August 6, 2016 by Lyn
This story takes place early in the third week of the fifth year of the Addergoole School (during Book Three)
He was at his most human when he’d been hanging out with his friends – and so was she, needing the breather, the space apart, to remember the self that wasn’t focused solely on him. It was a time like that, a day when neither of them had any plans after class, when he’d spent dinner handing out with Melchior’s crew, that she sprang it on him.
“Good, you’re home,” she said, the minute he set down his backpack. “Come on.” She took his hand and led him out the door without giving him a chance to think nor protest.
He didn’t try to stall until they were nearly at the exit. “Where are we going?” he asked plaintively.
“Topside,” she told him, which he had already figured out. She didn’t like being obscure and difficult with him, but if she wasn’t…
“…Topside?” He looked hopeful, and felt a little guilty.
“Up to the Village.” That got him through the door and up to the path, and while it wasn’t untrue, it was still deceptive, and she felt even more guilty.
He glanced at her suspiciously as they came within sight of Main Street. “No.” He shook his head and planted his feet. “Shiva, no.”
“Yes, Niki.” She tried to remain implacable, but his expression was miserable enough to make it difficult. “Niki-love,” she coaxed, even though she knew it was a mistake to coax, “she’s your daughter.”
“I never asked for a daughter.” He snapped at her, harsher than his normal façade allowed. “And Tya was clear that I have no rights to the daughter she got out of me.”
She flinched. “Tya can be stupid sometimes. But neither she nor DJ are going to deny you seeing your daughter.” If they did, they’d have to answer to her. “And don’t you think Siriana deserves a father?”
“Neither you nor I had a father growing up,” he pointed out sharply. His shoulders slumped. “Do you think I wanted to do that to somebody else? I never wanted to have children. I don’t even likechildren.”
“I know,” she answered, as gently as she could, swallowing an urge to shout at him. They were, after all, standing in the middle of the sidewalk. “Do you think I wanted a kid at seventeen? Ty didn’t give either of us any choice in the matter. But that’s our baggage, not Siriana’s or Eryk’s.” She was pouring on the words, hardly stopping for breath. She’d found it an effective technique before, even with Ty, when she had neither control nor volition. It had to work now.
But he was looking at her in frustration, not ready to budge. “It might not be her baggage, but what is she to me? All I am to her is an unwilling sperm donor. That doesn’t make me a father.”
The thing was, he was right, philosophically. “Your actions make you a father or not,” she agreed. “Niki, when’s the last time you saw Siriana?”
His voice dripped with surprise that she was even asking. “At her naming rite. Then I handed her back over to Tya.”
“Of course,” she sighed. “Just this once, Niki. We’re already up here, and I want to see Eryk. I want you to hold her and talk to her, and then we can go home.
“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” He hung his voice with melodramatic chains. It was almost comical – but she’d have to deal with a sulk-fit if she laughed at him now.
“You can come with me,” she answered, feeling a little more waspish than was her wont, “or you can wait here for me to be done.” She pointed at the bench in front of the café, stifling her concern that she was being too cruel. She’d planned this. She could follow through.
He made a full-body production of his sigh. “I’ll come with you. But don’t expect it to change anything.”
“Of course not, love.” Gods, what if it didn’t? If he stayed this adamantly against the idea of being a father, there was no way she’d be able to justify having a child with him. But… there was hope. She crossed her fingers as they headed to D.J.’s house.
D.J. was happy to see her. It always was; she’d spent a lot of her free time here last year, and D.J. had been a far more sympathetic ear than her own mother would have been. She liked to tell herself they were raising Eryk together, though she wasn’t here nearly as much as she ought to be.
It didn’t seem so sure about Niki, but it covered it well. “Come on in, kids, the baby-lings are just up from their nap. Mies is off with Anise today, so it’s just the little ones.”
“I thought she was going to move out of the Village?” Shiva asked conversationally. She had no beef with Ty’s second-year girlfriend, but she’d seemed awfully eager to be out of the school and out into the real world.
“Ah, you know how it is. There’s free babysitting and free rent here, and a parental figure who isn’t going to ask questions about where the baby came from, or why Mies’s father isn’t coming, too. Not that Anise’s parents shouldn’t know better, but she’s still worried about it. And so one excuse comes up after another.” D.J. shrugged. “She’ll leave when she’s ready. And I like having the grandkids around.”
D.J. walked as it talked, and Shiva followed, and so Niki followed her, back into the nursery. The slim-hipped hermaphrodite – who had stopped, it seemed, picking a gender at all – lifted Shiva’s son out of the crib with airplane noises, and then turned to pick up Nikita’s daughter from her bassinet.
Shiva shifted Eryk to one hip and watched quietly as D.J. offered Siriana to Niki. She was still so tiny, just a couple months old, with a tiny bit of hair as dark as her father’s. Niki looked terrified.
D.J. had done this before; if Shiva hadn’t know that, she could tell by the patient tone the grandparent took with Niki. “Sit down in the rocking chair, there you go, and I’ll hand her to you. Careful, there you go. See?”
Shiva sat down in the corner with Eryk, who was happily babbling away “dee-dee-dee-dee-dee,” and started stacking blocks with him. She loved these blocks – she’d bought them for him and Mies, but spent as much time playing with them herself as the kids did. The block corner also gave her a good vantage point from which to watch Niki without him feeling too spied upon.
“Flower, Eryk,” she said, setting the brightly-colored F-is-for-Flower block on the stack. “Goat.”
Unconcerned with flowers or goats, Eryk stacked the blocks into a lopsided tower. D.J. straightened a pile of baby clothes with ostentatious casualness, looking mostly out the window. In this entirely fake privacy, Niki started talking softly to his daughter.
“Hey, kid. Siriana. I’m, well, I suppose I’m your father. The closest you have to one, anyway, so I guess I’ll have to do.”
“Cah!” Shiva looked down to Eryk and the loose aggregation of blocks he’d built.
“Castle?” she asked.
“Cah!” he insisted – or agreed. Never one to shut up quickly, she tried,
“We visited Lady Maureen’s cats yesterday,” D.J. offered. “I’ve thought about getting one, but even Mies is still too young to really appreciate a cat. Do you think there’ll be another baby this year?”
It was said so conversationally that, for a moment, Shiva didn’t really hear it. Then, as it sunk in, she thought she was being asked if she and Niki…
…but, no. While D.J. would cheerfully watch their baby, since neither of them had a parent in the Village, that wasn’t what was being asked.
“I don’t think so,” she answered carefully.
“Ty hasn’t brought its latest to meet me yet. I wasn’t sure if there was anyone.”
She couldn’t say, as she had with Jamian, that’s not mine to tell. Not to the person helping her raise her son. Not to Ty’s mom.
“I…” she hesitated. Niki filled in her silence.
“Ty’s gotten himself a boyfriend, but Jamian’s really naïve and kind of shy. I don’t think Jame’s ready to meet Ty’s kids yet… and he’s not going to be ready to have kids this year.”
For once in his life, he didn’t take the opportunity to get in a bitter jab, maybe because all three adults there knew Ty’s record with “not ready to have kids.” And D.J. just nodded quietly. “I’d wondered,” it admitted. “Thank you, Nikita.”
“You’re welcome.” He was unusually subdued. “I don’t think she likes me,” he added unhappily, looking down at the somewhat-fussy Siriana.
Shiva couldn’t help a happy little chuckle this time; she wasn’t sure if it was good or bad that D.J. echoed it. From the befuddled look on his face, she might be able to salvage it if she talked fast.
“Give it time, love,” she said gently; D.J. nodded agreement –
“She’s very young still. She doesn’t really know what she likes yet, except food and warmth and sleep.”
The face he wore as he looked down at his daughter was bittersweet, but it felt genuine, and he didn’t seem to care when she started pulling on the vines that grew out of his hair. “I guess she really is my kid,” he joked.