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Prudence, Chapter 66

He was young, looking no older than his mid-twenties, with long blond hair that belonged in an anime movie and eyes that were such a light, silvery grey that Mark could see the color even from several yards away. His face was delicate, with high cheekbones, and the overall impression was of something ethereal, inhuman. It was rather hard to process that, though, when Mark's primary thought was that here was someone who'd come right through his supposedly secure, nearly impenetrable door, and he had no idea how.

The man stopped as he caught sight of them, and he smiled shyly. "Hello? She said to come on down...." His voice trailed off uncertainly as he looked around the room.

"Uh... who said to come down?" Mark asked, confused, as Aaron sat up abruptly.

"Dad!" He scrambled off of the bed and headed for the stairs.

The man hurried down the stairs. "Aaron! You're all right, son? I was worried sick when the sheriff called." He wrapped his arms around his son and hugged him tightly. He was a few inches taller than his son, but even slimmer and more delicately built. "I got here as fast as I could. I'm sorry."

Aaron leaned against him for a moment, looking very young, and then stepped away with a smile. "I'm fine. It's all right."

"No, it isn't," the man disagreed, but some of the tension left his face, and he turned to finally answer Mark's question. "Your wife, I'd assume. The young lady upstairs. I'm Josh Deveraux, by the way."

"Mark Hasseran. And this is my wife right here. What young lady upstairs?" Mark asked, totally confused. "The ghost?"

Josh frowned, shoving a strand of silvery blond hair behind one ear irritably. "Ghost? I didn't see a ghost. She was quite lovely, really. Beautiful golden curls, the most extraordinary blue eyes. Maybe I'm glad she's not your wife."

Out of the corner of his eye, Mark was surprised to see Steven staring openly at the newcomer, a slightly stunned expression on his face. Thoughtfully, he gave Josh a closer look.

Joshua Deveraux was a beautiful man. It was easy to see where Aaron got his looks, once he knew to look for the similarities. Josh would, in fact, be a beautiful woman if he'd been dressed in an appropriately padded dress. Still... Steven had never seemed fascinated by Aaron, and if anything, Mark considered the boy's exotic coloring to be more than equal to his father's tiny bit of extra delicacy.

Realizing that his mind was following completely irrelevant pathways in an attempt to avoid what he knew he had to say, Mark winced slightly and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry to tell you, Josh, but that's our resident ghost. Her name is Emma."

"She looked quite alive to me! She opened the door!" He seemed more upset than indignant-- not as if he didn't believe what he was being told, but rather that he didn't want to believe it.

"Is she still up there?" Mark asked.

"I would assume so."

"Why don't you ask her to come down, then?"

"I think I will! I must say, if this is a joke, it's in very poor taste." With that, Josh turned and stalked up the stairs, and even then, his tread barely made a sound. There was a kind of inherent gracefulness to the way he moved that made a good angry, indignant stomp rather ineffective.

Aaron watched him go, then sighed and took the chair that Kayla had abandoned earlier. Mark bit back his reflexive impulse to tell him that it wasn't necessary-- when and what his father was told or shown should be the boy's choice.

Josh was gone for several minutes, and when he came back he descended the stairs much more slowly than he'd gone up. He shook his head. "She's gone," he said softly, sadly, and then raised his head. His eyes met Steven's, and the two of them froze, staring at each other as if hypnotized. After several seconds Steven, with a noticeable effort, tore his gaze away and stared at the floor, his cheeks going hot.

Now that's different, Mark thought. Hmm, I wonder.... He closed his eyes most of the way and let them go unfocused, and his suspicions were confirmed. The silvery green line of the bond between the two was faint, but it was definitely there. This was going to be really, really interesting -- and he owed Steven for the man's gleeful enjoyment of several of his own uncomfortable moments. So he grinned and looked at his father-in-law with raised eyebrows. "My... Steven, Josh, let me be the first to congratulate you."

They both jumped guiltily, and despite Kristen's elbow to his ribs, Mark's grin stretched so broad that it nearly hurt.

Kayla cleared her throat, giving him a significant look, and then smiled tightly at Josh. "All right," she said. "So the ghost let you down here. Her name is Emma. You've met Mark. His wife is Kristen, and I'm Kayla. Steven and Angie are in the blue chairs."

Unrepentant, Mark watched, still smiling, wondering if they were going to acknowledge it or pretend it didn't exist.

Apparently, it was going to be the latter option, because Josh smiled at Kayla with obvious relief. "You I've heard about, Kayla," he said, warmly, and Aaron blushed. "Some about Kristen and Mark, too." He shook his head, carefully avoiding looking towards Steven. "Aaron just said she looked like an angel, so I assumed the... the ghost had to be Kristen."

Mark had trouble fighting back his laughter, and Kristen dug her elbow into his ribs and hissed at him, under her breath, to behave.

To his surprise, Steven spoke up quietly, "I met her earlier, too. She told me Kris was going to be fine, that having the baby wouldn't hurt her. Then she burst into tears and ran away." He fixed his narrowed gaze on his son-in-law. "Mark, what baby?"

Well, that was a sobering question if ever there was one. "Ah. That," Mark said, uncomfortably. "Yes. At some point in the future-- at the 'right time', whenever that my be-- Kristen is going to have a baby. A specific baby, that is. Emma's baby, reborn. We don't know when exactly it will happen, but it will happen. Basically, it'll be at the best possible time."

"Ah," Steven said, looking very relieved. "So I'm not an imminent grandfather. Thank god."

"Oh, I don't know," Kayla drawled, with a wicked grin. "Who can tell when the 'right time' is?"

Steven glared at her. "You are a very cruel young lady," he said, as Mark returned to his gleeful Steven and Josh watching.

They both ignored him, and, more carefully, each other.

Kayla grinned evilly. "Me? I'm cruel? Shaved any pussies recently, Steven?"

Mark nearly choked trying not to laugh, and Kristen went into a sudden 'coughing fit', covering her face with her hands.

The tops of his ears turned pink, but Steven didn't remove his glare from the petite brunette. "It was laser hair removal, and it seemed logical at the time. How was I to know it was the damned skin, not the fur?"

From out of the corner of his eye, Mark watched Josh, carefully gauging his reaction.

Running a hand through his hair, Steven turned his eyes heavenward and muttered, "Spankings. Children today need more spankings." At which comment, Aaron turned bright red.

Josh was just looking confused and uncomfortable, and Mark was almost moved to take pity on him, but the imp of perverse humor had a tight grip on him, and he couldn't have resisted if he'd tried. "So," he drawled, tightening his arms slightly around Kristen in hopes of avoiding more bruises on his ribs. "Are y'all gonna just stand there pretending you aren't noticing each other forever?"

Unfortunately, Kristen managed to slip one arm out of his grip and her elbow caught him in just the right spot to knock the breath from him for an instant. "Be nice!" she whispered fiercely.

He smirked down at her. "I am."

"You know what I mean!"

"What?" he whispered back, bending close to her ear. "I think it's good for your dad to develop a new love interest, don't you?"

She twisted around and placed a kiss against his jaw. "Don't embarrass them," she breathed against his skin. "He'll get stubborn." Then she gave his ribs an apologetic caress and stood up. "If we're done with this meeting, let's go upstairs," she said. "Aaron, you and Josh can't stay at your house tonight. It's a mess, even if the police weren't staking it out." She gave Mark a prompting glance, and he picked up on her cue.

"Steven, maybe Josh could stay in your guest room tonight? Aaron can stay here in ours," he said.

Apparently, it was just enough of an opening, because though Steven avoided his eyes, he still nodded. "That's fine. There's plenty of room, especially with Kristen here with you."

"Great!" Mark said, cheerfully. "What are you fixing, love?"

"Food," Kristen said, with a shrug. "Something fast."

***

The house seemed... expectant. That was the only word Mark could think of as he walked toward the kitchen with his arm around his wife's waist. Not afraid, or worried... just expectant, and maybe a bit excited. It was waiting for something. It didn't seem like something bad, but he closed his eyes and checked the wards, just the same. They seemed as strong as ever, and didn't seem to be reacting to anything he couldn't see, so he relaxed just a bit, but still looked around nervously.

All the lights were on upstairs, again. In fact, several candles had been lit in the dining room, giving a soft golden glow to the light. A large salad was already waiting on the table, and the last of seven steaks was sizzling on the griddle.

Mark looked from the candles, to the salad, to the steaks, then glanced around. "Well. Thank you, Emma."

He hadn't expected an answer, but he got one anyway. It was the tiniest whisper of sound, just on the edge of hearing. "I've always hated that name."

He raised an eyebrow. "Pick another, then."

"Lenore. My middle name." The steak flipped neatly from the grill and onto a plate.

"Lenore. That's pretty. Um, would you mind making yourself visible, so we can see who we're talking to?" he asked, then became aware that perhaps 'we' wasn't the proper word; the others were all staring at him questioningly. "What? I'm talking to the ghost. She wants to use her middle name, Lenore."

Steven smiled. "Came a tapping, softly rapping? It suits her better," he said, and then jumped suddenly, his eyes widening.

The giggle that followed was the first happy sound Mark had ever heard from his ghost, and from the surprised looks on the faces around him, they'd all heard it. "What was that?" he asked, with a raised eyebrow, and Steven blushed bright red.

"Hmm?" Mark asked, truly enjoying himself.

"Never mind," Steven said. "Dinner, anyone?"

Grinning, Mark let it go, but made a point of watching both Steven and Josh-- though more covertly than before-- during dinner. His vigilance was rewarded when, about halfway through, he saw Josh go very, very still. The man was barely even breathing, and his eyes were unfocused. The hair that lay against the side of his neck fluttered, just barely, as if moving in a light breeze.

Mark smiled and looked back down at his plate.

Of course, Mark wasn't the only one capable of making observations. Josh's blond prettiness had probably caused a lot of people to underestimate him, but Mark had learned a long time ago not to judge by appearances. So, when Josh kept glancing at him curiously when he thought Mark wouldn't notice, he noticed. He noticed when Josh kept looking, very subtly, from him, to Aaron, then to Kayla. He noticed the sudden tension in the man's shoulders when Aaron, without any apparent thought, simply got up after dinner and started clearing the table. He could tell when Josh realized that Aaron seemed to know where everything belonged without being told.

He waited for Josh to send him another of those covert, searching glances and caught his eye when he did.

Josh raised one elegant eyebrow, somehow imbuing the gesture with about a hundred different questions.

"Need something?" Mark asked, and couldn't quite keep the slight challenge out of his tone.

Slowly, Josh shook his head. "Just curious. You are an interesting group of people," he said neutrally.

Mark laughed. "That we are," he agreed. "Curious about what?"

The blonde backed down, shifting uncomfortably. "Things in general. Nothing specific."

"Ah. Well feel free to ask any questions you have." Mark wasn't going to just flat out admit anything, but he wasn't going to flat out lie to an obviously worried father, either. Josh had taken everything else fairly well-- not that anyone who'd been married to Lorena Deveraux for a significant time was likely to be surprised by anything supernatural-- so perhaps it would be safe enough to tell him the rest. Besides, he was lifebonded to Steven, whether they wanted to admit it or not, so it wasn't like any secrets could be kept for long, anyway.

Still... he couldn't help but worry a bit as he watched Josh pull Aaron aside, before he left, and speak quietly with him for several minutes. Aaron didn't seem to say much, though, and eventually Josh gave him another tight hug and stepped away. "I'll pick you up after school tomorrow, okay?" he asked, and Aaron nodded.

"Yeah, Dad," he said, and gave his father a sweet smile. "Don't worry, okay? I'm fine."

Josh answered with a sad smile of his own and another hug, before following Steven out the door.

Mark would have given a lot to be a fly on Steven's wall tonight. Curiosity was going to eat him alive, he just knew it. Smiling, he looked at Angie. "Are you staying?"

It was a friendly invitation, and an honest one, but it just seemed to make the woman uncomfortable. She glanced at Aaron and Kayla and shook her head. "Um, not tonight," she said, and beside him, Kristen looked at the floor.

Kayla's face tightened a bit, and she tossed her head. "I need a ride home, anyway," she said coolly. "It's a school night."

That situation wasn't one that was going to be resolved easily, he knew, and he was honestly too tired to deal with it, so Mark just nodded. "All right. We'll see you both tomorrow." He gave Kayla a slightly warning look, but wasn't terribly surprised when she just gave him a narrow-eyed little smile. Oh well. Angie was a grown woman-- if she couldn't hold her own against Kayla, then she needed to learn how to. Quickly.



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