Sister Velletri watched her two visitors thoughtfully. She knew who they were, of course; in religious circles the very existence of the office of Mage Consul was a subject for much debate, with suspicious tolerance the prevailing attitude in the capital despite a strong faction that condemned outright the growing acceptance of magic in society. The nun had never expected to have the kingdom's chief witch within her precincts. Her companion was of a more mundane career, a singer, though gossip painted that profession almost as darkly; a beautiful woman would be assumed to be some wealthy patron's mistress. This latter assumption was obviously true in the case of Lillet Blan and Amoretta Virgine, though their manner suggested the connection was born of love rather than money. Which made for yet another problem: two women together, without even a pretense of keeping it secret. Between those three things, Sister Velletri should have found something to outrage her sensibilities.
Yet she did not. It wasn't even difficult for her to realize why. The nun's primary concern in the world was the welfare of her charges, the care of twenty-seven children of various ages that had been entrusted to the orphanage. She found it impossible to worry about peripheral issues when a young woman showed such ease with the curious and eager children who'd clustered around her in the courtyard--or who showed such sadness when she was walking through the hall with Sister Velletri.
"They'll probably never be adopted, will they?" Lillet asked softly.
"They won't?" Amoretta asked. "Why?"
"Their age," Lillet said. "Parents want to adopt a baby that they can raise, not a child who not only carries someone else's blood but also someone else's parenting, someone else's lessons. You and I are the same--well, I am," she amended. "Am I right, Sister Velletri?"
The nun nodded.
"That's quite right, Miss Blan."
"What happens to them?" Amoretta asked, worried.
"When they reach a suitable age, we attempt to find them a proper apprenticeship to insure that they have a future. They do not end up on the streets or in the workhouse," she added somewhat defensively.
"But not always in a profession they'd have chosen for themselves," Lillet responded.
"We believe in dealing with the practicalities first: insure that a child has a future, and after that one can try to shape it."
Sister Velletri thought that indeed she did.
"But come with me. You are here for a more hopeful reason than that."
She led the way down the hall and around the corner to the nursery. Of the children of the orphanage, four were still babies, with this one room dedicated to them. Four wooden cribs stood in a neat row.
"You said that you were hoping to adopt a girl?" she asked.
"That's right," Amoretta said, and Lillet directed a look of such tenderness at her that the nun was sure there was some private meaning behind it.
"Two of our charges are female; the children are--" she began, but was cut off by a sudden gasp from the Mage Consul. Lillet stepped past her and approached the second crib. The baby gurgled and looked up at her with wide blue eyes.
"Look, Amoretta," she said, reaching out to brush the wispy ash-blonde curls that clung to the child's head, "she has your hair."
Sister Velletri didn't ask how Lillet had known that child was one of the girls despite the four of them having identical cribs and swaddling clothes. She knew well enough that it was often such small things that brought a child a home, that moment of connection kindling the start of parental feelings.
"What's her name?" Lillet asked.
"She didn't have one, so we christened her Marie."
"That's my mother's name," Lillet murmured, though the coincidence was not that remarkable--it was the most common girl's name in the kingdom. "So she already has a little from each of us." She looked down at the girl again. "What do you think, miss? Do you think you'd like to be Cressidor Marie Blan-Virgine?"
"Is that even a word, let alone a name?"
"Well, I like it," Lillet laughed, "though I did think it up when I was six. What do you think, Cress?"
The baby clearly knew a cue when she heard it; she smiled and gurgled.
"There, you see? She's on my side."
Amoretta smiled back.
"I can't complain, then."
Sister Velletri sighed internally as she considered what she had to do next. It wasn't fair, but some people did care about such things, and the nun was not going to taint the child's future with lies, even ones of omission.
"I must tell you, Miss Blan, Miss Virgine, that Marie's past is not all that it could be."
"Oh? Isn't she a little young to have a sordid history?"
"I agree, but I have to be honest. Her mother was a woman of the streets. She brought Marie to us a month ago, when it became clear she was too ill to properly raise a child." Realizing how that might sound, she hastened to correct any misapprehension. "It was nothing that might be passed on to the child, I assure you; it was lingering complications from the birth combined with exposure and malnutrition. Marie is a perfectly healthy baby."
Lillet's face had grown flat and expressionless, and the nun's heart sank, but what the magician next said wasn't what Sister Velletri had expected.
"A month ago? Do you remember the exact date?"
"I'd have to look it up in the record to be sure, but I believe it was the day after the visit by the Archbishop's clerk." She confirmed that in her own mind and gave the date.
Amoretta's eyes widened in surprise.
"But...that's the date that--"
"That we decided that we wanted a child," she finished. "Do you believe in omens, Sister Velletri?"
"I believe in providence," she replied.
"And I believe," Lillet said with a smile, "that we have paperwork to attend to."
-X X X-
It was done.
Lillet had already had the petition for adoption drafted by her solicitor before visiting the orphanage; it was only a matter of filling in the original with the child's personal information and the orphanage's name and location. Ordinarily she didn't like to use the power of her office for purely personal matters, but in this case she was willing to break a rule; a messenger was summoned, a letter written, and in under two hours a copy of the adoption certificate as properly signed and sealed by the magistrate's court was in her hands.
The emotion didn't really hit her, though, until she picked up Cress for the first time.
She was a mother.
The girl looked up at her, wide-eyed and trusting. It felt right to Lillet, like this was something that she was meant for. She caressed the baby's cheek, making her laugh.
Sister Velletri was smiling, too. Lillet had expected objections from the sisters, the kind that her political authority and magical power usually insulated her from, but the nun had proven her wrong. This wasn't some solemn duty to her, to be taken on coldly and rigidly; Sister Velletri clearly loved her charges. Their well-being was more important to her than little things like a lesbian relationship between a witch and a homunculus. A large anonymous donation was in order, Lillet decided; a truly charitable spirit, rather than one that dispensed good works with icy righteousness, ought to be encouraged.
"Thank you so much," Lillet said, still a little awed.
"No, thank you both," Sister Velletri countered. "You can't know what this means."
"Yes, I can," Amoretta told her. "I know exactly what it means, to give a person a home when she's all alone in the world." The look she gave Lillet made the magician's heart melt all over again.
-X X X-
"Do you regret it?" Amoretta asked as the carriage rattled over the cobblestones on their way home.
Lillet looked up at her in surprise.
"Choosing to adopt, rather than accepting Creator's solution to the natural child problem."
Lillet shook her head.
"No. I did at first, a little, but I don't. Not once Cress stopped being an idea and became a person. One idea can seem more attractive than another, but a little girl is better than any idea."
Amoretta was glad. Her only worry had been that if Lillet saw the resolution as being second-best then she would see Cress the same way. The truth was that Amoretta actually preferred to adopt. Perhaps because she was an artificial being, she didn't feel any particular desire to carry on her own "bloodline," and she'd been speaking the truth to Sister Velletri: she was glad to take someone who might otherwise not know the warmth of family and offer them that hope, because she knew what it was like to be without. She hoped she'd be able to be a good mother.
"You never told me why," she remarked.
Lillet had no trouble comprehending her meaning.
"It was because of you."
"Me? I didn't say anything."
Lillet shook her head.
"Yes, you did, way back when we began, the day I announced that I wanted a child. It was what you said about being charitable. It came back to me, then, when I started to ask myself about it. How far was I willing to go for an impossible dream? It's not that I distrusted Grimalkin, but what it meant about me. It just seemed that there had come a point where I had to stop and say, 'I'm going too far.' Other people might think differently, I suppose. You probably wouldn't have even started."
"When did you know how I felt?"
"From the start, I think. It's mostly because parenthood was primarily my dream that I didn't just give in right away. And it gave us an excuse to invite Dr. Chartreuse and Tahlea."
So she'd known. The thought made Amoretta happy. She had no objection to Lillet's originally going ahead with her own wished, because she agreed with Lillet's reasoning. What mattered was that Lillet had been perceptive enough to see Amoretta's feelings without having to be told directly. That that kind of intimacy existed between them was everything she wanted. She wondered if she and Lillet would understand Cressidor's feelings that way someday. Maybe they would. It was about love, and she knew the both of them had plenty of that to offer.
She extended her arms tentatively towards Lillet, who smiled.
"You'd better! You're her mom too, after all."
Lillet handed the sleeping baby over and Amoretta gently cradled her against her chest the way her lover had. It felt strange but not uncomfortable, and there was an odd...glow, she supposed she could call it, within her. So this is what it feels like, she thought. Being a parent. She was not surprised--she'd told Lillet right from the start that she was certain she'd love any child of theirs, and she had been telling the truth. But the feeling itself was still new and different. Experiencing it was not the same as just anticipating it.
"I hope we'll do a good job."
"We'll do the best that we can," Lillet said. "Sometimes we'll make mistakes and say or do the wrong thing, and I'm sure she will too, but so long as we make them out of love I think we'll be all right."
Amoretta turned to look at her lover, who gave her shoulder an encouraging squeeze. She tipped her head and nuzzled her cheek against the back of Lillet's hand.
So long as we make them out of love...
Yes, she was right, Amoretta decided. Motherhood wouldn't be easy work, but it wasn't impossible by any means.
The carriage passed between the gargoyle-crested gateposts of their home and followed the curving drive up to the house. As ever, Lillet opened the door, flipped down the step, and climbed out before the coachman had a chance to descend from the box, then took Amoretta's hand and assisted her to descend. They went up the steps and inside, and there, waiting for them, was everyone: Gaff and Grimalkin, Tahlea, and Dr. Chartreuse.
"So that's her, huh?" Gaff said. "Better get ready with silence spells if you want to get any sleep."
"Don't worry, Gaff; getting up in the middle of the night with a baby is a mom's job."
"She's really cute," Tahlea cooed, getting closer to look. Grimalkin hopped up into her arms so he could see, too. All the attention proved too much to sleep through; Cressidor stirred in Amoretta's arms and came awake. She looked around at all the faces, her wide blue eyes blinking.
"Come on," Lillet said to Dr. Chartreuse, who was hanging back hesitantly behind the others. "Come closer. She doesn't bite--and even if she did, she doesn't have any teeth yet."
Tahlea and Gaff moved aside to make room for Amoretta's creator. His eyes took in the baby, then rose to meet Amoretta's gaze. There were questions in them as he tentatively extended one furred hand towards the child.
"Creator, this is my daughter Cressidor," she said, then waited a beat before continuing. "Cressidor, say hello to your grandfather."
The alchemist drew in his breath with a surprised--and happy--gasp, and one of Cress's tiny hands clamped onto his finger and squeezed. Lillet slipped an arm around Amoretta's waist, drawing the two close together, while Gaff and Tahlea clustered in, filling spaces to close the circle.
And Amoretta knew, that though time and distance and ultimately mortality would at last draw them apart, that her memory of this moment would keep them all together in her heart forever.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A/N: "Velletri" is a wine-producing region in Italy that was once part of the Papal States, so it seemed an appropriate name for a nun. And Cressidor Marie Blan-Virgine is definitely too young to drink, so her name comes from a Virgin Mary. Thank you for reading, everyone!