BY

Maderlin Bidmead


Disclaimer: The characters are mine! Been with me in one form or another since my little brain could think of a story. Be gentle as this is my first posting anywhere, although I've been writing for an eternity (well seems that way to me anyway).
Violence/Sex:Got slaves, so got both. Sexual violence of an m/f variety here. Also a loving (sort of) consensual f/f relationship. If your too young to vote, you should probably go elsewhere.

Me:Feedback would be excellent as this is also doubling up as my degree dissertation (yes English Lit is a great course). maderlin@yahoo.com

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sobs wracked the slim form standing in front of the bay window, the fluorescent light shining through the large glass panels turning her into a black silhouette, nondescript and desolately alone. She still could not believe that she had been betrayed, her single haven breached, leaving her feeling very much adrift and confused. It was not what her father and brothers had done that made her feel betrayed, rather it was that they had sided with Douglas and told her nothing of their plans.

Francesca's life had, up until this point, been filled with the love and support of a family which shared everything. There were very few secrets, if any in the Prince family. Ever since childhood she had known she could rely on her brothers for disclosure and support. Until this point she had faith that her brothers were not fond of her husband, Nathan, proving to be openly hostile at times. Her views were now turned on their head and everything her brothers had said since her marriage became suspect. Who could she trust now, when she needed someone so much?

She looked down from her second floor window and into the yard of the old stables, which her father had renovated into servants quarters several years ago. They had never been used, primarily because the family kept employees for life if they could and these long-term employees had their own homes. Thus they had stood empty until today when a busload of slaves had arrived and further ruined her already rotten life. A lone figure stalked into view, casting a sense of edgy menace over the previous tranquillity. Great, I'm to be protected by people more frightening than the people they protect me from, the thought skittered through her clouded mind. In the middle of the night two figures stood in dark isolation, the watcher and the watched, the hunter and the prey, the master and the slave.

**********

Hands viciously grasping her chin startled her from sleep. Panic gripped her as her eyes snapped open to take in the face of her attacker. After her initial alarm her eyes began to focus in the dim room until finally she could make out the features of the person standing over her.

"Douglas," a breathless plea.

"Listen to me, Princess. I'm sick of your self-indulgent antics; I want you, me and the kids safe. Your father wants us to have the best protection available. Tomorrow morning you're going to tell your father that you're ready to accept them. Then you're going to come out with the rest of us to get the slaves suitable attire," he hissed every word, emphasising each point with a rough jerk of her chin. His next words were sardonic as he stood and straightened his pyjamas. "We can hardly have them walking around looking like circus freaks, now can we?"

As he turned to leave he cast his quaking wife a charming smile and sauntered into his adjoining bedroom. Francesca managed to keep herself together until he left and then found herself once again in floods of tears, curled up in the middle of her bed. She had thought it would take longer for Douglas to snap, this had only been happening for a little over a week, his temper usually took longer to break. She sniffled and drew the bed-covers closer to herself. At least with a bodyguard she would be protected from her husband.

**********

They stood on display for their new owners, each of them at rigid attention. It had been ten days since they had been purchased and speculation among them had been rife as to what was happening. They had seen none of the family and had not even been inspected for illness or other weakness. That sort of reception had not been in their frame of reference. Today's events were more in accordance with the 'norm', yet their trepidation remained

Salvatore could see the tension in the bearing of each new slave. They were confused and in need of the relief of an organised practice session, something he had avoided until he knew Francesca's wishes. Now here they were approaching the stables to inspect other human beings. He shuddered at the thought. The Prince Corporation had always been staunchly against slavery and here he was with seven new acquisitions. He looked towards his three children and noticed how his sons walked protectively on either side of their baby sister. They looked so robust and full of energy they brought Francesca's fragility further into the forefront of his mind. Salvatore knew something besides the threats were bothering her, but whenever he pushed her she altered topic.

Douglas walked slightly behind and to the side of his wife and in-laws. He was surrounded by his children and looked the picture of the doting father. An identical little girl clung to each hand while his little boy strode purposefully in front of them. He looked comfortable and excited about the prospect of looking at the slaves and the children were feeding off his emotions. The head of the Prince dynasty felt a new shiver walk across his spin. In the back of his mind the seeds of fear were planted that Douglas was too eager to see men as animals and that his children would feel the same.

He returned his gaze and his thoughts forward to the rank of men and women that were now his army. He had to grin about that. His soldiers fighting a war to protect his little girl, he rather liked that idea. He would keep that image in his mind to stop him thinking about them as animals.

The group walked down the line studying each figure that they approached. It was different from when they had seen them at the auction. They were able to get very close to them and see the expressions on their faces. Dressed in white vests and black running shorts they looked far more human and less intimidating. Added to this perception was the fact that as the children began to run around them, all but one face broke into a grin at the antics. Francesca appreciated that and worried at the one sober, stone-like face.

They walked down the line, Rodrigo and Nat filling their sister and her husband in on the names of the various men and women as they came to them in the line. Francesca didn't say a word, she still hated the idea, but knew that she had to take in the information, or at least seem to. The first they approached was a tall man, whip-chord thin with a shaven head. His skin was very pale white and his eyes an equally pale blue. Snake. The name suited him. He was to be one of Douglas' two guards, and Douglas was looking at him with approval. They moved on.

The next two were identical except for the colour of their hair. They were mountains, huge arms and shoulders. One had white hair and the others dark brown. They shared the same deep chestnut skin tone and profuse body hair. They should have been intimidating but their eyes twinkled with mischief, theirs mouths trying desperately not to smile. Polar and Grizzly were indeed a couple of bears, Teddy bears. They would make excellent guardians for the children. She could see that and was happy. The children asked if they could talk to the men and were granted permission (as were the slaves, with a tilt of Salvatore's head) and soon the five of them were in an animated discussion.

Leaving the children behind, they neared Savage. This was a man whose name did not describe him well. He resembled a weasel far more then anything threatening. His hair was dirty blond and his eyes were the same dirty colour. Apparently he was an accomplished warrior like the rest of them but Francesca was sceptical. Fortunately he was Snake's second and would have nothing really to do with the children.

The man and woman who came next were standing imperceptibly closer to each than the others were. These were to be the ones who looked after the children when the twins were resting. They would also fill in as Francesca's guards and be present at any functions. The woman had stunning red hair that fell to her shoulders in waves and piercing green eyes. They had named her Phoenix in the arena because she looked like a being of fire. The man who stood so close to her was Wolf. His name as much a play on his real identity as it was a description of his grey hair and eyes. He was almost as big as the twins. Phoenix came close to his height but was svelte and sinewy, with small breasts making her appear even more streamline.

They moved to the last figure, standing several feet away from the others. This was to be her guard, a creature that didn't need any real sleep and who was more dangerous than the others put together. Francesca had already been given the remote to this woman's voice box and had made up her mind never to let her have voice. She was an insurrectionist and they had brought her into the Prince family. She couldn't risk her rousing the others. She hated the idea of being watched every moment, especially by this one. Danger oozed from her. The blue and white hair, designed to look like a tiger, was cut close to her head. Her white less eyes were an encompassing blue with a black slit for a pupil. Her skin was golden, but marred by scars on her face and arms. She was also heavily tattooed on her upper arms, creating the illusion of a dark t-shirt beneath the white. She was stocky with broad shoulders and muscles, which, although smaller rivalled even the largest man's in terms of definition. She was Hunter.

Francesca's revelry was broken by a voice over her shoulder. "Aren't they great, Princess?"

"Yes, darling." A new shiver ran up her spine as she smiled unconvincingly.

**********

"How was your holiday, Mama?" Francesca sat curled up in the study's large leather chair.

"It was lovely, darling, but it's much better to be back. I can't believe I missed four weeks with my babies and grandbabies. Your father was full of it when I got back last night. Seems like I've missed a lot," her eyes travelled to the figure hovering in the corner behind her daughter, "haven't I?"

She watched as her youngest child squirmed and her face grew paler. Blue eyes flicked around the room, not once resting on the short bodyguard. When eventually they focused back on her mother they were haunted and held a depth of resignation Darla had never seen in her morose child.

"The bodyguards are a really good idea, one of Dad's best. Doug is getting on really well with his pair. They have a lot of sports interests in common, apparently, and he spends hours talking to them. The children are the same." Finally her face broke into a rueful grin. "They've taken to Bear and Polar like they really are big toys. They are very alert, always on guard even when they play with the children. I was a little apprehensive when they started, scared that they'd want to hurt them, but they both have very caring personalities. I really think they will be good for the girls, they don't know many other twins. As for Terry, he wants to be them. The two floating guards are fantastic, we all like them. They're a couple, did Dad tell you? They are really good together..." Her babble trailed off as the topic drew closer to Francesca's situation.

Darla reached forward and laid her hand on a cotton-covered knee. "How about your 'shadow', honey?"

"Hunter, out!" The sharp command was sudden. The blue haired woman bowed and made her way out to guard the door.

"Fran?"

"Mama, I hate this! She's really aggressive. She does what I tell her but only to the letter. She's subversive and I can see the hate in her eyes. None of the others have that look. Dad told me I should turn her voice on, but I can't, it's too dangerous. What am I going to do?" She broke down into sobs and put her head into her hands.

Darla moved further forward until she was kneeling in front of the young woman and pulled her head to her shoulder. She gently stroked the dark hair and whispered soothing words until the sobs quieted and her daughter just rested against her, breathing ragedly. Darla looked towards the closed door, resolve setting in her eyes.
 


 
 

one!"

Her hand poised casually at her side. The swords hilt held in a firm grip. Sweat beading on her temple, one errantly sliding down to meet her jaw. The pale moonlight around bleached the wood around her, turning it deathly white.

"Position two!"

Sword up, defensive posture across abdomen, breathing steady, feet apart.

"Position three!"

Lightening fast, sword switch from stomach to face, wrist tilts, knees bent, sword deflects down-thrust.

"Position four!"

Wrist rotates forward, arm extends, right foot forward. Lung.

"Position five!"

Left foot forward, right arm down, elbow tensed. Slash.

"Position six!"

Sword down. Pivot left foot, hips loose, right knee braced. Foot extends. Round house kick to face.

"Enough!"

A low growl emanated from her throat, the only vocalisation she could manage. Soft, low and dangerous. The man had stepped further back into the warmth and relative safety of the slave quarters. He was unwilling to further antagonise the volatile young woman. Turning his voice to its gentlest register, he once again tried to address her.

"Hunter you have to sleep. You can't keep doing this. Constantly training when you should be resting is making you far too edgy. You're going to snap and hurt somebody and then where do you think you'll be? You know they'll put you down if it happens again. We've been here nearly two months and I don't think I've seen you sleep for more than eight hours a week since we arrived. Just talk to me, maybe if you get it off your chest, you can rest."

The sword was suddenly and noisily wracked as she whirled on him, her face a mask of barely controlled rage. His Adam's-apple bobbed as he swallowed nervousley. He had never been on the receiving end of the fearsome visage and it terrified him, yet he stood firm. She approached him with mechanical precision; closer and closer until her shallow breaths rustled the fabric of his shirt.

"You don't know shit." The emphatic hand gestures clearly expressed her ire.

"Then tell me," he pleaded. "I know that The Princesscan be a bitch to you but we've had worse masters. God, you've had worse masters and it hasn't had this effect on you, so it can't just be that. Tell me, you know you can trust me."

"Not this time Shep. You can't know everything about me." Then she was gone, leaving a bemused Wolf in her wake.

**********

"Give it back!"

"No."

"Give it!"

"No."

"I'll tell Mama!"

"I don't care!"

"But it's mine!"

"Is not!"

"Is so!"

"Becky tell him!"

The two huge men seated in the room looked at the tableau before them with bemused expressions on their identical faces. Although they had grown to adore the children they were totally at a loss when they began to argue. They watched in fascination as the quietest of the three looked up from her colouring book and trudged towards the combatants. This one was the peacemaker. She was always pulled into the fray started by her twin sister and brother. The brothers found it hard to understand how two children born at the same moment like themselves could be so different. The little girls before them were not identical, but looked so alike that only the difference in eye colour and hair shade separated them.

The voices of the two combatants became more agitated as their sister joined them, bringing Rebecca to the verge of tears. Just when the brothers thought that they were going to be forced to intervene, the children's mother rushed in to diffuse the situation. It amazed the men that Mistress always seemed to sense when the children needed her. It was as though she had a sixth sense where they were concerned. They watched as she knelt by the trio and began to talk to them in soft, reasoning tones. Behind the scene of domesticity stood their leader, in their minds at least. Hunter stood rigidly beside the closed door, seeming to make a conscious effort not to look at the other people in the room.

Francesca walked towards the two men with a smile. "I need to speak with you in private for a moment. Come with me." Her voice was warm and pleasant as she addressed the brothers as if they were real people and not property. "Hunter! Stay! Protect!" The commands were given as if to a dog, this fact confusing the other slaves. Of all the slaves the brothers were treated with the most respect and Hunter with the least. Strange when some considered that the two women spent so much time together.

Once in the antechamber next to the nursery Francesca began to lay out her plan to the two men. She explained that the children had been arguing more since the slaves arrived. There was no problem with Rebecca, she was quiet and liked her own personal space, that was why she stayed out of the fights. It had more to do with the rivalry between eight year old Terrence and his five year old sister Rochel. They both craved attention and saw their two protectors as people whose favour they should compete for.

"Therefore I have come up with a solution, in the last thirty seconds anyway," she gave a warm chuckle. "I would like you to pick a child each and sort of... mentor them, I suppose would be the best way to describe it. If they feel one of you is Terry's protector and the other Shell's, it should stop them showing off."

"Not to be out of line, Mistress, but won't Rebecca feel at least a little left out? Alienated?" This came from Polar.

"Really, I don't think she will. Becky just wants a quiet life. She's happiest alone. Do you two ever feel that way?"

"Never, but I guess that could be because we're identical." The conversation carried on for some time as Francesca found herself fascinated by their unique view of her children.

**********

She heard the words.

"Hunter! Stay! Protect!"

By now she ignored the loud, harsh edge to the words and simply obeyed. Her resignation to this life she was to live was growing like a cancer, taking hold of her and filling her with malaise. They were not given enough stimulation, either mental or physical and she could feel it driving her slowly insane. As the door closed behind their retreating forms she contemplated how the others seemed to be enjoying the psuedo-freedom that they had garnered. They were held in much higher regard than she, a fact that very much bemused her. Her thoughts began to stray down a path from which she had forever banned them. She violently shook her head to clear them.

The sudden and startling movement coming from the silent guard drew the attention of all three children. They caste a look to one another and with a shared grin of total mischief they quickly approached her. Their mother had told them not to get too close to her, talk to her or generally even look in her direction because she was so dangerous. How could they resist a challenge like that? Quickly the three of them advanced on the poker rigid form.

Terry and Shell took the lead in this as in all things. Rushing up to the rigid form the two older children began to make silly faces and pull on her pant legs in order to gain her attention. She remained stoic, not even a blink in the children's direction. The giggles of the three children grew in intensity as they tried more and more outlandish methods of distraction. Rebecca was drawn into the fray and began to pull the same faces when a thought struck her. She drew back and beckoned for the others to follow her a few paces in front of the figure. Her five year old plan was simple: be polite.

"Hello, Hunter, thank you for coming." A shy smile trembled about her lips.

This caught the warrior's attention. Few people outside of her circle called her by name or even acknowledged her existence as a sentient being, yet here were these small human beings treating her with respect. She gazed down into the soulful brown eyes of the one who had addressed her and raised her hand in a gesture of thanks. Seeing this the other two began to squirm and Hunter could tell that they too were about to make their own overtures.

"Our Mama says you can't talk and that's why you just stand there like that when you come in. Is it true?" Terrence was never one to hold back asked questions outright. His seven year old sensibilities were his own.

"Are ya really as dangerwus as Mama says you are?" Rochel was in constant conflict with her big brother, their young lives filled with one-upmanship.

Hunter was beginning to find the three of them very amusing. No, amusing was the wrong word. The two louder ones were funny in the comedy duo kind of way, while the third was charming in her quite, shy way. She was so unused to this, and knew that the way these children were behaving was to be cultivated, even if she herself found human interaction difficult. The problem remained, how to talk to them without a voice? That's when an idea came to her. She placed her fingers across her lips and then made a throwing motion.

"See, told ya she couldn't talk."

Rebecca's sensitivity was hurt as she watched her twin continue to be rude to the visitor. She may only be five but she was an old soul, the outsider of the trio and wanted to make the solemn figure feel included. "Can you...um... show us how you talk?"

All Hunter could do was nod.

**********

Francesca stood framed in the partially open doorway and watched her babes play with the woman she had come to think of as no more than an animal. She had been standing, hidden in shadows, for a long time just monitoring their actions. She had expected that if the beast was ever let out of the bag it would be jumpy and incoherent, yet before her she saw the opposite of all her expectations.

The room was quite and the children calm as they sat fascinated by the gentle hand movements the slave made. Each child was saying a different letter of the alphabet and then the salve was making a hand gesture to each one. It took Francesca a couple of minutes to understand what was going on, but a bemused smile played across her lips when she realised that Hunter was teaching her children to sign the alphabet. She had always believed they could never learn too much. She decided not to interrupt and allow things to carry on as the slave was being gentle.

"Can you show us how to do our names?" the eagerness in Terry's voice was unmistakable. Hunter nodded in agreement.

It took the children about fifteen minutes to grasp their names and it was very hard for the warrior to teach them how to place gender onto their names because they did not understand what that meant. After all of the quiet, intellectual activities the three began to get fidgety, until with a burst of energy Terry pounced on Becky and began to tickle her mercilessly. The howls and squeals of laughter from the pair brought a smile to both the adult in the room and the one in the doorway. With a suddenness that surprised both women Rochel launched herself at Hunter and began to tickle her.

Hunter froze. Her every instinct as a warrior was to lash out at the sudden attack. Her own internal fail-safes telling her to pull away from the human contact. When Hunter froze, Francesca's heart began to beat double time as she became consumed with fear for her daughter. She could be ripped to pieces by the body guard with little effort. She had warned the children against approaching the creature. She began to move, but Hunter was faster. Suddenly the killing machine was rolling around on the floor like a five year old. The children where climbing all over her and having the time of their life. The laughter in the room was pure joy. Francesca knew she had appointments she must attend and to do so she must break up this moment.

Making sure the door made a lot of noise while she opened it, Francesca was not surprised to find Hunter where she had left her. The children were still rough-housing. After she had kissed each one goodbye, she turned to her slave and ordered her to follow. As she passed through the door, she caught the beatific smile the shorter woman threw at her babies and was stunned by it. Both women would have a lot to think about that night.

**********
"I blow candle now?" Big green eyes blinked up at the auburn haired woman.

"Yes Rhani. Let's see if you can blow them both out with one breath. Your Mummy's big girl now, so you can make a wish." The older woman's grey eyes crinkled at the edges as she smiled.

The little blond head shook vigorously, "No!"

"No what sweetie?" The group of adults and older children looked universally perplexed.

"I blow one an' Chess blow one." The beaming child looked towards her friend. The younger toddler sat clapping in her mother's lap, blue eyes wide with wonder.

"Does Fran want to help Rhani?" Excited nodding from the tousled brunette head made her position clear as she climbed down and tottered towards Rhani.

"Blow!"

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"...blow job! Do you understand me, you piece of shit?" The slap resounded off of her face.

"Yes Master." Her words were subdued. She dared not raise too much of his wrath or she would not be able to go home because of the severity of her injuries. The visits she cherished were becoming less frequent and would soon end, so all of them had to be cherished.

"If I ever hear of you refusing one of my clients again you will be indentured to a penal colony. I'm sure your little white ass couldn't cope with much of that. Now go back in there and you can suck the cock of every man in the room and if they want to take you it's on the house. That'll teach you to bite someone's dick, you little fuck!"

A second slap across her face sent her sprawling across the floor. Most eight-year old girls would have started to cry, but it was the only weapon she had. She fought by staying strong and sometimes performing stupid acts like today. To survive she would have to move beyond the pain.

"Get the fuck up!"

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"Up. Higher...Um, right there!" The prostrate form moaned in pleasure.

The lithe young blond straddling the muscular torso grinned as she jabbed an elegant finger into a tattooed shoulder-blade. Her actions elicited a howl of protest and a pout from the younger girl beneath her. She leaned down and as an act of consolation pressed a kiss to the same spot.

"You are such a baby!" She laughed at the reproachful look in the other girl's eyes.

"I'll have you know I am a great warrior!"

"Great Wuss." The finger jabbed again.

The reclined form turned quickly onto her back so that she was now looking up at the towering woman. An evil grin spread across her face, mirth filling her green eyes. Using her superior strength she launched herself at the other girl. With no warning the slim blond found her back on the mattress and a grinning lunatic above her, tickling her mercilessly.

"Get off!" This came through a squeal.

"What am I?" The barrage never stopped.

"Cute?" A raised eyebrow and a leer accompanied her response.

The compact youth couldn't resist and lowered herself to the waiting lips of the other girl. Her bare torso brushed against the linen of the other girl's shirt creating goose-bumps on her skin. When she drew back both were flushed and breathless. The shorter girl rolled onto her side and propped up on her elbow she looked down at the other girl.

"You're very good at that, for a kid!" She received a swat on her abdomen.

"You're only eighteen, Miss High and Mighty. That's only four yeas older than me. It's not exactly a huge gap. Anyway, I should be good at it, you give me a lot of practice, Jordan!"

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"Jordan? What have you done with her?" The rage was clear in the sixteen year olds eyes.

"Sedition is a crime, SLAVE! You should have learned your lesson. We beat you to within an inch of your life and you carry on. Physical punishment obviously has no effect on you, seeing as you're gladiator scum, so you leave us no choice! Rebellion is unacceptable. The servant girl has paid the price for her dalliances with you!" The warrior's face glazed over with pain. "To stop you from creating this sort of debacle again we are taking your voice. You will never speak without the permission of a master. Do you understand Rebel?" A mute nod. "Do it!"

She screamed, "Jordan!"

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"Jordan!"

The scream wrenched Hunter from the nightmare. It echoed from her throat and around the empty barracks, ringing in her ears.
 


 

clicking of computer keys sounded like the feet of a thousand cockroaches moving through the room. It reverberated on itself, becoming increasingly oppresive in the eerily quiet room. The monitor provided the only light, casting ghoulish shadows on the planes of the user's face. In this pale, sickly glow the writer's skin seemed sunken and emaciated. The eyes glowed with a feral light.

Pictures scrolled across the screen, occasionally being annotated by fevered hands. All of the pictures focused on the same group of people. Dark haired blue eyed woman and a man caste in shades of brown filled the majority of the photographs. There were also a handful of pictures of three small children. The hand on the keyboard continued to scroll forward until the watcher reached a new cache of pictures, these featuring people that were unknown to the watcher. They were obviously dangerous and began to appear in the background of all the family pictures and those of the individuals. They had broken the rules. Bodyguards were unacceptable. They had been left alone while the watcher prepared the next move in this game, but this act must be punished.

The chair was abruptly pushed from the table. Sliding backwards until it hit the wall as the watcher stood and stormed out of the room. A red caste behind the dead eyes and a new plan forming behind the ghoulish visage.

*********

Phoenix sat in Wolf's lap and buried her head in the crook of his shoulder, enjoying the chance to be with her husband and have some privacy. The couple knew they were lucky. Not only had they been bought together, but they worked almost the same shifts so that they got a good deal of time together off duty. They often just sat and talked.

"I'm worried." Wolf's arms tightened around her waist, holding her snuggly to his chest.

"What about, Matt?" She smiled sweetly as she asked. The feel of her lover's name on her tongue was special because she was the only one who used it.

"Hunter isn't taking this well. I talked to her a few days ago and she started to get very angry. She told me that I didn't know anything about her and that some things I couldn't. She scared the crap out of me. I think that perhaps Miss Prince has a reason to keep her distance." His face was pensive as he spoke.

Phoenix couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You can't mean that! You've known her since she was a kid. Sure she's dangerous, but we all are. You have to trust her. She needs your belief."

"You're right Morgan." He rubbed his forehead. "I just have to get used to this life we're living. It's just weird to have this level of freedom and lack of discipline. That was my whole life for as long as I could remember."

"I know, love." She leaned up and forward to press a kiss to his temple. "I hear the others coming. It must be dinner-time. I think it's Savage's turn at dinner tonight. That'll be fun, Hunter and Savage eye-balling each other all night."

"Now who is worrying about nothing then?" The two grinned at each other and shared a soft kiss before the door banged open on its hinges.

"Yes boys and girls we're home!" The loud and boisterous voice of Grizzly echoed through the room.

"You guys are spending way too much time with those ankle-biters." This disparaging remark came from Snake who, as always, looked cool and collected even as his eyes twinkled with glee.

The group began its usual routine of joking and laughing. Their frivolity would be interspersed with some seriousness when the mood set in. They ate the meal that was prepared for them in the main house, while sitting on benches around a slick metal table. It was simple fare but it was always good and contained all of the supplements that their enhanced physiology required to maintain their musculature.

After they ate, as was the norm they would sit around and play cards or watch the single small monitor which they had been given. This hour of inactivity allowed digestion before they began to train, preventing cramps. Tonight they were playing cards. They never settled on one game and often would drift between poker, jinn and black-jack.

"Tonight I feel lucky!"

"We really don't want to know what goes on between you and Meg at night, Shep!" Snake's quip sent the two larger men into fits of giggles.

"You two are way to camp too be as big as you are."

"Hay we're babysitters now, we can be as juvenile and camp as we want and we don't have to prove ourselves to anyone!" Polar's tongue stuck out just to emphasize his point.

"Yeah, yeah. Less talk more cards!" Meg smirked.

"Gimme two."

**********

The phone slid from nerveless fingers. It bounced on the carpeted floor, creating a muffled thud when it came to a stop. The blood drained from Douglas's face as he turned and looked between his wife and his in-laws, who had formed a loose circle around him.

"What did they say?" Salvatore took control.

"I...I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. The voice was distorted, but the threat was real clear. We've broken some rule and now we're going to pay. He said something about the bodyguards." Sweat had broken out across his brow and upper lip.

"Oh God," the strangled whisper escaped Francesca. Tears began to well in her eyes and make silver paths along her cheeks.

"This is becoming quite ridiculous."

"You're right, Darla. We need to tap the phone and make sure all of our mail is intercepted. We cannot risk a bomb. I think Hunter should sleep in your room, Fran, be with you at all times. This is obviously some crazed fan." Salvatore turned to Douglas. "You should keep them in your room also. I'll contact your brothers to make sure they are secure and then call the police and let them know what's happening. Get them to step up their enquiries." His eyes softening, he turned to his daughter. "Go to bed, Princess. Hunter, protect her, please."

The tall woman nodded dumbly and slowly, lethargically shuffled from the room. Hunter strode purposefully behind her, her face set in stone. As they made their way up the stairs Francesca moved towards each child's bedroom. The girls had been watched by Phoenix since dinner in the room that they shared and Terry was watched over by Wolf. Each of her babies was peacefully asleep, blissfully unaware of the pain their parents felt.

Below them Salvatore turned once more to his son-in-law. "What else did they say? All of it, Douglas!"

"The guy was insane! Started to rant about the attention the family gets and the adoration. How would we like it if the children weren't perfect anymore. Then about marking Fran and spoiling her. Even started to go into detail about disfiguring them. I am so scared, sir." Tears began to run down his face, I don't want to die!

Believing the tears were for his family and not for fear about his own existence, Darla wrapped him in her arms and began to croon soft words into his tan ear. Salvatore walked towards the bureau and poured himself and the other two people in the room a scotch. He took it to them and picked up the phone from the floor. He moved to his leather chair and began his seemingly endless list of calls. It would be a long night.

**********

The watcher sat back on the sofa and brought the beer to smirking lips. The voice distorter lay on one raised thigh, the cell phone on the other. Tonight was a good night for games. Raising the video remote from its place on the sofa cushion, a large hand pressed play. A tall dark haired-women filled the screen, crooning about love and forgiveness.

TBC

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