Duncan Macleod closed the folder open on his computer, and dragged it to the trash can. He ran a secure dump on the files to make sure they were eradicated from his hard drive. His keen mind processed the information as he made some notes in a journal on his desk and sat back, tapping his pen. As the Ceann-feadhna of his family, the paternal chief, he had a lot of responsibility. Old enemies were surfacing in greater numbers, prompting a greater need to organizing his own men. Security for the first family was important and required him to redistribute manpower. And then there were his bràithrean, his elite warriors, his front line defense. His mother, and her loyalist were demanding they be disbanded. Duncan had other ideas, and he wasn't about to dismantle something good. His warriors were a misunderstood bunch, and that was because everyone was tired of the loss.
He closed his eyes, praying for guidance. There was a clear line of hierarchy, and specific rules to be followed. And they did like breaking them. He inwardly chuckled, thinking that it was time they did more than break them. The rules had been developed and designed to ensure the continuation of the family. That time had passed, but at what cost. He was putting out too many fires, needed to get ahead of the game. Operational autonomy was just a start.
Macleod clicked open his geo-tracking software and brought up a global map of the location of each of his warriors. Warriors, in this day and age. He shook his head. Why there was a need to have fighters was beyond reason. But then again most families were not at war with their own family. How did they get to this point? Centuries of hatred that had resulted in so many deaths. And most of the family did not know of feud or the greater existence of the family. Not till it landed on their doorstep, wrapped, and tied with a bloody bow. Eleven hundred years of infighting because of one choice that had to be made to save one family over another. Because one man wanted power to rule, and more. Did they really understand the reasons any more? Could he be the one to finally bring the two factions back together? Could there be peace or would one family have to pay the final price? The way the count was tabulated, meant that his family was experiencing a heavy toll.
Two of the Nine had been killed in the span of eight months. Roric Macleod, the true heir to the family seat at Glenaire, and to the family itself, had been snatched from his sick bed in Edinburgh, and brought south by his mother. Supposedly for his protection. And when Duncan had intervened, snatched the man right back, under their noses, and lodged Roric in a safe house, the shit had hit the fan. His mother was livid. In the meantime, their ancestral seat on Skye was left unattended, prey to his mother want to confiscate their heritage, and others. He had finally taken a stance, and sent five of his warriors to Skye to watch over Glenaire, and keep it safe for Roric.
He sat back, thinking on the changes he wanted to effect. His great-grandfather had moved their side of the family to Edinburgh at the turn of the 20th century from that spit of land. They needed to be more centralized, and the Capital offered them more opportunity than Skye. Now he wasn't sure their hiding places were secure anymore. He could see the final confrontation coming soon, and had already started taking precautions.
A knock on the door brought him out of his thinking, and was about to call out for entry, when his mother stormed into the room. He made to stand, but his mother stomped right to his desk, glaring at him, "Màthair."
"What are you doing?"
The firebrand was out of the gate, and not taking prisoners it seemed. "Would you like my sarcastic comeback, or would you like to provide a bit more information."
Anna glared at her son, "It was clearly stipulated in Ranulf's and Lorne's wills that Roric was to hae Glenaire. If he is not there, or unable to execute his duties, then we have the power to oversee the management of the Keep?"
Duncan's deep voice corrected her, "No màthair so ye can oversee the Keep, and get at its treasures. Ranulf is hardly cold in his grave, and you think to undermine my authority. Dinna think I have been blind all these years. After father died....”
“After your father died…he groomed you for this position, and you do his memory a disservice by every judgment call, every decision. These rules are in place for a reason, and for you to think you can change them.”
“Last I checked Màthair, I hae that power."
"By my authority and the Nine..."
Duncan’s brow narrowed, “And so conveniently thinned…the governing members are down to what six, and all of them now under your control. It is time for a change, and I will see it happen. Once Roric is better, he will take his rightful place, and if so, will take the lead of this family. I will move into..."
Anna Macleod leaned over the desk, glared at her son, “That boy will not be put in charge of this family. You know the rules of this family were established for a purpose, to protect this family and its future. You, and yours will be the leaders…"
"No Màthair Roric has proven that he can lead this family, and with Akir at his side, their sons...”
Anna slammed her hand down, “NO, no…the day Akir is allowed to marry, to take a wife will be a cold day in hell. He is hardly fit to be the head of that merry band of malcontents. He has no rightful claim…”
“That is not what I hear. Tell me Màthair when were you going to tell us all that Roric and Akir were twins, and Lorne’s sons? Who separated them?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Anna frowned, confused. After a moment, she waved her hand dismissing the subject.
Her face was telling, and Duncan lodge that observation aside for another time. He didn't let up on the questions, “Why Màthair should only the first family, and the first born sons of the Nine, their daughters be the only ones allowed to marry and have children?"
"Because we don't have the resources to protect everyone. If we did offer everyone protection, we would be bankrupt in less than five years, you ken that." Anna replied tartly, crossing her arms.
"Or is it something else..."
Anna snorted, "No Duncan. We need to stay true to our values."
"Màthair this family needs to go from strength to strength. Stronger together, weaker apart. We need future generations; we need to grow our numbers. And if we don’t we will be finished in less than five years." Duncan looked deeply into his mother's eyes. There was something there. “My God Màthair, is that what you want? The family to die out, become extinct.”
"I am not having this conversation Duncan.”
“How convenient for you, avoiding the subject.” Duncan stood, turned his back, and dismissing Anna Macleod. He heard the door open, called over his shoulder, “Do not think to hinder or try to stop me, Màthair. As the leader of this family, it is time to change, and change it will."
Syn stood before her one SMART board, reading the document she had opened. She had been at it for the past two and half hours. She had awoken at 5am, slipped out of bed, from Akir’s warmth, and let him continue to sleep. She had taken a shower, and pulled on a white tee, and jeans. She off loaded her equipment, and placed the gear in the storage unit under the stairs. She took her camera, and the storage cards up to the computer room, grabbed a water from the fridge, an aspirin and retreated to her inner sanctum. Until the aspirin kicked in, she used Gregor to boot up the system, and transfer the files, the images of the crime scene. She drank the water, took the pain reliever, and looked up at the SMART boards. The files from last night, and her mother’s face stared back. “Right, nothing like the present.”
She touched her computer desk, and brought up the mirror display controls. She customized the screen for better viewing, and opened up the folder about her Mother’s death. Syn's eyes darted from one screen to the next. She rose, and went over to a cedar chest under the window, and retrieved her Nerf football. Her toys helped to focus her mind.
Syn mulled over all the information, reacquainting herself with the details, and making new connections. Finished, she moved to another folder. Several folders in, and she shook her head, realizing just how complicated her life was about to become. Syn used her right hand, curled her palm around the center, and tossed the football into a vertical spiral. Her eyes fixed on the one SMART board with the genealogy chart. She repeated her throw several times as the lines of commonality wove together. She caught the ball, tucked it into her arm, and approached the board.
Her mother’s smile beamed at her, and Syn took a shuddering breath. How she missed that smile, hearing her voice. Her Dad had said he had been wrong to take them away from the family. She had read her mother’s words in several journal entries in the file folder, evidence stashed away. Where was the rest of the journal? Too interested in what her mother had to say. Her eyes fell on the timeline, and the specific dates. “Gregor you there?”
Her computer aid’s gravely voice answered back, “Aye.”
“Replay the operational tapes from the night Akir’s father and brother were killed. Specifically, the follow-up interviews with the men that were involved in Budapest.”
“One moment.” It was a mere five seconds before voices echoed in the room. Syn set the football down on her desk, and took up the SMART pen to use on the screen. As the tapes continued to play, she jotted notes on the screen, circled phrases in the reports. She battled to have some emotional detachment, but this brought home just how bad things were. More than once she brushed aside a tear, realizing how much her family had suffered. She cleared her throat, “Gregor, do we have any more tapes…anything on Elsa and Marcus Graham’s death, start a timeline of sorts.” Better to start in a time she could still vaguely recall. She blanched as a folder appeared on the SMART board, and hesitated to tap it open. Her hand holding the control pen hovered over the display. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes a fraction, and touched the display. The folder opened, and pictures expanded into preview.
Her father may have been right to take her, and her sister away until they were old enough to understand. The evidence, the pictures were a gruesome story, and filling in the gaps of her memory. They say a doctor should never treat their own family, and the same is true for cops. But she had to be the odd ball out, the black horse to help Akir spin their world around 180 degrees, and stop this madness. “Gregor, how many family members have died since this?”
“Counting just the first family, the descendants of the Nine, and the elders?”
“Should I even ask?”
“I have a running total for whatever you need.” His voice was cold, void of any of the warmth she had programmed into the machine.
“Go with that first.” Syn held her breath.
“Since this day, twenty-eight in total including your Mother.”
Syn’s mouth dropped opened, “And the rest of the family?”
“Forty-seven since that night. A total of seventy-five. I can break it down by age…”
There were several folders that stood out and tugged at her curiosity. She spent another hour analyzing their contents, and some of the information made her anger boil. Syn knew at that moment, that her life was about to change. She called up a terminal box, and typed in some instructions, “Marg, I’ve inputted some instructions. Gregor you should have access to Peter’s database. Start merging and cross referencing the files, and build a 3D representation of each crime scene if you can…then get some rest…I need to talk to Akir. ”
They computer entities talked at once, “Yes, Syn…Aye, baby doll.”
Akir woke with a start, hearing a phone vibrating. Syn had put his phone on the bedside table. He scooted over and focused on the screen, saw his bràthair Lorcan’s phone number. He touched the screen, cleared his throat, “Aye?”
“This isn't fucking make believe. This isn's any cheap ass fiction where the alpha male has a happy ending with a flawed, yet beautiful female. No this is real, right in your face bad breath and nasty. Do ye understand what I am telling ye? God mon, ye hae the scars to prove it. Tell me you haven’t gotten involved.”
Lorcan had a hard right hook, and got to the point without sugar coating it. That was why the bràthair was his third in line, after Wynne. He kept Akir grounded. Akir went into the bathroom, put Lorcan on speaker, and placed the phone on the sink. He relieved himself as his brother continued to lecture him. He flushed the toilet, turned on the taps at the sink, cupped a hand full of warm water, and rubbed his face, transfixed by the site of himself in the mirror as his bràthair’s voice hissed out at him. He wasn't listening, having heard it all before. His own subconscious berated his soul constantly when he wasn't thinking on his duty. His mind recalled Syn’s curves melded against his in the bed, could still feel her warmth. He wanted that warmth.
“People are dying and happy endings are for every day normal people, and most definitely not you. Ye are shit out of luck for the white picket fence. Get your ass out of there before you screw up, and yur judgment is clouded. If I havena told ye, ye hae a job to do.”
Lorcan's words were hard core finger nails on a chalkboard. “Ye wish, no pray for that white picket fence and it ain't going to happen. It’s nothing more than a dream, dullsville with a capital boredom routine. This isna us. Get a move on.”
Yeah, dullsville sounded good to him at this point in his life. "Stop second guessing your life. Ye are going to drop the ball again, and that bitch is looking for anything to bring you down, and put you out to pasture. Man get a grip."
On the pages of a typical romance novels, there was always the hope of resurrection, but not in Akir’s world. If you didn't make friends with the grim reaper, you best start. The only thing guaranteed about today and tomorrow was the fight and pain. The fight raped your heart, your soul, and dropped it into the deep and dark. It was a promise that was made when you opened your eyes the next morning. Life should be lived one moment at a time. Enjoy the small pleasures, nurse and heal, mind, body and soul, get back out there. Lorcan’s voice continued to remind him about their lives, and he stopped listening, letting the sound fade into the background
“Try not to fuck up…” Akir knew there was fucked up, and then there was FUBAR. Fucked up beyond all recognition. No tomorrow, nada, zip, zero. Death’s ghostly shadow bit at your heels with constant regularity. Akir wiped the built up steam from the mirror over the vanity. He was skirting the edge, and its end game. A one-way ticket back to the home country in a body bag, and a swift burial. There wouldn't be time to mourn because their enemy didn't mourn their fallen. And if you went down hopefully you took a few of them with you.
This was war.
Plain and simple.
Bitter cold brutality. Every day he was lucky to be alive. This wasn't the time to fall in love. It was a no go, against the rules for a reason. He couldn’t even think about sharing his life with a woman. He sighed, knowing he had to push back his desires, and set priorities. Focus. But if he wanted to change the rules, turn them upside down, wouldn’t this be a way of accomplishing that goal?
There was no hope for it. Syn would see the statistics, would understand the breadth and depth of their loss, soon or later, and he didn’t want to add to that pain. Any hope was that the company, the family would help you when things tanked. That they would remember the family credo and abide by it.
Stronger together, weaker apart.
Only his bràithrean would provide such reassurance. He rubbed at the tattoo that marked his neck, his shoulder, and looked at it properly in the mirror. Its’ thin lines covered a good portion of his upper body, his hip, his ass, and one thigh. Each of his bràithrean bore something similar, something they had sworn to. Every ounce of his faith was in them and their own want to survive. Because that will was a powerful tool. He knew that they had his back and then some. He heard Lorcan shouting and acknowledged his brathair's concern. He cut the connection, crossed to the shower, and turned on the taps. He leaned against the wall, letting the steam curl up about his shoulders.
He was a front line solider.
Akir stepped under the sunflower shower head, sighing as the water massaged his shoulders. Maybe the rules set up over two hundred years ago by the elders, and their leader of the first family at the time, had some merit. Your duty was to the family and his bràithrean.
They were right, he was expendable.