They say the first forty-eight hours are the most critical when it comes to finding a missing person. I wasn't sure if that applied when the person missing was a vampire who'd been abducted by a desperate man with a grudge, but that feeling of time ticking forward still added tension and fear to our home. And we couldn't ask for outside help either. It wasn't as if I could go on the news, plastering Julian's face and description over every television in America. That sort of exposure was too difficult to contain. We didn't let people remember our features. How on earth would Halina wipe millions of viewers?

But we did have a home full of eager helpers and we did have a pretty good idea over who'd taken Julian. That was confirmed when Gabriel showed up at our house. Stepping into the twins' room, his nose wrinkled immediately. "Yes, that is Malcolm's scent. He was here." Gabriel's face stormed up with genuine anger and he looked ready to tear apart...something.

Halina's arms slipped around him, her face burying in his chest. "I knew you didn't do this," she whispered as he held her.

With Gabriel now in our search party, rather than on the suspect list, Teren started barking out orders. With Hot Ben glued to his side, he pointed at Gabriel, Jacen and Starla. "You three check down south. He was headed that way before he turned back. I want to know why."

Starla and Jacen immediately nodded and blurred off. Jacen looking eager to get away from Gabriel's stormy, jade eyes. While Gabriel hadn't chided him directly, there were more than a few narrowed glances when it became obvious to him that Jacen had ignored his orders and left us alone. The guilt swept over me again. I'd asked and encouraged the mixed pair to leave.

Watching his family depart, Gabriel twisted back to Teren. "He wouldn't have headed south with Julian, Teren. He wouldn't have headed towards my nest." He raised an eyebrow as he crossed his arms over his chest.


Teren sighed as he sat on the couch, his slacks still filthy from his earlier search for our son. "Then why head that way?"

Gabriel smirked and shook his head. "So you would think that I took him." Looking out the large window overlooking the ocean, he narrowed his ancient eyes. "Maybe he hoped that if he placed you on my tail, you wouldn't suspect him." He grinned wryly. "And that did work...for a second."

I sighed as I paced and Gabriel looked over at me. "His switching direction is the key. He did that intentionally, so when he shut the bond off, you wouldn't know where to look."

Stepping forward, I shook my head. "How did he turn off the bond? I didn't think that was even possible."

Tilting his head, Gabriel's eyes shifted up, as if he were accessing different parts of his brain. "I've never attempted it, but it is possible that he has come up with something that naturally inhibits the beacon, if you will, in like-minded blood." He shrugged, his lips twisting. "Honestly, I don't know. Halting the conversion has been my focus for years, not the bond." He sighed. "But Malcolm was my assistant for centuries for a reason. He's ingenious and resourceful...when motivated to be."

Teren sighed, looking around the remaining family members. "So, since he tried misdirecting us before he yanked the bond away...where do we look?"

Gabriel pointed north. "I'll check out that direction." He looked over to Halina. "You check east, as far as you can." Halina nodded, confident that she'd be the one to find him. She blurred away to begin her search while Gabriel twisted back to Teren. "You two stay here, protect the rest of your family."

Teren stood, shaking his head, Hot Ben standing with him. "I'm not just sitting around while he's out there, alone." He pointed to our door. "I can't do that."

Alanna stood with Jack and Imogen. "We will take everyone to the ranch, Teren." Alanna looked over at her mother. "Between the two of us, Nika, Linda, and Ashley, will have night and day protection there."

Jack walked over to Teren, his warm brown eyes full of barely contained emotion. Placing his hand on Teren's shoulder, he nodded at the door. "Go find your son." That was all the encouragement Teren needed, he blurred out without another word.

I gasped as his presence streaked away from me. Hot Ben ran his hands through his hair, looking a little lost as to what he should do. Since he couldn't move as quickly as we could or follow a scent like we could, he probably felt a little...human.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, I forced myself to smile. He looked over at me, a sigh escaping his gorgeous face as he guessed what I was about to say. "I'm sorry, Ben, but you won't be able to search with us." I cringed. "You're just not...equipped like we are, and we can't wait for you."

He hung his head and Ashley came up to put a hand on his back. Leaning down to his face, I added, "But we'd really appreciate you looking anyway. If you want to drive around the city, ask around if anyone saw anything...weird recently." My hand came up to stroke his face. "I know Teren would really appreciate that."

Ben nodded, his jaw setting as a task that he could handle was given to him. Nodding at me, he said, "I won't let you down, Emma. I won't stop looking."

Tears pricked my eyes as I watched the brave man leave. It was almost hard to imagine a time when Ben had been a shivering, cowardly mess of a man who'd thought Teren wanted to eat him. Saying quick goodbyes, he dashed out after Teren at a much slower pace.

Gabriel put a hand on my shoulder. "I'll be north, Emma, if you need anything." He patted his pocket. "I'll call...if I find him."

I was still nodding as he phased away.

Twisting back to the Adams and Taylors still left in the house, I shrugged and cringed. "I can't stay either. I need something." I felt my husband's presence drifting away from me, to the very outskirts of the city, and longed to follow.

My eyes rested on my daughter though, finally having cried herself to sleep on my mother's lap. Mom lazily stroked circles into her back, looking worn herself. "Go, Emma," she whispered, her eyes locking to mine. "We'll be safe." Her eyes flicked up to Alanna's and the vampire smiled, fangs exposed.

Cocking an eyebrow at me, Alanna seriously said, "No one will harm them." Smiling around her teeth, she added, "Don't forget, Halina is a part of me too."

I nodded, giving her a hug and then the rest of my family. I lingered on my sleeping daughter last, placing soft kisses in her hair. She stirred under my cool touch, but remained asleep. Dried tear tracks were clear to me in her skin and I lightly brushed them off. A part of me wanted to wake her, to ask her if she could still feel Julian, but I didn't. I let her get her rest, and hoped that whatever reason Malcolm had taken our child, his intention was not to harm him.

I ran to where I could feel Teren, at the edge of the bay. The smell of saltwater surged through my nose as I dashed along the sandy beaches. I moved so fast, I barely left an impression in the dunes. I found my husband searching under a pier. His eyes scanned every nook and cranny of the dark wood, looking for any trace of a child, ours or not. The faint glow of his eyes twisted to me as the sweetness of our bond announced my arrival. He didn't even crack a smile, only nodded, his lips set in a hard line. I nodded back, and together, we began the futile search for our son.

It was looking for a needle in a haystack, we both knew that, but our only other alternative was to sit at home and do nothing. Nothing wasn't an option for us, so we searched. We ran in short bursts throughout the city, searching every hidey-hole that was large enough to place a toddler. We looked through every home and business that was open, and quite a few that weren't. Then we streaked away to the next location. It was tiring, searching and streaking with no real direction.

I checked in with my family often, tracked my daughter and the rest of the girls as they shifted east, to the ranch. It brought me a little peace that my loved ones were on high alert now; that meant that another swiping was unlikely, not without a fight at least. But the majority of me was starting to feel despair, and fatigue. Endlessly searching hundreds of miles was an impossible task. And our bodies weren't designed to maintain super speed. By the next evening, I had to walk, I couldn't phase anymore. And I was starving; Teren and I had searched all day without pause.

Feeling aches in areas of my body that I didn't know could ache, I put a hand on his arm as he shifted to streak to a new location. "Teren, stop, I can't..." Even though I didn't need it, my breath was hard from the exertion.

Teren looked back at me, his breathing harder too, but determination and a stubborn refusal to give up masked the weariness on his face. "Go home, Emma, rest."

He twisted and lunged, but I still held him tight. "What about you? You need rest too."

Flicking down his body, I clearly saw the grime and tear marks of hours of frantic searching. I knew that I was equally disheveled, but I didn't really care, my son was out there in the world. Teren sighed as he looked back at me. "Go home, get something to eat...I just want to check out one more spot, then I'll be right behind you." He peeled my fingers off of his arm and then he was gone. I knew he was as tired as me, but pure love-filled panic was driving him. I had no idea how long it would drive him, before he just keeled over.

When two more entire days past and Teren still never came back to rest or eat, I started to worry about him. When our forty-eight hour window had closed on us, Teren's search had actually picked up pace, and length. Having given up on the city, he blurred up the coast. He hadn't gotten any leads to send him that way, he was just picking a location and doing the best he could. Feeling that my child was closer to home, I stayed in the city. I kept running back home, to see if any more blood written letters had been left for us, but we heard nothing from the kidnapper. For all we knew, he wasn't speaking ...because Julian wasn't alive any more. It was hard to negotiate the return of a deceased person. The very thought chilled my icy flesh though, and I forced the hope back into my body. There was no point in killing Julian, so he wouldn't.

I repeated that every ten seconds in a never-ending loop.

Finishing a thermos sized glass of blood, to keep my strength up, I mentally checked in on my husband. A euphoria building in my chest told me that he was on his way back to the city, back to me. I closed my eyes and felt for him, hoping beyond hope that he'd run home and tell me he'd found...something. I briefly considered calling him, but then his presence shifted east, and I knew he was only picking a new location. Nothing had changed.

Our son had been missing for over seventy-two hours, and nothing had changed.

Feeling so weary that my enhanced body no longer felt real, I wondered what my husband must be feeling. He hadn't slept or ate, I'd asked. Every time I'd called him or met up with him, he'd told me that he just wanted to check out one more place, and then he'd come home and get something to eat. That one place had led to one more place, then another and another, and he still hadn't rested. I was running on fumes, Teren was running on pure will power.

Wanting to help him, I prepared the largest sized thermos we had with some blood. Our supplies at the house were starting to dwindle a little. We kept about a month's supply in the freezer, with a couple of day's worth of fresh stuff in the fridge. It had been time to go "shopping" at the ranch when Julian had been taken. We'd just been too busy to think about it since then. I wasn't too worried though. We wouldn't be reduced to snacking on pets when we had fields of fresh cattle under an hour away. But still, keeping a full fridge was one of those little mundane things that you had to do, regardless of the horror you're facing. Like paying the bills, some aspects of life didn't care if your world was falling apart.

Like my job. I'd completely forgotten all about the fact that life was still progressing around me and I was expected to show up to work. Hot Ben had been my saving grace there, calling me when Tracey started asking where I was. I'd called her with a fanciful story of a family member passing and a funeral I needed to go to a State over. I'd sobbed into the phone with Tracey, my depression completely real, even if my story wasn't. She'd offered her condolences and promised up and down that she'd get everything squared away with HR, even if she had to backdate a vacation request. Telling me she loved me, I returned the sentiment and silently thanked her for all the times she'd made me feel better without even realizing it.

Getting in my car, since I was too tired to run, I made my way to where Teren was. I forcefully ignored the back seat. I couldn't look at the car seat where my son should have been safely buckled. I couldn't stomach seeing his favorite truck wedged between the cushions. I couldn't even stomach listening to the radio. My car was silent as I drove along, but I still heard Russian nursery songs in my head. Everything, everywhere, reminded me of him. Every section of my silent heart burned.

When I found Teren, I shut the car off and stared at him openmouthed. The man before me was not my husband. Walking out of an abandoned building that looked like it had once been a grocery store, he staggered on his feet, looking like he'd just stepped out of a war zone. While his face lifted and his eyes were in my direction, I don't think he even saw me. His clothes were torn, streaked with blood and dirt. His walk was haphazard, like he was going to collapse to his knees at any moment. But none of that compared to his face. I'd never seen a look of such desolation on a face before. He'd never looked that way, not even when my fate had been in question.

Even from the space between us, I could see the weariness, the straight-to-the-bone exhaustion. But still, he moved with determination. With a limp of an old man, he trudged out to the parking lot. I blurred out to him, thermos tightly held under my arm. My hands went to his cheeks as he blinked at me blankly. "Good god, Teren."

"Emma?" he croaked out, his voice sounding dry.

Worried that he really hadn't stopped anywhere to eat, I unscrewed the thermos lid. His eyes fixated on it instantly. "You haven't stopped moving in three days, have you? Have you slept? Eaten?"

He didn't answer me, only wavered on his feet and stared at the drink in my hands. Once the smell of blood hit the air, his fangs dropped down. A weak growl rose from his chest and he snatched the mug from me, tipping it up to his lips. In his eagerness, he tipped it back a little too far and the blood spilled down his chin, staining his caked-with-mud shirt. He didn't seem to care, gulping hungrily.

My eyes watered as I watched him. Both hands on the thermos, he didn't stop drinking until it was empty. I suddenly wished I'd brought more with me. Lowering the mug, he swiped his sleeve over his mouth. His eyes more alert, he locked gazes with me. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice a little stronger too.

My hands stroked his cheeks, my thumbs wiping some soot off them. "Come home. Take a break, rest, and then you can set off again."

He immediately shook his head, his body still tittering like he was going to fall over. "I can't."

Biting my lip, I shook my head. "You're no good to him dead on your feet. Rest, sleep...please."

His eyes looked past me, to the infinite places our son could be tucked. The world had never seemed as large to me as it did now. We could literally search for forever, and never find him, not with the bond shut off. Those pale eyes shimmered with tears as he took in the vastness around us. "I can't go home. I can't leave him...alone."

I felt the tears sliding down my face as his eyes returned to mine. "You haven't been eating." I ran my fingers along the soft spot under his eye. "You're running on empty," I whispered. "Just come home and have some more blood." I pointed at the thermos clenched in his hand. "When was the last time you ate?"

He shook his head. "When was the last time he ate?" More tears fell down my cheeks as I shook my head. I didn't want to think about that. I wanted to picture Julian full and healthy, even happy...even though Nika often told me that he was still scared.

Teren took a step and staggered, and my arms went around him. Holding him tight to me, I summoned all of the strength I had. "You are coming home with me. You're eating and resting. You can't search for our son if you can't even stand." He pulled away from me, shaking his head, and I gripped his chin, the stubble course under my fingers. "You could see him and pass right over him, you're so exhausted."

He opened his mouth to object, then shut it. Running my hands back through his hair, I soothingly said. "At least come with me to the ranch to see your daughter. She misses you. Mom says she cries all the time, feeling Julian's fear. Come home, hug her, let her know that we're still here...for her." I kissed his forehead. "She needs us too," I whispered.

Closing his eyes, tears squeezed out and dripped down his dirty cheeks. "Alright, I'll come home," he whispered, his voice breaking midsentence.

I turned to lead him back to my car when the wind shifted. A familiar scent was on it and my head snapped up. Teren's did too. Across the empty lot a man was standing patiently in a bright shaft of sunlight, watching us. He was lean, lanky, horrible disheveled, slightly bloody, and instantly familiar.

A rumble in my husband's chest was followed by only one word, "Malcolm." Then he used the last of his strength and blurred across the lot, the empty thermos crashing to the ground as he dropped it. I was a pace behind him. Fear and anger gave Teren a new reserve of strength and he tackled the man who'd taken our son. By the time I got there, Teren was holding him down, his hands clenching his throat tight.

"Where's my son?" he barked, the streaks of blood down his chin only emphasizing the viciousness in his eyes. For a moment, I thought Teren might start ripping limbs off of Malcolm until he got an answer. He'd tortured before for a loved one, and this time, it wouldn't horrify me if he did it again. I might even help.

Not needing the air that Teren was cutting off, the undead mixed vampire in his grasp smiled cockily. He pointed to his windpipe, raising an eyebrow. Teren eased up on his throat, but leaned over him, his face trembling in his rage. "Where's my son?" he asked again, colder.

Malcolm smiled casually at him. "This is certainly no way to begin introductions. There used to be an art to it, makes me miss the old days." One thin lip curved up devilishly as he raised his eyebrows suggestively. "And truly, I like to get to know a person a little better before being this intimate."

Teren's hand shoved Malcolm's chin up, exposing his throat. His fangs dropped down as a growl rumbled out of his throat. "You don't want to get to know me. What have you done with my son?"

Malcolm rolled his eyes at the display, then flatly said, "The rugrat is fine, but he won't be, if you don't back off."

Teren eased up a little, his entire body shaking with the restraint to not rip the man to pieces. "I will shove a stake right through you if you've hurt him," he growled.

Malcolm laughed a little. "Oh, big man." His hazel eyes flicked up to me; they were narrow-set, making his face seem as thin as the rest of him. "I bet that turns you on? I bet you find that sexy?"

A growl of my own ripped through the lot as I took a step towards him. Maybe I'd start the torture. Malcolm's amused face ended as he snapped his attention back to Teren. "Now, get off me, unless you never want to see him again."

Teren flexed his jaw and shook his head. Lifting Malcolm's head up a bit, he slammed it back to the concrete; the crack it made was distinct to my sharp ears. Malcolm flinched and hissed. "Start talking, where is he?" Teren held him down when Malcolm started to genuinely struggle to get up.

His fangs dropping down, Malcolm's eyes blazed with anger. "You will never find the hole I shoved that brat into if you do not get off me right now!"

Teren hissed back at him, his fangs getting longer. "I can make you talk, I've had practice."

Malcolm snorted, his fangs receding. "Yes, I've heard all about your 'talks' with vampires." Teren blinked and pulled back, his fangs pulling back as well. Sniffing, Malcolm looked between Teren hovered over him and me standing beside them. "You probably could make me speak, it's true." His hazel eyes narrowed at Teren as his thin lips hardened into a straight line. "But, can you break time?"

I stopped breathing as I watched the worn vampire under my husband. Everything about him screamed exhaustion and desperation - the bloody tears in his worn clothes, the ratted, dirty light brown hair, the streaks of grime on his deceptively youthful face. As Teren was just as dirty and disheveled, I thought their physical levels of wear might be closely matched.

Teren sat up a little, backing off. Malcolm sat up on his elbows, glancing between the two of us again. Smiling confidently, he shrugged. "You see, I was a little quick to stash the child," he focused on Teren, "for obvious reasons, and I didn't really leave him much food or water." Looking up at the clear blue sky that he seemingly had no discomfort being under, he shook his head. "Come to think of it, I'm not sure when the snot ate last." His cold eyes came back to me. "I haven't been around much."

My mouth dropped open as my vision of a fat, happy Julian was suddenly popped. Now I pictured him in a dark hole, scared and starving. I couldn't remember how long a person could go without food or water. A series of threes thudded through my brain - three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food? Was that it? I had no idea. Even still, I knew dying that way would be excruciatingly painful. I started hyperventilating.

Teren lost it. His fist came around and bashed into the man's face. I could hear the cartilage snap as his nose shattered; blood spurted everywhere. Malcolm cried out, more annoyed than anything, and shoved Teren back, hard. Weak from lack of food and sleep, Malcolm managed to get him off and blurred to standing before I could stop him.

As Teren started to stand, losing his balance and falling back to the cement, Malcolm adjusted his nose. He sniffed when it was healed. Pointing at Teren still on the ground, he snarled, "You get one, vampire. That was it!"

I helped Teren stand up, both of us shaky from the news that we were still trying to absorb. "Why take a child? What do you want?" Teren muttered feebly.

Malcolm shrugged, adjusting his threadbare clothes. "What do any of us want? A safe place to lay our heads. A few warm blooded bodies to nibble on." His lips curled up in a smirk as he wiped some blood off his chin. "Gabriel's heart, staked to a platter."

Teren and I flicked a quick glance at each other as Malcolm crossed his arms over his chest. "You see, here's the thing." Reaching down, he picked two rocks off the ground. Holding one up, he said, "I have a problem," he lifted the other one up, "and you have a problem." He made the two rocks touch each other as he smiled at us. "Perhaps we can work together to solve both our problems."

Finding the strength to stand tall, Teren grasped my hand; I could feel the tension in him. He took a confident step forward. "My only you," he spat out.

Malcolm rolled his eyes and sighed irritably. "Hmmm...well, my problem, since I can see you're so choked up about it, is that I have a very determined vampire on my tail." Smirking, he lifted the grayer of the two rocks. "Picture this, five years ago, I was living my life, minding my own business. I had a lucrative little career that afforded me an opulent home and a small bevy of beautiful human hanger-ons." He lifted the darker of the two stones. "But then, some asshole vampire killed one of my clients. Then that same do-gooder ran to my supplier and clued him in on the fact that his research wasn't exactly destroyed, like he'd thought."

He took the dark rock and flung it towards the abandoned building; it shattered the front window. Scowling, he looked back at us. "Now, a very powerful, pissed off vampire, is scouring the earth looking for me. And his form of justice is old school - we're talking no jury, no judge, and definitely no lawyers! Only an execution awaits me!"

Teren lifted his chin. I tried to do the same but my entire body was shaking a little bit. "We don't want any part in your fight with him. It has nothing to do with us. Let my son go."

Malcolm snorted, palming the gray rock. "He was oblivious to my activities, for decades, until you drew him a path right to me. That makes you a pretty big part of this." He sighed as he bounced the rock from hand to hand. "And now that ass won't let me be. He's got every spare set of eyes in his cult looking for me. And his influence extends everywhere. For years I've managed to escape him, but he's tenacious and vindictive. I'm broke, and I'm tired," his eyes flashed back to us, "and I'm done running." He snapped his wrist and the other rock sailed away, smashing another window in the abandoned building.

I shook my head, loathing for the man in front of me giving my voice heat. "You brought this on yourself! You betrayed your own kind."

His eyes slid to mine, as cold and unfeeling as vampires were generally portrayed. "I watched him flounder around with his 'miracle' drug for over three hundred years. His pipe dream was never going to work. He was never going to stop conversions...but that didn't stop him from trying." He rolled his eyes, wearily starting to pace before us. "All he did accomplish was converting vampires before their time."

Malcolm shrugged, a bloody section of his shirt lifting to reveal a long tear, like he'd been sliced open recently. "And what do I care if vampires convert early? We all have to do it sometime. We are all destined to convert." His hands rested on his hips as he stopped and glared at us. "What do I care when it happens?"

Teren stepped forward, the memories of his own conversion clear on his features. "You sold it to hunters. You let them kill our kind with it." His face twisted in a snarl and he looked like he wanted to spit at Malcolm's feet. "How could you condemn our brothers and sisters?" Teren lifted his free arm into the arm, the anger in his face shifting to incredulity. "My god, they used it on children!"

Malcolm only tilted his head and raised a shoulder. "Hey, I'm a businessman. I saw a very small niche with very deep pockets." He raised an eyebrow at Teren as he sat back on his hip. "You would not believe what some hunters will pay for this crap." His hand made a circle in the air while his lips twisted derisively. "They prefer killing us when we're more like monsters to them." A small smirk touched his lips as a light laugh left them. "Killing us with a heartbeat is apparently 'unsavory.' Less sinful if we're dead, I guess." He shrugged.

Teren's mouth set in a firm line while his brow deepened to a sharp point. I felt like walking over and taking a swing at the weary vampire, smack the sneering grin off his face, but I had to remind myself that he had my son, and only he knew where he was. We couldn't afford angering him so much that he left without telling us where he'd stashed him, especially since we now knew that he'd left Julian with practically...nothing.

Seeing our silent confliction, Malcolm smiled coldly and resumed his pacing. "I needed to make a living, away from Gabriel and his followers. I found a demand, a very lucrative one." He tossed his hands up in the air theatrically as he shook his head. "But Gabriel's shut down every production lab I had." Malcolm flexed his body as he stalked back and forth, his wiry muscles tight with anger and frustration. "He's destroyed every vial I ever recreated," he paused to smirk at us, "so I returned the favor and destroyed his. I sent him a warning - penetrated his sanctuary, trashed his worthless research." He spat on the ground like he was spitting on Gabriel's grave.

My mind instantly flashed to my own conversion, to Starla. Malcolm had near permanently killed the prissy vampire by destroying all of Gabriel's work. I stepped forward a couple of spaces until Teren's hand in mine held me back. "You idiot! Those actually did work! He was saving lives with it." My hand patted my chest as tears stung my eyes. Thinking of my miracle children, alive only because of Gabriel's research, I spat out, "He saved us!"

Malcolm snorted as Teren pulled me back to stand beside him. Teren's arm went around my waist, twisting me to him, and Malcolm raised his lip in a sneer. "I don't really care about saving people. I care about remaining alive, and if Gabriel keeps this up, I won't be."

He took a few steps towards us; he was so close I could have reached out and touched him. The smell coming off of him was musty, like he'd been in dark, dingy places lately. "Gabriel won't leave me alone, so yeah, I trashed his lab. But that didn't stop him, so I upped the ante, torched his little human bitch." Malcolm's lips twisted on the harsh word, his green-brown eyes roaming up and down our bodies. "But he still didn't get the message, so I've decided to be a little more proactive." He shook his head wearily, his eyes softening, aging. "I'm tired, I'm tired of running. I warned him to stay away. I warned him this would happen. I told him there would be bloodshed." His aged eyes hardened right back up.

Teren beside me dropped his hold on me. His head tilted, he stepped towards Malcolm; Malcolm took a step back. "You what? What human?" As I looked over Teren's quickly darkening face, I thought over what Malcolm had said - torched his little human. Torched? My eyes widened as Teren took another step towards the man who had our son.

Backing up another step, Malcolm shrugged. "Some girl. He had a vampire I was watching compel her to fly all the way to California for him." He rolled his eyes as Teren stood stone still. "I figured she was important, so I followed. I figured he was grooming her for a changeover, maybe even going to attempt one himself. So once I finished with his lab, I snatched the little human, got rid of her before he could convert her - to teach him a lesson."

In a whisper, my husband said, "Carrie? You killed...Carrie?"

Malcolm smirked and shrugged. "Maybe, I didn't exactly ask her name first. It was more a grab and go, if you know what I mean. " Teren's eyes watered and Malcolm noticed, cocking his head curiously. "I held her for awhile, snacking, waiting to see what Gabriel would do. When it was clear he wasn't letting up, I thought about tossing the little imp on his doorstep after I'd drained her, to prove my point, but then I decided a public fire would be more...poetic."

Teren's face exploded in anger, a surge of adrenaline giving his worn body a second of strength. He strode forward, shoving Malcolm hard. The elder vampire was caught off guard and smacked down to the ground. I blurred to Teren's side, holding him back from pummeling Malcolm to pieces; sadly, we needed him alive.

Teren hovered over him, breathing heavy. "She wasn't here for him, she was here for me. She was innocent!"

Malcolm spat out a wad of blood, having bit himself when he harshly landed. "Who on this earth is truly innocent?" he growled out. Standing slowly as Teren tried to reign in his anger, again, he smirked coldly. "I saw her on your doorstep, you know. Touching little moment there. I figured he was sharing his plaything with his 'pet' before he brought her into the fold." Chuckling to himself, he shook his head. "Watching her led me to you."

He raised an eyebrow, walking around Teren as he quivered with restraint. "I specifically made sure that Gabriel would find out about her, about what I'd done. Who do you think anonymously led the police to find her body? And I knew that once she was identified, Gabriel would figure it out. Gabriel doesn't believe in coincidences."

He leaned in close to Teren, whispering in his ear, enjoying taunting him on a subject that was clearly painful for him. And I knew just how painful a subject it was for my husband. He cared about Carrie. "I fed on her for a couple weeks, keeping her just on the edge of death. And, just for him, I left her alive enough that she would feel every lick of the flames, but weak enough that she couldn't do anything about it. Message delivered."

Malcolm cocked his head. "How ironic then, that she was here for you and I decided to give you the note written in her blood. Kind of fitting actually." He laughed after that, and Teren lost his control. He lunged at Malcolm, but Malcolm was ready this time. He blurred just out of reach, then raised his hand in warning. "Back off, I said you get one vampire." His eyes narrowed viciously as he looked between the two of us. "And now that you know I will kill, don't think I won't again." He raised an eyebrow, pointedly. "Only this time, I won't be killing a fully grown woman...I'll be killing your son."

"You son of a bitch," Teren murmured, his hand reaching down to clench mine.

Malcolm shrugged. "Yeah, I'll give you that one." He tilted his head as he walked to the other side of us. "But Gabriel is worse. My warnings seem to make no difference to him." He shook his head, his expression irritated as he studied the ground. "He's coldly relentless and he's after my hide. He won't stop chasing me now. Not until I'm dead...or he is." Nodding to himself, he added, "That's the only way I can disappear. The only way I'll ever find peace again." Looking up, he pointed at Teren. "The only way to get him to stop hunting for me, is if I hunt him first."

Teren shook his head, disgusted. "Maybe you should have thought of that before you went up against him."

Malcolm narrowed his eyes. "He went against us first. You think he's so perfect. You think he's some miraculous saint, because he finally, after hundreds of years, got it to work on a handful of vampires?" Tilting his head, he pointed at Teren. "You probably call him Father too, don't you?" He looked Teren up and down, his face twisting to match the disgust in Teren's visage. "Just like his other drones."

His hand lifted up to point south, down where Gabriel's nest lay. "He's not perfect. He's not a saint. He's a coldly calculating scientist who will stop at nothing to get his end result." Malcolm raised an eyebrow as he took a step forward. "Do you know how many I've watched die because of him? Because of his obsession?" He shook his head, his thin mouth tightening. "Unlike human labs, we didn't exactly have rats to conduct tests on." Looking between Teren and me, he lowered his voice to a growl. "He used vampires, living vampires. Ask him how many died before he got to the drug that merely jumpstarted the conversion."

I forcefully pushed aside what he was saying about Gabriel. I knew Gabriel was determined enough to do the things Malcolm was saying, but I didn't believe he was as cold as Malcolm was making him sound. The odds were pretty good that Gabriel had made some mistakes in the past few hundred years, but I was sure he felt badly about them...unlike Malcolm, who only seemed to care about, well, Malcolm.

My eyes narrowed as I took in the weary, chatty man who had one of my reasons for being stored up in a hole somewhere, terrified. Wishing I could shake Julian's location out of him, I sarcastically spat out, "Is that what he did to you? Did Gabriel accidently kill someone you loved and stealing from him was your pathetic attempt at revenge?" I eyed the dirty man up and down, my breath heavy as anger consumed me. "Is that why you hate him so much?"

Malcolm only gave me a blank stare. "Who said I hated him? No, if I hated him, I'd have tried to kill him ages ago." He leaned into me and Teren stepped between us, shielding my body. I could nearly smell the desperation leech off Malcolm as he coldly said, "Don't romanticize me. I just wanted away from him." Smirking at Teren's protective display, he took a step back. "This had nothing to do with a woman." He lifted his hand in the air, gesturing with it. "This is no he-killed-my-lover-and-I-want-revenge fight." His voice dropped along with his hand as he narrowed his eyes at us. "He's a power hungry cult leader and I wanted out from under him." He cocked his lip and shook his head. "The drug was my ticket to being on my own with pockets full of cash, nothing more. I saw an opportunity and I took it."

Still in front of me, Teren shook his head. "How sad for you, that all it took was money for you to stab your species in the back."

Malcolm dryly replied with, "Don't forget the freedom part." Rolling his eyes, he shook his head. "And don't give me that high and mighty crap. Humans stab each other in the back near daily, for far pettier reasons." Stepping towards us, he put both his hands on his narrow hips. "But my motives aren't really the point, are they? The point is, I need you to do something for me and you are going to do it."

Malcolm held his ground before us, and even though Teren was weak and exhausted, he lifted his chin, holding his ground as well. "What could you possibly want from me?"

A slow smile spread over Malcolm, his eyes brightening for the first time since we'd started talking to him. With a chilling coldness, the smile stretched across all of his haggard face before he spoke. When he did, I wished he hadn't.

"You are going to kill Gabriel for me."

Teren and I dropped our mouths open at the same time. Malcolm smiled even wider, seeing our reactions. Glancing over Teren's startled features, then mine, he shrugged casually. "You help me. I help you - tit for tat. See how it works? It's a win-win for both of us."

Too dazed to speak, I could only gape at the clearly mad person before us. Teren somehow found a way to still be articulate. "What? I knew you were off, but I didn't realize you were completely insane."

Malcolm narrowed his eyes and tilted his head. "Am I? You're in his inner circle now. He knows you. He trusts you. He would never see it coming from you. You can get close...and finish him."

His body quivering with fatigue and stress, Teren grit his jaw. "No, never."

Lifting one corner of his lip, Malcolm leaned towards us, whispering, "Really? Do I need to remind you that I have your son?" Shaking his head, he shrugged again. "And thanks to my own unique, and, quite brilliant, concoction, you can't track him."

Teren looked back at me, fear and dread in his eyes; I had to believe I looked the same. As we stared at each other, Malcolm chuckled coldly. "You will kill Gabriel for me...because you have no other choice."

Pulling my gaze from Teren, I stepped around him. "Please, let Julian go. He's a child, he's innocent." Teren tried to pull me behind him again, but I dropped his hands and grabbed Malcolm's dusty jacket. "Take me...let him go, take me."

He brushed me off as Teren said 'no' and grabbed my elbows. Twisting his lips at me, Malcolm took a step back. "I did consider that, I truly did. But you made it so easy for me to snatch the child, I couldn't resist." He locked eyes with Teren, Teren's arms now firmly around me. "Soundproofing your room? Brilliant, and kind of," he tilted his head, smiling languidly, "how would they say it"

Raising his eyebrows suggestively, he let that sink in a moment before adding, "But children are more manageable. Plop them in one place and they tend to stay there. That stupid woman was always trying to get away." Smiling coldly, he twisted his hand in the air. "But you should consider yourselves lucky. I did leave you the girl, after all." He leaned forward, an eyebrow raised. "Do you really need two?"

Teren lunged forward, dropping me and clutching Malcolm's clothes in his fists. I pulled at his arms, but he had him tight, the last of his strength in the effort. "You're dead!"

Malcolm laughed coldly, calmly placing his hands over Teren's. "Very true, and so are you..." he looked over at me, "and you." Unclenching Teren's hands, he calmly took a step away from us. "You have three days or I snap your son's neck." Cocking his lip, he shrugged. "Or maybe...I'll just leave him in his cubby hole and let him starve." Lifting his eyes to the pale sky that matched our son's eyes, he pondered aloud, "Or maybe, just for fun, I'll raise him as my own...and teach him to kill Gabriel." He looked back down at us, shrugging. "Since I can't successfully turn people and I can't have my own kids, maybe I'll just steal an army of them?"

Teren tried to grab him again, but he staggered and dropped to his knees, all of his energy gone. Malcolm chuckled and stepped in front of him, looking down on his exhausted body. Placing a hand on his head as Teren glared up at him, Malcolm warmly said, "Think about that. Think of how many lives you'll be sparing, how much needless suffering you'll be stopping, by taking one, little life." He patted Teren's head, like a dog. "Now, doesn't the good outweigh the bad?"

Chuckling as he backed up a step, he pointed to Teren on his knees. "Think about it, just not for too long." Drawing his brows together in concern, he looked over Teren's slumped form. "And she's right. You should rest, you look...exhausted." Malcolm's own exhausted hazel eyes flicked between the both of us. "Have a good day, you two." Then he streaked away, leaving only an imprint in our vision of where he'd been standing.