The alarm clock on the nightstand began to beep.
Not quite awake, Van automatically started to reach for it, only to discover that his arm was pinned to the bed. Irritably, he gave the snooze button a mental slap, and the beeping fell silent.
Miranda stirred sleepily, and opened feline eyes to look at him. “'Morning.”
She felt so good, all curled up against him with her head on his shoulder, scarcely any weight at all but so warm and comfortable. That she'd asked if she could come sleep with him, earlier in the week, hadn't really surprised him beyond the initial moment of being caught off-guard; that what she had in mind was quite a lot more active than sleep definitely hadn't been unexpected, given everything he knew about sensitives. But he'd still been more than happy to welcome her, surprised or not.
He pressed a kiss to the tabby M on her forehead. “Good morning. Maybe I'll just call in sick and stay here with you.”
“You can't do that. People need you. Other than me. 'Sides, it's Friday, after today you've got two days off for playing.”
“True, I suppose. I'd better get up and shower, then. If someone will let me up.”
She chuckled, and rolled away, freeing him. “I'm going to wait, I promised Bren I'd help him with a bunch of stuff outside, and I'm bound to need one afterwards.”
“Very likely.” He stole a quick kiss, and headed for the bathroom.
Mornings were becoming a comfortable routine. Brennan was almost invariably up first; he made coffee along with breakfast for himself, and headed outside. Oblique usually got up about the same time as Van, but since she left him the bathroom, she beat him downstairs, and Miranda now generally did as well, healthy and well-rested and completely recovered physically. By the time Van got to the kitchen, clean and dressed, Oblique usually had breakfast of some sort waiting and the three of them ate together. It was, Van thought, a wonderful way to start the day, if the day simply had to start in the morning.
He stole a kiss from each, gave Miranda's stripy tail a gentle playful tug—she mrowled in outrage and spun on him, claws out, which made Oblique laugh—and left for work.
The morning went quickly, a couple of scheduled appointments, a chance to catch up on some notes and the like. The second appointment was a regular, a man who had learned a number of anger and control reactions from his own father and grandfather and was genuinely trying to change it. That he adored his current boyfriend and was afraid of driving him off was a part of it; Van had met the boyfriend and heard a great deal about him, and the support from that quarter certainly helped. It was a positive sort of way to end the morning, unlike the frustrating earlier session with someone who seemed simply to want someone to complain to, yet showed no willingness at all to act to change any of the things that made her so unhappy.
Alone in his office, he leaned back, thinking. One concern that he still had, about Randi and the hunters, involved the official proprieties of sensitive behaviour in public. Probably she'd be all right, but the thought that Elena and Brock could take Miranda from him because of a slip or a hesitation, due to uncertainty or unfamiliarity, terrified him. He'd mentioned it to Brennan last night; Brennan had simply said, “Call Kerry.”
What his mother could do, Van wasn't sure, but Brennan presumably had a reason. By this hour, she'd be up and awake—calling Kerry in the morning tended to mean catching her in a grumpy mood. She was even less of a morning person than Van was. He could hear Beth and Hayley and Zach out in the waiting area, which was where they all normally ate lunch, for the company and the chance to talk; he got up, closed the door, and seated himself at his desk so he could reach the phone.
Male voice, a pleasant baritone; his mother's sensitive. “Hey, Rich, it's Van.”
“Hi!” The neutral tone warmed considerably. “Oblique told me you have a new friend.”
Van rolled his eyes. Sometimes he was sure the Donovan sensitives had a better idea what was going on than the mages did. “Yes, and I'll do whatever I have to, to keep her safe from the damned hunters.”
“I wish we could help.”
“Might be possible. Is Mom around?”
Richard laughed. “Yes, and she's even awake enough not to be grouchy. I'll go call her.”
A pause, and in the background he heard Rich calling Kerry's name and telling her who was on the phone, then his mother's voice. “Good morning, Van.”
“I have a problem, and Bren suggested I ask you.”
“Mmhmm? Something involving Miranda?”
Then again, any mage with the sense to listen to one's sensitive stayed pretty well informed. “They're coming back on Wednesday. Randi's adapting incredibly quickly, she's in tabby stripes right now, and amazingly comfortable with magic. But the only mages she's ever been around are that Vladislav sadist, hunters, and Bren and I. None of this is great for learning sensitive social skills in mage society.”
“Hm, yes, one doesn't put on a play without rehearsal even if everyone has read the script. Suppose I have a small private gathering on Sunday, just a handful of close family. We can all play the game for two or three hours, for a good cause.” She chuckled. “Rich is nodding. That will give her a chance to get accustomed to the idea under controlled conditions, where if she slips, there won't be any consequences. I'm sure Oblique and Rich and the others can teach her what she needs to know. It'll be useful to her afterwards, too, she'll need it.”
“That would be perfect,” Van said in relief. “What time do you want us there?”
“Let's make it a barbecue and beach-party. Come around three or so, and expect to be here for the evening. We'll give Miranda her practice, then we can all relax and have fun. Shvaughn and Azure will be free, probably Aiden and Sage and Neely, maybe Grania and her pair. That's a large enough group for her to get the idea, we don't need to go outside immediate family. You might not want to tell her exactly how safe she really is, though. It's a more realistic rehearsal that way.”
“She's going to kill me,” Van sighed. “I'm lying to her again. All right, roughly three on Sunday.” He didn't bother asking if they should bring food. It was a given that the sensitives would arrange between themselves what needed to be brought by whom to make everything work properly, and it had been made gently but firmly clear to him before by the sensitives in question that they could work out the logistics more easily without well-meaning interference. “Sounds good. Thanks. I appreciate this. A lot.”
“You're very welcome. Now, aren't you supposed to be at work?”
“Lunchtime. But I'd better go eat. Bye.”
Feeling much better, he collected his lunch from his backpack and went out to join the others and find out what Oblique had sent him today.
He got home later than usual, having stopped at the grocery store with a list from Oblique of things they needed.
Brennan met him at the door to help carry the boxes—Van was still favouring his right hand a little, though it had mostly healed, and there were quite a lot of groceries. Oblique and Miranda were in the kitchen already; with four pairs of hands, putting things away progressed rapidly.
“Mom's having a barbecue on Sunday,” Van told them, while he stacked frozen juice in the freezer. “She's still working out the guest list, but just the usual immediate family, from the sounds of it.”
“Wonderful!” Oblique said in delight.
“My middle sister Shvaughn lives with our oldest sister Kerry, Van's mother,” Brennan explained to Miranda. “Tinker and Azure are theirs. Sage belongs to my cousin Aiden, and Unity and Meta to Shvaughn's daughter Grania. Except that Meta mostly looks after Grania's children, and doesn't always make it at the moment. Neely is Aiden's niece and has been living with him for something like a year while he's teaching her. That's what we consider to be the immediate family, although that may not be precisely who's present.”
Miranda nodded, finished putting cans away. “Are you sure I should be there?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” Van said firmly. That she was so nervous made him ache, knowing he could end it with a few words but that it would in the long run be the wrong thing to do. “Word's spread by now that I have a sensitive, and it would look extremely odd if I left you at home.”
“Along with implying that he doesn't trust his control over you,” Brennan added, and vanished briefly into the laundry room with an armload of meat to put in the chest freezer.
“You'll be fine, I'll be with you,” Oblique said reassuringly. Van prayed she wouldn't say too much—maybe he should have called earlier, while Randi and Bren were outside? No, Brennan had probably told her about Van's concern, Rich might even have phoned her, and if nothing else, Oblique was frighteningly good at figuring things out. “It's always a little scary, the first few times, but you get used to it. You already know the accepted rules of sensitive behaviour in public.”
“Yeah, but hearing about them and actually doing it aren't the same.”
Well, yes, that's the whole point... please don't let her work it out alone.
Oblique caught his eye, behind Miranda's back, and winked. Yep, as usual, Oblique knew exactly what was going on.
“You have to do it sometime.”
“I suppose. It's just... of the five mages I've ever seen, three were being nasty to me.”
“And these ones will be close relatives of the ones who never have. We'll look after you, sweetheart, you'll see.”
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