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Teren and I both looked over to Gabriel, a small, sad smile on his beautiful face. "She was here because I had her entranced to be here." He raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. "She was here because of me, so I am responsible for this." He lowered his eyes, respectfully. "And I am very sorry, Teren. I never meant for any harm to come to your friend."

Looking unsure of what to say, Teren only nodded.

Teren was lost in thought, studying the table when Gabriel stood to excuse himself. Teren briefly looked up at him, nodded, then went back to studying the rings of color in his cold cup of blood. Biting my lip at my husband's mood, I stood with Gabriel.

"I'll see you out, Gabriel."

He nodded, smiling at me politely. Hearing him leaving, my children blurred down to say goodbye to their pseudo-grandfather. "Walking feet, children," I automatically reminded them.

Gabriel bent down to scoop them up, both twins' arms lacing around his neck. "Bye, Grandpa Gabby," they both exclaimed together.

Gabriel smiled at them in turn. "Goodbye, Nika, Julian." He gave each one a kiss on the head, then set them down. The emerald eyes tracked every movement they made as they shifted their attention to the family dog. When Nika rubbed a spot on Spike's back that made his leg twitch, Julian got a face full of tongue. Nika was the one that giggled though.

Shaking his head at the shared emotions, I could practically see Gabriel's mind logging the information. Placing myself between his vision and my children brought his attention back to me. Stepping towards him, I lowered my voice to near inaudible. "Are you studying them?"

I tried to keep the question polite, casual. Our family owed Gabriel too much for me to risk offending him. He smiled at me though, his head tilting as he answered. "Studying...watching, it's all one and the same to me."

A frown crept into my features that I couldn't stop. "Teren and I don't want them examined like rats in a lab."

Gabriel blinked at my answer. "I'm sorry if it bothers you. It was never my intention to upset you." Looking around me at them playing with Spike, he stepped forward. His voice laced with excitement, he murmured, "I can't help my interest though. Their bond is such a fascinating one. I've never seen anything like it. They feel what the other feels." He shook his head, his eyes wondrous. "Will that bond fade, or be passed to their children?" His deep green eyes swung back to mine. "It could completely change the nature of vampirism. Aren't you the least bit curious about that?"

I was about to answer him when Teren stepped into the room. "We don't want them examined," he whispered. "They are children, not experiments."

Gabriel straightened as he looked over at Teren. Sighing, his face clearly disappointed, he nodded. "Of course. They are your offspring...I will honor your wishes regarding them."

Teren walked over to me and slung his arm around my waist. Gabriel's eyes flicked between the two of us, then down at the twins starting a game of fetch with the dog. "Have a good evening, Emma, Teren. Again, I'm sorry for your loss." His tone was polite and respectful, but detached too. I had no idea how he really felt about our denying him access to our children. But some things we would just have to risk his disapproval on.

As my husband silently healed from his emotional wounds, I filled in my sister on everything that had happened. She shared my feeling that it wasn't necessarily something bad that had been done to Carrie. Of course, my sister understood horrible accidents all too well.

Sitting on my back patio, I enjoyed the views of the water with Ashley as Nika and Julian played tag on the lawn. A gust of wind blew across the yard, the smell of salt water strongly apparent to me. My sister too as she inhaled a deep breath. Looking over at her, I saw the slight frown on her lips as she absorbed the situation Teren was dealing with. But seeing her as well as I could, I saw a sparkle of happiness in her eyes that in no way matched her mouth.

Anxious to talk about anything other than death for awhile, I twisted my lips into a wry smile. "Seriously, what is up with you lately? I know you love your job and all, but it has to be more than that, right?"

Blushing furiously, she glanced up to the slight overhang of the patio above us. The much smaller deck was accessible through a bookcase lined hallway that led to Teren's office, a loft over the kitchen that looked down into the vaulted living room. The spiral staircase in the corner of the living room that led up there was a constant source of amusement to my children, who loved tossing bouncy balls down them.

Teren was in our home, working on an article for work, so my sister assumed that he was upstairs in his office. He wasn't though. Teren had taken to writing in our soundproof bedroom. He'd started doing that more and more lately, claiming that the quiet helped him think. I couldn't help but wonder though, if it was more his way of blocking out the world so he could grieve. Either way, I gave him whatever space he needed.

Curious over what she was going to say that she didn't want Teren to hear, I assured her, "He's in the soundproof room, he won't hear you."

She blushed even more and swung her eyes to the kids giggling in the far corner of the yard. "I can't believe you guys had a sex room built."

I smacked her shoulder and she laughed, taking a sip of her wine. "Quit calling it that. You make it sound like we had chains installed in the walls or something." I rolled my eyes as she laughed harder, coughing on her wine a bit. "It's just for privacy," I muttered sullenly.

Still blushing furiously, she whispered, "Well, I get it now, why you would want the...privacy."

I scrunched my brow, taking a sip of my version of wine. Drinking was a little tricky to do outside, since the act of blood on my tongue naturally dropped my teeth down. I had to forcefully pull them back up after each sip. Wouldn't want the neighbors to accidentally catch a peek of those.

Ashley looked at my confusion and smiled softly. Glancing at my kids in the yard, she whispered, "I finally tried that...intimate thing that you and Teren do so much, and I have to's pretty incredible."

I had to slap a hand over my mouth to not spit blood all over her pretty white blouse. She meant sex, but didn't want to say it again in front of my super hearing kids. Swallowing and sputtering, I finally got the liquid down. "What? When? How?" I wasn't even aware that my sister was seeing someone, let alone sleeping with someone.

Ashley laughed as I wiped droplets of blood off my chin. "Well, I'm pretty sure you know the how part. As to when, a couple of nights ago."

I smiled at her, shaking my head. "I didn't even know you were seeing somebody. Who's the guy?"

Smiling as she looked down into her glass, the embarrassment in her cheeks shifted to the rosy flush of love; my eyes could easily tell the difference. "This guy at work, Christian. I've been seeing him for awhile now. We've been taking things really slow, but the other night it just felt so right, so..."

She shrugged and looked up at me, slight tears in her eyes. They were in mine too as I set my blood down and hopped out of my seat to give her a hug. It wasn't that my sister had finally had sex, really, if that was all she cared about then she could have easily found someone, somewhere. It was that my sister a finally found love. That was infinitely more important.

Squeezing her as tight as I could without breaking her, I whispered, "I'm so happy for you. Why didn't you tell me about him?"

As I pulled away from her, finally letting her breathe, she sighed. "Well, I wasn't sure where it was going and then..." She bit her scared lip as her eyes darted over my face. Shaking her head, she shrugged. "I wanted to make sure he was in love with me before I introduced him to you."

Sitting back down, my eyes went to my glass of deep red blood on the table. My finger absently reached up to stroke a retracted fang. Suddenly I wondered just how freakish my sister saw me. But even if I wasn't a monster in her eyes, she would have to be careful with anyone she brought into our family. Just like with Tracey, that person would probably never be allowed to know the truth.


Seeing my contemplative expression, she chuckled. "No, not because of the fangs, Emma." I looked up at her and she shrugged again. Shaking the head that would only half grow hair, she whispered, "Because you're...beautiful."

Guilt flooded through me. "Oh, Ash..."

She smiled again, tears in her eyes but joy in her expression. "Don't, it's fine, Em." Beaming, she sighed happily. "Besides, I'm great, and he adores me...for me. He doesn't even see the scars." Smirking, she tilted her head. "Well, that's not true. It's sort of why he first noticed me."

I blinked, scrunching my brow again. "Huh?"

She laughed then took a sip of her wine. "Christian's a doctor in the burn unit. He's one of the doctor's working on the artificially grown skin I told you about." She smiled softly, thinking about her man. "He's pretty confident that he can someday even out my scar lines, make my face less...noticeable." Shaking her head, her tears got even more evident. "But he says it doesn't matter to him. He says it doesn't bother him. He says I'm beautiful," she whispered.

Holding her hand across the table, I felt my own eyes water. " scored yourself a doctor?"

Laughing, she wiped away a stray tear. "I did." We both chuckled for a moment, turning to watch my kids toss clumps of grass on each other. With their laughter bouncing around the yard, Ashley quietly said, "I know you worry about me, Em, but I'm happy...really happy." She paused for a long moment, then added, "Even being just a human."

The way she said it brought my attention back to her. With the way her lip was twisted into a wry grin and the remnant of her eyebrow was arched, I knew that she knew what I'd asked Teren to do to her, so very long ago, when I'd been very naive. " know about..."

Both her eyebrows rose as she nodded. "Yeah, I know that you asked Teren to change me. He told me awhile ago."

My eyes flicked up to where my usually secretive husband was hiding away. Vowing to speak to him later about the unspoken agreement that things between a husband and wife were sacred, and not repeatable, even if they happened before marriage, I grimaced. "Ash..."

Her hot hand in my cold one squeezed it tight. "No, I get it. You wanted me to be beautiful, like you." She shook her head, the hair swirling around her one shoulder identical in color to mine. "I'm touched by the offer, Emma, but I don't need it." Smiling, she looked towards where the ranch was, where I could feel the rest of Teren's family. "As much as I like Halina, I don't want her life." Her matching brown eyes came back to me. "I like mine. I like the work I'm doing. I like the man I'm seeing. I love my mutant sister-"

I straightened, my mouth dropping open. "Hey."

Ashley laughed and squeezed my hand. "I love her undead family." Her eyes shifted to the yard, where my tired children were laughing and panting, covered in tiny blades of grass. "And I absolutely adore my niece and nephew." Looking as satisfied as her words made her seem, she shrugged. "My life is wonderful, Emma."

Smiling at her, I again wished for her wisdom, patience, and acceptance. "Yeah, yeah it is."

Feeling my husband reemerge from his cave, Ashley and I raised our glasses in a toast. "To wonderful lives," I said softly. She nodded, touching her glass to mine.

Teren stepped on the patio right as we finished with our sip. His face tired, his expression worn, he looked between the two of us. Smiling softly, he shook his head. "What are we celebrating?"

I was about to tell him that my sister had a boyfriend, but Ashley beat me to it. Maybe seeing that Teren needed a pick-me-up, her answer was more...descriptive than usual. Smiling brightly, she exclaimed, "I lost my virginity."

Teren smiled genuinely and looked away. I grinned at seeing a natural smile on him again and mentally thanked my sister for forgoing her own embarrassment and saying it that bluntly. Chuckling softly, he swung his eyes back to her. "Well...congratulations."

Laughing softly as he seemed embarrassed himself, he gave her a warm hug. Well, warm in sentiment. To her, he was actually quite cold, cold as me. Exhaling like a weight was releasing from his shoulders, he sat down next to me. "Tell me all about him," he said encouragingly, like he also wanted to talk about something that had nothing to do with death.

Ashley nodded and started going over how she'd first met him. Feeling Teren's melancholy finally starting to lift, I stood up and shifted over to his lap. His arms wrapped around me as he laid his head on my shoulder. Threading my fingers through his hair, I closed my eyes and listened to my sister's voice. My sister's and my children's.

In a whisper that only Teren and I could hear, I heard Nika ask Julian, "What's vir..gen..ty?"

Biting my lip, I tried not to laugh. Teren couldn't stop himself. He laughed so hard he made everyone else around him laugh too. Feeling the stress release in his merriment, I loved my sister all the more.

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