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The Road Ahead Beckoning Darkness

Chapter Text

Jensen was late.

Jensen was never late.

Okay, that wasn't exactly true. Once Jensen had gotten a flat tire, causing quite the delay. Another time a huge storm had blown through and wiped out power in the entire southern half of the city, and there was the time Jensen had gotten a late start due to jury duty of all things, but any delays, expected or otherwise, were always reported and so far the app was still pinging a 'Triple S Snacks and Supplies delivery at 22:00. All supernatural - sepulchral to seraphic - needs fulfilled. Be there or be square!' message even though it was now 22:10 and there was no van in sight.

Cougar shifted uneasily as he eyed the others waiting, as he was, for Jensen to arrive.

Talking among themselves were four vampires he didn't know other than a vague sense of recognition from them having been at some of Jensen's previous drop offs. They were all fairly young though, obviously turned no more than a few decades ago as they hadn't lost the slight bluish tinge that resulted from being brought across, and, as a result, fairly unassuming overall, so Cougar didn't pay them much mind.

Roque was skulking against the brick wall in the corner and everyone, no matter who or what they were gave him a wide berth. Cougar was always surprised to see him as one of Jensen's clients. Blood demons were notoriously violent and Jensen was very thorough in researching who he was willing to sell to and would immediately cut off anyone who hurt or fed off humans, so Roque must have been an exception to the rule, even if he didn't seem the type. Then again, somehow Jensen got away with calling Roque a big teddy bear to his face, something that Cougar was pretty sure that if anyone else tried they would be eviscerated within seconds of the words leaving their mouths, so maybe the two just had some sort of understanding that Cougar was unaware of. Or Roque was a semi-nonviolent blood demon. Stranger things were possible, Cougar supposed.

Pooch was chatting amicably with Clay further down the alley. Cougar would have considered it an odd combo with the different types of magic being as disparate as they were, usually witches and warlocks stayed far, far apart, but it was Pooch after all, and everybody got along with Pooch, so Cougar supposed it made its own kind of sense. Then again, having witnessed Clay taking care of a neighborhood waif who'd fallen and scraped their knee, Cougar suspected Clay's gruff manner was just a front, hiding the fact he was a big old softy at heart.

A glamoured yowie was in an animated conversation with a poorly disguised yeti, ignoring everyone around them. Despite being at the further end of the alley from him, Cougar could make out bits and pieces of what they were talking about, enough to realize they were exchanging recipes of all things. Some of the ingredients they mentioned… well, suffice it to say, it was no wonder they were waiting for Jensen's truck.

Other than a glaistig he was familiar enough with to offer a polite nod when she looked his way, there were a few others around, no one Cougar could actually see with his eyes, but unmistakable presences flittered about that Cougar's senses were strong enough to pick up on, if not pinpoint. They were annoying, pinpricks of unease on his skin, but if they were here then they'd been vetted by Jensen which he knew meant he had nothing to be concerned about. It still put him on edge, being the way he was he couldn't help it, but at least he tried to convince himself it didn't.

After waiting another ten minutes or so the vampires came to some sort of decision, shrugging between themselves before heading out of the alley. Hopefully they weren't planning on hunting, but instead had other sources in mind for their meals, probably the morgue on Madison; as far as Cougar was aware it still did a brisk business in blood, despite its sourcing being more unreliable and a lot less fresh than Jensen's.

By 22:30 the yowie, yeti, glaistig and most of the hidden creatures had wandered off as well and Cougar found himself checking his watch and refreshing the app practically constantly. "Our boy's never been this late before," Pooch said as he ambled over to stand next to Cougar.

"I think something must be wrong."

"Something is definitely wrong." Clay glared at the spot where the van usually parked and ran a hand through his hair before letting out a frustrated breath and adding, "All I've got is his business card and that's not enough to scry for him with."

"Same here." Pooch sounded both worried and frustrated. "What about you, Cougar? You've been a client of his at least as long as I have. You've got to have his scent by now."

Cougar huffed. Any Were past their first shift would have the scent of a human memorized following a handful of regular meetings, let alone after dozens of flirtatious interactions. Tracking in the city though, when Jensen was most likely in a vehicle? It hurt to admit it, but he didn't think he'd be successful. "In a crowd I could find him in seconds, but in a vehicle somewhere in the city? I could try, but his van is not distinctive. It is too similar to too many others."

Clay turned to Roque. "What about you?"

Roque snorted, letting his glamour slide enough for his eyes to glow red. "Are you seriously asking if a blood demon is capable of finding a van, familiar driver or not, filled with blood and other similar human things?" Which, when rephrased like that, even Cougar had to admit, it had been a rather stupid question.

"Is that a yes?" Pooch grinned cheekily as he asked. Unlike most of his ilk he didn't appear to be easily intimidated or cowed by the amount of power a creature like Roque could wield.

"Shut up and let me concentrate," Roque grumbled. The temperature of the alley increased ever so slightly; not enough for most to notice, but Cougar did. The three of them stood there while Roque put his energy toward concentrating and following scent trails in his mind's eye, subtly shifting into protective stances in case anyone came by and considered taking advantage of him while he was slightly distracted.

After a few interminable moments, Roque opened his eyes and with a grin that showed far too many teeth, announced, "Got him."

"Where?" Clay asked.

"That slice of unaffiliated land at the edge of the Iron Woods territory, right before where the Götzette pack lands start."

"I know the place," Cougar said. He'd just removed his hat in preparation for shifting when Roque reached out, stopping just shy of touching his sleeve.

"Don't. It'll be quicker and easier if I transport all of us there through the nithere."

It was on the tip of his tongue to refuse; being transported? Having to put that level of faith and trust into another being? While not unheard of, it was unusual to say the least. But, travelling through the nithere would get him to Jensen within moments, probably a tenth of the time it would take Cougar to get there, even in full shift. It was an offer he couldn't refuse, could he? Not when Jensen's life could be at stake.

He looked at Clay and Pooch and could see a similar war going on with each of them before, one by one, they nodded in acceptance. It was further evidence of who Jensen was and how much the business he'd built meant to all of them, Cougar supposed, that the four of them not only willingly stood in the same general vicinity without coming to figurative, if not literal, blows but that they were apparently actually going to work together for a common goal.

"Palms up," Roque ordered.

Clay, Pooch and Cougar held out their arms, fingers curled to the sky as Roque sent tendrils of power out, dropping an attachment anchor into each before tugging and pulling them with him as he sliced a hole into the nithere and slipped through.

Time and life flowed differently in the nithere; it was dangerous for those of the above world to transverse it and if Roque had any ill intentions in his heart they'd probably just signed their own death warrants, but the bond through the anchor sang true and firm and before Cougar had a chance to even begin to question what he was doing they'd stepped forth and into the middle of a dingy, ill lit parking lot sandwiched between an abandoned warehouse and set of boarded up storefronts. The parking lot was empty except for Jensen's van, which was haphazardly parked, if not outright abandoned, diagonally across several spaces.

"Jensen!" Cougar yelled, the four of them running for the van's door, worryingly left not only unlocked, but partially ajar. The smell of blood began to overwhelm him the closer he got. One of the others muttered a curse, obviously either smelling or sensing in some way the same things he did. Jensen was always so careful with his van and the donations it carried. Despite (and obviously, all things considered) not being affiliated with the Red Cross or any of those companies that followed official FDA guidelines, Jensen was meticulous in keeping his van spotless. He had been adamant that the blood, as well as the other donations he accepted and then passed along to the clients that needed them, was always collected and stored following strict HIPPA guidelines for the safety of everyone involved.

Not only was Jensen not inside, but at even the quickest glances Cougar could see that the van had been systematically trashed. Bags of blood had been torn open, their contents sprayed over every surface. Every bottle of tears had been knocked over, the carefully collected eyelashes and bags of hair set alight, the jar of whispered wishes smashed. The entire van radiated the horrible, sickly smell of gleeful, wanton destruction merged with sorrow and despair.

"Shit," Pooch said, giving voice to what Cougar, and probably all of them were thinking. For the van to be the state it was in and Jensen to be missing? This was bad. Very, very bad.

"This is my fault," Roque said, his words short and choppy, the human facade he always wore dropping enough for the demonic timbre to seep through. "I was tracking the van, not Jensen. I thought he'd be in it."

"It was a reasonable assumption to make," Clay said, his tone brusque but not unkind.

"He's right, man," Pooch added. "I'd have done the same."

Roque's eyes glowed dark. "Well, good for you. It doesn't mean shit though since Jensen ain't here."

Taking a deep breath, Cougar concentrated, carefully sorting the smells swirling about. "Jensen was not the last person here before us. His scent has faded, overlain by others."

"So someone or," Clay looked at Cougar for clarification, "were they human?"

Cougar shook his head. It was hard to tell amid the cacophony of smells, but there was definitely something other about it.

Roque cursed at that, muttering, "Well, that ain't good," under his breath.

"Let's focus on finding Jensen, he can't have been gone for long," Clay said, pointing to the smashed computer setup Jensen used to monitor his clientele, intake and supplies. "He sends his notifications from there and the last one went out only an hour and a half ago or so. Cougar, could you track the van back to where whatever went down here happened?"

Could he? The van was a familiar enough scent to him, having visited Jensen for either supplies or simply companionship for close to three years now and it was so infused with the smells of its wares that it would leave a thread trace behind that should be easy enough to follow. "I think so, yes. Especially if I shifted."

"Wait, wait a sec." Pooch held a hand up to get everyone's attention. "We need more information before we go after him. It'd help if we were prepared for what we'll find. At least as much as we can possibly be."

"We?" Cougar asked, but even as he did he realized that he'd halfway expected they'd continue to work together; the three others seemed as loyal to Jensen as he was and equally committed to finding him.

"We." Roque's tone was biting, still more demonic than not. "I don't know what happened here," he added, gesturing to the mess, "but it must have been some serious shit and I'm not leaving until I find out. I. I owe Jensen."

Clay nodded. "We all do."

"I can do a quick ikumbudo incantation," Pooch offered. "It should give me an idea of what kind of beings we're dealing with here - human, enhanced, or otherwise - and how many were involved."

"How can we help?"

It turned out there wasn't much the three of them could do other than clearing a space for Pooch to sit in the center of the van and then provide matches for him to light the smudge stick he'd pulled out of a coat pocket when he was ready. While Pooch was weaving his spell, Cougar took the opportunity to poke around the detritus himself, looking for clues.

He didn't have much luck in that regard, but what he did find was like a kick to the gut. Lying in the corner, half under the desk and thankfully away from all the blood, was the small sparkly princess charm that Jensen always kept on his keychain. It, more than anything else, made Cougar worry for Jensen's safety. Carefully picking it up, he ran his thumb along its dull edges, remembering the time his curiosity had finally gotten the better of him and he had ignored the typical agreed upon boundaries between humans and those of supernatural natures to ask Jensen about it.

The usually verbose Jensen seemed to shut down for a moment, a far away, haunted look coming into his eyes. Cougar had immediately apologized, trying to take back his question, but Jensen had shaken his head and launched into a long ramble about an ice storm a number of years ago that resulted in a multi-car pileup with numerous injuries and how the local blood banks had been strained beyond their abilities. Jensen, however, had been turned away and told he was considered an unacceptable donor ("due to my status, like my blood's tainted or some shit like that just because I like to take it up the ass. I was clean, I'd just been tested, I could prove it, but those bastards didn't care."). His family, including the young niece who had gifted him the charm, died and he'd never been able to forgive himself for being unable to help ("I mean, I read the reports and with the injuries they had my blood donation probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway, but at least then I could have done something, anything, other than just sit there and felt like I was dirty and worthless and wrong. It was awful, Cougs. Awful.")

Jensen had gone on to explain that oddly enough the whole experience had wound up having a sort of silver lining. His grief-filled Red Bull hacking benders that followed the tragedy had resulted in his discovery of the supernatural world's prevalence within the human plane of existence and their "totally unreliable and cobbled together crappy attempts at getting what they needed to survive and thrive while staying under the radar and not munching on the populace." Which led to Jensen realizing that not only could he do better, but that there were a lot of people who had wanted to help others but were unable to donate blood due to the stupid FDA guidelines or general health issues or whatever. Collections for the supernatural set however, had no such regulations and before long Jensen had long lists of those who were clamoring to be able to help vampires who abhorred violence or witches who needed the supplies to brew useful potions and so on and so forth.

Jensen was careful, of course. There were many otherworldly creatures that had no desire to coexist peacefully with humans, or any race other than their own for that matter, and those who wished to could do considerable damage, so Jensen insisted on vetting every potential client before he would sell them even the most innocuous of items.

And while Cougar wasn't sure of all the details, he, like everyone else, had heard the rumors that, despite being 100% completely and utterly human, Jensen would still somehow find out if any of his customers broke their word or if anyone used any of the items he sold for nefarious purposes and, if he did, the perpetrators found themselves regretting it. No one knew how, or precisely what, Jensen did in retaliation, but it was swift and scary enough that even the rakshasa that lived on the north side once admitted to being a little scared of him.

"That can't be right," Pooch muttered, bringing Cougar out of his musing.

"What can't be right?" Roque bit out, stepping out of the corner he'd been looming in while they waited.

"The ones who did this?" Pooch gestured to the wreckage as he got to his feet. "They were enforcers of the Fallen Court."

"You're sure." Clay didn't phrase it like a question, as if he didn't trust what Pooch's spell had revealed; it was said flatly, like it was something he didn't want to believe, but had to accept despite that.

"They may be more legend than anything else these days, but anyone with even a touch of Sight is still going to be able to recognize a goliath, glamoured or not."

Roque cursed, long and low, in a demonic tongue Cougar was unfamiliar with before switching to English. "What the fuck is the Fallen Court doing back in this realm?"

"Nothing good," Pooch said, voicing what they were obviously all thinking. The last time the Fallen Court had made a play for a foothold within the eorthe thousands upon thousands had died and all of humanity had risen up, driving much of the supernatural and preternatural into hiding if not outright extinction. "And why go after Jensen?" he added, asking, in Cougar's opinion, an equally, if not more important, question.

"What do you say we find out? Cougar, are you sure you'll be able to track it back to where he and the van parted ways?" Clay raised his eyebrow, looking at Cougar as he spoke, careful to present his question not as a challenge (the man wasn't stupid) but as an honest inquiry into Cougar's abilities.

Since he had a general idea as to Jensen's starting point, simply tracing its route from here to there would be child's play, he wouldn't even have to shift for it. "Not a problem." He led the way out of the van and, at a comfortable lope, headed west, following the scent trail, with Roque, Pooch and Clay right behind him.

They had traveled in silence for about twenty minutes before Clay spoke up. "I almost have to admire these assholes. They were careful and haven't crossed any lands or territories that would have required rights of passage to go through. In a city like this, it's almost impressive."

Cougar grunted in reply, having noticed that as well. Considering where the van had been abandoned though he wasn't surprised; there simply weren't that many neutral places in the city and even fewer that weren't monitored by humans' electronic security measures. If they'd done enough research to ensure they wouldn't be caught on camera exiting the van, they would have made sure not to leave official trace via passage requests.

Perhaps halfway to Jensen's storage unit the van's scent became overlaid by Jensen's. Fear, pain and blood filled Cougar's senses and he began to run. He was vaguely aware that while Roque was keeping up with him, Clay and Pooch were lagging behind, but he didn't care. He tore around the corner, skirting the edge of Ozgrebnyak pack lands and ran past the whispered dell and there, smack in the center of a postage stamp sized spit of unaffiliated land, was Jensen.

He was breathing. That was the first thing Cougar noticed. The second was the blood, enough to taint the air. The third was the stink of gunpowder on and around him which made no sense; a goliath could tear a human limb from limb, what need did they have for guns? "Jensen," he called softly, slowing his approach; despite being human, Jensen had always reacted poorly to sudden invasions of his space and Cougar didn't want to risk hurting him further by startling him. "Jensen?"

Roque let Cougar take the lead, waiting a few feet away. He appeared to be scanning the area around them, although for what Cougar didn't know. Threats perhaps? Clues?

"Jensen?" Cougar knelt down next to Jensen, fingers ghosting over cuts and bruises, carefully assessing everything before wadding up what was left of Jensen's shirt to press over the bullet wound in his side to try to slow the bleeding.

"Shit. He need an ambulance?" Pooch was already pulling out his phone as he and Clay finally caught up to Cougar and Roque.

"Yes," Cougar replied at the same time Clay shouted "No!" and grabbed the phone from Pooch's hand, shutting it off as he did so.

A bit of the Were slipped out and Cougar snarled at Clay who responded by holding up his hands to show he hadn't meant it as any kind of threat. "Human medicine won't give him the kind of help he needs."

Taking a deep breath through his nose, Cougar worked to rein in the desire to shift enough to pop his claws and disembowel Clay for such an unhelpful response. Instead he merely turned and glared his deadliest glare.

It must have conveyed his meaning because Clay swallowed and said, "Can't you smell it?" with that kind of confused certainty one has when they were seeing something plain as day and they couldn't figure out how others were somehow missing it.

"Smell what?" Pooch asked, grabbing his phone back with his thumb hovering and waiting to place a call.

"The liminal crossing. Whatever he was shot with, it wasn't a typical human gun. Or, at least the bullets weren't."

Focusing carefully, Cougar worked through the scent trails surrounding Jensen. "I smell no cold iron." He was sure of that.

"No, but there's grunnite residue in the air. I can taste it."

"Fuck. Okay, no human medicine then," Roque grumbled, because, as they all knew, if not properly treated, grunnite poisoning was deadly to humans, even if they'd never recognize the symptoms as anything other than a rather serious, and eventually fatal, infection. "But he's still bleeding and's got a bullet in him. We gotta do something."

Pooch stepped closer, offering an uncertain, "We could treat him?"

"We?" Cougar asked, because the combination of a Were, a witch and a warlock sounded like the beginning of a joke, not the solution to helping Jensen, especially when there was a blood demon thrown in for good measure.

"We. Between the four of us we should have all the skills needed. I lean towards talisman work these days, but I've tried my hand as a healer plenty in the past. I don't have a lot of experience with things beyond the threshold though, but it sounds like you do, Clay?"

"Yeah. I'll need some things, but nothing too hard to get a hold of. Grunnite is pretty easy to deal with if you know what you're doing. Finding a place to work where we won't attract attention is more what I'm worried about."

"Leave that to me. I can tether us together to anchor us in the place between the eorthe and the nithere. Time doesn't flow there so nothing'll be able to track us." Cougar looked up at Roque in shock. Stopping in the veil instead of immediately crossing through? That was something Cougar hadn't thought possible; blood demons were apparently much more powerful than Cougar had ever guessed. "We should have the eorthe side be a familiar place to Jensen though, it'll help ground him and help him gather back his strength after the trip."

"I know where he lives," Cougar offered.

"Good, that'll help. Not as much since we'll have to force our way in, but," Clay began before Cougar interrupted him.

"No need for force - he granted me access." Cougar wouldn't have admitted that under normal circumstances, but it was necessary for the others to know to help Jensen.

"Shit, seriously? Did he know what that meant?" Roque asked before correcting himself. "What am I saying, it's fucking Jensen, of course he knew what it fucking meant."

Pooch bent down and examined Jensen. "If we're going to do this, we better get a move on. He's too pale and I don't like that he hasn't woken up at all. How far is his place, Cougar?"

Thinking about it for a moment, Cougar replied, "On the west side of the river near that glen by 15th Street."

"I know the area. That's only about 10 minutes or so by car. Okay, Roque, get him up and Clay, give him your jacket to keep him warm. I'm gonna go steal us some transportation."

Cougar blinked at that but Pooch just laughed as he stood and headed down the street. "I am a man of many talents," he shouted over his shoulder. "Many, many talents!"

By the time they had Jensen situated in Roque's arms and wrapped in Clay's jacket Pooch was speeding back up to them in a battered, cream-colored minivan. "You secretly a soccer mom too?" Clay asked, yanking open the side door so Roque could climb in.

"No one ever looks twice at one of these. Besides, not only is it big enough to hold all of us comfortably but also for some reason they hold efweylo spells the best. I think it has to do with the shape of the frame or something."

Good. That meant that unless someone had managed to place a specific tracer on one of them, or had actual eyes on them, they couldn't be followed. Come to think of it… "Wait. Before we go we should search Jensen. Make sure no one planted a charm to track him."

Clay and Cougar worked quickly, but carefully, searching Jensen. Turning out his pockets unearthed the typical assortment of crap Cougar had expected to find - receipts, coins, keys and the like - but also a small bronze periapt inscribed with a symbol unfamiliar to Cougar, but caused Clay to curse long and low when he saw. "Darken Tongue," he explained, tossing it back on the ground where they'd found Jensen. "If I hadn't believed you before about the goliaths and the Fallen Court, Pooch, I would now."

Pooch muttered something uncomplimentary about Clay's parentage as Cougar slammed the door shut and slipped into the passenger side seat. The ride was tense and silent until Pooch turned onto Hawthorne and Cougar began quietly offering the directions Jensen had given him. It was a very specific path that followed directly above the city's sewer lines; Cougar assumed the pipes or water within offered some kind of protection he was unaware of.

The alley itself was unremarkable and appeared to be completely free of any obvious protection, supernatural, technological or otherwise, but when Cougar had expressed his concerns about that Jensen had laughed so hard he'd had trouble catching his breath so, in all likelihood, it was kept safe in other, more subtle, ways. "He told me to park there," he said, pointing to the space between the dumpster and a ratty, half full recycling bin. "As close to the wall as I could."

Roque peered out the window and whistled. "Nice pantukp. A complete covering like this? Really fucking impressive if I do say so myself. I knew I liked this kid."

Cougar had known he'd been directed to park at that spot for a specific reason like that, but even so, setting up a deadzone cover that could impress a blood demon? That took some skill. "This way," he said, flicking through Jensen's keys to find the one for the deadbolt. He slotted it in exactly as he'd seen Jensen do it: in all the way, turn clockwise to three o'clock, pull out slightly and continue turning to seven o'clock, then push back in all the way and turn counter clockwise back to twelve o'clock. The door responded with the same click-hiss it had when Jensen had opened it for him last time, so with any luck he'd done it properly.

It was an airy, open space. Computers and various electronics lined one wall while another was covered with a massive apothecary chest. "Floor'll be best for what I'll have to do." Pooch squatted in front of the rug in the middle of the room and began to roll it up. "Easiest to clean too."

The rug, however, was hiding a rune intricately carved into the hardwood floor. "Well, will you look at that," Clay said, letting out a surprised chuckle. "Guess we don't need to worry about the grunnite after all."

"What, why?" The rune meant nothing to Cougar, but he'd never had much need to study them other than to be able to recognize the few that could affect the Shift.

"It's a ghlanadth. It's for... cleansing in a medical way. Spells, curses, poisons, anything like that. They'll just slough off anyone or anything inside it when the rune is activated. This is seriously some old school shit. I've never even seen one of these outside of books."

"Not having to worry about him dying of grunnite poisoning is great and all, but I still need to get the bullet out and treat his cuts and bruises and all that. Now, I've got my good knife, but some disinfectant wouldn't go amiss and I'm also going to need to get my hands on something I can use for bandages"

While Pooch was fussing around Jensen, taking his pulse and listening to his breathing and the like, Cougar went into the supply closet and pulled out the exceptionally large first aid kit that was stored there. Jensen had used it to patch him up after Cougar had gotten stabbed while stopping a mugging. The help had been completely unnecessary since it had been a human-made blade and the wound wasn't particularly deep, but Jensen couldn't be dissuaded from doing what he could and, to be honest, Cougar hadn't minded the attention. "He's got everything you'll need."

"Great, let me wash up and then we'll get to work." Pooch rolled up his sleeves as he headed over to the sink. "Clay, you'll be able to activate the rune, right?"

"Piece of cake."

"I'll need one of you to hold Jensen down - just 'cause he's not moving now doesn't mean he won't once I start poking around his insides - and someone should probably keep watch. I don't think we were followed, but it can't hurt to be ready just in case I'm wrong."

Roque gave Cougar a long look before crossing his arms and flexing, his muscles creaking in response, obviously laying claim to be the one on watch.

Cougar didn't like admitting it, but he couldn't argue that a blood demon would make a better guard than a Were. It was just common sense. Besides, if Roque was on guard duty that meant Cougar would be the one helping with Jensen, something he didn't mind in the least so he merely nodded to the unvoiced suggestion and knelt down next to Jensen.

"Okay," Pooch began after he pulled out what supplies he needed. "Cougar, you press down on his shoulders and chest to keep him flat and still. Clay, I'll need you to activate the rune at exactly the same time I disinfect the wound. On three?" Clay nodded as Cougar prepared for any kind of reaction Jensen might have. "One. Two. Three!"

There was a flash of light and Jensen buckled, crying out wordlessly in a way that cut straight into Cougar's heart. Despite that though, he managed to keep him still enough so Pooch could do what he needed to do. Not that Cougar paid too much attention to Pooch's actions, choosing instead to focus on Jensen and murmuring soft endearments just in case Jensen was awake enough to hear them.

After the impromptu surgery was done Cougar was holding Jensen up so Clay could wrap bandages around his torso while Pooch cleaned up in the bathroom when Roque spoke up, "Shit, take a look at this."

The bullet, which had been set in blessed water to ensure its liminal properties were made inert, was slowly dissolving, giving off a wispy blue smoke with a faint moldy and sour aroma. "Well, if anyone was still uncertain about this being the Fallen Court…." Pooch commented, walking back in as he dried off his hands.

"I wasn't, but still, them acting out in the open like this? Shit. That ain't good." Roque scrubbed a hand over his face. "I like it up here. I don't want to have to go back or risk getting hunted. That's the only reason I was willing to put up with Jensen in the first place."

"That's the reason why we were all working with Jensen." Clay said, matter-of-factly.

"The only reason you put up with me, Roque? Seriously? That's kinda harsh," Jensen mumbled, his words slurring together, but getting strong the more he spoke. "My sparkling personality doesn't factor in at all?"

"Jensen!" Cougar helped Jensen sit up the rest of the way, but leaning against him, so he would be supported and more comfortable.

Jensen blinked blearily around the room for a moment before settling on the activated rune. "So…. not that I don't mind the company or anything, but what are you guys doing here? And how'd you get in? Actually, what am I doing here?"

"You didn't make your delivery," Pooch began to explain.

"And we got worried," Clay finished.

"They got worried." Roque gestured to Clay, Pooch and Cougar. "Me, I didn't care."

"But you came with them to track me down anyway?" Jensen smiled brightly at Roque. "I knew you had a soft squishy little loving heart under that gruff, grumbly exterior!"

"Jensen," Cougar asked, before Roque could retaliate with some sort of biting reply. "Tell us what happened."

"Someone or something had been following me over the last month or two but I couldn't figure out who or what." He must have noticed the incredulous look Pooch was sending his way because he quickly added, "I checked in a million different ways. Surveillance cams didn't show anything. Ukuthona spells didn't help at all. Looking through sesanthi glass gave me a headache you would not believe, but didn't reveal anything I couldn't see with my own two eyes. I even tried scrying to see if I had any a 'leanthainn on me that would've enabled someone to track me remotely and got nothing. All I had was that feeling I was being watched. You know, when the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up but there's no reason for it? It was like that, but nothing I could actually put my finger on. I thought maybe I was finally losing it, but…"

"But?" Roque prodded.

"But then I heard about, well, her name's not important but suffice it to say she'd been running a setup similar to mine over in Perth for a few decades except the entire block she operated out of burned down last month and now she's dead. Similar thing happened to a guy I knew working out of Minsk, except he just suspiciously went dark. Another colleague got caught up in a supposed gang shooting in Tianjin and the entire operation working out of Fresno went up when a gas main blew. This kind of work, we're not organized or anything, and sometimes people just have accidents or quit the biz or move on or whatever, but not like this, not so many in so short a span of time. It felt wrong. And when you've been in the business as long as I have and you are good at what you do, which I know it may not seem like it sometimes, but I am—"

"We know." Pooch, nice guy that he was, reached over and gripped Jensen's shoulder tightly, offering a bit of unvoiced support.

"So, anyway, long story short - too late, I know - but I got suspicious enough to put some extra protections in place but they still got the drop on me."

"Did you see who or what it was?"

Cougar felt Jensen tense up when Clay asked and guessed the reason why. "We already know of the goliaths. Pooch saw."

"Ah."

"Add in the fact that there was also grunnite residue where you were shot, a periapt marked with Darken Tongue and a bullet that disintegrated in blessed water and the obvious answer is someone from the Fallen Court's trying to stir up trouble here." Clay shrugged. "Nothing you say is going to shock us, Jensen."

"Maybe not, but this is my fight, not yours. They went after me, not you guys. They haven't done anything against any of you or any of your brethren."

Angry, the glamour slid completely off Roque, his eyes glowing a fiery red and his skin taking on a demonic sheen. "You think an attack on you ain't one on us too? What do you think is gonna happen when we can't get what we need from people like you? For some it won't be a problem, not for a while. Maybe they won't have the supplies for complex spells and that kind of shit, but for others? The ones who need you so they can live day to day in this realm without resorting to baser instincts? Sure, they can hit up the old haunts, but morgues and butcher shops can only provide so much. What the fuck do you think is going to happen when those run dry?"

"Nothing good," Jensen said softly.

"Damn right, nothing good." Pooch grimaced. "I got a wife and a kid on the way. I don't want them in the crossfire if things go to shit because humans found out about us again and freaked the fuck out. Because you know they will. Their first reaction when faced with something they don't understand is always to freak the fuck out and try to kill whatever it was that scared them. Moronic, panicky sheep, the lot of them. Uh, no offense."

"None taken." Jensen shook his head. "You're right."

"So we don't let that happen. The five of us, we take the fight to them. We just need to figure out where to start." Clay looked at Jensen. "You got a place to start?"

"I got a name. Max. Didn't even try to hide he was the one giving the orders."

"Max. Excellent, that's more to go on than I'd hoped- names have power after all. We can do this, Jensen, between me, Pooch, Cougar, Roque and you we've probably got all the experience, resources and power we'll need."

"No 'probablys' about it," Pooch said firmly. "All our skill sets combined? We definitely have enough power."

Roque grinned, his smile all teeth and menace. "More than enough. I'm in."

"Me too," Cougar added.

"That's great guys. I appreciate the sentiment and all, but the Fallen Court's not something you fuck around with, you know what I mean? Down that path is, well, trouble doesn't even begin to describe what you'd be coming up against. The kind of power we're talking about here, the sense of entitlement. Do you really want to wage a war against someone like that?"

Cougar just shrugged. "They started it."

"Good point."

"And we're going to end it," Clay spoke with a finality that had Jensen shaking his head and muttering about being surrounded by crazy people under his breath.

Cougar knew that Jensen was right to question how easily Clay seemed to think they would manage it. The Fallen Court, after all, was not a foe to be trifled with, but between the five of them he believed they had the expertise and determination to do it. They had to, he would not accept it any other way.