I dreamt I was falling. Plunging from a great distance, it was both exhilarating and terrifying. The wind rushing past smelled of the sea and for a moment it seemed that I was falling though the ocean. I even saw a few starfish floating past.
As I alternated between wanting to scream in terror and wanting to laugh in delight, I heard my son. Searching around the deep blue space I was plunging through, I found him below, looking up at me.
Sunlight bounced off the jet black hair that marked him as a bone fide Adams. The pale eyes glittered with delight as he extended his arms like he was soaring. I smiled at him as he giggled. Just as I was wondering where my daughter was, he shook his head. "Don't worry, Mommy. We're magic, remember?"
I tilted my head at him and then he was gone. A bat hovered in his place and I laughed out loud that my son had finally mastered the impossible trick that he and Nika practiced so often.
A voice back in the real world slowly started bringing me to awareness. Unlike my dream, this sweet, high-pitched tremble belonged to my daughter. I could smell fear in the air along with something faintly familiar, but my hazy brain phased in and out of consciousness, not able to focus on anything for longer than a couple seconds.
I felt the end of the bed compress and heard and smelled the sweetness of my daughter crawling up to me. Adjusting the sheets around my naked body, I automatically reached down for her, pulling her up to me. Her entire body shook, and thinking she was cold against my dead flesh, I pulled the quilt off of Teren's body and wrapped it around hers; he didn't need it anyway.
My daughter's shaking didn't stop any once she was bundled. She clung to me, not wanting the barrier even though she seemed cold. "Mommy?" she whispered, her voice trembling too.
Sleepily, I patted her back and kissed her head. "It's alright, Nika, go back to sleep." Teren shifted beside us, inhaling for the first time in hours as he woke up a little.
Nika shook her head under my lips. "Mommy...monster."
Half in and out of sleep, I pulled her tight and mumbled, "Shhh, baby. It was just a bad dream. Go to sleep, honey."
She shook her head harder and I cracked open my eyes, my glow highlighting her quivering lips, her wide eyes. Seeing me more awake, she shook her head again. "No, Mommy...monster in my room," she whimpered, still scared.
Teren yawned, awakened further by her distress. "It's okay, Nika, you're safe, Daddy's here," he mumbled, flipping over to put an arm around where she was huddled in-between us.
Seeing Teren's peaceful face returning to a place of rest, my eyes started fluttering closed. I nestled my head in my daughter's hair. "Daddy's right, baby. You're safe. There are no such things as monsters."
Somewhere in my hazy brain I noted the irony of me saying that to her, considering what we were. Floating back into sleep, I heard Nika's sniffles growing louder, along with her tremors. "Mommy...wake up."
I popped an eye open, trying to fight the desire to just ignore her and let that peace wash over me. Maybe she'd pieced things together about why so many people had been camping out with us lately and it had frightened her. She did seem genuinely scared.
Her little heat-pack hands came up to cup my cheeks and I opened my eyes wider. Seeing the dark depths of hers, I saw the sheer terror in them and felt a hot tear splash on my arm. Fighting through the fog of waking up, I frowned. "Baby, you're safe. Mommy and Daddy have you." Teren's arm around her tightened, silently agreeing with me.
In a whisper that even I could barely hear, she said, "Monster took Julie."
I opened my mouth to automatically tell her that monsters weren't real, when I finally felt it. Teren and I sat bolt upright at the exact same time. We looked at each other for the briefest fraction of a second as fear washed through every part of me. Nika was right - Julian wasn't in the house.
We sprang out of bed, blurring on any clothes we could find nearby while Nika watched us, tears on her cheeks as she sat small and alone on our bed. I ended up in Teren's work shirt and a pair of my lounge pants that I'd tossed in the corner a couple of days ago. I couldn't have cared less though. My son was no longer in my sanctuary. Pure ice flooded my body, my soul.
"Stay in the house with her, I'm getting Julian," Teren said, tossing on some pants and immediately phasing from the room. I could sense him streaking towards the front door and scooped Nika up, following. Seeing her parents in action, Nika started to sob. Her terror mixed with mine, amplifying it.
The blurb on my personal radar that was Julian was moving fast, away from us, in a southerly direction. I had no idea why Julian would leave his bed in the middle of the night. I had no idea why he'd go outside, much less run away from us. When Teren was at the entryway and I was at the top of the stairs, I felt something change. Julian's position turned around, started coming back to us. Holding my breath, I locked eyes with my husband as he looked up at me. "He's coming back," he muttered.
I nodded. "Go get him." He had the door open before I even finished nodding. I heard yawns and whispers from my mom and sister as I felt my husband streaking to meet up with my son. I was still holding my breath. Nika was still sobbing uncontrollably. Staring at the door below me, I felt my mom and Ash stumble from their room to enter the hallway with me.
"Em? What's going on?"
Ashley reached out for a distraught Nika and I woodenly handed her over, still not pulling my gaze from the door, waiting for Teren to burst through it with our wandering son. I could feel him closing the distance as Julian's slower blurb sped towards his.
My mom put a hand on my back, asking what was wrong. I couldn't speak, and only Nika answered. In between sobs, she got out, "Monster took Julie."
My stomach tightened at her words. No. She must have had been having a weird dream, like the dream I'd awoken from. Kids were rarely taken from the homes, from their beds, especially vampire children. That just couldn't have been what happened. He must have heard something and wandered away. With his super ears, he could have heard something blocks from here. Maybe he'd drifted farther than he'd intended and was streaking back to us because he was scared. Feeling Teren almost on him, I closed my eyes. Nika's wailing in the background amplified my stress. For the first time since my death, I felt a phantom thumping in my chest. A fake heartbeat.
Just as Teren was almost on him, everything I'd ever known...changed.
My eyes flew open as I gasped. "No," was all I got out before I lost the ability to stand up straight. Falling to my knees in front of the stair's railing, I gripped it with every ounce of strength I possessed; it snapped in two.
My mother's arms were instantly around me as I clutched my stomach. "What's wrong, Emma?"
Her warm, pudgy body gave me no comfort as I rocked back and forth on my heels. Shaking my head, I could only mutter, "No," over and over, like it was suddenly the only word I knew.
From somewhere in the night, a yell ripped through the quiet streets. I knew my husband's voice and covered my ears. No, this could not be happening. Even my mother heard his scream and started shaking. Maybe not registering that he'd made that sound, she asked, "What's out there?"
I had no answer for her; I had no coherent words at all, only the beginnings of a long grief-filled wail of my own. Hearing my daughter's pained cries behind me, I clamped my hand over my mouth and forced myself to not scream. It was hard. I felt like my entire body had shattered into a thousand pieces. Tears stung my eyes as a face in my memory filled my watery vision.
My son. My first born. My carbon copy of the man I loved...was gone.
Sucking in breaths, trying to not scare Nika anymore than she already was, I ignored my mother and sister's concerned questions and panicking voices. I felt my husband's presence stop in my head, felt his location jerk back and forth aimlessly. Julian was gone. The blip of him in my head that told me where he was at every moment and time, had vanished. Like someone had thrown off a light switch, it had just stopped spouting his location to me. By Teren's scream, I knew he'd lost him too. That only meant one thing in my mind:
Julian was dead.
Hyperventilating on the air I didn't need, I felt cool tears surging down my cheeks. Staring at everything, but seeing none of it, I started muttering, "He's gone...he's gone."
Nika started wailing my name and I heard Ashley coo in her ear, rubbing her back. I felt Teren start to return to me in a circular pattern, back and forth, searching, searching for our son's body.
I shot to my feet, startling my mother back a step. No...I couldn't stomach my son's lifeless form being brought back to the house in my husband's arms. That would surely unhinge me. I had to find him. I had to see where and how and....why.
I started to streak downstairs, but my mom clenched my arm. I turned back to her, not even seeing her.
"Emma? What happened?" Her voice was clipped, short, her eyes murky with unshed tears. Looking at her for the first time since noting Julian's absence, I finally heard the hearts thumping around me. All three pulsating beats in the hall were hard, surging with adrenaline. For an odd moment, I wondered if Julian's heart had surged...before it stopped.
Not feeling like it was even me speaking, I shakily told her, "Julian left the house."
Her eyes widened as tears flowed down her cheeks and she pushed my body towards the stairs. "Then go get him!"
I shook my head, looking between her and my sister. "I can't." I shrugged, feeling pieces of my soul crumbling apart.
Ashley held Nika to her tight, my daughter wrapping every limb around her as she cried for her brother, her twin. "Why can't you? Where's Teren?"
Her eyes looked around for him while I shrugged again. "He's searching, but he doesn't know where to look."
My mother grabbed my face, shaking me from my daze. "You can feel him, go get him, Emma!"
I blinked, a sob rising in me. "I can't...I can't feel him anymore."
My mother's mouth dropped as fat tears splashed on her skin. "No...does that mean he's...?" She couldn't finish saying what I most feared and the unspoken word reverberated in the air.
I nodded, not able to say it either, especially with Nika listening.
Both Mom and Ashley gasped, then choked on their grief. Twisting from the sight of so much internal damage, I made to flee from it - towards my grieving husband who was madly searching where he'd last felt our son. "I need to help Teren...find his body."
I could not believe those words had just left my mouth.
As my vision clouded to a point where I couldn't even see the stairs anymore, I flew myself down them. My hand reached out for the knob of our once beautiful front door; every once beautiful thing seemed dull and lifeless to me now. Twisting the knob so hard the metal warped, I nearly pulled the elaborate decoration off its hinges. My daughter's voice stopped me a split second before I streaked away.
"Julie's so scared, Mommy."
I gasped, twisting my body to stare up at my daughter. Her tiny head was resting on Ashley's shoulder, her light hair mixing with my sister's darker shade. I took a step back to her, feeling like my legs were Jell-o, and any second I was going to cave to the floor again. Staring up at her, disbelieving, I murmured, "Do you feel him, sweetheart? Do you feel what he's feeling...right now?"
The hope blossoming in my chest was nearly as painful as dying had been. At that moment, I would have preferred another conversion. Every breath in the house stopped as everyone focused on my daughter, the one person on this earth who would know with absolute certainty if my son was still alive. Ticking the long seconds off in my head, I held my breath, terrified of her answer.
Nika swallowed repeatedly, hiccupping with her fading sobs. Finally, she nodded. "He's scared," she whispered.
My hands came to my mouth as a sob broke free from me. If he was scared...he was alive. I felt streaks rushing to me in my head. So many were moving towards me at one time that it felt like my world was imploding. The other vampires had felt the disconnect with Julian and were racing here, to find out why. I'd have no answers for them once they got here, none but - he's alive.
But my husband was my main concern. He believed our son was dead; I couldn't just let him continue to believe that, it would eat him alive. Wishing I could call him to me with just the connection we had, I hovered at the door. Torn between flying to him and flying to my daughter, to question her on everything she knew, I debated. Just as I started to move towards Nika, I felt Teren's presence shift towards mine. Our pull kicked in when he did. A dull sense of homecoming started to burn in me but I ignored it. This reunion wasn't going to be our usual sweet one. This one would give me no satisfied peace. I didn't think I'd ever feel satisfied peace again.
Maybe sensing his family approaching, Teren was blurring back to me, to strategize on how best to find where our son lay lifeless. I twisted back to the door, eager to tell him that Julian wasn't gone. He may have vanished, but he wasn't gone.
He phased into the house, nothing more than a trick of the lights to any human eyes. I inhaled him as he went past, the world dancing off his skin as a small rush of reunion washed over me. It was nothing though, nothing compared to the void in my chest. Dirt, grease and garbage filled my senses as he stopped just inside the door. His bare chest streaked with mud, his hands dirty, his slacks filthy, I had to assume that Teren had been ripping apart...everything. Anything he could to find our son. Glancing down his body, my eyes watered at the blood smeared across his bare feet. He'd already healed, but he'd ripped his skin apart, searching in vain.
Tears fell from his eyes as he looked back at me as I closed the door; his eyes watched the wrought iron ominously as it cut off the path to our lost kin. "Emma," he croaked out, "I couldn't...I couldn't find him. He's gone. He's not there anymore. I could smell him, but it's windy tonight...it was faint...and then it just stopped." Tears ran down his face and he started to breathe heavy, like he was hyperventilating. "There's nothing there..."
He didn't mention the disconnect we'd all felt, he didn't need to. A lonely ache filled my body that I no longer had that bond with Julian. It was like someone had come up and severed a nerve in my body and half of me was numb and useless. The emotional pain of separation was so great, I felt an actual pain in my silent chest.
My hands were immediately on Teren's face, tears falling in the space between us. "He's alive, Teren."
He peeled his eyes from the door to stare at me; I could see that same painful hope I'd felt earlier blazing in them. "What?"
I twisted his face around to our daughter, silently crying on Ashley's shoulder. "She feels him...he's alive."
Teren's jaw dropped open as he looked up at the only connection to our son. "Baby, is Julian okay?" he whispered, his voice warbling.
Fat tears sliding down her cheeks, she shrugged. "He's scared, Daddy...really scared."
Teren closed his eyes, moisture squeezing out between his lashes. Lifting those wet lashes, he narrowed his eyes at Nika. "Is he...hurt? Does he feel pain right now?"
Nika raised her head, tilting it. Slowly, she started shaking it. "No...just scared."
Teren exhaled, crumbling over as he dropped his face into his hands. "Oh, thank god," he muttered. Glancing up at me, his voice wavered, "I thought, I thought he'd..."
Nodding, I threw my arms around his waist. I'd thought that too. We clung to each other as I felt his family draw even nearer. Nika crying amid the sniffles of everyone else in the home drew our attention and we separated, blurring up to her. Feeling calmer now that I knew that he was still breathing, that he wasn't in pain, I pulled Nika from my sister. Her arms wrapped around my neck as she attached to me. Teren's arms encircled us both. Just as my mother and sister joined our group hug, the front door burst open; it cracked the wall it hit it so hard. Both Mom and Ash jumped, but Teren, Nika and I only looked down. We'd felt her approaching.
Blood red tear tracks down her pale white skin, Halina flew into the entryway. Her eyes were on us immediately. "Teren?" was all she got out before her voice closed up.
Releasing us, Teren shook his head. "He's alive. Nika feels him."
"He's scared," I whispered, tears dripping off my chin.
Halina staggered, her hands coming to her face as she swayed for a second. Then her head snapped up. "Where is he? Why can't we feel him?"
Teren looked back at our daughter. "I don't know," he whispered. Nika looked over to him and held her hands out. Teren scooped her up, walking her downstairs. As our entryway again filled back up with people, he stroked her back. She wrinkled her nose at the smell emanating from him, but didn't stop clutching him. Meeting eyes with his great-grandmother, he set his lips in a hard line. I could feel a tension in the air as I stepped beside him.
Imogen and Alanna flew into the house, both still dressed in pajamas like they'd been aroused in the middle of the night from a deep sleep. I suppose they had; Halina was the only Adams that stayed up all night long. Their questions filled the air as Teren stared at Halina.
"He's alive, just vanished," I quickly told Alanna, my arms enfolding her in a quick hug. She asked more questions, but her eyes were on her son having a stare down with the pureblood vampire.
When Imogen and Alanna's questions were answered to the best of my ability, which was mainly that we didn't know anything, we all turned to stare at Teren. His jaw was clenched as he unwaveringly stared at the teenage vixen. She unflinchingly stared back.
My mom ran her arms around Ashley, asking her what was going on, but no one answered her. In the quiet that followed, Teren asked in an oddly calm voice, "Did Gabriel do this?"
Halina blinked, pulling her head back. She eyed Teren up and down. "No," she said confidently.
Teren tilted his head. "Before he turned back, Julian was headed down south...to Gabriel."
Halina shook her head. "He did not do this."
Teren narrowed his eyes. "Who else could shut the bond off?"
Halina looked up at Nika, then back to Teren. "He wouldn't," she whispered.
As I held my breath, debating whether or not Teren was right, he leaned into Halina. "He's always wanted to test them, to test their bond. What better way than to take one?"
Halina looked around at all of us watching her. "No, he wouldn't...he couldn't." She added in a whisper. Her head snapped back to Teren. "He was busy with the raid, Teren."
Nika raised her head, staring down at Teren. "Monster Daddy, not Grandpa."
Teren looked up at her, shushing her and stroking her hair. Not looking convinced, he kissed her head as he twisted back to Halina. "Gabriel knows a lot of people. I wouldn't put it past him to 'ask' someone else to do it. Especially when we all assumed he was 'busy' with the raid. What better alibi could he have?"
Halina bristled, her back straightening. "He is not responsible for taking Julian, and we are wasting precious time."
Teren sniffed, then kissed Nika's head again. "I will end him if we find out differently." He raised an eyebrow at Halina pointedly.
Twisting her lip, she crossed her arms over her chest. "If he is involved, you won't get the chance." She raised her eyebrow right back at him, her intent clear. If Gabriel's hand was in any way involved with our son's disappearance, in love with him or not, she'd destroy him.
Just then the front door slowly opened. Every vampire in the house turned to the silently swinging door with a growl in their chest. Teren handed Nika to my mom and blurred to the door, his hand going to the throat of the person walking through it. Halina joined him, reaching out to pull the body in.
A scream was stifled as Teren's hand clenched around windpipes, then his entire body was shoved back a step. Her hands on her throat, a stunned Starla gazed at Teren wide-eyed. Standing in front of her, crouched down in a low, defensive position, Jacen growling a warning at Teren and Halina.
The tension in the air silenced as Starla blinked at everyone staring at her and rubbed her neck. Twisting her lips, she stepped up and popped a bubble in Teren's face. "That hurt, vamp boy."
His eyes narrowing, he lifted his chin. "What are you doing back here?"
Jacen stepped in front of the debutant, his blonde hair disheveled like they'd also just woken up, although they hadn't rushed over quite like the others. "We heard the commotion when everyone left the house." He paused, his sky blue eyes sheepish. "We're your protection...so...you know, we're here to...protect."
Halina scoffed and rolled her eyes, slamming the door shut so hard Nika flinched. My mother rubbed her back as Ashley cooed in her ear. Crossing her arms over her chest, Halina muttered, "You're doing a great job."
Jacen glared at her, his arm circling around Starla's trim waist. "We came as soon as we could."
Starla looked down. "We were...busy." Halina scoffed again, flicking a spritzed point of Starla's bedhead do.
Teren ran a hand down his face as he looked around the assemblage. Focusing on Ashley, he pointed at the phone in the vicinity of the kitchen. "Call Ben," he twisted back to Alanna, "and call Dad." His pale eyes focused on every other set of pale eyes, then lingered on mine. "Tell them to get over here. We need everyone."
Running a hand through his hair, he darted towards the stairs as Ashley and Alanna moved to make phone calls. I watched him blurring up the stairs, and took a step to follow him. Halina grabbed my arm. "How could this happen? How could Julian leave your home undetected?"
I shook my head, guilt and remorse flooding me so fast I felt like I was drowning in it. "We were asleep, we didn't feel him leaving."
Her grip on my arm tightened. "Why didn't you hear it? He was right down the hall from you."
Tears splashed on my cheeks as I shook my head. Not able to hold her gaze, I closed my eyes. "We closed the door...I forgot to reopen it."
I dropped my head in my hands, a sob breaking out of me. Muttering encouragement to my sniffling daughter, Mom took Nika away, walking into the living room with her to turn on a movie. Over my sobs, I could hear Teren tossing things around in our bedroom and Alanna and Ashley on the phone. Starla and Jacen stood there forlornly, hands in their pockets and guilt on their faces. The guilt was in mine too. I'd done this. I'd sent everyone away because I'd wanted an "empty" house for one night. It hadn't seemed like a big deal at the time, now it seemed monumental.
Imogen's arms were around me nearly instantly. "Don't blame yourself, Emma. Accidents happen."
Surprisingly, Halina's grip on my arm turned comforting. "You couldn't have known..." Her voice drifted off as she sighed.
Halina let go of me and tilted her head upstairs. "If Nika was telling the truth, and he didn't wander off...there should be some clues upstairs. Some scent of who took him."
My head shot up as I stared at her wide-eyed. I hadn't really believed that a monster had swiped him. It seemed more rational that he'd wandered off. But if someone had, Halina was right; our advanced senses should pick up...something.
I blurred up the stairs past her.
Teren met us in the twins' room. The jungle play land theme seemed ominous in the dark. Our glows highlighted shapes and animals that were warm and cheery in the daylight; the tiger crouching behind a tree screamed predator to me now.
Wearing a fresh shirt and sturdy shoes, Teren inhaled deeply as he looked around. I smelled the foreignness in the room instantly. It seemed familiar, I just couldn't place why. We looked for anything out of place once Teren flipped a light on, but everything was exactly how we'd left it when we'd put them to bed. Everything except the beds. Their covers were both pulled back, both children gone from them.
And Spike. He was different too. Having slept in the room with the children, since our bedroom door was closed off to him, he was huddled under the bed, his tail the only part of him visible. He crawled out when he smelled us in the room, his curvy tail slowly swishing back and forth. Walking up to me, he buried his head in my leg, almost like he felt guilty too for not doing a better job. I petted the collie sympathetically.
Teren's brow furrowed as Halina sniffed a stuffed animal on Julian's bed. Imogen smelled the curtains as I bit back the frustrated bile. Scents didn't exactly come with a driver's license. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a regular, unenhanced, helpless human being. I could only sense that someone had been here, but I didn't know who that person was. Teren's theory that Gabriel had "encouraged" someone to drop by was sounding more and more reasonable to me. Anger knotted my stomach as I considered plunging a stake into the ancient vampire myself.
From downstairs, I heard Jacen beating himself up for neglecting his responsibility and leaving. Starla encouragingly told him that there was no way he could have anticipated something like this, and Jacen told her that it wasn't an excuse. Sighing, he added, "I should let Gabriel know I failed."
Teren's head shifted from staring at Julian's bed to staring downstairs. A low growl came from his chest as Jacen punched numbers into his cell phone. Halina narrowed her eyes at Teren and seemed about to protest her boyfriend's innocence again, but Teren blurred out of the room, one of Julian's favorite army men falling from his hand and clattering to the floor as he did.
Taking one last look around, my eyes tearing as I cataloged the strangely familiar scent permeating my home, I followed with Halina. Just as the line picked up and Jacen was about to say hello to Gabriel, Teren snatched the phone from the mixed vampire's hands.
His face in a snarl, he snapped out, "What did you do?"
Rushing to his side, I put a hand on his arm. We really didn't know if Gabriel was involved in this or not; best not to piss him off either way. Teren held gazes with me while Gabriel answered with, "I beg your pardon, Teren. What did I do...about what?"
Teren exhaled slowly, purposely. "Someone entered our home...took my son while we were all sleeping. Would you have anything to do with that?"
A long pause on Gabriel's end. "Julian is missing?"
Teren grit his jaw. "Yes," his voice warbled. "Did you have anything to do with it?"
As Alanna and Ashley finished with their phone calls and walked into the room, Gabriel answered matter-of-factly, "No, I did not."
Starla and Jacen kept their matching eyes to the ground, for once, no longer touching each other. Alanna and Imogen put their arms around me as Ash turned to sit with Mom and Nika in the living room; I could hear my mom humming and rocking my distraught daughter. Wanting to hug her myself, but needing to know what Gabriel knew, I stayed beside Teren, watching his face flex in frustration.
In the pause of Teren gathering his thoughts, Halina stepped forward. Speaking at a normal volume, even though Teren was holding the phone, she asked, "Did you use me to get to my grandchildren?"
Gabriel's voice was immediate through the small device's speaker. "No."
Halina took another step forward, her hands in tight balls as she stood in front of Teren, locking gazes with him. "Did you use me to study my family?"
Again, Gabriel answered her instantly. "No."
Halina closed her eyes and looked about ready to grab the phone from Teren and scream into it. She didn't need to though; everyone could hear her just fine. "Do not lie to me. If you, in any way, had something to do with Julian's disappearance..."
Gabriel sighed. "It wasn't me, my love. I did not take your grandchild."
Teren took over the conversation when Halina's face softened; she so wanted to believe him. Teren needed more convincing. "Of course you did, of course you took him! Who else has the power and knowhow to steal him right out from under our noses? Who else knew about the soundproofing done to our room? Who else could shut off the bond so we can't feel him!"
Behind him, Starla and Jacen began to look very uncomfortable, like maybe Teren would think them guilty by association. I watched them intently, curious myself now.
Gabriel paused on his end. When his voice came out, it was scientifically curious. "You can't sense him anymore?"
Teren gripped the phone tighter, his eyes narrowing as he stared at our daughter in the other room, still being rocked by my mother. "No...only Nika can feel him."
"Fascinating." Gabriel whispered it, but I still heard him. A growl burrowed out of my chest, but Teren was the one who lost the hold on his temper.
"Exactly!" he yelled, every vampire flinching. "You think it's fascinating! To you, this is all one giant experiment - which is why you took him!
Halina crossed her arms over her chest as she looked away, red tears stinging her eyes. Alanna dropped her arms from me and went to hold her emotional son. I ran my hands back through my hair, every second believing more and more that Gabriel was indeed capable of this.
Teren was right; he knew about the room, he'd given it to us. He'd supplied himself with an alibi, making sure his spies told us the raid was tonight, so we'd let our guard down. For all we knew, everything about Malcolm was a lie, a hoax to draw our attention away from him. The man we'd met at the theater could have been anybody. It was possible that Gabriel had already dealt with him, right after the lab trashing. It was even possible that there was no Malcolm. All of it could have been a lie. All for an experiment.
Gabriel sighed wearily into the phone as tension pricked the air. "Honestly, Teren, I did not. I would not separate a family against their will. True, their bond fascinates me, but I would not conduct an experiment of this magnitude on a child." He paused, then quietly said, "Do not forget that I am the reason he even made it to his birth. I've only ever tried to help your family, Teren."
Teren closed his eyes, shaking his head angrily. "Right, how could I forget? You're constantly reminding us how valuable you are. The shots, the windows, finding Carr...finding people." He swallowed harshly, his voice shaking as his eyes opened. "And all for nothing, right?" Teren sniffed as he shook his head again. "I don't believe it. No one does something for nothing. No one is that altruistic."
Alanna stroked her son's arm while he waited for Gabriel's response. Starla and Jacen shifted their feet while Halina closed her eyes. "Teren, not everyone has ulterior motives," Gabriel said softly.
I watched my husband struggle to reign in his temper, his rational head combating with his heart. Sometimes it was easier to yell when you were frustrated or scared; Teren was both. In a clipped voice, he said, "But you do. You did what you did for access, to study them because they fascinate you. You stay close to us to watch them. You've already admitted that much. If you orchestrated all of this to test their abilities, it will be the last experiment that you ever run...you have my word."
Gabriel sighed again. "If you find that I did have anything to do with this, I would let you do what you will with me. But I promise you, I did not." A short sniffle on Gabriel's end surprised me, along with the rare emotion I heard when he spoke again. "Believe me or don't, but I love your children, Teren."
Teren's hand was shaking along with his voice when he responded to Gabriel's declaration. "Then who? Who else has the power to pull this off?" Alanna stroked his back, her dark head resting against her son's shoulder, her eyes moist with pink tears.
I clutched Imogen tight as the emptiness in my soul, where my son's presence should have been, hallowed out my heart. The absence of him was beyond any pain I'd ever felt. An ache of surprising dread filled me. If Gabriel really didn't have anything to do with it, then my son could be anywhere, with anyone. As much as it hurt, I'd almost have preferred the idea of Gabriel snatching him as some wacked out experiment. At least then I'd know that Julian wouldn't be harmed. I believed Gabriel when he said he loved them.
Gabriel's voice was dark with heat when he answered Teren's seemingly unanswerable question. "I believe I know who has him, Teren."
Every somber, hanging head in the room lifted. A painful bubble of hope rose up my chest again as I locked gazes with my husband. His eyes were moist as well, and I could see the painful longing rising in him too. "Who?" I whispered, hoping he'd spout out an address for me.
Hearing me, Gabriel said, "The raid did not go as planned. I lost a few good men tonight," he paused and Jacen stepped forward, his face seemingly paler. I looked over at him sympathetically. Gabriel's "men" were Jacen and Starla's family. Starla grabbed his hand, stepping into his side as Gabriel continued. "We were able to wound him, but not grievously enough to stop him from automatically healing." Gabriel sighed, his voice rough. "We almost had him, Teren. None of this would have happened if we'd just gotten there sooner."
Teren started breathing again as he shook his head. "Are you saying...? Did...?"
Gabriel sighed as my husband couldn't complete any of his questions. "Yes...this is my fault, Teren. Not because I planned it, but because I made him so desperate, that he felt he had no other choice. I'm sorry, I really didn't think he'd go after you, and I'm not sure what his intentions are with Julian, but...yes...I believe Malcolm has taken your son."
A deep growl rose from Teren's chest as his eyes flashed to the front door; I barely recognized my husband. He only spoke one word, but it chilled me to the core. "Malcolm."
The smell upstairs instantly linked with a memory. That man by the movie theaters. His scent had been faint in the breeze and faint on the paper, but now that the two were linked, they perfectly matched. The thief that Gabriel was chasing had somehow, and for some reason, snuck into our home and taken our child. I couldn't see why and I didn't really care. I wanted Julian back - that was the only thing I currently cared about.
Eyes still on the door, Teren growled into the phone, "Are you close?" When Gabriel answered that he could be there within the hour, Teren nodded. "Good, get here. We have work to do." Then he snapped shut the phone and tossed it at a remorseful Jacen.
Teren scanned our home, his pale eyes clearly showing a spinning mind. Like a skipping CD player, my mind was shuffling too, thoughts and feelings continually shifting from one to the next; none of them helpful. A second of silence passed as we all watched him, then Halina stepped forward. Everyone's attention shifted to her. "What are we going to do, Teren?"
He twisted around to her, his eyes simmering as determination and righteous anger flooded his expression. His lips curling into a snarl, he growled out, "We're going to get my son back."