Before the Fall

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Chapter 33

2 years ago, Canadian Wilderness…

“Jackson,” he growls. “Don’t call me unless you have another lead.”

“I know, Silas.” He pauses and swallows as though his next words are hard to get out. “I’m sorry. But my news is still of a positive nature.”

Silas rubs his eyes hard enough that they ache with old phantom pains. He thinks some nerves were damaged enough that most feeling has left his eyeballs and sockets, but sometimes they still burn. “What is it?”

“They have no new information,” Jackson admits, “but we have found new allies in the family of Paisley West.”

Silas sighs. He’s almost too tired for anger now. Just bitterness. “You’ve brought them in?”

“Yes. Silas...it was their wife, their mother, who died that day next to Richard and his wife. I saw it fitting that they should have the relevant information as well.”

“Okay fine, now stop calling me--”

“One last thing. The Wests have voiced just what we’ve been discussing. They think it’s time to start going after Richard’s killers.”

“And give up on the healer?”

Alpha Jackson pauses. “Do you not think they could be related?”

Silas growls. “I think I’d not like to waste time on goose chases.”

“Silas,” Jackson says with a growl of his own. “All the leads we’ve had on the healer have been entirely bogus or lead to dead ends. It’s time to try another angle.”

Silas sighs again. “Okay.”

:::::

Present day, Atwood Territory…

The next time they go running is exactly a week later. The routine is basically the same except Slate is picking Gray up from her siblings’ house this time. When he gets there, Gray answers the door and he finds the three of them gathered in the kitchen talking around some dessert Zander had made. The conversation is a little stilted when he comes in, but awkwardness never really bothers Slate.

Zander stands and shakes Slate’s hand. Slate doesn’t know exactly what Zander’s intentions are, but it seems like he can’t decide whether he’s supposed to be a threatening brother to his sister’s suitor or if he’s supposed to act like he and Slate are “bros” in front of Gray. Whatever he intends it to be, it just ends with Zander stammering and Slate trying not to laugh.

It does elicit an interesting conversation, though. After Zander drops Slate’s hand and stutters through a welcome, Slate and Gray’s gazes magnetize toward each other and they exchange commiserating glances like it’s a practiced motion. It feels oddly natural.

When Aria catches them in the act, she groans like a petulant teenager--which Slate supposes she is. He can never really gauge Aria, because she seems to try out a different persona every time she interacts with Slate. Always trying to come off cool and collected. “Come on, is the older sibling thing like some universal club? Every older sibling just knows to look at each other with this stupid look when they find their siblings amusing?”

Slate snorts in amusement. This seems not to be a new conversation. Zander side eyes him at the noise and Aria looks sort of startled and sort of...proud, like she feels accomplished to have made him make the sound.

Gray smiles and ruffles both Zander’s and Aria’s hair. “Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s a younger sibling suballiance committed to irritating older siblings everywhere.”

Aria humphs and looks at Zander. “You know what? She’s probably right. How about instead of siding with Gray every time,” she gives him a pointed look, “you and I gang up on her, huh? I deserve to win sometimes too, you know.”

Zander tilts his head back and forth consideringly. “Hmm, I think I like this plan.”

Gray rolls her eyes. “You only like it because it puts you on the winning side every time.”

“That’s when the sisters have to gang up on the brother,” Slate inputs helpfully, to the surprise of every individual in the room. Which, he doesn’t really get, because it’s not like he’s mute. He talks, just not all the time.

“Whoa,” Aria says under her breath. Then slightly louder but seemingly unaware of herself, she mutters, “But also a very good idea.” Finally she looks up and throws up her hands. “How did we never think of this before, Gray? We could have had weeks of winning arguments by now!”

The older sister laughs and promises Aria they’ll employ some new strategies as soon as possible. With that, he and Gray are off to go on their run. When they’re sweaty and breathing heavy at the end, Gray says the same thing with the same gentle touch on his arm. “Thanks. Same time next week?”

Slate nods and walks her home.

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