Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2012 23:52:06 -0400 (EDT) From: Pwrlftrbear@aol.com Subject: Stepping Into Forever 15 15 We had found Keith holed up...literally. It was a cave, and one not apt to be easily stumbled upon. Gene showed us the entrance, but was hesitant to go in. "I...I don't want him to see me like this," he said. "It will be hard enough for him to know I'm gone." A large rock concealed the cave, but we were easily able to move it aside. Within, we found Keith, armed with a rifle, ready to defend himself. At first, he was surprised to see us, then relieved, then fear crept into his face. Kip and I looked at each other sadly. "Keith...," I began. "He's gone. Isn't he?" he sobbed, eyes tearing up. I couldn't answer. I just went and took him into my arms and held him as he wept. I looked up as Kip crouched down, wrapping his arms around both of us. He fell into a fitful sleep, utterly exhausted by his ordeal. I picked him up and carried him out of the cave. As an afterthought, I had Kip seal it back up. Old habits, I guess. "Is he going to be all right?" Kip whispered as we trekked through the dark forest. The cries that had haunted us on the way there had fallen silent. "I don't know," came Steve's voice from the darkness. "Losing one's Papa, especially before the first change, well...you know." I knew his story and it made me think, long and hard on the way back. When we got back to the clearing, Brian was kneeling on the ground, his clothes mere blood stained rags hanging off him. From the smell of it, none of the blood was ours. He looked up as we approached and weariness etched his face. "You found him all right?" he rasped. "Yeah. But I'm still worried about him." His haunted eyes looked into mine expectantly. "I know...stories," I began. "Often, when a cub loses his papa too soon...he ends up going... mad." He looked at Paul and Jim and they both nodded seriously. "Bring him here," Brian said, easing himself into a sitting position. I laid Keith gently on the ground before him. He reached out a hand that trembled slightly, carefully touching Keith's forehead. He hissed and winced as if in pain. "I was afraid of this. The papa/cub bond is broken," he said. He turned to give Paul a pained look, one he returned stoically. "Do what you have to," Paul croaked finally. "What?" I asked, looking back and forth between them. "I...I think I can reforge the bond," Brian said sadly, gazing at his papa. I saw what he was thinking. Usually, when a bear takes a cub, the bond with his own papa... changes. His bond was still so new, but he was willing to risk it for this young man he'd never even met. "Would you be able to forge it to someone else," I said suddenly. "Possibly," he said turning towards me, holding hope tightly within his eyes. I looked up at Kip, dreading to see what he thought of this. "Would you be able to bind him to two others?" was all he said. "Don't know until I try," Brian said, the tension flowing away from him. He gestured for us to kneel on either side of Keith. "Are you sure about this?" I asked Kip. "As sure as I've ever been," he replied with a lopsided smile. "After all. You basically had two papas." He winked up at Paul. "And I think you turned out just fine." Keith was still slumbering, but more peacefully, when Mike and Cliff helped Kip get him back to the vehicles before returning for Gene. He would be...coming home with us. Mark and Kip asked if they could stay with us until Keith changed. They were worried about it happening on the road and our place was closer. I felt ashamed at how relieved I was that they had offered to...adopt him. But damn it. I wasn't ready to give up my cub. Now or possibly ever. But we still had a lot of work to do before we could leave. We decided the house was a complete bust. We couldn't risk anyone trying to analyze the blood stains that were left behind. Brian asked whether it was possible to somehow rig the furnace to blow. A slow grin grew across Mark's face and he headed for the basement. As for the bodies, we decided to leave the deaders in the house. The explosion should conceal how they really died. Some of them, though, were pretty much catatonic. Brian thought he could... restore them...mostly. He'd wipe all memory of the past few days away completely. They'd be left... mostly beyond the blast range, to survive or not. With Keith's father...well, I'm not sure what he did. The look on his face when he released the bastard didn't exactly make me want to ask. By the time he had finished with them, he could barely stand. His normally expressive face was slack and his eyes exposed his exhaustion. The...shades I suppose you could call them, stayed close by, either watching, or assisting as each saw fit. As we were finishing up, they began to gather around. "I suppose you're ready to...go home?" Brian said wearily. "It's been...interesting," Rick said, "But I'm missing Grandpapa. Besides, we're wearing you down." So it wasn't my imagination. "And I bet he's wondering what the hell I've done this time," he chuckled weakly. "Be good, boys," Rick said and stepped toward Brian. Brian stood, arms outstretched and Rick...stepped into him and vanished. One by one, the largest of the figures followed him. But the rest remained, stirring restlessly. "Well?" Brian asked, drawing a shuddering breath. One figure stepped forward. He was tall, yet leaner than any of us and his pale green eyes practically glowed in the darkness. "Not all of us are so lucky to have even one soul keeper left, much less two," he said bitterly. "We have no home to return to." "And yet still you willingly helped us," he said softly. "Your secrets are ours, as well," he replied. "Even so, you didn't have to. Until such a time as a soul keeper becomes one of yours, will I do?" "You would do that?" he asked in surprise as a murmur rustled through the dark crowd. "Fair is fair," Brian shrugged. "Life is seldom fair," he replied softly. "No, it's not," he said defiantly, steeling himself. "But it's the right thing to do." He looked at me and I smiled proudly. "Then, we accept," he said and suddenly a mad press of bodies rushed forward. Brian's eyes grew wide and darkened. He shuddered as each one passed into him, mouth agape with a silent scream. Suddenly, the last one vanished. He gasped, his eyes returning to their normal color. He staggered one step, then another, then fell to the ground.