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A Shiver of Light (Merry Gentry #9)(6)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton

I glanced to the far side of the room and found Rhys on the couch, asleep on his back with Gwenwyfar across his chest. Her white curls looked so very like his in the dim light. One of her small fists was wrapped around his finger, as if they held each other even in their sleep.
Sholto sat artfully slumping in a chair with his back to the room’s only window. He’d changed clothes since last I’d seen him, because his clothes were dark enough that they blended in with the darkness, leaving his long hair to gleam like a pale yellow curtain around the darkness of the rest of him. His eyes were pale, but I wouldn’t have wanted to guess at their color in this light. Nothing human had yellow eyes like his; they were just some pale color, but not as pale as his white, white skin, which gleamed like Rhys’s and the baby’s hair in the near-blackness of the room.
The wall behind him moved. I had to narrow my vision and concentrate to see that it wasn’t the wall that was moving, but that there was a solid sheet of nightflyers hanging on the wall like giant bats, though even bats wouldn’t be able to hang flat against a smooth modern wall, but then bats didn’t have tentacles with suction on them and the nightflyers did. Their fleshy bodies framed the window and clung halfway across the ceiling. Once they’d chased me like the nightmares they appeared to be, but now the nightmares were on my side, and I knew that while they were in the room almost nothing in this world, or the next, dared to attack us.
A tentacle much bigger than anything the flyers could boast waved at the window behind them all. That let me know that more of the sluagh was on guard outside our room. We had powerful enemies, but we hadn’t needed this much overt protection since we escaped from faerie and came back to California to have the babies.
I had to fight to keep my voice soft, not wanting to wake anyone, but needing to ask, “What’s wrong?”
Sholto blinked at me, and there was a shine to his eyes as if they’d caught what little light there was in a way that human eyes did not reflect. He sat up a little straighter, and I could see the gleam of jewels against the black of his shirt. The necklace covered most of his upper chest. It was a piece that even the Hollywood elite wouldn’t have worn. They were jewels meant for a king, which he was, King of the Sluagh. I’d seen him wear the piece in the high courts of faerie when he was reminding other nobles that he wasn’t just another lordling, or even princeling. Short of wearing his crown he was declaring himself king; the question was, why? Or rather, why now?
My heart sped at the sight of the jewels, because he might bring the sluagh out to warn enemies not to try us, but to dress as a king…. It was a very short list of situations he would do that for.
He smiled almost too faintly for me to see it in the dimness. He spoke quietly, too, the way you do around sleeping people. “Why should anything be wrong, Merry?”“It shouldn’t, but it is,” I said.
“We are your bodyguards, sweet Merry; becoming fathers does not change that. I merely watch over your slumber, and that of our children, and my fellow fathers.”
“You are wearing court clothes and kingly jewels, something I’ve only seen you do in the high courts of faerie. You don’t waste such finery on the human world, or on me.”
“When you are recovered and the doctors free you of restrictions, I would gladly wear all this to your bed.”
I glanced up at the clinging nightflyers, which he was totally ignoring, as if I couldn’t see them.
“You do know that I see the nightflyers, right?”
He grinned then, and shook his head. “I am not trying to hide them from you.”
“Could you, if you wished?”
He seemed to think about it, and then said, “I believe so.”
“Could you hide them from the queen herself?”
“I do not want to hide them from her,” he said.
I smiled then. “So that is why the show of force. The queen has threatened us.”
He sighed, frowned, and fidgeted in his chair, which he didn’t do often. “I was told not to worry you.”
“Who by?” I asked.
“Doyle—you know it was him, or I wouldn’t have tried so hard to obey him. He is technically the captain of your guard, and when in the Unseelie Court my captain.”
“You are the Lord of That Which Passes Between in the Unseelie Court, but you sit here now as King Sholto, ruler of the darkest part of the Unseelie host. What did our queen do, or say, to warrant this show of force, Sholto?”
“Doyle will be unhappy with me if I tell you.”
“Just Doyle?” I asked.
He smiled again. “No, not just Doyle, but I am not worried about Frost.”
“You think you could take my Killing Frost in a duel, but not my Darkness,” I said.
“Yes,” Sholto said. It was interesting that he didn’t try to equivocate or salve his ego. It was just a statement of fact; he feared Doyle’s prowess in battle, but not Frost’s. “But your using their more fearsome nicknames is also a show of force, my dear Merry.”
“Why do you say, ‘my dear Merry,’ as if it’s not true?”
“Because I am no longer certain that any of the babies are mine.”
I frowned at him. “Goddess showed me that you were one of the fathers.”
“Yes, but She did not show me, and I see none of my father’s bloodline in any of the triplets.”
His father had been a nightflyer like those that clung in alien layers to the wall and ceiling of the room. He wasn’t the product of rape, either, but of a highborn sidhe woman wanting a night of perverted pleasure. To be willing to sleep with the monsters of the sluagh was one of the few things that even the Unseelie Court saw as perverse. As Doyle had been the Queen’s Darkness for centuries, and Frost her Killing Frost, so she had nicknamed Sholto her Perverse Creature, but where I could call the other two men by those pet names, I could not do the same for Sholto. He had hated being called her Perverse Creature and feared that someday as Doyle was simply her Darkness, so he would become her Creature, or just Creature. 
Sholto looked as handsome and perfect as any of my sidhe lovers, but once he had not. Once, from about midchest to just above a truly beautiful groin, had been a nest of tentacles identical to those on the underside of the nightflyers that clustered around him. Magic and the return of the blessings of Goddess and Her Consort, the Gods that had long withheld their favors from the sidhe, who had been worshipped as deities themselves, had given Sholto the gift of being able to turn the tentacles to a tattoo. Before that he had been able to hide them visually with glamour, that magic that faerie used to trick the eye of mortals, but it had been an illusion, a trick, and the first time I’d touched him with the mass of tentacles touching me, I hadn’t been able to work past it for sex. Now Goddess had given him the body that the rest of him promised, and I’d learned that all those extra bits had pleasures of their own that no more humanlike body could give. I went to his bed joyfully now, and he valued that I loved all of him physically with no squeamishness. I was the only other sidhe lover he’d ever had, because the rest of the courts feared him as proof that the noble blood was wearing thin and we would all be monsters someday, as they feared my mortal blood as proof that their immortality would be the next to vanish.
“I think you’re overly sensitive about your father’s genetics, and you might want to ask yourself if your new ability to make your wonderful extras into a true tattoo might affect the children, too.”
His face grew serious as he thought about my words. He was a serious man as a general rule, and thought about, or even overthought, most things.
“You may be right, but I don’t seem to feel the connection to the babes that others of your lovers feel.”
“Have you held any of the babies?” I asked.
“All of them,” he said. “I felt nothing except that I was afraid I would drop them. They are so small.”
Galen’s voice came thick with sleep, and soft as if he were whispering to not wake the babe beside him. “I was afraid I’d drop them, too, but I worked through it. Once I got over feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing, it was wonderful.”
“I did not find it so,” Sholto said.
“You didn’t stay and take care of them, the way most of us did. I think because they didn’t come out of our bodies, fathers have to work harder at feeling connected.”
Galen sucked at court politics, and at a lot of stuff that the other men in my life were good at, but most of the men wouldn’t have had that insight. It was a good insight.
“I hadn’t thought about how hard it might be for all of you to feel connected to the babies,” I said.
Galen smiled. “You’ve felt connected to them for months, but then you have been holding them more intimately than we ever can.”
Sholto asked, “Are you saying that you did not feel connected to the babes at first either?”
“Not like I do after having held them, cuddled them, and helped give bottles. There was a moment when Alastair looked up at me with those dark eyes, so like Doyle’s eyes, but that was okay, he was suddenly my son, too.”Rhys’s voice came even and quiet. I think he was trying not to wake the baby sleeping on his chest. “I had the same moment with Gwenwyfar. She’s obviously Mistral’s daughter, but now she’s mine, too.”