Seth walked down the hall leading to his family home, shoulders hunched and head down. He moved just a little faster than Jehane could keep up, and he didn’t feel bad about it, because he was petty. But having her at his back made him feel uncomfortably like she was herding him. He just couldn’t win.
She tugged on the back of his shirt and he stopped so abruptly she walked into him. Then he saw what she saw: his father, strolling toward them. The habitual smile Seth presented to Jake slid into place, and the frown Jake usually wore when looking at Seth moved onto his face.
“How are you doing, son?”
“Oh, you know. Probably about as good as you.”
Jake scanned his face. “Yeah. Well.”
“Well!” said Seth, sticking his hands in his pockets.
“Thinking of coming home soon? Your Mom misses you.”
“Nah. I need my own space, you know?” So far his own space had been bean bags in the Portalry, and the chairs in the media theaters, and twice out in the conservatory. He knew his father knew that, because Elian always kept a close eye on Seth. And he knew his father wasn’t going to argue with him.
“Well… stop in and talk to your Mom sometime, will you?”
“You know how it is, you get so busy. But I’ll absolutely totally do my best and you can tell her that.”
Jake eyed him. For a moment, Seth thought he was going to say something meaningful. But apparently he realized how futile that was, because he just shook his head, said, “Good to see you again,” and walked on.
Jehane’s hands made fists in the back of his shirt. “Seth! We’re on our way to talk to your mom right now! How could you talk to your father like that?”
“What do you mean? I was totally polite.” Then he reached behind himself and grabbed her wrist, dragging her in front of him. “I’m going to talk to my mother, all right? We have a reason to do that. But you’d have to take your big stick to him as well as me before you’d get a Very Special Episode there. Understand?”
“I don’t understand why you don’t get along with him, no.” Her eyes, big and liquid, searched his.
“You wouldn’t. But you don’t need to worry about it, either. Now, come along. I’m not doing this without you.” He stalked along the corridor, his fingers still around her wrist, towing her after him. When they got to the door of his home, the maudlin concern had vanished from her face, replaced by an echo of the grim certainty she’d had when she threatened him with a stage 3 weapon. That was good, really good, because he was suddenly a bit nervous about opening the door.
She put her hand on his back. “Do it.” He opened the door.
Valeria sat on the couch in the living room, reading a book. It was, Seth realized, Natalie’s favorite book. The thought almost made him bolt, but there was Jehane, right behind him.
“Hi,” he said instead.
Valeria looked at him, then closed the book on one finger. “Feeling better?”
He shuffled a few steps in. “Not really.”
Jehane said quickly, “He’s still got things to protect, though.”
“I know. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be running away.”
“Then can he go out?” The request tumbled out of Jehane. She clearly wasn’t going to waste any time; Seth had assumed that some sort of dramatic scene would be required before the core question was asked. Instead, Valeria and Jehane were acting like they’d done all the talking previously, and Seth was just a prop Jehane was displaying. A trophy of her victory. He was almost irritated. But while his mother was talking to Jehane, she was looking at him. There was no room left for irritation, given everything else swirling around.
Valeria rubbed her face. “I don’t want to lose another child, and there’s so many ways to lose one out there. Especially this one, now. I mean, God knows, I’ve been there.”
“You have?” said Jehane in surprise.
Seth looked down at the carpet, then went and flung himself on the couch. He would not run away this time.
“Of course I have.” She closed her eyes. “Farther, actually. It isn’t something we talk about much. Nobody wants to drag things like that out from under the bed. But it isn’t an irreversible process, what happens when a Cambion is born. At least, not at the beginning.” She watched Seth. “Once new habits are set, I imagine it is.”
Eagerly, Jehane said, “How do you know?”
“I’ve been there. On the other side.”
“You actually made a Cambion?”
A moment of silence stretched into an eternity. Then Valeria put the book down and sat back on the couch, on the far side from Seth. “I suppose I have to say yes. Made and killed.”
Seth’s mouth was dry. “What was it like?”
“Like drowning inside myself. Like all the things I’ve ever avoided thinking wrapping their hands around me and pulling me down. And all I wanted to do was drag the world down with me so I wouldn’t be alone. And then… something came from inside me, determined to help me.”
“How did you come back?” Jehane demanded.
Valeria smiled, a funny little sad smile. “I wasn’t alone in the first place. There was someone who loved me and I couldn’t deny it, couldn’t avoid it.” Her gaze, focused on the middle distance, refocused on Seth again.
Anxiously, Jehane said, “Seth won’t be alone.”
“Does he believe that?”
With as much dignity as he could summon, Seth said, “You are all pests.”
Valeria scrutinized him. Then, very softly, she said, “Do you want Natalie back?”
Her voice, so quiet, cut through all the prevarications, all the complications he could offer anybody else who asked. “Yes,” he whispered.
She turned to Jehane. “Take him, then, with my blessing. And if you can, bring my daughter back to me. We can all find our ways together.”