Author Topic: Contemplating the Future  (Read 1029 times)

Valerian

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Contemplating the Future
« on: April 26, 2019, 04:14:21 PM »
There had been a few changes since Lauren had moved in with Valerian. Just a few, given how panicked his response had been to just the thought of her stamping her personality on his penthouse apartment, but enough to offer a splash of color to the former bachelor pad. It was just on sunset when she got back home, setting her bag, coat, and shoes aside to investigate the kitchen and throw together a sandwich for herself. Val would be waking up reasonably soon, and even though he drank a mug of warm blood, it had become a habit to eat together, as it were.

What the vampire would have given to see just one more sunset, one more sunrise, but whether he would be willing to give up his immortality for it was uncertain. If there was a cure. That was still a pretty big If. Valerian was a creature of habit. He woke every night just after the sunset, rose, fed, and dressed in that order. After that, he sometimes visited his nightclub and tended to business there, though more often than not, he trusted it to Adelia to run things there, only summoning him when she thought he was needed. Tonight was no different. Val made his way into the kitchen, looking pale and in need of blood, his hair mussed from bed. Unlike the plethora of fictional vampires, he preferred a bed to a coffin and always had.

"There you are," he said, as he wandered into the kitchen, pausing to touch a kiss to her lips, his own lips a little too cold yet.

"Mmm, here I am," Lauren agreed, smiling into his kiss. She turned, smoothing her hands over his sides to his back as she leaned into him. "Sleep well, baby?"

"Like the dead," he quipped, the ghost of a smirk against his lips. Or more like the undead. He'd never liked that word to describe his condition. He wasn't dead or undead. He was alive; he just wasn't human anymore. He touched his nose to hers and gave her rear a squeeze, but he couldn't tarry too long before he had to feed. "You smell like ..." He buried his face in her hair a moment, trying to identify the scent. It was like nothing he'd ever smelled before. Vaguely human, but different.

She giggled as he squeezed her backside, lifting her head even as he buried his face in her hair. She rolled her eyes, stroking his back gently. "I smell like Aurelia Evans and Rhys Bristol," she told him. "Teeth away from my jugular until you've fed, please."

"Hm, so am I smelling witch or something else?" he murmured uncertainly, all too aware of the pulse that beat dangerously close to his lips.

But he would never hurt her, not in a hundred thousand years, not if she were the last source of blood on Earth. He'd rather die first. He took her warning seriously though, and broke away from her to fetch a canister of blood from the fridge and warm it in the microwave. It wasn't quite as enticing as a warm body, but at least there were more civilized options in today's world.

"I'm not sure," Lauren admitted. "She is a witch, I'm certain of that, but she doesn't smell like one and she doesn't seem to be attached to any demon or god. And I have no idea what Rhys Bristol is. He's human, but at the same time, he is something else entirely."

"A witch who isn't tethered to a demon or god?" he asked, arms crossed, tapping a finger against his side while he impatiently waited for the microwave to beep. "Is such a thing possible?"

"It seems to be." Lauren wasn't entirely sure of that, but she had felt the aura of power in that house. "She may be unique, but I am more than willing to concede that she can probably do everything she suggested she would if we harm or cause harm to come to her friends."

"Why would we harm them?" Val asked, the question redundant, not expecting an answer. The microwave beeped and he pulled the door open to retrieve his breakfast, warm and thick and crimson. He took his first swallow, feeling the stuff slide down his throat and warm him from the inside out, before he turned to face her again. "Are they willing to help us?" he asked curiously. He had already expressed his doubts to Tobias. Why would they want to help them? Then again, maybe they could help each other.

"They're going to talk it over with each other, which is fair enough." Lauren took a bite of her sandwich, moving to sit down on a stool by the breakfast bar as she ate. "They have children they need to be sure about protecting, and I'm pretty sure they have other sources they can get to investigate and make sure we're being honest with them. But Rhys wants to meet Toby."

"Well, that's progress, I guess," Val admitted, unsure how he felt about that. He wasn't sure he trusted a man who had a reputation for being one of the world's fiercest hunters. Probably a hero, by human standards. Val wasn't so sure. He wasn't so sure about Toby's experiments either. Given the choice, would he want to trade immortality for an early death? "I don't know why Toby is so hell bent on this cure anyway. It's almost an obsession with him."

"I think it's because of Lorelei," Lauren said thoughtfully. "Because if there had been a cure, he thinks he could have cured her and she'd have lived a normal life, albeit without him, and he would only have had to grieve his little girl." She shook her head. Tobias hated that anyone was turned without their consent. She could understand why he wanted to be able to give people in that situation hope.

Val said nothing about that, only clenched his jaw, his breakfast - his most immediate needs - almost forgotten for the moment. Like Lauren, he knew about Tobias' past, but Josef was gone, destroyed. They had destroyed him together.

"What about me?" he asked, blurting a question he'd been mulling too long. "If Toby is right about this, if there is a cure, then what about me? How would you feel about me being ... mortal?"

Lauren put down her sandwich, frowning curiously as she looked over at him. "Baby, that's not my choice to make," she told him gently. "I mean ... best case scenario, the cure will just remove the immortality and let you age normally from this physical point. That means that I would outlive you, but I would be by your side right to the end. Val, I love you. Whatever you choose to do, I'll be there beside you."

Valerian frowned. He wasn't sure that was good enough for him, and as much as he trusted him, he certainly wasn't going to fill the role of Tobias' guinea pig. "I'm not sure how many of our kind will accept a cure," he remarked, that frown still in place. Then again, he assumed it would be a matter of choice.

"In the end, I don't think it matters," Lauren said in a thoughtful tone. "Working on the cure gives Toby purpose, and with Lorelei and Josef dead, he doesn't really have that anymore."

That didn't help wipe the frown from Valerian's face. "And after he's finished?" he queried. Presuming Tobias was successful. It worried him that his friend and sire might give up on life, or even take the cure himself. He couldn't imagine Tobias aging and growing old. It was unthinkable.

She reached out, curling her hand over his around the mug in his grasp. "These aren't questions I can answer, baby," she reminded him gently. "Toby wouldn't mind you asking him. And the cure is by no means a guarantee. Just having a sample of that blood doesn't mean it can be replicated."

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« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2019, 04:14:40 PM »
Val sighed, grateful for Lauren's presence; for her support and her compassion and her understanding; for just being her. "What we need to do is give Tobias a reason for living, beyond his research," he remarked, though he wasn't sure what that reason might be.

"We could expand his horizons a little?" she suggested, swallowing the last of her sandwich and chasing it with a mouthful of water. "Take him back to the places he's visited around the world, take him to visit old friends maybe? Anabelle and Julian offered to put us all up if we visited them in England."

"That visit is long overdue," Val said, in reference to a visit to England. They'd been talking about it a long time, but had yet to cross the large pond that separated them from their friends. He took another long swallow of his breakfast, before his hands started to shake.

Lauren eyed the vague suggestion of a tremble in his hands. "I knew you should have fed last night," she sighed, rubbing a hand through her hair. "We'll stop at the club on our way to see Toby and get you some fresh blood."

"I'm all right," he assured her, though he clearly wasn't. He smiled a little at her concern. "I do appreciate your concern though. You're adorable when you worry about me." And with that said, he drained what remained of his breakfast. It was enough for now, but fresh blood wouldn't hurt.

"You're not all right," she countered, though she was smiling back at him, drawing her fingers over his cheek. "You're too pale. I'm driving tonight."

"Any excuse to drive my car," Val murmured, with an amused smile on his face. He touched a kiss to her lips, now that they were no longer ice cold. "Shall I get dressed then, or do you have other plans?" he asked, clad only in a pair of silk pajama bottoms and a silk robe, open at the front.

She smiled into his kiss, rising from her seat to collect his mug and her plate. "I promise I'll send you to sleep with a smile," she told him, kissing the tip of his nose. "Get dressed, I want to see you fed properly."

"Yes, dear," he replied, smirking devilishly back at her. "Are you sure you don't want a little preview?" he teased. He might be considered undead, but there was nothing wrong with his libido.

Lauren laughed, visibly having to force herself to turn away to the sink. "I'm trying to be the responsible adult here, you know," she pointed out, glancing over her shoulder to meet his gaze with loving eyes.

"Suit yourself," he said, shrugging out of the robe as he turned to start back toward the bedroom, wiggling his rear as he went, just for her benefit, as if he knew she was watching.

She tore her eyes away, giggling under her breath. He knew exactly what he did to her, even after a few years together, and he definitely enjoyed testing her self-control. But she was more stubborn than he was about making sure he looked after himself, and that meant fresh, warm blood straight from the source at least once a week.

He didn't really need a shower as he wasn't mortal and didn't sweat and stink like one, though sometimes he took one just for fun. But he did have to get dressed and that alone took some time, as vain as he was about his appearance. He hummed an old tune to himself as he picked out an impeccably tailored suit, shirt, and tie that probably cost more than most people's paychecks.

Indeed, his dressing took long enough for Lauren to wash up the dishes and put them away, and change her own clothes so she wouldn't stand out too badly in the nightclub. She was a fan of swishy short dresses, and she couldn't wear them on the motorbike. People got weird about seeing her panties at times.

Valerian didn't. He enjoyed the peek at her panties, but he preferred keeping that view to himself. When he finally emerged from his bedroom, he was clad in a crisp black suit, crimson shirt, and purple tie. Black Berluti leather shoes completed the ensemble, shiny and new; dark hair perfectly coiffed, not a hair out of place. "Shall we, love?" he asked, twirling his keys around a forefinger.

Whether it was conscious or not, they matched - Lauren's chosen dress was deep purple that complimented his shirt and tie. She straightened from adjusting her heels, flicking her loose hair back over her shoulder, and moved to join him, gently smoothing his lapels. "Mmm, you always look good enough to eat."

"As do you," he said, playfully tapping a finger against her nose as she smoothed his lapels. "You are almost as delicious as breakfast," he said. That was saying something considering most everything tasted like ashes to him, ever since he'd lost his humanity.

She held his gaze, her lips curving into a softer, wider smile. "Aw, screw it," she muttered, reaching to take his hand and draw him back into the bedroom. "You can drive if you feed first."

"Darling, I just got dressed!" he said, making a weak attempt at protesting. "Besides, you know you want to drive," he said, dangling the keys from his finger to tempt her, even as she reached to yank him back into the bedroom. "Then again, who am I to argue?"

"I can drive another time," she murmured, turning back to pull him into her arms. Her hand curled to his neck, drawing his mouth and nose to the line of her own throat, to the beating pulse there. "You know you're hungry, baby. Just give me a little bit of yours when you're done, and we're good to go."

"And here I thought you wanted me to stay away from your jugular," he said, remembering her earlier warning, though that had been before he'd taken the edge off his hunger. Though he was a vampire, his breath was warm against her neck, his pulse quickening to match her own as his teeth grazed her throat. A moment more, and it would be too late to stop him.

Yet all she did was tilt her head further, giving him unfettered access. She trusted him, and she knew he valued that trust. No one else knew what a dhampir tasted like, but Lauren knew her lover cherished her.

Had he really said she tasted almost as good as his breakfast? That had definitely been a lie. He brushed his lips against the throbbing beat of her pulse for a moment, warming her flesh with his breath, his arms going around her to hold her close, before incisors too sharp to be human pierced her flesh. Pressing his mouth to the wound, he almost tenderly drank of her, careful he didn't take too much, just enough to come alive with awareness. Just a small taste of her blood felt more invigorating than if he'd drained several mortals of all they had.

Valerian

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« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2019, 04:15:07 PM »
It was such an intimate act that they rarely partook, and it said a lot about how rattled Lauren was about her meeting with the witch and the hunter today that she would suggest it with so little preamble. She needed that moment of preternatural closeness as much as he did, clinging to him as their minds merged for just a few seconds, long enough to be absolutely certain without any room for doubt that this was where she was supposed to be.

He caught just a glimpse of her conversation with the witch and the hunter as his mind touched hers. He could have stayed there all day, savoring the taste of her, but he had learned control. He wasn't so hungry that he couldn't restrain himself, no matter how much he savored her blood. After indulging for a few minutes, he reluctantly pulled away, licking the last vestiges of blood from his lips with a happy sigh.

"Your turn, love," he told her, retracting his fangs so that he looked almost human.

The puncture wounds on her neck oozed just a little as she smiled up at him, the tip of her nose circling his.

"You'd better have had enough this time," she warned, though she was not above taking a side trip to the club just to make sure he was overfed.

Still, she trusted him, her fingers gently curling to the back of his head, tilting his neck as she kissed his jugular, consciously unsheathing her own fangs. A moment later, and her teeth pierced his skin, retracting instantly to let her suckle just enough to heal over her new wounds.

He smiled and groaned with pleasure as she partook of his blood, their minds once again touching if only for a moment. She'd likely sense his worry over her safety, not only because of her meeting with the witch and the hunter, but simply because he couldn't imagine life without her anymore. It wasn't the same kind of affection he felt for Tobias or Adelia; it was the kind of love one felt for a mate, for the other half of their soul.

Her tongue swept tenderly over the marks she left behind, watching them close almost in the same moment as the marks on her own throat closed over, the bruises fading until they were nothing. Licking her lips clean, Lauren tipped her head back, flashing Val a sweet smile. "You always taste incredible."

"It's my sweet nature," he teased, waggling his brows as he grinned at her. He definitely felt more invigorated, the color returning to his face, his fingers warm as he brushed a strand of hair away from her face. "What now? We have the whole night ahead of us."

She considered him for a moment, that familiar playful mischief in her expression now she was no longer concerned about his strength. "Toby or the Gregorys," she suggested. "Your choice, since you're driving."

"Why not kill two birds - or in this case, three - with one stone?" he asked, not counting Aly, since she was a child. "After all, Nick and Willow need to hear what you're going to tell Toby," he pointed out, and that way they wouldn't have to repeat themselves. "You can call while I drive."

"See, that's why you're the brains of this outfit." She grinned, lifting up onto her toes to kiss him softly for a moment, drawing her fingers through his hair to muss it up just the way she liked it. "Shall we go?"

He chuckled as she mussed his hair, but didn't bother to smooth it, since she seemed to like it that way. "Are you sure you don't want to drive?" he asked, dangling the keys from his finger again. It wasn't often he offered, but he was in an exceptionally good mood tonight.

"I thought I was the one making the phone call?" she asked in amusement, linking her fingers with his as she headed for the elevator. "I might get light-headed a little in a while, we don't want to risk scratching your baby."

"You're right. I would rather drive. You can make the phone call," he agreed, lifting her hand to his lips for a kiss just as they reached the elevator. He cocked his head at her curiously a moment. "Why would you get light-headed?"

"Blood loss, healing." Lauren's smile didn't falter as she explained gently. "I'm still just human enough to need a little bit more time to get over a feed than you do." She winked at him, tugging him into the elevator.

"Then you are definitely not driving," he said, in complete agreement. He closed his fingers around the keys in his hand before pressing a thumb against the button to summon the elevator. "You know, Tobias is a little obsessed with finding a cure. He has been ever since I've known him." Which was a long time, since Tobias had turned him.

"Yeah, same here," Lauren agreed, looping his arm over her shoulders as she leaned into his side. "But it's not like he hasn't had any breakthroughs. Like that cream stuff he can put on his hand? That was a big day." Admittedly, Tobias hadn't got any further than that just yet, but he was only one of many looking for the elusive cure.

"You know, I'm not really sure I'd want to be human again," Val admitted, a small frown on his face. There were definitely advantages to being a vampire, but there were drawbacks, too. "All that nonsense about digestion, for one thing. I don't recall being too fond of sickness either," he said, reaching out to hold the elevator door open so she could get in.

"Val, no one's saying you have to," she pointed out, stepping into the elevator and turning to lean back against the wall as she watched him. "I don't think anyone working on developing a cure is expecting to use it themselves. It seems more like a means to make the future a little less them and us, you know? To be able to give people who are turned against their will the option of going back."

"I suppose," he admitted, that frown still on his face, more thoughtful now than worried. "Nick and Willow haven't been vampires very long. They might appreciate a cure," he said. Their dhampir daughter would outlive them, but most children outlived their parents anyway.

"Yeah, they might, if it happens within the next twenty years," she said, shaking her head. "But that is a huge if, baby. And there's no guarantee that Rhys Bristol will agree to give Toby a blood sample anyway."

"If he does and Toby is able to concoct a cure, there may not be as many vampires to hunt," Val pointed out. Though he had not yet met this hunter and quite possibly wouldn't, he assumed the man might be interested in lowering the vampire population without having to hunt them down and kill them. The thought worried him though. "Are you sure this hunter is trustworthy?" he asked, belatedly realizing the irony in using the words 'hunter' and 'trustworthy' in the same statement.

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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2019, 04:15:25 PM »
"He didn't attack me on sight," she pointed out. "I don't know for certain, and none of us will until actions prove it one way or another, but I am inclined to trust him. He has a certain kind of honor."

"Why would he? You aren't a vampire," Val reminded her. "He's agreed to meet Toby then?" he asked, though that much seemed clear enough. The elevator came to a halt and the doors opened onto the parking garage. "On neutral ground, I suppose." He wasn't sure he liked the idea of a hunter knowing where to find them.

"I'm pretty sure he'll request a meeting on neutral ground," Lauren mused thoughtfully, stepping out at his side into the cool air of the garage. "It's in his hands, just like Toby told me to leave it."

"So, what now?" he asked, reaching for her hand as they exited the elevator and started toward the spot where he'd parked the Mercedes.

"We have to keep watching anyway," she said, fingers lacing between his automatically as they walked. "Whether the hunter makes a move or not, we're going to be asked to take part in wiping out the ones who think killing children is the way to go."

"If they find out," Valerian said. He had to admit he didn't really trust hunters, but he had to trust Tobias knew what he was doing. He hoped he knew what he was doing anyway. "What exactly is it about this hunter's blood that's so special?" he asked, tapping a button on the keypad that unlocked the doors to the Mercedes as they got close.

Lauren waited until they were both seated inside the car before she answered. "Apparently he's immune," she said quietly. "I don't know how or why, but he's immune to vampirism and lycanthropy. He's probably immune to revenant venom too."

"Immune?" the vampire echoed, dubiously. "But that's ... impossible," he said, dark brows furrowing in consternation at the thought of that. "How does Toby know he's immune?" he asked further, needing proof.

"He didn't tell me everything," she pointed out. "You know what he's like when it comes to protecting his sources. All he would tell me was that the information came out of the hospital in Flagstaff, years ago."

"Strange," Valerian mused aloud, as he started the car, the engine purring as it came to life. "And he's sure it's not a trap?" he asked, ever suspicious.

"What would be the point in setting a trap like that?" Lauren said curiously. "The Flagstaff information came out almost a decade ago - for humans, that's a big chunk of time. I know some hunters like to play the long game, but this one has done some pretty amazing things in the meantime. If he was setting a trap for vampires, he would have stuck with it, right?"

"What kind of amazing things?" Val asked, as he turned to her with a skeptical expression on his face. He felt a strange flair of jealousy at her praise of the hunter, not only because he was a hunter and considered the enemy but because he was unaccustomed to hearing her praise another man, unless it was Toby.

"Baby, he took on Hell's Triad and won," she reminded him. "He and his wife and their friend closed the Gates of Hell, and there's a rumor that he died to do it and got brought back as a reward. Aren't those amazing things?"

"Amazing if they're true, but how do you know they're true?" Val countered. Hell's Triad. What nonsense. He knew Tobias believed all that, but he wasn't so sure himself. It wasn't that he didn't believe in the existence of demons; it was the existence of angels that troubled him.

"Valerian Dumas, are you honestly going to tell me that you don't believe that happened?" she asked in surprise. "There have been far fewer demonic incursions in the last few years, and there's no reason for that unless the Gate is closed."

Val narrowed his eyes at the mention of his surname. At least, she hadn't called him by the name given him at birth. He hadn't used that name since he'd been turned and had no interest in doing so again. "In my experience, most legends are based on truth, but usually that truth is greatly exaggerated," he replied, neither confirming nor denying his beliefs.

"All right, so what do you think happened?" she challenged him, enjoying the slightly antagonistic debate. Never let it be said that Lauren coddled her fiancé's ego.

He tapped a finger against the steering wheel, while he waited at a traffic light - a sign of mild annoyance either at the traffic or the conversation, though he didn't say which. "I have no idea, but have you ever heard of a human being resurrected anywhere but in the Bible?" he pointed out.

"In order for me to answer that, you're going to have to define dead for me," Lauren pointed out. "Because if it's just heart stopped beating, then it happens daily in hospitals all over the world."

"You know what I mean," he said, with a sidelong glance at her. "You just said he died to close the Gates of Hell and was brought back as a reward. First of all, you said it was a rumor, hence, it may not be true. Secondly, brought back by whom?" Val asked. "Hold on!" he warned, hitting the gas and weaving his way through traffic.

"Maybe you should ask Toby." Lauren eyed him with amused suspicion as she braced for the sudden acceleration. "Are you ... are you jealous, baby?"

"Why, so Toby can give me a lecture about God?" Val said, rolling his eyes, which made swerving through traffic a little more dangerous, but he seemed to be managing it. "Me? Jealous? Don't be ridiculous. Why would I be jealous of a hunter, of all things? And a human, at that?" He grumbled under his breath as another car switched lanes, cutting him off, and he had to hit the brake. "Bloody hell."

"Yeah." She drawled the word to hide the faint shake in her voice at that very near miss, sitting on her hands for the same reason. She'd never seen him this agitated. "You do remember I can still die in a car crash, right?"

Val frowned, forcing himself to relax his grip on the steering wheel, as she pointed out his recklessness. "Sorry. I'm just ..." He exhaled a sigh. "Perhaps you should have driven, after all."

"Baby, pull over for a minute." Her tone made it clear that it wasn't a request; she wanted his full attention to make sure he listened to what she had to say next.

"I'll try," he said, feeling contrite about his driving, but not convinced any hunter would be willing to help them. It took a little patience, but he eventually managed to find a gas station, where he pulled in and parked the car. "I'm sorry, Lauren," he told her, before she had a chance to say a word. "I just don't think hunters can be trusted."

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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2019, 04:15:39 PM »
She twisted in her seat, holding his gaze for a long moment. "There are different layers of trust," she said quietly. "Do I trust him to work with us in eliminating the group that want to kill him and his family? Yes, because he has a personal stake in that. Do I trust him to let us be after that? I don't know. I think it will all depend on how it goes. The only thing I am absolutely certain of is that he will not hurt Aly, so Nick and Willow are safe, too."

"How can you know that?" he asked, not so sure himself whether they could trust a hunter with someone so rare as a child who was a dhampir. Of course, every child was precious, but there were only five dhampirs known to exist in the entire world. "How can you be sure?" He wasn't asking because he doubted her judgment; he was asking because he was worried about her safety and the safety of all those he'd come to love.

"Because no one can fake that level of anger just at the thought of someone hurting a child, no matter their origin," Lauren said softly. She reached for his hands. "Look, baby, I don't trust him with my life. I have no reason to trust hunters, no matter how personable they are. I've been burned before. But he deserved to know that he's in danger, that his children are in danger. We don't have to like him, we don't have to trust him. We just have to work together on this one thing."

Val seemed to consider a moment. It wasn't that the hunter had a child and a family that made him change his mind; it was the fact that Tobias had been working on a cure for so long and for all the right reasons. Val might never be ready to give up his immortality, but it wasn't his place to make that decision for others. For Nick and Willow, who'd been turned against their will. For others who'd suffered the same fate. Perhaps even for Adelia. Would she want a second chance at life, without the need to drink blood to survive? He sighed again.

"Very well. There's nothing I can do once Tobias has his mind set, but if this hunter so much as looks at you the wrong way, he will answer to me."

"I'm pretty sure he feels the same way about us," Lauren assured him, squeezing his hand. She, too, was uncertain quite what Rhys Bristol would make of her when they went into battle alongside each other; she knew she appeared completely human and harmless most of the time. Only those closest to her knew just how deadly she could be.

"He'd be a fool not to," Val agreed, meeting her gaze. "It's time hunters learn that we are not all blood-thirsty monsters, nor are we sparkly and misunderstood," he said, unsure which stereotype he detested more. His frowned deepened a moment, his expression contrite. "I'm sorry, Lauren. I shall try to keep an open mind."

"Baby, I don't blame you for the way you feel," she promised him. "And I know it looks like I'm not being cautious. But he won't trust us if we don't at least put on a show of trusting him." Her lips quirked into a teasing smile. "And we all know I'm best at that."

"I've yet to meet a trustworthy hunter," Val remarked, though he supposed there was a first time for everything. "Do you really believe what Toby says about him?" he asked, merely curious now.

She drew in a slow breath, thinking this over for a moment. "I want to?" she answered eventually. "I want to believe that a hunter could be that noble, that honest with the world. Is that naive of me?"

"No, it's rather noble," he replied, offering her a soft smile full of affection. "I'm afraid I've become rather cynical about the world. Vampire and all, you know," he said, as if that was an excuse for his feelings. Tobias had turned him, not so much because Val had wanted to become a vampire as it had been the only way to save him. Val never spoke of it or of the past, unless it was necessary, and it was something of a secret that only he and Tobias shared.

"It's hard not to turn cold to the world and the people in it when everyone around you dies while you stay young," she agreed softly, leaning close to kiss the tip of his nose. "That's why you have me. I'm not going anywhere."

"I won't leave you, Lauren," Val promised, bringing her hand to his lips, while meeting her gaze. He'd made up his mind there. Even if Tobias did present him with a cure, he wouldn't and couldn't leave Lauren - not when they'd just found each other.

"We're in this together, right? To the end?" She wasn't sure why she needed to hear him say it. Perhaps because the only other man she had ever loved had cared only enough to get her into a position where he could kill her with relative ease.

"To the end," he assured her, that soft smile on his face again. It was a promise he'd never given anyone else - not Adelia, not Tobias. He'd always delighted in his immortality, but though Lauren was long-lived, she wasn't immortal. One day, many years in the future, he would have to let her go, and for him, that would signal the end of his life, too.

She smiled, pressing her lips to his tenderly as her fingers teased through his hair. "I love you," she murmured, the diamond he had put on her finger sparkling in the artificial light of the gas station. "When this is over, we're going on holiday somewhere for a little bit, just you and me, and we're going to make those vows we've been putting off. Okay?"

"Are you talking about getting married?" he asked, dark eyes dancing with amusement. "How human of you," he teased. He didn't need a ceremony or a legal piece of paper to prove his love for her, but the idea of them going away together to make those vows in private was a tempting thought. "Where should we go?"

"Somewhere with warm waters and night-blossoming flowers," she suggested, nuzzling to him affectionately.

"Hmm, someplace tropical then," he murmured thoughtfully. Someplace where they could sleep the days away and indulge in long moonlit nights. "Or we could go where the sun hardly shines," he suggested, but it would be cold there. Frigid really. Too cold to be outside for long without the proper clothing. Even vampires could freeze.

Lauren smirked. "Baby, you know I love your chilly fingers, but there are parts of you I would rather not froze solid," she told him playfully, nipping at his lower lip before easing back into her own seat again.

"Tropical then," he repeated. "We'll just have to make do with the shorter nights," he said with a long-suffering sigh. "I have to admit, it would be nice to see the sunrise again, but I have no desire to become mortal."

"One of these days, I am going to get you to trust me when it comes to that glass," she informed him pointedly. "If even Julian can trust that he isn't going to burst into flames, then you should be able to."

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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2019, 04:15:55 PM »
Valerian winced. "I am not sure I trust a pane of glass to keep me safe from certain incineration," he said. Perhaps in time, he would. Julian was older than him by some two hundred years. Perhaps he just missed it more than Val did. "Shall we be on our way before Tobias sends out a search party?"

"I'm going to win on this one," Lauren predicted confidently, leaning back in her seat with a grin. "If he does send out a search party, I'll laugh. Your bloodline is full of worrywarts."

Valerian looked suddenly insulted. "I'll have you know I have never had warts. Not a single one," he insisted. "I am not so sure about Toby though," he added, with a mischievous grin.

She snorted with laughter, reaching over to poke a fingertip into his cheek fondly. "Just drive, warty pants." It was good to feel the tension lift, though she was pretty sure it would descend again at some point. Hunters and monsters just weren't meant to mix.

"Yes, dear," he said, that smirk still on his face as he pulled out of the gas station and back into traffic, which had thankfully died down a bit while they'd been talking. "So, tell me about the witch."

"She demonstrated a little of her power to us this morning," Lauren told him. "That's how I know she's definitely a witch, she definitely has magic. She can make a shield of pure energy around herself, and anyone near her, and apparently that's only one of things she can do. I assume she has some kind of travel spell or whatever, because she just disappeared in front of me and she was waiting in her home when I got there this afternoon."

"Interesting," Valerian murmured, his eyes on the traffic. "There was a time, so the stories go, that vampires and witches were allies," he said, though she probably knew this already. There were also plenty of stories of them at war with each other, as well.

"That would suggest that vampires were allied with demons as well," Lauren pointed out thoughtfully. "Thing is, there's no demonic aura to her power. There's no outside aura at all. It all comes from inside her. I have never heard of that before."

"Then perhaps she's as rare as you are. An anomaly. Perhaps Tobias knows more," he said, though he wasn't sure. Tobias, as a rule, knew more than he did about just about everything, except perhaps how to run a nightclub.

"Perhaps." She shrugged. "I don't know. Aurelia seems pretty confident in herself. She, uh, she looked Toby right in the eye and told him if he was lying in order to hurt her friends, she would wipe him so far off the planet that the planet would never know he had existed." She giggled at the memory. "She's tiny, too."

Valerian was startled so badly by that declaration, he nearly had to slam on the brakes. "Bloody hell! Do you think she was serious? That would take an enormous amount of power. I've never heard of such a thing in recent history." Whatever the case, she didn't sound like the kind of witch they wanted for an enemy.

"She might have been serious, or she might have just wanted to let us know that they can take care of themselves and their own," Lauren said thoughtfully, though she was still smiling. "Trust me, you'll get it when you see her. She doesn't seem the type to dole out violence unless it's been earned."

"Oh, so, I'm going to be allowed to attend this meeting, then?" he asked, that mischievous grin on his face again. She had hinted at such already, but he had a feeling Tobias wouldn't want him there, unless he could control his hostility.

Lauren snorted with laughter. "Maybe not this meeting," she conceded cheerfully. "But I think you'd get on with her pretty well. You never know, we might all be friends in a few weeks' time."

It was Val's turn to snort, but for a very different reason. "Friends with a hunter and a witch?" he said, dubiously. "Somehow, I doubt it. Allies, perhaps. I'm not sure about friends." And with that said, they had arrived at the place Tobias called home, where more of their questions would be answered.

A familiar car was parked in the driveway - the Gregorys were visiting, a fact that was borne out by the way the front door flew open and Alessandra came barreling down the steps just as Val opened his door. The five-year-old dhampir launched herself onto his lap.

"Hi, Uncle Val!" she declared cheerfully. "Can I drive your car?"

Val grunted as the girl landed in his lap. "Absolutely not!" he said, stroking her hair affectionately. "Not until you can reach the pedals," he added, with a teasing grin. "How is my favorite niece?" he asked, as he plucked her off his lap and onto the ground so that he could get out after her. She wasn't exactly his niece, but they were sort of related through Toby.

"I got a new kind of tooth, look!"

Set on her feet, Aly turned around and bared her teeth, showing off one brand new fang. Lauren smirked to herself as she got out of the car, remembering when her little sister had got her first set of adult fangs. Actually, losing that first set was always the bigger shock.

"Oh!" Val breathed, looking duly impressed as he leaned down to take a closer look. "Impressive. You're almost a proper dhampir now." He told her, though she had always been a dhampir, just not capable of piercing flesh until now. "Where is your mother?" he asked, not because she was irritating him, but because he was still not sure what to make of her.

"I am a proper damp hire!" the little girl declared indignantly, waving a hand absently toward the house as she prodded at her new tooth with one finger.

"Hey, lemme see," Lauren suggested, crouching down to get a look. "You know the other one's coming in too? You're gonna have a pair in a couple of days."

Aly's eyes lit up. "Really?"

"Good lord," Valerian murmured, rolling his eyes. He hoped the girl didn't start biting into everything and everyone in sight, just for fun. "I am going to find Toby," he said, feeling a little awkward. To be fair, he hadn't had much experience with children, immortal or otherwise.

Lauren grinned at him as he tried to escape, rising as Aly slid her hand into his to prevent that from happening.

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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2019, 04:16:21 PM »
"I'll show you how to put them away so they're not always out and poking your lips," she promised the little girl, taking the other proffered hand. Both dhampirs looked up at Valerian sweetly. "Lead the way, baby."

Despite his awkwardness, he was fond of the child. How could he not be? She was too adorable and too precious not to be fond of, not to want to protect. He'd protect her with his life, just as he would Lauren, if it came down to it.

"You are both adorable, you know," he said, as he led the way to and into the house Toby called home. And they both had him wound around their fingers.

"Of course we are," Lauren agreed in a playful tone. "We're perfection."

Between them, Aly snickered, bouncing along, secure in the knowledge that they would swing her without even thinking about it. She might not have many friends her own age, but Alessandra Gregory knew she was loved.

"You are also insufferable," Val complained, as he was silently coerced into swinging the child between them. "Both of you," he said, more to Lauren than Aly, with a hint of teasing in his eyes.

"It keeps you humble," was Lauren's answer, with a wink to her lover as Aly abandoned their hands at the height of the swing and bounced in through the front door, yelling for her parents and Tobias.

"They're here, they're here!"

"I'll have you know I'm the epitome of humble," Val contradicted, looking insulted, though they both knew that was the farthest thing from the truth. "I'm just a tad vain is all," he said, as if that excused his flaws and foibles.

"Oh, yeah, the tiniest tad," Lauren laughed, closing the door behind them as a grunt declared that Aly had thrown herself at someone else further into the house. "Marco!" she yelled out.

The answer came from Tobias. "We're in the living room, you ridiculous girl."

Valerian flashed a grin at Lauren before chuckling upon overhearing Tobias. "Even Tobias isn't old enough to have known Marco Polo," he remarked. "Well, here we are!" he declared as the two of them stepped into the living room, spreading his arms as if they should all be honored he'd finally arrived.

Nick grunted at the sight of Valerian. There was a time when the two vampires hadn't liked each other, but he couldn't deny that the older vampire had proved a formidable ally. It was better to be friends than enemies.

"As full of yourself as ever, I see," Nick murmured, not getting off the couch.

"It's gonna be one of those days," Willow muttered, flashing her husband an indulgent smile. Aly was latched onto her back, both of them bent over some kind of art and craftsy collage they were working on together.

Tobias smiled at Val and Lauren. "Make yourselves comfortable," he suggested. "I take it you have news."

Valerian flashed Nick a grin, before looking to Toby. "She does. I'm just the arm candy," he said, dropping into an overstuffed chair and drawing Lauren into his lap.

Lauren laughed as she was pulled into Val's lap, making herself comfortable with one arm draped about his shoulders. But the laughter didn't last long, set aside in favor of sharing everything that had happened in the meeting with Rhys Bristol just a few hours ago. "So basically," she finished, "we're just waiting on Aurelia to contact you, Toby, and let you know when and where the next meeting is."

"What's a hunter?" Aly asked curiously from where she sat, always included in conversations like this for obvious reasons.

"Someone who hunts things," Nick told his daughter simply, though that hardly explained things. He wasn't sure she should be there to take part in this conversation. After all, she was only a child, but he and Willow had agreed a long time ago not to keep anything from her.

Somehow Nick and Willow had created one of the cheekiest children they had ever come across. Aly twisted in her seat to look her Dad in the eye, her expression twinkling with mischief, and asked, "Is he a baaaaad hunter?"

"Are you asking if he hunts sheep?" Val asked, clearly not getting the joke, but then it had been a very long time since he'd been five years old. He looked to the others, as if looking for a translation.

Aly made a ridiculous face at Val, switching it to an apologetic grin when her mother prodded her.

"I do believe she is teasing her father," Tobias commented, drumming his fingertips on his knee. "We're not the only ones in on this. The wolves have started to identify the rogues who want those children gone, but apparently they believe that the children are under some kind of protection."

Nick smirked and tossed Aly a wink, clearly proud of his daughter's clever sense of humor, even if one of their party didn't appreciate it.

"Are they?" Val asked, his question aimed at Toby. "Other than that of their parents, I mean."

Toby glanced at Nick, who knew more about the Bristols and their surroundings than anyone. "Care to share your knowledge here, Nick?"

"I'm not sure I know much more than you," Nick replied with a shrug, though he was willing to share what he knew. He was a P.I., after all, and he had done a little digging. "The wolves worry me. There's one at the boy's daycare center, but I haven't been able to determine if she's friend or foe. So far, they haven't done much but watch, but if they want to cause the children harm, they won't wait forever. They're pretty well protected for now, at least, while they're home. The house is warded, and they're constantly being watched, but the daycare center and the school worry me."

Willow frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe we should tell the hunter that there are wolves in close proximity to his children," she suggested.

Tobias shook his head. "I find it hard to believe that those wolves are the ones we need to worry about," he said. "It seems as though they may well be of the same mind as us on this."

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« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2019, 04:16:35 PM »
"We need to know who's with us and who's against us," Val pointed out, clearly agitated.

"I think I know how to find out," Nick said, looking thoughtful. "Their neighbor is a Federal Agent. He's also a Dreamwalker. We've crossed paths a few times. I'm not sure if he knows I'm a vampire, but if he does, he's never said so. If I approach him and explain what's going on, we might be able to sort the good wolves from the bad together. My guess is he's got eyes on the kids at all times. He's probably got someone planted inside the daycare center and the school. It's worth a try anyway. It's only a matter of time before the wolves try something, and we need to know who we can trust."

"Do you need back up on that approach?" Tobias asked. "Obviously Willow will be with the princess, and neither I nor Lauren should be seen talking with multiple members of their family, but you could take Val with you."

"They need to know who they can trust, too," Val pointed out. "I'm not sure how much help I will be, but I'll do what I can," he volunteered.

"Does the witch know about the wolves?" Nick asked, nodding his thanks to Val. The two vampires didn't always see eye to eye, but he appreciated the other vampire's desire to help.

"Only what Toby told me before we had the meet today," Lauren commented. "Just that the wolves know what's up, and we're pretty sure that it's rogues making up the faction causing the threat on their side."

"Together, we shouldn't have any problem with a few rogue wolves," Val said, considering it wasn't just them, but the hunters, the witch, and the rogue wolves.

"There's something else," Nick interjected. "I'm not sure what it is, but there's some kind of magic involved here that doesn't involve witchcraft. Jason didn't know either, but there's some kind of ... power at work here. Old power. Older than witches, older than vampires."

"He's right," Lauren agreed with Nick. "That house, those people, they're soaked in a power I don't even know how to identify. It's not threatening, but it is powerful. Protective."

Tobias was frowning thoughtfully. "I had wondered ..." He trailed off, apparently reading something off the inside of his own head.

"Wondered?" Valerian echoed, brows arching upwards. He knew that look on Tobias' face all too well, and knew that the wheels inside his head were turning. He suspected something, had an inkling what that power might be, but didn't seem eager to explain, just yet.

"Mmm?" Tobias blinked out of his thoughts, turning a perfectly innocent face onto Val. It wasn't a wind up, as some people might have thought - Tobias genuinely did think he was unreadable. Lauren bit down on a laugh, glancing at Val.

Val rolled his eyes. "Keep your secrets, then. Just tell us what you want us to do," he told his sire with a hint of annoyance.

Luckily for Val's annoyance, Tobias' inability to be subtle while denying all knowledge also irritated Nick, which was why Willow was the next one to talk.

"You said you had wondered, and then trailed off, Toby," she pointed out to the older vampire. "Share with the class."

Tobias snorted with laughter, shaking his head. "No, it's just that ... over the centuries there have been a number of, of interventions, I suppose you would call them, by an unknown power," he said, explaining easily enough once prompted. "Those interventions always end with an artifact of power disappearing, or being damaged in some way. I was wondering if the Bristols' unknown power was the same organisation."

"What kind of artifacts?" Nick was quick to ask, relieved Willow, at least, was able to get Tobias to explain further what he'd been thinking.

"The hunter supposedly sealed the Gates of Hell," Val reminded them. "I've never heard of such a thing. That had to have taken a great deal of power. The kind of power ..." he trailed off, as a thought crossed his mind. "No, it can't be that," he muttered.

"I know you refuse to admit it, but angels do exist, Val," Tobias pointed out mildly. "I've met one or two in my time." He looked over at Nick. "Oh, things from mythology all over the world," he said. "The anvil of Hephaestus from Greece, the hammer of Thor, that sort of thing. The treasures of Ireland were the last, as far as I know."

"The hammer of Thor?" Nick echoed, jaw dropping open a little. He'd been a hardened detective before he'd been turned. There wasn't much that surprised him anymore, but that did. "Thor. Like in the movies?" he asked, though he knew even that had been based on something - myths, legends. There had been a time when he hadn't believed in the existence of vampires; who was he to doubt that even older myths and legends weren't based on truth?

"What movies?"

Little Aly burst out giggling as Tobias once again declared his lack of knowledge about anything more modern in entertainment than Shakespeare. "Thor the superhero, dum-dum!" she declared cheekily. "With his hammer, Myur-myur!"

Nick chuckled and reached over to brush his daughter's hair back from her face, for no reason at all, but fatherly affection. "I'm pretty sure it's not pronounced that way, munchkin," he told her.

"Are you saying those things are real?" Val asked, his expression a mixture of doubt and wonder.

"From everything I've come across, it would appear that a goodly number of the powerful artifacts from legend are, indeed, real," Tobias nodded. "For example, the Spear of Destiny was in the hands of the Third Reich for a brief time during World War II before unknown robbers stole it, and it has not been seen since. I would assume those robbers were working on behalf of this unknown power."

"Angels?" Val asked, wondering if that was the power Tobias had mentioned. It certainly seemed logical that angels would be the chief enemy of demons and could be the power responsible for sealing the Gates of Hell, but was it the same power Tobias and Nick were talking about or was that something else?

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« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2019, 04:16:50 PM »
"It is a possibility, though I would expect to recognize the feel of angelic power," Tobias mused. "I did not, when I met Aurelia today. But that does not mean that another deity has not involved themselves. Angels are not purely Christian beings."

"Too many factions," Nick murmured. "We need to figure out who we can trust and who we can't," he urged again. "Are the wolves our only enemy? Are they the only ones who want the children ... gone?" he said, pausing a moment before replacing the word 'dead' with the other word, for his daughter's sake. She might be a dhampir, but to him, she was still a five-year-old child.

"No, unfortunately we have a faction of our own who need dealing with in that regard as well," Tobias told him. "We have council support for that; this isn't the only area where they are pushing their luck. If the wolves really are helping to protect the children in some way, it may be that they will aid in removing the threat of their rogues."

"Just as we will remove the threat of our rogues," Val murmured.

"This threat is more important right now than the cure," Nick said. "If we can't keep them safe, then there won't be any cure." He didn't bother to remind them all that they were talking about children here. That, no matter whether they were mortal or not, they were still children; they were still innocent. One arm reached for his daughter, drawing her close so that he could brush a kiss against her cheek and hug her close.

Aly scrambled up into Nick's lap, snuggling close into her daddy's arms to smooch his cheek just because he seemed to need it. Lauren's expression softened as she watched, silently envious that Alessandra got to grow up with both her parents watching over her, glad that she had played a part in making sure that happened.

"So at the moment, there's not much we can do," Willow pointed out. "We have to find out if the hunter is willing to negotiate and work with us before we can poke any further."

"And we need to make sure he doesn't think we're threatening his family," Nick pointed out. "We're not the enemy. But he has a right to know that his children's lives might be in danger." There was nothing he wouldn't do to protect his daughter, and he had a feeling the hunter felt the same.

"What about the children's mother?" Val asked. Not much had been said about her, as yet. All he'd heard was about the witch and the hunter and the Federal Agent.

"She's a thief," Tobias told him. "A rather infamous one, though the mundane police force have never been able to gather enough concrete evidence to arrest her."

"Aurelia said something about the mother being able to use spells," Lauren added. "But again, there's no sense of a demonic aura around that area, so there's a good chance there's an unidentified deity powering those."

"Whatever this other power is, perhaps," Valerian suggested, though he wasn't sure if it was a divine power or something else.

"Well, whatever it is, it's unlikely we're going to find out," Nick added. "So, what now?" he asked, wondering what Toby had in mind, as far as a plan was concerned.

Tobias considered the options for a long moment. "I think, at this point, all we can do is focus ourselves on our own problem, which is the vampires that want to kill his family," he said quietly. "If, during the course of that, the wolves become a problem, we will roll with it."

"First things first. This meeting ... Are you planning on going alone?" Nick asked next, unsure if that was wise. He wasn't sure if his sire was planning on taking someone along, but he didn't think he should go alone. He wasn't even sure where they were meeting as yet, though it would presumably have to be at night, or else Lauren would be the only one who could represent them.

"I'll go with him," Lauren volunteered, but Willow shook her head.

"No, we should let him see our faces," the youngest of the vampires said quietly, avoiding meeting her husband's eyes for a moment. "If we want him to trust us, then we should trust him. I'll go with Tobias."

"Hmm," Nick murmured thoughtfully. "How old are their children?" he asked, curiously, a thought coming to mind.

Tobias had opened his mouth to object, silenced when Nick spoke up. He blinked. "I ... can't recall," he admitted. "Lauren?"

The elder dhampir tilted her head toward them, fingertips teasing up and down Val's jugular impishly. "Five and three, I think," she answered.

"I'm five," Aly declared cheerfully.

"Yes, exactly," Nick replied, smiling proudly at his daughter before turning his gaze to the others, wondering if they were thinking what he was thinking. No, he didn't want to risk Aly's life, but if their children became friends, perhaps their parents could follow their lead.

Willow looked at him curiously, not as alarmed as, say, Tobias. "I don't see a problem with that," she mused. "Although if we do go that way, I'd like Lauren to come, too."

"Agreed," Nick said. "I don't think there should be too many of us there though, or he might find us a threat," he pointed out. He would have prefer to be there, too, but maybe he could be watching nearby.

"You don't really think I'm going to let you walk into what could be a trap, do you?" Valerian asked, looking appalled. There was strength in numbers, after all.

"I think he'll understand the precaution, if we have Aly there," Lauren said quietly. "He, uh, he went out of his way to let me know that he'd never hurt a child, and I believe him. I don't think it'll be a trap."

Tobias was frowning. "I'm afraid to say, I agree with Val here," the older vampire said sternly. "This seems like an entirely unnecessary risk."

"Not if they bring their children, as well," Nick said. He didn't really like the idea of using the children as a buffer to ensure both the hunter's safety, as well as their own, but perhaps if both factions saw what was at stake here - the safety of their children - they'd all be more inclined to work together against any possible threats. "We do seem to share the same goals and enemies."

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« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2019, 04:17:07 PM »
Val snorted. "The hell we do," he muttered, only holding his tongue against saying anything further for the sake of Aly.

"I will ... suggest it, when Aurelia contacts me," Tobias said reluctantly. "But we will only do it this way if both sides agree to it. There is no reason to put that member of our family in danger if we can avoid it."

"You realize that if he meets ... that member of our family, he will know what they are," Val pointed out, trying hard not to get distracted by Lauren's fingers teasing his neck.

And yet, Aly went to school three days a week. They tried to be careful about who she came into contact with, but they couldn't control everything - especially during the day. Only Lauren could do that.

"We'll meet in a public place. Someplace where no one will dare try anything. And we'll make sure we have eyes on them at all times," Nick suggested.

"He already guessed," Lauren told Val with a shake of her head. "He's incisive."

Willow nodded, smiling at her daughter's confused expression. Everyone was suddenly talking in code. She reached over, brushing Aly's dark hair out of her eyes. "It's grownups being grownups," she explained.

"It's boring," was Aly's answer.

"Do none of you realize what an alliance of this kind could mean?" Nick asked bluntly, despite his daughter's grumbling about boredom. If she hadn't been there, he'd have been even more blunt about his feelings.

"A little normality for some of us shouldn't be passed up out of fear," Willow agreed with Nick, eying Valerian in particular. Tobias could be talked around, and Lauren would do anything to be allowed to stay near Aly, treating the little girl like a third sister. Val was the wildcard here.

Val frowned. He would never tell them how he felt, how worried he was for them, for Aly, for his friends. It was a strange feeling to know he had friends - real friends, and even stranger to realize he did not want to lose them. "Things will change," he said, his voice almost too quiet for the others to hear, but vampires had exceptional - no, preternatural - hearing. No sound went unnoticed.

"Maybe," Nick replied. "But do you really think a cure would change anything between us?" he asked, looking from one to the other of them, as if for an answer.

"Our worlds were only separate because of the secret," Willow pointed out gently, smiling at Val. "We can't un-know it now. Sorry, dude, you're stuck with us, whether we have a suntan or not."

Lauren snorted with laughter, kissing Val's temple. "They're right," she murmured, trying to reassure him.

"I do not wish for a cure," Val said, his gaze softening as he looked to Lauren and grasped her hand. "Not so long as I have you by my side," he told her quietly, though they'd talked about this a little already. If there was a cure. That was still not a certainty and wouldn't be for some time.

"Are we all in agreement then?" Nick asked.

"Val, there is no guarantee he would even agree to offer what I might ask him for," Tobias said quietly. "And even if he should, it will be years before anyone will be in a position to make use of that. Do not be quite so morbid."

Lauren smiled back at Val, hugging him close as she kissed his hair. "To the end, remember?" she whispered. "Both of us."

"It would appear that we are, Nick," Tobias agreed with a nod. "And you, young lady, can stop pulling faces in the hope that they will earn you some sympathy."

Aly stuck her tongue out at him, giggling.

"To the end," Val echoed, leaning in close to touch a kiss to Lauren's lips, whether there was a child in their presence or not. At least, he stopped there. There would be no one around to stop him later.

"Do we have some ice cream around here somewhere?" Nick asked. "I think maybe someone has earned some," he said, beaming a smile at his daughter. He might not be able to enjoy the frozen treat anymore, but there was no reason Aly couldn't enjoy it for him.

"Ice cream!" Aly leaped up off Nick's lap, seizing his hand to drag him toward the kitchen. Her other hand clutched onto Willow as they passed her, the littlest dhampir in the world bodily pulling both her parents into the kitchen with far too much enthusiasm.

Nick laughed, knowing well that his daughter had a weakness for the frozen treat. What child didn't, really? He hoped with all his heart that she would not have to drink blood in order to survive, and he would do everything in his power to prevent it.

Val waited until the little family had departed for the kitchen before turning again to Tobias. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"It isn't my decision to make," Tobias said with a sigh. "If it were, I would keep Alessandra as far away from that hunter as possible. But if Nick and Willow are confident, then I cannot argue. None of us can. We will simply have to make sure she is well guarded."

"It is as though our future lies in the hands of children," Val murmured. Perhaps it wasn't quite that dramatic, but if the hunter's children were special, just as Aly was special, then perhaps they would gain an alliance through the friendship of their children. "I will be watching," he promised. Or at least, listening. Somewhere close enough to ensure Aly's safety.

"The whole world's future lies in the hands of the generations to come, baby," Lauren murmured back to him, resting her cheek against his temple. "I'm more inclined to trust these children than most of the others."

"A new world," Val murmured, saying no more. It was more than he could have ever imagined possible.

It was unlikely to change anything for him, but Aly's world might be a very different one in the future. Yet whether it was better or not, it would be hers, and if all went well, she would have had a hand in shaping it to her liking. There were worse risks to take than a play date for a dhampir and a hunter's daughter. Children had no prejudice; for them, perhaps their parents would be able to set their own aside. They had to, if the Bristols were going to have a future at all.