I'd barely fallen asleep it seemed when Jared was shaking me awake. "Luna...Luna wake up."
"Wha?" I opened my eyes to look at him and instantly regretted it. The lights were bright and glaring.
"They're here, come on." Jared persisted. It took my brain a moment to catch up to who he meant, my family! With renewed energy I jumped out of bed and shooed him away so I could change. I rushed down the stairs and threw open the door to the foyer.
"Luna!" one of the triplets squeaked and her exclamation was quickly followed by the other two staring at me wide-eyed. How is it possible they'd grown so much? How long had it been since that night they disappeared?
I tried to remember just how many weeks or months had passed but my thoughts were interrupted by my parents. Mom's eyes were glistening with tears and Dad seemed to fighting them back as well. As I fought back my own tears, I discovered something else.
Their tears were water - not blood. Their eyes no longer held the familiar vampire glow.
Mom and Dad were human.
I didn't have much time to consider this twist before all three of my sisters were crowding around me, clamoring for attention. "We missed you! Why weren't you with us?" Where have you been?" The questions flew at me faster than I could produce answers but they didn't seem to mind my silence.
Our reunion was interrupted by the arrival of Robert Van Allen. I resisted the urge to shrink away from him as I made the introductions. Despite the vibes he gave off, he was every bit a proper host and quickly ushered everyone into the parlor. "Have a seat, have a seat all of you. You must be weary." A cold smile covered his face and I looked toward my parents to gauge their reactions.
I was disappointed to see that they appeared to be taken in by his gracious facade.
"I understand we owe our thanks to you Mr. Van Allen - for assuring our freedom." My Dad was actually smiling fondly at him and I wanted to warn him that Robert was not one to become indebted to.
"Mmhmm." Robert said. His focus was on my parents as if he were studying rats in a cage. "I must confess myself curious about where you've passed the last..." he looked over at me, "how long has it been dear?"
I tried to shake off the dirty feeling I got when he called me dear and reconsidered the math.
When I didn't produce an answer quickly enough it was my mom who spoke up, "It's been six months since we were taken that night."
"Where? And by who? And why?" I avoided the obvious question - how were they human?!
"Now now Luna..." Robert smiled at me, sending shivers through me. I looked around for Jared - hoping his presence would comfort me - but to my dismay he was no where to be found.
"We were taken to some sort of bunker..." my dad said. "It seemed to be a highly trained unit familiar with vampires as they were able to take us by surprise and when we came to, we were sealed in liked caged animals."
Mom and Dad bounced off each other as they explained what they'd gone through - mostly observation at first. "We never actually saw our captors. The window in the our room..."
"A cell really"
"Allowed them to see in I imagine but not us to see out. I could sense that the triplets were nearby and safe but we didn't see them either. Not for lack of trying!"
"Your father very nearly broke ever bone in his arm trying to break the window, the door, the wall..." Mom said rather proudly.
Dad looked sullen at that but shook it off. "After awhile they started flooding the room with gas to subdue us before entering. No one ever spoke - in fact they were very particular about that and their faces were covered..."
"We met some of them..." Minerva piped up. "Lucy was really nice..." I was thankful that the triplets didn't seem scarred by the encounter.
Mom smiled sadly at them. "Eventually they began leaving the potions. If we didn't drink them they simply slipped it into the blood they gave us or in the gas. As we needed the blood to survive we had little choice."
"What did the potions do?" I asked, perched on the edge of my seat.
"Not much at first. Occasionally they'd leave me feeling weak or drained but nothing a good sleep wouldn't cure." Dad explained. "And then..."
"It was just last week, we looked at it for a moment before drinking it. Honestly we'd had so many of them at that point that it had become ridiculous...."
"We felt the feelings instantly - well I did anyway..." Mom looked sick even now as she recalled it. "It felt like my insides were turning over and twisting inside out honestly! I've never felt such pain!"
"We both passed out within minutes of each other and when we woke up..." my Dad shook his head. "We were human again."
"Astonishing!" Robert said - though he didn't look impressed exactly.
"I could no longer since the girls..." Mom looked down at them again and frowned. "Feeling them in my head was probably the only thing that kept me from going crazy. As long as I knew they were safe, I could continue on. But after being 'cured', they were gone..."
"Why didn't they do the same to them?" I mused aloud.
"Oh they gave us drinks too!" Lily piped up. "Lucy said it was a special treat but I could read her mind and knew she was fibbing."
"But you drank them?" I asked. All three girls nodded.
"And?" I prompted.
They just shrugged. "They tasted funny but they didn't seem to do anything."
"And they were in the process of moving us somewhere else when the convoy was overtaken and then we were here..."
I found myself actually looking at Robert with appreciation for a moment. Feeling my eyes (or my thoughts) on him, he turned toward me and smiled. I shuddered and banished any happy, snuggly feelings I'd just had.
"Well now, we are, of course, quite glad to have you safely delivered. I only wish I'd have found out your location a bit sooner so that we might have prevented the .... cure." Robert said. "A cure for vampirism...how utterly revolting." he mused.
"We are forever in your debt for all your efforts." Mom's words made me cringe. How could they not see him for what he was.
With a sick feeling in my stomach, it all made sense in one rush of clarity. They were human. They no longer had the finer acuity of vampires. They no longer had the extra human strength or the healing powers.
They were human.
They were vulnerable.
Robert was nodding, probably picking the very thoughts from my mind as they occurred to me. Quietly - so softly that my human parents wouldn't hear - Robert spoke, "Your parents will never be able to repay that debt..."
I recoiled from him but he held my gaze.
"I'm sure Annaliese at least has explained my situation to you...explained my expectations." he reached out and stroked my arm. "Even, I dare say, my desires."
"She indicated some things, yes." I gulped. Whether he had lowered his mental shields or was projecting the images at me, I knew all too well exactly what he wanted. I would be his wife number nine - or whatever number he was on. "If I say no?"
"Well I suppose I could wait for one of your sisters..." he looked over at them in a nearly sinful way. "One Taffity daughter is as good as the next and I certainly have...time." Of course my father saw this and jumped up to defend his daughters - a liberty that had been stolen from him as late.
Robert waved him off. "Just appreciating your good fortune." he said. "I was blessed with only one child you see and you have been rather lucky..."
Adam didn't believe a word of it and now looked on his "savior" with a bit more caution but seemed to be aware of the fact that he would stand no chance against Robert in his present state of humanity.
"So, my dear..." he placed his hand over mine. It took all my will power not to pull away from him right then. "Do we have an understanding?"
Me or my sisters? Give up myself to protect my family? Could I do that? Could I not? I closed my eyes and nodded without saying a word.
"Wonderful! What a fine night this is turning out to be!" he exclaimed, capturing the attention of my gathered family. "A Taffity family reunion and..." he looked at me, gripping my hand tightly, "An engagement."
Dad started to protest but I shook my head quickly, hoping he'd understand to hold his tongue. He did and we all soon said good night as the triplets were falling asleep. I would take any eligible excuse to get away from Robert in that moment and helped carry one of my sisters to a bedroom that had been made up for them.
Where had Jared been during all that? And Annaliese? Had they both seen it coming and abandoned me to my fate?
"Luna...though you're nearly 18, I'm not sure we can agree to this marriage. Robert Van Allen is clearly a wealthy and powerful vampire and we owe him a great deal but marriage?" my mom had been going on for nearly an hour, having woken me up after only a few hours of sleep.
"Mom...Dad..." I looked between them both. "After the last few months I don't feel so young as you make me out to be..."
"I admit, you've gone over and beyond what would be expected of someone your age - a fact which has your siblings back in Twinbrook in quite a state I imagine!" Mom's voice was both admiring and admonishing. If we were back home and out of this situation I wonder if she'd be grounding me now?
"Surely you see how you're hardly in a position to refuse..." I looked over at Dad. "He's ancient - even compared to you. And you're both human now...if he should be...offended..." I chose my words with caution. Dad was nodding. He, at least, understood.
"But do you love him? Do you even like him? I got the impression last night that he was repulsive to you" Mom asked. "And what of Derik? I understand that he is alive, though not yet recovered..."
"I assure you, this is all about love..." I said. 'Just not love for him...' I thought to myself. I loved my sisters, I loved my parents, I loved all of my family enough to do this to protect them.
With a sigh, my parents both reluctantly agreed that there wasn't much they could say or do as things stood - though they talked about simply disappearing. Where could we go that he wouldn't find us? Assuming we could get out of the house to begin with...
Of course once they'd put the picture of Derik into my mind, he was all I thought about in the following days. Whatever Jared was up to, he was nowhere to be found so I was left with my family, Robert and my own thoughts. I would have been more thankful for the family time if Robert hadn't seen fit to inject himself constantly. "Your human friend is in the conservatory." he whispered into my ear as I sat on the floor playing with my sisters. I jerked my head away from him automatically and quickly got to my feet making clumsy apologies.
I stood on the other side of the door, looking into the conservatory as Derik seemed to be arguing with thin air and frowned. Physically he seemed fine - a bit thinner and paler than before perhaps but there were no bruises or scars adorning his body that I could see.
I waited until calm returned to his face and stepped inside. At once he was on the defensive and trembling as I stepped closer. "Derik?"
"L-Luna...." he sputtered. "Are y-you r-r-re-real?"
"Oh Derik..." I wanted to cry as I realized just how much damage had been wrought on him. Truly there were no physical scars but his eyes darted around the room constantly and occasionally he'd reach out to swipe at nothing in particular.
"We have to l-leave...w-we have to g-g-go." Derik grabbed my hand and then his eyes went wider than saucers and he dropped it. "V-v-v-vamp-p-pire...they...you..."
"Derik...look at me." I said steadily, trying to capture his gaze once again but it was impossible. It seemed as if there were hundreds of specks of light attracting his eyes all at once.
"You're a vampire" he said with absolute clarity. He stared directly into me then. "You're the reason I was taken...they bit me and then let me heal just to bite me again. It's your fault."
"Derik..." I felt the magic, the powers of the blood, wash over me. "Derik, there's no such thing as vampires. They're just in books and movies. You've been on a vacation in France, we had a horrible fight and you decided it's time to go home. We've broken up remember?" His eyes had glazed over as I spoke and his face became limp.
"Yes I remember..." he said.
"Good..." I couldn't help but wonder if Robert would stop this if I went to him for help. "I'm going to call you a cab..." I said, glancing back at the door frantically.
"There's already one waiting." Jared said from the doorway. With a swell, everything seemed easier as soon as I saw him. As if he'd washed away my worries the moment he appeared.
"Let's go Derik..." I said, place a hand on his arm. He followed along easily but on the porch he stopped and looked back.
"What did we fight about again Luna?" he asked, his face etched with concern.
"You wanted to get home to your family and I wasn't ready to leave" I said quickly. It was a horrible lie and probably wouldn't stick under normal circumstances but he was still under my influence and nodded instantly.
I watched him slipped out the open gate and wished I could just run out there with him and get as far from this house as possible. But my family was still inside the walls - what would Robert do to them if I just disappeared? I shuddered from the thought. "Hey, it's okay - he'll be fine now." Jared said, putting his arms around me.
"Where have you been?" I asked, sounding like a terrified child no doubt.
"My father sent me to stay with Annaliese just after I woke you. He all but shoved me out of the house. Said it'd be better for you to have a few days with them alone or something. This is the first chance I could get back..." he seemed dumbfounded by his father's weak explanation. "How are they?"
"Hmm?" I asked, still dwelling on what may have prompted Robert to send Jared away. "Oh my family..." he nodded. He sat down on the stepped and patted the step next to him. I glanced back at the house but sank down next to him. "Well my parents are human..."
"Human?!" he asked in surprise. I nodded and recounted the tale of the group that had held them and evidently cured vampirism - at least in older, made vampires. "Wow!"
We were silent for a time and I knew each passing minute was a minute I should tell him about the arrangement. It would be far better to hear it from me right? "I suppose you want to get back inside..." he said, standing up before I was ready. Reluctantly I stood as well.
"I should probably go back to my Aunt's house...I haven't actually been recalled by my father..." he looked unwilling to leave this spot and I grabbed his face much like he'd done to me a few weeks before.
In a second I was pouring out everything that happened in his absence and his face grew more and more shocked and sad as I did so. "I'm sorry." I whispered when the last scene had played out in our minds. I ran for the house and was thankful he wouldn't be coming in at that moment. I didn't want to see or hear what he was feeling right then.
I spent a few more evening hours with my family and avoiding Robert that night. Jared didn't show up before I helped put the triplets to bed and said goodnight to Mom and Dad. I was on my way to my own room when I heard the voices from downstairs and felt the familiar prick of Jared and Annaliese's mental signatures in my mind. I quickly cleared my thoughts and crept to the stairs.
"Robert! What are you thinking?" Annaliese sounded appropriately shocked but I imagine she wasn't all that surprised - was she pretending for Jared's benefit? "She's practically a child..."
"Hardly." Robert said simply. I could hear the gentle sounds of the piano and recalled the first time I'd seen him. Oh how I wished I'd gotten away then...could I have found my family all on my own?
"But father..." Jared's voice was a relief to me, a salve to my own pain. He sounded weak though and I wondered if it was because he rarely opposed his father or his own constitution.
"Enough! The decision has been made and the girl has agreed. As soon as she makes the transition - assuming she survives - it'll be done!" The lid slammed down over the piano keys and I ran down the hall to my room.
Eager to get them as far from here as possible, I pressed my parents to take the triplets home as soon as possible. "They ought to be starting school now and I'm sure Hermione and the others are eager to have you back..." I said.
"Luna..." My mom was getting tearful again and I quickly shook my head.
"It's time for you all to go home now." I said firmly. Dad's brow furrowed as he studied my expression but I knew he understood.
"Alright Luna." he said with a nod. "You will call us if you need anything...we'll help however we can...." A weak promise but a sincere one. There was nothing he could do now.
I applied to Robert to arrange transport for them and he agreed after some persuasion. I could tell he had little intention of letting them leave but the triplets, especially, were an annoyance for him. He had no tolerance for children at all.
When the evening of their departure came, I was having a hard time keeping the tears at bay along with my mom. My little sisters weren't helping either. "Aren't you coming with us?"
"No." I said shaking my head. "I need to stay here..."
"But this isn't home!" Lily protested. "Why aren't you coming home with us?"
"We miss you sissy!" Andromeda was already crying and clutching my leg. "Please come home!"
"This is my home as well." I lied. This house could never feel like home to me I didn't think.
With a great deal of pressure, Adam and Suki steered their three youngest children away before looking back one more time. "Come home soon." Mom mouthed.
'I'll try' I thought to myself, thought I couldn't imagine any way to make good on such a promise now.