Wiz, Stew, Alex, Tófa, Brandr and Samal walked down the terminal toward the baggage claim at Raleigh/Durham International Airport. Though none of them had checked any luggage, that’s where they were meeting Marie and the others. Eleven hours makes for a very long flight, immortal or not, and they were all tired… but nothing could take the smile off their faces.
“Wiz!” Marie shouted as the group approached. Goose sprinted past her and nearly knocked Stew over when he barreled into his legs.“I’m so happy you’re back. When we got the message from Lugus that you’d been imprisoned, we weren’t sure if we’d see you again anytime soon.”
“We weren’t sure either, to be honest,” Wiz replied.
“So, is Zachary still locked up?”
“As far as we know. He murdered a Triskaideka was caught taunting us while we were waiting for them to do their investigation. He basically admitted his guilt. Those cells are magic-free zones, too I don’t think he’ll be getting out for awhile.”
“Where’s Mom?” Stew asked his dad. “I thought she’d be with you.”
“Detective Robles needed some pictures of your sister. We’re not sure how many police officers Zachary is able to get to work for him but Robles has some that he trusts that are going to help us get her back. Once we do get her back, your mother is not letting her out of her sight. Ever again, if she can help it. Your mom should be home shortly.”
“Home… yeah.” One corner of Stew’s mouth lifted into a satisfied smile as he blinked slowly and imagined a nice dinner with everyone who was important to him. His eyes blinked a couple times quickly and the corners of his mouth sank back down. “Wait. Where is home?”
When the caravan rolled back into the campground, they saw streamers and balloons all over the entrance and along the driveway leading up to the office. Some of the balloons said, ‘Happy Birthday’. They had tried to tell Fred that they could get more non-birthday balloons, but he couldn’t see doing that when they had perfectly good balloons already.
“Marie told me about what happened in Thórsholr. We were trying to pass the time as best we could so we made this.” Fred pulled a sheet off of a new sign for the entrance. It read, “New Thórsholr – All Who Mean No Harm Are Welcome.” That means you guys, too, of course. You all are welcome to stay and make this your home, if you like.”
“That’s very generous of you,” Wiz said. He put one hand on Fred’s shoulder and reached his other hand towards the preacher’s, but Ten-Dollar pulled him into an embrace. Wiz hugged him tightly. “You don’t have any idea what this means to us.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Fred replied.
Wiz turned around and looked at the mishmash of people who had become one large family. His face could have made the sun jealous with its light. “What do you think, my friends? Is this our new home?”
“Let’s vote on it,” Stew suggested. A car pulled up to the entrance, interrupting them. It was Derek and Carolyn. Stew ran to greet them. Her eyes were red and face flush with tears but she still smiled when she saw Stew running toward her.
“My boy!” she cried. Her lips quivered through the mixture of joy, sadness and fear. “I’m so glad you’re back. What did they say?”
“We’ll talk about that in a bit. We’re about to vote. Fred is offering to let the campground be our home.”
“Yes. I know. He told us this morning.”
“Okay,” Wiz said, “but it should be unanimous. There is no majority. All or none. And mortals matter just as much as immortals, if not more. “ Several heads nodded in agreement. “All right. Everyone opposed to accepting Fred’s offer and making this campground our home, raise your hand.” Wiz waited, looked around and saw no raised hands. “Unanimous. Welcome home.” Wiz smiled and walked over to Stew as the rest celebrated the decision. “Stew… can I talk to you for a second?”
About to celebrate himself, Stew was caught off guard. “Sure. What’s up?”
“I have something for you.” Wiz reached a hand in his jacket pocket and pulled out a small object. “There…” he said, placing it in Stew’s outstretched hand.
“A ring? I’m sorry, Wiz. I just don’t feel that way about you,” Stew joked.
“What?” Wiz said, confused. “Oh, you’re funny. Hilarious. It’s to give to Alex.”
“Serious? You conjured this?”
“No, actually. I’ve had it for a long time. It used to belong to someone I loved very much.”
“Thank you, Wiz. This… Thank you.”
“I know. Now… go make it official.”
“Alex…” Stew said, still looking at Wiz. “I have a question to ask you.” He walked up to Alex and began to drop down to one knee.
“Stand up and be quiet. You already know the answer to that question.”
“Well, then… put this on your finger.”
“Stew…” She marveled at the ring. “It’s beautiful.”
“Stew, I have something to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“Everyone shouted in excitement. Everyone except Stew, who leaned in close to Alex and whispered, “But we haven’t…”
“I know. And don’t you go thinking I was with someone else, because I wasn’t.”
“I know you wouldn’t do that. But… so how…”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “Let’s just keep that a secret for now, okay?”
“Okay. So… Tófa knew already. That’s what she was about to say when we were talking about the raven’s blood.”
“Yes, I knew,” Tófa interjected. “And I told her she needed to tell you.”
“I’m sorry,” Alex cried. “I was scared.”
“No need to be sorry, Honey.” Stew pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. “I was just backtracking and putting two and two together. That’s all.”
Carolyn began to sob, burying her face in her husband’s chest. “What’s wrong, Sweetheart?” James asked as he put his arms around her.
“I’m supposed to be happy,” she replied, wiping her eyes. “This is supposed to be the happiest freaking day of my life… but it’s not... because that freaking bastard still has my baby girl.”
“I know. We’ll get her back. If you can take solace in anything, know that she is giving them hell. And she has your genes to thank for that.”
“What are you trying to say?” she chided.
“Just that you don’t back down. That’s all. You’re like a badger. When you’re backed into a corner, that’s when you’re the scariest,” James maneuvered..
“Oh… because it sounded like you were saying that I’m a beast to be around. Now, I’m a scary badger. That’s much better.”
“You know what I meant, Sweetheart.”
“I know what you meant. I’m just giving you a hard time. It’s a defense mechanism.”
“Fred,” Stew called out. “Can you marry us? Like, today?”
“Oh, no…” Stew’s mother interrupted. “We’re waiting until the whole family’s here.”
“Yeah, Becca would kill me if she knew we did it without her.”
“I can’t do much as far as preparing to fight Zachary, but I can plan for a--” She was stopped by the vibration of her phone alerting her of a text message. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and saw that it was from Detective Robles. She gasped and put her hand over her mouth. It’s Bec. I’m safe. Defective Rolodex is bringing me to you. A camprgound? Really? “It’s her. It’s my Rebecca! She’s coming home!”
“That stupid feather worked,” Stew said, his eyes leaking.
“Tófa! We’ve got a wedding to plan. I could use some of your magic right about now. We have some invitations to make out.”
“Mom, please don’t make this a huge… You know what? Screw it. Make it a big deal.”
“I’m not leaving your relatives out of one of the most important days of my life. I mean… your life.”
“I can help,” Regan told Tófa.
“Regan says she wants to help, too,” Tófa said, chuckling.
“Great! What do you think about making paper from crushed flower petals?”
“My mother is in Heaven right now,” Stew said as he leaned over and bumped alex’s shoulder.
“It looks like it,” she replied.
“Uh, Stew…” Marie said. “I believe Marc has some news for you, as well.”
“You’re pregnant, too.”
“Funny. Immortal or not, I can still hit you. And I bet it will still hurt.”
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. What’s your news?”
“I want you to meet… Layla.”
“Like the song! Hi, Layla. I’m Stew. I’m also confused, but that seems to be my new norm.”
“Let me put it this way… Stew, I’d like you to meet my… friend… Layla. I guess you could say we’re dating.”
“Girlfriend? You mean…”
“Not gay,” Marc said with a sly smirk.
“You turned him straight?”
“It turns out he just needed to be pointed in the right direction,” Layla interjected.
“Yeah, I just needed to meet the one woman… the one person... in the entire world I’m attracted to.”
“I think I would be less surprised if you had said you were pregnant,” Stew kidded.
“And that would be an immaculate conception considering he’s a virgin,” Layla added.
“Yeah, right. Wait. You’re serious?”