The Seraphs' Broken Wings
Author's Note: Right. So this is the asked-for sequel to "The Angel's Halo," and I actually got around to thinking about a plotline. Originally, I wasn't going to do a sequel, thinking that "Angel's Halo" stood fine all on its own, but hey, all right, Spacefan, you win. I'm writing a second one. As usual, if I owned Halo and Halo 2 . . . I wouldn't bother telling anyone; I'd be mobbed. Now! On with the show!
John rested his hand upon the firm, warm, round abdomen of the woman lying on the bed beside him, wearing an old t-shirt of his that wouldn't reach down all the way to her waist, and for good reason: she was six months along in her pregnancy. Triplets, believe it or not. Triplets! His! To be a father . . . to raise three children, none of them expected, obviously, but welcomed nevertheless. By everything holy, he never expected that his seed would be virile after all the years of combat situations and battles . . .
But to be a father . . .
Fingers traced invisible patterns over the warm midriff, reveling in feeling one of the three kick at him in what seemed to be a "leave off with the tickling" sort of attitude. Smiling, John sighed, resting his hand flat upon the gravid woman's hip, still wondering about the way a woman's body changed itself to carry children.
Leave that be, he wanted to know how he had the audacity to be blasted gentle. It wasn't really trained into him by the war-strewn life he'd lived so far, so who knew that he would be affectionate and . . . blast it! How did it happen! How could he have impregnated her! The part of augmentation that boosted his growth so that he was larger and stronger than normal humans was supposedly going to suppress his sex drive! Why did he . . . wait, he'd been with one other woman before, but that was different. She was another Spartan, and . . . they were bored and curious. And besides, Kelly dared him to kiss her. Like he had a choice? He, who never loses a bet or turns down a dare? He was blasted lucky that it was only them in the room for the dare, and the two hours that happened . . . oh.
Once bitten . . . John thought with resignation. He should have remembered that once the contact had begun, his mind virtually shut down on itself, and instincts took over. Instincts that he had never once doubted in his years, and that Mendez had said to always trust. If he'd been told to trust his feelings once, he'd been told a thousand times.
He turned his mind from those thoughts and back to the present, seeing the pregnant beauty beside him open blue eyes to meet his stormy azure gaze squarely. He traced one eyebrow, pushing hair back from her face as he did so. "Three months to go."
"Less," she replied softly. "Twins and triples rarely make it to their full term."
He never had forgotten the first time he had seen her. So determined, so almost naive, so ready to take one the entire Covenant fleet, if need be . . .
But she had been absolutely amazing in her control of her emotions, in completely understanding risks, then taking them on with a clear-headed ability that any Spartan was in possession of and used on a daily basis.
And yet, the rare times that he had seen her in distress . . . he had nearly lost it because of the same reason: the fact that she was being told that her finally-legal husband had gone out on a mission and was proclaimed missing-in-action a week later. The second time he had seen her completely desolated was on the two-year anniversary of that date they had told her.
John held her hands still. "You don't know what you're saying!"
"I do bloody too! They won't go after him! They're leaving him because he's not one of us! They're cowards, all of them! John, let me go!"
"No. They don't know where he is."
"But I have to go after him! Let me go, let me go!" Her tears flowed down her cheeks unchecked, her blue eyes nearly black with her anger and her emotional pain. Carefully, John pulled her into his arms as an older-brother-figure should, feeling her entire body shake with the effort of sobbing, the need to do something. "Please don't keep me here . . ."
Sighing, John aimed his formidable glare at those who had delivered the message. They left silently, not wanting to be near the renowned woman when she snapped. They wouldn't know how to deal with it. The Master Chief, however, did. "Willow, listen to me–"
"Let me go to him!"
"Neither of us were told where his mission was taking him. ONI won't tell anyone why they were sending him, nor where he was going! Now calm down!"
"'Calm down'! He's my husband, blast you, and I'm going to him! Let go!"
John tensed himself, knowing exactly what was going to come next, feeling her own body-tension right before she rammed her knee up firmly into his crotch as hard as she could, not caring anymore. The Spartan grunted slightly, holding her against his chest, telling himself to ignore his pain, that it would leave momentarily, that she was angry and didn't know what she was doing . . .
And Willow Takayuurei, her legal last name not usually mentioned due to its Elite complex pronunciation, broke down, weeping, apologizing, clinging to John. He relaxed his arms, knowing that she wouldn't attack again, noticing that she was about to collapse. So the Master Chief picked her up and sat with her upon a reinforced couch, letting her rest against his side. She fell asleep later with her head upon his thigh, tears still flowing, her right hand clutching at her left shoulder.
Carefully, once she was asleep, the man leaned back, letting another soft groan out as he shifted his still-sore places, hoping that she'd never again catch him like that. If she did . . . he wasn't looking forward to it in the least.
For almost two years she had held hope, but on the anniversary of the second year, there was no consoling her. "Willow, please . . ."
"Let me die, John. He's . . . he's really gone."
"Why are you giving up?" The idea of even thinking about giving up was alien to the Spartan. To do so was nigh upon what the Covenant had called heresy. "You've lived through far worse than waiting for someone to come home."
"Yes, I have, haven't I?" she snarled back at him, pacing the room. "Married a man who loved me and died in my arms from needler-shot. Been interrogated, tortured and raped, drafted into an Elite Brotherhood because I had been Claimed, dealt with the Flood, with Covenant idiots. On top of that, I've been leading the fight with the psychotic imbeciles in ONI that think that our allies, the Hunters and Elites and the majority of the Grunts, should have no rights here. We've been lucky that those aliens are helping us subdue the remaining Covenant jerk-offs, and the Brass don't give a gold-lined crap about it! Yes, John, I'm tired. I'm tired of this life, of living in a society that doesn't appreciate the simplicities in life. Do you hear me, Spartan? I'm done. I want no more of this world."
He took a step closer to her. "Of a world where you've helped to bring hope back to by existing and bringing to us comrades that would help us win against the Covenant? Of a world where three, four species can now live in relative harmony? You and Arbiter set an example that humans and Elites aren't that different from each other." He was within reach of her, and brushed her wayward fiery hair away from her face. "The world still needs you, Willow. It needs heroes, Johnson told me once. You're grouped in with us heroes, and I know you don't like it."
She slapped his hand away, turned to look out the window and down at the complex she lived in with Elites and the Spartan-IIIs. The world knew only the olive-and-golden mask that the Spartans hid behind, but she knew their faces, their names, their specialties, their loves and personalities. They knew the Elites, the Sangheili, as near-silent monsters that only talked when they knew that someone could help translate, turning their harsh, guttural snarls into flowing praises of encouragement. She knew the Sangheili as a complex society that had bonds that ran deeper than blood; bonds that kept them together by silent vows and by something akin to the humans' perception of a familial love.
Willow knew what others would have died to find out. She changed the subject when he joined her by the window, resting her head against his arm in a companionable way. She was PMSing royally this time, and couldn't wait to get her monthly over with so that she wouldn't have to deal with the exacerbated mood-swings that had been caused over the last two years of pure stress. "Why haven't you been on assignment with the other 'Twos when they went out on missions?"
John had grown used to both her need for physical contact and the changing of her moods within the first three months, always there to help her. As the remaining Spartan-IIs called the IIIs their younger siblings, despite being old enough to be their parents, they taught them everything that they knew, always affectionately calling them little brothers and sisters. John had spoken with the other IIs, asking them to include Willow as an honorary Spartan, which was readily accepted. She didn't train with the IIIs all the time, but she was always included with them. And the IIs on mission contacted him if a snag was found, or generally checked up with him regularly so he didn't have to be with them on missions. All they had to do was open a com to him, which he only turned off when they were home and safe.
The Master Chief sighed. "Because you need someone you know around you. Someone who you trust. The Brass were going to assign someone to watch over you, to prevent you from killing yourself." He shrugged the slightest bit, then moved his arm to encircle her shoulders warmly. "Vice-Admiral Keyes is over your 'custody platoon,' as some of those in it have called it, and I volunteered to be the person who was directly in contact with you." He felt his hands take hers, seeing the old pain resurface in her eyes. Three tears dripped to the joined fingers . . . the only three tears that did. The Spartan kissed the rest away, unaware that he was doing so, that Willow was allowing him to do so, and that she was actually giving as good as she was getting.
That had been six months before, John remembered, smiling slightly, his hands still holding Willow's stomach lightly once she turned her back to rest against his chest. He sighed into the back of her neck. "You're all right?"
"If you're asking if my mood swings are dead, try again."
He chuckled. "No, never that. I want to know how you're doing with hauling these three around."
"They behave better than you do."
They heard careful scrambling somewhere near the beginning of the long main hall, causing the Chief to sigh and get out of the bed, pulling a t-shirt over his muscled chest carefully, not wanting to rip it. He had already been wearing flannel pants. "If it's that brat Boratamee or any of his friends, I'm going to wring their scrawny Elite necks. I'll be right back. These kids should know better than to be running around at this hour."
She rolled to face the ceiling, smiling. "Have at it, John. He needs to learn that not everyone can stay up for three consecutive days at a time."
John opened and closed the door, running silently towards the booted Elite feet still running at a near-breakneck pace. Once the Elite rounded a corner, coming to the mouth of the smaller offshoot of the main hall, they both skidded to a halt. Panting, the Elite walked the final steps, holding his hand out in silent greeting.
John gripped it firmly, nodding once, and holding his finger up to his mouth, motioning for silence as they walked into a soundproofed room. Once there, John turned and asked, "Where in the seven circles of hell were you, Arbiter!"
The "heretic" seemed to have two separate bundles, one hanging upon each side. As he turned the lights on, John looked in to see two . . . infants. Elite infants. Arbiter replied, "Returning back to a safe zone after jumping blindly. After that, saving these two."
"Whose are they?"
"Are you going to tell Willow whose they are?"
John looked up at Arbiter. "Put them down somewhere, and don't kill me when I tell you this."
"She is alive," Dragon Arbiter snarled as he did as the Master Chief said to, not allowing the man to break eye-contact.
"She is. But . . . first, tell me who these two are. Then I'll tell you about Willow."
The silvery helmet was removed, and Dragon rubbed at the top of his head, feeling an old, cris-crossing scars as he did so. "I have a lot to explain to you for you to understand."
"I have time. Willow thinks that I'm chewing out some Elite kids who thinks they run this place. And before you ask, yes, I've been keeping tabs on her so that she didn't do anything stupid."
Giving the equivalent of a snort, Arbiter held back from speaking. He knew what the Demon was going to say about the fact that he and Willow were rarely ever seen apart. And that she was pregnant. So he started in telling about who the Elite infants were. "If a female of my kind manage to get into enough trouble, they're given a task. That would be to carry and deliver a child, or, if the case were bad enough, twins."
"They're twins, then?"
"Male and female. But if there is a repeat offence, the . . ." He blinked. "Whatever you wish to call it, I care not; the seed provided is usually either an outlaw's or a heretic's, depending upon severity."
"They're yours," John said instantly, seeing how the Elite stood before them in a subtle yet protective way. "How . . . ?"
"I was tortured in many ways," the Elite hissed. "Ask nothing else about it."
John saw the shadowed malice, and wisely backed off from that course. "What about the girl?"
"She died in childbirth, but had searched me out beforehand, hearing that I was among my people again. I had to hide, and what better way to hide than within plain sight of your pursuers?"
John nodded once. "So she found you."
"And I allowed her to stay with me, as her family had turned her out. The transgressions were not hers to begin with. She was the eldest daughter; her younger sister wanted her dowry." Sitting, suddenly tired, Arbiter shrugged, a body language trait he had picked up from being immersed in the human culture. "I could not turn her away. I made her as comfortable as I was able to, and even had to pretend that we were mated when we moved from place to place." His almost-luminescent eyes found the Chief's. "The burden of carrying these two and birthing them was too much for her, and she died, but not without two of her desires fulfilled."
"A dying Elite female in childbirth has the right to demand three things."
"It should. When you were still swinging from tree to tree, human, we had a complex society with technology that, now, would seem to be a joke, however . . ."
"On with the point, Arbiter. What were the wishes?"
"First, that she not be alone when she died. She wanted her twins beside her, and the biological father of the twins to be with her as well. I . . ." After clamping his mandibles shut for a moment, he whispered, "But I went one step further and Claimed her before she died."
"Is that legal? More than one mate?"
"Sometimes, human, it used to be necessary for one male to have more than one female mate, so there was a wider variety. At some points in Sangheili history, there had been two females to every one male. That, however, had been a long time ago. Willow . . . would not have minded, given the circumstances."
John shook his head. "Minded? Blast, Elite, she would have insisted. You know her better than I do, and I know her enough that those circumstances would have made her make you Claim that poor girl."
"So you don't think she would turn on me for doing so?"
Running his hand through his short hair, John shook his head. "No. She'd be proud of you. Besides, you've been gone for over two years. She needs you back with her." Their gazes found one another's, and the Spartan continued. "What was the second demand?"
"That I care for and raise the twins. And by the Rings, I will."
"I don't doubt that. Third?"
"That I try to convince Willow to adopt them as well, if I could pry her off of me long enough to speak. She said that while laughing, since she had heard me almost continuously talking about my wife since we had come to meet each other." Arbiter looked at the Master Chief. "Your turn. What is it that makes you want to hide?"
John sighed. "Six months ago, she was about to try to kill herself. I've been the only one around her when she got like that, and have diverted her before, teaching her new hand-to-hand techniques, diverting her attention to helping someone else, the like." He sighed. "That last time, though, she wouldn't listen to me. At least we were still talking and she wasn't trying to kill me."
Arbiter waited. John had to admit. The human had to speak, to confess.
The Spartan looked over at the alien that he once would have killed without a glance over his shoulder as he passed the dying, bleeding body. But now . . .
"You've been prisoner to your instincts before," the human said quietly. "I never saw it coming. I didn't mean to . . . but it happened."
"Straighten your words. Speak them again," Arbiter said, not letting John off the hook that easily.
"Curse you . . . I was with Willow."
"Define 'with.' I know you were with her a lot, keeping her company."
"I slept with her. You know that phrase. Don't play coy."
Arbiter stood, stalking over to the human mirror of what he was, his face coming lower to be at John's level. "You have been sleeping with my wife, my Claimed."
"You own up to it."
"I figured, human."
"She's pregnant. Triplets."
Now that shocked Arbiter into straightening, backing a half-step up. All that he had heard was that she was carrying the Master Chief's child within her . . . not three of them! "You . . ."
John held his hands out from his sides in a helpless gesture. "With all the adjustments that had been made to my body, I wasn't even supposed to desire! I was as shocked as you are that not only am I able to, but that I'm reproductively sound!"
"Triplets . . . three?"
John pressed his hands to his face. "Yes. Three. I'm sorry, Arbiter. I didn't know."
Recovering just that slight bit, the Elite reached over and gripped the human's shoulder, pulling him slightly to look up at the taller being's face. After a long, searching look, Dragon sighed, then bowed his head, resting his other hand for balance upon John's other shoulder. "You fathered three with her."
"I didn't know that I would. That I could."
"I understand that."
John blinked in shock.
Arbiter looked back at him evenly, calmly. "I understand the strange urges of instinct. I understand that you have been most likely agonizing over telling me if I ever returned. I understand."
"Willow once said that to interfere in a Claim is to forfeit your life."
"Fortunately," Arbiter replied, "I have no wish to kill you. You have kept her alive for me. You have given her purpose." He snickered in an open, friendly way. "Rather, filled her with purpose, when I have not the ability to do so."
"Stop playing with words, Elite; I'm stressed enough with having to face you. What are you saying?"
"That I believe that I am thankful. She wanted children. I could not give that to her. I wanted children, and she could not give that to me, much as she desired to." Dragon Arbiter sighed, his mandibles clicking softly; a sad smile. "Now it is time that I attended to her and helped her with this last leg of carrying the children." He drew the human back over to the infants. "And I will need your help while doing so. Don't try to sneak out of it."
"I'm just glad you don't want to kill me. I'd hate to have to kill you when you just got back, and that wouldn't have me on good standing with Willow."
Smirking inwardly, Arbiter replied, "Don't think you're getting that close to her again."
John leaned over the smaller of the twins, trying to drain the tension in the room. "Arbiter, I'm blasted thankful that you're alive, that you're back, and that ONI won't send you back out for a long while."
"Why do you say that?"
Smiling, John picked the infant up to cradle it easily. Miranda Keyes had a three-year-old child, and he had often become babysitter with Willow starting two years ago, so she insisted that he learn to hold a babe properly. "Because they know better than to risk the life of one of the UNSC's best again."
Willow wanted to be pregnant forever. The joy in having three small lives growing within her and having to be needed again made her feel the best that she had in a long while. Things were well with her, if not perfect. She was having children, she was needed again, she had someone who she could go to with "trivial" problems . . .
She had back pain.
Groaning, she turned away from the door. If John came back in soon, he knew that signal.
The door opened. Back already, was he? She heard him walk over the carpet, his feet falling heavily. He must have beaten the boy into a raw pulp if he was that tired. Something clattered upon the table . . . a few things did, actually, in a rhythmic way that tugged at some memory she had shoved away in her mind. She dismissed it, thinking that he must have run into Johnson again, who always gave him some either new or antique weapon or another to fool around with. Then came the sound of cloth being pulled off of one's body, the upper half by the sound of it, then the feel of the sheets moving away from her back.
He didn't close the door . . . odd.
Non-human hands gently rested around her, and non-human tears dripped to her left shoulder, reminding her of the blood she had bled when . . . she had been . . . Claimed . . .
Turning as quickly as he pregnant body would allow, she saw the old, long scar upon the top of the Elite's head, the strained look around his face. She cried out, trying to wrap as much as herself around her husband as she could. He mouthed the scars gently, renewing his oath to her silently. She felt his hands start to explore the new curves pregnancy had given her, inspecting her swollen abdomen thoroughly before resting his face against hers. "I'm weary, wife."
"Welcome home, husband. Why is the door open?"
"The father of your children holds my own children."
She pushed him away slightly, sitting up with a near-silent groan at the movement, seeing the Master Chief holding two bundles. One started setting up a fine squall, causing Arbiter to chuckle and turn the lights on, taking the noisy one with a soothing noise, closing the door. "And I have a preposition to make, my Claimed."
"Quite definitely. Here, this is Yukae."
"Are they both males?"
"Hah, no. This is my little, noisy, bothersome daughter whom I will marry off with all due haste to a rich male that will spoil her wonderfully, as is traditional." He rested the infant within her arms, seeing her gentle the child instantly. His hand took hers, delighting in her acceptance of his small Yukae. "And you will have the traditional duty of raising her to be formidable, fierce, demanding, vexing, and above all, loving."
Willow laughed, tears starting to flow again, not letting the Arbiter's hand go. He traced her features gently with his free hand, wiping the tears with a fine-tuned tender movement that he didn't have before the mission two years ago. He let his eyes smile for her, and she looked down at the still-fussing little female. "What does her name mean? And why is she fussy?"
"Her name means gem. It's not too common anymore." He blinked at the little one, clicking his jaws at her a few times, getting her to quiet slightly. "She's hungry." He looked at John. "Come, bring the boy. Willow won't let me free."
"If I wasn't this pregnant, Elite, John would have blushed pure crimson and closed the door on us moments after I had seen you again. You bet on your life I'm not letting you go," the woman replied. "And what is your son's name?"
"Sibilee. Steady watcher."
"Sounds almost like 'vigilant' in a strange way," Willow said, reaching out to brush her fingers along the side of the infant's face. "How are they yours?"
John handed the male-child to his father, going to the kitchen to prepare a warm drink for Willow and himself, as well as one for the Arbiter, who had given him a look that said, "We'll not sleep much tonight."
Nor did they.