Life’s Journey #6-10: Blood On Your Paws….

-Interlude-

Blood on your Paws

Bears are sometimes the most spoiled creatures on the planet. Humans hold little to the greed and malevolence of a were-creature, Bear or otherwise. Matt and Luke had sired a cub, Jaden. This young man was mainly Luke’s love interest, but Matt came along for the ride and supported both of them. He had accepted Jaden as a new member of their den and provided for him as he did Luke. After Jaden changed, he became possessive and horribly hurtful toward Matt. Even after all Matt did for the young Bear, no gift seemed adequate; nothing would make him happy. Jaden clung to Luke, guarded him; like a snapping dog would protect its food. Matt remained present, forgave Jaden for each outburst, and loved him through all his tears; he tried against all his inner voices to help the young Bear. However, he could tell the change was driving him insane and slowly eating away at the fabric of the young man’s mind. Sooner or later, Matt or someone else would have to put him down. Long ago, Matt and Luke had made a pact with each other that if either were to go insane from the change they would put the other down. Now, it seemed that the choice had fallen on Matt; Luke refused to accept the facts and ignored them at each turn.

As months passed, it came time for the annual gathering. Matt, Luke and Jaden went north early to attend the Meeting of Elders and watch the Bear Games. The meeting and the games were an annual event where each Elder’s protector would compete and spar with one another. In reality it was a way for elders to rank themselves and to find out who had the better protector or guard. Matt had only participated once in the past. However, it wasn’t going to be a happy visit.

The two Bears stood in the arena waiting for the other to move. Jaden was across from Matt holding a short sword, bouncing on his toes. Matt was across from him, his staff lying in the sand in front of him as he stood completely still, arms at his sides, looking at the young Bear. He had been challenged to a Reckoning; this was a fight to the death and was a part of Bear custom when settling disagreements and problems. A downward spiral of events had led Matt, Jaden and Luke, to this place. Matt had been called to task, made to fight someone he didn’t want to, for something that was out of his control. He would have to make a choice; inside he cursed the Great Bear for changing him, more so for making him choose.

“Pick it up, you fucking coward,” Jayden screamed at him. The small Bear’s voice was cracking. He was dancing, giggling, and grunting; all manner of vocalization came from the young Bear.

Matt remained externally motionless and silent. The wind started to whip around them and the air became colder, denser; it seemed as though it was crashing into the ground. He was already in motion, gathering himself, mapping the area. He could already see the energy flowing through the little Bear. In truth, this cub could not win this fight, but Matt had never displayed his prowess in battle to either Jaden or Luke. Matt knew all the way down to his gut that within each creature is the capacity for both great evil and great good, how that creature acts is what makes the difference. Now it would seem that Matt would have to kill and take the life of another.

“You coward, you don’t want him! You don’t deserve him, he is too much Bear for you and we’re not ever going to be a Triad! You deserve death for not fighting for him. Fuck this; I’m going to kill you now!” Jaden yelled, leaping toward Matt.

Matt’s eyes snapped wide as time slowed down. The world exploded to his senses; the brilliant light of flowing energy filled his eyes, the movement of bones, the flowing of breath, and the beating of the Cub’s heart filled his ears. Gathering himself, Matt stepped into Jaden’s blade. Jaden’s eyes were dark with hatred and intent on killing Matt as he slammed the blade in and through his chest. In that second a vortex formed around the two and pushed out in all directions. Matt reached up and grabbed the cub by his throat and held him up off the ground as he slowly transformed to his half form. Matt’s blue eyes glowed as he started to growl low, baring his teeth. His talons extended slowly, puncturing the neck of the cub as he hung there flailing, trying to get away. Blood flowed freely from around the wounds as the Cub tried to get air in raspy tormented gulps. The cub was trying with everything he could muster to get away, thrashing and beating his hands and feet into Matt. He was still too young to control his shifting, too young to understand what he was; a newborn child in relation to the animal that Matt was. Matt’s eyes began to glow a brighter blue and in that second Jaden realized he had picked a fight he couldn’t win. He would be killed and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Matt smiled at him and flung him away as if tossing away a toy. As he tumbled to a stop Jaden scrambled backwards, away and up to his feet trying to catch his breath resting against the wooden and stone wall of the arena.

Matt turned to face him. The blade Jaden buried in his chest still stuck through him. Making eye contact with Jaden Matt reached up and pulled the blade from his body, grimacing as the wounds healed almost instantly. He looked at the blade and recognized it as one from the Lodge’s weapon case; this was the blade of an Elder. ‘Who had given it to him and why?’ In a smooth motion he lifted the short blade up and threw it at the young cub. Jaden gasped as he saw the blade come at him. It sunk into wall to the little cubs left. Matt smirked at the cub, turned and started to walk away out of the arena. This fight was over, or was it?

Jaden realizing that Matt had spared him, or taken pity on him, was more hostile and enraged. To lose in battle was one thing, but to not be taken seriously as a fighter was a curse worse than death in Bear custom. Jaden would be considered unworthy of being a Bear. He needed to kill Matt or be killed, but living like this was not an option.

9 Months Earlier…

Matt and Luke were moving some furniture around in their home. With the addition of a new cub, came the need to clean out some stuff and make more room. The two Bears had been quipping and snipping at each other all day as they worked, but it was always kept short of getting physical. These two had been together a long time. Arguments were part of that life; however, being a Bear left some nasty complications to deal with. Physical matches were genetic with being a Bear. It took a lot from both of them to not get into a fight.

“If you want a cub, OKAY, but you really need to talk to an Elder. Jaden is kin, but he feels dark. Babe…” Matt was cut short by a paw wrapped around his throat. Luke had partially shifted after they put down the piece of furniture in the basement

“I want him as my cub, and in our den. You have spoken, but I have the final word,” Luke snarled a few inches from Matt’s face. Luke’s claws dug into his throat. The heat of his voice touched on something deep within Matt.

“Let me go Luke,” Matt growled as he shifted partially. His musculature pulled taut. Luke had become a total bastard over the past few months. He had met this human, barely out of secondary school and fell head over heels in love with him. He instantly wanted to make him a Bear, and it was hard for Matt to keep him from changing the human too soon.

“Are you going to allow him into our den? Are you going to be a nice little cub and give this Bear what he wants?” Luke said his voice full of rasp as he leaned closer, licking up the side of Matt’s face, his hot Bear saliva burning Matt’s skin.

“Let me go Luke,” Matt said again as he had planted his rear paws, gathering both his footing and himself. His guard was down around the man, now it would seem that the Bear in both of them wanted a good fight. He smoothly finished shifting to his half form and bared his teeth, flexing his neck muscles. His new silver fur bristled as it grew from his body in the split second it took Luke to realize what had happened. Luke’s hand was forced open as Matt kicked the large Polar Bear in his stomach, knocking all the wind from the Bear who was twice his size. As Luke went to all fours and tried to suck in air, Matt leaned down putting them nose to nose.

“I never said you couldn’t, but I want no part of it. Do you understand?” Matt hissed as something came to the surface, a dark and evil part of Matt. “Know this Bear, my love for you will extend to this cub, but don’t abuse that and don’t ever touch me like that again!” As he finished he pounced forward and grabbed Luke by the throat and bit down on his neck, pinning him to the ground with a ferocity and energy that was not normal to Matt. Luke whined in pain and passed out as his blood flowed from around the wound that Matt left. Rising to his feet, Matt licked the blood from his muzzle and surveyed his prey.

3 Days before the Reckoning Fight…

Matt had gone into town to pick up some supplies for the gathering; this year, he had been asked to prepare some of the food for the feast. This was a great honor among Bears and Jaden had hopped into the SUV as he was leaving. The two chit-chatted about this and that, nothing serious and Matt actually thought the cub had relaxed and was starting to enjoy being a Bear. The cub had gotten the chance to go explore and meet other Bears this week.

Out of the blue Jaden yelled, “I don’t want to share him!” slamming his fist into the dashboard hard enough to crack the molding of the rented SUV.

“That really isn’t in your lane,” Matt said glancing over at him. He could see the energy cresting off of the young Bear, and his heart sunk as he reached out to him and looked deep within him. He was empty, an open vessel with no soul; a gaping sucking hole of need. Matt knew that the change had finally killed the human part of this young Bear.

“Then what is my lane?” Jaden sat back and crossed his arms defiantly looking over at Matt. He was acting like a child, a spoiled rotten child.

“That’s your call; I have made you welcome and given you a place at our table, what more do you want?” Matt replied, getting close to losing his temper. He thought to himself, ‘This little punk just needs his ass kicked….damn!’

“I want him to myself, I want him and me to go west and settle without baggage and without you.” Jaden snarled a few inches from Matt’s ear, then slumped back into the seat and kicked the dashboard, finishing the crack that had started on the top of the dash.

“Jaden, why do you dislike me so much?” Matt asked, speaking softly, feeling Jaden slipping further into whatever hole was pulling him. Matt knew that he could no longer help the Cub. Secretly, he had worked with all the skills he had to heal Jaden as he slept; feeding him the energy of nature, putting the pieces of his mind back together, easing his dreams. It seemed that it was a losing battle, one that Matt wasn’t going to give up on. Not just yet.

“You … you, you are just here. Luke will never love me like he does you and that makes me nuts!” Jaden spat as his body started to morph and change. He was starting to lose control. As his head thrashed back, Matt reached over and touched the cub. Focusing himself on Jaden he stopped the Cub for changing forms.

“You really need to calm down some; all these things you are feeling are likely part of your change. Remember, Bear emotions are stronger than human ones,” he whispered as he tried to both settle the cub and maintain control of the vehicle as it wound up the mountain toward the lodge.

“Stop changing the conversation,” answered Jaden as he caught his breath and his vision cleared. When he noticed Matt’s semi-transformed paw on his leg he swatted it away, not knowing what had just happened.

“I’m not; the first six months after I changed were hell. If you’re going through a small part of that, I can help or find someone to help you,” Matt pleaded. Luke loved this cub and Matt had grown to love him as well.

“I don’t need help, I just need you gone. I need you out of the picture. Not in our vicinity. You are not treating Luke the way he needs to be treated, you’re always babying him and pandering after him. Damn, he’s a bigger Bear than you, you should be serving him better,” yelled Jaden, getting worked up again.

“Love is NOT about servitude, it’s about respect. I told you both I will be there for you, I can’t see where that was a bad thing for either of you,” Matt said and locked eyes with the young cub as he sat sideways in the seat.

“That’s it, you will always be there. You will always be a stick in his mind, a love that keeps him from moving forward. Damn it, just leave already,” yelled the cub, he was almost stomping his feet.

Snickering a little, Matt replied, “Young one, I’m not going anywhere I don’t want to go.”

“Okay… stop the car … just stop the fucking car. If you won’t do it willingly, then I will have to make you leave,” Jaden screamed.

Matt looked over as a flash of anger washed over him. “What are you talking about, just get back in the car, we are almost back at the lodge,” he raised his voice at the cub.

“Fuck you, I will walk … get ready Matt, Bear of the Moon, I am going to kill you,” Jaden growled as he leaned down and locked eyes with Matt. He slammed the door and turned to walk away.

Matt sat quietly in a daze watching the cub lope into the woods, toward the lodge. Inside he was torn. Violence was never the answer, but he wasn’t going to back down either. This presented a hard choice. If Jaden were to challenge him, he would have to answer the call. If he were to win, Luke would hate him. If Matt did not fight for Luke, then Luke would still hate him. Matt was again feeling like it was an intractable tactical situation, and he had no way out. Driving slowly back to the lodge, he was greeted by a group of Bear brothers. They scooped him from the car and ushered him into a game of horseshoes and whiskey shots.

In the Bleachers Overlooking the Fight

Two Elder Bears watched the fight start to unfold as both Bears walked into the arena; one a Black European Bear and the other a Blond North American Grizzly. These two Bears had been on the business end of sparring with Matt before. Neither was very fond of watching this type of fight, especially when it seemed to have no cause. For all his faults Matt was loving and supportive. He may be contrary and pretty damn stubborn, but he didn’t deserve this and certainly had done nothing to cause it. The two Bears talked quietly among themselves.

“You know we should stop them.”

“Nope, if that little Bear wants this fight, then so be it,”

“You know Matt is going to kill him,”

“Yeah I know, but a challenge is a challenge,”

“Still, Matt is in bad situation and you know it,”

“Yeah, but you know we don’t interfere with their lives, unless we have to.”

“So, this fight is okay? A cub-ling is about to face a Guardian for God’s sake. I doubt that the cub even knows what Matt is or how he fights,”

“Let it play out. Whatever happens here happens. Those three started this in motion, and only they can stop it,”

“You can’t be serious! That cub is about to get torn apart. You have sparred with Matt; this birth-ling will be nothing more than an annoyance for him.”

“I know. However, you know that the young one was twitchy when we met him. He is showing the signs madness and you know it.”

“I think Matt has been holding him together. He is showing more and more Guardian qualities and healing is one of them.

“So, you want me to go stop them?”

“Be ready, if Matt does kill him, which I doubt he will, it may take both of us to mend whatever is about to happen.”

“Okay…wait Jaden is saying something.”

In the Arena

“Come back, you bastard!” Jaden yelled and launched himself at Matt again. Turning Matt took the blade through his paw and grabbed Jaden close to him, hugging him tight so he again couldn’t move. Jaden thrashed about again, unable to get away. As before, Matt tossed him aside and took the blade out of his paw, the wound closing quickly. Looking at Jaden, Matt threw the blade at his feet and turned to walk away.

This same scene repeated for over an hour. As it was happening, dark storm clouds pulled closer, and warm rain started to fall, steam rising from each of the Bears in the arena. Everyone that watched kept vigil. The Bears transformed as if pulled by some force. They all growled low, making soft chuffing sounds. All knew and understood what was happening. Matt was trying to teach Jaden, trying to work through all the negative emotions just like Vic had done for him in the beginning. As the clouds drew closer, it was apparent to all, this was not working. The cub was rampant, insane with anger, hatred, and all his misplaced negative emotions. The cub would stab, slice and maim the older Bear, and the older Bear would only hug him, disarm him, and toss him down. Again and again it was repeated until … Matt made his choice.

At the Rear of the Lodge

“What the fuck, let me out of here … someone let me out. Jaden!!! Let me out, why did you lock me in here?” Luke screamed and bellowed as he bashed against the bars of the holding cell. Even on lodge grounds among friends, sometimes a pen was needed to hold the biggest and worst tempered of the Bears. Here Jaden had tricked Luke inside and secured him. Luke could feel his two Bears, Matt and Jaden; he knew something was happening. He could feel sorrow from Matt; he could feel him pulling away, just like when he would leave. He felt despair and panic coming from Jaden. Something was happening and the Big Polar Bear was locked away, kept clear of it. Luke screamed and cried; panic was closing in on him. He was descending into the cold embrace of panic and his Bear was starting to take over. The Beast within would come out.

With one last painful slam against the bars and after few more tears Luke was gone, replaced by the Polar Bear. He was the largest of his tribe, a distant descendant of the first ones, the first tribe. Luke didn’t know what he was or the gifts locked deep within, but his Bear knew. The other side of the man now engaged, brought to the surface by his panic and need to be with the ones he called Cubs. A glow lit his eyes as he sniffed the bars and walked a few circles. Then, as if knowing what to do and how to escape, the Bear had no sense of panic and the human was gone. The Bear put his nose in a corner, and then placed his rear paws on bars, curled into a small hunched shape, and lodged his front paws in the opposite corner. A deep inhale and a low rumbling growl started as the Bear pushed with all its might. Muscle, tendon and bone strained. The pressure kept constant on the corner until it gave way, just a few inches at first, but it was a start. The Bear exhaled, panting and licking his muzzle as he surveyed the bars. After catching his breath, the process was repeated until the large Bear squeezed through. Walking outside, Luke put his Polar Bear nose to the sky, caught the scent of his loved ones and trotted off in that direction. The warmest of rains had started to fall, and the scent of pine and leather filled the air.

A few minutes later he arrived in a full gallop at the arena gates. Roaring as he approached, a few of the Bears that were standing gave way for the running beast. Slamming himself into the closed gate Luke broke it free and pushed it into the arena, tumbling to a stop as he did so. Shaking his head Luke looked up and saw Matt holding Jaden, rocking him back and forth while he knelt in the mud and muck. He knew Jaden was dead. Deep inside his Bear knew that Jaden was going rampant with the change, but the human side of the man didn’t want to accept that. Getting to his feet, he moved slowly toward the two. As he drew closer, he could see a sword buried into Matt’s back with the point sticking threw his chest. Jaden was lying across his lap as he kneeled there. Matt was crying, bellowing to the sky, cursing the Great Bear, and cursing the creator for letting this happen. “Why, why, why,” Matt screamed. Luke moved to Matt and chuffed softly, “I love you, and I knew this had to be done.” Matt looked up at Luke, tears filled his bright blue eyes as he spoke.

“I tried to help him. I tried to let him learn. I kept trying and trying …” Matt was descending into a remorseful stupor, the sorrow of a parent that had tried everything and still came up short. Luke, in full Polar Bear form, reached his massive paw and rubbed the side of Jaden’s face and then placed his paw on Matt’s shoulder. A soft chuff followed, “Help me bury our cub.”

Matt nodded, and looked up at him, “The Lake … by the pond, at the place of my change. Let it be there that we lay him to rest.” Luke nodded as he shifted to hand the small body to Luke, who had sat on his rump and stretched out his large upturned paws. Luke snuffled Jaden close to his chest, inhaling the last of his scent, burning the memory into his brain. Matt stood and turned around. As gently as he could, Luke reached forward and gripped the sword in his gleaming teeth. In a grunting motion, Matt stepped forward and removed the blade from his back, almost collapsing as the wounds closed as he turned to face Luke.

Matt reached up and took the blade from Luke’s muzzle and turned around to look at the Bears watching from atop the arena walls. “This cub was given an Elder’s blade to face me. Everyone here witnessed what transpired and not one of you rose to stop it!” Matt screamed, the fur on his body bristling, the clouds coming closer, the wind circling them.

“You call yourself Elders, you call yourselves Leaders, and you call yourselves Bears. Whoever gave him this blade sent this cub to his death. I curse you all for this,” he bellowed as he snapped the blade in two and threw it on the ground.

“I will return in three days to this arena, to this very spot. Let the one who gave this weapon to Jaden face me. Let him look into my eyes and answer to my claws as I rip the heart from his chest. Know this; I will not stop until I have found you. You will have no peace until you’re dead,” Matt roared as he finished. Turning to look at Luke who was still snuffling Jaden’s lifeless body, Matt walked to them and cradled Jaden as Luke let go of him. Then they both walked from the arena, toward the lake, and buried the one they both called Cub.

A summer rain had started to fall early that morning, turning into a torrential downpour as Matt walked into the camp that had surround the lodge and toward the arena. He was naked in his human form. He carried his staff and nothing more. His long hair was held back by a leather rope, fashioned from the bracelet he had made for Jaden. Around his neck was another totem. A single Massive Claw hung by another leather loop. It was a Polar Bear Claw, one of Luke’s.          

The gathering had gotten underway in the past three days, but all cleared the path for Matt as he walked. Entering the arena, he noticed it was empty as he walked to the center. Matt planted his staff in the ground and knelt down to sit on the ground. There he would wait, wait for his retribution.

A Voice of Reason

Night came and dawn crested the horizon when a familiar scent wafted to Matt’s nose and a familiar presence pressed against his back. “You know that no one is going to show up….Right?”

“I know, but I had hoped they would, so I could have closure. I knew Jaden was rampant, but this wasn’t the place for his end. I could have helped him, I could have done more.” Matt mumbled, his voice trembling and his insides hurting for the loss of Jaden. As much as Matt disliked the presence of another in their home, he loved the Cub and wanted only the best for him.

“Nope, you have done enough; but it’s time for you to move on. You need to let go, just like you had to let go of your military friend at the shelter. Forgive yourself and just live … would you, please?”

“Okay, but let me stay a bit longer. I was listening for him on the wind. A piece of the cub still lingers here. I would like to stay and wait, just a bit more. Just a bit more …”

“In for a penny, in for a pound. So be it … but don’t stay too long, you might get sunburned,” replied the voice.

Before Matt could answer, the presence was gone.

Matt did stay for a while, and then he rose to his feet and walked out of the arena. He kept walking through the crowd that had gathered. Right past the elders, right past them all, right to where Luke waited. Vic and Boris attempted to speak to him, but he ignored them as he walked, pushing through both of them, daring either to stop him. Luke had gathered their things and moved the vehicle to a quiet location; with all eyes focused on Matt, it was easy to accomplish. Then the two left. It was time for some quiet conversation and some snuggling between the two.

Not a word was spoken between the two as they drove. Matt was still naked riding in the passenger seat, and Luke had only sweatpants on.  Luke drove and followed the GPS to a location that Matt had chosen.

There the pair would stay for quite a while before they chose to rejoin the world.

They were done for a while.

Part Two

The Bridge of Choices

Leaving Again?

“Where the hell are you going?” Luke yelled.

“On an assignment,” Matt responded.

“Seriously, I thought you were done with this?  What the heck did we give up a life for?  For you to always be gone, just like when you were in the military? For me to sit and worry, not knowing? I’m just supposed to wait around for you, like I’m nothing? Why did you even bother to change me?”

“There are some Bears in trouble, and I need to help,” Matt said meekly.

“Stop saving the world, what happened to all those walks in the woods and quiet times we talked about, huh?  Maybe I need you too,” Luke said in anger.

As had always his way, Matt walked up to Luke, hugged him tightly and kissed him on his cheek before he walked away without saying goodbye. Saying goodbye was final; it was definite. This was not. This was a moment in time that would pass on the wind. This same fight had been repeated so many times, Matt was immune to the anger. Hardened to the guile and steeled to the onslaught of his mate. He would go and he would do what he needed to do. He would answer his calling, and then he would return.

Outside the couple’s new home, Robert was waiting parked in a Jeep. He was tapping on the steering wheel waiting for Matt to come out. He knew that leaving would cause Luke concern, but he didn’t anticipate the guilt that came from Luke toward the Elder and himself.  He could see that Luke was trapped between needing Matt and knowing he had to leave. It would be an awkward meeting when he came back later.

“Good you’re done. You ready for this?” Robert spoke as the stoic and red-faced Matt climbed into the Jeep. 

“Let’s get on with it, I have no stomach for conversation right now,” stated Matt as he got into the back seat.

“Well … ok. That package on the seat contains all the information that I have right now. Tell me, how’s your Russian?” asked Robert, using a more snide tone than usual.

“Not as good as yours or Boris’s, I’m sure…” Matt let his words trail off, lingering in the air. He glared at Robert in the rear view mirror; briefly, his fingers danced over his blade. An old Marine rule, ‘Have a plan to kill everyone you meet’, came back to him and he chuckled. 

Ever since they had moved on, it seemed that Boris had been asking more and more of him. Not that it was retirement or anything, but the couple had much more time together before the move. Now it was just one long string of missions, assignments, and tasks. Matt was tired.  He had been shot, blown up and almost beheaded on the last little ‘mission’ that Robert sent him on. In the back of his head he felt resentment coming from Robert. He knew it would come to a head soon. He had not told anyone about the contact with Dante’, or about the memories of a Bear living for millennia danced through his dreams, permeated his thoughts, and tickled his senses like déjà vu. What he did know for sure is the good Bears these two were now, in this generation, were not who they grew from Cubs and into adolescence. Matt knew the truth about them; he knew what they were 700 years ago. It would come to a head soon enough and Dante would have his justice.

“So, you going to daydream all day, or read over the information? We’ll be at the airport in about 30 minutes; why don’t you put some of that intellect of yours to good use?” Robert almost cursed at him from the driver’s seat.

“I’m on it. Thank you, I’m a bit dreamy today,” Matt said coyly. 

“You better get your mind clear or its going to get you killed.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll come back in one piece,” Matt said as he flipped through the information. Not a word was said between the two for a short time.  Just as they were pulling up at the plane heading north Matt stirred restlessly, looking up at Robert.

“Say Robert,” Matt asked while taking his sunglasses off his eyes and looking up into the rearview mirror.

“Yeah, what?”  Robert sneered.

“How old are you?” he asked, locking his crystal blue eyes with Robert. He could feel a swelling of energy flow through him, like a building tidal wave that was about to break over rocks. 

Robert paused and looked into the rearview mirror, “A few hundred years older than you,” he said and pulled up to the plane. It was running and the cargo door was open; he could see another Bear tapping on a clipboard, waiting for him. 

“Really, you smell older … funny! Why is that?” Matt hopped from the Jeep and headed for the plane. As he glanced back, he could see Robert furiously tapping on his cell phone. As he stepped on the cargo ramp, he locked eyes with Robert. He kept that stare until Robert broke it, and sped away in the Jeep. This was going to be an adventure. Robert was trying to eliminate him, but why? 

Before Matt moved he took out a second cell phone and sent a flurry of text messages to Luke and others. It was a warning to be on guard, things were not right; a special code that the two and a close circle of other were-creatures Matt had encountered over the years would know. Being a Guardian, Matt was connected to the world around him. He perceived and communicated on a different level than most Bears, another gift from Dante’.  He knew that before Robert got back to the house, Luke would be safely departed and in the company of friends other than Bear brothers. Stolen away in the forest guarded from sight, scent, and other earthy means of tracking.

Matt made out the muffled growl of the Bear loading the plane. He tucked the phone away and slung his gear in a net. He climbed up to the top of the net carriers and lay down far away from the small group that was seated in the nets below. Matt liked it this way, he could see them if any of them approached. The engines droned to full power and the plane lurched onto the runway. The familiar feel of the takeoff, followed by the momentary floating as the aircraft found its way in the cold air. As the plane evened out and the engine noise took on a nice purr, Matt drifted off to sleep. He always slept better up here in the cargo nets, in the air.  It was funny how that always worked out. 

Jet fuel and Conversations

In a half sleepy state, a familiar scent wafted up to Matt. His eyes snapped open and his senses burst outward. Nothing … ‘What the hell.”  He rolled over toward the group and looked down; one was missing. Something was off. Matt went to sit up but before he could a voice came from below and behind him, from the raised cargo ramp. 

“You know, you can stop with the lone-wolf Bear thing … it doesn’t become you little brother,” said a semi large bald Bear with tattoos adorning his face. Matt rolled over and out of the net, landing on his feet a blade in hand. His mind was working out the details, the timeline, the mission, and military time, a man whom he had served with on three continents was standing in front of him and had not aged a day in over 100 years. He was Bear, but how?

“O-a-mae-o” said the Bear.

“Manalu” responded Matt. “Tulou, how the heck is this possible Thomas?”

“Because little brother, my Elders have been watching over you for years,” responded the Bear. Thomas was a Southern Islander, or had been what Matt was led to believe. He was tattooed from his head to his toes. Matt had served with him at various times doing various things in the military. He developed a working friendship with the man during that time and always felt comfortable and at ease around him. Thomas had been present at some of the nastiest times in Matt’s past and had witnessed Matt at both his best and absolute worst. The larger Bear had pulled Matt out of his drunken stupor after a failed mission, sobered him up and got him back home in one piece. Luke knew Thomas, but only as the plain-clothed officer that always picked Matt up and brought him home. They had parted friendship on a distasteful assignment in Haiti. Matt still mentally shuttered at the thought of what Thomas did. When they returned Matt could not stomach it anymore and went forward with details that caused the US government a black eye, and Thomas to be reassigned elsewhere. He’d lost track of him after that … until today. 

Matt still in a crouched defensive stance responded. “Explain!”

“Seriously, do we need to talk about it? Okay. The short of it, I’m Bear and have been since you met me. My Elders have been watching you; they didn’t agree with Boris not telling you what you were and are a little shocked that you would pledge your skills to him even after that. Little brother, you see, a small group wants you to join them and make some things right in this world,” Thomas shook his head and looked Matt in the eye earnestly. “On a different note, why the hell did you change Luke and drag him along with you? You know that wasn’t right. I have watched you move like a Bear when you were human, I watched you harness the energy of the world to save so many. Why could you not save yourself and the man you love? Why did you condemn him to a life that he didn’t want? A life that will only bring him frustration and pain.  Bear he may be in blood … but Bear in his heart he is not,”

“Not a topic of discussion Thomas … I-” Matt stuttered as a flood of memories and emotion hit him. In his mind Dante’s memories rolled through his thoughts; visions of this Bear much older than he led on. Waves of heat, a fight, Dante hurt … and then blackness, cold, ice and snow. The vision so violet and so deep it dropped Matt to all fours. Under his jacket Dante’s mark burned in his skin. 

“What’s the matter little brother, Cub got your tongue?” sneered Thomas, moving closer as he drew a short sword.

“Not at all, I’m just wondering how it’s going to feel to take your head,” Matt said not looking up, letting Thomas approach. In Thomas’s hands his blade twirled through the air. 

“You were never a match for me, not when you were training.  Not now. Not ever,” Thomas raised his sword.

Matt moved to meet Thomas and they locked blades trading blows. Thomas’s den mates threw themselves into the fray and Matt found himself cornered. “What now young one?  Either submit and come with us, or we take your head,” growled Thomas. Standing behind him were three other den mates, Matt looked forward to see the Loadmaster had been killed or severely injured in the fight, more collateral damage. 

Matt smiled, “You four have a choice, stand down or die.”

They laughed a guffaw of laughter. That is when Matt moved; he shifted as though Dante’, moved within him. Two were beheaded as Matt came to a stop on the Cargo Ramp of the plane; he had snagged his gear bag on the way by. Before Thomas could register what was happening, Matt threw two blades and took the third Bear down. Now it was just him and Thomas. 

“Well little brother, you sure surprised me,” Thomas spoke looking back at Matt who was standing, crouched on top of the cargo door. He had slung his gear bag over his shoulder and neck and took out two more blades. As the larger Bear charged, Matt kicked the cargo gate latch free. When Thomas closed the distance, Matt moved within slicing nerve and tendon, muscle and sinew. He left the large island Bear, unable to move on the cargo door. 

“One chance. Why?”  Matt asked.

“Little brother, a war is coming between humans and Bears, what side do you want to be on? They are food, nothing more,” spat the large Bear.

“Not if I can help it,” Matt muttered. He strode up shoved a blade deep into the Bear’s chest and turned it to inflict maximum pain. Turning, Matt walked back to the cargo door release. Reaching the release, he turned to face the incapacitated Bear and smiled. Thomas screamed.

“Have a safe flight and remember your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device.  Good-Bye.” Matt sneered and engaged the release; the cargo door opened and dumped the screaming, incapacitated Bear out into the open air over open water.  Matt smiled, ‘Never a match … Silly Bear, Tricks are for kids.’ He dumped the other bodies out the cargo door and quickly cleaned up the area then he healed the loadmaster. The older Bear working the plane had no part to play in this and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Bear was grateful and shocked, but knew to just let it go. Bear bravado had its place and that’s what they chalked it up to.

In a few hours they would be in Clear, but why were these Bears going to the same location? Did they know about Matt’s mission? Or was it just a coincidence? Matt searched their gear, but it was nothing special. Clothes, dried meats, books to read; it appeared as if everything was a coincidence. However, somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it wasn’t. 

Thomas had been a weird influence on Matt while he was in the military. It seemed that he had always brought out the nasty side of him. On several missions Matt had to pull himself back from being, well … a monster. Matt was not a natural asshole or evil, but Thomas just seemed to bring that out of him. He was glad Thomas was gone, this time for good.

Ice and Vodka

Landing in Clear, Matt made his way to the provision store. It was run by a Bear brother as well as a safe haven, shown by the marking on its sign. The door creaked open and the sound of a single bell sounded as it closed. A voice came from behind a row of wooden shelves that held small canned goods. “Top of the morning, little one!” came a Russian accent, so thick that Matt could hardly make it out. 

“Same to yah,” responded the little Bear.

A figure scooted his way from behind the shelf hunched over, dragging a large box. He came around the corner butt first, and turned to face Matt, “You smell different, but you also have the aura of a friend, and someone I knew,” said the Bear, now standing straight. This Bear was at least 6-½ feet tall and as wide as the window he stood in front of. Matt faltered, he lost his words and stood in the doorway stuttering.

“I … um … I …” 

“No worries lad, come over here and have a seat,” spoke the Bear.  As he motioned for Matt to sit, Matt could see his hands were not quite human and not quite Bear.  He was partially shifted under his coveralls and button down shirt. His ears were Bear, but obscured by the knit cap he wore. As the large Bear smiled, his ursine teeth peeked out behind his lips. He was wearing large wool socks over his feet, to cover up his partially transformed features. 

“Thanks, I’m looking for Jürgen?” Matt asked, sitting on the edge of the seat.

“Then look no further little one, I’m he! The one you seek; I’m sure Boris sent you to accompany me on a trek. My very last one,” the Bear spoke, his voice a mix of sadness and pride. The large Bear poured them two glasses of Vodka with a large chunk of ice in each.  They sat facing one another staring each other down. No words were spoken for a bit as they both inhaled deeply and watched each other. Afterwards, they chatted and Matt was amazed at the depth and age of this Bear. 

This was an ancient one, one of the Bears he looked for and wanted so desperately to talk too and spend time with. Matt’s orders were to accompany this Bear to the Hunting Grounds, and ensure he was safe on his journey. This Bear was moving on for the last time; the way the old ones moved on.  As they aged, the very old Bears lost their ability to shift back and forth and were often left stuck somewhere in between. Matt would help this Bear transform for the last time. As they talked, Jürgen tended to customers and went about his day. Matt walked around den and store marveling at his collection of things. Coins and currency from all over the world, small art pieces, it was a collection of collections. In a far removed corner behind all the shelves, closest to the entrance to the bedrooms and private areas was a small statue of a Bear sitting on a single shelf, with nothing around it. The little statue caught Matt’s attention; it seemed to glow on its own. 

As Matt reached to touch it, a deep voice came from just over his shoulder as two massive paws were placed lightly on them. “That’s carved from the origin rock. At the time of our creation, the Great Bear along with others created us to protect man, to be their counsel and advisors. We are human and we are Bear. We are both,” Jürgen spoke, as his paws drifted across Matt and circled him in a warm hug, so gentle and graceful it didn’t match this Bears size. 

As the older Bear turned the little Guardian around, Matt noticed the store was closed and the shades had been drawn. The warm crackle of the heaters and the small pot bellied stove were the only sounds. Matt knew what this Bear wanted and in truth, Matt wanted it too.  Jürgen enjoyed Matt many times that day and night and as they were locked into the passions and throws of ursine sex, Jürgen transformed for the last time. Matt moved and gave energy to Jürgen to help with his transformation. Over many hours, he shifted gradually into his full Bear form. Late the next morning, the pair slipped out a side door and made a quiet, undisturbed exit from the town. As per his wishes, the store would be burnt down and he would cut ties with the world of humans for the last time. Tucked inside Matt’s jacket was the small statue; it would be a way to remind him of his duty to all Bears and what it meant to be a Guardian. 

A gentle snow fell as the two walked, it covered their tracks leaving no trail, no trace, and no record of their passing as it should be. Inside Matt cried; he didn’t want this Bear to move on. The old ones needed to be revered, loved, and cared for not led off to die. 

The two walked for several days, talking along the way. Jürgen spoke of battles and love, of sex and mead. These were adventures that would make any Cub long for the old times.  At the end of the journey as the pair arrived at the entrance to the Hunting Grounds, Matt reached out and grabbed the long fur of the older Bear.

“Please don’t,” Matt begged.

“Young one, I have lived long enough. It’s time for me to move on,” Jürgen chuffed.

“No, please … please stay and be a part of this world. We need you … I need you.  Jürgen, please,” Matt fell to his knees.  The large Bear turned around to face the small Guardian.

“This is my choice; I am tired of this world and living. My passing will not be missed by anyone. Little Guardian, you cannot save us all; you cannot hold the whole world on your shoulders. Thank you for walking with me and talking to me, it has made this trek a joy. Go back to the world of humans. Open your heart to everyone, don’t be afraid of who you are, face your demons, and never be swayed in your love for your mate,” Jürgen spoke inches from Matt’s face, as tears rolled off the little Bear. He turned and walked into the falling snow; just as he walked out of sight, the wind picked up and he disappeared. He became part of the energy flow that was the world. He moved on by his will alone. He left no trace, no track; he vanished as a ghost on the wind.

As Matt felt Jürgen become part of the world, he exploded. Rage, hate, anger, loss, love, longing, all flowed up and out of the little guardian. The snow around him melted as he became a conduit for the energy. Static electricity discharged off of him as the waves of emotions flowed like a geyser. He could feel himself start to transform, his clothes ripped and fell away as he morphed into his Bear. Bellowing to the snow and ice he screamed his rage, his loss, and his love for the Bear that had passed. He spat his anger to the ancient ones for thinking they were no longer needed, and he whimpered his longing for Dante and for Luke. At the end of the outburst Matt just laid on the snow face up, panting, tears freezing to his fur. Silently, he vowed to never bring another Bear to his willing death. He would find a way, he would find a purpose for them; they would not be cast off like old clothes that were no longer needed. 

Through the cold of the snow Dante’s, mark burned.  Matt knew he had made the right choice. He sat up gathering his shredded clothes and gear into his backpack and made his way back. In his half form he was warm enough, but he needed to be careful of humans. He was sure they would mistake him for a Sasquatch or something, but he did not want to push it. 

It was drawing close to the time of the southern gathering.  Matt would have to go back to the lower parish of New Orleans where he grew up. He was not looking forward to this, but Luke and Vic were so he would have to make the best of it. Inside he wished to never set a paw back on that soil. That place held only pain for Matt more than he had told Luke, more than he had ever told anyone.

The Voodoo that You Do

The lower parish of New Orleans stunk even worse that when Matt had left. The group of Bears had landed a few hours earlier, checked into the hotel and were out meandering around the streets looking for trouble, or fun depending on how you looked at it. He was trailing a few paces behind Vic and Luke, a little lost in his memories. As the festival of Bears and Men was taking its normal course Matt was left feeling like an outsider. His gut was tight, as it always was in large groups or crowds. He ducked down a back alley and before he realized, was making his way back to his old watering hole. The old ways, the sights, and smells were coming back to him. It seemed that not much had changed in eighty plus years. Soon, Matt was standing at the entrance to El Ta Doe. It had been a dive back then and had not improved much since. It was a locals spot; working class customers, a few police officers off duty, but nothing more. Matt made his way to the center of the bar and ordered a drink. Actually, he ordered a whole bottle of Vodka and a bucket of ice; he proceeded to make his way through the bottle. He reached down and nibbled on the semi-stale salt-lick popcorn. The drink had no taste after a while, all Matt wanted was his senses dulled to cut out off the memories, the flashbacks, and to just not feel anything for a while.

The piano started to play and he was lost in memories and alcohol. Soon he finished the bottle and was feeling pretty rowdy; he wanted to be bad. However, Bear situational awareness being what it was; he decided it was time to leave. As he made his way from the bar, someone caught his eye. A person he knew danced on the edge of his sight and then was gone. Stumbling Matt made his way outside and started to follow the person; it was Danny. It couldn’t be. He was dead. Matt had seen him die, held him as his heart stopped, and handed the flag to his parents. Just as Matt would begin to catch up, Danny would disappear. He was past drunk, on the way to blackout. His Bear physiology was taking care of the stupor and he was coming around pretty fast, but he had finished a liter bottle of Ketel One Vodka. Still, he was tumbling and stumbling. Finally, Danny brought him to the one place he didn’t ever want to come again.  The cemetery where his parents were buried, his entire family, his line. The figure grabbed Matt and threw him through the cemetery gates. Landing in a tumble he looked around, the world was blurry and off center. Danny appeared and kicked him over a row of markers and into the side of a tomb. He looked up; the marker was for his family. Danny grabbed Matt by the head and made him look, made him read the names, made him see his pain, made him see his loss, made him deal with the blackness that he had tucked away, deep down. 

An explosion of energy shook the ground and Matt brought the memories back, dealt with his pain, his loss. After so much death how could he possibly be a helper in life? The emotional baggage, self-loathing, and doubt had eaten at him for years; now it would be dealt with. In the cemetery the wind picked up circling Matt, and storm clouds formed overhead. The young Guardian was pulling nature toward him, yanking at the world and in turn the world would echo his pain. Here in this place of rest a battle would begin, one of Matt’s past, and of his future.

As he was held there, he saw his father, mother, brothers and sisters. There he saw his son and daughter in law; they had been killed in an automobile accident. He’d stayed away and not visited or made peace with it. Now, as Danny held him there he reached out his senses and could still feel his son and daughter in law. The last of their life energy hung in the tomb waiting to be given a path to freedom. As Matt reached out and touched the tomb; the remaining life force flowed to Matt and around his body. He smelled his son’s hair, felt the warmth of his daughter in laws heart, and heard ‘We love you dad’ as the energy flowed out and into the world. Matt cried for his son and daughter in law. They had left four children that Matt had kept an eye on and watched over. The four were his constant concern and he would always pass by on the way back north, to check on them. 

As he looked around the cemetery is started to rain. It was a southern afternoon thunder burst. The kind of rain that falls so hard you can’t see ten feet in front of you, stops traffic, and makes any movement hazardous. The hot air mixed with the cooling rain, and steam formed just above the ground. The rain-washed away the last of the drunken stupor and with it Danny. Matt was left with his clothes torn to shreds, kneeling in the Louisiana mud in the cemetery of his family. He stayed that way for some time, just looking at the tombs and markers, remembering his family opening his heart to the world, listening for the whispers of family on the wind, hoping above hope that he would see them again someday, but knowing he was now Bear and death was not an option open to him anymore. 

A gust of warm wind pushed through the cemetery, “I see ya found ya way back home,” came a familiar voice.

Matt turned his head slowly, knowing that this place, this parish, and his family had some strong ties to Island Magic. “Chum?” asked Matt.

“Na sir, I be ta great, great granddaughter and keeper of ya’ family. Gran has long departed, but not before she gave us a picture of ya’, the young Cub. Said you were like Legba, the shape shifter, the protector, and the jester. Said you would come back to make peace. Said you would need to be healed,” said the small Negro/American female. She was not much larger than he remembered Chum, but the same necklace, the same smell, same glow. 

“I don’t know what I need,” Matt remarked as another rainstorm started.

“Come to da ol’ plantation manor, I’ll round up da gathering we will heal the protector of young ones and ancients,” she said as she took a few steps toward Matt and laid a small charm at his side. Looking over, Matt knew what it was; it was a protection and calling charm, one that would keep him safe as he crossed the plantation. He was about to go home, to be healed by the old ones of his world. Matt walked many paths, he had ties to many home, in many places, and he was a bridge, a link among many. This would be another bridge he would either have to cross or destroy. 

Whiskey and Cigars

Luke and Vic were making the rounds. Humans, Cubs, and Bears mixed into a froth of sweat and sexuality that had to be seen to be believed. The street festival was progressing and both of the Bears had claimed a few Cubs and taken their leave with them. They were both careful to stay within their species, but humans were tempting if only for a kiss or grope. 

“You seen Matt?” Vic asked as they both downed shots.

“Na … he hates crowds, this was his home I’m sure he’ll be ok. He’s probably in a bookstore somewhere or a library, far removed from all this,” Luke said has he yanked in a Cub and planted a wet sloppy kiss on him, then pushed him away. 

“Okay, but I’m worried. You know he didn’t want to come in the first place,” Vic answered.

“Yeah I know, but sometimes it’s about me and what I want. I have followed that Bear all over the world, he can follow me for a while,” Luke said a little smugly. Vic made note of the comment, but stayed close to Luke just as Matt would have. The pair made their way from bar to bar following the ebb and flow of the crowd. It was getting dark and with that a different element was on the street. Vic noticed it first, but Luke was a little dull to it. As they entered the Voodoo Lounge, partially dressed Cubs and humans were packed in and the music loud, beer flowed and festivities commenced. The pair of party Bears was eating it up, but in the back of his head Vic knew something was wrong with Matt …

Stumbling, Matt made his way back to the manor house. Long abandoned by his family, long forgotten by the neighborhood it was given up on by the city. The property sat untouched by humans, but writhe with the old magic. This ground was hallowed to many, cursed by others, and Matt had to walk across it to reach the gathering. His vision was blurry and his balance was off. The charm he was holding started to get warm in his hand. Matt knew he was entering the fury, the protective barrier that was around this place. To humans, this place was haunted. To Matt it was alive, just as it had always been. Matt rounded the old carriage house, ducked through an overgrown grape harbor and emerged into what was the workout ground where he and his father spared, fenced, wrestled, and boxed. As he walked, he could make out the staff holders along the far wall, only a single staff remained; it was sure to be useless as a weapon at this point. As he walked out past a row of flowered hedges he felt the ground change, he was walking on the meditation sands of his mother’s garden. Matt paused briefly to kneel down and grab a handful of the sand, letting it slide from his closed fist as he watched. When the last of the sand fell from his hands he heard the sounds of drums and chants. It was time to attend the gathering; the demons of his past would be put down and he would have closure with his parents.

Across town but in a different world in the Voodoo Lounge, the Bears were far outnumbering the humans. As with most Bear gatherings, humans would leave on their own without much coaxing; it was a natural instinct when Bears come together in a group. The age-old question of who is Alpha comes into play and little contests start to erupt, with the amount of booze being passed around, it was sure to get a little wild later. Luke and Vic were sitting back enjoying themselves and had actually found the corner of the lounge that had the food. Leave it to a Polar Bear to always find the grub.

“Aren’t you worried about Matt? He vanished almost 12 hours ago,” asked Vic, devouring chicken wings.

“Nope, he’s a big Bear he can take care of himself. Besides, with all this young meat around, I’ll have my paws full in a bit. I see two that I want. How ‘bout you?” questioned Luke.

“I’m good I have enough at home to keep me occupied, but are you sure you want to go after it like that. It’s kind of … well … out of your norm.”

“The hell with the norms, I want ass and I’m going to get it. This isn’t about love; it’s about taking what I want. Period!” Luke said, a little annoyed.

“O-okay, well, okay,” stammered Vic, totally surprised at this. Luke had been attached to Matt and wanted no one else for a while, now it would seem that a switch had been flipped.  He had been acting erratic for some time when Matt was away. It was hard for Vic to rationalize what was happening. As the older Bear, he stuck close and guided when he could, but Luke had become moody and downright hurtful in his speech toward Matt. ‘Gods be praised if those two survive this.’  Vic thought to himself and he watched Luke grab hold of a Cub and haul him into a dark corner. 

Across town at the old plantation manor, Matt approached the small fire surrounded by people. Some wearing masks while others had painted their faces. When he approached the fire, his legs became weak and his vision blurred as its smoke wafted over him. 

“There ya be. Time to make peace with ya demons young one. The gathering will guard ya on da journey,” said the small dark skinned female. Matt dropped to his knees as the chanting started, he was undressed and his body painted. The markings were protection totems.  This would be the third time in his life he had gone through this; the first was with his brother, then his sister, and now he would journey to meet his parents. He had to know the truth about things and this was the only way. Drums started and someone held Matt’s head back pouring something down his throat. It burned, and his senses exploded as the journey began. The wind picked up and clouds drew close. Matt started his journey through the guff … in search of the truth. He would learn his answers and his demons would be at rest. 

Can You Kill the One You Love?

Matt stumbled as he walked back into town, holding his clothes in his hands. His mind was awash in strange shapes and visions. As he walked down back streets and corridors, behind buildings and down dark alleys, the street people gave him deference; they cleared a path for him and didn’t stop his progress. 

“What happened to him?” asked one of the street people.

“He met Legba, journeyed through the guff and returned. Do you see the markings on his body?”

The voices faded as Matt kept walking; he was tracking Luke, he needed to find him.  Needed to hold him. The truth he had learned was not the truth that he wanted, but it brought closure and had opened up more questions. He just needed to hold his Bear. As he passed a storefront, he caught sight of his reflection. He was still painted, shirtless; blood was dried at the corners of his eyes, his ears, and across his chest. He looked like the walking dead and it suited him.

As Matt walked he found his way back into the festival of Men and Bears. Even with the packed streets, Bears gave him a wide breadth. They backed away from him, noses twitching and eyes wide. The Bears cleared the humans as well; they knew by instinct that this was a Bear, but that he needed to be left alone. What Matt had not noticed was that he was almost glowing. He had touched the guff again and this time a part came back with him. His blue eyes were aglow behind the blood-streaked face. In reality he was on the edge of transforming; he was right on the line of heightened energy and senses, just before the change. In this state, he easily found his prey.  Matt was intent on reaching Luke, but what he was wrestling with was the truth of the encounter and the truth about Luke. Mates they may be now, but in a different life and in a different place they were sworn enemies. His parents had prepared him well, but it wasn’t to be a Guardian, it was to fight Luke and win. The one being he loved above all others was the one he was bred to kill. It was messing with his mind and blurring his senses. He was lost somewhere between the visions and reality. It was always hard to separate the two when coming back and now he would have to make a choice. He knew Luke was changing; he was becoming the evil thing the visions made him out to be. He was slipping further into the darkness and Matt had to stop it. The visions showed only one possible outcome in the future. His Bear would not become that being; Matt would sacrifice himself first.

Sniffing the air, he tracked the Bear to the Voodoo Lounge. It had not changed much in 80 years. He was about to enter, but a large Bear blocked his path only to be thrown into the street with a single hand. Matt entered the lounge and sniffed the air again. His mind was clearing, his vision returning. He had calmed down on the walk, but was still painted up. It fit with the festival so many of the guests to this area didn’t pay him any mind. He noticed Luke standing in a corner making out with a Cub; he stopped and watched for a second, a little caught off guard. Then he made his way over in his direction. 

“Hey, we need to talk,” Matt said as he reached up and brushed his hand down Luke’s arm.

“You can wait till I’m done with this piece of meat,” Luke responded through grunts and slams as he held the Cub firmly in place with one semi-clawed hand and swatted his rump with the other. 

“We really need to talk, please…” 

Luke grunted as he finished with the Cub and pretty much threw him away, buttoning up his pants. “What the hell do you want?”

“We need to talk, away from here. Things have changed and I need to fill you in.  Please can we leave?” Matt almost begged. On the other side of the lounge, Vic had found a few friends from way back and was chatting when he saw it happen. Vic heard the words, “To hell with you.” as he saw Luke punch Matt so hard it threw him across the room and slammed him into the concrete wall, hard enough to dent the brick. Vic moved, but Luke was already on Matt, wailing on him.

“I’m done with following you around,” yelled Luke as he slammed his fists into Matt’s head and body. The little Bear was taking it, not fighting back. All that could be heard was Matt begging him to stop and listen.

The other Bears in the club knew what was about to happen and out of instinct or just common sense, cleared out the few remaining humans and blocked the door. What was about to unfold was ursine business and had no place mixing in the human world. 

Before Vic could make it across the room, Matt exploded. In a roar that came from some other place, Luke was thrown back and across the floor. Matt got up as static discharged from his body. As he walked his body shifted through a partial transformation. Everyone stopped. Matt was a guardian and with it came a coloration and fur pattern that was neither Bear, nor like any normal animal walking the earth. Matt’s silver fur bristled, his eyes glowed.  Around him was a faint outline of something else, Vic saw it, but only because he had the ability of ‘sight, beyond sight’. The aura that hung around Matt was another Polar Bear. He knew that Bear. Vic muttered, “By the Gods, it’s Dante’.”

“Hell with you, I’m done following you. I want to live life, not wait for you,” spat Luke.  Then the larger Bear transformed into his Polar Bear, his clothes shredding and falling away.  Luke was massive, Vic had only seen him in full form once and it would seem that Luke had grown.  Luke charged and swatted Matt across the face. He went down hard and transformed back into his human form. 

“Luke…..please… stop… You need to listen to me,” Matt said, rising to his knees. 

Luke charged and threw Matt back into the wall again. He bounced off the wall and to the floor. He caught both of Luke’s paws as he was about to pounce on him.  “Luke please stop, this isn’t you…Please,” Matt begged again as the Polar Bear pulled free and then snapped with an open maul. Matt turned away as Luke closed his powerful jaws around his shoulder, bit down hard, and then shook him like a doll. Then he threw Matt across the room again, this time Matt didn’t move when he came to rest in a lump on the floor, a pool of blood started to form and the room was still, very still.

Vic took a few steps in front of Luke and looked him in the eyes. “You need to stop; do you want to kill the one you love so much?” Vic asked the panting Polar Bear as he started to process what had just happened. Polar Bears were the first tribe; they were the most powerful of all the Bears, the biggest, and the strongest. What had just happened was a display of strength, blind rage, emotion, and Cub maturity. Vic knew that Matt held back, and that he had tried to reason with his Bear. 

As Luke really processed what had happened, he transformed back to human form.  He was starting to tear up and Vic was still standing in front of him. “Matt… I… Matt!” he screamed as he pushed past Vic and scrambled to where Matt had come to rest.  However, Matt was not there. Instead, a blood trail led to the back door of the club and then into the alley. There were a few footprints, then paw prints followed by his shredded clothes and then nothing. The trail came to a dead end alley, and then it was gone. Matt had vanished; he left no track, no trace. The few Bears that witnessed the scuffle tried to track Matt, but he had simply vanished. 

After Vic collected Luke and took him back to the hotel he formed a search party, and they searched the city, but found nothing. This was Matt’s home; this was his stomping ground.  If he didn’t want to be found, then no one and nothing was going to find him. Vic worried that a line had been crossed and wondered how Dante came to be Matt’s totem.  As he reviewed the events in his mind, he made note of the paintings on Matt’s body and the way he was acting.  Vic returned to the club and underneath the Jukebox beside where Matt had come to rest, was a small charm that had both Matt’s scent on it and his blood. It was warm in his hands. Slowly Vic was putting the pieces together and getting more and more frantic as time passed. He questioned other Bears and street people, but turned up nothing. After speaking with Luke, he went to the cemetery, and to his family home. More questions and no Matt … A strange group of people were hanging around the dilapidated home. They seemed to look through him, like they knew what he was.

A day had passed and Vic was getting really upset with Luke. The Polar Bear had not left the hotel room since the incident and was slipping into an almost catatonic state. It was like his senses were on overload, and only some type of defense mechanism was working. 

“Luke, come with me and see if you can find him. You two are connected in a way apart from most Bears. I have seen you two find each other in a crowd and react when the other is hurt from half a world away. Please, will you come out and help look for him?” Vic begged. 

Luke was sitting by the window, still holding his shredded clothes from the festival. The Polar Bear looked up at him and nodded. As Luke dressed, Vic marveled at his body; he was massive even as a human, tall, very muscled, a small belly, and a light pelt of fur. He noticed right away that he and Matt bore a similar mark on their upper right chest. His pelt fur matched a striped pattern of the First Tribe Polars, but he did not say anything to him about it. Vic made note of the markings, and made a mental note to talk to Luke about it later. Luke reached in his duffle pulling out some clothes, dressed and was on his way with Vic. He had not muttered more than a few words since getting back to the hotel, it was how he coped.

Once outside the Polar Bear walked across the street and put his nose to the wind, waiting. After about 30 minutes of Luke standing with his eyes closed, sniffing the air his eyes snapped open. “Got him,” he spoke and took off across the park out toward an industrial area.  Vic was having a hard time keeping up with Luke; he hadn’t known the large Bear could move so quickly. Luke was starting to exhibit traits that he didn’t know about and it would seem that this big Polar was finally growing up all be it in spurts, but he was.

Requiem of a Dream

Matt watched the birds fly overhead and listened to the sounds of cars, people walking, kids playing, dogs barking, and a cacophony of other normal sounds. He had healed hours ago, but still held the tooth of his Bear; it had broken off in his shoulder as Luke threw him. He replayed the seconds of the outburst in his mind; over and over he played the mental tape. He saw the flash of anger in Luke’s eyes, and smelled the crimson on his breath. In truth, Luke matched Matt’s strength paw for paw, but he didn’t have the skill to use it. It was all Matt could do to keep from being trampled when the Polar Bear pounced on him. The sounds of feet splashing in water snapped Matt out of his daydream; he backed further into the dark corner and waited, transforming into his half form as he did so. 

Matt had found refuge in one of his old hiding spots, a storm drain access tunnel where he had played as a child. He found the solitude and the sound of the water comforting; the smell was something to contend with, but not that much of a challenge. As the sounds came closer, he could tell it was Luke and Vic.  As they neared, Matt focused on being invisible stopping his breathing and making his body still. He drifted into the shadows as he became part of them.

“He’s here I can smell him and feel him,” panted Luke, catching his breath. 

“I don’t see anyone,” Vic responded panting as well. 

“If he’s here, he’s listening. Talk to him, tell him what’s in your heart,” Vic pressed.

“Matt … I … I’m sorry for what I did. You are just better than me at this Bear stuff. I don’t do things as easy as you,” Luke mumbled. They both waited in silence.

“Honey Bear, please come back to me … I can’t do this without you. Please … come back,” Luke said, collapsing into the water and sobbing.

“Would you have killed me? Was that your intent?” Matt whispered, seemingly from everywhere at once. Both Bears looked around trying to get a bearing on the sounds.

“I don’t know, I was mad. Upset. I don’t do this Bear thing like you do; I’m not as good at it. When we’re apart things go bad, I get crazy. I need you. Please … come back!” sobbed the large Bear.

“Are you unable or unwilling to be a Bear?” asked Matt as he emerged from the shadows in front of them both. Matt unfolded from the shadows; he walked out of them, like they were covering him. As he walked toward them, Vic could tell he was pissed. 

“What do you mean?” asked Luke getting to his feet.

“Do you want to live life with me, or would you rather me end you here, before you do further damage to me or someone else?” Matt asked detached, his fur bristling and eyes glowing.

“Again, are you unable or unwilling?!” Matt screamed and charged at the pair. He seemed to disappear and reappear past Vic grabbing hold of Luke. He threw him across the tunnel and into the water, and then melded back into the shadows. Vic turned and tried to track Matt, but it was useless he was moving too fast. Vic didn’t want to believe what he was seeing.  He moved … he moved like the Ancient Guardians, like he was one of the first. He had heard of such skill, but it was thought to be lost long ago. 

“I … Matt please stay with me; I cannot do this without you. Please….” sobbed the big Bear as he picked himself up from the water and backed against the wall. 

“Was it your intent to kill me?” Matt asked again as he appeared in front of Luke, grabbed him again and threw him to the far side of the tunnel. Luke impacted the wall with a wet thud and slid down. 

“No…. I don’t know why I did that. The rage, the hate … I feel dark, cold … please help me be better. Please…” sobbed the Polar Bear.

Vic launched himself into an attack on Matt, which proved fruitless. Matt grabbed him from the air and threw him down the tunnel as easily as he would throw dirty laundry in a hamper. Looking back at Luke, Matt approached static discharged from his body as he walked. He glowed as he approached the Polar Bear. 

“Do you want to live, or do you want me to end you?  Choose!”  Matt said as he approached the sobbing Bear. 

“I’m nothing without you.  If you keep leaving, I can’t cope anymore. Just end me…..end me here…. at least I know you loved me,” Luke said as he sat back on his feet and closed his eyes. Matt’s scent wafted to him, and he smiled. In those few seconds of calm, Luke saw Matt when they first met on the dance floor of a country western bar in Texas. Matt’s soft blond hair, his smile, and small frame that seemed to carry more strength than the eye could behold. The way he walked, the way he protected him when they were out. The way he always took care of him… A tear fell from his eye, as he felt a rush of wind pass him, there was a dull thud as something hit him in the chest.  As he struggled to take a breath, a soft warm feeling spread through his entire body. Faintly in the distance, Vic screamed at Matt to stop, but it was too late. The Guardian had killed the one he loved…  Matt leaned his head back and bellowed and screamed. The world went dark…. Very Dark…

Destiny had been fulfilled! The demons and karma had been satisfied. 

…Blackness faded…

The Guardians furry ears twitched as the sounds of splashing water; drug him from where he had fallen asleep days before. His body still hurt, his life-force was drained, and all he wanted was to sleep, a quiet peaceful rest.

“There he is,” Luke all but screamed as he leapt to the top ledge where a single paw was barely visible at the edge. Matt had climbed up out of sight, but his left paw hung visible over the edge. Vic followed closely and as they took stock of the situation, both were more than shocked with what they saw. The ledge was covered with blood; it was like Matt had bled out.  Around Matt was a faint outline of a Polar Bear, watching over him. 

Luke went to step forward and Vic stopped him.  “Not yet, wait…  Dante’, I know it’s you. I know you sustained Matt until we could arrive. We will take care of him, I promise my old friend,” Vic said as the outline faded away. Luke and Vic reached him. As they rolled him over, Luke started to babble. 

“I’m so sorry, it wasn’t intentional. Please forgive me. Help me be better… please… Matt…  Matt…” sobbed the Polar Bear.

“You were forgiven before you did it,” Matt muttered, just barely over a whisper. Luke scooped up his small mate and jumped down with him. Matt pointed in a different direction than they came in and after pointing, he promptly passed out.

Vic and Luke walked in silence for a bit. “You need to get better at controlling yourself.  You know that, right?” Vic asked.

“I know… I know… It’s never a problem when Matt is around, only when he goes away on these damn missions and crap he gets sent on,” replied Luke.

“That’s no excuse for what you did. You need to face what you are, it’s been almost 80 years now and you have only changed a couple of times.  No one fits better together than you two and no one should be kept further apart than you two.” Vic said a little annoyed and tired of all the drama.

“I know…. I know… I need to get better…” Luke let his words trail off as they walked. They could see light at the end of the tunnel, and smell burning leaves mixed something else. Sage, amber, and tobacco wafted down the tunnel toward the Bears. As they approached the light, they saw people and stopped. 

“Matt, honey, you need to transform, there are humans outside,” Luke whispered in his ear.

Matt’s nose sniffed the air. “Friends” he muttered, pointed toward the light, and put his head back down. The two Bears walked into the light, holding the smaller Bear in half form, his silver fur blowing in the wind, streaked in blood, and smelling of death. They walked out onto the back of Matt’s’ family home. The gathering had remained there, waiting. They were the same people that Vic had seen when he was looking for Matt.

“I see ya found what was lost,” said a small Negro woman as she approached the trio.

“Um… Yes… Who..?” Vic stammered.

“Blond one, you are known to us; as are you white one. White one, you have the mark of the first ones. Your rage and selfishness alone caused this.  Pay attention to this warning.  That Bear yah hold could have killed yah, and choose not ta….ya need to think about it. You got a second chance to love him, don’t let that love fall away through the years.” She placed a tender hand on the side of Matt’s head and muzzle; the small Bear turned his head, and sniffed deeply, licked her hand, then rolled his head back into Luke’s chest and passed out again. 

“We will see to your safe passage, he needs to rest like this until he is ready to be human again,” she said as she beckoned them out of the gathering and into a nearby van.  As they were about to leave, she grabbed Luke’s hand.  “You need to decide, are ya unable or unwilling to be his mate?”  With that she closed the door, and the driver started the long drive north.

Tattoos and Sign Language

The van bumped along for days, making a slow but steady progression north. Matt was out of it. His body was cold and he was still. He was breathing but still. He would wake briefly, eat and drink whatever Vic or Luke put in his mouth and then drifted back off. 

“What happened between you two that would cause this?” questioned Vic.

“I don’t know why I acted that way. I get so scared and nervous when he leaves, when you or Robert, or whoever show up and take him away. It’s not like when y’all go into town for food or shopping. When Matt leaves, he shuts off something. I feel cold, empty, lonely, and vulnerable. He has always protected me…” Luke trailed off.

“You’re three times his size, in all forms, are you seriously telling me you can’t protect him once in a while?” Vic said, annoyed as hell.

“I… I guess I’m not cut out to be a Bear like you two are. Thomas said that if I was feeling like this, it was because I was not meant to be a Bear. That sooner or later the Bear would take control and I would be lost somewhere and someone would come and put me down. That there was a code among Bears that only the strong are allowed to sire new Cubs.  I’m not as strong as you or Matt. I’m just not good at this stuff,” Luke was babbling faster and faster, starting to sob and hyperventilate.

“Whoa, who is Thomas?” Vic asked.

“I knew him when Matt was in the military. He showed up a few times at the house in Virginia before we moved on. Said he was a Bear and that he had been watching over us for a long time. Told me about what being a Polar Bear meant and it scared me. He said I needed to be stronger, but I wasn’t,” Luke broke down in sobs. From the center of the van, Matt reached a paw over and touched Luke reassuringly on his leg. Vic witnessed an almost instant change in Luke. He calmed instantly, his breathing became normal, his eyes fluttered as he got a hold of himself.  From Matt a soft green glow formed around him and expanded around Luke.  The larger Bear settled down, laid down next to Matt and fell asleep. They slept that way for a few hours. 

Vic was left astonished. Matt was passed out, and he still knew Luke needed him.  Who was Thomas?  What was Matt?  How far did Matt’s skills extend?  What else has the little Bear been hiding?  He was exhibiting skills of a healer, but those Bears had not been seen for millennia.  How did he meet Dante’?  How did the best of the Guardians become his totem?  All these questions rattled through his head, like a news ticker.  Vic hadn’t noticed that an outline of Dante had appeared around the pair.  As they slept together, they were healing each other. Vic watched the last of the cuts heal on Matt’s shoulder, and a smile formed across Luke’s face. Vic watched as Matt started to shift forms very slowly back to his human form.  Vic sat in awe as he progressed backward from his silver Bear to the white of a Polar, then to the black of his original moonbear and finally to human. It was as though he was three Bears in one body. Matt’s eyes fluttered open as he sat up and stretched. Luke was still fast asleep curled up in the fetal position close to the separating wall for the driver. 

Matt held a finger to his lips to signal Vic to stay quiet. He eased up and away from his sleeping lover, stretching as he moved. Vic was again in awe.  Matt had no fat left on his body.  He was again taut and muscled with markings all over his white hairless body. Scars crisscrossed his torso, legs, groin, and back; he also noticed that Matt had gotten some new tattoo work done at some point. The wings on his back coalesced down to Norse tribal markings down his rump, around his hips and to the inside of his thighs. Single lines and rune markings ran down the back of each leg and wrapped around all the way to his toes. His chest had a mark similar to Luke’s and several others that Vic couldn’t make out. Finishing his brief stretch, Matt sat back against the wall of the van and started to sign to Vic in silence. They had often engaged in sign language conversations in quiet settings.

“How long have I been out?”

“Four days.”

“Where are we going?”

“Home?”

“What’s the situation?”

“You tell me.”

“That’s why I asked.  Last thing I remember is getting bit and thrown across a room.”

“Don’t be coy. Tell me about Dante.”

“Not your concern.”

“Bullshit.”

“That’s not a topic of discussion between you and me.”

“And why the hell not?”

“All Cubs become Bears!”

“Fuck you.”

“Any time. You’re a great ride, just make sure the music is right; old Bear.”

“Matt, what the hell are you?”

“What you made me. You tell me!”

“Again, stop being coy,”

“I’m not. You trained me. I followed the path that you and the Elder set out. I have done everything that you have asked of me, without question, followed ever order, and internalized every suggestion.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Then what do you mean?” 

“Humans know me, they know you, they were not afraid of you in Bear form. You bled out Matt, and you are alive. Tell me how.”

“Not your concern.”

“Damn it, why the hell won’t you talk to me?”

“Because in the next few days, you and I may end up on opposite sides of something.  You need to keep your head clear. Mine is.”

“What?”

“I’m done being Robert’s lackey.”

“What?”

“Did you know that he has me doing cleanup?  Setting the rouge Bears on the right path or ending them. Did you know he had me lead an Elder… an ancient to his death? Did you know they are much older than you think? I’m done. I could forgive you and the others for not telling me what was happening to me when I changed a second time, but not telling me the extent of what I am, and what the Guardians true purpose was after I changed, it’s damn hurtful…  I’m done with it, everyone and you for that matter. You can take this den and Elder leadership caste and shove it up your ass. 

“What are you going to do, challenge Boris and Robert to a Reckoning?”

“Yes.

“That’s suicide.  Robert and the other Elite Guard will tear you apart.”

“Doubtful, very doubtful.”

“You are pretty sure of yourself.  That clumsy oaf of a mate you have nearly killed you, what do you think you will be able to do against the force of Robert and Boris?”

“Leave that one to me. By the way, Victor Gla-Morgan Dorte’, that was your first name right?  Your human name.  That Bear is the only one that will EVER have my heart.  That Bear can do with it what he wants.”

“How did you…?”

“Not your concern. If you think the tensing in your legs and arms will give you enough strength to take me down, think again.  You may have trained me, but you were not my only teacher.  Let that sink in before you decide to attempt to shift and take me down.  What’s the matter Victor, did you not realize that I can read the energy flow in things.  Did you not catch that from our conversation 60 years ago?  Oh, and before I wake my mate.  You can stop trying to build up your shift.  You have never been that smooth with it.  I would rip your heart out before you were in half form.  Just sit there and ride back to our home, then leave; you need to be as far away from this as you can.”

Lines in Sand

The ride back was tense for all three Bears.  Luke woke up a few hours later and grabbed hold of Matt and did not let go the rest of the ride. Vic sat in silence, saying only a few words every now and then. He knew Matt was pissed, and rightly so, but what he couldn’t make out was the how and why. Why now? At the Elders meeting, that would be part of the annual gathering. When they arrived home, the driver said a farewell and didn’t stay. Before leaving he handed Matt a wooden box and spoke to him in a different language, in a dialect that Vic couldn’t make out. 

Turning away, Vic walked down the drive and toward the lodge.  Matt had drawn a line in the sand. Whatever he was about to do, it was going to be devastating.  As Vic walked he flashed back to all the times that he had spent time with Matt.  The small moonbear had been put through hell from the start.  His sires beat him to near death.  His home life was a feat and challenge that no sane Bear would have wanted.  Raising children, continuing on with life like nothing happened.  Slowly closing out a human life and walking away from his children.  Death would have been gracious compared to the hurt that must have caused him.  Then to realize that you weren’t a normal Bear, yet not human, and stuck somewhere in between. Vic knew it had been wrong not to tell Matt, but they weren’t sure what he was.  Then the couple moves on, and tries to settle in together and Matt keeps getting pulled away.  He could identify and empathize with Matt and his anger at the situation.  But, what was happening now…was just not like Matt. As Vic walked up to the lodge, Robert met him and instantly fired off questions. Vic held back what Matt was planning and just took his leave from the lodge.  Getting into his truck, Boris came out to meet him.

“What’s wrong old Friend?” asked Boris, standing at the door of the vehicle with his back to the lodge and Robert.

“I need some air, need to clear my head,” Vic said, not looking at Boris.

“Yes, okay dear friend. I can feel that you’re in conflict, please take whatever time you need. Will you return for the gathering?” he asked.

“Yes, I’ll be here.  See you in seven days” Vic replied, as he started the vehicle and pulled out of the drive.

“Robert, what is the matter with Vic?” questioned Boris.

“He wouldn’t say.  All that he said was that Luke and Matt were home and they needed some time to themselves, alone, and not to disturb them.”

“Then so be it, watch for the signal on their home, don’t go over or send anyone, unless we’re invited,” Boris sighed as he walked back inside the lodge. 

In the week before the gathering, Matt and Luke spent just about every second together.  They made love, slow passionate connecting love.  The week of quiet was magical for both Bears.  The phone never rang, the email didn’t chirp, it was peaceful.  As Luke would sleep, Matt would slip outside and spend time in the meditation and sparring area, adjacent to the hot tub deck. Matt sat and centered himself, he had to search and remove all doubt in his mind about his next course of action. He evaluated every situation, and stripped away the emotions.  He came to realize that he pledged himself to Boris’s den out of respect and adoration. This feeling came from how Boris treated him when he was a new Bear; Boris had been kind and understanding. He had listened to all of Matt’s worries and helped when called.  Matt was having a hard time rationalizing the memories from Dante’ about these two and the Bears that they seemed to be today. Through all of Matt’s work he had seen nasty stuff, he had to put down rouge Bears and freed others. It was work he was getting tired of doing. As Matt searched and mediated he opened himself to nature, called it toward him. He listened intently for guidance and insight that would help him. At the end of the week after each day of meditation, none came. Matt was left to make a choice. He would challenge Robert in the arena during the gathering, and work his way up to Boris. He knew that in combat, in the midst of battle, clarity is often the only thing can truly be attained.

-Interlude-

Standing outside the den in full human form, a man who was a black Bear put his glasses on, a reminder of when he truly had been fully human. He was average and wouldn’t be picked out of a crowd of other bears.

“I’m off to the Gathering now. Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

A muffled response came from deep within the den, in a very sated tone.

“No, Cub, we’ll stay here and relax.” 

“Heh, that sure don’t look relaxed to me.”

The Bear nodded, as he had known the answer before he asked. Once his Papa Bears got down to making love, there was no turning back. He smiled in memory as he stretched his muscles, still a bit stiff from some of the positions he had already participated in.

“Cub, you could get your furry tail back in here, you know…”

“Now Papa, we talked. You guys deserve some alone time. I won’t be gone long though.”

“Have fun, and stay out of trouble.”

“You know me.”

Before he could saunter off too far, there was a sigh from the den. “Not so fast.  Don’t interfere with what needs to be done. No matter what happens, the air needs to be cleared.”

“You told me to have fun.”

“And you’re the naughtiest Cub around.  I suppose you think you can take on the whole Gathering to protect one Bear?”

“Maybe.”

“We’ve talked about interfering and respect.”

“Oh, I know. I’m not going to stop anything, even if I think it is wrong. But, if things get really ugly, someone needs to have Matt’s back.”

“Matt probably isn’t the one who needs the help …” 

“Oh this is a smokescreen, Cub. I see right through you, you’re planning to masquerade as Boris again.”

The bear sighed. They knew him way too well.

“It’s a good plan, and …”

“And then you disrespect Boris and Matt. Be yourself and let them be themselves.  Matt needs to work this all out, Boris needs to be woken up, and you stopping that will prevent healing.” 

“Think of it this way. If you go and mess around like that, you are being exactly what those Elders are and what’s hurting Matt so much. You’re taking away their choices without them even knowing it.”

“But what about the others that could get hurt?”

“Let everyone choose for themselves.”

“Oh, fine.  Maybe I just won’t go then.”

“Don’t sulk. Go and have fun, but as an equal participant, not as a manipulator.” 

“Or get your chubby ass back in here; I’ll make use of it.”

“Fun as in I can distract Boris for a while with some playing?”  asked the bear with a grin.

Deep laughter filled the den. “He’s always been a favorite of yours. Of course you can see if he wants to play with you.”

Happy again, knowing he was helping pace what was to happen so everyone had the chance to make decisions and learn, eager to enjoy the touch of the large Russian bear once more and trusting Matt to make the right choices, the man who was a black bear faded from view, as deep grunts and groans of satisfaction were emitted from the den.

Polar Bear Kisses

The gathering started with an opening Barbecue and late night icebreaker. Like most Bear events there were ample pairings and sexual activity. However, Matt kept his distance with no objection from Luke. The two had spoken about Dante’ and Matt let him know all the details and all the memories. They spoke about Thomas and what had actually happened to Matt all those years ago. Matt sat and retold the events that led to Danny’s death and the split of friendship between him and Thomas. He had never told Luke what he did for the military and for the country they had left behind.  During the conversation Luke had been shocked in horror and shaken to his core at the things that Matt had endured.  He marveled in the realization that he had done all this and came back sane.  Now, all these years later, it made sense why Matt had sought out the Bears and why he came back to Luke after he was changed. The two were even closer now.  Luke also knew that Matt had to follow a path, had to find his answers, and had to make sense of the memories. Luke would support his lover, his mate. He would stand by him through this trial. If Matt were to be killed, Luke would follow. 

“Are you turning on the beacon?” chuffed the Polar Bear in full form.

“Yes, I am. Soon a messenger will come and invite us over or ask what we want to participate in. I’ll issue the challenge through the messenger,” responded Matt, lying on Luke’s large belly lazily rubbing his chest and chin. 

“Everyone will know, the runners blab everything on the way back. It’s a regular gladiator-betting cage down there. You know I don’t like going near that arena,” Luke whined.

“I know big Bear. I know it holds hurt for both of us. This time it’s different. Just find Rusty and Norman and stay close to them. They won’t let any harm come to you. You have to promise me to stay clear of the fray. You have to promise that no matter how badly I’m hurt, you need to stay out of the arena. Promise?” begged Matt, climbing up and onto the massive Bears belly. The Polar Bear gripped his small lover hard and pulled him close, signaling his understanding. They made love again that night. Afterwards, Matt left Luke sleeping in the living room, lying on the floor cushions with the gentle cool summer breeze blowing through the house. 

At daybreak a gentle knock came to the door; one that Matt had been waiting for. It was Charlie one of Roberts’s Cubs. Charlie was a very young Bear, turned at seventeen and held captive for two years before Matt put down his captors and brought him to Robert. He was barely ten years into being a Bear. He was angry and fiercely loyal to Robert to the disgust of almost all others. He was snide and contrary. His manner was rude, his demeanor aggressive and he seemed to dance on his toes all the time as if looking for a fight, a person to fight, or a reason to fight. 

“Robert sends his regards. Will you participate in the entrance or any of the events this year? Not that you ever participate,” the cub asked snidely.

“Yes young one. Please inform Robert and tell him I challenge him to a Reckoning in the arena. Any weapon, any form. You may place this challenge for all to see. Do you understand young one?” Matt spoke in an almost regal manner intent on pushing the Cub’s buttons, it worked.

“My Robert is going to tear you apart; you’re done for. A reckoning fight is to the death and I want a ringside seat,” jeered the Cub as he made his exit.

Matt chuckled a bit at the Cub’s arrogance, but nonetheless, he would error on the side of caution and prudence. He rose to make his way to his den where he put on a fitted pair of pants, a long sleeve shirt and his boots.  All of the clothing was custom made so that the small Bear could shift to his half form without shredding them, one of the advantages to being such a small Bear. Pulling back his hair, he realized that he felt at peace with his current course and was eager to finally complete it. As he walked out of the den and upstairs he found Luke awake, waiting for him. He smiled and walked up to Luke taking the massive Bear’s head in his hands, scratching behind his ears. A soft moan escaped the Bear as he looked up almost pouting and licked Matt across the face. Chuckling the Little Bear gently tried to push Luke’s head away.

“Will you lift me?” Matt asked, nodding his head towards the weapons hanging above the mantle. The Polar Bear stood on his hind paws and hoisted him up to take down his father’s sword, staff, and long knife. Returning him gently to the ground both walked out of the home in silence and made their way to the gathering, the arena, and the end to this path.

Challenge of the Elders

Rusty and Norman had arrived early and had found themselves a nice spot to watch both the entrance and the arena below them. They were looking for their Papa Bear, Mitch, and Walt when Mitch found them. “Guys … what the hell is wrong with Matt?” he almost yelled, frustration and confusion heavy in his strained voice.

“What … what do you mean?” Rusty raised an eyebrow curiously.

“He’s challenged Robert to a Reckoning. Why would he challenge the Elders? Do you know anything about this?” Mitch blurted taking Rusty by his shoulders, obviously upset. 

“We haven’t spoken to him in months; we’ve been at the Arctic Den. What’s going on?” he asked, shocked.

“Nobody really knows. The challenge came via messenger about an hour or so ago. Everyone is freaking out and they’re coming this way. Whatever Matt’s planning, he wanted it public. He wanted everyone to see. Do you have any idea what’s going on, any at all?” the Bear pleaded his voice cracking. Mitch was concerned for the pair. The Moon and Polar Bears had never had an easy life as Werebears and had seemed to always have something to overcome. This just didn’t make sense. 

Below them a figure clad in black carrying a sword across his back, a long knife on his thigh and a staff in his left hand walked into the arena flanked on his right by a massive Polar Bear. 

“By the gods is that Matt and Luke?” Mitch quipped. Luke had kept a low profile and had a close circle of brothers that he ran with; no one saw him in full form often, but today he seemed larger than ever before. A gray strip ran from the base of his shoulders down his back.  He had a small mark at the corner of each eye. Marks that had been hardly noticeable when he first became a Bear now stood pronounced against his white fur. “Luke is First Tribe, by the gods … it can’t be,” Mitch shuddered wrapping his arms around himself. 

All the commotion that had been happening slowly came to a halt and the whole arena became quiet as the pair entered. As they reached the center Luke stopped and stood up behind Matt; a spectacle that alone would have been enough to strike fear into anyone. Luke was almost fourteen feet tall and a mass of pure muscle in his bear form. He leaned his head back and roared to the sky, bellowing so all could hear, then came to his feet and put his massive head down against Matt’s chest. Matt hugged his Bear. There were few words exchanged between them before the Polar Bear turned and walked out of the arena. Driven by instinct Norman pushed his way through the sea of Bears and made his way to Luke. As massive as Luke was, he was no fighter. Reaching the Polar Bear, Norman grabbed him and held on tight. Luke shifted back to his human form and broke down, sobbing into Norman’s shoulder. Today might be the day he lost his mate. 

Robert walked in on the opposite end of the arena, flanked by several of his loyal Bears.  They stopped a few paces apart. “Matt would you like to tell me why you feel the need to challenge me in such a rude and audacious manner, causing me to meet you in this fashion?” Robert chirped.

“Nope,” was Matt’s only response.

“Well as is my right, I can choose an avatar to fight in my place, do you agree?” he chirped again.

Matt surveyed the situation, ‘Robert is nervous, his voice is breaking. Has all his bravado been a show? Doubtful… behind him is Boris looking pissed off and highly agitated. Whatever went down, Robert is running damage control.’

“Choose as many as you like, they’ll all die. Either way, you and I WILL fight today Robert. Anyone you send to fight me, their blood is on your hands. You are sending them to a willing and untimely death,”

“You can’t be serious, why do you want to challenge me?”  Robert asked back peddling, taking a step back away from Matt. 

“Either fight me or send an avatar, either way I’m done talking to you,” Matt said, taking a few steps back and thrusting his staff into the semi-hard soil. 

The Cub from earlier looked towards his mentor, transformed into his half form and charged Matt. A gust of wind pushed out from Matt in all directions. In the span of two heartbeats the Cub hung dead in Matt’s hand, its neck broken and heart stopped. Holding the Cub by its neck, Matt tossed the body aside as simple as throwing away garbage. The Bears in front of him took a few steps back and the crowd that had gathered collectively gasped. The Cub had been killed so quickly that it was hard to imagine one of their kin could do something like this to one of their own. 

“Whether it is one or one hundred deaths, you and I WILL fight today; prepare yourself Robert Langston Emanden,” Matt growled, letting the name rattle Robert from his mental slumber. It was his first name, from before he was changed.  It was a direct dig at what he was looking for. In that brief few moments of mind fog, the Bears around Robert decided to attack.  One on one was fair, five Bears in half form against one Bear in human form wasn’t. The fight briefly shifted as Matt made short work of the Bears that had surrounded him. All were dispatched in similar manners as the first. Matt hadn’t drawn any of his weapons. He broke bones and ripped out the throats of his attackers. One by one they fell until it was just him and Robert in the arena. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air as the pair watched one another from across the field.

In the audience Norman had grabbed Luke and made his way back to Rusty, Mitch, and Walt. “Something is happening, Matt is … Matt is … something is wrong, stop them,” Rusty whimpered as he looked out into the area. The sky had darkened and the wind had begun picking up. Matt stood perfectly still, waiting. Robert was standing still watching him, not knowing what to do. Then, it started; in a heartbeat, Matt moved. It seemed as though he disappeared and reappeared in Robert’s face. In one smooth motion he grabbed Robert and threw him into the center of the arena. He turned approaching Robert as a predator would stalk prey. Robert collected himself and took a defensive, defiant stance. 

“Okay Bear of the Moon, you will not treat me as a Cub,” Robert roared and charged towards Matt.

Matt allowed the back and forth of the fight before slapping Robert across the face and to the ground. Again and again, Robert would attack and Matt would slap him away as if he was swatting away a Cub. Robert transformed during the exchange, but the outcome didn’t improve for him. Even in full form he was still being thrown and slapped around.

The clouds darkening further and lighting built within them as the wind turned cold, “You couldn’t have defeated him … how did you defeat him? Answer me!” Matt yelled. The emotional outburst was causing the clouds to draw closer and the wind to whip harder; as Matt’s emotional rage came to the surface the outline of his Totem became visible. It was Dante’ standing over him. “Tell me how?  Tell me why you drove away the protector of Cubs and Elders … TELL ME!” Matt bellowed again as he grabbed a hold of the fully transformed Bear and threw it across the arena again. 

“Stop Matt … Please stop Matt …” Rusty begged, in tears; he could feel the full impact of what was happening and being felt by his sire and Papa Bear. Luke bent over and vomited.  Whatever was happening, Matt was pulling energy and life force from everything around him.  Rusty could feel the darkness forming around Matt, the bright cub; the cool wind and water were turning into something dark, something evil. Matt was going to kill, if no one could stop him.

“I drove him away! I was jealous of his love for Boris. Please forgive me. I’m not the same Bear I was all that time ago,” Robert chuffed through the blood and snot flowing from his nose. 

“Forgiveness is not mine to give,” Matt said as he reached back and drew his father’s blade. Walking slowly toward Robert, he wanted blood, wanted to kill, and needed to feel the life-force drain from the Bear that was his prey. 

From behind them both a roar rang out through the air; it was Vic.

“Matt!” the Elder-Bear bellowed.

Matt turned slowly, and faced his mentor, friend, and Elder. Vic stepped into the arena carrying a sword. Matt quickly made it out as a blade of French design and craftsmanship. A Rapier that was indicative of Vic’s past. Matt’s blade on the other hand was a mutt and held little in the way of heritage, merely a functional blade. Straight and thin with no real hilt or pommel; it was a working class blade given to him by his father just before his death.

“Do you wish to fight in his place?” Matt asked. 

“Matt, stop this. Nothing can be gained by this fight,” Vic barked as he walked, stopping a few paces from Matt and Robert who was on the ground panting. 

“I’m not gaining anything but the truth. Tell me old friend, did you love Dante like you loved the other Cubs? Did you run with them through the forest? Did you hunt with them in the streams? Tell me, how many brothers you have turned your back on in your life?  If you want to stop me, you will have to kill me.”

“So be it.” Vic leapt forward into an attack and drew first blood. A single line of blood formed across Matt’s right cheek. The fight between Matt and Vic was evenly matched. Both Bears were skilled in combat and a variety of fighting styles. Both Bears stood paw-to-paw, blow for blow, cut for cut with neither giving nor taking the advantage. Blades, fists, elbows and feet, all combined into a spectacle of skills. It was apparent to all who watched that these two Bears had no equal in singular combat. They were titans, one young and one old. During the fight nature bent to Matt’s will, and Vic was the balance, pushing it back. Both Bears fought in human form, but it was Vic that transformed first, his enhanced strength momentarily taking Matt by surprise. With one smooth motion Vic snapped Matt’s blade and drove the broken blade through the little Bear’s gut, lifting him from the ground and tossing him to the far side of the arena. 

“No!” Luke screamed, his long wail filling the air.

A collective gasp and utter quiet descended.

“It isn’t over, something’s happening to Matt,” Rusty shuddered before he vomited again.

At the other side of the arena, Matt got up back up; against all logic he stood on his feet again. He lifted and looked at his right hand. A green glow formed in it and he placed his hand over the wound. With a roar of pain, the little Bear healed himself. As he did he shifted to his half form and drew the short blade with his left hand. He walked back toward Vic, who growled at him and stepped back in a defensive stance.

This exchange would be carried out on Matt’s terms. What Vic had not learned was that Matt’s fighting posture and mind were like a tape recorder; as soon as a pattern, angle, or thrust was repeated it was locked in and a counter attack was formed in his mind. As Matt relaxed into the exchange Vic was cut again and again. None of the wounds were debilitating, but he was starting to wear down the Elder. Matt was slowly, constantly pressing the attack never letting Vic catch his breath or heal himself. Matt kept the ursine equivalent of a smile the whole time. 

From the opposite entrance to the arena, Boris walked hand in hand with Robert. As they made their way toward the pair, Boris spoke. “Matt, Guardian, Bear of the Moon, I ask you to halt your fight and please listen.” The two Bears took a few steps away from each other and Matt took a knee bowing before his Elder; Vic stayed standing, panting heavily.

“Matt, I ask you to stop this attack and listen to the apologies of one of our own. I can see and feel that your Totem has not moved on and stays with you. I ask for his forgiveness and for his understanding. … After Dante’ left the den we changed as Bears. We walked a different path.  We pledged ourselves to helping our species and all others that we came into contact with. In time we stopped looking for him, he left no track to follow. Dante, Matt, please forgive our past and help us rebuild and guard the future. Dante was the best of us. He embodied all that being a Guardian meant to this world. We can see that our Cub-like jealousy forced him to make a choice between leaving and fighting. He chose to leave and not have conflict. All this time later, it seems that your own struggle brought him out of hibernation and back into this world. Dante, I’m proud to have known you, to have called you friend, to have called you my Guardian. Now the torch of responsibility and mantle of choice has been passed to the very smallest of the Bears. A young human who searched for us, walked away from one life to find another, and was drawn through conflict to the point of changing. Your sire and your mate should be proud of you Matt, as I am. As we all are. Dante’, Matt holds a striking resemblance to your mate I can see why you waited, and I can see why you chose him. Now Dante’, Guardian of the North, I ask for you to let Matt be his own Bear. Let him fulfill his destiny, his purpose, and make you proud in every action. Accept our apologies, as you accepted our love as brothers.” Both Robert and Boris kneeled and bowed before Matt. 

Matt stood up and looked at the kneeling Bears, looked to his left at Vic, who was still panting, and then looked up and around at the Bears surrounding the arena. His sharp eyes and senses fixed on Luke and Rusty. As he looked back at the Elder and Robert; Dante’s outline appeared around him. The outline walked away from Matt and turned around facing him. Just a faint image of the Bear could be seen as the Polar Bear pressed his nose to Matt’s forehead. To the three that were close, a few words were spoken, words of love and affection. “Wait for me, I won’t be long,” Matt spoke, and then the outline of the Bear faded and with it faded his presence and energy. 

“Elder, please rise,” Matt spoke. Both did so, and Vic took a few steps forward and turned to face Matt.

“Damage has been done, I have killed many today, and if anyone needs forgiveness it’s me.  As Dante gave it, I ask for it in return. I have pledged my life for the protection of this den, please allow me to continue,” Matt spoke, and again knelt in front of Boris, Robert, and Vic.

A long silence followed and then Boris spoke again, “Guardian, you are my protector; your actions today were in accordance with our customs of combat. I know of a healer that can repair this damage. Please find your mate, your Sire, your family and retire to the lodge, there is much to discuss.” With that everyone in the audience stood; most transformed into half form and roared to the sky. A Urisine salute to the passing of a Guardian and the public emergence of another. Matt enjoyed an acceptance that he had never had before in life. Complete understanding of what he was and who he was. Life was improving. 

On his way out of the arena a scent caught his nose. It was familiar, yet he couldn’t put a finger on its source. A memory or image danced on the edge of his mind. Turning, he looked behind him into the sea of Bears. Just briefly a figure caught his eye it was an average looking Bear of a man, wearing glasses of all things, furry all over, with a little belly. The Bear winked at him, and then vanished into the crowd. He tried to lock onto the Bear, but couldn’t. 

“Where are you going?” Luke asked as he grabbed a hold of Matt and held him tight.

“Nowhere special, but as long as we’re together everything will be fine,” Matt remarked as he was carried out of the arena and toward the lodge by Luke in half form. 

A Letter from David and Martin

Dear Readers,

Matt relented and agreed to put this letter in his work. It wasn’t easy to convince him, but after a little rough and tumble TLC the little Moon Bear relented. No, seriously, we wanted to give you a different view on Matt & Luke as a couple and their lives. Matt did a pretty good job of dancing around a lot of the hurt that they both went through and gave you a fairly balanced view on the critical points in their lives. 

          Okay, being a Werebear isn’t easy. Let’s just get that straight upfront. The sex is great, the health, the senses; all those are the positive things. Matt never told you the bad. Like when we get upset our Bear tends to take over and also, the scent. It often turns humans off; they say things like; ‘wet dog, or wildlife stink’. When we get into groups, it’s almost always an alpha-male dominance thing. Anyway, enough of that, back to the couple in question. 

          Martin here, I happened to be present when Matt was changed into a Werebear. I was the one hovering over him and watching as his own life force sustained him, even when his body was torn up. Unlike most he was changed with the consent of the creator. Rusty, the Kermode chose to be the one who changed him. It was pretty awesome to see one of our own be changed like that. I hung around for the month before he went home and kept checking on him.  He never caught on to who kept bringing the three of them food and provisions. Matt was a special soul back then. He was super sweet, considerate, and polite; almost to the point of being condescending, but after you spoke with or chatted with him you knew it was just how he was. That sweet Cub got torn up through the years, he changed and he became the creature that he despised. Now that we’re looking back at him we can see that this wasn’t a choice he made, but an evolution of the Bear in the role and situations he became a part of.

          Wait, wait … David here, this is getting way too gloomy again. Okay, these two Bears should never have been apart from one another. They are like Yin and Yang. I, we have never seen two Bears so completely codependent on each other. I know what you’re thinking.  Matt is okay by himself; he went off and did lots of awesome stuff. Yeah, that may be true, but it was just a matter of time before he found his way back to Luke and vice-versa. Their story still isn’t quite complete and when you finish this book know that Matt is still out there, and so is Luke … and their Cubs … wait, I wasn’t supposed to give that away just yet. Keep reading. Just know that the two of them know what true love is and what it takes to maintain it. True love means knowing when your presence is more of a negative than a positive and then rather than pushing the situation to make it into something it’s not, making a change is often the best choice.

          Well, that was certainly a buzz kill. Yes, as you read the rest of this, know that a small group of Bears love these two. We have watched over Matt and Luke and continue to do so; we love them both and will always do what’s best for them. 

Yours truly,

David & Martin

Part Three

The Journeys End

Destiny

Matt was sleeping soundly next to Luke; the room was warm and well laid out for a long hibernation. A massive padded, over cushioned area was in the center of the room. A Bear accessible toilet was against one wall and containers of dried fruits and meats were along the other. A large trough of circulating fresh water was built into the same wall. It had been about seven months since they had gone into hibernation and it was the most peaceful rest Matt had enjoyed in some time. Matt dreamed of magical walks with the Great Bear spirit, long talks with his parents and different locations from around the globe.

The Elder had talked at length about what happens during hibernation, describing in detail what happens to the Bear and what happens to the human consciousness. The primal side takes over as human consciousness slips into a deep sleep. The primal Bear walks with the Gods and spirits and the Bear connects with its nature. The human consciousness is suppressed and all but forgotten.

A flashing light and a soft chirp of the approach sensors snapped Matt out his deep slumber. His eyes opened and focused on the control panel across the room. His mind was thick and groggy, but his Bear was hungry and mad at being awakened. Matt had come from a soft dream on a mountaintop eating berries to the inside of the hibernation chamber. The soft amber light illuminated the space without waking the Bears and Luke was oblivious and snoring loudly beside him. Matt still in his full Bear form, instantly picked up footsteps at the service entrance to their home. He could hear the inner lock being opened with a key and a single person step inside. He heard the sounds of the alarm code being entered and the chirp of the house coming out of active mode. 

Rising without a sound, the moon Bear padded to the entrance of their hibernation chamber pushed through the door and let it close silently behind him. He tracked the intruder as he walked down a wide hallway, into an open subterranean garage area. He reached out with his senses and could tell the intruder was a Bear like him. This made him feel a little better; however he was angered to be awoken in such a way. The person knew their way around because they were headed right for the basement door. 

Matt waited just out of the light, in a dark corner and shifted into his half Bear form. If the Bear really was someone he knew then they surely knew their way to the hibernation chamber and wouldn’t notice a Bear standing just out of sight. 

As the person made their way down he recognized that it was Rick, Boris and Robert’s Cub. Rick didn’t notice Matt as he stood completely still against the wall; ready to kill the intruder. This was a stealth that only a few Bears could master. Matt was just a novice at it, but it was still more than enough to avoid younger Cubs like this one. Rick walked right past him, not noticing the tensed claws, open muzzle that bore teeth like no North American Bear, and the crouched stance of a predator about to make a kill.

Matt let a low growl escape his muzzle.

Robert turned and jumped sideways not expecting anyone to be there. 

“Damn Matt, you scared the hell out of me,” Rick said putting his hand to his chest.

“Why?” Matt growled the question; it was all the human speech he could muster.

“Boris needs you; there is a problem that your special talents are suited for. He asked that I wake you carefully and bring you to the lodge at 12 o’clock,” Rick stammered as he spoke, backing away from Matt who had emerged from the darkness. Matt’s luminescent silver fur glinted in the soft lighting, his eyes almost glowing blue against his raised bristling fur, teeth showing white as he crept toward Rick.

Matt was bristling, and growling low. He wasn’t fully awake yet or in complete control of himself. The sudden pull away from hibernation had let his primal nature take more control than usual. An uninvited guest was in Matt and Luke’s den, this was not going to work. Matt’s clawed hands flexed as he took a few steps toward the now scared shitless Rick. 

“Matt, No!  Get a hold of yourself!” a quiet voice commanded. Vic.

Matt recognized the voice blinked a few times, and shook his head. A soft chuff came from Matt and he looked at Rick. His fur had relaxed, but Rick was still backing away. 

“Rick, go upstairs and stay quiet. I’ll stay with him until he fully wakes up. I warned Boris about waking Matt like this,” Vic said in a fatherly tone, shaking his head. 

Rick nodded and all but ran out of the basement. Vic passed him on the stairs, and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not you, it’s Matt. Hibernation is primal and it’s very hard the first time.” He smiled encouragingly at Rick and then shooed him up the stairs. 

He came down the stairs and stopped in front of Matt. Looking at him, Vic shook his head while Matt still stood in the shadows, growling and looking mad. “So, are you going to shower and wake up? We need to talk,” Vic asked, making the descent into the downstairs basement area, but keeping his distance ready in case Matt was to lose it.

Matt nodded still not speaking. He motioned for Vic to follow and they passed through a smaller doorway into Matt’s private Den. This space was smaller than the rest of the home, but it was uniquely this Bear’s space. Vic noticed it was decorated with weaponry from around the world. Many Norse pieces were here as well as objects from Africa and the Far East. Still not talking, Matt motioned Vic towards a high padded stool by a half open bar area. He sauntered to the semi-circle of large screens against the far wall and touched a few keys, waiting as they flickered to life. Still in his half Bear form he sat down in his chair, preparing to begin his work before he realized his claws were useless. Exhaling deeply he focused on his claws and watched as they reformed into his human hands. He pushed the chair to his right and stopped at a bank of switches; as he flipped through the bank, both the interior of the den and the house above them buzzed to life. When Matt had designed this house it had been with protection and security in mind. The home had all the Bear comfort features, large kitchen, communal dining area, big fireplaces, group showers, big couches and guest bedrooms. However, Matt was a frighteningly sharp tactician. He had designed the home with many advanced features which no one would notice unless they looked close. There were rolling shutters on all the windows, and exterior doors that were reinforced with Kevlar lath on the inside. Every piece of exterior and interior glass was one-inch bullet proof with microfilm epoxy on both sides. All of the doors had been reinforced with steel around their frames and in the center of the walls was 1-inch sheet steel and Kevlar lath; all the way to the second story and attic area. Matt had built a quaint two-story colonial that could withstand just about anything. It had taken them eighteen years to have it built, a considerable investment, but Matt felt sure that Luke would be safe no matter what was thrown at them.

The den lights came on and ambient lighting spread along the walls over the few pictures that displayed Matt’s extensive search for historical documentation of the Werebears. Scrolls, pictures, carved statues from around the world were placed with care. It was obvious that Matt was putting together a lineage, a family tree of sorts. He had already determined that it was a genetic marker that chose who would be a Bear and who was human. More specifically it displayed who was more likely to seek out ways of becoming a Bear. Sidelights over the chairs and soft overhead lights flickered to life and the space became warm and inviting. There was a humidor in the center coffee table and an ample couch, loveseat and a small play area in the room as well. The space had a warm amber and gold color pattern that Vic liked.  ‘This Cub has taste,’ Vic thought to himself. Behind Vic the bar came to life and the waterfall started. Matt had created a mini waterfall that started at the top of the bar and meandered around its surfaces and disappeared into the floor. ‘This Cub has a niche’ for the romantic.’

Above them the house lights came on and the exterior shutters rolled themselves up.  The heaters came to life and started to crackle and pop as the water heated and circulated. The pumps for the floor heaters started to hum in time with the main heaters. In the garage the lights came on and the space started to heat up as well. Exterior lights came on and the house started to wake up from bottom to top. On the exterior porches and walkways the ice melt system chirped to life and started their slow heating to break through the massive drifts that had descended on the house while the Bears were asleep. Pushing his chair back to the monitors, that were now on and displaying data that Vic couldn’t follow, Matt went to tapping on the keyboards. To his left a soft crackle of the high gain antenna receiver kicked to life after completing its self-check. It was set to a rotating set of police and law enforcement frequencies. Matt cocked an ear to the sounds, paused briefly, and then went back to his work.

As Vic sat he watched Matt in rapt curiosity and pride. Even in his hibernation funk he was still gathering intelligence, getting his bearings, and figuring out the situation before he walked into it. On the screens in front of him were security cameras. Matt flipped through the images and scanned his environment. He found Rick sitting on the edge of the couch; his nervousness was obvious, as the house around him came to life. Matt hit a few more keys and the fireplace beside the timid Bear ignited the already loaded wood with its natural gas starter. Rick jumped but smiled looking around and then moved closer to the expanding blaze. The house was still freezing from being shut down for seven months during the winter. It was a deep, old cold; one you would feel when entering a long forgotten cave.

Matt keyed up the data recorder and quickly scanned through images from the time that had passed while they were in hibernation, but nothing piqued his curiosity. Then he brought up his email and a custom news crawler and scanned through the headlines. ‘Nothing!’ Lastly, he brought up the house diagnostics and surveyed the house. The solar and wind turbine was producing power; the house batteries were 100% and holding fine. Backup generators were good to go. The oil, butane and diesel tanks were full. He noticed the fresh water was only at 94%, but the snow had not yet melted, so there was no collection. The house was still on commercial power, but there had been three power outages since their hibernation had begun. He glanced over towards a set of gauges noting that the water was now hot enough for the shower. He swiveled around to face Vic.

Still having trouble with speech Matt half growled, “Why?”

“Some things have come up that need your skills. You need to wake up and grab your gear, you’re wanted by the Elders,” Vic spoke, locking eyes with Matt. He smiled and nodded towards the bathroom, “You need a shower.”

Matt nodded, rose and walked toward Vic. He reached forward and hugged the larger Bear tightly. Then he led Vic to the far side of the den and slid back a concealed door that opened to an unexpected, expansive space. It was a large dressing room and contained an ample shower, a toilet, mirror, sink, closet, and Matt’s private armory. Vic had seen the armory upstairs and was impressed by his collection of vintage firearms from around the world, but the armory here was more to his liking. There were four screens on the wall to the right above a small control panel. The screens were cameras of the interior of the den and the downstairs. Vic glanced over at the weaponry secured behind a wall of glass panel and chuckled. Matt was very skilled for his young age and his taste in weapons and fighting style were very unique, he used everything to his advantage. It was frightening to see him in action. When he had taken Matt to other dens to train, he was always impressed with his almost instant grasp of concepts and fighting styles.

Matt touched a keypad on the wall and the shower burst to life. Eight shower heads cascaded water down toward the center. Matt turned to find the now naked blond Bear standing in front of him, a very wide smile on his face. He reached for his hand and tugged him into the shower. Vic knew that Cubs were very randy when they came out of hibernation, but respected that this was not the time. Matt was not in complete control and Vic wasn’t going to force himself on him like that. They had developed a deep respect for each other over the years, and Vic was not going to mess that up, nor let Matt do the same. 

He turned Matt around to face the wall and let the warm water wash away the sleep, so his awareness would return. Vic reached over and touched a button marked “soap” on the wall and the center shower heads above them started to produce soapy water laced with a lavender and honey scent. He grabbed Matt and put him in the center of the water and scrubbed the soap into the smaller Bears long, silvery course fur. He shifted to his half form as well and used his claws to work Matt’s back, sides, neck and head. This went on for a while with soft moans escaping Matt’s muzzle as his head rolling back and forth.

“Thank you,” Matt mumbled.

“Good, you’re waking up,” Vic smiled as he spoke.

“Did I scare Rick as bad as I think?”

“Let’s say that he will give you a very wide breadth now.” Vic chuckled and continued to rub the little Bear soothingly.

“I told Boris to let me come, but he sent the Cub to give him some responsibility. I’m sure he’s waiting upstairs; he’ll be the one who brings you back not me. I’m just here so no one gets killed.”

“What is this about?”

“The short of it is four members of the southern den have gotten themselves kidnapped by a drug cartel as they were traveling back from the southern gathering and their captors are demanding a sizable ransom for them,” Vic spoke while stepping away from Matt so he could move with his own power. 

“It’s a trap, the southern den are some of the best fighters I have ever sparred with, they wouldn’t just let themselves be kidnapped,” Matt said reaching for a large toothbrush and paste.

“It was televised and they’ve had a live video feed on them from the start. They couldn’t change so they went with it,” Vic said, stepping back and into the soapy water and scrubbing his fur.

“Damn fine shower here,” Vic winked at Matt.

“Thanks, but something is off. Why pick me?” Matt questioned continuing to brush his Bear teeth.

“Are you seriously asking that question?  You’re a Guardian Matt, you can move like no other Bear in human form. Damn, stop playing coy with me! It pisses me off when you talk like that!” Vic’s voice raised as his frustration with Matt became evident.

Matt just looked at him nodded, and continued to brush the large rows of Bear teeth.  Spitting out the paste he tilted his head to the shower and spat out the water. 

“Now I can kiss you, come here!” Matt said with a little smile on his muzzle. The two Bears enjoyed some quick attention and then they turned off the shower. 

‘Towels?” asked Vic looking around.

“Hit the green button,” Matt said pointing to the wall. Vic reached over and engaged a full wall of hot air dryers. As they came to life, the shower area was awash in a warm wind tunnel.

“What the hell, it’s a full service Bear wash!” Vic chuckled. Matt just smiled. As the Bears emerged they were dry and very soft. 

“Okay, let me get dressed. Am I packing for an adventure, or will I have time to come back here and grab gear?”

“You’ll have time to come back, but be ready. Boris vouching for you doesn’t convince the Elder from the Southern Den. He’s skeptical of such a small Bear,” Vic spoke staring at Matt.

Matt glanced at Vic and nodded. He shifted back to his human form and Vic stood in awe, always amazed that such a long haired, fuzzy Bear had no body hair in his human form; he could pass as just any normal human. His hair was long, but had no facial or body hair to speak of. He was starkly white, except for the crisscross of scars across his entire body. 

Matt noticed Vic’s eyes locked on his body, and turned quickly away behind the opening to the closet. He was both embarrassed and a little hurt by Vic’s stares. 

“Matt, I …” Vic stammered.

“I’ll be along soon, please let me get ready. I’ll see you at the lodge. Please …,” Matt’s words trailed off in his attempt to hide the quiver in his voice. 

“Ok, I’ll tell Rick you will be along shortly,” Vic said, pulling on his few clothes and heading out the way he had come. 

Behind him Matt looked in the mirror and pulled his hair back, tears rolling down his cheeks. 

At the top of the stairs, Vic silently cursed himself for forgetting about Matt’s body and the sacrifices that being a Guardian took. He walked through the kitchen and into the den to find Rick still sitting by the fireplace. 

“Matt will be up shortly. Do not, I repeat, do not apologize for your entrance. You did exactly as you were instructed. Waking a Guardian like that or any Bear for that matter, suddenly out of hibernation is very dangerous. With Matt it’s more so,” Vic spoke while looking down at the seated Bear.

  

Rick nodded and Vic turned to leave. As he did so, he passed the couples Wall of Life.  He noticed a pattern, but passed it off as Matt’s need for order in all things. He noticed a few pictures of himself on the wall as well as others. He quickly made his way out of the home and back to the lodge. The air was crisp, and the sun high in the sky. He decided to take the long way around to give Matt some space.

Your True Nature

Below, Matt watched the big Bear leave on one of the screens in the dressing room. He was holding his socks reviewing the events in his mind.  There was nothing on his email or anything in the news crawler that would point to Bear activity.  Also, he didn’t remember a headline that matched Vic’s description of the incident. It was curious but not out of the ordinary. He looked over at his wardrobe, this space was his area. Not even Luke had seen a good look inside. Most of his clothing was custom made; it was a mix of leather, Kevlar, and Titanium Lath. It made for super light body armor and it was ungodly expensive to produce which made the pieces themselves valuable beyond measure. 

Not knowing what to expect from the mission, Matt decided it was time to give into his nature as a Guardian. He pulled back a few items and there it was. The tree of life crest, subtly emblazoned on the form fitting full length jacket with matching leather pants and a custom weapons rig to hold all of Matt’s weaponry and extra items. First he slipped on a mesh polymer body suit; it would mask his scent and keep him dry. Being wet wouldn’t hurt him, but he didn’t want to add any more scars to his body. Unlike other Bears, when Matt was cut it would heal, but leave a scar in its wake; this scarring was a unique to the Guardians. Then, Matt slipped on a pair of socks and the pants; they slide on easily and fit snugly, but gave him the freedom he would need for movement.  He secured his belt and slid the suspenders over his shoulders. Then he clipped on a custom gun rig to each thigh and one over his shoulder. Looking in the mirror, Matt smiled.

A chirp snapped Matt’s attention to the monitors. The front door had opened and someone was talking to Rick, who was still by the fire. Matt didn’t recognize the new Bear, but he sat across from Rick and seemed to be chatting. ‘Time to get a move on.’ 

Walking to the weapons case he touched the glass and a keypad appeared from nothing.  He tapped in the code and the floor to ceiling case slid open. He made a careful selection of several bladed weapons which slid into the pockets along the front of his thighs. He clipped a double bladed sickle with an expanding memory metal chain behind his back. Then he stepped to his left and picked out two custom 45-caliber pistols. These were internally silenced and compensated. Holding 15 rounds each, they slid into their holsters, one on each side. Several extra magazines were stowed and then Matt keyed the case closing it. 

Turning he picked up his jacket and slid it over his shoulder, as long it wasn’t opened no one would be able to see the weapons he was carrying. On the other side of the room he opened a wooden walk in closet that contained four swords and several of his personal pole arm weapons.  He slid his fingers over the weapons and closed his eyes; he let the fates and the gods decide his weapon for him. He paused, his fingers lingering on the newest of them all.  A telescoping short staff made from Titanium and Carbon Fiber. This made it ten times stronger than steel, yet as light as wood. When it was closed it resembled a club about 24 inches in length, but it opened to 50 inches when needed. Matt stowed the staff in a cut out of the jacket on his lower back

Returning to the mirror he zipped up the jacket, it closed over his chest and stopped at a high collar on his neck. The garment would conceal what was hidden underneath, but was split at his waist so he could get to his blades and side arm if needed. Pulling on his gloves and boots, he secured the quick buckles, pulled the hood of the jacket over his head, and made his way upstairs. 

“So when will this little Cub be ready to go?” questioned the unknown Bear seated across from Rick. 

“He’ll be up soon. We woke him from hibernation and I’m sure it won’t be too much longer,” Rick spoke with trepidation in his voice. 

Matt had already moved into the room and was standing just out of the Bears’ sight. This was his home, how dare someone enter and speak to a member of the den with such disdain!

“Time is wasting. I think I’ll just go get him and drag his sorry ass out so we can get on with this,” the Bear spoke and rose from the chair. Rick rose to meet him. 

“No, please … Matt will be along soon, there’s no need for aggression,” Rick spoke holding his hand out to stop the Bear. 

To Matt the world blurred, his vision shifted and he could see the energy flowing from each of the Bears. He saw the surging in the arm of the larger Bear; he was getting ready to hit Rick. 

Matt let a low growl escape his muzzle as he shifted to his half Bear form. One of the custom features of his clothing was that it moved with him, expanded where it needed and kept everything accessible. Matt had moved within a few feet of the two Bears. He had moved silently, without scent or sound causing both Bears to jump when he growled.

“There you are! Get the heck over to the lodge you’re expected!” the larger Bear scolded Matt as he pointed toward the front door. Matt stood stock-still and only the tip of his muzzle was visible from beneath his hood, he smiled menacingly showing his teeth.

“I said get your little ass moving Cub,” the big Bear stepped forward and reached out to grab at Matt. This was all Matt needed. A Guardian’s skills are for defending themselves, their den, and their Elder.  This Bear had crossed the line. 

As the Bear reached for him, Matt kicked into the advancing Bear’s hip. A snap rang as he obliterated the Bear’s hip socket and pelvis. He then grabbed the Bear’s arm and twisted it breaking the arm, dropping the Bear like a sack of dirt to the ground. The Bear howled in pain.  Rick was about to step in, but Matt held up a hand, signaling for him to stop.

Kneeling down, Matt looked into the eyes of the slobbering Bear. Its body was starting to heal, but it was still painful. “Why?”

The Bear snarled and spat in Matt’s face, “You’re wanted, everyone is waiting. I’m going to kick your ass after I heal.”

“Get in line!” Matt snarled back grabbing the Bear by the back of his jacket and picking him up like a piece of luggage. Matt’s strength for such a small Bear was astounding, even Rick was a full head taller than Matt and amazed at how easily he hefted the Bear’s weight in one hand.

Matt turned his head and smiled apologetically at Rick, “Rick, gentle Bear; I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the way I treated you earlier. Please find it in your heart to forgive me. I exist for the protection of this den.” Matt gave a half bow, turned and hauled the slobbering Bear out of the house with Rick quietly following. Once outside, he grabbed a lounge chair and turned it over. He hoisted the much larger Bear and laid him gently on the padded surface, rolling him to his uninjured side. 

“Bear I don’t know you, but you entered my home and were the first to use force. I returned that favor to you. When you heal, if you want a one-on-one then I welcome your challenge, but let it be on fair terms. Now, please stay still and let your body heal. I’m going to cover you and place a heater near you. Now rest,” He spoke with kindness that came from somewhere beyond his young age. The big Bear laid his head down and closed his eyes. The audible pop of bone was noticeable as the Bear healed.   

Turing Matt saw Rick standing patiently by the stairs leading from the wraparound porch to the walkway. Snow was falling and the Ice Melt Systems were doing their job, the stairs and walkways were clear of the ice that had encrusted them during hibernation. Walking to him, Matt paused and turned to the house keypad. He keyed in a sequence and the house started to shut its windows and doors. Below them a steel hatch was closing off the basement from the rest of the house. Matt was watching over the sleeping Bear below. He would ensure that no one could get in and no one could hurt his Bear. The locks could be heard snapping back into place and the home was now quiet and secure. Luke would be safe and hopefully, none-the-wiser of Matt’s activity. After everything locked itself down Matt turned to the Cub and bowed.

“I believe I have an appointment and you’re to be my escort?” Matt rose from his bow and looked up at the timid Cub. Rick took a step back fearfully, even though he was much taller and wider than Matt.

Stammering he spoke carefully backing away more, “Yes, we must go to the lodge where the Elders are waiting.”

“Then show me the way nothing will harm you while you’re in my company, gentle-Bear,” Matt said from under his hooded jacket. The jacket gave him a hidden predatory look and made Rick feel vulnerable and exposed. 

As the two walked, Matt could tell the Cub wanted to ask some questions.  “If you need to ask me anything, I’ll answer without hesitation,” Matt whispered in the easiest tone he could muster.

“Why did you take care of Tom like that?  He attacked you, but you could have killed him?”

“Yes, I could have easily. My skills are for defense only; I don’t wish to take the life of any creature without cause, especially a brother Bear,” answered Matt.

“That’s not what I meant. You took care of him after you incapacitated him, why?” This time Rick’s questions were more pointed and less timid.

“Honestly, I didn’t want him inside the house, slobbering and bleeding all over the floor.  He deserved to heal and he deserves a fair fight. It isn’t fair when I approach like that or when I use my abilities to gauge your movements,” Matt answered flatly, he was a little annoyed at the question. He always tried to return kindness whenever aggression is given, but he wouldn’t back down from an attack. He had a momentary thought that he may have overdone it, but shoved the thought away.

A few minutes later Rick blurted another question, “Why are your dressed like that?  I saw you’re armed. You know Boris’s rule about weapons in the lodge.”

“Yes, I’m fully aware of our Elders rules. I’m being cautious and if I’m wrong then I’ll unarm quietly and enter. If I’m right I won’t let any harm be done to the members of this den.  Would you rather I be defenseless and unable to fulfill my responsibilities to the den, the Elder and yourself?” Matt was speaking plainly and honestly to Rick; this Bear deserved it.

“So, you fight for the Elder?” Rick asked snottily.

“No gentle Bear, I die for the Elder, the den and its members. My life is forfeit for yours; that’s my responsibility, it’s my destiny, and it’s what I have been chosen to do.”

The two walked in silence the rest of the trip. Matt reached out with his heightened senses as far as he could. He hated walking into a trap, even if this was safe ground and neutral territory it still felt like a set up and he was walking right into the middle of it. 

As they reached the edge of lodge territory Matt could feel others around, but nothing felt out of place. All of the movement was normal as well, but his gut was still tight. “Rick, go on ahead I won’t be far from you. Tell them I’m right behind you.” Matt ordered and promptly disappeared before Rick could turn around. He stopped and watched Rick move off, something wasn’t right. Matt’s gut was telling him something was about to happen, something bad.

Moving fast and sticking to a little known path he made his way to the service entrance of the lodge. Entering he made his way up a backset of stairs and into the upper level of the lodge without being noticed. From there he made his way out onto the support beam above the massive steel and mesh chandelier. The cascade of light would conceal his presence and he could listen to the voices below.

“Boris, where is your Guardian? We’ve waited almost the entire day,” an unfamiliar Bear spoke to Boris, who was sitting in his chair besides a massive fireplace. Boris’s leg was bouncing in obvious agitation, but his voice remained calm and collected as always.

“He will be along soon. Remember we woke him from hibernation. Even the oldest of Bears remembers their first hibernation and the effort it takes to come back,” Boris said.

“We need him and this is taking much too long.”

“Claus, please be patient. I have sent a trusted member of the den to bring him,” Boris pleaded. 

A few seconds later Rick made his way into the lodge past several unfamiliar Bears and into the main seating area. All eyes turned as he made his way to Boris.  Before he could speak he was interrupted by the new Bear, Claus.

“So Cub, where is this Guardian?” he questioned, standing as he did so. 

“He is not far behind, he stopped to pick up something then he’ll be along,” Rick said turning to Boris and winking at him. 

From his vantage point, Matt could feel that Claus had brought several members of his den with him. They were unfamiliar to him. He couldn’t locate Robert or Vic which was curious to him. Outside of the seven of them the lodge was completely empty, there was one more Bear on the outside, but none had made an approach. They were just hanging around.

Claus walked closer to Boris, and Matt’s gut tightened. “This will not do at all, we are leaving your help will no longer be needed,” he barked at Boris. 

“Claus, sit down! Matt is already here. He has probably been inside for quite some time, listening to us,” Boris said, rising to his feet. Boris was a Bear of impressive size and met Claus eye-to-eye. He and Claus were both ancient Russian Bears. Standing nose to nose, they could have been brothers. However, it was obvious they were on opposite sides of the spectrum.

“If you hadn’t insisted on sending one of your own I’m sure he would have been here sooner. The only thing sending an unknown did was set Matt into a defensive posture.  Guardians are naturally weary creatures. That Bear you sent probably got more than he bargained for,” Boris added locking eyes with Claus.

“Matt, if you’re here please come in. We need to speak with you,” Boris spoke in raised voice, turning in a half circle.

Matt hesitated for a few seconds, but noticed that the other Bears on the perimeter had started to close on the room. He made his leap from his perch and landed a few feet away from the larger Bears. All the Bears jumped when Matt landed, the rush of air that came after pushed the larger Bear, Claus a few steps back. Matt had positioned himself between Boris, Rick and the Elder, Claus.

In his crouched position, he had his hands on the ground ready to spring, his body completely motionless. His senses were ablaze working out the angles of entry, which Bear would be his first target, and where the escape routes were for Boris and Rick.

“Good, the Cub has arrived. Stand Cub, let me see you,” ordered Claus.

Matt didn’t move, his face still hidden beneath his hood. 

“Matt it’s okay, Claus is a very old friend. His den is in need of your help, please relax,” Boris spoke carefully, his voice full of caution.

Matt rose and clasped his hands in front, standing motionless. He noticed that the other Bears were making a slow entry to the inside of the lodge. He also smelled Vic on the breeze coming through the open side doors, which was a relief. 

Claus took a few steps toward Matt, reached down and pulled the hood, up and off his head. As he did, Matt locked his crystal blue eyes with the taller Bear. Matt was still in half Bear form and his silver fur was bristling.

“Oh my, you are a unique Bear,” remarked Claus taking a few steps backward. 

The three other Bears that Claus had brought with him were now inside and seemed to be looking for a fight. They were taking up positions within the lodge, weapons drawn.

“Elders, the Bears that have entered are armed. If conflict is their intent, I’ll defend this den,” Matt spoke, locking eyes with Claus once again.

“I was counting on it,” Claus smirked and Matt’s world blurred.

Matt reacted; he shoved Boris and Rick down and to the far side of the room. He met the first attacker head on. The other Bears had no firearms but were armed with hunting knives and club type weapons. ‘This is a display, a test, to gauge my level of skill.’

Matt shifted back to his human form in mid fight. As the Bear’s blade came around, he snatched it away, cut the Bears throat, and snapped its knee, arm and jaw. One Bear was down and the other two entered the room.  A barrage of blades cascaded through the air towards Matt.  Avoiding them, he noticed they were dime-store throwing knives. He returned the favor and took the second Bear out of the fight with a blade to the eye and neck. The sheer impact of the hits took the Bear off its feet, almost cleaving its skull in two, and it landed with a wet thud on the floor. The third Bear had gained height on Matt and launched himself in an aerial attack, a large knife in each hand. Matt paused, smiled, and took his staff from his back. In one smooth motion he extended it to its full length, caught the attacker in his mid chest and slammed him around and down into the concrete steps and floor of the entrance, cracking the steps and entryway with its force. The Bear was still moving until Matt leveled an aggressive kick to the Bear’s throat, ending its movements. Turning he was faced with the Elder; Matt lifted his hand to the large Bear, egging the large Bear into the fight. He was primed and ready. 

The Elder smirked, spit on the ground and attacked Matt like no other Bear he had ever fought with. This Bear was on par with Vic, and his movements were faster.  Matt traded blows and blocks, throws and sweeps. He took hits and returned them in kind. It took him a few minutes but he found the Bear’s weaknesses and exploited them. Changing styles, he took the fight to all angles; he made use of his small size and agility. He pummeled the Elder from odd angles with thrusts that seemed to come from nowhere. He attacked even while in retreat. As small as he was, his strength and speed were on par with Bears much older and larger than himself. This seemed to frustrate the larger Bear. Responding the Elder moved to his half-Bear form to match Matt; however, it was no use. Matt had him dialed in while still in his human form. In several more movements Matt had the Bear’s legs broken and arms locked. He was twisting slowly listening for the slow snap of bone and tendon. A smile spread across his face as he twisted the Elder’s arms further; he was enjoying this fight. His energy was flowing and it felt amazing, his senses were on fire, and he was channeling the energy around him. The air crackled with static and a gentle breeze had picked up in the lodge. 

“Matt THAT IS ENOUGH!” boomed a commanding voice. Vic stood in the doorway of the lodge; he had shifted to his half Bear, weary of what was about to unfold. He was still weary of Matt and his ability to control his Bear. Even after all these year, at times Matt seemed as wild as any native Bear; uncontrollable, primal, and eager for conflict.

Matt still in his human form looked up at Vic and winked. ‘Matt was in control the whole time, this devastation was controlled. Oh my, what has he become?’ Vic watched Matt step away from the Elder and pull the hood back over his head, retract and stow his staff and kneel in front of Boris.

Boris and Rick rose from where Matt had shoved them. Looking around, the Bears were starting to heal and come back around. Vic walked over and retrieved the blades from the Bear on the ground. Thank the Gods he was still out. As he looked at the blades he saw that they were heavy, very heavy. The blades had a central shaft of heavy metal wrapped in laser cut titanium.  No wonder they took the Bear off its feet, each blade had to be at least five to eight pounds. He looked over at the Bear on the steps; the force it took to take the Bear out of the air and shatter the stone steps was ungodly. The kick Matt delivered had almost decapitated the Bear. ‘Gods, what has Matt become?’

“Matt, please stand,” Boris looked down at him.

Standing, Matt’s eyes were lowered. He could feel the building of energy inside of Boris.  He felt it crest, ebb, and then retreat. “Thank you for ensuring our safety,” spoke the Elder.

“Elder, I’m sorry for the damage to your den. These Bears presented aggression when none was offered. Was this a test?” questioned Matt. 

“Yes it was they didn’t trust me. Claus over there is one of the best fighters I have ever seen and you easily defeated him without much effort. The others were fodder; I’m not sure why they were brought here. It seems that their purpose during this visit was more than a test and asking for your help,” Boris spoke, looking around at the Bears healing and coming around. 

“Boris, something is wrong, these Bears were looking for a fight. The Bear that Claus sent tried to attack Matt in their home earlier,” Rick said, looking around.

Walking up behind Matt, Vic slid the blades back into Matt’s hands, “Here, I think these are yours.”

Matt didn’t meet Vic’s eyes, but took the blades and secured them on his thighs. He was sheepish, embarrassed by the devastation he had caused.

“Elder, may I step outside? I won’t be far,” asked Matt, Boris nodded slowly still watching the other Bears.

Matt turned and moved out of the room quickly past the Bears and to the door. Tom, the Bear he’d fought earlier met him at the entrance. Matt was distracted by the smells of Werebear blood, and walked right into a fully automatic shotgun blast. The first shot took Matt backward off his feet and the successive blasts grazed his head and face; he rolled and put his back to the blasts while ducking for cover. His jacket held and nothing penetrated to his body but the others were not so lucky. He looked up to see a shot hit Rick and a grazing shot go past Boris. Matt roared and took the sickle from his back. 

Swinging the weapon in a tight arc around his body, gathering as much force as possible, he stepped into the shotgun blasts that were peppering the inside of the lodge. Several impacted him on his approach to Tom.  Matt jumped as he let the weapon fly at the unsuspecting Bear. It struck the Bear mid chest and sliced through him. It’s tapered and tooth like spines prevented it from coming back out. The Bear looked down at the chain from the sickle hanging from his chest, his arms dangling at his sides. Matt had severed his spine with the attack. Landing he pulled with all his strength. The force of the pull folded the Bear in two and jerked its body into the lodge. As the Bear flew past, Matt decapitated it, ending its magical existence on this earth. He had taken the life of another brother.  It was always the last resort.

As the dust settled Matt quickly checked on Boris and Rick, neither was seriously injured and the pellets were being pushed out as they healed. ‘Vic, where is Vic?’ Matt turned circles, looking for him, but debris was everywhere covering most of the floor. There … blood. 

“By the Gods, please no!” Matt growled as he ran towards Vic’s body. He had taken a blast to the upper chest and neck; it looked to be healing but he had lost a lot of blood. 

“Death will not have you this day,” Matt whispered kneeling beside the bloody blond Bear. He would further make his skills known to the Elders. It was a selfless act, a skill only held by Guardians, and Matt would use it save Vic. In the past 20 years, Matt had come to fully understand his abilities as a Guardian. He could heal others and use nature to his advantage, as well as take the energy that hung in the air around him. 

He quieted himself and became both outwardly and internally still. He reached out for the energy around him gathering it within himself. As he did the air in the lodge picked up, and became charged with static. He was summoning the energy of nature and using his own life force to heal his mentor, his friend, and his brother. He had placed his paws on Vic’s chest as he worked. Under his paws a luminescence could be seen and Vic’s wounds began to heal at an alarming rate. It was working, Vic would be ok.  However, as Matt did this several scars stretched themselves across his face. He was taking the wounds from his friend; he was bearing the burden of action. The static charge was building on them as Matt worked and discharging to the ground and objects around them.

The inside of the lodge was a vortex of air and static.  The Bears standing close started to back away. Matt was growling. He wasn’t going to let Vic die, not here, not like this. The Elder, Claus had healed enough and risen to his feet. He was making a limping retreat from the lodge as he witnessed the healing. The other three had healed enough to wake up and drag themselves out the door. Claus paused by Tom’s head and looked back at Matt, he was lucky to be alive, but he wasn’t leaving without taking the life of one of this den’s members. The Bears went to the vehicles and grabbed their weapons, readying to make their next attack against Matt.

Matt took his paws off Vic and looked around. Boris and Rick were staring at him. As he looked up, he caught his reflection in the mirror of the broken bar area. He now had a scar that ran from his neck to his ear, deep, red and angry looking. It would turn back to normal skin tone soon, but another scar had been added to his body; a new addition to the storybook of battles won and lessons learned that had etched itself across his body.  He looked around taking in his surroundings as Vic began to wake up.

“Where did the other Bears go?” Mat asked.

“They went outside, we were watching you and lost them,” Rick stuttered.

Matt turned to the front entrance of the lodge, and stared out into the distance. His senses searched for the Bears. His anger was peaking. “Elder, Vic, Cub please move to the back entrance of the lodge and go to my home. Do it NOW!” he ordered, jumping to his feet. He reached to his sides and un-holstered his side arms. 

“They’re coming, move now,” Matt commanded, walking to the entrance of the lodge. 

“What are you doing?” Vic asked, grabbing Matt’s shoulder.

“I’ll cover you in retreat, get to my home. Boris knows the codes to enter. Go to the armory upstairs and prepare. Wake Luke and get him ready to move.  This wasn’t a test; this was an extermination that went wrong. They didn’t expect me to be skilled, nor did they expect that Boris was so patient. GO NOW!” Matt yelled, pulling himself away from Vic and pushing Vic towards the others. Matt walked towards the entrance of the lodge to meet the approaching Bears.

As he did he focused his rage and anger. He wasn’t going to let any of these Bears escape. They had brought conflict where none was needed. They had brought malice where there was no reply. Matt would deal out death this day; he would end their existence on this earth. None of them would escape. 

As he walked he growled low, he reached out his senses and felt the Bears as they circled the lodge.  Matt moved with stealth and grace. He pushed himself to go faster and harder than he had before. ‘I must protect the den.’ He met the first Bear before it could react; two rounds point blank decapitated the Bear. Shots rang from Matt’s left. He reacted quickly, rolling away from them as he returned their fire. Several rounds went wide, but three found their mark taking another Bear down. Matt had severed its right arm and placed a round in its chest. As the Bears closed in on him he ducked behind a woodpile, reloaded and jumped firing at them as he went.  Two more Bears were down and out of the fight. The rounds he was firing were custom loaded and made for the purpose of killing Bears. Landing, Matt kept his head down sensing the world around him. It was just him and the Elder left.

“You’re quite a unique Bear. It’s a shame that I’ll have to kill you now,” the Elder gloated, leveling the automatic rifle at Matt opening fire.

He moved into the incoming fire; he had holstered one pistol and unsheathed a blade.  He drove the blade into the Elder’s chest, stopping the Elder’s heart splitting it in two. Matt fired a round point blank into the Elders mid section, severing his spine. He twisted the blade to ensure the maximum damage was done. In the few seconds the Bear had left it muttered its last word, “How?!” Matt looked up into the Elders dimming eyes, his crystal blue eyes, the eyes of a Guardian, glared at the dying Bear. He sunk his teeth into the Elder’s neck, ripping his head away from his body. Matt had killed an Elder; he was sure there was some karmic justice that would befall him soon.

Looking around he made sure to end the others where they had fallen, more rounds to the head worked sufficiently. When he was done he wobbled and staggered toward the lodge.  Looking down, he grabbed his belly; his fur was matted with blood, the Elder had shot him. It was sheer adrenaline and focus that had kept him moving. He was bleeding from his gut. At some point his jacket must have opened, revealing flesh to the Elder. When he made it to the stairs of the lodge he fell, rolled to his side and slipped into a void of nothingness.

A Helping Paw

Vic stopped and turned around; the gunfire had stopped and he feared for Matt. He felt a sadness wash over him; a deep loss of something dear to him. He looked up at the sky; the clouds had started to circle the lodge as if they were being pulled on. He knew it was a sign that something was wrong, something had happened to Matt. He turned around and quickly began making his way back to the lodge.

“Where are you going?” Boris asked.

“I’m going to look for Matt, something is wrong.” 

“No. He told us to go to his home and wait, let’s go,” Boris ordered.

“Boris, something is wrong. I can feel it,” Vic whined, still walking towards the lodge.

“Ok, but stay under cover and hurry along. Who knows how Luke will wake without Matt there …” Boris shook his head and hurried along with Rick.

Turning and shifting to his half Bear form, Vic made careful progress back to the lodge.  He knew something was wrong and he feared the worst. As he came closer to the lodge, the unmistakable scent of Werebear blood assaulted him. It was Matt’s blood; he had smelled it enough to pick up on it. Pausing at the cooling body of one of the Bears he recognized the Elder, headless. Matt had indeed lived up to his reputation. Vic scanned the other Bears where they lay and the ferocity of Matt’s actions frightened him. As he made his way around to the front entrance, he spotted Matt lying on the stairs. 

“Gods no!” Vic yelled, darting to Matt’s body.

He reached out for him carefully, avoiding the pool of blood that surrounded his body.  Vic sniffed Matt’s body, the stench of death clung tightly to him. He checked his pulse; it was weak, but still beating. Vic rolled Matt onto his back and opened his jacket. A round had found its way in. He had a wound just below and to the right of his navel where the Elder’s shot had torn through him. The wound had still not closed. Vic bit his wrist and let blood drip into the open wound which bubbled as it began to close. He rolled Matt over and did the same to the exit wound. Checking him over, he didn’t seem to be harmed anywhere else. He was covered in blood from his muzzle to his toes, still in his half-Bear form. It was curious that even unconscious he didn’t change back to his human form.

Looking over the smaller Bear Vic closely inspected Matt’s clothing. His jacket and pants had withstood a massive amount of gunfire. In several spots the leather was eaten away to reveal the mesh underneath, but the silvery gray weave of the lath had held together. Matt had been well prepared for this encounter as if he had known what was going to happen. The clothing was made so he could shift forms and keep his gear ready. As he looked at Matt’s hands he saw the gloves he wore had plate on the back of each hand and were fingerless; they allowed his claws, no, his talons to protrude. No wonder everything Matt hit was destroyed, he was a walking armored Bear. His boots were the same as the gloves, plate down his shins and the toe was tipped. As he ran his fingers over the arms of the jacket he could tell there was plate and rod inside to protect him. He opened the jacket revealing the weapon rig Matt was wearing full of extra magazines, a few small tools, and a small pouch of money. “Matt is always prepared,” Vic said aloud.

He looked down inside his jacket and found a small beeper-like device that would blink red every few seconds. As Vic removed the device from Matt’s side it blinked rapidly, ‘FAILSAFE’. ‘What does this mean?’

Matt knew that in any combat situation there was always a winner and a loser; it was just a matter of time before he came up on the losing end. The pager that Vic was holding was wired to Matt and Luke’s home. It placed the house in total lockdown if he was killed or incapacitated.  No one but Luke could unlock it. He had sent the Elder to safe ground away from the conflict but unless they could wake Luke they would be exposed. 

Vic sniffed Matt again, the scent of death still lingered against his skin weakly. He glanced around at his surroundings once again and plucked the knife from the deceased Elder’s chest. He walked around Matt’s body and picked up the sidearm that lay a few inches from his hand. Inspecting the weapon, Vic was impressed, it was well-balanced, green laser sighted, ported and silenced. It would fit in a Bear’s hand just as well as it would in a human’s.  Matt could use the weapon in any form he chose. Ejecting the magazine, he realized how devastating Matt’s shots were. The rounds were Hydro-shock, frangible rounds with a center spike of heavy metal. They would shred through anything they hit. “Damn!” Vic said aloud as he slid the weapon into his hip pocket, scooped Matt up and walked carefully back to their home past the cooling remains.

As he carried Matt, he thought back to all the times he had already hauled the Cub out of a fight; which had happened quite often in the beginning of Bear life. Vic thought back to the very first fight between him and Matt the day after his change. He had really thought that Matt would lose himself that day, but he was thankful that it did not happen. He had never admitted to Matt, but his unbridled rage had been almost too much for Vic to handle. Had it not been for Matt’s training Vic doubted that he could have remained sane. Through the years, Matt had to learn control.  In a small setting, he was calm and collected.  In a group he was tense and always on edge. Bears being Bears like a good scuffle occasionally and Matt never backed down. His small size made him an easy target for bigger Bears with more bravado and common sense. However, most times the bigger Bears received more than they bargained for. Before Matt changed his second time, he was skilled and fast, but after his speed, agility and abilities took on new form. He made the transition to Guardian and nothing had been the same since.

  

A moan came from the little Bear he was carrying. Vic glanced down but kept moving.  He could see Matt and Luke’s house in the distance.  ‘Not long now, we’re almost there.’  He could smell Boris on the wind, which was good. As he made his way to Matt’s property, his mind flashed back to the ‘FAILSAFE’ message on the beeper. His goal had always been protection; he had pledged himself to Boris and his den, however, he was always concerned about Luke’s safety. Whatever the ‘FAILSAFE’ message meant he was sure it was to ensure Luke’s safety. 

He cleared the line of trees that bordered Matt and Luke’s property and saw Boris with Rick, both of them standing on the porch. They were pacing, waiting; it seemed that neither of them could enter the house. As Vic approached the house, he could see it was in full lockdown and not even the ambient lighting was on. It was dark and quiet. Vic reached the steps and Boris ran to him, his face full of concern.

“Is he alive?”

“Barely … his body is healing, but he took a shot to the gut. I closed the wound and it’s healing very slowly,” rattled Vic.

“We can’t get in. The codes don’t work and the service entrance that I used earlier is closed,” said Rick.

“Yeah, I found a pager on him. It reads ‘FAILSAFE’, I guess this is what it meant,” Vic replied, laying Matt on one of the lounge chairs. 

“We need to wake Matt; I fear that others will be coming. Claus was known for redundant planning. I’m sure he has more Bears waiting,” Boris warned.

“What happened to the other Bears?” Rick asked nervously, pacing, and itchy to move.

“They’re all dead. Matt saw to that,” replied Vic, leaning in to sniff Matt again.

This time Matt returned the sniff. He inhaled deeply, his ears twitching, working out the sounds. He was coming around; he opened his eyes and looked up into the eyes of the blond Bear. 

“What’s the situation?” he grunted.

“We can’t get in, the codes don’t work,” said Rick more nervous than before.

“Let me get up,” Matt said, stirring from the lounge chair.

As he got slowly to his feet, he looked around and walked over to the pillar of the porch.  Running his hands over its surface, he opened a concealed panel and two smooth glass surfaces were exposed. About the same time, new scents hit him. Turning he looked sharply out into the distance through the falling snow. His senses stretched; other Bears were at the lodge. More were coming. Turning, Matt placed his paw on the panel and it came to life. He punched in a set of codes, opening the front door shutters and unlocking the door. 

“Get inside. Wake Luke. I’ll wait for them,” Matt ordered looking back at the Bears.  They were just staring at him.

“I’ve unlocked the basement and the armory, please prepare yourselves. If they get through me, this is your last bastion of safe haven,” spoke Matt looking back at them. They were standing stock still, not grasping what he was trying to get them to do. 

“Go in, I’ll be right behind you. I need to grab some things,” Matt said nodding towards the door, and turned taking a half step. 

As the others walked in Matt turned back to the screen and quickly keyed in a sequence.  The door closed and locked behind them. The Bears turned as the door slammed shut and locked.

“What are you doing?!” Vic bellowed, but with the glass and walls the sound never reached Matt’s twitching round ears.

Vic tried the door handle, but Matt had already secured the fail safe locks. Vic reared back and punched the glass, but it didn’t budge. As he looked at the glass and door, he realized that Matt and Luke’s house was a fortress. One that Matt had designed with protection as its primary goal. Walking to the door Matt put both paws on the glass. He reached to his right and touched the intercom button, and pressed his paws against the paws of the blond Bear on the glass of the door.

“Vic, please make sure Luke is safe. He is still a clumsy Bear and needs lots of attention.  Keep Boris and Rick safe get them out of here; please do it quickly,” he said smiling.

“What are you doing?” Vic whispered pain evident in his voice.

“What I was destined to do. Now go and wake Luke, get Boris and Rick out of here.  There are ample supplies and a vehicle setup for this purpose. Go to the lower garage, everything is there,” Matt smiled again taking his paws off the glass and stepping backward, looking at the big blond Bear.

“No, No, No,” Vic whimpered and pounding the glass with his paws. He knew what Matt had done. What he was about to do. Matt would sacrifice himself for their protection if need be, without hesitation, without remorse. 

Turning away, Matt walked back to the screen on the porch pillar. He tapped a few more keys and the security shutter of the door started to close. The whole time Vic was pounding on the glass, trying to get out. Matt had sealed them into the house; he had made sure they were safe. 

Inside Vic was lost in his own rage. This Cub had protected the older Bears; this was not the way. The old ones were to protect the young ones. “Vic, we need to wake Luke,” Boris spoke laying a caring hand on the huffing, panting blond Bear.

“This isn’t right. This is all wrong. I should be with him,” Vic growled, looking up at the stoic Russian Elder. 

“We need to move. If Matt is right, then we have more trouble coming,” Boris said, pulling Vic to his feet. They quickly made their way to the basement to wake Luke. This would be the second time that Boris had to tell Luke Matt might not come back to him. He dreaded it.  His heart sunk for the huge white Polar Bear. For all of Luke’s size, he was awkward and clumsy; he had aged but not progressed in skill. He was still a Cub at heart and needed Matt desperately. Matt took care of him, lavished him with attention, love, and care.

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

Matt sighed as he watched the shutter close over the door and lock into place. He glanced at the display and surveyed the house’s systems one last time ensuring that it had locked down. The basement and lower garage were both open to the Bears inside as well as the armory so that the Bears could arm themselves.

“Gods protect them, please” Matt whispered and went back to the tapping in commands.  He engaged the perimeter defense systems, and checked his pager to make sure it was active. ‘Good’.  Around the home, four automated machine guns rose silently from their concealed hubs.  They fired a light armor piercing round, were silenced and liquid cooled, and each turret fired a three-round burst and held 5000 rounds each.  His pager would keep the turrets from hitting him, and the vehicles would pass unharmed. 

He keyed in another sequence and a panel popped open just to his left; stepping around he armed himself with more weaponry. Matt kneeled to grab more blades, a light machine gun, four fragmentation grenades, two sonic grenades and extra magazines for his side arms. He noticed that one was missing, so he unclipped that holster and tossed it aside. He used the free space to slide more blades into the cutouts on his thigh. 

Standing, he zipped and buckled his jacket back into place, slung the machine gun, closed the panel and walked back to the control screen. He paused and keyed in the last sequence of commands which transferred all command access to the inside of the house. The external keypads would no longer be operational. The house was totally secure. 

Closing the control panel, Matt turned and started to walk away from the house. He passed the first turret and it swept his direction, but did not fire.  ‘Good.’  He moved quickly past the border of their property and back onto Lodge territory where he could sense Bears moving about. He counted at least fifteen, all converging on the Lodge. He walked towards it at a sharp angle into the wind. Stopping in a clearing, he turned with the wind at his back blowing toward the Lodge and took out a blade slicing his wrist. The blood dripped and swirled in the gusts of air as it fell away from his body. The wind would carry the scent of his blood toward the pack of Bears at the lodge. His scent was different from other Bears, unique. After about ten seconds, he could tell they had picked it up and that they had begun to move toward him. ‘Good, now to lead them away.’

Matt moved slowly at first, like a wounded Bear he fell around, rubbing the blood on trees, the brush, anything he could find as he moved. The pack of Bears was following him and gaining speed in their pursuit. More cuts to his wrist drew more blood, as he slowed his gait. He let the pack close on him. ‘Now to have some fun’; Matt stopped and dove into a snow bank. He quickly covered himself with snow and waited. He quieted his mind and his body. The snow would freeze the blood on his body and stop the scent from carrying. He could tell the Bears were moving past him; only a Polar Bear would be able to smell his blood on the snow.  As the last one hurried by him, Matt emerged behind its back.

It was a young Cub, armed with a pump shotgun. ‘Hmm.’ Matt seized the Bear and sunk a blade into its spine just below its shoulders. The Bear’s arms and body ceased their movement as soon as he severed its spine. He removed the blade and cut the Cub’s throat, and let it slide to the ground. Moving away quickly, Matt scaled a tree and waited.  He gathered the wind and pushed the breeze toward the pack. All at once, the pack caught the scent of fresh blood and turned around. As they made their way to the cooling remains of the Cub, Matt watched from his high perch. As they gathered around the Cub, he pulled the pins quietly on the two fragmentation grenades and lobbed them into the midst of the pack. None of them were going to survive this encounter. 

Left on his own, Matt had become a terrifying guerrilla fighter. His small size gave way to different tactics than larger Bears. In his human days, he had been called on numerous times to do nasty things in the name of Security and Honor. Now, using his skills to protect the ones he loved most was all that mattered. 

Judging from the turmoil below, these Bears were as unskilled as the first group. Of the original fifteen, only about nine were still standing. They formed a circle with their backs together, waiting, looking for their invisible attacker. From beneath him, Matt picked up the sound of static. ‘A radio? Interesting!’ A single Bear who was slightly smaller than the rest, was hanging back partially inside the circle. It was time to hunt them, to push them, and to thin them out.

Matt took a single sonic grenade, activated the device and lobbed it just on the far side of the circle of Bears. The sound of it hitting the ground startled them and they fired in the direction of the sounds. Then the screech started and the Bears backed away right toward Matt. He smiled from under his hood where he had shifted back into his human form; this was how he would proceed. Looking down he saw two of the Bears had started to retreat away from the sound and peeled off by themselves.  Slinging the machine gun to his back, Matt took out a two blades and dropped from his perch.

The first Bear felt the impact, but nothing more as Matt slammed the blade into and through its skull. Facing the other Bear, he dropped it with a slice across its throat and a kick to the knee. Pulling the blade free of the Bear’s skull, Matt hid behind a small snow bank before the group reached the dead Bears. ‘Seven left to go.’ The others walked into the two new dead Bears and panic spread through them, taking over. They started to yell at each other, but the sound of the sonic grenade was making it difficult for them to communicate. 

Popping from behind a tree, Matt threw two blades striking a Bear in the back of the head and another in the face. Both were down.  Five left. The remaining Bears fired in the direction of the blades, but Matt had already taken to the trees again. Right above them, on top of them, a predator. The five remaining Bears were huddled together, reloading their weapons. The smallest Bear was trying to talk into the handheld radio but it was no use; the frequency of the grenade was tuned for ursine ears. Matt knew that the most prominent threat to a Werebear was another Werebear; knowing how to hunt his brothers was a prudent skill when protecting the ones he loved, and respected. 

Matt pulled the pins on the last two grenades, counted to three, and dropped them.  The grenades exploded three feet from the ground and shredded the remainder of the group. All of them were now dead or dying in the snow below him. He waited until the sonic grenade stopped before he moved. He reached out with his senses, scanning the area. He noticed that the few Bears he had taken down were starting to recover. Dropping down he quickly ended their existence. While making his way out of the area, he heard the crackle of static; it was the hand held radio. 

“Jerrod … Jerrod answer me, what is going on? Answer me.”

Picking up the radio, Matt keyed the mic, “They are all dead.”

There was no sound for a few seconds and then, “I’m going to find you and make your end slow.”

Matt spoke formally and directly: “No … No, you are not. You sent Cubs to do a Bears job, and I am coming for you. There is no place on Earth you can hide from me; there is no refuge that will keep me from you, you will know no peace or safety until you are dead. You brought conflict with you, when there was no need for it. Neither you, nor any Bear in your keep will have my mercy. I will kill until your entire line has met its end. Your judgment is coming.” 

Matt let the radio fall to the ground. Pulling his hood over his head, he moved silently toward the lodge, removing his rifle from his shoulder as he moved. That radio only had a few miles of range; they were either at the lodge or at the base of the access road. As he made his way to the lodge, his ears picked up a vehicle starting and peeling off out of the parking area.  He smiled, shifted to his half Bear form and pursued. 

They would not survive. He would kill them all. They had attempted to harm his family, and there was no worse infraction in Matt’s mind. He burst through the tree line as the vehicle went out the circular driveway and down the gravel path leading to the lodge. The path had several switchbacks and was an aggressive decent to the paved road a mile or so away. The vehicle had reached the first of the switchbacks, braked hard, and slid around the curve.

“The driver is a novice, he’s using the brakes,” Matt said to himself, smiling under his hood. He advanced past the vehicle and beat them to the second switchback. Jumping and landing in the center of the road, Matt took a knee and opened fire on the vehicle. He sprayed the driver and the passenger. He was aiming high, so the driver would try to run him over; it worked.  The driver planted his foot in a vain attempt to hit him. Matt ejected the spent magazine, and reloaded in mid jump. He leapt to the left of the vehicle and sprayed the left front tire. The tire and engine exploded, the vehicle dug into the dirt and its momentum took it over into a roll. It rolled up, over the embankment, and down the hill leading to the lodge. The hill was not steep, but it was enough to keep the vehicle tumbling to the bottom.

  

Reaching the edge and looking down at the rolling vehicle, Matt noticed two occupants had been ejected. The rolling vehicle had crushed one and the other was scrabbling away. Matt slung the rifle and took out his sidearm; engaging the laser, he amputated the Cubs leg at the knee. It was left howling and clawing trying to get away. 

“You will be the bait,” Matt sneered and moved off in a sharp angle down the hill, keeping the bait in between him and the vehicle, now resting on its side. 

Matt took a position and took out the rifle; selecting single round firing, he slid the halo scope into place and waited. In those few seconds before the occupants tried to exit the vehicle, Matt ordered the events of the days. Several things did not fit. Firstly, why did these Bears attack Boris and test Matt? As far as he knew, he kept pretty much to himself and helped those who came to him. He knew Boris and Robert were old Bears, and with age comes enemies. Second, the Bears that were with Claus were unskilled and undisciplined fighters they seemed to be a distraction or maybe a warm up. Third, if Boris was the intended target, why wait until Matt woke up?  ‘Did they expect me to not defend the den?  Was this all a larger test? Was I the target? What is the connection?’

A sound from the car brought Matt back to his senses; the back doors had opened and three large Bears wobbled out. Matt waited, watching as they made their way over to the wounded Cub. He dropped the first of the Bears with a single round to the head, the second and third with multiple rounds through the chest and head. Then, he waited once again. He could feel one more occupant in the vehicle. The vehicle shook a bit, as if the Bear was making his way to the back of the suburban; Matt was shocked to hear a growl. A Bear in half-form emerged from the vehicle and looked in his direction. 

‘Ok, this one wants to talk.’ Matt fired a round at the Bear’s feet, it did not move. ‘Good, this one has some skill; it is probably the one from the radio.’  Matt slung his rifle and emerged from his position. He made a steady approach toward the Bear. It was massive in its half form; it would have been incredible as a full Bear. Matt stopped short and waited.

“So, you are the Guardian Cub that I’ve heard so much about,” remarked the Bear.

“I’m Matt, Guardian of this den. Why have you brought this fight to our door, when none was offered?” Matt questioned.

“We want the Kermode,” spat the Bear and charged Matt.

Matt caught two closed fists to each side of the chest, and the impact took him off his feet. Rolling and coming up the Bear had closed the distance and proceeded to attack. In the midst of this Matt thought of Rusty, he had gone to the Arctic Den for the summer. ‘Why do they want Rusty?’  He had kept a very low profile because he was a Spirit Bear, so why did they want him? ‘Well, it’s time to find out.’ 

Like in the fight with the Elder, Matt traded blows until he saw the pattern repeat and then shifted styles and attacked. The Bear picked up and swung a log at Matt. Returning the call for weapons, Matt unsheathed two blades and went to work on his much larger opponent. After a few slices the large Bear was on the ground, bleeding out and unable to move. Matt had cut nerves, tendons and muscle to incapacitate the Bear without killing it. 

“Why are you going after the Kermode?” Matt questioned, twisting the blade buried in the Bear’s shoulder. 

It howled in pain and spat in Matt’s face; another turn of the blade shut the Bear up. 

“For the last time, why the Kermode?” Matt asked again.

“The Elder wants him to make more of you,” growled the Bear.

Matt froze as the puzzle came into focus and the details into order. The southern den did not have a guardian. They resided on the border of the United States and Mexico; their roots extended back to the indigenous Mayans. ‘We were not the target, Rusty was. By the Gods where is my Sire?’

Without a thought, Matt took out his sidearm, and put the large Bear down. He did the same with the Cub and ensured the others the same fate. Glancing up he saw the gold SUV that Matt had prepped coming down the back trail. He pulled his hood on and loped off to catch the vehicle, they must go back to the house, and they had to find Rusty and Norman. As big as Norman was, he did not stand a chance against fighters of this caliber. Rusty as Bearish as he was, was no fighter either. 

When Matt reached the vehicle, he saw everyone was safe. He his way to the driver’s seat where Vic sat, and held up a hand to silence them.

“We were not their targets, it’s Rusty. They are after the Kermode. We have to find them now. Meet me at the house.” Matt shifted to his half Bear form and took off up the path. Panic and fear were creeping into his mind as he moved. Rusty and Norman had left when Matt and Luke went into hibernation. 

When he reached the house, he made his way through the open lower garage door and to the first panel. He deactivated the defenses, but left the rest of the house closed up. He was sitting in his den when the other arrived; furiously tapping keys. He wore a headset and seemed to be trying to reach the Arctic Den, but there was no response on email, messenger, or page. He tried the high-gain radio … nothing but static filled their frequency. His gut was getting tighter.  He reached out to them, but could not feel the pair. He could always reach them no matter where they were; he could always feel his Sire.  It scared him; for the first time in years, fear entered Matt’s heart and mind. 

He did not move as everyone came through the door of the den. A Bearlike vocalization came from Luke as he entered. He was in half form and wobbly; he bumped into the furniture as he walked in. He was about to fall face first when Matt slid under him and caught him. To the others in the room it was only a flash of movement. Matt caught him mid fall, and took the impact. While they watched, the others began to understand Matt even more. Luke just chuffed, whined and licked Matt all over; he was patting him and shifting to his Bear. 

“Luke, you can’t change in here honey, please relax, I’m fine,” Matt softly spoke, rubbing his ears.

A few more whines came from Luke and he started his transition back, but he was stuck in half-Bear. He whined more, fear filling his face. 

“It will be okay Luke, it takes a little bit. You will wake up fully soon,” Boris spoke, walking up to the two of them. 

Luke chuffed at Boris and put his large Polar Bear head on Matt’s chest.  Luke was a massive Polar Bear; even in his half form, he was still substantial and enveloped Matt as he lay on top with his legs out behind him.

“Honey Bear, let me up, I need to find Rusty and Norman. They’re in danger,” Matt spoke while grasping both sides of the massive furry head and muzzle. Luke licked him and let him up. 

“Rick, can you take Luke up to his shower, it’s on the second floor. It’s Polar Bear sized.  Let him change to full Bear and hit the wash button. Luke will do the rest,” Matt spoke while getting to his feet.

He reached over and grabbed both sides of his Bear’s muzzle and face. Looking him in the eyes, he spoke slowly. “Go with Rick. Go take a bath. Enjoy the water for a while. Okay?” The Polar Bear nodded and walked out with Rick. 

After they exited, Vic asked, “Polar Bear sized?”

“Yes, it’s like mine, but about 5 times larger with toys for a Polar Bear,” Matt said walking back over to his keyboard.

“Um … what?” Vic raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Okay, Luke’s shower is a cold water shower, actually chilled. It allows him be in full Bear, take a bath, and play in the icy water. I guess I should have warned Rick not to join him. He has a tire that swings and other playthings to bat around and chew on. He chews on stuff terribly,” Matt sighed and looked up at the two Bears. They were just staring at him dumfounded.

“What?” Matt said looking at them, his hands turned up.

“I never would have guessed as big as Luke is, that he is that clumsy and Cub like,” Vic said walking to Matt.

        

“No worries, let’s get to it. I can’t locate them. Elder, any ideas?”

“I have none. I’ll make some calls; the events of today are deeply disturbing,” Boris spoke and walked out of the den and upstairs.

Vic laid a hand on Matt’s shoulder and they looked at each other. It had been a troubling day to say the least. Matt sat scanning the images of the security cameras. It became apparent to Vic that they were everywhere. Matt could watch the grounds, road, and entrance to the lodge.  Even the common areas inside could be watched. Matt reached over and tapped a few keys and a schematic of the grounds came up. As he worked, he engaged the turrets and the something else that Vic could not make out.

“I know those are turrets, what are the other icons?” he asked.

“5lbs shaped mines,” Matt said plainly.

Vic just looked at him, “What the heck?”

“If someone or a group gets past the turrets, the charges will slow them down. They ring the house and grounds,” Matt said plainly not wanting to talk about it. It was time to find Rusty and Norman. It was time for action, he could feel the energy of nature and it was circling him, lifting him, giving him clarity.

Sacrifice

Part I

Matt reached for the radio to his left and was about to speak into the headset, but turned and flipped a switch and instead used the speaker so everyone could hear.

“K-A-P tower this is Eagle-Two-Zero come in.” Matt spoke, then released the microphone button and waited. 

“K-A-P tower actual, go ahead,” a female voice responded.

“Jane, this is Matt I need to speak with Marty, it’s an emergency … over.”

“Hold on Matt he’s in his hanger. Over.”

“Copy.”

“What are you doing?” Vic asked, hovering over Matt’s shoulder.

“We are the supply link to the Arctic Den and points east. Marty makes the weekly supply and passenger run to them. It’s scheduled for tomorrow and would be the fastest way to get to them. He would also be the one to ferry passengers-” Matt stopped short as the radio crackled.

“Eagle-Two-Zero, this is Marty, go ahead,” a voice crackled over the line.

“Marty, go Zulu-1-5-9, repeat, Zulu-1-5-9 … over,” Matt said, holding up a paw to Vic signaling not to speak.

Matt looked over at Vic, “It’s a secure communication with Marty; he will be in his office away from everyone.”

“Roger, Z-1-5-9,” Marty said and the static took over. Matt reached up and hit two buttons on the radio.

A few silent minutes later, “Marty here, Matt what’s the matter … over” questioned the brother-Bear.

“Rusty and Norman are in danger, I need to get to them tomorrow when you make the supply run … over.”

“No can do brother, that storm has the airspace closed. I had to make the run yesterday and I just got back this morning. Over” Marty said.

“Did you see them?  Did any passengers go to the den? Over,” Matt spurted out concerned.

“I didn’t see them on touchdown, but they came out to meet the four visitors from the southern den. I had to leave to beat the storm; Matt, what’s going on?” Marty was new to being a Bear, he was prior Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard. 

“Eagle-Two-Zero was attacked today. The Elder and all parties are safe and secure at Eagle-One-Zero. Over.” 

“What do you need? I owe Rusty and Norman everything,” Marty asked calmly.

“Can you get me above the storm, over the Arctic Den?” asked Matt.

“I’ll have the plane ready by the time you get here. Come across the lake, we have to beat the storm out. It’s coming down on us pretty hard,” Marty said plainly.

“I’ll be on the way in less than 30 minutes. Eagle-One-Zero out,” Matt said, and flipped off the speaker for the radio. Turning to Vic he held up a paw.

“You will not stop me from going. I’ll protect them,” Matt spoke evenly to Vic, his eyes burning with purpose.

“How will you land, they’re in the middle of the storm of the century?” Vic questioned.

“I’ll HALO jump through the storm and wing suit through the valley and into den territory. From there I’ll just have to take it as it comes,” spoke Matt as he got up and walked toward the garage.

“Hell no, you are not going alone. I’ll go with you,” Vic said following Matt.

“No old friend, you can’t join me on this one. I need you to stay here and keep watch on the Den. I fear that more trouble is coming and fast. This was not an uncoordinated attack, this was well thought out. I will go get Rusty and Norman and ensure their safety. When the storm passes we will take the southern valley and meet up at David’s cabin in the Badlands. That is the only secure location with supplies within 300 miles,” Matt trailed off as he opened a large wall locker. Vic stood motionless as he looked at the array of gear that was stowed. Matt opened a large bag and started to throw gear into it. 

“Before you even mutter a word, you can’t stop me from going. You can relax your arms and your legs. Trying to stop me will only get you hurt. I can see the energy flowing through you. Your actions will not deter me from going to them,” Matt said looking over his shoulder, still throwing gear into the bag. 

“Old friend, please protect Luke and the rest of the Den. I trust this to your care,” he said turning around, looking up into Vic’s eyes. Matt walked over and wrapped his arms around the big Bear, hugging him tightly. 

“Let me go Vic … it’s time you let me go,” Matt spoke, looking up into the big Bears eyes. They both stood silently staring at one another. Vic nodded and backed away, turned and went upstairs to tell the rest what was happening. Matt turned around and kept packing gear. Vic and Matt had never been a pair, they were not mated, and they were not den mates. They were close friends and brothers, someone who Matt could talk to, vent to, cry to. Both Bears had to act for the protection of the Elder and the den, without regard to the others safety. This was what Vic always had a problem with. 

Matt finished the gear pack, lashed it all down to the back of the Snowmobile and started the engine. Checking his weapons, he reloaded and stowed them. He reached for the goggles and walked over, ready to leave. Before he could, a crash came from upstairs; Matt knew it was Luke. Boris and Vic told him what was happening. Before it got worse Matt gunned the engine and took off out of the lower garage and into a raging snowstorm. 

Behind Matt the world blurred, and he focused his senses ahead of him. Letting the energy of nature guide him where his sight could not. The snow was blinding, the wind howling.  He came down the mountain that was Lodge territory and headed across the massive lake toward the airport. It was almost a whiteout and it would be hard to get airborne in this. He knew that it was going to be a rough ride out. 

As Matt moved onto the lake, something caught his attention from behind.  He had been followed; two Bears were running at top speed toward him. One of them was Luke; he was tracking the exhaust from the snowmobile on the wind. Only a Polar Bear could track in a blizzard. Vic was with him.  ‘Why are they pursuing?’

Matt pushed the vehicle to the red line; he saw the beacon for the tower and veered to the left. At the edge of the runway, was a private hangar of Bjorn Airfreight. He could see the nose of the aircraft on the edge of the hanger. Matt didn’t let off the throttle until he was inside the hanger. He let the vehicle slide into the back wall as it spewed its fluids. He was off, gear in hand heading for the plane when the snowmobile finally died, sputtering to silence.

Sacrifice

Part II

Marty was firing up the plane; engines were running and all the ice melt systems were on full. The plane was lit up like a Christmas tree. His mate George was in the back, ripping seats out and throwing them into the hanger tears running over his cheeks as he did so. George was in half-form; he was literally tearing the seats from the deck. He was ripping out anything that added weight to the aircraft. They knew it was likely a one-way trip for Marty. When George locked eyes with Matt he growled at him. Matt said nothing, but stowed his gear and started helping with tearing out seats and wall panels.

“We need to go, now!” Marty screamed as he finished attaching the take off rockets to the front nose of the plane. 

George looked over at Matt, and started bellowing “No… No… No…” as Matt took him by the paws and led him down the ramp, off the plane and into the hanger. George collapsed in a mound of tears and fur, pounding his paws into the floor. Matt hugged his brother; the large Bear was sobbing; waves of heat and emotion were coming of him.

“We are leaving,” Marty yelled over the sounds of prop wash. Matt turned gave him the thumbs-up while hugging George. Marty turned in the pilot’s seat and pushed the throttles to maximum. The plane lurched and started to move out of the hanger into the blizzard that had descended on them. Matt let go of the sobbing Bear and looked out into the blizzard, Luke and Vic were almost there. He could feel them coming closer. 

“I love you Luke,” Matt muttered and sprinted for the plane edging its way to the open runway, now covered in snow. 

Marty engaged the snow skids and the speed picked up. Reaching the plane, Matt stood on the cargo deck and tethered himself to the plane. Looking out, he saw George change into his Bear. He was Polar like Luke and Marty. Luke and Vic converged with George and chased the plane down the runway. They could not stop the events that were unfolding; they could only wait for their mates to return. 

The plane reached speed and Marty engaged the rockets, the plane was jerked from the ground and into the air, the rear rockets fired next. The plane lurched from side to side and Marty fought to keep the plane in the air, gaining altitude. They were climbing through the blizzard, pushing their way through nature’s fury. Matt centered himself and gathered the wind. He did what he could to keep the downdrafts off of them and to keep them airborne. Several more jerks and sways later, the ride evened out as they kept climbing over the storm and into better air. 

On the ground, George stopped and slumped to the ground sitting on his rump, bellowing at the plane as it climbed out of sight. Luke reached his side, sat and did the same. Vic caught the pair and added his voice to the fray. The howls and barks, whines and whimpers of Bears left behind were drowned out by the wind, snow, ice and rain. 

George slumped down in the snow and blowing ice, wishing for death. Without Marty there was no reason for living anymore. George was an old Polar Bear, much older than Vic or even Boris for that matter. George had met Marty and had a four-year relationship with the human before they mated and Marty was changed ten years ago. He had lost his first mate and wandered the tundra for a few hundred years before he returned to the world of humans. He looked around at his brothers to each side and continued to sob, long deep sobs. Luke did the same. Vic wrapped them both in the paws of a brother. 

In the sky, Matt stood for a time looking out into the night sky. The ride had improved and the plane was climbing above the storm and headed north. He stayed on the edge of the ramp until he could no longer feel the Bears on the ground. Turning, he closed the rear hatch and went forward to the cockpit.

“ETA?” he asked.

“About 2 hours. We had to go east and get over the storm. We’ll be heading back west and north in about 30 minutes. I…” Marty trailed off.

“Marty, I know what you’ve done; I know you won’t have enough fuel to make it back.  With the storm, you’ll have to go west and hope you can ditch over Open Ocean or climb south and glide as far back as you can. Either way, it’s likely a one way trip,” Matt said in a plain, detached voice. Inside he was crying. A small piece of him was dying as he sat next to the young Bear. He could feel the energy cresting through him. He could see his aura change to deep colors; Marty was in a dark place. 

“You’ll be fine. Do you remember the lessons we taught you about this plane? How to belly-glide it?” Matt asked.

“Yes, I know what this old-bird can do. I’m more concerned at what you’re going into.  Those passengers were carrying a few backpacks but nothing more. They didn’t seem to be armed. They were large Bears, like Vic. What happened at the Lodge?”

“I was the target; they wanted me out of the way. It’s no secret among our kind that I protect the Spirit Bear. Nineteen Bears were killed today; one was an Elder of the Southern Den.  There were two groups, the first was a test and the second was an extermination squad. They didn’t have accurate information on the Lodge, or me, which worked in our favor. I have everyone at my place,” Matt let the last words fade as the two sat in silence for a while. The time passed quickly.

“Go check your gear and get ready, I’m about to climb over another storm formation.  Make sure you’re wearing your mask, the air is thin up here, even for a Bear,” Marty said, looking over at Matt, his hands trembling. He reached up and touched a small picture of he and George above the controls. Looking over, he had about ¼ of a tank of fuel. He just might make it back. 

Matt nodded and went to the rear and started to suit up. Unzipping the bag, he took out the wing suit and slid into it. Over the top of that, three chutes were clipped and snapped into place. He then secured weapons and made sure everything was tied down. The ride started to get bumpy again and he was thrown around in the back of the plane like a pebble in a can. After gaining his footing, he slung the gear bag from his lower back and stood, waiting for the signal.

From the cockpit, Marty yelled, “2 minutes—2 minutes.”

Matt reached over and opened the rear door of the cargo plane. The inside washed with sub zero air, a layer of ice started to form on the inside of the bay. They were at maximum altitude for this aircraft. Matt could hear the engines starting to sputter, Marty was running them lean to compensate for the thin air, but it wasn’t enough to get over the storm. They were flying right into it. Matt knew Marty would not return from this; the storm would rip the plane apart. 

Over the wind noise, Marty bellowed:  “Save Rusty and Norman, tell them I love them.  Go… Go… Go…” 

Matt nodded and stepped off the edge of the aircraft and started his free-fall into a frozen hell. He could feel the darkness coming for him. He would not be able to walk the path in-between the light and the dark any longer. This would be his test; he would have to choose to save life or take it. 

In the cockpit, Marty closed the cargo door and banked the plane hard to port. He nosed the plane down and tried to ride with the wind currents. He was getting thrown all over, but making a straight line for what he thought was open water. Warning bells started to ring and lights flash as an engine died. He reached up and tapped the fuel gauge; it dropped from ¼ to below E. 

“Sorry Bear, I wish I could have kissed you one last time,” Marty said as he reached up, snatched the picture from the control panel and stuffed it in his shirt. He returned to the controls, shutting down two of the engines hoping to get just a little more. All he had to do was clear the mountains and he could belly land on the tundra and ice.

Matt’s free-fall was brutal. He shifted to his half-Bear form to keep from freezing.  Punching down through the rough air, he became a bullet reaching terminal velocity quickly.  He could not feel Rusty or Norman, his stomach was tight, and dread was creeping in. The altitude monitor in his helmet chimed as he fell into the eye-of the storm. It was quiet, clear and let him get his bearing. Deploying the first chute, Matt slowed his descent. The jolt took the air from his lungs and snapped one of the carry straps on his gear bag. He spied the mountain beacon, a soft red light blinking against the raging storm. To his right and left he could see the storm circling; it was about to take him again. Matt detached from the chute and started his second free fall, this time he stretched out his arms and legs in the wing suit and started a controlled free flight. He could see the valley range leading to the Arctic Den. He had to be in that valley to be safe. As he glided closer, his senses picked up Rusty and Norman. He focused on them and shifted directions slightly. As he closed on the valley, he could see he was about to hit the blizzard again. Matt held his breath as he punched into the frozen downdraft and was flung toward the ground. Struggling, against the wind and to keep a direction, the ground came up fast. Matt pulled both chutes and exhaled.  The chutes slowed his descent, but he still hit the snow and ground hard. As he lifted his head, he had made it in the valley and the storm was raging around him. Ice and snow became daggers that dug into him. He put his head down and let his body heal.

Wobbling to his feet, he shed the wing suit and other gear. He reached back and found his gear bag, holding on by the last threads of the strapping. Matt slung the bag, checked his weapons and proceeded on through the valley. The blizzard was making it hard to move, but he pushed through. Walking through the center of the valley, he centered himself and let his other senses be his guide. 

Matt closed his eyes and the world lit up in colored shapes and soft light.  He was in the valley, skirting the ridgeline and making his way to the Arctic Den. As he made his way, he felt the darkness around him circling him, beckoning him to accept it. He shoved it away and focused on the den, he was closing on it. The den itself was constructed of makeshift shelters, cave systems, and Inuit winter huts. He passed the first, not feeling anyone inside. Entering, he found a young Bear, decapitated lying on the ground. Matt’s anger grew. Leaving the shelter, he made his way toward Rusty and Norman.

No games, no stealth, he would approach without caution. He would meet this threat head on. He would deal death to whoever was in the way. Rusty and Norman were up ahead in the main meeting area. It was a cave that had an entrance built onto it. This stopped the air and made the inside very warm. The cave was large with a long entrance that opened to a wide central area with a fire pit in the center. Smoke exited from the top through a natural cave flue. 

Reaching the entrance, Matt paused; there was a group of Bears in the shelter to his left.  He shifted direction and waded through the snow toward the shelter. As he reached the shelter a Bear came from seemly thin air. It pounced at Matt in Half form, with large blades in each hand; its speed was unbelievable and it handled itself skillfully. Matt traded cuts and blows with the Bear and ended the Bear with a muffled burst from his weapon and a slice across its throat, taking its head. Matt was letting the darkness take him. The unwritten rules of Bear Combat were no longer in play. Matt would kill by whatever means necessary. Opening the door to the shelter he saw the den members were inside, waiting. At a closer look, they were all Cubs, young ones. 

“Where are the others?” Matt asked them.

“In the cave, Rusty and Norman are with the last three. Norman is hurt. They move faster than bullets, we tried to defend them, but we could not stop them. They knew you would come,” one of the Cubs said as he started to sob. 

“Where are the older Bears?” Matt questioned. 

“They’re all dead, the two big ones killed them and burned them in the fire pit of the cave,” the Cub sputtered, sobbing. 

Matt dropped to his knees, he was sick to the pit of his stomach. The Cubs came to him, hugging him. Matt was filled with rage. He could feel it building within him. He could feel the tug to let go itching at his mind, scratching at his gut. So much death surrounded him. So many brothers had been killed without cause. The rage was building within, cresting on his skin, and charging the air with static.

“Take this, it’s loaded. Point and shoot anything that comes through the door that’s not me. Do you understand?” Matt said looking at the Cub that he had been talking to. He handed his side arms to a few other Cubs along with the extra ammunition. 

“At first light, move south to Papa-David’s Cabin; don’t stop until you get there. Travel as Bears and stick together. Understand?” he spoke to all of them as he stood. They nodded.  All the Cubs knew the cabin; it was a favorite spot to stop on a trek south.

“No matter what happens, you move at first light. Don’t wait; don’t hesitate. Any Bear that follows after me is an enemy. Do you understand?”

         Matt rose, removing his gear slowly; he stripped out of his jacket and took off his weapons rig. From his bag he pulled his sword, a custom cut weapon made of the hardest, thinnest metal available. He secured it across his back and slid more blades into his thigh pockets. He was leaving when a Cub reached out to stop him.

“Stay in the light, the darkness has no place for you,” whispered the young one.

“I have no place left to go,” he smiled sadly at the Cub and walked out leaving the Cubs behind him.

Outside, Matt took several steps toward the cave. He gathered his energy and the energy around him. He could feel the darkness pull at him; this time he didn’t shove it away, he didn’t push back his anger, and he didn’t stop himself. As a Guardian, he always kept himself in control. He kept the animal at bay, hidden just under the surface. Now there would be no hiding, he would kill anything in his path without remorse.

With each step Matt took he could feel his power vibrate through him. He approached the door of the cave and reached out with his senses, he could feel Rusty and Norman accompanied by a faint unfamiliar energy. The Werebears inside were skilled, like him. ‘This will be fun.’ He opened the door, grunting as the frozen metal creaked loudly. As he closed the door behind him a strong smell assaulted his nose; burnt Werebear flesh had a scent all its own. He took a few steps and stopped, there were three others here with Rusty and Norman. Matt walked through the hallway into an open area. 

“Stop right there Guardian.” A large Bear stood, wielding a long blade just on the edge of the soft firelight. Matt could see Rusty chained against a post, a collar pressing tightly against his throat and Norman suspended by his neck, standing only on his tiptoes.

Matt stopped and waited; he could not get a bearing on the others in the room. The smell of burning Bear flesh was overpowering and it seemed the others were just as skilled as he was, if not more so. He could tell that these Bears were not Guardians; all Guardians carried an energy signature that was unique only to them. Matt would have to wait until they showed themselves or until he was attacked. 

“I’m glad you could join us, little Guardian. Did the welcoming party give you a good warm up; did you have a good workout? I hear you killed them all, not to bad for someone so young,” the Bear smirked, swirling his blades. “I digress though; now that you’re here I can attend to some unfinished business … I can kill this nuisance.” He barked with laughter as he reared back, plunging the blade through Norman’s chest, splitting his heart. The Bear ripped the blade sideways, almost tearing his body in two. Norman’s eyes flickered weakly as his energy faded from the room. He slumped over held up only by the collar around his neck.

“Noooooooo!” Rusty wailed, shifting to his Bear form; his steel collar and chains held him back from rushing to Normans’s aid.

Matt froze as two Bears advanced toward him; they each sunk a blade into his unprotected sides. He made no effort to evade them or to counter their attack and instead waited as they slid to a halt burying their blades deep within him. He pressed a paw to each of their chests and looked up at the large Bear in front of him

“Bear, I will end your existence. You will not be reborn into the next life. You will end, and you will meet your end here,” growled the Guardian. In his mind, he called the darkness and let it take him over. The darkness reached for him and wrapped Matt in its cold embrace. 

The Bears to Matt’s sides started to twitch and shake, letting go of their blades. Under Matt’s paws a soft green luminescence glowed against the Bears’ chests. His eyes glowed blue and static discharged from his body; he took a step forward and with it took the life force, energy, and the souls of the two Bears. Their lifeless shells fell to his sides as Rusty and the large Bear watched. He turned to stare at the large Bear and smiled. Closing his hands the energy of the Bears vanished, and with it a gust of air swept through the cave toward the large Bear who still stood over Norman’s dead body.

Matt took a few steps forward towards the Bear, drawing his sword as his blood continued oozing from the blades buried in his sides. In a flash he moved forward and sunk the blade into the chest of the large Bear and placed his left paw over its heart; like the others, the Bear started to twitch. With a roar, Matt stepped back pulling his blade and the soul out of the Bear. He would not be reborn; Matt had ended its existence. He gave their life force to the darkness; he paid the penance for his actions. Matt leaned his head back and howled, bellowing at the sky. He turned to Rusty and began walking towards him.

Matt’s eyes glowed as he approached; the darkness had consumed him, enveloping him in its embrace. Guardians walked the line between giving and taking life. They used the energy around them to heal, to protect, to guard, and to shelter those around them. Matt had made a decision; he had given himself to the dark. Now all he wanted was to kill; to kill everything around him. Rusty could feel the change in Matt. He had become something bad, something evil.  The gentle water that had always been Matt had vanished and been replaced with violent heat and anger.

Rusty roared and gnashed his teeth at Matt as he approached; the steel collar and chains were preventing him from moving and escaping. This wasn’t Matt, it was the darkness. Rusty transformed back to his human form, pleading for Matt to stop, to snap out of it. Matt raised his sword to kill the Kermode, to take the life of the one he had sworn to protect. 

From behind them the soft murmur of bells echoed from the shadows. They came softly at first, escalating in volume as they came closer. ‘Bells!’ From the entrance came the Cubs, carrying the calling bells; the bells used to call the Great Bear. They circled the two bears continuously ringing the bells around them. One of the Cubs approached Matt fearlessly, ringing a set of bells tied to a staff. He stopped and looked up into the glowing eyes and snarling maul of the Guardian.

“Come back to the light Guardian, come back to us. We need you,” said the small Cub.

Matt looked down at the Cub and then over at Rusty, who had dissolved into sobs, tears streaming down his face. He looked from Rusty to Norman’s lifeless body, hanging over a pool of blood. Matt’s eyes glowed brightly and his growling faded away. The wind in the cave seemed to pick up dramatically as he looked back to Rusty and cut away the chains that bound him. Rusty dropped to his knees and quickly scrambled past Matt to Norman, sobbing louder.

Looking around, Matt looked over at the couple and then at the Cubs.  “Send three of the best runners to the cabin, and radio for help. I’ll save Norman, but everyone will need protection. Do it now,” Matt ordered looking back to Norman. Behind them, three cubs handed off their bells and darted for the door, shifting to half form as they moved.

Matt walked over to them and put a hand on Rusty’s shoulder, he was clawing at the collar trying to get Norman down. “Step back and out of the way,” Matt spoke in a tone that was deep and detached, nothing like his own voice. Rusty quickly complied.

In one smooth motion, Matt cut Norman down and cradled the lifeless Bear to the ground. He sniffed at Norman and smiled, “You will not be eating at the God’s dinner table tonight by friend.”

Matt looked up and nodded at Rusty, who scrambled back to them. 

“Will he be ok?” Rusty asked in a soft, quivering whisper.

“I’ll save him.”

‘Take this sword; he will need it when he wakes. When he does, the world will be different to him. Be patient, he will be your protector now. Step back Spirit Bear, you must not touch my blood,” Matt said as he pushed the hilt of the blade against Rusty’s chest and pushed him back out of the blood, out of the way. 

Rusty complied, but danced on his toes nervously behind them. The Cubs surrounding them continued to ring their bells, keeping Matt in the light and the darkness at bay. Matt looked down at Norman’s body and smiled. The air in the cave began circling them, whipping and churning around the two. The Cubs moved closer, ringing their bells and forcing Rusty to step closer to Matt and Norman. Matt gently placed a hand over Norman’s forehead and the other over his own belly. A glow was visible from beneath his hands as he pulled his own life force from his body, whimpering softly. He looked up at Rusty and smiled.

Rusty figured out what Matt was going to do, but before he could move the Cubs blocked his path. “Let him stay in the light, and after darkness will take him. This is his final act as your Guardian,” one of the Cubs whispered respectfully to the Kermode.

Matt took his paw off of Norman’s forehead and grabbed the blade still buried in his side.  He twisted it and jerked it from his own body. Guardian blood spewed from the gaping hole all over Norman. Matt’s blood sizzled and smoked in the cold air. As the Guardian blood covered Norman, working its way into and through his body, the massive wounds began to close. His heart mended and his body repaired itself. Matt wobbled on his knees above his body. Taking his left hand, still aglow with his own life force, he upturned it and slammed it into Norman, shocking the Bear back to life. Norman’s body jerked and his chest expanded, inhaling deeply.  Matt’s eyes flickered and closed as he slumped over Norman. In the cave a roar came on the wind. The vortex picked up furiously and gusted out in all directions. The gust blew out the torches in the cave, shoved the Cubs back and blew Rusty to the ground.

As the dust settled a cold chill remained. Rusty scrambled over and tugged at Norman’s side. Matt had slumped over Norman’s legs and blood was everywhere. Norman started to cough and wake up.  Rusty pulled him away from the blood, away from the death, closer to the fire. They slid Matt’s limp body off and scrambled backwards. Rusty was pawing Norman, half babbling. 

“Are you okay… are you okay?” Rusty kept repeating as Norman stumbled up. He was wobbling, falling over; unable to get his balance, or bearing. He flopped around as if he didn’t know where his limbs were going to go. After several minutes he resigned himself to sit on the floor. 

“What happened? I can’t see right. Everything is off, distorted, and colored. It’s so loud in here. The wind is howling, fire is crackling and it’s hurting my ears. I can hear your heartbeat.  Why is it so loud?” Norman growled putting his paws to his head and transforming as he did, growling and barking. Norman was going through a second change, just as Matt had many years before.

“Matt said it would be different when you woke up. He healed you. He brought you back to life,” Rusty replied, watching the Bear he loved, his mate, his everything.

Norman covered his ears with his paws in a vain attempt to shut out his new Guardian senses. What had taken Matt almost a hundred years to develop, Norman was now experiencing all at once. When he finally did find his footing, Rusty noticed right away that he was taller, stronger, and more muscular than before. His fur was thicker and denser; with a layer of course top hair down his back. His ears were slightly larger, and twitched as they focused on sounds.  His claws were longer, sharper, and a darker color. His paws were narrower, digits longer. On his chest where he had been cut and healed, his fur was lighter, and in the shape of a lightning bolt across his chest. 

All at once the Cubs started ringing their bells again; chanting an ancient mantra that all the Bears knew. One they learned when visiting the Arctic Den. The Cubs were Arctic Bears, bears of the first tribe. They had walked with the Great Bear and now they would call the great one here, to them. They would save their Guardian, no matter the cost. Matt had walked in the dark to protect the light. He had given his life so that others would live. He had sacrificed everything to make sure the next generation of Bears was safe and the Kermode was given a new protector.

          Norman covered his ears, howling and whimpering for the deafening new sounds around him. Rusty pulled him tightly against his chest, hugging him the best he could while the big bear continued to howl in pain as the ringing continued.

The Cubs encircled Matt and kept chanting, calling the Great Bear to this place. The great one had chosen Matt to be a Bear. Now the great one would decide if he was worthy to be given life again; worthy to live, to love, and to die when his time came. 

After a few moments the fire became ablaze and the wind picked up once again in the cave. A scent carried on the wind; one that both Rusty and Norman knew. It was the same scent that had smelled when Matt was changed; when the Great Bear came to them and gave them permission to change Matt to a Werebear. The wind began to circle around the group, forming a vortex from which the Great Bear stepped out of and into the light of the fire. It looked around at the circle of Bears and then to the lifeless body of the Guardian at its feet. The Great One bowed its head and sniffed Matt’s body, inhaling his essence. It raised its majestic head and chuffed. The Cubs, still ringing their bells, stepped forward along with Norman. Rusty moved to follow, but Norman held out a hand to stop him.

“No Spirit Bear, you must not follow. Please, stay here. We will save our brother,” Norman said, wobbling over towards the Great Bear. As the Cubs and Norman stepped forward they transformed and each laid a paw on Matt’s body; a green glow slowly appeared around them. The Great Bear leaned its head in with its muzzle inches from Matt’s nose; a soft green wisp of air entered the lifeless body of the Guardian. 

The Great Bear rose and stood on his hind feet, releasing a low roar, slowly building to a deafening sound. The glow around them had intensified and the Cubs, who were giving themselves to bring back a brother, all leaned their heads back and added their own roar to the fray. On the floor, Matt’s chest rose and fell, just slightly at first and then more. His eyes snapped open as he screamed in pain. The blade that was still in him was pushed out and the wounds began to close. He screamed again as the Great Bear lunged down and slammed both its paws into his chest. The Great Bear looking into Matt’s eyes and saw the soul of a Guardian; a selfless creature that would give of himself to save the ones he loved. The Great Bear put its muzzle to Matt’s ear and whispered something only he could hear. Then it lifted its head and faded from their presence as if it were smoke on the wind. The air settled in the cave, the fire returned to its slow rumble and all the bells were quiet. The Cubs scrambled to Matt’s side, holding onto him. They pulled him over to the fire, where he mumbled something and passed out.

Several days later, the first of the Bears arrived at the Arctic Den to lend support, rebuild what had been destroyed, and help the young ones. Matt had been asleep since the Great Bear healed him, not moving from a warm bedroll by the fire. His dreams were peaceful, quiet, and deeply needed. He had fought the darkness for so long he knew nothing else. The peace he was now given was a turning point, a new lease on life and a new chapter in his journey. As he moved from dreams to consciousness and back again, he reflected on what the Great One had said to him.  “Be ready young one, another chapter must be written. The darkness will come again,” echoed through Matt’s dreams.

As Matt slept there was a successive line of aircraft, snow vehicles, and walkers arriving from all over, converging at the den. Bears from every part of the world came to lend a paw. A meeting of den Elders took place and old feuds were resolved and friendships formed. The events that brought the Great Bear to the den were told and retold as more and more visitors arrived. The Cubs who Matt had saved spoke of his attributes, while some Elders spoke of his faults. Soon the Arctic den had well over 200 Bears and Cubs meandering about. They came to visit with the Kermode, to hear the origin of the Guardian, and to tell of the horrible events that brought them all together. 

Luke, Vic, Boris, Rick and George had arrived for the meeting of the Elders and stayed with Matt, Norman and Rusty. Luke stayed with Matt, not eating, not moving, and only laying next to his mate. Norman was adjusting to his new senses, but without Matt to guide him, it was a struggle. He was stronger, faster and more in touch with his surroundings. George wandered the den grounds searching for his mate. He had trekked to the ocean and back looking for Marty, but found nothing. Vic stayed close to Boris and assisted with the duties of peacemaker & Elder, and helped everyone make the best from this horrible situation. 

Matt woke up after about ten days of sleep. He rose silently, moving past Luke and the other Bears as they slept. He made his way out of the hut and to the edge of den territory without being noticed. George was there, sitting, looking out on the Tundra toward the ocean, waiting for a love that had not returned. He had stayed transformed since the day Marty and Matt took off.  He was there with his nose to the wind, waiting.

“Can you feel him Guardian?  Can you feel Marty out there?” asked the huge Polar Bear.

“I’ve tried, but no, I can’t locate him. My senses are off, dulled.  I’m not sure …” replied Matt.

“WHY?!” barked the Polar Bear, turning full of rage and leaning into Matt’s face.

“There was no other way,” Matt spoke gently to the Bear.

“You could have flown the plane yourself, you taught him how to fly, you Bastard! You called him to his death, you knew he was going to die!” roared George, inches from Matt’s face. 

Matt fell to his knees, “Great Polar Bear, I know how old you are. I know what Marty meant to you. If you wish to take my life for his, then do it. I can feel your pain, please spare me the horror of living with this regret and end me here on the tundra.” He put his head down to the ground with his hands outstretched in front of the large Bear. He had subjugated himself to the Bear that he had hurt; it was all Matt had left to give to make up for his actions.

George reared up on his hind feet and roared as loud as he could. Few Bears could generate such a cacophony of rage and loss alone. This would be the second time in his long life that George had done so. The sound reverberated through the valley and woke everyone. Luke was the first up, and scrambled out of the hut toward the pair. He was followed closely by Rusty and Norman. All the Bears were at a dead run, sprinting for the pair perched on the hill at the edge of the den territory. 

George looked down at the small Bear kneeling before him. He saw the crisscross of scars on his bare skin and naked body. He saw the history of battles won and lesson learned.  Looking further he saw a lamb that would lay itself to any slaughter to save the ones he loved, to protect the Bears in his keep. George roared again, lunging forward intent of killing the small Guardian. Through blinding rage and loss, George landed on his four paws over Matt, not touching him. 

“I know you’re sad. Let us go to the tundra, let us search, let us be Bears and find what cannot be found. If we are unsuccessful, may we be each other’s anchor to bring us back here, to the world that holds nothing for us anymore,” Matt said to George as he huffed and panted over him. George stepped back from over top of the smaller Bear and lowered his head to Matt’s. Matt looked up into his eyes.

“Help me find him. Even if he’s dead, I need to know for sure,” George whispered, looking at Matt. Matt nodded and stood up, transforming into his half Bear form. 

“Wait, where are you going?  What are you doing?” barked Luke, reaching the pair.

“Bear, I must go with George to find Marty. Stay here, we’ll return.” 

“Wait, no. You just woke up. You’re not ready for this, or anything for that matter. You… You..,” Luke stammered.

Matt smiled big and stepped toward him, “I’m fine, better than I’ve been in years. Please wait here, we’ll be back. I must do this. I must find the Cub that has been lost; the Cub that brought me here, the one that sacrificed without hesitation to save the life of the Kermode.” Matt walked over and grabbed a hold of Luke. 

About the same time, Rusty and Norman made it to the top of the hill. Matt smiled at them, turned, and walked back to George. They both turned and started to jog off in the direction of the ocean; leaving behind everything, they were both locked into a singular mindset. On the run, Matt opened himself to the world, and reached out his senses. If there were even a trace, they would find it. The Bears ran without pause. They surveyed every hilltop, every valley. They left no cave unchecked. 

Days passed. The two ate on the run and slept very little. On the fourth day, they crested a mountain and found the wreckage of a plane. It was a landing skid. Both Bears looked into the valley below and could see smoke coming from wreckage, a campfire. George roared into the valley. Seconds passed, and then the roar was returned. Both Bears leapt from the summit and charged down the mountain. Reaching the bottom, the crumbled remains of the aircraft could be seen through the snow and the fuselage of the aircraft was broken in half but on its side, the cockpit had been sheared in half as well. Marty hobbled out to meet the two.

George barreled toward the Cub, almost knocking him over from his excitement as they met. He was on top of him, licking him all over when Matt reached them. Marty had been badly hurt in the crash. His left rear paw was missing and his right arm was severed at the elbow. Matt stayed back, out of the way. George would realize his injuries soon, and was sure to be upset.  Matt hung back, on guard, just out of reach, worried at how George would react.

“You’ve been hurt,” George chuffed.

“Yes, but I’m alive. Are Rusty and Norman safe?” he asked.

“Yes they are. Everyone’s at the Arctic Den with many others. Many have come to give witness to the Kermode and the Guardian,” George chuffed, while transforming into his half Bear. 

“Witness?” questioned Marty sitting up, looking over at Matt. Matt had stepped away from both of them and was dancing on his toes. Marty could tell he was on edge.

“The guardian saved the Kermode from death. He saved the Cubs from a brutal end and made sure that help would follow. He saved the one you call Norman, and killed all the Bears that opposed him. He sacrificed his life so that Norman could be healed. After, the Great Bear came and gave life back to the Guardian, beckoning him to a different calling. He was asleep until five days ago, when we came looking for you. My love, I’m glad you are alive, but saddened at your condition. Have you tried to change and let yourself heal?” George spoke like an old Bear trying to translate in his head as he spoke, trying to make the right words come out.

“I haven’t shifted forms yet; I was waiting until the rest of my body healed. I’m glad you are here, I’m glad you found me, but how? The direction I took wasn’t a path to the ocean. I was off course and crash landing in the blizzard.”

“The guardian led us here. He said that the world told him where you were. He showed us the path, the path was paved in light is what he said,” George chuffed, looking back at Matt who was backing away. 

“Matt come here,” Marty said.

Matt hesitated and then walked over, “I don’t have words…”

“It’s ok; just get me back where I can eat. The penguin I shot last week has long worn off,” Marty chuckled. They all laughed as they loaded Marty on George and headed back to the Arctic Den. 

The trio arrived a few days later to loving fanfare and more questions from the Elders.  Matt was asked to meet with them as soon as he arrived; during this meeting the Elders grilled Matt on what happened and why he did what he did. At the end of it, Matt was left a bit hollow by the questioning. Boris and Vic did speak in his defense, but others found his utter destruction of the Bears distasteful and deeply troubling. He had defended the Den, protected the Elder, the Kermode, and the Cubs. Why did it feel like he was being told he was wrong? That night, Rusty, Norman, Matt and Luke left the Arctic Den and trekked south. They made the journey as Bears, together. Matt walked away from everything; he was at a turning point. Luke was following closely, but not at his side. Matt seemed different to everyone. The four would journey all the way south to their home. It was time for reflection and decisions for all.

Full Circle

Many seasons later, four Bears lumbered through the thick Canadian forest not at any fast pace. There was no schedule they had to keep, nowhere that they needed to be. They were just being Bears, foraging for food, walking, sniffing, sleeping and eating. Matt was in the front, leading the way. Luke, Rusty and Norman were somewhere behind him. If anyone had seen them, it would have been an odd combination of Bears; a massive Polar Bear, an equal sized Grizzly and two smaller Bears, silver and white. In the past four weeks or so, they had covered a long distance and were making their way back home. After the events at the Arctic Den, they had all settled at Matt and Luke’s home. The space and the area suited everyone nicely, with ample room for guests. 

Matt crested a small hill and saw the campsite. The Guardian had created Bear campsites all over their land and some in untamed areas. They were caves, hidey-holes, and spots that a Bear could go without being disturbed. This one was adjacent to the Trans Canadian Highway.  Vehicle traffic could be heard, but not seen. There was a logging road below them and a clearing that state loggers and road maintenance workers used for equipment. However, that clearing was now vacant and the area was quiet. 

Matt made it to the campsite and sniffed around; all was in order and quiet. He chuffed loudly behind him and waited. A soft chuff was returned and Luke crested the hill a few moments later followed by Rusty and Norman. Entering the stone circle they lapped water from a large trough that Matt had fashioned from stone. It was Bear sized and held gallons of rainwater. The site itself was on a ledge, overlooking a sheer rock face about forty feet above the clearing below. Matt had dug out the ledge to make it Bear sized, with a cave in the back. As with anything he built, there were a few supplies and some emergency gear concealed and stowed in the cave. After drinking their fill, they all settled down in a rough circle and fell asleep.

Matt’s dreams were awash with red hues, black shapes, dark places. He was walking as his Bear, out of the blackness and into the light; the darkness was pursuing him again, beckoning him back to the abyss. He heard the jingle of bells and it was growing louder as he walked. He heard young men crying, and speaking of Inuit. As he walked he saw the Great Bear before him.  Standing on each side was a small human, not a child, but somehow not large. Matt knew they were adult, but they were small, like him. Each young human was ringing a bell. The Great Bear reared up in its hind paws and hugged the children close. As he was about to ask the Great Bear a question, sounds ripped Matt from his dreams and slammed him back to reality. He thought he might have jumped with the sounds. 

The sounds of motorcycles and vehicles coming to a screeching halt in the clearing below jerked all the Bears from their slumber. They had slept away the afternoon and the sun was setting low on the horizon. Long shadows were being cast and the sun was at their backs. All the Bears looked at each other, Luke was first to speak.

“Dreams?” chuffed the Polar Bear.

“Young ones,” the Grizzly added.

“The Great Bear,” the Kermode concurred.

They all looked at each other and silently nodded. They were being called, spurred to action. The Bears in the clearing knew to answer the call, to act without question. Below, the hoots and hollers of drunken humans reached their ursine ears. They rose and peered over the ledge at the humans below.  Down on the landing, several vehicles had pulled up and parked, surrounded by motorcycles and a larger moving type van. The humans were mulling around and starting to beat on the walls of the moving van, like they were picking at an animal in a cage.  Several more humans arrived and went to the back of the vehicle, opening the door. It looked from the Bear’s vantage like the human was trying to get someone or something out of the vehicle. The human seemed to get mad and entered the van. 

A muffled scream came from the van and the Bears watched as two small men were tossed from the van. All the Bears tensed up, and stood. Neither of the small men had a shred of clothing on. They were filthy, grimy and marks could be seen over their bodies. They looked to be children, but somehow the Bears knew they were fully-grown. Both men looked as if they were albino, with the whitest skin, blue eyes, and no body hair. They were backing away, scrambling from the human walking toward them. Forming a loose circle around them, the other humans reached out and grabbed them, hauling them over to the open bed of a truck that had pulled in. 

“Let’s see if the $5,000 we paid for you is worth it,” the grubby man said as he grabbed a hold of one of them.

The smaller man tried to fight but was no match. A backhand across the face drew blood and knocked the smaller man to the ground. The jingle of a bell was heard, a single bell tumbled from the small man’s hand. 

All the Bears stood up on their hind paws, something was happening. The man was unzipping his pants and walking toward the small man he had slapped to the ground. “Time to earn your keep,” he said as he walked forward aggressively. The other Albino scrambled to his side and grabbed the bell and started ringing it. 

Yelling at the top of his lungs; “Pah-tat-gah-miet teht-ah Kakorotak Nane-Tak.” He yelled this while ringing his bell. Both white Bears looked at each other and leapt over the landing, without hesitation, and without cause for safety, they reacted. Luke and Rusty both hit the ground at a dead run, roaring loudly. Norman and Matt looked at each other, and peeled off in opposite directions to cover the flanks. None of these humans would escape. None of them would survive. The protectors of the young ones had been called, they had answered, and the fate of the human captors was now forfeit. 

The young man was yelling, “White Bears Help Us.” and ringing the bell. The Bears knew what they had to do. The Great Bear wants these man-children saved, so they would be; these four Bears would see to that. 

Luke was the first to their side. In a vicious lunge, he crushed the human that was about to violate the young man. Rusty was next, he pounced on another human as it drew a gun on Luke. He closed his powerful maul on the man’s neck, almost biting his head off. The two white Bears circled the two young ones, growling and snapping at the gang. They put themselves in between the young men and danger. A few of the humans started to open fire at the Bears, who had encircled the boys and were lying on top of them, protecting them from harm and gunfire. The humans didn’t even see the two half Bears coming at them at a dead run from either side. 

Matt and Norman finished the fight, shifting to half-form as they moved. Norman had become quite the fighter and protector of his mate since Matt had healed him. They made quick work of the gang members, leaving just one scrambling backward toward a vehicle. Matt approached, his eyes glowing blue, his talons flexing, teeth showing. It was time for answers. 

He pounced on the human and dug his talons into his shoulder. The human screamed as Matt half lifted him from the ground. 

“Why?” Matt growled.

“We bought them in Montana. We bought them. They are wild; speak a different language. A farmer sold them to us,” the human blathered as he looked around at Norman dragging another dead gang member by its head, his talons still dug into the human’s skull.

“Where?” Matt growled again, dropping the human to the ground.

“Bozeman … Bozeman, Montana,” the human cried as he defecated on himself. 

Rusty and Luke had started to cuddle the young men and lick them all over. The healing saliva of the Werebears was settling them, closing the cuts, washing away the bruises and erasing the past from their skin. The Bears lay on their sides, like mother Bears nursing Cubs. The little humans were snuggling on their soft fur, and talking to one another. 

“Children,” Matt growled, while stooping down to meet the human’s eyes.

“Papers … we got their papers in the car. They’re 18,” sputtered the human.

“Anyone else coming?” Matt spoke in human voice, locking eyes with the human.

“Yes, please don’t….” the human said, but was cut short as Matt grabbed him by the throat.

Norman had made it to the car and retrieved the papers. He chuffed at them. “They are twins, both 19 years old; William and Zachery Meyers. The birth certificates are from Bozeman, Montana. Nothing else is here.”

Matt looked up in the sky at the clouds that were circling them, he felt the energy around them, and looked at the two young men sitting safely with the Bears. He knew what the dream was telling him. The next generation of Guardians was coming; the worlds of Bears and Humans would collide in the future, and these two would be the gatekeepers, the protectors, and the peacemakers.

“Leave the papers here. These two are no longer part of the human world; they will be Cubs. Leave no tracks, leave no trace,” Matt chuffed as he looked into the human’s eyes and smiled. The soft crack of the human’s neck was the only sound heard and the human fell away from Matt’s hand. 

In the distance, the sound of motorcycles could be heard coming their way; the Bears looked at each other. Matt walked over to the two men, who stood up and hugged him. They had no fear of them. He bent down and started to speak to them in Inuit; he told them they would be safe, that no harm would come to them. He asked if they were ok and they nodded at him. He asked if they could hold onto the Bears fur and ride. They smiled, turned and all but ran at the two Bears that had risen to their feet. 

As they turned around to climb onto Luke and Rusty, Matt caught them talking to one another. They were arguing over who was to be their father or Pash-ma-tah. Matt stood and spoke to his furry family. 

“Bears, we run. We must take these two to the Western Native Village where they will be safe; they must arrive before the first snow. We must make this Journey as Bears and they must stay in our care. Others are seeking them, so we must hurry. We can leave no tracks; we can leave no trace. These two are destined for great things, and we have been tasked to protect them,” Matt chuffed at them in Bear speak. His family nodded and started to move off and climb back to the landing. Matt paused and looked around, Norman had moved fast. He had been decisive and deadly. Guardian blood had changed him eight years ago, when Matt saved his life.  Norman would always be able to protect his mate and they would soon have a Cub.

At the landing, the Bears huddled down and listened to the humans arrive at the carnage.  There were obscenities shouted and words of disbelief. The Bears had lay down out of sight and huddled around the shivering young men. Going to the back of the cave, Matt and Norman unearthed a few concealed parcels. They gave the young men some of the emergency food, which they hurriedly ate and drank fresh water. Matt took a blanket, cut it in two and cut holes for their heads. Then he tucked the blanket over each of them and secured it around their waists.  He took a pair of socks, cut each in half, tied one end and placed some warmth on their feet.  Through all this Rusty and Luke were close, watching as Matt cared for them. When he was done he looked up at them.

“In the dreams, these were not children, but men. Standing here I know them. I knew them before I saw them. I knew them before they called your names. They are kin; they are Bears. Luke, Rusty, these are your Cubs; you both are to sire the next generation of Guardians. Now, we must move and fast, I can feel the humans starting to spread out into the woods and search. I’ll secure the site and meet you along the way. 

He watched the young men as they climbed onto the backs of the white Bears and moved off through the woods. He heard Luke as he started to run; the slow gate of a Polar Bear trotting was rhythmic and soft. Matt turned back to the campsite; he secured the buried supplies and cleaned the site. He paused briefly and spied over the edge, where the gang was surveying their dead and scavenging money and gear. ‘Typical humans.’ He turned, changed into his full Bear and made his way through the woods, tracking his family, reflecting on the changes to come. 

Dusk became night. The Bears made good time in the moonlight. While running Matt gathered the wind and kept the cold air off of the young men the best he could. Since he had healed Norman, his abilities had proven difficult to muster and less acute. The thin blanket he wrapped around each young man would provide some warmth, but at the speed they were traveling, it was still cold. The native animals seemed to know what was happening, acting as if they knew that the Bears were carrying precious cargo. Wolves, Deer, native Bears, and all manner of beast and fowl lined their path, clearing the way. Matt could see the energy flow as it moved through the world to guide them. Several hours into the run, Rusty tumbled loudly to a stop. His Cub, William, had lost his grip and Rusty reacted, grabbing him and taking the impact for his Cub. The sound brought all the Bears to a stop, and they circled back. Luke came back to Rusty, who was on his back with the young man curled close to his chest. 

“Pash-ma-tah, Pash-ma-tah, Pash-ma-tah …” The young William repeated, clinging tight to Rusty his eyes filled with tears. The young man was shivering heavily. Rusty curled his legs around the man, while lying on his side. He licked his head, and face washing the tears away. He snuffled to the Cub and hugged him close. 

Looking over, Zachery had slid off of Luke and much the same thing was happening.  He was repeating the same words as William, both in tears and shivering. Luke sat on his rump with a plop and snuggled the Cub close to him. Soon the soft sounds of sleep were heard from the Cubs and the Bears looked to each other, and then to Matt. 

“Norman, pile up with Rusty. I’ll lay with Luke. Keep these two warm and at first light we’ll find some berries and water for them. We made good time; we should be at the western village in a few days,” chuffed Matt. Soon, the Bears were snuggled in. Matt could tell Norman had fallen right to sleep with William between them. For some reason Matt was on edge. As Luke and Zachery slept he reached out his senses, scanning the area as far as he could. The energy of nature was circling them; the animals were distant, yet close. It was as if they were standing watch over them, guarding the ones in charge of the young men. 

Drifting off to sleep, Matt’s dreams were once again awash in dark places, screams, gunfire, and blood. He was still walking as his Bear, walking toward the sound of bells and the light. As he reached the light, the darkness returned, consumed him, drug him back down into the pit he was walking from. He woke with a jump and an audible snort. Zachery was looking at him; his eyes were bright blue, just like Matt’s. 

The small young man reached up and grabbed Matt’s muzzle. He spoke in the softest of whispers, “Pah-mah-tah Cude-me-kur Kode.” It roughly meant, father stay in the light.  Matt leaned in and licked the young man; Zachery leaned back into Luke, rolled on his side and pulled Luke’s huge paw and arm around him. Matt laid his paw across the young man as he fell back asleep. 

The morning came too fast. The Bears woke to the sounds of the young ones wrestling with each other.  They had unwrapped themselves from the Bears and were tugging and pulling at the bell, trying to get it from one another. After a few seconds, Luke chuffed and whined at them. They stopped and ran back over, proceeding to hug and love on all the Bears. Tummy scratches and muzzle rubs were given and everyone giggled for a few minutes.

Rising the young ones hopped on top of the white Bears and away they went. They paused at berry patches and a small stream to drink. The two seemed to be stronger today, more alive. Whenever the Bears would stop, the young ones would hug all the Bears. Matt kept his distance, scouting ahead and coming back for them. This kept on for the majority of the day. He watched as Luke cared for Zachery, he was nimble, not clumsy. He was caring and loving; this was a good thing.

It was getting dark; Matt had scouted ahead and found a suitable spot on a flat mesa overlooking the beginning of tundra and the entrance to the Western Tribal lands. He used his large talons to dig out a bowl impression that the Bears could lay in with the young ones. This would keep some of the wind off of them as they rested. Looking around, he noticed some small tree debris and a few other materials. He quickly constructed a lean-to structure and placed it as a windbreak. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that the Bears were almost here. He was placing rocks to secure the shelter down when they arrived. Luke and Rusty dropped to their knees and onto their bellies, panting as they did. The young ones slid off and ran over to the Guardian, hugging him in his half Bear form. They were still shivering, but would settle down soon. Norman came into camp a few minutes later with his arms full of wild berries. It looked like he had pulled up the entire bush by its roots. He had found a container along the way, and had filled it with water. The young ones waited patiently as Norman sat the foods down and then let them at it; while they were eating the Bears just looked at each other.

“Matt, what did you mean these were our Cubs?” asked Luke.

“It was the dream with the Great Bear. You will each have a Cub, they will be Guardians,” Matt spoke to them and looking at each of them.

“What do you mean? You say it like you are not part of it,” Luke said, a little sniffy and angry.

“That’s not what I meant, you two are their sires. Norman and I aren’t,” Matt plainly chuffed.

“Why the western village?” Norman asked, sitting down and giving Rusty a hug.

“The dreams; I saw the Western Village tribal sign and heard the bells of the Elders,” Matt said sitting down across from Luke. He had been distant over the last few months, even more so now. It was like he had detached himself from Luke. A chuff came from Luke and Matt looked up at him. Luke was about to cry, Matt scooted over and held the big Bear’s head. 

The young ones finished up and walked over to the Bears, “Pah-mah-tah Cude-me-kur Kode,” they both said and looked at Matt, grabbing a hold of him and squeezing tight. 

“What did they say?” Norman asked. 

“It translates into father stay in the light,” Matt said looking at them.

“Um… What?” Rusty and Norman asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure the meaning will present itself soon,” sighed Matt, but knowing exactly what he was going to do and exactly what has going to happen. The light and dark are two sides of a coin. They represent a choice. For the second time, Matt would have to make a choice and this time it would be to leave or to stay with them. He had been feeling out of place, out of sorts, not comfortable with the world of humans. This world held little that he desired nothing that he needed, and more conflict than joy. If it had not been for his love of Luke, and the closeness he felt toward Rusty and Norman, Matt would have faded away long ago, away from everything and everyone.

“Let’s get these two to sleep and catch some rest. Tomorrow we will be at the Village and these two will be safe,” Matt spoke and hugged Luke close. The Bears and Cubs curled up in the pit that Matt had dug. The windbreak/shelter that he built worked as intended; the breeze was calm in the pit, everyone slept soundly and kept very warm. 

In the morning, the Bears woke and looked at each other. The young ones were soundly sleeping where they had come to rest the night before. Wrapped in fur, surrounded by love, and submerged in the warmth that is family. 

“We need to wake them,” Norman chuffed quietly.

“I know, but he’s so warm and safe,” whined Luke.

“Yes, wake them. We need to get moving, I fear that the snow is almost on us,” Matt chuffed, standing and stretching while looking over at the sky. 

Luke and Rusty licked their Cubs awake; they woke to giggles and protest. Like mother Bears cleaning their young, the two cleaned the young ones from head to toe. After, they climbed on and departed. Matt had already gone ahead to speak with the village Elder. He had awoken on edge; he knew this was going to be a turning point. 

In the Inuit village, the Elder was also a Bear. He had lived in this place for his entire life. Matt had met him during a long trek, they met on the magical tundra to the north; a place that Matt would come to know as the hunting grounds. It was a place that old-Bears eventually came to; they were either told of the place or were drawn to it. When Bears tire of the world of humans or have lost the will to move forward, they come here. They come to hunt, to live, and to die. They forget the human world and everything that goes along with it.

Matt came to the clearing at the edge of the Village and waited to be seen. He sat down and waited. A few tribes-men alerted the Elder, who walked out to meet him. The Elder stopped and bowed before Matt and he returned the gesture. 

“I have been expecting you, silver one.” spoke the Elder.

“Two Young ones have been entrusted to us, we bring them here for safety and to learn the ways, the ways of life,” Matt chuffed.

“I have seen them in dreams, the Great One told me of your arrival. We have made preparations. Silver one, the darkness is coming for you, you must meet it. You will have to choose. You can no longer walk in both worlds.” The Elder said, getting to his feet.

The Elder took a long bone necklace from his satchel and hung it around Matt’s neck. The necklace was a totem, a warning to the darkness that this Bear was needed, he was wanted, and he was deserving of life. Matt rose to his feet, and placed a paw on the Elders shoulder. Turning the Elder beckoned Matt into the camp and to a large fire that was burning. The villagers brought large bowls of water and fermented meats. He drank deep and ate politely.  After, he sat back and chuffed a thank you at the villages for their generosity.

About the same time, the others emerged from the tree line and walked cautiously toward the village. The young ones had sat up, riding the Bears as if they were horses. There was much conversation among the villagers. Two white Bears, carrying two white haired, blue-eyed young men was a site for anyone. Walking into camp, Luke was weary; he had not been to this place before. The villagers came to the Bears, touching them as they moved. They stopped at the fire by Matt’s side, panting, and waiting.

The Elder spoke to them, “White ones, you can leave the young ones with us. We will protect and teach them for a season. When you return they will be ready for you, ready to be as you are, ready to be with you.”

Luke reared up, backing away. “No, I’ll not leave him,” he bellowed, turning to run. Matt moved to block his path.

“Luke, this is the way. They must stay here; we have to ensure their safety. We have much to do while they learn and grown,” Matt spoke softly to his Bear. 

Luke growled and roared in Matt’s face. He reared back and swatted Matt across the muzzle, knocking him to his knees. Everyone at the clearing jumped. Luke roared again at the smaller Bear, who was now on his knees before the massive Polar Bear. The other Bears and villagers backed away. This was a personal matter between two Bears; a mated pair. Everyone knew Matt was holding back and that he could easily kill if needed, but that was not an option.

Matt got up and chuffed at his Bear. “Luke, this is the way…”  Luke swatted him again.  This time the impact took Matt over to his side and slid him a few feet on the ground. 

Luke roared and gnashed his teeth, snapping at everyone around him. Zachery was still on his back, holding on tightly. Matt got back to his feet; the last swat had ripped Matt’s face from ear to muzzle in three long lines of blood. 

Matt stepped back up to Luke. “Bear, this is the way. You must leave him. We must prepare and make their home safe. Please…” Matt chuffed as blood flowed from his face and dripped to the ground. It steamed as it touched the semi frozen soil. 

Luke roared again and reared back. This time intervention came from an unlikely place.  William had gotten off Rusty and scooted in front of Matt, holding out his hands. 

“Pash-ma-tah Me-ut!” William yelled at Luke, ringing the bell he held.

The great Polar Bear looked at the young man, standing naked, cold, on frozen soil, with his hands outstretched to stop him. The young one had no fear. He had acted without hesitation, selfless; just like Matt would have done. Luke whined loudly, looking over at Matt, who was still bleeding; the wounds were healing but very slowly. He whined again, and knelt to let Zachery slide off. As the Elder came to take the young ones, Matt limped off out of the camp, leaving them. He heard the Elder talking to them, but his part in this was over. He had fulfilled his part of the dream. He had delivered the young ones; he was done. Done with everything, it was time to move on.

He stopped at a small stream not too far from the village and dunked his muzzle and face in the water. Shaking his head under the water, he washed away the blood and cleaned his wounds. When he stopped and caught his reflection in the calming water, he saw a different being; dark, evil and angry. Three new scars had been added to his body, yet another reminder of what he was. He noticed that the totem the Elder had given him had been torn away in the exchange. He walked a bit more and then just lay down on the frozen, cold ground, under the clearing star filled sky. The northern lights danced on the horizon as he faded from this world. He was tired, so tired; the will to move had left his body. The need to be with brothers and kin slipped from his being; he was again broken. As he lay on the frozen ground, dreams took him again. 

The cold of the tundra faded away. Matt was sitting still, the darkness was circling him. Flashes of light were pushing the darkness away, but the darkness was winning. It swirled around him, wrapping itself around him, covering his fur, pulling him down to the ground. Matt was letting go; he wasn’t fighting anymore. He just didn’t have the will to live anymore; his reason for living had struck him. Luke had given into blind rage and struck him. This was the one thing that Matt could no longer forgive.

Light came to the dream. Slowly, it filled his dream until it was bright, it was so warm.  Two young men appeared on either side of him. They ripped and tore the darkness away from his silver fur. Pulling Matt to his feet, they gripped his sides, making him walk, making his four paws move along the ground. They pulled him, kept him up, kept him moving forward away from the darkness. The dark would not have Matt this day; he would not will himself to die just yet. 

The dream faded as someone was rubbed Matt’s ears. He opened his eyes to the young ones. They were kneeling next to him, both naked to the cold. Each had an ear, rubbing gently. Matt whined at them, chuffed and lifted his head. They hugged him close and kissed his muzzle.  Zachery rubbed the lines on his face. The new scars were still tender. He leaned over and kissed each one. The Bears came to Matt’s side and leaned over him. Norman and Rusty nosed Matt to get up. He only whined and lay there.

From behind them a growl was heard, Luke lumbered up and over top of Matt. He lay on top of him and put his head by Matt’s ear. Chuffing and nuzzling the small silver Bear he whispered, “I’m sorry for what I did. Please forgive me?”

“You three need to leave and head for home. I have other business to attend to,” Matt chuffed looking around him, standing as he did so. Luke was bumped off and away. Matt turned to face them, his demeanor no longer loving or caring, he had changed, something had snapped.

“Go home, prepare the house and ensure the grounds are secure. Go. Go now!” Matt said.  A glow was behind his eyes; the only one that knew this look was Rusty. Rusty, seeing this took a few steps back behind Norman.

Matt leaned over and licked each of the young ones and then trotted away, in a different direction than they had come. The Bears watched him leave; they looked at each other. Luke started to snuffle and turned away back to the village. He knew what he had done. He knew that Matt had been distant for reason, and that he may have just crossed the final line in Matt’s heart. Too much pain had passed between them; too much anger had been pent up and not dealt with. This was the straw that broke him.

One Last Try

Once the cubs had been settled into the village and the bears had assured their well being, Luke paced around like a caged animal. Nothing Norman or Rusty said seemed to reach him – the new cubs were safe and outside his immediate control, as Matt had demanded, so his mind spun once again in a vicious loop, without Matt there to comfort him. He would find Matt and fix everything. He’d pick him up and carry him back to the village or home or wherever so they could talk and fight and make everything right. He needed Matt, and he wouldn’t give up.

His mind made up, he shifted to his full bear form and lifted his face to the wind, casting his senses out. Some part of him could always find Matt, and he knew what direction he had to set out in.

Despite his usual lack of grace, when he truly let the Polar Bear take over, Luke could move with the stealth and silence of a natural predator. He slipped from the village unnoticed by all with incredible ease and picked up speed. He let the human part of him slip away, letting his ursine mind focus only on finding his mate, his other half. Miles rolled away, through several twists and turns, when suddenly his sense of Matt was gone. Matt had somehow sensed his pursuit and was shielding from him or something was blocking Luke from him. Yet he would not be denied his mate. Raising himself on his hind legs, he cast his senses again, battering at the invisible shields that were now somehow all around him. 

“Let me in! Let me in! You can’t hide. I will find you! I need you!” the bear bellowed into the night sky, in anguish and longing. When no reply was came, he stomped his feet against the ground of the glade he had paused in, tearing up the dirt with his claws.

“NO! I won’t have it! You need to be with me! You can’t shut me out like you always do!” the massive polar bear roared, foam and spittle flying from his mouth, before lashing out and shredding the bark on a nearby tree. His blood boiled, and he felt the shields Matt had erected bend and warp. He would break them, and he would get his way. Leaning over, he grabbed a large rock and flung it against a boulder causing it to shatter, flying shards of it cutting into his shoulder and belly.

“Damn it! I said let me in!”

“Oh, that will work. More demands, more needs. Pull it together big guy,” said a voice from in front of Luke.

Startled, Luke looked down, to see a nondescript man standing a dozen feet down the trail, leaning against a tree.

“What the hell? Who are you? Get the fuck out of my business!” Luke growled at the stranger.

“We really should talk.”

“No. He’s mine. I will have him.”

“He isn’t property, and I think you know that. Calm down.”

“He’s gone, and it’s my fault. I am getting him back!”

“Now, hold on,” the stranger said, holding out his hands in a vain human attempt to stop Luke.

“NO!” and with that, Luke let his rage flow again. Stalking up to the man, he pulled back a forepaw and took an immense swipe, without thought to the damage he could do, and not caring about consequences, as he had done to Matt earlier in the village.

But, instead of standing and taking it, the man simply ducked below the attack, shifting into quarter form faster than the eye could see. He reached up quickly as Luke overextended, grabbing his arm, and using the momentum of the large bear as well as enhanced musculature, flipped the bear over and up into the air, to land hard on his back and knock the wind out of him.  The man walked over, fisted his hand and proceeded to punch Luke square in his Polar Bear nose.

The shock and pain of this pushed Luke back to his senses immediately, and a ripple of energy coruscated over his body, from nose to tail. He found himself in half form – still furry and warm in the cold, but no longer full bear.

“Will you listen now?”

Still a bit dazed, Luke could only reply with a grunt and nod of his head.

“Good. I really despise shopping for clothes and shifting any further would have ruined these. I won’t take much of your time. And I won’t stop you. But, I will give you something to think about.”

“Please, I just need to be with Matt, to fix things.”

“That’s exactly it. Some things can’t and shouldn’t be fixed. Some things need time to heal or evolve on their own. Do you trust Matt?”

“With my life.”

“Do you love him?”

“With my heart and soul.”

“Does he love you?”

“Yes, deeply. I know he does. He shows it all the time.”

“Then why did he go?” The stranger asked, locking his deep green eyes with Luke. 

The large bear began to shake as the reality of the statement sunk in. He began to sob. “Because I am not worthy of his love …”

The man sighed, walked over and tossed an arm around Luke’s shoulder. “No, love isn’t about worthiness. It just is. And that maybe part of the problem. You both let each other get away with a lot. You need him too much. He needs you to need him too much and then he resents it. If any two bears need to be together, it’s you two – and if any two bears need to be separated, it’s you two.”

Luke started to calm down, “What do I do then?”

“That’s up to you. If it was me, I’d say grow up. Do what you must to raise this new cub right. Trust Matt to do what is right for Matt – because he truly can’t do what is right for anyone else until he figures that out.”

“But I want him with me!”

“Look, are you unable or unwilling to be his mate? You’re behaving like a spoiled cub; do you truly think that’s all a mate is? If you are able to be his mate, then is that what you want to be.”

Luke considered this, and realized with a start that ever since Matt had been raped, parts of both of them had shut down to each other, covered over by the emotional scars they both bore, protecting each other from the hurt they felt instead of sharing it. Finally, their relationship had turned to one of need rather than growth and nurturing.

“You’re right. I have to let him work this out himself, and support whatever he wants, even if it is to start fresh. If only I knew he still could find it in his heart to love me, after all I’ve done. I won’t follow him. But, I will hope for his return with each breath I take.”

The man kissed Luke on his forehead. “Wisely said.  Now go back and help everyone pick up the pieces, including you.”

Oddly calm, Luke turned and started back to the village pondering the conversation as he shifted more fluidly than he ever had before into full Bear form. The encounter took on a dream like quality in his mind as newly fallen snow swirled around the man until he was no longer visible.

The man watched as Luke trotted away, exhaling deeply; he looked up at the clearing sky. He was sure he would be swatted for this later. “Okay Little Brother, you are safe, none will pursue you, see you soon,” he said, to the chilly air. Turning and pulling his hood over his head, and tucking his arms in his tunic, he walked down the darkened path.

The Final Choice

‘Matt’s End’

The journey south was hard; Matt didn’t stop for rest or food. He spent the time reflecting on all the harm, angst, and pain that were part of their relationship. He knew that he loved Luke deeply, but that love had been nicked, scared, broken, and torn. He had protected Luke from other Bears, saved his life, and waited on him paw for paw; he cuddled him and loved him, but Luke was always the taker. He was always the one that needed to be in control. He was always the one that Matt bowed to, bent to, and swayed to. These feelings had turned from something that Matt could live with, to more of a feeling of disgust, a sick feeling, and a negative emotion.  Matt had withdrawn slowly; first to his private den. Then he made long treks away from Luke. He would always return and when he did Luke would be happy to see him for a time, but that faded and the angst would return. It was like a constant disdain came from Luke; it flowed out of him in every word, in every mannerism. Being a Bear and living for a longer time, the small things become magnified. 

Matt crested the hill and saw David’s cabin in the distance. There was smoke coming from the single chimney and a snowmobile parked on the side. The cabin was on the edge of the Canadian Badlands; untamed country. He approached, stopped at the bottom of the steps, and chuffed an ursine ‘Hello’. Some rumbling came from inside and David stepped through the door. 

“Hey Matt, what the heck brings you out here?” David remarked, in his half Bear form.

“Need to get my gear. I have some things to take care of,” replied Matt.

“Your locker is in the basement, right where yah left it. Care for some dinner?  I actually brought a case of oranges with me this time. Guess I knew you were coming,” the tan grizzly smiled and stepped out to hug Matt, who had transformed back to his human form. 

“That would be nice, it really would,” Matt said as he hugged the larger Bear tightly.  Leaning back, David looked the small Bear in the eyes, and traced the red scars on his face. Neither of them said anything, but both knew how he got them. Only one Bear could get this close to Matt and do harm and David already knew who it had been.

Inside, Matt tore through most of the oranges, peels and all, while filling David in on what was happening. He related the story about the young ones and the dreams and what had happened with Luke in the village. He vented to David, got it all off his chest. He yelled a little.  He swore a little, and cried a lot. To anyone else, seeing a Guardian in such a state of emotional upheaval would have been strange. To David, it was just Matt. He and David had become more than just great friends over the last 50 years or so. They had met quite by accident. Matt had been out on a trek and they bumped into each other, literally. It had been raining, and Matt was working his way to one of his campsites. When he arrived another Bear had taken shelter; it was David. After the normal growls, barks, and Bear greetings, life was good. David came back with Matt and stayed for a while, then lumbered off. He and Matt would always seem to meet when Matt needed to talk, or vent. When the world had been too much, or the responsibilities of being a Guardian taxed him beyond measure, David would show up. 

“So what are yah going to do when you find the parents of the young ones?” David asked.

“Kill them,” Matt said plainly. 

“You’ve got to be kidding. You don’t kill out of emotion or whim, only when you are in danger or threatened,” David repeated the sentence spoken long ago.

“They sold their children David. They will not have my pity or remorse,” Matt said getting to his feet, obviously upset. His body had blushed and he was starting to transform again. 

“Whoa-now, calm the hell down. If you want to go smash something, there are lots of logs out back that need splitting,” David smiled over his muzzle, lighting his pipe, making smoke rings as he went. 

“Sorry David, I meant no aggression. I’ve been an emotional wreck lately,” Matt said, slumping back down on the floor cushions.

“It’s quite all right. You know you’re welcome here, and in any state. At least I’m not trying to keep you alive this time, with bullet holes all through you,” David said with a snicker.

  Matt chuffed at the Bear and lay back on the cushions, transforming to his half Bear. He looked up and winked at David, rolled over and whined at the old Bear. Nothing more needed to be said between the two. They enjoyed each other for many hours, until both were snoring by the fire. Matt didn’t dream this night; he floated over the abyss, warm and safe.

David’s Dream

As David lay on the floor cushions slowly and gently rubbing Matt’s side and back, his mind drifted; wound back the clock of memory to a time just after they met, but really not that long ago in Ursine years. He and Matt had met during a horrible rain shower in one of Matt’s caves. After, he had accompanied Matt back to his home. Unlike most Bear dens, his mate Luke was terribly hostile toward him, all while trying to get Matt away and shield him. Mentally he chuckled at that, Matt and Luke were a mated pair and nothing was going to mess that up, unless one of those two choose to make a change. 

In that thought, anger washed over David as he looked down at the sleeping Bear. A soft, almost un-noticeable glow had formed around the little sleeping Bear and was edging around David as well. He knew it was nothing to be scared of, it was Matt’s connection to nature kicking in, and he was healing himself. As he kept rubbing, he noticed the scars and smaller cuts disappearing and the bruises that seemed to be all over his body vanished. In a grunting, whining movement, David watched as one of Mat’s ribs reset and pulled back into its place. A long sigh escaped Matt’s muzzle, since he had shifted into a partial form, not quite human, not quite bear, and not half form either. David had just accepted that Matt was special and this was just one of the strange things that came along with it. The little Bear started to make a cub trill, and spooned closer into and almost under the larger bear. David, shifting very smoothly to his half-grizzly form, nuzzled the little bear under him, almost completely wrapping him in his soft, very long fur, and listened to Matt as he started to snore, just a soft, snoring, whisper … he was finally sleeping. 

Reaching over with a massive paw, David tossed another log on the fire, and tended to it gently and quietly through the night. Still holding onto Matt as the darkening sky turned black; as the morning light touched the trees, and then flooded the room where they were laying in. All through this night, David thought of Luke, and how he despised how he treated Matt, but respected Matt for how he truly believed Luke could be better and would be, given enough time.  David loved Luke because Matt loved Luke and that simple truth still held true all these years later. David resigned himself to be there for Matt when he needed, and if the opportunity ever arose, to scoop up the Cub and watch after him. After all, Matt did a lot of caring for others and it wasn’t very often that someone cared, truly cared, for him. 

Fate comes in the Morning

Morning came at a lazy pace; Matt woke to the soft stroke of David’s paw on his side. He had pulled Matt close to him by the fire during the night, and had not let go of him. A soft moan from Matt spurred David to nuzzle his ears and nibble his neck.

“Keep doing that and I may never leave,” Matt said slyly.

“That’s the idea. If I was about 400 years younger, I would give that Bear of yours a run for his money,” David said, letting Matt go. 

“You know we’re mated,” Matt said while stretching.

“Yeah, I know. You’re too good of a Bear for him, why the hell does he treat you like shit?” asked David a little annoyed.

“Do we have to go into this again?”

“No, not really, but…. Damn it…. Nothing,” David rolled over onto his feet and walked out the door. The door slammed behind him.

“Screwed that up again, damn it,” Matt cursed and kicked the air. 

Looking through the window, he could see David outside, throwing logs around. Matt turned, picked up the food mess and headed to the shower. For a cabin in the badlands, this place had all the comforts of home. The shower was ample and warm. He let the soft rainfall of warm water wash away the pain; he let the water cleanse his mind as it did his furry body. His ears picked up the door opening and a huffing Bear walking in. David was sweaty and teary. No words were said as Matt walked out of the shower, kissed David deeply and led him into the falling water. He scrubbed the Bear from muzzle to tail. After he led David to the bedroom and snuggled down with him.  They kissed and enjoyed each other again.  This time it was Matt’s turn to hold the older Bear. David was much older than he let on; he was one of the ancient ones.  Like so many of the old ones, he was alone. He had lost his mate and couldn’t find a new one.  David had hinted for years that he liked Matt and wanted to spend more time with him, but duty and responsibility had always pulled him away.

As the old Bear fell asleep, Matt watched him for a while and then eased out of bed. He pulled a soft blanket over the old Bear, and walked out of the room silently. He made his way to the kitchen and grazed on the fruit and foods that were left out. Then, he went to the basement. The cabin was actually the same model and plan used for Matt and Luke’s home. Matt had enlarged and enhanced the design; so finding his way was no problem at all.

Right where he left it was a large locker on the far wall of the basement behind David’s stuff. Matt keyed in the code and the lock clicked back. Inside was a small assortment of Guardian gear. He started to dress for the trek back; a body suit to mask his scent, jeans, a light sweater, weapon rig, jacket, boots and gloves. His hands fluttered over the firearms, but left them in the cabinet and instead he selected blades and a staff. Something told him the guns wouldn’t be needed on this adventure. Before he left, he opened a small compartment and took several hundred dollars, a checkbook, and some pocket change, and shoved it all into a backpack. A passport and documents were added next.  He had a few identities he could use; this seemed like the best time to burn one. Closing the cabinet, he locked it and made his way upstairs to the kitchen. As he turned the corner, David was standing in the doorway. 

“Don’t leave,” he whined.

“I have to see this through. I have to meet the parents that sold their children to the slaughter,” Matt responded.

“When you finish, come back this way. I’ll be waiting.”

“I will, in one way or another,” smiled Matt as he walked past the large Bear and patted his belly.

“I know what you are going to do … throwing your life away so Luke can start over is bullshit. Do you hear me?  Bullshit! You’re worth more to the world. You are worth more… more… to me,” David broke down in sobbing tears, putting his massive paws over his eyes. 

Matt paused at the door, looked back at the sobbing Bear and smiled. Then he pulled his sunglasses over his eyes and walked out the door.

As he walked away, Matt heard crashing and the breaking of things from the cabin. He could feel the anguish of the Bear behind him. It saddened him, chilled him to his core. He started to jog; he needed to move away faster. At the end of the long path to the cabin was an ample garage and storage facility. He keyed in the code and let himself in. In the back corner, Matt had placed two vehicles, a Jeep and a Bike. Looking out on the now clear road, he chose to take the bike. With everything that Matt had built or placed, the vehicles were special. The bike was a custom Ducati; it was ported, silenced and could run without any lights. It was painted a soft, soft matte black; there wasn’t one shiny surface on the bike. Unhooking the charger and securing the panel, he grabbed his helmet, and rolled the bike past the rest of the garage clutter. The bike started without a problem and Matt was on his way in short order. The road leading to civilization was twisty and quiet. The sun was to his back; he relaxed and rode the bike like a pro. He thought back to the years when he accompanied Luke on runs with other Bears. Being so small, he never fit in or looked the part. After a few gnarly situations, Matt stopped going with him. It was better that way. In all honesty, Matt was the better rider. He was technical, and accurate. He rode the bike to its potential, not over it. He could pick his way through traffic and around just about anything. Other riders were left literally ‘in his dust.’

Dry Your Eyes

A hooded figure crested the top of the hill, looking down at David’s cabin. This figure was an average looking Bear of a man, who cared for Matt just as much as David did. He was tracking Matt, making sure his path was clear. He was surprised that Matt was already gone; he had once again underestimated his speed. As he drew closer, he could see there was still smoke coming from the chimney, but the door hung off the hinges at an odd angle and several windows were broken out of the cabin. David was outside in his half form, kneeling on the ground with his bloody paws at his sides, cursing in varied languages. As the figure drew closer, David caught his scent and turned to face him.

“He’s going to do it, he’s going to give himself up and move on. I couldn’t stop him. He wouldn’t stay. Luke … fight … cubs … parents … killing …” David sputtered, crying loudly. 

“Calm down ancient one, calm yourself. I won’t let that happen,” spoke the Bear as he moved closer and kneeled to take the arm and paw of the ancient Bear. As soon as they touched David was calmed and his self-inflicted wounds started to close. In short order David healed and they were hugging each other. David told the Bear what had happened and what Matt was going to do. After they stood up the Bear helped David make some repairs and clean up both the outside and inside of the cabin; it took them the better part of three days to finish.

During that time the two old Bears enjoyed each other quite thoroughly. They spoke and laughed about Matt, comparing their notes. They were both shocked at the seemingly child-like fascination for new things that Matt possessed, and how selfishly he loved and cared for Luke. 

“You know, for a Bear your age, you sure do fuck pretty well,” David remarked with a wide smile as he came back into the living room with fresh beers for the two of them.

“Well you have to work it good, I’m not as gifted as you in the size department, but I wiggle the bait pretty well,” retorted the average Bear. 

“You learned from the best. So, how are those other two Bears doing? I almost never see them anymore,” David asked as he rubbed a hind paw down the leg of the other Bear.

“They are horny as always. They stick pretty close to the den these days. Looks like I get all of the yeoman’s work,” chided the other Bear, through a smile.

“You mentioned earlier that you stopped Luke from hunting Matt down. Did you beat some sense into that Bear?” David asked his voice laced with sarcasm. Given a different time and place David had considered challenging Luke at the annual gathering, but had always thought better of it, for Matt’s sake.

“Yeah, I stopped him, gave the big Bear some things to think about, and sent him back to the village. Before you ask, no; I didn’t beat anything into him. I just actively persuaded him to listen, and he did.” 

“Yeah, right; and I’m part Werewolf. Okay, I’ll let it go, just as long as I know Matt is safe. After talking to you, I think I will lumber over to their den and check on things” David replied.

“That’s a good idea. I would pick up Pat and Alec on your way, those two have watched Matt just like you have,  and they need to know where he is headed,” replied the Bear as he rolled over to all fours, and made the transition to Black Bear. 

“Well look here, if you want some more of this old Bear, well good, I want some more of you in return,” David replied, downed his beer, and made his transition to a tawny Grizzly. The two mature Bears enjoyed each other throughout the night and woke peacefully in the morning. 

  With the work done both Bears said farewell to each other. One went east to gather Bears for a trek, and the other set off toward the Hunting Grounds. It would be there that this Average Bear would meet Matt face-to-face for the first time. Inside he chuckled; he had watched Matt for many years this was going to be fun.

Riding and Thinking

After several hours of riding and being lost in thought Matt pulled off to refuel and to stretch. It had been some time since he had been near humans so he took it easy, walked slowly and kept quiet. He stood for a few minutes and watched the news ticker before he proceeded on his way. When leaving he started to center more and pull back his senses, he had forgotten how disjointed humans were. Their energy patterns and emotions were all over the place. Soon he pulled up at an obscure border crossing. It wasn’t on any official map, but most werecreatures used this spot to cross back and forth. Brothers were a little more forgiving on a Bear using a passport that was 100+ years old. As Matt pulled up, he saw a few familiar faces; Pat and Alec. They were not a couple or a mated pair, but the two had been together since before Christianity. They were old Bears. When he had met the two, he’d caught them speaking Latin to each other; it was by a fluke that he recognized the syntax. They kept that to themselves and accepted Matt for what and who he was. It was nice to never be judged. He could just relax around them and that was good.

“Salve Et Die Bona … I think,” Matt said after pulling up to the barrier and removing his helmet.   

“Matt … Matt … Matt, nice to see you, what are you up to?” Alec jumped from the little security shack and just about took Matt off the bike with a Bear hug. 

“I have some things to attend to,” Matt smiled, trying to hold the bike upright with the Bear hug onslaught.

“I think he is on a mission or assignment,” Pat snarled as he leaned up against the building. He was half naked and just as furry in his human form as not. 

“Yes, I’ve some things I need to take care of. A few books I need to close and return to the library…”  Matt replied as he released Alec and looked over at Pat. He reached in his jacket and pulled out his documents.

“J’an Beu Artur,” Alec chuckled as he said it aloud looking back at Pat, patting the passport in his hands.

“John the Bear,” Pat translated, knowing this identity was a fake.

“Matt … come back this way. We’ll be waiting,” Pat said as he scanned and stamped the Passport and handed it back. Matt slid the documents back in his jacket, and put his helmet back on.

“I will brother. In one way or another,” Matt said through the helmet. He started the bike, flipped the visor down and sped away. 

“He’s not coming back this time, is he?” Alec questioned, leaning over to hug Pat.

“That passport was a burn. He isn’t planning on coming back.  He wasn’t wearing the den’s marking. He’s about to move on or do something that will cause his death,” Pat grabbed Alec tight.

“I swear, if I find out that he threw his life away for that Bear he calls a mate, I’m going to give that Bear a piece of my mind,” Alec growled through tears and sniffles. Matt had saved the two from a few tight encounters over the years. He would put himself in harm’s way to save his brothers, without hesitation. It was a quality that few had, but it seemed to pour out of Matt like water from an eternal spring. 

Matt made good time after the crossing. Riding through the night, he stopped for fuel a few more times and watched the news on the truck stop T.V.s when he could. Soon he saw the signs for Bozeman, Montana. He could feel his anger swelling. The cold feeling of darkness started to work its way into his body and mind. He wanted to kill the parents; he wanted to end them, and to erase any spark of their existence. But, first he would have to find them. As he pulled into the town he noticed several bikes and a moving van. It was the same moving van from last week. He circled a few more times. They seemed to be parked at a bar and a café that were side by side. Matt parked across the street, turned around on the bike and leaned back so he could observe.

He counted twenty or so members of the gang mulling around the bar and the café. It seemed they were eating and getting ready to move again. A passing police cruiser caught Matt’s eye. A person was in the back seat and a few members of the gang started to yell curses and shaking their fists as the car passed by.  The person in the back turned away and sank down in the seat. Matt spun around, pulled the helmet on and took off after the police car.

Following the cruiser was easy; the town center was small and the police building was right across the street from the town bank. The cruiser pulled up at the bank and escorted the older, dirty man inside. Matt’s heart sunk. This man had the same scent as the young ones, it was their father. Pulling in behind the police cruiser, Matt dropped his helmet and walked into the bank. He mulled around the bank for a few seconds and then got in line. The police officer and the man were both seated close and he could hear them. 

“What you did was wrong, selling the kids to make the mortgage payment. I know that Victoria died and the kids were strange, but you sold them. Damn it Jed, what were you thinking?” the officer chastised the man, who had his head lowered and his hat in his hands. 

“Next please,” the cashier said and Matt stepped forward.

“Hello, can you break these 100’s, I hate pulling them out at fuel stops,” Matt said and smiled to the young female. 

“Sure, not a problem,” the cashier said and looked down to work.

“Hey, what’s going on with the guy and the cop?  Is he ok?” Matt asked and leaned over the counter. He knew that town gossip could always be gathered at the bank, post office, or barbershop. 

The cashier leaned in to whisper, “No, the bank is taking the farm and property today.  His wife died about a year ago, she was the green thumb and the one that kept everything growing. They had two kids, but they were … um … special. They had the best fruit and produce for miles around. The husband had no farming skills but did all the heavy labor. They are behind on their mortgage, and he sold his kids to make the last payment. Now he is going to be hauled in for that as well,” the cashier finished and leaned back to count out the smaller bills to Matt. 

“Wow, I would never have guessed. Is that the branch manager in that office?” Matt questioned. 

“Yes, that’s Mr. Dunlin,” replied the cashier and pointed to a corner office. Matt smiled, took the bills and walked toward the office. As he walked, he passed the man and made eye contact. The man jumped, visibly shaken from seeing adult eyes that matched the children he had sold. Matt walked into the manager’s office, closed the door, and sat down.

The older, white haired man, looked up, “May I help you?” he questioned.

“No, you can’t. But, I’m going to help that man sitting out there,” Matt spoke while pulling out his checkbook and leaning forward on his desk.

“What are you talking about? That man has squirmed around this bank for long enough. What are you doing?” the manager asked as Matt reached over his desk and took a pen from the fancy gold holder in front of him.

“I’m going to write a check to this bank. I want it applied to whatever mortgage or anything that he owes, the rest I want given to a local charity in his children’s names. Also, you are to order the police officer to stop any investigation or prosecution of the man,” spoke Matt evenly, without looking up.

“His kids? Those freaks of nature…” he stopped short as Matt’s head snapped up and locked eyes with him. The color drained from the old man’s face, and his hands started to shake in fear. The human had locked eyes with the fully-grown eyes of a Guardian. Bright crystal blue eyes stared back at the man, daring him to say another word, the same eyes that both children had; the same ethereal glow behind the crystal blue that Rusty knew ebbed forward. The Darkness was there along with the urge to kill; the need for blood. 

“I’m going to let that go, it’s been ages since a human called me that. Freak…? That’s a funny one; I have killed for being called less. Here, I’m sure you will find it sufficient to cover whatever he owes. You can call the bank listed on the check and verify. Oh, and don’t worry. It won’t bounce,” Matt glared at him, standing up, and tucking the checkbook back into his jacket. 

“This is four times what he owes,” the manager stammered.

“Mr. Dunlin, do as I asked and see this done. If it’s not, or I hear that you have used the funds I’ve placed in your care differently than I ordered, I’ll come back for you. Oh, and never, ever, forget the little freaks you spoke of earlier, guess what happens when they grow up? Do you understand?” Matt growled at him while locking eyes again. The growl was low and long, Matt made sure that the human got the meaning of what he wanted done, that this was no human standing before him. 

The man nodded and didn’t say anything else. Matt pulled his glasses back over his eyes, and walked out, past the officer and the man. The officer looked up at him and was about to say something when the bank manager called them into his office. Matt walked out the bank, got on his bike and parked across the street to watch the bank.

As he sat and watched, he leaned backward on his bike, lying on the gas tank propped up on his backpack, with his feet on the rear pegs.  He was eating an apple when the officer and the man walked out of the bank. They spoke briefly to each other for a few seconds and then went in separate directions; the officer to his car and the man to his beat down truck that was parked close by. The officer looked over and saw Matt sitting there. As he left, he circled back around and parked behind Matt, blocking his exit. The officer got out of the cruiser and walked over, with a swagger that said ‘I’m a bad ass.’

“Mr. Dunlin told me what you did, mind telling me why?” the officer questioned.

“No, not really,” Matt replied, taking a bite of apple.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re in my town. Now, all I want to know is why you did that, or I may have to haul you in for registration that’s outdated,” the officer snickered and took a step forward. 

“I took pity on him,” replied Matt continuing to eat his fruit.

“Pity … pity…? He sold his kids to make the mortgage payment, who the hell are you?  Why would you care?” the officer retorted, his annoyance evident in his voice.

“The bank manager called them freaks. What was that about?”

“They were freaks; they were white haired and blue eyed, they spoke a different language and acted like animals. Their mother understood them, but no one else did. They stole food from neighbors and slept outside, like animals,” said the officer, shifting his weight and putting his hands on his hips, his hand fluttering over his sidearm.

“Really, white haired animals… let me explain something to you human… when Guardian Cubs are born their fur is white, turning to a blond as they move into adolescence.  When they reach maturity, it turns silver,” Matt spoke plainly as he reached back and flipped the short ponytail of hair so the officer could catch the color. Then he pulled his sunglasses up away from his eyes and stared at the officer while sitting up quickly.

The officer took two full steps backward, bumping into his cruiser. “Your eyes and hair, you’re like them,” he stuttered.

“Pash-me-tah Et Ode-mu Tas, yes I’m like them” Matt smiled wide, waiting for a reaction.

“Um … where are the kids?” questioned the officer.

“They’re safe.”

The officer’s radio chirped to life and the officer reached to answer, he stepping back and away from Matt as he did so. Matt spun around, put his helmet on, and started the bike. The officer moved to Matt’s side. 

“Where do you think you are going?” 

“Away from here,” Matt retorted.

“I still have questions,” the officer said, grabbing Matt’s arm.

From behind the officer, a line of loud motorcycles peeled through town. The officer did a double take and got back into his cruiser and pursued the gang members. Matt sped off after the man he had just helped. It wasn’t difficult to spot him. He was at the fuel station, filling up. Pulling up behind the man, Matt went through the motions to fill up the bike. He watched the man intently. As he finished, so did the man. Pulling out behind him, Matt hung back so he could be seen. After some winding roads and a dirt path, the truck parked in front of a simple farmhouse. Matt parked behind the truck and walked over to the house, climbed the three steps, turned around and sat down, waiting. A few seconds later, the man emerged from the house. 

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“No … not really,” Matt quipped.

“Why did you follow me?  Why did you pay off my bills?  Why did you come here?” rattled the man.

“I came to kill you for selling the young ones.”

The man took a few steps to the left and sat in a rocking chair.  “I guess I deserved that for what I did,” he said slowly rocking in his chair.

Matt took out a blade and twirled it around his hand. It fluttered over his fingers and sung a song as it cut the air. Stopping the blade, he plunged it through the wooden support beam of the porch. On the blade was the tree of life with two Bears sitting below it; this was Matt’s marker.  Without saying a word, Matt got up and left the farm, found the highway, and headed south.

Full Circle

Luke, Rusty and Norman walked up to the rear entrance of the house and transformed back to their human forms. Norman keyed in the code and the garage door quietly slid open. They all piled in and closed the door behind them. Rusty and Luke went up stairs and Norman went to Matt’s den. He sat in Matt’s chair and started to wake up the house. They had left almost seven months ago, and the house had filled with a bone chilling cold. All seemed to be in order as Norman opened all the shutters, started all the systems, and warmed the house. As Matt had trained him, he surveyed the environment, made sure it was safe, set the auto defense systems, and then went upstairs.

Leaving the basement, he was struck with the feeling that Matt was no longer part of their furry family. It felt like he had given everything to them and walked away. He shoved those feelings down and continued up the stairs. As he entered, Luke and Rusty were raiding the pantry. They had laid out dried meats, nuts, and fruits, opened a few bottles of wine and were chatting and laughing a bit. 

“Everything is on and secure. We’ll have hot water in a few minutes,” spoke Norman as he grabbed a handful of Jerky.

“I so need a hot shower,” Rusty responded as he looked over and winked at Norman.

Norman looked around the house. Something was off; something was different. As he walked through the house, and into the living room, he looked over at the Wall of Life. There was a picture missing at its center. In its place was a note addressed to the three of them in Matt’s handwriting.

“Luke, Rusty, get in here, NOW!” Norman yelled. Both came to his side in quick order.

“Look … the center picture … a note,” Norman pointed and looked at the two. Rusty walked up and took the note down. Opening it, he started to tear up, it read:

Dear Lovely Bears,

I’ve been by your side since before I was changed, in my dreams, in my heart, and in my mind’s eye. However, the time has come when I cannot accompany you through life any longer. The Cubs have been found. You will raise them, you will love them, and you will change them. Norman has all the skills needed to protect all of you. Luke will see to the financial aspects and Rusty to everything in between. The Elders will help until they’re mature and can take their place among the dens. Do not try to pursue. Do not attempt to find me. I have left no trace. I have left no tracks. I have faded as a ghost on the wind. 

I love you all,

Matt.

All three Bears stood in silence. They wrapped an arm around each other and pulled one another other close. Rusty sat the note gently down on the side table and looked at the Wall of Life. He noticed that Matt had removed himself from the wall, replaced it with pictures of the three of them. He had left spots open, and frames were hung with handwritten notes on the inside detailing the picture it was to contain. They all stood there looking at the wall. It sunk in that this was a thought out plan, a well organized exit from a life that had too much pain, and too much strife for one Bear to bear. They marveled at the wall, standing arm in arm. 

“I love you Matt, I always will,” said the Polar Bear.

“Thank you Matt, for saving my life and giving me these gifts, so I can make a difference,” said the tall Grizzly Bear.

“May the Great Bear walk with you on your journey Guardian, may you dine at the Gods table and walk among the stars, we will never forget you,” said the Spirit Bear.

They walked together over to the videophone and started calling their brothers, spreading the word of Matt’s passing. The Cubs came home from the Western Village escorted by the Elder a few weeks later. Bears from all over the world came to their home to spend time with the three, love on the Cubs, and to talk about Matt’s adventures. They came from Germany, Turkey, Greece, Ireland, England, South America, Africa, Australia, and places that no one even dreamed of. The visitors kept coming for months. Luke, Norman and Rusty had never been aware that Matt even did these things or visited these places. Everyone was shocked at the outpouring of remorse. Matt had helped so many Bears over the years. He had laid his life down for them time after time, without quarter, and managed to survive. He had pulled Cubs and Bears out of harm’s way. He had given compassion were none was deserved and helped others to lay down hatred. He was a Guardian; selfless, compassionate, and true. 

Five Bears came to visit the three Bears and Cubs, with more anger than remorse. They had all waited through the years for Matt to wake up, or pass on, before they made a move. They met along the wilderness path to the Guardian’s home. As they walked, nothing was said. They had a common thread. They had all loved Matt from afar. They had wished that his mate treated him better. Now at his passing, they were going to let that Bear know what he did. How he hurt the Bear he loved and how that love had been abused over the years. However, as they walked through the home, looked at the wall, read the note, and talked with other Bears, those thoughts and anger faded, washed away with the memory of a Bear that they loved. 

They joined the group of brothers to celebrate Matt’s life; they didn’t mar his passing.  They spoke of beer and wine, adventures and fights. They spoke of Matt with joy and happiness. This would was Matt would have wanted. They sang songs, as did the old ones, in the old language. They yelled and bellowed to the Gods; telling them a special Bear had passed, and he should be welcomed at their dinner table. 

They all felt that nothing would be the same again.

-Hunting Grounds-

Several months later, Matt walked out onto the frozen tundra. All his preparations had been made and his tasks completed. He had visited each of the couple’s remaining human grandchildren. He had seen to their financial needs the best he could, looked them all in the eye and said goodbye. They knew him not as their grandfather; they knew him as a messenger, a delivery boy, and no one special. He visited the cemetery in New Orleans and said goodbye. He walked through the now ramshackle grounds that were his family home, and then he made his way to the lower parish and gave his charm back to the gathering; he would no longer need it. Not a word was said as Matt entered the small section of trailer park homes, made his way to the back and knelt at the fire in front of the human Elders. He bowed, handed the charm back, got up and left. 

From the south he headed north to North Carolina and into Virginia. He stopped at the couple’s first home as Bears, it was still standing. There were a group of kids playing in the front yard and the home had been added onto. It was nice to still have happiness and laughter. As Matt paused in front of the house, a woman walked out to him. 

“May I help you?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I…um… No, my grandfather used to own this house. I was just stopping by,” Matt stuttered.

“Really, you look a lot like the guy in a picture we found in the attic,” she said firmly.

“I… Um…” Matt stuttered again.

“Don’t worry; I saw your aura from the porch. Wait a minute, let me get the picture for you,” she said as she turned and walked toward the house. Matt was speechless. He had drawn in his senses the best he could, but he was not as sharp as he used to be. The women returned a few moments later and handed the very old picture to Matt; it was a group shot of Matt, Luke, Vic, Rusty, Norman, Steve and Susan.

“Thank you,” Matt managed to say. She nodded, smiled, turned around and walked back toward the house, gathering the children as she went. Matt put the picture away, threw his helmet back on and sped away. Making his way across the border, he headed north; his tasks were done… nothing more needed to be accomplished… all the lists had been completed.

As he walked further toward the entrance to the hunting grounds, he started to remove his clothing and drop all his possessions. Finally naked, he transformed to his Bear as the last of the weight was lifted from his shoulders. Around his neck was a single chain with a small cylinder attached; contained inside was the picture he was given, it would be the only thing he kept with him on his Journey. 

He crossed the entrance to the hunting grounds and he could feel the Bears that were still here, waiting for him, though they appeared to him as spirits, ghosts on the wind. As he walked toward the cave he had prepared some time ago, he passed Dante, and smelled his fur. He passed Jürgen and brushed against his long, soft pelt. These Bears had waited for him. They would walk with him toward his cave, his resting spot. From behind him Matt could hear the sounds of Bears running. He turned and waited; it was David, George, Marty, Pat and Alec. They stopped at the entrance; they could not enter here. There they stopped raised up on their hind paws, bellowing and howling to the wind. They would witness Matt’s passing. They were too late, and he had crossed the entrance to the Hunting Grounds.

Matt bowed to them, and then turned, slowly walking away. Dante’ and Jürgen were on either side and became visible to the Bears watching. Even at his passing, he would not be alone. Norman had made that promise to him when he was changed and it held true even now. The group of Bears stayed until Matt could no longer be seen, and then they piled up on each other and cried. They had come to stop Matt, tell him that they needed him, tell him he was important to them, to give him purpose like he gave to them. Matt walked slowly away, disappearing into the swirling snow and falling ice. The moon glistened high in the sky and seemed somehow brighter. A Bear of the Moon had come to rest. The Bears rose to their feet, turned and walked away. A brother had passed; they had witnessed it and must tell others.

Big Brother

Matt padded slowly towards the cave now, lightness in his step as this part of his life’s story drew to a close. His friends and remaining family were behind him but set to succeed and thrive. The burden of protecting and providing would soon be lifted from his shoulders, and he knew that he had done his best for them.

Completely absorbed in his thoughts, his ever-present on-guard nature was totally down; he didn’t notice the figure waiting at the cave entrance until he was almost upon him. None living should be here in the Hunting Grounds and the spirits had said their farewells for now. Matt plopped down on his butt in shock. The man was lightly dressed in what Matt thought were peasant clothing from a long forgotten era, with a small satchel across his shoulder, light tunic open to reveal ample chest hair and barefoot.

“Well, Little Brother, it is good to finally see you in person and look you in the eyes” said an average looking Bear of a man with glasses, one who looked oddly familiar in the split second that Matt was trying to figure all this out.

“Huh, what …?” Matt sputtered internally and then verbally, before his mind actually clicked into gear. The last one to call him little brother was Thomas, and even though he had put everything behind him, his suspicious warrior nature became fully engaged and his demeanor quickly shifted.

“Why are you here? What do you want?” Matt barked as he shifted to half form, and spun around in a crouched stance, his claws digging into the snow and soil, ready to attack if needed. His senses mapped the area; he was alone with whatever this creature was. The Bear, or at least that’s what Matt’s senses told him, spread his empty hands out at his sides in a non-combative gesture, but Matt was not in the mood. He gathered himself both mentally and physically.

“Just to talk, Little Brother, just to talk,” said the being.

“I’m not your brother and I am past talking. Just leave!” Matt barked, his silver fur bristling from his neck all the way down to his tail.

“After we talk, I will leave. Not before that,” stated the Bear again, locking eyes with the Guardian, knowing full well what was going to happen. ‘This fight had been written long ago, its outcome left open.’

“No Elder, I’m done with all the talking, and plans, and intrigue,” Matt paused as the Bear chuckled, and raised an eyebrow. To be bothered on his journey was one thing, but to be laughed at?  Matt felt himself being drawn into a fight, but he was not going to back away or walk away any more. He had turned the other paw too many times; he was done. ‘I will either die here or kill this one, but either way, I’m done turning and walking away.’

“I’m not an Elder; I’m barely a decade older than you. Even if I do look old and out of shape” the Bear stated, still smiling broadly knowing that Matt’s one weakness was to be thought of as a child, and not taken seriously.

“It doesn’t matter. Just go. I have my path and I will follow it now,” huffed the Moon Bear in his half form as he lifted his forepaws from the ground, ready to move.

“I’ll go after we speak, Little Brother, and not before,” the Bear stated again, knowing Matt was about to snap and give in. The Bear had watched Matt through his life; watched him transform, watched him sacrifice everything for everyone else. It was time Matt saw a different path, his path, without the guise of protecting others.

“I told you, I’m not your brother. I don’t know you. Now, go away before I have to make you go away,” roared the smaller Bear. Matt in half form was not as large as this Bear was in human form. He really was the smallest Bear.

The Bear sighed and shook his head. “We all have our own choices to make. I won’t stand between you and yours. But, we will speak before I leave.” the Bear stated again, rising slowly to tower over Matt. ‘Okay little Bear, I can feel your anger burning from here, the snow is melting around you.  You have to get this out of your system so we can talk, with eyes unclouded with hate, hate of yourself that is.’ 

“I tied all my loose ends, I have nothing more to give. You have no right to stop or delay me!”

“I’m not asking much, Little Brother …” he was cut short by Matt.

“Exactly! You are demanding something from me, and I am done giving! I just need to sleep. Go away!” Matt bellowed.

Rather than being cowed or reacting in anger, the Bear merely shook his head and again held open his arms and taking a step toward the little Bear, who was still crouched in his half Bear form. All of the guile, anger, hurt, strife, and pain from his life was visible on Matt’s face and seemed to flow freely from him. ‘You’re almost there Matt, let go, attack me, and get it out of your system, please. I cannot watch you this way for one more instant, nor am I going to let you sleep like this, you would turn into something truly evil.’ 

This was too much for Matt. This Elder, or whatever, seemed to pull at all of his repressed rage. Even the pain he thought he had left behind re-emerged from his psyche. His inner peace shattered and he leapt toward the strange bear, attempting to drive the intruder away from the one thing left to him. While his anger burned hot, his cold calculating mind took over, analyzing everything around him.

         Despite the speed of Matt’s leap, the Bear managed to dodge aside, shifting faster and smoother than any Bear Matt had encountered in his lifetime, taking the form of a North American Black Bear as his clothing shredded away. As fast as he was, Matt still managed to rake his claws across the Bear’s rear flank and drew first blood. He meant business.

         Rather than backing off or attacking, the Black Bear placed himself between Matt and the cave, his blood slowly dripping patterns in the snow. ‘Okay Little Brother, you have to want to kill me. You have to face the part of yourself that wants to kill, not the part that kills to protect.’ The Bear stared Matt down, refusing to move out of his way.

         Matt flanked him on one side, and then the other but the Bear still would not budge. Instead, he gave Matt the Bear version of a smile and winked at him. In full Ursine form he winked at him! This was too much, Matt growled, demanding to be taken seriously. He leaned in and roared his challenge at the Black Bear; he would move and give Matt his peace or face the consequences.

         As the snow settled back down from Matt’s roar and he drew in another large breath the Black Bear leapt forward and nipped his nose, then ducked and dance backwards wiggling his hindquarters. ‘This should do it. Come on Little Brother, stop playing with me, just attack. Let go.’ The Bear pleaded with his eyes as he danced around the little Bear.

         The fight continued this way, Matt trying to drive the Black Bear away and the Bear poking, nipping, and dodging around him just out of his range. Matt’s frustration continued to grow. He truly hadn’t wanted to hurt this Bear, but he was beginning to see no other possible situation. Once he made up his mind, he left the Bear with no choice. Waiting until he made another dive to nip, Matt moved faster than seemed possible, shifting back enough to have hands to grab and grip onto the Black Bear’s front right leg. He twisted and yanked, dropping all of his weight onto the leg. The bones snapped audibly and ripped through skin and fur, blood flying, while Matt dislocated the Bear’s shoulder. He brought his legs up and under the injured Bear’s belly and pushed, throwing the beast a good twenty feet, where it landed on its back, unmoving.

As always, he regretted having to hurt another no matter what the need. Knowing the black Bear posed no real threat to him; Matt moved over to help him, to heal him, now that he would realize that he must leave. Looking into the black Bear’s pain filled eyes; he leaned over to offer assistance just as he sensed an energy surge, the brown eyes of the Bear glowing red briefly in rage. Suddenly the black Bear was gone, shifting faster than Matt’s’ surprised mind could follow into an immense Grizzly Bear whose jaws clamped onto Matt’s shoulder and then flung him away in a smooth motion. ‘Finally we can get down to this. Okay Little Badass Bear; let’s see what you really got.’ The Bear thought as he looked at Matt land and roll over, ready for more.

Matt landed with a roll ending on his feet, facing the Grizzly. His mind analyzed his opponent, noting that not only was the Grizzly substantially larger than the black Bear, but totally undamaged, whereas Matt now had an injured shoulder dripping blood. Was this a new foe? No Werebear held more than one form at a time, and Matt had shocked them all when his Bear form had changed. But, all of his senses identified this Bear as the same creature.

He had no time to consider this as the Grizzly charged. The nature of the battle shifted as Matt ducked and dodged the huge creature. Rather than always charging the Grizzly would occasionally pluck large boulders up from the ground and heave them at Matt with cannonball like force, and then attack where he felt Matt would dodge to. Even in its rage it refused to be drawn into simple ruses, the human part of its mind still active. Few Werebears fought this way in their full Bear forms, usually letting the animal’s nature take over.

Matt’s enhanced strength was no match against the Grizzly’s as he found to his dismay, the few times the Grizzly managed to catch and grapple him he could not escape, leaving him with several cracked and broken ribs. However, Matt’s speed and battle savvy knowledge served him well. The Grizzly’s skills were not equal to Vic’s, who Matt had sparred against many times and it showed more and more as the fight continued. Matt would dart in for a quick slash and the move away, cuts would appear like magic on the Grizzly, whose thick hide prevented to wounds from becoming too severe or incapacitating. ‘Good Little Bear tire yourself out. I can feel your anger being used up, just a little bit more. One more vein I have to mine to get you to let go and be yourself. I am much bigger than you are. Can you remember, do you remember? Come on Little Brother, you have to want to kill me.’ The Bear knew that Matt would tire soon. As good as he was, Matt was cut off from the energy flow of the human world, and he would soon come to realize it.

The Grizzly didn’t halt his attack and as Matt strove to draw strength and healing from nature he discovered that he couldn’t reach the energy flow. The Hunting Grounds were different than the rest of the world, and with no direct link the source was closed to him. In the split second it took him to process his lack of energy the Grizzly closed in, clamping his jaws around the back of Matt’s neck, and lifting him high off the ground. He stood on his hind legs holding Matt like a ragdoll, and raked him claws down Matt’s shoulders to him rump and again flung him twenty feet away. The impact knocked the wind out of him. ‘Okay Matt, that rake down your rump will bring the memory back. Come on Little One. Come on.’ He strutted toward where Matt had landed.

Matt had barely managed to get up on all fours when his head was snapped back by a half-formed paw, sending him tumbling backwards but not before the other half formed fist slammed into his stomach. The Bear lifted his head to bellow a roar, giving Matt just enough time to scramble out of reach. He was clawing the ground to get away. He could feel the heat on his neck from the Bear, smell the blood as it dripped on the soil; he was hurt, and still fighting. Conscious thought was slipping from the small Bear.

Who the hell did partial shifts while fighting? Matt himself was hard pressed to manage it, and even then only when he used distraction to buy himself the second or two it took him. It was getting harder and harder to concentrate on the fight, something was happening, memories long locked away were coming back to the surface.

As Matt considered this the Grizzly lunged again, and he raised an arm to block the incoming fist, feeling the fracturing of bone even as the blow was turned. The Grizzly pressed forward with his full weight, crushing Matt to the ground, leaving him barely any time to keep his forelegs free in order to hold the Bears snapping muzzle back. He was pinned, with a larger Bear on top of him forcing itself on him. Thought left Matt then and instinct took over, training, and with all his preternatural strength he managed to shove the Grizzly off of him; delivering a hard punch to its muzzle. He again felt his own rage as his mind fed back to the times larger men had taken advantage of his smaller form, never again! ‘Good Little one, you are there. Now, come on, kill me and get it out of your system.’

Feeling his stamina beginning to flag, Matt darted in for a frontal attack, one which had caused the Grizzly to offer a flank to strike each previous time, only to be surprised when the Grizzly met his gaze straight on and held a paw pad forward toward Matt, who slashed it open. Slowed by the unpredicted opening, Matt was even more shocked when the Grizzly drove the claws of his profusely bleeding paw directly into his shoulder, which his jaw had punctured earlier, leaving his torso completely exposed. Matt plunged the claws of his right foreleg into the Bear’s chest, puncturing a lung, just as he felt a burst of fiery pain, so intense it almost became pleasurable, emanating from his shoulder as the Bears’ blood intermingled with his.

Momentarily light headed and with his vision blurred, Matt released the Grizzly and staggered backwards, trying to gain distance away from it. Heaving himself up, the Grizzly followed, catching the momentarily immobile Matt with another powerful swipe, fracturing the bones of Matt’s rear leg, sending him rolling over into an exposed rock, before collapsing into the snow, frothy blood spurting from his nose and mouth. The Grizzly slowly and painfully stretched his injured paw toward Matt, all while staring him directly in the eyes. Drawing a deep ragged breath, the Grizzly chuffed what sounded to be an apology or a testament of affection, before his eyes drifted closed.

Matt drug himself over to his vanquished foe as the Grizzly’s rasping breaths became more irregular, feeling relief at his victory but regret at the outcome. Again, he wondered at his right to kill another and to let him die. In this case, he wasn’t protecting an innocent; he should have been able to drive it away. Why was he not stronger than this Bear? What had driven it to challenge Matt? Why had Matt fought so hard to avoid a delay in his fading away?

With one final gasp, the Grizzly seemed to deflate some. In his own weakened state, Matt knew he was helpless to heal and could only wish the Bear’s spirit well on its journey. Minutes passed in silence and stillness as Matt mourned the loss of one whom he had barely known, gathering strength in order to heal himself; to force his shift so he could heal, and complete his own journey. He was laying face down in the snow, letting the cold ease his pain. His head lifted again, looking at the Bear, wondering why it had come, pondering the fight, feeling as though death should have been dealt to him, not this Bear. This was not protection or doing right, this was a willing fight. ‘Why?  Why does it always end in a fight? Why has my life been one conflict after another? Gods please let me sleep; let me forget the pain, let time pass by for a time, until I am needed again. Please!’ Matt thought to himself as he quietly lay in the snow, coming to a place of calm. 

Just as he reached that place of inner calm, the Grizzly’s eyes snapped back open, glowing bright blue, and in the span of a single heartbeat an immense Polar Bear was sprawled face to face with Matt.  Only one member of the first tribe was that big.

“Luke” Matt gasped his heart pounding, longing and desire coursing through him.

The Polar Bears’ paws reached forward to caress Matt, touching him gently, one stroking his cheek while the other rested on his uninjured shoulder. It held Matt tight, lifting him from the ground as if his weight was nothing. Then a quick twist and a snap, and the last thing Matt realized was that his neck had been broken as easily as a twig. ‘I have you Little Brother, I have you …’

Blackness

Sound – a heartbeat

The feeling of blood flowing through him and warmth on the side of his face.

Matt’s eyes fluttered open. He couldn’t move. Was this death? Was his spirit preparing to leave his body? Then he saw a half form Polar Werebear sitting across the fire, tending it, watching him. 

It was definitely not Luke.

“Welcome back, Little Brother. You certainly will go a long way to avoid a conversation you don’t want.”

Matt licked his lips slowly, trying to draw a breath. “How …?” his voice was soft and forced. He felt in no danger, despite his lack of mobility. He tried to break his bonds, but couldn’t move at all. He appeared to be somehow tranquilized; not only could he not move, but he also couldn’t feel his arms or legs.

Reaching deep within himself, he tried to bring forth his shift. Nothing. It was as if his Bear was gone.

Fine. He retained his Bear strength in human form, he couldn’t be held against his will. Sweat beaded his forehead as he struggled to free himself, but still absolutely nothing.

The Bear sighed, “You’re almost as stubborn as my Sire. Not quite, but almost.”

“Release me!” spat the little Bear.

“Little Brother, you aren’t restrained that way. I broke your neck. Remember? You’re paralyzed,” stated the larger Bear, standing as he did and moving toward Matt.

‘Paralyzed?  No!’ He couldn’t be an invalid. Shifting would heal him. It had to. His Bear self would make him whole. His breathing grew desperate as he struggled to bring it forth.

“No, Little Brother, your Bear won’t come.  It’s gone too,” smiled the larger Bear.

What version of hell was this? This Bear had stripped everything Matt had left away from him.  Tears streamed down his face, his sobs quickly becoming hyperventilation. He had wanted to fade away, not to become, nothing! This was a fate worse than death.

He felt a gentle touch on his forehead, and the adrenaline faded away, the panic turned to calm.  His body’s natural fight or flight reactions shut down.

“Shh, Little Brother, all will be well,” an ursine tongue licked his tears away. ‘Now we can begin to really heal you.’ 

Comforted and calmed with no rational reason why, Matt’s curiosity clicked in. “How? Why?” asked the little Bear.

The Polar Bear chuckled, deep and low in his chest. “Little Brother, I wouldn’t have harmed you beyond what I could fix. Even in my clumsy heavy-handed manner, I mean well. I’m a healer, for others and for myself. My kin most especially! That’s how I shift so fast, it’s all a matter of interaction with my physical self, you can think of it as if I am just shifting to an uninjured form. It’s more complex than that, as it is so interrelated – I shift fast because I heal, I heal fast because I shift. ”

“We aren’t related, even if you call me brother,” Matt tried to roar, but the statement escaped his lips as a high whisper, nothing more.

“All Werebears heal fast, and the blood or saliva of an Ursanthrope speeds that process, even on humans. It is faster with kin, those who could be Werebears, and even faster with already changed Werebears. For me, it is fastest with those I am directly related too – whom I share blood with. When we shared blood, my paw to your shoulder, I forged a link – my blood flows through your veins, yours through mine. We are connected. It was intentional. Besides, my Sire had a hand in your making, so, in a fashion, we are Were-Brothers,” said the Bear, inches from Matt’s face, the heat of his breath visible in the cold air.

“Your Sire? Who is he?” Matt asked.

“Why, the Great Bear, of course,” said the Bear with a little astonishment on his face as if Matt should have put that together faster

“The Great Bear? But, he doesn’t have physical form…” Matt coughed as he spoke

“Sure he does, when he wants. He just normally prefers to create and then let things happen, as they will. Unlike his Sire, who is much more willing to meddle,” the Bear said as he chuckled a little and looked up as if seeing through the forest. His vision locked onto something and then returned to looking at Matt.

“His Sire?  How can the creator have a Sire?” Matt coughed again.

“Oh, it’s complex. They are equals. The Great Bear was there first, but his Sire is older. They are mates, yet individuals. I am explaining this really poorly. Let’s just say they both want the best for you, but respect your right to choose,” said the Bear, kneeling beside the smaller Bear.

“So they sent you?” asked Matt, his eyes dropping a little.

“No, no. They don’t know I’m here, they don’t watch everything. Or I don’t think they know I’m here, they could be watching I suppose, but they didn’t send me. They are creators, not micromanagers.  Everyone has free will – we all make choices, which affect not only ourselves but also others around us.  I am here as a result of my own choices.  I’ll discuss my choices with them, sometimes before, sometimes after, but they are mine to make. Look, this isn’t what I want to talk about,” said the Bear a little flustered.

“Why should we talk about what you want?”

“So I can let you get on about your business, of course. I told you I’d leave after we talked, not before,” the Bear chimed

“I can’t get ‘about my business’ like this, now can I!” Matt spat, his temper beginning to rise.

“Little Brother, settle down. I told you, I’m a healer. I was already inside healing when I snapped your neck; otherwise I couldn’t have kept you alive. I’ll finish healing you after we talk,” the Bear said, sensing that the Cub needed to be let off the hook, before his defensive mind took over.  ‘Gosh, this Cub has known nothing but defense his whole life, has no one just let him be himself?’

“Why would I care if I’m not a Bear anymore?” Matt said as he closed his eyes tight, tears pressing out from the corners.

The Bear sighed again before speaking, “Matt, think. You were always a Bear, and always will be; regardless of whether or not you can shift.”

“It isn’t the same,” Matt said through grinding teeth and tearing eyes.

“No, it isn’t. Now, don’t fret; I didn’t re-weave your DNA back to human, though if I wasn’t so lazy I could have. I simply blocked your ability to shift. You’re still Werebear. You can’t feel it, but your body is healing itself as we speak. The ribs are already re-knit, the cuts only scars. I sort of sped things along,” said the Bear, brushing the side of Matt’s cheek to get him to open his eyes.

“I still can’t move.”

“No, well, that’s more damage than you can heal on your own. Sort of like why decapitating always ends a shifter; it should’ve been a mortal wound,” stated the Bear, locking eyes with the smaller.

“You said -”

“I said that I could heal it, and I will. I’ll remove the block to shifting too, after we talk,” stated the Bear again, a little annoyance in his voice. ‘This is the most trifling Cub I have met in millennia.’ He thought as he looked again into the Little Bear’s eyes. 

“No. Do it now,” Matt half pleaded and half ordered.

“Ok, I can be reasonable. We’ll compromise. You promise to talk, then I’ll heal you, and then we’ll talk,” the Bear replied in an overly jovial, happy tone.

“What’s to stop me from bolting after you heal me? Or taking you out?”

“Honestly, I just got lucky before, and you won’t mistake me for someone else again. But look, obviously you still have some things to resolve, otherwise you wouldn’t care. We talk and then you can shift and do as you please.”

“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” chided the younger.

“No, not really; at least not many good options. It would have been much easier if you had just listened up front, but I shouldn’t be surprised,” the Bear his words trail off, while looking deep into Matt’s eyes.

“Fine, I agree,” snipped the Cub

“Your word then? You have mine,” the Bear smiled still looking into his eyes, watching all the anger, guilt and hurt behind those crystal blue orbs of happiness. ‘Why has no-one, not even his mate loved him as he loved them.’ The thought flashed through the Bear’s mind as he felt the pain of regret for not stepping in to help sooner.

“Yes, you have my word,” murmured the Cub.

With that, the Bear laid a hand on Matt’s shoulder and Matt felt and saw their auras change.  Energy flowed from the Bear to Matt, much as it had flowed from Matt to Jürgen to allow his final shift. Sweat beaded the Bear’s brow as he concentrated and altered the complex bones, cartilage, and nerves of Matt’s spine. His form became fluid, going from half Polar to part Grizzly to black Bear in various aspects, and then fully human, as the Bear relinquished conscious control of his own form in order to focus on repairing Matt’s. Suddenly, feeling coursed through Matt again. He heard the creaking and popping of his musculature and skeletal structures altering just like in a shift, and suddenly his body was his own again. He stretched and laughed aloud as the Bear fell back on his ample behind with a large exhalation, wiping the blood from his nose.

Simple joy had been missing from Matt’s life for so long, that he had forgotten how to laugh. He had forgotten what joy felt like. Now, it rushed back in with a vengeance as his body responded. Not since his last visit with Susan and Steve before he and Luke made that first move as Werebears to a new life had he felt joy.  His life since had been full of purpose and duty and doing good; crammed full of love but with sacrifice. As realization took him, the Bear smiled leaned in and held him as the emotions flowed pure and strong through him. They washed over Matt in tears, sobs, laugher, and guttural whines of longing and love. The little cub just shook and heaved as long buried emotions; thoughts, feelings, and everything in between came rushing out of him.

Matt and the Bear spoke for hours that seemed to both mere minutes and eternities, as long separated brothers are want to do. The Bear listened to Matt’s story, without judgment, but with respect and affection, asking questions that let Matt see things he himself had forgotten or dismissed. A weight that Matt hadn’t realized he still carried was lifted through a great deal of catharsis, tears, and hugs. 

Finally, Matt sat back with a long sigh. The fire had long since burnt down to mere embers, echoing the stars in the sky. “Big Brother, what have I done? Did I drive those I love away? Did I abandon them?” asked the calmed Bear, sitting for the first time in remembrance without eyes on him, without duty, no mission to finish, no agenda to keep, empty of all responsibility, no one to save but himself. 

“No, Little Brother” the Bear said, wrapping Matt in his furry arms, Matt’s fur rubbing comfortable against him. “You simply forget to let them give to you as much as you gave to them.”

“You heard what I said – I was always taking from them, using them,” snuffled the Cub, tucked into the Bear’s chest.

“But not for yourself. You accepted their help when you needed it for others, not simply as the gift it was to you. You forgot what it was to be a Cub, to revel in their companionship,” said the Bear with his muzzle on top of the little Bears head.

“But…” Matt was cut short by a paw placed deftly over his muzzle.

“When you left the collar Luke gave you behind, you made the choice to leave behind letting anyone make you feel safe or protected. It was a strong symbol for you, think back, before Luke gave it to you, you were nervous and needed protection; once you had it, you felt safe and Luke had purpose. Then you took it off, because you felt it held you back. You became so engaged in being a hero, you forgot to let yourself just be, you have never just let yourself be the Bear you are,” the Bear spoke softly, while pulling Matt away to look him in the eyes.

“What should I do to fix it?  How do I help them?” stuttered the Moon Bear, his lip quivering again.

“No, Matt, that is the wrong question. Nothing needs to be fixed. Instead, you have to consider – do you want to end as a hero, or go back and be the Cub they loved? Or maybe even something in between? Or none of that? You have achieved everything you fought for, but you still need to decide if there is anything you want to live for. Duty, responsibility, and purpose aren’t what need to define you,” spoke the Polar Bear as they were muzzle to muzzle.

“But…” Matt started to say.

The Bear reached out and playfully smacked Matt across the back of his head. “No, Little Brother, you are missing the point. Listen. You don’t need to fix anything. Unless you think you need to fix yourself. You are responsible for your own happiness, and everyone else is responsible for his or her own. With love, those converge. But, you can’t truly be happy unless you let yourself be and learn to love yourself first,” spoke the Bear, as he gently cupped both sides of Matt’s small Bear head.  ‘He is so small, almost like a human with fur.’

“But what if I …” again he was cut short, without the smack across the head.

“I’m not saying you should do anything. Or not do anything. You can fade away like an Ancient. You can hibernate like you Guardians are apt to do until you are forgotten then rise again. You can go back and forge life anew right now. The same options as before; just consider what is truly right for you, whichever path you take,” chuffed the Bear as he licked Matt’s nose and sat back on the tree.

“So I shouldn’t be a Guardian? That was wrong?” questioned the Cub, sitting with his legs crossed with furry upturned paws. His guard down, the loving energy of the Cub that was always there within him began bubbling to the surface. A gust of wind blew his long, coarse fur and the moonlight reflected through all the magical glistening silver. ‘Has no one told this Cub how beautiful, special, and loved he is?’  The Bear thought to himself, pausing briefly before he answered.

“No, it was right. It is part of what you are. But, it was only just a part. Think back to your martial arts – what is the key from which many things happen? Balance. You can’t obsess over one aspect of yourself, and you can’t neglect it either,” said the Polar Bear as he just looked at the little MoonBear. 

“It’s a lot to think about, Big Brother. How do I figure it all out?” questioned the Cub again.

The Polar Bear reached up slowly, and took the small Moon Bear back against the tree with him. “Look, Little Brother, I don’t have all the answers, or even most of them. Do it like you do everything else. You are smart and intuitive. Whatever you choose will be right. You are here anyway, sleep on it. Let it sink in.”

The Bears sat together in the still night, the aurora dancing over their heads; enjoying each other in companionable silence, thinking their own thoughts, not needing more. Snuggled together, sharing the warmth of their half forms now that the fire had died down.

It suddenly dawned on Matt. Half forms? He poked the half form Polar Werebear hard in the side. “HEY! What is this – I’m shifted. You said you wouldn’t remove the block until after we talked,” said Matt, with a little twinkle of something in his eyes, something that had never gotten a chance to come out.

“No. After we compromised, I said you could shift after we talked. I didn’t say you couldn’t shift before. I just neglected to mention that I was removing the block when I healed your neck. It was easier.  Lazy Bear, remember?” mused the Bear, a smile forming, he was hoping that Matt would let himself just be a Bear for a while. 

“You neglected to mention?” Matt sputtered, “Don’t you think that was rather important?”  The twinkle in his eye grew brighter.

Matt merely got a black Polar Bear tongue stuck out at him. He leapt to his feet. “Why I ought to…”

“Ought to do what, Little Brother? Wrestle me into submission? Yeah, that’ll work,” a little bravado mixed in to bring the Cub into the fray. 

Matt laughed out loud. “What, Big Brother, I’m ahead in the count. I stomped on you twice before you lucked out in the last round.”  Matt gave him a dismissive paw.

“Oh, you’re delusional. You lucked out twice before I actually made any effort; that’s what really happened.” smiled the Brother Bear, his heart leapt, Matt was just being a Cub. It had been over 160 years the last time Matt had played like this.

“Reshape history in your own head if you want, I know what really happened,” Matt said in a playfully snotty, Cub-like way.

“Either way, I won in the end,” Big Brother chided, he had to have the last dig.

“Cubs have plans within plans, you know. Maybe you didn’t win,” said the Cub as he crossed his arms, and turned a half turn away, refusing to look at his Brother.

The Bear reached out a finger and poked Matt, and then started giggling.  Matt firmly planted his palm over his face. “That was so mature of you.”

“You just want me to poke you with something else,” smiled the Polar Bear, as he lazily scratched his belly fur.

“Maybe I’ll poke you with something else, you big perv,” the little Cub bantered.

Rapidly fluttering his ursine eyelashes, the Bear grinned. “I is innocent, innocent I tell ya, Little Brother.”

His last lingering doubt relieved, in full possession of the being he was meant to be, Matt pounced.

The Bear landed hard on his back, but not for long. The tussle had one on top of the other, then the reverse, then leaping to their feet separately and coming back together. Taking full advantage of their enhanced Werebear physiques – strength, speed, and endurance – they challenged and played with each other. They rolled about on the ground, barks of laughter occasionally erupting from one or the other. 

As is the case with Werebears, the exertion and body contact ensuing from the friendly wrestling soon had both of them aroused. The touching became more deliberately erotic, the longing greater. At one point, Matt found himself on top with the other Bear on his back, and wiggled his furry butt across the ragingly hard member of his companion, feeling his own hard member pressed against the large furry belly of the Bear. Finally, Matt rolled onto his back, pulling the larger Bear on top of him. He wrapped his legs around the Bears’ waist as the Bear cradled his head and shoulders in his strong arms. Their lips met in a passionate kiss, tongues exploring each other’s mouths, darting back and forth, in and out. Their hips began to thrust, slowly at first, then harder. Matt wanted this Bear badly. 

A moan escaped the larger Bear, and then he suddenly rolled off of Matt, flopping hard on his back. He turned his head and looked Matt in the eye. “I’m sorry, Little Brother, I shouldn’t have done that. We need to stop.”

Hurt and frustration filled Matt, “Why?”

The Bear sighed, “Because you need your options to stay unclouded.”

“It doesn’t have to cloud anything. Bears have casual sex all the time. You are so full of yourself.”  Matt began to rise to stalk off, but the Bear put a hand on his shoulder. Matt quickly slapped it away, snarling into the Bear’s face.

The Bear pulled Matt into a hug, despite his angry struggling, calming him only slightly with a kiss on top of his head. “That has its time and place. But for me, this wouldn’t be casual, and I think it wouldn’t be for you either. It would be selfish of me to forge a new connection for you before you really choose your own path.”

The sorrow in the Bears’ voice reached Matt, and he realized that this wasn’t rejection at all, but an act of caring and concern. Someone truly was putting what he felt were Matt’s needs before his own wants. With that, he snuggled closer to the Bear, signaling his understanding. They stayed that way for a long time, the larger Bear letting the sexual energy dissipate, and calm retake the pair.

Matt felt energy flow again, and physical shifting as the Bear shifted seamlessly from his Polar half form to his more heavily muscled Grizzly half form. Standing, he lifted Matt easily, carrying him into the cave as one would carry a child, but with no condensation just gentleness and fondness. The cave was both lit and gently warmed with the glow of Jürgen’s small Bear statue. 

Matt sighed deeply as the Bear settled them to rest; pulling Matt’s back against his chest and spooning behind him. Matt felt safe, warm and protected, and knew that he offered the same comfort to the other Bear. 

“Thank you, Big Brother” he whispered.

“Rest well, Little Brother.”

Each Bear nestled into the other, touching softly and slowly, caressing each other’s furry arms.  Matt shifted his back and rear against the Bear until he was completely nestled against the large figure, while the Bear made a rumbling purr which soothed Matt further. As he settled in for the first time in a long time, the analyzing and calculating part of Matt’s brain slowed down without it being driven by an instinctual need to fight. His guard was down. He was safe in the Hunting Grounds. None would follow. None would disturb him. He was in a state of complete relaxation, one that he had not experienced in a long while, free to just be rather than to think. His mind drifted, and he remembered without angst the last time he had been so at ease, way back when he and Luke had first become a couple, a human couple. He was still in the military then, with all the missions, all the death. The thing that had held him together was being home for leave and having Luke hold him like this at night, driving the stress and nightmares away, guarding him while he slept. A simple love and caring, offered with both trust and faith in each other. So much had changed since then, yet he still knew deep within his core that his feelings for Luke had not changed, nor had Luke’s for him, even if circumstances had driven a wedge between them, changed their lives and brought about new outcomes.

Matt drifted in this half-awake state for some time, letting this new point of view sift through his memories, offering fresh perspective, quietly considering his future path. Had it changed? He didn’t know, but he knew it was his choice, and would be made even more clearly now. He drifted away, fully aware that he had led a rich full life filled with love and meaning, ready for the next phase of his existence, whatever that was, secure in the caring of the warm body next to him and that of those important in his life.  Big Brother held him and watched the shift into hibernation.  Matt’s breathing slowed, his eyes glued themselves shut, and his furry ears closed on his head, as long whiskers formed at his nose and covered his muzzle. Matt slipped into hibernation, deeper than ever before, completely at ease, at peace.

“Ahem.”

The Bear, now in black Bear half form, raised his head to look around Matt’s sleeping body, and saw an immense figure in the cave entrance, the largest Bear he had ever seen, a mostly white Grizzly. He smiled.

“And you said I meddle, Grand Cub.” The Grizzly spoke softly, directly from his full Bear form.

Carefully raising himself on one elbow so as not to disturb the small MoonBear, the black Bear responded “Me?”

“Yes, you. Now, it’s time to go.”

“But he might have more questions.”

“He will choose for himself.  He doesn’t need more of your distractions.”

“I’m helping him along, not just being a distraction. Papa, maybe he needs me. He needed to be shown his own self-worth instead of his worth to others. I had to fight it out of him; I practically had to kill him. Too much got piled on him too fast, even you saw that. He deserves a chance, and someone to listen. Maybe I belong here for a while. I can sleep right along with him.”

“Or maybe he is capable of doing it himself.”

“But I’m comfortable.”

“I can see that; comfortable and interfering. Time to get up.”

“I could just stay a while.”

“You are the big mouth who had to do the whole creator bit, that means you can’t just be one of the Bears, you automatically get extra status and that interferes with others right to choose. We aren’t a religion. Move your furry butt.”

“But …”

“No buts, you know I’m right.”

The Bear sighed, “Yeah.”

“He won’t remember this as anything more than a hibernation dream, you know. The message yes; the rest will be just a dream.”

“Now look who’s meddling” said the Bear as he gentled padded over to his huge companion and hugged his massive head, slowly scratching behind his ears.

“Mmm” the Grizzly practically purred. “Ok, how about if you ever physically meet him again he will remember everything. But, only if it happens.”

The Bear kissed the Grizzly’s massive face. “Thank you. You spoil me.”

“That’s what Papas do” said the Grizzly. As he stood to leave the cave, the massive Bear reached one forepaw out, and gently placed a claw directly over Matt’s heart. “Rest well, little one. Dream and remember yourself. Know that you have done well.”  With that, the Grizzly turned and left the cave.

“Let’s go.”

The Bear glanced back at Matt one last time, running a furred hand softly over his brow. He knew that whatever Matt chose, he would support it fully. Shifting to full black Bear form, he padded after the white Grizzly, the snow falling more heavily a flickering light still evident from the cave. The light grew stronger, as around the small Bear statue Matt had inherited from Jürgen small star-like twinkles of light coalesced into a large translucent figure in the shape of a Bear, the Great Bear. This shape leaned forward, its muzzle touched Matt’s forehead as if kissing, and then the light faded as the Bear slowly dissipated again. The light in the cave dimmed, as Matt rested. Time would pass by; Matt would heal, and be reborn into the next generation. 

Just then, the black Bear caught up to the massive Grizzly, a mischievous twinkle lit his eye, and nipped the larger Bear’s behind, ducking to dodge the swipe that followed, and ran.

The larger Bear chuffed and ambled after the smaller Bear, smiling as the snow coalesced into his beloved, a tawny Grizzly, who tackled the black Bear and sent them both rolling down a hill. The Great Bear came to play with his Cub.  The sounds of them getting reacquainted reached him, and he sauntered down the hill, his erection  rapidly growing, knowing both Cubs would be his to enjoy in physical form for some time, just as they would enjoy him.

The snow continued to fall, and the wind blew, covering the Bears’ traces completely, hiding the entrance to Matt’s resting place. When the skies finally cleared, the stars shone more brightly than before, welcoming home those who were ready.

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