Chapter 136: Bonds of Blood
Liam climbed out of Jeff's minivan at the gate of Nathanial's home and retrieved his instruments. "Thank you kindly for the lift, Mrs Walker." He then bowed his head to Jeff, one of the few children at school he held some measure of respect for. "I shall see you at school tomorrow, Walker."
The younger Lab smiled and opened his mouth, but his mother, a slightly...vacant Golden Lab, sprightly called, "Bye-bye! Have fun with your friend!" and began driving off, her vehicle's back door still ajar. Liam quickly shut the door of the van before she drove out of reach. He could see the Chocolate Lab look back and shrug apologetically. It appeared they would not be driving far; Liam had learnt that the Walkers lived around the corner from the Markses. Jeff was most delighted to find that his hero lived so close.
Trotting up the lane, Liam noticed that the Porsche was present and the SUV was not; that female must be working on analysing Garret's blood and re-examining Nathanial's, while the Spirits had likely gone home to avoid her. He wished he could do the same. If his paws were free, Liam most likely would have rubbed his forehead in a vain attempt at easing the pressure therein. First Betty and now her.
The Ancient One felt Nathanial watching him as he diverted from the driveway. "I shall enter from the back, Nathanial, and drop my instruments off in your room. Then I shall begin my study of Garret's blood."
*Good. Nanny just finished examining Dad's sample, and she was getting a little snippy about not being able to draw my blood without you here.* Liam could almost feel Nathanial rubbing the inside of his left elbow where the blood had been taken last night. He sounded tired as he continued. *It seems like she noticed some changes -- of course, unexplained ones -- in Dad's blood. The antiphag...no, um, macrophages are more numerous, and there are some types of antibodies she hadn't noted in the tests from years ago. Oh, um, I have some stuff for you to study, too. I...secretly copied all the notes from her notebook in case she's holding stuff back.*
Liam felt his heart race in excitement, both from the news of his friend's subterfuge -- he had not expected the sweet Akita to show such delightful deviousness -- and the revelation of another mystery to gnaw on. Granted, he suspected Garret's change was a direct result of Nathanial's...peculiarities. That would be a good place to start from, anyway. What plane, be it an alternate one or an outer/elemental one, could Nathanial have subconsciously tapped into to affect his father? Why would it have affected Garret and not, say, Nicholas? Or did it? Could the Elemental Plane of Darkness do this, and would the strength of Nicholas's vampiric markers be the result of inheritance and the influence of the plane?
An initial test would be for Liam to see if he noted any changes in Garret; he had examined the Demon Mage's blood prior to cleansing him, which was well before Garret had spent any amount of time with his son. As Liam trotted past the pool, he looked in the patio door and saw the blackened roses. They had spent little time with Nathanial, too, but their changes were most pronounced. Could dangling Garret over the portal leading to the maw of one of those worms have been sufficient to provoke a change? Had Garret been bombarded by some mystical Dark energy as he would be if he stood by an unshielded nuclear reactor? So many questions. Hmm, then what of Faelen? He stood next to one such portal for a longer time, long enough to cause bleeding lesions to form. Would he, too, show such markers?
Liam pondered and thought, and then pondered some more as he made his way inside. He stopped partway to the door to the living area. Nathanial sat by the workbench with his schoolwork laid out before him, while his grandmother paced between him and the wards. No sounds could be heard otherwise; the younger Markses must have gone to their kung fu class despite their father's absence.
The two instrument cases tugged against his paws, so Liam let them float away. Nathanial sighed and rolled up his sleeve. "Hi, Liam. How did it go?" That female sniffed and shaved a spot of fur away from her grandson's right elbow. Nathanial looked beseechingly toward the heavens. "Betty give you trouble?"
Liam trotted over to his array of reagents. "Some. She has a sharp tongue. It did not endear her to the others. It went relatively well; both Jeff and Betty wish to learn Kaoru-sama's piece. I find myself hopeful that Jeff succeeds while Betty fails. It would irk her greatly." That female placed a freshly drawn blood sample into the middle of the wards and knelt down with a stifled groan; kneeling for so long yesterday, at her age no less, had most likely caused her legs to become stiff and sore. Liam ignored her and her discomfort and picked up a vial of Garret's blood. "Otherwise, my selections were divvied up so they can begin practicing." The Ancient One paused before unsealing the vial. "How fare you? Has your grandmother checked your status?"
That female likewise paused, though her paws were raised in preparation of drawing the sigils. "Yes, he's recovering his magic remarkably fast. I have trouble believing he was capable of depleting himself to such dangerous levels, but..." She trailed off and shrugged. "He's otherwise much the same as last night." In other words, she did not notice much improvement or degradation to his heart.
The healer turned his head to observe his patient, who had just sat down nearby to resume studying. "I do not know if you should go to school tomorrow. You have your appointment to go to, so you would only be there for your pre-lunch classes. French and art, yes?"
Nathanial's shoulders slumped. "Yeah. I'm having trouble in art, but I don't see how being there or not will help my grades. French... Well, I'm doing alright there. It's stupid that I need an art credit to graduate. How the hell is doodling a measurement of my academic achievement? It's irrelevant to almost everything!"
His grandmother chuckled. "You'd be surprised, Nathanial. In biology, you need to be able to draw. In several of my courses at university while studying to be a nurse, I needed to draw diagrams as well as pictures of autopsies. In engineering and architecture, you need to draw, too. I could cite many more examples, but you probably get the drift."
The Rottie leant over to pat the young Akita's shoulder. "There is also the non-academic purpose. By exposing students to a variety of art forms -- be they musical, visual, or performance -- it is opening them up to a new world and may provide someone with a love they may never have found otherwise. How often does one sculpt after kindergarten? Children are discouraged from such 'childish' things between puphood and the latter part of their teen years. I am also a firm believer that everyone should have a creative outlet; talent is irrelevant in that case, for it is only enjoyment that matters. If you like to draw, draw. If you like to sing, do so with all of your heart. If your body cries out to move when music is on, then set it free and dance."
That female drily added, "But if you really suck, then you may want to keep it as a personal activity and enjoy it in private. You can still have fun and cut loose without torturing everyone around you."
Liam felt torn. He both agreed and disagreed with that comment; having taught Muireann to play the violin, he understood all too well how torturous a poorly played instrument could be, but everyone 'sucked' when learning a new art. It took practice, much practice, to get beyond that.
Nathanial scowled and tossed his pencil down on his math book. "Fine, but it shouldn't be able to kill my grade average! That's just not fair!"
The pup's grandmother stood up and walked over to rub his shoulders. "Don't worry, dear. It's art class. As long as they think you're trying, you'll get a decent grade. No one who's actually turned in their work has ever failed the class."
"I know, but there's a huge difference between 'not failing' and maintaining my average. Universities won't look at my average and calculate what it'd be without art and gym in there." He held up a paw as both Liam and that female opened their muzzles. "Yeah, yeah. That's a long time off, I know. I'll try to not let it bug me."
His grandmother released him and spoke as she walked back to her pillow. "Careful, dear; you're starting to sound like your father."
The muscles along the younger Akita's jaw twitched, but he said nothing and resumed working. Neither of the other two said anything else and began their own projects.
Liam poured the blood into the bowl and peered at it as he studied the energies yet within it. Like Nicholas, there was no redeveloping Taint, though it was far less likely for Garret to experience such a thing, as he appeared to avoid exposure to any magic whatsoever. The Ancient One took five millilitres of blood from the bowl and placed it in a small porcelain dish. A tiny droplet of a compound distilled from a mukade centipede's venom quickly killed off the remaining vestiges of life, and a grain of powdered frog mucus neutralized the venom to prevent it from going on to damage the sample. Now that the vestiges of life were gone, the healer slowly replicated the process of removing those safeguards he had found in Nicholas's blood -- the ones that kept it from reacting to Liam's chi. He analysed the results of each step, seeking to determine if he could draw comparisons between it and what that female had recorded from her spell work in regards to the magical immune system. He believed he could not.
It appeared that, instead of unlocking something within the macrophages, he had split open those altered red blood cells. Once they were split open, the copious magic within spilt out, but there were no longer any macrophages to consume the demonic energy. If this were the case...
The Rottie shook his head before forcing himself to continue the thought. 'If this is indeed true, then it is Garret's own resistance that is keeping him from becoming a terrifyingly powerful Demon Mage. His own blood, once spilt -- no, perhaps he would not even need to spill it -- would power him immensely. There is great magic locked within him and kept locked there by that same magic.' Without the macrophages, and perhaps the other components of his immune system, Garret would Turn himself almost immediately. This was not something he would share with anyone, except, perhaps, Garret himself. Liam internally shuddered at the thought of what would happen should the paternal Marks suffer impairment to his immune system. AIDS was not a pleasant disease at the best of times, but in this case... That, of course, may be irrelevant, as his blood differed so much that the virus may not be able to function within it.
The Ancient One looked at the small pool of blood and decided to measure its power. Having experienced the power within Nicholas's blood, he sat back and half-closed his eyes before channelling some of his chi down a bamboo skewer.
The brilliant flash of light still hurt his eyes, and the shriek of burning Demon essence hurt his ears. The bowl shattered from the sudden flare of heat and sound, sending shards of porcelain across the counter. Both Akita stared at him in shock, though that female demonstrated extreme control by managing to continue her casting without hitch. It likely spoke of extensive combat experience on her part.
Liam picked several bits of bowl off his clothing and placed them on the counter. "That was rather unexpected." His voice was oddly muffled to his ears, and he had trouble hearing the clink of porcelain over the ringing therein. He sent a bit of extra chi to his ears to correct the issue.
Nathanial stuck a finger in his left ear and waggled it a bit before withdrawing it and asking, "Eh? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you." The pup grinned a bit nervously. "Joke. Gods, that was loud. What happened?"
Liam leant over and placed his paws over the pup's ears for a moment and stopped them from ringing, too. "Your father has far more demonic energy in his blood than Nicholas. I burnt a larger sample, yes, but I did not truly expect it to scale up in such a manner. It took me quite by surprise." It reminded him of that patch of bloody soil within the Public Gardens. Garret's rather tiny blood sample had more energy within than that did by a factor of...three? Perhaps four.
That female frowned and shook her head, but continued on with her spell. She appeared to be two-thirds of the way done, so she would be speaking soon.
Liam turned back to the larger bowl with the pool of blood in it. He resumed his study, focusing on comparing it to the sample he had looked at when cleansing the Demon Mage.
Three minutes later, the elderly Demon Mage finished casting her spell and copying down the results. She twisted upon her cushion to loosen the muscles in her lower back. "So, you mean to tell me Garret -- stupid, magicless, Garret -- is actually not that magicless?"
Liam frowned at the bowl as Nathanial frowned at his books. "He has extraordinary amounts of magic within him. You know this. Why else would that Demon you summoned have kept him prisoner for so long? Just because he has magic in him does not mean it is magic he can use." Indeed, as Liam spent more time looking at Garret's blood, the more it amazed him that he was still...him. The vampiric elements were ridiculously powerful, more so than in his children, as expected, rivalling those in Nathanial's most vampiric sample. Garret should not have haemophobia, he should have haemophilia -- in the 'love of blood' meaning of the word. Indeed, Liam would not have been surprised if Garret was as addicted to blood-drinking as Nicholas was to sex, based on what he saw. It was fortunate his magical immune system was so powerful. Perhaps that was a means of 'fixing' Nicholas; boost his immune system and let it suppress the demonic aspect of his sex drive. It may, however, also work as it did on his father and suppress his magic. If it worked solely on his Demon magic, that would be a highly beneficial side effect...and one that may be worth keeping secret until after the fact.
He barely noted her disbelieving expression. Nathanial did not. "Why do you look so suspicious, Nanny? You guys tested him right after his imprisonment. You know that no one, not even a Marks, should have survived that without Turning. Maybe he couldn't block all that Demon influence, and his macrophage things locked it up where it couldn't hurt him. Maybe he was affected more than you realized, but those antibodies kept it hidden from all your magic. No one knows how this family's resistance works."
She nodded reluctantly and muttered to herself. "Maybe I should get him to check my blood like that; there's no way Garret could be more powerful than Wallace or me." The two teens both heard her words and ignored them. Instead, they all returned to their various tasks.
Liam stood in Nathanial's basement facing the unofficial portal entryway -- the blank space of wall between Nathanial's and Nicholas's bedrooms. It was now Wednesday afternoon and time for the Cork O'Conalls to arrive. As there was a crowd who should be present to meet them, and a greater crowd coming over, Nathanial had insisted all on this side to stand back by the stairs. He even had Nicholas create a box of heatless flame to mark out a 'do not stop' area, and ensured the O'Conalls knew to move through swiftly, without pause. The powerful Mage most obviously feared the arrival of more Things. The Ancient One also feared them, but not as Nathanial seemed to. His fear seemed far deeper, more primal in nature, but that may be because he somehow subconsciously understood what they actually were and what threat they presented.
All of the Halifax Spirits showed subtle signs of stress, as did Dad, who -- despite Liam's expectations -- suddenly changed his mind at the last moment and decided he greatly desired to be present to meet Liam's old family. The stress was understandable, and Liam knew he felt much the same way, though he took great care to hide it. Yet, in those moments of distraction, his muscles began to tense up once more. The Monk took a second to will all of his muscles to relax and set his consciousness to a mindful meditation.
Faelen leant over and whispered, "How do you do that?"
Liam quirked the corner of his mouth up. "Practice. Much practice."
The long-awaited phone call caused all but Liam and Micah to jump. Nathanial even squeaked and latched onto his tail before sorting himself out. The trembling Mage retrieved his phone and answered it. "H-Hello?"
Little Danny spoke, "Hi, Nathanial. We're ready here."
"A-Alr-right. Remember to hang up before coming through, and no one can stop moving until they cross the line." Nathanial closed his eyes and raised his shaking paws before him; the paws no longer shook from stress, but in deep concentration and effort. Liam could feel the pressure of gathered magic power this time; it was far more than the pup had ever used consciously in Liam's presence, making his breathing feel notably more difficult. That he even noticed such a thing warned him that lesser beings could find themselves collapsing should they be nearby if Nathanial replicated this exercise. The weight of this raw power suddenly abated as the flicker of a portal formed on the far side of the large room, and in less than a second, the rift to the far side of the Atlantic swirled open.
Aedan flicked his phone shut and grabbed a suitcase. "Move!"
Ciaran dashed through with the two women that comprised his family close behind; they did not pause but moved ahead and to the left, toward the washroom door. Behind the three came Aedan, his wife, and his adult daughter, or so Liam assumed, and they turned off to the right. Aoife, Lorie, an unknown black-furred male Spirit, and finally Den and his family finished up the stream of Wolves as they fanned out in front. It almost looked as if they'd rehearsed the move, as they each stopped just beyond the line of fire with no one interfering with the other.
The portal winked shut, and Nathanial walked forward, flanked by Conor and Dirk. "Welcome to Canada. My name is Nathanial Marks. As we have a large group on each side, I'll just introduce those you don't know." Nicholas stepped forward as Nathanial motioned toward him. "This is my younger brother Nicholas --" Micah bounced up to stand beside the middle Marks waving cheerfully. "--and this is my youngest brother, Micah." Nathanial held his palm up as he gestured to Dad and then Liam. "These are Walter and Liam Smith."
The unknown male Wolf, presumably Ainbertach, as Ciaran had a daughter and Aedan's other child was also a girl, whispered to his aunt, "Why are the Furs here? Do they have something to do with why we're all here?"
The Leaf Spirit whispered back, "Later."
Lorie walked to a point halfway between the two groups. Nathanial quickly trotted up to meet her once he realized she wasn't just separating herself from the group to be a 'spokesperson.' The aging Spirit took his paws in her own and kissed his cheeks. "Thank you for extending your hospitality, Nathanial, and allowing us to meet here." She released his paws with a smile; his embarrassment seemed to amuse her. She nodded to those beyond him. "My name is Lorena O'Conall. I was Lowell's wife." Aedan, his wife, and his daughter stepped up in a group as she named them. "Aedan is my eldest, and this is his wife, Sorcha, and his youngest child, Roisin. Over here is..." Ciaran's family moved to stand next to Aedan's. "...my..." Her breath caught for a moment. "...third child, Ciaran. With him is his wife, Eirne, and daughter, Draighean." Aoife smiled warmly at Liam as she joined the loose row. "This is my youngest, Aoife." Finally the married grandchild and great-grandchildren came forward. "Here is Aedan's eldest, Faedan, with his wife, Tuathla, and daughter, Kiera. Then, we have M-Muireann's only child..." The suddenly emotional mother paused to try to unobtrusively dab away a tear. "...Ainbertach."
Ainbertach's fur was nearly pure black, though there were stray strands of silver fur on his face which became more concentrated along his throat. He stood a hair taller than Aoife and showed a bit of extra weight in his face and around his stomach, though less than Walter did.
Liam studied his family for a moment. All except Lorie and Kiera wore somewhat dressy clothes. The men wore slacks, button-up shirts, and ties. Liam did note that Ciaran wore his coat.
The women wore a more...disparate set of clothing. Aoife's clothes were much the same style as Avery often wore: slacks, a blouse, and little jewellery. Sorcha wore a full three-quarter length skirt; the length appeared modest, yet the amount of leg shown highlighted her above-average height -- equal to Faelen. Her dark grey and sandy brown fur blended with the earth-tone colouration of her clothing and golden jewellery, indeed the large amber pendant she wore matched her eyes splendidly. Roisin wore similar clothing as her mother and stood between Faelen and Geoff in height. Her colouration was a touch unusual: the top of her head and presumably along her back had dark grey fur most similar to Aedan's, which faded to a similar shade of light fur around her ears and eyes, but then she appeared to take after her mother and the light grey fur mixed with sandy brown close to her muzzle, which became the dominant colour along the throat. Eirne and Draighean both outshone Ciaran with hip-hugging skirts that fell to just below the knee and blouses that allowed their ample attributes to appeal to...those who desired such things. Both had a base coat of rusty ochre, with pale cream on the front, but Draighean showed she was her father's daughter by also exhibiting some dusty grey fur mixed in with the cream. The younger Spirit wore a moss-green blouse, a gold and jade necklace, and a reddish-brown skirt. Her mother wore goldenrod and pumpkin. Finally, Kiera. She stood out far more than the other ladies, and not just due to her height. She wore deep brown leather pants, her cream-coloured leather bomber jacket, and a teal shirt; Liam could not tell if it was a t-shirt or not as the sleeves were covered by the jacket, but it had no buttons. Liam noted that Nicholas's eyes dwelt upon her far more than anyone else, even Den.
Lorie, dear Lorie... Her memory rivalled that of an Ancient One. Her ankle-length dress was a recreation of the dress she wore on the day Lowell asked for her paw. Full of skirt, tight of bodice; the dusty rose silk flowed around her, hiding and revealing the cherry wood coloured accents in the skirt. Her short-brimmed 'Mousquetaire' style hat, similar to a feminine version of a coachman's, was of wool felt dyed the same cherry wood as the accents in her skirt and decorated with a cream bow.
With the introductions complete, the two groups moved together to shake paws and exchange pleasantries. Soon, Liam found himself facing his former wife with his current father standing beside him. "It's a pleasant evening, isn't it, Miss O'Conall?" He took the offered paw and raised it to his lips.
Her voice shook ever so slightly as she repeated almost verbatim the words of oh-so long ago. "Why, yes it is, Mr. Smith. I trust you find the quiet here to your liking?"
He hooked her paw into the crook of his elbow and turned toward his father. "It's a very pleasant change from London, and I believe I found a reason to stay even longer." Her eyes misted over, but she did not object when Liam's switched topics. "Lorie, my darling, please allow me to introduce Walter Smith, my father."
He released her paw to let them greet one another. Walter did not release her paw immediately, but cupped it in both of his. "Are you alright, ma'am?" He looked between the two. "I know it can be hard on Liam when the ghosts of his past rear up." The older Rottie hesitated. "I've...also heard about your daughter; I want to offer my sincere condolences."
The mist in her eyes condensed into large tears which she wiped away with an embroidered handkerchief. "I... It's not easy, I can't deny that, and...as a parent, you..."
Walter squeezed her paw and let it go. "I do; there were several occasions I thought I was close to losing Liam. I'm terribly sorry for your loss." Liam had not known his father feared so greatly and wondered when those times were.
Aoife looked over from her brief conversation with Micah and appeared to see an opportunity to join them. She rubbed the Changeling's ear in parting and trotted over. "Mama?"
Walter fished out a tissue and passed it to Liam; the Ancient One was shocked to find his own tears had begun to soak a path through the fluff on his cheeks. 'Muiry, my beautiful Muiry.'
Lorie cleared her throat. "We were just--"
Liam registered nothing else of what she said. There, faintly discernable within the chaotic emanations of so much energy swirling about the room, was that...? His paw reached toward his daughter of its own volition. Yes. Without a doubt. He burst out laughing, silencing all nearby. "Ah, lass! My sweet Aoife! Congratulations!" He picked her up and spun her about.
The shock on her face almost sent Lowell back to the shadows, but her paw drifted to her belly as understanding dawned. A sob exploded from her and her knees gave way. "Really!? You mean it!?" Lowell lowered her to the floor and squeezed her tight as she cried and laughed uncontrollably in happiness.
Lorie shrieked and dropped to her knees to hug her daughter in delight. "Aoife! That's wonderful!" The room exploded in rapturous celebration since most knew of the cause or soon learnt of it. The few exceptions were Ainbertach, Nicholas, Faelen, and... Geoff, the poor lad, had become overwrought, yes, but not in joy. He looked much closer to fainting than cheering. The middle Marks did not understand what such an event meant to the Spirits, while Ainbertach appeared to have been kept in the dark about almost everything. The black-furred Wolf was certainly pleased for his aunt, but his confusion over everything that was happening, particularly Liam's exclamation and Geoff's near-fainting, muted his celebratory mood. It appeared he was the only Spirit who also wondered how Liam could know whether she was pregnant.
The healer pushed the echo of his past life aside and, with a clearer head, he understood that a pregnancy at such an early stage was extremely fragile. He had been far too quick to create such a scene; modern studies showed that half of all Fur pregnancies resulted in a miscarriage, often before the potential mother even realized she had conceived. And he would wager almost anything that Spirit percentages were worse. Yet the joy in the room, particularly that of Aoife, Lorena, and Ciaran, kept him from speaking. Just seeing the look upon the face of his younger son and...only daughter as they hugged amidst the vast swirl of their family, a family that had moved on without him--
Liam turned away, consumed by doubts about the logic of reintegrating himself into the hearts of his long-lived kin, to seek out Geoff so that he might provide assistance to the poor lad.
'How many times will I die and be born again before my newest grandchild grows old? Could I put him or her through the torment Ciaran endured after my last death?'
Faelen nearly swooned when he felt an explosion of elation come from Liam and found himself engulfed in the resulting fragrance that flooded from every -- almost every -- Spirit around him; he'd never smelt something so...wonderful in his life. It-- Faelen couldn't even begin to describe it. It filled every bit of him with the same warmth he felt after having sex with Liam, only more so. He could almost swear that the only thing keeping him from drifting off in a pheromone-induced high was the piercing pong of panic coming from Geoff.
The bodyguard wrapped an arm around his boss to keep him upright. "Come on, sir. Let's go to the gym and have a bit of a sit-down." His only answer was an uncomprehending stare from wide, wild eyes. Faelen had seen less panicked eyes on animals in nature documentaries just before they were eaten.
Nathanial sidled up to Geoff's other side. Faelen could hear the pup trying to be sensitive to his boyfriend's mood, but the Mage looked almost as ecstatic as the Spirits; his voice still carried an undercurrent of that elation. "I've got the kettle on. Faelen has a good idea, Geoff, so let's just take a few steps." The cloth on the front of the white Wolf's slacks pulled forward on his right leg. The leaden lump thumped forward a pawspan, and the left slowly followed suit; Nathanial must be using telekinesis to make Geoff walk.
The Mist Spirit shook his head. "It really sucks that you can't smell this, Geoff. You can't believe how happy everyone is, how happy you have made them." He carefully turned the unresponsive Elemental so he could see Aoife through the throng. "Just look at her."
A hoarse croak was all Faelen heard. "Da."
Faelen firmly countered, "Donor."
Micah bounced over; he looked almost as happy as Liam. Actually, the Changeling looked radiant, almost literally. His eyes were golden with Fey-sight, his fur sparkled under the florescent tubes overhead, and the air almost shimmered around him. Faelen could safely say he was the best-looking child he'd ever seen, regardless of the criteria he used. That must be the power of a nymph coming through. The bundle of energy launched himself at Geoff and almost knocked the two teens over when he glomped on his target. "Geoff! Oh my gods! The peoples!" His mouth went into overdrive. "They're-all-so-happy-and-excited-and-just-totally-wow! She's-pregnant-and-just-so-grateful-and-everyone's-celebrating-'cause-she's-celebrating-and-she-wanted-a-pup-but-couldn't-get-one-but-now-she-got-one-and-you-gave-it-to-her-and-you're-not-happy-and-I-don't-know-why-though-everyone-else-is- but-you-should-be-'cause-everyone-is-and-all-that-love-and-stuff-is-so-thrilling-and-it's-like-a-bucket-of-sugar-mixed-with-sex-and -- ooh! -- everyone's-moving-so-slow!" Faelen felt his head spinning as the rapid patter of the pup continued on into unintelligibility.
Nathanial nodded to something no one said just before Faelen felt Liam's buoyant mood burst and Lowell retreated back to the recesses of the Ancient One's soul. Normally, Faelen would assume Nathanial and Liam had been talking, but something didn't match up; if they were in the same room, they almost always gave it away through shared body language, if not direct eye contact. Since that didn't happen, the Mage must be talking to someone else. "Zhaohui or Snow?" Micah didn't even seem to notice that no one was listening to his prattle.
The orange-furred Akita looked over in mild surprise. "Um, both, actually. They wanted to extend their congratulations, even if Snow doesn't entirely understand the...mechanics involved or the trouble Spirits have becoming pregnant. Remember, he created his pack asexually; our form of reproduction is odd by his standards."
And the only sex Snow observed --or more accurately, experienced through Nathanial -- was gay sex. And Zhaohui... Did Kirin have sex? Was Zhaohui straight? Gay? Male? Nathanial used male pronouns, but he also used them for the Society's server.
Faelen poked Micah under his arms to shut him up, and the pup released Geoff with a squeal. "Let him be, Sprite. We're taking him to the gym so he can recover. It really sucks I can't let him smell everyone's emotions."
Liam padded over as Micah's shirt vanished, letting his gossamer wings unfurl. The Changeling sprang up and hovered at eye level. "I could, I could! Well, not smell but feel, but it'd pro'ly make his head burst! It's so wow and stuff! All that emotion all at once would be way too much and overwhelming and--" He twirled in mid-air with a joyous laugh. His antics drew a few looks from the Spirits, mostly from Ainbertach. Conor and Da began to edge around the crowd, now that the Water Elemental saw his son and how troubled he looked.
The Ancient One reached around his boyfriend to draw Geoff's face down to the Rottweiler's black and tan fur and held him close. "Shh, Geoff, it shall all work out. I...have to thank you with the utmost sincerity. You have my eternal gratitude for giving my daughter, my family, such a gift. I only hope she can carry it to term."
Faelen felt his heart freeze in his chest. In all the jubilation he'd forgotten how difficult it could be for a woman to carry a pup, both for her and the potential child. Aoife wasn't young either, not anymore. That would be what had poured the cold water on Liam's excitement.
Geoff began to recover enough to follow along as the four teens and one pre-teen turned to leave the room, trailed by two of their parents.
They sat on the benches in the changing room -- all of them except Micah, anyway. The Changeling continued to hover between sudden darts around the room. Micah cocked his head to one side and zipped over to hover in front of Liam. "So, so, she mightn't get to have him or her?"
Liam shook his head. "No, it is extremely common for a pregnancy to naturally terminate within the first month if there are abnormalities forming or damaged chromosomes. It keeps the female from devoting resources to a child that would not survive beyond birth. I...do not relish reminding her of such possibilities."
Micah sounded honestly confused. "But why would you? You just don't tell people stuff that might upset them, especially your family."
Liam's eyes widened. "Of course you do. It is your duty as a family member to warn them of such potential troubles so they might prepare. I would hope you would offer counsel to Nicholas or Nathanial when you deem it necessary, even if they may find it difficult to hear."
Micah zoomed around to hover on the far side of Geoff and Nathanial. "I would, yeah, but you don't, like with Gary and your mom."
The Ancient One burst out, "That has nothing to do with this! That is an entirely different matter!"
The other three teens froze, and Faelen in particular found it difficult to look at Liam. Micah shook his head emphatically and moved back a bit to let Conor crouch on the other side of Geoff from Nathanial. "Finding out her boyfriend is a Hunter might hurt her and is certainly potential trouble! It's your duty to warn her! Just like it's your duty to warn Aoife. Different news, same logic."
The visible fur along Liam's neck bristled. "That is none of your affair! It is an entirely separate set of circumstances and reasoning."
Faelen moved between them. "Let it be, Micah." He crouched down by his boyfriend to look him in the eye. "Micah is telling you this as your friend, Liam. He thinks it's his duty, even if you might get mad at him because of it." The Ancient One looked down and away as his features softened into a mildly guilty one. He certainly stank like he felt guilty. Faelen put a hooked finger under the blunt muzzle to tilt it back up. "And just so I'm not outdone by the pup, let me say that I agree with him. The circumstances are different, but the reasoning should be the same; it's you who are applying a different standard." Faelen kissed the black nose beneath the blazing eyes. "It's selfish of me, I know." That took Liam by surprise. "Because it's the only way I can see us not having to put distance between us."
Liam sighed, and Faelen could feel fear blossoming in the Ancient One's heart. He whispered softly; the faint exhalations lightly brushing over Faelen's nose and whiskers. "Though it may cost me my mother."
So he's finally accepted why he was so reluctant to confront her. Faelen whispered back, "That is the price of duty to your mother and her safety. I think she'll understand that -- if not immediately, then in time. And that cost is why it's selfish on my part."
Liam smiled sadly. "Then perhaps it is time you looked to your duty."
Faelen looked away from those deep brown eyes to find Micah had flitted off somewhere, probably returning to the celebration. Da stood back from them, and Geoff sat between Conor and Nathanial. The Dark Elemental still looked and smelt terrified, but there was a bit of anger in there, too. The white Wolf's words said why. "Fuck all that duty shit! Can't you guys just do something because you want to!?"
Liam smiled a little viciously at Geoff. "Methinks it is you that your anger should be directed at. It is your sense of duty towards what may be your son or daughter that is causing you distress, not my duty to my mother. The pup shall bear the name McDougal, yes, and be known as yours, but it is my daughter that shall bear the responsibility of raising her. Not you. You may take a growing role in his or her care as time goes on -- notably after graduation -- but that is your choice. It is my daughter's child."
Conor smelt less than pleased at those words, but he let them be. "You saw how happy everyone was, Geoff, particularly Aoife. That's all thanks to you. Just a quick wank on your part, and you've given her the greatest gift she could possibly get." Geoff glanced up at Faelen with colouring ears and the scent of arousal at those words. He was obviously remembering how it wasn't a 'quick wank' that allowed him to sire a pup. Conor cleared his throat. "Or, uh, however you got off." He hastily moved on. "Anyway, this will also give you a far better chance to openly be with Nathanial. You have to remember that whenever you start to feel stressed. Aoife will bear most of the child-rearing responsibility, with a lot of help from Liam's other descendants and your mother." Conor sounded a bit wry, probably remembering how things were when it turned out Geoff was a Dark Elemental. "Aoife will have more help than she knows what to do with, I guarantee it. You focus on graduating high school; that is your duty."
Nathanial grabbed Geoff's scruff before he could say anything and hauled his head around to kiss him soundly. The Wolf soon melted into it. After a few seconds, Nathanial let the now-panting Elemental go. "They're right, but the celebration is starting to abate in there. I need to get back and resume hosting, and Aoife is looking for you, too." Nathanial rose and offered his paw to Geoff. "Remember, she gets her pup, and you get my paw."
Geoff smiled weakly and took the orange and white paw. "Eight months for the first one, Pup." Once he stood, he wrapped his arms around his lover. "Eight months to the first ring." He tipped his head down to kiss the starry-eyed Akita, the kiss once more banishing the spectre haunting him. Conor, Da, and Faelen slipped out of the room to give the two a few minutes of privacy.