When he found Kristen, she was sitting in the bathtub, water off, knees pulled to her chest and arms wrapped around them. Her eyes were still red from recent crying.
He reached out to brush the wet hair from her cheek as she looked up at him. "Love? What's wrong?"
"I talked to her. The ghost. I talked to her."
He picked her up, cradling her to his chest. "Oh, love, I'm so sorry." He carried her over to the bed and sat down, holding her as she shook and cried.
Finally, she looked up at him. "She... she wanted a favor."
"What?" he asked.
She sniffed, wiping at her eyes. "She wants one of us... Kayla or I... to take her baby."
"What do you mean?" His brow wrinkled in confusion. "Love, the baby's dead."
She nodded. "I didn't understand, either, but she explained."
"Then what did she mean?"
"The baby's soul is trapped here," she said. "It can't go to heaven, or anywhere. But it can get reborn, if the conception takes place here."
He shook his head. "No way. Y'all are too young."
"She's afraid he'll come, and he'll be able to destroy her completely," Kristen said. "She's terrified. She just wants her baby to have a chance to live."
He stroked her hair, but shook his head again. "No. You're both way too young to be having a baby."
Her voice dropped to a broken whisper. "It was so little. How could he?" She started to cry again.
He gathered her close and sighed. "I don't know, love. I just don't know."
"I... I want to do it." she looked up at him pleadingly. "Lots of girls get pregnant at fourteen. Or even younger. It'll be okay."
"No," he said firmly. "Out of the question."
"Mark, I can't bear it! I can't stand to think of it, always trapped, always crying in hunger and thirst and fear! It's too awful. I have to do something."
He looked down into her desperate eyes, and sighed. "Fine. We'll find something else we can do." He paused thoughtfully. "Shit, this is perfect. I know just who to ask, and maybe we can help Kayla while we're at it."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, puzzled.
His expression was full of pain. "Kayla dreamed about Karen Wilson's death. Part of her knew it was a true dream, but she thought she was just being paranoid, and didn't say anything. And she's blamed herself for the last three and a half years. She hasn't been able to work magic in that entire time. Maybe if she can do something to help someone..." His voice trailed off.
"Oh." She looked shocked for a moment, then frowned. "Mark... should you have told me that?"
He looked down at her. "She probably wouldn't have wanted me to, no," he admitted. "But you love her... and maybe, between us, we can get her to believe she doesn't need to be punished. I can't stand to see her in pain, love. It hurts."
She hugged him tightly. "I know... but she told you because she trusted you. I don't feel right about you telling even me without her permission."
"Kristen... she loves you more than she loves me," he said. "You can do more than I can... though a straightforward attack will not work, it seems."
"You know I'll try," she said.
He nodded. "I think, maybe, if we can show her a way to do some good..."
"She could have the baby, but I think it would be better if I did," she said. "No one would be surprised if I turned up pregnant."
He shook his head. "We'll find a different solution. And I know just who to ask. I need you to call Aaron, and get his mother's number."
"Why should I call instead of you?"
He raised an eyebrow. "His father might ask questions about why a teacher was calling. He won't ask why a girl is."
"Oh," she said, blushing. "Right."
The number was acquired, and Mark dialed Lenita. He explained about the ghost's request, and that he thought it was a horribly bad idea, and the distress that doing nothing was causing Kristen.
"I see," she said. "And I agree. Fourteen is far too young for a girl to have a child, even for the best of reasons."
"Yes. Far too young," he agreed. "There's got to be another solution, but to be very blunt, I'm too inexperienced to know what."
"And there's some reason this must be done now?" Lenita asked. "Rather than wait for one of the girls to grow up?"
He sighed. "Yes. There was a body found this weekend. I'm personally convinced it was Ryan Barnes' body. Emma Barnes is afraid he'll manage to get in here and destroy them. She says that he bound them here, and only he can release them. I find that hard to believe, that there's no other way, but I'm new to all of this."
"Only he can release 'them'? But if another accepts the child, it will be released. Perhaps only he can release her, but the child merely needs a vessel. And perhaps her own bondage is more in her mind than in reality... or perhaps it is the child who holds her there, and she could find peace herself if it were cared for." Lenita paused thoughtfully. "There... might be a way."
"What?" he asked, the relief plain in his voice.
"It would still require someone willing to bear the child as their own... just not right away. There's a ceremony that calls the spirit of one's future young, binding it to your body for when the time is right," she said. "The catch being that you cannot define that right time. You simply have to accept it. It might be ten years from now, it might be ten weeks."
"Er," he said. "Honestly, I don't think either of them should have a child in the next several years."
"And perhaps you are correct. However, the chance exists that you might not be. Arguing with fate is rarely productive."
He sighed. "Indeed. You have a point there. How would we go about this?"
"I will email Aaron the appropriate ritual and a list of what she will need," she said. "Then one of them must perform it in the house where the spirit resides."
"Thank you," he said, then hesitated before asking, "For my own peace of mind, could you confirm or deny something for me?"
"Perhaps," she said. "You may ask, in any event."
"Would the gods punish someone who was a novice, and only eleven years old, by taking their magic for making a mistake?" he asked. "Even if the result of their mistake was horrific?"
"That would depend upon which gods were involved, Mr. Hasseran. Most would not be so harsh, but yes, some would," she said. "But, that assumes that the magic was a gift of those gods. Most of the time, magic is inborn, not granted."
"Hmm. I see. Assuming the magic was inborn, the gods couldn't take it?" he asked, just to be sure.
"That is correct," she said. "They could possibly block it, but not permanently."
He smiled, relieved. "That's what I suspected. Thank you."
"Have you sent the things I require?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. "They should arrive in the morning, in a locked aluminum case. Once you've got it, you can call me during my conference period and I'll give you the combination. Perhaps I'm being overly paranoid, but I'd prefer to know you have it in your possession before anyone else knows the combination."
She sounded mildly amused. "I see. I will call you tomorrow then. Goodnight, Mr. Hasseran."
"Goodnight." He hung up the phone and turned to Kristen, who was waiting impatiently to see what she'd said. "Okay. There's a solution that does not necessarily involve either of you getting pregnant right now. The catch is that at the right time, whichever of you performed the ritual will end up pregnant."
She nodded. "What's the right time?"
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Apparently, it has to do with fate. Maybe Kayla would understand better."
On cue, Kayla strode into the bedroom, a sheet of paper in hand. "Okay, got it... huh?" she asked, looking at them with a perplexed frown.
Mark reached out, pulling her down beside them, and explained what had happened to Kristen, and the solution they'd found.
"So, basically, one of us has to agree to get pregnant at 'the right time' which is an unspecified date in the future?" she asked.
"Apparently," he agreed. "If we decide to do it."
"I see," she said, then paused for a long while. "And if we do this, the baby will be in... holding ... or something until it's born as ours?"
"Something like that, I guess," he said.
"Um..." She licked her lips. "We've never even talked about it... but do we want to have kids?" Kayla asked.
Mark blinked. "Well, I guess that needs to be our first discussion," he said, and as he did so, he realized that they'd skipped another step as well.
"I already said I'd do it," Kristen said. "I like children. I've never been around many... people don't ask me to babysit... but I do like them. I'd like to have a baby."
Kayla bit her lip. "Um... in theory, I'm okay with the idea, I guess, if you two are," she said. "But... I have been around kids. I have baby cousins and a little brother. They can be really evil."
Mark wrapped his mind around the bond he shared with Kristen, tugging at it, and she slid into his lap. He wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling her ear, and whispered, "By the way, are we marrying Kayla?"
"We can't," she whispered back. "It's not legal."
"But we can in a way that would mean something to us," he said. "If you wanted to, I mean."
"I thought... we kinda were."
He smiled against her hair. "We never asked her, you know. Not formally."
"Oh! Then yes, of course," she said.
"Do you want to ask, or shall I?"
She blushed. "You."
Mark looked up at Kayla. "Um. Love, we've kind of assumed something, but we never actually asked. Kayla James, will you marry us?"
"Oh. Um." She seemed quite flustered. "Define 'marry' please."
"Well. Um." He smiled nervously. "I mean, we can't legally get married, but we want to be with you forever. I guess right now you can't actually move in with us, but we'd like you to when it's feasible. And we could have a ceremony, at least with some... close friends."
"I... like handfasting?" she asked. "I could see that working. Um... I'm going to say yes, but not right now. I want to, but... I want to wait 'til we can be more open about things. If what you're really asking is if I will make a commitment to... to us, then yes, I most certainly will. Ceremonies can wait."
Mark wrapped his arm around her, snuggling her close. "We love you."
Kayla sighed happily and cuddled up to them, wrapping her arm around Kristen's waist. "Love you, too, impossible creatures. Now, back to the subject of parenthood... Mark, what do you think of the idea?"
"I... well, honestly, I'd never really thought about it," he said. "Let me put it this way -- it's not a driving need for me to have a child, but it's certainly not something I'd object to."
"So you like kids?" Kayla asked. "Ever changed a diaper?"
He shook his head. "No, I haven't. But neither have most prospective fathers. And I do like kids."
"And you realize the baby will almost certainly be yours, right? You're okay with that?" Kayla asked, looking up at him seriously.
He nodded. "Yeah, I am."
"The right time might be next month, and the birth control pills might fail, and everyone will think you impregnated a teenager," Kayla warned.
"I know." He sighed. "That's what scares me. I'm... not sure what to do about that. I wish we had some kind of indication as to when the right time would be."
Kayla echoed his sigh. "It'll be the right time. For us and the baby," she said. "So, I'm betting it won't be right away. Unless for some reason we need to have a baby right away... maybe it would make us leave this place before something awful happened, or maybe it would be the only chance we ever had to have one, or something we just can't know."
"Hmmmm," he said. "In that case, since Kristen wants to have a baby, is there a downside?"
"Well... I guess not," Kayla admitted. "So what do we do?"
"His mother is emailing the ritual to Aaron," Mark said.
"Okay, that's good. So, which of us has the baby?" Kayla asked.
"Well, y'all need to decide that," he said.
She smiled and shook her head. "Actually, we all need to decide that. Because if Kristen has it, it will likely inherit some of her abilities... and needs."
"Oh!" Kristen's eyes widened. "I hadn't thought of that."
"Mmm. Point," Mark said.
"So... see, that choice will affect us all," Kayla finished.
"Yeah. It will," he said. "Okay. What do you two think about it?"
Kristen looked near tears. "I... don't know. I wanted to have a baby, but... would it be right to do this to an innocent child?"
"But look at the things you can do, love," he said, stroking her back comfortingly. "It's not all negative, not now that you know."
"Yes... but... I'm not human," she said. "I wouldn't be this way if I'd had a choice."
"A lot of people would, though, Kris," Kayla said, but Kristen looked at her skeptically.
"And think about it for a second, love," Mark said. "There is no way I could manage some of the things with anyone else that I've managed with you. It would be physically impossible."
"I know," she said. "Now that I've found you, I like it, but up until then, I was miserable."
He stared down at her for a moment, then frowned sharply. "I just remembered something that makes the question moot. It's too dangerous for you to have a child, love."
"Medically," he said. "Your mother was on complete bed rest for five months, and she had a c-section."
"Oh," she said, relaxing. "But I'm larger than my mother was, by quite a bit. And I'm half-human. I might not even have those problems."
He wasn't convinced, though it was true. From the pictures he'd seen, and Steven's description, Jarai had the build of the average Asian woman, with slimmer hips, and was a good six inches shorter than her daughter. "Are you enough larger, though?" he asked.
"Kayla's smaller than me, Mark," she pointed out.
"Well. You have a point," he said. "Still, it's something we need to consider."
"I do want to have a baby," Kristen said. "And I don't think 'the right time' would be defined as 'at a time when it would kill me'. It might be the best way for me to have a baby, actually."
"That's... also a good point," he said. "Okay, Kayla do you want to have a baby? Yourself?"
"Uh. Y-- N-- Maybe. I don't know," she said. "I will, if that's the best way, but for myself, not particularly. And if Kristen is going to have a child, then I don't think that I should at all."
Mark raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"
"Two reasons. One, two women can produce more children than even a three-person family can support, so it makes sense to limit them. And two, her children would be supernaturally beautiful, magical creatures. Any that I bore would just be human... can you say, 'inferiority complex'? They'd be miserable, and they'd hate their siblings."
He hadn't even considered that. "I... see. You might have a point there. I guess that means that it should be Kristen, then."
Kayla nodded. "Plus, it seems important to her, and frankly, it's just not to me. I want to have kids, or a kid, anyway, but it doesn't matter to me whose hole it falls out of. Baby's a baby. So Kris can have the whole earth mother thing going if she wants."
"I... it is important to me," Kristen said. "I don't know why. I didn't even realize it until we started talking about it. Maybe it's selfish, but I really do want to have at least one baby."
Mark nodded, still worried. "Then I guess it's decided."
"Yep." Kayla smiled at him. "We knock up Kristen. Dirty old man. Eventually, of course. No reason to go off birth control or anything drastic."
"Right." He sighed. "Okay. That's decided. How about the warding stuff?"
"Got it right here. We need some strongly scented stuff to burn, like sage or cinnamon or cloves or dragonsblood or something."
He nodded. "I think I've got cloves in the kitchen."
They headed downstairs to look for ingredients, and prepare for the ritual.
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