The Blood of the Everlasting

By Shannon Billings All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Romance

Chapter 7

I awoke Sunday morning feeling completely refreshed. The dreams of running with wild herds across the savannah at Andreas’ side had helped. These incredibly vivid dreams I had been having were a bit disconcerting, but surprisingly satisfying. Waking to find myself residing in a Victorian bedroom was a little disappointing. Slightly less disappointing was rolling over to find Andreas parked at my side, sleeping next to me. In a two-bedroom suite, he still felt it necessary to guard over me. I was used to sleeping alone, and missed my morning privacy. I hoped he got over his insecurity soon. My personal guardian angel was on the verge of smothering me into annoyance. I was feeling too fine that morning to be annoyed, however, and Andreas looked decidedly delicious, clad in nothing but a pair of faded jeans. His broad, tanned chest made a balanced contrast to the pale blue. Who could honestly be annoyed waking up to that? Except for maybe a straight guy.

I propped myself up on one elbow and studied him carefully as he slept sprawled out across the bed on his back. He looked content. I had never seen him look content. His face was ageless, unlined with unknown years. I realized I knew very little about him. I didn’t even know how old he was. He looked no older than me. How old was he? How many centuries had he lived? How many places had he been? I couldn’t even begin to imagine all the things he might have seen and done in his lifetime. I knew he was at least 80 years old. I knew he was powerful, but how powerful? What could he do? Could he read me like Ariel did? Could he fly like angels out of the bible? I was swiftly learning, however, that the stories of myth and legend were still mostly myth and legend. Should I be intimidated by him? I wasn’t, I definitely wasn’t. Should I be angry at him for altering my world so completely and apparently irreversibly? I probably should have been, but try as I might, I really wasn’t all that angry.

A little, to be sure, but because of him I was alive; because of him my eyes had been opened to a side of my world that I had never believed truly existed. Christians believed in a God and a savior attended to by angels. What did the true angels believe in, if anything? Andreas had told me some believed in a god, and some did not, much like humans. How different were we, really? I had always been an atheist. But now I was finding myself questioning even my firm belief in Darwin. Surely he had never considered evolutionary paths of magical creatures. As I lay there propped on my elbow eying his hairless chest, he opened his eyes, so bright and blue underneath long blonde lashes. I smiled at him. He let loose a slow, languid sleepy smile of his own.

“Well, you’re in a good mood this morning,” he said, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “You haven’t felt this peaceful since I met you.”

I rolled over, climbed out of bed, and padded over to the bathroom. “You gotta quit saying stuff like that, it’s unnerving,” I said over my shoulder. “Just because you’re tuned into my emotions doesn’t give you the right to comment on them.” I closed the door behind me and took a long, hot, slow shower, relishing in the blistering heat that the powerful shower head put out. This house might look antiquated, but its plumbing definitely wasn’t, cast-iron clawfoot bathtub aside.

I climbed out and dried off, and wrapped myself up in the plush robe hanging on the back of the door. This place was as amenable as a 5-star hotel, I thought to myself as I walked back into the bedroom.

“Hurry up and eat,” Andreas said, pointing at a rolling tray of food, as he traded places with me in the bathroom. “We’ve been summoned by Ariel.”

I swiftly changed into the clean clothes I’d brought in my overnight bag – just a pair of jeans and a turtleneck, and helped myself to a croissant and a cup of steaming coffee. Andreas took what must have been the fastest shower on record. Maybe angels didn’t get as dirty as humans, I thought to myself. He emerged wearing the same pair of jeans he’d been wearing for the past two days, his hair falling in his eyes in wet, dark golden locks. I couldn’t help but stare at his tanned six-pack abs, glistening with moisture, as he pulled his shirt over his head. If I have to be stuck with an insecure guardian angel, at least I was stuck with one that was such good eye candy. I chuckled to myself.

He grabbed my arm and escorted me out the door. “While I appreciate your appreciation,” he said softly, “do try to keep your hormones in check, my dear.” He patted my arm.

I balked, stopped in my tracks, and stared at him, mortified. I blushed head to toe. “Get out of my head,” I seethed. “My thoughts are mine!

He lowered his head abashedly. “I can’t read your thoughts, but you’re broadcasting your emotions plain as day, and I’m feeling them like I’m feeling mine.” He shook his head. “It’s confusing enough as it is. Please, for my sake, don’t make things any more confusing,” he asked softly.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized swiftly. “I guess I just didn’t understand fully. I’ll try to be more Spock-like.” I smiled at him.

He snorted and took my arm again, and we began strolling down the hallway again. I did my best to focus on logic and reason. I thought of boring things like baseball and underwater basket weaving. By the time we arrived back at the parlor we were first escorted to, I was feeling as calm and cool as a cucumber.

Ariel was waiting for us, sitting on one of the uncomfortable looking arm chairs, nursing tea in delicate flowered porcelain cup. We sat on a couch across from her. The butler emerged from what seemed like nowhere and poured us each a cup of tea. Butlers must be trained in the art of invisibility, I thought, since as soon as he had served us he disappeared as silently and swiftly as he appeared. I was impressed.

“Your lab results are back,” Ariel informed me, setting her cup down on her saucer.

I took a sip of tea. Orange, with a hint of cinnamon. “That was fast,” I commented, raising an eyebrow.

She smiled. “When one runs their own laboratory, one can get a quick turn-around. Would you like to know what they were?”

Uhh, gee… does the sun set in the west? Do polar bears live in the north? Do pigs not know how to fly? “Yes please,” I said politely. Andreas patted my knee in silent approval, no doubt sensing my deliberate resistance of a sarcastic reply.

She nodded her head and scooted forward on her chair. “You are not completely human, and Andreas’ blood has permanently altered you,” she informed me.

I was dismayed. I shook my head. “No, that can’t be,” I said in denial. According to everything we had learned, however, it was the only explanation. I was trying to wrap my brain around the fact that either of my parents could have been anything other than completely human, and I just couldn’t do it. Was it my mom or my dad? I thought of them both, then. My mother was always buried in books of art, bringing me along with her. Together we explored expressionism, the renaissance, modernism, post modernism, and my personal favorite – impressionism. She instilled within me a love of beauty, and an appreciation of how humanity shaped their world through art and the influences that the world around us had on how we expressed ourselves. My father gave me a love of science. He taught me how to break down ideas into understandable pieces, and that there was an explainable pattern to everything, even chaos. Together they introduced me to phi, the golden ratio, which brought science and art together for me. I became fascinated with Da Vinci’s “On the Divine Proportion,” explaining how even the human form exhibited the golden ratio, and with the Egyptian pyramids, which seemed to have been designed using phi, as well. And then I discovered plants. When my father showed me that the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants and the veins in their leaves were all plotted out according to the mathematical golden ratio, I was hooked. Science, art, and reason were the food for thought growing up in my house. Were my parents anything but human? I just couldn’t accept it.

“I’m sorry,” she said gently. “There is no easy way to tell you this. Nikumbha was right. Your biochemistry seems to be in a constant state of flux. I am having my team do some additional testing on your sample, but it will take a few days to accomplish.”

“I’m so very sorry, Rhiannon,” Andreas whispered.

I gulped. “So will I be like this forever?”

She looked at me sadly. “If you are referring to your ability to absorb others abilities when you are near them, I do not know. That is something we are trying to figure out still. But as for your altered senses and other abilities you absorbed from Andreas’ blood, and his blood link with you, yes, those changes are permanent. Without knowing your exact genetic background, I cannot accurately predict the rest. What has happened to you is something that has never been documented before, so we are charting completely new territory. My lab is fascinated and excited; rarely are they given a puzzle like you to solve.” She smiled at me.

I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Glad to keep them entertained,” I said bitterly. That was me: Rhiannon the guinea pig, Rhiannon the unexplainable, Rhiannon the human sponge. If I were a superhero, I would be Sponge Girl, and my sidekick would be Sponge Bob Square Pants.

“Anything you can tell us could be of great help,” she went on. “Tell me about your family.”

I shrugged. “What’s to tell? My parents were both professors for the University of Washington. I was their only child. They both died four years ago. My mom’s parents died before I was born, and she was an only child, too. My dad’s mom is still alive, living in a nursing home. I try to visit her every week, she gets a little lonely. He was an only child, as well. And that’s it. My family obviously wasn’t much into the breeding and multiplying concept.” I didn’t like thinking about it. Thinking about my parents’ death was painful, to say the least. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. It had taken me a long time to learn to live with the fact that their murderer would never be caught, and I still felt guilty for not being there. I was off on a grand adventure when they met their doom, and that hurt.

“As far as she knows they were perfectly human,” Andreas added, squeezing my hand. “She’s absolutely certain of it. Her life before I met her was perfectly human, perfectly normal.” He looked at me, cocking his head to the side. “Am I right?”

I pursed my lips and gave him a cross look. “Cut that out,” I hissed. I knew what he was doing: he could sense my “normalness” feeling, and my upset at thinking I was anything but, and was extrapolating the rest. Reading him reading me wasn’t too hard. I looked at Ariel. “Yes, he’s right.” She looked thoughtful. “What about my DNA?” I asked. “If I’m not all human, couldn’t you tell what else I am part of?”

Ariel nodded. “We did a cursory test, looking for specific genetic markers for all non-human races in our database, and came up empty handed. I’ve authorized a genetic profile, with a preliminary microarray and a karyogram, but DNA results take a little longer to process.” She was officially talking way over my head now, and I wished Kat was here to translate for me. I missed Kat, with her flair for the dramatic and her unerring ability to appreciate the simple things in life. She always managed to put things into perspective for me whenever I was upset. “We are working on it, and we will be comparing the results to other races. Honestly, though, if you are part otherkin, I have no clue which race you might be descended from. What Andreas has catalyzed in you has never been seen before. There are no known creatures that can absorb abilities like you do.”

“Soaking them up like a sponge,” I added under my breath.

Ariel ignored my comment. “At first I had theorized possible demon blood, but that doesn’t quite fit your symptoms. Frankly nothing does, and I am quite stumped and very curious.” She paused to take a sip of her tea. “Under usual circumstances any otherkin abilities you would have inherited would have surfaced long ago; they do not lie dormant like this. We angels keep detailed records of all existing races, and we have nothing in our records that fits you. Definitely not demons, although it poses an interesting theory.”

“A demon wouldn’t mate with a human anyway,” Andreas added emphatically.

Ariel nodded in agreement. “They have been banished since the great war, unable to walk the earth without summoning, and it’s nearly impossible for one to adopt corporeal form. A mating would be next to impossible.”

A great war? My curiosity was piqued. “What was this great war about?” I asked. “If I’m part – ” I searched for the right word, I know I’d heard them use it several times since arriving – “otherkin,” I said, after it came to me, “I’d like to know more about what I’m a part of.” I smiled politely.

“We were divided between the demons and those that sided with them, and us and our allies,” Ariel explained. “We fought over the fate of humanity. Demons and their ilk viewed humanity as parasites, to be wiped out or used as nothing but fodder,” she said bluntly. I shuddered at that idea. “We felt otherwise. The human population was multiplying at a rapid rate, and we were not. We felt that humanity was meant to inherit the earth, and that we needed to learn to live in harmony with them.”

Andreas picked up where she left off. “The great war all started when the therianthropes, who are now extinct, started spreading the black plague, wanting to kill off the humans and regain the earth. I do believe you are familiar with the black plague from your history books, right?”

I nodded my head. This was something I could understand, at last, something human I could put a face to. “Fourteenth century Europe, it spread supposedly through rats. Some theorize it was spread through the Mongol horde as they started to conquer their way west.”

Ariel nodded. “It was therianthropes, not rats, however, but an untrained human would be hard pressed to tell the difference. They were gifted shape shifters. Many supernaturals objected to the idea of xenocide, and so we fought our own war. The therianthropes were hunted to extinction, and demons were banished from the face of the earth.”

“Wow,” I said. “I had no idea we owed our existence to anyone.” Wow was an understatement. This was something that was certainly never taught in the history books.

“I was there,” she said gently. “You owe no one. Humans are good people, on the whole. You would have done the same for us, had roles been reversed. Now let’s get back to the task at hand,” she said, abruptly steering the conversation away from her history, back to my own. “It would make my analysis of you a lot easier if I could get samples of your parents. I don’t suppose you would have an old hair brush of theirs lying around or anything?”

I furrowed my brows and shook my head. “After their murder I – I threw it all away. I suppose the police probably still have something in their files, since it’s an unsolved crime, but I don’t know if they would hand it over to me.” I shook my head, and banished the negative thoughts of their deaths from my brain, trying to think of something happy, but failing.

“That is unfortunate,” she said. “Now,” she said, standing up, “Have you reached a decision yet?”

I was confused. A decision about what? Andreas, sensing my confusion, hastily stood up. “I have not discussed it with her yet,” he explained. “I wanted to wait until after we left.” What the hell was he talking about? I hated being left out of the loop.

Ariel pursed her lips. “You better get your girl in line, or we will make a decision for her.” She headed for the door. “You have one week. The Atlantean Council will convene again next Sunday at 2100 UTC.” She turned towards us. “That’s four p.m. Eastern time. You have both been summoned,” she said curtly. She stepped into the doorway. “You are dismissed,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Malcolm will see you out.” The butler appeared next to her, my overnight bag on his shoulder, and Ariel walked down the hallway out of our sight without another word.

Dismissed, just like that. How rude. Andreas grabbed my hand. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

The butler Malcolm handed me my bag at the front door, and closed it behind us, leaving us standing on the doorstep. A yellow taxicab waited for us curbside on the street. “Central Park,” Andreas told the driver, as we climbed inside. “We have a couple of hours before we have to be at the airport, might as well enjoy ourselves,” he said to me.

I found Central Park to be a welcome bastion of nature in an otherwise concrete jungle. It was well manicured and maintained nature, but I found it oddly pleasing nonetheless. Andreas had said that he doesn’t like concrete jungles. They had never made me uncomfortable before, but suddenly I understood what he meant. The glowing of the newly growing early spring grass and the budding of the trees was pleasant and relaxing. It felt almost natural, almost like home. I let out an audible sigh, as I laid my palm on the trunk of an oak, and felt it silently thrum with energy. I smiled, feeling peaceful for the first time since I woke up.

“You like that, do you?” Andreas smiled. He seemed a little smug.

I nodded my head. “Can all angels feel this?” The tree sang of growth, of rebirth, of the city growing up around it, and I could almost see it being built, brick by brick, tall buildings stretching upwards to the sky as time slowly passed and the tree stood like a silent sentinel witnessing human progression.

He shook his head. “We all have our own talents. Mine happens to be with nature. And now so is yours.” He placed his hand on the trunk above mine. “Watch,” he ordered. I watched his hand. I could sense the thrum of the tree increase in depth, as if it suddenly sang with more force. In between our hands a small branch sprouted, and grew as the tree hummed under my hand, about six inches long. Three small leaves budded on the end of the branch, a pale spring green. I gasped. I looked up at him, eyes wide.

“That is incredibly cool,” I breathed.

“It is also incredibly easy. Would you like me to teach you how?” he asked.

“Later,” I shook my head. “Right now I want you to tell me about this decision Ariel was talking about.” I started strolling down the hillside, leaving the oak tree behind me. The gently rolling hills gave way to a broad, flat strip of grass. I saw an ice rink off in the distance, and headed towards it. He swiftly caught up and walked next to me. “What do you know that I don’t? And I don’t appreciate being left out of the loop,” I told him curtly.

“Rhiannon, you have to understand that the Atlantean Council looks out for what is best for Atlanteans, not what is best for you,” he started slowly.

“Yeah yeah,” I said impatiently, “get to the point.”

“Well, since I inadvertently created a blood link with a mortal, it means I’m mortal now, too,” he explained.

“Yeah, that’s a real bummer, Andreas,” I said sympathetically. “I’m really sorry that happened. I know it’s got to be the last thing you wanted to happen, and that’s got to be rough on you.” I meant it, too, and I knew he knew I meant it. I knew the idea of mortality made him feel rather insecure. I, on the other hand, had dealt with the concept of aging and death my entire life, so it was nothing new to me. “How does that work, anyway? Are you going to start aging now? Or just suddenly drop dead when I do?” Dammit, that wasn’t very sensitive of me to say, now was it? I cringed a little and looked at him. “Sorry.”

He shook his head. “Drop dead, not age.” He gave me a dirty look. “And that’s what has the council concerned, the fact that one of their own is vulnerable.” He stopped in his tracks. I stopped and turned to look at him. He had an expression of inordinate sadness on his face. “Oh Rhiannon, they want me to either turn you or lock you up where you’ll be safe.”

“What?” I shrieked. “No,” I shook my head. “No!” I shouted, stomping my foot. “Who are they, and how dare they dictate to me my future?” I demanded, furious. “I will not have them decide what’s best for me, Andreas, I will not! Nor will I have you decide, either!”

“I know, Rhiannon, I don’t like this either,” he said calmly, “but think about this from their perspective. One of their own kind has been threatened with extinction. It’s a natural reflex to want to protect him.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh yeah, protect the delicate Andreas from the big bad Rhiannon,” I spat. “Watch out, because you never know when she’s going to drop dead!” I fumed. I stomped off across the grass furiously.

He gritted his teeth and chased after me. “Would you calm down? I can barely think straight! This isn’t about hurting you, it’s about protecting me!” He grabbed me by the shoulders, spun me around, and shook me into shutting up. “Listen to me,” he barked, “I am not about to let them lock you up, understand? I am not about to let them force you into doing anything against your own will. I am on your side, ok? We will find a way out of this. It’s going to be all right.”

I looked at him and blinked rapidly, suddenly reeling again, feeling my life spinning beyond my control. “I don’t know if everything’s ever going to be all right again,” I whispered. I felt like crying. I didn’t want to cry. I wasn’t going to cry. I took a deep breath, trying to relax.

With a sigh, Andreas wrapped warm arms around me, holding me tightly, and stroked my hair. “I promise you, Rhiannon, I got you into this, I will get you out of this. It will be all right. Please don’t cry. I don’t think I could bear it.” He tucked my head under his chin. I felt incredibly safe wrapped up in my guardian angel’s arms, and I knew from the tips of my toes he meant every word he said. With his encouragement, I successfully blinked my tears away. Heaven forbid I shed them, he might be forced into spontaneous sympathetic weeping, and that would just be weird. And funny. I smiled at that thought, and stepped back.

“Ok, angel, you have a deal. I promise I won’t freak out. Why don’t you tell me more about angels,” I suggested conversationally.

“We derive our power from the sun, but everyone has different talents. Ariel, for example, is a healer. She actually works as a surgeon for a hospital here, and runs her own lab. I’m good with nature – wild animals, plants, forests, that kind of thing,” he explained.

“No wonder I keep dreaming of you in wild places and want to run through the grass barefoot,” I said. Andreas smiled at that. “So Ariel is a doctor,” I commented. “What do you do?”

“I own a couple of ranches, orchards, and a few vineyards. My stewards run them most of the time, which gives me a considerable amount of free time to spare,” he explained.

“Early retirement must be nice,” I grumbled, kicking a clump of dirt on the grass.

He laughed. “Rhiannon, I am three hundred years old; young for an angel, but old for retirement.”

“How many supernatural beings are there?” I asked. So far I’d only met a handful of angels, one elf, and one werewolf. Surely there were more.

He shrugged and frowned. “Not enough, too few. Many species have gone extinct as humanity has grown, crowding them out of their habitats, and there are less of us every day. Our lives are strongly linked to the cycles of the planet, and humanity is now affecting earth so much that it is affecting our survival.”

“I guess all the hype about global warming has some truth in it we never even considered,” I said sadly. How much of it was humanity’s fault, though, and how much of it was just the natural progression of things? Even we humans couldn’t agree on that, although I personally believed it was a combination of the two, that we were helping to speed up the natural progression of things.

He shrugged. “We all change when the earth changes. It is the way of things. But, you know, I find it funny, in a sad way… you humans have horror stories about so-called “monsters,” vampires, werewolves, demons, and so on, yet you destroy more of yourselves than the any supernaturals ever have or would,” he said softly.

“What about the great war?” I asked. “Who was on which side?”

He shrugged. “Demons, therianthropes, the fae and vampires against the rest of us,” he said. “The bloodsuckers switched sides early on, deciding their food source was best left to flourish and multiply on their own. Most of the fae abandoned ship early on. The fairies, true to form, switched sides when they realized they were losing. They are perennial turncoats.”

I was getting confused with all the terms being thrown around. “Ok Andreas,” I said, sitting down on the ground. “I’m getting lost. Who is supernatural, who are otherkin, and just who are the fae?”

He sat down next to me, stretching out on the grass. “Any sentient being that isn’t human is supernatural,” he explained. I nodded my head in understanding. “The fae are very old, amongst the oldest races on the planet. They include the fairies, elves, pixies, nymphs, and other magical creatures born with an innate ability to work earth magic. They are rather simple creatures. Not to say they are unintelligent,” he added, “but uncomplicated and very private.” He paused to catch a breath. “The otherkin are most closely related to humans, and are relatively young, in the scheme of things. Younger than even humans. They are shape shifters, mostly. If a person is not fae, or angel, or vampire, or demon, they are otherkin,” he finished.

I nodded my head, understanding. There was so much I didn’t know, and the more I learned, the more complex it became. “What were these… therianthropes?” I asked, carefully pronouncing the very foreign word.

“They were also known as skin-walkers and shape shifters,” he explained. “We really don’t know much about them. They were always very secretive, kept to themselves, had no written history, were hard to track and find, and they were eradicated long before I was even born. Weres share a trait in common with them, but other than the weres, there is no magical means, or no true way, to even emulate what they were capable of. When they assumed a shape, they did it completely. It was no illusion, everything was altered. They, like the weres, actually became another creature, only they weren’t limited to any specific creature like weres are. Your friend Grant can only become a wolf, you understand,” he said, eying me. I nodded my head. “He is tied to the cycles of the moon, like all weres are. Therianthropes, however could take on any form, animal, human, otherkin, you name it, and all the creature’s abilities and attributes. They were not tied to the moon, either. They could maintain a shape for as little or as long as they want, without any biological compulsion to switch as the moon became full. This was an ability they used incredibly well,” he continued. “Legend says, though, that they were limited by only being able to take on the form of a creature that they had possession of, either as prisoner, or had killed, and death was the preferred choice.”

I shivered. “Woah,” I said. “That’s pretty slick and sick. Sounds like skin-walker was a very appropriate term.” Kidnapping or killing a creature in order to take its shape – that was seriously messed up, I decided.

Andreas nodded in agreement. He stood up and started walking across the field again. I jumped up and trotted after him. “Yes, they did exactly that: walked in another’s skin, and could keep the charade up for life if they wanted to, and they sometimes did. Surely you’ve heard legends of changelings and doppelgangers? Those were skin-walkers. You might think vampires and demons are bad because of what they are, but skin-walkers were even worse.” He shook his head. “They were capricious, laws unto themselves, and completely wild. They lived for chaos. Their only weakness was their mortality. They aged and died just as humans do. By the end of the war, even the demons turned on them when they realized that they, too, were vulnerable to the skin-walkers’ ability and temperament. The only reason that demons were banished instead of destroyed was because they turned in the end. You should be asking Felix these things,” he said with a little chuckle. “He’s the historian, not me.”

“Duly noted,” I said. We had reached the edge of the ice skating rink. I looked up at my tall guardian angel. “That was a fascinating and morbid story, but what say we go ice skating?” I grinned. I grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the skate rental stand. A little bit of recreation would make me feel a whole lot better, I decided.

He shook his head and stopped in his tracks. “I don’t know how to ice skate.”

“What?” I laughed. “In all your three hundred years, you’re telling me you’ve never, not once, ice skated? I find that hard to believe,” I teased him.

I wouldn’t take no for an answer, and against his protests, I marched to the skate rental counter, and rented us two pairs of skates. “Come on,” I cajoled, as I sat on a bench lacing up my skates, “we could use a little R&R, and this’ll be fun.” I grinned up at him.

He looked unconvinced, but slipped his skates on.

I grabbed his hand, and led him out on the rink. He gripped my hand tightly, as we slowly and awkwardly skated our way around the rink. I was sure and steady, and he was wobbly as a newborn colt. “If angels were meant to slide on ice, we would have been born with blades on our feet,” he said in between clenched teeth.

I let out a peal of laughter. “Learn to adapt, my friend!” I laughed. I let go of his hand and skated circles around him. He glowered at me. “Let’s go,” I said. Skating backwards, I grabbed both of his hands in mine and lead him around the rink. Finally, right at the end of our first lap, his feet officially slid out from underneath him, and with a certain lack of any grace, he plummeted to land with a hard thud right on his angelic butt. My hands still laced in his, I was yanked forward and landed right on top of him.

For some reason I found this incredibly funny. The thought of an immortal angel crash-landing on the ice amused me to no end. I rolled off of him in a fit of giggles, laughing so hard I couldn’t get back up. Andreas sat up on the cold ice, a furious expression on his face, until he, too, caught my contagious laughter, and he broke into fits of it himself. We both finally calmed down enough to regain our feet.

Andreas was a trooper, and let me humiliate him for another hour on the rink. Finally he was able to skate straight lines and curve with a semblance of dignity around the rink on his own. I appreciated his willingness to no end. I needed the release, a chance to just forget my worries for a short time.

Finally we checked our skates back in, both of us sporting goofy grins. I felt worlds better. “I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said to me, taking my hand as we strolled aimlessly across the vast lawn and rolling hills. I wondered if all angels were as touchy-feely as he was, or if it was just his link to me and sudden realization of mortality that made him so.

I nodded my head. “Now I just want to go home. I’m not going to let one rabid vampire scare me away from my home. If he comes around and gets violent, well… vamps can be killed right? Wooden stake through the heart, holy water in the eyes, something like that?”

“Stake through the heart, yes. Holy water, no,” Andreas informed me.

“Good to know. Plus I want to talk to the police about my parent’s murder. I want to read the files. I want to find out about my heritage, and I think that’s a good place to start.” I hadn’t spoken to the officer in charge of the investigation in a long time. Too long. I had given up hope on the case being solved a long time ago, and talking to him had become a painful reminder of futility. I resolved to remedy that.

Andreas nodded his head in agreement. “If one of your parents wasn’t quite human, their murder could be related, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Good, we have the beginnings of a plan then.” I beamed at him. “And I want to talk to my friends. My life feels like it’s been thundering beyond my control ever since I met you, and I need to retain some semblance of normalcy, or I’m going to go insane.”

“Tell me about it,” he muttered. I punched him in the arm. “I’m sorry,” he sighed, “I know you’ve felt out of control, and it’s making me feel out of control, and I really don’t like the feeling, so I’m in complete agreement with normalcy,” he said.

“Good.” I nodded my head. “And I want to talk to Grant. I think I’m going to need his help. Plus, he’s my friend and my business partner, and if I can’t handle being in his presence, I’m really screwed. I have to learn how to control my abilities around him. And I want to talk to Kat, she’s my best friend, and – ”

“No,” he interrupted. “You cannot tell your friend about anything non-human, and you cannot go see her alone, either.”

I balked at that, yanking my hand out of his. “I don’t need a babysitter,” I said tightly, crossing my arms across my chest.

“Too bad. For the next week until the Council convenes you’re stuck with me everywhere you go, I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

I rolled my eyes, turned and stalked off in the other direction, away from him. I didn’t ask for any of this, I didn’t want any of this, I just wanted things to go back to normal again. Andreas could take his damned angel council and shove it, for all I cared. He grabbed my arm and spun me around to face him. “You might not realize this, Rhiannon, but you’re going to need me. You think having one vamp on your scent is bad? Word of your existence is going to spread, and trust me, there are worse characters out there than a single vampire who thinks you taste good.”

I gritted my teeth. I wanted to scream. I didn’t, though. I counted to ten and calmed down, deciding it was best to deal with this rationally. I might not have wanted this or asked for this, but here it was, and I had to learn to deal with it as best as I could. “Fine,” I said calmly. “Great. Can you beam me back to my house now, or are we going to have to fly again?”

He grimaced and rubbed his forehead. He grabbed me by the hand, and headed towards a bridge. “For one thing, we can’t do that in public. Do you have any idea the penalty for letting humans know there’s anything other than human around?” He dragged me underneath the bridge, out of the view of any possible onlookers, and wrapped his arms around me again. “For another thing, why don’t you?”

I protested. “Last time you had me beam to my kitchen from my living room I tossed all my cookies and had a splitting headache for an hour! Across the damn continent is out of the question.” I pushed him away from me. “You do it.”

“It doesn’t get any worse,” he assured me. “Two thousand miles is no different than twenty feet. You can do this,” he encouraged. “Besides, the more you do it, the easier it gets.”

I sighed. “All right.”

“Good.” He wrapped his arms around me again. “Now close your eyes and focus,” he coached. He talked me through seeing the energy, the numen, and wrapping an energy cable connecting us to my kitchen. He had me tether it to both of us, instead of just me, and when I was ready, I gave it a yank.

The world fell out from underneath me, and I fell, spiraling down a twisting tunnel that ended with a lurch and a snap, and I landed with a clatter into a nauseated sprawl on my kitchen floor. I didn’t even make it to the sink before throwing up the contents of my stomach all over the floor in front of me. My head felt like it was splitting in two, and my stomach was a sharp, tugging knot of pain. I clenched my teeth and pulled myself up on shaking legs, hanging onto one of the barstools.

“Asshole,” I moaned. “That was definitely worse.”

Andreas laughed.

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