The moment Bella entered her third trimester Fosch knew. The flicker was barely present now, gone entirely for most days. The pregnancy hadn’t been kind on her, and it tore him apart to watch her wasting away, little by little. He had seriously contemplated getting rid of it, and even danced around the topic, testing the waters to see how Bella would react, but the mere possibility of losing that scion had put such distress, such despair in her eyes that Fosch put the topic aside without really broaching it.
She was thirty five weeks along when Oberon came. By then, no traces of the magic could be seen – or felt. Bella’s aura had become plain blue, completely human two weeks earlier.
There was nowhere to hide from Oberon, and he was ashamed to admit to himself he had considered that coward’s path plenty the past weeks. But because of the bargain, Oberon would be able to find him wherever he went, and he couldn’t leave Bella alone, now that she tired merely by standing up too long.
He had taken her to a shaman far in the wilderness of Prague, a witch in the deserts of Egypt, a human healer. All concurred the scion was fine and in good health, all showed confusion when Fosch explained the aura angle.
There was nothing to do but wait, and pray Oberon wouldn’t show.
But show he did, one evening when Bella was taking a restorative nap before they had to go see the human healer again.
Fosch stepped aside for Oberon to enter. There was no need for pretense. If Oberon was here in such a time, it was because he knew. Fosch abhorred nothing more than a liar, and to deny Oberon now would make him a poor liar at best. So he invited Queen Titania’s consort into his home and offered him hospitality, per the sidhe code.
Oberon moved to the window on the far side of the comfortable living room, glanced out at the spot where he usually watched Bella from, before turning to face Fosch.
“You have met the bargain, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch. I have come to collect.”
The room flashed in Fosch’s mind with denial. Although he had been expecting it, Oberon’s words felt like a blow to his heart. He wanted to howl in protest, to shout the injustice of the world to the universe.
Instead, he crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head to the side, his expression mocking, arrogant. “As I recall it, our bargain entailed a human hybrid, did it not?”
“Then the bargain has not been met yet.”
Oberon raised his head up, listening to the soft inhalation and exhalations of Bella’s quiet breathing. “Is she not carrying yours?”
Fosch’s stomach muscles cramped. “She is. But she is not human.”
Oberon watched him with his patient, cold brown eyes and waited.
Bella hadn’t been human when they met, but she was very much human now. He had a wild thought that perhaps Oberon could see the future and had been told about Bella before the bargain had been struck. But no Seelie, or unseelie, could tell the future, and prophecies were given in bigger scales, not for an event for an individual alone.
“Bella is a descendent of a witch line. Her human looking aura is only due to the weaking effect the scion has upon her.”
“Ay? It was made known to me that when a female carries a scion she becomes stronger, resonating both life forces.”
Fosch inclined his head. It was true, and Fosch had often wondered about it too. “You can verify her heritage for yourself. She is an offspring of an air witch and a water mage.”
“Who?” Oberon asked curiously. He had not heard the particular details about the witch’s ritual, had not wanted to know. Too much darkness and sorcery, he had argued – along with both queens. But Arianna had been determined to go through with it even without the Sidhe’s approval, and Queen Titania had at last conceded to take in the scion and prepare it as Arianna had instructed.
“Who?” Fosch repeated blankly. “Her mother died when she was but a child, her father was killed during the mage war ten years ago.”
Fosch thought he caught surprise in Oberon’s eyes and he pressed on. “And there is still a chance that the scion is male.” A slim one, but slim was better than nothing. “And once the scion is born Bella’s aura will return to its normal. Borrenski said this can happen sometimes, that sometimes the scion takes a lot from the mother.” He sounded desperate, he knew, so he forced himself to shut up.
“The bargain entails that the mother gives birth at court.” Oberon reminded Fosch.
“If she were human.” Fosch countered.
Just then, Bella came into the living room, her brown hair must from sleep, her foot bare, her aura as blue as a human’s. Her eyes, more green than hazel today, were sharp, focusing on Oberon with the quality and intensity of a laser beam.
“I know you.” she said sharply. “I see you in my dreams.” She cocked her head to the side, as if the motion would make it easier for her to reach into her thoughts. “Oberon, the Seelie consort.”
“And you are?” Oberon asked, skillfully hiding his surprise. Maybe the witch hadn’t been as thorough as she had claimed to have been.
“And your mother?”
Bella frowned and glanced at Fosch. The beginning of doubt began showing in her eyes, the dawning of a primeval fear. “With all due respect, I don’t see how that is your concern.”
“It is, indeed. Who sired you?”
Again Bella glanced at Fosch, and because the panic he read in them tore at him, he growled at Oberon, something he would never think himself capable. Not the growling part, no, but the total urge to protect, protect, protect that came over him. It was in that instant that he realized that Bella, of all people, was his mate.
Oberon stilled, his eyes moving from Bella to Fosch, back and forth, back and forth as if he were reading a book.
Fosch placed a protective arm around Bella’s shoulder, her enormous belly rippling with the scion’s movement.
Mine. Mine. Fosch growled again, an inhuman sound he wasn’t able to suppress. He glanced at Oberon, his eyes flashing yellow with his inner beast. “You will respect my mate.”
The words shocked everyone in the room, even Fosch himself, for he had not expected to say the words allowed.
Oberon recovered first. “You have mated a human, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch.”
“She. Is. Not. Human.” Fosch gritted. Beside him, Bella’s shoulders jerked once, a crease appeared between her brows.
Oberon turned to Bella, who recoiled into Fosch’s side, who growled in return. “Who sired you?” he demanded.
Fosch wanted to rip into Oberon, but reason began to creep in and he forced himself to take a deep breath, Realizing Oberon wouldn’t give up without verifying for himself. Fosch forced himself to gently push Bella back so he could look into her frightened eyes. “It’s ok. This is just a misunderstanding. Go ahead and tell him.”
Bella shook her head mutely, her hair bouncing wildly, her eyes looking everywhere.
Fosch put a warm hand on her cheek, conscious of Oberon’s watchful eyes and forced Bella to look at him. “Hon, I promise you it’s ok. All you need to tell him is who your parents were so he can verify for himself you’re not who he thinks you are.”
Bella’s lips moved, but no words came out. “Louder, hon. Come on, you can do this.” Fosch massaged the tense knots on her shoulder with one hand, kept his other hand over her cheek.
Bella’s lips parted. Her eyes darted sideways. The world shrank to that single moment in time. “I – I – I can’t remember.”
It took Fosch a moment to comprehend what Bella had just said. For a moment, Fosch didn’t move. Then with a ferocious roar that shook the house, he jumped on Oberon with sharp teeth and talons and attacked.
Only to freeze an inch before Oberon’s throat.
“To attack Seelie royalty,” Leon, the enforcer of the Seelie court uncloaked herself and said silkily, “is to forfeit your life, Dhiultadh Yoncey Fosch.”
“He did something to my mate.” Fosch spat, his teeth too large to be properly accommodated by his still human lips.
“I did not.” Oberon replied calmly.
Fosch’s eyes narrowed, for he knew the Seelie could not lie – but was well crafted in the art of evasion.
“You sent someone.”
“I did not.”
“You did something to my mate to make her human.” Fosch Enunciated slowly.
Here Oberon tread carefully. “I have no part, Dhiultadh Fosch, by any mean, foul or otherwise in the happenstance of your mate being human today.”
Fosch’s eyes narrowed. “Neither directly nor indirectly?”
Oberon met his eyes steadily. “I am not responsible, directly or indirectly by the status of your mate’s mortality, Dhiultadh Fosch. Neither are my people, directly or indirectly. If she is human, it is because that is what she is. It is through no doing of mine.”
Fosch deflated. His talons returned to fingers, his teeth normal. He took a step back and Leon lowered the sharp dagger she had poised at his throat.
Turning, Fosch glanced at Bella, still standing where she had been when he had jumped Oberon. Frozen, eyes wild, skin pale.
“She is human,” Leon mused from beside Oberon. “Completely so.”
Fosch growled, but he didn’t look at them. Instead, he kept his eyes fixed on Bella, at the way her shoulders trembled slightly, her stomach rippled, her hands fisted tightly beside her.
Fosch tilted his head to the side, studying her plain blue aura. Not a flicker of the witchy sheen was present now, not even a tiny speck.
Bella jerked again; her eyes widened slightly, her skin, if possible, paled even more.
Fosch’s nostrils flared. “What –”
One moment she was standing there, the next her eyes rolled back, the whites showing all around and she went limp.
Fosch caught her before she could hit the ground, gently lowered her to the floor.
“Bella?” he choked with a hoarse voice. “Bella? Bella? Please say something.”
Leon crouched beside him and studied the prone woman without touching her. “The scion is coming.” She announced in her cold voice.
… … …
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