The Protectors
Author: Fox Wild

Chapter 6
Everybody Pays A Price

Chapter 6

 

Everybody Pays A Price

 

 

“Holy shit!”  Duncan screamed.

 

“Sorry Duncan, it’s going to hurt, those claws went deep.  Fortunately they missed your spin, barely.”  River Stone said to him as he pulled a length of claw from his back.

 

“Frelling piss shit, DAMN!”  Duncan screamed as the next claw was pulled from his back. River Stone dabbed at the puncture that he had just removed the claw from, then inserted a probe to clean the hole left behind.  Duncan’s obscenities returned.

 

“I thought they disintegrated  once they were destroyed.”  Duncan said to the doctor tending his wounds.

 

“They do, but not if they have a source of blood to keep them regenerated.  You body is the perfect place to keep a vampire claw fresh and new.”  The man answered him.

 

“Wonderful, just what I wanted to be, a vampire crisper.  Pig sticking, fart bag, bitch slapping, piss damn!”  Duncan yelled as another claw was removed. “Can’t you knock me out while you do that?”  Duncan shouted as he turned his head back towards the doctor trying to work on him.

 

River Stone had a calm face, it matched his voice.  He wore thick framed glasses that were a bit to big for his face, his hair was a salt and pepper mix, with what wasn’t white a soft black.  He seemed to enjoy what he was doing to Duncan.

 

“I could, but what would be the fun in that?”  He asked Duncan who gave the man a look that showed his dislike for the attempt at humor.

 

“Duncan, even if I put you out, these aren’t normal claws, they are vampire claws, they’re growing inside you, they have a, magical property about them, in a way.  If I put you under, the second I started pulling one out, you’d be awake again.  This is the first time I have ever said this.”  River Stone said as he moved to look Duncan in the face. “Be glad you aren’t a werewolf, if you were, they would be hurting that way the entire time they were in you, burning like they were silver, only without the passing out part.”

 

Duncan looked at River Stone.  He thought about Snow, had her scares hurt like that?  Did she have to endure this when whatever happened to her back happened, this kind of pain until the claws were removed.

 

“Also Duncan, I understand this hurts, but could you watch the language please, we are in a hospital, some of the other patients may not appreciate your situation or language.”  Doctor River Stone said to him. 

 

Usually when he was being treated after a mission, if he needed treatment, he was in a military or CIA facility.  “Fine, what would you rather I say Doc?”  Duncan said with a condescending tone.

 

“How about buttercup, its what I tell the kids to say when they have a boo-boo.”  River Stone said giving Duncan a baby face look and returning to Duncan’s back.  “Only three more to go big fella, then you’ll be all better… well for a human.”

 

Duncan could tell he wasn’t getting any sympathy from River Stone.  Duncan felt the instrument go back into another hole to extract another claw.  “Buttercup, buttercup, buttercup frelling buttercup!”  Duncan screamed.  He could hear his flesh sizzle as the claw was extracted, the smell that followed was rank and putrid. 

 

River Stone dropped the claw onto the stainless steel procedure cart next to him with a clink. 

 

Snow walked in and came over to the doctor and looked at Duncan’s back. “Come to watch the fun?  He’s been crying like a baby, poor boy, thinks he’s the only one who’s ever had vampire claws removed from him.”  River Stone said to Snow.

 

She turned away from him and came to Duncan’s front.  He was staring at his knees while he sat on the table as the doctor removed the claws.  Snow moved in close and put a finger under his chin and lifted his head so he was looking at her.  Then she took both his hands in hers and looked him in the eyes.

 

When River Stone pulled the next claw out she leaned in so her head was right next to Duncan’s, he dug his chin into her shoulder but didn’t cry out.  She whispered in his ear.  Once the claw hit the cart she pulled her head back and looked him in the eyes again. 

 

She was inches from his face, Duncan was staring back into her blue eyes.  The doctor moved in to extract the last claw, Snow did as she had before, putting her head next to his and keeping it there till she heard the claw hit the cart.

 

The doctor cleaned the last wounds while Snow held Duncan’s hands.  He flushed all of them again then put bandages over them. “There, all done, change the bandages again in the morning, or when they turn black, and clean the wounds down good soap and holy water.”  The doctor instructed Duncan.

 

Duncan got up and put his shirt and pants on after ditching the hospital gown.  Doctor River Stone was making notes on his chart at the computer terminal while he dressed.  Once dressed Duncan turned and waited for the man to finish.

 

River Stone finally turned from the terminal.  “You’re released Mr. Galt, are we feeling better now?  You were much better once your little friend here came to hold your hand.”  The man said mockingly with a smug smile. “I have never seen anyone complain so much when I removed vampire claws from them, you’re going to have to toughen up if you’re going to run with the wolves Mr. Galt.”  River Stone said and then wriggled his nose at Duncan.  “If you were a good boy I would offer you a lollypop now.”  He said and turned towards the terminal again.  “Goodbye Mr. Galt, have a nice day.”  He ended with a mock cheery voice.

 

Duncan turned and moved to the door, Snow was following behind.  Duncan opened the door for Snow, standing behind the open door to allow her to pass.  She moved forward a step, then stopped looking over at Doctor River Stone. 

 

She darted over to the cart and picked up two of the claws in her hand and held them between two knuckles on her fist and lunged at Doctor River Stone, plunging the claws into his side.  They smoked and crackled as they went in and Snow jerked her hand back quickly. “Shit!” Doctor River Stone howled as loud as he could as the claws burned at his side.  Grasping his side he looked over at Snow and Duncan.

 

“Try saying buttercup Doc, there are children in this hospital you know.”  Duncan said with an evil grin as he and Snow walked out the door and high fived each other.

 

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Snow drove Duncan home in her car, it was a two hour drive from the hospital in the nearest large city that the werewolves had there own stationed at.  Dealing with vampire wounds was not something the clinic about half an hour from their town could handle. They required special attention, human doctors didn’t take classes on supernatural wounds and surgeries.

 

“Thank you for what you did back there.”  Duncan said to Snow.  “I mean, not what you did to River Stone, the other stuff, you know.” 

 

Snow didn’t look over, she didn’t say anything, she drove.  Her face was set in stone again, cold, as it had been since the night she pinned Duncan to the loveseat.  Not a trace of emotion.

 

“So we’re back to this again are we?”  Duncan said looking over at her.  “That’s one hell of a wall of ice you got there girl, I just wish I understood why.”  Duncan shook his head and looked out the window as Snow drove down the interstate.  After several minutes he turned back to her.

 

“I understand, about the mating, not being able to be truly with me, but why does that mean we can’t at least be sociable?  You’re my partner, we’re supposed to at least be friends, talk, not be enemies.”  Snow showed no emotion, not a look, nothing, she only drove. 

 

Duncan blew out his breath shaking his head and looked back out the window. “Screw you.”  He said.

 

When they pulled in the yard there was another car parked at the front of the drive by the house.  Julia was walking around the yard near the front door, Mud was nearby and came to Julia’s side when Snow and Duncan pulled down the drive and parked. 

 

Duncan got out of the car and started towards the house, Snow wasn’t far behind.  When they were almost to where Julia and Mud stood Julia greeted them. “Hello Duncan, how are you feeling?”  She said, a gentle smile on her face.  Mud fidgeted while she stood near Julia.

 

He looked at her with a relieved expression.  “Doing better now that those claws are out, didn’t realize how long they were.  Doc said I was lucky, they missed my spine.”

 

“River Stone?”  Mud asked.

 

“Yes, know him I take it?”  Duncan replied to her.

 

“Yes, we all know River Stone.”  Mud said, her voice was not cheery for this time of day, rather cold when she spoke of River Stone.

 

“There is a reason he works with humans instead of in a clan, personality issues, not a very good bedside manner.   Clans don’t tolerate non cheery members during the daytime, as I’m sure you have figured out by now.”  Julia said, her own face spoke of her own understanding of this facet of the culture of her kind.

 

“He’s an asshole.”  Mud said, then started laughing with the occasional snort. She had a daisy she was picking apart in her hand.  Wouldn’t be long and the ground would become brown and dead, soon to be covered in snow. 

 

“He is at that.”  Duncan agreed. 

 

Snow was standing behind Duncan, her eyes cast to the ground.  Julia looked back at her, then to Duncan.  “We aren’t interfering are we?”  Julia asked him.

 

“Oh, no not at all, pardon my manners this time, hope you two haven’t been waiting long.”  Duncan said as he moved passed Julia and unlocked the door.

 

“Not long, only a couple hours, we wanted to see how you were doing, make sure everything went all right.  River Stone is good, despite his shortcomings, a very talented doctor.”  Julia said.

 

“Yeah, very talented.”  Mud began.  “He plays the part of an egocentric cold heartless self indulgent shit bag really well.”  She said and started laughing at herself again.  Her laugh was far from musical. 

 

Julia smiled and looked over to the car she and Mud arrived in.  “Well, we should be going, I’m sure you and Snow have things to talk about, glad to see you’re good Duncan.”  Julia said.

 

Mud looked over at Julia, her face betrayed a pout, she looked over towards the mountains in the distance.  Her hands fidgeted in front of her again.  She looked over at Julia again, her face said she wanted to stay, but wasn’t going to say so.

 

“I’ll hear of no such thing.”  Duncan said smiling.  “You are joining us for the day, I’ll make some steaks tonight and we can enjoy the day on the deck, I even have some imported beer if that isn’t too bitter for your liking, else I have several nice wines to choose from.”  Duncan swung the door open moving his arm and pointing inside.  “Come on girls, get your tails on in.”  He finished.

 

Julia laughed as Duncan did so, he was grinning and happy they were here.  How could she say no to him now. “Alright Duncan Galt, you’ve convinced me, Mud?  Are you fine with staying?”

 

The question needed no answer, Mud’s face had lit up and she was grinning from ear to ear nodding fast.  For whatever reason, she seemed to like it out here.  Duncan let the others enter before him, Snow was standing back from where the others had been, her face long and her eyes cast down.  Duncan looked at her.  She broke the happy moment he had just with her image. 

 

Being honest with himself, the main reason he asked the others to stay was because he had lost the connection Snow and he had started to have, she had left him cold inside.  Lonely.  He would much rather have spent the day on the deck drinking beer with her and talking, unfortunately a glass of beer and a timber wolf aren’t the best company.   

 

“You coming in Snow, or are you going to give our guests your cold shoulder too?”  He questioned her. 

 

Snow started walking towards the door like she was being controlled by some unseen force, as though she herself weren’t the one walking, that someone else was forcing her.  Duncan waited for her slow progression into the house.  When she passed by him he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose.  He liked her scent.  He wished he could tell her.  Wished he wanted to tell her.

 

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Julia, Mud and Duncan talked in the kitchen, Snow sat on a stool and looked at the top of the island, she made no effort to join in the conversation.  Julia looked at her several times and sighed, she noticed Duncan looked at Snow several times too, and when he did his spirit sank. 

 

Duncan was putting together some snacks while they talked.  They made their way to the deck, Snow and Duncan had beers while Julia opted for a nice chardonnay from the Napa Valley.  Mud stuck with water.

 

“Very clean, crisp, very nice choice in wine Duncan.”  Julia was saying.

 

Mud’s interest was mostly off of the deck.  She looked around and sniffed the air.  Her head moved around as she picked up scents in the air.  Her face glowed as she looked around and occasionally laughed at something that caught her attention.  She seemed to be truly enjoying herself.  Even though her laugh was grating with its shrillness, Duncan was glad to have some company that actually interacted with him in a human way. 

 

Julia tried to engage Snow in some of the discussion at times.  It was hard since she gave only one or two word answers or only shrugged.  Duncan wasn’t sure if Mud was actively trying to involve Snow along with Julia, but she would occasionally point something out and call her attention to it.  Sometimes Snow would look, maybe sniff, but usually she would stare at her glass and not respond in any way. 

 

Eventually Snow stood and moved to the far end of the deck, Julia looked a touch hurt.

 

Julia started telling tales of her adventures across the water, the trio sat and listened, Mud beamed at times listening to the tales she spun, she was enjoying the time very much.  When Julia had finished one of her stories, Mud said she wanted to go for a run.  She moved to the side of the deck and removed her clothes and jumped over the railing of the deck and landed in wolf form. 

 

She was an extremely well patterned and colored wolf, Duncan commented on this to Julia who agreed.  Mud ran off around the yard and into the woods. 

 

While she was away Julia and Duncan picked up the dishes from their afternoon snacks and wine.  Duncan had pulled some steaks from the freezer before they had gone out, they were thawed and ready now.  He removed them from their packages and placed them on the counter, worked some seasonings into them and then placed them into covered dishes with wine, garlic and onions. 

 

Julia helped, she was not much of a cook, but she did her best.  By the time they finished Mud had returned and dressed.  She spoke of how wonderful it was to run in the woods, how she had chased a rabbit, caught it with her paws, then let it go.  Julia and Duncan laughed with her as she told of her time and acted out the part of the rabbit.

 

“Don’ get to run in the woods?  Figured as a werewolf, you would have plenty of opportunities.”  Duncan mused.

 

“No, I haven’t done that in many seasons, I have been in the city for a long time, though I was renegade, I was still valuable to various clans, I was not in dishonor so they let me train young ones in hand to hand combat, I’m a pugilist mostly.”  She told Duncan.  He smiled at her when she made a muscle arm for him.

 

“I think I will try some of that beer, if that is alright Mr. Duncan” Mud said.

 

“By all means, have you ever used a keg before?”  He asked.  She shook her head.  “It’s rather easy, let me show you, could you put those in the fridge for me please Julia?” Duncan said as he pointed to the steaks in the small tubs.

 

Duncan returned after helping Mud with the draft and he and Julia prepared vegetables that would go with the steaks, and other side dishes.  Duncan had been scratching at his back during this time.

 

“Let me look at those.” Julia said to him. Duncan pulled off his shirt and turned so Julia could inspect his bandages and wounds.  “We should wash these down and put fresh packing on them, do you have what you need for that?”  Julia inquired.

 

“Yeah, the hospital gave me a bag of stuff, some soap and holy water, they’re in the bathroom.”  Duncan said and started towards the bath.

 

“I’ll get them for you, stay here and sit down.”  Julia said and went into the bathroom.

 

She returned with the bag and some fresh gauze bandages for Duncan’s back.  Duncan flinched a bit when Julia pulled the old blood soaked bandages from his back.  They had turned black.  She looked at the marks.

 

“Your first scars as a vampire hunter.  You’ve earned your fangs.”  Julia said.  Duncan didn’t respond.

 

Julia lathered up the soap in a bowl with the holy water.  The bishops of the clans provided the holy water.  That was one of a bishops primary duties besides conducting the rituals of the mating ceremonies. 

 

The soap stung a bit when Julia rubbed it into his skin.  He could feel the bubbles coming from inside him where the holes left by the claws were, it cooled his skin.  Julia was wiping off the soap and rinsing his back when Duncan heard what sounded like a fist connecting with a face.  He heard Julia cry out.  He turned to see her falling backwards, caching herself with a hand on the island.

 

Snow was behind where she was. Her face was in a snarl, her fists up and her eyes were mad.  “Keep your hands off him bitch.”  Snow said, her voice low and gravel from anger.

 

“Snow, what’s wrong with you?”  Julia said shocked as she righted herself fully and rubbed her face. 

 

Duncan could see a red mark on her cheek where Snow must have hit her.  Snow charged, she punched Julia in the stomach followed by a swing to her face.  Julia failed to block the stomach punch but deflected the blow to her face again.

 

“Snow, what the hell are you doing?”  Duncan yelled.  “She was changing my bandages!” 

 

Snow’s attention stayed on Julia who was now in a combat stance.

 

“I needed help changing them, it wasn’t like I could count on you, what would you do, lick them clean?  Change the bandages with your paws?”  Duncan shouted at her. 

 

He wasn’t helping the situation. Snow charged Julia again, only this time she was ready, turning sideways and extending a leg, kicking Snow in her stomach and throwing her back in front of Duncan.  He had moved off the stool he was sitting on when Snow took after Julia and was facing the wall by the hall from between the island and the fridge. 

 

Snow back against Duncan. “You keep your paws off him, he’s mine!”  She shouted at Julia.  She was breathing heavy, rage coursed through her.

 

“Snow I’m mated, you know that, I know you’re bound to Duncan, I was only changing his bandages, they needed to be changed.”  Julia defended.

 

“Just because I’m not pretty like you doesn’t mean you can have him, keep away from him, understand, you stay away from him!”  Snow snapped back as a stream of liquid started to come from between her legs, the forced increased as she pissed on the floor and Duncan’s feet.

 

“Oh frell, again Snow?”  Duncan groaned loudly.

 

“Knock it off, both of you!”  A loud angry voice said.  Everyone turned and looked towards the voice.  Mud was standing in the entry to the kitchen. She looked at Julia. “You, take a chair!”  She said to Julia.  “Now!” Julia moved to the other side of the island and sat.

 

Snow’s attention was now focused on Mud, she was growling at the woman.

 

Mud looked at her now with a pointed finger.  “You, cut that shit out, I’ll pin your ears back you try that with me.”  She said to Snow in a volume a bit lower. “Just who do you think you are?”  Mud said with her attention now fully on Snow. “You really need to get over yourself.  You think you’re the only one who’s gotten a raw deal?  You think you’re the only one who can’t have their mate?”  Mud scolded.

 

Her voice was far from shrill by any means.  Mud moved in till she was right in Snow’s grill, her arms were larger, filled with iron muscle.  “You really are an egocentrically self centered inconsiderate piece of work you know that   My mate tried to get me disavowed.  After that he ran me through with a silver dagger and left me to die in a pile of horse manure..  He disgraced me before the entire clan, because I couldn’t bear his fruit.”

 

Mud looked Snow over with an offended look  “Julia, she hasn’t seen her mate in nineteen years, and they do love each other and long for each others scent.  Max and his mate, they are made to clean the clan den because they chose to remain silent and not speak, protecting the clan Patriarch’s son for a disgrace he had committed.  He could have spoken and said they were protecting him then chosen his silence, he did not, instead he let them take the full blame for him.”

 

The anger in Mud’s voice lessened some as she continued.  “Two well respected members of the clans, now made to clean the mess of others, made to sleep separate from the clan and eat away from them.  And poor little you, all upset because you got a raw deal and can’t be with your human.” 

 

Mud moved away from Snow. “We all have our raw deals, we all have been given a chance, a very slim small chance that we might be accepted into a clan again and have our honor and names restored.” 

 

Mud’s voice was considerably calmer now. “And you, look at yourself, you are still spoken of as legend among the clans, pups honor your name as stories of you are told.  You are taught to young ones in training to become hunters.  You have it so rough.  No clan would deny you a seat at the head table.  You may not be welcome to spend the night, but you would be treated well and respected.”

 

She scoffed at Snow with a wave of her hand.  “Princess is feeling sorry for herself, she doesn’t get to be a matriarch, she doesn’t get to sit in a high place and restore her clan.  Julia was to be a matriarch, you don’t see her acting as you.  Get over yourself, you’re no different than any of us.”

 

Mud motioned around the room with her hands as she looked about.  “And you get to stay in a nice house with someone who cares for you.  And you treat him like dirt.  Poor little princess.  You want to fight someone, give me a try legend, I’ll test you and see what’s in you.”  Mud finished and turned away from Snow, showing Snow her back.

 

Snow was calm now.  She looked to the ground.

 

Mud’s voice was normal when she said her final words  “The only one you have to blame for the mess you’re in is yourself, you made your own mess.”  She crossed her arms with a ridged shake of her head.

 

Snow moved from in front of Duncan and walked past Mud, around the island and up to Julia.  Snow looked at her, Julia’s face, it was cold.  Snow lowered her eyes then her head and brought it down to below Julia’s chin near the woman’s chest. 

 

Julia looked at the back of Snow’s head before her.  Julia’s face softened, she raised a hand and placed her palm on the top of Snow’s head.  Duncan didn’t understand the sound that came from Julia’s mouth.  It sounded animal, like a wolf would make. 

 

After she made this sound Snow backed up from her with her head still down.  She was back about two steps when she stood straight, though her eyes were still down, head bowed.  She turned and went in front of Mud. 

 

Again she moved her head to below the chin and pressed her head into the woman’s chest. Mud took her hand and put it under Snow’s chin and pulled it up till Snow’s fact looked at hers.  Snow crouched more as Mud brought her head up, keeping her head below Mud’s chin line.

 

“Is this going to happen again, outcast Sadness of Frost?”  Mud asked Snow.

 

“I give you my bond, as a line true of the great hunter Trust, it will never happen again.”  Snow said looking the woman in the eyes.

 

Mud pulled her fingers from under Snow’s chin, allowing her to lower her head again.  Mud placed her palm on Snow’s head as Julia had done.  She held her hand there for several seconds but made not a sound.  When Mud took her hand away from Snow’s head Snow raised her head.

 

“Thank you.”  Snow said to her.

 

Mud looked at Snow.  “Now look at what you’ve done.  Gotten me all serious in the middle of the day.”  She said to her then turned and walked back to the deck.

 

Snow walked up to Duncan who was still standing watching the entire interaction.  When Snow came up he looked over at Julia.  She was looking off across the kitchen towards the windows in the living room. 

 

Duncan looked back to Snow.  Given her short stature, she didn’t need to crouch to lower herself below his chin, she merely lowered her head.

 

Duncan put his hand down and lifted her face.  “There’s no need to ask my forgiveness Snow, I’ve never held anything against you.  I may not like how you have treated me, but I have never held it against you.”  He said to her.

 

Snow pulled her head back down and Duncan’s finger slipped from her chin.  Duncan raised his hand and placed it on top of Snow’s head. “You’re forgiven.”  He said to her.

 

Snow took a step back and looked up at Duncan.  “Go start the grill, I’ll clean up my mess.”  She said meekly to him.

 

Duncan looked over to Julia.  “Julia, come on, lets see what Mud thinks of beer.”  He said to her and started down the hall, Julia rose and followed.  She placed a hand on Snow’s shoulder as she passed, stopped and leaned over her putting her head next to Snow’s and squeezed her shoulder lightly, then followed Duncan to the deck.

 

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After they had eaten supper, Snow, who tried to be a polite host, left the party.  Julia, Mud and Duncan were talking, the ladies were answering his questions about their culture and customs.  It was a lighthearted conversation, when Duncan made humorous analogies about a particular custom Mud and Julia would laugh, finding his perspective funny. 

 

They had never looked at it from the human side.  They asked him questions in return about human things.  Duncan was equally amused when they gave their own comparisons on what he told them.  Human and werewolf both began to understand the others intricacies.  Both his guests seemed to have become more themselves, there was no corny humor.

 

“So, what about Max?  Mr. Babbling Brook in the Woods?  You two don’t seem to be acting like out of control clowns now.”  Duncan said, letting his statement fill in what he didn’t say.

 

Julia smiled, Mud looked over at her, taking her cues from her partner.  “Ah, yes, Max.”  Julia said looking up at Duncan as she considered her response.  “He is very much what you can expect from the clans in the daytime.  Not a serious bone in their bodies, nothing but play and lots of song and dance.”

 

Mud joined in.  “He doesn’t have to act like Julia and I, or Christopher for that matter.  We put on a happy face during the day, act like the rest to fit in, go on unnoticed.  If you aren’t happy and part of the festivities, you are deemed a killjoy.  You are said to have too strong of a serious side.  Clan members won’t want to be around you.”

 

Julia nodded in agreement.  “A single melancholy look will get you singled out, a smile and occasional laughter will get you by.  They will watch you, and if you are confirmed a killjoy by the elders you are put with those you will blend in with, your kind Duncan.  It is believed that some of werewolf kind is born this way so they may take places inside human culture to serve the clan.”

 

She sighed with a melancholy face.  “People like Mud and I, Snow, even Robert of the Clay.  Even though it is an important roll, those made to work among humans are not considered in high position in the clans, we are looked down on as lesser kind.  Robert, though he has attained great status among the humans, in his clan, he is called a lesser.”

 

Julia stood and walked over to the railing of the deck and looked out at the view.  Mud and Duncan sat and waited for her to go on.

 

“Ones like Snow and I, we are not allowed to become part of the human operations like Robert and others are.  The daughters and sons of clan heads that are first born alphas, are expected to fulfill their duties as matriarch and patriarch.  The sons would be overlooked mostly if they displayed signs of being a killjoy, being too serious.  It would be assumed that they were just being patriarchal.  That they were building themselves to be the head of a clan.”

 

Her head shook slightly as she watched birds in the grass.  “If it was suspected they might be a killjoy, they’d be told to fake it, put on a happy face.  The daughters too, and if they couldn’t they would be kept from sight during the day, made busy away from the clan.  Not something hard to accept considering what we are being trained for, who we are to be.  A lot of hands on individual training is involved in raising the new heads of clans.”

 

Julia turned around facing Duncan again, letting the view rest in the distance.  “Snow is a special case.  She was to be more than just a matriarch and start a new clan, she has lineage that extends across the water, hers is a noble line among us.  She was to be mated to a specific line, another noble line from across the water… that would fulfill a destiny that would allow Monarchs to establish themselves over here.” Julia’s face fell sad. 

 

Her voice became somber as she continued. “Her mother, she wanted to bear a son, so her clan would have the highest place in this new monarchy, not the lesser of that of a daughter.  She would not be happy with second best.  Pure born often don’t make it past their first season, alphas die fast if their light isn’t strong enough.  For normal clan members, a non alpha firstborn is not an issue, but for the matriarch and patriarch of a clan, their first born must be an alpha.  If the pup is not, it is retired by Night Harvest.  It’s a very serious matter.”

 

Her face took on an almost angry look.  “There were several births for the matriarch of the noble Clan of Frost, eight to be exact, all were alphas.”  Julia looked into Duncan’s eye’s with her deeply somber eyes.  “All were alphas that died within their first year.  Daughters each.” 

 

Taking a moment she walked to the edge of the deck and collected herself while her audience waited.  “Her mother became pregnant again, this time she would bear an alpha son she pledged to the clan, nothing else would she accept.  Snow was born, a most feisty and energetic girl.  Her mother was furious.  There were no signs that this alpha would pass in the night in her first year, she was so very strong, full of light.”

 

Julia’s voice became angry now.  “Her mother tried to cause this daughter’s death at birth so she would be able to produce an alpha son as she had promised her clan.  Snow’s mother was very concerned about status.” 

 

Her voice softened.  “After she was born, Lord Frost who was overjoyed with a daughter, took her in his arms and left with his beloved daughter.  He took her far from her mother until her third season when she returned to their home, a close watch was kept over Madelyn and her mother was never left alone with her.”

 

Julia’s tone changed again as her story went on, her voice full of emotion.  “She was the only one who was not happy that Snow survived, the clan was content that they would have Snow to become Monarch of the state clans.  They would be second highest of clans only to Snow’s, along with her mates.  Both parents clans would make the Clan of Elders from their heads, the Elders of Clans along with elders from clans Clay and Westbridge.  We would finally have our own true Monarchs to lead us, no longer depending on the Monarchy from across the water for all the decisions over us.”

 

Her eyes became distant as she spoke.  “The Clay and Westbridge clans would no longer hold their heads above the clans, promoting themselves above others.  Clan Frost was supposed to be a part of the leadership over clans that Clay and Westbridge were, bringing balance to the clans… Frost’s mate had caused the clan dishonor, so they were never allowed to take their seat.”

 

Julia came back to her seat and sat down.  “The mate chosen for Snow rejected her.  They sought out other suitors, but all turned their back to her.  She was unable to fake a festive mood, she became of shadowed mood and the suitors could see this in her.  There was too much of an old breed in her, that of a true warrior.  No blood-born mate would have her.” 

 

The trio fell into silence and turned to face the view from Duncan’s back yard.  Each lost in their own thoughts on the depressing story of the clans that Julia had told.  Mud and Julia knew the story too well, for Duncan he had gleaned parts of what was truly behind Snow, now he knew the full tale. 

 

She had been the hope of her people, the one who would bring true leadership and end division.  She would bring the stateside clans into equal line with their cousins across the water.  But that hope had been dashed upon the rocks.

 

Snow rejoined her guests on the deck a short time later.  Julia greeted her with her soft gentle smile.  Duncan asked her if she wanted another beer.  She shook her head and turned to look off towards the mountains.  Duncan was sitting near the railing where Snow was standing, a gentle breeze blew across the deck and into his face.  He closed his eyes as Snow’s scent embraced his face.

 

“Once more around the park before nightfall?”  Snow said, she was looking over at Mud.

 

Mud looked over across the field where Snow had been looking and perked up some.  “Absolutely!”  Came her reply.

 

The two women walked to the end of the deck and faced out towards the field. They stooped to remove their boots, as they dropped their clothes Mud’s laugh could be heard.  Duncan watch as the two undressed, his mind was pure.  They both jumped in unison over the rail and landed with four paws on the grass beyond, there were happy yips, barks and growls from both as they chased each other across the field.

 

Duncan had a blissful smile as he watched the two run and play.  They would run past the mown part of the yard, he would lose sight of them in the tall grass.  Their location betrayed by the movement of the grass as they lunged through it.  Once in a while one would pop up out of the grass.  When they ran off into the woods past the side of the house Duncan looked back to Julia, they were out of sight now.

 

“What are you thinking Duncan?”  Julia asked, though her face hinted that she already knew.

 

Duncan sighed and tapped the top of the porch table.  “I was just thinking how nice it would be to be able to cast aside your human side like that, leave your worries behind and just, play, like an animal.”

 

Julia nodded.  “It’s the one form in which we are truly free.”  She said.

 

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The two women returned when the sun had grown long.  Nightfall would be coming soon.  It was time for them to leave.

 

“Thank you for the grand day Duncan.”  Julia said.  Duncan could tell she had stopped before adding the Galt at the end as she so typically did.  She knew he didn’t like being addressed so formally. 

 

“Most welcome Julia, thanks for coming by, it was nice to have you two here.  First time I’ve actually had real company.”  He looked over at Snow when he said that and smiled, hoping she caught that he thought of her as more than just company, even on the night they met.

 

“You are welcome to stay.”  Snow said, then turned to Duncan.  “If that is alright with you Duncan.”  She finished.

 

“Oh, no, we are expected back to the den house, Max will be waiting for us.”  Julia said to Snow.

 

“Are you sure?  We have two more rooms upstairs, Snow always sleeps with me.”  Duncan said then stammered a bit.  “I mean, she is in wolf form, she sleeps at the foot of my bed,”  Duncan thought how that sounded and tried to recover,” you know, like she’s protecting me.” 

 

Snow followed Duncan’s invitation with her own.  “I have the beds all made up, and I contacted Robert and Max, they know we are inviting you and said it was fine.”

 

Duncan turned to Snow, considered her and looked back to his guests.  “You see, it’s all arranged.”  He said.

 

Mud chimed in.  “Let’s stay Julia, you must admit, it would be nice to be away from Christopher and Field Grass for a night.  At least from Christopher and his perfectionist ways.” 

 

“Allow me the honor of hosting you for the poor way I treated you Julia, you both.”  Snow said.

 

Julia laughed lightly and shook her head as she looked to her feet.  Raising her head she answered. “All right, I can tell when I’m out numbered, thank you Snow, we graciously accept.”

 

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Duncan was up around seven a.m.  He felt Snow jump off the bed and heard the door open as she pulled on the crack between the door and the jamb with her claws to open it.  He looked down across the foot of the bed to the door and saw her tail bob out the door.  Remembering his guests and not knowing if they had risen yet, Duncan put on sweatpants and a tee-shirt. 

 

Walking into the kitchen he heard the sounds of the shower running upstairs.  Probably was Snow, she would be off to work soon.  Duncan loaded the coffee maker and put in filtered water from the dispenser on the refrigerator. 

 

He went into his bedroom and took some clean underwear from there and brought it with him to the bathroom and started the shower.  He turned on the two handles and waited for the temperature to arrive at his liking.  The house had a tankless water heater so even with the two showers running hot water wouldn’t be a problem. 

 

Once the water was warm in the shower Duncan went to the kitchen and poured the fresh brown brew into his oversized cup while the water warmed the ceramic tile floor of the shower.  He set his cup on the vanity right next to the shower and climbed in.  The coffee and the shower would wake him up for his day.

 

Since he had company he kept the door closed on the bathroom until he emerged mostly dry from the humid room with his shirt and sweatpants on.  Snow had opened a window in the living room, he could hear the sound of her car driving off.  Her dishes sat rinsed on the counter awaiting their entry into the dishwasher. 

 

He walked over to the window and looked out.  The car Julia and Mud had driven was still sitting there.  Returning to the kitchen he heard a door open followed by another closing from upstairs.  The shower started again soon after.  One of the ladies was up.  Duncan turned to the fridge and pulled a cantaloupe from the bottom drawer and moved it to the counter for cleaning.

 

He had the fruit cut in half, seeds removed and was just beginning to slice it into wedges to serve to his guests when a voice came from behind him. “Good morning Mr. Galt.”  Mud’s squeaky voice said. “Sorry, I mean Duncan.”  She corrected herself remembering he didn’t like such formality. 

 

“Morning Mud, would you like some cantaloupe?”  Duncan asked without turning as he cut the fruit.

 

“That would be great Duncan, can I shower first?”  She asked politely as Duncan made a slice into the other half of the melon.

 

“No problem.”  Duncan said, then remembering the shower upstairs was in use, obviously by Julia, he turned to her.  Mud, as he should have come to expect, was naked while talking to him.  Apparently werewolves slept in the buff.  He had nothing against that, he did the same.

 

“Go ahead and use the one down here.”  Duncan said and pointed the way to her.  “Fresh towels and washcloth are in the second door, closest to the shower.”  Duncan said concentrating on Mud’s eyes, then turning back to the cutting of the melon when she turned to go.

 

He was placing plates with slices of cantaloupe on them around the island for his guest and himself with a knife and fork, laughing to himself from the though he had regarding the noise that had just come from the direction of the bathroom relating to the loudness of the noise and the size of the woman creating it when Julia came into the kitchen from the stairs.

 

“Good morning Duncan, you seem in good spirits, what is it that has you laughing?”  Julia’s gentle voice said. 

 

Duncan hesitated a moment before looking up at Julia, not knowing her state of dress and preparing to keep solid eye contact.  When he looked up she was dressed with limp wet hair.

 

Duncan stopped laughing at his own thoughts.  “Oh, nothing, just a funny thought, nothing really.  Hope you like cantaloupe.”  He said.

 

“Yes, it’s good.  I haven’t had it in a while.  Honestly, since I have been with Max and the team, fresh fruit hasn’t been around the den.”  Julia told him. 

 

They talked while they waited for Mud.  Duncan started about their work. “So, when’s our next hunt?”  He asked Julia.

 

“Don’t know, Robert will tell Max, then he will tell us.  Shouldn’t be long, there has been activity about fifty miles west of our first hunt location.  Usually harvesting teams, though they aren’t paired up in anyway, tend to travel somewhat together, two parties in close proximity to each other when they are out in less populated areas.  Gives them a better hive mind.  They may even have their harvesting party together, introducing one party’s recruits to the other party’s recruits.  This gives the ceremony a more believable look to the recruits and lets the two parties conserve their resources, killing two birds with one stone as it were.”  Julia said.

 

“So the recruits think they are really becoming a part of the coven.”  Duncan said nodding his head.

 

“Ah that was so refreshing, and nice not to run out of hot water, the men always seem to use it up at the house.”  Mud’s voice said as she walked in.

 

“Mud, if you would please,”  Julia began.

 

“It’s ok Julia.”  Duncan said to her.

 

“Are you sure?  You seemed rather put off by it last time.  I will explain it to her, it’s no problem really.”  Julia said to Duncan.

 

“Yes, I’m sure.  If I’m going to be running with the wolves, I have to get used to a co-ed locker room at some point.”  Duncan replied.  “Some of the agents that served in other countries for any period of time became used to that, its actually not uncommon in many other countries.”

 

“Explain what to me?”  Mud asked.

 

Duncan, though he was trying to accept how werewolves were and get over his modesty, was still facing towards Julia.  Duncan and Julia laughed for a moment.

 

Julia responded to her.  “Nothing Mud, it’s just some human customs, some things we will have to observe should we ever have to work among them, I’ll explain when its necessary.”  She told Mud.

 

Mud shrugged and sat down next to Julia in front of one of the plates of cantaloupe and smiled at it. “This looks such a better breakfast then the cold cereal and milk we have at the house.”  Mud said.  “Thank you Duncan.” 

 

The three dug into the melon.  Mud had just finished hers and stood, moving to the end of the island.  She turned putting her hands out and started to fall forward, landing as her wolf from.  Duncan’s brow furrowed as he watched Mud. 

 

She sat down on the floor with her front legs up and brought a hind leg up and started scratching.  First she started at her side then moved to scratching behind an ear.  Duncan was laughing at this lightly and Julia was too, then Duncan got up and went to Mud who stopped scratching when he walked up and looked at him. 

 

He positioned himself behind her and knelt, then started scratching her back and neck.  Mud groaned her approval and snorted.  She was soon standing and extending her neck out as far as it would go while Duncan gave her a good scratching all over.  This went on for several minutes, at one point one of Mud’s legs rose up and started slowly moving in a running motion.  Duncan and Julia both laughed at this. 

 

When Duncan stopped Mud put her nose in the air and gave a warbling long bark.  Duncan assumed that was her way of saying thanks in her current form.  Duncan stood and went back towards his stool.

 

“That was great Duncan, you’re a good scratcher for sure.”  He heard Mud’s voice say.  When he took his stool she was walking back, sat on her stool and picked up a bottle of water. 

 

Mud looked over at Duncan.  “Nothing beats a good scratch first thing in the morning, don’t you think?”

 

Duncan laughed and glanced over to Julia who was smiling back at him. “I guess you’ve got a point there.”  He replied to her.

 

They were talking about various things, from local politics to the approaching fall season.  Mud began looking from Julia to Duncan, stopping then cocking her head slightly in thought.  Then her face showed that she had come to a conclusion. “Ah!  That custom.”  Mud proclaimed, stood and promptly jaunted out of the room and upstairs.

 

Julia laughed a bit at her partner.  “I think she just figured it out.”

 

Duncan chuckled along with Julia.  “It would appear that way.”  Duncan commented looking down at the rind of the melon on his plate. “So, do werewolves just prance around naked all day or what?”  He asked looking to Julia.

 

She smiled and shook her head.  “No Duncan, we don’t ‘prance’ around naked all day.”  She said making light fun of his description.  “You just saw a typical morning routine from Mud, just like humans, we too have things we do in the morning that are common among all of us.  We often change for a good scratch, sometimes into our larger form for a good stretch and howl.”

 

Julia looked off with a gentle laugh in thought then looked back and shared her thoughts with him.  “Can you imagine being fully dressed and going from a human size to a form that is ten to fifteen feet high and much larger around, what that would do to your clothes?  Or having to undress just to have a good scratch for that matter?”  She said to him.  “Do you dress before you shower?  Before you make your coffee?  No, you use a robe or if we weren’t here, would probably walk around naked yourself wouldn’t you?” 

 

Duncan nodded.  He did walk to the coffee maker before a shower and start it without so much as donning a robe usually.  He guessed werewolves weren’t that much different in the morning, it was just that no one cared if they were naked.  “Well, what can I say, Americans are a rather uptight breed.”  Duncan said.

 

“Yes, you truly are, sometimes I’m amazed they even are able to mate with the way they act sometimes.  Some of them that is.”  She retorted.

 

Duncan nodded, thinking about other counties where even the restrooms were unisex. Mud walked in and took a seat and listened while they talked, Duncan looked over at her for a moment and went on with the conversation.

 

“Yeah, like some of these people, they chastise you for taking a drink.”  Duncan began.  “Give you a look if you swear, complain about scenes in a movie, then these same people go to the beach wearing a bikini with a thong bottom and two quarter sized patches of fabric connected with strings for a top.  Or wear an airplane skirt to church.”  Duncan shook his head as he looked off in thought.

 

Julia had a questioning look on her face.  “An airplane skirt?  I don’t believe I have ever seen one of those.”  Julia said.

 

Duncan laughed a bit.  “Yeah, well, an airplane skirt, it’s a skirt so short then when the woman bends over, you can see the cockpit.”  Duncan finished with a slightly embarrassed look.

 

“OH!”  Julia said with a wide eyed face making a small circle with her lips in an expression of shock.  Mud snorted while laughing at the comment Duncan made. “I can say I wasn’t expecting such an observation from you Duncan.”  Julia gently ribbed him.

 

“Ah, well, what can I say, I spent a lot of time in the field.  I’m not too good to be somewhat crude every now and then.”  Duncan said and laughed at himself. 

 

That was pretty tame compared to many of the things he had said in the service.  He was more polite and civilized now, he wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing.  Maybe a balance between the two was better.

 

“Well, I’m sorry to admit it, but being judgmental isn’t just a human thing, it is alive and well among the werewolf clans as well.”  Julia said.  “But humans seem to be obsessed with the outward appearance far more.  They choose a mate based on looks, hair color, how a person dresses.  Such superficial things.” Duncan nodded, his eyes said he was lost in thought again.  “Tell me Duncan.”  Julia said to him.

 

“Tell you what?”  Duncan replied slightly confused.

 

“Your thoughts just now, it was something very specific.  What were you thinking?”  Julia asked.  She had a knack for that with him.

 

“Ah, it was jus the night Snow was put in my path, I mean, the night we met, that’s what I mean.”  He said.

 

“Go on, tell me, I’m interested.”  Julia prodded.

 

Duncan looked over at her.  Her head was on the top of her hand, her elbow was on the top of the island.  She drummed her fingers on the side of her face waiting for him to continue.

 

Duncan sighed and went on.  “It was at my front door, what I thought of her when I first got a good look at her.  The all black clothes, chains, the black hair, black eyeliner running down her face from the rain, black lipstick.  All the jewelry in her ears and face, looking like a gothic freak.  That’s how I judged her, some miscreant gothic freak, probably on drugs, someone who would try and steal anything not nailed down.” 

 

Duncan sighed again.  “It wasn’t until after I had let her in, when I actually looked on her face, into her eyes, I thought she was beautiful.”  He finished.

 

“Have you ever told her you thought she was beautiful?”  Julia asked.

 

“Yes, I did at that moment, I was a bit stunned, didn’t know I said it until after the fact.  When the thought ran through my mind, well, I just said it.  Think it took both of us by surprise, I know it did me.”  Duncan shook his head as he looked back at Julia.

 

“And do you know why you found her beautiful?”  Julia asked him.

 

Duncan stared off into nothing, he shook his head, he had no answer for that question.  He didn’t understand it then, and he still didn’t.  He couldn’t come up with any answers in all his thoughts as to why he liked Snow so much, even though she apparently didn’t care for him anymore. “No.”  Was his simple answer.

 

“Because, Duncan Galt, when you looked into her eyes you weren’t judging her then, you were looking at her with your heart instead.”  Julia told him.

 

Duncan nodded, maybe that was it.  Maybe he was into gothic freaks and just didn’t know it.  Whichever it was, it didn’t matter now, Snow barely spoke to him. 

 

Julia could read on Duncan’s face he needed some time, she had taken him someplace where he needed to be alone.  “I think we need to be going now Mud, let’s get our things and leave Duncan to his day, we don’t want to over stay our welcome.”  She said to Mud who nodded in agreement.

 

She picked up on the same emotion from Duncan Julia had.

 

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It was almost ten when Duncan finally pulled into his spot next to Snow’s at Galt labs.  He put his truck in park as he looked over at Snow’s car.  He stared at it as he shut off the engine.  Looking over to the seat he gathered his things and opened the door and climbed out of the cab. 

 

Instead of walking into the lab he looked at Snow’s car more.  It really was a piece of shit.  The faded paint had blisters of rust coming through, one door a total opposite color.  The tires didn’t even match, none of them were the same brand or type and the one on the passenger side on the rear was even a different size.  Duncan couldn’t help but feel he had stooped to her level when he bought the POS for her.  He sighed and walked in the door.

 

“Dunc-ster, dude, wasn’t sure you were going to make it!”  Max’s voice greeted him as he walked into the main part of the offices where Connie was.  He could tell by her face she was rather annoyed by the man standing at her desk.

 

“I tried to tell him you weren’t in yet, I figured you may not even come in today considering the hour.”  Connie said.

 

Duncan read between the lines of what Connie had said, she was trying to get the man to leave figuring he was not someone Duncan would want to meet with. 

 

“It’s ok Connie, this is Max, the obnoxious frog that hops though the woods.”  Duncan said to her.

Max started laughing and slapped the top of the desk he was standing next to.

 

“Dude, man, good one, see you’re getting it bro.”  Max said raising his hand to high five Duncan who only stared at Max’s face. “Right, not quite there yet.”  Max said as he stopped laughing and let his hand drop.

 

“My office is this way Max, I’m sure Connie will appreciate it if we talk in there.”  Duncan said and led the way to his office. “Connie, please have Snow come over too.”  Duncan said as the moved away from her desk.

 

“Dunc-ster, nice office pad bro-ha.”  Max said after they entered Duncan’s office and he started looking around.

 

“Thank you.”  Duncan replied in an annoyed voice as he sat down.

 

“Could use some brightening up though, you know dude man, you know, like a picture of some wild flowers on that wall over there, a bunny on that wall maybe.”  Max advised looking around the office and pointing to either of the side walls. 

 

He turned and spread his arms wide as he faced the back of the office.  “And a mural of some birds flying along the back wall there, would brighten it up in here a lot bro, it’s just so, so, emotionally dark in here, the brown walls, no windows, it’s just so, officie.”  Max laughed at his own humor.  Duncan sat and stared at him.

 

Snow walked in finally.  Duncan noticed her emotionless face dropped even for her when she saw Max.

 

“Puddle of Sadness, babe, dudette, how goes it?”  Max asked and he bopped around, arms swinging at his sides as usual.

 

“I’m fine Max, what do you want?”  Snow said coldly.

 

At this particular moment, Duncan appreciated Snow’s blunt cold side.

 

“Yo, check it babe, the Dunc-ster here had a good one, tell her bro.”  Max said looking over at Duncan with a goofy smile.  Seeing the annoyed expression on Duncan’s face Max realized Duncan had no intention of repeating whatever it was that Max wanted him to.

 

“Check it, the Dunc-man here told that chick outside, ‘this is Max, the obnoxious toad that hops through the forest’ isn’t that a good one!”  Max said grinning large and laughing again. “Ah, AH aw.”  Max said, his octaves changing up and down as a smile formed on Snow’s face and quickly vanished.

 

“Damn, thought I had you there, I did for a second didn’t I, huh, huh, I did didn’t I.”  Max said looking at Snow and wiggling his eyebrows while pointing both his index fingers at Snow from his hips.

 

Max looked between Duncan and Snow several times slack jawed.  Finally realizing he wasn’t going to get any comedic help he sighed. “You two are such a tough room.”

 

Max adjusted his stance and took to a pseudo serious appearance, which didn’t last.  “Ok, dudes, dudette,” Max said giving a glance in Snow’s direction, “the big bro-man, you know Robert, the clay pot, him, he like wants us all to meet at you and Snow’s house, Snow and you’s house?  Snow’s and your’s house?  Whatever bros, he wants to meet at the house you and Snow live at.”  Max held a finger in the air and made a face indicating he finally found the vernacular he used acceptable.  “Meeting starts at seven tail wags, so, be there or, big daddy Robert will be upset with you dudes.”  Max finally informed them.

 

“Fine.”  Duncan said his voice showing his agitation with Max.  “Next time just send a text, meeting at your place tonight at seven.”  Duncan finished.

 

“Ah, yeah sure bro-ha, but Robert told me to come here, you know, orders and all, like, you know.”  Max blabbered.

 

“I’ll talk to Robert, I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”  Duncan retorted.  “Goodbye Max.”  Duncan said coldly ending the conversation. Max shook his head and made for the door and left Snow and Duncan in the office together.

 

Snow stood staring at Duncan, her face emotionless.  Duncan was looking at his computer monitor and finally looked over to Snow.  “Is there something you wish to discuss?  Something business related Miss Wolf?”  Duncan said coldly.

 

Snow’s eyes flashed, then she turned and calmly walked out of the office.  A single tear ran unnoticed down her cheek as she walked past the reception desk to her office, well, almost unnoticed.

 

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Duncan had told Snow he needed her in human form when they got home as he would need her help at the house and that they would be leaving early.

 

They both arrived home at about four p.m.  Duncan was in the basement when Snow came downstairs from changing clothes, he told her to wear something she didn’t mind getting dirty in.  He was in a room past the kitchen/living room area he had set up incase he needed to be locked in the basement for some time, the door to the room was hidden in the back of the storage area. 

 

When Snow finally found him as he called back to her, she found herself in a fairly large room.  Duncan was moving boxes out of the room that were piled along the walls.  He explained to her this had once been his tactical room from days gone by when he still worked in the company. 

 

Snow had thought he had build the house after what happened to his wife.  Duncan explained to her that the house itself was rebuilt but the basement had been a bunker that had been build with the house by the original owner.  It was designed to withstand shelling should enemy forces attack the United States. 

 

This had been the tactical room his team would work in before they left to go overseas for a mission.  Since he had left the company, and was living here full time, it had become storage, now seemed like a good time to bring it back to life.

 

Once they had everything out of the room they washed the walls and moved in the table that was stuck in the underground garage Duncan had converted to the room that held the tanks for his sprinklers and house batteries.  They had to attached the legs on it, once it was assembled they cleaned the top off.  The only thing missing was the chairs. 

 

Those had been stowed in the garage as well.  One by one they hauled the fabric covered swivel office chairs over.  They were black with plastic legs and wheels, and smelled of their storage.  Duncan had obviously anticipated this, he went upstairs and retrieved a bag that had boxes dry carpet freshener with baking soda.  He handed a box to Snow, took one himself and the two of them worked the powder into the chairs.  

 

Once that was done, Duncan pulled in a vacuum cleaner from the living area.  Snow asked if he needed her for anything else before he started vacuuming, seeing this part was a one person operation.  He told her no, and she left for the upstairs.

 

The room was ready once again, he even had a smaller refrigerator in the corner for water. 

 

He went upstairs, wasn’t long before his new team would be arriving.  He had a little time to eat and shower before people started showing up.  He was feeling a bit up beat, setting up the tactical room felt good. 

 

He had been remembering how he would bring his team here in the past a week or two before their mission so they could train and go over all the data that had been collected and formulate their plans away from the distractions of the city and the office. 

 

The house had been bought as a vacation place for he and his wife.  They would spend a couple weeks a year here and had planned to have it for their retirement home.  Though over the last couple years of their marriage, his wife said she hated the place and wouldn’t come out.  Despite his daughter Lisa’s prodding, and his, his wife would not leave the west coast. 

 

Duncan worked on the east coast, a promotion to a special research team for his wife had separated them for most of the time.  Duncan would visit her as often as he could, but even then she was occupied at work. 

 

Their daughter had moved with her mother.  He remembered a fight they had at his wife’s apartment.  Lisa wanted to come live with him.  His wife would hear of no such thing.  Her logic was that Duncan would be called off on some mission for a long period of time to some banana land and Lisa would end up right back where she started with her mother. 

 

His daughter argued that that didn’t bother her, at least she would get to see her dad.  Duncan had tried to take her side on that and convince his wife to let her stay with him, at least when school was out.  His wife wouldn’t give, she had become hard over the past years, said Lisa was staying with her mother where she belonged, and that was final. 

 

That was the last fight they would have, it was only three months before he lost his wife and daughter, Lisa was only twelve.

 

When he entered the kitchen, he looked around for Snow.  She was curled up on the floor in the living room.  She raised her head from her paws to look at him.  Seeing the expression on his face, she lowered her head again.  Duncan poured some kibble into her bowl and microwave some food for himself. 

 

Reluctantly, Snow rose and walked to her dish, looked at it, turned her head towards Duncan, but didn’t look directly at him, then lowered her head and ate.  Duncan ate only half of the food in the microwave bowl. 

 

He looked over at Snow’s back while she ate.  He sighed and got up, walked over to where Snow ate.  She looked up at him with a sad face, for a wolf.  Duncan took his fork and pushed the remains of his food into her dish.  He didn’t have an appetite.

 

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The grandfather clock had just finished chiming six p.m. when the doorbell brought its tone into the mix.  Snow, having changed and brushed her teeth, answered the door for Duncan.  Robert was there.

 

“Good evening Sadness.”  He greeted her.

 

“Colonel Clay.”  She replied and stepped aside motioning for him to enter.  No one else was with him.

 

“Thank you, how are things with you Sadness?  Have you made any progress on the project we discussed?”  Robert asked her.

 

Snow looked down and shook her head.  Robert passed by her then and turned his attention towards Duncan as he walked into the living room.  He looked at the room, taking note it wasn’t set up as it had been the last time they had a meeting at Duncan’s place.

 

“Agent Galt, may we have a word,”  He looked back at Snow, “in private please.”  Robert said to Duncan.

 

“I’ll be upstairs.”  Snow said calmly and walked away leaving the two men along, grabbing an apple as she took the long way around the island in the kitchen.  The crunch of the fruit could be heard as she disappeared up the stairs.

 

When Snow left Robert moved in front of Duncan who was still sitting in a recliner.  He looked around the room again ending on Duncan.  Duncan could tell what he was thinking but offered no explanation.

 

“I have something for you.”  Robert announced, his expression said he was considering his options.

 

Robert walked to the end of the island and placed his briefcase on the top and opened it.  Duncan still sat in his recliner, not making any effort to look in his direction.  Robert was picking up that Duncan was not in a particularly cooperative mood.   He kept his reasons for accepting this to himself.

 

“Agent Galt, if you would please.”  Robert said, his tone told Duncan he was expected to come to him.

 

Duncan rose from the recliner, his movement was ridged.  His resistant attitude echoed in his eyes as he turned to face Robert and stepped to the end of the island. Robert took a shirt and pants from his briefcase.  They were the same style and color as what the other team members wore. 

 

Duncan took the shirt and positioned the front so it was facing him.  He looked for the patch on it, there was one.  It matched Snow’s.  His face made no change, but his eyes did.  They held a look of satisfaction.  Despite how he felt about her and his current loathing for her, she was his partner, bound to him, he was glad he was officially recognized as her partner.  Even if Snow didn’t accept him as hers. 

 

Robert saw he looked for the patch straight away.  Though for Duncan it was meaningless in the clans, he wanted to make him feel more a part of the team, even if on a superficial level.

 

“You’re not werewolf, you wouldn’t be accepted in any clan, no human would be, but it may help with the others, Sadness.”  Robert said, his voice indicated he knew there was trouble between the two, anyone could see that.  He was trying to ease the tension some between Duncan and the team as well, though Duncan thought the effort was in vain.

 

“The material is the exact same as what we wear, even though you have no need of the special properties of it, wouldn’t function for you, it was easier just to get you one from our stock.”  He informed Duncan.

 

Duncan looked the uniform over, it felt the same as when he touched Snow’s, the tingle in his fingertips.   “What exactly are these ‘special properties’ you speak of Robert?”  Duncan said with a snide overtone.

 

Robert looked hard at Duncan, the way he used his name wasn’t something a field agent would do, especially in this situation.  This was no social call.  He let it pass.

 

“The uniform is made for werewolf use, not human as I am sure you would assume.  You know we change form, this material changes with us, expands to fit in a manner of speaking.”  Robert said.

 

Duncan began looking the fabric over, inspecting the seams.

 

“What it does, when a hunter goes into their large combat form, it stretches out like a net, the fabric is no longer a tight knit shirt, or pants, it’s a mesh that stays with the body, it doesn’t interfere in anyway with the change, you wouldn’t even be able to tell a werewolf was wearing it.  The belt operates the same way, this keeps anything attached to the uniform in place, the expansions are designed to position items where they’re still easily accessible in that form.”

 

“So, it’s your super hero costume.”  Duncan said in a mild tone.

 

Robert laughed some at this comment.  “I guess, if that analogy works for you, yes.”

 

Duncan folded the shirt and pants, then put them on the island near where Robert had his briefcase set.  Robert’s face changed.  Duncan inhaled, waiting for the next topic of discussion to be hurled at him.  He had seen this look in the company from his superiors before.  It always came before some sort of alternative option or the classic ‘here’s some shit news for you’ was presented. 

 

Duncan gave Robert his ‘alright, get on with it already’ look.  He seemed well acquainted with Duncan’s look also. With a look of deeper intention and a strong nasal exhale, Robert started.

 

“You know how important this mission is, why we need you?”  He stated, not expecting his monolog to be interrupted, it was supposed to be a rhetorical question.

 

“I know you put Snow in my path to secure your bait, used her to get to me.  Yeah, I know your devious operations, all too well.”  Duncan responded.

 

Robert’s smart phone made a noise, he pulled it up and excused himself while he replied to the text, then returned to Duncan.

 

“Snow’s meeting up with you was totally of her own doing, we did not place her in your path, I can see from your perspective, that would be easy to assume, but I assure you, we did not have any part of that.”  Robert said with a defensive tone. 

 

His voice betrayed a slight annoyance, but not at Duncan. “Quite honestly, her seeking you out was the last thing we wanted, we were watching you from a safe distance, waiting for Alexander to make his move.  Snow was outcast, disavowed, she had no function, no purpose to any of us, clan or field.  The call for her retirement had been made.”  He looked down, the thought of retirement bothered him.

 

Staring off out a window, Robert went on. “She caught wind, somehow, that Alexander was sending a recon crew to your house.  She assumed, and correctly that for the most part, we would not act.  If you survived, great, that might give us the chance Alexander would come for you himself, he wanted you for himself.  The recon was not supposed to kill you, just see what you were up to and if they could, grab you and take you to Alexander so he could take his issue to you personally.” 

 

Robert sighed, his face took a look of vexation.  “Then Sadness showed up unexpectedly, vampires can smell a werewolf, her presence jeopardized what we were hoping for quite honestly.  Having her show up, changed the plan, they were going to have a vampire pose as a deputy, come to your door claiming something was wrong at your lab, get you to open the door to come with him.”

 

Duncan scowled at him, not liking what he was hearing.

 

“They had left you alone so you would get comfortable, think they had forgotten about you, hoped you would make a mistake, fall for the deputy routine.  We were too Duncan.  It was only after Sadness made her appearance at your door we realized that their plan would’ve failed, we didn’t know about your lights.  You would have hit them first thing before you would’ve opened the door.”

 

“Damn straight I would have Skippy.”  Duncan retorted, he had a look of distrust and condemnation for Robert right now.  And rightfully so, they were going to stand by and let him be taken, all for their own plans.  Some protectors he thought.

 

Robert let Duncan’s comment pass.  He knew Duncan understood how the company worked from a human perspective, what was done with him was no different than what would happen in any other field operation.  He also understood no one likes to be on the receiving end of the business.

 

“So, we let things be, let Sadness stay.  We regrouped, I came up with this plan, ran it by the big shots across the water.  Our original plans never would have worked, that meant everything we had hoped for was a bust, but we needed to get Alexander out.”

 

He looked off for a moment organizing his thoughts.  “We had to act fast, you started the wheels moving when you made your request to get Sadness her new identity, your old partner didn’t know his new partner had become a day walker.  We did, and Sadness sniffed him out.  She made the call, rogues don’t check in with us, they aren’t supposed to, they find a day walker, they deal with it.”

 

Robert paused, giving Duncan a chance to take it all in.  After a minute he continued. “Ed was supposed to get to you, Steve Rheineer stood in his way, he would have had to be taken out, and Ed was supposed to get you to Alexander.  Snow had Ed dealt with, it’s what she knew, she had no way of knowing, why would she.”

 

Duncan recognized the look on Robert’s face, noting had gone as planned, they were improvising as they went to try and salvage the mission.  He’d been in that boat before himself.

 

Robert scoffed as he went on.  “Things were a mess, to say the least.  Alexander was getting anxious, for some reason he was willing to take risks, he had to have known a werewolf was here, and had to assume it wasn’t alone after what happened to Ed.  We needed closer protection on you, and Sadness is good, very good, honestly, there isn’t better.”

 

He looked at Duncan with sincerity in his eyes now.  “I would have loved to have had her on any team I have, but my requests were denied.  But being outcast, even if we asked her, had my request been approved and she accepted, there was nothing to keep her here; she could leave at will, she was still outcast. 

 

That was the trick, to get her to stay.  Duncan felt bad for Snow, he knew the type of tricks the company used to force compliance and cooperation.

 

“So, a deal was offered, one that bound her to you, to keep her here.  Was the only way we could ensure she’d stick to the deal.  One of the big boys from across the water showed to authorize the whole thing.  That brings us here.”  Robert finished.

 

Duncan looked away, he was wrong about why Snow was here.  As plausible as what he had originally thought was, in the end, as it so often was in this type of work, the end result was a recovery effort. “So, where does that leave us exactly?”  Duncan asked without any attitude.

 

Robert shook his head slightly, looking towards the ground wondering the same thing.  “Ass deep in rattlesnakes, that’s where.”  Robert replied.

 

Duncan snorted.  “Been there before.”

 

“There are other options, depends on you.”  Robert said to Duncan focusing back on him.

He looked up at Robert, his face held the unspoken question.  “Hunting harvesting parties, isn’t our main objective, as you know, it’s a means to an end.  Draw Alexander out.  The higher ups and I have been discussing the worthiness of our improvised operation.”  Robert paused for a moment, considering how he was going to put what he wanted to tell Duncan.

 

“It’s the general consensus that Alexander is going to come for you, regardless of how many recruiting parties we take out.  He’s started moving, he’s coming.  Doing what we’re doing may be nothing to him at all, a pointless effort for the end result, the only good coming out of it is the reduction of harvesting parties, protection of humankind.”  Robert said.

 

“Doing your job.”  Duncan interjected.  Robert nodded, Duncan’s point was despite the werewolves wanting the top guy, their job was still to protect humans, not to forget that in their grand schemes.  “Cut to the chase.”  He snapped.

 

Robert gave a look of being taunted. “Alright, these options, for you right now, we know Alexander is coming for you.  You don’t stand a snow balls chance in hell if he gets to you, you’ll need every advantage you can get, far more than anything you have set up here.” 

 

Robert looked away, his face said he didn’t like the option he was going to give Duncan, or was anticipating Duncan wouldn’t like it. “We can give you a better chance of survival.  None of what I am offering has been approved yet, this requires a decision from across the water, I just don’t want to waist their time if its a moot point from your end.”  Robert said.

 

Duncan had a cold feeling.  The hair on the back of his neck stood, he wasn’t going to like the options, he could tell.

 

“We could have a mated werewolf fully turn you, join our forces, go pro.  You would be able to choose a mate if you wanted just like any other werewolf, your not bound to Sadness, be trained as a young one and join a hunt party, trained to deal with Alexander.  You’d be a part of a clan.”

 

Duncan leaned back as he looked at Robert.  “And option two?”  He asked with reservation.

 

“Option two is become a half-turned.  This is something that was used to see if humans wanted in, without making them a werewolf.  We have an unmated male bite you.”  He concluded for the options.

 

Duncan’s looked spoke volumes of his thoughts on that idea.

 

Reading his face Robert started explaining further.  “It’s nothing like that, werewolves can only mate with ones not of their own kinds, if an umated male were to bite you the blood would be rejected, never entering the gland.  What happens is simple, you take on some of our characteristics, abilities, without actually being turned.  You remain human, even to a vampire you smell human.  What you get is some of our strength and our ability to regenerate.  It’s a temporarily thing, you can return to being human if you want.”

 

Duncan looked away.  Neither option sounded good in anyway to him. “That doesn’t sound fair to Snow.”  Duncan said, even though option two wouldn’t affect their relationship, it seemed a cold way to do things.  He looked back to Colonel Clay.

 

“Where did you ever get the idea life was fair?”  He responded as he looked at his watch. “It’s almost seven, need to get the others in here, think about what I said about going pro.”  Robert said and stood up.

 

Duncan nodded.  “I have us set up in my old tactical room downstairs.”  Duncan said and pointed to the stairs that led to the basement. Robert walked over to the door, his people were standing outside waiting.  He called for them to come in while Duncan retrieved Snow.

 

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Snow led the way showing their team to the room for their purpose tonight, Duncan followed behind. When they entered the tactical room Duncan watched as the team members looked around.  Max and Christopher nodded their heads in approval. 

 

The room was complete with whiteboards and wall clips to hold maps and anything else that they would want to display easily for all to see.  Duncan was pleased that they approved, though he didn’t let anything show on his face.  When he looked at Snow, her face remained emotionless, but her eyes said she was glad they approved.  He wondered if she knew, he did it for her.

 

Duncan faced the team.  “There is water in the fridge here for anyone who wants, markers for the whiteboard are in the little drawer under the holder.”  He informed everyone.

 

Robert was standing off to the side of the door they had entered through, looking around, his mouth was downturned as his head nodded his approval. “Very nice Mr. Galt.”  He looked at Duncan.  “On behalf of my team, thank you.”  He said then moved to take the head seat at the table, the others moved to their places on either side of the table.

 

Snow sat next to Duncan, closer to the front, so she wouldn’t have to look at Duncan.

 

Robert started the meeting.  “Alright, we have another harvest party about fifty miles from the first as you already know, they have become a bit flighty since we took down the other party; I expect them to try and make a fast harvest and move on.  We need to act fast.”  He informed them.  “And by fast, I mean now.”

 

There was some murmuring around the room. “Sir, we aren’t ready, we have no tactical of the area, we aren’t equipped.  We had no advanced notice.”  Max said to Robert.

 

“I know, the order was just sent down when I arrived here.  Duncan, are  you well enough?”  Robert asked turning his attention to him.

 

Snow turned quickly and looked at Duncan, was that a look of worry in her eyes?  He looked down at the table, he didn’t like this happening so fast, he had wanted to make some suggestions.  Apparently there would be no prep work for this one, he hated missions that were thrown together, usually involved a lot of improvising.

 

“We can move without the bait.”  Max said cutting in.  “We will be pressed, but we can get to the area before they’re moving if we act now, we have Field Grass’s recon, if we find humans already alone in the area, we can stage just as we have before.” 

 

Robert’s eyes were still on Duncan.  Duncan looked at Max.  “Trying to ditch me already?”  Duncan responded.

 

“If your not…”  Max started, Duncan cut him off short.

 

“The bait is fine, if we’re doing this, I’m in.”  Duncan finished.  He could have backed out, he wasn’t fond of the idea of being bait on a rush job, his survival was at risk.  He didn’t know why he counted himself in, part of him felt it was his duty.

 

Before anyone else could chime in, Robert ended the meeting. “Ok, lets move people, there should be tactical vehicles with what you need in them outside, if they are on time.  Unless you have for some reason broken code, grab your swords from the vehicle you came in, get in uniform and lets roll.”  Robert said rising from his chair and starting towards the door, soon followed by the others. 

 

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Duncan went to his room and donned the uniform Robert had given him.  He grabbed his fifty cal auto, checked the clip and grabbed three more, loaded for vampires.  He reached into the drawer he had it stored at and picked up a clip marked with a red stripe.  He’d bring his own modifications this time as well. 

 

He was stuffing the pistol in one of the pouches that would accommodate it on the utility belt when he walked out of the room into the kitchen, Snow was there.  She had glanced at him then took a second look back and held it.  She took in that he was in a werewolf hunt uniform.

 

“Robert gave it to me.”  Duncan said noticing Snow’s gaze. 

 

She turned without a word and made for the door.  Duncan followed her to the garage, their sedan was parked in it.  She almost hit Duncan as she backed out fast and threw open the door for Duncan to get in. 

 

He barely had time to close the door as she pulled out onto the road.  He fastened the seat restraints, it was going to be a rough ride, no doubt about that.  Snow handed something to him once they were on the dirt road headed out, it was his contact case. Without a word, he took the case and put the contacts in once they were on the smoother asphalt. 

 

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It wasn’t quite dark yet, the sun was fading fast as they followed the others down the highway.  Duncan looked over to view the dash, the needle went to a hundred and forty, but was stuck there.  The large black van that was in the lead had blue and white lights that flashed on its top, along with the tail lights, the precession looked official enough, and the plates on the vehicles were of the US government variety.  They weren’t going to be stopped.

 

Even though Duncan was the odd man out, he was enjoying the familiarity of the run.  The line of black vehicles moving by traffic.  They turned onto the interstate for a short time, the engines roared.  He thought back briefly to younger days.  The only thing missing was the drive conversation. 

 

By the time they pulled off the interstate, the last glimmer of the sun was well past, no remains of it evident on the horizon.  Once again they blasted through the night, with nothing to light their way, only the eyes he trusted to drive him safely in the pitch of the night.

 

“Is this going to be the same setup as last time?”  Duncan asked Snow shortly after they pulled off the interstate. 

 

Snow drove.

 

“Is there anything you can tell me about how we are going to handle this?”  Duncan pressed, hoping for some response. “Yo, Snow cone, are you deaf?  Or have you just gone totally frigid?  We aren’t married, isn’t it a bit early for that?”  He started to yell at her.  “You know my ass is on the line out there, a lot more then yours, I don’t have all the fancy werewolf mojo you do.”

 

Snow shot a look over at Duncan, her eyes were daggers.

 

“Fine Snowball, be that way.”  He said looking to the front. She looked good in the black uniform, Duncan liked it.  Now if it only came equipped with a personality.

 

“You were briefed the same as everyone else, do what you’re told.”  Snow finally replied, her voice was what Duncan had become used to.

 

“Right, be the bait, get treated like something you wouldn’t be seen with unless you had to.”  Duncan said then fell into silence.

 

He arched forward and pulled the sidearm he had placed in the one pouch on the belt and brought it forward.  He checked the clips, ensured a round was chambered and inspected the operation of the weapon.  Satisfied he returned it to the place he found for it.

 

“What’s with the red stripe on the clip?”  Snow inquired.

 

“Bite me.”  Duncan replied, then, thinking about what he had just said, “Let me rephrase that, don’t bite me, ever, just, suck it.”

 

Had Duncan turned his head from looking out the side window, he would have seen how hard his words cut Snow, evident in the tears that first trickled down her face, then ran free for almost a minute.  He didn’t though, and if he had, would he even care now?

 

They followed the other vehicles into another field, only this one was near a small lake.  There were people at the area already, they had a camp fire going and music playing.  A gas lantern burned on a pole. 

 

It was a picnic area that had a covered area with a vaulted roof on some poles with four tables under it and several others out in a sand and grass mixed yard.  When they arrived, the crew dispatched from their vehicles, Max and Christopher were approaching the area the campfire was at and the people near. 

 

Snow pulled behind the van and Suburban they had followed.  “Stay put.”  She ordered.

 

Duncan climbed out of the sedan.

 

Max was addressing the people in the yard area.  “We need you all to collect your things and leave, we have an emergency operation in progress here, if you will please cooperate we will appreciate it.”  He requested.

 

The group appeared to be college aged kids, they didn’t appear impressed by Max’s announcement.  “Who does he think he is?”  One voice said.  Other comments followed, some made references to characters on various television shows. 

 

“Hey man, this is a public place, you can’t just come in here and get all muscle and shit.”  A young promising lawyer said to Max as he approached him.

 

“Look, its not safe here right now, please collect your things and move on.”  Christopher said trying to back Max up.

 

“Not safe here?  What’s wrong, they didn’t dump something in the lake did they?”  A girls voice said.

 

Beer cans were tossed around the area where the kids were.  Duncan could smell the cigarettes and another sweet smoke in the air that wasn’t coming from the fire as he watched two of the people in the back farthest from them pass an ember between them.

 

Duncan pulled his gun , all conversation stopped when the Desert Eagle barked into the dark.

His team turned suddenly at him as he walked forward.

 

“Listen up boys and girls, I’m Duncan Bait with the CIA, party’s over.  What you are going to do is get your asses in that truck you came in and get your stupid asses out of my operation site.  You are not going to collect your things, you are not going to question me, you are not going to collect two hundred dollars.”  Duncan commanded with his voice. 

 

No one spoke back to him. 

 

“Alright potheads, move it now else I’ll have my crew hogtie your asses and put you someplace to forget about you.”  Duncan went on.

 

When one of the kids moved to grab some of their belonging Duncan raised the pistol in the air and fired it again.  “I said do not grab anything, get in your truck now.”  Duncan shouted at the ones who had moved the wrong direction.  Most of the others were piling into the truck, the ones who had tried to grab items were following suit. 

 

Only the lawyer remained motionless.

 

“Grab the cuffs Danno, we got us a prison bitch here.”  Duncan yelled back over his shoulder then turned his attention to the stationary man.  The lawyer suddenly regained his ability to move, and ran towards the truck.

 

“Listen up munchkins. You are going to drive out of here, you are not going to stop and try and see what’s going on, you are going to drive till you hit the interstate and peddle your sorry assess back to mommy and daddy or whatever hole you call home.  You can get your things in the morning, just not to early we may be conducting an execution.”  Duncan announced to the kids in the truck and the lawyer that was climbing into the drivers seat. 

 

Moments later the truck came to life, the tires spun and the truck sped away as fast as the drive could control, mostly.  Duncan holstered his weapon and turned back to his team while the truck spun away.

 

“What the hell are you doing?”  Max said, his voice angry but toned down. 

 

“That, grasshopper, is called taking control of the frelling situation and getting the job done.”  Duncan said to him.

 

“You discharged your gun, we aren’t supposed to threaten the innocent!”  Max growled, Christopher was right next to him giving Duncan the evil eye. 

 

“Did you have time to sit and choke your chicken with those kids?”  Duncan started, then spoke with a high pitched squeaky voice.  “Excuse me, pardon me, if you would, please, could you move, we need this area please and thank you.” 

 

Duncan stopped his squeaky mocking voice looking hard at Max.  “We needed to get them out, you obviously don’t know how to deal with drunk humans, we’d still be arguing with them, instead, toad who hops through piss puddles, we are still standing here, arguing amongst ourselves.”

 

Julia and Mud came up on Duncan’s other side. “Max, you saw how those kids were acting, Duncan knows how to handle situations with humans, he did what he thought best and it did work.”  Julia said tactfully.

 

“I’m in command here, I had the situation under control, he jeopardized the operation.”  Max replied.

 

“It’s over with, lets deal with this later Max, we need to get into position.”  Mud stated.

 

The four were face to face, no one noticed that Duncan and Snow had left the group, Duncan was talking to Snow by the fire, he was pointing around the area, Snow was nodding and responding.  Duncan turned and sat down in one of the chairs near the fire, Snow turned up the radio the kids had left on a table behind them. 

 

Duncan reached over and picked up a piece of wood and tossed it on the fire.  Snow looked over at a cooler nearby where she was.  She opened it and reach inside.  She handed a bottle to Duncan who made a face as he read the label.  Max was looking around the area as he walked up to the fire and Duncan, the others followed.

 

“What are you doing?”  Max said in an agitated voice.

 

“The bait is set, dog who shits on his tail and licks it, the only ones who aren’t ready are you guys.  Get with it, we have a job to do here.”  Duncan said as Snow walked off at a quick pace.

 

Max looked at him bewildered.  “We need to run down the strategy once quick.”

 

“Fine, you run down the strategy, but you might want to know, you’ve got flyers coming in, please, go over your strategy Maxi Pad .”  Duncan said.

 

The sound of an engine starting interrupted the conversation, Snow whipped the sedan near the fire throwing rocks and sand on most of the team as they scattered, there wouldn’t be time to move the other vehicles.

 

The two flyers passed over, they turned wide and one headed off away from where Duncan was, the other approached Duncan low and passed over him then climbed and banked off to join the other in its party.

 

“Got them on track.”  Came Meadows voice. 

 

“Julia, move back towards where they came from, see if you can get a track on any others coming in.”  Max ordered.

 

Silence.

 

The air was calm, not even a breeze.  The didn’t buy it Duncan thought to himself.  They spotted his crew, or the other vehicles and moved out.

 

“There moving.  Stay close to the bait.”  Christopher’s voice said.

 

“Something’s not right, they aren’t moving this direction.”  Mud reported, her voice worried.

 

Snow went running past, she looked at Duncan as she ran, her face had anger, but not at him.  Duncan knew instantly what was she was thinking, they moved in on someone else, a larger target.  Snow changed to her werewolf form as she passed Duncan.

 

“Stay put, no one move, stick with the plan, they’ll come, wait them out!”  Max’s voice was loud on the radio. They had no options on this run, Max never had a chance to notify them.

 

“Frell you.”  Duncan said under his breath and ran for the sedan. 

 

Snow had left the door open, Duncan jumped in, he didn’t bother with the belts, he fired the engine and slammed the door as he put the car in gear and hammered the gas.  He almost hit the lights but stopped himself in time.  He drove out of the picnic area and turned the onto the short dirt road.  He checked his visual again trying to get a track on the harvesters.  They had lost them. 

 

He stopped at a crossroad and opened the door, he stood mostly in the car and looked at the two directions out of the picnic area, he saw what he was looking for, flung himself back inside and floored the sedan in that direction. 

 

Tracking picked up the harvest party and Duncan plotted the location on the map.  He caught up to Snow, she was running hard, he pulled up along side her and hit the horn. 

 

Snow caught what he wanted and jumped onto the roof of the car, Duncan canned the gas, Snows claws cut into the windshield.  They were almost there, Duncan only took his foot of the gas as he made the hard right turn, he could see Snow’s body swing over the edge of the roof and hang out.

 

“Hang on girl”  He said as he brought the sedan around and righted it down the road.

 

“Disengage, disengage, all of you, this is not on the plan.”  Max’s voice called out over the radio on the car.

 

Duncan saw what he feared, ahead of him, the recruits and their masters, Duncan jammed the breaks propelling Snow into the air  She was expecting this and flew off the roof with her legs out in front of her and jaws set for killing. 

 

Snow descended on the target in front of her.  Two more came towards her, from her side.  Duncan jumped out of the sedan, pulling his auto, swapping clips as he ran firing at the vampires charging Snow.  This gave her enough time to avoid their initial attack, unfortunately, this also drew attention to Duncan.  He dropped a clip from the gun when the breach locked back and slapped in another without missing a beat and started firing on the vampire charging him. 

 

When the vampire connected with Duncan it sent him flying back at least ten feet.  Duncan landed and slid on the rough ground.  The vampire dropped on him, Duncan swung his hands forward, a glass bottle in each, smashing them on either side of the creatures head, it reared back in pain, Duncan made his escape, almost. 

 

The creature stepped down on his leg, pinning him.  He was seeing his life flash before his eyes knowing when the creature blew, he would go with it.  Suddenly another werewolf slammed into the creature knocking it back and away from Duncan just before it blew, the werewolf was clear too when Duncan looked.

 

Duncan looked around, they were seriously out numbered.  He could see five werewolves now, battling at least eighty vampires.  That was about twice the number as before, with far less of the good guys.  Duncan changed clips again.  He headed back into the fight.

 

He recognized Snow, even in her werewolf form, he knew her, she had three on her, one was about down.  The other two would stop her being able to back away when the first one blew, Duncan ran hard, swapping in the red striped clip as he ran, screaming at the top of his lungs.  He held his fire till he was close.  He was less then ten feet from the vampires blocking Snow as she took the head from the one she was engaged with.  Duncan fired.

 

Explosions followed as his bullets connected.  He fired on the second vampire.  He hit both in the head, the explosive rounds left their headless bodies standing.  This gave Snow the break she needed.  She didn't waste it either and broke clear of the creatures before they blew as Duncan retreated to a safe distance. 

 

Another vampire that had been moving in on them made it’s escape, it was out of Duncan’s range, Snow was running past him.  He stuffed the pistol back in its pouch and lunged for Snow, catching her towards her back on her side.  He hung on as she ran, climbing her.  He made his way to her back and felt around.  He found what he wanted and felt his way along the tube on her back to the top. 

 

He pulled the top open, he wasn’t expecting the bolt to spring out like it did but he caught it.  He looked over Snow’s head, she was charging another vampire.  She caught it mid chest, Duncan took a step and pushed off her shoulder, the bolt in his hand and aimed at the creatures heart.  His aim was dead on and he tumbled to the ground with it.

 

Once landed, Duncan was slightly stunned, but he still managed to grab the bolt from the vampires heart and pull it out and run away in time. About this time Max’s Suburban pulled in.  Max had his sword drawn and was running in, he stopped by Duncan, Max’s face was scared, he finally saw what they were up against.

 

“I don’t suppose your options are on their way?”  Duncan yelled at him.

 

Max looked over at him, his head moved back and forth slowly. “Get in the car.”  Max said, his voice wavered. 

 

“Frell yourself, if I’m going down, I’m going down fighting not hiding.  Duncan said and ran off to help Julia.

 

A vampire had her pinned with her face to the ground.  Duncan drew his pistol again, swapped the clip and started firing into the vampires side, a clip dropped and the last one went in.  The vampire pulled up, partially turning towards Duncan who still had the bolt in his hand. 

 

Julia was starting to stand, Duncan jumped, onto her back, she thrust herself up and Duncan jumped again using her as a springboard and hurling himself toward the vampire, firing several rounds into the head of the creature.  He let go of the gun and used both hands to thrust the bolt into the vampire.  Direct hit, Duncan fell to the ground, Julia grabbed him in her mouth and carried him to safety. 

 

The fight was going bad for his team, they were getting beat up bad.  Duncan looked back at the sedan.  It was now or never, time to find out if the damn thing would work, it was that or die at the claws of these bastards.  He charged for the sedan.  Snow and Mud saw him go and they both helped cover him. 

 

He recovered his pistol on the run.  It was empty, and he’d used all the clips except for the one with the red stripe.  He was guessing when he modified the rounds, he looked at the clip, only three rounds left.  He dropped the empty clip and stuffed it in and dropped the breach.  He was almost to the sedan.

 

As he made his final lunge for the car, a vampire dropped in front of him, grabbing him and opening it’s mouth wide.  The others were too far away to help.  Aiming wasn’t hard at this range.  Duncan pulled the trigger as fast as he could, sending all three rounds into the head.

 

There was a brilliant flash as the head exploded and the body started to fall, giving Duncan his freedom to escape the impending blast of the critter.  He dove over the hood of the sedan for cover then made his way inside.

 

Once inside the sedan he fired it up and moved it into the middle of the fight. “Give me some frelling cover, everyone around me!”  He yelled into the radio and jumped from the sedan.  He opened the trunk and pulled four large black orbs from it as the werewolves made a circle around him. 

 

Two of his team were badly hurt, no time to frell up, no time to worry about accuracy.  He opened the back door and heaved out a generator.  He brought it to the back of the sedan and hurriedly wrapped wires onto studs on the side and locked them down on the makeshift wing nut terminals he had built on the generator.

 

He moved the orbs out around the car the best he could with the wire available while trying not to knock any of the precariously placed wire loose.  He jumped to the generator and primed it, flipped the choke and started pulling the cord to start it. 

 

Three pulls, nothing, he pulled and pulled, turned off the choke, and pulled some more.  The engine wouldn’t start and the smell of gas filled the air.  One of the team was sent flying as the horde descended on them.  Snow looked back at him,  His heart sank, this is where they both would come to their end.

 

Duncan dropped his head.  He waited for the end.  He stared down across the generator cursing the thing for failing him.  He blinked several times.  His head came up, only Snow remained around him. 

 

Duncan reached down and put the sparkplug wire onto the end of the plug and put his hand in the handle of the starter cord as a vampire grabbed him and jerked him back, the handle slipped from Duncan’s hand as he was thrown back towards the horde of vampires.

 

The sound of the cord retracting back into the generator wasn’t heard, nor was the coughing flooded sputter of the machine, which came to life and the lights along with it filling the field with sun and smoke, provided by the vampires that disintegrated  in the flood of light. 

 

The lights throbbed as the generator struggled to run, and finally smoothed.  It’s struggle to life was enough.  The entire horde was close enough that by the time the lights smoothed, nothing remained.

 

“Good design Snow, five times the power with half the brightness.”  Duncan said as he lay on the ground, his back stinging again from the vampire claws in it.

 

Julia and Snow came up to Duncan who had made his way back to the car.  Christopher was carrying Mud and sat down next to them, his mate followed.  They looked at each other in the artificial day light.  They all looked around for Max and his mate.  The saw her rising and calling out to Max.  She called several times.  Finally he called back.

 

“This was a setup.”  Duncan seethed as Max and his mate found each other, embraced and started to limp towards the sedan.

 

Julia shook her head quickly  “No, Duncan, no, this wasn’t a setup, I wasn’t able to get solid information, we rushed, we made a mistake.”  She said.

 

“Look, I know a frelling setup when I see one, this was a frelling setup.”  Duncan asserted.

 

When Max got to them he pulled out his cell.  He punched a few buttons and waited for an answer. “This is Black Wolf Squadron Leader, we need emergency extraction, beacon activated.”  He said into the phone and let it fall to the ground along with himself.

 

The generator purred until a stream of black Suburban’s poured into the area.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

It was the second day after the failed mission, late afternoon.  Snow had just finished changing Duncan’s bandages, after he had changed hers.  He turned to face her.  She moved in and put her face to his chest and he wrapped his arms around her and put his face on the top of her head and they embraced as the afternoon sun shown on them from the window over the sink.

 

The doorbell chimed.  “I’ll get it.”  Snow said as she smiled up a Duncan.

 

“I want to talk to you alone, outside.”  Duncan heard Robert’s angry voice say to Snow from the front door.

 

The door closed behind Snow as she walked out to talk with Robert.  Duncan turned and headed to the basement.

 

Robert walked Snow down by the garage so he was sure they were out of Duncan’s hearing range.  Snow looked blankly at him.

 

“Just what the hell have you been doing?  I’ve heard all about how you’ve been acting around here, staying in wolf form, making the, Duncan, hate you.  You need to knock it off, I know our last mission was a frell up, but we need him if we are going to get to Alexander, and I need you to make sure he doesn’t quit.”  Robert said to Snow, half way through he started yelling at her.

 

He went on, pulling back on his yelling some.  “I don’t give a rats ass about how you feel, your supposed to be a professional.  I don’t care if you have to fake it with him, we need him to like you, you don’t have to be the human’s lover, but you need to at least be on a friendly basis.”  Robert added.

 

Snow continued to stare blankly.  She gave no reply, she remained motionless.

 

Robert looked at her, his anger clearly displayed on his face. “I don’t want a repeat of what happened the other night, you’re supposed to see to it that his ass is in that car, not out running around playing human vampire slayer.  I heard all about it from Max.”

 

He ran his eyes up and down her, he flipped his hand at her.  “You were even helping him.  Are you trying to get him killed and yourself with him?  Is that what’s going on here?  You have messed up my plans enough already, I am not about to let your sorry ass make a mess out of this too.  We made the deal with you in lieu of your retirement, I can cancel that deal and let you deal with Night Harvest.”  Robert told to her, poking her in the chest when he did.

 

Snow just stared back.  No emotion on her face.

 

“Am I getting through to you?”  Robert asked.  “Are you listening to what I’m telling you?"

 

Snow turned away from Robert, she started walking towards the house.  Robert called after her, telling her to get her ass back here, that he wasn’t done with her. She walked on, stopping at the large plastic garbage can, she lifted the lid and flipped it all the way back leaving the can open, then continued on walking towards the house.

 

“I said get back here Sadness!”  Robert yelled at her again.

 

Snow held up a finger on an outstretched arm, pointing to the sky, her arm bent up at the elbow.  She moved her index finger in a circle from the wrist and then extended her arm out and pointed back at the garbage can, without looking, without stopping. 

 

Her arm fell to her side, she continued on towards the house as Robert stared after her.  His face gripped in anger and confusion, he had no idea what was with Snow. 

 

Snow walked into the house and closed the door, leaving Robert by himself with his distressed look.  He was looking at the door, still staring from watching her ignore him and walk in.  He looked over at the garbage can.  He was trying to get her meaning, was she calling him trash?  Or was she trying to tell him the deal was garbage? 

 

“What the hell is going on here.”  He said, looking back to the house and taking a step along the path that led to it.  He walked on until he reached the garbage can.  He looked in.  On top of the bags of trash and other garbage was a stainless steel bowl.  It looked like a dog dish. 

 

Robert stared at it for a second, his face showed his failure to comprehend its meaning, then he strode on towards the house.  If Snow wasn’t going to talk to him, she was finished.  He needed to find out if Duncan was quitting too.  Night Harvest wouldn’t retire a human, but there was that hospital in South America still.

 

Robert didn’t knock on the door when he arrived at it, he turned the knob and pushed, the door moved to open, Snow hadn’t locked it.  He pressed in fast, not bothering to close the door behind him.  He stopped several feet in, he could see Duncan sitting near the end of the island in the kitchen facing him. 

 

Duncan had a bottle of scotch in his hand and was drinking straight from the bottle, he looked to be sweating.  There was a cheese cloth towel on the island spread out a little ways from Duncan who was looking at Robert and he started laughing, he sounded drunk.

 

“Bobby, you old horse thief you, come on over and have a drink, the bars open.”  Duncan said, he words slurred as he spoke.

 

Robert quickly walked over to the end of the island.  There was a stool sitting at the end.  Robert looked at Duncan from the end of the island, he could smell the booze on him.   “You’re drunk.”  He said to him.

 

“No shit, and your black.”  Duncan slurred at back.  “A black werewolf CIA bitch.  What’s up with that?  A black man, being a werewolf.”  Duncan fumbled his words as he spoke.

 

Robert heard the door close.  He looked back, Snow was at the door, locking it after she had closed it.

 

“Over here, over here Bobby, I’m asking... asking you a quest... question.”  Duncan belched out, the bottle still in his hand as he leaned on his elbow on the island waving the bottle around as he attempted speaking.  Robert looked back at Duncan.

 

“Are there a lot of black dudes becoming werewolves Bobby?  What’s up with that!”  Duncan went on, getting loud at the end and spraying his words.

 

Robert’s face was hard, he clenched his jaw as he looked at Duncan. “We aren’t racist if that’s what you mean, we have every race in our ranks across the clans.

 

“Oh, oh, so you have Asian werewolves, Italian, German, what about Russian, got any commie werewolves Bob?”  Duncan rambled out with spittle running down his face as he tried to talk.

 

Robert looked confused, pissed, he could see talking to Duncan was pointless. “Yes, we have all those, including Russian.”  He answered, his disdain clear on his face.

 

“Mexican, you have Mexican werewolves?”  Duncan slurred leaning in.

 

“Yes, like I said, we have all races.  What of it?”  Robert answered with a hard voice, he wanted to see of he could at least get some of Duncan’s thoughts from the other night; find out why he acted against orders, put himself in danger.  Maybe in his current state, Duncan might give him more honest information.  He would just have to weed it out of him.

 

“Tell me Bobert, when a Mexican changes into a werewolf,”  Duncan asked motioning wildly around and snarling into the air when he said werewolf, “do they, like, become a great big Chihuahua?”  Duncan asked leaving the bottle on the island as he put his hands in the air making claw hands with them and making high pitched dog noises, his attempt to give the image of a Chihuahua as a werewolf.

 

When he lowered his hands he took the bottle again, and drank long from it.  Robert’s face was emotionless, but his eyes carried his anger for him.

 

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”  He asked as calmly as he could, motioning with a finger at the bottle.

 

“Yeah, I’ve had enough Bob.”  Duncan said, his voice low and angry as he took the bottle and pitched it into the sink. “I’ve had enough of your bullshit and lies!”  He yelled, not sounding the least bit drunk, his words were clear and crisp, he no longer swaggered around.

 

Robert felt something being pressed against his back.  He turned his head slightly and could see Snow, she was holding something that he couldn’t make out.

 

He realized it had all been an act.

 

“Just so you know Bobby boy, Snow has a shotgun aimed at your heart.”  Duncan said.

 

Robert heard the hammers being pulled back by Snow when Duncan informed him.

 

He chuckled softly.  “You keep your shotguns loaded for vampires, little wooden dowels, pointed on the end, honestly not much good against them.”  Robert said, not feeling any fear in their little coup.  His face held mild amusement.  Now he was deciding whether he was going to take Duncan out, and Snow, or try and salvage the situation.

 

“You mean these shells?”  Duncan asked as he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out two 4-10 shotgun shells.  “Come on Bobby, you know me better than that.”  Duncan said letting the shells drop onto the counter. 

 

Robert’s face lost its amusement.

 

Duncan’s face was threatening.  “Yeah, I kind of figured they really wouldn’t puncture that tough hide of theirs.  So I changed it up a bit.  Snow, what’s the size of that kidney buster you be holding, tell the man all about it.”  Duncan started smiling.

 

Robert did know Duncan, he wasn’t the type to either get drunk, or to slip up, he was calculating and accurate. “Ten gauge, double barreled, sawed off, pistol grip, three and a half inch magnum cartridges.”  Snow said with a voice that held true to her name, cold.

 

“Gotta love a woman who knows her guns, don’t you Bobby?”  Duncan said as he slapped a hand on the top of the island and put out a laugh of defiance.

 

“Have a seat, sir.”  Snow requested with a twitch of the shotgun for encouragement.  Robert slid over the stool and sat as she kept the shotgun tight to him.

 

“Those shells, are slugs Bobby, hand made by myself, pure silver, but wait…” Duncan held up a finger, “there’s more.  They aren’t just any silver slug, oh no, they are hollow inside, yes, hollow.  They have a special design, so when they hit an object, say, like your back, they split apart.”  Duncan used his hands to give a visual of the slugs parting.

 

As he went on, he moved his hands to indicate what would happen.  “They push what’s inside the slug, into the body it hits.  These have powdered silver, fine silver, the highest quality, nothing but the best for you Bobby.  I got the idea from Snow, when she told me about holy water in the hollow points of a pistol round, if she cuts loose with that thing, you will be injected with silver you just ain’t getting out.”  Duncan informed Robert with a secure smile.

 

Robert’s face had gone gaunt. 

 

Duncan gestured behind Robert.  “As you can see, Snow and I have resolved our misunderstanding.  We had a long talk in the hospital about partners, you see, she had spent a lot of time studying humans, came to understand that when two humans, not unlike her kind, cared about each other, they became willing to do foolish things for the other person, dangerous things, put their lives in danger to save the other.” 

 

His eyes moved to Snow for a moment with a soft smile.  “She didn’t want me to do that for her.  You see I was wrong about the why, I thought it was because she was pissed she only had as long as I do to live now, the reality was, she didn’t want me to shorten my own life, she wanted me to have as many years as I could, she didn’t give a rats ass about her own life, and you know what they say, werewolves can’t lie, so, I believe her.”  Duncan said in a cocky manner to Robert.

 

Snow pushed the shotgun harder into Robert’s back, in part to support what Duncan said, and partly to let him know she would, without hesitation, pull both triggers sending him to be judged.

 

Duncan turned to face the island more, reaching over to the cloth on the top of the island and pulled it off the top, tossing it to the counter across by the sink. 

 

Under it was a short sword, it looked to have a European design, slender and ornately marked.  Robert could tell, it was covered in silver, if not made entirely of it.  His eyes moved back from the sword to Duncan, he looked betrayed.

 

“Did you have that made for me too?”  He asked Duncan in a sharp voice.

 

Duncan picked up the sword by the hilt and moved it over toward Robert, whose eyes followed it when he brought it around and pointed it at Robert’s chest, touching the tip to him, just below his chin, touching the skin above where his tie was.

 

“On no Bobby McGee, I brought this beauty home with me from my last mission.  I’m sure you remember my last human mission, don’t you?”  Duncan asked as he turned his eyes from the sword to Robert’s.

 

His eyes widened.  His nose was hit by the smoke of the sizzling flesh from where the sword touched him.  This sword had been the property of a vampire, it was specifically a werewolf slayer. Robert started flinching in pain as the sword remained.  Duncan, seeing his message was fully conveyed, moved the sword back from his flesh and placed it against his chest, right over his heart, the tip pressed in against his suit coat.

 

The phone in Robert’s coat began to vibrate. “If I don’t answer that, someone might suspect something is up.”  He said to Duncan.

 

Duncan snorted.  “To frelling bad, you’re not available.  I’m sure the caller will try back later.”  He replied.  Assurance in his voice at the end.

 

Robert’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Duncan.  “So what’s the plan, you going to run me through, princess here going to toast me?  You two won’t make it far, not only will the CIA be hunting you, but the Clay’s as well; they wont stand for having one of their highest members being slaughtered.”  He informed him.

 

Duncan smiled.  “I don’t think the CIA gives two squirts of piss about you Bobby, as far as the clans go, I have the feeling you aren’t as highly respected as you claim, I mean, you work in a human agency that is part of a human government.  Plus there is the matter of the ‘whom’ too, Snow, though she is outcast, is more highly thought of than you.  No, I don’t see too many people getting their panties in a bunch over your demise.”  Duncan said to him with his own smug grin.  “Snow, you think I’m right?”

 

“I believe so, partner.  I think you’re dead on balls accurate.”  Snow’s voice of ice replied.

 

Robert blinked fast a few times.  It appeared the two had not only resolved their differences, they had started analyzing situations together with each others information from the other half.  This is what Robert had wanted from the beginning when he put the two together as partners, himself being the victim of their cooperation was not exactly on the menu of thought.

 

“What we are going to do Bobby, we are going to play a little game.  I call it the ‘backstabbing lying sellout bureaucrat blowout’ game.  If I or my lovely assistant think you are lying, you get blown out of the competition.  And if you play the game right, you get a prize, tell the man what he wins Snowy.”  Duncan said in a game show host voice.

 

Snow leaned forward and spoke at Robert’s ear.  “You get to walk out of here alive.”  She said.

 

His voice became game show festive as he went on.  “Now, the rules of the game are simple Bobby, I am going to ask you some questions, my lovely hostess may have some for you as well, you are going to answer these questions.  If myself or my lovely assistant thinks you are not being forthright in your answer you will be given an indicator to tell you that your answer needs to be more complete.”

 

Leaning in he spoke dramatically.  “I know all too well how werewolves are masters of language so they can tell the truth without telling all the truth, fortunately for me, I happen to have a master linguist here with us today in our studio to help in that area.”

 

Duncan looked to Snow and smiled. “Now, should our contestant fail to fill in the details to our liking, or should he fail to give an answer to any question, he is disqualified, and you will know when you are disqualified by the sound of thunder.  Any questions before we start?  No?  Good, we’ll begin with round one.”  Duncan said to Robert becoming mockingly cheery.

 

“Question one, did you or did you not set myself, Snow, and our team up to be killed two days ago?”  Duncan asked.

 

“I did no such thing.”  Robert answered in a hard voice.

 

Snow shoved forward on the shotgun in his back. “I did not set you and your team up to die, or in any way.”  Robert restated.

 

Duncan looked at Snow, she gave him a single nod. “Good news Bob, our studio audience likes your answer.  You move on to round two.”  Duncan said in a cynical voice. “Question two, who set myself, Snow and our team up?”  Duncan asked, his tone was forceful.

 

Robert clenched his teeth, his eyes narrowed.  His breathing became labored. “I don’t know.”  He answered.

 

Duncan smiled and cocked his head at Robert.  “Survey says!”  Duncan said keeping the sword in its position and turning away and raising his other arm and motioning to an imaginary game board behind him.  Then he made a loud noise imitating a fail buzzer.  When he finished making the noise he turned back to Robert and put his hand back on the hilt of the sword.

 

“I’m sorry Bob, but that answer is not in the top one hundred people surveyed.  But don’t worry, we have some nice parting gifts for you.”  Duncan said as he shoved the sword through his jacket and shirt and into his chest a good inch, then twisted the blade.

 

Robert cried out as the sword went into his flesh and burned, he opened his mouth and screamed as the blade twisted inside his chest, prying the ribs it had slid between apart.  Snow moved quickly forward and placed the barrels of the shotgun she carried in Robert’s open mouth and pushed back, the barrels were against the back of Robert’s mouth and pushing his head back.

 

Duncan snickered mischievously.  “Are you familiar with the phrase ‘boom goes the dynamite’ Bobby McGee?”  He asked rhetorically.

 

Robert started yelling something.  Duncan listened and tried to make out what he was saying.  “I think he’s saying to wait, he has something to tell us.  What do you think Snow?”  Duncan said looking over at her.

 

“Hrm, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell, hard to understand, sounds like he has his mouth full right now, maybe we should wait for him to swallow.”  Snow replied.

 

Robert started waving his hands at his side as he tried to make himself understood.  He slowed down his speech, but the sound was still garbled.  Duncan and Snow looked at him for a moment.  “Let’s hear what he has to say, alright with you Sadness?”  Duncan asked.

 

Snow moved around Robert, dragging the shotgun out of his mouth as she went to his back again, leaving a smear of blood as the barrels drug across his cheek.  Once at his back she pulled the shotgun away from his head and lowered it to aim at his back again.  Robert grunted from the force Snow used to place the barrels against him.

 

“Our studio audience isn’t pleased Bobby, but they have decided to give you one more chance to convince them.”  Duncan said.  The tip of the sword had been backed out, leaving behind a bloody hole that was already starting to heal now that the silver had been removed.

 

“If you’ll give me a chance to explain, I will.”  He said hurriedly.

 

“Bob, operators are standing by.”  Duncan said, his face had both a serious and comical look, not cereal killer crazy, but that of a man fed up with the situation and was taking matters into his own hands.

 

“It was a setup, but not by any of my people, we wouldn’t do anything like that even if it was decided that the entire team was to be retired.  Night Harvest would come himself.”  Robert explained.

 

Duncan made a disappointed face.  “Not buying it Bob, what if the powers that be decided to let the team go out fighting instead of Night Worm coming and pay them a visit, you know, die with honor and all that pig shit.” 

 

Robert started shaking his head slowly.  “No, they would never do that.  There is no honor in being killed by a vampire, only sorrow.  That is not how we do things.  It’s a very serious matter to werewolf kind to be retired, doing what you said would be a dishonor, Night Harvest would insist on handling the matter himself.”  He told Duncan.  His voice showed his conviction of what he had just said.

 

Duncan looked at Snow.  Her lips pressed together and her head nodded, confirming what he had said, her people would never have used a vampire attack to retire the team.  Werewolves did not take retirement lightly.

 

Duncan looked back from Snow. “Alright, go on, your audience is listening.”  Duncan said, stopping short of calling him Bob again, something he assumed the man hated by the way everyone called him Robert, even Max during daylight hours.

 

Robert sighed with a slight nodding motion.  “The text I received, the one I took when we were talking, it said we needed to strike tonight, that intelligence reports suggested the harvest ceremony was going to happen that night.  The order was to advance the mission to that night and not wait for further recon, it looked official from across the water.”

 

Snow leaned in, sniffing him as he spoke.  Duncan watched his eyes and face.

 

“But it wasn’t, no one from my department or any part of our network sent that text, our security is compromised.  The text came from outside our network, someone put a lot of time and effort into this to send one text.  They had to know we would find out the network had been hacked and change it fast.  I think we both know who that was, why they would take such a risk.  They knew you were part of the team.”  Robert’s face was remorse. 

 

He looked down from Duncan.  “That’s why there were so many, Alexander had some of his coven join the harvesting party, it was their trap, the whole thing.  They used the kids to draw you in.  They knew you would come to their aid when the harvesting party attacked them.  From what we were able to determine they made some kind of arrangements with these kids to be at the lake, they were counting on me taking the fake text as a real order.”

 

Robert looked back to Duncan’s eyes with a hard set look.  “They knew the kids would be moved out of the area.  They had made arrangements with the kids to meet up where you found them.  That’s where they were supposed to be paid.  The harvesting party descended on them and fed on them, that was their payment in the end.  Alexander’s people were waiting in the wings until the team showed up to help.  That’s when they joined in.” 

 

Duncan looked up at Snow, her face had a sad expression of acceptance of what she had just heard.  She leaned her head closer to Robert’s ear.  “How do you know the information you just told us Robert of the Clay?”  Snow asked, her voice reflected the somber expression on her face.  The kids were a sacrifice to get to Duncan, and the team.

 

He turned his head back towards her as he answered.  “We caught the day walker that set up the deal.  An undercover option picked him out.  Notified my office.  We conducted a field interrogation.  He cooperated, even accepted the trial of light.  In a month he will have a new identity and walk among the living again.”  He looked back at Duncan.

 

“Trial of light, what is that?”  Duncan asked, day walkers could already stand in the light, he assumed it had nothing to do with standing in the rising sun as was the case with the girl he and Snow had dealt with.

 

Robert’s eyes went to the sword Duncan still held.  Looking up from it he sighed.  “It’s a very painful process, only the truly repentant will even agree to attempt it.  There’s no guarantee they will even survive, but the attempt alone is enough to atone them for their crimes against human kind.” 

 

His face flinched as he envisioned the process.  “The tainted is addicted to the fluid their vampire master has used on them, they must bath in and drink only holy water, this severs the control instantly, but it takes time to recover.  It used to take three months to fully cleanse the person, today we can speed it up by using an IV drip to flush holy water into their bodies directly. 

 

Robert looked down for a moment, his face and eyes distant.  “They are strapped to a bed, the sheets and absorbent padding they lay on have to be changed every hour as the taint comes out of them, every fluid they produce is black from the taint.  At first they need to be changed a lot sooner.  If not the taint may find its way back in, slowing the process or killing the repentant.  It’s actually quite rare that a day walker repents, in my centuries, this is only the second one I have seen.  That is what this man is going through right now, I think he has a good chance of surviving.”  Robert said looking back to Duncan.

 

“When I find out who is responsible for the trap that was set for you, I give you my word, I will tell you, no matter what those above me order me to do.”  Robert said locking his eyes on Duncan.  “I have new smart phones for the both of you, that’s part of what I came here for today, they are on the new network and secure.  We are taking steps to ensure this never happens again.”  Robert ended.

 

Duncan looked to Snow.  Once their eyes met, Snow closed and opened her eyes slowly.

 

Duncan spoke.  “Sounds like a load of bullshit if I ever heard one Bob, I think your trying to piss down my back and convince me its raining.”  He said and shoved the sword in again, only a bit deeper this time and still twisting as he did before.

 

Again when Robert started screaming Snow moved and returned the barrels of the shotgun into his mouth. Robert’s face showed true fear, his eyes rolled in panic.

 

“Let him have it partner.”  Duncan said removing the sword and stepping back, setting it on the top of the island.

 

Robert was making noises that sounded like he was saying ‘no, no please no’.  His eyes locked on the shotgun as his sensitive hearing picked up the sound of the springs on the trigger assembly moving.  Snow was closing her grip on the triggers. 

 

He could hear the click, click, click of the metal moving inside, the groan of the springs as they moved, soon to release their kinetic energy that would thrust the hammers forward onto the small charges in the center of the cartridges that would ignite the power inside them sending the silver slugs into Robert’s brain, injecting him with the silver powder that would stop any regeneration and killing him instantly. 

 

When the flats of the triggers that held the hammers of the twin barrels released they sounded like two tuning forks reverberating together in perfect harmony.  Then came the dull, hollow thud of the hammers falling on the firing pins.

 

Snow pulled the shotgun back out of Roberts mouth and dropped it onto the surface of the island.  Robert was breathing fast and hard, almost panting. “You, you son of a bitch,”  He said between breaths, “it wasn’t, even loaded.”

 

Duncan guffawed.  “You sure don’t seem to know much about werewolves Robert, you should have known, Snow can’t kill the innocent.  And like you said, retirement is the responsibility of Night Harvest.”  He said while he undid the buttons on a cuff of his loose fitting shirt and rolled it up.

 

Robert looked at Duncan’s arm as he regained his breath.  Duncan removed the wrist strap that held a pepperbox pistol in a mechanical device that would thrust the gun into his hand if he released it.  Duncan removed the cylinder from the apparatus and dumped the five thirty-two caliber cartridges with silver tips onto the top of the island.

 

He smiled at Robert.  “And in answer to your offer of going pro, my heart talked to Snow’s heart, Snow’s heart told my heart it would break if I took your offer, my heart told me to tell you to suck it.  I was born human and human I will remain.” 

 

Robert stared at the rounds on the table.  Snow wouldn’t have been able to shoot him he realized.  Duncan, on the other hand, had no such limitations. Snow came over and stood beside Duncan and put an arm around his waist as she leaned into him, both looking at Robert.

 

“You play a dangerous game Agent Galt, a very dangerous game.”  Robert said still sweating a bit and breathing hard.

 

“I know, and you’re the one that brought me into it.”  Duncan replied.  “Now get out of our home.”  He finished.

 

Robert nodded slowly and stood.  He reached into his coat pocket while looking at the sword that rested on the top of the island.  He pulled out two smart phones, looking at Duncan, placed them carefully on the island then turned and left their home.

 

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When Robert approached his Suburban the driver exited the front and opened the back door for him, he reached up, grabbed the handle above the door and hauled his frame inside.

 

Once the door was closed he pulled his smart phone from his pocket and placed a call, he tossed the phone onto the seat next to him as the sound of a phone ringing came through on the speakers in back.  The driver turned the vehicle around and drove from the Galt & Wolf residence.

 

“Is he still on board?”  A voice asked when the ringing stopped.

 

“Yes, we still have a team.”  Robert said to the voice.

 

“Did either of them have any insight into who may have set them up?”  The voice asked.

 

“No sir, they’re as in the dark as we are.  We know it had to be Alexander’s people, still no clue as to who and how.”  Robert said.

 

“What about the other issue?”  The voice asked.

 

“I can most assuredly assure you sir, that will no longer be an issue, the partnership has taken.”  Robert said, his voice carried a bit of anxiety. 

 

“Good.”  The voice said, then the click of the call ending from the voice’s end.

 

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Duncan and Snow were working at the large table in the upstairs conference room.  They were sitting across from each other going over budget items and request forms from the various departments deciding what they would purchase that month and what they would not.  They were both writing and talking back and forth on items when Duncan stopped and watched Snow writing.

 

“I never noticed that before.”  Duncan said out of the blue.

 

Snow looked up and looked around at the papers on the desk.  Her face a question. “Noticed what?”  She asked not seeing him indicate anything in the papers before them.

 

“That we’re both left handed.”  Duncan answered.

 

“Oh.”  Snow shrugged.  “All werewolves are left handed.  And lucky humans.”  She said with a smile.

 

“Lucky, you wouldn’t think so if you went to human schools.  They do everything they can go get you to conform to their right handed world.”  Duncan replied.

 

Snow shook her head.  “You should try werewolf schools, you wouldn’t think I was so lucky.  They are intense.  Just the history and lore classes alone are enough to make your head explode, then there’s human customs class, which is almost helpful, too much variance in them to be of much help, and lets not forget combat training, arms class, sword training, and advanced vampire hunting, smell and scent training, and all the other reading of the seven languages and writing of each, all with their own spoken languages too.”  Snow said, she had laid her pencil down remembering back pulling at her lip ring.

 

“Ok, you got me there, school sucks for everyone.”  He said with a grin and went back to the reports and requests.

 

“What about this one, twenty-three cases of light bulbs.”  Snow said holding a request form out so Duncan could see.

 

“Yeah, make that twenty-five, we get a price break for every increment of twenty-five we order.”  Duncan said looking at the page.

 

“True, but we could do better if we ordered five hundred and stored the rest, it’s not like we aren’t going to use them, we get the benefit of a better bulk order pricing and eliminate a lot of shipping costs.”  She said pointing to the shipping charge listed on the last receipt from their previous months order.

 

“The cost of shipping five hundred cases would only be slightly more than the twenty-five and we wouldn’t incur this cost again for twenty months based on our average order.  Also, we would be immune from the price jumps and would be better set to restock when they were on sale like they are now.”  Snow pointed out.

 

Duncan grabbed his calculator and started running numbers from several pieces of paper in front of him. “Well, if we held off on ordering the water filters this month, and cut back on the amount of web pots we ordered, we could do it.”  Duncan said.

 

“That won’t short us on any production will it?”  Snow inquired back.

 

“Not at all, most of what we were ordering in was for overstock for the new project, we can order those in next month and have them in time for the startup.  Duncan affirmed.

 

“Done deal then, I’ll make the adjustments, what did you come up with for pots?”  Snow asked.

 

The two went over the amounts and continued on with other items when Connie knocked on the door. Snow motioned for her to come in as Duncan had his back to her. “Yes Connie?”  Snow asked.

 

“Snow, there is a lady here to see you, she said to tell you it was Julia.”  Connie replied.

Duncan had looked back to Connie and saw her put a finger alongside her nose.  Duncan nodded.

 

“Connie, please show her up here.”  Duncan said.

 

“Oh, I can meet her in my office, I won’t be long Duncan, we are almost finished here aren’t we?”  Snow asked politely.

 

He looked back to Snow.  “Close, but I would like to go over a couple numbers first, get your thoughts on them.”  Duncan said waving at Connie to bring the woman up. Snow didn’t protest but she did give a shrug not understanding why he wanted Julia to come all the way upstairs only to be brought back down.

 

Connie brought Julia through the door at the front left side in front of the reception desk that led down a moderately lit hall that turned and went behind the back wall of Connie’s office where the filing cabinets were to the stairs that took them to the conference room above the offices.

 

“Sure, fine, I have no issue with that, if you want to put in some more vending machines, great.”  Snow was saying to Duncan as Julia was shown in, not understanding the importance of the issue, they weren’t any cost to the company.

 

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay with it before I said yes is all.  Julia, nice to see you, here have a seat.”  Duncan said and stood.

 

“Hi, thanks Duncan.”  Julia said as she put a finger along side her nose.

 

Snow crunched her forehead a bit noticing the gesture, the same as Connie had done.  She was about to say something about it when Julia turned her attention to her.

 

“Snow, hi, what are you working on?”  Julia asked sitting down where Duncan had been and looking at the papers.

 

“Oh, just material requests and stuff, you know, business things.”  Snow answered, she looked up in time to see Duncan exit the room.  Julia started asking questions about the papers and attempting to be interested in what Snow did.

 

Duncan sprinted down the stairs, Connie was holding the door open for him as he exited the hall and turned and ran into Snow’s office.  He ducked in behind her desk and grabbed her briefcase and dug inside.  Finding what he wanted he exited the office and went out of the office area onto the stairs.  As he passed Connie, she pointed up and put a finger next to her nose.

 

Duncan went down the stairs, when he reached the bottom he put a finger along side his nose as he looked at a man on the floor.  The man came to Duncan and the two reached out their hands to each other and Duncan palmed something to the man and he went outside. Duncan’s phone chirped, he had a text, it was from Connie, he ran back up the stairs and in the door.

 

“It’s not much to see, really.”  Snow was saying to Julia.

 

“I’m sure it’s nice, and I really want to see it.”  Julia replied.

 

“Don’t be rude Snow, show her your office if she wants to see it.”  Duncan said to Snow as he entered.

 

Snow looked over at Duncan, her face showed she was questioning the strange activities of those around her. “Okay, sure, if you insist.”  Snow said, turning back in time to see Julia drop her hand from her face.

 

Duncan put his finger next to his nose, looking at Julia.  Snow looked back at Duncan, he quickly dropped his hand. “Alright, what’s up?”  She finally asked.

 

“What are you talking about?”  Duncan said with a confused tone.  “Julia’s waiting to see your office, I need to go back to the floor, I’ll be up in a minute ok?”  Duncan said.

 

Snow held her hands out to her sides with a look that said she was lost between the two. “I was thinking I would go to Olivia’s with Julia for lunch, will you be joining us?” Snow said to Duncan.

 

“Sounds good, I’ll meet you in your office, okay?  I wont be long.”  Duncan said.

 

“Why don’t I take Julia now and you can meet us there?”  Snow questioned.

 

“Oh but I haven’t seen your office yet!”  Julia interjected quickly.

 

Duncan held his hands out at Snow.  “See, I’ll meet you there, be back in a few.”  He said and quickly headed out before Snow could object further.

 

Snow flapped her arms at her side.  “Okay.”  She said and led Julia to her office.

 

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The two were in Snow’s office for about ten minutes when Duncan finally arrived. “What’s taking so long, lets go if we are going to make the special.”  He said poking his head in the office then turning and heading back out.

 

“Okay, yeah we are going I guess.”  Snow said rising from her desk and grabbing her briefcase, digging inside as she and Julia walked out.

 

Julia was making conversation as they headed down the stairs when Snow stopped. “I can’t find my keys.”  Snow said to her.  “Must’ve left them on the desk.”

 

“No worries, I have my car, we’ll just take that.”  Julia said.

 

Snow was about to object when Duncan opened the exit door and leaned in. “Are you coming or what?”  He yelled up at them.  “Getting a little thin in the skin here.”

 

Snow stopped digging in her briefcase and shook her head. “Hurry up and wait then rush rush rush.”  She said and continued down the stairs.

 

Julia opened the door out of the lab for Snow while they chatted, following close behind.  Snow had her head turned back talking to Julia when she passed out the door.  When Snow looked forward, she stopped and started looking around the parking lot quick before returning her look to the black and red sports car sitting in her spot.

 

“Where’s my car?”  She asked, wondering what was up and not quite catching what all the secrecy had been about. 

 

Finally seeing Duncan on the other side of the car, and his truck still in its spot, her eyes widened.  Snow started closely looking the car over, moving first to the front, then walking around the back, then to where Duncan stood with the door lifted open.  Snow looked inside.  Her face was in a state of shock.  She backed up and looked at Duncan.

 

“Its a McLaren 12C.”  Duncan said. Snow stared at him still, unable to move as she listened to what he said. “It has a dual clutch and seven speed transmission, you can drive a stick right?”  Duncan asked.

 

Her mouth moved to speak but she only managed to nod.

 

“I don’t know what you know about cars, have you ever heard of a McLaren?”  He asked.

Snow started nodding again. “Key, or fob I should say is on the seat, just keep that fob on you and all you need is to push the start button.  I’ll see you in town.”  Duncan said.

 

Before he could turn to leave Snow leapt up off the ground thrusting herself at him wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and hugged him as hard as she dared. 

 

Snow let herself back to earth and was still speechless. The doors lifted up into the air from their hinges alongside the body, Julia opened the passenger door.

 

“Snow, lets take it for a spin.”  Julia said waiting for Snow to get in before she did. 

 

Snow moved her head in a circle, turned and eagerly took position behind the wheel, fob in hand, looking at it and then tucking it into a pocket.  Julia climbed in and fastened her seatbelt while Snow gazed at the interment panel and controls.  Finally she looked over at Julia with a shit eating grin on her face, and reached up to pull the door down and latch it. 

 

She started the car and tried the accelerator as she fastened her seatbelt, adjusted all the mirrors then found reverse.  Once backed up she familiarized herself with the shifter and which way the tree ran.  She moved slow out from the parking lot and onto the asphalt road, once out of the gravel parking lot, the engine roared through its gears. 

 

“Frell YEAH!”  Snow yelled inside the car as they launched down the road. 

 

Julia laughing as they raged along.  They were about half way to town when they were coming upon another car, Snow was over a hundred, downshifted and blew by Sheriff Hanks and shifted again with the needle passing one hundred sixty.  Snow didn’t even notice she passed the Sheriff.

 

Julia looked back and observed the lights of the cruiser come on, then as the car walked away from it, they turned off.  Julia laughed.

 

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They arrived at Olivia’s well before Duncan did.  They were seated and had their drinks, waiting to order until Duncan arrived.  When he finally did, Snow turned to him. “What took you so long, started to think you decided to stay at the lab.”  She said to him.

 

Duncan laughed and shook his head at her.  “I take it you like your new car?”  He asked her.

 

“Frell Yeah, a McLaren!  You are too nice Duncan, I can’t thank you enough for that.  I’m sorry I couldn’t say anything before, but thank you a million times thank you!”  Snow bubbled as Duncan sat beside her.

 

“Your reaction was thanks enough, I’m glad you like it.” Duncan said.

 

Snow guffawed.  “Like is an understatement.  That is an amazing car.”  Snow chimed.

“Yeah, well I think you made a friend.”  Duncan said pointing out the window to Sheriff Hanks who had walked up the sidewalk and was looking at the car, then he turned and looked in the window of the cafe.

 

“Are you folks ready to order.”  The waitress asked bringing their attention back into the cafe.

 

They placed their orders while the Sheriff walked in and came up to their table.  He looked right at Snow. “That your car out there?”  He asked her.

 

“It sure is Sheriff Hanks, Duncan just got it for me, sexy isn’t it?”  She said to him with an eternal grin.

 

The Sheriff’s head bobbed a little with a knowing laughing motion without actually laughing. “That it is, that it is Snow, and fast too.  McLaren, never head of it.”  The Sheriff said.

 

Snow smiled.  “It’s one of the best if you’re into top performance sports cars.  You should try one Sheriff Hanks, it’s quite an experience to drive.”

 

The Sheriff laughed this time for real.  “Yeah, I bet, thanks no, I’ll stick to things that don’t need a  chute to slow down, have a nice day Snow.”  He said and turned to the counter. “Alice, give me the special and that soup I like please, and a cup of mud.”  He told the waitress behind the counter.

 

Snow was smiling ear to ear, the car dominated the conversation until the food arrived.  The waitress was handing out the food when Duncan reached a hand out to Snow.

 

“Here, you’ll need this, garage door opener, you won’t want to park that outside.”  He said.

 

Snow was still beaming.  Part of her still hurt inside though, she knew the car was a specialty, not something you just went down and picked up.  He would have had to have ordered it while she was still treating him like shit.  Her remorse tugged at her through her joy.

 

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Thursday that week, Duncan knocked on the open door to Snows office, she was tucked in behind her monitors going over designs and production reports. “Snow?”  Duncan called out when she didn’t respond.

 

Moving in he looked over her monitors at her, she looked up startled, and pulled the ear buds out of her ears, then reached to turn the iPod off. “I’m sorry, was listening to music while working.”  Snow said, stating the obvious.

 

“Heh, no problem Snow, say, we are in good shape here, I’m not planning on coming in this weekend, and I don’t think you will be either,”  Duncan paused to give her a chance to respond, she shook her head, “why don’t we invite the team over to the house for a little socializing?”  Duncan asked.

 

Snow looked at her monitor, her face said she was considering the suggestion, her lips crunched on her face as she considered Duncan’s idea. “Sure, why not, might be fun.”  She answered.

 

“Alright then, what about Robert, should we include him?”  Duncan asked, though he didn’t mean it as a serious question.

 

Snow made a sour face, and shook her head.  Duncan laughed, she knew he was being cantankerous with his question.

 

“If you don’t mind, they might respond better if the invitation came from you.”  Duncan started, leaving the obvious about her being one of their kind out.  “Say around two, we can have a light brunch to start the day with and have steaks in the evening.  Won’t be long and it will be too cold to use the deck.”  He finished.

 

Snow nodded.  She agreed with the unspoken, it would be better to come from her, they wouldn’t refuse her.  She thought Duncan might have had that in mind when he asked her. 

 

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Duncan and Snow spent Friday and the early part of Saturday preparing the house for their guests.  Duncan had ensured there was a fresh tank of propane for the grill stowed nearby and now had it running so he could clean it good before the guests arrived. 

 

Snow was busy in the kitchen, her tasks included dicing and slicing.  She prepped the salad fixings for Duncan to put together.  Garlic diced and mushrooms sliced to be sautéed for the steaks, which again, Duncan would handle.  Snow had no problem admitting she lacked in the cuisine side of life. 

 

Her ‘cooking’ had been pretty much limited to peeling oranges and washing grapes.  When she food shopped, she grabbed fruits and vegetables for home, cutting up a melon or peeling was about all she did. Anything else was carry out. 

 

The snack trays and sandwiches for lunch she handled fine, not much to mess up there.  Duncan had an electric slicer in the kitchen so Snow was able to slice meat, cheese and veggies for the light sandwich brunch she and Duncan had told their guests would be served upon arrival. 

 

Julia had joined Duncan and Snow when they went shopping for wines the day prior that would be provided.  Snow and Julia made the selections while Duncan had a keg of imported beer put in the back of the Dodge.  He had requested the ladies pick up a Greg Norman Estates Cabernet Sauvignon to go with his steak.

 

They had driven to the big city, a couple hours drive, to make their selections as the city they lived in did not have a liquor store, and the one in the next closest city featured such fine beers as Old Milwaukee and upper shelf wines by Ernest and Julio Gallo.  In a small town such as the store was in one would be lucky to find a Kendal Jackson wine.

 

Now the steaks were another matter all together.  The local butcher shop had steaks that had been walking two days ago, and Duncan knew how to age them to perfection.  The same held true for the vegetable necessities for the evening, the local farmers market could not be beat. 

 

Since fall was setting in, Duncan had picked up half a truck of pumpkins at a barging price, along with corn stocks in several types including the multi colored Indian corn that was so popular for decorating, these he picked up at the right price, that being free.  The farmer wouldn’t charge a local for the items, ‘let them city folks pay the big bucks for it’ the man had said.  Duncan didn’t argue.

 

Duncan also picked up a free standing fire pit for the yard and some lawn chairs to set around so they would be able to enjoy the night away from work and experience how humans enjoyed the cool fall evenings, the simple pleasure of sitting around a fire and toasting marshmallows. 

 

They had set the pit up and chairs around it, decorated the yard for the fall season and even put up some party lights around the deck for the evening.  Duncan could tell Snow was enjoying the preparation for the approaching evening when they started, she really wanted the night. 

 

She made a comment to Duncan about how long it had been since she had been a part of a gathering of friends.  It was long before they first met at the Cromwell’s home. 

 

When Snow finished putting the steaks in the marinade, she walked out to the deck and looked out onto the yard.  Duncan was just finishing with the wire brush he was using to clean the grill.  She looked over at him and smiled and watched him for a minute. 

 

His sleeves on the fall shirt he wore were rolled up, showing his tanned arms, as much as they were for someone who spent most of their time inside an office.  What tan he did have ended at the sleeves of the tee-shirt he would wear while mowing the expanse of lawn on the John Deere rider. 

 

“Looks good.”  Snow said to Duncan looking at the grill.

 

“Thanks, amazing how much crap gets on the grate, even as little as we have used it.  Well, until you showed up, I hadn’t used it at all.”  He said as he stared at the grill. 

 

He put the brush into the basket on the front of the grill and turned it off.  He grabbed a bucket of soapy water that was on the table, closed the top of the grill and started washing the trays attached to the sides of the grill and the face of it down. 

 

Snow turned and looked back at the yard.  The wood Duncan had bought was stacked neatly off to one side a short distance from where he had placed the pit and chairs.  Snow remembered when the man and his son had delivered it the day before. 

 

They arrived in an old rusted out truck, the man had referred to it as his ‘tree basher’ for hauling wood.  The man was dirty, and smelt of oil and grime.  His scent said he hadn’t showered in several days, his smile showed of poor dental hygiene with yellow teeth and several from one side missing. 

 

The young boy with him wasn’t quite as dirty, but was also well overdue for a shower.  The man seemed friendly and though he made the boy work, he wasn’t mean to him and often made jokes with the boy as they took the wood from the truck they backed into the area near the fire pit and stacked it where Duncan had told them he wanted it.  

 

Snow could tell Duncan was putting so much effort into the evening for her.  She was very happy.

 

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Everything was in place and ready when their first guests showed up, even though they were a bit early.  It was one thirty as Julia and Mud pulled into the drive, Duncan and Snow were sitting in the living room and saw the car pull into the drive. 

 

Snow greeted them at the door, Duncan was standing by the back of the couch and greeted them as they walked in and took their coats and bags and placed them in the nearby closet, everyone settled down in the living room while they waited for the others.

 

“Can I offer you ladies some wine, Julia, I think you know what we have, anything in particular you would like to start with?”  Duncan asked.

 

“That white merlot, that looked interesting, Mud, you should try this, Duncan suggested it, it’s a table wine, very fruity he says.”  Mud nodded, her face a solid smile, an honest one.  Like Snow, she was looking forward to time with friends that didn’t involve hunting, and wasn’t in the house the team kept.

 

Two more cars pulled into the drive promptly at two.  The others had arrived, Snow and Duncan moved to the door and opened it before their guests made it to the door, eagerly awaiting them to enter and enjoy the day with them.  Max was in the lead, taking in his smile, Duncan braced himself for the surfer speak that was coming his way.

 

“Dunc-an.  My favorite hu-man.  Thanks for the invite man.”  Max said pleasantly surprising his host.

 

“Thanks Max.”  Duncan said as Max gave Snow a hug and shook Duncan’s hand then moved to join the others in the living room.

 

“Meadow, thanks for coming.”  Snow said, her voice carried her happiness.

 

“Duncan, good to see you.”  Meadow said as she greeted him and passed.

 

Christopher and his mate entered next.  He gave Snow a hug and shook Duncan’s hand as the others had. “We have never been introduced actually.”  Duncan said to Christopher’s mate.

 

Christopher turned around and stepped back to where Duncan was. “Oh, I guess I never did, did I.”  Christopher said, realizing that they had been lax about that when they first visited Duncan’s house, he felt small now, he had always just viewed Duncan as their human bait.

 

“Duncan, I’d like you to meet my mate, Golden Sunrise.”  Christopher said to Duncan as he took his mates hand and presented her to Duncan.

 

“Nice to meet you Golden Sunrise.”  Duncan said with a smile.

 

When he stuck out his hand to shake hers she leaned in and gave him a greeting hug instead. “Sunny.”  She said with a smile, indicating that was what she went by for a short name.

 

Their guests had all moved to the living room.  Duncan closed the door while Snow looked over at the living room.  When Duncan moved to pass by Snow and join the group, she grabbed his hand stopping him.  He turned to look at her. 

 

Snow reached up and put a hand on his shoulder with her fingers at the base of his neck and pulled him down towards her.  She lightly kissed Duncan on the cheek “Thank you.”  She whispered in his ear, then let go of him. Duncan straightened up and looked at her, Snow’s face beamed with happiness.

 

Duncan put his arm across his waist and bowed to Snow who laughed musically at him when he did this. Julia was watching this interaction between the two, the rest of the party was oblivious.  Julia gave Snow a pleased smile, she was happy the two of them finally mended their ways, finally acting like partners.

 

Duncan moved to the end of the island and faced the living room. “Ladies and gentlemen, since we are all here now, plates are on the end here.”  Duncan said and pointed to the plates on the end if the island in the kitchen.  “Shall we begin?  Snow will show you the way to the deck.”

 

Everyone rose and started to the food on the island.

 

“Oh, wow.”  Sunny said looking over the selection.

 

“Duncan, my man, when you put on a spread…”  Max said, holding his hands out towards the island.

 

“Oh, yes, this is such a nice changed from the food we get at the den house.”  Meadow said as her eyes took in the array of food before her.

 

Christopher clutched his chest over his heart with his right hand and held the other high out to his side and made a pained face. “Meadow, I’m hurt, my cooking isn’t acceptable?”  He said in a sorrowful voice.

 

Meadow gave him a playful shove as she took a plate and started moving around the island. “If you can call what you do cooking, I swear Moon, if you could get away with it you would give us dog food, just to save money.”  Meadow said with a light laugh as she made a sandwich on her plate. 

 

Julia guffawed and tried to cover with a cough, covering her mouth.  She kept her eyes on the island, trying not to laugh or give away what she knew.

 

Duncan looked over at Snow who was standing across the island by the hall waiting to show their guests to the deck.  She had an embarrassed smile on her face and was returning his gaze.

 

The precession moved on and Snow led the first guests to the deck, other soon had their plates ready and followed their noses to find the way to the deck.  When the last guest had her plate, Duncan grabbed the bottle of wine he had opened when Julia and Mud first arrived and took it along with another to the deck. 

 

They were all taking their places around the table under the umbrella, Max had found the keg chiller Duncan had moved out onto the deck for the event and was filling a glass.  He sniffed the brew as it topped off in his glass.

 

“Duncan, dude this smells great, Amstel?” Max asked taking a pull off his beer.

 

“Yes, it is, you have a good nose for beer.”  Duncan said with a successful smile.

 

Max moved to take a seat at the table where his plate waited for him.

 

“About all his nose is good for.”  Meadow said as she poked her mate in the side. The group laughed with Max and Meadow as they made faces at each other.

 

The mood was light and happy, all were enjoying the day together without being together for business reasons.  It was a good bonding time.  They needed it after the last mission.  Duncan had done this with his own team after a mission back in the city.  It was different after a mission then when his team was here to train. 

 

It was also good as it showed he and Snow were a real partnership now, that they were working together and would be a benefit to the team.  He had seen the questioning of them being together by the others, except for Julia and Mud, they seemed to have a different perspective from the beginning, even though Mud had not been to happy he was being included in werewolf customs.  She had finally accepted that if he was going to be with them, he would need to learn their ways.

 

Duncan pulled another cork and offered a choice to those who chose wine.  Though Mud had began with wine in the house, she said she wanted to try this other beer, she told Duncan the grain flavor of the beer tickled her mouth, and that she liked that.

 

Duncan went and fixed himself a plate with Snow at his side.  Once their plates were completed they joined their guests and took a seat with them.  As the team laughed together, without the completely obnoxious antics that had been portrayed by most prior, Duncan looked around and took them in. 

 

Though they were all well over two hundred years old, a few pushing three with the exception of Snow who was the youngster in the group, they all acted like men and women in their mid twenties to early thirties.  Duncan assumed given their extended lifespan they acted age appropriate, even though by werewolf standards they were about the same as Duncan by comparison.  Middle aged.  Duncan was forty-seven now.  He wondered if he would see his next birthday in a few months.

 

-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-The-Protectors-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-O-o-O-o-O-o-O-

 

When the brunch had been eaten and the guests and their hosts had set in to mingle in conversation and share adventures and items of their interest, Snow and Duncan took turns between clearing the table and putting away the excess.  One would always remain with their guests, when the one with the guests felt it was time that the other join in the companionship of the team, they would take over. 

 

The conversation turned to talk of life across the water.  Only Julia had ever been across the water, as she had journeyed from there to the colonies as she would call the states.  With the exception of Christopher and his mate the others were all born in the American states. 

 

Christopher and his mate Duncan learned, had been brought very young from what was now Russia.  Their families had come to help a small clan that had migrated to the states from their homeland.  When they arrived it was only a newly mated pair, a friend who had traveled with them and a small handful of turned. 

 

“So, none of you have ever been overseas?”  Duncan asked.

 

“Nope, no need to go unless summoned.”  Max informed him.

 

“The clans across the water are much different than they are here.”  Julia said.  “They are far more relaxed one might say, the clans here are very uptight, they are a shallow line, the blood is still fresh here.”  She went on.

 

Duncan looked at her, asking the question held in his face.  “Shallow?  How do you mean?”

 

“The clans here haven’t been around long, they haven’t set roots in, the colonies themselves aren’t all that old.  It wasn’t too long ago there weren’t any clans here, when the colonies were first formed, our people came here as, wherever humans go, vampires are sure to follow; but they were like our hunting teams.  Small groups from various clans across the water that were in charge of protecting the humans.” 

 

All eyes and ears were intent on Julia, seeing this she delved into a short history of the clans and their arrival in the states.

 

“When the colonies were young, there weren’t many, the populations were low and the people stayed in close proximity to one another.  The vampires tended to avoid the native savages of the land as they used wooden arrows to hunt, they chose not to endanger themselves, though they were human, they still might get a lucky shot in and take out one of the vampires.”

 

“Like ours, their numbers were low.  They were here mostly laying in wait for the population to become ripe and fat with people so they could start harvesting in greater numbers.  More humans meant more souls.  They came to establish a foothold here, and we followed to try and prevent this foothold.”  Julia poured herself some more wine and continued.

 

“The vampires, when they found out they could, would convince some of the natives that they were gods, and use some of them to feed on, and others they would allow to turn, but the natives weren’t so willing to turn their souls over to the darkness so these turned would go insane, they would attack their own people who would in turn shoot them with an arrow, killing the new vampire.” 

 

“The harvesting parties would often use this as entertainment, sending a unwilling turned loose on a neighboring tribe, and start a war, all for their amusement.  They would do this across the land, away from the colonies so they would not become suspicious of their presence.  Our people eventually put an end to this, taking out the sect of vampires that were doing this.”  Julia paused for a sip of wine and looked at her attentive audience.  Their eyes urged her to continue.

 

“The populations among the colonies was starting to rise, though they battled the cold and food shortages, they were starting to prosper.  They began expanding and spreading out.  More werewolves had ventured over to assist, as the vampires had also fortified their numbers, some from across the water, some from turned members of the colonies.” 

 

“Two mated that had been born here from a noble clan returned across the water to report to the Exalted Master of Clans and the Grand Inquisitor about the status of the colonies and the bands of werewolves that protected the land.  The two mated were from the Clan of the Highland Citadel, the lineage of the Grand Inquisitor.  Though their mating had been approved by the noble clans, they had never had an official ceremony of mating, nor the opportunity to declare as all nobles are allowed.  During their visit across the water the ceremony of the mating was performed before the noble clans and their houses.” 

 

“It was decided that the couple would be granted clan status for the states should they ask at their declaration.  Which they did, and as is the custom, the patriarch of the mated was granted the choosing of his clan name.  He chose the name of Westbridge, as they would be the first official clan on the new world of the west.”  Julia paused, drank some wine and reflected a bit before continuing.

 

“It was some time after clan Westbridge was formed and was well established in the colonies that a young unmated noble, Sir Reginald Thunderfist took allegiance with clan Westbridge and traveled to the colonies and took to live among them.  It was his intention that he would turn a mate from the colonies and establish his clans line there, he was from House Trust, Clan of the Moors, the Exalted Master of Clans line.  While he was with clan Westbridge, a mated pair from the noble clan the Clan of York took their name and traveled to the colonies to do the same for their line, this was clan Clay.”

 

“When the young noble from Clan of the Moors finally selected his mate, he returned with her, he had not turned her yet as she was yet to be approved by the High Bishops or the Supreme Bishop of Clans himself.  Once in Ireland, this woman was scrutinized, it was because of the young nobles logic in choosing her that the bishops finally gave her the nod and allowed the mating, though they had reservations.  They had said there was something in her scent that they did not know.” 

 

“Not knowing what to fully make of it they put it behind them, aside from that, there was no reason not to approve the turning and mating.  The young nobles reasons for this woman were that she came from part of the upper echelon of the new human society in the colonies, it was his logic that mating with someone of status among the humans would give him an in with them, and with the support of his house of his line, he would be able to establish himself among the business elite, thus giving him access to the powerful and the ability to sniff out any scent of taint or darkness.” 

 

“It was at his declaration he called upon the right to invoke and was asked which right he wished to invoke.  He invoked the right of acceptance, which is the right a noble has at the founding of their clan to accept into their clan a renegade, rogue or that of outcast status and cleanse them of their misgivings and give them a new home under the nobles clan name, a second chance, all is forgiven and expunged from all record.” 

 

“The right was granted and he took with him two outcast that were mated and two rogue that were mated, he declared his new clan name as that of Clan Frost.”  Julia stopped and looked over to Snow, who was looking down at her lap, the story all too familiar to her. 

 

Snow regretted what was coming next in the story.

 

“Had the matriarch of House Trust, Clan of the Moors not been called away before the ceremony of mating, she would have denounced the choice of her son, but she was not able to return until the mating had already been accepted, and the ceremony was underway.  She still could have called the ceremony to halt, but she cast doubt on her own senses, said she must be off from the journey and the stress of the matter she had attended to and was being over protective of her young noble son.  Had she had the normal time alone with the mate he had chosen, this never would have happened.” 

 

“It was after the ceremony the couple returned to the colonies and began their life as leaders of clan Frost.  It was but a few years into the relationship the young noble became aware of the regrettable choice he had made.  The woman was of a dark soul, filled with greed of money and the lust for power.  Once the clan was well established she began calling for the other clans to bow before the clan of Frost.”

 

“She felt as their clan was of the line of the Exalted Master of Clans it was their place to assume leadership of the clans.  She would not accept that the three lines, those of the line of the Grand Inquisitor and the Supreme Bishop of the Clans were to share equally in the duties of leadership.  She, by her actions and declarations, brought the clan of Frost into dishonor.” 

 

“Clan Clay grew and distinguished itself as superior hunters ahead of Clan Westbridge.  Due to their size and clan expansion, soon they had the majority of members from their Clan of Elders within the body of the Elders of Clans.  As Clan Frost was in dishonor, they held no seats within the Elders of Clans and clan Westbridge was left in the minority, and clan Clay elevated itself, without any formal authority, over the other clans.”  Julia looked over at Duncan

 

“This is the power struggle between the clans now, they are all grabbing for power, had clan Frost not been placed in dishonor, this would not be happening, there would be a ground for establishing a true clan of leadership over the clans.  This is the shallow part of the clans, their lineage is new, it has no depth to anchor it, it is shallow.” 

 

“The elders across the water are too far removed to be effective here and they know it.  They try to maintain order the best they can, but without a noble clan from a union between the two lines of the Exalted Master of Clans and the Grand Inquisitor or that of the Bishop of Clans, there is no clan all the clans will accept and acknowledge as heir to the thrown as it were.  Sadly, werewolf society is not immune to quest for political power over another clan.”  Julia ended.

 

Duncan already knew the rest about how Snow had been put in dishonor, aided by her mother so a union between the firstborn noble son of the clan Westbridge or Clay would not be allowed.  Then it was Snow’s own actions, her piercings and dark demeanor, that made her unsuitable to any other born werewolf as a mate.

 

Snow sat straight and clapped a hand on the table.  “Enough of this melancholy story, we came here to enjoy ourselves, minstrel, a song!”  She said jumping from her seat and flailing her arms at Max as she spoke.

 

“Oh no, please tell me he doesn’t sing.”  Duncan said in a feigned voice of horror.

 

“Ah, good sir, not only do I sing, but I dance too!”  Max said as he sprung from his chair and began singing a ditty while clapping his hands and dancing around in a clumsy manner.

 

The rest of the group started laughing at his antics. 

 

Christopher attempted a joke which ended with Julia grabbing her stomach. “GROAN!”  Julia said when it was finished. The others laughed more from her response than the attempted humor.

 

There was a lull in the action and Max made his way to his car with his mate, and returned with an acoustic guitar, followed by Meadow with a banjo.

 

“Oh no, he’s going to sing again!”  Mud announced with mock horror.  “My ears are going to bleed I can tell.”  She finished as Max stuck his tongue out at her.

 

“Alright, alright, I need a fresh beer before I start, Julia if you would please.”  Max said as he set himself up in a chair with Meadow at his side. 

 

Julia attempted the draft but ended up creating more foam than anything.  Duncan came to her aid and showed her how to tip the glass when she filled it.  Once Max had his beer he drank about half in a long pull, then set the glass down and called his captive audience to his attention.

 

“Ok, we’re going to start with a little number known as the Tennessee Breakdown, very popular among clans everywhere, if it’s not, well screw ‘em’”  Max said ending with a laugh.  “Alright Meadow, lead us off.”

 

Meadow started a roll on the banjo then took off into some serious runs as Max joined in.

The two started singing in harmony.

 

“Swing one, swing two, swing the girl you want to, swing her east swing her west, swing the girl that you like best.” They continued on with the instrumental part as the rest on the deck began clapping along and laughing, everyone was enjoying the live performance.

 

When they finished their first song, Max and Meadow conferred between themselves as to what song to do next.  Duncan leaned over to Snow.  “He’s actually pretty good, that was not what I was expecting.” 

 

“Like I said,” Snow responded turning to Duncan and tugging on his collar to straighten it, “we are a festive people, music is a large part of any festivity.”  Snow ended with a cantankerous smile.

 

“So, you play anything?”  Duncan asked.

 

“Alright, its been decided that we must do dueling banjoes.”  Max announced before Snow could answer.  “However I must make a change here, I won’t be able to keep up on this here flat top with my lover.” He reached down to a smaller case next to him and pulled out a mandolin.  Max checked the tuning of the instrument and looked over to Meadow. “You ready?”  He asked her.

 

“Question is, are you ready, keep up if you can my lover.”  Meadow said and started the slow progression on her banjo.  Max strummed his reply to her challenge.  The two went back and fourth several times, getting faster with each round and finally broke into a full out gallop. 

 

The music and conversation worked on until Duncan stated he best get the steaks going if they were going to eat before dark.  They had covered a wide variety of music when they played, from the bluegrass sound to some rock and roll, all in all it was a very entertaining time.  They continued playing while Duncan fired up the grill.  Snow and Julia helped carry out the dishes and utensils that would be used for the cooking and dining. 

 

Max had asked Duncan if he was sure that was beef and not kangaroo he was cooking.  Duncan ribbed him back.  Christopher and Sunny helped put the plates and silverware in place when they were brought out. 

 

Duncan was manning the grill and Christopher joined him and even filled Duncan’s glass for him while he cooked.  The two started talking and continued even while the meal was served.  The ladies broke off and brought out the side dishes and other food items that were to go with the steaks and Christopher brought plates to Duncan to put the steaks on as he cooked them to people’s liking.  Once everything was ready, Max and Meadow returned their respective instruments to their cases and put them inside the house. 

 

When the meal was done, Duncan went to the fire pit to ready the fire.  Christopher followed as the two men continued talking and help crumple up newspaper that would start the fire.  The others all joined forces and cleaned up the after dinner mess and escorted the dishes into the house for placement into the dishwasher. 

 

Duncan looked up at the deck when he heard Snow’s laughter once, he smiled, it was good to see her enjoying herself so.  He understood the cold time she had lived through.  Didn’t sound like there were many laughs in her life.  He hoped that was changing.

 

“It’s too bad you two can’t be mated, you’re good for each other.”  Christopher said when Duncan turned back from looking at Snow.

 

Duncan started putting wood on top of the crumpled paper.  “Thanks.”  He said, then looked up at Christopher.  “Thanks.”  He said again with a smile.

 

The party moved out to the fire in the yard.  They took turns putting wood on the fire and Snow went to the house to bring roasting forks and marshmallows for all.  Duncan showed them how the roasting of the marshmallow was done, there were several burnt mallows before they got the hang of it, they were all enjoying the experience. 

 

“So this is what humans do around their fires at night huh?”  Max asked.

 

Duncan looked over at him.  “Sometimes, we also roast hotdogs and other things.”  He stared into the fire and his mind drifted for a moment.  “I haven’t done this since I was a kid actually.  Been too caught up in the work a day world.  Been too long since I slowed down and actually enjoyed the simple things in life, like sitting around a fire.”  He said, motioning to the flames in the pit.

 

Max nodded.

 

“I can see why humans like this, it is enjoyable.”  Christopher commented.

 

“It’s so peaceful out here.”  Julia added.

 

The sounds of the night danced in their ears, crickets and the last of the birds nesting down.  The sound of an owl could be heard off in the distance.  Even the far off cry of a wolf from the direction of the mountains came across the plains.

 

“That’s not Robert calling us to work is it?”  Duncan asked jokingly

 

The party laughed at his comment. “Na, Roberts to sophisticated now days to degrade himself into his wolf form.”  Max said, his voice carrying a note of loss.

 

“So tell me, why is it that you all are so new to being out in the country like this?”  Duncan finally asked as the fire was growing low. 

 

“We spend most of our time in the city, that’s where our work keeps up mostly.  Max here was a trainer and rarely left the den until he was put out here with us.”  Julia said.

 

“I lived in the country for a while, but that was a long time ago.”  Mud said poking a stick into the embers of the fire.

 

“Truth is, were-kind used to spend a lot of time in the woods, but as times changed, so did we, we lost touch with our natural side, it became all about the work, training.”  Christopher said.

 

They were sitting quietly, each lost in their own thoughts remembering back to times they had fond memories of when a smell came into the breeze, even Duncan was able to smell it.  They all looked up.

 

“Flyers!”  Max yelled just as a light on the side of the door to the house started flashing.  They were just getting out of their chairs when a streak of fire went across the sky, ending in a fireball at one of the buildings in Duncan’s yard.

 

“Move!”  Max ordered loudly, even though all were already out of their chairs and making for the house.  The sound of ugly wings could be heard in the air now, along with them, the curdling sound of vampire screeches.

 

“They hit one of the generators.”  Duncan said as they piled into the house as Snow held the storm door open for them.

 

The house had already started securing itself, any open windows were now closed and the steel curtains were already down and locked.  Duncan had barely closed and secured the back door when a rocket hit the side of the house they were at.  The concussion of the blast was loud in the house but its structure didn’t give. 

 

Duncan had to assume the other blasts they heard were the other generators being taken out.  The moved into the kitchen where Duncan pulled aside a panel in the wall with a smaller version of his main control panel in the basement behind it, he brought the monitors up so they could see what was going on outside.

 

He could see he was right about the other generators as they burned in the night.  Then the lights in the house went out.  They had taken out the substation again.  The soft blue light of the emergency lighting came on.

 

“Great, I’m cutting back to only the systems we need, the house batteries will hold for about 4 hours, longer maybe if I cut back.”  He said as he operated the controls.

 

Max was looking at the monitors in the kitchen, the others around the house turned off.  They wouldn’t need them now.

 

“What the hell are they wearing?”  Max said with a worried tone. The others turned to look at the monitor.  The vampires were covered in black suits with goggles on them, they looked like some type of alien creatures.

 

Duncan moved in to have a look.  “Looks like some sort of environmental suit.”  He said as he zoomed a camera in. 

 

The cameras had been acquired from the company before he left, they had high end night vision, though the light from the fires did help.  Several more rockets slammed into the front of the house, one right on the door, the house took the blasts without any problem.

 

Everyone glanced to the front of the house with worried looks.

 

“Look like waterproof suits with some sort of welding goggles.  They obviously know about our lights.”  Duncan said, looking back to the monitors, his voice both angry and with a note of depression.

 

Max pulled out his smart phone and punched at it.  “Everyone turn on your beacons, we are going to need help, we probably won’t get any, but we at least have to let them know we’re in trouble.”  He looked up to his team members.  “We are expendable.”  He said in a serious tone, carrying the gravity of their situation with his words.

 

“All our gear is outside in the cars.”  Mud said.  “What do we have to fight back with?” 

 

The blast of several rockets hit the house, these were considerably larger then the last.  Everyone looked in the direction of the blasts, their faces covered in worry.

 

“The house will hold from most any rocket attack, even with armor piercing shells.  They will need something mounted on a truck of some kind to penetrate this armor, lets hope they don’t have that, or very many rockets left.”  Duncan said, concern on his face. 

 

He had built the house to be tank proof, but there was a limit to that with today’s modern designs.  If the vampires had access to the artillery they had already used, they may very well have access to the weapons needed to blast their way in, either way, he figured they knew about his house, and how to get to the people inside.  The clock was ticking for them.

 

“Sadness, how much of your arsenal do you have in the house?”  Max asked hurriedly. 

 

She was shaking her head as she thought. “My sword, some holy water bottles, a few bolts, most of it’s in the sedan in the garage.”  She replied.  And they were cut off from the garage and their cars. 

 

“Duncan, is there anything you can do from in here?”  Max asked.

 

“Not a hell of a lot, without the generators I can’t fire the lights, and I think their suits are designed to protect them from those as well.  The sprinklers wont be any good either for the same reason.”  Duncan informed Max.  “There is a tunnel to the garage from the basement, the garage is as protected as the house, but even with the gear Snow has in the sedan, it isn’t enough.” 

 

The faces around were grim.  Their options were slim.  All had the same thought regarding the house, their enemies would be coming in soon.

 

Duncan was working the scenario.  “If we could get through their suits, I could fire the sprinklers near the house.  The house batteries wont last long driving the high volume pumps, but they will for a little while.”  He put out to the team.

 

Max shook his head.  “But how are we going to get the suits off?  If we go out there and try and rip them off we will be slaughtered and probably only get to a few of them.”

 

Duncan was thinking, he held a finger up.  Max waited for him to put what he was thinking together. “I have a diesel generator under the tank room of the basement, and the fuel tank is in the tank room.  We may be able to pipe the fuel into the sprinkler line, and if the pumps don’t detonate the fuel, pump it out onto the vampires.  Then we just need to ignite the fuel somehow.  I have a flair gun in the truck in the garage.  We could use that to start the fire, and their suits look like they are made of some kind of plastic, probably bulletproof, but not fireproof.”  Duncan looked up at Max.

 

Max was mulling over the option Duncan had presented, it wasn’t a very hopeful option, but it was about all they had without help which had given no sign of showing up.

 

“MAX!”  Julia screamed.  Max looked at her in haste.  She was pointing to one of the monitors.  Max’s face went white when he looked at the monitor.  Other members of the team murmured their distress.

 

“Frell!”  Snow ejected in an angry voice.  “It’s Alexander.”  She announced even though the rest of her team already knew who the large form was that was striding across the yard on the monitor. 

 

“It...it’s...it’s...Alex-, Alexander.”  Max stammered, Duncan watched as the team leader turned to jelly before him. 

 

Snow charged out of the kitchen and up the stairs. 

 

Duncan looked up as she ran off.   “Wonderful, it’s Alexander, we need to move and move fast.  SNOW!”  Duncan said to Max then yelled in the direction of the stairs.

 

“We’re dead, we’re dead, we can’t beat him, its over.”  Max stammered as he stared at the monitor.

 

Snow appeared back in the kitchen, she was in her uniform and had her sword in hand.

 

“Snow, what the hell do you think your going to do?”  Duncan said.

 

Snow just looked at him, Duncan didn’t like the answer in her eyes.  He started shaking his head. Suddenly the house shook, the front wall exploded into the house.  A large blood red fist entered the house about two feet through the hole it had made in the armored wall of the house in one blow.

 

Duncan shook Max.  “We are moving now!  You need to be with us, get it together.”  Duncan said to him as he pulled him towards the stairs to the basement, next to the stairs that let up.  The others followed, all except for Snow.

 

“Down, move, move, move!”  Duncan shouted as he let the team pass down the stairs.

 

Snow wasn’t among them, Duncan looked back to the kitchen, Snow stood there looking at her sword as she held it upright in front of her face.  He didn’t like the look of that. “Snow, no.”  Duncan said as he ran up to her.  “You need to come with us.”

 

Snow turned her head to look at Duncan.  Her face was filled with sadness, her eyes told him there was no changing her mind.  Duncan felt himself go cold, his stomach turned.  He was slowly shaking his head as he looked at her.

 

“It’s my time Duncan Galt.”  Snow said softly while the sound of the side of the house being pushed in could be heard, the fist had retracted and Alexander was ripping one wall back while pushing the other in. “Time to settle an old score.  Get the others out, I’ll do what I can.”  Snow said, and turned from Duncan and started towards the growing hole in the house.

 

As much as he hated himself for it, Duncan didn’t hesitate, his training took over.  He was down the stairs and with the others in a second.  “Alright, this way to the tunnel.” Duncan said as he took the lead.

 

“Where’s Sadness?”  Christopher asked.

 

Duncan didn’t respond.

 

 

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