Author Topic: A Clandestine Meeting  (Read 737 times)

Rhys Bristol

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A Clandestine Meeting
« on: April 28, 2019, 02:01:34 PM »
Neutral territory was surprisingly difficult to find when it came to accommodating the needs of both sides. Thankfully, Rhys had requested a one-on-one meeting with Tobias and no one else, which certainly widened their options a little. However, they had to find somewhere that was open late into the night, was busy enough to have people using it during those hours yet not so busy that conversation was impossible, and didn't draw attention to itself. It took a little work, but they did, finally, settle on a small cafe in Queens. After all, travel from Albany to New York City was nothing to a vampire.

Rhys had taken his time considering the terms of the meeting. He didn't trust vampires as far as he could throw them, but he had agreed to a meeting and was a man of his word. Besides, he was genuinely curious about this Tobias fellow and about whether he truly was working on a cure to vampirism. But there was no way he was going to agree to Nat going along, not just because she was expecting a child. He'd been expecting an argument from her, but when Aurelia promised she'd be keeping watch somehow, Nat finally relented. Besides, he could always call on Avalon for help, if he needed it. No, Rhys was convinced the vampire was taking a greater risk in meeting Rhys than the other way around. And so, he found himself sipping a coffee and nibbling on a piece of apple pie a la mode while he awaited the vampire.

When he arrived, the vampire was unmistakable. Not because he stood out in any particular way, but perhaps because of the way he held himself, the way his gaze took in the detail of the entire cafe before returning to Rhys. Tobias Acton looked for all the world like a man in his late-forties who dressed in suits because he liked to do so, not because he had to. There was no hint of the predator about him as he approached the table where Rhys sat.

"Mr. Bristol? I am Tobias Acton."

They were almost exact opposites really - Rhys in his faded jeans and flannel shirt, and Tobias in his tailored suit - but Rhys didn't so much as bat an eye at the vampire's appearance.

"A bit overdressed for a cafe," he murmured, taking the vampire in, and gesturing to a seat across the table from him. "I hope you don't mind, but I have a weakness for pie," he said, indicating what was left of the stuff on his plate.

"Oh, please, there is no need to deny yourself on my account," Tobias assured him, moving to sit down. His manners were decidedly more formal than most contemporary men, but he did have about a hundred years on most contemporary men. "I apologize if I seem over dressed, as you put it. I'm not comfortable in more casual styles."

Rhys shrugged, as if what the man was wearing didn't really concern him much. "To each, his own," he replied, scooping up another forkful of pie and ice cream. "If my kids were here, they'd just eat the ice cream and leave the pie," he remarked with a smirk. There wasn't much point in denying he had children when the man knew that much already. "So, you want a sample of my blood," he said, coming straight to the point.

"I have something very close to a granddaughter who would be right there with them," Tobias agreed in amusement. If he was surprised by Rhys' blunt coming to the point so soon, he made an effort not to show it, simply clasping his hands on the table in front of him as he leaned forward. "I would like a sample of your blood," he corrected mildly. "But our assistance is not conditional on your agreeing to that request. That you have not immediately dismissed the possibility is encouraging, however."

One of Rhys' brows flickered upwards at the mention of a granddaughter, though he assumed the girl had to be human to enjoy ice cream. Thank Gods, Rhys had never met a child vampire and hoped it only happened in fiction. "Your assistance in keeping my family safe from those who want us dead," he said, wanting to make the terms of the bargain clear. "What makes you think I even need your help?" As far as Rhys was concerned, he thought the vampires needed his help a lot more than he needed them.

"I don't think you need our help at all," Tobias said easily. "We need your help, more than you need ours, though you would not have been aware of what is happening until much later had we not approached to warn you. My family have already dealt with one pair of rogues, and it could have destroyed us. The only reason it did not was because we had the assistance of my sire, and two others of another branch of her bloodline. They are no longer present. We cannot wipe out an entire sect of rogues alone, as we are."

Rhys furrowed his brows thoughtfully at something the vampire had said. "How many?" he asked. "How many ... rogues ... do you think have been watching us?" he said, stumbling over the word. Vampires had always been vampires to him. He had never really considered that they might not all be malicious.

Tobias looked deeply troubled. "There are four that I know of," he said, giving Rhys as much information as he requested. "But the tactic they are likely to use will mean that there will be several newer vampires surrounding them, all chosen for their physical strength.  And we will not have an Elder this time." He could have asked Freya to come back, but he doubted she would. She was somewhere in Europe with Beatrix, both of them still grieving Serena together.

"New and hungry," Rhys said, scowling at the thought, more worried for his family than for him. "I could send my family away, until the danger has passed, but my wife is stubborn and she doesn't want to disrupt the children's lives." If they went to Avalon without their father, they would know something was wrong, and Rhys didn't think he could leave until he knew the danger was passed.

"There are ways to protect your family within your own home," Tobias assured him. "Indeed, it could easily be made so that no vampire may enter at all. But your children attend daycare and school and are not always under your eye. Are you aware that there is a werewolf working at your son's daycare center?"

That bit of information startled the hunter, his eyes narrowing in anger. "What?!" he exclaimed, forcing himself to stay in his seat, as there was nothing he could do about it right now. "Who? How do you know?" he asked, his fingers tightening their grip on the fork in his hand.

"I do not know her name," Tobias told him. "I know because vampires and werewolves can sense one another, and I identified her when I was familiarizing myself with your neighborhood. As far as I can tell, she has been working there for several years. I doubt she took the job simply to be in that position at this time."

"She," Rhys murmured thoughtfully. There were several shes at the daycare center, and he had no way of knowing which one might be a werewolf. He frowned at the thought of it. They all seemed perfectly normal, perfectly suited to their jobs. There was no one he could think of whom he'd suspect of wanting to cause his family harm. "Do you think this werewolf is a threat?"

"Would you really trust a vampire's impression of a werewolf?" Tobias asked in surprise. "Our enmity for one another is well known, even in mythology. All I can say is that if she had intended your family harm, I believe she would have acted before now. As I understand it, she was working at the daycare center before your daughter began to attend there."
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay.

"Dream On" - Aerosmith

Rhys Bristol

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Re:
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2019, 02:01:57 PM »
"The same could be said for hunters and vampires, but here we are," Rhys pointed out. "It's really too bad you can't enjoy pie. This is really good," he said, taking a mouthful of pie and gesturing to what was left on his plate with his fork. "Do you really think you have a shot at a cure?"

"I do." Tobias nodded calmly. "For those more recently turned, at any rate. Most of us choose this life, but for those who did not, I would like to give them that element of choice."

"Did you choose it?" Rhys asked, no malice or sarcasm in his voice, mere curiosity. If he and Tobias were going to ally, they were going to have to trust each other and in order to do that, they needed to get to know each other better.

The vampire nodded, looking down at his clasped hands for a moment as the reason for his need to be immortal returned to his mind. That reason was gone now, yet here he was. "I did," he said in a quiet voice. "And I have turned only one other, at his request."

"Really? Just one?" Rhys asked, brows arching upwards in either curiosity or doubt. "That shows restraint." He paused a moment to finish off his pie and wash it down with a sip of coffee. "I'm gonna be honest. You seem like a decent sort of guy. I don't generally trust or like your kind. Not just because I'm a hunter." Or was a hunter. He wasn't too sure about that anymore. "I'm willing to bet you don't like or trust hunters either. Probably because we've been known to hunt your kind and vice versa. But I'm a decent guy, too, and I've got an open mind."

"I appreciate that." Tobias leaned back, a little more relaxed now that the initial back and forth was done. "I have not had any personal experience with hunters, myself, but others in my family have. I met Lauren, for example, on the night she was almost killed by a hunter who had taken the time to seduce her into trusting him absolutely. He dealt in absolutes, and she had to kill him just to survive."

"Which is why you have to be careful who you trust," Rhys said, frowning. That hunter could have been him at one time, except he'd never stoop so low as to try and seduce his prey. "I don't know much about her kind, but she seems honorable."

"Dhampir are exceedingly rare," Tobias told him quietly. "And deeply mistrusted among much of the vampire community. Lauren and her sisters walk a very delicate line between humans and vampires, knowing that they could prey on either with ease and understanding that neither side truly wants them. They are perfect predators, after all - all the strengths of both sides. None of the weaknesses."

"So I've been told," Rhys replied, a serious look on his face. "She would make a formidable enemy or ally," he added thoughtfully, one hand wrapped around his cup of coffee. But this wasn't about Lauren or even him, really; it was about the children, both human and otherwise. "So, bottom line ... You want a sample of my blood in exchange for protection."

"I told you, our assistance is not conditional on you giving me a sample of your blood," Tobias reminded him in amusement. "What it comes to is this ... there is a council that oversees the vampire population. Anyone who breaks the laws laid down by the council is considered rogue, and the council will often appoint others to hunt them down. By threatening you and your family, this sect have made themselves rogues, and the council authorized me to contact you and arrange with you an offensive to wipe out these rogues in such a way that will deter any others from even thinking about attacking you and yours again."

"Okay, but how do I know this isn't a trap?" Rhys asked. It was a question he had no choice but to ask. In his experience, he had found that vampires weren't exactly the most trustworthy creatures, and he needed to be sure. He needed some kind of assurance that the vampire was true to his word.

Tobias drew in a slow breath, realizing he had come up against something he didn't have the means to answer at this moment. He sighed. "You don't," he admitted. "But ... there has been talk to trusting you with knowledge of the most precious of our family." His jaw clenched for a moment before he went on. "She's five years old. And her parents were the ones to suggest it."

"Five years old," Rhys echoed, furrowing his brows. "Not a vampire then." That much was obvious. There was only one possibility there. "Someone like Lauren," he said quietly after a moment's consideration. A dhampir child who was the same age as Ana. "Like I told Lauren, I would never knowingly bring any harm to a child."

"She's unique," Tobias told him. "The only one of her kind to be raised by both her parents. We would not have been able to arrange that without Lauren's help. I believe she may already have met your daughter, a few years ago. She was invited to the home of the Dalys a few times, for something her mother insisted on calling play-aways."

"The Dalys?" Rhys echoed, leaning back and blinking in surprise. Jason and Beth had been their next door neighbors for years, until they'd moved back to Rhy'Din. The twins had sometimes shared play dates with Ana and Micah, as well. It was quite possible his children - Ana, in particular - had already crossed paths with the dhampir child. He found himself going over a mental list of people he'd known were friends of the Dalys, especially those who had small children. Did he dare ask for a name?

Tobias held his gaze for a moment longer before seeming to come to a decision. "Your federal agent friend will have told you this already," he admitted. "Jason Daly was good friends with Nick, the father in this situation, when he was human, and was aware of the change in circumstances for him."

"Nick," Rhys echoed again. "The detective," he said. Or at least, he'd been a detective. Jason had told him he'd gone into business for himself as a private investigator. It was all starting to make sense now. "Aly," he murmured, remembering the girl's name. She was a dhampir? His next door neighbor's best friend had been a vampire right under his nose all this time? "I had no idea," he added, clearly in shock.

"Perfect predator," Tobias said, nodding in agreement. "Albeit one who would much rather eat sweet potato fries and ice cream than drink blood, which can only be counted as a blessing."

"She's my daughter's age," Rhys said, though Tobias had already stated that fact. "Is she in danger, too?" he asked, hoping that wasn't the case. For a man who had carried so much hatred for vampires in his heart for so long, it seemed that heart was changing.

"She will always be in a certain amount of danger, just as Lauren and her sisters are," the vampire explained softly. "As things stand, we have kept the reality of what she is a secret thus far. Most vampires who have met her believe she was conceived before her father was turned, and that is a deception we will continue to keep up."
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay.

"Dream On" - Aerosmith

Rhys Bristol

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Re:
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2019, 02:02:17 PM »
"You're putting a lot of trust in me telling me this," Rhys said, though that much was obvious. He realized there was a reason for that, though. Tobias was likely trying to earn Rhys' trust, and he couldn't earn that trust without sharing a few secrets of his own.

"The trust is Lauren's, and I trust her instincts," Tobias told him, not prepared to take credit when he was still wary in himself. "If she, and Alessandra's parents, are prepared to take this step, then I will support them in it. I do not trust many, but those I do trust, I trust absolutely."

"Why?" Rhys asked, bluntly. "Why trust me? Why help us at all? It's all about my bloodline, isn't it? Because if I die - if my family dies - that reduces your chances for a cure, doesn't it?"

"In part, yes," Tobias admitted. "But even if your blood were no different from any others, we would move to protect you and yours. If humanity at large became aware of the supernatural community, it would be a disaster for us all. The unprovoked murder of an entire family by rogue vampires cannot be allowed to occur."

Rhys had leaned forward to hear what the vampire had to say, but now he leaned back, exhaling a deep breath. "You know, I've spent my entire life fighting to protect humanity at large, as you so put it. It's what I was born to do. I've seen a lot of strange stuff. One of my best friends is a witch," he said with a chuckle at the irony of it. "I've had friends and allies who were lycans and even the rare vampire. I've learned that most of the preternatural community just wants to live in peace, like the rest of us. I've had a hard time trusting, but I've learned that sometimes those you think are your enemies can become your strongest allies and sometimes even your friends. I've seen just about everything and lived to talk about it, but this? This is all new territory for me. Not because you're a, well, what you are. But because if you're telling the truth, then we have the same cause and the same enemies."

"Then it is my honesty you doubt?" Tobias asked curiously. He didn't take offense - even for someone with a lifetime of experience of the darker side of the world, having an long-considered enemy step out of the shadows and declare themselves an ally was not easily believed. "Would you be willing to walk with me a little way?"

"I'm not exactly alone, you know. I never am. I assume neither are you," Rhys said. It wasn't a threat, just a warning that if Tobias tried anything, he'd regret it. "No offense, but the last time I trusted a vampire, I almost died." He realized Tobias had no reason to trust him either, but so far, neither of them had given the other any reason to distrust each other either.

"You wish proof of our honesty, my family are not too far away and have Alessandra with them," Tobias explained quietly. "Obviously, they cannot bring a five year old into a cafe after 10pm at night without attracting attention to themselves, but Aly is the best positioned to prove to you what she is. To prove that I have spoken truthfully about the most precious person in all our lives. Will you trust me enough to meet her?"

Rhys raised his brows. Either the vampire was leading him into a trap, or he was offering to prove his honesty and trustworthiness by allowing Rhys to meet the one person who was most precious to him. He considered a moment, weighing all the risks and possibilities. The Lady of Avalon was always with him. He knew that for a fact. He felt it in his heart and mind and the very blood that flowed through his veins. In the end, it wasn't so much Tobias he put his trust in as it was her. If she didn't want him to do this, she wouldn't have allowed this meeting in the first place.

"Do you trust me enough to introduce her?" he countered, at last.

"Nick does," Tobias told him, "and as her father, he has more say in this matter than I." He raised his hand, showing Rhys the cell phone and the text messages that had apparently been sent back and forth between the two vampires in a matter of seconds.

"Nick," Rhys echoed, recognizing the name again. "Jason's friend." Not just Jason's friend, but Adam's friend, too. Or at least, colleague. Adam had never mentioned he was a vampire, but maybe Adam hadn't known.

Tobias nodded. "He and Aly are not far from here, in the small park across the way," he said. "And, as you can see, he is content to introduce her to you. This is the only way I can think of to prove our honesty to you, Mr. Bristol."

Rhys' glance darted from the cell phone messages back to the vampire, as he silently weighed the risk. Just the offer to meet the child was almost enough to prove their honesty, but it wasn't quite the same thing. "Okay," he agreed at last. "Just give me a minute," he said, moving to his feet.

"Of course." Tobias rose with him. "I will wait outside for you." He nodded to Rhys, pocketing his cell phone, and headed for the door, slipping a tip to the woman behind the counter with a smile and an apology for not eating or drinking anything while he was in her establishment.

Tobias probably assumed Rhys had asked for a moment so he could make a phone call of his own. Rhys had considered it, but what purpose would it serve but to worry his family and friends. And there was no point in calling on the Lady either. She was with him always. She would not lead him into trouble. No, she wanted him to do something here. If she didn't, she would have found a way to stop him. No, he asked for a moment for a different reason. If anyone was watching, they'd see him go to the counter and exchange a few dollars for something in a brown paper bag before he headed toward the door.

Tobias was waiting, as he had promised, on the sidewalk outside, hands clasped at his back as he looked up at the fluorescent streetlight overhead. "This city was a lot prettier at night when everything was gas-lit," he muttered.

"It was probably a lot less crowded, too," Rhys remarked, following the vampire's glance to the street lights. Less noisy and polluted, too, for that matter. "Mind if I ask a personal question?"

"Not at all." Tobias seemed less on edge out of the cafe, though that was likely more to do with being out of immediate proximity with humans who could be surprisingly perceptive at the worst times. He turned to begin walking toward the park visible across the street, his attention given easily to Rhys as he did so.

"How old are you?" Rhys asked, as bluntly as he dared. He didn't think the vampire would balk at the question, and Rhys had no other reason to ask it, but meager curiosity. Then again, if they were going to be allies, they were going to have to learn to trust each other and that meant getting acquainted.

"As of October last year, I am two hundred and nineteen years old," the vampire told him with disarming ease as they walked. "I did not become what I am until I was in my forties. It took a lot of persuading to get myself turned, let me tell you. Most vampires would rather humans didn't join us."
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay.

"Dream On" - Aerosmith

Rhys Bristol

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« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2019, 02:09:40 PM »
If Toby could see the look on Rhys' face, he'd notice the uptick of a single brow once again. "Why did you want to be turned?" he asked, clearly curious. He understood why someone might want to become immortal, but there was a high price to pay in becoming a vampire.

"Initially? For revenge." Now that aspect of his past had been laid to rest, Tobias was able to speak of it with far less anger and tension. "A vampire broke my body, turned my wife in front of me, and fed my daughter to her in her first bloodlust. It took years to heal properly, and more to find a vampire who would turn me. I was fortunate that the one I found has a very compassionate heart."

Rhys came to a halt, turning to face the vampire, unable to hide the look of horror from his face and perhaps even understanding. "You wanted to avenge your family's deaths," he said, with a nod of his head. "That I can understand." He had suffered similar losses, and he understood what it meant to be so confused with the desire for revenge that nothing else mattered, but that was all over now. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. No one should have to suffer that," he said, his voice and his expression sincere, sympathetic even.

"I wanted to avenge my daughter," Tobias corrected him quietly. "And failing that, I wanted to be able to guard the town I loved from the evil that had taken everything away from me. I almost failed in that, but I am relieved to know that I did not."

"I assume you had your vengeance," Rhys continued, ignoring the correction. He didn't ask anything further, sensing the vampire's pain. He didn't know what had happened to his wife, but he had a feeling it hadn't turned out well for her. Rhys would have liked to have said that he couldn't imagine what that loss might have been like, but he did, or very nearly did.

"Yes. The vampire that attacked Nick and Willow was my wife, and Nick killed her. In revenge, Josef, the vampire who murdered my daughter and destroyed my world, turned Nick in the expectation that he would then drain Willow. I prevented that from happening." Tobias frowned as he glanced down at the sidewalk. "I should have prevented the attacks happening at all."

"Jesus," Rhys muttered quietly, but probably not quietly enough for Tobias not to hear him. Tobias' story almost made his own sound like a fairy tale. He shook his head again, changing his mind. "I can't even imagine." Or could he? He found he had to stifle a shudder, just thinking about it.

"I will not allow anything of the sort to happen to another family under my care if I can possibly help it," Tobias said, his voice low but vehement. "That is why I have approached you, Rhys. Your blood is a trivial matter in comparison."

"Not to some, it seems," Rhys said, though he appreciated what Tobias was saying. "Let's just hope it doesn't come to that." That was what this was all about, after all, wasn't it? Keeping his family safe. Nothing was more important than that.

"I will keep your family safe, Rhys." And those words were an oath, a promise that Tobias refused to even consider he might break. "Even if I have to lay down what life I have to do so."

"Like I said, let's hope it doesn't come to that," Rhys said. It was in that moment that he decided that, vampire or not, Tobias was someone he could trust. "Come on. I have something for your granddaughter," Rhys said, smiling for once as he held up the paper bag.

Tobias glanced at the bag, snorting with laughter as he smiled himself. "Bribery always goes down well," he agreed in amusement, glancing ahead. "Ah, and there they are."

Ahead of them, the children's playground was eerily empty in the darkness but for one child and one father, playing on the swings together.

"I've never met a kid yet who could resist a chocolate chip cookie," Rhys said, grinning back at the vampire. Actually grinning. Actually enjoying the vampire's - no, the man's - company. Revenge and loss were things he could understand. Maybe they had more in common that he'd originally thought. Rhys frowned a little at the sight of a sole child on the swing set, but he assumed that was because of her father, not her. And what if there was a cure? Would her father chance it, to be human again? Those were questions no one could answer. One thing at a time, he reminded himself.

As she swung, the little girl leaped off at the height of her arc, and went straight down onto her knees on the rough wood chips that covered the ground.

"Oh, dear," Tobias murmured, sharp ears catching the first hint of tears from Aly as she looked down at her scratched hands and knees.

Rhys frowned, wishing he had the healing powers of Avalon with him. He watched silently a moment, as the girl's father stooped down to gently brush the wood chips from his daughter's knees and try to soothe her. He would not have been any less tender or loving with his own daughter.

"Hey, I've been told that chocolate always makes everything better," he said, not waiting for Tobias as he stepped toward the pair.

Cuddled into Nick's arms, Aly sniffled as she looked up at the stranger suddenly talking to them. Her eyes spied Tobias, smiling behind the man, and returned to Rhys' face, tears forgotten in the face of sating her curiosity. "Ice cream's better," she informed him succinctly.

"No argument there, but if I had ice cream in this bag, it would have melted by now." Rhys glanced at Nick, as if for permission, before reaching into the paper bag and pulling out a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie.

Nick glanced from Rhys to Tobias, though he needed no introduction. He'd been to Jason's house often enough to have caught sight of the hunter who'd lived next door. "You must be Rhys," he said, looking back at Rhys. "I'm Nick, and this is Aly."

Aly looked to her father for permission before shyly reaching forward to take the offered cookie with a winsome little smile. "Thank you, Mr. Ana's Dad," she said politely. That was a surprise, at least to Tobias. The last time Alessandra could feasibly have seen Rhys was a good two years ago. Apparently a dhampir's memory was all but flawless too.

Even Rhys seemed surprised by that. "You know Ana?" he asked curiously, and then he remembered. The little girl had been a frequent visitor at the Daly's house and a playmate of the Daly twins, as had Ana.
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay.

"Dream On" - Aerosmith

Rhys Bristol

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« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2019, 02:09:58 PM »
"She never forgets a face," Nick told the hunter. "The Dalys always spoke well of you," he added, a trace of sadness on his face, perhaps missing his old friend.

Aly nodded cheerfully as she wolfed down her cookie, proving one half of her being at the very least. Most vampires would throw up any solid food that they swallowed, near instantly. It took a lot of perseverance for them to be able to pretend, and most never bothered to learn.

"Mommy and Daddy said that Evy and Brody had to go away with their mommy and daddy because their grandmomma died," she offered. "Are you going away as well, Mr. Ana's Dad?"

Rhys found it hard to think of the little girl as anything but that, despite the fact that her parents were now vampires. Apparently, her mother hadn't been when her daughter been conceived, however. He hadn't even known Nick was a vampire, until recently. Jason had kept his friend's secret, and for good reason, considering who and what Rhys was. Rhys crouched down in front of the girl, glancing momentarily to Nick for a nod of approval.

"The twins' other grandparents live far away, and after their grandma here died, their parents decided they wanted to live closer to them. Do you understand?" he asked her patiently.

Aly nodded easily. "S'like Auntie Belle and Uncle Jules and Gramma Freya living far, far away, right, Daddy?" She tilted her head to look up at Nick for confirmation, unaware that Tobias had actually winced at the innocent sharing of other names.

Rhys didn't know who those names belonged to, but he assumed they were mostly likely members of their vampire family, possibly the old ones Tobias had alluded to.

"Just like that, munchkin," Nick confirmed, smiling to Ana before offering an apologetic shrug to Tobias.

"It's okay," Rhys reassured the pair, looking from one to the other. "You can trust me. I'm not going to name drop to anyone." He turned back to Aly. "You can call me Mr. Rhys, if you want, and no, I'm going away." Not yet, anyway. Not if he didn't have to. "I bet you miss your friends," he said, a faint smile on his lips. "Maybe you should come play with Ana sometime. I'm sure she'd love the company. Have you met Amy?"

"When secrecy is a way of life, it can be difficult to let go of," Tobias murmured, his own tone apologetic for the instant mistrust that had arisen as Aly reeled off that litany of names.

As for the girl herself, she was smiling up at Rhys without a second thought. "I go to school, but I don't have play dates," she informed Rhys innocently. "I miss Ana. Who's Amy?"

"Amy is our other next door neighbor. She hasn't lived there long, so you probably haven't met her," Rhys explained. "How do you like school?" he asked, moving to take a seat on the merry-go-round. If she went to a regular school, he deemed it logical to assume she wasn't a threat to other children.

Aly shrugged, patting her father's shoulder and clambering up onto the merry-go-round beside Rhys, because that's what you did when you were having a conversation with someone. "It's boring," she said, sighing heavily. "I learn stuff real fast, and the teacher makes me do stuff over and over again."

"Ana complains about that, too," Rhys said, sympathetically. "Maybe you could go to a different school next year. One that's not so boring. We've been looking at some possibilities," he said, momentarily glancing to Nick. "Tell you what. Let me talk to Ana's mom and see if she wouldn't mind having you over to play sometime. Okay?"

"Oh, yes, please, Mr. Rhys!" Aly's face lit up hopefully, a bright smile crossing her expression as she kicked her feet.

Tobias cleared his throat through his own smile. "Aly ... would you show Mr. Rhys your new teeth, please?" he asked gently. "Just so he knows that you are real."

The little girl gave Tobias a strange look, but then appeared to concentrate as she grinned up at Rhys. Two sharp fangs unsheathed themselves from beneath her gums over her incisors, either side of her poked out tongue.

Rhys arched a brow at Tobias and would have protested that that wasn't really necessary, but it was too late. Instead, he turned back to Aly, recognizing the fangs for what they were. "Impressive. I bet the tooth fairy left you extra money for those," he said, trying to act like fangs were nothing out of the ordinary. "Tell you a little secret, though?" he said, leaning close and lowering his voice, as if his words were just for her, even though he knew the pair of vampires could hear every word. "Don't go around showing them to anyone else, especially not at school. Not everyone has them, and they might be jealous," he said, substituting the word 'jealous' for 'scared'.

Aly nodded enthusiastically, concentrating once again as she sheathed her fangs again. "Lauren showed me how to do that," she said proudly. "Lauren's really clever and fun, and she said we can visit her little sister maybe!"

"I'm sure that would be fun!" Rhys said, though he knew very little about Lauren or her sisters, except for what he'd been told. "I should be going. It's way past Ana's bedtime, and it's my turn to read her a story," he said, moving to his feet. "It was very nice to meet you, Aly," he added, bending closer to offer her his hand.

Small fingers curled into his palm, shaking his hand up and down, not at all cool as a vampire's hand often seemed, but as warm as his own daughter's grip could be. "Will you say hi to Ana for me?" she asked hopefully.

Rhys smirked in amusement as Aly shook his hand up and down. "I will, and I will talk to Ana's mother about having you over, if that's okay with your parents, of course," Rhys said, looking to Nick. Nick shrugged. "I'll talk to my wife," he said, making no promises. It seemed neither man was willing to agree, until their wives gave the okay. "As far as everything else we've discussed," Rhys started, turning to Tobias. "I think we're in agreement."

Tobias nodded. "We will stay in contact," he assured Rhys. "As things stand, there is no immediate concern, but it is best to be ready."

Beaming, Alessandra let go of Rhys' hand, wriggling down onto her feet to hug her father's waist again. As far as she was concerned, this had been fantastic.

"I would rather be proactive," Rhys told the vampire, basically telling him in not so many words that he'd rather eliminate their enemies before they had a chance to become a real threat.


"I understand." Tobias nodded to him. "As I say, we will keep in touch. You may wish to investigate a little more on the hairy issue I touched on earlier, as well."

"I agree," Nick said as he stooped to scoop Ana up into his arms. He wanted to take no chances where that was concerned either. He had sworn to serve and protect and that vow didn't end when he became a vampire. "I will," Rhys promised. "Thanks for the help. I'll say hi to Ana for you," he promised Aly, with a tap to her nose. "Goodnight!" And with that said, he turned and started back to the cafe, where he'd left his car.

"Buh-bye, Mr. Rhys!" Aly waved after him cheerfully, looping her arms around Nick's neck when she was done. "Do I have to go to bed now?"

"Yes, you do. It's way past your bedtime, too. You have school in the morning, remember?" he asked, planting a noisy smooch on her cheek.

She grimaced, but acceded the point, snuggling into his arms as Tobias chuckled.

"Come along then, children," he told the pair of them. "Let's get you home before Willow attempts to do something dreadful to me for keeping you out so late."

Nick smirked. He didn't really consider himself to be a child, but he supposed he was, at least, compared to Tobias. He thought the meeting went well, all things considered, and was glad his gut instinct was right in allowing the hunter to meet his daughter. They wanted the same thing, after all - to protect their children, keep them safe, and give them a better future.

It had definitely been worth the risk.
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay.

"Dream On" - Aerosmith