***Epilogue***

The events that followed went with almost no bumps. Brandy watched as Miranda was air lifted to the hospital. Then she and the children were ushered to a large tent. There were some tables and chairs. They were ordered to stay put there. A little more than an hour later Tony came in. Brandy rose when she saw him, and wove her way through the mostly sleeping children to reach him. He walked to a corner of the tent that was unoccupied.

"Have you found out who all the children are?" He asked close to her ear so the children might not hear.

Brandy resisted telling him they would hear anyway, and instead responded. "All of the missing children from the town are here. Two of the children are orphans."

"And the two we bagged?" Tony regretted the word "bagged" as soon as it was out of his mouth but habit had forced him. He watched her look away, and sadness come into her eyes. He assumed it was what he had said, but before he could apologize Brandy sighed silencing him.

Brandy hated to call any of her kind a lost cause, but she had looked into the eyes of them. She had seen the blood lust, the rage, and the hatred they held for humans. It terrified her, and she knew she had to do what she could to protect others from them. She knew they had already killed humans, and they would do it again at any chance they could. "They are feral." She fell quiet, and then asked, "What will happen to them?"

Tony hesitated unsure of if he wanted to answer. He knew it would probably hurt her. He answered anyway. "They will be caged until-" he hesitated again. "They will autopsy the men that were killed. If they find it was the lions that killed them, they will be watched. If absolutely necessary they may be humanly euthanized."

She nodded, "They were the ones that killed the soldiers; I could smell it on them. And they will kill any human they come into contact with, or at least try to. They only place they could ever live is in the wild, or on a reserve with a pride. They have to be some where they will never have human contact. If that can't be arranged… they should be put down." She despised saying it, but she knew it would be best for everyone.

Tony stayed quiet for a moment. He watched her as she gazed at the children, and then did the same himself. Before he realized what he was doing, he asked, "Were you like this from birth?"

She looked at him slightly surprised. "Yes. It's genetic. My children will be the same." She paused, and then said, "You seem awfully accepting of all of this especially for a human."

Tony shrugged. "I don't know. It doesn't seem that crazy to me, and how can I deny what I've seen with my own eyes?"

Brandy nodded thinking there was more to it than that wither he knew it or not. "So what's my cover?" She asked changing the subject.

"I told them you were a camper that wasn't flushed out by us or the lions. A few of the men had found a camp of sorts near the perimeter. It was well hidden which is why we didn't spot it in the initial scout. You were looking for your missing climbing buddy when you came across the building. You didn't see me, and heard the children crying, and went to investigate.

"You found your friend wounded, and the children which had attracted her. We- you- surprised them. They went to attack you, and I pushed you out of the way receiving my wounds. You and I managed to trap the lions in the room. We found the children, the lions broke out, I fired a warning shot, and the men burst in." Tony paused.

"Can you remember that?" Brandy nodded. "Good, they accepted it no problem." He paused again.

"How did you know who I am?" he attempted to catch her off guard.

She shrugged lightly, "Sheila told me."

"Sheila? One of the mothers? But-"

"I went into town shortly after you were there at her house. She saw me, and smelled the blood I carried. She realized I was there to help Miranda. So she gave me a map to help me pin point the den, and told me about you," Brandy explained.

"Oh." Tony replied. "A map? That would have helped me a lot."

Brandy laughed. "Maybe, but remember you are only human, well mostly anyway, and we have something to hide."

Tony looked at Brandy. "Mostly?"

Brandy returned his gaze, and wondered how to explain it. "You don't smell like a normal human," she sniffed the air delicately.

Tony laughed, "Do I smell offensive?"

Brandy was slightly confused, "No."

"Then why do you sniff so… lightly?"

"It is improper to smell someone so deeply without permission," Brandy replied.

"Well then, you have permission." Brandy regarded him for a moment wondering what to do. Tony laughed again, "Go ahead. I would like to know what I smell like."

Brandy looked over at the children. Then she stepped slightly closer to Tony. She looked up at him, and then breathed in his smell deeply. She let it saturate her lungs, and rolled it around on her palette. "You smell… You smell like a mixture of a human, and a…" she pulled back and looked at him closely.

"What?" Tony felt a bit alarmed by her reaction.

"I've only smell one other that smelled like your non-human smell." She looked at him, "He was a P. Onca."

"A what?"

"A Sphinx. That's what we are," she gestured to the children. "That must be why you are so accepting. You have our blood in you."

"No."

Brandy looked at him, "Are you calling me a liar?"

"No, but my mother would have told me."

"And if she didn't know? What about your father?"

"I- I don't know about him. She doesn't like to talk about him," Tony said. Was it possible she was right? He didn't have a chance to think about it. His new head set crackled into life. He listened, and began to ask, "Are you-"

"Yes the children could use some food and water," Brandy replied to his unspoken question. She was looking at the children. A few had awoken while they were talking quietly. Brandy went to them as Tony went back to talking in his mike.

Tony went to where Brandy was when he was done speaking to his commander. "Food and water will be brought, and then all of you will be escorted to the parents will come to pick the children up," he told Brandy. She nodded noting the way he spoke. It was so official. It said: I have no connect, interest, or care for you, nor any reason to want to. It was so cold.

Then his voice softened a fraction, "You will be released then too."

She smiled at her foolishness not to have seen his Sphinx blood earlier. The jet black hair, the commanding presence, the aloof nature, but the caring behind it, it was classic panther. "Do you have any information on my friend Miranda?" She asked.

"No word has reached us. You will have to check with the hospital she was taken to," he replied.

"What hospital was that?" she asked.

"St. Marks."

"Thank you," Brandy said to Tony's back as he left.

Tony didn't respond. He had so much to think about, and she had made it worse. He had told her he didn't believe her, but somewhere deep inside him he could feel the burning desire to. He wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe he was a… Sphinx. But if that was true what did it mean for the rest of his life? His Commander wanted to put him up for promotion when he reenlisted.

However, he was unsure more now than ever if he wanted to. He was shown some negative aspects of the military he had never thought of before. Sure they took care of their own, but what about all of the people they were supposed to protect. He had a feeling that if you were too different from the military's idea of "normal" that you weren't subject to that protection. Someone like Brandy or any of the children would certainly not be in that norm. So what would happen to them?

Tony was sure Brandy had the right of it. They would be captured and experimented on, dissected, and studied. Would the military and its parent the government try to irradiate them too? How many lives would be destroyed? He didn't like the idea of it, and wasn't sure if he could be part of something that would cause so much pain. But what would he do if he left? There were too many questions that plagued him.

Two hours later Brandy and the children were escorted to another enclosed area. It was a picnic spot the military had gated. All parents were required to bring two forms of I.D. for themselves, and a social security card, and picture of the child. When everything was checked, and cleared the children were released to their parents. Brandy spotted Sheila among the parents, but showed no recognition of her. She would have her chance to speak with her later. Brandy knew Sheila's son would prove to be a problem, but she would deal with it when they got there.

For now the children huddled around Brandy so she knew she would meet each of the parents. Brandy knew that several of the children wouldn't want to leave her. They had found some resemblance of a pride, and now it was about to be broken up. There was nothing any of them could do, and they knew it. Brandy did her best to sooth and ease the transition, but it was hard even for her. She had mainly set to focusing on what to do with the orphans.

The first of the parents approached. Thankfully it was the parents of a child whom missed his parents. The boy gave Brandy a heartfelt hug, and then ran to his parents. He was scooped up, and carried away while he waved. More parents came, and though the partings were not as happy as the first they still went smoothly. A few did resist. They tried to argue that Brandy was their pride leader now; she had fought for them. Brandy explained that they had to go, that it was her wishes. She could see in their eyes that each one of them hated it, but they went because it was what Brandy wanted. Now the only ones left were Sheila's son, and the two orphans.

When Sheila approached he refused to look at her. When she reached out to touch him he shielded away behind Brandy. "I'm not going. I don't care what Brandy says, I- am- not- going- home- with- you! She is my pride now, and I'm not leaving her. If you force me I'll run away and track her," his anger was evident on his face.

Brandy looked at Sheila with pity, but she could tell that she had expected this. Brandy knew it probably still hurt. To go wild during puberty was common, and it was when the lure was the hardest to resist. Brandy could help him, but it would take time. She didn't know if there was any other choice than him coming with her because he had made it more than clear that this was what Adam wanted.

"What about your friends and school?" Sheila asked quietly, trying to plea to his human heart.

Adam's facial expression slightly softened, and then hardened again. "I can transfer, and make new friends. I want to stay with her."

Sheila looked desperate. Brandy said, "Adam go with your mom for now. As soon as I am released I will come to town, and we can work all of this out."

"There's nothing to work out! I'm staying with you!"

"That's fine, but you have to go with your parents for now. If you don't it will look very suspicious, and people will start watching us. That is the last thing we need right now. Now go," her tone left no room for argument, but Adam's expression told her he was thinking otherwise. She growled to quell it before he could.

His face fell, and he asked in a defeated tone, "Will you promise to come for me?" She nodded, and he finally left with his parents.

That left Brandy and the two orphans. A man with the military approached with a woman. "This woman is with social services," then he left.

The woman put her bag on the table Brand and the two remaining children sat at. She began to ruffle through it. As she did she said, "I will take possession of the children immediately. As you are acting guardian, you will have to fill out some paper work before I take them." She found what she wanted, and pulled it out completely oblivious to the children cowering and clinging to Brandy. She flopped the paperwork in front of Brandy along with a pen. She glared at Brandy when she didn't move to fill it out. "Well?"

"Do you have a home for them right now?" Brandy asked calmly. She knew how slow and tedious the government was.

"Not right at the moment, but I don't see how that's any of-" The woman was pissed, and Brandy was enjoying it.

"I assume you have a list of the already approved foster homes in the area. And if you'll look I am on the list." Brandy pulled out her I.D. and held it out for the woman. The woman just looked at it, and made no move to take it. So Brandy said, "Of course if you refuse to accept a qualified person making an offer, I'm sure that Social Services would be more than angry to lose said person as a home. And what do you think they would do to the person whom caused such a thing to happen?"

The woman hmphed, and snatched Brandy's license from her. She pawed through her bag again, and extracted another folder. She read the name stated on her license, and began to page through the folder. A page and a half in, she froze. She double checked the paper, and the license. She seemed to not know what to do. Then she recovered from her shock, grabbed her cell phone, and walked away. She returned not long after.

She cleared her throat, and handed Brandy her license, "As I understand it you have fostered before, so you are familiar with the procedures." She was pulling out more papers.

They went through the gobs of paperwork in a little over half an hour. It went fast due to Brandy already being in the system. When it was done the social worker left somewhat happy, and the children were thrilled. "Does this mean we can stay with you?"

Brandy laughed. "Yes it does."

Shortly after they were released, and ushered to Brandy's car. Brandy drove into town, and went to Sheila's house. All of the parents and children were there. Adam was already fully packed. Brandy gave the parents her number and address. She promised to keep in touch. She made arrangements with Sheila for Adam. While she did Adam took the liberty of loading his things in her car. It seemed everything was in order so Brandy gave a final farewell, and went to her car.

Before they left town, they stopped to top off on gas. Brandy gave Adam money to get snacks and drinks. She had her head in the car when a shadow fell across her. She straightened up to see Tony standing before her. The setting sun cast an orange glow across everything. It had a softening effect on his skin and it made her realize how handsome he was. She smiled at him warmly. "Hi Tony," she wondered if the light was having the same effect for him because she thought she saw something in his eyes that wasn't there before. "Where are your men?"

"Breaking camp, and loading up."

"How come you're not with them?" she asked.

"I wanted to check on you, and make sure you're going to be ok," his eyes fell on something behind her.

"What's he doing here?" Adam said harshly.

Brandy turned, "Adam mind your manners. You don't speak to an adult like that." He glared, and then got in the car making sure to slam the door.

"I appreciate your concern for us," she said turning back to Tony, "we'll be fine."

Tony saw something in her eyes that made him skeptical. "Where will you go?"

Brandy looked over the children, "Back to the city for now."

"For now?" Tony asked.

"The city is no place for children like them. They need to be able to run free some times. I'll sell my house, and try to find a place more suitable." She shrugged it off like it was nothing.

"How will you care for them?"

"I'll manage."

Tony nodded, and looked away at the sunset. Then he reached in one of his pockets, and withdrew a card. He scribbled on the back, and held it out to her. "You can call me if you need anything. I have a place out in the country, you could stay there if you need," he was going to say more, but became slightly embarrassed by what he was offering or what she may think.

"Thank you, but why are you trying to help me? Why do you care?" She asked. She was still amazed how accepting he was even if he did know that he shared a common bond.

Tony shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I want to help you. You've done so much to help Miranda, and the children, as well as the families, but who's helping you?" He paused, "I'd like to if you don't mind."

Brandy smiled in spite of herself, "Maybe, we'll see."

Tony responded before he could stop himself. "I want to be in your life. I'd like to be part of it anyway." He quickly added, "I hope you can understand that."

Brandy nodded. She resisted telling him that he felt that way because of their nature, and drive for social groups. Hesitantly Tony pulled Brandy into his arms for a hug. He felt a little awkward hugging a woman he barely knew, but he wanted to. It eased his nervousness that Brandy wasn't resisting. She even hugged him back. Brandy inhaled Tony's smell deep into her lungs. She still found the smell of him curious, and exciting, but she kept it to herself. She liked the feel of his arms around her, but they broke away from each other.

Brandy spoke first, "We should be on our way so we're not back too late."

Tony nodded, "Remember call me if you need anything."

Brandy nodded. Then she got in her car, and began her trek back to the city. She wondered how long they would be there for before moving on. She thought about Miranda, and about Tony and his offer. Maybe she would take him up on it. She wasn't sure yet. Only time could tell.

© 2007