16. Family tiesMature

I rested in the branches of an old oak, my owl eyes watching the daily grind of the Hunters as they went through their day from a distance. The Hunter base didn't look as trashed as the others led me to believe, just a few rough spots to be repaired here and there. The cold air ruffled my silver feathers, the tree offering close to no shelter from the frosty breeze.

Winter was settling in fast, and it was only early September. The frost would soon coat the grass, the air would turn colder and crisper. I remembered last winter, the one before my pack had found me. I had spent it in the woodlands along the Mississippi, hiding along the river bed the best I could. I had enjoyed those nights on my own, no loyalty to  question, no pack to worry about. I was free by myself. But I didn't want to be by myself anymore. I had been alone for far too long.

And yet here I was, alone, stalking my brother on the other side of the metal barrier. I wanted him to be ok. I hoped he hadn't ruined his career as a Hunter for my life.

I had never cared for my brother before, not like this. I was worried he would have been harshly punished for helping me escape.  Before I had been discovered I could have cared less about what happened to him. He wasn't my brother then, he was a threat to my life. He had never been home, he hadn't been there for most of my important moments while I was young. He had gone to a different school designed for Hunters. And when he was home he had always brought others with him, older Hunters that could have easily discovered me for what I was if I hadn't been on guard every minute of the day. He was a danger, but now he had saved me. I just wanted him to be ok.

I was in luck. He was on guard today. I could see him shivering against the cool breeze, his jacket drawn tight against him. He seemed to be fine from what I could see.

Gliding to the forest floor, I shifted forms, shrinking into a mouse. Crossing the open field in this form was a risk, these woods had hawks and owls all over the place, but it was the only way I could get close to him. I had to try. I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. I had no camouflage with my silver fur against the dark green grass. It seemed like I had been running and hiding for an hour before I reached the guards, my brother shifting from foot to foot in an attempt to stay warm.

"Dominic!" I squeaked, praying he could understand me. I knew Shifters could talk to each other no matter the form, but what about non-Shifters? Could they understand me in animal form?

He didn't even look down at me, didn't even notice me. Flicking my talk in agitation, I scampered closer to him, my front paws on his feet. "Dominic!"

Frowning, he looked around. Could he understand me? "Dominic, down here!" He looked down at his feet, his eyes wide when he saw my silver form looking up at him from his boot. "Finally!"

He looked at the other guard. "Hey I'm gonna walk around, I can't feel my toes."

The burly man looked him over with a piercing gaze, the icy gray as cold as the breeze that whipped around them. "Fine. But remember, you are still on probation, you're gone too long and I will make sure your remaining time is tripled. You have an hour."

I followed my brother as he walked around the base and, once out of view of the other guard, into the forest.

Once in the shelter of the trees, I shifted human, pushing my long silver hair out of my face. "Probation?"

He nodded. "For helping the Shifters escape."

"Is that the worst they gave you?"

"Yeah. They just put me back on guard rotation a week ago."

"How long is your punishment?"

He shrugged. "They told me six months. I am mainly stuck to staying in or near he base."

"And if your caught with me?"

"Like John said, my remaining time will be doubled."

"I'm sorry. When Bear told me..."

"It's fine... your my sister, it's kind of a big brother thing to protect your only sister." He smiled.

"What's with the change of heart? When you first found out that I was a Shifter you held a gun to my head."

He shrugged. "I told mom and dad that I had found you."

"What did they say?"

"They apologized for hiding the truth, for hiding you." He grinned. "They said they would ground me if I turned you in though."

I laughed. "They would try."

He nodded. "That they would." He looked up at me, his eyes suddenly serious. "Why did you come back?"

Shuffling from side to side, I dropped my gaze. "I was scared you had gotten in a lot of trouble because of me. I wanted to check on you."

"Thanks but I can handle my punishment on my own."

I looked up at him. i was surprised to see his guard up, those brown eyes hard and impossible to read. Did I make him mad? Did I put the barrier back?

"When you talk to mom and dad again, tell them I'm sorry for not telling them... Tell them I miss them..." I needed to get back, I had been gone a long time.

He nodded. "I will."

I turned and shifted, my form a silver wolf, slipping through the bushes in silence. I prayed I hadn't  just messed up my already rocky relationship with my only brother.

I wandered through the trees, the branches from the bushes raking through my thick fur. I wondered if it would snow here or if I was to far south. I missed the snow. My few weeks I had spent up north with my family the winter before I was discovered had gotten me hooked on the cold white world it created.

Slipping through another clump of thick brambles, I felt something give under my paws, pulling out from under me and suddenly turning my world upside down.

Snarling, I bit at the ropes that had suddenly surrounded me, lifting me far above the forest floor. The net was woven of thick ropes, chains around the top and extending into the tree to hold me up away from the ground. No silver was in the net though, I could get out.

Below me, I heard a crash as four Hunters appeared out of the bushes, guns trained on me. I growled, twisting in the net to face them.

A small mousy Hunter grinned, raising a small gun from his side, firing a dart into my side, a tranquilizer.

This is what I get for wandering off on my own...

The End

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