“And now, back to the studio.”
“Thanks, Jim,” the anchorman said, turning to his guest. “Well, I don’t think any of us were expecting her to be released so soon.”
“You’re right about that,” the man said, grimacing. His body was glowing a soft, rippling red. “If I had my way, she’d be locked up for good. “
The ghost took a deep breath, his body fading back into a clear, neutral grey. “My apologies. It’s not my place to question the law. Not,” he muttered, barely audible, “that they’d listen anyway.”
The anchorman cleared his throat and shuffled his papers. “According to the warden, our ‘correctional facilities’ have reformed her enough to remove the danger.”
Shea reached for the remote – she’d had enough of this. High school had been her chance to start afresh. Her mother making the news again was the last thing she needed. She wanted to be more than just ‘the arsonist’s daughter’. Her finger was on the button when the camera switched away from the newsroom. Instead, a bleak, imposing building filled the screen, barbed-wire fences surrounding it and watchtowers at each corner. The heavy doors swung open, and Shea’s breath caught in her throat.
“Here she is, leaving the facility with her family.”
Her family? That couldn’t be right. She leant forward, eyes wide as a familiar figure strode out through the gates, flanked by two young children. A man walked behind her, carrying a bag and rolling his eyes at the camera. He flipped the reporter off, herding the others towards a car. The children were smiling, skipping happily as they gazed up at her – their – mother.
“We’ve got a room all ready for you, mama! I picked the flowers myself,” the boy said, holding onto her hand tightly.
The old woman smiled down at him, and Shea bit her lip. Ciara had never smiled at her like that. It was one of the reasons she’d stopped visiting. It was bad enough having a criminal for a mother, but a criminal who didn’t love you was even worse. She stood up, the tv droning on in the background as she walked inside. She needed her dads.
Lor hastily closed the lab schematics and looked up with what he could only hope was an innocent expression. “Hey, sweetie. Why aren’t you in bed? You’ve got school tomorrow.”
“What is it? Are you ok? Are you sick?” He jumped up from his chair, putting a hand to her forehead.
“I’m not sick, papa. I just want to talk to you. Now sit down, you’re making my neck hurt.”
Lor sat back in the chair, smiling sheepishly. He still forgot how tall he was.
“Ciara’s out of prison.”
His fingers clenched automatically. He kept forgetting that it hadn’t been a life sentence. “Do you want to see her?”
“No. I really, really don’t. It’s just…”
Lor waited. He knew better than to interrupt.
“I saw her on tv. The news people said that her family were with her, but it wasn’t us.” Her voice cracked, and she wiped at her eyes roughly. Lor held out a tissue, but she waved it away. “She has other kids, and a husband, and she actually likes them. She was smiling at them. She never smiled at me. They called her mum, and she was holding their hands, and-” she broke off, turning so that he couldn’t see her face. She drew in a deep breath. “Why didn’t she love me?”
“I don’t know, Shea.”
“Was there something wrong with me?”
“Of course not. You’re wonderful. If you want my opinion,” he paused, waiting until she nodded, “I’m pretty sure that having her not approve is a good thing. I mean, I’d be far more worried if she did. Is that mean?”
“Just a little, but thanks.” Shea’s lips quirked upwards, and Lor sighed in relief. “Did she approve of you?”
“Papa. Tell me.”
“She… told me I had a nice ass.”
“I wish I was. Mal thought it was hilarious.”
Shea giggled, and Lor smiled. “It is kind of funny,” she said. “Papa?”
“Does this mean I have even more siblings now?”
“Only if you want it to.”
Lyra reread the post, just to be sure. Someone actually wanted to write to her! True, she hadn’t shared that she was a Sixan in her profile, but it had to be worth something. Besides, it was just a pen pal. They were unlikely to ever meet in person. Sunlit Tides, huh? It sounded wonderful.
“Leo, I have a penpal!”
Her brother ignored her. Lyra shrugged and opened a reply. Maybe it was just one of those days. He had them sometimes.
She clicked send and leant back in her chair, a satisfied smile on her face. This was going to be brilliant. It would be nice to have friends again, even if they were online ones. She looked at the clock and jumped.
He didn’t reply.
“Look, if you’re skiving off that’s fine, but at least tell me so I can stop caring, yeah?”
The steady tap, tap, tap of the keyboard was the only response. She spun to face him, resisting the urge to poke his mind. Telepathic etiquette and all that jazz.
“Leo, I hate to tell you this but I’m eloping with a werewolf next week. He’s already pregnant with my children. We’re going to have our honeymoon in the Bermuda Triangle and everyone will be dressed like fish. I would like you to be my best man. I’ve already made your outfit, so I hope you like rainbow trout. I shall be a salmon. At the end of the night we will all dance naked in a pool filled with energy drink and throw ice cream at each other while singing every song that was in the Top 50 twenty years ago.”
Still nothing. She pouted.
“Are you ignoring me?” she said, getting up out of her chair and stalking over to him, “because if so, rude.” Now that she was able to see his face, her annoyance shifted to concern. His eyes were dilated and unfocused, and when she looked at the screen she saw nothing but cat videos. He didn’t even like cats as far as she knew.
“Leo? Do you want me to get dad? He hasn’t gone to work yet.” She skimmed the surface of his mind. If he was sick, there would be some sort of clue there. She frowned. She’d only seen something like this once before and she’d hoped to never see it again. Obviously she hadn’t done a good enough job with her probe threats the first time around.
The vampire was back. If only she could remember his name…
As much as he was trying to project the look of someone who was not planning shenanigans, Lor couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. All those stories of undercover missions that his mum had told him as a child were whirling around his head. He’d always thought she had the coolest job in the world. Obviously, his skin would have stopped him from being a very useful undercover agent, but he’d wondered what it would be like. Secret missions, sneaking around, hiding from the government…
This was his chance to live those fantasies. Today was the day he would break his (quite probably illegal) android friend out of his (also not-exactly-government-approved) secret lab.
“We’re being invaded again.”
Well, that had been the plan, anyway. He sighed, carefully setting the test tube back down into the rack. Of all the days for this to happen.
“What makes you think that?”
“They sent the same people as last time. They haven’t even bothered to change their disguises. How stupid do they think we are?” Helen rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I thought you’d want to know.”
Lor looked at the clock. He’d missed his chance, he realised, shoulders slumping. The night shift was already arriving, and there was no way he’d be able to avoid them all. He walked down the stairs to his friend’s room, pushing the disappointment down. There was always tomorrow.
Malik woke to an empty bed. This wasn’t too unusual – he had a habit of sleeping late compared to his husband. He picked up his phone, checking the time on the glowing screen, and frowned. It was 5 AM. The sound of footsteps on the stairs was a relief. Lor had probably just gone to get a drink. Mal sat up in bed. If they were both awake, they might as well make the most of it. He grinned as the door opened.
“Mal? What are you doing up?”
“I could ask the same thing,” he said, opening his arms. “I can’t believe you’re dressed already. I hope you don’t mind if I change that.”
Lor laughed. “Not at all. I was abducted. They wanted to know how the kids were doing.”
“Surely they could have waited until a nice, normal time to do that.” Mal slid out of bed, wincing at the cold floor. “Can we get some carpet? Or a rug, at least?” He walked over and hugged Lor. He knew from experience that even a normal abduction could be a bit disorientating. “I love you, but I really don’t like having cold feet.”
“Sure. I was thinking that once the kids have moved out maybe we could do some remodelling. We won’t need this much space when it’s just the two of us. We could have a nice, big bedroom, a couple of guest rooms…”
“I could work on my VR set-up…”
“What do you think?”
“I like that plan. I mean, I’ll miss the kids, but think how much quieter it will be! You can even have a room for all your weird science things.”
“Weird science things? Really, Mal? I don’t call your-” Lor stopped, eyes widening as he looked down at his stomach. Malik felt his jaw drop.
“Honey? I thought it was a routine check up…”
“So did I!”
Steve glanced up from the computer at the knock on the door. It still amused him that Lor had taken to doing so – he’d apparently decided that privacy was needed. It was… well, he still hadn’t learnt to recognise every emotion yet, but it was a pleasant one.
“Come in. It is your lab.”
“Ah, but it’s your room.” The doors swung open and Lor stepped through. “I hope you haven’t been too bored.”
“I have not been bored. This computer has lots of things on it. I have even found people to talk to. I see why I was not connected to the internet before; I do not think I would have been as focused on my job.”
“Well, I’m glad you’ve found things to do. I’ve been worried.”
“Do not be. This is more freedom than I previously had.”
“Well, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you. How would you like to live with me?”
“Do you mean it? I can leave?”
“I made a promise, didn’t I? I’m just sorry it’s taken so long. We’ve cleared out Ellie’s room, but I thought you’d like to decorate it yourself, so it’s a bit bare right now. Still, it’s yours if you’d like it. If there’s anything here you want to take with you, just say so.”
“I cannot take your computer.”
Lor smiled. “Says who? I can make another. Consider it a house warming present.”
“Is your house cold? I do not see how a computer would help.”
Steve knew exactly what a house warming gift was. He just liked seeing his friend laugh.
“This is your home? It is very big.”
Lor grinned. “I have a lot of children. The house started out quite a bit smaller, but we just kept on growing.”
“I remember you saying. How many children do you have now?”
“Five at the moment. Ellie doesn’t live with us anymore, but she wanted to meet you. I think Mal’s tried to get everyone together, but I don’t know if it’s worked. It’s like herding mad sheep, sometimes.”
“…at the moment?”
Lor cleared his throat and looked down at the floor, smiling sheepishly. “Yeah, at the moment.” He looked up in time to see Steve raise an eyebrow, and he smothered a laugh. “I think you’ll get on well with my husband. He tends to give people that look, too.”
“So, am I allowed to open my eyes yet?” Yaritza asked, holding onto the warm hand in hers. “I mean, I have no idea where we are, and as much as I trust you I don’t fancy getting lost.”
“You’ll recognise it when you open your eyes, I promise. Just a little further.”
She grinned, walking on. Al sounded so excited, she couldn’t spoil whatever surprise he had waiting – no matter how tempting it was to peek. He was so much more confident now than he had been when they had met. She liked to believe that she’d played at least a small part in that, but to be honest it didn’t matter. She liked seeing him so happy and secure. He’d always be shy. It was a part of his personality, and she loved him for it. The difference now was that it was all natural. There wasn’t any fear in it anymore.
“Don’t open your eyes yet, but we’re here.”
“I want to make sure it’s perfect. Wait there a sec, I just need to move something.”
She heard the sound of footsteps on wood. They couldn’t be at his house – he wouldn’t hide that from her. Ellie didn’t have wooden floors. She was completely lost. They were still in Newcrest, weren’t they?
“Ok,” he said, his arms circling her and pulling her close. “You can open your eyes now.”
Yari blinked, eyes focusing on the building across the road. She knew where she was now, but it made no sense. “Al? What are we looking at?”
He giggled, pressing a kiss to her neck. “You’re looking the wrong way. Turn around.”
“Are you gonna let me turn?”
He let go and stepped back, biting his lip. “I really hope you like it. I mean, I know you do on paper, but…”
He faded off as her jaw dropped, taking in the sight in front of her. She couldn’t believe it. It was perfect.
“Well, the building crew had a big slot of time free, so I thought it would be a good idea to get it done. That way if you wanted any changes made there would be plenty of time for them. I hope I did the right thing.”
She peered through the windows, exclaiming with delight. “You used my favourite colour! I thought you didn’t like pink.”
“Well, it’s more of a pinky-purple, but it went really well with the green chairs you liked. Everything is as close to our design as possible, and there’s plenty of space for expansions later on if-”
She grabbed his hand, cutting him off as she pulled him up the stairs and into a kiss. He hummed happily against her lips.
“So, you like it?”
“I love it. One question, though.”
“Why is the letterbox in the kitchen?”
“… I have no idea.”
“Hey, Steve. Sorry about that. I imagine it takes a bit of getting used to, being around so many people.”
“I like your family. They are very kind. I do not know if they like me, however.”
“What makes you say that?” Lor asked, sitting down at the table. “May I join in?”
“Of course. I would like to have someone to play against.” Steve moved the chess pieces back to their staring places. “I find people hard to read. I am used to your expressions, but I cannot read your family very well. How do I know if they like me?”
“It’s hard to know for certain. I sometimes find it difficult with new people, too. Would you like my opinion, though?”
“I think they like you. Ellie in particular, but I don’t think anyone feels badly towards you. Mal is a bit wary, but he’s just being protective of our kids. He doesn’t know you yet, and you’re living with us, so it’s natural that he’d be a bit on edge to begin with. I’ll let you in on a secret though,” Lor leant forward and whispered, “he said that you had very good manners. That’s a definite point in your favour.”
“So, you do not think I need to worry?”
“I don’t.” Lor glared at the pieces in front of him. “Now, how did this happen?”
“You were not paying attention. I believe this is ‘check mate’.”
“Best two out of three?”
Steve looked around the room. It was smaller than the lab, but it felt more… cosy. The quilt was thick and woolen, and the floor was polished wood. This was his. He’d never had anything so completely his own before. He found the plug socket next to the bed and unwound his charging cord. This was the first night of the rest of his life.
He was free.
A/N Thank you so much for your patience! I’ve been going through a rough patch health-wise, along with computer issues. Plus I might have ended up rewriting the whole thing >.< I’m hoping that at least the computer thing is sorted now, but we’ll have to wait a little to see if that’s true. Have a bonus Leo!
He looks like he’s been at the catnip. It didn’t fit the story, but I loved this picture too much to get rid of it.
Also, I’m pretty sure Lyra hasn’t considered that there may be more than one vampire running around. Oh dear.
This is what happened when Rainn got Simrayed. I really didn’t know how to make this look any less weird, so it’s another outtake =p
As for Shea’s extended family, I really didn’t plan this! I have MC Command Center installed, and… well…
I found out about the others when she was at the park on her birthday. I hovered over the kid she was playing with and it came up with ‘brother’ and I was like ‘what?!’
So yeah, that’s a thing. Also, Ciara’s husband is Lor’s childhood friend and Nylah’s brother! The one who hates kids. Yup. Well done MC, that is a very convoluted thing you have done. Goodness knows how it will play out.