It was less than five minutes from the time he groggily answered the phone before Steven knelt by the bed, his whole body radiating his relief. His voice was gentle, trembling just slightly, as he took Kristen's free hand. "Kris? You okay, honey?"
She smiled at him. "I'm fine, Daddy. We're both okay, now," she said, and squeezed both of the hands she held.
His eyes flicked downwards to that other small hand, then up to Angie, and his jaw tightened. "Good." Kristen didn't seem to notice the tension in his voice, but Mark did. Steven stepped back, letting Kayla take his place at Kristen's side, and met Mark's eyes, nodding slightly towards the open door. Mark nodded and followed him into the hall, pulling the door closed behind them, but not latching it.
"Well?" Steven asked, and the quiet question held unmistakable hostility.
Mark sighed. "She's stopped fighting it. I found out that she thought she'd stop hurting Kristen if she died-- she didn't realize it would kill her. She thought it would free her. She never wanted to hurt her. And... your daughter finally got through her religious hangups." He smiled and shook his head. "'A god that would want to torture me like this doesn't deserve worship.' She didn't know Angie was listening, and it just... it got through to her in a way that I hadn't been able to. She's not going to hurt Kristen again."
Steven ran a hand through his hair irritably. "So she just gets away with it?" he snapped.
"No. She's been punished," Mark said softly.
"I don't know," Mark said, slowly. "You should understand. You've been there. She woke up to find she'd nearly killed Kristen."
Steven flinched, and his face paled as he turned away, closing his eyes against the pain of those memories. "All right," he said, hoarsely. "Maybe I can see that. But it just..." He shook his head, his shoulders slumping as he sighed.
"I know," Mark said. He did. It would be so easy to hate her for what she'd almost done. Anger would be so much simpler than forgiveness... but Kristen loved her. "I know, Steven."
Hard green eyes seemed to bore into him, unforgiving and perceptive. "So you're okay with this, then?"
Mark winced, and it was his turn to look away. "I don't know," he said with a sigh. "But she loves Kristen, and I don't doubt that. She never denied she loved her, even when she thought it was wrong... and she has decided that it can't be wrong. And Kristen loves her."
"Yeah, well, Kristen's a loving sort of girl. A forgiving sort of girl."
"I don't know that I can be that forgiving, son," Steven said quietly.
Mark sighed again. "I know. But... if you don't, you'll just hurt Kristen. I'm not exactly happy with Angie, myself, you know."
"Yeah. I know." Another deep sigh, and Steven rubbed his forehead. "All right. You're right. And I'll be civil, because Kris wants it that way. But. If she fucks up and hurts her again, then we will find some way to break that damned link without killing my daughter."
Mark held up a finger. "If she deliberately hurts her. We can't require her to be perfect."
"How about 'deliberately or stupidly'?"
"Hmmm. Depends on the circumstances of 'stupidly'," Mark said.
He shrugged. "Oh, just that it's possible that stupidly might not deserve such a response. Anyone can have a stupid moment. How about, if she hurts Kristen, we'll deal with her appropriately, whatever that is?"
"Fine," Steven said. "But she's already had more chance than anyone could ever deserve, so there had better be obvious effort on her part to not fuck up."
That, they could agree on.
The doctor looked at his notes and then down at Angie and frowned sternly. "Unhooking our own plumbing, are we Ms. Sloan?"
She blushed and lowered her head. "It just came loose. Honest," she whispered, fiddling with the hem of the hospital gown.
"Of course. Back into bed with you now." As Angie meekly complied, he turned to smile warmly at Kristen. "Well, how are we feeling this morning, young lady?"
"Fine. Can I go home now?"
"Well... technically, there's nothing wrong with you. That we can find. But you took a very bad turn, and we'd like to know why. I have no real medical reason to keep you, however I would prefer you stay with us at least another 24 hours for observation, and maybe a few more tests."
She tilted her chin up, her lower lip set stubbornly, and he sighed. "No? All right, then. How about you stay for lunch, I'll have the nurse remove the IV and the catheter, and if everything still looks okay, you can go home by 3ish?"
She bit her lower lip, glancing at Mark, and then nodded. "Okay, I guess."
Angie cleared her throat from the other bed. "How about me? Can I go home, too?"
The doctor sobered as he turned to her. "Ms. Sloan, I'd love to let you go home, but first we have to make sure you're not going to end up back here, hmm? I can't release you; our staff psychologist will have to do that."
She sighed tiredly. "I am a psychologist... I don't suppose I can release myself?"
He shook his head, smiling. "Sorry, dear, but I'm glad to see you making jokes. I'll get Dr. Laurel in here to see you as soon as possible. Meantime, I can unhook this..." He reached over and flipped off the heart monitor... "And I'll have a nurse come and take that needle out of your arm. How's that?"
She slumped against the pillows, unconsciously mirroring Kristen. "Okay, I guess."
They should have known the doctor wouldn't give up without more of a fight; he may have given up on persuading Kristen to stay, but that didn't stop him from trying to convince both Mark and Steven that she should. If they hadn't known, themselves, the reason behind Kristen's collapse and 'spontaneous' recovery, he would have been quite persuasive, too. He even came 'armed' with a bit of new, very unexpected knowledge... unfortunately for him, once the two of them saw the anomalous X-rays he so eagerly presented to them as proof of a need for some serious, extensive testing, that only made them more determined to get her out of there as fast as possible. A too-clever, way too-observant doctor was the very last person they wanted to have unlimited access to Kristen!
It took them a good half hour of fast talking, faster thinking, and just the right mixture of concern and reassurance to persuade the earnest young doctor that Kristen's "birth defects" were not only known to them already, but something common to her mother's family that had been long ago shown to be completely harmless. This bit of acting, Mark felt, should rightly have earned them both academy awards. Especially him. So it was with barely restrained patience that he waited until they were alone to question Steven about the X-rays.
"What do you think? Did you really know about this?" he asked. "You didn't, right? You would have warned me. Right?"
Steven shook his head. "I had no idea. And... I honestly don't know what to think."
Mark let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Yeah. I don't either. I don't think it's anything that's going to hurt her..." It shouldn't. The small extra bones at the base of her spine weren't even unusual-- children were sometimes born with tiny vestigial tails, after all. The two slightly pointed thickened areas on her skull, though, looked like nothing so much as unbudded horns, and he was exceedingly grateful she hadn't known about them when he'd had such difficulty convincing her she was not some sort of demon. Still, other than being potentially emotionally disturbing for her, they seemed harmless enough. The other anomaly, though, he wasn't so sure of. The doctor had suggested it might be an odd variant on a vestigial, parasitic limb-- and the small, hidden structures did bear a resemblance to the beginnings of a second, though oddly proportioned, set of arms-- but that's not what Mark thought when he saw them. "It's... they're... odd," he finished uncertainly.
His father-in-law nodded. "Jarai never had X-rays done while I knew her, so I can't say she didn't have anything like that... but if she did, it never hurt her. I'm just not sure what to make of it."
"You know... on her back," Mark said, hesitantly. "Those... kind of look like what I'd expect as the attachment points for... wings."
Steven frowned thoughtfully. "Hmm. Maybe? Maybe... a full-blooded member of... her race... would have actual wings? Or grow them, at some point?"
Mark nodded. "We already know she can fly. Maybe the levitation was an adaptation to make it possible for a humanoid being to fly with reasonably sized wings? And now it's strong enough that they don't need the wings at all anymore?"
"So now they're just vestigial?" Steven nodded. "Possible, I guess."
"Or maybe they are actually there in full-bloods. Or at least some of them, but not really needed for flight." He stared off into space for a moment, lost in the image of Kristen, nude and glowing, her hair full of red-gold light and falling loose over her body as she hovered with matching luminescent, silky-feathered wings slowly beating, leaving trails of gold through the air. "It would be so beautiful... when they're glowing... maybe that's where we got our images of angels," Mark murmured softly.
Smiling at that picture, Steven nodded again. "Yes, that would be lovely," he agreed, though there was a hint of wistful sadness to his voice. Then he stood, pushing the vending room chair back under the rickety table. "Well. We'd best get her out of here before someone starts to see images of their names in famous medical journals. Or on 20/20. Besides, if you want that ring anytime soon, I need to get the order in. Did you decide what you wanted?"
Mark stood as well. "Yes, and I can't wait to give it to her. What you suggested, I think... braided gold, with emeralds and sapphires nestled in the braid. Though..." He hesitated slightly, still unsure of how much the other man knew... or how much he wanted to know. He didn't think he could hide things, though. It wouldn't be fair, not to any of them. "I'll need another ring, as well," he said. "A solid hematite band, surrounded by silver filagree, and... set with a square sapphire."
"Ah... I see."
Mark smiled wryly. "This is getting complicated." He wondered if Aaron's band should have an emerald on it, somewhere, for Kayla, but he just wasn't sure-- the bond between the two of them was undeniable, but it just didn't 'look' like the lifebonds. Rather than being twisted or braided together, Aaron's line seemed to flow tightly alongside Kayla's, like nested waves. Plus, he decided, he really didn't have any right to speak for Kayla like that, not without asking her. He hadn't asked for a silver thread to be woven through her ring to represent Aaron for the same reason. He could offer his own commitment to the boy. And Kristen had already agreed with their dual to Kayla. But if Kayla wanted to offer anything formal to Aaron, or he did to her, then they would have to make that decision... and that declaration... themselves. As for Angie... he wasn't going to even start to consider unraveling that knot, just yet, but he was almost grateful that Kristen was going to be the one making those decisions. His smile widened as he thought of her, and he shook his head. "I guess I shouldn't have expected anything else, not around Kristen," he said, his voice far too adoring for it to be mistaken for a complaint.
Steven grinned understandingly. "You really shouldn't have." Then he hesitated for a moment, then shook his head. "All right... I just have to ask. Filagree?"
"Yeah. Um." Mark flushed. He honestly wasn't sure where he'd gotten the symbolism for the rings, but everything just... 'felt' right. That sort of 'feeling' was pretty damned hard to explain, though! "Well... before we came down here, the three of us tried to... ah... well, raise some energy for Kristen. And it worked... turns out Kayla is a healer of some sort. Anyway, Aaron's energy was, kind of... 'wrapped' around the bonds we have with Kristen, like silver filagree."
"Holding them together?" Steven asked.
"Sort of? More like it was... kind of making sure none of the energy got lost, if that makes sense? Like... you know how coax cable has the braided wire sheath that keeps the signal from getting interference? Kinda like that," Mark said.
Steven laughed. "Romantic, son."
Mark's mouth quirked. "Yeah. I've got a gift that way."
Smiling, Steven shook his head. "All right, then. So we have one braided gold, set with emeralds and sapphires, and one hematite with silver filagree. That'll keep the hematite from shattering, anyway. Kris can give me the sizes; she always notices things like that. So let's go get her out of here."
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