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At the Gates of Retribution

This story is a bit different from the rest of the series but I’ve been wanting to write it for a while. The last fic will be more straightforward fluff again. Also, I’m blaming any OOC-ness on this being AU.



Title: At the Gates of Retribution
Fandom: Hemlock Grove
Series: the Happy Ending Verse
Pairings: Peter/Roman
Warnings: Is religious fanaticism a warning?  Plus some violence, a bit of blood, the usual
Word Count: 7420
Disclaimer: If I owned it, Peter and Roman would make out.
Summary: It takes Michael Chasseur six years to track his sister's killers down.


It takes Michael Chasseur six years to track his sister’s killers down.

He came as fast as he could in answer to her phone call but by the time he reaches Hemlock Grove, it’s already too late. Clementine is dead and the werewolf that she was hunting has disappeared, leaving behind nothing but an empty trailer and an impressive body count.

Assuming, of course, that Peter Rumancek is his target. The gypsy is missing but Clementine hadn’t been sure of his guilt when she called her brother and considering the lurid graffiti painted on the outside of his trailer, Michael can hardly blame the guy for leaving town. Rumancek had clearly worn out his welcome whether innocent or guilty and while the hunter is curious about the burned out ruin on the nearby hillside, he doubts that was the gypsy's fault.

Hemlock Grove seems like the sort of place that's prone to lynch mobs and Michael needs to talk to Bishop Francis as soon as possible. He needs to find out what really happened here.

Unfortunately, the Bishop can't meet with him until the afternoon so the hunter seeks out the town's sheriff to introduce himself. Another member of the Order will have dealt with Clementine's effects already, but Michael wants to know where she is buried so that he can pay his sister his respects. The two of them didn't always get along, but they were family and he needs to tell her that her murderer will pay.

If Michael also plans to interrogate the local law enforcement while he's at it, Clementine would understand. His sister always saw the beauty in efficiency and a hunter needs to know his surroundings in order to bring his target down.

Of course, what he actually discovers is that the sheriff's department is filled with idiots. Their case files on the recent murders read like a greatest hits of failure, as much ink given over to covering their asses as real detective work. When Michael finally meets the sheriff, the man is convinced that some girl named Shelley Godfrey is the one who killed his children, not any sort of animal at all. The man swings back and forth between violent rages and aching grief throughout their interview and the hunter would have to be a fool to trust in anything he says.

The most useful person in the entire station turns out to be the dispatcher. Unlike her colleagues, she can put two and two together and she's the one who gives Michael a rundown of the facts. But when the dispatcher finishes, the situation makes even less sense than it did before.

As best as he can tell, Peter Rumancek truly is a werewolf and if he killed Clementine, the hunter will wipe his evil from the world. But the gypsy cannot be the only monster that was haunting Hemlock Grove. While the earliest murders fell on the full moon, the later killings were more varied in their timing and Roman Godfrey's name keeps coming up. He was Rumancek's friend and Shelley's brother and no one has seen him since his house burned down with his mother still inside.

Maybe this was just coincidence; maybe the poor boy was just unlucky, but Michael does not believe in accidents. He believes in good and evil; he believes in fate and the wrathful hand of God.

So the hunter leaves the station with new purpose in his heart. Sheriff Sworn has nothing to show from his investigation but half a dozen unsolved murders and a suspect that no one else believes in; three months from now those murders will be dismissed as tragic accidents while the populace moves on. If the ghosts of Hemlock Grove are to be avenged then it is up to Michael now.

What happened here was evil in its purest form and he will not rest until God's wrath has fallen upon those responsible. He will not stop until his sister's murderer has been brought to bloody justice at his hands.

Michael's anger simmers underneath his skin, the hunter barely holding it together until his meeting with Bishop Francis finally arrives. He parks his car in front of the town cathedral and finds the Bishop in his office, dropping to his knees in supplication as soon as he walks through the door.

“Do you know what happened? Do you know what foul creature killed my Clementine?”

“It was the gypsy, the werewolf, as I am sure that you have guessed,” Bishop Francis tells him, resting a gentle hand upon the hunter's head. “But it was not only Rumancek; his beast was a pawn within a greater struggle that has been raging for too long. The greatest evil in Hemlock Grove has always been the Godfreys and it is time to bring them down. It is time to cleanse this city as Sodom and Gomorrah were cleansed in olden times.”

“Let me help you fight this battle,” Michael asks fervently. “I will do whatever you require but my dearest wish is to avenge my sister's death. I will hunt Clementine's killer to the far ends of the earth if you allow it; I will track the werewolf until our Father's will be done.”

“Then you must find Roman Godfrey. He is an Upir just like his mother and he needs to be put down. Olivia died in the fire – the fire that I believe her child started – but Roman still walks free upon the earth. The gypsy was his hunting dog; his powers allowed the werewolf to change during the darker phases of the moon, and you must kill both of these creatures if your sister is to rest.”

“Thank you,” the hunter says, pressing his palm against his heart. “Thank you for your trust. It would be my honor to represent the Order in this hunt.”

“You are welcome, my son,” the Bishop replies. “You have always been one of our best and I have faith that you will bring our quarry down. You must not only kill them; you must let the world know what happens to monsters who try to wear a human skin.”

“Of course. I will start immediately.”

“Good. I will set up a meeting between you and Norman Godfrey. He is Roman's last surviving relative and that is where your search should start.”

Michael bows to the Bishop and then leaves to make his preparations; an Upir requires different weapons than a werewolf after all. However, a quick trip to the cathedral's armory ensures that the hunter will be ready to take his targets out. Roman and Rumancek won't know what's coming for them until his missiles find their hearts.

He has the scent now and he will run his quarry to the ground.

---

Michael goes to meet with Norman Godfrey early the next morning. At first glance, the man looks more like cannon fodder than a tool of God; truthfully, he looks like he climbed into a bottle days ago and hasn't yet climbed out. But the Lord uses many shepherds to guide His chosen and the hunter needs whatever information might be hidden in the depths of Norman's mind.

So Michael tells the other man that Roman ruined his sister's life, a statement that is both true and plausible. Most Upirs break hearts as well as bodies and when the hunter implies there is a child, Norman nods along. He does not seem surprised; the vagueness of Michael's story allowing him to assume whatever debauchery his nephew was most fond of in the past. There must have been debauchery because Norman does not ask the hunter for any proof of Roman's guilt. He simply accepts his story at face value; though, in all fairness, the recent death of his daughter Letha could have more to do with that.

In his own way, this man is as grief-stricken as the sheriff and it may not be that he believes Michael's story so much as he simply does not care. Norman is a man who has lost everything and not even Roman's crimes can put a fire in his eyes.

“He skipped his mother's funeral,” the man tells Michael dully. “He left before the fire and when I called to tell him what had happened, that weird gypsy answered, the one Letha was dating when she died. He said that they were never coming back to Hemlock Grove and now Roman's phone just goes to voicemail every time.”

“Did he say where they were going? Please, for my sister, anything would help.”

“You could try the lawyer,” Norman says with a shrug. “If Roman wanted his inheritance then he must have signed some paperwork; maybe the family lawyer has another number you can call. And if you do find my nephew, will you give him a message? Tell the spoiled little bastard that he's not welcome anymore.”

The Upir's last surviving family member clearly does not miss him and while Michael has never felt guilty about his work, it's good to know that there won't be a witch hunt when the deed is done. Parents rarely wish to believe that their children must be executed and the hunter has sometimes had to fend off grieving relatives who did not understand. But Norman Godfrey has practically offered him his blessing and if this drunken waste could see it, Roman must be evil to the core.

Michael asks for his target's phone number before leaving the elder Godfrey, though if finding the Upir were that easy, the Bishop would not have needed him. Indeed, the hunter discovers that he cannot trace the number but Roman's phone records do show that he went west before falling off the grid.

Speaking with the Godfrey family lawyer confirms this information, or rather, breaking into his office gives this hunt its starting point. The man himself refuses to tell Michael anything due to client confidentiality but he keeps detailed records and Roman Godfrey claimed his inheritance at a bank in western Indiana about three weeks ago.

The hunter leaves immediately. He drives through the night, only stopping for absolute necessity, but by the time he reaches Mansfield, his targets are long gone. They left nine days ago and while some digging reveals further traces of their presence, no one has a forwarding address. Mansfield is a dead end but Michael refuses to give up so easily.

If Roman claimed his inheritance then he must plan to use it and once he charms the Upir's information from a bank teller, Roman's online bank account is not that hard to hack. The hunter isn't good enough to steal his target's money but he can track the Upir through his credit cards and ATM payouts.

So Michael follows Roman Godfrey and Peter Rumancek back and forth across the country, never losing their trail completely but never catching up. His targets are almost always on the move, rarely spending more than a week in one location, and only withdrawing money on their way out of town. Sometimes they travel north and sometimes they travel south; they'll drive for three days without stopping and then take a detour to see a giant ball of twine.

It's the werewolf, damn him, his nomadic gypsy nature better protection than anything that the Upir could have bought. Even when Roman and his pet do stay in one place for a few months, they're holed up in some rundown gypsy trailer park where Michael can't get close enough.

Everyone knows everyone in those places and folk like that don't take kindly to strangers asking round. Trying to slay Rumancek there would start a war with the Romani and the Order of the Dragon does not fight civilians. All gypsies may be sinners but not all of them are evil and the hunter must be righteous in his kills. So he waits and he watches until his targets leave again.

During the first two years of his mission, Michael's rage keeps him focused. His fury gives him patience when his targets slip through his fingers and then don't use the Upir's cards for weeks. He will deliver God's vengeance even if it takes a lifetime and as long as he has Roman's bank account, the hunter knows that he will pick up their trail eventually.

---

By the end of the third year, Michael has actually crossed paths with his targets several times, the Lord showing his mission favor as the hunter knew He would. But Roman and Rumancek have the luck of the Devil and somehow they always manage to escape His wrath again.

Indeed, Michael has only had brief glimpses of the creatures: a face in profile, the back of Roman's head, a fleeting peal of laughter as a car drives out of town. There is a woman traveling with them, he has discovered that much from talking to their neighbors, but no one seems to have a picture of her face.

To tell the truth, the hunter only knows what his targets look like because of their school pictures. Rumancek is as camera shy as their companion and most photos of Roman burned with his family's mansion on the night his mother died. Michael did look for digital pictures but the Upir and the werewolf are strangely absent from the usual online sources; if his targets had any friends but each other, there was no tagging going on.

The hunter finds it almost obscene to think about such monsters going to school with normal children but he's glad to have the photos when he suddenly stumbles onto Roman four years in.

They're in a strip mall of all places. One that Michael only stopped in to buy another pack of socks. He's certainly not expecting to see Roman Godfrey sitting on a bench outside of Nordstrom's and perhaps that's why the hunter almost doesn't recognize his face. Or perhaps it's because the Upir is smiling.

Roman has matured since high school and he receives quite a few admiring glances from the women passing by. Truthfully, the Upir doesn't look anything like a monster but Michael knows that's just part of his disguise. Roman's kind are usually attractive, luring their victims in with their beauty so that they can drain the poor souls dry.

The hunter quickly ducks into a nearby cafe before his prey can see him, looking around for the werewolf who must be close by. Although Michael doesn't see Rumancek, an Upir's commands do not last forever and Roman would never allow his pet to wander far.

So Michael waits and his patience is rewarded soon enough. His second target comes out of Nordstrom's about five minutes later with a bag over his shoulder and Roman stands up to meet the werewolf with a grin.

Michael intends to follow them. There are too many people here to risk attacking but if he can follow his targets back to their current bolthole, then he'll have the advantage of surprise. The hunter has had years to plan every possible variation of his take down and he's sure that these creatures cannot do anything to surprise him now.

Except, of course, Roman leaning down and kissing Rumancek tenderly.

Michael's mind goes embarrassingly blank but for a single awkward thought: I guess that explains how an Upir tamed a werewolf, and by the time he recovers his composure, his prey has disappeared. The hunter throws caution to the wind and runs out into the car park, hoping to catch a glimpse of Roman's vehicle. But it's too late; he has lost his targets yet again.

Michael climbs into his car in a sea of self-recrimination, praying that God will forgive him for his mistake. He should not have been surprised to see those two together; he has his mission and it should not matter that Roman and Rumancek truly looked to be in love.

The next year passes slowly.

Seeing evil smile at pure evil with such aching fondness leaves the hunter feeling shaky, the rug pulled out from underneath his feet. He knows what he saw and in the seeing, he has lost a set of blinders that he had not known were there. Michael cannot deny the pattern anymore. A pattern of absence that he had not wished to recognize.

It's very simple, really. Michael is chasing a werewolf and an Upir, a beast and a bloodsucker who should be leaving a trail of murder in their wake. Yet the hunter has seen no signs of killing in any of the towns where they had stayed: no animal attacks or bodies drained of blood. As far as he can tell, neither Roman nor Rumancek has murdered anyone since leaving Hemlock Grove and that should not be possible. Evil cannot change its nature. Only humans have free will and his targets are not human anymore.

Something very strange is going on here. The hunter has never heard of a werewolf and an Upir who were not mortal enemies and yet these two are lovers. Roman and Rumancek have managed to overcome centuries of hatred in order to be together and maybe they found a way to conquer their own natures in the process. Maybe they have changed and if so, does Michael have the right to kill them now?

The hunter ponders this question for months. It eats at him in quiet moments and wanders through his dreams. Clementine had been having doubts about her mission; maybe she had stumbled upon the same question as her brother and lost her faith in God.

But if Roman and Rumancek truly are different, then who killed all those girls in Hemlock Grove? The Bishop would not have lied to Michael and even if he were mistaken somehow, there was no one else around. No human could have caused such carnage and what gives his targets the right to run from their mistakes?

The hunter still believes in justice. He still believes that there must be a reckoning. And yet, only the Lord may offer redemption to his children. Only God decides whether a soul has repented or should be cast down for its sins.

Michael thought that he was doing his Father's work but maybe that was arrogance. Maybe he has been using the Lord to excuse his own actions, to excuse the sins that he's committed in service of his cause. The hunter cannot be sure any longer. Is he a hammer of God or is he just deluded? Is he a knife that's grown too sharp?

For the first time, Michael thinks that he truly understands his sister. He understands why Clementine wished to leave the Order now. Yet when the hunter finally reaches the heart of his conundrum, he discovers that his faith in God has not grown weaker for his uncertainty. Michael does not doubt the Lord; he only doubts his own conclusions and the grace of his fellow man.

So the hunter prays. He prays to God for guidance and two weeks later, Roman Godfrey makes his first serious mistake.

The Upir withdraws a significant amount of money in Kilkenny, Minnesota, the transaction labeled as funds to buy a house. It seems Michael’s targets have finally stopped their running and he could ask for no clearer sign than that.

The hunter doesn’t know if he will remain with the Order of the Dragon but he will complete this mission without doubt upon his heart.

When Michael arrives in Kilkenny, he discovers that the town is tiny and finding out where his targets are staying takes no time at all. He simply buys a beer at the local bar and listens while he drinks. Because everyone is talking about the nice young man who just bought Mr. Dent’s old cabin and by the time Michael's beer is finished, he has everything he needs.

Tonight the hunter will scout, learning the lay of the land and deciding where best to lay his ambush. Tomorrow he will fight. It is the eve of the full moon and Michael needs to be certain that Rumancek truly is a werewolf, not just a gypsy with awful taste in men.

This is the one rule that Michael has never broken: be certain of your monsters and do not kill innocents. No matter the evidence, the hunter needs to see that transformation for himself.

So he parks a few miles outside of town and then makes his way to his quarry's cabin, trusting in his protection charms to hide his scent. Such talismans are the most important tool of any hunter and Michael’s are designed to confound a monster's senses without causing it alarm. He will be practically invisible unless he stands in plain sight.

Once he reaches the cabin, the hunter is pleased to see that it's ideal for an ambush: built back into the woods and miles from any neighbor. Good for a werewolf but also good for the person hunting him.

Indeed, it doesn’t take long for Michael to find the perfect clump of brush – thick enough to hide him from sight while still allowing him a clear view of the cabin door. The hunter marks the location and then returns to his car to sleep until the dawn. When he wakes, Michael cleans his rifle and his crossbow, loading them with silver bullets and cedar bolts respectively. These will be his primary weapons, though he hooks several knives onto his belt as well. A well-timed slash can often mean the difference between death and victory.

His sister used to set traps when hunting werewolves but he has always preferred a quick sniper’s bullet to their heads. Less fuss, less mess, and in the current situation, less chance for the Upir to interfere.

Speaking of Roman Godfrey, Michael adds another cross to the chain around his neck. Thrice blessed and spelled to block an Upir’s powers, this pendant will allow him to ignore Roman’s commands and thus give him an edge in the coming fight. Some Upirs can only enthrall their prey with eye contact but Roman must be strong to bind a werewolf and Michael isn’t going to take any chances now.

One his gear is prepped, the hunter goes back to sleep. He naps until late afternoon and then climbs out of his car, moving into position about an hour before the moon is due to rise. His approach is cautious but he doesn’t see anyone else out in the forest and when he reaches the cabin, his quarry is inside.

Michael can hear two voices through the open window, their tone completely unconcerned. The creatures have not sensed his presence so the hunter camouflages himself in the brush, settling in to wait until the werewolf turns.

He plans to track Rumancek into the forest, killing him with a single silver bullet and then returning to take on Roman afterward. The scent of his lover’s blood should prove a fine distraction for the Upir, giving Michael an advantage even if his talisman does not work the way it should. But the hunter thinks it will because he knows that God is with him and his triumph is at hand.

Of course, the Lord helps those who help themselves and Michael has just started running through his plan again when a loud moan splits the air. Apparently Roman and Rumancek have decided to spend their last moments sinning further, the hunter shifting uncomfortably as their voices rise. Gasps and groans and murmured words that are too low for him to hear. But somehow that just makes it worse, Michael’s mind filling in the gaps with lurid possibility.

Although the hunter has only killed one Upir before this, he’s heard the stories. Everyone knows the stories of their debauchery. Supposedly Upirs are masters of the flesh and if you don’t mind dying afterward, they’ll give you the best sex you’ve ever had.

His targets certainly seem to be enjoying themselves given their growing volume and Michael is relieved when a desperate, “Oh, fuck. Peter!” proves to be the last of it.

A few minutes later, the cabin door finally swings open and the hunter snaps back to attention when Roman and Rumancek walk down the steps. Thankfully neither of them is naked, though the werewolf is only wearing a pair of tattered jeans slung low across his hips and the Upir's shirt does nothing to hide the chain of love bites crawling up his neck. Apparently the gypsy is a biter and that's not something the hunter ever wished to know.

Rumancek slumps down on the steps and lights a cigarette, leaning into Roman when the Upir sits down next to him. They pass the cigarette back and forth without speaking and soon Michael starts to feel uncomfortable again.

He can’t explain the feeling. His targets aren’t doing anything risqué, not like before, but something awkward is blooming in his chest. Roman and Rumancek seem so content, so comfortable with each other that Michael finds himself growing jealous of their relationship. His targets may be monsters but they don’t seem very evil at the moment and the hunter has to remind himself that his Father brought him here. He has to remind himself that the Devil takes on many forms, most of which are beautiful.

It's easier when Rumancek stands up and moves away from the stairs, slipping out of his jeans in preparation for the change. Because he truly is a werewolf and when the moon rises above the far horizon, his bones begin to crack.

No matter how many times Michael sees this transformation, it always horrifies him. Humans are not meant to bend and twist into such positions and the hunter can only watch Rumancek's agony for a few seconds before he has to look away. His gaze falls on Roman instead and his gorge rises at the expression on the Upir's face.

Where there had been a young man enjoying a quiet evening with his lover, now there is a monster because Roman is staring at Rumancek as though his pain is beautiful. The Upir is looking at the werewolf as though he has found salvation and this sacrilege reminds the hunter of his purpose once again. So he steels himself against his horror and looks back at Rumancek just as the wolf shakes off the last bloody remnants of its human skin.

The creature gulps down these gruesome leftovers until there is only a small chunk of flesh remaining, this piece lifted in its jaws and then dropped at Roman Godfrey's feet.

“Come on, Peter, really?” the Upir groans when the werewolf looks at him expectantly. “You know I think that's gross.”

Honestly, that's disgusting but when Rumancek growls, Roman just sighs and takes his lover's offering. Despite his protests, the Upir eats the chunk of flesh without any signs of discomfort, licking the blood off his fingers as he pets the werewolf absently.

“You should head out now if you want to have a good run before the morning,” Roman says once he's finished his grisly meal. “These summer nights are short and you don't have that long.”

But Rumancek doesn't move toward the forest, butting his head against the Upir's leg instead.

“I can't come with you tonight,” Roman protests. “Someone has to watch Anţă when your mother's not around.”

Michael doesn't know or care what Anţă is, but he has a sinking feeling that his plans are about to be disrupted quite significantly. Because the werewolf is persistent, letting out a chorus of soft yips and tugging on Roman's jeans. It refuses to leave without the Upir and the hunter can see Roman's resistance weakening.

“All right; all right. Just for an hour, and then I'm coming back again,” he says eventually, the wolf dancing around him happily.

This is a definite problem. Michael doesn't want to fight both of them together; there's too much chance that something could go wrong. But if the Upir is going to run with the werewolf, better to kill them now where he has a better shot.

So the hunter slowly lifts his rifle and takes aim at Rumancek, his targets still blind to the danger that they're in. Indeed, it's only bad luck that the werewolf moves just as Michael pulls the trigger and he curses under his breath when his bullet takes it in the shoulder instead of the head like he had planned. But even if Rumancek isn't dead, the silver should keep him out of action long enough for the hunter to deal with Roman now.

Indeed, the Upir is completely focused on his lover, shouting the werewolf's name when Rumancek drops to the ground with a scream of agony.

“What's wrong?! Peter! Are you okay?!” Roman cries desperately, trying to hold the wolf still so that he can see the wound. The Upir is wide open to attack and the hunter quickly swaps out his rifle for his crossbow. He rises to his knees to get a better shot; there's no need to hide since his target's back is facing him right now.

But Rumancek is stronger than Michael thought. The werewolf lunges sideways when it hears the twang of the crossbow, knocking into Roman so that the bolt flies harmlessly above his head instead of striking true. The missile lodges in the wall of the cabin and the Upir finally seems to realize that they're under attack.

Stop! Drop your weapon!” Roman shouts, looking toward the woods.

Even though the Upir doesn't know exactly where he is, Michael can feel the power in his voice and if the hunter hadn't been prepared, he would have obeyed this order helplessly. But his talisman protects him. Roman's command barely makes him falter as he takes aim again. This time the heart for sure.

“Dad! What's going on?!”

The door to the cabin slams open, the sound like a gunshot in the night. Michael jerks in surprise, accidentally pulling the trigger of his crossbow when he turns. The hunter watches helplessly as his bolt flies toward the young girl standing in the doorway of the cabin, the attack missing her by inches and the grace of God. She screams when the fletching of the bolt slices a line across her cheek and Roman lunges up the steps to shove her back.

“Anţă! Get inside!”

The Upir pushes the girl into the cabin and Michael could shoot him in the back right now. But his near miss has the hunter too off kilter to take proper advantage of his enemy's distraction, his hands shaking as he grabs another bolt. So his crossbow is only half-cocked when Roman turns back around and finally meets his eyes.

Freeze, you bastard!the Upir growls, his power almost tangible. Don't you fucking move!

For a single breathless moment, Michael's protection holds and then his talisman explodes, bits of shattered metal slicing through his skin. In an instant, the fight is over, the hunter standing frozen as his prey stalks toward him angrily.

Michael fully expects the Upir to rip his throat out but an iron hand grabs the front of his coat instead. Roman drags him from the bushes and throws him down onto the grass by Rumancek. He strips the hunter of his weapons, smashing the crossbow over his knee and bending the rifle into a twisted figure eight.

Rumancek watches all of this through narrowed yellow eyes, the werewolf panting harshly where he lies. The silver in his wound must be burning fiercely but that injury won't kill him and Michael can barely comprehend how utterly he's failed.

Stay there,” the Upir orders, strengthening the bonds around the hunter before turning his back on him again. He leans over Rumancek, holding the wolf still with one hand while the other digs the silver bullet from his flesh. Roman murmurs apologies when his lover whimpers but he doesn't stop until he's found his prize. Then he throws the bullet far into the woods, soothing Rumancek until his wound begins to heal.

“Can you watch this asshole?” the Upir asks once the werewolf has recovered slightly. “I need to go console our daughter. She probably thinks that we've both been killed by now.”

Daughter?! Michael thinks in shock, barely noticing when Roman goes inside. Monsters don't have children. Monsters don't have families and yet...

He isn't sure how long he lies there before the Upir comes back out of the cabin, a small blond child balanced on his hip. The girl looks just like Roman, all sharp features and sharper eyes, though the effect of her glare is ruined somewhat by the Disney band-aid on her cheek.

“See, love. There isn't any danger,” Roman says, pointing to the hunter. “Your dad and I have everything under control so will you please go back to sleep?”

“I guess so,” the girl replies, her voice high and innocent. She doesn't seem to find anything odd about this situation and the hunter can't help but wonder if he's actually gone mad. Indeed, the sense of absurdity only grows stronger when Roman's daughter frowns at him.

“You are a bad man. You tried to hurt my daddy and now my dad will punish you,” the girl says before leaning down to pat the werewolf on its head. “Goodnight, daddy. Keep watch over the bad man so that he can't get to me.”

Then the Upir carries her back into the cabin without another word and Michael feels a hysterical laugh bubble in his chest. Roman's command blocks the sound except for a strangled wheeze but the hunter would be cackling if he could. He has finally gone insane; he has cracked beneath the weight of his duty because this is impossible. An innocent child cannot live with monsters. Evil cannot love anyone but itself and yet his targets clearly do.

Michael thought he had overcome his doubts for good but now his faith and his reality are conflicting and he doesn't know which side will win. His mind is in turmoil, his thoughts spinning round and round in his head, and all he wants is to talk to his sister one more time.

But Clementine is dead; that's why he's here. Michael was meant to kill her killers and now he's failed her utterly. He was supposed to avenge his sister and yet Clementine would never have wished to make that girl into an orphan, alone and unwanted like the two of them had been. How can his sister ever rest when vengeance requires something so unforgiveable?

Michael is no closer to an answer when Roman comes back outside and sits down by Rumancek, leaning against his lover with a tired sigh.

“I swear that child never sleeps. She's going to be the death of me; no one should ask that many questions after her parents nearly died,” the Upir grumbles, before continuing indignantly at the werewolf's dirty look. “What? She wanted to see him. I'd rather Anţă trust us to take care of any hunters than have nightmares for a year.”

Rumancek just huffs in answer, lowering his head onto his paws. However, while Michael can't tell if that was an agreement or not, Roman seems to understand his lover perfectly.

“Yeah, I guess we'd better finish this,” the Upir says, running a hand through his hair. He pulls the hunter upright so that he's sitting instead of lying on the ground and then he orders, “Tell me why you're here.

And Michael does; he tells them everything. He talks until his voice goes hoarse since six years of hunting takes a long time to summarize. The hunter would never have spoken of the Order or his mission voluntarily, but speaking of his faith is strangely cathartic and his heart feels scoured clean by the time he finishes.

Michael may be trapped and bespelled and possibly about to die, but he is at peace for the first time in many years. Telling his story has given him new perspective and if he has faith, then this too must be God's will. After all, a sign may have brought him to Kilkenny, but the Lord never promised he would win. That was the hunter’s own assumption of his Father’s plan. Perhaps the journey is more important than the final destination or perhaps Michael is only here to be a messenger.

Not that Roman seems very happy about the message that he brings. When the hunter finally trails off, the Upir’s face is as dark as thunder and the first thing that he says is a resounding, “Fuck this shit!”

Michael would have recoiled if he could, his most basic instincts screaming at him to flee the angry predator. But he still can’t move from his position and it turns out to be unnecessary. After that single outburst, Roman gets his temper back under control, slumping back down against Rumancek with another weary sigh.

“Look, I’m sorry about your sister but we didn’t kill her and we didn’t kill those girls in Hemlock Grove. That was another werewolf, a Vargulf, and we tried to stop her. We might have succeeded if Peter here wasn’t completely useless in a fight.”

Although Rumancek had appeared to be dozing, he opens his eyes at the Upir's statement, lifting his head and shoving Roman in the side. Michael hadn’t known that wolves could look affronted but the Upir just digs his fingers into his lover’s scruff and grins at him crookedly.

“Well, you are. If not for Shelley, we would have been fucked and I still wish I could have said thank you properly. I just hope that she’s okay wherever she is now.”

Roman frowns, looking off into the distance with an expression far too human for the hunter’s peace of mind. He may have accepted that God did not mean for him to win this battle, but he still doesn’t like to think that Upirs are capable of feeling the same pain that humans do. Most of Michael’s adult life has been spent killing monsters without mercy and yet he cannot help feeling that he’s the monster here. For pity’s sake, Roman has a daughter and a lover – has had the same lover for as long as the hunter’s known about him – and he clearly thinks they hung the moon.

There is evil in the world, Michael doesn’t doubt this, but he’s increasingly certain that it isn’t sitting in front of him right now. While his targets are not human, they are people, and the hunter grasps for any excuse to exonerate him now. If he’s been killing innocents – if he’s been killing families – how can he ever make his soul clean again?

“But the Bishop…”

“Your Bishop is either wrong or he's a liar. I admit I killed my mother because that bitch was the Devil but neither of us has hurt anyone since then. For fuck’s sake, if you’ve been tracking us since Hemlock Grove then you should have realized that already. Vargulfs aren’t exactly subtle about what they leave behind.”

And Michael had noticed. He had noticed and he had questioned but he had not stopped. He had not turned aside.

“Honestly, if we were vicious murderers then you would be dead and we wouldn't be having this conversation; it’s not like we don’t have cause. If you had actually managed to kill Peter or our daughter then I would have ripped your throat out and you would have no damn right to tell me I was wrong,” the Upir continues fiercely. “You’re all gung-ho about killing evil but you let your sister die without you. She would probably still be alive if your precious order had taken out my mother years ago. So why don’t you go ask Bishop Francis why he let Olivia run rampant? Why don’t you ask about all the money that the Godfreys made for him?”

“Money? What money?”

“Are you actually that innocent or just oblivious? Bishop Francis is on the Board of Directors for my family’s company – I remember thinking that was weird since my mother hated churches. He made a fortune off our business while turning a blind eye to the monster at its heart and he probably thinks that he’ll be able to control the company when I die; I haven’t exactly told those bastards about Anţă after all.

“And look, isn’t it amazing how I’m suddenly an evil monster who needs to be put down? You should go ask your Bishop the meaning of hypocrisy before you judge me anymore.”

Roman doesn't seem to expect a response. He's just bitter and tired and ranting at a captive audience. But even as the Upir severs the last of Michael's justifications, he offers the hunter a lifeline amidst the cold darkness of the world.

God did not bring Michael here to kill Roman and Rumancek. God did not even bring Michael here to be a messenger. The hunter is here to learn the truth and find another way. Because if the Upir is right then the Bishop no longer deserves to lead the Order of the Dragon. He has been corrupted, his faith lost to avarice, and Michael cannot let that stand.

“We have a deal.”

Roman's head snaps up at the hunter's words. The Upir is clearly surprised by his surrender and this surprise makes Michael more confident that he had spoken truth.

“I will speak with the Bishop about your family and you need not fear the Order as long as you don't kill. I have never believed in execution without evidence but I let my grief and my faith in Bishop Francis blind me to the truth. I am sorry.”

“Oh, that's all right, I guess,” Roman replies in consternation before he looks down at Rumancek and his face darkens once again. “Actually, you know what? It's not all right. You think an apology can make up for trying to kill my fucking boyfriend? Peter has never hurt anyone. He may be a werewolf but he's the nice one in the family and you almost killed him anyway. So how the hell am I supposed to trust you? Why the fuck would I trust you not to try again?”

Before Michael can answer – and there is no proof that he could give – the Upir grabs his jaw and looks into his eyes.

You are going to leave here and never come back. You will not try to find us; you will not tell anyone our secrets and you will give up whatever means you used to track us down. I'm not going to tell you what to do about the Order of the Dragon or Bishop Francis, quit or kill him or kiss his shoes, I don't give a damn. But you will never allow anyone to hurt us. Not me or Peter or his mother or Speranţă. You will die before you allow anyone to hurt Anţă or her kin.

An Upir's commands are not supposed to last forever, but Michael swears that he can feel these words carve their way into his soul. Roman's commands are in his bones now, buried deep beneath his skin. But that's okay because the hunter doesn't want to make this same mistake again.

Now leave! Get into your car and drive until the dawn!

So Michael does. He lurches to his feet, muscles stiff after so many hours sitting on the ground. Then he turns and marches toward the forest, leaving his weapons and his former targets far behind. The hunter looks back only once to see Roman and Rumancek curled on the ground together, the Upir's face pressed almost desperately into the werewolf's fur. Michael will never forget the sight of them together; he will never forget what he almost did in the name of Clementine.

God has shown him the truth in the unlikeliest of places and while the hunter doesn't know if he can earn forgiveness, he knows he has to try.

Bishop Francis has no idea what is coming for him. Michael has a new mission now.


End