She had worried that dinner wouldn't be ready in time, but the same traffic that had held up the delivery boy seemed to have delayed Lionel, and the rice and curry had already been scooped onto the plates, naan heaped on a platter in the middle of the table by the time she heard the door open and the eager scamper of feet. The last plate was down just in time, spinning to catch the little figure who came dashing into the kitchen to plow into her at full speed. "Mummy's home!"
"Yes she is!" Elaine laughed, scooping Mikey up into a bear hug that had him shrieking with delight as she looked over the boy's dark head to the bemused face of her husband in the doorway. "The CDC came through on time for once, and I had all the samples cross-referenced and culturing almost two hours early, so I thought we could actually have family dinner."
Lionel surveyed the table, rubbing his hands together in approval, but his answering smile was distinctly sheepish. "Bombay Palace. You...uh, won't mind that Jade Garden should be getting here in a few minutes? I rang it in from the phone outside the library. Oh, and Maggie's at Heather's house tonight, so you won't need the third plate. I told her she could go since she'd finished her homework, and at least she asked this time."
Mikey pulled back to look at her, eyes wide. "Is Maggie in trouble again?"
She set him down, shaking her head as she ruffled his soft hair. "No, love, but that's not your business."
"Ok." It never ceased to amaze her how easily six year-olds accepted almost anything. Mikey had already scampered over to the table, clambering up on a chair to solemnly evaluate the meal. "Can we tell the Jade Garden people to give it to someone else who doesn't have their supper yet? I like the curry better anyway, and you ordered vindaloo."
"We'll have the Chinese for breakfast." Lionel slipped up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist to nuzzle the back of her neck. She closed her eyes, savoring his touch, and it was with a slight twinge of frustration that she made herself twist away. "I'm still in my scrubs," she protested, "and I reek of culture medium." Later, she mouthed, hoping the promise and answering desire was clear in her eyes, after he's in bed.
Thankfully, there was all the understanding in the world in her husband's returned nod, and then the moment was broken by little hands grabbing theirs and tugging them towards the table. "Come on, then. It's going to get cold!"
"Well, we wouldn't want that," Lionel agreed, taking his seat obediently, then waiting until Mikey had situated himself. "So, are you going to tell Mummy about our day?"
"Mmm hmm," Mikey almost grinned, remembering at the last moment to gulp down the mouthful of curry first. "We went to the Roman walls, and Dad showed me where you can still see the burned bits in the mortar in some places, and then we went to the river and we looked for fry – those are juvenile fish – and we found a bunch of frog spawn too, which was completely unexpected but wicked grand, and Dad says we might be able to hatch some of it in a jar in my room...can we? And then we got chips and there was a bloke there saying he couldn't have any because of cholesterol so I asked what cholesterol was and it's really quite gross but I don't have to worry about it yet because I'm young and I get good exercise with dance and gymnastics and rugby and my bike and Quidditch and running about outside and I eat my veg more than I eat chips and – Mum, would you pass the pakora and the hot chutney, please?"
"Of course, baby, but you need to take a breath."
"Ok." He took exactly one, a deep, exuberant gulp chased by an entire onion pakora, then dived in again, undaunted. "-and if I keep eating my veg and being busy, I won't get cholesterol ever, but that bloke was definitely obese, maybe morbidly, so he's also at risk for diabetes and heart disease and a lot of other complications that aren't very good at all. But after the chips we were right by the library, and we had my finished books in the car so we took them back and I got a bunch of new ones while Dad was going through the journals and the magazines to see if they had anything new about DNA – oh, Michael Chrichton is putting out a new one next year and I might be old enough to read it – and Mrs. Linnett helped me find the real Three Musketeers which is enormes et entierement ecrit en Francais, but I think I can do it but I'm probably going to read the octopus book I got first because we were looking at the fish and the frogs and all that and – I'LL GET IT!"
Mikey shot from his chair at the sound of the doorbell, already halfway down the hall by the time his fork had clattered to the floor, and the two adults exchanged a long look, Elaine the first to have to bury her mouth in her hand to stifle giggles as the delighted barrage of chatter started up again with the unsuspecting delivery person. Lionel was barely doing better as he fished in his jacket pocket for his wallet. "At least he'll go down quickly tonight."
"MUM, DAD!" There was a near disaster of stocking feet on tile, but the child's balance and reflexes were almost inhuman, and he recovered instantly, sweeping his tousled fringe out of his face. "The man from Jade Garden is here, and they're really wonderful, they gave us free wontons and he says he's not offended at all that you accidentally ordered from somewhere else first because it does reheat well although we need to take it out of the foil containers if we're going to put it in the microwave oven, but I told him we don't have a microwave oven but I didn't tell him how you do heat it up because that's Statute and it's none of his business -"
Elaine sighed, arching an eyebrow as she took the twenty pound note. "He's got to. Perpetual motion machines are against the laws of even our physics."
It had been a long time; a very long time. Although technically Mikey had his own room, he almost always wound up in bed with them before dawn, and honestly enough, the soft, warm, incredibly snuggly little body was usually welcomed by the lonely one of them whose sleep schedule happened to coincide with night that rotation. It was the downside of medicine, sometimes, that after such effort to make sure that someone was home with the kids whenever possible, they were on just shy of completely opposing schedules. And to have time like this, not only simultaneously home but with no adorable but distinctly unsexy visitors...
Elaine sighed contentedly, tracing the tips of her fingers along Lionel's collarbone as she burrowed closer into his shoulder. "Thank you."
He took her hand, kissing it with a low rumbled murmur that she could feel more than hear. "'My pleasure' would seem a little obvious, but really, I promise it's not an imposition. It's nice to still sometimes get to enjoy the perks of having married an incredibly beautiful woman, you know."
She rolled her eyes, even though she knew he couldn't see in the dark room. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Oh, what drives you up the wall, then? The perpetual dry hands? The eminently practical haircut? The sexy, shapeless drape of the scrubs, or maybe the come-fuck-me orthopedic trainers?"
He seemed to give it dourly serious thought, tapping his chin and frowning deeply. "Well..." His voice trailed off, and he rolled to face her, cupping the back of her head in one hand and kissing her with such literally breathtaking intensity that she was left gasping when he finally pulled away again. "I guess I could go the cliché route and say it's that you're brilliant and devote your life to saving the world, but that would be ignoring that scrubs or not, you're still gorgeous and fit as all hell."
Beneath the sheets, his other hand traced the curve of her hip, and she shivered despite herself, the slightest hint of a moan slipping past her lips. "It's true, Elaine. I'm the luckiest bastard in the wizarding world, and I know it. Stunning wife, amazing daughter, and Michael is..."
"Oh, he is, isn't he?" she chuckled fondly. "He's very."
"And looking more like you every day. That boy is going to break a lot of hearts."
Elaine nodded, letting her eyes drift closed as she listened for the faint hint of steady, sleepy breathing from the next room. It was something she sometimes thought was only a mother's imagination, though other times she credited a witch's extra perception, but the idea she could hear him had soothed her since they moved Mikey into the other room at all. Maybe it had been silly to be so worried, but he was still so small, and it still could chill her blood with how recently she had held the tiny, limp, grey-purple baby that had weighed barely a pound and everyone had believed dead until that incredible, world-changing moment the miniature fingers had closed on hers.
Warm and sated, she had almost drifted off, but suddenly, her eyes snapped open. "Lionel, something's wrong."
It was the only warning they had.
The explosion was so intense that it seemed the room had been literally bombed, chunks of wood and plaster turned into projectiles that tore the bedclothes and gauged a deep scrape down Elaine's cheek from within the heavy cloud of dust and the horrible, jarring crash that almost drowned out the sound of her own scream. It had come from Mikey's room, and she was propelled from drowsy to hideously, hysterically alert in the space of a shattered breath, hating the tangling hands of the sheets, already shrieking her baby's name, already not daring to think of what could –
Something came hurtling out of the dust directly at her, and she had never been so grateful not to have had her wand in hand when the little boy catapulted onto the bed and latched himself sobbing around her neck with desperate strength. He was trembling violently, and she could feel not only the terror coming off of him in waves, but the crackle of magic that made her hair stand on end with the incredible realization that he must have been the source of the explosion.
The shock that he was capable of such a thing so young was quickly pushed aside, but he resisted all efforts to soothe him, squirming away violently to grab her by both shoulders, his round face soaked in sweat and tears, the words barely forced out between sobs that shook the entire bed with their intensity.
"Foofoowaa! Foofoowa!" The word made no sense, but her confusion only increased his despair, and he tore at his hair in frustration. "MUMMY! FOOFOOWA THATHAGA! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE AN ITH GONNA BE MY FAW ITH DONE THE THATHAGA!
"His teeth..." Lionel was already half out of bed, wrapping the coverlet around his waist like a sarong as he carefully picked his way towards the door. "I'll get his teeth."
She nodded distractedly, trying to pry his fingers away so that she could hold him better, rock him, pet him. Like most very premature babies, he'd been born with almost no enamel to his baby teeth, and they'd fallen out when he was barely three. They had a set of tiny dentures for him, and she was distantly grateful that her husband had thought of them. If she could only understand what had upset him so terribly... "Mikey, Mikey...Michael, love, calm down, it's ok, it's just a nightmare -"
"NO! I THAID THE THATHAGA! FOOFOOWAAAAA!" The word was a wail, a keen of utter panic, completely inconsolable. "PLEEETH! WE GOTTA GO! FOOFOOWAA! HETH COMING!"
"Honey, nobody's coming, you just dreamed it."
"Elaine...I think I found something." She looked up at Lionel's disbelieving tone, but he wasn't holding Mikey's teeth. Instead he seemed to have a leather-bound book, and as he held it out, she saw what looked like a squid or other tentacled beast, but before she could make out the title, Mikey's sobs redoubled. "THEE? I thaid the thathaga and now heth coming from beneath the thee and we're all gonna dieeeee!"
"You..said..." She craned her neck as Lionel turned on the bedside lamp and the words on the book's cover became stunningly clear. The Call of Cthulu by H.P. Lovecraft. Sudden, baffling understanding began to dawn on her, and she looked back down at the pathetic bundle in her arms. "...the Fhtagn?"
It was too bizarre, the explosion still ringing too loud in her ears, his fear too real to laugh as the pieces began to click together. "Michael, darling, is this the...ah...octopus book?"
A whimper, a nod buried in her chest. Lionel sat down on the bed beside them, tucking the book carefully out of sight as he stroked his son's back gently. "And you've been reading it tonight when you should have been sleeping?"
Another nod. They exchanged a look, and she sighed, struggling to remember what little she knew about the infamous book and suddenly wishing she'd read more science fiction. Or that this had ever been covered in any of the parenting books. "I see. Well. This is...it's ok. It's going to be ok. But you think you've summoned an Elder God who is coming now to -"
Mikey looked up, frowning direly to correct her. "Rithing from the thee."
"- rising from the sea to kill us all. And you got very scared and made the -"
"Wall athplode." A sudden flush of embarassment lit the otherwise stark pallor of his cheeks as he glanced back at the gaping opening between the two rooms.
Lionel let out a low whistle, shaking his head. "That you did, boy."
Elaine took a deep breath, gathering every bit of maternal certainty that she could muster while extremely rattled and naked beneath a sheet and a deranged six year old. "Michael Julius Corner, I promise you on my honor that there is no Elder God rising from the sea here or anywhere else right now, and that you can't have done it. Cthulu is not coming. I swear to you."
Her voice softened, and she put out a finger to shush him. "Cthulu is pretend, love. He's just a silly scary story that's supposed to be for grownups. He's fiction."
There was a long, long pause, and she could almost watch the fear argue against the rationality that was so uncannily well developed despite his youth. He licked his lips, furrows of thought digging deeply between the fine brows. A deep, shuddering sniff, wiped on the sleeve of his pajamas, and at last he bit his lip, poised on a hair trigger line between hopeful and devastated. "Like...Babar?"
Lionel pounced on it immediately, nodding with fervent authority. "Exactly like Babar."
Another pause that seemed to last an hour, then to both of their amazement, Mikey flopped over in complete, fearless relief. In the space of a heartbeat, he had gone from the edge of detonation to the edge of sleep, and the long lashes brushed his cheeks as he snuggled down into the space on the bed beside her. "Ok. Can I thleep with you anyway? Juth in cathe?"
There was nothing else to say, and she patted his shoulder, pulling the spare blanket from the end of the bed up over the ball of child. "Of course."
"Daddy too?" It was a slur on the lazy cusp of total exhaustion, but Lionel was already half into bed on the other side.
"Daddy too." As he climbed in, she realized that at some point he'd gotten pajama trousers. How had she missed that? Oh, but it didn't matter. She reached out across Mikey with the arm that was not pinned under him, squeezing her husband's hand as she wondered if the look on her own face was as strangely layered with half-formed emotions as his. Probably. "Lionel, beloved?"
He sighed, squeezing her hand back before turning off the light and trying to settle into a comfortable position despite Mikey's unique ability to, catlike, take up an impossible amount of bed between them. "I'll call the builders in the morning."
"Not that, but thank you."
"You know how every parent thinks that they want a child who is healthy, active, brilliantly intelligent, beautiful, imaginative, powerful, and independent?"