Prologue: Slipping the Skin

Michael wasn't sure what exactly Selene had done to him, where the powers he used came from. He remembered little after the pain exploded in his chest and the fire had spread through his blood. He remembered nothing until the transformation started.

Michael had thought the change in the back of the squad car at full moon had been painful. That event had nothing on these recent alterations.

His body was still aching from it.

He didn't consciously look at himself, but couldn't help but notice the color of his skin, nearly indigo blue and pale claws an inch long protruded from each fingertip. His chest and back felt tighter; muscular and powerful. The use of new weapons he found instinctive, rage fueling the accuracy of his strikes against a creature who immediately struck him as the enemy.

Michael pushed up from the calf deep water, trying once again to catch his breath. His throat felt bruised and tight from his fight with the vampire. That creature had assaulted Selene, and nearly driven him to the ground. He realized that he chose no easy nemesis on which to test out this new body. As much as his speed, agility, aggression, and fighting prowess heightened, he was no match for a vampire with that much time in his skin.

It was a losing battle from the start, but Michael was possessed by protectiveness for Selene. Hearing the words Viktor spouted to the vampire…how he'd killed his kin all because a slave – a Lycan – loved her. Michael heard how he planned to take care of Selene's indiscretion just as with his own daughter. The elder made direct comparisons between the two events.

The threat of death in his voice was the last straw.

The thought of those events faded again. Once he was steady enough, he pushed back to his feet.

He felt Selene's approach, and he turned to face her. Emotions played across the vampiress' face as she gazed upon him for the first time in this slipped skin. She looked curious and a bit alarmed by his appearance, and he wondered what exactly she saw that he could not. His nerves sang, his breath was still heaving as he stared at her. She looked as if she wanted to say something, but was unsure how to start.

Her eyes left him and strayed to a point high above. Michael followed her gaze, lighting upon the hulking shadow of a Lycan. The beast snarled, a curling of lips without a hint of sound, and then it bowed its head and backed into the shadows until one blended with the other. Continuing his visual tour of the subterranean dwelling, he saw several more of the vampire's cousins. None would hold his gaze, all backing instead into the darkness.

The reaction confused him, he was only one – with Selene they were only two. They were in Lycan territory, and he was sure that there were more than the few he was seeing. He expected no less than a brawl for him and his vampire consort to get out of the tunnels alive. His fighting with Viktor showed no true skill - nothing that would give these werewolves pause. He didn't even finish the fight.

Yet they were backing off.

Michael surprised himself with what he was able to accomplish in that fight. He seemed to anticipate the vampire lord's moves before he had thought them out clearly for himself. That was a rush, holding his own against a vampire Elder. Then it fell apart, and he thought he was a dead man…well dead whatever he was now.

Michael returned his attention behind him when Selene dropped the sword that finished the fight. She looked heartbroken, confused, and vulnerable, for the first time since they met. She had always been so – in charge – sure of her actions and her cause. Now she seemed a frightened little girl. He couldn't get over how rattled she appeared.

That didn't do a whole lot for his confidence.

Without conscious thought his skin slipped, bones and organs realigning to a form he'd worn regularly in his previous life. It didn't hurt as much as that initial shape-shifting event and he hoped that any future efforts would be more pleasant than that first time.

Michael had a feeling this wouldn't be the last time he would be forced to his new skills. He could feel the blood starting to dry on his shoulder, chest, and stomach, but a visual assessment showed him no signs of the bullets he took from the vampire firing squad. It was as if he dreamed it rather than lived through it.

Selene's silence dragged on as she merely turned from him. Michael fell in behind, too overwhelmed to consider discussing what just happened – what he had become – or why she attacked her own. There was urgency in the way Selene moved that told him now was not the time for discussing what happened after he had been shot by Kraven.

He didn't want to consider that her defection was just because of him; because of some possible feelings she might possess for a Lycan.

He paused to consider that a moment, Am I still?

Selene touched the shaft of sunlight drooling through the broken ceiling of the castle. She was crying - not from pain of her wounds, but in happiness.

I haven't seen the sun in so long, flit through her mind.

She was unsure what effects there would be in taking Corvinus' blood. The benefits made themselves apparent during her altercation with Marcus. Her effort to stop him from releasing his brother William had been in vain. The plan fell to keeping the two brothers of them from going out into the world and killing it. Despite the new skills and prowess, fighting both sons of Corvinus proved too much for her alone.

Selene's gaze was drawn like a magnet to the other who stepped onto the broken bridge, hearing the blades of the helicopter at her back still whirring to a stop. Her tears began anew seeing him there. He was killed, she was so sure of it. Marcus used the combination of his millennia as a vampire and the blood of his ancestors to meld the Lycan strain of the virus into his own - using both to an advantage that Michael's newly acquired skills didn't allow. The vampire elder impaled Michael, and then he left with his prize, the other half of the key to William's tomb.

She was heartbroken to see Michael laying there, lifeless and unresponsive so shortly after they had consummated their passion. She bled for him, trying once again to revive him with a draught from her own wrist. The effort had been in vain, he remained a lifeless hulk packed into a body bag and transported on the helicopter with the team.

Yet when she thought all hope was lost, he appeared as an apparition to haunt her. His efforts were instrumental in the success of their battle, taking William's concentration and allowing her to focus her newfound skills on Marcus.

She saw Michael's wondered gaze stray up to the beam, following it down again until he looked at her sun rimed face. Selene laughed her incredulity, raising a hand until it was bathed in the warm orange light.

He stepped closer, laying a hand on her cheek, "Are you all right?"

She nodded, "Better than all right."

"What happened?"

There wasn't a chance to compare notes since his resurrection and she was sure the sight of her standing in a bath of sunlight was confusing.

"A gift from Corvinus," she whispered, unable to explain it further. She ignored the additional confused looks he gave her. She stared back into the sun, novas etching into her vision, "I…haven't seen the sun – in over six hundred years."

Her attention returned to him, wonder bleeding out of her features. Her warrior had fallen back into place, "And you?"

Michael looked down his body, touching his abdomen where there had been a piling protruding through it only hours before. He shook his head, "I feel…fine."

"You…you were dead."

The old tears came back again, and she blinked in an effort to clear her vision.

"You said there was no way of telling just what I was capable of," He couldn't meet her eyes as he reminded her of the words. She frowned, knowing that he was still uncomfortable with his duality, even when he covered her back more times than she could count on this grand adventure. Every day he showed amazing leaps in his ability, control over his changes, and use of his power – she was astonished with it.

"I know, but Michael…"

He stopped her protest, "I can't explain it any better than you can."

She pulled one lip between her teeth, falling silent again.

"What now?" Michael was resting a hand at the crook of her back.

"We have to find a way home," her gaze lingered on the helicopter, now as lifeless as Marcus, William, and the crew Corvinus loaned her for this fight.

She shivered as she realized the covens were now without Elder leadership. Amelia, Viktor, and Marcus were all dead. There was going to be a power struggle, and it would spill back into the cities if no action was taken to rein in the bloodlust. She glanced back at her hybrid consort, knowing that the Lycans were going to be no less leaderless now that Lucian was truly dead. They would try to wrest control from the covens knowing that the void would leave the underlings confused.

"And after?"

She met his gaze.

"Both houses are without leadership," she let the statement linger in the air a moment, "You know what we have to do."

"Stop the war."