Time to Eat
Jasper's phone vibrated, so he opened it and read the text.
Ready for some treetop games.
With a snort, he showed it to the others. "Good to see he got our message. He should be in position or on his way, and I'm takin' that last bit to mean he's destroyed his phone."
Alice's hand moved over the new iPhone in her pocket. The thought of destroying her toy drew her brows together. "We only have one phone each, so that's not really an option for us, is it?"
"No, but it's best if we keep them off for now." Jasper hit the power button, and the other Cullens did the same.
Looking through the file Colonel Holmden had given them, Scott frowned. "Not much here about electronic surveillance. We may be over-thinking this."
Diane moved to her husband's side and began reading. "The electronic thing. That's right up Emmett's alley, right, Major?"
He had gone still, facing away from his family, looking out over his soldiers as they moved about restlessly.
Handing the file to his wife, Scott went to his brother. "What's wrong?"
"They're hungry. I can feel their desire."
"How do you know it's hunger?"
"The desire for blood feels different, stronger. There's not much right now—we have a day, maybe two, but that'll be pushing it." He stepped back in a half-attempt to stop the connection he could never turn off and pulled out his map. "How am I supposed to feed an army when the humans are all gone?"
Alice waved a hand. "We're still in the woods. They can feed here." She nudged a small rock with her foot. "They should feed here."
She was right, and that bothered Scott. "If we'd been able to teach them from the beginning, maybe, but now it'd only cause problems."
"I like this Colonel." Diane held up the file. "The man thinks of everything. Here, look at this." She pointed to a handwritten note on the file folder, under the last page. As she held it still, they all read.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I take no pleasure in playing God, but I have no choice.
All prisons within the perimeter were exempt from evacuation. The regular guards have been replaced with my men. I only ask that you spare them. Give the order, "Guards to the rear," and they'll retreat to let you do what needs to be done. They're expecting you and will obey. I have given orders that they stay until the prison is empty. Leave and return as needed.
Clean up your mess. A mass grave will do.
When you and those that need to know have memorized this file, destroy it.
You cover my rear, and I'll cover yours.
Scott's eyes went wide as he read, his shock still clear on his face as turned to his wife. "You like this? How can you possibly be okay with—"
"I'm not okay with the way the Tribunal did it, and I'm not okay that we have to feed them…people." Diane gripped her hair as she struggled to form the right words. "He found a way for us to feed them without killing innocents." She shook the file still in her hand. "This is the best we can do."
"We're puttin' a lot of faith in this Colonel." The Major glared at the letter. "He'd better be as honorable as I think he is."
The four spent the rest of the day reading the file in turns and going over their plans. After a lot of discussion, and a bit of arguing, Jasper made the final decisions. Once the course of action was set, everything but the map was burned, and the couples took turns hunting.
As the sun sank into the horizon, the army was assembled again. The Major waited patiently for his soldiers to get into place. Not one newborn had deserted aside from the first eight that left. The Major took that as a testament that loyalty is a much stronger binder than fear. They feared him, make no mistake, but they also knew that their Major would provide for them, train them, and do his best to keep them alive.
After a few quick orders, Scott and Alice were headed south, leading Harper, Taban, and both of their units.
Jasper and Diane watched them go with grim faces.
Diane knew using her and Scott's gift was the best way to communicate, since it was virtually tap-proof, requiring the separation of the couples—that didn't mean she had to like it.
"God be with you, Scott."
"That sounds familiar. Didn't you use to say that to me when I deployed?"
"Yeah." A sinking feeling hit Diane's gut. She hadn't thought of it before, but she was indeed sending him off to fight again. But now, the enemy was much more formidable, which meant her husband's chances of coming back safely were far less than when he had been a human.
While Scott's mental voice was soft, the pleading in his tone was clear. "Please, Diane, stay with Jasper."
"I already gave my word on that."
"I love you."
"I love you."
Once Scott's half of the army disappeared from sight, the Major turned to his Lieutenant.
"You've been a busy girl. Covert trips to war zones, custom-made pistols complete with newly developed ammunition…" Tilting his head, he demanded, "You have any other tricks up your sleeve that I need to know about?"
Diane glanced around and lowered her voice. "Tricks? Coming here with those weapons was a tactical decision. Alice saw that you needed us. Those pistols allow us to take down targets without giving away our position." Taking a moment to study her brother's face, Diane's anger began to burn at his accusing expression. "This is not a pride thing, Jasper. We're here to help you."
"Is that right? Seems to me like you—not Alice—just you came to show me how things should be done."
Diane couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I'm not the enemy here."
He poked a single finger into her shoulder. "Oh no?" A wisp of fear pulsed through the point of contact. "If it weren't for you, Alice wouldn't be in this mess—headed out there—with those things."
A small tremble ran through her; she couldn't help it. Recognizing the manufactured emotion for what is was, she snapped her teeth together and fought it. "I didn't make her come. Alice had the choice to stay home."
The wisp grew into a trickle. "You knew she wouldn't let you come alone."
"She said you needed us." Diane's body began to believe the fear and tried to protect itself. Knees weakened and shoulders hunched despite Diane's efforts.
Leaning forward, the Major kept his finger in place, strengthening his assault until the fear was no longer a trickle, but flowing strongly, mixed with sorrow so deep it hurt. "Mark my words. If anything happens to her…"
Diane let out a small cry as she fell to her knees, shaking and afraid to look at the one who towered over her.
The sight of his sister humbled before him stole the rest of Jasper's words as his guilt began to well—he squashed it. If Alice was hurt—or worse—Jasper wouldn't be able to forgive. Not even his closest sister. He waited for the usual concern or protectiveness that seeing Diane on hands and knees should have provoked, but felt neither. "Alice comes before all, Lieutenant—you know that."
The contact broken, Diane took a moment to let the false emotions wash away and forced herself to stifle the words she wanted to scream. Never before, even when she was in a fit of newborn rage, had Jasper used his ability to hurt her. Knowing the others were watching, she was well-aware of the appearances they needed to maintain.
That didn't mean she was willing to be a doormat.
Shoving down her hurt and anger, she sucked in a deep breath and blew it out slowly to calm herself. The onslaught had felt so real. If she hadn't known of her brother's power, she would have sworn the heart-wrenching fear and sorrow—and the pain that went with it—had come straight from her soul. Doing her best to look unshaken, she stood and brushed the dirt from her knees. "Feel better?"
"No." The flicker of remorse on his face was the only apology he gave.
"Good." Looking around, she pointed to the tallest tree. While she did her best to keep her expression and voice calm, her jaw refused to unlock. "That looks like a good place to do some scouting. That all right with you, Major?"
Getting a short nod, Diane easily made her way as close to the top as she could get without a branch snapping from under her weight. She huffed when Jasper appeared next to her, denying the space she needed to clear her head.
"What part of 'stay with me at all times' was unclear?"
He shrugged. "You did. Instead of sayin' no, I came with you."
Anger curled Diane's fingers into fists, splintering the branch she had been holding onto. She turned away and put her mind on the task at hand. "This side looks clear."
Looking in opposite direction, the Major scanned all he could see. "Same here."
The illusion of space and privacy was too good to give up, so Diane looked over her side again. She repeated the process twice before she heard Jasper's boots twist against the rough bark as he turned. Lifting her chin, she did the same, very aware that they were still within hearing range of the squads below.
Diane peered at Jasper, reminding herself of who he was and all he'd been through in his long life. She promised herself to be more patient with her favorite brother and remember that sometimes loving someone meant supporting them—even when they were being a big jerk.
Seeing only calm in his expression, she placed her hand on his shoulder. "How worried should I be about our destination?"
"Not a bit." He brushed the hair out of his eyes, not wanting to have the conversation his sister was trying for. "It will be fine—the plan is rock solid."
She tapped her finger over his stone heart. "I'm concerned about what's inside. That's the critical part. We have any problems there?"
He smiled at her tenacity, and for an instant, Diane saw the carefree brother she had visited the Grand Canyon with. She missed him.
"Well, Major, if any problems do arise, I'll be glad to help you with that. But you may not like my methods."
Jasper's brow furrowed as he shook his head.
He leaned close, his whisper harsh with worry. "Not funny. If I should truly lose myself, you need to just let me be." He pulled back. "We'll have no problems as long as we stick to the plan. Understood?"
Frustrated at her lack of progress, she threw her hands in to the air.
Jasper merely crossed his arms and waited.
Diane glared at him yet managed to keep her voice neutral. "Understood, Major." She jumped down, landing gracefully, drawing all eyes. "Fall in!"
Landing beside her, the Major was worried. Diane wasted no time jumping into her husband's position. Jasper didn't like that Diane felt the need to prove herself all over again. Jasper knew she was a tried and true warrior, but she was still his sister first and—old-fashioned or not—he wanted her at home, where his wife should be.
He'd make no apologies for that.
But he was surprised that Scott hadn't come running back with rage in his eyes.
As the army assembled, Diane kept her eyes straight ahead, waiting for the Major to take charge. She did a good job of keeping her outside appearance calm and collected. Only Jasper knew the hurt and anger and sadness that churned within her.
He wasn't proud of what he'd done to her, but he had to make her see how she'd put his mate in danger. Apologizing would've shown weakness.
"I'll be takin' point. Jim, put Xander and Blake a mile ahead as scouts. You and your squad follow me. Carson, your squad trails, you take the rear." He looked at Diane.
She barely kept the sarcasm out of her voice. "I'll be right beside you."
"We'll head south, following the river. According to the map, we can cut through Stigers Island to the prison. Looks like that's the least inhabited route."
Diane focused on her curiosity, asking her question silently.
"I'm thinkin' those things will stick around the houses, where the human scent is. There's no way the authorities made everyone leave. No doubt there'll be some hold-outs around. God help them."
The miles flew under the army's feet as the two halves headed in different directions. While Jasper was heading south to feed his half, Scott was heading east.
After studying the map the Major had kept, Scott had decided to skirt Kansas City then follow the river, which would keep them away from the populated areas. He was on a mission, and he wanted to do it with as little fighting as possible. The extra miles not traveling as the crow flies were worth the tactical advantage. By the time Scott covered half the distance he would travel, the Major was looking at the Lansing Correctional Facility.
Three miles separated the Major's squads from their meal. Their was bloodlust quickly rising.
"This is where we have to be cautious," the Major instructed, his voice easily reaching everyone. "Don't let your hunger make you careless. That'll only get you killed. We have to clear the area around and then go in carefully. We need to make sure it's not a trap." He took a long inhale, spurring the others to do likewise. "If we can smell the humans, so can they. Any of those things we come across get destroyed, no questions. Don't let them bite you, and don't feed from them."
Murmurs of agreement went through the ranks. Jasper never remembered feeling this much control over a newborn army before, and a flash of pride went thought him at the thought of Maria being shown a thing or two. Shaking his musings away, he waved the squad leaders forward. "Carson, take your squad and clear a one-mile perimeter. Take your time. Go in a spiral pattern to make sure you don't miss a thing. I want this place locked down tight. If you run into to any trouble, call for help. Move out."
After watching Carson and his squad leave, the Major turned to Jim. "After the area is secured, your squad feeds first. Only one each. I want to know about anyone who gets greedy. Understood?
"Yes, Major." Jim twisted his arm and winced.
"Let me see."
The wound was growing again.
His face grave, the Major's fingers nearly twitched with the need to call Carlisle. He had no way of knowing who was listening and reminded himself he had to wait until he knew for sure. Concerned golden eyes bore into Jim's black ones. "You're the exception to that rule. You take two."
Jim shook his head quickly, holding up his hands. "If there's not enough for everyone to have two, I'll stick to one."
"That's not a suggestion." The Major eyes narrowed. "I decide who needs more, and right now, I've decided that's you."
Getting more than his men didn't sit well with Jim. He fully believed in taking care of those beneath him, but the choice had just been snatched from his hands. "I'll make sure no one knows."
Diane marveled at how easily her brother gave such gruesome orders but wisely kept her mouth shut.
The area was soon cleared, and the troops assembled at the far edge of the parking lot. Jim and his squad waited impatiently as the Major moved cautiously towards the prison. After only a few steps, he turned and gave his Lieutenant a pointed look, silently reminding her of his expectation.
Diane swallowed as she moved, ignoring the screaming in her head that demanded she not follow. In her time as a newborn, she'd disobeyed a few of the Major's orders, knowing she'd face nothing more than an angry lecture. She wasn't so sure of that now. This time was different—he was different.
The front entrance of the prison was a portal made of the same tan and brown stones as the main building and topped by a glass enclosed guard tower. A lone guard stood very still, his weapon trained on the one who emerged from the center of the vampire army that had seemed to appear out of thin air.
Coming to a stop at the locked gate, he ignored the guard and looked up into the security camera. "Major Whitlock. Colonel Holmden sent me."
The gate slowly rolled open, then began to slide closed as soon as the vampires passed through. They waited in the small sally port until the front gate locked back into place and the secondary gate opened. While they could have easily cleared the entire fortification with one leap, the Major decided to play nice until he knew exactly who he was dealing with.
Seeing the Major and Lieutenant pass through the second gate caused the anticipation of Jim and his squad to rise, and even though their feet could be heard shifting in dirt, the Major never turned, confident his troops would stay until the order was given.
The front doors opened, revealing a receiving area that consisted of a single empty desk. Behind it, the only doorway was blocked by a thick-barred crash gate.
A single human waited behind the bars. His eyes stayed on the Major as the front doors latched closed, then he gave a short nod. The crash gate opened, but the human didn't move.
Deciding a test was in order, the Major closed the distance at full speed, appearing in front of the human, who didn't flinch. Diane appeared a second later at the Major's side.
Four feet separated the Major and the human before him. They studied each other—the eyes giving away the most important thing. The hard gaze and cold expression told each one that they were looking at a fellow warrior with a mission. The Major quickly noted the clothing, from the cap to the boots: solid black, no rank, not even an indicator of the branch of service. He nodded approvingly at the Colonel's choice to use a special forces team.
"You know why we're here?"
Captain Faulkner nodded, his dark eyes not leaving the Major. He could have easily ordered one of his men to receive the monsters they waited for—the ones that were supposed to be the good guys—but he wouldn't. "Orders, Major?"
"I'm sure the Colonel left things fairly vague."
"I know what I need to."
"Get your men to a room as far away as possible. If you want to live, don't try to stay and watch, not even from a distance. Understood?"
The Major ran his gaze over the human again. "Are your men all dressed like you?"
"And the prisoners? What are they wearing?"
Giving a slow nod, the Major looked the human square in the eye. "Guards to the rear."
His gaze not leaving the vampire before him, Captain Faulkner shouted, "Guards to the rear!"
The vampires watched Captain Faulkner retreat slowly—not turning his back to them—amidst the order being echoed by other human voices. Within five minutes, the command faded away, leaving only the constant murmurings of the prison population to fill the vampires ears.
Plus their heartbeats.
It was after the guard retreated that Jasper noticed his sister had quit breathing. In fact, Diane hadn't taken a breath since they entered the front gate. She didn't allow herself a whiff until she and the Major were back in front of the waiting squads, surrounded by fresh air.
"You are each allowed one." The Major held up a finger as he slowly walked along the front of his soldiers. "This is not a Tribunal free-for-all. I may allow extra feeding based on need or merit, but that will be at my discretion." He pointed back at the gate. "Only those in orange are allowed. Touch any in black, and you'll answer to me." His gaze went over Jim and his squad. "Squad one goes first. Try not to destroy the place. This is not for sport. Feed—don't play—and when you're done, take the bodies behind the building." He pointed. "So we can bury them."
Guilt spun in Jasper's chest, tightening into a hard, painful knot. "Squad one—move out."
Jim blurred forward with his squad hot on his heels.
Then the screaming started.
As the Major fed his squads, Scott and Alice were making the trek along the river with no problems. Alice had been very quiet during the trip. Having to keep alert meant fighting off her visions. She could only fight off small ones. Once they became more forceful, meaning something had become solid or very bad, they overtook her. She'd been fighting one since they passed Jefferson City, and her gift was quickly becoming insistent. The urge to look washed over, nearly unstoppable, and she snapped her fingers twice—an arranged signal.
Raising a fist, Scott brought everyone to a stop. He moved close to his sister and nodded.
Alice stilled as the vision settled over her. "Peter," she whispered.
Peter and Charlotte sitting in a tree, a river rushing around them.
The vision faded to be replaced with an identical vision, except…
"Peter! Stop that! Ugh! I hate it when he plays with my visions!"
"What did you see, Alice?" Scott lowered his voice. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, really. Peter has decided to wait for us somewhere along the river. Close, I think."
Dual visions washed over her again, causing Alice to grit her teeth and force them away. "But he keeps deciding to wait in nothing but his underwear and then back in his clothes!"
Scott snickered. "What me to punch him for you?"
"I'm quite capable myself, thanks."
Twelve minutes later, one of the scouts came back to the Captain. "Two unknowns—vampires." He pointed to a small island in the middle of the river.
After ordering both squads to stay put, Scott went to the edge of the river and called out, "Those aren't unknowns. One of them is pretty sweet, but the other one's a loud-mouthed, pigheaded, know-it-all."
Peter covered the distance quickly with Charlotte by his side. He grinned widely. "Pigheaded, huh?"
Clapping him on the shoulder, Scott answered, "Yeah, but pretty good in a fight."
Charlotte hugged them both. "About time you showed up."
"Didn't think we'd keep you waiting." Scott scanned down river. "We'd thought we'd catch you closer to the perimeter. I'd like to get a look at that."
Peter's expression hardened. "No, you wouldn't."
"Well, it wasn't hard," Charlotte cut in. "Fifty-five meant take Interstate 55, plus the only time Diane plays tag in the treetops is when she's trying to remove a head. Once we picked up on the I-55, we knew right what you've been up to. Even vampires watch the news. "
Scott nodded. "Congratulations, you just earned a merit badge for covert conversations."
Peter looked around. "Where's Jasper?"
"With the other two squads."
"Excuse me? Squads?" Peter looked at Alice and then Scott. "Are we missin' somethin'?"
Scott turned back toward the way he'd come. "Fall in!"
Within a moment, two squads of red eyes were staring at Peter and Charlotte.
Peter's mouth popped open, then he slowly said, "This, I was not expectin'. Why do I have a feelin' that this isn't the worst part?"
"Because it's not." Scott called Harper and Taban and gave orders to run patrols, allowing him and Alice a few minutes of privacy with their guests.
Peter and Charlotte listened in stunned silence as Scott and Alice told the story from the very beginning, starting with the phone call from Marcus, and ending with how they ended up running across Kansas and Missouri with almost thirty newborns.
"Now you know everything." Waving a hand across the newborns, Scott added, "This is only half. Jasper has the rest."
With a slow nod, Peter pulled his mate closer, not liking his feeling of deja vu. "And you're sure Maria has nothin' to do with this?"
"I haven't seen her." Alice shrugged. "Not even a glimpse. She must still be buried."
Charlotte looked around. "Diane? She with Jasper?"
"Yeah, that way we can still communicate, since there's no way to tap our personal line." Scott couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. "I don't like being away from her during something like this."
"And the Major?" Peter lowered his voice. "How's he doin'?"
Glancing at Alice, Scott gave her the first chance to answer, but she only looked at her shoes. "He's taking all of this very…seriously."
Peter moved closer and whispered. "You know all this is like reliving our Maria years, and it's got to be messin' with his head a bit. Just don't do anything to get on his bad side."
Scott grimaced. "Gee, thanks. That much I figured out."
With a loud clap, Peter brought his hands together and rubbed them. "So, what's the plan? We get one of these squads then go kick some zombie butt?"
"No." Scott reached into the cargo pocket on his right leg. "You get to deliver this to Carlisle. Don't open it until you get there. "His gaze flickered to mass of soldiers and back. "The scent is alarming."
Peter handed the package to Charlotte, who placed it in her backpack.
"This is for Edward." Alice produced a letter from her pants pocket. "Jasper said that he needs to read it right away, but not out loud. He's to keep it just between him and Bella."
"Why?" Peter stuck the letter in his pocket. "Is it some voodoo spell that'll set the house on fire if spoken aloud?"
Scott shook his head and smiled. He'd missed Peter and his ways. "No, but Jasper's worried the house may be bugged. Have Emmett do a sweep, especially of the box the Tribunal sent and the stuff that was in it. Tell him if he finds anything not to destroy it. Just move it somewhere safe."
Only then did Scott notice Peter was staring at him.
"Dude, are you paying attention?"
"I'm payin' enough attention to notice you're carryin' a gun in a shoulder holster. Since when do we need guns?"
Alice told that story.
Turning the weapon over and inspecting it, Peter grinned. "I think I love my sister a bit more." He gave it back to Scott. "You want us to come back after we drop off the goodies?"
"Jasper didn't say, but I'm guessing he would."
With a quick movement, Peter poked Scott in the head. "Why don't you hop on your Bat phone and find out."
A few low growls made Scott grin. "Not wise to assault the Captain in front of his troops."
Peter held his hands up, plastering on a wide, stiff smile. "Then why don't you quit enjoyin' the threat to my life and introduce me as a friendly?"
Holding up a finger, Scott silenced Peter as he conversed with his wife. The conversation was brief, and while Diane didn't say anything was wrong, Scott was sure things between her and Jasper were worse.
"He says bring as much ammo as you can, and see if Rose can get pistols for you and Charlotte."
"We'd better get goin'. Peter pulled the backpack off his shoulders. "There's six burner phones in here. If yours are bugged, save them for when you want the bad guys to listen."
"I think I've missed you, Peter." Scott put the pack on after handing an extra phone to Alice. "You're kinda handy."
Peter and Scott shook hands, then he hugged Alice. "You mind using the physic travel agency to give us the best way home?"
Alice smirked. "Don't you know?"
"Woman!" Peter pointed at her. "If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred and fifty-three times. I'm not gifted! I just get these feelin's."
"I know, but Jasper would've wanted me to ask."
Peter huffed. "Very funny, munchkin."
"Now we're even."
"Fine." She wrinkled her nose. "This is going to be tricky. There are hundreds of ways to go."
"Just go by a basic direction," Scott suggested. "In fact, we should check them all, just to see what happens."
Peter told himself he'd go north.
"You can't just think about it." Alice shoved her fist onto her hips. "You have to decide to do it."
Peter turned, facing north and pictured himself going that way.
Charlotte laughed. "Don't think so hard. You might hurt yourself."
Alice stilled, her faced twisting in confusion as visions changed mid-stream and then began to overlap. She huffed in exasperation. "This is happening way too much lately." She pointed at Scott. "Stop it."
"You're trying to decide which way we go back while Peter's trying to decide which way to leave." She rubbed her head. "It like watching two different television sets flip through entirely different channels on the same screen."
Concerned for her, Charlotte put her arm around Alice. "How do you stand it around Jasper and Scott? They must do the same thing."
"I push my visions away a lot around them. It's easier but very uncomfortable."
But the men couldn't help themselves. Scott was going over the map that Colonel Holmden had left, a perfect copy stored in his mind. Peter was trying to think of the quickest route that avoided both the living and the undead. Both of them continued to mull through the different routes they could take when suddenly Alice's hand shot up.
"Sorry, Alice. I'm done now." Scott jerked his chin over his shoulder. "We're gonna go south to check out the perimeter. I want to see exactly what it looks like."
"Peter," Alice's brow furrowed together as she tried to make sense of what she'd just seen. "What did you decide right before I yelled?"
"That we were goin' with the two of you for a bit. I'd like to see one of these things in action before takin' off. I'm sure Carlisle will have questions, and I want to be able to answer them all."
"Perfect—very clear now." Alice smiled. "When we see a red truck pulling a trailer with a puppy on it, we stop."
"Why?" Scott shook his head. "I don't like it."
"I get visions based on decisions, not a detailed report." Alice glared at him. "If Peter had said it, would you be questioning him?"
"Stop right there." Scott crossed his arms. "I'm not questioning you because you're a woman." His finger flipped between them. "You and me are not gonna do this. We get enough from Jasper and Diane as it is. Yes, I'd ask the same questions if Peter had said it, plus ten more because he doesn't have your gift."
"Finally! Somebody gets it." Peter looked at the squads who, still in formation, were watching and listening to their planning session. "If we're goin' with you, perhaps you should introduce us."
Scott's gaze was fixed on Alice. "We okay?"
"Good." Scott rubbed the back of his neck. "Because I'm fairly certain our mates aren't."
"Jasper wants to know what's up."
"Tell him we just introduced Captain Peter and Lieutenant Charlotte to the troops."
"You used their first names?"
"Too many Whitlocks, hon."
"Most are done feeding here. Jasper wants your half to feed and then meet up with us."
Scott went on the relay his plan and Alice's visions, which Diane explained to the Major.
"Tell the Captain I want to know when they find that truck." He didn't wait for her to finish before calling for Xander and Blake.
"Jim tells me you two did well on patrol. Took out two of those things without any help."
"You know, Major." Blake hand went to his chin. "We really need to think of a name. Calling them 'those things' is kinda stupid."
Diane laughed. "Oh yeah? You have a suggestion?"
"How about Zompires?"
Xander hung his head. "I'm not completely sure we're related."
"Vambies?" Blake tried again.
"You want to trust these two?" Diane glanced at her brother. "With such an important mission, I think you need to choose someone else."
"Aw, come on, girl—"
Diane grabbed him by the throat with a growl. "You finish that word, and I'll be warming my feet by your pyre."
Seeing Xander twitch, the Major shook his head, then motioned for Jim.
"No…tearing," Blake choked out.
She dropped him. "We're not in the arsenal anymore."
"Fine," Blake rubbed his neck, checking for a crack that wasn't there. "I was only joking."
"Bad timing. Wrong woman."
"I've got it. I've got it." Blake stood slowly. "Sorry, Lieutenant."
Diane eyes flickered west and saw that Jim had taken Xander to the other side of the prison. She curled a finger a Blake several times, bringing him closer, and whispered, "Want to make it up to me? I need a toothbrush out of one of the cells in the prison. Can you get one for me, please?"
Confusion tilted Blake's head. "You want a toothbrush?"
Diane glanced over Blake's shoulder; Xander and Jim had gone inside. She checked her nails as she measured the distance between them and stepped back twice. "Can you make it a red one?"
Blake was bewildered by the strange request. "Just to make sure…you want a prisoner's toothbrush?"
"A red prisoner's toothbrush?"
Her smile was nothing short of sinister. "Please."
The results were not what she wanted, so she glanced at Jasper and got a 'go ahead' nod.
She kicked Blake square in the chest, knocking him to the ground, and pounced on him. Leaning down, their noses were almost touching as she yelled, "Get me a red toothbrush, now!"
Blake tried to move but was stopped by the Major's boot on his neck.
"Wait!" Xander ran up at full speed, making a puff of dust when he stopped and shoved his hand at Diane. "Here! Here's your toothbrush!"
The Major and Lieutenant traded a knowing look.
Extending his hand, the Major helped a very confused Blake to his feet. "Good call, Lieutenant." He fought off a smile as he asked Xander, "Do you even know why you brought her that?"
"No." Xander froze, staring at the toothbrush in his hand. "Why did I? I don't know. All of a sudden, I just needed to."
"Jim, how long did it take him to actually get it?"
With a laugh, Jim rubbed at his arm that was still healing. "Three seconds from the time you gave the signal, he was at the prison entrance. Ten seconds later, he was here."
"So the first time, when I asked nicely, that didn't do it," Diane mused. "Only when Blake feared for his life did it kick in."
"What kick in?" Blake pointed at Diane. "Only thing kicking was you."
"Sorry about that, but I needed you to think I'd end you."
Blake nodded quickly. "Mission accomplished."
"Wait a minute." Xander waved his hands. "Wait just a minute. Major, is this about the gift thing again?"
"It is." The Major frowned. "I don't think you two have a gift. I think what you have is more of an intense intuition in relation to each other."
Studying the brothers, Diane pursed her lips. "I know Eleazar didn't pick up on anything, but this sounds like a gift to me."
When the Major's expression darkened, Diane's hand shot up. Seeing the Major's face grow angry, Diane shoved her hands in her pockets and explained.
"They were expecting the danger then. Maybe that kept it from really kicking in, or maybe the connection wasn't fully developed. I know others whose gift started small and grew as time went on."
"Good point," the Major conceded. "Had the Tribunal known these two were gifted, they would've tried to keep them."
"Say what?" Blake thought the Major was talking crazy, but was smart enough to keep that little thought to himself. "What are you saying? That we can read each other's minds?"
Smacking his own forehead, Xander groaned. "I bring a toothbrush and you jump to reading each other's minds? In what universe does that even make sense? Have you read any of my thoughts?"
Blake opened his mouth to answer, but Xander went on. "No. Because if you had, you'd be smarter than you are now."
"Shut up!" Diane scrubbed her face over her hands. "You two are acting like my—" She froze for a moment, not willing to share even a shred of her past with strangers. "You're being stupid. Shut up and let the Major explain."
"A gift is usually somethin' where a vampire can affect or read the people or things surrounding him. For example, I know a vampire that can read minds, and I know of some that can move objects with a thought or shock you with a touch. Those are all pretty powerful ones."
"Of course we didn't get something cool like that." Xander jerked a thumb at his brother. "We get something that keeps us from hitting each other and makes us know when the other is in trouble. Super." He scratched his head. "I don't remember our parents, but something tells me they'd like this."
"There are more subtle gifts," the Major continued. "Some can tell if they're being lied to. Some can see the gifts that others have. Most believe those of us who have gifts had some kind of talent as a human that intensified when we were changed."
Diane glanced from one brother to the next. "Since you're brothers, I'm guessing you looked out for each other when you were small."
"But what's the point of knowing?" Blake asked "What's the…the uh…" he flipped his hand in a circle trying to think of the word. "Tactical advantage?"
The Major smirked at his sister. "That's why I chose them. They try to think things through."
"Knowing how your ability works in important." Diane circled Blake, stifling her smile when he countered by slowly turning as she moved—just like she wanted—to keep himself facing her. She kept moving until his back was to the others.
When the Major pointed at Jim, the guard went back to his original position. He gave a friendly wave to Xander as he stopped halfway to the prison. The smile Jim wore looked less than sincere, and Xander knew the guard was waiting for something.
But for what?
Xander's instincts yelled danger as he analyzed the situation around him. He kept his eyes on Jim, trying to decipher the plan. Xander liked it even less when the Major took a step in his direction and crouched down.
After letting out a long growl, the Major's voice was low and threatening. "Now Xander, you have a problem. You see Jim back there? He's waitin' for your brother." The Major took a single step forward.
Diane growled at Blake.
Both brothers crouched in response.
A slow, feral smile spread across the Major's face. "Now, Blake, if I don't get a two-foot length of prison bar, I'm goin' to see just how many pieces I can break your brother in. Understood?"
"No!" Xander lurched forward stopping, only due to the Major's slow advance.
"You've had your turn." The Major moved closer. "He goes, you stay."
Xander tried to side-step him, but his effort stopped when the Major's hand shot out and gripped his shoulder. Not restraining himself like he had with his sister, terror flowed into Xander so forcefully that the young vampire screamed.
Blake was already running.
Right beside him, Diane yelled, "Fight it!"
"You can! Make yourself stop!"
Between the Major and the prison, Jim crouched, ready to play his part.
©Midnight Ariel 2013
Betas: Evelyn-Shaye and SilverAnemone13
Thanks for the rush job!
Graphic Artist: IllicitWriter
My deepest apologies for the long delay. My sweet Beta, SqueakyZorro, slipped and hit her head, hurting herself quite badly. There were a few periods where she thought she'd be well enough to beta before I asked for a pinch-hitter. Get better SZ! I miss you! Chapter 12 is being sent off today and I have through chapter 16 written. I won't give up on Spinal Cord, so please keep reading. ~MA