The day Megan McMuir learned she was pregnant and then discovered her husband was a faery was undoubtedly the most traumatic event in her life, but that was before she crossed a Time Portal, tamed a unicorn, and faced the Wizard of Dark Fire.
At present, however, she was still struggling with the surprise of that first fact, which her doctor had confirmed that afternoon. I should be delirious with happiness, so why do I feel guilty? It’s not the end of the world. Other young married couples have had unexpected pregnancies and survived.
After all, this wasn't entirely her fault. If she was guilty of being careless, so was David, who had definitely and very enthusiastically aided and abetted. I’ll remind him of that if he makes too much of a fuss!
And make a fuss, he would, she had no doubt. With probably a great deal of cursing in Gaelic or Erse or whatever it was they spoke in the Auld Sod. Hadn’t it been he who’d stated in no uncertain terms he felt babies had no place in their present and not-so-distant future? Bringing up the subject of birth control? While they were planning the wedding, for crying out loud! Which, from Megan’s point of view, put a slight damper on the whole thing.
“I know it's going to sound odd, acushla, in view of the fact we’re getting married, but we do na know each other well enough to have a baby. Let’s wait a while for that, get better acquainted, then start a family.” He smiled at the disappointment she tried to hide, and put his arms around her, kissing her gently. “Sure now, it’ll be best. You'll see.”
Okay, so he’s Irish but not Catholic. Religion had never been mentioned in their relationship, as well as quite a number of other things, Megan was beginning to realize. At that particular moment, however, all she could do was admit what he said was sensible, very sensible. That was David, all right. Sensible and then some. So she went to her OB/GYN and got a prescription for the Patch, wore it faithfully... and was now thinking desperately of reasons not to get out of her car and go into the house and tell her husband he was going to be a father.
How cowardly was that?
Pretty damned cowardly! She startled herself with her use of profanity. Megan was generally very soft-spoken, but-- So I’m just a teensy bit upset. Okay?
Sliding out of the Civic, she slammed the door with such violence the little car shook visibly. I’m not afraid. And especially not of David. Stalking up the walkway, her footsteps punctuating each thought as she stamped her way to the front stoop...not..of...my...darling...loving...husband...
Unlike her usual approach to the house, when she would stop to appreciate its classic beauty , this time she ignored it completely. The old mansion had belonged to David’s uncle Seamus who’d lived there seventy years before deciding to retire and return Home, deeding the place to his nephew. It was typically antebellum with white columns and encircling verandahs, three stories of Old South charm on a half-acre lot of lush azalea-filled gardens and towering magnolia trees.
Hastily, Megan searched through her purse for her key, found it, and reached for the door. Ossian had it open before she could slide her key into the lock. That was one of the things she disliked about the manservant. He seemed to know what she was going to do before even she herself did.
For a moment, they confronted each other. Megan waited for him to speak, knew he wouldn't. Part of the etiquette of having servants: it was her place to say the first word.
“Good evening, Ossian.” It came out grudgingly.
“Good evening, Mistress Megan.” He dipped his head in a brief nod as if to say, There now, that wasna so difficult, was it? “You’re home early.” Was there concern in that beautiful voice? “Nothin’ amiss, I hope?”
As if I’d tell you! She shrugged, “A touch of the ’flu, I think,” adding in afterthought, “Don't get too close. Wouldn’t want you to catch it.”
His perfect features held a brief smirk. No virus would dare. It was gone so quickly she wasn’t certain she'd actually seen it.
“’Tis five o’clock. Master Tavy--” His eyes glanced toward the grandfather clock in the foyer, then back to her. Not in rebuke, more a correction on how to properly refer to her husband. She’d never before realized the Irish were so big on protocol. “-- will be in his laboratory --” He gave it a British pronunciation. La-BORA-try. “--at this time of day.”
For a moment, the blue eyes held hers in a most unservile gaze. Irish eyes, David had called them, placed with a sooty finger. Ossian’s eyes were dark, dark blue, rimmed with a disgustingly thick fringe of black lashes any woman would’ve killed for. When he blinked, they made little rippling shadows on his cheeks.
Why do I dislike Ossian so? Is it because he’s prettier than I am?
“Then that’s where I'll be, too.” She aimed herself in the direction of the hallway leading to the lab, feeling those eyes boring into her shoulder blades. That was the second thing she hated about Ossian. She always had the sensation he was watching her with amused tolerance, as if she were a new puppy, entertaining but liable to piddle on the carpet at any moment.
“Very good, Mistress.”
She didn't answer, just continued down the dimly lit hallway, sailing determinedly past the spiral staircase and the enormously ostentatious flower arrangement nearly hiding a nearby table while reflecting itself into a gold-framed mirror.
~ * ~
Pausing before the door to David’s lab, she took time to read the hand-lettered sheets of loose-leaf notepaper taped to its surface: Quiet! Genius at Work...Do Not Feed the Microbes...To Enter, you must know the Secret Password--PS, it’s Please... and, more ominously, a HazMat symbol with appropriate warnings about the presence of possibly contagious specimens located inside the lab and entering without permission.
Megan shook her head. The thousands of bacteria preserved in little petri dishes within the storage units inside the room didn’t bother her as much as those signs. She’d thought they were childish things for a microbiologist to have outside his lab and had said so. Honestly, David. It looks like a third-grader’s bedroom door! But there again, David wasn’t the usual garden-variety, run-of-the-mill scientist. To Megan’s way of thinking, he definitely had a wide streak of third-grader still in him, and this was one way he proved it. Somehow, he managed to inject everything with a bit of whimsy. Even studying bacteria, which Megan still considered an odd choice of vocations, as well as a definite way to get eyestrain.
I doubt he’ll see any humor in this. She gave the door a couple of sharp raps with her fist. Here’s hoping he disappoints me.
Seizing the handle, she wrenched it upward. Then, deciding she was going to be as upbeat as possible, pasted a grimace of a smile on her face and went inside.
For just a moment, Megan let her eyes rove about the room, looking everywhere except at the subject of her thoughts. Compared to those she’d seen in the movies or even in the biology department when she was attending college, it wasn’t much of a lab. Certainly not as smelly, no eau de formaldehyde reek. Definitely not as mad labs as those in the classic Universal Studios movies--no bubbling beakers or oddly levered machine spitting lighting and emitting rhythmic buzzing sounds. And definitely more humane, with no cages of white rabbits or jittery-looking little albino mice running around in wire wheels.
Until she’d seen the lab itself, Megan had been anxious when she learned David’s profession. Hadn’t really relaxed in spite of his reassurances he didn’t work with test animals.
All David did was study bacteria and classify them. His laboratory was actually a storage facility, more of a reference library, holding rows and rows of test tubes and petri dishes, various electronic equipment for specimen and data retrieval and storage--as well as numerous machines whose purpose Megan could only guess. Refrigeration units, electron microscopes for viewing the specimens, and innumerable keyboards and computer screens where he transferred data to disks which found their way into little jewel cases on the shelves lining the walls. It was a backup for the CDC, he'd once told her, made available by a Federal Grant. If there was ever a need for information Atlanta’s Center for Disease Control might not have, the contents of those little cases were available to any medical facility or physician at a moment’s notice.
Megan had questioned the safety of keeping such material in a private dwelling. At first, it certainly had given her more than a twinge of fear knowing that, within the confines of the place she called home, there were dormant microscopic things in little containers, which might be deadly if they somehow got free. She’d expected the U.S. government to feel the same way but apparently, with one of those unexplainable quirks those in High Places sometimes possess, her feelings weren’t shared. Or perhaps David’s verbal agility had convinced them. She knew he’d had to do some very fast-talking, attend several meetings with various government and health officials in order to keep the lab at his home.
However it happened, she, Ossian, and Brigid had been investigated and given Security Clearance, and now they all shared the white-columned house with several thousand bacilli and other non-visible…things. With no visible safety measures and not even one armed guard, though she’d expected to have to wear a badge and be frisked every time she walked through the door--or was that those movie images intruding again? Nevertheless, Megan imagined hidden, high-tech security devices imbedded in the walls and door though she’d never actually seen any.
The lab was subject to regular inspections by those same officials to make certain safety standards were met, but everything necessary was in place, the equipment was the very best of its kind and up-to-date. David worked there alone, with no assistants…no one to know what he did, except the people he reported to. Megan still wondered how he’d managed it, but he had, so she let herself believe everything was above-board and let it go at that. Remarkably, she no longer worried about any danger, either.
“Hey there, darlin’, I’m over here.”
The greeting in that gentle Irish lilt forced her to look at him. Megan again allowed her gaze to roam, this time over David’s body.
He was seated on a barstool at the center island, his six-foot-three frame curled over a microscope. Even in her current anxiety, she thought he wasn’t dressed very scientist-like...blue jeans, scuffed runners and a faded sweatshirt. Another of his deviations from the expected cliché. Of course, he had thrown a white coat over it all so she supposed that was David’s concession to the laboratory dress code. She always felt he was playing at being a scientist because he didn’t fit her idea of one. If he'd been wearing slacks and a white shirt under the lab coat, with a pair of wire-frame glasses perched on his forehead as he looked through the ’scope, she might have thought differently.
“How’d it go, aghra? From that smile on your darlin’ face, I’m thinkin’ you’re feelin’ better.”
That almost wiped the smile away. Megan forced herself to nod.
“So come here an’ give your lovin’ husband a kiss.” He dropped his automatic pencil on the countertop and held out his arms, nearly knocking over the microscope in the process. “Oops. Unless you’re contagious, that is.”
“No, I’m not contagious. Not with anything you can catch, anyway.” The irony of that statement, as well as its truth, made her laugh in spite of her worry.
“So what does th’ doctor say? A virus, I’ll bet. Too bad I’m not a virologist, I could’ve saved you an office visit.”
“I don’t have a virus.” She hadn't moved. Get on with it, Megan! Drop the bomb.
“I’m not sick, David.” Her facade was starting to slip, smile going first. She felt her lower lip quiver, bit it to make it stop.
His frown deepened, threatening to become a scowl. “With all th’ retchin’ you’ve been doin’ this past week, I’d have thought you had N1M1 or ebola or somethin’ equally terminal. So what is it, then?”
“Definitely none of those,” she stalled, putting her hands behind her back so he wouldn't see their nervous flutter. “In fact, Dr. Mowry says I’m in great shape for the shape I’m in.”
“Which tells me absolutely nothin’. What’s th’ matter, Megan?” He stopped, waiting for an answer and when he didn’t get one, persisted, “What are you na tellin’ me? If you are na sick, what are you?”
She let his question hang in the air for exactly three seconds.
“Pre…” He jerked slightly, as if someone had jabbed a couple of fingers into his ribs, and went a little pale. “How? Na...’tis a stupid question.” His voice was just a little too calm. “What I mean is...how could it happen? You’re wearing a Patch--”
The green eyes narrowed and Megan could swear she saw accusation in them.
“--unless that little rectangle is just a piece of flesh-colored adhesive tape, an…”
“H-how dare you accuse me of lying.” She’d never expected that. “We discussed this, and agreed, and I’ve been doing my part and now you--”
To her horror, and David’s dismay, she began to cry, huge tears rolling silently down her cheeks.
“Here, now, acushla. I dinna mean it...’twas just th’ surprise talkin’.” He was off the stool, sweeping her into his arms. Megan leaned against him, pressing her face against the sweatshirt. It smelled of laundry soap and aftershave and David himself and the familiar scent made her feel safe and made her sob even more loudly. “’Tis just that there’s ne’er been a halfling in th’ family an' I dinna expect to be th’ one to produce th’ first.”
“What?” Swiping at her eyes, Megan looked up. “What's a halfling?”
“Ne’er mind.” Was that scowl for her question or his answer? David pressed a kiss on her forehead, flipping up the tail of his lab coat to produce a clean handkerchief from a hip pocket. “Here. Wipe your eyes, sweet.”
While Megan obeyed, he steered her to the stool, lifted and set her upon it.
“So...we’re immune to th’ Patch, are we? Damn! Dinna expect that.” He turned away, muttering in such a low voice, Megan was certain he didn’t think she could hear. She also wasn’t certain she was hearing correctly. “I’ll have to let Da know so he can warn th’ others.”
“Warn the others? What others?” She wiped away the last of the tears and blew her nose loudly, folding the handkerchief and placing it on the counter. “And why does your father have to know about it?”
“Well, considerin’ how he felt when he learnt I was getting’ married...” David didn't finish the sentence.
To say both his parents were unhappy about his choice of a bride would be an understatement. Megan, who considered herself a nice girl whom any parent would like, was shocked at the number of vehement phone calls David had received. She’d heard only his side of the conversation, of course, but from that little bit, she’d learned the elder McMuir was very unhappy indeed.
He’d even sent David him a letter stating, “I forgave you earlier, my son, but if I could, I’d disown you for this. Unfortunately, your status prevents that. So I shall be content with absenting both myself and your mother from the ceremony.” Neither he nor David’s mother nor any other member of the family had been at the wedding and hadn’t sent a gift, either.
Megan had seen that David was hurt by their absence but he’d just shrugged, stating it was he, and not his family, marrying Megan and they could damned well act any way they wished because the marriage was going to be an established fact. Four weeks later, it was.
“But this will be their grandchild,” Megan argued, twisting the handkerchief. “Their first grandchild. Surely that makes a difference.”
“The first grandchild...an’ one that’s a halfling,” David corrected. For some reason that fact, whatever it meant, was very important to him.
“That’s the second time you’ve used that word. What does it mean? Halfling. David, what is our child half of? Half-American? Half Irish? Is that so bad?”
Again, he didn't answer, just stood looking at her. If Megan could have known what was going through David’s mind, she might have been more confused than she already was.
There she is...the woman I love...the one I defied my faither to wed...defied our entire species, as a matter o’ fact. I knew ’twas wrong, that naithin’ good might come of it. Dinna I learn anythin’ from th’ aithers’ mistakes? Oh, but I love th’ lass so!
Shrugging off the lab coat, he tossed it at the island. It landed on a cluster of upright beakers, slid, caught on the neck of one, and dangled there.
“Come on, Meggie.” He held out his hand. As Megan reached out and took it, he pulled her from the stool and headed for the door. She had to run to keep up with his long strides. “I’ve somethin’ to tell you.”
Outside, he called “Ossian!” and the manservant appeared in a side doorway. “Sir?”
“Th’ Mistress an’ I will be in th’ parlor. Do na disturb us unless there news o’ eminent disaster. Like th’ end o’ th’ world or somethin’ similar.”
Megan didn’t hear Ossian’s reply because David was dragging her down the hall.
~ * ~
Releasing Megan's hand, David turned to lock the door. As she heard that familiar click, an emotion ridiculously like panic flooded through her. In the next moment, she was chiding herself for being so silly.
This is the man I love. Why am I feeling this way? What can he possibly say to frighten me?
“Now then.” That was all he said. Then he began to pace back and forth before the onyx-brick fireplace, muttering to himself as if he were rehearsing a speech, one which displeased him because several times he would stop, repeat a phrase, then start over again.
“For God’s sake, David.” Megan watched him for several moments before the words burst from her. “What's the matter? We’re having a baby, that’s all. You don’t need to act as if we’ve committed a crime of some kind.”
“Have we na?”
When he stopped, turned to look at her, and asked that question so quietly, it didn’t make her feel a bit better. She could feel the tears wanting to start again, and willed them not to, anger at his behavior beginning to take the place of confusion.
“Megan, darlin’.” He came toward her. “I’ve somethin’ to tell you an’ I think you’d best be sittin’ down.” Hands on her shoulders, he guided her backward until the backs of her legs touched one of the Chippendale chairs.
“I don’t want to sit down.” She shook off his hands, stepping away from the chair. “Just tell me, David. Whatever it is, we’ll work through it.” She didn’t know why she added that. The words seemed to come out by themselves. What’s there to work through?
He nodded, backed away a couple of paces and just stood there, looking at her. The silence lengthened. It was so quiet Megan could hear sounds from other areas of the house sifting through the locked door; Ossian’s quiet footsteps--hearing them meant the manservant wasn’t lurking outside the door, thank God. His twin sister Brigid puttering around in the kitchen. Even the oak tree growing near their second-floor bedroom scratching its branches against the bay window.
Everything was moving and making noise. Everything except David. When she was ready to scream at him, to order him to say something--anything--he took a deep breath, looked her straight in the eye, and spoke.
“Megan, I’m a faery.”