The vampiress just chuckled lightly before meeting him in another kiss. All the while, she sent him mental images—guiding him, teaching him, showing him exactly what she wanted.
Exhausted, Lily stared up at the ceiling, breathing heavy. Tailfeathers was beside her, equally spent. He was lying on his side, wings extended behind him. She thought it looked uncomfortable, but he insisted he was fine. Carefully, he was tracing a line from her shoulder to her hip, seemingly focused on that invisible line. Lily's eyes were half-lidded and sleepy—contented, like a satisfied cat.
She turned on her side, interrupting his hypnotic tracing. He regarded her for a moment, before shifting to lay his arm over the curve of her waist, his hand resting against her shoulder blade. He rubbed lightly at the area, a small, satiated smile on his face. Apparently unable to help himself, he leaned forward and kissed her lightly—barely brushing his lips against hers.
Amused—and a little stunned—, she asked, "Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
He shifted again, playing with her hair. "Why would I do a thing like that?"
She snorted. "It's what men do after sex."
He raised a brow. "If you didn't notice, princess, I am not a man. I am a male Crow."
"And there's such a big difference between the two?"
He smirked. "You should know."
Rolling onto her back so that she wouldn't have to look at him, she said, "The only difference I could find was that spot on your wings. I don't think the human body—male or female—has a spot quite like that."
He growled, propping himself on one elbow so that he could see her face. She grinned at him, unapologetic. Slowly, a strange look in his eyes, he leaned forward to kiss her. It was surprisingly involved, considering that they had just had sex, and neither of them was ready for another round. At least, Lily wasn't.
When he pulled away and gave her a wicked grin, though, she had the sinking suspicion that he had just done that to distract her. Without any further warning, he popped her leg up, sliding his hand upward so that it rested on the back of her knee. Her eyes widened. "Don't you dare, Feather-butt."
He just smiled innocently. "Don't do what? Oh, this?" Before she could do anything, he started stroking the area. She tried to kick away, but her efforts were impeded by the force of her laughter.
"Stop it!" she shrieked, "That tickles! Stopstopstop!"
Eventually, she managed to kick away from him. Under her venomous glare, he settled back onto his side. "Yes, well, I'm not ticklish either, and that seems a fairly common trait among humans."
She pursed her lips—honestly, she hadn't even known she was ticklish there. No one had ever attempted that before. Not until tonight. During his great quest to find a spot on her body that was as sensitive as the spot on the inside of his wings, Tailfeathers had discovered a great many things about her body. Some of them even she hadn't been aware of. Then again, no one had ever been quite so…thorough…before.
It wasn't what she had expected. He wasn't what she had expected. Then again, who expected a virgin to have the same kind of control and patience he had shown? But it was more than that—she knew he had those qualities, after all. He had had enough control when he was only seventeen to resist her, had had the patience to wait one hundred years. Or maybe that was simply one of the differences between men and Crows.
It was the other side that had surprised her. The wicked pleasure he took from finding how sensitive her breasts were—the same kind of mischievous pleasure he took from finding how ticklish she was. She hadn't expected that. She also hadn't expected the open curiosity as he explored her body, or the almost worshipful way he had looked up at her before burying himself inside. It hadn't surprised her when his cheeks and the tips of his ears turned red while she took the time to investigate his body, but she found it amusing he hadn't shown the same shyness when touching her.
She also hadn't expected him to fight her for the top position—and she sure as hell hadn't expected him to actually win! The Crow certainly knew how to keep a body pinned. Then again, it had been a rather nice treat to watch his wings unfurl to their full expanse as he moved inside her, had been equally wonderful to watch them stretch taut and create a living canopy when he climaxed.
Most of all, though, she hadn't expected the warm peace of satisfaction that spread through her when they finished. Her thirst, finally slaked, had disappeared completely for the first time in three centuries. She had always been told that a mate's blood could sate like no other, but she had never really understood, had never really believed. She couldn't deny it. Not anymore.
And, now, they were cuddling. There was no other word for it. He had pulled her flush against him and was now moving his hand in slow, hypnotic circles over her still-bare stomach. He had his nose buried in her hair, ruffling it every time he exhaled. She snorted softly. "Making love," she said derisively, "Cuddling. What's next? Talk about our feelings?"
He laughed, the movement of his body jostling hers. "I did that before we got into bed, but if you want a turn…."
"Yeah, actually, I think I would." She squirmed for a bit, and he loosened his grip, allowing her to turn around to face him. Poking his chest, she demanded, "Next time, I get top. I let you win this time so I should be allowed that much next time."
He just smiled, his yellow eyes sparkling with amusement. "You didn't let me win anything, and you can have top next time—if you can keep me pinned."
Her mouth dropped open. "You're bigger than I am! That's not fair!"
He raised a brow. "I was bigger than you when I was a teenager, and yet you managed to pin me then. You're stronger than I am, Lily. You have a fair chance."
She growled resentfully. "I always take top. Even the fucking Incubi let me take top…."
He laughed and kissed the crown of her head, though she didn't miss the flash of fire in his eyes when she mentioned the Incubi. "The Incubi don't have wings," he said slowly.
She blinked, shifting slightly to view the ebony limbs stretched out behind him. "So?"
"So," he answered, "I don't like having my wings pinned. It's very uncomfortable, and puts me in a very vulnerable position."
Eyeing him, she asked carefully, "Is this a Crow thing?"
It was awkward, considering that he was lying on his side, but he managed to shrug. "I can't speak for the Eagles, but I would assume it was a winged-being thing. We don't like being on our backs."
She eyed him suspiciously. "What about your females?"
He raised a brow. "What about them?"
"Well, they've got wings too—do they just let the men take top?"
He chuckled. "I said Crows, princess—not male Crows. No Crow likes being on bottom. Couples always fight for who's on top. It's practically a part of our mating rituals."
She stared at him, trying very hard not to think about Redsky beating Talon into a more submissive position. "So, I'm going to have to fight you for top every time?"
He yawned and tugged her closer, muttering sleepily, "Not if you give up and just let me take it."
"Yeah right, Feather-butt. You'd have more luck getting rid of me entirely."
He gave her another slow kiss. When he pulled away, he said softly, "I was hoping you would say that."
She stared at him blankly for a few moments before muttering, "Crows are so weird…."
"Not nearly as weird as vampires," he said seriously, though his eyes were crinkled in amusement, "At least we don't bite when we climax."
Pursing her lips, she eyed the red marks on his shoulder. She had bitten hard enough that her fangs hadn't been the only teeth to draw blood—her dull front teeth had cut through skin too. A bruise was already starting to form. "I'm not apologizing," she said stubbornly.
He smiled, leaning his forehead against hers, eyes closed. "I wasn't asking for one, and I'm not going to apologize for taking your preferred position either."
Lily was silent and still for a moment, but finding nothing else worth complaining about, she sighed and leaned into him, wrapping her arms around him. Unable to stop herself, she started tracing the place where his wings connected with his back. Those feathers were so soft. She smiled lazily and shifted to lay her head against his bare chest. The scent of sweethearts and feathers flooded her nose, sending pleasant chills down her spine.
His warm hand followed those chills, tracing her backbone. When he reached the base of her spine, he paused for a moment before traveling back up. Laying his hand flat against her back, he pressed her close in a tight, almost suffocating hug, before pulling back. Face pressed into the top of her head, he said gently, unhesitantly, "I love you." A moment later he added, "Even if you do bite."
She couldn't help it; she chuckled. Neither of them mentioned how much Tailfeathers had actually enjoyed that bite. Instead, she said vengefully, "Yeah, well, I love you too, Feather-butt. Even if you won't let me take top without a fight first. Now, are we finished with this nonsense? Can I go to sleep?"
She felt him smile. "Alright, princess, we sleep." Gently, he pulled the covers around her, though he left his back and wings uncovered. At least she didn't really have to worry about fighting him for the covers. Then, gently, gradually, his steady heartbeat lulled her into the most peaceful slumber she had had in centuries.
As she drifted off, though, she had to wonder if she was forgetting something….
It was hours past midnight, and Lily had yet to emerge. Nicoloa sighed, leaning against a tree and keeping his eye on the Anjelon rookery less than two hundred yards away. His two brothers were sitting on either side of him. Amiran wasn't having much trouble keeping himself occupied—the far-away look in his eyes was enough to signal that he wasn't at all bothered by their mistress's absence—but Davyn was another story entirely. He had managed to keep still for the first hour of their wait, but by now he was pretty much constantly shifting position. Nicoloa had lost count of the number of times he had stood and started pacing, only to sit back down mere seconds later.
The wait was starting to grate on him too. He didn't have Davyn's restlessness, but he hadn't been gifted with Amiran's detachment either. "It's been nearly eight hours since she went in. I don't think she's going to come back before sunrise. I'm sure it won't be a problem if we go inside and look around."
For a very long moment, the other two stared at him. Then, slowly, Davyn remarked, "Crows like vampires. I don't think anyone would get mad at us."
"Except the Queen," Amiran said lowly.
Nicoloa shook his head. "Why would she be angry? It's cold out here. The cold might not as big a deal for us as it would be for a human, but it's still damned uncomfortable."
"She did tell us to wait," Davyn added.
Rolling his eyes, Nicoloa shot back, "She also told us she'd be back in a few hours. It has been much more than a few hours. I say we go inside and see if we can find a place to sleep for the day. My guess is we won't see her again until sunset."
"You think she forgot about us?" Davyn asked.
He hesitated, then said, "I think she's occupied with other things right now. Besides, she'll call us idiots if we wait out here all night and day."
"We could go back to the den," Amiran suggested softly.
Nicoloa considered. "We could, but it seems silly to travel so far just when there's shelter right here. Besides, even if she does get mad, how mad could she possibly be? It's not that big a deal."
He looked to his companions and suppressed a sigh. Amiran had retreated into himself, while Davyn bit his lower lip with his dull front teeth. Indecision had both of them in its grasp.
Well, hell. I'm not just going to stand out here and continue to freeze my butt off. "Alright," he said agreeably, "You two stay out here, and I'll go inside. See you both tomorrow."
He started walking. Five…four…three…two…
"Wait!" Davyn said, "We'll go with you!"
He paused, allowing them to catch up. Together, they started toward the rookery. Before they were even one hundred feet away, two figures suddenly lifted from the rookery walls, their wings dark despite the moonlight.
Nicoloa stopped immediately, his muscles taut. It was the wings. Just seeing another winged creature made him think of the Eagle that had attacked him, reminded him of the twisted scars on his back and shoulder. They still hurt when he let the sunlight touch them.
The Flares of Chiron were different enough that they hadn't bothered him, and Tailfeathers—after a proper introduction—hadn't bothered him either. Partly because he was perhaps the only male able to get his sire worked up so thoroughly; he hadn't wanted to be responsible for driving his queen's mate away because of a stupid phobia. Besides, Tailfeathers was easy to adjust to; he smelled nothing like an Eagle.
These are Crows, he told himself, trying to force his muscles to loosen, Crows. Creatures of darkness—like me, like Lily, like Tailfeathers. They would only attack if they thought he or his brothers were a threat to their rookery. Otherwise, they would take no interest in them.
Thinking of his brothers, however, only made his control slip further. He was the oldest of Lily's fledglings—in her absence, it was his responsibility to protect them. Hell, when she was present he still felt responsible for them.
His fangs started to slip from their sheath, and a growl began in his throat. No! If they see me like this, they'll attack for sure! Swallowing the growl, he forced his hands behind his back and clasped his wrists. It took effort to maintain the stance—it made him feel vulnerable. Still, he managed, even when the Crows touched ground just a matter of feet in front of them.
They did not draw their swords—thankfully—but they laid their hands on the blades' hilts, and they kept their wings tucked close to their bodies. Nicoloa could recognize the posture—he had been knocked around by the Eagle's wings enough to know the stance, know the controlled power in those wings and how violently it could be released. By some miracle of control, he kept himself from ducking low into a defensive stance.
"What is your business here?" one of the Crows asked.
At his back, both Davyn and Amiran looked to Nicoloa for his answer. It took a moment, but he managed to open his mouth—without snarling—and say, "We are Lily's fledglings. Nicoloa, Davyn, and Amiran." He used one tremulous hand to indicate each.
His answer seemed to knock the Crows off balance. Their hands dropped from their sword hilts and their wings opened into a more comfortable, less controlled stance. Both were smiling. "You are the Vampire Queen's fledglings? You are vampires?"
"Yes," Nicoloa replied, feeling less inclined to growl now that they had relaxed. That didn't mean he wasn't still tense, though.
What followed was an excited—almost child-like—invitation into the rookery. They told the vampires about the gathered Captains and Vice Captains, about the meeting Lily had interrupted, about her proposal to Tailfeathers. Their grins widening, they added eagerly that no one had seen either Tailfeathers or Lily since the meeting's end. Everyone was currently gathered in the ballroom, eating and socializing. They were welcome to join them.
Amiran and Davyn looked to him for an answer. Swallowing, he bobbed his head. "That would be—wonderful. Thank you."
They grinned and turned their backs, ready to lead the three vampires to the rookery. Nicoloa relaxed further. Behind them and out of their sight, he had the advantage. Besides, as he got closer, he was able to get a better read on their scent. Nothing like an Eagle. Eagles smelled of summer and wind and feathers. The feather scent was there, but they smelled more like the clean cold of winter and something strange and salty-sweet—almost like blood.
By the time they had arrived in the rookery, he had relaxed sufficiently. Even seeing other Crows didn't bother him—their shapes were the same as an Eagle's, but they smelled safe. He even managed a smile when one of the females Crows caught his eye. She blushed brilliantly, ducked her head and slipped past with a muttered, "Good evening, sirs."
He and Davyn chuckled.
Soon enough, they reached the ballroom. None of them were dressed properly for the occasion, but when he called attention to the fact, their guides just looked at him strangely and said, "You're the first vampires we've seen in one hundred years. The last—or the first, depending on how you look at it—of your kind. Why would we care how you're dressed or what you look like?"
The vampires conceded the point and, a bit nervously, allowed themselves to be led into the ballroom and introduced to the assembled Crows. Things were a little strange at first—the vampires were still a bit embarrassed about their dress, and the Crows were simply stunned to see them. The Crows recovered quickly, though, and soon the vampires had been whisked away to different groups of gathered Crows, all eager to hear whatever they could tell about the last hundred years of wandering solitude. Nicoloa was on his own, but Amiran stuck close to Davyn, allowing the older, bigger vampire to speak for him.
At the end of the hour, Nicoloa was relaxed and comfortable in the presence of these winged creatures. It wasn't hard for him to believe that his vampiric predecessors had been staunch allies of these Crows. It was even easier to believe that the Crows had been partners to his people. They were a compelling people, interesting and attractive—at least, to a vampire's senses. The scent of not-quite-blood that hung about them was arousing in a strange way—particularly strange because he didn't actually like the smell of blood.
The others didn't seem to be having the same problem, but their senses weren't as strong as his in any case. Bowing, he excused himself and made his way out into the courtyard to clear his head and his nose.
The air was still cold, but after the warmth of the rookery, it was also rather nice.
He wasn't worried about the Vampire Queen and her mate anymore—in fact, he had a fairly good idea what Lily and Tailfeathers were doing (though, by this point, he sincerely hoped they were sleeping), but it did bother him that she hadn't contacted him. She had ordered him to care for his brothers—how was he supposed to do that if he had no idea what was going on?
He pursed his lips. Perhaps she thinks I am old enough now to care for them without her constant supervision. He closed his eyes and sighed, torn between frustration and bitter pride. Frustration eventually won out, but that wasn't a new feeling. Over the past few months, he had gotten almost adjusted to that sensation—as if a thick knot had formed in his chest, a knot he couldn't untie on his own no matter how he pulled at it. Strangely, though, in this place—among the roses and the night-blooming flowers—it felt as if the knot had loosened, if only slightly.
Holding onto that slight relief, he sat on the edge of a tall planter, looking up at the stars.
Cutting through the scent of the wind and the flowers, though, he became aware of another scent. Feathers, that strange not-blood scent…and the smell of summer's warmth.
He stiffened immediately, jumping to his feet. A soft gasp followed his sudden move. A young female stood several feet away, her wings flared out behind her. She stood in a spot of moonlight, making her black feathers shimmer and her blond hair shine. She swallowed and gave a slight bow, keeping her golden eyes fixed on his brown. "I…apologize, sir," she said formally, "I did not expect to see anyone in the gardens this night."
He couldn't move, could barely breathe. She was beautiful—gorgeous. Perhaps not in a traditional sense, but Nicoloa didn't see with a traditional male's eyes; he was a vampire and saw things through a vampire's eyes. And to his senses, she was the most attractive female he had ever seen. Her scent alone was enough to heat his blood, to make his member half-harden.
However, that scent was also more than enough to make his muscles tense, his fangs lengthen. It was all he could do to keep himself from baring his teeth and sinking into a defensive pose.
Crow, his senses whispered, Eagle.
No, his more logical mind finally spoke up, Both. And more.
It was the 'and more' that made him nervous. Or, at least, heightened his present anxiety. Despite the pleasantness of the not-blood scent that hung around the other Crows, he had never had quite this same reaction before. And it was her scent that he was reacting to. Still tense, still partially aroused, he had to admit to himself that, somehow, he had managed to find someone who was compatible as his mate—or she had managed to find him.
It's too early for this, he tried to protest, but it was pointless. He had never been good at lying to himself. This was his mate—he knew that as surely as he knew the sun would rise in the east in only a few hours.
Her presence had roused the mating instinct, but it had done more than that, unfortunately. Had she been merely a Crow, there would have been no problem, but she was also part Eagle. That was obvious enough in her eyes and hair, but it was even clearer in that summer's-heat scent that clung to her. It was that scent that raised his hackles, that made his muscles tense.
Bed her, one set of instincts whispered, while the other set ordered, Kill her.
It was a very good thing he was not a full-fledged vampire, or he would have lost control and done something regrettable—like either of the above. Swallowing, he forced himself to say, "No need to apologize, Lady. I was just leaving." He wasn't, but it would be good to get away from her—he had to, or risk who knew what.
To leave, though, he would have to walk past her. The realization that she had cut off his escape route—no matter how unknowingly—made his heart beat faster. He clenched his fists, attempting to maintain control. He couldn't walk past her, that much was clear. Which also meant he couldn't leave. He was trapped.
Some instinctive part of him screamed at the realization, panic knotting in his throat. Unable to stop them, his claws lengthened, piercing the pale flesh of his palms. He swallowed, ignoring the pain and the urge to use those claws on that pretty face. Or the loose-fitting blouse she wore.
She took a step toward him, her face cocked to one side. "Are you alright? You don't look well."
He jumped away, his body trembling. "Fine," he said stiffly, barely managing to keep the growl from his voice, "I'm fine."
She took another step, dim curiosity in her golden eyes. "Are you…one of the visiting vampires?" Another step, eyes brighter than before. Perversely, that curiosity in her gaze calmed him. Emotion: she was not wholly Light-born, the Eagle in her didn't have hold of her mind or her heart. Not completely at least.
This time, he held his ground. "Yes," he said, clearing his throat, "I am Nicoloa."
"The eldest fledgling. Yes." She gave a slight smile, the expression sending a pleasant shiver down his spine. "I am Rhodanthe, one of Tailfeathers' students."
So she had, at least, earned Tailfeathers' trust. He stood there for several awkward moments of silence—wanting to speak, to give her a reason to stay, but also wanting to stay silent, to give her a reason to leave. A few times, he opened his mouth, but he had nothing to say—what could he say? 'Hi, you're my mate, let's have sex'? Or, even better, 'Hi, you're my mate, but don't get any closer because I might kill you'?
By default, silence won, and she eventually gave him a semi-sad smile. "I will see you some other time, then, Nicoloa."
"Yes, some other time," he said softly, gruffly. She bowed and left, giving him—perhaps unknowingly—another viewing angle. The wings still unnerved him—even if they were black—but he did admire the more humanoid portions of her anatomy.
As soon as she was gone, he collapsed, all the tension leaving his body in a sudden rush. Uncaring that he was essentially lying in the middle of the walkway, he closed his eyes and tried to calm himself. His heart was still pounding, his breath came quickly, and he was still aroused, though only partially. He really wished that Lily was nearby and available to talk, because he could have used her help right then. He didn't think that interrupting her in this particular moment would be wise, however.
He had been uneasy for so many months now, uncomfortable with any feeding method he tried and unable to ease the knot of frustration that had settled in his chest. Not quite miserable, but so distracted and restless that he couldn't call himself happy either. Now it seemed obvious; his mating instincts had been waking, his body preparing itself for his mate. For her—the female he had just seen.
It almost made him laugh. Almost. Because, now, the frustration and discomfort of the last several months seemed paltry and unimportant compared to the inner turmoil he was experiencing now. How could he be expected to mate with that female? She was part Eagle! Her very scent, her very presence woke conflicting instincts within him—and the gods only knew which was the more dominant instinct. He had no idea what would happen if he let himself go, let his control slip. He might kill her. He might bond with her.
Or maybe he would run.
He opened his eyes, intrigued by that option. He didn't believe that he could escape from the mating instinct, couldn't escape that frustration, that discomfort, but he thought that might be better than the conflict he was experiencing now.
'…you do have that choice. It's a hard choice, but it is a choice, nonetheless,' Lily had said just the day before. Silently, Nicoloa took a moment to wonder if she had known, somehow, what would happen to him. Had she known that he would want that option, would need to be told of it, need to be reassured that there was another choice? No, she couldn't have, but that didn't make her words any less comforting.
He had half-convinced himself to leave—knowing that he would have to abandon his vampire family, knowing that those uncomfortable instincts wouldn't die completely—when he remembered that slight smile she had given him before telling him her name. Rhodanthe. He shuddered slightly, pleasure lacing through him. Despite himself, he already loved that smile, loved her name—and it was incredibly difficult to summon those fearful, killing instincts when that summer's-heat scent was so far away.
With time, perhaps, those instincts would fade on their own. He had become quickly and painlessly adjusted to Tailfeathers and the other Crows; why couldn't he adjust to his own mate, the female chosen specifically for him?
The real question, though, was whether he could keep himself from killing her while those instincts were still so strong. He shivered in the cool air, knowing that he should get back soon—before someone saw him like this, at least. He wouldn't want to try and explain it.
Smoothly, he stood and brushed himself off, though his eyes were still far away.
It might take time, but he would adjust. He knew it, in his heart and in his soul even if his mind doubted. She was young now, too: only fifteen or sixteen. He had been changed when he was twenty seven. That gave him quite a long time to adjust, a long time to befriend her, to seduce her.
He shook his head at the last thought. No, not seduce her. She was his mate—would be his mate—, and she deserved better than that. She deserved to be courted even if she had already unknowingly seduced him.
That made him smile; this was a new experience for him. Sex had always been about food before, not so much about pleasure—even when he had been human, it was more about feeding some part of him rather than simple enjoyment. He tried to give his partners pleasure, partly because he thought it fair and partly because their pleasure seemed to feed his energy stores—even if Lily assured him emotion had nothing to do with it—, but it had never mattered about his own. Now, though, he wanted to do more than simply feed. He found it slightly disconcerting that she hadn't seemed to recognize him as he had recognized her, but he could fix that.
A wry smile touched his mouth—how easy it was to forget how upsetting he found her presence when she wasn't actually there! Next time he saw her, he would push himself, would try to overcome those threatening instincts. Eventually they would fade, would die, and then he would be ready. He didn't know how long it would take, but he was a patient vampire—he could wait.
Even if he had to wait one hundred years, he would wait. She was worth it.
AN: Alright, all done. Hope you all enjoyed this 'short' story. I hope the ending wasn't unsatisfying. As an added note, those of you who have read Bonded may have noticed a few things. As a kind of homage to the first novel I ever completed, I named Lily after my main vampire villain. After deciding to continue Lily's story in One Hundred Years, I couldn't resist adding a few more allusions. Mostly, its the characters' names: Nicoloa is a derivative of Nicholas Davyn is a form of David and Amiran is just generally similar to Amil. Rhodanthe means 'rose blossom' and Rosaline means 'rose garden'. I couldn't just couldn't resist. The characters themselves are very much individual, though, especially in regards to their interactions with each other. So, in any case, I hope you all enjoyed this story, and thanks for the wonderful, encouraging reviews. I really appreciate it. -Anne
AN: Alright, all done. Hope you all enjoyed this 'short' story. I hope the ending wasn't unsatisfying.
As an added note, those of you who have read Bonded may have noticed a few things. As a kind of homage to the first novel I ever completed, I named Lily after my main vampire villain. After deciding to continue Lily's story in One Hundred Years, I couldn't resist adding a few more allusions. Mostly, its the characters' names:
Nicoloa is a derivative of Nicholas
Davyn is a form of David
and Amiran is just generally similar to Amil.
Rhodanthe means 'rose blossom' and Rosaline means 'rose garden'.
I couldn't just couldn't resist. The characters themselves are very much individual, though, especially in regards to their interactions with each other. So, in any case, I hope you all enjoyed this story, and thanks for the wonderful, encouraging reviews. I really appreciate it.