The four adults had talked together until roughly 3 a.m. By then, Danica was exhausted.
Once she announced her intention to get into bed, her and Rusti joked about the antics of their teenage years as they walked up the stairs. When they got to her room, the two friends fell onto Dani's bed together as they continued to talk animatedly complete with girlish laughter, a snapshot out of their past. For a split second the strange feeling of nostalgia from the past overtook them both, but it was gone that quickly.
It was very much the present. For the moment, there was a lull in their girl talk. "What are they like?" whispered Danica out of nowhere.
Rusti put her arms behind her head and stared up at the ceiling. "By 'they' you mean?"
"The Carpathian people. What are they like?"
She turned and snuggled into her pillow as she looked at her friend from so many years ago. "They're proud. They were down for so long, but they know now they're not out. They have a new hope because of women like us that their race won't die out."
Dani turned and relaxed into her own pillow as she looked over at her friend. "See, that scares me a little."
"What part?" she asked.
She thought about her answer for a couple of seconds and then realized, "All of it."
She shook her head. "I was scared, too. But it was all about Darius, in the end. I couldn't take the thought of him letting himself get weaker and weaker, being not who he was from the day he was born. Dying. That's why I did what I did. I did it really for him. I'd do it again, too."
Dani nodded. "I understand. Every time Andriev mentions how he was ready to seek the dawn," she shuddered as uninvited tears began to flow. "This isn't natural," she shook her head as she quickly wiped her tears away. "I just met him and the thought of him dying rips me to pieces on the inside." She sighed tiredly and then yawned into her hand. "I'd do anything to prevent that now. And I don't even know why. I mean I know 'why', but I still don't fully understand. How does one wrap their head around all of this? It makes my head hurt every time I really think about it. And now Lena is bursting for information and I don't even know what to tell her or how to tell her all of this, about them and about—just everything."
"What do you think you're going to do about it?" asked Rusti. "She knows there's things she should know. She asked me to tell her, but I knew it wasn't my place. So I asked her to please be patient with you until you were ready to say something."
It was nearly 3:30 but she felt temporarily awakened again having gotten somewhat of a second wind. "I'm telling you this because you're the best friend I've ever had," Dani swallowed. "And to top it off, you understand this situation from the inside, out. I know I'm keeping so many secrets from her and I feel awful about it! I just want her to be a normal kid for once, you know? Why should she have to go around with the weight of the world on her shoulders? She needs therapy, Rusti. I'm not kidding you. But if I tell her this stuff, she can't unload it to a regular therapist. They would commit her, talking about vampires and Carpathians and things like psychic abilities and safeguards! I already realize that that cannot happen. I mean, what if the therapist actually believed her? She would be putting you all in danger, right? The average person wouldn't exactly be very understanding about this situation. But she really needs some help and I don't know what to do about that."
Tempest remembered, "There's a woman among us. She was human once, too. Her name's MaryAnn. She's a therapist for survivors of abuse, but she's still a therapist."
Dani's expression crumpled as she admitted, "Oh God! That's another thing," she sobbed. "Someone did something to her in foster care. I didn't realize it until yesterday. But now I know for a fact and just for that alone she needs to talk to someone. She doesn't want to tell me and I don't want her to bottle it all up and keep it inside. After all this is over, do you think you could maybe get in touch with this MaryAnn to come and see her? Or better yet, I'll bring her to see MaryAnn if I have to, okay? I'm sure Andriev will understand."
There was a huge lump in Rusti's throat and she honestly felt like crying. "Someone did something to Lena?" she whispered.
Dani shook her head quickly as more tears spilled. "Someone- I don't know exactly who or what they did because she won't talk about it. But the poor thing was only 10 when it happened. She needs some help. The nightmares are terrible and I don't know what to do anymore! You see why I don't want to tell her anything? She can't take one more thing on her plate right now. If she were an adult she would have snapped by now. Once we find the vampire and kill him and some time goes by and she's had enough therapy, then I can tell her about all of this extra stuff, this stuff about Carpathians and…everything. But I don't want to tell her before that. She seems really strong, but sometimes enough is enough and I'm afraid she's going to have a breakdown."
Rusti barely held her tears in at the thought of the child she had known from such a young age being abused. "She's strong, Dani, you know that. And Andriev sure as heck won't mind making sure she gets to MaryAnn. That girl already has him wrapped around her little finger." She felt the need to warn her, "But don't let her tell him who it was."
"I already had that thought. They don't exactly seem like the type that would let an abuser live."
"Then you already know who and what you're dealing with."
"Maybe I can, I don't know, make some kind of deal with Andriev where the person winds up in custody and not dead."
Rusti gave her a wizened expression. "Good luck with that."
Danica awoke bright and early the next day.
She stood and looked out over her tiny backyard from the kitchen window. The sun was up but it still wasn't too late in the morning. It was barely 10:00. She wondered why she had awoken so early after having fallen asleep so late. Even as a child, Danica barely needed sleep. She was always the last one asleep in her house and the first one awake. She always thought it had something to do with the 'weirdness' she possessed. She didn't know.
She put coffee on to brew. She was in need of a caffeine pick-up. She could hear Lena above stairs, finally stirring.
Danica sighed tiredly as she thought of Andriev. The three Carpathians were down in her basement, sleeping. She put her elbows on the kitchen sink and rested her chin in her hands as she stood there, trapped in thought. The coffee began to drip. The warm aroma of it began to waft about the kitchen.
Standing there she could almost pretend that the warm, sunny day was all there was, and hot coffee was all she had to think about looking forward to. She could almost forget…
Andriev had warned her the night before right before she went upstairs with Rusti not to go down in the basement before sunset. At first she thought it was because they would Dracula out on her and drain her in some vampiric blood frenzy if she did. Seeing the image in her mind, he just laughed and assured her it was for her sake that she should stay away from the basement. He informed her that from the moment she laid eyes on them she would assume they were dead because of the way they appeared when they slept. It would put her into a panic because nothing she said or did would awaken them. As a result, there was no way they would jump her while they were sleeping. They wouldn't even be capable of moving. She knew Rusti still seemed like the same person on the inside, that she wouldn't lie to her. But what if that was a trait they had, they could make people trust them? What if…
She wondered how her life had come to this. She didn't know if she should see it as some wonderful dream to find a man like Andriev that she felt such an instant—like, infatuation, love?—for and who seemed to feel the same, maybe even more, in return. Or was it a nightmare? To contemplate changing her entire life just for some man, becoming something of the night unable to take the kiss of the sun?
She turned from her thoughts and set herself to making Lena some breakfast. Her niece would be downstairs any moment and she needed to concentrate on something else so the girl would literally not pick her brain. Though she realized the girl was always careful about doing things like that, she still knew that when a teenager got desperate they'd break pretty much any rule to know what was going on around them. She was going to have to find a way to get her to help sooner rather than later so she could tell her everything.
"What are you doing today?" asked Dani.
Lena shrugged. "Thought I'd play video games or something."
"Don't you want to go out somewhere?"
"Nah. School starts soon and I want to make sure I beat this game before then."
She knew her niece was still afraid to go out of doors without her and she couldn't fully blame her. "What if I take you someplace? What about the Bronx Zoo? Or do you want to drive up to White Plains and go shopping? Want to go to the movies?" she asked.
She laughed. "Aunt Dani, why are you trying to get me out of the house so badly? Or are you going to go on about summer vacation and how it's supposed to be 'a wonderful time of activity for a kid and'-"
"All right, now you're making fun of me," she smiled. "Here, eat this," she said as she put a bowl of brown sugar oatmeal with apples and raisins on the table.
Lena sat down and quickly dug into it, obviously very hungry. "Let's go shopping. I need school stuff anyway."
"You do, don't you? What do you need?"
"Natalia's mom dropped by the list of supplies we're going to need this year while you were out last week. I need everything on the list and I still need a backpack and some shoes."
"Want new jeans?"
"When do I not want new jeans?" smiled the girl. "Um, can I get a cup of coffee?" she asked nonchalantly.
"No! I already told you coffee isn't good for you."
"Oh, come on, you get to drink it!" she complained.
"I'm an adult. And coffee stunts your growth."
"I'm like not even five feet," said the girl with a deadpan expression. "That ship has sailed. I am not getting any taller."
"Not true! You have until you're 16 to get another inch or two."
"Do you want me to go upstairs right now and take that video game off your dresser?"
Lena looked right down into her oatmeal and started eating again, trying not to laugh as she mumbled out of the side of her mouth to her aunt, "You's a gangster."
It was a fun day of shopping. They reached home an hour before sunset. Danica was in the middle of making dinner for the two of them when Andriev appeared out of nowhere and put his arms around her. He had, mercifully, warned her that he was behind her first and she found herself leaning back into his arms.
The day had been difficult; doable, but difficult. She had had the urge to go down and see him from early on and that was why she had dragged Lena out of the house with her to go shopping.
It felt right in his arms as he leaned forward and lightly kissed her neck. "Your day was uneventful?"
She laughed, "Oh, it was full of events!"
"Tell me of these events."
"Our Lena tried to get me to buy her one of those awful micro-miniskirts. She's short, but she's got killer legs and I said absolutely not."
"And you were correct. Young ladies should not dress in that manner."
"I don't have an objection to miniskirts on grown women, Andriev! I happen to like to wear one occasionally, though I have stopped wearing them since Lena came to live with me. Lead by example and all that."
"So had it not been for Lena, you would showcase yourself to the world?"
She knew he was attempting to make her angry, so she intentionally scandalized him as she feigned thinking about his question and then announced, "Yes," as if it were nothing.
He laughed out loud, something he almost never did and she looked surprised as she turned and studied his face. "You look good when you laugh," she commented.
"That is not the only time I happen to look good," he commented.
She rolled her eyes. "I'm going to need ocular surgery or something because I keep having to roll my eyes at your arrogance."
"It is not arrogant to admit to what one happens to be. I have seen it in your mind, you have referred to me repeatedly as perfect."
"Okay, so then repeat after me. 'I am arrogant and I need to learn modesty'."
He laughed out loud again. "You are a delight to my senses," he said as he quickly stole a kiss from her.
She smacked his arm lightly and then asked, "Where's Darius and Rusti?"
"Why do you insist on her calling her by a boy's name? Her true name is 'Tempest'."
"It's a nickname. Like mine is 'Dani'. That's a boy name, too."
"Yes, I had noticed that."
"Hmm… and you're trying to keep me from finding something out and that's why you never answered my question. Where are they?"
"They have gone to-" the word 'hunt' wouldn't exit his mouth, "—meet Desari and Julian and make it easier for them to get here to your home."
She had a feeling he was hiding something, but she just didn't have the energy to deal with it.
"You are fatigued," he said suddenly. "Is there some reason you must do this while standing?" he said as he gestured at the stove.
"If I don't want lumpy gravy I better stand and stir."
"Perhaps you should sit and stir," he said as he pulled up a chair for her.
She sat down in it in a huff, but then admitted to herself that she did feel better for being off of her feet. She was glad for her tall stature, otherwise she knew she might not be able to reach the stove while sitting.
He noticed he did not smell any meat products cooking. "You have made vegetarian food this evening?"
"Rusti told me how you guys feel about meat so I didn't cook it."
"And the child?"
"My sister didn't always give her meat, so she's used to not getting it several days a week."
He was warmed by the fact that she had done something simply to make those of his people comfortable in her home. "And what did you make for the child?"
"Pure vegetable stock gravy, cornbread vegetable stuffing mixed with tofu crumbles and I made her a homemade cranberry sauce. The cornbread stuffing recipe is from Lena's dad's mom. It's a weird combination, all that stuff, but it's this thing Lena likes to eat from time to time. I make myself carrot raisin salad, but she doesn't like it unless it has pineapples in it, too. I forgot to get them, so I guess she won't eat it tonight."
"I will go and purchase it when my companions return."
"Just so that girl can have pineapples?" she asked, incredulous.
"We must make her happy, must we not?" he asked as if it were a simple thing.
"Do not spoil that girl!" she warned. "There's nothing like a spoiled teenager."
"Spoiled teenagers become adults that elect to not leave home," he said.
She was the one laughing then. "Then you don't know anything about teenagers."
Danica hated to admit it, but as soon as Rusti and Darius returned, she was stuck to the spot unable to speak on sight of Desari. She was barely able to get any words out when the star and her husband entered the home. "It's an honor to finally meet you!" she found herself gushing. Rusti hid her grin as Andriev remained strategically placed between Danica and everyone else.
"This is my sister, Desari and her life mate, Julian," Darius introduced them.
Desari pushed Julian aside and walked right past Andriev. She hugged Danica warmly. "I am so very sorry about the things that have been visited upon your family. It is my honor to meet one so brave," she said graciously.
Any reservations Danica had about the sincerity of the Carpathians went out of the window as she felt Desari's goodness swallow her whole. Andriev had called the females the light to their darkness. But this Desari, she was light! She was almost goodness itself. It just oozed off of her in waves.
Lena walked down the stairs then. Everyone expected the screaming attack from before, but she was mysteriously silent as she whispered, "It's really you." Her eyes were locked onto the singer as if she thought she might vanish into thin air. All eyes were on the teenager, but she didn't notice. All she saw was Desari standing at the bottom of the stairs as she approached cautiously, still not believing her eyes.
Desari smiled as the girl descended the stairs. "I was just telling your aunt how much of an honor it is to meet such women with inherent bravery."
Lena found herself unsuccessfully holding back tears. "You helped me so much," she could barely get out as the star folded her into her welcoming embrace. "Your music helped me so much when my parents died and-"
Desari could feel the girl's emotions passing through her. The pull of grief and fear, the dark pit of desolation within her was extremely strong. This girl had been hiding her severe depression behind the wall of her smile for much too long. You don't have to hide it anymore. I am here now to help you. And we will bring others who can help you.
Lena looked up at the star's watery eyes. "Do you promise?" she whispered as tears spilled down her face. "Because I don't think I can do this anymore," she finally admitted as her face broke and she fell into deeper sobs. Please don't tell my Aunt Dani! She couldn't take it if she knew how I really feel. Please don't tell her!
Desari was confused by the girl's ability to project her thoughts directly into her. She realized then, it was because they were physically touching. "Meet my life mate, Julian," she said to the child.
She turned as she wiped her tears away as she turned and saw Julian. She found herself saying, without thinking, "He looks like Uncle Andriev."
Neither Carpathian was exactly comfortable with the other just yet and they just held themselves back from gawking at her words. "Tell me more, child," Darius said with the hint of a grin in his words.
"They're both like-" Lena shrugged. "Pretty in the face in the same way. I don't know how to explain it. They- they like feel the same almost like they're related or something. Are you two related?"
The two hunters regarded one another closely. There was somewhat of a resemblance there. They were both rare blond male Carpathians and they were also both very obviously muscular, though Andriev was bigger physically.
"We'll look into that," Desari promised her. "Come and talk with me for now."
"I shall return shortly," Andriev said as he was about to leave the house.
"Where are you going?" asked Danica.
"Pineapples," he said. "The child is in need of pineapples. We cannot feed her without them."
Danica folded her arms as Lena grinned. "Can you get me a-"
"No!" Dani said. "No artificial sugar of any kind!" she said as she anticipated exactly what it was the girl wanted.
Andriev was surprised to feel a mental push past his defenses and Lena's stream of teenage thoughts were practically dumped into his head. Snickersbar snickersbar SNICKERSBAR! He winked once at her with a fatherly grin and then disappeared out of doors.
"Did you just put your order in even though I told you not to?" Dani asked her suspiciously.
Lena stood there, big-eyed and all innocence. "Can I show Desari my room?" she said as she failed to answer the question.
Dani simply folded her arms. The girl, she decided, had been through enough. "Go ahead. But come back in ten minutes. You have to eat dinner."
"Yes, I will!" she said as she showed Desari up the stairs.
Later that evening after he had returned from the store, Julian Savage and Andriev Lupov simply stared at one another for a couple of seconds. "Who is your mother?" asked Julian.
"Anatola Sivasyana," Andriev found himself answering.
His eyebrows rose. "Sivasyana? Is she related to a Gimeski Sivasyan?"
"Gimeski? She had a first cousin by the name of Gimeski. She said he was lost to the Turks."
"And so he was. Gimeski Sivasyan was my mother's first cousin, as well."
The two simply stood there. "Wow," interrupted Dani, shocked. "You two really are related?"
"It would appear so," said Julian. But just as he was about to relay the information back to Gregori, he realized Andriev was doing the exact same thing.
A/N - Sorry it took so long to update! Life has been hectic.