I walked down the stairs slowly, having left Tala exhausted and asleep in her room. Conan was waiting for me in the kitchen, a mug of tea billowing steam in front of him. He pushed it across to me when I sat opposite him and I gratefully cradled my hands around it.
“I won’t press you to continue if you don’t want to, my friend.”
“No, I have to tell it now.”
“If you want, Jay.”
“Tala’s father was my friend and the person I could confide in. Truth be told, he was my psychiatrist, and one of the few people none Changed to know the truth. Him and his wife. She was terrified though, absolutely terrified of us, that’s why she didn’t like Tala being in the forest. Tala was always first on the list of priorities, above anything we had to protect her.
The day after Tala got attacked in the forest, I went down to the house. Her mother was furious with rage and pain, she threw a carving knife at me as soon as I walked in the door but I had to find out if Tala was like me. I went into the front room where she and her father were, he looked at me like his heart was breaking and I knew what we had to do.”
I kept talking, feeling my face twisting into a fierce snarl.
“I left then. I ran into the woods and tracked them down, those arrogant wastes of space, they knew who I was. I was the strongest of our kind within several miles and they knew why I was there. They tried to apologise, they begged me to forgive them.”
Conan held up his hand.
“Peace, brother. Do not speak the words you wish to forget.”
Taking a few deep breaths, I carried on.
“I went back to the house and told Tala’s father. He knew that he and his wife wouldn’t be able to cope with Tala once she grew to her full right as a Changed. It broke his heart to leave her; I am pressed with a life debt to them for Tala. So one day I will be able to take her to her parents and she will not hate them.”
“You know where they are.” Conan said quietly
“Of course I do. They want to meet her; they want to be her parents again.”
“She won’t meet them.”
“I know. That’s why I haven’t told her, why it’s better for her to think that they left completely than watched from afar and never came close again.”
“There is another reason.”
I dropped my head into my hands on the countertop, guilt rising inside me.
“I don’t want to, Conan.”
“To lose her?”
“She is my daughter. I was the one who helped her through her first change, started her at the school, and had to deal with her incredibly random mood swings. How could I let her leave?? I love her.”
“And she loves you too, Jay. She wouldn’t leave you because you are her family. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t related; you have more in common with her than anyone they could’ve given her to.”
“But what if she does?? What if her desire to have her family whole again overrides everything that we’ve done together?”
“Do you really think she would do that?! Do you actually think she could ever do anything that would hurt you? The person who cared for her when her own parents wouldn’t, who tried his hardest to give her the best life you possibly could? She loves you, Jay. Trust her.”
I lifted my head and smiled wanly at him. Conan had been an orator in one of his past lives, and could still whip up any side of an argument.
“Thank you, my friend.”
“I would always help you, Jay. You’ve helped me so many times for me to not.”
“How have I helped you, Conan? How could I, a lowly werewolf psychiatrist, help you, an ancient lordly Vampire?”
“Because you don’t care about that. If I was being an idiot, you’d sure as hell tell me so.”
His lightning fast reply made me laugh and I clasped his hand, silently conveying my complete gratitude.
“Woah, steady on, you two. Dad, remember Mum’s in the next room, at least wait for her to leave before you have a gay affair.”
We both laughed as Alaric appeared in the doorway, grinning cheekily. I stretched.
“Well, I’m off to bed. It’s been an interesting evening.”