Everyone wanted a piece of Ethan.
The kids swarmed him, asking questions about the night he’d liberated them, hugging him, and he answered all of them with a steady flow of reassuring Spanish that I had no hope of keeping up with. It helped that he held my hand the entire time, and also it gave me time to stare at him without anyone commenting. He was tired, scratches and bruises on his face and neck, but other than that he was alive, and he was here.
I didn't want to let him go, but it wasn’t only the kids Kayden had rescued who wanted him.
First of all, it was Ben who turned up with Oreo because Oreo wanted to see Ethan, apparently. Ethan grabbed both my son and the cat and swung them around like he was a fairground ride and he didn’t put them down for a long time.
It was heartening, made me smile, but I was jealous of my own son and one scrappy cat.
Not that I wanted to be swung around until I was dizzy, but I really wanted to be back in Ethan’s arms, clinging to him, and never letting him go again.
But what happened when he stopped spinning and was faced with me again, and the immediate declarations of love became serious talks about future things? That’s when the nerves kicked in. Everything we’d had was a result of the case, of Rouxier, of that single night leaving the bar, and maybe when things went quiet we wouldn’t have anything anymore?
He finally settled Ben to the ground, laughing, and that was when the second person to get in my way was right there, Kayden crouching by a laughing Ethan who was fussing Oreo.
“Ethan? We need you inside. Ops had broken the encryption on the drive—it took a while but we’re getting in, and there's things you need to see.”
Ethan’s smile slipped a little as he stood and handed Oreo to Ben, but the smile was back again when I caught it next only it didn't match the worry in his eyes.
“Sure,” he said, then he held a hand out to me. “Come with me?”
He laced his fingers with mine, and tugged me with him, and I waved back at the kids who were done for the day anyway, as Ben and Oreo joined them and they headed en masse, straight to the kitchen to find snacks. A couple more of the children were going home tomorrow, and very soon what had once been over twenty was now just eight. I missed them when they left, but I was happy for them all at the same time. I worked with Sanctuary to provide packages in place for each family, support, education, and I had a lot to think about when the owner of Sanctuary asked if I’d be interested in a role in their foundation.
I said it depended on Ben.
But maybe Ethan would be swept off to more saving lives, and then it was just me and Ben.
And Ben’s mom, I guess—the same woman who’d been vocal in social media this morning defending Charles Rouxier and telling the world that they were wrong to judge Rouxier so harshly. When I’d watched it, I didn’t even recognize her as the women I’d thought I could be happy with. Ben saw the news and shrugged, but I knew I’d need to keep an eye on him, get him counseling, help him work his way through what his mom was to him and let him choose what part she played in his life.
He’d thank me one day for making sure she had the chance to be with him.
We stepped inside the house, Kayden long gone, and as soon as the door shut Ethan pressed me back against the wall and kissed me, then buried his face in my neck.
“I missed you,” I murmured.
He sighed heavily, seemed to sink further into my hold, and I wondered what horrors he’d seen, or what he’d had to do to keep safe. I gripped the back of his jacket and held him close, and we stood there in each other’s arms for the longest time, only separating when someone cleared their throat. I reluctantly let Ethan go.
“Keep the reunions for later. You’re going to want to see what was on the drive,” Kayden said, with no apology for splitting our hug up.
“I assume it's details of a target?” Ethan asked in a dead tone.
“What drive?” I asked.
“Mitchell handed me a drive when I left, said it was a list of things he needed from my FBI friends. God knows what he meant by that.”
“Someone Mitchell wants me to kill? Or another delivery of kids?” His grip tightened again, and I know he had to be struggling, and all I wanted was alone time just to hug him close and help him to settle.
I’d kept up to date with everything Ethan while he was away, even the darker moments when he was with that Mitchell guy, as Ethan watched Danvers being shot in front of him. Mitchell was bad guy number one, most wanted, a connection to an organization trafficking kids that was elusive and frustrating for Sanctuary to track down.
Kayden opened the comms room door and ushered us inside, and every single screen was open with various pictures of Mitchell, or documents. Nik was tapping away furiously, and then he huffed in exasperation.
“It’s redacted,” I heard him say, as Kayden slid into a chair next to him. “That’s as deep as we can go for now.”
Kayden put up a photo of the Mitchell we knew from surveillance. “Meet the man you know as August Mitchell, and now, meet someone else.” Another photo slid in next to it.
Next to me Ethan stiffened, his hold on my hand tightening, and I followed his gaze to the largest of the screens where Mitchell front and center. But not the Mitchell I would recognize—this photo was of a man laughing, grinning, holding a blond toddler in his arms, a taller man peering over his shoulder. The laughing man with the kid looked very much like the Mitchell we knew—short, muscled but toned, dark hair, slate gray eyes—but at the same time was nothing like Mitchell at all.
And next to that, another photo of the same man.
This time he was in uniform with five other men, all in fatigues, and all of them taller than him. He was front and center, arms crossed over his chest, a weapon in his arms, a stare of determination peering at us directly through the lens of the camera.
“And this is who he really is.” Kayden sent another photo to another screen, this time a document heavily redacted with black stripes all over it.
Really is? It didn't show us anything at all, unless Sanctuary had a way of looking under the black parts.
Nik took up the explanation. “The drive he handed to Ethan was heavily encrypted, but it contains more than enough evidence to have Rouxier spending the rest of his life behind bars in a slam dunk of a case.”
“Is the other guy related to Mitchell?” I pointed at the smiling man with the kid.
“Well, this is where it gets interesting. Meet August Fox, husband of James Lerner, dad to Annie Fox-Lerner. He’s an active Navy SEAL and officially he’s on deployment, but given he’s the same man as Mitchell, I imagine he’s out there searching for his missing daughter.” Kayden pushed away from the desk and stared up at us.
“Mitchell is August.”
“Yep.” Kayden said. “Undercover.”
“So he's actually a good guy?” I asked, which I know is naïve; after all Mitchell aka August, shot Danvers in the head.
“Yep, one of the good guys, but sitting on morally gray ground,” Nik murmured.
“And his daughter’s missing?” I asked.
Kayden’s expression was tight. “His husband was murdered, his daughter vanished, and August Fox has been so deep undercover for two years, he probably can’t remember his real name.”
I don’t recall leaving the room, but I must have done because it was cool outside in the growing dusk. All my fears had vanished as soon as I realized that I was the lucky one. I still had Ben—he was up in the kitchen, learning Spanish from his new friends, Oreo probably pacing up and down the table knocking things on the floor.
Ben was safe, but if he wasn’t, if he’d gone missing, and if Ethan hadn’t stepped in to save us both… what would I have done?
I would have done anything.