I had odd dreams while I rested after my conversion. Odd dreams that I couldn't quite remember, although as I woke, the sounds of distressed cattle were echoing in my brain. I had a feeling that my dreams were mainly settled around the feasting that had happened last night. Not wanting to think about the carnage, I instead focused on my deceased body.
My eyes still closed, I listened for any sound coming from me. Usually, there was something - a heartbeat, the wind whooshing through my lungs, the food in my stomach digesting...something. But as I lay there, still not even breathing, everything was completely silent. Forcing myself to not instinctively inhale, I waited for the accompanying discomfit that the sensation would have given me had I been alive. I waited for the rising panic that shouted at my body to stop playing games and take the breath it needed. The feeling never happened though. I could have peacefully held my breath for hours on end.
I inhaled deep anyway, enjoying the expansion and contraction of my lungs, even if I didn't need them. Scent rushed in on me as I did. From in the room, I was barraged with the creosote from the cold fireplace. From out in the hall, the familiar Freesia scent filtered in to me. Farther away, I could pick out candles, furniture polish, and the unmistakable scent of bacon. Yesterday, the bacon scent would have had my mouth watering. Today, I immediately discarded it, moving on to the scent overriding everything in my world. Blood. Somewhere downstairs was fresh blood; I could practically smell the heat of it.
My eyes flashed open. If my stomach could have rumbled, it would have. I remembered Teren having to eat continually the first few days after his conversion and thought my hunger was due to my newness. My fangs started slipping down, but I pulled them back up. I was still me. I could control the cravings until they subsided into the more normal range.
Lying on my side, perfectly still and straight, a face suddenly filled my vision. I smiled as Teren's pale eyes locked onto mine. "Good morning, sleepy. Or should I say, good afternoon?" He half smiled as he lay beside me, his hand coming up to brush some hair off of my cheek.
I smiled wider at the pleasing feeling of his soft, room temperature touch. While there were some aspects of him being cold that I would miss, mainly in the intimate part of our relationship, it would be nice to hold him without shivering.
Wondering if his mouth would no longer be icy either, I murmured, "Good afternoon to you too." My words registering with me, my eyes widened and I sat up. As shock and worry flew through me, I waited for my heart to surge; naturally, it didn't. "Afternoon? I'm seriously late for work. They're gonna can me."
Teren tilted his head and smirked. "Do you really think I'd let you get fired? After everything you did to get back there?" He smiled wider, his face peaceful as he shifted to his back, propping his hands behind his head and crossing his ankles.
Taking in his relaxed posture, I relaxed as well. "I guess not. What did you tell them?"
He chuckled softly, his eyes playful. "I told Tracey that you were feeling a little under the weather after your weekend, and you'd be missing a few days." Laughing a little more, he added, "I think she thinks you're still hung-over."
I smiled, then sighed. I'd have to go back sooner or later, and face the same obstacles Teren had faced when he'd gone back. But he'd managed it pretty simply, I was sure I would too. Aside from being cold and not ever able to eat around humans, I'd be essentially the same as before.
Hearing my sigh, Teren sat up and rested his hand over mine. "It will be okay, Emma. You're through the hardest part. The hunger will be more and more manageable every day." Smiling softly, he stroked my skin. He leaned in to kiss me, his lips as warm to me as the rest of him. "Speaking of that, Mom's got some blood ready for you, if you're hungry now."
Feeling a discomfort in my belly, the same sort of discomfort that you get before your stomach growls, I nodded. "Starving." My mouth felt parched to me too and I dryly swallowed.
I didn't have to say more than that before Alanna was standing in my door, steaming thermos in hand. "Here you go, sweetheart." Her smile was a wide one when she handed it to me and my ears picked up the sound of Jack humming outside. I figured her joy was as much at being reunited with him as it was that I was safe.
Thanking her, I watched Imogen causally standing at my doorway. Taking a much needed sip of plasma, I waved her into the room. Smiling as widely as her daughter, she walked through a bright patch of sunshine. She cringed slightly before stopping herself. I suppose it was still an odd feeling for her, being in the sun when she'd avoided it her entire life.
Leaning down, she placed a warm, grandmotherly kiss on my head. "I'm so glad you made it through, Emma."
Taking only a fraction of second to pause and thank her, I continued downing my soothing treat. It was hotter than I recalled it being, the heat flowing all the way down my body, warming me from the inside out. It only made the experience more enjoyable, as the liquid satisfied the burn of thirst and the discomfort of hunger. I couldn't imagine anything ever tasting better and I had no desire to have anything else.
The very idea of consuming anything else suddenly sounded about as appealing as eating the mud pies that I used to make as a kid. I hadn't understood how Teren had suddenly had no interest in food after his change, but now I did. Anything that wasn't this was suddenly a little nauseating. Just the thought of having a piece of the bacon that I could smell lingering in the air from downstairs made me feel a little ill. It gave me a whole new appreciation for when Teren had forced food down his throat for me.
After finishing my drink, I stared into the thermos and considered licking the rim. Laughing softly, Alanna asked, "Would you like another, Emma?"
Cringing, I looked up at her. "If that's okay? I know I've taken a lot...lately."
Lightly shaking her head, she patted my shoulder. "You're an Adams, Emma. You may have as much as you need."
Walking at a normal pace, Alanna and Imogen headed back down to the kitchen, talking over how surprising things had been around the ranch lately, what with Gabriel's light blocking windows being put up, Starla's sudden need for all of my shots, and my unexpected conversion. As they entered the kitchen they started debating what other surprises might be in store.
Teren listened to them with his head tilted, then settled in to kiss me again. Pushing back the extra conversations, I focused on the one thing that always grounded me, my constant, him. Feeling his lips move over mine, his hands clenching my hip, I started to understand what he'd told me once about seeing the world differently. I felt every molecule of air against my cheek. I heard every brush of noise in the room. Through my slotted eyes, I saw variations of color that had never existed to me before.
But instead of it being overpowering, it made everything seem more...real. Like I'd been living in a sepia-toned silent film my whole life. At the time, that had seemed rich and full to me. Then I'd been bitten, and thrust into the world of Technicolor. That had seemed miraculous, and I'd wondered how I'd never noticed how flat the world was before. But now, now I'd been immersed into a high definition 3D film. It was beyond anything I'd ever imagined and as Teren had correctly told me once, I felt connected to the world, more a part of it than I'd ever felt before. I felt the very pulse of life washing over my unblemished skin.
My half-closed eyes sprang open as I pulled away from Teren's mouth. His tongue had just reached out to flick me and he seemed a little disgruntled that I'd made him miss. Ignoring how sexy his lip looked, curved into curious displeasure, my hand ran up to my neck. The spot that had forever been marked with a strange man's teeth was now smooth. Not feeling the rigid bumps of poorly healed skin made me giggle a little.
I tried to look down to see the spot, but my eyes weren't suddenly detachable or anything; there was just no way to see that angle myself. Teren chuckled at me as I hopped off the bed. "What are you doing?"
Rushing over to the vanity, I stared at myself in the mirror. "Is it gone?" He walked up behind me as my wide brown eyes searched for any disruption of my smooth, creamy skin. "Is the scar gone?" My HD sight didn't see any imperfection, but I still almost couldn't believe it. I'd been carrying around that reminder for so many years now.
Teren grinned as he leaned down and kissed the arch of my once-wounded neck. "It would seem so," he whispered, chuckling again. Resting his chin on my neck, the course stubble familiar and comforting, his pale eyes watched me playfully.
Closing mine, I laid my head back and sighed. "Thank god, I was so sick of looking at that."
Sighing as well, he kissed the tender skin again. "Me too," he whispered.
Lowering my head to look at him in the mirror, I reached up to run a hand through his pitch-black hair. Closing his eyes, he leaned in to my caress. My next words shot his eyes back open though. "Bite me," I whispered.
Pulling back, he locked eyes with me in the mirror. "Emma, I don't think I should...you just went through something really..." He shrugged, looking torn that I'd ask him to do that right now.
I shook my head, my eyes watering. "You never bite me there, not since that vampire..." I swallowed, a bit of thirst creeping back into my throat. I could hear and smell my blood being prepared downstairs, but right now, I wanted this more. "I need to replace that memory with a different one." Moving my hair away from that shoulder, I completely exposed my neck to him. "Please, Teren?"
His eyes flicked between mine, unsure. Sighing, he looked down at my neck. Opening his mouth as he stared at my skin, I watched him in the mirror as his fangs dropped down. My breath picked up and I was overly conscious of the absence of my heartbeat. Normally, it would have picked up too.
Perhaps noticing that loss as well, his eyes flicked up at me. Our gazes unwavering, he opened his mouth wider, baring his fangs to me. Even with all we'd been through, all the time we'd had together, it was still hot when he did that. The parts of my body that still worked exactly the same as before reacted. Sensing the desire in me, his mouth curved into a cocky, self-assured grin. Lowering his head but maintaining our eye contact, he sunk his teeth into me. I gasped, then groaned. He'd done it with more force than he usually did. Since he didn't have to worry about scarring me or killing me, it gave him some freedom when it came to biting me.
His eyes rolled back before they closed. I kept mine open, watching him devour me. Everything about it was a little different than I was used to. His mouth and tongue were mildly warm as they worked over my skin, his hands massaging my hips equally chill-free. There wasn't a pulling sensation as my blood left me. Since it moved on its own now, he didn't have to put in any effort when he fed from me. I knew what that felt like, since I'd bitten him before. It was like turning on a faucet and sticking your head underneath it. And with our super healing skin, you only had to pull your teeth out to stop the flow.
It still felt pretty erotic though, especially with the clear delight on his face. It made me smile that he still enjoyed my blood, even though it had to taste different now, or at least be colder than it once was.
Scrunching my hand in his hair as I let out another soft moan, I watched him finally gasp and pull away. His teeth and his tongue were tainted red, but the twin holes on my neck healed right before my eyes. It was so weird to see that happening to my body. Breathing heavier, he grinned like he'd just had the best meal on the planet, or the best sex. It actually relieved me that my blood still made him feel that way.
Squeezing me tight, he licked the last remnant of red from my neck. He made a near purring noise in his throat as his warm tongue lapped at me. Smiling as I ran my hand back through his hair, I murmured, "Do I still taste good to you?"
Ignoring the moving sensation of Alanna and Imogen walking at a slow pace in our direction, since we were obviously...finished, I sighed as he paused to nibble on my ear. "Unbelievable," he whispered back.
Smiling as his lips made their way back to mine, I twisted in his arms to sling mine around his neck. "Am I different, taste-wise?"
He grinned against my mouth. "It's not hot like before, but that's okay, it's still the best thing I've ever tasted." Pulling back, he ran his tongue over his lower lip. His eyes were so smoky I almost told his mother to give us a minute. But, sensing her on the stairs, I knew she was bringing me a second cup of blood, and my stomach was starting to ache for it, so I said nothing.
Maybe seeing the hunger in my features, Teren released me, walking over to our bags on the dresser. Digging through them, he raised an eyebrow at me. "You are a bit different to me in one other way."
Torn between the alluring look still in his eye and the food coming closer and closer, I frowned a little as I crossed my arms over my chest. "Oh?"
Grinning, he pulled out a light sweater that I'd packed. "Yeah, you aren't nourishing for me anymore." He shrugged, pulling out some pants. Tilting my head, I wondered what he meant. Handing me my change of clothes, since I was still in the pajamas he had put me in this morning, he lightly chuckled at the look of confusion on my face.
Twisting his lip seductively, he leaned into me. "You're sort of...vampiric candy." Pausing, he closed his eyes for a second and inhaled me; I stopped breathing. Opening his eyes, he glanced down my body. "Sweet...but essentially void of all nutritional value."
"Thanks." I smirked and smacked his arm right as his mom reappeared in the doorway. She chuckled at his remark but didn't say anything about it.
She also didn't mention the dopey, fulfilled smile he had on his face as he watched me down my cup of nutritionally packed blood. I wanted to whisper at him to not look so...satisfied, but it really was kind of pointless. Both Imogen and Alanna had already heard him drink from me, and really, they'd heard much, much worse from us before. I had accepted the embarrassment of the situation a long time ago. Living around vampires, you just learned to give up things like privacy.
Since I was still in an adjustment period and blood was going to be one of the top things on my mind, right under my children really, we decided we'd stay at the ranch for a few more days. Teren had stayed for several weeks after his conversion, but I didn't feel like I could take that much time away from work on a whim. Besides, Teren's break had had as much to do with the mental recovery of our abduction as his physical recovery. Truly, we could have gone back after the first week.
Feeling more like myself once my stomach was topped off, Teren and I decided to go get the kids. Well, really, he'd wanted me to stay behind with the girls while he went and got them, but I missed them so much, I couldn't just sit around and wait. Besides, I had some things to talk about with my mother. Things she probably wasn't going to be too thrilled about.
I played with the zipper of my jacket on the way over, my mind already nervous about what to say to my mom and anxious to see my children. Teren eyed me while he drove, noting the telltale signs of restlessness. "Do you have any idea what you'll tell her?" he asked, nearly reading my mind.
Sighing, I looked over at him and shrugged. "No, any suggestions?"
Reaching over to grab my hand, he pulled it back over to his thigh. "Hmmm, I suppose 'hey, Mom, I died last night', would be a little harsh, huh?"
I smirked at the playful look in his eye, the conversation he'd just put in my head. I could just imagine the freak-out if I told my mom like that. But really, what else was I supposed to tell her? Either way, she was going to have a mini coronary. There was just no way to ease a person into a conversation that involves the phrase "my heart stopped beating." I remembered my reaction when Teren had told me his was going to. Hopefully my mom didn't start chucking things at me.
Sighing as I leaned my head back on the seat, I closed my eyes and started tapping my foot. "No, I'll think of something better than that." I just had no idea what.
Sooner than I would have liked, Teren was pulling up to her drive. I stared at the quaint little house, suddenly wondering if I should have stayed at the ranch, but I could feel my children inside and their pull was stronger than my anxiety. Forcing myself to do it at human speed, I cracked open my door. Teren followed suit, his smile as wide as mine was. While we'd been preoccupied with other things in the past twenty-four hours, being reunited with Nika and Julian reminded me how much I'd missed them. And with the ordeal I'd gone through, I couldn't wait to hold them again.
I didn't need to announce my arrival, since I could hear my kids doing it for me. As soon as my foot was on the top step, the door was swinging inward. My mother's warm, loving face filled my vision and I nearly wept at the way my newly-enhanced eyes saw her. It was almost like I could see the way she cared for me, like it was a physical trait, as apparent as the strikingly similar shade of chin length brown hair.
Her eyes flicking between Teren and me, she erupted into a huge grin. "Hey, you two, I wasn't expecting you back so soon. How was your trip?"
Containing a sigh as I slipped past her into the house, I only managed to get out, "It turned out ...well." Teren had told her that he'd taken me away for a surprise birthday getaway. He'd made it sound fun while explaining it to her. It hadn't been nearly as much fun as my mom had been led to believe.
Hearing the oddity in my sentence, she raised an eyebrow at me as she shut the door behind Teren. I had no time to confess to her what had really gone on though. Before I could even twist around to face her, two tiny beings threw themselves at my legs. Letting go of my hard conversation for a second, I dropped to my knees and wrapped an arm around each child.
Closing my eyes, I finally felt whole. "I missed you guys...so much." Pulling back, I cupped each smooth cheek; they felt hot to me, almost feverish, but I knew that was due to our temperature difference. It made me wonder if that's how I'd felt to Teren all this time, burning hot to the touch. "Did you guys have fun with Grandma?"
My voice was sunshine and light when I asked them, no strain or tension in me at all, but they both frowned. Nika reached up to touch my face, Julian clasped my hand. "Mommy, you're...different." Nika said slowly, stumbling on the longer word.
My smile stopped as Julian's pale eyes searched my face. "You're cold...like Daddy." His eyes glanced down to my eerily silent chest. "You're quiet."
Nika brightened, her fingers on my face urging my vision back to her. "Did you get your magic, Mommy?" With the glow in her brown eyes, this seemed like the best news in the world to her, like we'd finally caved and gotten her that pony.
I swallowed and looked up at Teren beside me, then over to my mom. She had a frown on her face as she tried to decipher what my children were talking about. Knowing that I couldn't keep them in the dark, which meant I couldn't keep my mom in the dark, I closed my eyes briefly before bringing my attention back to them.
Teren knelt beside me as I squeezed them tight again. "Yes, yes Mommy did get her magic." I felt the tears sting my eyes, knowing that my mom was not going to like this next part. I had to say it though. My children had to know what had happened to me, because it was going to happen to them one day.
Pulling back, I gave them each serious faces. "Mommy stopped taking Grandpa Gabriel's medicine. Mommy's heart stopped, but it's okay, because Mommy has her magic and doesn't need her heart anymore, just like Daddy. Now Mommy will always look like this and now we can all be together forever." I said it as lightly and cheerily as I could. I heard my mom gasp behind me, but my children squealed in delight and hugged me tight.
"Good job, Mommy," Nika congratulated me, hugging my neck.
Julian laughed as he tried to get his arms all the way around my body. "Yeah! I'm glad you'll be our mommy forever."
I squeezed them tight as Teren wrapped his arms around all of us. I knew that they didn't really understand any of what had happened to me, anything but the only part that really mattered to them - I was going to be around forever. But my mother...knowing a little more about vampirism, well, I was pretty sure she understood.
Slowly twisting to look at her, I cringed. Even though I only felt hollowness in my chest where it would have been pounding before, the icy anticipation still washed through me. My mom had her hands clasped over her mouth, slowly shaking her head as the tears in her eyes started to form. Seeing her start to lose it, I transferred the children to Teren. He gave them quick hugs then quickly scooped them up to take them out to our car. They didn't need to witness their grandmother going through hysterics.
After they left, I tilted my head at her and put a hand on her arm. "Mom?" I said slowly.
Her eyes flashed down to my hand, widening. Shaking her head, she slowly lowered her hands. "You...died?" she whispered.
Hearing my husband start to have the kids loudly sing nursery rhymes, so they would be too distracted to hear, I nodded. "Yes...I'm sorry."
Her face scrunching in disbelief, her tears finally fell. "You're sorry?" Her voice quavered as she stared at me. Whispering, "Come here," she engulfed me in a hug. Patting my back, she rocked me side to side. "Why are you sorry? You're the one that had to go through it." Pulling back to look at me, she shook her head again. "Did you know this was going to happen when you asked me to watch the kids? Why didn't you tell me?"
Tears dripped down my cheeks and I sniffled. "It wasn't safe for you." She furrowed her brow and I shook my head. I didn't want to go into the specifics with her. I didn't want her to think of me that way, me or my extended family. She'd been surprisingly open to what we all were, but I was pretty sure that it was mainly because she never saw us acting like typical vampires. If I suddenly went into the details of me slaughtering a small herd of cattle, well, she might see the whole thing differently after that.
Clasping her tight, I buried my head in her shoulder. Feeling her shiver, I told her, "You would have wanted to be there, and...you'll just have to trust me when I say that it wasn't safe...for you."
She pulled back to look at me again, but I couldn't meet her eye; I had to look at the floor. Sighing, she kissed my forehead. I knew I was chilly to her touch, if not Teren's, and wondered if that grossed her out at all. If so, her face didn't show it when she tilted my chin up with her finger. "There is so much about you...about this, that I don't understand." She smiled sadly and shook her head. "But if you say you were trying to protect me by not telling me, then I'll accept that."
Another tear rolled down my cheek as my lip quivered. I hated that I couldn't tell her everything, but most of it would only worry or disturb her. But the bottom line for her was my happiness. If I had that, then I had a feeling she would overlook everything else.
Folding me in another hug, her radiating heat warming me, she murmured, "I love you, Emma, whatever form you come to me in."
I exhaled in relief and gripped her back hard. A little too hard. Squirming some, I heard her squeak out, "Em? I still need air."
Laughing a little, I pulled away from her. "Sorry."
My mom wanted to know what my life entailed now, and I told her that I'd pretty much be just like Teren. She seemed a little sad for me that I wouldn't be partaking in human food anymore. I assured her, just like Teren had always assured me, that I wouldn't miss it, that it didn't even sound good anymore. She felt my forehead and my cheeks, like she was checking to see if I was injured, then she put her hand over my heart. We both looked down, neither of us feeling the thump that should have been there.
As an odd tension filled the room, she shook her head. "You really are dead."
Grinning like Teren did when he was trying to assure me by teasing me, I shrugged. "Just my body, I'm fine."
She looked up at me, her brow furrowed, then she managed a shaky laugh. Shaking her head she muttered, "Vampires." Exhaling a long breath, she quickly hugged me again. "The kids had a blast staying overnight." Pulling away from me, she gave me an impish grin. "Anytime you and your husband feel like transforming into bats and sailing through the sky, I'd be happy to have them again."
I could hear Teren chuckling out by the car while I rolled my eyes. "Don't be ridiculous, Mom. Stuff like that isn't possible."
She eyed me up and down like everything about me wasn't possible in her eyes. And I suppose to most it wasn't. Heck, a few years ago, I wouldn't have believed in me either. "Sure, honey."
Chuckling at her, I heard my kids break into a chant of, "Can we fly, Daddy? I want to fly! I'm gonna try right now." Teren and I both broke out into fits of laughter and my mom looked at me with an even stranger expression.
Shaking my head at her, I let her know that my kids were now trying to phase into bats in the back seat. She laughed, her face flushing a little. "Gosh, their hearing is good. How do the two of you ever...?" She didn't finish her questions but her heart picked up and her face filled with a blood red flush.
Tears springing to my eyes, I started belly laughing as I hugged her tight. She was referring to the challenges Teren and I faced in our love life and she was horribly embarrassed for bringing it up. If I were still able to do so, my cheeks would have been flaming hot too. Unlike Teren's family, mine was a little more closed off about discussing each other's sex lives. "I love you, Mom."
My laughs subsided as I held her one last time. I tried to imagine living thousands of miles away from the warm, open woman. I couldn't. Mom and Ashley were my family, my rocks. I couldn't picture them not being a stone's throw away from me. Of course, I couldn't imagine the vampires being more than a stone's throw away either. I just wanted everyone to stay where they were, centrally located around me. I felt horridly guilty for feeling that.
Pulling away from Mom for the final, final time, I thought of my sister. Blinking, I looked around the house that I knew she wasn't in; I couldn't hear her heartbeat. "Did Ash stay the night too? Did she already leave?" I asked casually as I started heading for the door. I needed to tell my sister everything that had happened, maybe somewhere away from the kids, so I could go into more detail with her.
Mom cocked her head at me. "Too?" She shook her head. "Ash didn't come over last night. She's been pretty busy at work lately. I actually haven't seen her much this past week." She frowned, and I figured Ashley had a visit with Mom in her near future.
Nodding, I put my hand on the door. "I called her last night, but she wasn't home, I just figured she was with you."
Mom shrugged and shook her head. "Nope, sorry." Eyeing me, she narrowed her eyes. "She doesn't know that you...?"
I shook my head. "No, which is why I need to talk to her."
Mom looked thoughtful as she nodded. I smiled and wished her well, thanking her for watching the kids as I opened the door. Before stepping out into the bright California sunshine, I twisted back to her. "You don't have to do the chicken-thing Mom. Teren and I take care of the kids' needs."
She smiled in that way that clearly said, 'I'm a grandma, it comes with the territory'. "I know, Emma, but I couldn't resist giving them a special treat." She looked out to where she could see them in the car through the window. "They're so...special."
She smiled softly while I shook my head at her. "You're going to spoil them."
Looking back at me, she winked. "That's my job, honey."
Laughing at her, I finally stepped out to rejoin my husband and my children. He'd turned the stereo on, and Russian folk songs were playing through his speakers. He leaned over the hood as I stepped up to the passenger's side; I could still hear my kids debating on whether or not they were part-bat. Smiling at me, he tilted his head. "That wasn't so bad, right?"
I shook my head and laughed. "One family member down, one to go."
He nodded and opened his door to get in. Hopping in myself, I shifted around to ask my kids all about their stay at Grandma's. As they went on and on about all the things they got to do, I realized my mom was right; they'd had a blast.
Knowing what I needed, Teren took me directly to my old Victorian townhouse. I smiled at the adorably cute, blue milk carton of a house that my sister now lived in. I had a lot of good memories at this place; I did sort of miss it.
Teren left the car running as he pulled in next to Ashley's compact. Frowning at him as I put my fingers on the handle, he shrugged. "I thought I'd take the kids to the..." He looked back at them before looking back to me, "p-a-r-k." He spelled it out so they wouldn't scream in merriment upon hearing their destination. Shrugging again, he nodded towards the house. "I figured you'd want some privacy for this one."
I swallowed as I followed his gaze to my sister's door. This one was going to be a little harder, since Ash knew...everything. Looking back to him, I leaned in for a light kiss. "Thank you," I whispered.
He nodded. "I'll come back in an hour."
I nodded and moved to get out. The kids started complaining that I was leaving, then seeing where they were, they started complaining that they couldn't go see Ash too until Teren finally revealed where they were going. Then they could have cared less about visiting their aunt. Merrily, they waved me off, cheering the whole while about going to the park with Daddy. Nika was especially excited to have Daddy push her on the swings; Julian told me so.
I blew my husband a kiss as I watched him pull out of the drive, then I twisted back around to my old door. Feeling nostalgic, I ran my hand down the rough grain of the shockingly red beauty. It felt like coming home, but a little different too, since Teren's home had been my real home for years. The sun glinting off the red rubies surrounding the flawless diamond of my wedding ring, I finally knocked.
I heard Ash mutter that she was coming long before she made it to the door. Luckily, she'd been downstairs. The steeply angled staircase was a little uncomfortable for Ash, so much so that Mom told me that she sometimes slept on the couch in the living room. I felt a little bad about it, like maybe she should move somewhere easier for her, but Mom insisted that she loved the home, and loved the independence of living there alone.
She smiled brightly when she saw me, then my enhanced vision watched her cheeks fill with a rosy flush. "You alright?" I asked, stepping into my old entryway.
She nodded, biting her scarred lip. "Of course, you?"
Her tone was polite, so I knew she hadn't spotted anything odd about me...yet. "Well, that's why I'm here actually." I looked away as she shut the door. My sister had repainted the atrocious living room so it no longer resembled split pea soup. It was now a pretty almond color. She'd done it pretty recently too; I could still smell the fumes.
As she bunched her brow at my statement, I pointed to her walls. "That's new. It looks nice." Furrowing my own brow as we both walked into the room, I shook my head. "Why didn't you call me? I would have helped you do it?"
Ashley grinned as she sat on my old couch. "Because you cheat." I grinned as I sat beside her, remembering how I could blur around her while I painted. As I laughed, she added, "Besides...I did have help."
She leaned back against the cushions and smiled as she played with a stand of her hair. It was nearly the same sort of satisfied, contentment that Tracey got on her face when she talked about Hot Ben. Leaning back into the cushions, I raised my eyebrows. "A boy?"
Her flush deepened and she looked down at a button coming loose from the couch. Laughing at her reaction, I slung my hand over her thigh. Her eyes widened and her head snapped up at me. I stopped laughing, remembering why I was really here. Her hand came up to tentatively touch my cheek. "You're cold...really cold," she whispered, her alive brown eyes glossing over with forming tears.
Sighing, knowing that even my breath was chilly, I felt my own tears sting. "I tried to tell you last night, but you were...out." My brows bunched again, wanting to ask her where she was, and if her painting friend had anything to do with her absence. But her eyes were only filling as she watched me, and I knew that now wasn't the time for girl talk. Cupping my hand over hers, I whispered, "I died last night...well, this morning."
She pulled her fingers away as both of her hands went to cover her mouth. As she gasped, her eyes flicked down to my silent chest. I sighed again, wishing I could make the defunct organ beat again, if only just for Ashley. Shaking her head, she brought her fingers to my neck. I exposed the skin to her as she searched for the scar that was no longer there. Her rough fingers felt along the artery in my neck after her visual inspection. I knew those veins were thick with blood, but they streamed, not pulsed, so Ashley's human fingers wouldn't feel the difference. To her, all she would register was that I didn't have a heartbeat. I was a walking, talking contradiction.
"Oh my god, Emma." Her eyes came back to mine as the tears finally spilled down her cheeks. Wrapping her arms around me, she brokenly whispered, "Were you scared?"
Feeling my own tears, I let down the wall of bravery that I'd kept up for my mom and children. "I was terrified. If Teren hadn't been there...I think I would have gone mad."
She held me back tighter, the hand rubbing circles in my body also slightly warming my dead flesh. "I'm so sorry, Em." Pulling back, she cupped my cheek again. "Did it hurt?"
Tilting her head, she bit her lip again. Watching her beautifully imperfect face twist in sympathy for me, I thought over the years of abuse her body had suffered since her accident. Especially in the beginning. Her recovery had been excruciating, a fate I would never wish on anyone. Shaking my head, I told her, "It was nothing...piece of cake."
She watched my eyes drifting over her body and she nodded, like she knew I'd never complain about pain after everything she'd gone through. Then she smirked a little at my answer, also knowing that I had a severe aversion to pain. She'd tried for years to get me to pierce my belly button with her. I'd adamantly refused. It was one of the reasons that she'd been so surprised that I let Teren bite me. But that was just...a different sort of pain.
Shaking her head at me, she reached out to hug me again. As I inhaled the soothing scent of her, she asked the one question that my mother would never think to ask. "What did you eat?"
I closed my eyes. I'd told her every part of Teren's conversion. She knew the side effects, she knew the risks. She was well aware that a starved, maniacal need to eat also came with everlasting life, and that if I hadn't caved to that, I wouldn't currently be sitting beside her. Sniffling, I pulled back and held her hands with mine. "Cows. Teren had some ready for me." I peeked my eyes up at her as she tilted her head, absorbing that.
Smiling slightly, the scarred skin buckling, she curiously asked, "Was it gross?"
Smiling wider, I shook my head. "No." Thinking back over that first kill, I remembered the sweetness, the relief. It was like being in a hundred and ten degree heat and having someone crack open a nice cold carbonated soda. It had been anything but gross. Just thinking about it made me a little hungry again. But then, the human part of me considered the whole situation. I was on my knees, in the dead of night, sucking the lifeblood from an animal that mindlessly munched on grass that had probably been pooped on at some point and time. Wrinkling my nose, I laughed out, "Yeah."
She laughed with me, then sighed and clasped my hands. "God, I'm so glad you made it. If you had died," she paused, blinking, "well, died-died, I mean, I don't know what I'd do." Her voice choked up and I cupped her cheek.
"I'm fine, Ash, better than ever." I once again considered leaving my family as I gazed at her. She was my best friend, aside from Teren. I couldn't imagine that suddenly not being near me every day.
Nodding, she leaned back into the cushions. "So, tell me, what's different now. No food?" She raised her eyebrows, curious again.
I sighed. "Just the liquid type."
She frowned, then laughed. "At least I'll always know what to make you when you come over for dinner."
I laughed at her finding a silver lining in what could honestly be a very hard reality to accept. But Ashley had accepted Teren years ago, and really, I was an extension of him. Nearly identical now. She knew what to expect because she'd been watching him for years. She didn't seem to want my life, a life I'd stupidly tried to force on her once, but she was open to whatever the details of my existence were now.
I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again. I love my sister.