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When Teren had the strength to raise himself to his feet, we searched for any trace of Malcolm's scent. For a second we had it, and thinking to follow him back to Julian, we blindly followed it. It was only when the scent ran through a sewage treatment plant that we realized Malcolm was messing with us; he hadn't been going to back to our son at all. Any trace of him was abolished in the overwhelming stench of the place, and with no scent to track and no idea of what direction to go, we tiredly headed back to our family.

Teren was quiet in the car, staring out the windows at the countryside blazing past us. Biting back the bile in my throat from the entire encounter, I watched him from the corner of my eye. His dark head resting against the seat, his eyes focused and unfocused, looking at everything while seeing none of it.

"I'm sorry about Carrie," I whispered into the silence of the vehicle. His pale eyes shifted over to me, the normal gray flecks I saw in them doing nothing to brighten their dullness. "I'm sorry that she had to die like that, I'm sorry she had to get mixed up in this at all."

Teren nodded, his gaze trailing down to his torn, dirty clothes. Idly playing with a tear in his shirt, he muttered, "No one should have to go that way." He closed his eyes, his face aging before me. "I wish he hadn't told me." Lifting his eyes to me, his face looked near tears again. "Does that make me awful? That I'd rather I didn't know how she died?"

He looked down and I reached over to put my hand over his. "No, it doesn't make you awful. It makes you normal. We don't want to think about loved ones experiencing anything so...horrible." My voice cracked on the word, my thoughts on the dark-haired, blue-eyed little boy I hadn't seen in days.

Teren sniffled, clenching my hand tight. "He won't hurt him, Em. He won't."

I nodded, my vision of the bleak highway before me hazing. I knew that he really didn't know that for sure, anymore than I did, but he had to believe it to stay sane. I had to too.

Practicing the deep calming breaths I was taught in my yoga classes, I struggled to keep a hold of my senses. I couldn't afford to break down into a blubbery mess right now. I needed to hold it together, for Julian's sake. He needed me. He needed me focused.

More in control, I looked back over to Teren. "What are you going to do?"

He sighed, knowing what I meant. Looking back at me, he shrugged. "I don't know."

I bit my lip and forced my eyes back to the road. Malcolm wanted Gabriel's head. Too weak and chicken shit to do it himself, he'd maneuvered Teren into such a spot that even Teren didn't know if he should do it or not. I couldn't have been more torn on the matter. I wanted my son back, but I didn't want my husband to commit coldblooded murder. I wanted my son back, but I didn't want to remove the man that Halina had finally let herself fall in love with, even if she couldn't say it yet. I wanted my son back, but I didn't want to sacrifice the person who had saved my life, mine and the kids. But...I wanted my son back.

"I'll support...whatever you decide," I muttered, the speech barely passing over my lips.

Teren sighed again, leaning his head back on the seat and closing his eyes. He was silent for the remainder of the drive.

We were greeted to a bustle of activity when we arrived at the ranch. Winding my way up the outrageously long driveway, I felt my daughter's anxious energy, her presence darting back and forth. A small smile cracked on Teren's face as he lifted his head and opened his eyes. He'd missed her just as much as she'd missed him. I parked next to Jack's truck and Alanna's sedan and my daughter dashed out the front doors before I could even shut the car off. Tired but eager, Teren popped his door and shuffled over to her. I slowly stepped out, giving them a moment.

As she ran to him, Teren sank to his knees. Whether too exhausted to stand, too overwhelmed with emotion, or just sinking to her level, I didn't know. She flung herself into his arms, not caring at all that he was grimy and filthy. Peppering his face with kisses, she squeaked out, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"

His arms squeezed around her tight as he exhaled, the sound seeming as if it was the first exhale he'd taken in days.

I could hear the flurry of people inside the house as I watched my husband and daughter bond. My mother and sister were in a heated conversation about hunting, about hunting vampires. Hot Ben was here too, giving his opinion on the subject. He'd been sticking close to the ranch when he wasn't out searching for Julian. He'd become frustrated with the needlelike search early on, and was itching to start knocking on doors again. My mother was trying to talk him out of it. My sister was being swayed to his side.

As a heated frustration grew in me, I balled my hands and closed my eyes, counting to ten. I'd told Ben before, and I'd have to tell him again, that we couldn't risk it. Not to bring up the fact that Teren and Ben already had some major grudges out there in the vampire community already, they weren't searching for a mysterious, mythical group of people this time. They were searching for one person, one that had my son, one that may kill him if we started rattling cages that were too close to his. And now, after meeting the man in question, I knew without a doubt that he'd take Julian's life, if it meant sparing his own.

Teren wobbly stood, Nika buried in his arms. Looking over at me with a deep frown on his face, I knew he felt the same about hunting as I did...finally. We just had too much to lose to go stirring up nests again.

Alanna greeted us at the door as we stepped inside. The scent of homecoming hit me - freesia and fresh linens - and I smiled softly at her. She gasped at the sight of her child, then engulfed him and Nika in a hug. "Teren, what have you been doing?"

She tried to remove Nika from Teren, but she was attached tight. Like a barnacle on the underside of a ship, our daughter would have to be scraped away from her father. Teren sighed and kissed her head, brushing aside his mother's concerns. "I'm fine, Mom, just tired."

She nodded and nearly dragged him towards the kitchen.

Imogen rushed out to us, rubbing Teren's back as he was shuffled forward. Nika cracked her eyes open at me, her head resting on Teren's shoulder. "Hi, Mommy," she whispered.

I smiled, rubbing my thumb over her pale, worn cheek. She looked just as tired as Teren, only all of her exhaustion was mental. Feeling Julian's constant terror was sapping the strength right out of her. It broke my heart. I wanted to give her a break from the stress, but at the same time, I didn't want to lose the connection with my son. "Hi, baby."

She smiled, closing her eyes again, content for once, in her Daddy's arms.

Stepping into the dining room, we walked into the argument that I could hear from outside. Hot Ben was pointing to a map of California spread on the table. He was pointing out locations of old nests that he and Teren had gone to years ago. I knew those nests would be abandoned by now, by Ben still wanted to try scoping them out.

"Teren and I could check these ones here." He pointed to a northeast corner of the map. "They were big last time, there might still be some people hanging around."

"It's too dangerous, Benjamin," my mother said, crossing her arms over her chest.

Ashley looked over at her. "What else can we do, Mom? Look under every rock in the State, the Country?"

Teren walked up to the table and every voice in the room quieted as they looked at him. Knowing my husband looked like he'd been on a wild bender, I wasn't too surprised when they all stared at him wide-eyed.

Glancing down at the map, Teren sniffed then looked back up at Ben. "We're not hunting." Ashley started to object and Teren sliced his eyes over to her. "It won't help. He's not hanging around other vampires. They won't know...anything."

Ben started to walk around the table as Alanna swished into the kitchen to make her son some food. "Teren, man, you never know. He has to have some connections somewhere. If we can find who's helping him..."

Teren looked over at Ben. "He will kill my son. If we look, if we stir the wrong nest, he will kill Julian." Nika sniffled, clutching Teren tighter as he patted her back. In a whisper, he added, "He's already left him starving and alone...I won't risk it."

Imogen squeezed his arm and Teren looked down at her. "How do you know?" Her pale eyes searched his frantically, the hope clear in them.

Teren looked at me behind him before shifting to take in every awaiting person. Jack held my mother's shoulders as Ashley started to tremble. Hot Ben looked between Teren and the map, silently weighing the risk. Alanna swished back into the room, her breath held and her hands empty, as she waited for her son to confess what he knew, what he'd found out. I stepped up to him, putting my hand on his back.

He sighed. "We met Malcolm today. He confessed that he left Julian with nothing, and he would let him starve to death if we...didn't do what he wanted."

Gasps and sobs filled the room. I closed my eyes, but I could still hear my mother cry softly as Jack clenched her tight. I could still hear Ashley heavily sit into a nearby chair and Hot Ben cursing under his breath as he sat beside her.

Alanna's presence stepped up to us and I peeked up at her. Her face suddenly as worn as Teren's, she shook her head, pink tears dripping off her cheeks as she did. "What does he want?"

Imogen shook her head, her eyes brimming with red tears. She wrung her hands as she looked around their home. "What do we have that he needs?" She looked about ready to hand him over the deed to the ranch, if he wanted it.

I sighed, knowing that his needs weren't material objects. Teren sighed too. Closing his eyes for a second, he wavered on his feet. With a quick kiss to his daughter's head, his eyes opened and his gaze floated around the room. "He wants me to kill Gabriel," he whispered.

Every standing body found a chair to sit in. As one, all the vampires looked east, to where we all felt Halina. She hadn't been back either, instead pushing farther and farther away from us in her search. I knew she was probably sleeping under a mound of dirt right now, and I knew she probably hated it, but she was as relentless in her quest as Teren was. And now, Teren had to decide if he was going to kill the man she save our son.

Alanna looked up at Teren. "And what are you going to do?"

Clutching Nika tight, his eyes misting, Teren shook his head. "I don't know," he whispered.

Alanna closed her eyes and nodded. Imogen beside her was shaking her head in disbelief. A ray of sun highlighted the grandmotherly vampire's face but in that moment, I more saw a concerned daughter than a loving grandparent. "You can't," she whispered, brushing a loose lock of hair back into her bun. "Mother loves can't..."

She looked up at Teren with torn eyes, her expression the same that was on my face. No, he couldn't, it was horrible, but if it was our only chance to get Julian back, should he anyway?

Everyone looked between Teren, the location Halina was, and the table. Teren silently watched everyone's reactions, tilting a bit on his feet. My arms went around him, steadying him. "Go upstairs, rest."

He shook his head, looking down on me. "I can't rest. I can't...with Julian out there."

One hand rubbing the back of my daughter's clinging shape, the other reached up to brush over his cheek. "He gave you three days, nothing will happen to Julian until then." My voice cracked but I made myself continue. "Go upstairs with Nika and try to take a nap." My hand cupped his cheek. "You're exhausted," I said pointedly, knowing I was mimicking Malcolm's last words. "And the next time we meet'll need your strength," I added quietly.

Teren closed his eyes, leaning into my hand. Nika generally fought against the idea of a nap, but her arms around him tightened as she buried her head in his neck; she wasn't letting go of Daddy anytime soon. Alanna blurred out of the room while he nodded.

He looked around at the remaining people in our home, then looked north, to where Gabriel was also searching for our son. He'd checked in with us periodically, mainly to let us know that every lead he'd gotten hadn't led anywhere. They'd been so close to nabbing Malcolm, then he'd all but disappeared. I remembered the torn bloody section of Malcolm's shirt. If only they'd finished the job in that raid...then he wouldn't have slipped away and snatched my son.

Sighing, Teren pulled his eyes from the man he'd been assigned to murder, and started to shuffle back down the hall. Everyone at the table silently watched him leave. Not able to stand the oppressive silence in the room, I followed him.

Alanna blurred out to us by the stairs, steaming thermos of blood in hand. Teren glanced at it instantly, his hand reaching out at the same time hers did. Tilting it back, he gulped it down hungrily, although not spilling any on himself this time. I watched his thirst, tears in my eyes. He'd been putting himself through so much, just to keep up the impossible task of finding our son.

Tears in her own eyes, Alanna took back the container once he was finished. "Do you want some more?" she asked quietly, her voice shaky as she brushed some hair off his forehead. The movement was so similar to how I always brushed hair out of Julian's eyes that my throat choked up.

Teren sighed, shaking his head. "No, thank you, Mom. I just want to lie down." He staggered on his feet and Alanna nodded. I ran my hand over his back and urged him upstairs. He needed to rest before he simply fell over.

With his head resting against Nika's, I led him to our room. I thought to help him clean up, but Nika wouldn't disengage from him long enough for him to strip his clothes off. I tried to gently pull her off, but she whined and shook her head, clutching him tighter.

Teren shook his head at me. "It's okay." He shrugged and sat down on the bed with her. Swallowing the emotion in my throat, I took off his shoes and helped him shift under the covers with the lump of our daughter attached to his chest. She didn't relax her rigidness until they were snuggled to get


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