"I hope you don't think I've completely forgiven you," Becker said quietly as he and the vampire finished cleaning up after an anomaly shout.
Stephen sighed. "I'm not sure you have anything to forgive me for." He turned away from his locker to face the werewolf. "I wasn't even born when it happened. Nor were you. How can we blame each other for something that happened over sixty years ago?"
Becker snarled softly, fighting the urge to shift. The story of the massacre of his mother's Pack had been such an intrinsic part of his growing years that now he knew that it was Stephen Hart's Colony that had been the murderers, he was finding it hard to not tear out the vampire's throat every time he saw him. The facts that his own Pack had killed the Colony's emissaries, precipitating the retaliatory vampire attack on the werewolf pack, and that his father was willing to sit down with the Vampire leaders to work out a truce, were the only things that were keeping him from committing murder himself.
Stephen's steady gaze and refusal to back down were agitating Becker more than he'd like to admit. He'd always prided himself on his control, on never allowing himself to give in to his wilder side without extreme goading. The fact that he'd been promoted to Captain at his young age was a testament to his success. Now, thanks to this vampire, he was starting to lose his equanimity at the slightest provocation.
Slamming the locker door harder than he'd planned, Becker throttled down his emotions. Now wasn't the time. A sneaking thought that perhaps Hart could have an 'accident' on an anomaly shout made him suddenly ashamed of himself. He was starting to act like his ancestors. Losing control, acting on instinct, not stopping to think and analyse the pros and cons of a situation. Though their actions weren't as awful as Hart's Colony's had been, he knew, deep down, that his Pack had been at least partially at fault that fateful day.
"I'm still finding it hard," he said, turning to lean back against his locker. He wasn't sure whether he needed the brace, or whether he didn't trust turning his back on the vampire.
"I do understand," Stephen said, leaning back against his own locker with his arms crossed defensively over his chest. "I grew up hating and distrusting werewolves." He snorted. "After all, if they were vicious and untrustworthy enough to kill unarmed emissaries, then they were beyond anything a decent vampire would want to consort with."
Becker stiffened, ready to attack the vampire for those insults, before he remembered his own mother's constant repetitions of how completely treacherous vampires were. He sighed, banging the back of his head lightly against his locker.
"I grew up the same way. My father wasn't too bad, but my mother… Every day, she would bring up the old stories; every day she would make me promise that one day I'd find the ones who murdered her Pack and seek retribution for their actions."
He followed Stephen's gaze and looked down at his hands. He was twisting his belt so hard he was about to tear the leather. He released the belt and started feeding it through the loops on his trousers. It gave him the chance to look away from the vampire's eyes.
"In my case, it was my father," Stephen said, drawing Becker's gaze again. "He harped on it every few days. My mother tried to get him to stop, but he wouldn't. It wasn't until I went to uni that I was able to get away from the constant dinning of hatred into my ears."
Nodding, Becker sighed. "My father wanted the war to stop. He said he'd lost too many friends to fighting that didn't make any sense. One act of hatred shouldn't turn two entire species of people against each other. It was madness, he kept saying." He shook his head. "Unfortunately, he was gone on military manoeuvres a lot of the time, so I heard mostly from my mother."
Stephen headed for the door. "I think I need a cup of coffee before we go any farther with this."
Becker almost refused to move. "I'm not sure I want to go any farther," he couldn’t help himself from almost snarling.
"I don't either," Stephen stated flatly, "but I think we need to." He walked backwards for a few steps. "Unless we can reach the point where we trust each other, at least a little, we're a liability in the field." He stopped and stared Becker straight in the eyes, showing a bit of his vampiric power. "Don't you agree?" he asked smoothly.
A shiver went down Becker's spine. He knew that as a werewolf, he could take down almost any creature short of a carnivorous dinosaur, but he was now ready to admit that the power of the vampire was frightening him; in fact, had always frightened him.
Shaking himself, Becker waved Stephen ahead. "I do agree, for what it's worth," he said.
Stephen laughed without much amusement. "But you still won't turn your back on me."
Becker winced. He hadn't realised he was being so obvious. "Sorry," he said sheepishly. "Habit."
The vampire's next laugh held a bit more amusement. "Don't worry about it," he said cheerfully. "If you haven't noticed, I've been doing the same thing with any werewolves I meet."
The two beings walked into the break room together. Becker grinned internally at the looks of horrified surprise on the faces of the werewolves and vampires who were scattered around the room.
Stephen waved him over to a table in the corner. "Have a seat, I'll get us coffee." He gave Becker a slightly twisted grin. "Just a splash of milk, one sugar?"
Becker blinked. Okay, that was a bit nerve-wracking. What else had the vampire taken note of without the soldier noticing? "Um, yes, that's right."
He turned and moved to the table in the corner, putting his back to the wall so he could keep an eye on Stephen's movements. The vampire didn't seem to care whether he was watched or not, so Becker relaxed just a little. Maybe the two of them could actually work something out between them.
The vampire sat down on the same side of the table, next to Becker, eliciting a raised eyebrow from the werewolf. Stephen grinned, forcing Becker to swallow his own laughter. He had the sneaking feeling that they would blow the minds of their watchers if they showed too much comfort with each other.
"So," Becker started, but before he could get another word out, the anomaly alarm rang out with its usual extreme volume of discordant sounds. He ducked involuntarily, slightly surprised that Stephen had stiffened with his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth tight. A quick glance around the room showed that all the vampires were reacting the same way. And that every werewolf was coming out of the same protective position that Becker had involuntarily assumed.
The cacophony cut off, and the beings in the break room shook themselves before rushing out of the room at full speed.
"I hate that fucking sound," Stephen spat as the two of them legged it for the Atrium.
Becker grinned. "I think everyone does." They slowed as they entered the huge multi-story room. "Maybe a little persuasion will convince Connor to change the alarm."
"Good luck with that," Stephen murmured. "Lester likes it – he says people react faster when they hate the sound, just to get it turned off sooner."
"Great," Becker muttered. Dropping the discussion as useless, Becker stepped up behind the young vampire at the controls. "What and where, Connor?"
Connor grimaced. "Not great. It's in the middle of the Forest of Dean, really close to the Dean Heritage Centre. And I mean close, like just across the road."
"Fuck." Captain Ryan strode into the room. "Becker, any ideas?"
Becker stopped himself from snarling at what had seemed for a moment like an attempt to take over the shout. Ryan wasn't the type to override another officer without due cause. He shook himself. What the fuck was going on with his head today?
"Right. If it's that close to the Centre, we need to get there as soon as we can. There's no way we can make it up those narrow, winding roads in a hurry." He turned to look up at Lester's office, knowing that the director would be watching.
He was. Lester nodded at them. "You have authorisation to use the helicopter," he said, before turning and walking quietly back into his office.
"That's a go, then, Captain. If you need any assistance, just shout." With a quick grin, Ryan retreated, leaving Becker to set up the team on his own.
The chopper settled softly onto the ground of the field just northeast of the Dean Heritage Centre. The team exited quickly, moving out and away from the blades as the pilot revved up to take off, lifting smoothly into the air despite the gusting winds.
"Right," Becker said, doing his best to keep an eye on everyone at the same time. His military backup wasn't the most experienced with the anomalies, yet, although their most qualified, Amy Blackwood, their SSR sub, had acquitted herself well on her prior shouts. And, damn it, he realised he was still fighting his internal battle against his distrust of the vampire scientists with the fact that he'd chosen only werewolf military team members.
"Blackwood, with Hart, Tally with Temple, and Williamson, with Maitland." He turned to Connor. "Any direction for us?"
The young vampire nodded quickly. "It's in the woods, southwest, between us and the Centre."
"That's one relief," Blackwood said stolidly. "Hopefully it won't be seen easily from the road."
"Right," Becker said again. "Cutter, if you would lead with Connor, we'll keep an eye out whilst you track down the anomaly."
Cutter stared at him, seemingly surprised at the werewolf not attempting to side-line the scientists, before shaking his head and moving off. "C'mon, lad," he said, waving Connor up beside him.
Becker motioned for Blackwood and Hart to follow them. "We'll need you soon, Hart," he said. "As soon as they locate the anomaly, you'll be up for tracking any possible incursions."
Stephen grinned at him for a second, then settled into what Becker privately referred to as his "hunter mode", a shift of personality that vampires seemed to be as adept at as werewolves were with their physical shift. Watching someone turn from light-hearted amusement to total predatory concentration in a second always gave the werewolf the creeps.
The team moved as silently as possible through the thick forest, avoiding downed tree limbs and as many of the dry leaves on the forest floor as possible. Becker nodded to himself. His military team were finally starting to become a cohesive unit.
At the front, Cutter raised his hand, and Becker stepped up beside him. "You have it?" he asked softly.
Cutter nodded ahead. "It's there," he said softly. "You can just see the glint through the trees, if you look to the right of the big one."
"Okay." Becker turned to Stephen. "Hart, you and Blackwood are point now. We'll follow your lead. Get as close as you need to see if there are any tracks. But do not go through. If you need recon, then military goes first. Understood?"
Everyone nodded, to Becker's surprise, even Nick Cutter. Huh. Maybe having seen Becker and Hart talking calmly together in the break room had made the lead vampire trust the military a little more. Something to think about, anyway.
Stephen and Blackwood walked softly forward, the vampire and werewolf seemingly meshing into one cohesive unit as they searched for anything that would show the passage of a creature moving away from the glowing, circling, cloudy rip in time.
That was another thing that gave Becker the creeps. That a hole in reality, a doorway between times that were separated by millions of years, could even exist without destroying everything was something he didn't think he'd ever understand.
Stephen stopped so suddenly that Blackwood ended up two paces ahead of him, and Connor almost stepped on his heels.
"Something's come through," he said softly, dropping to one knee. "Something that's hunted." He reached out and touched a blade of grass that had a suspiciously dark stain on it. When he brought his hand back, there was what had to be a smear of blood on one finger. Lifting his hand, Stephen smelled the blood, his fangs dropping as he hissed slightly at the scent. Blackwood stepped back a pace before catching herself and moving close again.
"Creature?" she asked, and everyone immediately started looking around as Stephen nodded.
"It's a blood type that isn't modern. Whatever it was, it caught a squirrel." His fangs now hidden again, Stephen pointed to a small tuft of fur. "But the squirrel managed to get in a few good bites before it died."
He stood up. "Connor, does your database of creature prints have this?" One long-fingered hand waved toward what Becker first thought were nothing but a few smudges on the ground.
A closer look showed the werewolf that there were some three-toed prints showing. He knew what that meant. They were probably looking at raptors of some kind. Knowing he might upset the vampires a little, he moved closer and bent down. A quick sniff at the ground gave him a slight lingering tang that he thought he recognised. As he stood, he looked around and grinned internally at the differing expressions on his audience: the military looking smug, and the scientists mostly looking either confused or disgusted.
"By the scent, they're raptors," Becker said, and Stephen nodded.
"I agree. Based on the blood scent and the spoor – he broke off to look at the picture Connor was showing him on his tablet – we're probably looking at Bambiraptor."
Tally chuckled, but chopped it off when Cutter broke in.
"It might have a cute name," the vampire professor said, "but it's more like a fighting cock than a farm animal. It has nasty claws and a vicious bite." He turned to Becker. "I suggest we set up nets around the anomaly in case any more come through, and we break up into pairs to see if we can track down the – three – creatures that have come through." He nodded his thanks to Blackwood, who had given him the number.
Two and a half hours later, the exhausted and bleeding team members gathered at the anomaly with three squirming sacks piled in front of the nets.
"That was ridiculous," Tally stated, examining his still-seeping finger. "Those little bastards shouldn't have been fast enough to outpace both werewolves and vampires." He glared balefully at the bags.
Becker fought a grin. If looks could annihilate, the little creatures would have combusted by now. The captain looked around, taking stock of his team. Something made him stiffen, he wasn't sure what. Then he realised that all of the vampires were showing a little bit of fang, even quiet Abby. His eyes widened, until he caught Stephen's eye. The vampire shook his head and smirked a little.
"Sorry, guys, just an automatic reaction to all the blood. We're cool."
The werewolves all looked to Becker, who laughed. "That's fine. Right, let's toss these little buggers back where they belong. Connor, how long does the anomaly have?"
The young vampire checked his detector. "Not long now. Maybe fifteen, twenty minutes."
The teams moved forward to pick up the squirming sacks.
"Worse than a bag full of ferrets," Tally grumbled as he held the bottom of his bag, popped the rope holding the top closed, and thrust the bag forward to shoot the creature out the top of the bag and through the anomaly without a hitch.
Everyone stared at him in admiration, and the soldier blushed. "Grew up on a farm," he muttered.
"In that case, the other two are yours as well," Cutter stated, holding out his own wriggling bag.
Tally looked to Becker, who nodded. "You're doing fine with that, we'll let you go on as you started."
The general chuckling made Becker and Stephen trade glances. The vampire nodded, and Becker returned the salute.
It seemed that the two species simply needed a push from their superiors to start to be comfortable with each other.
Something for all of the team leaders to remember. Becker looked over at Cutter, who was smiling in return. The vampire professor held his gaze for a moment, then gave a slow nod as well. It was a good beginning.