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by Wes Leigh

Chapter 16

Without love, our earth is a tomb.

-- Robert Browning

Daniel felt drops falling on his cheeks. Some of the drops landed on his lips, seeping into his mouth, touching his tongue. Salty? Were those tears?

He felt warmth on each side of him, arms embracing him.

He remembered pain, the greatest he'd ever known.

He remembered uttering two words: I… cherish… and then nothing more.

He remembered a soft bed and hands gently bathing his body and lips softly kissing his face. Yes, those must have been tears falling upon his cheeks. Tears of loved ones crying out in anguish and drawing him back from a distant place, back into a torn body that didn't want to accept him at first, but his soul would not be denied. The love of his mates had pulled him from death's door. How could he not return?

His lungs drew in a slow and painful breath. Careful, his body demanded. Still healing. Slowly blow out. Now breathe in again. Deeper this time.

His lungs responded to the unspoken commands, sending oxygen to the heart that was now cautiously beating, its torn chambers restored. The heart summoned more blood, refilled, then pushed the life-restoring elixir out into his body.

Again his mind spoke. Stronger this time. I… cherish… you… both.

Connor felt movement underneath his arm. He lifted his head and looked across Daniel's body to see Xavier asleep on the other side.

Daniel's chest rose ever so slightly, then fell.

Connor sat up, blinking his eyes in surprise. Daniel's mouth opened slightly and sucked in a shallow breath of air before blowing it back out again.

Then Connor heard it. Daniel's mental whisper. I… cherish… you… both.

Xavier sat up, shaking his head. He looked at Connor, baffled. "Just now… I thought I heard his voice, Connor. I suppose I'm just hearing what I want to hear, but it seemed so real." Xavier looked down at Daniel and watched as Daniel took another slow, shallow breath. Xavier gasped and burst into tears.

Connor grabbed Xavier's hand, tears pouring down both their faces, as they watched Daniel breathing deeper with each passing moment. Color returned to his face and lips. His eyes fluttered and opened. His bright blue eyes. Looking up at them, seeing them, recognizing them, adoring them.

With more forcefulness now, Daniel thought, My loves, I cherish you both.

Xavier lifted Daniel's hand to his lips and kissed it. Daniel, oh my sweet Daniel. I thought we'd lost you.

Connor stroked Daniel's cheek. You're back with us, m'love, and I'll never let you go. Never again.

Daniel smiled. Where are we? he asked.

The cabin, Xavier replied.

Our cabin? Daniel asked, his lips curling up in the smallest of grins.

Where else would we be? Connor asked.

Daniel turned his head slightly, looking around. Daniel's voice was raspy as he asked, "What happened to me?"

Xavier shook his head. "There's no point in talking about that now, Daniel. It doesn't matter. You're alive and getting better, and that's all you need concern yourself with."

Connor agreed. "I will say this, Big D. No werewolf ever suffered such an injury and survived."

"Then I guess it's a good thing I'm a vaewolf," Daniel said with a twinkle in his eye. Then his eyes teared up as he grabbed Connor and Xavier by the hand. A vaewolf who is loved by his soulmates.

To the grave and beyond, Xavier replied, squeezing Daniel's hand.

Daniel smiled contentedly, then cut his eyes over to Connor. "Connor, is there any more of that tomato soup?"

Connor snorted and looked at Xavier. "He must be feeling better." Connor stood up to get Daniel a cup of deer's blood, while Xavier leaned in to kiss Daniel's cheek.

"Rest now," Xavier whispered. "We'll take good care of you."

Daniel woke up to the sound of voices whispering. He opened his eyes and saw Xavier and Connor talking to several other kids from school. When they realized he was awake, Xavier came up and sat on the edge of the bed. He took Daniel's hand and squeezed it gently, asking, "Do you feel up to a few visitors?"

Daniel nodded. "Sure. Who is it?"

"A few of our friends. Regina and Sebastian and Ethan and Donny."

Connor led them up to the bed. "When they heard you were alive, everyone wanted to come. We told 'em to pick a few people. Didn't wanna overwhelm you, m'love."

Regina seemed very unsure of herself. She kept glancing around the room nervously, but finally looked down at Daniel and said, "We had to come tell you how grateful we are. We owe you our lives, Daniel."

Daniel shook his head slightly. "No, you don't, Regina."

"We do," she said, her voice gaining strength as she gained confidence. "If you hadn't warned us, more of us would have died there."

"She's right," Sebastian said. He was a senior whom Daniel didn't know well, since they had no classes together. "Some of us didn't make it, but it would have been far worse if it hadn't been for you."

Daniel frowned. Looking up at Connor, he said, "You didn't tell me—"

Connor put his finger across Daniel's lips. "Shhh, Big D. It wasn't important. There was nothing we could do to change it, and you needed to rest and heal, so we didn't tell you that part."

Daniel closed his eyes in pain. "How many?" he asked.

Connor sniffed. "Two werewolves… Jacob and Joshua. And four vampires. Gregor, Gabrielle, Dominic, and Michaelo."

Regina sobbed. "Ellise may not make it. We'll know in a day or two."

Daniel took a deep breath and asked, "And the elders?"

The teens looked at each other, none of them willing to speak. Ethan said, "Several of them also died."

"Because of me?" Daniel asked.

Ethan nodded reluctantly.

Daniel turned his head and looked out the cabin window. "I didn't want to hurt anyone," he whispered. "I just wanted to give you guys time to get away."

Donny reached down and squeezed Daniel's foot beneath the blanket. "And that's exactly what you did, bro. You saved far more lives than you took, and all of us are grateful for it."

Daniel closed his eyes again. "What good is it to have the powers I have if people still keep dying?"

Connor motioned with his head for the others to leave.

Regina leaned down and kissed Daniel on the cheek. "We have those powers too, Daniel." She smiled and stood up. Sebastian took her hand and they teleported out of the cabin.

Donny wiggled Daniel's toes again and said, "The only difference between you and us… is you used your powers to make a difference. We've been goin' along, acceptin' things the way they are. You didn't do that. You stood up to them."

Ethan squeezed Daniel's knee. "Get used to bein' a hero, Danny Boy. You've inspired us to fix this mess our families have created. For now, you just rest and get better. We'll be seein' you." Ethan and Donny stood up and walked out the cabin door, closing it behind them.

Daniel looked at Xavier and Connor, puzzled. What's going on, guys?

They grinned and Xavier said, You'll see. Go back to sleep.

The Silvermane Pack gathered in the Great Hall of the hunting lodge. Tensions were running high as they waited for Andreas' deadline. And there was still no sign of Connor.

Gabi and Andreas sat in high backed chairs on each side of the main fireplace. Andreas was getting stronger. His eyes were bright, and he was eager to see who would challenge him for leadership of the pack, now that it appeared Connor would not return. Andreas pulled the blankets tighter around his chest. He couldn't seem to get warm enough, probably the result of the wounds he'd suffered. Where was that boy?

Several of the older, stronger wolves were edging forward, looking sideways at each other, trying to decide who would step up and who would slink away.

Donny and Ethan waited impatiently, eager to see the changes that would be coming. They had talked to the other younger members of the pack, and all of them were on board with Connor's plan. Ethan glanced at the clock hanging over the fireplace mantle. It was time.

The main doors of the lodge slammed open and a wind gust blew leaves inside. The pack turned as one and saw Connor striding through. He walked down the steps into the Great Hall and stopped, looking at each of the pack members gathered there. Last of all, he looked at Donny and Ethan, who were smiling with fierce grins at seeing him return.

Connor nodded. The brothers stepped forward and gripped his forearms, then walked behind him, making it clear to the rest of the pack that they were Connor's lieutenants.

Connor walked forward until he stood before his father and mother.

"So you've returned," Andreas growled, hope kindling in his eyes when he saw the determination in Connor's. "Will you take your place at the head of the pack?"

"I will," Connor replied.

Andreas sighed with relief, then closed his eyes and bared his neck to Connor. He waited for the bite that would take his life and establish Connor as alpha, but the bite never came. He opened his eyes and looked up at Connor, puzzled.

"I said I wouldn't do that, Pa. And I stand by m'word."

"You must," Andreas snarled. "It is our way!"

"It will no longer be our way," Connor said. He turned and looked at the rest of the pack. "I AM ALPHA!" he shouted. "Does anyone challenge me?"

One by one, the rest of the pack lowered their eyes and stared at the floor.

Turning to Andreas, Connor said. "I am now the pack alpha, Father. I claim your spot as leader of the Silvermanes. Do you dispute my claim?"

Andreas stared hard at his son, concerned that he had raised a rogue. Would he have to fight the boy after all, to save the pack from unhealthy changes and return it to the safety of tradition? But Andreas didn't have it in him. He was too tired, too hurt. He lowered his eyes and submitted to Connor.

Connor growled, "There are no challengers. Listen, Silvermanes, this is the way of the pack." Connor shifted into full wolf form and howled, then shifted back to human form and snarled, "The war is over. We will not fight the vampires."

Upon hearing this proclamation, several in the pack began to whine and whimper. One of the boldest moved forward, looking up cautiously at Connor, and asked, "Are we to let them slaughter us then?"

Connor shook his head, speaking compassionately now. "You and your pups will be safe. There will be no slaughter, but there will also be no war."

The elder lycans began sidling closer, angling for an opening. The one who first spoke said, "Weakness in our alpha will not protect our pups."

Several of the younger members of the pack stood up and walked to stand behind Connor, Donny, and Ethan. They looked back at the elders, making it clear that they supported Connor fully.

"AM I ALPHA?" Connor shouted.

The elders whimpered and bowed their heads. All refused to look Connor in the eye.

The vampires gathered in full conclave in the town convention center. No humans were allowed, not that any would have wanted to be there. Minerva wanted the entire Covenant present, to hear how they would press the war against the lycans.

When all were gathered, Minerva stood up and lifted her hands for quiet. "This is how we shall proceed," she began, but before she could continue, Xavier teleported into the hall, standing just behind her.

Several vampires hissed, causing Minerva to turn and face Xavier.

She laughed, soft and low. "You return then? To beg for mercy? For, I warn you, it may not be forthcoming."

Xavier shook his head. "I ask for no mercy. I ask for a vote of confidence."

Minerva was stunned at first, then she began laughing. "You would try to have me removed as Executor? You? A disgusting rebel?" She laughed again and shrugged as she sat down. "Very well. Present your case, Xavier. I'm sure we'll all find it amusing."

Xavier took a moment to look around the room. He saw hostile glares from the elder vampires and hopeful expressions from his peers. He shook his head sadly. "There are several missing who should hear what I have to say."

Minerva hissed. "There is no one missing. I called from a full Conclave. All are present."

"NOT ALL!" Xavier shouted. "Where is Gregor? Where is Dominic? Gabrielle? Ellise? Michaelo? Where are they, Minerva?" Minerva glared at him, her eyes beginning to glow slightly. Xavier clinched his teeth, staring back at her with eyes blazing red with fury. "They are not here, not able to participate in this Conclave, because your foolish arrogance resulted in their deaths! We, who should be immortal, are now diminished in number today, because several of our sisters and brothers lie ripped and torn, from a battle that was not necessary."

Minerva stood up and screamed, "WHO ARE YOU TO SAY WHAT WAS NOT NECESSARY?"

"I am the Executor Elect of this Covenant!" Xavier exclaimed. "I was duly elected to the office by a Full Conference of the Family. And yet you called a secret meeting of a few members of this Covenant with our enemies, the Silvermane Pack, without consulting with me, your deputy and second in command. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN INVOLVED, MINERVA! Whether I would have agreed with the actions you took or not, you bypassed the doctrines of the family to hold an illegal war, resulting in the death of those under your care, and for that and that alone, your place as Executor should be forfeit!"

Minerva laughed and began clapping slowly, mocking Xavier. "So passionate. And yet so logical. How ironic it is that you who helped create an abomination would now insist that I follow the least letter of the law. Well, if you are quite finished presenting your reason for having me step down as leader of this Covenant, all that remains is for you to try to take my place, which you cannot do, because you cannot nominate yourself, and I'm sure no one here would be foolish enough to make such a motion."

Regina stood up. "I nominate Xavier Finton-Smyth to the office of Executor of the Covenant."

Minerva slowly turned and glared at Regina, making it clear that the foolish girl would pay dearly for her action.

"You have no second," Minerva hissed.

Sebastian rose to his feet. "I second the nomination."

Next to Sebastian, his parents also stood. His father said, "I stand in support of the nomination."

An elderly female vampire stood to her feet. "As do I," she said. "In my 2400 years on this planet, never have I seen such imprudent and dangerous actions by our Executor."

All around the room, teen vampires stood up, throwing their support behind Xavier.

Minerva spat, "You are all fools to follow this fledgling. He will lead you to disaster."

They stared at her, refusing to respond to her venom.

"If you do this thing," Minerva hissed, "Edward and I will leave this Covenant and never return."

Edward rolled his eyes and said, "Give it a rest, Minerva. You've lost."

One year later…

September 3

This is unbelievable. Coach just called to tell me he wants me to start at quarterback for our first game of the season. With Timothy Dale graduating last year, the starting spot was wide open. I never thought I'd stand a chance, even with Connor and the rest of the guys working with me all summer. They taught me plays, helped me to use my vaewolf powers without making it obvious, and showed me how to recognize defensive schemes just by glancing at the way the players line up. For a guy who had never played football my entire life, I was surprised by how quickly I picked it up. I suppose I always had the mental ability to play quarterback, but not the speed or stamina required. As a vaewolf, I have those in good measure. LOL.

So yeah. I'm starting at quarterback this Friday. Can you FUCKING BELIEVE IT? My dad is freaking out, he's so proud of me. Mom is too, but of course she's worried I'll break something. I may. In fact, I did already. My arm twice. My leg once. During practice. Coach reset things and waited for my body to heal up, then sent me back in for the next play. Mom never found out, and she never will. I'm good at keeping secrets.

The cabin on the hill is officially off limits to everyone except Connor, Xavier, and me. Connor won't let anyone else use it. We've turned it into our special place, where the three of us grow deeper in love with each passing day. We've thought about telling everyone that we're going to live there all the time, but I'd rather not rock the boat with my parents. They probably wouldn't understand, since I'm only fifteen.

Oh, hey! I turn sixteen in two weeks. Gonna be a big party at the old, abandoned mill. Some of the parents fixed it up and turned it into a kind of community center for young people. There is foosball, ping pong, and other cool stuff in there. For my party, I've been kept in the dark. I have no idea what Connor and Xavier have planned, but they keep dropping hints that it will be the party of the century. I'm looking forward to it.

It's been a good week. Hell, it's been a good year. Moving to Agony was the best thing that ever happened to me!

As long as I'm writing about good things happening to me, something kind of good but also kind of weird happened a few days ago. I ran into this new kid who's just starting high school. His name is Diego Ruiz. He's amazingly cute, but a little shy. We have Algebra together, and he and I were paired up in class yesterday. We were supposed to be working on problems, but we spent most of the class getting to know each other. I can't explain it. There just seems to be a natural connection between us. Xavier and Connor noticed it too. Xavier said it feels like the same connection they had with me when I first moved to town. Connor agreed. Now we're all wondering if it's possible for a soulbond to exist between four people.

Connor suggested we have a campout in a few weeks and invite Diego. Once we get to know him better, we can decide what we should do.

Diego quivered with anticipation, turning his head to thrust his tongue between Xavier's lips. Xavier returned the kiss with equal fervency, holding the young teen's face between his hands as they made out.

Connor snuggled up behind Diego, slowly sliding his thick cock along the crease of Diego's ass. The boy had become addicted to Connor's cock, always insisting that Connor make love to him every time the four of them snuck out to the cabin together.

Daniel kissed Diego's side, his stomach, his dark, curly pubic patch. Then Daniel gently nibbled on Diego's short, uncircumcised cock. Diego moaned into Xavier's mouth, pulling away to say, "I'm ready, guys. Where are you going to bite me, Daniel?"

"Where do you want it?" Daniel asked. "On your cock?" He gently nipped Diego's foreskin, making the boy twitch and moan. Daniel slid up Diego's body and nibbled on his collarbone. "Or on your neck?" He moved down to bite gently on Diego's light brown shoulder. "Or maybe here?" Daniel rubbed Diego's hip. "It's entirely up to you, little brother."

Diego shrugged. "I trust you, Daniel. You choose."

Daniel smiled and scooted down, turning Diego's leg slightly to expose the smooth inner surface of his thigh. He concentrated for a moment, causing his fangs to extend down, and gently bit into Diego's leg, injecting the vaewolf venom into the femoral artery.

Xavier continued to kiss Diego as he gasped briefly, then closed his eyes and lost consciousness. Connor squeezed Diego from behind, holding him secure as the venom flowed through his body, changing him into the second vaewolf to be born in their century.

Daniel gently kissed the spot where he had bitten Diego, watching carefully as the wound closed and healed. Diego wasn't aware of it yet, but Daniel could already feel the beginning of the deep connection between them as soulbound mates.

Sleep, Diego, Daniel silently whispered. We'll be here for you when you awake.

Podcast Host: Welcome back to the Rob Ransom Report. Today's topic… Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Living Among Us? My guest today claims to have personal knowledge of the existence of these creatures of the night. He says he moved to a small town and found it inhabited by werewolves AND vampires BOTH, and that he even attends high school with them (scoffing laughter). Now at his request, we've disguised his voice to protect his identity, because—let me just say—this guy has some explosive revelations to share. Okay, so in our last segment, we were talking about vampires and werewolves living in small communities all across the nation.

Podcast Guest: (voice digitally altered) That's right, Rob.

Host: Any particular town you want to name?

Guest: (laughter) No, that wouldn't be a good idea.

Host: I suppose not. So if I live in a small town, how can I find out if my next door neighbor is a werewolf.

Guest: Werewolves don't live in town. They prefer to live on farms and in hunting lodges outside of town.

Host: I guess that makes sense. Easier access to prey.

Guest: Right.

Host: Got it. So I'm safe from werewolves if I don't live in the country. But what about in town where the vampires live? Do I look for a coffin in my neighbor's bedroom? How do I know I'm not living next to a blood-sucking monster who wants to make me into a vampire?

Guest: You've been watching too many movies, Rob. (laughter) It doesn't work that way.

Host: Do vampires have little baby bats or what? How do they reproduce?

Guest: Rob, what I meant was, vampires don't suck your blood to convert you into a vampire. They inject serum into your body, and it changes you.

Host: Ah, I see. And werewolves? They don't bite you to make you into a werewolf?

Guest: Yes, it does work that way for lycans. Their bite infects you with lycanthropy, changing you into a werewolf. But they also reproduce like humans, having pups.

Host: Well, so if you –

Guest: (interrupting) Vaewolves are kind of a mixture of the two. They inject venom, which then turns you into a vaewolf too. I don't know yet if vaewolves can have baby vaewolves.

Host: Vaewolf. That's a new one on me.

Guest: Yeah, half werewolf, half vampire. Vaewolf.

Host: (mocking laughter) I'm kind of surprised, Dan— oops, sorry, almost said my guest's name. Ummm, where was I? Oh, yeah, so you can have werewolves and vampires get busy in bed (more laughter) and create a—what did you call it?

Guest: A vaewolf.

Host: Right, a vaewolf. Well, I have to say, all the legends must be completely wrong. I thought vampires and werewolves were mortal enemies.

Guest: Not always. Sometimes they become friends.

Host: How is that even possible?

Guest: How can werewolves become friends with vampires?

Host: Yes.

Guest: They just need the right connection, something… or someone… to bring them together.

Host: Are you saying you've seen werewolves cooperating with vampires?

Guest: (a short pause) Rob… I've seen people turn hatred that was tearing their world apart into deep friendship and eventually love. I've seen love so strong it overcame death itself. Why is it so hard to imagine werewolves cooperating with vampires?

Host: (chuckling) Okay, well maybe we should put you in charge of the planet. You seem to have a knack for extreme diplomacy.

Guest: (pausing before replying) Maybe we should, Rob.

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