Once they'd reached the old grain silo Sebastian had mentioned in his directions, the bears pulled off the road to confer. At Vic's insistence, they decided to scout the area first before proceeding.
“We need to know what these guys are up to. I don't trust any of them as far as I could throw them. This whole thing stinks of setup,” he said and the others nodded.
“Agreed. But we must use caution. Their senses are as sharp as ours, if not as experienced. We should stay down wind of the barn as much as possible.” Boris said.
“That's it over there in the clearing, I think, no?” René was pointing to the old barn with the peeling paint and lantern-jawed doors. Boris nodded.
“So, what did he say on the phone?” Moose asked.
“It wasn't so much what he said as how he was saying it,” Boris said, peering ahead into the clearing. “He was being quite the prodigal son and was so very charming, very believable, but we all know we cannot trust him. René, you, Vic and Robert fan out and reconnoiter. Don't provoke them, and don't get brave. Come back and get us once you know where they all are. We need to know if they are all in a group or have scattered.” The three nodded and moved quickly and quietly off, melting into the brush and trees. Their large size belied the ease and stealth with which they moved.
Vic crouched, mostly concealed by the underbrush and a large boulder. He could see the barn, and a few of the rogues moving around inside of it. The breeze made it hard for him to catch scents to tell how many there were. Silently he moved from behind the big rock and to a clump of trees. He was working his way around through the woods opposite his companions. He had caught the scent of at least one of the rogues near by several times, but the rising breeze was making it difficult to pinpoint. He was just about ready to go back to report when a voice broke the silence.
“Don't move. Don't even breathe, or I'll blow your head right off,” the voice said quietly. The gun muzzle pressed harder into the back of Vic's skull. Vic froze where he'd knelt to examine what looked like a footprint. He tried to catch a scent but failed. He assumed it must be one of the rogues. The woods grew silent except for the rasping breath of Sebastian and some far off noises of woodland creatures.
“You guys don't give up, do you?” Sebastian had risen up from behind another large boulder where he had hunkered down when he'd heard Vic carefully walking towards the clearing. As luck would have it, the breeze had kicked up and he'd been downwind of Vic. He pushed the gun a bit harder into Vic' skull. “Get up.”
Vic rose from where he had been kneeling behind a thick tree trunk and slowly stood.
“I figured you guys would take precautions. Where are your buddies?” Sebastian adjusted his weight from one foot to the other. Vic began to raise an arm to wipe the sweat from his brow.
“No!” Sebastian snapped. “You don't move until I tell you.”
Vic risked speech. “Look... don't make this worse than it already is. We can work some...” A soft sound from behind them silenced Vic and made Sebastian shove the gun harder into the back of the bigger bear's head.
“If that's one of your buddies, you both die.” he rasped.
“Oh, for fuck's sake!” Vic growled, losing his patience with the youngster. “Use your senses. That's a squirrel up in that tree behind you. Surely you can hear that. You're a werebear, make use of it!”
“Oh, sure. You guys come in here, all big and important, know-it-alls. You're so much better than us, you know so much more than we do. Shit. What do you know about us or me? You've got your buddies, your little harem. I've got fuck all. What do you know about anything, about losing someone?”
Sebastian's angry, almost incoherent speech puzzled Vic. He thought rapidly. He could tell that under the 'little boy' whining Sebastian was at the ragged edge of control, barely holding it together. Whatever it was that was eating him, was pushing him almost over the edge.
He tried expressing sympathy. “Look, loss is a part of living for everyone. It's a part of our lives, too. We live so long, we're bound to see people we care about die while we... go on. It's one of the hardest things we have to come to terms with. Steve would have taught you that.” Vic paused. “And as a mater of fact, I do know about losing someone.” Vic tried to move ever so slightly into a better position while he spoke.
At the mention of Steve's name, Sebastian sucked in his breath sharply. They knew. Somehow they knew. Momentarily, he let his mind flicker back to the times he had with Steve, and the aching feeling of aloneness he fought daily to bury with sex or drink. Then his mind snapped shut and his resolve returned.
“Well, you're about to loose something else, man. You think you know about me? About loss? Well, think...” Sebastian's finger tightened on the trigger just as his eye caught a movement at the edge of his field of sight. At the same time, they both heard what sounded like a footfall or the snapping of a twig. A squirrel had gone too far out on a rotten branch, and had fallen to the ground as the branch snapped. It chattered angrily as Sebastian jerked partially around. Vic took advantage of his momentary break in attention and started to move forward and down. Sebastian moved his arm rapidly back and fired.
The deafening report of the gun silenced all noise except the thud of Vic's body as it hit the ground.
“SHIT! Shit, shit, shit!” Sebastian stared intently at the still figure. There was no movement, save for rapidly-widening pool of blood seeping around Vic's skull. Sebastian waited a few moments longer, nudged the still body a few times with his foot. The big man was obviously dead. Satisfied, he grunted and moved off at a run towards the clearing and the barn beyond, thinking of Steve.
Minutes later, when he reached the barn, the others were putting finishing touches on the explosives.
“They're here!” Sebastian said loud enough to be heard but without shouting.
They all looked up.
“Already?” Rick asked.
“Yeah, I just killed one beyond the clearing. You hear any vehicles?” he snapped. The others all shook their heads. Rick was staring at Sebastian, white-faced.
“WHAT? You think I was going to let them sneak up on us? Shee-it. Now I gotta come up with something else to get them in here. If they're close, they probably heard the shot... dammit!” He kicked a bale of rotting hay, scattering a family of mice. Rick stepped in close to him.
“Sebastian, I'm sick of the killing. Why does it always have to be fixed with a bullet? Why...” Sebastian glared at Rick, cutting him off.
“Because it works, fuckbrain! Because it's the only way to kill one of them.”
“One of us!” Rick corrected. “Sebastian, this is crazy. If we go to them now, maybe we can...”
“Can what? Obey? Settle down? Join them? No fuckin' way! I don't want any part of that... or them. You follow me, you understand? Think you can do that? You take your orders from me and if you don't like it, you can get the hell out. I don't know why I hooked back up with you again, anyway... cripple-boy.”
The old schoolyard taunt cut like an ax, slicing through Rick and leaving him bloodied and empty. He turned and looked at the barn floor. He could leave, but what was there for him in the rest of the world now, anyway? He thought of Benny and Freddie, and felt sure Sebastian wouldn't let him go very far. He thought about what Sebastian had said about Snake, how he'd catch up to him later. One against seven wasn't very good odds, even when you were a shapeshifter. Besides, he was in too deep, there'd be no help from the human world who were likely hunting them all as suspects even now. Sebastian was the only person he'd every really connected with on any level. It was Sebastian that had healed him, made him whole. If Sebastian wanted him gone, or dead, what else was there?
“So, what's it gonna be?” Sebastian demanded.
Rick hung his head and mumbled, “I'll stay with you.” he said, but his mind was already thinking about ways out.
“What was that? I don't think me and my boys heard you?” Sebastian gloated.
Rick raised his head. “I said, please let me stay with you... you guys.”
“Yeah, that's what I thought!” he crowed “Get your ass busy, we got company comin'.”
With no real place to turn, Rick silently made up his mind. He shoved a bale of hay against the barn wall, hiding a slab of plastique. He wanted to appear to be busy enough so that it looked like he had fallen back in line.
'Aw, hell,' he thought to himself. He turned, looking over his shoulder as the others scurried about, unclear on which way to go, but sick with staying where he was, sick of the killing. He walked out of the barn, looking as if he was getting a tool or checking on something. He moved slowly, then began to walk more rapidly, a resolve forming in his mind. If the humans couldn't help him, perhaps his own kind would. He grabbed his bike and started pushing it towards the clearing. If he hurried, he might be able to reach them before any more blood was spilled.
Some distance off, Snake watched the barn from the safety of the trees. He'd wait a while longer, hoping to see Kyle come out of the barn. Maybe he'd get his attention and get him into the woods for a talk and a little afternoon delight. He might even decide to cut loose from that group and hook up with the Snake tonight. That could be sweet. But then he heard the gunshot and although he didn't know who had fired a gun, he suspected it was Sebastian. When Sebastian came running across the clearing, he was sure he was right. He melted back into the trees and started working his way back to his bike, intent on taking the road leading away from all this. He waited just a while longer, hoping. Then he'd seen someone come out of the barn, at first mistaking Rick for Kyle. He stopped to look more carefully.
Snake watched Rick move off at a trot, pushing his bike as he went. 'Damn but that fucker must be strong to move that kind of metal that fast.' Snake thought. It was just spitting rain now, but it was likely to get a lot wetter. Earlier, he had been fully intent on leaving the barn and its occupants behind forever. He wanted no part of Sebastian's plan, whatever it was; but he'd circled back. He just couldn't get Kyle off his mind. He was sure if he could get Kyle by himself, Kyle would break away and leave with him.
Snake's cock was hard at the thought of some more of Kyle's sweet ass. Last night had been good and not just because it had been a long time. It had been primal, intense and rough, but tender too and that boy had the furriest butt he'd ever had the pleasure of pumping; and man, did he ever know how to milk a cock dry! He rubbed his crotch and felt the wet spot that had soaked through his jeans.
His own ass still tingled from the vigorous fucking it had received in return from Kyle. 'That little fucker might not be as long as me, but damn! His prong was thick and boy, he could pump it out!' Snake thought to himself, remembering how his ass hole had been stretched almost to injury by the thick stubby meat of the younger biker and how full his guts felt after.
Inside, Sebastian had climbed up the ladder to the hay loft and went to the cracks in the wood siding, looking out to see if he could spot the other weres or their vehicles. As he watched, images of his life with Steve flickered in his head distracting him and causing him to ignore the brief glimpse he had of Rick pushing his bike away from the barn. He wanted a drink, badly. Most days, getting drunk was the only way to shut off the voice and shut out the images in his brain. He shook his head hard and tried to focus his eyes on the road through the rain that was just starting to fall. Down below, Trey and Jack were going at it again.
“Here, fuckwad! Give it to me, you'll screw it all up that way.” Trey said, reaching for the wires and detonator. “Can't you do anything without fucking it up? Give it!” Trey demanded.
“Like hell I will! I ain't stupid. Just back off, I know what I'm...” Trey lunged for Jack and the wires.
Several things happened at once. Sebastian, drawn by the sound of Trey and Jack's voices raised in anger, moved to the edge of the hay loft. Trey's lunge for Jack took his feet across a set of wires that connected a detonator that had just been placed in a slab of plastique, causing him to lose his balance. Jack's attempt to keep the wires away from Trey and in his possession caused him to turn partially away from Trey. As Trey crashed headlong into him, Jack fell forward, touching the bare ends of the detonator wires together, completing the circuit. The last thing Sebastian knew as the blast lifted him high through the loft's collapsing roof was Steve's face, looking at him, filled with sorrow and disappointment.
Working on the theory that 'more is always better', Sebastian's crew had placed far more plastique around the barn than would be necessary to blow it up. The amount used would have leveled a sizable apartment building. In rapid succession, the blast blew the above-ground wooden structure into thousands of unidentifiable fragments, mixed with the body parts of the seven biker bears. Bits of skin, meat and fragments of bone were blown outwards in a wide circle, wider by far than the crater made where the barn once stood. The concussion also imploded the generator's fuel tank, concealed in what had been made to look like a tumbled down tool shed in back of the barn. The vaporized diesel formed a cloud of flammable droplets that was ignited by the second blast caused by the detonation of the rest of the munitions still stored in boxes at the base of the open stairwell. The resulting fireball incinerated what was left of the building and much of the surrounding vegetation. The remains of the plastique in the underground bunker completed the devastation. As the blast echoes died away, the only sound was the hiss of burning wood being doused by the falling rain.
Stunned and literally blown off his feet by the concussive blast, Rick rolled on his back, gasping. He'd gotten a good distance up the road but even at this distance, the blast had knocked the air out of his lungs as it flattened him and his bike. He'd hit his head on the ground hard enough to knock him unconscious. Perhaps ten minutes later, he was awake. It was pouring like the clouds had opened up and were dumping buckets. Splinters of wood had gashed his skin but they were healing quickly, pushing out the slivers as they healed. Finally managing to sit partially upright Rick tried to get up. Dizziness returned and he slipped in the newly made mud and hit his head again, but he saw three wavering pinpoints of light in the distance before passing out.
Snake was blown off his feet by the same blast. Being further away from the barn than Rick was, he was mostly uninjured, just knocked out by the impact with the ground. The rain pelted him as he lost consciousness and not yet possessing the accelerated healing abilities of the others, he stayed knocked out for some time.
The pinpoints of light resolved themselves into flashlight beams, carried by the werebears.
“Boris, there's a crater back there big enough for a couple of trucks, and I don't mean SUVs,” Moose said. The flashlights illuminated the wreckage of what had once been the barn and outbuildings scattered around them. Several trees had lost some or all of their limbs. Wood fragments littered the ground. “What the FUCK was that?”
Boris shook his head. “I have no idea. It had to be an explosion, but of what? If it was the rogues, where did they get enough explosives to make a bang like that? They certainly couldn't have carried them on their bikes.”
Walt, Larry, and Mitch joined the group. They had lagged somewhat behind Boris' and had seen and heard the explosion from the highway. “What the hell happened here? It looks like a meteor hit.” Walt was shining his flashlight over the area. He nearly tripped over a set of handlebars. “Oh, hell. It looks like those guys got caught in it.” His light shone over more bits and pieces of motorcycle. Suddenly, a low moan caused them all to turn and look.
“Isn't that one of them?” Rusty asked, moving toward the man who was lying on the ground a ways ahead of them. The rest followed him.
Mitch knelt beside Rick. “Get some light over here.” He peered closely at the barely conscious man. “Can you talk? No, don't move. Lay still. What...”
Rick shook his head and raised himself up on one elbow. “I'm OK, just... winded. I hit my head, but nothing's broke. I'm OK.” He started to rise, then fell back. Moose put out his hand and helped the still-dazed man to his feet.
“What happened here?” Boris' voice dropped an octave. “What have you done?” The others had formed a circle around Rick. They silently waited for him to answer.
Rick swallowed and looked around him. The now driving rain, which had kept the explosion and subsequent fireball from igniting an uncontrollable fire, had soaked everything. He began to shiver. He looked at Boris, and asked if they could get under some kind of shelter.
“Soon. First, you tell us what happened here. Where are your buddies? And where ss Vic?” the big bear said over the sound of the rain. “We followed your leader's directions and pulled off the road back there. Vic thought it would be a good idea if some of us scouted ahead, just to be on the safe side. René and Robert came back, but wher i's Vic?” The tightness in Boris' voice betrayed his concern.
“I don't know about your friend. I'm not even really sure just what happened back there, but I can guess. Sebastian was setting a trap for you. He intended to get you into the barn to talk things over, and then, I'm not sure how, get out and blow the place, with you in it.”
“That was a mighty big explosion. There ain't nothin' left of the barn back there,” Larry said, glaring at Rick.
The captive's breathing was still ragged and steaming in the cold, but he looked a bit less damaged as the blood came back to his face. He'd stopped shivering as his were metabolism began to warm him. “It wasn't just a barn,” Rick said.
“What do you mean?” Rusty asked.
“I don't know exactly what the place was, but it looked like a survivalist hide out or storage depot... at least, that's what Sebastian thought. There were rooms under the barn, food supplies and a generator, and medical supplies. Guns and ammo; lots of ammo and plastic explosives... that putty-like stuff. Trey and the rest were putting it all around the barn while Sebastian went out to see if you guys were coming. When he came back; him and me argued.” He paused and looked around, catching the eyes of some of the bears. “You gotta believe me. I hated all the killing. I didn't want any part of murdering any more, certainly not more of our kind. So I left. I got out, took my bike with me. Something must have happened and set off the explosives.” Rick pointed at the bike lying not to far from him on it's side, “I was going to see if I could find you, warn you. Then it felt like I was flying, and then I hit the ground.” He stopped.
“Well, that's as may be. Could just as easily be that you're here as a decoy or distraction, keep us busy while your buddies are just waiting to pick us off. And where's Vic?” Robert was looking daggers at Rick, his paws just itching to get themselves around Rick's throat.
“Um... I don't think so.” Moose said from a little ways off. He pointed to a severed arm and the badly-damaged head of a man. The arm at least looked like it belonged to Sebastian; it was still wearing the sleeve of the jacket Sebastian had had on when they had met in the park. A more careful inspection revealed more body parts.
Rick gave a quiet moan when he heard the news. He looked down.
“Don't waste tears on that one.” René said.
“You didn't know him.” Rick said quietly.
“Perhaps not. But he wanted to kill us, would have killed us, but for the grace of the good God. So do not weep for him.” René, usually the pacifist, was grim-faced and tense as he spoke.
Boris turned to the others. “There is more to this, I think. Moose, you and your mate take this, this... would-be murdering son of a bitch to the car. There's some rope in the back of mine. Tie him up and watch him. We'll scout around here, see if we can find any more survivors... and where the Hell is Vic?”
“I'm here,” growled a deep voice. Vic stumbled out of the shadows, looking like the victim of a particularly nasty ax murder, covered in sticky red blood the rain had not yet completely washed from him.
“Jeez, man, what happened to you?” Larry said. Both Walt and Mitch immediately went to Vic.
“Oh, that young fool tried to shoot me.” Vic put a paw to his skull. “But his aim leaves something to be desired... also, his knowledge of his were senses. Bled like a stuck pig, though. Easy boys! You'll get all bloody.” Vic nevertheless hugged his cubs fiercely. “S'OK, no lasting damage,” the big bear muttered softly to Walt and Mitch, then turned to the others.
“What did you guys do here? That kid took off after he shot me. I kept still for a bit until I was sure the wound was good and closed. I started to follow him, keeping in the trees as much as possible Took me a while, but then BANG! I get knocked flat again. Big-assed explosion.” Vic grinned. “I'm too old for this shit. I was too old for this shit a hundred years ago!”
Relieved laughter echoed around. “Vic, why don't you go with Moose and Rusty and take this guy and his bike back to the car. Sit down there and take a rest out of the rain for a bit. We'll take a look around here.” Boris motioned for the other to fan out and begin a search. Moose and Rusty herded Rick ahead of them, while Vic followed, peppering them with questions.
Once back at Boris's vehicle, they examined Vic's head. The deep gash caused by the bullet was nearly healed, fresh pink skin formed a thick rope that followed the track of the bullet that had nearly taken his life. An inch to the left and the bullet would have gone through Vic's skull instead of across it. In time, the scar would fade. It would take longer for the hair to grow back.
“Hey, easy, boys... that damn well hurts!” Vic winced as Rusty gently probed the area. “Don't fuss, I'm OK. I'm more interested in who this guy is and what happened.”
Moose filled him in on what details they knew, with Rick adding a few extra details and once again protesting his innocence.
“You shut the hell up!” Moose barked at one point, snarling at Rick.
“No, let him speak.” Vic looked at Rick speculatively. “Somehow, I think he might be telling the truth... at least mostly.” He pulled Moose aside and away from the vehicle and spoke softly. Rusty followed. “Remember, he was the one who looked uncomfortable with Sebastian's attitude when we met with them and I caught something else from him then, too.”
“Guilt, probably.” Moose said.
“No. Remorse... or regret,” Rusty corrected. “He didn't 'feel' like the others to me.”
“Ya think?” Moose was plainly still unconvinced. “Well, maybe. But I don't like it and if those others are still out there...” He left the rest unsaid.
“Here's the rope. Tie him up.” Vic tossed the rope to Moose, who tied Rick's hands behind his back and then trussed his feet for good measure. They all sat, watching each other. Rusty absent-mindedly massaged Moose's shoulders while they watched and waited, rubbing the same spot over and over.
“You've done that spot, lover. Try the other side.”
“OK,” Rusty said and continued kneading Moose's left shoulder, looking off in the distance.
Moose sighed. Rusty was obviously distracted. Soon, the noise of the other bears became noticeable as they worked their way back to the cars.
“Anything else?” Vic asked.
“Nothing. At least, nothing we could find,” René said.
“Well, there ain't much left to find,” Larry said.
“Not so fast. Look what we found over by that ridge of trees.” Boris and Robert walked into the group, pushing a lightly scratched but otherwise intact Snake ahead of them. Snake's hands were tied behind his back with his belt, and he was struggling to walk and keep his pants up at the same time.
“TWO survivors?” Vic said. He turned to Rick. “Did you know about this?” Rick shook his head, still a bit dazed.
“You think there could be more out there?” Rusty asked, plainly worried.
“Well, I can't be positive, but I just don't see how anyone or anything else could have survived that explosion. It's a miracle these two did. What bodies we found were literally blown to pieces. We found some parts of heads, but there's no way we can tell which parts belong together. There just isn't enough. Larry found bits and pieces of at lest five different bikes, probably more; but it's the same problem; just not enough left to piece together.”
Boris rubbed his beard. “Judging by where we found him,” pointing at Rick, “and the fact he wasn't all that badly injured, I'd say that part of his story at least checks out. That had to be one huge pile of explosives. If there was an accident, and this one left before that happened, he could have survived. But the others, if they were anywhere in that blast radius; well, even our kind wouldn't survive that. Boris looked back towards the devastated clearing. “I think we can assume that, except for Rick and this one here, they're all dead.”
“So... what is your story?” Boris prodded Snake with the butt of his flashlight. Snake began to tell the group of how he'd fallen in with the rogues. The rain began to fall heavily again.
Later, the bears were quiet as they made their ways back to the other vehicles. Hardly any words were spoken. Each was shaken, not only because of the gruesome deaths of the rogues, but also their own close brush with death. Weres often lost their old human habits of worrying about death and thinking of their own mortality. Some even grew careless of their own safety. But something like this brought it home to them in a forceful way.
“Could we have somehow survived that?” Rusty asked as he opened the car door, breaking the silence. He was still unsure of the extent of were powers of healing. Moose watched Rick intently, as the others moved to their vehicles.
Vic chewed on an unlit cigar, “Don't be foolish,” he muttered. “there wouldn't have been enough of us left to bury.”
The rain had once again tapered off, it was full dark now. The storm clouds were blowing away, leaving a clear, starry and moonlit sky behind.
“And now, I fear we have much work to do, and not very much time to do it in.” Boris said. “We can leave no traces behind. Any body parts, even scraps of skin or fragments of bone could yield DNA evidence. They would most certainly be analyzed. And the anomalies would betray our existence. Vic, do you feel like walking?”
“Good. I suggest we form a line and walk across clearing, through the barn area, and into the trees on that side. Keep a set distance apart, and do not miss anything. Any remains, no matter how small, must be collected. Robert, there is a roll of trash bags in the boot. Will you get it?” Robert nodded and fetched the plastic. He unrolled a bag for each of them, stopping at Rick and Snake, looking a silent question towards Boris.
“I think we must use them, too. We haven't much time. Someone will have heard the explosion and will come to investigate by morning I'm sure. We are lucky in the rain. No fire,” Boris said. Robert handed them a bag each as well, while Walt untied them.
“I don't know about this,” Moose said. “We're pretty remote here, you really think someone will come? I say, keep 'em tied up. We can do the job ourselves, just slower.” Larry nodded in agreement, but Vic disagreed.
“We may be remote, but someone is bound to come to investigate. I don't think that everyone will have mistaken that blast for thunder. We can't leave any clues for them and we need the two extra sets of eyes and hands to have a hope of covering all this ground in time. I say, put 'em to work.” Vic shifted the unlit cigar in his mouth.
Moose shrugged his heavy shoulders. “OK, if you say so.”
It was a huge task, one made all the more urgent by the waning of the moon and the faint light showing in the eastern sky. Day was not that far off and daylight meant the possibility of investigators. All but Snake had were-enhanced sight and smell and that saving grace made the job possible. Not long after sun up, the grisly task was done. Another rain was moving in as they finished, likely as heavy as the last if the report on the radio was accurate, and that was a blessing as foot prints and tire tracks would be washed into the soil. The bags filled with remains were stuffed into the vehicles.
Walt and Vic took Snake and Rick's bikes, respectively. Walt topped off Snake's tank from the fuel cans in the back of the truck. Snake objected but there wasn't much he could do. Rick was numb to everything and just accepted the situation.
“We will bury these remains deep in the earth, far from here.” Boris sighed. “The border is not far and I know of an old abandoned mine that would be perfect for our needs. Luckily, there are many places where we can cross unobserved.” He was silent for a while. “Such a waste.” he sighed again, shaking his head.