After finishing up with some of the details about exactly why I'd decided to not take the shot, the hour was over and Teren was pulling back into the drive. My sister couldn't hear the light hum of his car or my children excitedly exclaiming that they wanted Auntie Ash. With her hands folded over her lap, she absorbed everything that I'd told her about Starla's fate. As her head tilted to the side, her eyes unfocused while she thought. Mine could pick out the flecks of gold in her irises, like someone had sprinkled fairy dust in her eyes. It was remarkably beautiful.

Shaking her head, she refocused and looked over at me. "Poor Starla, I'm glad you could help her."

I smiled at my sister's warm heart. Starla had never really been overly friendly to either of us. Not rude or anything, but definitely not welcoming. Mostly she always seemed put out when she came around, like she'd rather be sunbathing at some resort where hot, oiled men brought you fresh blood with umbrella straws in them. "Yeah, she's...different, but I couldn't just let her die."

Twisting her lips at me, she laughed once, humorously. "So you offer to kill yourself." She raised an eyebrow. "Kind of dramatic of you."

I laughed and slung my arms around her, squeezing her tight to me. She shivered against my chilly flesh so I eased off a bit, but then she rested her head on mine and I relaxed as I held her. Hearing Teren unbuckling my kids, telling them over and over that they'd see Ashley in just a second, I quietly said, "We're just sitting in the living room, bring them on in."

Ashley lifted her head, giving me a bewildered expression that I knew I'd used on Teren a time or two. I started to explain that Teren was here, but the door swung open and I didn't need to. Ashley's eyes flicked over to the squeaking contraption right as two tiny beings dashed through it.

"Auntie Ash!" they both exclaimed in unison.

Ashley grinned and held her arms out as the twins dashed into them. She placed warm kisses on their giggling heads while Teren wrapped his arms around me. Leaning back into the loving safety of his arms, I watched my sister ask Nika and Julian all about their stay with grandma. As they excitedly told her everything that they'd already told us, I heard Teren whisper, "Did I give you enough time?" His voice was soft, his breath in my ear barely audible on a human level.

Hearing him just fine, I nodded against his chest. "Yeah...we talked."

He sighed and squeezed me, placing a soft kiss on my cheek. "And? How did she take it?"

Peeking up at him, I shrugged. "Like she handles everything." I looked back at the disfigured woman tickling our toddlers. "With a strength I hope to have some day."

I felt him chuckle against my body and twisted my head around to look at him again. Smirking, he raised an eyebrow. "I think you underestimate yourself." Watching my face, he smiled. As my sister amused herself by making Julian laugh by blowing raspberries on Nika's stomach, Teren tilted his head at me, his brows furrowing. "How are you? Getting hungry?"

I shook my head, but the second I focused on it, I could feel the dull ache in my stomach, the slight dryness in my throat. He raised an eyebrow and I shrugged. "Maybe, a little."

Nodding, he seemed well aware of how I really felt, and I suppose he was aware, since he'd gone through this already. "It gets better after the first couple of days. Then you'll only need to eat once or twice a day."

I leaned into him, feeling a little tired. "Back to the ranch then?"

Sighing, he kissed my head. "Yeah, it's just the best place for you to be right now, while you adjust."

Disengaging the kids from Ashley, I stood her up and gave her a final hug. Her hand brushed over my face, feeling my chill, and she shook her head. "I wouldn't have pictured your life turning out this way," she softly said.

Smiling sadly, I ran a finger across some of her scars; they were rough to my sensitive touch. "You either," I whispered.

Her eyes filled with an emotion that seemed more like joy than regret as her lips curved into a small smile. Shrugging, she cheerily said, "Well, at least we're both happy."

I nodded, grabbing Nika's hand as Teren grabbed Julian's. "No, Mommy, we don't wanna go." Nika's small eyes filled with huge tears at the thought of leaving my sister. Staring down at the tiny version of myself, I could clearly see the exhaustion in her features. Julian voiced his agreement and tried to squirm away from Teren, who scooped him up and slung him over his shoulder.

As I considered slumping her over my shoulder like the potato sack Teren had just turned Julian into, Ashley stepped down in front of her. Kneeling carefully, her joints stiffer than most people's, she cupped Nika's cheeks. "We'll hang out real soon, baby girl." Leaning into her, she brushed her nose together with Nika's; Julian giggled. "Miss you, love you."

Nika kissed her nose. "Love you too, Auntie Ash." Her lip twisted into a perfect pout. "I wanna stay."

Her lip quavered a little on the end, then her mood completely reversed and she started giggling near uncontrollably. Both Ash and I blinked at her reaction. Then we looked over to Teren and Julian. Teren had slipped him down him down his back and was now holding him by his ankles. Julian was grinning ear to ear as all the blood rushed to his little face. Teren chuckled and gently swayed him back and forth.

Between giggles, Nika got out, "Julie likes that, Daddy."

I shook my head at the father and son, and Teren's natural ability to avert potential meltdowns with a little fun. Laughing herself, my sister walked over to Julian and blew more raspberries on his exposed belly. Both the kids were howling after that and we managed to get them out of the house and into the car with smiles instead of tears.

Heading back to the ranch, I again pondered not being around my family. It seemed a little unfathomable to me. Especially with Ash. I hated to leave her alone. Not that she was truly alone here. She had Mom and friends from work and school, but still, she was my baby sister and I adored her and felt the need to protect her for the rest of her naturally appropriate life.

Lost in thought, I was slowly brought out of them by Teren softly laughing to himself. Curious, I looked over at him. He had one hand on the wheel, one casually draped over my thigh. His head was slightly tilted as he absently stared at the road with a soft smile on his lips. He seemed absorbed in his own thoughts and they seemed much more pleasant than mine.

Lacing our fingers together got his attention. When he smiled wider as he peeked over at me, I raised an eyebrow. "What are you laughing about over there?"

He bit his lip and shook his head, seeming a little embarrassed that I'd caught his amusement. Even more curious, I leaned over to look at him closer. "What?" I asked, smiling wider as he laughed again.

Flicking a glance at our children falling asleep in the back seat, he looked over at me again, a familiar gleam in his eye. "I was just remembering the last time the two of us drove along this road."

He bit his lip again as his eyes raked over my body. Taking in the heat of his expression, I quickly glanced at the stretch of road we were on. Shaking my head, I murmured, "I don't..."

Somewhere through my hazy memory of the last couple of days, I recalled being on this abandoned stretch of highway in the middle of the night, drunk, and feeling a little promiscuous. Biting my lip, I glanced back at him. He laughed huskily at seeing that I remembered. "That was definitely a moment I'll be thinking about on this road for while."

Smiling as I waited for my cheeks to heat, which they didn't, I leaned back in my seat. I suppose us experiencing each other while driving was a better memory for this road than us stopping to help our abductor with kidnapping us. I was a little happy to push that memory back a notch as well. Sucking on my lip, I stared out the window. "I suppose that's the last time I'll ever be drunk?"

His thumb brushed over my skin and I looked back at him. He sighed and shook his head. "Yeah, unfortunately."

From the backseat I heard a sleepy Nika ask, "What's drunk mean, Mommy?"

Peeking back at the child I'd thought was conked out along with her brother, I shook my head at her. "Something I hope you never are, sweetheart."

Teren laughed softly over that one for while.

Both kids were soundly asleep by the time we got back to the ranch. Teren and I whisked them away upstairs, smoothly putting them into their bed. Placing a kiss on each slumbering forehead, I smiled over how much they enjoyed being with my family. If we moved them, they'd lose a large part of that.

I sighed once we closed their bedroom door, and Teren looked back at me. "You alright? Want me to get you some food?"

Listening to the light breaths on the other side of it, I shook my head. "I'm fine, but yeah, a little hungry."

With a playful twist of his lips, he scooped me into his arms. Laughing softly, I nuzzled my head into his warm neck. One perk of moving or not moving - Teren would be with me either way.

Jack was downstairs with Alanna once Teren walked me over the kitchen threshold. They both looked up at us and smiled, Jack looking down with a soft grin on his face. He looked back up when Teren set me down. "Want to help me today, son?"

Teren's face brightened as he leaned against the counter while Alanna automatically started prepping a glass of blood, having heard that I was thirsty. "Sure, Dad. We fixing that fence by the road?"

Jack nodded, sipping on a mug that held some very strong coffee by the smell of it. The aroma turned my stomach a little bit, which was an odd sensation for me; before dying, I'd adored coffee. While some things hadn't changed at all, some were completely different.

When Alanna was finished with the brew that didn't tightened my stomach in disgust, I leaned back against the counter with Teren. Thanking Alanna, I shifted my gaze to Teren's father. "Jack?"

His warm eyes pulled away from watching his wife to look over at me. The kindness in the depths of them always brought a smile to my lips. Teren may have learned a lot about being a good man from the strong, vampiric women in his household, but he'd learned a lot from the man before me too. "Yes, Emma?"

Clearing my throat, I looked at Teren and took a quick sip of blood. "Well, it's no secret around here that Teren and I are unsure what to do...about the move." My eyes came back to Jack's, a thoughtfulness in his expression. I shrugged. "Teren would like to stay with all of you, as would I...but, I'm having a hard time with the idea of leaving my family. Was it hard for you, to let everyone you knew go?"

Jack sighed and looked down. Alanna's arms immediately went around his waist and his arm immediately slipped around her shoulders. After a moment of silent deliberation, he looked up at me. "I won't lie, Emma, it was difficult." His thumb stroked his wife's shoulder as he gazed down at her. "Worth it, but difficult."

I sighed and leaned into Teren's side; he put his arm around me much like his father had with his wife. Jack looked between the two of us and smiled at our connection. "My situation was different than yours though, Emma. My family never knew what Alanna and the girls were."

I blinked, wondering how they'd managed to hide that from them for so long. Smiling at my face, he shrugged. "I was an only child, and my parents weren't the type to ask questions. We successfully hid the truth, and when we left to start our ranch," he glanced at Teren, "and our family, Halina wiped their memories."

I looked down, considering Halina doing the same to my family. "So, they never missed you, because they didn't remember you..."

Jack separated from Alanna and walked up to me. I stared into my blood, feeling my eyes start to sting. Even though Teren had assured me that my family could remember, I wondered if it really could be left like that. At the bare minimum, what I was would probably be taken from their minds. It left me with a dull ache of loneliness that they wouldn't really know me anymore. I suddenly had a newfound appreciation for Teren's desire to leave a memory of him...in someone.

"Of course they remembered me, Emma." Lifting my chin with his course fingers, he encouraged me to look up at him. Smiling softly, his aged face was deeply sympathetic. "She wouldn't make them forget you...just the situation, just what you and Teren are."

I swallowed and nodded, blinking back the tears stinging. Glancing at Alanna's equally sympathetic face, I asked, "So they never remembered that you married, that you had a child."

Dropping his hand from my face, Jack looked up at his son. "They remembered Teren. He grew and aged at a normal pace, so there was no reason to keep him from them." Swinging his gaze back to Alanna, his smile dropped. "For my wife..." he sighed and shook his head, "they were only left with a vague memory of her after every visit."

Alanna smiled sadly as he continued, his eyes coming back to mine. "Right up until their death a few years ago, they believed the cover story, that Teren's mother died and I remarried a younger woman. As soon as Alanna's never-ending youth became apparent, Halina took away anything about us that might have made them suspicious, and they were fed the lie from then on."

He let out a soft laugh, shaking his head. "They even met Alanna again when I got "remarried." They had no idea that they'd already met her, multiple times. And when we left, the details of Alanna left with us. Even though Alanna and I have been remarried several times, on their death beds they wouldn't have been able to pick her out of a crowd."

Alanna walked up to him, slinging her arms around his and resting her head on his shoulder. Thinking over how misinformed his parents had been, I shook my head. "Wow, that's kind of...sad." I peeked up at Teren behind me. "I don't know if I want my mom forgetting you... " I blinked as I considered how my situation was a little different from Jack's; I didn't age either. "What about me? If she doesn't know and I never age, I'll never be able to visit again."

Teren squeezed me tight. "No, no that's not true. Of course you will." He sighed into my hair. "But Halina would have to make some...adjustments after every visit."

I slumped a little, sighing. "Oh."

Twisting me in his arms, Teren smiled warmly. "My grandparents were a different situation, Emma. It wouldn't have to be like that with her. She already knows and she's already accepted us. As long as she continues to stay silent, she could keep her memory of what we are."

He kissed my forehead as Jack patted my back. "It was just the easiest way with my parents, Emma. They...wouldn't have understood the real situation."

I nodded and looked back at him. "But, all of my friends?"

Sighing, he glanced at Alanna and then back to me. "Unfortunately, yes, they would all forget the specifics of you and Teren. Otherwise, it's just too many loose ends. Once we move on, we prefer most people's memories of us to be hazy at best." He shrugged, looking very apologetic. "It's the best precaution we have."

Nodding, I conformed myself to Teren's body. He stroked my hair and rubbed my back. "I know what you're feeling, Emma. I don't want to give them up either."

I peeked up at him. He'd sort of made a mess for his family by repeatedly trying to keep ties with other people, first with Carrie, then with Hot Ben. Come to think of it, he hadn't batted an eye over telling Ashley the truth either. Of all of them, Teren enjoyed hiding the least. He wanted to be normal. He wanted to be accepted. He wanted to be a part of society, not staying in the fringes of it. With what we'd gone through, he understood more why they had to hide, but it was hard for him. He completely understood my dilemma because he was constantly experiencing it too.

Every day I understood just a bit more about him, and every day I loved him a little more.

Cupping my cheek, he stroked my skin with his thumb. "We have time, Emma. We don't have to decide anything today." Kissing my head, we both sighed simultaneously.

I called Tracey early the next morning to let her know that I wasn't coming in for the rest of the week. I had an idea all thought out as I lay next to Teren, snug under our covers. I was going to convince her that I'd caught that swine flu bug thing that was going around. Surely the entire office would insist I stayed away after that.

Practicing my raspy voice, I heard her pick up the line. "Neilson, Sampson and Peterson. This is Tracey, how can I help you?"

"Hey, Trace, it's me." I coughed a couple times into my cell phone, smiling while I did it.

"Emma! Happy Birthday!" She immediately began singing the birthday song to me. It caught me a little off guard; so much had happened recently, I'd nearly forgotten that my birthday was today. I tried to interrupt her a few times, but she ignored me until she was done. Teren started chuckling into his pillows. "Are you coming back today?" she asked merrily, post-song.

Sighing dramatically, I coughed again. "Actually, that's why I called. I'm still pretty sick. The doctors think I got that new virus going around."

Tracey's voice was instantly sympathetic. "Oh, that sucks, Emma. And on your birthday too." There was a pause in the line while I exaggeratedly coughed and sniffled. "Wait, didn't you get the vaccine? We all got that company flyer about it."

My mind replayed back to laughing with her about the seriously written HR memo urging all employees to protect themselves against the epidemic that would surely wipe out all of mankind. "Uh, well...I hate needles, so, no."

Teren started laughing in earnest, covering his head with the pillow so Tracey wouldn't hear him. I bit my lip to not laugh with him. Me afraid of needles? Not anymore, not after injecting myself daily for years.

Tracey, not knowing about that part of my life, sighed. "Well, I bet you'll think twice about waiting next time."

I let myself laugh a little. "Yeah, definitely."

She sighed softly. "Well, get some rest, drink lots of water, and I'll let everyone here know that you were a procrastinating idiot."

Teren laughed a little harder at that and I smacked him on the back. "Thanks, Trace."

She laughed lightly. "Just kidding, Em. Feel better...Happy Birthday."

I smiled, then remembered to cough. "Thank you, I will."

Shutting the phone and setting it on the nightstand, I instantly began smacking my husband. "Quit making me laugh when I'm trying to act. You know I suck at that!"

Still laughing at me, he twisted and grabbed my wrists. "I'm sorry, Tracey's funny." I frowned at him, but he deadweight lifted me on top of him. Holding my wrists behind my back, he brought my face right down to his. "Happy Birthday."

Forgetting my irritation, I leaned in to kiss him. "Thank you," I murmured against his lips.

Releasing my arms, his hands wandered up my back to thread through my hair. Our kiss deepening, I thoroughly relished our similar heat. I also enjoyed the fact that I was now sharing in a perk of undeadness that I'd enjoyed from him in awhile. Let's just say, he never needed mouthwash in the morning. He always tasted great, and now I would too.

Pressing my hips into his body I felt every fiber of mine start to tingle with anticipation. His breath increased as he sensed it too. Flipping us around, so my back was to the mattress, his hand started sliding up the shorts I'd slept in.

"Can I give you your present now?" he breathed in my ear.

Gasping, I grabbed his hand and slid it farther up my skin. "Yes," I panted.

He chuckled a little and removed his hand. Frowning, I watched his lean body stretch over mine and open his nightstand. Realizing he'd meant an actual present, I smiled...and reached down to squeeze his butt. Twisting his lips as he looked back at me, he pulled out a small, wrapped gift.

Shifting to my side, he handed it to me. Furrowing my brows at him, I shook my head. "When did you find the time to get this?"

Smiling warmly, he brushed a stray lock from my forehead. "I always find time for you." Chuckling a little, he added, "Even when you're busy giving me an ulcer."

Sighing, I stroked his face. "I'm so sorry you had to watch me die."

Shaking his head, he murmured, "I would never let you die alone." My eyes started stinging and he nodded at the gift. "Open it."

Swallowing the sudden emotion blocking my throat, I started unwrapping the blood red packaging. Inside the shiny paper was a long rectangle of a box. It felt feather light, like nothing was inside it. As Teren smiled widely, sitting back on an elbow as he watched, I lifted the lid. Expecting jewelry, since my husband was fabulous in that department, I stared blankly at a piece of elaborately scripted paper.

I looked over at him, confused, but he only smiled wider and nodded at it. Plucking the thin parchment, the paper smooth as silk under my fingertips, I started deciphering the fancy font. It took me a second to read it, then I re-read it. My mouth dropping open, I stared back at Teren. "You're having Gabriel soundproof our bedroom? Like, vampire-proof soundproof?"

He chuckled at the look on my face, then sat up, propping an arm on his knee. "I tried to think of something you wanted, really wanted, and all I could come up with...was privacy." Tilting his head, he smiled down at me. "I asked Gabriel if he could make our bedroom like his lab, and he said he could."

Feeling more than a little floored, I sat up with him. "We'll be...alone?"

He nodded, his fingers tracing my cheek. "For the first time in a long time, we'll be alone."

I shook my head as I imagined that possibility. We always had to be so careful around the impressionable children that could hear us in every corner of the house. Smiling, I let out a soft laugh as I hugged him. "Thank you, I love it."

He held me back tightly and something else popped into my head. Pulling back, I raised an eyebrow at him. "Is this really a gift for me...or a gift for you?"

Laughing at the playful look in my eye, he shook his head. "A little of both, I suppose." Sighing, he lowered his forehead to mine. "It's a gift for both of us, so we have somewhere to just be us. Somewhere to talk about things without waiting for the kids to be asleep, without worrying if they are hearing conversations that maybe they shouldn't hear."

Both eyebrows raising now, I flicked my gaze over his face. "Talk? You did this so we could...talk?"

Laughing, he glanced down at the sheets. His hand coming down to rest on my hip, he murmured, "Maybe other things too." Peeking up at me, his lips curved into a devilish smile that halted my breath. "I didn't think 'hey, I made us a sex room' sounded nearly as romantic."

Laughing, I pulled him to my mouth for a scorching kiss. Romantic or not, I couldn't wait for our "sex room" to be finished. Lowering me back down to the pillows, the elegant gift certificate he'd made for me dropping to the floor, a drawback struck me. As his hand slid up my thigh, I exhaled, "What about the kids though? I don't want to not be able to hear them."

His breath heavier as his stubbled jaw ran up the side of my neck, he whispered, "We'll always open the door, once we're done...talking."

I let out a soft laugh, a response to that on my tongue, but then his fingers dipped between my legs and I couldn't think coherently. Biting back the groan I wanted to make, I arched my back and clenched his hair. God, I couldn't wait to not ever have to hold back with him.

The remainder of my birthday was spent exactly how I'd wanted to spend my birthday - cuddled together with my family, watching a movie. My mom and my sister came over and once the twins were put to bed, we plugged in a cheesy B-movie. Because I thought it was funny, we watched an old vampire flick.

Halina rolled her eyes and groaned dramatically at nearly every ridiculous plot twist in the so-bad-it-was-good film. She got particularly riled up over the myths that she considered dumb.

"Why can't vampires go into people's homes without their permission? Are we suddenly polite, or something?" She snorted as yet another vamp was deterred from their prey by them simply closing the door.

Thinking about that, I looked over at Teren. "I guess that one's not true. You've never needed an okay to go anywhere."

Teren grinned and shrugged but Halina threw a pillow at the TV, softly, otherwise it would have gone right through it. "Why would silence bar me from entering a home? I could rip down that cottage plank by plank if I wanted to get inside it."

My sister chuckled while my mom's eyes widened; the full vampire still sort of freaked her out. Wondering how that myth had gotten started, I shook my head. "I don't know."

Halina looked over at me, her pale eyes fiery, like we were suddenly having a debate. "And how would that work anyway? What if I went to a business? Whose permission would I need?" She leaned forward, her short skirt riding higher up her thighs. "And what if more than one person owned the house? Would I need both? Is the power granted to anyone staying there? And how long do you have to be there to get that sort of power? Would squatters have that kind of magic ability?"

She leaned forward even more, her hair swishing over her exposed thighs. Punctuating her points with hand, her voice got even more heated. "Or is it the physical act of signing the mortgage papers that seals the deal? Or maybe it's filing the title with the state that starts the process?" Tilting her head, her voice turned incredulous. "What if you inherit the house? Do I need to ask the dead person? Can I enter in the interim, or does the magic automatically shift to the new owner? What if the house gets foreclosed? Do I need to ask the bank?"

Rolling her eyes, she paused to irritably exhale. I took her silence to try and end the debate I wasn't really having with her. "I got it, it's a stupid myth."

She smirked and leaned back on the couch; my mom visibly relaxed and I patted her thigh. Halina shook her head, her arms crossing over her chest. "That one riles me up. It's right up there with us not casting a reflection in a mirror for some odd reason." She rolled her eyes again at the idiocy of mankind. "Do we suddenly stop solely existing in this world when we changeover, and that's why no reflective surface can capture our image?" She raised an eyebrow at me, but I wisely said nothing. Not having anyone to whine to, she muttered, "And don't even get me started on cameras."

Twisting to Teren again, I murmured, "Should we put in Twilight next?"

Halina dropped her head back to the cushions. "Oh my god! What self-respecting vampire...sparkles?"

Every vampire laughed at her comment, the humans joining in as well. Cuddling into Teren's side, I peeked over at Halina muttering about how those vampires didn't even have proper fangs, and wondered if Halina was just a touch jealous of their sun-walking abilities.

As the deliciously bad B-movie wrapped up, I heard the sounds of light crying upstairs. Immediately in Mommy-mode, I blurred up to where I heard my children rustling in their bed. Quietly stepping into their room, I sat on the edge of the low mattress.

They both twisted to look up at me, then Nika crawled over to cuddle in my lap. Julian sat up, patting her back sympathetically while she cried in my arms. Hugging her tight, I kissed her head repeatedly. "What's wrong, sweetheart?"

Nika shook her head, crying too much to answer. Julian softly spoke for her. "Nick hurts, Mommy," he patted his chest, "right there."

I pulled her back to look at her, the glow of my eyes highlighting her pajamas. Aside from crocodile tears rolling down her cheeks, she didn't look injured. Shaking his head, Julian looked frustrated that I didn't understand. "No, Mommy, inside."

I pulled Nika to my chest again, finally getting what he was saying. She wasn't physically hurt, she was emotionally hurt. Julian, feeling her pain, patted her back again. I shushed her soothingly, asking her again what was wrong. I asked Julian too, but he didn't know. He could only feel her turmoil; he didn't know the reason for it.

Teren silently opened the door and stepped through. Sitting on the other side of the bed, he placed a palm on Nika's back. "What's wrong, princess?"

Starting to sob in earnest, she looked up at him. The glow of his eyes washed over her, drawing her in. He held the gaze with her, using the soothing feeling that his eyes could give a person to calm her tears. When her crying had softened to hiccups, she finally answered him.

"Are we bad, Daddy?"

He blinked, looking up at me before swinging his eyes back to hers. I twisted her face to make her look at me. "Of course not, baby. Why would you think that?"

She rubbed her eyes and sniffed. "Movie said vampires bad." Huge tears lit her eyes as her lip trembled. "We're vampires."

Closing my eyes, I pulled her tight to me, kissing her head. "Oh, baby, no." Tears stung my own eyes as I considered what that horribly awful movie sounded like to children that had no idea the world thought of them as evil. Shaking my head against her, I rocked her in my arms.

Pulling back, I cupped both her cheek and Julian's; his eyes were sad too, as he finally understood what had so upset his sister. "You two are the most incredible little people I know. You're the best and there is nothing wrong with what you are. You are absolutely not bad. Okay?"

They both nodded, Julian crawling into my lap to hug me along with his sister. Teren ran a hand along their backs, giving me a warm smile. Feeling those tears dangerously close to falling, I shook my head at him. "Soundproofing sounds like a great idea."

He smiled wider and nodded, a finger coming up to wipe the moisture from under my eyes. "I'll tuck them back in," he murmured, taking Julian from me. I nodded and gave him Nika, who was already falling back asleep in my arms.

Kissing each member of my family a final time, I hastily made it out the door before my tears started falling. Leaning against the wall as Teren started humming a lullaby, guilt filled me. I'd never imagined that I'd be the indirect cause of my child's pain. As I ran my hands down my face, I wondered if she'd need therapy when she got older because of me.

Alanna breezed into the hallway as I listened to my children yawn and my husband comfort. With my eyes closed, I felt her step before me and place a hand on my arm. Peeking up at her, I felt a tear fall on my cheek. She smiled as she wiped it off. "Not as easy as it seems, is it?"

I shook my head. "It's so strange. I want them to see the world, and I never want them to leave my sight." Tilting my head at her, I sighed, "I don't know how you did it? How did you ever let Teren go?"

She raised an eyebrow at me and glanced at the door that her son was behind. "Did I?" She laughed a little and I considered all of the mothering that Teren put up with from her, sometimes grudgingly.

Chuckling myself, I pulled away from the wall. "I want to give them every opportunity, but I never want them to feel pain." I shrugged. "With what they are though...that just isn't possible. How do you deal with knowing what they'll be facing?"

Alanna shook her head and shrugged. "You find a way." Her warm palm came up to my cheek, cupping it. "Raising a child isn't easy. You beat yourself up over every mistake, every tiny little thing that goes wrong. But you do the best you can." Sighing, she swept me into her arms. "And if you fail...you try again tomorrow."




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