If you are new here, you can find the previous instalments of this story here.
Disclaimer: This UF/PNR story is written as stress relief. It’s raw, unedited, and I’m just writing without the stress of worrying where the plot is heading, if my tone of writing is suitable for the genre, or if the book is going to be marketable. I’m just plain writing it for fun. Attending the conference had been stressful in a way that’s causing me to reflect on the mistakes I’ve already made with my published books, so this just writing in the most carefree form.
“You have to go home at some point,” I told the sulky young man, who had been brooding in the corner of my kitchen since five this morning. I’d ignored him mostly because I have fuck tonnes of food to prepare for dinner tonight, but it’s been three hours and I feel obligated to say something. “It’s Thanksgiving.”
“They are going to pressure me to move back home. Then, they will ask me about college.”
“You don’t know that. You’re just making up all the possible unpleasant conversations you might have in your head. For all you know, they just want you home for dinner.”
“It’s never just ‘dinner’ with my family.”
“Titus, you need to give them a chance. You’ve left home for almost half a year.” A wave of guilt swept through me because of the hypocrisy behind that statement.
I’d cut my ties with my highborn fae family the moment I left the Otherworld and disgraced them by not only marrying a human, but an undertaker. The powerful magic I was born with was used to speed up cremation processes instead of helping my family expand their kingdom. I used to wonder if Gareth’s cancer had got anything to do with my family trying to punish me, but I’d stopped thinking about it since I remarried.
All this time after I’d left, I’d never looked back or kept in touch with them.
“Go home for dinner,” I ordered him despite how I felt. “If they fuck it up, the door is always open here. At least you can say that you’ve given them a chance.”
“What if they trap me and lock me up?”
I stopped struggling with the damn turkey and looked at him, bewildered. “How? You are a seraph. They are just humans.”
He shrugged. “I just have a terrible feeling about this.”
Scooping a large handful of herb butter, my face scrunched as I slid my hand under the turkey’s skin and spread it all over the flesh. Humans are disgusting and cruel creatures. They preach about kindness and justice, but they imprison other living things they consider beneath them and rear them for the sole purpose of whetting their appetite. Don’t even get me started on foie gras.
My girls have unfortunately acquired their human father’s taste for meat and I’d tried turning them vegan unsuccessfully. We came to a compromise that we’d buy our meat from slaughterhouses, give those animals as good a life as possible until their natural deaths before we eat them. Mr Gobbles here had crossed the rainbow bridge in early January and we’d kept him frozen in our chest freezer just for Thanksgiving.
“Let me do this. You peel the potatoes,” Titus offered
Gratefully, I pulled my hands out of the turkey’s ass and let him take over. Although it’s only been a few months, this boy has endeared himself to me. He might be going through the rebellious phase but he has a heart of gold. For a start, he’s been helping me in the kitchen while my girls and husband are still in bed. I wouldn’t put it beneath the Seraphines to justify using unscrupulous means to prevent him from leaving the house, and I shouldn’t dismiss his ominous feeling either.
I have an easy solution to alleviate his fears, but as I rubbed the soap over my heavily tattooed hands, I wondered if it’s too soon for this. All my girls are tied to me through the sigils inscribed on my hands. Gareth’s mark faded after he was gone, and in its place now, is Chual’s. I had to burn my hands to get rid of the ties I had with my fae family so they couldn’t summon anymore and it took me a few painful years for my skin to regenerate. I didn’t know if I was ready to do that for Titus. Even married people can get divorced. What if I tie him to me for eternity, then Sophie and him breaks up? That likelihood of it is very high because no one I know married their first love in high school and lived happily ever after.
What’s worse is what adult Titus can do when he realizes the power he wields over me with his sigil inscribed on my hands.
I watched him stuff the turkey with expertise and secure the legs with twine.
“Let me have dinner here. I’ll go home after that,” he said with an air of finality.
I didn’t like that a single bit. “Wash your hands, then come with me.”
He looked up at me in surprise.
I pointed to the sink. “Quickly, before I change my mind.”
This has always been my undoing, the reason I had to leave my previous home. I knew I wouldn’t be able to have my dinner in peace and if anything should happen to him, I’d blame myself for not helping. I can only gamble and hope that he has the honor not to abuse the power I had given him over me.
As we entered the basement, I kept grumbling internally about how this really wasn’t my business and I shouldn’t be interfering with other’s family problems. For a start, he’s not my son and I have nothing to gain from this. Well, not really nothing since he’d been helping quite a bit in the funeral business, but that wasn’t the main reason I was helping him.
No one should ever feel trapped by their family obligations. We didn’t choose the family we were born into, but we can choose how we want to lead the rest of our lives. Of all people, I should understand his predicament best.
I pressed my palm against the lock and fed a little of my blood to open the door to the undercroft that connected the house and the funeral parlor. This was our emergency hideout and I had warded the undercroft with enough magic to keep out an entire fae army. Chual reinforced the wards when he moved in and Titus was the first outsider we’d let into the undercroft.
I led him to the small chamber where I’d kept my past.
Titus gasped when he entered the room and started panicking. “You are going to… no…”
I turned around and raised my brows at him.
“Sophie told me about the bond.” He pointed to my hands. “I couldn’t possibly ask this of you. This is not why I was helping you in the kitchen!” he explained frantically. “I just wanted to spend more time with you because I know I won’t be able to come back anymore once I go home.”
Hearing that made me even more determined to go ahead with what I was about to do, but he had to be a willing participant, or it’d not work.
“Know that it’s not offered freely and I trust that you will not abuse my faith in you. Decide now if you want it.” Giving him some time to think through, I lit up the candles to Lord Ifrit’s altar and offered my blood. My hands burst into flames, signifying Ifrit’s acceptance of my offering. “I’d love to give you more time but I don’t have all day. Also, I’m a creature of darkness and you are a representative of light. I don’t know if it’s going to work. If it doesn’t, we’ll have time to think of a Plan B to get you out if they trap you.”
“It’ll work,” he said in a small voice and pulled up his sleeve.
“She brought you here to do it?” I asked, trying to rein my anger in. It wasn’t his fault. This was totally on my daughter.
I held up my hand, knowing that he was going to defend his girlfriend and beg for mercy for her. I was mad at her, but I wouldn’t be punishing her for something I was about to do anyway. However, I would be having a long talk with her about the consequences of her action after this.
“I’ll override her sigil. She doesn’t have enough power yet and it might end up killing the both of you.”
“I wasn’t planning to call her for help anyway, which is why I’m sure I won’t be coming back.”
“So, are we doing this?” I asked him. “If you’re not planning to call me for help, then we’ll just give you a farewell dinner tonight.”
His expression hardened with resolve. “Thank you for this gift. I will call you for help if I can’t handle it.”
“Take off your shirt.” I turned around, pulled off all my clothes, folded them neatly and placed them at the side table. Faes have no issue with nudity like humans do, but I wasn’t in the mood to handle Titus’s reaction at seeing his girlfriend’s mother naked. My thin, translucent wings that I’d kept hidden under my top stretched out and I burst into orange flames.
Titus’s blinding white wings were on full display and that silly boy had followed suit to remove all his clothes even though I’d only asked him to remove his top. I guess this must be how Sophie and him had performed the ritual too. Argh.
His eyes widened with shock and awe as he saw my true form for the first time.
“Ready?” I asked him.
I levitated both of us to prevent the hellfire from damaging the tiles on the floor. That was when it hit me that Sophie had not only performed the ritual successfully but also did it without leaving a single trace. I’ll have to test her powers after this.
“Renethvaevarthulis, Titus Immanuel Seraphine!” My voice boomed and echoed through the chamber as I sank my power into his name.
His arms flung out and stretched his chest wide to reveal his soul signature. I forged the inscription needle with my flames and carved Titus’s sigil into the back of my forearm.
His sigil glowed and burned into my skin, connecting his soul to mine.
I flew to him and carved my sigil on his forearm. As my daughter, Sophie’s soul signature was an extension of mine so it wasn’t hard to overwrite hers and replace her sigil with mine.
His teeth clenched and the veins on the side on his neck strained against his skin. “Your fire burns hotter than Sophie’s.”
“Of course I’m hotter.” I willed it to burn faster to reduce his agony.
To my surprise, he roared and his wings burst into white flames. The force from it caught me off guard and threw me backwards before I regained my balance.
“So sorry! Are you ok?”
“Did this happen with Sophie?” I lowered us to the floor.
He shook his head. “Her sigil is only half the size of yours. It hurt, but not this much.”
“Hers will grow. As will yours. That’s why we need to update our marks yearly. You can get dressed now.”
Titus hurried to the table to get me my clothes before he walked over to the other side table where his were. Regardless of how much I disliked his parents, I have to say they had done a great job educating him. How could such condescending assholes raise a sweet, young man like him?
When we emerged from the basement, everyone was sitting at the dining table, having their cereal brunch. Strangely, no one asked where we’d gone, especially Sophie, who was focusing so hard on her bowl that she didn’t even raise her head to acknowledge her boyfriend.
Chual broke the silence first. “What time is dinner?”
“I don’t know. Depends on what time I can finish cooking all these. Alone.” I emphasized on the last word.
“We can always get take out,” Ely said in a small voice. “You don’t always have to keep up with Daddy’s tradition. He’s gone. He’s not going to care.”
“Yes. He’s happy in Heaven now. He can’t see what’s happening here. No one’s going to judge you,” Trina added.
I dropped whatever I was doing and sighed. They were right. The cooking was making me more and more resentful year after year because I don’t enjoy cooking at all. Gareth had made it a tradition that we’d all prepare for Thanksgiving dinner together every year but the responsibility of cooking had fallen onto my shoulders since the year he was bedridden. “Maybe next year. I’ve already bought all the stuff. It’ll go to waste if I don’t cook them.” I resumed peeling the potatoes.
“I’ll help you,” Titus offered.
“No. Go home,” Sophie told him sternly. “You’ve put it off long enough. I’m tired seeing you cry for forgiveness every night when you pray for them. Man up. We’ve done everything we can to make sure of your safety so there’s nothing to fear now.”
“I’ll head back after breakfast. Or lunch. Whatever this is.” He emptied the rest of the Oreo O’s into his bowl, poured the milk and dug in.
“I’ll help you with the cooking,” Sophie said without looking at me. That meant that she knew we were going to have that overdue talk.
“I’m done,” Ely announced. “Going to feed the animals. Who’s coming?”
Ginny and Trina quickly shoved the rest of the cereal into their mouths, washed their bowls and joined their sister as she headed to our mini farm. Chual finished his coffee, gave me a kiss and headed out to work.
Holiday is a non-existent concept for the grim reapers. They work in shifts. I’d been waiting for the day I’d be rich enough to close my funeral business for two weeks and take a family holiday. The latest paycheck from the Joneses had been enough but Chual needed more time to arrange for a colleague in Finland to make a two-week swap with him.
Hopefully, it’d happen in time for the Christmas trip I’d planned or he would have to spend Christmas alone in the house. We were going, with or without him.
Titus reached out to hold Sophie’s hand and held it all the way while they ate their cereal in silence. When they were done, he took their bowls, washed them, kissed me on my cheek and went home.
Sophie walked up to me, held my dirty hands, looked me in my eyes and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.”
I waited for her to elaborate.
“I’d wanted to ask you about the ritual but Ti didn’t think he deserved it.”
She pulled up her sleeve and showed me her forearm. Titus’s sigil wasn’t tattooed into her arm at all. She’d taken a risk and faked the ritual, hoping I would override hers. All she did was burn her mark onto Titus’s hand. That poor boy had no idea.
I’d have to hunt down more dead bodies of people who’d gone to hell and burn with hellfire as offering to thank Lord Ifrit for stopping her.
“You’re getting very good at scheming,” I narrowed my eyes at her and pulled my hands away.
“I learn from the best.” She grinned.
Leaving the Otherworld had made me sloppy. I’d forgotten that my girls had my fae blood and they were growing up. It was a lesson learned, a mistake I wouldn’t be repeating.
“Peel the sweet potatoes.” I handed her the peeler.
Obediently, she sat down and did as told.
“Tell me about your sisters’ involvement in this. Do not lie or try to omit anything.” I sank my power in the last sentence.
Sophie shivered and sucked in a deep breath to calm her nerves. Then, she told me about how they all took turns to try but Ifrit turned down everyone.
DAMN IT ALL TO HELL! The number of bodies I’d be burning as offering would be enough to keep the house warm throughout winter without having to activate a single heater.
I chided her sternly about how she would endanger herself and her sisters if the Joneses used magic more powerful than theirs to bind Titus to the house, but she assured me that the intention had always been to corner me into stepping in and overriding theirs should it work for them.
To my husband’s credit, he knew what they were up to and tried to dissuade them, but to no avail. He’d kept his promise to leave it to the girls to iron things out with me so he stayed out of the whole thing. What hurt was they trusted him enough to discuss their plans with him, but not me. Looked like I would have to reflect on this parenting shit.
This was one of those times I missed Gareth acutely. He’d usually tell me what to do because I suck at being a mom. Fae parenting and human parenting are worlds apart. Chual’s no better too since he only developed a soul after he’d met me. He seemed to be doing better even though his only experience was from reading books on parenting. Maybe I should make time to read those books too.
Sophie and I spent the rest of the afternoon bonding over cooking. It’s been a while since I spoke to her about her plans for the future, the birds and the bees, and myself. I never knew how important it was for the girls for me to talk about myself so that our conversations wouldn’t be like some interview or interrogation session.
Ginny, Ely and Trina joined us after they were done tending to the animals and our small patch of vegetable garden. They were dirty and visibly exhausted. Knowing Sophie had already confessed everything to me, they took turns to apologize to me personally and all of them willing accepted my punishment – to deep clean the house, the undercroft, the funeral parlor and the cemetery before we go for our holiday. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been helping with the housework, but I know they’d been just putting stuff out of sight and doing surface cleaning.
Augustine and Elise came over at five to help finish up the rest of the preparations so that I could finally take the time to shower and dress up for dinner. I tamed my normally unruly red hair into a sleek bob and dabbed some light make up to make my face look less pale. I decided to let my wings out today and wore a bareback dress.
Everyone was seated and waiting for me to join them at the table, except for Chual, who was still working. We joined hands and Augustine said grace. Gareth was a Christian so we more or less followed his traditions on special occasions. After that, we dug in to the feast Sophie and I had painstakingly prepared.
Even though I didn’t enjoy the process, I’m a decent cook. Looking at everyone wolfing down my cooking warms my heart and every time I see this, I’d instantly ditch the plans to buy takeout for the next holiday meal. The kids had eaten enough takeout and shoddily put-together meals daily. They deserve my extra effort during just for these special occasions.
Chual came home an hour later and joined us. My darling husband had already known how much offering I would need for Lord Ifrit and came home with a whole van loaded with dead bodies. He’d put them in the freezer vault for now and promised he would help me sort them out tomorrow.
Sophie had been uncustomarily quiet during dinner. We’d let her be because we were also a little worried about Titus. She’d shared with me earlier about how she was mentally preparing herself for him not to return at all. Not because his parents had trapped him, but because they’d convinced him that she was not good enough and he deserved better.
I told her if it turned out to be that, I would burn my hand to clear his sigil and suffer the recovery pain for the next two years as punishment for my wrong judgement of his character. My faith in Titus cheered her up significantly, but I could see her insecurities setting in as time passed.
After dinner, everyone adjourned to the living room for a movie together. Then, another after that one ended. Augustine and Elise had to excuse themselves and head home while the rest of us continued to wait for Titus together. It went on until about 1am when I told Chual to move the sleeping girls back to their beds while I kept Sophie company.
I could sense some disappointment from Chual because he’s been dying to get me off that dress but he knew somehow it was a “parent thing” that I had to do. So, he did his “husband thing” and went to sort out the bodies he’d brought back for me in the freezer, still hoping that something wonderful was going to happen later.
It was Sophie who called it quits later. She woke me up and turned off the TV. “Go to bed, Mom. I hope you give poor Chups some love because he’s come up to check on you a few times and gone back to the freezer. I thought the least Ti could do was to text me and let me know everything was ok. I would have been fine even if he’s decided to stay at home but at least text me.”
I called Chual and was about to head upstairs with him when Titus opened the front door and walked in, looking worn out as hell.
Sophie dashed to him and they embraced tightly before they kissed.
I had to look away because I’m still not totally comfortable with open displays of affection, especially not where I was brought up.
“Maybe we can talk tomorrow,” Chual whispered in my ear. “It’s late. He’s tired, she’s tired, you’re tired, and I’m tired of waiting.”
I rubbed his hard chest and gave him a saucy wink. Grinning, he literally swept me off my feet and was about to go upstairs when Titus said, “Thank you, Liane.”
Chual gave an inaudible sigh and turned around, still holding me in his arms, probably hoping that Titus would cut it short.
“I’ll save the details for tomorrow. I just want to say that it’s your sigil that gave me the courage to try to handle my family on my own because if everything else failed, I know you’d come for me. I would have called earlier but my hands were literally tied up most of the time and my phone was destroyed. Thank you for having my back and giving me a safe haven I can call home.”
I smiled at him, trying to breathe through the sudden ache in nose when Chual said, “You’re welcome. Talk tomorrow,” and whisked me into our bedroom in the attic with inhuman speed.
“Who would you like me to be tonight?” he asked as he laid me down on the bed.
I want to say “I love you as you are” but it’s very hard to get turned on by just skin and bones. I reached for my phone and showed him a clip from a Polish film “365 Days.” With great interest, he took the phone from me and studied the clip very intently.
I stretched out in my wonderful bed and smiled, feeling content. It’s going to be a good night.