Castle Roland

Riposté - Changelings

by D'Artagnon

In progress

Chapter 10

Posted: 3 Sept 15

Oracles, Whispers & Echoes

There's an ancient Chinese curse that reads "may you live in interesting times." This was getting to be too interesting for me to simply ignore anymore.

I'm glad that one of the things not expected of me was to make arrangements for the funeral of my parents. Gratefully, that task fell to Mitch, who basically made all the decisions. It's a weird sort of thing to have that kind of power over your parents. I remember very little of that day, the actual planning session with the undertaker or mortician. Mostly I sat there and nodded when they asked me a question. I was still kind of out of it. Kenny stood by me, and Mitch was there doing the adult thing and signing papers and junk, but I was there in body only.

I guess when you go a little crazy there's a rebound period.

It was pretty grim. The day was overcast, which fit my mood and the gray skies and slightly muddy field at St. Michael's Cemetery were only added movements to the dirge already playing in my heart. I was joy and light to my parents. Now, with their deaths, I felt more like misery and darkness. Thank whatever gods there be that Kenny was there beside me. He never left my side for more than a few minutes during it all, and even then he made sure that someone stood by me.

I don't think he entirely trusted me not to try the suicide route again without him there to make me back down from it. Can't say that I blame him for that. The feelings that led me to that rocky cliff were still present in me, heavy, dark things, but I had stepped back from the edge and was turning away from it. Even so, it spoke volumes to me that he made certain I was never alone. In a way, I knew it was a defense against the evil and sorrow I was fighting inside myself, just something that my One True could do to keep me with him a bit longer in this life. Part of me was glad he did.

Not saying that I was feeling like offing myself again or anything like that, but I was glad that Kenny thought to take precautions with me. It was just another way that my boi found to show me without having to tell me how deeply he cared.

Love's like that. Little things are just as important as the not so little things. As long as it doesn't get all caught up in being overly cute. It's the thoughts and emotions that matter. The expression, the intention and the devotion of love. Marvelous, isn't it? In a way, I guess, little things mean a lot (and no, you perv, not like that!).

I endured. I shook so many hands, had so many total strangers hug me, pat my back, rub my hair. Politicians from all over New England came by, including two US Congressmen and a US Senator, and the Commonwealth's Attorney General, and the mayor of Boston. A lot of the local officials came as well, and I was introduced to so many people who all said the same things that it got to be a blur in my head. One person's "so sorry for your loss," blended into the next person's "be strong, young man," and still another "they're in a better place now" that it all sort of gelled in my brain, like a sorrowful Jello mold. Sure, it was moving and bright, sweet and light, but it was also cold, semi-rigid, easily dissected and seemed to be forced into an unnatural pattern.

Then again, I put too much emphasis on things in an effort to avoid dealing with them directly. I guess I'm not the only one that can't deal with death head on. Intellect will only get you so far when emotion doesn't want to see the truth. At least I had Kenny and company to keep me from trying to bend reality to my will and rearrange the simple facts into what I wanted them to be instead of what they were.

Okay, Robby, take a second and get a deep breathe. Slowly let it out. Now, get back to the story and stop telling yourself that it didn't happen.

Of those that did attend a few stuck out in my mind. A couple of kids from school, and the kids from the Jedi class. Juan and Bethy were there, of course, helping Kenny "manage" my free time. Also, Max Perault and his older brother and parents stopped by. He was a soccer whiz and we'd partnered up in lab a few times. His mom and mine worked together at the library and they did stuff together with the PTO. I consider him a friend.

Some recent friends of ours (meaning Kenny and Me) and recent Jedi converts also showed up, Jack Thomas and Paul Carver, along with Paul's mom and auntie, and Jack's older brother and guardian, Jerry. They'd gone through some troubling times this summer already, and Kenny and I were happy to at least point them in the right direction then and let them find their own way to happiness. They were an unusual match, but then again, so many of us are. I'm just happy that they were there for me. Their own story had been close to tragic (and historic) in its own way, yet they were strong enough to be there for each other. I consider them friends, too.

But that's another story. Or two!

Joey, Nick and Cody finally showed up, near the end of the service, walking up casually and paying proper respects. Cody had made a flower wreath for my parents himself and laid it up by their caskets. He stayed there a good long while, kneeling there and praying. This was all before I knew that he had to leave his parents and that they thought he was dead. At the time, it didn't click for me, but when my parents were laid to rest here, in a way, he was laying his own to rest, because he'd never have that opportunity in this lifetime. It was really touching for me, though, to see him silently crying, kneeling there. It made me cherish him more as a friend. You Rock, Cody!

Another thing that I didn't know at that point was that the werewolves had just come from a burial of one of their own. A member of their own tribe no less, and one of Nick and Cody's mentors, a big-time surfer dude named Rolf. They had just come from his funeral when they arrived. Death had touched us all in the last several days. At least we had one another to lean on.

There was one final trio that sticks out in my mind that day. Sir Grahame, Countess Donna Trag, and Queen Mab. Oh I know what you're thinking, that they showed up in full fae regalia and were ostentatious in the extreme, clearly out of place. But that wasn't the case. Grahame showed up and quietly stood behind the Countess, or as her human self, Sylvia. Mab walked up as an elderly lady with a walker and a tank full of oxygen, and a tall, rather good looking orderly standing close to her.

They only walked up to us when the mortals had walked off.

"Robyn, I grieve for thee," Mab said with great sadness. "It is not easy having to bury one's parents. Especially for one of your tender years."

"My thanks, my queen," I said, bowing slightly but stiffly.

"We honor your parents as well, Lord Robyn," Sylvia said, stepping forwards to give me a strong hug. I melted against her. This wasn't just a formality to curry favor, nor was it a pleasantry of the court's "favour." Sylvia truly felt sadness for me. Our relationship so far had been, well, to put it mildly, strained. She seemed to think that at some point I was going to make a bid for her throne. Despite me telling her that I didn't want it, even. But here she was, commiserating and showing compassion for someone she had in the past slighted as a political rival. And I felt that she was not only sorry for me, but that she somehow understood. Looking up at Grahame's human seeming, and the sadness in the Troll's eyes, perhaps he did too.

"Many thanks, gracious Queen Mab, for your kind…" Kenny started to say, but the queen was not in the mood.

"Oh, do put a sock in it, Master Tannagord. There is a place for such talk and it isn't here. Herald you may be for your lord, but you should know that when it is just we folk, then the matters of state can stand a brief respite from the strains of protocol."

"Then," Kenny began faultingly, "this isn't just a matter of proper grieving?"

"It is a time for grief, yes," Grahame said, his voice sounding strangely high pitched for so deep a timbre. "But there is a time for vengeance as well. And a time for calling down of old debts. Debts called for by oaths unfulfilled."

"What's he talking about?" I said, pulling myself together and standing up from Sylvia's embrace.

"About you, young Robert, young Robyn the Blue." Something in Mab's voice was both sad and weary at the same time, like having to scold a bad child from biting other people's pets (which is a sign that the child in question is probably a Red Cap). "All of this tragedy, while not fully your fault, stems from your use of an oath unto the Dreaming, made in our presence. The Dreaming means to hold you to that oath, my champion. As do I."

I was about to open my big yapper and let the autopilot start asking a bunch of stupid and arrogant questions, when I heard a soft muttering from my left. It was Juan, staring down at his feet, with Bethy whispering softly in that sort of at-the-gravesite sort of way. I only heard part of it, but my mind filtered in what I didn't catch and the hints that everyone else seemed to have already pieced together.

You see, about two months back, in a fit of anger and in an attempt at making my immortal enemy, Sir Korbesh of the Shadow Court, stop casting a powerful cantrip to escape justice, way back then, I made an oath. Not just any oath, but a Glamour fueled, super powerful, emotionally charged oath called the Oath of Crossed Swords. Basically, I'd told Korbesh (spit) before the whole changeling universe with the Dreaming itself and the Earth we stand on as witness, that I was going to not only kill him and end his schemes, but that I was going to utterly destroy his immortal changeling soul, an act of ultimate finality that we changelings refer to as Undoing.

And so far, I hadn't been doing much to live up to that oath. Oh, sure, I'd slain a dragon, ended a terrible working of Glamour and curse magic that had turned my own brother's soul into a virtually unstoppable killing nightmare. But as for the actual point of my oath, my basically declaring open war between me and Korbesh, I'd done very little in that regard.

And in the meantime, he'd gathered strength, created terrible weapons, went on a killing spree, was openly mocking me for a fool and had the freedom to go where he wanted and do as he pleased. Including the freedom to set me up and kill my parents, assuming of course that he had intended to kill me as well. So far, I hadn't lived up to either the dictates of honor, family, tradition and the raw power of the Dreaming that I seemed to invoke almost casually with little respect for what it might unleash.

"You have a duty to perform, young lordling," Mab said, starting her shuffling gate back to her waiting car, her attendant close at hand. "Do not disappoint me."

"I wont," I replied, feeling the shame tint my own cheeks. In a way, though I didn't pull the trigger, I didn't start the fire, I didn't thrust home the final blow, it was my arrogance that had set things in motion. And I'd been too blinded by my own Olympic ambitions and "let it go" attitude to realize that I could have been stopping this all along.

"I expect to see you in court, my young Robyn," Mab called over her shoulder.

"He shall be there, ma'am," Mitch said, resting a hand on my neck.

"We resume court in two days," Sylvia said, taking Grahame's hand in hers, like a niece takes her uncle's hand. "If you need anything, call me. Get your house in order, Robyn. We need our hero, not the zero." She switched her gaze from my face to Kenny's. They traded stares for a while, Kenny finally giving a very slight bow, but without breaking eye contact with her. Some tension passed between them in that stare down. Jealousy, perhaps. Sylvia had at one time flat our told me she wanted to have a roll in the hay with me. Which doesn't make sense for mundane reality because I'm only 13 and she's 17. But as the Countess and Robyn the Blue, that age difference is negligible. It just doesn't exist. But she knew where my allegiances were, political and sexual. And as randy a reputation as I have, Sylvia and the Countess aren't even on my wish list, to put things rather bluntly.

I watched as they left and felt the whole weight of the world on my shoulders, even more so than Mitch's warm, huge hand on the back of my neck.

Things were about to get really bad before they got better, I knew. But the tide, as Capricus would say, had turned. I wasn't the same as before. I was still me, still as ready to party as to fight. But now, I had a rage building in me, not only at my enemy, but at myself for letting my enemy get so far ahead of the game. From that moment forward, it was Game ON!

"Robby, we gots ta talk," Nick said, his arm up behind Cody's back, rubbing it.

"Not now, Cub!" Joey warned.

"No, right now!" Nick said, almost staring down Joey. He stepped protectively in front of Cody, and I noticed how depressed Cody looked. "It's been enough time pampering him and doing things the nice kind and gentle way. Well, boo-fuckin' hoo! We got important things to do and we need to start them right now. Everyone here puts him up as pack alpha of the changelings. Well, he either needs to step up and be alpha or step aside and let someone else do it! Right Now!"

"Oh, you think you're up to the task, puppy?" Juan said, coming forward to my defense.

"As ah see it, he ain't done nuthin but moan and bark orders. That's not leading, that's just being the biggest mouth in a quiet crowd."

"You don't got a clue what we've been through, pendejo!"

"We heard all about yuir playin' both sides, shit eater!" Nick fairly spat, his accent getting a lot more drippy and nasty with Cajun mud.

"You better tuck it back some, little boy! You're getting in way over your head if you want a piece of me, puta!"

"Ah can kick your scrawny Puerto Rican ass, little Juanito!" Nick challenged back.

"Guys, not now! Please?!" Bethy said, tugging gently at the back of Juan's sleeve.

"That's a lot of mouth from a little bitchboi with an accent problem, you poor white trash, Cajun trailer park reject!"

"Knock it off, you two," Cody said, gently.

"What did you call me?" Nick said almost softly, pausing slightly and getting red in the face.

"I called you a little bitch!"

"Fuck you, Juan! It's yuir Pa's that the cause a' alla this! It's yoir family's fault that Rolf's fuckin' dead, you fuckin' stupid fuckin' ugly Spic prick!"

Almost at once, the two boys surged at each other, Cody trying to pull Nick back, Bethy tugging at the hem of Juan's shirt as both of them closed to grapple with each other, throwing rabbit punches as they went in. I couldn't believe it was devolving this fast right in front of me. And here, of all places!

"The road is before you, Beloved, leading forwards," Kenny whispered to me.

Now, for those watching at home, I had already decided to get into the middle of this little altercation, but Kenny's saying that, with his Eshu knack of just plain knowing the right path, well, that just made my decision seem more right.

"Enough!" I shouted, literally stepping in and grabbing a fistful of hair on both of them and physically pulling them back far enough to conk their heads together loudly. I let them both collapse on the slightly muddy ground, the two of them panting from their exertions, their anger and the pain of me having to literally beat some sense into them.

"I will not have either of you defile my parent's graves with this senseless bickering! And I will not tolerate anyone challenging my authority while we're in crisis mode!" I stalked around, looking down at the two of them as they looked back at me, little me, wondering what came over me. They're both older than me, taller than me, stronger than me by far. But just now I felt like I was the top of a volcano and I was way past the point of exploding.

"Now get this through your thick heads right now. If either of you thinks you can do a better job leading, then take the damned thing and do what needs to be done. If not, then shut the hell up, get in line and follow my lead. Either way, get your sorry asses up off this holy ground and stop acting like fuckin' idiots."

Everyone around us was stunned. Probably none more than me. Then I felt a shadow fall over my back, and the warm presence of Kenny right there with me, standing beside and behind me. When it's just me and him, we're equals. When it's time to take back duty, he's my Herald and my guide, but I'm the boss.

Kenny, I never did thank you enough for giving me the right kick in the pants for me to kick everyone else back in line and get ready for the hell to come. Thanks so much, babe. I'd never have survived even that first day after the funeral without you. You mean so much to me. And I treasure you for that.

A small sound reached my ears from behind. Joined by another, and both small, slapping sounds continued, to be joined by a third and a fourth. I turned and found Joey, Mitch, Daniel and Keith there, clapping softly.

"About damned time," Daniel said, smiling.

Eventually, the mourners broke up after a while and we adjourned to a nearby parish hall for a reception. I don't know why people have a reception after a funeral. I guess people need a party to help ease the sadness, but for me it only drags the event out. I really wanted to get out of the starched white shirt and itchy slacks and into something a lot more comfortable. Like about ten days worth of bed sheets and fifty hours of warm showers.

There are times when just being around "people" really pisses me off. Makes me feel icky to be around them, like they're leeching part of my soul away, just with their presence. Bet you feel that way sometimes, too.

Finally, my parent's lawyer, a man named Jonathon Apostolis, came over with a briefcase and a handshake to Mitch. He patted my head like I was some kind of lost terrier and spoke the same platitudes I'd heard about a billion times today already. It piled up with the other meaningless things that had piled up in the back of my head, and for once, the autopilot earned his keep. I thanked the man without thinking about it and just stood there, listening, trying to fight the numbness in me, the scrubbing, gray numbness.

"Is there a room where we can watch a DVD?" I heard Mr. Apostolis say. I looked deeper at him, trusting my fae sight to show me if this lawyer had any connection to the Dreaming. FAT CHANCE! Sorry to say, but this poor man had given up his connection to the Dreaming world long ago, in favor of the rules and regulations and practices and protocols of his profession. I know, it's not an easy job and someone has to do it, but the effect was like something eating away at his soul. His sanity might be fully intact, and his mind sharp as ever, but inside, where a man's hopes and dreams live, this poor lawyer was aching, hurting in profound ways.

And it made me want to help him. Without realizing it, I had reached out and hugged about his waist. Kenny had the presence of mind to keep a hand on my back, to keep himself in touch with me. Mr. Apostolis simply looked down, almost in alarm. Then, with a great slowness, he embraced me, and I felt him ease up a bit inside.

"Your father was right about you, m'boy," he said, barely whispering it to me. "You inspire others to have hope again. Just something about you."

"Thanks," I said, letting him go.

"I think perhaps we should go to my house. I believe we will all be comfortable there," Mitch said.

"This message is for family only," the lawyer said, with great sympathy.

"They are my family. In all ways that matter, they are all I have left."

"If you're sure, Robert."

"He's sure," Kenny said, smoothing a hand across my shoulders. "Trust me, Mr. Apostolis, you don't want to butt heads with this butt head," and he flashed that winning smile.

That's my Kay Neth. Fierce, wise, funny and daring, and all over that, a massive dose of just plain pig headed knowing the right thing to do and sticking to it. God I love that about him. When he's sure about something, he just goes with it.

"We'll then," the lawyer said, coughing to regain his composure. "I'll follow you then?"

"Very good. Boys, gather your things and head to the truck, please."

As we filed out, getting a very sincere send off from the priest, there was something about all this making me tense-er. My parent's left a DVD with their will? What could be on it?I wondered. A message? From my parents? That was almost surreal in an already surreal and unreal situation. What could it all mean?

"We'll find out at the house, beloved," Kay whispered in my ear as we walked to the SUV. I swear, there are times he just plain reads my mind.

Now, I don't know why Mitch always calls his vehicle a truck. Clearly it's some kind of mini-van or van-van or something like that. At any rate, we strapped in, buckled down, bade Juan and Bethy goodnight, and were surprised when Cody and Nick hopped in as well, taking the back row bench and buckling in as well.

"Joey said we should stay with you tonight," Cody said, clicking his seat belt. "Big elder meeting at the caern, and they're not going to be putting up with a couple of Cliath getting underfoot just yet."

"You okay, Nick?" I asked, suddenly feeling guilty about bonking his head off of Juan's earlier at the grave site.

"Ah'm tougher than ya'll gimme credit for," he said, a bit angrily, then his expression softened. "Ah'd almost have to be with how Cody snores."

"I," Cody said, with calculated and ponderous slowness, "do not… snore."

Nick drew in a breath to begin a new reply, a big grin on his face, when the driver's door opened and Mitch got in, looked back at the werewolves and then turned back around, setting the key in the ignition switch. "No marking territory in my house, boys. Got that?"

"Yessir," Nick and Cody said as one, Nick giggling at the thought.

"And no shedding. I like my carpets without extra shag."

"Too late," Kay said, under his breath but loud enough for us in the back seats to hear. Nick giggled again, and poor Cody simply flushed red thinking what that might mean (accurately so, I might add).

And yeah, the joke made me a little pink under the collar, too. Hey, I was there. I remembered the event under suspicion. Bet you wish I'd tell you about that in these pages. But that, too, is another story (maybe later, hehehe).

Even though we had a bit of the nasty giggles in the back seats while heading back to Kenny's house, the more somber mood settled back over us. For myself, I know it was because we were about to hear my parents' will. I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, but in a twisted sort of way, I wanted it over with. They say that there are a bunch of steps to grief. Like, I dunno, five or six or something like that. I don't exactly know where I was on that path, but I really was just sick of it and wanted it done with. No disrespect to my parents, but this whole thing is a lot of burden for shoulders as small as mine.

We got up into the house and ran for the bathrooms. I don't think anyone realizes how much you can not need to pee while standing, than when you are stuck sitting in a car for ten minutes. Thankfully, there were two bathrooms available. Mr. Apostolis and Mitch waited for us to finish our necessaries up at the thick oaken dining room table. I should point out that after we had finished our peeing (and yes, Kenny and I went in together; saved time, and no, we didn't cross the streams), Kenny turned me to the mirror and hugged me from behind. Nothing nasty or sexual about it. He just wanted to see me see us together. It was a subtle way for him to remind me that he was not alone and still grab a standing snuggle from me at the same time.

See why I love him?

We moved upstairs and sat around the table while Mitch poured coffee for himself and Mr. Apostolis. I had yanked my tie loose and popped the top button on the white shirt I'd had on. Kenny managed to snag a tight fitting t-shirt from his closet on the way to the stairs and was settling it over his head while we had been on the stairs up from his room. For those who haven't read Coupé yet (dude, how many times do I have to hint at it!), Kenny's house is a split level, and his bedroom's in the downstairs. Just to clear things up; I saw the guy in the back of the room trying to figure it out.

ANYWAYS, we sat down and got to the business of reading the will. For the most part, I stayed silent. Kenny sat right up next to me, his thigh pressed up against mine, holding my hand in the lap formed by both our legs. Mr. Apostolis read out the first part of the will, which was like the stuff you see in old movies. It like listed my parents' names and said all that "being of sound mind and body" crap. Basically it was the legalese that established who my parents were and named Mitch as the executor of the will. Little did I know that this will was added to just a few weeks ago. Mitch knew, of course, that my parents would name him as executor, but that fact wasn't something he thought we'd need to know this soon after agreeing to take on that role. It was to be expected, though. I think my folks knew that if anything happened to them, I'd want to live with Mitch and Kenny.

The next part of the will was where they listed out the stuff my parents owned. The two cars (well, one car now), the RV, the house, all of their investments, life insurance (I wish it did what it sounds like it should do), and some other things they owned that I didn't know about. Like a safe deposit box in Boston that I'm not allowed to open until I'm 21. And yes, that last one made me a little angry. Not for the greed factor, but just because I'm an impatient brat at times. I also got their box seat tickets at the TD Garden. Basketball and hockey! I didn't know we even had those. I guess when you work for politicians, there are subtle benefits.

Then came the part I was dreading. The orders. This is the part where they tell Mitch what they want done with me and all their stuff. The cash went into a trust fund, so I can't touch it until I turn 18. The investments go into Mitch's name until I'm 18 as well, but the profits from that go back into the trust fund. It was left for Mitch to decide about the RV, remaining car and the house. He looked at me and I knew that he'd talk to me later about that. Basically, everything went to me, with a few big contributions to local charities, most notably a huge cash payout to the city library. Mom would have wanted that to be the top of the list I'm sure. She always told me that words were power. That donation was a way to keep words and people in Canterbury strong. I can appreciate that need.

The will stated, with no ifs, ands, or buts, that Mitch was going to be my guardian. I had absolutely no problem with that. We had no other family here, that I knew of, and since my parents were Mages that time traveled back here in the first place, well… I guess Mitch was the most logical and only real answer to who gets me if they died anyways. I sort of wondered who had that unhappy duty before we met Mitch and Kenny, though.

There was one other matter of property that had to be cleared up as well. Before all this happened, Mom and Dad had been in the process of having a house in Salisbury Beach Center renovated. Long ago, back when I was writing Coupé (shameless plug number forty-thousand), I remember that Mom and Dad were trying to buy a place up in Sea Brook, which is basically the same place as Salisbury Beach Center, just up over the New Hampshire state line. Border towns often do that, share space but split the territory and rename themselves. I guess if I was into history enough I could look up reasons for why that happens, but to be perfectly honest I don't really see the need to check it out.

I'm lazy like that.

The point being, when they died, it triggered an insurance deal that paid for the mortgage on the beach house they were dealing with up there. So suddenly I was the owner of not one, but two homes that I couldn't legally claim until I turned 18. GO, Mom and Dad! You guys really knew how to set stuff up. Mr. Apostolis handed over keys and had Mitch sign for stuff. I was really getting mixed signals from myself. Here I was, trumpeting all this stuff I was getting, but still felt that stone around my neck from having lost my parents. That was going to be a tough thing to face.

They loved me. If there's a heaven for Mages, they loved me still. They had done their best to prepare things for me in case the worst should happen. For that I am eternally grateful. Still, I'd much rather wiggle in between them for a family hug right about now. The "missing you" pain is about the worst.

At that point, I felt Kenny's hand in our lap tighten, gripping my fingers strongly. I looked over to him. His eyes were already watching me, still with that fathomless quality about them. I could almost feel him sending me strength and concern. I squeezed his hand back, knowing that he knew that I knew what he knew we both knew. Yeah, I know. Kinda confusing but it's what it is.

"Now, Robert," Mr. Apostolis said, handing Mitch a CD case. Mitch took it and went over to the DVD player set up in the living room. "This is probably going to be a difficult part for you to watch. I have no idea what your parents left on this disc for you, and my instructions are that as soon as you have the disc and are ready to watch it, that I tell you the following. Oh, please don't start it yet, Mitch. This is important."

"Okay," my fencing instructor/foster father said. It was weird to think of him that way, but he'd been watching out for my best interests ever since I'd come back as Robyn the Blue. He was my thane and now my Lord Regent, in effect. "It's ready whenever you are finished, Jono."

"Thank you. Your parents had some rather unusual instructions regarding your assets and your future. I'm told that the video they left explains much. I'm also strictly forbidden from asking you what is contained on that video. Part of my instructions is that my firm is now on permanent retainer to your estate. Do you understand what that means?"

"Uh, not exactly."

"It means that there has been a special account set up by your parents that retains my law firm's services for you and your guardian until you turn 18 years of age. Which means, if there is anything you need done legally or financially, feel free to call upon us at any time, day or night. Here is my card. I'll leave one with your guardian as well. I'll leave you to watch the video now. Mitch, I'll have those papers sent by first thing tomorrow."

"Thank you, Jonothan."

"Thank you, Mr. Apostolis," I said. He shook my hand and patted me on the head.

"Be brave, young man. Your parents weren't wrong when they told me you were an extraordinary boy. I see there are monumental events in your future."

I didn't know what to say to that. Yeah, I know… I was stunned silent.

Kenny nudged me

"Uh, thank you, sir. You've been very kind."

"Not at all. Just doing things right by old friends of mine. Well, I must be off. Goodnight, Mitch. Boys."

"Night, ya'll, Nick said, coming to sit down in the oversized furniture of Mitch's living room. Cody closed the door behind Mr. Apostolis and hurried over to sit by his boi friend's side.

"You ready for this?" Kenny asked, standing up.

"No. But since when has that ever stopped me," I grinned back. He knew I didn't feel the smile, but it was either a matter of force a smile or wind up crying like an infant victim of candy theft.

We wandered over and sat on the couch, Kenny taking the middle, me the end, leaving Mitch enough room to take the last third of the couch. He chose the big, fluffy armchair instead. On the love seat, Nick and Cody sat close, Nick's arm up and Cody sort of leaning back against him. They looked like they hadn't been comfortable in a long time. Hopefully, Kenny would be able to lend them some looser clothes to fit into instead of formal funeral type clothes. Then again, Kenny did tend to wear his t-shirts rather close fitting.

"Here we go," Mitch said, extending his hand and mashing a button on the DVD's clicker. The soft blue of the screen went static snowy for a second and then resolved into an image that at once made my heart just clench real tight. Mom looked back at me, a shadowy figure near the top part of the screen moved back beside her and resolved into my Dad. I could see the slightly thinning section of his hair, up on top of his head, when he sat down, pulling the chair up under his seat as he got comfortable.

"Robby," Mom said, her voice a little quavery. "We don't need to go into the circumstances about you getting to see this. I think it is probably pretty apparent already. We want you to know that we are sorry we wont get to see you grow up. Your father and I love you so very much."

"And we want you to be happy and safe," came my Dad's even, calm tenor voice. Just hearing him, even just barely interpreting what he was saying for the sound of his voice alone, brought a tear to my eye. I was light and joy to my father. He was the quiet strength and shelter of my life. Hearing him now made that very clear to me. "So we arranged, as you probably have guessed by now, for you to live with Mitch and Kenny. We know you'll be happy there and free to live as a changeling as much as you need to."

"Just remember to be good to Mitch. He's taken on a hell of a task trying to finish raising a wily backtalker like you, Robert!" Mom added with sternness. She was always trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. She didn't put up with my bullshit when I got into verbal arguments and she certainly knew when something was going on that she wouldn't approve of. I wish I knew how she always knew when I was plotting something. God, I'll miss that about her. She kept me honest. And she loved me even when I was a pain in the ass.

There was what can only be described as an uncomfortable pause. Mom and Dad, on the screen, looked at each other and that unspoken communication thing happened between them. I think they only partly scripted this video. And just as I was watching, I could tell they had reached an accord about what to say next, but only in that exact moment.

"Son," my father began. "We know about you and Kenny. And I'm not just talking about your changeling existence and friendship. We know about how truly deep your relationship goes."

"And it frightened us at first," Mom put in.

"But we've come to realize how truly special you actually are, Robby. I know we've mentioned before that you are destined for something special, a significant event in this time that will somehow bring about an age of mystical understanding for all the peoples of Earth. We thought that perhaps you'd be the precursor of a line of Mages. Or that somehow you'd do something drastically heroic that changes the world."

"We even thought that maybe it was you, through your changeling arts, that somehow made first contact with the aliens we know in our time."

"Aliens?" Cody and Nick asked in unison. I gave them a quick glance and just shrugged my shoulders. Hey, I was in the dark about actual aliens, too.

"And we thought it was already complicated," Kenny whispered. I gave him a quick "Shhh!"

"The truth is, we don't know what your destiny is, Robby. We've tried as best we can to prepare you for whatever lies ahead." Mom paused and looked at the table before them for a moment and then looked back up. "Kenny, I know you are probably watching this with Robby. I…" she looked at my father and they joined hands, folding them together on the table before them. "We," she began again, "want you to know that we are very happy that Robby and you found each other. All we ever wanted for Robby was that he find someone he can love and be happy with. And Dennis and I are very happy that in you he has found both. And we both love you, Kenny. Thank you for being our son's companion. We couldn't be prouder."

I glanced over at Kenny. He had streaks of wetness forming along his cheeks.

"We wanted you to know, that we consider you our son as well, in all ways that count," Dad put in.

"Pause the CD, Pop," Kenny said, unable to lift his eyes from the screen. I felt him reach his arms around me and squeeze tighter. I just laid my head down on top of his, holding him.

"They knew?" I asked Mitch, a bit in wonder.

"They asked me one night, while we were at the tournament in Amherst. I think they suspected all along. You have to remember, Robby's parents were used to looking below the surface of things for what was true and what was facade. As spies from the future, they had to be more alert to their surroundings than the casual person."

"So, you told them?"

"They asked, Robby. I felt they needed to know. I didn't give them any details, since I don't care to know those myself." That got a chuckle out of Nick, and a glare from Mitch before he continued. "But they did need to know. Besides, your mother didn't ask if you were gay. She wanted to know if my son was as much in love with you as you apparently were with him."

"They said that?"


"Whoa!" Kenny said from right beside me. "They knew all this time. I mean, they only asked about it recently, but they knew. Probably back to when the dragon came out of the river, they knew."

"Kinda awesome," was all I could stupidly say.

"Yeah. Mad awesome."

"Shall I start this up again?" Mitch said, indicating the paused image of my parents on the screen. I glanced around, noting that Cody hadn't said anything. His eyes were telling me volumes, though. His eyes were fairly streaming tears. His face was passive, thoughtful, yet locked on the screen. Somehow I knew he wasn't seeing my parents in that flickering video image. To Cody, he was seeing his own parents. I made a note to talk to him later and give him a huge hug.

"I'm good," Kenny said, tightening his hug around my waist.

"Cody?" I asked. Nick tightened his hug around his own boyfriend, seeing his distress.

"I'm okay," Cody replied, softly. Nick reached up and brushed a hand along the side of Cody's neck, which seems to be a thing between them.

Mitch pressed the appropriate spot on the clicker again and the image started going.

"Okay, on to other business," my father said, without missing a beat. "By now, Jonothan has told you he's at your disposal. He doesn't know about your abilities or dual nature. He does know about Kenny's relationship to you. However, Jono is discreet and he will do just about whatever you need him to do from a legal standpoint. I think that if you ask him exactly what that may mean he can give you a better idea than we could."

"Okay. Been there, done that," I said, getting a "Shhh!" from Kenny.

"Mitch is to have total control over the money and property we leave to you until you turn 18. We expect that you will likely get into college or a university somewhere, so we have made several provisions for that. There is a specific fund set up to earn money for you and Kenny to go to school, when the time comes. There's also some travel money set aside for the inevitable senior trip when you graduate high school."

"Way to go Mom!" I said, sniffing back some tears. My nose was making those funny noises that always happen when you cry a little.

"We left you a box, Son. In Boston, in the Fleet Bank main office, there is a safe deposit box in your name. We know that you can probably break into there with little effort. We have a fair idea of the sorts of powers that changelings can develop." I shot Mitch an accusing look that he promptly ignored. I listened again as my father continued speaking. "So we wanted to warn you now not to try to open that box early. There are enchantments placed on the box to ensure that it is kept safe and unopened until you actually turn 21 years of age and not a second sooner."

"They booby trapped the bank?" Nick asked, totally astonished. "Man, that's seriously…" he stopped talking, looking around.

"Wicked," Cody finished for him, but in a somewhat more subdued tone.

"There is a good reason for it, Robby. In this, I hope you trust our judgment." Okay, Dad, I thought. I can wait. But as soon as I turn 21, I'm so going to get into that box, if I have to hopscotch the whole bank to do it!

"We can only hope that this video finds you well, " Mom said.

"And we know that you will make us proud, Robby." There was something odd in my father's voice, and I had the feeling that it was going to make us all a little upset in a moment.

"Take care of each other, boys. There are dark times coming. We can't give you any details, but we can at least give you one warning."

"Did she say warning?" Nick blurted out, getting a "Shhh!" from everyone else in the room.

"Listen very carefully," my father said, taking my mother's hand in his and staring at the screen with the most serious look I've ever seen on his face. They started to say something together, as if it were a mantra or magic spell.

"In twisted ways the twisted days do summon up secrets from the past,

yet in sorrows craze the mind's own maze will unravel the darkest wrath.

When comes the time of trial and strife, be thy nature true unto the end.

For the truths betrayed for the sun's bright rays your spirits will shall mend."

"What the hell does that mean?" Nick asked, perturbed, and this time no one "shhh-ed"

"We love you, boys. Take care of them Mitch." Mom said.

"All our love. Good-bye," my father said, smiling through his sadness.

The screen went back to blue flatness as Mitch turned off the recording. I felt suddenly so lost and empty. They really, really were gone now. I could play that recording over a thousand times, just to hear their voices again, to remember their faces. But they were gone, and that sadness I'd been dealing with all day rose up and clobbered me like an ocean wave made out of mercury.

Silence reigned in the room for several moments. Only the occasional sound of one of us sniffling broke it.

"And with that, gentlemen, I think I'm going to turn in. Kenny, I think you can show our guests where they can sleep?"

"Yes, Poppa," he replied. "I think we'll all sleep down in my… in our room tonight.

"I think that's a good idea. You've all been through some tough things today. Perhaps being able to comfort each other and relax a while is in order."

"Thanks Mitch, "I said.

"Good night, boys." He got up, kissed Kenny and me on the foreheads (being careful of where my horns were) and then rubbed Nick and Cody on the head as he walked down the hallway to his room and silently closed the door.

Nick and Cody looked over at us, both pairs holding on to their boyfriends. It was, strangely, Cody that broke the silence amongst us.

"Got anything to eat?"

"Always thinkin' with your stomach, Glubber," Nick smiled, suppressing a giggle.

"Come to think of it, we didn't get much to eat at the reception," Kenny replied, grinning. "Let's attack the freezer and get out some pizzas."

"And french fries?" Nick asked.

"Sure, it wouldn't be New England if we didn't mix pizza and fries." Nick and Cody stood up, Nick following Kenny to the kitchen at a playful bounce.

Cody just stood there, watching as our boys left us for a moment. I don't remember who moved first, but I think we were both startled to see that the other had.

"Cody… I know you had it rough when you first became a woofer…" and I felt my face go red at the fact I'd used a term that might be derogatory to describe his race. Already, I'd let the damned autopilot say something totally wrong. The friggin' autopilot's termination papers were just waiting for my signature now.

"It's okay. We sometimes call you guys faeries, even though it's not the right words."

"Oh, good. I should warn you. I can be a real jerk sometimes. I say things without thinking them through."

Cody shrugged his shoulders. "Living with Nicky you get used to it."

"Well, what I wanted to say was… I can see you're hurting about something. You healed me, and well… I was just wondering if there's something I can do for you."

"It's not easy for me," he said at some length. I lost my parents too. Not the same way you did, but I can't ever see them again either. So in a way, seeing your parents get to say good-bye to you like that, to be so accepting of you like that… it hurts. In ways I can't even begin to tell you, it hurts."

I reached out, enfolded him in my arms and felt him just melt to me. He started crying loudly, and I didn't let him go. I just closed my eyes and felt all the anguish and pain rush out of him. I didn't by any means think that Cody was a weakling or a crybaby. I knew he was made of tougher stuff than that. But he had healed me, in so many ways. This little thing that I could do for him, this holding while he cried out his unspent grief and memories of his own parents, was suddenly the most important thing in the world for me to do.

Another pair of arms wrapped around us. And then another. Before you know it, there was a slightly swaying group hug of changelings and Garou in the center of the living room, crying for the lost, and holding fast to each other.

Before, we'd been just buddies, sharing in possible danger and wanting to learn from each other. Now, we were family. It was just a small step, but one that made us all stronger. We stayed like that for a few moments, letting the tears dry, just enjoying the weird sort of group hug-ness that came over us. And it figures that it was Nick to get us to let go and get on with other things.

His stomach rumbled, loudly.

"Um, that's mine," he said, starting a giggle fit. We broke up, wandered about the kitchen and gathered stuff for a minor feast, lugged down pizza, chips and tonic and settled down in Kenny's… I mean our bedroom.

And no, for the record, there was no group grope here either. No side by side sex stuff or partner swapping or even any nasty circle jerks (although that's not a bad idea, now that you mentioned it, you PERV you!) We did skip down to total bareness, but that was mostly because Kenny and I always sleep that way, and the woofers confessed that they did too.

So that night, guzzling tonic (no Pepsi, COKE!), munching on pizza and fries and chips and all kinds of junk food and stuff left over from the reception, we basically just lazed around in the room, watched movies until we passed out and just let the world go for a while.

There is one other thing that happened. I woke up in the night to see Cody sitting up on the couch in the bedroom. He was talking to one of my unicorns, a yearling with dappled gray and black body markings and a pearlescent mane and tail. As I watched, the unicorn looked at Cody and dipped its horn, touching him on the hand. And then, in an odd flash, the chimerical creature vanished.

"It's the spirit of the one we found that evil sword stabbed through," Cody said, looking up at me. "He's found peace."

"I'm glad."

"The unicorns… are yours?" he asked, with such reverence that I was forced to use my almost whisper voice when I replied.

"My father's. They were the herd that he used for his cavalry. They seem to think I'm their master, but like, I don't know what to say to that."

"Unicorn is the tribal totem of my tribe. It's a powerful spirit. I think that Unicorn wants us to form a pack."

"I think I want us to form a pack. Kenny and I like you guys. And, well, who else can we talk to about gay AND supernatural stuff. It's not like we have a lot of peers," I said, grinning a bit.

"Yeah, well, I think you have at least two. And we're happy that way."

"Me too."

"Any pizza left?" he asked looking around.

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