Addergoole
Chapter 57 - Jamian
No one said it would be easy
But no one said it'd be this hard
No one said it would be easy
No one thought we'd come this far


Jamian woke snuggled up against a topless girl, his nose against the back of her neck, his arm draped across her waist and flat stomach.

Don’t freak out. He opened his eyes slowly. She smelled of lavender. The hair was curly and strawberry blonde. The shoulders were lightly freckled. Don’t freak out. It was Tya. It was okay that he was waking up in bed with a half-naked Tya.

Of course, his naked chest was pressed against her naked back. Do not freak out. He wasn’t so certain that was all right. His nipples were rubbing against her soft skin. It felt nice, holding her close, but it was nerve-wracking. She won’t like it if you freak out. Was he at least… yes. He was wearing boxers, and so was she.

She stretched, pushing up against him, and he swallowed a yelp. “Good morning.” Her voice – no, no, his voice – was a throaty purr. “You’re up early.” A butt-wiggle emphasized the double entendre.

“Oh. Oh god.” He’s going to be pissed if you freak out. “Um! I’m sorry!” He scooted backwards in bed.

“No, no.” Ty grabbed for his hand. “Jame’, it’s okay. Please come back.” The words sounded like a command, but they didn’t pull as hard as offhanded orders sometimes did. Still…

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, scooting until they were almost – but not quite – touching. Ty rolled over to face him and rubbed noses lightly.

“It’s okay. You were a little tipsy when we went to bed last night, so I didn’t try getting a shirt on you. If you want to grab one now, it’s okay.”

Jamian hesitated. “Do you want me to?” The child of gods, Callista had said. With six arms, she’d know all about being a freak, wouldn’t she? And she thought that it was okay. She thought his horns were beautiful.

“I’m never going to argue with you being half-naked in bed with me. Or all naked, for that matter.” The mischievous smile was the same one he’d been wearing when they first met, party-boy reckless without an ounce of malice. He found he couldn’t be upset with that; he just wasn’t sure he could be naked with it, either. But he didn’t want to keep saying “no” like some whiney girl with her first kiss…

“But,” Ty continued, bringing his considerations to a screeching halt, “there was something I was kinda hoping we could do today.”

“Okay?” Considering their positions and state of undress, what could it be except something that led to more nudity? They’d already kissed. The next step would seem to involve Jamian’s breasts, or Ty’s, or both, or removing what remained of their clothing. It was going to happen eventually, anyway. Ty wasn’t patient enough to hold off forever. “Okay.” He steeled himself for what was coming.

“I want to take you to meet someone today. A few someones.”

It took him a moment to switch gears. “You what? Like this?” He resisted the urge to tug the blanket over himself. It wouldn’t help if Ty got an idea in his head.

Ty just laughed. “No, no, clothed! It’s a little chilly outside to be wandering around in your underwear!”

“Outside?” Was that better or worse? “I didn’t know this place had an outside.”

“Yeah, that’s where I grew up. My parent lives there, and, ah… my kids.”

“Oh.” Ty’s kids. “You want to take me home to meet your mom?” He tried to make a joke out of it. He didn’t want to sound uncomfortable with the idea. “Does this mean you really like me?”

“Just a bit, maybe.” The grin seemed to suggest making light of it was working. “And you, well, you asked about the kids.”

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” Before that part of the conversation where he’d found out he was next on the list of potential parents for those kids. “I, uh.” Not the time to freak out. “It sounds great.” Make a joke, darn it… “As long as I get to wear pants.”

“And a shirt, too! Though you looked really cute in a skirt yesterday.”

“Pants, please.” He cringed a little. “Being Jaya wasn’t… well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, I guess, but I don’t want to do it every day. I still like being a boy. Especially when I’m meeting your family.”

“Okay.” Ty didn’t even seem upset; quite the opposite, he was almost bouncing. “Then you’ll go with me?”

He wasn’t going to say that he hadn’t been aware he had the option of saying no. “Of course.” Discovering it was true, he added, “I’m glad you want me to meet them. What should I wear? That doesn’t involve skirts?”

“Just whatever.” He blinked, looking as if he was realizing something. “Oh, yeah, it’s Sunday. We don’t really do the whole Christian thing down here – well, the older Ellehemaei don’t, and D.J. and I certainly don’t.”

Children of gods. “I guess that makes sense. So I don’t need to get all dressed up or anything. Cool.” He found he still wanted to look nice. “Um… how about I go back to my room and change, and you meet me there?”

He thought he was going to get a “no” for a moment, but Ty nodded slowly. “That makes sense. I keep forgetting you don’t quite live here yet.”

“I … I could move in, if you really wanted.”

“You really like having your own space, don’t you?”

“I do,” he admitted. “I’ve always had my own room. I…” He shrugged uncomfortably.

“You like your privacy. I wasn’t sure if it was just because you were uncomfortable with the whole hermaphrodite thing, but you’re really kind of introverted, aren’t you?”

It sounded like a condemnation, but, if it was, it was an accurate one. “Yeah, I guess I am. I mean, I can talk to people, I just like having alone time, too.”

“Have I been over-stimulating you?”

In more ways than one! “Oh, ack, Ty, don’t worry!” He flailed nervously, trying to cover a blush. “I mean, it’s a bit much, but I can get used to it!”

Ty shook his head. “You’re a good person, Jame’. Why don’t you go get dressed, and I’ll get you in a half hour or so?”

“Okay.” Impulsively, he kissed him. I what now? Shuddup. He brushed his lips across his Keeper’s cautiously, and then more intently. Ty could be a pain in the ass sometimes, but he was growing on him. “I really like you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He kissed him again, then, before he could get carried away, got out of bed. “Have you seen my pants?”

“Probably over there under my chair. Your shirt’s on the dresser.” Ty lounged languidly, head pillowed under his arms. “I like you, too.”

He excavated his clothes and pulled them on. “That’s probably a good thing, considering that you own me.” He was surprised to find no rancor in his voice. “Besides, no-one else has compatible junk,” he teased.

He was rewarded with a bark of laughter. “Go on then. I’ll see you in a while.”

It was kind of odd to be walking the halls alone again, no babysitters, no Keeper, like when he’d first come here. Except for the tail and the horns. The halls were quiet, the people that were out reserved and a little hung-over looking. Even their emotions, when he dared to taste them, seemed muted and quiet.

“It’s like a graveyard around here.” Aviv & Uberto’s pretty friend with the violet butterfly wings was leaning against a door – probably her room; he’d gotten used to cutting through this pod of rooms between his place and Ty’s – her wings splayed against the frame. She looked tired and a little uncertain. “Worse. There’s at least flowers in a graveyard.” Her emotions tasted nervous and uncomfortable, which made sense.

“It’s a little creepy around here, isn’t it?” he offered. “I mean, it’s always a little weird around here, but tonight it seems extra horror-movie like. I keep expecting some guy in a hockey mask to jump out with a chainsaw.” As he said that, something passed by his peripheral vision, something like a dog or a lizard. It was gone when he turned to look, but he could tell from the nervous flutter of wings that Seralondae had seen it too. Some upperclassman playing a dirty trick?

Thinking of Phelen on Hell Night, thinking of other snatches of conversation he’d overheard, he was pretty sure even a dirty trick could be seriously dangerous around here. He had to go back to his room – the pressure of the not-quite-orders was beginning to press on him – but maybe…

“Where were you headed?”

“Just down to the Library.” She shrugged. “I thought I could get some homework done while everyone else recovers.”

“Look,” he said cautiously. Ty had been trying to give him time alone. He really appreciated it. But he couldn’t just leave her standing out there if there were monsters roaming the halls. “I’ve got to go back to my room and change. But Ty will be over in just a bit, and we can walk you down to the library before we head out.”

She glanced hesitantly his way. “Yeah? I don’t want to be any trouble…”

“I promise, I’m not trying something here.” Of all the times for someone to not think he was gay! “It just seems kind of creepy out here. We can leave the door open, okay? Anyway,” he added, “I’m not going to fuck with Aviv and Uberto’s friend.”

She smiled, her cheeks coloring. “Oh, we’re not…”

“Crew?” he guessed.

“Oh. Yes. Well… all right.”

Discuss

Chapter 57b - Jamian
I walk right through the door.
Walk right through the door.
Hey all right! If I get by


True to his word, Jamian left his bedroom door open, and left Seralondae sitting on his bed while he changed his clothes in the bathroom. Not wanting to be rude, he tried talking to her through the shut door.

“So how long have you been here?”

“I’m Third Cohort, so this is my third year here.”

“Does it ever get any less weird?” Says the hermaphrodite with horns, he scolded himself, as he pulled his pants up to just below his tail. He was going to have to do something about that… since the tail obviously wasn’t going away.

“You get used to it. Sometimes I still wake up thinking ‘Woah, I’m a fairy,’ but not so much anymore. It’s harder when you leave and come back, though.”

Leave and come back. He blinked. He wasn’t sure he could deal with his mother and stepfather now, knowing what he knew. “I can imagine! Isn’t a little weird, being around your family?”

“It was really weird before I figured out that my dad and step-mom knew the score. Then it was extremely weird.”

“Your parents knew what was going on?” He checked his shirt in the mirror and tried to focus the Mask to smooth everything out. There, now he looked like a boy.

“Your parents probably do, too. It seems like they all do.”

“That’s…” He tried to come up with a word while he exited the bathroom. “Horrid,” he decided. “Really horrible.”

“I thought it was a bit of a relief. I didn’t have to…” she trailed off, glancing out the door. “Ardell?”

Jamian followed her line of sight out his door; in the hallway, a tall, muscular guy he recognized from gym class as a locker-room bully. Normally non-descript, he looked like he was turning green around the edges right now, and he smelled heavily of burnt plastic – a quick glance confirmed that his hair was scorched and his shirt melted in a few places.

Remembering some of the guy’s less pleasant after-class antics, Jamian braced for trouble. Ardell looked irritated – no surprise; Jamian would be irritated, too, if something had lit him on fire – but he didn’t seem ready to start a fight. “Sera.” He leaned heavily against the outside of Jamian’s door. “What are you doing here?”

She seemed completely oblivious to the threat this guy presented. “Jamian and Ty were going to walk me to the library. What happened to you? Were you fighting again?”

For the first time, Jamian saw the bully look abashed, his ears turning green. “No,” he mumbled, so very obviously lying.

She shook her head, tcha’ing like a mother talking to a naughty child. “You have to stop doing that, Ardell. And look, you’ve gone and gotten your shirt all messed up.” She walked over to him, making another scolding tongue-click. “You look like you walked through a bonfire.”

“Sorta…”

“Shame on you.”

“I’ll walk you to the library,” he interrupted. Jamian stifled a laugh at his desperate attempt to change the subject. “It’s not safe out there right now anyway.”

“It does seem creepier than normal. If you really want to go out of your way – you really should get that scorching looked at.”

“It’s fine. I didn’t have plans anyway.”

“Well, okay. I guess that saves Jamian and Ty trouble.”

“Ardell. What are you doing here?” Ty’s voice stopped the little battle in its tracks; Ardell stood up languidly and turned around.

“Picking up my friend from your Kept’s room.” His answer smeared layers of meaning into what had been a completely innocent thing.

“Jame’?” Ty’s voice held a dangerous note, which was overcut as quickly as he’d overcut Ardell and Sera’s discussion by another voice.

“What, Delaney's in there?” Shiva’s voice – it had to be her – was even more threatening than Ty’s. “Jamian, can I come in?”

“What? Sure.” How she was going to get through the cluster-mess at the door, he wasn’t sure, but…

His brain trailed off the thought as she slipped through the wall.

“Oh, hi, Sera, it's you. That's better.” She turned towards the door, where Ardell still blocked the view. “Ardell, don’t be a douche. Sera isn’t a poacher.” She grinned at Jamian. “You get in more trouble for no good reason,” she teased, barely loud enough for him to hear.

“Seralondae?” Ty sounded relaxed. “Ardell, you’re such a schmutz. Can we come in, Jame’?”

We? “Um, sure.” It was going to get crowded pretty soon.

“We’ll head out to the library. Thank you, Jamian.” Sera hugged him gently, and he tried to hug her back without seeming too awkward.”

“Any time.” He hadn’t done all that much, but he’d do it again. “Nice to meet you, Sera.”

“Come on, Ardell.” She steered him out of the doorway, letting Ty and Nikita in. “Thanks again,” she called, as they headed down the hall.

“What was that all about?” Ty patted at Jamian as if worried that he’d gotten hurt. “Ardell looked like he’d gotten too close to the stove, and why was she in your room?”

“There were…” It sounded silly when he tried to explain it. “It was…” He shrugged defensively. “The halls were creepy, and they didn’t seem safe. I told her we’d walk her to the Library when you got here, so she didn’t have to go alone.”

“Not a bad idea,” Shiva interjected. “It’s been pretty nuts out there this last week, Tia-mia. More than normal. More than a normal Hell Week, even.”

There wasn’t much Ty could say to argue with that. He nodded slowly. “Okay. So, ah, ready to go, Jame’?”

“Yeah.” He tugged his shirt smooth again, and glanced at Niki and Shiva. “They’re coming too?” Would that make it easier or harder?

“If you don’t mind,” Shiva said.

“Seeing as two out of three of them are our kids, too,” Niki added.

He flushed. “I didn’t mean it like that! Of course I don’t mind! You can do whatever you want!” He took a deep breath. “This is all new to me. I’ve never…”

“Yeah.” Shiva patted his shoulder. “I know. We’ve all been through it. We shouldn’t have sniped at you, sorry.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t want you there. I just… yeah.”

“They don’t bite,” Niki grinned. “Well, Siriana does, but that’s only natural. She’s my daughter.”

He couldn’t tell if the other boy was trying to make him feel better or worse. He grinned in response anyway. “Keep my fingers away from her mouth – and yours. Got it.” He tooks Ty’s hand, wishing it didn’t feel like such a daring gesture. “I’m ready, if you all are.”

“Let’s go, then.” Shiva led the way, holding Niki’s hand, humming softly. Jamian recognized the tune - We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.

“Because of the wonderful things that he does,” he muttered, grinning at Ty. How hard could this be?

Ty smiled back at him. “Siri does bite,” he whispered, “or, well, gums at you. It doesn’t hurt, but I hope she outgrows it before she’s an adult.”

“Yowch, yeah.” He thought of Melchior’s mouth of razor-sharp teeth. “The way our gene pools seem to work, that could be painful.”

“Hey!” Niki said indignantly. “I heard that!”

“Oh, come on,” Shiva teased, “if anyone’s kid would turn out to be a ball-buster, it would be yours, Niki-love.”

“Nah, that’ll be your kid.”

“The men of the world can run in terror at the kid you two make together,” Ty added.

You could hear the train screeching to a halt in the sudden still silence from both of them.

“Yeah…” Niki said slowly.

Shiva turned to face them, smiling, not quite looking like she meant it. “I tell you what,” she said, walking backwards as she spoke, “when you two get around to kids and we finally get around to kids, eight or nine years from now, I figure your kid is likely to be best able to survive our kid, right?”

Jamian saw Niki’s shoulders relax at the same moment his did. Eight or nine years from now. He could handle that.

Ty just laughed. “Right. That’s a little too weird for words, but I guess they wouldn’t actually be related, would they?”

“Not unless D.J. is secretly my father and just hasn’t told anyone, and I don’t think that’s really that likely.”

“Probably not very likely.” The tension left the group, and the conversation continued down the hallway. Secretly my father… It made him wonder.

“Does anyone here have a father?” he asked. “I mean, not a stepfather.”

“Some people are short a mother instead,” Niki offered. “Mags was raised by her dad. So was Phelen.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? No-one here has like a normal set of two parents?”

“Does anything around here look normal?”

“Point taken.” He sighed. “No wonder we’re all so fucked up.”

“I turned out okay with one parent.” Ty sounded so very certain that all three of them turned to stare at him. “What? I did!”

“Yeah.” Niki shook his head. “You turned out peachy keen.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you clearly have a good grasp of relationship dynamics…”

“We are not having this conversation now,” Shiva interrupted.

It was telling, Jamian thought, that both of them answered humbly with “Yes, Shiva.”

“Good. Besides, we’re almost to the exit.” They were, indeed, in a short side hallway with a doorway at the far end, all of it looking very industrial and behind-the-scenes.

“Right.” Ty nodded. “Jamian, close your eyes.”

“To, what, walk through the door?” He closed his eyes as he argued, of course, frowning in the direction of Ty.

“No, to… what?”

“The door? That big steel door that looks like it belongs in a warehouse or something?”

“You can see it?”

“Well, not now, I’ve got my eyes closed. But yeah. It’s a door, Ty, not a shimmering magical portal or something. Not that you’d need one of those with a teleporting cat-girl.”

“I don’t teleport, I walk through walls. Ty, how can he see it? Is it because he went through his Change?”

“No,” Niki argued, “I couldn’t see the doors until February or so last year.”

“Guys, it’s a door.” Exasperated, Jamian walked forward, towards where he remembered the door being, one hand out. “What’s the big deal?”



Discuss

Chapter 57c - Jamian
These are my people
This is where I come from


“Guys, it’s a door. What’s the big deal?”

A hand landed on his outstretched wrist. “Normally new students can’t see the doors to the outside. It just looks like a wall to them.” It was Shiva’s voice, which meant it was probably Shiva’s hand. “Just a couple feet forward… there.” His hand found the knob. “Ty!”

“Sorry, Jame’. Open your eyes.”

He blinked his eyes open as he opened the door to a face full of sunshine. “Ack!”

Niki laughed. “One would think, Tya, that you’d get better at this over the years, but you just don’t, do you?”

“Nikita.”

“Ty does just fine,” Jamian retorted, blinking the blurriness out. “Man, that’s a lot brighter than it was during class…”

“Oh, that’s right, you go outside for eperu classes.” Ty sounded almost disappointed. “But you’ve never seen the Village, right?”

“I didn’t know there was such a thing until today.”

“Good! I mean, I get to show it to you. It’s pretty neat. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen Out There.”

Picturing hobbit houses, or buildings in the trees, or castles made of emeralds, Jamian eagerly let them lead him down the path. The sun wasn’t all that bright, once his eyes adjusted, and the air was nice but not too warm – the kind of day that, at home, would have found him playing football with the other guys, coming home muddy and bruised and happy.

He glanced thoughtfully at the other three. Well, maybe Shiva would be into sports, but he couldn’t really imagine Niki or Ty getting all dirty and grass-stained. Maybe Melchior? He’d have to ask around.

Ty was almost skipping as they came around a hill, squeezing Jamian’s hand excitedly. They stepped around a big tree…

…into Small Town America, straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

“Wow.” No hobbit houses, no tree-castles, no emeralds, although the library did have three stained glass windows, depicting what looked like saintly versions of Luke, Dr. Regine, and Professor VanderLinden. Just a café and a general store, and a Victorian-dressed kitsune strolling down the street, four children holding on to her hands and tails. “Wow,” he repeated.

There were only a handful of people on the street, more than half of them kids. A woman with her green hair in braided pigtails talked quietly to one of the trees lining the narrow street. A portly man with a muzzle like a sabre-toothed tiger set out produce in front of the general store. A lanky boy with unkempt red hair sat in the shade of the library’s awning, reading what looked like the Silmarillion. He was rocking a baby carriage with his foot while a little girl, a miniature version of the boy down to the perky little nose, read next to him – the Hobbit, it looked like.

He shook his head, trying to clear it. “Wow,” he murmured again. The kid wasn’t all that younger than he was. They were probably his little sisters, but seeing him like that, barefoot with a baby…

Not barefoot, Ty had said. He gulped, and cast about for something to say. “This is something else,” he managed, hoping it sounded positive. “You grew up down here?” It explained so much! He wondered if they even had television down here. The internet?

“Yeah. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s something else.” When he stopped thinking about strange, fantastic mystical towns and looked at it for itself, it was very lovely, just very… quiet.

“We went to L.A. on a field trip last year,” Niki offered. “Tya loathed it. Hated it with a passion.”

“It was so dirty! And noisy, and everyone crowded on top of each other like ants! How do people live like that?”

“Um, with practice?” He shrugged uncomfortably. “I mean, I didn’t grow up anyplace that big, but nothing this small, either. I mean, I can almost hear Andy Griffith whistling!” He hoped he wasn’t going overboard. He didn’t want to be fighting with Ty when they met his family.

His kids. Jamian glanced back at the boy reading Tolkien. Was that going to be him in a couple years? Was he going to be able to do anything to keep that from happening? He Owned me. I couldn’t stop him, Joff had said. He’d been talking about scars, about physical abuse. But would it be any different with this?

He blinked, and bit his lip. If Ty wanted kids, there was nothing Jamian could do to stop him. It was a chilling and terrifying thought, and not something he wanted to be dealing with here, and now. “So, where does your family live?” And, though he didn’t want to ask it right now, why did his kids live up here, away from their parents? And why would Ty want another kid, if he didn’t even live with the ones he already had?

“D.J.’s cottage is down on Forgegate Way.” Ty pointed down the main thoroughfare. “Just a couple blocks away, over by the park. It’s a pretty nice location.”

“This whole town is a pretty nice location,” Shiva pointed out, “if you like remote and isolated and pretty.”

“Which I do. You’d think you would, too, growing up way out in the middle of nowhere.”

“This seems like a really big library for what looks like a small town. It’s not the school library, too, is it?” Meaning, not only please stop arguing, but also are we going to run into Ardell again?

“Oh, no,” Ty laughed, distracted immediately. “Dr. Regine, Professor Solomon and Mo put a lot of work into this library, although finding a librarian was really the hard part, I heard. They really believe in promoting literacy.”

“It has quite extensive fantasy and history sections,” Shiva murmured. “Sometimes the same books for both.”

“Aah.” He blinked as her meaning hit home. “Woah, you mean there are actual history books of the faeries – of us, I mean – here?”

“Not a whole lot of them,” she admitted.

“It’s not like they can be published for just anyone to read,” Ty cut in.

“And they read like the worst crackpot conspiracy theories anyway.” Shiva took the conversation back. “Well, some of the old ones – hand-written books so old they’re practically fossils. Professor Valerian has a couple new books on the shelves there, though.”

“Professor Valerian? The…” He searched for a description and, failing, finally just finished “…History Teacher?”

“That would be her,” Shiva answered, too solemn to actually be serious.

“Down this way,” Ty tugged on Jamian’s hand, “there’s a nice shortcut to D.J.’s.” The brick alleyway was lined with ivy, feeling more like a jungle than the middle of a town. This was more like the fairy tale he’d expected! Some of the bricks were even, whimsically, painted shiny gold.

On the other side of the buildings, they were back into Norman Rockwell’s world. They passed a small parking lot and cut through a yard full of children’s toys, across a narrow street.

Ty stopped dramatically on the sidewalk, gesturing at the house in front of them. “Home.”

It was a very nice cobblestone cottage, apple trees taking over the front yard, a late-model car peeking out of the carriage house doors the only sign of the twentieth century. The knee-high wall around the property seemed more of a decoration than an obstruction. It wasn’t quite a hobbit-house, but it was close enough.

“Oh, neat,” he exclaimed, not having to feign his delight. “Ty, it’s great! It’s like something out of a fairy tale – you grew up here?”

“I was three when D.J. had it built. The old place was getting a little cramped.” He gestured vaguely down the street. “The oldest cottages here are pretty tiny.”

“Are we going to go inside, or sit out staring at the apples all day?” Niki whined. “I’m getting a sunburn.” “Come on, I guess.” Tugging Jamian along like a toy wagon, Ty hurried up to the front door. He knocked quickly, rocking back and forth on his heels while they waited.

Jamian tried not to look nervous. What would Ty’s parent look like? Like VanderLinden, looking very much male until it decided to look very much female? Like Ty, cute and satyr and comfortably semi-androgynous? Like anything remotely human?

The person who answered the door looked more as if it belonged in Galadriel’s forest than Bilbo’s village. It was tall, willowy, and entirely androgynous, with pointed ears, pointed chin, and a long, whip-like tail. It was also carrying a round-cheeked dark-haired baby on its hip, and wearing a wide, welcoming smile.

“Ty! I hoped you’d make it! Hello, love, come on in, all of you, good morning, Shiva, hi, Nikita, and this must be the new friend I’ve heard about. Hello, come in.” It stepped out of the way, allowing them all to enter and, at the same time, handing the baby to Nikita. Niki took the tiny child – probably a girl, from the pink lace – gingerly, as if afraid he’d break her.

Hands free, the tall elfin person offered Jamian its hand. “Hi, I’m D.J., often called the Finder.”

“Hi.” He shook its hand, trying to be neither too firm nor too soft. “I’m Jamian, um, sh’Aza, cy’Linden,” he gulped, “oro’Ty.”

“Ah, Aza.” It nodded, and patted Jamian’s shoulder. “I had some long conversations with your mother when you were born. I hope it helped.”

“Um, maybe?” he squeaked, startled. “I don’t know how bad it would have been if she didn’t know what, um…” he flailed and fell silent.

“Ah,” it said again, this time more sadly. “I tried to convince her to stay here in the Village, but I suppose it’s not for everyone.”

The tone in its voice make Jamian jerk his head up. “You’re not,” he fumbled, embarrassed, gulped, and tried again, “not my father, are you?”

“Jame’!” Ty glared at him in horror.

D.J., however, just laughed. “It’s a reasonable question, honey. Jamian doesn’t want to find himself sleeping with his sibling, after all, isn’t that right?”

Blushing, he nodded.

“Don’t worry. I promise you, Aza and I never did anything that could lead to me being your father.”

He blushed more, refusing to acknowledge the idea of Ty’s parent and his mother… well, anything. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Don’t mention it. Now, I imagine you’re not just here to meet me, now, are you?”

“Um?” He glanced at Ty, but he, staring at the baby in Niki’s arms, was suddenly no help at all. “No, I guess not?” He looked back up at D.J., hoping it could offer some help in this suddenly-murky social sea. It, he noticed, was smiling rather sadly at Ty.

“Come on,” it said, patting Jamian on the shoulder. “Shiva, why don’t we introduce Jamian here to Eryk and Mies?” Its hand on Jamian’s back was firm and inescapable, as it gently pushed Jamian out of the foyer and down the hall, leaving Nikita and Ty both looking uncomfortably down at what had to be their daughter.

“One of them is going to have to come up with some parenting urge sometime soon,” D.J. murmured in Shiva’s direction. She, in reply, just shrugged.

“It’s not in either of them, really, sadly. But I think Niki has a better chance of learning it than Tya does – no offense.”

“None taken.” Offended or not, it was certainly frowning. “I was hoping, as Tya grew… or that perhaps carrying a child on her own would work its magic.”

“I think it’s changed her,” Jamian offered cautiously. “She’s just not really sure what to do with the changes yet – and then,” he blushed, “there’s me, um, distracting her. But I didn’t mean to keep Ty from his kids!”

He hadn’t known until yesterday that there were kids to keep Ty from, but that wasn’t D.J.’s fault. It shook its head sympathetically.

“It’s not your fault, Jamian. Shiva’s right in that my child never developed a parental urge. It’s young yet, perhaps that will come in time. Or perhaps the other parents of its children…”

“Anise is great with the kids, all of them,” Shiva interrupted. “Come on, Jame’, you can meet Eryk and – Mies is here, then, D.J.?”

“Anise just stepped out, but Mies is here. It looks like they’ll be staying around for a little while longer.”

“Anise?” Jamian wasn’t sure if he was stalling or just really lost. Maybe both; he was still thinking about the way Ty and Niki had been looking at the baby they’d made together. Niki, miserable bitchy pissy little Nikita, had given Ty that.

“Anise.” Shiva’s voice cut through his reverie. “Ty’s First Cohort girlfriend. She lives here with D.J., and her daughter Mies, and, well, my son Eryk and Tya’s daughter Siriana.”

He blinked. “Does this place come with a family tree?” Anise’s daughter, Shiva’s son… sh’Aza. He’d have to ask Joff about that, or Professor VanderLinden, especially since both Joff and Ty had talked about “Ty’s kids.”

“I drew one, once, actually,” Shiva offered, “but it turns out more like a bush. And there’s lines missing, of course, since almost none of us know our fathers.”

He didn’t think he was imagining D.J.’s wince, but it was gone quickly. He’d had his own wince to contend with, as well. Would a father have been any better than a step-father? Hard to tell, but the freakish genes had to come from somewhere.

He swallowed a comment, not wanting to insult D.J.’s parenting choices. “Okay. So Siriana was the little baby Niki’s holding?”

Shiva nodded. “And just down this hall – here’s the play room.” She held the door open for him; he looked nervously between her & D.J., but both of them seemed to be waiting for him, watching for a reaction. Even more nervous now, he stepped into the bright, sunny room, the mother and the grandparent tight on his heels.

A little girl with long black sausage curls sat in a pool of sunlight, playing with colorful wooden blocks. A smaller boy, his sparse hair coming in honey-brown, sat just into the shadow; it looked like the girl was instructing what had to be her half-brother in how the blocks should be placed, while he, in the obnoxious manner of little brothers the world over, ignored her.

“Mies and Eryk?” he asked softly. He wasn’t very good at judging children’s ages, but they could probably be a year apart, and Siriana didn’t look very old at all.

The little girl looked up. “Hi!” She clambered to her feet and toddled his way; halfway, she stopped, as if remembering something, and looked past him to D.J.

“Mies, this is Jamian. He’s a friend.” A tension that seemed too grown-up for her size seemed to go out of the girl’s shoulders, and she was all kid again, suddenly wrapping herself around his leg.

“Hi, Jamian,” she smiled up at him. “I like your tail.”

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