Shadow Games

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Chapter 12

Serina slammed her hand down on the table for what seemed like the millionth time.

“You can’t do this to them!” She yelled as the anger that heated her words lit twin fires in her eyes. It was of no consequence that they’d gone fully black only moments after James admitted he was considering giving the girls over.

“You don’t understand Seri…” James started, his tight clipped words showing as much anger as her screamed ones. She threw up her hands and gave him a tight smile that went nowhere near her eyes.

“Then please… enlighten me.” She said sarcastically as she flung herself back in her seat and crossed her legs, bouncing her foot impatiently. James sighed and rubbed his hands over his face before answering her.

“I don’t like the idea any more than you do, in fact it’s the vilest thing even I could think of doing to someone. But we cannot afford a war with anyone. Do you know the resources Nicholas could pull? He’s one of the ancients, not only that but from what Vin has said he’s been perfecting a way to bring his old ass across the shadow realm. He’s looking for a way to our side. I don’t think I need to tell you how dangerous that could be.” James paused as he watched his daughter’s unwavering expression and sighed. He knew she was as stubborn as her mother, hell as stubborn as he was.

“He comes, we fight. That’s how it’s always been and I see no need to change that.” Serina argued even as the tone of her voice said she was waffling on her resolve.

“You’re as bad as I ever was…” James grumbled as his gaze pierced hers before going back to the well-handled paper in front of him. He’d sent the messenger packing, by force, as soon as the stationary left his hands.

“There has to be another way.” Serina reiterated, all the anger of her outburst draining from her. She would fight for them if she had to but it was useless to argue about it.

“I’ll find it if there is, but it’s the damn politics. You fail to realize how fragile the peace we keep is. Yes demons that walk on our side have integrated in to our lives, have even become friends and family… but ancient demons will never be that way. They look down on those who prefer life here, they think they’re tainted.” The song and dance was familiar to James. It didn’t seem that long ago he sat here with his father having the same battle of wits. Serina shook her head and sighed, giving up her argument. Even though she wanted to drag it out, to win, she couldn’t deny his reasoning.

“He demanded them back only assuming we have them.” Serina said grasping at what little hope there was for another answer. She sat forward pulling the paper to her and re-reading the elegantly written demand. “He doesn’t know for sure that they came here, we could play it off for a time.” She said hopefully, knowing full well that the suggestion was nowhere near workable. They couldn’t play dumb and hope to win Nicholas over. She shook her head and tossed the paper away. Serina cursed under her breath.

“I hate politics…” She muttered as she crossed her arms and sat back again. James smoothed the paper on the table, his eyes scanning it again looking for some kind of loop hole. Finding none he pushed it away and removed his silver framed glasses, tossing them on top of the paper. Again Serina was surprised at how tired he looked again and she felt sorry for giving him hell when his hands were tied. She didn’t want to cause him any more trouble than she had but at the same time she could not… would not hand those girls over to that sadistic asshole. She flipped her hair off her shoulder and stared into space, turning the letter over in her mind again and again. With a frustrated sigh she rested her head in her hands.

“I really hate politics.” She muttered and James gave a mirthless laugh that brought her attention back to him. He looked his age for once and she gave him a halfhearted smile.

“You and me both, kid.” He murmured.

***

Persephone woke with a start and her muscles protested. Apparently she’d passed out… again. She was sore and stiff from where she’d clung to the blanket around her while she slept. Stretching her fingers she noted she was in a plush, dark room, the only light source was a small lamp on the dressing table. In her sleep fogged mind she absently wondered who even had dressing tables anymore. Again she stretched and felt the pull of her tired muscles. It was a pleasant feeling to get all the kinks out. As she looked around she noted that she still had a slight throb behind her eyes from all the abuse her nerves had taken over the past few days. With a start she jumped up despite her muscles screaming at her to lie still.

“Ky?” She called out forgetting to note she could see the entire room with the light that pooled out from the little lamp. “Ky!” She whimpered as snippets of memory came in bits and pieces. The door opened and Persephone jumped, instinctively covering herself with the blanket. In walked a familiar face but one that’s name escaped her. She squinted in the bright light from the hall and could just make out the red flame of hair that hung wildly around the woman’s face.

“Sephie, she’s alright. She’s just in the next room…” Scarlet said but before anything else Persephone was on her feet, muscles be damned. She side stepped the woman and was out into the hallway before knowing which way to go. Scarlet followed her out, more substantial clothing held out for her.

“Just over there.” She nodded to a door to the right of her own and Persephone took the clothes with a nod of thanks and flung the door open. She stopped short as the room came into focus. The light was a little dimmer in here but it could just have been how bright the hall was, a trick of perception. But to her it was a mass of black with a soft pool of light coming from the bedside table to illuminate the sleeping Elf. She remembered Micah looking like this to her the first time she met him, all golden glowy light. But he was an angel and this woman was just that, a woman. As far as she knew the only power she held was a compassion she’d never seen in another living being. She shuffled forward a few steps as she felt Scarlet’s presence press in on her. Silently the door swung closed except for a crack and all was silent.

“She was pretty bad when you two showed up.” Scarlet murmured softly. “Her shoulder was far from her worst injury. I don’t know what happened to her but she was bleeding internally.”

“He beat her…” Persephone muttered more in understanding than to tell Scarlet what had happened. “She tried to save me from her fate and he almost killed her.” She felt tears spill down her cheek as she took slow even steps to the end of the bed and held on to the bed post for balance.

“It had to have been severe for as much as I had to clean up.” Scarlet said without thinking then cursed under her breath when she realized what she’d said.

“I don’t know how long I was out. I blacked out from emotional overload, flipped my kill switch I guess.” Persephone tried to make light of her experience but it came out sounding sarcastic. She couldn’t take her eyes off of Kylia for fear if she did something would happen.

“She really is going to be ok. It’ll take a while for everything to stop being sore, but I patched her up for ya.” Scarlet smiled and smoothed Persephone’s hair gently in a motherly fashion before stepping from the room and closing the door behind her.

Persephone waited for her to go before she decided to remove the hateful sheath dress and put on the clothes that were provided for her. She was surprised to find that they were hers, left here on one of her many visits. She closed her eyes as the feel of the familiar material slid over her and she felt almost like she was home again. Maybe with Vin back it could be more like home here, and maybe she could even convince Kylia to stay with her. She looked at the Elf as she buttoned her jeans and tugged her long sleeved t-shirt down over them. She knew Kylia would stay with her if she asked, but she didn’t want her to do anything she didn’t want. As carefully as she could she climbed onto the bed and sat Indian-style next to Kylia. She would watch her sleep until she was healed if she had to. She couldn’t bare anything happening to this woman. Hesitantly she reached out and gently brushed some of Kylia’s golden blonde hair from her face. Everything had happened suddenly and now she was having trouble considering her feelings. They were a complete mystery to her at the same time she knew exactly what they were. Lukas was the last one she’d ever thought of like she did Kylia and it was surprising. Persephone had lost so much when she’d lost him that she never thought she’d feel like this again.

Is a love born of hardship any different than one that comes from random attraction?

She wondered as she gently stroked Kylia’s cheek. Could she really love her? She wasn’t sure, yet she knew it down to her very marrow. She knew that it was impossible to predict what would happen but she hoped in the deepest darkest corner of her mind that she’d get to spend that future with this Elf.

Persephone blinked at the passing thought and brought her hand back to rest it in her lap. She was suddenly afraid of what was going to happen. Not with her and Kylia but with Nicholas. He didn’t take kindly to those who broke their contracts with him, he was going to hunt her down. Panic flared in the pit of Persephone’s stomach and she began to hyperventilate. She’d been so naive to think she could get out of having to fulfill a contract with an ancient demon and now her life… her freedom was at stake. She looked around the room as if Nicholas was going to appear out of the shadows. With his ability to project onto others, it was entirely possible but not exactly fool proof. She knew she was letting the panic get the best of her but she couldn’t help but think of the worst case scenario. Kylia had been his her entire life, she was his main servant. Persephone, she was his new toy that was taken from him, one he’d want back very badly if only to make an example of her.

“Sephie…” Came a soft mutter and Persephone’s eyes shot down to Kylia. She’d woken up but her eyes, barely open were still unfocused with sleep.

“Shh, I’m here… we’re alright, we made it.” She soothed as she slid down to lie beside Kylia.

“I knew you’d get us away from there.” Kylia smiled sleepily, her body fighting to take the rest it needed.

“Why don’t you get some rest, Ky. You’ve been so strong, you need to rest now.” Persephone muttered as she laid her face next to the girls and kissed her forehead gently.

“We need to talk…” Kylia muttered, barely intelligible. “…bout things.” She finished and her body relaxed again.

“We will, I promise.” Persephone whispered knowing Kylia was asleep again but still feeling the need to validate the statement with an answer.

“We will…” She reiterated, feeling the strain on her body again. Persephone felt the pull of the comfortable bed, weighing her down into sleep and she let the feeling take her away. She was safe where she was, in a home with friends and those she could call family.

***

Vin woke to an empty room and a crick in his neck.

Great… more pain.

He thought to himself as he pushed up from the overly comfortable chair. Absently he thought it shouldn’t be allowed to make a simple chair so ridiculously comfortable. Or maybe he was just that worn out now days. He eyed the chair again and stood to stretch. Serina had left him high and dry to sleep off the alcohol they had plundered. He’d have to have a talk with her about doing such things to a friend. He ruffled the hair that had matted down on the back of his head and stretched his arms. Not that he cared what it looked like any more, or that he ever did. A soft clearing of a throat caught his attention and he froze, mid-stretch and turned. There stood Edie with her arms crossed, looking just as sleep tousled as he felt.

“You left me to come and sleep in a chair?” She asked as a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“You snore.” He shot back with a grin.

“Do not.” She said with a pout. Edie dropped her arms as she strolled up to him, her hand outstretched to brush hair from his forehead. It was a familiar gesture, one that she’d done time and again when his hair was a wreck, which was just about always. This time he leaned his face into her hand and nuzzled it before gently kissing her wrist. He felt her hesitation as he brought his hand up to cover hers, pressing it to his rough cheek.

“Vin…” She said cautiously as his other hand found her waist and pulled her into him.

“Shh.” He warned as he looked up at her. He wanted her comfort, he wanted her there with him like she had been so many times over the years. They might fall apart, again, tomorrow but he didn’t care. Right now he wanted her and she was there, still standing in his arms. He let go of her hand at his cheek and she held it there. Vin held his breath seeing if she’d step away from him like she’d also done time and time again. When she stayed there the breath rushed out and his head sank to her shoulder, arms wrapping tightly around her. He felt her lips press gently to the side of his head as she held him just as tightly. Edie had needed him as much as he needed her and he felt it now as they stood there.

“I’m sorry.” Vin sobbed and tears he didn’t know were coming flowed out. Edie sniffed as her arms shook with her own sobs. They had tried to be strong for one another, and now those walls were crumbling around them. Edie had had time to come to terms with the possibility of her son’s death. He’d been missing for months before Vin reappeared, but now it was confirmed and she had yet to grieve. So they both let everything go and they didn’t care.

“You can’t blame yourself.” She whispered into his ear and he brought his head up, irrational anger making his movement sharper than intended.

“Can’t I?” He asked her, not sure that he was actually waiting for an answer. “I was the one that signed the contract with Nicholas to save Vincent. I willingly gave my life for him. But there always seems to be a loop hole. He shouldn’t have been able to bring me back, I should have stayed gone.”

“You’re no more at fault than I am, I watched him for three years try and seek answers. I didn’t stop him, I thought it was his way of grieving for you. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him not to. If you’re to blame... then so am I.” Edie looked back at him with a steady gaze. She had thought over this a lot in the past six months and had beaten herself nearly to death over it. It was the ifs ands and buts that he was sure any parent went through with their child. The only problem was he couldn’t fix this, there was no coming back for his son. There was no heartfelt talk and pat on the back that could make his son smile again.

Edie saw his inner thoughts as if he was speaking them and pulled him back into her arms.

“We couldn’t have done any more than we did. He was strong willed and would have done what he wanted anyway.” She muttered. Again she cleared her throat as much to get his attention as to ward away the rising emotion.

“I came to get you actually.” She said softly, her voice still thick. Vin leaned back from her and nodded as he wiped a hand over his eyes.

“What’s up?” He asked trying to be nonchalant as he leaned down and picked up his boots from the floor. He looked at them, not remembering taking them off.

“Um, well a good development.” Edie gave him an unsure smile. The streaks from her tears untouched on her cheek.

“Well?” He prompted when she drug it out.

“Persephone’s here, and she brought a friend.”

Vin felt his body stiffen and his mind rebel at the lack of motion, screaming at him to move again.

“The Elf?” He asked as his brows furrowed and Edie nodded.

“They were both pretty bad when they got here. Scar said the Elf probably wouldn’t have made it if Sephie hadn’t brought her straight here.” Vin didn’t want to ask as his guilt started shredding up through his chest.

“And Sephie?” He murmured not meeting her eyes. If it was bad news he didn’t want to see the accusation in her eyes.

“She’s a little rough around the edges but she’ll heal, eventually.”

Vin’s muscles loosened and his shoulders sagged.

“Eventually?” He asked fearing Edie was making it seem less severe as to not upset him. She already knew he blamed himself and didn’t want to pile on anything else.

“She’s been overwhelmed, emotionally. She does have some injuries but they seem to be healing fine.” Edie frowned when Vin groaned and rubbed his hands over his eyes.

“She wasn’t hurt when I saw her.” He and she nodded in understanding.

“Where are they now?” He asked absently as he slid his feet into his boots, opting to leave them untied.

“Guest rooms down by the library.” Edie answered quietly and before she could say another word Vin took off out the door. He knew if he stayed Edie would have tried to stop him, try to reason with him that Persephone needed her rest.

He wouldn’t have listened, he needed to see her for himself. Did she even know he was alive? As he reached the stairs he took them two at a time barely avoiding tripping over the laces that snaked dangerously around his ankles. That’s all he needed was to break his neck on his way to assure Persephone that he was ok. He rounded the corner and passed the library before he slowed down. He hadn’t thought to ask which room she was in and he took a deep breath. There were only a few scattered actual guest rooms along the hall so there weren’t many to check. He thought to just start opening doors and checking each and every one but stopped. He knocked on the first door he came to. Vin didn’t want to startle her when she was indeed resting. There was no answer so he moved on, his knocks becoming more impatient as he reached the third door.

Just kick the doors in. The little voice inside his head whispered and he rolled his eyes. He didn’t have time for another bout of insanity right now. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face then looked down the hall.

“Probably should have asked which room she was in.” He muttered to himself and tried another door.

***

A far away knock startled Persephone awake again. She’d been dozing on and off to make sure she’d be awake if Kylia woke up. Again a knock sounded, closer and a little harder this time. Persephone rolled toward the edge of the bed and stretched. It wasn’t this door being knocked on so she didn’t find it pressing to get up. Yet another sharp knock and Persephone sat up, trying to smooth down her fly away hair. As she shuffled to the door her muscles protested. She could hear someone grumbling out there and realized they were at her room, the one she was originally in. She considered not answering the door and sighed. She wanted to go back to sleep, to just sink down in the soft bed and forget the world for a while.

“Coming…” She muttered to herself as she laid a hand on the knob, turning it in a smooth motion. The door swung inward silently and she peeked her head out. Vin stood there, disheveled and looking indecisive as he rubbed a hand over his days old stubble. He hadn’t seen her yet and she had the overwhelming urge to disappear. The fear froze her in place and she had a moment to contemplate why. Why was she afraid of him? He was the closest thing she had to a brother. The one thing that gave her pause was that she didn’t know if she was relieved to see him or angry for partially causing the current mess they were in. She looked down at his untied laces and shuffled back a step only to draw his attention.

“Sephie…” He murmured as his relief rushed over her in wave. She breathed out her own when it didn’t overwhelm her.

“Yeah.” She smiled as she crossed her arms, unsure what to do with herself. Without another word Vin swept her up in a hug so tight that it left her gasping for air. He realized he had trapped her arms between them and he was squeezing the life out of her so he let go just as quickly. Persephone wrapped her arms around him and melted into him. She felt her body relax as tears slipped down her cheeks. Vin brought his shaking hand up and gently stroked her hair.

“Are you ok?” He murmured hoping he’d be able to keep his voice even. Persephone didn’t know how to answer him. She was safe now or at least for the moment. She turned her head looking back into the room. She wasn’t sure what was going on but if felt like a world of possibilities opening up to her. She would eventually have to battle back the awkward shyness and have a conversation with the Elf, once they were healed.

“I will be.” She answered quietly, knowing she’d have scars both physically and emotionally. Vin followed her gaze and backed away from her.

“You saved the slave girl?” He asked cautiously. Persephone swiped a hand across her cheek and chuckled as she looked down at her feet.

“We saved each other I think.” She murmured, embarrassed at the way she smiled.

“I see.” Vin said with a smile in his voice. “Anyway I’m glad to see that you’re ok.” He continued when she suddenly became uncomfortable with the subject matter. When she looked up at him he gave her a sheepish smile.

“I kind of messed things up didn’t I?” He admitted with a glance away from her.

“You?” She asked with her brows furrowed and Vin gave her a sideways glance.

“I’m the one that went a little off my rocker and… got you sucked into the middle.” He finished quietly. Persephone gave a scoffing laugh as she turned and pulled the door shut to make sure they didn’t wake Kylia.

“You didn’t get me sucked into the middle. I’m apparently more than capable of getting myself in trouble. I made my choices.” She lifted her tiny chin, defiance shining from her gray eyes. Vin shook his head and crossed his arms looking back his eyes hard. She was angry with him and he could see it, it showed in her defiance.

“Based on what was going on with me. Hence, my fault.” He argued, his words making him feel as childish as he sounded. She rolled her eyes and looked away.

“I signed a contract of my own free will just to find you. It was my choice because I knew you were in trouble. And after Vincent…” She let her voice trail off, the anger bleeding out of it.

“After my son what?” Vin prompted suddenly tense.

“After… he didn’t come back…” She lied and looked away. Rage bubbled up inside of Vin and he suddenly wanted to shake her and make her tell him what he wanted. Instead he held himself tightly and glared at her.

“After he what Persephone.” He growled, his voice dangerous and low. She’d flinched. The use of her full name seemed to instill more fear in her than if he’d screamed at her.

“After he’d gone to see Nicholas.” She whispered as she wrapped her arms tightly around her shaking body. Even muttering his name made her feel as if she’d collapse in to a muttering lump of scared little girl. Vin opened his mouth more than once to speak but the words wouldn’t come out. Finally he swallowed and took a deep breath, running a hand roughly down his face.

“What do you mean he saw Nicholas?” Vin murmured only to keep from screaming. Persephone wouldn’t meet his eyes as she shrugged. Her mouth was working as she tried to figure out something to tell him.

“He went to make a deal…” She started. Vin’s sharp intake of breath stopped her cold and she braced for his wrath. When it didn’t come she tried to collect her thoughts to continue. She knew if she didn’t he’d hound her until she did.

“He went to make a deal to find you. Nicholas seems to have a knack for finding things and people. For a price, always for a price.” She muttered as she ran a hand over her shoulder where there would be scars for the rest of her life. “I was trying to watch out for him but he knew I was following him. Vincent, well he… knew when I was around just like you do. I couldn’t follow him any closer, I tried.” Persephone went over it in her head a million times and now that she was saying it aloud, her explanation felt inadequate. Vin’s lips fused into a line as he stared down at her waiting.

“The spell he used to wake you was one Nicholas gave to him. He didn’t tell him what the price would be.” She started pacing as she recounted what had happened, her gaze going distant as she saw it all play out before her again. “I at least knew the price I was going to pay when I signed my deal.”

Vin began to pace with her as he listened ignoring it as he tripped over his laces more than once. He waited for her to continue not trusting himself to speak.

“I don’t know how he got all the supplies for it but he was gone and cloaked before I could follow him again. Nicholas didn’t want him found after he signed his deal.” That was all she had to offer him in way of explanation. Persephone stopped her pacing and watched as Vin again tripped over his laces and kept up his angry pace after stumbling only to do it again.

“Nicholas…” He growled as he lashed out putting his hand through the wall opposite Kylia’s room. He pulled his arm back only to have it catch on the wood and plaster. He pulled back in a blind rage screaming his frustration. Persephone jumped at his show of anger and watched as his arm came free and he fell to his knees. “Why all of this… I went to him first ya know…” Vin babbled as he looked at his hands. “I went when Edie and Vincent were being harassed by Edie’s former master. I had helped get her released. Once they found out she had a son they decided to try and use him as leverage, to bring her back. They poisoned my son, he was dieing.” He sat back and crossed his legs in front of him propping his elbows and laid his face in his hands. “I went to Nicholas and made a deal… I’d give myself over, give Vincent my life so he could live.” Vin breathed his explanation and it felt like the millionth time he’d had to explain himself since his return.

Persephone crouched down but didn’t touch him. Vin looked like he was ready to snap and honestly she didn’t want it to be on her.

“But I don’t understand what it is…” He muttered to himself. “Why my family, why me?” He looked up as his eyes welled with tears when they met hers. “I don’t understand…” He whispered, defeat in his voice.

“We’ll find out.” Persephone said with more confidence than she felt and gave a smile she didn’t know she would be able to give. “It’s what you guys do around here. Figure things out.” Even as she said the words she knew there was the barest thread of hope. They sounded brittle and childish even to her. But what else could she say?

***

“These are things you need to learn, Seri.” James concluded as he sat back clearly done with the conversation. They had argued for what seemed like hours but may have taken merely half an hour. Her stomach clenched as her fists did the same.

Queen... She thought and her nose crinkled. As if just thinking the word left a bad taste in her mouth. Who in their right mind would follow my lead? She asked herself exasperatedly as she looked around. Her eyes fixed on the gleam of the table before her, drawing her thoughts into nothing. It was a blessed few moments of thoughtlessness. She could feel the black of her eyes contract to their natural silver as she felt herself calm. By the time she was able to drag her eyes away from the table surface she knew they would be normal.

“I’m not ready.” She murmured more to herself than James, who was pretending not to hear her. She was thankful that he chose to remain silent. Serina smoothed a hand over her cheek. Surprised to find it flushed and warm.

“It’ll only be a matter of time until he sends another demand.” James muttered around a sigh. Mild annoyance pinged through Serina at the reminder and she rolled her eyes. She wasn’t going to hand over Persephone or the other girl without a fight. It wasn’t the diplomatic thing to do but to hell with diplomacy. James could think about it all he wanted, she wasn’t changing her mind.

“What if…” She started but her voice caught when James’ eyes cut to her in warning.

“What if what?” He asked, his words clipped. Serina blew out a frustrated breath and shook her head.

“I don’t know.” She admitted and stood making her sharp movement into a stretch. Her muscles twinged in a comfortable way that made her feel good.

“I’m not starting a fight with the demon world again.” James muttered as he set aside papers he was going over and threw his pen on top.

“Again?” Serina asked honestly curious for once and James gave a half smirk.

“Don’t give me that look. You want me to understand how you have to work, so tell me.” She demanded half in anger and half in amusement.

James sat back stretching his arms and drawing it out. Serina saw what he was doing, making her curious to keep her mind off the problem at hand. She wrapped her arms around herself as she started pacing around the room.

“I know this is going to sound cliche’ but I was literally a little younger than you at the time and hot headed…” He paused as Serina gave him a questioning look.

“Well more hot headed anyway. The war was coming to a close. Both sides were just tired of it.” He gave a soft chuckle and shook his head. Serina watched as his gaze grew distant and filled with memories.

“My father was conducting the peace talks here. Well the estate that used to stand here. I played the good son most the time, but you know how my mind can wander.” He smiled.

“Every time a slightly cute female was around?” Serina returned his smile as she took slow measured steps in her meandering.

“Yeah something like that. Until just one walked in and kept my attention. Unfortunately she happened to be someone rather important to the peace talks.” He shook his head and Serina rolled her eyes. She knew where this was heading but truth be told, she’d actually never heard the story. She made a ‘get on with it’ gesture when he paused too long.

“She happened to be the ruling demon’s eldest daughter. She wasn’t actually conducting the peace talks but was here in an official capacity. Basically as a figure head to give the diplomats more power.” He rolled his eyes and drummed his fingers on the table.

“So you both were there just as a show of good faith. The children of kings ushering in a new era.” Serina nodded her understanding.

“I don’t think they quite meant for us to do so much of the… ushering.” James smiled as he scratched the stubble on his chin.

“So you and Elira got caught… ushering.” She commented with a wry smile.

“Repeatedly.” He confirmed with a shrug of a shoulder. His expression was unapologetic as she imagined he had been then.

“So… young, stupid and in love.” She added and he nodded.

“My father found out first tried to keep it quiet but we were fearless. Eventually word got to her father through the diplomats and the talks suddenly stalled.” James paused and rubbed the back of his head looking abashed.

“Small skirmishes started, back and forth between our fathers became heated. Of course it didn’t help that your mother and I out right refused to stop sneaking off together.”

Serina could imagine James and Elira finding it easy to be defiant, it was their natures. James had paused in his story as his mind drifted again.

“Well obviously all worked out.” She pointed out and James nodded as he wandered back to the present.

“It took quite a while actually. Roughly about eight and a half months.” He raised his eyebrows and Serina mirrored his expression when she put two and two together.

“When Elira had Patrick and myself.” Serina summarized and James nodded.

“Things just seemed to stop.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Until we did it no one knew for sure that Demons and Vampires could produce children, at least not ones that would live.”

“Well as far as you knew then, neither did fifty percent of yours.” She added and looked away when he nodded grimly.

“Our generation saw it as a way to broker peace. The perfect treaty. We became poster children for the new world. The fact that we were from the royal families gave hope to couples like us, ones that had been in hiding for so long. For days after Patrick was born we had couples coming here to share their stories, their struggles.” He paused and Serina knew he was remembering faces and stories.

Serina watched her father wondering when he’d changed. Not saying he changed a whole hell of a lot but his sense of responsibility had curbed his rebellious side. It had to, his personality had been at odds with his duties. Granted he’d made it work the best he could, but somewhere, something had changed him.

“Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows by any means.” James continued, snapping Serina out of her thoughts.

“There were a lot of crimes against these people. The one damned thing that brought those hateful bastards together was destroying those mixed families.” His voice darkened with disgust and he shook off the memory.

“The rest, as they say, is history.” He finished and she nodded. James was avoiding bringing up how Serina had been taken and raised by another family. A family that believed in keeping their blood pure, as ironic as that was. It had been a painful subject and he wasn’t going to reopen the wound. Even though it was getting easier, she would opt to not talk about how and by whom she was raised. There were still huge gaps in her memory anyway. Serina derailed the train of thought before it threatened to depress her and started pacing again.

James shuffled papers in the silence as if he were actually going to continue working. Serina saw that he was just looking for something to do to try and change the subject. She smiled to herself at his poor attempt. For all the heartache she caused him, he still tried to make things better for her. A pang of guilt shot through her and she silently swore that she’d make it up to him somehow. Even before they knew who she really was, James had treated her with respect and the patience of a father. She couldn’t possibly imagine why she’d been any different from any of the random girls that showed up here. On hind sight she was really lucky he’d treated her differently. A frown of disgust etched her face at the thought and she wiped it away before he could see it.

Really lucky… She repeated to herself then shook her head.

“Does it bother you to call Elira and myself your parents?” James asked suddenly having seen her face and thinking the worst. Serina halted her pacing and stared at him. She hadn’t expected such a straightforward question.

“Uh… no.” She answered hesitantly, not sure where the conversation was leading. James’ face turned questioning as his brows furrowed.

“Then why don’t you?” He asked, resolute that he was finally going to get answers.

“I… well…” Serina really hadn’t given a thought to it before and now she wasn’t sure there was an answer. “I don’t know.” She admitted. Serina had always referred to them as her family in her head and it was easy to call her brothers by either their names or their relationship to her. Until now it just seemed like the thing to do to call them by their given names.

“You don’t know?” James asked trying to keep his frustration to a minimum. It was obvious that this had bothered him for a while.

“No…” Serina confirmed feeling even more guilty but anger suddenly crept up. She didn’t want to snap at him so she bit her tongue to keep from opening her mouth. James gave her a look that was all she was feeling. He felt guilty for pushing her and angry that he’d gone to the lengths for no answer.

“I don’t understand.” He breathed as he folded his arms and stared intently at nothing in front of him. Serina huffed out a breath.

“Maybe because for three hundred years I called someone else my father.” She snapped and James gave her an unfathomable look. He was bewildered yet hurt, it was a look that cut straight through her.

“I’m sorry.” She muttered, ashamed that she’d pointed out something painful to him.

“It’s not like I’ve been doing well with handling anything. I certainly didn’t intend to slight you or Elira. I loved you as family before I knew we were.” Now that she’d opened her mouth, Serina found that she couldn’t make herself stop talking. There seemed to be too many things rushing to the surface all at once. “I honestly barely know what’s gone on outside my head.” She threw her arms up in exasperation as James watched her evenly.

“Really… It wasn’t at all noticeable…” He said, his voice thick with sarcasm. Serina couldn’t help her frustrated growl but cut it short when James quirked an eyebrow.

“James…” She started then stopped when his shoulders slumped.

Father,” She said gently. “I know I’ve been… difficult…”

“That’s one way of putting it.” He added with more humor than sarcasm.

“I know, but I’m getting better.” Serina said, a pleading quality to her words. “I’ve been better.” She added, her voice small.

“I’ve noticed that too, you seemed to wake up recently.” His lips pressed into a thin line as he gave her a pointed look. Serina’s cheeks flamed at his reference to Alec.

“He’s not the reason.” She pointed out sharply.

“Oh?” He questioned as a hint of relief relaxed the lines around his eyes.

“No, but in some small way he did play a part.” She admitted even as she realized it.

“I see.” He muttered and kept watching her, waiting.

“Yes, but his part has played out.” Again her words held an elusive truth and it made her wistful of what might have been.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” James said softly. By his look he wasn’t sorry that Alec and she weren’t together, he was sorry that, yet again, something had ended for her.

“Don’t be, I’m not.” She gave him a crooked smile and shrugged. Serina could feel the serious mood lifting and she was glad to see it go. For too long she’d been the little black rain cloud darkening people’s days. She wanted to participate in her life again, and the lives of those around her.

She rounded the table and took her place at James’ right side, reclining in her chair. James had yet to say anything as he watched her half amused and half cautious. Serina figured the cautiousness would be there for a while yet. They’d be slow to accept her seemingly miraculous recovery from herself. She was willing to deal with it.

“What? One of your kids had to get your bad habits, shouldn’t it be your eldest?” She teased and be blinked looking mildly affronted.

My bad habits?” He asked, his tone matching his affronted expression.

“Mm.” She nodded. “Your affinity for taking an interest in anything even slightly pretty.”

James chuckled then shook his head. “I doubt any of you inherited many of my bad traits.”

“Who said they were all that terrible?” Serina giggled.

“Maybe I’ll take up hunting men instead of monsters. Unless the man is a monster…” She trailed off in thought.

“Guess I’ll figure out the gray areas when they present themselves.” She gave James a sideways look as he sat there in mock horror.

“I suddenly feel the need to lock you up…” He murmured with a stern expression.

“Oh please.” She laughed. “Like I’d suddenly start sleeping around like that. No offense, but I’d rather find love again. Even if it takes me a few hundred years.”

James shook his head with a smile.

Serina sighed and laid her head back. It felt good to laugh, to joke to feel. She’d allowed herself too much time to grieve. She’d allowed herself to break and it was time to pick up the pieces, fit them together and glue the hell out of them. Her plan was to move forward. Yes she could look back occasionally but the past was going to remain where it belonged from now on. She simply didn’t want to spare anymore room in her head for it. If that meant giving up her vow for revenge then so be it. She was ready to be here with her family, and they’d been patiently waiting for her.

James had started gathering papers as he hid behind thoughts of his own. He was finally giving up his duties for the day. She realized he’d not made a decision on what to do with Persephone and Kylia.

“Before you turn in, what’s going to happen with Sephie?” She asked softly, careful to keep her tone even.

“What about her?” He side stepped away from her.

“Are you going to turn her over to Nicholas?” Serina asked keeping her voice as calm as she could.

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” He muttered as he shuffled the papers in his hands feigning cluelessness. She smiled and stood giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“It’s good to have you back.” He muttered as his eyes met hers and her smile faltered.

“It’s good to be back.” Serina answered, the tone of their conversation suddenly serious. For a long moment they started at one another unsure of what to do.

“We’ll leave things where they belong and move forward then.” James’ double meaning wasn’t lost on her. The past was staying there, and Persephone wasn’t being handed over. She smiled and nodded.

“Imagine how well my cars will fare now.” He laughed and turned to see Elira standing at the open door. He made a move to greet her but was stopped short by the vicious gleam in her too black eyes. Elira was held wire tight and waves of tension rolled from her.

“What…” James started, worry making his voice quiet. Before he could go any farther Elira shoved the other door open to reveal one of her guards holding up the body of a battered woman. Serina felt her body go ridged, her eyes flashing black.

“For the love of God…” James exclaimed as he put a restraining arm around Serina’s waist. Serina barely noticed, her eyes were riveted as the guard dumped Ruavia to the floor.

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