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Episode 8

After our dip in the stream, Teren and I took our time, walking back to the ranch at a regular pace. We stopped to look over at some cattle munching nearby, none of the docile beasts seemingly worried in the least about the mythical monsters just a few feet away from them. We held hands while we strolled along, enjoying the quiet of just being together, of just being husband and wife for a minute and shutting off that portion of our minds that were constantly in parent-mode.

By the time the gleaming red tiles of the ranch came back into view, our wet hair was mostly dry, mine just a little damp at the ends. Our toddlers rushed out to see us, Alanna watching them from a shaded corner of the building. Since our children had our level of limitations, or lack thereof, they could enjoy the sunshine like any human. Alanna hadn't ended up so lucky in that department, and while she could be in the sun for short doses, it bothered her after awhile, and she had to find cover.

When our children reconnected with us, jumping into our arms, she waved and headed back into the house. She had a small, knowing smile on her lips and I was pretty sure that she knew exactly what we'd been doing during our extended absence. I tried to not be too embarrassed about it, since she knew what we were going through, having had a superfast, super-hearing toddler herself. Plus, Alanna would never make me feel uncomfortable about all of the things she saw or heard, which was unfortunately quite a bit, since she'd been present for the beginning of the creator-createe bond. She was very gracious in that respect. I adored her all the more for it.

Dinner was at dusk, when Imogen could freely and painlessly join us. Light conversations and warm laughter filled the spacious dining room and it seemed a little miraculous to me that there had ever been a time when tension and turmoil had filled this room, back when Teren and the others had been desperately searching for a way to save me and the children from an unpredictable fate.

As everyone but Jack enjoyed a little plasma refresher, my happy and healthy children ducked out into the ski lodge-like living room to play.

Leaning back in our chairs, I felt an odd tension start to build. Looking at Teren's parents, my enhanced sight saw a slight furrow in each brow line. "What is it?" I asked hesitantly.

Imogen sighed and I shifted my attention over to her. "We need to prepare you, both of you, for something that will be happening soon."

Knowing how quickly life could shift on you, I instantly felt ice flood through my veins. Hearing my own heartbeat pick up, I looked between all of the loved ones seated around the table.

Furrowing his own brow, Teren put an arm around my shoulders, silently comforting me. "Is it time...already?" he asked quietly.

Alanna and Jack gazed at each other for a moment before Alanna swung her eyes over to her son. "Another year, maybe two, but there are preparations to make, as you know."

Teren nodded, then looked down. Confused, and a little annoyed at what they all knew that I didn't, I felt a pout form on my lips. Knowing I was probably a mirror image of my daughter, I shook my head. "What are you talking about?"

Teren looked up and squeezed my shoulder. "They need to leave this ranch."

My mouth dropped open as my gaze flicked around the room, taking in the beauty of it. I'd gotten so used to them being here that a part of me couldn't imagine them gone. But I also knew that as a part of their never-ending charade to pass as human, they had to move around, so the girls' unchanging appearance was never questioned.

Even as secluded as they were, people talked, and Alanna and her siblings, as they were being sold to the world, would attract attention soon for their seemingly unending youth. This group tried to avoid attracting attention, and Jack moved with his "new" bride to one of several similar ranches they had around the country. Teren was still young enough that his appearance wasn't an issue with him...yet.

"Oh," I whispered. "Where...will you go?" I also couldn't imagine this group being far from me. I was too used to them being a short drive away.

Alanna smiled at me, maybe sharing my thoughts. "The next ranch in rotation is in Utah."

I nodded and looked down. I felt Teren squeeze me tighter as a moment of strained silence fell around the table. They were all so close, it was a little difficult to imagine them breaking apart. But, all families eventually had to, I supposed.

Jack sighed and reached over to pat my arm. "Don't worry about it yet, Emma. We're not going anywhere for awhile. We just have to start preparing the new home and shifting some of the herd. It takes time to move a working ranch. We just wanted to let you know."

I nodded and smiled at him, then pushed it to the back of my mind. They'd said a year or two. As I didn't want to spend that much time fretting over it, it was best to place it in a far corner of my brain, to be looked at and examined at a later date.

After pleasant conversations returned and our drinks were finished, we all retired to the living room to watch the children play tag - super speed tag. When their energy finally wore down, Teren and I got the yawning twins ready for bed. Nika wrapped her arms around her father's neck, laying her small head on his shoulder. "No, Daddy. Grammy Lina's coming."

I wrapped Julian around me, kissing his head as he sighed his agreement to his sister's statement. "We want to see her."

Teren and I exchanged glances. The sun had set hours ago and we could both feel Halina moving towards us. She was approaching fast, but she had driven a car and her speed was more a normal one, although I was sure she was driving at about twice the legal limit. She could have run the distance and gotten here faster, but it was exhausting to maintain the super speed for that long. It was much more effective in short bursts, especially for mixed like us. Full vampires could hold the burst longer, but it still came at a price. Halina tended to only run great distances if it were an emergency, say, Teren was out getting into trouble without her. She'd done a lot of running when he'd been searching for other mixed.

Teren sighed and kissed Nika's head. "Sorry, sweetheart, she's still far away."

She lifted her head, her eyes brimming with tears; Julian in my arms sniffled. "I want Grammy Lina." Seeing her lip start to tremble in the telltale sign of an exhausted breakdown, Teren shushed her, rubbing her back soothingly and encouraging her to lay her head back down on his shoulder.

I mimicked the action with Julian who was starting to share Nika's emotional reaction, as he felt her disappointment through their bond. Kissing his head, I told them, "She'll come in and see you when she gets here."

Nika looked over at me, a tiny tear dropping to her cheek. "Promise?"

I nodded, walking over to kiss away the moisture on her skin. "Yes...I promise."

Imogen, her long, black hair neatly pulled up into a bun at the nape of her neck, walked over to them and simultaneously rubbed both of their backs. "I'll make sure that she does."

The twins nodded, tiredly slumping against our bodies. "Goodnight, Grammy Immy," they muttered together.

Imogen shook her head, clear amazement and pride in her grandmotherly eyes. "Goodnight, my angels." She tilted her head as she watched their eyes start to close. "Sleep well." She clasped her hands in front of her and sighed contently.

Alanna stepped up as we shifted to head out of the living room. "Teren?" she asked quietly. He twisted back to his mother, a small smile on his lips. She glanced at the bundle of Nika in his arms, her breath low and even as she drifted in and out of consciousness on Teren's chest. Looking over at her husband, Alanna shrugged. "Can Jack and I put them to bed?"

Teren's father smiled widely at his son, his eyes on Nika as well. His hair was more silver now than when I'd first met him, his stomach maybe a little more padded, but the eyes were warm and alive, the mind behind them still young at heart, if not in body.

Stepping forward, Teren slightly extended his arms out to his father. "Of course."

Jack smiled as he gently took the huddled form of Nika from Teren. She stirred a little as she was separated from Teren's cool embrace. Blinking, she looked up at Jack enfolding her in his arms. "Hi, Grandpa," she muttered, twisting to cling to him as surely as she'd been attached to Teren.

The burly man sniffed back his emotion and kissed her head. Jack got a little uncomfortable, showing what he was feeling, but it was obvious to just about anyone that he adored his grandchildren. Rubbing her back, he nodded a goodnight to Teren and me and started to head out the glass double doors that led to the staircase.

I watched him leave with my daughter, then turned back to Alanna and handed her my son. Smiling warmly at him, her cool arms brushed against me. He looked up and yawned as she effortlessly shifted his weight over. Julian immediately closed his eyes and snuggled into her body. I smiled at the comfort and love between them.

Alanna closed her eyes, laying her cheek on his head. Her loose, dark hair washed over Julian's back, his dark hair blending seamlessly into the strands, and watching them, I instantly saw how Alanna must have looked cuddling with a young Teren. Since Julian was a carbon copy of my husband, and Alanna looked the same now as she did then, it was almost like I'd just been rewound into the past. It made me smile even wider; it also brought tears to my eyes.

Eyes still closed, she followed the path her husband had taken with Nika. I watched them leave, my heart expanding even more. Teren put his arms around my waist, pulling my focus back to him.

"Aren't you supposed to be less emotional now, since you're no longer pregnant?" He smiled wryly at me, then tilted his head. "You're not pregnant again, are you?"

I laughed and smacked him in the chest. "No, your sperm is good, but not that good." He chuckled and held me tighter. Imogen laughed lightly at us, then left us to our privacy. I heard Alanna laughing a little upstairs and felt my cheeks heat a bit. Even though I could hear so much better now, sometimes I forgot just how good their hearing was.

Teren's thumb came out to stroke my flushed cheek. "Yeah, sometimes I wish we could have more."

He shrugged, then sighed. I sighed too. We hadn't been sure whether or not Teren's body would be able to produce viable baby-makers, now that he was dead. A candid conversation with our vampiric scientist had confirmed what we'd been afraid of - he couldn't. That life-giving part of himself was over with. But that was okay. We had our two miracles, and that was enough.

Smiling, I said, "That's because you didn't have to carry and birth them. You'd feel differently about having more if you'd been the one to shove bodies the size of watermelons out of an opening about half that size."

Every single vampire laughed heartily at my statement, my husband included. Shaking his head, he held me tight. "You have a point."

I wrapped my arms around him, lying my head on his heartbeatless chest, his laughter echoing in my ear. As I heard Jack ask his wife what was so funny, and my children yawn and mutter, "Quiet," I sighed.

"Yeah, sometimes I wish that too." I looked up at Teren, his handsome stubbled face slightly orange from the light of the fireplace. "But I have you and I have them. It would be selfish to ask for more, when I already have everything."

He smiled wider and kissed my nose. "Agreed," he whispered.

I felt Halina return to the property awhile later, when Teren and I were kissing in the hot tub. Busy straddling my husband's lap in the near boiling water, I only half listened to the roar of her sports car peeling into the drive. Teren chuckled tiredly beneath me, his warm hands sliding up and down my back. Being exposed to this temperature for so long warmed every part of him, and for the next several hours, he'd be just as toasty to the touch as me.

"She's back," he muttered, his lips moving to my ear.


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