Chapter 113: Naomi and Rosemary
The doorbell rang and Nathanial hurried to finish the final touches on supper; Snow took that as his cue to get out of the way, and he wandered off into the sitting room. Nathanial could hear Micah dashing off to join Nick at the door to greet their guest.
Nick opened the door. "Hello, Aunt Naomi. Welcome to our house. I trust you found your way here without too much trouble."
Micah popped up from behind Nick smiling broadly and wriggling in excitement. "Hi!" He gave her a big hug, taking the nervous-looking Fox by surprise.
Nick frowned at his little brother. "It's rude to glomp on people like that, Sprite."
"But she's family!" He let go and looked down sadly. "Nanny gave me a hug and a kiss when she came over."
Nicholas rolled his eyes. "Not everyone is that outgoing. Besides, grandmothers do their own thing, from what I understand." He extended a paw to usher the Fox inside. "If you would come in, ma'am. My apologies for my brother's behaviour."
Micah deflated at the chiding. "Sorry."
Naomi looked up at the house towering above her and around the large yard. She shook her head and smiled just enough to quirk the corners of her mouth up. "It's no problem." She ruffled Micah's head fur and nodded at Nick as she walked in. "Hi, Nicholas, Micah. Thanks for having me. It took a bit to find, but I just followed my GPS. The directions were a bit...convoluted, though."
GPS? She could afford that? Nathanial looked out to see what she drove and was shocked to see a Honda Civic. It looked like one of the newer models, too. Nick seemed to notice it at the same time, just before closing the door behind Micah. "You drive a Civic? What year?"
She seemed confused by his surprise. "Twenty-eleven. I just bought it in the spring after my last car started having problems. I find the peace of mind worth the price; I don't know anything about cars."
'Naomi can afford a new car? But she's poor. Poor people can't get new cars.' Nathanial wagered Nick's thoughts were running down the exact same lines his were.
"Why did you sound so surprised? I know lots of people find it strange to see me drive an import when they know I'm part of the CAW..." She trailed off at Nick's obvious confusion. "Canadian Auto Workers union? The biggest private sector union in Canada? Then why...?"
Naomi trailed off, distracted, when Garret walked down the hall to greet her. He did look really hot. The extra exercise in kung fu and soccer, combined with a more regular exercise routine, had added just that little extra definition to his muscles and they were visibly displayed at the moment. He was pulling on a clean button up shirt over an undershirt -- a tight one -- that didn't hide any of his arm muscles or how well-toned his stomach was. "Sorry, Naomi. I just got home and haven't had time to change." He finished pulling the shirt on and extended a paw to her. "Welcome. I trust my boys weren't causing any trouble." He began buttoning up his shirt after she shook his paw. "Nathanial is just finishing up supper; it'll be served shortly, so why don't you follow Nick to the dining room while I check on the food?"
She nodded, looking a bit tongue-tied after all of the surprises -- or just the sight of Garret in such a tight shirt -- and followed a scampering Micah and more sedate Nick down the hall. Garret followed behind, shaking his head, but kept going down the hall to the kitchen rather than turning off into the dining room. He stood near the counter and finished doing up his shirt. "Those boys." He sighed and looked at Nathanial. "Almost done?"
"Yes. I just finished the salad, so we should start before things get cold. I have two bottles of sake, one heated and one cold, as well as some plum wine. I don't know much about pairing Japanese liquor with food."
"We wouldn't go through enough to warrant opening three bottles; I think tea would be fine for tonight, but since you warmed one up, we'll use that one. As a note, 'sake' means 'liquor,' not 'rice wine.' It's a generic term. You meant 'nihonshu.' 'Umeshu' is the word for plum wine. I'll bring the bottle in."
Nathanial nodded. "Okay. Let's go sit down." They walked into the informal dining room and found everyone in their proper seats. Nathanial much preferred the formal dining room, but the table was just too large for five people.
Naomi looked up with a smile. "Nathanial. I just wanted to thank you again and extend the thanks of my co-workers." She dug into her purse and pulled out a card and a small box. "Here. Everyone signed it."
Nathanial took the offered package before extending his paw. "Thank you very much. Um, welcome to our home, Aunt Naomi." He took his seat after she shook his paw and opened the box first. It held a crystal eagle on a small pedestal engraved with a thank you message. He put it aside before taking the card and opening the first flap; he felt a little uncomfortable having everyone watch him so intently, but it was better than opening the first gift in front of his grandparents. The card was a humorous 'thank you' one, with humans on it talking about 'close shaves' and the like; it would be really odd having so little fur and being cold all the time, especially since all the furless people he knew were cold-blooded and frequently complained when the weather turned chilly. But then, a lot of those fantasy creatures didn't make much sense. They looked cute and humorous on cards, though. There must have been fifty or sixty signatures on it, all thanking him -- 'the teenaged commando' -- for leading the assault on the tower. How did they know? Only one person saw him, and he didn't think he acted like he was leading the team there.
His eye caught one signature and comment. 'Thank you for saving us. I'm not sure who you are, and it probably isn't safe to ask, but Naomi said this card was going to you, specifically. I'm the controller who was kept up in the tower, and while I didn't get to see much of you in action, the camera at the entrance to Naomi's office did show you were leading the team. I'm sorry about your mother, and I'm really glad the attack on you at your school didn't harm anyone. Keep safe, and thanks. Barry Gillmore.'
He looked up. "There was a recording?"
Naomi nodded. "Yes. All cameras in all of our facilities are tied in to our Ottawa office. We didn't see them personally, but our manager did and told us what was on them. There, obviously, was no record of you entering the building, but everyone just thinks you knew about that camera and hacked it somehow. Standard elite commando stuff, or at least elite commando in training." She looked really amused by that.
He unfolded the second flap and saw a prepaid VISA taped to it; underneath, in untidy paw-writing, someone had scrawled '$8000.' His eyes widened in surprise. Naomi shook her head. "Everyone pooled together to express their thanks. We gave everyone on your squad something. I think they'll need it more; it sounds like their boss is causing a lot of trouble for them."
"But- But, aren't you guys poor? How can you afford this? And a new car? Poor people can't get new cars."
Garret looked furious and shocked; Naomi looked hurt and surprised. Her voice reflected it. "I swear I just heard the ghost of my late sister. I'm not poor, Nathanial."
Garret growled. "That was way out of line, Nathanial."
"I-I just... I've always... I d-didn't..." He couldn't string his thoughts together coherently.
Naomi shook her head and held her paw up to Garret. "Wait." She sighed. "That's what Lily always said, and, I'm guessing from the little I've heard over the years, you never corrected her. At least where Nathanial could've heard. Or told him that it's rude to call someone poor. It sounded like you spent almost all of your time travelling on business."
All of the Markses looked down or away. Naomi laughed hollowly. "You wizards have powers beyond my comprehension at your beck and call, and you still get dysfunctional families. I'm guessing Lily didn't help you avoid that pitfall. I thought -- naively, I suppose -- that you'd be above such mortal problems."
Nathanial smiled timidly and met his aunt's eyes. "I-I'm sorry, I'm really s-sorry. I didn't mean to offend or anything, it's just...well, I heard so many times..." He hung his head again. "I don't have much experience interacting with people other than professionally. Money doesn't get talked about. I've never really gone to see other people's places, other than my new friends, either. But, um, we're... Mages are mortal." He wasn't sure if Micah qualified as 'mortal' anymore. Fey were near-immortals and Changelings might be, too. "Even immortals still have family problems, maybe worse ones if the gods are any example."
Garret grimaced. "I'm sorry, Naomi." He sternly spoke to his boys. "Calling people 'poor,' 'pauper,' 'peasant,' or anything else based on perceived income is rude. Talking about money or income is rude, unless you know them very well. Even then it isn't something broached easily. As a note, there are several income brackets used for broad classifications -- not that 'class' exists the same way it used to, or the way it did in Lily's head. We're upper class, Naomi is upper-middle class or middle class, then there is lower middle class, lower class -- not that it's a term used at all -- and 'below the poverty line.' Don't discuss finances or financial classes at all if you even suspect someone falls into the last two. Understood?"
He was answered with a chorus of, "Yes, sir."
Naomi smiled wanly. "Upper-middle class, if you care to know. I'm single, no kids, and I made six figures in salary and overtime last year; barely six figures, but I still broke the line. I live very comfortably. Now, can we just switch topics to something more palatable? I didn't come over to reminisce about the bad qualities my sister and parents had, or whether I'm poor or not."
"I-I'm sorry!" His muzzle blushed furiously when everyone looked at him, his ears laid back in shame. Things got even more uncomfortable for a moment before he cleared his throat and did as his aunt asked. "I... Um, I hope you like Japanese food. The first course is..."Nathanial brought out the salad and miso soup as he described the menu for tonight's meal; he hoped the rest of the evening would go a lot more smoothly as his family started eating.
His aunt looked surprised. "Do you normally make so much food? This seems like too much effort to go through just because one person is coming over for dinner."
Nick snorted. "Nathanial uses anything as an excuse to go all out. He loves cooking, even if he gets too worked up and nearly puts himself in the hospital." The sarcasm in his voice faded into pride. "He's very good; he spent years practicing every chance he got, and he pestered the chef Mom had working for us every day, too. I'd swear that the cook couldn't step into the kitchen without Nats -- ah, Nathanial -- appearing within seconds."
Garret gazed off into the distance for a moment before smiling. "I remember that." Naomi began eating as Garret continued, her eyes widening in delighted amazement after the first mouthful. "There were many times I walked into the kitchen to get a beer or ask a question and saw Nathanial standing on a stool chopping vegetables or watching Susanna do something at the stove. It was funny seeing him look so serious as he studied every motion she made." The smile became a bit fonder when he met Nathanial's eyes. "You still take things a bit too seriously."
Micah nodded emphatically. "Yeah, I keep telling Nats that, too. He needs to have fun."
Nathanial stared at his soup. "I do. Sometimes. But fun has to take a back seat to studying, chores, exercise, school, proper sleep--"
Nick cut him off. "We know. But if your list is so long that you can't find time to have fun, then you need to cut that list down. Staying healthy, physically and mentally, means you need time to relax."
Surprisingly, Naomi quickly agreed. "He's right. At work I'm one of the peer counsellors, and in our training it's emphasized how important taking time for yourself and de-stressing is. Besides, you're still a pup. Have some fun. Are you dating? What about that Wolf you were with? He seemed like a good friend; I hope you take the time to hang out with him and your other friends."
Micah laughed. "He does! He spends lots of time with his boyfriend and friends. Geoff and Faelen and Sensei are here tons. I like them too, and I bet you will when you meet them."
Naomi blushed furiously when Micah outed his eldest brother -- though it was almost impossible to tell under her thick, white fur. However, she merely said, "Geoff is the Wolf? He seemed sweet, and it looked like he worried about you. I'd be very happy to meet him. Is he a Mage too, or at least in the know about your magic?"
Garret spoke before Nathanial could answer, scowling sternly at Micah. "Micah Joel Marks. You should know better than to talk about Nathanial and Geoff around people you don't know very well. It should be Nathanial's choice to bring up the subject when he's ready to trust the person being told."
Naomi nodded, but she spoke kindly. "Your father is right, but I'm not judgemental like many other people are. The union I belong to is very active in promoting basic rights for all people, no matter who they love. While I don't think Nathanial should feel like he has to hide, it should be up to him to decide when to come out."
Garret grimaced. "He needs to hide--"
Naomi looked flabbergasted and exclaimed, "What!? How could you say something so horrible? There's no--"
It was Garret's turn to cut her off. "There's a reason, Naomi. Mages and Spirits -- Geoff isn't a Mage, he's a Spirit -- still say homosexuality is a crime; it's an even worse crime for Spirits and Mages to be together. It gets even more complicated in this case, since Geoff is essentially royalty."
Nathanial sighed morosely, unintentionally drawing Naomi's attention. She smiled sadly and apologised to Garret. "I'm sorry. That does complicate things, but let's change the subject. I don't think we should talk about something so heavy at supper." She turned to Nicholas. "What school do you go to?"
Nick put his chopsticks own on their rest and picked up the small Japanese tea cup. He held it near his chin as he answered. "George Montagu-Dunk Junior High." He seemed to think that sufficient answer and took a drink of his tea.
Garret snorted, shaking his head. "And? Carry on a bit more, Son. Mention your grades, any extra-curricular activities, and so on."
Nick dramatically rolled his eyes but the corners of his mouth quirked up, showing that he enjoyed teasing his father. "Grade nine. Honour roll last year. None." He took another drink of tea as he watched Garret over his cup.
Naomi didn't rise to the bait. "That's impressive. I hope you keep your grades that high this year, too." She didn't try to drag any more information out of him and instead directed her attention to Micah. "What about you, Micah?"
The black and white Akita adopted the same aloof expression Nick had. "Grade six. Top of my year. None." He clapped his paws over his muzzle to try to stop from laughing, but failed. His laughter was contagious and had everyone else joining in. He soon added, "I just started grade six a month ago. Of course, 'cause that's when the school year starts, duh. I really like it, even if they go too slow, and we learn lots of neat things, like electricity and how lightning is just a huge static charge in the clouds kinda like the one we get in our fur when we wear certain clothes or rub our hindpaws on carpet..." He paused to take a quick breath, his paws still gesticulating wildly. "And it gets released all kapow! And zaps stuff that stands really high 'cause it -- Awk!" Nick had reached over and grabbed Micah around the neck, hauling him over to rub his head.
Nick laughed at Micah's insincere struggles. "All right, Sprite. She doesn't need that much detail." He let his baby brother go. "You're smart and like science class. We get it." He was still smiling fondly when he turned to their amused aunt. "Be careful what you ask him; you may get far more detail than you want."
Nathanial kept a straight face. That was probably more true than Naomi thought. He answered the question before it could be directed at him, smiling to show he was joking. "Grade ten. Honour roll. None. Well, none officially. I just started at Dalhousie Collegiate -- I was at George Montagu-Dunk Junior High last year -- and that's where I met Geoff, Faelen, and Liam. They're all in my homeroom. Geoff and Faelen are here to attend school from Ireland, and have only been in Canada for a little over a month and a half, I think. I'm not in any extra-curricular activities, but Dad coaches the soccer team that Geoff and Faelen are on. Outside of school, all of us take kung fu. I take lessons from my friend Liam, while Dad and my brothers take private lessons from the owner of the Jade Lotus kwoon. Uh, a kwoon is a kung fu studio."
Naomi nodded. "I take tai chi; we use the same term. I think it's Chinese. I'm very impressed with all of you; I put a lot of effort into studying and had trouble making the honour roll, so I can appreciate how hard you must be working."
Micah shrugged. "Nah. School is easy. Well, the work is. I find school really hard, having to sit still all day and pretend I'm listening to the teacher go on, and on, and on about stuff that's so simple. It's not like it's magic or something that actually takes some effort." He perked up. "Oh!"
Nathanial cut in. "Not at the table. If she wants to see some of your magic, you can show her later." He directed his question to the table at large. "Is everyone ready for the next course?" Upon general assent, he took the dirty dishes away and levitated the next course in.
Garret looked at the array of sushi with pleased amazement. "This looks very good, Nathanial. Both the rolls and the presentation. I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but your culinary skills are very impressive." The emphasis on 'culinary,' let Nathanial know that his father hadn't forgotten the time he'd left the word out and Nick had taken it -- jokingly -- as a sexual reference.
Naomi agreed. "I think you should be very proud. While miso soup is easy to make, it isn't easy to make well. I thought it was fabulous. The salad balanced it very nicely; most people aren't worried about that sort of thing at all. And these rolls look scrumptious."
Micah chirped, "Yup! You should see all the stuff he did for the gym, too! He did almost all the tiling in the showers! He also made a big stone gate in the back yard! It's very pretty. He even made me a goomba!"
Nathanial ducked his head and stared at the rolls. They did look nice, but his family was going a bit overboard.
Nick chuckled a bit evilly. "Aww, Sprite, you've gone and made Nats all embarrassed. You haven't even gone into how he keeps the kitchen stocked, does all of the bills and bookkeeping, ensures everything in the house is maintained, does all of the laundry, keeps the basement cleaned, helps us with our homework, and keeps all the scheduling for our appointments...along with dozens of other things." Okay, so the chuckle was definitely evil, not just 'a bit' evil.
Naomi shook her head. "So what did Lily do, then? It sounds like Nathanial was doing everything a parent normally does."
Garret sighed. "Is doing. I don't know how he manages it all on top of keeping his grades up. Every time I go to do something, like go over the books, I find he's already done it." He sounded torn between pride and frustration. "I feel superfluous."
Nathanial's quickly looked up at his father, worried. "No, Dad, you aren't!"
Garret grinned. "Calm down. I'd be a fool to leave a paradise like this." He popped a roll into his mouth. "Where else could I get food like this every evening, have all of the work done for me, and have great company? No hotel or resort could match what I have, and, even if they could, why would I leave such great sons?"
'You left before...'
Naomi laughed, oblivious to the thoughts running through Nathanial's head. "I'm getting very jealous, Garret. How much would it take to steal Nathanial from you?"
"You would have to steal him. I couldn't afford what he's worth if someone tried to put a price on him. Or any of my boys."
Nick smirked. "Nice save, Dad." Garret smiled and shrugged. Nick turned to his aunt. "So, you said you don't have pups or a...partner. Are you seeing anyone? What do you do in your spare time?"
"I don't have a boyfriend, no. I read, do some gardening during the summer, travel quite a bit, and I've already mentioned I do tai chi. I... Well, I work a lot of overtime whenever it's offered." She laughed deprecatingly. "I guess I'm pretty boring. I don't even have pets because it'd make it hard to travel."
Nathanial perked up. "Gardening? I have some roses I'd like to put into pots until I can plant them outside next year. Would you be able to help me with that sometime?"
Naomi smiled. "After a supper like this? And saving my life and that of all my co-workers? I'd have to be a real b...bad person to say no. I'd be happy to and I would've been even without the debt I still feel like I owe you."
Nathanial's ears drooped. Was she here only because she felt obligated to be here? "I-I didn't... P-Please, don't do stuff b-because you feel like you h-have to. I didn't help anyone because I wanted people to owe me anything."
She smiled and leaned over to try to put her paw on his shoulder, but he was just out of reach. She just rested her paw on the table near him instead. "I know, Nathanial. That just shows how good of a person you are and makes people even more willing to help without any need for fancy dinners or other repayments. I'd love to help you with anything I can just because you are a sweet young man. No other reason." She sat back and teasingly said, "So, these roses. Am I to guess they're a dozen cut red roses given to you by a certain handsome young Wolf?"
Nick and Micah grinned at Nathanial's obvious pleased embarrassment, though Nick's grin was decidedly more evil, and Micah's was purely delight at how happy the memory seemed to make his eldest brother.
Nathanial was happy remembering how kind and awkward Geoff had been when he gave him the roses -- he had to be reminded to take the roses out from behind his back. "Y-Yes. I only have ten left, though. They're growing really nicely...if oddly. I think the magic in my blood changed them, somehow, after I stuck myself with a thorn."
His aunt picked up the last piece of sushi off her plate. "We can look at them after supper, and, if you want, we could even take a quick trip to Rona to pick up some potting soil and pots. It wouldn't take that much time to plant them." She popped the sushi into her mouth, smiling.
Nathanial felt his tail thwapping against his chair. "That'd be great!" His tail instantly stilled when he noticed Snow wander back into the kitchen to look at the pile of tuna kareage that sat on the counter. *Do you want a plate of food, now, Snow? Will you join us in the dining room or eat in the kitchen?* He felt terrible for forgetting he offered Snow a plate of food.
*We will eat in the room with the flowers; we are enjoying the sight and smell of them. However we are wanting to run in the Dark Plane, so this one will return and one of our smaller selves will take this place.* After saying that, Snow walked into the shadowy staircase and faded out while a Shadow Mastiff a bit under two-thirds his size walked into the sitting room.
*All right. Please, let me know if you want anything.* He quickly set about making a plate for his friend while swapping courses at the table. Nathanial put the finished plate on the coffee table in a place where the Mastiff could eat and still look at the roses.
"This looks really good." Naomi picked up a piece of kareage with her chopsticks. "If it's like the sushi, I'll never be able to set a hindpaw into my favourite Japanese restaurant again. It just won't measure up." Nathanial wasn't sure if she was joking or not, but there was no way that could be true, despite how serious she sounded.
Garret nodded to her. "I know. I used to eat lunch at a restaurant every day I worked in town, but now I hide for the last fifteen minutes before lunch or pretend I'm too busy so I won't have to. The leftovers are almost as good as they are the previous evening."
Micah took a bite of the mushroom tempura and his tail set off so furiously his chair rattled. "Oh, yum! Mushroom, mushroom, mushroom!" He sang the last three words and carried on, "Goomba dance, goomba prance! Little singing mushrooms under the tree." He held the mushroom in his chopsticks and danced it around the edge of his plate. "Chorus loud, chorus proud, beware the Mario fiend! Charging along, ends the song, jumping high." He popped the mushroom into his mouth and said, "Ker-splat!" as he bit down.
Naomi looked torn between laughter and shock. "I'm not sure if that was funny or frightening. Poor mushroom!"
Micah sobered up. "It's just a video game, it's not real. Don't worry, they don't really exist so no one actually gets hurt. Not like the goomba I made. That got squashed under a huge rock." He shrugged sadly. "But it was just magic and not a living creature, so I guess that doesn't count, either."
Nathanial's head snapped up and he looked across the table, past Nicholas, toward the feeder route into the neighbourhood. A piece of tempura fell from his chopsticks, forgotten.
Nicholas looked at him curiously. "What's wrong, Nathanial? Is Geoff in trouble?"
Micah piped up. "Nah, Geoff's house is that way." He pointed off to the side of where Nathanial was staring.
"Nanny is heading this way. I don't sense Poppy, but it's definitely their car, and it's definitely her."
Garret scowled and dropped his chopsticks with a clatter. "Fuck. What does that damned bitch want now?"
Naomi stared at Garret in shock. "Garret! Even I don't talk about my mother like that! Certainly not around pups!"
His muzzle curled up to show all of his teeth. "You don't know her like I do. Your mother is a saint compared to mine."
Naomi looked around, disturbed and shocked. "I'm guessing 'dysfunctional' is an understatement?" Nick shrugged and nodded.
Nathanial shook his head and ate the dropped piece of tempura. "It wouldn't be the first time she drove through the neighbourhood, Dad. If she stops in, I'll talk to her. She is working on something for us." He gave his father a close look and added, telepathically, *She promised to help Nick. I'm willing to do far more than entertain her at a moment's notice to help him. And so are you. You will be polite to her; not barely civil, but polite. Do you understand me, Dad?*
He was answered with a very dirty look, but also with a meek, *Yes.*
Nathanial merrily popped a piece of tuna kareage into his mouth. "Besides, she might have news about your foster brother. She's also looking for him. I think he'll enjoy that visit a lot less than you expect to enjoy this one."
Garret looked a lot happier at the reminder of the fate his foster brother Gordon Ahjee was likely to face if his parents ran into the Persian Cat. Gordon had earned a death mark from the Cabal -- which seemed to be run by Garret's father, though Nathanial wasn't too sure about that -- and had every Demon Mage that belonged to it hunting for him. Nathanial let the conversation flow around him as he focused on the car.
The Ferrari four fifty-eight Spider was driving down their road and pulled up to the gate. Nathanial opened it even before she finished the turn, and the car purred up their long driveway. His nanny hopped out of the car as soon as she parked it behind Naomi's Civic. The elderly Akita wore loose slacks and a mid-length brown cashmere coat tied snugly around her waist. Her demonic focus, the ivory pendant, hung around her neck. Even examining it in such a cursory fashion made Nathanial's stomach churn.
He opened the door and sent a quick message to her as she sprang lightly up the front steps. *We're in the informal dining room having supper, Nanny. Naomi is here.* He turned to his littlest brother. "Micah, Nanny is just wiping her hindpaws. Go fetch her, please." He turned to the Fox while Micah bounced off his chair and dashed out of the room. "Aunt Naomi, could you please scooch over a bit? I'm going to set her a place, just in case she wants a bit of food." He brought out a place setting, including a glass for the sake...ah, nihonshu. Sake was just a lot easier to say -- sah-keh.
His grandmother smiled and took off her coat. *I didn't mean to interrupt supper, but Garret has been quite obstinate, so I decided it was best to just come over.*
Nathanial gave his father the evil eye. *About what? If it's about Nick, just call me, though Dad should be better behaved from now on.*
Rosemary laughed, then gave Micah a big hug and kiss when he skipped toward her. "There's my darling little grandson!"
"Hi, Nanny! Nats sent me to escort you to the dining room! Aunt Naomi is here, too! Maybe someday we can have a big family dinner, with you and Poppy, Aunt Naomi, um, Dad's sister -- I don't know her name -- and her family, and my grandfather, and even Geoff's family! Except the alpha. He was mean, well, more a jerk than actually mean."
Rosemary looked a little sad, despite her smile. "That sounds lovely, but my daughter, Martina, wouldn't join us. She's severed all contact with me many years ago. Gordon was the only one to keep in touch after moving out and now..." She shook her head. "The Fates can be very cruel."
Micah glowered up at her. "Gordon chose to do all that, Nanny. You never saw his girlfriend lying by a pool of blood, or heard her--"
Rosemary cut him off by hugging him, again. "Shh, shh... I know, Micah, I know. Just, please, don't talk about that. If I ever see him again, he's going to die, horribly, but I don't like thinking about it. I was more lamenting the fact that it had to be him that caused so much trouble."
Micah still seemed annoyed but shrugged it off and opened the door to the dining room. Nathanial knew how Micah felt; would she have preferred it if Garret was the one getting hunted by the Cabal? She'd rather kill off her children-by-blood than the adopted child who left his brother in the clutches of a Nosferatu for a year -- intentionally left him! Still, Nathanial needed her help.
He stood up. "Nanny." He stepped over and gave her a hug. "It's great to see you." He gestured to his aunt. "I believe you already know Naomi McKay. Aunt Naomi, this is Rosemary Marks." He shot his father a telling look when Rosemary nodded and murmured niceties to Naomi.
Nicholas stood and hugged his grandmother. Garret also stood and actually sounded civil. "Mother, this is quite a surprise. Please, have a seat." He gestured to the chair by Naomi. "Can I get you any rice wine? Tea? We're in the middle of supper if you care to join us, Mother."
Rosemary gaped at him for a moment before composing herself. "Garret? Are you feeling all right?"
Garret's smile became frostier but didn't slip at all. "Of course, Mother. But, please, Nathanial put a lot of work into the food and it shouldn't be left out so long. Sit."
Rosemary smiled at Nathanial and sat. "It looks and smells wonderful. Tempura and...kareage? What type of meat is it?" She passed her cup over to her son to fill with wine. They chatted about the food for a few minutes; Naomi was very impressed by everything, and Rosemary accepted a small serving of the current course.
Rosemary bit into the tuna and silently contemplated it for nearly half a minute. "Wonderful. The contrast in the textures from the exterior to the delicate centre is phenomenal. The meat almost melts in the middle. And the flavour! I need to come by more often." She smiled in delight as she ate the rest of the piece, but she didn't miss Garret's smile suddenly turn sickly. "Hah! I knew it. I figured Nathanial threatened you into behaving. Now, out with it, boy... No, not at the table. Just sit there and carry on the charade; it's a pleasant change. I wish it wasn't an act, but when you get to be my age you learn to accept these things."
Garret's eyes glittered in his set face. "Very well, Mother, but perhaps next time you'll give us advance notice so we can prepare."
Rosemary snorted. "Prepare what? A cannon at the door? An army of Knights? Smarten up, Garret. I called several times over the last week and left messages each time. I can't very well give you advance notice if you won't talk to me."
Naomi looked extremely tense as the atmosphere continued to get frostier. "Should...I leave? I can come back some other day."
Garret and Rosemary turned to her and snapped, "Nonsense." They glared at each other.
Nathanial sighed and tossed his napkin onto the table. "Stop it, now. Nanny, if you need to talk to someone about visiting or have any news pertaining to this family--" He waved a finger to indicate everyone at the table. "--then call me. Dad, behave. You deal with problematic customers all the time; you can deal with your own mother for the duration of a single meal. Now, apologise to Naomi, both of you."
Rosemary's eyes twinkled in amusement as she faced the Fox. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't let family squabbles interfere with such a splendid meal or bother other guests. It won't happen again."
Garret's eyes glittered more than twinkled, but he was similarly apologetic. "Mother is right. That wasn't fair to you or Nathanial. I'm sorry."
Naomi nodded cautiously. She spoke slowly, obviously uncertain as to whether to trust them on this matter. "That's all right, really. I understand family issues like this; you both know very well how I get along with my parents."
Nathanial picked his napkin back up and finished his tempura. Nick and Micah were done and fidgeting ever so slightly as they waited for the next course; they hated this type of dinner, despite loving the food that came with it. As long as it was his food. They were miserable the times they were forced to sit at the kids table for the two very large, catered, banquets Lily took them to. It was open to the kids as well, so she knew it'd raise too many questions if she never allowed them to go to any, but after the second one she decided leaving them at home was worth it. Her ready -- and very true -- excuse was that they hated banquets. Anyway, it looked like everyone else was nearly done this course, so he took away all of the empty dishes.
"Aunt Naomi." He paused until she looked at him. "I never saw our uncle and aunt at the funeral. Weren't they supposed to show? Your father seemed certain they would."
She chuckled and shook her head. "He would be. No, my brother had sworn long ago that the only time he'd see your..." She froze, horrified.
Garret snorted and tossed back the last of the wine in his cup. "See me. Calm down, Naomi. I know he hates me. The feeling is mutual. Now, what's the next course again, Nathanial?"
"Curry beef stir fry and a side of goma-ae, which is a spinach salad with sesame dressing." He felt pretty sad to hear his father talk like that. "Doesn't anyone in either side of my family get along?"
Rosemary leaned over to take his paw in hers. "We all love you, Nathanial. Everyone here, at least. Garret and Martina always seemed pretty chummy."
Nathanial's stomach sank. 'Seemed? She doesn't know that they haven't talked since Micah was born, except when Dad told her Mom was dead?'
Garret shook his head. "No, we haven't talked in decades; not really, anyway. We had nothing in common except our feelings for you and everything magical. No one on the Markses' side got along, except you two and Gordon. I wasn't liked by any of the McKays, either, though Naomi and I barely exchanged more than greetings whenever our paths crossed, which wasn't often."
Naomi shrugged and nodded her agreement, silently confirming the sad state of affairs for her side, too.
Rosemary picked her purse up. "New topic, everyone. Naomi, dear, you work at the airport." She drew out several clippings of newspapers, including a few cover pages of some tabloids. "Could you explain these?"
The papers were all about the hostage situation and the commando team that captured all the terrorists alive, without any hostage getting hurt. The headlines of the tabloids boldly exclaimed things like, 'The Pup of Tragedy Turns Hero!' or 'CSIS Wunderkind? Attacks On Pup May Have Been Part of International Espionage Intrigue.' Or even 'Commando Cub! Pup Stops Terrorists Weeks After Saving Brothers From Thugs!' Several of the tabloids had sketches that looked remarkably like him; one had some stills from a security camera in the control tower that showed his face, even if it was a little blurry.
Naomi laughed in obvious delight. "These are wonderful! I never saw any of them; I've been purposely avoiding any sort of media about it -- it's still too raw -- but I seem to have missed some great stories." She beamed over at Nathanial. "Yes, that's him. He brought a group of...Knights? That's what you called them, right? Knights Templar?" Nathanial nodded, prompting her to shake her head. "God, it's like all those Illuminati stories are coming true. Anyway, he led a team of Knights and took out all of the people holding us hostage. He even stopped a rocket that was going to shoot down an Air Canada flight."
Rosemary seemed nonplussed by the confirmation that her grandson had worked together with Knights. She gazed flatly at him. "Knights. You worked with the Knights Templar. Do you know how dangerous those thugs are?"
Nathanial smiled timidly, but met her gaze evenly. "I've worked with people considered a whole lot more dangerous, Nanny."
Rosemary smiled broadly. "Fair point, pup. Just be careful, please, I don't want you getting hurt." She turned back to Naomi and flipped through several clippings showing the Fox her favourites. Gales of laughter followed as they read some very outrageous claims, but they still found time to eat their food.
Micah couldn't contain himself after a few minutes of levity. "Hey! No fair! Please, can I see them, too? Nats told us about it but I want to see what's so funny. He left a lot of stuff out, I bet. He doesn't like to talk about hurting people."
Nathanial protested. "I only shot two people! And they weren't even lethal shots."
Naomi seemed to find that idea disturbing. "You shot people? And you sound like it's normal, other than the fact that the shots were non-lethal. Does this mean you've...killed people? You-- You're a pup! You're what? Sixteen? And you've killed people!?"
Nathanial cringed at the obvious horror in her voice. "I killed Mom." Naomi started shaking her head in growing disbelief as Nathanial continued. "I killed the people working with her, too, when they tried to kill Nick and Mike. I've killed lots of Knights and Hunters -- the Hunters are the more hardcore faction of the Knights. The Hidden World, the world of magic, is dangerous and, for some reason, the leader of the Knights has it in for me. Not all of them are bad, though; the ones I rescued you with are really great guys. They put saving lives above waging pointless wars. I don't like killing, but I won't let anyone hurt my family. No matter who they are."
Rosemary gently took and patted Naomi's paw. "There's a reason we try to let the fewest number of relatives know about magic as possible. Lily should never have told you, or anyone else in your family. It's dangerous. The more you know about our world the more likely you are to run into trouble."
Naomi's haunted eyes sought out Nick and Micah's, but both looked away. Nick looked close to getting ill as he remembered the Hunter he killed burning to ash. She looked at Garret, pleading him to tell her otherwise.
He sighed and shrugged. "I've never killed, Naomi, but that's because I've done the smart thing and avoided magic and magic has generally avoided me once I moved out of my parents' place. I tried to keep my boys as far from it as I safely could, but when the Fates decide on something..." He shot a venomous look at his mother. "Or when family brings their Demons to your doorstep, there's nothing you can do to prevent some sort of trouble." Garret seemed to be taking a risk, but most people would assume 'demons,' in this case, were the lower case kind and could mean any sort of problem.
Rosemary snorted. "Always so quick to lay blame, Garret. You were pretty lax with your responsibilities--"
Nathanial slammed his paw on the table. "Enough!" Silence fell suddenly on the room. "We've been through this. I'm sorry, Naomi. I couldn't let anyone hurt my brothers. No matter the reason they showed up, no matter who was or was not responsible. Mom tried to sell us out to the Hunters, I fought back against them, and she got killed in the fighting. She wasn't a hero, and she didn't even try to redeem herself like I pretended in the story. I'm sorry. She was your sister, so I know it must be hard to hear, but she died because of me. I killed her."
Naomi sobbed quietly. "I don't care about how she died. She was a bitch. It's you. You're a pup! You sound so cold and you're still a little pup."
Rosemary put her arm around the Fox. "Shh. Just be glad he found the strength to fight back, dear. I'd rather have gone to Lily's funeral and hear him talk like this than have to go to his funeral and that of his brothers." Naomi nodded quickly, still crying, but she did start to calm down.
Garret took a mouthful of stir-fry before adding. "For what it's worth, it disturbs me to hear him talk like that, too. He's serious. No one messes with his brothers or anyone else he cares about. Any other time he's as sweet as they come."
Nick choked back a snort of laughter and changed the subject. Thankfully, he kept his comment clean. "This is really good food, Nathanial. I wish the curry was a bit spicier, though. It's been very mild all the way through."
"I didn't know if Aunt Naomi liked spicy food."
Naomi dried her eyes with a tissue Rosemary gave her. "I do. Um, but back to the earlier topic, is there any way I can protect myself? This whole thing has really scared me. What if they, whoever 'they' are, come after me? I know about magic and some stuff about your world now."
Rosemary smiled grimly. "Not unless you want to join the thugs chasing Nathanial."
Nick jumped in even before Nathanial could. He snorted derisively, sounding just like his father and grandfather. "Hardly." Rosemary hid a smile, but Nick didn't notice. "She could join the Monks." He turned his attention to his aunt. "We know some people who belong to an organization called the Monks of something-or-other; they're like the Knights but they want peace between the magic and mundane worlds. It's mostly martial arts stuff, very little in the gunslinging department from what I know, but they know ways of using their natural energy to do some pretty amazing things. It's like a wuxia film in real life. They can run on water, leap amazing heights, and many other things, from what I hear."
His grandmother grimaced. "Smith-sensei. That's who you're talking about, isn't it. He's dangerous, but yes, he probably knows many people who could teach her...if she wants to spend a long time learning how to punch things. I'd recommend getting a gun. Neither one would be much help against a Vampire or anything else with magic. At least if she was with the Knights she'd be safe from them and the Hunters, and, really, they cause more problems than everything else combined." She turned to Naomi. "You've lived this long without running into trouble; you're not much more likely to find it now than you were last year. I wouldn't worry too much."
Naomi steeled herself and said, "I want to meet him. This Smith-sensei. I already take tai chi, so I bet I can learn their style, too."
Garret smiled. "Then I'll take you to my next kung fu lesson and introduce you to some Monks -- not Sensei, but people he trusts. They can talk to you about joining or even just give you more information than we have."
Naomi smiled, relieved, and dinner resumed.