Chapter 29 .

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I woke with my arm draped over Grace.  Our foreheads were almost touching.  The morning sunlight streamed through tree branches and gently lit her face.  We had ended up moving camp the previous night.  After the venefici blew up, Alex almost turning into a werewolf zombie and then killing zombies in our camp, we had thought it best just to move on in case all of that attracted even more zombies.  

I lifted my head slightly to see if anyone else was up.  Richard and Darren were supposed to be on watch.  Darren patrolled one end of camp and Richard patrolled the other side.  Dr. Higgins sat at the campfire.  He was heating up water and had some ramen noodle packs ready.  Gunnor sat on the ground with his back against a tree trunk.  His eyes had that same far off look they had the previous night.

I settled back down and looked at Grace.  She blinked at me with a slight smile on her face.  She reached out and caressed the stubble along my jaw.  I leaned in and kissed her.  I was aware of everyone else around us even if they were still sleeping so I kept the kiss chaste.

“Ew,” Arthur muttered as he sat up and gave us a look.  Molly bounced happily around him.

“One day you won’t think it’s ew,” Grace said to him.

Arthur gave her a skeptical look at that.  He got up and went to the fire.  That seemed to be the signal for everyone to start moving.

“I think it’s ew,” Hunter said as he sat up on the other side of Grace.  

“Only because I’m your sister,” Grace said as she also sat up.

“Yeah,” he said as if that should be obvious.

“I don’t think it’s gross,” Lily said as she sat up on the other side of me.  “It’s kinda sweet.”

I patted her leg to show my thanks.  Monica got up and started opening the ramen noodle packages with Dr. Higgins.  Alex remained where he was sprawled out on his sleeping bag, but his eyes watched the clouded sky.

“Jin met back up with your families,” Gunnor said.  “They are all safe.  He is injured.  It’s going to take him a day or two to recuperate.  I think they are safe for now.  Alvina has only lived in luxury even when she was human.  She turned Jin and never expected him to live with less than she has.  She can’t imagine him hiding out in a cave in the middle of the wilderness.  I know where the cave is.  We can meet them there.  But we’ll have to be careful to avoid Alvina and her brood.”

“She didn’t turn you too?” Richard asked.  All of us gathered around the fire as Monica and Dr. Higgins added the noodles to the boiling water.

“No,” Gunnor said.  “Jin did.”

“Is that why you left the brood with Jin?” Hunter asked.  “I was told that vampires have some hold over those they turn.”

“That is true to an extent,” he said.  His eyes flashed to Alex.  “But that hold doesn’t last forever.  Alvina’s hold on Jin faded long ago and so did Jin’s over me.”

“So you could make Alex do things he doesn’t necessarily want to do when you turn him?” Darren asked.

“I won’t,” Gunnor said.

“But you could,” Richard said.

“I could,” Gunnor agreed.

“Is that much different than when he was in his werewolf pack?” Monica asked.

“Even when Erik commands us he usually leaves an option free to say no,” Alex said.  “Most alphas of werewolf packs treat their packs like family they have to lead and protect.  A few do abuse their power and pack magic, but when other alphas find out, they usually either help the beta oust him or they oust him themselves.”

“How many vampires have you turned?” Darren asked Gunnor.

“None,” Gunnor said.  

Alex’s eyebrows turned up very slightly before going back to normal.  His eyes went from Gunnor to the boiling noodles.

The noodles only took a few minutes to cook.  Monica and Dr. Higgins added the ramen seasoning.  The pot was passed around as we all ate.  Hunter’s eyes drifted to me and Grace more than once.  He hadn’t acted before like our relationship bothered him, but we had been keeping the physical affection pretty tame.  Maybe something changed with him after I kissed Grace this morning.  I didn’t want to be on his bad side.  I wanted both Hunter and Victory to like me.  As far as I was concerned, we were pretty much family now.

We packed up camp and started on our way back to our families.  We were a few hours out when Hunter finally approached me.  “May I speak to you?” he asked me.

“About what?” Grace asked beside me.

“Just talk,” Hunter said.

“You’re not seriously going to do the overbearing brother talk where you threaten him not to hurt me or else, are you?” Grace asked.

“No,” Hunter said, “but I’m the oldest in this family now besides you and I should ask him what his intentions are.”

Grace scoffed.

“It’s alright,” I said to her.  “I don’t mind talking to him.”

“My brother doesn’t have any ill intentions,” Lily said to Hunter.

“I don’t think he does,” Hunter said, “but it’s my duty as a brother to ask.”

“No it’s not,” Grace said.  “It’s all my decision.”

“Fine,” Lily said, ignoring Grace.  “Then I’ll talk to your sister to find out what her intentions are with my brother.”

“Fine,” Hunter said.

“Fine,” Lily said.

Hunter looked at me expectantly.  I reached out and gave Grace’s hand a little squeeze before I followed Hunter away from the others.  We could still see them, but they wouldn’t be able to hear us.  Lily led Grace in the opposite direction.

“Are you serious about my sister?” Hunter asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “I like her a lot.”

“Like her or love her?” he asked.

I hesitated only because it was harder to admit to someone else than I thought.  Especially because admitting it out loud made it more real and I didn’t want to tempt the universe to take away something I loved.

“I love her,” I said.

He looked at the ground as we took the next several steps in silence.  “Are you going to marry her?”

“I want to be with her for a long time,” I said.  “Right now I want to be with her for the rest of my life.  But we are still young.  I didn’t want to think about marriage and starting a family until we were both out of college.  I guess we’re both out of college now.  This new world is a strange one, Hunter.  I still don’t know how things are supposed to work and how we’re supposed to survive.  I do want to marry her someday but it’s not like we can just go to a church or city hall to get married now.  Who could even marry us?  Would it even matter who married us?  It’s not like there is a government now to tell us we aren’t legally married if we just said we were married.  I don’t know how any of that is supposed to work anymore.”

He looked at me for a moment before he turned his gaze ahead.  “You’re thinking about the details too much,” he said.  “The details don’t really matter.  Only if the feelings are genuine.”

“My feelings for your sister are genuine,” I said.  “They have been for a long time.  Before we even started dating.”

He nodded and looked back at the others.  I followed his gaze to where he was staring at Darren.

“I guess I knew that,” he said.  “It just felt like I needed to say something.  Like I am trying to retain some normalcy in this world that has been turned upside down.  And our parents aren’t around anymore to approve of you.”  His voice choked and moisture filled his eyes.  He quickly blinked them away and gave me a pained smile.  I thought of my own parents then and how they hadn’t known Grace and I were together when they died.  They would never know their grandchildren.  If Grace and I ever did have children, we’d have to raise them without the advice and knowledge of our parents.  Our children wouldn’t have grandparents.  I decided to change the subject.

“What’s going on with you, Darren and my sister?”

He sighed heavily and looked up at the treetops.  He shrugged.  “Trying to get over unrequited loves and maintain our friendships.”

I patted him on the shoulder.  Grace and Lily rejoined the others.  I pointed them out to Hunter and asked, “Did you have anything else you wanted to ask?”

“No,” Hunter said.  “I know you love my sister.  I know you watch out for her.  I didn’t really doubt it.  Like I said, I just wanted some semblance of normalcy.”

“I understand that,” I said.

We rejoined the others.  I found my place next to Grace and took her hand in mine.  I leaned in close and whispered, “Was my sister’s questioning brutal?” But I knew it wouldn’t have been.  I knew my sister.

Grace scoffed.  She replied quietly so only I would hear, “She thanked me for taking care of you.  She didn’t ask me any questions.  What about my brother?”

I looked back at Hunter who was now walking with Lily and Darren.  Richard and Monica walked in front of them.  The two of them walked very close to each other.  Monica laughed at something Richard said.  He smiled as he looked at her fondly.  She gently bumped his arm with her shoulder.

I turned back to Grace.  “He asked me some questions but also said he didn’t doubt my feelings for you.  He just wanted to pretend like the world was how it used to be for a little while.”

She squeezed my hand.  We let our conversation drop.  Grace watched the back of Arthur as he and Molly walked beside Dr. Higgins.  Gunnor and Alex were in the front.

“Arthur,” Grace said.

Arthur turned around to look at us.  Grace waved her hand for him to fall back beside us.  He did so.  Molly was close to his heels.

“I wanted to tell you,” she said, “that you impressed me with your bow and arrow skills.”

Arthur’s face lit up as he smiled.  “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Grace said.  “You are more accurate than anyone else that just started to learn.  I think if we still lived in the world as it used to be, you could have competed professionally.”

Arthur’s smile widened and his shoulders lifted proudly.  “Can I tell people you said that?” he asked.

“Of course,” Grace said.

He immediately ran back to Dr. Higgins to tell him.

“I love you,” I said to Grace quietly.

She smiled as her eyes met mine.  “I love you too,” she said.

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