejandro raises his head up off the pillow. "Bring more blankets when you come back. I am freezing."

"You're a lot of things." Faraday shoots back, but Alejandro's already got his head down again and he's not sure he hears him. Grumbling to himself, Faraday makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen, thankfully without spilling or dropping anything.

"That bowl still looks awfully full." Goodnight says when he spots it. He's bent over the stove, and Faraday idly wonders if he's stopped cooking at any point since Teddy had first gotten sick.

"He won't eat it." Faraday tells him. "Says his stomach is still too cranky."

Goodnight clucks his tongue disapprovingly, but comes over to relieve Faraday of his burden regardless. "He's worse than young Theodore was if that's the case," he says as he carries it to the counter and starts rooting around for something to cover it with. "At least he didn't stop eating entirely."

"Yeah, well." Faraday scrubs a tired hand over his face and flops down into one of the kitchen chairs, determined to catch a breather while he has the chance. "If he tells me he's dyin' one more time, I might just make it happen."

Goodnight chuckles, "Oh, have some pity, Joshua. I did warn you that we don't handle being sick well. Honestly, you should have seen Billy the last time he was feeling a little off kilter. It was years ago, mind you, but he wasn't exactly gracious about it."

"What'd he do, actually express an emotion?"

"Several, if you must know," Goodnight confirms, "and none of them pleasant."

"Great. That’s just what I wanted to hear." Faraday sighs, and moves to get up even though he doesn't much feel like it. "Well, on that note, his imperial highness has requested both more blankets and my presence. I imagine I should go give them to him."

"It might make him more pleasant if you cater to him." Goodnight agrees, laughing at Faraday because he's just as much of a jackass as the rest of them, no matter what he likes to pretend. For his part, Faraday gives him a one finger salute as he leaves the kitchen and doesn't bother with a verbal response.

The living room is surprisingly empty when he takes a peek inside, and he uses the opportunity to swipe the two knit blankets from the back of the couch while nobody's watching. Glancing around furtively, lest someone pop out of the woodwork and catch him with his purloined woollen goods, he heads for the stairs as soon as he's determined the coast to be clear.

Alejandro's quiet when Faraday gets back to their room, and he has a brief, shining moment of hope that the man's drifted off to sleep in his absence, only to have it shatter when Alejandro arches his back and enters into a raucous coughing fit. Dropping the blankets on the floor by the bed, Faraday sits down beside him and rubs a hand in soothing circles over his back until it subsides. "Hey," he says softly, "hey, it's okay. Just ride it out, sweetheart. It'll pass soon enough."

"Ugh." Alejandro says succinctly, and Faraday has to hold back a laugh.

"Yep, ugh pretty much sums it up, big guy. You sure you don't want me to leave you alone?" Alejandro lets out an unimpressed noise, and paws weakly at him with a hand he drags free of the bedding. "Right, I'm going to translate that as 'If you abandon me, I will make your life a living hell as soon as I can walk again'. Duly noted."

He pats Alejandro's back one last time, and then reaches down to grab the extra blankets where he's dumped them on the floor. "I don't know how it's gonna help when you've already got about six of the things coverin' you, but I brought you some more blankets like you asked for. Maybe you can sweat your fever out."

Alejandro's quiet while Faraday straightens the blankets for the umpteenth time and adds the two new ones, but he gets huffy the second Faraday settles down next him on top of all the covers. "No." he whines, rolling over so that he can face Faraday and shove at him with one hand. "Under."

"What? Not a chance," Faraday scoffs. "Even ignorin' the solid chance of me suffocatin' to death in that mess, you're a furnace all on your own right now. I'm good like this, thanks."

"Joshuaaa."

"No." Faraday says, and he wishes like hell that he couldn't already feel his resolve crumbling. He doesn't know when he became an utter pushover, but he hopes no one else has clued in yet.

Alejandro opens his mouth, and whether it's to form actual words or just make unhappy noises Faraday doesn't know, but he gets ahead of him anyway. "Okay, okay, you win. I will sweat to death with you in your little blanket horde here. Gimme a minute."

"Thought you said I wasn't dying." Alejandro mutters as Faraday stands and begins stripping down to his underwear. He may have needed pajamas last night, but he won't now thanks to the setup Alejandro has going on today.

"I said you're not dying from the flu." Faraday says loftily. "Suffocation is somethin’ else entirely, as is heatstroke."

Sliding under the covers goes pretty much as he’s expecting, and it takes approximately 0.2 seconds for him to start overheating, something that gets all the more worse when Alejandro worms his way over and sprawls on top of him with a tired huff. “You cannot possibly be comfortable like this.” Faraday grumbles.

“More comfortable than I was before.” Alejandro mumbles with his face mashed into Faraday’s shoulder.

This time when Faraday’s face heats it has nothing to do with the number of blankets he’s under. “You,” he says dropping a kiss onto Alejandro’s temple, “are a dirty cheat. Don’t think I don’t know when I’m being manipulated.”

In response, Alejandro burrows closer still. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he mumbles, hacking a little as he tries to get comfortable.

“Sure, you don’t.” Faraday murmurs back. Ignoring the temperature, he hooks his arm around Alejandro’s body, fingers trailing over his skin in haphazard patterns, and lets him settle however he pleases. “You’re lucky you’re cute,” he adds, pressing a kiss to the man’s hair.

Alejandro snuffles a little, but otherwise succeeds in not hacking up any more internal organs all over the place. “I feel like death.” He grumbles after a few minutes have passed.

“I know, sweetheart.” Faraday says. “But it’ll pass after only a few days. Teddy’s already back on his feet.”

“Fucking, Teddy.” Alejandro groans. “Fucking brat did this to me. Killed me.”

“Annnd just when I thought you were gettin’ rational again, you go and say somethin’ like that.” Faraday shakes his head. “Teddy’s not out to murder you, you lunatic.”

“Prove it.”

“Uh, no.” Faraday decides. “No, I will not be doin’ that. The reason bein’ I am only so willin’ to humor you when you’re talkin’ crazy. However,” he adds before Alejandro can start complaining again, “I’m still pretty darn willin’ to humor you in general. Hence why I’m lyin’ hear sweatin’ to death right now.”

Alejandro’s quiet for a long enough that Faraday thinks he might have finally fallen asleep. Then he speaks again. “I suppose this is not so bad if you’re here.”

Faraday is about ninety percent certain he’s being manipulated into not moving, but he’s one hundred percent certain he doesn’t care. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.” He promises. “Even if you act like a brat the entire time you’re sick.” He adds because, when you get down to it, the reason he fits in so well with the pack is that he’s just as terrible as they are. “I’ll stay.”

Alejandro huffs out a yawn that hopefully signifies he’s going to fall asleep soon. “Gonna get you for that when I can move again.” He mumbles into Faraday’s chest.

Unconcerned, Faraday ruffles his hair gently, and presses a kiss to his temple. “We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

When Sam tries to touch Faraday’s prone form, he very nearly loses his arm below the wrist to Vasquez’s teeth.

“No, don't!” Goodnight shouts. He darts forward, but instead of trying to pull Vasquez back, it’s Sam he reaches for. “Don’t touch him! Vasquez is reacting on instinct right now. He’s as liable to tear your throat out as he is to let you help. Get back!”

“He’s right.” Jack puts in. The three of them are the only members of the pack currently in human shape. Everyone else is still milling about with their fur on, too rattled and confused by the night’s events to make the change. “He might very well kill you if you make the wrong move.”

Sam shakes free of Goodnight’s grasp and glares around the room. “So, what, you’re suggesting we let Faraday bleed out on the floor? I don’t see how that’s a decent option.”

Jack glances past Sam and over to where Faraday is lying slumped on the kitchen floor, his breathing erratic as Vasquez paces nervously back and forth in front of him. Every once in a while Vasquez will pause to nuzzle at the side of Faraday’s face, but otherwise he’s an agitated mass of fur and sinew as he pads along the same short path over and over again. Sucking a breath in through his teeth at the sight, Jack turns back to Sam.

“Faraday’s not going to bleed out – Vasquez already took care of that problem,” and wasn’t that a way to describe the gaping throat wound Faraday had suffered at the hands of a pack trying to invade their territory, “it’s whether or not the bite is going to take that we have to worry about, and there’s nothing we can do to better the odds for that.”

Sam looks like he’s going to protest again, but he didn’t become the leader of their little ragtag family of misfits by being an idiot. Jack’s the only member of the pack who’d ever turned someone prior to tonight, having done it at his late wife’s request early on in their marriage, and Sam knows to defer to him in this matter. This is why he meets the other were’s gaze levelly and then nods slowly.

“Fine.” He says gruffly. “What do we do?”

“We get out of the way.” Jack tells him. He looks at the remainder of the pack, who’re clustered together as far away from Faraday and Vasquez as they can get while still being in the same room as the pair, letting his gaze fall on each of them in turn. “We can’t help, but we might make things worse without meaning to. We should let them be.”

He gives Vasquez and Faraday one final look, hoping against hope that it won’t be the last time he sees Faraday alive, and then starts herding everyone else out of the room. “Come on, and the last one out should shut the door.”

*****

Vasquez is distantly aware of it when the rest of the pack filter out of the room, with Sam closing the door behind him, but the bulk of his attention remains focused on Joshua and the faint pulse of his weakly beating heart. Whining low in his throat, he licks at Joshua’s cheek, his paws shifting as he fights to hold himself still. The urge to prowl the confines of the room is strong, and he’s having a harder time than usual keeping the wolf’s instincts from overwhelming him.

Pulling back enough that he can smell something other than the rich scent of Joshua’s blood spilled all over the floor where he’d fallen, he orients himself as best as he can and tries to think of something to do, some way to help. Unfirtunately, all he gets is a sudden vision from when he was a boy of his mother describing what it’s like to watch someone turn.

“The thing of it is, mijo, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. The bite will take no matter what, but the body has to fight to survive the first change. Not everyone can do that.”

Shaking his head, Vasquez banishes that memory back to the depths from which it had come. He doesn't need old wives tales now, not unless they're going to miraculously provide him with information worth listening to, which this one isn't. Joshua will shift, he knows this, it's what's going to happen after that could be a problem.

Telling himself enough is enough, he gets a grip on himself and forces his body to settle. He lies down as close to Joshua as he dares, determined to keep watch until the first shift starts. 

After that. Well. After that, they'll just have to see.

*****

Joshua makes a beautiful wolf. His fur is lush and thick, coloured a deep auburn, not unlike his hair when he's human, and he's big, bigger than Vasquez himself, maybe even bigger than Jack, solid through and through with the kind of coiled strength that instantly marks him as an apex predator. If it weren't for the way Vasquez can hear his body struggling to survive the toll this first change has placed on it, he'd be overjoyed.

There's nothing for Vasquez to be joyful about yet, though. No, if anything he's panic stricken, up on his feet again and pacing back and forth within the confines of the kitchen, whining low in his throat whenever Joshua shudders, like he has been off and on since the shift had occurred. 

He thinks the shuddering is starting to happen less often. If it is, he hopes it's a good sign.

Not knowing what else to do, but unable to stray far from Joshua's prone form, Vasquez drops down beside him, angling his body so that they're lying flank to flank. Tentatively, he leans over and licks a stripe over the other were's muzzle, the wolf instincts temporarily overriding his human hindbrain as he tries and fails to stay calm.  Whining again, he continues with the licking, nuzzling at Joshua's face for good measure, and doing away with some of the blood that had stained his body at the time of the initial injury.

Joshua lets out a faint, pained noise and Vasquez feels his heart clench in response. He nudges Joshua gently, rumbling low in his chest to let him know he's not alone. Against his will he thinks about how dying alone is one of Joshua's greatest fears, and strengthens his resolve to stay right where he is.

He loses track of time eventually, and slips into a state that's not quite asleep but certainly isn't awake either. All he knows is that Joshua is pressed up beside him, a warm anchoring weight, one that's still alive, still with him as each minute ticks by.

At one point he thinks someone tries to come into the room, Emma perhaps, but Vasquez's ensuing growl sends whoever it is skittering back outside. Whatever happens tonight, he decides as he turns to bury his face in Joshua's fur, is their's and their's alone. The others have no part in it. He knows this instinctively.

Much to his chagrin, Vasquez does drift off to sleep at some point. It's more of a light doze than anything, it certainly isn't restful, but it is sleep nevertheless.

He's woken up by a cold nose pressing against his cheek. Blinking, he pulls away from the touch, and the resulting distance is such that he can see Joshua - alive, awake and alert - staring back at him. As he watches, Joshua cocks his head at him, his expression easy to read for all that it's on a body he's never worn before tonight, and thumps a heavy tail a few times on the kitchen floor.

Scrambling onto his feet - paws, whatever - Vasquez stares at him. He whines, the sound torn out of him before he can stop it, and Joshua makes a rumbling noise back at him, one that sounds more confused than anything else. Realizing that he can't help lessen that confusion with the shape he's in, Vasquez begins to shift back to human.

Joshua watches the process thoughtfully, where normally he'd turn away. He keeps his attention focused on Vasquez, and yips sharply once he's finished.

Dropping down onto his knees beside him, Vasquez takes Joshua's face in his hands, and peers at him worriedly. The reddish coloured fur is soft beneath trembling fingertips, and he gazes back at Vasquez levelly, his eyes, still as green as ever, and unblinking.

"You alright, carino?" Vasquez asks tentatively. His voice sounds rough to his own ears. There's a ragged edge to it that he doesn't think is usually there, like he's been doing an even poorer job of holding himself together than he'd realized.

Joshua continues to stare at him for a little longer, until he gives a full body motion that Vasquez thinks is supposed to be a shrug, or possibly a nod. He thumps his tail on the floorboards again, and wriggles his front paws, like he's testing out the feel of them.

"It's good to see you awake." Vasquez murmurs while he watches this. Unable to help himself, he slinks forward and buries his face in the hollow of Joshua's throat, inhaling deeply. He'd been so scared when they'd arrived home to find the man slumped on the floor, blood staining his fingers where he'd tried to use them to hold together the ruin of his throat.

Vasquez had never had the urge to turn someone until that moment. Yet finding Joshua like that, obviously mere moments from death, had been enough to send him skidding forward with his canines already extended. He'd only paused for the briefest of seconds, just long enough to meet Joshua's gaze and see if what he was about to do was permitted. Joshua, possibly because he'd known he was dying or maybe for some other reason entirely, had nodded once, enough that Vasquez had taken it for the permission he needed and sunk his teeth into the meat of his thigh.

He hadn't been sure it would work. Even when the other party wasn't suffering from a life threatening injury there was no guarantee the bite wouldn't kill them, and Joshua had been worse off than most. After he'd managed to complete a full change, he still hadn't been nearly out of the woods. Instead, his body had sprawled across the floor, his sides heaving and heart pounding as it struggled to handle what had been done to it. If Vasquez never sees anything so harrowing again, it'll be too soon.

But Joshua's awake now, and while he doesn't necessarily look like he knows what's going on, he also doesn't look like he's going to die within the next three minutes. After the night they've had, Vasquez is going to count this as win.

Pulling back, Vasquez eyes the wolf in front of him. "Think you can get up for me, guero?" He asks. He lets one of his hands trail along Joshua's side, basking in the silken touch of the thick fur and the way he can feel a strong and steady heartbeat if he presses hard enough.

Joshua rumbles out an affirmative, but he stumbles when he's only partway to his feet. "Easy, easy." Vasquez says, placing one hand on a barrel-like chest and helping to right him. "Don't try and move too fast."

Giving him a pointed look, Joshua snorts and tries to get up again. He manages it this time, swaying only a little once he's standing. Cocking his head in a 'Didn't I tell you I was fine?' gesture, he takes a tentative step forward and almost topples down onto his face.

"Easy!" Vasquez says again, more forcefully this time. "You've been through a lot tonight. Don't push yourself."

Joshua does a remarkably good job of rolling his eyes with a canine face, and Vasquez huffs out a tiny laugh in spite of the situation. Reaching out a hand, he ruffles Joshua's ears, earning himself a low growl for his troubles. Vasquez snorts. "I don't think it's fair that you get to complain about my telling you to be careful, after everything. I did have to watch you almost die tonight."

This time instead of a growl, Joshua makes a contrite noise, and noses at the side of Vasquez's jaw. "Yes, yes." Vasquez acknowledges, moving to scratch at his chin. "I know you didn't mean to. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."

Without warning, Joshua swipes his tongue over the side of his face, letting out a wolfish snicker when Vasquez yelps. Vasquez swipes at the slobber left behind with the back of his hand and frowns at how much of it there is. "Joshua, that is disgusting." He pauses and then laughs a little. "I'd say I cannot believe you just did it, but this is you we're talking about here so we both know I'd be lying."

Joshua waggles his eyebrows, which is truly a sight to behold when it's a full grown wolf doing it, and makes a noise that is probably supposed to be a laugh. Vasquez tries to scowl at him, but the overwhelming relief he's feeling leaves him unable to hold the expression for long. "You are lucky I'm too busy being happy that you're not dead. That's all I'm saying."

Unable to stop himself, he takes Joshua's face back in his hands and shakes him slightly. "Don't you do that to me again, idiota. That's twice now I've come across you on the brink of death. I don't think I can handle it a third time."

Joshua whines apologetically, and Vasquez tells himself not to dwell on what's happened. Better to let the past rest and focus on how everything had turned out alright.

A thought occurs to him. "We should let the others know you're okay. They were worried too."

Joshua startles at this, and pulls back out of Vasquez's grip. Swinging his head from side to side, he glances around the room, as if he's only now realizing that it's just the two of them in here, the rest of the pack nowhere to be seen. Then he looks back over at Vasquez, and cocks his head in an obvious inquiry.

"Jack took them somewhere out of the way ... I think." Vasquez tells him. Truth be told, the last few hours are something of a godawful blur, and he only vaguely remembers who it was that had shooed the rest of their family off. "They're all in the house, just not in here specifically."

If Joshua finds this strange, he doesn't show it. Instead he begins slowly and methodically walking towards the closed door of the kitchen, motioning for Vasquez to join him.

Vasquez gets the door because Joshua can't, and the sound of running feet immediately reaches his ears as Emma dashes into view from the living room. He starts to ask if the others are with her, but the question becomes moot when the rest of the pack come tumbling out behind her before he even has his mouth open.

"Oh my lord." Goodnight starts.

"That is a big, big wolf." Sam adds, and Billy snorts from behind him.

"He's not exactly small when he's human, either." He points out reasonably.

"Who cares how big he is?" Teddy demands. He squirms through the press of larger bodies in front of him, and hurries down the hallway with Red following closely on his heels. "Is he okay?"

"He seems to be," Vasquez replies, "but feel free to ask him."

Teddy doesn't so much ask as he does drop down beside Joshua and reach out to grab at him. Vasquez is about to protest that kind of harsh handling, especially since Red immediately follows suit, but he keeps himself in check when Joshua's sole response is to make a pleased noise and wag his tail furiously, clearly basking in the attention.

"Oh, he's fine." Emma says, and most of the others let out some variation of relieved noises. "I can always tell he's okay when he goes into full on attention-monger mode."

"That's him every day of his life." Billy says dryly. 

"Not if he's not feeling well." Emma disagrees. She steps forward now, her hand outstretched. "C'mere, Faraday, I want to see if that coat of yours is as nice as it looks."

"The concept of personal boundaries is lost on this family." Sam says, but Vasquez notes that he moves up just as eagerly as the rest of them when Joshua makes no move to get away.

For his part, Vasquez leaves them to it. Joshua will come to him when he's good and ready, and right now he doesn't have the energy to do much beyond sag against the nearest wall and let relief finally wash over him. Letting his head fall back, he closes his eyes for a moment and just breathes.

*****

Two months later

Vasquez is reclining on a grassy knoll when Joshua comes lumbering out of the darkness and flops down beside him. Distantly, he hears the sounds of the rest of the pack, calling to each other as they wander throughout the woods, enjoying the midsummer night's weather, but he focuses his attention on the wolf now lying next to him.

Joshua's still getting used to this new form he occasionally finds himself wearing, and while he doesn't shift nearly as often as the born wolves in their pack, overall he's taken to it well. In particular he seems to like the nights when the whole pack is out together, roaming over their territory with nothing to do but enjoy themselves. Though he also seems to enjoy moments like this, where it's just the two of them, quiet and relaxed. Case in point, he groans appreciatively, the sound echoing out into the night, and stretches hugely before curling back up into the tangle of limbs they've made together.

Yawning, Vasquez burrows deeper into the larger wolf's side, and thinks that he could get used to this.

Chapter Text

There are few things in life that Vasquez would say actively horrify him, but the sight of a teenage witch hitting his partner with a bolt of raw magic and then uttering the words "Oh, shit," definitely qualifies. He has only enough time to open his mouth to yell before the brilliant green flash slams into Joshua's chest, and then the other man vanishes.

Only, he hasn't quite vanished, Vasquez realizes belatedly. His clothes are still there, now lying in a crumpled heap on the ground, and, as everyone watches, the pile begins to shift. There are a few moments where everyone present holds their breath, and then a tiny, stubby-legged bundle of russet coloured fur tumbles out from beneath Joshua's leather coat. 

The puppy stares at all of them, its glance roaming from the witch to Vasquez to the remaining assorted pack members. Then it sits down heavily on its haunches, sways slightly, and makes a confused sound.

"Shit," the witch says again, and Vasquez doesn't care how young she is, he's going to throttle her at the earliest possible moment, "I think I gave it too much juice."

Sam - always the one to come to terms with an insane situation the quickest - springs into action. "Somebody grab him." He barks, pointing at Joshua. "The last thing we need is to wind up playing hide and go seek in the middle of the woods with a confused puppy. Meanwhile," and here he turns to the girl, while Jack tentatively leans down and scoops Joshua off the ground like he's a bomb that might go off, "you best explain yourself, little lady."

The witch scowls at him. "Okay, first of all, don't talk down to me, old man. The name's Andrea, and I'll thank you to use it. Second of all, you've got nothing to worry about. The spell's harmless."

"Harmless?" Vasquez sputters. He goes to gesture violently in Joshua's direction, and is momentarily thrown off balance when he finds him closer than he's expecting.

"Pretty sure he wants you." Jack says, and he stuffs the tiny mess of fur that is Joshua into Vasquez's arms.

Vasquez stares down at Joshua, who stares up at him in return. Their gazes meet, and something shorts out in the recesses of Vasquez's brain. "No." He says weakly. "No, I do not think that is a good idea."

He moves to hand Joshua off to the next closest packmate, moves a little further still when that turns out to be Billy, and drops his tiny burden into Goodnight's hands.

"Sweet lord." Goodnight hisses as his grip automatically closes around Joshua's now wriggling form. "He's not a hot potato, boys. We're going to give him motion sickness tossing him about like this."

"Just hold onto him for now, Goody." Sam instructs. "At least until we get this settled."

Since there's nobody else for him to hand Joshua off to, Goodnight does as instructed.

With that matter settled Vasquez focuses back on the larger issue. Pointing a shaking finger at the witch - at Andrea - he snaps, "You turned him into a dog!"

She winces and holds up a finger. "Technically, he's a wolf. A younger wolf than I'd meant for him to be, sure, but a wolf no matter how you slice it."

Vasquez could not care less. "He's not supposed to be a wolf! He is human."

"Yeah," Andrea says slowly, "that was kind of the joke." She glances back and forth between where Vasquez is glaring at her and Joshua is watching everything unfold from within the circle of Goodnight's arms. Vasquez can tell the moment realization dawns. "Aw, crap. My bad on turning your boyfriend into a puppy, dude. In my defence, though, these things happen."

A muffled snickering sound comes from Billy's direction, and Vasquez is forced to take several calming breaths lest he start committing random acts of violence. Digging his heels into the ground, he glares over at Andrea. "Turn. Him. Back."

"I can't." She replies, and she's got both hands raised defensively, the same vibrant green sparks from before flickering at her fingertips, as several people growl in response. "Easy, easy! It's not that big a deal. He'll turn back on his own in, like, twelve hours, twenty four max. The spell isn't a permanent one."

"I do not care." Vasquez tells her. "You did this to him, so you fix it."

"No can do, tall, dark, and over-protective." She insists. "Just give him some time, and he'll bounce back good as new and no harm done. Honest, I swear."

Sam lets out a snort from where he's standing between Jack and Goodnight. "You'll have to forgive us if we don't just take you at your word. What with everything that’s happened tonight, I think it's best if you come with us."

"Yeah, no." The sparks start racing back and forth over Andrea's fingertips, and she takes a step back when Sam takes one forward. "Look, guys, I'm sorry about the whole accidentally trespassing on your land thing - I know how weird you lot get when that happens - and I'm sorry you don't find my gift to your human friend there as funny as I do, but, whatever. It's not my fault you dudes have no sense of humour."

She moves back a few more steps and her magic burns brighter than ever. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna bugger off somewhere I'm less likely to be eaten. Cheers." She gives one, final wave of her fingers and then vanishes between one blink and the next.

The flash when she goes is damned near blinding, and Vasquez's eyes are watering when he looks over to see that Joshua is still safely ensconced in Goodnight's arms. He catches Vasquez looking at him and wags his tail lazily, not seeming overly concerned with what's just happened.

Goodnight is the first one to find his voice. "Well," he says a little shakily, "this is a fine kettle of fish, isn’t it?" He shifts Joshua into a more comfortable position in his arms. "What on earth do we do now?"

Curled up against his chest, Joshua yips.

*****

“Vasquez, would you please …”

“No.”

“It’s not that I don’t understand your reluctance, but …”

“No.”

“Really, I think you should…”

“No!”

Sighing for the umpteenth time, Goodnight rearranges himself where he’s sitting in the passenger seat of the car, and does his best to maintain his hold on the puppy he’s still carrying at the same time. “Lord, Joshua, be a love and stop with the squirming, will you? I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself if you don’t.”

“Do not,” Vasquez growls from his vantage point in the back seat, “let that happen.”

Goodnight makes an annoyed noise as he hooks an arm under Joshua’s midsection, and leverages him up so that his front paws scramble in the air with nowhere to find purchase. “God as my witness, it’s like trying to wrestle a bag of live eels. Vasquez, I really think he wants you.”

That much is obvious. Joshua’s been whining and wriggling in Vasquez’s direction ever since Sam had decided their best course of action was to bundle into the two cars they’d made their way out here in and head for home. Unfortunately for him, Vasquez remains unable to wrap his head around the night’s events, and flat out refuses to take him.

“It’s too strange.” He’d said the first time Goodnight had tried to force Joshua back into his arms. “I can’t.”

“Fine,” Billy had growled, while Goodnight had kept Joshua where he was with obvious reluctance, “but you’re riding with us. Five dollars says he’ll start howling if we try and put you in separate cars, and I will pitch him right out the window if that happens.”

“You will not!” Vasquez had protested, but he’d climbed into the back of the car anyway, figuring it never hurt to be safe.

Now, however, he’s regretting that decision. Joshua’s whimpering is getting on all their nerves, and he suspects he’d have been better off staying with Sam and Jack. Also, he’d appreciate it if Joshua would stop giving him puppy dog eyes of betrayal every time he looks at him. 

“Just keep him where he is.” He mutters. “We’re almost home.”

Goodnight makes a noise that is probably meant to be relieved, and raises Joshua up high enough that he can get a decent view out the car window. “You hear that, son? We’ll have you down on your own two feet – err, four feet – any moment now.”

“Paws.” Billy supplies from where he’s sitting behind the wheel. “He has paws right now, not feet.”

“Well, yes, I realize that, cher. I’m just trying not to dwell on it, lest I send Vasquez back there into some kind of breakdown.”

“Not funny.” Vasquez growls. He can hear the way his voice has gone high and tight, and thinks that maybe Goodnight’s not far off the mark. Still, that didn’t mean the man had to go around pointing it out.

“Who’s being funny?” Goodnight shoots back.

“We’re here.” Billy cuts in before Vasquez can come up with a response. He slides the car into its spot in the driveway and shuts off the engine, then nods at Goodnight. “You want me to come around and open your door?”

“Please.” Goodnight replies. “I don’t want him making a run for it if I can’t keep both hands on him.”

Joshua makes a disgruntled noise from where he’s now bundled up in the depths of Goodnight’s coat, and Vasquez bets it’s because they’re talking about him like he’s not right here. The man hates being talked over, which Vasquez can’t see any reason why that would change while he’s a different shape.

As Billy moves to put his words into actions, Vasquez climbs out of the car as well, taking a deep breath of the cool night air as he stands and stretches. He can still hear Joshua grumbling to himself from where he and Goodnight are stepping out too, but focuses his attention on how Sam and Jack are making their way over to the rest of them.

“I see he didn’t miraculously change back during the drive.” Sam notes once he’s close enough. “Pity.”

“You have no idea.” Goodnight grumbles. “Our Joshua is not in the greatest of moods right now, and I can’t say as I blame him.”

Sam frowns, and looks down at where Joshua is sitting in Goodnight’s arms, looking put out. “What’s wrong? He seems fine to me.”

“Physically, yes, I think he is. Emotionally, however, I am less convinced.” Goodnight lifts Joshua up slightly, and then, absurdly, drops a kiss on the top of his head. “The poor thing’s feeling a little abandoned, I suspect.”

“He wants Vasquez.” Billy adds before anyone can ask.

For his part, Vasquez fights the urge to step back out of range when Sam and Jack both turn to stare at him, and raises his hands defensively. “I – he’s fine where he is, and the whole thing is just too strange for me. Goodnight can bring him.”

If Sam is surprised by Vasquez’s behaviour, he does a good job of hiding it. He simply nods, and then motions for everybody to start moving towards the house. “Let’s just all get inside. We can decide what to do once we’re in there.”

It’s the work of moments for them all to troop inside their home and kick their respective boots off in the front entrance. Goodnight has a little trouble because he’s still holding Joshua, but Billy steps in to help him and then they’re all good to make their way further into the house. The sound of a tv is drifting out from the living room, so that seems like the best place to head for.

Emma lifts her head away from the book she’s reading when they come in, and Teddy makes a confused face beside her. “What -?” Their youngest, or normally youngest, pack member starts to say, only to be cut off as Emma tosses her book aside and scrambles to her feet.

“Who is this?” She demands, and instead of her usual suspicious tone, the words come out sounding delighted. Before anyone can stop her, she grabs Joshua from Goodnight and hauls him in to get a better a look at him. “Oh, aren’t you precious, yes you are!”

“Um.” Says someone. Vasquez thinks it might have been Billy.

Goodnight clears his throat. “Er, Emma, dear, that’s – that’s Joshua you’re holding there.”

Emma freezes where she has Joshua cuddled up against her chest, his face mashed into her neck as she scratches behind his hears. Pulling him away from her body, she gets her hands under his front legs, and holds him up to see him better.

Joshua wags his tail.

“Huh.” Emma says slowly. “So, I guess you found the witch.”

“You could say that.” Sam agrees. “She swore he’ll only be like this for a day at most, but she also headed for greener pastures when we tried to make a grab for her because we weren’t convinced.”

“Ah.” Says Emma. Shrugging, she gathers Joshua up against her chest again, tightening her grip when he starts to squirm. “I guess we’ll just have to enjoy this while it lasts. He’s adorable.”

Vasquez doesn’t know if it’s because he finds Emma’s behaviour as bizarre as the rest of them or because he’s just tired of being passed around from person to person, but Joshua does not seem to be enjoying her attention. Case in point, he gets his front paws arranged beneath him, and uses them to push away from Emma as best he can, all while emitting disgruntled noises.

“Oh, come on,” Emma complains when he scratches at her cheek. “You’re so much cuter like this. Why won’t you let me run with it?”

“Who cares about that?” Teddy says from where he’s still sitting on the couch. He wrinkles his brow in confusion and looks up at those who’d gone out after the witch. “Why’s he a puppy? Shouldn’t he be old like the rest of you?”

Joshua stops trying to free himself from Emma’s clutches long enough to bark sharply at Teddy. It seems being called old is a bigger crime than being called adorable in his books. Vasquez isn’t even remotely surprised.

“Our young friend of the magical persuasion seemed to imply she’d given her spell too much power.” Goodnight shakes his head and shrugs when Emma and Teddy both turn to look at him. “I don’t know if that’s true, mind you, but it’s what she said.”

“We don’t know if anything she said was true.” Vasquez snaps. He cannot for the life of him understand why no one else seems to be as concerned by the night’s events as he is. “We have only her word that he will turn back on his own, and who knows if he’ll be his normal self even if does? What if he’s a child when he’s human?”

“Well, you’ll be abruptly single.” Emma says helpfully.

Vasquez let’s out a wordless noise of frustration, and Sam chooses then to step in. “Alright, I think maybe we should have a bit more of a discussion about this somewhere else. Where’s Red?”

“Right here,” says a new voice, and the entire pack turn to find Red silhouetted in the living room doorway. He frowns at their scrutiny. “I came up when I heard all the noise. Why’s Josh a puppy?”

“Because he’s bad at ducking.” Billy tells him. He shrugs when Sam gives him a look. “Well, he is.”

Sam sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I suppose there’s some truth to that. Okay, Red, Teddy, you two watch Faraday for now. The rest of us will be in the kitchen trying to come up with a plan for what happens if he doesn’t turn back like he’s supposed to.”

Joshua makes an affronted noise from where he’s finally given up on freeing himself from Emma’s attentions. In response, Sam rolls his eyes. “You can’t help right now, so you might as well just stay here out of the way, which you’re not doing alone. God knows what you’ll get into if we leave you to your own devices in a body you barely know how to use.”

Vasquez has a sudden mental image of Joshua wandering into the yard unsupervised and shudders. In this instance, Sam has a point. Better to have someone, anyone really, keep an eye on him, especially given how small he is.

While Red and Teddy share a skeptical look, Emma leans down and sets Joshua on his feet with obvious reluctance. Just as obviously pleased to finally have some modicum of freedom, Joshua lets out a happy noise and gives a shake that sends his whole body wriggling. Then he looks up at the rest of them and barks happily.

“At least he’s taking this well.” Goodnight murmurs.

*****

“Okay, so.” Emma drops into one of the kitchen chairs and glances around the room at those of them who’ve joined her in it. “What’s the plan if Joshua is stuck this way?”

“We find that … girl, and make her turn him back.” His shoulders tight, Vasquez paces from one end of the room to the other, unable to sit still. “I do not believe that she has no way to do that.”

Emma cocks her head at him. “You,” she says slowly, “are handling this really poorly.”

“He really is.” Billy agrees before Vasquez has the chance to reply. “Honestly, I’m hoping Faraday turns back in a couple hours less because I’m worried about him getting stuck that way, and more because of how Vasquez is going to handle it if he doesn’t.”

“I am fine.” Vasquez insists. “It’s Joshua who’s stuck in a terrible situation.”

“He was play-fighting with Red and Teddy when we left them in the living room.” Emma points out, rolling her eyes. “I think he’s doing fine.”

“For now.” Vasquez pauses his pacing to run his hands through his hair in agitation and then almost immediately starts back up again. “How is he going to feel if he doesn’t turn back within the allotted time?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe as badly as he has every time you’ve ignored him since the incident occurred.” Goodnight says icily. He levels Vasquez with a glare from where he’s leaning up against the fridge. “He’s been trying to get you to pay attention to him since it happened.”

Vasquez flaps a hand at him, not wanting to acknowledge the other man’s point. “It’s too strange,” he says, like he has multiple times already, “I can’t.” He feels the weight of all their stares on him, and shifts uncomfortably. “Can we stop talking about me? I thought we were coming up with a plan of attack.”

“I don’t know if attack is the word I’d use for it.” Sam says thoughtfully. “Although, I guess it’s close enough. You had a point earlier. If Faraday doesn’t turn back on his own, we’re going to have to find someone to do it for him. That girl – Andrea – maybe, or someone else.”

“Yeah?” Emma says. “Do you have some witch you haven’t told us about tucked away somewhere? Because, if not, that might be a bit of a problem.”

“Witches aren’t as hard to find as you might think.” Jack says from where he’s resting against the counter next to Billy. “Not if you know how to look.”

“And do you know how to look?” Billy asks, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

Jack just gazes serenely back at him. “I might.” He says cryptically.

“Not helpful.” Vasquez growls.

“Okay, you need to calm down.” Emma says. “I realize you’re stressed, but it doesn’t help to borrow trouble.”

Vasquez cannot understand why no one else seems to be taking this as seriously as he is, but he’s distracted by a flurry of startled yelps coming from the living room before he can say as much. A number of thudding noises ring out as they all scramble to leave the kitchen, Sam and Goodnight going to so far as to get stuck in the entranceway as they both try to get through it at the same time, and Vasquez can practically feel his heart pounding in his throat by the time he clears the hallway.

Luckily, it turns out he needn't have worried. The noise turns out to be mostly coming from Teddy, who's on the ground and letting out the wolf equivalent of hysterical laughter because Joshua has the tip of Red's tail clamped between his teeth. Red in turn is watching this happen with a scandalized look on his face, but otherwise appears unharmed.

 "Oh, dear, no. This won't do." Goodnight says, and he rushes forward to unlatch the two. Joshua allows Goodnight to shove him away from Red, but at the same time dances back out of reach when the man tries to pick him up again. Goodnight shakes a finger at him in admonishment, and then looks back at everyone who'd been in the kitchen. "Perhaps we should have thought twice about having children watch children, hmm?"

 Vasquez snorts. "What we should have done was thought twice about bringing a human with us to track down a witch in our territory." He regrets the words as soon as he lets them out because they attract Joshua's attention, and send him barrelling towards him.

 "No no no." Vasquez darts away from him without conscious thought, and Joshua lets out a pointed noise of displeasure right before he flops down on the floor and stares at him forlornly, sighing like the overdramatic bastard he is. "You stay where you are."

 "Alejandro, you suck." Emma declares. She shuffles forward, and holds out her hand for Joshua to sniff. He does so, and then bumps his head under her fingers with another unhappy noise, clearly seeking attention. 

 Emma coos at him soothingly, and picks him up, cuddling him close against her body as she runs a gentle hand over his tiny back. "Come on, you. Unlike some other assholes here, I won't abandon you in your time of need."

 The crack at his expense stings a little - Vasquez is, after all, a reasonable enough person to know he's being irrational - but he just can't get past the hurdle of his partner being a dog. That's admittedly, hugely hypocritical coming from a born werewolf, he knows this, but he wants his Joshua back, not this poor replacement that everyone else seems to think is so fun.

 "I'm going outside." He says stiffly, thinking that maybe going for a run or hunting something will help clear his head. "Do not let him follow me. The last thing we need is to see what kind of trouble he can get into running around in the woods."

 No one tries to stop him as he shoves his way back out of the room, but Joshua huffs out another noise. Vasquez has a sneaking suspicion that he's in for a world of trouble if the man remembers anything that's happened when this is all over. Saying the words "it was all too weird" over and over again is probably not going to qualify as a sufficient explanation for his behaviour.

 He heaves out a massive sigh when the back door closes behind him and steps down onto the porch. The wood is cool beneath his bare feet thanks to the way the temperature has dropped as the night's worn on, and he shivers slightly as he starts tugging off his clothes. However, that stops as soon as he's a wolf, his fur coat more than enough to combat the chill.

 Cocking his head, he listens to the sounds ringing out all around him, coming from both inside and outside the house, and then lopes down off the porch in the direction of the tree line. Running has a tendency to make him feel better about things, so it's worth a shot now.

 *****

 He loses track of time as he prowls throughout the forest. Not wanting to stray too far from the house, he circles back and around a couple of times in lieu of simply running as far into the brush as he can get. He knows he picks up strains of sound emanating from within the house whenever he gets close enough, but tells himself to ignore them. It's only when he decides to return home for good that he allows himself to listen.

 Nothing out of the ordinary jumps out at him, and he shifts back to human without any trouble. Figuring he'll be crashing for the night soon, he doesn't bother putting all of his clothes back on, and instead just grabs his jeans out of the pile and decides that will be enough. Tugging them on and zipping them up, he turns the door handle and steps inside.

 Goodnight's unloading the dishwasher when he comes in, and he gives Vasquez an unimpressed look as he stacks the newly cleaned plates one on top of the other. "So, you're back are you?" He asks. "Did you have a good time shirking your responsibilities?" 

 Vasquez sighs. It seems that, not only has his run failed to improve his night in any way, its failed to put anyone else in a better mood with him either. "I wasn't shirking anything," he says wearily, "I just needed to get out for a bit. It’s a lot to deal with."

 Goodnight snorts, unimpressed. "Spoken like a true deadbeat. He's been with us for the past little while, just so you know." He jerks his head towards the table, and, intrigued against his will, Vasquez hunkers down to see what he means.

 Billy's never seen fit to explain why he likes laying under the table so much, and nobody else has ever dared to ask him outright. Goodnight might know the answer, but if he does it's one of the few secrets he's taking to the grave as he's never seen fit to reveal any details. Still, whatever the reason, when Goodnight's puttering around in the kitchen, Billy can usually be found holed up in his favourite spot.

 Tonight is no exception. The dark-furred wolf is curled up under the heavy wooden structure, dozing lightly. What's unusual is that he's not alone. Joshua's under there with him, sprawled across Billy's front paws and sound asleep, letting out little whistling snores with every exhale.

 "Adorable, isn't it?" Goodnight asks. "I'm sorely tempted to take a picture or two, but I don't think Billy would ever forgive me."

 Vasquez makes a humming sound of agreement and continues to watch the sight in front of him. "How long have they been like this?"

 Goodnight shrugs. "I couldn't say, really, I haven't been paying that much attention to the clock. A half an hour, I'd guess, maybe a little more or a little less. Emma and the other youngsters tuckered poor Joshua out in the living room, and then he wandered in here and climbed all over Billy until he let him stay. It was precious."

 And maybe it had been, Vasquez couldn't say. At least he knows Joshua had been in good hands. That had to count for something.

 He watches the pair sleep for a little longer, thinking deeply, and is just about to straighten up out of his crouch when there's a hitch in Joshua's breathing and he starts to stir. He stretches languidly, his front paws coming up and catching Billy in the face, startling the grown wolf awake.

 Billy comes to faster than Joshua does, and growls low in his throat when he catches sight of Vasquez watching them. He cuts the noise out when Joshua rolls over and prods sleepily at his face, but the glare he levels at Vasquez is heated, stating plainly, 'you're an asshole, and I'm going to protect this annoying ball of fluff from you'. Vasquez wishes he wasn't so good at reading looks like that.

 Joshua snuffles as he finally starts to wake up for real. He sits up and yawns, the motion putting a row of tiny milk teeth on display, and noses at the underside of Billy's jaw, looking for more attention.

 Not breaking eye contact with Vasquez, Billy lowers his head until Joshua can reach him better, and doesn't flinch when the pup randomly decides to bite down on his ear, worrying it in his mouth with every sign of enjoyment. Billy takes the whole thing in stride, complaining only when Joshua stretches up and accidentally digs one paw directly into his eye. Even then, all Billy does is snap out a short noise of reprimand as he lets Joshua continue going about his business.

 Deciding he's seen enough - Joshua's obviously content where he is and thankfully appears to have forgotten his pressing need to be in Vasquez's space at all times - Vasquez gets to his feet and moves to leave the room. It looks like Goodnight and Billy can keep Joshua for the night, and with luck he'll be human again by morning. If not, they can then start trying to find a witch to fix him.

 Nodding at Goodnight, he murmurs a quick goodbye, and is considering going up to bed when there's a scrambling sound from underneath the table. 

 If Vasquez were thinking clearly, his best move would have been to hurry out of the room and slam the rarely used kitchen door closed behind him. Unfortunately, what he actually does is freeze like a deer in the headlights and look down as Joshua comes darting out from his former resting spot and skids right into the back of his ankles.

 "Damnit, Joshua!" He growls as he scrambles away from the furry projectile his partner has become. It's sheer dumb luck Vasquez doesn't end up accidentally kicking him across the room, what with the way he's dancing back and forth all over the place. "Stop that!"

 "Give him the attention he wants and he might." Billy says. He's out from under the table and human now, but he's still scowling darkly at Vasquez. "You're being stupid."

 Vasquez manfully resists the urge to snap back the words 'am not', and concentrates his efforts on keeping away from Joshua. He may be acting stupid, which is one of the most damning things Billy can think of to be - he has no patience for it whatsoever - but he can't help it. A fact he's going to swear by until his dying day.

 Because Vasquez is worried about hurting him, Joshua's able to make a thorough nuisance of himself by getting underfoot. He goes so far as to snag one leg of Vasquez's jeans in his mouth, and refuses to let go, winding up getting dragged along as Vasquez tries to pull away from him.

 "You are being ridiculous," Vasquez tells him, leaning down to try and free his pants. He pretends he doesn't hear Goodnight's muttered 'takes one to know one'. "Joshua, let go. I want to go to bed."

 It's as if he's uttered some kind of magic phrase. Joshua releases his hold in the blink of an eye and scrambles from the kitchen as fast as his paws will carry him. Vasquez watches him go, feeling confused.

 Apparently, he's not the only one. "Now, where in the world do you think the little bugger's going?" Goodnight asks. 

 "His room?" Billy suggests. "Vasquez said something about going to bed, soooo ..." He trails off, and Vasquez swears.

 "Hijo de puta!” One of the last things he needs right now is Joshua getting into their room and hiding himself somewhere they can't drag him out of. That's not happening on his watch. 

 "Uh," Teddy's voice calls out from further in the house, "is Josh supposed to be on the stairs?"

 "No!" Half a dozen voices holler back from various areas of the building, and several pairs of running feet can be heard dashing around. Vasquez thinks they've done more running about the house in the span of one night than they have since they've lived here. With visions of Joshua tumbling halfway down the stairs and breaking his neck flashing before his eyes, Vasquez rushes for the front entranceway, and almost collides with Jack upon his arrival. 

 As it happens, the stairs are just high enough that Joshua has to struggle to get from one to another. He's three steps up when Sam, the first to reach him, hooks a hand under his belly and pulls him back. "C'mon now, Faraday, I don't think that's a good idea tonight." He glances around at the rest of them. "Anybody know what he's after?"

 "Blame Vasquez." Goodnight calls from somewhere near the back of the group. "He's the one who mentioned bedtime." 

 "Oh." Sam says nodding like that makes sense, while Joshua futilely tries to squirm free. "Got it." He moves to look at Vasquez. "You want me to carry him up for you, or should I just hand him over?"

 "He's not coming with me." Vasquez yelps. 

 Joshua growls, the sound surprisingly menacing given that he currently weighs maybe twelve pounds and is essentially dangling from Sam's arms.

 The ensuing silence manages to be both nervous and accusatory at the same time. Sam makes a face that clearly says this isn't his problem, and sighs. "What, exactly, do you suggest we do about this?" He asks, his voice making it obvious that he's firmly aboard the 'Vasquez is being an idiot train'. 

 "He can stay with us." All eyes land on Red, who shrugs. "What?"

 "I'm not sure that's a good idea." Goodnight starts. "Maybe with someone older, and if Vasquez won't take him ..."

 "I won't." Vasquez supplies.

 Goodnight gives him a dirty look. "Fine. He can stay with Billy and me."

 Billy makes a face like he's not so sure about that, and beside him, Emma scowls. "There's barely enough space in your room for the two of you. I'll take him."

 "You can't all take him." Jack points out. "Why don't we let Joshua decide?"

 Joshua perks up at this suggestion. He shifts to give Vasquez a pleading look, and then whines when Vasquez's only response is to match him stare for stare while shaking his head in refusal. His ears drooping dejectedly - Vasquez has to tell himself to remain firm - he scrabbles in Red's direction, front paws straining in acceptance of the boy's earlier offer.

 "Looks like he's with you and Teddy, Red." Sam says as he hands Joshua over. "Be careful he doesn't get into anything he shouldn't, but I figure you'll be fine."

 "We will." Red says, and that's the end of it.

 *****

 Faraday is not a happy camper. He's plenty of other things, among them: a puppy, exiled to the basement, and cruelly abandoned, but he is not happy. However, he's suffering from the kind of unhappiness he intends to spread around as soon as he can.

 Alejandro, the perpetrator of cruel abandonment that he is, had better watch out.

 The worst of it is, he doesn't really mind the whole 'hexed into a puppy' thing. Sure, it's a little embarrassing, but he feels fine, nothing hurts, and he's been the centre of attention ever since it'd happened. All in all, he can think of worse ways to spend an evening.

 Lying in the little nest of blankets he's made for himself at the bottom of Red's bed, he sighs. Honestly, this wouldn't suck nearly as much if he were allowed upstairs in his own bed. He'd much rather be sleeping up there than down here. No matter how fond of the runts he is, they'll never be his favourite pack members. Sighing again, he burrows deeper into his blankets.

 A large hand comes out of nowhere and lands on his back. Faraday doesn't need to open his eyes to know it's Red. Even ignoring the way his sense of smell has sharpened dramatically tonight, Teddy had fallen asleep as soon as his head had hit the pillow, and Faraday can hear his faint snores from all the way down the hall.

 "Doing okay?" Red asks while he cards his fingers gently through the fur on Faraday's back. 

 It feels nice, although not quite as nice as the belly rub Emma had given him earlier when she’d thought no one was looking, but it's not the attention Faraday wants. Hoping he doesn't come across as rude, he shrugs his shoulders as best as this new form allows, and sighs yet again. 

 "That's what I thought." Red digs his fingers in a little harder, adding just enough pressure for the motion to feel really good, and lets out a small laugh. "Want to know a secret?"

 Intrigued in spite of the pity party he's been throwing for himself, Faraday perks up a bit. He loves secrets. He's maybe not the best at keeping them, but he's still a fan. Flicking an ear in Red's direction, he motions for him to continue.

 Red laughs again, though this time it's more of a snicker. "I left the basement door open when we came down."

 Faraday stiffens. Struggling free of his blanket pile, he sits up and looks over at Red, who grins. "Give everyone a little while to fall asleep, and then I figure you can get up there and give Vasquez a piece of your mind."

 Faraday takes it back. Not only is Red his favourite pack member, he's his favourite person of all time. 

 *****

 Faraday waits for the better part of an hour before he stages his great escape. (And, yes, it still counts as an escape if someone’s left the door open. He’s sure of this.) Red’s awake when he jumps down off the bed, but his only response is to roll over and mutter about how he’s not carrying Faraday up the stairs.

 That’s fine with Faraday. The basements steps aren’t as high as the ones that will take him up to the next floor, so he should be able to get up them no problem. Honestly, though, even if he does have trouble, he is determined and he is going to get what he wants.

 He gets up the basement stairs relatively quickly, and is pleased to find the door open like Red had promised. He peers cautiously around the doorway, wanting to make sure that no one’s wandering around the main floor with a case of insomnia or a craving for a midnight snack or something, and heads for the second staircase. As it had been earlier, it’s a struggle for him to climb from one step to the next thanks to his short, stubby little legs, and he finds himself having to take a break halfway through. He makes it in the end, though, and sits triumphantly at the top of the stairway as he gets his breath back.

From where he’s sitting he can see the closed door to his and Alejandro’s bedroom, and snickers inwardly. If Alejandro thinks that’s going to be enough to protect him from Faraday’s wrath, he’s got another thing coming. Getting to his feet, he trots down the hallway until he’s within reaching distance of the wooden panelling.

Once there, Faraday sits back on his haunches and considers how best to approach his problem. He paws feebly at the door a couple of times, noting that it’s firmly latched and probably locked as well. Listening intently lets him note the sound of slow, even breathing, not only coming from the room in front of him, but also from the three on this floor and Goodnight and Billy’s down on the main level as well.

Faraday doesn’t have a proper mouth to smirk with at the moment, but he bets anyone who saw him right now would be able to tell he’s up to something obnoxious. Feeling entirely justified in his actions, he gives the door one last look and then throws his head back and howls.

The result is instantaneous. He can tell as at least half a dozen people, Alejandro among them, go from sound asleep to wide awake. He thinks he hears Red start laughing from down in the basement, and he definitely hears someone open the door to Goodnight and Billy’s room, as well as at least two of the ones on this floor as well. Unfortunately, neither of them is the door directly in front of him. He knows Alejandro’s awake, his growled ‘Joshua, shut up’ comes through loud and clear, but the door remains resolutely shut.

Getting up on his hind legs, Faraday adds scratching at the door to the ruckus he’s making, and is so busy doing this that he doesn’t notice Emma coming until it’s almost too late.

“Alejandro!” She barks, thumping a heavy fist on the door as she looms above where Faraday’s standing. “Alejandro, you open this damn door right fucking now!”

Faraday hears it as Alejandro finally gets his ass out of bed, and gets ready. Quieting down, he drops down on all fours, and crouches, ready to move as soon as Alejandro opens the door. When he does, Faraday shoots between the spread of his legs and doesn’t stop moving until he’s far enough under their bed that no one’s going to be able to drag him back out without a fight.

Out in the hallway Emma’s tearing a strip off Alejandro that largely seems to consist of various profanities and the insistence that if he doesn’t let Faraday have what he wants, she’s going to hang him from the roof rafters. Alejandro makes a weak attempt at arguing with her, but, and whether this is because Faraday’s already in their room or because he knows when he’s beat, he’s not putting up much of a fight. Really, he sounds more resigned than anything else.

Emma yells at him for a little longer, and Goodnight’s voice rises up from downstairs to add a few choice barbs as well. They only stop when Sam cuts them off with a tired sigh and insists that it’s time for everyone to go back to bed. There’s some choice grumbling from various members of the pack, and then Alejandro’s coming back in the room, snapping the door shut behind him.

 

Safely tucked away under their bed, Faraday snorts at this little display of temper. Alejandro doesn’t get to call him immature anymore, not after how he’s been acting all night. Faraday’s never going to let him live this down.

Instead of climbing back into bed immediately, Alejandro flicks the switch on one of their bedside lamps, and then kneels down on the floor as the room is flooded with soft, golden light. He hauls back the bedcovers, and glares over at where Faraday’s hunkered down just out of reach in case he tries to throw him out again. “Proud of yourself, are you?” He asks.

Faraday yips out an affirmative, and yawns in his face.

“Fine.” Alejandro grits out. “You’re here now, and you’re obviously planning to stay. I’m going to sleep. You stay under there if you want.”

That is not at all what Faraday wants. As Alejandro moves to climb back into bed, he cautiously leaves his hiding place and tries to follow him. Depressingly, he’s thwarted in his efforts by the fact that their bed is now too high for him to get into without help. Even worse, pawing at what bedding he can reach and whining don’t seem to do anything to help his cause.

“You’re not getting up.” Alejandro says, and Faraday thinks very hard about biting him on the ankle. “I can deal with you being in the room, but I draw the line at sharing a bed with you while you’re like this. It is not happening.”

Faraday stares at him, affronted, and Alejandro heaves out a sigh. “You’re not getting up.” He says again, but instead of getting into bed like he’d been intending, he backs away and heads into their en-suite bathroom, emerging soon after with a pair of large towels slung over one shoulder.

“Here.” He says, arranging them on the floor. Once that’s done, he ambles over and picks Faraday up of his own volition for the first time all night, carrying him over to the nest-like creation he’s put together. “This will do.”

No, it motherfucking will not, Faraday thinks darkly. If Alejandro figures he’s going to take this lying down, the man has another thing coming.

He decides not to strike right away. This is partly because he needs to sit and figure out an appropriate response, but mainly because he wants to lull Alejandro into a false sense of security. As Faraday reclines back on his terrycloth cushion, he watches as his asshole and potentially soon to be ex-partner gets back into bed and settles underneath the covers, shutting off the light as he goes.

The minutes tick by, and Alejandro's breathing slowly starts to even out as he slides towards sleep again. At the same time, Faraday casts his gaze around the room. He notes that Alejandro has unthinkingly left the door to the bathroom wide open, and heads for it as soon as he determines the coast is clear.

Like the rest of the house, the bathroom is dark, and Faraday has a little trouble navigating it because his new size makes it difficult to gauge where things are. It's only when he bumps face first into the garbage can that he's able to properly orient himself. Glad to have found what he was looking for, he smirks inwardly.

Cautiously, he sits back on his haunches and uses one of his front paws to slowly tip the pail over. It rattles just the tiniest amount when it hits the ground, and Faraday quickly digs inside it to kick the debris it contains around the room. Once that's done, he noses carefully forward, looking for the wall.

He finds that with his face too, and stretches up on his hind legs, searching for the toilet paper holder. He bumps into that with his head and takes the end of the mostly full roll in his teeth. The taste isn't the best, he doesn't like how the paper sticks to his tongue, but one good yank sends the whole thing spinning and it takes him virtually no time at all to unspool the roll and drag it all over the place.

Once that mission is accomplished, he sits back and considers his options. He's got his bearings now, so he knows the sink and countertop are a little to his left. The odds aren't good that he'll be able to get into much there, but Alejandro has a bad habit of setting his stupidly expensive hair gel near the very edge of the counter, and an even worse one of not closing the bottle as carefully as he should.

Faraday's told him on more than one occasion that it's bound to get knocked over and spilled.

Just be careful, guero. I'm sure you can avoid it, guero. It's not that big a deal, guero. It’s not going to fall over, guero. Snorting, Faraday lines himself up as best as he's able with where he figures the stuff will be and jumps. Both his front paws score a direct hit, catching the hair gel and a few other items bang on and sending them toppling over with a hearty thump.

Pleased, but willing to bet the noise will have woken Alejandro up, Faraday takes a moment to think about what to go for next, and then stumbles over to the shower. He's just gotten a grip on the end of the plastic curtain when the light comes on, and Alejandro makes an exasperated noise behind him. Not wanting to stop what he's doing, Faraday doesn't bother turning around, and instead concentrates on tugging at the curtain.

“No puedo creerte, eres una persona completamente desagradable," Alejandro growls from the doorway. “Te odio tanto.

Unperturbed, Faraday keeps doing what he's doing, only stopping when Alejandro stomps into the room, or more like stumbles rather, thanks to the mess Faraday's made, and physically tears him away, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck. With all four paws flailing in midair, Faraday tries to twist free, but Alejandro gets one hand under his midsection and presses him up against his chest, effectively limiting his mobility.

"I cannot believe you." Alejandro snarls. He makes his way out of the bathroom, his grip ensuring that Faraday has no choice to come with him, and securely closes the door behind them. "Why will you not just go to sleep, hmm?"

Because you're tryin' to make me sleep on the fuckin' floor! A canine mouth is a poor one for getting the words across, however, so he has to settle for sinking his teeth into Alejandro's forearm to express his feelings.

Alejandro grunts, but miraculously doesn't drop him - or toss him across the room like Faraday suspects he would dearly love to do. Instead, he leans down and very carefully sets him onto the floor. "You are still not getting in that bed. You're over there tonight." Adding insult to injury, he physically turns Faraday around, points him in the direction of the towel nest he'd previously vacated, and shoves him gently towards it.

Faraday sees red, or he would if could see much of anything with the lights off. He growls sharply and point blank refuses to go where Alejandro's trying to send him, choosing instead to duck around and hide under the bed again.

Unlike the previous time, Alejandro doesn't try and coax him out. "Fine," he snorts, "if that's how you want to act, then so be it. At least you can't get into any trouble there."

Wanna bet? Faraday thinks. Alejandro is usually smarter than this, and knows full well Faraday's propensity for getting into scrapes. If he thinks the night's antics are over, he's either the king of wishful thinking or he had his brains scrambled by the witch.

Come to think of it, that might explain why he's been such a lunatic all night.

Like he had before, Faraday bides his time before he strikes. Although, now he doesn't bother waiting for Alejandro to fall asleep again, and settles for him being back in bed and rolled up in the covers. Only then does he slowly creep out into the room.

The bedroom is bigger than the bathroom, so it's harder for him to figure out what items are located where. However, he knows the laundry hamper is right next to the door, so he heads for that first. Moving as silently as he can, he gathers all four paws beneath him and then launches himself at the object in question.

He slams into the hamper with a much more impressive thump than when he'd knocked the bottles off the sink, and sends the whole thing flying. Clothes spill out - score one for not doing laundry on a timely basis - and he digs into the mess to spread them around as much as possible.

"Joshua." Alejandro growls from the bed. "Idiota, so help me ..."

Ignoring him, Faraday gets a hold of a t-shirt that smell alone tells him is definitely Alejandro's and begins systematically shredding it into pieces. Honestly, it could turn out to be his own shirt at this point and he wouldn't care. The act of destruction is proving too cathartic.

One of the lamps flicks on for the umpteenth time and Alejandro swears. A quick glance down reveals that the shirt Faraday's just torn a third sleeve into is not only Alejandro's, but one of his favourites at on top of everything else. Feeling smug, Faraday drops it and looks around to see what else he can get his metaphorical hands on.

His eyes zero in on where Alejandro's cellphone is sitting plugged in and charging on top of one of the dressers, and he makes a beeline towards it.

"Nonono!" Alejandro lets out a stream of curses and dives out of bed. "Joshua, don't you dare! You'll electrocute yourself on top of everything else!"

Faraday highly doubts there's enough juice in the charger for him to do himself real damage, even when he's this small, but it's a moot point anyway. For the first time all night, Alejandro's the faster of the two of them, and he has Faraday up and away from danger before he can reach it.

Holding Faraday aloft, Alejandro lets out a frustrated noise. "Guero, I am this close to putting you in that laundry hamper and leaving you there. You've already helpfully emptied it out, and that way you won't be able to get into anything else."

Faraday lets out a growl that promises dire retribution if he so much as thinks that again, and twists around to try and bite him.

"Maldita!" Alejandro hisses when Faraday catches one of his fingers with his teeth. "Pinche cabrón."

Serves y'right, y'overgrown jackass! Faraday thinks. He can't wait to be human again so he can tell Alejandro exactly what he thinks about his behaviour tonight. Profanity is going to feature heavily and at a high volume.

Speaking of profanity, Alejandro’s showing off his own vocabulary at the moment, but what he’s failed to realize is that he’s inadvertently brought Faraday within leaping distance of their bed if he can just figure out a way to make the man let go. Squirming doesn’t seem to be of any help, and Faraday figures, what the hell, he hasn’t been playing nice for the better part of an hour now, and Alejandro’s getting on his nerves.

Sucks to be you, sweetheart, Faraday thinks, right before he sinks his teeth as sharply as he can into the skin between Alejandro’s thumb and forefinger. He’s rewarded with a choked off below, and Alejandro’s hand spasms as he releases his grip without conscious thought. More importantly, however, he does so close enough to the bed that Faraday can control his landing and land with the front half of his body on top of the bed.

His back paws scrabble for purchase for a second or two, and then one catches in the heavy folds of the duvet in such a way that he can use it to leverage himself up. Not wanting to waste any time, Faraday clambers onto the bed, and then looks over at where Alejandro’s sucking at his wounded hand like the giant baby he apparently is. Faraday has little sympathy for him.

Upon noticing Faraday watching him, Alejandro gives the bite one last lick and then lets his hand fall to rest by his side. “I could just take you down from there.” He says warningly.

In response, Faraday snarls, arching his back and letting his ears go flat against his head. It’s a mirror image, albeit on a smaller scale, of the pose Alejandro always strikes right before he moves to tear someone to shreds with his teeth, and does an excellent job of making his feelings known.

“Fine, you win.” Alejandro tells him, raising his hands in defeat. “If you’re going to be that much of a stickler about this, you can stay here and I will sleep downstairs.”

Faraday gives an enraged shake of his body that damn near sends him summersaulting off the bed. Catching himself just in time, he regains his footing and wanders up to the pillows. He jumps first from Alejandro’s and then to his own, barking to try and make what he’s after obvious. When all this does is make Alejandro frown at him in confusion, he lies down on his pillow and then pats at Alejandro’s with one paw.

“Oh.” Alejandro says quietly. He swallows. “Joshua … I don’t think I can.”

Faraday kicks at the pillow again and whines, making his position clear.

Alejandro sighs and then slowly shuffles over to the bed. Sitting down on the edge, he reaches out a tentative hand, and scratches lightly behind one of Faraday’s ears.

Pleased that they finally seem to be getting somewhere, Faraday nuzzles into the touch, urging him on.

Alejandro sighs again but doesn't stop what he's doing. Taking that as a good sign, Faraday slides down off his pillow and stumbles over to him, having some difficulty moving thanks to the way his previous movements have churned up bedding. 

Reaching Alejandro's side, he does his best climb into the man's lap and for once isn't immediately tossed aside like he's a live grenade. Letting out a pleased huff, he settles himself down as best he can and wriggles contentedly. This is, after all, what he's been wanting all night.

Above him, Alejandro makes a sound that's not quite a laugh but is close. "You make a very cute puppy, guero. I'll give you that." He pauses briefly, and his voice goes sad. "I like you better the other way though."

And you think I don't? Faraday can't say he cares much for tonight's inability to communicate. Rolling over onto his back, he paws at Alejandro's face, and wishes there was some way he could soothe the man's worries.

Long, skilled fingers trail along the fur of his belly and then dig in in a way he heartily approves of. It feels even better than when Emma had done it earlier in the evening, and one of his back legs starts kicking in pleasure without his permission.

Alejandro chuckles. "Muy lindo, de hecho." He murmurs.

Faraday has no idea what that means, but it sounds good and Alejandro hasn't stopped what he's doing so he's taking it as a win.

They stay like that for a few more minutes. Alejandro's quiet, more quiet than usual, but he's also calmer, less agitated. Even better, he doesn't once try to exile Faraday to another part of the house. Eventually, however, Faraday realizes that he's going to have to take the lead on this one if either of them is going to get any real sleep tonight. 

Alejandro makes a surprised sound when Faraday draws back and gets out from under his attentions. He makes the same sound again when Faraday climbs all the way off him and lands on the mattress with a thump. "You going somewhere, Joshua?"

Faraday figures that much is obvious, but he nods his head anyway, wanting to keep an open channel of communication whenever possible. He steps onto the side of the bed he considers to be his and curls up right in front of his pillow. Arranging himself to his satisfaction, he glances back at Alejandro and barks.

"You sure?" Alejandro asks. He still sounds like he doesn't much care for the idea, but at least he's no longer refusing it outright.

Since he can't currently utter the words 'Get over here and cuddle with me, asshole', and also probably wouldn’t even if he was human, Faraday barks again.

"Fine." Alejandro says, finally, blessedly caving. He takes a moment to straighten out the mess Faraday's made of the bedding, and then lies down in his spot after what feels like forever. "Though, this is still strange."

Strange, or some variation thereof, is apparently Alejandro's new favourite word. Faraday would sympathize, but he's the one who's spent the night magically cursed into a ten pound ball of fluff and if he can handle that so can Alejandro. End of story.

Alejandro may have given in and lay down in their bed, but he's still keeping himself too far away for Faraday's tastes. Even worse, he's curled tightly in on himself, making his intention not to touch plain.

Look dejected. Faraday tells himself firmly. Look dejected, look dejected, look dejected. He'll cave if you pretend to be pathetic enough. He always does.

He lets out a tiny whine, doing his best to sound pitiful, and makes his ears droop for added measure. Alejandro hums out a soothing noise in response, but stays where he is much to Faraday's chagrin.

Not willing to give up that easily, Faraday squirms forward on his belly, inching over until he's as close to Alejandro as he dares, and whines again. He's near enough now that he can feel a gust of air when Alejandro exhales deeply, and he has to fight the urge to let out a smug noise of satisfaction when a large hand comes up and rubs at his side.

"What is it going to take," Alejandro asks tiredly, "for you to go to sleep for the night?"

Well, Faraday thinks, he did ask.

Giving up all pretences of subtlety, Faraday shuffles over until he can press himself up against Alejandro's side and curls into a ball.

"Oh." Alejandro says, and god help him if he doesn't sound surprised by Faraday's actions, like this isn't what he's been after all night. He hums thoughtfully. "I - guess you can stay." He says haltingly.

Faraday would roll his eyes, but their respective positions make it impossible for Alejandro to see him do so, meaning he doesn't bother. Instead, he does nothing until Alejandro curls an arm tentatively around him, at which point he heaves out a contented sigh.

He's going to make Alejandro pay for all this come morning, but for now he'll let things be.

*****

Vasquez is woken up the next morning by a very human hand shoving him out of bed. He hits the floor hard enough that he bounces a little, though the fall is at least somewhat cushioned by the various pieces of laundry Joshua had strewn about the night before. Disoriented, he looks up at the bed he'd just been sleeping in and finds a pair of green eyes glaring back at him.

"Not exactly a comfortable spot, is it, darlin'?" Joshua snarls.

Vasquez winces. It's possible he deserved that. Opening his mouth to admit as much, he gets cut off when a pillow slams into his face. Wheezing, he shoves it away. "Guero, what -?"

A second pillow cuts him off midsentence, and Joshua huffs out an unimpressed breath above him. “If you like the floor so much, I reckon you should try it.” He suggests.

Pushing both the pillows he’s been hit with back, Vasquez flops down onto the floor and lets out a sigh. “Am I allowed to point out that I gave you what you wanted in the end?”

“You’re goin’ to be lucky if you’re allowed to talk at all.” Joshua tells him, and there’s an edge to his voice that makes Vasquez flinch.

Sitting up slowly, he places his forearms on the bed and rests his chin in his hands, flashing what Joshua has more than once referred to as his ‘puppy dog eyes’. “I was worried about you.” He says quietly. “Maybe I didn’t handle it very well, but that’s what it was.”

Letting his gaze roam over Joshua’s body, he does a visual check to see that the other man is okay, but what he wants to do is reach out and touch. Tentatively, he stretches out a hand to try and do so, hoping that he won’t end up ignored or worse.

Joshua eyes him warily, but makes no move to pull away when Vasquez trails his fingers lightly over the inside of his wrist. The skin is soft to the touch, and Vasquez can feel Joshua’s pulse beating sure and steady beneath his touch. “How are you feeling?” He asks.

“No worse for wear.” Joshua says with a shrug. He still looks annoyed, but has yet to pull away so Vasquez feels a slight stirring of hope that he won’t be exiled to the couch tonight.

“You gonna yell at me, guero?” He asks, aiming to keep his voice low.

Joshua makes a face at him. “Thinkin’ about it.” He admits. “It’d be the least you deserved after last night.”

“Mm.” Vasquez hums thoughtfully, and keeps up the caressing motion. “If you have any suggestions for how I can make it up to you, I’m listening.”

Now Joshua snorts. “Funny. Listenin’ was the last thing you were in a mood to do last night.”

Vasquez makes a pained noise and buries his face in the covers. “I might have deserved that,” he mutters into the bedding.

“You think?” Joshua asks. He pulls his hand arm free from Vasquez’s grasp and moves to get out of bed. “I’m goin’ to find somethin’ to eat. You, I figure, can either stay here and clean up this mess now, or come with me and clean it up later.”

Vasquez shoots upright like he’s been shocked. “You made the mess!” He snaps.

Joshua shrugs dismissively. “Yeah, but I wouldn’t’ve had to if you’d just pulled your head out of your ass long enough to. Listen. To. Me.”

The last few words are growled out one after the other, and Vasquez deflates as quickly as he’d previously gone rigid. “I said I was sorry.” He mumbles.

“No.” Joshua says firmly. “You did not.”

Vasquez considers this. “Ah.” He says slowly. “Fair point. Lo siento, guerito.” He says contritely. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

Joshua gives him a long look. “And is that a ‘I promise it won’t happen again because you’ll never be a damn puppy again’ or a ‘I promise it won’t happen again because if you get turned into a damn puppy again, I will react accordingly?”

 “The second one?” Vasquez hedges.

 “Right answer.” Joshua says, and he finally cracks a smile. “Come one, y’overgrown idiot. Stop givin’ me the sad eyes and get up.”

Vasquez doesn't have to be told twice. Scrambling to his feet, he navigates the disaster that Joshua turned their room into during the night, and moves to follow him out into the hallway. "You do realize the others aren't going to shut up about this for months, right?"

Not appearing bothered, Joshua bumps him with his shoulder and smirks. "Maybe, but for once it's you who comes off looking worse. Let 'em come."

Vasquez sighs. 

Chapter Text

It’s simply a matter of course in relationships that couples fight. Some may do it more than others, indeed, some may do it more than they should, but no pair, no matter how content with each other, goes through life without ever having problems. Faraday knows this, even with his limited experience in actual romantic relationships, and he’d hardly expected that he and Alejandro might somehow, magically wind up as the exception that proved the rule.

On the other hand, he hadn’t at all been prepared for what would first set them off.

*****

It starts, as most fights do, with something innocuous. Faraday’s been strung out all day, a tension he can’t explain having built up in him over the past little while, finally seeming to have reached its breaking point, and the resulting frayed nerves are doing a number on his already notoriously short fuse.

The thing of it was, Faraday hadn't stopped to think about what he was getting into when he'd blindly agreed to stay with Alejandro and the rest of his pack. He'd been recuperating from his injuries with them for almost two months, and had just assumed he'd known what to expect when it came to living with them for good. Hell, after so long alone he'd welcomed the idea.

Unfortunately, his having been alone for so long wound up being more of a problem than anticipated. Faraday was used to long stretches of time where he had no one's company but his own. What he was not used to was having people in his space 24/7, multiple people at that. In hindsight, he should have realized that having Alejandro alone around all the time would have taken some getting used to, to say nothing of the rest of the pack. On the other hand, it's not like he had much of a frame of reference for this kind of thing.

Still, if he'd maybe stopped to think about how much of an adjustment period he was looking at, he might have done things a little differently and therefore avoided certain instances of ... unpleasantness.

*****

On a crisp fall evening, Faraday ducks out of the house and is relieved to see that, for once, nobody else has beaten him to it. He sprawls out on one of the many chairs littering the back porch and huffs out a tired sigh, hoping against hope that no one will find him any time soon. All he needs is just a little time to himself.

Of course, because his luck is abysmal at the best of times - no matter what certain doctors who've pulled multiple bullets out of him like to maintain - he's been outside for all of two minutes before his desperately needed solitude is interrupted by the sound of the back door opening and someone stepping outside.

"There you are," says a voice that Faraday would be pleased to hear at any other time, "I wondered where you'd gotten to. I haven't seen you since suppertime."

Faraday grunts as Alejandro comes around and drops down into the chair next to his. He's close enough that their knees brush against each other with only a little effort on his part. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but tonight it's all that and more.

"Don't." Faraday says. He shies away from the touch, drawing his leg back out of reach and shuffling his chair further away for added measure. 

"Guero?" Alejandro asks, surprised. "Is something wrong?"

Unable to stop himself, Faraday bristles at the question. He knows Alejandro doesn't mean anything by it, that he's asking because he's genuinely concerned and not because he's nosy, but when a man is already feeling like he's lost any and all form of privacy, that kind of inquiry isn't helpful.

"I'm fine." He says gruffly. With luck Alejandro will leave it be at that, and Faraday will be able to keep a lid on the temper he can feel just waiting to bubble to the surface.

"You do not sound fine." Alejandro tells him, and it's all Faraday can do not to groan aloud as he keeps pressing. "Don't look fine, either. Come on, Joshua, tell me what's wrong."

He reaches out a hand, clearly intending to make contact, and Faraday's up and out of his seat before he's made a conscious decision to move. "Don't touch me." He spits, stress adding a whole new level of venom to the words. "Fuck, does nobody in this damn house understand the concept of personal space? It's a thing you know!"

A look of hurt flashes across Alejandro's features, but it vanishes just as quickly as his eyes narrow. "I know what personal space is, mijo. If you needed some you should have just said instead of snapping. I'll respect it."

"Hah!" Faraday barks. "Nobody here respects it. Not a single, damned soul!" He jabs a finger first at Alejandro and then in the direction of the main house to better illustrate his point. "It's like livin' in a fuckin' glass bubble every day of my life. No matter where I go someone's always there before me, and if I somehow manage to get a few blessed seconds to myself, up you all pop to ruin it. You don't even blink! It's just there you are, and now you're lookin' at me like I'm crazy. Well, I ain't."

"Sure sound crazy." Alejandro drawls, and he might very well mean it as a joke to defuse the tension, in fact, judging by the tentative smile on his face he almost certainly does. Unfortunately, what he actually accomplishes is to send Faraday's temper ramping up a few more notches.

"Thanks." Faraday hisses. He balls his hands into fists at his sides, fingernails cutting sharply into his palms as he squares his shoulders and glares over at the other man. "You makin' fun of me is exactly what I need right now, asshole."

Alejandro frowns, his smile fading. "Joshua, I'm not making fun of you," he starts, "I'm just - ".

"Yeah, yeah, let me stop you right there, jackass." Faraday cuts him off with a waving hand. "You're makin' light of what I'm tellin' you because you don't see it as a valid complaint. Well I've got news for you, hombre, it is for me, and I don't appreciate the way you're tryin' to fuckin' brush it under the goddamned rug!"

"Joshua, stop swearing at me." Alejandro snaps. His voice is tight and his jaw is starting to clench as his own temper rises. "I'm trying to help, and you have no right to be yelling at me just because you are in a mood."

"Oh my god," Faraday barks, doing just that. "You haven't listened to a single friggin' thing I've said! All I'm askin' for is to be left alone for five fuckin' seconds, and you can't even do that! Jesus fuck, Alejandro. Go the hell away!"

"No!" Alejandro snarls, and he follows the refusal up with something in Spanish that Faraday doesn't need translated to know it's a blistering invective. "You do not get to scream at me for no reason and expect me to just sit back and take it," he adds, switching back to English when Faraday shoots a heated glare his way. "Either tell me what your problem is or expect me to keep picking at it."

They stare at each other for several long seconds, each of them breathing heavily as tension all but crackles in the air between them until Faraday finally finds his voice. 

"No," he says meanly, not missing the way Alejandro flinches at the lone word of denial. "I don't have to tell you jack shit if I don't want to, and I don't have to stay here and let you pry into my business, either."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Alejandro demands, but he's talking to thin air.

Whirling around on one foot, Faraday stomps into the house with every intention of grabbing his car keys and getting the hell out of here for a little while. Remembering that said keys are in his and Alejandro's room, he storms past a startled looking Sam and Jack, both of whom are posted up at the counter, clearing away the last remnants of supper, and heads for the stairs.

The door to Goodnight and Billy's room opens as he continues by, Billy leaning up against it with a frown on his face, and at the same time Emma pokes her head out of the living room. One look at Faraday's expression is enough to send them both back where they'd come from, but their mere presence is enough to further illustrate Faraday's problem. There is no privacy anywhere in this house, and a man can't so much as get into a personal discussion without half a dozen others around to lay witness to it.

His mood souring with every step he takes, and then souring even more so when he realizes Alejandro is following him, growling low under his breath the whole time, Faraday makes his way across the upstairs floor like he's fueled by the wrath of god himself. He flings their bedroom door open, not caring about the way the motion sends it thudding harshly into the wall and very nearly bursts a blood vessel with what he finds there.

"Oh for fuck's sakes!" He snarls, his temper flaring hotter than he can remember in a long while. "Out! Get the fuck out of here and stay that way!"

Red and Teddy share and alarmed look from where they're curled up in a mismatched bundle of fur at the center of the bed. Teddy lets out a confused whine as Faraday glares down at both of them, and Alejandro, who's only now arrived on the scene, clears his throat in the doorway. 

"Joshua," he starts, pitching his voice low and in a placating way that only serves to set Faraday's temper coursing ever higher. "Whatever your problem is, don't take it out on the boys. They haven't done anything wrong."

Faraday turns around just long enough to shoot him a glare and then redirects his scowl back at the other two weres. "The fact that you can say that proves you don't have a clue about what's goin' on. And you two," he adds as Red and Teddy still haven't moved, "the door is right fuckin' there. Either get your asses through it on your own, or I'll do it for you."

Both boys stand up at that, and they scramble off the bed in an obvious bid to escape Faraday's wrath. He feels a slight pang of guilt as they both bolt for the door with their tails tucked between their legs, Red going to so far as to shoot Faraday a hurt look as he clears the threshold on Teddy's heels, but not enough of one to tell them to come back. 

Alejandro swears viciously after they've gone. "What is the matter with you?" He demands hotly, staring at Faraday like he's lost his mind. "You're acting like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum!"

The sad thing is Alejandro's not far from the truth with that line. However, the difference here is Faraday's not acting out because he's not getting his way, he's doing it because he has no idea how express himself properly. As much as he knows what his problem is, there's some kind of gap between where this knowledge is stored in his brain and the part of his mouth that will let the words out to explain everything.

"You don't understand," he says finally, and if he sounds more defeated now than he does angry, so be it. He feels defeated. "Honestly, I don't think that you can."

"Joshua - " Alejandro starts, but Faraday cuts him off like he has so many times already tonight.

"No," he says, and if his tone isn't entirely lacking hostility, at least it's a fair bit kinder than it has been since things had gotten so wildly out of his control. "Not right now, sweetheart. I can't do this here."

He sees his keys where they're sitting next to his phone and wallet on top of his dresser, like a sign that they're waiting for him and ready to go. Grabbing the lot of them, he stuffs the items into various pockets of his jeans and glances around for his coat. Spotting it where it's been flung over the back of chair, ironically tangled up with Alejandro's own, he picks it up and shrugs it on.

"I have to go." He mumbles, making a show of adjusting the collar so he has something to do with his hands. "I'll be ..." He sighs. "Maybe don't wait up."

He hears Alejandro suck in a pained breath, and ducks the other man's gaze as he shuffles around him to get out of the room. It's cowardly, he knows that, but there's a whirlwind of emotions flitting around in his head and he needs to get out of here to get them under control. If he looks at Alejandro right now, though, that's not going to happen.

Alejandro doesn't follow him this time, and honestly Faraday doesn't know if he's relieved or not.

*****

It doesn't take him long to realize that he's in no fit state to be driving. He's more keyed up from the fight than he has been in a while and his ability to focus is completely shot. The only thing that keeps him from turning the car around is the thought of having to go home and face the music. Faraday’s always been good at running from his problems, and tonight is going to be no exception.

Since it seems fitting to head somewhere to drown his sorrows, he winds up in the first bar he comes across, which is of course the one where he and Alejandro had met the better part of a year ago. They’d been back a few times since, but always together, never just Faraday by his lonesome.

It’s early in the evening, far too early for the kind of drinking binge Faraday’s now contemplating, so much so that the bar is virtually empty when he walks in. There’s a couple people, college students from the look of them, setting up by one of the pool tables, but aside from them it’s just Faraday and the bored looking woman behind the bar. She looks vaguely familiar, and after a moment he realizes it’s because she’d been the one serving drinks that first night, the one who’d dropped an entire bottle of booze down right in front of Alejandro and then told Faraday to watch him in the same breath. Her hair’s a different color tonight, a mixture of blue and sea green instead of the vibrant red it’d been the last time he’d seen her, but it’s definitely the same woman.

Undeterred in the face of this realization, Faraday heads directly to the counter and settles down onto the nearest available stool. “Glass of whiskey,” he says resting his elbows on the polished veneer. “I don’t care what kind, so long as it’s strong.”

"Ah yes," the woman drawls, "because that's my favorite line to hear come out of a customer's mouth. On a scale of one to ten, how drunk do you plan on getting tonight?"

"About eight hundred." Faraday grumbles. "And if I wanted someone to pick my brain I'd've called a shrink."

Rather than reaching for the booze like he'd requested, the woman props her elbows up on the counter and eyes Faraday critically. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that bartenders are some of the best listeners in the world? I've heard it all, my friend, just try it and see."

Faraday snorts. "I'd prefer the alcohol, thanks."

She shrugs in return. "Suit yourself." She wanders away for a little bit, but the place isn't busy and it takes her practically no time at all to come back with the whiskey laden glass he'd asked for.

Picking it up, Faraday salutes her with it and then takes a hearty gulp. It burns as it glides down his throat, the mouthful he'd taken maybe a little larger than it should have been, but he rides it out without flinching. He's always had a knack for handling the harder stuff and while he might not be spending as much time as before in bars these days, that hasn't changed.

Someone makes a thoughtful humming noise nearby, and he glances over to see that the bartender hasn't gone far. She's only a couple of feet away, running a cloth over a glass in her hand. As Faraday catches her eye, she shrugs. "What? I've got nothing better to do until it starts picking up a little."

"Lucky you." Faraday grouses. It seems like he can't get a little time to himself no matter where he goes. "I don't suppose you could do me a favor and find some other sadsack to play armchair therapist for, could you?"

The woman makes a show of looking around the all but empty bar and then raises a dark eyebrow at him. "Unless those boys in the corner are doing a real good job of hiding things, I think it's only you who's having a crap night." She cocks her head to the side thoughtfully. "I recognize you by the way, you're not usually in here alone. What's the matter, you and that pretty boyfriend of yours break up?"

Faraday sputters and barely manages to keep from spraying the surrounding area with cheap whiskey. "We didn't break up." He snaps, glaring at her. "What the fuck do you know?"

"Ah," she says calmly, unfazed by his attitude, "so it was only a fight then. Romantic troubles have a very distinctive kind of sulking," she adds when he continues to gape at her. "I'm good at spotting them."

"Goody for you." Faraday snaps. "Why don't you find somewhere else to give yourself a pat on the back?"

"Hey, I work here." She points out. "You're the one who's here out of the kindness of the owner's heart." She gives him a triumphant grin when he doesn't have anything to say to that and pulls out another glass to toy with. "So what'd you do?"

Faraday hunches further down in his seat. "What makes you think I did anythin'?"

This time she gives him a pitying look. "The ones who're guilty of causing the romantic troubles have an even more distinctive look. You've got it plastered all over you."

Faraday takes a couple more swigs from his glass before he answers. "I might," he says eventually, "have blown up at him over somethin'. Somethin' he didn't know was a problem for me."

The bartender makes a thoughtful sound and then nods. "Communication issues, okay. That's a pretty common one."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Faraday demands. He scowls at her.

"Nah," she replies dismissively, "but it does give me a starting place to work with. Let me guess, you've had this problem for a long time, but instead of telling him about it, you pretended it wasn't happening and then, surprise surprise, hit a breaking point where it all boiled over. Cue a messy, explosive, and above all else incredibly stupid fight."

Faraday scowls at her some more. "Nobody likes a smartass."

"I beg to differ." She replies. "I am loved by many, many people. I'm also right. Your answer proves it."

"Yeah?" He asks. His glass is half empty now, but instead of drinking from it again, he starts sliding it back and forth from one hand to the other. "Well if you're that good then, tell me what the fight was about."

She shakes her head, refusing to take the bait. "I don't know, and I don't care. It doesn't matter what it was because the way to fix it is always the same."

"And that is?" Faraday asks after she's been quiet for longer than he's comfortable with.

Her pitying look comes back in full force. "The fact that you need this spelled out for you explains so much. You tell him what's going on, dumbass."

Faraday snorts and moves to take another drink from his glass. "I like how easy you make that sound, like he's not pissed as all hell right now."

She rolls her eyes. "I'm sure he is, but if you picked a fight for what, to him at least looks like no reason, I guarantee you he wants to know why. Even if he kicked you out, you can probably get back in if you look pathetic enough." She rakes her eyes up and down his body and then shrugs. "Shouldn't be too hard in your case."

"Thanks," Faraday grumbles, "and for the record, he didn't kick me out, I left."

"Again, I'm not surprised. You've got that look of stupid about you too." The front door chimes and she straightens at the signal that she no longer has time to sit around involving herself in Faraday's personal business. "Go home, dude. We both know you want to, and you're just going to make yourself feel worse if you sit around here sulking all night."

Faraday holds up his half empty glass and considers it thoughtfully. He hasn't had near enough to stop him from driving and he supposes the crazy bartender has a point. He doesn't want to stay here all night, or in town at all for that matter. His own bed is much more comfortable.

Mind you, that's assuming Alejandro will let him in it after what happened earlier.

Sighing, he sets the glass back down on the counter and watches as the bartender gets her newest customers sorted. Once she's done that he catches her eye and motions her over, pushing the glass towards her when she arrives. "You may as well take this. I reckon I don't need it."

"You reckon correctly," she agrees, "but I need something from you before you go."

"Yeah?" What's that?"

"You're damn credit card. Just because you're not drinking it all doesn't mean you're not paying for it."

Laughing for the first time in hours, Faraday reaches for his wallet and does as he's told.

*****

"I figured you'd be back tonight." 

Startled, Faraday glances up from where he'd been trying to surreptitiously slide his key into the lock on the front door and looks around for the source of the voice. He probably should have known better than to think he could sneak inside with no one being the wiser, not in a house full of people with such abnormally good hearing, but he'd figured he'd give it a shot nevertheless. Now caught out, however, he heaves out a sigh and looks over at Jack.

The oldest member of the pack has foregone his usual place on the porch swing in favour of a more compact chair further towards the back of the house, and is eyeing Faraday calmly from this position. He doesn't look overly critical, Faraday doesn't think, but then Jack rarely does - preferring to let some of the younger, more brash weres express his displeasure for him.

Straightening up out of his crouch, Faraday stifles a sigh and does his best to seem innocent. "Hey, Jack," he says simply, "did you draw the short straw when it comes to dealin' with me?"

Jack makes a noise that from anybody else would come off as a snort and settles more deeply in his chair. "No one sent me to deal with anything. The reason being they've all pretty much assumed we won't see hide nor hair of you until tomorrow at the earliest."

He tilts his head to the side and flashes Faraday the ghost of a knowing grin. "Not me though. I figured you'd come slinking back before the night was through, like a dog with its tail between its legs, something I'm quite familiar with."

Faraday momentarily bristles at this suggestion, but that passes as quickly as it's come on. Jack is right after all. Guiltily slinking home after he figured everyone would be asleep is exactly what he's doing, so he hardly has a leg to stand on in the face of someone pointing it out.

Sighing, he pulls away from the door and moves closer to where Jack is sitting. Resting his elbows on the porch railing behind him, he leans back and point blank refuses to meet the older man's gaze. "I fucked up, didn't I?" He asks, feeling more drained than he has in a long while.

He hears a rustles of fabric that probably indicates Jack's shrugging. "Yes and no." The old man replies.

That's not the response Faraday was expecting, and his head snaps down in surprise. "No? What do you mean, no?"

Jack meets his incredulous stare without issue. "I believe you'll find I said 'yes and no' instead of just plain no. You're still in trouble, son, just not as much as you think."

Faraday considers this for a moment or two and then shakes his head. "Yeah, sorry old man, but I'm not followin' you at all. Y'wanna try and clear that up a bit?"

Jack's lips twitch in bemusement before he schools his features into something more somber. "You were out of line, Faraday, no one's going to say you weren't, but none of us realized how overwhelmed you were getting either. This pack hasn't had a human in it since Matthew, and he was frankly better socialized than you. We probably should have expected something like this to happen."

Faraday considers whether or not he should be offended by this and then decides not to bother. He's been told on more than one occasion that the truth hurts, so this is likely just further proof of the fact. 

"I'll have to take your word for that." He says finally. "You got any advice for what I should do now?"

"Well," Jack scratches idly at his snowy white beard and grins, "I seem to recall that grovelling always worked best for me when I'd ticked Maya off. Then again," he adds, and Faraday doesn't think he's imagining the way his tone has sharpened, "it's not just Vasquez you have to worry about."

"I know." Faraday says, shame pooling white hot in the pit of his stomach as he remembers the way Red and Teddy had darted away from him earlier. "Fuck, I know."

"Mhmm." Jack says simply. "Now, this is only a suggestion, of course, but you might want to go tackle those two before you deal with Vasquez. At least he got the chance to yell back. The boys were innocent."

"Right." Faraday says when this seems to be the extent of what Jack has to say on the matter. "I'll just ... go do that, shall I?"

Jack motions him on his way with a wave of his hand. As Faraday watches, he settles back in his seat with a groan, no doubt intent on napping for a bit.

 Or hopefully napping, anyway, Faraday wouldn't put it past him to sleep there all night. It'd hardly be the weirdest thing he'd ever seen the man do.

The house is quiet when he steps inside, without the usual noise from the more public spaces like the living room and the kitchen. He knows it's late and the lack of noise is probably just because everyone is in bed, but it still sits poorly with him. It makes him feel like he's trespassing.

The door to the basement is firmly closed, which isn't a surprise, but once he's down the stairs he sees there's only one light on, this one emanating from Red's room, which is. Cautiously, Faraday steps forward and then slowly eases the door open.

"Aw, shit." Faraday mutters when he gets a good look at the kids. They're curled up, not quite touching on Red's bed, each of them looking miserable. 

At the sound of Faraday's voice, Teddy turns to look at him, his eyes downcast, while Red studiously ignores him. Teddy opens his mouth to say something, and then closes it with a snap before burrowing up against Red's side. 

Still not looking at Faraday, Red hooks his arm around the younger were and lets him curl up without protest. It is the single most damning thing Faraday has ever seen him do and makes it abundantly clear how upset they both are.

Shuffling his feet awkwardly, Faraday clears his throat even though they're both well aware he's here. "Hey, guys." He says quietly. "Mind if I come in?"

Red keeps on refusing to look at him, but Teddy glances back and forth between him and Faraday a few times before nudging the other were in the side. The two of them have a brief conversation entirely through various facial expressions, and Red shrugs. Then Teddy turns back to Faraday and nods. "I guess you can come in."

And wasn't that a ringing endorsement if ever there was one. 

On the other hand, it looked like it was the best offer he was going to get. Stepping inside, Faraday closes the door behind him and only belatedly realizes there's nowhere for him to sit since the boys aren't likely to want him that close to them. Wonderful, he supposes he'll just have to stand then. 

Unsure of where to start and feeling more awkward than he has in a long time, Faraday scratches at the back of his neck. "Sooo." He says slowly, and then immediately trails off because he has nothing better to add.

The kids share another look. Red's face remains as stoic as ever, but eventually Teddy turns back to him, and says plaintively, "What did we do wrong?"

"Fuck." Faraday groans, and suddenly it's a lot less hard to find what he needs to say. "Teddy. Red. You guys didn't do anythin' wrong. Jesus, kid. You were just unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire of me 'n Alejandro goin' at it."

Teddy frowns at this. "So, you're not mad at us?" He asks, his voice tentative. "Because," and here he once again looks at Red for confirmation before soldiering on, "we didn't mean to upset you. You never had a problem with us being in your room before."

Now Faraday winces. "Teddy ..." He starts and then trails off because he doesn't know how explain what's going on to a twelve year old. Hell, he barely knows how to explain it to himself.

"It's complicated." He says finally, and Red snorts from where he's still sitting on the bed with his arm curled protectively around Teddy. "Yeah," Faraday agrees, "I'm aware that's a shit answer."

“Then why say it?” Red asks, speaking for the first time.

“Because for all it’s a shit answer, it’s also an honest one.” Faraday tells him. He motions at the bed with one hand. “Is it alright if I sit?”

Just like they had when he’d asked if he could come in, the two boys share a look that contains an entire conversation's worth of words. Then, once that’s over and done with, they both nod. Breathing out a sigh of relief, Faraday shuffles over and manages to worm his way in between them until he has one kid on each side of him.

“This isn’t what I thought you meant.” Red grumbles and holds himself so that he and Faraday aren’t in contact anywhere, unlike Teddy who leans into Faraday’s side after only a moment’s hesitation.

“Yeah, well.” Faraday shrugs. The fact of the matter is that werewolves are incredibly tactile people, and while that might have been part of the problem earlier, what with how they thrive on being always underfoot, it’s also useful in helping with apologies. “I’m tryin’ to make amends here. Trouble is I haven’t had much experience in my life with that, so bear with me.”

“It’s not hard.” Teddy says helpfully and damned if the little brat isn’t head-butting Faraday in the shoulder for some reason. “Mostly you’re just supposed to say you’re sorry.”

“Well I am sorry, truly.” Faraday assures him. “It’s just that I understand the concept of sayin’ so more in theory than in practice.”

Red gives him a long look and then elbows him sharply in the side. “Weak.” The young were says gruffly. “You’re in trouble if that’s all you’ve got for Vasquez.”

Wheezing slightly, Faraday rubs at the spot where Red had connected. “Don’t I know it? Either of you boys have any suggestions for what I should do there?”

“Time travel.” Red replies.

“Not helpful.” Faraday glares at him, and lets his hand fall back into his lap with a sigh. “I suck at this.”

“You really do.” Teddy agrees, and Red coughs on Faraday’s other side to cover up a noise of agreement.

“Ugh.” Faraday says succinctly. He closes his eyes for a few seconds, and then cracks them both open as he peers first from one youngster to the other. “You two think you can forgive me? I know I was out of line, and I promise I won’t do it again.”

Teddy gives him a sunny smile and a nod, apparently willing to let bygones be bygones, while Red remains somber. He eyes Faraday warily for several long moments, and then abruptly elbows him a second time, his eyes crinkling when Faraday lets out a startled oof. “I guess.” He says, not quite laughing as he does so.

“Awesome.” Faraday croaks out, struggling to get his breath back. There was nothing quite like getting elbowed in the lungs by a werewolf to make breathing difficult. “Now, more important question, how long are you guys goin’ to let me hide from Alejandro down here?”

He doesn’t miss the way Red and Teddy share a conspiratorial look over his body, but nor is he fast enough to get out of the way when they jump him.

*****

Faraday manages to escape the runts’ clutches through a combined mixture of grovelling and irate bellowing; the sheer amount of which he’s surprised doesn’t bring the whole household down on them. On the other hand, it’s well after midnight at this point, so he supposes most if not all of the others are asleep. Or rather, he supposes that until he climbs to the top of the main stairs and sees a light shining out from under the door at the end of the hallway. It seems Alejandro at least is still awake.

A feeling of trepidation washes over him, and he takes a deep breath before steeling himself to walk down the hallway. He thinks about knocking to announce his presence, but decides he doesn’t want to risk having Alejandro tell him to fuck off before seeing him. That’s why he instead slowly eases the door open and looks inside.

Just in time to see Alejandro pull back one arm and then use it launch a heavy paperback novel across the room.

“Jesus!” Faraday yelps. He watches at the book slams into the wall and then falls to the ground in a mess of fluttering pages. “Darlin’, if you don’t want me in here just say so and I’ll go sleep on the fuckin’ couch. There's no need to be hurlin' projectiles all over the place.”

Alejandro’s head snaps up and he turns wide, startled eyes in Faraday’s direction. “Joshua?” He says, and damnit if he doesn’t seem surprised to see Faraday standing in the doorway. “I – ”, he looks back at where the book is lying in a crumpled heap, “Lo siento, cariño. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Oh.” Now it’s Faraday’s turn to be surprised. Alejandro’s hearing is world’s better than his own, and he’d just assumed the man would have known he was back. “So you’re not tossin’ novels about just because I came home. Good to know.”

Alejandro flinches. It’s barely perceptible, but Faraday doesn’t miss it. “Ah. No. I was hoping reading it would distract me enough to sleep, but it wasn’t working. Honestly, I wasn't expecting you to come back at all.”

Faraday winces and hopes that by 'not come back at all' Alejandro had been referring only to tonight and not anything more permanent. The last thing he wants is Alejandro thinking he's decided to up and walk out on him for good. Taking a deep breath, he steps fully into the room, and quietly closes the door behind him. “Sorry, about that. I didn’t – fuck.” He trails off not knowing what else to say. “I didn’t mean to start shit.”

“Yes, well,” Alejandro sighs, “I didn’t mean to let it get so out of hand.”

“You didn’t.” Faraday assures him. He pushes away from where he’s been leaning against the door and takes a few tentative steps towards the man sitting on the bed. “I shouldn’t have – it wasn’t you I was mad at, or the kids, it was the situation. I swear to god this is all on me and not you.”

“Joshua, what situation? Guero, I understand that you were upset about something, but I have no idea what it was.” Alejandro swallows and wraps his arms around his knees, looking at his bare feet instead of Faraday. “Fixing things would probably be a lot easier if you’d just tell me what I did.”

“Aw, fuck.” Faraday says. Dropping down next to him on the bed, he nudges Alejandro with his elbow, and when that doesn’t work rests his cheek against the other man’s shoulder. “Sweetheart, you're not listenin' to me. Nobody did anythin’, not on purpose, anyway.”

That gets Alejandro’s attention, and he shifts to stare at Faraday, confusion etched firmly across his features. “I don’t understand.”

Faraday sucks in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, trying to come up with the best way to explain where his head is at. After his conversation with the bartender - and, really, he should maybe take the time to learn her name the next time he's in there - he'd taken some time to think about how to lay out his problem before he'd headed home. Keeping that in mind, he chews absently on his bottom lip and then says, “You grew up surrounded by people, yeah? Folks always in each other’s space and underfoot. Half a dozen of you or more in the house at any given time. That kind of thing.”

Alejandro makes a face at him. “Guero, you know I did. I’m afraid I don’t see your point.”

“My point is I didn’t.” Faraday keeps his tone pitched low, hoping against hope it doesn’t come out as accusatory because that’s the last thing he means for it to be. “I grew up with just me and my Ma, and after she was gone it was just me.”

“And you were miserable.” Alejandro cuts in. He gives Faraday a look that dares him to deny it, and Faraday snorts.

“Maybe.” He allows. “Definitely at some points, especially once you came along and made me realize what I was missin’. The problem is, though, it’s still what I’m used to.”

“Meaning?”

“Meanin’ sometimes, like today for example, it is really overwhelmin’ bein’ here.” Faraday huffs out a laugh even though there’s nothing funny about what’s happened. “As fond as I am of everyone, they can be a bit much.”

Alejandro’s body stiffens, and Faraday knows without asking he’s translated ‘they can be a bit much’ as ‘I can’t live with these people any longer’. Reacting on instinct, he curls a hand around Alejandro’s bicep and shifts up to brush a kiss against his jaw. “It’s fine, darlin’. We’re fine. All of us. I promise.”

“That doesn’t sound fine.” Alejandro insists, and his voice is, Faraday doesn’t know how to describe it but it isn’t good. “That sounds like you’re saying you need to -.”

“No,” Faraday says before he can finish. “Alejandro, I’m not goin’ anywhere. I don’t want to go anywhere. I just sometimes need a little breathin’ room.”

“You want me to go sleep downstairs?” When Faraday turns to stare at him, Alejandro shrugs and his mouth turns down unhappily. “If you need space …” He shrugs again.

Faraday pulls back a little to get a better look at him, and considers his options. Then he smacks the idiot lightly upside the head. “Dumbass.” He growls while Alejandro gives him an affronted glare.

“I was trying to be accommodating.” Alejandro insists, like Faraday’s the one acting irrational now.

“Well how about you try usin’ your brain instead.” Faraday suggests, although he softens the crack by brushing their shoulders together. “If I wanted that I’d have just stayed in town for the night.”

“Is that where you went?”

“Mm.” Faraday replies. “I hit up that bar where we met, figured I’d drown my sorrows or some such nonsense, but the crazy bartender wouldn’t let me. We ended up havin’ a nice little chat, her and I. She may have pointed out that stormin’ off in a huff without a word of explanation tends to not sit well with those who got stormed out on.”

Much to Faraday's delight, Alejandro rolls his eyes. “Is that so?” He asks flatly.

“As it happens, it is so.” Faraday tells him. He reaches up and trails his fingers lightly over the hinge of Alejandro’s jaw, seeking forgiveness. “I’m sorry, darlin’. I shouldn’t have yelled at you, and I shouldn’t have just taken off like that. It wasn’t fair, and I promise I’ll do my best not to let it happen again.”

Now Alejandro gives him a wry smile. “Guero, I can’t help but notice that you didn’t promise you wouldn’t do it again.”

Faraday shrugs and flashes his most sheepish grin. “We both know my temper can get the best of me without my consent.” He says, hoping Alejandro can accept a promise to try his best to keep himself in check rather than a guarantee.

Judging by the small smile curling around the edges of the other man’s mouth, it seems like he can, and the same goes for the way he relaxes against Faraday, heaving out a heavy sigh like it’s the first time he’s breathed properly in ages. Taking this as a good sign, Faraday hooks an arm around his shoulders and tucks him more firmly into place.

“Y’know I love you, right?” Faraday asks then, pressing a kiss into Alejandro’s hair. “Even if I don’t say it as much as I should?”

Alejandro lets out a soft humming noise and relaxes even further. “I’m generally pretty certain of it, yes.”

“Good.” Faraday says, inexplicably relieved to have this confirmed. “Good. And you know I'm sorry too, yeah?”

Alejandro gives him a long look and then nods. "Si, I do, but feel free to keep apologizing if you feel up to it."

Laughing, Faraday shoves at him until he winds up sprawled on his back against the pillows and then follows him down.

*****

Faraday wakes up to the sound of more noise than usual emanating from the kitchen. He can’t be certain, but it sounds like almost everyone except himself and Alejandro  - who’s still sacked out beside him, snoring softly – is hanging out down there. Intrigued, he sits up slowly and considers whether or not he wants to get up and see what’s happening.

Deciding that he does, he shoves the covers back and moves to stand up, only stopping when a hand snakes out from beneath the blankets and curls around his wrist. Surprised, he looks down and sees that Alejandro is staring blearily up at him, his eyes unfocused and clearly more than half asleep for all that his grip is sure and strong.

“Where y’going?” He mumbles, his voice thick with sleep.

Chuckling, Faraday reaches over to unhook Alejandro’s fingers from around his arm and then leans forward to press a kiss to the side of the man’s face. “Thought I’d grab some breakfast and maybe see what all the fuss is about while I’m at it. You go back to sleep.”

Alejandro makes a grumbling noise like he’s going to try and protest this suggestion, but his eyes slip shut again as Faraday watches and that’s the end of the matter. Grinning to himself, Faraday gives him a fond pat on the shoulder and then gets up like he’d originally planned.

Early morning sunlight is filtering in through various windows as Faraday makes his way along the house, but it’s the noise that stands out. This early in the day, usually only a handful of the others would be up and about, if that. Yet today when he peers into the kitchen his eyes fall on the rest of the pack, starting with Sam and ending where an unimpressed looking Teddy has his face mashed into Emma’s shoulder.

“What in hell’s name?” Faraday starts to ask. Not only are they all up and dressed – for a given value of ‘up’ in some cases – but there’s enough food to feed an army spread out along the counter top and a pair of coolers waiting to be filled. “Are we goin’ on vacation and somebody forgot to tell me?”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Goodnight says from where he’s industriously cutting up various kinds of food and then handing them to Billy, who is using them to make sandwiches, “and neither is Vasquez. However, the rest of us are making a little sojourn out of town today.”

“They’re making us go to the national park.” Red grunts, giving Faraday an accusing look. “At seven in the morning. On a Sunday. And it’s all your fault.”

Confused, Faraday looks around the room, hoping that maybe one of the others will see fit to give him a better explanation. “Okay, first off, why are you doing this, and, second, how is it my fault?”

“Jack says you and Vasquez need space.” Teddy whines. He lifts his head up just enough that he can give the much older were a dirty look. “Why can’t I give them space by staying in my own bed?”

“Because it’s not the same.” Emma tells him, so that Jack doesn’t have to. “Stop complaining and eat your breakfast. It’s not a short drive, and you’ll be starving by the time we get there if you don’t.”

Teddy makes an unimpressed noise, but starts picking at the food in front of him under her watchful gaze. Although Faraday doesn’t miss the dirty look he shoots her way when she’s no longer watching. Nor does Red based on the way he starts snickering.

Caught up in watching the three of them, he’s not expecting it when Sam appears in front of him holding a tray laden with all manner of breakfast foods imaginable. “Here.” He says, holding it up and clearly expecting Faraday to take it. “Goodnight had me help him put this together for you before he started in on the rest of that mess he’s got going on over there. Take it on upstairs now, and we’ll be long gone by the time you’ve finished it.”

There’s certainly a ring of truth to that, Faraday thinks as he studies the mountain of food being offered to him. The tray is so full even Alejandro’s vaunted appetite is likely to lose out against it. “Uh, thanks.”

Taking the tray more because Sam’s looking increasingly insistent than for any other reason, he frowns around the room. “Not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but what’s this all about? If it’s over how I was actin’ last night, I can’t say as I think I deserve to be rewarded for that mess.”

“Think of it as a peace offering.” Jack says as he stirs a spoon in his coffee mug. “Like I said last night, you were only partly in the wrong, so today we’re all going to get out of your hair and then after that we’ll settle down and come up with a system that’s more respectful of everyone’s boundaries.”

To say Faraday’s a man who’s rarely at a loss for words is something of an understatement, but that’s the case right now. Even worse, there’s a lump in his throat which indicates even if he knew what he wanted to say, he might not be able to get it out. Glad the tray gives him something to do with his hands, he shuffles his feet awkwardly and hopes he’s not blushing quite as much as it feels like he is.

Across the room, Billy looks up from where he’s carefully putting sandwiches together under Goodnight’s watchful eye and smirks. “Five dollars says he cries if one more person says anything family related in front of him.”

“Jackass.” Faraday hisses, but they both know there’s no real heat in it.

“Alright, that’s enough.” Sam says, rolling his eyes before things can escalate any further. “Get out of here, Faraday. You’ve only got the one day before we’re all back here, and I expect you to be a fair bit calmer when that happens.”

Faraday gives him a grin. “I’d salute but my hands are full.”

“Out, Faraday.”

His grin widening, Faraday nods at the lot of them, hoping they can tell how touched he is by their gesture even if he doesn’t have the words to say so, and does as he’s told.

He’s almost made it to the stairs when Billy’s voice rings out again.

“Just remember – if you fuck in any of the communal spaces, we’re all going to be able to smell it!”

Faraday groans. “Goddamned werewolves.”

*****

Alejandro’s still out cold when Faraday makes it back to their room, but the ensuing struggle to get all the food inside without dropping any of it is enough to send him stirring again. “Guero, what -?” He starts to ask, and Faraday shushes him as best as he’s able.

“Don’t look at me. I didn’t have anythin’ to do with this.” He shoulders the door closed behind him and sets the tray on the bed, hopefully in a spot where it won’t get jostled or knocked over. “Apparently all a guy needs to do to get some space around here is to make an ass of himself where everybody can see it.”

When Alejandro raises a questioning eyebrow, Faraday shrugs. “The others have collectively decided to give us the house to ourselves for the entire day, and Goodnight did up all this to go with it.”

At that, Alejandro sits up and eyes the food critically. “Huh.” He says finally. “I did not expect that.”

“You and me both.” Faraday agrees. He shuffles the tray around a bit until he can get back into bed without fear of tipping it over, and leans back against the headboard with a sigh. “Honestly, it just makes me feel guiltier about the whole mess.”

“I doubt that was their intention, guero.” Alejandro says. He makes a considering noise as he starts inspecting the food that’s been brought up. “Hey, strawberries. I didn’t think we had any of those left.”

“You are so fuckin’ easy when it comes to food.” Faraday says fondly. “So easy.”

Tearing himself away from the tray, Alejandro gives him a smile that sets his eyes crinkling at the corners. “I may be easy, but you’re difficult so I think it all balances out.”

Faraday considers being offended by this but almost immediately decides there’s no point. Alejandro’s tone is light, teasing, with no bite behind it whatsoever, and his smile has gone soft in a way it only does when he’s feeling indulgent more than anything else. There’s nothing there to be upset over.

Which is why instead of saying anything, Faraday curls a hand around the back of his neck and reels him in for a kiss.

Chapter Text

Faraday takes a deep, deep breath, possibly the deepest ever, and lets it out slowly. “What,” he demands expansively, “did you idiots do to him?”

“Oh, well, really now, Joshua, there’s no need for name calling.” Goodnight gives Faraday his best haughty glares and sniffs pointedly. “He’s perfectly fine.”

“Excuse me?” Faraday shrills. His voice goes higher than he’d normally allow it, but given the current circumstances he figures he’s due. “I go away for a week to deal with a damn poltergeist some half-cocked fuckwit in Alabama saw fit to piss off, and this is what I come back to!”

He gestures emphatically with one hand, and Alejandro gives him a dopey grin, wagging his tail furiously from where he’s lying on his back with all four paws wriggling in the air. “He’s stoned out of his fuckin’ mind!”

Goodnight makes a ‘pshaw’ sound like the walking southern stereotype he is and waves a dismissive hand. “Stoned is such a harsh way of putting it. We just had a minor incident with a rare variety of wolfsbane that we didn’t realize was even around. It’s completely harmless and will wear off sooner rather than later.”

“And what does ‘sooner rather than later’ actually equate to?” Faraday asks. He’s just driven eighteen hours with barely any stopping in order to get home from a job he’d stupidly agreed to in order to help an old friend. All he wants is a shower, some food, and to fall into bed. Nowhere on that list do the words ‘babysit stoned boyfriend while he’s stuck as a dog because he rolled in something he shouldn’t have’ feature. He’s certain of this.

Next to Goodnight, Billy shrugs and looks bored. “Honestly, we were hoping it’d have worn off by the time you got home. That way we wouldn’t have to tell you about it.”

“Cher!” Goodnight hisses, while Billy appears as unrepentant as ever. “What he means is,” Goodnight begins as he turns back to Faraday, “normally these kinds of effects don’t last very long. Our best guess is he caught a stronger whiff of the stuff than we’d first realized, and it’s taking a bit to work its way through his system.”

“The fact that you sound totally calm about this is really startin’ to get on my nerves,” Faraday tells him seriously. “Is no one worried about him besides me?”

“No,” Billy says flatly.

Before Faraday can respond exactly as he’d like to this, Goodnight holds up his hands quickly. “What he means is we all know he’s going to be fine. Yes, he’s a little – a little loopy right now, but,” he adds, soldiering on determinedly in the face of Faraday’s impressive snort, “he’s not having any unexpected side effects, and he’s no worse off than Sam.”

“Sam?” Faraday echoes. “This thing got Sam too?”

Goodnight’s lips twitch as he nods. “It did. Last I saw him he was outside brawling with the little ones in a manner more befitting a wolf half his age.”

Faraday feels a small spark of amusement course through him at this mental image, but then he remembers his own problems and sighs. “Why can’t things ever be normal around here? Even if only for a day or two.”

“Please,” Goodnight scoffs. “There’d be absolutely no fun in that, and you know it. Vasquez will be fine. Just make sure he doesn’t eat anything he shouldn’t and watch him when he tries to walk. He keeps bumping into things. Or falling over. Or bumping into things while falling over.”

“Like Bambi on ice,” Billy adds helpfully, and Faraday despairs of them both.

“Shove off the pair of you,” Faraday grumps. “I’m grabbin’ myself a bite to eat, and then I’m takin’ this one,” and here he jabs a finger as where Alejandro’s now lying flopped over on his side while still gawking up at the ceiling, “upstairs to sleep this mess off.”

“What has the world come to?” Goodnight laments, while Billy nods and steers him gently in the direction of the doorway. “Kicked out of my own kitchen all because a week on the road made you lose your sense of humour. It’s not fair, Joshua. It really isn’t.”

“Uh huh,” Faraday mutters after them. “I hope you know I’m eatin’ whatever I feel like. I don’t care if I find somethin’ you were plannin’ to save for later.”

The door swings shut on whatever reply Goodnight’s about to make, and Faraday feels a smug sense of satisfaction wash over him knowing that the older were is going to be driving himself crazy wondering which of his prepared meals Faraday’s getting into. “Not that I’d ever actually touch any of his stuff,” Faraday mutters aloud as he hauls open the fridge and starts rooting around for ingredients to make a sandwich. “Not sayin’ he can’t cook, because he sure as hell can, it’s just not worth all the moanin’ and gripin’ he’ll do if I mess with his system.”

Alejandro makes a snuffling noise from his spot on the floor, but otherwise remains quiet.

“Exactly.” Faraday tells him, and then sets his armful of food down on the counter while he goes in search of bread. Once he’s acquired that, he shoves together the world’s quickest sandwich, already taking a bite out of one half of it before he’s started cleaning up the mess he’s made.

Shuffling back over to the fridge with his meal literally hanging out of his mouth, he puts everything away, and then turns to look at where Alejandro is watching him through half-lidded eyes. He takes a quick step to the right followed by another to the left, noting how Alejandro’s gaze flicks to and fro as he goes. Chuckling, he takes the sandwich out of his mouth. “Glad to see you missed me, I guess,” he says, and Alejandro’s tongue lolls out of his mouth as he starts to pant.

A thought occurs to him, and Faraday holds his sandwich above his head, moving it in a slow arc from one side of his body to the other. Alejandro’s eyes track the whole process with lightening intensity, and Faraday rolls his eyes as the truth comes out. “Nice, darlin’. Way to make a guy feel wanted.”

Alejandro whines low in his throat and his ears droop pitifully, but Faraday remains unmoved. “I ain’t sharin’,” he says firmly. “I’ve had nothin’ to eat for days but greasy diner food and what crap I could find in the odd gas station. You’re not takin’ this from me without a fight.”

Normally Alejandro would see that for the challenge it is and immediately move to try and wrestle the food out of Faraday’s hand. Today, however, he starts to roll over and seemingly gets stuck halfway through.

“Oh that’s just embarassin’,” Faraday says around a mouthful of food as he watches Alejandro stare confusedly at his own front paws. “Look at you, y’big dope. I figure you’ve got one, maybe two firin’ brain cells right now. Jesus wept.”

Alejandro cocks his head in Faraday’s direction, but all this does is make him look more stupid because he’s still upside down.

“Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you,” Faraday says, unable to keep from laughing at this point. “I don’t suppose you’d be willin’ to follow me upstairs without a hassle, would you?”

When Alejandro’s sole response is to keep looking at him without so much as blinking, Faraday sighs and takes another bite of his meal. “Yeah,” he says as he swallows, “that’s about what I thought. Okay, let’s try this.”

Crossing over to the counter he pulls a clean plate out of the dishrack and sets the as yet untouched half of his sandwich down on it. “You want this?” He asks, waggling the plate in Alejandro’s direction. “Come and get it.”

He starts back towards the kitchen doorway, chewing idly on the part of the sandwich he’s already been eating while holding the plate out in front of him. “C’mon, sweetheart, don’t let that appetite of yours fail me here. You’re blitzed out of your mind and starvin’ at the best of times, don’t tell me you ain’t got a case of the munchies right now.” He shakes the plate again. “It’s all yours if you can get it from me.”

Perking up, Alejandro scrambles onto his paws with nothing approaching his usual grace, almost pitches ass over tea kettle at least three times before he’s halfway across the room, and lumbers after Faraday with his gaze zeroed in on the food.

“This is ridiculous,” Faraday tells the world at large as he moves backwards down the hallway, heading for the stairs. He has to pause periodically so Alejandro can get his legs sorted out, and spends the entire trek wondering how his life has gotten so insanely out of control.

“Okay,” he says once they’ve reached the foot of the stairwell, “I’ll make you a deal. You make it up the stairs without fallin’ back down them, and I will hand over the half I haven’t already started eatin’.”

Alejandro gives him a skeptical look, a similar version of which Faraday suspects is gracing his own face. “Yeah,” he says slowly, “I don’t think your odds are all that great either.”

“Did you need a hand with him, Joshua?” A voice asks, and Faraday looks up to see Jack poking his head out of the living room. “I heard you go by and thought it might be worthwhile coming to see if you wanted some help.” He flicks his gaze down to Alejandro and huffs out a tiny laugh. “I see he’s still feeling the effects, hmm?”

“He’s stoned out of his gourd,” Faraday says helpfully. “I don’t suppose you’d mind walkin’ behind him if he starts to skid, would you?”

“I was thinking of something a little more proactive,” Jack admits. Stepping forward, he shoves at Alejandro until the other were is arranged the way he wants him, and then bodily picks him up off the ground. “It’s just easier this way.”

“Speak for yourself,” Faraday tells him. He always forgets how strong the pack are until he sees it in action, although he has to admit the shocked look on Alejandro’s face as he looks down at the floor below him is damn well priceless. “Just don’t drop him.”

Jack doesn’t bother with a verbal response, choosing instead to prove his point by marching up the steps and then down the hall for added measure, stopping only when he reaches the closed bedroom door. “I imagine this will do,” he says as he sets Alejandro back on his feet, or at least as on his feet as Alejandro is capable of being at the moment. “All good?”

“All good,” Faraday confirms. He reaches forward and turns the doorknob with his free hand. “Thanks.”

Jack waves a hand airily as he disappears back downstairs, and Faraday motions for Alejandro to follow him into the room. “Okay, inside we go.” He says, moving into the room and flicking the light switch on as he passes it.

There’s a thumping sound behind him, and Faraday turns to see that Alejandro’s just walked face first into the dresser, which is left with its drawers rattling in their grooves as the were sits down heavily and wrinkles his nose in befuddlement. Letting out a disgruntled noise, he looks up at Faraday, brown eyes somehow managing to imply the dresser’s betrayed him in the worst way imaginable by having the nerve not get out of his way as he continues to whine.

“Oh my god.” Faraday bites down on his bottom lip in a valiant attempt to keep from laughing. He doesn’t entirely succeed, but does a far better job of it than he’s expecting which should count for something. “Hang on, darlin’. Let me put this down, and then we’ll get you sorted out.”

He sets the plate atop the now stabilized dresser, and tries to nudge Alejandro over to their bed, figuring he’ll be safer surrounded by pillows and blankets than he will be among anything found on the floor. “Come on, big guy. Up you get. You’re just goin’ to lay down here while I grab a quick shower.”

Alejandro allows himself to be prodded over to the bed, but once there he simply stares at it with his head cocked to the side and Faraday belatedly realizes there’s no way he currently has the dexterity to climb up. “Oh you have got to be kiddin’ me,” he groans, feeling once again like he’s lost control of his life. “You weigh a ton, and I’m not Jack.”

Something about his tone must leak through Alejandro’s drug-addled brain because he squirms around to give Faraday an affronted look.

“Yeah, don’t even try it,” Faraday grumbles. Shoving the last of his half of the sandwich into his mouth he moves forward so that he can hook his hands under Alejandro’s front legs and bodily haul him upwards. “I am never goin’ to let you forget about this, you hear me? Never. We are goin’ to be old and grey and sittin’ out on the damn front porch because we ain’t capable of movin’ any further under our own power, and I’m still goin’ to be yammerin’ on about the time you got so baked on rogue wolfsbane that I had to carry you to bed while you were a fuckin’ dog. I hope you’re happy.”

It seems that he is if the way he curls himself up in the blankets is any indication. Faraday rolls his eyes at the sight, but ruffles Alejandro’s ears fondly all the same. Then, once he’s ascertained that the were isn’t about to fall out of bed without anybody to watch him, he grabs a nearby pair of sleep pants and heads for the bathroom and the shower waiting inside.

A sharp bark stops in his tracks, and he turns around worriedly to find Alejandro watching him intently. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Alejandro holds his gaze for several seconds and then flicks an ear over to where the plate from earlier is still sitting on the dresser. He barks again.

“My life is a cosmic joke,” Faraday says to the room at large, even as he obediently grabs the plate and sets it down in front of Alejandro. “You better not get any crumbs in the bed.”

Alejandro’s too busy making the sandwich disappear in a single gulp to answer, so Faraday says a mental to hell with it goes for his shower anyway.

He spends a little longer in it than he means to, though not as much as he’d like, letting the warm water soothe away most of the aches of the road, and by the time he wanders out of the bathroom clad in nothing but the pants he’d brought in with him Alejandro’s passed out cold in the dead centre of the bed.

“Oh for shit’s sake,” Faraday groans when he sees this. Nothing takes up space quite like a two hundred plus pound wolf, and moving the bastard is likely to take nothing short of a miracle. “All I wanted was a nice relaxin’ evening for my first night home. Some food, a shower, maybe a quick round in the sack, and instead I get … this. Lord, help me.”

“And of course you’ve passed out on top of the blankets,” Faraday continues to grumble as he sets about extricating some space for himself on the bed. “You couldn’t at least be under them, could you? Nooo, that would be too nice. That would almost make things easy. I wouldn’t have to fight with your giant carcass for somethin’ to cover myself with if you did that.”

Shoving Alejandro over inch by torturous inch, he obtains just enough space on the mattress to flop down on, and does so with an exhausted sigh. “I hate you,” he tells Alejandro, who chooses this moment to crack an eye open and peer over at him balefully. “Yes, you,” he says when he spots this. “You are the worst thing to ever happen to me.”

Alejandro raises his head off the pillow he’s been resting it on, and then, to Faraday’s horror, starts squirming back over across the bed. “Oh no,” Faraday says when he sees him coming, putting his hands up in a futile effort to ward the were off. “No no no. You stay where you are. You’re too big for this. Go away y’damned mutt.”

Undeterred, Alejandro keeps right on moving until he’s sprawled over top of Faraday in all his furry, boney glory. Faraday feels a canine elbow lodge itself somewhere around his kidneys, and glares up at the bedroom ceiling, wishing for all the world that he’d just kept his big mouth shut.

“Will you get off if I take back the part where I said I hated you?” He wonders, only to have Alejandro’s ensuing snort give him all the answer he needs. “Then I’m not takin’ it back. You’re the worst.”

Alejandro opens his mouth to yawn right in Faraday’s face, but offers up no further commentary.

“And your breath is disgustin’!”

*****

Faraday’s not sure how long he sleeps, but he’s awoken sometime in the early morning by someone shaking him awake. He groans and rubs tiredly at his eyes. “God damnit, what is it now? I don’t have any more food to bribe you with to make you leave me alone.”

“Joshua, what are you talking about?” Alejandro asks. “And when did you get home for that matter?”

Faraday’s eyes snap open, and he tears his hand away from his face. “Oh, thank god,” he says when he spots Alejandro – fully human and with his hair sticking up all over the place – staring down at him. “Please tell me you’re back.”

Alejandro frowns. “I didn’t go anywhere, guero. You’re the one who was away, remember?”

“I went away physically,” Faraday agrees, “but you, my darlin’, took a trip on the astral plain or some shit last night. You don’t remember? Goodnight said you and Sam wandered into a bunch of bane with a kick, and you at least didn’t know if you were comin’ or goin’ when I got home.”

Alejandro starts to shake his head, and then stops part way through. “I don’t – did you make me a sandwich at some point?” He asks, and his eyebrows shoot up towards his hairline when Faraday starts to cackle. “I didn’t realize it was that funny.”

Still laughing, Faraday motions for him to come closer, and hooks his arms over the other man’s shoulders once he does. “Hi,” he says with a grin. “Didja miss me?”

“Si, of course,” Alejandro replies. “Sorry, I seem to have missed your return.”

Faraday hums under his breath and smirks up at him. “I can think of a few ways you could make it up to me,” he says, waggling his eyebrows.

“You usually can,” Alejandro says with a fond sigh.

Chapter Text

Billy breaks his arm (technically right foreleg at the time) during the middle of a run. The limb errantly finds an unexpected rut in the ground as he skims along it, getting caught and twisted before he can slow his own momentum to stop the fall from happening. The resulting snap and pained yelp bring the rest of the pack running with Sam and Goody in the lead. They help him get back to the house as quickly as possible, at which point Sarassa is summoned to come assess the damage.

"It's broken," she says, surprising absolutely no one. "I don't need an x-ray to tell me that, the angle alone does it for me." She gives Billy a tired look and sighs. "You'd better pick what shape you want to be in for the next 6-8 weeks, Rocks. You're going to need a plaster cast, and once it's in place you're going to be stuck until it comes off again."

He'd expected as much as soon as he'd gotten the diagnosis, so Billy slides into his human body, lets Goody help him pull on enough clothes to appear respectable, and then gets shunted off to the hospital to have the aforesaid x-rays taken and his arm set. Part of him would almost prefer to ride out the injury as a wolf, but practicality tells him this will be the lesser of two evils. He can at least mostly manage on his own so long as he has one good hand to manipulate things with. 

Soon he's back home with his arm immobilized and a bottle of painkillers he'd prefer to ignore, but knows he won't because that'll upset Goody. He does put up a token protest when he's lying in their bed, familiar trappings and scents wafting around him, and a glass of water and the first pills are offered to him, but he caves as soon as Goody frowns at him.

"There's no sense in you sitting around in pain when you don't have to be, Billy." Goody isn't quite scolding him as he says this, he saves that kind of behaviour for the rest of the pack, but his worry is evident, lurking in the depths of his blue eyes and the tight set of his mouth.

Having long since sworn that he'll never be responsible for upsetting Goody if he can avoid it, Billy takes the medication. "I don't need it," he says even as he swallows two pills and chases them with a hearty sip of water, "but if it means that much to you, fine."

Goody offers him up a wry grin, taking the empty water glass and setting it down where it won't be at risk of getting knocked over. "As always, cher, your willingness to humour my delicate sensibilities is greatly appreciated."

"Uh huh," Billy grunts and thumps his good hand down on the empty space beside him. "It's ass o'clock in the morning at this point, come sleep."

Clearly not halving to be told twice, but equally mindful of the mess Billy's made of himself, Goody smiles softly and does as he's told.

*****

The first week Billy doesn't feel like doing much because his arm honestly does hurt, a dull throb he's happy to have go away any time now, and leaves him content to lie around the house without the urge to get up and move. Once the ache fades, however, and he's stuck with an immediate future that sees him trapped in one body and unable to so much as bend his right arm, that's when he starts to chafe.

"I hate this," he finally admits to Goody one night about three weeks in. They're both relaxing (or trying to in Billy's case) in the privacy of their own room, but even this is suddenly more than Billy can handle. "It sucks."

Goody looks up from the e-reader he's been quietly paging through, and glances at Billy over the rims of the glasses he only wears for reading. Unexpectedly, his mouth curls up in a slight grin and he chuckles. "I was wondering how long it would take you to reach this point. Congratulations, you lasted a whole week longer than I expected you to."

Billy sternly reminds himself that he is a mature adult and it would be wrong to engage in a sneak attack aimed directly at the spot where he knows Goody is most ticklish. Plus, he doesn't want to risk injuring his arm further. Setbacks in his healing are not desired at this point.

He settles then for giving Goody a stony glare. "You are not as funny as you think you are."

"Probably not, no," Goody agrees. He sets his e-reader aside and then rolls over so that he can prop himself up on one elbow and gaze down at Billy. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Have you secretly been hiding magical healing abilities from me all this time?" Billy asks, and Goody answers with an apologetic shrug. "Then no."

Shifting around some, Billy rests his bad arm over his chest and glares up at the ceiling. "I want to go for a run - on four legs, not two," he adds when he hears Goody suck in a quick breath to respond. "I've never been stuck in one shape for so long and I miss it. I want to move through our territory the way I'm supposed to be able to."

Goody sighs. "Yes, the house is getting a bit dull, isn't it? I mean, going into town is all well and good, but I think we've all reached the point where a decent run would go a long way."

Billy freezes as something clicks in the back of his brain. Even though they don't need to run as a pack, and even though they don't always do so, none of the others have properly stretched their legs since he's been hurt. It's like they've determined that if he can't run neither can they.

He says as much aloud, and Goody shrugs as best as he's able in his current position. "There's no real reason behind it," he says. "I suppose we all just collectively decided we wouldn't go out again until you could join us."

"That's stupid," Billy says, getting somewhat agitated as the ramifications of what Goody's saying sink in. There's no need for the entire pack to suffer simply because he hadn't been smart enough to watch where he was going. "Go for a run."

"What, right now?" Goody gives him a confounded look. "Cher, it's a little late in the evening for that, even by our standards."

"Then go tomorrow," Billy insists. Now that he's gotten the idea into his head he's not going to budge. "Take the others too."

"Hmm," Goody taps a finger thoughtfully against his cheek, his desire to stretch his legs properly obviously warring with his desire to keep an eye on Billy. "I suppose we're all feeling a little cooped up at this point ..."

"And it's only me who can't go," Billy adds.

"That's hardly a minor point as far as I'm concerned, darling." Billy rolls his eyes, and Goody makes a face right back at him. "Though I'll take the gesture the way it was intended. I'll mention the idea tomorrow and see who's all up for going."

"Good," Billy says. "I'll be fine by myself."

"Oh you won't be by yourself," Goody reminds him, laughing when Billy quirks a questioning eyebrow at him. "You've forgotten about Joshua."

Billy groans.

*****

One of the added bonuses that family wide runs had come with when they'd started doing them again was that simple physics meant Faraday couldn't join in. This wasn't a slight against the man, his status as the pack's lone human merely prevented him from keeping up with - a fact they'd all learned suited him just fine since it gave him guaranteed time to himself and helped stave off a repeat of the last time he'd gotten overwhelmed at not having enough personal space.

In short, Faraday enjoys pack runs as much as the rest of them, if for wildly different reasons.

Luckily he doesn't seem too bothered by the notion of Billy inadvertently crashing his alone time during this one. "Sounds good," he says when Goody broaches the subject during breakfast. "Rocks and I can hang out here like civilized people while the rest of you - Ale, don't fuckin' touch my bacon, or I swear I'll turn you into a fur coat - get all filthy out in the woods."

Having said his piece, Faraday goes back to shoveling food into his mouth as fast as possible in order to prevent Vasquez from getting it first, all while keeping half a watchful eye on his other side where Red is slowly encroaching on his meal as well.

"Excellent," Goody says, obviously pleased. "Then I'd say it looks like we have a plan. How about we head out at dusk?"

A number of heads nod around the table, with even Vasquez pausing in his attempts to get on Faraday's last nerve long enough to flash an agreeable thumbs up.

By the time evening rolls around more than half the pack is anxious to get moving. Billy comes out of his room to find that Jack and Sam are already waiting outside, and inside only Goody and Emma are still human. 

"There's some leftover chicken in a tupperware container in the fridge if you want some," Goody says when he spots Billy. He's in the process of shrugging out of his clothes, but he stops with his pants still on and comes over to rub their shoulders together. "I doubt we'll be gone too long."

"Take as long as you need," Billy says. Truth be told he's kind of looking forward to having some space to himself. Sure Faraday will be around, but he should be easy enough to avoid if Billy feels like it.

And speaking of Faraday, the man himself chooses now to wander out of the living room with Vasquez right on his heels. "I thought you lot were leavin' ages ago?" He says while Vasquez headbutts him in the back of his good leg to get attention. "Someone do me a favour and take this furry nuisance off my hands, will you?"

"Because we don't have enough on our plates as it is," Emma grouses, emerging from the kitchen and herding Red and Teddy along in front of her. "Come on then, let’s get going, Vasquez, you too."

Red and Teddy go scrambling through the open door, while Vasquez follows along a little more sedately, flicking Faraday with his tail as he walks past. Then Emma's hitting the floor in a russet coloured blur and she’s off as well.

"I'm goin' upstairs to grab a shower," Faraday says when only the three of them remain. He nods at Billy. "Give me a shout if you need anythin'."

He's gone before Billy can decide if he wants to take offence to that or not, and Goody huffs out a laugh in his wake. "He means well, I truly believe that. I do hope you're both still alive when we get back.”

“I make no promises.”

“Billy!” Goody laughs, and shoves him lightly. “Don’t say that where Vasquez can here you, or the little ones for that matter, they’re quite attached to him.”

“Right,” Billy grumbles, disappointed by the unfairness of the world. “Shouldn’t you be going now? The others won’t want to wait much longer.”

Goody fiddles with the hem of his pants, chewing on the corner of his lip in sudden agitation. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to stay behind?” He blurts out, all while giving Billy his best concerned gaze. “I really won’t mind if you do, I promise.”

Billy smiles at him fondly. “Go Goody. Stretch your legs a little and enjoy yourself. I’ll be fine until you get back, and it won’t be that long before I can join you again.”

“If you’re sure,” Goody says dubiously, but when Billy motions towards the door, he goes.

*****

After Goody and the others have left, Billy wanders into the kitchen in search of something to eat. He hadn’t been feeling hungry before Goody had brought up the idea of a snack, but now that it’s in his head it’s not going away. Not chicken though. He doesn’t know yet what he’s in the mood for, but it’s not that.

Pulling the fridge door open, Billy peers inside, looking for something to catch his interest. The house consistently has plenty of food thanks to how many mouths there are to feed, but considering it all now, nothing jumps out at him. He sighs and reaches inside to grab select items with his good hand, figuring that maybe a freshly made sandwich will hit the spot.

He’s laboriously placing a couple slices of ham on his creation one-handed when he hears the telltale sound of footsteps on the stairs. They keep going once they’ve reached the bottom, and it’s only a matter of moments before Faraday appears in the open doorway. He leans up against one of the wooden beams, nodding at Billy. “You want a hand with that?”

Mildly annoyed by the offer even though he knows there’s nothing but a genuine desire to help behind it, Billy shoots him a grin that’s slightly sharper than it needs to be. “I don’t need any help.”

Faraday shrugs a little stiffly. "Didn’t ask if you needed help,” he points out. “Only asked if you might want some. S’no skin off my nose if you don’t.”

Billy feels a twinge of guilt as his ears pick up a minor hint of hurt in the other man’s voice, and he curses inwardly. His relationship with Faraday has drastically improved in the several months they’ve been living under the same roof, but it’s still far from as relaxed and easy as some of the others in the pack. Deciding if it’s just going to be the two of them for the next few hours, he might as well try and do something about that, Billy makes his expression soften. “Sandwich is almost done, but I was thinking of grabbing a beer to go with it. I wouldn’t say no to you dealing with the cap.”

“Can do,” Faraday quips lightly, moving over to the fridge. “You just want the one?”

“Yeah,” Billy says, raising an eyebrow when Faraday pulls two bottles from the fridge. “I guess the other is for you?”

“You guess correctly,” Faraday replies. He places both bottles down on the table top, carefully unscrewing first one lid and then the other, and pushing the second drink across the polished wooden surface when Billy joins him. “All yours.”

“Thanks.” Currently engaged in taking a bite out of his sandwich, Billy can’t grab the bottle yet, but he nods at it nevertheless. “That the only thing you’re having?”

“I already had supper,” Faraday admits, “though now you mention it; somethin’ to snack on might hit the spot. One sec. I think there’s still half a bag of chips in the cupboard.”

This turns out to be the case, and Faraday soon returns triumphantly with the better part of half a bag of doritos in his hands. “You want any?” He asks, holding out the crumpled foil as he sits down.

Billy’s just taken another large bite from his sandwich, so he shakes his head in lieu of answering verbally.

“More for me then.” Faraday takes off the clothespin that’s been used to keep the bag as sealed as possible – and doesn’t that just have Goody written all over it – and shoves his hand in the bag. “I love these things. I know they’re shit awful for me, but I honestly don’t give a flyin’ fuck.”

“I’m not here to police your eating habits, Faraday,” Billy tells him. “If you want someone to do that, talk to Goody.”

“Christ, don’t remind me.” Faraday stuffs a number of chips in his mouth, grinning as he chews and swallows them. “Not to speak ill of your beloved, but he’s like an old grandmother when it comes to makin’ sure people are fed and fed properly. Has he always been like that?”

“As long as I’ve known him.” Billy says.

“Yeah? How long’s that been, anyway? I don’t think anyone’s ever said.” Faraday cocks his head to the side, appearing genuinely curious. “How’d you two even meet? I have a sneakin’ suspicion you didn’t grow up in the same pack.”

Caught off guard, Billy answers before he has a chance to think about whether or not that’s a good idea. “No, we didn’t. In fact, Goody’s actually known Sam longer than he’s known me. They came from two different packs, but they converged on each other’s territory.”

“Gotcha,” Faraday says, then he frowns. “How’d you get such a mishmash of packs then? I know Alejandro went for a wander from home, Jack’s family is dead, and Emma, Teddy and Matthew all came from the same place, but your story isn’t one I’ve managed to suss out yet.”

“My story is the same as Vasquez’s. I left my pack to see what was out there, and eventually found Goody.”

“And Sam.”

Billy shakes his head. “No, Goody and Sam weren’t in the same place at that point.” He takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “You really want to know what happened?”

Faraday’s expression turns shrewd. “I mean,” he says around another mouthful of chips, “I’ll be the first to admit I’m a naturally curious sort, but I ain’t about to force you into tellin’ me somethin’ you don’t want to.”

Needing a moment to think this over, Billy bites into his sandwich and chews slowly, repeating the process a few times before he decides he’s willing to talk. “Goody’s pack was attacked by hunters about five years before I met him. Most of them didn’t make it, and those that did fled into Sam’s family’s territory to find help. The two packs combined were able to beat them back, but not before losing a few more.” He looks up to find Faraday watching him with his jaw clenched and something that looks an awful lot like guilt crossing over his face. “That’s how Sam’s mother and sister were killed.”

“Jesus Christ,” Faraday breathes. He takes a deep swig of his beer, clearly needing something to act as a distraction from the bomb Billy’s just dropped on him. “I knew about Sam’s family, but not about the rest. Is that why Goody’s all …”

“Yes.” Billy says flatly. “He’s better now than he was, but he saw a number of people get killed and returned the favour tenfold, neither of which sat well with him. That kind of thing has an effect on a person.”

“I’ll say. Fuck, sorry I asked. Actually,” Faraday levels Billy with a confused stare. “Why’d you tell me? You and I aren’t exactly the closest of friends.”

Billy shrugs, deciding not to tell Faraday about his earlier resolution to try and help that. “You asked, and it’s hardly a secret. Everyone else knows.”

“I guess,” Faraday says dubiously. “So how’d you meet Goody then? You said it was after that … stuff.”

“Random meet up in a bar,” Billy admits. “Honest,” he adds when Faraday gives him an incredulous look. “Only unlike you and Vasquez, I was in the middle of a fight and Goody jumped in to help. He’d been roaming around on his own as well and happened to stop in for a drink. It wasn’t until after it was over that we realized we were both wolves.”

“Hell of a coincidence.” Faraday concludes.

“No more than a wolf and soon to be ex-hunter meeting up under similar circumstances,” Billy points out, and Faraday nods his head in acknowledgment.

“Suppose that’s true,” he admits. Leaning back in his chair, he gives Billy a long look. “So do you reckon we’ve engaged in enough bonding talk tonight and can find something else to pass the time? I don’t know about you, but I can only handle so many emotions in one night.”

Billy takes a sip of his beer and then sets it back on the table. “What did you have in mind?”

Faraday grins. “You know how to play gin rummy?”

*****

Billy’s been warned that Faraday’s got a knack for card games, all card games, but never having played against him means he doesn’t realize just how good he is until it’s too late. If anybody asks he’s going to blame his run of bad luck on his banged up arm and let that be the end of it.

He’s lost an untold number of games to Faraday when there’s a burst of noise from the front of the house, some of it human in nature while the rest is decidedly not, and he’s already throwing down his cards when a door opens in the distance.

“Hey,” Faraday protests. “You could’ve at least finished the game.”

Billy glances at the cards he’d previously had in his hand and snorts. “You were going to win anyway.”

“Still. It’s the principle of the thing,” Faraday grumbles as he starts sweeping up the cards and shuffling them into a deck again. Once that’s done, he reaches for his previously abandoned bag of chips and roots around inside it. “There’s a few left, did you want one?”

“No, thanks.”

Shrugging philosophically, Faraday returns to munching on his snack, raising the bag in a salute when a very human Goody enters the kitchen with Vasquez trailing after him not yet out of wolf form. “Evenin’, boys. Did you enjoy your run?”

“I certainly did,” Goody says, and there’s a loose air about him that tells Billy convincing him to go out tonight was the right idea. “And I’d say the same goes for Vasquez here. Although,” he adds slyly, “you might want to have him brush his teeth before bed.”

Faraday pauses where he’s about to take a drink from the second beer he’d grabbed for himself a while ago. His eyes narrow and he stares down at Vasquez, who meets his gaze totally unconcerned. “What did you eat that you shouldn’t have?”

Goody laughs. “I’m kidding, Joshua. Nobody got into anything that I’m aware of.”

“Uh huh,” Faraday says dubiously. “Now why don’t I believe that?”

“Because you’ve proven to have at least half a functioning brain,” Billy grunts. He can’t smell anything in this shape, but there’s a certain glint in Vasquez’s eye that suggests he might just have had a snack or two out in the woods. Not that that’s going to stop him from looking for anything else, Billy notes as the were in question starts nosing at Faraday’s chips.

“Hey,” Faraday scolds, moving them out of his reach. “Don’t recall offerin’ you any of these, big guy. Get your own.”

Vasquez whines low in his throat as Faraday empties the last of the chips out into the palm of his hand. Faraday in turn sighs and sorts through the mess, pulling free a couple of the largest, still intact chips and offering them over. “Just watch my damn fingers, will you? I don’t need you chompin’ down on those as well.”

As asked, Vasquez takes the chips delicately, although they vanish between one blink and the next once Faraday’s limbs are no longer in the way.

“And on that note,” Faraday says when this is done, “I think it’s bedtime for me. You comin’, darlin’?” He stands, clearing away most of the evening’s detritus as he goes, and then heads in the direction of his bedroom with Vasquez winding his way along behind him.

Goody chuckles as they disappear. “Quite the pair those two. Although,” he continues on, his hands settling on Billy’s shoulders for no apparent reason, with his fingers kneading the muscle there, “I’d say they’ve got nothing on you and me, eh, cher?”

“Definitely not,” Billy murmurs, and when Goody leans down to kiss him he meets him halfway. “You seem happy,” he says when they break apart, pleased by the thought.

“Do I?” Goody asks. “Well, as it happens I feel happy, so I guess that makes sense. What about you, how are you doing? I note you and Joshua managed not to kill each other during the few hours you were stuck in each other’s company.”

“It was fine,” Billy says. “We talked a bit. Ate. Played cards. I’ve had worse nights.”

“Very nice,” Goody says, “but would you like to trade his company for mine and come to bed?”

Billy makes a show of thinking it over, laughing when Goody flicks him in the ear with a finger. “I could be convinced,” he decides.

Goody snorts, tugging him up by his good arm. “You shouldn’t have to be convinced,” he says loftily, “you should always want my company.”

“Probably a good thing I do then,” Billy says, and he lets himself be dragged off to bed.

Chapter Text

Faraday slowly eases the bedroom door open, smiling softly when he sees the large furred shape tucked into a ball at the centre of the bed. He clears his throat a little, and Ale shifts just enough that he can twist around to look at him while upside down, his tail wagging slightly.

It hits Faraday as it has been more and more lately that he's somehow managed to keep this life for going on ten years now - a length of time that is frankly about nine years and eleven months longer than he thought he'd manage back when things had first started. Yet here they are with Faraday just past forty and starting to thicken in the middle, while Ale's still much the same as ever.

He still looks almost exactly like the man Faraday had awkwardly chatted up in a bar all those years ago. The only differences being a few faint crows feet around his eyes and the fact that grey hairs are starting to show up in his thick dark curls. Ale hates them, being possessed of something of a vain streak where his hair is concerned, but Faraday takes great joy in sliding the silver strands around his fingers, choosing to see them as proof of a life well lived.

Normally, a train of thought like this would be such that Faraday'd be trying to coax Ale back into human shape so they could enjoy a little personal time. Tonight, however, he's on something of a search and rescue mission, one where he suspects the guilty party is his dearly beloved.

"Hey, darlin'," he drawls as Ale sits up a little further, perking his ears in an obvious show of inquiry. "Have you seen 'Zetta? Her mom and pops are lookin' for her."

The result is instantaneous. Ale's ears go down like he has no idea what Faraday'a talking about, his entire posture becoming one of studied nonchalance as he tucks his face back into his tail like he hadn't heard anything. He couldn't be easier to read if he'd flat out held up a sign with the words 'Nothing to see here!' scrawled across it in big, dark letters.

"Yeah," Faraday chuckles, "that's about what I figured. Same goes for Red and Tanya. Okay, big guy, time to give her back now."

Ale groans, his displeasure at this command evident, but slowly unfurls his entire body until the tiny pup he has tucked up against his belly becomes visible. He noses at her face when she stays burrowed in his fur, licking a stripe along her muzzle when she paws at him in annoyance for disturbing her nap.

Suzette, who inherited her colouring from Red and therefore has a coat only a shade darker than Ale's own, wriggles backwards like she thinks she can camouflage herself against the adult were. Knowing full well where to look to try and get what she wants, she ignores Faraday in favour of staring up at Ale with pleading eyes, a silent request to be allowed to bunk with her favourite honorary uncle for the night.

Ale, the sucker, turns pleading eyes of his own on Faraday, whining for added measure.

"Yeah, no," Faraday replies to the unasked question. "I'm under strict orders to return her to where she belongs. In fact, Tanya's exact words were, 'wrestle her out of your idiot husband's hands if you have to, otherwise she's going to think she can get away with murder where he's concerned'. So. Make of that what you will."

Ale grumbles something that would probably be either a crack against Tanya's parentage or a slight at Red for falling in love with her if he had a mouth that could let him get the words out. Faraday is unmoved.

"If Tani weren't around you also wouldn't have 'Zetta to play with," he points out reasonably. "Take the good with the bad."

This time Ale's grumbling noise is a little more on the thoughtful side, but still makes it clear he's annoyed that Suzette's being ripped away from him in favour of terribly cruel things like 'bathtime' and 'bed'. Both of which he considers highly unnecessary when they're preventing Suzette from playing with him longer.

"Alright," Faraday says when it becomes clear that neither toddler nor adult is going to move unless forced. He steps over to hook a hand under the pup's midsection and haul her up. "C'mere, 'Zetta. Your mama wants you."

Both wolves let out identical pathetic whimpers, the only difference being that one is at a considerably higher register than the other. Faraday rolls his eyes heavenward.

"Look," he starts, sighing when Suzette squirms out of his grasp to try and make a bid for freedom, stumbling over the bedding as a rolly poly bundle of fur whose short, stubby legs aren't quite up to traversing such terrain. "You're only prolongin' the inevitable, little miss."

Ignoring him, Suzette waddles up the length of Ale's body, clearly determined to plead her case to the person she considers more likely to listen to her. Placing her front paws on his snout, she whines sadly, her entire body sagging dejectedly for emphasis.

Ale, his crumbling facade writ large across his face, whines back, while Faraday feels a sudden pressing need to rub his temples in exasperation.

It'd been something of a shock to the entire pack when Tanya had announced her pregnancy two years ago, with Red standing at her side looking thrilled and nauseous by turns. They hadn't had a child in their midst since Teddy had up and decided he was too old for such foolishness and declared himself to be an adult.

Still, that hadn't stopped everyone from being excited, and Suzette had come into the world with just shy of a dozen pack mates ready to be at her beck and call. Nobody, however - not even the man himself, Faraday's pretty sure - had predicted how throughly Ale would take to her. They were all wrapped around her little finger, but in Ale's case it was an extra three times over and then sealed shut, which made things difficult on nights like these.

"Ale," Faraday now says pointedly, frowning as his partner traps Suzette under a paw that practically spans her entire body length and starts playfighting with her. "Sweetheart, quit gettin' her all wound up, you've gotta give her back."

All this does is earn him a matching pair of betrayed looks, so he once again reaches for Suzette's wriggling form. She wails in protest once he's got her because she's a brat like that, and Ale's expression immediately shifts from depressed to offended on her behalf.

Faraday pauses, Suzette now held securely in his arms despite her valiant attempts to get free. "You can be the one to take her down if you want, but you have to actually do it," he says with as much authority as a man can muster while an eighteen month old werewolf tries to gnaw on his thumb in revenge for telling her it's bedtime.

Ale cocks his head to the side, clearly considering Faraday's offer, and then slides forward off the bed. He gives Faraday a pointed look, wagging his tail and growling playfully at Suzette once she's set down on the floor beside him.

"Ale," Faraday says warningly. "Bed. Now."

Flicking his tail disdainfully, Ale picks Suzette up by the scruff of her neck, each of his movements heavily exaggerated to show he's doing as instructed. For her part, Suzette squirms a little as her paws leave the ground, but soon yips happily and wriggles her back legs in the air as she's carried from the room.

Deciding it might be best if he confirms she gets where she's supposed to - it wouldn't be the first time Ale'd gotten distracted along the way - Faraday follows.

Chapter Text

Faraday's jerked rudely awake out of a sound sleep by a furious racket rising up from somewhere downstairs. He rolls over and out of bed without conscious thought, reaching for the knife he keeps stashed by the end table and hissing when his bare feet hit the chilly floor. Winter's been steadily on its way the past few weeks, and it looks like it might've made its arrival during the night.

The hysterical barking hasn't stopped, and Faraday hears a tired groan ring out behind him as Alejandro's forcibly awoken as well. "Kill them," he mutters, glaring balefully out at Faraday from where he's still buried in the bed covers. "Kill them both. Don't even bother to make it look like an accident, no one will care."

"What?" Never at his best before he's had his first cup of coffee, Faraday stares at him in honest confusion, wondering what the hell he's talking about. "What's goin' on?"

"I don't know," Alejandro grunts, rolling over to sag back into the bed covers "but Teddy is very excited about something, and Red does not appear to be far behind."

"Huh." Tuning back into the noise, Faraday's startled to realize that what he'd first thought was somebody panicking is actually simple exuberance. "Wonder what that's all about?"

Stashing the knife back where he'd found it, Faraday pads over to the bedroom door. Cracking it open, he sees Emma stepping across the hallway, wrapping a flannel housecoat around herself as she goes. "The hell's gotten into the runts?"

Emma covers up a yawn with her hand before answering. "Apparently it snowed during the night. The boys are excited."

Faraday opens his mouth to say that snow isn't normally that exciting when a low groan sounds out from inside the bedroom, quickly followed by a tired voice saying, "I hate snow."

Turning back around, Faraday finds that Alejandro's cocooned himself in all the blankets on their bed, bundling up so tightly that not even his face is visible. "If you start to suffocate in there, I'm not comin' in after you," he vows.

"Ignore him," Emma suggests. Her housecoat now fully secured, she motions for him to follow her towards the stairs. "Vasquez is a complete wimp where the cold is concerned. Last winter he practically went into hibernation until the snow melted."

"Wonderful," Faraday replies. He doesn't exactly love being cold either, but he's never been that bad. "Well, he can stay in there if he wants, I'm goin' lookin' for breakfast."

"You and me both," Emma says, and they make their way downstairs together, leaving Alejandro to his own devices.

Sam's standing near the front door when they reach the bottom of the steps, peering through one of the glass panes with a bemused expression on his face, his moustache twitching occasionally as he tries not to laugh at whatever's happening outside.

"The boys are gangin' up on Jack," he says when he notices them. "I figure he'll beat them in the end, but right now they've got him pinned."

Emma moves over to join him, while Faraday continues on towards the kitchen. He's caught the smell of freshly brewed coffee, which means whatever shenanigans are going on outside can wait until he's had his morning fix.

"We're going to have a mess on our hands if they drag all that snow inside," he hears Emma say, right before he crosses the threshold of the kitchen and out of earshot. Well, out of earshot for him anyway. No doubt both weres back in the hall can hear him just fine.

Grabbing a mug from the rack by the sink, Faraday pours himself a cup of coffee, adds a dash of cream, and then settles back against the countertop to enjoy the taste. Emma and Sam wander in not long after, and he nods affably. "Goodnight and Billy out there too?" He asks, wondering after the two remaining pack members.

"No," Sam tells him. "They're not up yet. Vasquez?"

"Hibernating," Emma says before Faraday has his mouth half open. "He hasn't even seen it yet, and he's already muttering about how much he hates snow."

"Nothin' new there," Sam says, "and there's a pile of the stuff outside. We're going to have to shovel out the cars or risk having them get buried even more."

"Wonderful," Faraday grunts. He may not hate the cold the way Alejandro does, but he can think of far nicer things he'd rather be doing. "How bad is it?"

"You can see for yourself later," Sam replies. "Eat first."

Grumbling that he doesn't need to be told what to do, Faraday nevertheless begins puttering around the kitchen in search of something that'll snag his attention for breakfast. He eventually goes for toast and a bowl of cereal, deciding it's too early for anything more extravagant if he has to make it himself.

Emma's a little more driven and cooks up some eggs and bacon, two strips of which Faraday steals from her plate when she's not looking.

"What?" He asks, feigning innocence when her head snaps around to glare at him. It'd be a little more convincing if half a piece wasn't still hanging out of his mouth, and he quickly swallows it before she can steal it back.

Snorting, Emma gives him a disgusted look, but provides no other retribution.

"So," Faraday says then. "Shovelling. That sounds fun."

"It's not as bad as you think," Sam assures him. "There's a snowplough in the barn that'll do most of the work. The shovels are just for the steps and digging around the cars."

That honestly doesn't sound too bad, but when Faraday says as much aloud he's countered with a harsh grunt from the entrance to the kitchen. Twisting around in his seat he finds Alejandro shuffling through the door way, his movements hampered by the fact that he's dragged the comforter downstairs with him, and it's trailing along behind him like an awkward, puffy cape.

"Seriously?" Faraday starts incredulously, only to be cut off with a glare.

"Do not judge me," Alejandro says firmly. "It is fucking freezing down here."

"I turned up the furnace just this morning," Sam says archly. "It's fine."

Alejandro makes a face, but otherwise doesn't react as he heads for the coffee pot, tripping over the heavy blanket he's wrapped in as he goes. Coffee soon secured, he drops into the chair next to Faraday, a disgruntled look gracing his usually amicable features.

Faraday nudges him with his shoulder. "S'just a little snow, darlin', not that big a deal."

Alejandro huffs out a 'feh' sound, which is apparently the extent of his response. Still looking put out, he focuses on his coffee like he's trying to leech the warmth out of the beverage and into his skin.

Across the table, Sam rolls his eyes. "I don't suppose you're interested in helping us dig ourselves out of the drifts then, are you?"

Faraday snorts before Alejandro has time to answer. "Given the stink eye he's got goin' on there, I'm guessin' no." He grins when Alejandro narrows his eyes at him. "How about we give you some time to wake up and see if that helps?"

"You are mocking me," Alejandro accuses.

"Well, yeah," Faraday agrees, snickering when the other man swats at him. "Hey, no hitting!"

"Alright," Sam says, raising his voice before things can escalate further. "We only have so many shovels anyway. Vasquez, if you want to sulk in here, go ahead."

"I'm not sulking," Alejandro protests, but this announcement is met with three disbelieving stares, so much so that his face flushes and he hunkers further down in his blanket. "Whatever."

Snickering, Faraday reaches out and pats his shoulder through the thick cloth.

*****

Emma expresses her own willingness to assist with the shovelling, as does Goodnight when he and Billy appear in the kitchen some time later. "We only have the three shovels and the plough though," he says after he makes the offer, "so that'll be it for assistance."

"So Jack and the kids won't have to stop playing, and Ale can hide inside like the big baby he is," Faraday says glibly, wincing only a little when Alejandro kicks him under the table. "Sounds like it'll work out for everybody."

"Indeed," Goodnight says. Crooking an eyebrow at Billy, he grins, "And what will you do, Cher? Keep Vasquez company perhaps?"

Billy shakes his head, dark hair falling into his eyes because he hasn't bothered to pin it back this morning. "I'll come out with you. Jack's likely getting tired of holding off the boys on his own."

Not long after, Faraday, Sam, Emma and Goodnight troop out the door bundled up in winter gear, while Billy shifts into his sleek wolf shape and rockets outside into the nearest snowdrift. He bounces out of it almost immediately, his black fur standing out starkly against the snow, and then gets tackled when Red and Teddy explode out of the brush, each of their coats covered in snow from where they've obviously been rolling in it.

"Oh they're going to take some serious drying off," Goodnight comments. Slinging his shovel over his shoulder, he surveys the front yard. "I don't even know where to begin."

"Sam's bringing the plough out, so he'll do the driveway," Emma says. "Why don't you and Joshua start around the cars while I clear a path down off the deck." She makes a face at the churned up snow and paw prints littering the stairs. "This is just asking to have someone trip and break their necks."

Stumbling to get down the uncleared stairs, Faraday has to admit she has a point. His boots aren't quite high enough to keep all the snow out, but at least once he's on the ground it's not so bad.

"C'mon, Goody," he says. "Let's get to work."

Largely ignoring the sound of four wolves racing around making nuisances of themselves, Faraday concentrates on digging out his own car first. He distantly registers Sam going by with the plough at some point, but that's it until Red pops out of nowhere and starts digging in the snow around one of the rear tires.

"Excuse me?" Propping his arms up on the shovel, Faraday stares down at where the young were is enthusiastically scraping up the snow. "Is this your idea of helpin'?"

Red, usually so much more reserved than his younger counterpart, gives an affirmative yip and keeps digging. There's a fine patina of snow dusting his snout from the mess he's making, one that Faraday can't help but laugh at.

"Get out of the way, kid," he says, nudging at Red's flank with a booted foot. "You're makin' a mess of things down there."

Unbothered, Red snaps playfully at Faraday's leg, the sound catching Teddy's attention from wherever he's been hiding and sending him running over too.

"Oh no," raising his hands defensively, Faraday takes a careful step back as the two wolves start circling him, dangerous looks of mirth flashing over both their faces. "You two behave yourselves, you hear me? I'm workin', I don't have time to play."

Red and Teddy share a look, both of them perking up in anticipation, and even knowing what's going to happen does little to prepare Faraday for the shock of his back hitting the snow as they tackle him. Freezing dampness seeps into his clothing at various points and he yelps as a patch of snow slides down his neck.

"Goodnight!" He shouts, flailing at Red while Teddy dances back out of reach. "Can I get a little help here?"

"I'm afraid I'm a little busy myself, Joshua," comes Goodnight's strangled response, and when Faraday manages to shove Red far enough out of his face to look over, he sees Billy circling his partner with malice aforethought. "Billy, dear, can we talk about this?"

Apparently they cannot, in fact, talk about it because Billy's tail wags once and then he's bowling Goodnight over, dragging him down into the snow to kick up an unholy fuss. On top of that, Faraday hears the sound of the plough cut off in the distance and Sam swearing profusely for Jack to get away from him. It seems the boys currently in wolf shape have decided the rest of them should play in the snow too.

"You are all acting like children!" Emma yells, but then she ruins it by dashing off the porch with readymade snowballs in each hand, hurling one at Billy and the other at Faraday.

"Hey!" Faraday sputters, snow falling from his chest where she's just scored a direct hit. "Shouldn't you be on my side? Humans against wolves?"

She laughs, ducking for cover as he begins packing snow into a ball of his own, fully intending to get retribution. "Every person for themselves, Joshua!"

Completely fine with that, Faraday lobs the snowball at Sam, who's just come up, chasing on Jack's heels. Their fearless leader gives him a look of utter betrayal, and the entire yard instantly devolves into chaos. Snow clearing forgotten, they find themselves in an eight person free for all, laughing and hollering as snow gets tossed and kicked everywhere.

Faraday's crouched down behind his car, keeping a weathered eye out for anyone trying to sneak up on him, when he notices the dark furred wolf sitting on the porch in one of the spots Emma had cleared off before things had degenerated so spectacularly. It seems Alejandro's desire to not be left out of the fun has trumped his hatred of the cold.

Knowing full well he's going to pay for it later on, but equally unable to stop, Faraday whistles low to get his attention. "Hey, darlin'," he barks, pulling away from the relative safety of the car to take aim, "catch!"

Alejandro's head jerks around too late for him to get out of the way. The snowball catches him directly in the face, leaving him yelping and sputtering as he furiously paws powder out of his eyes.

Cackling, Faraday turns to run, knowing full well he's not going to get very far. He makes it only a few steps before he hears the telltale sound of something large and motivated leaping off the deck, and then Alejandro's got him by his jacket, bringing him down with ease.

"If you kill me you'll regret in the mornin'," he yells, wriggling around and laughing hard enough that the words are likely half impossible to understand. "Remember that!"

Alejandro rumbles something incomprehensible and uses his body to forcibly shove Faraday further into the snow. His coat's warm enough that Faraday isn't even cold at this point, but he's starting to find it difficult to breathe.

"Ale, you're too fuckin' heavy," he wheezes, shoving feebly at a massive barrel like chest with no success. "Lemme up!"

It's no use, and finally giving up struggling, Faraday flops back into the snow, only tilting his head to meet a familiar brown-eyed gaze. "Hi," he says, and Alejandro wags his tail right before running his tongue over the side of Faraday's face like the jackass he is. "Grossss, Ale."

"Serves you right," Emma says, appearing in his field of vision out of nowhere. She's taken at least one hit in the melee because there're clumps of snow matted into the left side of her hair, and her face is flushed with exertion. "Most of the others are heading inside. You boys coming?"

"I'd love to, but I'm kind of stuck." Faraday says, flapping his hands uselessly for emphasis to best illustrate the 200lb werewolf sitting on his sternum. "Unless you'd like to help?"

He's not expecting much from her, but Emma surprises him and starts to move forward with her hands outstretched. Alejandro sees her coming, and scrambles up onto his paws before she can reach him.

"Thanks," Faraday says, letting out a relieved breath as the pressure is lifted. He lies there for a few moments until the sensation of snow seeping through his jeans sets in and begins making him uncomfortable. "Gettin' inside out of the cold seems like a good idea."

Alejandro snorts from off to the side, and when Faraday turns to look at him he realizes the were is as liberally coated in snow as he is. "You are gonna need to be towelled off."

"He's not the only one," Emma says, offering a hand to help him up. "Red and Teddy look like a matching pair of snowballs, and Billy's coat has more white in it than black."

"Wonderful," Faraday mutters. "I can't wait to deal with that mess."

"Happens every winter," Emma says, unconcerned. "You'll get used to it."

Faraday supposes this is true, but that doesn't stop him from brushing as much snow as possible out of Alejandro's coat before they step off the porch and into the house. The were submits to the indignity with surprising grace, getting even more off by shaking vigorously of his own accord.

Inside is a mass of laughing people and furry bodies who're going to take ages to dry off, but Alejandro slips around them, heading up the main stairs as soon as he's able to navigate through the crowd. Stopping only long enough to toe off his boots and hang his coat on the rack, Faraday follows.

He finds Alejandro lying on the mat in the bathroom they call their own, peering at the doorway like he'd known Faraday would be coming right after him. "Okay," Faraday says as he cocks his head to the side. "Exactly what are you after here?"

Sitting up on his haunches, Alejandro flicks an ear towards the tub, repeating the motion when Faraday doesn't catch on right away.

"You want ... a bath?" Faraday says dubiously, earning himself an affirmative bark for his troubles. "I'm pretty sure you can draw one of those on your own, big guy. It's not that hard."

Alejandro makes an irritated noise, and jerks his head at the tub again. Apparently, he's in a mood to be difficult.

Still, because he's a total sucker whose dearly beloved knows it all too well, Faraday leans over and fiddles with the taps, turning them until a steady stream of hot water is gushing out and filling the tub.

"I assume you want it warm?" He asks, and Alejandro makes another noise of agreement, even going so far as to hunch awkwardly over the side of the tub and shove one paw under the pouring water.

The temperature must be satisfactory because when he pulls the paw back Faraday can already see patches of human looking skin starting to appear on the limb. "Well, I guess my work here is done."

He's almost out of the room when he hears a splash behind him, followed by a contented sigh. "That," Alejandro practically purrs, as the sound of rushing water cuts out, "feels perfect."

Laughing, Faraday turns back around and is greeted by the sight of miles and miles of slick, glorious skin on display as Alejandro leans back in the tub, resting his head against the lip. "Did you make me run that for you so you wouldn't have to spend time shivering out of your fur?"

"Si," Alejandro says shamelessly. "The tub takes forever to fill, and I was cold, mainly because somebody hit me with snowballs."

"It was one snowball," Faraday reminds him. "The rest you did on your own, and you didn't have to come outside. You could've kept hiding in the house. As far as I'm concerned, you made yourself a target when you changed your mind."

Sighing, Alejandro crosses his arms over the edge of the tub, and rests his chin on them, his eyes sparkling with mirth as he says, "Guero, if you keep saying things like that, I'm going to think twice about inviting you to join me."

His words take a moment to register, but when they do Faraday feels a grin slowly spread across his face. "Oh you will, will you?" He asks, already reaching up to tug his sweater over his head. "Guess I'd better shut up then."

"Mmm," Alejandro murmurs, and this time when he leans back against the edge of the tub, Faraday thinks grateful thoughts about spacious bathroom furnishings as he closes the door behind him with a definitive click.

 

Chapter Text

"Have either of you seen Joshua?" Poking his head into the kitchen, Vasquez eyes Sam where he's stacking plates in the dishwasher, and Emma where she's sitting at the table with a mug of tea resting by her elbow. "I can't find him anywhere."

"Did you try outside?" Sam asks, while Emma takes a quick sip of her drink. "Teddy was muttering something about him having a promise to keep earlier, and he was carrying a frisbee when he said it."

Vasquez winces, hoping no doubt in vain that the little wretch will have failed to find Joshua, rather than dragging him into whatever he'd been after. The man's only been with them permanently for a few weeks now. He still needs time to acclimatize to their boundless eccentricities.

However, all he says is, "I'll check out front," and then he heads for the main door.

Unsurprisingly, he finds Joshua standing at the top of the front steps, watching with a small grin on his face as Teddy tears across the lawn after the disc he's just sent skimming over the grass. Red is likewise nearby, albeit human unlike his younger counterpart, and perched atop the porch railing in a position that is hopefully less precarious than it looks.

Clearing his throat to let them know he's there, Vasquez is rewarded by Joshua craning his neck around and flashing him a smile. "Hey, darlin'," he says warmly. "What brings you out here?"

"Nothing important," Vasquez replies. "What are you doing?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Red asks, making a face like he thinks Vasquez is particularly dim. "You know what fetch looks like."

While that may be true, it does very little to explain why Joshua is involved. Vasquez opens his mouth to say as much, but winds up being beaten to the punch.

"I owed Teddy back from when he and Red busted me out of the house durin' my convalescence," Joshua says easily, turning back around to reach for the frisbee as Teddy comes scrambling up the steps with it in his mouth. "I told him I'd toss a few rounds once the stitches were out."

His tail wagging furiously, Teddy relinquishes the frisbee with more ease than normal, and then dances back excitedly, obviously waiting for Joshua to throw it again. When that doesn't happen right away, he barks reproachfully.

Laughing, Joshua proceeds to send the disc sailing through the air a second time, while behind him, Red snorts. "I told you he'd make you do it for ages if you offered," he says derisively, judgement writ large across his features.

Joshua snorts in turn. "You also said better me than you, so I don't know what you're complainin' about. Besides, he's havin' fun. Like you want to be," he adds, giving Red a knowing look in the ensuing silence. "Don't bullshit me, kid. You want in, so just say so."

Red wrinkles his nose the way he does when he's caught out on something, before heaving a great, big sigh and clambering down off the railing. "I'm faster than him," he says as Teddy comes trotting back with the frisbee held aloft, "so you better throw better and make it worth my while."

Vasquez opens his mouth to protest as he strips down without so much as trying to cover himself, but Red's too fast for him and is soon fully wolfed out and circling Joshua's feet in anticipation of the next toss.

"See?" Joshua says, tweaking one dark furred ear when he bends down to retrieve the frisbee from where Teddy's left it on the porch wood. "I knew that's what you were after. Now, first one to bring it back gets braggin' rights."

"You shouldn't let them do that," Vasquez murmurs under cover of the resulting godawful racket that is the boys darting off the porch. "They know better than to change that way."

"Darlin', we're a million miles from anywhere," Joshua says dryly. "There's no one around to see."

"Still," Vasquez says, feeling uncomfortable for some reason he can't articulate. "You let them get away with too much, guerito. They'll take advantage. You don't have to do this just because you feel like you owe them."

Joshua rolls his eyes, and gives him a knowing smirk. "I've got half a mind to ask if you're jealous. Did you wander out here because you want in?"

"No," Vasquez disagrees, that same uncomfortable feeling flaring up in his gut again. He shakes his head to further support his denial. "I was just looking for you."

"Uh huh," Joshua replies, sounding skeptical. He shrugs as Red and Teddy come rushing back up the steps, leaning down to take the frisbee from Red. "Well, you're welcome to join in if you like. Just toss your fur coat on and have a go."

"No, thank you," Vasquez declines. He's made a point of staying human around Joshua since he's been living with the pack, figuring the man didn't sign up to date a literal wolf. "You clearly have your hands full as it is," he adds, jerking his head to where Red and Teddy are scrabbling at each other in anticipation of Josh's next throw.

"True enough," Joshua agrees, already turning back to the game, "but you know where to find me if you change your mind, and despite what Teddy may want to believe, I don't actually plan to make a habit of this."

"Mhm." Of course he doesn't. The wolf shapes are a lot to take in if a person hasn't grown up with them, and given the way Joshua was raised, he has more reason to be wary than most. Disconcerted, Vasquez retreats to the sanctity of the house, distantly hoping the boys will see fit to set Joshua loose from his supposed obligation sooner rather than later.

*****

Vasquez is still pondering the issue when suppertime rolls around. Joshua's recently reappeared, is in fact in the shower having a quick wash, and he's wondering if he should broach the subject or not.

Deciding to leave it be for now, he wanders into the kitchen, wanting to find out what's for supper and who's around for it. Goodnight, Sam, and Emma are already down, with the latter setting the table while the former two engage in an argument about seasoning. Having no desire to get in the middle of that, Vasquez moves to help Emma with the cutlery.

"They've been at it for a solid five minutes," she mutters under her breath as she hands him a bundle of forks and knives. "Here was me thinking they were annoying when they got into that spat over who was the best satirist of the nineteenth century."

"Please don't remind me," Vasquez says, pained. "That conversation was what made me finally understand how trapped animals can chew off their own limbs to free themselves."

Emma wrinkles her nose. "Thank you for that mental image. Also, you only need six places at most. Jack took the boys out hunting."

"Of course he did," Vasquez sighs. Thinking now might be a good idea to raise his earlier concerns without the presence of their only non-were, he groans when Joshua promptly emerges through the kitchen doorway. The man has either the best or worst timing imaginable. There is no in between.

"I don't know what we're havin'," he says, slinking none-too subtly towards the counter, "but it smells delicious."

He reaches a finger towards one of the pots Goodnight has simmering on the stove, and is promptly smacked away with a wooden spoon. "Begone, reprobate," Goodnight says firmly. "It's almost ready. You can wait until then."

Pulling a wounded face, Joshua makes a show of rubbing his hand while claiming a seat at the table. "I was just tryin' to - Jesus Christ!" Jumping, Joshua bangs up against the table, clearly startled by something, and then ducks his head underneath it.

"Warn a guy next time, would you?" He barks, voice muffled by the furniture. "And don't you flash those teeth at me. I wouldn't've stepped on you if I'd known you were there."

A low growl sounds out in reply, and Vasquez has to fight a sudden urge to pinch the bridge of his nose as Billy emerges out from under the table with the fur on his back standing up in irritation. He shoots Joshua a glare that's no less cutting in that it's adorning a canine face, and pointedly licks his right front paw.

"Please, I barely touched you," Joshua scoffs, and Billy growls again.

"Knock it off," Sam says, cutting in before things can escalate. He grabs one of the plates Emma had previously set down on the table, holding it up where Billy can see. "Where are you eating tonight? Above or below?"

"That'll be above, thank you very much," Goodnight says, swooping in to reclaim the plate and return it to its rightful spot at the table. "No one here is eating my cooking off the floor, we're not savages. And, cher?" He adds, casting a pointed look at Billy. "Put pants on before you sit down."

Joshua snorts heavily at this. "Not savages, my ass," he says Billy shifts into human shape, and hauls his discarded jeans off the floor. "He was givin' serious thought to takin' a chunk out of me just now."

Vasquez reaches out to pat him soothingly on the shoulder, wanting to help. "Billy wouldn't do that, guero," he says sincerely, hoping Joshua believes him. "No one would."

Rather than look placated, Joshua raises an eyebrow at him, like he's not sure if Vasquez is being serious or not. He holds his gaze for a few seconds, and then shrugs philosophically. "Well, obviously I know that."

Part of Vasquez isn't so sure, and he once again resolves to stay human as much as possible in Joshua's presence. After all, having his housemates run around as wolves has to be strange enough, but his significant other must be even harder to take in.

*****

Vasquez is sitting on the front steps, lacing up his boots when a shadow comes over him. Craning his head up, he comes face to face with a grinning Joshua, and can't help himself from grinning back.

"Have you come to help me?" He asks, referring to the fact that it's his turn to do the weekly grocery run. The pack tries to share this particular errand as much as possible, and while Vasquez doesn't generally mind the job, he's not about to say no to this specific assistance.

In answer, Joshua holds up the mountain of cloth grocery bags that will be needed to contain the inevitable haul. "You forgot these," he says, grin broadening, "but, yeah, I figured I'd tag along if you wanted a hand."

Vasquez flashes him a look that he hopes conveys his feelings on the subject, and is about to verbally back it up, when the front door is forcibly shoved open, and Emma stomps outside. Her face is pinched, her shoulders hunched, and she slams the door shut so heavily that the hinges rattle.

He and Joshua share a look, each of them unsure of what to say, or if they should say anything. They both recognize the look on Emma's face, and it's one that suggests she should be approached with caution. This happens every once in a while. Usually it means something has reminded her of Matthew, and she's having difficulty reacting.

The three of them stand in awkward silence for longer than is necessary, silence that is eventually broken by Joshua clearing his throat. "Somethin' wrong, Ems?" He asks gently.

She gives him a brittle smile. "It's nothing I can't handle. I'm fine. What are you two doing?"

Joshua holds up the bags he has tucked under his arm in answer. "Grocery day," he explains. He pauses briefly, as if considering something. "You want to come with us? Get yourself out of the house for a bit?"

Emma makes a noise that might be a laugh if it weren't so heavily tinted with displeasure. "I don't think I'd be great company right now, and the last thing I want to do is go inside a busy store surrounded by strangers."

Joshua makes a touché kind of gesture, and Vasquez carefully doesn't say anything, a fact he suspects Emma is grateful for if her expression is anything to go by. "We could drop you off somewhere if you like?" He offers, wondering if that might not work better.

Emma, though, shakes her head no. "Again, it's kind of you to offer, but I think I need to be by myself for a bit. Now feels like a decent time to stretch my legs."

About to tell her that sounds like a good idea, Vasquez is unexpectedly cut off when Emma hauls the thin cotton dress she's wearing over her head, and hits the ground as a russet coloured bundle of fur.

"The speed at which this family gets naked never ceases to amaze me," Joshua says dryly, ducking back with a laugh when Emma makes a sharp dodge at his ankles before launching herself off the steps and disappearing into the distance in a blur.

Vasquez winces at this latest reminder that Joshua has yet to fully adapt to the were forms. He opens his mouth to suggest maybe they should talk about that, but decides against it when he realizes now isn't the time. He's been keeping his own wolf scarce as of late, but it's not really something he can ask the others to do.

"Think the time alone will do her some good?" Joshua asks as they fall into step together, heading for the nearest car.

Vasquez shrugs. "It's hard to say, especially without knowing what it was that upset her, and I'm not about to pry."

"Yeah," Joshua says sombrely. Stepping over just a tad, he bumps their shoulders together. "Let's hope it does."

Dredging up a smile from somewhere, Vasquez bumps him back, but his heart's not really in it. He can't imagine what Emma's going through right now. Even though it's been almost a year since Matthew died - he tries to imagine how he'd react to losing Joshua for good, and finds that he simply can't do it. He'd come close enough once already, the thought of such a thing actually coming to pass is almost too much to bear.

Then again, he thinks as he climbs behind the steering wheel, there's more than one way to lose a person. Nothing is forcing Joshua to stay with the pack, and who's to say he won't someday want to move on?

"Darlin'?" Joshua's voice cuts through the maudlin fog that's invaded Vasquez's brain, making him realize he's lapsed into silence, and is now sitting staring at nothing. "You alright?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes." Busying himself with buckling his seatbelt, Vasquez uses these few precious seconds to get himself under control. "I'm fine. Sorry."

"You're not nearly as good a liar as you think you are," Joshua says fondly. He cups a hand over Vasquez's cheek when he turns to look at him, thumb stroking through the scruff of his beard as he leans in to steal a kiss. "Emma'll be fine, big guy. Don't stress."

Since he can't say that wasn't exactly what he was thinking about without admitting what he was worrying over, Vasquez says nothing at all. Instead, he gives Joshua a tight smile, resolving to do his best to keep this ridiculous man in his life by whatever means necessary.

*****

Before Vasquez realizes it, multiple weeks have passed since the last time he's let his wolf out. He knows that's a bad habit to be falling into - their kind aren't meant to always keep the wolf in check - and it's beginning to make him irritable. As such, he's not really surprised when Sam takes him aside during an afternoon that the house is relatively empty.

"I'm not going to tell you how I think you should handle this, or how I think you should be behaving," he says, effectively cutting Vasquez off before he has a chance to open his mouth, "but I heard Joshua make noise about going for a run a bit ago, and I haven't seen him since. Do with that information what you will."

Running is a habit Joshua's picked up since the incident with Bogue in the warehouse. Though he's largely healed from his injuries, the damage done to his right leg from the Blackstone bullet was especially extensive, and exercising it is the best way to retain as much mobility as possible. Hence why he now goes out most days if he can.

Sometimes Vasquez will go with him, the two of them keeping pace together, but not saying much. Today, however, it seems Joshua has gone off on his own. It's a bit odd for him to do that without telling him, but perhaps Sam is right and he should use it to his advantage.

Nodding at the older were, Vasquez shrugs him off with an easy move of his shoulder. Deciding to head upstairs for the moment, he climbs the stairs relatively quickly, taking them two at a time, while shedding his shirt simultaneously.

Upon reaching the room he now shares with Joshua, he kicks off the rest of his clothing, and lets the change take over with a relieved sigh. It happens maybe a little faster than normal, the wolf anxious to get out, and Vasquez shoves the door shut with one of his back legs, wanting the privacy.

Jumping onto the bed is as easy as ever, and Vasquez groans happily as he stretches all four legs out, kneading the blankets as he gets comfortable. Right now he feels like a nap is in order. After that, then he'll see.

*****

When Vasquez wakes up he's still lying in bed, but he's no longer alone. A heavy arm is draped over his midsection, and warm breath is gusting over the fur on his neck as Joshua breathes slowly in and out, obviously sound asleep.

Unsure of what to do, Vasquez starts wriggling without meaning to, which has the unintended consequence of startling Joshua awake. He makes a sputtering sound, and then the arm around Vasquez is withdrawing as he stretches.

Still uncertain, Vasquez rolls over onto his stomach to look over at Joshua. The man in question lets out a jaw cracking yawn, but then surprises him by stretching out a hand and scratching at the base of his ears.

"Hey, darlin'," Joshua murmurs tiredly. "When'd you get up?"

Since he can't really respond in this shape and would probably just make Joshua uncomfortable if he tried, Vasquez pulls back to give himself room to shift.

"Oh, hey, no," Joshua grumbles, obviously still half asleep as he shifts awkwardly after Vasquez to continue his stroking, unexpectedly burying his face in the fur of his ruff at the same time. "I'm enjoyin' myself. Y'hardly ever let me do this."

Startled, Vasquez freezes mid-squirm, unsure of how to react.

Joshua seems to take the sudden lack of movement as permission to continue his petting, and he digs his fingers into Vasquez's coat with gusto. "Feel like I never get to see you like this," he continues. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were shy in this shape."

That's enough for Vasquez. Ignoring Joshua's disgruntled noise of protest, he ducks back out of the other man's reach, and shifts.

"Spoilsport," Joshua grumbles once he's fully human. "How come all the others hang out with me in either shape, but you won't?"

"Doesn't it bother you?" Vasquez asks, confused.

Joshua gives him an annoyed look. Unfortunately for him, his sleep rumpled clothes and mussed hair seriously detract from the venom he can put into it. "Obviously it bothers me," he says slowly. "Why else would I have brought it up?"

Vasquez replays the last few moments in his head. "Not that I'm the only one who doesn't shift around you," he clarifies. "Don’t the wolves make you uncomfortable?”

Joshua's expression morphs from annoyed to incredulous in the span of an instant. "Where the hell did you get an idea like that?" He demands, sounding both confused and alarmed by turns. "What made you think that was the case?"

"The fact that we're massive, intelligent killing machines, and you used to hunt us for a living," Vasquez replies. "Are you honestly telling me you don't find that at least a little disconcerting?"

"Why should I?" Joshua asks. "I knew exactly what I was getting into when I decided to stay. Remember how I've been studying all kinds of cooky shit, werewolves among them, for my whole life? I know full well it's normal for you guys to spend plenty of time in wolf shape. That you don't just take it on in rare circumstances."

"Normal for us," Vasquez points out. "Not normal for you."

"Ale ..." Joshua says tightly. "If you're about to tell me that you've been holdin' a part of yourself back for as long as I've been here, not because you wanted to, but because you thought I wanted you to, I am goin' to be seriously pissed off."

Since there's no real way to deny it, Vasquez shrugs, a fact that causes Joshua to release an exasperated noise, and lean forward to smack him on one bare shoulder. "Ale!"

"What?" Vasquez demands, sliding backwards across the comforter to put himself out of range. "It's a huge adjustment," he insists. "I thought you would need time to acclimatize."

"Big word coming from an utter idiot," Joshua gripes. Since he can no longer reach Vasquez, he crosses his arms over his chest and glares instead. "I have been around people in wolf shape since literally the first second I set foot in this house, which was ages ago. When have I ever seemed worried about it or bothered or whatever, and don't bring up when I shot Jack! That was obviously an extenuatin' circumstance."

"Well, I - alright never," honesty compels Vasquez to admit, "but you have to admit the whole thing requires an adjustment period. Even you have said as much."

"Yeah," Joshua says slowly, like he can't fathom the depths of stupidity Vasquez has somehow fallen to, "because I went from bein' on my own for a decade to livin' in one house with eight other people. Not because said other people are occasionally furry and four legged. I don't give a damn about that."

"Just because you keep saying something doesn't make it true," Vasquez informs him.

"Back at you," Josh says snidely, "and since each of us keeps inisitin' on the opposite of the same thing
bein' true, one of us has to be wrong. Given that I know what's goin' on inside my own head, I'm therefore gonna guess it's you."

"I - alright fine," Vasquez says. "Obviously you would know best in this scenario, but I don't think that means my concerns are necessarily invalid."

"I do," Joshua grunts, "and I'm going to prove it to you. Shift."

"What?" Having been about to continue proclaiming all the reasons behind his thinking, Vasquez pauses, caught off guard. Joshua, however, doesn't seem to be suffering the same fate.

"You heard me," he says, thumping the bed with one hand for emphasis. "Shift. Make with the furry shape. Get ready to howl. Let the big, bad wolf out."

"Joshua," Vasquez says, pained.

"Okay, fine, that last one was a bit much, but I'm serious." Undeterred, Joshua flaps a hand at him. "You, wolf. Now."

"Fine," Vasquez grudgingly agrees, "but if you call me a good boy, or anything similar, I am biting you."

"It'd be worth it," Joshua replies dismissively, but thankfully he falls silent and doesn't throw out anymore ridiculous statements as Vasquez changes. "See?" He says once Vasquez is fully shifted and sitting directly across from him. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Vasquez flips one ear quickly up and down, the motion he typically uses to convey a shrug in this shape. Unsure of what to do now, he lowers himself onto his belly, and rests his head on his front paws, waiting to see what Joshua's plan will be.

He's not left hanging long. Shuffling over the mattress on his knees, Joshua comes to a stop right next to Vasquez's flank, and parks himself down beside it, sitting close enough that his thigh brushes fur. He stays there unmoving for a moment or two, before running a hand along the length of Vasquez's spine.

"I can't believe you thought I had a problem with this," he says softly, almost sadly. "It's a part of you, you idiot. I didn't just sign up to take on bits and pieces, I came for the whole thing."

The hand he has on Vasquez's back stays where it is, scratching vigorously at the fur there. His other one, meanwhile, he worms between Vasquez's chin and paws, forcing his head up so that he can scritch at the coat there as well.

"So dumb," he says fondly, planting a kiss first right in between Vasquez's ears, and then another to his muzzle. "You're a god damned werewolf, Ale. I don't want you thinking you have to hide it any more than I'd want the others to. You got that?"

Wagging his tail in an affirmative, Vasquez squirms to get into a more comfortable position. Breaking free of Joshua's hold, he rolls onto his back to show the fur of his belly, thumping his tail harder to indicate what he wants.

"Aw crap," Joshua laughs. "Somethin' tells me I might regret this for entirely different reasons. We're gonna go from one extreme to the other, aren't we?"

Huffing out an affirmative, Vasquez bats at him with both front paws, getting more insistent when his wishes continue to go unheeded. Growling low in the back of his throat, he gets the hem of Joshua's shirt between his teeth, tugging to get him to listen.

"Hey!" Joshua yelps, fighting to free his clothing before it tears. "I only have so many shirts, jackass. Let go!"

Whining, Vasquez releases his grip on the shirt, but continues to stare up at Joshua with his best pleading expression, using what attributes he can while his mouth won't work.

"Crap, puppy dog eyes. You're worse than the kids." Groaning, Joshua caves, and digs both of his hands into the fur covering Vasquez's stomach. "I can't believe I'm becomin' such a friggin' pushover."

He leans in closer to rub properly, and Vasquez uses his newfound proximity to lave his tongue all along the side of his face, kicking his back legs furiously in delight when Joshua rears back sputtering.

"I take it back," he says while swiping his jaw clean. "You're disgustin', and I refuse to humour this kind of behaviour. Knock it off."

Easily able to spot the lie,Vasquez rolls over to sit up, and bumps his head against Joshua's chin, wuffing to get his attention. It works, and the next thing he knows, broad hands are scrubbing through his coat, pulling pleased rumbles out of him as they go.

"Yeah, yeah, you like the petting. I got it," Joshua promises. Shifting his hands to either side of Vasquez's face, he holds him steady so he can look him in the eye, while continuing to scratch. "Fun fact? So do I."

"I know it's weird," he adds before Vasquez can decide if he wants to respond to that or not, "but so are we. Our lives ain't never goin' to be normal, and I'm onboard with that. You got it?"

Vasquez yips an affirmative, wagging his tail in additional support.

"Good," Joshua says firmly, smacking another kiss to Vasquez's muzzle as he does so. "Now, I was thinkin' of goin' for a run earlier before I came in here and got all distracted. I'm told it's important to keep my leg active to help it heal. You want to come with? In either shape?"

Vasquez takes a moment to consider this, and then darts forward to lick Joshua's face again. Panting happily, he dodges Joshua's irritated grab, scrambling off the bed and over to the door, bouncing impatiently while he waits for his partner to come open it.

"Oh yeah," Joshua says ruefully as he wipes at his nose with the fabric of his t-shirt. "I am definitely gonna regret this."

*****

Three days later, Vasquez finds Joshua lying in the middle of what he likes to call a 'puppy pile'. It looks like he'd previously been wrestling with Jack and the little ones, and now they're all on the verge of dozing off after they've exhausted themselves. Standing over them with his hands on his hips, Vasquez considers his options.

While he's pondering those, Joshua cracks one eye open, and grins up at him. "You know you want toooo," he singsongs. He's got his head propped up on Jack's flank, with Red and Teddy curled up on either side of him. "Don't worry, one of the boys can shift over to make room."

Vasquez cocks his head to the side. "No need," he says, coming to a decision. "I can manage."

It's the work of mere moments to strip off his t-shirt and jeans, tossing them behind him to create room to shift. Then he's furred and four legged and stalking towards Joshua with intent.

"Ale ..." Joshua says nervously when he approaches. "Need I remind you that I am a frail, delicate human, and you are a big, big - okay, no. Clearly you aren't listenin' to me. Shit, darlin', be careful."

Joshua keeps up his litany of complaints as Vasquez steps over him, and proceeds to lower himself down directly atop his sternum, squirming a bit until he can get comfortable.

"Oof," Joshua grunts at one point when Vasquez accidentally jabs a front paw into his stomach. Vasquez licks his chin in silent apology.

"You're crushin' me," Joshua groans, but Vasquez can tell it's all for a show - a fact that's made especially obvious when Joshua curls an arm around his back, effectively holding him in place.

They stare at each other, their faces mere inches apart. Finally, Joshua breaks the silence.

"Hi," he says simply, the fingers of the hand he has on Vasquez's back already starting to trace through his fur. "You comfy?"

Wuffing slightly, Vasquez licks his chin again, ignoring the fact that they're surrounded by three other wolves.

Joshua laughs, bringing his hands over to rest on either side of Vasquez's face, shaking his head gently back and forth. "You're so weird," he says fondly, but he also laughs a second time when Vasquez gnaws at one of his fingers, so it's not like he has much of a leg to stand on.

Chapter Text

The last thing Marissa’s expecting when she ducks downstairs in the middle of the night for a midnight snack is for something knee high and hissing to come at her when she’s got her head buried in the fridge, but that’s exactly what happens.

Letting out a startled yell, she stumbles backwards to get away, dropping her glass of juice in the process as she tries to put the kitchen island between her and whatever the thing is.

Losing her grip on the glass turns out to be a stroke of luck. It smashes on the floor, spreading liquid everywhere, including right in the path of her unexpected visitor. The thing skids, taken aback by the slick floor, and Marissa grabs an empty pot off the stove while it rights itself.

It is - she’s never seen anything like it. It’s a mess of teeth and claws and possibly scales. It blinks owlishly at her with yellow eyes that don’t appear to have lids as it prepares to charge again.

Marissa raises the pot, prepared to defend herself, only to be unceremoniously bowled over by a snarling blur of a dark fur that dashes into the room. The newcomer charges right for her assailant, which shrieks horribly when vicious jaws snap shut around its neck, and begin to shake it roughly.

Dimly, Marissa hears a crack, and the wailing cuts out as the thing abruptly stops moving. Still unsure of what’s happening, she’s startled again when a man she’s never seen before ducks through the kitchen doorway.

“Everythin’ good here?” He asks, glancing around.

The dog - Wolf? It’s big enough Marissa wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t at least a hybrid - that had knocked her to the floor sits back on its haunches, wagging its tail proudly while still holding the carcass of the thing that had just been trying to eviscerate her in its mouth. It lets out what’s probably meant to be an affirmative yip, but the sound is muffled for obvious reasons.

“Oh Christ,” the man groans upon seeing this. “Ale, no, you have no idea where that’s been. C’mon, sweetheart. Out with it, spit it out.”

Ignoring Marissa entirely, he closes in on the dog, standing over it to try and physically wrestle its prize away. “Give it here,” he insists, showing no regard for his personal safety when he grips the massive animal’s snout in one hand, and begins to pry its jaws open. “We have way better food back in our room. I bet this thing tastes awful, and it’ll probably make you sick to boot.”

The dog makes an annoyed noise, but to Marissa’s surprise it drops the - whatever it is without any further fuss. Pawing at the thing, as if to make sure it’s really dead, it snorts when there’s no sign of movement, and shifts to look up at the man.

Who thanks it in return. “The last thing in the world I want is you hurlin’ entrails all over the back of the car. My hand to god, I’d never let you hear the end of it if that happened.”

Giving the dog a quick scratch behind the ears, he then straightens, and turns to glance at Marissa. “You alright?” He asks, making a point of holstering the gun she only now realizes he’s been holding. “It didn’t nick you anywhere, did it?”

Slowly, she shakes her head, feeling like she’s in shock. “No,” she says, managing to find her voice from somewhere. “Or, I don’t think it did anyway.”

“You’d be able to tell,” the man replies. “Their claws have a kind of acid that stings like a motherfucker. Which is another reason you shouldn’t eat them,” he adds, shifting back to the dog with a pointed glare.

As if it can understand what the man is saying, and, more importantly, isn’t impressed, the dog flicks its ears back and snorts. Then it lets out a heavy yawn, looking more disinterested than any canine Marissa’s ever seen. Not to mention more self-aware.

“Yeah, yeah, same to you.” Shrugging the man steps forward to offer Marissa a hand up from where she’s still sprawled on the floor. “Come on then, up we get.”

“You sure you’re okay?” He asks once she’s safely on her feet. “I’m Josh, Josh Faraday. That’s Ale,” he says, gesturing towards the dog. “Sorry about his table manners.”

“It’s fine,” Marissa says shakily. She points at the creature Ale’d been about to snack on. “He stopped that thing from eating me first. As far as I’m concerned, he can do what he likes.”

Ale, who is easily one of the most expressive animals she’s ever laid eyes on, manages to look smug. Climbing up onto all four of his paws, he wags his tail and saunters forward to nose at Marissa’s hand.

“I wouldn’t,” Josh says when her fingers instantly twitch towards the dog’s incredibly soft looking coat. “He won’t bite, but he’ll expect you to keep right on pettin’ until your arm falls off.”

“He saved my life,” Marissa counters. “I’d say that’s worth a few belly rubs.”

“You do that, and you’ve got a friend for life,” Josh informs her. “Lotta folks are nervous around him because of how big he is; he’s an old softy though. Except for when he’s shredding demons apart, of course.”

“Demons?” Marissa echoes. She glances back at the dead creature. Her brain is telling her there’s no such thing, but her eyes don’t agree. Still. “They don’t exist.”

“Lady, you wouldn’t believe what does and doesn’t exist,” Josh drawls. He too steps forward, and runs a hand through Ale’s fur. “I guarantee you, you’ve seen things out of the supernatural.”

“You got a name?” He asks then. “Not to be rude, but I did just save your life.”

“Weren’t you listening?” Marissa asks. She can’t be sure, but she thinks the adrenaline’s starting to wear off, leaving her a little loopy. “You didn’t save me, this guy did.”

“Whatever,” Josh says, rolling his eyes when the dog barks sharply. “Yeah, sorry. My apologies, I know you’ve had a rough night. Still, a name?”

“Marissa,” she says finally. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise,” he replies, dipping his dead down in a slightly mocking tilt. “I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that this is your place?”

“Yes.” Marissa glances around the kitchen, wincing when she sees its dishevelled state. “It normally looks better than this, I swear. This is ... chaos.”

Josh snorts. “If you want chaos, you should see where we live. You can’t turn around without tripping over a dog or a person.”

“Not that that’s relevant,” he continues on. “You seem to have an imp infestation, ma’am. We’ve been in town for a couple days trying to find the nest, and it turns out it’s in here somewhere.”

“A nest? In my house?” Marissa wrinkles her nose in disbelief. “Why would it be here?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Josh tells her. “No one really knows what draws them to settle where they do. They tend to only spread out so far, though, so if you can figure out the area range they’re coverin’, the nest is usually at the centre.”

“Wonderful.” Shoving her hair back off her face, Marissa squares her shoulders, and straightens to her full height. “How do I clear it out?”

Her companion blinks, looking surprised. “You don’t,” he says slowly. “I do. It’s kind of my job.”

Marissa sags, relieved to hear she won’t have to deal with the actual removal. “Your job is cleaning out demon nests?” She asks.

Josh shrugs. “Among other things. Or it used to be, anyway. I’m semi-retired now.”

“I see. Well then.” In the grand scheme of things that’s one too many details for her to process, so she decides to let it go. “How much do I owe you for your work?”

A harsh choking sound rings out, and when Marissa lets her gaze drop down, she’s momentarily afraid Ale is having some kind of seizure. The huge dog’s sides are shaking, and he’s letting out a series of noises, the likes of which she’s never heard before.

“Ale, quiet,” Josh hisses, and when Marissa glances up she sees that his pale complexion is tinted red. “You don’t owe me anythin’,” he explains patiently. “I’m already bein’ paid by the folks who called me in on the job.”

“Oh,” Marissa says flatly, she wonders if she should have been able to figure that out, and then decides she doesn’t much care. “How long will it take?”

“Long enough that it’s not gettin’ done tonight,” Josh replies. “It’ll take at least a few hours to set the traps, and I reckon I’ll pass out well before then. We’ll get you set up somewhere safe for the night, and I’ll get on it first thing in the mornin’.”

“You mean I have to leave the house?”

Josh gives her a look that suggests he’s trying to be kind, but also that he thinks she’s being a little dense. “Nests can have up to a dozen imps in ‘em at one time,” he explains patiently. “Wherever the others are right now, they’re probably hangin’ back while they assess what happened to the one Ale chomped on. After that they’ll regroup and probably come at you in bigger numbers.”

“I see.” Glancing over at the dead demon in her kitchen, Marissa shudders, and decides she absolutely does not want to deal with more of its kind. “I guess I’ll run upstairs and pack a bag then.”

Josh shrugs. “Sure. I’ll poke around down here a bit while you do that. I’d make it quick though. They’ll be back sooner rather than later.”

Nodding her head, Marissa takes one last look at around the room before turning to head for the stairs. A soft clicking sound echoes after her, and it’s only when she cranes her neck to the side that she realizes Ale’s following along behind.

“Did you want to come with me, buddy?” She asks, honestly relieved when the big dog wags his tail furiously. The thought of wandering around by herself is more than a little nerve wracking, and Ale’s an unexpected source of comfort. “Awesome, it’s this way.”

The master bedroom (which really doesn’t deserve the title since it’s quite small) is at the top of the stairs right next to the bathroom. Flicking on the light, Marissa eases carefully through the doorway, put on edge by the thought that there may be more of the demons hiding inside. She notes that Ale doesn’t seem overly concerned, however, and decides to take that as a good sign.

She has a small overnight bag she sometimes uses for work trips buried in her closet. Staring at the sliding door for a length of time that’s probably longer than necessary, she takes a deep breath, and hauls it open with a quick yank. Happily, nothing immediately jumps out to try and disembowel her.

“Okay,” she says, rooting around in the mess until she spots a familiar strap and pulls the overnight bag free. Then she glances down at her current attire of tank top and sleep pants. Given the night she’s add, she’s going to say fuck it where getting changed is concerned. Let people stare if they want. “Change of clothes and toiletries. That’s what I need.”

She takes a couple of items from the closet, stuffing them into the bag haphazardly, and then doing the same with a few things from her dresser. Her keys get thrown in her purse, which in turn gets slung over her shoulder, and she’s just picking out the last of the stuff she’ll need from the bathroom when she hears a series of expletives shouted from downstairs, followed by a gunshot.

Her heart in her throat, she reaches the stairway in record time, but might as well be standing still in comparison to Ale, who makes a noise like an enraged below, and goes streaking past her in a dark furred jumble of limbs.

“I’m alright,” Josh calls. He sounds like he’s in the living room now, and when Marissa gets down there with bag in hand, she finds Ale dancing nervously around him, while another demon lays dead at his feet.

“Little bastard came out from behind the sofa when I went by,” he grunts, kicking at his kill with a booted foot, as Ale whines next to him. “I almost didn’t hear him comin’,but he bumped into the coffee table first.”

Ale’s whining ramps up even further, and Josh drops to one knee, taking the dog’s face in his hands, petting him soothingly. “S’okay, handsome, I’m fine. I got him, don’t worry.”

“We should get out of here, though,” he says glancing up at Marissa. “That’s probably goin’ to attract the rest, and I’d rather deal with them durin’ daylight hours. Are you ready?”

Not sure she’s capable of speaking yet, Marissa holds up her bag. It’s not zippered, but it takes her only a moment to rectify this, and then she’s following Josh out of her house.

There’s a car she doesn’t recognize parked in front of it that Josh and Ale head right for. Josh helps her into the passenger seat, and then opens the back so Ale can jump in. Only once woman and dog are both safely inside does he climb in as well.

“Whew,” he says, keying the ignition and beginning to pull away from the curb. “That was a little more excitement than I was plannin’ on tonight. Fuck, I hate imps. Yeah, I know you don’t like them either.”

This last bit is said to Ale, who’s shoving himself in between the front seats to nose at Josh’s face. Still whining fretfully, he swipes his tongue over the man’s cheek, rumbling low in his chest when Josh scratches at his his chin.

“I told you, I’m fine,” he says, smacking a kiss to the dog’s snout. “Not even a little worse for wear.”

“He’s really fond of you,” Marissa says. She watches as Ale continues to poke at what parts of Josh he can reach, and then rubs his side on the off chance that might help. “I’ve never had a dog, but you can tell he adores you.”

“Feelin’s mutual,” Josh replies, shooting her a quick grin around Ale’s bulk. “Best thing that ever happened to me was findin’ this guy, and you can quote me on that.”

Marissa laughs, and they chat amicably until they’re pulling into their destination. It’s an older hotel that looks like it’s seen better days, but she supposes beggars can’t be choosers, and at least it’s not currently home to a demon nest.

“I won’t be offended if you want to get your own room,” Josh says as they all pile out of the car, “but there’s a slim chance the imps can follow us, so you might want to crash in ours. There’s two beds,” he’s quick to add. “Plenty of space.”

Frankly too tired to care at this point, Marissa waves a hand airily. “If you were going to kill me, you could have done it like three times over by now. All I want is a place to sleep with the minimum chance for demon arrival.”

“Okay then.” Fishing a room key out of his pocket, Josh heads for the main doors. “It’s this way.”

The room he leads her to is as old looking as the rest of the building, but it’s clean, and the only clutter appears to be Josh’s own stuff. She notices that he seems to travel with enough clothes for two people, yet keeps her mouth shut, not wanting to seem rude.

Ale jumps up on the bed closest to the door as soon as they’re inside, taking up most of the available space, so Marissa decides to claim the further bed as her own. “Is he allowed up there?”

Josh snorts from where he’s shrugging out of his jacket. “He goes where he wants,” he says, tossing the now rolled up coat onto a chair. “I haven’t tried to - son of a bitch!”

Gripping his forearm unexpectedly, Josh hisses a breath out through clenched teeth as he raises the limb to inspect it. There’s a red line about two inches in length running along his arm, and from the look on his face Marissa’s going to guess it doesn’t tickle.

“That fucker must’ve got me before I got him,” Josh snarks, glaring down at the cut. “Probably took a bit to eat its way through the fabric, though. Can you - oh. Never mind.”

Ale, who’d leapt off the bed a few moments ago, has reappeared dragging a travel first aid kit in his mouth. He drops it on the mattress once both humans can see what he has, barking sharply to get their attention.

“Yeah, that’s great. Thanks.” Sitting down in the bed, Josh moves to grab the kit with his good hand, but hisses when that forces him to stop putting pressure on the wound. “Damnit.”

“I’ve got it,” Marissa says, reaching for the kit while Ale skitters around her in agitation. “Don’t worry, buddy,” she says, giving the dog a quick pat. “We’ll get him fixed up.”

“I’m gonna get so much shit for this,” Josh says. He gives her a mournful look as she pops the kit open to root around for something to clean his arm with. “I never hear the end of it when I get so much as a hangnail on a job.”

About to ask just how bad a dog’s fussing can be, Marissa notices that he’s wearing a wedding band for the first time. Absently , she wonders what kind of courtship that must have been. “Your little lady the type to worry?”

Josh snorts. “My little lady is a six and a half foot fella, but you’ve got the worry part down. He’s gonna yammer at me over this for days.”

“I get the feeling he’s not the only one.” Gripping Josh’s arm to tug it closer towards her, Marissa starts cleaning out the gash while Ale climbs up on the bed, and starts once again nosing at Josh’s face, huffing pointedly. “I think you scared him.”

“Ain’t nothin’ to be scared of,” Josh replies. He hooks his uninjured arm around Ale’s neck, and shakes the dog gently. “S’all good, big guy. He barely even nicked me.”

Ale whines, sharply at first, but with the sound eventually tapering off into a disgruntled groan as he bumps Josh’s cheek with his snout. Then, to Marissa’s surprise, he grips the back of Josh’s t-shirt in his mouth, shaking him like one would a naughty child.

“Okay, no. Knock it off you overgrown idiot.” His arm now clean and wrapped in gauze, Josh pulls away from Marissa to wrestle Ale down. “I’m fine,” he promises, rubbing the dog’s belly when he rolls over onto his back, batting at him with his paws. “No harm done, see?” He holds up his bandaged arm. “All fixed.”

This gets him barked at for his troubles, but Marissa doesn’t miss the way Ale’s tail is starting to wag. Concerned though the dog may have been, Josh seems to be doing a pretty good job of calming him down.

Sitting back on her own bed, she watches them for a moment before a huge yawn slips out of her mouth without her permission. “Sorry,” she says when Josh looks over with a smirk. “It’s been a long night.”

“Fair enough,” he replies. “We’re used to this kind of thing, so I guess it doesn’t bother us as much.”

“Mmm,” nodding tiredly, Marissa kicks off her shoes and begins climbing under the covers. Coming over here already in her pyjamas was definitely the right call. “I think I’m going to turn in.”

“You’re not the only one,” Josh says. “Think I’m gonna get cleaned up, and then do the same.”

Already more asleep then awake, Marissa gives him a half-hearted wave, and is out cold before her head hits the pillows.

*****

She may or may not wake up at some point in the wee hours of the morning. It’s dark, and her brain feels muddled, but she could swear she hears voices. More than one.

“For the millionth time, I’m fine.” That’s Josh, speaking low enough she can barely make it out, but she’s positive a second voice answers back, only this one is even lower, so she can’t hear anything.

“It is so just a scratch. Honest, darlin’,” Josh says. “You worry too much. Now, do me a favour and switch back. If she wakes up and sees you we’re goin’ to have even more unnecessary explanations on our hands.”

The voice speaks again, still too low to be understood, but in a tone that’s clearly reproachful. Dimly, Marissa wonders if Josh has gone and called his husband, and for some reason put the man on speakerphone. Then she decides she doesn’t much care, and falls back to sleep.

*****

Morning dawns eventually, with soft light filtering into the room through the worn curtains. Marissa can hear someone puttering around in the bathroom as she cracks her eyes open, so she sits up slowly.

“Josh?” She calls. There’s a startled noise across from her and she sort of sees the blankets on the other bed twitch out of the corner of her eye.

Before she can look over, though, hurried footsteps ring out from the bathroom, and Josh rounds the corner with his shirt half on and a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

“Shit,” he hisses, his eyes for some reason snapping to the mound of blankets on the other bed, rather than her. “Did you? I mean - what?”

Marissa blinks, fighting down an urge to laugh. “You’re not the best in the morning, I take it?” She asks, her smile widening when he shakes his head.

His gaze is still locked on the second bed, and he breathes a sigh of relief when the blankets shift to let Ale poke his head out of the mess. The dog’s long fur is sticking up on top of his head, but he yips happily, and struggles free of the rest of the bedding when he sees Josh.

“Idiot,” Josh mutters fondly. Apparently forgetting about the toothbrush still clamped between his teeth, he’s grabs Ale to smooth down some of the more disastrous strands. “You look like you stuck a paw in an electrical socket, darlin’. What the hell?”

“I can’t believe you let him under the covers,” Marissa says, pointing at the blanket cavern Ale’s just emerged from. “What kind of dog does that?”

“One that’s practically human,” Josh tells her. He gives Ale’s head one last pat before turning to head back into the bathroom. “I’m almost done in here. After that it’s all yours.”

“Thanks,” Marissa starts to say, but he’s already disappeared again. She glances over at Ale. “Your owner is very strange, I hope you realize that.”

Ale flips his ears back and forth, almost as if to say he does realize it, but also doesn’t care. Then he yawns, and begins to scratch vigorously at the back of his neck.

“I hope you don’t have fleas or anything,” Marissa says as she climbs out of bed, laughing when Ale barks sharply. “Right, of course you don’t.” Crossing to the other bed takes her all of two steps, and then she leans down to ruffle Ale’s fur. “How could I suggest something so rude?”

Ale submits to the petting like it’s his due, but only commences his usual tail wagging when Josh comes back into the room. He barks to get the man’s attention, wriggling happily when he winds up having his ears scratched.

“Brat,” Josh says fondly before pulling his hand away. He cocks his head at Marissa. “You up for good now?”

“I think so, yes,” she replies. Stretching her arms to work a couple kinks out, she nods towards her bag. “I figure I’ll grab a quick shower, get changed, and then maybe look into finding some breakfast.”

“This place does a little buffet style thing,” Josh says. “It ain’t much, but it’s enough to fill your stomach. What about after that? Do you work today?”

Marissa shakes her head. “I’m a nurse,” she says, when he looks surprised that she’s not doing anything in the middle of the week. “I just came off four shifts in a row, and now I’ve got three days off. Hell, I can probably help you clean out my place.”

“I think the fuck not,” Josh says succinctly. He holds up his hands when she scowls. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but the last thing I need is a civilian trying to do my job. I guarantee you, it won’t be intentional, but you’ll be more of a hindrance than a help.”

“Fine,” Marissa grunts, only mildly put out. “So what am I supposed to do until you get back?”

Josh shrugs. “Whatever you want, I guess, but you’ll have to find something where you can take Ale with you.”

“I’m sorry?” Marissa asks, and Ale let’s out a blurted snort that seems to echo her sentiment. “Aren’t you going to need him to help you with the demons?”

“I am more than able to handle an imp nest on my own,” Josh says dryly. He gives first Marissa, and then Ale a pointed look. “You on the other hand - if you’re not going to be at work surrounded by people, then you should probably keep him with you just in case. It won’t even take me that long.”

Marissa tries to protest a little more. As does Ale, who stands up on the bed, and gives Josh what sounds like a stern talking to in the form of barks and growls. Neither of them has any success, however, and the man’s leaving before they know what’s happening, calling his cellphone number out to Marissa as he goes in case she needs it.

“Huh,” Marissa says, still staring at the empty space where Josh had recently been. “He’s kind of a pain in the ass, isn’t he?”

Beside her, Ale huffs an affirmative.

Figuring she can’t do anything about it, Marissa grabs her bag, and goes to take a hot shower. Once she’s out, she figures food is in order, so she picks up the spare room key, and makes to leave. “Did you want to come with?” She asks, reaching for the door handle.

Ale doesn’t even raise his head from where he’s sprawled across the sheets in a dark furred mess. He flicks his tail slightly, still looking mildly put out over Josh’s leaving, but otherwise shows no sign he’s even heard her.

“Poor boy,” Marissa says sympathetically. “You probably have to go out and stuff, don’t you? And what the heck am I supposed to feed you? Did you eat yet?”

Wishing she’d thought to ask Josh these questions before he’d taken off so abruptly, Marissa decides to take care of herself first, and then try and get Ale sorted. “I promise I won’t be gone long,” she says as she closes the door behind herself. “Just give me like twenty minutes.”

She doesn’t get a reply for a number of reasons, and hustles down the hallway. It takes her a moment or two to orient herself and find the dining room, but after that she’s all set.

She’s the only one eating this late in the morning, but while there are a couple of staff members puttering about, she finds herself uncomfortable out in the open. She hopes the feeling will go away once the things in her house are dealt with, but until then, she’s suddenly glad Josh has left Ale behind.

Marissa can’t initially see Ale when she re-enters the room, but he pops up from the spot on the floor between the two beds when she whistles. “Hey, fella,” she says, relieved when the dog comes to see her. “How do you feel about trying to find something to do, maybe go for a walk? Okay, one second then.”

Stepping into the bathroom with the intention of brushing her teeth, she slips unexpectedly, almost landing on her ass before catching herself. There’s water all over the floor that she’s positive wasn’t there after her shower.

“It’s an old place,” she mutters, stepping carefully over to the sink so she can fish out her toothbrush and toothpaste. “Maybe there’s a leak somewhere.”

Whether or not that’s the case, she suspects Ale may have investigated the water at some point while she was gone because his fur is damp the next time she touches him. It’s not enough to be concerned by, however, and she soon gets distracted when she clues in to another problem.

“You don’t have a collar,” she says dumbly, only now noticing this. She scratches at Ale’s neck where one might normally sit. “How am I supposed to take you out without a collar and a leash? What if you run away?”

Ale gives her a look that somehow manages to convey he thinks she’s incredibly dim. Then he pads over to the door, scratching at it with his right front paw before he sits down and starts to whine.

“Okay, okay,” Marissa says quickly. Not wanting him to bother anyone who might be in the rooms nearby, she picks her purse up from the table where she’d left it. “We can go, but if you take off on me I’m not going to be happy.”

Ale matches her pace as they leave the hotel, and keeps right on doing so as they start walking down the street. Relieved that he doesn’t seem inclined to bolt, Marissa resolves to try and enjoy the morning.

It’s late spring, heading into summer fast, so the air is warm and the weather nice. Having always been a jogger, Marissa knows where the best spots in town are, and she turns Ale towards one of the closer walking paths, figuring he might prefer that to busy streets.

She’s never paid much attention to other people who’re out and about on the trails, but they tend to be busy enough that more than once she’s bumped or been bumped by another pedestrian. That’s not the case today, though. Today everyone who sees her seems to be giving her a wide berth.

“I guess it’s not only imps you scare off,” she remarks to Ale. Heading down one of her favourite paths, she strolls along with the big dog easily keeping pace beside her. “Looks like a lot of folks don’t want to risk the chance that you might not be friendly.”

Ale wags his tail in an ‘aw shucks’ manner, as if he’s trying to say that he’s nothing to be scared off. Given the size of his claws, not to mention his teeth, Marissa’s more inclined to understand why people who haven’t met him might be nervous.

“I know you’re very nice,” she tells him, “but you’re also very big, which is a little off putting sometimes. Also, remember I saw what you did to the - the thing in my house last night,” she stumbles. It’s one things for passers by to hear her talking to a dog, she’d rather they not hear her talking to a dog about demons. “I know you can do damage if you put your mind to it.”

Ale yawns dismissively, there’s no other way to describe it.

Rolling her eyes, Marissa keeps walking. Enjoying the feeling of the sun on her face, she hikes for a while longer until Ale stiffens next to her. Startled and concerned at the same time, she glances down quickly. “What is it? Do you hear something?”

Seeing as he’s a dog, Ale doesn’t answer her. On the other hand, Marissa has a sneaking suspicion he wouldn’t have regardless. His whole body going still except for his tail, which starts to wag furiously, he stares straight ahead with an intense look on his face.

Following his gaze, Marissa spots a young woman, definitely younger than her, pushing one of those double seated strollers along in front of her. A baby is sleeping soundly in the front seat, while a second child, this one a toddler, is free and running to and fro, stopping periodically to investigate various shrubs and bushes.

“Oh no,” Marissa says worriedly. She looks back at Ale, suddenly very much regretting not having searched harder for a leash. If he takes a run at either of those kids, she’ll never be able to stop him. “Please tell me you’re excited because you love babies, and not as a snack.”

Ale barks, the speed of his tail ratcheting up even further, so that his whole body is starting to shake in excitement. He barks again, louder this time, enough that the approaching trio come to a halt.

“Don’t eat the kids,” Marissa hisses under her breath. “That’s all I ask. Don’t eat them, maul them, or otherwise cause the kind of damage that’s going to see someone call animal control. I don’t want to have to explain something like that to Josh.”

Ignoring her, Ale starts marching towards the woman and her children.

“It’s alright,” Marissa says weakly, as they approach. She very much hopes Josh’s claims of Ale being a softy with everyone he meets turn out to be true. “He’s tame I promise.”

That makes Ale snort. Stopping his tail wagging for a moment, he shoots her a look that suggests he’s offended by her choice of words before resuming his trek towards the kids. He sits down once he’s within a couple feet of them, his tail beating steadily into the ground as if he can’t contain himself while he waits to see what they’ll do.

The baby does nothing, merely continues sleeping soundly in the stroller, but the little girl gives her mother a pleading look. “See puppy?” She asks, pointing a chubby hand towards Ale.

“I -“ Her mother shrugs helplessly, and gives Marissa a confused look. “You said he’s friendly?”

At Marissa’s nod, the woman comes around the stroller, taking her daughter carefully by the hand. “Okay, Jess,” she says slowly, and it’s obvious she’s prepared to yank the kid away if this goes south. “Be gentle though, alright? You understand? Gentle.”

Jess’ hand winds up almost smacking Ale in the eye when she brings it down to pet him, but he doesn’t so much as flinch. Instead, he wriggles happily, butting his head into her fingers, and then flopping over on his side to expose the soft fur of his belly.

Clearly delighted, Jess drops down with a happy squeal, while her mother wheels the stroller over to stand by Marissa. “She loves dogs,” she murmurs low under her breath. “Her father’s crazy allergic, though, so we can’t have one.”

Marissa makes small talk with the woman, who’s name turns out to be Jennifer, for a bit, while her daughter gathers an assortment of twigs and throws them for Ale to ‘fetch’. Not a single one goes more than a few feet no matter how hard the little girl tries, but Ale dutifully brings back each and every one.

Finally, Jennifer decides to move on, and Jess trots after her, waving at Ale until she’s out of sight. The dog likewise doesn’t look away until they’re gone, and then he glances up at Marissa who swears he’s pouting.

“Dude,” she says reproachfully. “The kid doesn’t belong with you. Hell, I don’t even belong to you. You want to complain to somebody, bug Josh when we see him again.”

Ale continues to stare up at her, his brown eyes huge and sad. Suspecting she’s being manipulated, but equally sure she can’t do anything to stop it, Marissa groans.

“Alright,” she says, waving the dog on ahead of her. “I know somewhere else we can go. Maybe that’ll cheer you up.”

One of the more popular spots in this particular park is a tiny cafe located right at its centre. People can stop and rest while they’re out, ordering a bite to eat at the same time. There’s even an outdoor patio where more than once she’s seen people sitting down with their dogs.

They’ve been out long enough now that it’s well into lunch time, so Marissa decides to go all in, and gets herself a soup and sandwich combination, one that even comes with a dessert. Then she settles into a chair at one of the outsidetables with Ale curled up by her feet.

At one point a staff member appears with a bowl of water. Telling her they keep the things on hand for customers out walking dogs on hot days, he sets it down near Ale, who pointedly ignores it.

Surprised, Marissa nudges him with a foot as the barista moves away. “You should drink,” she says firmly. “It’s getting warmer, and you’ve got all that fur to contend with.”

Disdainfully, Ale kicks out at the bowl, upending the water all over the deck. Then he grunts and lays his head back down on his front paws.

“The hell? Sorry about that,” she adds for the benefit of the barista, who’s just reappeared with her dessert in hand. Accepting the heavily laden ice cream cone, she nods at the mess Ale’s made. “I don’t know why he did that.”

“No worries, it’s only water.” Shrugging, he retrieves the bowl, giving it a quick shake to get the last remaining drops out. “Maybe he doesn’t think it’s fair that you get all the good stuff, and not him.”

Ale huffs from his spot under the table, as if to say he agrees. He watches the barista as he moves away again, and then sighs.

Wishing she knew more about dogs, Marissa considers this change in mood. Giving her dessert a contemplative lick, she eyes Ale carefully. “You liked the walk,” she says slowly, “and you liked the people. Are you mad because we had to leave them, or are you finally noticing that Josh still hasn’t come back yet?”

At the sound of Josh’s name, Ale whines. Deciding to take that as a yes, Marissa takes a bite out of her cone, and figures maybe it’s a good idea to return to the hotel and wait the hunter out.

“Okay,” she says around her snack. “We’ll head in as soon as I’m finished here.” Not missing the way Ale’s ears perk up at this, she takes a larger bite, wanting to be done quicker. Then a thought occurs to her, and she offers out the remaining half. “You want it?”

That gets Ale’s attention. Sitting up fast enough she’s half expecting him to overturn the table, he takes the cone from Marissa’s outstretched hand, swallowing it between one bite and the next.

“I guess that answers that question.” Laughing as Ale licks his muzzle, Marissa stands to gather her things. “Hopefully I won’t get in trouble for giving you people food.”

Ale makes a dismissive noise, before following her eagerly down off the patio.

The walk back to the hotel is at a more brisk pace than the one over had been, but it’s still lengthy. Marissa hadn’t realized quite how far in they’d come, though luckily all this does is eat up more of the day.

It’s approaching mid afternoon when they reach the hotel room, and Marissa can hear someone shifting around inside. Momentarily concerned that the imps have followed them, she hesitates in reaching for the key in her purse.

Beside her, Ale waits patiently for a few seconds, but he barks when more tick by and she still hasn’t moved. Scratching at the door while she’s figuring out what she wants to do, he makes a happy noise when it swings back to reveal Josh standing there.

“You lose your key?” He asks, stepping back so Marissa can come inside. He stumbles over Ale, who’s excitedly worming his way around his feet. “I could’ve sworn I left one for you. Also, sweetheart, knock it off. I didn’t spend all day trappin’ imps without a scratch only to wind up with a broken neck because I tripped over you. Calm down.”

“He was starting to get antsy as the day wore on,” Marissa explains. Dropping into one of the chairs by the desk, she notes that Josh has to have been back for a little while, since most of his bags are already packed up. “At first he was fine, seemed happy to be out, then he got grumpy.”

“Grumpy, eh?” Josh snickers as he turns back to the one bag that’s still only half full. “You mean he was poutin’ all over the place. I get it.”

Grumbling, Ale leaps onto the bed where Josh is fussing with the opened bag. Standing over it, he kicks the bag back, and pointedly noses at Josh, like he’s looking for any signs of injury.

Holding his arms up in surrender, Josh submits to the inspection with surprising grace. “See?” He says when Ale finally pulls back after a quick swipe at his chin. “Not a scratch aside from last night’s, and I see you did your job too. Marissa looks good.”

“Oh, we were fine,” Marissa assures him. “We went out for a hike and didn’t see anything weird. Ale made friends with a three year old, and ate half an ice cream when I offered it to him. Sorry if that wasn’t allowed.”

“Please,” Josh snorts. “He eats what he wants where food is concerned. And what about the kid? Did you have to drag him away after?”

“Practically,” Marissa admits. “He seemed to think she was his new best friend.”

“Yeah,” Josh says, ruffling Ale’s fur when he paws at him. “One of our, uh, relatives had a baby a bit ago. Ale’s decided she’s his.”

“Gotcha,” Marissa says, then she figures she might as well ask the question that’s been weighing on her mind since she’d arrived back to find him here a head of her. “So is my house okay? Can I go home now?”

“It is and you can,” Josh says. “There were eleven of the little bastards in it if you count the two from last night, but I got ‘em all, and cleaned the place out. Figure we can drop you off, and then hit the road ourselves.”

“Are you good to drive?” Marissa asks. She eyes him critically. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look kind of tired.”

“Oh, I’ll sw - oh, right.” Pausing mid-sentence when Ale barks hurriedly, Josh shrugs. “I’m fine. I can always pull over or find a rest stop if I need to.”

“If you’re sure,” Marissa says dubiously.

Josh gives her a sunny smile she doesn’t entirely believe, and then moves to grab the last few items kicking around the room. Marissa wonders distantly why he’d bring a second pair of boots on such a short trip when he hauls them and another jacket out of the closet, but she guesses his job can be hard on clothing. That’s probably why he travels with so much of it.

Stuffing the items into the remaining bag, Josh zips it shut before shoving it at Ale. “Here,” he says, flicking the dog’s nose lightly with the strap. “This one’s yours.”

Slinging a second, identical bag over his shoulder, he grabs a third, much heavier looking bag up off the floor, and nods at Marissa. “If you’ve got your stuff ready, we can head out now.”

Having made a point of repacking her overnight bag when she’d got out of the shower this morning, Marissa picks it up without any trouble. “I’m good,” she says, having to laugh when she sees Ale trot eagerly towards the door with the bag Josh had given him. “Nice of him to help.”

“Hey, he’s got to earn his keep somehow.”

Josh takes care of checking out of the hotel, while Marissa and Ale walk out to the car. He’s thankfully not gone long, and he’s quick to open the doors so everyone can get inside. Marissa balances her bag on her lap like she had the night before, and Ale climbs in still with the one he’d been carrying.

“You’re not going to let Josh put it in the trunk?” Marissa asks. She leans around to scratch at his ears when he gives her a big doggy grin. “You silly thing.”

“Hey now, don’t go hurtin’ his feelings,” Josh says as he opens his own door. He gives Ale a sly look over his shoulder. “Even if what you say is true.”

Ale sniffs audibly at this, and Marissa thinks for the hundredth time that he really is an intelligent animal. She wonders if that has anything to do with the kind of stuff he’s exposed to on the regular, but decides not to ask.

“I left some contact info on that pad by your fridge,” Josh says when they pull up in front of her house. “You should be good from here on out, but I figure it can’t hurt to play it safe.”

“Thanks,” Marissa replies. “For everything. This has been the weirdest twenty four hours of my life, but I owe you one. Both of you,” she adds, scratching Ale under the chin when he leans between the front seats. “You be good now, okay, buddy?”

“Can’t say as I expect him to listen to that,” Josh says fondly. As Marissa watches, he scrubs a hand over the dog’s face before smacking a kiss onto the top of his head. “He’s nothin’ but trouble, this guy.”

“Takes one to know one,” Marissa shoots back. Being careful with her bag, she climbs out of the car, but leans back in with a grin. “From what I’ve seen, you two are a well matched set.”

“You have no idea.” Shoving Ale away from him, Josh flicks her a two-fingered wave, and reaches into the glovebox to pull out a pair of sunglasses. “It’s been fun,” he says, resting them on the top of his head, “but we’re out of here.”

“Remember though,” he calls as she shuts the door. “You’ve got my number if you need it!”

Nodding, Marissa waves as the car drives away. “Yeah,” she says to no one in particular. “I’ll remember.”