Author's Note: The story has been nominated (by my wonderful beta-reader, Medieval-Rogue) for the FictionPress Supernatural Stories Award in a few different categories, and the organizers wanted me to mention it when I updated.

In chapter sixteen, we picked up after Walker had shoved Dana and Avery into an elevator and sent it to the basement. Avery was assuring Dana he wouldn't bite her. Gavin ripped the doors open (breaking them in the process) and let Avery bite him, instead. Ari called Eirene over, who took Avery back home with her. The police got a warrant for Walker's arrest. Michael visited Dana, and Dana spent the night at Jamnis's.

The next day, Dana got a call from Ari -- asking her to come over to Vlad's house. Gavin wants to talk.

When I got downstairs, Gavin was sitting on the end of the couch, Aidan cradled against his chest. The baby was absently rolling the end his father's pale hair between his palms, which the vampire didn't seem to notice in the least. He was rocking Aidan back and forth a little, eyes pointed at the wall. Clearing my throat I stepped forward, and in the split second before he looked over at me I saw that the blue in his eyes was flat. He tried to throw a sparkle in it for me.

"Hey, Gavin," I said, gingerly sitting down next to him.

Aidan twisted to look at me and grinned, pointing straight at me before latching onto the cuff of my sleeve. I smiled at him before glancing up to look at his father. Hair neat, t-shirt unwrinkled, a little color in his cheeks… he didn't look like he'd spent half the day working himself up over Walker's grocery-girl comment.

I glanced around the room and saw all the doors on the hallway were shut. Ariadne had let me in upstairs and was cooking a late lunch, and Vlad must've been hiding somewhere.

"Is Vlad okay?" I asked.

The baby tugged at my sleeve and I smiled, bending down to brush at his hair. The fine, nearly white strands picked up just enough light to make them look glossy. He blinked at me and latched onto the button on the cuff of my sleeve, bringing it to his mouth before I could react. I tugged my hand away, shaking my head at him, and looked around for one of his toys.

"Why wouldn't he be?" Gavin asked, narrowing his eyes.

"Ariadne said you spent the whole day ranting at him," I drawled, earning a glare.

Aidan tugged at my sleeve again, and I shifted back to keep him from yanking at my hair. He made an aggravated noise and looked plaintively up at his father, who kissed his forehead once before sliding down onto the floor. He settled his back against the couch and put Aidan down on the floor between his legs. The baby promptly twisted around, Gavin helping just a little, grabbing onto his elbow to keep him from falling over. Making little noises as his hands patted against the floor, Aidan crawled determinedly away from his father.

"What…?" I asked, sliding onto the floor to sit next to Gavin.

"It's his game," the vampire said, defensively holding his hands up, palms out.

I watched Aidan stop next to a short, clear plastic box. He latched onto the corner and hauled himself up, wavering for a moment on his short legs before plucking his multicolored, squeaky ball out. He dropped down on the floor again and picked up the ball, staring at it. Gavin tilted his head to one side and raised both his eyebrows.

"Do you want to play, Aidan?" he called.

Aidan grinned at him and got to his feet again, giggling as he put the ball back into the box.

"He likes teasing me," Gavin said, the corner of his mouth twitching. He gave an exaggerated sigh and leaned forward, putting his hands on his knees. "Aidan? Don't you want to play?"

They went through the whole thing for a few more minutes, Aidan repeatedly taking his ball out of the box and putting it back up a moment later. When my sister came down the stairs, though, he forgot about his ball and lifted one hand up, squealing until Ariadne walked over and scooped him up.

"Daddy was being silly again, wasn't he?" she cooed. Aidan smiled at her.

"It's his game," Gavin said again, smirking this time. He started to stand up, but his girlfriend picked the ball off the floor and strolled over with it and Aidan, taking my place next to him when I moved over to make room for her. Gavin reached over, cupping his hand over the side of her face, and kissed her. Aidan shrieked in protest until his parents pulled out of the kiss, both of them laughing. Gavin rested his cheek on Ariadne's shoulder and let Aidan latch onto his hair. "Someone's jealous," he murmured.

"Someone knows his daddy's stalling," Ariadne murmured. The blond tensed a little, pressing his lips together, but didn't move. "Vlad said he would watch him while you talked to us," she said, her voice a little dry. She glanced at me and I suddenly wished I was sitting farther away than cross-legged by her feet. "Of course, that was before the tantrum you threw this morning."

Still not moving, Gavin exhaled slowly. "I overreacted," he murmured, taking the ball from her hand. He waved it in front of Aidan, the baby's head twisting to watch the colors float by. "I know that. I'm sorry."

"I did -- all of that… before I met you," my twin said, stiffly. "And I stopped our first night together."

I looked down, fiddling with a stray thread on my jeans. If I got uncomfortable thinking about Ariadne's grocery girl activities in high school, I couldn't imagine how Gavin felt. He'd seen it; seen her at parties and other vampire's houses. I'd only opened the window and back door for her so she could get back in before our parents got up. I'd only watched her use make-up to cover the bite marks in her throat -- I hadn't watched her get any of them. Gavin had. And to have Walker bring it up to her face…

He was quieter for a longer moment this time. "I know," he finally said. "I wasn't mad at you. I'm angry at Walker," he said. If Aidan hadn't been in front of them they might've been harsher with each other, but each of them kept their voices fairly calm and even. Aidan was fixated on his toy, anyway. "I should have been there, should have been around to stop him from touching you like that and saying those things to you."

"It's not as if he called first," Ariadne said. She shifted her weight and he moved back, sitting up again. "Go get Vlad."

He frowned. "Why?"

"Because I'm not moving until you tell me who this Walker is, and I know Dana doesn't want to repeat the whole story to Vlad in an hour," she said. He opened his mouth and she latched onto the front of his shirt, making him falter. She put Aidan down in her lap, his shoulders against her stomach, and looked Gavin straight in the eye. "Gavin Morgan, if you do not get Vlad and tell us all what the h-e-l-l has stormed into our lives, you will find out exactly how easy it was living on commercial blood for only nine months while I was pregnant," she hissed.

Aidan whimpered.

The tips of Gavin's ears went pink. He swallowed, hard, and nodded almost imperceptibly. Ariadne waited for a moment before letting go of his shirt, and he brushed his lips over her cheek as he clambered to his feet. He pulled an elastic band out of his pocket and began twisting his hair into a ponytail, disappearing down the hallway. Ariadne looked down and smiled at her baby, tickling him until the sad look vanished from his little face and he started laughing again.

A minute later the boys came into the living room. Gavin's cheekbones were flushed a faint pink and he was walking with his head down, arms tightly hugging his chest. Walking a little faster than him and looking paler, Vlad's fingers were twitching at his sides. Green eyes lit on me for half a second, and before I could blink he was next to me. Settling down with one hand resting on the floor behind me, he stretched out his legs in front of him and bent one knee so it was raised.

I raised an eyebrow at him. "Hi Vlad."

Hand still twitching, he touched two fingers to the side of my nose. I pulled back and he curled his palm over his bent knee. "You're lucky he didn't break it," he said, fingertips digging into his pale jeans. The snug, dark green t-shirt he had on matched the current shade of his eyes.

I stuck my tongue out at him. "You just don't want to say thank-you to Avery."

Grunting softly, he bumped his head against my shoulder. Across from us my sister and her boyfriend were pretending to ignore us, though Aidan's big blue eyes were focused squarely on the black-haired vampire sitting next to me. "We will talk after this, Dana." He blew a stream of air in my ear and grinned when I yelped. "I'm glad you're okay."

"If you two are done flirting," Gavin said.

"Jealous?" Vlad purred, batting his eyelashes at his guest.

"Not in a hundred years."

"In about ten years we'll have known each other for a hundred years."

"Seven he--cks…" Gavin stammered, catching a glare from Ariadne.

My sister leaned forward and gently turned Aidan around, making him squeak, and plunked him down so he was facing his father. The vampire bit his lip and squirmed, folding his legs underneath him. He gripped the leg of his jeans with both hands, hunched his shoulders.

"Commercial blood, Gavin," Ariadne prompted. "A lot longer than nine months." Aidan wriggled out of her grip crawled over to bat at his ball, knocking it into his father's leg. Gavin flicked at it with one finger and Aidan giggled, pointing at the ball before latching onto it.

Exhaling a breath I hadn't heard him inhale, Gavin shut his eyes.

"Walker murdered my mother."

The multicolored ball squeaked in Aidan's hands.

Behind me, Vlad put a hand on the crook of my arm. I pressed my lips shut before a similar squeak could roll off my tongue. Ariadne started to brush some loose hair out of Gavin's face and he twisted, letting his cheek graze her palm before leaning back, away from her fingers. The ball slipped out of Aidan's hands and knocked against his mother's knee.

"He was trying to Turn her," Gavin said. Blue eyes suddenly flat, he sounded like, if anything, he needed some water. Just to clear away the hitch in the back of his throat. "And he failed. Miserably." Cobalt flashed through his eyes. "He'd found us walking through the woods by the -- by the…"

"Gavin…" Ariadne murmured, touching his shoulder.

A crease between his eyes smoothed out. "The stables. We were by the -- the stables," he said.

Clothes sticking to my skin, my throat tightened. Vlad's hand moved off the carpet to settle on my hip, and a brief flicker of a purple mess threatened my peripheral vision. My heartbeat flared and I grit my teeth, my vision clearing in a blink. There was… absolutely no way. The aura-sight didn't have any place here, now.

"In the dark it was hard to tell where he'd dragged her," Gavin rambled on, eyes focused vaguely on his hands, his fingers plucking at loose threads from his worn jeans. The massage Ariadne was giving his shoulder seemed to pass unnoticed. "But I found them -- tackled him, which was…" He hissed through his teeth and my stomach knotted sourly knowing it was supposed to be a laugh.

My sister gave up and just buried her face in his sleeve. Aidan decided we were all terribly boring and twisted, nearly falling onto his hands and knees. Blond head bobbing as he moved, he crawled off to the plastic toy chest in search of something more entertaining.

"Someone pulled me off -- I'd been winning, too -- and… I should've known he wouldn't have been alone." He jerked and sat up straight, jerking back a little and dislodging Ariadne in the process. Denim twisted under his fingers. "His sire decided he needed a demonstration of the proper technique."

A beat of silence coiled around us.

Gavin glanced at Vlad and the corner of his mouth twitched, making my friend tense. The blond made a vague sweeping gesture at himself and ended with his hand clamped around the side of his throat. "Cassandra -- her name was Cassandra -- spent the next year flaunting me in front of him. Ordering me to act as his servant but giving me enough leeway to disobey him enough to remind him I wasn't his. He kept trying to figure out the Turn, and I picked it up through the scraps he…" He froze, squeezed his eyes shut, icy blue vanishing under the weight of his eyelids. "Through his mistakes."

I parted my lips and Vlad pinched me hard enough to make me wince.

Across the room, Aidan shrieked. Gavin was on his feet fast enough to blur, and Ariadne could only stare at him bounding over to his son, sweeping the baby off the floor and spinning back around to face us. Startled, Aidan's yell cut off, his eyes wide and his mouth open. Eyes pale, Gavin nuzzled his head, making him squirm.

"I think she made him without the spark -- without the little knot that would let him shove necromancy into one of his… into a human," Gavin breathed, kissing the peak of Aidan's head. The baby warbled and tilted his chin up, blinking serenely at his father's pale face. "I think he figured it out -- at least, he's got it figured out by now." He wet his lips and cuddled Aidan to his chest, letting his ponytail fall over his shoulder. His son promptly latched onto the blond locks. "But he tried again, when Cassandra had left us alone. He went after Eirene."

Vlad choked and I jabbed him in the stomach with my elbow.

Weight on his heel, Gavin spun around, making Aidan giggle and ensuring we couldn't see his face. The next part came out so fast the edges of the words bled into each other. "Walker took her down in a dark alley, without even seeing her face, and left as soon as he realized he'd just made another mess. I was supposed to go with him and I didn't. I finished what he started."

Did -- No. If Eirene knew this… Vlad's hand rubbing my side was something I saw and didn't really feel; I didn't even sense the pressure. Eirene didn't know this. Taken down without even seeing her attacker's face -- why the hell hadn't Gavin ever told her this?

A deep breath gave back the spaces between his words. "It took him nearly a year to find us, and he made me go back to Cassandra, made me leave Eirene in the woods with no shelter ready for sunrise. Cassandra was -- it wasn't fair," he spat, his shoulders going rigid.

Swallowing, Ariadne got to her knees. She started to stand when Gavin turned around and took a few purposeful strides over to her, handing Aidan to her before moving to the corner of the room by the door leading upstairs. He wrapped his arms around himself and dug his fingers into his elbows, ducking his head. If I'd been closer to him I would've been able to tell if he was really shaking, or if it was just me.

"It wasn't fair that I had my own sireling and he didn't," he hissed. "So she said leave her there."

Vlad's grip on me hurt.

"She said Walker would get his own sireling, eventually, his own servant, and then I could try again. She said leave Eirene in the woods, it didn't matter, I didn't deserve a sireling like Walker did."

I scrambled to pry Vlad's fingers off me and got a glimpse of his eyes, a green so dark I couldn't name it. He pulled his hands back from me altogether and slapped them down on the carpet behind him, putting all his weight on his arms and ruining the casual posture with the new bumps under his lips. Aidan started to whimper and Ariadne hugged him to her chest, her shoulders trembling.

"So now he hates me for staking the woman who held the key to ever letting him make a sireling of his own," Gavin breathed, the tension leaving his stance so quickly I thought his legs might give out. He staggered a bit, looked over his shoulder at his baby. The lines of his face were set in a mask, and he wasn't letting them move. "Though I can't begin to measure how delusional he has to be, thinking she'd ever give that to him, or that the magic she made him with would ever allow it."

"Gavin--" Vlad said, nails digging through the carpet.

"That is what h-e-l-l has come and found me," he said, spitting out the words. He finished turning around, his body twisting in parts: first his torso, his hips reluctantly following, his legs stalling and his ankles obeying the command only at the last second. His fangs flashed when he next spoke. "Found us," he corrected, staring at Aidan. "Walker blames me for never being able to create a sireling of his own, and he wants to take away everything -- everything that matters -- that I've ever created for myself in return."

"Gavin--" Vlad started, and I slapped the back of his head. His jaw dropped.

"Avery will never forgive him for killing my mother, and there's…" Gavin's face clouded. He took a step back, his feet dragging on the floor. "Walker didn't let me flee Cassandra's without… leaving a few marks on me. Marks that didn't fade by the time I got home again."

Wetting his lips, he cocked his head to one side, his hair slipping along his shoulder. "I went straight home afterwards -- the first time I'd been there in a year -- and took Eirene with me after making sure Walker hadn't gotten to her. When we got there I saw that Avery was planning his second wedding. And when I confronted him I just…" He made a gesture at his fangs, a grimace splashing onto his face.

Then the corner of his mouth twitched again and he pressed a hand over his eyes. "And -- in the year I was with Cassandra and Walker…"

He stopped, abruptly, and Ariadne blinked at him. For a second neither of them moved and then he stepped forward, moving to his knees in the same moment. Cupping his hand over the side of her face he bent his mouth to her ear, and though I couldn't see his lips move, whatever he said made water spring to my twin's eyes. She took one hand away from Aidan to latch onto her boyfriend's arm, her fingers digging into his skin.

My boss's hand suddenly dug into the back of my shirt and yanked me to my feet, hard enough to make me yelp. Dropping his hand from his girlfriend's face, Gavin went silent, his mouth hanging open. Ariadne turned to us, startled, and Vlad gave them both a smile that totally failed to change their expressions. Aidan started wriggling in his mother's grip.

"Allow us to give you what minimal privacy the door of my bedroom affords," Vlad said.

"Wait your what--" I started.

A flicker of light blue flashed through Gavin's eyes.

…And apparently Vlad kept his bedroom about as organized as his office.

The door clicked shut behind us and he leaned against it, one hand gripping the doorknob, as his shoulders sagged. He pressed the heel of one hand against his forehead, threading his fingers through his black hair. I stood a couple inches away and gaped at him, wondering when he'd turned me around and how the hell he ever found his clothes in this place.

After adjusting to the fact that he'd just whipped me down the hallway, I put my hands on my hips. He cracked one eye open, a sliver of green peering out at me. "What was that for?" I demanded.

Without looking at me, head still tilted down, he said, "Gavin was telling Ari that Walker made a habit of hurting him while they were together and he couldn't bear her asking about it."


For a moment we both just stood there. I rubbed my shoulder, mouth feeling dry, and tried to distract myself by looking around. Vlad's actual bed -- a full-size -- was clear, the blue-and-white plaid sheets visible even if the comforter was piled messily at the footboard. There were about a dozen books on his nightstand, that many folders wedged between them. His closet doors were open, clothes on their hangars, but thrown on the chairs against the wall were at least a week's worth of laundry. I couldn't find the laundry basket.

Before I could examine the stack of books on the carpet by the door, Vlad exhaled and dropped his hand from his face. He shifted his weight, cocked his hips to one side, and rubbed his thigh through his jeans. "I didn't know any of that," he said.

I gingerly sat down on the corner of his bed and set my hands in my lap. "I guess only Avery knew." And Walker.

"Even if Gavin got home by the night after -- after confronting Cassandra," Vlad said, staring at his palm. His eyes were unfocused, his fingers twitching a little. "To leave marks that would last… though I guess he was only a year old and maybe he didn't eat…"

"What were you trying to tell him?" I asked.

Why had Gavin kept this all secret? If Eirene had known that Gavin had the choice to either let Walker get away with killing her or Turn her himself… If we had all known who Walker was, if at least the vampires had known who Walker was, we could have stopped this, or done something before it got out of hand. Eirene never would've let Walker into Hell if she'd known what he'd done to her, to Gavin.

Oh God why was my sister's boyfriend such a stubborn --

"I was going to ask if he knew how Walker had been Turned," Vlad said, interrupting my thoughts. He rubbed his hand over his face and let go of the handle, sliding down the door until he was sitting on the carpet. "Which was, uh, probably not the best timing."

"Does it matter?" I asked, crossing my legs.

Though Avery's behavior towards his son was a usually mystery to me, I had never really understood why Gavin had Turned his father in the first place. Now that I knew what Avery knew, probably still less than what Avery knew, at least I could guess. How desperate Gavin must've been.

"Vampires can't create new vampires without the ability to Turn others, they just can't manipulate the magic like that during the Turning," Vlad said. He started rubbing his legs through his jeans, running his hands up and down from his thighs to his knees. He couldn't stop moving and I couldn't start. "If Walker really doesn't have that ability, and was still under Cassandra's will as her sireling… she would have had to have a partner in his Turning. A necromancer, to twist the magic around for her."

My voice came out a little strangled. "I don't know what to say to him."



"He doesn't want any of us to say anything, Dana," he said. He plucked at some lint on his jeans and raked his fingertips through his hair, mussing the dark strands. He stared at his palms for a second and looked up at me, his eyes creased. "C'mere," he said, patting the floor next to him. "I need a heartbeat."

Sighing, I eased off the bed and kicked my shoes off, moving to sit at his side. "I could've taken that the wrong way."

An arm wound its way around my shoulders and tugged me up against him. I rested my head on his shirt and he kissed the top of my head. "You didn't," he said. "…But Jamnis probably would. So, er, paraphrase me when he asks, all right?"

"I never quote you directly, Vlad," I said. He gave me a look. I looked down at my hands and absently laced my fingertips together. "What're we going to do about Walker?"

"That would be the silver lining, Dana. Now that we're sharing information, we don't have to have to make that decision by ourselves." He clicked his tongue against the inside of his teeth and rubbed my shoulder a little. "If Avery is willing to drop his wall then I'd hope he will have some kind of plan in mind. Maybe he's actually met Walker. You said they seemed familiar with each other at the hospital."

"They did…" I felt my face settle into a frown. Walker had spoken like he and Avery knew each other. "They must have met up after Avery was Turned." But I couldn't bring myself to go interrupt Gavin and ask about it… and I couldn't think of a way to bring it up to Avery, either. I rubbed my hands together a little, trying to bring some blood back into my fingers.

"Speaking of the hospital," Vlad dropped, ignoring me. He kept his voice light and lilting, the shadow in his eyes belying the spark floating in his words. "Going back to Avery and Walker has got to be one of the stupidest things you've ever done."

I pressed my lips together and spent an unproductive moment counting squares on his sheets. "So I've been told."

"Walker hit you."

I rubbed the side of my nose, which was still a little swollen and a lot tender. "I think it was just to prove he could," I muttered.

"So Avery provoked him into hitting you," Vlad said. I started to protest and he waved his hand, cutting me off. "If Avery had lost control in the elevator--"

"Which he didn't!"

"--he wouldn't have stopped at a couple of gulps," he finished. He squeezed my shoulder and didn't relax his hand, keeping his grip on me tight. I squirmed a little, tugging my knees up to my chest. "He would've bitten you and drunk and Gavin wouldn't have been able to pull him off for fear of ripping open an artery."

I touched my forehead to my knees, letting out a long breath. "Walker did something to Avery's aura to make it worse. I couldn't have guessed that would happen."

A dark look flashed onto his face. He half-turned to face me, scowling. "Dana--"

Knocking at the door made us both jump. Vlad let go of me to twist around and frown at the wood, until we heard Gavin's muffled voice asking us to come out. I willingly wriggled out of Vlad's grip and stood, brushing my clothes off while he latched onto the doorknob to haul himself to his feet. He opened the door and I darted past him into the hall before he could say anything different. I stepped past Gavin and leaned against the wall across from the bedroom, while Vlad shut his door behind him and leaned against it, crossing his arms over his chest.

Gavin was holding a smallish pastel green bag, stuffed to bursting with little toys, shampoo and soap. "We're, um, going to give Aidan a bath," he said. He shrugged with one shoulder and looked down. "But, uh… I'm going to call Jamnis and Eirene later so you don't have to tell my story."

I stepped forward, making him jump, and rocked onto my toes. He held perfectly still while I kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry, Gavin," I said, dropping back to my feet.

A blush swarmed over his face and he mumbled something that must've been some kind of thank you, taking a couple of steps backwards and spinning around to face the end of the hallway where the bathroom was. Now that I listened, I could hear my sister and the baby, Ariadne singing softly and Aidan making pleased noises in return.

"Gavin," Vlad said.

The blonde paused and looked over his shoulder at us, puzzled.

My friend scuffed his foot over the floor, some of his hair falling in his eyes. "Does Walker want you back?" he murmured, glancing down the hall to make sure Ariadne hadn't poked her head out of the bathroom. "Is that what he wants for helping Aidan? You?"

A bemused smirk landed on Gavin's mouth. "No. He lost his attraction for me some time ago."

Vlad cocked an eyebrow.

My sort-of brother-in-law rolled his eyes. "Walker isn't gay, or straight, or anything else," he drawled, adjusting the bag in his arms. "He's a sociopath. Sex is just a weapon for him."

"…My mind absolutely did not go there, but thank you for the clarification," Vlad said.

Faltering, Gavin opened and shut his mouth a couple of times. Then Ariadne called from the bathroom, asking where he was, and he fled down the hall like she and Aidan were a choir of angels.

"We're going Christmas tree shopping," I said, at the same time Michael said, "Gavin called me."

My brother stopped with one foot in the car, a gym bag dangling from his shoulder. He'd already dropped the rest of his things in the trunk and given Vlad an annoyed look for being in the front seat, but I guess my announcement was jarring enough to stop him in his tracks. I tilted my head to one side and he jerked slightly, moving into the car fast enough to bump his head on the door.

As we left the parking lot Vlad twisted around and flashed a grin at Michael. "Don't you look dressed up."

I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Michael blush. He ran his hands through his hair and slid down in his seat, mumbling something about not having much clean laundry left. Winking at me, Vlad clambered into the backseat at the next red light. In the time before traffic started again, I listened to Vlad explain that Gavin, Ariadne, and the baby had gone ahead of us to the Christmas tree lot in the van they'd rented for their stay in Rosen. He had a little bit harder time convincing my brother why the House needed its own tree, though.

"Your biggest customers are Wiccans," Michael said.

"My biggest customers are teenagers who like to pretend they're Wiccans," Vlad protested. Michael made a noise somewhere between a snort and a sigh and my boss gave him a sideways look, ignoring my murmur to put his seatbelt on. "My actual Wiccan customers will know it's just an expression of my eclectic personality."

"You know the customers who come to you for private sessions?"

"Yes?" Vlad's voice was suddenly perkier.

"They seriously ask you for counseling?"

"Dana, you said he was starting to like me!"

Without lowering my eyes from the road, I flicked on the radio. When the boys tried to protest I turned it up, and quickly enough they let their voices fade until their conversation wasn't enough to distract me from the road.

The tree lot sparkled at us from a block away, and turning into the parking lot I saw Gavin had been sitting in the space next to their van. He was wearing dark jeans and a thick red sweater that looked suspiciously like something my mother would buy. He jumped up when he saw us and moved backwards, giving me room to pull in.

Vlad spilled out before I was at a full stop. "Creative way of saving us a space," he said, bounding off into the crowd with the blond. At least a dozen other cars were there and kids were running up and down the aisles, shrieking, parents and older siblings trying hard to keep an eye on them.

Unbuckling my seatbelt, I turned around and settled onto my knees. Michael looked up from tugging at his shirt. "I really am at the end of my laundry," he said.

"New jacket?"

Little spots of color appeared on his cheeks. "…It gets colder in Rosen than it does in Ashburgh."

I set my hands on either side of my headrest and took a little breath. The warmth from the afternoon had disappeared under the cover of darkness and it was already cold enough to see my breath. After a second I managed to get out, "So what did Gavin tell you?"

Nearly the same thing he'd told the rest of us, it turned out, but with a few edits. The version my brother recounted was shorter and not as detail-rich, though it had still managed to shake him up. We stayed in the car for a couple of minutes, until I was sure he wasn't too freaked out about it (he was probably doing the same for me). Later, we would all have to sit down and discuss what to do about Walker. But tonight…

Tonight we were picking out a Christmas tree for Aidan. Though before I could get my door open Michael cleared his throat to catch my attention.

"Um," he said, rubbing his throat when I looked back at him. "I, um." A little smile quirked over his face. "I found out something."

I raised an eyebrow.

Shifting his weight, he slid down a little. There was a faint pink tinge all over his face and neck now, and he looked like he was struggling to clamp down on his grin. "Tanner's gay."

I swear I almost giggled. "Really."

"Somebody, uh, hung mistletoe in the laundry room."

"You think you'll see him over break?"

He opened his door and slid out, buttoning his jacket closed. I followed, locking the doors behind me, and he trailed after me through the cars towards the first line of trees. "He said he could probably ride into the city a few times when Sakura's working," he said. "So… yeah."

"That's really great, Michael."

"Thanks, Sis."

He stopped abruptly, doing a double-take. I followed his gaze down to the end of a row and groaned inwardly. Vlad was standing next to a tree that must've been nearly twice my height, waving frantically at us with both arms stretched above his head. Michael took in a deep breath and ducked to put his mouth near my ear. "Someone has to tell him that will not fit in the House, let alone the car."

"Not it," I said, waving back at Vlad.

Author's Note: Gasp! After two-and-some-odd stories, I am finally nice to Michael. I really didn't mean to be this mean to him. Really. And, I really, really suck for taking so long to update -- I know I keep saying that and I don't know why I've been so bad lately. I need to sit myself down and just write like three in a row or something. (sigh/exhale/groan/etc.)

FreedomStar: Thanks for the review, hope you enjoyed the chapter.

Elyssa Morales: They went down to the basement because in chapter fifteen Walker sent the elevator there; it was just the farthest floor away and would keep them in the elevator the longest (i.e., give Avery more time to maybe kill Dana). Thanks for reviewing.

Demonic Huntress: Sorry it took so long for this chapter to come, hope you liked it. That blogging project sounds interesting. And, er, I guess before I start reading more I need to beat myself back into shape with writing. Thanks for the review!

Faith Adeline: Writing Sirel is always fun. Thanks for reviewing.

Liviania: Thanks...I'm feeling better now. Hope you liked the chapter!

MysticRayne69: Hope Gavin's revelations this chapter proved interesting! Thanks for the review.

Medieval-Rogue (chapter 15 review): Jamnis and Dana haven't had that much time together this story, it feels like, so whenever they do manage to have a scene alone together it's good to hear they've clicked during it. I have no idea why so many girls ship guy/guy pairs, really, but if they ever figure it out I'd like to hear about it, heh. Well, I have thought about writing a story for/by Michael, but a plot has never really occurred to me. Hehe, Walker is definitely my favorite antagonist. I've never actually had a nosebleed so I just kind of went by what I've read before, hmm. I like blood imagery (aha, er). GAH I want to reveal what Walker is after, I truly do, I need to just sit myself down and write the next few chapters -- weekend I think I'd be free, maybe. And I appreciate the comment about the magic set-up, I've worked hard to make it very clear how magic works in this world. Thanks, as always, for the review, and you can't know how much you've helped just making the story work with beta-ing