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Teren was shaking as I hurriedly grabbed the remote and shut off the details of poor Carrie's death. I could not believe what I'd just heard. It seemed surreal, like I was in the middle of some bizarre dream I couldn't wake up from. Teren had turned back to the screen, watching it intently like the image of her face was still blazed across it. I thought that if I was having a weird dream, he was having a nightmare.

Tentatively, I touched his shaking arm. "Teren?"

Not reacting to me, his face was still glued to the television, his mouth still parted in disbelief. As his pale eyes glassed over, I knew he was moments from breaking down. Sliding my hands up and down his arms, I gently whispered his name again. "Teren?"

Nika whined that I'd shut off the pictures of the fire that she'd thought was pretty, not understanding what had happened in that fire. "Mommy, I want to watch."

She hopped off the couch and darted over to the TV, her finger extended to touch the power button. I had a warning on my lips to tell her that TV time was over, but Teren snapped out of his stupor. "No, Nika! No more TV!"

She paused at the harshess in his tone, her bottom lip trembling. Teren didn't usually raise his voice to her. Still sitting on the couch, Julian frowned, his lower lip sticking out. "Daddy, you scared Nick." Raising his chin, he added, "Inside voice, Daddy."

Teren closed his eyes and swallowed. One tear squeezed out through his lashes and he immediately wiped it away. With a forced exhale, he slapped on a perfectly realistic, fake smile. Opening his eyes, he sank to his knee and held his arms out for Nika. She grinned, instantly flying over to him.

"I'm sorry I scared you, sweetheart, but we've had enough television for today." Pulling back, he cupped her cheek. With tears still in his eyes, he brightly told her, "Why don't you and Julian go upstairs and play with your blocks? You could build Mommy a castle. She'd love to see that."

His voice warbled as he spoke and one more tear slid down his cheek. My heart broke watching him try and contain his feelings from his children. Nika saw the tear though and ran her finger over it before Teren could brush it off. "Daddy, why are you crying?"

Teren's lip trembled as he shook his head. "Daddy's not crying. Daddy's just not feeling well, baby. Why don't you go upstairs so Daddy can rest?"

"Oh, I sorry, Daddy." Nika cupped his face and kissed his tear stained cheek. "There, all better." Teren swallowed and nodded, his smile strained. Nika's smile was genuine as she believed that she'd healed her father. "Love you, Daddy!"

As she pulled away, Teren choked out, "I love you, too."

Julian hopped off of the couch, patting Spike so the lounging dog would follow them. I watched Teren watch the trio head upstairs. The moisture in his eyes got heavier with every step they took away from him. When they were finally up in their bedroom, fighting over who got the red blocks and who got the green blocks, Teren exhaled heavily.

"I need air," he whispered.

He blurred away from me right after he said it. Blinking, I stared at the open space in the seamless wall of windows where he'd opened the nearly invisible slider to get outside. Feeling where he was at the edge of our property, I looked at the TV and sighed softly. I'd never in a million years have anticipated that happening.

Giving my husband a few moments of space, I slowly walked out after him. The backyard sloped down and standing on the patio, it nearly seemed as if you were standing on the edge of a small cliff. The view of the water here was breathtaking, along with the sunsets. Teren and I had spent many nights, pre-kids and after, watching the sun slowly slink below the horizon, bathing the world in colors ranging from burnt orange to pale pink. And there was nothing quite like witnessing a sunset through vampiric eyes. I was grateful near daily that I still got to have that.

Walking to the edge of the patio, avoiding tricycles, balls, and broken chunks of sidewalk chalk, I headed to the edge of the lawn. Walking around the landmines of outdoor toys that our kids had accumulated, I followed the hill to the base, where I could feel Teren. Walking around the shed we stored our lawn care equipment in, I found him leaning against the back side of it. Hands on his knees, he was hunched over, inhaling and exhaling as deeply as his dead lungs would allow him to.

Biting my lip, I slowly stepped towards him. Without looking up at me, he shook his head. "Did I do this? Is she dead because of me?" His eyes snapped up to mine then, fresh, wet tracks trailing from them. "Is she dead because she came out to see me?"

His voice hitched as fresh tears welled in his shimmering eyes, flowing down his cheeks as they got too heavy to hold back. Rushing over to him, I grabbed his head and pulled him to my chest. His arms immediately wrapped around me, cinching me tight.

"No, Teren, she died in an accident. That could have happened to anybody, anywhere. You aren't responsible for something like that." My eyes started stinging as I held him, wishing, as he'd once wished for me, that I could take his pain, feel it for him.

Starting to cry in earnest, he shook his head. "She wouldn't have been here if it weren't for me. She wouldn't have been anywhere near here, if I had done what I was supposed to do, if I had wiped her when we were kids."

Running my hands back through his hair, I whispered, "I'm so sorry, Teren. I know what she meant to you...I'm so sorry you lost a friend."

Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined Carrie's last moments. Fire was a horrible way to go...I knew that from experience. My own tears started in earnest now as my mind mixed my fresh grief with my old grief, scouring open the scabbed wound of my father's passing and pouring Carrie's on top of it.

We held each other in the backyard for long moments, each of us alternating from crying to comforting as one would stop and one would start. Between fits of tears, I listened to my children playing upstairs. They were so involved in the project that Teren had assigned to them, that they weren't paying any attention to the sounds of us weeping.

Kissing Teren's head as he laid it on my shoulder, I listened to them starting to tell a story with their completed project. I smiled softly; the story involved Daddy rescuing a Princess from an evil King. As they told the story, it quickly became apparent that Daddy was a superhero who could do anything, even shoot laser bolts from his eyes. My smile widened at how they saw him. He was sort of my superhero too.

Teren sniffled and raised his head, listening to them too. Looking at me, his face sad but more composed, he smiled softly. "It's funny how they see me," he whispered.

I shook my head, running my thumb across his cheek, drying his tears. "'s not. Kids see the truth."

He laughed once, looking down. Sighing, he shook his head. "I don't understand what she was doing in Los Angeles." His head lifted, his eyes looking south, to where L.A. lay, miles below us. His brows bunching, he shook his head. "Great-Gran told her to stay in the city and then go home." His eyes shifted to me, his confused look not leaving him. "Why would she have been down there? It doesn't make any sense."

I shook my head and shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe she decided that she wanted to see Disneyland?"

Teren shook his head again, then sighed. "I should have kept a better eye on her, made sure she got home safely. I just...with Starla showing up and your conversion...Carrie somehow slipped through the cracks." Sighing again, he met my eye. "She was supposed to be home by now, asking her boss out."

Exhaling softly, I gave him a light kiss. "I know...I'm so sorry."

"Thank you," he whispered, resting his head on my shoulder. "We should go check on the kids."

Once back in the house, Teren paced until sunset. He wanted to speak with Halina, see if there was anything they'd messed up on when they'd given memories and suggestions to Carrie. He called his great-grandmother as soon as the last rays disappeared from the sky. She was at our doorstep fifteen minutes later, Imogen and Alanna a few minutes behind her.

While Imogen and Alanna taught the children how to play Chopsticks on the piano, Teren and I talked it over with Halina in the kitchen. Leaning against the counter, her svelte body wrapped in head to toe leather, she shook her head. "I told her to stay in the city..." she frowned, "she would have been compelled to do so."

Teren sighed, running a hand through his hair. "We didn't specify which city...maybe that's why she left?"

Halina looked up at him, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Teren, I don't have the answers you're looking for." She furrowed her brow, clearly upset that her powers hadn't worked like she'd expected them too. "I don't know how this happened."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she had a look on her face that I had never, ever seen on her before. She seemed...unsure of herself. It was unsettling to see on someone typically so confident. But she relied on her abilities to protect her family. To raise money, if needed, or wipe minds, if needed. If she wasn't as in control of them as she believed...that could lead to all sorts of problems in the future.

Looking up at the two of us, she shook her head. "I'm going to head to Gabriel's." She shrugged, sighing. "See if he knows why I couldn't..." Pausing, she bit her lip. "See if he knows why this happened."

We nodded at her as she started to leave the room. Stopping in the doorway, she looked back at Teren. "I'm very sorry, Teren. I know she meant...something to you." Her eyes were sympathetic towards her grandson as he nodded at her. I smiled at seeing the genuine feeling in her. It would seem that being in love with Gabriel was softening up the vampire somewhat.

After a brief goodbye to the children and her daughter, Halina streaked away towards her boyfriend. I didn't know what Gabriel could possibly tell her about this, but I hoped the mixed genius knew something.

Not long after Halina's exit, Imogen and Teren's mother gave him compassionate hugs and soft condolences, then helped me tuck the children in before they darted back home. After they left, Teren called Hot Ben. Clearly hearing that his friend was distressed, Ben showed up at our house too.

Arriving with one bottled beer, the gorgeous man frowned. "I thought you'd want to share a drink, but I didn't have any blood, sorry."

Teren laughed once, smiling at the sentiment. He nodded him into the house, swinging the door open wide. Hot Ben stepped inside and gave his friend a brief hug. Pulling apart from him, he turned and gave me a hug too. Shivering as he pulled away, Ben gave me a lopsided grin. "Brrr, Em. I'm still not used to feeling that with you."

He shook his head a little, seeming like the entire concept of me dying recently was hard to wrap his head around. I understood; it was hard for me sometimes too. Aside from no longer having a heartbeat, I felt fine.

Giving Teren a warm hug goodnight, I left the men to their bonding. Upstairs, I listened to Teren warm up some blood; the smell hit me from all the way in our bedroom. Sitting down at the table, Hot Ben sighed and popped open his beer. "I'm so sorry, man. I don't really know what to say. I've never had anyone that I know die. Well, no one but you and Emma, I guess."

I smiled at Ben's comment as I got ready for bed, then frowned. Carrie's death wasn't really funny. A chair squeaked as Teren sat down. "It's alright. Thanks for coming over. It's I'm having a bad dream. I keep waiting to wake up."

Ben sighed and shifted in his seat. "How about a toast? To Carrie Davids, a life lost too soon."

Teren sighed. "Yeah."

Hearing them clink glasses, I closed my eyes for a moment, giving her my own moment of silence. After a couple of long gulps, Ben swallowed and smacked his lip. "So, tell me about you guys. How long were you together? First time you hooked up? The good times you had. Stuff like that."

Teren paused, and I knew he was considering what hearing all of the details about his life with another woman would do to me. Smiling at his thoughtfulness, I whispered, "Go ahead, I'll give you your privacy."

I heard him exhale, then mumble, "Thank you, I love you."

"I love you too, goodnight."

Closing my soundproof door, I sighed softly as I laid my head against it. The absence of every external noise wasn't as comforting to me as it had been when Teren was in here with me, but I knew he needed this. He needed to talk about the woman he'd just lost, and in ways that he couldn't talk about her with me, ways I wouldn't want to hear about. But I knew where his heart was, and I felt no jealousy over the stories that were now flowing downstairs. Just a sadness was in me, a sadness that a part of his life had been tragically removed, and right after he'd cut her loose too. The universe had a cruel sense of humor sometimes.

Teren was pretty quiet for the next few days, mourning the passing of a friend, hoping her death didn't have anything to do with her coming out to see him. I knew he felt responsible anyway, no matter how many times I tried to reassure him that people got caught in horrible situations all the time. Something similar to this could have easily happened to her at home. Sometimes, it was just your time to go.

Gabriel came out one evening, to give Teren his condolences. Teren grilled him over and over for information on how a compulsion could go wrong. Sighing as he sat at our kitchen table with a cooling mug of blood, Gabriel shook his head. "I have never heard of such a thing. Once a suggestion is implanted, it stays until it is completed or removed."

For the hundredth time, Teren leaned back in his chair and sighed, running a hand down his face. "Maybe it was removed, then? Maybe another vampire compelled her to go down there?"

Gabriel shrugged, his emerald eyes appraising as he looked over Teren's grief, almost as if he was cataloging the effects that trauma had on a person. "It is possible that another vampire superseded Halina's orders, but there haven't been any purebloods in the city for awhile."

He raised an edge of his lip and a chill went through my dead body. Teren's past experiences with questioning reluctant vampires in the bay area had pretty much cleared out the city. Gabriel kept a tab on any that had lingered behind, just in case they thought to start something with us. Hopefully those people were more cautious over angering Gabriel than they were about getting back at Teren.

Putting a hand on my husband's thigh, I said, "Don't forget that what happened to her doesn't have to be supernatural. Humans outnumber vampires, by a lot, and we're not exactly a docile species either. Maybe she just found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe she was taken down there against her will, against her compulsion?"

Teren lowered his head, nodding as he considered that possibility. Gabriel tapped his finger to his lips, his emerald eyes contemplative. Hating that everything bad in our lives always seemed to revolve around some psychotic person, I added, "You know what, maybe it wasn't even as bad as what we're thinking? Maybe she met someone and went to L.A. to spend time with him? Surely she'd be allowed to alter her plans if she wanted it badly enough? Then maybe she got trapped in the woods, hiking, just like the news said. Not everything that happens in life involves foul play."

Teren gave me a humoring smile, clearly not believing my cheerier version of events. Squeezing my hand on his leg, he exhaled sadly. "Either way, I did this to her. She was here because of me."

"No, she wasn't."


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