June 15, 2016 by Lyn
Lunch on Friday was uncomfortable and quiet; Yngvi was still in the infirmary, dealing with a Change that looked suspiciously similar to Ayla’s (another thing to blame Aelfgar for), which left her with the table of awkward. Emrys was cranky and pretending not to be, Xaviera sullen and nervous, and Ioanna jittery, so Ayla focused on calming thoughts, the way she did, sometimes, when Shahin was having a bad day, and held Io’s hand tightly.
“Any word on when Yngvi will be out and about?” Ioanna asked her.
Not soon enough. It surprised her how much she missed him, but with Shahin gone… “Dr. Caitrin said by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”
“He’ll be fine.” Io nodded, squeezing her hand gently; but Ayla could tell there was something else on her mind.
“I know,” she agreed. “It’s just a Change, and Jamian caught it early. The horns hurt, but at least he got to keep his feet.”
“Your feet are just fine, hon.”
Across the table, Emrys was watching them with vaguely amused disinterest; Xaviera seemed more concerned with watching him, every motion, every twitch. It seemed unhealthy. More than unhealthy; it seemed downright sickening. What had Shahin been thinking?
Rather than ask, she thumped her rabbit feet. “So… it’s sort of genetic, then?”
It was Emrys, actually, who answered her. “Many things are, to greater or lesser extent.”
Well, that was cryptic. She wrinkled her nose at him. “Hair color, eye color…”
“Changes – but not always. Powers – but not always. Word specialties – but not always. Ellehemaei genetics are fickle. Pinning them down would take some exhaustive research.”
“Hrrm. Like a forced breeding project?” she hazarded. “We can’t all be accidental by-blows of an overgrown adolescent.”
“Well. You might be,” Emrys smirked. “But for some of us, you’re right.”
“I’ve met your father, too,” she pointed out, stung.
“Still, I’d wager forced breeding for his children, given his circumstances.”
“About that,” Ioanna began quietly. Ayla looked at her, concerned. She’d thought at one point Io might yell at Shahin – but Shahin wasn’t here.
“Yeah, Io?” she asked gently.
“The breeding – I know there’ve been some, questions, about that lately. Options.” She glanced between Xaviera and Ayla, looking somewhat uncertain of what she was about to say. Emrys steepled his fingers and watched.
Ayla tensed. Options. “Anatoliy, you mean,” she murmured, trying not to look across the dining hall for him.
“Anatoliy,” Ioanna agreed. “I think I’ve figured out which solution is best for everyone.”
It was interesting that Xaviera was tensing up as well, and Emrys was frowning. Nervously, Ayla asked, “yeah?”
“I’ll need another child myself, in the next year and a half, and the way things are going I may not give another boy the chance.”
The way things are going… Ayla blinked. “Io…?”
“So, I’ll do it. That way no one else has to worry about it. I’ll arrange everything this weekend.”
Xaviera tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her relief; beside her, Emrys was guarded as ever, but it seemed he was particularly hiding his reaction to this news. Ayla wondered what was up there, but a sinking suspicion was beginning to nag at her.
She’d have to ask Shahin when she got back. “Io,” she tried again. “You really want to do this?”
“If the situation didn’t exist at all, I’d rather not,” she admitted. “But it’s not a bad choice, and it’s definitely the best we have.”
“Yeah,” Xaviera whispered.
“Yeah,” Ayla echoed. “I know I’ll have to, eventually…”
“Plenty of time to worry about that later,” Ioanna said. “For now, just relax and let me handle this.”
“Yes, ma’am,” she teased. Softer, she added, “thank you, Io.”
“It had to be done,” she said simply.
She hugged her fiercely, moved into a rare public show of affection. “Love you, Io,” she whispered.
“I love you, too, Ayla,” the older girl whispered back.
“So where does that leave me?” Xaviera asked quietly, panning her gaze around the table. Her expression was hard to read; anticipation, to be sure, but Ayla couldn’t quite tell if it was a positive or negative sort.
“You?” Ayla asked softly, even as her heart sank, fears confirmed. Why hadn’t Shahin told her?
“We’ll have to ask Shahin,” Emrys said in reply, cutting off further debate of the apparently sensitive topic.
“If… if you wanted to keep me, anyway,” the girl began softly, her hesitance showing on her face, “I wouldn’t mind staying with you.”
That’s trouble, there. Ayla frowned warningly at Emrys. Shahin wasn’t going to like this.