"If it's a girl," he suggested casually, "we could call it Janet." And Polly felt her stomach freeze.
Strange how easily you could settle into normality. Four years had brought a cosy domesticity to their living arrangements, and they had settled, as comfortable and average as any other family. There was no magic here, no threat of danger, no strange men hanging around street corners warning them away from each other.
And yet it only took that suggestion to turn Polly's inside's to ice, and send her brain counting forward. It had been four years - five when the baby was born. So when it mattered the child would be four, then thirteen, then twenty-one...
Tom knew it was a mistake, of course. It was hard not to notice when his suggestion met that sudden hard, dead silence and he turned to see Polly's face pale. His expression turned flustered, and he flapped his hands guiltily, as though trying to wave the suggestion away. "Or Mary," he suggested quickly. "Mary's nice too. Or Claire."
But it was too late now for the words to be unsaid. Polly cupped her hands around her stomach, feeling the small life kick and move inside. "She'll come for it, won't she?" It was a question more than a statement, and neither of them needed to ask who. "When it's old enough."
Tom looked away. "I don't know," he admitted, his voice gone flat suddenly. "I've been trying not to think about it."
So had she, Polly realised suddenly. All through the preperations for this child - the happy frantic busyness which must take place before a tiny new person can find it's way into the world; the nursery, and the check-ups, and the endless advice from random strangers, she'd never let her mind drift to what Laurel would think about it.
But now she did, and it was terrifying. "She likes to keep it in the family, doesn't she?" she said woodenly. Easier to hold back all emotion in the subject than let it in and start screaming. "You, your brother, and Leslie. Leroy and Seb." Poor Leslie. He must only have five years left now. She wondered vaguely if he'd realised yet, drifted out of his happy besotted dream and found someone who would love him enough to try to tether him to this world, or if, when the time came, he'd still be wearing that lost dreamy smile. And Seb. She hadn't thought of him for years. She wondered if...
No. She didn't. Best not to really if you wanted to sleep without nightmares, and wake with a clear conscience.
"It might be a girl." It seemed that was best hope that Tom could offer. "A girl would be safe. It would be over sixty years before she'd want another female and... she'll be old then. Too old for Laurel."
It was such a ridiculous way to soothe her that Polly found herself biting back the urge to laugh. "Are you offering me a fifty per cent chance that she won't get her claws into my child?" she demanded instead, scathingly. "Besides, you're wrong. It runs in the family with girls too. Granny first, then me. Whoever she picked, he would likely be her's already. She'd end up fighting... or losing. And Laurel doesn't like losing."
He was quiet then, arm slipping around Polly's shoulder, chin resting on her head, thinking for a moment. "We could bargain..."
"No. Don't you remember? She only makes one bargain. And you were mine." And I wouldn't give you up anyway, not after fighting for you so hard. But Polly didn't say that, instead pulling away, clambering awkwardly to her feet. Tom watched her anxiously.
"We should have known," she stated, suddenly angry with herself for that. "We should have been ready. We should have adopted or something rather than just pretend it wasn't real. Tom, we've been stupid."
"We forgot." He scrambled up awkwardly to support her, conscious of how ungainly she was.
"No," Polly contradicted. "We wanted to forget. It felt safer." She closed her eyes for a moment, leaning against him, the lines of an old poem repeating in her head. "Come away, oh human child, to the waters and the wild - Tom, how young does she take them?"
Tom didn't want to answer that. She could tell by the way he refused to meet her eyes. "Young," he said evasively. "She likes them young."
"Young enough to be pliable," she said bitterly. "Young enough to give you a musical scholarship, Leslie a musical scholarship - is that how she catches you?"
He shook his head, quietly unhappy with the topic of conversation. "No," he said. "By that time she has you already."
Her baby. Small, and vulnerable, and not even born yet. By the time he was eleven, maybe he'd already be under Laurel's spell. Or maybe she'd be trooping around after someone else, trying desperately to keep him in her world of make-believe because she was afraid of the other one.
What a life to bring a child into. She crossed her arms protectively over her stomach, poem still repeating in her head. For the world is more full of weeping than you can understand.
"It won't be like that." Tom's arms folded around her, drawing her close.
"No? It was for Seb," she said bitterly. "He must have grown up knowing what he was in for, and look what it turned him into. And for Leslie. No-one rescued Leslie." She felt bad about that still, but the truth was they hadn't rescued him because they couldn't. You couldn't rescue someone who wasn't yours, and the state Leslie was in meant he'd be more likely to stare blankly at a helping hand than take it. You had to want to be rescued.
"But I'm not Charles," Tom said, his voice soothing in her ear. "And I'm certainly not Leroy, I hope."
"And?" She knew he wanted to calm her, and fought against it crossly.
"And we're not going to bring this baby - our baby - up to think that when Laurel calls he has to go." He turned her gently to face him, grey eyes earnest. "And we won't do what Charles did either, and hide away and never tell her, and let him or her get caught unawares when she comes calling."
Polly laughed shakily. "You want to explain how we met? She'll think her parents are crazy. Or he will."
"We don't have to put it quite in those words." Tom stroked a finger down her cheek, clearing hair back from her face. "But we can tell... stories."
Polly remembered suddenly, endless libraries of books arriving a few at a time. But this baby wouldn't have to wait to get them, nor hide them from an increasingly paranoid parent. This baby could hear them from when it was old enough to understand - before that even. "Tam Lin," she said softly.
"Thomas the Rhymer." He smiled down at her. "Henrietta's House. Uncle Tom's Cabin. All of those fairy tales I had to convince you were worth reading."
She sagged against him, feeling the fierce worry fade away. "We'll teach him to make believe."
"And to control the story," Tom confirmed. "Why we never worked it out and thought to just start creating easier to defeat monsters I'll never know."
Polly laughed again at that. "But that wouldn't have been real!"
"And at some point, if she takes after her mother, I'll have to take her down to the beach and show her what a normal human back looks like..." he continued teasingly, and ducked away as she hit him.
"Not Janet though," she said more seriously. "And not Tom. There's such a thing as pushing your luck too far."
"Not Janet," Tom agreed solemnly, before his lips quirked up and he suggested, "Hero?"
He was away to the other side of the room before she could hit him again.
Later when they were in bed, with Tom sleeping peacefully beside her, Polly allowed herself again to run her hands over her swollen belly. Here was the outline of a tiny foot, there the twitch of sleepy movement, and she promised the child inside her silently that she would do everything she could to keep him in this world with in.
In a world full of weeping, until he could understand.