Author's Note: This is dedicated to my dear friend Hobgoblin, who has steadfastly encouraged me to continue this ridiculously fluffy series, and who is lamentably suffering from ill health at the moment. I hope you come through your troubles fine and get better soon, my friend: in the meantime, please allow this to cheer you up. As requested, a few scenes from the ten months of hormonal chaos that poor Damien must suffer through. No one said marrying Gerald Tarrant would be anything close to easy.
Warnings: Possible crackishness in parts, mild Karril, fluff. A bit of angst near the end, when poor Gerald's talking about his past, but nothing too depressing.
A.N.2: I've made a command decision that the creature mentioned in this fic was there all along for the other ones, we just didn't see her. You'll see what I mean in a minute.
Damien groaned. There was no question as to the source of that plaintive whine - though if Damien ever made the mistake of informing Gerald that he was whining, the priest would probably end up with his vocal cords ripped out. Abandoning the onions he was slicing, Damien wiped the lingering shreds of the pungent vegetable off his hands and headed for the sitting room.
Gerald was curled up on the couch, ridiculously thick tome at hand, pouting. Damien tried not to let the sight melt his exasperation, but it was very difficult: after lounging on the sofa for most of the day, Gerald's impeccable golden hair was rather mussed and kept flopping forward into his eyes in the most endearing manner. His grey eyes were a few shades darker than usual, and his expression was so put out it bordered on petulant.
The adept looked up at his husband and blinked those large, entirely-too-enchanting grey eyes. "I'm bored."
Damien's blood ran cold.
Those two words - or technically three, as Gerald would no doubt have pointed out had Damien been speaking aloud: fortunately, he was not speaking aloud, so the grammatical error went unchallenged - were quite possibly the single most dreaded statement on Erna, if voiced by an adept. Bored adepts fell into the category of irritated water moccasins, playful tigers, and hungry sharks - the "These Things Are Extremely Hazardous To Your Health" category. Damien gulped, taking a strategic step backward.
"That's... not good."
"Oh for heaven's sake, I'm not going to bite." Gerald muttered, pushing his hair out of his eyes with considerable irritation: deprived of the fae that he would normally use to keep it in place, thanks to his condition, he couldn't just Work it to stay put. Simply the act of lowering his hand was enough to dislodge the strands, and they promptly flopped down into his eyes again. Huffing irritably, he left them there. "Anyway, why aren't you out here entertaining me?"
Damien stifled a groan. "Because you demanded that I make lunch?" he offered mildly. Gerald looked even more put out.
"Yes, well, I'm hungry. But I'm also bored."
Damien managed to resist the urge to slam his own head into the nearest hard surface, but it was a near thing. He loved his husband more than life itself, but pregnancy hormones had turned the cultivated aristocrat into something closer to a spoiled, petulant four-year-old. In the early days of the pregnancy - the beginning of the end, as Damien now thought of it - Gerald had remarked that because males didn't normally have the necessary hormones for childbearing, the sudden addition of said hormones could produce drastic side effects. Damien's joking response about ten months of pickles and ice cream was a lot less funny, five months in with no end in sight.
Damien was beginning to have serious doubts that both of them would survive this experience. Either he'd end up killing Gerald, or he'd off himself out of sheer desperation, suicide-is-a-sin be damned. Taking several deep, calming breaths, Damien leveled a steady look at his husband. "Would you prefer that I cook lunch first, or find some way of eliminating your boredom?" Your Excellency, he added in the temporary safety of his mind. Temporary because once he could Work again, Gerald would be back to using their link to root around in Damien's head at will.
If he'd been in his right mind Gerald would probably have caught the slightly patronizing and sarcastic tone in Damien's voice, but this time it seemed to go unnoticed, for which Damien was thankful. "Hmm... you might as well finish lunch first, I suppose."
Damien exhaled silently, turning and heading back to the kitchen. He'd almost reached the door when -
"Oh, and Damien?"
This time, Damien did let his head fall against the doorframe, the impact rattling his teeth: at least the pain gave him something else to focus on besides his total despair. "Yes, beloved, light of my life?" he snarled through gritted teeth.
"I've been considering it for a while now, and I've reached a decision. I'm always so terribly lonely when you go off to work, so I've decided we should get a pet."
Damien froze. He thumped his head against the wall again for good measure, hoping that it would wake him up from this obvious nightmare: when no such relief was forthcoming, however, he lifted his head and turned to level a desperate gaze at Gerald, who looked quite pleased with his own suggestion.
"A pet." Damien said, his voice flatter than a fly that had been trodden on by an elephant. Gerald nodded, clearly not seeing the problem.
"Yes. A pet. Are you feeling okay, love? You look a bit... green."
Damien forced himself to keep breathing, leveling a stern look at his husband. "Gerald. I have spent the last three months waiting on you hand and foot, the Patriarch is breathing down my neck again, and my latest class has twice the normal number of students. I do not have time to care for a pet as well."
Over the course of his thousand-odd years of life, Gerald had wielded many weapons. However, at least where Damien was concerned, there was one power that outstripped all the others. Sword, coldfire, pure terror - all paled in comparison to Gerald's devastating "Kicked Puppy Look".
His grey eyes seemed to grow even wider, earnest and pleading, while his lower lip pushed out in a classic - and unbelievably adorable - pout. Damien groaned, covering his face with his hands.
"God, don't do that, Gerald... damn it... this is the last thing I need..."
Gerald sighed mournfully, his head drooping, golden hair falling forward to curtain his face. "It's just so horribly lonely when you're at work..."
"Oh, God." Damien knew he was done for. The worst part was, it wasn't even entirely unreasonable: Gerald was laid off until the baby was born, since he couldn't Work while pregnant, so his days were more or less purposeless at the moment. Swearing viciously in several languages, including Rakhene, Damien flung up his hands in defeat. "Alright. Alright. I give up. Exactly what kind of pet were you thinking of?"
Gerald's smile was dazzling. "A dog." he said firmly, nodding. "Definitely a dog. I miss my wolves, and they can be very useful animals: guard dogs and all that. I think I would like a Saint Bernard, or perhaps an Irish Wolfhound..."
Damien consigned himself to the category of "Utterly Doomed" and went to finish making lunch.
Damien stared in horror. "Gerald, you can't be serious!"
They had been over nearly every square inch of Jaggonath, at every dog breeder in the city, looking for the 'one'. Damien's feet ached from covering a good ten miles that day, his head was pounding from the yipping of several thousands puppies, and his eyes burned from the overload of sheer cuteness. Being a Saturday, this was supposed to be his day off, dammit, but of course Gerald had insisted on going out to get a puppy. Now, at the very last breeder inside the Jaggonath city limits, Gerald had apparently found the perfect puppy.
The only problem was that, at fourteen weeks, it was already the size of a small Shetland Pony.
The breeder, a fat little man with entirely too many smile lines on his face, was beaming from ear to ear at the adept's obvious interest. "This here is Láidira, she's a right beauty. She's from an old Terran stock, y'know: Great Pyrenees, they used to call 'em. Course, the ones these days, like Láidira here, are even bigger than the ones on Earth. She's a real sweetheart too, gentle as a mother hen. They live for a long time, these dogs - why I knew one that lived for thirty years, he did."
Gerald was giving Damien that hopelessly cute pleading look again. Feeling a bit queasy, Damien looked at the puppy. She looked right back at him, panting slightly: the way her mouth hung open made it look as though she were smiling. Her white fur was impossibly fluffy, thick and luxurious. Her big dark eyes were nearly as resolve-melting as Gerald's. Damien sighed.
"Alright. We'll take the giant white one."
Gerald beamed and kissed Damien soundly - and very enthusiastically.
Well, Damien reasoned, the puppy was cute, and surely size didn't matter all that much...
Damien dropped his pen and let his head fall forward onto the desk with a loud thunk. He was smack in the middle of a progress report for the Patriarch, and the very absolute last thing he needed right now was one of Gerald's little hissy fits. Sighing, he rose and headed, again, for the sitting room.
His hormone-addled partner was again sprawled on the couch, this time using their dog for a heated blanket. Winter was coming on with a vengeance, and even though multiple Warmings had been Worked directly into the stone of the manor, the place was just so damn big that the cold always managed to seep in anyway. Láidira was almost five feet long from nose to hindpaws when she really stretched out, though, so Gerald had taken to using her as a sort of living, breathing shawl. The enormous puppy was more than happy to oblige him - whenever she wasn't playing her favorite game of hunting down and chewing up every piece of footwear that Damien possessed, of course.
Damien gave his husband, who had plastered a look of total innocence across his face, a stern look. "Alright, what is it this time?"
Gerald's look of contrived innocence melted back into a pout. "I'm hungry."
Damien closed his eyes. He must have spent more time in the kitchen than he had sleeping over the last few months. Gerald was about eight months along now, and he was eating like a horse: how the adept hadn't simply exploded was one mystery Damien didn't dare try to solve. The former Neocount was just as picky as always, though - and he had started requesting the strangest dishes imaginable. All things pickled were still off the table, thank God, but their place had been taken by such oddities as stewed tangerines and literal candied starfish, of all things. Damien had blanched at the first sight of the decidedly inedible-looking "delicacies", but Gerald devoured them as though they were about to be discontinued. When a rather green-tinged Damien inquired where he'd acquired a taste for such odd food, Gerald explained that they were one of the more pleasant dishes he'd encountered during his army days. Apparently they were very popular in Westmark. Damien promptly made a mental note to never, ever eat anything imported from Westmark that didn't have all the ingredients clearly listed: God only knew what could be in there.
Candied starfish notwithstanding, Damien put up with with the fried pomegranates and creamed seaweed, but he drew the line at sautéed xandu steaks. He really didn't want to know where Gerald had picked up that brand of cuisine.
"I see. What would you like this time? Some strange deep-sea creature's brain fried in some indescribable sauce, perhaps?"
Gerald gave him a flat look. Damien sighed. "Well?"
"I've had quite enough seafood for now, thank you." Gerald said with considerable asperity. "White Alba Truffle soufflé, I think - with caviar."
Damien seriously considered drowning himself in the garden pond. He was actually a very good chef, something that never failed to astonish his various former girlfriends, but some of the things that Gerald came up with... The adept also had a marked preference for all things expensive - the xandu steaks could run as much as a hundred and twenty dollars a kilo. The rare truffle mushrooms he had just mentioned cost about ninety dollars each. Damien didn't bother protesting the extravagant food choices - the former Hunter had more money than he could possibly spend in a lifetime if he tried - but it still shocked him sometimes how cavalier Gerald could be about his wealth.
He retreated to the kitchen, shaking his head in resignation. He could only hope that Gerald's body would adapt to the hormones soon, and this madness would end.
"I don't know how much longer I can take this, Karril." Damien groaned.
The Iezu had stopped by ostensibly to check in on his oldest friend and said friend's husband, but really he was there to torment them because it was a slow day at his temple and he was bored. To his surprise, he found that Gerald was yet again ensconced on the couch, and a rather ragged-looking Damien was in the study, poring over a lesson plan through eyes rimmed red by exhaustion. The priest looked so harried that even Karril took pity on him, and instead of teasing him about all and sundry, the Iezu had taken up residence on the spare armchair and decided to play psychiatrist.
"What exactly is the problem?" Karril inquired, curious. "I mean, I know the hormones can make them a bit squirrelly, but you seem pretty resilient..."
Damien released a long sigh, slumping forward and resting his forehead on the cool wood of the desk. "There's no giant, glaring problem, Karril - it's just everything. The food, the mood swings, the incessant demands for my attention just because he's bored... it's not that I really mind each individual thing, but it's just getting to be too much. The Patriarch's hovering like a bloody vulture just waiting for me to slip up so he can lecture me 'till Kingdom Come, the students are about as intuitive as wooden planks, I can't vulking sleep because the bloody dog that Gerald insisted we get keeps hogging the bed... I've been treading water for the past eight months, Karril, but I'm starting to sink. I know the baby's due in two months, but I just... I just don't know if I can hold it together that long."
Karril looked surprisingly sympathetic: his first impulse in these situation was usually to mock, but Damien looked so tired and careworn that even the normally merciless Iezu couldn't bear to taunt him. "Have you discussed this with Gerald?"
Damien sighed again, his whole body sagging with the exhale. "No. He's not exactly enjoying this either, Karril - he's having nightmares pretty much every night now, which is another reason I can't sleep, I always wake up if he's upset. He's doing enough - hell, he's carrying our child. I should be able to handle the rest."
Karril frowned. A noble sentiment, on the whole, but the Iezu suspected that Damien's hero complex might be getting the better of him. Just the simple fact that Gerald was the one with a baby in his belly didn't mean that it was fair of him to dump everything on Damien.
In a rare moment of diplomacy, Karril reassured the priest a little then steered the conversation gently onto more harmless topics for a time. After bidding the Knight good evening, he dematerialized - but he did not actually leave. Instead, he simply traveled a short way down the hall, and reappeared in the sitting room where Gerald had taken up semi-permanent residence with a towering stack of books - ostensibly to keep him occupied. The dog was stretched out on the hearth rug, basking in the fire's warmth. Gerald glanced up, smiling at the sight of his friend. "Good evening, Karril. Why so grim looking?"
"You're a right bastard, you know that?" Karril said without preamble. Gerald's smile slipped, and he stared at the Iezu.
"What prompted that?"
"Have you seen your husband recently?" Karril said, frowning as he sat down on a chair across from the couch. "I know you're struggling with the pregnancy, Gerald, but Damien's run ragged. If he were an Iezu, I'd be able to see right through him by now. He looks like he's about to drop at any moment. What the hell are you up to?"
Gerald suddenly became intensely interested in a small tangle in Láidira's fur. "I have no idea what you mean."
"Yeah, sure you don't." Karril sighed. "Look, Gerald... you might have a nice fancy vocabulary, but you and I both know that your actual communication skills are next to nonexistent. I actually like Damien, though, so I'd prefer that you just tell him what's wrong before he snaps completely."
Gerald still refused to look up, but Karril saw the brief spasm of guilt cross the adept's face, and groaned. "Damn, I knew it. Your twisted logic's lost me this time, though - what reason could you possibly have for putting him through this?"
A slight hint of color crept into the adept's face, but he just ducked his head even further and stubbornly refused to answer. Karril sighed and sat silent for a moment, trying to think it through. Gerald's sadistic tendencies had died out with his renewed place among the living, which meant this was something else entirely, but what? What reason could he possibly have for forcing Damien to wait on him hand and foot - oh.
Karril inhaled sharply with shock, a human mannerism he'd picked up some centuries ago. "Oh, Mother of us all... you fell right back into your old patterns, didn't you? Oh, Gerald. I get it, as much as any of my kind could, but - you need to stop this, now. He's not going to give up, you know, and you're only hurting him."
"I know." Gerald whispered, his voice tinged with shame. "I just..."
"Yeah, I know. You have to be sure." Karril shook his head and rose. "I've got to get back to my temple, Gerald - but you need to set this right. He loves you, for real. Don't torture him." The Iezu vanished, leaving the adept alone in the sitting room: feeling suddenly ill, Gerald turned slightly on his side - and found Láidira's soulful dark eyes gazing at him, seemingly full of reproof. The adept groaned.
"I know, girl." Sighing, he let one hand stray down to rest on his swollen midriff, his heart heavy in his chest. "I'll go talk to him now."
Damien was still wrestling with a particularly recalcitrant part of the lesson plan when a soft voice spoke from the doorway. "Damien?"
He looked up, greatly startled to see his husband there: while Gerald was still fully capable of walking, it was hardly comfortable, and he rarely stirred from the couch before it was time to go to bed. The adept looked a bit pale, and there was something in his eyes that Damien didn't like. The Knight rose, concerned. "Gerald. Is everything alright?"
"Physically, I'm fine." the adept murmured, one hand resting on the doorframe as he glanced at the floor. "I don't know if I'd say everything's all right, though... can we talk?"
"Of course." Damien led his husband over to a divan near the fire, sitting down next to him, still feeling a little worried at Gerald's unexpectedly solemn mien. "What is it?"
Gerald drew a deep breath, then forced himself to meet Damien's eyes. "I owe you an apology, Damien. I know I've been absolutely insufferable these last months, and... there's really no excuse for it."
"Gerald, you don't have to apologize." Damien said gently, taking his husband's hand gently. "I know the hormones and everything-"
"No." Gerald interrupted, swallowing hard as he saw the confusion pass across Damien's face. "It's - it's not just the hormones, Damien. Some of it was on purpose."
Damien stared at him, stunned. "What? But - why?"
Gerald winced and dropped his gaze again, shame roiling inside him. "I... there's something I didn't tell you, about my past. I thought it wouldn't matter, but - clearly, whether I realized it consciously or not, it's been affecting my behaviour. Karril stopped by a few moments ago, and pointed out what a bastard I'm being, so... I think it's long past time I told you the truth."
Gerald hesitated a moment, ordering his thoughts: Damien didn't interrupt, for which he was intensely grateful. After a moment's pause, Gerald whispered, "I was pregnant once before - when I was nineteen. Gannon was the father. When he found out, he... he was horrified. He didn't want children, not yet - and he was appalled at the thought of the public's reaction if they knew that I was the other father, and a man on top of that."
He heard Damien's soft intake of breath, and felt a strong arm wrap around his shoulders in wordless comfort. Drawing strength from that contact, Gerald swallowed and forged on. "I don't know what he was planning to do, but it never mattered: I miscarried, three months in. My body refused to adapt properly - I rather suspect this pregnancy's gone so smoothly only because of my shapeshifting, making the changes involved in male pregnancy seem small by comparison. That was the end of my relationship with Gannon, though - he never looked at me the same way afterwards. I kept to women after that, for fear of it happening again. That's part of why I was so afraid to tell you I was pregnant: if you didn't want this, I don't know what I would have done..."
"God, Gerald." Damien's voice was broken with emotion as he pulled Gerald tightly into his arms, holding his close against his muscular warmth. "I would never, never reject you like that - not for anything. I can certainly understand why you were worried, though - but how does that have anything to do with the last few months?"
Gerald swallowed hard and pressed his face into Damien's shoulder, feeling the burning of tears behind his eyes as he whispered, "I think on some level, I was testing you - trying to see if you'd leave if I pushed you too far. I just couldn't quite believe that you were really okay with this..."
A strong hand cupped his jaw, and Gerald felt his head being tipped up until he met Damien's gaze. The familiar hazel eyes were burning with a determined warmth that seemed to melt right through Gerald's defenses, settling deep into his bones.
"You listen to me, Gerald. I fought off a supposedly invulnerable demon with you at my side, and I literally walked into Hell to bring you back. You were worth absolutely every minute of that nightmare, and I'd do it again for you in a heartbeat. I am never going to walk away, alright? No matter what you do, and no matter what happens, I'm in this for keeps." Damien lifted his hand, the simple gold wedding ring gleaming in the soft light from the fireplace. "Till death do us part, remember? You can push me away in as many ways as you can think of, but I'll never leave you, ever. I love you way too much for that."
Eight months of panicked worry crashed down over him, and Gerald gave into the tears and pressed himself against Damien's chest, sobbing. Damien wrapped his arms tightly around his husband and held the adept close, feeling himself relax for the first time in weeks. This certainly explained a few things - but his heart warmed at the thought that Gerald had come to him and told him the truth, without being cornered into it. That was definitely a step in the right direction. It might take a long time, and more than one lecture, but they would get through this together. No matter what.
Amor vincit omnia.
Ah, good old flangst, we meet again! Poor Damien - priest, husband, father-to-be and psychiatrist all in one. Ah, well: that's what he gets for marrying Gerald Tarrant. The name Láidira is, once again, Irish - it means strong. What else would you name a Great Pyrenese, Fluffy? No thanks. Hope that brightened your day a little, Hobgoblin, best wishes from a recent fellow sufferer!