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Teren's phone call to Gabriel was brief and to the point. He didn't want to give away any of his turmoil to the ancient vampire. Our only chance to make this work was to catch Gabriel completely off guard. And that, of course, was why Malcolm had chosen Teren for this assignment. One, we had something of tremendous value to lose, and two, we could get Gabriel alone. He trusted us, regarded us as family. He'd never suspect that we'd betray him, not after everything he'd done for us.

I hated that we would, if we had no other choice.

Teren sat on the bottom step of the staircase, waiting for Gabriel to arrive. I'd heard their conversation. Gabriel was anxious to see what Teren had found and was speeding south to us. He'd been in one of his specially designed cars, so he could drive around without pain in direct sunlight. Even still, he wouldn't be at our door until morning.

Watching Teren finger the stake in his hands, I figured he'd stay in that spot until morning, contemplating. Averting their attention from the stake in his palm, I saw my mother and sister off to bed. When Teren didn't even acknowledge them as they passed by on the second staircase, I assured them that his distraction was only due to his worry for our lost child. I heard them up in their room later though, debating if his introspection was only because of Julian, or if he was actually considering Malcolm's plan. I didn't let them know that he was. That we both were.

Sitting beside him on the stair, I put my hand on his lap and rested my head on his shoulder. A soft sigh was his only reaction as he continually stroked the weapon in his hands.

Somewhere in leaning against him, my own exhaustion swept over me and I fell asleep. I woke up when I heard tires crunching over the gravel on the driveway. Blinking, I lifted my head off of Teren's shoulder; he hadn't moved at all since he'd sat down there, right after calling Gabriel. I watched him as I listened to two cars pulling up. I knew who was in the cars, I could feel them. It wasn't Gabriel yet, it was the evening search party returning, most likely empty handed.

Teren and I both glanced at the front door at the same time, right as it opened. A worn and weary Imogen walked through, shaking her head as she met our gaze. I nodded and swallowed hard; I hadn't really been expecting them to find him anyway. Alanna and Jack came through next, also looking worn and dejected. Alanna couldn't meet our eye, only stared at the floor in front of us and muttered that they found nothing - no trail, no clue, no scent.

Even though it was expected, tears still stung my eyes. If only we could find the hole he'd been thrust into, then Teren wouldn't have to do the awful thing he felt he had to do. Jack sighed wearily as he strode into the room, Alanna closing the doors behind the trio. My un-beating heart cracked at yet another door being closed on my missing baby.

The aging rancher stepped up to the pair of us, looking even more worn than Alanna and Imogen. As I watched the lines on his face seemingly deepen right before me, I suddenly saw the mortality of Teren's father. He was aging, daily, and it was beginning to show. His hair was more touched with gray than it had been the first time I'd met him, and his joints creaked as he sat on the step beside Teren.

I was sure he was still a good couple of decades away from the grave, but still, that was his path. A path he'd chosen. Placing an arm around his son, he exhaled heavily as he stared at the stake in Teren's hands. "What are you thinking, Teren?" he asked softly.

His question got the attention of Imogen and Alanna and they pulled their gazes from the sun rising in the east to look our way. Not having Teren's or my ability to walk freely in the sunshine all day, they'd had to call off their search early, and it clearly bothered them. Although, as they noticed what Teren was twisting in his palms, they looked even more bothered.

As they stepped in front of him, Teren shifted his eyes to his dad. Speaking for the first time in hours, he whispered, "I don't know what to do, Dad. I don't know what not to do either." Teren's eyes continuously searched his father's, perhaps looking for an answer in them.

Jack sighed, running a hand over his mouth. His eyes glossy, he shook his head. "I can't tell you that, son. I don't know either. For once, this area is just too gray."

Imogen stepped forward. "No, it isn't. Gabriel is a person, ancient or not." She lifted her chin. "And we don't kill people."

Teren looked up to his grandmother, his face as aged as his father's from his inner struggle. I looked up at Imogen too. I could see her youthful chin tremble as she swiped loose stands of jet-black hair behind her ears. Her statement wasn't entirely accurate, and she knew that. Halina would kill, if the mood strikes her, and if she found a victim she deemed worth the death. And Imogen herself had even taken a life or two, although she was deeply remorseful for her actions. But I understood her sentiment. No one in the family wanted to take part in the murder of a good man. And beneath all the power and detached scientific demeanor, Gabriel was a good person. A person that had saved my life. That's what I wanted to believe about him anyway.

Seeing the debate in Teren's features, Imogen shook her head. "Mother loves him. If you kill him...I don't know what she would do."

Her voice was quiet but it seemed to crash around the house. This was something I hadn't considered. Halina could be...fiery when she got upset. Killing the man that she was in love with would certainly upset her. How far would she take that anger? Anger she'd admitted to me that she purposely forged to survive. Would she take vengeance out on her own grandson? I wasn't sure...but what other choice did we have?

Teren's eyes slid over to mine. I could see my thoughts reflected in the pale blue depths. He didn't know what Halina would do either, but again, we were out of options.

As Alanna stepped forward, placing her arm on her mother's, Teren opened his mouth to speak. He stopped when the sound of more tires crushing over gravel filled all of our ears.

I stood up along with Teren. Alanna and Imogen twisted to look at the front door and Jack, seeing all of the vampires reacting to something he couldn't yet perceive, stood as well.

Feeling Halina still miles away from here, stationary as she hid out the day, I knew that it was Gabriel approaching us. Teren's target was coming within range. He'd never get another chance to take him by surprise like he would right now. Teren took a step towards the door, shoving the silver piece in his back pocket and hiding it with shirt. Imogen grabbed his arm as he walked past. "There has to be another way," she whispered.

Teren's eyes dull and lifeless, he shrugged. "If you know of one...tell me now, because I don't see another option at this point." His eyes swept the room, swept over the faces of the people he'd do nearly anything to protect. "Do any of you?" he whispered.

No one answered him.

Exhaling softly, he twisted to walk to the front door. Without pausing, he opened it with his left hand, his right snaking around behind him to rest on the spike there. I wanted to hold my breath, I wanted to beg him to stop, I wanted to shout a warning to Gabriel...but I couldn't, my son's life was at stake. And I knew it was wrong, I knew I'd hate myself every day, but if I was being forced to choose between Julian and Gabriel...there was no choice.

Imogen grabbed my hand, clenching it hard while Alanna grabbed Jack. Trying to seem bereaved but not anxious, we all breathlessly watched Teren swing the door open. I was suddenly grateful my heart was no longer beating. Surely the rapid, thumping beat would have made Gabriel suspicious.

The intrinsic beauty of Gabriel was the first thing I noticed. He was tall and trim, well shaped, with sandy brown hair and sharply green eyes. His face was flawless among human standards. Among vampires, that could see faults and imperfections that humans couldn't, he was astounding.

Frowning slightly as he stepped through the door, out of the sunlight that would eventually irritate his skin, he grasped Teren's elbow, his right elbow. Teren stiffened and twisted around so his back was to the door as Gabriel stepped into the room. For a moment I thought that Gabriel somehow knew, but then he spoke.

"What did you find, Teren? Can I see it?" His voice was rushed, eager, as his jade eyes searched my husband's.

Teren took a step back from him, regarding him for a moment. Gabriel released his hand from Teren and tilted his head, watching Teren and then twisting to watch us. "What happened?" he asked calmly, the scientific detachment back in his voice.

I bit my lip, too afraid of answering, of even moving. Everyone around me was equally silent and still and the room quickly filled with tension. Before I shut off my breathing, the sharp scent of pine drifted to me from Gabriel, like he'd been out searching forests. I instantly wondered if that was where my son could be, shoved in a cold, dark cave, alone and terrified. My eyes watered, hoping this sacrifice would be worth it.

Gabriel's eyes slowly swung back to Teren, right as Teren brought his stake wielding hand around. As I clenched my hand around Imogen's, Teren whispered, "I'm so sorry."

Gabriel's eyes widened as he watched the silver streaking towards his heart. He took a step back, but Teren lunged forward. His eyes wide, but unafraid, Gabriel seemed completely thrown. As the beginning of a sob rose up my throat, Teren jabbed the point into Gabriel's chest...and completely stopped moving.

My cry fumbling in my throat, I swallowed and scrunched my brows, confused. Everybody else seemed confused too as nervous shifting sounded around me. I could see that the sharp stake had cut the expensive fabric of Gabriel's shirt, but I couldn't see any blood; Teren had only pierced his clothing, halting his momentum before slicing through skin and bone. His arm shaking, he held the stake over Gabriel's heart.

Gabriel's eyes flicked to the near mortal wound he'd almost received then back up to Teren, shaking with restraint in front of him.

He jaw trembling so bad his worlds came out stuttered, Teren murmured, "Give me a reason. Give me a reason to not give Malcolm what he wants. Give me a reason to not kill you...please," he added, his face softening.

Gabriel blinked, but didn't move. "Is that what he wants? My your hand?" His lips lifted fractionally. "Clever, I didn't see that coming." Teren pressed forward a smidge with the stake and Gabriel sighed, not seeming to be worried in the slightest that he was a shove away from death. He shook his head, his face sagging. "I have no reason that will be worth the price of your son, Teren." He lifted his shoulders. "You should kill me."

Teren bunched his body, the tendons in his forearm straining with his resolve to do it, but still he balked, his eyes flicking over Gabriel's. Tilting his head, Gabriel looked at him calmly. "I have lived a long time, Teren. Several lifetimes have passed me by. I would not blame you, if you chose to end my life so your son could live." He raised his eyebrows. "But ultimately, this price will be yours. The question isn't really whether or not I should die. It's whether or not you should kill me. Do you want that weight?"

Teren blinked, then dropped the stake. It clanged to the marble floor, hurting my ears. I immediately rushed up to Teren as he slumped, looking a little sick. Throwing my arms around his waist, I helped him stay standing when he looked like he wanted to sink to the floor. Feeling the emotional resolve draining from him, my eyes started stinging. I didn't want my husband to take a life either, but he'd just shut the door on our only chance to get Julian back.

Teren's entire body started shaking. "I'm sorry, Emma. I can't..."

I squeezed him tight, kissing his head."I know. I love you because you can't."

He nodded solemnly while Gabriel watched us. Pressing his lips into a hard line, Gabriel stared down at the stake on the floor. "You spoke with Malcolm?"

He cocked an eyebrow at us and I nodded. "He found us while we were searching for Julian. Told Teren that he would let him star..." I choked and had to start again, "starve to death if we didn't deliver you to him...dead."

Teren looked up at Gabriel, guilt in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do."

Gabriel dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "I don't blame you, Teren. If my own children were placed in harm's way, I'd have made the same choice." He smiled slightly as his eyes got a faraway look, one I registered with him checking in on his distant family. "Any father would," he said quietly.

Frowning, Gabriel shook his head. "There is no clue, is there?"

Teren frowned as well, his body relaxing as the turmoil and guilt released. "No, I just needed you to come over."

Gabriel sighed and nodded. Walking over to the fountain of the crying woman, he swiped his thumb over her never-ending tears. "Yes, well, I'm sorry to hear that." He looked up at Teren as we all took a step towards him. "Since taking your son, Malcolm has fallen off the grid I had in place. It's quite possible that the brief moment you had with him, is the only time he's surfaced. Wherever he is hiding, it is deep and remote."

Gabriel cracked a small smile. "It must be torture for him. He always preferred living extravagantly, right in the middle of human life. A wolf among sheep." He twisted his head to Jack, the only pure human in the room. "No offense." He nodded his head politely.

Jack's eyes widened but he shook his head. "None taken. I know what we some of you."

Gabriel smirked and shrugged. Teren released himself from me and took a step forward to stand on the other side of the fountain. "Malcolm told me some things about you, about your early research. Was any of that true?"

Gabriel stared at him silently, his green eyes clearly processing. "I'm assuming he painted me in an unsavory light for you? Told you I slaughtered hundreds of our kind, to develop a drug that, to him, never produced the results I was looking for?"

Teren nodded and looked over at me. Malcolm had made Gabriel seem quite cold, and we knew he could be...distant at times.

Gabriel sighed and shrugged. "I won't lie, some vampires were inadvertently killed along the way, although, not nearly as many as he probably made you believe." He smiled softly, shaking his head. "Several of them were my friends. They all either had something to gain by trying the drug," he looked up at Teren, "or nothing to lose." He shook his head again. "But either way, they all volunteered, they all knew the risks. I forced this on no one, Teren, no one. And each death was respected, cataloged, analyzed, mistakes were vampire's sacrifice was taken for granted."

Looking away, Teren scowled and closed his eyes. Slowly returning them to Gabriel, he asked, "Then what is it between you and Malcolm? Why did he leave you? Why does he have such resentment...?"

Gabriel laughed softly. "Did he call me a cult leader? That was always his favorite description." His eyes locked to the fountain, watching the water twist and slide down the marble woman's body. "Malcolm, at first, wanted to help with the drug, wanted to help our kind." He shook his head, fingering the water again. "But whenever I brought in another vampire out of the cold, gave them food and shelter, a safe place to convert, he grew a little...jealous." His eyes came back up to Teren's. "He wanted the attention, he wanted the accolade, but...he was demanding in his attempt to get it."

Gabriel sighed and stepped back. His eyes shifting around the ranch, the ranch he'd altered to help the mixed inside, he shook his head. "I only ever tried to help. The attention, the adoration, I never asked for it." Sighing, he looked over to me. "Maybe I should have tried harder to dissuade the follower mentality, but, the research was my focus. And if the people I brought in deferred to me, the nest was calm."

Smiling, he looked over to Alanna and Imogen. "And, as you know, a calm nest is a happy nest." Shrugging, he twisted to Teren. "We are a social species. We generally clump together if possible, deferring to one leader, generally the eldest, though not always."

The slight smile fell off his face. "But Malcolm resented the affection that he could not create through force. Over time, that resentment turned nasty...made him bitter." Gabriel sighed. "I think the final straw for Malcolm was when it became clear that I would never charge our brethren for my assistance."

Gabriel looked out the windows, over the fields. "I had money, whoever joined with me, contributed to the wealth of the family, but that wasn't enough for Malcolm. He saw dollar signs with our work...I disagreed."

Swinging his eyes back to Teren, Gabriel shrugged. "When our disagreements disrupted the research, we parted ways. It was mostly an amicable split...on my part at least."

His head down, he shook it. "I had no idea he stole from me before he left." He peeked up at Teren. "He knew what that version of the formula did, he knew that I never wanted that mixture released...and he took it anyway." His face softened as his usually impartial eyes filled with emotion. "He still saw dollar signs...and our brothers and sisters paid the price." His sad eyes flicked down Teren's body, remembering that Teren had paid that price.


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