If you follow me on social media you know why this chapter is a day late. A cold knocked me off my feet this week. Everything’s been knocked off schedule. Now I’m in the process of recovering my strength and scrambling to get back on track. As long as my health hold up, we should be back on schedule for next weekend.
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By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Willow’s energy reserves were all but depleted. She had taken Yuri shopping for nice clothes to wear to meet her parents. She did it to make herself look good, as well as to start to normalize life in this world for Yuri just a bit more.
They still did not have a way to get him home. Their searches for portals back to his world were not going well and the colder it got and the earlier night came the less time they had to search. Since they did not have any luck using Willow’s abilities to get him home either, it seemed more and more likely in her opinion that he would be here long term. It also seemed to be increasingly likely that he would be her roommate long term.
That also contributed to his wearing down of her defenses. She was in constant contact with him. He was gorgeous. He was charming. He was obviously used to using his looks and his charm to get his way. Her resistance was more than he was used to, his surprise at the failure of his early attempts made that obvious, but he had more tricks up his sleeve than she had expected and she could feel herself being won over.
Seeing him dressed up in the nice clothes she bought for him finally wore away the last of her resistance. He seemed to be pretty charmed by her nice outfit as well. She rarely had any reason to dress up so she went a little bit overboard when she had the occasion to do it. She might not like to do it often, but every once in a while being girly and dressing up in her nicest clothes was fun.
She caught Yuri staring when she stepped out of her room dressed and ready to go. She liked the little ego boost. She might not be a model, but she did try to take care of herself and she liked to think that the hikes around town looking for portals to take Yuri back home seemed to get her into even better shape than before. Stress and lost sleep probably undid the good from the exercise, but she did not want to dwell on that.
Willow liked to think that she had picked a style that suited Yuri and did the best she could to hide the fact that he was not quite human. She found it a bit strange that no one else seemed to notice the odd little features, but she figured there were not that many people that knew the signs or what they were looking at and people tended to only see what they wanted to see anyway.
With his hair in the way, no one would see the little points at the ends of his ears, and it seemed as though he would not be outed by his funny little glow either because no one other than her seemed to think that there was any glow to speak of. She liked that she was the only one who saw that about him. It helped her to feel like there was a reason Yuri came into her life and thinking there was a reason for all this kept her from resenting her role in his quest to get home.
She blushed. He was still staring. She knew that she usually stuck to warm sweaters and comfortable jeans in this sort of weather, but she was pretty sure that he had been aware before now that she had a body underneath the bulky clothing, but the way he was looking at her made her think differently. She wondered why he was always teasing her if it was not for her looks.
“You look nice,” he finally managed to say.
“You look nice too. I’m glad we were finally able to get you some decent clothes. I know it took a little while, but we were just so busy and, even if they weren’t the best clothes, the spare stuff I had was at least warm.” She could feel herself rambling and she forced herself to clam up.
He shrugged, seemed to let her rambling roll off of him and ignored her compliment. He was slowly crossing the room, approaching her and looking at her in an appreciative manner that made her acutely self-conscious.
His hands reached out. She expected him to try to put his hands on her waist or pull her into an embrace, but he places his hands on her arms instead. She was unsure what to make of it and waited to see what he would do next. She tried to remain calm, but she could feel her heart rate pick up nonetheless.
“You’re beautiful, Willow,” he whispered in her ear.
She was sure he could see her blushing now and there was nothing she could do about it and there was nothing she could do to hide it from him in such close proximity. She blinked and tried to keep herself calm, cool and collected and not let it snowball out of control when she realized she was failing.
She was not prepared at all when he leaned in and kissed her. She wanted to believe she was shocked and that was why she did not pull away or push him away, but if she was quite honest she had decided to let it happen. She was not about to admit that fact to anyone, even to herself, but it did not make it any less true.
After all of his teasing and flirting she had started to wonder what it would be like to kiss him after all. Now she knew and it was not all that bad. It was not the greatest kiss in the world. It was hardly what she could call earth shattering. She did not even feel weak in the knees from it, but it was nice. She was sure that he expected her to be swooning from it and maybe he was used to that sort of reaction. He was not a bad kisser, but that did not change the fact that she knew this was all a game for him and it was not even a particularly good game. He teased her to keep his mind off the fact that he was stranded in a strange place and he had nothing better to do with his time than to toy with her emotions. She was not going to open herself up to get hurt.
The kiss ended and he looked slightly disappointed. She offered him a slight smile as a consolation prize before crossing the room to grab her car keys.
Once they were in the car she said, “You know, that wasn’t a bad kiss.”
He grunted a sulky response.
“It’s just not going to have much of an effect on me because I’m not in love with you.”
She noticed that got him to perk up. “So you only like kisses when you are in love?”
“Yeah,” she agreed slowly. Now that she had said it she was not sure where this was going and she did not want to dig herself into another hole with him, particularly not right before he was meeting her family for the first time.
“I suppose I will just have to make you fall in love with me then,” he said with a definitive nod.
She laughed and shook her head. This entire situation seemed absurd to her but she did not want to draw it out any longer. She just wanted to let the situation cool down enough so things could be relatively normal at the dinner with her family. As long as she stayed calm and kept her composure there was at least a small chance that everything could turn out fine. The only problem with trying to be optimistic about the outcome of the day was the small fact that she was not capable of controlling anyone else involved in the festivities.
“When we get to my parents’ can you promise me that you’re going to behave yourself?”
“Haven’t I been behaving myself?”
Willow was about to tell him exactly how much of a problem his behavior would be in front of her parents before she glanced over at him and noticed that he was kidding. She sighed and did her best to have no reaction to his teasing. “Look. It’s not so much about your behavior being bad as it is about not adding fuel to the fire.”
“What fire?” Yuri asked with enough wide-eyed innocence that Willow did not feel the need to question whether or not he was teasing her.
She did not want to risk him embarrassing her because she did not go over every little detail with him, so she did not dare leave this matter to chance. “I don’t want you to flirt with me or anything along those lines while we’re there. I told them we’re just friends and their grip on that concept is tenuous at best so please don’t make it any worse.”
“So I don’t get to have any fun?”
Willow could hear the pout in his voice without even looking at him. “Thanksgiving isn’t about having fun, especially at the expense of the person who got you invited to the party. You’re just supposed to show up, try not to get into discussions about religion or politics, and eat an obscene amount of food.”
Willow could hardly breathe the whole way through introducing her family to Yuri. She expected every interaction to end in disaster. Her mind had already played through every disastrous scenario at least once.
She did not even know who she trusted less. Yuri seemed as though he had been teasing her on the way over, but she still did not entirely trust him to modify his behavior just to save her from some embarrassment. If everything went his way he would be gone soon and would never see her again so the consequences on his part would be negligible. Her family, on the other hand, knew they would be in her life forever, but that never stopped them from starting humiliating conversations with her friends on a regular basis.
She watched and waited for something to go wrong. She did not care that she was blatantly eavesdropping. She just needed to know exactly how much trouble she was in at any given time so she could sweep in and start damage control immediately. So far everything seemed to be going just fine, but she always struggled with staying positive. Yuri had a knack for small talk, it seemed. That at least spared her from cringing as conversation delved into heavier, riskier topics.
When it was the two of them talking he was constantly teasing and trying to get a rise out of her. There were no safe, mundane conversations between them. With her family, that’s all he seemed to talk about. Most of their conversations revolved around the weather, the fact that Yuri was not used to the cold, and somehow he managed to deftly sidestep the question of where he came from every time it came up. Willow could not help but be impressed, and a little bit jealous. She wished she had that skill herself because she never managed to avoid the topics she least wanted to discuss.
Her silence did not go unnoticed by her family for long. She had to stop worrying about what everyone else might say and start talking.
“Now we get to ask the tough questions,” Aspen said with a gleeful little giggle as Willow sat down and settled into her role as an active participant in the conversation.
Willow just barely managed to stop herself from rolling her eyes. From the sound of things, Aspen had already found the time for a drink or two, knowing her she had a glass of something to fortify herself just before her own parents were due to arrive. Now she was just tipsy enough to use that as armor and deflect onto less fortunate relatives that did not have the luxury of imbibing before everyone arrived. Tipsy Aspen was not likely to make her life any easier.
Her gaze darted over to Yuri and immediately regretted it. He looked just as calm as ever and her she was barely keeping it together. Of course, he had no reason to care, not like her.
“So,” her mother began with a teasing twinkle in her eye. “Aspen told us this young man is staying with you. When were you going to tell us that you found a roommate?”
Willow tried and failed to shoot an accusing glare at her aunt. The code for not ratting each other out still applied in this situation even though they were not part of the same generation by virtue of being the two youngest adults in the family. They were supposed to stick together, not tell the older, more adult-like family members what sort of stuff they had going on in their lives.
Aspen finished her drink and hightailed it out of the room for a refill. That left Willow with a lot of directionless energy she was going to put into glaring at the traitor. She forced a smile back onto her face and confronted the question head on.
“Yuri isn’t my roommate. He’s more of an extended house guest. We’re not sure how long he’s staying, but this isn’t a permanent arrangement at all!”
“I’m relieved to hear that,” her mother said with a knowing smile. “I imagine it would be rather cramped to have you and a roommate living in a one bedroom apartment.”
Willow wanted to bang her head against a wall. She saw where this was going. She knew her whole family was thinking there was something less than innocent going on here. While they were not necessarily wrong in that suspicion, they were way off base with the particulars.
Her parents and grandparents, all trained exorcists — the ones that taught her everything she knew — had just had a full conversation with a being that immediately gave off vibes to her saying he was something other than human, but they had no reaction at all. She knew she was not confused. She knew he was different and she had no doubts that her family would comment on it if they noticed it too. They were too nosy, too deep into their identity as exorcists to ignore it. The only option she saw for them was that they just could not see it. It did not make much sense to her at first, but then she remembered that they were always talking about how talented she was and she realized for once she might actually have some evidence of that.
Their teasing demeanor seemed to imply that they saw Yuri as an ordinary human man. She could not turn to her family for help if they could not even see the problem at hand. Now she knew she would be Yuri’s last hope.
At the rate things were going now Yuri would likely be with them for a long, long time. Her family would continue to believe in the tiny lies she was telling them. She would endure the teasing for the time being, but she was not going to put up with it forever. They needed a better excuse for Yuri being here. He needed a place in this world if he was going to stay. She did not know if she could ever get him to accept that fact but saw no point in bringing it up today. He was getting along great with her family, her grandfather in particular. The two of them seemed to have similar senses of humor, in the sense that both of them got a real kick out of teasing her, although she would much rather endure her grandfather’s brand of teasing than Yuri’s.
Yuri’s teasing was more than she was equipped to deal with at the moment. The only option she saw ahead of her was to try to deflect some of the attention onto other people present. Parents and grandparents were off limits by virtue of being her elders and the unspoken rule of not messing with the people directly responsible for bringing her into this world. Dragging Yuri back into the limelight would only prolong her nightmare in a different way and she would feel more out of control than ever. That left only Aspen to save her from her misery. Normally she would not dare do something so cruel. They were usually in league with each other and doing everything they could to spare each other too much unwanted attention at these family gatherings, but this time Aspen had thrown her under the bus by telling everyone else about Yuri. All Willow could think to do now was return the favor.
Soon enough she was on the sidelines again with Yuri. He looked over at her. He wore an impressive poker face, except for his eyes. He could not hide the laughter in his eyes.
She shoved him playfully before guiding him over to the appetizers and filling up a plate. She knew the best strategy at this point was to keep his mouth full until the subject naturally drifted over to a topic that was safe for everyone.
Now that the conversation had drifted on to other topics through Willow’s rather heavy handed machinations, she was able to enjoy a family gathering that for the most part was neither painful nor humiliating. Now that no one was trying to tease her, or make poorly veiled attempts to draw personal information out of Yuri, she managed to relax and let her guard down a little. It was so rare these days for her to get to see all of her family at once and she at least wanted to get some enjoyment out of her time with them.
For not knowing Thanksgiving even existed until very recently, Yuri seemed to completely embrace the holiday. He ate a ton of food and planted himself on the couch to watch football even though Willow was almost positive he knew nothing about the sport.
She felt pretty confident he would not get himself or her into trouble while watching football with her father and grandfather. They might be protective of her, but he seemed to have met the approval of her mother and prior experience told her that they would let their guard down and leave him alone as long as the matriarchs of the family were fine with everything.
She stuck with the other women in the family and helped clean up. Matters of little importance seemed to be the topic of choice at the moment, but she did not trust them not to loop the conversation back to something that she did not want them to discuss. The most dangerous thing right now would be for her to become complacent. Her mission remained in place. She needed to keep the teasing at bay, of course. That part was annoying even when there was nothing else at stake. This time she did not need them getting invested, inviting Yuri over, wondering what happened to him if he disappeared suddenly as would happen if they managed to get everything to work out as planned. She also wanted to make sure that they really did not suspect Yuri other than an ordinary person.
She breathed a sigh of relief when everyone was together again and acting normally. For at least a few moments, she was able to let her guard down and just enjoy the festivities without fear of being questioned or having her secrets found out. Those moments caused her to regret the time she wasted worrying when the time came to go home.
Their goodbyes were a mess. Everyone slowly worked their way toward the door while saying goodbye to whoever they came across on their way, doubling back if they thought of one more story or joke to tell. It was about as inefficient of a way of saying goodbye as she could imagine, but she did not complain. It was nice to have some time to say one last thing that she nearly forgot before she actually left for good. There was always something more to say or some small story to share.
Finally, she reached the door with Yuri at her heels. One last person awaited final goodbyes. Her grandmother said her farewells to Yuri first. He passed through the door and waited on the porch for Willow to join him. She just had to say goodbye to her grandmother herself before she could get out the door and on their way back home to the relative peace and tranquility of her apartment.
Before she could finish her goodbye and step out the door, her grandmother stopped her and pulled her aside. Willow felt her heart skip a beat as she tried to imagine the reason for this. She had assumed everything had gone off without a hitch and her family did not suspect anything, but now doubt started to creep back in. She did not know what she would do if she discovered this late in the game that her whole family had known something was off all along.
“Willow,” her grandmother began in a no-nonsense tone. “I did not want to bring it up in front of everyone, but you are aware that the young man you brought with you tonight is a fae, aren’t you?”
She blinked. She had not expected this, or rather she had expected it, but she had not expected it to happen so calmly and privately. She imagined there would be a lot of panic and upset if anyone at all noticed Yuri was anything other than an ordinary, human being. Now she was being informed of this in such a calm manner, as though her grandmother merely thought she had overlooked a small matter.
She glanced over her shoulder to confirm that no one else was in range to hear this little discussion. Once she knew the coast was clear, she spoke up. “I knew he wasn’t human from the start, but I had no idea he was a fae.”
“Well, don’t take that to mean you can let your guard down around him. He’s not hellspawn, but fae can go either way.”
“That’s true of humans too.”
“Humans don’t have magic powers like fae. Keep your guard up around him. You see through to the real him so it’ll be harder to enchant you, but that doesn’t mean he can’t use magic against you. If he tries anything don’t hesitate to use your own abilities.”
She nodded. She knew for sure that she was capable of doing quite a bit of damage to Yuri, but she would never, ever dare to do that to him again. That was not something she was ready or willing to go into with her grandmother at the moment. If things did not change soon she at least knew now that she had one member of her family that she could go to for advice.
“Do you think you could keep this between us? I don’t want everyone worrying about me. I’ve got this under control, I promise,” she begged.
Her grandmother patted her arm reassuringly before ushering her out the door to join Yuri. Willow tried to interpret this all as a good sign. She told herself that she had it in her to stay positive until she made it home at least. Then she would be free to wallow in her pessimistic thoughts for as long as she wanted.
Trying to come up with something, anything positive to focus on during the drive home proved challenging. The only thing she could cling to was that her grandmother was probably the best person out of the whole family to have knowing about such a thing. She might not have suspected this before tonight, but now she knew the exorcist thing at least did not turn everyone into a fantastic bigot, even members of the older generations. She clung to that thought as one bright spot in her ever-growing sea of worries.