Never Forgotten, by Bluelantern 2814

You are your memories.

But could I preserve who I am? Even it if meant to stay away from my family and friends? "Away" in the deepest meaning of the word?

The price was that and more, and I could take it and strip myself from so much of who I was, only to regain so much more in return.

All I had to do is make the choice, but I knew it would be a long way back.

This is how I decided to stay in Forks.

Chapter 1: Remembering Red

This is Sasha's and my first meeting. It might be a bit different from what most are used to. But this is our story.

My family and I just had moved to Ohio. My family includes me, my mother Mary, my stepfather Richard and their daughter Sally. I had an older brother named Harold, but he lived on campus at his college.

I was distracted and listening to music as I was returning home from taking a walkabout around my new neighborhood. I had just seen a green-eyed, unnaturally red-headed woman and was idly wondering about eye colors when I spotted him a few steps down the street. The striking red-wine iris stood out; he was checking himself in the mirror, trying on sunglasses from a small shop. I then took notice of his face, so angelic that I had to make an effort to move my legs and not stare. By that time he had obviously noticed me. His brow furrowed and he blinked in confusion, and one little alarm in my head said that he probably was unfamiliar with (and unwelcome to) the possibility of a guy staring at him; a second alarm said that he might be self-conscious about his eyes and a third alarm politely reminded me that I had started to stare at him again.

I walked by him trying not to look, but holding a sign saying "I am not looking at you" would have been more effective to not call attention to the fact that I was staring, and it might have blocked my view of him. There was no way to keep walking and avoid looking at him without becoming unnatural. He continued his staring, with the same look of confusion on his face.

It was ridiculous to feel nervous about walking by a random stranger, but once I walked a bit more past him and left him behind I felt much more relaxed. I took a moment to remember his face and his eyes, wonder if they were contacts, and feel guilty at staring at him and making him uncomfortable.

As I thought back, the fact that he looked confused was strange. Someone born with red eyes would have been used to the fact that people would stared, someone with contacts would have chosen the unusual attention-grabbing color, and he was so pretty that many people must stare at him frequently, if only for the aesthetic value. His skin was extremely pale and he had long dark-blond hair in waves; only the eyes didn't fit with the usual descriptions of angels.

He was buying sunglasses on a cloudy day, and wanted to hide his natural red eyes, I concluded. That was when he materialized right beside me.

"Hello," he said with a voice that only made the associations with angels stronger.

"Hello," I repeated automatically. I was startled enough that I stopped walking.

He apparently decided to buy the sunglasses or maybe he stole them, but with them covering his eyes it didn't exactly diminish his beauty. It only made him look like a model out of some fashion magazine that gay men are so stereotypically fond of reading, but that I never took an interest in.

"My name is Sasha." He smiled at me and more angelic allusions sprouted into my mind.

"Hello, Sasha," I responded, more confused than I should have been.

He kept smiling, and there was an awkward silence and after a moment he continued, "Your name?"

"Oh, I Tomas." I kicked myself mentally after saying that, who am I, Tarzan? "Uh sorry, my name is Tomas."

He chuckled at my awkwardness. "Hello, Tomas." That was the fourth hello in the brief conversation, I was glad when Sasha chose to say something different, "Do you live nearby?"

A little bit intrusive, but I answered anyway.

"Yes," I left out the fact that I just had moved here and was exploring the town to find the best route between home and school.

"Can you give me some directions to the nearest park? I am new to the area."

"No, I'm sorry, I don't actually know my way around," I couldn't see Sasha eyes behind his sunglasses, but his smile broke in confusion, "I also just moved here," I added tentatively, trying to sound apologetic, and his smile returned.

The small map that my new neighbors made for me didn't have any parks on it, just the route to school and back, nothing more.

"Are you lost?"

"No. I'm just taking a walk."

"Tomas, could I join you?"

I took a moment to think about his intentions. It seemed extremely unlikely that he was truly planning just to walk with me. Sasha was very pretty, and I presumed a couple of years older than me. Even if he was new and desperate enough to make friends in town… choosing a boy who stared at him to hang out with was a little weird. I thought about the other alternative… I didn't have the vanity to believe that he was interested in me, not in that way. That was pleasant, but not enough to shut up my inner paranoia. I pessimistically considered that he might be some kind of predator and was luring me to a trap to beat me because he was homophobic, or just didn't like when people stared at his eyes, something like that.

"Actually, I really need to be heading home now," I said finally. This apparently disappointed him and I felt a little bad about my thoughts.

"Oh." He paused for a moment thinking. "Can I-"

"No," I said before even before he finished his question. I felt awkward enough that I turned around to leave.

"Tomas, do not go." His voice sounded different, desperate or supplicant.

I stopped at once, I couldn't move, my legs just wouldn't obey me. I was sure that it was completely irrational to feel that compelled by his request, but the important thing was that I couldn't move away. Finally, I found that I could turn around and face him. "Please, I really have to go."

I was conscious that it was ridiculous to ask for his permission, but it felt like the natural thing to do. He looked pained, like we had known each other for years rather than just the few awkward minutes and I was telling him that I was going to leave him forever and never see him again.

"Okay, Tomas," he eventually said. Sasha looked down at the pavement mournfully. "You can go. Do not worry about me finding my way to the park," he said emphatically, like he was talking about going to war. "We will see each other again."

"Yes, okay," I said nervously and found that I had control of my body again. "Sure." I couldn't mask the nervousness in my voice. "Another day," I added in sympathy.

I kept walking at a steady pace, trying not to look afraid, but once I turned around the corner and out of his line of sight, I started running, uncaring to the stares I would gather.

I ran all the way home.

When I got into the house, I noticed my mom unpacking some of the boxes that had compiled in the living room area. After drinking down a couple glasses of water, to quench the thirst brought on by my ridiculous running, I joined her. We started organizing what we found in the boxes. Small friendly arguments about what were found in the boxes erupted. Why in the world did we bring a gallon of white paint, when the house was red like Sasha's eyes?

It was just my mom and me for the time being. Sally was with my mother's parents until the house wasn't littered with boxes, and Richard had to deal with some emergency at his old office.

I had helped Mom pack everything back at our old house in Sacramento, but we had failed to think about proper box organization and mixed a lot of items in the same box that belonged to different people. Mom had also packed some nostalgic mementos with everyday items. In short, we had to take things out of the boxes, make little clusters sorted by people and take them to their respective rooms. Every so often my mom or I would find a relic of the ancient past and she would treat me with a small story: my first word, or the first time I went to the Zoo and had nightmares because of the monkeys (hideous things!), or when Harry got stung by several bees from a beehive that he poked (and I was a unsympathetic little brat about it), or how both Sally and me had our first steps in the porch of our old home (and how she had to be kept away from the pool after that).

I drank up stories like that, but I hated that I couldn't remember them myself. I could tell you the full name of every person that I had class with and other unimportant things like that, but I would trade the first and last name of half of them just to remember what it felt like to say "hug" for the first time. I would prefer to never forget anything.

I also had some memories of my own, but Mom lacked the interest to hear them. She only really liked to tell them. So in the quiet moments between nostalgic tales and moving things to their new homes, I took a little time to think and remember by myself.

Richard was a trekkie and had tried to "convert" me and my brother, but only had been successful with his own daughter. My mom was more than glad to have an excuse to move all the posters and toys (collectibles!) that she loathed to have in their room to Sally's. Sally's new bedroom already started to look like it belonged to a eight-year-old boy, not a eight-year-old girl. It has blue walls and already filled with some toys (collectibles!) on the shelves. There were a few animal plushies to give the minimum amount of feminine touch. I placed a picture frame, with her as a Vulcan, on the shelf and left the room.

My room was the barest of them all. I only had what I thought was a reasonable amount of clothing and books. I honestly preferred to leave it for when we were all settled in, and I could do it at my own pace without having to worry about everyone else. Still, I took a moment to see if there was anywhere that I could use as a hiding place. Failing that, I discretely took some of my old journals and hid them between assorted books, hiding them in plain sight until I could find a better place. I hesitated a moment to look at the journal I had two years ago, but decided that it wasn't the best time to deal with them. To deal with Gabe.

Harry was in college and wouldn't have a room in the new house. He would stay in my room when he visited. I was already dreading his inane sports talk. We had little in common, so he would awkwardly start conversations about sports teams when we were alone, to make up for the silence. He had taken most of his significant possessions with him to college, so his boxes contained just a few assorted items that were more important to our parents than to him. I carried his boxes to the basement, next to the bucket of white paint.

The entire organization process occupied most of my attention, but not enough to make me stop thinking about Sasha.

I had been such a coward. Yet, I couldn't think of anything more sensible to do. There wasn't any other more obvious a survival rule than mistrust of strangers, especially if they showed the interest that Sasha had.

Looking back, the fact that Sasha was so beautiful was what made me so anxious. I might have actually had given him a chance if he wasn't so pretty. For one thing, it wouldn't have made me so suspicious. An average looking guy being attracted to me seemed so much more likely than an angelic looking supermodel doing the same thing.

That night I looked myself in the mirror, trying to see through Sasha's eyes. What could he have seen in me? The inspection in the mirror only showed a young man with short dark hair and dark brown eyes, and the barest tanned tint in his skin (from the pool party in the old house last weekend), and someone who was much too skinny. I plucked out my contact lenses, and put on my old glasses that I kept on the dresser. Without them I wasn't particularly nerdy looking. To me I was… cute, in adorable non-treating way. I knew there are some guys who liked that. Could have Sasha been one of them?

I brushed my teeth and prepared myself for sleep. Maybe I was taking it the wrong way. Sasha was an angelic-looking guy, but one that had never had the chance to flirt. Or maybe his strong reaction was because he had never turned down before, which was quite believable, and I had hurt his ego.

I starting to write about my day in my journal. Once a week I stored everything in my computer, but writing felt more natural on a day-to-day basis.

I was terrified of losing my memories. They were one of the most important things to me.

Luckily, I actually had a pretty good memory. I often got complimented because of it, and that caused me to become more attached to it. Not as much as the idea of losing who I am, but it was nice to see people impressed with obscure trivia or fact that I had memorized. I wrote journals; once I wrote something down I hardly ever forgot. I kept them more as a kind of comfort; if I opened a page at random and read the first few lines I could easily remember the rest word by word. I had even checked.

Losing all that to age was absolutely terrifying. My memories defined me, they were my identity much more than the label "Tomas J. Anderson" was, or that I was seventeen, or who my family was, or that I was gay, or anything; those were just traits, buttons that were pushed and created. The memories were what truly defined who I was.

Already under the covers I decided that it was unhealthy to think that much about someone that I had spent less than ten minutes with. Tomorrow I was going to unpack my computer and write about him in my journal (if possible I would try to think in non-angel-based terms of him). I might see him again and half-heartedly wished so before falling asleep.

Sasha, however, was making sure that I would see him again.

Months later, Sasha and I sit on a couch. He looks angelic as always. I am holding his hand and have just finished describing the day we met.

After a pause I look him in the eyes.

"I am very, very sorry," he says.

"I've already told you that it doesn't matter anymore," I start saying before he cuts in.

"No. It matters, it always will," he says sadly. "I don't think I can apologize enough for what I did next."

Chapter 2: Remembering the Fear of Death

I woke up dizzy and cold, feeling like I was outside during a cold windy night. I opened my eyes groggily, and had a startling revelation.

I was outside.

My sight was blurry, but I could tell that the green blurs passing by at high speed were trees. They barely registered in my mind as more than an indication of where I was. I could feel myself wrapped up tight in a blanket with ropes knotted in several strategic places around my body, making it so I couldn't move even if I tried. I looked up at the sky to see that it was just past dawn and very cloudy. All these things were unimportant compared to the fact that Sasha was holding me in his arms.

Terror took over my brain. Because I had woken up in an unfamiliar place with a near stranger, and it was a panic-inducing situation, my mind failed to come up with the questions "How can he run so fast while holding me?" or even "Why didn't I wake up before?" I just stared at his face, paralyzed with fear. Sasha stared back at me, entranced. Since I had woken up he hadn't take his focus off of me and seemed to keep his impossible pace just fine. His red eyes seemed brighter.

"Tomas," he finally said after an eternity, "my love."

I acknowledged that I was going to die, my death felt certain and imminent. It was a simple yet intense feeling that somehow managed to increase my fear even more. Sasha must have noticed, his face become the perfect mask of the merciful and compassionate angel, it did not calm me at all.

"Tomas, do not be afraid," he paused for a second, "Tomas, do not try to escape," and escape became impossible.

A few moments passed before we reached a hill or a small mountain. Sasha slowed as we ascended. He drew me closer to him, and my forehead brushed his jaw. His skin felt cold, icy even, but the temperature was a small, easily explained thing. What was weird (well, weirder) was the texture, smooth and rocky, like a statue. Of all things, the confusion from that managed to diminish the fear, and I blurted something that Sasha managed to understand as, "What?"

"I know you are afraid, my love." For a moment, I really believed his merciful look — "but soon you will soon understand and we will be together," — but only a moment.

We reached an old shack, a really old shack. The windows were gone and the door had a hole the size of my fist in it. He placed me on the porch, carefully, like a baby, and untied me enough for me to shrug off the blanket. It hadn't been tight enough to give me circulation problems, but it felt better and just a little bit colder now that I had only my pajamas to keep me warm. He reached for my hand to help me up and I took it without resistance. He pulled me up and along with him into the shack. I could do nothing else but follow his cue. Hope was a distant, lost thing.

There were two other people inside the shack. One was an older man, probably a trucker judging from his attire and weight. He was almost perfectly still. The other was a woman. I couldn't see her face, but she was dark-skinned and sobbing uncontrollably. They were both were standing inside of circles marked in the floor with chalk. There was a third circle. It was for me, I was sure of that.

I tried to leave, I really did, but my legs wouldn't move, they weren't heavy and felt no different despite my fear. My feet just wouldn't make the steps toward the door. I actually managed to turn around and face the door, but to actually approach it was… I couldn't describe it. There was nothing to describe, because nothing happened.

"I am sorry" he said softly to them and then turned to me "I am sorry, Tomas. I do not want you to be afraid," he said softly when I stared at him, "once this is over we will be so happy, my love."

I turned to face the other two people. The woman actually had managed to stop sobbing and they were both were looking at us in fear. I realized that- it was crazy, like the entire situation it was likely that they couldn't leave too. Sasha had done something to us, and while we were all unrestrained physically we just couldn't make any move to leave. I remembered that he had done the same thing yesterday. I could even remember the same odd timbre in his voice. My legs finally failed me and my body almost hit the floor, but Sasha caught me with unnatural speed.

"Tomas, Tomas, Tomas," he said like if it was a small afraid animal, "my love." He kissed my forehead, and his lips were so cold. "Just three days and we will be together for eternity."

He moved his mouth down to my neck and…

- He became unnaturally still. After one moment the hold of his arms trembled and he laid me down in the floor. I made the colossal effort to move my neck to look at him.

Sasha was staring unfocused at nothing, his face looked horrified. I half expected God to reveal itself and admonish the evil Angel, but after almost one minute his eyes refocused. He still looked grave, like if he receive really bad news, and looked like he was going to cry. I couldn't feel any sympathy for him.

"You," he said unsure, "you can all… go. Do not be afraid of me. "

Sasha has crossed his arms and is hugging himself, like he is cold or scared. His breath seems to be irregular or desperate, despite the fact that he doesn't need oxygen.

"You look like you just had a nightmare," I say.

"I was the nightmare," Sasha says dramatically.

I didn't feel disappointed, it wasn't like that, but I did feel something akin to being indignant.

"Tomas, I am sorry for everything… things have changed."

It mostly felt like a prank. One where they drag you in the middle of nowhere and make you believe you're going to die…

"Tomas," he said, and I knew it was that weird voice even before he said the damning words. "Do not remember this. "

He said it. I listened.

And time just Slipped.

Slip. The word just fits perfectly. Anyone who's ever fallen because the floor was wet or covered in ice knows what it feels like. One moment you are standing, the next you are wondering how you got to the ground. It was like that.

Slip. I was in the forest. Slip. Somewhere on a road. Slip. Inside of a truck. Slip. The backyard of my new house. Slip. My mom running towards me. Slip. My mom again, crying. Slip. One of my new neighbors comes closer. Slip. I don 't even know where. Slip. Slip. I 'm in a hospital? Slip. Slip. An air plane with a stranger? Slip. Slip. Slip. Slip. Slip.

"Tomas, do not run away before they tell you everything," said Sasha 's angelic voice.

I blinked slowly, adjusted my eyes, and looked around. Someone had put my glasses on me. I was in a room luxuriously decorated in white and flowers, with several strangers. I looked to my left, Sash's voice had come from there, and all I found was a closed door. I blinked, and he wasn't there. I looked back at the strangers.

In one corner was a pale blond man; across from him was another man and a woman, both copper-skinned and strong. They looked at me with some degree of compassion disguised as neutrality. In the other corner of the room there was a pale dark-haired woman, I recognized her from the airplane; she looked genuinely neutral and waved her hand in a polite goodbye as she exited the room, holding the door a bit too long.

Finally, right in front of me, sitting across the very expensive table was a girl with exaggerated long braided bronze hair. Her face emanated genuine concern and the need to tell me something.

It was her job after all.

Chapter 3: Remembering the Truth

"We are here to help you. We understand that you have gone through a terrible ordeal. No one here wishes you harm. Sasha cannot harm you." Those four words made a world of difference. I felt much calmer, maybe a little too calm.

"Your situation is peculiar, I can explain it to you, and I have a few ways to do it, but I think that pamphlets are a bit too impersonal for the moment," She adjusted her outrageously long hair, "We can talk, you are free to ask any questions; I can explain things with quick magical summaries, including what magical summaries are."

I blinked and looked to the other occupants of the room, but they didn't look inclined to give any input. I recognized the woman from the plane. I had heard "pamphlets" and "magical" in the same phrase.

"Quick?" It was all that my decision-making ability could do in at the moment.

"Okay, I am going to start with small basic things."

Small and basic things was the euphemism for 'complete change your world-view'. To her credit, Elspeth Cullen, The Imperial Soothsayer and Princess of the Golden Empire, did manage to include a really convincing feeling of Do Not Panic. It wasn't easy to accept, but it was convincing.

Vampires. Most of the myths were false, but vampires do drink blood, and sometimes have one magical power. There had previously been a great vampire coven, called the Volturi, which had ruled over the supernatural world. In the last half decade there had been an uprising and they were overthrown. Elspeth's mother, the new Empress and leader of the supernatural world, had instated new laws to restrict vampires and protect humans from them. Vampires were no longer allowed to feed on humans; rather they would have to feed from animals. There are also werewolves, shape shifters, who can transform into giant wolves and are natural enemies of vampires, but are currently working for the new benign vampire Empire. Elspeth also told me that I was in Washington State and my mom thinks I am getting medical treatment for some sort of strange illness that I had contracted.

Sasha was a vampire, with a power called Restriction, which he could use to prevent people from doing things. The Golden Empire hadn't been aware of him until Saturday and had just managed to intervene before things got messy- or messier.

After I had been further informed of the 'small and basic' things through a few more Elspeth created magical summaries, we talked a bit.

"So," I took a moment to analyze what I knew, "Sasha..."

"Sasha wanted to turn you into a vampire, like him."

Elspeth seemed to be more apprehensive to share this. I wouldn't have noticed if her power hadn't made it so obvious; I knew that there was something that she didn't quite want to share, or couldn't share, I wasn't sure.

"There were others, two of them; a man and a woman... are they okay?" I asked, desperate for a good answer.

"More or less," Elspeth said "It was hard for them, what they went through, thankfully we were able to interfere before they were hurt physically. The Empire will look after them, making the appropriate reparations. Sasha wasn't going to turn them."

Elspeth didn't need to say out loud what purpose they would have served, my mind filled in all the horrifying blanks.

But it still felt like she was hiding something from me, something I needed to know.

"Where is Sasha?"

"He is someplace where he can not hurt you. It's a very secure... location that serves as a prison for his kind. He will stay there indefinitely. Whether he is released is what we need to figure out."

I felt more than a little angry. I looked at towards Jasper, the Empath, and he took it as a cue to forcibly calm my anger.

And then I was calm. This helped, and I was able to speak clearly. "So let me get this straight." I took a deep breath, this magic calm thing really helped a lot. "Because Sasha didn't actually know about the new 'Do Not Kill Humans' or the 'Do Not Kidnap People and Magically Hold Them Hostage' laws... He just gets off scot-free?"

Elspeth winced.

"That is idiotic and unfair and totally impractical!" I felt another dose of artificial calm shoot through me. Another deep breath. "Sasha is obviously crazy and unstable. Delusional even! He kept on calling me his 'love', like I was some sort of- of-." The memory of it sent a shiver down my spine. "Just keep him away from me."

"I know that this is the last thing that you want to hear right now, but Sasha isn't crazy." Her words rang true, which was impossible, because what sort of sane person would do what Sasha did? But I stayed quiet, wanting to hear her explain it.

"Vampires very literally fall in love at first sight. It is so strong that it can beat magic. If a vampires' mate were to pass away, or not want to be with them, it would break them. Killing the vampire would be kindness."

Love of first sight? It sounded like a fairy tale... but Elspeth wasn't lying. I don't think she was even capable of it.

I wanted to respond with, "go ahead and set the bastard on fire", but the dreadful truth echoed through my head, pulling my mind in another direction. We spoke about the magical love in further detail, and what it meant for me... or us. She wasn't trying to defend Sasha or what he did, but she did listen and answered to my questions.

I didn't like what it meant. That Sasha had taken one look at me and had fallen so in love that he would do anything to be with me. This love was what had driven him to do what he did.

Sasha could not help to be in love with me; but being apart from me would be very, very, very painful. The former vampire government hadn't given much option besides killing the mate or turning.

It was unfair to ask someone to follow a law they hadn't known existed, but from what Elspeth had said Sasha had immediately cooperated with the law the moment he was informed- which had been just before he had attempted to turn me in the shack.

This didn't make Sasha innocent at all, but with full knowledge on what had happened, I couldn't in good faith sentence Sasha to death. Though I felt resentful of the truth that Elspeth had given, I admitted to feeling more than a bit... sorry for Sasha.

Of course, I still didn't want to see him again, but that by itself wasn't merciful. Elspeth didn't said where the prison was, but it sounded like a temporary measure.

"You are the victim here," Elspeth said while I stared at my hands to not look at anyone in the room, "You don't have to feel sorry for him. You actually are being unexpectedly reasonable about the whole thing," I looked up and my face made her add, "but it is all okay if you want to deal with everything like that."

"Thanks." The room was awfully quiet for a minute. "How did you find me anyway?"

"Pure luck. Or really good timing," she said thoughtfully. "Another vampire thought about Sasha and my father read that thought. A vampire precog saw what Sasha was about to do, and we contacted him as soon as was possible."

This explained what I saw: the unfocused eyes, the sudden change of mind, the fear in his face. For a moment I thought, 'What if they just had been a minute too late?' I put that thought away for the moment.

"After that you and the two victims received the restriction. For some reason you were more affected than them."

It was a bit hard, to remember what happened during the time I was 'restricted', but only because it was something painful to remember. It was mostly me staring at nothing while my Mom hovered around in variable states of despair and me trying to think "Why is this happening?" over and over again.

Not pleasant at all, but thankfully still there.

"I don't want to forget things. I really don't."

"That might be it," Elspeth continued, "the others, became unresponsive just like you. But after a few hours they were functioning again. Sasha prefers not do mental restrictions like that, but... we didn't have much time to explain and he assumed we were... ruthless. It is probably the most controversial new law among vampires."

I nodded, mostly because I wasn't sure how to react.

"We sent some agents of the Golden Coven-" Elspeth said.

"I remember that, actually," I interrupted her and remembered.

In the hospital, I was visited by two vampire women, not that I noticed their species at the time. They had the characteristic pale skin, one of them was Santiago, the woman that had left the room. The other was Addy (The Imperial Factotum a Vampire version of Rogue from the Xmen). She was pretending to be a doctor and checking up on me. Her icy skin had made my entire body tense. She had told me, too low for anyone but me to hear, "Tomas, don't snap your fingers". Nothing happened.

I raise my hand and tried to snap my fingers, they didn't even twitch.

"We and Sasha couldn't predict anything." Elspeth seemed to guess what I was thinking. "His power only allows one single restriction at time. If he gives a new restriction the former is erased. But when Addy copied and used his power on you, both restrictions stayed."

I nodded then got up and moved towards the door. It wasn't locked and it opened effortlessly. But I couldn't step out of the room.

"You aren't a hostage, Tomas. We could have given you a better restriction."

I sat again and nodded my head firmly.

"Please tell me everything." I needed to know.

"Well, after we made the arrangements to have you moved here so Sasha could... re-restrict you again safely, but it took some time to organize everythin."

"I heard his voice. I had assumed it was a hallucination or whatever, but now... where is he?"

I wasn't scared that Sasha was going to pop out of nowhere, but I was feeling less safe. Elspeth explained through a summary.

The 'hiding place' was a dimensional prison. It was the only thing that would deter vampires besides death or mutilation. Sasha was released for just the exact time to deliver his restriction and was hidden again.

I blinked at this.

"Elspeth, you said that vampires are really powerful, but do you really need to...?"

"Hide them in another dimension? Yes, do you want another summary?" I nodded to her.

We haven't gone into detail about vampire strengths and weakness before, only that most myths are untrue and vampires are stronger than I was going to expect. Vampires' perks aren't important compared with everything else we had to discuss.

I had avoided imagining myself as a vampire, eating people and forever mated with Sasha, even if I was going to feel happy about being with him.

The summary hit my brain like a bat (no pun intended). Finally, I understood why they need a department for turning. Immortality, strength, speed, durability, regeneration, improved senses and perfect memory.

Perfect memory.

But at a cost.

The sudden excitent disapearered when I 'read' the part from the summary that read"Vampires forget parts of their former human lives."

Either I was agape a bit too long or Elspeth had enough experience to recognize the type of face.

"Are you interested in...?"

I should have said no. "Yes," I said, surprising myself.

"Your surprised yourself?" Sasha asks tilting his head.

"I hadn't know it was possible," I said half jokingly, "but well, it was... tempting."

"I think you can apply..." Elspeth sounded surprised. "Take some time to think about it. I am not going to say that it's a bad idea, but it isn't the right time to think about it."

This sounded like the picture of reason. I nodded once.

"We also can give you and your family reparations for your distress," that hadn't even occurred to me, "and possible other support. But that can be discussed later, possibly with your mother present, if that is your wish."

My mother was told that I needed to be moved to another more specialized medical facility so they could take care of a made-up medical condition. It was never outright stated, but I assumed that she wasn't going to be told to keep the masquerade safer. I was worried about her being alone in the new house.

"Why isn't she here?"

"Well, none of us are sure if she knew about you being..."

I took a moment to wonder what the other three people though about it, the wolf man gave a sympathetic half-smile, or something close, the other two remained neutral. I answered the unspoken question:

"Gay... I never did come out to her." I paused for a moment and then continued, "I don't think she would react really badly." Harry disagreed with me how she would have reacted, but I didn't comment on that. "But in this situation," I waved my hand like if it could indicate the whole mess. "It's just impossible. I am not sure if she will only be concerned with me or have a nervous breakdown."

"We worried that something like that would happen. I might be able to make the entire thing look like a random non-mate attack, but I would still need to explain it separately and there would be many ways that it could go bad."

"Thank you."

"Well... it was Sasha's idea," I didn't want to answer that, and she continued, "He didn't make a fuss, but he is concerned."

I noticed the use of "is" rather than "was".

Elspeth continued, "You don't need to do anything that you don't want to do... but would you mind if we keep in contact on a regular basis and inform Sashaof your health? You don't need to answer right now, just think about it." She turned to the blond vampire. "Jasper, are you still influencing him?"

"Not much," Jasper said, "I have been reducing the potency gradually."

"Do you wish," she turned back to me, "to try stay completely out of Jasper influence? He can't cover you forever."


Wordlessly, Jasper lifted his power. I felt tired and with weight over my chest, maybe anxiety, but it could be just the fear of fear itself.

"It's bearable. What's next? Is my mom coming here?"

"You are still a minor, so our policy is to disclose things to your parents. But it doesn't need to be right now."

"My mom should know I'm okay."

"I can take care of that. You should get some rest first, if you prefer. You don't even need to go home for a few days yet."

I didn't remember going to sleep during the 'restricted' period, but wasn't sure. I felt tired, but not sleepy. Yet sleeping sounded like a good idea, even it was near noon by that point. Fainting dramatically would have fit the situation better.

"Can you give me something to sleep, if it is okay? I don't want to think right now."

"It isn't a problem at all." Elspeth stood up, and her wolf bodyguards followed suit. "We have a room prepared."

Jasper had already left the room, before I had even noticed, so the door was open. I followed the trio through a long corridor, there were other vampires along the way, but I ignored them and they ignored us. We reached a corner with a much shorter corridor, only five doors. Santiago was standing near the first one, with a glass of water and a pill. Super-powers made things so convenient.

The bedroom (like everything else in the place), was beautifully decorated and cozy and looked like a room from a very expensive hotel. It was the most welcoming parallelepiped of architecture in the universe.

After swallowing the pill with some difficulty, I tucked myself in bed. I was still in my pajamas. All four of them watched, and it was really awkward.

"I really wish to know how to decide what to do," I said as I rested my head on the pillow.

Elspeth voiced a thought.

"Well, my Mama always said;"

Elspeth, the princess, spoke as I fall into sleep.

"What do you want? What do you have? How can you use one to get the other?"

Too bad I didn't quite hear that.

Chapter 4: Remembering the Hybrid Boy

Of course I had nightmares. Why had I even tried to sleep in the first place? I couldn't remember all of it, just disconnected images. They might not have made sense anyway. Random altered pictures of the last day. I remember seeing Sasha with a horrendous grin and fangs. A shining Elspeth surrounded by a thousand wolves. My mother in the hospital. Me, as a vampire, going to attack my family, until I saw... Gabe.

I woke up and rolled in bed, surprised. It took a moment to realize where I was.

If mate bonds were really magical, then magic seemed to have a dislike for me, or a kind of irony. Maybe magic was God, or gods, or whatever. I might lose the ability to be surprised by anything.

Either way, could "magic" or "destiny" arrange to send Sasha to me, because of Gabe? Sitting in bed I shook my head and decided that it wasn't the best way to think.

It was 4:35 PM and I felt hungry.

I had been spoon-fed while I was restricted'. Apparently, it didn't take much of my mental capacity.

There was a knock at the door, and the person didn't wait for the answer. It was a boy, probably my age, maybe as old as Harry, copper-skinned like the other Quileute's and with short hair, maybe one of the wolves.

"Hey, I'm Cody," he said, smiling.

"Tomas." He probably knew who I was.

"I was supposed to give you some food when you woke up." Behind him was a cart like the ones that you see in hotels.

Oh, good timing."

"Thanks," he said, pushing the cart. "I can bring something else if you like."

It was sandwiches: nice, warm, completely mundane sandwiches. He took my voracious eating as a sign of approval; after a few bites, he headed toward the door.

"Wait." Cody held still. "Do you know if I can call my mother?"

"Well, I was only here to bring food. Honestly, I don't know why you are here, but I'll let them know."

"Thanks, again... Oh, I also wanted... things to write with."

"A letter?" Cody asked

"No... a journal." I said "I want to write this day down."

"Okay, I will be back soon."

Cody came back within a few minutes with a cell phone, notebook, pen, and pamphlets.

"They asked to you not disclose... Things," Cody said, "and Elspeth left these pamphlets for you."

I accepted them. Cody stood there for a moment.

"I am supposed to take the phone back," he said after an awkward pause.

"Okay, just a moment," inhaled deeply and dialed. "Hello? Yes, it's me, Mom. I'm feeling fine."

We talked for a few minutes. Not talking about what happened was harder than I would have assumed. After hearing her voice, I couldn't avoid a childish instinct to ask her to make everything alright. If Cody wasn't there I might have come out just to soothe the secrecy. Mom was annoyed that they couldn't tell her when she could see me. She was under the impression that I was still back in Ohio.

"I really don't know when. They said that you probably will need to come here. No, no, I am not dying. You canceled your job interview? Well, I just... They probably will let you know if anything changes. Yes, I will keep calling... take care Mom. I am fine..."

After saying that I was okay more than a dozen times, Mom believed my lie, or felt it was better not to push it. I handed the phone back to Cody, trying not to look at him with teary eyes.

"Aw, man, don't worry," Cody said taking the phone back. "The Golden Coven will make everything right... and if you need anything you just have to say out loud and a vampire will hear it"

"Right" I said without looking "thanks again."

Cody left. I read the pamphlets, partly to distract myself. About half of them had information that we already covered. The rest was informative, though, and gave me more to think about, while I had time to think.

I used the notebooks more to do actual notes.

I already had a problem in thinking about the future, even before factoring everything added in the last days. I wasn't particularly attracted to any kind of job, but not because I didn't want to work. Nothing really appealed to me in a way that made me think "Oh, I could do this for the rest of my life".

I was truly ashamed of that, but that was the reality. The idea of becoming a doctor/policeman/firefighter/architect/scientist had different appeals for different reasons, but none were "just right" for me.

My decision (if you can call that) to be a vampire was a very rushed one in hindsight. But even after reading the pamphlets and re-thinking all that I was told... it still seemed so much better than being a human.

Death... dying was a terrible concept. But it seemed just a sick joke of fate that your body and mind deteriorates the longer you live, like there was no way to win and you are punished for trying to stay in the game.

I wouldn't be able to be around my family, hell, being around people... humans would be uncomfortable already.

Yet, life wouldn't be a rushed thing where every opportunity counts. I could just sit back and think of the future (for once) until I was sure.

Being a vampire seemed like the logical thing to do when you think about survival and happiness.

The prospect of losing some of my memories still terrified me. It was silly, stay human would mean that I would lose them gradually anyway, if I turned it would be a trade-off. Lose a finger, keep your life.

There are people that wouldn't cut off a finger even if meant survival. Even if the finger grew back.

I am not sure if I would do it myself. I wasn't sure if I wanted immortality enough at the price of not remembering when I had my first kiss, or Sally's name, or my mother's face. I decided to approach another problem.

The future... as a human didn't seem that bright. Relationships are hard even when you don't have all the drama that the "hetero-normative" couples don't have to deal with.

The idea of "one true love" was something that lacked practical purposes, in humans. It might be a beautiful and easy to deal with concept, but it was hardly realistic. Too many people think that they found their soul mates.

My dad cheated on my mom.

The woman got pregnant and made a scandal in a super-market where she confronted my mother. I wasn't there, but Mom screamed loud enough for me to hear in the above floor when she arrived home. Next thing I know, my family was broken. Dad didn't even keep contact with his sons. Not that I particularly missed him. I was mildly curious if I had another brother or sister out there.

Mom was quite strong, at least enough to not show weakness. She eventually found Richard, and they were happy.

I speculated, not for the first time, if this kind of background or even my genetics would hurt my future relationships. My record was short, but it wasn't clean.

As far Elspeth knew, and it was a lot, vampires effectively have one mate. They do have the one true love, but it is only one. Sasha was in love with me and there was no way back for him. I was free, but no one knew if "free" meant "Tomas might find a mate" or "Tomas will be alone forever because he hasn't mated on Sasha".

Meanwhile, Sasha would be permanently and irreversible chained to me.

I avoided the thought of Sasha, and realized that even if "I might find a mate," it wasn't really that easy, regular vampires just don't mate with anyone. I was not sure if there are fewer or more gay vampires proportional to the human population. I could mate with a human, but what if I went crazy and tried to do what Sasha did? There was no way to find out in advance.

I ran my hand through my hair, like that was going to clean my thoughts. I didn't even know if they were going to want to turn me into vampire. Being a victim was an incentive, and so was being a mate, but I wouldn't accept to be with Sasha just so could I be a vampire... or would I? Plus there was how Mom was going to react. She might convince me not to join the side of the not-exactly living, benefits or not.

I at least made one decision.

"Huh... Hello?" I had no idea how was the proper way to have conversations like this. "Can someone come over?"

There was a knock in the door and Santiago entered without waiting for a reply.

"Good evening" Santiago said politely "do you wish or need something?"

"Yes... I want to... can my mother come over here? I think it would be better to tell her everything."

"Perfectly," Santiago said neutrally. "She can come over tomorrow morning and Elspeth can explain everything when she arrives, or she can come as soon as possible, but Elspeth won't be up to explain."

I gave a moment of thought.

"Tomorrow morning... I want to speak with her first."

"Understood. Anything else?"

"Well..." It was a spur of the moment question "Do you have a mate?"

"No." Her voice was still neutral.

So very neutral I decided to not make any more questions to the superiorly strong single lady. I said goodbye and she left in blurry speed.

"Sasha! Santiago found her mate!" I said smiling to Sasha as he held me in his arms.

I came back to thinking.

There was one seriously down side of having a mate, or rather, losing one. The same way that the happiness was stronger, the sadness was stronger too. Vampires' mates are often punished together because it is usually more merciful than not. Living after a mate death isn't pleasant at all.

Would widowed vampires choose to never have a mate in the first place? The answer really seemed "No".

This again, made Sasha actions... less harsh. His world revolved around a person that was certain to be dead after a few decades, if not before.

Unless he did something.

How fast do people develop Stockholm syndrome?

In a way vampires without mates are stronger. Their unbeating hearts aren't vulnerable to the loss of someone so dear. They could move on from the loss of regular friends, yet many vampires wanted this "vulnerability".

If my heart was cold enough, maybe I wouldn't want a mate after turning. Maybe if was cold enough, I might not even care to have friends or that they die, or the death of my family. I could just walk through life (vampire or not) completely disconnected and impervious.

It was already 18:50.

I decided to try to sleep again, and it was surprisingly easy to actually fall sleep. I had nightmares again, this time Gabe and Sasha's faces hovered around me, tears of blood coming from their eyes.

Needless to say, it wasn't good sleep.

"The nightmares are so silly" I said smiling at Sasha "it is the kind of thing that I would mock other people if I heard about it"

"They are not silly" Sasha said, almost whispering "if they meant something to you."

My sleeping schedule was going to suffer so much.

I woke up around 4:00 and tossed and turned in bed trying to go back to sleep, but couldn't. There was a TV in the room, but it became uninteresting as soon I turned it on. My clothes were kind of smelly and the closet had a dozen of t-shirts, skirts and pants all in different sizes. It made me wonder how often they are used, or if they were used at all, and what the people who used/might use/going to use would have gone through. Maybe one of the two others, the ones selected to be my "first meals", had been in here.

Guiltily, I realized that I didn't want to see them ever again. Elspeth could tell me if they were okay, but seeing them again would be... unpleasant.

I took a shower, and dressed with a fresh pair of jeans and blue t-shirt.

The bedroom was starting to make me sick. I didn't quite want to leave. I was hungry, and asking for food would keep my mind occupied, but I was starting to feel like a prisoner. I opened the door and looked around.

"Hey there?" I started saying "I want..."

Santiago materialized out of nowhere again. Was she the only free employee or was she supposed to babysit me?

"... to walk, I don't want to escape or anything," I said (for one thing it would be impossible), "just walk a bit until breakfast time."

"If you are hungry" She said, maybe hearing my stomach "you could go to the village and eat in their cafeteria. Cody Clearwater is up already and can show the way around."

I agreed and Santiago gave me the directions and said she would call Cody so he would be waiting in the end of the tunnel. There was no way to get lost' the tunnel was a few miles long, but they had a modified golf cart (or something similar) in a rail. So I just sat back and concentrated on the decorations. Most of the tunnel was simple rock with occasional signs indicating how far or close you are from each end. The other end had few murals, most obviously made by children. I saw one that was finger-painted and had what could be Elspeth and Jake, or little red riding hood and the bad wolf, or some bizarre combination of both for all I knew.

Cody was waiting in the end of the tunnel and gave an unnecessary wave to call attention. We greeted each other formally. The tunnel was connected with one huge auditorium and the aboveground exit.

The village looked like a pretty nice place to live. Outside the predominance of small stone houses it could be taken as a high-class suburb. It was still a bit dark, but La Push certainly was surrounded by a nice piece of dense canopy forest. I speculated if the forest was to benefit the secrecy or because wolves genuinely liked nature. Cody was quiet, most of the time, but pointed out some locations (there seemed to be a lot of communal areas), including his siblings' house and Elspeth/Jake's house, which was rather small and simple for a princess. We were nearing the cafeteria and I realized that I didn't have any pocket money, but Cody laughed for the first time, it was nice:

"Dude, it is free," he said smiling. "People don't use as much as before, and there is a bit less options, but breakfast is still the best meal." He reached for his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. "Still, we are going awfully early. I hope you don't mind to eat microwaved stuff, unless you know how to cook."

"I do, at least breakfast. Cooking seems fine now. Normal."

Cody was visibly uncomfortable with that statement. I was not sure if I offended him somehow, or if he just wasn't feeling like comforting one vampire-abductee that he barely knew.

"Do you work here?" I asked to break the silence. "Me? No. I can't cook to save my life. Well, I cook well enough for me, but not for other people. I am a really early bird," Cody opened the door and waved the keys, "so they gave me the keys. It is free anyway."

We walked in and turn on the lights, Cody opened more locks and soon I was making bacon and eggs. Cody was content in chewing a piece of meat, raw meat.

"Uh, are you okay with this?" He pointed at the red chunk in his hand.

"Well... yes." It was weird, however the world was weird anyway. "Do you really like it... like that?"

"Yes" he said smiling "Do you know that I am a half-vampire?"

"Oh. No." My ability to feel surprised was lost. "Elspeth mentioned another half-vampire here, without saying anything else. I assumed you were a werewolf."

"Well, I am not. My sister and brother are wolves, but my parents are vampires."


I came back to cooking, not feeling like extending the topic. Neither did Cody who just kept eating quietly.

Two vampire parents, two werewolf siblings, one Half-vampire. That must be one hell of an awkward family, with most of them being natural enemies.

When the plate was almost done, I decided that the silence was unwelcome, and also realized that Cody wasn't telepathic.

"What do you know about... what happened to me?" The topic was somehow easier to talk about now, or maybe it was Cody.

"Well," he was choosing his words, "I know that a vampire named Sasha mated on you and tried to kidnap you and there was some problem with her power and you got... messed. They had to bring you here."

The assumptive "her", was exactly what I was afraid of, but decided it was silly to try to hide that from Cody. He wasn't telepathic, but he was in a village filled with telepaths (or sort of) including his brother, his sister and Jake.

"You got it almost right." Cody stopped eating for a moment. "It was his power"

Even though I timed to when he wasn't eating, Cody managed to choke (in his saliva, or venom? Do hybrids have saliva?). His face was so hilarious that I burst out in laughter for the first time in days.

Then realized I was laughing and stopped like if it was a terrible sin.

Chapter 5: Remembering the Choice

Cody was too busy trying to stop choking to notice anything weird with my sudden change of moods. Or maybe he was pretending.
"It will get overcooked," he said when he caught his breath again.
I removed the bacon and eggs from the frying pan and put them in a plate.
"Sorry..." he said after a few moments of silence. "They didn't say..."
"There isn't a problem." I started to eat.
"I thought Sasha was a girl's name."
"I think it is unisex... and Russian," I said thoughtfully.
There was silent again, and it occurred to me, "who is Sasha?" I knew actually very little about "what" he was too. A vampire mated on me with a scary power, and that was it.

Yet, even murdering vampires are "people". Sasha had a full name, he had parents and there was a vampire creator, he had a birthday and I had no idea how many centuries old he was. What the hell he did he do in between... feeding?

By the time the plate was washed in the sink, the sun was already up in the sky and the door opened, the actual employees walked in, and after a few questions, only seemed to be bothered by our lack of hairnets.

Still, I didn't felt like staying around so many people, that might know or not what happened. So I politely excused myself, saying that I wanted to go back to "my room." Cody followed me and I decided to break the silence.

"If you don't work there, why did you bring food yesterday?" I asked.

"Oh" Cody said. He appeared distracted. "I don't have an official job. But I am sort of the errand boy when someone has to go between the wolf village and the vampire capital." He paused. "I don't smell like enemy... or food.

"Right, now that I think about it, maybe Santiago sent me to the village exactly to avoid being... a temptation to the resident vampires."

"You don't get paid at all?"

"Well, no, but it is nice to do something, and there aren't any jobs in the village that appeal to me."

"Okay," I said, nodding. We were nearing the tunnel. "You are allowed to leave here?"

"Well, yes, as much as any six-year-old hybrid that isn't a princess can," he said, smirking, "but I don't feel like it."

"Oh, right." Cody was younger than Sally.

Conversation died out after that, and he bid farewell when I walked in through the tunnel, saying he was still hungry. I came back to the bedroom without talking to another soul, and waited for my mother to arrive.

It would be a really touching moment.

After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, my mother arrived. She was of course confused and angry that they moved me without warning her, but overall, seeing me healthy and standing made her very relieved.

So I asked a moment of privacy and we talked in an empty room.

It might be the effect of being happy that I was alive, but she was completely supportive, saying again and again that she loved me "no matter who I decided to love".

I told her about Gabe, she hugged me, and said I was a really good person, that never would hurt anyone.

I would feel really touched by that.

If I wasn't so worried to about what she was going to find out next.

Mom wasn't very enthusiastic about having information directly shot in her brain, so Elspeth talked a lot, and my mom kept quiet for most of it. I noticed an odd tension in Elspeth's body, like she was trying to control the urge to scratch her back, but wouldn't do it in front of us.

I guess my mother reacted well, especially given everything that happened. She squeezed my hand when Elspeth told about Sasha's plans to turn me... and she was much more skeptical about the whole "one true love forever," but eventually believed in Elspeth honesty, but expressed that Sasha shouldn't be allowed near me, even if that meant killing him. Elspeth tensed more.

When we mentioned that I was considering turning she held very quiet, looking to her hands in her lap, and finally said.

"I can see why you would want it, especially now. It isn't something I would do myself, but you don't have to rush... it is a really hard decision... But as long you are happy..."

I couldn't avoid thinking... my mother, Harry, Sally and even Richard, all quickly aging, and me taking them against their will to a small isolated place to make sure that they would stay with me forever.

I was disgusted with myself for just thinking of that.

"I literally know people that would literally go through the three days of pain again just to be a vampire," said Elspeth, which was something weird to be literal about. "Tomas wouldn't even to worry about that."

"It is something... tempting," I said to avoid thinking. "All the benefits... But I am scared of losing my memories..." And being alone.

My Mom gave a revelation.

"Tomas... something happened... with your journals, your window was broken and there was rain. I didn't read any of it, but I could tell they were your journals..."

That affected me more than I assumed it would, like losing a childhood pet. My journals.

"They aren't completely destroyed," said my mother helpfully, "but there is a lot of water damage."

"Well," said Elspeth after sometime just observing, "we could help in there... It's not like a perfect recovery could be done, but a vampire could probably do it much better."

"I am not sure I would like a stranger to see those," I said.
"Okay... Tomas, did you come to a decision about whether we should keep Sasha..." Elspeth said, and my mom snapped.
"My son doesn't own anything..."

My mom froze midsentence. I turned to see if Elspeth did something, but whatever it was, it was already done.

"Sorry," Elspeth said to me "Mary was getting nervous. It would be better to send a summary. In it, I said to her, 'stay calm.'"

"Okay," said my Mom.

I looked from one to the other. Mom was obviously not "okay."

"It was that all?" Elspeth reaction said it wasn't. "What did you... 'Say?'" I settled for the closest word.
"Do not show him!" my Mom practically growled.
"What?!" I snapped at them.

My mother and Elspeth stayed quiet, neither looking in my direction. I breathed deeply, maybe Elspeth would tell me later, so I said, "So okay... my life memories are water damaged." I tried to sound neutral. "So what is next?"
"My mama... her Imperial Highness," Elspeth corrected herself, "thinks it would be better if you stayed here for a time, Tomas, for observation."
"For how long?" I said.
"We aren't sure, at least a week maybe," she added, obviously nervous. "Tomas, would you... talk to Sasha occasionally?"
My reaction to the question was a mix of confusion. Especially because my mother became completely neutral. She wasn't angry, just staring at the other side of the room.

That shocked me and I took a moment to reevaluate things.

Yesterday, Elspeth asked without any pressure for me to only tell my status to Sasha indirectly. It felt like the decision was entirely up to me and Elspeth herself was neutral to any outcome.

Today... I could feel the edge of urgency in her request, her bigger request.

And I could see that my mother went from asking death to... being quiet.

Something that Elspeth communicated... changed her opinion in a second, and she did quietly so I couldn't hear.

That meant there was something that might change my opinion.

And they aren't telling me to protect me. They are keeping me in the dark.

After all, "I am the victim here"

I was the victim since Saturday.
I didn't want to be in that role anymore.

I didn't want for others to have so much control in my life anymore, even if they were helpful strangers or my own mother.

Something in my head snapped. The answer popped clear with all the reasons I was too afraid, and it wasn't just something out of spite, because I wanted control again. It made sense; it was clear like as if every bit of my mind was lit up with the light of the sun and I was aware of each ray of light.

It wasn't a perfect solution; it wasn't everything that I wanted. There was a lot of it, which didn't make exactly me happy.

But it was what I wanted using what I got. It was the best viable option.

And most of all, it was my decision. It was my choice. Mine.

Yet, I had to admit, it was a very complicated one.

I finally said.

"Actually... I want Sasha to be my mate."

"It was really a self interest. Not romantic decision" I said to the newly brown-headed girl."

Her smile breaks "well, I still feel it is kinda romantic. The whole thing is."

"Maybe..." I said unsure "but the moment it was more like a light bulb over your head, multiplied by a thousand times."

My mother looked at me like there was a huge bleeding open wound in my face, she was speechless and Elspeth talked first.

"Tomas..." she said measuring the words, "it is not a decision that you should rush."
"Tomas..." my mother finally said. "You..."
"Elspeth, let me ask a few unimportant questions." I didn't want to be rude, but it was important to make things clear. "Is there a difference between the proportion of gay people and the proportion of gay vampires?" It was a rather technical question, but part of the though process.
"There is about two times less, as far I can tell," she said after a moment's thought. to think "I don't think it is a big factor when choosing a future vampire that it isn't a mate... but vampire population is so small in the first place."
"Are gay vampires more likely to find human mates?"
"Yes... quite a bit," Elspeth said after another pause. "It makes sense... there are many more gay humans out there than gay vampires... I only know about three couples of gay vampires that were both vampires when they met."
"And no one knows if I could find a mate that isn't Sasha once I turn, right?"
"No... most of my information comes from the Volturi... they rarely interfered with turning during the process unless it wasn't discreet. If they had reason to kill a vampire, they usually killed the mates as well... there is no confirming evidence."
"So it is safe to say that my chances of finding a mate other than Sasha might be as well considered impossible, and even if they are possible, there is a big chance that the mate will be human, completely able to decide not wanting anything to do with me... right?"
Elspeth nodded, my mother made unintelligible protesting sounds, I ignored her.
"Did any widow vampire ever regret meeting his or her mate?"
"Not really." Elspeth didn't even pause. "If they do regret it usually is because they feel responsible for their mate's death in someway... but they regret the death, and sometimes their own existence, but not that the mate existed... they just can't regret that."
"So... I know that you guys might not turn me, but if I am turned any personality traits are amplified, and if I am turned wanting a mate, but never find one, won't I be miserable about it? Miserable forever?"
"Likely... we can't be sure... but likely."
"You don't need to be a vampire," my mother exclaimed, finally finding her vocal chords. "You are only a boy! You aren't even 18!"
"I know mom, I know, but I did say, those are unimportant questions. Do you want to know the important one?" Everyone in the room paused waiting "The real important question... there are two ways to live my life from now on: I can live my life knowing that I left behind someone because they loved me..."
"He is a monster!" my mother shouted.
"Oh, he is," I said, almost challenging. "He is a monster that ate people, and because fate is so twisted that monster will love me, forever." I turned to Elspeth without hiding the irony that said "Isn't it, princess?" and continued. "But either way, you aren't going to punish him for what he already did to all those people." Elspeth nodded, looking apprehensive to even speak. "So if you are going to do anything to him, keeping him away or killing him, it will because he mated on me..."
"Yes..." agreed Elspeth, still apprehensive. "You shouldn't feel responsible..."
"Thank you, but it doesn't matter whose fault it is, what matters is that I will know, for the rest of my life, human or not, that Sasha loves or loved me like no other could, like not even you could, Mom. I can't change that. If I could, I would, but what I can change? What can I decide?"
I took a big breath "I can decide whether I will cause pain to the one that loves me the most, pain because he loves me, or I can be brave enough to take a path that I know will make me... happy."

When I walked out of the throne-room-without-thrones my resolve was a bit weaker, however, I felt somehow content with myself for winning the first two rounds.
Of course, when I expressed my decision for the first time it wasn't well received. My mother wasn't angry, but was very concerned. She believed that I wasn't mentally well, and she had reason for that.
The princess offered to try something she wasn't quite sure it would work, but might "clean" me. I didn't protest, if there was a problem in my mind, I would want to be fixed.
So the word "truth" washed my mind, with the power of a wave from the ocean.
Nothing changed.
After a bit more maternal bickering and me calmly explaining my reasons over and over again, Elspeth decided it was time to take the problem to her mother.

Empress Regnant Bella Marie Swan Cullen of the Golden Empire. Vampire Monarch by day, and also by night.

Her appearance shocked me a bit. Even thought I knew about her being in the mid-twenties looking seventeen, I somehow assumed someone with a more mature face and Victorian-age style clothing. Not the casual wear jeans, green-shirt and bald girl that could pass as my classmate. At least she had a crown.

You know the world is weird when crowns make things more normal.

It was another session of asking and answering questions, it didn't felt like a interrogation, more like a debate. Normal debates don't involve mindreading and phone calls to lie detectors, but still felt like a debate.

By the end of it, there are compromises.

Honestly, I wouldn't be sure if I would even call most of them compromises, they fit so well with what I wanted that it almost felt like the Empress was somehow rewarding me.
The compromises made my mother agree with the plan, if only a little begrudged. I didn't want to hurt our relationship, but I knew she would come around eventually.
I left the throne-room-without-thrones feeling tired of talking, but the next step was a compromise, and one that I had to admit, it was important to take. If I couldn't do this, it would be unlikely that I would do anything.
So I bid farewell to my still-not-like-this-idea-mother and walked.
It was time to talk with Sasha.

Chapter 6: Remembering the Baratov Family

The "palace" had an outrageous number of rooms, many vacant. A vampire that didn't mind using communal showers could reside in any simple room that had enough space for their stuff, in a closet if they were especially frugal.

The room wasn't a closet. It was quite big, but empty.

Empty until Sasha flared into existence before my eyes.

Sasha was less impressive than I remembered. His posture was weak and unconfident, his hair was a mess, the shadows under his eyes looked darker under artificial light. However, his eyes were now golden, which made him look angelic.

He looked at me, attentive, scared, and unsure.

There was no way to start this conversation properly with a "hello" or similar, so I didn't bother.

"This is going to be a long talk." I sat in the floor and gestured him to do the same.

"The warden said to not touch you or hurt you." Sasha was nervous; he could be dragged to another dimension in an instant.

"Yes, they are watching us too. I wanted this conversation to be more private, but safety is more important."

Sasha was still quiet; it looked like I'd have to be the active part of the conversation. Good.

"I am going to tell you a story, because I feel it is important for this. Don't worry, it's the short version." I couldn't avoid being a little theatrical about it. "When I was fifteen, my brother Harry had a classmate called Gabe. They also were on the soccer team together, so they became friends. One day, Gabe came over when Harry went out with our stepdad, and my mother didn't want him to go back home, so she asked me to play with him." I cleared my throat. "While we were playing he... came closer to me and whispered in my ear... next thing I know we were kissing." I was trying to be serious and factual, but couldn't avoid smirking a little. Sasha just kept listening, immobile. "Soon, Gabe stopped by our house much more often and spent less time with Harry, and more with me..." I so did not like being observed right now. "He was my first... and he fell in love with me... but I didn't fall in love with him."

I paused. Sasha still didn't move. He had some hair over his eyes. It was a small thing, but it bothered me.

I was somehow afraid of touching him.

I decided that I didn't want to be afraid of touching him.

I reached out and pushed his hair out of the way. His stony skin made me uncomfortable, but I didn't flinch away.

"There was a fight," I continued. "My parents weren't around, but my brother was... he heard and found out what was happening. It was a mess, to say the least... and..." I breathed deeply. "I just didn't want to assume that what Gabe and I had was more than physical... He was very hurt." Remembering his face was painful, but it was necessary. I closed my eyes. "I promised myself to never hurt anyone like that again. I'm having nightmares about you and him, silly nightmares really, but they might be my mind trying to make me admit... that I pretended not to see the obvious signs..."

I opened my eyes, and Sasha looked almost hopeful. I had to continue.

"Let me finish." Sasha's eyes widened in apprehension. "Just let me finish. See, I think that 'vampires' is a good enough reason to break a promise like that. However," I quickly added, "the important thing is why I made that promise, Sasha."

I took a really big breath and let it out, not looking directly at him.

"I don't want to be the kind of person who doesn't care about other people's hearts. I don't want to be the kind of person that walks through life alone, uncaring and disconnected, even if it would be safe. Sasha... I am going to be your mate."

There was a pause and he almost lunged to hug me, but someone unimportant held him down. I decided I needed to better clarify things.

"First... no touching... for now. We will work out the exact rules later." Sasha nodded nervously. "The thing is... I want to be a vampire, but I don't want to be alone for the rest of the eternity, at least if I can choose not to... and while I did say that I don't want hurt people, it's actually selfish. I don't want that weight on my conscience. Sasha, I don't love you." That made him go rigid. "When I turn I will love you anyway, but there will be some time in between."

"Time?" Sasha said, his second sentence in the whole conversation.

"Yes. Our situation is a bit... it's very unusual. The Empress thinks it would be good to wait till I'm past eighteen, in six months, so I have time to make a proper decision... and so we get to know each other... There is another self-interested reason too..." Sasha didn't want to add anything. "I want to be turned... but I am terrified about losing my memories, terrified. I have journals but they suffered some water damage... I guess thatwas caused by you." That made Sasha wince again. "Don't worry. One benefit of spending time with you is that you have perfect memory already, and I can trust that you won't lie to me after turning." That wasn't a question, but he nodded anyway. "Neither will you run around gossiping about my younger-self thoughts. You're also going to help me recover my journals, and that gives us a reason to spend time together."

"Tomas, we..." Sasha noticed that he had interrupted me. I didn't protest, so he continued. "How much time are going to spend together?"

"Well, I got carried away, and forgot to tell the other details for the arrangement. You are going to be released from the hiding place, but still be under 'custody.' Actually, we both are, but in your case it's more like a probation period. To answer your question, it isn't set in stone, but I guess once a day or so... I am the one to decide."

"Right." For some reason Sasha took this information gravely, staring at the floor. "Right, Tomas."

"We 'don't quite have everything set up already, but we will live separately. I might stay in La Push with the wolves for safety. You're definitely going to stay in the vampire side of town."

"Right, Tomas," Sasha said, still staring at the floor.

"The Empress was quite generous," I continued. "I'm not sure if it's because she's rich, or our case is special, or what."

"Right, Tomas."

I took a moment to contemplate Sasha, the man... vampire man that was becoming the chaotic force reshaping my life completely in the last few days, and that might shape the rest of my days.

Sasha looked as if he was going to break into a thousand pieces.

In the future, vampire-Tomas might or might not remember this moment; he would definitely want to know about it. Future-vampire-Tomas-who-loved-Sasha-forever would regret seeing Sasha like that, and doing nothing.

But if Future-vampire-Tomas-who-loved-Sasha-forever would be anything like me, he would want to be honest too.

"Sasha, listen to what I am going to say right now. Everything. I have lots and lots of good reasons to hate you and to never want to see you again." Of course Sasha didn't like that. "Listen! I am not going to be cruel to you, or treat you like a slave or a property. First, I wouldn't want to have that kind of weight on my conscience. Second, I don't think I would be allowed." I sighed. "I want to be a vampire... immortal... but I wouldn't want to be alone for the rest of my days... and I had the very bad luck that my soul mate turned out to be a... murderer." I decided that "monster" might be racially offensive or something. "Well, tough luck! I can't do anything about it, and I know you are going to stop killing. I know the reality of the situation and what I can't change about it, so I am settling for this, because this is the best I can choose."

"Tomas, thank you," said Sasha.

For the benefit of my future-self, I moved closer and sat at his side, placing one arm around his shoulders. Sasha was cold, unwieldy, and for the first time I was aware of his flowery vampire smell.

"You are a good person," Sasha said, looking me in the eyes again.

"I am really doing this for me." I tried to be emphatic.

"It is not selfish not wanting to hurt people."

I wasn't going to argue with that. This might be the kind of thing that a mate bond did.

"Sasha continued after a moment of silence. "You shouldn't blame yourself for Gabe."

It was exactly the kind of thing that the mate bond did.

Well, it was what I chose.

"Sasha," I said, "thank you."

I didn't say that those were going to be unusual months.

"Making this trip while snowing is dangerous and inconvenient, we might never reach the city before sunset. We might die freezing!"

It was the fourth time Aleksandr Baratov had reminded his incorrigible older brother Nikolai about that. When the carriage shook with a strong wind gust, Aleksandr said it for the fifth time. Nikolai was almost drunk, and not particularly feeling like listening, especially after being dragged away from the warm soft arms of a woman.

He was in the middle of the sixth time when the carriage stopped abruptly, and the horses made an awful noise.

Nikolai would have preferred to go back to the woman, but staying in the middle of snowy nowhere wasn't good. Inebriation-induced anger made Nikolai open the door and jump outside to demand explanations.

"Go back movi..."

There was a gunshot.

Abandoning caution, Aleksandr followed his brother to find him in the ground, alive, but his left leg missing a big hole. After a second gunshot, the coachman was hanging lifeless. Blood stained the white snow.

There were two men pointing guns at Aleksandr, and one of them ordered him in a thick accent not to move. The man sounded hesitant.

After that, there was a small session of handing possessions and uncomfortable poking. Aleksandr held his shivering brother tight.

When this was finished, the men raised their weapons again

Calmly, Aleksandr sucked in a deep breath.

"You don't have to do this."

That actually caused a pause and excitation, but they raised the weapons again.

"You don't have to kill us," Aleksandr said, still calm.

"You are going to die in this cold anyway," said the thick accented man.

"But it doesn't need to be by your hand."

"Bullets aren't that expensive," said the other man, ironically.

"Living the rest of your life remembering this moment might. Do you want to be this kind of person?"

The two men departed, with the horses, leaving the two brothers behind.

In the middle of the snowstorm that became denser and stronger.

"You think that is why you have your power?" I said, interrupting Sasha's tale.

"I think so, that and my four other misbehaved brothers." He continued.

"Do you want to be this kind of person? I can't believe that worked," Nikolai said, breathing with difficulty, sounding somehow more sober.

"I had to try something. Do you think you can stand if I support you?"

There was a pause where both brothers stared at each other:

"Alek..." Nikolai said slowly.

"Nikolai," Aleksandr challenged coldly as the snow.

"You are going to die."

"Eventually. At the moment, I need you to stand on your good leg."

With difficulty Nikolai did stand, and both brothers started to walk through the snow.

They kept walking and the snowstorm only got worse.

Yet, they kept walking until Aleksandr couldn't tell if Nikolai was in his arms anymore, and he felt the cold embracing him.

Aleksandr was surprised when he woke up in flames.

"I was certain that it was hell," said Sasha gravely, "that I was being punished for being a sinner. Even when they explained, I didn't believe it."

The impossible pain was finally concentrated in his heart and throat, and when Aleksandr's heart gave its final movement, his first thought was, "What is this smell?" and soon he was quenching his thirst with something very delicious.

After feeding from the two helpless villagers, Aleksandr finally looked around to see the couple, wearing slightly outdated clothing, but looking magnificent and noble. They were both smiling.

"Good evening, my child," the man said benevolently. "My name is Arkadiy Baratov, and this is my wife Polina. Don't worry, you are among family."

"Little Sasha," said Polina with an adoring expression.

"They were...?" I began.

"My great-granduncle and aunt," concluded Sasha. "They never had children, they were turned before they had the chance."

"So they 'adopted' you?"

"Yes. More or less," said Sasha with a frown. "They checked the rest of the Baratov family every decade or so... they rarely interfered, just watched as the family grew... without them. They weren't there when my brother and I were mugged, but were nearby and noticed that we didn't arrive and went looking for us."

"And found you in the snow... and your brother?"

"Oh, he survived," Sasha quickly added slightly happier. "Arkadiy took him to our home and he recovered. Nikolai ended up having three children, the eldest he named after me, but he lost much of his enthusiasm after the incident."

"Well, what did they think happened to you, without a body to be found?"

"My family assumed that I just died from hypothermia, but that Nikolai managed to drag himself through it. I'm pretty sure our father didn't give him any hard time, he was too soft on us, but Nikolai got in his head that he abandoned me or something."

"Survivor's Guilt."

"I suppose. I found out most of this when the coven visited the family again, during a party. We were disguised of course. I talked to one of my nephews there. Nikolai... lived a good life..." Sasha concluded with less enthusiasm. "He died from a stroke when he was 72."

I fought hard against imagining Harry dying the same way.

"Why didn't they turn your brother too?" I said, trying to block the mental image. "A leg wound like that might kill people even today."

"Taking actual care of two newborns is less than ideal, and Arkadiy said I had 'proved myself worthy.' Honestly, I think it was because Nikolai was the eldest, with the biggest responsibility to carry on the family name, just like Arkadiy was suppose to..."

"With your four younger brothers it was hardly a bet he would be afraid to lose, either way."

"Exactly. He didn't see our family as... people. Just as a group, a legacy, even if not directly his legacy."

I nodded, almost said that it was one very interesting story (technically, it was), but it might be insensitive. I also almost regretted bringing it up, it was an attempt to show some interest in Sasha, to see if he would break his weirdly pained expression. I should have know that it was a painful story, or at least uncomfortable.

Why wasn't he at least smiling? I knew it was going to be a few months before we were... together, but he could at least be optimistic about it. I didn't felt like it could be asked directly.

"So..." I tried to keep the conversation going, "you are a Russian Baron."

"Well, No... As the second child I don't get the title; and being a vampire should negate it too. Arkadiy felt it did."

"Nobility at any case." I tried to sound cheery, but it might come out awkward.

There was silence. I could think of many questions, none seemed "safe" to ask without causing more uncomfortable stories. Talking about me wasn't out of question, but my curiosity was itching. I finally thought about two questions that were safer than the others.

"Do you prefer to be called Sasha?" He just nodded. "How old are you, exactly?"

"261 years old. I was turned at 20."

I nodded, not knowing how to react to this. I knew he could very well be a thousand years old, but actually having a number gave much more impact.

"I am seventeen. You are how many times older than me?"

"Fifteen and a third," Sasha answered without a pause to think.

I wanted to make a joke about him "robbing the cradle" or something like it, but hesitated and lost the proper timing. We fell in silence again.

Awkward, awkward silence.

There was a knock in the door, and a vampire woman, who was unfamiliar, entered.

"Sorry to interrupt," she said cordially. "Her Imperial Highness," she said that with a edge of irony, "wants to speak with you, Sasha. She knows the arrangement is not the most pleasant to you, but believes it is necessary and wants to discuss some details." She turned to me. "You are dismissed, and can go to your room."

"Okay," I said, and turned to Sasha. "See you tomorrow..."

"Thank you, Tomas."

I exited the room, unsure if I should have said or done something more.

Chapter 7: Remembering Two Roommates

When I woke up next day, I was finally hit by doubt... and a feeling that could be called "homesickness," but given the moving-to-another-town, it didn't sound like a proper term. God knows how long before I will be able to see them in person again.

The voice in the back of my head was also getting louder "AAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! What are we doing?!? Are you crazy!?! We can't just drop our life like that!!!"

I shushed the little voice, rethinking the reasons I had said to exhaustion the previous day. This was the best.

Yes, it was definitely the best.


"Absolutely!" I said reaching for Sasha's hand and he smiled to me like an angel.

And we danced.

It was 5:00. At least it was more acceptable for the waking hour.

After the morning routine, I opened the bedroom door to the corridor, finding the same woman from the night before waiting (I was feeling a little bit intruded with this kind of hovering).

"Good morning, Tomas. I am Sue Clearwater," she said smiling amicably. "Sorry for not introducing myself yesterday."

"No problem." She offered her hand and I took it in a quick shake. "Tomas Anderson, charmed to meet you."

"Polite," she said approvingly. "We set up your place in La Push. Do you want to go there already?"

"Sure. Does everything happen so fast here?"

"Often," she replied. "Come this way."

We walked to the tunnel. I thought "Clearwater?" She is Cody's mother? Even not considering the vampire bleached skin tone she didn't look Native-American, or like Cody as far I could tell.

She might have noticed my confusion because she added, "Don't worry dear. You'll get used to it, eventually."

"Thanks for your concern," I replied. "Did they decide who I am going to live with?"

"You are going to one of the unused houses. The initial idea was to have you living with one of Jacob's pack, but a girl from Becky wanted to live in her own place, or the closest thing, so you might live with two roommates, it isn't decided. Do you have any objections? The house has three bedrooms."

"No at all," I replied. "I am already feeling very, very, very accommodated with... everything."

"Don't worry, it isn't that much of a big deal for the Empire... or the Packs," she assured.

By that point we had reached the tunnel entrance, Sue didn't follow me there.

"Cody will meet you there." Then she added uncomfortably, "He is my son, you are going to be live next door to his brother and sister." She paused. "Try to be friends with him, he is a good kid".

"Okay. Thanks."

Just like before, Cody was in there waiting.

"Hey there new neighbor," he said, smiling.

"Hi." I smiled back. "I have met your mother."

"I know, she called." Cody seemed to wait for me to ask something.

"She is lovely," I added, it was obvious he didn't want to answer questions.

"Thanks, do you want to have breakfast first or take a look in your house? They left the key with us."

"I am good either way."

"New house then," Cody said smiling again.

We walked out of the tunnel exit in silent.

The first time I heard of Cody's unusual family I thought it was amusing, I gave it the same depth that you would give if it was a description of a comedy sitcom or movie. I just didn't think much about it, with all what was going on it was reasonable.

But Cody's parents and siblings are literally natural enemies, and... could they be adopted or something? It seemed to be too early to ask. Either way, it was obvious that it wasn't the easiest family to belong too. I loved Richard, but at times it was an awkward kind of love, and of course I loved my stepsister; but neither situation helped imagine Cody's family life with relatives from different species.

What if his mother asking me to try to be his friend wasn't to benefit me?

I decided to try. He was going to be my neighbor (or sort of) anyway.

We reached the Clearwater residence and went back inside to retrieve my set of keys, it was too dark to discern anything in the house, but Cody could navigate through easily and found my key and gave it to me. It was clear enough outside to finally take a look at it.

I probably stared at the small metallic object for a whole minute.

"It is called 'key,'" Cody said playfully.

"Oh," I woke from my divagation. "Sorry, it's just so surreal. I... am nervous, probably should be more. I am holding the key to my own house. I mean, it belongs to...?"

"The tribe, technically, I think it is sort of rented to the Golden Empire."

"Well, either way, it is a bit... much."

"Having second thoughts?" Cody questioned.

"Well... not really," I was surprised with my own answer, "but it is a lot to take in." Cody nodded. "Lets take a look inside," I suggested and Cody nodded and smiled.

The house was only ground floor and basement, it wasn't big, but it was lovely. The only downside was it had only two bathrooms, one in the master suite. I mildly wanted to claim the suite to myself, but it sounded childish (especially because my roommates weren't even there). After a few minutes of looking around I asked, "Do you guys keep fully furnished houses empty like that?"

"More than half the village is actually empty." Cody answered with such conviction that I believed it, but then he added, "Kidding. Well, the great part of the village is occupied by Jake's pack, and there are like five other houses that are usually empty, without furniture besides beds and closets..."

"Huh," I listened half-distracted by the TV.

"...but they were made thinking in case the wolves wanted to live on their own, or when they imprint, or just plain emergencies. The other house next to yours is another empty one."

"Guess my case might count as emergency," I pondered, "but it hardly feels like one." I smiled to Cody. Cody made a puzzled face over this. "What?" I inquired.

"Dude... you are weird".

"Does it have anything to do with the fact that I want to change species to fall in eternal love with a murderer?" I said as snarky as possible without sounding aggressive.

"Yeah..." Cody was surprised, just as expected "Well... I know about your reasons..." I just nodded to that, "but... you got your reasons like in two days... and now you are so... optimistic. Like you just moved to college or something." I gave this a thought, crunching my eyebrows.

"I guess... I am showing less turmoil than I am actually feeling or... I don't know, Cody. It is not like I ever learned how to proper react to the supernatural destroying everything you know."

"Okay," said Cody unsure and uncomfortable. "I am going to be cool about it, but don't expect everyone else to."

"That... didn't really occur to me. I mean, my mother wasn't really supportive... but I didn't think about what the people here are going to think. Do you think it's going to be a problem?"

"Not a really big one," Cody said seriously. "No one is going to be openly hostile, and if they are, you can just complain to Jacob or Becky..."

"...but?" I said when Cody didn't continue.

"Well, just as I said, don't expect everyone to be cool... even if you explain, most the village is going to think that you are... crazy."

I though about the house that we were both inside then... they might have used vampires to furnish it that fast. No idea where they got everything so soon. Leaving it would be so many levels of ungrateful.

Especially because it is just a suspicion.

"Well... this doesn't sound so great," I concluded after a long pause in the conversation.

"I am probably exaggerating the reaction," Cody said, but he was obviously unsure.

"The vampires looked actually very approving when I declared my choice and the reasons why they shouldn't put me in a psychiatric ward for my choice."

"With vampires it's different, no one there is really comfortable... huh, can we talk about this over the way to the cafeteria?"

I was feeling hungry myself, so I agreed and off we went.

After we left the front yard, Cody felt like picking up the topic again.

"Did someone told you or showed how desperate Sasha was?"

"Well... Elspeth didn't tell me directly, now that I think about it." I concentrated in exactly what she said "...I could piece together it was bad. She said that the Golden Empire might kill him."

"It is bad." Cody threw a glance at his siblings' home. "But... it was Sasha who asked to be killed." This stunned me for a second, and Cody continued. "After they explained that you were going to decide to be with him or not he was sure that you were going to say 'no'. Everyone thought you were going to say 'no'..."

"And I said 'yes.'"

"Yeah." Cody probably didn't want to challenge the subject again. "But... you see... there are other vampires who mated after the Volturi were deposed, many reacted violently..."

"None had to be informed in the middle of the act, that much I know."

"Well, yeah, but it's not only that. Sasha was very... he didn't attack anyone, didn't use his witchcraft in anyone, and spent most his time anguishing. Vampires aren't the most compassionate creatures, but seeing someone suffering that much over their mate..."

"Was there any fighting?"

"Not really, but things got tense... one witch called Benjamin asked for time off, he has a mate, so he is safe, but Ben was never comfortable with that law."

"Huh... what does he do?"

"Ben? Controls the four elements like Aang. He is very powerful."

"Do tell."

"He built most of what you see here, in a couple of days."

That made my jaw drop.

Of course, we were the first customers in the cafeteria (if the term can be applied when the food is free). We got our meals and headed to a table in a corner. The staff was polite and cordial, and Cody's comments made me paranoid enough to wonder what they were saying behind our backs. Maybe they were going to start rumors that Cody and I are having an affair or some other nonsense.

"What..." I said after a few bites, "would have happened if I didn't want anything with Sasha?"

"They would have kept Sasha in the hiding place..." answered Cody adding after a pause. "They might have tried harder to convince you how awesome being with a mate is..."

"Elspeth didn't seem to press the issue... at first."

"Either way they wouldn't force you to do anything."

"I am mildly nervous... If for some reason I do change my mind? Will it cause the fall of the empire or something?"

"Don't be ridiculous," he said after chewing a good chunk of pancakes. "Things wouldn't get that bad at all".

"I am..." I said after a pause, "getting a bit too egocentric."

"I guess that new houses and wolf roommates do that to people." Cody opened a wide smile, with a bit of bacon in his teeth.

In retrospect I probably should be a little more suspicious about the generosity, but the situation made sense. If the Empress Regnant doesn't want to force me to do anything, she will at least make it easy for me to be with Sasha. I was not quite sure if that counts as being manipulated... at least it sounded more like bribery.

After a few minutes of half-hearing Cody small talk about the village life, I decided that even if it was a problem, it was hardly one that could be solved or where "solving" would improve the situation. At any rate, it boils down to things being easier for me.

I started to pay more attention to what Cody was saying.

"Are you the outdoorsy type?" he asked.

"Not sure..." I thought about it. "I actually like the scenery here, and once went to a camping trip with a friend, it was nice. The rest of my family isn't outdoorsy enough to do any activities without a ceiling, unless it involves sports."

"You aren't a fan of sports?"

"Not much, I don't like watching, sometimes it is fun to play, but never wanted to join a team. My brother, Harry, joined several teams."

"My father is also called Harry." Cody's smile broke.

"Oh, coincidence." I felt that his father wasn't a nice topic. "Well, my brother always wanted to be an athlete, but never was extraordinary."

"Too bad."

"He grew out of it. We never gave him a hard time... Richard, our stepdad, is the major mega nerd type."

I half expected him to ask about my dad, but he changed the subject to the La Push beach, and how there was this prank where people would pretend that driftwood fire is green or blue because of sea salt, but was actually the chemical compound that they put in bonfire. It was traditional to prank everyone who never went to the beach, even Forks kids adopted the joke.

Cody said that they sometimes did that while he and Jake's pack were on the run, and they had to stop once when they nearly caused a small forest fire, hidden forest fire, capable of burning things, but being invisible and harmless to unhidden people, nonetheless noticeable.

"Either way," Cody said, "fake surprise if they try that on you."

"I'm still not sure..." I commented, "that attending High School here is a good idea."

"Well, can't give much advice there." Cody frowned.


"No problem." He tilted his head a bit. "You think it's pointless to keep the education since you want to turn?"

"Well, there is the world of advantages that come from simply learning everything with just one lesson, which can only be awesome..."

"It is," Cody grinned.

"...But my mom obviously wants me to keep me studying." I probably made a pained expression before making a mental note to call her real soon. "And, honestly, I am not sure I would have much to do here, it would be at least something to occupy my time while I'm not... keeping Sasha sane."

"Right, so the problem is being afraid to be the new guy?"

"Pretty much... but it would also be the new gay... are you comfortable with the subject?"

"No problem..."

"Thanks, so there is all the problems with being the new guy, the new gay guy, and to top that..."

"The huge secret of vampires and werewolves," Cody completed and frowned, "that you know and have to keep from everyone."

"So, you can guess the apprehension... now that I think about it, should they even let me go?"

"Do you think you are going to let it slip?" Cody was actually surprised, and then smiled. "A little tip: If someone asks if magic, vampires or werewolves are real, say that it isn't." That actually made me chuckle.

"Thanks for the tip, but I don't know, there is just sooooo many ways that it can go wrong. It's not like I can show up at school like I just emerged from the earth, people will want to know who I am, where I come from, and my family, etc." I sighed. "Even if I push them away that will only make them more curious."

"Well... I'm pretty sure they are going to create a nice cover story. The problem is whether you can keep up the lie for that long."

"I think so... do you think it's anything complicated?"

Cody didn't answer, because at this point a girl approached, obviously one of the wolves by muscle alone, it was impossible to tell age, but she had big youthful dark eyes, that matched her wide smile.

"Good morning!" said Brooke "New roomie!"

"This is Brooke," said Cody. "Cheerful girl, not great with introductions."

"Oh, sorry," Brooke said.

"No problem." I offered my hand, and smiled back. "Tomas Anderson, nice to meet you."

"Brooke Ateara." She took my hand and shook it energetically. "Nice to meet you too".. There was pause, when Cody and I stared at Brooke. "Huh... I was supposed to find and bring you to our new house," she then pointed at our plates, "when you were finished... but Becky is waiting."

"I don't think I want to let the big boss waiting." I looked at Cody's large plate. "Cody, do you mind if I go...?"

"No, actually I'm going with you two. It's in my way."

After a couple of bites we left the cafeteria, and by that point, people were already coming in. Cody and Brooke waved to some, and I smiled amicably to the strangers. There were no further introductions, we just went our way back and started to talk again.

"Brooke, you are the one that wanted to move out, right?"

"Yes," the girl replied. "I was living with my brother... his name is Quil."

"He is a nice guy," Cody said.

"Well, he is," Brooke continued, "but living with him isn't. He bosses me around like a kid and there is all the drama with his imprint."

"Drama?" I asked. Both wolf and hybrid were obviously uncomfortable with answering.

"It's complicated," Brooke said.

"Very complicated," Cody agreed. "We can explain later."

"Okay... so, Brooke, how old are you?"

"Sixteen," she replied, "but we wolves become adults when we activate, at thirteen. So it's not like Quil can treat me like a baby anymore."

Brooke was a year younger than me, so any disagreeable comments about that would be hypocritical (and potentially wrong). By that point we reached the house anyway.

In front of it there were a man and a woman, plus assorted luggage. Brooke hesitated for a moment, then approached the woman. Something in the way Brooke posture changed, becoming more formal, made me think she was going to salute the woman, like a respected general, but all she did was say respectfully, "Hello again, Becky. Here is Tomas."

Brooke was strong, not overtly built, but enough to intimidate me. Becky was stronger still not like a professional bodybuilder, but looked like she could snap me like a twig and had the aura of authority to command hundreds of Brookes to snap me like a twig. Luckily, she wore a polite smile.

"Good morning, Tomas."

"Good morning. Pleasure to meet you." I almost kissed her hand to show respect. "Thanks... and I am sorry for all the annoyance."

"It isn't much of a big deal," Becky said. "We understand... your problem."

"Thanks again."

"This is your other roommate," she said, "Embry Call."

I turned to the man, quite handsome; he had a dimple in his chin that was very charming. I consciously tried to avoid staring too much. Embry shook my hand politely and neutrally and smiled to Cody and Brooke.

"So, introductions finished," Becky continued. "I am here just to see that you three are all set... though you don't have anything with you, Tomas."

"Well, my mother is going to send my things, not sure when they arrive," I replied.

"Understood. Also, I was monitoring someone..." she said while poking Embry's ribs surprisingly casual, "that wanted to take the master bedroom."

"Well, I am the oldest," he replied while avoiding further poking.

"You guys should vote," helped Cody..

"Good," said Becky smirking. "As an alpha, I feel that I should help the democracy just this once, but no voting for yourself."

All three roommates thought for a moment.

"Brooke" I said.

"Embry" Brooke replied.

"I was going to say Tomas..." Embry concluded, "but to avoid the tie in, I vote for Brooke."

Brooke gave a small happy "yep!" and said "Iamgoingtolookinside!" so fast that I barely had time to process and she was already gone.

"That was nice of you" Sasha commented.

"I have shared a bathroom with a eight year old girl" I said "didn't want to find out what it was like when the girl is sixteen."

"Just to be sure," I said, "werewolves don't have super-speed, right?"

"It has a bathtub in here!" Brooke screamed, before appearing in the window. "Oh, sorry, I am going to bring my stuff."

Becky bid me farewell and we started the process of moving everything inside. With three strong non-humans and only two people worth of luggage, it was a fast process. We spent some time trying to decide each one's share of housework and went to lunch in the cafeteria without deciding anything.

Brooke told me about Claire.

I made a mental note to never allow imprint-less wolves go near Sally.

"I think 'near any girl' would have been a better idea," I said to Sasha.

"At least it wasn't... your sister," Sasha said.

"Which is only marginally comforting," I said, and squeezed his hand which was hard like stone just like always. "But even, so... I sort of understand Sidney, at least on resenting the drama."

Chapter 8: Remembering Sasha's Hand

Richard had arrived in Ohio and picked up the phone in our new house. He was quite surprised that I was able to speak, or to make phone calls, but I managed to get my mother before having to answer further questions. She hadn't told him that my "condition had improved," keeping the story that I was still catatonic. It hurt her to lie like that to him, and to keep all the other secrets, but she didn't dare tell him the truth.

We talked amicably about it, and decided Richard should know that there was a secret, and mom couldn't tell the nature of it herself. She was already discussing with the Golden Coven about a time for Richard and Harry to visit me "at the special medical facility" to be told the truth. We both agreed that Sally should stay in the dark longer, a lot longer.

I asked how my mother was.

My mom said she was worried, but now, just wanted me to do something without regretting later, and that she loved me. I soon regretted making this phone call where Embry and Brooke could see me. She patted my back and he tried to just ignore my teary eyes.

Richard was getting suspicious and we ended the phone call after my mother said my stuff should arrive today.

It was 15:10. I had already had lunch. I had already talked with my mother. My stuff had't arrived yet, so I couldn't organize my clothes or anything. I couldn't help my roommates, who seemed uncomfortable to expose their underwear to a stranger so soon.

I had nothing else to do, except talk to Sasha.

Sasha looked much better today, his hair was combed and he was wearing a tight yellow sweater that showed his muscles well and matched his golden eyes.

His eyes, yes, let's look at his eyes. Sasha's expression was better than yesterday, more neutral, and with a small smile when he saw me.

This was his new room, painted warm yellow; there were no beds, just a red couch, two red chairs, one closet and one small table with several papers in it, drawings of several assorted faces. I was going to ask about them, when there was a knock in the door. Sasha told them to come in.

It was Addy, the power copier.

"Sorry to interrupt your date," she said smirking. "May I?"

Sasha raised his hand, and Addy zipped in and out of the room, with a blur.

"What was that about?" I asked.

The bulky Chinese was more than overconfident that he could eliminate the little woman. She was fast and untiring like any other vampire, but he also was fast and untiring. However he was stronger, and was leading her to a trap.

Just as he planned, they approached the valley where his coven mates had set up the ambush.

Just as she planned, they approached the valley where her coven mates had set up the ambush.

Once in the valley the Chinese leaped with all the strength in his legs and grabbed her by the middle, and they collided with a rock with enough force to make it crack. He paused, his coven mates were nowhere in sight. This gave her an opening and his thumb was ripped from the hand.

In return he took apart both of her arms and was about to stomp her neck hard enough to decapitate her.

"Stop!" roared Sasha.

The foot paused in the air, longer than usual for a surprised reaction. The Chinese's whole body didn't move until he was tackled on by both Arkadiy and Sasha.

No very strong vampire can handle the combined strength of one newborn vampire and one skilled vampire fighter. The Chinese was a big pile of stony pieces before Polina even managed to find her arms. Arkadiy and Sasha held each arm in place until they was healed back.

Sasha had the "honor" of setting the territory invader on fire.

Sasha watched the flames, and stayed quiet as usual. The happy couple went to gather the other piles of crushed and torn vampire pieces to be burned as well.

Polina was complaining that her dress was ruined. Arkadiy assured her that they would find a better one, and that she looked majestic even in the half-torn clothing, and that she shouldn't want to be the bait again. They linked hands and walked away.

Sasha watched from distance, he watched the linked hands with bright crimson eyes.

"So at that time, no one had a clue about your power?" I asked, curious, not suspicious.

"No, not even me. I think we all thought it was weird that the he hesitated so long..."

"I could tell the difference in your voice."

Sasha looked away.

"It is noticeable when you are the... affected one. We found out when I told Polina to not move. I am sorry for using in you."

"It is..." Tt wasn't okay. "I understand, I think."

"Tomas, the first time I didn't even noticed that I had done it to you."

"You still can't control it?" That was alarming.

"I can, Tomas... but when I saw you..."

"Right... brain full of Tomas exclamation point."

That actually made Sasha laugh briefly, a charming joyful sound. I really should find non-angelic adjectives to him.

"I was more vulnerable than most, didn't think it was possible, Tomas. It took me two hours to realize..."

"You didn't know about bond mates?" I asked tilting my head to him.

"Not with two men..." Sasha said slowly.


Well, of course. Sasha was after all from eighteenth century Russia. Even nowadays the country isn't a nice place for two guys in love. Deduct two and half centuries, and the picture shouldn't be better. I changed the subject deliberately.

"Those are really impressive." I held one of his drawings.

"Thank you, Tomas."

Sasha made several astonishing portraits using just charcoal. The faces of Arkadiy, Polina, Nikolai and other relatives (the human ones had many for different ages). We were in the sofa while he told me the story and even made a portrait of the Chinese fellow in just a minute. I was more than impressed.

It didn't escape Sasha notice that we were talking only about him, again.

"My journals... haven't arrived yet," I replied to his question. "Once they do, we will do nothing but talk about me."

I handed back the drawings and our fingers brushed. He was still as icy as ever, and I reacted to it like a shock. I rubbed my neck, uncomfortable.

"I am sorry," said Sasha. "They... said I shouldn't touch you..." he completed with his sad tone of yesterday.

"Okay..." I held my hands together. "Safety first."

"Yes, though I am safer than usual."

"You are?" I said looking at him suspicious.

"Yes, I still won't do anything, that you don't want..." he said, looking at my hands.

"Okay... okay..." I stared at the ceiling, and then back at his golden eyes. "Why are you safer?"

"Well, I am not immune to my own power. I just... can whisper to myself if anything happens, or before anything happens..." He closed his eyes for a moment "Tomas, I couldn't ever hurt you on purpose; that adds power to the restriction."

I just nodded. I wasn't particularly thrilled about the idea of Sasha touching me (at least for now), but at least he was less likely to do anything bad.

"So let me count again the limits of your power. It works through your voice, it can't be recorded or transmitted, only your natural voice. You must target someone, and the target must both hear and understand the restriction." Sasha nodded to my statements. "What happens if the target misunderstands?"

"If it is something that makes sense the restriction is still placed, but not the same as intended. If the person can't make a coherent enough phrase, it has no effect, it doesn't even displaces a restriction already in place."

"Right... do echoes work? Or only your direct voice?"

"Never tried," Sasha answered after frowning for a moment, "and never had a chance to check. Usually the person is directly in the path of my voice, so I don't know."

"Okay. What else?" I asked.

"Well, for long term restrictions, or a dormant restriction, the target must remember it too, as far I can tell. Vampires could hold restrictions for centuries, in humans it only takes a couple of days for it to... wear off." He looked at me, apprehensive.

"Lets just pretend that you didn't use your voice in other people." There is a difference between understanding why Sasha used to eat people, and be truly comfortable about it. "So there is memory, and I had the bad luck to be more vulnerable to it."

"I am..." Sasha begun.

"Sorry..." I completed. "I know. Let's stick to the topic, shall we? What else?"

"The more complicated parts: the complexity of the restriction. Simple commands are easier to utter, easier to understand and harder to be broken. It is not always about what I speak though. For example, 'do not disobey the law' are just five words, but involve many things that can't be done, so it is very weak. While 'do not look at the red building during the day' has twice as many words but is much stronger, because it is more specific. 'Stop' is the strongest, because it is simple, in spite of being applicable to many things."

"Okay. What else?" I asked.

"There is also the desire to break the restriction... will power if you prefer. Humans... don't usually have much of it to break a restriction, unless it's weak." Sasha looked at me, and I didn't protest at his non-insult. "Vampires can do it, and depending on what is restricted it can occur in a few seconds or hours... or never."

"So... the restriction makes me pretty safe from you losing control. That explains why we are alone today..." I paused, because I couldn't remember who was with us yesterday, but it seemed unimportant so I continued. "What else did they talk to you about?"

"Mostly they..." Sasha responded, "assured me that I shouldn't be worried that much, you are willing to keep of what you said... They feel that I can be trusted," Sasha continued, "to follow their rules... and yours... that I needed to be completely honest with you and that I shouldn't touch you... I am sorry for..."

"Ours fingers brushed," I raised my hand to my neck again, but stopped when I realized what I was doing. "It can happen with anyone."

"Thank you, Tomas," Sasha replied and watched my hand carefully.

"Is it... a problem?" I asked, Sasha was apprehensive to answer. "They are right about being completely honest."

"Tomas..." Sasha said not looking at me, "you ... are so perfect... but I don't want to oblige you to make anything."

"Huh," I said reacting to the compliment. "Sasha, you still didn't answer properly."

"It is... uncomfortable," Sasha said still not looking at me.

I took a moment to think about Sasha discomfort and decided that I didn't like it, despite everything. I thought on what I could do about it, and while my options were limited...

I reached out and joined my hand with his. Sasha admired the linked hands with bright golden eyes.

Weeks later "If it wasn't for your magic," I said to Sasha "well... in reality we wouldn't be anywhere near each other, I suppose."

"I am glad that you are alive," Sasha said shyly.

Sasha and I talked bit more, about our respective days and us; it was an easy topic to talk about.

I didn't have much to talk about my roommates, but Sasha was a good listener and pleased to ask tidbits that I wouldn't think of saying in first place. Sasha liked that they were at least polite, that Cody was friendly and that the house was good, he though it was nice that I voted for Brooke to get the bedroom. Then I told him that I just didn't want to share a bathroom with a girl ever again, and that made him chuckle. Sasha asked about my family (and was polite enough to not ask much about my father), he wanted to know what movies, books and music I liked, as if my personal tastes are really fascinating and intriguing facts.

Sasha's hand slowly warmed as we talked.

Sasha didn't say much about himself, with his past being filled with the unpleasant fact of his meals. However, he did allude to an interesting two dozen decades, when being a nomad, he travelled around the world, the entire world. Every so often he would settle somewhere for more than a week and paint, selling the pictures in the street and moving on. I didn't ask where Arkadiy and Polina were.

His day was mostly reading at the library and being introduced to members of the Golden Coven, who were polite and nice, but had other things to do. He did stroke a quick chat with a vampire named Alec who was disturbingly physically fourteen, at least two times older than Sasha and a mild art enthusiast (for someone who mastered painting before Leonardo Da Vinci was born). Alec was the one that lent the drawing materials to Sasha.

There were also the Addy interruptions through the day; there was a newborn that wasn't exactly well behaved. She was a Spanish woman who was attacked when a vampire lost control; the attacker didn't even wanted to eat anyone, just lost to instinct. The woman, Adrianna, was having problems adjusting, so Addy was called to use a restriction every so often to make Adrianna adaptation easier, it was much more humane than the alternatives.

Sasha's power worked like a chain, for vampires that are otherwise unable to be literally chained.

The Golden Empire offered Sasha a job.

The way Sasha looked at me, it was pretty obvious that it was my decision, or at least that my opinion weighed very, very much, probably more than his own.

Among my reasons to be turned, there was the availability of time that vampires had, time that could be used to ponder decisions with care and thought. I was set to not decide anything big for the next year, if anything becoming a vampire and being with Sasha would be my last great decisions for the next decade.

Meanwhile, Adrianna might bite someone head's off.

"What exactly would you do?" I asked.

"Likely handle newborns... and maybe something with law enforcement. I think newborn handling would be a better job."


"Not necessarily," he said looking at our hands. "My power would likely have more lasting effects in the willing, but I... have experience with newborns."

"You do?" I asked raised one eyebrow.

Sasha separated our hands and pulled the sleeve up. There were three crescent shaped scars breaking the otherwise smooth surface of his arm.

Another door knock, Sasha pulled the sleeve down and I yelled for the person come in. It was Sue Clearwater again.

"Good evening," she said and we replied in unison. "Tomas, your things arrived," Sue said, lifting with just one hand several boxes tied together with strings.

"Nice," I said, suddenly aware that I was using borrowed clothes.

I lifted my hands as if there was any possibility for me to carry the load, but dropped them immediately.

"I am going to the village now," Sue said, "to see how my Cody is doing. It isn't trouble to carry this there."

"Thanks for you help, Sue," Sasha said, before I did.

"No problem," Sue replied, "and we are giving you two new cell-phones," she said, taking the devices from her pocket and handing to us. "Tomas, you can still use your old phone number, but because you are supposed to be terribly sick, keep it turned off most of the time and use the new one instead."

"Can I give it to my mother?" I asked.

"Yes, anyone that already knows the secret," Sue replied, "or new friends from Forks High school."

"High school?" Sasha asked.

"Oh, right... my mother thinks I should at least go to school here," I said.

"You should... obey your mother," Sasha said, hesitant.

"Yes, you should," Sue said, mildly disapproving.

"It's not that I don't want to go, but wouldn't it be a little complicated being a teenager without family..."

"Actually," Sue interrupted, "we are already working on a story In fact I offered myself to play the role of the aunt that you are living with."

"Oh, thanks," I said. "Sorry for the trouble..."

"It isn't much," Sue interrupted again. "I'm mostly just going to show up when there is relevant parental or guardian presence at school. There's still some tweaking to be done with the story, but I am supposed to be too busy with work most of time to attend any social activity..."

By that point, it was pretty obvious that Sue (and whoever was working with the story) wouldn't like if I was baked out and decided to spend the next six months slacking. It was better to have other things to occupy my mind, so I decided to let it go unspoken that I agreed with going to high school. Trying wouldn't hurt.

"...The story of your illness," Sue continued, "might be worked out as the reason why you are going to suddenly move away in six months. You can tell the truth to any new friends, as long they are discreet ant trustworthy."

"Okay," I said, and pondered. "It's unlikely that I am going to make friends that close in less than six months."

"It's going to be worked out when your family is coming this weekend." Sue said. "We had better be going, you need to get dinner soon, Tomas."

"Yes." I didn't felt very hungry, but probably talked to Sasha long enough. "I will see you tomorrow, Sasha."

I shook his hand formally, there wasn't a way to say goodbye without being awkward, much less with Sue watching. Sasha managed to smile with some enthusiasm. "See you tomorrow, Tomas."

Chapter 9: Remembering the Little Newborn

Sue and I didn't talk on our way to the village and my house, and there weren't any incidents besides a little girl running away holding her nose. Sue didn't react visibly to that, she left my things inside and bid farewell. I could see her frowning at the house next door, which hadn't any lights on, and no one inside.

Brooke was home and helped me carry things to my room. Before dinner I looked outside and Sue was gone, the house next door still dark and empty. I asked Brooke and she told me that the Clearwater siblings went camping. I was too curious and decided to give in and asked what the deal with the multi-species family was.

Brooke told me the entire Clearwater story, all of it, adding the Leah-Sam-Emily related drama just to not forget anything.

It was at that moment that the realization came to me: I might be the most normal person in the village.

It was an eerie feeling.

After some hurried clothing organization (I need more cold-weather clothing!), I looked out my window, at to the empty Clearwater house. My current description of the family would be:

Two vampire parents resurrected via mental back-up after five years;

Two werewolves' siblings, natural enemies to vampires, brainwashed for five years;

And in the middle of this, there was Cody, half-vampire, five years with a pack of runaway wolves and a witch.

Much more complicated than at first glance, so much, much, much more complicated.

Of course Cody missed his parents; even if hybrid memory wasn't perfect, any child would, so it was completely understandable that he would want them back at the first opportunity.

Of course no one could blame Leah and Seth, who couldn't care about their parents anymore. After five years of that, it was even understandable that they wouldn't want more of the nightmarish magic in their minds, even if it was to "fix" their lack of parental caring.

And in the middle of this, there was Cody, half-vampire, six years old looking eighteen-ish, and the object of an emotional tug of war between the wolves that didn't care about the other side, and the vampires who cared but had also their own issues.


Wait, not Yikes.


I felt like trying to find Cody in the middle of night and giving him a big hug and saying that everything was going to be alright. It was a bad idea for many reasons, but especially because it wasn't likely to be true.

"You are too kind" Sasha said.

"Cody's family is just too screwed up," I said. "Trying to do my best to... not make things worse was the least I could do..."

I woke up and decided not to deal with the Clearwater family for the moment. I couldn't do much, anyway, besides trying to be a good friend/good neighbor/good false nephew; rather, I thought about Sasha's "job offer."

It was odd, the feeling of responsibility. I never gave much thought to how much power I had over Sasha. I knew it was very much, too much, so I assumed the moral thing to do was not abuse it. Obligatory nice guy behavior, despite weird shenanigans, so very simple.

Not so simple. Sasha did care about my opinion, enough that I was sure it would be easy to convince him either way around.

I wasn't so sure of tying myself... ourselves, to The Golden Coven so soon, but in reality I didn't have any plans formed for after turning, besides making plans after turning, with immortality and little need for anything besides occasional animal blood.

Now, that I thought about it, that added another layer of "self-interest" to The Golden Empire motivation. Solve the overcomplicated "controversial" mate case; get a shiny new witch as a bonus. They had many reasons to please both Sasha and me.

Good reasons, because they are the good guys. Who are keeping the supernatural world balanced for the rest of fragile human civilization, and any witch would be of great help for other Tomas or Adriannas in the world.

Plus, the scars, Sasha had "experience" with newborns. What did that meant?

Wishing I could go back to the peace of sleeping, I went to eat breakfast.

I called my mother to give her my new number; it was a brief conversation, just to let her know I am okay. She said that she told Richard that there was a secret. She also outed me to him. A week ago I would be very concerned; today, it barely peaked any degree of importance in my head. My mother also realized that she never saw Sasha and wanted a picture. I promised to send one later.

Sasha didn't like newborn handling at all. With his power he had less reason to fear than Arkadiy or Polina, but both were ambitious.

So it was the third army that they created, this time to expand, rather than defend. This time, they fought another army of newborns.

Newborns, strong and uncontrolled; when both armies collided it was impossible to tell them apart. The other side didn't have the preparation, the skill or the powers to make a coherent fighting force, and the newborns from this side followed the descent to chaos quickly. The other side was foolish enough to give fire to the newborns.

The battlefield became a mess littered with twitchy vampire pieces and piles of vampire ashes.

With his power, Sasha had less reason to fear, but he wasn't perfectly protected. It was somehow fitting that each army gave him one scar in his arm (among others scattered around his body without any pattern).

The Baratov coven won the battle, only two newborns had escaped, and only one was in a big enough piece to be enough trouble.


The little vampire girl was missing her right leg and her left foot, and her left arm was within her reach, but she didn't care. Nikita was using her right hand to touch a pile of ash, like it was something important. Sasha knew that the pile belonged to a vampire from the other side, set on fire by one of his own during the chaos that erupted.

Nikita had been one of the worst newborns that Sasha had to deal with. She gave him his third scar on the arm, she had to be magically disciplined more often than the others, always with something snarky to say. Polina couldn't wait to see her gone.

Nikita was quiet, so very quiet, touching a pile of ashes like it belonged to the dearest thing in the universe.

Sasha set her on fire, without needing to say a word to keep her still. She screamed, but didn't try to fight the flames.

"I never liked the... cleaning up, after each army," Sasha said concluding his tale, looking at me apprehensive. "When Arkadiy wanted to try it for the fourth time, I said no."

I heard everything and didn't try to hide my discomfort with Sasha's "experience with newborns", but I didn't move my hand away from his.

"I am not going to lie," Sasha continued, "I didn't feel... guilty, not before... It might be the effect of the animal blood, but before I just felt uncomfortable with the idea."

"Does the blood changes things that much?" I asked.

"I think... I do feel more... social, but my previous encounters with other vampires usually involved them chasing me away from their territory... so it is hard to tell."

We kept quiet for a minute. I looked away.

When I first heard about the "Chinese invader" story, my mind didn't bother to register it as killing people, but it was, even if the victim ate people. In light of the new story... I was very uncomfortable, even knowing that Nikita and her burned mate would have eaten thousands if they had lived.

I felt Sasha's hand tremble.

"I know that..." I said squeezing his unyielding hand, "you did many bad things... and that you are sorry and everything. But it can get a little difficult to take the actual magnitude of everything."

There was another moment of silence, and I added.

"I can always blame the Volturi."

As soon I said it, it was the easier thing to do. After all, the Volturi ruled vampires for centuries purely because they wanted power, but didn't want to use it for anyone but themselves. It was because of the Volturi that Arkadiy's coven killed every single newborn that wasn't smart enough to escape, because the former vampire tyrants would love a witch like Sasha and had magical ways to force someone to join their guard. Sasha aside, there is all the people eating that they didn't lift a finger to stop, and all the damage done to my new neighbors. Hell, even among themselves they were monstrous, I heard Didyme's story.

And there was Sasha who had such an attachment to not breaking rules that he developed a power around it. So when Arkadiy commanded, Sasha obeyed, killing others for his creator's ambition and to keep his own existence a secret. When the Volturi ruled, Sasha followed even if hiding from them. When he was informed about the Golden Coven, he immediately complied to the new laws, as "terrible" as they were.

I could only be glad that the Volturi were dead and replaced by a better leader.

"Why do you prefer to deal with newborns?" I asked. "Or would prefer it over law enforcement. Doesn't it bring bad memories?"

"I..." Sasha said after a long pause, "would like to help... in a way that people would remember nicely."

"Searching for redemption?" I asked

"Not that deep," he replied, looking away. "I think it would be good to help people with my power, for once. I mean, the people affected by my power being helped by it, rather than using it against them."


"Do you think I should?" Sasha said with the subtitled implication "there is no way that I will go against your wishes."

"Yes..." I said after some thinking. "If you want to, it would give you something to do. I am not sure what to do after turning, but the people around here seem to be a good enough company in the meantime."

"Thank you, Tomas," Sasha replied with a smile so enrapturing that I couldn't help but smile back.

"How much are they going to pay?" I asked.

Sasha said the estimated payment, I mentally calculated how that translated considering that they were going to provide housing, and there would be no expenses with food or medical care...

"Awesome!" I replied and Sasha smiled again.

I took pictures of Sasha with my cell-phone, so that was crossed off of the to-do-list.

Sitting on the table, there was one of my damaged journals. Sasha had already done impressive work with separating most of the "stuck" pages from each other with minimal damage. The writing was still a mess and blurry.

It was the elephant in the room.

"Tomas, we need to do this eventually," said Sasha uncharacteristically stern.

"Only because you let it happen in the first place," I replied bitterly, looking at the small book.

"If I knew," Sasha said trembling a little, "I would have kept it safe."

"You could have closed the window or being generally less creepy," I let out. "I was certain that you were going to kill me, or something worse."

"I... I..." Sasha stuttered, panicked, "I never thought it was possible... so I didn't have a plan for what to do when turning..."

"You turned a few dozens."

"With help!" he quickly added. "Never did it alone or in unfamiliar territory. It had been three decades since the last time I was anywhere near Ohio. If a vampire or a coven had found us... you might... you might..."

"Be killed in the middle of the transformation," I concluded when it was obvious that he didn't have the strength to say it. Sasha winced at that and moved closer, like he was going to protect me from hypothetical dangers. "I... understand your reasons... but they aren't pleasant."

"I am sorry...."

"The more you say it, the less meaningful it becomes!" I sighed. "You are lucky, because I don't like being mad at people, much less when I understand their reasons... and... I am just putting off; we really should start this sooner."

I reached out for the book and chose a fairly mundane day. I breathed deeply and we started the slow word recovering process.

Some time later I stared at the piece of paper, holding it with one hand and Sasha's hand with the other.

"I think we should frame this one," I said. "It was just a random day in school, where I scrapped my knees, but..."

"I understand," Sasha said before kissing me.

There weren't any big events until Sunday, the day that Richard and Harry would visit. I kept visiting Sasha once a day, between lunch and dinner. I kept myself busy learning housework and organizing (Mom sent old mementos too, either by accident or to help with the memory recovering process), I found out that my coffee tastes like it was from "the rivers in hell" (according to Embry). I saw both my roommates as wolves once, and felt too intimidated (so many teeth!) to accept Brooke's offer of a "wolf ride." She looked disappointed, but reading wolves faces is hard.

My e-mail to my mother had the pictures of Sasha and the abridged story of his turning. She replied twice. The first time shortly after I sent and contained only "He is pretty." The second time she asked me if he really was Russian and noble. I replied with a website that Sasha provided, it had the Baratov family tree, including Arkadiy, Polina and going down to a dozen relatives that are alive today.

The Clearwater siblings didn't show up, Brooke told me that a puppy activated and had unusual problems phasing, so they had all prolonged camping while the new wolf learned how to keep his two forms constant enough not to shred clothing.

Apparently it was fun to be a wolf in the forest.

Sunday came.

Chapter 10: Remembering My Brother's Hand

Apprehension crept in as I sat in Elspeth office, waiting for my brother and stepfather to arrive. I tried to strike small talk with Elspeth, but the topic eventually went to my relatives.

"What kind of people are they, in general?" Elspeth asked.

"My brother... I guess he is the social type, who wants to be popular, though... I don't know, he might become protective." I recalled how reacted to Gabe. "As for Richard... well, want to hear why my sister name is Sally?" Elspeth nodded. "It is Sally because that way our family would have the same names of the characters from this show that Richard watched, Third Rock from the Sun."

That made them chuckle.

"Sorry, but really? Does Richard usually take serious things that way?" Elspeth asked.

"Sort of... my mother was much more involved with the serious parts of our upbringing, but my brother and I aren't his... the worst thing that Sally ever did was steal a book in retaliation to a classmate that stole her phone... Richard might actually think that things are cool... or be utterly crushed."

"Most people get used to idea... eventually," Elspeth assured. "They are going to be told in a pleasant comfortable environment and are expecting something already."

Conversation lulled, and after a few minutes, Elspeth was warned that my family had arrived. I sat in my chair trying to look... something that would make things easier to deal, whatever it could be.

Richard walked in, the same burly self that I knew, but sporting a small graying beard and dressed like we were in north-pole weather. My mother, linked to his arm and looking apprehensive like me, followed him. Harry was behind them, a taller, white glasses wearing, broader shouldered and... hairier version of me. Santiago closed the door behind them.

"Tomas! Are you okay?" Richard said confused at my healthy appearance.

"You look fine," Harry said with a hint of accusation and mistrust, and turned to Elspeth. "You are the Elspeth that is going to explain everything?"

"Yes, I can..." Elspeth started.

"What happened to my brother?" Harry interrupted. "Or did he do anything?"

"No!" I said. "What could I have done?"

"How I am supposed to know?" Harry said more indignant. "Mom is making a big secret of the whole thing; is it something that I already know?" he asked full of meaning.

"Harold," my mother said, to denote seriousness, "just let the princess explain..."

"Princess?" Richard looked at me. I was mildly offended once I realized why.

"Me," Elspeth said, magnetically drawing attention to herself. "I am Princess Elspeth Cullen of the Golden Empire," she said, obviously aware that the title would sound made up if not under her power. "If you allow me. I can explain the incidents of last week and Tomas's current situation, it is my job," she continued when neither spoke. "I can explain to you by telling all events in roughly chronological order, let you make me questions or use magical..."

"Magical?" Richard said, looking around. "Is this some kind of prank?"

"Hit them," I said.

"Tomas!" my mother exclaimed.

"I meant with magic"

"Even worse!" she protested. Richard looked sure it was a prank by that point.

"Please tell me we are on TV," Harry said indignant, but confused enough to want an explanation.

"Mary," Elspeth addressed my mother, "I'm starting to think that it might be better to use the summary."

My mother nodded and Elspeth asked for them to sit down and when they obliged she pointed her fingers (probably just for effect) at Richard and Harry, who wobbled in their seats. After a pause, Harry swore out loud, my mother didn't bother to correct him; Richard took a bit longer to process the summary and only murmured something that sounded like "sparkles." They both looked like they had been hit on the face with something unpleasant.

"That was the basic about the supernatural world," Elspeth said for my and my mother's benefit. "I can give another summary about what happened to Tomas in specific, or we can talk."

"I think... that being fast is better," Richard said wide-eyed. "Just give me a minute, maybe I will wake up before that." My mother stroked his head for comfort.

"Whatever," Harry said still unpleased.

After a pause, Elspeth sent it again. Harry grabbed his chair like he was in a rollercoaster, Richard just blinked several times, not looking at any particular direction.

"Are you insane!?" Harry exclaimed after a moment. He got up and pointed at me. "You want to be a monster?" He furrowed his eyebrows. "You want to be with that monster!"

"Harold, sit down!" My mother exclaimed, but he didn't oblige. "Sit down and stay calm!"

"Tell me that this isn't serious," Harry said, still indignant, but I could feel some supplication in his voice.

"It is serious," I said and turned to Elspeth. "Didn't you send my reasoning?"

"I abridged," Elspeth said. "Harry, sit down, my bodyguards can keep other people safe, too." Harry obeyed, though I didn't think that he was going to get violent. "I can send the full version of Tomas reasons."

"Fine," Harry said petulant.

"I will skip this one," Richard finally said. "Mary, is okay with this," he added more to himself.

"So..." Harry said after the latest summary, "because you got abused by Gabe..."

"Abused?!?" both me and my mother exclaimed.

"Gabe did things to him," Harry said uncomfortably.

"I..." this was so not the time and place to discuss these things, "wanted him to do them..." Harry made a disgusted face and my mother looked a mix of embarrassed and confused. "I do like boys."

"If he didn't, Tomas couldn't possibly be Sasha's mate," Elspeth inserted.

Conversation halted for a minute, and my mother finally said.

"Is Sasha... here?"

"He's busy at... work," I answered.

"Work?" Richard reacted to the word like it didn't belong to the world of witches, werewolves and vampires.

"Sasha is currently employed by the Golden Empire," Elspeth cleared up. "He is helping with controlling newborn vampires." She then explained shortly (and with words) that it is a difficult job and how Sasha's power makes it easier, and told them about Adrianna's case, and her tendency for temper tantrums. Elspeth didn't know or considered irrelevant that Sasha "helped" with newborn armies.

"Sasha wanted to do something good with his power," I said after the explanation.

"How nice of him," my brother said sarcastically.

Neither my mother nor Richard wanted to give opinion, both unsure of what to do. I sighed.

"Mom... do you want to meet him?"

"I... we should," she said, holding Richard hand, who squeezed hers automatically.

Elspeth called, but apparently Adrianna was still being trouble, and they were waiting someone else to babysit her.

"It is that what you want to be?" Harry dared.

"It is different when you know what is happening," my mother said before I could.

"Maybe..." Elspeth said after a pause in the conversation, "you guys could do the visit to La Push."

"Visit?" Richard and I asked at same time.

"I just wanted to see where Tomas is living," my mother answered, "and with whom."

"Okay," I said. "Brooke isn't home right now, but should arrive soon. I am not sure about Embry."

After the relevant phone calls, we departed, leaving Elspeth and her wolves behind, guided by Santiago (a formality, as I could easily find the way). Harry still looked like he was trying to swallow a bug, yet seemed distracted by Santiago's way of walking (more like a rehearsed dance than strolling). I noticed that I never saw Sasha's walking, at least not more than few feet across the room.

Richard was still shocked when we arrived at La Push, but started to ask about the place. My mom seemed to have warmed up because of this. Harry just started stare daggers at them too.

Of course, Embry decided this to be the day to adhere to the village fashion of going shirtless. Brooke was just wearing the typical easily-removed-shape-shifter-dress. Still, my roommates were polite during the awkward conversation that ensued. My parents made questions, to things that it didn't bother me to ask.

"Well... we didn't have much opportunity to socialize", I admitted after sometime. "I was getting settled, Embry is usually away..."

"What lousy guard dog," Harry murmured from the corner where he was standing.

Embry didn't take the bait.

"I prefer to think of myself more as an adorable pet dog," he said, while putting his tongue out and his hands up.

Brooke gave a nervous laughter, but my mother shot a glare at Harry. Richard just looked confused but asked timidly, "Could... you show your... wolf forms?"

The two wolves agreed. I was mildly surprised by the request, my mother didn't have the same enthusiasm, but didn't protest, and so neither did I. My brother just kept his "you-just-made-me-eat-a-bug" face, but followed everyone to the backyard.

We had to look away while the wolves removed their clothes, to not otherwise let it explode during the transformation. I noticed that the windows in the Clearwater house were open, so they must have had returned from the trip.

We returned to see the grey and brown wolves, which I identified for my family. They were enormous, but managed to acquire a friendly posture and Brooke-wolf invited for a ride. Richard accepted, and the two darted to the front yard. It was too bizarre to not be comical, and only Harry managed to not smile. Embry-wolf wagged his tail happily, though didn't position himself for a ride.

My mother and Embry followed Richard and Embry to the front. I caught a glimpse of an unfamiliar white man in one of the Clearwater's windows. I looked at it more tentatively, curious: who it could be? But my mother called for us. So I turned around to see if my brother was following.

Harry punched me.

It had been a while since I had last seen my brother. The last time I had seen him was right after he had found out about the whole vampires, werewolves and magic thing. It wasn't all that pleasant.

I tightened my grip on Sasha's had as we walked through the tunnel that connected the newborn quarters and the Capital site.

Harold, my dear brother, didn't put enough force to cause bleeding.

However, hitting the fence did. I lost balance and spun until my head hit the wooden planks, my face's left side collided and I felt the sudden pain burst. I closed my left eye because of the pain, but managed to recover enough presence to keep standing and try to swat my brother but a stronger hand caught my arm.

Cody had jumped into existence, in a single blurry motion. He was holding one arm in each hand, though I could tell he wasn't so gentle with Harry, if his kneeling was any indication.

"Stop!" Cody growled to my brother, and turned at me. "What you two are doing?"

"Tomas! Harold!" My mother came running, followed not by two but five wolves, Richard and the unknown white man.

"You can let go off my hand!" I said, probably more aggressive than intended. Cody did release my hand anyway. "I didn't do anything! Harry attacked me for no reason!"

Harry gave an unintelligible sound at that. Cody decided it was a good moment to release his grip and Harry stepped back, rubbing his arm. I wiped my forehead, it was bleeding.

"Harold," my mother said enraged, "what is wrong with you?"

"With me?!" Harry shouted, still holding his arm. "You are going to let your son become a monster! And live with monsters!"

That made some wolves snarl, and Harry seemed to realize for the first time how stupid he just acted. My brother walked farther, until he reached the fence. My mother looked scared at the sudden amount of jaws, Richard looked at all directions trying to find a solution. The unknown white man moved forward and spoke to my brother.

"Son, calm down!" The man turned around for the group "You all calm down! No one has to fight here. Miss, you don't need to fear the wolves."

"Who..." my mother asked, "are you?"

"You can call me Charlie... I am a retired police officer."

"Oh," said my mom, like that meant he was a bigger authority than five large shape-shifters, "thank you, Sir."

We were inside. "We" meaning, me, my family, roommates and Becky; the Clearwater's siblings left, and Charlie did as well. Becky was there to talk to my parents, and arrived in time to see the small altercation. The alpha looked serious, but didn't comment on anything, just stared at my brother seriously and the other two wolves followed suit. Richard looked at him as well, in disbelief.

When my mother started cleaning the blood from my face, it occurred to me that I just got rescued again and I felt my pride hurt. I asked to disinfect the wounds myself but my mother made a face and kept going more energetically. I had to hold a bag of frozen peas pressed against my eye anyway.

"You don't need to do this, mom."

"It isn't a problem," she said.

"I don't want to bother..." I started.

"How so?" my brother shot across the room.

"Harold, don't you start it," my mother hissed looking him sideways.

"Just cut it," Embry said.

"No," I said, "I want to hear it. Harold, what you have to say?" I smiled ironically at him.

My brother stared at me angry for a tense minute.

"You are being a selfish insensible brat," he said, every word filled with disgust. "How you can do this to mom? Hurt her like that."

I looked at my mother, who looked away. I didn't want to cause her pain...

...But surprisingly I knew the answer.

"I am going to get so preachy right now, but hear me out," I said with a half-hearted smile, and then looked away from everyone. "Well, want to know one thing about being gay? One really bad thing? It is wondering how your family is going to react to that."

"Tomas..." my mother started and I interrupted, raising my hand.

"Don't worry mom, I know you love me... but I am talking about the past, and my younger self did have... doubts." I breathed deeply. "When I was sixteen... it felt like a good time to come out to you... and then..." I looked at my brother right when comprehension and indignation dawned in his face. "Harry found out about me..." I waited to see if he was going to say anything, but he didn't. "You know what he did mom?" She didn't answer either. "Well, like I said, I was willing to come out when I was sixteen. "Was" is the keyword."

"What did Harry do?" Richard asked confused and looking at my brother.

"Harry and I had a long and nice chat," I said pouring as much irony and sarcasm as possible, "where Harry did me the favor of saying how much I was going to hurt our mother for being a freak, how I should hide it... or even try to change... and well, here we are. Two years later and I did come out to you mom; it only took me vampires and werewolves to do it."

"What is your point?" my brother said, still angry but avoiding looking anyone in the eye.

"Sorry, I got carried away," I replied with a fake smile. "My point is... in a way, I am a selfish insensible brat, or at least I am definitely less sensible, simply because I am used to the pain of knowing that I would let my mother down. You don't feel that bad for so long without... getting used to it... in some way."

"So you are going to..." Harry started.

"Join the monsters club," I completed, "and could do it more easily, because you, my dear loving brother helped me achieve the strength to be the selfish insensible brat. Thank you so very much."

It was nice to get that out of my chest.

Plus, I managed to make Harry a bigger jerk and that will haunt him longer than any punch.

There was silence after that.

I was becoming an expert at dealing with awkward silences, so I enjoyed the peace for a moment, but my mother looked... shocked with yet another revelation, and despite what I said earlier, hurting her wasn't painless. I hugged her and patted her in the back.

My phone rang. It was Sasha.

Chapter 11: Remembering Really Complicated Stories

"Tomas?" Sasha's voice came from the phone.

"Hello, Sasha."

"Hello, I just wanted to call and say that I am free to meet your family... if it is okay."

"Does he know that Harry hurt you?" Richard asked.

There was a pause.

"He does now," Brooke answered nervously.

"Yes..." Sasha said through the phone, I couldn't tell the emotion in his voice.

"You. Will. Not. Hurt. My. Brother," I said calmly with strong pauses.

"Tomas," Sasha said, "what happened?"

"Do you think that he...?" my mother asked nervous.

"I wouldn't," Sasha said.

"Sasha says he wouldn't," I relied.

"I wouldn't," Sasha reaffirmed, sounding hurt. "What happened?"

"You might want," Becky said, "to keep them away from each other, just to be sure."

"Tomas, I promise I will not do anything," Sasha said pleading. "Just tell me, are you okay? Tomas?"

"Calm down, Sasha," I said impatiently. "I am fine..." I summarized what happened "It's just a few scraps, didn't get a concussion or anything..."

"Did you get checked by a doctor?" Sasha asks.

"No." I paused, guessing what he was thinking. "You aren't going to call one, are you?"

Sasha was in silence for a second.

"He is already on the way," Sasha said.

"Sasha," I said in the most admonishing voice that I could make.

"What did he say?" my mother asked suspicious and fearful.

"Nothing bad, he sent a doctor," I answered her, and turned back to the phone. "I don't need one... and how did you find one so fast?"

"He was right besides me... it is Carlisle, the Emperor's father. I am in the throne room."

"Ugh." That didn't improve things a bit. "Wait, he is a vampire. He can't come here just like that," I said, turning to Becky.

"Actually," Becky said, "Carlisle is a special case because he is a doctor that knows the secrets. He can come anytime as long it is for a medical reason."

"I still don't need him," I said to Sasha. "Can't you..."

"I..." my brother started, embarrassing and resentment in his voice, "might want to see him, my arm hurts more than I letting on."

I gritted my teeth.

"A vampire doctor?" Richard asked after a long time of silence.

"He is unusually controlled," Becky said, "and is safe around blood."

"Do I..." I was going to say "smell delicious," but sounded both weird and not the best thing to say. "Does my blood smell dangerous?" I said poking the wound in my forehead just a little.

I hadn't actually checked myself in the mirror to see how bad it was.

"Should be safe by the time you go to the capital," Becky informed, though she had uncertainty in her voice.

"Tomas, I could never hurt you," Sasha said, his voice full of misery.

"Sasha," I sighed, "I know you won't hurt me, but there are others vampires in the capital."

"Oh," Sasha said, partially not exactly relieved.

"We are still going to meet him?" Harry said, not disguising the fear in his voice very well.

Everyone looked at me for the answer. I had the presence of mind to bid farewell to Sasha first.

"We are going to settle things first, and I will call you later". I paused. "I will try to see you today, even if alone."

"Okay," Sasha said apprehensive. "Goodbye."


I saw my face in the mirror that Brooke brought as requested. I knew my left eye was in bad shape, and had small bruises and cuts in my arm.

On my face most scrapes weren't really deep, but there was a big one in my left eye. I guessed 10% of my face was covered with red scratches. My eye was a red globe in the middle of swallowed purple spot behind my glasses (my contacts were lost in the punch; we didn't care to pick them up).

Cody could have let me at least punch Harold a little.

My family discussed (well, I, Mom and Richard, Harry stayed quiet) what was the best to do. My mother was still apprehensive to let the doctor go anywhere near me, but Becky assured her that Carlisle was safe. If he wasn't the wolves wouldn't let him go anywhere near the village.

Mom felt that she had an obligation to at least be introduced to Sasha, but that it wouldn't be safe for me to go near other vampires, including him. Richard just remained supportive of my mother's opinions, but had the idea to let Sasha come to the village too. Becky's disagreeable face shut him up pretty well.

Carlisle arrived possibly from the medical TV show where he belonged. My head was fine, he guessed that I must have supported myself in a way that made the impact weak, but also dragged my face through the fence surface. It should be healed in little more than one week, right in time to go to school with what would appear small bruises and one small scar that girls would like (I didn't see the point of bringing this up), plus the fading purple eye. He said that my brother shouldn't put much force on his arm for a day or two and it would be fine. I wondered how much of his strength Cody used.

Carlisle was persistent enough to convince my mom that it was safe for me to go near vampires, though it was extra-necessary not to pick up my scabs. By the middle of this conversation, I was half-suspicious that it wasn't purely the doctor's vast medical knowledge that convinced my mother, and Richard looked mildly jealous so he probably had similar suspicions too.

Of course there was the problem with Harry painting himself one big shiny target to Sasha. Carlisle had the opinion that Sasha wouldn't attack or harm my brother, simply because it was my brother and I was out of danger. Becky was far less optimistic and felt that any potential danger to a mate would make a vampire irrational. They didn't quite have a discussion, but it seemed that Becky almost wanted to.

Harry wasn't at all excited with the idea of meeting Sasha in the first place, so he was just going to wait somewhere while the four of us talked.

Like many things with Sasha, it was weird.

First, it felt that Richard didn't quite want to meet Sasha too, but was there because of Mom. He avoided making eye contact, silently looking (and admiring) the several charcoal drawings on the walls, mostly landscapes.

My mom faked a neutral expression that was obviously poised, but kept hidden whatever she was truly feeling.

Unsurprisingly, Sasha had to look at me like I was approaching him with a flamethrower. It didn't help my mood at all.

I made the introductions, no handshakes or expressions of "nice to meet you." Just identity acknowledgements. We sat; my mother and Richard shared the couch, Sasha and I each on a different chair. My mother remained quiet, Richard remained distant, and Sasha remained looking more at my injuries than myself.

At least dealing with Sasha had an answer. I reached out and held his left hand with my right hand, while patting him soothingly with the other.

"I am fine," I said, though that relaxed him just a little. "I just wish I had landed a punch or...

"Tomas!" my mother said coldly.

"Just kidding mom. At any rate, this means that if you did anything to Harry, it would only hurt my pride further."

"I won't hurt him," Sasha said with such sincerity that I wondered if he was using his power on himself. "I know you are too good to want that," he said like it was a very admirable fact that I wanted my brother alive.

"Yes, I know," I said impatiently, and sarcastically. "You think I am awesome and perfect. Let's just move on..."

"I..." started my mom her voice sounding almost mechanical, "want to know what you would have done, if you were there."

Sasha blinked, and very quietly answered.

"Likely use my power to harmlessly stop your other son."

That technically wouldn't count as "hurt," but my mother's sharp stare said otherwise.

"Tomas... has to be safe," Sasha continued.

"Yes, he has," my mother said coldly. "What do you two do here everyday?" she asked, looking at Sasha's art, apparently unmoved by it.

"Mom, we just talk," I said. "Just like the deal was, it's not like... anything romantic."

"He isn't forcing you..."

"No, mom!" I interrupted, quite angry and mildly disgusted. "It isn't like that at all."

"I wouldn't force him to do anything, I am already receiving much more than I deserve."

I rolled my eyes at that, or at least as much I could with the left one.

"Well, mom, look. Sasha is more upset about this," I pointed at the left size of my face, "than I am, seriously, our visits are like the most bizarre therapy sessions in the history, but that is all."

"And he isn't forcing you to do anything?" my mother asked.

"He can't compel actions with his power," I answered.

"It isn't what I meant."

"Still no." I paused. "You didn't believe in what Harry said about Gabe." I took her silent as uncertainty. "Well, after today, can't you tell that he's an idiot?"

"I just found out a lot in the last few days, Tomas," she said, losing her neutrality, trembling.

"Okay, I understand that... but I just want to reiterate that I wasn't abused... and that I wanted to do it, okay?" I said embarrassed, it was the topic I least wanted to talk about with my mother. "I know he was older and stronger than me, but it wasn't forced."

"I believe you, Tomas... Can I talk with Sasha for a minute," she asked, turning to Richard as well. "Just the two of us."

After a few minutes waiting in the corridor in front of Sasha's door, Richard broke the silence.

"Any idea what they are talking about?" he asked.

"Me," I said.

Richard didn't seem to realize the sarcasm, or didn't care, and after a few seconds he asked again.

"Do you really want to do this with your life?" He didn't sound judgmental, just incredulous.

"Yes, Richard... being able to decide what to do with my life is like the whole point." I continued when he just looked perplexed. "Immortality will make things very easy." I considered for a moment what to say next, whether it was a good idea. "You know what I could do with it?"


"Wait," I said mysteriously.

"Wait for...?"

"Well, anything, starships for example, if they are possible, and a lot became possible lately anyway. I could just sit and wait ‘till they invent faster than light travel and go to another planet. Hell, if I want it enough, I could help them develop the damn thing."

"Oh." It was all that Richard said. His expression was hard to read, mixed.

"Tomas!" I heard Cody call, and turned away from Richard. That meant that he could see the left side of my face. "Oh, still looks pretty bad."

"Not everyone has healing factor that makes Wolverine jealous," I said as I noticed Charlie following Cody. "Hello again, Mister Swan."

"Hi," he said neutrally. "Cody..." he continued admonishing.

"Just wait a minute," Cody said. "So your brother...?"

"More controlled. I think he is down at the reception. Hey, can I tell him that he got owned by a six year old?"

"Sure." He smiled amicably, but still staring. "but I'm almost seven..."

"Cody," Charlie said impatient.

"We should have breakfast again," I suggested, my sleep schedule still a mess.

"Yes, maybe in a few days, I have to spend some time with my parents."


"We have to get going," Charlie insisted. "Bye."

"Bye," said Cody, unhappiness on his face.

The two went away, and I noticed that Cody said "have" rather than "want," after days in the middle of the forest.

"Did you say six years old?" Richard asked.

Minutes later, Mom opened the door. Her expression was thoughtful, notneutral, just thoughtful. Whatever they discussed, it gave her a lot to ponder. Sasha wore a similar face, but more concerned.

"What did you talk about?" Richard asked.

"Private things, Richard," my mother said. "Nothing to be discussed now," she said looking at me and then Sasha.

"Right," Richard said reaching for her hand.

"We are supposed to see all the details about the ‘sitcom double life' plan," I said, "and you are going to be introduced to Sue Clearwater, my new aunt."

"I can take you to the appropriate room," Sasha said, looking away.

There was a not subtle implication that Sasha wanted just to be around me. I bet that Richard failed to notice. I managed to hold a sigh.

"Show us the way," I said before my mother could protest. She didn't anyway, still thoughtful. "You probably should be around to memorize all the details as well."

Sasha led us, walking down the corridor with the casual grace that vampires share.

Grace, reflexes, speed, strength, senses, durability, immortality, memory...

... and regeneration.

Who would not want to become a vampire?

When we arrived, my brother and Sue were in the room, looking at a table with several papers and documents spread out. Harry didn't know Sasha, while Sasha recognized him (simply by our shared appearance), glanced at me and my mother before saying, "Tomas don't want me to harm you." Then he completed. "It was terrible to attack your brother like that."

Harry went rigid at that, and I looked at my mother for disapproval, but she just said, "Harold, you might want to wait outside."

He left the room, trying to keep himself as far away from Sasha as possible.

"What he was doing here?" I asked when the door closed again.

"He got bored," Sue said casually. "I believe we haven't been formally introduced," she said turning to my mother.

One short round of introductions later and one thanks from my mom to Cody, my cover story was explained. It was actually cover stories.

Pretty much everyone that knew me, Mom or Richard was already told that I was very sick. My mother had been alone in Ohio and had little to do but make frantic calls telling everyone. They also knew that my mother made a point of having a bedroom for me in the new house, even though I was going to college soon, so it was weird that I was going to move after barely getting into the state, especially after being so sick that my mother was afraid I was going to die. We didn't had relatives in the city, but there are relatives of friends that did and Mother even had planned for some to come visit, before all the mess happened, it would be inevitable for our friends and family to find out. So the cover story for them would be that I am away to be treated for a long time. The treatment is free and semi-experimental, it left me able most of the time, but it was complicated and constant enough that I had to move away. The same treatment would be the reason why my appearance would change post-turning, probably buying me a few more years of secrecy. The only relative that was really important enough to learn anything would be Sally, but my mother feltvery strongly that it was better to wait until she was older, if possible drag the lie for another decade. I was okay with that.

The other layer of story was for the people in Forks. Sue was one the supervisors at the very private Spa, and I would be her nephew who moved in because my parents had moved too. I always liked the idea to move to Canada and/or go to college there, so the proximity with the border was convenient too. Sue, my "aunt," would be uptight and work mostly at home. Because of this, I had a very strict curfew, and couldn't bring friends over. I would live in La Push with Sue and my "cousins," I didn't know anything about the spa, because it was too exclusive for me (or anyone in Forks) to walk there. They considered adding that my injuries are caused when I did try to enter, and got caught by a guard, but that depends how fast I heal. It was slightly better than saying that my older brother punched me.

There was the sort-of-third, "intermediate" cover story. I was still sick in this version and need the semi-experimental treatment, which was made in a medical company nearby; it involved a drug that had the inconvenience to have a short useful life, so I had to move in with a distant paternal aunt that happened to live where it was geographically convenient. Because I was outwardly functional, it was possible for me to lead a normal high school life without being known as "the sick boy," it was why I kept the "illness" secret from my new friends. This version was made in the event when both covers got mixed by a relative or former acquaintance of mine, or by someone from Forks. Once I got turned, it would be better to avoid my Forks acquaintances (for more reasons other than secrets). If I want to keep in touch or run into them, this version was to be used, borrowing the appearance-change explanations from the first cover story.

Sue concluded explaining all this.

All of us (including Sasha) stared at her, and then she said, "You would be surprised by how much vampires like teen shows."

Chapter 12: Remembering Meaningful Moments

"Wouldn’t be simpler if Sasha just stayed with us?" Richard asked, regretting it as soon as he finished the sentence; Mom looked like she could kill him just by glaring.

"Simple? Yes. Safe? No," said Sue to clarify.

"I wouldn’t hurt Tomas or force..." Sasha started defensively.

"We know," Sue interrupted, "and we know that you are safe to be around him, or around his family a few hours per day, but you are still... new to vegetarianism," she said, not hiding disapproval. "Accidents do happen, and they could happen with strangers or Tomas’s family."

There was the bonus of having Sasha’s power around. I probably should ask later if he suspected something similar. Either way, the other motivations were genuine, and quite important.

"It seems that everything is... nice and well thought out," I said, staring at the notes; there was set for each one, "if a bit complicated..."

"Our resident psychic had free time to look," Sue said, almost incredulous. "This plan is the safest, both... physically," she pointed a finger at Sasha, "and to keep the masquerade from being torn apart suddenly. Unless there is obvious supernatural display, no one will look further beyond the ‘Tomas didn’t want to be known as the sick boy’ cover."

"Maybe I should wear blond wigs just in case," I said, but only Sasha chuckled.

"I..." my mother started. "Sue, you look like a nice... person," she measured her words. "But why you? I saw women... human women in the village, they would..."

"They don’t work for the Golden Coven," she said with a shrug. "I offered myself, it isn’t hard work at all... Renée, Bella’s mother, offered too..."

"Really? Why didn’t she...?" I started to ask curiously.

"She is too important and too recognizable, she was born here too..." Sue said and her voice faltered. "And she wouldn’t be able to do it."


"She named her daughter after the Ugly Duckling, that is why."

"Huh..." my mother said, half surprised and glancing at Richard. "She probably would be a great friend of yours."

"Either way, Renée wanted to do it out of boredom and is not the best qualified person," Sue said with finality.

"Okay, I didn’t want to offend," Mom replied.

"False family issues aside," I changed the topic, "how do I get to school? I can’t walk from La Push to Forks."

"We have more cars than what to do with them," Sue replied.

"You are going to give him a car?" my mother said, oddly indignant.

"Loan, Mary, we are going to loan," Sue replied and rolled her eyes. "I could have driven him, but the less they see me the better. Now, Tomas, we really can’t put enough emphasis in responsibility here..."

"I won’t drink and drive..." I wasn’t sure what she meant.

"Not only that, but you must remember that the car is accessory to the cover story, we can replace and fix it very fast, but it would be conspicuous and I might start to drive you to school."

"Oh, okay."

"Is there any danger...?" Sasha asked nervously after a long time of observation, "that Tomas will get in an accident?"

"Of course, just like anywhere," Sue said impatiently. I couldn’t help but be annoyed myself. "What are you going to do about it?" she asked with a hint of challenge.

"I could..." Sasha looked at my mother and me and didn’t complete the sentence.

"You are going to offer to study there?" I asked half playful, half incredulous.

"No," Sasha answered offended.

"Good, because we just need one ghost sidekick to make this," I said, pointing at the notes, "worthy of becoming a Saturday morning cartoon."

"What are you thinking?" my mother asked accusation in her tone.

"If it was stalking around," Sue said, and by the guilty look on Sasha’s face she was right, "you’d better understand it is a bad idea, it was exactly why we wouldn’t let Tomas go to Ohio."

"This," I said, staring disgusted at Sasha, "is exactly why I have to live with your natural enemies."

Sasha nervously added "I wouldn’t do anything... especially if Tomas wouldn’t like it." My mother just huffed at that.

"Of course you wouldn’t," Sue poured saccharine, "unless Tomas was in danger and there weren’t any other helpful vampires around... not the case here, if anything Alice makes everything very conveniently safe, but if something does happen... accidents might have multiple victims and we have safer vampires than you, Sasha."

"I understand," Sasha said, looking away.

"Back to car responsibility," Sue added. She seemed a bit impatient now. "Tomas, you are to leave the car in the capital garage, so you have to come and go to La Push through the tunnel."

"How long should a trip from home to school take?"

"Around an hour, including passing through the tunnel, we are constrained by multiple geographic limitations."


"Can’t you just hire a tutor?" my mother asked uncomfortably. she probably had thought of that a while ago.

"Mary, trust me, this is the best alternative as far magic could tell," Sue said and turned to me. "And Tomas, if you want to go around Forks you need my permission and might use the car for it, but remember, I am your ‘very annoying restrictive aunt that wants to make your life miserable.’"

"Yes, unless someone finds the other story," I said, "and in that case, ‘I am sick and you are my very concerned aunt just looking out for my health.’"


Between trips that took one hour apiece, visits to Sasha, school, homework and the occasional grocery shopping (mostly for appearances), my schedule didn’t look suited for a very active social life, or even for being friends with my wolf roommates.

Sasha’s responsibilities weren’t as diverse and Adrianna was going to leave (eventually), but they had several turnings waiting for the next few months. I wasn’t the only human mate in the world, or vampire wannabe for that matter.

"It would be better..." I said after some time thinking, "if I meet Sasha after arriving from school."

"Tomas, you shouldn’t waste too much time with..." my mom said. "You still need to concentrate in school," she added categorically.

"Because that is going to be so important for a vampire," I thought, without saying, of course. I did notice Richard’s desire to comment on something, probably the same thing, but he kept quiet.

"I will mom, I promise," I said.

"Stay... one hour," Mom said with maternal imposition, "and go straight home."

"Huh, Mary," Sasha said, not looking at her.

"What?" Mom snapped.

"Adrianna is a little..."

"Bitch?" Sue completed.

"Problematic," Sasha continued, but he seemed to agree with Sue, "and... malicious. It wouldn’t be surprising if she stirred up trouble just to keep me away from Tomas."

"She is a bitch," Sue said honestly and acidly. "She was a human bitch and now she is a vampire bitch, forever. She didn’t deserve what happened..."

"This isn’t Tomas problem," my mom angrily interrupted.

"Mary, sweetie, don’t get nervous," Richard said soothing.

"Mom," I said, unable to hide my annoyance, "and Sasha, compromise. I can wait in Sasha’s room, doing my schoolwork, so when he is freed from Adrianna’s claws we can spend quality time. If I somehow manage to finish all my schoolwork or need to go home for another reason... I will go home." Sasha made a kicked puppy face, so I added, "Not going to try to make it a daily occurrence."

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of setting one hour per visit. Not necessarily because I liked to prolong them, I might want to make them shorter. My mother agreed at any rate.

With the visit to La Push done, meeting Sasha done, all the formalities and technicalities also done, my family had to leave and go back to Ohio and California tonight. It felt uncharacteristic, but I couldn’t find a sensible way to ask if my mother just wanted to punish me with absence, or some other innocuous reason. So I remained silent about that.

I wasn’t going to see any of them for a long time, including Harry. It was a good time as any to end my daily visit to Sasha, who would need to stay behind for my scared older brother’s benefit. Sue accompanied us and kept herself at a non-intrusive distance.

The goodbye was mostly wordless. My mother didn’t hug me, just squeezed my shoulder and asked me to keep contact daily. Richard didn’t hug me, just said goodbye, which was expected. Harry did hug me, tight, which was completely uncharacteristic. I didn’t hug back out of sheer confusion, rather than resentment (he still wasn’t my favorite person in the room though).

After the final goodbyes, I watched their car moving away, engulfed by the darkness of the night.

I woke up in front of my computer, confused for a moment. I looked at the computer and wrote,"When I arrived at my La Push home, I got straight to my computer, not-so-politely excusing myself from my roommates’ presence, and started attacking the small keys until most of my eventful day was typed. Failing asleep before even thinking of going to bed."

I blinked, and decided it was weird waking up and starting to write again. I was feeling hungry as well, so I went and made breakfast.

I felt uncomfortable with having so much control over someone like I had over Sasha, because it didn’t felt like power, but rather responsibility.

This didn’t stop me from feeling annoyed when I found that Sasha coulddisobey me.

"Why?" I said gritting my teeth.

"Tomas," Sasha trying to sound reasonable, but clearly insecure, "she just felt it was private. She is your mom; do you really want to disobey her?"

"That was a low blow... and if wasn’t willing to disobey, we wouldn’t be here."

"No we wouldn’t..."

"Can’t you say anything at all?"

Sasha thought for a moment, disconnected ours hands and stood up.

The sunlight easily penetrates crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Sasha looks at it distracted and thoughtful, the fish avoid his presence, thought even humans might scare them.

Sasha swims idly and in circles for hours, thinking, and not really paying attention to the marine life around him.

He could go south, avoiding the Amazon coven and reaching the Antarctic continent. Maybe that Argentinean couple had been killed or were away, and wouldn’t bother him like last time.

Sasha goes south, not excited at all with seeing penguins or other creatures that don’t want him near. He goes south because it doesn’t matter where he goes, no reason to go anywhere, no reason to stay.

Sasha had little boundaries.

No boundaries, but no direction as well.

Mary could hardly blame her husband for not being there, they knew that their next son could "arrive" any minute, and exactly for this reason Steve was working more and more.

However, it would have been better to have someone to hold her hand.

But nothing could stop her from smiling at her little Tomas.

The new set of dozens of pictures was... very astounding. I was greatly impressed when Sasha was limited to the black and white of charcoal.

Now he had pastel, and the world of colors to blossom.

I didn’t understand much about art, or how to make art, but was pretty sure that you would need more than one night to create anything thatgood, at least if you were human.

So the marine wonders presented themselves with photographic quality, all thanks to the combination of vampire innate talents and artistic skill.

Sasha looked expectant.

"They are phenomenal, if I wasn’t seeing them up-close I would think they are photographs."

"Tomas, thank you." Sasha’s mouth arched in a little smile, but he didn’t seem entirely comfortable yet. "Are you okay... with them?"

I looked at the one in my hand; it was a particularly striking coral formation with a shark swimming away.

"It is okay, though still weird. You are many, many times older. So I should get used to the fact that you were... well just like you are now, while I was still being born." Sasha remained silent. "Still okay-ish." I tilted my head looking at the shark. "I don’t understand why did you made them."

"It felt important."

I shot a look to make him complete the answer. Sasha looked away, and said,"I was a nomad, a wanderer, even to vampire standards I moved around a lot, maybe too much. I had no direction to go... but at that moment I sort of gained one, even if I didn’t know about it... so it is important to me. I know it’s weird."

"It is weird, but I think... I can understand." There was a pause. "It is creepy that you want to feel a connection with a baby."

Sasha’s face was absolutely horrified at that, and before he could say anything, I burst out in laughter.

"Sorry," I said after laughing until I couldn’t breathe anymore, "but your face... hahahaha!" I breathed heavily. "It isn’t funny at all, and I am a horrible person to laugh at that something like this..." I managed to stop laughing, regain my breath, thought still grinned.

"I don’t think it is possible... to happen like that," Sasha said like an apology.

"With the wolves it is." As soon as I said that my previous grin was replaced with proper disgust.

"Wolves are different," Sasha said with uncertainty. "Alec has been around for longer than all packs members put together, and hasn’t found his mate yet. Alec says he was too young when he was turned and thinks that vampires have a cut off age to mate."

"Well, I hope there is... though when would it be?"

"Alec never heard of a mate younger than sixteen and the other vampire in question was seventeen-looking. I don’t know the biggest age gap."

"... how does it work anyway? If it is at first sight, what happens if you saw the mate when he was too young? Would they mate with you later, or is it written off as a candidate... or what?"

"I honestly don’t know," Sasha said crunching his eyebrows. "Many others think there is fate or destiny involved, but it’s not like it could be tested."

"I still want to know what else you and Mom talked about, don’t think that I forgot."

In the next days it soon become clear why going to high school was part of "the best alternative as far magic could tell."

Everyone knew what had happened to me, not only Sasha’s abduction, but my brother’s attack (with Cody for the rescuer), plus daily visits and the plan to go to normal high school. They all knew I was gay, and that was just the smallest thing to worry about (Oh, the irony!).

Vampires, wolves, imprints and puppies alike, they all knew and looked at me with various levels of judgment: encouragement, sympathy, confusion, incredulity, contempt, disguised disgust, or else. I avoided eye contact (and had to admit, got pretty distracted with so many muscular chests). I was happy to see my purple eye fade every day, though not fast enough.

I started avoiding the villagers all together, speaking the minimum with my roommates (who at least gave me space), though I tried to be cordial. Vampires seemed naturally disposed to avoid me (or my delicious blood), and I didn’t make a effort to correct that.

My main "social" activity was speaking with Sasha. I was still avoiding some of the more... intimate moments in my life, but Sasha seemed quite happy with hearing the boring minute happenings of any sixth grade day. We put his skill to use and created pictures or portraits, though he had less of a knack to draw things by description. I tried to learn a minimum to help him, but my sketches were absolute failures. We filed everything for reference anyway. His room was piling with stacks of paper.

I also kept contact with my family daily; I finally talked with Sally for the first time in nearly two weeks. The conversation was 50% Sally asking me if I was going to die and the other 50% was me saying "no, I am not going to die, Sal." She was utterly convinced that her parents were hiding something (which they were), but after the thousandth time, I managed to convince her that I was going to live, be alright and just be unable to be near her for some time, but not forever.

My mother was adamant to not tell me anything about her conversation with Sasha.

Harry sent me one e-mail apologizing for punching me, and I replied only with.

"You are forgiven, this time. Doing that again will be stupid, especially when I get better. I will be able to kick your ass myself many times over ;)".

I wasn’t sure if I should be more "open" in digital forms of communications. There were no further communication attempts from him.

Chapter 13: Remembering The Multicolored Wolf

The day before classes started, I accepted Brooke's invitation for a walk in the La Push beach. I had been impolitely deflecting her in the last few days, and she started making a rejected face that was hard to ignore

"I was thinking of becoming a teacher," she said after we walked on the shore for a while.

"Well it's an honorable job," I said mockingly solemn, putting my arm around her shoulder and waving to the sky. "Children are the future of our glorious nation! But honestly, it's a good thing..."

"I mean," Brooke said, with a hint of annoyance, but smiling, "teaching puppies and other small wolves".

"Oh. I was actually thinking about how it works. There aren't that many children... puppies around for a school."

"Well, yes. I mean, no. It's pretty disorganized and informal, but we are trying to set a proper homeschooling program or something close, they need teachers for that. I doubt that I will be allowed."

"Why is that?"

"I haven't gone to a proper school in six years."

"Oh, I am sorry," I said, squeezing her shoulder.

"Don't be," she said, shaking her head. "I was tutored like everyone else in Volterra, but it wasn't any priority to teach us much more than the necessary for being a soldier in their enslaved army," she sighed miserably.

"Oh, Brooke, don't worry, you can catch up," I said encouragingly. "Probably even more, go to college, hell you have all the time in the world, you could probably go to Harvard. That would be a movie that I would like to see," I completed teasingly. She smiled a little.

"It's not only that," she said, still thoughtful, staring at the waves. "You know how Chelsea's power works?"

"Yeah... I read in one of the pamphlets... it's terrifying." And confusing (how could you still remember your family, but not care about them?)

"It is," she said, and her misery changed to disgust and anger. "I hate her now, she made me love her for years, but I really loathe that bitch."

"That sounds... natural."

"But I miss Afton; he was her mate," Brooke said after a moment, "and was genuinely... nice. The deprogramming can't erase what is genuine."

"Huh," I said thinking for a moment. "Do you miss him, or maybe feel guilty for missing him?"

"Yeah, I mean... yes to both..." Brooke said hesitant, looking me in the eyes, "and he is the reason why I want to teach. I used to imagine being his assistant teacher or something... I don't anymore, and don't want to teach fighting at all. But I like the idea of teaching normal things"...

"I am no psychiatrist, or magic expert, but Brooke, if you want it now... it's a natural thing, as far I can understand."

"It's what all others say, but Chelsea got them too." And she smiled weakly. "But if you think it's normal..."

"I am probably far from being a proper judge of normal," I said, and then completed when her smile faltered. "Normal and good can be different things, though. Just be happy with what you do. Maybe you always wanted to be a tea..."

Brooke grabbed my arm and pulled me to a group of trees.

"Hide!" she whispered.

I did and tried to find the reason, peering behind the tree we were using as cover. It was a normal group of teenagers. Arriving in a van and setting up what looked like a fairly innocent beach picnic. They were right in our way back to the village.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"They are kids from Forks," she said and then looked at me, adding when she saw my confused face, "I... don't like being near them very much... they stare." She said the last part like it was a terrible thing.

"Brooke," I said impatiently, "staring?"

"I just don't like it," she said. "Can we walk the other way?"

"How do we get back to the village?" I asked

"I can just floof, and circle around the forest," Brooke said.

"Hm," I mumbled.

I took a look at the assorted group of teenagers. They were more than a hundred feet from us, but they were as harmless looking as they could possibly to be. A blond guy was filming the scenery around the place where the van parked. He turned to our direction and both Brooke and I dove behind a large tree.

"This is ridiculous," Brooke said under her breath.

"I agree... You know, if you really want to be a teacher you shouldn't be afraid of people looking at you," I said.

"It's different!" she said.

I sighed. "I guess... I could enjoy a wolf ride."

We walked a reasonable distance. Brooke admitted that she was probably overreacting, but floofed anyway and up to the village we went.

In retrospect, I noticed that the conversation was a little too personal given the little time that Brooke and I have known each other. I wasn't uncomfortable with her sharing those things with me; I just felt it was odd.

I speculated with Sasha about it, without sharing the exact contents of the conversation. It felt private, in spite of probably the entire pack being aware of it by now. It did occur to me to ask whether I could talk about it, but I decided against it. Sasha was limited in what he could speculate.

"Maybe she used to..." I said. "With telepathy is not like they can keep secrets anyway."

"Possibly, or maybe she wanted to speak with someone who can't share her thoughts. From what I understood, the mental sharing can be messy and unclear."

"Maybe..." I said, remembering how she related that all others had been brainwashed, "maybe she wanted an outside perspective... That is hard to get when your friends can get inside your perspective," I said without further elaborating my reasoning.

"That sounds likely... Maybe it's because you are going to turn."

"How would that affect anything?" I asked blinking at him.

"Well..." Sasha said, avoiding looking, "I don't know Brooke, so it's just a theory... but she is a shape shifter and you are going to be a vampire." Sasha paused, like he wanted confirmation that I indeed didn't hate him enough to stay human out of spite. I nodded impatiently. "Maybe she just thinks that you are safe because you won't be around anymore in a few months."

"I understand that angle," I said, thinking. "I never gave much thought to making friends here, in the village or Forks. Would becoming a vampire change things between me and Brooke or any other wolf?"

"Tomas, you won't want to be around them," Sasha said twitching his nose. "I... can actually smell her on you now."

I looked at my jeans and sky-blue hoodie, and sniffed the air; it seemed normal, with a hint of Sasha floral scent and maybe pastel, normal as far as Sasha's room gets.

"The sense of smell is greatly improved with turning."

"So I was told." I shrugged and said, "And for what I understand, I won't lose my ability to use e-mail or phone. So I doubt it's that."

"Maybe it isn't Tomas, maybe it's no big deal."

I just couldn't understand why fixing my sleep schedule was so hard. I managed quite well, when I was in Ohio. Washington was in the same time zone as California, I ought to be able to wake and sleep at normal times.

Nope. No luck with that. I was somehow still falling asleep too early each night and waking up too early each morning, to the point that hybrids comparisons were made by Embry and Brooke.

I had four hours before going to school and was actually feeling quite well rested. I actually needed extra-time due to the distance, but not that much.

I sat in the porch, bringing my blanket and a cup of warm milk, watching the quiet night.

That was the first time I saw Cody after my family visited, and it was when I met Luke.

Cody was walking with the "small" dark wolf (small meaning: larger than any dog, wolf, lion or tiger that you've ever met, ever). It was hard to tell the color at first, but they walked under a street lamp and... the fur was dark brown...

Not only brown, it was also red, blue, yellow, pink and green, patches of almost fluorescent colors, and I noticed that his fur was... weird shaped. He had short very natural dark brown fur in most of his body, but his back had a longer, spiky multicolored line going all the way from the top of his head and the base of his tail. It was a werewolf with a Mohawk and hair dye.

It was a werewolf with a Mohawk and hair dye!

My reaction was the most polite and dignified possible: staring agape while they approached. At some point I spilled milk over the blanket and floor.

That only seemed to please the wolf. If his wagging tail was any indication, I got the impression that he would have a smug grin if he was in his human form.

"Good morning," sang Cody and my attention snapped to him.

"Good..." I noticed the spilled milk and swore out loud.

"Watch your mouth in front of us, impressionable innocent children," Cody said.

"Aha! So very innocent," I said after picking up the blanket and folding it messily.

"Probably not," Cody said. The wolf snarled weakly. "This is Luke, the wolf of a different color, and Luke, you must have heard of our guest of honor, Tomas."

I was never introduced to someone whilst they were in a non-human form, so I just waved my hand and hoped it was enough.

"Ask about the hair dye," Cody said, excited to tell. Luke growled briefly "Just ask."

"What's with the hair dye? Wait hold that thought, I am going to go get rid of this," I said, pointing to the blanket. I went to dispose of it in the laundry basket and to retrieve a mop.

The mop was unnecessary (or almost). Luke was licking the floor quite avidly.

"Just so you know it," Cody said pointing, "this is disgusting even to the other wolves."

"Good to know," I said, sitting in a chair. "Is he the wolf that you were camping with?"

"Yes, how do you know?" Cody said taking the next chair.

"I heard that he didn't phase very well, and he's still wolf-shaped now... or maybe being a wolf is nicer than being a human..." I said, and tilted my head at Luke. "Or maybe you just like having extra hair to dye."

"That's exactly what it is!" Cody said, and Luke got up and started to leave. "Hey, Luke, don't..." but he'd already left running. "Well, don't mind him," Cody said, turning to me, "he can be moody."

"Besides being weird enough to parade with that riot of colors?" I said.

"Yeah, so the story; Luke got a bunch of hair dye somewhere and managed to convince three girls and a puppy to dye his wolf form."

"Did they shave him too?" I asked. "His fur..."

"He has a small Mohawk in his human head," Cody said, "but that is old. Anyway, he gets them to dye his fur. Becky finds out and is pissed, but guess what she does?"

"What?" I ask, imagining Becky in full angry alpha glory.

"She tells him to keep going," Cody says and smiles, "and they spend like half a day dying his fur until it gets to how you've seen. That is when Becky shows up again, compliments the dye job and asks if he knew that the dye might vanish next time he phased."

"Oh." I thought for a moment then started laughing quietly. "Didn't he test it before?"

"Believe it or not, it didn't occur to anyone to try. Then, Becky says that he can keep the dye as long as he stays a wolf, but if he unphases and phases again and it's still on, they are going to bleach him."

"How harsh," I said jokingly. "Did his parents even..." I started asking, but stopped midsentence. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Cody waved dismissively, though slightly disturbed. "You'll get used to our... messed up history."

"Yeah, thanks."

"If it helps... Luke wouldn't care."

"Okay." It didn't help, but I wasn't going to push the issue.

"So, Luke is also grounded" Cody said, trying to bring back the cheer. "Can't leave the village or thereabouts. You might not have noticed, but he calls attention."

"Indeed... it's no like he could walk to Forks as a huge wolf anyway."

"No, but he could walk around the forest, he really likes it there, but Becky fears that he is going to be spotted, which isn't hard at all... there have been some curious folks around with cameras, like the ones you saw yesterday with Brooke."

"Wow," I said surprised, "you already know that?"

"Trust me dude, if a wolf knows, every wolf and their family does..." Cody said. His tone was less playful and more... something else.

"Telepathic gossip," I said.

"Yes... much scarier than regular gossip," Cody said and paused, obviously making a decision. "Do you know what they are talking about you?"

"I..." The answer probably was unpleasant, but I wanted to know "Do want to."

"They think you are... a little arrogant, freakish..." Cody answers uncomfortable.

"What?!" I say louder than the time called for. "What?" I repeated more discretely.

"You don't get out of the house at all, unless it's to visit the vampire that kidnapped you..."

"Hold on, every time I got out, people kept staring at me."

"You stared at them too..." Cody said, partially jokingly but almost uncomfortable, "at the men..."

"They noticed!?" I said, feeling my face hot.

"It was true?" Cody asked genuinely surprised.

"Well, yeah... wouldn't you know?"

"I got most of my information second hand," Cody said, "and telepathy powered gossip is still gossip."

"In my defense," I said, still feeling my face red, "I was trying to avoid looking at their faces... It's just that they have... distracting bodies too."

Cody made a sort-of-disgusted face at that, and I returned with a glare. He shrugged.
"It didn't improve your popularity points at all."

I dropped my head into my hands and asked, "Did I need to know anything else that made me lose the so called ‘popularity points?'"

"There is your family visit..." Cody said with little enthusiasm.

"My brother's attack?" I said. I probably got the reputation of being a wimp.

"Yeah, that and your... little personal story with you staying the closet and the other guy."

"What about it?" I asked, raising my head only enough to see Cody with one eye.

"From what I understand... it got mixed feelings."

"Mixed feelings?" I asked incredulous.

"There are people who felt really, really sorry for you... others felt you were just playing up the victim role on purpose..." Cody elaborated, and I groaned. "Many from either side think it's another sign that you are... kinda bonkers."

"So... I am going to live in this place for six months, being the ‘little arrogant and freak.'"

"Now you are playing up the victim," Cody said, slightly annoyed. "The people are good and nice; you just have to open up."

"You are the one that said they might be judgmental!" I snapped. "It's not like you are going to get stared at!"

I didn't feeling like talking about wolves anymore. Unsure of what to talk about, I said the first thing tthat turn up in my head, "Witches." Cody raised one eyebrow. "Let's talk about witches rather than wolves."

"Okay..." Cody agreed. "What exactly do you want to know?"

"Well... dunno, they are mostly mental, right?" I asked, remembering the tidbit from the brochure. "And don't have... physical differences."

"Yes on mental. What do you mean by physical differences?"

"Wings, blue skin or fur, claws or just really big feet," I answered, mentally conjuring a quick list of super-heroes.

"Well, no," Cody replied. "They are pretty human. I mean, they are human."

"Yeah... but they don't look, like... witchy," I said waving in the air. "I mean, they don't have magical words or spells, it looks more like the mutants from Marvel."

"Heh, it's a way to see it," Cody said thoughtfully, a tip of a smile in his lips, "but witch powers have a tendency for weirdness."

"Now you are surprising me," I replied sarcastically. "Magic being weird? That is something new."

"Well, it's not like that..." Cody said, pausing to think. "I mean, the powers are more unusual and unique. For example, there was never a witch that could fly."

"Huh," I said, thinking about how weird that was. "But there are witches that can move through dimensions and teleport. How does that happen?"

"Magic," Cody said smirking and raising his hands in a "have no idea" gesture.

"Besides that. What I really mean is how you get someone that can pop to the other side of the globe, but not get someone that can just counter a simple force and fly," I said, waving my hand like it was a flying person. "I mean, you evolve simpler stuff before the complicated stuff, and teleportation is more complicated than flight. Or at least should be, even with magic involved."

"That sounds like something that people from R&D department would answer far better than I could," Cody said honestly. "But I see your point."

"Well, what other weird complicated powers do exist?" I asked. "I know about the precognition, empathy, elemental control, relationship control and the two mind readers..."

Cody's face was... stern and he said, "Someone woke up... I think it's Embry, better get inside before he notices that you are gone, and gets worried. I'm leaving."

"Okay," I said, surprised. "Bye".

Cody was already gone. I went inside, and talked to Embry over breakfast, being careful to keep looking him in the eye.

It occurred to me that Cody was ashamed of being seen with me.

Reminiscing and nostalgia must be my great vices.

Even after many years I will sometimes stop and think and remember all that I could remember from the first "stage" of my life.

How ironic that talking to Cody went from something I was eager to do to something that I eventually became afraid of.

Chapter 14: Remembering High School

High school: the only thing scarier than a village full of werewolves.

Between all the comparisons with TV shows plots, of course I was thinking of similar phrases. That one happened to be my favorite (but I was very amused by, "After facing vampires, werewolves, witches and hybrids, the real monsters: teenagers.")

I had too much free time and it was a way to distract myself.

I wished for the opportunity to use it, but it never presented itself.

That was probably a sign that I really needed a social life.

However, I was non-ironically more and more apprehensive with High School in Forks. All the magical folk were scarier, in the sense that they could kill me if they wanted to, but I had all reasons to believe they wouldn't. The werewolves might give me social problems, but that was all that they could do. The vampires were more dangerous, but either the capital was too big, or they preferred to stay away, because I often saw just two or three when I went to see Sasha, and they were usually in a hurry.

Forks was the picture of a backwards small town with homophobic tendencies. I wasn't expecting to be killed by a mob of irate citizens, but extra ostracism wasn't a nice perspective, even if I was planning to leave in less than a year.

So I was going to stay in the closet.

That was one huge no-brainer actually; my plans before-my-world-was-turned-upside-down involved the closet for maybe another year or two, thanks to Harry, even without my brother... I was going to move to a new town in Ohio.

Well, I wasn't supposed to call attention (or further attention) to myself anyway.

The problem was the specifics.

My face was much better after one week, almost no scraps. I usually hate to wear glasses, but they were likely to hide the little remaining purple in my eye. My left eyebrow had a small scar, just as predicted; again my glasses might make it less noticeable. Dressed in what I believed was a nice combination of casual, formal, good, and discreet and warm. I had clothes for Ohio weather, but was planning to shop for more soon.

I was student four hundred and thirteen in the Forks High School. The place was a collection of brick buildings painted in boring gray and connected by stone paths.

Sue and I arrived in different cars. She was covered head to toe, and wearing sunglasses "because of my sensitive, eyes, don't forget that."

I commented on that. "I am used to California weather," I said, "so this place is freezing, but don't you think that the gloves are a bit too much, even for the disguise?"

"You can't be too prepared," Sue whispered, her lips barely moving. "Especially in your first day of school. One ray of sunshine and... they will think I covered myself with glitter."

I was going to ask if Alice couldn't predict weather for this sort of things, but then occurred to me another question.

"Sue, what did you mean when you said this was the best plan as far ma-..." I started

"Shhh." Sue placed a finger on my month, looking playful, but her voice was annoyed. "Next time, check to see if there are people around"

I did. There wasn't. The parking lot for the office building had a few cars besides ours, but no other people around.

"Luckily, there isn't anyone," she continued. "Answering your question, they used Alice. She's usually too busy, but for your luck, was willing to help."

"But what does it mean as the best?" I asked

"They looked at other possible plans and futures," Sue said. "Actually, even before you made your decision, I don't know the details; but if Alice says this is the best, it probably it is. She isn't perfect; for example the wolves block her vision."

"They do?" I asked.

"Yes... We need to go inside, we can talk later."

Inside the secretary greeted us or rather, Sue talked, and I looked around the room, shocked by how ugly it was. It took a minute for me to realize why. That was the first normal room that I'd walked into in more than a week. "Normal" meaning that it didn't belong to the Golden Empire or the packs, or any supernatural entity. Sue was the only vampire here, and might as well be the last. The place was suddenly was much nicer under that realization.

We talked only briefly to the principal. We never actually got to be in his office; as the first day in class he was going to make announcements to the whole student body in the gym. I wondered if somehow Alice could have planned for that to happen (and if so, why? Maybe I was being paranoid or something). The three of us walked to the gym building, and there were other students arriving too, some looking at us (many probably looking at Sue).

The principal was "aware" that I was sick and was just mildly insulted that he and the school nurse had been threatened with lawsuits if the information ever got out.

Of course, Sue (who suffered from the same fictional genetic malady) told that she knew very well what it was like to be isolated because of illness.

And of course, the principal was sympathetic to that. By that time, we had arrived at the Gym building. Sue said goodbye and the principal asked me to take a sit and pay attention.

I didn't have vampire senses or mind, so I couldn't just count whether there were four hundred students in the place, but it didn't look like that many. Either way I sat in the frontline, aware of a dozen curious eyes following me.

I wasn't nervous or shy at all. Actually, I was quite happy, those were curious eyes belonging to curious people that didn't know about the major non-human concentration right beneath their noses. Whatever they were thinking, it wasn't "That boy with a vampire mate." I grinned probably too much.

My happiness faltered just a bit with the surprise that I was among the announcements. My name wasn't mentioned and there wasn't a spotlight anywhere, but it felt all the same with the sudden attention from the words "Please welcome our freshmen and new student." I looked around and it felt like everyone was looking at me.

I was "the new student," singular. That... was a little pressuring, but I tried to keep my smile on my face.

There wasn't much for the principal to say (given that I was among the things said, that was unsurprising), and the announcements felt like things that could be printed and stamped on a board. It was over soon, and the students were dismissed to start their respective classes.

A girl with curled brown hair and two butterfly hairpins, bright big blue eyes approached me.

"Hello... I am Veronica Waters," she said as I stood up.

"Tomas Anderson," I said.

"Welcome to Forks," Veronica said. "Junior?"

"Yes." I said. "Your next class is Trigonometry?"

"No, English," she answered, "but it's in my way, I can show where it is."

It would take an effort to get lost in that school, but company wouldn't hurt, might be part of the best "as far magic can tell" possibility, all according to the plan. (Great now I will start thinking of Alice as God).

"How do you like Forks so far?" she asked

My exposition to proper Forks consisted entirely of the time when they drove me to the capital site, and today when I drove to school. La Push counted as a completely different town legally, magically and culturally.

"The place looks lovely," I said honestly.

"How much different is it from Ohio?" she asked.

"I am not from Ohio," I said and paused. "How do you not know that? I mean... why do you think that?"

"Oh, sorry, just a rumor that there was going to be a new boy from Ohio," she added, trying to shrug the whole thing. "News can fly around pretty fast here".

Small town gossip, just what I needed, less reliable than telepathic powered gossip and only slightly slower.

"So... where do you come from?" she asked.

"Sacramento," I answered. "The story wasn't completely wrong, my family moved there, but we are from Sacramento. I moved in with an aunt since I am going to college in Canada next year," I said, the rehearsed story. I wondered how fast it would take to reach most of my classmates.

"Nice," she said smirking. "Don't worry about the weather. It won't get better."

"Good to know," I said looking at the perpetually cloudy sky. We'd already arrived to my class.

"Well, it was nice talking to you," she said.

"See you later," I responded, and she waved goodbye, smiling.

The Trigonometry teacher gave me a new "opportunity" to tell the cover story again. I was expecting that, but I first told about how I was living with my "Aunt Sue," and then I remembered to say my name.

I sat down quickly and only then did I notice the boy in front of me. The blond shade was almost unmistakable.

It was just like something that the gods of ridiculous stories (or Alice!) would do... Being placed just behind the boy with the camera in La Push!

I was distracted for a full five minutes, before remembering that I should at least pay attention to class. Still I was thinking about the odds that I just happened to be behind the guy, which made the town look even smaller.

I tried to look neutral, and pay attention, but couldn't avoid wondering about La Push and Forks.

The "cover" story with La Push was... clumsy. To the general public, there was the fire, years ago. Hundreds of people died, including Bella "the-definitely-not-vampire-empress" Cullen.

However, the Quileute returned after five years and their official story was... none. Officially, the authorities of Forks couldn't say, "this is what the FBI told us." Rather, they enjoyed the use of the small town propensity for gossip and placed several whispered lies.

The unofficial story as far as people of Forks knew (currently) was that there had been a fire but not everyone died (of course that was true either way), the survivors were placed in the Witness Protection Program, and returned after years absent, trying to rebuild their lost homes, lives and people.

The town was left to formulate the minor details by themselves, with various ridiculous theories. Among the pack, the favorite story was "Quileute girl involves herself with a major crime lord and eventually seeks refuge at home, said crime lord burns the place down." Brooke didn't like that one. They were considering making it the "official" story, potentially with FBI report for extra credibility.

There was no explanation to why so many people aged so erratically (or not at all), so they didn't even bother to come up with one. Rather they were betting on the returned Quileute still being too shy to socialize. The townsfolk deemed this to be only slightly offensive given the traumas that they'd supposedly been through (considering the actual traumas, they had no right to be offended at all.)

Having mind readers around can be creepily informative.

All of this was deemed safe to keep a secret that was going away slowly.

They would like to wait and not rush any revelation, though.

In the middle of pondering the bell rang.

The blond boy's neighbor turned around and said to me, "Hello." The blond boy followed suit and said with a big smile, "Oh, the new guy from Ohio? I am Chance Sanders." He pointed to his neighbor. "This is Cole."

"Chance, he said that he was from Sacramento," Cole corrected. He was green-eyed and brown haired, his hair covering his eyebrows and snakebite piercings. "That is California."

"Oh, sorry, dude," Chance said. His eyes were brown; his smile was just as wide as before.

I stared at them for a bit too long.

Do I have to act normal? What would be my normal reaction to them?

I probably was thinking, "Cole is okay-looking, Chance is cute, but not that much..." Normal! To other people!

"Oh, no problem, nice to meet you too," I said, forcing a smile and shaking their hands.

"Thanks, but from Ohio to California is a world of difference," Chance said. By this point we were exiting the room.

"I was told that the weather won't get better," I said, trying to sound playful, but not entirely comfortable with Chance. "Your next class is Government?"

"Yes," Chance answered. "At least you will stay to be only minimally bored. Hey! I saw you talking to Veronica Waters"

Cole followed us quietly. In this small school it was going to be a challenge to blend in.

"Yes, she seemed nice," I said, trying to sound neither too interested nor disdainful.

"She is okay, but don't let her talk about insects," he said, "Veronica fancies herself as an amateur insectologist or something."

I tagged along the two, and they introduced me to several people. Well, Chance introduced me; Cole was more like his shadow. He responded to other people and everyone seemed nice to him (and me), but he stayed quiet most of time. During lunch I sat with the duo and his friends, that included Veronica, a girl named Maria (who was vaguely Filipino-looking despite the Spanish name, but I didn't ask), Theodore (ginger, very freckled, probably teased in childhood), a black girl holding hands with the palest (human) boy I ever met came by and gave a notebook to Cole, and a handful of others passed by too

Veronica sat right on my right side, with Chance on the other, and they both focused the conversation on me, Cole at the end of the table, listening. They asked the usual newcomer questions, although I only could give incomplete answers or outright lies. Maria asked about Sue.

"Sue... it was very nice of her to accept me," I said deliberately trying to be resentful.

"...and?" Maria demanded

"I don't know her very much; I was never close to my father's side of the family," I said. That was technically true. "She is a little too uptight, made a huge list of rules I have to follow."

"Just the two of you?" Veronica asked. I had the impression that she already knew the answer, but didn't want to scare me with the power of gossip. "Where do you live?"

"Just us, we live in La Push." That prompted their curiosity (as expected). I told them that I hadn't seen much of La Push or the Golden Spa; that as far I knew, there wasn't any client there at the moment; that the place was so well guarded that I half-suspected that it was secretly a military base; and that I couldn't bring any friends to take a look

I told them that the first day there, I tried to sneak in and a guard found me and punched me. Said guard wasn't fired and my aunt wasn't mad at him at all, prompting sympathy from the girls, including Veronica awkwardly trying to inspect my face. Cole asked, after a long time being completely quiet, "How didn't he break your glasses?"

"I was using contacts at the time," I answered automatically, "and lost them."

Theodore commented that his sister had eye surgery last year, and that changed the topic to assorted body modifications, medical or cosmetic. I said honestly that wanted to do eye surgery too (and promptly remembered that I wouldn't need one anymore), Veronica wanted a couple of very small butterfly tattoos, Cole didn't comment on further piercing, but Chance complained that his parents forbid him from attaching any metal to his body. I noticed that Maria opened her mouth but didn't say anything, just played with her long slick hair.

Lying to them was quite easy. Not in the moral-ethical sense; they took everything that I said surprisingly well. Or maybe I was being too fearful; I knew there was something to hide, they didn't.

My phone rang.

It was Sasha.

I excused myself from the table in a hurry, tripping in the process and letting the cell phone fall in the floor, the battery lid opened, but the phone didn't turn off. Chance picked the phone up while I still regained my balance and Maria handed me back the lid that had slid to her feet. I thanked them and went outside almost running.

"Hello," I said not hiding the annoyance in my voice.

"Hello, Tomas, it's Sue. Can you talk right now?" Sue's voice came out of the device, just as annoyed.

"Yes, I can," I said confused.

"Well, can you talk to your mate?" Sue said.

"Okay..." I said still confused

"Hello, Tomas," Sasha's preoccupied voice replaced Sue's. "Are you okay?"

"Yes..." I said slowly.

"Good," Sasha's said, almost whispering to the phone.

After a moment thinking I asked. "So why did you and Sue called?" I could guess why Sasha did.

"Well..." Sasha started, but Sue interrupted him.

"He has been pestering me all morning," Sue said.

"I am sorry," Sasha said probably more to me than Sue. "Didyme is with Adrianna and the other newborns, Jasper and Peter can take care of her by themselves at the moment..."

"So he decided that I was the best person to speculate how your day is going," Sue's voice said, maybe she had taken the phone back, "rather than use the magic of modern telecommunication and talk to you by himself."

"I didn't want to call," Sasha said, his voice sounding annoyed just like Sue's, "just... didn't have anything better to do."

"Sasha, you need a hobby," I said after thinking. "Well, since you two called... I think that one of my classmates was at the beach this Saturday."

"We know," Sue said casually.

"You do?" I asked.

"Yes, it isn't a big deal," she said. "Not the nosy type."

"Now I feel stupid," I said, being completely honest. "I should have paid more attention in English."

"Either way, talk to your mate," Sue said, her voice filled with accusation. "I am going to go see mine."

After a pause Sasha said defensively, "I wasn't being that annoying. I actually only talked to her for thirteen minutes... you don't have to talk to me now."

"Okay... I'm going back to lunch," I said, trying not to sound suspicious. Sasha was usually honest with me, but Sue seemed more patient than that. "I will see you later..."

The bell rang and I raced to catch up with my new classmates

My friends.

Chapter 15: Remembering The Angry Little Girl

The next class was Biology, with Veronica and Maria; they had already left when I returned to the table, and when I arrived at the classroom everyone was seated. Veronica and Maria in two different tables. The teacher told me to sit with Maria and I obeyed. Veronica looked vaguely hurt when I approached the other table; that was concerning.

I spent the rest of class avoiding looking at Veronica’s table. She didn’t have a partner. I hoped this wouldn’t make her resent me. Although, she was maybe too… forward, I might want to deflect her a little. Thinking about it, were the lab partners assigned or the student’s choice? Veronica risked studying alone rather than partnering with Maria (or any other friend)? That sounded desperate actually.

I decided to rush to gym rather than open the opportunity to confront or be confronted by Veronica, and think about what to do later. When the class ended both girls went to the teacher (I guess neither girl wanted to study alone), and I sneaked out of the room.

Gym was easy and uneventful and I went home, waving goodbye in the parking lot to the few people that I’d met already.

I waited in Sasha’s room for one hour and ten minutes before he arrived; he walked in the room unceremoniously while I was finishing a few notes.

His purple t-shirt was torn to shreds barely hanging in his body.

Sasha neutrally said, “Hi, Tomas… How was your day?”

I stared at him agape; Sasha finally added, “Didyme wanted to leave… Adrianna disagreed,” still sounding neutral.

Many and many years later I told the story to our group of friends.

Sasha pretended he wasn't listening. "That cracks me up to this day," I commented, then continued the story. "Adrianna managed to grab hold of Dydime's dress and easily tore it apart..."

"No wonder Marcus decided to leave," Santiago said with a smile.

Pedro wasn’t really happy with the new laws, but again, who was? Though he had to admit that his mind was clearer and it was nice to be with Josefina and Pablo for longer without feeling the urge to give a new scar to his little brother and sister-in-law.

Still, animals tasted horrible and Pedro would think, “Why couldn’t that hippie empress give us at least an adjustment period?” just so people could get used to the terrible taste before changing to the new diet completely.

Pablo didn’t care for the taste of pig’s blood, and preferred to stay hungry for longer than necessary. It was careless, but Pablo had always been picky with his food.

Pedro had foggy memories of how much Pablo hated vegetables. They were funny despite so misty.

Pedro knew that he had to take care of his brother.

However, Pedro underestimated how much and how soon.

Adrianna wasn’t happy at all, she was angry.

That was her natural state, actually, her family never quite understood why. They were morons.

Of course Adrianna was angry, her sister was going to marry before her. Ariadinne and her stupid fiancé with their stupid and sickening loving eyes.

Adrianna wasn’t especially angry with that, actually, or at least not much. It was more like jealousy.

Adrianna was angry with other things related to the marriage; her opinions were often rejected, her bridesmaid dress was horrid little thing, she couldn’t find a date to go with her.

Plus, she had had to go search for the flowers, and it was the only thing that she couldn’t do. Adrianna knew that the white-yellow-blue orchid was real, she saw it somewhere, but she went to every flower shop in town and couldn’t find it.

Attempt number one-hundred-and-whatever. Nothing. Adrianna succumbs to the frustration again, this time more explosively. The girl (actually woman, but with her five feet height no one believed that she was actually twenty five) grabbed the nearest flowerpot.

She threw the little plant at the floor out of frustration. Hitting her own foot.

It wasn’t a flowerpot. Well, it didn’t have a flower in it, it had a cactus.

That was exactly what Adrianna didn’t needed: her right foot filled with little thorns. The girl cursed and cursed and cursed, until the shopkeeper threatened with calling the police.

Humiliated, she limped outside. In the parking lot she examined her feet, considering whether it was safe to drive

The last thing that Adrianna said before Pablo bit her was, “I liked that sandal. I bet that this day will only get worse.” She was right, but that didn’t bring her any comfort, when the vampire jumped at her with his superspeed and cut her flesh with his teeth, trying to drink her blood before his coven managed to take him far away.

The venom burned her.

At that moment Adrianna knew emotions that could be stronger than anger.

The desire to die was one of them.

“… and the Golden coven was contacted, and sent Addy forty minutes after the bite,” Sasha concluded the story, “and you know what happened next.”

“Yep,” I replied, “our favorite newborn is sent here, and you get to work with her charming self.”

“I always felt sympathy for her…” Sasha said and I could detect the familiar guilt in his eyes. “The other handlers don’t want to be near her at all, and I can technically deal with her by myself… but that was our longest conversation. I knew the details from the Spanish coven perspective, and knew about Adrianna’s sister canceling the wedding…”

“Isn’t weird that she would talk about that?” I asked. “I mean, wouldn’t Didyme’s aura of happiness make her want to talk… about better things?”

“Tomas, Honestly…” Sasha speculated for a second, “Adrianna is usually so angry that she might be somehow resistant to the full effect of Didyme’s aura. Jasper says that his power barely has any effect in her; they even tested if she was a witch, but she is just angry. Still, that was her calmest moment since I met her.”

“Much better than hissing and growling,” I said, looking at Sasha’s new change of clothes. “…or clawing”

Before starting to tell the story, there was this very awkward moment when I didn’t know whether I should look when Sasha was changing his shirt. I decided to look away, feeling silly.

Also there was the subject of marriage (even if very indirect), that didn’t made me feel more comfortable. If Sasha detected anything he felt it was probably because of the main story (which was unsettling by itself).

I told Sasha about my day, even the bit where I was suspicious that Veronica could have a crush on me, but he assured me that it didn’t bother him (which I was nervous about).

Of course, even if Veronica was a guy (or if I was straight… or bi)… there was no way in hell she could compete with any vampire. Mated on me or not. Even Chance, who I decided was cutest guy in school, was no match to Sasha, the being to whom I couldn’t find a proper adjective other than angelic (dictionaries are useless, USELESS!).

I talked about minute details of my classes and my day, while madly realizing that next year I would never look at another guy that wasn’t Sasha at all.

I was unsure how I felt about that; but at least, I wasn’t angry.

Either way, I hoped that Adrianna wouldn’t do any damage beyond destroying clothing.

I remembered this morning, how this was supposed to be “the best solution as far magic could tell.” I really needed to know the specifics, but I wasn’t sure if I should ask Sasha. It was weird, but it felt like he would misinterpret it as me having second thoughts and that would hurt his feelings.

I left Sasha after little more than one hour (not because of my mother, but because it felt enough). We didn’t touch our journals today.

I knew that I would be happy with Sasha.

I also knew that being happy with Sasha would happen even if I was a savage newborn like Adrianna.

So… why was living a double life the best?

Over dinner, I talked about Alice’s sight with Embry and Brooke, asking how it applied to the “best” alternative to me to follow.

“You shouldn’t get worried,” Embry reassured me. “If they are bringing a big gun like Alice, they probably just want you and your Sasha safe and happy, and even with her sight partially blocked… they probably saw things that pointed to this being the best plan of action.”

Rather than question the use of “your Sasha,” I just remained quiet. Brooke asked “Big gun?”

“Well, Alice is a bit too busy to give relationship advice,” Embry clarified.

“She used to?” I asked. The concept of prophetic matchmaker was amusing.

“Yes,” Embry answered. “I think after the Volturi were defeated, she did help a couple vampires with human mates, but that was it. They were still organizing everyone’s functions at time. In fact, they still sort are.”

“Really? It has been a year,” Brooke said.

“The Golden Coven’s problem is having more resources than they know what to do with,” Embry said, smirking. “Besides the witches, they have enough money that Bella could bath in a pool of diamonds, but I heard she just settled for regular golden coins.”

I chuckled at that bizarre mental picture. “So now The Empire only brings out Big Alice when the vampire is a witch that they want?” I said sipping from my glass of water. They both made a weird offended face at that, and I raised my eyebrow “What?” I asked almost choking.

“Huh… They aren’t that bad,” Embry said. “…or bad at all. They didn’t help you just to get Sasha or anything.”

“Never said they did,” I said blinking.

“They aren’t either way…” Embry reaffirmed emphatically. “I think that had more to do with the whole kidnapping…”

“…plus Benjamin, and other vampires that don’t like the law,” Brooke added, making a disgusted face.

“Oh… right,” I said. While I remembered very well everything about that incident… I didn’t like to discuss it or actively think about it. “Well… what do they usually do? With mates I mean.”

“The vampires themselves would tell their humans mates about everything,” Embry answered. “I don’t know if most of them freak out or what, but if there is a problem, the Golden Empire offers Elspeth to talk to them by phone, to make the message clear and honest. I know she did this at least once with someone from Chile.”

“There was that woman from Los Angeles that they brought in to talk with Elspeth in person, but I am not sure if the plane ticket was paid by the Empire or not,” Brooke said thoughtfully.

“She was also a lot closer than the others,” Embry added.

“Sasha’s power scares me,” Brooke blurted, looking away from me.

“They are thinking of testing how it works on werewolves, what with telepathy and everything,” Embry said gravely, looking at me weirdly almost as if it was my fault.

“It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t even feel like anything,” I said uncomfortably. “You just won’t do you what he restricted you from doing.”

“I’m still not going to be a test subject,” Brooke said emphatically. “Becky is enough people messing with my head.”

“I can only agree with that feeling.” I said. “I mean, minus the Becky part.”

The next morning Veronica almost jumped at me as soon I parked my (well, the Golden Coven’s) car.

“Good morning,” she said, and directly asked, “Huh, can you be my lab partner in biology? Plea-”

“Maria…” I interrupted uncomfortable

“Wait ‘till I explain,” she said. “Did you see my lab partner yesterday? If not, is because she wasn’t there.”

“Oh,” I murmured surprised. I probably shouldn’t have assumed.

“Well, she is…” Veronica made an ugly face at that. “Please, change?”

I stared at her for a moment, finally asking something to divert attention from her question. “Why didn’t you pair up with Maria?”

“The teacher wouldn’t let me… Oh, her name, I mean, my partner name is Candace,” she said unhappily. “They don’t want you paired up with her, because she will be alone when you leave, and her dad made a fuss about her being alone last year,” Veronica said rolling her eyes impatiently. “But she doesn’t want company at all.”

“Huh,” I said, thinking fast of an excuse. “So… you are saying that it would be okay if I or Maria got to be Candace’s partner?” I asked, playing up the annoyance in my voice (I was a bit annoyed, but not enough for it to be a point). “That doesn’t sound very friendly of you.”

Veronica winced, but spoke strongly, “I am sorry, but you never met her… and you wouldn’t have to deal with her for long.” Veronica sighed and looked down. “Please? I am great in biology.”

I noticed how she was wearing a dragonfly necklace today. “It wouldn’t be fair for Maria…”

“If they wanted fairness, they wouldn’t make anyone sit with her,” Veronica said. By this time we’d started walking to our respective classes.

“What did she do to you?” I asked. Other than school absence, I wasn’t presented with any reason for such animosity.

“She didn’t do anything to me! Thank god!” Veronica said emphatically “I… know that California is more liberal, but Candace is… a lesbian,” she added cautiously, waiting for my reaction. I felt a shiver down my spine and my face was obviously uncomfortable. “Don’t look at me like that! It's just… She stares at people in the showers!” Veronica added the last part as a whisper, making a positively uncomfortable face.

I had nothing to add, to the situation, my mind was too busy thinking: Poor Candace! What can I do for her? Should I even do something? I can’t risk being out either! Plus staring in the showers? That is invitation for trouble!

My face was either very confused to decipher, or Veronica just decided to ignore it.

“She doesn’t show up at school often and… she fights,” Veronica added. We were in front of her classroom by now, but the bell hadn’t rung yet. “Punched Cole once… I just don’t want her to drag my grades. Think about it? I think I can convince Maria…”

“I will think about it,” I said, still highly uncomfortable, going to my own class.

I wish that I could say that Candace featured heavily in my thoughts, that I was deeply concerned with her and elaborated some kind of plan to help her.

That didn’t happen.

What did happen was that I was concerned for my safety and my person. Candace was just an obstacle and I rationalized that I couldn’t/shouldn’t do anything to reach out for her, because it was either pointless or dangerous. In other words, I didn’t care and deflected the issue to a corner of my mind where it wouldn’t make me feel bad.

Veronica didn’t bring up the subject again during lunch, Maria was at her side, and looked at her and me attentively, but neither said a word about it.

In biology I sat with Maria, and Veronica sat alone. Candace didn’t show up for that day.

Or the week

I uncomfortably told Sasha all of it, and he felt that it was okay, and that I should be safe above anything. I took this as another layer of justification to cover up the reasons to feel guilty.

So I went on, ignoring the absent girl almost completely until she showed up a week after classes started, and I had nearly forgotten about her.

Chapter 16: Remembering What Mom Said

Friday morning, before class, Cody stopped by again.

I was again in the front porch drinking milk. Cody approached me smiling.

"Did I do anything to offend you, yesterday?" I said, trying to sound neutral, but coming out aggressive.

Cody's smile broke, his mouth moved awkwardly like he was deciding to say something, until he finally said, "You know about my parents." He sounded embarrassed and resentful at same time.

"Yeah..." I said, surprised that this had anything to do with it, "the whole village does." Either that was the wrong thing to say, or an invisible attacker just stabbed Cody.

"I don't want to talk about them," he said. "You started to list witches... my father is one."

"I'm sorry."

Cody stepped forward, then back. I tilted my head and he answered my unspoken question.

"My mother... wanted me to befriend you," he said uneasily.

I nodded, not sure what else to do, then it occurred to me with an odd sadness, "But you don't want to be my friend."

"Oh, wait, it's just..." Cody said. "You look like a nice guy, but it's weird..."

"I am weird?" I asked, "or are you talking about your family?"

"I don't want to talk about my parents," Cody said exasperated but controlled.

"I'm sorry," I repeated but then added, "but you did say that before and immediately started talking about your mother."

"Yes," Cody said, conceding the point, "only because it was relevant to youm"

"You don't have a lot of friends in the village," I said calmly, "do you?"

Cody's face was confused, though not in an angry way. "I do have friends here, why would you say that?"

"I assumed..." I started, not sure if I should mention his family again, or his status as an extremely rare species, until I finally settled for. "Your mother told you to befriend me".

"I do have friends here," Cody said annoyed and almost resentful, "among the wolves. I don't have friends among the vampires." I didn't say anything so he continued. "My mom thinks it would help... spending time with her and dad, if I had more company. She is not even discreet about it."

"The vampires aren't nice company?" I asked. Then I added, "they never spoke to me, but I wasn't sure how much of it could be blamed on my delicious humanity."

"Well, to you, there is the fact that you are food, that's a big one, but you are..." Cody started and paused.

"Too immature?" Some were older than all of my friends and family combined.

"Yes, but... I was going to say inferior," Cody said, obviously using the last word out of necessity; and on finding it impolite, he elaborated. "I mean..."

"The whole set of vampire advantages, must be weird to keep friendships with people that can't remember every word that you ever said..."

"Or can't speak in ultrasonic speeds, or have multiple parallels conversations at same time," Cody completed. "Even I have a problem with that, actually. There is the problem with cultural differences, or whatever the proper term is. For example: I don't think that Benjamin ever heard or cared to watch one episode of Avatar." Cody walked and sat next to me.

"Didn't he get caught in the mind blast?" I asked.

"Not sure... Either way, it's not like I can go to any of them and strike a conversation that easily," Cody said. He didn't sound like he really cared about it. "Even if they did know what I was talking about. Plus they are busy".

"I see the problem," I said. "So your mom asked you to befriend the only possible future new vampire that is sort-of-your age... and I'm even going to stay with the Golden Coven because of Sasha." I blinked. "That sounds like a mighty awkward way to start a friendship."

"Yeah." Cody seemed pleased with my understanding.

"Well... thank you for your sincerity," I said, feeling like he was about to say goodbye and have a nice life

"I just feel... that you probably should have known," he said uneasily.

"Is it..." I started looking around, "one of those things that the entire village knows?"

"No," Cody said firmly, "not even my siblings, and well... that goes to the territory of my family again," he said uncomfortably, "and I don't want to drag other people into that."

"I understand," I said. He hadn't gotten up and left yet, and I was starting to get curious.

"Sorry for... talking about this with you," Cody said. "You probably have too much drama already."

"I wouldn't really call it drama," I said, shaking my head. Cody tilted his. "It's more like....well, it's weird, but rather calm."

We both stayed quiet.

"I said way more than I should have," Cody finally spoke. "Can we keep this a secret?"

"Well, okay," I said agreeably. "It's not like, I was going to tell anyone anyway."

"There is Sasha, aren't you using him as a journal?" Cody asked.

"Well, yes, but it's not like I can't keep secrets from him," I said, "though I don't think he would gossip around if I told him not to."

"I understand. Based on the little I have seen of him... he looks like the quiet type," Cody said. "Still, the door to his room is a little too thin, someone can accidentally eavesdrop."

That hit me like a bucket of cold water. "Did that happen?" I asked urgently. I hadn't discussed the really important journal entries with Sasha yet, but the possibility...

"Well, I don't think anyone actively tried to, I guess most would stay away from the place, if possible," Cody said uneasily. "But when your mom visited... I did hear what she said while you and your stepfather were waiting outside."

My uneasiness evaporated and I was now burning with curiosity. "What did you hear?" I said standing up. "Sasha won't tell me what they talked about."

"Are you sure you want to know?" he asked I nodded. "Well... how much do you know about your birth father?"

"He cheated on my mother, and I might have a little brother or sister," I said cold and bitterly. "I don't talk about him with her, for obvious reasons." Cody winced. "Please continue," I completed neutrally.

"She talked about how he wasn't there when you were born, and how she can't avoid thinking that he might have been with another woman... that their entire marriage was a big mistake. I am sorry."

"I will get over it," I said automatically. That hit me more deeply that I would have guessed... my poor mom, everything from her first marriage...

"There is more..." Cody continued carefully. "Do you want to know?"

I mumbled a "yes" or something that sounded like it.

Cody didn't say anything. I looked at him apprehensively. How bad it could be? "Just say it."

"Well, it's weird... and I didn't hear everything," Cody said frowning "She started saying that she wished that you were like your father."

That was confusing, that was beyond confusing. "What? Didn't you mishear it?"

"I don't think so, she put emphasis in 'were'. I am pretty sure that it wasn't 'weren't'..." Cody said nervously. "I wasn't trying to hear, but once I caught her voice it was hard to ignore."

"It's okay," I said, still confused, "but why in the world would my mom want me to be like my father?" I asked out loud without realizing.

"I don't know dude," Cody said in earnest, "I don't know."

I had a vague idea why, and it hurt deeply.

Cody stayed for breakfast. He invited himself and I didn't have the energy to care about whether he stayed or went away. I felt sick and confused, and couldn't stop thinking of the only explanation: that my mother wanted me to be straight. That she only faked acceptance (or changed her mind later). That if I was straight I would be in our new home in Ohio, with her and not mated on Sasha. That if I was straight my life would be normal andnon-vampire related.

That it would be better if I went around hurting women like my father did with my mother. She would prefer that, to homosexuality.

It was exactly what I'd always feared.

When I imagined coming out to her, the worse scenarios involved that. She would prefer me being a straight cheater to being gay. I stopped fearing that when I was nearly fifteen feeling it was ridiculous.

"Do you want this," I asked Cody over the barely eaten plate of eggs and bacon. "I'm not feeling hungry."

He accepted it and I gave the plate to him, regretting immediately because I didn't have anything to do but think or watch Cody eating.

"Why are you here?" I asked coldly but not aggressively.

Cody swallowed with some difficulty. "Do you want me to leave?"

I really didn't know the answer, so I said, "You said you were here only because your mother told you to."

"I never said only..." Cody said frowning. "It's just that it makes things more complicated. If Mom had never asked, I would have been friendly to you anyway, simply because you live next door."

"Hm," was all that I muttered, absorbing the information without caring much about it.

"This entire conversation got way more personal than I originally planned it to," Cody revealed uncomfortably.

"You could say that again," I said sarcastically.

"This entire conversation got way more personal than I originally planned it to," Cody repeated, and he suddenly raised his finger to his mouth in a "quiet" sign.

"Really better keep it a secret," I said before getting his meaning and seeing Embry's getting in the kitchen.

"Keeping what a secret?" Embry's voice was playful while he restrained a yawn. "The one of why your kids get up so early?"

"Good morning, Embry," Cody and I said automatically. I opened a smile on my face to appear casual.

Going to class in that mood wasn't a pleasant experience, but it was familiar. I masked myself with a less-than-teenage-angst-face for enough time that no one besides Cole noticed. He commented on it, and I just said that was feeling a bit homesick.

Veronica asked again to change lab partners, a quiet Maria at her side. I said yes, if only because Maria looked like she wouldn't bother me as much. Veronica wasn't a much bigger difference from Maria, except that she made notes more often. The day dragged on, but in retrospect it was uneventful.

I found myself at the door of Sasha's room too soon.

Being angry with Sasha for keeping their conversation a secret would be ridiculous. First of everything, I'd already forgiven Sasha for kidnapping, murder and messing with my head. Second it was my mother who'd spoken the words, not Sasha.

But Sasha kept the words secret from me. He didn't tell me, keeping me in the dark, while I had conversations with my mother daily. In retrospect, were those conversations any different? I'd never had to talk to her by the phone for so long. Could her voice sound the same, while her face gave different clues? Or would she be more cold and distant if we were talking in person?

I stared at the doorknob, untouched.

If I waited for Sasha, we would talk, I could pretend that I didn't know a thing, edit out the bit that Cody told me about the conversation. The problem was that I spent all day feeling bad about it. I would have to lie about the entire day.

Loss of information wasn't a problem. I was still using my computer journal, it had information that I couldn't quite tell Sasha, and thank god I never did. I should have known the privacy breaking potential of vampire senses (The Empress wasn't supposed to be a problem, unless I wanted to plot against The Golden Empire).

Sasha and I could write things and keep our privacy that way. I wasn't that much of a fan of super-heroes, but have hung around Richard and his equally nerdy friends to have heard enough of their speculations and "debates" on the silliest of topics.

I couldn't physically hurt Sasha, and no matter how much I emotionally hurt him and irrationally blamed him, he would forgive me eventually. I, however, wouldn't want to abuse of his... love that way, which would be a much nastier way to be like my father. If I did, I wouldn't want to forget, but neither would I be happy with the memory, so the best thing was to not give myself things to regret later.

The facts could be recovered later. Privacy wasn't an issue. Sasha would never stop loving me; I was there exactly because of that.

I would need to talk to him again, eventually, and sooner would be better than later, right? Solve problems now, not tomorrow.

I left to La Push.

I was exiting the tunnel when Sasha called. Unsure of how private the area was, I entered the auditorium.

It was huge, and all the chairs were folded in the sides, not a soul in sight. I gave myself a moment to think what to say and pressed the little green button.

"Sasha," I said neutrally.

"Tomas, I am sorry if I was too late-" Sasha said, his voice filled with uncertainty.

"I'm not going to talk to you today," I cut him off coldly. "I don't feel like it."

Sasha stayed quiet for a few seconds. "Why?" Exactly the question that I didn't want to answer.

"We will talk tomorrow," I said, knowing that he wouldn't question it, and he didn't.

"Tomorrow," was all that Sasha said and I didn't bother to say goodbye.

"The worst is that my mother never told me" I said when I found what Mom's was hiding from me "she knew that, but never told me."

"How do you... feel" Sasha said "toward her?"

"I... well," I said "the same... nothing really changed, I guess, even if... even if..."

I am not going to elaborate upon my angst.

I felt ridiculous about it.

"Suffering like this will do no good," I started to think after a while.

So I checked to see whether I was alone in the house. I was.

I breathed deeply, tried to calm myself; oddly, the memory of when they told me about everything came up. The situation had vague similarities (very vague), both dealing with some secret coming out, and at that time, Jasper's aura of artificial serenity was quite comforting, even if only remembered. I kept on breathing deeply and calmly.

I had an idea what I should do, because if just suffering wouldn't help, then I needed to do something, and the first step to solve any problem is to understand the problem that you have.

I called my mom.

"Tomas? Why are you calling at this time-?" My mother said, distracted. I almost could imagine her reading something while talking on the phone.

"Your last... visi," the term wasn't the best, but was close; I didn't try to conceal my misery, "when you talked to Sasha alone..."

"He told you," she quickly accused.

"No," I replied quickly to clarify, "but Cody was passing by the corridor and he heard it, he couldn't help it."

"I see..." she said. I really wished I could see her face now, over the phone her tone was impossible to read. "What did Cody hear exactly? What did he tell you?"

"He told you that you said that your first marriage was a mistake, but that you wished that I was like... dad," I said. We both stayed silent for nearly 30 seconds. "Mom?" I pledged.

"Tomas... it was out of context," she said quickly. "Was that all that he heard?"

"Yes..." I said, "but why would you want me to be like him, of all people?"

"It was out of context," my mom insisted, "and still part of my private conversation," she added, "that... that... he shouldn't go around hearing."

"He couldn't not help it," I said. Granted, Cody could probably have ended the conversation earlier, rather than hung around to small talk, specially with Charlie rushing him, but I chose not to disclose this opinion, "he just has super-hearing."

"Still, Tomas, is bad enough he could hear it, much worse that he would share it," my mother said indignant. "It's none of his business, and none of yours either!"

"I just want to understand! Why would you say that?" I said and then I blurted it out: "Is it because I am gay?" I held back a sob.

My mother was quiet for a full and long 10 seconds before saying honestly and confusedly, "What? Tomas, it... is.... It's not that. Why would you even think of that?"

I summarized how that was a fear that I used to have, until dismissing it as silly, and now feeling that the fear was revalidated. She heard and said strongly and soothingly, "I don't wish that you were straight, just that you would... I... What I said... I didn't mean it that way."

"So what did you mean?" I asked

"Personal," my mother hissed, but them added in a compassionate voice, "Don't... fret about it... I love you Tomas."

"Okay," I said, more because I didn't know what else to say, or to even what to think.

"You really thought it was that?" my mom asked a little bit dismissively.

"It wouldn't be unusual," I said, "even among parents that say that they are okay with it before finding out that they have gay kids, and you never really touched the subject."

"I am okay with it," my mom said. She hesitated for a moment before adding, "It was really out of the context, and you shouldn't poke around to find more. I always respected your boy's privacy."

That made me feel bad. "I am sorry," I said sheepishly.

"It's okay, Tomas," she said automatically.

We kept quiet for a long minute.

"Don't think that I don't want to talk to you," my mom finally said, "but I was busy organizing a few things."

"I understand... What are you doing?" I said trying to sound like the previous conversation didn't happen.

"Just organizing things," she said again dismissively.

"Okay..." I said. "How was your day?"

"I am really busy," she said. "Tomas, my dear, don't fret about it, okay?"

"Okay," I repeated.


"Goodbye, mom."

I shut off the phone, feeling a little bit puzzled, half-heartedly still wondering what the hell my mother meant with "me being like my father." But mostly, I felt ridiculous about my earlier angst.

Chapter 17: Remembering Setting Up The Trip

After talking with my mom, I did some homework until Brooke finally arrived; she had been helping tutoring the puppies and despite the gaps in her knowledge was feeling confident about it. It was easy to be happy for her, and kept me distracted. She told me that Embry went out, and wouldn't be back for the night. Brooke was feeling tired and didn't take long before wanting to go sleep.

I finished my homework, and was alone at Friday night.

I had no reason not to call Sasha right now.

I was in my bed and kept staring at the phone, almost dropping it when I got the message.

Of course, the phone number was from Sasha, but it wasn't him.

It was Adrianna.

The message was short.

"Hello love, can't wait" it was written in white-text against the black background of my phone.

It was quickly followed by another short message.

"Call me, I want your body"

To say that my jaw dropped and I was surprised it would be the understatement of the year, but I didn't have much time to deal with the confusion as a phone call from a phone number that I didn't have, that startled enough and made me drop the phone, but it fell on my mattress and I answered in just a couple of seconds. I answered confused and found out it was Jasper Whitlock, the guy who calmed me with magic.

Jasper... Sasha's boss, explained to me what had happened. Adrianna had grabbed Sasha's phone and managed to text me before someone kept hold of her, by the sounds in the background, people were still aren't quite in control of the situation, at some point there was laughter followed by a Spanish swear word.

Then Jasper passed the phone to Sasha.

Sasha and I formally informed each other about our status as "fine", and Sasha apologized for technically calling before he should... which made me feel oddly guilty.

I didn't want to share the reason of why, we haven't met that day, not when his coworker and other newborns could hear it all too well.

So I proposed that we should find a more secluded place to go, to talk something "important", after a short discussion, we settled for going to Port Angeles. I needed new clothes; Sasha needed a new cell phone. It was rather convenient so we agreed to it.

I took a whole hour to realize how much the entire thing sounded like a date.

Of course I woke up early. In fact I was starting to like it the peace of the early hours so much that I decided to keep the early schedule.

Again, I saw Cody, but Luke was there too.

They are sitting in the Clearwater's porch. They saw me and waved to come closer. I didn't recognize Luke, he was human shaped, until I saw the Mohawk and made the connection (though his Mohawk wasn't dyed).

Luke was thinner than the average wolf, but was larger than me or Cody, already looked almost a decade above his actual age. His Mohawk wasn't big, just a straight line of hair in his otherwise shaved head, just a couple of inches long. I wondered if wolves hair grew faster, it sounded just like the thing it would fit them.

"Hey, Cody" I said and turning to the wolf "Luke?"

That made him smile and pass his hand over his Mohawk "Nice to meet you now that I have a human face"

Cody said "Hey again, we probably should start the early bird club" there didn't seem to be any traces of yesterday conversation in his face, he probably deemed that it wasn't something to talk about in front of Luke, I could only agree with him.

"Heh" I said taking the chair next to Cody "Do you always wake up this early?"

"Oh, no, just have flexible hours" Luke said.

"Meaning that Luke doesn't care when he sleeps or wakes up" Cody said dismissively.

"You are just jealous" Luke said smirking "I don't hibernate everyday like you do"

"Or go to school" I pointed out.

"Yeah" Luke said resting his hands behind his head "The sweet life of the teen werewolf, no trouble until I am eighteen"

"Or you find your imprint" Cody said with a disapproving gaze that was somehow uncharacteristic in his face, Luke rolled his eyes.

"Cody here" Luke said at me, but pointing at Cody "wants to join the Order of The Boring Wolf Monks like his brother"

"I assume" I said to Cody "that isn't a real thing, and you are going to explain me what he is talking about?"

"We are talking about imprinting" Luke said.

"Luke here doesn't want to" Cody said.

"It messes with your head!" Luke answered obviously alarmed.

"Well... for what I understand how it works" I said "sounds something very reasonable to be afraid"

"It is" Cody said "except, Luke the bachelor here isn't afraid of it at all"

Luke smiled quite pleased with that statement. I asked "How so?"

"I don't want to hide in the village forever" Luke clarified "That is pretty much the best way for me not imprinting"

"Luke here wants to enjoy his life like a party" Cody said derisively "you might not notice, but he doesn't quite grasp the fine concepts of responsibility"

"Cody here wants me to go the arranged marriage parties that his sister invented" Luke said, and probably reading the confusion in my face he asked "You don't know about it?"

"You lost me at arranged marriage" I said

Cody answered "Leah had the idea. You know what happened to her and Sam?" I nodded "So you know how much drama can come from imprinting. After we set up here, there was another imprinting, Sydney, Zachary imprinted on her"

"I don't believe we met" I didn't really got to know most of the tribe, but it was reasonable easy to remember each imprinting, they stood out on the grounds of not always being Native-American nor super-strong. I knew who Zachary was, from a distance, but never saw him gazing anybody like the other wolves do.

"You didn't" Luke said gravely "She doesn't live here"

"She doesn't?" I asked.

"She doesn't want magical-wolf-love" Luke said his tone the odd mix of disapproval and solidarity "Didn't even give Zach a chance to try winning her heart"

"Ouch, how he is doing?" I said, knowing that it couldn't be good.

"Still swooning after Sydney, and focusing on how being apart makes her happy" Luke said making the face of someone who ate mud.

"And this happened at an arranged marriage party?" I asked.

"No" Luke said sarcastically "the parties are Leah's brilliant solution"

"It is a good idea" Cody said defensively "It isn't a party" he clarified "Leah got the idea that imprinting can be problematic, but we could do it in controlled circumstances"

"Huh, keep going" I said, Luke laidback in his chair.

"It isn't very complicated" Cody said "We take the wolf without an imprint, accompanied by at least two other wolves"

"Two other safe wolves" Luke interrupted "wolves that already imprinted or are girls"

"I was going to explain that" Cody said impatiently "either way, we take the wolf to the Makah reservation and the basic idea is for the single wolf to see several women until he imprints, that way the other two can help manage the whole disclosure business, without being one huge surprise to everybody here, or to reduce the chances that the wolf to phase in public or anything that bad"

"Sounds reasonable" I said, Luke scoffed "You don't like that? Can't Becky order you to do it?" I asked both of them looked somehow offended by that "what?"

"I don't want to imprint, at all" Luke said, playing with his hair "Becky sometimes is bossy, but is not like she is... enough to not force anyone to chain themselves to a woman"

"Okay... sorry" I apologized "but if you aren't forced to go through it"

"Becky doesn't force the imprinting" Luke said "But any single wolf can only go out of the village if they are accompanied with someone safe. She alpha-voiced that"

"Luke was here..." Cody said "complaining about that, and before you arrived, I was talking about how it would be better if he didn't go out at all".

"I was about to say that, I not going to hide in this village and one day imprint without ever really enjoying life" Luke said "Carpe diem and stuff, you know"

"Very deep" I said sarcastically "I see your point"

Our stomachs growled and we went to the cafeteria to fix that. Cody explained more about his sister idea, they didn't started with random Makah villagers, rather they first tried volunteers, failing that (and all did so far), they moved to girls related with people in the know, when those failed too they went to other women. They purposefully avoided any girl below sixteen, married or informed women that didn't like the idea.

"They are considering adding Forks in the search area" Cody said after opening the kitchens door "Leah doesn't like the idea, neither does Becky, but she thinks it would be safer"

"I guess they are both right..." I said going to the fridge "does anyone there know about the wolves? Or everything else?"

"Not anymore" Luke said he seemed oddly amused "Thea's parents moved out, after she told everything, they are Sydney parents too, they are sisters"

"I guess they would have told me if there was anyone in town that knew" I speculated rather than comment that I could deduce that the two imprints are sisters by myself "if only as a trivial fact".

There was more exchange of information about Sydney and Thea Singer, Luke commented how he was angrier with Sydney before his own phasing. She was still a "bitch", but he definitely felt more sympathetic to her, especially because of how much of the sisters family life was shared via telepathy, apparently Mister Singer was mildly racist six years ago, thinking that his daughter died in a fire with a native American boyfriend didn't improved his attitudes at all, and "poor Sydney" had to deal with that during all that time, while thinking that her sister was dead too.

Then Thea came back from the dead, married and with a child, and snipped away from her family, except the relationship with her sister, who Thea decided to artificially rebuild. Mister Singer reaction wasn't nice (neither Luke nor Cody elaborated further), luckily Sydney already was in college by that point and didn't need to deal with that part of drama. Their parents moved out of Forks as fast as they could.

However, Thea invited her sister to the village to meet her nephew, causing Zachary to see her and thereby imprinting on her, the subsequent drama inspired Leah to come up with her solution. They both made a point of saying that Sydney wasn't racist, in fact, she was the reason Thea wasn't racist like their parents, Sydney was the "follow the scientific facts" kind of person, and racism goes against scientific facts.

"In the future" Cody said "when the masquerade is off, their plan is to select imprint candidates. Picking the ones that are more... compatible with the idea"

"To avoid new Sydneys" Luke said bitterly, by this point we already had finished cooking and were eating.

"I gather that she wouldn't be the role model of imprint candidate" I said.

"You might compare her with Adrianna" Cody said, he already finished his eggs, super-fast and was listening "at least in terms of sympathy"

"Who is Adrianna?" Luke asked.

"She is the Spanish newborn" I answered feeling somewhat uncomfortable. I remembered her message all too well.

"Oh, the mini-hulk!" Luke said "good thing that we can't imprint on vampires, I don't want to imagine what that would be like"

"She keeps Sasha very busy" I said, wanting to change the topic but not finding an opportunity. "the other handlers don't like her at all"

"And Sasha does?" Cody asked incredulous.

"I think he manages to tolerate her" I said "I doubt that he really likes her... especially after last night. She took his phone and texted me, pretending that she was him"

"That is improvement over biting or trying to dismember people" Cody said thoughtful "what did she wrote?"

"Oh" I said, noticing that the conversation drifting back to the topic and hoping that I was not blushing. "nothing important"

"Surprising that she just didn't crush the thing with her mini-hulk super-fingers" Cody said.

"It did got destroyed later on" I said "Not sure how it happened"

"She probably got angry because the phone was bigger than her entire head, and she used her mini-super-hulk-fingers to destroy it" Luke said mimicking the act of crushing something with both hands "Mini-hulk smash!" My lips quirked up at that.

Luke took the last bite of his bacon, and I was already finishing mine, he looked satisfied (considering how much he ate, that was unsurprising) but sighed sadly.

"Any problem?" I asked.

"Boredom anticipation" Luke said "don't have anything to do today"

"He was hoping to go out and try to seduce some girl with his new looks" Cody said smirking.

"It would be so easy" Luke said smirking "but now I would happy to go anywhere"

"Well... Tomas" Cody said to me "you could play something with us. I don't think you know the game room"

"You pointed it out when I first came here" I said "but I never walked in"

"Cody said that you are avoiding people looking at you" Luke said I shot a look at Cody "Well, sorry about them, is not the like we get human mates to live with us all the time"

"Huh, Okay, thanks" I said "I would like to join, though, I am going to Port Angeles with Sasha" that made Luke's face change from boredom to hope and disappointment "what?"

"I was going to ask you to come with you" Luke said shrugging his shoulders.

"Doesn't like vampires?" I asked raising an eyebrow, the whole vampire vs. werewolf thing was getting silly, never understood it, even in movies.

"No" Luke said "I don't even mind their smell or anything"

"So?" I asked.

Luke raised an eyebrow matching my own "I don't think you want me there" he said

"He thinks you two are going in a date" Cody said poking my arm.

My eyes went wide, and I said "I am just going to buy some clothes and Sasha is going to buy a new phone, because you know" I mimicked Luke crushing with hands in "mini-hulk" style movement. It was partially true.

"Huh" Luke said, mildly skeptical "So can I come? I need buy clothes for my new muscles"

In my haste to make sure that Luke didn't thought it was a date, it didn't occur to me that there was nothing wrong if he thought that, and that a date was a perfect excuse for him not to come, especially because I did not anyone to come. I was trying to come up with a way that would dismiss him: saying that I wanted to spend sometime alone with Sasha (and away from super-sensorial people) without motivations would sound like I was lying before; or that I didn't like the company of wolves; or Luke in particular; telling that I had serious things to discuss with Sasha, was already too much information to share with the entire tribe; telling anything more wasn't acceptable.

Cody came up with his own solution and I barely refrained from trying to hit him for it.

"I could come too" Cody said.

"What?" I asked, probably sounding way too alarmed than I should.

"I was planning to go there and choose something for my birthday present for my parents giving to me" Cody said uncomfortable looking away.

"It is the 7th, Cody will be whole seven years" Luke said playfully "we are throwing a beach party"

"You are invited" Cody said smiling sincerely "though it will be a Monday and we are going to start early"

"So you won't fall asleep in the middle of it?" I asked.

"Exactly" Cody said "Either way, Luke and I can go find my present, while you and Sasha take care of your business"

"Sweet!" Luke said, but then tilted his head "Okay then?"

I thought for a second "Sure..." I answered.

"You should ask Becky if it is okay" Cody said.

"Okay" Luke said excited in that moment I could actually could see he was thirteen "I will be right back" he got up and ran away.

Chapter 18: Remembering Being In The Changing Booth Alone With Sasha

Sasha remembered far too well each time he had glanced at a picture, watched a ballet production, or even smelled the flowers in a garden.

Sasha could also remember each time he had fed with flawless clarity.

He wished to be able to wonder what sin he had commited to deserve any hardship encountered during his life. When in fact, his life had been overall quite comfortable.

But he had spent twenty four decades engaging in quite a lot of wrongdoing, living - no, not living, merely surviving in the fringes much like an animal. Feeding like animal. Despite all of his appreciation of fine art, Sasha never felt much above an animal, nothing more than the caricature of a person pretending to be one.

Then he saw Tomas, and life gained a focal point, obtained a meaning, a goal: Sasha had to stay with him, be with him, love him, and be loved back.

For a moment, he thinks how easier "being loved back" would have been if the Golden Coven hadn't... and then Sasha abruptly stops himself from following that train of thought, hating that he even wished to have Tomas go through that hellish fire of turning, especially against his own will.

The months until Tomas transformation would be more than worth it the wait... but there were moments when Sasha feared that Tomas would change his mind, like humans are often prone to, their emotions not as permanent as those vampires experience, particularly once mated. It can takes months or even years for a human being to construct the strongest kinds of love, and even then it did not compare to the vampire mating bond. But Sasha would be exceedingly delighted with any measure of affection Tomas could muster toward him.

When he finds himself just a dash too late and sees an empty room where Tomas should have been waiting, he is at first concerned and dials his cell phone as fast as his fingers can without breaking the fragile device.

Tomas interrupts him and, with a frosty voice, informs him that they aren't going to see each other today, and Sasha feels doubt and fear creep up and wash over him. He knows very well that he deserves such pain for his actions when he met Tomas, but it doesn't mean that he wants to feel it, and above all, Sasha ask himself not what he did wrong, but what he did that caused this particular event.

Sasha considers distracting himself with art for 1/4 of a second; he then decides to go back to work rather than deal with his creativity.

Sasha's imagination wasn't inclined to create pleasant thoughts.

Getting mauled or dismembered sounds just like the perfect way to distract him. Sasha even speculates that the potential pain might be worse than the concern growing in his heart, but on second thought that would be absurd. Nothing could hurt worse than rejection from one's mate.

Sasha lets his face harden to avoid showing emotion and runs back to the newborn quarters. It was exactly as he left.

Which meant severely damaged by Adrianna's continuous and relentless efforts to dig her way out of the place. She went far earlier, managing to reach the tunnel that connects the quarters with the blood dispensing machines. They had to take Adrianna's feet after that.

There isn't any relief from anyone when they see Sasha coming. Even without Jasper's power, Sasha is savvy enough in reading the emotions of others written on their faces to detect the confusion they are quick to mask.

Of course, Mister Whitlock is the only one there that can tell Sasha's emotions from far away, so there is no surprise when the blond leonine vampire moves fast to stand before him, or maybe stand in his way.

"Mister Whitlock," Sasha said formally, "I would like to go back to work."

Sasha is mildly surprised with the calm pouring in the air, trying to wrap around him like a blanket. Mister Whitlock's presence is usually accompanied by that aura, but Sasha feels something of a push in his direction, even before his superior starts to talk.

"Are you sure?" Mister Whitlock asks.

"I am," Sasha says. "My mate is busy, and it would be nice to have a distraction."

Sasha does his best to ignore some of the chatter. It isn't important anyway; when you are dealing with newborns you can't ever let your guard down.

What is surprising is to find Adrianna being crushed on all sides by stone and earth, leaving only her head out. She hisses and her hair hangs upside from the position where her stone prison dangles in the air. Had Sasha been in a better mood he might have given a minute smile.

Sasha could identify the vampire magically holding Adrianna, if not by face, at least by the baldness that the witches from the dungeon share.

"Hello. I am Benjamin," the man says with a broad smile. "Can you... hold her still while fix the place?"

"Of course," Sasha says politely, but without smiling.

"So," Benjamin asks, still smiling. "Your mate is busy? With what?"

Sasha tries to ignore the chatter in the background, but can't ignore Adrianna's disdainful laughter.

Sasha really feels that Tomas' wishes need to be respect. He really does.

So it is more than a little annoying when Adrianna steals his cell phone to send messages to Tomas. Sasha hits her with uncharacteristic delight.

What ends up being absolutely annoying is everyone listening to his conversation with Tomas, making remarks when Tomas says that he wants to talk privately.

"Take him to a meadow!" says a young teenage newborn, turned because of her brain damage, "and show him how much you sparkle-" Obviously even venom could not fix everything.

"Don't bother him," Benjamin said defensively from the wall he was fixing on.

"Just take him to Port Angeles," Jasper said in ultrasonic, "but not further."

"Take him to a nice romantic dinner," Adrianna said sarcastically before being interrupted by Sasha's hissing, which surprised many, since he rarely made any non-human noises, a habit he had developed after meeting Tomas, in an effort not to frighten him.

The newborns quarters are, put together, the size of a stadium and probably way bigger than they needed to be. However, vampire hearing made it look like everyone was in the same small room. Ignoring the more ridiculous suggestions of what would be private enough and trying not to hiss again, Sasha agreed with Tomas about going to Port Angeles.

He knows very well that he isn't supposed to look in Tomas' journals, and he doesn't actually read them, but with vampire vision, perfect memory and the time consuming delicate handling of the things to fix water damage... it is enough to see more than Sasha should see.

And enough to pain him; several passages especially so:

"Sat alone in the cafeteria today, Gabe wasn't at school..."

"Neither Rita or Louis are answering my calls..." And after another water stain, "he must have told them about the fight."

"It's been three months since I've done anything with my friends. I don't deserve them."

There was a stain over "deserve," which, by the size and shape, Sasha guessed wasn't caused by water.

Sasha was happy that Tomas agreed to go with Port Angeles with him, even if they were to be accompanied by werewolves.

What he couldn't understand was why he asked them to come along. Tomas had said that he wanted somewhere private to talk; maybe he was bringing the wolves to feel safe?

Sasha runs as fast as he can, and crosses the path between Forks and Port Angeles in the shortest route possible. He goes barefoot to avoid damaging his shoes, and is too fast for anyone human to see. He arrives in their meeting point an hour too soon.

It gives him a lot of time to think.

Tomas and the werewolves finally arrive.

Tomas looks amazing. He hoped never to forget how beautiful Tomas was, the joy that arose when he saw him again never lost strength, even when Tomas got out of car and gave a small awkward smile.

There are introductions, and a part of Sasha's mind was aware that he should make eye contact with the others as manners dictate; at the same time another part, a bit more primal, was very much aware that those creatures are his enemies. That part fairly easy to ignore if Sasha pays attention to Tomas' eyes, though.

Tomas eyes looked uneasy and tense glancing at the wolves with embarrassment. Sasha was introduced to them with formality. Other than Luke and the hybrid Cody Clearwater, two werewolf girls had come with them, Ashleigh Burr (who Sasha had initially mistaken for Tomas' much spoken about but never seen roommate Brooke) and Cody's sister, Leah Clearwater (who curiously just waved from a distance rather than shaking his hand like the others). Apologetically, Tomas explained that they heard about the trip to Port Angeles and decided to hop into too.

It was subtle, but Tomas had an edge of annoyance when he explained that, which Sasha found somehow soothing. Leah stayed behind for a haircut and the rest of the group continued for clothes shopping.

Sasha wondered when, if at all, he and Tomas would have time to talk by themselves.

Between two gay guys, two straight guys and one girl (or two gay guys and three "children" depending on the way you counted and how much regard you had for the loopholes and hidden clauses in Golden Coven law on the subject of activated werewolves and fully physically grown hybrids), it could be expected that someone would be bored when the group was shopping for clothes.

However, it is mildly amusing to find out that the answer was "Everyone is bored because Luke can't decide on a single thing to buy and is trying everything in the store" while the others want to go to another place.

Sasha isn't even close to being mildly amused, though; he finds controlling his instincts around the wolves for so long to be quite easy. Tomas being there helped, buying his own clothes but being less meticulous in his choice of apparel. From what Sasha could observe, the clothes are mainly being chosen for the sake of being warm. After finishing choosing his own clothes, Tomas sits down with Ashleigh as Cody badgers Luke to settle for something.

What does not help is being closely observed by one of the shop assistants. He is used to excessive attention, but the girl doesn't stop staring, like she has never seen a good-looking person before. Her nametag says "Alex," a variation of his own name, Alec's too.

The assistant took notice of Sasha's mud covered pants and suggested for him to buy a pair of new ones. That was sensible enough and he had assumed that it was all it would take for the constant staring to go away.

No such luck, and Sasha is getting uncomfortable, and it's not even because the assistant was... well, Sasha at first assumed she was a fat young man with lipstick. Not that Sasha would be rude enough to comment about it, but that much staring would make anyone uncomfortable coming from anyone but Tomas. At the very least, she was being helpful to the rest of the group, bringing clothes as asked, and Luke was asking for a lot.

"Are you being paid for being..." Ashleigh asks Tomas while inspecting a hat that she wanted to buy, "you know," she adds looking at Sasha's direction.

Tomas raises one eyebrow and almost looks at Sasha. "I have an allowance," he answers, "from the..." He pauses because the salesgirl is coming again, bringing a dark-red t-shirt for Luke.

"Golden Empire," Ashleigh completes for him. Apparently, the term was innocuous enough to her. And the salesperson would most likely regard it as a reference to a videogame or something equally innocent. Alec had mentioned that tendency of uninformed humans when they met by the blood dispensers earlier that day and chatted a bit while Alec raised an eyebrow at his voracious consumption. But then Alec had over a year to get adjusted. And losing control was not as terrifying a prospect to him as it was to Sasha.

"Yes, but it's more damage reparation kind of money," Tomas says, scrunching his eyebrows. "Probably some hush money?"

"I see," Ashleigh says thoughtfully. "I guess it's similar to the... women," she adds, as the salesgirl comes into view.

Just as expected she is staring at Sasha and offers another pair of jeans on sale too. He decides to take up the offer and goes with her, his hearing still focused on Tomas.

"I wonder," Tomas says when the two get far enough, "if I going to get that much attention when I turn. What were you saying?"

"I was going to say imprints, and you are close enough in situation... I guess," she clarifies. "Don't comment this with the other wolves," she adds seriously.

"Okay," Tomas says agreeably enough.

Sasha guesses that the comparison would be offensive to the werewolves in many levels.

Especially because Sasha is mildly offended himself.

Then Cody approaches him.

Months later I look around the fancy store and think how I would never have thought of myself in Russia, much less with a rich woman, helping her out with her shopping.

"This dress is beautiful, Renée," I said about her latest option; not a lie, even if out of enthusiasm.

Sasha just stood quiet, looking watchful, the perfect bodyguard. Then I whispered, quietly, so Renée wouldn't hear, "At least this isn't that day in Port Angeles."

"Hey" Cody said startling me "Sasha wants you to give your opinion on his new jeans" he was standing by my side.

"What? Huh, I am not good at all with..." I started.

"Just go help him" He said impatiently grabbing my shoulder and pulling (damn he was strong) me up from my seat.

"Fine" I said raising one eyebrow, and going to find Sasha at same time Luke was coming to see what we thought of the t-shirt he was trying on.

The changing room was a small and not very well lit corridor and Sasha was waiting for me in the last booth. His face was very expectant. Angel analogies popped up again in my thoughts, even thought I couldn't recall imagining an angel with quite that expression. Angels don't usually want something that is right in front of them.

Completely irrationally, I blushed.

I went inside the booth, closing the curtain behind me. Sasha had already changed his jeans who are really tight (and I forced my eyes up), he gave me a cell-phone, and I recognized that it was Cody's.

In the screen it was written:

"Cody's idea, he knows you want privacy, so you can tell me why we came here. You can mime writing in the air with your finger, and I can reply here. It will keep it private from even Cody. I can hear if anyone approaches and stop them, if necessary. you don't have to do anything you don't want to."

I stared at the screen, that was quite clever, but being in a changing booth with Sasha alone seemed rather... suspicious, but I already went inside... anyway.

I "wrote" in the air, hoping not to blotch the unseen letters.

"Sorry" I started slowly, and lighting fast, Sasha already answered "Don't be upset, Tomas".

"Sorry" I repeated the same hand movements "I didn't want to upset you" his expression improved marginally "I was" I paused, it was too complicated to explain this way "it was because of the talk with my mother" my hand went in the air fast, and I was sure that at least some vowels were most likely unclear.

Sasha typed "I can not talk about that, Tomas" he typed.

"WHY?" I mimed, my hand waving a huge "?" in the air. Sasha just pointed at the phone, again the same message as before.

He then made a surprised face and wrote "Luke thinks we are kissing. Cody reminded him that I can hear everything he says. Luke says sorry"

"Ok" I wrote and was thinking in explaining what I already knew, but Sasha stopped my hand in the air.

"Salesgirl is here" he whispered with urgency "probably heard Luke, be quiet" he gave Cody's cell phone.

I pressed myself to one side of the booth, while he walked out and said that was going to buy the thing, the girl didn't ask where I was, so maybe she didn't heard whatever Luke said. I listened, he said "...we won't comeback and try another..." which might be a restriction, however I wasn't sure (he couldn't restrict more than one person with the same spoken sentence, but didn't specify how that works when speaking using "we" in the sentence)

I waited a little longer, and Cody, opened the curtain abruptly, looking apologetic. I gave his cell phone back and whispered "thank you".

The two wolves were seated, Luke in the one chair I was using.

Luke's face was the mix of repressed laughter and what I assumed was incredulity.

Ashleigh's face was the mix of repressed laughter and... embarrassment.

Cody's face was weird, like he couldn't decide to be embarrassed or not.

Just great. Between the two of them, the entire wolf population was going to "know" that I was with Sasha in the changing room, alone.

I shuddered at the thought of that, and impulsively decided to at least try to clarify a few things.

"Whatever are you are thinking, don't," I said. "I was just trying to talk to Sasha privately."

"I didn't hear talking," Luke said chuckling slightly.

"I did," Cody assured. "Hybrid ears," he said, pointing at his right hear, giving the impression that he heard something and the wolves didn't. I needed to buy him a nice birthday present.

"Okay, sorry," Ashleigh said, getting up. "Want the seat?"

"No," I said. "Can't we go somewhere?"

"I..." Ashleigh said, "I'm going to try a few more things after all."

I sighed.

"Maybe you two could go buy Sasha's phone?" Cody asked.

We had agreed that Sasha would buy it during lunch, so the wolves could eat without gagging on his smell, but it seemed like a better opportunity to talk than waiting longer.

"Sounds good," I said. "Call me when you decide to have lunch and we 'll meet up."

"Perfect," Cody said.

"See you guys later," I said as I turned around to find Sasha.

Sasha had just finished paying and was waiting me by the cashiers in the first floor. I didn't doubt for a second that he had heard the conversation, and doubted even less that he was for the idea. He just looked at me a little less expectant than before.

"Sasha, can you stare at me less?" I decided to ask whispering. We should be out of both Cody's and the werewolves range.

Sasha nodded. I paid for my things and we got out of the store, by a lateral entrance, not the one that we walked in.

"Do you... want to continue our conversation?" Sasha asked hesitantly. "Or do you want to buy the phone first?"

I pondered. "Are you going to tell me about your conversation with my mother?"

Sasha paused for a second, and shook his head.

I thought that maybe he would change his mind if I told him what I already knew, but we should find a better place than the street.

We were reaching the corner when one of the coincidences of the day happened.

"Tomas," I heard a familiar voice calling and turned ninety degrees to my left.

"Veronica?" I asked surprised and twisted my face between a smile and a skeptical frown.

Veronica was crossing the street, being followed by Maria and four other friends. Two of them were girls that I'd never met before, and that looked older than her; there was also a white girl that I hadn't talked to before but recognized barely; and the last one was a black girl from my school, but an year older. I recalled that her name was Lexi and she was somehow close to Cole. Maria and Lexi were behind the others carrying a bunch of shopping bags. It seemed curious that they were the only ones that had bought anything.

Veronica was wearing a t-shirt with the words, "Praying mantis dating style," and the outline of one pink praying mantis.

"Did you two just raid the place?" said the one closer to Veronica, who I now noticed looked similar to her. She was pointing at the shopping bags each of us carried. Sasha had grabbed most of them while I was saying bye to Cody and the others.

Veronica had been staring at Sasha while the girl talked (for too long, even if it was Sasha who she was staring at). If I did not know any better I would have thought that she was mating on him. More likely, she was getting a serious crush. "He is from California and doesn't have winter clothes," she said still vaguely entranced.

"I am Sasha," the vampire said cordially, but I suspected he just wasn't comfortable with the attention.

"Sorry," I said, minding my manners. "This is my friend Aleksandr Baratov, who prefers being called Sasha."

"I am Veronica," said the girl, breaking her eye contact and introducing herself before I did. "This is my sister Vanessa."

After a short round of introductions later in which I was informed that the other girls were Holly and Bev, Veronica and I talked for a bit.

"You don't study with them?" Bev asked while Veronica and I talked about Government.

"I don't," Sasha said uninterested but politely. "I work at the Golden Spa."

"Oh!" Lexi said eyes wide. "How is it there? Lots famous people? I hear-"

"It is private," Sasha interrupted her quickly. "I am contractually prohibited to talk."

"Not even-" Bev began.

"Nothing," Sasha said firmly.

"Huh," Vanessa said. "You forgot to take the price tag off," she added playfully pointed at Sasha's jeans.

I looked and indeed he had forgotten, but he soon snapped it with a hand and was about to toss it in a nearby trashcan. I was slightly startled at the show of casual strength. Most people are not able to do that without the aid of a cutting instrument or the use of both hands. But the girls of course did not notice. Maybe I should stop being so paranoid.

"Wait." Holly said, "let me see that again." Sasha handed it over to her. "Cheap," she said in a tone that didn't seem to be approving or disapproving. I guess with his looks it would not matter much.

Soon the girls were waving goodbye. Veronica was about to say something, when she tripped and was caught by Sasha almost too fast for me to process what happened, until he was already helping her to stand upright.

"Thanks," Veronica said, blushing. "Goodbye."

I rolled my eyes.

"Do you get stared at often?" I asked when the girls got far away enough.

"I suppose," he said speculative. "I can tell that most people do find me attractive." Ge then looked at me and asked, his voice full of insecurity. "Do you...?" he started and shook his head. "Don't answer... I mean! I am not using my power," he added quickly.

"You are very..." I started feeling my face getting red. "Why do you ask?"

Sasha paused for a couple of seconds and answered, "When we met, the very first time, you didn't want to be around me."

I blinked. "You were a stranger and I was in an unfamiliar place," I said. "Ironically the fact that you are so... beautiful didn't work out well for you. It made me suspicious of why would you want to hang out with me in the first place."

"It did?" Sasha asked genuinely dumbfounded to my surprise.

"Yeah," I said, uncomfortably rubbing my neck. "I keep thinking of the word 'angel' to describe you."

"You never said it before," Sasha said, now preoccupied.

"I never did?" I asked knowing it was true.

I was pretty sure that I had at least written it down, but Sasha was safer than any form of writing. I really ought to start being more open about this kind of things.

However, remembering things correctly, no matter how important it was, it wasn't the reason I wanted to talk privately with Sasha.

"You are very beautiful, Tomas," Sasha said in a quiet voice.

Actually being able to say what he thinks is much more relieving for Sasha than he could have ever imagined. Lately it's like words had the need to be said, as if they want to be spoken.

Even as Tomas blushes, Sasha's captures a small twist in the corner of his mouth, a smile that he tries to hide or maybe one that is interrupted by another thought.

In the slow fractions of seconds that takes for Tomas to say something, Sasha ponders.

He hurt Tomas so much, and doesn't want to hurt him again.

It isn't a matter of what Mary had said, but what she hadn't said. What Sasha could have figured out that she was hiding.

To her kids, Tomas' dad was known to have cheated Mary with a woman.

But in the middle of the emotional conversation, he noticed that Mary said, "would rather have all those women..."

Tomas' father was worse than Mary had told them, and this knowledge would really hurt Tomas, and while Sasha was a man that kept his word, the mere fact that he could utter another word that could hurt the gift that fate had given him... that isn't something that Sasha wants to ever consider. Tomas is supposed to be safe and happy. Maybe someday Mary will come forth with the truth.

Until then Sasha will do his best to protect Tomas.

"Sasha," I decided to say at once, rather than going back to the pointless topic of our appearances, "Cody overheard the talk between you and my mother and told me."

I knew Sasha well enough that I was sure that he wouldn't try anything violent or stupid.

So I was surprised when he looked back down the street (where the girls had just walked inside the clothing store) and then was gone.

Chapter 19: Remembering How Sasha Got A Date

I wasn't sure how long it took me to realize Sasha's absence, because I wasn't sure when he did leave in first place. It was like he'd teleported.

My legs decided not to work and I looked around to see if anyone was curious to know how a guy disappeared like that.

"Sasha might hurt Cody," I thought. I finally regained mobility and raced to the store, probably breaking some personal speed record. I only barely noticed Bev's in the corner of the eye and was up in the above floor.

I was sort of expecting to find Sasha chomping down Cody's neck, maybe with the two wolves trying to kill him.

What I found was the four... non-humans near the place where I left them, talking. They noticed my arrival and three of them (Sasha's back was turned to my direction) had bemused faces.

There was no sign of fight.

"What the hell?" I more claimed than asked, confused all over.

Sasha turned to me and blinked. "Sorry for scaring you," he said. "I just remembered..." he said pointing at Luke, "that he could imprint on your classmates".

I processed this information; it felt like diving into icy cold water. I looked back at the stairs, as if a monstrous Veronica could pop-up any second and try to eat my head.

I swore quietly under my breath

"It isn't a big deal," Luke scoffed. "What if it's one of Tomas's friends? Better than a stranger."

"None of them are..." Sasha started looking at me. I didn't show any signs of disapproval, so he concluded, "really friends of Tomas. He would prefer not to spend the next months studying with someone that knows."

I thought fast about Candace and how I might never see her because of the school attitude towards her (I was so wrong). Luke couldn't be trusted to keep secrets from his imprint. Veronica, Maria and Holly were all a minors, maybe Lexi too. Imprinting on any of my classmates was just such a recipe for drama. However maybe we could use Sasha to make her quiet...

I had the idea, and blurted it out loud before thinking twice.

"Pretend that you are interested in Veronica," I said to Sasha.

The four of them stared at me, as if I had spoken ancient Greek or some other gibberish. Sasha tilted his head, as if that would improve his hearing, so I took a big breath and tried to explain as fast as I could.

"Sasha can distract Veronica and the other girls, while we sneak out from the store," I said. "Wnless you have a better plan?"

"Sasha here wanted to restrict Luke," Ashleigh said, "stopping him from opening his eyes."

"Because that wouldn't have called attention," Luke said sarcastically.

"It wasn't the best idea, but we could still use it," Cody said, "minus the magical part."

"I think," I said, "that Sasha should go there, now." And I turned to face Sasha, who still had the same expression. "Huh, what's wrong?"

"Are you serious?" Sasha asked nervously. "I would never..."

"Just do it. Please? For me," I said, trying to appeal to the mate bond nature. We didn't have much time. "Just distract her for now, it's not like I want you to marry her. We can make up excuses for you later."

"Fine," Sasha said painfully and after a pause asked, "Can I use my magic on her?"

"Avoid it," I said uncomfortably, "but if it's necessary..." Ashleigh and Luke stared at me disapprovingly but didn't protest.

Sasha agreed silently and then said, "Oh, Luke, don't hurt Tomas," before passing by me to climb down the stairs. He looked at me unsure and I tried to smile encouragingly, either way he went down.

I dearly hoped that this meant that Luke wouldn't imprint on my classmate.

In the end it worked very differently than I hoped in more ways than one.

"I am going to stay," Ashleigh said. "Leah is coming here, and sneaking out will be harder the more people there are," she explained.

I refrained on commenting how she should be sick of the clothing store and agreed, Cody and Luke followed suit. Luke took a pair of sunglasses out of his back pocket.

"So I can close my eyes," he whispered to me.

Cody was hearing and said, "I think we should go now."

We didn't see any familiar faces in our way out.

"You are really freaking out, aren't you?" Luke said playfully, removing his sunglasses.

"Absolutely," I said, suddenly aware again that I was carrying several shopping bags of clothes. "Can you two help me with this?" I asked, raising my hands. My arms felt tired.

"We should get moving," Cody said taking the bags in my left hand.

"Sasha used his... voice, with you?" I asked Luke.

"Yes," Luke said impatiently.

"Before you arrived," Cody said, "Sasha ordered him to not go downstairs."

"I see." Sasha had to restrict Luke with something else.

We started to walk in the same direction that Sasha and I had, before the whole mess started.

"Sasha hasn't bought his phone yet," I said. "He won't know where we are going."

"He can borrow one," Cody said.

"Or track us down by smell," Luke said. "We should eat."

"Shouldn't we wait for the girls? And Sasha?" I asked.

"I am hungry," Luke insisted.

"We can eat lightly while we wait for the girls," I suggested.

The rest of the time of our trip to Port Angeles consisted mostly of... waiting, at least for me. After half an hour even Luke was a little worried about Sasha not showing up. I decided to call Veronica, but it wasn't she who answered.

"Veronica isn't here," said the cordial voice in the other side. "Vanessa speaking."

"Vanessa?" I asked. "It's Tomas."

"Tomas who?" she asked.

"We met today."

"Alright," she said. I was somehow unconvinced that she remembered. "What's up Tom?"

"Tomas," I practically hissed. "Do you remember the friend I had with me?"

"Sasha? Sure," she said energetically. "Ah, he asked Veronica out. Is this why you are calling?"

"Yes," I said. "He told me that he would... talk to her, but didn't return."

"Of course not," she said like I was a complete moron. My sympathy towards her was dropping by the word. "He's with her."


"They went out for coffee," Vanessa said and laughed briefly.

I processed this information very slowly and turned off the phone without saying goodbye.

"So," Cody said and he was obviously trying to hold out the laughter, "Sasha went out with you, his mate, and managed to get a date with another person?"

I laughed hysterically, until I was out of breath. When he put it that way, it was just ridiculous. I felt bad for Sasha though and decided to not bring up his conversation with my mother again soon. The day really conspired against it.

I knew that I would find out eventually. I just had to wait for the right time.

The rest of the day was uneventful and nearly a blur. I looked over my shoulder constantly, waiting for Sasha to come by alone or accompanied, but he just didn't. I brought a funny t-shirt for Cody as an early birthday present at his own request.

The three wolves found the whole date thing very amusing. Leah in particular would look at me with the characteristic face of someone holding out laughter. I barely refrained to make a joke about her thumb (pretty much the only thing I could think that could annoy her).

I decided to get my hair cut (just a little trimming) to escape the annoying looks.

We left Port Angeles before sunset, with Cody falling asleep in the car halfway home.

Sasha called shortly after I arrived, while we were telling Brooke about the trip. Ashleigh took over telling the story.

"Sasha?" I asked as soon I recognized the number.

"Yes, Tomas," he said. "I just bought my new phone, where are you?"

"At home already, it was getting late," I said and then asked, "Where have you been?"

"With Veronica..."

"When I told you to show interest in her," I said, wavering between annoyance and irrational amusement, "I didn't want to ask her out afterwards."

"The thought..." Sasha said uncomfortably, "did cross my mind, but I wasn't sure, and it would be safer to distract her for longer."

"How exactly did you distract her?" I asked completely lost.

"Well, we first went out for a coffee alone," Sasha said. "She really loves bugs, and I let her talk about them, and sometimes I made a question or drew a picture..."

"You drew for her?" I asked.

"Yes." He answered. "Is that a problem?"

"No," I said. "I just found it odd."

"I was trying to look interested," Sasha said. "Well, after the coffee, we went to watch a movie with her sister and friends. I think they were there only because her sister was jealous, rather than because she was being responsible." His voice got more indignant. "I am a complete stranger that asked her little sister out."

"Vanessa didn't make a nice impression with me too," I said. "Hey, did she even mention that I called?"

"No," he said, and I could notice the distinct disapproval in his voice increasing. "Not a word."

During the lull in the conversation I was suddenly aware that Brooke and Ashleigh are looking at me with great attention, and went to my bedroom.

"Are you alright?" I asked.

"I'm fine," Sasha said. "Do you still want to know about what your mother said?"

"I do," I said honestly, "but after today, I think I can wait a little more. We should go back to normal." Using the word normal sounded like a sacrilege for the situation.

"Thank you, Tomas," Sasha said.

It wasn't until December that I found out why Sasha was so secretive about the conversation, and in the worst way possible.

The greatest news about Sunday was that I finally managed to wake up in the decent hour of 6:00.

A box full of contact lenses came to me with the note, "Courtesy of the Golden Coven." It was odd, but hardly the oddest thing in the last few days, and I was glad that I didn't need to use my glasses anymore.

That and vampires like to gossip too. "Sasha goes out with his mate and gets a date with another person" spread like fire overnight. I actually received a phone call from Sue Clearwater, asking me to confirm it. She didn't say goodbye when I said, "Yes, it is true." She just shut off her device.

My visit to Sasha was brief, and consisted mostly of me telling what I didn't have the opportunity to tell him since Thursday. My mother wasn't brought up at all.

My mom disapproved greatly of the entire thing. Port Angeles trip included, but mostly because she felt it was the kind of thing that she should know about. I promised her that she would be updated on any plans that I could have in the future. At first she also felt that it was extremely mean playing with Veronica like that, but Mom agreed it was better than having a wolf eternally fawning over her.

Otherwise, I spent the weekend catching up with all my homework.

I really wanted to wipe the smile in Veronica's face.

To be completely honest, it was because I was envious (not jealous, that would be insane, just envious), but being less honest I told my self that it was because it was too smug.

It was a little smug, but it was more... dreamy. She looked so satisfied.

"Veronica, are you alright?" I asked when she didn't at first answer my "hello" in the parking lot. We were both extremely early.

That was the mistake.

"Tomas!" she said so thankfully. "You won't believe the day I had with you friend."

"Huh," I said eloquently. Cole silently showed up, minus Chance. We acknowledged that he was there, but didn't bother to actually say anything, that wasthe usual thing to do.

So Veronica told Cole and me all about her wonderful day with my Russian friend. Cole didn't say a word, because he never did, while I didn't say a word because of disbelief. The way that Veronica talked was like her own Before Sunset. Sasha had told her that he was leaving for Russia and wanted to "enjoy his time with a nice girl." Veronica blushed when she repeated that. I wanted to puke.

"He never told me what he does for work," Veronica said half to herself, but obviously trying to coarse the answer from me.

"I don't know," I said with irritation, "I don't know him very well".

"He said he was a close friend of yours," Veronica said absently. I wasn't sure that she even heard me.

Mercifully the bell rang and we raced to our classes.

Lunch came, and our group sat in our usual table, Veronica, Maria and some other girls still talking about the wonderful Saturday that Veronica had had, including some cell-phone pictures and drawings that he'd made. Sasha drew random things, some pretty insects that Veronica wanted to identify later, and a picture of Veronica herself.

"You know," I said irritated rubbing my neck with the hand not occupied with the slice of pizza, "Sasha can do much better than this."

Veronica stared at me briefly but said satisfied, "I know, but he was limited to the material that we could get in such short notice."

I noticed that Cole looked at me suspiciously, but didn't say anything. He returned to hearing Chance talk something about buying a guitar. That conversation wasn't interesting enough to catch my attention.

I tried to ignore what Veronica was saying (just like all the other guys on the table), but that was hard considering she was right beside me.

Idly, I looked around the cafeteria and saw her.

Just like Saturday my first reaction was thinking, "That guy is wearing lipstick;" but it wasn't a guy, it was the same very masculine looking girl from the store where Sasha kept staring at me when Luke couldn't decide what to wear. She was staring daggers at my direction, or maybe at Veronica. I stared back distracted.

Veronica swore by my side. "Candace is back," she said and that wiped the smile of her face and the cheer in her voice.

Chapter 20: Remembering The Birthday

"Maybe you should say that you are sick," Veronica said to Maria. "I could join you."

"What? No... I'll be fine," Maria said, but she looked at Candace fearfully and didn't seem sure of what she'd said.

I spent a half-second wondering if "Alex" was Candace's middle name, but she was just wearing that name tag; for all I knew, it belonged to a co-worker.

Either way: unholy mother of all coincidences! In the second day of class, Veronica had mentioned a girl she thought was a lesbian, Candace, who just happened to be the shopping assistant who'd helped me and Sasha. Things like that don't just happen.


Magic? Okay, I was probably being paranoid, but it wasn't the kind of thing to rule out. At same time: how?! Alice? Did she want me to meet Candace before she went back to class? What good could come of it? Or even so, shouldn't my group of people cast a shadow in her vision? Even if they didn't, what was Alice's reason? Wasn't she busy with keeping an eye on all vampires in the world or something? Maybe another witch? Or maybe I was the witch, with magical power to create coincidences...

The bell rang and I accompanied Veronica to Biology, without paying attention to what she was saying about Sasha's wonderful voice, and how she wished he had sung anything. Maria was trailing behind us, looking back occasionally.

That briefly took my mind off the magical speculation. It was weird that Maria would react like that to Candace. I wondered if maybe there were non-homophobic reasons to dislike her. I looked back, and the girl was still staring at Veronica, like someone's look at an unapologetic mass murderer.

We arrived to the Biology and I couldn't help but be distracted, tense and confused.

Candace stared at Sasha constantly Saturday. I assumed that it was because she was attracted to him; maybe she wanted a gay friend...? She didn't stare at me, not that I noticed. Candace ought to have noticed that Sasha was totally into me, that much was obvious (I smiled a little when I thought of that). This could mean that she might suspect that I was gay.

One very strong realization hit me, and I was sure that magic was involved.

Candace didn't react to me like I was familiar, or at least I was sure that I never made anything to win that kind of glare.

On Sunday, I'd received new contact lenses, the ones that I was wearing right now. The day after meeting Candace.

I looked at Candace in the other table. She spared me half a second of neutral glare, but didn't overly recognize me. I also noticed her mustache, but that wasn't important.

Richard would be so glad to know that the Clark Kent disguise technique works.

I barely refrained to try to find Alice myself, but resisted the temptation and waited for Sasha. I didn't even wait for him to say anything; as soon as he was in the room I started telling him about Candace.

"I thought she was looking at me because I am pretty," Sasha said absently. "I don't think that wanting a gay friend would be enough reason to stare like that, but I am no mind reader."

I was half tempted to try to find a mind reader to confirm it, but rather than suggest that I just asked, "Do you think it was Alice? She set up for me to meet her?"

"No," Sasha didn't even pause to think. "I mean, Jasper is her mate, and people are always asking him to ask her to do stuff, and Jaspers always says that Alice too busy. He even asks the handler not to mention the fact to the batches of newborns, to avoid the annoyance."

"Huh," I said, thinking of that. "Then how do you explain how it happened?"

"Coincidence," Sasha said, but he wasn't sure. "Magic doesn't exclude the possibility of coincidences or luck. I doubt that it was Alice anyway. However..."

"What?" I asked.

"Well," Sasha said pondering, "if we hadn't gone with the group... Luke might have imprinted on Veronica"

"Luke only went because we went," I said.

"Maybe he would have gone," Sasha kept speculating. "I got the impression that Leah was going independently; maybe the group, minus us, would do it either way..."

"And Veronica would have been seen and imprinted on," I concluded.

"Yes, but that doesn't explain how any of it could be Alice's work," Sasha said. "If you look at it, the whole thing started when Cody told you about the conversation between me and your mother..." he looked at me and fell silent. We hadn't brought up the subject since Saturday.

"Let's not mention it again for a few months," I said.

"Okay," Sasha said, relaxing a bit. "Either way, I think we can write the whole thing, as a big coincidence, albeit a very lucky one."

"Just to be sure," I asked half-jokingly, "there isn't any witch that can cause coincidences, right?"

"No," Sasha said smiling. "From the witches that I know, and that work for the empire, the only two other people that could have had anything to do with it... There is Siobhan, she is the Imperial General, and is a magically good planner, but I really doubt that she is responsible."

"My Saturday afternoon doesn't really sound like something that has tactical value," I said.

"Indeed," Sasha agreed. "The other is Nathan, The Imperial Minister of Temporal Affairs."

"What the hell that is supposed to mean?" I asked. The title sounded like something out of a fantasy book.

"It relates to his power," Sasha answered. "Magically good timing. I am not sure what his job entitles exactly, but out of the three he actually has a pretty good chance of being the one that is behind your contacts lenses, but I am not sure how he could have gotten us in the group... or why."

I had to agree with him, even thought it felt somehow... "good," the idea of having someone watching over me and helping like Alice.

I settled in a somehow busy but good routine.

Cody slept very early and we pretty much only met in breakfast. Once we got out of the habit of gossiping about what the wolves thought of me, we started talking about movies, books, etc. I convinced him to watch a bunch of things that he'd never had the opportunity to watch, by virtue of not having been born yet. Luke joined on occasion, but he had a very irregular schedule, or rather, no schedule at all; he would take patrol duties just to contribute something to the pack.

There was still school. I still felt some distance from my classmates, just couldn't foresee anyone becoming a friend for the rest of my eternal life, but they were nice people. Candace only glared at Veronica on occasion. I kept wearing contacts, and hoping that Candace never read a Superman comic book.

After school, I visited Sasha, and we talked. I got into the habit of talking more about my day than about my journals, as intended, and that was okay. Sasha calculated that we didn't need to keep constant work on then, and still could finish them by the time I turned 18.

I spent a good deal of the rest of my time with homework, and I asked my mother politely if we could make our phone calls weekly, rather than daily, on behalf of my education. She agreed, but wasn't happy about it.

Cody's birthday came.

The birthday was on a Monday. Usually, people would celebrate this kind of thing in the Sunday prior.

There is nothing usual about a village with two packs of werewolves. The distinction between Mondays and Sundays was nearly meaningless for them. Lawbreaking vampires don't take days off. "Being a protector of mankind is a 24/7 job!"

At least that was how Luke explained to me when I asked why they didn't throw the party on Sunday. This was also roughly the same excuse why he would wait until he was 18 before actually getting a job with Jacob's pack.

The school seemed to drag, but came to a merciful end, and I raced to get to the beach in time in my car, but the road was blocked by a couple of really large tree trunks.

I stepped out of the car to look closer, and an unfamiliar vampire appeared from the trees, walking at a normal pace.

"Uh... Hi?" I said after he got close enough.

"Hi," he replied. "You must be Tomas." I nodded. "I am Harry Clearwater, Cody's father."

Of course, he didn't look anything like Cody, just like Sue. In fact he looked even more different from his children, the jaw was stronger than Cody's, Seth's or even Leah's, and I guessed his body was much younger than his "true" age, but that was hard to tell that with vampires.

I tried to conceal those thoughts and said shaking his hand, "Nice to meet you."

Mr. Clearwater shook my hand once, and it hurt a little... so he wasn't used to touching humans.

"Now," he said pointing at the blocking tree trunks, "I'm going to take these things out of the way... We put them here to keep the party private."

"Clever," I said, and watched Mr. Clearwater move the trees like they were made of Styrofoam, and after I passed through, he replaced the improvised blocks. He didn't follow the car going back into the woods.

The party had started a lot earlier; one of the problems with having the rigid sleeping schedule was that Cody just couldn't celebrate much after sunset.

I parked near the other cars, only two; maybe the others came here riding wolves?

Looking around, I saw a circle of people near a bonfire, mostly human-shaped, in a large plane section of the beach. A group of wolves and riders appeared to be playing something with the rider using long sticks to move a ball around. Absently, I approached the game slowly, until I heard Brooke's voice.

"Tomas!" she called from a point of the circle and I approached quickly.

"Brooke!" I said. "I am too late?"

The people that weren't in the game just sat around, talking or eating. There was music, but I didn't know where it was coming from, though it was rather... strong. Brooke was sitting next to Leah and Emily, playing with three small children, including one girl that I didn't recognize. Next to them, Thea was holding her own child on her lap, and next to Thea another woman was sleeping in a reclined plastic chair with her face covered, as one wolf watched over very attentively.

"Actually, right on time," she said, smiling and pointing at the playing wolves. "Do you want to play?"

I nodded energetically. "Looks fun."

"We are trying to set up two mixed teams," Leah explained, looking away from the girl she was tickling, "but we couldn't make it balanced, because we lacked another human."

"I see, I totally fit that criterion," I said smirking, sitting next to Brooke. "Who else would be in the team?"

"It's not set, but we are going to have Elspeth and Cody in separate teams again," Brooke said pointing again at the current game. They wore Red and Blue shirts respectively, and their wolves, Jacob and Seth, also had saddles with matching colors. "So there is a hybrid in each team, and also two non-wolves and one wolf riding."

"Good," I said. "So what's the game called again?"

"Currently," Thea said joining the conversation for the first time, "they are calling Wolf Polo, but I am trying to change it to Wolf-Jockey-ball."

We waited for the game to end, while Brooke explained the few rules and gave me some tips not to fall. As we watched, two wolves started fighting (with their riders joining them) until they stopped, Alpha commanded to behave. Brooke assured me that our game would be much more peaceful, with imprints playing. Cody's team won and we went to join them in the improvised field.

"Happy birthday," I said to Cody when we got close and, he ended up pulling me for a hug. "Sasha made you a present, but it's in the car."

"Thanks," he said, looking slightly nonplussed. "What is it?"

"A huge picture of your family," I said. "You know, vampires and super-speed," I added because he looked vaguely confused or uncomfortable.

"You want to join our team?" asked Sam, whom I'd never spoken to before, but who had a mildly annoyed tone.

"Yes." I said, and noticed that the rest of the group was discussing how to divide the teams.

"We are dividing the teams by pack, mostly." Elspeth told me. Everyone was close by, but of course Jacob was right by her side. "Oh, and hi, Tomas."

I wasn't sure if I should reply with, "Hello, your highness," but Elspeth continued.

"...Sam thinks that having you would be a disadvantage," Elspeth explained, "because you aren't an imprint, and the wolves wouldn't be instinctively more careful."

"Oh," I said. That was starting to shape out like being the last one to be picked situations. "I can sit out if it's a problem."

"It isn't a problem at all," Elspeth said and both she and Jacob shot a glare at Sam, which seemed magically synchronized.

"You can join our team," Jacob said smiling benevolently, "and ride Luke. So the number of humans and imprints stays the same."

"Luke is in our pack temporally for the game," Elspeth said.

Luke was still wolf shaped (and his wolf-Mohawk didn't look that bad when bleached) and listening to us. I agreed.

"Elspeth," Sam said quietly but not whispering so I heard, "can you stop playing Friday every time your team scores? Becky nearly knocked me down the last time."

Elspeth smiled mischievously, "I will." And she was lying.

"Playing Friday?" I asked when the teams started to take their places on the field.

"Yes," Elspeth said smiling and she waved her hand. "I'm making the music," the princess said waving her hand again, and making another music play.

Wolf-Jockey-ball was hard, but still a lot easier than I'd expected it to be. Having a mount that can understand what you're saying improved things greatly.

My first point was nearly accidental: Becky had managed to knock down Elspeth by bumping at Jacob's side (the music disappeared for a minute). Cody nearly took the opportunity to get the ball back to their side of the field, but I managed to get in the way, and Seth stopped in his tracks a few inches before touching Luke. I took the opportunity and scored with a wide swing. I preferred to swing the ball at the girl's directions, when the other team failed to reach it in time.

I managed to score a couple more times, and our team won two times, including winning the last game with a well timed maneuver between Elspeth and Thea which I wasn't sure how it happened.

"Still... Blue team won more times, overall," Cody said as we approached the food table. The other people were scattering and had already spent their time with the birthday boy.

"Except when I was playing," I said smiling maliciously. "And Sam wanted me out of your team," I added smugly.

Cody rolled his eyes and nabbed a handful of devilled eggs.

"He might be... well, he doesn't really like vampires," Cody said between bites.

"Aren't all wolves like that?" I said absently, trying to pick up something to eat, there was a lot of egg and meat in the table.

"Hey, you know Luke," Cody said. "He is all pro vampire-and-wolves friendship and all that."

"Okay... Sorry," I apologized, not mentioning that he'd brought the subject again.

"No problem," Cody said. "Either way, I think a good chunk of the team disagreed with him, or something. They are being extra careful with you."

"I was sort of suspecting that," I said. "They barely seemed willingly to approach me. I thought that I still smelled like Sasha or something."

"You don't," Cody said sniffing the air for effect. "Have you met him today at all?"

"No. I skipped it because of your party," I said. "I did come to his room to get your present."

"Tell him I'm sorry," Cody said and then whispered, "for that and the whole thing... with overhearing your mother."

"We didn't touch the subject anymore," I said rubbing my neck. "Either way, I was surprised when Becky lunged at Jacob and made Elspeth fall, but she laughed the whole thing off, so I guess it didn't hurt."

"A fall like that wouldn't," Cody said happily already finishing his last egg. "We are pretty tough."

Leah and Seth called Cody, and I still was deciding what to eat, so he went to see what his siblings wanted, while I stayed in the table.

After picking up some omelets and taking a few bites, I took time to look around everyone. I noticed a circle of imprints, all stared by the trademark "imprint face," and a couple of imprints seemed to be trying their best to return the affection.

"Did no one ever tell you that you are insane?" said a feminine, aggressive, completely unfamiliar and full of contempt voice right behind me.

I kept my fingers on the keyboard, dancing phalanges without touching the keys, and thinking about what to write next:

"I don't want them to look at me again like that. It might be safe butit feels so isolated to be here. I hope they break the restriction."

Chapter 21: Remembering The Angry Singer

I spun around and saw the girl that had been sleeping when I arrived, behind her the wolf still looking at her attentively. With her face uncovered, her blond ponytail was visible, and her angry eyes would fit the predatory animal behind her.

"Huh, what?" I said as eloquently as possible, which wasn't eloquently at all.

The blond girl rolled her eyes and said, "You are the vampire imprint..."

"The term is mate," I said automatically out of confusion.

"Don't interrupt me!" the girl exclaimed much louder than necessary.

The music stopped, and was substituted by a mostly verbal magical summary from Elspeth. The summary did inform me that I was talking to Sydney Singer - the imprint that didn't want to be "the imprint" - but was mostly redundant stuff that Cody had already told me. Also, Sydney was here to spend time with her sister and nephew and Zachary was wolf shaped because Sydney didn't like his imprint face one bit.

"She is harmless... mostly," and the summary was finished, the music returned.

I looked around. Elspeth, Jacob and a couple more people stared at my direction for a brief second, but returned talking among themselves. Thea and her wolf were approaching us.

"So, mate," Sydney said just as aggressively as before, probably unaware of any magical transplant of information, "aren't you the mate that got kidnapped and brainwashed?" She didn't even wait for me to answer, not that I was inclined to say anything.

"Sydney," Thea said. Surprisingly, she could make the same aggressive voice, "you are starting to make a scene."

Some heads were turning to our direction. I saw Embry, Brooke and Luke talking and looking at us, and I couldn't find Cody anywhere.

Sydney rolled her eyes again. "We can talk in that clearing," and she motioned to grab my shoulder. Only then I noticed she was shorter than me: that information had been suppressed by her posture.

"No!" I protested. "What is the matter with you?"

"Tomas," Thea said changing her voice considerably, "just let her vent out, whatever inanity she wants to vent out. I will watch the conversation," she added more to her sister than me.

We settled in the clearing that Sydney had mentioned close to the entrance of the beach, a semi circle of trees with a few rocks that we sat on. I felt somehow alone, not being accompanied by a wolf or someone, like the two sisters.

Thea was the last to sit and said, "Okay, Sydney spill it out." Her tone was somehow annoyed but disciplined.

I had the vague impression that this kind of behavior was common between the sisters.

Another eye roll, combined with Sydney pushing her ponytail out of her way. She looked at me fiercely. "I heard the story of how... you got here," she said. "And... you belong in a mental institution." I almost expected her to spit on the ground.

I looked at her for a second, expecting for her to continue. "That's it...? Unless you're a certified mental professional your opinion doesn't..."

"I shouldn't even have an opinion!" Sydney interrupted me practically roaring. "I shouldn't even be trying to understand what the hell you were thinking! Because you should not be here!" I let her vent out like Thea had said. "You should be wherever you would be if you are sane or smart!"

"You know..." I said when she stopped. I was trying to keep my cool, but starting to fail, "if you don't like to be interrupted, don't interrupt others."

"Thank you," she said sarcastically. "Any other pearl of wisdom?"

"Grow a heart and at least be nice to your wolf?!" I said. "I could forgive my vampire; it can't be that hard for you..."

Sydney squinted her eyes murderously. "I'm never going to take advice from a fucking Stockholm syndrome victim!"

"Great!" I shouted, finally losing it. "I'm never going to take advice from the woman that least deserves to be an imprint!"

That was how the argument ended because Zachary lunged at me.

I only become aware that anything had happened when I was already on the ground, my hand hurt; it had hit a rock or something, but didn't feel like I had been bitten or even clawed. I opened my eyes.

Zachary was on top of me for a second and then was stepping back, head low, looking ashamed. I sat, and felt Thea at my side helping me getting to my feet, my hand bleeding a little.

"Are you alright?" Thea said nervously.

"I've had worse," I said standing. "Just a few bruises... and another strike at my honor."

"What?" Thea said raising an eyebrow.

"Nothing," I said, rather than talking about how I didn't seem to be able to fight back in any fights that I got involved. "Wait... where's Sydney?"

Zachary had disappeared too, but Darren was there, of course, looking at me with a tilted head, almost with suspicion.

"Ran away," Thea said looking around frowning. "I think... Look, I understand that my sister is...hard to deal with it, and I am sorry about... everything."

"No problem."

"Thanks..." she said, and then added, "For future reference, avoid saying things like that... I don't quite disagree, but you know... wolves."

I nodded my head vicariously.

Thea than continued, pursing her lips. "She has... her reasons for not being with Zach."

"Huh..." I pondered over it. "If she... never mind."

"What?" Thea asked.

"Well... I suppose," I said looking at Darren, still staring us, "I might have agreed with whatever reason she had, if she had... shown reasons, rather than trying to win by shouting."

"She has this effect on people," Thea said tiredly. "Want to come back...?"

"Yes..." I said and then was horrified with a possibility. "Do you think everybody knows already?"

"I..." Thea said alarmed. "Darren?" The wolf shook his head negatively. "Weird, but I guess that if anyone had noticed they would come."

"Maybe they did," I said, "but the situation solved itself fast enough..." I speculated that Becky probably alpha-voiced Zachary, explaining why I was not in tiny chunks. "We should probably not mention this to Cody until after the party?" I said more to Darren (who I remembered was a person, not only "Thea's wolf.")

The wolf... Darren nodded positively and took a moment to look at me intensively again, before we three went back to the rest of the group.

I sat with Luke, Brooke, Embry and Cody near the bonfire. Embry was the first to talk.

"Tomas, you wouldn't be upset if we made a bet about you," he said smirking, "would you?"

The question was so out of the blue, but confusedly I answered, "It depends on the bet..." Luke handed Embry some money. "You bet already?"

"Yes... twice," Luke said bitterly, "over how you would react to betting."

"They also bet," Brooke said glancing disapprovingly at the two wolves, "over whether Sydney would fight with you publicly or privately."

Sydney was showing how charming she was by the second, and she was not even there. I looked around and found her entertaining (or trying to) her nephew; her face was hard and serious, but not angry. Zachary had vanished.

"I guess it would be pretty obvious that she wouldn't really be a fan of what I did," I said. It was probably pointless to pretend that nothing had happened.

"Not at all a fan," Cody said, "but she blows."

We talked about the matter for a few more minutes. It turned out that every imprint in La Push tried to convince Sydney at least once, and two others from Canada and Italy. Of course this meant that each of these imprints had a fight with her, except for the Italian one, purely because of the language barrier.

No one mentioned Zach's attack and I wondered if it was a common occurrence between wolves to fight like that, if it went unmentioned like that.

Kim, a pregnant imprint, joined our conversation and re-told her own story of talking with Sydney, finishing, jokingly, that this might make me a honorary imprint.

Mercifully, Elspeth announced that she would start telling scary stories, which turned out to be much more entertaining than I would expect, even knowing what she could do with her power. She could add vast layers of information over her words, and that made the storytelling much more vivid. Elspeth started with typical scary stories and some legends, later moving on to real stories, which wouldn't be traditionally scary, but nonetheless were fear inducing for being truth.

Cody ended up falling asleep in Leah's shoulder. She had shown up sometime when I was too distracted with a real story of three werewolves (the Hollywood variety) fighting a newborn army near Greece. Elspeth got tired too and ended her storytelling session, and the party goers picked up, while she sat with her Jacob.

It was getting late, and I was starting to say goodbye to go back and do my homework.

That was when Becky approached me. I recognized at least a few other human-shaped wolves with her, including Leah, Zachary and Darren.

"Tomas," Becky said with a very serious tone that almost made me jump, "we need to talk... You too, Luke," she said with more authority and Luke almost jumped. "Jake! Elsie!" she shouted. "We need you here for this!"

"Is this because of Zach and Sydney? I am sorry and I know I shouldn't have provoked..." I asked completely confused, because unless I was reading Becky's body language wrongly, it looked like I had done something wrong.

"What?" Becky said completely bemused. "Don't be sorry," she added, but with uncertainty/ "You should be glad that you didn't get seriously hurt... And that... that is why we want to talk to you."

"What happened?" Jacob inquired when he got close enough.

"Sydney and Tomas got in to an argument... Zach tried to but couldn't hurt Tomas." Becky said. "I think that none of us can... and that it is magic."

"Oh, Luke, don't hurt Tomas."

I remembered Sasha words well enough and even how I tried to reassure him at that time with a smile, before sending him to Veronica, thereby causing him to "go out with his mate, and get in a date with a another person." I got out of my thoughts and heard Jacob.

"Sister, this really could wait till tomorrow," the alpha said to the other. "You know... party."

"We can move the conversation to a more private area," Becky said coldly, "and I waited until Cody was asleep. I just want to check what happened."

"Sasha..." I said and was a little intimidated by the bunch of wolves suddenly looking at me at once, "...restricted Luke. I guess it... spread."

"It would be a reasonable possibility," Elspeth said. "Did it happen when he was in wolf form?"

"Let's move to another place first," Becky suggested.

Luke sat by my side, looking very small, maybe ashamed or just trying to not call attention. On the way I explained what happened to Elspeth, but she knew the story second hand with less details.

"Did you want to avoid the imprinting with Veronica," Elspeth asked casually, "because you think she would be a bad imprint, or it might let the secret out in your school?"

"The secret... I never thought that Veronica would be a bad imprint," I said. "But it's not like it would be good for her."

"Did you factor that in your decision?" Elspeth asked.

I wasn't sure why she was asking this kind of stuff, besides small talk. "I don't know..." I said quietly, almost whispering.

We settled in the same place where I had argued with Sydney, the angry blond and her sister followed the group, as did a curious Kim.

"We haven't experimented with Sasha's witchcraft and the wolves," Elspeth said. "It's unusual that the power would be... infectious like that outside of wolf form."

"That was what I was thinking," Becky said. "That... and the fact that Luke was in Jake's pack this afternoon."

Jake reached out his left arm like if he was trying to grab my shoulder, his hand stopped a few inches from it, and he focused for a moment, but couldn't move it further.

"Weird," Jacob said. "Now both packs are... what is the term?" His voice oddly neutral.

"Restricted," I answered.

"Jacob's pack being restricted doesn't have to be Luke," Elspeth said "If it can spread, even when the... subject was out of the wolf form. It might as well spread through any telepathic contact, so Becky would be the one that infected Jacob and his pack."

Becky didn't seem to like the last bit. "So, in theory, even Rachel's pack can be affected now?"

Elspeth nodded. "I am really surprised that it could spread like that," she said turning to me. "When any given witchcraft spreads, it usually only does so when the werewolf is four-legged and the telepathic channel is open."

"Memory," I said. "The power is related to memory.... and... but..."

"What?" Becky asked sharply.

"I was going to say that it might have spread through the memory of the incident," I answered. "Whatever you thought about it... but... it has been more than a week. I don't know if it would make any difference, but at least in non-telepathic people, the restriction fades after a few days."

"Well, telepathy could counter that limitation," Elspeth mused. "What I was thinking... that it might be another different explanation, which bears testing. You might be a witch, with a shielding power. Can I try to hurt you?" she asked. "Not a lot. Just to be sure it isn't the case.

I nodded, and she reached with her right hand, in the same way than Jacob did. I experienced nearly half of a second of enthusiasm and expectation to have a magical power, she managed to grab my shoulder and squeeze it until I let out a, "Stop."

"Okay, sorry," Elspeth said. "Just to write this out of the list of possibilities."

"I understand... and you are strong," I answered, not really surprised with the result.

"Thanks," Elspeth said distracted. "I suppose that alpha voice might work to break it."

"I tried it already," Becky said. "Didn't work."

"You tried to hurt Tomas?" Elspeth said alarmed and mildly disgusted.

"I was going to ask for a small scratch or bruise, nothing serious," Becky said, "but I couldn't use my alpha voice for it. Every time I tried, Sasha's magic would make me unable to do so."

I blinked. "That's weird," I said, getting all the unwanted attention again. "Generally the restrictions are... restricted, no pun indented, to the specific words." I paused for a second "...At least, from what I know, you should be able to order others to hurt me."

"That might be the telepathy again," Elspeth said, "or it might be a case of 'pack mentality.' If Becky orders someone to hurt Tomas, she sort of did hurt Tomas, however indirectly."

"I do feel responsible for my pack's actions," Becky said. "What I really want to know is how dangerous the power is or if there will be any problem with having Tomas walking around immunized to wolves."

"If it's really a problem," I said, realizing that Becky was less worried about the human immune to wolves and more worried about the future-vampire immune to wolves, "we could have Sasha try to replace the current restriction with a more harmless one."

"How would that interact with the telepathy?" Becky asked.

"I honestly don't know," I answered.

"Trying to replace the restriction would probably be the best shot," Elspeth said. "Addy said she was annoyed, but not really surprised when she found out that she couldn't... make Tomas get better."

I glanced at Sydney, accidentally, her face was full of disdain, but I ignored her.

"You could try to break it," I said. "If you manage to break it through, even with a small act of hurt, it would break the restriction."

Becky seemed to consider this. "If Luke, the original target, break it through that way, would the whole pack be freed?"

"No," Elspeth said. "I highly doubt it." She waved at Jacob and then the other wolves. "Jacob couldn't hurt Tomas while outside of wolf-form, so it clearly exists beyond Luke's mind. It's worth testing, but so does trying to replace the restriction."

"I imagined so." Becky pondered. "Okay, Luke," she sternly said to the shrunk wolf that was still trying his best to not call attention to himself, "we will arrange to have Sasha try to displace the restriction in all of us, but you first."

"If..." Elspeth started and despite her sincerity she looked unsure, "any of that doesn't work, we could try to have a couple of werewolves stay out of their wolves until they break the restriction, but before they quit."

"That sounds acceptable," Becky said.

"And maybe a little too zealous," Jacob said. I detected a hint of challenge in his voice.

Becky looked at him up and down and only said, "Five years," while making a scissor movements with her fingers.

"Yes, five years," Jacob said dryly.

There was a lull in the conversation, until Jarred said, "I just wanted to point out that... with this curse problem, the games that Tomas played should be voided," looking at me with a familiar look.

After the small group had dispersed, I decided not to return to the party and asked Luke to tell the others goodbye and explain that I needed to do homework, which was true, but also a blatant lie as to why I was leaving.

I was leaving because Jared looked at me exactly like when I had first come to the village, and I could suspect that the other wolves would start to look like that at me again.

It was only when I reached the roadblock that I saw Mr. Clearwater again.

I had seen neither him, nor Sue, in the party proper.

"I hope you enjoyed," he said neutrally.

I wondered if he knew what had happened. Maybe he and Sue were observing things far away in the forest? Did Becky honestly forbid Cody's parents to attend his own birthday party?

"It was good, and oh, I end up not giving Cody's present," I said. "Can you give it to him for me?"

"Of course."

I delivered the painting, half hoping that he would open it to see. I hadn't seen the finished result, but Mr. Clearwater only held it bellow his arm and walked into the forest again.