Stupidly dazed, my head swam a little bit as I stepped forward. Cursing myself for getting carried away with my birthday celebration, I pressed my fingers to my temple. "Gabriel?" I croaked out, sure I was having some sort of alcohol induced hallucination.
He tilted his head at me while Halina calmly walked to his side. "Are you...inebriated?" he asked curiously, inhaling me from where he stood.
Feeling heat flush to my cheeks, I was preparing my mouth for the brilliant response of, "No," when Jacen leapt forward.
"You have to help her. You owe her!" he nearly shouted at me. Teren moved in front of the mixed vampire, shielding me. Jacen sort of resembled Starla, with a slight build, over-styled hair and blue-green eyes. Those eyes were wide and fearful as they stared at me.
I had a feeling Jacen would have flung Teren over the Prius, stormed over to me and lifted me into the air, demanding my assistance for whatever his problem was, but Gabriel blurred over to him before he could move. Lightly touching his fingers to Jacen's shoulder, Jacen reluctantly straightened. In a more subdued voice, he said, "Please," and slunk his arm around Starla's waist.
It was a little surprising to see the affection, since those two snarked more with each other than legitimate brothers and sisters did, but Starla buried her perfectly spritzed-in-place head into his chest as she stared at me, teary-eyed.
"Help her with what?" I said slowly, proud that I didn't sound the least bit slurred, although, even I could smell the alcohol on my breath. I smoothed my hands over my hair, just in case I was at all frazzled from my romp in the car with Teren.
One of Gabriel's hands reached around Halina as she stepped into his side, the other lifted to the open front door of the house. "May we come inside?"
Teren blinked out of his stupor, placing his arm around my waist in a steadying way as I minutely stumbled. "Of course, please, come in."
Starla sniffled again, clutching Jacen tight. The cutely similar couple leaned against each other for support as Jacen led her up the granite steps to Teren's family home. Gabriel looked down at Halina for a moment before they both followed. My head evening out in the crisp, clean, cattle-fragranced air, I took a deep breath as Teren and I followed our surprise guests.
Starla and Gabriel had both been here before, of course. Starla at times reluctantly driving Gabriel up to visit with Halina, and even more reluctantly spending the evening in the living room, playing board games with Jack, Alanna and Imogen while her "father" occupied himself with his girlfriend. But Jacen had never been. Surprisingly though, he didn't even look around. His pale eyes were fixated on Starla; he didn't seem to notice his surroundings at all.
Concern flooded through me as Halina led the group into the comfortably plush living room. Whatever was distressing Starla and Jacen had to be bad. As Halina draped her body across a lounge chair, Gabriel walked over to stand in front of the lit fire. The flue behind him was encrusted with stones that were shaped into a giant flame. I'd always thought it was an exquisitely beautiful piece of art, but as I sat down, I also noticed that it provided a fitting backdrop for what looked to be a speech.
Teren and I sat close together on a long couch, staring over at Starla and Jacen on a nearby chair. Jacen held her tight as she gazed at the floor, still looking like she was suffering from shock.
"We are very sorry to intrude on your evening," Gabriel began calmly.
My heart rate increasing, I shook my head. "What is this about, Gabriel?" I didn't need his formalities. I needed to know why Starla looked on the verge of an emotional collapse.
His eyes drifted over to his daughter, his child by responsibility, if not blood. The aged eyes seem to tire right in front of me. "There has been an...incident," he looked back to me, "in my lab."
I blinked, not expecting him to say anything like that. Behind him the fire popped and sizzled, the smell of mesquite swirling around the room, overlapping the scent of vodka seeping through my pores. Halina and Teren straightened as Gabriel sighed and shook his head. "We had a break-in. They destroyed...everything," he said quietly.
Starla sniffed again, digging into Jacen's side. Jacen, looking just as overcome with emotion as she was, leaned over to us. "She's going to die unless you do something!"
I blinked again, my head feeling a step behind. "Die?" I glanced back up to Gabriel, who was giving Jacen a clear warning in his stern gaze. "What does he mean, die?"
Gabriel's deep jade eyes connected with mine again. Before he spoke, Teren beside me sighed and hung his head, seemingly having pieced together what was going on already. I felt a little out of sorts that my fuzzy mind hadn't yet.
"Emma," Gabriel began slowly, a hand running through his dirty blond hair, "they demolished every vial of medication that I had." He shrugged. "I can make more, I even left Jordan to begin the process, but it will take months for the first batch to be ready."
As I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to picture how such a thing could have happened, Starla's small voice filled the room. "I don't have months, Emma."
I gasped as my eyes flew to hers, icy understanding filling me. No, Starla didn't. Unlike me, who was taking the shot simply because I wasn't ready to die, Starla was taking the shot to stay alive. As she'd confessed to us once, she came from a line of "defective" mixed vampires. Her body wouldn't complete the changeover. Once she began her conversion, she would never finish it, she would simply...die.
"Oh, Starla, I'm so sorry."
She sniffled again as Jacen closed his eyes and buried his head in her neck. Gabriel sighed, dragging my attention back to him. "I have many vampires who will be converting in the next several hours, but Starla, as you know, won't live through the process." His eyes pulled away from where Starla and Jacen were cuddling to stare at me again. "You have the last of the remaining samples, the only supply large enough to see Starla through the interim of making a new batch. I'm so sorry, Emma, but we need your help. We need your medicine."
All of the blood drained from my face, taking any remnants of alcohol with it. I'd never felt more sober in all my life. They were asking for my lifeblood. They were asking me to give up my heartbeat, so Starla could keep hers going. As I processed that, Teren beside me exhaling in a long, controlled breath, Starla quietly said, "I know that you probably don't care for me. I know I'm sort of...bitchy."
Her voice cracked and looking over at her, I watched fresh tears stain her cheeks. "But this is a death sentence for me, Emma. I won't survive a conversion." Jacen kissed her head, looking like he was going to start crying too. I instantly knew that the man loved her, deeply loved her.
"Of course it's yours," I whispered.
Jacen, in his concern, didn't hear me. He looked up at me, his watery eyes fiery. "You can't condemn her to death, not when you'll survive. You can't be that selfish!"
Having heard me, Starla shushed him and blinked at me. "You'll give it to me?" She seemed genuinely surprised that I'd help her.
Jacen did too, once he figured out what I'd said. "You'll help her?" he whispered.
I looked between the two of them. "Yes, of course."
Teren lifted his head beside me. "Emma..."
I looked back at him, his perfect eyes torn. Lightly shaking my head, I smiled softly. "I won't let her die, not when I'll...survive."
Teren's fingers came up to touch my cheek, his eyes watery now too. "Are you sure?"
I nodded, emotion filling my own. No, I wasn't sure if I wanted to die, who was ever sure of that? But I wasn't going to let another person permanently die, just so I could hear my heart beat a little while longer. Looking back at her, I smiled through my hazy vision. "It's yours, Starla, take it."
She started sobbing in earnest, then flung herself away from Jacen to engulf me in a hug. She sobbed mercilessly into my shoulder while I held her, patting her back. Jacen ran his hands back through his hair and then down his face. "Thank God," he murmured over and over.
Watching me comfort his child, Gabriel smiled warmly, fatherly affection in his face. "Thank you, Emma, for giving Starla a chance." He looked down to his daughter as she clung to me like my very presence was keeping her alive. "She's the only one that I knew for certain wouldn't survive this." As Starla sniffled and straightened, I handed her over to an eagerly awaiting Jacen. Gabriel watched the two embrace with a raised eyebrow as he said, "I am working on her problem, but it's...complicated."
He left it at that. I looked up at Starla and Jacen holding each other tight in front of me, not even knowing where I'd start to help her...genetically.
Starla smiled down at me, Jacen easing his grip on her reluctantly. "Yes, thank you, Emma."
I nodded, flushing that they were actually thanking me for giving them back something that technically was theirs to begin with. Shaking my head, I muttered, "You don't have to... You're welcome."
Narrowing my eyes at her, I examined her body more closely. Even my enhanced sight didn't catch anything unusual about her. Aside from being disheveled from her earlier worry, she was picture-perfect as always. "Do you need a shot now? Have you had one today?"
She shook her head, her turquoise eyes filling and spilling. "The lab was trashed when we got back to it. We looked everywhere for a spare, but everyone kept their supply safe in the lab."
Gabriel frowned at her. "I've told her to keep an emergency supply in her car, since she cannot afford to miss a dose, but it apparently...ran out and she never refilled it."
Starla hung her head and shrugged sadly. Glancing between them, wondering how much time she had, I turned to Teren beside me. "Will you go and get her mine please?"
Teren eyed me for a moment, seemingly not happy about this, but knowing it was the right thing to do. He nodded, then blurred away upstairs.
Starla's hand came out to touch my arm as she separated from Jacen. "Thank you, it took a long time to get here and I've already missed my evening shot. Father says I have another couple of hours, at the most..." Emotion locked up her throat and she shook her head.
I smiled and stood up to hug her warmly as my husband came back with the few vials that I'd brought for the weekend here. He immediately prepared one and injected her with it in the arm. Starla didn't react to the sting, anymore than I did. After awhile of daily shots, you just get used to it. As he pulled away, she reached out and hugged him tight. Teren blinked at the snobbish vampire's rare display of affection. I guess being that close to death can leave you with a different view on what's important in life.
I was even more certain of that when Jacen stepped forward and shook Teren's hand, then pulled Starla back into his arms. "Thank God, Starla. I don't know what I'd do if you..." He sighed and clutched her to him like he was scared she'd vanish at any moment.
As they pulled away from each other and started romantically gazing into each other's eyes, a feeling started to build in the room. It was an uncomfortable one, like we were intruding on a very private moment. Like any second, they were going to lean forward and kiss, quite possibly, for the very first time.
I turned away respectably. Halina snorted. "We have several guest rooms available, if you'd like to consummate this little love fest going on?"
Jacen's eyes widened and he immediately stepped away from Starla. The tiny debutante twisted to Halina, the attitude I knew and loved, suddenly returning. "Bite me, Grandma."
Halina slowly rose from her chair, tilting her head, like she was considering Starla's suggestion. Gabriel grabbed her hand as she took a step towards Starla. Halina ran a hand down her forever nineteen body, a smirk on her lips. "Careful, child, you wouldn't want to have an accident... now that you're free to age again."
Starla sniffed defiantly and raised her chin. "I'll ponder my slowly fading youth tomorrow," she raised an eyebrow at the pureblood, "while I'm basking in the bright, California sunshine." Her smirk rivaled Halina's and I heard a familiar growl burrow out of the elder vampire's chest.
I knew Starla was skating around very thin ice, and was about to whisper at Teren to do something, when Gabriel spoke up. "Enough, Starla. Please take the vials out to the car and wait for me with Jacen."
Starla's eyes sank to the floor as she immediately responded with, "Yes, Father." Jacen took the few vials that Teren was holding as Teren stood between Starla and his great-grandmother. If things had gone down between the two snarky women, I wondered what Teren would have done? If it were me, I'd have run for cover.
After Jacen took the medicine, Starla grabbed his hand and pulled him away. The heavy smell of her hairspray marked her passing. As Jacen left with her, I noticed several emotions passing his youthful face. He seemed a little angry at Halina's comments, a little embarrassed by the moment he'd been caught in, and grateful that Starla was going to be okay. But over all of that, he also seemed...intrigued. As his eyes firmly locked onto the back of Starla's tight dress as she paraded him out of the room, I thought that they might do a bit more than just "talk" once they got in the car.
I contained my smile, hoping Gabriel gave them enough time before he went out there, otherwise he may walk into something even more private. As he was watching them leave with a frown on his face, I wondered if he was thinking the exact same thing.
Halina shook her head at the couple then sauntered over to Gabriel. They smiled at each other as she ran a hand back through his hair, then she frowned. "Who trashed your lab?" Her question got the attention of my silently debating husband. Teren sat back down beside me and looked over to the pair of them, his sad eyes turning inquisitive. "Who could pull off something like that, in your own home?" she asked.
That was something to consider. Gabriel's home was even more impressive than the Adams' place. It was also packed with purebloods and mixed alike. The lab was a few floors underground, in a soundproof room where Gabriel spent most of his days. Anyone that had gotten down there and destroyed it must have known exactly how to get in and out undetected. Either that, or there was now a fresh pile of dead-vampire goo somewhere in Gabriel's house.
Gabriel sighed and surprisingly looked over at Teren and not Halina, who had asked the question. "I believe that someone I've been hunting was giving me a message...to stop." One edge of his lip curled up; it was sort of menacing on the powerful man, especially with the orange firelight reflecting on his features. "I don't intend to."
I tilted my head at Gabriel. "Who have you been hunting?" I felt myself cringing, not all that sure that I wanted an answer to my question. If he was hunting a hunter, well, I knew what he did with them once he found them.
His cool eyes turned to mine as he started to answer, but Teren beat him to it. "The vampire who changed me...the one who stole from you, right?"
A small gasp went through me and I twisted in my seat to face Teren. "The one who gave that hunter the botched drug?" My eyes shifted over to a frowning Gabriel. "Is he right? Is that who you're tracking?"
Gabriel's lips twisted as Halina slunk her arms around him. "Yes. I sent out people to bring him to me for a... conversation, once you'd filled me in on what he'd done." He frowned deeper and Halina lightly scratched his stomach. "He's a slippery one though. He's managed to successfully evade my net for years now, but I have eyes everywhere and we are getting closer." He raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "It's only a matter of time before he's...dealt with. The crime committed against you will not go unpunished, Teren."
I swallowed nervously, knowing Gabriel's form of justice probably didn't involve lawyers. Teren grabbed my hand, his eyes still focused on Gabriel's. "But he's getting to you too. If he got into your lab, then he can get close to you." Teren's eyes flicked to Halina as concerned filled his voice.
Gabriel noticed and looked over at her too. She looked between the two of them and straightened. "I am not afraid of one pissy vampire." She rolled her eyes. "I think I can handle one man."
Gabriel smiled crookedly at her. "I'm sure you could, dear."
As she grinned at his comment, Gabriel's eyes twisted back to Teren's. "I believe he only successfully got into my lab because I was out of the house, visiting a potential patient." He smiled softly. "A girl, twenty-two, looking to start a family. I'd like to give her longer to think about it."
He shrugged, sighed, and looked down as he sat on the stones in front of the fireplace. Even though the fire was small, more for ambiance than a heat source, I could feel the warmth of it on my sensitive face. But Gabriel didn't seem to mind sitting directly in front of the heat. If anything, he almost curled into it, like a cat enjoying a warm snuggle. The small blaze was enough to warm the dead vampire's chilly flesh. Halina's too, as she sat beside him.
His hands clasping around Halina's, he looked at their joined flesh as he sighed softly. "We will be losing so many overage mixed in the next twenty-four hours." He looked up at her, shaking his head. "It does hurt my heart."
Thinking about the mass conversions happening soon, I started thinking of my own; it made my heart speed up. Teren squeezed my hand harder, then leaned over and kissed my cheek. I knew he sensed my unease. It had to be apparent to every vampire in the room. There was no stopping the reaction though, my nerves were spiking as I started thinking about dying.
Gabriel studied me, his eyes analyzing. Wiping a palm on the edge of my flirty dress, I swallowed nervously again. "How long do you think I have?" I asked in a trembling voice. Clearing my throat, I more steadily added, "Until I die?"
Teren sighed and rested his head against mine. I nervously fingered the locket around my throat while I tried to put on a brave face. Teren had done this, surely I could too. Gabriel tilted his head while Halina narrowed her eyes, almost like she was waiting for me to keel over. "You had your shot this evening?" Gabriel asked calmly.
I nodded. "Before we headed out. I usually take it around bedtime every day, between eight or nine."
Gabriel nodded as the facts entered his brain. I could nearly see his brilliant mind calculating and formulating, printing out an answer as fast as any computer in the world. "Your consistency has acclimated your body to the drug. It will expect the dosage around that time tomorrow. When it does not receive it, you, like Starla, will have a few hours until your heart gives out." He looked over at Halina, squeezing her hand, then returned his eyes to mine. "I'm very sorry, Emma, but I don't think you'll be alive when the sun breaks Monday morning."
Breathing in slowly, I closed my eyes and clenched my locket in my fingers. So, that was it. I would be a walking, fictional myth by the time I went back to work Monday. I would be heartbeatless and chilly to the touch and wouldn't be able to handle any sort of food. I'd be unchanging to the world around me and would have to be more careful about leaving any loose ends. I'd be fully entrenched in the charade that Teren and his family had lived their whole life in.
As I silently absorbed it all, Teren's voice cut through the room. "You are sure...that she will convert?" An edge of fear was in his voice and I opened my eyes; the fear was on his face too. Regardless of Gabriel's assurances that I'd make it, that his blood would be enough to finish the conversion, Teren was still worried that I wouldn't.
Gabriel smiled and nodded. "Yes, I see no reason why she should have any difficulties completing the process." He raised an eyebrow. "Assuming she is fed enough, of course."
Teren's mouth firmed into a hard line. "Don't worry about food. She will eat." He looked over at me, the determination still in his features. "Even if I have to pour it down her throat myself," he added quietly.
I smiled at the love I saw in that determination. Letting the locket swing loose against my skin again, I looked over at Gabriel. "How long will the conversion take?"
Gabriel's appraising eyes shifted to Teren. "How long did yours take?"
Teren shifted in his seat, uncomfortable with even remembering what had happened to him. He shrugged as he answered. "Not long, under an hour."
Gabriel nodded, like it wasn't too surprising to him. "You are essentially his carbon copy, so yours will take roughly around the same amount of time." He shrugged. "The process gets more efficient with each mixed generation, but around an hour is about as quickly as I've ever seen it completed."
I nodded, leaning against Teren's side. In the silence that followed his last statement, I whispered. "What does it feel like...dying?" Gabriel looked down. Actually, every vampire looked down. Teren released my hand, folding his arms around me, but he wouldn't look at me either, instead, burying his face in my neck. My heart rate spiked a little higher at their silent confirmation of my fear.
It was going to be...unpleasant.
Hearing my heart, smelling my fear in the air, Gabriel peeked his eyes up at me. The firelight glinted off of them, turning the emerald into an eerie shade of bronze. "I'm so sorry, Emma, but I have no words to describe it." He looked over at Halina, the two of them sharing an understanding that only undead vampires knew. "Dying," he whispered, "is different for every creature on this earth."
Halina sighed and looked over at me, her ageless eyes filled with a compassion that I wasn't used to seeing on her. I think that terrified me more than Gabriel's next sentence. Looking over at me too, he shrugged. "In the end, death is something we must all face alone."
I nodded repeatedly while Teren kissed my neck, the stubble of his jaw scraping over my skin. Wiping my hands over and over, I prayed for the tears I felt stinging my eyes to not fall. Honestly, I had no reason to be afraid. I would survive death, just as my husband had. I had no reason to fear it. Now, if I could only convince my body of that.
Gabriel gracefully stood, Halina standing up with him. He walked over and squatted in front of me. Exhaling slowly through my mouth, I tried to stop the light tremors that I could feel throughout my body. He placed his chilly hands over mine, staring unblinkingly into my eyes. Even though there was no glow emanating from them, his ageless eyes had a calming quality about them and I found my body relaxing.
Teren sat up, rubbing my back as he felt me easing as well. Smiling softly, Gabriel quietly said, "You will survive this, Emma, and you will be reunited with your family." He closed his eyes briefly, a small smile on his lips. I thought that maybe he was taking a moment to mentally check in on his family. While everyone in his nest was genetically a stranger to him, he did have two blood children out in the world, and he could feel their presence in his head, the same as I could feel mine.
"Thank you, Gabriel," I said softly, folding my hands over his.
He opened his eyes and stood. "No, thank you, Emma...for saving Starla. I know she can be exasperating, but she is family to me." He looked through the home to where we could all hear the sounds of very obvious heavy breathing and lip smacking. He frowned slightly while I grinned. Jacen and Starla were indeed...celebrating her survival. Gabriel sighed and shook his head. "And I am apparently not the only one who would have missed her."
As Teren kissed my cheek again, Halina wrapped her arms around Gabriel. "You could stay tonight? Let them connect in a guest room while we connect in my room?" She raised an eyebrow suggestively and Gabriel smiled crookedly.
I flushed and wrapped my arms around Teren, giving them a moment of privacy, visually at least. I could still clearly hear Gabriel softly kiss her, and then sigh. "I wish I could stay, my dear, but I have too many conversions happening or about to happen. I need to get back home, to be there for them."
I peeked up to watch Halina sigh and bite her lip, then nod and lightly kiss him. Gabriel kissed her once more then reluctantly shifted to leave. Teren and I stood and followed Halina to escort him out. As the fresh night air hit my face, I inhaled it deep, letting the crispness settle the last of my nerves. It would be fine, I would be fine, and now, Starla would be fine.
Smiling as we approached the sleek, black sedan they'd driven up in, I tried to not listen to just how "fine" Starla currently was. Gabriel approached the door just as I heard Jacen murmur that she was beautiful. Just as Starla giggled, whispering that she knew that, Gabriel jerked the door open. I bit my lip to not laugh at the look on Jacen and Starla's faces. Clearly absorbed in each other, the high maintenance vampires hadn't heard us coming towards them. They looked equally shocked, and equally rumpled.
Gabriel cleared his throat and motioned outside. "Can you think clearly enough to drive us home, Jacen?"
Lying on top of Starla, her arms and legs firmly wrapped around his body, Jacen immediately stammered, "Yes, Father," and tried to disengage himself from the young woman beneath him.
Recovering from her shock, Starla frowned and looked up at Gabriel. Popping a bubble with her fresh piece of gum, the mint smell hitting me from where I was standing with Teren, she twisted her lips. "Father," she said coyly, her arms cinching around a struggling Jacen, "do you think you could drive us back?" She smiled with just one edge of her lip. "So Jacen and I can...talk?"
Gabriel cocked an eyebrow at her while the laughter I'd been struggling to hold in bubbled out. Shaking his head at her, Gabriel let out a soft laugh as well. While not too sure about two of his "children" hooking up right under his nose, he didn't seem to be able to refuse the woman who'd been so close to death. "Alright," his eyes locked onto Jacen's wide ones, "but you will act in accordance with your age, Jacen."
Jacen nodded, his face serious. Well, his expression was serious. It was a little hard to take his face seriously with his hair sticking out every which way and faint streaks of lipstick across his mouth. "Yes, Father."
Giggling again, I tried to block out the fact that Gabriel was correct in pointing out Jacen's age. Even though he didn't look it, Jacen was older than Halina, which made him considerably older than the twenty-something Starla. But to vampires, age was irrelevant at a certain point. Gabriel himself had a huge age gap with his own girlfriend...by hundreds of years.
As Gabriel moved to the driver's side, Teren touched his arm. "I'll drive you to my place. We can pick up the rest of the vials." He looked over at me, a sympathetic sadness in his eyes. As much as Teren wanted forever with me, he knew what I was about to face and wouldn't wish that on anyone. I smiled and nodded reassuringly. This was the right thing to do.
Gabriel nodded at him and cracked open the car door.
He looked up at Halina as she stepped up to the car. Maybe it was a trick of the lights coming from the spacious windows of the home, or the mixing of every vampire's dimly glowing eyes, but Halina seemed...nervous as she approached him.
Maybe sensing that, Gabriel closed his door. "Yes, dear?"
Looking over at Teren and I, then Starla and Jacen, she lightly grabbed his hand, pulling him towards her. "May we...talk for a moment, before you go?"
Gabriel smiled widely, then nodded. "Of course."
They walked towards the house and I watched them curiously, wondering if Halina was about to break up with him. While she'd seemed like she'd decided to let him into her heart, the woman was a mystery and could have easily swung herself the other way. Maybe, since we no longer needed his assistance with me, she felt this was a good time to end things. I hoped not. Regardless of her worries, I knew that she loved him and love should be celebrated, not pushed away.
Teren and I watched Halina separate from Gabriel and then take a running leap to the top of the house. She landed effortlessly on her hangout, the covered section of the roof where we'd had our girl talk not too long ago. Gabriel looked up at her and smiled, then took a couple of steps and jumped. He landed as effortlessly as she had. I frowned that my attempt at that jump hadn't been nearly as graceful as the two of theirs.
Beside us, Starla giggled and I heard the rear car door slam shut. Glancing down at the dark car, the sounds of lip smacking resuming, I shook my head at the eager girl. Teren chuckled lightly then slung his arm around me. "I could tuck you in before I go?" he whispered in my ear.
I shook my head. "I don't think I'll be sleeping anytime soon." My hand covered my stomach, a tension knot forming. There was just no way to fall asleep after someone tells you that you only have twenty-four hours left to live. His pale eyes tracked the movement and he nodded. Sighing as I leaned into his side, I murmured, "I just want to stare at our children for awhile."
He nodded against my head, then led me into the house. As we silently walked up the stairs to the twins' room, conversations from the roof drifted down to me. I didn't really want to listen, it being a very private conversation and all, but blocking out sound wasn't always possible, and I was curious if Halina was going to end their relationship.
Climbing up the steps with my arm around Teren's waist, I heard Halina casually state, "I just wanted to tell you that I've...grown fond of you." I smiled and looked over at Teren; he smiled too, also listening. Halina sniffed and I pictured her standing tall and straight, her chin held high as she reluctantly poured her heart out. "I enjoy your company and miss you when you are gone."
I heard Gabriel's light steps as he approached where I sensed her. "I miss you too," he said quietly, a warmth in his voice that I didn't usually hear.
As Teren and I reached the top step, Halina's voice lost some of its casualness. Sounding much more like the teenager she resembled, she told Gabriel, "I may...have feelings for you."
Teren smiled wider and shook his head. She may? I was pretty certain that she did. Gabriel seemed certain too. "You may?" he asked softly. I pictured him cupping her cheek. I pictured her with tears in her eyes. Of course, she may have been smirking for all I really knew.
I smiled and bit my lip to not laugh at the normally confident woman. She would hear it, and I didn't want to disrupt her outpouring by embarrassing her, even though she wouldn't think twice about doing the same thing to me. She delighted in embarrassing me.
Approaching the door that my sleeping children were behind, I heard Gabriel laugh softly. "Are you trying to tell me that you are in love with me, Halina?"
I paused with my hand on the doorknob and looked up to the roof. Teren looked up as well as we both waited for her answer. In true Halina fashion, she scoffed at his question. "Of course not." I frowned at her stubbornness, but then I heard the distinct sound of a kiss. After that, she muttered, "Maybe...I don't know."
Teren looked over at me, smiling as he nodded at the closed bedroom door. Silently, I twisted the knob. A patch of light from the hallway highlighted the sleeping bundles in the large bed they shared. Spike had come with us again this trip and he was in his favorite place, huddled between them. He lifted his head at us as we stood in the doorway, then lowered it, his bushy tail slightly wagging at his master's return.
Teren sighed contently as he watched the chests of our children rise and fall, almost simultaneously as they obliviously slept. Unaware of just what had transpired tonight, they held hands across Spike's body. Tears sprang to my eyes as I watched our tiny miracles slumber. Whatever price I had to pay to remain with them, I would. Teren clenched my hand tighter, kissing my head as we watched the lives we'd brought into the world.
From up above us, I heard Gabriel sigh at Halina. "I...have developed feelings for you too, feelings I never expected to feel again. You have...taken me by surprise, Halina. I do believe that I am in love with you."
A wide smile broke out on my face as I looked over at Teren. He smiled and tilted his head, listening for his great-grandmother's response to an outright declaration of love. I nearly wanted to cross my fingers that she'd finally admit it back to Gabriel.
"I...I..." She paused for so long that I'd have sworn that she'd jumped off of the roof, if I couldn't still feel her up there. Sighing, she finally said, "I will miss you. I wish I could help you clean up the mess you've been left with."
I shook my head at her and Teren shrugged. Some things Halina was just not ready for. Admitting love was one of them. Gabriel lightly laughed again, not at all bothered that she still couldn't say it. If anything, Gabriel was exceedingly patient. "It is nearly dawn, my love, you cannot come with me. But, as soon as I...settle some things, I will return to you."
I heard light kissing, then Halina murmured, "I suppose I should stay here anyway, at least until Emma is safe. I wouldn't want her to die on my watch." I frowned as I looked up at where she was. Teren let out a soft chuckle and I switched my frown to him. Halina's seeming indifference to me was sort of a joke around the house. But I understood enough about Halina to not take offense to it anymore. Well, most of the time anyway.
Returning my gaze to my children, I heard Gabriel chuckle and lightly kiss her again.