Clay was no doubt in a cell alone or with Roque. Cougar was drawn out of his thoughts when one of his captors tightened his bindings before pulling his head back -- it was the first time Cougar had hated his non-regulation haircut. He wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of struggling or begging. He was strapped to an upright table that would give their captors easy access. He hoped they all choked. He did know this, no matter his chances of getting out of this alive, he was done with the military. It was time to retire; time to get out. The lies had slowly been killing his spirit. He would take Jensen with him, he'd felt an almost instant connection when he first met the other man. A connection where one thing had led to another and now Jensen could also be called his... He gritted his teeth together but made no other noise. He had another moment to think of Jensen before the knife sliced into his skin again and pain was the only thing that filled his senses.
Sergeant Jake Jensen hoped that when they didn't make the rendezvous and then failed to make it to the backup location twelve hours later that Pooch booked it to safety and back to the States. Pooch had a family --a wife, a three year old son, and a little girl on the way. Pooch didn't need to be stuck in this hell hole and no one needed to tell Jolene that her husband was dead. He told Pooch once that if it came down to a rescue that would get him killed, Pooch was to forget that Jake existed; that if Pooch died saving him, he would be pissed and that he was not worth the loss of a husband and father.
According to their records, the rest of them had no family. No one to care if they disappeared. No one to go to the army and demand to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. They would just be a team lost on some secret mission that probably only a handful of people knew about but would never talk about. Pooch's family deserved more than that.
The first forty-eight hours of captivity had been the typical 'tell us who sent you and we promise to stop torturing you'. Jake's glasses had been broken, as had the fingers on his left hand. But Jake wouldn't have been able to tell them anything even if he wanted to as Clay hadn't really shared the details of this mission.
The Losers had been a team for almost two years but Clay still held all the cards when it came to mission sharing. Roque got more details than he, Cougar, and Pooch combined. Jake had been pretty confident that was going to backfire one of these days; he had just hoped he wouldn't be around for it.
After they'd taken Cougar from their shared cell the compound had gone quiet. Not that there had been a lot of noise during the day. Most of the activity at the compound had been at night, which under any other circumstances Jake might have found unusual.
They had waltzed right into the place and almost made it out until they had been surrounded by heavily armed guards wearing head to toe black body armor. Clay had ordered them to start shooting, to aim for the head. Then Roque had mysteriously collapsed and everything went sideways.
A scuffling noise outside of his cell brought Jake back to the present. He stayed in the light let in by the small window at the top of his cell. It was also the only area that could be seen from the sliding hatch on the door. He'd learned the lesson of trying to attack from beside the door. He was sure he now had broken ribs and a torn something or other in his knee.
Eyes stared at him through the slot in the door before the plate was slid shut and the door was opened. Cougar was thrown roughly into the cell and slid across the hard ground before the door was slammed shut and locked.
Jake slowly made his way over to Cougar and gently turned the sniper over. Cougar was battered and bruised, his left eye was already swollen shut. His shirt had been torn open and there was blood on Cougar's chest and pants.
The bucket of not-so clean water that had been left in their cell the first night was still half full. Jake took several quick swallows of the water, making a face at the taste before ripping off part of his shirt and dipping it into the water. He wiped the blood and grime from Cougar's face before starting to wipe the blood from Cougar's chest looking for a wound.
Cougar started to move and only stopped when he recognized Jake's voice. "It's okay, Cougs," Jake said softly. "You're back in our lovely little cell on the west side of the compound. You're safe ...ish."
Jake dipped his fingers into the water and then let the drops drip into Cougar's mouth.
"Son vampiros," Cougar slurred as Jake wiped the damp cloth across a bruise. "Roque nos ha vendido para salvarse a sí mismo."
Cougar was telling him their captives were vampires and Roque had sold them out. Was it sad that neither was a shock to him?
"You want to tell me why you're healing so fast, Cougs?" Jensen asked him from the other side of the cell while still being able to stand in the last rays of the sun.
Cougar easily rolled to his feet and lifted his torn shirt. The wounds were healing, slower than normal, but still faster than a human. He looked at his teammate and said nothing. He wasn't sure what to say. He remembered confessing that there were vampires. Jensen was human, the supernatural were nothing but games and fiction to him. Though, Jensen was not acting surprised or scared by that knowledge so either he had thought Cougar was delirious or Jensen knew more than he let on.
Jensen's position in the room, while keeping him in the light would be the easiest to defend and attack from, given the way the wall had natural notches and ledges and the way Jensen could move and climb. Cougar knew Roque saw the t-shirts, slouching, and thought computer geek and support; he forgot the man had been through the same training as the rest of them. Clay, he knew, saw them all as assets. Cougar knew what was under those shirts, he'd seen Jensen sans clothes enough to know that the other man could be more dangerous than he ever let most see.
"If they are vampires, what do they want with us? What's really up with the Losers?" Jake continued, his eyes moving between Cougar's eyes and the wounds healing on Cougar's chest. "Why did Roque betray us? Why does Clay take the weird missions? Emma was trying to kill Clay that day, not just pissed at him for screwing Amber? Right? Life was so much easier when I stayed away from people. Lonely, but definitely easier."
Jake leaned into the corner of the wall. "Pooch is really the only normal person on this team, isn't he? That's why Clay wanted him, right? To have some barometer to judge things against?"
"You are normal," Cougar answered quietly only to have Jensen shake his head.
"On paper," Jake sort of rolled his eyes and shrugged before speaking again. "I'm as normal as they come save the computer skills. That's not what we're talking about, is it?" Jake continued to stare at him; no longer looking at the wounds but only at Cougar's eyes. "We all have secrets, Cougs," Jake said. "But whatever Clay and Roque's are, especially with whatever was going on between them last week and now this, could get us killed. This better not have gotten Pooch killed."
Cougar knew Jensen was hiding things, like he said, they all had secrets. The question was, did he trust Jensen enough to tell him his secret. He knew little about the other man --Jensen's family wasn't around. Sometimes he spoke of a sister and a niece and it seemed they were alive and other times not. But Jensen had never mentioned his family around the others, only when it was just the two of them alone.
Clay and Roque hadn't been able to handle Jensen's buzzing about but Cougar had seen Jensen as still as a statue and as quiet as one. Pooch was often off base with his wife and that had left just the two of them together and Cougar wasn't bothered by the other man's oddities.
"Clay hates vampires," Cougar finally answered. "They killed his family. Roque has been a vampire familiar for a very long time and Clay found out last week. Roque's been keeping that secret."
That had been Cougar's first thought as well. He had wondered if Roque had been a plant all those years ago by his vampire masters to keep tabs on Clay or if it really had been a coincidence. It also bothered him that Clay had still brought Roque on this mission knowing where his true loyalties lay.
Jensen seemed to relax back against the wall and Cougar had a moment to worry about this change. "I should probably tell you," Jensen said calmly, "your eyes have been amber since you woke up."
Cougar took a step back. "Shit," he said more to himself than to be heard by Jensen. He had to decide to either truly trust Jensen or; there really was no or, he had given Jensen his heart the first time they had slept together. Cougar took a deep breath and let the world fall away. He stood in front of Jensen on four paws and stretched, his tail flicked a few times before he settled to sit on the ground with a yawn that incidentally showed off all his very sharp teeth.
He could see Jensen tilting his head to the side in thought while he looked down at him. "You're a Therianthian, or I guess a Nagual," Jensen finally said. "And probably older than Clay by at least twice. Did not see that. Wow, I really am that out of touch."
Both terms were old, old country and old world, and no one used them today. Today's fiction would call him a shapeshifter and still he sensed no fear from Jensen. He slowly approached Jensen who had slid down the wall to sit. He stopped just with in arm's reach and waited.
Jensen reached out slowly touched Cougar's head before scratching at his ear. He let out a quiet purr before he could stop himself. Jensen let out a soft chuckle.
"I think my secret will still beat yours," Jensen said sadly. "But I like yours," he added, hand still brushing through Cougar's fur. "It suits you and explains so, so much about you."
The cougar shook his head. Cougar was slightly bigger in his animal form than a normal Puma concolor; not that most humans would notice that before simply running the other way. And if Jake was right, and Cougar was older than his human appearance, then he could probably control just how big of a cat he transformed into. Well, within reason. Cougar's fur was sienna in color --not common but also not uncommon among the different subspecies of cougar; as if Carlos had at some point chosen his blend of colors so he could fit in no matter where he was. The fur darkened at the ears and tip of the tail while becoming lighter along the legs and stomach.
"I've known about non-humans and hunters almost my entire life," Jake admitted. "I promised I would never take sides. This last century has been up and down, more downs though," Jake rambled, not paying attention to what he was saying as he stroked the fur of the cougar that had his head propped on Jake's thigh. "A lot more downs, but then I met you and thought the human world wasn't so bad. I think I fell in love and you never seemed to care that I was strange." Jake stroked the fur and rubbed at Cougar's ear again causing the cougar's entire body to vibrate with a purr. "The old houses are broken and worse the new are breaking covenants left and right; and one even went off and created a half-breed trying to create something that never existed in the first place. I should have just stayed hidden, played with the computers, never gotten invested in the world again. The vampires are up to something."
Jake sighed. "We need to leave here. I'll," he started, only to gasp out for breath. "We need to," he tried again but pain shut through his head and grayed his vision. "Get away Cougar," he barely ground out, pushing the cat away from him and rolling to his knees.
Dry heaves were bad, Jake hated them, but right now it was better than vomiting. His body ached and there was a loud rushing in his ears. "Oh god, someone's woke," he gasped for air again as he felt like his heart was being ripped from his body.
"Oh, this is so not good," he said looking down at his hand where his fingers had dug into the stone. Not good at all. There was a howl in his mind, a scream filled with dismay and Jake knew that from this point forward things were going to change.
"Jake?" he heard the slight panic in Cougar's calm voice. He must have been trying to get his attention for a while because Cougar finally used his first name and that was something he only did when they were in bed together. "Jake, answer me? Please."
Jake turned and Cougar took a small step back. He knew what he looked like, knew that his eyes were black as pitch. "I told you my secret would beat yours," he finally said, sliding down the wall. "It's time to leave."
But first, he needed a moment.
And wow, Hannibal was getting sidetracked in his own head while he kneeled here chained to the ground in vampire central. Where was he, oh yes, there had been a moment when he had been held by the Vampire King, Drake, that he could see himself surrendering, becoming what he had hated. Becoming something different. A lot had changed in the last week.
Blade's addition to the Nightstalkers after the debacle of him being caught on TV was not a smooth transition. Blade and Abby fought for leadership. Hannibal had been considering a move to Caulder's group right until Blade's plan to charge into Edgar Vance's office lead to a confrontation with Drake. A confrontation that left him kidnapped by the King of Vampires and Abby unconscious in Vance's office while Blade was out chasing (and losing) Drake, who had circled back.
"Why did you hate the gift of immortal darkness?"
Physically he didn't react. Hannibal King had been a soldier then a detective before becoming a vampire against his will. He wasn't clairvoyant or psychic but he was intuitive, and okay, he had a fantastic sixth sense when he cared to listen to it. "Shit," he said, and looked up from the ground he had been talking to. "You need a bell."
Drake stared at him but said nothing. "It's like an idiom," Hannibal clarified. "Means so other people can hear you coming. You've got about two thousand years of things to catch up on. I'd focus on the last twenty to thirty years. Though, your people have been pricks --assholes, stupid, and all sorts of similar words --for the last five centuries, at least."
Drake walked around him twice. On the second pass he leaned down and sniffed at Hannibal's neck. This time Hannibal did react, he shivered slightly. Drake gently angled his head and licked at the wound above Hannibal's right eye from where Danica --the head of the Talos House of vampires and a total bitch of a person-- had backhanded him for mouthing off at her.
"You taste of a Delphian," Drake said, letting his head go. "I've been told you are a tracker in your world."
"Was," Hannibal corrected. "Before Danica forced the gift of immortal darkness on me," he said, tossing the Vampire King's words back at him. "Now I'm a hunter, I hunt vampires. And if you truly care, I didn't like being a vampire because I (a) wasn't asked, and (b) like the sun ...on most days. Though, rain is totally cool too. Oh, and (c) it felt diluted, untrue."
Drake looked down at him. "I do not ask questions that I don't wish answered," he said. "I will release the child and her mother."
Hannibal was sure he heard that wrong and looked up at Drake. There was a time to play dumb and a time to play things straight. Plus, he didn't think Drake believed the act to begin with. "Pardon?" he asked, his voice clear.
"As part of your payment for tracking what I have lost," Drake told him, "I will release the blind woman and her child that your fellow hunters did not deem worthy enough to protect."
Hannibal pulled on the chains, the metal only giving slightly. He might have kept some of the strength from when he had been a vampire but it wasn't enough. When had Anna and Zoe been taken? Damn, worse yet, he didn't even know how long he had been here. He remembered the stabbing but, shit, had that been just hours ago or longer? It didn't matter, not if Anna and Zoe were here.
"Unharmed," he demanded. "No extra holes in their bodies. Human as the day they were brought here. And released in the daylight."
He needed to convince Hannibal to freely help him. The Delphian hunter knew nothing of his origins. Hannibal was less human than he believed, even before Danica's attack. Drake was right in thinking many of the old ways had been lost during his slumber. Many things had been lost that would soon be coming to light again.
"Yes, Hannibal," he answered, using the hunter's name. "They will be released, unharmed and provided for. No one will harm them."
Hannibal's laughter was unexpected. It was a harsh, untrue sound. "I'm sorry," Hannibal said, his laughter stopped as he shook his head. "But Danica, she won't go for that. You might order it but she will go behind your back and kill them or turn them. I wish I could believe you because you are supposed to be their King. But I've already shown I care for them, they are the leverage she needs to keep me here. To do her shit work or be her lapdog or whatever it is she has planned. She woke you up for reasons that speak to her madness but also to bring the vampires under control with her as queen bee."
Drake put his fingers under Hannibal's chin and lifted. "There have only been two women in my life whom I have ever called Queen and the female who presides over this clan would not be allowed to serve either of them if they were still among the people of this world. Vampires are a mere shadow of what they once were. They have become polluted and multiply like roaches."
Much had changed since he buried himself. His people had wanted more power and had brought this all upon themselves when they had taken away his family. In his grief he had lashed out and the sands of his homeland had run red with blood. The pit in which he had buried himself had filled with blood and sand and then he had given into the long sleep. Drake would not be doing that again. Though perhaps his thousand year sleep had brought him exactly what he needed.
"You will help me," he said and let his human guise go. No longer was he a human with lightly tanned skin, brown eyes and hair. Now he stood as his true self, as the Vampire Demon King. His skin was replaced with a red-brown exoskeleton. Harder bone plates protected vital organs while bone spikes and horns grew from his head, shoulders, and down his arms.
The only marking that both his human and demon body possessed was the birthmark brand on his chest.
"Well," Hannibal said, staring up at him, "that does explain the weird armor I stole from Danica."
Drake laughed and reached down to the chain and cuffs holding the Delphian. He easily broke the chains that held the hunter to the ground. He pulled Hannibal to his feet and backed him into a wall while pushing him up high enough that the wound was within reach of his mouth without him having to bend. So little exertion to simply prove his true strength. He removed the bandage that covered the wound he had inflicted and brought his mouth to the wound, his tongue swiping across the gash before biting into the skin.
Blood poured into his mouth, polluted with chemicals, infection, and the taint Danica had left within the hunter.
"No!" Hannibal struggled and shouted, trying to push him away. The noise of the hunter's feet scrambling for purchase was quickly followed by a shove that actually pushed Drake back. Drake's lips turned up at the edges. It had been a while, even before he buried himself, since someone had challenged him so.
Even though Hannibal was panting, breathing labored, heart pounding, he had managed to push Drake away by several feet. The Delphian had one of his hands covering the wound while the other was held away from his body as far as the chain that still connected his hands would allow. Hannibal was clearly in fight mode and ran the risk of doing more damage to himself than necessary.
"I will heal the wounds the vampires and I have created upon you," Drake stated.
"No thanks," came Hannibal's quick reply.
Drake laughed and lunged forward. "You really do not have a choice," he whispered into Hannibal's ear as he brought the hunter to the ground. "Debts are meant to be repaid. Immortality will come to such as are fit for it."
"Hannibal," a voice called as fingers poked him in the side. "Are you finally awake? Come on sleepyhead, mom says it's time for you to be awake."
"Zoe?" his voice cracked, his eyes barely opening to see the girl.
He was on a bed because it gave into the motion as the little girl bounced up and down. He opened his eyes and quickly closed them. The input was too much. It was like he could see things he shouldn't; all coming at him like a movie and at quadruple speed. How he got here, how Zoe and Anna got here. That two days had passed. That Drake had bitten him and there had been blood but the vampire king had still kept his promise.
He opened his eyes again and this time Drake was lifting Zoe from the bed while telling the child to let her mother know her patient was awake. Zoe barely had one foot on the floor before she was running from the room. At least that, Hannibal knew, had nothing to do with whatever was going on with him. Zoe had two speeds --sloth and cheetah.
When he looked at Drake more images came until he had to close his eyes again.
"I am not dead," he finally said. "Why am I not dead?"
He heard more than saw, but knew that if he opened his eyes he would see Drake --a very human looking Drake, dressed in jeans and a white dress shirt sitting almost relaxed in the chair next to the bed.
A soft chuckle was his only answer until after Anna Sommerfield left the room. She had checked his pulse, asked all sorts of embarrassing questions, and brought him lunch and coffee. The coffee tasted better than he remembered.
"I have fixed what was damaged," Drake answered. "Returned to you what you knew as a child and were taught to hide away. Returned you to your people."
Hannibal opened his eyes and looked at Drake. Truly looked at the other man, the Vampire King, the Demon King, whatever people wanted to call him. The images came to him and then stopped. He had never been able to do that before. He used to sense things, knew when to turn right instead of left. Sometimes knew when someone was lying, but never this.
"One uninhibited look into myself, Delphian," Drake said. "That is more than anyone has seen in more than a thousand years."
Hannibal closed his eyes and turned his head away from Drake. He'd gotten some answers and way more questions. Lessons he'd learned so long ago came back to him. Things he had tried to lock away were once again known and no longer knocking at his subconscious. Parts of an unknown family history there for his review.
Delphian. Seer. Tracker. The Temple at Delphi was only middle history in that whole storyline. Demons, vampires, witches, the supernatural world opened to him.
His thoughts and emotions were all over the place. He wanted to strangle the Vampire King for his smug look. He wanted to do other things to him too. Unpure and hedonistic things. At least his taste in men hadn't changed, came at the tail end of those thoughts.
His life had changed and he didn't think his visions or Drake were telling him everything. What he did know, was that Anna and Zoe were safe and Drake had kept his promise and wanted him to find two people.
But more importantly, Danica was dust. She'd gotten in Drake's way when he left with the Sommerfields so Drake had reminded the Talos Clan why it was bad to upset the Vampire King.
With that thought he said, "I need another look at the two people you want me to find."
Technology had grown and changed. A horse replaced by a car, a boat replaced by an airplane. Communications no longer relied on runners on foot or birds of flight, but devices that could carry your voice and picture around the world in an instant. None of it seemed to make finding two people any quicker than it had millennia ago.
This was his doing though. He'd buried himself away in hopes of protecting his most cherished and instead damned them to a life of hiding. The vampires had rebelled even more after his believed death. Picking and choosing rules he had set forth; often forsaking the other things they shared a land with. Within the last hundred years they had tried to destroy the world, and even now the different houses and clans had plans in motion to turn against themselves and bring the humans down to nothing but cattle.
The Talos' had been readying for a war while another house tried to rule through human politics. One house had tried to create a daywalker by turning a pregnant woman and while the outcome was the successful birth of a hybrid, no hybrid had remained sane for long. Another house had even tried to bring LaMagra back to this world. Though who or what had really come forth was unknown to Drake as he knew LaMagra would never come forth for a vampire; not while her son was still on Earth. If he had to guess he would speculate a lesser demon kin of Erebus. His kind were always trying to trick humans into giving up their bodies and souls. A power hungry vampire would be no different.
What Drake hadn't expected was for Hannibal to take them across the continent to what the other man was calling a "normal family neighborhood". The street was lined with large, old trees. The houses, even the very land and air, spoke of family and tradition and settlement.
"I'm still not sure this is the right place?" Hannibal told him as they pulled up in front of a pale blue house with white trim and shutters. "I," he started to say. "Well this is not what I was expecting. Maybe I've become jaded to vampires and hunting and the darkness of life. This is just too normal for me."
A large yellow-orange bus drove down the road and stopped a few houses beyond the house where Hannibal had brought them. Several children left the vehicle. One had her back to the bus and waved and when she turned around Drake was startled.
"Melania," he whispered, wrenching open the car door with more force than necessary.
"Shit," Hannibal said, also getting out of the vehicle.
The girl turned around and looked at both Drake and Hannibal. Her light curly brown hair was held back from face and brown eyes blinked at him. For a moment she seemed frozen and then she was bolting for the house while screaming, "Web! Nola!"
The girl was in the house and the door was slammed shut before he could move. When he started forward, Hannibal stopped him by putting his hand out across his mid-section.
"Let's not move yet?" Hannibal said quietly, head tilting as if seeing something that bothered him and that Drake could not see. Hannibal held him back even as the other man raised his hands up and away from both their bodies as if to show he carried no weapons.
Drake ignored Hannibal and tried to move forward only to feel the rush of something moving before his body was slammed back against the car.
"Ah, sure. And I did try to warn you," Hannibal said. The Delphian was now standing partially in front of him. "We're not looking for any trouble," Hannibal called out. "We're looking for," Hannibal glanced back at him and then at the house again. "To be honest, I have no clue but this is where I was led."
The door opened and a woman with dark blond hair stepped out onto the porch. Her eyes seemed to glow with a green haze. "I believe you are in the wrong place," she called, quietly, her voice carrying clearly across the yard. "Vampires are not welcome here. Leave."
"No," Drake said. "I wish to speak to Melania."
The young girl poked her head around the door. "That was my mother's name," she said. "Did you know her?"
Drake hadn't even sensed the other man's approach and from what he knew of modern weapons, even this close, the gun pointed at his neck would cause him grave injury. One moment no one had been standing next to him and the next the armed guard --a man with short brown hair and the stance and characteristics of a soldier on protection duty-- had been close enough to attack.
But it was the sight of a second man, perhaps only a few years younger than Hannibal in appearance, coming from the side of the house that gave Drake pause. He was lithe but strong; gone was the awkwardness of youth. The blue eyes that gazed at him told him nothing of the thoughts the other man was having.
"Web, let's not piss off the King of Demons. I'm not a hundred percent sure the gun will work and the neighbors will only talk. They do like their gossip. Nola please take Maisie inside. Maisie, go inside."
"But," the girl called out.
"Jacob. People call me Jake now father."
Cougar merely lifted an eyebrow at him as if saying everything Jake needed to hear or question. It calmed him like nothing else could. "You're good at that," he said. The lines around Cougar's eyes crinkled in laughter. "Oh, be quiet," Jake added for good measure.
They had escaped their little cell. Jake may have torn through the soldiers like a juggernaut before even a single alarm could be raised. It had not been pretty and by the time they had exited the building there was no hiding that Jake wasn't human and never had been. He was covered in blood and gore, and while he didn't need the blood to live, not exactly, it was like eating a favorite food that had been given up.
He had worried that what he had done would push Cougar away from him but if anything, neither of them having to lie about who and what they were, had brought them closer together.
The search of the complex had found Clay in another cellblock and by the time they had gotten him free alarms had been going off. Clay could barely walk, he'd been strapped down and there had been almost half a dozen healing bite marks and even more long thin cuts made by a knife. But at least he hadn't been turned. Just played with. And no doubt Roque had been responsible for the finely made knife wounds.
Roque blocked their path when they tried to steal a jeep. Everything but Jake's eyes had returned to their human appearance but he doubted, in the light of the setting sun, anyone would notice they were black.
"Always causing trouble, Jensen," Roque taunted. "Never could follow orders and stay put."
"Can't help myself," Jake replied. "I really couldn’t stand the accommodations any more."
Roque's laughter wasn't a pleasant sound. "Oh, you wouldn't have been here much longer, we were just waiting on the bidding war on you to end before shipping you to your new home. We might have to discount the price a little now for the damage, but I don't think he'll care."
"Got a buyer for you too," Roque continued, pulling a large knife from behind his back. "Shifters are so rare and who knew there had been one with us the whole time. Your blood is like a fine whiskey to the vampires. My Master so did enjoy the taste."
"Roque," Clay said, his voice barely audible. "I'm going to kill you."
Jake rolled his eyes. Clay could make all the promises and threats he wanted but that particular one wasn't going to happen. "Ignore him," Jake said. "We're escaping."
Roque charged them as did several of the mercenaries, vampire goons, whatever they were as Jake was still unsure as only some seemed human. By the time the skirmish was over Clay had a broken leg, all the soldiers were dust or dying and Roque sported several long cuts down the right side of his face. Jake just wasn't sure who was responsible for them, him or Cougar.
They'd escaped in a Jeep with a flat tire and low on gas. But the thing that had gotten to him the most was meeting Max. It had been a chance sighting and more of a yelling match between Clay and Max with Max's focus solely on Clay and ignoring the rest of them. That had been for the best, but who knew Clay had an arch nemesis, but Jake called dibs on Max because Max wasn't human. Max wasn't strictly a vampire either. Max was more of a demon. A demon named Moros. Moros had killed his mother, and so much more.
By the time they made it to a base that could get Clay back to the States Jake had convinced his former Colonel to let him handle things. Mainly by blackmailing Clay with the protection of Pooch and his family. Trying to convince Cougar to leave, well that obviously hadn't worked and had been a futile cause anyway. Which he admits he didn't put a lot of effort into trying either.
Cougar was a Nagual and Naguals believed in soulmates and Jake guessed he did too because the design on his hip carved by one of Cougar's claws had yet to disappear even after two weeks. He was Cougar's and Cougar was his.
Warm fingers wrapped around his wrist, calming the internal rage that had been building. Jake exhaled and looked up at Drake. "I see you decided to join the land of the living again, father."
"You've grown," Drake said, taking a step toward him. "But your sister..."
Jake stiffened. "Is dead," he said. "Melania died. Both things tend to happen while you hide away for a thousand plus years. Who woke you?" Jake asked through clenched teeth, his anger attempting to boil to the top. "Because it sure the hell wasn't me."
"You knew where I slumbered?"
Jake wasn't answering that and was saved by the sound of a throat clearing. It reminded him that there were other people standing around them. He glanced over at the man that had arrived with his father. It had been a while since Jake had seen another Delphian descendant, especially one whose gifts were as active as this man's seemed to be.
"Could we, say, move this inside?" the man asked. "Your neighbors are starting to freak me out."
Jake laughed, what he wouldn't give to have those ten minutes. "Welcome to Enchanted Groves," he said instead.
Also, shit, Drake had children; and apparently at least one grandchild. And, oh, the sorrow that just hit him, one of his children had died. Hannibal glanced at Drake's son and shivered. The grief and pain was still there; close to the forefront. It was recent and not an accident but at least the little girl hadn't witnessed it. And it hadn't been clean and... Blade.
He looked toward the house and it was like nothing was there. Not a void but more like something that said 'be at peace, there's nothing important to see here'. There was a joke in there or something but it didn't seem right for the moment. Hannibal could almost believe the illusion if it wasn't for the grief and anger rolling off the two men confronting one another on the front lawn.
"She's not dead."
"Don't bellow out words at me that even you can see are untrue. You have not been here," Jake started. "Just go away."
"I should have," Drake's voice cracked slightly.
"Stayed? Taken us with you? Looked for us? Killed Moros when you had the chance? There's a lot you should have done. But instead you rained blood and death down on your kingdom, and when that wasn't enough; you slept. You forgot us."
"I never forgot," Drake argued. "You were gone from me. Safe amongst ...I feared for..."
"Boys," Nola, the blond woman called from the steps of the porch. "Inside, all of you," she said, with a shake of her head. "You are making a scene and ruining the harmony of the neighborhood."
Hannibal wasn't sure he really wanted to go inside with Drake and his son. This seemed like a family thing and Hannibal wasn't family. He didn't know exactly what he was. Sure, a week ago he and Drake had fucked like rabbits; and then last night had been nice, not as hectic. They had been gentle and caring, slow and drawn out. Romantic in their own way even.
"You too, little seer," Nola said and Hannibal was almost sure the smirk on her face meant that she could read him like an open book.
He was glad that Jake had told him about his family before they arrived. It had seemed to help Jake settle and it had given Cougar a better insight into the man his heart and soul called to. But what little calm Jake had had was ebbing away now that he was face to face with his father.
Cougar had taken finding out that Jake was, "technically I'm the Prince of Darkness. Maybe. I guess. Though maybe they really do mean my father," in his stride. Demons were people just like shapeshifters and vampires and witches. Cougar had met a demon or two in his time, it was just that none of them talked about a king or their relationship to vampires.
"It's a long torrid explanation," Jake told him, the second night they were together after sending Clay on his way to protect Pooch and his family.
He had listened though as Jake had talked; lost sometimes in long ago memories.
LaMagra, whose title had actually been Lady Magra, fell in love with a human. Jake wasn't sure if the human was mortal or something more and he wasn't sure it mattered. "I have no memories of my grandmother," he said, "so I'm not sure if I ever met her or not."
Magra had several children --Drake, Lilith, Moros, and Evienne. She watched her children grow before leaving the human realm with her lover and king. Again, it was unclear if she died or buried herself, or disappeared into the Ethos. It just added to the mystery for the story.
Drake became king. During a great battle, long before Jake or his sister was born, Drake was wounded, his blood had spilt and those who touched it seemed to heal of their wounds and grow stronger. Their bodies changed and within months needed small amounts of human blood to survive, but they were not the vampires of today.
The king married Krisa, one of the Delphian Queens, not for love but for a merging and unification of peace between their two peoples. "He loved my mother, respected her," Jake said. "But he was not in love with her, nor her with him. The union brought her happiness though. That much I remember; and that she loved her children, and her people."
Evienne, the youngest of the siblings, chose to travel the world. She loved people and nature. It is said she fell in love with a Delphian --as her eldest brother had, but unlike him their love had bound them body and soul. "She likes her lake and her quiet," Jake told him. "She doesn't interact with the human or immortal world much but for a select few." Cougar was positive Nola was one of those few.
Lilith enjoyed causing trouble. She was the one to encourage one of the changed to feed on a human. Today's vampires were her creations. She tried to start a war with the Therianthians and Cougar knew this tale very well as part of it was his own history. The Therianthians were but a few in total and called for aid. The white lady heard their call and banished the evil demoness from their land. For her help, the white lady only asked that they protect the land and follow their hearts to the one whose passion called out to them.
Cougar now had a very deep suspicion that his people's White Lady was Jake's aunt. It was somehow apropos.
Moros had become jealous of the paths and happiness of his siblings. He would never be king until his brother died. He was jealous of his brother and the queen he had taken as a wife. He left their lands for centuries only to return and bring another great war. A war he started by killing the Queen.
Cougar squeezed Jake's hand again as they entered the house. "You are not alone," he said.
Jake leaned into him and Cougar could feel some of the tension drain out of his mate. "My sister would have loved you," Jake softly whispered. "My aunt is going to adore you."
Cougar wasn't able to respond as Jake's niece raced over to them both as they walked through the door. "Are you Uncle Jake's cougar who likes to perch in dangerous trees?" the girl demanded to know, tilting her head to the side slightly as she looked up at him. "Never mind, you are. I see that. Carlos is what your mother named you but that's not your name."
"Maisie," Nola chastised. "You do not speak aloud what you see."
"But the White Lady," the girl argued and pointed to Jake's hip.
Cougar had been positive there was nothing that could cause him to blush in mortification like when he was a child but apparently, it was quite possible, that he had been wrong.
"Yes," the witch acknowledged, looking between him and Jake before turning back to the child. "But what have I taught you."
"Do not scare the mortals," the little girl answered promptly.
There was snort of laughter from Web. "That is true," he said, not looking one bit chagrinned even though the witch was glaring at him. "That is rule number one."
"Shush," she said, pointing at Web. Cougar had not been able to determine what Web was but he knew the man had been a soldier at some point, maybe even an assassin with how he moved. However, Cougar's sense of smell was even better than a vampire's and there was very little difference between Nola and Web --soulmates who had been together for so long they were almost like one. These were the people that Jake trusted with his niece's life and from what Cougar had seen he could not argue with that decision.
The family moment, even if it was at Cougar's expense, was broken by Drake's demand, "You will tell me what befell your sister and why you speak my brother's name as if he still lives."
Hannibal leaned over and smacked him on the back of the head. "You will make your granddaughter cry if you do not adjust your tone and calm down. You buried yourself in the ground for how long? Life stopped for you; it did not stop for them or the rest of the world."
He seethed but perhaps his seer was correct. He remembered his sister Evienne, with a sparkling grin, telling him that his son would inherit his stubbornness from both his parents.
The witch led them to a large table and chairs. Before they could sit down his son turned to the little girl and said, "Mays you should go upstairs and do your homework."
"Uncle Jake," she said calmly, sitting in the chair beside her uncle. "I will just listen in, in one fashion or another."
The witch made a light snuffle sound that might have been a laugh while her guard took no care to hide how he felt and laughed openly. His son laid his head on the table and sighed while the man that smelled of tall grasses and trees massaged his shoulder with a grin.
"You are Therianthian," Drake stated, looking at the long-haired man.
"Uncle Cougar is Uncle Jake's soulmate," Maisie said cheerfully.
The little girl did not look repentant for letting the secret slip. With that one statement Drake truly realized how much he had missed while he had slept. His son was no longer a boy. "Please," he entreated. "Tell me what I have missed."
He was quiet for a moment before continuing. Jake had never spoken of any of this, not even with Nola or Web and he'd known the couple before they were a couple and were still snapping at each other as if they truly hated one another.
How did you tell someone you let your mother be killed right in front of you when you could have fought? Melania always told him he had been too little and there was nothing he could have done; that she had always preferred he live than have tried something so foolish. A child that could barely lift a sword let alone swing one could do nothing against what came. Deep inside Jake knew she was right but that did not change how he still felt, even today.
They had watched from afar as blood seemed to rain down on the lands he had called home. His father's anger and grief spread across the land, darkness on its heels. They watched as people were cut down on both sides and Moros, wounded and dying, escaped. He had thought, like many others, the man who had destroyed his family had perished from his wounds. It had been of some comfort to think that as his father chose the sleep over his family.
"We visited the chamber on the ten year anniversary," Jake admitted, drumming his fingers across the table. "The area was unstable before then and Melania could not," Jake stopped. "The grief and darkness of the area was too much for her. She always took after mother more than you."
They had visited every decade after that for nearly two centuries hoping their father would wake but he never did. They had thought that if perhaps they followed their father into sleep he would wake sooner but after a few centuries the siblings had become restless. "We went to Evienne for a while," he said. "Traveled. Learned. Met interesting new people," he glanced over at Web when he said the last part.
Soon the world forgot about demons, fae, shifters, and vampires. The supernatural world became stories and myths until even the vampires did not remember the truth. It had been good. Peaceful almost and then the plagues had come, and the witch trials, and more death.
And this was when the story got harder. The world had seemed to be growing, there was this new world on the other side of a vast ocean. It would take them both far from the land of their childhood. Far from the father that would not wake for his children. Far from the reminders of dark things.
"Melania instantly fell in love with this New World. She said the land spoke to her. She had become more like Aunt Evienne than even I had thought." They traveled around the land as if on a path only she could see, which was probably more true than not. They chose to sleep only twice and neither time had lasted more than a few decades. "We came to this area," Jake raised his hand to indicate the house and neighborhood, "several times during our travels. And then one day there was a man standing beside the tree out in the front yard."
"My father," Maisie said.
"They were together for almost two hundred years before they decided to build a home in the spot where they had met." Enchanted Groves had sort of popped up around them. It had started with a fae family and then another and another and even a few shifter families.
"For centuries, there were only a dozen or so vampires in the area --not even really part of a nest-- who mainly kept to themselves. They didn't seem aligned with the houses and left pretty much everyone alone. They started disappearing a decade back," Jake cleared his throat. "Being murdered would probably be a better description."
It was the first time anyone heard of the Daywalker --the vampire hunter who killed without mercy. Since before the First World War vampires had been breaking the covenants, but with the war it had been without precedent. So much so that secret groups of humans had banded together to hunt vampires down. Stoker's novel at the turn of the last century had not helped. It was like something or someone had been pushing them. Jake now suspected it was Max.
"They came here for help." Jake began. "Melania and Thomas," Maisie's father, "agreed to help." Jake couldn't finish.
"I never knew my parents," Maisie stated, her eyes wet and her voice choked with emotion. "He died protecting innocents. Killed by human hunters who did not care about the humans in their way."
Maisie got up from the table, hugged Jake and left the room. Jake got up to follow but Nola shook her head. The front door opened and closed. Jake turned in his chair so he could see through the large front window as his niece went out to the front lawn and climb into the big tree out front. The tree was her quiet place where nature spoke to her. It had been her mother's as well.
Jake turned back to the table. "That day was a massacre." None of the vampires had lived and of course after the dust settled no one even knew they had been there so the death count to the human authorities was lower. A dozen familiars had been killed and several others injured. The news had called it a tragic accident perpetrated by a mad man. The houses had called it a war between the humans and themselves.
His sister had been run through by a very sharp sword. His niece's survival had been a miracle. Jake had retreated from the world at that point. Jake had been with his sister as she had given all that she was to ensure Maisie's birth. All he had cared about after that was Maisie. He had let no one into the house and rarely left it. The first three months had been bad and to this day he was surprised that he and his niece had survived. Then Nola and Web had arrived, sent by his Aunt.
He had not learned the Daywalker was a half-breed who called himself Blade until years later. Blade had moved across the country and Jake's focus had truly been on his niece until Nola had urged him to get out into the world again. It had actually been more of a light threat as Jake had slowly become restless. She had reminded him that she and Web and Enchanted Groves would protect Maisie until he was ready to return or needed, whichever came first.
Jake had thought he was abandoning his family but Nola had pointed out that if he could not remember how to live then Maisie would never thrive in the shadow of his grief. Today Jake knew the decision had been the right one. As Maisie had grown her abilities had begun showing and they were more like his mother's people than his father's. Aunt Evienne had sent not only a friend and protector, but also a teacher.
It had been Web's idea for Jake to take his computer hobby and use it to join the military. It had been a chance to explore the world again.
"This Blade will die for his trespasses," his father stated. "For his very existence. And the one who created him shall also perish."
Web tapped his fingers on the table. "We thought for a while that Blade had succumbed to his base nature. The last half-breed, that we know of, did; and the aftermath of his existence was quite gruesome. Blade has also been protected by a human hunter."
The antivirus didn't cure everyone; as a matter of fact there had only been a handful of people successfully cured and that fact still stumped Anna as to why the numbers weren't higher. "Blade's toxin is breaking down in his body faster and faster. Caulder, one of the hunters that was there when Whistler first brought Blade in has mentioned that Blade seems more erratic, more like the animal he was ten years ago. His actions in the last month seem to backup that up."
Hannibal was piecing things together in his head. Deacon Frost was responsible for Blade's creation, Hannibal knew that. How did he know that? Memories came back. Frost and Danica had been lovers for a time. He also knew that it was pure luck that Danica had gotten her fangs into him before Frost had. Hannibal doubted he'd be the same person he was now if he had become one of Frost's lackeys. But Frost used to brag about his little human experiment.
"Frost used to talk about a Patron." Everyone at the table stopped talking and looked at him. "What?" he asked into the silence. "Vampires don't pay attention to pets and Danica barely fed me, probably the only reason the cure worked. I should thank her for that. Oh wait, you dusted her," he said, looking at Drake. "More's the pity."
Hannibal had to think back. It was kind of hard. He wasn't kidding when he said that Danica barely kept him alive. Even to this day he knew he had gaps in his memories as if he'd been in a deep sleep and woken several days later.
Nola got up from her chair and circled around his. "Close your eyes," she said softly; her fingers were cool when they touched him temples. "Relax. Even weakened your senses would have been taking in things around you. The vampire would not have kept you in that state unless she was afraid that you would become stronger than she could control."
He breathed in and then exhaled slowly. "A man came. Danica thought he was human but he wasn't. He reeked of death but I don't think anyone else noticed." He could remember Danica and Frost in bed together, feeding off some human they had both wanted. He remembered lifeless eyes. Then an announcement that they had a visitor.
Nola hummed. "You have always had your sixth sense, as you like to call it. It told you things others could not see."
"Frost called him," and then Hannibal could see it as if he was there again. The two men talking, Danica ignored them as she enjoyed the human play thing that had been brought along. "Travis, the man's name was Travis."
Hannibal began speaking, "Your little hybrid experiment is still running around while the others were all failures. You have impressed Max. He offers you a taste of his blood for your patronage." A vial had been passed to Frost who drank the contents before tossing the vial into the fireplace. "Now he wants to see what you can do with a blood ritual."
Several documents were handed over to Frost. "The rest he trusts you will be able to find on your own."
Danica then walked over to Travis and straddled his legs. "And our other enterprise, what does he think of that?"
Wiping a drop of blood from Danica's mouth with his finger Wade brought the finger to his mouth. "That you need more warehouses and a better method to keep the sources alive longer. The decay rate after three years will not do. Twenty-five to thirty units per donor will not do; he wants them to last decades. The cattle need to produce more viable blood than if we kept them walking about."
Hannibal blinked and everything was back in the present and Nola was back in her chair and Hannibal wanted to vomit. He remembered standing in one of the human blood farms --a warehouse with rows upon rows, sometimes two and three high, of humans in a chemical induced coma, vacuumed sealed into pouches, fluids going in and blood coming out to be deposited in large vats. He was rescued shortly after that. God he thought that had been part of fever induced nightmares of the antivirus.
"I think I'm going to be ill," he choked out, before putting his head in his hands.
He felt a light pressure on his thigh and realized Drake had placed his hand there. Hannibal found comfort in the touch.
"Who is Max?" Drake asked.
"Moros," came the answer; followed by a quick lesson on Drake's family tree.
"Travis," Jake responded with a nod. "We never did figure out if that was a first or last name. And Roque kept us all away, but especially Clay. The guy gave me the willies."
Cougar suspected that they now knew which vampire had gone after Clay's family, but not why. The Losers were just collateral or Roque's entrance fee into the inner circle. What he wasn't sure about was how waking the Vampire King would be of benefit.
"I don't think that was part of the plan," Hannibal commented when Cougar voiced that question. "But I think with Frost's death Travis didn't hold up the other end of the bargain with the farms. Danica would never have let that stand. She would have done anything to be sure she was the one who came out on top."
"And waking the Vampire King with hopes of becoming his queen," Jake put in. "That would do it. It would also unknowingly piss off Moros even more because she wouldn't have known the connection. And he," Jake pointed at his father, "wouldn't tolerate either Danica's plan or Moros being alive."
That was true; according to general consensus neither side thought the other was still alive --at least between Moros and Drake's children. "Why did Max not kill your father while he slept?"
"Only a handful of people actually knew of my father's decision to sleep. It was covered up in a manner so that all would believe the king and his line had perished. Though, I believe that was more for our safety than his."
"Then how did Danica know where to look?" Cougar asked. He didn't think it was pure luck and even finding the remains of the Vampire King would have elevated Danica's status but not to queen.
There was silence for a moment and then he saw Jake glance at Nola and Web and tilted his head. "You said," Jake asked Hannibal, "that there were pieces of armor and a sword?"
"More of a cast of the armor, but there was a sword. It's in the trunk of the car."
"Aunt Evienne," Jake said a little hesitantly, obviously feeling out the answer by saying it aloud. Cougar though could tell that Jake thought it was the correct answer.
Nola gave a small shrug. "If she did," the witch answered, "she did not mention it to me or I would have warned you. But then, she probably knew that."
"The wards around this community would have been strengthened had we known he," Web added, looking at Drake. "would finally decide to wake."
Jake's fingers moved in a motion as if he was typing on a keyboard. Cougar knew it was a habit Jake had when he was mulling through something that puzzled him.
"I don't think she set it all in motion or even knew, knows everything," Jake answered quietly, while making a face at the tense before shaking his head and continuing. "She would have told us if Moros was still alive, just for Maisie's sake. Aunt Evienne doesn't control fate, just makes your choices clearer. Helps you find a path when you are lost." Jake glanced at him when he said that.
Cougar understood now where this was going. "She sent you on a path so we would find one another," he said.
Cougar looked at the two men sitting across from him and Jake. Would the White Lady wake her brother, a man who had hid from the world and his family, to give him a chance to repair all that he had broken by meeting his own soulmate?
He glanced at Nola, but all the witch did was lift an eyebrow while the edges of her lips turned up slightly. So, that was a yes. It was also not their big problem for the day. Moros was.
If Moros managed to bring the vampires out of hiding and into true public spotlight then the rest of the things the world considered fiction would be next. His kind would be chased down by both sides --the humans who were scared and the vampires who wanted control of the world.
He could see a future where his kind were hunted down for use in the blood farms since their life expectancy was normally four to five times longer than a human's.
But how were they to stop Moros if they didn't know where he was? Cougar got his answer sooner than he expected.
Maisie walked around the table until she stood next to him. Drake didn't move as the little girl --his granddaughter and the last reminder of his daughter, lifted her hands to his face. The action so like her mother when she was that age that Drake felt sorrow for all he had lost. "It's okay grandfather, she forgave you long ago, but now you must return to where your consort called home when he still believed in magic and light. You must finish what was started long ago before the darkness spreads to here. For if it makes it this far it will be too late to stop it."
His granddaughter dropped her hand from his face, squeezing her eyes closed for a second before opening them to ask, "Can I have ice cream?"
His son's laughter was unexpected but welcomed. "Well, at least that hasn't changed," Jake said standing up and walking toward the kitchen, picking up his niece as he passed. He sat her on a stool before kissing her on the top of her head. "Sure Mays, I'll make you a sundae."
No one interrupted the silence as Jake made the treat his granddaughter had requested. He glanced over at Hannibal sensing the other man's apprehension. Was he the one Krisa had once spoken of to him? His wife had been a strong warrior but an even stronger seer. She had told him once that he would find his true happiness when their son did. Drake had thought she referred to seeing Iacomus grow into manhood, but now he knew she meant finding that missing part of him that she had not been able to fill.
"Where were you born, Hannibal?" the witch asked.
"Milwaukee," was his seer's answer. "But I don't think that's the place she means. My family moved before I was two so I really have no memories of there." Hannibal paused for a moment. "California," he said, looking at him. "It's where I dreamed as a child and lived and died through nightmares as an adult."
Hannibal got up and walked away from the table. He didn't go far before turning around. "It makes sense," he stated. "The Talos are there, the majority of the blood farms --unless those have branched out, and Blade."
"There's also a couple of international seaports," his son added. "It would be the perfect place to bring in or ship out equipment and people. He takes the largest house on the west coast, leaving a puppet in place as leader, maybe Roque or that Travis person, and moves on until he has enough to take it all."
Drake curled his fingers into a fist and then relaxed them. "My brother always enjoyed the shadows until he could be the one everyone was looking at."
"The question is," Hannibal asked, gripping the back of the closest chair, "how long do we have before he makes his move?"
"And does he know about the King here?" added Web.
"If he's anywhere near LA, he knows." Hannibal glanced around the room. "Danica Talos is dust, that would have left a void until Asher was able to reassure and take control. No doubt the human hunters know something is up, especially when two of theirs --Anna and Zoe-- disappeared with very little to trace where they had gone and why. I need to get the Sommerfields out of California."
"The blind woman and her child should come here," Maisie said, her spoon in the air before dipping into the bowl for another bite. She wasn't looking at anyone, her focus on the bowl of ice cream in front of her. "She will find her much needed respite and chance to start over in Enchanted Groves."
Drake knew Hannibal thought of the little girl and her mother as family. "This would be the safest place for them," Drake admitted. "Far from the fight that is ahead."
"I know." Jake leaned down as his niece pulled him closer to whisper into his ear. He listened carefully and then nodded. "Web and Nola will be staying here with Maisie," he said, stepping back from his niece. "No arguments," he pointed to Web at that comment. Aunt Evienne had sent him a friend when he needed one, and a protector for Maisie. He needed the latter at the moment. "Hannibal, your family is more than welcome."
"I," Hannibal sat down. "Thank you."
"We mostly shutdown," Cougar started to say and Jake interrupted him with "tore through his operation." The shapeshifter shrugged slightly and continued, "when we escaped our last mission. It may have accelerated or delayed his next move."
Jake nodded and walked out of the kitchen. It meant the sooner they started the better, just in case Moros had accelerated his plan or sent in an advance team. He returned a few minutes later with a laptop and started typing; only stopping to ask Hannibal where he had stashed his family.
Twenty minutes later he closed the laptop. He had private jets at airfields both here and there. He'd also secured a location for them to stay that was central to the Talos Building and the docks.
"Call your family," he said to Hannibal before leaving the room with Nola and Web.
As much as he wanted Web and Nola to come, he needed them here, especially if he and Cougar didn't come back. Maisie had been his primary concern even when he went off to play human. He stood in the den looking at the life that existed in the room before turning to address Nola and Web. He didn't get a chance to talk, they both tipped their heads as if bowing, something neither had ever done.
"We've always known," Nola said; and Jake should have known his aunt might have mentioned it. "Everyone in Enchanted Groves knew you and Melania were special. They grieved with you at the loss. They felt joy when you danced out on the lawn with Mays when she was but a toddler. They feel protected knowing you call this home."
"We call this place home and you family, Jake," Web reminded him. "We will protect her."
Jake nodded and then hugged them both.
"When you come back we can take Uncle Cougar to visit Aunt Evienne," Maisie said from behind them all.
Jake didn't know how long she and Cougar had been standing there, but he knelt down in front of his niece and she reached out and hugged him. "We can do that," he whispered into her ear. She let him go and turned to leave with Nola and Web but paused in front of Cougar. She beckoned him to lean down and she whispered something in his ear that was not in a language Jake knew, but apparently Cougar did. Cougar nodded and then kissed Maisie on the top of the head just as Jake had done earlier.
Then it was just him and Cougar in the room. "I'm sorry," Jake said, waving his hand around, trying to apologize for everything that had and would happen.
"I am not," Cougar said before pulling him into a kiss that told Jake everything he needed to hear.
While he'd been on the phone Drake had a few minutes with his son. He wasn't sure what was said, and he doubted that the millennia of missed time had been made up for, but it did seem that both father and son had reconciled to a degree.
As soon as the plane was up in the air and the pilot said they could move he was up. "I need to talk to your father," he said, unstrapping his seatbelt and then Drake's before pulling the man through a door that led to a small bedroom.
Jake snorted. "Good luck and take your time," Jake called after him. "You're going to need it."
Hannibal agreed as he closed the door behind him. "I need you to be honest with me," he said, taking the only chair in the room. Drake stood there for a moment before sitting down on the edge of the bed across from him. "What do you want from me?" Hannibal asked. That was what he needed to know.
Was he just the source that had been able to give Drake's family back to him? A seer to be used and discarded? To be used and kept as a pet --with or without chains-- it was all the same. Someone to fuck and leave behind? Hannibal would admit it, he had wanted to belong somewhere. He thought that if there wasn't a looming fight ahead of them, and if they had met under different circumstances, that he and Jake would have gotten along like kids in a candy store. He waited for Drake to answer and the quiet was making him itch.
He wanted to reach out and touch Drake. He wanted to open his abilities and take him all in but he couldn't take the risk without knowing.
Drake said one word, "You."
Which okay, sounded sweet and all but didn't tell him anything. He tried a different approach. "Why?"
Drake leaned forward, his arm outstretched so that his hand could cup Hannibal's face. "You make me want to never sleep again, where even knowing I have a granddaughter does not."
"You should probably not tell your son that," was the first thing that came out of Hannibal's mouth without him thinking about exactly what Drake had said.
Drake frowned. "I do not mean that as it sounds," Drake admitted, sounding slightly regretful. "I do... only that my..."
Hannibal actually found it amusing that Drake was flustered. On the way to the plane Hannibal had realized who the two queens in Drake's life had been, the first had been his mother and the second the mother of his children. He knew that Krisa had been a seer of great power. That she had even seen him so many years into the future.
He had thought Drake did not believe in soulmates but now he knew that was the furthest thing from the truth. He believed so much that when his world was destroyed he chose to bury himself in the sand and slumber away. Not only to protect himself, and his heart, but to protect his children who might still be in danger. Hannibal was positive, that among the things he was not supposed to have seen when Drake gave him that first glimpse into his mind, was the moment that Drake's wife had told him that he would find his true happiness when their son did.
But he had seen something Drake had not. Krisa had smiled at that moment but she hadn't just been looking at Drake when she had done so. He knew that no one else had been in the room with the two of them and yet she had looked to her left and bowed her head over so slightly as if knowing that sometime in the future he would see this.
And just like that Hannibal made a decision. He stood from the chair and took the two steps to Drake. "Let me in," he said, placing his hands on the sides Drake's face before leaning down to kiss him. "Be mine. Let me see."
He lived everything. From Drake's childhood, and how he had always been closer to his youngest sister than any of his other siblings, to Lady Magra's departure. The uniting of people through the marriage with Krisa to the birth of his children. Moros' betrayal, Krisa's lifeless body and the madness and destruction that brought. Of burrowing into blood enriched and soaked sand and then awakening because of Danica's involvement.
Hannibal opened his eyes and looked down into Drake's. Blood tears ran down his soulmate's face and Hannibal kissed them away. "I can feel you," he said. "Like a missing part that I didn't know was gone has been returned." He stroked a finger a down Drake's chest. "A whisper of your thoughts and feelings in the back of my mind. Do you feel it?"
"Yes," Drake inhaled. "I know what you want," he added pulling Hannibal to him.
"Do you?" Hannibal laughed and pulled away; watching and waiting. "Then show me."
Drake stood and removed his clothes before laying back on the bed. Hannibal grinned and added his own clothes to pile. "This should be interesting," he said, crawling up the bed until he could kiss Drake.
"How you can climb up a tree and dangle from its highest branches, hang out a window or even a helicopter and not have a problem," Jake began, grinning at him, "but get on an airplane and you're uneasy is beyond me."
"I can see the ground, feel the wind," Cougar replied.
Jake tilted his head in thought. "Huh, I never really thought about it like that, then again I didn't get the whole shifter thing because I wasn't looking for it before. Would it help if you were your large cat self?"
"I do not believe so."
"I'll scratch your ears," Jake offered. "I know that calms you."
Cougar knew a diversion when he heard one. Instead he twisted around and swung his left leg over Jake's legs so that he sat in Jake's lap. He leaned in and kissed his soulmate until he had to pull away, panting for breath.
Jake shifted them about until Cougar was laying on the bench seat with Jake over him. Neither man said a word as clothes were removed. He felt worshipped as Jake's mouth left kisses and nips from his toes to lips; as they moved and thrust as one. Jake bit into the skin on his hip, he could feel the blood being drawn away from the wound even as a clawed finger marked him. He felt the burn of Jake's blood enter the wound and then there was no pain, only he and Jake.
Jake crawled back up his body, aligning them perfectly before moving again. "I am yours as you are mine," Jake whispered into his neck.
Cougar arched up. "I am yours as you are mine," he repeated just before the most powerful climax he'd ever experienced rolled through his body. He lay there, gazing up at the ceiling of the plane. He felt the bond the stories had always mentioned, humming gently over his body; seeping into his very being.
They were both quiet for several minutes. "If we survive this," Jake started and he corrected with, "When."
He felt Jake shift about until his head rested over his heart. "When," Jake started over again. "I want us to stay missing or killed in action or whatever the army believes happened to us. I want to... I think it's time," Jake stopped talking for several minutes and when he started again Cougar knew that it was not what Jake had originally been planning to say. "What do you want to do?" Jake asked instead.
He ran his fingers through Jake's short, spiky hair. Cougar had already decided to leave the military, but other than that he'd made no plans for the future except to take Jake with him. He had Jake and now maybe he knew where he needed to go. "I think it's time you embraced Enchanted Groves," he said. "Be there for them. Be there for Maisie." Jake stirred. "I'll be there with you," he added, remembering what Maisie had whispered in his ear about embracing the other half of his soul so together they could travel their path as one. "I'm not going anywhere," he said with conviction.
"I'm still taking you to visit my aunt," Jake added, humor evident in his voice. "That seems to be part of our path as well."
They stayed quiet again, laying on the floor of the plane until Cougar's stomach rumbled. They took turns cleaning up in the small bathroom in the main cabin before hunting through the galley kitchen for coffee and snacks.
"We need an attack plan," Jake said, sparing a glance toward the small bedroom. "Just outright attacking won't work. We'd be outnumbered."
"The human hunters?" Cougar offered.
"We'll see what intel Hannibal can get us."
Immortality will come to such as are fit for it. He believed that and it was time the vampires remembered. It was time for him to be the King he was supposed to be.
"When this is done," his son said from behind him; and he hadn't even heard his son approach. "You need to be King. You need to be who my mother married. Who promised to unite our people and not destroy them. You and Hannibal need to bring order back to the chaos you left."
Drake turned to look at his son who was still speaking. "I'm not sure what I would do if something happened to Maisie. I know what I did when Melania died and that was bad enough." Jake said, coming closer. "I don't have it in me to stay irate with you --not and move forward. I need you to be what you were, are supposed to be."
The last statement echoed his own thoughts. Drake reached out to touch his son. His son, a boy who was always so thin and so much shorter than his sister was now as tall as him and in a way had lived more of a life than he had. He wasn't going to repeat his past actions. No, too much had already changed and soon even more would change. He could not, would not allow his family to suffer more for his own shortcomings and decisions.
"I regret my past decisions," Drake told his son. "Your mother balanced my temper; she always showed me the hopes and light of our people. Without her it all turned to hatred and darkness. My brother knew this and used it against me. Not even Lilith would have done that, even with her dislike of the light and her love for causing mischief."
"Aunt Lilith changed," Jake told sadly.
"I know," he answered, it was just one more thing that his actions had caused. Jake's witch had told him; had handed him a worn and yellow letter written in the old script from Evienne. She was more trusted by his sister than he had first believed. "Do not fail them again," she said in parting.
"You are welcome to visit your granddaughter when this is all said and done," Jake told him.
"And my son?"
"Yeah, him too." Jake gave him a quick hug and then backed away.
Both men tilted their heads, clearly hearing something on the floors below. "It seems your Cougar is more mischievous than I was lead to believe," Drake commented.
"Sometimes." His son didn't elaborate, only smiled and offered him a carefree shrug.
When they reached the floor they were using for planning they found a handful of human hunters, Hannibal, and a hieracosphinx. The falcon-like head turned to look at them before the wings fluttered slightly and the beast seemed to shrink back into a cougar and pad over to his son. His son's soulmate was older than he had let on.
"What the hell is that?" the female hunter demanded to know.
The eldest hunter in the group gave a soft laugh and answered, quite calmly, "A shapeshifter. It has been a while since I have seen one of them. I thought the vampires had wiped them out when I was a teen."
"You can't expect me to believe?"
"Truly, Abby, did you think vampires were the only supernatural thing out there?" the hunter questioned.
Drake heard Hannibal's laugh and it made him smile. "Caulder," Hannibal said, "you've been holding out on me." Hannibal had always liked the other hunter. The man had never treated him differently for being one of the cured and never seemed to mind Hannibal's little idiosyncrasies.
"I could say the same to you, Hannibal," replied with. "Now introduce us to your friends. Blade is out of control and the last few nights the number of vampire kills and open sightings have increased. What has come to our shores?"
"What are you, Caulder?" Hannibal asked, shaking his head as if trying to clear it. "Because I just, holy shit, that's weird."
"He's of Web's people, generations and a few humans later," Jake answered.
The older man gave Jake a slight bow. "I am, my Prince."
Drake heard his son sigh. "I am going to kill Web when I see him next."
"Perhaps." Caulder smirked.
"Umm," one of the other human hunters interrupted. "Could someone please explain all this to me."
After two weeks of planning and trying to track the various hunter and vampire groups they had accumulated a lot information from port and shipping manifests to when Moros was expected. Give or take a day.
For the last several nights they had kept watch at the Port of Los Angeles, waiting for a private plane to land in an area that had been cleared of shipping containers. A perfect little hidden runway.
"There are more vampires on the East side than the last two nights combined," came over the comms that he had setup.
"Same for over here," someone else stated. "Patrols are on a tighter schedule as well."
There were a few minutes of quiet and then, "There's a new ship docked at the main cargo slip for this area, almost lines up with the runway. Name's Olet... thros."
Cougar's voice sounded clearly over the comms, "Olethros. It means destruction."
"How original," Hannibal commented. "But I'm guessing this is what we were waiting for."
"There are people moving on the deck. About three dozen so far and only a handful are popping up with heat signatures; and now that I know what to look for, too low to be fully human."
It went from quiet reports to chaos in a matter of minutes. The sound of gunfire erupted to the left and then there was the rocket launcher. None of his own people had one of those. From what he had been told by Hannibal and then again by Caulder and Abby, none of the other human hunter groups had that type of artillery. Blade's arrival didn't help matters as no one was able to pin down whose side the hybrid was on.
"Anyone have a line on who the rocket belonged to?" Jake called as he ran past several shipping containers only to backtrack as he processed what he had seen. "Also, someone brought a bomb to this fight."
"Yes," Jake acknowledged, the small handheld laptop he had brought --even though he'd been told that a computer wasn't need at a gun fight-- already in his hand. "Big enough to blow a nice hole in that ship if it gets loaded; or this dock if it doesn't."
"Spotted the rocket chick," Hannibal stated. "The bombs could probably be hers. Unless you think Moros would blow up his own stuff. Though, it seems she's... let's just say she's on her way towards Roque and I felt it best to let her try." A moment later Hannibal's voice came over the comms again. "Oh, and I left Asher pinned to the top of a shipping container. Figured if we needed a vampire to talk truce with later he'd be our best bet. Assuming Drake likes him without Danica's influence."
Jake didn't look up from where he was defusing the bomb even as he felt the dust of a vampire kill shower over him. He raised his hand in the "okay" symbol and kept working. He'd known the shot had come from Cougar --he was the only person Jake knew who could hit a moving target, from wherever he was now perched; and hit the right spot on the neck to turn a vampire to ash.
"Bomb defused," Jake stated, moving out of the cargo container and coming face to face with Blade. "And, hybrid found." Said hybrid's eyes were bloodshot and the pupils looked off to Jake, and he was pretty sure there were a few additional sharp teeth in Blade's mouth than Hannibal had mentioned. If he had to guess Blade had been off his serum for at least a week, if not longer.
"That's good," came Hedges voice over the comms, "because I've got another one of those bombs and it's on a timer. Counting down too. Forty-five minutes."
Jake had to duck a swing from Blade's sword --a sword that was red with blood. "Let me get back to you in a minute," he said into the comm before pulling his own sword from the harness on his back to block the next attack.
"You know I'm not a vampire, right?" Jake asked, moving the fight away from the shipping container with its open doors, confined space, and remains of a bomb. "And that someone left explosives laying about."
Blade attacked, his sword moving fast and swift. "You don't smell human." The hybrid dodged and swung again. "Explosives won't hurt me. I feel stronger, better than I have in decades. Besides, no one's walking out of here but me."
"What about the hunters you brought with you?"
Blade's only answer was a shrug as he tried to run Jake through. Jake nearly slipped on the blood coming from a headless body. Since the body and head were still there it meant the person wasn't a vampire. It didn't rule them out being a hunter or a human in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or for that matter a fae or shifter, as apparently Caulder had secretly let those in his community, whom he trusted, know what was about to occur.
"Was he a friend of yours?" Jake asked, trying to judge how far Blade had slipped.
"Humans are weak; injured ones even more so."
He'd thought that when it came to facing Blade he would rage about Melania and Thomas' death but as he evaded another blow he knew there was no going back for the hybrid. On the next attack Jake pushed his sword through Blade's mid section before turning the blade to the side and dragging it along the hybrid's ribcage. He pulled the weapon from Blade's body and watched as Blade struggled for a second before smiling and rolling his shoulders back with a laugh. The wound would have stopped a human, caused a fae or shifter to pause and run needing time to heal. A vampire though, it would be nothing but an annoying tickle.
"You have to try better than that," was the last thing Blade said before Jake swung his sword and the hybrid in front of him turned to ash.
"Hybrid wasn't a hybrid any longer and now he's ash," he reported. "Now where's the other bomb?"
Travis' grin turned dark and all Hannibal could sense from the man was the need to inflict pain and suffering; and that he enjoyed it. Had enjoyed it for close to a thousand years.
"You smell human again," Travis said lifting a gun and firing. "We'll just have to retrain you, pet."
Hannibal had sensed danger and was already moving when he felt the sting of a graze. The second shot impacted his chest. He looked down to see a bullet sticking out of the body armor he wore. "Points to Hedges," he muttered, plucking the bullet from the vest before spinning to kick the gun from Travis' hand.
This would not be like fighting a vampire, especially as he needed Travis to stay in his human guise. If he changed into his demon-form, probably created from either Moros or Lilith's bite and blood, he would be hard to bring down. Plus, he still needed information. "You responsible for the bombs set around the area?"
Travis smirked so that was a yes and apparently he wasn't going to have to ask as his adversary seemed talkative.
"Fear does a wondrous thing," Travis said, reaching out and grabbing Hannibal by the front of his tact vest and throwing him back into one of the shipping containers. "Set a handful of bombs off at an international shipping port and there will be panic. It'll scare the humans and vampire clans alike. Thanks to you hunters and Blade there will be a few dead bodies about. Not that any of this will matter to you. Soon all you will care about is pleasing my needs. It's always the rebellious ones that are so fun to break"
Hannibal laughed. "I'd rather kiss a wookie," he muttered; it was inappropriate but he couldn't help himself. Travis was crazy. Maybe that's what it took to work for Moros. He waited until Travis was a little closer before lifting his legs and pushing Travis away with his chest; sending the demon back into another container. The shock was clearly written on Travis' face.
"Not human, asshole," Hannibal said, popping back up to stand.
Hannibal didn't hesitate to fire the remaining bullets from his gun into Travis before turning to chase after the rocket chick. He knew the bullets would only slow Travis down but he had other places to be and at least two more bombs to help find. Not to mention the fact that he could feel Drake's agitation and anger growing.
"Guys," he called into his comms, running to his left --letting his instincts guide him while he replaced the clip in his gun. "Just in case you missed it there's two or three more bombs out there."
Jake's voice sounded in his ear. "So far the two we've found are in blue containers with no identifying numbers or company names painted on them. Doors open and filled with gas, manure, C4, and I think paint thinner or something similar. IE, they stink to high heaven." There was a pause over the line and then Jake continued, "I need people looking for the bombs and people guarding Hedges as he defuses them."
Hannibal heard several acknowledgements but then he was trying to separate the rocket chick and Roque. He stopped two of the people Caulder had brought with him and told them to grab the girl and get her out of area while he dealt with Roque.
"Whose lapdog are you, Roque?" he called out, and instantly he sensed anger from his opponent. Excellent, that would work and he could play on that. "Travis or Moros? Who pulls your leash? Who promised you eternity but still hasn't delivered?"
Roque dropped the severely wounded woman and charged at him instead. Hannibal didn't even hesitate and shot Roque in the man's dominant shoulder. The sound of a small explosion distracted both of them, and instead of attacking, Roque ran.
"What the hell was that?" he called, looking out at the bloom of smoke and fire.
Cougar was lying across the top of a shipping container that was suspended some fifty feet in the air. It gave him a view of the immediate area. His abilities gave him better sight at a distance and from here he could call out information that the people on the ground could not see.
The third and fourth bombs were defused, and to be safe a group had broken off and was continuing to search in case there were more. Another group had boarded the Olethros and reported that an entire deck was nothing but a mobile blood farm.
"I'm on my way," Jake had called. They were hoping there was a master switch. If they could shut down all the farms that Moros controlled it would be a blow to his followers.
"Asher's people have freed him and they're trying to sneak away," Cougar stated, following the four vampires with the scope of his rifle. "Should I let them go?"
"I will find him later," Drake answered. It was the first time the Demon King had spoken over the radio since this began. Cougar wasn't sure where the man was because after everyone had gone their own way it was like Drake had just vanished from sight.
Cougar spotted several vampires moving towards a group of Caulder's people who were evacuating a cargo container full of people. He fired two shots, turning two vampires into fiery ash. One of the fae took out the third.
He took a pot shot at Roque, trying to keep the man confined in one area, when the man rounded a corner before disappearing behind another tall stack of containers.
He was focused back on the ship as Jake jumped over the side and landed easily on the ground. "So in about five minutes," Jake said over the comms, "part of that ship is going to light up, not explode, exactly, and then every ten minutes a blood farm somewhere else will do the same. It's going to look like a cascade failure in the program and hardware. Fingers crossed that they think the code is no longer viable."
"We can use Asher to help push that belief," Hannibal suggested. Cougar watched the Seer take out two vampires before moving his gaze elsewhere.
"Moros and Drake have found one another," he said, watching through the scope of his rifle. "They were human... and now they've gone old school."
He doubted that anyone within twenty yards of the two men couldn't hear their fight. Even up where he was he could hear the ringing sounds as their swords clashed.
His brother finally appeared, walking calmly down the footway from the ship as if there was no fighting going on. His brother had always been too cocky, too arrogant. He watched as Moros approached a fight between one of his vampire demon spawns and a fae. Moros grabbed the fae from behind and twisted his neck. The snapping clearly audible.
Drake considered his next move to be the proper response to retaliate with. He slashed through the neck of the demon who did his brother's bidding, felling him. Bringing him face to face with his brother for the first time in more than a thousand years.
"Well, well, I see the rumors are true," Moros said, off handedly. "You did survive and have arisen. What an absolute shame." The last part was said with a flare of dramatics.
"You destroyed everything I loved," Drake responded.
Moros laughed. "I know," he lifted his hands as if he was cheering. "Wasn't it marvelous? How everything crumbled when you did. They turned to Lilith and myself for focus and well, I put Lilith on a path to destruction and then there was just little ole me." Moros walked closer, arms wide, almost welcoming. "There's no need for you," Moros said. "You should have just stayed dead, or buried, or whatever it was you've been doing. This world is mine now. You're not needed."
Drake should have moved away but knew it was too late when he felt the knife enter between two ribs. The pain a reminder of what this man had done once before. He shoved Moros back and pulled out the knife, body already changing --human skin replaced by his demon form. The sword that had been on his back now in his hand.
His brother too had changed his appearance just before one of his vampire-spawn threw him a sword. Now the true fight had begun. Drake dodged, attacked, twisted, parried, lunged, blocked.
The two brothers circled around each other, moving to try to overtake the other with each swing while each received and gave wounds as they did. The sound of their weapons ringing against one another was the only noise for several minutes until Moros started in with the taunts, reminding him of the past.
"Your wife was so easy to kill, especially with the whelps behind her. Heirs we don't need, but you! She wanted them so you gave them to her; and they got her killed. How sweet of you," Moros lunged, his sword, his sword slicing through Drake's side. "I've been slowly removing her people from this planet. Our dear baby sister is, of course, being ever so elusive again, but her time will come. With her gone the others will be that much easier to be rid of."
Drake let his building anger take control, his fighting became erratic and Moros scored several more successful strikes. Then he felt it, something breaking through the rage, calming him. Hannibal's voice in his head telling him to calm down, to think. To remember that his son was still alive, that he had a granddaughter, and more importantly, that his soulmate would be pissed if he died for acting foolishly.
Once again his movements became cleaner, swifter, more purposeful. Drake knew he was quick to anger and so did Moros, he could not let that happen again. Drake had to believe in his soulmate's words.
"Did you ever find your son's body?" Moros taunted, trying the same tactics again. "How about that beautiful daughter of yours? Or, their remains, anyway?"
"You need better taunts to hiss, Uncle," his son called, stepping out of the darkness; his body looking like a tan version of Drake's the mark of the royal line visible on his chest. "Seeing as I'm not dead. And should my father fail in this endeavor, and as I'm no longer a child, I shall pick up his sword and finish you."
Moros stumbled but regained his balance as he changed his direction of attack. His focus no longer on Drake but the younger heir. "I should have killed you first, nephew. The boy who could barely lift a sword let alone use one, you would have been so easy to kill but I wanted you to suffer, watching your mother die."
Drake watched his son easily block the attack and then they were all moving. Moros now attacking on both fronts. Jake only defending while Drake attacked. Moros got in a lucky thrust though Drake's shoulder, he dropped back and Jake moved in. He watched his son fight but Moros had always been the better with a sword. Jake blocked but his sword couldn't withstand the attack and shattered.
"Hey," Drake heard Hannibal call out, splitting Moros' attention from Jake and onto him, "Anyone have eyes on Roque or Travis?" The sound and slight jolt of a large explosion where the temporary runaway had been set up caused everyone to stagger.
"Never mind," Hannibal shouted. "Apparently a group of your minions were trying for an escape. Looks like our eyes in the sky blew up your plane. Something about a motorcycle. I'm guessing your kind can't heal once they've been pushed through an engine turbine. So sad for you and your escape."
"Who the hell are you?" Moros questioned.
"Oh, I'm of no concern to you," Hannibal shouted. "Because you're going to be dead soon."
Drake recognized the look on Moros' face. One of anger and thoughts of escape but Drake wasn't going to allow that this time. Even with his shoulder injured he brought his sword back to bear and moved in for the attack. Moros was unprepared and Drake took the opening. His brother's head fell from his shoulders and as with his kind, the remains burned till there was nothing but ash.
The sight of Moros' defeat had the remnants of his brother's people fleeing. He let them go. There would be time later to destroy them, for he planned to visit every house, clan, or city where vampires lived and remind them they had a king and he would not tolerate them going against his laws. Times had changed and Hannibal would ensure Drake's new laws were even and fair.
When the time was right, he would find Evienne and he and his sister would sit down and draw out an accord that would benefit them all. He did not believe the humans were once again ready to learn what else shared the world with them.
A loud piercing sound drew him away from watching his brother's remains scatter away on the light wind that had swept through the area.
"Time to go!" Jake called out to the gathering crowd. "I thank all whom came to help stop the darkness from spreading and we grieve with you on the losses suffered here tonight." Jake's words were filled with strength and emotion that he knew these people could see and feel. His son's soulmate chose that moment to fly from his perch, the shifter's form changing from hieracosphinx to human as his back legs touched the ground.
These people had not been here to help him, but to help his son. It was another reminder of how much he had to repair. How much he was going to need his son's help; and that of his own soulmate.
He watched Hannibal as he hugged one of the female hunters. "I'll be in touch Abby," Hannibal said. "I think the next few weeks are going to be interesting for us all."
"Be safe Hannibal," she answered. "And take care of Anna and Zoe."
"Always, Abs, always." He turned to the older not-quite human hunter. "Caulder," he said. "I now understand everything you tried to tell me before, so thank you."
By the time the police entered the area there was no one left. The bodies had been removed, the ash blown out to ocean. All that remained were the few still burning fires, the defused bombs, the crippled ship, and the destroyed plane. It would no doubt leave the authorities puzzled for years to come; especially as any CCTV within two miles of the area, when played back, would only show cartoons for the last several days.
It had taken a little longer to come visit his Aunt than had been anticipated and there would be another visit in the Spring with Maisie. Maybe even with his father and Hannibal joining them.
Things had changed dramatically after Los Angeles. They had learned that the rocket chick's name was Aisha al-Fadhil and the compound where the Losers had been held hostage, where they had truly learned of Roque's deceit, had once belonged to her family. Roque had murdered her father and she had been seeking revenge for several years. Jake was unsure what her future plans were now that she no longer lived for revenge but he wished her happiness and life as she walked her path.
He and Cougar had made a short stop at Pooch's home to talk to Clay and check on the Porteous' family. Pooch still believed them dead and for now that was best. Jake thought Clay could finally relax knowing that those responsible for his family's death were dead. And like Aisha, wished him peace for the rest of his life. Jake also warned him to stay out of the supernatural world, that not all humans were cut out to straddle the line of knowing and not. It seemed that for now Clay agreed with that sentiment.
Drake and Hannibal had stayed in LA for a few extra days. When they left Asher Talos had still been alive, along with only five other vampires in the entire city. The rest of the Pacific Time Zone had faired about the same. Asher would be one of the area's representatives of the King. The human hunters were acting as a security patrol, keeping both humans and vampires alive. No deaths were allowed without the King's permission.
Abigail Whistler was the King's liaison to the human hunters, and Caulder to those who were not quite human. So far the supernatural world had accepted the Demon King's reappearance much better than the human hunter/vampire world. It was still a work in progress as Drake and Hannibal continued to travel the world. The unification of demon, vampire and hunter politics would not be a quick fix.
He knew with Hannibal's help his father was ready to face the world; to live again. That Drake would once again be a fair and just ruler. He and Hannibal talked on a regular basis, the two of them getting along as if they had been friends, no, family, for centuries. Thanks to Hannibal, Jake talked to his father more now than he did when he was a child.
Drake and Hannibal, with a few of Abby and Caulder's people, had stopped in several cities between LA and Enchanted Groves, cleaning up a few more areas on their trek across the country. But after a month Hannibal told them all he needed three weeks time not hunting. The first week was for just he and Drake, they were still learning about each other and what it meant to be soulmates and it was difficult when there were others about. The other two weeks, he had spent learning from Nola how to control his growing gifts. Those two weeks had also allowed Drake to get to know his granddaughter and son again, and Maisie called Hannibal uncle. As did Zoe Sommerfield.
The Sommerfields had settled into Enchanted Groves, and Zoe and Maisie had become fast friends. From being in the same grade at school to liking the same subjects and colors and climbing the big tree in their front lawn. And Zoe handled her new friend's gifts just like she handled her mother's blindness -- it was a non-issue. Zoe had started spending time with Nola and if Hannibal's observations were right, Zoe had a bit of the gift.
Until his father's return, Jake had never thought about his parents being King and Queen. They had been mother and father. Standing here now though, he could see how his family had become a convergence for the supernatural --neither his father nor his own soulmate had been of their kind. Jake himself wasn't purely demon. His two most trusted friends were...
Jake had an epiphany; it was like everything just came together in his head. Something long forgotten - no, more like purposely buried - had emerged as if unlocked by his mere thoughts and his presence at the lake.
"You put a spell on me," he said, after walking down the path to sit next to his aunt and Cougar. "More like you blocked some of my memories to protect me, to protect... Nola's your daughter, my cousin. She's the little white-haired girl I played in the sand with when I was child when Melania was in the garden with you."
His aunt gave him one of her knowing smiles. "It was about time you remembered that connection. Do you see it now?" she asked, stretching her hand out over the water, creating ripples. "The confluence of time and fate. destiny and hope? She will remember now too."
Jake looked out at the water, he felt Cougar wrap his arms around him and he regarded the ripples. His Uncle had destroyed so much and so many had to hide to be protected. He and his sister and cousin made to forget a connection until it was safe to remember again. "I see it," he said softly, looking at the ripples in the water, feeling the currents that moved around them in the air.
"As do I," Cougar replied, offering a soft kiss to his check. "So do the others. From you spiraling out."
The biggest worry for Jake when they had arrived at his aunt's place last night was that the fae and shifter populations looked to him and not his father as their rightful ruler. Jake's opinion had been that it was his aunt's place but that had only made her laugh --both weeks ago when he had told her that via the mirror that Nola had setup for them to chat (a witch's version of Skype), and again last night at dinner.
"The witches might be mine," Evienne reminded him again without him even having voiced his concerns. She waved her hand causing water from the lake to splash him in the face. "But the Therianthians are yours and your mate's. His ability to adapt his form from one to many is rare and special. He is your perfect other half."
The sight of Cougar blushing was never going to get old.
Jake tried to argue the whole but you're their White Lady thing. His aunt gave him a look and he had instantly felt like a five year old again. "I will always be here for them when they step off their paths, but when it comes to the accords that must be made now that your father is awake, you and your Therianthian are their voice." She smiled at him, touching his cheek like she had done when he was a child. The smile turned a little mischievous. "Though, I see it will be more like your quiet mate will tell you what to say than anything else, but you will still be their voice."
He only nodded and made a face at Cougar who had chuckled until she looked over at him and then Cougar had looked sheepish and covered his mouth as if trying to stop. It made Jake himself laugh and it was almost like he could feel that feeling on the wind.
Then of course his aunt made him cringe ever so slightly when she added, "The Delphians now, they are tricky. You are the last child of their greatest leader, the parent of their next Queen and I am mated to one of their Old Princes... they might belong to us both for a few years longer."
Though he guessed he owed it to the rest of the supernatural --those that considered themselves Fae, like Web's people-- who had already begun showing up and giving their allegiance to him or Cougar to step up and be the person he knew he should be.
Jake translated the few years to mean at least a century; but now that he knew who Nola was, he was thinking she could help, as a few were already using her or Web as intermediaries. And she was the daughter of the White Lady and one of the Old Princes; yes, that could definitely work.
His father's awakening had only been the beginning. Jake could see all the threads coming together. From Cougar and Hannibal's births, to even Maisie's, and his own acceptance of who he was and what he needed to do. Their people may never fully walk in the human world --that world just wasn't ready for them yet, but they would no longer be separated and afraid in or on? their own.
When he looked away from the water, it was just he and Cougar sitting there at the lakeside. "Did my aunt do her watery departure trick?"
"Sort of," Cougar answered, sounding a little shocked at what he was about to ask. "Is there really a sword in that lake?"
Jake laughed and pushed Cougar to lie on the soft ground. "There are many," he answered, between kisses. "We can go swimming later. I guess I'm going to need a new sword anyway," he added.
Cougar rolled them over, tugging and pulling until they were both naked and moving against and with each other. Yes, Jake thought, a swim in the lake would be a great way to relax after all that had happened. And tomorrow he and Cougar would face the world as a united front with his father and Hannibal.
Maisie had been right, "It was time to live life."