When Teren had the strength to raise himself to his feet, we searched for any trace of Malcolm's scent. For a second we had it, and thinking to follow him back to Julian, we blindly followed it. It was only when the scent ran through a sewage treatment plant that we realized Malcolm was messing with us; he hadn't been going to back to our son at all. Any trace of him was abolished in the overwhelming stench of the place, and with no scent to track and no idea of what direction to go, we tiredly headed back to our family.
Teren was quiet in the car, staring out the windows at the countryside blazing past us. Biting back the bile in my throat from the entire encounter, I watched him from the corner of my eye. His dark head resting against the seat, his eyes focused and unfocused, looking at everything while seeing none of it.
"I'm sorry about Carrie," I whispered into the silence of the vehicle. His pale eyes shifted over to me, the normal gray flecks I saw in them doing nothing to brighten their dullness. "I'm sorry that she had to die like that, I'm sorry she had to get mixed up in this at all."
Teren nodded, his gaze trailing down to his torn, dirty clothes. Idly playing with a tear in his shirt, he muttered, "No one should have to go that way." He closed his eyes, his face aging before me. "I wish he hadn't told me." Lifting his eyes to me, his face looked near tears again. "Does that make me awful? That I'd rather I didn't know how she died?"
He looked down and I reached over to put my hand over his. "No, it doesn't make you awful. It makes you normal. We don't want to think about loved ones experiencing anything so...horrible." My voice cracked on the word, my thoughts on the dark-haired, blue-eyed little boy I hadn't seen in days.
Teren sniffled, clenching my hand tight. "He won't hurt him, Em. He won't."
I nodded, my vision of the bleak highway before me hazing. I knew that he really didn't know that for sure, anymore than I did, but he had to believe it to stay sane. I had to too.
Practicing the deep calming breaths I was taught in my yoga classes, I struggled to keep a hold of my senses. I couldn't afford to break down into a blubbery mess right now. I needed to hold it together, for Julian's sake. He needed me. He needed me focused.
More in control, I looked back over to Teren. "What are you going to do?"
He sighed, knowing what I meant. Looking back at me, he shrugged. "I don't know."
I bit my lip and forced my eyes back to the road. Malcolm wanted Gabriel's head. Too weak and chicken shit to do it himself, he'd maneuvered Teren into such a spot that even Teren didn't know if he should do it or not. I couldn't have been more torn on the matter. I wanted my son back, but I didn't want my husband to commit coldblooded murder. I wanted my son back, but I didn't want to remove the man that Halina had finally let herself fall in love with, even if she couldn't say it yet. I wanted my son back, but I didn't want to sacrifice the person who had saved my life, mine and the kids. But...I wanted my son back.
"I'll support...whatever you decide," I muttered, the speech barely passing over my lips.
Teren sighed again, leaning his head back on the seat and closing his eyes. He was silent for the remainder of the drive.
We were greeted to a bustle of activity when we arrived at the ranch. Winding my way up the outrageously long driveway, I felt my daughter's anxious energy, her presence darting back and forth. A small smile cracked on Teren's face as he lifted his head and opened his eyes. He'd missed her just as much as she'd missed him. I parked next to Jack's truck and Alanna's sedan and my daughter dashed out the front doors before I could even shut the car off. Tired but eager, Teren popped his door and shuffled over to her. I slowly stepped out, giving them a moment.
As she ran to him, Teren sank to his knees. Whether too exhausted to stand, too overwhelmed with emotion, or just sinking to her level, I didn't know. She flung herself into his arms, not caring at all that he was grimy and filthy. Peppering his face with kisses, she squeaked out, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"
His arms squeezed around her tight as he exhaled, the sound seeming as if it was the first exhale he'd taken in days.
I could hear the flurry of people inside the house as I watched my husband and daughter bond. My mother and sister were in a heated conversation about hunting, about hunting vampires. Hot Ben was here too, giving his opinion on the subject. He'd been sticking close to the ranch when he wasn't out searching for Julian. He'd become frustrated with the needlelike search early on, and was itching to start knocking on doors again. My mother was trying to talk him out of it. My sister was being swayed to his side.
As a heated frustration grew in me, I balled my hands and closed my eyes, counting to ten. I'd told Ben before, and I'd have to tell him again, that we couldn't risk it. Not to bring up the fact that Teren and Ben already had some major grudges out there in the vampire community already, they weren't searching for a mysterious, mythical group of people this time. They were searching for one person, one that had my son, one that may kill him if we started rattling cages that were too close to his. And now, after meeting the man in question, I knew without a doubt that he'd take Julian's life, if it meant sparing his own.
Teren wobbly stood, Nika buried in his arms. Looking over at me with a deep frown on his face, I knew he felt the same about hunting as I did...finally. We just had too much to lose to go stirring up nests again.
Alanna greeted us at the door as we stepped inside. The scent of homecoming hit me - freesia and fresh linens - and I smiled softly at her. She gasped at the sight of her child, then engulfed him and Nika in a hug. "Teren, what have you been doing?"
She tried to remove Nika from Teren, but she was attached tight. Like a barnacle on the underside of a ship, our daughter would have to be scraped away from her father. Teren sighed and kissed her head, brushing aside his mother's concerns. "I'm fine, Mom, just tired."
She nodded and nearly dragged him towards the kitchen.
Imogen rushed out to us, rubbing Teren's back as he was shuffled forward. Nika cracked her eyes open at me, her head resting on Teren's shoulder. "Hi, Mommy," she whispered.
I smiled, rubbing my thumb over her pale, worn cheek. She looked just as tired as Teren, only all of her exhaustion was mental. Feeling Julian's constant terror was sapping the strength right out of her. It broke my heart. I wanted to give her a break from the stress, but at the same time, I didn't want to lose the connection with my son. "Hi, baby."
She smiled, closing her eyes again, content for once, in her Daddy's arms.
Stepping into the dining room, we walked into the argument that I could hear from outside. Hot Ben was pointing to a map of California spread on the table. He was pointing out locations of old nests that he and Teren had gone to years ago. I knew those nests would be abandoned by now, by Ben still wanted to try scoping them out.
"Teren and I could check these ones here." He pointed to a northeast corner of the map. "They were big last time, there might still be some people hanging around."
"It's too dangerous, Benjamin," my mother said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Ashley looked over at her. "What else can we do, Mom? Look under every rock in the State, the Country?"
Teren walked up to the table and every voice in the room quieted as they looked at him. Knowing my husband looked like he'd been on a wild bender, I wasn't too surprised when they all stared at him wide-eyed.
Glancing down at the map, Teren sniffed then looked back up at Ben. "We're not hunting." Ashley started to object and Teren sliced his eyes over to her. "It won't help. He's not hanging around other vampires. They won't know...anything."
Ben started to walk around the table as Alanna swished into the kitchen to make her son some food. "Teren, man, you never know. He has to have some connections somewhere. If we can find who's helping him..."
Teren looked over at Ben. "He will kill my son. If we look, if we stir the wrong nest, he will kill Julian." Nika sniffled, clutching Teren tighter as he patted her back. In a whisper, he added, "He's already left him starving and alone...I won't risk it."
Imogen squeezed his arm and Teren looked down at her. "How do you know?" Her pale eyes searched his frantically, the hope clear in them.
Teren looked at me behind him before shifting to take in every awaiting person. Jack held my mother's shoulders as Ashley started to tremble. Hot Ben looked between Teren and the map, silently weighing the risk. Alanna swished back into the room, her breath held and her hands empty, as she waited for her son to confess what he knew, what he'd found out. I stepped up to him, putting my hand on his back.
He sighed. "We met Malcolm today. He confessed that he left Julian with nothing, and he would let him starve to death if we...didn't do what he wanted."
Gasps and sobs filled the room. I closed my eyes, but I could still hear my mother cry softly as Jack clenched her tight. I could still hear Ashley heavily sit into a nearby chair and Hot Ben cursing under his breath as he sat beside her.
Alanna's presence stepped up to us and I peeked up at her. Her face suddenly as worn as Teren's, she shook her head, pink tears dripping off her cheeks as she did. "What does he want?"
Imogen shook her head, her eyes brimming with red tears. She wrung her hands as she looked around their home. "What do we have that he needs?" She looked about ready to hand him over the deed to the ranch, if he wanted it.
I sighed, knowing that his needs weren't material objects. Teren sighed too. Closing his eyes for a second, he wavered on his feet. With a quick kiss to his daughter's head, his eyes opened and his gaze floated around the room. "He wants me to kill Gabriel," he whispered.
Every standing body found a chair to sit in. As one, all the vampires looked east, to where we all felt Halina. She hadn't been back either, instead pushing farther and farther away from us in her search. I knew she was probably sleeping under a mound of dirt right now, and I knew she probably hated it, but she was as relentless in her quest as Teren was. And now, Teren had to decide if he was going to kill the man she loved....to save our son.
Alanna looked up at Teren. "And what are you going to do?"
Clutching Nika tight, his eyes misting, Teren shook his head. "I don't know," he whispered.
Alanna closed her eyes and nodded. Imogen beside her was shaking her head in disbelief. A ray of sun highlighted the grandmotherly vampire's face but in that moment, I more saw a concerned daughter than a loving grandparent. "You can't," she whispered, brushing a loose lock of hair back into her bun. "Mother loves him...you can't..."
She looked up at Teren with torn eyes, her expression the same that was on my face. No, he couldn't, it was horrible, but if it was our only chance to get Julian back, should he anyway?
Everyone looked between Teren, the location Halina was, and the table. Teren silently watched everyone's reactions, tilting a bit on his feet. My arms went around him, steadying him. "Go upstairs, rest."
He shook his head, looking down on me. "I can't rest. I can't...with Julian out there."
One hand rubbing the back of my daughter's clinging shape, the other reached up to brush over his cheek. "He gave you three days, nothing will happen to Julian until then." My voice cracked but I made myself continue. "Go upstairs with Nika and try to take a nap." My hand cupped his cheek. "You're exhausted," I said pointedly, knowing I was mimicking Malcolm's last words. "And the next time we meet him...you'll need your strength," I added quietly.
Teren closed his eyes, leaning into my hand. Nika generally fought against the idea of a nap, but her arms around him tightened as she buried her head in his neck; she wasn't letting go of Daddy anytime soon. Alanna blurred out of the room while he nodded.
He looked around at the remaining people in our home, then looked north, to where Gabriel was also searching for our son. He'd checked in with us periodically, mainly to let us know that every lead he'd gotten hadn't led anywhere. They'd been so close to nabbing Malcolm, then he'd all but disappeared. I remembered the torn bloody section of Malcolm's shirt. If only they'd finished the job in that raid...then he wouldn't have slipped away and snatched my son.
Sighing, Teren pulled his eyes from the man he'd been assigned to murder, and started to shuffle back down the hall. Everyone at the table silently watched him leave. Not able to stand the oppressive silence in the room, I followed him.
Alanna blurred out to us by the stairs, steaming thermos of blood in hand. Teren glanced at it instantly, his hand reaching out at the same time hers did. Tilting it back, he gulped it down hungrily, although not spilling any on himself this time. I watched his thirst, tears in my eyes. He'd been putting himself through so much, just to keep up the impossible task of finding our son.
Tears in her own eyes, Alanna took back the container once he was finished. "Do you want some more?" she asked quietly, her voice shaky as she brushed some hair off his forehead. The movement was so similar to how I always brushed hair out of Julian's eyes that my throat choked up.
Teren sighed, shaking his head. "No, thank you, Mom. I just want to lie down." He staggered on his feet and Alanna nodded. I ran my hand over his back and urged him upstairs. He needed to rest before he simply fell over.
With his head resting against Nika's, I led him to our room. I thought to help him clean up, but Nika wouldn't disengage from him long enough for him to strip his clothes off. I tried to gently pull her off, but she whined and shook her head, clutching him tighter.
Teren shook his head at me. "It's okay." He shrugged and sat down on the bed with her. Swallowing the emotion in my throat, I took off his shoes and helped him shift under the covers with the lump of our daughter attached to his chest. She didn't relax her rigidness until they were snuggled together.
I wrapped an extra blanket around her, to counteract Teren's' chill. Teren sighed and closed his eyes, kissing her forehead as he ran a hand down her hair. She peeked up at me when I pulled away from the pair. "Mommy?" she said quietly.
Threading my hand over the hair above her ear, I murmured, "Yes, baby?"
Teren's eyes cracked open as our daughter responded to my question. "Julie's scared."
My eyes watered right back up as Teren clenched her tight. "I know, sweetheart, we're gonna bring him home, really soon."
She nodded and closed her eyes, her young face worn, but completely believing me. She had absolute faith that what we told her would happen; I prayed it did. Teren exhaled brokenly, looking up at me. I nodded at him, kissing his forehead. "Sleep, we'll figure it out when you wake up."
He nodded, his eyes fluttering closed. I slowly backed out of the room, watching them. Nika's breaths were low and even by the time I reached the door. Teren's had completely stopped. Exhausted, they'd both nearly passed out.
I felt my own weariness as I considered joining them. I couldn't though. I heard conversations downstairs over what to do now and I wanted to be a part of them. Plus, every nap or rest I'd taken in the last few days had ended with me waking from a scream worthy nightmare. I didn't want to have any nightmares right now; my awake moments were nightmarish enough.
While Teren slept, my family debated over options. There weren't many. Blindly looking for Julian was an impossible task. Knocking on vampire's nests was also an impossible task, impossible and dangerous. The odds of them knowing anything helpful about Malcolm weren't all the great, since he'd been on the run for years. Plus, Gabriel knew several vampires, if it were really a matter of just asking one, he would have done that.
That of course brought the conversation around to Gabriel. No one flat-out said that Teren should just kill him, but the tension of the thought was in the air. It wasn't as if anyone disliked the man, far from it, but he was over six hundred years old. He'd lived a full life - several of them. My son had barely just begun. The tradeoff seemed fair, in a horribly unfeeling way.
When the sun set, I began to feel Halina's presence stir. All the vampires looked her way as we felt her come towards us. I didn't know if she was returning to the ranch because she was tired and frustrated of pointless searching, or if she just felt guilty being so far away from her clan. Probably guilt. Halina would search relentlessly if she needed to, but she'd have a problem with completely abandoning her position as protector. Even though she could feel us, she was probably anxious over our safety.
Like Teren, Halina had dashed out to search for Julian on foot. She'd been forced to break her frantic pace during daylight hours, when she had to hide out the sun, but I was sure she was just as weary as Teren, emotionally if not physically. As her presence was heading back towards us at a pace that was slower than she was capable of, I figured she had obtained a car during her travels. Knowing her, it was probably a fast one. I wondered briefly what fortunate soul "gifted" her a vehicle. But, fast as it was, it was still going to take her some time to make it home. A couple of days, since she could only travel at night.
When Hot Ben decided to go out for more pointless searching, Alanna, Jack and Imogen agreed to go with him. They'd been studiously watching over my mother, sister and Nika, protecting them in case Malcolm had decided that he wasn't done abducting people, and they hadn't had a chance to look for my son yet. I wished them luck as they left, knowing they wouldn't find anything, but understanding the need to look. Even now, knowing that Julian was safely stashed somewhere for at least the next few days, I wanted to look for him. It was hard to stay still, but I did, for my family.
I heard Jack and Alanna get in his truck, Imogen slip into her car, and Hot Ben get in his SUV. My mom and Ash wanted to head out too, but I made them stay behind. Unless you were undead, or had experiencing dealing with the undead, it just felt too risky to be out in the night, kicking over rocks. Scary things sometimes lived under rocks.
So we played Parcheesi while everyone else searched for him. It was the most somber game of Parcheesi I'd ever played. I felt Teren stir to life not long after everyone had gone. Glancing at my mom and Ashley, both looking out the windows more than the game board, I listened as he got out of our bed and walked over to the bathroom.
The sound of running water through the pipes alerted my mom and Ashley and they looked up, to where Teren was above us. Ashley's eyes came back down to mine. "He's awake?" I nodded, noting that my daughter was still asleep; she must have really been exhausted.
I gave him a few minutes to shower and collect himself, slowly walking to the kitchen to prepare another drink for him. I warmed one up for me too, wanting a little refresher. My thoughts instantly shifted to Julian. It was so unnatural to not feel him, to not be fixing him something to eat, to not be preparing to send him off to bed. I would give anything to go back to when our biggest challenge had been getting the twins to brush.
Holding the two steaming cups of plasma, I made my way upstairs. Opening the door to our room here, I instantly saw my husband. Standing in the doorway of the bathroom, drying his hair with a towel, he stared at the shape of our daughter snoring away in our bed. The light from the humid room silhouetted his body, casting a shadow of him on our bed. It nearly looked like he was still lying down with Nika, his black form protecting her just as he would.
The scent of body wash tickling my nose, I headed over to him, cup extended. He cracked a smile as he took it, warmed by my gesture as much as the return of my presence. Our bond glowed between us, for a second warming the hole that Julian's abduction had created. Tilting back our drinks together, I watched Teren as I gulped. Dressed in rugged denims, a loose, dark blue button up shirt over the top, he again looked clean and fresh, ready to take on the world. I wasn't sure if his spirit was quite there though, as conflicted as he was over his decision.
Only stopping when his mug was empty, he sighed softly and closed his eyes. When they reopened and locked on me, they seemed brighter, more alive and determined than I'd seen in awhile. Sometimes rest and nourishment was all it took to give you the drive to start again. We may not know what to do, or where to look for our son, but he was alive and would be for the next three days. There was a surprising amount of comfort in that.
Taking his thermos, I watched his ice blue eyes shift back to Nika on the bed. His black hair as dry as a towel could get it, he blindly tossed the cloth behind him, into the bathroom. Leaning against the frame, he sighed and shook his head. "I thought a shower would clear my mind. I thought the solution would hit me instantly."
Setting our mugs on a dresser, I came up to him and rested my head on his shoulder. "I don't think there are any instant solutions to this, Teren."
He looked down on me as I slung my arms around his waist. He smelled clean, familiar and comforting, and I allowed myself to indulge in it, burying my head in his shoulder much like Nika had earlier. His hand rubbed my back, comforting me, even through his own pain. "You look better at least." I peered up at him, the jaw under his stubble flexing. "Do you feel any better?"
His lips thinning as he pressed them together, he whispered, "I feel like a hole has been punched straight through me. I feel...incomplete."
His pale eyes glassed over as I pulled back to look at him. His gaze was studiously fixed on Nika, like he knew that if he met eyes with me, those glossy orbs would fill to a breaking point. I palmed his cheek but didn't make him look at me. He was struggling to remain in control and I understood that. I constantly felt on the edge of hysteria...and that wasn't going to help Julian.
"I know...I feel that way too." I followed his gaze to stare at Nika on the bed. Her arms were outstretched on the bed, like she was still reaching out for Teren, or Julian, but her legs were bunched up to her chest, curling herself into a protective ball. My kids sometimes fell asleep in the exact same position. Was Julian right now, reaching out for us, for his twin?
My vision hazing, I whispered, "I wish we could feel what she feels," I looked back at Teren, "just so we could know for certain that he was alright, that he was safe, that he was...alive."
Teren looked down at me and swallowed, his arms around me squeezing a little tighter. "If I had never told Gabriel about what had been done to me, none of this would have happened."
Sighing, my fingers on his face stroked his cheek. I raised my eyebrows as I shook my head. "If I'd remembered to open the door, we would have heard Malcolm. If we'd never soundproofed our room, we would have caught him."
Teren slumped and looked down and I squatted a little to hold his eye. "But then, if we hadn't met Ben at the gym that night, I wouldn't have been bitten. If we hadn't stopped to help someone that day, we wouldn't have been abducted." I smiled softly as Teren sighed. Shaking my head again, I murmured, "And...if I hadn't spilled coffee down your shirt, we wouldn't have met."
Teren smiled softly at the memory he loved while we both straightened. My arms moving up to slink around his neck, I rested my forehead against his. "You can play the what-if game forever, Teren. It doesn't change anything. This happened. We have to focus on what to do now."
Exhaling steadily, the faint smell of sweet blood on his breath, he rocked his head against mine. "What do I do, Emma?"
Intenseness in my eyes, I pulled back to gaze at him. "You'll do whatever you have to, to get Julian back."
Closing his eyes, Teren nodded. When he opened them again, he looked around the room. "Where did everyone streak off to?"
I felt the pings of family members in my head, some near, some very far, and shrugged. "They wanted to search for Julian." His eyes came back to mine and I shrugged. "They haven't had the chance yet, since they've sort of been on guard duty."
Teren nodded, looking at the floor to where we could hear my mother and sister discussing what Teren should do. They seemed just as torn on the matter as we were, both sides having pros and cons, the biggest pro of course being Julian's return. Shaking his head, Teren muttered, "They won't find him."
Hearing him admit that made an ache run through my silent heart. Biting my lip, I nodded, and conceded. "I know...but they want to try."
Teren looked up at hearing me admit defeat. It was a difficult thing to say. Having doubts and fears in your mind was one thing. Verbalizing them to another person was quite another. It made the entire situation suddenly seem real...and a little hopeless.
His hand came up to cup my cheek, his skin almost hot against my chilled flesh after his searing shower. "I'll do whatever I have to, Emma, to get him back to us."
I nodded, swallowing. Nika stirred on the bed, her arms tightening around nothing. Glancing at her, Teren started pulling me towards the door. "Let's go downstairs, let her sleep in peace."
I followed him out after placing a cool kiss on her hot cheek. She stirred, mumbling something that sounded like, "Julie," then she fell back into peacefulness. I wished her a long rest. Her tired, tiny body needed the reprieve.
Teren was waiting for me in the hallway, a hand outstretched. I grabbed it, a small smile lifting my lips at the connection. It faded instantly though. Small pockets of joy coursed into me throughout my day, but they were never enough to truly lift the weight around my heart. Teren's lips exactly mimicked my actions and he sighed wearily. Tilting his head to the dual staircase, he started leading me that way.
Expecting to walk back to the living room to rejoin Mom and Ash, I was a little surprised when he twisted us so we left the main building. Walking through an open air breezeway, the scent of cattle stung my nose for a second before we entered one of the side buildings here at the ranch. Each building beside the main one held numerous guest rooms, games rooms, formal dining rooms, laundry rooms, everything a growing vampire family could ask for.
None of the rooms were made available to the ranch hands that helped out a couple times a year. They were relegated to their own home far from the main house. That gave the vampires freedom to be more who they were. Not having to constantly reign in their nature. The ranch hands house was still empty, everyone was still being held away. My earlier conversion had thrown everything off schedule and Alanna and Jack had pushed back Peter's return until after the twins' fourth birthday in a couple weeks. A birthday I prayed they both got to celebrate together.
As we walked down a hallway that I knew well, a hallway that held the room I'd prepared to marry Teren in, that sweeter, purer time filled my head. Our life had seemed so hopeful then. I was completely human, recently pregnant. We hadn't known about Gabriel and his expansive circle of mixed and full vampires. Carrie was alive and well, and I'd been oblivious of her past connection to my then boyfriend. They were simpler times, and seemed a lifetime ago as I walked down the hall with Teren. Our biggest problem that day had been Hot Ben walking in on us and discovering what Teren was.
Remembering Ben asking Teren if he was going to eat him, a small smile cracked my lips. It fell off my face the moment we stopped before another door that I knew well. A door that held memories that weren't so pure and sweet.
Teren's face was hard and serious as he opened the door into what I liked to call the "war room." I never came in here, not since that day that Teren and I had fought here. He'd been packing up for battle, preparing to do whatever was necessary to find an elusive mixed vampire, any mixed vampire, hoping against hope that someone could help me. I cringed that it had come down to this. That once again, Teren was being forced to do something unsavory, to protect his family.
I wanted to pull him back, to forcibly make him leave this room with me, but I couldn't. I knew the risks, and this time...I supported his decision. His breath heavier, he dropped my hand and opened a chest on the floor. In it, were all the weapons Teren and Ben had accumulated on their hunting trips. I bit my lip as he rifled through stake after stake. I hated the vision of violence before me - guns, silver knives, even a crossbow. It was all so barbaric, so against who Teren was as a person. The image of him examining an aged, wooden stake, seeing if the point was sharp enough, was so jolting that I felt my stomach rise. I didn't want this...but I wanted my son.
Finally settling on a silver one that shone brightly in the sun streaming through the window, its light refracting around the room, he stood back up. His face tight as he examined the object in his hands, he murmured, "I need to call Gabriel, have him come back here. I'll tell him I found something, a clue, but I need his help with it."
My eyes watered as I watched his thumb stroke over the deadly piece. Surprisingly, an intrinsic part of me was afraid to be near it, like my body understood the danger of the weapon. I took a step back from him holding it. Teren's eyes lifted to mine, his face haunted by what he had to do, for our son.
I wanted to scream at him that there had to be another way, that he couldn't seriously be considering murder. But I didn't. I only nodded at him and forced myself closer to the hated object so I could touch him. Exhaling in a shaky breath, I wrapped my arms around his neck and held his head tight to mine. I could feel him trembling as he stood rigidly, stake in hand. He didn't want to do this either, but the odds of us blindly finding Julian were impossibly high. We'd have better odds finding Bigfoot.
Holding him close, I whispered in his ear, "I love you."