"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.