9 – intensification (pt 1)

Ari won’t stop touching Tate. They’d tried to pull her in, too, but she can’t – not when this is at least partially her fault. If she hadn’t distracted Ari-

Kyah swallows and forces her attention back where it belongs. On the questions Reuben and Astrid and Max and her father are asking and the strange, pieced together answers that Tate and Ari give almost as one. It’s mostly Ari talking, for all that the words sound like Tate.

He- god, he looks terrible. Like the people she’s seen fighting hangovers or illnesses. Like all he wants to do is curl up in a ball. But he’s here, sitting in a chair in the conference room.

“How long do you think we have?” Astrid asks, her voice echoey through the speaker.

Tate lets out a quiet laugh that’s almost a groan. “Sorry Apollo, but I don’t think it’s gonna be that long,” he says, shifting closer to Ari.

“She flipped you off,” Max says, uncharacteristically chipper. He must be out of it too, if in an entirely different way.

The call goes very suddenly silent – not disconnected because Kyah can still see the call timer on the little screen, but like it was muted. Great.

Sighing, Reuben scrubs a hand over his face. “You think you’ll know when she gets close? Like physically?”

Tate shrugs.

“Probably,” Ari says. “Right now she’s still… not here. Sorry, I don’t know how else to explain it. She’s still getting ready. I’d guess tonight, when she thinks we’ll be sleeping.”

That makes Reuben growl; he’s as bad about his sleep being interfered with as Astrid. “Then we should all get some now. Not like there’s much else we can accomplish sitting around a table. You,” he says, waving his finger between Ari and Tate, and then landing on Kyah, “stay together. Keep an eye on things. Get as much rest as you can, but the second something happens I expect my phone to blow up, since I assume it’s too much to expect you to stay in my house?”

This time, all three of them shrug. It’s not like they can particularly tell him no, especially in this case.

He makes a dismissive sound, then says, “You’re across the yard. Call so we have some warning, but it’s not like you’re far or don’t know how to get in.”

In the end, the kids – because they are still kids, his kids, even though they aren’t – end up coming back to the house anyways. It’s nice having them all there, circumstances aside. It would be nicer still if Astrid were there, on the opposite side of the couch in the spot that’s been hers for so many years, but there will be other times.

No one stays for long, though. After all, there’s a storm coming. For all that their nature tells them to stay together, necessity means they need to go home and rest. To prepare for what looms on the horizon.

“Coming to bed?”

Reuben’s thoughts turn back to the present and Jenna’s knowing smile. He stands and pulls her close, pressing his lips to her temple. Soon.

He still has things to do before he can sleep. Understanding, Jenna nods and says goodnight to Shawn before retreating upstairs. “Join me in my office?”

Shawn looks up from his phone, a question on his face. “Me?”

“Do you see anyone else here?”

Despite the fact that the room is otherwise empty, Shawn still looks.

Reuben exhales a laugh and turns toward the study. He already has two glasses set out by the time Shawn steps into the room, a second confused expression spread across his features. And he’s so, so much like his mother there, his face still softened slightly by youth.

He sits, then nods for Shawn to take the other chair. His first question should be about school. Life. A girl, or boy. That’s what he wishes he could ask about now, in one of the few quiet moments he gets with his son. It isn’t that he doesn’t know the answers to some of these things – they do talk, and what Reuben doesn’t get from Shawn directly, he hears from Jenna. So his son is not a complete mystery to him.

But he doesn’t have time now and that bothers him. The question he has to ask is, “When this starts, you know what to do?” and Reuben hates himself for it.

He’ll apologize later, he tells himself. Find a way to make it up to him.

But now, there is no time.

“Protect Astrid,” Shawn says, devoid of any of the uncertainty he contained earlier. This is something he knows. Something he has, unfortunately, known his entire life. Even before Reuben began to actively teach him these things, Shawn’s nature has been to defend his sister.

Not that she’s ever needed it; they’ve never faced an attack from the outside, though. And no one from inside the pack has dared to raise word or hand against Astrid, her authority just as solid as his own.

So in response, Reuben only has to nod. He takes a sip of bourbon, watching as Shawn does the same and fights to keep his reaction from his face. The next sip seems easier, and he watches with a unique sort of wonder as Shawn holds the glass up to the light, studying it.

His son – too old to be a boy, but not quite a man. So good and strong and bright. Not born to lead like his sister but just as capable, and more than willing to work hard. To give everyone everything he has.

Shawn yawns into his glass.

“I’m proud of you. You know that, right?”

“Huh? Yeah?” Shawn replies, his face scrunching in confusion once more.

He smiles. “Get some sleep.”

Yawnin again, Shawn nods and stands. “Night dad,” he says, already on his way to bed.

Reuben stays there a while longer, staring at the knife on his shelf. He’d taken it years ago from a hunter and had hoped never to need it. Hope, he’s learned, only gets you so far.

And preparation and skill only got you so far without luck.

Finishing his drink, Reuben pushes himself out of the chair and stands in front of it. To his knowledge, it was the only silver weapon in town. There were a few others for other purposes. A crossbow that fired wooden bolts, a sword that allegedly dated back to the crusades that had been passed down in his family for generations. A few ordinary firearms and blades.

Mostly, they counted on their relative insulation and healing abilities.

Mostly, nothing came for them, so there wasn’t a problem.

He’s fairly certain now that somewhere along the way, he’d crossed the line from reasonable confidence into foolishness. That perhaps he should’ve listened to Isaiah more. Prepared for possibilities like this – however unlikely they seemed – more thoroughly.

Sighing, he leaves the study, turning out the lights as he goes. He doesn’t need them to make it upstairs to his room; he knows this house, this whole town, like the back of his hand. After stripping to his underwear, he gets in bed with Jenna. She barely wakes, knowing it’s him with that same easy familiarity. Just turns into him in her sleep, a lazy kiss pressed to his chest.

He drops one of his own to her hair and holds her close as he falls asleep.

Kyah is jarred awake by the sudden motion beside her. She can hear one of them breathing – Ari, she thinks – and once her brain catches up slightly, she can taste the smell of anxiety on the air.

“She’s here,” Tate says, voice rough.

She’d guessed as much, and is already reaching for her phone and Ari’s, dialling Reuben on one and texting Astrid on the other. “Sir?” she says once he answers. “She’s here. We’re on our way.”

Reuben grumbles an acknowledgement; Kyah can hear Jenna’s sleepy question in the background.

At the same time, her phone vibrates in her hand.

Astrid > fucking FUCK. I’m a little uh. Tied up right now. I’ll try to be there.

They dress quickly and cross the strip of trees into Reuben’s back yard. Let themselves in through the back door like they always have, although it doesn’t feel the same this time – worlds away from the hundreds of times they did so as kids, or even adults under wildly different circumstances.

Shawn is sitting at the kitchen table, coffee in hand. He looks… grown. That’s weird too, because Kyah sees him all the time.

It’s something in his demeanor, she thinks. Of course, she knows Reuben has been training him. Teaching him things that are entirely different from what he taught Astrid.

That he’s capable, for all that he’s young.

He offers them coffee, stands to get it even.

“I’ve got it,” she says gently.

He looks guilty about letting her do it herself, but nods.

She hears him ask Tate something as he sits back down, voice low, but isn’t paying enough attention to catch what.

Tate actually replies, though.

She’s listening to that so she doesn’t hear Ari slip up behind her. Almost spills coffee when their arm wraps around her waist and their forehead butts against her shoulder.

It feels like an apology, which she hates. Can’t understand why and hates it even more. So she has to actively force herself to relax against him, and even then she barely manages it.

The front door opens at the same time heavy footsteps on the stairs break the silence. Ari pulls away slightly, taking two mugs from her to return to the table.

She hardly recognizes her parents, Reuben, and Jenna when they come in. They all look hard. Dangerous. It’s especially strange on her dad, who’s always preferred his violence verbal. But now? Now he looks ready to kill.

Reuben notices and breathes a laugh. “We’ve been lucky to have peace for quite a while now, but it hasn’t always been that way. It’s unfortunate that we won’t have outside help in this, but that’s the way things go sometimes. We’ll make do. You talked to Astrid?”

Kyah nods. “She’s still um-” she clears her throat and looks away, “but she says she’ll try to get there if she can.”

He hums an acknowledgement, then turns his attention to Tate. “I’m going to ask you exactly once if you need to sit this one out. No one will think any less of you for it.”

Tate opens his mouth, then closes it. From where she sits, she can see the way Ari bumps Tate’s knee with theirs under the table. After a slow breath, Tate says, “No. If she’s- I need to be there.”

Reuben doesn’t argue, but she can tell her dad wants to. And she knows why – if they’re coming for Tate, he should be anywhere else. She doesn’t like it either. But he’s not going to listen to her.

The only thing Reuben asks is, “Where?”

“Just outside of town. The abandoned mill.”

No one comments on the fact that Ari answers anymore.

“Then let’s go.”

Since it’s not a full moon, most of the pack is of little help. They have no idea what the numbers will be like, but none of them want more blood than is necessary.

Beyond that, it’s not like there’s an excess of weapons lying around that are capable of killing demons. Reuben has his knife – he calls it a hunter’s swiss army knife, and Kyah gets why. The entire thing was made around an old wooden stake meant for vampires that was inlaid with both silver and iron, then heavily blessed by a variety of religious figures. It was meant to kill anything and everything. Other than that though, pickings are slim.

“Aim for whatever seems like a head and pray,” had been Reuben’s advice.

They arrive to silence, although everything feels off. Tate gives Reuben a questioning look and gets a nod in return.

“Shae?” he calls, too loud in the darkness.

“Oh so you do remember.” The voice seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once.


It makes Ari and Tate both draw themselves inward, like that will get them away from it.

Shae laughs – a cracked, distorted sound that sends goosebumps raising across Kyah’s skin. Her footsteps are silent as she steps into view, but she very definitely seems real. “You have one chance, brother. Come with me.”

His heartbeat stutters slightly. “If I do, what happens to my pack?”

“I’ll kill them quickly.”

“And if I don’t?”

She grins, another terrifyingly twisted expression. “Then I’ll have my fun with them to make up for everything this cost me.”

“Yeah go fuck yourself,” Ari says in that dangerous, even tone she’s heard them use before. Generally right before whoever it was got eviscerated. And while she doubts that the same tactic will work on Shae, she’s been wrong with Ari before.

Shae snarls, the sound feral and twisted – so different from what Kyah is used to. “Fine, have it your way.”

And then she howls. That’s even worse. Like the very ground is cracking, but maybe it is. The noise grows, amplified by other creatures that manifest from the shadows.

Against her will, Kyah feels her pulse and breathing quicken. There’s dozens of them, some humanoid in shape but others are far more beastly on four, or even six legs, ranging in size from doglike to something more on par with a rhinoceros. And they’re everywhere.

“Watch each other’s backs. Their numbers mean nothing to them. They don’t care who lives or dies. We do. We take care of each other and we get through this,” Reuben says quietly.

Kyah wishes she felt half the confidence in his tone.

“And don’t be a hero. If you need help, call for it, but no doing something stupid and getting yourselves killed. Understand?”

They all nod, backed into a circle, eyes facing out. She hears the quiet sound of lips meeting – not Ari and Tate or her parents or the handful of others they’d brought along for backup, but Reuben and Jenna.

Easy. Confident.

She’s not surprised at the lack of display from her parents, but she is a bit shocked at Tate and Ari, after everything. A part of her wants to – just in case. But if they’re not, she can’t be the one to-

The sudden crack and pop makes all of them turn on reflex. Where Shae had stood seconds ago, a wolf stands now. She’s too thin, and her hair is short and patchy, but she shifted. With no moon.

Her eyes seem to glow in the darkness like the demonic beasts that surround them – one a silvery grey like Tate’s and the other a strange, milky amethyst that’s unlike any living thing Kyah has seen before.

There’s no time for thinking after that, because then she lunges for Tate and the beasts spring toward them. It’s chaos, the air filled with the scents of fear and anger, blood and some strange, acrid smell that must be the demons.

Kyah dodges one of the beasts, moving in time to see Ari step in front of Tate, a knife flipping in their hand before slashing back through the air to catch Shae’s shoulder.

They move like one – whoever Shae goes for pulls away, the other distracts. Small hits are landed here and there.

Her own demon whips around, teeth bared. Kyah wills her claws out, ready to strike if it gets close, and raises the gun. On the third shot, it drops to the ground before disintegrating into dust and noxious smoke.

Immediately, two smaller beasts take its place. Those only require one shot.

She gets a moment then, to catch her breath and survey things. They’ve spread out, but the numbers seem to be dwindling. Her parents are close together, while Jenna and Reuben are on opposite ends of the open yard.

A flash of light behind her makes her turn. Headlights. If the beasts notice, they don’t seem to care. She shoots another of the large ones, drawing its attention away from Jenna.

Despite its size, this one is fast and scurries at strange angles, making it hard to hit. She misses twice, but eventually it falls, mere feet away from her.

Panting, she looks around again and finds a jeep parked with the rest of the cars. Astrid.

The doors open to let out Astrid, Max, and a very distraught looking Shawn. She can hear them speaking rapidly, although she can’t make anything out over the sounds of fighting.

Not until Astrid shouts, “Kyah!” pointing in her direction.

Before she can turn, she hits the ground, something heavy on her back. Its claws rake across her skin like knives. The beast makes a noise, almost like it’s been punched, and moves.

It roars a gravelly, head splitting sound, and charges toward something else. Gritting her teeth against the pain, Kyah pushes herself onto her hands and knees, frantically searching for the gun.

She finds it in Ari’s hands when the first shot rings out. It’s not enough, though. Two. Three. Four. The gun clicks and nothing happens. The beast launches itself again, taking Ari to the ground.

Kyah opens her mouth to yell something, anything, but before she finds the words, the beast is just smoke and Ari is lying on the ground, knife in hand.

They sit up and find her, the question clear on their face: are you ok?

She nods, ignoring the sting in her back, and forces herself to stand.

“Tate! NO!”

Kyah follows the direction of Ari’s gaze to find Tate on the ground, his calf in Shae’s teeth as she drags him toward a strange, shimmering portal that has appeared.

Ari stands and stumbles, clearly injured, but they’re not the only ones to have noticed. She sees her father turn and look between Tate and the wolf, the gun in his hand pointed toward the ground.

Reuben gets there faster though, his hunter’s blade glinting in the darkness like its own sort of magic. He lunges, causing Shae to stagger and yelp. She can smell the burn of silver even from across the yard.

The few remaining beasts, either having received orders to leave with their prize or having had enough, retreat toward the portal, drawing the rest of the pack with them. But Kyah can’t move. She can only watch, frozen in place as Reuben and Shae wage war over Tate.

Ari sprints across the yard to Tate, dragging him back away from the two of them. She can hear them quietly pleading for Tate to wake up.

More snarls and yips split the air as the final demons are picked off and as Reuben lands more hits on Shae. It should be over by now, though. No wolf could take that many cuts from a silver knife and still have blood to bleed.

A cough from Tate’s direction draws her attention away once more, and finally she seems to be able to move again, if slowly. Almost like she’s underwater.

And then everything seems to slow further. Tate sits up fully, straining against Ari’s grip. He seems to yell something, although Kyah can’t make out what. She turns to find Reuben and gasps, her hands finding their way to her mouth so quickly it hurts.

She watches as Shae’s jaws open from where they had closed around Reuben’s throat and shoulder, pouring blood and smoke from her throat. The beast falls, taking Reuben with it.

Neither of them rise.

Kyah’s vision blurs around the familiar shapes of Astrid. Jenna. Shawn. Tate, followed closely by Ari, as they all cross the yard. Her father is there too, she realizes, just as a hand touches her shoulder.

“Mom-” she starts, as much a sob as an actual syllable.

A howl cuts through the air, followed by another, and another. The song of loss and pain, Kyah knows immediately. The sound that means he’s gone.

Their alpha is gone, and it’s her fault.

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