We didn’t get to see much of Lynn for the next while. She was busy being sucked into the Order. Dante’s child psychologist friend had a side specialty in a’thanila children, and as she already had a rapport with Rita, it was decided that Dr. Morris would break the news to the spud–in the comfort of our house, with pretty near the entire dai’yadi on call for reassurance if needed.
Plans went pretty well, until one night Devon said, in a mimicry of Rita’s little girl voice, “OK, guys, I got it. Mommy and everybody are vampires. And I’m a vampire too. But what about Daddy? He’s not a vampire. My magic vampire g’nah would have known.” In a more normal tone, he went on, “It’s only what every kid wants to know as soon as they figure out their particular sperm and egg aren’t the ones claiming credit. Like it or not, guys. Sirs,” he added. Devon was a’thanila himself, which gave his opinion extra weight. (Terry had only brushed off mild embarrassment at having forgotten Sean’s irregular origin. He was really bummed when he realized he didn’t know his favorite man-at-arms as well as he thought he had.)
“Kid’s got a point.” Meeze rested his elbows on the table. “Pascal Chatte’d’garcon has to come into this picture. Terry, you know him, don’t you?”
“Not well,” Terry admitted. “His brother married my cousin as soon as it was legal up here–two weeks after Sean and Eamon, to be exact. I saw Pascal at the wedding, and his main topic of conversation was trying to get me to pull some strings for his band.”
“Band?” queried Pharaoh. He was in a testy mood because I’d slipped in playing with his yarn earlier and bitten it clear through. He hated joins and knots when it was something poofy like boucle or baby yarn. Worse, the cubs had gotten me wound up into dangercat mode and in the thick of things I had also whacked him one with a not-quite-velveted paw. A sheepish Devon had had to spit out a stream of their fy’zhan venom, the one they injected when leaving a bite, which caused the rapid healing. (Their own venom didn’t work on themselves.) As he had rubbed it in, he had spoken to me in quite a sharp tone, and I had chosen to lurk behind Meeze’s chair tonight, where there was the braid as entertainment.
“Pascal sings. Beautiful bass. His band does this really eclectic mix of things that incorporates bluegrass with conservatory.” There was an odd tone to both Terry’s voice and outer soul.
Meeze mrr’ed almost as if he were a cat. “What aren’t you telling us? This isn’t like you. Give.”
“Yeah,” Sasha said. “People try to milk you for contacts all the time. If you handled the Neshies with the same skill, the Crucio would be handing you a Good Conduct medal.”
Terry ignored this, while I felt the others fang their lips to keep from snickering. “Pascal is Adrian’s little brother. As in, Ado is our age: pushing forty-something. But Pascal is the son of Adrian’s stepmother: Twenty-something.”
There were whistles and a guffaw or two, but Meeze said, “No, Rita is thirteen. He can’t be.”
“Well, a very low thirty-something, then. Keep the cubs locked up around the woman, is all I can say.” He sounded fierce. The dai’yadi by now all knew the story of Terry getting nabbed by the cops on the verge of proposing to his Aria, so people drew their own conclusions about the scandalized anger in his voice and forbore to comment on it.
Meeze said to Sasha, “I’m having trouble with this picture of Lynn-the-cougar. Are we sure Pascal’s the father?”
Sasha nodded. “Sure enough for Maury Povich.”
Terry groaned as Devon crowed, “Pascal, you are the father!” Pharaoh started to squeak and bounce and point his finger, getting up from his seat to put his hand on his hips, bending forward with his pointing hand in Meeze’s face as he did a little dance of vindicated joy, complete with yelps and tosses of his head. I came around the table to watch, leaping up to the back of the couch for a better seat. He really was perfect, but then it was a favorite knitting show of his.
When he was through and had enjoyed the hilarity and applause he had deserved, he sat down and put up his hands for silence. When the other men (notably excepting Dante, who had sat in a humorless thundercloud the while) indicated he might continue, he said, “But seriously a bit. Now imagine the tears of the maiden who is proved to have been mistaken. I think that’s closer to what our Lynn will give us, don’t you? How can we do that to her, calling ourselves Lions and gentlemen?”
Devon said, “Oh, I don’t know. When they get up and run around the studio and then off the set, that’s pretty funny.”
Dante snarled, “That is because we have objectified other humans to a lowest common denominator in order to make ourselves feel better about our own miserable, laughable, little lives.” Really, this man was no fun at all sometimes. Priests, bah. And psychologists, worse.
Meeze said, sounding thoughtful, “But part of why we enjoy laughing at this rather simple plot is because that’s what they get. These humans irresponsibly made a baby, and now they have to face the consequences, and if you think about it, a few minutes of national humiliation ain’t nothin’ compared to having to help sell band candy. Like it or not, Lynn’s going to have to face up to this, and, well, not to be a hardass, but it’s not like we haven’t seen her cry before.” This got him a few dirty y’rais, but he was speaking the truth.
Dante said, “At some point this week, Lynn will be getting enough biological information for her to figure out that Rita can’t be Lafe’s child, if indeed she’s ever thought she was–women usually know. Not always, as that dreadful show proves, but still. She’ll have access to Rita’s Chattie record if she thinks to ask for it.”
Devon’s outer soul went firm with purpose. “Oughtn’t we to be thinking of Rita here? Surely it’s more important that she know her father than whether or not her mom’s embarrassed. And what’s so embarrassing? That he was a young guy? With all due respect, sir and elder brothers, maybe you wish you had it going on that way. Sure, she’s on the heavy side, but she’s a really pretty lady, and super nice.” He looked around the table and got a weird, lopsided grin. “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve never had feelings for somebody older?” To both his and my delight, several people shifted in their seats–Dante Fabrizio positively went red. Devon grinned and leaned back. “‘Nuff said.”
“Don’t get any ideas, cubling,” laughed Meeze.
“Why not?” Devon said. “She’s in the Order. It wouldn’t be a breach of chastity.”
“Because it would really upset me, that’s why,” snapped Terry. Devon was feeling pert enough to answer back, but every older Lion in the room y’raied him.
“Moving right along,” said Sasha, looking as amused as I had ever seen him, “seeing as Etienne and Adrian are due for a visit this coming Tuesday so Tennie can make his report on the Nesh’s latest round of hijinks, I suggest that maybe Pascal get invited too, so we can play this out and get it over with. Because I am willing to guarantee that Lynn will be happy to bury it in paperwork for as long as possible to avoid a confrontation–for somebody who’s good at them, she avoids them; that’s the post-traumatic stress, and I hope we all agree that it’s bad to pile more on that load. Better far to have it out in the open. And if she runs off the set, well, I’ve run after her before.” He was referring to winkeling her out of the laundry room that time she was overcome by all the naked men, and people smiled.
I was not quite as pleased. Etienne Dangerstreet was the Archimago’s Voice to the Nesh’vai, meaning he was Terry’s proxy on that body–and often spy. Etienne was good enough for a human, I supposed, but he was the only regular visitor who was allergic to me, and so I spent those council meetings shut up in the basement. It had taken Pharaoh a while to catch on that I’d gotten to like hearing what went on at the Tuesday meeting, as it was my main shot at keeping some kind of track of the politics–which, may Bast forgive me, had started to interest me. But when he figured it out, he would zap me an earbug spell before the meeting started. Better than nothing; at least Terry was scrupulous about getting me my fair dose of lox.
Adrian, Etienne’s husband, was a nice sort, though. He liked cats and had taken to coming down to the basement to visit with me. It was a bit distracting if I was trying to listen to something complicated, but he tended to come with a pocketful of some fancy treats from one of those pet boutique places in New York. Its unfortunate name was “Dogering and Catering,” but they were yummy little bits, and it gave the big fellow great pleasure to spoil me with them. I hoped Pascal was nice too, now that he was joining the family.
When Tuesday rolled around, Adrian came downstairs as usual, armed with my treats and a good book. For the heir to one of Contract’s most prestigious Houses, he hated politics and avoided it whenever possible. A Classics scholar by training, the good book was usually Latin or Greek, and he would curl up and wait the meeting out, sometimes disrobing and taking advantage of our excellent tub. But today his thick black eyebrows were set in a scowl, and the dark-sky eyes were pained.
“Hello, Eureka. Congratulate me; I just found out I’m an uncle.” Ah. But what was so bad about that? I still wasn’t getting the point of all this fuss. Cats don’t care about fatherhood–the tom is almost always a long-forgotten episode of pain and annoyance. It’s the kittens that count. Now, don’t get me wrong–I was alive to the human necessity of having two parents and all, and could sympathize with Rita’s right to know her pedigree–sometimes I wondered about mine: Did my patrician Russian Blue mama get frisky one night and muddy up her owner’s plans for pricey purebred kittens? I would never know, and really didn’t care. But Lynn and Pascal, now! So she was older. Big deal!
But I nuzzled Adrian to show I sympathized with his mood, and curled up by him to listen to the argument upstairs, which was about some jackass in the Nesh’vai trying to get a special Statute passed which would make it illegal to make a humani vai’ada. The penalties made my fur stand on end: For example, a humani blundering onto our secret would be disappeared and their body mined for blood for those unable to Hunt. Barbaric! Even Terry was up in arms about it–”This is the sort of thing I keep my Neshie points for, instead of nitshit stuff like the Pit,” he said. Sounded promising. I hoped.
After the meeting, my earbug spell expired, and Adrian went back upstairs for what was going to pass for a friendly gathering, but was really a social trap for two unwitting parents–at least I hoped it was unwitting on both ends. I didn’t want to miss this real-life drama, but unless they opted to have the scene in the tub . . .
Wait a minute. I remembered hearing a lot of mouse sound in the dining room; it had seemed to be coming from a particular corner. I had sniffed it out already–there was a gap in the floor of some six inches square, hidden by the ancient mahogany sideboard. And right underneath in the basement was a rack Sasha used to store old equipment on. (He had used to boil down bits of ex-Th’nashi at home for various forensic Lion business, but Terry had put a revolted stop to it long before they’d gotten me.)
It was the work of a minute to hop up there–there was a lot of mouse poop–and hardly any trouble to ooze my way through the hole. What a lot of dust bunnies were in the back here! Even the professional housekeepers had been missing it. I held my breath and body-surfed through it, until I was out and in the dining room proper. I wanted a bath now, but I needed concealment. Everybody was in the kitchen–everybody, meaning Sasha and Terry and Dante and Adrian and Etienne–the cubs were in their room. I sidled from shadow to shadow along the sideboards until I reached the area behind the huge flatscreen in the living room. I moved the remote with careful nudges so it wouldn’t betray me, and voila! I was just in time, as people started to come in to the dining room at the ring of the doorbell.
It was Pascal Chatte’d’garcon, and his ping pronounced him as an innocent lamb led to the slaughter. I peeked out to get a look at him, and after a moment, I could sort of see why Terry had been so scandalized.
Not only was he indeed a good bit younger than Lynn, he was what humans deemed very handsome. His eyes were the same dark-sky color as Adrian’s, and he topped his 6’2” with the same dark curls, but they dangled down the nape of his neck, stopping right at the maximum length Contract sumptuary laws allowed a man not a Lion. He had a sort of muscular grace that reminded me of Hans–he wasn’t trained to be a fighter, but it wouldn’t take much work to get him into shape for it. And even a cat could see that he was Rita’s father, much as we had all thought she looked like Lynn.
He approached Terry with a disarming grin. “Hey Terry, how’ve you been? Any luck finding somebody willing to listen to my demo?” He had his brother’s Texan drawl, but it was softer, deeper, with its corners rounded off in voice school.
Terry found this as wearisome as most professionals did, but this time he was ready to do some appeasing. “Have you seen the new Rude Mechanicals video? The one for their cover of ‘Amie’? Because the couple who did it find your concept intriguing. I know you’ve got your guy with the camera, but–” He stopped and answered Pascal’s incredulous grin with his own. “Want their info?”
“Oh man, you know I do!”
“Step into my office.” They did so, Pascal beginning to bubble up over the edges.
“Oh great,” said the morose Adrian. “Like any chick he knocked up fourteen years ago can compete with that. What were you thinking?”
Dante smiled. He had been impressed with this part of the plan. “That people with good self-esteem are more generous and compassionate.”
“Ha! Like you know Pascal and his swelled head! He’ll treat her like she was lucky to see the gold on it shine.” Adrian had made himself a huge roast beef sandwich. “I saved a scrap or two for Eureka,” he said as he tucked in. “I might just go downstairs and stay with her for this whole show.”
“Now Ado,” Etienne said, his rock-hard gymnast’s hands kneading his shoulders, “just eat your sandwich and hush.” Etienne was an inch shorter than Sasha, all springy ginger curls and purposeful motion. He had cleaned up at the ’72 Olympics in parallel bar and went back to grab another medal eight years later, when a lot of young gymnasts were already starting to age out. If Terry gave him his head with the Nesh’vai, things would be different in Nova Terra. Adrian ate his sandwich and hushed.
“Ia tser– oh, wait, no, never mind. Lynn’s here,” called Devon. I could feel his flush. I supposed it would be only fair to give the kid a week or so to get used to her change of status.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him as she passed.
“Uh, no big. I’ll explain it to you someday,” he laughed.
“Thanks for arranging the big day out for the rugrat,” Lynn told him. “Matt and Joel are brave men.” They were going out to some big anime movie and then for ice cream–if she were good. The big plan was to have her be her sparkliest when she swung by Uncle Terry’s house and bumped into the tom who had sired her. Devon bowed and said nothing, ushering her into the living room with a grand gesture.
I kneaded my paws in irritation as her outer soul soared when it caught wind of Dante’s: His was more polished, less open enthusiasm. I hoped it was just his being English or something, but I was pretty sure she cared more than he did. But he did, at least some; I had to admit that. I sighed. Maybe he was just a little tense, under the circumstances.
“Cara, do you know Tennie and Ado?” Everybody knew she didn’t. “Etienne Dangerstreet, Terry’s cousin, and his official representative to the Nesh’vai. Adrian Chatte’d’garcon, his husband.” Handshaking all around.
Everybody was standing or sitting right in front of the TV, so I didn’t dare peek, but I could tell from Lynn’s confusion that a) she knew something was up and b) this Adrian guy reminded her very strongly of Somebody Else.
Then the punchline hit, as Somebody Else strolled out of Terry’s office, still talking shop with great animation.
Adrian said, with the dash and charm of a true cavalier, “Pascal, mon frere, may I present you to this charming N’vai’tt lady?” From Pascal’s twitch, I gathered that Adrian had laid hands on his person as if seizing a cobra.
“Milady, this is my brother, Pascal Chatte’d’garcon. Pascal, this is Arianlyn Lannon, N’vai’tt Tarragon.”
There was a pause while Pascal was confused and Lynn very slowly became embarrassed. Even scared. Bastards. They didn’t know their tomcats. He had no idea who she was–it had been over a decade–and meanwhile I was betting, knowing both Lynn and over a hundred high school reunion commercials, that she was counting every pound she’d gained since she saw this macho tidbit last. But she said “How do you do?” and sank down in a polite little heap on the edge of the sofa. Her outer soul reminded me of the way it had pulsated back when we had been kidnapped–only this time she’d been trapped by her so-called friends. I wanted to claw somebody.
There was small talk, there were hors ‘d’oeuvres, and then after about twenty minutes Lynn sat bolt upright and said, “Rita!” Her outer soul had gone from coquetting around Dante to outright hiding behind him, but now it zeroed in on Terry and shook. He couldn’t feel it–it was part of her being a fy’foxi that made her touch almost as light as a Crucio’s–but he heard her remark, and I’m sure her face spoke volumes.
“Yes, Rita,” Terry hissed. And everybody else but Pascal cruised to a dead stop. He was in the middle of an anecdote about his band and hadn’t heard a thing, but the ambience of the room sank in within a few words. I edged out just a morsel, figuring that at worst I’d be busted and used for much-needed comic relief. But I wasn’t.
Lynn got up and tried to slap Terry in the face. Of course, his reflexes were too fast for her and he caught her wrist. She pulled away with such violence that she almost fell over, seeing as he let her go as soon as she did. They stood facing each other, panting. Then she spun on her heel, looking for Devon.
“Call the boys,” she snapped. “Have them drop her off at home.”
“Um,” said Devon. Then he shook himself and ran his fingers through his mane of long hair. “No. Not doing it. She needs to know. She may not find out until the thing with Dr. Morris next week, but she’s Th’nashi now. Worse, she’s a ruling daughter of Chattie now. Her business, mom. Not yours.”
Pascal’s eyes widened. Finally, he got it.
“Adrian Michael, did you get this nice lady in the family way? I thought you were gay!”
There was another timeless pause, then Lynn began to laugh, joined by Meeze and Pharaoh, and then Etienne. Sasha rubbed the bridge of his nose, and Terry got up and slammed out of the room. Dante followed him. Last of all, Ado slid down on the floor beside me and whooped until he was red in the face.
Pascal didn’t see why exactly this was funny, but he grinned and went over to Lynn, smothering her in a hug.
“Welcome to the family!”