Author's Note: Finally! Sorry this took so long, but inspiration struck on my HP fic and real life was playing havoc with my writing. Finally got back into my apartment to start getting some stuff... damn, that place smells to high heaven now. Anyway, the long-awaited prequel, containing revelations, romantic nonsense, and a long digression on my version of Gerald's days in Gannon's army.
Warnings: Contains Mpreg, humor, ludicrousness, Karril, and truly disgusting amounts of fluff.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never has been mine, never will be mine.
A.N.2: Yes, yes, I know, they don't have ice cream on Erna. It's an expression, people, deal with it. Besides, there aren't enough canon details to really know what's going on. I mean, come on! We don't even know if there's still a King or Queen in Damien's time, or if it's become some sort of Republic or something, or dissolved into a bunch of city-states.
A.N.3: You know, this is my third connected fic. I think that means... dun dun dun... I've written a series! *Gasp* Shocking, isn't it? Funny, the things that happen when you aren't paying attention...
Life for the Vryce-Tarrants was perilously close to perfect.
Damien was once again a priest in good standing with the Church of Unification, and had secured a lovely post teaching up-and-coming Knights how to Work the fae. Gerald was a rising star at a local research lab, working on rediscovering lost Terran scientific knowledge. They had settled into a comfortable routine: they would rise and go to work at the same time, Damien would get home about an hour before Gerald, and he'd have an early supper made by the time the adept got back. They would eat, then spend the rest of the evening swapping stories about their day and generally being sickeningly domestic. Gerald had never been happier.
Little did he realize, his entire world was about to be upended yet again - and once again, all because of Damien.
He was working on an experiment involving the interactions of metal and electricity, and he noticed that one of the component needed to be thoroughly Cleansed. Casually, Gerald reached for the fae-
-and felt it slip through his fingers like water, fluid and utterly untouchable.
For a second he just stared, shocked beyond measure. That hadn't happened since his early teens, when he had yet to master the discipline required to truly control the fae. Baffled and a little alarmed, Gerald reached out to the fae again - and met with the same result. The fae would not respond to him.
Fear settled into the adept. There were only a handful of reasons that the fae would thus rebel against a person, even fewer for an adept. Indeed, there were only two that Gerald could think of: mortal illness, or... the other reason.
He wasn't dying. Indeed, any illness was quite out of the question: he had so many Wardings wrapped around himself - and by now, his husband as well - that it would have taken a plague of apocalyptic proportions to even make them sneeze. That left only one possibility: that being, he was pregnant.
Now, most people would consider the idea of a man being pregnant as less plausible than disease, but Gerald was not an ordinary man. He was an adept. Whatever deity watched over humankind when they first arrived on Erna had obviously had a sense of humor, arranging things so that male adepts were capable of childbearing. Yes, it was complicated, and rather painful at times, but Gerald was aware of at least eight male adepts who had successfully carried children to term, and the children had shown no abnormalities at all. So really, there was no cause for panic.
That was the first thought that went through his head. The second thought was, What the hell am I going to tell Damien?
That settled it. Gerald panicked.
That afternoon, when Damien got home from work an hour early, he could hear the distinctive sounds of one of Gerald's little tantrums echoing from the library. It sounded like Karril had managed to attract the adept's wrath yet again.
"-and what the vulk do you suggest I tell him, Karril? You know how news like this usually goes over!"
"Gerald, you're overreacting. I swear, the hormones have already kicked in. This isn't the end of the world, okay? Just tell Damien what's going on, I'm sure he'll understand-"
"Like hell he will, Karril! I'm a vulking freak of nature, how the vulk is he supposed to understand that?"
Concern was bubbling in the pit of the priest's stomach now. What could possibly have induced his husband to be screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs - directed at his oldest friend, no less? Gerald almost never swore, except when he was extremely stressed. Worried, Damien pushed open the door to the study.
"What exactly is going on here?"
Gerald went deathly pale and Karril started, eyes widening. "Ah, you see-" the Iezu began weakly, but Gerald didn't say a word. He just dropped his gaze to the carpet, suddenly silent, frozen in place. He looked almost... afraid.
"Gerald?" Damien cut the blustering Iezu off mid-sentence, his voice low and gentle. "What's wrong, love?"
Gerald shook his head minutely, his golden hair shielding his face. Karril gulped and started to explain.
"Well, you see Damien, it's like this..."
Throughout the speech, Damien heard a grand total of perhaps ten words. His entire attention was focussed on Gerald, the tension in his posture and the uncertainty in his face. Damien was starting to feel really worried now: what could have scared the adept this badly, when he'd faced his own death with such composure just seven months ago?
"-and because of this there are, shall we say, certain biological differences between-"
"I'm pregnant." Gerald blurted out, lifting his head, his grey eyes wide with fear. A heart-stopping silence descended on the room, before Karril muttered,
"And there are the hormones."
"Could - could you repeat that?" Damien choked out, reaching blindly for something solid to hang onto. Gerald paled even further, looking like he was about to keel over at any moment.
"I'm pregnant, Damien. I'm carrying our child."
Damien forced himself into total immobility. When Gerald was already this pale, there was no way in hell Damien was opening his mouth until he'd reviewed exactly what he was going to say.
His first reaction was, naturally, disbelief. A man, pregnant? Thinking back, though, he had heard stories about this sort of thing. It was hardly common, and most thought of it as an urban legend, but apparently it was true. The second reaction was a wave of sympathy. Gerald acted like he didn't give a damn what the world thought of him, but deep down he still carried a lot of insecurity from his less-than-stellar childhood. Apparently, that ran deeply enough that he thought there was a chance Damien would shun him as a 'freak of nature'.
The third reaction was sheer, overwhelming joy.
Damien had always wanted a family: he'd wanted that perfect life that everyone talked about, marrying and having kids and living happily ever after. He'd given it up without a second thought, though, when he fell in love with Gerald. He had been happy to sacrifice the possibility of children in return for a lifetime with his beloved adept. Now, though - if it was possible to have both...
Very deliberately, Damien stepped forward toward his petrified husband and gently framed the adept's face between his hands. "Gerald." he said, letting his love for the other man fill his voice, "That is quite possible the best news I've ever heard."'
Gerald unfroze, his eyes huge, shock and relief warring across his face. "You- you aren't..."
"You didn't really think I'd best upset, did you?" Damien asked gently, drawing Gerald into his arms. "I love you, Gerald, nothing will ever change that. And there's nothing I'd like better than to have a family with you."
Something gave inside the adept and he collapsed into Damien's embrace, tears pouring down his cheeks. Karril had exercised discretion for the first time in his existence, disappearing to God knows where: Damien didn't particularly care where he'd vanished to: he was busy consoling his clearly overwrought husband.
An hour later found them settled on the couch together. Gerald was curled up, catlike, against Damien's side, sipping a cup of soothing hot chocolate and looking properly abashed.
"I was being a bit of an idiot, wasn't I?"
Damien chuckled and ran his hand affectionately through Gerald's golden hair. "I think you're entitled, love, it's not every day you find out you're pregnant. One question, though - you obviously knew this was a possibility, why didn't you say anything before now?"
Gerald blushed. "I've been undead for ten centuries, Damien, I didn't think there was the slightest chance in hell I could still conceive. It's a rare enough occurrence as it is: male pregnancy is just evolution's little joke, really. I had no idea until this morning at the lab, when I couldn't Work."
"You can't Work?" Damien asked in surprise. Gerald shook his head.
"I'm carrying another life inside me now - it throws off my signature too much. Minor Workings are possible, although more difficult, but nothing beyond a minor Cleansing."
"Interesting." Damien said warily. "Any other surprises I should know about?"
Gerald coughed slightly and glanced down. "Well... did I mention that male pregnancies last twelve months instead of nine?"
"I couldn't have put it better myself. Also, if anything, the hormone-induced side effects are even worse than in women: men don't usually have the necessary hormones, so our bodies go into over-drive producing them, and there are some... peculiar effects."
Damien stared at him in mild horror. "You mean I'm in for twelve months of pickles and ice cream? Wait, how far along are you?"
"Two months, the difficulties with Working don't start until then. I'll probably be suffering morning sickness sometime in the next few days. And in case you've forgotten, I have an intense loathing for any and all things pickled."
"Remind me why that is?" Damien said, amused. "I don't think you ever told me in the first place, actually."
Gerald shuddered. "In Gannon's day, armies subsisted on a diet of so-called bread, which really had more in common with igneous rock than any form of wheat product, and pickled herring. The day I was promoted out of the infantry ranks, I swore I would never touch anything pickled again. I still have nightmares featuring barrels of the wretched stuff."
Damien chuckled. "Sounds pretty bad. The bread wasn't much better, I take it?"
"It came in little rounds about the size of your fist: the rank and file referred to them as Jawcrackers." Gerald said dryly. "A popular joke at the time was that the cook and munitions officer had obviously gotten their shipments crossed. The men swore up and down that the Jawcrackers ought to be slung at the enemy, and that gunpowder porridge was really a far more appetizing meal."
Damien succumbed to his laughter at that point. "They couldn't have been that bad." he gasped, once he had enough air in his lungs.
Gerald smirked. "That's what you think. You never tried to eat one. I knew a man from the thirty-second regiment who died of them."
Damien gaped. "What? You can't be serious."
"He was working kitchen duty and was restocking the shelves. A half-open box of Jawcrackers on the top shelf was lying on its side and one rolled out and dropped on his head. The impact split his skull open: he died on the spot." Gerald said, his grey eyes unsettlingly earnest. Damien stared at him in horror.
"I really, really hope that's your sick idea of a joke."
"Not at all. Billy McClain, I believe was his name. They built a memorial for him at the training camp: they used Jawcrackers as bricks, cemented together with the slime from the bottom of the herring barrels. It was quite popular for the old campaigners to terrorize the new recruits with the story. I'm sure Billy would have loved it, though: he was an irrepressible practical joker, he would have laughed himself silly at the thought of actually being killed by a Jawcracker."
Damien blinked. "How the hell did you eat them, then? If they were hard enough to split a man's skull, you couldn't very well chew them!"
"Usually someone would take a sledgehammer to one, to break it into chunks, then soak the chunks in the juice from the pickled herrings until they turned mushy. Worse, the cooks tended to store the rest of the rations - vegetables and such - in barrels that used to have herrings in them, so the flavor seeped in. For three years of my life, everything I ever ate tasted of pickled herring."
The priest grimaced. "That sounds bloody awful."
"You think that's bad? When I got back from the war, my father decided to 'celebrate' with a little impromptu feast. The main dish was bratherring. A traditional Terran dish. Pickled herrings, breaded and fried, customarily served on a bed of pickled onions. I threw up from the smell alone and spent the rest of night trying to force down some salad. Vinegar-based dressing, of course. To this day, I think the bastard did it on purpose."
Damien was torn between sympathy for Gerald's suffering, and laughter at the sheer unlikeliness of the situation. Gerald chuckled a little too, though. "I know, my life was comically horrible. At least someone's getting amusement out of it. Now, why don't you go start on supper, love? After all, you can't expect a pregnant man to cook, now can you?"
Of course, life still loved to poke fun at the two men, even now. Two months after the revelation that Gerald was pregnant, they received a letter from Narilka. She and Andrys would be passing through Jaggonath on a sort of publicity tour, and they were planning on stopping by the Vryce-Tarrant manor.
The first words out of Damien's mouth were, "Oh, shit."
Damien was no stranger to the ways of women, having been involved with some twenty-odd specimens during his lifetime. He knew that the one sure way to get any woman gushing and fawning was to mention pregnancy. Narilka was young, and eagerly anticipating being a mother herself, so she would be even more predisposed to such behaviour. This was Not Good.
Damien went into the study, where Gerald was curled up on the couch with a book on Terran mythology. With is ability to Work more or less incapacitated, the adept was on maternity leave - a term which had had more than one of his coworkers snickering. No one said anything too cruel, though: they all respected Gerald, even if they didn't particularly like him. Their dislike stemmed mostly from jealousy, anyway.
"We might have a bit of a problem, love." Damien informed his husband, holding up the letter. "Narilka and Andrys are going to be in town, and they want to stop by for a visit."
Gerald frowned. "How is that a problem?"
"Have you ever seen how women react around a pregnant person?"
"No." Gerald looked slightly uneasy now. "How bad?"
"It's appalling." Damien said, rolling his eyes. "They'll go on for hours about names and parenting styles and schools and God knows what else. Narilka seems like a fairly sensible young woman, but I doubt she'll be immune."
Gerald sighed and shook his head. "No help for it. It would be unforgivably rude to turn them away, I'll just have to deal with it."
Damien snorted. "You do realize that your definition of manners was invented some ten centuries ago, and that no one really thinks that way anymore?"
"And that, my love, is why I always had better luck with women than you." Gerald said serenely. "They think that chivalry is terribly endearing."
Damien just growled, and pounced.
When Narilka and Andrys arrived a few days later, they were very impressed by the luxurious manor. Studying the plaque on the gate, Andrys shook his head. "This place has probably been here for centuries - and I wouldn't be surprised if he owned it the whole time, just in case."
Narilka laughed. "Who would have thought, that the Hunter would end up married to a priest? I'm glad for them, though, after what they went through they both deserve to be happy."
They were welcomed in by a young man in elegant livery, wearing an unsettlingly bright smile. "Good afternoon, Your Excellencies. Milord is expecting you. Please, follow me."
The visiting nobles couldn't keep their jaws from dropping as they entered the manor. The place was every bit as lavish as Merentha Keep - and with suspiciously similar décor. They were ushered into a lavish sitting room by Ethelred, who then vanished. Narilka glanced at her husband, smiling.
"Well, from the looks of this place, I would say that crime does pay."
"It certainly seems so." Andrys agreed, looking around in awe.
Damien and Gerald came in then. The four sat down and exchanged the usual pleasantries, but Narilka couldn't help but notice that Gerald seemed to be losing some of his willowy figure. There was a definite thickening around his middle. It wasn't only that, though: something in the adept's manner had changed, and every so often his hand drifted down to lightly brush across his abdomen. Narilka's patented 'women's intuition' was tingling like mad. During a lull in the conversation, she said hesitantly, "Gerald, forgive my saying so, but you seem... different, somehow."
Gerald exchanged an amused glance with Damien, who said wryly, "Right as usual, Lady Narilka. It's a long story, but to cut it short - apparently some of those wild stories about adepts aren't just wild stories."
Andrys merely looked bewildered, but Narilka let out a shriek of joy and clapped her hands over her own mouth. "Oh my God!" she cried, her voice only slightly muffled by her fingers, her eyes wide. "I knew it! You're pregnant, aren't you?"
Gerald nodded, smiling.
There was a soft thump as Andrys hit the floor, out cold.
Ten days later, Andrys and Narilka finally left. Their stay had been greatly extended by Narilka, who insisted on fussing over Gerald at every available opportunity. By the time she finally left, both Damien and Gerald were exhausted.
That afternoon Damien found Gerald in the study once more, poring over a book titled Names of the Noble Families. The priest had to smile: of course, Gerald was adamant that their child - a son, he maintained: he claimed that he could tell - would have a name fit for nobility. Damien wasn't about to protest. Whatever made his husband happy was good enough for him.
Gerald looked up as he entered, his grey eyes bright with frustration. "This is impossible. All of these are either overused, or remind me unpleasantly of some pompous ass I knew at court. We need something, though. I don't suppose you have any ideas, love?"
Damien sat on the couch, thinking hard. He wasn't nearly as uneducated as Gerald liked to tease him for, and he had read a lot of old literature during his studies as a priest. An old legend he had once read came back to him then, about the son of a mythical enchantress and the knight she held ensorcelled. The tale had all the hallmarks of a tragedy at first, the enchantress falling in love with the knight she held captive, but forced to undo the spell - only to find that by some strange miracle, the knight had actually fallen in love with her, despite the enchantment. They stayed together, and had a child who went on to become the greatest king of men ever to live. The story was a total myth, of course, but the name of the knight and sorceress's son stuck in Damien's mind as though branded there. Aidan.
It was considered one of the 'noble' names, Damien remembered - and it was from High Merenthan, the obscure dialect that had been spoken in Merentha and the nearby districts from the Dark Ages right through the Revivalist period. It meant 'little flame'. It was aristocratic enough to make Gerald happy, and in their case the symbolism was certainly appropriate...
"What about Aidan?"
Gerald's expression was almost comical in its amazement. He stared at Damien for a second, clearly flabbergasted that the priest even knew the name, then his grey eyes turned thoughtful. A smile spread slowly across his face as he considered it. "Aidan." he murmured, his pale eyes beginning to sparkle. "You've read 'The Queen of the Lake', Damien? I'm impressed." He glanced back down at the book in his lap, and his lips curved into a warm grin. "It's perfect."
Damien grinned too, glad to see his husband's mood improved. Aidan. Son of a mystical enchantress and a foolhardy knight... it was perfect.
Yes, the title "The Queen of the Lake" was a deliberate nod to Arthurian legend. I couldn't resist. The name Aidan is Gaelic, by the way, and it really does mean 'little flame'. The name I chose for their second child, Selene, is the Greek goddess of the moon. I figured of all the people in the world likely to name their children for mythological and/or religious figures, in a manner that borders on pretentious, Gerald Tarrant would top the list.