(plz forgive me for being so behind on wp and posting anyway, I have a holiday coming up and plan to read your chapters in the sun!)
“I’m proud of you,” Mia said, curling fingers around Quinn’s wrist. He gave her a shaken smile, but couldn’t help fidgeting in his seat.
“Isn’t this a silly thing to be proud of?” His voice was quiet, but even through the din Mia managed to pick up what was said. Her disapproving look told him that much.
“I know you’re too smart to need me to explain it,” she said, taking her hand away and leaning back. Her nostrils flared as she breathed in deep, the scent of cloves and oranges thick in the air. It was hard to get away from Christmas in October, let alone the middle of December as it was now, except in Quinn’s head. She could appreciate why, of course.
Quinn glanced down at his phone as the third ‘all okay’ text from Law came through. Still he was restless. The crowded shop pressed in on him from all sides. He could smell the sickly sweet cakes and hot chocolates and it made his stomach flip with each breath. The warmth from the body heat had steamed up the cold windows and somehow that was exactly how he felt.
“This shouldn’t be so hard,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Going to a different city for a date when your last one ended so badly? You’re right, it should be a breeze.” Mia eyed him critically. “Why are you being so hard on yourself? You never have been before.”
“Because nothing is going to happen,” Quinn told her, firmly. Her arched eyebrow pointed out that he was only trying to remind himself of that.
“Nothing but too much fucking Christmas cheer, that’s for sure. Everyone is so sanguine. Anyone that needs to wait for Christmas to be a decent person or do a decent act should just waltz right into hell.”
“Hear hear,” Quinn nodded, glad for the topic change. “So no Christmas celebration for you, then?”
Mia wrinkled her nose. “Why don’t we do old school and burn a yule log? Worship the sun coming back with green stuff in the house, and all that.”
“No, you idiot. Wreaths and holly. Carrying on a tradition that isn’t even your religion is weird.”
“Fucking capitalism,” she agreed. “That being said, if we ever have a kid, we have to try it once.”
Quinn somehow saved himself from choking on his drink. “What, capitalism?”
“Christmas! Keep up.”
“I’m still stuck on the kid bit,” he admitted.
Mia rolled her striking, outlined eyes. “Oh, get over it. As if you’re ever going to get rid of me.”
“That’s pretty confident of you.”
She leveled him with a steely look. “You think so?”
“Probably not,” Quinn conceded. He decided to say nothing of the fact they were both sixteen, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, and instead rolled with a different question. “No wedding first?”
“Fuck that,” she snorted. “Unless we can do it for five hundred quid, I’m not interested. And I want to wear a hot suit. In this purely theoretical wedding.”
Quinn eyed her and tried to imagine Mia in a fitted suit. The flush that rose to his cheeks had nothing to do with the heat in the cafe. Mia’s eyes twinkled.
“Oh, you like the idea?”
“Good. You can wear the dress. Or a kilt.”
A heavy textbook thumped down onto the table. “Why do we need to learn this stuff?” Dustin complained, gesturing towards the geography book with disgust. “Rivers have meanders and waterfalls exist. Great. How does that help what we’re doing here?”
“Oh, ye of little faith,” Q said dramatically, looking wounded. “I am educating you, so that after this you can go on your way and, I don’t know, be a computer tech. Or a stripper. Your choice, I don’t judge. I just give opportunities.”
“Can he even hear himself speak that egotistical tripe?” Dustin asked, curling his lip up and glancing towards Shanna.
“I think that’s the only language he knows,” Shanna quipped.
Q opened his arms out in indignation. “He is right here. Ungrateful wretches.”
“Why do we need to know this stuff?” Shanna asked, sweeping her hand over her own maths work. “Shouldn’t we be training as much as we can?”
“I’m training you to survive more than I’m training you to fight,” Q told her firmly. “Same for you, bucko.”
Dustin blinked and mouthed ‘bucko’ at Shanna with annoyance.
“Listen. You need to have stuff to fall back on after this. That means grades and assessments, pumpkins. I don’t make the rules, I just-”
“-usually break them?” Shanna deadpanned.
“-ignore them in favour of doing something better?” Dustin asked.
Q pressed his lips together. “You know… that’s annoyingly true and I’m proud it’s my legacy. But in this case, it’s do as I say, and not as I do. Now I’m going to see if Danni’s awake and will let me bother her. You keep at the work. Scoundrels.”
Dustin huffed and dropped down further into his seat. “We could revolt.”
“Q just jokes so we’ll underestimate him. He could wipe the floor with us in a second.”
“Maybe it’s a test. To see if we can overcome him.”
“Your funeral,” Shanna shrugged. “I’ll give you a good eulogy, I promise. Something like… Dustin was really annoying, and liked to question everything Q did. Despite that, he was a good friend, perhaps because he was my only friend-”
“-Genuine question. Are you capable of being nice to people?”
Shanna pursed her lips as she thought it over with a loud and thoughtful hum. “For bribes,” she decided.
“It’s lucky that I don’t care about your approval all that much then,” Dustin grunted. He glanced at her maths work and made a face. “I’m going to be stuck here working while you get presents at home. So unfair.”
“If you want a present so badly, all you had to do is ask.” Shanna reached down by her feet and rustled about for a minute. “Hang on, hang on. I’ve got it here somewhere.”
Dustin glanced up with interest and leaned forward, trying to see over the desk. Shanna blocked his view until the last second, her hand springing forward to toss her sock at his face.
“UGH!” he yelled, flailing around until it dropped onto the wood. “You’re disgusting!”
Shanna cackled, holding her sides as she laughed and laughed.
When she recovered, wiping away at the tears gathered at the corner of her eyes, she pushed away her textbook.
“I actually do have something for you.”
“If you throw a sock at me again…” he threatened.
“No sock. Genuine gift.” She got up to grab the small box where it sat on top of the mantelpiece and tossed it towards him. She sat back down as he snapped around to catch it, as she knew he would. He looked at the little box in his hands with obvious curiosity and excitement.
He tugged the lid away with no fanfare and pulled out the bauble shaped as a platypus. Until a month ago, Dustin had never seen one before and had no idea such a thing existed. He’d been obsessed ever since.
“It’s kind of a tradition,” Shanna explained, feeling that the silence was becoming awkward. “A lot of people get a themed bauble as a gift to put on their tree. We don’t have a tree, but I thought that shouldn’t stop us.”
Dustin let it spin around in his hand. The light bounced off its shiny surface and lit up his eyes. “Thank you. Really.”
“You’re really welcome,” Shanna said, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “I’m leaving early in the morning. I’ll see you for the New Year.”
“I thought you were back in January?” Dustin frowned before she could bound away and up the stairs. Shanna leaned back over the banister to look down at him.
“I thought I should show you how the Scots do Hogmanay. Gotta have someone to count the New Year in with. It’s a bit depressing if it’s just you and that one dude on the telly.”
“…right,” Dustin said, clearly wondering who she was talking about. “I’ll see you then.”
Isabelle tucked her legs underneath her, saving them from the heat of the fire. The orange light flickered around the room, glowing in the tiny space and illuminating her book beautifully. Her mind was far from the words of Austin, however. As she stared blankly at the dancing fire, her mind focused on a memory.
It was like she’d pressed rewind. A year ago she could imagine her mother sitting at the desk with the sewing machine out in front of her. Its constant, heavy whirring was a reassuring sound. It shouldn’t have been, but Isabelle never found it distracting. It was a sound of her childhood. Quinn was most likely sitting in one of the comfier chairs, flicking through a book, and in the kitchen she would hear the voices of Ayr and Lukas, as one did the dishes and the other cooked.
Her heart squeezed and the pain of it made her breath catch. How could she have ever taken those times for granted? The simple day-to-day life had seemed so boring and mundane, just something she trudged through until she could go to university or find someone to adventure with. What she would do to get those times back – the things she would give up.
Tentative fingers stroking the inside of her wrist brought her back to reality. Kian’s brown eyes, their depths endless, waited for her to glance up.
“Are you alright?”
She fought the urge to snap at him and instead bit the inside of her cheek, shaking her head. Behind him their Christmas tree sat, cheerful in its large pot. It exuded a cool heaviness into the room, the pine smell working as the conductor to her memories.
“What about you?” she asked, placing her finger between the pages of the book.
“Me?” Kian sat back with a frown as he seriously gave her question thought. “I’m as I usually am.”
He shrugged. “At an even keel.”
Isabelle studied him, and Kian gave her the space to think. Had anyone else been staring back at her, she would have felt pressured to blurt out something. As it was she could give her question consideration.
“Do you miss your parents?”
A small fold of skin appeared between Kian’s eyebrows. “I don’t know,” he said truthfully. “They were killed when I was… taken… so it’s always caught up in… the wishfulness of not having what happened, happen. I miss them abstractly. I didn’t enjoy my life with them, not really, but I didn’t hate it either.”
“That sounds awful…”
“It just was,” Kian reminded her. “I barely knew myself, or the world. I think I never would have questioned it had I grown up with them. But I didn’t, and so I know what I was missing.”
“I’m sorry they’re gone, anyway.”
“Me too, twig. Even if it doesn’t seem like it.”
Isabelle watched Kian’s fingers draw patient circles on her skin. “Before we… slept together. You said you lost people. But you didn’t mean your parents, did you?”
She saw him take in a deep breath; steel himself.
“No. There were others like me in the compound. Older and younger. They were all experiments of some kind. Not all of them agreed with the treatment.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her eyes filling at the thought of it. “You had to face that for so long…”
Kian hesitated before he gave a slow, measured nod. “Have you ever read Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning?”
Isabelle gave a mute shake of her head.
“He was the pioneer of logotherapy, a school of psychology which teaches that our main goal is to find meaning in life. He agreed with Nietzsche: if you have your why, you can survive almost any how.” His voice became tight, but he plowed forward. “We didn’t have anything to read in the compound, but they didn’t stop us telling stories. I wanted more. The first thing I did when I was free was ask Q to help me practice reading in English.”
“I don’t know. More books originally written in this language. Certainly more than are ever translated. I think I romanticised it – and life – in this country.”
“So your meaning in life is just to read,” Isabelle said with a genuine smile. It soon dimmed. “I don’t know what mine is.”
“Luckily you have plenty of time.” Kian’s lips pressed against her temple, and the comfort of it made her eyes flutter closed. “A day at a time, remember.”
“I’m afraid it’s cramped,” Law said apologetically, sending Eilidh a small smile when she squeezed his hand in forgiveness. “I’m glad you all came, anyway.”
“Of course,” Kane said with a solid nod. No one needed to elaborate on why they were all here. Jasmine and Kane had agreed to visit with no hesitation, which had honestly surprised Law. Kane had only met the triplets once before, when they were much younger and visiting Law in Glasgow. Shanna hadn’t even been born at the time. Even that quick whirlwind of a dinner had felt strange, like Law was trying to stitch together two parts of his life that didn’t meld.
Well, now he had brought them together. His father sat with Jasmine behind, arms wrapped loosely around his shoulders. There had not even been any awkwardness or animosity towards Fox, who was considerably greyer and more drawn than the last time Law had seen him. Kane had simply embraced the man and had been there for him the entire evening.
“I can’t imagine what he’s been going through,” Kane had said to Law in the kitchen, voices low, later in the day. “Losing you for those few months when you were at university was hard enough, but having to bury your child?” He had shaken his head, eyes misting. “No one should have to go through that.”
Jasmine was her usual bubbly self, of course, helping out wherever she could and trying to lift spirits. Eilidh and Rhoan had certainly enjoyed catching up with Law’s parents, but they were quieter than usual, too. They were all dimmed today.
There hadn’t been much in the way of presents – none of the kids had suggested wanting anything, except the one thing they couldn’t have – but Law had made sure to give them all something. For Ayr he had found an old series of computer games, ones that didn’t require any fast clicking or rapid reactions. Quinn was given an old edition of The Hobbit, one of his favourites, while Isabelle had received a voucher for the Body shop (Law had just as much understanding of make up as the average straight man, which was to say none at all).
Shanna had actually asked for new athletic wear, so Law had gone all out. He had a friend in the department which had researched a new line of sportswear, and she’d been only too happy to oblige and provide market value outfits.
Kian hadn’t been left out. Law had spent a few months resisting any urge to grow close to him, for reasons he couldn’t begin to explain to himself, but eventually the wounded, awkward soul had called to him. It wouldn’t have done Echo proud to resist an obvious need for a parental figure, of course. And she had done so much for both Law and Lukas, seeing the same traits in them, that Law had felt guilty for subtly rejecting the boy as much as he had.
That he had teared up when Law had revealed a specially crafted bookshelf – fitted already with some of the latest releases – made Law realise he should have made the choice much sooner.
You live and you learn, though. He had to be kind to himself. Another thing his sister had taught him.
Towards the end of the night, Law had twined his fingers through Chase’s and nodded to the door. They ended up out on the balcony, their usual safe spot away from listening ears, shivering in the cold.
“My turn?” Chase asked, playfully.
“It’s not so much a present,” Law said apologetically. “But I wanted you to be the first to know.”
Chase cocked his head to the side, eyes sparkling. “Are we going to make a blood pact or something?”
“I don’t know, like a vampire wedding?”
“We’re already married – why would vampires have a different – you know what?” Law shook his head to clear it while Chase laughed. “Let’s try again.”
“For the record, if there is vampire marriage, I want to do it.” Chase flashed a grin, though the look in his eyes was more bashful than teasing. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Law said, feeling his heart swell in his chest. “Which is why I wanted you to be the first to know something, but if you interrupt me again…” Dutifully, Chase mimed zipping his mouth shut and throwing the key over his shoulder. His breath misted as he laughed under his breath, but to his credit he made no noise. “My research has finally been given the go ahead to move into human trials.”
Chase’s eyes grew wide. “The same-sex parents one?”
“Yeah. I’d hoped it would be sooner, and that we…” Law trailed off, glancing towards the glowing windows. “But I already think of myself as a parent. Anyway, it’s going to be some time before we start getting results, and even longer before it’ll be rolled out to the public – if ever – but I wanted to tell you first.”
Chase beamed and smacked his lips against Law’s. With relish, he began peppering kisses all over his face, which Law squeezed his eyes against and weathered.
“I’m so proud of you.”
Law wiped his face on a sleeve. “I see that.” He snuggled closer into Chase’s chest. “Thank you for facing this all with me.”
“As if I’d want it any other way,” Chase grinned, hugging him tightly.
“Sorry!” The sound of shoes being kicked off and into walls made Law grumble under his breath. Ayr continued into his room and flopped down onto Kian’s bed. Kian – who had been comfortably reading on his bed – gave an ungainly squawk as a heavy body landed onto his legs.
“Yes?!” he asked pointedly when Ayr said nothing.
Ayr held up a finger until his breath had returned. “You still want to see a golden eagle?”
Kian’s eyebrows jerked up and he tossed the book aside, motioning impatiently for Ayr to hurry up and get off him. The two of them went out the door as fast as Ayr had fallen in, and hiked back up the hill near their house.
“They call this the muckle hill in town, don’t they?” Kian asked between breaths.
“Muckle just means big.” A grunt in response.
Kian glanced at one of the hills nearby, which was clearly higher. He rolled his eyes. “Of course.”
They crested the hill and Ayr took a deep breath, pointed up at a large bird of prey in the sky, and then flopped onto his back with a groan. Kian beamed and shielded his eyes to watch the bird soar.
“Why are you so obsessed with birds this year?”
“I like their symbolism.” Kian brushed fingers through his hair and stretched. He didn’t usually read in bed well into the day, but a late night with Isabelle (movie watching) had kept him up. “I think I want to work for them.”
Ayr stared up at him with a befuddled look. “Alright, Gandalf.”
“The project. Not the bird.”
“Oh.” A pause. “What project?”
Kian snorted. “The reintroduction project. Wouldn’t that be spectacular? Think of the impact of bringing such a magnificent creature back into the country. I mean, look at what’s been done with Red Kites. I could be part of that.”
“I have a red kite,” Ayr grunted, rolling onto his front. “I think I broke it though.”
Kian opened his mouth but decided not to go there. He had shared a room with Ayr for months but could still never tell when the boy was joking and when he was seriously misunderstanding something. That was probably the aim.
“Don’t you appreciate the sight?” Kian asked, pointing up.
“Sure. It’s cool. What’s the symbolism?”
“Depends on who you ask, of course. Strength and salvation, wisdom and the divine.” Kian watched as the eagle grew smaller, no doubt returning to its Eyrie. “For me it’s about freedom.”
“Go ‘Murica,” Ayr grunted.
“That’s the bald eagle.”
“Pft.” Ayr squinted against the light to look up at his friend. “Freedom from what?”
Kian settled down, legs crossed, and considered the question. “From the past, I think. From the cage of my own memories.”
“You read too many dramatic things,” Ayr grinned.
Kian threaded his fingers through the short daisies on the grass below. He frowned as he spoke, strangely avoiding Ayr’s inquisitive gaze. “I know I arrived in your home at the worst possible time… but I’ve never felt like I’ve had a family until now.”
Ayr poked his thigh. “Our home,” he corrected, wriggling around until he could rest his head on Kian’s legs. “Eagle means all that, huh?”
“No.” It was said with a grin, which widened further with every passing second. “Your running all the way home just to tell me there’s an eagle flying means all that.”
“Too right,” Ayr said. “I don’t run for just anybody. Family only. Cara definitely. Maybe Mia if she was less scary once in a while.”
Kian burst out laughing. “Surely you’ll be running from Mia, not for her.”
“Don’t call me Shirley.”
With a groan Kian pushed Ayr off him, skipping out of reach once his friend was up on his feet and trying to retaliate. The two of them shot down the hill and into the house, laughing, falling over each other, watched by an exasperated Law and the smiling picture of Lukas and Echo, framed in the porch.
I don’t know how I feel about this chapter. I added it in after writing the rest of the gen because I felt like we needed a bit more of a buffer/healing period before we had a timeskip. I feel like Q always told Kian that he would know he’d found his place when he saw a golden eagle, but I didn’t quite work it in there. Oh well 😛
The last two weeks have been v tiring as we’ve had work experience pupils with us, and I was in charge, and there’s also huge changes happening in the area that the charity I work for has to be involved in (land sales, controversial wind-farm proposals, etc) buuuut on the bright side funding has been given to us to keep me on for another year!! I drop down to 4 days a week after mid august until feb so I’m going to be working hard on getting my writing back on track~
(There’s actually only 3 chapters left in this generation if you can believe it!)