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Drake stopped and stared as they entered the building. It was a giant indoor play room, and in the distance he could hear kids screaming and laughing. Nervously he leaned to look around Braeden, only to see the massive passage beyond the front desk led to an indoor swimming pool with a massive water slide. He stumbled over his own feet as he moved forward to stay close to Braeden, his gaze fixated at the vastness of the building and all the kid-friendly decorations.
Braeden felt Drake trip and managed to grab him before he fell. As he turned he saw the boy hadn't even really noticed either the trip or Braeden catching him. He was in such awe over the place noting seemed to register.
Avery turned and the sound of Drake tripping. For a few seconds he couldn't figure out what the problem was, but then the very recent conversation about how Drake had sometimes gone days without food rang in his brain. He moved back started to speak to Braeden, but realized the older boy was pretty astounded by the place as well.
Avery felt a pang of guilt, as going to places like this was a common event for him and had been since he was old enough to remember. Once mom left it hadn't been as often, but dad was ready with plenty of cash to send him on trips and camps, anything to get rid of him for a day, a week, or a month. Until now, it never occurred to him there were kids, some much older than he was, who had never been to resort.
Feeling lucky was actually a fairly new feeling for Avery, but he suddenly did, and with it came a sadness about his father's death again. The man had done a great deal for Avery, even though… Avery grunted as he found himself getting mad. 'The man was going to hand me over to his boss, probably over and over!' he screamed to himself as he fought the jumble of emotions ripping though him. Wiping away a tear mixed with conflicting emotions he managed to get a hold of himself.
He moved up to Braeden and tapped him on the arm to get his attention. "Maybe you should give Drake a piggy back ride or something. He looks almost lost."
Braeden snapped out of his semi trace, "Hell, so am I. This place is, like unbelievable!"
Avery forced a smile, "It's pretty awesome, no doubt." He left out the 'but I've seen way better,' though, because to do would not be fair to his two new companions. It was not their fault they had never been to a resort and for the first time in a long time he was with kids who seemed to accept him for who he was. Neither had made fun of him for being too smart, neither of them had commented on how small he was for his age, and best of all they seemed comfortable around him. For Avery, having a friend, either older or younger didn't matter as much as having a friend at all.
Avery actually felt kind of good for both his new pals. They deserved to be able to see stuff like this and have some real fun. Avery shot Braeden a smile and nodded in Drake's direction. "Unless we are going to drag him, we need to get him moving, though."
Braeden glanced down and snickered, "Good point." He took a deep breath as he knelt and lightly shook Drake, "Hey climb up on my shoulders and I'll carry you. You'll be able to see better up higher. Just remember while we are here to have fun we also need to make friends with the kids from Joplin if we can."
Drake's voice took on a soft almost dream like softness to it, "Yeah, you kept tellin' me and Avery on the way here, but are we really gunna stay here Bray?"
"For a couple of days." Braeden confirmed as he finally got Drake situated on his shoulders and stood, "At least Cinder says we are."
Drake giggled as his hands wrapped nervously around Braden's neck. "This is fun Bray!"
Avery glanced up at the younger boy, "Haven't you ever gotten a piggy back ride?"
Drake shook his head, "Me see other kids get em sometimes."
"I saw, not me..." Avery stated but stopped as he realized his words were being utterly wasted because the eight year old was only focused on the fact Braeden was carrying him and all the sights and sounds around him. "Never mind. Let's catch up to Cinder before he forgets about us."
"Avery," Braeden spoke in a warning tone, "he knows exactly where we are, even if he appears to be ignoring us. He notices everything and his hearing, sight, and smell are probably working to make sure there is no danger for any of us. I'd bet money on him hearing what we are saying even though all of this. I don't know how he does it, or why he needs to feel like we are protected, but he can and he does."
Avery almost said, because it's in his programming as a werewolf, but stopped himself. Such a comment, no matter how true, was simply not something Avery was allowed to talk about, at least with normal people around. As this sank in, his mind started a conversation with itself. 'Huh, I guess he's right. He doesn't get to know normal people which makes me not normal.' With a hint of a frown, he talked back to himself inside his mind, "Shut up Avery, they are going to think you are weird if you zone out and start thinking about this kind of stuff when they both want to explore and have fun. Just let it go and have some fun. This is why you don't have any friends and you know it.'
Drake suddenly looked back, "Avery, you commin'?"
Avery shook off the 'inner voice', as he liked to call it and ran to catch up, "Sorry, I was thinking about something." At the same time he mentally slapped himself, 'great Avery, you are starting to sound like a freak again.'
Drake didn't take it the way Avery meant, which was a giant relief to Avery. "Me thinkin' me wants to go on the big slide!"
Avery forced a smile, "I'll take you if you work on how you talk a bit harder."
Drake's eyes got real big. "Me… Um I'll say whatever ya want if me can go on the slide!"
This actually got a burst of laughter from a few folks waiting in line at the desk. One man even grinned at Avery and tapped a boy slightly older than Avery on the head. "Now there is a big brother for you. Wants his little brother to talk better and even bribes him. Maybe you should get to know him so you can learn what a real big brother is supposed to do!"
Avery blushed as the kid let out a huge sigh and fired a nasty glare at Avery while his shoulders dropped in defeat. "OK, I'll take Danny to the story book reading tonight!"
The man shot Avery another smile of gratitude before moving up to the counter with the two boys to check in.
"Great," Avery groaned, "been inside less than five minutes and I already have an enemy."
Braeden snickered and gave Avery a light poke, somewhat surprised he was able to get though the weird barrier around the boy. "You have a habit of this or something?"
"Yeah." Avery sighed and shook his head in disgust. "Even when I'm not talking to another kid I seem to screw things up. Now I am going to have to watch my back…"
Braeden snickered. "At least this time you can tell them to back off or your older brother will kick their butt."
Cinder turned around, proving he was indeed hearing the whole conversation. "Now we're talking. If you keep yourself focused on protecting Avery and Drake you and I will get along great. Just don't drop Drake. Having him on your shoulders is not the safest thing in the world, but it will help you build some muscle mass and Drake likes it so I will let it go for now."
Cinder then glanced up at Drake who was grinning ear to ear. "So, before you and Avery go on the slide, I need to know if you can swim."
Drake nodded and even giggled as Braeden bounced him up and down a little. "Tango took us out to a lake one day and kept throwing us in from the dock until he was happy. Krystal almost didn't make it. He had to go in after her. Once he was sure, he let us swim lots in the pond out in back of the farm he used to take us to."
Avery looked up in horror at the idea, "Someone just threw you in; let you sink or swim?"
As Drake nodded, Cinder glanced over, "What's the problem. The guy was obviously ready to jump in and get them if it went wrong."
Avery felt his jaw fall open, "It's barbaric!"
"Same way I learned." Cinder stated somewhat defensively. "At least Drake was thrown in the lake off the shore. I got tossed out of a boat, and I know the water is way warmer here than it is in Maine."
Braeden glanced over at Avery, "I learned when a friend of my dad took us on a hunting trip and my dad's friend got sick of the way I smelled. So he, like, took me to a large stream and made me take a bath in it. I slipped and fell in a deeper pool and like almost drowned. So after he pulled me out, he spent an hour or so each night working with me, actually getting in the water, and showing me, so I guess I was lucky. Too bad he moved away, cause he was like about the only good thing during those last couple of years of me living with my old man."
Another family right behind Cinder and the boy listened to the whole conversation before the woman, holding an eight year old's hand spoke up, "So are you three foster brothers or something?"
Avery shot a look over at Drake and Braeden clearly saying 'let me deal with this'. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and looked while putting on the best and cutest smile he could manage. "The homes we were in didn't provide enough protection. Since Mr. Cinder personally took care of the problems for each of us he offered to be our guardian. None of our parents were really in a spot to do better so the decision was made to live with him instead of where we were living. Besides, we are better protected with him and we know it and so do surviving family. An agreement was reached, and now we are under his protection. So to answer your question, I guess we are more like step brothers than foster brothers because he is now our guardian."
"So he took you all in and gave you a home! Well how nice of him."
Avery kept up his very charming smile. "We are way safer now than any of us have been in years."
Cinder glanced back as he heard the husband whisper to a boy slightly older than Avery standing behind him to, "stay away from those kids, they might be dangerous." He couldn't help himself as he took a step back and looked at the man. "You know, out of anyone staying in this place, your kids… any kids would be safer around these three than most adults. If you mess with one, you mess with all three and between them they have the skills, intelligence and intestinal fortitude to deal with things most adults would run and call 911 over. One thing I can assure you of, if your kid does hang around them, he might get picked on by someone else once, but it won't happen a second time."
Avery looked back with some surprise at how Cinder was actually giving all three of them some credit and defending them from something other than physical danger. He then turned back to the dad, who was staring wide eyed at Cinder clearly wondering how the man had heard the comment. The look on the man's face alone told him they had been insulted somehow, and it really didn't even matter what words were used; he intended to strike back. "Actually, sir, I highly doubt your son would get picked on at all with one of us around, and it wouldn't ever get fully through the first time. We are as nice to people as they are nice to us and our friends, and the three of us are now friends. Now I am curious why you would want to insult us. Some kids would take offence and search out your kids for such comments, but this time you are lucky. We don't hold the words of the parents' against their kids, because we know how lousy and judgmental some parents can be."
The man started to speak, but no words came out. He just stared down at Avery with a rather shocked look. He knew he had just been insulted by the kid, but it had been done so politely and with such mature-sounding words to say anything would make him look like a total ass. At least he was smart enough to know it, so he decided to just take it.
The boy, very close to Avery's age, on the other hand looked like he wanted to run.
Avery sighed and focused on the boy. "You're loss kid, but if you happen to see any of us around and need some help just ask. It's pretty clear we can handle trouble better than anyone else in your family. You're just lucky your parents are rich and influential enough to not let you see anything beyond a skinned knee and the like. However, sooner or later you will have to learn how to handle things without mom and dad's safety blanket. If something bad happens here, come see one of us. We can protect you while showing you the ropes of the world your parents probably don't even know exists, and if they do, they just aren't willing to show you how to handle it. If needed, we can and will."
He then glanced at the woman and smiled as warmly as he could again. "I don't like bad things being said about my brothers and we are probably your kids' best bet for someone to run to if something goes badly for them." He purposefully left it there, clearly implying even Drake was actually a better bet to come see than they, the parents, were.
The woman looked down with rather wide eyes, regretting she had ever opened her mouth. "I… well, yes I can tell. It was nice to meet you all and maybe Greg will see you all in the game room or something."
All three boys heard Cinder state with a satisfied and smug whisper, "Just like me when I was twelve, just like me."
Cinder moved up to the counter as the next spot opened up. Once again he heard the father whisper to his wife, "I think we have just been slighted by a child."
The woman responded, "I know we were… The problem is, the young man might be right. Greg and Glen don't know anything about the real world, and after this, I'm not so sure we do either."
Cinder nodded in agreement, but the head movement was lost on the two because they never suspected they had once again been overheard. He looked up at the six foot two woman behind the counter. "Reservations for Than, Cinder."
The woman looked down at Cinder as she pulled it up. "Sir, this resort has a policy of no kids by themselves in rooms unless one of them is over the age of sixteen, and I see you have booked two rooms."
Braeden spoke up, "I'm over sixteen."
She looked down clearly skeptical, "You look awfully young."
"Yeah, so every scum-bag who comes to the gas station I work at says. Look I drove here all by my baby-faced self. Cinder took his bike since he is here on business and we are here to have some fun."
The woman sighed and started to ask for an ID but Drake stopped her. As he spoke, his eyes turned a slightly darker shade. "Uncle Cinder said we could have our own room so we could play with other kids from Joplin without bothering him."
The woman blinked, and cringed slightly. She then looked back at Cinder with a bit of confusion on her face. "Uncle Cinder said you could have two rooms." She then typed something in the computer and pulled a pair of sheet off the printer. "Just sign here and here, Uncle Cinder. The first says you are responsible for all damage to both rooms and the second is a sheet stating the young man with you is older than sixteen. I'll be back with in a moment with the rest of the paperwork and a welcome packet. "
Cinder turned sharply holding up the sheet of paper needing his signature, "You know how badly I hate to lie, Braeden. And Drake, you just compelled her and I don't like it."
Braeden and Avery both looked a bit confused by what had just happened, but Braeden quickly came up with an answer. "Hey, I am older then sixteen. I turned sixteen like several months ago."
Cinder fired a sharp look up at Drake then quickly read the paperwork. It clearly said the juvenile in the second room had to be older than the age of sixteen, not seventeen or older so he nodded and signed. "Nice save Braeden. But let's keep it at you being older than sixteen and not say your are what your aren't, regardless of what your ID might say, OK?"
Still eyeing Drake, Cinder snorted. "No, you just think you are."
Drake snickered while Avery cringed and whistled, "Ouch."
Before Braeden had a chance to respond, the woman reappeared and took back the paperwork while glancing back at Braeden with a totally confused look again. "Here are your welcome packets for both rooms Mr. Than." She handed over a couple of folders with all sorts of resort information. You might be interested to know we have a school group from your city coming in tomorrow. I took the liberty of making sure your rooms are right next to the wing we keep for school groups, so maybe your kids will know some of them. I really don't know how big Joplin is."
"Joplin is pretty big, so probably not, but thanks for the information." Cinder responded without showing any outward appearance of being interested, but inside he was thrilled to hear they would be so close to the kids from the field trip. This would make keeping an eye on them far easier. He also realized Drake had pushed hard enough to have his suggestion of playing with kids from Joplin affect her choice of rooms.
The interesting thing was she was already fighting the suggestion so either Drake didn't have nearly the psychic push to compel people as the boy did to move objects or he just wasn't used to using them. However, since Drake would have certainly tried to use such suggestions in the past to stop abuse and the like, he bet the boy had minimal capabilities in this area. This opened up a new avenue for Cinder to explore, since he never really thought about what powers mentalists had and didn't have. Yet it made sense some would be better in certain areas. This line of thinking almost caused him to miss what the woman was talking about, fortunately he caught enough to catch back up.
"… So would you like to set a tab for your kids? We can pull any amount off your credit card and put it on a resort card. They can be used at any store, restaurant, or game in the Great Wolf. Anything left over will be put back on your card at the end of the stay. This way if it gets lost all your children have to do is come up here and will cancel out the old one and give them a new one. It is very safe and needs a six digit pass code to use. We strongly recommend birthdates, since it is easy for the kids to remember and totally secure since the only thing it has on it is their first name."
Cinder glanced over at the boys and noticed the father they had just been talking to was eyeing them. Wanting to send another message to the man who clearly saw himself as better since he saw himself as richer than Cinder and the boys, he pulled out his wallet. "I prefer to use cash on vacations so I know exactly how much I am spending. I'll pay cash for the three nights now and add an extra hundred plus for extra charges I might incur. The credit card is for holding rooms and to be put on file for any extra charges over the normal expenses. When I leave I will settle everything with cash. I also need an extra key for my room for the kids to have in case they need me or something out of my room."
"Of course, sir. I will also note your desire to be a cash only customer in your file."
He quickly dropped fourteen hundred for the two rooms and then counted out another fifteen hundred dollars and dropped it on the counter. "Five hundred for each kid card should be enough for now. Call and leave a message on my room phone if any of them drop below fifty so I can put more money on them."
He then turned ignoring the stunned look of the woman while giving the guy next to him a bit of a smirk as if to say 'you're move buddy'. Seeing the guy lightly shake his head, Cinder turned back to his three kids while giving the air a sniff. He frowned slightly and his whole tone seemed to change. "This is supposed to be a fun trip and you know I have a large budget for this outing, so spend to your heart's content, but remember what I said about healthy food. I want you to stick to juices, water, or sport drinks. No energy drinks, and cut way back on the soda. I'm trusting you all this time so don't disappoint me. Also, only one junk food meal a day, but with this kind of money you should be able to bypass the burgers and fries and eat lots of meat, vegetables, potatoes, and other non-processed foods at the sit-down restaurant. I want at least two glasses of milk in each of you daily, even chocolate milk is better than no milk, and no less than two fruits a day as well.
"I will check up on you, but you are on your honor for the most part, this time. I expect you up and ready by six AM for a one hour class in self defense then the rest of the day is yours until we meet in my room at two. Well, except Avery. We need to get you to an archery range. We'll do it right after breakfast tomorrow."
"Oh, and Avery I have a cell phone for you. It is in the right saddle bag of my bike. Make sure you program in your number into Braeden's and Drake's phone. Theirs and mine are already programmed into yours." He tossed Avery a key and the extra pass card to his room, "The bags are locked and locked on the bike, do me a favor and bring them up to the room for me. My full vest with all the equipment is in there so it'll be heavy."
"I'll give him a hand Cinder." Braeden grinned while patting Avery on the shoulder, "But can't we make it like an eight o'clock start…"
Cinder's whole posture hardened and his eyes burned right into Braeden and Avery. "Six, and I think you both know how unhappy I will be if you are so much as a second late."
Braeden and Avery both instantly held up their hands and said, "Six." at the same time.
"I thought so." Cinder stated with a great deal of satisfaction, while still showing some unease.
"Anything else?" Braeden queried with a bit of sarcastic undertone.
"Boy, you might want to drop the mannerism down a notch. Self defense training can get awfully intense for someone with an attitude."
Braeden cringed, "Sorry Cinder."
"Remember, you are only in charge of the others when I am not around." Cinder snickered then grinned rather evilly. "The next warning will be in the defense classes. But as to your question, I really don't have anything else to say, but I do have a piece of advice. Something tells me Avery is your best bet to take the lead in any nice restaurant if I am not there, and maybe even if I am. Also, I haven't looked at your clothing situations yet, but you'll probably want to shoot up and get some more attire once you all figure out what you need. I'll keep some cash in the room for you, but it only gets used on clothing. Ask if you need anything else. The only other thing is, Avery, don't go opening the box thing until I am around."
Cinder suddenly took a couple of deep sniffs and his frown deepened. He pocketed the room key card and handed Drake the folder for his room, "I'll be back in a couple of hours at most, stay in the hotel around lots of people other than to get your stuff out of the jeep and my bags off my bike, and do what Bray tells you… both of you."
Braeden turned to look at the woman behind the desk who was watching Cinder walk away at a rapid pace. "Um, do you sell swimsuits? We didn't buy any."
"Yeah…" Her eyes snapped back to look at the boys seeing only three very eager children. "Yes, I am so sorry, our gift shop has swimwear. Let me get your pay-cards."
The man Avery had brow beat forced himself to speak up, "Um, do you mind if I ask if he is always like that?"
"Cinder?" Avery replied with his best smile again, "No. From what I have seen he is usually worse."
"Way worse." Braeden verified while pulling Drake off his shoulders so he could go help Avery with the saddle bags.
As the trio walked out toward the jeep, Avery turned to Braeden, "He smelled something he didn't like didn't he?"
"Me… um I think so." Drake looked and at his feet, "And me thinks he is mad at me."
Avery once again corrected Drake's speech and kind of nodded, "You did something to the woman at the desk, didn't you?"
"Dunno." Drake shrugged and shuffled his feet, "Sometimes it works but most a the time it don't. It never worked on mom when she was on the stuff in the needle or smoking rocks, though. Sometimes it works when mom sold me, but only to make them nicer to me. I can never stop them er nothin'. It almost always worked on the lunch ladies to get more food and stuff, so me not sure."
"Maybe cause you are so good at making ghosts you can't, like, do the other stuff as well." Braeden thought aloud. "But you did good in there cause once you spoke she totally changed her mind and even got us right next to where the kids from the field trip like thing are going to be staying."
"So what else can you do, Drake?" Avery prodded.
"The ghosts and the mind changing thing isn't enough?" Braeden asked as he took the key form Avery and pulled the saddle bags lose, "Damn these things are heavy! How does he make it look so easy?"
"He is got arms the thicker than my legs." Avery volunteered as an explanation as he glanced down with a frown. "Um, the machete is missing.
"He must have smelled something bad then. We should get our bags and get back inside."
The trio entered their room and looked around. It was a split level room with a loft like area up a small set of stairs and a lower level with two beds, a small refrigerator, a 42 inch HD TV, and even had an X-Box with four game controls with a notice of an extra $25 bucks per day plus game rental from the gift store.
"This place is bigger than my apartment!," Braeden gasped in near shock.
Drake made a quick pass though the room and raced over to Braeden. "We each have a bed!"
'Wow, these two are easy to please.' Avery thought while grabbing an astonished Drake and tossing him onto the bed closest to the door and bathroom. "And there is yours for the next three days."
Drake's eyes went wind. "Me have ta stay in bed?"
Braeden picked up a pillow off the other bed and threw it at Drake, snickering, "No! He's just saying that's yours while we stay here!"
Avery inwardly cringed as he realized he would have to be a great deal more careful with the way he worded and played with Drake, since the poor kid was not used to people teasing him or being nice. He forced a smile, "It'd be kind a hard to take you on the slide if you were in bed all the time."
A big grin returned to Drake's face every bit as quickly as it vanished as he figured out what Avery had meant and the toss on the bed was supposed to be fun. He leapt off and jumped back at Avery. "Do it again!"
Avery once again tossed Drake and a bit of a real grin played across his face as the younger boy bounced and laughed with total glee. Yet at the same time, he found himself totally astonished at how easy he was tossing the boy who was only forty pounds or so less in weight around. Even as Drake came back for a third time and he launched the hyper giggling boy again, he looked at his skinny arms with a bit of puzzlement. Was it possible the pendant and ring had done something more than give him some knowledge?
He heaved Drake back on the bed a fourth time, and thought back to the weird year or so spent in two places which was actually all in a mere instant. The fighting with the swords, daggers and axes had worn him out after only a few minutes at first, but by the end he was able to stay in the pit for a hours with kids his own age and close to an hour with adults. Did his body somehow get stronger while his brain learned new skills? If so, how come he didn't look any stronger? Yet, seemingly, it was all playing out as true.
He decided to test this a bit. The moment Drake leapt at him again he tossed the boy further, over to the far bed. As Drake left his hands and flew toward the far bed, Avery cringed. "Oh shit!"
Drake squealed in a mixture of fear and delight as he slammed into the middle of the far bed, bounced off and crashed onto the floor on the far side.
Even as Braeden bolted over to check, Aver put up both hand with panic in his eyes. "Drake, I'm sorry!"
Drake, however, jumped back up rubbing his shoulder and elbow and looked over with a massive grin. "That was FUN!"
Braeden looked Drake over with a huge sigh of relief. "Dude, you sure you are OK?"
Drake's eyes sparkled as he nodded, "Me was flying!"
"Yeah…" Braeden glanced back over to Avery, "Man, if you had hurt him…"
"I know…" Avery gulped, "I didn't even think I could…" He held up his hands again and shook his head. "Drake, are you sure you're not hurt? I'd have been bawling like a baby if I had hit the ground as hard as you just did."
Drake just giggled. "Me use to bein' hurt. I wanna do it again!"
"Drake, I…" Avery stopped as he couldn't find the right words. No matter what he said, the kid wouldn't take it in the right way. If he said he didn't want to because he never wanted to hurt the boy, it clearly wouldn't make sense to Drake since the tyke had found it fun and thrilling. Nor could he say OK, because then he could hurt the younger boy and there was nothing worse than Drake thinking things that hurt were actually fun. Avery could only see bad things happening from such a dangerous line of thought. Plus if he hurt Drake and Cinder found out… No way was he going down that road!
Fortunately, Braeden cut in. "If you accidently get hurt bad you won't be able to go on the slide. I'll let Avery toss you around a bit more tonight, but we'll keep it to the close by bed, not one on the far side of the room. Right now I want to hit the pool, so we need to stow Cinder's stuff and we need swim trunks. If you need to use the bathroom, do it, cause I don't' want worry about you needing to go the minute we hit the pool!"
This broke Drake's desire to get launched, as his thoughts turned to the water slide. He nodded enthusiastically.
Avery breathed a massive sigh of relief as Drake shot past him and into the bathroom saying he had to poop but would hurry.
Braeden snickered at the comment as he moved up and put his hand around Avery's upper arm with a frown. "How in the hell did you throw him clear across the room with these arms?"
"I think the training I got, the stuff with the axes and swords I was telling you about, made me stronger somehow. I really don't know."
"Your arms don't look or feel like they're real big or anything, though." Braeden mused while continuing to move his hand up and down Avery's arm.
Avery squirmed slightly as Braeden's fingers continued to move up and down his arm. "Hey, if you want to cop a feel, give me a hug or something." Avery teased with a sly grin, "You're tickling me."
With a bright red flair shooting across his whole face, Braeden let go and backed away.
Avery kind of frowned, "Hey, relax, Bray. You really were tickling me, and I know you are interested. I'm not, but if you get something extra out of rubbing me or hugging me I don't care. Just don't expect me to go any further."
Braeden looked at his shoes, "No, man, it ain't right. We're like a family or something, man."
Avery moved over and put an arm around Braeden, "It's only wrong if I say no and you do it or try to do it. Besides, after the way I was able to toss Drake around, I'm not so sure you'd be able to take me."
Taking a deep breath, Braeden put his arm around Avery's shoulder and managed a slight nod of thanks. "Man, I am so glad Cinder got you out and away from the drug house. I know you don't really get it, but you are way cute, and once he got you the first time, he would have probably demanded more, a lot more."
Avery kind of leaned into Braeden and shuddered slightly. "My dad would have let him for the right price, I know he would have." Avery sighed as he felt Braeden's hand start rubbing his back. "You know what's weird, though?"
"Almost everything over the last couple of days has been like weird, Avery."
Avery snickered, "Yeah, pretty much since Cinder came into my sight, the world has become a great deal more crazy…" He sighed as he decided to speak his mind. "But, I was really talking about me… I can't make sense of it, because, well… I mean…" Avery struggled to find the best way to word it but gave up and decided to speak exactly what he was thinking. "Here I am getting a hug of sorts and a back rub from someone who I know would like to take me to bed and do stuff with me and to me I don't have any desire to do, yet I feel safer now than I have since mom left."
"But, on the drive down here, I thought you said you're dad was loaded." Braeden spoke slowly showing his confusion, "I mean you were safe and had a home and stuff, right?"
Avery shrugged. "You know one of the last things my dad said as Cinder was trying to get him to give up the account numbers of the drug bosses?"
Braeden could tell by the way Avery was lightly shivering in his arms, he probably didn't want to know, but to say so would not be right so he kept his answer simple. "I know you said he said he was going to hand me over to the boss in exchange for a golf trip."
"I'm being stupid, but for me it was even worse than being told I was worth less than a ten day golf trip."
"Your feelings are not stupid," Braeden stated softly, "at least not to me. What did he say?"
"He said the only reason he had me was so my mom would keep putting out." A few tears rolled out of Avery's eyes, "He called my mom a bitch and me a son-of-a-bitch. He never really wanted me."
"Man… how cold can you get…" Braeden pulled Avery a bit closer and held him tighter, "You know, I learned somethin' about abuse from my old man. Sure he'd hit me, kick me, would tie me and my bother up with an extension cord and hit us both with his belt until he got tired of it and went to bed leaving us to figure out how to get out. He even dragged me up the stairs to the third floor apartment by my hair a couple of times when he really started to lose life to the bottle the last couple of years. But you know what hurt me more than all physical shit?"
Avery bit back a sob as he looked up suddenly feeling way more sorry for Braeden then himself. "What could hurt worse than getting dragged up stairs by your hair?"
"Yeah, the hair thing hurt like a bitch," Braeden admitted, "but in twenty minutes to an hour later the pain was gone and it was over with. The worst part, the real abuse from my old man, came from what he didn't do."
Avery calmed a bit as his high intelligence tried to figure out what Braeden was saying, but after hearing even some of what Braeden had endured, he could find nothing worse. "What do you mean what he didn't do?"
Braeden took a deep breath, not really wanting to recall one of his worst memories, but figured it might help Avery to see what he was trying to say. "A few months before dad didn't come home from the liquor store, I stepped on a nail at school. It went through the bottom of my shoe and out the top of my foot. They called my old man, but he started chewing them out about how it was their fault I stepped on a nail and they should have to deal with it.
So after almost an hour with a nail through my foot, one of the office ladies took me to the hospital and I had to stay there for a couple of days to make sure it started to heal and didn't get infected and stuff. Not only did my old man not show up once, when I got home and came in with crutches, he got mad at me for not taking out the trash the day before. He didn't even care if I was on crutches, but didn't even notice I hadn't been home for like three days. To me, it felt a lot worse than getting hit, cause then it was pretty clear he didn't care."
Avery couldn't help but return the hug he was getting while at the same time it dawned on him what he was really feeling wasn't really sadness or anger. It wasn't really directed at Cinder either, although Avery realized he was still blaming the man for bringing out the truth. What he was struggling with was the crushing gloom of knowing he was not loved or even cared about by his own dad.
Avery closed his eyes and spoke softly as he thought over the last couple of years. "Other than kids picking on me at school, I don't think I have had physical contact with anyone since the night mom came into my room, told me she had to leave and probably wouldn't be back, and kissed me."
Braeden couldn't help himself he leaned over enough to give Avery a kiss on the top of his head. His heart skipped a beat as he pulled back to see what kind of reaction he would get. Finding Avery only clutching him a bit tighter he grunted in some dissatisfaction. "I'll give you all the hugs and kisses you want, Avery. The real problem is how in the hell am I supposed to protect you two when you both seem to have like magic powers or something. I need to find a way to get some, or something."
"Maybe Cinder knows or knows someone." Avery stated he heard the toilet flush. "It wouldn't hurt to ask."
Braeden rolled his eyes, "I wouldn't be so sure about not hurting. The last time I asked about something along those lines, he like drug me into the sewers and I ended up with a kid your size and age turning into a werewolf and protecting me. Now if I could somehow become one of those, then we'd really be talking about me being able to protect you two." He gave Avery one last had squeeze and let go as the door opened and Drake come out of the bathroom.
Avery shrugged, "If you really are interested, ask him Bray, the worst answer Cinder can give is no, and if it is, maybe he has other options."
Drake glanced over at Avery and cocked his head to the side. "Was you crying?"
"He was afraid he hurt you." Braeden quickly responded while Avery turned his head and wiped the streaks off his cheeks.
Drake shook his head, "It was fun!"
"Good, but we'll take it a bit easier from now on." Braeden snickered as he made sure he had a room key card and made sure the door locked behind him. "It'd like really suck to get hurt on our first day here and not be able to swim and stuff."
With the next day being a school day for most kids, the resort was pretty quiet. The three were able to quickly find swimsuits in their sizes and the line to the water slide was short allowing Avery and Braeden to easily switch off who went down with Drake time after time. Both older boys quickly found themselves happy there was someone else to pass Drake off to for a while, because after fifteen times down the slide each, it was starting to get a bit old.
Finally Avery grabbed a towel and looked out to the mini-golf course. "We can hit the slide some tomorrow, Drake, let's play a round or two of golf."
Drake looked highly disappointed, but seeing Braeden was interested in it to, he nodded, but did manage to get Braeden to take him one more time on the slide. Avery wasted no time heading back up to the room to change, but as he passed an older looking man who looked a bit sickly in the hall, he felt the spinning on the ring slow even further.
He paused and raised an eyebrow. One of the things he was shown over and over while learning to hunt and live off the land during his training was to never ignore anything. He turned to look, noticing the man was actually saying something to someone inside one of the rooms. He took a step back and looked again, noting the man was standing in the doorway of a room. Inside he heard the voice of the boy from the front desk earlier. He couldn't make out the words, but the kid sounded scared.
Frowning, he moved forward.
The man turned sharply as he seemed to sense someone was moving toward him. He stared into Avery's eyes. "Go to your room kid."
"Yeah, I heard you mister, but my new friend sounds a bit worried and I think you might be the cause. Now leave before you get hurt."
The man looked totally shocked. He leaned toward Avery and his head moved forward. At the same time, his eyes went totally black. "I said go to your room, you little shit!"
Avery felt his eyes go a bit wide as pieces fell into place. The guy's pale skin, the attempt to stare him in the eyes, and the change of eye color, it all screamed one thing. He took a step back. At the same time the training in the combat pits kicked in. One of the men's voices seemed to enter his ears. 'Anything can become a weapon to a true warrior.' The problem was, all he had was a towel, key card, money card, water shoes and swimsuit. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a broom and dustpan. The plan formed.
Once again the man in the door way glared, "I said…"
"Kiss my living butt if you want a little shit, vamp." Avery fired back with a mixture of outrage and sarcasm as he swung the towel around his neck and leapt. The two cards came out between his index and middle fingers in both hands. While the Vampire took a split second to lean back and lunge with his bite, Avery took the opening with a vengeance. Avery's hands crossed in slashing motions as the two cards sliced into the exposed neck while the vampire's teeth sunk harmlessly into the towel.
As the Vampire staggered back grabbing the twin inch deep open wounds across its neck, Avery's left foot lashed out, snapping the wooden broom handle like it was a twig. Before the vampire could recover, Avery grabbed the shaft, pointed the sharp broken end at the vampire's heart, and plunged it in. He leapt back again as the vampire's eyes turned to shock. As it crumpled to the ground, it managed a single half gurgled word since its throat was still cut. "How?"
Avery moved up and looked down, "I don't know what gen you are, but you must be pretty far down the food chain. You suck."
Avery took a deep breath knowing the stake though the heart trick would keep the vamp down, but to fully kill it he had to either remove the head or yank the heart out and destroy it. He stood straighter to look around only to see Drake and Braeden looking at him with their mouths hanging open. "Oh crap…"
"Kiss my living butt if you want a little shit, vamp?" Braeden repeated Avery's words showing the two boys had seen pretty much the whole thing. He held onto Drake's shoulder as he leaned against a wall, "You mouth off to a vampire before you kill it… Seriously?"
"He called me a little shit!"
"Well you are kind-a little for bein' tweleve." Drake stated with wide eyes as he noticed the fangs of the vampire and the holes in the towel around Avery's neck.
"Gee, thanks Drake." Avery sighed.
"So now what?" Braeden wondered aloud while looking down at the motionless body.
"He is not totally dead yet. I need to remove the head or heart to finish him off." Avery pushed the stick in a bit deeper with his foot just to make sure before he glanced back over to Braeden. "Stopping the heart just puts them to sleep until whatever is stopping it can be pulled out. I learned all about destroying them in half of the dream training thing."
Cinder came around the corner at a dead run and stopped short. "What the fuck! You can't go around dropping vampires in the halls of resort! What the hell are you thinking?"
At the same time Greg came out of the room shaking like a leaf. "He was going to take me and mom and dad were going to let him…." Greg's eyes went wide at seeing the man with a half a broom stick stuck out of his chest, black tongue sticking half out and fangs over its lip. His face lost all color and he started wobbling.
Cinder reacted out of instinct, catching the boy before he crumpled to the ground. "Dammit! Braeden take this spoiled little shit. Drake, go open up the door to your room, Avery check on the parents and knock them the fuck out if they are acting weird, which they probably are since it sounds like he compelled the crap out of them. I'll grab the leech, and get him into your room. Move! All of you move!"
A minute later Cinder slammed the door and took a deep breath. "What the fuck were you all thinking?"
Braeden held up his hands, "I had nothin' to do with it, Cinder."
"Why not? You are supposed to protect these two!"
"Protect them? How the hell am I supposed to take on a vampire? They'll end up having to protect me unless you can make me a werewolf like those kids or something!"
Drake's eyes were transfixed on the Vampire. "Me knew it!"
Cinder, who was about to tear into Braeden and Avery, stopped short. "You knew what?"
"There really are monsters. Me seen em, but no one believed me."
"What monsters?" Cinder asked slowly and carefully, "Where did you see them."
"At night at the farm Tango taked us to sometimes. They'd come out over the river out the big huge house. Me'd watch them with the telescopic thingy. Tango found out and beat my butt sayin' I was seeing thing me wasn't supposed ta see and to forget me saw it."
Cinder shook his head in frustration and anger. Each time he dealt with one of the kids it seemed to take him in a direction away from finding his friend and it was really starting to piss him off. "You are going to have to show me this farm when we get back, but for now I need to deal with this."
Cinder pointed down at the vampire and the kid. "What part of UNSEEN WAR don't you fucking get here guys? We cannot do this in public!"
Avery tossed up his hands, "What, are we supposed to let a vamp take a kid out of his room while we are watching? How are we ever going to turn the tide of a war you keep saying we are losing if we can't fight it?"
"You tail him and take him out…" Cinder shook his head, "You don't do anything. YOU call me and let me tail him and deal with it."
"Too late, I'm involved." Avery looked down and kicked at the vampire. "And I know he is probably a very weak one, but I did take him down on my own, so the skills I got when time stopped seem to have been for the purpose of fighting this war on your side."
Cinder snarled, "I can't protect you if you go fighting them Avery!"
"You are the one who wants to send me away to live with some kid werewolves. You don't want to protect me!"
"Bullshit!" Cinder roared. His eyes flashed red and a few bones started to change. He winced in pain and pulled back from the brink of a full change. But it was too late; Drake and Braeden both had seen enough to know.
"You're one of them!" Braeden stated with wide eyes. "No wonder you could see in the dark and stuff! But why didn't you change in the sewers?"
"Whoa!" Drake's eyes lit up. "Uncle Cinder is a monster! There are good monsters! Me knew it!"
Cinder snarled and fully changed and glared at all three boys. "Yeah, I'm one of them. But I am not a normal one of them. I don't like to change and fight in my war-form. I prefer to do this quietly, behind the scenes of what is supposed to be a damned UNSEEN war. I fight in the shadows of the unseen, taking out threats few other Werewolves can get to because they rely on this, the war-form!"
He switched back and shook off the lingering anger and rage before speaking again, but it was clear his human side was still fuming. "I have been smelling this SOB since I got here, so he isn't as low as you think, Avery. Still, you are right, he is definitely a double digit gen, probably a ten or eleven." He paused and looked over at Braeden seeing an explanation was needed.
He glanced at Drake for a moment, but the kid wasn't fazed and even looked a bit excited to find out the truth so he shrugged and started filling in some of the blanks. "A gen is the generation. The first vampire, Kane, started all of this. Everyone he turned is a gen one, the gen ones make the gen twos and so on. Up to gen five they are extremely powerful. Then each gen afterwards they get noticeably weaker. By the time you hit gen twenty they are dead, can compel a little, are stronger than the average guy, but a pro football player, a really good one, may be able to kick their asses, and of course they can make a gen twenty one. This one is not a real badass, but ain't no get thirteen or above. My guess is eleven."
Avery nodded at the machete. "Let finish this creep."
"No." Cider commanded. "We need to secure this guy and take him to my room. I…" He paused as he saw the three kids staring back at him. "OK fine, WE need to find out what he was going to do with this spoiled little shit and why he was doing so without much concern about being seen. Vampires, which I expect all three of you to call leeches from now on, since it is a term we can use out I the open, have every bit as much to fear about being found out as werewolves do.
"They need live people to feed on, and if they are found out and it spreads as accepted fact they will be hunted down. As the panic spreads the barriers between the spirit world and this world will start to crumble and we will have a mess on our hands of biblical proportions, as in the book of Revelations stuff, only worse."
Cinder then spun and turned to Avery, "As far as sending you to live with the pack… If you really want to get good they are the fucking right ones to teach your smart ass. They are a war pack. They live to fight the unseen war way more in the open then I ever care to, and a year of being with them would be way more combat experience and testing then you would see with me in ten years. Besides, in case you haven't fucking totally figured this out yet, I have someone else to find, need to find. Once I do, then this war can get a shit load more of my attention."
"Like it or not, this is screwing with my reason for being here."
"Then let us help you." Braeden pleaded, "And tell me what I can do to fight in this war, cause I'm seriously starting to understand why a bunch of kid werewolves were calling me a squishy. Hell, I am the squishiest thing in this room right now!"
"Bray, there are ways, but you are talking to the wrong person. Todd's war pack would be way more helpful and if you want to find a way they said they owed you a favor. I can tell you this much, you have never felt pain until you play around in the Umbra, the spirit world. It won't be nice, it won't be easy and it'll scare the shit out of you in addition to being extremely painful."
"Gee it sounds a whole like living with you." Braeden shot back.
This time Cinder burst out laughing. "I'll take you to Todd and you can talk it over with them. Hell, if you want to go through with it once you hear the details, I'll even sponsor you." Cinder quickly dropped the subject as he reached over grabbed and lamp and ripped the cord out of the base. "One of you three are going to take the blame on this and add it to my tab. I need it to tie this leech up so we can wake his ass up and get some info."
Braeden glanced over at Avery with a bit of a grin, "You took him down so the lamp has got to be your fault."
Avery rolled his eyes. "Sure why not. I'll tell them in the morning and tell them to put it on Cinder's tab."
"I swear, I am going to have to take out a drug house a week with you three around," He fired a glance over to Avery, "even part time. Cause, like it or not I can see you are part of this motley crew of misfits."
He quickly wrapped the vampire's hands and feet together and then hog tied him. Finally he wrapped a loop around its neck and put the cord into the neck wound created by Avery. "Guys I am about to go as dark and mean as you will ever see, so I recommend you get the fuck out and go to the game room or something."
Avery shook his head. "I need to see this."
Braeden looked over at Drake and shook his head, "Let's go to the game room and let Uncle Cinder and Avery deal with the vampire."
"Guys, you need to keep your mouths shut." He glanced over at Greg and cringed. "Drake I don't normally condone this, but I need you to compel this kid. He needs to think his parents said it is ok to spend the night in your room tonight. As soon as the hall is clear, Avery and I'll take the leech over to my room and deal with him. We'll then take care of the kid's room and see what we can salvage out of this whole thing, but one way or another we ain't keeping him. I am not a fucking orphanage!"