Grove could remember the exact moment he saw her. A pale, scrawny girl with blond hair and burning blue eyes, demanding that they teach her to be a Hunter. Borgoth had laughed at her, told her to go play with her dolls and to leave Hunting to the men.
That was, until her dagger sheared off an inch of his hair.
She was magnificent, even at twelve, and determined to do what she said. The Marcus Brothers were supposed to be the best in the business, she only wanted to learn from the best; and she wouldn't take no for an answer. Which wasn't to say Borgoth didn't try. The girl followed them through two towns, always asking the same thing while showing some of her talents. She already knew how to throw a knife, hunt, and track, but so could just about every other child in the Frontier. Harsh conditions demanded you learn how to survive early. Every time she showed them something else, Borgoth or Nolt would pick her up and take her to the nearest person in authority, usually the mayor or a deputy, and tell them that one of their urchins was trying to jump ship.
She didn't give up, though. The second time she found them they were a day's ride from anything resembling civilization. Grove had felt real fear for her then, they all had. The girl was fearless, though, acted like they were standing on a village green in the middle of harvest. So she had guts, that much was certain, but it still wasn't enough.
The one that made them hire her was something she didn't think was useful. It was one that made Nolt stand up and take notice, one that demanded Borgoth's attention.
The girl could fix anything.
Not just tighten a loose screw, or follow a blueprint. Leila (she never gave any other name), could put together a flux converter from scratch if she had the right tools, and knew how to improvise if she didn't. She built her own sidearm; a gun that used compressed energy and air to rip holes through everything but the sturdiest metals. It was the gun, and the fact that she fixed the tank's atomic core free of charge, that made Borgoth take her on.
And was she eager to learn.
Grove was fifteen when she found them, and had already been Hunting for the better part of three years, ever since they learned his particular talent. Until that day he despaired that he'd never be as strong as his brothers. Even Kyle, lanky and thin, was still strong enough to be useful. It was an accident how they found out exactly what he could do. They were staying in a village when he started to seize. He remembered looking down at his body, then at his brothers, who stood around his convulsing form gaping up at him, when he could see himself down there. Fear gripped him, and he let out a volley that damaged the exterior wall of their quarters.
Astral Projectors were rare, one of his strength unheard of, and they used it to their advantage. Part of Leila's duties after being taken on was to make sure that he, the frailest of their group, came back when they sent him out. The first time he woke up from a flatline, blue eyes watching him half in fear, half in wonder, he knew he was in love.
A fact that his brothers used to tease him to no end.
"Glad to hear it," Borgoth told him one night. "I was beginnin' to wonder if you weren't a queer."
"Same here," Nolt said from his other side.
"She's kinda young, though," Kyle added. "Might want to wait until she grows some real curves, not those bumps she's dealin' with now."
"It's not like that," he mumbled into his glass, his face on fire. At least, it wasn't like that until she hit fifteen, then sixteen, and those curves Kyle talked about came in with a vengeance. She was beautiful, strong, smart; ruthless, driven, and ambitious. Above all, she was wounded, and he wanted nothing more than to be able to heal that wound.
But she never looked at him that way.
None of them, actually, and Grove sighed in relief when she turned down Kyle, then Borgoth, then Nolt. All of them shrugged it off. "Better for the team," Borgoth said, even as his eyes revealed disappointment. Little Leila had grown up into a fine woman, and was unavailable to anyone and everyone. It didn't stop him from dreaming, though.
Especially when she told him her secret.
She hoped that, once the final vampire was dead, she'd have enough life in her to start a farm somewhere, maybe have a real family. She made him promise that, if she did, he'd be right there with her with a family of his own. They'd all set down roots in the same area, grow old together, and frighten their kids with tales of vampires and werebeasts, of how famous they used to be. It was her dream, and she held onto it with every dalla she hoarded away, every time he caught her looking at a land bulletin with guilty excitement. She had her dream, and he had her; more than an even trade in his opinion.
That's why he did it.
Grove aimed at the arm threatening the dhampir and fired. Something inside him burst when he saw Borgoth's arm come apart, the heat from his blast cauterizing the wound instantly. It was the first time he ever used his powers on a human (not human, something whispered to him, Just another suck head, now).Never would he have thought to do this to his brother; the one who protected him, who took care of him when the other kids tried to bully the pale, sickly boy. But he would do it for her.
The Hunter wrapped his arms around his brother, concentrating his energy into one final blast, burning his brother to ash. He wanted to turn then, to tell Leila it was all right, that she would be all right. Wanted to tell her to go after her dream. To put down roots and one day tell her children about her crazy brothers, vampire hunters all, who never turned and ran, never backed away from a contract.
He had time to see her face one last time before being drawn into oblivion.