Needless to say, Amaris was pissed off at us for leaving. She yelled at us as I took Aine back to his bed, and then promptly kicked me out. I went downstairs to sit with everyone in the parlor, where they caught me up on what had happened after I'd left the battlefield.
Soon, Rasen's parents arrived. Apparently, they had been one of the first to hear that the fighting had been stopped, and wanted to make sure Rasen was ok. His father looked angry, and his mother just looked sad as she held him close to her. Being telekinetic themselves, Xander and I hoped they knew what to do about his current mental state. He had always been a bit upset after a battle, but he had never been in a war before. It would definitely have an effect on him.
Over the next couple of days, other families began to arrive to make sure their children were safe. Aine's family came, too, along with a government representative like Zarres had promised. It was awkward for us 'strays', since we were all trying not to think of our own families, if we'd had any to begin with.
One day, Kadie caught up with me in the hall, gesturing over her shoulder. "Val, there's a couple looking for you," she told me. Puzzled, I followed her into the foyer, where I saw a woman who was talking to a man that I had never seen before. The woman's back was facing us, and a little girl was clinging to her dress. At Kadie's urging, I went over. The man saw me approach and told the woman, who turned. It was from my mother's face that the gray eyes that matched my own looked at me from. We stared at each other forever. Then her eyes teared up and she threw her arms around my neck. With shaking hands, I hugged her back. Feeling her tears on my neck, it struck me that this was real. I started crying, too. I didn't even care that the whole room had gone mostly quiet and my comrades were staring at me.
"Oh, baby, I missed you so much!" my mother was saying. I clung to her like a lifeline until she pulled away and laughed. She wiped at my eyes. "You're so big and beautiful now. I've missed a lot, huh?" Before I could say anything, Mother gestured to the man with her. "Valkyrie, sweetie, this is J'aime. He's my fellow band mate and my husband."
J'aime was tall and well-built, with broad shoulders and muscular arms (but not too muscular as to be scary). His hair was a pale purple, short and spiked. He grinned widely at me and crushed me in a bear hug. "So you are the infamous Val!" he laughed heartily with a thick Belgian accent. At first I stiffened, but relaxed when I realized he wasn't out to hurt me. If Mother trusted him, I figured I should, too. J'aime let go of me and ruffled my hair. I didn't really like it, but I gave him a small smile anyway.
Feeling a tug on my shirt, I looked down. The little girl was staring up at me, her large gray eyes just like mine. Her burnished red-brown hair was pulled into two pigtails. It had purple in it, too. She held a stuffed bunny. "I'm Lydie, and I'm your sister," she said and hugged me around the waist.
Not knowing what to think of that, I turned back to Mother awkwardly and asked what I'd been dying to know for ever. "But... why didn't you come earlier?" I heard myself ask. "You promised you would. I... I was afraid you didn't want me anymore." This last sentence was whispered, still afraid that it was true. Look, if she didn't want you, she wouldn't have come at all. I told myself.
"Oh, no! Of course I want you! I just didn't know where you were. I moved to Belgia after your father and I... divorced, and got settled. I sent you letters. Didn't you get any of them?" I shook my head. "Bastard," my mother muttered. "Anyway, we came to Ashten on our band's tour. That was the only way I was allowed back in. I tried to find you, but I was told you'd run away."
I nodded. "I just couldn't take it anymore,"
Mother's eyes narrowed. "He did the same to you?"
"Yeah," I admitted quietly.
"I'm gonna kill him," she snarled.
"Well, you're actually a bit late for that." I told her with a slight grin.
"What?" she was surprised. "He's dead? Wh-- How? Who killed him?"
"Aine did," I answered proudly.
"Aine?" Mother began biting her thumbnail, thinking. "Where have I heard that name before? Oh!" She reached into her pocket and pulled out an envelope. Grinning, she handed it to me. "This is how I found you." The address on the envelope was one I vaguely remembered seeing on the case of her band's album. It was from Aine. Puzzled, I slid the letter out and unfolded it. It looked like it had been read many times. My eyes skimmed over Aine's messy scrawl. He told Esme about me and about the time I told him she was my mother. He gave details about us that I was sure not many knew. He pleaded with her to come see me, because it would mean a lot. It did. He also told her that he thought her music was amazing, which made me smile.
I looked up when I was done reading. "He did this for me?" Mother nodded. I shoved the letter and envelope back into her hands and rushed to the infirmary. I heard Mother follow me, but I didn't stop. The entire Zarres clan surrounded the bed where Aine sat, his legs dangling off the edge. I pushed through them and threw my arms around his neck. "Aine, I fucking love you,"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him look over my shoulder and see my mother. "Oh, you came!"
"Yes, sweetie," Mother said. "And I thank you very much. You don't know how much it means to us."
"Thank you," I pressed my lips hard against his, caught up in the moment.
At least until Zarres yelled, "What do you think you're doing?!" I jerked back and turned my head to stare at him. "Get away from my son, you pervert!" he continued. Angered, I refused to move. Zarres clenched his teeth. "Aine, who is this man?" I knew Zarres had seen me before, we just hadn't been introduced. Aine didn't get a chance to answer, because Zarres narrowed his eyes suspiciously behind his glasses and asked, "Aine. Did he touch you?" I heard a stifled gasp, but I couldn't tell who it was from.
"He's touching me right now," Aine answered deliberately, an edge to his usually gentle voice.
"Inappropriately," Zarres ground out.
"Dad!" Kat interjected.
"Dad, Val wouldn't do such a thing, not to me or anyone. He couldn't. Besides, it's consensual, anyway." Aine said glibly. I was sure he meant the kissing, but he obviously spoke without thinking. There were several very audible gasps this time, and my face burned.
"That's what the dirty lech wants you to think!" Zarres growled, furious. There were several protests all at once. I felt horrible, angry and sad and hopeless all at the same time. I couldn't stand being accused of something that L'iarc would do.
There was a loud shout, then, and I recognized the voice as Samael's. "Excuse me! Shut up." It suddenly was very quiet. "I didn't debate with that annoying representative forever about this 'ending the war' thing just to have you start it up again. Now, Aine is a smart kid, he knows how to take care of himself. If he thought something was up, he would seek help, am I right?" Aine nodded. "See? Nothing wrong here. So kiss and make up."
"That's not really the best idea..." someone said, but I couldn't tell who. I stood up and Zarres and I eyed each other over. Our dislike was mutual and most likely permanent. Well, I suppose there are always downsides to relationships.
A lot of things happened in the next few days. The war was officially called off. Virus cures became widely available. On a more personal level, I spent a lot of time with Mother and the rest of my family. The word felt foreign to me, but good at the same time. I now had a family that loved me and cared about my thoughts and desires. It was amazing.
On the other hand, Aine was well enough to leave the infirmary so his parents insisted on taking him home. Both of us were upset about it. The only difference was that Aine showed it more than I did. Mitsuko claimed he was being childish about it as he clung to me while the rest of the Zarres clan waited by the door. "Come on, Aine, I'll see you again soon," I promised, hugging him back.
"Swear," he demanded, holding his pinky finger out to me. I didn't really understand what he was doing, but I hooked my own pinky around it.
"Swear." With a smile, Aine let me go. I watched as they left and hoped that we would be able to see each other again. Rather, that Zarres would allow us to. I truly hoped so. I didn't want to lose what we had. But I could only fret about it in my spare time.
Things were changing very fast. Lilith and Samael had to attend a ridiculous amount of meetings with the human government, as well as public speeches and debates. My four teammates and I were always with them as bodyguards. It was stressful at times. Some humans were unconvinced of our sincerity.
I saw Zarres at a few of the debates, and sometimes he brought Aine with him. There were a lot of reports in magazines and newspapers about Aine and his abduction. He even spoke at a debate, and I felt a strange sort of pride when he defended the Vampiric race. "They are people with feelings, needs, and desires, just like us." he claimed at the podium, dressed up in a dark, navy blue suit with his normally wild hair slicked back. "They have even tried their hardest to keep from killing us humans. I've seen it myself. There are chemicals that they can use to keep blood from, as I've heard, 'going bad.' And I know it may squick some people, but the death rate of humans by vampires would drop even more if more morgues would allow the vampires to use the blood that is replaced by embalming fluid in dead bodies." There was a resounding chorus of 'ew's. Aine smiled grimly. "I know. But it's either that or you. And what about criminals on death row? I hear lethal injection is questionable, and older methods like hanging are painful. However, having your blood taken by a vampire is virtually painless, and I know this from experience. This would help to solve two problems at one time. But my main point is that humans and vampires should be able to work through their problems together if we are to share an existence." A flurry of questions followed his speech.
Lilith turned around and leaned toward me, a strange look on her face. "I think we're really making progress on your promise."
I raised an eyebrow. "Which one is that?"
"Why, the one about fixing up the world for me, of course." She smiled and I ducked my head and did the same.
A short month later, the human president had a 'gathering' as a sort of celebration of the end of the war and the beginning of an alliance. Or so he said. I was loathe to go at first; at least until Lilith told me with a wicked grin that Aine would be there. I was excited, but when the day actually came, I found myself very nervous.
I confided my apprehension to Acacia as she battled my damp hair with a brush (she insisted on 'helping' me), but she just laughed. "Psh, you'll be fine! What, you scared Aine's found someone else?"
I felt my face redden. "Don't make fun of me."
She just laughed again. "Oh, I'm just kidding. I'm sure Aine will be ecstatic to see you." I wasn't comforted.
This gathering took place in the ballroom of the president's home. We got there early. Lilith, Samael, and Calypso went immediately to chat with the president, whose name turned out to be Cailean. Everyone else who had come with us (Acacia, my team, and a few others; more were coming independently) either went to mingle or pounce on the refreshment table.
I lurked in the shadows, tugging uncomfortably ay my shirt. Acacia had picked my outfit as well. Thanks to her, I currently wore black dress pants with a matching dress shirt and a gray vest covering it. She'd pulled my hair up, too. Her excuse was that it looked too casual down. Who the hell cared, anyway?
I watched the door carefully and eagerly for new arrivals. I promised myself that as soon as I saw Aine, I would march right up and talk to him. I resolved myself and felt calm and ready. But when I saw Zarres enter the ballroom, followed by his wife and many children, all my resolve disintegrated. I pressed myself against the wall and watched Aine glance around.
He was more beautiful than I remembered. He wasn't as dressed up as some of his other family members, sporting just black dress pants and a white shirt. I saw when he turned that it laced up the back, yet came pretty low, the black laces tying off between his shoulder blades. His hair had grown some, and it shaded his eyes prettily when he glanced down at the floor. He looked disappointed. I watched him wander around the room. He talked to Rasen (who was going through a bit of therapy but otherwise doing well) and Xander and Acacia, even Lilith for a bit. But mostly he stood by one of the big windows that looked out over the garden.
Acacia came over to me a while later. She handed me a cup of punch and leaned against the wall next to me. "I have no idea why you're being such a wallflower," she said. "Why don't you go claim your boy? Some other cute guy might get there before you do if you don't hurry up." I took a sip of the punch. It left a bad aftertaste in my mouth.
"You think so?" I mumbled. "Yes. Plus, he wants to see you. The first thing he said to me was ask where you were. Now stop being such a pussy about it or I'll get Lilith on you. What are you so afraid of?"
I didn't answer. Instead, I shoved the cup back into her hands and strode over to Aine. I knew he saw me coming, but he pretended like he didn't. "I'm sorry I didn't come earlier," I apologized, taking his hand and lifting it to brush my lips against his knuckles.
"You seem to have quite an issue with confronting me," Aine observed. "You can't be afraid of me if we're going to be together."
"I'm so--" He pressed a finger to my lips to silence me.
"Come outside with me," Aine pulled me to the big arched doorway that led outside. There was a semicircle of plants facing the ballroom, with paths leading to different areas of the garden. We sat on a bench and stared inside, watching everyone dance, vampires and humans in a fragile yet harmonic sort of peace.
"You think we can make it?" I asked, not looking at Aine.
"Yes. We can be an example that people from two different races can love each other."
I smiled faintly. "Yeah. I missed you."
"So much." Aine leaned into my chest and I slid an arm over his shoulders. "Promise you'll come see me every time you get a chance. And don't worry about my dad. He can be a jerk sometimes."
"Mm, I promise," I hummed, leaning my cheek on his head, my fingers trailing from his shoulder down his back to stop briefly at the laces before continuing. I stopped at the small of his back and brought my other hand up to slip under his chin. I lifted his head up and kissed him tenderly, trying to show all my love in one gesture. I think I succeeded. Aine sighed and seemed to melt against me. "I love you," I whispered against his mouth. And for once, I said it and meant it with every fiber of my being.
"I love you, too," Aine gasped back. I pulled him close to me and we just breathed for a while.
"I wrote a song for you."
"You did?" Aine looked up at me, amethyst eyes wide. I nodded. I had tried my hardest to make the song completely Aine, and I thought it was my best work so far. My love rose and pulled me up with him. "Come on, there's a piano in the ballroom. I want you to play it for me."
"But-- Now? Why now?"
Aine turned at the doorway and smiled that brilliant, irresistible smile at me. "Because I want them all to hear how much you love me."
And at that point, I didn't are who saw or not, I just passionately kissed Aine again. I was happy and he was happy, and we were all that mattered.
Note: Wow. I can hardly believe it. What did everyone think of the end? Of the story as a whole? Feedback will be handy when I go back to revise. For right now, though, I'm going to set it aside and work on Vengeance Lasting. But anyway, thank you for reading and I hope to see you all again when rewrites are posted!