The Final Choice, Life’s Journey #10…THE END

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  Matt had withdrawn slowly; first to his private den.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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