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I'm Thinking It's A Sign

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Tyrol Mountains, Swiss States. Early 19th Century

 

Bobby was sitting in the tavern with his feet up on the table, half a tankard of ale at his elbow as he cleaned his knife. He was tired and his eyes felt like sand as he waited for his superior and partner to show up with their next orders. Although he normally enjoyed being in the Tyrol, the lack of action was starting to wear on him. He preferred being on the move, but Jonas was adamant that they needed to take a break from the last mission and stay put until their superiors called them up with another quest.

 

That had been a month ago and it was starting to wear on him. In fact, Bobby was so bored that he was debating actually re-enlisting so that he'd have some excitement in his life. Even being on a dirty and bloody battlefield looked more fun than his current predicament. 

 

So caught up in his ruminations was he that he didn't notice his superior knocking his boots off the table and taking the seat across from him.

 

"Don't sit like common trash, Officer Ryan. And put that knife away." Hiller admonished him, cutting off any complaint that Officer Ryan might have had about being rudely interrupted from his reveries.

 

"Officer Hiller. My apologies. Do you have any news?" Bobby asked as he sat properly, put his knife away, and looked at his superior, whose vulpine face showed strain. He felt vaguely guilty at seeing that and pushed his tankard across the table. Hiller took it and raised it in silent thanks before draining it.

 

"We have orders." He whispered before slamming the tankard down on the table and catching the eye of a buxom, flaxen haired barmaid. She came over and Hiller spoke to her in the Swiss German that Bobby hadn't tried to master just yet. He had enough problems with his French and luckily, Hiller had declared it passable enough for Bobby to just work on it when they had time, rather than mercilessly drill him on it every day as he did in the beginning.

 

The girl smiled and left with the empty tankard, leaving both of them relatively alone and without worries. There were very few foreigners there and they both had made sure to speak quietly and in English. Bobby was just opening his mouth to ask about their orders when the girl showed up with two tankards of beer and a platter of sausages and potatoes and warm bread.

 

The girl lingered just so before Hiller gave her a tired, yet still winsome smile, gave her a few more endearments in German and finally managed to chase her off with promises to milk her goat, for all that Bobby knew. 

 

Hiller only raised an eyebrow before he pulled out his Opinel (he always had sneered at Bobby's Winchester and had refused to have it anywhere near his food) and cut a loaf of bread open. He then speared one of the sausages and potatoes into the bread and flattened it before taking a bite.

 

Bobby waited for Hiller to swallow before he turned his attention back to the next phase of their travels for the Regiment.

 

"Where are we going next?"

 

Hiller grimaced and swallowed down the food hard, chasing it down with a hearty swallow of ale.

 

"Russia. They've sighted some of them there."

 

"Oh Bloody Hell."

 

~*~*~*~*~

 

Somewhere in Ukraine, Early 19th Century.

 

Michal hated riding in a carriage, but he kept his mouth shut. He was too tired to fight again after the last vociferous battle had left him with bruises and his mother crying, while his older siblings looked on with empty eyes and faces. Even though his father had tried to explain why they had to take such measures, he still wasn't ready to accept being walled alive in a monastery somewhere in the heart of the Russian Empire.

 

"Michal, my son. I wouldn't do this to you if there was another option or choice. I'd rather have you alive, as a monk, than a corpse serving the emperor's army. This is the best way to ensure you will survive."

 

Michal had smiled bitterly at that and shook his head. "Can't I just leave? Go to the Swedish Kingdom? Or even France? Or England? I'm not suited to be a monk, father. We both know this. It would keep me safe, but it would be a disservice to God to have me take on vows that I haven't got the heart nor the inclination to properly fulfill."

 

Michal's father's mouth had twisted unpleasantly and there was an unpleasant gleam in his eyes that was quickly wiped from his father's eyes. It had been such a quick thing that Michal himself had to wonder whether he had really seen it. 

 

"We may be landowners, but we haven't got that kind of money, Michal. We have enough for your eldest brother and hopefully we can invest whatever dowry a Russian princess or a German countess will bring into the family. If that's the case, your other brother will hopefully make an equally advantageous marriage. But we simply cannot afford to send you away."

 

Michal laughed hollowly then. "So instead of finding me a wife and getting me out of Bohemia, you'll rather bury me alive in a monastery instead."

 

His father's face darkened then and Michal had enough warning to duck the blow. His father hadn't spoken directly to him after that. Not even bothering to address him as they climbed in the carriage that would drop him and all his wordily possessions to the Samara Desert Nicholas Monastery. His prison sentence that he would never be able to get out of. How could he? Other than his family's name and money, he had nothing really to commend him. 

 

“So I'm the sacrificial lamb and have to be happy about it also.” Michal thought as he settled down in the padded seat and suppressed a sigh. He figured that it could be worse. At least he wasn't a girl to be sold off to a disgusting old man in order to put more money and prestige into the family name and coffers. At least there was that. 

 

But it still rankled, having to give up his dreams and hopes for life and be walled up in cold stone cells and pray to a God that had, for all intents and purposes, abandoned him and his family. 

 

He just hoped that he would learn to accept and reconcile this, because he knew that life in the monastery would be bitterly long indeed if that was the case. He kept his eyes on the dark and dirty windows of the carriage and refused to look at his father. There was nothing else he could really say to plead his case. It was a done deal and that was all that there was to it. 

 

~*~*~*~*~

 Eastern Ukraine

The sound of someone breathing raggedly as they ran through the woods was loud in the darkness. Animals instinctively shied away, or buried themselves deeply in their hollows. They could sense that this being was nasty and dangerous and if they strayed in his path, that would be the last thing that they would ever do. So they crouched down and watched as he ran by them. Some covered their noses to block out the stench of blood and ripped entrails that followed in his wake. 

 

Death too, followed him and that went a long way from keeping the other animals within their dens. Any being that had death as a clinging perfume was bad news and had to be kept away from. 

 

So they watched and let him pass. No one would be mad enough to follow him. Not even the sick or the suicidal ones would dare. He had the weight of multiple deaths and a tinge of insanity about him. They would let him pass. And hope that he would never darken their woods again.

 

He didn't notice all of this. He was only concerned with getting back to his village and to his house. He had no idea why he had woken up in the middle of what he imagined hell would look like. It was brutal, with bodies and blood and the taste of flesh and dried blood on his tongue...

 

"Oh God. No." He  thought as he fought to keep the nausea down. He hadn't been so successful the first time, when he had just come to surrounded by carnage. He had immediately fallen to his knees and emptied the entire contents of his stomach. Once he had been reduced to dry heaves, he had wiped his mouth with his sleeve and nearly gagged. It had been soaked in blood and the taste of it had nearly made him vomit once again. 

 

He had suppressed the urge with only will power and had luckily found a pail of water he could use to rinse out his mouth and drink from. Once he had drank his fill, he had stripped off his bloody clothes (that were nothing more than soiled rags, if he was being honest) sluiced the blood off his body, and left them in the yard before going into the empty house. He didn't stop to think why it was empty. He had a suspicion that he didn't want to know.

 

He didn't waste any time going to the chest where the spare clothing was traditionally kept and dug inside until he managed to find a pair of serviceable trousers and shirt. Although they were made for someone wider, he didn't care. He was covered and didn't smell as if he had been drenched in gore. That was good enough for him. 

 

He also found a pair of boots that fit him and took off. He had to get home and he guessed that he was in a village about several hours away from his own. He recalled being here last harvest, but his memories before the fever overtook him were dim. Ever since he had come across that soldier and fallen sick, things had been fuzzy and confused for him. 

 

He had many episodes of wandering off. Not as severe as this one, but enough to make his family worry. And now...he didn't want to think about what would happen. They would surely send him away. This was serious and he knew, without any doubt, that this was too much for any of them to handle. There was no way that when word got back home about being caught in the middle of a massacre, he'd be able to stay home. They would send him to Samara Desert Monastery for sure.

 

He was dead set on not going there, but after all of what had just happened, he was sure that he wasn't going to get a choice in the matter. Besides, he was sure that his family would be happy to let him go. Times were hard and one less mouth to feed was a good thing in a family struggling to survive. Even though he did his share of work, it still wasn't enough to justify keeping a "touched" man around. Even though he did his share of work, the wanderings and the odd colour of his eyes had done much to set him apart permanently from the rest of his village.

 

They wouldn't hesitate to drive him out if they ever found out about this new episode. And the monks might burn him or worse if they let the villagers convince them that he was a possessed or worse, a demon. 

 

Swallowing his horror, he ran and ran for what seemed years, but was only hours. He could see the sky begin to lighten as he ran, fuelled both by fear and desperation to make it to his destination. He couldn't stop. He had to go and explain to Mama and Papa that...

 

"Aaaaahhh!!" He screamed as he felt the trap snap under his foot and the rope tighten around his ankle and pull him upwards. He thrashed the whole way, trying to free himself fruitlessly when he heard a low chuckle.

 

Puzzled, he stopped his struggling and let himself hang in the trap, even though it was uncomfortable and the blood was going to his head. 

 

"You win the bet, Alex."  A blond baby-face in a tattered uniform addressed a man that had been hidden in the shadows, but now stepped forth. The captive blinked at the sheer size of the blond's companion as well as the striking eyes which now fixed themselves on him.

 

"I told you, Nicky. Simple traps always work the best."

 

"Oh God! Are you going to kill me? I didn't do anything! Please! I just want to go home!"

 

The blond and the big one looked at each other and laughed before the blond nodded at the big one, who took a large knife out of his belt and moved towards the captive, who squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation of his death. 

 

So he wasn't prepared when he felt himself get cut loose and plummet to the ground gracelessly.

 

"Gaaaaahhh!!" 

 

"That was mean, Alex." The blond chided his companion mildly before he knelt down and checked the captive over. 

 

"You all right?" He asked in passable, but accented Russian. The captive nodded.

 

"I'm Nicky and that's Alex. We aren't going to hurt you."

 

"Then why did you have the trap there?"

 

"We're hunting..." Alex deliberately trailed off to let the captive fill in the blank of his name.

 

"Semyon. Just Semyon. Are you hunting that animal that killed the people in the village over there?" 

 

Alex and Nicky exchanged a look that Semyon missed as he untied the loop of rope around his ankle. 

 

"Yes. We are." Nicky replied carefully. "Do you know anything about it?"

 

Semyon shook his head.

 

Nicky and Alex again exchanged a glance before the blond spoke in a language Semyon had never heard before. 

 

"What do you reckon? " Nicky asked in fluid Swedish. Alex frowned.

 

"It's him. He's cleaned up, but he stinks of blood and pine." Alex replied slightly haltingly in the same language. 

 

"So what should we do?"

 

"Take him to Samara Desert Monastery. They will kill him if we set him loose. He's not a killer, but once word gets out of what happened in the village...he's a dead varg."

 

Nicky nodded sharply before he turned to look at the boy again. 

 

"Come. We will take you home." Nicky told him, holding out his hand to help him stand up.

 

The boy (Semyon) Nicky had to remind himself, smiled in relief and reached out tentatively for Nicky's hand.

 

And slumped over after Alex had landed the blow.

 

"That was harsh, Alex."

 

"It will be harder to carry him, true. But this makes transport easier. Besides, we both have horses. He's not that heavy and Samara Desert isn't that far."

 

"Still very cruel, Alex. But no matter. Get the horses. We have some riding to do."

Chapter Text

Michal raised his hand to cover a yawn that he couldn't quite contain as he waited with the taper to light the candles for morning devotions. Despite being at Desert Samara for almost three months now, he still wasn't used to wearing the habit of a postulant. Nor was he used to the early morning devotions.

It seemed to him that he spent his time either tending the gardens, in the library or in devotions. He was so bored out of his mind that he was ready to weep. A small indulgence that he did give into from time to time when he was sure that no one was going to hear him. He had been assured that life would get easier in time once he gave himself up to God and let go of his life before he came to the monastery.

"It will be easier, Michal, if you learn to accept that this is your home and that your calling is to a higher plane of existence. Once you empty your mind of the life you used to have, you will be a better postulant and servant of God."

The monk had meant well, but something in the words had made Michal defensive enough to do the opposite of what the man was suggesting. He missed his house, his friends, his horse and his brothers. He ached for a mother he didn't remember and an aunt that had been like a mother to him. He missed his books and the theories and his school.
 
Maybe if he had been just a bit mystical, things would have worked out more for him, but the most religion he had was to honour the many feast days of the Saints. And that had only been because it meant festivals and a chance to sneak off into the woods with a pretty servant girl. But he wasn't and with every day that passed, the feeling of being enclosed and suffocated bore heavily upon him.

Michal had to wonder when he was going to crack. Or when he was going to muster up the courage to finally take off from the monastery and live out his life in the forests of Eastern Ukraine.

Michal had to smile inwardly at that mental image. He was a city boy. He would probably last a week before he'd be forced to crawl back to the monastery. He knew that there were towns there, but with only a scratchy brown robe and sandals, he would more than likely be dragged back to the monastery if he tried to approach anyone. So no. He was trapped here for the foreseeable future.

"Michal, go." A sharp poke between his shoulder blades dragged him out of his thoughts and he quickly lit his taper and moved forward to light the candles before the taper went out. Once the task was done, he moved back to his row and went down on his knees and bowed his head as he waited for the interminable liturgy to begin.

~*~*~*~*~

They had been riding in utter silence for what felt like hours, both of them lost in their thoughts as they manouvered the treacherous landscape that even with their enhanced senses, was tricky enough for them to take pause and go carefully. They had no time for small talk and even if there was, Nicky wasn't in the mood. He wasn't pleased with how their latest mission had gone. He had expected a feral varg or a feral volk to have to put down. Not a pup that was barely in control of himself and had no idea what the hell he was doing. He didn't look like he was a sadist or someone that enjoyed terrorizing the countryside simply because he could.

If that had been the case, he wouldn't have any compunctions at all about what would happen once they ended up in Desert Samara. Sergei would make the final decision, but Nicklas had a sinking feeling that it was going to involve executing the child. Even though he wasn't exactly aged himself, Semyon looked to be barely out of his teens. He didn't have any issues killing men on the battlefield, but executing children was were he would draw the line.

If he had known that was the case, he wouldn't have left the Savolaks after the disaster that had been their winter campaigns. He had taken the assignment so that he could make a difference rather than freeze to death or watch his friend's die due to being ill-equipped and ill trained to deal with whatever they got thrown at him.
 
"Nicklas?"

"Yes, Alexander?" He replied, and instantly regretted being so formal with his hunting partner. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he had reverted to being coolly formal and using that as a shield and barrier between himself and the ebulliently gregarious White Russian Grenadier the fates and God somehow saw fit to pair him with.

Alex sighed in exasperation before he spoke again.

"I thought we were over that already." He chided his traveling companion softly.

"I am sorry. It was a lapse of memory. I was distracted. What was it that you wanted to talk to me about?" Nicklas apologized, his words a bit too formal for the occasion. But Alex let it go, since he knew that Russian was Nicklas' second language and he made similar mistakes in Swedish.

"You have been quiet since we found Semyon. You are never quiet. What is on your mind, Nicklas?" Alex asked bluntly, making Nicklas wince and shift slightly in his saddle. Despite his happy go lucky demeanor, Alex was honest and ruthlessly perceptive and Nicklas had to chide himself over that. If he had kept aloof as he had planned in the beginning, he would maybe have some peace to brood about the situation that he had currently found himself in.

But he knew that was simply being petty and being unfair. Alex hadn't any warning of how the situation was going to change. And even though he did follow orders, he wasn't as keen to follow them exactly to the letter. He had to admit that flexibility had helped them more than hindered them in the past. So there was no reason for him to not tell him what was on his mind at that particular moment.

"I am worried about Semyon." Nicklas admitted as he turned his head to indicate the unconscious boy that was more or less tied to the saddled in front of him.

Alex frowned, despite knowing that Nicklas couldn't see the gesture.

"How so?"

"He is different than the others we have been sent out to exterminate. He cannot be more than a boy. I did not sign up for killing children." Nicklas explained in a low voice.

Alex sighed and rubbed his face. He didn't like the current situation much either, but there was no way that they could spare Semyon. He had killed five people already. Whether he meant to or not, they had been chosen to deal with the situation quickly and quietly.

That had been the reason why Nicklas had been plucked from the Savolaks and he had been removed from the White Russian Hussars.

The Czar and the King of Sweden knew that there were others among them and weren't above pressing them into service for their kingdoms.

 Especially when the threat from a French upstart was threatening to de-stabilize everything in Europe.

"Neither did I. But Nicklas, he did kill five people. We burned the bodies. He smells of their blood. We cannot deny that he is dangerous.

"I understand. But he is little more than a pup, Alix. A pup, that by the looks of it, has not been taught of his heritage. He may have been a spontaneous volk in a village with no history of them."

Alex sighed and rubbed his forehead with a gloved hand.

"Sergei has the record of all of the volks. Maybe we can find something there to explain why Semyon has shown up. Most of the volks we have found have been, oddly enough, in Siberia."

"True enough, Alix. But will that be enough to keep Semyon alive?"

"Maybe. I cannot speak for Sergei. He's my superior. I cannot presume to know his mind."  Alex replied, hedging his words.

It wasn't that he was trying to be ambivalent towards Nicklas and his feelings. But he didn't want to promise something that he couldn't quite deliver. He had younger brothers at home and Semyon looked too much like them. He didn't want to put the kid down. But if Sergei agreed to, he was going to have to.

Even if it meant Nicklas would lose more of his innocence on this job.

"I wish you did." Nicklas murmured after a long silence.

"Yes. I know."

~*~*~*~*~

Misha was scratching away with the rest of the scribes in the room when the doors opened and another novice hurried into the room to speak with the brother in charge of the scribes. He tried to pretend that he wasn't watching and was instead focused on his work.

He had already gotten reprimanded that day by his lack of focus and he wasn't keen on getting more chores piled on top of his usual workload. He didn't mind doing some of the chores, but he did resent having to get up to milk the cows in what felt like the middle of the the night. In his mind, that was enough to warrant a mutiny and suitable grounds for fleeing.

He had to admit that his heart sank when he heard footsteps stopping right by his desk. He looked up and squinted at the brother, his heart beating despite the effort to keep his face carefully blank. He knew that he hadn't done anything wrong, but it was hard to not feel guilty due to the proximity of the usually dour faced brothers in Samara Desert.

"Michal? Father Sergei requires your presence in the chapel. Quickly. He promised more chores if he was kept waiting."

Michal didn't need to be told twice and in moments, he was off to the chapel, despite his fear of Father Sergei.

He did get shouted at by other brothers, but he ignored them as they called out to him. He'd rather be on their bad sides, rather than on Father Sergei's bad side.

When he got to the chapel, he was out of breath and had to pause to calm himself and appear composed and calm and more mature than his age. He knew that his face made him look younger than his years and that was the last thing he needed to appear in front of the Father.

He smoothed both his robes and his hair down and knocked on the wall before entering the chapel and nearly faltering in his movements as he noticed the two soldiers and the peasant boy standing next to the black and white robed priest.

One was tall and broadly built, wearing the dark blue coat, grey trousers and black boots of the White Russian Hussars. His hair was long and brown and tied back with a dark blue ribbon, revealing a broad face with a crooked nose and startling blue eyes.

He wasn't wearing a Shako, but had the cris-crossed belts that held his musket, sword and a quiver of arrows along with a bow. This surprised Michal, since he knew that no one used arrows in modern warfare. Not even foraging parties in the mountains were that primitive.

Michal didn't want to appear as if he was gawking, so he turned his attention to the other two.

The other solider was also tall, but not as heavily build as his companion. His face was delicately featured and his eyes were almost grey in his pale, dirty face. Long blond hair framed his face and his uniform was a completely different style and colour.

He was wearing a clear navy uniform that had seen better days, the braids and decorations that could have hinted at his rank long gone. The only indication of his possible origin was the stained white belt that hung diagonally across his chest and the fraying gold trim across the bottom of his coat. Black, mud-splattered boots finished his uniform and the way that his trousers hung awkwardly over the tops made Michal guess that they hadn't originally been part of the uniform of the man.

He too, had a sword and musket hanging from his belt and a dark grey coat finished his uniform, another scavenge, Michal mused. But he didn't let his thoughts show on his face at the realization.

He wasn't as successful when he looked at the boy, who had his hands tied in front by thick, stout rope. Michal felt his eyes widen when he saw that the boy's wrists were bleeding where the rope had rubbed the skin raw and that made him feel sick to his stomach. What had the boy done that he needed to be tied up like a common criminal?

His eyes traveled upwards from the disturbing sight and he felt his mouth go dry when he took in the delicate features and stark eyes that reminded him of his mother's jewels. He had never seen that colour in a human face before and even though it was otherwordly, it also added to the boy's good looks. His narrow face was framed by long, light brown curls that made him look almost as delicate as a girl.

He was dressed in peasant clothes of an embroidered shirt, sash and trousers. He was barefoot and thin and shaking in fear.

"Ah! Michal! I have called you here because myself and these soldiers find ourselves in need of your aid. This is Semyon and he has been brought here by these officers, since he has no home and is in need of sanctuary. Would you be so kind as to share your room and guide him?"

It was on the tip of Michal's tongue to refuse, but when the boy, Semyon, looked at him, his complaints froze on his lips. Semyon reminded him of himself when he had just been herded in this place. He had been resigned to his fate and at least had been able to hide his fear fairly well. Semyon on the other hand, had no clue how to go about that. Michal had never seen someone so scared and so uncertain before and that melted any reservations that he would have had about doing as he was told.

"Certainly, Father Sergei." Michal replied as he walked over to Semyon and untied his hands. He heard one of the men make a noise of what could have been protest, but was quickly silenced.

"Thank you." The boy whispered so quietly, that Michal wasn't sure that he had heard the words correctly.

"You are welcome. Come with me. Everything is going to be well."

Semyon nodded and timidly took Michal's hand, letting the older boy lead him out of the chapel.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

True to his word, Michal took Semyon to his room and hid his surprise at another cot being put in the room along with a towel, soap, undergarments and a robe.

"I guess this is your bed, then." Michal commented as he gestured to the new cot. Semyon nodded nervously and sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed.

Michal followed suit and sat on his own bed, but couldn't help but to frown at the raw, animal scent that assaulted him as he sat down close to Semyon. He figured he hadn't caught the scent before due to being in chapel, surrounded by all the incense and the smell of beeswax candles. Maybe that was why he hadn't noticed it or how it was affecting him.

He didn't want to be rude to Semyon, but he knew that there was no way that he could stay in the same room and sleep with him smelling so rank.

he wet his lips as he pondered how to bring up the situation when Semyon solved the dilemma for him.

Semyon grabbed the front of the gaudy peasant shirt that was wearing and sniffed at it, making a face before looking up and meeting Michal's eyes. he turned beet red and grabbed the bundle that had been prepared for him.

"I'm sorry. I...I thought I had gotten clean before I came here. I didn't have any soap then...I'm-"

Michal only raised an eyebrow and held up his hand so that Semyon would stop babbling and get himself together. This he did after a few minutes and Michal had to admit that it was endearing, but still aggravating to see him flustered as such.

"Do no worry about it, Semyon. I can take you to the baths and the dining hall. I guess you must be hungry and a bit of porridge would do well to fix you up before we go on the daily routine here. Can you write?"

Michal asked him as he got up and exited his cell, checking only to make sure that Semyon was following behind him.

Sure enough, the younger boy was trotting behind him like a puppy and it had the effect of reminding Michal of a dog he had as a child. He brushed the memory away, since he guessed that Semyon, despite his simple ways, wouldn't appreciate being likened to a dog.

"No. I am a farmer, that's all. I was hoping to eventually join the army and maybe learn there...but I don't think that will be possible any longer."

Semyon replied quietly and Michal couldn't help but to sympathize even more with the young boy. It looked like Samara desert was more of a dumping ground for unwanted boys and men than an actual holy place after all. Although he had known it to be true quite awhile ago, getting confirmation of it was still galling.

"I know exactly how you must feel, Semyon. But do not worry. I will be able to teach you soon enough."

Semyon caught up with him then and Michal glanced a look. The boy smiled at him so guilelessly that it nearly made Michal trip over his own two feet. He really was going to have to keep a close eye on him, Michal thought. Or else Semyon was bound to get himself into deep trouble.

~*~*~*~*~

"Are they crazy?" Bobby asked the minute that Jonas had finally explained the assignment that the regiment had just given them.

"Well, if I were a bystander, I'd agree. But they are deadly serious about this, Ryan." Jonas replied as he rolled up their mission papers and flung them into the fire, raking up the ashes and logs to make sure that the parchment was completely charred and no evidence of their orders remained.

"Why would they send us to such a backward place, though? I would for sure assume that there would be more settled around here or in the Balkans? Or even in the Swedish and Danish Kingdoms? Did they not learn their lesson once Napoleon's armies froze to death in that land?"

Bobby protested while Jonas ignored him and stoked the fire further and put in another log to burn as they continued their conversation. He had a feeling that they were going to be talking about this assignment for a very long time.

"Why are you complaining now, Ryan? You knew what you were getting into when I offered you the position. Why the reluctance now?"

Jonas asked as he sat down on the other cot and grabbed his mug of mulled wine and took a sip. Too sweet, but it was spicy enough for him to overlook it.

Bobby opened his mouth to make a retort and quickly shut it. Jonas was right. It wasn't as if the Swiss soldier had been vague about what the regiment de Meuron was all about once he had made the offer to Bobby once he had healed enough to leave the nunnery that had been used as a hospital in Montreal.

It was more that he had been so enthralled with the grim Swiss man that had saved him from an inglorious death that if he had asked Bobby to follow him to the depths of hell, he would have without any hesitation at all.

"Fine." He conceded, drinking down more of the wine in his own cup.

"Yes, you are right that there are more in those places. But the Swedish are already amassing their own forces and the Danes are too scattered to do much of anything. And I'm sure that if we even dared to poach any of theirs, we'd create a huge political situation that not even the Council in Vienna could resolve."

Bobby made a face and shrugged.

"Fine. I'm not in the mood to be involved in another war. But wouldn't we cause a similar issue in the Russian empire?"

Jonas shook his head.

"We're not there to physically take anyone. We just need to establish the existence of some. There have been some reports coming out from our sister branches that we can't ignore. We're the closest to the area, so it falls to us. Jesus, Bobby. Didn't you read anything before I burnt it?"

Bobby waved his hand away at his superior.

"What is the point in that? You will simply tell me what to do either way and it will be completely different from the written orders, so I simply skim and let you fill in the blanks."

Jonas made a face at him and quelled the urge to throw his cup at Bobby's head. Mainly because he couldn't deny that was the case. That willingness to bend the rules just a tad was the reason why he was more successful than his colleagues when it came to gathering intelligence and getting away unscathed. More or less.

He ignored the scar on his hand that started to itch at that thought and turned back to Bobby.

"Let's get back to the point here, which is that we need to go into the Eastern part of the Russian Empire, do our duty and leave the rest for Aebischer and Roy to take out."

Bobby's eyebrows rose up at the mention of Aebischer and Roy, who were well known to be the heavy artillery and only sent out when they needed to do a very delicate and touchy extraction. Not only did Aebischer have the touch, Roy had the wherewithal to make sure that nothing was left disturbed and their tracks where covered up as smoothly as possible.

This alone made Bobby nervous, since they usually were paired up with Sbisa and Weber and although young, had always been able to do their job fairly well. This was an off job and as much as he trusted Jonas, he couldn't just blindly go into it without reservations.

"I know it's a different kind of situation here, Ryan. But I have been assured that it should be simple enough. We get in, take the information and get out. Simple and all that." Jonas spoke up, making Bobby wonder exactly how the Swiss officer did that. It wasn't as if he constantly did it, but the frequency of it was enough to unnerve him and wonder if there was such a thing as the supernatural.

"Is that what they told you, or what you believe?" Bobby asked.

"It doesn't matter what I believe. I'm a soldier. I follow orders. That's the end of it. Now we'd better get some rest if we're going to make good time. Samara isn't around the corner."

Jonas returned calmly, his voice not changing tone or cadence at all, but Bobby could hear the hidden steel under the words all the same.

"Indeed." Was all Bobby replied as he downed the rest of his wine and set the empty cup on the table between the two cots.

There would be no more conversation that night. Whenever he probed too deeply into Jonas' devotion to the Regiment de Meuron, he would get frozen out and he wasn't in the mood to wait out the thaw and have a good conversation or a game of cards.

He'd rather just lie in the dark and wonder as to exactly what waited for them in Samara Desert.

~*~*~*~*~

Nicklas and Alex had just settled down in the sparse cell that they had been allotted by Fedorov when there was an insistent rapping signalling the end of a quiet evening interlude.

Nicklas groaned, but got off his cot to answer the door while Alex simply sharpened his knives, not looking up until he heard Nicklas gasp aloud in surprise.

"Sasha. What brings you here?" Alex greeted their occasional partner.

The other man frowned and didn't speak until he had closed the door behind him and removed his cloak, revealing a similarly battered uniform. But his colours were of the Siberian dragoons and his breeches, had long become a muddy brown that would have been hard pressed to have been identified as white.

"Did you already finish your mission?" Sasha asked as he sat down at the end of Nicklas' bed, making the Swede frown in irritation as he sat down beside him, careful to leave room between them.

"Technically." Alex replied carefully, making Sasha bite off a noise of impatience at the vague answer.

"Define technically and do it quickly. We just got word that de Meuron is sending someone here."

Alex and Nicklas looked at each other and frowned.

"Well, we didn't finish because our intelligence missed the mark on this one. Instead of a full grown man with a taste of murder, we found a scared sixteen year old peasant boy. I know you can be a cold-hearted bastard, but even you would find it hard to execute someone that young and that naive."

Nicklas explained quietly.

Sasha's eyes narrowed at these news as he made a mental note to rectify the situation and also to prepare what he was going to tell his superiors once he got back to headquarters.

"Is that so? We're going to have to examine these cases much more closely then. Damned peasants and their tales. Where is he now?"

"Fedorov gave him to one of the novices for minding. He's seriously a child, Sasha." Alex repeated Nicklas' words of earlier.

"Either way, I need to see it. You know how it works."

Sasha reminded them as he got up and grabbed his cloak, leaving the other two no choice but to follow him and hope that he would come to see the situation like they had.

Or else Semyon wasn't going to be long for this world.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

          It’s maybe a month or so after Semyon’s arrival that Michal realized he would have suffocated from boredom and loneliness if he hadn’t arrived. Semyon isn’t someone that he would have picked as a companion, but the shared quarters, the age and the realization that they were both outsiders made it possible. Now, as he looked fondly at Semyon as he struggled to learn the Cyrillic script used in Samara Desert; Michal can’t imagine not having him around. 

           He’s the little brother that Michal wished he could have had and he relished the new and unexpected role of mentor that he had been dragged into. 

(He did feel a tad guilty about his earlier reluctance, he is now willing to privately admit to himself. But he makes up for it by lavishing attention on Semyon and occasionally lighting a candle for St. Andrei during Vespers)

         He found it new and exciting and somewhat sweet to be able to be more than just a burden. Michal wouldnn’t deny he liked the hero worship that he saw in Semyon’s eyes when he fixed a mistake or when he stod up for his charge. He wondered if his own brothers had the same feelings about him when they were younger and dowries and family prestige hadn’t yet come between them. He hoped they did. It would have been miserable otherwise, he mused late at night when he had just enough time to be alone with his thoughts. 

         He wondered too, if Semyon had reciprocal feelings. Or if he liked that he belonged somewhere. Michal didn’t know that much about Semyon’s past. No one will really talk about it. Not even those strangers that brought him to the monastery. The one with the sing song voice and blonde hair sometimes looked like he wanted to say something, but he always cut himself off and looked away. Michal suspected that if the big one that was built like a bear weren’t around, then maybe he would get some answers.

         But that was not possible. They were rarely alone. It was as if they both have to hover around each other in order to feel safe. Michal knew that it was more than just camaraderie or friendship. But he couldn’t quite voice or put his finger on what it was exactly. All he knew was that they had a bond that couldn’t be broken and had to be replenished lest there was a danger of it growing weak and breaking. 

Michal sometimes asked  himself what it would be like to have a bond as such. He then questioned if he and Semyon were on their way to having it. 

He had to admit that he would like it, if that would be the case. He hated being alone in his skin. 

~*~*~*~

         Semyon was so bewildered and overwhelmed by the rigorous structure, the cleanliness, the lessons, and Michal that when he felt  the familiar symptoms of the spell come upon him…he wasn’t ready. The last time he had felt that way, he had been able to hide himself away. It hadn’t been as successful as he had hoped, but it hadn’t been as horrible as it otherwise would have been either.

         But with the men all around him watching him and with him sharing a room with Michal, there was no way that he could sneak off and hide himself. He had a feeling that even if he managed to sneak out from under Michal’s nose, Sergei, the head of Desert Samara wouldn’t let him go without setting a tail on him. 

        The sharp glances that he had sent Semyon’s way whenever he was in chapel or under his direct supervision had made it painfully clear that it wasn’t just piety that had gotten him his exalted position in the monastery. He was painfully observant and Semyon guessed that nothing happened in Samara Desert without his knowing about it. 

       He was trapped. Well and fully, since he couldn’t conceive of running away from the monastery. Not when they had sheltered and protected him and given him a second lease on life. Despite his infirmities, he had been welcomed with charity and had been made to feel safe among the chants, the incense and the old libraries and soft rhythm of the lives of the churchmen. It wasn’t what he had planned for himself, but it was better than being executed by the village headman for being…whatever it is that he was. 

       He sometimes queried if he was some kind of monster. Or a witch, like old Svetlana and his friend Andrei’s aunt Olga had been reputed to be. He personally hadn’t seen anything that could have indicated such a thing from them. But people used to make claims that Olga had soured the milk and old Svetlana had caused the death of at least one baby in the village after the mother had crossed her in some way or other. 

        He had scoffed at the stories then and he had to admit that he didn’t much believe them now either. He dismissed the thought quickly and tried to push the idea out of his head.

 He had no answers, that was the problem. He knew that something wasn’t right. It hadn’t been since he was thirteen and he had been ill. His mother had always insisted he had contracted a fever of some sort which had left him that way, with memory loss and spells that no one was willing to talk about ever. 

        Spells which came and went with results that Semyon had a vague inkling of being nasty, but was unable to know exactly how they were like that. 

         And now, he was going to find out if he didn’t make a choice.

         The minute that he had reasoned that out, a sharp stabbing pain pronounced itself, making his vision red and blurry as it did so. 

          It was too late.

~*~*~*~

          “What is the date?” Nicklas asked Semin, who was busy reading through a book of compiled lineages as he tried to pinpoint Semyon’s possible line of inheritance. 

            He had met with the child and had been thoroughly puzzled as to his lineage. He didn’t smell like his own pack. Nor did he smell like Alex’s pack either. And Semin had to suspect that something traumatic had occurred to keep Semyon from recalling anything worthwhile about his family or his own metamorphosis. The only useful thing that he could recall was that he had been ill at thirteen. A fever, he had said.

           Semin had shared his suspicions that the boy had been injured somehow during the metamorphosis and was left with a blank spot regarding his change. So nay potentially useful information had been lost in the depths of his mind and neither him nor Alex were any good at telepathy. Nicklas was somewhat decent, but not with delicate work. 

           They would have to take the boy to Moscow and hope that Pavel would be in a good enough mood to help them figure out the anomaly that was Semyon. Or if that failed, they would have to wrangle a passage to Finland and hope that the Kurri wolves would be kind enough to do them a turn in exchange for more pack inter-relations. Something that they were, in a bind, allowed to do, but not something that they would have preferred to resort to. 

             That was the only reason why he was slogging through genealogies and trying to find a missing branch or member of a pack to figure it out. It was tiring and consuming work, but at leas tit was a better option than explaining why they were herding Finnish susi into the volk packs. 

       “I am not sure. Ask Sanya.” Semin replied distractedly, waving a hand in Alex’s direction. 

         Alex looked up from the reports that he was painstakingly compiling in the cyrillic script that Nicklas couldn’t seem to quite get right. It was easier for Alex to write it than have to go through reams of paper later on and correct all the small mistakes. 

       “It’s been almost a month since we arrived. We’re going to need to isolate ourselves soon. Get to the woods in maybe a day or two.” Alex replied, not looking up from his work as he spoke.          He wasn’t a fast writer, but he was thorough and that thoroughness came from concentration on his work. Although it had irritated Nicklas at first, he accepted it. Just like he accepted being the sweet-talker while Alex was the muscle. Just a natural division of labours playing up to their respective strengths, something that made perfect sense right then and there. 

      “I think we should do it sooner. He’s young and probably doesn’t have that much control over when it will come over him. And he’s rooming with the other boy. He could hurt him. At the least, turn him. At the worst, kill him. We don’t need the diplomatic nightmare that would create within the empire. Not to mention that we’d be forced to give him up to those other hunters that the Meuron are bound to send in after their scouts.” 

        Nicklas explained, still haunted by the sight of the boy covered in blood and bewildered as to what he had done and what had happened to him. At first, Nicklas thought they could get the information, but the more that he prodded, the more Semyon’s confusion emerged. This was enough to convince him that the pup was really telling the truth and probably more danger to himself than to anyone else and needed to be contained and fast.

         Semin frowned. “Better get to it then. We can’t risk a slaughter here. Fedorov would skin us alive with the Empire’s blessing.”

         “You really are an optimistic man, aren’t you, Sasha?” Alex snorted in amusement before finishing off the last of the report and leaving the room without another word. Nicklas followed, leaving Semin alone to look over lineages again. And make notes when he finally came across something he had never noticed before. 

His mouth tightened and he places his finger to hold his place in the book before he flips to an earlier spot. He misses the pages by a bit, but then finds what he is looking for. He makes a note and cross references it again with the information that he has just found. It all adds up. And he wished he had seen it before. But with so little to go on, he understood that there was no way he could have arrived a the conclusion sooner.

He was just about to stand up and find Alex and Nicklas when they burst in, Alex with a furious look in his eyes while Nicklas face is pale white in either fear or fury, he can’t tell. Fury, he decided when he watches the jerky movements Nicklas is using to pack up his sack. Only weapons go in and Sasha swears quietly to himself. It has finally happened, then.

“Any casualties?” He asked, carefully marking the place and tucking his notes into the heavy leather bound journal he keeps for that specific purpose. 

“If Fedorov doesn’t move fast, yeah. Semyon’s attacked a couple of the monks and fled. We need to catch him before he wreaks havoc on the rest. And gets himself killed by the Meuron troops.”

Sasha winced and got his pack on his back. “Let’s go then.”

 They had just gotten themselves together and were going to go on the hunt when Fedorov entered the room, his face a mask of fury as he looked at them.

“We’re on it.” Alex assured him, moving to go past him and to start the hunt for Semyon. 

“I would hope so. Bring him and Michal alive.”

“Michal?” Nicklas asked, his brow furrowing in confusion. What did Michal have anything to do with Semyon, other than the fact that they shared a chamber?

“Semyon took him. Willingly or not, but they are both gone.” 

Sasha groaned. That was just what they needed. An immature volk/susi mix with a hostage on the loose. He was going to ask for a raise after this entire situation was done.

 

Chapter Text

Aebischer had just kicked dirt and pine needles over the dying embers of their fire when Roy's head jerked up, his nostrils flaring as he caught a faint trace of a scent on the wind. He remained still for several moments before shaking his head in disgust and moving towards their tent.

"Damn this weather." he growled at his hunting partner as they bunked down for the night. "I can't get anything concrete. I think I smell something...but it quickly disappears. Not to mention that it smells all too familiar. I know I have gotten that loup before, but I can't for the life of me place it."

Aebischer only shrugged as he pulled his cloak tighter to keep the night's chill out.

"We may not be the only ones hunting that pup, Patrice. We could be competing with the Swedes and even our own regiments." Aebischer pointed out, making Roy grunt as he settled right behind Aebischer to conserve body heat. Aebischer shoved him away just enough to pull his cloak over them both, while Roy layered his own under, providing a warmer cover.

"It's possible. If the pup isn't feral, we can just keep looking in Siberia for more loups. If not, we have to step in and that may be us stepping on some toes."

Roy growled and laid down. 

"We'll deal with it once we find the pup. No sense in borrowing trouble. Now get some sleep. We've got more tracking to do."

Aebischer snorted but obeyed. Patrice was right. There was no sense in staying awake and trying to plan variables. It never worked out well.

~*~*~*~*~

"Thank you, Jadwiga" Semyon whispered to the woman after she had handed him a bowl of warm chicken and vegetable soup and a wooden spoon to eat it with. She paired this up with a hunk of heavy black rye bread and left a steaming mug of tea at his elbow.

The older woman, whom Semyon had at first judged to be close to her thirties, smiled at him. That smile made her pale oval face and her grey eyes light up. Her hair, loosely bound at the nape of her neck swished as she moved. The richness of her hair was a fine contrast to her slender frame, which was clothed in a plain grey shift and dark blue homespun shawl. 

"You're welcome. I will check on your cousin and see if he is awake enough to need some food."  Jadwiga replied as she turned to check on Mikal, who was still dead to the world. He was sleeping on the only bed in the small hut, covered by the furs that Jadwiga's brother had hunted when he had been alive. Semyon tried to not think about those skins. It bothered him to think that they could have been like him, but stuck in their volk forms permanently.

But if they kept Michal from freezing, he would learn to suppress the chills that crept down his spine whenever he thought of it.

It was his fault, after all, why Michal had nearly ended up gutted. 

He swallowed hard, his adam's apple bobbing up and down as he watched Jadwiga pull the covers away and look under the bloody bandage that was wound around Michal's torso. The blood didn't look fresh, but Semyon was worried that Michal wouldn't heal properly. Or worse, that infection would set in and he would die in Jadwiga's small hut. 

"Ah!" Jadwiga's small cry of surprise pulled him away from the meal that he had barely tasted and to the bed to see what had gotten Jadwiga so worked up.

It looked like someone had heard and answered his prayers. Michal was healed up and he would live. 

The problem now was whether he would ever forgive Semyon for what happened. 

He hadn't meant for it to happen, but he was trapped and the fact that Michal had smelled to him like prey hadn't helped matters either. He had followed his instincts and attacked and he hadn't stopped regretting it as he took the injured Michal through what seemed like a merry chase through the woods until they were found by Jadwiga, who had, blessedly, understood their dilemma and offered them the use of her house and willingly shared her food with them.

"I know what you are. We were many once. Before the wars. Before the Swedes and the Finns." She had told Semyon when she had found them hiding in her garden, too exhausted to go on and simply wanting a bit of a rest before he carried Michal in the direction of his old village.

He had been hoping that maybe there, he would be able to get some help and hide out and maybe be able to fully explain to Michal everything that he knew and was without fearing for his life or worrying about punishments. 

He had a feeling that if they ever were to go back to the monastery, Fedorov and Ovechkin would probably skin him alive. 

So even though he had wanted to go back to his home and family, Jadwiga's hospitality made him change his mind. Especially since Michal had been unconscious that entire time and he had no idea what to do about his wounds other than packing them with bandages and making sure that the bandages were tight.

Jadwiga had put her foot down then and had insisted that they stay with her. 

That had been several days ago. Semyon wasn't sure. He was losing days whenever he turned, so he only was aware of the time passing by what meals Jadwiga was serving him.

As for Michal...he still hadn't reached full consciousness. He had fallen into a violent fever once they had reached safety and had been in the grip of it for days. He had raved in his delirium in a language that neither of them had heard before, understanding only a few words out of the entire monologue until they realized that he was speaking cezch. 

He had calmed down enough in the last couple of days for them to get some fluids and soft gruel in him, but he still remained unconscious. 

"His body's changing. It takes awhile for a human to become used to the metamorphosis. Especially one that is so young."

"He's older than I am!" Semyon had protested, making Jadwiga start at that. 

"He looks so young though! Younger than you and I! And I'm practically an old woman!"

Semyon had to look away at that comment. Jadwiga herself wasn't that old. But she had lived alone for far too long and looked as old as his mother. But he remained silent and let himself change into a volk and roam the woods until the need to change was out of his system.

Jadwiga let him roam, taking care of Michal while he did so and that had helped quite a bit. He hadn't had any blackouts of his time spent in his other form and he had put it together that he needed to sink into his volk form to stay sane. Already, his mind was working better than it ever had and he didn't feel anything like the dull boy that he had been in the past.

At least something good had come out of all of this, Semyon had tried to comfort himself. He held that thought in his mind and clung to it. it was the only thing that was keeping him from losing his mind when he wasn't in volk form.

That and being with Jadwiga.

He should feel slightly embarrassed that he was enjoying being with her so much, since Michal was seriously ill because of him...yet he couldn't find it in himself to turn her away. She was horribly lonely and more than likely wouldn't ever find someone to share her solitude with. So his pity and his need to be comforted overrode any other compunctions he had about the arrangement. 

"He's out of danger now, Semyon. His fever's broken." 

Her voice broke his thoughts and he sent out a silent prayer to the remote God that he had been drilled into believing in when he had been in the monastery. 

"When do you think he will wake up?"

She smiled at him softly as she pulled the stained bandage away from Michal's body and hurled it into the fire.

"Maybe in a day or two. That was how it was with Pavel."

Semyon nodded. "Thank you."

Jadwiga waved his thanks away with her tanned hand, making the curtain of her dark brown hair swish with the movement. 

"Just sit down and eat, Semyon. He will be well."

~*~*~*~*~

Semyon was out in the fields, helping with the harvest when Jadwiga ran out of her cottage and waved at him to come inside. 

Wasting no time, he threw the sickle down and ran to the cottage. He paused in the door way and stared stupidly at the sight of Michal sitting up on the bed, with one of Jadwiga's patterned shawls wrapped around him. 

"Hi." Michal greeted him, his voice low and quiet from misuse, his wide eyes blinking as he took in the sight of Semyon, who looked completely different from the awkward boy he had befriended in the Monastery. 

This Semyon was a stranger to him, looking like the man he was meant to be. Michal could smell the scent of fir and hay on him and understood that it was hard work that had made Semyon fill out and get comfortable in his own skin. 

"Hi." Semyon replied, sitting down at a safe distance in case that Michal didn't feel comfortable having him so close. Especially if he recalled anything about how they ended up in the hut and Jadwiga.

"How long has it been since the monastery?" Michal asks, reaching out with a shaky hand to grasp the cup of herbal tea that Jadwig had left for him. He takes a couple of sips and sighs in relief as the hot liquid slides down his throat, soothing it completely.

Semyon frowns and shakes his head. "Weeks. Maybe longer. You were quite sick...after. I...I was scared, so I took you and ran. Jadwiga found us and allowed us to stay here."

Michal nodded. "How did we look, when she found us?" 

"Like wolves." Semyon whispered after an agonizingly long silence. He looked straight at Michal and his eyes, Michal could see had changed. From their usual clear blue, to a blue that was almost crystalline in their colour. 

Just like they were that night that he had tried to find out what was wrong with Semyon and had ended up being attacked by the largest sandy haired wolf he had ever seen in his life. He had been too afraid to fight back and had frozen. He didn't recall anything else after the excruciating pain of being torn apart.

He had known, despite the delirium he had sunk in, why that had occurred. Semyon's voice as a wolf had been clearer than when he had been a boy. There had been so many things that he couldn't articulate and they had sounded clear to Michal as he had been dragged along Semyon's travels. 

But he still needed to hear what Semyon had to stay about everything else.

"I never meant for it to happen like this. I was just trying to find a quiet spot to change. Before..." Semyon broke off and looked down at his hands.

"Before, I would hurt people. And do things that I didn't remember, that was why i wanted to flee."

Michal couldn't help the wince that escaped him after that confession. He had only mean to check on Semyon. But his good intentions had gone and burned both of them. 

"And I will never forgive myself for hurting you. Especially after you started to change. You were sick...all through the cycle and I couldn't help you. If it hadn't been for Jadwiga..."

Michal found himself scowling at the sound of the woman's name. It was irrational to feel that way, since she had been nothing but lovely to both of them. But the idea of her being around Semyon while he, Michal, was lying delirious made him angry. Semyon was his. That was all there was to it. 

"Her father had been a volk. And her brothers. So she knew how to help you. She taught me things. So that I wouldn't lose my memory like before. Or lose control of myself and hurt anyone else again."

Michal nodded and forced his jealousy to recede. 

How could he be jealous of her? When she had basically brought him back from the brink of death and helped Semyon so much? He understood it was all irrational. He had no reason to be jealous, because he knew, as he breathed, that Semyon was simply his. 

And even though he wanted to be furious at him, for attacking him and turning him into a beast straight out of legend...he simply couldn't.

Not when Semyon had unwittingly given him his freedom from a life that would have stifled him and killed his soul as easily as it was supposed to save it. 

He had come to that decision when reason had finally returned and he didn't feel as if he was walking through hell to get to it. At first, he had been furious that he had been trapped into a new and hellish situation...until he realized that he was no longer expected to uphold his father's wishes for a life sentence in a situation that he was ill-suited to in the first place.

Yes, he was in a similar situation regarding the being turned into a volk, but at least he would be the master of his own fate, rather than being bullied into following someone else's plans. 

So he had decided, when Semyon and he would talk, that he would forgive Semyon.

And stay with him.

Semyon had gotten nervous and was starting to fidget, prompting Michal to reach out and put his hand on his knee, stilling his movements. 

"I am not angry anymore at what you did. Don't think that. You have saved my life in more ways than you will know, Semyon. Nor will I leave you or Jadwiga. This is not the life that I would have chosen for myself...but I am choosing it. Which is better than what I had in the monastery."

Semyon's eyes widened at that and he swallowed hard before he spoke again.

"And being a volk? Does that..."

Michal shook his head. "No. It doesn't."

Semyon nodded, his hand unconsciously coming to cover Michal's and squeezing it. Michal didn't mind the touch, but Semyon was embarrassed and got off the bed so fast that Michal had trouble following the movement.

"I...I need to go. We will talk later."

Semyon managed to blurt out before rushing out the door and leaning Michal laughing softly to himself. 

"Despite everything..." He murmured before he took another drink of his tea.

Semyon was still too innocent and Michal would have to add that to the list of reasons why they would have to wait.

And when Jadwiga came in, he didn't feel as murderous toward her as he had in the past. 

Semyon was his.

~*~*~*~*~*~

"Remind me to never again get posted in the backwoods of Russia ever again." Ryan grumbled as they carefully picked their way through yet another overgrown and treacherous path. 

Hiller only grunted, because he was getting fed up of having to hear about the conditions and battling them at the same time. 

"I second the motion, but until you pick up the trail again, we're stuck here for the time being."

Hiller reminded him tonelessly, breathing a quiet sigh of relief once they were on even ground again.

Ryan wrinkled his nose, but went right back to his task, since he had been an outstanding tracker back home and during the wars.

The most frustrating thing was that even though he could pick up a trail, it was maddeningly elusive. Only appearing at random times and when it did appear, it was in odd places, such as the thickest parts of the woods or overgrown fields.  The worst was that they extended pretty far and after several weeks of following a frustratingly disorganized trail, both Hiller and Ryan were fairly close to calling it quits and letting Aebischer and Roy deal with it.

They would lose their rankings, but Ryan had a feeling that if they didn't find some reprieve form the situation he was going to wake up with either Hiller strangling him, or vie versa. And the sad thing was that he genuinely liked the taciturn Swiss man, so for it to have gone that far...they needed a solution and fast.

He had been so focused on his thoughts that when the trail literally smacked him in the face, he nearly missed it. Luckily, Hiller didn't miss a thing and also had no sense of shame whatsoever either.

Hiller got off his horse and rushed over to what Ryan had at first thought was nothing more than a bundle of discarded linens, but was revealed to be two awkwardly twined teenage loups in what looked like their mating heat. And mercifully, they didn't notice Hiller or Ryan. They just finished their mating and lay in the field without a care in the world.

Nothing mattered to them and Ryan, for a split second, envied them deeply. 

But the envy was pushed aside when he saw the snarling embarrassment over their faces as Hiller spoke to them and threw their clothes at them. This was, he thought as he got closer, one of the most humiliating scenes he had ever been privy to witness and he wasn't sure who he was feeling more sorry for-Hiller or the young loups. 

One thing that he was certain of was that  he was for sure going to ask to never set foot in Russia. Ever again. Even if Hiller insisted on it.

Chapter Text

"Dammit, I never thought that the Susi was going to be that angry off about the whole situation." Ovechkin growled as they made haste back to Samara through the forests of the Finns. 

"How can you not expect him to be angry? We let a half-Susi pup Turn a human. Not to mention the fact that we didn't report it to him. Of course he's going to be angry."

Backstrom retorted, while Semin snorted his agreement, but didn't add anything to the conversation that had been hashed and rehashed between them over and over again since they had left Oulu.There was nothing else to add, so he kept quiet and focused on tracking the scents that he had picked up just outside of St. Petersburg once they had crossed the border into the Motherland.

"It doesn't matter now. We have to get them out. The Susi clans in Oulu want them desperately and are willing to take Michal in, for Semyon's sake. If I know anything about pups, they have already bonded. Especially the ones from the outlying lands."

Ovechkin commented, making Semin give out a quiet snarl to show his displeasure. He had fought tooth and nail (almost figuratively in some areas) to make it out of his Siberian homeland into the ranks of the regiment and didn't suffer any slurs against his homeland lightly.Even if they were just meant in a general way and it was usually the most source of contention between himself and Ovechkin, who tended to forget that fact, as a born Muscovite was often won't to do.

"Sorry Sasha. I am not commenting on your clans. But rather, commenting on pups in general." Ovechkin amended, making Backstrom and Semin snort in amusement.

"Considering you are one,it makes sense." Semin rejoined, willing to get it go for the sake of keeping the peace. It was still a long trip and he'd rather swallow his pride than have to contend with awkward silences all around. 

"You know me too well, Sasha." Ovechkin joked, taking the proffered truce and making Backstrom snort in amusement and shake his head.

"Either way, we need to get to them fast. This side trip to Oulu has delayed us and I fear that Roy and Aebischer have gotten to them already."

Backstrom pointed out, making the two Russians sober up and scowl. 

"Those two. I never did like them. Well, Aebischer is not bad. But when he's with Roy. It is almost as if they just feed off of each other somehow."

Semin muttered, crossing himself as he spoke. It wasn't that he was superstitious, but those two had been the cause of many legends and stories in their hunting careers. So much so that the Grimm brothers had heard distorted versions and published them. Humans assumed they were stories, but wolves knew better.

He cast a look at Backstrom and Ovechkin and wondered if they would reach the same notoriety. Already, there was talk that they worked as well as Roy and Aebischer. But Semin knew that the Swiss loups had an advantage in that they had either bonded or mated. No one was sure which. And Ovechkin was too childish to see how Backstrom was waiting for him to make the first move in order to mate. And Semin felt bad for him, since it was most likely never to happen unless Ovechkin got a serious push in that direction.

Ovechkin was a good agent and smart, but there were certain things that he needed a bit of help to see. 

Maybe when the mission was over, he would do something. Or maybe, he hoped, the mission would let them see that they needed to bond and desperately. If they kept up the charade of friendship any longer, they would be in danger of never finding someone to replace the imprint that they had made on each other and then...they would be even more dangerous than before. 

He didn't want that to happen, since then, he would be hunting them.

And he hoped it wouldn't come to that. 

"How much farther, do you think?"

Backstrom asked, pulling him away from his dark thoughts.

"Two more days. Fedorov might be able to give us more information once we get to Samara Desert."

Nicklas nodded. "I hope we don't run into those two. We haven't really been cleared to attack after what happened in Kyiv." 

Semin snorted. "I'll do the paperwork if we have to. But I agree with your sentiments either way."

~*~*~*~*~

Aebischer was the one that noticed the change of scent in the air before his mate did. He knew that if that had been the case, Patrice would have just gone charging into the other loups and not only ruined their mission, but attracted unwanted attention on top of that. He loved Patrice, but he also knew that if he wasn't there to hold him back, he would have already been dead a long time ago.

That had been the main reason for his inclusion in the Regiment de Meuron. His ability to calm Patrice as well as his tracking had got him firmly entrenched in the Corps and had built him a solid reputation. He never regretted having had to leave his home to be part of the Meuron Corps. He had, after all, found his mate. Even though it had been quite a trial to basically keep a feral New France Loup in check while traipsing around the European continent putting down the most vicious loups and wolfs under the Corps orders.

As it was, Patrice did most of the fighting, his inborn instincts too much to keep in check when he thought his mate was in danger from being claimed or attacked. Aebischer was the tracker, but there were times when Patrice got there first, his instincts sometimes being sharper than Aebischer's. Especially after a heavy heat. 

He didn't want it to be like that this time. Not when they were so deep in enemy territory and needed to get to the damned loup fast. Even if he had compunctions against killing pups...he knew it had to be done. It wouldn't do to have a feral around. Even if it was in the middle of the Russian Empire. 

Keeping this in mind, he moved slowly away from their campsite, where he had left Patrice sleeping and inched closer to the road. He had a hunch that was where the scent had originated from and he wanted to dissuade the wolves that were coming closer to their camp. 

He crouched down in the bushes that were thickly clumped along the road and drew his knife out, waiting for his quarry. They didn't take that long to get there, their scent hitting him hard. It wasn't an unpleasant scent, but it was strong and unfamiliar enough to make his hackles rise.

He forced himself to stay down though and wait. They weren't yet the enemy and it wouldn't do to attack any wolves that could lead him to the Volk and his prey.

When they got past the area where he was hiding, he relaxed. They weren't any loups that he recognized from any of the regiments that he had and Pratice had collaborated with in the past. The colours gave him no hints of where they belonged and their Russian wasn't the usual dialect he had been used to hearing on his travels. It was too rough and too accented. He knew that the blonde, childish looking one was definitely not a Russian. He could hear that in his thickly accented words.

And he could also tell that he was not mated and desperate to be so.

At least that was one thing that the Corps had gotten right. They always sent out mated pairs into the field. 

The Russians, he mused, could learn something from them. He watched the other one, but he didn't get anything but an amusedly neutral scent from him. It was as if he was removed from the world and content to do so. A Master Spy. That piqued his interest. He would have to tell Patrice about it later.

He let them pass and watched them until they were almost out of sight before he rushed back to camp to find Patrice already packing their gear up and his weapons out.

"I'm guessing you found a lead?" Patrice growled out as he tied everything up in a rucksack. 

Aebischer smiled as he put his knife away.

"Even better. Come on. I'll tell you on the way."

Patrice only raised a reddish eyebrow and grinned fiercely. 

"I look forward to it."

~*~*~*~*~*~

Jadwiga tried to keep her face composed, but whenever she looked at a shamefaced Semyon and mortified Michal, her lips would twitch and she'd have to excuse herself to giggle.

"I didn't think it was THAT amusing." Michal muttered with hurt pride while Hiller and Ryan tried to pretend that nothing was out of the ordinary with them.

Ryan opened his mouth to make a retort, but yelped instead when Hiller dug his elbow into his ribs, making him shut up mouth abruptly.  That had always been a sensitive spot and Hiller had super bony elbows. So he shut up and tried to keep his face neutral, despite wanting to desperately laugh at the sight of the shamefaced pups sitting across from them.

"You got caught mating in a field. Full of sunflowers. There's enough amusement value there to last a lifetime. But that's not why we're here."

Hiller replied, his words sharp and to the point. Michal's eyes narrowed and he scooted closer to Semyon, who had gone pale.

"You're going to kill him, aren't you?" Michal whispered angrily. 

"No! God no! Nothing like that!" Ryan quickly reassured them, earning him a surprised look from Hiller.

"We're trying to protect you from getting killed, actually." Hiller admitted. 

Michal's eyes narrowed with suspicion and Ryan made a mental note to keep him on their side and listening. Sad to say, but Semyon looked exactly like what he was: a simple peasant boy caught up in things that he simply didn't understand. 

Michal was a bit trickier to deal with. Ryan could already tell from the way he was plastering himself to Semyon and the claws that were starting to come out instead of his usual nails that he would fight anyone for his mate.

"Why?"

"There have been killings in the area consistent with wolf kills and the empires are starting to get nosy and ask questions. If they found out about us, then we'd end up as cannon fodder for Napoleon and the rest of the kingdoms. Not to mention that we'd be exposed to the rest of the world. No. We came to see if there was any merit to the reports."

"And where there?" 

Hiller nodded. 

"A Village near Samara desert was destroyed. All of the inhabitants dead or scattered.  For that and that reason alone,  we have been sent out."

"That was my fault. " Semyon murmured brokenly into the silence that followed that dark statement. 

"No. Semyon..." Michal tried to quiet him, but Semyon wasn't going to stop. Ryan could sense that it was something that had been weighing on the pup's conscience for a long time and he wanted to get rid of his burden desperately. 

"I couldn't control what I was...before. I thought I had run away. Far enough to not hurt anyone and when I woke up, I was covered in blood and there were bodies everywhere."

Hiller and Ryan exchanged a look. They had seen the village after getting the reports from Fedorov, and it had been a sorry and bloody sight. 

But it didn't have the marks of a wolf gone berserk.

The kid was an alpha, that was obvious by the green his eyes had flashed in the field. But there was no way that he could have had that much strength to decimate an entire village.

But if he had lost control and had no memory of the entire situation...

They fell into a stiff silence that would have continued if it hadn't been for Jadwiga's scream of surprise and the sound of her dropping the bucket she used to haul water from the well. 

Hiller leapt up to go outside, but he didn't have to.

"Aebischer! What the hell are you doing here?" Hiller exclaimed, while Bobby already had a gun trained on the loup.

"Tracking this bitch down. Or rather, her brother." Roy replied as he came into the house, his sword out.

"What? Why?"

Roy tilted his head at Semyon, who had stood up and was standing in front of Michal as if to protect him from the two new loups that had shown up.

"The villages. Either she killed those people, or she knows who did it and pinned it on the boy."

Aebischer's hand tightened around Jadwiga's neck, making her cry out in fear at the words.

"And we're here to find out which it is and take the pup and his friends to Geneva once we do."

Chapter Text

Michal was the first one to gather his composure, his mind whirring and clicking as he put everything together. His claws came out and he kept himself glued to Semyon, who was shaking as he tried to take in everything that was happening in front of him. He wasn’t a fighter. Hadn’t been trained in it and Michal knew that Semyon simply did not have the temperament for it. That was why he couldn’t bring himself to believe the circumstances about the village ever. Semyon wasn’t a fighter or a killer and he was damned if he was going to let anyone hurt him.

Even if that person had saved their lives when they needed it.

“I always had to wonder how convenient it was that Semyon found your home.” Michal commented as he stood up and carefully stepped in front of Semyon. His eyes flashed a slight hazel as he looked at Jadwiga, who was still struggling in Aebischer’s grip.

“Not to mention extending your hand to a turned Volk. Charity only goes so far and I must admit that you have gone above the call of duty and beyond. I should have seen it sooner, that Pavel and Piotr and the rest of your clan are alive and around here.” Michal muttered as he grabbed Semyon’s wrist.

“No matter. I’m taking him away from all of you. He’s been a pawn long enough.” Michal said as he leapt through the open window, taking a terrified and loud Semyon with him as easily as if he had been nothing more than a sack.

“Well, fuck.” Hiller muttered as he followed them outside, only to give out a roar of surprise and rage at what he found outside.

“Hiller! Stop shrieking and help us!”

Ryan blinked at the order that followed and had to laugh.

“Do as he says, Jonas! Better to have Ovechkin on your side than not at all!”

He looked at Aebischer and Roy and took his gun off of them.

“Guess what, Roy? You get what you’ve always wanted to do: A dramatic entrance. Are you ready for it?”

Aebischer had to turn his head away to hide the smirk that was creeping over his face, while Roy only smiled broadly. Clearly, Ryan noted, the man had no shame at all.

“I thought you’d never ask, Ryan.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Oh Sweet Iesu!” Hiller breathed as he saw the carnage taking place in front of him. Michal and Semyon had transformed fast into dark brown and dark blond Volks and were doing their best to do guerrilla attacks on the bigger Arctic Volks that were of true Siberian stock.

Siberian stock that was faster, nastier and stronger than any of the other breeds. He could understand why the two pups had decided to go for attack and retreat attacks rather than out and out attacks. They would get torn up otherwise.

The other Volks that had called out for help were thick in the fray and fur and blood was flying and he couldn’t tell for sure where it was coming from. But all he knew was that he needed to get in there and at least do something to even the odds.

“Ryan, get your ass out here. We’re going to need some help.” Hiller sent out, taking off his coat and shucking his clothes off. He didn’t have spares of his uniform and he was sure he wasn’t going to have anyone to scavenge off of. He was also sure that the De Meuron quartermaster would not be pleased to requisition them more uniforms this early in the year.

“I’m on it. Although I don’t understand why you’re calling me into the Russians fight.” Ryan noted sourly as he leapt out into his wolf form. Hiller huffed and padded over to him.

“You know why. So stop bitching and get in there. I have a feeling we’re going to get our answers here.” Jonas replied as they wasted no more time and jumped into the fray.

~*~*~*~*~

“You are such a bastard. Seriously.” Aebischer muttered to Roy as they stood and watched the others fighting. Even though Roy was aching and needing the fight, they were opting to stay out of it. Aebischer was amused by the restraint that Patrice was showing now, but he was worried that the Russians were going to eat the pups and the others alive. Especially since he was positive that they were the ones fucking around in the villages for reasons unknown.

Jadwiga looked like she wanted to echo the sentiment, but remained quiet and just shot Roy a murderous look as she tried to half-heartedly slip out of the rope that held her wrists in front of her. Roy only growled at her and tugged at the rope again. She squeaked and Aebsicher shook his head before turning back to the fight.

“If we go and fight, the bitch runs away and warns more of her clan, killing everyone else here. No can do. If you want to fight, by all means. But we need to keep an eye on the pregnant bitch here.”

Aebischer and Jadwiga both nearly snapped their necks to look at Roy, who was now inspecting his sword in almost lazy gestures and pretending not to notice the reaction his statement had caused them.

“It makes sense, doesn’t it? You can’t exactly sleep with family members and the humans around know all too well what you are to allow their sons to marry you. I guess it didn’t take that long for it to happen.”

Aebischer glanced at Roy and smirked. Despite his irrational behaviour, Roy was smart. He just didn’t usually voice his findings until everyone was sure that he had yet again gone off the deep-end. But now, he supposed that they were on the verge of exploding with catastrophic results. So he did appreciate the information.

Jadwiga opened and closed her mouth, but didn’t say anything that would prove or disprove his theory. But her hands did go over her belly in an unmistakable gesture of motherhood, thus proving Roy correct. Roy snorted and put his sword away.

“We don’t care, about you whelping. I understand that your clan needs new blood. But to trick a pup into it…as well as rousing terror into the villages for the hell of it. No. That isn’t something that we can take lying down. Not when it will make the humans notice us and cull us out.”

He moved closer to her and looked straight into her eyes, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword as he did so.

“Call them off and we leave you alone. We only take the perpetrators and deal with them as our laws see fit. You won’t ever see or hear from us again.”

“And if I don’t?”

Jadwiga tried for defiant nonchalance, but it failed when Roy pressed the flat of his Opinel against her throat, making her gasp and a thin line of blood trickle out over the sharp blade.

“Everything that you tried for will get forfeited. Are you ready for that?”

~*~*~*~*~*

The fight was getting harder to contain in that one area and Alex was worried that it was going to spill over into neighbouring claims and create needless casualties. Especially if Nik lost all control and shifted into berserker mode. Then they would have a bloodbath on their hands and no real battlefield to hide the casualties in.

And it would all be his fault, since he was more or less supposed to be the handler of Nik. That had been the only stipulation of the Swedish regiments for handing him to the White Russians. And even though he looked as if he didn’t take his role seriously, he cared for Nik and having him executed in Stockholm was the last thing he wanted for his friend.

He snorted as he bounded in the direction of Nik. That friend label wasn’t true. He wanted Nik. And not in the way that friends wanted and needed each other. He needed Nik as his other half, despite his long held denials. He had known that was the truth ever since he had laid eyes on him as he had been pushed forward by Forsberg.

“Take this one. He’ll be good to you if you take care of him.” Filip had told him. Alex had to resist the urge to laugh. But his laughter was cut short when those large grey eyes had locked into his and a part of his heart that he hadn’t know was out of place suddenly just fit. Nik was his. Truly his.

He had fought the attraction for long. So long that it was second nature to squelch that longing in his presence.

He jerked himself out of that mindset when he saw Nik attack a huge Volk without compunction and rip off his ear, maiming him and making him scurry off, yelping loudly and bleeding all over the place. The Volk’s companion retaliated, scoring a long gash across Nik’s snout that should have had the other wolf keening in pain. It did nothing but enrage him and force him to come forward and get even more brutal.

“Bozhe Moi” Alex muttered before he leapt in to subdue Nik, who snarled and fought him as one possessed. Alex wasn’t having it though, and clamped down hard onto Nik’s neck and pulled him away into the woods. Or tried to.

Nik snarled and sank his own teeth into Alex’s flank, hard enough to draw blood and nearly make him let go of Nik. But he stubbornly held on and clamped down hard himself, drawing blood also, despite knowing that this was probably not the best way to go about sealing their bond.

It was all instinctual and part of Nik’s berserker fits and he couldn’t begrudge him that. Especially not now in the middle of a messy fight and when he was trying to calm Nik down and get him to the woods.

A few of the other Volks saw this retreat and thought that it was their chance to strike for blood once and for all, but realized their mistake when Nik broke loose and attacked them without any warning or preamble.

Alex himself growled and leapt in, not caring about keeping the peace or keeping Nik in check. They had attacked, they were going to get what they deserved. He ran straight forward and head butted one in the side, ramming him against a tree and making yip out his pain. His head hurt and he was sure that he could smell blood in his nostrils, but it was worth it to buy the time that was needed for Nik to do his own series of attacks.

Nik was an expert in crawling underneath and delivering the killing blow from underneath and would have done so if it hadn’t been for the sudden freezing of all the fighters. The Volk had whined and rushed out of the way, running ahead and leaving them behind.

Curious, Alex left his own fight to see what had drawn the other wolves away and when he did see it, he huffed a few wheezes that were the closest he could muster up for laughter in his secondary form.

Roy held a knife up to Jadwiga's throat while Aebischer was watching his side, his sword held loosely in his hands. But that was a ruse. He knew exactly how accomplished Aebischer was with that sword. Only a fool would be lulled into a false sense of security and he knew that was what the Loup was aiming for.

It was as if all the fight had gone out of them and the Volks started pawing and whining as they saw who Roy had in his hands. Jadwiga obviously meant that much to them. So much so that they were willing to stop the fight to have her handed over unarmed.

“Don’t hurt her!” One of the Volks pleaded, making Alex blink in surprise at how quickly he had shifted back into human form. “Please! We’ll listen to your demands. Just don’t hurt her. Not when she’s finally with child!”

“Are you seriously kidding me?” Nik muttered telepathically as he took on his human skin, prompting Alex to do the same.

“Doesn’t look like it. They really do want to end it for her sake. Look.”

Sure enough, every single Volk was changed and anxiously waiting for Roy to make his demands, The ones that got too close to Aebischer were held of by a short swipe of his sword.

“So you are willing to forfeit a blood price?”

Aebischer asked, planting his sword into the ground as he spoke.

The Volks looked around nervously before nodding a few times.

“Yes. We give you our word as a clan on it.”