Everyone stopped moving. Everyone that could, stopped breathing. Even the sounds of nature around us stopped. No serpents slithered in the grass, no night animals skittered under the brush, no owls hooted in the air. Everything was silent, either paying their respects for the fallen, ancient vampire, or shocked into silence that my husband had been the one who felled him.
Teren, the only one not shocked and silent, panted as he twisted back to Malcolm. "Now, where the hell is my son!" he yelled, his voice breaking the stillness.
Malcolm's hazel eyes were wide as they stared as his nemesis on the ground, stone still in death, a true death this time. "Holy shit! I can't believe you actually did it!" His eyes flashed up to Teren's, a happy smile on his lips. "That was...incredible! I really didn't think you'd go through with it, especially when you brought him here. Way to man up!" He shook his head. "And out of nowhere too. He never saw you coming. Wow, and you think I'm cold."
Teren, obviously done with playing games, blurred over to Malcolm and grabbed him by the throat. As he lifted him in the air, everyone pulled their eyes from Gabriel's corpse to watch what he would do next. Everyone but Halina that was. She was still staring at the body of her beloved, her face frozen in shock. I had no idea what she'd do when she snapped out of her daze. Family or not, Teren had just killed the man she'd finally let herself love. I couldn't believe that she'd just let it go.
"Do not underestimate what I will or will not do for my family." Through a clenched jaw, Teren spat out, "My son...now."
Malcolm fidgeted against Teren's hands, prying the thumbs free from his vocal cords so he could speak. "Yeah, yeah, relax. It's over now. A deal's a deal. Put me down and I'll tell you."
Teren lowered him, but didn't remove his hands from his neck. Malcolm smirked and shrugged. "Your kid is forty miles up the road. There's a clump of woods a few miles east of the highway. There's a car tucked in those woods. He's in the trunk."
Malcolm shrugged again and smiled, like everything in the world was all right. My hands flew to my mouth as my eyes watered. My baby was alone in the woods, in a trunk? God, how long had he been there?
Teren eyed his mother and then his grandmother. "Go get him." His eyes snapped back to Malcolm's; they were icily cold in the lamplight. "Once I know he's there and...fine...I'll let you go."
Alanna and Imogen instantly blurred away, eager to find Julian. I wanted to go too, nearly more than anything, but I couldn't leave my husband with this psycho...especially when I wasn't sure what Halina's reaction would be. She was still staring at Gabriel's limp form, her eyes misted over with blood red tears waiting to drop. It was still sinking in for her.
Malcolm, seemingly exhausted now that the tension was over with, sighed irritably. "The kid's fine and he really is there. You'll be able to feel him by morning, if you don't believe me."
My head snapped over from watching Halina to lock on Malcolm. "What?" I asked cautiously.
Malcolm looked over at me from the corner of his eye. "I had to inject him twice a day to block the bond. It's a tricky thing to shut off. He'll pop back up on your radar in a few hours."
I exhaled a relieved sigh. Teren clenched his hands tighter. "We'll be able to feel him? So, if you just lied right now about where he is, I'll be able to find him soon. I don't need you anymore," he whispered lethally.
Malcolm's eyes snapped back to Teren as his hands went to try and pry Teren off of him. Teren was well rested now though, and Malcolm was still exhausted and worn. For the moment, Teren was stronger. "Hey, we had a deal. You lived up to your part, I lived up to mine. I've got no further beef with you!"
Teren leaned in, his face centimeters from Malcolm's. "You stole my son from me, kept him locked up like an animal. You murdered a friend of mine. I've got a beef with you."
Malcolm bristled and tried to pull back from him but Teren held him tight. Ben walked up and grabbed an arm. I walked up and grabbed the other. He may be exhausted, but fear can lend a person strength. And Malcolm had everything to fear from Teren right now. Teren and me both.
Malcolm looked between the three of us as I ticked off how far away Alanna and Imogen were. Their streaks were still moving, still getting to my son. Malcolm pulled at his arms but we had them tight, even Ben, who was using every human muscle he had.
His eyes wide, Malcolm started sputtering. "I didn't hurt him! I was lying about the food and water thing. He's as healthy as a horse. I just needed a card to play so you wouldn't kill me. I've treated him like a King." His frantic eyes looked between the three of us. "I'm a business man, not a child torturer. I just needed you to think he was in danger, so you'd back off. In fact, if you had taken me, the daily injections I'd been giving him would have worn off and you'd have found him easily. I was bluffing!"
Teren leaned in close again. "Why should I believe anything you say?" His grip tightened around Malcolm's throat and he winced in pain.
Malcolm's eyes widened as he realized that Teren just may kill him as well as Gabriel. Struggling, he managed to squeak out, "Hamburgers!"
Teren relaxed his hands, tilting his head. "What?"
Malcolm inhaled deep. "Hamburgers. The kid eats them like they're gonna disappear." Teren narrowed his eyes and Malcolm added, "Ketchup! He likes them plain with about a gallon of ketchup." His eyes flicked between mine and Teren's. "He thinks it makes them look like they're covered in blood."
My hands loosened on Malcolm along with Teren's. We stared at each other, our expressions equally startled and relieved. It was true, that was exactly how Julian loved his burgers. I always got the super large ketchup bottle at the store, just for him.
As Teren and I smiled at each other, hope that our child might not be starving filling us, a roar of grief and despair pierced the air. My ears rang with the force of it. Before I could even start looking for who or what had made the sound, Teren was yanked away from Malcolm. Malcolm staggered back a step as his neck was suddenly free.
Twisting my head, I watched an enraged Halina pulling Teren to the ground. She immediately ducked down, her short skirt riding high up her thighs, and clenched an iron hand around his throat. With a strength that superseded us all, she stood, lifting him easily into the air.
His eyes wide, he struggled against her. "Stop," he croaked out, the air he needed not really reaching him.
"What did you do!" She yelled, her face in a near unrecognizable snarl.
Her eyes filled with hatred and pain as she stared up at him. I wasn't even sure if Halina saw Teren anymore. No, I was pretty sure she was no longer looking at the grandson that reminded her of her late husband. She was letting her normally contained anger explode in her grief, and the only thing her eyes saw now, was the thing that had destroyed the man she loved.
My hands loosened on Malcolm as I took a step towards her. After everything we'd survived...she may be what finally killed my husband.
"What did you do!" she repeated, louder. Her hand jerked him back and forth, shaking him like she could shake an answer from him. As he couldn't get air to speak though, he couldn't get air to answer her.
I watched Teren mouth, 'not now,' and filled in his speech for him. "Halina! Stop it. You can deal with Teren later!"
As if to prove my words, Malcolm took the moment of family strife to break away. Squirming out of my distracted hands, he easily broke free from Ben's. My head snapped back around to him right as he shoved me. Not expecting it, I fell harshly to the ground. My hip land on a jagged rock in the dirt field and I gasped as I felt skin tearing. It healed as soon as I shifted, but it still hurt like a bitch.
Hot Ben watched me fall and started to help until he noticed Malcolm making a break for it. He grabbed hold of the weary vampire's shoulders, stopping him from blurring away. Irritated, Malcolm twisted around and connected his fist to Ben's jaw. Weary or not, Malcolm was still a supernatural being, and a hit from him was like a steel bat being swung at you. Hot Ben twisted around and slumped to the ground. He didn't get back up.
Seeing what was going on, Teren tried to kick his great-grandmother. Her back to the turmoil of Malcolm making his escape, she ignored him kicking her in the shins, only batting his legs away like he was paining her no more than the twins would have. Leering at him viciously, she finally lowered him, bringing his head to hers. "You...will pay," she hissed.
Teren shook his head and tried pointing at where Ben's lifeless body was, but Halina was ignoring everything that wasn't him. She wanted vengeance and Teren was the only one that could currently give it to her.
After downing Hot Ben, Malcolm smirked and twisted to flee. I blurred back to my feet, torn between stopping him and helping Ben, assuming the gorgeous man was even still alive. Ultimately, the fear of Malcolm being loose in the world made me go for him. I attached my body to his. If he was going to try and blur away, he was going to take me with him.
Malcolm struggled, not having the strength to hightail it with me on his back. Cursing, he tried to grab me and tear me off of him. Quite unfairly, his main hold on me was my hair. He grabbed a fistful and yanked back. My head had to follow, which suddenly exposed my throat to him. His fangs dropped down as he stared at the surging veins. He may not kill me by feeding on me, but he couldn't certainly weaken me to a point where I couldn't fight back. His arms holding mine down, he sank his teeth in as far as he could. I screamed. It hurt. It also reminded me of being attacked.
Pure I-won't-be-a-victim-again panic surged through me and I kneed him in the groin, hard. Some things still hurt men, even when they're deceased, and he groaned and staggered back a step. Pissed off at another creep taking an unwanted bite out of me, I curled my hand into a fist and clocked the bastard. I felt the jolt of it all the way up my arm, but his face whipped around and he looked stunned, so I felt vindicated. Then he snarled and looked back at me like he wanted to tear me apart. No longer intent on fleeing, he growled and lunged for me.
I managed to duck out of his grasp by mere inches. Twisting back at Halina still having a stare down with a now freaking-out Teren, I screamed, "Halina! Let him go and help me! You're the protector, so stop messing around and freaking protect!"
Irritated, Halina finally looked at me. The heat in her expression cooled as she watched Malcolm successfully tackle me to the ground. His hands firmly on my head, he bashed my skull into the dirt, smacking it into the same rock that had injured me earlier. When I was dazed and more complacent, his palms on the sides of my face started pulling my head away from my body.
Halina snarled and released Teren. She may blindly hate him at the moment, but she wasn't about to let my head get ripped off...thank god. Blurring over to Malcolm, her foot came out and connected with his jaw. He flew backwards about twenty feet, landing hard on his back. Stunned and not looking like he wanted to take on a pureblood, he shakily stood and twisted to leave. Halina phased right in front of him. Grabbing fistfuls of his shirt, she yanked his face directly into hers.
"Going somewhere?" she seethed, anger apparent in every syllable she uttered.
Malcolm's eyes were wide as he watched Halina's fangs drop. I was pretty sure that if she wanted to, the teenage vixen could decapitate him with those teeth. And her eyes blazed with enough fury that I was equally sure she wanted to.
Teren's arms were instantly around me, inspecting my already healed head. His face twisted in rage, he helped me stand. Behind me I heard a weary groan and looked over to see Hot Ben starting to stand as well. Relief poured into me that he was okay, that I was okay.
As Teren started stalking over to Malcolm, looking ready to assist in his decapitation, something changed.
The blips of Alanna and Imogen in my head started racing back to us. Knowing that they'd only come back if they'd found my son, I closed my eyes and imagined that I felt his presence returning too. Quickly opening them, I saw Teren and Halina paused, looking towards the direction of where Julian was rapidly coming towards us. As the wind shifted again, I imagined I could smell him faintly in the breeze. Maybe I even could? I wasn't sure if it was real or not, I wanted it so bad.
Malcolm took the distraction to disengage from Halina. Successfully breaking free, he wasted no time in blurring away.
I yelled, "No!" as I watched him streak towards the edge of the barn. Everyone's heads turned to watch him zip to the edge of the pool of light...where he ran smack into a wall. Well, it seemed like a wall, with how solidly he'd run into it. But as he stumbled backwards to the ground, I realized it wasn't a wall at all. I blinked and gasped.
It was Gabriel.
My eyes were wider than they'd ever been as they flicked from the spot where Gabriel's prone body had been lying, to the very much alive vampire standing before Malcolm. On the ground, only Ben's bloody stake remained. Gabriel's shirt was dripping with the red blood soaked down the front of it; he'd definitely been staked. He'd been dead, I was sure. I had no idea how he was standing before Malcolm, hands on his hips in displeasure.
Hot Ben staggered to his feet, cursing lowly while he stared at Gabriel as if he were a ghost. "Holy hell, I thought he was dead?" he muttered as Halina gaped, stunned into silence again.
But our reactions were nothing compared to Malcolm's. He looked about ready to implode from fear and stress. Backing away from Gabriel, he started muttering, "No, I watched you die...that's not possible." His slightly glowing eyes darted over Gabriel's body.
Gabriel frowned down at him. "Malcolm, I'm very disappointed in you."
As Gabriel advanced, Malcolm retreated, scooting right up to bump into Teren's legs. Teren imposingly stared down on Malcolm huddling by his feet before smiling crookedly. Turning his head between Teren and Gabriel, Malcolm disbelievingly said, "You? You did this? You tricked me?"
Leaning down slightly, Teren whispered, "I told you not to underestimate me."
Malcolm's pale face seemed to pale even more as he began to realize that he'd been successfully tricked this time; he'd given up Julian's location. He made a dash for it, but Gabriel reached down and pulled him up by one arm. Halina snapped out of her stupor and immediately grabbed his other arm. Malcolm struggled, but both incredibly strong vampires held him tight.
His head twisting between the two of them, Malcolm started to genuinely panic. "Gabriel, please...let me go. I didn't hurt the child!" Gabriel's only response was to narrow his jade eyes, dark in the bluish lamplight.
Teren stepped in front of Malcolm, crossing his arms over his chest. Malcolm tried beseeching him, since Gabriel was unmoved. "I did nothing to the kid! I didn't hurt him. Just wait, he's fine, you'll see. When he gets here, you'll see!" His scared eyes took in all of us. "He's fine!"
I took a second to register my family approaching, the faint scent I'd imagined earlier turning into a real one that was getting stronger. Teren smiled at smelling it too. Seeming more relaxed now that Malcolm was securely held and our son was coming closer, he sneered at Malcolm, leaning directly into his face.
"My son was terrified...for days," he said in a cold whisper. Teren's hand came out to point back to the ranch, to where we could both feel Nika. "My daughter can feel every emotion that he feels." His voice gained strength as fatherly anger poured out of him. "She felt every ounce of his fear! She was terrified...for days!"
Malcolm struggled against his captors, staring at the river of blood down the front of Gabriel's shirt. His panicked eyes shifted to Halina and then Teren as Teren stepped back. Malcolm shook his head and shrugged. "I didn't hurt him, you have my word. I treated him like royalty. I swear. I didn't hurt anybody."
Teren's eyes flared, the light of the lamp making them gleam in an inhuman way. Leaning in, he snarled, "You killed a friend of mine. You took her life to prove a point, like she meant nothing!"
Malcolm's brow bunched together and he shrugged. "She was just a human...?" His face looked lost, like he didn't understand the problem. Like she really had meant nothing.
Gritting his jaw, Teren straightened. Shaking his head, he said nothing else. Turning his back on Malcolm, he walked away. As he left him, Malcolm's fearful eyes shifted between Halina and Gabriel. Halina's pale eyes glowed with fury. Gabriel's look was more impassive, but equally displeased. "You betrayed me, Malcolm, took something that wasn't yours to take."
His voice was detached, unemotional, it gave me shivers. It made Malcolm look like he wanted to pee his pants. He struggled between the two vampires, but he was outmatched between the ancient, mixed's strength and the pure vampire's. Maybe seeing that no one was going to stop this, he started yanking on his arms, trying to free them. I thought he might start trying to gnaw them off soon, if he thought of it.
His head flicking between Gabriel and Halina, he started endlessly repeating, "No! Please, Gabriel, please, no. Have mercy! I was just making money. I didn't hurt any vampires!"
Gabriel's eyes widened as he pulled on Malcolm's arm, holding his body closer. "You didn't hurt them? You sold my drug, Malcolm. You were directly involved in hunters killing our kind." He leaned in, his voice suddenly passionate. "In killing children, Malcolm."
Malcolm swallowed and shook his head. "No...I didn't know about that. You gotta believe me. I didn't know!"
Gabriel shook his head, his impassive face returning. It didn't matter if he knew or not; he was still guilty of the crime. Malcolm's eyes widened at seeing Gabriel's face hardening and he again pled for his life. "Please! You know me! Have mercy! Please!"
Gabriel, done listening, ignored him. Looking over Malcolm's struggling body, he nodded at Halina. She locked gazes with him. Her lips in a hard line, she nodded back. Both of them simultaneously prepared their stances, pulling Malcolm taunt.
Malcolm started yelling for help when he realized just what his sentence was. My eyes widened at what they were going to do. I felt like gagging. Deserving or not, it was awful. This was a sight I didn't need in my head and I wanted to close my eyes, but, horrified, I couldn't look away.
Just as Gabriel and Halina used every vampiric muscle they had to pull their portions of Malcolm in opposite directions, just as Malcolm's yells shifted to pain-filled screams ripping through the night, arms were suddenly around my head, holding me close to a silent heart.
My arms flew around Teren. It didn't block out all the noise, but it helped. Running my hands up his back and holding him to me, I was grateful that he was blocking that image from my sight. My imagination made up for it though. With the muffled, wet noises and the scent of fresh blood in the air, a lot of fresh blood, I felt like I didn't actually need to see it, to see it.
When the night was silent from the screams and gory noises, Teren loosened his grip on me. Peeking up at his face, I took in his grim expression - his head lowered, his eyes closed. Malcolm may have created a storm of havoc in our lives, but Teren was a good person and didn't enjoy hearing the death of another, necessary or not. Once again blocking my ears, he'd heard it all. I reached up and cupped his face, silently thanking him. He opened his eyes and smiled down at me, his face relaxing into a calmness I hadn't seen in days.
"Ugh, now I really am going to be sick."
At hearing Hot Ben's voice, I twisted to look over at him. He was holding his stomach, staring at the dirt-packed field, his lips twisted like he'd just seen the grossest thing imaginable. He looked horribly green, even under the strange lighting. He also had a split lip and the beginning of a nasty bruise on his jaw. I wouldn't be surprised if he'd fractured something.
Following the line of his sight, I instantly wished I hadn't. The dirt was a deep brown in the lamplight, but there were distinctly dark, wet lumps of...something in the space between Gabriel and Halina. They were now standing thirty feet apart, staring down at the clumps of what was left of poor, stupid Malcolm.
Sniffing, Ben recovered his intestinal fortitude and walked over to pick up the stake that had been inside Gabriel's body. Striding over to Halina, he started rummaging around her half of Malcolm, searching the body for something. While I twisted my lip, wondering if Ben had gone a little mad, he suddenly found it and jabbed the stake through Malcolm's dead chest...through his heart.
Standing and looking pleased with himself, he smiled and glanced around at all of us, like he'd just saved the day.
Teren scrunched his brow and shook his head at Ben. Unless Malcolm's super healing abilities included repairing himself from long distances, there was really no way he was walking away from that. As all eyes shifted to Hot Ben, he started looking a little sheepish, his smile dropping a little. "What? You can never be too careful, right?"
Teren started laughing then, the tension easing off of him as he did. Halina joined in as well, clapping Ben on the back. Then she blurred over to Gabriel, throwing her arms around his neck and leaping onto his body, showering him in kisses.
Teren smiled, watching them, then, still chuckling a little, he twisted back to Ben. "Want to be really thorough?" Ben nodded eagerly and Teren shook his head. "We should burn the body."
Ben nodded and pulled a lighter from his pocket. While he got to work on completing his task, I sank into Teren's body. Exhaustion, a residual fear, and remembered pain washed through me, but it was nothing compared to the joy of knowing that Julian was coming closer. I wrapped my arms around my husband and sighed.
Pulling back from me, he tenderly ran his fingers down my cheek. His eyes searching mine he whispered, "Are you okay? I was so scared..."
He bit his lip and cupped my cheek. Smiling, I put my hand over his. "Julian's coming...I'm great."
Smiling, he nodded then switched it a wry turn of his lips. "Did you seriously deck that guy?" He raised an eyebrow, his expression both amused and concerned.
As the acrid smell of smoke hit the air, I shrugged, looking toward the indistinguishable body parts that Ben was adding to the growing pile. "I couldn't let him get away," I muttered, watching Ben duck into the barn, only to come out moments later with a gas can. Soon his timid fire was a raging inferno. Luckily there were no nosey neighbors out here in the middle of nowhere.
Teren's hand on my face turned me back to him. "He could have..." Stopping his words, he shook his head. "What am I going to do with you?"
Exhaling slowly, I rested my head against his, nuzzling my cheek over the harness of his stubbled jaw. "You take me home...me and the kids."
Squeezing tighter, he nodded. "That I can do."
As Teren and I started to drift away from the pungent smell of Malcolm's demise, Gabriel and Halina walked over to join us. Attached to his side, Halina was rubbing his blood soaked chest, staring at it in wonder. Her fingers poked and prodded for holes in his skin, but I knew she wouldn't find any. Whatever Teren had done to him, he'd already healed from it.
As Gabriel clapped Teren on the shoulder, Halina gazed up at him. Her eyes were completely different as she stared up at her ancient boyfriend. No anger or fear remained in them, just an obviously deep well of love. Whatever reservations she'd had about being with Gabriel before, I was sure they were gone now. Thinking someone was dead had a way of making all of the impossible obstacles suddenly seem...possible.
Shifting her eyes to a softly smiling Teren, Halina shook her head. "That was all fake? You were bluffing?"
Teren shrugged. "He needed Gabriel dead. I made him think he got his wish." Teren's smile shifted to a cringe as he met eyes with Gabriel. "I'm sorry I couldn't warn you. He would have heard."
Gabriel rubbed his hand near Halina's on his stained chest. "Yes, well, I almost didn't have to pretend. You came extremely close to my heart, Teren."
He raised an eyebrow at Teren and Teren cringed even more. "Sorry, I needed it to look real."
Gabriel smirked and shook his head. "Another couple of inches and it would have been."
Teren released me, putting a hand on Gabriel's arm. "Thank you for playing along, for understanding my plan."
Gabriel nodded, then twisted his lips. "I wasn't entirely playing." He looked down at the mess on his chest and shook his head, rubbing the area over his heart. Peeking up at Teren, he grimaced. "That was exceedingly painful."
Teren chuckled a little, shaking his head. "Sorry."
I squeezed him a little tighter, grateful that Halina hadn't lashed out more aggressively and immediately killed him. Halina seemed to be thinking the same thing. Sighing, she released Gabriel and walked over to Teren. I took a step back from him as she started a long Russian sentence. Teren met her gaze, nodding a little. When she finished with her speech, she stroked her fingers along the neck she'd been cinching tight earlier then cupped his cheek. Shaking her head, she swept him into a hug.
In words I could finally understand, she whispered, "I'm so sorry, Teren. I truly don't know what came over me."
Teren pulled back, smiling down at her. "You thought I staked the man you loved." He shook his head, his pale eyes looking over to me. "Situations reversed, I don't think I'd have reacted any differently."
Halina sighed and rested her head on his chest as Gabriel and Teren stroked her back. Feeling Alanna and Imogen nearly on us, we all stopped and looked over to the field where they were approaching. I started getting antsy, needing to be with my son again.
Teren and Halina broke apart, both looking antsy as well. Teren's eyes took in the bonfire of destruction that Ben had going. Standing before it, his body highlighted in the orange flames, Ben was tossing bits and pieces of evidence into it, wiping his hands off after every toss. Twisting back to the fields, Teren raised his chin in that direction. "Come on, let's go get our boy."
Not wanting Julian to see what we'd done, I nodded eagerly and streaked off, towards him. I could feel the other vampires right behind me as I blew across the empty fields. Whatever had been growing out here was long gone, and only weeds and overgrown tan grass impeded my progress.
Not wanting to collide with the approaching blurs, I slowed to a regular run along with the others. As if we'd planned it, Alanna and Imogen arrived at the same time. Like someone had adjusted the lens on a camera, their hazy streaks suddenly snapped into focus. Beaming brighter than I'd ever seen either of them, they humanly ran the distance between us. My vision hazed as what Alanna was carrying became clear to my enhanced eyes.
My son. My external heartbeat. My carbon copy of the man who seared my soul. Julian.
My legs trembling so hard I could barely keep running, I watched Julian start to struggle against Alanna. She set him down, letting him run on his own. As he shifted into overdrive, I sank to my knees. He collided with me right as I connected with the dirt.
Clenching his arms around me, he buried his head in my neck and trembled. Leaning back on my heels, I held him to me so closely that I had to remember to relax, so he could breathe. Teren's arms were instantly around him from the other side as he dropped to the ground as well. Holding him between us, sandwiched in the middle of our bodies, we both exhaled at the same time.
"Oh thank god, thank god," Teren murmured over and over, stroking his son's back and kissing his dark head.
Our glows highlighted the shaking child in our arms and I felt the emotion of his homecoming rising up my throat. Holding back a sob, I swallowed repeatedly, kissing Julian's forehead as I did. He nuzzled into me further, one of his hands reaching out for Teren. Holding us both tight, he sniffled. "Mommy, I didn't like that."
A small sob breaking free, I clutched him tighter. "I know, baby. I didn't like it either."
Lifting his tiny face up, his completely glowless eyes locked onto mine. Hoping the hypnotic sensation our eyes could give calmed him down, I held gazes with him. His sniffling stopped as he stared at me, his breathing evening out. Cupping his cheek, I tried to brush off the tear-streaked dirt on them. When he seemed calmer, I studied him. I saw no scratches, no marks of any kind. He didn't have the sunken look of someone underfed or dying of thirst. Just as Malcolm had said, he looked fine. Even so, I wanted to take him home and pump him full of all of the treats that he loved the most. Whatever he wanted...he could have.
As Teren and I gazed at him, searching for injuries, all I did see was a weary-to-the-bone tiredness. As Halina and Gabriel dropped down to touch him, kiss his head, and Alanna and Imogen squatted down to put an arm on mine and Teren's shoulders, Julian blinked, looking at all of us.
His voice worn from days of exhaustion, he looked over at Teren and croaked out, "Daddy...I want Nick."
Gabriel and Halina stayed behind with Hot Ben, making sure all traces of the vampire were hidden away from the world, the world that had no idea what had gone down tonight. Teren picked up Julian, walking him back to our car; he was asleep by that time he got him into it.
I sat in the backseat with him, not able to even be apart the space of a few feet. I wasn't sure how I'd ever part from Julian again. It didn't help matters any that I still couldn't feel him. Even sitting at his side, holding his relaxed hand while he snored, I couldn't sense him. It was disorienting and I hoped that Malcolm wasn't bluffing about the drug he'd given him wearing off soon.
Not wanting to leave his side either, Alanna and Imogen piled into the car with us. Alanna sat next to Teren, her hand over his as he sped us to our daughter. Imogen sat beside me, her arm wrapped around mine as I kept my eyes glued to Julian.
He'd only been gone a few days really, but it felt like years and I studied every attribute he had. The shape of his nose, the curve of his lips, the slightly elongated fangs as he slept with his mouth partly opened. There was nothing my eyes didn't notice, didn't memorize. They especially locked onto the red prick points on his bicep, from where Malcolm had injected him twice a day, every day. As a rage boiled within me, I was immediately grateful that Malcolm was already a pile of ash. Otherwise I would have stopped at nothing to turn him into one.
When we arrived back at the ranch, all of the lights were on. It being late in the night, just an hour or so before dawn, I frowned. But, then again, if I'd been Mom, Ash or Jack, and I knew what my supernatural loved ones were doing, I wouldn't have been able to sleep either. Just wouldn't have happened.
As Teren pulled the car to a stop, the front doors busted open. Julian snapped awake when they did. A euphoria in his face that I hadn't seen in so long it made my eyes water, he looked over to the tiny being that had shoved open the massive doors, scrambling to get to him.
Screaming at the top of her voice, Nika skipped out to the car. "Julie! Julie! Julie!"
My eyes filled as I immediately unbuckled his restrains. Hopping out of his seat, he opened his own door. "Nick!"
The rest of us piled out of the car as the others hustled out of the house. None of us speaking, we all watched the two empathically joined twins reunite. I was crying long before they did.
Their little bodies colliding together, their arms wrapped around each other tight. Nika was giggling, her face as joyous as Julian's. I hadn't heard her laugh in an eternity; it overjoyed me that she hadn't lost the ability to do it.
"I missed you, Julie!" she exclaimed as she laughed.
"I missed you too, Nick" he laughed right back.
Pulling apart, they stared at each other. Nika twisted her head. "You were scared."
Julian nodded. "You were too."
Nika peeked up at Teren, standing close beside me, holding my hand. "Is the monster gone, Daddy?"
Teren nodded, smiling down at her. "No more monsters, baby."
Nika nodded, turning back to Julian. "Grandma said we can have cocoa. Want some?"
Julian nodded and clasped her hand. Giggling like they'd never been apart, like they each hadn't just experienced something horrifically awful, they dashed into the house. I shook my head, marveling at the resilience of children.