"Ham! Stop sharpening your damn claws on the floor!" Chris snapped out suddenly and Ham jerked, glancing down to see that he was indeed absently digging his claws into the wood. For a moment he was horrified, wondering what the others would think then he heard the laughter and tentatively smiled.
"I can't help it! It's instinct!"
Chris made a rude noise, not looking away from the TV. "Not the floor, damn it! You got scratching posts."
"They're upstairs." Ham mumbled.
"I wondered what those were for." Alice spoke up, proving that she was not asleep, as she appeared to be.
"Scratching posts?" Julie said at the same time, blinking owlishly.
"Yeah, well." Ham shrugged in obvious embarrassment.
"He's always had to have cats, just so he can explain the scratching posts." Chris said. "And shredded sheets."
"Shredded sheets?" Julie looked at Ham.
"Hey! Claws, sheets, not a good combination!" He dug the claws on his feet into the wood.
"Well, you have a point ..."
"Several, actually." He flexed his toes, pulling against the wood, feeling the muscles stretch. He swallowed hard, barely managing to restrain a contented purr.
"But ... scratching posts?" Julie looked at him with a frown.
"Not actually scratching posts. They're more like ..." He hesitated, wondering how to explain.
"Kom." Fontana said and Ham looked up in time to catch what the other tossed at him.
"Oh, good." He held the object out. "More like a claw exerciser. See?" He closed his hand around the object, letting his claws dig into the wood then working them. "Sharpens them and strengthens the claw muscles."
Julie blinked at him then turned back to the movie, muttering 'scratching posts' under her breath. Ham grinned, thankful that no one had panicked at yet another reminder that he wasn't human, though Donovan was looking at him strangely.
He had seriously considered continuing to wear boots and gloves, if not pretending to be human at least hiding the most obvious differences but that, he decided, would be too much like lying. Instead he deliberately shed boots and gloves, using his claws when needed and refusing to hide them save when he had to meet with people outside the group. He was happy to see that people were getting use to them. A feature that may have once horrified most of the people in this stable they now accepted without question or even a second glance.
Catching a familiar scent, Ham raised his head, looking toward the doors expectantly. When no one entered, he frowned and rose, making sure to take his bottle of beer with him and away from Sancho, grinning at the disgruntled look the man gave him. A couple people looked after him in puzzlement but he ignored them as he emptied the bottle and tossed it away before slipping outside. He paused, looking around. The sentries were where they should be and he ignored them as he focused the woman pacing nearby, a look of frustration on her face.
"Maggie?" He said quietly and she jumped, throwing him an uncertain look. He frowned. Something was undeniably wrong and he padded closer. "What's wrong?" He asked, wondering if some of the men were ragging her again about her relationship with Bernstein. Though they should know better by now, especially after he'd and Chris had that quiet little talk with a couple of them, where he had demonstrated exactly what his claws could do if he was suitably motivated. That had caused him some problems with the group, at least until the men had admitted why he was giving the demonstration. Sympathy for them had faded very quickly after that.
Maggie's lips thinned. "Before I left the Bernsteins, Lynn gave me some envelopes." Ham nodded slowly. Several of their messages came through the Bernsteins. "She gave me one special." Maggie pulled a sealed envelope from her pocket and took a deep breath, looking Ham directly in the eyes. "She said the person who gave it to her specified that it be given to, and I quote, 'the resistance member with claws'."
Ham's face went blank, his mind churning. His presence here wasn't common knowledge. In fact, the group worked hard to keep it secret. The Bernsteins, on the outer fringes of the resistance, shouldn't have any knowledge of him or his. Slowly, almost blindly, he reached out to take the envelope. Automatically, he raised it up to sort out the scents of the people who had handled it. Maggie, of course, and Lynn Bernstein, whose scent he knew from the numerous incoming messages she had handled. And two more scents, neither of which he recognized.
He used a claw to slit open the envelope and pulled out the message inside. Typewritten on a single piece of paper, it was short and to the point. He read the message through once and then again, more slowly.
Maggie watched him, dreading the contents of the message as Ham's face grew more and more remote. When he looked up, his eyes were amber and an almost palpable heat emanated from him. He was, she realized, more furious then she'd ever seen him. "Ham?" She ask tentatively. "What's wrong? What is it?"
Ham didn't answer. He turned an amber-eyed gaze toward the barn, letting the paper and envelope slip from his fingers. Maggie was alarmed to see that his claws were unsheathed and his hands shaking with barely controlled anger.
"Ham! No!" She said sharply but it was too late. Ham was already sprinting for the barn. "Damn!" She swore, reaching down to snatch up the note. She read it quickly then swore again, this time in much stronger language before bolting after the man.
Caleb looked up as Ham reentered the stable and knew something was wrong immediately. "Chris!" He said sharply as he scrambled to his feet. The big man looked up and swore, shoving Alice toward Fontana before pulling himself up. The others, alerted by Caleb's shout, turned to see what had alarmed him. Donovan almost made it to his feet before Tyler tackled him, sending them both crashing to the ground.
"What the hell ..." Julie jumped to her feet, the pleasant alcoholic haze she'd been in fading fast at the sight of Tyler driving a fist into Donovan's face, snarling out heated words in his own language. "Chris ..."
Chris shook his head, obviously baffled. It was equally obvious that he was reluctant to interfere and considering Tyler's fierce attack, no one could blame him.
Donovan was giving as good as he was getting now, hitting back with a vengeance. Tyler's head snapped back as Donovan's fist connected solidly with his jaw and he staggered back a couple steps. Julie saw that his claws were unsheathed and she felt her heart sink as she saw blood on them. But it wasn't Donovan's blood, she realized. It was Tyler's, from his efforts not to use his claws on the other man. Tyler was using his fists and that was causing the claws to dig into his own hands. Something had set Tyler off, pushing him into a killing rage but he was obviously trying to control it. She knew she should do something but for the life of her, she didn't know what.
"Julie!" Maggie was next to her, her face grim, shoving a piece of paper at her. "Lynn sent this. It's why ..." She glanced at the fight.
Julie snatched the letter, skimming it quickly, feeling as if the world had stopped. She read the words again and the world restarted. But now her mind was clear and she knew exactly what she needed to do. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward.
"Everyone, step back." She ordered curtly and everyone obeyed. She was amused to see that Paul and a couple of the others had taken refuge under one of the long tables then she reached the men. They were on the ground again, Tyler on top and she reached down to grab his shoulder tightly, almost wishing his hair was long enough so she could grab that instead. Ignoring someone's warning hiss, she leaned down to speak firmly almost in his ear. "Komees Ihn'e!"
"There's power in a name. If you really, truly need my attention use my real name."
"The whole thing?" Her voice squeaked.
Ham grinned in amusement. "No, just my common name will do."
Tyler's entire body jerked and he hesitated, glancing up at her from the corner of his eye.
"Back off. Now." She continued in the same firm tone. It would be better, she knew, if she spoke in his own language but he'd just have to settle for English. His eyes slid to her fully and then he was up and stepping back. His body was visibly shaking and blood dripped from his lacerated hands.
Nearby, Caleb exchanged glances with Chris and the two men stepped forward to stand between Ham and Donovan, both men secure in the knowledge that, no matter how badly Ham wanted anyone's hide, he wouldn't chance hurting them to get it. Ham flicked a look at them and swallowed hard, stepping back to lean against the RV. His eyes still glinted amber with anger and he gave the impression of being a bare step from exploding.
Satisfied that Tyler had himself under control, Julie turned to Maggie, giving her an inquiring look.
"Lynn sent back a packet of messages. That one she sent back special. To the LA Resistance member who had claws."
Julie threw her a shocked look.
"Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I gave it to Ham privately. I think maybe," She said dryly, giving Ham a wry smile. "I should have read it first."
Ham felt his anger ease at her look and he sagged as the adrenaline rush faded.
"Whoa!" Caleb caught his shoulders to support him until he was sitting on RV's steps. Both men stayed close, watching him warily but Ham's complete attention was on Julie, watching as she re-read the letter. He could read her emotions through both expressions and scent. Disbelief, anger, horror ...
Julie looked up to see Ham watching her. Ham, she saw, believed what the letter said. A part of her wanted to deny it could ever happen but another part of her knew it was very possible. But then again, it could just be an attempt to tear the Resistance apart and Ham was overreacting. Not that she could really blame him.
"You bastard! What the hell was that all about?" Donovan shouted suddenly and she turned to look at her lover. There was a trickle of blood oozing from his nose and he was glaring at Ham. Ham glared back with teeth bared slightly, body visibly tensing but Caleb grabbed his shoulder, shaking him firmly. Ham glowered at him but stayed where he was.
Donovan tried to shake off Father Andrew's hand but the priest had a surprisingly strong grip. "Hey! I want to know what the hell's going on!" He glanced at the letter in her hand. "What's that?" He asked sharply.
"A time bomb." The words slipped out before Julie could stop them. She glanced around quickly, seeing that everyone was still present except for ... then she saw the missing three. Linda, Fontana, and Alice had taken refuge in the loft and were watching warily from there. The doors of the stable were closed firmly and, since they did tend to get loud, no one had come to investigate. She turned back to Donovan, feeling strangely detached. "Who did you meet with over the last two nights?" She asked abruptly.
"What?" Donovan blinked then his eyes slid from her almost guiltily. "What's that got to do with anything? Damn it, Julie ..."
"It has everything to do with it, Donovan. According to this," She raised the letter. "Over the last two nights, you've been meeting with your mother ..." That caused a stir. "To make plans to get your son back by trading Tyler for him." Julie had suspected what that announcement would bring so she didn't even flinch at the sudden crash of bodies as Tyler tackled the attacking Fontana. The two Barbarosians crashed into a chair, shattering it and everyone scattered, standing well back as Tyler wrestled Fontana into immobility. Tyler was speaking sharply in their native language, words that were half-command, half-plea.
"Damn, I wish Polly were here to translate." Robert muttered as, after a moment, Fontana snarled out something that was apparently agreement. Tyler released him and Fontana rose, glaring at Donovan balefully before climbing back up into the loft and out of sight.
"Where's he going?" Donovan snapped and Tyler turned on his knees to look at him. Blood ran from the new gashes left by Fontana's sharp claws.
"Why?" He half-spat. "Who you planning on trading him for?"
"It's not like that!"
"Then what is it like?" Julie said curtly. Tyler, who had been preparing to say something more, closed his mouth and started to stand.
"Sit down." Robert said sharply, moving to Tyler's side and pushing him firmly into the easy chair. "Before you fall down."
"Don't need blood on the chair." Tyler protested.
"To hell with the chair." Robert said bluntly. "Alice, can you find the med kit?"
"Already got it. Here." Alice dangled the kit by its strap then let it drop into Robert's waiting hands.
As Robert busied himself with fixing Tyler up, the others were staring at Donovan with varying degrees of disbelief, disgust, and anger.
"Hey! What makes you think that it's true?"
"Well, for one thing you haven't denied it! Damn it, Donovan! What the hell did you think you were doing!?" Julie came close to shouting.
"I was planning on telling you!"
"When? When you came back with your son? 'This is Sean and, by the way, I had to trade our one and only military expert to Diana in order to get him back!'."
Donovan felt his face flame. "I was trying to figure out what to do!"
"Why didn't you just tell me?" Julie was closer to tears then she wanted to admit.
"I haven't had a chance!"
The urge to cry vanished in a surge of anger. "You've had two days. You've had all day today." She paused, remembering their earlier conversation. "That's why you wanted to know ... what? Were you looking for something to justify what you were planning?"
"Damn it, Julie ... Let me see that!" Donovan snatched the letter from her hand
"Ham! No!" Julie said sharply and Donovan jerked his head toward the other man. Tyler was on his feet, glaring at him with narrowed eyes and Donovan realized that the Barbarosian had mistaken his gesture for an attack and responded accordingly.
Julie thrust her hands into her pockets. "So read it. Then you can explain." She said curtly and Tyler stepped back, settling once again in the chair. Donovan stared at him for a long moment then read the letter, heart sinking as he saw the plans completely outlined there, right down to the time and location.
"Julie ..." He looked at the woman desperately but there was no sympathy in her eyes, only a cold anger. "I had to think things out! Some of the things Mother said about Tyler's people ..."
"Great." Maggie said sarcastically. "You're taking the word of a known collaborator whose only information comes from the people we're fighting over that of a valued ally's."
"There's too many gaps in what Tyler tells us!"
"How would you know?" Robert challenged. "You don't listen to what he tells us! And when you do listen, you just automatically assume he's lying!"
Donovan flushed darkly, refusing to admit how true that was. "Look, it's the only way I can get Sean back! Diana's threatening to send him back to their home world in just a few days ..."
"What?" Tyler barked, looking up. "They're sending ships back to their planet?" He saw the answer in Donovan's expression and gritted his teeth. "Deities curse it! Didn't you think we might need to know that?"
"There's nothing we can do about it!" Donovan protested.
Tyler stared at him, feeling a sick churning in his stomach. If it hadn't been for the unknown letter writer, he could very well be on one of those motherships heading for the Visitors' home world. Ignoring Robert's startled protest, he lunged to his feet and stalked toward the door.
"Tyler! Where the hell are you going?" Donovan yelled and he could hear panic in the man's voice. Right. If he left, taking Fontana with him, Donovan wouldn't have anyone to trade for his kid.
"Away!" He snarled back, reaching for the doors.
"Komees Ihn'e!" Julie's voice cut through his anger and he stopped dead, digging his claws into the door's wood before turning to look at her, his face remote.
Julie looked back, not knowing why she had used his real name this time but somehow sensing that was the only thing that would have stopped him. She realized something else as well, that she could order him to stay and he would. She could even order him to participate in the trade and, again, he would, even if it put him into Diana's hands. For the first time, she realized how much power Ham had given her. That realization cleared her head and fed her determination.
"When will you be back?" She asked, almost smiling at the surprise that flickered through his eyes.
Ham hesitated, looking around the group. "Three days. No more then four." He said finally and Julie nodded curtly.
"Report to me immediately when you get back." She ordered and Ham nodded, shoving the door open and slipping through the opening, closing it firmly behind him.
"You're just going to let him leave?" Donovan half-shouted.
"Why not?" Maggie said resentfully. "You do it all the time."
"That will be changing." Julie said as she turned back to the group. Something nagged at her mind but since she couldn't remember what it was, she shoved it firmly out of the way. "We don't need Ham for the next few days." She looked directly at Donovan. "And since he's obviously afraid you will try to trade him for your son, it might be best if he was out of arm's reach until the danger's past."
Donovan went white. "Damn it, Julie! This is my son we're talking about!"
"It's also Ham's life we're talking about." She said curtly. "And you have no right to give that life to anyone, least of all someone who would happily spend years taking him apart."
Donovan glanced around for any sign of support, heart sinking when he saw none. "Come on! Most of you would do the same if it was your kid! Hell, Robert, you traded the damn camp for Robin!"
Robert paled, his lips thinning. "And I paid for it big-time. And I'm still paying for it and I will always be paying for it." He said coldly and Donovan flushed, already regretting his words.
Julie closed her eyes, feeling ill. At that moment, the nagging thought that had been pestering her broke through and she opened her eyes, stepping around Donovan before turning to face him again. He turned with her.
"What if Ham wasn't here?" She asked curtly, aware of a surprised stir through the group but she ignored it, focusing on Donovan, making him focus on her. "Who would you have traded then? Me? Robin? Martin?"
"You know I'd never do anything like that!"
"Why not? You've been making arrangements to trade one of us for your son. How can I believe you wouldn't just as easily trade someone else?"
"Hardly one of us." Donovan snapped then paused at the reaction those words caused. "Look, Tyler's been running a game since day one but no one here seems able to see that!"
"Maybe we can't see it because he hasn't been running a game." Caleb said. "Maybe you just want to believe that because it gives you an excuse to go through with the trade."
Donovan glared at him, flushing angrily, remembering the times when he'd wondered the same thing. "Leopards don't change their spots." He muttered.
To everyone's surprise, Chris gave a sharp bark of laughter. "Yes, they do. Occasionally they exchange them for sabor-tooth tiger stripes."
Despite the seriousness of the discussion, or maybe because of it, laughter rippled through the group. Julie blinked at Chris and he shrugged, obviously embarrassed.
"A variation on an old Barbarosian saying. Ham used to say it about ..." His eyes flickered to one side. "About Linn. About his wife. And his sisters." He grinned suddenly. "And pretty much any female he's dealt with for very long."
Julie's amusement faded and she looked back at Donovan almost sadly. "Why didn't you just tell us?" She demanded.
Donovan scowled, turning his attention back to Julie. "Look, I was planning on telling you in the morning!"
"That's easy to say now." Chris pointed out harshly and Donovan glared at him.
Julie let her eyes slid past Donovan. After a moment, she shoved her hands into her pockets and walked past him. He turned, opening his mouth to say more but the words died in his throat.
Ham was sitting on the couch, leaning forward, elbows resting his knees. His shirt was off, revealing the claw marks on his chest and shoulders. He stared broodingly at Donovan with eyes still the color of heated amber.
"Ham never leaves the camp without telling me or Chris where he is going, how long he'll be gone, and how to contact him." Julie said quietly. "Never." She turned back to Donovan, reaching out to take the letter from him. "You said you were going to explain. So explain. Now."
As the buildings in the town were fixed up, more and more people had moved from the trailer-dorms. The Maxwells had remained, more for the sense of something familiar then anything else and now had pretty much all of one trailer, save for the small room that Julie and Donovan shared.
Unable to sleep, Robin slipped from the bed, reaching for her robe. The door to the couple's room was open and noises were coming from it as well as the sound of someone muttering in a low voice. Curious, Robin walked over to peer in, shocked at the sight of a grim-faced Fontana crouched on the mattress, searching through the drawers.
"What's going on?" She blurted out.
Fontana tossed a shirt to one side. Or rather, what was left of a shirt. Fontana's claws were out and rather he meant to or not, they were leaving slashes in the cloth.
"Donovan has been planning to trade Kom to Diana for his son." He said curtly.
"What? No, he ..." Robin stifled the knee-jerk response and thought about it. "And you're looking for ..."
"Even the stupidest phrashi wouldn't approach a conscious Barbarosian. They had to have given him something to knock Kom out."
"He could have it on him." Robin pointed out, dimly aware of a sleepy-eyed Polly standing behind her, listening.
Fontana flicked a grim look at her. "I'll search him next."
"That might be interesting to see. Wait! That's Julie's!" Robin maneuvered herself into the room and knelt next to Fontana. "You search Donovan's stuff. I'll take care of Julie's. She doesn't deserve to have her stuff destroyed."
"I'll help. You two stick to the clothes and I'll search elsewhere." Now wide-awake, Polly joined them, tearing the bedding up and slipping her hands into tight spaces.
Fontana hissed suddenly and pulled something from out of a shoe. Robin looked at the item with a shiver. "I've seen something like that. On the mothership. It's like a ... what do you call it?" She gestured. "Hypodermic."
Fontana nodded grimly. "Whatever's in it would have to be strong enough to immobilize a Barbarosian long enough for the Visitors to ..." He cut off his words and looked up as a horrified Harmony appeared in the doorway.
Robin hastily explained. Like her, Harmony's first reaction was to deny it but once she thought about it, her face turned as grim as Fontana's. She held out her hand.
"I'll take it over. Fontana, you stay with the girls."
Robin started to protest that she didn't need a babysitter but stopped at a sharp look from the woman, realizing that having Fontana here was better then having him anywhere near Donovan. Fontana looked at the two of them, obviously wanting to confront Donovan but, finally, he handed the device to Harmony.
"Try to get those claws sheathed." Harmony said curtly. She looked at Polly, who had abandoned her search and was now grimly wielding a pair of scissors. "And you two get back to bed. Soon." She looked at the device she held. "I suspect tomorrow is going to be a busy day."
As Donovan finished outlining the meetings he'd had with his mother, Julie began to pace, her face angry. "I can't believe this! No. No, actually I can."
"I didn't have a choice!"
"You had plenty of choices! You could have told me! You could have told Ham!"
"You coulda told the bitch to go to hell." Tyler cut in and Donovan whirled on him.
"Just because you'd let your own kid fry ..."
Tyler's face went white and he lunged for Donovan, claws first.
"Ham, no!" Julie stepped between them and Tyler jerked his hands back against his chest, twisting to miss the woman. He landed hard on his side, curling around his hands, breathing harshly through clenched teeth.
Donovan suddenly found himself hitting the RV hard, propelled by Chris' broad hand around his throat. The big blonde man's eyes were colder then Tyler's ever were as he shook Donovan like a rag doll. "Don't go there." He hissed. "Don't you ever go there." Then he released the man and stepped back.
"That's the last time I'm going to stop him, Donovan." Julie said remotely. "If he goes for you again, you're on your own. You won't do anyone any good dead. And I don't think Diana will reward you for delivering him dead." She turned to the man on the ground. "Ham?"
With Caleb and Robert's help, Tyler was climbing back to his feet. There were new wounds on his chest, caused by his own claws. "I'm okay." He said curtly, ignoring the blood trickling down his chest.
"Sit down." Julie ordered and Tyler reluctantly obeyed. She turned to Donovan, pointing at another chair. "You too." She looked around the group. "Everyone else. Please sit down." She watched as everyone found a seat, knowing they were all tired and some were still a little drunk but knowing that they had to hash this out tonight. "I think we need some coffee."
"I'll make it and bring it over." Leaving the door slightly ajar, Harmony walked over to Julie and offered her the alien device. "I think you'll need this."
"How ..." Julie started to ask as she took the device.
"Fontana found it hidden with Donovan's clothes."
Tyler gave a sharp bark of laughter. "Donovan have any clothes left?"
"Let's just say that what Fontana hasn't shredded, Polly's cutting into small pieces with a pair of scissors. By now, Robin's probably helping them."
Julie gave her an alarmed look. "My clothes ..."
"Are fine. Robin rescued them."
"Good. And Fontana?" She threw a concerned look up at the loft but only Linda and Alice were up there.
"I asked him to stay with the girls. I think it might be best if he stays there for awhile."
"Good idea." Tyler grunted. "He'll have to calm down around them."
Julie nodded in agreement. "Thanks, Harmony. And thanks for the coffee as well."
Harmony nodded and left the stable, closing the door firmly behind her. Julie looked at the device she held before setting it carefully on the top of the TV. She turned back to Donovan.
"You were planning on going through with it." She ignored Donovan's protests. "But you were so busy trying to find ways of justifying it that you didn't bother to think about the consequences. What were you going to do when you came back with Sean and no Ham? Didn't you think we'd figure it out? Didn't you think about what Chris' reaction would be? Fontana's? Or were you planning on just not coming back?"
Donovan's face burned. "I hadn't thought that far ahead." He mumbled.
Julie saw Tyler open his mouth and shot him a stern look. He swallowed what he was planning on saying and glared back. "Hey! He was planning on handing me over to that lizard bitch on a silver platter!" He snarled. "I think I have the right to add some commentary!"
"Ham, please." She said quietly and Tyler looked at her for a long moment before nodding. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, amber eyes locked on Donovan.
"Donovan, I lead this group and I have to think of what's best for the entire group. And while I understand your reasons, I can't forgive the fact that you were planning on handing over the one man in this group who knows how to fight this war ... someone who's been getting us weapons and equipment and financial aid ... over to the Visitors without a single thought of how that action would affect this group. Did you ever consider what affect that action would have on our relationship with the world network? With Ham's people? Did you really think that either would continue to help us when they found out that one of our people had traded one of their people for someone else?"
Donovan flinched, realizing that he had never once thought about that. He started to speak but Julie overrode him.
"Not to mention what would happen when Tyler broke and told them everything he knew about us and the world network. Not if, Donovan, when. Even Barbarosians can be broken. It may take longer than a human but then, if you didn't bother to warn us, the time wouldn't matter."
"She doesn't want me for information." Tyler pointed out curtly, reaching out to take the letter from Julie. "She wants me to play with."
Julie shuddered, thinking of some of the things Tyler had told her. "First they'd take our claws. Then ..." She shook her head to drive the words away and looked back at the man who'd come to mean so much to her. "I'm sorry, Mike. There won't be a trade." She said, forcing sympathy from her heart. "Even if we didn't need Tyler so much, there is no way anyone is going to be traded for anyone else."
"There might be a way to get the kid back." Tyler said quietly, absently studying the letter and more then one person looked at him in disbelief. Donovan's disbelief was mixed with hope but Tyler ignored him as he looked at Julie thoughtfully. "A slim chance of getting the kid and me getting out alive."
Julie studied him, half-aware of Harmony and Paul setting the coffee urn up on one of the long tables. "How slim?"
Tyler shrugged. "Depends. On the layout of the meet mainly. This letter says it's a warehouse on a pier." He flicked a look at Julie and she frowned, something he had told her niggling at her mind. "We need to know more about the location."
"Donovan?" She asked curtly.
He wavered. "I haven't seen the place in years."
Julie's frown deepened then she sighed. "We can't take the chance ..."
"But I can describe what I remember!" He shot a hopeful look at Tyler but the alien was looking thoughtfully at Julie. "Tyler, if you could ..." He pleaded.
"No." Julie said curtly and Donovan shot her an angry look. "It's not his decision." Julie crossed her arms, authority etched in every movement. "It's mine."
Donovan blinked at her, surprised then looked sharply at Tyler, who shrugged. "She's the ba'ze. It's her decision."
"You have a plan?" Julie asked Tyler.
"I have an idea." He corrected. "But we need to know the layout."
Julie absently took the cup of coffee someone offered her and sipped it, grimacing at the taste. It really was getting bad. "How far away is this warehouse?" She asked abruptly.
"Maybe five to seven hours, depending." Donovan said.
"And the meet is less then thirty-six hours away." She said in disgust, glancing around the people in the stable. "I know we're all tired and maybe a bit hung over so I'm asking for volunteers only. I want some of you to go with Donovan to this warehouse and get the specifics of it. Donovan, get all of your cameras together and plenty of film. If there's any chance of pulling this off, we're going to have to work fast."
"Not you, Chris." Tyler cut in quickly. "We'll need you here." The big man stepped back and Julie choose Rico, Paul, and Robert to go with Donovan.
"You can drive with that foot, Rico?" She asked and Rico glanced at the cast on his left foot.
"Yeah, no problem."
"Good. Get pictures and as much information as you can. Watch out for Visitors, I wouldn't put it past Diana to send them down early." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tyler give her an approving look and she almost smiled. "Anything in particular you need, Ham?"
"Take pictures of the area closest to the water. And if you can, take pictures under the pier. See if you can find out how deep the water is there."
Chris looked thoughtful, obviously realizing what Tyler's idea was.
"Okay, head out now." Julie said curtly. "Harmony, can you fill up some thermoses with coffee?"
"Already done." The woman held out two thermoses. Robert took them and the four men left the stable. Once the van was on its way, Julie took a moment to order her thoughts then turned back to the others. "If we go through with this, we'll need some volunteers ..."
"No." Tyler looked up. "The fewer people the better. Chris and I can handle it."
Julie looked directly at him. "Will having more people involved increase your chances of surviving?" She asked bluntly and Tyler hesitated. "This is a two-way street, Tyler." She saw amusement glint in his eyes at having his own words thrown back at him.
"Yes, it will." He admitted. "But the fewer the better. And I want Robert to stay here. And Father Andrew. If this goes bad, they and the girls have the best chance of keeping Fontana under control." He sighed. "At least he's not berserker."
Julie's lips thinned. If this goes bad ... First they'd take our claws. Then ... She cut that thought off ruthlessly. "You don't have to do this, Ham." She said quietly.
"I know." Tyler looked down at the letter. "But Donovan's kid doesn't deserve this shit. We'll have to be careful though, once we get him. Trinity knows what Diana's already done to him."
Julie nodded, glancing around the room. "Now, for volunteers ..."
Everyone was willing to volunteer, even Sancho, and Julie picked out several, telling the others to please stay quiet about everything that had happened and to go to bed. Tyler caught Linda before she left and spoke to her in low tones before letting her go.
Julie looked at him inquiringly and Tyler shrugged. "I asked her to keep Fontana as busy as she could translating manuals. The less he thinks about it, the better. But if I don't make it back ..."
"Donovan better keep on going." Chris said shortly.
Julie's face tightened. "What's your idea?" She asked.
Tyler explained what he had in mind. By the time he was finished, Julie was shaking her head doubtfully. "There's a lot of holes in that plan."
"If this warehouse is laid out like I hope, it'll work. If it isn't ..."
"Then the plan's off." Julie said bluntly and Tyler nodded.
"We could lose Donovan." Elias said sharply.
Julie felt a stab of pain. "We may lose him anyway." She took a deep breath. "Like I said earlier, if he's willing to trade Tyler for his son, who's to say he wouldn't have been willing to trade someone else?"
To her surprise, Tyler shook his head. "I don't think it would have gone that far. If it weren't for them finding out about me, I think they would have asked for him in exchange. No, I worry more about what would have happened had he'd gone through with this exchange and you hadn't found out about it." He looked directly at Julie. "You're right about Donovan not thinking this through. If he had done the exchange, he would have been under Diana's control forever. All she would have done was threaten to reveal what he'd done. What would Donovan have done to hide that?"
"He could have come back and told us everything." Elias pointed out.
"Maybe. But then what?"
"We would have ..." Julie stopped dead. First they'd take our claws. Then ...
"There wouldn't have been anything left for you to rescue." Tyler said gently.
Julie felt her throat tightened. Chris, she could see, knew what Ham was talking about. Everyone else looked confused but she made no move to enlighten them. They had enough nightmares to deal with. "All right then. Chris, can you get the explosives together?"
"Sure. It'll use up all we got though."
"We'll find a way to replenish it later. Everyone else know the basic plan?" Heads nodded all around. "Good. Everyone get some sleep. That includes you, Tyler. We'll meet again when they get back." She glanced at Tyler. "Do you need stitches?"
"I don't think so." He looked down at his wrapped hands. "I'll need some good bandaging up before we leave though."
Julie nodded. "I'll send Fontana over."
Julie found Fontana sitting cross-legged on one of the empty beds in the trailer. The three girls were fast asleep and she motioned him outside to talk. "It's safe to go back now."
"Is it?" She couldn't read the look he gave her. "Where's Robert?"
"He and some of the others went to look over the proposed meeting place." Anger flashed in Fontana's eyes but Julie didn't flinch. "Ham's idea."
"Your orders?" Fontana said curtly and she shook her head.
She wasn't sure he believed her as he turned away, heading for the stable. She climbed back into the trailer, heading for the small room she had been sharing with Donovan. There was a pile of rags, all that was left of Donovan's clothes, to one side of the door. Her clothes were still folded neatly in the dresser but the sheets and blanket were off the bed. Julie scooped up a couple pillows and the blanket, dragging them into the main room and making up one of the unused beds to sleep in. Finally she curled up under the blanket, feeling incredibly lonely.
Ham looked up as Fontana entered the makeshift room, refusing to flinch at the other's harsh look. "I've made my choice." He deliberately spoke in English and Fontana automatically responded in kind.
"One of them sells you out ..."
"One of them almost sells me out." He stressed the pertinent words. "More of them are helping me." He paused, studying his lover. "If the plan has little chance of working, Parrish will refuse to allow it."
Fontana threw him a scornful look as he stripped off his shirt. Ham tensed then forced himself to relax. "She loves him."
"She is a ba'ze." Ham said gently and Fontana flinched. The humans thought that word meant leader and, in a way, it did. But to them, it meant much more. A ba'ze was the rarest of the rare, a true commander. Ham watched Fontana pace, his hands working. The claws were sheathed, for which Ham was grateful. It meant Fontana had his anger under control.
Then Ham found himself pinned to the ground, looking up into Fontana's eyes as the other's fingers wound into his hair. Barely under control, he corrected himself.
"Come home with me."
"I can't." A growl rose from Fontana's throat but Ham refused to back down. "I have a duty here."
Anger flared in the other man's eyes then faded just as quickly. "Damn you." He whispered harshly. "Damn you, damn you, damn you ..." The words became a mantra as Fontana took him almost brutally. Ham gave only a token resistance before letting himself be overpowered, aware only of hot tears splashing on his skin.
Afterward, Ham lay with his head pillowed on his crossed arms, studying Fontana as he stretched out next to him. The other man was deliberately expressionless, staring at the ceiling and ignoring Ham entirely.
Ham sighed. "If I don't return ..."
"Donovan's dead." Fontana said coldly.
Ham didn't bother arguing. "You'll keep your promise? The girls, if they still want ..."
Fontana gave a short laugh. "Polly's already packed, Robin started packing tonight."
"I figured." He reached out to twine his fingers with Fontana's. "Your promise?"
"I always keep my promises." Fontana glanced down at Ham's hand, seeing in his mind's eye bloody rawness where claws should be. "So many things could go wrong."
Fontana closed his eyes against the images his mind were creating, driving them back firmly. He tightened his hand on Ham's possessively and Ham drew closer until he was stretched out against the other man. After a moment, Fontana turned toward him, slipping his arms around Ham and holding him close.
The foursome arrived back at the base about the middle of the afternoon, totally exhausted. Caleb and Sancho met them as they arrived. "We're set up in the saloon. Got the film?"
Donovan handed the packets of exposed film to Caleb, who passed it to Sancho. The little Mexican turned and headed immediately for the makeshift darkroom set up in one of the trailers.
"Ian'll get those developed and over to us. Got video, right? Good. Let's see if this mess will work." Caleb turned on his heel and headed for the saloon.
"Do you think it'll work?" Donovan asked, a desperate note in his voice.
"Honestly? No, I don't." Caleb said bluntly. "It'll take a lot of skill and a lot of really good timing and a hell of a lot more luck. But Tyler's willing to give it a try." He shot a cold look at Donovan. "Why, I have no idea." He glanced over at Rico and Paul. "Why don't you two head for bed? You look beat."
"No problem. I don't think either of us could add anything to what Robert can tell you anyway." Paul said with obvious relief. "Come on, Rico." The two men stumbled off on the directions of their beds.
The party of volunteers scattered around the saloon didn't even bother to look up as they entered. Father Andrew, Elias, and Maggie were at one table cleaning and double-checking weapons. Chris, Alice, and a newcomer named Nick Lenner were at another table, putting together explosives with deceptive ease. Julie and Harmony sat with Tyler, bandaging his injuries.
"I need to wear gloves over those." Tyler was saying and Julie nodded as she wrapped his hands.
"You may have to wear a size bigger." She looked up but there was no happy greeting in her eyes for her lover. She just gave them all a curt nod. "Well?"
"Ian's developing the film now. But we have the video ..." He glanced at Donovan and, after a moment of staring at Julie, the former newsman went to the VCR and slipped the video in. They all watched in silence as the picture of an obviously empty warehouse appeared on the screen. Donovan started to speak but Robert beat him to it.
"We did a recon around the place. No Visitors that we could see but some evidence that they had been there." He walked over to the TV. "The photos should be better but you can see that the warehouse is built over the water."
Tyler rose and walked over to stand next to Robert, watching the screen closely as the scene shifted to under the pier. "How deep is the water underneath and around the pier?"
"It varies." Donovan cut in. "Twenty to thirty feet depending. Deeper once you get away from the pier itself."
Tyler stared at the video for a long moment then turned to Julie. "It might work."
Julie stared at the video. "It might. Robert, the girls are with Fontana ..." She paused as Polly suddenly appeared, arms full of enlarged photos. She dropped them on the nearest table and threw herself into her father's arms. Julie smiled. "At least I thought they were."
"I'm just running photos back and forth!" Polly said as she released her father and ran back out the door.
"They must have finally run out of your clothes to cut up." Harmony said to Donovan.
"Did they really?" Robert didn't sound surprised.
"Oh, Trinity, did they." Tyler didn't look away from the video. "Big pile of rags. Of course, Fontana would have preferred a big pile of blood and bone ..."
"I thought that only worked if you had a Rathorn to feed it to." Alice said innocently and Tyler gave her a surprised look.
"You have been listening to our talks."
"Hey, when you start a sentence 'The Rathorns are the only sentient species in the known universe who can legally kill and consume other sentient beings ...', one does tend to sit up and take notice."
"That's enough." Julie said sternly, hiding a smile at the look on Donovan's face. "Robert, go get some sleep"
Robert wavered. "If you need help ..."
"We'll need you here." Julie glanced at Tyler. "Ham is of the opinion that you and the girls might be able to keep Fontana under control if ..." She stopped, not wanting to say the words out loud.
"If he goes anywhere claws first, I am not getting in his way." Was all Robert said as he left.
Tyler turned from the video to watch him go then walked over to where Julie was setting out the photos.
"Go get some sleep, Donovan." He ordered and Donovan flushed angrily, looking an appeal at Julie. She ignored him as she studied the photos.
"I want to know what the plan is." He said curtly.
"And I want to make it to the thousand year anniversary of the Jubilation when it comes around. Not telling you the plan gives me a better chance of reaching it. So go away!"
"Donovan." Julie cut off whatever the other man was going to say. "You haven't slept in over twenty-four hours and you're going to need to be alert so go get some sleep. And stay as far away from Fontana as you can."
Donovan stared at her, willing her to turn around but Julie just pointed something out to Tyler on one of the photos. He looked around for some indication of support but there was no sympathy in any of the eyes looking at him. They were, he realized, waiting for him to leave and he finally did, realizing, at last, what his intended actions were costing him.
Once Donovan was out of the building, Julie let her shoulders sag. "Damn it ..."
"You're doing the right thing, Julie." Father Andrew said gently. "Frankly, no one would blame you at all if you nixed this plan completely."
"It's tempting as hell." She rubbed her eyes tiredly. "But if it has a chance of working and you're willing to go through with it, Ham ..."
"Fontana thinks I'm insane." Ham said. "But I can't not go through with it. We need Donovan. He's one of the most visible members of the Resistance. If we don't do this, he'll leave and Trinity knows where he'll end up."
"You think he'll try to hurt the group?" Julie asked tightly. Obviously she had thought on this herself.
"I don't know. He's not reasonable where his son is concerned. Despite what he thinks, I understand what's driving him but, in his own way, he's brought it on himself." Ham sighed. "He told his mother that Sean was on the mothership. He had to have suspected that she'd ask her friend Steven to find the boy for her. Maybe he hoped ..."
"He'd just give her the boy. Damn them both! Neither of them thought beyond what they wanted!" Julie said in frustration then she took a deep breath. "Okay, so what do we have?"
Conversation broke off as Polly appeared with another armload of photos. She made a face at the adults, knowing full well they had broken off their discussion to keep her from hearing what they were saying before running back out again.
"Where'd she get that knife?" Father Andrew asked suddenly.
"Fontana gave it to her. He gave one to Robin too. It took a bit of talking to convince him not to give one to Katie as well. I had to remind him that, unlike home, children here do not learn to use knives before they can walk." Ham took a marker and started making marks on a couple of the photos. "Can you get the explosives attached to these pilings?" He asked Chris.
Chris looked them over and grunted. "If we can get a boat, we can slip right under it and get them set up slick as a whistle. Otherwise, we're going to need some strong swimmers."
"I'll get a boat." Elias spoke up.
"Good." Ham looked at the photos again, frowning.
"Will this plan work?" Julie said bluntly.
"If nothing goes wrong, it'll work."
"And if it doesn't, you're dead. Or worse." Julie gritted her teeth, resisting the urge to dismiss the plan outright. She hated being the one who had to make these decisions! "And then there's the added danger of Donovan blowing it ..."
Elias shifted uneasily. "He wouldn't blow it on purpose."
"He might." Caleb spoke up. "He might decide his chances of getting Sean back are better if he really does give them Tyler. All he has to do is get word to the right person."
"Trading me for Sean is one thing." Ham cut in. "He hates my guts, he thinks I'm the cause of his troubles. Even now he's looking for a way to blame me for all this. But you guys are different. I don't think he'll endanger you and if he blows this then you guys will be royally screwed as well. And this base and everyone in it. And quite possibly the whole of the Resistance. He may not have thought of that before but I think he realizes it now."
"I'll pound that fact into him before you leave. I still think I should go with you." Julie said but Ham shook his head.
"We need you here in case it does go bad. You'll need to move everything and everyone, fast. Let's go over the plan once more. Then we get to work."
As he walked to the trailer, Donovan could feel the glare of eyes. He looked around furtively but he couldn't see anyone watching him. Even the loft was empty and he wondered briefly where Fontana was. But he couldn't get rid of feeling of glaring eyes.
'Guilty conscience.' His subconscious asserted and he shook his head. Maybe he had been wrong in not telling Julie immediately but while watching the movies, he had decided to tell her in the morning. Hadn't he?
'Of course you had.' There was a definite sneer in his subconscious now and he winced. Quickly he climbed up into the trailer and away from those unseen eyes.
The trailer was empty except for Robert, fast asleep on one of the bunk beds. Donovan ducked hastily into the little bedroom, wincing again at the sight of his ruined clothes. Even the shoes and boots had been cut up. The sheets were torn off the mattress and he threw them into some semblance of order, along with the one pillow left on it. Eyes narrowing suddenly, Donovan opened up a drawer in the dresser then another, thankful to see Julie's clothes were still there. He threw himself onto the bed and stared at the ceiling.
Okay, maybe he was wrong. But they could have gotten Tyler back eventually. The Barbarosian could have survived what Diana had planned, no way could Sean have! Maybe he should have somehow offered Fontana instead ... if he had told his mother when Fontana's ship left, then they could have gotten him without anyone here the wiser. Of course, he would have had to find a way to keep the girls from leaving with him and ...
His mind whirled in a series of what ifs and what could have beens until, much to his surprise, he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Ham splashed water on his face and then over his hair before gripping the side of the sink and staring down into it, hating the fear that was crawling through his mind and making his stomach churn. The anticipation was the worst, thinking of what could happen if this all went wrong. Deliberately, he forced the thoughts away, burying them deeply before looking up.
He was almost surprised at his appearance. He couldn't do much about his hair but he'd shaved off the beard, returning, at least physically, to the Ham Tyler of before. He pulled on a black T-shirt and stepped from the bathroom.
Chris glanced up from the satchel he was packing and almost smiled.
"You're gonna scare the children."
"You think?" Ham half-smiled back before collapsing into a chair. "Seen Fontana?"
"He's teaching the girls more Barbarosian. Took them out to the north field. To resist temptation, I think."
Ham grunted, reaching for the rifle resting on a nearby table. It was well-oiled and maintained, as was all their equipment. A sniper scope was attached to the barrel and Ham opened the rifle to look into the chamber. Hollow-point bullets, guaranteed to mushroom, doing the maximum amount of damage possible. He clicked it closed, not looking at his friend.
"You can call it off, Ham." Chris said gently. "No one is going to blame you." Ham threw him a look and he corrected himself. "No one that matters."
"I know." He set the rifle down. "When are you leaving?"
"As soon as I get finished with this. Paul's double-checking the vans and packing up extra gasoline, in case the boat Elias gets needs it."
"Where's he getting a boat from anyway?"
"We're making it a point not to ask him that." Chris said firmly as he reached for the rifle. "We leave now, we should hit the rendezvous just as it's getting dark. We can get all set up and be ready for when you guys arrive in the morning." He paused, staring at the gun in his hands. "I don't want to have to use this, bro."
"No more then I want you to."
There was a pounding on the door and Chris reached over to open it. Caleb looked in. "The vans are packed and ready. Everybody's set." He glanced at Ham. "Paul's are working on your van now."
"I'll be out in a minute." Chris said and Caleb nodded, closing the door firmly. Chris was silent for a long moment then shook his head. "Jesus, Ham! If Donovan blows it ..."
"Take care of the kid."
Chris fumbled to a stop then sighed. "I will." He glanced at his friend, wondering how Donovan could be so blind when it came to Tyler. Even Donovan's sidekick had known Tyler better then the newsman ever did. Chris' lips quirked. How well Tony had really known Tyler was something he seriously doubted Donovan would ever know. Or would want to know, for that matter.
"See if you can send the kid off with Fontana. That would be the best thing for him." Tyler rose, not resisting as the big man pulled him into a tight hug. After a long moment, they stepped apart, Chris reaching down to pick up the satchel.
Grabbing up a dark windbreaker, he followed Chris from the stable and to the van where the others waited. Several people looked at him strangely and he realized that while they had managed to keep the reason for this mission under wraps, most people probably suspected what it was about. Or maybe they just found his change in appearance more alarming then he thought it would be.
He paused, looking around. Julie was with the others but Donovan wasn't anywhere in sight. Probably still sleeping. Well, that would keep him out of the way.
"About as set as we're going to be." Caleb grunted.
"Just follow the plan." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Chris set the rifle carefully in the back of the van, the satchel near it. "You should still be in the infirmary." He said to Sancho.
Sancho raised his hands. "I'm driving the other van, amigo. That's all."
"And you?" Ham looked at Rico, sitting in the driver's seat.
"I know the way there. Not even getting out of the van."
"All right. Be careful."
"You too." Caleb said as he slipped into the passenger seat. The others scrambled into their places and Rico started the van, pulling away. Sancho walked over to the second van, climbing into the driver's seat. Harmony was already in the passenger seat next to him, Alice sitting in behind her.
"Will this work?" Harmony asked anxiously.
"Yes." Ham said firmly. "Go."
He and Julie stepped back as the second van pulled away.
"You sound certain of that." Julie said once the van was on its way.
"I have to be. If I go in thinking it'll fail, I might as well just stay home and pull the sheets over my head. Uh?" He looked down as something ran full-force into his leg. "I seem to have acquired a growth." He said solemnly to Julie. "With blond pigtails."
Katie giggled, arms wrapped around Ham's leg and, despite the situation, Julie found herself smiling. Looking up at the man, Katie said something slowly in Barbarosian.
"Very good. You even have the accent correct." He looked up and around until Robert caught his eye. The other man made a gesture toward the woods and Ham nodded in understanding. "Yes, I'll join you for supper tonight."
Robert smiled. "You girls run ahead and get a table. We'll be right there." Once the girls were out of earshot, he continued. "Fontana said he'll meet you in the loft later. I think he's trying to stay away from Donovan."
"Good for him." Ham grunted. "Join us, Julie?"
"Yeah, thanks. I'll re-wrap your hands after we eat."
Ham looked down at his bandaged hands and grimaced. "I wish we healed as fast as people seem to think we do."
Donovan slept fitfully, finally waking about sometime after midnight. He opened his eyes, hoping to see Julie asleep next to him but she was nowhere to be seen. After spending several minutes wallowing in self-pity, he finally rose and automatically reached for clean clothing, remember too late that his clothes had been unceremoniously shredded. Pulling on yesterday's clothes, he slipped from the room. Robert and the girls were all fast asleep in their beds and he climbed quietly from the trailer, nodding curtly at the sentry nearby.
Walking over to the general store, he searched through the piles of clothes until he found some that would fit and headed for the showers. Finally feeling clean ... at least physically ... he stepped back out into the street to find Julie waiting for him. She spoke before he could.
"You'll have to leave within the hour. The van's all ready." She gestured at a dark van parked nearby.
"The others?" Donovan glanced around.
"Already gone." She glanced up at the loft. "Ham'll be down in a few minutes." She turned and started toward the van.
"Julie ..." Donovan hurried after her.
"There's coffee and food in the van. Ham will tell you what you need to know on the way."
"Julie, damn it! I had every intention of telling everything yesterday morning!" Donovan almost shouted and Julie threw him a stern look.
"Keep your voice down." She ordered curtly. "And it doesn't matter now. This plan has a slim chance of succeeding and if it weren't for the fact that Ham's willing to give it a try, I'd call it off completely." She shook her head in frustration. "Damn it, Mike!" She took a deep breath. "I need you. I need your support, your help, you! But this group needs Tyler. We need his skills and his contacts and his training. As leader, I have to put the needs of the group over my own."
"What's the plan?" Donovan asked as he leaned against the van.
"Ham'll tell you what you need to know on the way."
"Damn it, Julie! This is my son we're talking about!"
"It's also Ham's life we're talking about." Julie shot back.
"Diana doesn't want him dead. He could have survived until a plan was put together to get him back."
He never saw the blow coming and he never would have thought such a small woman could hit so hard. When his vision cleared, it was to find himself laying on the ground, looking up the furious woman.
"First they'd take our claws." She quoted, hissing the words between her teeth. "Then they'd cut our eyes so we couldn't see to escape or attack. Sometimes they'd puncture our eardrums so we couldn't hear and if the screaming got too loud, they'd destroy our vocal cords. Occasionally they would break all the bones in our feet, a guarantee that we couldn't escape." She gulped air, forcibly swallowing the rest of what Ham had told her. "There wouldn't have been anything left to rescue, Donovan. Tyler would have killed himself, if he could. And if he couldn't, the only thing we could have done was kill him ourselves."
Donovan felt sick, realizing he'd never thought about what would be done ... could be done ... to Tyler. He hadn't wanted to think of it. "She might not have ..." He started, faltering at the look on Julie's face. "We could have ..."
"One of the things Ham told me was how to kill him should something happen and Chris wasn't available." She said coldly. "It is not knowledge I ever want to put to use. Now listen up. You could still get your son back by really giving Ham to Diana but if you do, don't even think of coming anywhere near us again. If Chris or Fontana don't kill you, I damn well will!" She was dangerously close to tears.
Donovan winced as he climbed back to his feet. "Come on, Julie ... I mean you don't even know the real reason Tyler wants Robin sent to his people!" He almost stuttered, still trying to find a way to justify his intentions, if only to himself.
"Actually, I do." Julie said coldly. "So does Robert, Father Andrew, and Robin. And, to a point, Polly. Ham explained it all very thoroughly to us."
Donovan gaped at her. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you didn't ask. Because there was no reason to tell you. Because it's none of your damn business!"
The crunch of gravel alerted the couple to Tyler's approach. He glanced at Donovan then at Julie. "Everything ready?"
"Van's packed. Fontana?"
"Trying to figure out if there's anything else he can destroy. Don't worry, I've convinced him to leave the cameras alone. Hopefully Linda, Robert, and the girls will keep him too busy to do too much damage." He glanced up to the loft. Julie followed his gaze, seeing Fontana standing there, the dim light glinting on the double-bladed axe.
"You might want to get in the van, Donovan, in case he decides to throw one of those axes." Julie said before turning back to Tyler. "Gloves?"
Tyler pulled a pair from his pocket. "You're driving, Donovan." He opened the passenger door then paused, looking up once more at Fontana, his face expressionless. After a moment, he looked down, shoving the gloves back into his pocket.
Julie looked at him, frustrated to see the hard, cold man of so long ago then Tyler raised his eyes to meet hers and she saw the man they'd come to know over the past few weeks. Well concealed but still there and she felt a surge of relief. She'd truly hate to go through all this and end up losing him anyway. She looked from him to Donovan, speaking to both of them.
"Good luck." She looked directly at Tyler. "Be careful."
"Be ready to move." was all he said and she nodded.
"I'll start the quick move drill at dawn." She stepped back as Tyler climbed into the van.
Donovan looked at her for a moment, hoping for a more intimate farewell. When none was forthcoming, he gritted his teeth and climbed into the van. Starting it up, he steered out of the camp.
Author Notes: none at this time. Wheeeee!!!