Tristan staggered, and I reached out for him. But he turned away, a choking tidal wave of shock and horror swamping him as memory after memory slammed into him from every direction, each one tied to and triggering the next, each one robbing his lungs of air or the ability to draw another breath.
"Tristan!" I took a step after him. He was getting his memories back, but they were returning too fast. No one should be hit with seventeen years' worth of memories all at once.
"Dad, the memories...they're all coming back." What should I do? Should I try to hold him, let him feel me there beside him so he would know he wasn't alone?
I reached out for Tristan again, but he brushed my hand away and stumbled toward the nearby ledge where he liked to go sometimes to sit and watch the sun set. My heart missed a beat. He was getting too close to the edge. He would survive the fall, according to Dad. But I still didn't want to see him hurt.
"Let him go. He will need some time and space to work through them on his own."
I held my breath until Tristan found the large stone he usually sat on. His hands fumbled over its surface, guiding him as he sank down onto the rock.
"Are you sure he should be alone right now?"
"Yes, I am sure. Some things you cannot save him from."
I hated the idea of Tristan having to deal with the return of his memories alone. Especially the memory of his father's death, which had happened just a week before Tristan had nearly died and I'd had to turn him in order to keep him alive.
But I followed Dad's suggestion, staying when I wanted to follow, watching when I wanted to actively help in some way. After a moment of silence, I realized Dad was actually smiling.
"You can't possibly be happy about this," I snapped. "Tristan's hurting. I know you're not that callous."
"I do not enjoy his mental pain, no. But the return of his memories means he will quickly regain all his former selfcontrol and discipline. The one advantage of his being who he was within the Clann is that he should have had plenty of previous training in these areas. Otherwise he never would have been able to keep his infamous Coleman Clann abilities contained in public. And if he could contain those abilities..."
"Then he can control his vamp instincts, too," I finished for him without looking away from the slump of Tristan's shoulders. He'd always had the best posture, holding his shoulders back, unashamed that his six-foot-plus height made him taller than most.
"Correct. Which means our days of training here on this mountain are at an end, and we must prepare to take him back to Jacksonville."
"Jacksonville?" I hissed, finally able to look at my dad. "Are you crazy? We can't go back there!"
"We must. The council demands it."
"The council..." I sputtered. "You've got to be kidding. They can't possibly want us to go back into Clann territory."
"But they do. They know you and Tristan can read the descendants' thoughts."
And then it sank in. I groaned. "No. No way. Tristan and I are not going to spy for the council."
Dad stared at me, his silver eyes darkening to a slate-gray. "You must. The council demands it."
I stared back at him with one eyebrow raised. We both knew how much I loved being told what to do by the council.
He sighed. "Let me rephrase. Caravass and the other council members would greatly appreciate it if you two would consider going back to Jacksonville and keeping us apprised of any alarming developments within the Clann. They only wish to maintain peace with the Clann, nothing more."
I leaned in closer. "Tristan is just now getting his memories back, including the ones about his family. And now the council wants him to go spy on them?"
"They cast him out of the Clann."
"Because they had to! He's a vampire now. They couldn't let a vamp be a member." Wasn't it in the Clann laws or something? They sure seemed to have some rule about descendants and vamps dating, considering they'd cast out my mother for marrying my father, and then cast out my grandmother for failing to stop that union.
"I repeat, the council only seeks any information that will help them maintain the peace treaty with the Clann. Nothing more."
I searched his thoughts. He was telling the truth.
The anger seeped out of me, leaving a horrible sinking feeling behind. "I really don't want to go back there." I tried to control my voice, but a slight tremble snuck into it anyway. "You of all people have got to understand what it's like...finally getting to be with the person you love, facing all that hatred and judgment. The descendants are going to want to kill me for turning Tristan! In fact, they probably won't even want us back there."
It was Dad's turn to stare at me with one eyebrow arched. "Do not think I have not read Emily's messages requesting Tristan's return to Jacksonville. I am well aware that his mother and the rest of the Clann seek reassurance that he is no longer a danger."
I turned away and crossed my arms.
"Savannah, do try to be mature about this. We must return to Jacksonville. It is the only way to reassure the Clann that you and Tristan are no longer a threat to them. And the council is relying upon us to provide them with accurate warnings only the two of you can provide. Think of the good that you can do, the lives that you can save, by helping to prevent another war."
Great. Dad must have picked up a few of my mother's guilt trip methods. He was doing a really great job of making me feel like a selfish child.
I hung my head and closed my eyes. I had gone through so much for years now because of the stupid hate and fear between the vamps and the Clann...I'd given up my dreams of being a dancer on my high school dance team so I wouldn't reveal my vamp abilities to the world. I'd risked everything, even losing my Nanna, by breaking the rules to date Tristan. I'd even given up being with Tristan for months just to make the vampire council and the Clann happy.
And now, when it finally seemed that Tristan and I could safely be together at last without breaking any rules, without having to sneak when his memory had finally returned and I could have my Tristan back again...the council had the nerve to make yet another demand.
I was so tired of it all...of the hate and the fear and the whispers and judging stares, of having to do what everyone else wanted. When would it matter what I wanted? Or what Tristan wanted? Even now, after everything we'd gone through, we still weren't free.
Dad tried to rest a hand on my shoulder, but I took a step forward so his hand fell away.
He sighed. "Do you not miss your friends and your dance team?"
I shrugged one shoulder. "I assumed I would never see them again."
"Well, now you can."
I didn't want to, but I could hear my dad's thoughts as he struggled for some new and more compelling argument to try with me. As my dad, he hated having to push me on this issue. But as a representative of the vampire council, he was duty bound to. He would be forced to badger me endlessly until I gave in.
I gritted my teeth and held up a hand to stop him. "Fine. We'll go back to Jacksonville. But only when Tristan is ready. Until then, until he's sure he's in control, we're staying right here. Okay?"
Tristan stayed out at the ridge all day. By sunset, I couldn't take it anymore and had to join him.
"How are you feeling?" I asked, reaching out to him and then hesitating before dropping my hand at my own side again. Maybe he still wanted to be alone.
He continued to stare out at the sky, now slowly darkening beneath the early winter sunset. "I remember everything. Dad and Mom, Emily and Gowin. You and me. The Clann and the vampire council. The battle at the Circle, and Gowin's sucker punch through my back. You turning me."
I froze, fearing my nightmare was about to come true. Did he hate me for the selfish decision I'd made, for my inability to let him die?
He finally turned his head to look at me. "Thanks, by the way."
"Sorry about the amnesia. I didn't know about it till after I'd turned you, since I never had it. I didn't know it would be so complete or last this long."
He gave a half shrug and returned to staring at the sky. "It's over. That's all that matters."
I nodded in silence, not knowing what else to say. After spending so many days trying to adjust to the childlike and helpless Tristan, I had to readjust to the return of the old Tristan. Except he still wasn't quite himself.
For instance, he hadn't reached out to touch me in any way yet.
"Sorry. Guess I've been a little lost lately." Sighing, he reached out to take my hand and gently tug me closer.
As soon as his hand touched mine, warmth spread over my skin and the tension melted from my whole body. It was going to be okay now. We'd made it through the hardest part.
I sat down beside him before relief could make my legs give out beneath me, wrapped an arm across the small of his back and rested my cheek against the muscled curve of his shoulder. "I missed you. The real you, I mean."
"I missed me, too." He raised our joined hands to press a slow kiss to each of my fingers.
I raised my head, and he leaned over and kissed my lips. A heady mix of relief and love rose up through my body, stealing my breath and driving me to wrap both arms around him. The intensity of the emotions surprised both of us, and when we stopped to catch a breath, one corner of his mouth rose.
"Wow. You really did miss me, didn't you?"
"I was afraid... ." Too many emotions pounded through me to put them into words...the gut-wrenching fear of losing him when he nearly died, the horror of discovering I'd temporarily turned him into more animal than man, the responsibility of keeping him safe from his own actions and the fear of screwing up as his sire, being terrified for months that I'd only saved him physically but might never have the real Tristan back, the agonizing guilt and worry over whether I'd made the wrong decision after all by turning him. It was too much to describe out loud, so I simply let him see and feel all the emotions and memories inside my head.
"Hey, it's okay now," he murmured, cupping my face and using his thumbs to brush away my tears of relief. "I'm not going anywhere ever again. It's you and me till the end of time. Or at least until you decide you can't stand me anymore."
He pressed a slow, lingering kiss to my forehead, then each cheek, the tip of my nose and then my lips again.
And I was finally whole once more.
The moment Dad exited the cabin and got close enough to us for me to pick up his thoughts, though, I remembered my promise to him and the tension f lowed right back into me.
I sighed and rested my forehead against Tristan's. "Did you hear what Dad said earlier about the council's newest request?"
"About our going back to Jacksonville?"
I nodded, my throat making a dry, sticky sound as I tried to swallow past the growing tightness within it.
"Yeah, I heard." He hesitated. "I also heard the part where my sister and mother want us to come back, too."
"Yeah. The Clann wants to be sure you' know, in control of everything."
"Okay. So we'll go back to Jacksonville."
I leaned back to frown at him. "You'd actually spy on your friends and family?"
"I'd never tell the council anything that could hurt the Clann. But if I were the council, I'd want to keep a close and constant eye on the Clann, too. You've got to understand, collectively sometimes the Clann acts like a bunch of scared cattle ready to stampede whether it makes sense to or not. Look at how they tried to keep us apart for so long."
"Yeah, well maybe they had a point there. Look at what ended up happening to you."
"Hey, I'm happy that you finally turned me. Now we can be together without you worrying about draining me every time we kiss."
"True. But at what cost? You've lost your family."
"I didn't lose them. My mother made her choice. She sided with the Clann over me. Besides, you and your dad are my family now. Right?"
"Yeah, but, Tristan, your mother and sister still love you, too."
He didn't say anything for a long time, staring in silence as the sun disappeared beneath the curve of the earth and the sky deepened into dark shades of purple.
When he finally spoke again, his voice was quieter, deeper. "Your dad's right, Sav. We might be able to help prevent another war. If the peace treaty fails, it's not just the vamps and the Clann who would be hurt. It would be your friends- Anne and Carrie and Michelle-and any other humans who got caught in the cross fire. Not to mention Ron and all of the Keepers."
He draped an arm around my shoulders, and I nestled against him, resting my head in the hard curve where his shoulder and neck met. I wished I could burrow even deeper, somehow get away from his words and the entire world around us.
But there was no way to escape my own mind or the realization that Dad and Tristan were both right. Much as I hated it.
"Is it so wrong of me to just want to be with you without a panel of judges constantly weighing in on everything we say and do?" I whispered.
"No, it's not wrong." He slowly rubbed my back, his broad, strong hand soothing my nerves. It was every bit as comforting as a cup of Nanna's homegrown chamomile tea used to be.
Silence fell like a soft blanket over us. But its weight seemed to grow heavier on me with every passing second.
Finally I sighed. "Okay. We'll do the right thing and go back to Jacksonville."