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You Do for Family: Generations

Chapter Text

“Oh Wow! Something smells really good!”

Laf emerged from the stairs down to their lab. They had just finished their final calculations for the day and were now ready for some well earned family time.

“Welcome back to the world of the living, dear,” Perry greeted them, giving them a warm embrace and a quick smooch.

“Hey,” they protested, “everything down there is still very much alive… except those chrysanthemums… poor things never stood a chance.”

“Laffy! Laffy!”

Lafontaine’s face lit up as Sky came running up, her bouncing curls making her look every bit her mother’s daughter. Reaching down, they swept their youngest up into a twirling hug.

“Hey Munchkin!” Laf said, hitching Sky onto their hip.

“Laffy, guess what?” exclaimed Sky.

“What?” they replied, nuzzling the child’s forehead.

“Me and Mommy made brownies!” Sky said excitedly, bouncing in her parent’s arms.

“Oh, did you now?” Laf looked over at Perry, who was wearing a proud smile of her own.

“Yep!” Sky was grinning from ear to ear, “I helped Mommy make a whole bunch of brownies for the barbeque tomorrow.”

“That’s not all,” Perry chimed in, “tell Laffy the best part.”

“Yeah yeah!” bubbled Sky, “we made too much batter, so Mommy said I could use the rest to make some special brownies for you! So, I added nuts and coconut and marshmallows and then Mommy helped me bake it.”

“Really? Well, that sounds really yummy!” Laf said, booping their daughter on the nose.

“C’mon,” Sky said, practically vibrating now, “go try one. They’re all cool now and I want you to have the first one.”

“Alright, how could I possibly say no to that?” they said as they walked into the kitchen

“You can’t,” Sky stated definitively, with a confident smile on her face.

Sky’s brownies sat proudly on a plate on the counter, set apart from Perry’s by their marbled appearance. Laf walked over and helped themself to one from the pile before turning their face to Sky and biting into it with a smile. The familiar taste of Perry’s brownie recipe danced over their tongue and the added mix-ins were pleasant, if a touch sweet for Laf’s taste.

However, after starting to chew, a bitter flavour appeared in the mix and Laf grimaced before forcing a smile back onto their face. They swallowed and took another bite as Sky watched with a captivated grin. Again, the bitter flavour appeared in their mouth.

“Mmmm,” they said, forcing down their second bite, “boy is this yummy, but I probably should save the rest for after dinner.”

“No,” Sky cried, “it’s alright, have more. Then I want to have one!”

Their smile tightened as they prepared to power through the bitter brownie. Fortunately for them, Perry had noticed their expression and quickly stepped in.

“No, they’re right,” she said, taking Sky from Lafontaine and setting her on the floor, “we’re eating dinner soon and they’ll spoil their appetite. Not to mention that you already ate a brownie earlier, right?”

Sky pouted but nodded reluctantly.

“Alright, well why don’t you run along outside while your Laf and I pack up these brownies and get dinner started.”

“Okay Mommy,” Sky said before heading out the back door into the yard.

The two of them waited until the door was shut before turning to each other.

“Oh dear. Is there something wrong with the brownies? I had one of the plain ones with Sky and they tasted fine,” Perry said with a confused pout.

“I think your brownies are fine Perr,” said Laf, “but I think those nuts Sky tossed in are rancid.”

Testing Laf’s theory, Perry pried one of the nuts loose and bit into it, quickly spitting into the sink.

“Well, you’re right,” she huffed, “that batch is ruined. Sorry about that, I should have checked before she grabbed them. Good thing those were leftovers.”

“I guess so, but what’ll we tell Sky? She was so proud of them. She’ll be heartbroken.”

“I think I can whip up a new batch quickly if you can start dinner. I should have enough ingredients on hand so she still has her success this time. Then, I’ll teach her about testing for freshness next time.”

“Good idea,” said Laf, sniffing the chicken they’d just grabbed at the reminder, “cause bleh, that wasn’t pleasant.”

“Are you feeling alright? You actually ate some of that,” asked Perry.

“Rancid nuts are rarely, if ever, actually rotten. It’s just the stale oils,” said Laf, “and I only had a couple bites. I’ll be perfectly fine.”

x-x-x

“‘I’ll be perfectly fine’… I said it out loud. Why did I say it out loud? I know better than that.”

Lafontaine was not having a good night. They lay on the living room couch; nauseous, in pain and absolutely miserable.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come to bed?” Perry sat on the corner of the couch, running her fingers through their hair as she tried to comfort them, “you’d probably be a lot more comfortable.”

“As much as I agree with you, I’m gonna be up all night. I don’t want to keep waking you up.” They reached up and interlaced their fingers with their wife’s, “and no, you’re not sleeping on the couch. You have work in the morning, you need a restful night.”

The corner of Perry’s mouth turned down in a half-frown. That had been exactly what she’d been about to suggest, but she also knew that they were right on all counts.

“Alright, fine.” Perry huffed as she got up, pulling up a blanket to cover her spouse, “I’ve left you some water and stomach meds, if you think you can keep either down. Try to get some rest, if you can.”

“Thanks Perr, I love you.”

“Love you too,” Perry said with a kiss to their forehead, “Good night.”

“Night Perr.”

Perry dimmed the lights and went upstairs to bed. Lafontaine hunkered in and did their best to distract themselves with a nature documentary on the TV, something about otters. If they were lucky, the worst of it might be over and they could get some rest.

However, a sharp cramp quickly crushed that hope. With a groan, they got up and hauled themself back to the bathroom as quickly as they could manage.

x-x-x

“Wow, so did you manage to get any sleep?” Laura asked, a look of sympathy on her face.

“Yes, luckily,” Laf said with notable relief in their voice, “the cramps stopped at around two and I was able to get a little shut eye before Perr woke and got me up to bed so I could snooze the morning away.”

“Well, I’m certainly glad you’re feeling better,” Danny said from where she leaned against the deck railing, “it would’ve been a lot less fun here if you’d been too sick to come over.”

Laf grinned and took a sip of their drink before taking a look off the deck to where the kids were playing on the lawn below, enjoying the last bit of sun before it sank below the horizon. The telltale smears of chocolate on their faces belied the fate of many of Perry’s brownies which had been broken out shortly after dinner had been cleaned up.

“Does Sky have any idea?” Laura asked.

“No, the girls had Perr’s decoys for dessert last night and they seemed none the wiser.”

“And you’re sure it was the brownies?” asked Laura, “it seems like such a shame.”

“Yeah,” said Laf with a frown, “if it had been anything worse than bad nuts disagreeing with me, I’d still be laid up right now.”

“Don’t even suggest that,” said Perry as she walked up with a plate of brownies, “I hate seeing you in pain like that. I’d feel awful if I’d been responsible for that.”

“Yeah, like that’d ever happen,” Laf said, putting an arm around Perry, “you are an absolute food magician.”

“Second that point,” said Laura as she snatched a brownie and bit into it. Her eyes rolled back in delight, “seriously Perr, if it weren’t for, y’know, vows and all, I’d totally ask you to marry me.”

“No, forget the vows,” said Danny, a noticeable bite missing from her own brownie “Perry, will you marry us? I’m sure Carmilla will go along with it.”

Perry laughed.

“While I certainly appreciate the offer, I’m happy with my current commitment.” She snuggled a little closer under Laf’s arm.

Laf just smiled and hugged their wife close before taking a brownie for themself. Their teeth had barely sunk into the treat when they realized something was wrong. The brownie tasted right, the smell of cocoa was right under their nose but the usual sense of comfort wasn’t there. Chewing, they felt their stomach clench as it growled audibly.

“Sweetie, are you feeling okay?” Perry asked, noticing Laf’s distress.

They tried to swallow so they could reply, but that was the last straw. Clapping their hand over their mouth and fighting the urge to gag, Laf ran for the bathroom, Perry following quickly behind. Everyone watched them leave with worried expressions before returning their attention to the brownies, eyeing them warily.

“Eh, probably worth it,” said Laura, taking another bite.

x-x-x

The next day, Laf arrived at the Hollis house with their two girls, who quickly scampered inside to find their friends. With a warm smile, Laf closed the door and made their way into the kitchen finding Carmilla and Danny still enjoying a lazy morning.

Kicked back with what Laf presumed was her usual coffee, two bloods, Carmilla was the first to notice them enter the room. With a smug smirk, she reached over to poke her wife in the shoulder over and over.

“Ha, told you they’d be up and about,” Carmilla said, “I win.”

“Yeah yeah,” said Danny, playfully narrowing her eyes at Carmilla as she batted her hand away. Turning her attention back to Laf, she gestured into the kitchen, “help yourself to some coffee. There’s still most of a pot in the carafe.”

With a thankful nod, Laf poured themselves a cup. They paused momentarily as they wondered, not for the first time, what Carmilla’s café O negative tasted like. However, they quickly decided that after the past couple days, now was the wrong time to try that culinary experiment. Settling for their usual coffee with milk, they returned to the table.

“So, how are you feeling?” asked Danny, “when Perry helped you outta here last night, you weren’t looking great.”

“I wasn’t feeling great,” Laf said with a frown, “I mean I don’t get it, I felt fine. I had a lunch when I got up and got through dinner itself just fine, but the moment I bit into the brownie…”

“Hoo boy,” said Danny, a look of realization on her face.

“What?” asked Laf curiously.

“I don’t think there was anything wrong with that brownie last night,” Danny posited, resting a finger on her lips as she thought, “I think you may have got yourself an aversion.”

Laf’s face was horror stricken. “An aversion? To Perr’s brownies? Really?”

“It seems to fit. I remember when Nova got into some chocolate as a puppy. Poor thing got so sick. Even after shifting back she was sick for days. It was months before she could even stand the smell of chocolate, let alone eat it. All that winter, poor Chance had to come over to our house to have hot chocolate after a snow run cause the smell would make Nova nauseous.”

“How long til she could eat it again?” Laf asked nervously.

Danny winced sympathetically, “about a year - year and a half.”

Laf let out a long groan, burying their face in their hands.

“Well hey, look on the bright side,” Carmilla said with a smirk and patting them on the shoulder, “think of how easy it’ll be to eat healthier without temptation.”

Laf lifted their face just enough to fix the vampire with an incredulous glare.

“Or hey,” said Carmilla, furiously backpedaling, ”it may go away faster.”

“Yeah, you were better by the next morning,” added Danny, “I’ll bet you’re brain forgets it was sick in just a few days. I’m sure of it.”

x-x-x

It had been a month. A full month since that cursed confection had entered their stomach and proceeded to cause havoc. An entire month and they still couldn’t enjoy their wife’s signature creation and they couldn’t figure it out.

At first, they had simply waited about a week, hoping Danny was right and that it would run its course. However, when Perry’s time-lock container opened to reveal what should have been patience's reward, the rich aroma merely gave them with a twisting stomach.

At two weeks, they bought a sacrificial tray of brownies from the store  —because they certainly weren’t going waste Perry’s brownies— and simply tried to force the issue. The issue pushed back leaving Lafontaine once again on the couch with a glass of ginger-ale, a documentary on exploring Mars and a sour mood.

After three weeks, they ventured down to the lab to try and come up with a counter. Unfortunately, their genius recipe of hypnotic agents, neurotoxins and a dash of cocoa, for flavour, failed to meet with Perry’s approval. Their back-up plan, Pepto-Bismarcks, were simply unpalatable and quickly abandoned.

And now? Now, they were stumped.

Lafontaine sat at the kitchen table helping Hazel with her fractions homework while Sky coloured contentedly on the other side. Perry smiled at the scene from the kitchen as she put together a treat for everyone for once all the day’s assignments were done. Laf returned the smile, but as soon as Perry’s turned away, their smile faded. Perry hadn’t attempted to make brownies since they’d gotten sick and they couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty about it.

“Laf? What about this one?” Hazel asked, snapping them out of their ruminations. They smiled at their daughter, returning their attention to the worksheet. There were more important things to worry about than brownies after all.

Before long, all was said and done. Hazel and Sky were sitting close together across the table, quietly arguing over what colours to use on the page.

“Here we are, toffee pecan blondies” Perry said, holding a plate of golden brown squares as she left the kitchen. The rich smell of toffee pervaded the air, making Laf’s mouth water. Walking over to where they were sitting, Perry’s softly kissed Laf on the forehead before tilting the plate towards them. They gingerly took one of the offered treats and absently took a bite as they watched their wife move around the table to where their daughters were practically buzzing with anticipation.

They continued to enjoy the confection as they took in the scene. Both girls were inspecting the plate intently, as if this was a decision of utmost importance. Perry shared an amused smirk with Laf as their girls deliberated. It made them wish they had a camera handy, but they weren’t about to break the spell by wandering off; their memory would have to suffice. Finally each satisfied with their pick, the two wasted no time taking a hearty bite.

“Hey, there’s brownie in here!” cried Sky, with a surprised smile. Lafontaine’s eyes widened in shock.

“Hey yeah! This is really cool Mom.” said Hazel, “did you notice, Laf?”

Laf looked at their hand, only a few telltale crumbs remained stuck to their fingers. They met Perry’s gaze. She was obviously concerned, but there was a definite glint of hope there as well.

“No, I guess I didn’t. I think I may just have to have another to see,” they said.

“I think we can do that,” Perry said, sliding the plate closer.

Laf plucked another dessert from the plate, sniffing it experimentally. Only the sweet aroma of the blondie was noticeable, no sign of cocoa on the surface. With only a second’s more hesitation, they took a bite. True to Sky’s assessment, there was, in fact, a pocket of brownie hiding dead-centre in the square.

Now that they were paying attention, they could taste the brownie, but it was heavily masked by the toffee in the mixture. More importantly, they weren’t gagging or struggling in the slightest. They swallowed before taking another bite... and another… and another, until it was gone.

They looked at Perry, eyes shining with unshed tears. Perry looked just as glad before retrieving the plate to put the remaining blondies away.

x-x-x

Later that evening, once the girls were tucked into bed, Laf and Perry were snuggled up on the couch, each quietly reading.

“Thank you,” said Laf, breaking the silence.

“For what?” asked Perry.

“You know for what. That hidden brownie trick was brilliant. Even if I’d thought of it, it wouldn’t have worked if I knew about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; you are a food magician.”

“I just thought it might be worth a try. You know, a trojan horse. But we should find out if it worked before you thank me.”

“Hmm… nope. Won’t take it back.” Laf kissed Perry on the nose, “Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping. Thank you for just being you.” Lafontaine punctuated each thanks with a smooch to Perry’s face.

Perry giggled before squirming loose and running into the kitchen. “Well, regardless,” she called, “we should find out.”

“How? We haven’t had brownies around all month. The store-bought tray of shame notwithstanding.”

Their wife strode back into the room, with a victorious smile on her face and a brownie in each hand. “Despite the efforts of our tenacious eldest, I still have a few hiding spots left.”

Lafontaine smirked as they took a brownie. Hesitantly, they took a whiff and the rich smell of cocoa filled their senses. It still wasn’t as enticing as it should be, but much to their relief, their stomach was no longer twisting at the aroma. With another hopeful glance at Perry, they took a bite. It tasted right, like a familiar memory.

However, they quickly found that they could not swallow. Their body was no longer getting sick, but it still didn’t trust the baked good enough to grant it safe passage. They tried a few more times before giving up and looking at Perry with a defeated smile. She pouted slightly before producing a napkin which Laf used to spit out the bite.

“Sorry Perr.”

“Oh, you don’t worry about that. I’m the one who should be sorry that it didn’t work.”

“No, Perr, it did. I wasn’t able to eat it but I also didn’t get sick. The way things were going, I probably would have been waiting for months to get this far on my own. Thank you.” They enveloped their wife into a hug.

“So, does this mean I can start baking them again?” Perry asked. Laf laughed.

“Yes, I imagine so,” they said, pondering, “if anything, having the smell around without making me sick will probably help speed the process along.”

“Well good, it'll be nice to put this whole ordeal behind us. I'm just glad this wasn't something worse.”

“I couldn't eat my wife's best creation for weeks, what could possibly be worse than that?”

x-x-x

“Mommy mommy!”

Laura looked up from her article as Mercy came running into her office with a plastic container.

“I helped Mama make cookies, try one, try one!.”

With a grin, Laura picked up a cookie, brought it to her lips and took a bite.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t often that Carmilla woke before her wives in the morning. While the days of waking just before sunset and turning in around seven the next morning were long gone, she still loved a good lie-in whenever she could get away with it. And arguably, she was more justified in getting away with it on this morning than any other in the past couple decades.

On this morning, however, she felt different. A shaft of warm sunlight, sneaking through the blinds, coaxed her to wakefulness. For several minutes, she contented herself with remaining beneath the sheets, enjoying her partners’ warmth. There was odd peacefulness to the house; wonderfully calm, yet at the same time, almost disturbing in its quiet. It seemed to beg to be filled, making Carmilla begin to feel restless.

As gently as she could manage, Carmilla carefully disentangled her legs from those of her spouses. She was glad that she hadn’t gotten trapped between them last night. Laura and Danny both got very huggy when she was in the middle and she likely would have been trapped for hours to come. Slipping from beneath the covers, she rose quietly and adjusted the blinds so that the wandering sunshine wouldn’t disturb the bed’s remaining occupants. With a loving look towards them, she quietly slipped out of the room and made her way toward the kitchen.

As she passed the doors of the home’s other bedrooms, she couldn’t help but pause briefly, looking into each one with a sad smile. Each room seemed like only a shadow of its former self. Only few pieces of furniture and a smattering of personal decor remained in each, the majority having gone out the door with each room’s former resident.

Mercy's room felt particularly stark. Yesterday; in a whirlwind of family and friends, boxes and vans, and hugs and tears; the youngest of the Hollis children had finally flown the nest, moving into a small apartment nearby with Sky.

A few adornments remained; fond reminders of a teenager, now grown. A handful of photographs, taken with Sky’s remarkable skill, still adorned the walls with memories. Some fairy lights and old vinyl records, hanging on the wall near the ceiling, had been left behind in a compromise to the adult Mercy now was. Her old bed was neatly made and ready to host the couple for nights following any number of the many family gatherings still to come. It would always be Mercy’s room, a safe place in her first home, for as long as Carmilla had anything to say about it.

She wiped away a tear and pinched the bridge of her nose, smiling in spite of herself. She honestly felt silly getting misty eyed when her daughter was just around the corner. It may have been the end of an era, but it was the start of a new one as well. An era that, with space, and a little luck, would bring lots of grandkids. Carmilla had to grin at that.

Her mood restored, Carmilla continued to the kitchen and set about making some coffee so her day could officially begin. It wasn't until she was pulling her carton of blood out of the fridge, to warm up a little on the counter, that she realized that she was humming absently. It was one of Mercy’s newer songs, brought to the surface by her ruminations. She quickly glanced around to make sure she didn’t have an audience, and fortunately, her wives still hadn’t shown so much as an eyelash, so she continued humming contentedly as she waited for her coffee to brew.

Perched on one of the counter-side stools, Carmilla was halfway through her second cup when she began seriously debating whether to try and coax the sleepyheads down with the smell of breakfast, or to just cut to the chase and go panther-bomb the bed. Her train of thought was derailed, however, by the distinctive rattle and clunk of the front door being unlocked.

“Uh, Perr?” came the steady, reasoned tone of Lafontaine, “they don’t typically keep their door locked during the day. We may not want to disturb them.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” replied Perry, sounding a touch too cheery, at least as far as Carmilla was concerned, for a Mom whose youngest had also just moved away, “they probably just forgot to unlock it this morning. Or, they could still be asleep, I suppose. It was quite a busy day yesterday. We’ll just have to stay quiet until we know for certain.”

Carmilla remained silent, listening carefully to the soft rustle of the couple coming towards the kitchen. Schooling her expression to absolute neutrality, she turned her attention to the room’s entrance.

Perry swept into the kitchen moments later, bags of various sizes swinging in her hands. A bright smile adorned her face right up until she saw Carmilla perched at the far end of the kitchen’s island. With wide eyes and a squawk of shock, she quickly retreated to the hallway, the sound of heavy breathing around the corner the only indication that she hadn’t left completely.

Carmilla glanced quickly at the stairs. If that hadn’t woken Big Red and her Cupcake, she mused, nothing was going to.

“Perr?” asked Laf, “are you al—”

“I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. Just a bit of a surprise is all”

Laf slowly made their way into the kitchen, quickly noticing what had sent their wife scurrying. Their cheeks tinged a bit pink but a highly amused smirk dominated their expression. Carmilla, very quickly, had to raise her mug in front of her face, lest she give away her own smirk.

“Mornin’ Carm.”

“Good morning Laf.”

“Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes, nearly perfect. We may have to organize a run later.”

“That sounds nice. Just you and Dan’ or the rest of the family, too?”

“Hmmm…. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her once she gets up.”

The two continued to talk in circles, both trying to make the other one bring up the elephant in the room.

“So,” started Laf, finally relenting for Perry's sake, “can’t really help but notice that you are, in fact, naked.”

Carmilla glanced down at herself, as if she could possibly be unaware of the situation, “Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Any particular reason?”

“Oh well, y’know, I kinda figured what with having all the kids out of the house, and a safely locked door,” she added with a sideways glance, “that I might enjoy a morning ‘au naturale’”

“Well, fair enough, I suppose. Though technically it’s no longer—”

“Caaarrrrrrmmm,” Laura’s plaintive whine came from the stairs, “where are you?”

A half-awake, completely oblivious, and equally naked, Laura appeared from the stairs, walking up to Carmilla and wrapping her up in a hug from behind. Unnoticed by Laura, Laf got a touch pinker and smirkier as they averted their eyes and signalled to Perry to stay put.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” Laura husked, “we’re still only halfway through our list of ‘reasons it’s okay that our kids have moved out’.”

Carmilla noted, with pride, the slight hoarseness to Laura’s voice, almost as if she’d been screaming loudly for quite some time; something that hadn’t been missed by Lafontaine, if their further reddening face was any indication.

“Well, Cupcake, I’d absolutely love to, but I’m afraid we have company,” Carmilla said, gesturing towards Laf, who was growing visibly more uncomfortable now that they’d lost the upper hand in their little game.

Laura’s eyes went wide as she noticed the scientist standing in their kitchen for the first time. With a squeak that she would later insist was ‘not adorable in the slightest’, Laura ducked, trying to hide herself completely behind Carmilla.

“Carm! What on earth are you thinking?”

“What? It’s not like I invited the two of them in.”

“Two of them?...”

“Hello Laura!” came Perry’s forcibly chipper voice from the hall.

“Oh my god! Perry, I’m so sorry!”

“It’s fine, dear. It’s my fault really. I just did a little stress baking over Sky moving out and wanted to come share. It didn’t occur to me that you might still be occupied with your own… stress relief”

“It’s fine, Perr,” said Danny, coming down the stairs. She was, thankfully, wearing a bathrobe, with two more in-hand for the momentary nudists. She tossed one unceremoniously over Carmilla’s head before placing the other more gently over Laura’s shoulders, having heard the poor woman’s gaffe from upstairs.

“All clear Perr,” Laf called once all sashes were firmly cinched.

“Oh, well, good,” she reappeared from around the corner, still a little red, “like I said, it’s my fault for not respecting your space,” she continued, expression starting to fall.

“Hey,” said Carmilla, brow furrowed in concern, “you’re family, so it’s your space too.” She walked around the counter to where Perry was standing, pulling her into a side-hug. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry too. I was feeling very nostalgic this morning and I just over-indulged in that a little when you popped in.”

Perry’s smile returned, leaning for a moment into her friend’s embrace before breaking into the bags producing a multitude of treats that really shouldn’t have fit into the available space. Carmilla heard Laura mutter something about timelords before being shushed by Danny.

“Speaking of indulgence.” Carmilla took a brownie and bit into it, softly moaning at the taste which earned a smirk from Perry. “Y’know, as good as all this is, it’s kind of a shame that you two didn’t...” she paused, gesturing vaguely, “take advantage, of having a safely empty house to yourselves.”

“Oh? who says we didn’t,” said Perry, her smile losing all innocence while her voice dropped about an octave, “this is all just from this morning and let’s just say… I don’t need a lot of sleep.”

With the most helpless smile imaginable, Laf turned beet red and wandered out of the room followed by the sound of three women collapsing to the floor, laughing.

Chapter Text

Mercy groaned as she stretched her back, trying to wiggle herself off the couch. She was seven months pregnant and to say it was a hard pregnancy would be a massive understatement for the woman. Her unborn son seemed to be trying to make it as hard on her as possible. Mercy looked over at her mother and pouted.

“Mom… I’m stuck,” Mercy said and Danny laughed. She walked over and helped her daughter up, catching her as she nearly fell on her face.

“Gezz Merc, you can’t be this clumsy with the kid,” Danny joked and Mercy glared at her.

“You try doing this!” she shouted and Danny gave her a pointed look.

“I did, for the same length of time, with you, and I was worse,” Danny said and Mercy whined.

“But mom,” Mercy said and Danny rolled her eyes.

“You’ll just have to get used to it,”

“Easy for her to say,” Hazel said, walking into the room, equally as pregnant as Mercy. She walked over to the couch, plopping herself down next to her sister, running a hand over her baby belly.

“Remember to take care of them, that’s our grandbabies you have,” Carmilla said, walking by. She kissed Danny quickly before walking into the kitchen.

“They’re going to spoil them rotten, just you wait and see,” Mercy said and Hazel nodded.

“Like mine aren’t too?”

“God, wait till Aaron and Drix have kid,” Mercy laughed, her eyes lighting up as Sky walked in. “Hey babe,” she smiled as her wife walked over, craning her neck up as Sky leaned in for a kiss.

“Hey,” she smiled against Mercy’s lips, “so, I brought dinner and everyone should be here in about ten minutes,” Sky offered and Laura walked over, grabbing the bags from the young woman.

“Thanks Sky.”

“Anytime,” Sky smiled as she sat on the couch next to Mercy, cuddling into her wife’s side.

“This isn’t fair! Where’s Charlie?” Hazel whined, pulling Sky away from Mercy, trying to cuddle her younger sister.

“Let me go! Your wife is on her way!” Sky complained, pulling away from Hazel.

“Hey! No rough housing around the babies!” Carmilla scolded and the two settled down.

“God, overprotective much?” Sky said under her breath causing the other two to laugh.

“Hey dipshit,” Carmilla said, throwing a carrot at Sky, “I heard that. Vampire hearing, remember?”

“Damn it,” Sky swore and Mercy laughed.

“There is my beautiful wife,” Charlie grinned as she walked in. She walked right up to Hazel kissing her before kneeling down in front of her. “How are you doing peanut? You take good care of mommy today?” she asked the baby bump, satisfied when Hazel winced slightly at a hard kick.

“You always have to get them all excited don’t you?” Hazel complained, “not like I need my bladder or anything,” she said as Charlie helped her up and Hazel quickly made her way to the bathroom.

“Hurry up Haze!” Mercy yelled after her sister-in-law.

“Next time, we spread the kids out,” Charlie informed Sky, who nodded emphatically. Hazel came waddling back over, sitting back on the couch, slightly out of breath. Everyone jumped when the back door flew open, knocking the wall. There stood Aaron and Drix. Aaron clearly had a pillow shoved in his shirt as Drix ‘helped’ him into the house. The two men made their way over to the couch.

“Scoot over you two, make way for the third pregnant party in this family!” Drix ordered pushing at Mercy and Hazel, who glared at them.

“No touchy the babies!” Carmilla said from the kitchen again.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Hazel snapped. Charlie and Sky both took two big steps back, knowing what was about to come. Mercy also attempted to scoot away but was hindered by her pregnant belly. She turned to her sister and wife with pleading eyes but unfortunately their attention was completely on a very angry Hazel.

“We’re just playing Haze,” Drix said, running a hand through his slicked back hair.

“Yeah, we felt left out,” Aaron pouted a little. Hazel quickly —quicker than a pregnant woman should be able to— grabbed the pillow from his shirt and started smacking him over and over with it.

“This isn’t funny, this isn’t cute, it’s not a damn game!” she shouted, hitting them with every word, as the two men tried to protect themselves from the onslaught of the pillow attack.

“Fucking hell Hazel!” Drix said, trying to duck behind the couch.

“You suck!” Hazel yelled, when the dust settled all the ‘kids’ were staring at Hazel as their parents laughed from the kitchen area.

“Pregnancy is no laughing matter,” Hazel pouted and Charlie quickly walked over to her, holding her as the woman started to tear up.

“You made her cry!” Charlie accused.

“That’s our sign, we’re going for a quick run… or well trot,” Mercy said before shifting, Sky right behind her. Danny chuckled and let them outside, noting the way Mercy relaxed more, just like she had when she was pregnant.

She looked around the rooms filled with her family and became excited for what else the future held for everyone. All she knew is that her grandbabies would be spoiled rotten if she had anything to say about it.

Chapter Text

When Laf opened their front door, they had not been expecting the obviously irritated vampire that stood before them.

“Hey Carm, you know you don’t have to knock, you can just come straight in,” Lafontaine said with a concerned frown.

“I normally would have, but it seemed rude to storm into your house while in a foul mood,” Carmilla muttered.

“Rude? Since when has that ever concerned you Ms. Broods-a-lot.”

An unamused glare was the only response the vampire gave them.

“Okay, so we’re not in a joking mood,” Laf said, wincing, “alright, how can I help you?”

“Do you have anything that’ll just make a really satisfying ‘boom’?” Carmilla asked.

A knowing smirk made it’s way onto Laf’s face. “Y’know? I think I may have just the thing. Come on through to the backyard. Lemme go grab some things from my lab and I’ll meet you back there.”

Carmilla made her way through the house and stepped out onto the deck. Trudy, who’d been lying peacefully in a sunny spot, trundled over to her to say hi. Carmilla sat down at the top of steps, absently scratching the hound as she took a few minutes to just breathe and calm down a little.

Soon enough, Laf emerged from the house, a small cooler in each hand. Handing one off to Carmilla, who took it without comment. Laf jerked their chin towards the woods before walking in that direction. Carmilla quickly fell into step and the two made their way into the woods in companionable silence. Before too long, they found themselves at the shore of the lake, near some roughly hewn benches that Aaron had made from raw logs a few summers ago.

Just being here was helping Carmilla feel better already. Fond memories of her first clumsy steps onto the frozen surface of this lake, alongside a particular red wolf, floated to the surface of her memories and made her smile softly.

Laf set their cooler down, gesturing to Carmilla to do the same. Doing so, she opened the lid, curious as to what she’d been lugging through the woods.

“Really?” she asked, holding up a bottle of beer.

“Hey,” Laf defended, “if we’re going to do this, we’re doing it right.”

Carmilla just stared at them, opening the bottle and handing it off before opening one for herself.

“Alright, but I’m not actually letting you get drunk while doing something that may result in missing limbs.”

“Pfff, this’ll be missing digits at worst,” Laf waved off the comment.

Carmilla smirked, “still not an encouraging argument.”

“Do you want to do this or not?” Laf asked.

“Of course I do,” scoffed Carmilla, “but you’re helping me out and I’d prefer you stay intact. That and Perry would probably stake me.”

“No, she wouldn’t,” they reassured, “she probably just wouldn’t bake anything for you for a while.”

“Even worse.”

Laf rolled their eyes before digging into their cooler and pulling out a couple of latex gloves, tossing one to Carmilla.

“You do remember I’m a vampire, right? I don’t exactly damage easily,” Carmilla said.

“Humour me,” they replied, returning to the cooler as Carmilla pulled on the glove with a satisfying snap.

From out of the cooler, Lafontaine produced a small silvery-white lump of something that they were squishing and shaping into a rough ball.

“So… you brought me out here to play with playdoh?” asked a confused Carmilla.

Laf just stared at her incredulously before turning and flinging the lump out into the water. Upon contact, it very quickly began hissing and smoking before bursting into flames and exploding with a loud crack.

“Pure sodium baby,” Laf said with a grin.

“I see your point,” said Carmilla, “gimme.”

Laf chuckled and placed another lump into Carmilla’s gloved hand. She took a moment to inspect the silvery substance before throwing it into the lake, to similarly amusing results. Tossing Carmilla another piece, Lafontaine took a swig from their bottle.

“So, did you want to talk about it while we frighten away all the local wildlife?”

Carmilla tossed the piece of sodium into the water, taking a sip while watching it ignite and explode.

“Not really, it’s honestly kinda stupid,” she said, staring out at the water.

“It upset you enough to bring you to my door.” Laf reached out and rested a hand on the vampire’s shoulder. “Now talk to me, I promise not to laugh.”

Carmilla sighed. “You know how Drix and Aaron are headed to New York this coming weekend?”

Laf nodded. “Oh yeah, Drix scored some tickets to a Rangers game?”

“Against Boston no less, lucky son of a bitch...

“Uh, Carmilla?”

“I know what I said,” she replied with a smirk, “anyways, that’s not what’s bothering me.”

Carmilla picked up a stone and threw it out, somewhat unsatisfied by the small splash that resulted. The echoing crack a moment later, from some sodium Laf tossed in, felt much better and Carmilla gave them a firm nod. The scientist grinned back at her.

“The problem is that when any of the kids need a babysitter, they usually turn to us or you and Perry, which for purposes of having the grandkids nearby, is six of one, half-dozen of the other,” Carmilla explained.

Lafontaine nodded, already guessing where this was leading.

“Well, for this weekend, Drix and Aaron are leaving the girls with Elsie and Hunter. They're apparently going to take them to D.C., show them all the monuments,” said Carmilla.

“Oh Elsie, ever the educator,” Laf chuckled, “so what you’re saying is you’re jealous.”

Carmilla opened her mouth to protest before pausing and opting to just glare at them instead.

“That’s a word I was hoping to avoid, but unfortunately, it’s right on the nose,“ Carmilla groused, “they are grandparents to those little girls every bit as much as we are, and damn good ones at that. They are part of our family and would walk through fire for any of us and I’d happily break the arms of any person who says otherwise. They deserve some bonding time with their granddaughters. ”

“But?”

“But there is still a part of me screaming about outsiders taking my grandbabies, part of me that would like nothing better than to go snatch those little girls and bring them here to where I can keep them safe,” Carmilla paused and took a shuddering breath, “and part of me that knows there is nothing Elsie or Hunter could do about it if I was truly determined.”

Carmilla’s fists were clenched as she stood stock still, staring out towards the lake. Regarding her for a moment, Laf stepped forward, holding out another ball of the soft metal. Glancing over, Carmilla accepted it before hurling it in a straight line away from shore, driving it beneath the surface. She was rewarded a moment later with a plume of water and a bang that broke the spell of silence

“What this boils down to is, I am absolutely furious with myself. I mean, I’m accustomed to feeling possessive. I don’t think there is a single member of this family whom I haven't wanted to whisk away to safety at some point or another, Elsie and Hunter included. But, to now feel like that against people I love?… It's foolish and petty and I should know better.”

Laf frowned for a moment as they processed, before smirking softly.

“Foolish? Maybe, but petty? Hell no,” they stated definitively, “and you do know better. You wouldn’t be here, talking with me, if you didn’t; but when the hell has your heart ever cared about ‘what you know’?”

Carmilla shook her head and smiled “never for as long as I’ve known.”

“Exactly. Yes, you’re feeling possessive, but it’s borne from love for those two girls, not some twisted sense of greed, like wanting to keep them in a gilded cage. I don’t think you have anything to worry about, at least as far as your relationship with Elsie and Hunter goes.” said Lafontaine, “you, however, may start driving yourself nuts during weekends when they have the kids if you don’t distract yourself… have you considered knitting?”

Carmilla rolled her eyes at the suggestion, though made a mental note to talk to Sue about it later.

“Alright, you’ve made your point. So, oh wise master, any ideas of slightly more productive uses of the weekend than brooding and snapping at anyone that gets close?”

“Well, off the top of my head, I’d say the best plan is for us call our respective daughters and get the rest of the grand-fledglings together and make a weekend of it,” they suggested, “really get the grandchild fix.”

Carmilla turned her head, giving Lafontaine a deadpan look, “you have no idea how much it pains me that I didn’t even think of that incredibly obvious solution.”

“Well, I’ve got one last thing over here that will probably cheer you up,” Laf said, handing Carmilla a fresh set of gloves, who donned them without further comment. Out of the cooler, Laf lifted a plastic container holding what looked like shiny cheese in oil.

“More sodium?” asked Carmilla.

“Better, raw potassium,” said Laf, gleefully.

“You mean, like what’s in bananas?”

“The very same, just… more of it. I’ve never actually tried this with this much. I didn’t have a way to achieve minimum safe distance, til now,” they said as they lifted the baseball sized chunk from the container and placed it in Carmilla’s hands.

A worried look crossed her face as she held the ball of metal somewhat reverently, “minimum safe… are you sure abo—”

“It’ll be fine. All you need to do is use enough strength to throw it roughly in the middle of the lake.”

Carmilla regarded the lump in her hand for a moment before shrugging and hurling the ball way out into the lake. She managed to get it far enough that they were barely able to make out the splash from where it impacted.

A moment later, however, its location became perfectly apparent as a flash and huge plume of water were quickly followed by an enormous boom. As the explosion rang into the distance, the two stood in silence by the shore.

Carmilla grabbed her beer and took a swig, “okay first, that was epic,” she said, raising her bottle to Laf, who clinked their own against it, “and second, no one is allowed to eat bananas ever again.”

Lafontaine chuckled. “Noted. C’mon, we should get back.”

They had the coolers packed back up and ready to go when a familiar red wolf came bounding out of the underbrush before noticing them and shifting to reveal Danny, worry evident on her face.

“Hey there, are you two alright? I heard a blast from somewhere in this direction.”

“Yeah, we're fine, you can relax,” Carmilla said, pulling her wife into a hug, “it was just us. Laf was helping me work through something.”

“Such as a granite slab?” Danny asked, gawking at the unusually large waves lapping at the shore. Lafontaine and Carmilla laughed.

“No, but something just as hard,” said Carmilla, earning a confused look from Danny, ”now, let’s head back home. I want to have everyone over this weekend and should probably start planning and making calls.”

“I’ll let Perry know,” Laf said, a mischievous glint in their eyes, “there’s a banana bread recipe she’s been wanting to share with you guys.”

Carmilla and Lafontaine both burst out laughing, while Danny simply shook her head, wondering what was so funny.

Chapter Text

Mercy looked up as the door opened, she smiled when she saw Sky walking in, Hazel not far behind her. Her smiled disappeared quickly, however, when she noticed how pale her girlfriend looked.

“Sky?” She jumped to her feet and walked over to the girl, wrapping an arm around her. “Babe, what’s wrong?”

“I… just need to sit,” Sky said and Mercy led over to the couch, kicking Drix in the shin so he’d sit up. He growled but moved out of the way for the two.

“Gezz, you two look like you saw a freaking ghost or something,” he said looking at Hazel as she dropped onto the couch.

“Worse,” Hazel said.

“Ghosts don’t exist Drix, you know this,” Carmilla said walking in, she whapped the back of Hendrix’s head, “use that brain of yours.”

“Whatever, they could.”

“They don’t.”

“That you know of.”

“Want me to call uncle Zeke?”

“Do it!” Hendrix dared and Carmilla pulled her phone out.

“Did you know mom and Laf still have… still… I... “ Sky started stumbling over her words.

“Still what babe?” Mercy asked, nuzzling Sky’s jaw.

“Um…”

“Well spit it out kid,” Charlie said walking in. She’d heard the siblings from her room and knew never to waste time with her girlfriend.

“Still had sex,” Hazel finished for Sky and Carmilla burst out laughing, dropping her phone in the process. Hazel and Sky stared at their aunt, flabbergasted at her reaction. The three Hollis children looked around at each other.

“Well… I mean we kind of figured.” Charlie declared for the three of them, earning shocked expressions from the sisters.

“What do you mean you figured?” Hazel shouted, throwing her arms in the air.

“Well… sex is… sex is a natural part of a relationship and let’s be real, your parents have a great relationship,” Charlie explained sitting next to Hazel.

“Yeah guys like… you thought they didn’t have sex?” Drix asked.

“Yes!” both girls shouted and their partners started to giggle.

“What’s so funny?” Sky growled and Mercy kissed her nose.

“Wouldn’t you be upset if we stopped having sex that young?”

“You two are having sex?!” Carmilla shouted and Mercy glared up at her mother.

“Not the time for this mom!”

“Of course but my parents—”

“Your parents nothing. They love each other, there is no difference between them having sex or our parents having sex. It’s just—”

“Oh my god! You’re ok with your parents still having sex?” Sky gasped looking at Charlie.

“Of course, mama is like a billion years old—”

“Excuse me?!”

“Ok, a thousand years old.”

“You are slowly losing your spot as favorite child.”

“You don’t pick favorites,” Charlie shot back and Carmilla grumbled having been caught in her lie, “I would be worried if my parents weren’t still having a healthy sexual life. Hell, even my grandparents I would be worried about.”

“This is too much…” Hazel said and Charlie laughed, leaning over and kissing her.

“You really think after we have kids, I’m going to be done with your body?”

“We’re different.”

“We shouldn’t be.”

“I feel like I walked into something,” Aaron said as he walked in and Drix smiled at him. He walked over to his boyfriend, kissing him quickly before turning to the group.

“Aaron, when did you realize your parents still had sex?”

“Is this a trick question?” Aaron asked raising an eyebrow.

“Nope.”

“Um… when my mom was pregnant with… um, who came after me?” Aaron laughed.

“Please tell me you’re joking,” Carmilla said and Aaron smiled.

“Of course I am. Jill is my favorite.”

“Whew, I was worried.”

“But why are we asking about my parents sex life? I mean I’m glad it’s there but I don’t ever wanna think about it.”

“That answers our questions,” Mercy turned back to Sky and lifted her chin up so she could lock eyes with her. “See babe? There is nothing wrong with your parents having sex.”

“Yeah kids, plus, you should have seen your mom before she was getting laid on a regular—”

“Not helping!” Hazel shouted at her aunt, throwing Carmilla into another fit of laughter. She was cut off by her phone ringing on the floor. She leaned down and picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Mircalla, child why did I get a call with you cackling and the children in distress over Miss Perry and Ser Lafontaine, having sex?”

“Oh Zeke, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize the call connected,” Carmilla explained, “I have a question though.”

“Ok dear.”

“Do ghosts exist?”

“Of course they do, what did you think Rafael was?” he asked and Carmilla was stunned for a moment. She hadn’t thought about her father’s presence as being a ghost.

“Well shit.”

“Ha! In your face!” Drix shouted and Charlie rolled her eyes, nuzzling Hazel’s neck placing soft kisses there.

“So which of you walked in on them?”

“Both of us. I need to wash my eyes out Charlie,” Hazel whined and Charlie smirked.

“I think I have a better plan,” she explained and tugged Hazel up from the couch and towards the stairs. She needed to show her girlfriend just why they wouldn’t ever stop having sex, no matter their age.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, you two are so gross.”

Mercy opened one eye from where from where her face was snuggled into Sky’s neck, meeting her brother’s gaze with a glare. They’d been dozing the morning away rather comfortably until he’d put in an appearance. Mercy let her eye fall shut again, hoping he’d take a hint and wander off to amuse himself elsewhere.

“No kidding. It’s like someone upturned a vat of syrup right here on the couch, it’s just so sickeningly sweet.”

Unless, of course, he had reinforcements. Mercy squeezed her eyes tighter, trying to ignore Aaron’s remark and hold onto the moment. She heard Sky growl softly, expressing her own displeasure at the situation as she pulled Mercy a little closer.

“Oh no, you two have absolutely no high ground when it comes to being grossly affectionate,” chimed in Charlie, “at least they have the decency to not nibble each other’s ears in company.”

At this point, Mercy wasn’t certain whether she wanted to hug her sister for defending her or deck her for being so loud. She settled for cracking an eye open to try and glower the offending parties into submission, but no one was paying her any attention at the moment.

Aaron raised an eyebrow at Charlie from where he and Drix had taken a seat, “um, glass houses there.”

“Hey, she never claimed that we had that decency either,” said Hazel, snaking her arms around her girlfriend, licking the shell of her ear to make the point, “just that our innocent, wholesome… virginal, little sisters do.”

Sky burst out laughing at that remark. Mercy finally lifted her head and huffed, before chuckling and turning towards Hazel, “well played Madam, well played.”

“Honestly, let’s just agree that all of us can be pretty sickening when we want to be,” said Sky, “Hell, it’s practically a required skill in this family.

A series of snickers all around agreed with Sky’s assessment.

“Well, that and absolutely explosive fights,” added Charlie, pulling Hazel’s arms a little tighter around her.

“Moms don’t really,” said Mercy.

“They don’t really anymore. Have you not watched Mom’s recordings from University?” said Charlie.

“Oh yeah, right.”

“Hey, it helps make things stronger in the long run,” added Hazel, “even if it costs the occasional plate.”

“One time!” cried Sky, “it was one time!”

“It’s alright baby,” Mercy snuggled into her, “like Hazel said, we’re stronger for it. I’d say that’s worth a piece of tableware.”

“I almost feel we should be envious,“ said Drix, looking at Aaron, “we certainly fight from time to time, but we’ve never had that breaking up epiphany.”

“You’re right,” pondered Aaron, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“I think so.”

“What? What are you guys thinking?” asked Charlie, looking at them with a confused expression.

The two men remained silent for a moment before Drix spoke up,

“Aaron, this is it. I’ve had enough. Your aftershave stinks, it has to go!”

“My aftershave is artisanal, you simply have no taste, “ Aaron retorted, a grin on his face “you, on the other hand, keep stealing the blankets at night. My feet have been a set of toe-sicles every time you've slept over.”

“Says the guy who complains about being too hot to cuddle,” Drix said with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m too hot for most things,” Aaron said smugly.

“So modest too,” Drix added, “also, who cheers for the Pens?”

Aaron balked dramatically, “oh my god, blasphemer! That’s it, I can’t be with a man who doesn’t know good hockey. Hendrix Hollis, we are through!” Aaron gave Drix a wink before making a show of standing up and storming from the room.

“Fine! See if I care!” wailed Drix before heading towards the kitchen.

“Oh, hi Aunt Danny!” came Aaron’s voice cheerfully from the front entrance, “good to see you. You’ll have to excuse me, but I have to leave and slam the front door dramatically now.”

“O...kay?” replied Danny followed by the front door slamming shut.

The remaining two couples sat in stunned shock.

“Did they actually just break up or were they making fun of us?” asked Hazel.

Drix chose that moment to return to the living room with one of Aaron’s sweatshirts, a tub of ice cream and a ladle, which he began to use to awkwardly dig at the ice cream, attracting stares from everyone in the room

“What?” asked Drix, ”I’m grieving.” He dug a big scoop out and began messily biting his way through it.

“Nevermind, I figured it out.”

x-x-x

“So… what’s this I hear about you and Aaron breaking up?” asked Laura, a knowing smirk on her face as she and Hendrix prepared dinner.

“Oh, you know,” Drix said wistfully, “sometimes two people just have differences that they can’t get over.”

“What sort of differences?” she asked.

“Aftershave, sleep habits, hockey teams. Y’know, the important stuff.”

“Hockey Teams?”

“Pens fan.”

Laura recoiled in horror, “oh dear. and you still managed to last this long? The things we overlook for love.”

“Oh, yes. I did love him. To tell you the truth, I probably still do. I’ve been completely inconsolable.”

“I don’t think—”

“You’re right, it’s been hours. This moping about has gone on long enough,” Drix declared, “I need to move on, get myself out there.”

Laura snorted, “oh yeah, really should start hitting those bars. Go for the really seedy ones, that’s where you net a real keeper. If we hadn’t been roommates, that’s totally where I would have found your Mama.”

“I heard that,” called Carmilla from the other room.

“You were meant to,” Laura called back.

“Nah, bar hopping is so last century. I’ll just keep my feelers out. You never know who’s gonna pop up out of nowhere.”

“Hey, anybody home?” called Kirsch from the front door, “Me and Bets wanted to come say hi!”

Laura fixed Drix with a look.

“Ha, not really who I had in mind, but it feels like forever since he’s been over and I’m not one to complain about seeing family,” said Drix with a laugh before calling out, “we’re in the kitchen guys.”

x-x-x

“Wow, did we pick the right night to drop in or what?” said Kirsch, happily patting his full belly as , “Laura, you make an awesome lasagna.”

“Thanks, Kirsch,” said Laura, “I use a bit of fennel to make up for the missing garlic that our vampiric family members can’t eat.”

“I still liked that version you made using the cumin,” said Danny.

“Eh, that just tasted like chili.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Laura just rolled her eyes.

“So,bro,” said Kirsch, directing his attention to Drix, “you and Aaron, huh?”

Drix grinned before affecting a pathetically dramatic pout, “Aaron? Aaron who?” Drix’s voice quavered while his sisters and their girlfriends rolled their eyes.

“Ok, seriously Drix. I think you… can…” Charlie trailed off as music started to play from somewhere outside.

“What the what?” said Laura as she got up. Walking over to the doorwall, she took one look into the backyard and laughed, “Drix? I think it’s for you.”

With a puzzled expression, he got up, closely followed by the other occupants of the room, and went over to where his mother was standing. His face lit up with a huge smile when he saw what she was referring to.

Out in the yard, standing in the faint light of dusk, was Aaron dressed in a sharp suit and holding a bouquet of sunflowers. A stereo was set up on the deck playing some ridiculously cheesy ballad and a path of dried flowers had been laid between Aaron and the house.

Without a word, Hendrix opened the door and went out into the yard. He could feel the gazes of everyone else behind him, but his focus was solely on Aaron. He walked slowly, relishing in the feeling of the dried flowers crunching a little underfoot. Making his way up to Aaron, he could feel tears starting to well up as he looked into his eyes.

“I figured I should do this right,” said Aaron, smiling bashfully as he handed the bouquet to Drix.

Drix smiled at the flowers before bending down and placing them on the ground to one side. With the bouquet safely out of the way, Drix stepped closer and put a hand on Aaron’s face before guiding him into a kiss. He wrapped his other arm behind Aaron’s back, pulling him closer, while Aaron’s hands found their way round his back and up into his hair.

“Wow! We should break up more often,” said a mildly dazed Aaron when they finally broke for air.

“If you’re going to do something like this every time, I agree,” said Drix, a bit out of breath, “how does third week next month sound to you?”

“No! Oh no, you two have had your fun,” yelled Charlie from where the family had been watching, “if I hear that you two have broken up ever again, your ass is mine Aaron. Whether for breaking Drix’s heart or for messing with the rest of us, either way you’ll deserve it.” Charlie cracked her knuckles to emphasize her point, making Aaron visibly pale and nod frantically.

“Aww sis, we just got back together. You should be happy for us,” said Drix with a grin.

“Don’t you think you’re magically safe from comeuppance either Kitty Cat,” Mercy chimed in, “Sky and I will chase you from one end of the woods to the other.” Her girlfriend narrowed her eyes at him in affirmation.

“Alright, alright,” Drix held up his hands in surrender, “we won’t break up again… unless we really mean it.”

“Though I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Aaron said, resting his forehead against Drix’s temple.

“It better not,” said Charlie as she turned to go back inside, prompting everyone on the deck to do the same.

“Huh, that was fun but it feels like we missed something,” said Drix.

“Well, we haven’t done the last step yet,” Aaron husked, leaning closer to Drix’s ear, “we’ve made up and now,” he nibbled Drix’s earlobe, “we need to make up.”

Drix’s eyes widened and grasped Aaron’s hand, leading him into the house and up the stairs.

“Ugh, you two are so gross,” Mercy called after them.

Chapter Text

Laura was struggling. Apparently, trying to enter the house while carrying three file boxes of archive materials, all in one trip, was not one of her finer ideas. The weight of the boxes aside, the stack was more than tall enough to completely block her line of sight. Very carefully, she had to feel out what she was doing; it took nearly an entire minute to manage opening the front door alone. However, Laura Hollis wasn’t one to admit defeat, so she soldiered on.

Hefting the boxes through the open door and kicking it closed behind her, she made her way through the house, carefully trying to keep from knocking anything down.

“I thought I was the one with super strength around here,” came Carmilla’s voice from somewhere in front of her.

Turning her body for a clear view, she saw her wife gazing at her from the couch as Mercy quietly watched TV on the floor in front of her. Laura playfully narrowed her eyes at her.

“Ha ha,” she said sarcastically, “these are just some old periodicals that I brought home so I could work on my article over the weekend. How’ve you been today?”

“Nice easy day with the kids. This little one has been an angel, Charlie is over at Hazel’s and Drix was playing upstairs last I checked.”

“Well, that’s good. You mind holding the fort for a little while longer so I can organise these things?”

Carmilla glanced down at her daughter, still rapt in her show, before making a scene of stretching out on the couch. “Oh, truly it’s an arduous job, but for you, I will endure. Because, I love you.” Laura gave her head a small shake and rolled her eyes.

“Well, thank you and I love you too.”

Her arms growing tired, she quickly resumed her journey to the office. She was nearly there when her foot encountered something soft and fuzzy, which then yowled softly at having been prodded. Caught off guard, she tried to pull her foot back and put it down somewhere else. Unfortunately, the sudden motion also threw her already tenuous equilibrium completely off.

The boxes went flying as Laura flailed, trying to catch her balance. She threw her arms out in a desperate attempt to grab anything to keep herself up, unfortunately finding nothing but open air. She fell backwards, but instead of unforgiving hardwood, she found herself being held up, scant inches from the ground by Carmilla.

“So, what have we learned?” Carmilla asked smugly, looking at Laura with a raised eyebrow.

“That having a sexy wife with superspeed is one of the best things ever?” Laura suggested sheepishly.

“I said learned, you knew that already,” the vampire said with a grin.

Laura huffed, “I should’ve made smaller trips or asked for help rather than struggling.”

“Good,” said Carmilla, gently lowering Laura to the floor, “now, I think you also owe our son an apology. You seem to have given him quite the fright.” Laura followed Carmilla’s gaze to a spot down the hallway, just past her office, where a small panther cub sat, puffed up in fright.

Laura’s face fell, “Oh Drix! I’m sorry.” She held her arms open towards the cub, who ran into them, cuddling close as they closed around him. “Oh sweetie, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Very quickly, the small panther calmed down and began purring in his mother’s arms. With a smile, Carmilla patted Laura on the shoulder and returned to the living room to check on Mercy.

“Oh my boy,” Laura cooed, placing the panther cub in front of her “are you okay?”

A single squeaky meow was the response she got. She wasn’t quite certain what he meant by that, but he was relaxed and bright-eyed, so she figured it was likely, ‘yes’.

“Alright, good. Now, in the future, I want you to remember that the middle of the hallway isn’t a good place to have a nap. You never know when your stupid Mom is gonna stomp on through, not paying attention.”

Drix stepped forward, looking her in the eyes and putting a paw up on her leg. He opened his mouth and let out the longest, most plaintive meow Laura had ever heard from him. His young eyes were yearning at her, trying to convey something.

“What was that?” asked Laura, confusion on her face. “Carm?” she called.

“He said he’ll remember, you’re not stupid and that he loves you,” Carmilla yelled from the other room.

Laura’s eyes began to water as she reached out and gathered him into another hug.

After a couple of minutes, she let him go and set about surveying the damage. One of the boxes was on it’s side, it’s contents spilled across the floor, but she’d gotten lucky and the other two had miraculously stayed shut in the chaos.

“Now, how bout you go keep your sister company while I tidy this up?”

Another single squeaky meow was the response before he bounded off towards the living room. Laura smiled before leaning over and grabbing the first loose article.

“Alright, was this under ‘C’ for Carter or ‘P’ for president?”

x-x-x

Laura was struggling. She had a conference call in less than an hour and her phone had decided that now was a fantastic time to succumb to age and lock-up almost completely. She paced back and forth in the kitchen, desperately tapping at her screen, trying to get anything to come up without crashing.

“Ugh, you are making me nauseous,” groaned Danny from her perch on the counter, “face it, the phone is toast. About time too, that hunk of junk is ancient. This is a great excuse to get a new one.”

“Hey hey hey! This is a fine phone,“ rebutted Laura, “you used to say the same thing about my old flip phone. I guarantee you it’d still be working if Mercy hadn’t chewed it up.”

“Yes… Mercy…” Danny said, under her breath.

Laura eyed Danny suspiciously before resuming her panicked fiddling, “this one will be fine. I just have to get something… anything, to open and we’re back in business.”

“Well, you may be right about that, but probably not before your call,” Danny said, gesturing to the clock, “so you should probably stop messing with that brick. You’ve got enough time still that you could probably pull the files you need from the cloud up in your office and then make the call from the landline.”

Laura made a face, “the landline, ugh. But, you’re right, fine.” Laura quickly turned towards her office, attention still on the smartphone in hopes of a last minute miracle.

She was nearly to her office when her foot encountered something fuzzy, and quite heavy, which let out a deep ‘chuff’ at having been kicked. Unable to stop her forward momentum, Laura started to tumble.

‘Ah, floorboards my old friend,’ was the only thought that passed through her head before her fall was arrested, halfway to the floor, by a large panther under her midsection. Thankful for her son’s quick reflexes, she slid off his back into a kneel beside him. Satisfied she was stable, he flopped over into a lounging position, regarding her.

“Phew. Thank you Drix, you saved me a broken nose. I’d feel pretty foolish doing a conference call while sounding like I had a cold,” she said, leaning over and touching her forehead to his. He chuffed again affectionately in response.

“But,” she added, “what have I said about napping in the hallway?”

Hendrix made a moan, looking emphatically at her phone.

Laura chuckled, “And that’s why we have the rule. For when your big dumb Mother—”

Drix growled and locked gazes with her. She smiled.

“For when your oft distracted mother—” Drix made another short moan and nodded firmly. “—wanders down the hall in a rush. Why don’t you go lay down in front of the fireplace? It’s probably a lot warmer there.”

Drix seemed to think on the proposal for a moment before making a short little yowl in agreement, making Laura smile. He got up and nuzzled her before wandering past to the living room.

Laura got back to her feet and pocketed the phone. It would have to wait ‘til after her meeting. She walked into her office and was about to shut the door.

“Hey, look Hazel!” came Charlie’s voice from across the house, “a panther skin rug!”

“Ooh, how romantic,“ replied Hazel, equally lacking subtlety, “kiss me you fool!”

Laura sighed. After her call, she’d have to remain wary of obstacles on the hallway floor.

Chapter Text

“Holy Hufflepuff, this place is gorgeous!”

Laura wiggled her toes, digging down into the warm sand. This beach, stretched out along the edge of a beautiful sapphire lagoon, had been an incredible find. The waters, sheltered from the brunt of the ocean, gently lapped at the shoreline making a wonderfully safe place for the kids to paddle and play. The beach itself was only sparsely populated, with only four or five groups spread out over the few hundred yards of sand. Beyond the bounds of the beach, a lush green jungle stretched out in all directions.

Down in the shallows, the kids were happily screaming with Danny and LaF as they ran about splashing each other. Carmilla and Perry had both made themselves comfortable under the large umbrellas they’d packed along, Carmilla engrossed in some novel while Perry was dozing on a beach towel.

“That it is, and to think, we only had to travel to the other side of the planet to find it,” said Carmilla, not looking up from her book.

Laura turned around and narrowed her eyes at the vampire, “don’t act like you don’t like it here. You were the one who wanted to come all the way to Polynesia.”

“Oh, I never said I didn’t like it,” replied Carmilla, fixing Laura with a hungry gaze over her sunglasses, “but I have my stunning wife in front of me in a white sundress while my other stunning wife is dressed only in a blue bikini and is soaking wet. The local scenery pales somewhat.”

Laura flushed red before meeting Carmilla’s stare with a seductive smile of her own.

“Are you completely certain you’re a vampire?” said Perry with a wry tone to her voice, “are you, perhaps, some kind of supernatural rabbit? We’re in the middle of a beach, I should try to find a hose to turn on you two.”

“Well, you certainly make a good point,” said Carmilla, “kinda reminds me of last night when you left your girls with us to go on a moonlit stroll down the beach, well out of earshot… human earshot anyways.

Perry flushed deep crimson before laying her head back down, “I’m sorry, were you saying something? I obviously didn’t hear anything as I am completely and fully asleep.”

“Yeah, I thought that was the case,” Carmilla said, returning her attention to Laura who was trying to settle a glare at Carmilla, but couldn’t quite get the smile of amusement off of her face.

“What’s the case?” asked Danny as she came up, dripping with water, and began towelling off.

“That Perry is fast asleep and can’t hear how sexy my two wives are and what I want to do with them once we have some privacy,” Carmilla replied, watching Perry out of the corner of her eye for a reaction.

Perry grumbled softly, but otherwise remained still.

Danny chuckled. “Well, I suppose we can ask her and Laf to watch the kids tonight. Not for long, a couple hours maybe, enough for a nice… walk,” she added pointedly.

They couldn’t see her face, but Perry’s blush reached all the way to her shoulders and back as she caught the meaning. Desperate to change the topic, she rolled over onto her side.

“So! This has certainly been a lovely, relaxing morning,” she said a bit frantically, “but did we maybe want to do something a bit more active after lunch? A hike or a trip into town, maybe?”

Carmilla made a face at both prospects but Danny perked up.

“There is a fantastic hike I’ve been wanting to try, just up that ridge to the top of the mountain,” Danny said, pointing up the green slopes behind them, “the trailhead is already up there so we’d drive most of the way up. The hike itself is only a couple miles round trip. Easily done in an afternoon. The best part is that at the top, you can look down into the volcano crater.

“Volcano?” asked Charlie as she ran up, “count me in.”

“Me too!” added Hazel, close behind. The remaining stragglers from water walked up at a more sedate pace a moment later.

“Well, I’d call the motion seconded,” said Danny satisfactorily, “all in favour of the volcano hike?”

A chorus of ‘ayes’ answered her.

“And opposed?” she asked, looking at Carmilla.

“Eh, could be worth a look.”

“Such enthusiasm,” Danny chuckled, “alright, let’s all pack up, get some lunch and then go see a volcano!”

x-x-x

The hike was going well, if a bit slowly for Danny’s tastes. The trail itself was well worn and marked so it was easy to follow and safe for the little ones. However, most of it went through rich and interesting rainforest, and the kids, and Lafontaine, wanted to stop and look at every little thing.

“Laf, come look at this bug!” cried Sky, mesmerized by a huge beetle whose shell shimmered iridescently between blue and green.

“Good eye Munchkin.” Lafontaine moved in close with their camera and snapped a pic of the insect.

“Hazel, Hazel! Look up there, in the trees,” Charlie called her friend over, pointing up into the canopy, “look at all those parrots.” The tree in question indeed held a small family of the colourful birds. Hazel didn’t say anything, but just looked up in adoration.

“Please Mama? These trees look like they’d be so much fun to climb,” Drix asked Carmilla.

“Sorry my boy, but your Mom is right. This is a public trail, you’d get seen and cause a panic,” Carmilla said, patting him on the back, “though I agree, yes, those trees look fun to climb. We’ll try to find a more secluded area to go for a run and maybe we can bounce around a bit.” Drix, happy with the suggestion, smiled and scampered up the trail a bit.

Danny smiled at the group and shook her head a little at their shenanigans. “C’mon all. We’re just a short ways from the top.”

Broken out of the spell, their group resumed an easy pace. It was only about fifteen more minutes before the foliage gave way to an amazing viewpoint. Down the side of the mountain, the view back down towards the lagoon and the arms of the island that wrapped around it was incredible. The group stood in awestruck silence, the only sound being the occasional click or beep as every camera they had took a snap of the view.

Turning around, they made their way over to the crater’s edge. Down below, the exposed lake of molten rock glowed gently against the daylight.

“Huh, that’s really kind of cool. I didn’t think lava just sat in volcanos like that outside of spy movies,” said Laura, “or would it be called magma if it’s still down there?”

“I dunno, but there’s an info board over here by the edge, maybe it can tell us,” said Danny, leading the way over, the rest of the family in tow.

The sign, however, didn’t prove very useful.

“‘Finally, I have you. Mwa, ha, ha’,” Lafontaine recited aloud, “that seems kind of ominous. Wonder if someone was playing a prank, or maybe this was someone’s way to propose. like an inside joke. Or ooh, maybe—”

The next thing out of Laf’s mouth was cut off as the cliff edge under them gave way, sending them all plummeting to the fiery pool below.

Out of the underbrush, in a grey top hat and cape, twirling an oversized moustache and holding a shovel, was Dean Morgan. She cackled maniacally before covering her face with the cape and stalking back into the jungle.

x-x-x

Laura woke up in her bed, feeling confused and just the slightest bit annoyed. Sitting up, she looked at the clock to see it was still the middle of the night. Beside her, Carmilla stirred at the disturbance before sitting up herself.

“Hey, you okay?” she asked, rubbing Laura’s back.

“Yeah, just a really weird dream,” Laura replied, “probably just something I ate… did Mercy help you with dessert last night?”

Carmilla chuckled, “you really need to get over that. Anyone could have mixed up salt and sugar in the cookie recipe, they look the same.”

Laura rolled her eyes at that but dropped it. “So, I’m thinking no on my South Pacific vacation idea. Maybe just Disney again this year?”

“Fantastic,” drawled Danny sleepily, “now could you two please quit yakking and go back to sleep.”

Laura grimaced sheepishly as she and Carmilla lay back down. Danny threw an arm over both of them, pulling them close, and the three drifted back into slumber.

Chapter Text

Danny knew Carmilla wasn’t going to be too happy when she got home, but Danny couldn’t find it in her yet to care. Drix was wiggling back and forth on the bed, his little furry butt high in the air, watching the small ball in Danny’s hand with rapt attention. Little Mercy had fallen asleep nearly an hour ago, but Drix was still going strong.

“Ok, Drix, only a few more throws before we need to take a nap, ok?” Danny said and Drix, barely larger than a house cat yowled, causing Mercy to kick one of her legs out at him. Danny chuckled running a hand through the girl’s fur as she tossed the ball for Drix down the hall. The young panther jumped off the bed and chased after the ball. Danny shook her head, chuckling. When she looked back up from her book, however, she saw Carmilla standing there with Drix in her arms.

“Care to explain?” Carmilla asked and Danny couldn’t help but laugh harder. Drix was trying to wiggle his way out of his mother’s arms, the ball in his mouth. She set him down on the bed and he jumped into Danny’s lap, spitting the ball into her book.

“He’s having fun?”

“I can see that,” Carmilla said as she crawled into the bed next to her wife. She chucked the ball back down the hall, hearing her son’s nails scraping against the hall flooring. Carmilla leaned into Danny kissing her. “I thought we weren’t going to treat him like a dog.”

“Well, Mercy was playing and he was upset that I wasn’t playing with him so…” Danny tried to explain and Carmilla laughed shaking her head, she kissed her again.

“It’s ok, he’s got too much energy anyway.” Carmilla looked down at Mercy who was snoring, “unlike someone else I see.”

“She played for two hours, he’s on hour three.”

“That’s… wow…impressive.”

“Yeah, I told him it was nap time soon.”

“Perfect, that’ll give me time to show my appreciation for you being a great mother then.” Carmilla kissed Danny again as Drix jumped back on the bed, she groaned.

x-x-x

Carmilla knew she shouldn’t feel like her son should fit a certain mold, but he was a vampire after all and a panther on top of that. He should have a regal air about him she thought but she was being proved wrong a lot lately about that, and today was no different.

Zach was coming over for dinner and an evening run with Danny, the siblings trying to still make time for one another even now as adults. Carmilla walked in and gave the large wolf’s muzzle a pat as she made her way into the kitchen.

“Sorry I’m late,” Carmilla said, kissing Laura. “Where are the kids?” she asked, mildly suspicious; the house was too quiet for them not to be getting into trouble.

“Zach’s playing with them,” Laura said, watching Carmilla turn to look toward the living room where Zach was. The large wolf was giving her a dog grin and Carmilla knew he was up to something. Shifting, she walked over to him where the large wolf licked her right across her face, leaving her more annoyed as she pushed by him.

That’s when she found Hendrix, basically being sat on by her brother in law as the kitten tried to capture the wolf’s fast moving, wagging, tail. Carmilla groaned as she laid down on the ground, her paws covering her muzzle. She looked over at Hendrix who had both paws in the air, trying to capture the tail as it passed, claws extended all the way, as he nipped in the air for the tail.

“He’s been playing like this all evening,” Danny said walking up to Carm and scratching behind her ear, “I even got some video.” Hendrix tried to wiggle out from under the large wolf when Carmilla had an idea. She jumped up and pushed her head into Zach’s side, able to force the wolf to move just enough so that Drix could wiggle out and jump on his tail. Drix growled out his victory as he attacked the base of Zach’s tail, latching onto it with all his might. Carmilla smirked as she stalked back out of the room, plucking a sleeping Mercy as she went. She carried the girl over to the large lazy boy chair in the corner and started grooming the girl’s fur, staring at Danny, knowing how much the woman hated their daughter getting bathed like a kitten, two could play this game.

x-x-x

Carmilla should’ve grown used to it by now, she should’ve known that neither of her wives listened to her when she said she didn’t want Drix being treated like another pack member. He was a panther, not a dog. There wasn’t a damn thing wrong with the wolves in her mind, but some things just weren't ingrained into panthers like they were the wolves, or so she thought.

Mercy was next to Danny, the young wolf standing proud and tall by her mother. Carmilla padded up and gave the girl a quick lick behind her ear, which she barely could reach now, before sitting next to her. She looked out across the field to see what the two were watching.

There, in the middle of the field, was Hendrix. He was running alongside Sky, trying to teach her how to keep her feet about her. Carmilla couldn’t help but smile. Her son was taking his time, making sure that every time the young wolf fell, that she understood it was ok. He’d help her up and they’d start again.

She looked around the field and saw that most of the pack was there watching. It finally hit her, they might not be wolves but they were part of their pack, always had been so what if Drix picked up a few mannerisms of the wolves? He was practically raised by the pack anyway. She couldn’t be more proud of her son, her family, or her pack.

Chapter Text

“Oh Hazel!”

Perry's sweet sing-song voice rang through the house. To anyone unfamiliar with the woman, her tone might seem cheerful and inviting but the other residents of this home knew better.

“Yes Mom?” asked Hazel, smiling nervously.

“What is this?” Perry gestured to a pan on the counter.

“An apple pie?” the eight-year-old said innocently.

Perry rolled her eyes, why did she think this was going to be straightforward? She looked at her daughter pointedly.

“The apple pie you baked this morning?”

“That it is, and what is wrong with the pie?”

“There's a big piece missing.”

“And why is there a piece missing?”

“Cause me and Sky ate it,” Hazel ducked her head in contrition, though Perry could see a ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of Hazel's mouth.

Perry pursed her lips and stared at Hazel for a moment. If anything, at least she'd raised an honest child. Frustrating, but honest.

“Mommy,” called Sky plaintively from the living room, “my head hurts.”

Perry looked between Hazel and the door to the living room, trying to decide between the sugar thief and the sugar crash.

With a huff, she grabbed a cloth from the cupboard, soaking it in cold water and wringing it out before heading towards the living room.

“We will talk about this later Hazel,” she said.

“Okay mom,” said Hazel, looking forlorn, right up until Perry left the room that is.

The moment her mother was gone, her face lit up and she spun on her toe to head back upstairs… walking right into her other parent.

“And where do you think you’re going?” asked Lafontaine, an amused half-smirk on their face.

“Umm… to think about what I’ve done?” replied Hazel, her smile having vanished.

“Well,” said Laf, “you’re half right. However, I think cleaning up the leaves in the yard seems like a fair exchange for pilfered pie.”

“With the leaf blower?” she asked hopefully.

“With the rake.”

“Um…“ Hazel stalled, trying to think of something, “I love you?”

“I love you too, now come on. I’ll get the rake out for you”

Hazel just pouted as she followed Laf into the backyard.

x-x-x

Perry joined Laf on the deck, handing them one of the drinks she was carrying as they watched Hazel move about the yard, pulling the fallen leaves into a pile.

“How’s the munchkin?” asked Laf.

“Oh, she’ll be fine. She’s laying down with a cold compress,” said Perry, “I suspect the headache isn’t quite as bad as she made it out to be. I think she was just trying to distract me from Hazel. I don’t know if I find their willingness to look out for each other frustrating or endearing.”

“The latter, totally the latter,” Laf said firmly, “it’s worth a little frustration dealing with the matched set right now when we know they will be there for each other through thick and thin forever.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Perry said, looking at Laf with a warm smile, “I also suppose the same goes for that cleverness of hers. I’m still not certain how she got at the pie to begin with. I locked it in the liquor cabinet and it’s still fine and locked up tight; just with the pie on the wrong side of the door.”

“This might have something to do with it,” Laf said, handing Perry a bobby-pin and a bent paper clip, “I found those on the counter.”

“You’re joking. Our eight-year-old knows lockpicking?” exclaimed Perry.

Lafontaine chuckled, “not quite yet, though probably just a matter of time. I checked the lock and it’s a cheap one. She could’ve ‘picked’ it with a sponge. I’ll upgrade the lock, though that’ll probably only keep her out for another year or two.”

“We could try getting her into another hobby to put her creativity to a different use. Do you think she’d like some lego?”

“Well, I’m not sure that’s the best idea unless you’d like to watch our daughter go after cookies using a pneumatic drill made entirely out of a lego fire station set. I mean I’d find that pretty cool, but it seems counter-productive to our ends. I’m honestly stumped what we should do, aside from getting across that stealing is wrong.”

“At least in that respect, I think we’re doing alright. She seems to only go after my baked goods and nothing else. She knows I enjoy making them, so they aren’t all that hard to replace. I frankly think she wants to get caught. Proves that she figured out the puzzle so we can make a better one.”

“Huh, when you put it that way, seems almost a shame to simply go with another lock. I’ll have to come up with something one of these days.”

Perry simply smiled and leaned into them. On the lawn, Hazel had finally gotten all the leaves together into a big pile… just in time for Charlie to run out of the trees and throw herself into the pile, scattering leaves everywhere. Hazel squawked indignantly before throwing the rake down and lunging for the other girl. Charlie danced out of reach with a grin on her face before turning tail and running back for her place, Hazel in hot pursuit.

Laf and Perry couldn’t help but laugh as the girls ran off. Giving their wife a kiss, Laf walked down to the lawn to fix the pile and start bagging the leaves.

x-x-x

“Well, one year, seven months,” said Perry, placing a container of sugar cookies on the table, “not too shabby for a twenty dollar lock.”

Laf looked at the seemingly full container, then back to Perry, “what’s wrong? These seem fine. Are there some missing?”

“These were snickerdoodles yesterday.”

Lafontaine guffawed before they could catch themself. Hiding their smirk behind a hand, they tried to keep their laughter in check as they turned back to Perry.

“Alright, let me get this straight.” They started counting off fingers. “She got into the cupboard, took the cookies, presumably ate them, bought…?”

Perry picked up a cookie and bit into it, chewing for a moment before nodding. “Yep, from the bakery.”

“Bought replacements, and put them back like nothing happened?”

“That seems to be the case.”

“Well, I'm not inclined to punish her. I'm more impressed than anything.”

“Admittedly, I feel the same,” Perry said with an amused smile, “she reminds me so much of you when she does that, so it's hard to get mad. Plus, she already spent her allowance money on this, which is really payment enough.”

“So, what do we do now? We really need to up the ante. Especially if she sets her sights on something you make for an occasion.”

“I'd been thinking on that and I found this online,” Perry said, pulling out her phone to show her spouse what she had in mind.

“Time locked kitchen container,” Laf recited, reading the screen, “not a bad idea Perr, but this thing is plastic. It wouldn't last five minutes under her attentions.”

“Oh, I do realize that,” Perry said, a wide grin on her face, “however, I think that you could probably come up with something a little… sturdier?”

Laf’s face lit up, eyes sparkling. “Perr, are you asking me to do what I think you're asking me to do?”

“Lafontaine,” Perry said, meeting their eyes with a smile, “light of my life, heart of my heart, would you create an impregnable pastry vault to keep out even the most tenacious of cookie thieves?”

“Yes, yes I will,” they declared enthusiastically, “but first there is something important that we must do. Where are the kids?”

“They’re over playing, Carmilla’s watching them,” Perry said, a bit confused.

“Perfect.” They took her hand and kissed her before leading her towards the stairs. “You can’t say wonderful things like that and not expect me to want to kiss every inch of you. Every. Last. Inch.”

Perry turned red before giggling and chasing Lafontaine up the stairs.

x-x-x

“Wow Perry, this upside-down cake you made is amazing,” Danny said around a mouthful.

“Why thank you,” Perry said proudly, “I made it last night so the top layer really had a chance to soak down.”

“Couldn’t help but notice the interesting cake box you’d been keeping it in,” Danny observed, “I wasn’t sure if you had dessert or nuclear codes to be honest.”

Perry chuckled. “The ‘Demon Child Safe’. Just a little something Laf whipped up to keep desserts secure.”

“I can’t help but notice that it’s a touch… scorched.”

Perry glanced over at the box, “yes, I suppose it is.”

“Might that be related to why your daughter seems to be lacking eyebrows?” Danny asked.

Perry chuckled. Hazel was perched on the couch in the living room alongside the rest of the kids. Above her eyes, a pair of hastily scribbled on eyebrows did little to conceal the fact that the genuine article was missing.

“It could very well be,” Perry said, “though she hasn’t said anything, so I can’t be completely certain.”

Danny just stared at her incredulously.

“It’s fine, really,” defended Perry, “I was kind of expecting this one day since she seems to be following in Laf’s footsteps. Lafontaine is actually so proud, they’re fit to burst. They were thirteen before they managed to blow their own eyebrows off so having their daughter beat their record by a full three years is the best thing ever for them. They fully intend to teach her how to redraw eyebrows once she asks for some advice.”

“Aww, that’s actually kind of sweet,” said Danny, “bizarre... but sweet. Though some lessons in first aid and fire safety may also be a good idea.”

“Oh don’t I know it. I’ve already got both of them signed up to join me for classes when I renew.”

Danny raised an eyebrow at her.

“Well, what did you expect?,” scoffed Perry, “When you fall for someone like Lafontaine, you very quickly learn the skills to keep them alive and healthy.”

Danny chuckled and raised her fork in salute. “Well, can’t say I can argue with that.”

“I think they’ll prove useful to her. I’ll probably only use this thing once in a while, when I absolutely need a dessert saved,” Perry mused, “but she is so much like her parent, I think she’s going to go through plenty more eyebrows in her life; pastry safe or no.”

“Hey Mom,” said Hazel, walking up, “can me and Charlie have another piece of cake?”

“I think we can allow that,” Perry said, getting a quick nod from Danny before getting up and leading her daughter to the kitchen counter.

“Uh… Mom,” started Hazel, sounding a little unsure, “I kinda heard you and Aunt Danny talking. You’re not mad that I tried to get the cake?”

“No, I’m not mad,” Perry said as she cut two more pieces, “though I am a little disappointed that you didn’t show a little more caution.” She ran a finger along Hazel’s brow.

Hazel winced, looking up at her mother’s finger. “Can Laf really show me how to make them look real?”

“At this point, they’ve done it so many times, they could do it blindfolded. They’ll show you the trick of it.”

The two shared a chuckle before Perry knelt down and grasped her daughter’s shoulders.

“As much as the eaten desserts may annoy me, I love you more than any cake or pie I could make. Never lose your tenacity or your creativity my dear, they are amazing parts of you.”

“I won’t Mom,” Hazel said, wrapping her arms around Perry’s neck, hugging her mother tight.

Letting go of Hazel, Perry stood back up and handed her the two plates to take back to the living room before setting about cleaning up the counter.

“Oh and Mom?”

Perry looked up to see her daughter looking back with a smirk.

“I’m totally gonna figure out a way into that thing. One day.”

Perry could help but return the smirk, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

“I’d expect nothing less.”

Chapter Text

Charlie laughed after she opened the door to see Hazel standing there, her eyebrows singed off again. She took Hazel’s hand in hers and dragged her up the stairs to her bedroom.

“Do I want to know this time?” she asked as she had Hazel sit down and she pulled her makeup out.

“I didn’t know those chemicals made fumes like that.”

“Oh god,” Charlie tilted Hazel’s head back, brushing her hair from her face as she looked at the woman’s eyes, checking to make sure they weren’t injured.

“What did you mix?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you do it in the fume hood?”

“Yes…?”

“Hazel?” Charlie raised an eyebrow and Hazel sighed.

“I put it in after… the lab is clear, I swear. I hit the evac button.”

“I’m thanking aunt Perry for that button.”

“Can we not tell my mom?”

“Because she’s not going to notice the missing eyebrow thing?”

“Fine…” Hazel huffed, laying down on the bed. Charlie rolled her eyes and crawled onto Hazel’s lap, eyebrow pencil at the ready.

“Ok, stay still.”

“Yes mom,” Hazel huffed as Charlie leaned forward. Carefully, she started drawing Hazel’s eyebrows back on.

“You really need to be more careful.”

“I know,” Hazel said softly, “you know I love you, right?”

“Of course I know that.”

“Not just because you draw my eyebrows back on.”

“I know.”

“I just wanted to make sure you know.”

“I’ll never forget either.”

“Good.”

“Wait, why?”

“Because i might need some help cleaning the lab.”

“Oh Hazel,” Charlie laughed, dropping her forehead to Hazel’s shoulder. Hazel looked over and kissed Charlie’s cheek.

“You love me.”

“I do.”

x-x-x

Charlie sighed as Hazel attempted to draw her own eyebrows back on. It was that awkward time where the hairs were starting to grow through, but only in patches. She took the pencil from Hazel before tilting her head back so she could draw carefully.

“Maybe we should just get these tattooed on you.”

“That’s an idea.”

“I’m joking.”

“I know,” Hazel smiled, circling her arms around Charlie, “but think of all the time we’d save.”

“Time better spent how?”

“I can think of a few things,” Hazel smirked as she kissed Charlie’s neck.

“Get your mind out of the gutter Haze,” Charlie warned, pushing Hazel’s head back forcefully.

“But babe.”

“I need to finish this.”

“I know, but it can wait till after we make out.”

“Yeah sure, but then someone will come home and then bam, you’ll have one eyebrow the rest the day,” Charlie explained, Hazel huffed and put her head back allowing Charlie to finish her work.

“Can we make out after?”

“Yes.”

“For as long as possible?”

“Yes.”

“And fo—”

“Hazel, if you don’t stop I swear to god I’ll give you bushy eyebrows.”

“Right.” Hazel tried not to wiggle around as Charlie worked, she was bored however.

“Hazel…”

“I know.”

“I swear woman.” Charlie laughed she leaned down and kissed her. “You drive me nuts.”

“But you love me.”

“I do, for now.”

“Gasp! For now?”

“For now.”

“Ok…”

“I’ll love you forever dork.” Charlie leaned down kissing Hazel again.

“Thank god, cause with our families, you never know how long we’re going to live.” Hazel smirked as Charlie laughed, cuddling into her lap.

Chapter Text

Hendrix stirred in his sleep. Something had disturbed him, but not quite enough to wake him up. Before long there was another disturbance… then another… then another. Groggily, Drix started to wake up.

He raised his head, still a bit bleary-eyed as he oriented himself to his surroundings. Rubbing his eyes clear with a paw, he looked around, trying to remember where he was. A symphony of reds and golds surrounded him, enthralling him in his half awake state. It wasn't until he looked down and saw the thirty foot drop beneath him that he recalled his choice of napping location.

It has been a gorgeous autumn morning and the woods had just been calling him out for a run. There’d been no one else home to join him, but he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. Pausing only to close the door, he’d catapulted himself off the deck, shifted in mid-air, and bolted into the treeline.

The sun had been shining and the crisp fall air had felt exhilarating in his lungs. He’d ducked and weaved through the trees, pouncing skillfully off of trunks and relishing the feeling of crisp fallen leaves under his pads. It wasn’t until he’d made it all the way to the hospital before starting to head back towards home, aiming for the lake. It had still been early when he’d hit the water’s edge, so he’d decided to climb up a tree near the shore and fell asleep on a high branch where he could sun himself.

He wasn’t quite certain how long he’d been napping there, but his beautiful fall day was gone. The sun could no longer be seen and instead, a blanket of threatening grey clouds now covered the sky and the temperature had dropped, making him glad for his thick coat.

But it confused him as well, while certainly not as pleasant a day as when it started, it wasn’t that much less conducive to a nap, and there was nothing within sight that could have woken him up.

The answer came and hit him right between the eyes, literally. A raindrop; fat, cold and, of course, wet; struck him on the face causing him to flinch. Looking up, it became clear that the thick canopy of leaves was protecting him from much of the rain. Now that he was aware, he could hear the soft patter of the rain around him. It was gentle at the moment, but getting harder with every passing minute.

He grumbled audibly, this was not how this day was supposed to go. Here he was, stuck high in the air and a long run from home. There was no way he was getting back resembling anything close to dry. Even shifting back wouldn’t help as he didn’t think to put on a jacket before leaping out the door.

Further annoyed by his lack of forethought, he began gingerly picking his way back down the tree trunk. This was the slowest and most awkward part of the process, and a big reason why he only climbed really high up when he was alone. It’s hard to maintain your cool panther vibe with your limbs splayed out against gravity, trying your best not to fall on your face.

He reached the base of the tree as the rain really started to come down; even the thickest parts of the woods would not provide him much cover. Since staying drier as he went wasn’t going to be an option, he decided his best bet was to find closer shelter. Remembering the route he took, he figured the closest place he could run to would be his grandparents’ house. Aiming in what seemed about the right direction, he took off in a full bound, being extra careful as to where he put his steps. Even with four feet, a layer of wet leaves could still leave him slipping into a nasty crash.

In the air, the smell of the pack was growing stronger, the scents of his Grandpa Paul and Grandma Sue in particular, so he knew he was getting close. Following his nose to get a stronger bearing, Drix soon broke out of the woods into his grandparents’ backyard. With a great feeling of relief, he bounded across the lawn and up to the sliding glass door. He reached his paw up to the handle to slide it open and found the door wouldn’t move.

He huffed in annoyance as he tried to pull at the handle again, but the door remained shut, probably locked. Extending his claws, he tapped on the glass and yowled softly, hoping someone would hear and let him in where it was dry. However, his efforts were for naught as no one seemed to be home.

Feeling emotionally, and somewhat literally, put out, Drix prowled his way around the front of the house. Taking a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching, he moved up to the front door in hopes he could get in that way. He made several attempts at pawing the door handle open before he got frustrated and decided to just shift so he could get a grip.

He realized his mistake a split second too late and the moment he shifted, all of his nice dry clothes became soaked with the water that was still covering him. In a truly foul mood now, he took a firm hold of the door handle and tried to turn it; the door remained shut.

With a groan, he let his head fall forward to rest on the door and took a few deep breaths to calm down. This was no one’s fault but his own, there was no reason to pitch a fit. At this point, he just wanted to get home.

He turned around and sat down on the step, taking a momentary respite from the rain under the eave. The rain was a full on downpour now and the entire world just looked miserable. The temperature had also dropped further and Drix, in his wet clothes, found himself starting to shiver. Drix quickly shifted back, his wet fur marginally warmer than the soaked shirt and jeans he’d set out in.

He stalked back around to the back of the house, looking at it with a huff, before walking back into the woods. His pace was more sedate now; he was completely sodden and there was little difference whether he ran or walked home at this point. He didn't really care, he just felt like sulking.

His mood didn't hold for long though, as from somewhere ahead, a wolf howl echoed through the woods. It was unmistakably Mercy, howling clear as a bell. His sister was calling him home.

He paused to answer with a roar of his own before picking up the pace, making for the house. Before long, Mercy appeared out of the underbrush, bumping into his shoulder affectionately as they ran for home. Glad for the company, Hendrix redoubled his pace and before long, they had broken through to the backyard.

Mercy let out a sharp yip as they crossed the yard. Inside the house, someone stood up and started heading towards the garage, where Mercy led Drix, instead of heading straight up to the doorwall. When they rounded the side of the house, the door had already been raised and Charlie was waiting inside.

“C’mon you guys, it’s warmer in the mud room,” Charlie gestured past herself as she hit the button to close the door behind them.

Much to Drix’s relief, Charlie was right and the mudroom felt blessedly warm, even if he was still soaking wet. Exhausted, he lay down on some towels she’d laid out on the floor.

“Jeez Drix, you look like a drowned rat,” Charlie exclaimed.

Drix huffed at being compared to a rat, though he couldn’t find much other reason to disagree. He was soaked to the skin. He’d taken swims in the past where he’d gotten less wet.

“Well serves you right for going out and playing in the rain without me,” Charlie joked, drawing an unimpressed stare from Drix.

He exchanged a knowing glance with Mercy who let her tongue loll out in a lupine smile, knowing exactly what he was suggesting. Slowly, Drix stood up, arching his back while Mercy planted her paws, adopting a similar posture.

“What are you guys… no, no! NO—”

Charlie let out a shriek of surprise and laughter as both Mercy and Drix shook themselves dry, soaking both Charlie and the mud room.

“Oh, you guys are so dead,” Charlie chuckled, wiping spray from her face, “but later, when you least expect it. Now, Drix, at least you’re not dripping anymore. Go take a hot shower, I left your robe and some fresh towels in the bathroom.”

Drix made a grateful murr and rubbed Charlie affectionately, leaving another wet streak on her hip, before padding off upstairs towards the bathroom.

“You on the other hand, didn’t get that wet,” he heard Charlie’s voice behind him, “so you’re dry enough now to shift and help me dry this place up.”

Mercy’s whine was the last thing he heard before kicking the bathroom door shut behind him.

Chapter Text

“You have everything you need for tomorrow?” Danny asked, walking up behind Charlie, who was checking over a list in front of her.

“I think so though it doesn’t feel like it,” said Charlie, scratching her head, “a couple notebooks, a few pens and pencils and my bookbag. After all the supplies I kept in my locker the past few years, this feels… odd.”

“I suppose it would,“ Danny mused, “but it’s only day one. You’ll eventually be hauling around textbooks, library books and other odds and ends. You just get it as you need it rather than getting everything all at once.”

“Well, that sounds more civilized, at least,” said Charlie, “what was your first day like?”

“Nothing like yours is going to be like, I’m fairly certain,” said Danny, “a new year at Silas is a… unique experience for first years. I doubt you’ll have to fight sentient trees to get your books back or duck the alchemy club conscription efforts. Not that those were all that threatening once you realized you could toss the latter to the former and solve both problems for an hour or so, however long it took them to get loose.”

“You almost make it sound like I should have applied to Silas.”

“No. Oh god no,” insisted Danny, “don’t get me wrong, Silas had its upsides. It was place where supernaturals could be open and relatively safe, and I never would have met your mothers if I hadn’t attended, or most of our social circle really. But, there is a… malevolence to that campus. The dean’s machinations aside, it was a place where odd injuries and disappearances would just occur, and people just accepted it for some reason. I don’t want that for you.”

“Glad I decided to stay nearby then,” Charlie said with a grin.

“You and me both,” agreed Danny.

“I suppose that’s what’s throwing me off,” Charlie supposed, “the cliche for going off to university is loading up all your stuff to move into dorms and here I am with a few pencils.”

“On the plus side, no shower sandals,” joked Danny.

“Eww, is that really a thing?”

“You know, I have no clue. Silas had private bathrooms for each dorm and same went for the Summers’ lodge.”

“Still making a pretty good case for Silas there, Mom.”

“I know, it’s kind of annoying actually. It’d be a great place if it wasn’t, y’know, evil.”

“Funny how a little detail like pure evil can just ruin a good thing.”

“What’s evil ruining now?” asked Carmilla, walking into the kitchen.

“Silas,” replied Danny, “it had all sorts of nice amenities, for a university campus.”

“Well, of course it did. It’s hard to draw in a pool of potential sacrifice victims if the environment doesn’t appeal,” drawled Carmilla, “but why are we talking about that hole in the ground? Tomorrow, you’re going to a proper university that won’t try to kill you with anything but boredom and I get to feel older than dirt.”

“You’ve lived over three and a half centuries and this is what makes you feel old?” asked Danny.

“That is barely aged for a vampire,” scoffed Carmilla, “but my first child going to university? That’s a mark of being old.”

Danny opened her mouth to argue, but couldn’t find it in her to disagree. “Dammit, you made me think about it, now I feel old.”

“Well, if you two old ladies can stop your wool-gathering for a short time,” Charlie joked, “maybe you can help me figure out anything I might be missing.”

“Bear spray?” suggested Laura, wandering in off the deck, “your grandpa Gus knows where to get it in bulk.”

“Seriously, did you all want me to apply to Silas?” asked Charlie.

“Silas, who said anything about Silas?” Laura rounded on her wives. “Did one of you say she should’ve gone to Silas?”

“Whoa, Laura, calm down,” said Danny, her hands up defensively, “no one’s saying she should go to Silas.”

“I’d make sure there was no Silas to go to, if anyone had,” grumbled Carmilla.

“We just noticed that none of us really have any good first day of university advice for her since she’s not going to have to deal with dimensional portals or roving packs of Satyrs, all of whom are named Fred.”

“How is Fred, by the way?” asked Laura.

“Pretty good according to his last letter,” said Danny, “he and his wife just had their thirty-sixth kid.”

“Wow, Satyrs. I’m not sure how they keep on going like that,” marvelled Carmilla, “wait a minute, yes I do. Same way we do, a youthful attitude and plenty of—”

“Ahem, daughter still in the room here!” exclaimed Charlie.

“Heh, sorry.”

“Now if you’re done trying to drive me off, any suggestions as to stuff I might need?”

“Calculator?” suggested Danny.

“No, I don’t have any science electives and my phone will work in a pinch.”

“Something to read in class,” said Carmilla.

“I think I’ll try getting bored first before I attempt advanced slacking off.”

“Suit yourself,” Carmilla added with a smile.

“Snacks, if you get hungry,” said Laura resolutely.

“Well, I was gonna meet Aaron for lunch, but I suppose a granola bar or two would be smart to have along.”

“A granola— over my dead body,” Laura exclaimed before stomping over to the cupboard, “no daughter of mine is enduring her first year without proper snacking fare.” From the cupboard, Laura produced a package of her favourite cookies before marching over to Charlie’s bookbag and shoving it in with a determination that brooked no argument.

After a few more rounds, they were satisfied that Charlie was ready to go.

“You sure you don’t want your laptop,” asked Laura.

“For now, I think I’ll try things the old fashioned way,” said Charlie, “I can take my computer another day if I decide it’ll be easier later.”

“Well, then I’d say you have everything,” said Laura, sighing, “it feels like only yesterday you were starting kindergarten. I’m so proud of you, but part of me wishes you didn’t have to grow up.”

“Same here,” said Danny.

“Ditto again,” agreed Carmilla, “you're too old, I'm too old, everyone is just too old, too fast.”

“Well, how about a childish night to help alleviate that?” suggested Charlie, “pizza and board games? It seems like forever since we did that.”

“Y’know, I think you may be onto something,” said Carmilla, “go find your brother and sister, I’ll order pizza.”

“I think I’ll toss on a Disney movie,” Laura said, “if we’re going to do this, might as well do it right.”

“That sounds great,” said Charlie, “this is going to be a fun night.” Charlie turned to find her siblings. Tomorrow, she was taking a big step forward, but for tonight at least, she could still be a kid.

Chapter Text

Laura was lounging on the couch, enjoying a book, when her train of thought was interrupted by a cushion flying into her lap. She looked up, with an inquisitive smirk, at Carmilla who was leaning over the armrest, smiling at her.

“Yes?”

“We're gonna head out for a run.”

Laura looked past Carmilla to where Danny stood at the doorwall, very obviously itching to get moving. “Sounds good, just you two or are you taking the kids?”

“Hendrix and Mercy are outside already,” said Danny, “and I think Charlie is upstairs studying.”

“Alright, have fun.” Laura stretched and sat up, marking her place in the book. ”I think I might get dinner started while you're out. I found a recipe I want to try”

“Ooh, whatcha making?” asked Carmilla.

“Garlic Stew”

Carmilla made a face while Danny barked with laughter.

“Cupcake—”

“I'm kidding! Give me a little credit, jeez. I want it to be a surprise.”

“Just in case you screw up and have to make something different?” Danny said jovially.

Laura glared at her wife for a moment. “Yes… but you're not supposed to call me out on it. I think it's part of our vows. For richer or poorer; in sickness and in health; letting your wife save face whenever possible; for as long as we all shall live.”

“Sure yeah, something like that.” Danny smirked.

Carmilla smiled and shook her head a little at them. “Ok, we’ll be back in a couple hours. Have fun with your little experiment.” She walked over and kissed Laura on the head before walking back to where Danny was waiting and the two of them headed out the door.

Laura got up and walked into the kitchen, pulling up the recipe she wanted to try on her phone, a tasty looking Chicken Parmesan. Reading over it carefully, she began to pull out ingredients and equipment when she tugged too hard on a frying pan, bringing the rest of the cupboard out with it. Pots and pans spilled out onto the floor with a terrible clatter.

Laura’s face scrunched up in annoyance at the mess. It was a minor inconvenience at worst, but hardly a good omen for her little culinary venture.

“What on earth was that?” Charlie asked, running down the stairs, “are you okay?”

Laura smiled at her daughter. “I’m fine. Nothing hurt but my pride.”

“What are you trying to do?”

“Make us dinner,” said Laura, bending down to pick up the frying pan she’d been after, “I’m trying a new recipe and I guess all the pans wanted to help.”

“Well, no slight to our cookware,” said Charlie, kneeling down to help her mother, “but I think I’d make a much better assistant. What are we making?”

“We are attempting to make Chicken Parmesan,” Laura said, with a grateful smile, “or if that fails, probably a simple chicken alfredo.”

“Is that why you bought enough chicken to feed the entire pack?”

“...maybe.”

“Well, we’ll just have to save it for a barbeque. We are going to nail this recipe without a single complication.”

x-x-x

Ruth wandered up the drive to Carmilla’s house. She was normally loathe to visit while Danny was likely to be there, but she needed advice and the big mutt would probably be helpful, if she didn’t stake her first.

She was approaching the front door when she smelled smoke. Acrid and unpleasant, and definitely coming from the house. The world turned into a blur as she sped through the front door, moving towards the source of the smoke. Her nose led her to the kitchen where she found Laura glaring at a covered pan on the stove while Charlie was up on a chair, trying to silence the smoke alarm as it blared piercingly.

Seeing there was currently no danger to the family, Ruth composed herself, settling her customary smirk onto her face. “Well now, what’s going on here?” she purred. Unfortunately, as neither Hollis had yet seen her, her quip went unnoticed; drowned out by the smoke alarm.

She pouted slightly at the lost opportunity, waste of a good entrance. With an eyeroll, she made her way over to the doorwall, opening the panes one by one to let the fresh air in.

Laura turned at the draft, noticing Ruth for the first time. She tilted her head in inquiry, making Ruth chuckle; silly human had been living amongst dogs for too long. Ruth tapped her nose in explanation, which Laura seemed to accept.

A couple seconds later, Charlie finally got the smoke alarm to turn off. Silence filled the room as the three sighed in relief at the lack of the abhorrent noise.

“I swear, who had the bright idea of installing integrated smoke alarms?” griped Charlie, “sure they’re safer and easier to maintain, but being able to extract the battery and chuck it across the room when it won’t shut up is an important feature.”

“That would be your mama. You can take it up with her,” chuckled Laura, “thank you for opening those up, Ruth. So, what brings you by?”

“I was just coming by to talk to Carmilla; I need some advice,” said Ruth.

“Well, the bad news for you is she’s out for a run,” said Laura.

“However,” chimed in Charlie, “Mom’s with her, so you don’t have to worry about getting along with her.”

“Odd as it sounds, I kind of need to see her as well,” said Ruth, somewhat chagrined.

Laura raised her eyebrow, “Really? Well... okay!” She shrugged good naturedly and turned back to the stove. “You’re welcome to stay for dinner. We’re having Italian… I hope.”

Ruth perked up. “Italian? Sans garlic, I assume.”

“Of course. I’m loading it with basil instead,” said Laura, gesturing to a small sheaf of green leaves on the counter.

“The garlic’s for flinging at Drix when he gets annoying,” joked Charlie, “the cloves leave the funniest little welts.”

“That better be a joke young lady,” warned Laura.

“It is! Of course it is. I don’t throw cloves of garlic at Drix.” Charlie held up her hands defensively. “Anymore…” she added.

Ruth smirked at the girl, “Carmilla and I used to do the same thing to each other when Maman wasn’t looking. Mind you, we used entire bulbs. Even with gloves on, we couldn’t stand holding the stuff long enough to get the individual cloves loose,” Ruth chuckled, “it all ended one winter night in the 1790’s when I hit Maman in the forehead.”

Laura burst out laughing. “Oh wow, I wish I could have seen that.”

“Well, I wish I hadn’t,” Ruth said with a grimace, “Maman broke my arms and tossed me out into the snow for a week. We were at a mansion in the middle of nowhere with nothing else nearby, so I just had to sit out in the cold and wait. Needless to say, that was the last of that little game.”

“Well, I may not be quite that drastic,” said Laura, turning an eye towards Charlie, “but such actions could end in being grounded from using the family cars. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal. Seriously, the last time I did that, I was thirteen,” Charlie assured, her tone serious, “I know better now. I’m afraid to think of what may have happened if I’d gotten a clove in his mouth.”

“You and me both,” Laura agreed.

“Well, since the risk of a pungent death seems to be minimal, you mind if I watch what you're doing?” asked Ruth.

“Still trying to make up for lost time on the Italian food,” Charlie asked with a smile.

“Am I that transparent?” Ruth asked, to which Charlie responded with a nod, “I try recipes myself, but they end up bland without the garlic. You guys seem to have the knack of it.”

“Well, you're welcome to hover, but this is a new recipe. As you can already probably tell, we're having issues with it.” Laura grabbed the pan and took it to the sink to start over. “Though, we've only lost some butter. I think this recipe made a mistake, butter smokes too much—”

“It should really cut back,” chortled Charlie.

“Quiet you,” Laura chuckled, “grab the vegetable oil and we'll add some more cheese to make up for the flavour.”

Charlie tossed a quick salute and ran to the pantry.

“Ruth, you wanna to give us a hand?” asked Laura.

“Sure, why not. What can I do?”

x-x-x

The rest of the family returned to a sweet, savoury aroma wafting across the yard.

“See, I told you we didn't need to come back early,” said Carmilla, shifting back, “she probably just scorched something.”

“Of course, you were right,” admitted Danny, “it's my other wife that occasionally sets the kitchen on fire.”

“Hey, don't say that like I can't cook or something,” Carmilla protested, “those newspapers were asking for it and I always safely put them into a bin before ignition.”

“My sincerest apologies,” said Danny as she wrapped an arm around Carmilla and the two of them shared a chuckle.

Walking into the house, they found Laura and Ruth standing at the stove while Charlie set the table. Laura was gesturing at the pot she was stirring, apparently explaining something to Ruth.

“—and if you wait until the last moment to put the rest of the basil in, the flavour should be nice and strong,” Laura said, Ruth nodding in understanding, before noticing her wives and giving them a smile, “welcome back, how was your run?”

“It was fine… everything okay here? “ Danny asked, eyeing Ruth warily.

“Nice to see you too, Fido,” snarked Ruth, drawing a scowl from Danny.

“Everything is fine,” Laura interjected, giving each of them a warning glance, “dinner will be ready in a few minutes, we're just waiting on the pasta. Ruth, now would probably be a good time.“

“Oh right, yeah. I kinda need to talk to you… both of you,” she said to their surprise.

Carmilla nodded, leading them into the living room. “Alright, what's up, Stripes?”

“Well, I kinda need some advice… about courting someone… who's a werewolf… “ said Ruth, gradually losing her nerve.

“What?!” exclaimed Danny, “where did you meet a— no. No, no, no. Who?”

“Umm… Scout.”

“Sco—?!” Danny started to yell before pausing and looking thoughtful for a moment, “you know what, that's just fine.”

“Wait, really?” asked Ruth, somewhat perplexed.

“Yep. Scout isn't some barely grown pup. She's more than capable of handling herself,“ said Danny, “don't get me wrong, You hurt her and nothing will be able to hide you from me, but odds are she'd deal with you before we needed to. So, have at ‘er.”

“Okay, thanks… I think,” said Ruth warily before turning to Carmilla “so, any advice you can give me?”

“Uh… make sure to walk her every day?” she suggested, earning a light smack on the arm from Danny, “honestly, there's no special advice I can give you about dating a werewolf. When it comes to matters of the heart, they're the same as you or me.” Carmilla paused to gather her thoughts. “All I can really say is, let her in. Before I stopped lashing out to keep people away, Dan’ and I could barely stand each other, but the moment I let my guard down she, and the whole pack really, just naturally came in.” Danny smiled at her, pulling her close.

“Wow… that's so… cheesy,” said Ruth.

“You wanted advice, that's my advice. Take it or leave it.”

Ruth pouted. “Fine, I'll think about it.”

“Good, cause it's good advice,” said Laura from the doorway.

“Were you eavesdropping?” asked Danny.

“Eavesdropping implies I was trying to hide. I was standing here, unnoticed, almost the entire time,” said Laura, “so, I was just being nosy. Anyways, Dinner is ready whenever you are.”

“Was that it, Ruth?” asked Carmilla.

“That's it, and y'know, I think I learned something from this.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah…” replied Ruth, a mischievous smile forming, “I learned that butter really isn't all that good for frying chicken.”

The trio shared a groan as they all hopped up and headed for the kitchen table.

Chapter Text

“What do you mean ‘they have to come out’?”

Sky looked at Dr. Ellis with no small amount of worry. She'd never had anything but a perfect record when it came to the dentist and with a mother who could crank out sweets faster than a keebler elf, that was saying something.

“Nothing to be concerned about,” the woman reassured her, pulling up the x-ray they'd taken earlier on her computer, “it's incredibly common. Your wisdom teeth don't have enough room and so are coming in at an odd angle.”

True to her assessment, the offending teeth were plain as day on the screen. They were nowhere near fully grown but even a layman could see they were not aligned with the rest of the teeth, one was so badly turned it was going to essentially ram her molars.

“If we don't get them out,” she continued, “you are in for a world of hurt.”

Sky frowned at that. She didn't like the idea of having teeth pulled, but she liked the alternative even less.

“Alright so, like, right now?” Sky asked, steeling her nerves.

“No,” the dentist replied with a reassuring smile, “we'll set up an appointment with our oral surgeon in a few weeks. You'll need someone here to drive you home and you'll want to take a couple days off to recover with plenty of soft things ready to eat.”

“Like bread kinda soft?”

“More like soup and ice cream.”

Sky perked up at that, “I think I can suffer through, for the sake of my health.”

“Most people can, funny how that works,” she countered with a chuckle, “talk to the receptionist on your way out and we'll see you back in a few weeks.”

Sky hopped out of the chair and out the door, feeling very positive about the upcoming procedure.

x-x-x

“Sky, would you stop pacing and just sit down?” said Mercy.

“I’m just so nervous,” said Sky, a slight shrillness seeping into her voice, “I mean I’m having surgery tomorrow. I’ve never had surgery before. I mean, yeah, it’s just really fancy teeth pulling, but still they’re gonna knock me out and I won’t know what’s going on and—”

Sky’s rambling cut short as Mercy managed to grab her hand and yank her down onto the couch. Before she was fully aware of what was happening, she found herself wrapped in all of Mercy’s limbs as her girlfriend latched onto her from behind like a limpet, making escape all but impossible.

“Calm down, Love,” Mercy said softly, kissing Sky just below her ear, “it’ll be alright. They do this all the time and you’re getting a guy who specializes in it.”

“I know that. It’s all nicely neat and logical in my head, my stomach is just too busy tying itself into knots to get the message.”

“Well, look at it this way,” offered Mercy, “yours is guaranteed to be a lot easier than mine. Dr. Antos did the procedure, but they had to put me fully under anesthesia, rather than the nice gentle sedation you'll get.”

“Why? Was there some special werewolf thing that made the procedure more serious?”

“You could say that,” chuckled Mercy, “think about it. You’re still partially awake when you’re sedated, albeit unaware. Now imagine that state of mind with someone who can turn into a large, biting wolf.”

“Alright, good point. Same case for Drix too?”

“No,” groused Mercy, “lucky bugger had enough room for them to grow in, even with the freakin’ fangs.”

“Wow yeah, I’m totally jealous.”

“You and me both,” agreed Mercy, “any pearls of wisdom from Haze’ or Charlie?”

“Charlie said it’ll be easy. In, out and a few days to recover,” said Sky, “Hazel, on the other hand, tried to convince me they’d use a hammer and chisel.”

“Seriously?” Mercy was highly unimpressed with her girlfriend’s sister.

“Seriously,” Sky affirmed, “in completely unrelated news, her duvet got mysteriously filled with pinecones, it’s the darnest thing.”

“Y’know, pinecones are like that. They find a habitat they like and then, woosh, instant infestation. Such tricky critters.”

The two girls burst out laughing at the image before settling themselves a little more comfortably on the couch.

“Feeling better?” asked Mercy.

“A bit,” replied Sky, “I mean, I’m still nervous about it, but I think I can handle it. I’m still not looking forward to recovering. Days of a sore face and looking like a chipmunk.”

“So what you’re saying,” started Mercy, a sly smirk growing on her face, “is that we really need to make use of the time we have while you’re mouth is still working at it’s fullest.” Gently lifting Sky’s chin, Mercy drew her closer until their faces were only a finger’s breadth apart.

“Yes, exactly,” said Sky, closing the distance and driving her girlfriend back into the couch cushions.

x-x-x

“Sky? We’re ready for you.”

Sky looked up from her book at the nurse’s voice, giving him a smile and nod. She closed the book and handed it to her mother.  

“Good luck Sweetie,” said Perry.

“Thanks Mom.” Sky stood and made to follow the nurse when a handed entwined itself with hers. She looked warmly at Mercy, who gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

“See you when you wake up.”

“Looking forward to it.”

Mercy let her hand go and she followed the nurse down the hall. The room he led her to seemed like an ordinary dentist’s office, just with a few extra pieces of equipment and a nicer chair. She settled into the chair, already finding the experience a bit more pleasant than a usual dentist visit, while the nurse placed a monitor onto her finger.

“I have one like it at home for watching football.” Sky looked over at a smiling man sitting down beside her. “Beats a recliner anyday.”

“Is that why there’s only the one here?” she asked with a grin.

The man pantomimed a brief panic, making a show of shushing her before smiling again. “I’m Dr. Herdman. I’ll be taking care of you today. While my assistants grab the last items we need, did you have any questions?”

“Just about how long recovery is gonna take.”

“Fair enough. You'll be swollen and in some pain for a few days. We'll prescribe you some painkillers for that, but you'll be off solid food until the pain subsides,” he explained, “but, the teeth haven't taken root and I like to think that I'm pretty damn good, if you'll forgive my vanity, so you should heal up sooner, rather than later.”

“Well, that's good to know,” she said, tension draining somewhat, “and you're forgiven. I'll take ‘damn, I'm good’ over ‘first time I've done this, what's that?’ any day.”

The surgeon chuckled. “I'm glad you feel that way. Now, if you're ready, my colleague, Dr. Neid—” he gestured to a woman who'd joined them, “—will administer the sedative and we'll get started.”

“Now, you're going to feel a small pinch,” she said before injecting a small syringe into the back of Sky's hand.

Wincing slightly, Sky watched with fascination as the drug disappeared into her vein.

“Alright,” said Dr. Herdman, “I'll get you to start counting backwards from one hundred.”

“Ok,” said Sky, laying her head back, “one hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven… ninety-six… ninety-five…

 

“Ninety… four… “

x-x-x

It was barely a half-hour later when the nurse returned to the waiting room and walked up to Mercy and Perry.

“Well, we're all done. The sedation is just wearing off and we'll have her out in a couple minutes.”

“That certainly was quick,” commented Perry, looking mildly impressed.

“This is fairly routine for all of us, so we get it done pretty smoothly,” he said with a shrug, “our record stands at fifteen minutes, but that guy only had three teeth to extract, so it was kinda cheating.”

“No kidding, I want a redo!” joked Mercy.

“Somehow, I think the patient would protest somewhat,” he chuckled before handing them some sheets of paper, “here are some care instructions which you can go over with her once she’s a little more coherent and a prescription for some painkillers for once the freezing wears off. It mostly just boils down to rest and be careful. Right now, just make sure the gauze in her mouth stays there for at least an hour to stem the bleeding.”

“Seems simple enough,” mused Mercy, reading the instructions over Perry’s shoulder while he walked back down the hall.

A minute later, he returned, guiding a somewhat bewildered Sky who seemed lost until her eyes fell on Mercy and she surged forward.

“There’s my puppy!” exclaimed Sky, her words muffled by the gauze. She wrapped Mercy in a hug before reaching up and stroking her head affectionately, “that’s my good wolf puppy.”

“That’s not a puppy, Sky,” said Perry, trying to hide her rising panic, “that’s Mercy, your girlfriend.”

Sky looked at Perry and narrowed her eyes, the effect somewhat lessened by her bulging cheeks, “I know it’s Mercy. She’s my great, wonderful, beautiful, wolf puppy girlfriend.”

The nurse chuckled. “She’ll be like this for a little while until the effects of the sedation wear off. If you have a phone handy to record her, you can get some pretty adorable memories. My favourite was a guy a few years back who decided he was a heroic knight and tried to lift and carry his boyfriend out of here. Luckily, his boyfriend was built like a truck and managed to catch him in a bearhug before he hurt himself.”

“Well, that's good,” said Mercy, trying unsuccessfully to discourage Sky's petting, “I guess your job is a little more exciting than meets the eye.”

“A little I suppose. I really just like being able to keep a watchful eye out,” he replied as he met Mercy's gaze, giving her a sly wink.

Mercy smiled at him, suppressing a laugh. “Yes, I suppose that would be quite satisfying,” she said before extracting herself from Sky's arms, “well, I suppose we'd best get this one home before she decides I need a collar.”

“Nooo,” said Sky, “you don't wear a collar, you run free. You and the pack through the woods. I want to go too.”

“We'll find a way darling,” said Perry, “now come on, let's get you home so you can rest.”

x-x-x

It took several minutes to coax Sky out to the car. Once she'd realized they were leaving, she'd wanted to thank and say goodbye to everyone in the office.

Mercy opted to sit in the back seat with Sky so she could keep an eye on her while Perry drove them home. Following the nurse’s advice, they set Perry's phone recording on the dash. No sooner had they pulled away when Sky sighed sadly.

“They were so nice to me,” she said, plaintively.

“They were?” asked Mercy.

“Yeah, they were nice to me and now I can’t see them.” Mercy’s heart melted at the forlorn expression on Sky’s face.

“We can go visit them sometime, if you like,” offered Perry.

“We can?”

“Yeah.”

“Good, cause they were so nice to me.” Sky seemed to be satisfied with that and they continued in silence as she experimentally prodded the frozen part of her face. She paused, however, mid-poke, seeming to realize something. “No… oh no…”

“What?” asked Mercy.

“I can’t smile,” she wailed, “I can’t smile anymore.”

“Oh baby, you’ll be able to smile again,” reassured Mercy, “you just need to heal.”

Sky didn’t really seem to acknowledge her. “If I can’t smile, how will people know when they make me happy? You make me happy,” she said, looking at Mercy, “I want to smile for you.”

Mercy pulled her close, resting her head on Sky’s shoulder. “You’ll be able to, once the gauze is out.”

“I will?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” Sky said, resting her head on Mercy’s and dreamily staring off into space.

They got about halfway home when Mercy noticed Sky reaching into her mouth. Gently, she reached up and pulled Sky’s arm back down. “Sorry Sky, you have to leave the cotton alone.”

“I don’t like it,” said Sky, pouting.

Mercy had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Sky, pouting with her stuffed cheeks, had never before looked more like a chipmunk than she did right now.

“I can’t close my mouth,” Sky continued. She experimentally opened and closed her lips before making another attempt at removing the gauze.

“I know you don’t like it,” said Mercy, pushing her arms back down, “but it has to stay in there for you to heal.”

“I want to close my mouth,” groused Sky before changing tactics, “I’ll hold it.” She clamped both of her hands over her mouth. Mercy looked slightly agog at this new approach, but left Sky to her devices since she was leaving the gauze alone.

“Does that help?” asked Perry from the front seat. Mercy could tell she was trying very hard not to laugh.

“Mmhmm,” said Sky, through her hands.

Mercy watched her girlfriend for a moment until it became clear her hands were going to remain in place. With a chuckle, she snuggled back into Sky’s side for the remainder of the ride.

x-x-x

Sky had returned to her senses shortly after arriving back home. Satisfied that the bleeding had ebbed, they’d let her remove the gauze before Perry went to go put together a late lunch for all of them. She settled in on the couch and had been watching TV to distract herself as the freezing wore off when Mercy walked in with a tray.

“Here you go!” announced Mercy, “Homemade tomato soup and a chocolate milkshake, courtesy of your wonderful mother.”

“Thanks Merc,” said Sky gratefully before yelling to the other room, “Thank you!

“You’re welcome!” Perry called back.

Sky ate a spoonful, wincing slightly. “Ngg, without the freezing even opening my mouth for soup hurts a bit.”

“I know babe,” commiserated Mercy, “I remember that bit well. Don’t worry, Charlie and Hazel will be back from the pharmacy soon and you can take something for it.

Sky smiled slightly and slurped another spoonful, finding it less painful than putting the spoon in her mouth. “I hope I wasn’t too much trouble on the way home,” she said, taking a sip of her milkshake, “stupid no straws rule, this is gonna take forever to drink.”

“Rules are rules, you don’t want a dry socket,” Mercy chuckled, “and no, you were barely any trouble at all. Well, except for outing the pack.”

“What?!” Sky cried, a look of worry on her face.

“Don’t worry,” Mercy comforted, “only a nurse heard you and I’m fairly certain he isn’t gonna be a problem.”

“Jeez Merc, don’t scare me like that.”

“Ok, I’m sorry. You were just too cute.”

“Wow, I just don’t remember any of it. I hope you at least got some of it on video.”

“Your mom did, we’ll watch it later, if you want.”

“Oh good, I love post-wisdom teeth videos.

“Even of yourself?”

“Seems hippocritical not to.”

“I hope you can remember that while we watch it,” interrupted Hazel, coming into the room with a small bag, Charlie close behind “so, how’s our were-groundhog holding up?”

“You know, I’ve got plenty of pinecones left.”

“Is that any way to talk to your loving sister who just made the long arduous journey to get you some painkillers?” said Hazel dramatically.

“Oh come off of it,” said Charlie, mussing Hazel’s hair, “how you feeling kiddo?”

“It hurts but otherwise I’m fine. Feeling a bit sleepy though.”

Hazel sat down beside her sister, “that’s to be expected, your body wants to rest and heal. I think I slept most of the day away after mine. You feeling up to finishing your lunch, first?”

“Yeah, I’ll finish here and then go take a nap.”

“Pity, that milkshake looks really good,” Hazel joked, gently headbutting Sky affectionately. Sky smiled and continued to eat her lunch.

After she’d finished, Hazel’s shooed her off, saying she’d clean up. Stopping at the bathroom to take one of the pills, she entered her bedroom to find Mercy waiting on the edge of the bed. Without a word spoken, they laid down, Mercy holding Sky close.

“Thanks for coming with me today,” said Sky quietly, “it really helped.”

“Of course,” said Mercy, “I’m here whenever you need me.”

“I love you.”

“Love you too, now rest.”

Mercy pulled the covers a little tighter around them and the two drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” asked Laf, looking up from their eldritch microbiology notes to where Danny was sitting across from them.

“Shhh!” she hushed them harshly before closing her eyes and listening intently.

Lafontaine strained to hear something, but could only hear the normal sounds of an afternoon at the library. The scratching of pens and pencils, the rustling of pages turning, the soft growls from the lit stacks whenever a first year got too close without offering treats.

Danny, on the other hand, was focusing on something. Her brow furrowed and the corners of her mouth were turned down in a frown that intensified with every passing moment. Before long, she’d grabbed her bag and began throwing books and notes into it. Lafontaine boggled at Danny but quickly packed their things up as well before following her out of the building as she marched off without a backward glance.

Moving very quickly across campus, they quickly found themselves at the steps of the Summers' lodge. On the balcony above, Elsie was enthusiastically blowing on a small pipe, her eyes squeezed tight as she blew as hard as she could. However, much to Laf’s confusion, it seemed to be producing no sound, at least no sound that they could hear. Danny, on the other hand, had covered her ears as she’d gotten close to the lodge, wincing at whatever noise Laf wasn’t hearing.

“Elsie!” Danny yelled over the silent din, quickly grabbing the blonde’s attention, who immediately put the pipe down. Danny’s posture relaxed in relief, “hey, what’s up? why are you sounding the alarm?

“Mel and I found a dead dryad while we were on patrol,” she replied, gesturing to the woods, “it looked like maybe a warlock or something attacked it, so we came back to rally the lodge. Whatever members of the pack were here went off to try and track down the culprit while Mel took an armed group of hunters to the dryads’ grove to protect the rest of the convent. I stayed behind to try and call the rest of the pack back in and a couple of girls are inside trying to reach the remaining hunters by phone.”

“Nicely done, Els,” said Danny, “how many so far?”

“About half the remaining pack and a handful of hunters.”

“Okay, keep on calling for about ten more minutes,” Danny instructed, “I don’t want leave the rest of the girls too long without support.”

“Got it boss!,” said Elsie, returning the pipe to her lips.

Danny cringed before leading Laf into the lodge itself, shutting the door behind her resolutely. “Man, Elsie has the pipes to play that thing, but she has no clue how badly out of tune it is.”

“What is it?” asked Laf, “I couldn’t hear it. Is it some sort of dog whistle?”

Danny glared at them slightly. “It’s not a dog whistle. Well, we don’t like to think of it as one anyways. It plays three tones in the same register, but it’s a lot more powerful. It lets human Summers, like Elsie, call the pack in when we’re needed quickly.”

“That's pretty clever, could I have a look at that thing once this is all wrapped up?” asked Laf, their eyes sparkling with curiosity.

“Umm…” Danny hesitated, “we'll talk about it, later… maybe. For now I've got to talk to the others and coordina—”

The front door flew open revealing a pissed off Carmilla tailed closely by a very concerned Laura.

“Hey Babe, great to see ya, how was studying, be right with you, just gotta murder that blonde pied piper wannabe upstairs,” Carmilla rapid fired as she tried to push her way past Danny to the stairs.

Danny, preferring her sisters uneviscerated, quickly wrapped Carmilla up into a hug and cuddled her close. Thankfully, Laura followed her lead and wrapped Carm up from behind, leaving her no escape route.

“I should've figured you'd be able to hear it too,” consoled Danny, stroking the vampire's hair, “it's just for another few minutes to call the pack, then we'll head out with whoever's shown.”

Carmilla pulled back slightly to look Danny in the eyes. “Head out? What's going on that you need the entire pack?”

“Warlock in the woods. We're going to track it down before it can do too much damage.”

“Warlock, huh? When do we leave?”

“The pack is heading out in a few minutes. You and Laura are welcome to remain here and help our hunters prepare for wounded,” Danny said. She tried to sound firm but it came out more as a plea.

“Sorry Xena,” Carmilla said, kissing her jaw, “no slight to your pack mates, but there is no way I'm letting you go into something like that without me at your side.”

Danny opened her mouth to protest when Laura's hand reaching around to rub her shoulder interrupted her.

“You'd be better off just agreeing to let her along now,” Laura said, meeting Danny's gaze, “you know the two of us are gonna try and sneak along after if she's not with you.”

Danny looked back and forth between the two sets of eyes: one of steel resolve, the other of a begging puppy. It was more than her own stubbornness could withstand. “Fine… but please be careful.”

“Only for you two,” purred Carmilla, nuzzling back into Danny's neck while Laura did likewise into hers.

“Well, isn't this just a sappy scene?” jeered Elsie, tossing the pipe in one hand as she came down the stairs, “do you want a few more hours or can we get this show on the road?”

Carmilla glared at the smirking woman on the steps. For a moment, she considered setting her on fire before Danny leaned down and whispered in her ear, “if you play nice, I'll do that thing you like once we're alone tonight.”

“The thing with the chocolate or the thing with the rope?”

Danny caught Carmilla’s ear in her teeth, biting lightly before letting go and softly husking, “yes,” before stepping away and sauntering into the next room to talk with the pack.

Carmilla stood there, transfixed by her lover's retreating form until her other love spoke into her other ear.

“Well, I don't know about you, but I'm motivated,” chuckled Laura, “you should catch up so you know the plan.”

Laura gave Carmilla's butt a soft smack, sending a shiver through her body. Carmilla tried to glare at Laura, though her gaze lacked any sort of venom. She rolled her eyes to save face before quickly heading in the same direction as Danny.

Laura smiled and shook her head before turning to where Elsie was showing Laf the instrument, the latter fascinated with the intricate metalwork.

“So,” Laura said, drawing their attention, “what can I do to help here?

“Once the pack heads out,” said Elsie, leaving Laf to their investigations, “you can help us pull some of the cots we keep down in the athletic storage up into the front entrance here so we can deal with any wounded straight in the door. I don't suppose either of you knows any field medicine? “

“I have most of a masters in xenobiology,” said Lafontaine, “I don't have much hands on experience, but I'd be happy to lend a hand.”

“What about that girlfriend of yours? Isn't she always patching you up like a pair of old jeans?”

“I'll text Perr, but I can't make any guarantees,” Laf said, pulling out their phone, “cuts and burns from lab accidents are one thing, combat wounds may freak her out.”

“Do you really expect it to be that bad?” asked Laura, notably concerned.

Elsie shook her head. “Probably not, but better safe than sorry. We haven't lost a Summer to these woods in three generations, we're not about to start now.”

“Especially not to some poaching warlock,” said Danny, leading her pack members and Carmilla into the front chamber.

Laura rushed over, sliding to a stop in front of her girlfriends and dragging them both into a hug. “Watch out for each other. I love you both so much.”

“I'll keep an eye on her and rest of the pups as well, Cupcake” said Carmilla.

“Same here. Love you too.” Danny gave Laura a squeeze before breaking the hug and leading the way out the door.

Shifting as they went out the door, the pack gathered together on the lawn until Danny started to howl, which was quickly joined by the rest of the wolves. Shortly after, a replying howl echoed out of the northwest, causing Elsie to frown.

“The grove is roughly in that direction, that could mean it's going to attack again. You guys should hurry,” said Elsie, receiving a nod from Danny before she bolted into the woods, leading the wolves and panther forth.

x-x-x

“Well, I must say, contrary to what they say about being raised by packs of wolves, this place is almost immaculate,” said Perry.

“Well, that honestly had more to do with Mel being a neat freak than anything to do with the pack,” admitted Elsie, tugging a clean sheet tight over a cot. The set-up of the front room into an impromptu medic tent had gone smoothly. The remaining hunters, like Elsie, were spending their time putting the finishing touches in place.

“Either way,” observed Perry, “it makes for a safer environment if we do have to deal with any injuries here. Though hopefully, we're worrying over nothing.”

“That'd be nice,” said Laf from their perch on the stairs, where they were studying the pipe, “but given how they rushed off, I think this is gonna be intense.”

Perry coughed emphatically, nodding over to Laura who was obsessively smoothing down the sheets on another cot, worrying her lip in her teeth.

“But I'm sure they'll have no issues and they'll be home safe and sound,” they said, backpedaling quickly.

“Guys, I'm fine,” Laura reassured, “yes, I'm worried but I also trust both of them to be there for each other.”

“I can certainly believe that,” said Elsie, “when it comes to you or each other, those two are terrifying. I'd sooner dropkick a bear cub in front of its mother than test either of them.”

Lafontaine chuckled. “That is just dead on, I remember one ti—”

The front doors swung open just then to reveal Mel, face smeared with ash, a bow in one hand and a limping sister supported on her opposite shoulder.

“Look alive people!” she called, “we didn’t lose anyone, but we’ve got some wounded.” She helped her sister over to a chair to sit while the rest of the hunters filed in behind her, some hurt but most just exhausted and filthy. Most of the wolves, already shifted back into their human state, walked in with them.

Behind them were the few that remained shifted. Most notably, a red furred wolf bearing a wounded pack member across her back and a panther, limping with a raised foreleg, just behind her.

Quickly, the waiting summers sprang to get everyone comfortable and treated, Perry running to help the scraped up hunters while Laf moved to help with the injured wolf that Danny carefully slid onto a cot, an angry blistered burn marring her side. Laura, less medically inclined, made herself useful fetching clean supplies for everyone.

As the room quieted down, the uninjured and already treated sisters retiring to clean up and rest, Laura made her way over to the corner Carmilla had moved into to shift and heal.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Carmilla replied, “just got careless and got grazed.”

“Careless nothing,” said Mel, striding over, “vampire here saved our hides. We’re the ones that got careless. There were two warlocks, not one. The first one was as good as dealt with when Lawrence and company showed up at the grove, then the second attacked from behind. Got Annie over there really good and would have blasted Lawrence as well if pussycat here hadn’t dropped on it from above, getting scorched in the process.”

“I was protecting Danny, that’s it,” protested Carmilla.

“Result was the same, that’s all I care about,” Mel conjectured, “hell, I can respect that more. I find ‘selfless heroes’ dubious at best. Either way, good work Karnstein.” Mel tossed Carmilla a casual salute before wandering away to help elsewhere.

“Wow,” said Danny, walking up, “almost no one manages to impress Mel, fewer still without dying in the process. You should feel honored.”

“I just feel sore, and annoyed,” she complained, “I got a mouthful of warlock throat when I killed it. Demon blood is disgusting and I can still taste it.”

“Well this should help both,” said Danny, handing Carmilla a cup full of blood, “it’s just from the stash you keep here, but it’ll help you fully heal and we can replenish it later.”

Carmilla took a long drink and immediately began to feel better. “Thanks Danny, that helps a lot.”

“Well, I’m glad. I’d hate for you not to feel up to your reward for getting along tonight,” Danny whispered into her ear, causing her to go rigid and blush a little.

“Plus, you did kinda save Danny’s life,” husked Laura into her other ear, “I’d say that deserves a… bonus.” At that, Carmilla’s train of thought short circuited completely and a soft squeak was her only response.

“Well, I think that wraps up everything Perry and I can do here, should just be a matter of time and rest for everyone now,“ said Laf, wiping off their hands as they walked up, “you guys wanna come with us to grab a bite.”

“Nothankswegottagetbacktotheroomokaybye!” said Carmilla, jumping up and dragging her girlfriends towards the door.

“Uh, sorry Laf,” chuckled Danny, “we’ll have to take a raincheck. I’ll talk to you about studying again later.”

Laf smirked at the retreating group. “Okay, and hey, can I study that whistle of yours some more? I think I might be able to improve it.”

“Uh, sure. Yeah, go ahead, we have a spare, just—” Danny got out before she was dragged out the door.

“Awesome!”

“She didn’t realize that was a bad idea, did she?” asked Perry.

“Nope.”

“You’re going to make her regret that aren’t you.”

They grinned. “Probably”

x-x-x

Many hours later, Carmilla, Danny and Laura lay cuddled together in a sweaty, blissful haze.

“So, does that about cover it?” asked Danny, somewhat out of breath.

Carmilla’s only response was some vague euphoric babbling.

Laura giggled, “I think that means yes.”

Danny reached over and pulled them both as close to her as possible. “Good,” she said sleepily.

Gradually, the three of them began to drift off. They were all just about out when Danny sat up like she was stung, turning to stare at the dorm room door. Carmilla, likewise, was staring at the door like it had grown a head, leaving a confused Laura to stare at them in groggy confusion.

“What? What is it? Did you hear something?”

Chapter Text

“Did you hear that?”

Charlie looked up from her sandwich at her mother who seemed to be concentrating on something. Remaining silent, she focused on the sounds around her. The house was filled with noise: the hum of the appliances, the rustling of the breeze through the trees outside, the rumble of the lawnmower engine, the occasional soft yowl and thump as Drix amused himself hunting killdeer; but aside from that, Charlie couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary.

“Sorry Mom,” she said, “I can't hear anything.”

Danny shrugged. “It's gone now. Maybe I'm just hearing things. “

“I hope not,” said Charlie mirthfully, “I'd really hoped we'd get at least another couple of decades out of you before you went nuts.”

Danny stared at her daughter incredulously. “Your concern is so touching,” she deadpanned.

“I'm nice like that.”

“I can tell.”

“So, what did you hear?”

“I dunno, it was high pitched, but I couldn’t hear it long enough to really get a feel for what it—” Danny’s head whipped around, “there it is again.”

Charlie gazed past her mother into the living room where she was looking. There wasn’t much to see however, just her Mama lounged on the couch reading a book, not paying them any interest.

“There’s nothing there Mom,” said Charlie.

“Yeah, it’s weird,” agreed Danny, “hey Carm?”

“Mmmm?” mumbled Carmilla, looking up.

“Did you hear anything just now?” asked Danny.

“Not that I noticed, though I’ve been pretty zoned out.”

“I can tell, have you moved once since this morning?”

Carmilla glanced at the clock on the wall and put her book down. “No, I haven’t. I suppose I should get up and have a drink. You know if Drix has had lunch.”

“I dunno, maybe,” chuckled Danny, “depends on how stupid the killdeer have been today.”

Carmilla made a face as she got up. “Ew, don’t make me sick Dan’. I’ll go talk to him,” she grumbled as she walked out the door into the yard.

“Well, if Mama didn’t hear it,” said Charlie, “maybe it was just your imagination.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

x-x-x

“Hello!” called Perry, knocking on the front door as she came in, Lafontaine bouncing along behind her.

“Back here, Perry,” came Laura’s voice, “we’re on the deck.”

It was a warm spring day which found the trio enjoying the sunshine in their backyard. Laura and Danny were cuddled up together on a lounger whilst Carmilla sprawled out as a panther on the lawn, sunning her belly.

“So, how are you all?” Perry asked cheerfully, grabbing a deck chair to sit down in.

“Not bad at all,” said Laura, making a show of snuggling into her wife before looking back at Perry, “the girls still over at your place?”

“Yes, they were all studying atop a mound of pillows in the living room when we left.”

“It looked really comfy,” added Lafontaine, “I'm gonna have to try that while doing research some time.”

“Just make sure you don't set them on fire,” teased Danny.

“I'll just use fireproof pillows,” said Laf sarcastically before looking thoughtful, ”actually, fireproof pillows could be useful, remind me to look into that later.”

“Sure, sweetie,” assured Perry, before turning back to Danny and Laura, “so what's Hendrix up to? I was surprised he didn't come over.”

“Over at Aaron's,” said Danny, “though he should be back—” Her head snapped around towards the yard, where it sounded like that elusive whistle had come from. She looked around, but there was nothing there but Carmilla, who was still zoned out, paws absently kneading the air.

“You okay?” asked Laura.

“Yeah, just that pesky whistle again,” Danny said suspiciously, “it's really annoying. It never plays long enough to tell exactly where it's coming from. I'm just about ready to toss someone into the lake.”

“Well, if someone's doing it on purpose, by all means. Just use some restraint if it turns out to be some random dog owner.”

“Well yeah, I'm not completely—” her head whipped back in the direction of the house, another shrill having rang out, ”—going out of my mind!”

Perry looked positively distressed while Laf seemed torn between intrigue and amusement.

“What's all the fuss about up here?” asked Carmilla, groggily walking up onto the deck.

“More of that noise,” explained Laura as Danny carefully examined the house, looking for any possible source.

“Mmm,” grunted Carmilla before squeezing herself into the lounger on Danny's other side and falling back to sleep.

“Yes, you seem so worried about my problem,” Danny said down to her before wrapping an arm around the vampire.

“Hey, I'm home!” called Drix from the house, “anyone want lunch? There's some chicken in the fridge and I'm making sandwiches.”

“That sounds lovely,” said Perry, “I'll come help you.”

“Me too,” offered Danny, “I'm feeling a little antsy, doing something with my hands will help.” She got up, whines of protest coming from her wives at the disturbance.

“Fine,” grumbled Carmilla, reaching over to pull Laura close, “Laura's snugglier anyways”

x-x-x

“Hey Mom?” Drix flopped down onto the sofa next to Danny later that evening

“Yeah Drix?”

“I think I may know what's going on with that noise.”

“Please say it's something we can do about. “

“It is, if I'm right,” Drix explained, “I was home in time to hear those whistles earlier. I didn't see where the first came from, but it grabbed my attention so I was watching when Laf pressed something in their pocket right when the second one sounded.”

“Okay, but Laf hasn't been around for most of them.”

“My thought too, so I looked around the yard where you heard the first one and found this.” Drix produced a small plastic bulb and tube from his pocket which he proceeded to squeeze, producing a short, incredibly high whistle.

“That's it!” Danny exclaimed.

“I'd guess this is Laf's handiwork. Anyone could easily use one of these with the touch of a finger… or a paw.”

“Carmilla!” Danny gasped, “that little brat. Well, we've found them out so now we can get them to stop.”

“Well… we could,” Drix said, a mischievous smile growing on his face, “the big question is how much fun we want to have doing so.”

“I don't follow.”

“Well, we could just ask them to stop.” Drix started counting on his fingers. “We could try and get them back… or we could outsource the problem to Charlie and Aaron.”

“Hmmm…” Danny deliberated for a moment, “y'know, I kinda like option three.”

“Good, me too” said Charlie, popping out from around a corner, “no one messes with my mother but me.”

“How noble of you,” said Danny.

“Like I said, I'm a nice person,” said Charlie, “so, I have an idea of how to get the both of them—”

“Just Laf,” interrupted Danny, “I want to handle Carmilla with a more… personal touch.”

“Works for me,” agreed Charlie, “so first we'll need to see if Hazel can reproduce a few of these little beauties for us…”

x-x-x

“Danny, this chicken is delicious.”

“Thanks Gus,” said Danny, “it's an old family recipe.”

“What do you mean ‘old family recipe’?” interrupted Sue, “we got that recipe from a school fundraiser cookbook when you were eight.”

“Well, I never said which family, now did I?”

Gus laughed. “She's not wrong.”

Sue just rolled her eyes.

“Danny, this chicken is to die for,” said Laf, walking up, “mind if I have another piece?”

“No—,” Danny coughed, stifling a smirk, “sorry. No, go ahead.”

Laf looked suspiciously at Danny, before shrugging and taking a piece of chicken, wandering back to the party.

“I take it from your smirks they have yet to figure it out,” Gus asked.

“Yup,” said Danny, shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

“I wish I could hear it, is there a squeaker in each shoe?”

“Yup.”

They looked out across the yard, watching as nearly every pack member at the barbeque was watching Lafontaine as covertly as possible, many biting their lips and holding back tears as they struggled to suppress their laughter.

“Hey Laf!” called Aaron from where a game of pick-up soccer had started on the lawn, “we need another for even teams. We need someone to shadow Mom or we're going to get creamed.”

“I don't know how much use I'm gonna be against her,” admitted Laf, “but I'm always up for a game.” They set their plate down and jogged down to the grass.

“How long you figure til someone starts laughing?” wondered Bev as they all gathered at the railing.

“Ten minutes, maybe?” guessed Danny.

“Ten?” scoffed Joe, “twenty bucks says someone buckles within five minutes.”

“You're on.” Danny glanced at her grandfather with a challenging smile.

For a couple of minutes, everyone watched the game with rapt interest and with every footstep Laf took, the number of snorts and snickers grew. Even the few humans present started to chuckle in the mirthful atmosphere.

Less than a minute later, Zach broke first and burst into joyful laughter, much to the delight of everyone around him.

“Told ya,” said Joe, “everyone's having enough trouble with their own amusement, but Zach has to deal with everyone's; joy of being an empath.”

“Damn,” said Danny, goodnaturedly, handing a twenty from her pocket to her grandfather.

Zach's laughter proved to be highly contagious. Soon, everyone was roaring with laughter. Even on the field, several players had collapsed into giggles, bringing the game to a grinding halt.

Laf could only stand dumbfounded at the mood that had taken everybody. They looked around the yard, trying to figure out what was so funny. It wasn't until they spotted Charlie and Aaron standing together, watching them with matching grins, that they started to realize what, or rather who, the subject of the joke might be.They jogged over to the pair, a fresh wave of laughter rising from the surrounding crowd.

“OK you two,” they said, fixing them with a stern look, “what did you do?”

The pair glanced at one another before Charlie stuck out her hand. “Your shoe, if you please.”

They looked confused, but slipped their left shoe off and handed it over without comment. With a bit of work, she popped off a false cap on the heel, removed something and handed it to Lafontaine. “Look familiar?” she asked smugly.

Laf took the familiar looking bulb from Charlie, realization slowly dawning on their face. “Lemme guess, one in the other shoe as well?”

“You know it.”

“Well, I have to hand it to you guys, this was genius,” Laf conceded with a grin, “I bow to the masters.”

Laf gave them a nod before turning around towards everyone else and bowing down with a dramatic flourish, drawing joyful cheers and applause from everyone gathered. Straightening back up, they caught Danny's eyes and tossed her a friendly salute.

Danny returned the salute before walking over to where Laura and Carmilla were sitting and gesturing towards the woods. “Well, that was fun. Would either of you like to go for a walk while we still have some sun?”

The two of them nodded and got up. Danny wrapped an arm around each and they headed out into the trees, towards the lake.

x-x-x

“Y'know, we should really put some furniture out here,” suggested Carmilla, “I mean we find ourselves by the lake often enough, it'd be nice to have a place to sit.”

“Hmm, you're right,” agreed Danny, “I'll talk to dad about finding a picnic table or something else big enough to leave without worrying about weather or theft.”

“Good idea, it'd be nice to come out here for picnics,” said Laura before changing the topic, “so, you think Laf will try to get you back or are we done with this particular exchange?”

Danny chuckled. “I think Laf is probably done. I, however, have one more loose end to tie up.”

“And what would that be?” asked Laura, already knowing where this was going.

“Well, my dear Laura,” said Danny, falling into her lecturer voice, “while I've dealt with Laf, there is still the matter of their accomplice.”

“Accomplice?” asked Laura with false naiveté.

“Oh would you two stop it?” Carmilla said with a smile, “I know that you've had me dead to rights since I misplaced my squeaker.”

Danny and Laura both have Carmilla a deadpan look before turning to each other.

“Well, that was disappointing,” said Laura.

“I know, spoiled all our fun.”

“She did confess though.”

“True, I guess that was the point.”

“I suppose we should let her explain herself.”

“Seems only fair.”

The two turned back to her, still expressionless.

“Okay firstly, stop that, it's creepy,” said Carmilla, leaning back a little from her wives, “secondly, I'm not even sorry, it was pretty fun. Admittedly, if you'd come to me first, I probably would have apologized, but it's pretty hard to feel remorseful after enjoying an evening of Franken-squeak.”

“Well,” said Danny, “that seals it. I guess we have no choice.”

“Yep, too bad,” agreed Laura.

“Wait,” said Carmilla, “no choice to do— oh no. No. No. Wait. Nononono. Nooooo!”

x-x-x

“So where'd you guys get these,” Laf asked Charlie and Aaron. They were gathered around the deck table, as Laf examined the false caps, ”this isn't one of the ones I made, this is more compact. Looks more durable as well”

“That'd be Hazel's handywork,” Aaron supplied, “don't be too hard on her for helping us.”

“Hard on her? She not only mimicked my design, but improved it. I'm totally baking her a pie for this!”

“Isn't eating that much carbon carcinogenic?” teased Charlie.

“Please,” they scoffed, “you think I could be married to a master like Perry as long as I have and not pick up a few tricks? I make a mean pie.”

“That you do,” agreed Perry, walking up behind and kissing them on top of their head, “that mango pie experiment you tried I think was particularly successful. Why I…” Perry's voice trailed off as her attention was drawn towards the yard. Her corners of her mouth rose into an amused smile.

The other three, noticing her distraction, turned to see what she was looking at and quickly grew smiles of their own. Carmilla, Danny and Laura came wandering out from the tree line, arm in arm and absolutely soaking wet.

“You guys fall in?” called Laf.

“They threw me in,” Carmilla groused.

“Laura said I could,” Danny contended.

“It's true,” Laura admitted, “I did.”

“Wow, I guess I got off easy,” said Laf, “so that explains her, what about you two?”

“Well, then I pushed Danny in,” Laura explained.

“Why?” asked Perry

“Seemed like it'd be funny. It was.”

“And then they dragged you in?” asked Laf.

“Nope!” chirped Laura, “by then, Carm was back on her feet, so I jumped into her arms and sent us both in.”

“My parents, everyone,” Charlie said through chuckles.

“It's pretty warm out,” said Perry, “but you've been in sopping wet clothes for a while, you should all probably hop into a hot shower to warm up.”

“Ooh,” said Danny, “that sounds nice.”

“Lemme grab you some towels so you can get upstairs without dripping everywhere,” offered Charlie, getting up and wandering inside.

“So,” said Perry, “does that mean you're all done with this?”

“Yeah,” said Laf, “it's certainly played out as a prank, though I'll probably keep tinkering, maybe with Hazel’s help. See if we can’t find some practical use for them.”

“Smart idea,” said Danny, “keep me in the loop if you come up with something.”

Laf nodded as Charlie emerged with some bath sheets for her mothers, who quickly bundled themselves.

“I started the shower while I was up there, so it should be nice and warm,” said Charlie.

“Thanks sweetie,” said Laura, leading the way to the door.

“Oh and if you need anything else,” said Charlie, eyes sparkling with mischief, “just whistle.”

Everyone groaned as the trio disappeared into the house to warm up.

 

Chapter Text

Rain poured down onto Champion City, making the dark seem to close in even more. The criminal element loved nights like this. On a clear evening, the shadowed streets were dangerous enough, but on a night like tonight, they grew truly bold. On a night like tonight, the weak would fall prey to the strong. On a night like tonight, the city would need the protection of… The Sky Watcher.

During the day, no one would guess that humble yet talented dancer, Kelly Kristie, had any concerns beyond rehearsing for her next show, but once the sun went down, she would don her dark-red suit and mask and venture out as the defender of the weak and protector of the innocent.

But, she did not work alone. Ever at her side, joining her in her vigilance was Small Mercy, the Watcher’s ever faithful sidekick.

x-x-x

“Wait, sidekick?!” exclaimed Mercy.

“Well… yeah,” said Sky, from her perch on the deck railing, “every hero needs a sidekick.”

“I don’t want to be a sidekick,” whined Mercy, “I wanna be a hero too.”

“Ugh, fine.”

x-x-x

But, she did not work alone. Ever at her side, joining her in her vigilance was Small Mercy, the Watcher’s ever faithful partner in justice.

“Better?”

“Much better.”

They began this night like any other, perched high above the city streets; watching, listening, for any sign of trouble amongst the citizens below. Some nights would pass quietly, without so much as a whisper from the city's underbelly. However, tonight was not such a night.

The wailing klaxon of an alarm echoed distantly through the air. The heroes shared a nod before Mercy leapt in the air and shrank to the size of a mouse, landing on Sky's shoulder. Confident her partner was secure, she pushed off and flew up into the air.

Skyscrapers blurred past as they zeroed in on the noise. Descending quickly, they found themselves at the smashed front door of the Gaspillage D'argent ; a high end jeweller that served the city's rich and powerful.

Landing gingerly so as not to dislodge her passenger, Sky set down in front of the shop and stepped forward into the entry. Broken glass crunched under her booted feet, drawing the attention of the shadowed figures within. Interrupted in their activities, they stood and faced the newcomers. Meeting the eyes of the heroes, they raised their chins defiantly before one finally spoke.

“Mercy, why are you clutched onto Sky’s shoulder?”

x-x-x

Charlie and Aaron gazed curiously at the younger kids, their card game on the coffee table forgotten for the moment.

“We’re playing superheroes,” said Mercy, “I’m shrunk and Sky is giving me a ride.”

Charlie smiled at her sister. “Superheroes, huh? So you can shrink, what else can you do?”

“I have a super loud voice,” replied Mercy.

Charlie chuckled softly, “of course you do.”

“Be nice,” whispered Aaron, swatting Charlie softly before returning his attention to the girls, “how about you Sky? What cool stuff can you do?”

“I can fly and I’m super quick, like flips and dodging everything,” said Sky proudly.

“You mean agility?” suggested Aaron.

“Yeah!”

“So, what are you great heroes doing now?” asked Charlie.

“Investigating a jewellery store robbery,” said Mercy, “we’re about to face the jewel thieves.”

“Oh are you now?” said Aaron, a grin crossing his face as he shared a look with Charlie.

“I don’t suppose you guys have any villains yet?” asked Charlie.

Mercy lit up with a smile, “Well…”

x-x-x

Meeting the eyes of the heroes, they raised their chins defiantly before one finally spoke.

“I thought you said we’d have time before any do-gooders showed up,” said one.

“We would have if you’d been a little faster cracking open the vault,” said the other, “but no matter, we’ve got what we came for.”

“Who are you?” demanded Mercy, leaping down and returning to her normal size.

“Prepare for trouble!”

“Aaron.”

“C’mon, please?”

“No.”

“Fine, you’re no fun.”

“I must say,” said the first, “I'm somewhat disappointed that our reputation doesn't precede us, but no matter, the entire world will know who we are before long.” She took a large crystal from her partner, inspecting it briefly before depositing it into the satchel on her hip. “However, for now, allow us to introduce ourselves. I am Doctor Ember, this is my associate, Tundra, and you… are in our way out of here.”

“Well, we’re sorry to inconvenience you,” rebutted Sky, “I’m afraid that robbery is a crime, so I’ll have to ask you to put those items down and come with us.”

“Us? Go with you?” scoffed Tundra, “you must think we’re idiots if you think we’re going to give up now. We have plans for these little baubles, so we really must be going.”

“And you think we’re just going to let you leave?” asked Sky.

“No, but it doesn’t really matter,” said Ember nonchalantly, “Tundra, if you’d be so kind.”

“My pleasure, Doc.”

The temperature of the room began to noticeably drop as a thick rime of frost began to extend from Tundra’s feet across the floor. The heroes took a cautious step back, not sure what to expect next as Ember produced a contraption from a pouch on her belt, which quickly began to glow in her gloved hand.

“Well, it’s been fun, but we must be going,” needled Ember as she dropped the device to the frozen floor.

The device hit the floor and began to roll, melting the frost with an aggressive hiss. The room rapidly filled with a thick mist, obscuring the thieves from the heroes’ vision. Worried about losing their quarry, Mercy yelled a short sonic blast into the fog before surging forward in hopes of catching the crooks before they made good their escape.

“Mercy!” cried Sky, trying to caution her partner.

Mercy, however, ignored her and dashed to where the pair had been standing to find nothing left. Within seconds, the fog began to settle leaving an empty store and a confused pair of heroes,

x-x-x

“Well, whatever made this thing tick?” called Mercy, her voice faint from inside Ember’s gadget, “it’s unrecognizable now. Everything in here’s been reduced to slag.”

“Nothing we can use to trace them?”

“I doubt it,” said Mercy as she grew to normal size before picking up the device, “unless there’s something unique about the metal they used, this is a dead end.”

“So, what do you think Detective?” The Watcher asked the scene investigator.

“I think you let a couple of perps get away.”

“Perps? Really Drix?”

“Quiet Aaron. You’ve escaped. Escaped criminals don’t sit around making fun of the police investigating them.”

“You say that like we just let them walk,” protested Sky, “we got beaten, it happens.”

The detective held her gaze before shrugging, “heh, I suppose even you supers can’t win ‘em all.”

“Exactly,” said Mercy, “and now, we’d appreciate any assistance you can give us in tracking them down so we can return the favour.”

“Well, on the surface, it appears to be just your run of the mill jewel heist. Nothing particularly notable about the jewellery taken, aside from it all being ridiculously expensive. However, I took a closer look at the inventory, given we had the bad magic act involved.”

“Hey!”

“Quiet in the peanut gallery.”

“There were several crystal lens pieces taken as well. They’re worth a pittance compared to the gems and precious metals, but still incredibly unique. According to the owner, they were being made for a local astrophysics lab for some experiment. Incredibly pure and meticulously polished.”

“Lenses?” asked Sky, “what for?”

“Not a clue.”

“Then I guess our next move is to talk to the scientists,” suggested Mercy.

“Sounds good,” agreed the detective, “the lab is just up at the university, in the observatory.”

“Thanks Detective,” said Sky, “let us know if the CSI’s find anything.”

“Will do. Good luck.”

x-x-x

After arriving at the university the next morning, it took minimal investigation to locate the lab in question, just one floor beneath the observatory dome. Sky Watcher and Small Mercy walked into a brightly lit room crammed with an assorted mish-mosh of computers and equipment, but no people to be seen.

“Hello?” called Sky, “is there anyone here?”

“Hallo!” came a voice from somewhere towards the back of the lab, “I vill be vith you in just ein minuten.”

What followed was a series of bangs and clunks that the two heroes would have found quite alarming had the whoops and cackles that accompanied the noise not been even more disturbing. Shortly, however, the noise abated and a woman with an ash streaked lab coat and scorched safety goggles made their way towards them with a bright, excited smile.

“Mein gott, I love zis job,” she said, “zo, how can I help you? Mein name is Doktor Hasel von Wissenschaft, head researcher in collection of zolar radiation.”

x-x-x

“Ok, hold on,” interrupted Charlie, “Hazel, what is up with that voice?”

“What?” Hazel protested, “I'm being a German scientist, it's a great cliché.”

“I think it's fun,” said Mercy.

“Me too,” agreed Sky.

“Well, I'm glad someone appreciates my efforts,” Hazel said, satisfied.

“I'm mostly just curious as to where you found a pair of safety goggles,” said Drix.

“Oh, Laf just keeps a spare pair here just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“Science, of course!”

“Of course,” said Drix, ”not sure what I was expecting. Just please be careful with Moms’ glassware, I'd hate for you to get caught up in the character and break something.”

“Seriously?” scoffed Hazel, “I'd never do that.”

x-x-x

“Good to meet you, Doctor,” said Sky, “me and my partner are seeking out a pair of fugitives and we're hoping you may be able to assist us in our investigation.”

“Of course, of course,” replied Hasel, “I vould be happy to help in any vay zat I can.”

“Did you order a set of large crystal lenses from a local jeweller?”

“Ja, zey are a key component in an experiment I am planning, “ said the doctor, her eyes lighting up with excitement, “you zee, once i attach zem to the telescope upstairs, zey vill let me focus und refract zunlight here into my laboratory zo I can analyze it and figure out how to capture it in its pure form.”

“Well, that sounds absolutely fascinating Doc,” said Mercy, “but I'm afraid the experiment will have to be put on hold. The lenses were stolen from the jeweller last night.”

“Vat?!” yelled Hasel, “by whom?”

“Are you familiar with a Dr. Ember?”

“Ember?!” Hasel grabbed a beaker, raised her arm and—

“Hazel!”

“Wha— oops, sorry. Guess I got too into it.”

“You think?”

—and, thinking better of her action, placed it calmly back on the counter.

“Doktor Ember vas a colleague of mine,” fumed Hasel, “she has a brilliant mind, but she is obsessed. She vanted to use the big observatory in the mountains for the experiment and I couldn't make her understand zat ve veren't ready to collect on zat scale yet; all ve vould get are crude bombs.”

“Bombs?” said Mercy, notably worried.

“Ja, I mean vhy vould you vant to level a few city blocks vhen you could bring beautiful, round-the-clock zunshine to the world.”

“Yes, why indeed,” replied Sky, “well, thank you Doctor but I believe we need to make haste.”

“Vhy do you— oh yes, the bombs,” realised Hasel, “ja ja, go!”

With a quick thanks, the heroes quickly headed from the lab and out towards the mountains.

x-x-x

The observatory was silent as they landed outside. The enormous white dome, towering over them, was closed shut.

“Maybe they decided to use a different observatory,” speculated Mercy.

“Maybe, but I doubt it,” replied Sky, “Ember doesn't strike me as someone with the patience to go looking for another facility. Let's go take a look around.”

Entering through the front doors, the two found themselves in a nondescript white hallway. They moved along it slowly, checking doors as they went, finding mostly small offices and storage closets.

Sky was pulling one office door shut when she caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. Moving on instinct, she spun out of the way of a jet of ice that passed through the space that her head had occupied a fraction of a second earlier.

“Huh, I'd heard you were quick,” mused Tundra, “no matter though, just makes things more interesting.” He grinned predatorily before throwing a barrage of ice blasts down the hallway.

Sky twisted and turned, sliding around the freezing cold projectiles easily. However, while she was busy constantly dodging, she was unable to close the distance to their attacker.

Mercy, hoping to take advantage of Tundra's focus on her partner, shrunk down and slipped along the corner of the hallway, trying to get behind him. She was most of the way when she saw him smirk as he spotted her. Before she knew it, a blast of cold hit her, encasing her in the coldest ice she'd ever felt. She could barely move, breathe or even think.

Panicking slightly, she returned to normal size, breaking her way out of the icy prison. She slumped to the floor, shivering, helpless to watch as Sky fought on, alone.

“Well, it seems we're at an impasse,” chuckled Tundra, “I can't hit you and you can't get close to me.”

“You could always surrender,” offered Sky, “I'd ask the courts to be lenient.”

“Hmm, as tempting as that sounds, I think I'd prefer a different option,” he said, “what do you think, Ember?”

Sky barely had time to register the arrival of his partner when she heard the clink of an object landing near her. The last thing she remembered before slipping into darkness was world around her disappearing in a flash of noise and light.

x-x-x

When Sky came to, she found herself bound to a wall with restraints of ice. She looked around the room, trying to orient herself. She was inside what looked like the observatory's dome, a huge telescope dominating the room. Mercy was a short distance away inside a chamber of solid ice. She looked cold and angry, but otherwise fine.

“Ah, Ms. Watcher. So glad you join us,” gloated Ember, who was tinkering with some elaborate contraption at the base of the telescope “we're just about to make our first Sun Flare.”

She threw a switch and the massive doors on the dome opened to the sky, letting sunlight into the space. The massive telescope tilted until it was pointed directly at the sun, a noticeable beam of light pouring from the eyepiece into an elaborate array of lenses positioned just beneath. A low hum filled the air as a device, just a bit smaller than a person, began to glow.

Sky and Mercy shared a glance, realizing they were running out of time. Mercy looked meaningfully at Ember and then back to Sky before she started to sing softly, pacing the small chamber.

Hoping she caught Mercy's meaning correctly, Sky returned her attention to the Doctor in hopes of stalling her. “I don't understand,” she said, “what do you get out of making bombs?”

Ember paused, looking up at Sky incredulously. “What do I get? I get the same things any logical person wants: wealth, power, respect.”

“I hate to break it to you, but you and your icy friend aren't going to be able to take over the world by yourselves, no matter how fancy a weapon you got.“

“Please, I don't want to rule the world. That honestly sounds so boring,” scoffed Ember, “I plan to sell the Sun Flares. After I level Champion City with two or three, governments around the world will be clamouring to buy my technology. After that, it'll be a simple matter to settle into my new life of wealth, and unhindered research, in whichever country makes me the best offer.”

Mercy was singing louder now, not settling on any tune but simply sliding from note to note, seemingly at random.

Tundra walked up and pounded on the ice, “quiet down in there.”

“Come in here and make me,” she retorted, returning to her singing as he fumed outside, unable to do anything without also setting her free.

“So,” said Sky, returning Ember's attention to her, “you would kill millions of people, just for your personal financial gain?”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.”

“Well, I'm certainly going to feel much better about punching you once I get loose.”

“Oh? And how do you plan to get yourself loose?”

“Well, I'm not going to,” said Sky, “she is.”

Mercy’s singing had finally narrowed down to a single note. Pausing momentarily to toss Sky a grin, she took a deep breath and sang.

The pure tone rang out at an incomprehensible decibel level, making Tundra and Ember clap their hands over their ears. The ice of the chamber and Sky's restraints both started vibrating roughly, cracks very rapidly crossing the surface before shattering completely. Tundra, right next to the chamber, was hit across the head by a chunk of flying ice, knocking him out cold.

“Aaron, that was a terrible pun.”

“Hazel, it was funny and you know it.”

Free of the restraints, Sky took off across the room towards the telescope, barrelling into the network of lenses, sending them crashing to the floor in an explosion of broken glass.

“No!” yelled Ember, “without a full charge the Flare will destabilize. It'll destroy this whole building, all my research!” She rushed to her console and began furiously typing. The Flare had begun whining with a rising tone that was quickly approaching a screech.

Mercy ran up, an unconscious Tundra over her shoulder. “I think we need to get out of here, now.”

“Ember, come on!” cried Sky, “we need to go!”

“No, I can still save it!”

Sky boggled at the Doctor before grabbing Tundra from Mercy. “C'mon, hop on.”

Mercy did so, grabbing hold. “But what about—”

“I'll have to come back for her. I can't carry them both,” she said before taking off, carrying them out through the dome’s open doors. Setting down about half a mile away, she gently set Tundra down. “Keep an eye on him, I'm going to go try to get Ember—”

A flash of light interrupted her as an explosion tore the observatory apart, both of them closing their eyes against the glare. When they looked back, no trace of the building remained, the rock where it had one stood glowing a dull red from the intense heat.

“—out.” Sky's shoulders fell in defeat.

“Come on,” said Mercy, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, “let's go home.”

x-x-x

“Well, a job well done all told,” commented the detective.

“I just wished it had turned out better,” replied Sky.

“Fair enough, but you stopped a mad person and saved countless lives. The city owes you a debt,” he said, “oh, and before I forget, this letter for you showed up just before you did.” He handed Sky an envelope just with their names and no return address.

Turning the envelope over in her hands, Sky tore it open, reading the letter inside, notably lighting up.

“It's from Ember, she's alive!” she said before her mood sobered, “and she'll be back…”

x-x-x

“Dun dun dun!” sang Charlie, making everyone laugh.

“That was fun, we'll have to do it again sometime,” said Aaron.

“Yeah, though I want to be something other than the crazy scientist next time,” said Hazel.

“You sure?” asked Charlie, “you were so good at it.”

“Just comes with my lineage, I guess.”

All the kids laughed as the telltale sound of the front door opening signalled the return of parents.

“Hello! We're home!” said Laura, entering the kitchen carrying a bag of groceries.

“Hey Mom,” said Drix, “need any help?”

“Nah, your Moms have the rest of it. We just picked up enough to make dinner. So, how were things here all day?”

The kids took a moment to glance around at each other before Mercy looked at her mother with a smile.

“Super.”

The kids broke out laughing, leaving Laura standing there wondering what was so funny.

Chapter Text

It was early in the evening when Charlie and Aaron arrived at the pub. Grabbing a couple of drinks from the bar, they easily found a out-of-the-way table to sit at to nurse their beverages.

The pub wasn't a regular destination for either of them, but at this time of night, it tended to be quiet which made it a great place to go out and shoot the breeze. Aaron, however had a more immediate topic he wished to discuss.

“Charlie, could you do me a favour?”

“Sure, Aaron. Just let me go grab a shovel and we'll find a nice isolated spot in the woods.”

“Why do you always go immediately to hiding a body?”

“What? Are you saying that you'd rather hide bodies with Drix and not me? Aaron, I'm hurt.” Charlie stuck out her lower lip in a dramatic pout.

“Oh come off of it. You know you're first on my corpse disposal list.”

“As an accomplice or a victim?”

“Yes.”

The two friends burst into peals of laughter, clinking their glasses together.

“So, what is this favour you need that required pulling me away from my beautiful wife for an evening?”

“Ok, if you wanna try playing that card, make sure I'm not already aware Hazel is down in Laf's lab, busy trying to break off a piece of the universe.”

Charlie laughed. “Damn, alright. I guess I'm slipping in my old age.”

“Nah,” he disagreed, “I'm just that good.”

“Sure you are.”

“Scoff all you want, we both know the truth,” said Aaron, “and as for the favour…” He paused, gathering his courage. “Could you help me go ring shopping?”

Charlie froze in the middle of a sip, meeting his gaze over the rim of the glass. Calmly, she swallowed her drink and placed the glass back onto the tabletop.

“I'm sorry, what?”

“Uh, could you help me go ring shopping?” Aaron proceeded uncertainly, “I kinda want to… y'know… propose to Hendrix.”

Charlie's expression remained blank as she silently studied his face for a moment. Seeming to settle on something, she pushed back her chair, getting up and walking around the table until she was standing next to him.

Aaron, for his part, found the entire ordeal incredibly intimidating. “I mean, I love him so much; I want to be with him forever,” he babbled, “and you already know a bit about ring—”

Charlie surged forward, wrapping her arms around her friend, practically dragging him out of his chair into a hug. “Oh my goodness, Aaron! This is fantastic,” she exclaimed, “of course I'll help you go ring shopping.” Letting him loose, she returned to her seat, absolutely beaming.

“Thanks Charlie,” he said, “your support means so much.”

“Hey, don't say that like there was a chance I was gonna disapprove or something,” Charlie scoffed before raising her glass, “to my future brother-in-law.”

“To my eternal sister-in-arms,” he replied, clinking his glass with hers.

x-x-x

Several days later, the pair found themselves on the sidewalk outside a modest storefront.

“This is the place where I got Hazel’s ring,” said Charlie, a nostalgic smile crossing her face as she looked up at the sign, “and where we found my engagement ring as well, and our wedding rings to boot. Their stuff is a little off the beaten path, but it’s wonderful and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”

“Sounds great,” said Aaron, pulling open the door.

“Hello,” said the woman behind the counter, pleasantly, “how can I— oh hi! Good to see you again. Carli, was it?”

“Close, it’s Charlie,” she chuckled.

“Right, sorry,” said the woman, looking chagrined.

Charlie waved off her concerns. “Not to worry, I haven’t been here in months. I’m kinda impressed you got as close as you did.”

“Good, I’m glad,” she said, “well, my name is Alice. Was there anything in particular I can help you find today?”

“Well…” Charlie motioned to Aaron.

“I’m looking for an engagement ring for my boyfriend,” he explained.

Alice’s face lit up. “Oh, you have come to the right place. Our selection of men's rings is just over here,” she said, leading them along the glass countertop to a display of rings in a surprising selection of colours and styles.

“Oh boy,” said Aaron, “actually having them in front of me really makes this daunting.”

“Well, fortunately,” said Charlie, slinging an arm over his shoulders, “that’s what you brought me along for.”

Over the next hour, the three compared and debated the various rings the store had on offer until they were left with a single ring sitting on the counter in front them; a wide ring of burnished silver with a single sapphire inset along the ring’s front edge.

Aaron reached down and picked the ring up, giving it another inspection. “I think this is the one. This feels like Drix to me, cool and unique.”

“I have to agree with you,” said Charlie, ”though I did like that bronze one.”

“That was a neat ring,” he replied, “but I just can’t see citrine suiting Drix all that well. Seems like much more a Hazel thing.”

“Hmm, you’re right,” mused Charlie before smiling at Alice, “I’ll have to consider something like that for Christmas.”

“I think we have something like that in stock,” said Alice, “but for now, do you think you’ve come to a decision?”

Aaron bit his lip, considering the ring in his hand. “Yes… yes, it’s this one.”

“Excellent,” she said, taking the ring, “I’ll get this wrapped and rung up for you.” She turned and bounced off towards the register.

“I’m going to ask Drix to marry me,” Aaron said, tears welling up. He rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, smiling at Charlie.

“Yes you are,” she replied, pulling him into a hug.

x-x-x

“Aaron, it’s beautiful!” cooed Laura as she and her wives gathered around the small wooden box in Aaron’s outstretched hand.

“I have to hand it to you, Aaron,” agreed Carmilla, “you managed to avoid buying a gaudy piece of glass. Good work.”

“Thank...you?”

“That means she’s impressed Aaron,” interjected Danny, gently elbowing Carmilla, “so, what brings you by? This is a nice ring and all, but we would have seen it eventually and somehow I don’t expect that you think you need our permission to marry him.”

“I dunno, asking the three mothers of my male gay life partner for the traditional permission to marry has a certain delicious irony, don’t you think?” Aaron grinned, wiggling his eyebrows

Carmilla laughed, “alright, I don’t care what the real reason you’re here is, I’m giving you permission to marry him just for that reasoning alone.” She held out her fist, Aaron meeting it in a bump.

“Anyways,” Aaron continued, “the reason I’m here is to ask your help in setting up the proposal.”

“Done,” said Laura, her wives nodding in agreement, “what do you need?”

“Well, I’d like to do it in front of family, if you could host a barbeque…”

x-x-x

“So do any of you know what this little shindig is about?” asked Ruth, little Hayden cradled in her arms.

“You need a reason for a party in this family?” asked Chance, distracted by his nephew, Aero, whom he had cradled in his own arms. “We don’t need a reason, no. No we don’t, do we little one?” he babbled as the infant simply stared back at him in quiet wonder.

“Normally? no,” replied Ruth, smiling at the man cooing over her son, “but Carmilla was unusually insistent that we come.”

“Same with Danny, now that you mention it,” pondered Chance, “I wonder what’s going on.”

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” asked Bev, inserting herself into the conversation. She gestured to Hayden, “may I?”

“Sure.” Ruth gently handed off her daughter to her great-grandmother. “So, what’s so obvious?”

“Oh, you youngins have so much to learn?”

“Youngin?” scoffed Ruth, “I’m nearly four times your age.”

“You’re still new to being in a family, you’re a youngin,” emphasized Bev, at which Ruth pouted, “but what’s obvious is someone is planning an announcement. For what I’m not certain yet. I’m hoping a pregnancy, but since none of the kids seem inclined yet and accidents aren’t really possible for any of them, I’ll just have to make due with these little ones for now.” She rocked the infant in her arms, cooing at her softly.

“Huh, makes sense,” admitted Ruth, “we’ll just have to wait and see. Now, if you two don’t mind watching my kids for a minute, I’m going to go grab myself a burger and some blood. I am ravenous.”

“Anytime Ruth.”

x-x-x

It was just after dinner when Charlie sat down next to Aaron on the deck steps.

“Just about time,” she mentioned, “you ready?”

“Well, not really,” he chuckled, “but, hell, I’m gonna do this anyway. Does Drix have any idea?”

“If he does, I haven’t noticed. He’s been talking with Sky and Mercy most of the evening.”

Aaron glanced back at the table where his hopefully-soon-to-be-fiancé sat, talking intently with the two women.

“Good, that should really make this memorable then. Could you go grab all the ‘rents, make sure they have a good view?”

“Not sure if you noticed, but my moms have had their viewing spot staked out for twenty minutes now,” she pointed out, gesturing down the deck to where they were already at the deck railing, arm in arm in arm, “but yes, I’ll get your Mom and Dad. I’d hate for you to get engaged just to get murdered by your mother cause she missed it.”

“Thanks Char,” he said, wrapping an arm around her for a side-hug.

Returning the hug, she got up and went off to retrieve Elsie and Hunter. Aaron also got up and, after making sure Drix wasn’t watching him, made his way down around the side of the deck, finding the sunflowers and he’d stashed underneath earlier. He looked up, making sure his family was there before taking a deep breath and nodding up to Laura, who grabbed a remote from her pocket and hit play.

From the deck speakers, a lovely piano melody began to play, grabbing everyone’s attention. Aaron’s stomach gave another flutter as he turned and walked into the middle of the yard, bouquet in hand. By the time he made it to the mat that Charlie had quietly laid out earlier, every eye in the yard was on him, smiles replacing confusion on each face, one by one.

Finding his place, Aaron looked to where Drix was sitting, a look of surprise on his face, which made Aaron smile. He held out his hand, beckoning his boyfriend to join him.

Looking to Mercy and Sky, who also looked highly surprised, he got up and made his way down the steps to the lawn, joining Aaron on the mat.

“I thought you were only going to repeat this if we needed to get back together again,” Drix joked, fighting tears.

“Well, waiting for that was taking forever so I decided, ‘hey, what the hell?’,” said Aaron, offering the bouquet to Drix, who accepted them happily, “besides, it seemed like a good time because there was something I need to ask you.” Keeping his gaze locked with Drix, he grabbed the ring box from his pocket and got down on one knee.

“Hendrix,” Aaron began, “for as long as I can remember, you’ve been a bright spot to me. Ever since we were kids, we were more than friends; we were family. Then, when we got together, you brought a warmth into my life that I don’t understand how I ever lived without and can’t imagine being without ever again. My hope is that in our time together, I have managed to return at least a portion of the brightness and warmth into your life as you have given to mine and, if you’ll let me, I’d like to spend the rest of our lives doing my best to return that warmth and light in full. So, my question is…” Aaron opened the box, revealing the ring, “Hendrix Hollis, will you marry me?”

The world seemed to slow and go silent as Aaron waited for a response. Drix's gaze, which had been locked on the ring, slowly moved up to Aaron's face as his expression of shock gave way to a smile, tears beginning to roll down his face.

“Yes,” he said softly, nodding gently, “yes, of course I will!”

A whoop of joy rang out from the deck along with murmurs of approval and adoration. The two men looked at their collected family with a smile before returning their attention to each other.

Beginning to tear up himself, Aaron struggled to remove the ring from the box, his hands were trembling so much. Taking a breath, he grasped the small piece of jewellery and held out his hand for Drix's.

Setting aside the bouquet, Drix placed his left hand in Aaron's. Aaron met Drix’s eyes, endless love pouring between the two men, and slid the ring into Drix's finger. By now, both men were crying but grinning so wide, it looked like their faces might split in two

Aaron stood up, clasping Drix's hand between both of his. He was about to lean in for a kiss when he felt something warm slip onto his own ring finger. Looking down, he found a gorgeous silver and emerald ring glimmering up at him. He returned his gaze to his new fiancé, eyes wide with astonishment.

Drix chuckled. “You may have beat me to the moment, but that's been sitting in my pocket for weeks. I sure as hell wasn't going to let it go to waste.”

Aaron laughed before wrapping a hand behind Hendrix's head and pulling him in for a deep, long kiss. The men remained lost in each other until the moment was pierced by the clear tone of a wolf howl.

The howl, which had started with Danny, was soon picked up by every wolf there. Carmilla and Ruth, not to be left out, shifted as well and added their deep roars underneath the chorus of wolves. Drix and Aaron stood in each other’s arms, basking in the warmth and acceptance of the pack. The howl soon gave way yips and barks as the pack began playing around the yard, celebrating the moment as only they could.

Aaron took Drix’s hand and began walking towards the house to share the moment with those who couldn’t join the rigmarole, but were intercepted by Mercy and Sky loping up to them, shifting back and giving the two men an expectant look.

“Hands,” Mercy said.

“I’m sorry?” asked Drix.

“What my oh-so-polite girlfriend is asking, is if we could see the rings?” clarified Sky, “Drix’s in particular. No offense but we’ve seen yours already.”

“It’s the least I could do for your help with this,” said Drix, holding his hand out, “even if we got headed off at the pass.”

Their help?” said Charlie, joining the group along with Hazel, “you wanted to propose to Aaron and you didn’t come to the sibling who was already married?”

“I considered it, I honestly did,” Drix defended, “but you and Aaron are so close, I didn’t want to risk putting you in the position where you might have to lie to him.”

“Ok fine, I actually appreciate that,” conceded Charlie, before her brow furrowed and she looked straight at Mercy, “wait, is this why you asked where we got our rings?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Mercy, “why did you think I wanted to know?”

“Well, I kinda figured that you were the one planning on proposing,” said Charlie, chuckling as Mercy turned red at the implication.”

“What? No... I mean… I want to… maybe… someday… but, jeez… uh,” Mercy stammered.

“What she’s trying to say,” Sky intervened, ”is that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but we haven’t yet.”

“Thank you, exactly that,” said Mercy, “this is why I love you.”

“Ok, enough about theoretical proposals, you’re stealing their thunder,” said Hazel, “and unlike all of you, I wasn’t in on any of these plans and I haven’t seen either ring yet, so lemme see those shinies!” Aaron and Drix both laughed and gave Hazel their hand so she could have a closer look.

“Hey!” called Elsie from the deck, “you kids better get your butts up here! You’ve been engaged for five whole minutes and there are a whole bunch of parents up here are still waiting for hugs! I know I raised you better than that.”

“Well, I don’t know if you raised him better than that,” joked Drix, “but you certainly didn’t raise me.”

“The hell I didn’t. Even if I hadn’t been your principal, you’ve been part of my family since you were little, this engagement is just a formality” Elsie retorted, “now, I don’t care how long you’ve been graduated for, I will find a way to give you detention if you don’t get over here this instant.”

“Love,” said Aaron, “she’s serious. We should probably get over there.”

“Agreed,” said Drix, nodding emphatically, “let’s put in an appearance, I want to show off my new fiancé.”

Aaron shivered pleasantly at the word, he was so happy right now. Wrapping an arm around Hendrix, he kissed him on the cheek and the two made their way towards the house to share in the celebration with their family.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, what do you think you're doing?”

The panther kitten tilted his head back, staring curiously at his mother, completely upside-down.

“It appears he is exploring his climbing instinct,” drawled Carmilla, from where she'd leaned over the back of the couch, documenting the kitten with her phone.

“That much I can see,” replied Danny, “it's more the chosen location for said exploration I'm questioning.”

“What about it?” asked Carmilla, “I'll have you know up upholstery is an excellent surface to learn climbing on. Kitten claws stick to it like Velcro.”

Carmilla's observation was punctuated by the telltale 'tug tug tug RIP’ of Hendrix pulling a paw loose to take another step up the back of the couch. Danny winced at the sound.

“Yes, I've noticed. Complete with the lovely tearing effect when he lets go. He's going to completely shred this thing if he makes a habit of it.”

Carmilla tossed one of the couch cushions at Danny, who caught it handily. “Glass houses, Clifford.”

Danny looked at the cushion and winced. One side was covered in small nicks and tears, the product of a certain red wolf dreaming during a nap on the couch.

“Ok, fair point,” said Danny, “but wouldn't it be better if he learned this stuff on a tree or something?”

Carmilla raised an eyebrow at her, ”you want our one-year-old to go outside, wander out to the woods and try to climb a tree.”

“Alright, yeah. It sounds pretty stupid when you actually say it out loud like that.”

“Glad we're on the same page,” said Carmilla, her attention returning to recording her son.

“My point stands though, we'll probably have to buy a new couch.”

“That's fine,” said Carmilla, “we can afford it. Even if we could stop him from climbing the couch, which I doubt, I suspect the teething process for both panthers, and werewolves—” She pointed at Danny's stomach. “—will necessitate a few pieces of replacement furniture.”

Danny's hands instinctively moved to rest on her stomach. It was still showing no sign of the growing life within her, but the reflex to cradle it was the same

“Ok, I concede,” said Danny, “I guess we can consider the current furniture sacrificial.”

“Their contribution will be recognized in the new living room order.” Carmilla took one hand off the phone to salute in mock-seriousness.

“Heroes lost before their time.”

Drix, still set on his ascent, pulled another paw loose to try and heft himself a little bit higher, but instead, found his grip slipping and he dropped back to the carpet with a soft ‘plop’.

For a moment, he just sat beside the couch, considering what had just happened. The two adults held their breath, waiting for the kitten's reaction.

They didn't have to wait long though. After a few seconds, the boy shifted; a toddler sitting where the kitten had been. He looked back and forth at his parents with a smile on his face before standing up and waddling around the room, his climbing seemingly forgotten.

“Well, I guess he considered that a success,” observed Danny.

“As well he should,” said Carmilla, putting her phone away, “eight inches is pretty darn good for never having tried before.”

“How far did you get on your first climb?”

“Uh…” Carmilla hesitated, “I don't remember.”

“Uh huh,” said Danny, obviously not believing a word, “come on, spill.”

“Fine, I made it three feet up a tree before I lost my grip and ended up half-buried, head first in a snow bank,” admitted Carmilla, “Mattie had to drag me out by my tail, I don't think I'd ever seen her laugh so hard.”

Danny couldn’t help but giggle at the mental image of a panther hindquarters sticking out of a snowdrift, flailing uselessly. “You and winter just do not mix, do you?”

“I prefer to be warm, is that so wrong?”

Danny walked around the front of the couch and sat down, pulling Carmilla into a cuddle. “Nothing wrong with that at all.”

“As lovely as this is,” said Carmilla, “one of us should probably play with him before he decides to try climbing the curtains.” She gestured over to where Drix was staring out the window, gently tugging on the curtains as he stood there.

Danny chuckled. “I hate it when you’re right.”

“Life must be a living hell for you then.”

She shoved Carmilla playfully before getting up to play with their son.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

x-x-x

“Um, Mom?”

Laura turned from her computer to where Charlie was standing in the doorway. “Yes, honey?”

“Drix is stuck.”

Alarm bells started going off in Laura’s head immediately. “What do you mean ‘stuck’?”

“He climbed up a tree,” Charlie explained, “and now he can’t get down.”

“What?!” cried Laura, “where?”

“In the backyard, on the edge of the woods.”

Laura was up like a shot, rushing through the house and out the back door. Across the lawn, she could see Hazel, Sky and Mercy, a small wolf pup, gathered around the base of one tree in particular, looking up into the branches. Rushing up to them, she craned her neck, trying to spot where they were looking. It only took a few seconds before a soft mewl drew her attention to the higher branches where the erstwhile panther cub could be spotted, clinging to a tree limb at least two storeys above the ground.

“Oh Drix,” she sighed, “how did you get yourself up there?”

“He climbed!” chimed in Sky, making Laura smirk slightly at the obvious answer.

Laura bit her lip as she gazed up, trying to figure out a solution. They had a ladder that would reach, but she doubted any of the branches that high would support the weight. The fire department was also out. The local authorities overlooked a lot of the odd goings on, but explaining the need to get a panther cub out of a tree would be an awkward proposition at best and draw dangerous attention to the pack at worst.

Deciding to call in reinforcements, she grabbed her phone from her pocket and called Carmilla.

“Hey Cupcake,” Carmilla said as she picked up, “you need me to grab something else while I’m out?”

“Actually Carm,” said Laura, “I really need you home post-haste. I’m afraid our son has climbed up a tree and now I can’t get him down.”

“I’ll be right there,” said Carmilla before hanging up.

Laura put her own phone away before concentrating on talking to Drix and keeping him calm while they waited for his Mama. It took nearly fifteen minutes before Laura heard the telltale engine noise of a car pulling into the driveway. No sooner did she hear the car door slam shut, than she found Carmilla at her side.

“Wow, he really got himself up there,” Carmilla said, a lilt of pride in her voice, “you okay up there bud?”

A miserable meow told both of them all they needed to know.

“Alright, I’ll go get him,” said Carmilla.

“Oh, you know how you’re— of course,” Laura said as Carmilla shifted and immediately began ascending the trunk of the tree.

Carmilla quickly reached the higher branches, twisting herself around the trunk to come at Drix from the side rather than underneath. Poor Drix was still clinging to the branch desperately, petrified at the task of descending. Even if they had gotten to him up here with the ladder, coaxing or prying him off the branch would have been time-consuming. Carmilla, however, decided to simply circumvent the issue as the reached over and got her jaws around the scruff of his neck. Instinctually, he relaxed as soon as she had a grip and she lifted him off the branch. With her payload secure, she began to gingerly pick her way back down the tree, being careful not to bash him against any branches as she went. It was slow going, but eventually she reached the ground again.

Laura breathed a sigh of relief once they had both made it back to earth. “Good work Carm. Is he okay?”

With Drix still firmly in her mouth, Carmilla’s response was simply eye contact with Laura before looking meaningfully at the house, before carrying Drix in that direction. Discerning her meaning and nodding, Laura jogged ahead to open the back door while the rest of the kids followed in Carmilla’s wake.

Once in the house, Carmilla took Drix up to his room where she deposited the shaking cub on his bed. Jumping up on the bed herself, she began grooming him gently. With each lick and nuzzle, the cub’s shivering grew less and less until it finally subsided. Minutes later, he was asleep between his mother’s paws.

With a final nuzzle, Carmilla gently got up and shifted back before draping a blanket over his sleeping form. Satisfied he was comfortable, she joined Laura where she’d been watching from the doorway.

“I guess I need to give him some proper climbing lessons,” mused Carmilla.

“I’d say he’s got the climbing down pat,” Laura said, “it’s the unclimbing that needs work. Maybe a rule about not climbing out of reach.”

“That might be tricky given how drastically ‘reach’ changes depending on who’s home,” joked Carmilla, earning a good natured nudge from Laura, “but yeah, that seems wise until I can show him how to get himself down.”

“Alright, we’ll talk to him about it when he gets up,“ said Laura, “thanks again for coming back so quick.”

“I would do it again in a heartbeat for any of them, you know that.”

“I do, though you know you’re probably going to be on call to get him down now that he knows he can get up there.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

x-x-x

Danny rushed through the undergrowth. Her quarry was somewhere nearby, she could smell it. However, no matter how close her nose said she was, he still eluded her.

A thump to her right drew her to a stop as she scanned the woods, trying to find the source of the noise. The smell of her target was everywhere. She should be right on top of him, that or—

A gentle grumble came from straight above her as a jet black tail descended into her vision, booping her on the nose. Danny looked up to see Drix, lounging on a low tree branch looking down at her smugly. If he'd been able to grin, she almost would've expected him to break into a verse about momeraths and jabberwocks.

Shifting back, she put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “Don't look so smug, you are totally cheating by hiding up there.”

Drix folded his his ears back and yowled softly in protest.

“Don’t give me that, you were cheating and you know it.”

Drix finally shifted himself, remaining seated upon the branch, his legs swinging casually. “How is this cheating? You hunt, I try to get away. I’d say I got away pretty effectively.”

“You went up a tree.”

“And?”

“You don’t go up trees.”

“My current position suggests otherwise.”

Danny facepalmed. “I mean you’re not supposed to go up trees.”

“Says who? I don’t recall anyone mentioning this before,” rebutted Drix, a self-satisfied grin on his face.

Danny didn’t know whether she wanted to smack him or hug him; right now he reminded her so much of his Mama. “Well… no-one, I guess. But wolves can’t climb trees, I can’t follow you up there.”

“So, does Mama stay on the ground for you to sniff out?”

Danny narrowed her eyes at him. They both already knew the answer to the question. “No, she actually goes even higher so I lose her scent… but she wasn’t raised in the pack. You should know better.”

“You’re right. I really should know to stay in the low branches so my scent is still around to give you a fair chance.”

“Exactly! And that… is… exactly what you did,” Danny admitted, losing all her steam.

Drix chuckled, swinging down to the ground. “Come on, let’s head home. I’m hungry.”

“Fine, but don’t think we’re done with this mister.”

“Yes Mom,” chuckled Drix, rolling his eyes.

The two walked in silence, enjoying the tranquility of the woods during the short walk back to the house. Soon enough, they were walking through the back door, Drix making a beeline to the fridge for a cup of blood.

“Welcome back,” greeted Laura, wrapping Danny in a hug, “did you two have fun?”

“We did,” said Danny, “right up until your son over here cheated.” She leveled a mock glare at him.

Drix chuckled and shook his head, but otherwise didn’t respond.

“Cheated?” asked Laura, a curious smile on her face, “how?”

“He went up a tree!”

“Like Carm?”

“Yes! Well… no, not as high, but still.”

“Did you say he couldn’t go up a tree?”

“No… but I shouldn’t have to. It’s like an unwritten rule.”

“Since when?” interrupted Mercy, walking in from the living room.

“Well, since wolves can’t climb trees.”

“So?” said Mercy, “we’re not wolves. We’re werewolves. Do you know what I do when Drix goes up a tree when we play? I shift back and go right up after him.”

“It’s true, she’s like a damn monkey,” agreed Drix, a proud smile on his face, “she catches me most of the time.”

Danny’s mouth worked soundlessly, trying to form another argument, but nothing came to mind.

“Sorry sweetie,” consoled Laura, giving her a squeeze, “you’ve been outvoted.”

“Damn.” Danny chuckled. “Alright, I concede. But just you wait, this means I’ll be ready for you next time.”

Drix just grinned back at her.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Chapter Text

Carmilla was just sliding a casserole into the oven when a knock came from the front door, announcing visitors.

“Come in!” she yelled as she closed the oven door and turned her attention to the ingredients that, with luck, would become a salad.

“Hi Mama,” said Charlie, walking into the room carrying a pie dish, followed closely by her fiancé.

“Hey Charlie Bear,” said Carmilla, wiping her hands on a tea towel before wrapping her daughter into a hug.

Charlie returned the hug with a chuckle, before pulling away and placing the pie on the counter for later as Carmilla moved to hug Hazel.

“Mama, you act like you haven’t seen us in months. We were hanging out here just the other day.”

“I know,” said Carmilla, a touch defiantly, “you’ve only been moved out for a couple months. It feels so weird to not have you home.”

“Just wait, soon enough Merc—”

“Nope, can’t hear you,” cried Carmilla, covering her ears, “I am just so busy over here making salad.” She quickly walked back over to where she had the veggies ready and began chopping very loudly.

“Alright, alright,” Hazel cautioned, “we won’t say anything, just please be careful. I know you can heal but I think chopping your finger off would still be pretty darn painful.”

Carmilla paused, considering the advice. After a moment, she shrugged and began chopping with a little more control.

“Thanks Mama. Now, is there anything that we can help with?”

“Nope. I’m doing the last bit. Everything else is cooking or ready.”

“And even if she wasn’t, she’ll chase you out of the kitchen if you try,” said Danny, walking in from the living room, followed closely by Laura.

Hazel glanced over into the living room where the TV was still turned on to some generic home improvement show. “Case in point?”

“Yep. For the sake of your sanity, don’t test her.”

“Noted.”

“Are Drix and Aaron joining us?” asked Charlie.

“Yeah,” said Danny, checking the time, “should be here in a few minutes.”

“Great. Say, while we’ve got you guys to ourselves, could we ask you a favour?”

“If you’re asking permission to get married, you’re a bit late on that,” joked Danny.

Both women rolled their eyes in near perfect sync.

“No,” Charlie scoffed, “we were wondering if we could borrow your house.”

“The front of it, to be specific,” added Hazel.

“I dunno,” said Laura, “I don’t think it’d fit into your apartment.”

“Har har, you’re a regular Laurel and Hardy,” quipped Hazel, “babe, were they this bad before you moved out?”

“No, they must be saving it up when we’re not around,” said Charlie, “once Mercy moves out, it’ll probably be enough to cause mental trauma.”

“La la la la la!!! I can’t hear anything!” yelled Carmilla.

“Sorry Mama,” Charlie apologized, “so, we really want to host trick or treaters this year but—”

“—but our apartment building doesn’t have many kids,” Hazel continued, “and we can’t really do much decorating out in the hallway so—”

“—so we’re hoping you’d let us decorate your place and handle the trick or treaters this year,” finished Charlie.

Danny looked impressed. “Well, I certainly like the idea. It’d be nice to do halloween night out without feeling guilty about not handing out candy.

“I’m in,” agreed Laura, “Carm?”

“Hmmm…” she mused, “spend the best party night of the year out on the town with my wives or stay home and deal with other people’s demon spawn ringing the doorbell every two minutes. Decisions, decisions.”

“You’ve successfully raised three children,” Danny pointed out, “it’s a little late to start pretending you don’t like kids.”

“That’s different,” Carmilla argued, “those kids aren’t mine.”

“Some would be from the pack.”

“Some, not all.”

“If we can get back on track,” interrupted Charlie, “does this mean we can go ahead with this?”

Laura laughed, “yes, yes it does. We’ll find something fun to attend so we’re out of your hair.”

“Mercy might still be around,” said Danny, “though I think she said something about she and Sky going to some party for Sky’s dance company. Apparently, Rodney has been bugging them to go for weeks.”

“If she’s around, the more the merrier,” said Hazel, “but I know Sky wants to go to this thing, this might be the nudge needed to get Merc to go.”

“Excellent, it’s settled then,” said Carmilla, placing a somewhat haggard looking salad on the table, “you get to play house here and everyone else gets a night on the town.”

“Perfect,” said Charlie, “I think this is gonna be fun.”

x-x-x

“Hey, where did you want these corn stalks?” asked Drix, walking up to Charlie, who was focussing on spreading a layer of leaves over the front lawn.

“You can lash those to the railings either side of the front steps,” she directed, “I want a bit of a corridor effect.”

“Done and done.”

Charlie returned her attention to the leaves, wanting an even spread to obscure the grass completely. Fortunately, getting enough leaves had been the easy part. The woods had more than enough to spare for the project.

“Hey Charlie, I think there’s something wrong with that fog formula Hazel made,” said Aaron from behind her.

Charlie turned to look at him. “What makes you say—” Her eyes fell upon the skeletal hand protruding from the end of his coat sleeve. She smirked before looking him in the eyes “See, it’s working fine. Not a spot of flesh on there. Just douse yourself in the rest of it and we’ll set you up by the door before sundown.”

Aaron laughed. “So long as it’s tasteful. I refuse to have my corpse desecrated if it’s not used stylishly.”

“Oh well, if you’re going to be picky.”

“I am. Now, I assume the skeleton parts are for the ‘freshly filled graves’ over there,” he said, gesturing.

“Yeah, if you could make them look like they’re trying to claw their way out, it should make for a nice effect.”

“I'm surprised you don't have some sort of jump scare contraption set up. “

“We thought about it. If this had been for a Halloween party for people our age, it would have been a no brainer, but we really don't want to be scaring little kids. We'll stick with keeping it spooky.”

Aaron set about arranging the bones as Charlie raked the last of the leaves into place. Giving her handiwork a satisfied nod, she headed up to the deck where Hazel was sitting cross-legged amongst a collection of power cords.

“Hey Haze, we're just about done with the decorations, you ready to add in the highlights?”

“Oh yeah.” Hazel grinned maniacally. “I've got orange rope lights for the path, red floods for the decorations on the lawn, some ‘glowing eyes’ in the bushes, a spooky soundtrack and, of course, the fog machine.”

“Excellent, all we need now are the jack-o-lanterns and we'll be set.”

“Mercy stuck her head out a few minutes ago and said that your Moms are just about done with them.”

“Does that include cleaning up from their little pumpkin guts fight?” Charlie smirked.

Hazel chuckled. “She didn't say.”

“Did you get a glance of the front entrance?”

“No. I tried, but she only opened the door a crack. I caught a hint of cobwebs, but that's it.”

“Damn, well we'll find out what she and your sister did with it soon enough.”

“That we will, now let's get all these lights set up and then we can go make sure our costumes are ready for tomorrow.”

x-x-x

“Wow Mama,” exclaimed Charlie, “your outfit looks great.”

Carmilla turned around from where she’d been adjusting her fascinator in the hallway mirror. She was dressed in a black 1940’s style cocktail dress complete with victory curls.

“Thanks Charlie, you remember when the limo is supposed to arrive?”

“I think Mom said about a quarter past three, after it picks up Laf and Perry,” said Charlie, “still seems a bit early to be leaving.”

“We want to leave plenty of time to get to New York, if we’re early for dinner we’ll get drinks somewhere,” said Danny, strolling down the stairs in a pinstripe zoot suit, “how do I look?”

Carmilla gawked at Danny for a moment. “Well, terrible news Charlie. I'm afraid we won't be going anywhere, I'm afraid we have urgent business upstairs. On the bright side, there'll be some extra moans for your spooky soundtrack. “

“Ew, Mama!” exclaimed Charlie, swatting Carmilla lightly.

“None of that now,” said Laura, from up the stairs, “we have reservations. Besides, we’ve got a swanky hotel room booked for tonight that we can use for… business.” Laura’s last word was punctuated by the loud click of her heels on the floor, drawing the attention of the room.

“Really, Cupcake?” Carmilla said, looking over Laura’s blue skirt suit and red fedora.

“What?” defended Laura, “you do the 40’s your way, I’ll do it mine.”

“Well, I think you look great,” said Danny, wrapping an arm around her.

Carmilla opened her mouth to protest but a knock and the sound of the front door opening interrupted her.

“Limo delivery!” called Hazel as she bounded into the house, “they gave me a lift over.”

“Huh, they’re early,” noted Laura, “we all ready?”

“I think so, let’s get going,” said Carmilla.

“Alright. You guys have fun tonight,” said Danny, “and remember, if you burn the house down—”

“Make sure it looks like an accident so we can get the insurance, I know,“ Charlie joked.

A quick series of goodbyes later, the parents were in the limousine and on their way.

“Alright, we have a couple of hours before the little little kids start their rounds,” said Hazel, “let’s go over the checklist. The decorations are up?”

“Yep. Everything’s up and ready.”

“The speakers and fog machine?”

“Tested and ready to go. We just need to flick a switch for everything outside and light a few candles in the front entrance.”

“Mercy and Sky nailed that completely, by the way. It looked like I was walking into the Adams Family estate.”

“It looks amazing; we owe them a tray of cookies for their help. Where are they anyways?”

“They’re staging from our place. Rodney’s picking them up from there,” said Hazel, “back to the checklist, are our costumes ready?”

“They’re up in my old room, and the makeup is in the bathroom. We can start getting ready in about an hour.”

“Excellent, I guess that all that’s left is to put out the candy.”

“Good idea,” Charlie agreed, “I’ll go get a bowl to dump it into while you go grab it.”

“Sure yeah, where is it?”

Charlie froze. “What do you mean? You didn’t bring it?”

“No… I thought you had gotten it.”

The two simply stood there, staring at each other in silence.

x-x-x

“You have got to be kidding me,” groaned Charlie, looking over the bare shelves at the grocery store.

“I’m not really sure what you were expecting,” said Hazel, “it is halloween night after all.”

“I know, I know,” admitted Charlie, “I just don’t know how we could’ve forgotten the candy. It’s the most basic part of the entire operation.”

“We just got so caught up in making the entire thing special that we overlooked the necessities, it happens,” said Hazel, wrapping an arm around Charlie, “now, they aren’t completely out of everything, we still have some options.”

“Such as?”

“Such as…” Hazel glanced around the shelves, “raisins!”

“Pass.”

“Candy corn.”

Charlie just made a face, drawing a sigh from Hazel.

“Halloween bottled water?”

“Ok, now you’re just trying to get my moms’ house egged.”

“Well, we don’t have much else to pick from, unless…”

“unless what?”

“Well, it’d be kinda expensive… but the kids would love us.”

“Go on…”

x-x-x

“TRICK OR TREAT!”

Charlie, dressed as Jack Skellington, smiled broadly at the small gaggle of kids on the porch.

“Alright, now who do we have here. One for the princess, one for Superman, one for the cat, one for the little pumpkin and one for Batgirl.”

“I’m Batman!” the child protested, in the cutest gravelly voice Charlie had ever heard.

“Oh, of course you are. How silly of me,” she said, smiling even more broadly.

“Wow! Are these full size?” exclaimed the cat, “you’re the best!”

“Now, what do we say to the nice lady?” prompted the woman escorting them.

“Thank you!” the kids chorused before retreating down the steps.

“Hey,” said Charlie, grabbing the woman’s attention, “here.” She tossed another chocolate bar to the woman. “Gotta keep your energy up.”

“Thanks,” she replied, “it’s a fun night, but a tiring one.”

“It looks that way. Though I really can’t wait to have some of my own to cart around.”

“It’s worth the wait.” The woman smiled at her before running after the kids who had moved on ahead, heedless of their guardian.

Charlie stood in the doorway watching them for a moment before going back inside and returning to the couch where Hazel, dressed up as Sally, resumed the slasher movie they had been watching.

“How’s it looking out there?”

“It seems like it’s petering out,” replied Charlie, “we’ll probably get two or three more, but for the most part, I think we’re done.”

“Not bad for an evening. How many do you think we got?”

“Judging on the number of these left?” Charlie mused, shaking the bowl, “I’d say around seventy-five or eighty, give or take.”

“Not bad at all, far better than the dozen or so we would’ve gotten at home.”

“So, what now? We didn’t plan the after part.”

“Well, for now we cheer on the chainsaw wielding maniac while we wait for any stragglers,” said Hazel, “and then once the trick-or-treaters are done and we’ve turned off and put out everything we need to, we go meet up with Drix and Aaron for a night out.”

“I like it when you have things figured out.”

“What can I say, I have a knack for details… most details,” she added, cutting off Charlie’s snarky remark, “now, let’s watch the movie. I think this idiot is about to wander into the room where the killer is waiting.”

The doorbell rang, indicating another set of kids at the door.

Hazel chuckled, pausing the movie. “Or we’ll just have to wait. I’ll get these ones” Hazel smiled before grabbing the candy bowl.

“I’ll come with you. I like seeing the kids.”

“Making you think of the future?”

“Absolutely. And that is one door I can’t wait to pass through with you.”

“Me neither,” Hazel said, grasping the door handle and pulling it open.

“TRICK OR TREAT!”

Chapter Text

Danny turned over in her bed, barely awake, instinctively grasping for her wives. Her hand, however, slapped down against empty sheets. Disturbed by the absence of someone to snuggle, Danny slowly woke up.

Drowsily, she glanced around the bedroom. The shades were drawn but there was sunlight streaming through the cracks; it was probably mid-morning, perhaps a bit later. She didn’t have to be anywhere, but given her wakefulness, and deplorable lack of bedmates, Danny decided that now was a good a time as any to get up and start her day.

She sat up in bed and stretched. She was about to throw off the covers when she noticed a bit of paper stuck on the pillows beside her. Turning, she took a closer look, finding Carmilla’s intricate cursive handwriting.

Good Morning Beautiful
I love you

Danny smiled at the note. It was a simple gesture, but one that spoke volumes to her. She picked the note up, pressing it to her lips before getting up. Placing the paper down on the bedside stand, she got up and turned towards the bathroom. She’d only taken a couple of steps before turning back and retrieving the note. It seemed like a nice thing to keep with her.

Stashing the slip of paper temporarily on the bathroom counter, Danny went about her morning routine until she noticed another slip of paper, this time stuck to the top of the mirror. Reaching up, she pulled this new note down, this time finding Laura’s neat printing.

Look in that mirror, is that not the most gorgeous person you’ve ever seen?
I love you

Danny did, in fact, look at herself in the mirror. Her reflection looked back with an enormous smile painted across her face. Finding herself tearing up a little, she looked away and wondered, how had she gotten so lucky?

She looked back up to where the note had been hanging. It was well within her reach, but not really an easily accessible point for either Carmilla or Laura. Glancing around the counter for clues, she giggled a little at the telltale handprint on the glass where someone had kept their balance against the mirror as they’d climbed up.

Placing the new note with the first, Danny hopped into the shower. As she stood under the spray and began washing up, she thought about the notes and what the occasion might be for them. It wasn't her birthday nor was their anniversary any time soon. They hadn't gotten into a fight and life had been pretty good to them all lately, so she didn't really need cheering up.

She continued to puzzle over it as she stepped out and dried off but, despite her efforts, couldn't think of a single thing the notes might be for. Picking the notes up as she returned to the bedroom, quickly dressing before heading downstairs in search of breakfast.

“Good morning,” greeted Mercy from the kitchen table as Danny came into the kitchen.

“Morning Sweetheart,” Danny said as she went to pour herself a cup of coffee, pleased to find plenty left and still hot in the carafe, “how are you today?”

“It's Saturday and I wasn't woken up by an alarm; I'm doing pretty darn good.”

“That's great. This is a rather civilized way to start the day.” Danny chuckled. “Have you seen either of your mothers this morning?”

“Briefly. They said they were going to let you sleep in and run some errands.”

Danny had to raise an eyebrow at that. The three of them usually all did the weekend errands together so they could spend time with each other. Danny smirked, her wives were up to something and she couldn't wait to find out what.

She fixed herself a bowl of yogurt and fruit and went to the table to join Mercy. As she walked up, however, she found another note staring her in the face, this time stuck to her daughter's back. She peeled the sticky paper from her shirt, getting Mercy's attention.

“Wait, what is that? Charlie didn't put a ‘kick me’ sign on me, did she?”

“No.” Danny smiled as she read the note.

A lovely daughter, like her lovely mother.
The amazing mother of all our kids
We love you

Danny caught herself tearing up again as Mercy got up to see what the note was.

“How did they get— okay, that is just incredibly sweet… a bit nauseating if I'm honest,” Mercy teased.

“Oh hush you.”

“So, what did they do?” asked Mercy, a wry smirk crossing her face.

“Nothing,” defended Danny, “at least, nothing I'm aware of yet.”

The two women laughed as Danny added the note to the small pile she now had forming on the table beside her and started eating breakfast.

“Hey Mom,” asked Mercy once they had finished and were cleaning up, “could I borrow the truck? Sky and I wanted to head into town for a bit today.”

“Sure, go for it. Keys are on the hook. Make sure you call if you're not going to be home for dinner.”

“Sure Mom. Though, if these little things are any indication, you probably won't be home for dinner and I should probably see if I can sleep over at Sky's.”

Danny started to protest before she thought better of it. “That's… not a bad idea. Just text one of us so we know where you are.”

“Can do, will do!” chirped Mercy as she headed out of the room.

Danny stood in the middle of the kitchen for a moment, feeling somewhat at loose ends. After all the notes, she wished very much that her wives were here so she could share how much she loved them as well. As that wasn't an option, she decided her best course of action was to take care of some chores since the two of them were nice enough to handle the errands.

She started to head back upstairs when Mercy walked back into the room, obviously trying to hold in her laughter. “Hey Mom? I found another one on the steering wheel.” Mercy held out the small piece of paper, which Danny readily accepted and read.

If you drive a truck as well as you drive me to distraction, you'll be fine. But still, drive safe.
I love you.

“We're gonna be finding these notes for weeks, aren't we?” asked Mercy.

“I don’t know, maybe?”

Mercy looked mildly unimpressed. “I swear if I find a note laced with innuendo under the toilet seat or something, I’m not coming back from Sky’s for a month.”

Danny laughed, tucking the gathered notes into her back pocket. “I’ll keep that in mind. Hey, I’m going to do some laundry. Anything you want sent through?”

“Nah,” said Mercy, “I did mine a couple days ago after school, so I’m set for now.

“Alright. Have fun with Sky, for however long that is.”

“I will,” said Mercy, heading back to the garage.

Danny jogged back up the stairs to her room, making a beeline for the laundry hamper in the closet. Dragging it from its spot to the bathroom door, she lifted the lid, intent on adding the bath towels to her load. She paused, however, to pick up the note that had been placed on top of the dirty laundry.

Are you seriously going to do laundry? It’s a day off, relax.
I love you.

“Sorry Carm,” said Danny softly, tucking the note into her pocket with the rest, “‘fraid you’re just gonna have to suffer through having clean clothes.”

She grabbed the towels and tossed them into the hamper before hefting the basket and hauling it from the room. Lugging it down the stairs, she managed to get it into the laundry room without much trouble. She quickly sorted the contents and tossed the first load into the washer. However, when she popped open the detergent door, another note was stuck inside waiting for her.

What did I just say? Seriously, relax. I’ll deal with the laundry later.
I love you.

Danny rolled her eyes and pocketed the note, filling the now empty tray with detergent and turning the machine on. As she turned to leave the room, she found her curiosity piqued and inspected the dryer. Her search was quickly rewarded with a note that fell from the door when it opened. Grinning victoriously, she unfolded to note.

I owe Laura $20 now. Serves me right for betting against you being you I guess.
I love you.

Danny laughed, adding the note to the rest. Deciding to somewhat heed Carmilla's advice, she spent the rest of the morning lounging on the couch, reading between loads of laundry.

The next few hours passed quietly as she alternated between reading and folding clothes. She was about to get up to grab the last load from the dryer when the doorbell rang.

Opening the door, she was greeted by a man holding a bouquet of orange tulips, the petals the same vibrant hue as her hair.

“Hello, I have a delivery here for a—” He read the card in his hand. “—Xena the Beanstalk?”

Danny sighed and chuckled softly, shaking her head and accepting the bouquet. “Yep, those are for me. Thank you.”

“Not a problem. I try my best to be prompt. Have a good day!”

“You too,” she replied, shutting the door. Taking the bouquet into the kitchen, she was completely unsurprised to find a small sheet of paper, with two familiar handwritings, hiding amongst the blooms.

Saw these and thought of how much we missed you. Sending them was totally Carm’s idea
Lies. I just mentioned that you'd like them
Same/diff. It's not like she put up a fight.
True. We just already have something of the colour that is even more beautiful.
Agreed.
We love you.

This was getting ridiculous. As much as she loved these wonderful little gestures, what she really wanted was her wives to be here with her so she could return the affection, and then some. She settled for a quick text of ‘thank you for the flowers, wish you were home right now <3’ before returning to the last load of laundry, hoping it would last long enough to keep her from going stir crazy.

Her prayers were answered, just as she was rolling the last socks, by the telltale hum of the garage door opening. She gathered the folded laundry and headed up the stairs to put the last of it away.

As she started back downstairs, she heard Carmilla and Laura come in.

“Maybe she's gone out, the truck is certainly gone,” said Carmilla.

“I don't think so. She texted us less than an hour ago about the flowers and… ha! She did the laundry. Pay up Karnstein.”

“Dammit. I was hoping she’d mow the lawn. I thought the note I left on the mower was particularly poetic.”

“Danny hates dealing with the killdeer, she’d never mow the lawn if it wasn’t necessary. She leaves it to Drix, he loves chasing those little feather balls around.”

Danny kept herself hidden in the stairwell as they came into the kitchen and began putting away groceries.

“Did you bring in the—”

“Yeah, it’s on the counter beside the blood.”

“Good, I really hope she likes it.”

“Me too, I—”

Laura gave a squeak as Danny swept out of the stairwell and scooped her up when she wandered too close. With her wife securely in hand, Danny began peppering her face with kisses as Laura squealed happily, trying to squirm loose.

“Ack! Carm, help!”

“This—” Kiss. ”—is what—” Kiss. “—you get—” Kiss. “—for leaving me—” Kiss. “—home alone—” Kiss. “—with those sappy notes—” Kiss. “—all day.”

“Sorry cupcake, you’re on your own.”

“Oh no she isn’t,” said Danny, focusing on Carmilla, “don’t think I haven’t forgotten about you.”

Danny let Laura go before heading in Carmilla’s direction. The vampire played at making a half-hearted attempt to get away, but she wasn’t really all that determined to escape. Very soon, she had a pair of arms wrapped around her waist and a pair of lips kissing their way down her neck. She tilted her head to give Danny better access as her hand reached up and tangled itself in Danny’s hair.

Laura coughed lightly to get their attention. “As much fun as pursuing this would be, we have dinner reservations.”

Danny raised her head, drawing a disappointed whine from Carmilla. “Dinner reservations?”

“Yep, at that mexican place you like.”

“Alright, what is going on? Did you burn down my parents’ house or something?”

Carmilla chuckled. “I told you she’d be suspicious Cupcake. There’s nothing wrong, no occasion either, before you ask.”

“We just wanted to do something special for you today. No real reason.”

“Then why spend the day out?”

“Simple,” interjected Carmilla, walking over to the counter and grabbing a large bag, far fancier than the grocery bags that surrounded it, “we needed to go out by ourselves so we could pick this up for you.” With a dramatic flourish, she presented the bag to Danny.

Danny reached into the bag and withdrew an intricate, brown leather messenger bag with ‘DL’ embossed on the outside in intricate script. She turned the bag over in her hands, admiring the workmanship, feeling slightly awed by the gift.

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

“Look inside!” said Laura, clearly excited.

Danny undid the buckle, opening the main flap, and looked into the main compartment. The interior was as much a spectacle of function as the exterior had been of form. A collection of pocket and compartments lined the inside, ready for the plethora of tools and papers that would soon fill it. At the moment, however, the only thing contained within the bag was a single note.

Danny smiled at her wives, who’d moved to stand arm in arm as they watched her withdraw the note from the bag.

Here’s a smart, professional bag for our smart professional college professor.
We know you love that backpack, but it has got to go.
If only to keep your marked assignments dry, you work hard on those.
You’re amazing in any case. Those kids are lucky to have you.
And so are we.
Took the words right out of my… pen.
We love you.

Danny put the bag and note down and drew Laura and Carmilla both into a tight hug.

“I love you both so much,” she said, tears beginning to flow, “I don’t know what I did to deserve you both.”

“Well, it must’ve been something good,” said Carmilla, “cause we got you too.”

They remained embraced for several minutes before Laura broke the silence.

“Okay, as much as I don’t want to stop this, we still have dinner to get to.”

With a groan, the three of them broke apart and ran upstairs to get dressed. It only took a few minutes before they were ready to go and out the door.

x-x-x

The mood in the car was electric. The restaurant had given them a quiet table and they were able to enjoy a good meal filled with soft touches and loving company. All throughout dinner, the tension rose between them until it was all they could do to politely decline dessert, pay the bill and get out the door. They managed to behave on the ride home, if only to keep Laura from veering off the road until they could safely reach their driveway

Returning home. they burst through the front door, sharing hurried kisses and caresses, trying best not to leave too much of a crime scene should their kids return early the next day.

“Can you two take care of putting away the leftovers?” asked Danny, “there’s something I need to deal with upstairs.”

“Of course,” said Laura, taking the doggy bag to the fridge as Danny slipped up the stairs, leaving them in the kitchen.

“Well, I think today went rather well,” said Carmilla, pulling Laura close, kissing the tip of her nose.

“Very well,” agreed Laura, “though tomorrow, we’ll have to figure out which ones she missed or we’ll never hear the end of it from the kids.”

“Yeah, but let’s not keep our lovely wife waiting too long,” purred Carmilla, “there are still a few hours left in the day for making her feel special.”

“Oh yeah. Time’s a wastin,” Laura joked, taking Carmilla’s hand and leading her up the stairs. When they reached their room, however, they found the door shut and a piece of paper stuck on it, waiting for them.

You two are the most amazing wives a woman could ask for. You’ve both spent so much time and effort just to make me smile. You are the most beautiful people in existence and I can’t imagine living life without you.
Now hurry up and get in here so I can show you how much I appreciate you.
I love you.

The two women shared a smile.

“When did she have time to do that?” wondered Laura.

“I’m not sure, but do you really want to stand out here and figure it out?”

Laura looked at the note, then the door and then back to Carmilla. “No, no I don’t.”

Note in hand, they quickly entered the room with a giggle and shut the door behind them.

Chapter Text

“Argh!”

A cluster of piano notes sounded through the apartment. Sky, nose to knee in the middle of the living room floor, cracked an eye open and chuckled before resuming her concentration and reaching down her other leg, waiting for the gentle, repetitive tones to resume.

As silence continued to reign, she sat back up, her brow furrowing as she looked over her shoulder towards the ajar door of the study. Curious, she got up and walked over to investigate.

Looking in, she saw Mercy hunched over on the piano bench, her head and hands all resting on the keys. The floor was littered with crumpled up balls of paper. On the music stand, the pad of manuscript was decorated with a handful of scribbled musical notes followed by a sad face taking up most of the page.

Sky smiled sadly, walking over to rub her girlfriend’s back. “Having trouble?”

Mercy rolled her head over, playing another cluster of keys. “I cannot get this started,” she groaned, “I have the hook in my head, but I can’t think of an intro.”

“Four chord structure?”

Mercy moved her eyes to make eye contact and glare up Sky. “You’re trying to help… and I appreciate that… but that honestly just hurt.”

“Aw, sweetie,” said Sky, continuing to rub circles on her back, “can I help at all?”

“I don’t think so,” Mercy muttered, “I’ve been throwing myself at this for hours and nothing sounds right.”

“Come on,” soothed Sky, coaxing Mercy off the piano bench, “I think you need a break. You can come back at this later with fresh eyes… ears… whatever.”

“Nooo…” protested Mercy weakly, reaching pathetically for the keyboard as Sky led her away, “I’m so close, I can feel it.”

“I don’t think laying your face on the keys is really encouraging the creative process,” said Sky, biting back a laugh, “though the piano key shaped impressions on your face are somewhat striking.”

“No, it helps,” murmured Mercy, “the piano was telling me its secrets.”

“Uh, babe?” asked Sky, “when was the last time you ate?”

“Um…” Mercy hesitated, drawing a disappointed frown Sky.

“Seriously? Don’t tell me you haven’t eaten since breakfast. You’ve been working through lunch too much lately.”

“Well… about that…” she mumbled, “I may have missed breakfast too.”

“You’re kidding,” said Sky, clearly irritated.

“I woke up with that amazing hook in my head,” Mercy defended herself, “I had to get it down before it was too late, then at that point it seemed only natural to try and get the rest of the song out.”

“Mercy!” exclaimed Sky, “I can’t believe you! It’s almost dinner time. No wonder you’ve hit a wall.”

“Ok fine,” said Mercy, “I’ll eat something, but then I need to get back to work.”

“No,” said Sky, “It’s bad enough you’ve made a habit skipping lunch, I can’t let you get into the habit of neglecting yourself completely; you’re going to overwork yourself. We’re going to have a proper dinner and then we’re spend the evening relaxing… or else.”

“Or else what?” scoffed Mercy, “you gonna tell my parents on me?”

“No…” said Sky calmly, “but…”

“But? Wha— No, I’m sorry. No, lets sit down! Relax! Let’s go out to dinner, my treat. It’ll be fun, just not—”

x-x-x

“Now, I know that it seems difficult when you get into a ‘groove’, but you really need to take the time to take care of yourself,” lectured Perry, adding a casserole of green beans to the growing feast on the table, “I mean, yes, the occasional missed meal is not going to kill you, but if you make too much of a habit of it, you'll wear yourself down.”

“I know, Aunt Perry,” Mercy admitted reluctantly as everyone took their seats around the table, “it just feels like time wasted when I'm on to something. Almost like if I look away, I'll lose it completely.”

“I know that feeling,” said Laf, “lemme tell you a story. Years and years ago, before any of you kids were born, just after we'd moved into this house…”

<-<-<

“Laf, sweetie. Can you grab my briefcase from the office?” asked Perry, lugging her suitcase down the stairs.

“Got it, Perr,” they replied, “you got your boarding pass?”

“It's loaded onto my phone and I've got a printed copy in my briefcase for backup.”

“Good, one bad crash and it's ‘sorry, we can't let you board this flight’.”

“I think that one time was because if the tray of live petri-dishes than boarding pass issues.” Perry paused, looking at them with a tight smile. “Oh, I'm gonna miss you, weirdo.”

“I'll miss you too, even if it's just a week, my beautiful control freak.”

With shining eyes, she wrapped her arms around their neck and brought her face to theirs, losing herself in their lips. After what felt like entirely too short a time, Lafontaine broke away, resting their forehead against hers.

“As much as I hate myself for saying this, we need to get you to the airport or you're gonna miss your flight.”

Perry sighed. “You’re right, as much as I’d love to drag you upstairs to continue this.” She stepped away from them, giving their butt a playful squeeze before grabbing her briefcase and carry on and scampering out the door.

They stood shock still for a moment, letting their brain reboot. “God I love her.” They grabbed the suitcase and rolled it out the door.”

x-x-x

Laf made their way down the stairs into their lab, snacking on an apple leftover from lunch. The last few days had been wonderfully productive. They’d fallen into relaxed routine of sleeping late and lounging the morning away before starting their work after lunch and going until they got hungry, usually about mid-evening.

Despite the sedate pace, they’d managed to get an enormous amount of data recorded and their samples were developing nicely. Now today, as a result, was something they were really anticipating; one of their key experiments was going to come to fruition.

Throwing on their lab coat, they quickly gathered their notes before moving to grab their equipment. It took every shred of their patience to wait to have all their tools ready before they went to gather the samples that they had left growing since the day before. Satisfied that the lab was ready, they crossed the room, threw open the large incubator and and removed the rack of vials. With a grin, Laf brought the set of glassware to eye level to have a glance at the specimens within and saw… nothing.

There was nothing growing in the glass vials. The growth substrate was still in the bottom, and the samples seemed properly seeded, but there was no growth, complete inertia. It made no sense. The sample could have grown with any number of different characteristics, that was the point of the experiment, but it should still have done something. It completely contradicted the data.

Setting the sample vials aside, they grabbed their data sheets and began poring over them, trying to find where their method had gone wrong

x-x-x

“Laf?”

Danny knocked as she opened the front door, trying to announce her entry into the house. Silence, however, was the only answer. Disconcerted, she made her way through the house, trying to find her scientist friend.

“Lafontaine?” she tried again as she passed through the kitchen and up the stairs, “are you here?”

She’d made it up to their bedroom when a dull thud from somewhere below drew Danny’s attention. Slowly, she brought a hand up to cover her face. “Searching through an empty house, for my missing friend, about to investigate a mysterious sound. Guaranteed there is someone yelling at a screen right now, telling me to get out of the house.” With a huff, she balled up her fists and began making her way back downstairs.

She made it to the kitchen when another thud drew her attention to the basement door. Scrunching up her face in annoyance, she strode forward and threw the door open. “Laf? If that’s you, I’m coming down. If that's a murderer waiting to jump out at me, you are getting such a mauling, I swear.

Carefully, she made her way down the stairs into the laboratory, noticing a musty, earthy smell that was becoming stronger as she descended. Reaching the bottom of the stairs and entering the lab, she came upon Lafontaine, hunched over a table, scribbling away at something and muttering incoherently.

“Laf?” offered Danny tentatively.

They whipped around, staring back with bloodshot eyes, “Danny?” they said, a noticeable scratch to their voice, “what are you doing here?”

“Looking for you. It’s been several days since we’ve seen you, so I came by to invite you over to dinner. How long have you been down here?” asked Danny, looking around the room. Sheets of paper covered every available surface, the floor included; the waste basket was full of presumably dry pens and a coffee encrusted mug seemed like it might be adhered to the counter behind Laf. Lafontaine themself had noticeable dark circles under their eyes, which were visibly glazed over, even with their attention towards Danny. “Laf?”

Lafontaine snapped back to reality. “Wha? Oh, sorry. Uh… what time is— wait, what day is it?”

Danny goggled at them. “It’s thursday.”

“Oh, then three days… give or take.”

“Three days!” exclaimed Danny, “please tell me you’ve eaten in that time.”

“Does coffee count?”

“No.”

“Umm…”

“Well, then have you at least gotten some sleep?”

“I got a couple hours here and there, at the counter here.”

Danny stood silently for a moment, simply staring at their friend, before clapping their hands together and stepping up to ease them out of their chair. “Okay, time to come back to reality. You are coming back to our house for a proper meal and then you are going to bed. However, first you are going to go take a shower and change, because I just realized that smell is seventy-two hours of obsessed scientist body odor.”

Laf’s eyes went wide as their face went cherry red. “Yes, that is a thing that needs to be done. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s cool Laf,” said Danny, “go get ready, I’ll wait for you.”

“Thanks Dan’.”

>->->

Mercy stared at Laf, a look of sheer horror on her face.

“That’s about what Perry looked like when she got home and I told her what happened,” Laf observed with a chuckle.

“But three days… without food… or sleep… or bathing…” said Mercy, in shock.

“May it forever stand as a warning,” said Sky.

“It’s a lesson taken to heart, believe me,” said Mercy, “I promise to never get that swept away in my work.”

“Well, I’m glad you get why it’s important,” said Perry as she began to clear dishes, everyone else getting up to help, “if only because once you get into that sort of state, you start to miss the obvious.”

“I can get that,” agreed Mercy, “so, what was the incredibly obvious thing did you find once you went back?”

“Actually, I wasn’t the one who found it,” admitted Laf, “I decided to take some time out of the lab to recover to keep from burning out. It was actually Perr who found it.”

“What? How?”

“Well,” explained Perry, “after they told me, I insisted on going down and cleaning the lab for the sake of their health.”

“Laf, you don’t let anyone touch anything down there,” said Mercy, “and you let Aunt Perry do a full cleaning?”

“I didn’t have anything nearly as dangerous down there back then as I keep around now,” said Laf, “plus, you should know by now that your Aunt Perr knows her stuff well enough to navigate that lab blindfolded.”

“Well, you’re the one that taught me the MSDS system so I’d know when to steer clear of the Alchemy kids at Silas,” said Perry, “but it’s been pretty handy actually. Anyways, cleaning the lab, I happened to notice a loose plug…”

“Wait, don’t tell me,” said Mercy.

“The incubator had been unplugged the entire time,” said Laf.

Mercy let out a sympathetic groan. “Ok, that just hurts.”

“That it did. Certainly was an eye opener.”

“Not that you still don’t pull the occasional all nighter still,” interjected Sky.

“Only under your mother’s watchful eye and with enough water and snacks,” countered Laf, “nothing wrong with pushing for a goal, so long as you’re careful about keeping yourself up.”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” said Mercy before getting caught by a yawn, “speaking of.”

“You two are welcome to stay the night,” offered Perry.

“Thanks Mom, but I think we’ll head home,” said Sky, “thank you so much for dinner.”

“And the advice,” added Mercy, “I really appreciate it.”

“Anytime,” said Perry, giving them each a hug.

Laf came up from behind, wrapping an arm around each of them, “we’re always here for you, don’t forget that. Love you both.

“Love you too Laf,” said Sky, sandwiching her parent in a hug with Mercy.

x-x-x

Sky and Mercy walked into their apartment, turning on a table lamp to see by.

“You just wanna hit bed, babe?” asked Sky.

“Yeah, I— wait, one sec…” Mercy wandered into the study, under Sky’s concerned eye as she watched from the doorway. Placing one hand on the keyboard, she played a short melody. She chuckled silently before picking up the pencil and jotting something down on the manuscript. Putting the pencil down, she turned back to Sky with a smile. “Missed the obvious.”

Chapter Text

' Oh, oh, oh, sweet child o’ mine’

Carmilla gave an annoyed glance to her phone on the coffee table. She and her wives had only each respectively gotten home and had taken the opportunity to relax together in companionable silence before figuring out dinner. The universe, it seemed, had other ideas.

“You gonna get that?” asked Danny from where she was lying at the far end of the couch, her feet in Carmilla's lap.

“Yeah. That's Drix's ringtone. I should see what he wants.”

Reaching over Danny's legs, she plucked the phone off the table, answering it as she lounged back into the cushions again.

“Hey Drix. What's up?”

The line was silent for a moment before she heard a shuddering intake of breath.

“Mama?” came Drix's shaky voice.

Carmilla went rigid at his tone, drawing concerned glances from Laura and Danny. “Drix, what's wrong? What happened?” she asked frantically, instantly drawing her wives to her side.

“I-it’s… it's Jaq. She fell out of a tree,” Drix said, his voice trembling as he spoke, “I'm at the hospital with Levy. Aaron's coming as fast as he can, but he's not here yet. Mama I… I'm trying to stay calm for Levy, but I'm so scared. I've never felt so helpless.”

“Hang on, we'll be right there. I love you.”

“Love you too Mama, thanks.”

Carmilla had barely hung up the call before she launched into a plan of action. “Right, Jaq is hurt. We need to get to the hospital. Laura, Danny and I can get there in minutes if we cut through the woods. Can you call Elsie to let her know before you drive over? Aaron's still trying to get to the hospital, I doubt he's had time to call her and Hunter yet.”

“Done. I'll also grab some of the games and books we have here. Poor Levy is going to need a distraction I think,” confirmed Laura, “you two get going. I’ll be on my way in a flash.” She rushed from the room and headed down to the basement in search of the grandkids’ playthings.

Without any further discussion, Carmilla and Danny headed outside and shifted, launching themselves into the tree line. Carmilla focused on each bound, trying to get a little farther, to push off a little faster, to shave any segment off the time it took her to reach her child in need. Pushing herself to her absolute limit, she had to remind herself that even though she didn’t need to breathe and could drive herself far past normal biological limits, her running companion, however supernaturally inclined, wasn’t so advantaged. Keeping pace with the wolf, the two of them quickly found themselves on the hospital grounds, in the clearing where the pack normally gathered in celebration.

“Let’s… get… inside…” Danny wheezed, trying to catch her breath after shifting back.

“Hold on,” cautioned Carmilla, “take a moment to catch your breath. We made amazing time, we can afford a minute to keep you from collapsing from exhaustion.”

Danny nodded reluctantly, bending over with her hands on her knees as she got her wind back. Carmilla rubbed comforting circles into Danny’s back as she waited for the woman’s breathing to steady and her heart rate to return to normal.

“Ok, let’s head in,” said Danny, still a bit out of breath but feeling well enough to move without collapsing.

The two started to jog around towards the front when the door of the solarium opened, a man in scrubs sticking his head out.

“Hey you two!” he called, “you can come in here. It’ll be faster than running all the way around to the ER.”

“Thanks, this is a huge help,” Danny slipped past the man into the familiar space.

“Of course. Family is important, you shouldn’t have to wait.”

Carmilla paused and studied the man’s face for a moment, kindness filled eyes staring back at her, before a soft smile came to her face. “ Dankeschön Vati.”

“Bitte süsses Kinde. Now run along, your family is waiting. I’ll be along shortly.

Danny wondered about the exchange but decided to leave it until later, there were more important things to worry about right now. Both of them knew the hospital well enough that they found their way to the waiting room of the ER easily. Luckily, it was a quiet evening and they were able to head straight to the nurse’s station.

“Uh, excuse me,” said Danny, getting the nurse’s attention, “we’re looking for our son and granddaughters, one of the girls got hurt and was brought here. Hollis-Maximoff?”

“Oh yes,” she said, flipping through a series of files, “they’re in curtain eight in exam room C. I can take you there.”

“Thank you, we’d really appreciate that,” Danny replied, following behind.

“Fortunately, it’s a slow night so it’s the only bed in use in there at the moment, so you’ll have some quiet and privacy for the time being.” She stopped beside a door and gestured for them to head inside.

Thanking her again, they entered the room. Clearly visible from the door were Hendrix and Levy cuddled together on a pair of seats. Carmilla jogged up to the two, throwing an arm around each of them.

“We’re here,” she said, holding them tight, “we’re here now.”

“Thanks for coming so fast,” he said, “I really appreciate it and I’m sure Jaq will too.” He nodded over her shoulder to the bed that had been obscured by a curtain when they’d looked from the door.

On the bed lay Jaq, fast asleep and covered in bandages. Most noticeable were large ones on her arm and head. It was a heart breaking sight for Carmilla, who moved over to Jaq’s bedside, taking the girls unbandaged hand in her own.

“They've given her something for the pain so she's able to rest,” said Drix, “now we're just waiting on a diagnosis. Her arm is definitely broken and we're waiting to see if she hurt her head or something like that”

“So, what happened?” asked Danny, sitting down beside Levy and reaching around Drix’s shoulders to pull the three of them closer together.

“It was me.”

Danny looked down at Levy, not entirely certain that the small voice had come from her. “What was that sweetie?”

“It was my fault,” said Levy, a bit more loudly.

“Oh honey,” comforted Drix, “I already told you, this isn’t your fault.”

“Yes it is!” she argued, “I was roosting in that tree and she’d been trying to call me down. I was comfy and didn’t want to fly down, so I ignored her. If I hadn’t, she wouldn’t have tried to climb up and then she wouldn’t have fallen.”

“Levy, you can’t torture yourself with ‘what-ifs’ and ‘would-haves’,” said Danny, “Jaq loves to climb trees, just like everyone in our family. It could have happened at any time, to any of us. It was just a bad chance that it happened now.”

“Yeah,” agreed Drix, “she's sat with you when you've roosted before without trouble. Trust me, you had nothing to do with her falling.”

“If you say so,” mumbled Levy, her voice lacking conviction.

Drix looked at his daughter sadly and pulled her closer to himself, trying to reassure her as tears silently ran down her face. Drix's own eyes began to water as he bit his lip, trying to keep his composure.

“Hey Danny,” said Carmilla, who'd been watching her son's tense state, “you mind watching the girls for a moment? I need to talk to Drix”

“Yeah, no problem,” she said, lifting her arm to let Drix out before hugging Levy close to her.

Carmilla led Drix out into the hall, moving out of sight of the room’s windows. Once she was satisfied they were out of earshot, she turned and pulled him into a tight hug.

Drix's walls crumbled and he began sobbing into his mother's shoulder. “Mama, I was so scared. I saw her fall. I watched her climb up that tree, like she's done so many times before, I didn't think anything of it.” Drix paused and took a shuddering breath, “And then she slipped, and everything just seemed to slow down. She was halfway down before I even could react. I moved as fast as I could, but all I accomplished was being able to watch her hit the ground up close. Her scream of pain is the most terrifying thing I've ever heard and her arm… it was so torn up. Seeing my baby like that. Mama, how could I let this happen?”

“Drix, this isn’t your fault any more than it is Levy’s,” Carmilla said, stepping back to look him in the eyes, “don’t drive yourself crazy wondering what you might have done differently. You love them and you care for them and you teach them in hopes they can keep themselves safe, but you can’t shield them from everything, not without stifling who they are.”

“She’s right, you know,” added Aaron as he walked up, Drix’s shoulders slumped in relief as he stepped over and hugged his husband. “So, how are our girls doing?”

“Jaq is resting while we wait for a diagnosis. Levy is a wreck, she blames herself and I don’t know how to convince her otherwise,” said Drix.

“Oh, my poor angels,” said Aaron sadly, “but don’t worry. We’ll get them through this. This’ll all be a family story before you know it. I’m gonna head in and check on them, then I’ll try get a hold of my parents, let them know what happened.”

“Laura said she was going to try to get a hold of them before heading over, so they shouldn’t be far behind her,” said Carmilla.

“Thanks, you guys are the best.”

“No, we’re family.”

x-x-x

“What is taking them so long?” complained Elsie, “this place is a ghost town.”

“Els, you’ve only been here ten minutes,” said Laura, a skeptical look on her face which was quickly mirrored by Elsie.

“I know that, but I’m not the one in pain and in need of a doctor.”

“Mom,” interjected Aaron, “Jaq is fast asleep and doesn’t seem to be in any danger. We can afford to give the doctors time.”

Elsie crossed her arms and took a deep breath. “You’re right, I just don’t like waiting.”

“Well, hopefully I can alleviate some of that stress,” came a voice from the door.

“Zeke!” said Carmilla happily, “am I ever glad to see you.”

“It is always good to see you as well child, even in such unfortunate circumstances,” he said, referring to the chart in his hands, “I’m terribly sorry about the wait. I’ve arranged for the hospital to always contact me before proceeding with procedures on my patients, unless it’s a dire emergency. It slows things down, but it helps keep the natures of my patients from being uncovered.”

“That’s perfectly alright Dr. Antos,” said Aaron, “we appreciate the caution, but since you’re here now, what can you tell us?”

“Well, the good news is that young Jacqueline managed to avoid any head or spinal injuries, so she’s not in any long term danger,” explained Dr. Antos. The relief that filled the room was almost palpable, “the bad news on the other hand is that her right arm is badly damaged. I imagine that she either fell right on it or hit a branch on the way, but her ulna is shattered and her radius is cracked in several places. She’ll require surgery to realign the bone fragments and hold them in place.”

Drix felt the wind rush out of him. Logically, he knew that a procedure of this sort was minor and safe, but all that was going through his mind was that his little girl needed surgery. The thought made his heart clench. The room seemed to go out of focus and fill with a dull buzzing sound until he felt something warm grip his hand, providing a rush of comfort. Looking up to find Aaron at his side, Drix took a deep breath and looked back to Zeke. “How soon can you get her into surgery?”

“I’d like to proceed immediately, if you’ll allow,” said Dr. Antos, “we want to get in before the bones start to knit themselves together wrong.”

Drix shared a brief look with Aaron, who simply nodded. There was really no question about it.

“Yeah Doc, let’s get her in there.”

“Good, I’ll go prep and send a nurse to get Jacqueline ready,” he said, opening the door before pausing, “oh and one more thing, I think you may have lost something.” Zeke held the door open as a chagrined looking Rafael walked into the room under Dr. Antos’ knowing smirk. “Can you please see if you can get him to stop possessing the interns? Even if he keeps them on their routines, they are always terribly disoriented afterwards.”

Carmilla chuckled. “Don’t worry Zeke, I think that it won’t be a problem.”

“Indeed it won’t. I sincerely apologize, I meant no harm,” offered Rafael.

“Glad to hear it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have surgery to prep for,” said Dr. Antos before heading on his way.

Aaron got up and walked over to Jaq, giving her a soft kiss on the forehead. “Jaq, sweetie. You need to wake up for a moment.”

Jaq stirred, groaning softly. “Daddy?”

“Yep, it’s me. How you feeling?”

“Floaty,” replied Jaq, not really focussing on anything in particular, “still hurts a bit.”

“I know sweetie,” comforted Aaron, “Dr. Antos just came to talk to us. You’re going to be alright, but you need surgery.”

“Surgery?” asked Jaq, curiosity, not concern in her voice, “what kind of surgery?”

“Well, they have to do surgery on your arm,” answered Drix, “your bones are all messed up and they need to go in and put them back where they belong.”

“Oh, ok,” said Jaq distantly, “that sounds important. I kinda need my bones where they belong.”

“That you do,” said Drix with a smile, “they’ll fix you right up.”

“Good,” she mumbled as she started to drift asleep again, “love you Papa.”

“Love you too, sweetie.” Drix gave the sleeping girl a kiss and remained standing by her bedside until the team of nurses came in to whisk her off to surgery.

x-x-x

“I can walk on my own. It was my arm that broke, not my legs.” Jaq held up her right arm, showing off the brightly coloured polymer cast holding it rigid.

“I know my dear,” said Dr. Antos, “but we make everyone ride in a wheelchair until they’re outside. It’s just a safety measure.”

“Fine, I’ve been stuck in that bed for two days,” mused Jaq, “I can stand a few more minutes in a wheelchair. Onward Jeeves!”

Aaron laughed as he pushed the chair forward. “Well, I’m glad to see your spirit has certainly recovered.”

He pushed her, with Dr. Antos at their side, through the halls to the floor nurse’s station where her Papa and sister stood waiting.

“You’ll have to wait here a minute girls,” said Drix, “your Dad and I need to finish up some paperwork before we head out.”

“Ok!” said Jaq brightly before turning to her sister who was simply staring at the floor. “Alright Levy, I know it must’ve been nice having the place to yourself, but there’s no use pouting about it. I’m coming home and that’s that.”

Levy’s head snapped up, her eyes full of sadness and hurt. “What do you mean? Of course I want you home. What kind of sister would I be to want you in a place like this?”

“Whoa, calm down Le-le. I was joking. You ok?”

The question just seemed to agitate Levy even more. “Am I ok? Jaq, your arm is broken, you were in the hospital and it’s my fault.”

“Your fault? What? Why?”

“You were trying to call me. I didn’t listen and you tried to come up to see me… and you fell.”

“That’s stupid.”

“What?!”

“I said that’s stupid. You didn’t make me climb the tree. You certainly didn’t make me fall. I fell cause I was trying to beat my time to the top and missed a branch.”

“But I…”

“No. Levy, I love you. I know you’d never hurt me. This wasn’t your fault, I was just careless.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. I’m your sister. I’m always right.”

“Wait, no you’re not!”

“Yes I am, it’s just a fact.”

“Well, if you’re always right how did you fall out of a tree?”

“Oh, so it is my fault then?”

“Yeah it… wait… no… yeah, I guess it is.”

“Good,” Jaq gave Levy a light punch in the arm, “I’d hate for this to get in our way. Plenty of good trees left to climb. There’s apparently a huge one near the lake that Papa used to nap in, that one should be fun to climb.”

“Ahem,” interrupted Drix.

“With proper supervision, of course.”

“Of course,” said Drix skeptically, “which is one of the first things we’ll be discussing about climbing trees once we’re home young lady.”

“Oh here we go,” Jaq groaned.

“It’s all fun and games until someone breaks an arm,” joked Levy, making Jaq laugh.

“Alright you two,” prompted Aaron, pushing Jaq’s chair towards the exit, “let’s get you home and changed. Your grandmothers are throwing a ‘get well’ party and it’d better if we weren’t late. They’re going to think something else broke or something awful like that.

“Well let’s get going then,” said Jaq, “I’ve been eating hospital food for two days now, some home cooking would really hit the spot.”

“Done and done. Let’s head home,” said Drix as they pushed out the front doors and into the sunshine.

Chapter Text

“Mercy Hollis! It's five below out there. Get back here and let me put on your paw covers before your pads freeze.”

The young wolf let out an annoyed huff from where she'd stopped at the bottom of the stairs. With drooped ears, she turned and trudged back up to the deck, holding out her front paw to her mother.

“Oh, don't give me that expression young lady,” chided Danny as she slipped on the first red bootie, “I know you're eager to get moving, but you know as well as I do that you'll be whining to turn around in ten minutes without them.”

Mercy's head sunk a little lower, admitting her mother was right. Within minutes, all four covers were cinched up and secure and Mercy all but launched herself off the deck to play in the snow while she waited for the rest of the pack to come outside.

“Mom, those new boots you made for them fit perfectly,” Danny said as Sue stepped out into the brisk winter air, “I can’t believe they grew out of the first set so fast.”

“They’ll be grown before you know it,” said Sue.

“Don’t remind me, I wish they’d stay young forever.”

“I remember feeling like that once, but if that had been the case, I wouldn’t have grandchildren.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t.” Danny laughed.

There was a rush of air as a small black blur rushed past them and out into the snow. Mercy only had time to look up before her brother tackled her into a snowdrift. The snow seemed to explode as the two began rolling around in a playful tussle.

“Fortunately, these ones are waterproof for that exact reason,” added Sue, gesturing to the maelstrom.

“How did you knit waterproof boots?” asked Danny, raising an eyebrow at her mom.

“I found a website that sells polar yarn; it’s pretty much plastic. Really soft, fuzzy plastic.”

“Clever,” said Carmilla, joining the other women, “now I'm kinda doubly envious of those, not that I really need them like the kids do, but warm pads in the winter sounds so nice.”

“You're in luck then,” said Sue, drawing quizzical stares from Carmilla and Danny, “since the first sets were such a success, I've been making them for the entire pack, you two included.”

“Really?” asked Carmilla, a gleam of excitement in her eyes.

“Yes really. They're in a bag by the front door, just find the set with your name on it.”

With matching grins, the two made their way into the house to find a paper shopping bag beside everyone's shoes. Reaching into the bag, Danny pulled out a set of teal boots, joined by a thread, with her name dangling from a tag. She looked over the boots, an impressed look on her face, as she absently handed the bag to Carmilla, who greedily dug into the contents.

Making her way past a multitude of gloves, scarves and woolen hats, obviously intended for more conventional circumstances, she plunged her hands to the bottom of the bag and pulled out the clutch of items she was seeking.

“Uh…” started Danny, holding back laughter, “are you sure those are yours?”

Carmilla nodded slowly, absently turning the tag with her name clearly written in black marker so Danny could see it as she he looked over exquisite workmanship of the paw covers. The garments were noticeably wider than the ones Danny had, to accommodate the panther’s far larger paws. The weave seemed impossibly tight and secure; without a doubt, they would keep water and snow out. However, what was most readily apparent to the two women,was the boots’ colour.

“Carm… they’re pink. Hot pink.”

Carmilla bit her lip, nodding to herself, “yes, yes they are. Mind giving me a hand putting them on?”

Danny looked at Carmilla like she’d just sprouted a second head, “uh, okay.”

Carmilla shifted and put out her front paw for Danny to put the first boot onto. As Danny secured the first one, she failed to miss the twitching of Carmilla’s ears as they seemed to want to fold back. Carmilla, however, continued to offer each paw without hesitation.

Once all four paws were secure, Carmilla nuzzled Danny in thanks and then headed for the back door as coolly as she could manage, leaving Danny feeling torn. On the one hand, she was mildly concerned about how her wife was feeling about the situation, but on the other hand, watching the panther try to maintain her cool, dark-as-the-night, vibe with four pink booties on was quite possibly one of the funniest things she had ever seen. Biting her lips to hold back her laughter, she followed Carmilla towards the back of the house.

Entering the kitchen, Carmilla tried to sneak through to the back door and into the snow before anyone noticed? She, however, froze when an exclamation from a familiar voice spoiled her plan.

“Oh Carm, you look adorable!” cried Laura from where she was standing at the kitchen counter, where she’d been pulling out mugs for hot drinks once everyone got back, “oh my goodness, let me grab my camera!”

Carmilla puffed up in fright at the mention of the camera and without any further hesitation, she bolted out of the house, ignoring Laura’s stuttered protests behind her.

“Sorry hun,” Danny consoled, “I’m not sure why she decided to wear those, but I think that pictures are beyond what she’s willing to be subjected to tonight.”

“Ugh, fine,” Laura conceded.

“Tell you what, help me get mine on and I’ll let you take a couple of snaps when we get back from the run” Danny held out her own bundle to Laura.

Laura’s dejection disappeared in moments. “Okay, deal!” She grabbed the bundle of boots from Danny and in just a few minutes, she had all four secured to the wolf’s feet.

Danny trotted out onto the deck, already enjoying the layer of warmth between her feet and the cold wood. Down in the yard, everyone was jumping around and playing in the snow. Across the yard, Carmilla could easily be seen, pink shod paws waving around in the air as Drix and Mercy jumped all over her. Looking around at everyone playing, she realized that she was the last pack member to join the group outside. With a sharp yip, she grabbed everyone’s attention and began leading the way into the trees

x-x-x

The back door of the house opened as everyone started to come back into the warmth, the aroma of fresh coffee and hot chocolate pervading the air. Quickly, some of the cousins set about handing out the hot drinks, everyone thanking Laura for readying the refreshments while everyone was out

“My dear,” said Paul as he came in, “I’d say these boots of yours are an unqualified success. I don’t think we’ve ever felt like staying out that long in these temperatures before; my paws weren’t sore at all. We might even be able to coax Mom and Dad to join us on some of these, the cold won’t bother them anywhere near as much.”

Sue laughed, placing a calming hand on his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re excited about them. I definitely seem to have a pattern that works for them now, so making more should be no issue whatsoever.”

“They were fantastic, Mom,” added Zach, “not to mention fashionable, eh?” He playfully nudged Carmilla with his elbow as she walked past him.

She rolled her eyes but said nothing, a ghost of a smirk on her face.

“Oh now leave her alone, it’s a fine colour,” said Paul with a hint of a snicker, “first time we we’ve been able to easily see you at night.” The two men both started chuckling at the remark.

Carmilla narrowed her eyes playfully at them. “Ok, snow down both your backs, next chance I get.” They paused momentarily at the threat, before breaking down even more.

“Ok, both of you, quiet down now,” scolded Sue, cuffing them both lightly.

“Mom?” asked Danny, “why did you choose pink for Carmilla’s boots?”

“Well…” Sue hesitated, a chagrined smile crossing her face, “I kind of meant it as a joke.”

“What?” asked Danny, aghast. She looked at Carmilla, expecting a similar look of betrayal, but instead she was only wearing a small smile as she gazed at Sue.

“I never actually meant for her to wear them,“ Sue admitted, “those were my test pair for the shape. I figured she’d say something about the colour and then I was going to give her the real ones. Just a quick laugh for us to share.” Sue directed her attention to Carmilla. “Instead you just put them on and went straight outside before I could talk to you.”

“Well, of course I did,” said Carmilla, “regardless of the colour, it was obvious you put a lot of effort into them. I wasn’t going to act like a spoiled brat and refuse an amazing gift just because I don’t like the colour.”

“Oh my dear,” cooed Sue, “I knew there was a reason I liked having you as a daughter-in-law.” Sue strode across the room and enveloped Carmilla in a tight hug, before pulling away, still holding Carmilla by the shoulders. “Well, as much as I appreciate the gesture, I have something a little more to your taste.” Sue smiled broadly before turning and heading into the living room.

“Have I ever told you you’re amazing?” asked Danny, wrapping an arm around Carmilla.

“Many times, but I could stand to hear it at least once more.”

Danny could only chuckle as she pulled her wife close, melting into her before Sue came back into the kitchen.

“These are the ones I intended to give you, if you hadn’t been so noble.”

“Hey,” protested Carmilla, “I am not noble. I’m stubborn.”

“The broody vampire has spoken,” joked Laura from her perch on the island, “she is not noble, heroic, romantic or in anyway a softie of any sort.”

“Exactly,” Carmilla deadpanned, “glad someone gets it.”

“Fine, you’re not noble. Now here,” said Sue through her laughter.

The new boots were much more to her taste. The knitwork was just as good, if not better than the pink ones. The boot itself was black but the trim and lacings were done in deep purple. These were boots she could genuinely see herself enjoying a run in.

“Thank you, Sue. I love these.”

“Good, I’m glad.”

“Well, now that that is settled,” said Laura, hopping down from the counter, “I believe I was promised cute pictures of a wolf in boots.”

Danny rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Alright, help me get these back on and we can take them out on the deck.”

“Y’know what?” said Carmilla, “I think I’ll join you.”

“Oh?” said Danny, “want to show off your new boots already?”

“No,” she replied, grabbing the pink boots, “I had some different attire in mind.”

With a squeak of glee, Laura quickly grabbed her camera and the three stepped outside to commemorate the evening.

Chapter Text

“Danny Lawrence! I have put up with your annoyances for far too long. We are doing this, right here, right now!”

“You serious, Hollis? Let's go then. You have no idea what you're getting into. Bring it on!”

“Oh, consider it brought, why I oughta—”

“Would you two just roll the dice already?”

Laura and Danny looked over to where the vampire was lounging on her side of the Risk board, an exasperated expression on her face.

“Aw, c'mon Carm,” pleaded Laura, “the grandstanding is half the fun.”

“I have to say, it loses its appeal around the thirtieth exchange or so.”

“You just say that cause you're losing,” taunted Danny.

“Losing or not, you still haven't rolled the dice.”

The two women shared a glance and rolled their eyes at their girlfriend before each rolling their dice onto the board.

“Ha!” exclaimed Laura, “in your face!” She moved her pieces into place and ended her turn with a little fist-pumping dance in front of the Summers’ Christmas tree.

“Rest well troops,” lamented Danny, picking up her defeated pieces, “I swear you will be avenged.”

“Yeah, about that,” interjected Carmilla as she dropped a wealth of pieces in front of her, “I'm cashing in some cards.”

“Uh, Laura?” said Danny, her eyes widening as Carmilla placed her new legions onto the board, “I think we're in trouble.”

Laura flopped back down into her chair, “correction, you're in trouble. Me and Carm have an alliance.”

“Correction, had an alliance.” Carmilla smirked. “I think I'll start with that lovely little collection in North America there.”

“No, not my Canadians! What'd they ever do to you?”

“They know what they did.” The vampire chuckled. “Now roll.”

When the plastic carnage finally ended, a pouting Laura had been wiped from the board whilst Danny had been left with a single toe-hold in Madagascar.

“Welp, that was illuminating,” said Danny, “Well played, Carm. Good game.”

“Noooo,” whined Laura, “don't give up. You can still battle back.”

“As much as I appreciate the confidence you've got in my four soldiers there,” said Danny, “I think the great Karnstein empire has me beat.”

“My rule will be brutal, but fair,” said Carmilla, “and my first decree is for my defeated opponents to pay me tribute. Specifically, right here.” She pointed playfully to her lips, pursing them for effect.

“Thy will be done,” said Danny, smiling as she leaned across the coffee table, softly meeting Carmilla's lips.

They parted with a slightly dreamy look in both of their eyes before they each turned to Laura expectantly.

She pouted back. “Fine, but”—she licked her lips—”I'm gonna do this properly.”

“Wha—” was all that Carmilla managed to get out before she found herself pressed back into the couch cushions, an enthusiastic Laura attached to her face.

“If you rabbits are gonna start that, can you please take it up to Danny's room? We'd really like to not have to steam clean that couch.”

All three girls jumped, turning beet red at the interruption. Elsie was leaning against the doorway with a smug grin plastered across her face. The three of them started talking over one another, stammering helplessly.

“Dudes, it's alright,” said Elsie, “I'm kidding... mostly. Like seriously, don't do it on the couches, Mel would flip; but I'm just giving you guys a hard time.”

“You still make a good point,” said Laura, brushing her hair back behind her ears before checking her phone, “and as much as I’m sure Carm didn’t appreciate your interruption”—the vampire glared at the blonde as if to agree—”we should be going.”

“What, seriously?” asked Danny, “it’s not even nine.”

“I know,” said Laura as she began to clean up the board, “but I’ve got my final for Professor Cochrane’s class in a couple days. I need to hit the books.”

“Seriously cupcake?” said Carmilla, disbelief on her face, “I thought this was your easy one.”

“Easy to pass? Yes, but I owe it to Dr. Cochrane to give it my best effort to try and ace the exam.”

“Good for you Laura.” Danny beamed at her girlfriend. “With that attitude you’ll knock it out of the park. This is your last final, right?”

“Yep! Then it’s Christmas time!” Laura stuck both fists in the air, squealing happily.

“And you’re done the next day, right Red?” asked Carmilla.

“Yeah. I just have to defend a paper that morning,” said Danny as all three got up, making their way into the front entrance, “and then we can load the car and head home, bright and early the next day.”

“Ooh, I can’t wait. Our first Christmas together.” Laura was practically vibrating with excitement as she pulled on her coat. “Not to mention I’ll get to join in on all the fun I missed last year, really experience the Lawrence family dyn—”

“Where the hell do you halfwits think you’re going?”

Laura turned around, her hand still on the front door handle, to where Mel was standing on the stairs. “Umm… back to the dorms. I thought you’d be happy to have us out of your hair.”

“Normally, yes, I’d be ecstatic,” said Mel, “however, have any of you looked out a window in the past hour or so.”

The three looked at each other before all shaking their heads, no.

“Of course you haven’t.” Mel rolled her eyes and shook her head in annoyance. “Well, allow me to illuminate the situation for you.” She strode past them into an adjacent room with a large picture window, from which she drew back the heavy curtains. Right away, there was an immediate temperature drop as the exposed window seemed to leech heat from the room and anyone in it. The lights of the lodge illuminated an absolute blizzard of snow outside, falling thickly and not letting up.

“Okay yeah, it’s snowing pretty heavily” scoffed Carmilla, “but I don’t see anything besides that.”

“That’s exactly my point. You can’t see anything else,” stressed Mel, “we should be able to see the lights of campus from here, but it’s snowing so heavily that it’s completely blacked out. You’d probably get turned around with a landmark and in these temperatures, you’d freeze before you could fight your way through it to the dorms.”

“Alright, so trying to head back wouldn’t be all that smart right now,” conceded Laura.

“Not that that’s stopped you before, but no time like the present to start,” snarked Mel as she pulled the curtains shut again against the cold.

Laura glared at her, but otherwise didn’t respond to the barb.

“You okay waiting til tomorrow to study?” asked Danny.

“Yeah,” said Laura, “like Carm said, it’s my easy one.” Laura smiled, but there was a definite note of disappointment in her voice.

Danny frowned. “Is there anyway you can study from here? Online notes or something?”

Laura considered the option. “Yeah, that could work for now. The bulk of what I really need are my index cards and compiled examples, but any port in a storm, or well, blizzard.”

“C’mon, let’s go get some cookies and cocoa from the kitchen and then I’ll set you up with my laptop.”

“Okay,” said Laura, a little more brightly as she made her way towards to lodge’s kitchen.

Carmilla, however, hung back, looking thoughtful.

“What?” asked Danny

“Y’know, I could go grab her stuff and bring it back here.”

“I’m sorry, did you not hear Mel’s little speech just now. We can’t go out there.”  

“No, you can’t go out there. The cold isn’t really any concern to me and I should be able to power through the snow quickly enough.”

“You’ll get lost.”

“Please. I’ve been coming to this school for half a century, I know my way around it like the back of my hand. Even if I do get turned around, I can just follow my nose to whatever atrocity the alchemy nerds are cooking up this week to get my bearings again. Trust me, I’ll be fine and it’ll cheer Laura up.”

Danny bit her lip in thought for a moment before exhaling. “Ok fine, but be careful and please try not to be gone too long.”

“Promise,” said Carmilla, giving Danny a quick hug before speeding out the front door, barely a hint of a draft coming in as she opened and shut the door behind her.

Danny continued to stare at the door for another long moment before going and joining Laura in the kitchen.

x-x-x

“It’s been over an hour.”

Laura and Danny were seated on the steps in the lodge’s front hall, watching the door for Carmilla’s return. When Carmilla had first left, Laura had shrugged it off, confident in the vampire’s abilities and touched by the gesture. However, as the minutes ticked by without Carmilla’s return, she became less able to focus on the computer in front of her, eventually dragging Danny back downstairs to wait.

Danny sighed. “I’m sure she’s fine,” she said, despite her own growing feeling of unease.

“Why did you let her go out in this?” Laura asked forlornly.

“Let her?” Danny raised an eyebrow at Laura.

“Ok fine, you’re right. Once she’s set on something…” Laura said, before laughing softly, “it’s such an annoying quality, how on earth do you put up with it?”

Danny wrapped her arm around Laura and held her close.

“I dunno, I find it kind of endearing.”

The two settled into an uneasy silence, holding onto each other for more than warmth. The sounds of the rest of the sisters could be heard from throughout the house, but it still felt too quiet to the couple.

“Should… should we go try to look for her?” asked Laura.

“No.” Danny voice was firm, her eyes squeezed closed, telling herself as much as Laura. “We’d only end up with three people lost instead of one, and you and I can’t take those temperatures for long. Like it or not, if she’s lost, she can survive out there and we’ll just have to wait fo—”

A loud scratching sound came from the front accompanied by a very familiar, low groan. Before Danny could even react, Laura all but launched herself at the door, letting in a very irritated looking panther. Her fur was caked with snow and in her jaws, she was carrying Laura's backpack.

“Carm! You're okay! I mean, you are okay, right? You look okay, but it's hard to tell with this snow,” babbled Laura, as she accepted her backpack from the cat “I was so worried, I mean thank you for getting stuff for me but I would have been— is this blood?”

On Laura's backpack, where Carmilla had been holding it, there was a notable blood stain. Looking back at the cat, worry written all over her face, Laura could make out the sheen of the dark blood staining her muzzle.

“It's not hers, I can smell it,” said Danny calmly, running up with an armload of towels from who-knows-where, “let’s get her dried off first, we can worry about the blood once we’re done.” Tossing a towel over Carmilla's back and handing a few to a much-relieved Laura, they started to dry the panther off.

Under her partners’ ministrations, Carmilla quickly found herself calming down and unconsciously began to lean into their attentions, her eyes closing contentedly, much to Laura and Danny's amusement. Before long, with her coat nearly dry and muzzle gently wiped clean, she shifted back to her human form, plopping down onto the steps in exhaustion.

“Alright,” said Carmilla, “that would have been far easier is someone has told me there was a goddamn wendigo stalking around.”

“A wendigo?!” yelled Danny.

There was a thump and the sound of running from upstairs as sisters came running at Danny's exclamation.

“Where'd you see it?” asked Mel, already pulling on her coat as she ran down the stairs, “I don't care how cold it is out there, we're not going to let one run loose in our forest.”

“Whoa, cool your jets there She-ra,” said Carmilla, “I said 'was’. Damn thing was dumb enough to try to put me on the menu. I was on my way back, and it jumped out at me from a snow bank. I don’t think it ever realized I wasn’t human, even after I shifted. It just kept trying to grab me, oblivious to the damage I was doing. In the end, I had to tear the stupid thing to shreds. It took forever”

“Well thank god for that,” said Mel, “ for the record, I still think you’re an idiot for going out in that, but you probably saved some lives. so I guess it evens out.”

“So glad I meet your approval,” muttered Carmilla. Mel simply shrugged and headed back up the stairs.

Satisfied the situation the resolved, the summers began trickling back to where they’d come from around the lodge, eventually leaving the trio alone, cuddling on the stairs.

“I suppose we better head back upstairs so you can get back to your studying,” said Danny.

“Do I have to?” asked Laura, clinging tenaciously to Carmilla, “after all the excitement, I kinda just wanna hold Carm for a while.”

“Oh hell no,” said Carmilla, “I just went trudging through ice, snow and most of an undead fiend to get you these notes.”

“Alright alright,” said Laura, opening her backpack, “ugh, this is gonna need a wash.” Rummaging through the contents, she first pulled out a blood bag. “Uh, Carm?”

“Oh yeah, forgot about those.” Carmilla smirked. “I decided bring over some dinner since you probably don’t have any here.”

“You’re right, we don’t, but we can start keeping some in my mini-fridge so you don’t have to worry about carting it around… or draining my sisters,” said Danny.

“Spoilsport.”

Laura proceeded to pull a thick folder of notes, which she proceeded to open before freezing, giving the other two an awkward smile.

“Uh, Carm? These are my lit notes.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe that you bought those for the kids.”

“Oh don’t be jealous, I got some for you too.”

“Why on earth would I want to put those on?”

“Why not? They’re adorable.”

“They’re demeaning.”

“They are not! Carm, back me up on this.”

“Sorry Red. I’d normally agree with you, but they just look too cute. Besides, they’re enjoying it, so what’s the harm really?”

Danny huffed, returning her attention to her parents’ backyard where the kids were playing in the snow.

“You have to admit,” said Zach, walking up beside her, “the antlers make them look pretty cute.”

Of course, Danny didn’t want to admit that the pairs of felt antlers donning the heads of her children, made them look extra joyful as they bounded around.

“They’re cute anyways,” groused Danny.

“Of course they are,“ he agreed, “but this is just so festive. A little herd of reindeer all our own. I know Xavier loves his.”

“Those things are made for dogs, you know?”

“And?”

“We’re not dogs.”

“Neither’s Laura, but she has a set on too.”

Danny couldn’t help but glance at her wife, who was in the process of trying to get Carmilla to don another set of the fuzzy headwear. She couldn’t help the smile that slid onto her face as she watched to exchange.

“Ah! I saw that. You smiled. You’re not such an antler grinch after all.”

“No, I suppose not,” admitted Danny, “dog costumes have always bugged me since the poor dog gets no say in the matter, but I guess that doesn’t really apply here… and you already knew that was the issue and just talked me into hashing it out for myself.”

“Correct on both counts,” said Zach smugly, “I’d be a pretty lousy social worker if I couldn’t even tell what was actually bothering my sister. What chance would I have with a stranger?”

“Not much of one,” she said, “thanks.”

“No problem,” he said as Sue came out of the house onto the deck, “hi Mom.”

“Hi sweetie,” said Sue, “just wanted to check if everyone was doing fine out here. Anyone need more coffee or cocoa to stay warm?”

“No thanks Sue,” said Laura, “you’ve been amazing all day, thank you. Several murmurs of thanks echoed Laura’s sentiment.

“Well, just let me know. In the meantime,” said Sue, revealing a large plastic container that she’d been hiding behind her back, “I’ve got some treats for our little reindeer.”

“Ooh, anything good?” said Laura, a greedy glint in her eye.

“Sure is,” Sue replied, pulling off the lid and showing Laura the chunks of raw meat in the container, “choice lamb from the butcher.”

“Oh yeah,” said Laura, fighting to keep a smile on her face, “yummy.”

Sue chuckled and resealed the container, heading down the steps to the lawn. “Oh Danny,” she added, looking over her shoulder, “could you grab the tin of cookies off the kitchen counter? We’ll need something for Charlie too… and Laura might like one as well.” Laura’s cheeks turned pink at the comment.

Danny chuckled. “Sure Mom, I’ll be right— Mom, look out!”

Sue turned back to realize, moments too late, that’s she’d blundered right into the path of an ongoing chase. Unable to stop in time, Mercy plowed straight into her grandmother’s legs, knocking her off her feet and straight into the snow. Drix, who’d been right behind Mercy, didn’t fare much better and came to a stop with his front paws on Sue’s back.

It seemed to take a moment for them to realize what had happened. Everyone remained frozen until the twelve year old panther realized whom he was standing on and jumped back with a yowl.

“Mom!” cried Danny and Zach at the same time, running down the steps.

“I'm alright,” Sue groaned, levering herself up out of the snow, “brrr, that's cold.”

“Are you hurt?” asked Zach, looking his mother over for any sign of injury as she brushed herself off.

“Only my pride,” she joked as Mercy walked up, ears folded, head and tail hanging low, and a sad look in her eyes. Sue took one look at the pup and immediately knelt back in the snow to gather her into a hug. “Oh sweetie, it's not your fault. I wasn't watching where I was going and stepped right in front of you.”

Mercy seemed satisfied by this, yipping softly as her tail began to wag.

“Besides,” added Sue, letting the youngster go, “it's not the first time I've been bowled over by a runaway deer.”

Mercy cocked her head to one side, watching her grandmother expectantly.

“It happened a few years ago, just after your big sister was born…”

<-<-<

Laura walked into living room, little Charlie sitting comfortably in her arms. A small legion of relatives had descended on the Hollis house had to help decorate while Laura had taken the five-month-old out to run errands—

Mom, wait…

>->->

“What?” asked Sue, visibly annoyed at Danny's interruption.

“Mom, you're soaked. You'll freeze if you just stand around out here,” said Danny, gesturing at her mother's clothing, “you actually have a pair of paw prints on your back.”

“Too bad it's just water, it'd make a nice memento,” said Sue, “alright, I’ll head inside and change. Why don’t you give everyone their treats and then bring them in for some hot chocolate.”

“Sure Mom,” said Danny, picking the container up from where it had fallen as Sue made her way inside.

By the time she came back downstairs, the family had all returned inside the house with Laura busily making the hot chocolate in the kitchen. Sue had long since learned to leave the small woman to her own devices when it came to hot cocoa; she had the technique to making it down to a science and would brook no interference, no matter how well intentioned.

Satisfied the task was in hand, Sue went and sat at the kitchen table where some of the kids were amusing themselves with books and cards as they awaited the warm treat. Once she’d sat down, however, Sue found herself the target of several curious gazes.

She smiled, folding her hands in front of herself. “Alright, let’s try this again.”

<-<-<

Laura walked into living room, little Charlie sitting comfortably in her arms. A small legion of relatives had descended on the Hollis house had to help decorate while Laura had taken the five-month-old out to run errands, leaving the room fully decked out in holiday cheer.

Laura, as well as every person in the room, kept their attention on the infant as her eyes went wide, taking in the display of colour and light that had taken over the familiar room. Moving to the middle, Laura turned in a slow circle, showing Charlie every candle, trinket and garland, stopping on the tree, trimmed in colourful lights and ornaments. Charlie looked around in wonder, babbling a little at the new stimuli.

Eventually, Laura lay Charlie down on a blanket next to Danny, where she could wiggle herself around to look at what she wished before taking a seat on the couch. “Thank you all so much for taking care of all this,” said Laura, “I really wanted her first christmas experience to be special.”

“No thanks necessary Laura,” said Paul as he sipped a cup of coffee, “not only were we all happy to help, the look on this little sweetie’s face made the entire endeavour worthwhile.”

“Agreed, it was a wonderful idea Laura,” added Sue, “we’re going to have to remember it going forward for all the grandkids that come along.”

“Well, I’d still like to do something,” said Laura, “you should all stay for lunch. How does everyone feel about pizza?”

“Ooh, yes please,” said Chance, “pizza just goes with occasions like this so well.”

“Alright, I’ll go order. Anyone want anything other than the usual?”

There was a quick murmur to the negative from the room and Laura walked into the kitchen to order. While she was gone, the room’s occupants spent their time playing with the infant.

“Pizza will be here in about an hour,” said Laura, reentering the room as she hung up, “I hope no one’s too hungry yet.”

“I know I’m not,” said Paul, “actually, if we’ve got a bit of time, who’s up for a quick run?”

Everyone perked up at that, nodding enthusiastically.

“Laura, you okay if we head out?” asked Carmilla, “I’d be happy to stay and keep you company.”

“No, go and have fun. I’ll feed Charlie before the pizza shows up and put her down for her nap.”

“Thanks, Babe,” said Danny, “you’re the best.”

“Yeah, I am,” said Laura with a laugh, “have a good run!”

“Will do.” Danny walked out the door, shifting to join the other pack members in the yard.

Satisfied that everyone was gathered, Paul turned and led the way into the trees at an easy pace. Danny followed closely behind with Carmilla at her shoulder as usual.

The woods, as was often the case this time of year, were breathtaking. A light layer of snow dusted everything, accentuating every tree and shrub. The thin layer of snow on the ground muffled their movement without impeding their forward motion, making their progress wonderfully peaceful. All in all, it was the perfect conditions for a winter run.

They had just begun to get close to lake when Paul barked as they broke into a clearing, calling them a halt. Across the clearing stood a herd of deer, gathered close together and very obviously alarmed by the sudden appearance of a group of very large wolves only a handful of strides away.

If they had been a hunting pack, such a find would have been a boon, but only being out for a run, these deer served only as an annoying and mildly dangerous obstacle. Noticing the herd was on the edge of panic, Paul gestured for the pack to leave the clearing in hopes of keeping the deer from spooking. His efforts were for naught, however, as even the slight movement from the predators was enough to push the herd’s panic over the edge, making the deer scatter in all directions, including several coming straight towards the pack.

There wasn’t much time to react, so Paul settled for barking loudly in hopes of making any of the incoming deer change their direction away from the threatening noise. While many of the deer heeded the sound, bolting back in the direction they came, a handful still remained barrelling towards them. Most of the pack managed to avoid collisions, but Sue, while managing to dodge one, was hit square in the side by a doe, the two ending up in a heap. The deer quickly recovered, getting up and bolting into the woods, smacking poor Sue with its hooves a few times in the process.

Paul leapt to her side, standing over her as he swept his gaze back and forth, looking for any nearby deer that might still be panicking, or worse, looking for an opportunity to run them off now that one of their own was injured. Luckily, the herd appeared to have completed deserted the clearing.

Satisfied it was safe, he shifted to have a look over his wife. “Sue, stay still. I'm gonna make sure that doe didn't do too much damage,” he said, feeling along her foreleg for injuries. “Hey Danny,” he called, “come give me a hand. Everyone else keep watch, I doubt that herd has any reason to come back here, but I'd rather avoid an encore.”

There were a few yips, and a deep yowl, of agreement as Danny came and knelt behind her mother, feeling down her back.

Several minutes later, Paul breathed a sigh of relief. While there were no few bruises, which Sue had yelped softly at having prodded, there were no signs of breaks or internal injuries. “Come on, let's head back home so we can get you some ice. If you want to shift, I can carry you on my back.”

Sue folded back her ears and glared at him, rolling back to her feet with ease

“I think that means ‘no’,” said Danny, struggling to hold in her laughter.

Paul returned his wife's glare, opening his mouth to say something before he seemed to change his mind. Sighing with a shake of his head, he returned to his wolf form and led the way back into the trees, setting a sedate walking pace.

After a couple minutes, he heard an annoyed huff from behind him right before Sue pulled past him, moving into an easy lope. Paul barked in protest as he increased his pace to keep from falling behind.

With little way to slow her down, Paul settled into the pace, running at her shoulder so he could at least keep an eye on her. She rolled her eyes at that, but was otherwise satisfied by the situation. A few short minutes later, they broke though the tree line, returning to the yard.

“Well, that was an interesting little venture,” said Sue, stretching to test her range of motion against the aches as she stepped onto the deck.

“Interesting isn't quite how I'd put it,” groused Paul as he walked up the steps behind her, noticing how gingerly she was moving, “why don’t you go sit down on the couch and I’ll get you some ice.”

“Paul, please. I am not made of glass.”

“Please honey, for me?”

“Fine, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll humour you.”

“Thank you.”

“Hey all,” said Laura, opening the door for them, “you’re back sooner than I expected. I only just got Charlie down. Pizza will still be another twenty minutes, give or take.”

“We had a bit of an incident. You mind if I raid your freezer for some ice for Sue?”

“Oh, of course,” said Laura, scampering over to the fridge, “I’ve actually have a few cold packs on hand. Kinda like to have them on hand for reasons completely unrelated to any klutzy tendencies whatsoever.”

Paul chuckled, placing the cold packs into tea towels and taking them into the living room where Sue had stretched out on the couch.

“Um, so what happened? Does it have anything to do with why Carm didn’t come back with you guys?” asked Laura.

Both Paul and Sue’s heads snapped up, meeting Laura’s gaze. Neither of them, in their focus on each other, had noticed that Carmilla wasn’t with the group when they’d gotten back. They looked at each other, mildly panicking before Danny’s chuckle cut the tension in the room.

“She wheeled off shortly after we left the clearing,” explained Danny, “I think she wanted to investigate something. She’s probably not far behind us “

“That’s a relief. I’d hate to have misplaced my daughter-in-law,” said Sue, “they’re always in the last place you look.”

“Especially these two,” joked Paul, “small enough to slip under the fridge, between the couch cushions; it’s a never ending search.”

“Oh be quiet you two,” said Danny, as she wandered to the window to check for Carmilla, “can you go back to bickering? That was much more… oh my god, she did not!” Danny stomped her way to the back door, throwing it open and walking out onto the deck, everyone else close behind. “Carmilla Karnstein! I can’t believe you!”

Coming up to the bottom of the stairs was the proudest looking panther any of them had ever seen dragging a dead deer in her jaws. She dropped it at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at the family expectantly.

“I think I’d rather have pizza, thanks,” said Laura, looking down at the deer with amused smirk on her face, “but don’t let me stop you.”

The panther snorted with a laugh before shifting back into a vampire. “Not quite what I had in mind cutie. I was just waiting for some applause,” she joked.

“Is that the same deer?” asked Sue, a concerned look on her face.

“It is,” Carmilla said.

“You didn’t have to do that,” said Sue, “it didn’t mean to run into me, it was just in a panic. I wasn’t even badly hurt.”

“You weren’t, but it was. You’re a much sturdier obstacle than you realize,” said Carmilla, “I think it must’ve to broken its leg when you got tangled. I’m surprised you missed the smell of blood, but I followed it back and found the poor thing collapsed not far from where we found it. I figured a quick death, giving us a freezer of venison, was preferable to letting it suffer and starve.”

“Oh, you made the right call then,” said Sue, “I guess we were just too caught up in our little tussle to notice.”

“Well luckily, I won’t hold that against you two and I’d be happy to share the spoils if you help me clean it,” said Carmilla.

“You have no clue how to dress it, do you?” asked Paul.

“Not a clue,” admitted Carmilla.

The ring of the doorbell interrupted the exchange as Laura headed in to get the pizza.

“Well, I think everyone’s hungry, so let’s eat lunch and then I’ll take you through it.” said Paul.

“I think that sounds great.”

>->->

“Mama killed a deer?” Mercy asked.

“Yes she did, sweetpea,” said Sue, patting the girl on the shoulder, “sometimes death is a kindness when something is suffering like that.”

“Wow,” said Mercy, “you think she could show me how?”

Sue very nearly choked on the hot chocolate, taken aback by the morbid inquiry of the nine-year-old. “Why do you want to know?”

“The pack hunts sometimes, right?”

Sue nodded.

“So if I know how Mama did it quickly, I can make sure the deer doesn’t hurt much when we catch it.”

Sue smiled, proud of her grandchild’s reflection of her namesake “That’s a good reason to learn that. I’m sure your Mama would be happy to show you.”

Mercy smiled before taking a drink of hot chocolate from her mug.

“Speaking of keeping frail creatures from suffering,” said Danny as she sat down, “how are you feeling?”

“Okay, firstly, refer to me as frail ever again and you’ll be the one who needs to be put out of her suffering,” said Sue, narrowing her eyes at her daughter, “and secondly, I’ll tell you what I always tell your father when he fusses over me. I am not made of glass. I’ll admit if I had that run in with that deer now, I’d probably be a lot worse off, but a fall into a pile of snow isn’t really an issue of the same degree.”

“Alright alright.” Danny put up her hands. “You’re right, I just worry cause I care. I’m sorry.”

“Well if you want to make it up to me, there is one thing you can do.”

“Sure, what is it?”

x-x-x

Danny led the youngsters around the yard at a brisk trot, just quick enough so they could all still easily keep up. All of them, once again, were donning the antlers making the group into their own little sleigh team.

Danny shook her head, still somewhat annoyed by the feel of the headband strapping a pair of antlers to her own head. However, she guessed it was worth it. From the deck, Laura was beaming at her, snapping pictures, and her mom was bringing up the tail of their little team, antlers donning her head as well. All in all, Danny had to admit it wasn’t too bad, with the exception of one little detail.

“Rudolph the red-furred reindeer!” sang Carmilla happily, as she stood in the middle of the yard, recording on her phone.

Danny got a wonderfully awful idea and adjusted her course on her next turn, heading straight for Carmilla. It was time for another one of those unfortunate, deer related, accidents.

Chapter Text

“Alright kid, we've got one red Santa jacket, one pair of pants with belt, one set of boots, one red hat, one white wig and beard and last, but not least, one ‘Claused Arteries’ fat suit. That everything you ordered?”

Felix had never really struck Aaron as the sort of person who'd run a costume shop. He looked like he'd be more at home running a butcher shop in Brooklyn, but in all the years that Aaron had been coming here with his Dad, Felix had been a smiling fixture at the counter.

“Yep, that's everything,” said Aaron, pulling out a card to pay for the rental.

“Dude, I can pay for this,” said Kirsch, stepping up behind Aaron, “I mean, I'm gonna be the one wearing the thing.”

Aaron handed the card off before Kirsch could protest further. “Kirsch, you're already doing us a favour by doing this after dad threw out his back. We're hardly gonna make you pay for the privilege.”

“You kidding? I totally would have paid to be Santa. If your Dad hadn't been doing it for the kids already, I would've in a second,” Kirsch lamented, “I mean, you can't have two Santas walking around. Total foul for the little ones.”

Aaron chuckled. “Oh yeah, don't want the kids crying on Christmas Eve. I don't think they make ‘Baby’s First Emotionally Shattered Christmas’ ornaments.”

“I could get that if you wanted,” Felix interjected, “my husband makes crafts like that; has a really successful Etsy store. I could give you a discount on the commission, real cheap.”

“Thanks Felix,” said Aaron, “but I think we're trying to avoid that this year.”

“Suit yourself. I'm still giving him the idea so if you change your mind, there should be something in the shop for next year.” Felix fished a business card out of his pocket, handing it to Aaron, who shrugged good-naturedly, slipping the card into his wallet. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a turkey costume from thanksgiving still that needs repairing. Every year I get at least one bozo who gets too close to an open flame; really method acting the roast turkey experience.”

“Have fun with that,” said Aaron, “see you in a few days when we drop it off. Merry Christmas!”

“And to you two too, have fun.”

“Thanks Dude,” chimed in Kirsch as they left the shop, garment bags in hand.

Quickly hanging the costume in the rear cab of Kirsch’s truck, the two hopped in and were on their way back to the Maximoff homestead.

“So, who’s going to be joining us tomorrow night?” asked Kirsch as he pulled onto the highway.

“Well, aside from our respective families…” Aaron paused as he thought over the potential guest list, “I think the Hollis and Lafontaine clans are joining us after spending the day on their annual movie marathon and the various Lawrences are up to their own Christmas Eve festivities, as far as I know”

“Don’t D-bear’s family do the santa thing too? Won’t they be going there?” asked Kirsch, a concerned frown crossing his face.

“Yeah, that’s where Dad got the idea actually, but they do theirs on Christmas itself, when their entire family gets together,” explained Aaron, “I’ll actually be going to that too with Drix. It should be fun, Paul and Sue really know how to do the holidays. Oh man, have you ever tasted Sue’s peppermint bark? I swear it’s like the entire holiday experience in one bite.”

“Can’t say I have dude, but sounds like it’ll be a blast” said Kirsch, smiling at Aaron’s wistfulness, “speaking of cooking, do you guys need help with dinner this year with your Dad laid up? Me and Bets are bringing over our usual stuff for dinner —let me say, I think I nailed the sweet potatoes this year, really done my Mom’s recipe proud— but does your Mom need any extra hands in the kitchen?”

Aaron let out a laugh. “I think me and Mom have it in hand, though really Dad is still gonna be effectively making everything. He’s just not allowed to do anything that puts stress on his back, so Mom and I are gonna be his hands and follow his directions. Mom’s still paranoid about a repeat of the year when she tried to make prime rib, so she’s left the big recipes in his hands ever since.”

“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. I’ve still never seen anyone else ever manage to burn a hole through a roasting pan.

“Dad still has that pan mounted to his office wall. Says it’s a monument to his ‘badass wife’. Mom insists she hates it, but we’re fairly certain she’s secretly proud.”

“Dude, she should be,” Kirsch agreed as he pulled the truck into Aaron’s driveway. Hopping out, the two men grabbed the various bits of santa suit and took them into the house. “So tomorrow, Betty and me will come over about mid-afternoon with all the Kirschlings.”

“Perfect,” said Aaron, “I’ll tuck this into my room. Just slip away while everyone’s cleaning up dinner and then you can make an entrance before any of them really get tired.”

“Awesome,” said Kirsch, turning to head back out, “well, I've got to get going. I promised the kids to help them bake Christmas cookies for tomorrow.”

“Have fun! See you tomorrow Kirsch!”

x-x-x

“Elsie, Hunter, that dinner was amazing,” gushed Betty, slumping back into her seat.

“Hey, it was all my beautiful wife and son this year,” Hunter protested, “I was too busy being an invalid to contribute.”

“Like hell you were,” said Elsie, poking Hunter in the shoulder, “I practically had to threaten to tie him to a chair to get him to rest. Even then, he stayed perched on the kitchens edge, directing traffic like a control tower.”

Aaron caught Kirsch's eye with a ‘told you’ look. Kirsch had to take a sip of his drink to hide the laugh that nearly popped out.

“I’ll let you figure out who deserves credit for what,” said Danny, “but since you all made dinner, it only seems fair that we deal with clean up.” Danny pushed back her chair and began gathering plates. Carmilla made a token resistance, leaning back in her chair and trying to go unnoticed, but quickly started helping under twin glares from her wives.

Kirsch, seeing his opportunity to go change, started gathering plates from around where he was sitting until he was satisfied that he had enough to be helpful, but not so many that Betty would give him a hard time for overloading himself. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself right now. Hefting his load, he fell into step behind Charlie and made his way into the kitchen where Hunter was already directing traffic and showing everyone where things went back.

Kirsch deposited the dishes by the sink where Perry was already working at a feverish pace, passing dishes to the three dryers almost faster than they could manage. Kirsch caught Hunter’s eye, exchanging nods before leaving the kitchen and proceeding to Aaron’s room.

Out on the bed, Aaron had already thoughtfully laid out the various costume pieces, making the order of operations simple for Kirsch. Simple did not translate to easy, however. The fat suit proved to be a larger impediment to the task at hand then he could have anticipated.

First, getting into the suit itself proved to be easier said than done. The heavy padding made the limbs tight and rigid, resisting his efforts and more than once he had to catch his balance to keep himself from falling onto his back, leaving him trapped like a turtle.

Once he finally had fat suit in place, he met his next challenge in trying to don the Santa costume overtop. Getting the individual pieces of clothing on was, thankfully, an easier task, but when it came time to put on the wig, beard and hat, the fat suit once again made its presence known as he struggled to get his arms above his head.

He was in the process of trying to contort his head down to the wig in his hand when there was knock at the door.

“Hey, doing okay in here?” asked Hunter as he poked his head in, “oh nice, you managed to get the suit and clothes on. I've always had to get Elsie to help me squeeze into it.”

“Thanks, but I'm having a bit of trouble with the last step.” Kirsch grinned, holding up the wig.

Hunter took the hairpiece from his hand and set about getting into place over Kirsch's hair and face, leaving him nearly unrecognizable under the white curls.

“Well, you make a pretty convincing Saint Nick,” said Hunter as he pinned the fuzzy hat into place on the wig, “if you'd like to see, there's a mirror in the bathroom, across the hall.”

“Thanks Bro, you're a lifesaver,” said Kirsch.

“No, thank you for doing this. It would have been a shame for the kids to not get to see Santa,” said Hunter, clapping Kirsch on the shoulder, “go have a look at yourself and I'll go get Aaron to bring the sack of gifts to the back door so you have it when you sneak around the front.”

After checking the coast was clear, Kirsch dashed across the hall. Turning on the light, he couldn't believe his eyes. There, in the mirror, was Santa Claus. The only hint that it was Kirsch were his kind blue eyes peering out. Satisfied that he was ready for his debut, he stepped out of the bathroom, into the hall.

His confident stride was abruptly interrupted when a hand grabbed his wrist, yanking him to one side. Before he knew what was going on, he found an arm around his neck and a pair of lips on his.. Kirsch went wide eyed, realizing it was none other than Elsie who’d pulled him into an embrace. He tried to back away, but her arms were secure around his neck and he only ended up flailing helplessly. From somewhere behind him, he heard the sound of someone clearing their throat, cueing Elsie to finally pull back and open her eyes, which promptly went wide.

“You know if you’re trying to get off the naughty list, that’s not really the way to go about it,” came Hunter’s voice, laced with laughter.

Kirsch turned around to look at Hunter and Aaron, who were standing in the hall, barely containing their laughter. His brow furrowed as he turned back to Elsie.

“Dude, did they not tell you I was taking Hunter’s place?”

Elsie, who was now bright red now, shook her head as she scowled at her family members.

“Mommy? What were you doing to Mister Santa?” said Aaron in a childish falsetto.

Kirsch whipped his head around to glare at them. “Dudes, not cool!”

The two men just kept sniggering as they tried to keep from laughing out loud and drawing the attention of the rest of the house.

Kirsch huffed anxiously, looking at Elsie. “Els, I’m so sorry, I—”

“Kirsch, don’t worry. It’s obviously not your fault,” she said, resting a hand on his shoulder, “and as for you two”—she walked down the hallway to where they stood— “very nicely played, but if you think I’ll let this challenge lie unanswered, I have three words for you think on: ‘chocolate easter bunny’.” She kissed each of them on the cheek before slipping by them with a bounce in her step.

Hunter watched her go with a pensive look on his face. “Son, I believe we may have made a tactical error.”

Aaron just smirked. “Maybe you have, I think this is gonna be fun.”

“You would.” Hunter chuckled.

“Um… what was that?” asked Kirsch.

“We’ll explain another time,” said Aaron, “just a word to the wise, don’t prank my Mom lightly.”

“Kay, that seems smart.”

“Good. Now let’s get this this show on the road,” Hunter said, leading Kirsch back towards the kitchen.

Aaron scampered ahead to watch for any wayward kids. Making certain the coast was clear, he waved Kirsch and his Dad out the back door where they found a huge red sack sitting on the deck.

“Oh wow, now that is a haul,” exclaimed Kirsch excitedly, getting a hold of the top.

“Now be careful with that,” cautioned Hunter, “moving that monster around is precisely what put me out of commision this year.

“Remember, from the knees with ease,” said Aaron.

“Don’t worry, I got this,” said Kirsch, heaving the sack onto his shoulder.

“I cleared the walking path round front earlier, so it should be easy enough to reach the front door,” added Aaron, gesturing to the snow free concrete.

“Thanks bro. Now, go get all the little dudes,” said Kirsch, before pitching his voice down, “it’s time for a visit from good old Kris Kringle.”

“Good santa voice,” said Hunter, notably impressed.

“Why thank you my good sir,” Kirsch continued, “I decided I should give the children the complete experience, so I spent plenty of time practicing. Now, gather the children!” Kirsch adjusted the sack on his shoulder and started making his way around the house.

He paused momentarily at the windows, making sure no kids would see him and spoil the surprise. As he reached the front door, he took one look over himself to make sure everything was in place before rapping out ‘Jingle Bells’ on the front door.

He smiled when Betty answered, a wide grin on her face as she looked him over.

“Kids!” she called as Kirsch walked into the house and towards the living room, “there’s a special visitor here to see you.”

“Santa!” came the collective cry of joy as Kirsch entered the living room.

“Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!”

Chapter Text

“Mama? Can we get hot chocolate?”

Mercy turned in her seat to look back at Pru. Her face was pressed against the rear passenger window, staring at an ad for hot cocoa in the window of the convenience store that they were stopped in front of as they waited for the light to change.

“Not right now, honey. We’re gonna be late to meet everybody. We’ll get some later after we’ve shopped a bit,” said Mercy, “besides, your Grandmother would disown me if I gave you coffee machine hot chocolate.”

Pru sat back in her seat with an angry pout, meeting Mercy’s gaze with a glare.

It took everything Mercy had not to laugh at the display. “There’s a place with really good hot chocolate near where we’re shopping,” offered Mercy, “it’ll be worth the wait, I promise. Ok?”

The girl’s expression softened. “Ok, Mama.”

“Speaking of,” chimed in Sky, not taking her eyes of the road, “where are we meeting up with the sibs?”

“At the mall downtown. It's fairly easy to get into the parking garage and then we can go out from there.”

“Good plan,” said Sky, “so I'll turn on Eighteenth street, that'll get us over to Thirty-Ninth avenue and that'll take us right to the mall.”

“No no no, there's lights every block going that way,” argued Mercy, “turn right on Twenty-Second and then get onto Union, it hooks around and drops us just a couple blocks from the mall.”

“Are you joking?” said Sky, “that'd take us right through the business district. It'll be crammed with traffic.”

Moving traffic, we'll breeze right through,” countered Mercy

“The only breeze we'll get along your route will be doldrums,” Sky shot back, “my way will be so much clearer.”

“Mom?”

“That's because it's all minor streets. People know not to use it as a thoroughfare. We'll be waiting forever at every major cross,” said Mercy, frustration entering her voice

“Mama?”

“You're assuming we'll hit every red light,” growled Sky, ”this time of day—”

“Moms!” yelled Ash, forcing his way into the argument.

Snapped out of the exchange, Mercy twisted around to look at her son in the back row. “Sorry Ash, what were you trying to say?”

“That we passed both Eighteenth and Twenty-Second about ten blocks ago now, so unless you want to turn around…” He tilted his head sideways with a smug grin.

Mercy glowered a little at the thirteen-year-old for his smart mouth before looking back outside to confirm that they were, indeed, several blocks past either of their preferred routes.

“Well, that was a waste of a good argument,” said Sky.

“I know,” agreed Mercy, “I was winning too.”

“Just keep telling yourself that sweetie,” Sky said as she made a left turn onto another main road.

“Um, where are you going now?” asked Mercy.

“At this point, I’m just gonna zig-zag towards the mall as traffic allows. ‘Six of one’ at this point.”

Mercy nodded reluctantly in agreement and slumped into her seat to wait out the trip.

In the end, they didn’t end up being too badly behind schedule and managed to arrive at the mall only fifteen minutes late. When the doors of the elevator up from the garage opened onto the mall’s main atrium, they quickly spotted the rest of their group patiently waiting for them on the edge of a fountain.

“The prodigal daughters arrive at last!” joked Aaron, his arms wide open.

“Yeah yeah,” said Sky, each of her hands holding one of her daughters’, “we got a little turned around coming up through downtown.”

“Up through downtown?” said Charlie, “you know the freeway lets off just a few blocks to the north of here, right?”

Sky just stared deadpan at Charlie for a moment before visibly shifting her attention away. “Hazel, how are you today?”

“That means ‘no’, in case you were wondering,” said Mercy, chuckling at her wife’s demeanor, “and to be fair, neither did I. We drove from the part of town where my studio is. I rarely come by this part of the city, so I didn’t even consider the possibility.”

“Well, now you know for future,” said Drix, “now let’s stop the finger pointing and get this show on the road. Girls, can you get your gloves and scarves on please? It’s freezing out there.”

“Yes Papa!,” the girls chorused.

“Same with you three,” Charlie echoed to her own children.

“You’re not the boss of me!” said Trystan, a playful grin on his face.

“I’m sorry, what was that mister?” said Hazel, hands on her hips.

“I mean, ‘yes, Mama! Of course!”

“That’s what I thought,” said Hazel, smirking at his antics as she fastened up her own coat.

Once everyone was properly bundled up, they headed through the door and out into the crisp December air. The sun was shining, but it was still bitterly cold. After taking an extra moment to pull coats and scarves a little tighter, the group turned and began making their way up the shopping district that the mall sat upon.

Even this early in the month, the sidewalk was an absolute cacophony of people in the midst of their Christmas shopping. Despite the crowds, however, everyone out seemed to be in good spirits. The season was still young and now was the time when gift shopping was an interesting challenge, rather the panicked rush it would become in a few weeks time.

Gradually, they picked their way up the street, window shopping as they went. Ash and Trystan walked at the front of their little group, the elder boys discussing something conspiratorially. Levy brought up the rear, wandering dreamily as she kept looking every which way to take in all the sounds and decorations.

For a time, their stop-and-go pace proved slow enough for her to keep up, but inevitably, as she kept spotting some new thing to take her attention, she began to fall behind. Hazel happened to notice and quietly fell back to keep pace with the child, not wanting to disturb her in her revelry.

Levy paused to look at a display in one shop window. The store inside was a simple chocolatier, but the front window had been done up with a whirling contraption of large, white snowflakes covered in sparkles which caught the light as they spun around. Levy was transfixed by the mechanism, her eyes following the paths of the individual snowflakes as they raced around each other.

“Trying to figure out how it works?” asked Hazel softly, trying not to startle her niece.

“No… well, sort of, I suppose. It's pretty easy, you can see the wheels and gears.” The girl pointed to the armatures connecting the snowflakes to their motor. “I really just like how it looks. It's beautiful.”

“That it is,” agreed Hazel, “if you'd like, we could make something like it at home.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure. The basic parts don't look like they'd be expensive. We could put it together and then you could decorate it however you'd like. Doesn't have to be snow either, could be leaves or, ooh, molecules.”

“You'd really help me do that?”

“Heck yeah, I would. I don't get too meddle with mechanics to much in the bio lab. This sounds like fun.”

“Great! Thanks, Auntie Hazel.” Levy threw her arms around Hazel's middle, hugging her tight.

Hazel wrapped her arms around Levy’s shoulders. “No problem, kiddo.”

The ringing of Hazel's phone cut into the moment like a sharp knife. Hazel chuckled, giving Levy one last squeeze before answering the phone, seeing Drix on the call ID.

“Hey Drix, what's up?”

“Hazel, where are you? Is Levy with you?”

Even over the phone, Hazel could easily hear the worry in his voice.

“Yes, Levy is with me. I hung back so she could look around without rushing.”

“Thank goodness. Thank you Hazel.”

“No worries. We're just outside the chocolate shop with the snowflake display near…” Hazel looked around for a landmark. “...the Santa playing saxophone.” Hazel grinned at the performer on the corner just ahead of them, working through a jazzy edition of Good King Wenceslas.

“Oh wow, you two really fell behind. We’re about a block and a half ahead of you. We've found a toy store that we're all heading into.”

“A toy store you say,” repeated Hazel, loud enough for Levy to hear as she gestured with her head that they should get moving. Levy nodded excitedly and took Hazel's free hand, walking with a spring in her step. “We'll be along shortly. See you soon, Drix.”

“You too, Haze.”

Catching up to the group only took a couple minutes now that they were walking with purpose. They found Drix waiting for them outside the toy store, a look of relief on his face once he spotted them.

“There you two are, I was worried sick,” he said, opening the door for them.

“Sorry Papa, I didn't mean to make you worry,” said Levy, “I could see Auntie Hazel so I thought I was fine.”

“No need to apologize Sweetpea. I should have waited for you,” he said, ruffling her hair.

“Papa!” she laughed, swatting at his hands before running out of reach and into the aisles.

“Ok, who's watching who?” Hazel lowered her voice so only Drix could hear her.

“Aside from Levy, I think everyone is covered. Charlie is with Ash and Trystan over in board games. Aaron trailed off after Arsen and Jaq. I can see Pru from here, looking at the Lego. Marcella went in the same direction, probably up by the science stuff. Sky’s somewhere over there and I think and Mercy is with Serena, though I don't know where.”

“Alright, why don't I go after Levy, see what she's looking at, and you can stay here with Pru,” suggested Hazel.

“Sure.” He smiled at Hazel as she disappeared into the aisles after Levy. Walking over to Pru, he noticed Sky down the aisle a ways, looking back and forth frantically, trying to keep track of what was piquing both children's interest at the opposite ends of the section. Drix caught her attention, gesturing to her daughter with a nod. With a look of thanks, she turned on her heel and walked over to Marcella, who was examining what appeared to be some sort of crystal kit.

“Anything good?” he asked his niece.

“It's Lego, it's all good,” she said firmly.

“Well, that's a good point,” agreed Drix, “what sort do you usually use?”

“All of it,” she said, “it’s more fun that way. I can take this one”—she pointed to a black boxed space set—”and this one”—a purple boxed juice bar set—”and then make them into a boat.”

“Really?”

“I dunno, maybe. Trying is the fun part.”

Drix grinned, immensely proud of his niece. Not to mention it made at least one Christmas list very easy.

Eventually, Pru grew bored of browsing the Lego and wandered off, her uncle in tow, to see what her cousins and siblings had gotten themselves up to. In the very next aisle, they found Serena looking at a small set of kids cookware. Mercy stood just a couple feet behind her, contemplating the girl's inspection.

Pru immediately bounced up to her cousin and began immediately talking about the potential things Serena could make with the tools. Serena nodded along, adding possible suggestions for projects.

“Something else for the tree?” Drix asked Mercy quietly.

“I think so. She spent the last five minutes studying it, like she's had an epiphany about cooking. Looks like Pru is making the final sell too. I'll add it to the list.”

“I'll talk to Aaron to see if it's a decent kit, no point starting her off on the wrong foot. If not, he can help us find, or make, a good one.”

“Ooh, good idea,” said Mercy before addressing the girls, “alright kiddos, we should get moving. Anything else you wanted to look at in here?”

A couple of shaking heads answered her and they made their way up front. Waiting by the door was Aaron, looking rather frazzled, while Jaq and Arsen seemed to be arguing about something quietly next to him.

Drix wrapped an arm around his husband, pulling him close. “What happened to you?”

“These two found the trading cards. Of course, she went straight for the hockey cards and he went looking for the soccer ones. Then, as per usual...”

Drix chuckled. This was something that happened a lot between the two kids. They each loved their sport but they seemed to love to argue about which one was better even more. “Well, they kept it down this time, so good work.”

“I managed to corral them away from the cards, which seemed to calm them but they've been like this ever since.”

“Eh, they seem to enjoy it,” Drix commented, noticing their smiles, “as long as they keep it down, I see no reason to stop them.”

Aaron hummed in agreement and rested his head on Drix's shoulder to enjoy the moment while they waited.

Before long, the rest of the family trickled up to the front of the store and the group made their way back out into the sunshine.

“God it's cold out here,” exclaimed Charlie, wrapping her scarf around her face, “I think it's about time for some hot chocolate. Who's in?”

A series of affirmatives, both young and old, answered her and she turned and led the way off the main shopping road and down a side street to a small coffee shop inside an old character house. The small group shuffled inside, shutting the door behind them against the freezing cold.

“Hello! How can I help you today?” chirped the man behind the counter.

“We got a big one for you,” said Charlie as, behind her, the other adults worked at getting the kids settled, “we need fourteen of your signature hot chocolates.”

“I always knew this day would come,” he said dramatically before turning to the doors to the back room, “hey Meghan! I've got a shoppers’ special up here, can you give me a hand?”

A girl skipped out of the back, moving up to the espresso machine. “What we got Carlos?”

“Fourteen signatures for these shopsicles over here.”

“Oh wow, you folks don't do things by halves, do you?” she commented, looking at the group filling the small space.

“Now where would be the fun in that,” countered Charlie.

The woman shrugged good-naturedly and set about steaming milk for the hot chocolates as her co-worker got out the chocolate shavings to load into each cup. Charlie returned to the group and helped get the kids set up at their own table before sitting down along with the rest of the adults at the next table over, to wait for the warm drinks.

“So, how are things looking for everybody?” said Mercy.

“Well, I think our last stop was highly productive,” said Hazel, “assuming everyone got the sort of input I did, this year should be a simple matter for them.” She only gestured towards the kids with her eyes, trying not to give away three subject of their conversation.

There were a series of nods of agreement around the table before Charlie spoke up. “Anyone manage to find anything for anyone else? I am having the worst time thinking of something for Moms and I would love some ideas.”

“I noticed a neat video recording lens at that camera shop we passed,” noted Sky, “Auntie Laura would love something like that for her projects.”

“I know Mama's been trying her hand at baking,” said Mercy, “a baking book or some good quality tools would not be inappropriate.”

“Ooh, I'll let Mom know too,” said Sky, “she could give Auntie Carm some lessons for Christmas.”

“That could be a good idea or a bad idea depending on Mama's mood on any given day,” said Mercy, “but worth mentioning anyways.”

“I noticed Aunt Danny's Wings jersey is starting to get worn out,” said Aaron, “a new one to replace it or a shadow box to retire it would probably be appreciated, or both if you guys coordinate.”

“Damn, you're smart. I knew there was a reason I married you,” said Drix.

“Oh and here I thought it was for my stunning good looks,” said Aaron.

Drix hesitated with a mischievous smirk on his face. “…sure…”

“Hey!” whined Aaron.

Drix wrapped an arm around him and pressed a kiss to his temple. “Oh you know I'm joking. You're gorgeous and you know it.”

Aaron held his pout for about five more seconds before breaking into laughter. “Yeah, I am.”

The rest of the table rolled their eyes, Mercy going so far as to mime a gag. The two men just laughed and cuddled closer.

“Does anyone have anything else they're wanting to go see?” asked Hazel, “or are we ready to start heading back after this?”

“Let's start heading back,” said Mercy, “The sugar will give the kids a bit more energy, but it'll take about an hour to pick our way back. Serena's already flagging and the others probably aren't far behind.”

“Sounds good, I—” Hazel was interrupted by the arrival of their drinks, served in tall mugs and topped with chocolate whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The kids, many squealing in delight, quickly set upon the rich treat.

“So what do you think Pru? Worth the wait?” asked Mercy, already sure of the answer.

“Yes yes yes! Thank you Auntie Charlie!” exclaimed Pru, the rest of the kids echoing their thanks.

“You're welcome!” said Charlie, before raising her mug, “here's to a successful trip and a Merry Christmas.”

“Hear hear!” said Drix.

“Merry Christmas!” echoed everyone at the table.

“God bless us, everyone,” added Aaron with a smirk.

“Quiet you,” said Charlie before putting her mug to her lips and taking a sip.

Chapter Text

Laura eased herself back into the couch cushions with a groan, cradling her swollen belly as she settled back.

“Pregnancy is for the birds,” she complained to her laptop, as she perched it on the swell of her stomach, the red light blinking as it faithfully captured footage, as it had done for years like its many forebears. “Hello Charlie! Welcome to—”

The laptop jumped and fell off her belly onto the couch cushions.

“Alright,” said Laura, rubbing the tender spot where she’d just been brutalized from the inside out, “I guess that’s baby for ‘don’t use me as a table’.” Laura picked up the laptop and set it on the coffee table, checking to make sure it was still recording.

“Ahem, welcome to week thirty-three of you,” Laura said, pointing to her belly, “yep, here I am, thirty-three weeks along and I am going bored out of my mind.” Laura’s head flopped back against the cushions.

“Last week, a couple days after we last spoke, I finally ran out of excuses to not start my maternity leave. I'd been managing to hold on another week while I was finishing up my exposé on the governor's office. I'm quite proud of it actually, really nails him to the wall; too bad you'll have no clue who he is by the time you're old enough to watch this.

“Anyways, no sooner had I submitted to my editor then it was ‘thanks for your hard work, have a good leave, see you when you get back’ before being ushered into the break room for a send off with balloons and cake. Not that the lacklustre, grocery store sheet cake really deserved to be called ‘cake’ in my personal opinion, but it’s the thought that counts, I suppose.” Laura crossed her arms resignedly, blowing a lock of hair from in front of her face.

“I snuck away pretty quickly and tried to get another assignment; just something to kill another few days, nothing big; but my editor just told me to head on home to ‘start getting ready for that bundle of joy’.” Laura looked at the camera with a deadpan expression before her expression softened as she rubbed her stomach. ”I mean, don’t get me wrong, you are going to bring us so much joy, but I’m already ready for you. I’m so done with being pregnant, I want baby time! I don’t care about lost sleep, I just want you to come out and meet all of us.”

She poked her baby bump, feeling the little one push back a little. She smiled before what felt like a kick to her stomach reminded her that not all the little movements were cute.

“Alright, alright, I can wait; take your time. Jeez, we’re going to be visiting the principal’s office for you fighting a lot, aren’t we? I wonder how early you can get kids interested in meditative yoga.” She looked back at the camera. “Let me know when you watch this how successful I was with that.

“Alright so, there really wasn’t much else to do and I knew if I hung around idly much longer, Jeana would come by and try to dispense more baby advice she’d found online.” Laura bit her lip with a guilty expression on the face. “She means well, really, but I don’t believe for a second that ice baths are good for newborns. At least she stopped trying to rub my belly every day. I think your Mama may have terrified her into stopping when she came by last month to take me to lunch. I really shouldn’t condone that, but I can’t really argue with the results. Why people get so touchy with pregnant women is beyond me. I’m actually kind of worried what’s going to happen when your Mama is pregnant like we planned. Someone is going to try to rub her and pull away a bloody stump.

“So, I dodged Jeana and headed home to start dinner. It was my night to cook and I was actually pretty excited for once as I’d quietly copied a tasty looking mulligatawny soup recipe that had been submitted to the paper’s lifestyle section and made off with it. I’d had all the ingredients at home and I figured I could have dinner ready in about an hour, more than fast enough to have ready for when Danny got home and not to mention a little easier on the feet.

“Did I mention that’s another reason I’d love to have you on this side of the womb? The sooner my feet stop doing this”—she held up her angrily swollen foot in front of the camera—”the happier I’ll be. Any chance of you popping out as a favour to your mom?”

Another kick, fortunately away from any sensitive spots this time, was the answer she got.

“...fine. So, I get home to find both of your mothers already there, with dinner already made. Now, I can’t claim that I was all that disappointed since they wanted to celebrate the start of my leave and your Mom cooked steaks. As you”—she pointed at her bump—”will learn one day and you”—she pointed to the camera—”probably know, your Mom grills a mean steak. Cooks it perfectly every single time, even if she does eat her own steaks blue.” Laura made a face and stuck out her tongue in disgust.

“So, gentle viewer”—there was another kick to her abdomen—”alright, violent viewer, you are probably wondering what this has to do with anything, seems like a pleasant thing to come home to right? Right. However, the rest of the week has proceeded pretty much in the same fashion.

“It seems like no matter which way I turn, either Danny or Carmilla are ready with whatever I need, whether I want them to or not. Now don’t get me wrong, neither of them are trying to stop me from doing anything for fear I might get hurt or something. That way? That way be monsters and they know it, but their efforts to be helpful are pretty much resulting in the same effect anyways.

“Admittedly, the bi-hourly foot massages are pretty nice, as is always waking up covered in a blanket whenever I fall asleep on the couch, which is almost every afternoon now, but everything —every chore, every job, every obstacle— is taken care of before I can deal with it. It’s kinda making me feel like I’m living in a cocoon, which is ironic given that I’m supposed to be the cocoon at the moment.” Laura placed her hands on the belly as she looked directly at the camera with an exasperated expression.

“I don’t think they’ve realized that they’ve completely insulated me from everything. They’re just being helpful and taking care of things, so it makes me feel kinda guilty to be irritated about it. I can’t help it though, I need to be helpful, it’s who I am. Not to mention that I’m running out of things to watch on Netflix and there is only so much prenatal yoga one can do to fill up a day.

“I thought I had an opportunity today. Your Mom is at work all day and I was able to coax your Mama to go out and get us some groceries. It wasn’t very hard either, they’ve been spending so much time doting on me that our fridge and pantry have been drained to the dregs. I think Carm’s blood supply is on its last legs too; the open blood bag in the fridge is AB positive, which is her least favourite. She insists it tastes musty compared to other blood, though I just take her word on that. She left about a couple hours ago and the moment I heard the car leave the driveway, I sprung right into action.”

Laura attempted to get up to punctuate her statement, but apparently forgot to account for her cargo and ended up flopping back down before her butt had even left the seat. Said cargo kicked her again at the disturbance.

“Okay fine,” she said, rubbing her ribs where the blow had landed, “I waddled into action. I hauled out the vacuum and gave the house a pass through. Admittedly, maneuvering the vacuum around you while going up the stairs was a little interesting, but dammit I was gonna be useful, come hell or hogwarts. I even dusted the nursery a little while I was in there and only lost ten, maybe fifteen minutes looking around, smiling dopily. I swear.

“Once I wrestled the vacuum back into its closet, my plan had been to clean the kitchen. I got out the cleaners, got the mop and bucket…” Laura counted the steps off on her fingers, “...and promptly took a seat at the table because I was exhausted. Funny how doctors seem to know what they’re talking about when they say you’ll have less energy from spending the rest of it making a freaking baby from scratch.” Laura huffed before looking back at the camera.

“Which leads us back to here. A kitchen full of unused cleaning supplies, a house only half as clean as I intended it to be and now, due to my brilliant plan, no one around to talk to.” Laura winced at a jab somewhere around her kidneys. She looked down to glare at her stomach. “Look, I know you’re here to talk at, but conversation via a series of kicks and punches is not exactly what I’d call riveting discourse. Though I will admit, I am glad it was about time to make another vlog for you…” Laura looked back and forth between her bump and the camera, trying to decide which to address, before settling on the camera,” you, because as interesting as bingeing House of Cards is, I don’t think I’m up to watching it for a fourth time.”

“Now, I suppose I should go put away the cleaners,” she said, pouting at the prospect of having to get up again, “right now it looks like I’m passive-aggressively telling your moms to clean the house.”

“Nah, I kinda figured out what was going on,” said Carmilla from the doorway, making Laura jump, “now if you’d dug out the old chore wheel, then I might have taken issue and made a concerted effort to ignore it completely.”

“Carm? How long have you been standing there?”

“Since your rather accurate idea of maiming people who try to touch me.”

Laura buried her head in her hands. “So you’ve had a front row seat to me complaining about how you’ve been making my life miserable for the past week.”

“Yes, but considering every article we read indicated you’d be Mom-zilla at this point, I’d say being mildly irritated at being accidentally made a kept woman is getting off lightly.”

“I yelled at you last night for leaving muddy paw prints,” said Laura, “in the mud room.”

“And then immediately apologized,” Carmilla countered as she took a seat beside Laura on the couch, “truly, you’re a terror in maternity wear.”

Laura narrowed her eyes at her wife, but said nothing and opted to snuggle herself under Carmilla’s arm instead. “So, for pregnancy week thirty-three, do you have any anecdotes or tidbits for our daughter?” Laura asked, nodding to the laptop.

“Sure. Kid, I can’t wait to see you. You are gonna be the best thing that ever happened to us.”

“Carm, you say that every week,” Laura said softly.

“Doesn’t make it any less true, but fine,” she conceded, “one thing I really hope is that your palate changes once you’re out here. These late night cravings for roasted garlic and pesto pizza are a little hard to take. The smell aside, I don’t like not being able to cuddle my wife in bed. It’s a pain for everyone involved, right Cupcake?”

Only soft, steady breathing answered her.

“Laura?” asked Carmilla, looking down to find her wife fast asleep against her. She chuckled before looking at the camera, “well, I guess asking her to try to make that soup tonight is out. Too bad, that sounded tasty. I haven’t had a good mulligatawny since my last time in London, back in the eighties.

“I guess that’s it for this week kid. See you on the outside. I love you.”

Carmilla reached out with her toe, trying not to disturb Laura, and hit a button on the keyboard, ending the recording.

x-x-x

“Love you too, Mama” said Charlie, leaning back as the screen cut to black, instinctively resting her hand on her own swollen belly.

“Wow you were ornery,” said Hazel, “Trystan kicked a bit, but he never did anything that made me wince like your mom did.”

“It must be genetic,” grumbled Charlie, “cause this one certainly seems to have the fighting spirit. I think she’s actually using my bladder as a speed bag.”

“Well, look at it this way,” said Hazel, “she’ll keep her siblings as safe as you did when you were little.”

“Good point, though it probably means we’ll have at least a few principal’s office visits of our own.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Maybe we can get her into taekwondo early and nip it in the bud.”

“Oh, good idea. I wonder if Sandra has a kid she could kick the butt of.”

“You’re never gonna let that go, are you?”

“What? A rivalry where we don’t actually hate each other? Hell no. ‘My kid can beat up your kid’ is just the natural progression. Maybe that’ll be my Christmas card message this year,” Charlie rubbed her chin, going off in thought.

“Well, you can think it over while we clean the house,” Hazel said getting up before offering her wife a hand.

“Cleaning? But I’m just so tired and pregnant,” said Charlie plaintively.

“Not to worry my love,” said Hazel dramatically, “I am in tune with you enough to realize that you are no delicate flower that needs to be coddled. Even pregnant, you, like your mother, are more than capable of still taking care of business.”

“I never should have let you watch that video with me.”

“Maybe not, but too late now. If we both work, we’ll be done quickly and I’ll handle anything that requires bending over or the like. Now which do you want: vacuuming or mopping?”

Charlie pouted at her wife before turning to the hall closet. “Vacuuming, but I expect a foot massage when we’re done.”

“Done and done,” laughed Hazel before going to find the pail.

Chapter Text

“Knock, knock!” called Paul as he came through the front door.

“Grandpa!” Charlie bounded over to her grandfather.

Scooping her up into his arms, Paul easily lifted the young woman into a bear hug.“Hey Kiddo!” he said, setting her back down, “Your mom around?”

“Sorry Gramps, you just missed them” said Drix as he walked up to give his grandfather a hug, “they’ve gone out for the night.”

“Ah nuts. Just you kids here then?”

“Nah,” said Charlie, “Hazel and Sky came over and Auntie Perry and Laf decided to tag along to make a family night of it.”

Paul nudged his granddaughter in the ribs, “grownups ruining a good home alone night?”

Charlie side-eyed him with smirk, “I’m not quite sure what you think you’re suggesting, but no, we’ve been having fun.”

“Aw, seriously?!” yelled Mercy from the living room.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” replied Perry’s voice in a tone that implied that she wasn’t sorry in the slightest.

“We’re playing Mario-kart,” added Drix nonchalantly, before wandering back to the other room.

“You should join us,” suggested Charlie, “it’s looking like we’re really gonna make a night of it. We’ve got snacks and some of Aunt Perry’s baking and we’ve been talking about getting chinese for dinner later. We’ll give Grandma Sue a call and have her come over.”

“Well,” said Paul, “I think that sounds like the best offer I’ve heard all week. Count me in.” With a smile he followed Charlie back towards the living room.

“—no, don’t worry about bringing anything, we’re already pretty well set up. Love you too Grandma, see you soon.” Hendrix ended the call and gave his Grandfather a thumbs up.

“I worry that I’ve become so predictable that you were able to call her before I was even given the invitation to stay,” Paul observed with a smile.

“I’m sorry, are you new to this family?” countered Drix, “since when have any of us been able to resist a get together?”

“Fair point.”

Ruffling the young man’s hair, Paul grabbed a cookie from a plate on the table and wandered into the living room where the remaining four occupants of the house were enjoying their game, albeit a little less civilly.

“You little brat,” cried Perry, “you were just waiting to get within sight of the finish to hit me.”

“When last we met, I was but the student. Now I am the master,” intoned Sky, pitching her voice down.

“I’m so proud of you,” said Laf, before looking up at the newcomer, “hey Paul, glad you could join us. You want next game? I've spent most of the time going off the edges, maybe you can avenge me.” They held out their controller, gesturing to an open seat next to them.”

Taking the controller, Paul plopped himself down. “Well, I suppose I could give it a whirl.”

x-x-x

“Ruth, come on,” coaxed Scout, “the blood bank won't be open til morning.”

Ruth met her beloved’s gaze, trying to steel herself against the yearning expression, “I've already told you, I'm fine. I can make through the night.”

“Can you? Yes,” interjected Ava, drawing Ruth's attention to the back seat, “but should you? Why do that to yourself?” Ava reached forward, cupping Ruth's cheek. “Sweetie, you're hungry. We hate to see you uncomfortable like this and Carmilla and Hendrix have always been happy to share.”

“And I'll protect you if she tries to tease you about running out,” Scout added, “or at least get Danny to.”

Ruth pursed her lips as she resisted the idea for another couple seconds before frowning and opening the car door. “Ugh, fine.”

Her girlfriends smiled and quickly hopped out after her.

“Hi Girls!”

The three of them turned around to see Sue walking up the drive.

“Did the kids invite you over too?

“No, we were just— invite us to what?” asked Ruth, looking slightly hurt.

“Nothing planned, don’t worry,” assured Sue, “come on in. I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll be very welcome to join.”

Leading the women to the front door, Sue opened it to the sound of Mercy’s exasperated voice.

“Grandpa, how could you do that?!”

“Jeez Merc, that’s kinda the point of the game. You’ve nailed everyone else plenty,” Charlie chastised her sister.

“No, I mean how did you do that? Your aim was perfect,” Mercy said, clearly impressed.

“These games have been around since your parents were children,” said Paul, “I’ve been practicing that shot against every child, niece, nephew and grandchild that’s asked me to come play.”

“And with luck, you’ll be able to practice it on great-grandchildren as well,” said Sue, entering the room and giving her grandchildren a knowing look. All three turned beet red while Sky proceeded to drape herself over her girlfriend.

“All in good time Gran,” she said, giving Mercy a peck on the cheek before looking past Sue to the other new arrivals, “hey guys, what brings you by?”

Ruth opened her mouth before closing it again, looking chagrined. Ava wrapped an arm around her before answering, “I don’t suppose you could spare a cup of blood,” she asked, directing her attention towards Drix.

“I may have… run out,” admitted Ruth.

“Ugh, I’ve done that,” said Drix, “more than once. With two hungry vampires in the house, the blood supply isn't what you'd call predictable. You always feel like climbing the walls till you can run out to get more.”

“Literally,” said Mercy, “grandpa Rafael has come fix clawed up drywall on more than one occasion.”

“Rafael knows how to fix drywall?” asked Ruth, impressed.

“Yes… well, no… well, kinda?” Mercy frowned as she tried to think of a way to explain.

“One of his usual people is our handyman,” Charlie supplied, “whenever we need something fixed, grandpa is usually along for the ride, even after we learned about him. I’m not entirely sure why since he can come over whenever he likes now.”

“I suppose I just like to feel like I’m helping out my family,” Rafael interjected from the corner of the room, making everyone start at his sudden appearance.

Mercy was the first to recover and walked over to hug the spectre, “ Hallo Opa , it’s good to see you.”

“It is wonderful to see you too, Liebling ,” he said, wrapping his arms around her.

“So,” Hazel said with a smirk, “just how long were you waiting around to make a dramatic entrance?”

“Not long,” chuckled Rafael, “I was following these three so I could try and arrange for someone to open the blood bank for them, if they tried it.”

“That’s so sweet Raf,” fawned Scout, “thank you so much, even if we ended up here.”

“You’re family, no thanks needed,” he said, “besides, I like your plan better.”

“Speaking of,” interjected Drix as he got up, “Ruth? Warm or cold?”

“Cold please.”

“Excellent, that’s so much easier,” he said, prompting snickers from everyone as he went into the kitchen, “what? Heating blood takes forever and it almost always congeals if you try to microwave it.”

Ruth made a face, “I tried that when they first invented the things. I took the thing for just a smallish oven and put my cup in for five minutes; my blood turned into a solid mass. Few things are more off-putting than having to eat blood with a knife and fork.”

“Bleh!” said Drix, returning with two glasses, “well, you're not missing anything. No matter how careful I am, it always ends up a slurry. I pretty much gave up on that venture a few years ago. Mama still tries though, she hates waiting for the double boiler.”

“So do I, which is why I do the sane thing and just drink it cold,” said Ruth, taking a generous gulp to punctuate her statement, “oh, that feels so much better already.”

“Told ya,” Ava sing-songed.

“Ava, hush,” scolded Scout.

“You're no fun.” Ava pouted.

“Oh, you know that I am plenty of fun,” rebutted Scout, a lascivious grin on her face.

“That's debatable,” joked Ava. Scout scrunched her face up at the remark before turning on her heel and stalking into the kitchen. ”Oops, I made her angry. Ruth? Fix it for me?” Ava Regan looked at her girlfriend with the best puppy dog eyes she could manage.

Ruth met her gaze over the rim of her glass as she took a sip. “Sorry Pup,” she said, setting her glass down with a smirk, “you're on your own. Maybe try those puppy eyes on her. I was very nearly convinced to get up.”

“C'mon, pleeeeeaase?” Ava’s eyes, impossibly, got even wider.

“Nnng, fine. But only cause you asked nicely.” Ruth stood up and headed for the kitchen, Ava closely in tow.

“We’re gonna need to turn a hose on them at some point, aren't we?” joked Laf as they watched the women leave the room.

“Knowing them? probably,” mused Mercy, “though maybe we can head off the problem at the pass. Is anyone else hungry enough to think about dinner yet?” A handful of casual head nods answered her question. “Excellent, so how many people do we need to order for?” She started counting on her fingers. “Nine, Ten, Eleven—”

“Hello!” called Elsie from the front entrance.

“...twenty-two, twenty-three,” Mercy continued, her shoulders shaking with laughter.

“Come on in” Charlie called back.

“What’s going on here?” asked Elsie as she came in with Hunter in tow, “you got a party going and didn’t invite me?”

“Nah, it’s not really a party. I'd call it a shindig, really,” said Drix.

“More of a hootenanny,” countered Hazel.

“Aren’t we short a jug band for that?”

“You’re thinking of a hoe-down.”

“Ah, my mistake.”

Elsie stared deadpan at the kids, who just simply returned her expression with goofy smiles. “Alright, once again to the grownups,” she said, looking around for her peers.

“Just an impromptu gathering,” said Perry, gesturing around with her controller, “I don’t think anyone would object if I said you’re welcome to stick around.”

“I may do just that, but first I need to talk to Laura about the work-study she’s hosting for some of the school newspaper kids. Where is she?” asked Elsie.

“Out. It’s date night.”

“So they asked you to babysit?” Elsie joked, the kids’ smiles scrunching into scowls.

“Yup, Carmilla pays real well to keep her babies safe,” said Laf, drawing their collective ire, “I’m buying a new centrifuge with the proceeds. Perry’s getting a new stand-mixer.”

“I dunno, still doesn’t seem enough for these three hooligans,” added Hunter.

“Well, they’re family, so we give them a discount,” said Perry, sharing a wink with Sky.

“You’re nicer than we are,” said Sue, “we charge double. Helps cover the marks” The room filled with laughter

“So anyways,” cut in Charlie, “you two want to stay for dinner? We were about to order chinese.”

“That sounds great, though we have to go get the rest of the family first,” said Hunter, “they’re waiting for us at home.”

“Correction, were waiting for you at home,” said Drix, holding up his phone, “Aaron loaded them up about two minutes ago and is on his way.

Elsie looked at Drix, puzzled, “But how did—”

“Just accept it. The boy is just on top of these things,” said Paul.

“Well, that and I’d been trying to get him to bring everyone over since Grandma and Grandpa got here,” said Drix, “he was waiting for you two, but since you so kindly brought yourselves here, it’s made things that much easier.”

“Well, in that case,” said Elsie, “I’ve got next game!” She vaulted herself over the back of the couch, landing beside Perry with a thump. “Time for the principal to take you all to school!”

Perry and Sky shared a smirk. “I’m sure you have much to teach us,” said Perry.

“I’ll just go order,” said Mercy, trying not to laugh at the women’s predatory grins, “and I think I’ll get extra. At this rate, we’ll need plenty more before this evening ends.”

x-x-x

“Alright, I feel like going out for burgers tonight,” said Zach, poking his head into the TV room, “how does everyone like that idea?” Both Xavier and Gillian perked up with huge grins, confirming his suspicion that they would not mind that scenario in the slightest. “Alright, go and get ready, we’ll head out in about five minutes.”

The kids bolted past him and up the stairs. He chuckled as he ascended back to the main floor to the living room where Elizabeth was watching a show of her own.

“I take it from the stampede that just flew by that the kids liked the burger idea,” she said, turning off the wall-mounted TV and going to grab her things.

Soon enough, the family of four had piled into the car and were on their way to a diner in town they all liked. However, just a couple of minutes into the drive, Zach notably perked up, his head snapping over to look out the window.

“Hey honey? Take the next right.”

Elizabeth chanced a glance at her husband before returning her eyes to the road. “Right? The diner is straight ahead in town.”

“I know, but I think we’ll have ourselves a better time if you take that right. Trust me on this.”

“Alright,” she conceded, turning on the signal and following Zach’s directions to a very familiar house. “Danny’s? Why did we come here?”

“Just a feeling.” Zach winked. “C’mon, let’s head inside.”

The family quickly made their way up the front walk and entered the house.

“Knock knock,” he called into the house.

“Ha! Called it!” came Mercy’s voice from somewhere ahead.

“There’s take-out in the kitchen,” called Perry, “fix yourselves a plate and come join us in the living room.”

“Huh, not bad, Love,” admitted Elizabeth as she shed her coat and shoes and moved into the house, followed closely by her family.

The smell of the take-out was mouth watering to the hungry family and soon they each had a plate piled high with noodles, meats, vegetable and, of course, a spring roll. Their food in hand, they made their way into the living room where they found every seat, and much of the floor, taken up by people eating.

“Hi guys,” said Laf around a mouthful of chow mein, “take a seat… somewhere…” They gestured vaguely, having no clue where such a location existed at the moment, “though just so you know, whichever one you’re looking for, they’re not here.”

“Who?” Zach asked them, “Danny? Isn't tonight their date night?”

“Now how did you know that and I didn't?” asked Paul, looking slightly annoyed.

Zach chuckled. “I just met Danny for coffee on campus yesterday. She was excited cause Carmilla had discovered some new club where they could go dancing.”

“Oh yeah,” said Charlie, “I remember Mama mentioning that. I suspect they won't be back until late.”

“Well, they deserve some fun,” said Sue, resting her now empty plate on her lap.

“And so do we,” chimed in Scout, “who's up for a post dinner run?”

“Ogh!” exclaimed Ruth, nearly choking on a mouthful of food. With a cough, she swallowed her food and looked around sheepishly. “Sorry.  Hell yes, let’s go for a run. I’ve got fuel in the tank and I'm ready to go.”

A series of nods around the room agreed with the sentiment and everyone started eating faster, eager to get out into the woods.

As they finished up, most of the wolves in the room got up and began gathering plates, sweeping into the kitchen to start dishes.

“Alright all of you, shoo,” said Perry, chasing Zach and Ava away from the sink, “you go have fun. These dishes… are mine.” Perry's expression approached something one might call manic delight that foretold doom for any bit of grease that might cross her path.

“Is Ms. Perry always this scary when she cleans?” Gillian quietly asked Laf as they worked at packing up the leftovers.

“Yeah,” said LaFontaine, “it's awesome. Don't worry, you'll get used to it.”

“Well, I got used to being adopted by a pack of werewolves,” she replied with a wink, “this shouldn't be a stretch.”

“That's the spirit,” they said, “just keep to one side when she's got the rubber gloves on and you'll do fine.”

“Might want to tell Mr. Karnstein that,” said Gillian, pointing as Rafael started drying dishes.

“Well, in his case, he’s already dead, so not much risk,” supposed Laf, “besides he can dry three dishes at once so he’s probably the only person here who can keep up with her.”

There was a howl from outside as the collection of wolves and cats gathered on the lawn. Following the signal, they quickly loped across the yard and into the trees, disappearing from view.

Sky watched wistfully until the pack fully faded into the trees before wandering back to the living room, snagging a cookie for dessert. “Well they’ll probably be a while, anyone up for more mariokart?” said Sky.

“No, I’m bored of that game,” said Elsie, lounging on one of the couches.

“You’re just saying that cause Mom and I whupped ya,” teased Sky.

“You did not whup me! I went easy on you.”

“Mom?” called Sky

“Whupped!” came Perry’s voice from the kitchen.

Elsie just crossed her arms and started scowling at Sky.

“Okay, I’ve graduated, she’s no longer my principal,” said Sky looking around at everyone else, “why do I still find that terrifying?”

“That’s just Elsie,” said Hunter, “just try not to move much, her vision is based on movement.”

“Hey!” she protested, swatting her husband.

“Now watch as I remain perfectly still,” he continued, “she’ll lose me in seconds.”

“I think you’ve got your info wrong,” said Elsie, gathering herself, “allow me to demonstrate.” With that she pounced, bowling him over as she began to tickle him mercilessly.

Desperately, he tried to squirm away as he laughed uncontrollably. However, she had him pinned and knew precisely where to tickle him for the best results.

“Uncle!” he gasped, “I give! I give!”

Satisfied she’d made her point, she got off of him and returned to her seat with a smile.

“Clever girl,” he remarked, readjusting his clothes.

Charlie, who’d wandered off a few minutes before, returned to the room from downstairs a red box in her hands. “Mariokart is fun, but there’s not enough controllers for everyone, anyone up for Apples to Apples?”

x-x-x

“How on earth is dandruff ‘delicate’?” asked Aaron.

“It’s made of light, delicate flakes,” said Laf, putting a hand to their head, “allow me to demonstrate.”

“Uh, no. No. Thanks,” said Aaron, edging away, “ew.”

“Ha! Dandruff was mine!” exclaimed Hazel, “gimme that greenie! I’m up to seven.”

The doorwall to the deck opened as Drix let the pack members into the house. The rest of thr pack was still all in wolf form as they slowly padded into the living room, flopping onto the floor amongst the couches.

“Hey guys, how was the run?,” asked Charlie, “you guys were out there for a while.”

“Great,” answered Drix, taking a seat beside Aaron “but I think we pushed it a little too far. Everyone’s a wee bit tuckered out.”

“I can see that,” remarked Charlie as Xavier laid down at her feet, warming her toes with his fur.

“Why don’t we move the couches, so everyone can stretch out, and put on a movie?” suggested Sky as she absently scratched Mercy’s ears, “I think something low energy sounds like a good end to the evening.”

Quickly cleaning up the game, everyone worked together to push the furniture to the room’s edges as Sky threw a movie in the player.

“Brave? Good choice,” said Perry, “I’ve always liked Merida for some reason.”

Sky chuckled. “It’s familiar, good for relaxing. Now if you’ll excuse me, my girlfriend needs scritches,” she said, going to sit against Mercy where she could reach her ears with her hands and properly snuggle in as everyone got themselves similarly situated amongst their loved ones.

x-x-x

“That place was amazing,” said Laura as they walked into the house from the garage, “the music was the perfect mix of old and new.”

“The place was good,” agreed Carmilla, “though I could have done with fewer drooling lackwits. I was hoping the older music would have kept the idiot count down.”

“Nah, guys like that exist in every venue, I think they come pre-installed actually,” said Danny, “at least they were smart enough to keep a respectful distance this time. I didn’t really want to end another evening getting thrown out for mangling somebody.”

“I swear, that guy’s nose was already broken that one time,” protested Laura, “he was just being a big baby. Limbs bend way further backwards than that while doing yoga.”

“Anyways, I’m glad that things didn’t end like that this time,” said Danny.

“I’m not, I like it when Laura goes all Krav Maga on someone,” said Carmilla, “really gets me—”

“Shhh…” interrupted Danny, holding a finger to her lips, softly walking through the kitchen to the living room. She looked back to her wives, waving them forward with one hand while the other was on her mouth covering a mirthful smile.

Quietly, the two moved forward to see what Danny had. There, bathed in the light of the tv screen, was a pile of wolves and people, snuggled close and fast asleep.

Danny leaned close to Laura and Carmilla. “Anyone else get the feeling we missed something?”

Chapter Text

“I really think you should stay home today.”

Laura shot an irritated glance at Carmilla as she tugged on her favourite blazer, smoothing it down as she checked herself in the mirror.

“I've already called in sick to work for the past four days,” said Laura, “I need to get back.”

“Laura, you didn't have a some bug that you had to sleep off, you got shot,” protested Danny, “if it wasn't for Laf, you'd be calling in dead. You can afford to take a week or two to recover.”

“Financially, sure, but I really want to get this article out. After all the trouble we went through for it, I'll be damned if I don't make sure this thing gets to press personally,” declared Laura, “and besides, as you so kindly mentioned, Laf's serum healed me completely. I'm still not entirely happy that the immortality choice was taken out of my hands, but I can't argue with the results. I don't just feel back to normal, I feel like a million bucks.”

“Yeah, about that,” said Carmilla, snaking her arms around her wife as she met her eyes in the mirror, “how do you plan to explain returning to work all ‘Doctors hate her: look twenty years younger in just three days’?”

“Simple,” Laura replied, “I won’t.”

“Excuse me,” Danny balked, “you plan to simply walk into your building, go to your office, sit down at your desk and just go on with your day like nothing happened?”

“Yep, that’s the gist of it,” said Laura, casually putting on an earring.

Carmilla gave Laura a complete deadpan look before shrugging and walking back to sit on the bed, where she turned to Danny with a smirk. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced.”

“Laura, this is serious,” Danny implored, “people are going to notice, they’re going to ask questions.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it covered. I’ve contacted an old friend to help with that.”

x-x-x

Laura strode confidently into the newspaper, swiping her badge and giving a friendly wave to the security officer at the front desk. She started towards the elevators before opting to take the stairs up to the third floor where her office was.

“Hey Kevin!” Laura greeted the receptionist as she stepped into the lobby, “any messages while I was off?”

“Nothing written,” he said, not looking up from his typing, “a handful of voicemails from a few local businesses. One from Town Hall, I think. Oh, and glad you’re feeling better.”

“Thanks Kev,” she said, walking past reception and towards the offices on the back wall. It was still fairly early, so most of the desks on the floor were still empty. She’d been careful to arrive early enough to avoid the majority of the staff, but not so early as to draw undue attention. Of the few people who’d beaten her in, most were immersed in their own work as they raced their deadlines.

This was exactly as Laura had planned. Despite her bravado, she knew she wouldn’t stand up to immediate scrutiny. Kevin was a very lucky piece of the puzzle, he could always be counted on to be immersed in some report or booking arrangement and wouldn’t give her a first glance, to say nothing of a second. The rest of her strategy involved not dealing with too many people at once and hoping her change of appearance would simply go unnoticed or dismissed, so long as she didn’t draw any attention to it.

Laura’s breath caught in her throat momentarily when one of her colleagues looked up and made eye contact with her across the room. She smiled and waved at him, hoping he wouldn’t look too closely. Luckily, he didn’t seem to notice the difference in her appearance as he returned both the smile and wave before returning to his work. With a sigh of relief, she made it to her office door, quickly slipping inside and closing the door behind her.

She hung up her jacket and slumped back into her chair, realizing with delight that no longer needing a cushy padding to support achy joints made said padding no less comfy to sit in. Feeling optimistic about the day, she started her computer booting up and dialed her voicemail to get a start on her morning.

x-x-x

It was a little before lunch before someone finally knocked on her door. Laura cursed internally but knew that this was an inevitable challenge she would have had to rise to meet some point before the day ended.

“Come in,” she called, focussing on her computer and trying to act as nonchalant as possible.

“Hey Laura,” said Jeana, as she opened the door, “thought I’d come see how you’re doing. You’ve been cooped up in here all morning.”

Apparently the universe had decided the challenge difficulty would be set to ‘extreme’ from the get go. Laura smiled pleasantly at the self-proclaimed ‘master of office gossip’, silently hoping she had some sort of latent force powers that would suddenly manifest to make her leave.

This isn’t the reporter you’re looking for.

“What are you waving at?” Jeana asked.

Laura looked down at her hand, with which she’d been mimicking the jedi motion unconsciously. She fought down a blush of embarrassment. “Uh, just a hand cramp. Been typing all morning to try and catch up. So, how can I help you, Jeana?”

“Well, I just finished tomorrow’s advertising layouts and submitted it to Mr. Grimsdottir. I thought I’d go out for lunch, would you like to join me?

“Oh, no thanks,” Laura said quickly, “I’m giving my article on the gang one last look over. If I submit it to Frank soon, I can get it in tomorrow’s edition.”

“I’ll never get how you got on a first name basis with Grimsdottir, no one else seems to…” she trailed off, studying Laura.

“What?” asked Laura.

“There’s something different about you, have you changed something? Your hair?”

“Well, I’m wearing it loose today,” said Laura, not mentioning that she’d done so to deliberately hide more of herself, “I usually pull it back.”

Jeana eyed Laura suspiciously before speaking, “yes, that must be it. Well… you’ll have to excuse me… I need to… lunch… eat… bye.”

Jeana quickly left the office as Laura groaned.That could have gone worse, but it could also have gone so much better. She didn’t have much time to bemoan her situation though. Evasive as it was, she wasn’t lying about needing to finish her edit. Theoretically, It could wait another day for more polish, but the weekend edition was going to be the best place for this article to get attention and it was only a matter of hours before it went to press.

Within half an hour, she’d finished her final edit and shot it off to her editor. Laura smiled to herself at having gotten it done. Now she could only hope that the effects would make the stress of the past few weeks worth it.

Feeling a bit run down, Laura decided to risk a run to the break room for some hot chocolate. Quickly glancing out her door to see if the coast was clear. There weren’t many people away from their desks, so Laura decided it was a good time to chance it. On the way, she passed Jeana’s desk, the woman not having gone for lunch after all. She glanced at Laura, who gave her a nervous smile as passed. On her screen was what appeared to be an archival photo of Laura from the past few years, looking just as young as she did at the moment. The woman still looked quite suspicious, but there was a hint of frustration behind her eyes as well.

Laura quickly moved onto the break room, where she quickly set about boiling a kettle and digging out her private hot chocolate mix from a niche she’d found in the lower cupboards. After a few minutes, she was sipping a fresh mug of cocoa and debating weathering another pass by Jeana’s desk to reach her office. She was startled out of her thoughts, however, by her cell phone buzzing in her pocket. Grabbing it, she could see it was her editor.

“Hey Frank, what’s up?”

“Hey Laura, could you come by my office? I need to talk with you.”

Laura’s stomach dropped into her feet, “uh, yeah, sure. I’ll be right there.”

She hung up and frowned as she left the break room, cutting across the floor to Frank’s office. She tried to keep her focus on her destination, but she couldn’t help but hear Jeana as she talked with someone.

“She looks younger, I swear she does.”

“She just looks good for her age. Have you seen her wives? It’s probably just a really good skin regimen, or plastic surgeon.”

“This is different, this is—”

The rest of the conversation was lost to Laura as she reached the office and stepped inside. “Hey chief, what’s up?”

“Laura, it’s about your article,” Frank said.

“What?” Laura started panicking., “Is there something wrong with it? Does it need a rewrite? What if I—”

“Whoa, Laura, Laura. Calm down, the article is fantastic. This is going to be huge. I’m glad you got it to me on time, cause I’d have to stop the presses, which is damn expensive, let me tell you.”

“So what did you need to talk to me about?”

“Laura, are you and your family alright?” There was a clear look of concern in his eyes. “I’ve been in this business a long time, I know a first-hand account when I see it. They came after you didn’t they. That’s what you called in sick for.”

Laura winced at how close he’d gotten to the mark. “Yes, you’re right, but we’re fine. They tried to intimidate us, but we managed to get rid of them.”

“And lose about twenty years in the process,” he remarked dryly, smirking lightly as she started stammering out a denial, “don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything about it, I certainly won’t. The Lawrences are a very old and loved family in this community. Ignoring the… nuances… that surround them is practically a tradition around here. And those who aren’t very traditional”—he glanced knowingly out the window towards the advertising department—”won’t find much traction otherwise.”

Laura visibly relaxed, “thanks Frank. I appreciate that.”

“Appreciate what?” he said with a knowing smile, “we’re just discussing your article. Now, I’d like you to head downstairs to press and give them some input on the front page placement.”

“Will do!” she said, practically scampering out of his office. She felt much lighter as she called the elevator. Unfortunately, she didn’t notice who was walking into the elevator with her until it was too late.

“Laura,” said Jeana as the doors slid closed, she was furiously swiping at something on her phone.

“Hey Jeana,” Laura said nervously.

“I know something is different about you, and I’m fairly certain I’m about to find proof.”

Laura looked over Jeana’s shoulder, trying not to be too obvious. She was scrolling through the pictures she’d taken at last year’s christmas party until she settled on a moment Laura remembered very well. She was perched on Danny’s shoulders, engaged in a wrestling match with Carmilla who was sitting happily on Frank’s shoulders while the rest of the office cheered them on. Jeana pinched the screen, zooming in on Laura’s face. Unfortunately for her, the same youthful face as the woman beside her filled the screen.

“Sorry Jeana, just me,” said Laura, starting to feel a bit bad about the charade.

Jeana looked at her phone then back to Laura, before smiling knowingly, “well played Hollis.”

Laura nodded slightly, matching Jeana’s smile as the doors opened and she stepped out.

Jeana remained as the door closed once more and Laura once again breathed a sigh of relief as she walked down the hallway to a door marked ‘Press’.

Walking in, she quickly made her way over to a woman at a large computer screen, sliding articles around each other.

“Hey Christen, Frank sent me down. Let’s see if we can make this pop.”

x-x-x

Laura returned to her office and locked the door behind her. The day was nearly done and despite some hiccups, she’d managed to make it through. There was just one thing left to take care of. Moving to her desk, she opened up her video conference program and entered a long string of numbers.

“IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

“I swear. I’m am going to pants Laf for introducing you to that show.”

“Oh, I am terribly sorry Miss Hollis!” said the distinctly british voice, “I was trying to make a joke but it appears I did not have the delivery correct. I will refrain from humourous outbursts in future.”

“JP, it’s ok. I was joking. Your delivery was perfect, it’s just a bit groan worthy. That’s all.”

“Oh good, that is a relief. Now, if you don’t mind me asking, did everything go alright?”

“Yes Jeep, things were a little touch and go for a while, but I managed to keep it under wraps. You did a fantastic job of finding the pictures of me. You’re very good at photo manipulation.”

“Thank you Miss Hollis,” said JP, “the process is really quite simple. I could show you if you like.”

“Thanks JP, but maybe another time. I’m just about to head home. I just wanted to thank you for all your hard work before I headed out. Are you sure there’s nothing I can give you in exchange?”

“While I appreciate the thought Miss Hollis, even if I did want something, it would be rather hard to collect it given my non-corporeal state.”

“Fair enough. You should come by more at least. Consider this my invitation to the next barbeque, we can talk to Laf about maybe rigging something up so you can socialize.”

“Thank you very much, I would greatly appreciate it, though I fear my attendance will be seldom. My research in the Library of Congress is rather time consuming.”

“Well, it’s an open invitation. Just come on by… once we figure out a way for you to just come on by.”

“Of course Miss Hollis. Now, if you will excuse me, there is a rather interesting article on the habits of woodlice I was about to read.”

Laura laughed, “alright, have fun Jeep”

“And you as well Miss Hollis, take care.”

The connection closed and Laura shut down the computer with a smile. She gathered her things, excited at the prospect of what the article would bring in the morning. As she walked for the elevators, she passed the reception desk where Kevin was pulling on his own jacket.

“Night Kevin.”

“Good night, Laur— whoa!”

Laura winced, bracing herself to explain away the age difference again.

“I’d always pictured you as a brunette,” he said.

Laura laughed, “nope, though I’ve often thought it’d be a good look.”

“Nah,” he said, “drastic changes like that always stand out like a sore thumb.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised.”

Chapter Text

“Hey Mama? Did you see where I put down the homework I was doing last night? I could've sworn I left it on the counter here when I finished it.”

Carmilla looked over to where Charlie was leafing through the pile of household papers which had accumulated beside the fridge.

“Can't say that I have, what does it look like?”

“It's a lab report. Several pages of foolscap and graph paper stapled together.”

“Did you maybe put it in your backpack without thinking?”

“That's the first place I looked after I couldn't find it. My math homework is there, but my lab report wasn't.”

“Alright, go have a look through your room, I'll go have a look through the office in case one of your mothers picked it up by mistake.”

“Will do, thanks Mama.” Charlie headed upstairs while Carmilla went down the hall. Stepping over Drix, who was enjoying a lazy sunday nap on the hall carpet, she went into the office where Laura was busy typing something at her computer.

“Hey Cupcake?” asked Carmilla, starting to leaf through some papers on the corner of the desk, “Charlie can’t find her homework, did you bring any paperwork in here today?”

Laura paused in her typing, “I brought a few papers in here, but I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. They’re just on top of the filing cabinet.” Laura gestured to the set of drawers beside the door.

Carmilla quickly found the pile and sorted through it, huffing when the missing lab report wasn’t in amongst the gathered pages.

“You could try calling Danny,” Laura suggested, “she went to campus to prep for some guest lecturer tomorrow and I know I saw her toss some papers into her backpack. Maybe Charlie’s homework got caught up in that.”

“Yeah, good thinking,” said Carmilla as she stepped out of the office, intent on retrieving her phone from the coffee table. She was just gingerly stepping back over her son when Charlie’s voice echoed through the house.

“MERCY!” Charlie yelled, nearly making Carmilla topple twice over. Once out of surprise making her lose her balance and twice when the large panther, whom she’d still been in mid-step over, jumped to his feet, leaving her clumsily astride his back.

The two shared a look, but a clatter of footsteps and claw scratches from upstairs quickly took precedence and the two untangled themselves to go investigate the rigmarole. They entered in the kitchen to see Mercy, in her wolf form with a wad of paper in her jaws, paw open the door and bolt out into the yard.

Mercy ran out from the stairs and over to the open back door, yelling after her sister. “Mercy Hollis!” hollered Charlie after the twelve-year-old, “get your furry tail back here!“

“Whoa Charlie,” said Carmilla, stepping up behind her, “calm down. Why are you so angry at her?”

“Mama, she’s got my lab report!”

“What? Why?”

“I don’t know, she just wandered into my room with it in her mouth. I think she’s trying to play, or maybe she just wants to bug me, I don’t know. I don’t care. She’s gonna ruin it!” cried Charlie as she walked into the backyard, intent on the small wolf who was poised playfully on the lawn, rump wiggling in the air as she watched Charlie. The moment her sister got close, Mercy leapt back and bolted into the trees, much to Charlie’s despair. “Argh! I’ll never catch her in there. If she shreds it, I’m toast. I can’t exactly tell the teacher ‘sorry, my sister ate my homework’.”

“Calm down Charlie-bear,” soothed Laura, joining them on the lawn, “your Mama and I will go get your sister. Why don’t you head into the house and rest. Drix, go with her, maybe get yourselves some ice cream. There should be a carton of rocky road down in the freezer.”

“Will do, thanks Mom,” said Drix as he walked back to the house with Charlie, doing his best to calm her, “hey, Aaron’s your lab partner, right? Worse comes to worse, we can call him and…”

They watched the two enter the house before turning towards the treeline and walking into the woods.

“Did you wanna run ahead and catch up?” asked Laura.

“I was considering it,” said Carmilla, “but we need to make it crystal clear to Mercy that this is not playtime. Looking like I'm ready for a run is not going to help towards that end. Besides, she's just ahead. I can smell her.”

True to Carmilla's word, they came upon Mercy after less than a hundred yards, once again in the playful posture she’d had in the yard. Her eyes were bright, flicking back and forth to see if anyone else was going to join them. However, when no one else emerged from the underbrush, she seemed to wilt a little.

“Alright, Mercy,” said Carmilla, placing her hands on her hips in her best 'mom’ pose, “I know you want to play, but your sister's homework is not an appropriate toy.”

“Not to mention,” added Laura, “you're just reinforcing a wolf stereotype. You’re setting wolves rights back decades.”

Both Carmilla and Mercy turned and stared at Laura incredulously.

“What?” asked Laura.

“No.... just, no,” said Carmilla, patting Laura on the shoulder.

Laura pouted at Carmilla before turning back to Mercy. “Now young lady, Charlie needs her lab report back. Why don’t you give me the report, we can go home and you can apologize to Charlie for taking her report and then we’d be happy to play with you. How does that sound?” she asked, reaching for the report.

Mercy barked cheekily around the report and danced out of Laura’s reach.

“Mercy!” snapped Laura, “get over here.”

Her answer was to just keep yelping and backing up.

“What is up with you today?” Laura said, her face scrunching in annoyance.

“Alright, I’m going for the direct approach,” said Carmilla, stepping forward.

“What’s the dir—”

Carmilla surged forward at high speed, rushing up and grabbing hold of the report with both hands before Mercy could even react. The wolf pup, however, still had a firm grip preventing Carmilla from yanking the report from her jaws.

“Mercy,” said Carmilla, holding tight, “drop the report.”

Frustratingly, her mouth remained firmly clamped down on the report as she began tugging against Carmilla hold, shaking her head and growling softly.

“Mercy, stop it,” she scolded, beginning to pull back more firmly.

“Uh… Carm?” said Laura, worry crossing her face.

“In a minute, Cupcake. Mercy, give... me... the... report.”

Mercy’s paws were well and truly dug in now, holding onto the papers for dear life.

Carmilla had also thrown caution to the wind and was now visibly pulling back against her daughter. Now she was committed to getting the wad of papers loose.

“Carmilla?”

The vampire only responded with a grunt as she strained. Mercy was also now growling almost constantly as she kept adjusting her paws, one by one, to keep from sliding forward.

“Carmilla,” cried Laura, “it’s gonna—”

A resounding ‘pop’ filled the air as the two flew apart, Mercy stumbling backwards and Carmilla falling back on her butt.

“...detach?”

Laura stared wide-eyed at the bundle of papers in Mercy’s mouth. Hanging from the side, still gripping the edge tightly, was Carmilla’s left arm. It ended perfectly smoothly, as if it’d popped off a fashion doll.

Carmilla stared down to where her shoulder had once been. “Ugh, not again.”

“Again?” exclaimed Laura, “this has happened before? how did it happen now?”

“Beats me,” said Carmilla, getting up and grabbing her arm off the lab report as Mercy watched her curiously, “werewolves are strong, but she shouldn’t be this strong. Last time was when I let Mattie try her chiropractic hobby on me. You, little lady,” she said, booping Mercy on the nose with her disembodied arm, “should not be able to pull the same feat.”

“It must be something she ate,” came an ominous voice. From behind a tree, that should have been too narrow to hide someone, stepped a figure adorned in a grey stove pipe hat and cape, twirling a long hooked moustache.

“Oh, hello Mother,” grumbled Carmilla, “I suppose you have something to do with this.”

“Indeed. Behold,” the Dean announced with a flourish of her cape, revealing a large bag.

“‘Bow-WOW!™’” recited Laura as she read the bag, “‘a nutritious blend of protein, nutrients and steroids so your pooch packs a punch’.” She stared deadpan at the Dean before looking at Mercy. How hadn’t she noticed the six-pack earlier?

“And now you won’t be able to interfere with my plans ever again,” the Dean proclaimed, “now that you’ve been… disarmed.”

“That pun was terrible,” groaned Carmilla.

“You’re terrible! And defeated!” squawked the Dean, “nothing can stop me now! Mwahahaha!”

With that, she threw down a smoke bomb and ran off.

“Should we tell her you’re supposed to vanish when you drop one of those?” Laura asked Carmilla as they watched the Dean stumble off through the trees.

“Nah, besides I need to call Zeke for this. Here, hold this.” Carmilla handed her arm to Mercy, who took it in her jaws happily, tail wagging.

Carmilla quickly grabbed her phone from her pocket and dialed with minimal difficulty. “Hey, Zeke?.. Pretty good, but I need another limb reattachment, can you squeeze me in?... No, not Mattie this time... You wanna try to tell her to stop, be my guest… uh-huh… yep… uh, sure. He wants to talk to you.” Carmilla held the phone towards Laura, who took it gingerly.”

“Uh, hello?”

“Laura? Wake up!”

x-x-x

Laura blearily opened her eyes to see Danny looking down at her.

“Ugh, Danny? What time is it?”

“A bit past seven. I just woke up,” she said, glancing at the clock, “I was about to go have a shower and I noticed you had the biggest scowl in your sleep. I figured you’d appreciate a wake-up call.”

“I do and I will forever sing your praises,” said Laura, before glancing over to where Carmilla was still dead to the world beside her, “hey, wait a minute.”

Laura lifted the covers enough to see Carmilla’s, very much still attached, left arm. Just to be certain, she tugged on it gently, rousing Carmilla.

“Cupcake, what?...” Carmilla drowsed.

“Nothing Carm,” said Laura with a kiss to her forehead, “go back to sleep.”

Carmilla made a contented noise of agreement before pulling the covers back up and drifting off again, drawing smiles from her wives.

“Well, since you’re up, care to join me?” asked Danny, offering her hand with a smirk.

Laura took the offered hand and allowed herself to be lifted from the bed. “That sounds like a lovely start to the day.”

“So, what was your dream about that had you so annoyed?”

“Ugh, I don’t wanna talk about it. Just the next time I want to power through a pack of oreos right before bed, please stop me.”

Danny chuckled as she led Laura through the bathroom door, “will do.”

Chapter Text

Perry and LaFontaine were enjoying a quiet night in. They’d settled themselves on the couch, snuggled together as they read in comfortable silence.

“Hey, Mom? Laf?” said Hazel as she came downstairs into the living room, getting her parents’ attention. She was rubbing her arm nervously as she sat down across from them, drawing concerned looks from the two, “I’m moving out.”

The silence in the room shifted from comfortable to strained as the two parents processed what their eldest daughter had just told them.

Lafontaine snapped out of their silence first, “well, that’s a relief.”

“What?” said Perry flatly, her own train of thought derailed.

“Oh! Oh no, not like that,” Laf backpedaled, realizing how what they’d said must’ve heard. They reached out, taking Hazel’s hand reassuringly, “I don’t want you out. You just seemed distressed, so I was worried something was wrong.”

Hazel smiled at the reassurance, eyes shining.

“Are you and Charlie going to move in together, Sweetie?” asked Perry, her expression still neutral.

“Yeah, it seems overdue. I mean we’re engaged, but not living together. Not to mention, after so much time apart, I think we really need each other close. We decided it’s time when I was over there earlier,” said Hazel, smiling nervously as she tried to gauge her mother’s expression.

“Has Charlie told her parents yet?” asked Laf.

“Yeah, we actually ran it by them earlier this afternoon while I was over.”

“How did they take the news?”

“Laura was totally on board; Danny wasn’t thrilled at having a second child move out, but was supportive,” said Hazel, listing them off on her fingers, “Carmilla grumbled a bit as you’d expect, but then surprisingly, she already had a bunch of listings for apartments favourited and ready to go.”

“Let me guess,” said Laf with a chuckle, “all of them within five minutes drive.”

“Exactly right,” replied Hazel, sharing in the laugh, “though honestly, she made some good finds. There’s a cheap one-bedroom near the hospital that looks about perfect. We’re going to go look at it tomorrow.”

“Awesome. Sounds like you’ve got this in hand.”

Laf sat back again with a smile. Perry, on the other hand, was still sitting up rather rigidly. Her eyes were unfocused, looking down at a spot on the coffee table and there was a pensive expression on her face.

“Mom?” said Hazel, dipping her head into Perry’s field of view, “you’ve been really quiet. Are you okay with this?”

Perry blinked, pulled out of her reverie. Meeting Hazel’s gaze, she smiled warmly. “Of course I’m okay with it.” She laughed lightly. “I can’t claim to be overjoyed; my baby is leaving the nest; but this is the right step and you’ll always have our support.

“Oh good, does that mean you’ll help us with apartment vetting?”

Perry paused, her mouth left hanging open with her next thought derailed. Pursing her lips for a moment, she smiled with good natured resignation. “Yes, yes we will.”

x-x-x

Moving day came very quickly after that. Within weeks, with a lease signed and a truck rented, the pack showed up in force to usher the young women into their new home: the comfortable apartment near the hospital. With the pack came not only helping hands, but housewares and furnishings as the contents of basements, attics and storage lockers were offered up to the couple to get them started. By day’s end, what had started as an empty apartment was well on it’s way to looking like a livable space.

“So, what are we missing?” said Charlie, thinking out loud.

“Well, for starters, a bed,” said Hazel, “this hide-a-bed Zach gave us will do for a night or two, but we’ll need to upgrade pretty darn quick.”

“Agreed, though I don’t get why we couldn’t bring one of our beds from home… I mean our parents’ houses… I mean…”

“It’s alright, Babe,” said Hazel, wrapping her arms around Charlie, “those houses will always be ‘home’ for us. This apartment will get there, but it’s still a new place for us right now.”

“Home,” Charlie repeated, looking around the apartment, “I can’t help but love the idea of coming ‘home’ to you.”

“Me too,” said Hazel, as she started kissing her way down Charlie’s neck, her fiancée tilting head to allow her better access.

Hazel stepped even closer, eliminating any distance between the two of them, and began to snake her hands up under Charlie’s shirt and across her stomach.

“A-hem!”

The two of them jumped apart like they’d been shocked, both turning to where Mercy and Aaron were standing by the front door, moving boxes in hand. Their expressions could only be described as a combination of amusement and irritation.

“Look,” said Mercy, “I know you two are excited about your new place and want to… christen it properly, but you should probably wait until everything moved is in and we all go home.”

“Or not,” teased Aaron, “just don’t expect us to stick around.”

Charlie feigned mulling it over for a few seconds. “Mmm, nah. Besides, you two went and ruined the mood.”

“Oh, my sincerest apologies.” Aaron grinned.

“Truly,” echoed Mercy, “now where do you want these? This crap is heavy!”

“Mercy, that box can stay out here and Aaron, that one can go into the bedroom,” directed Hazel.

Charlie’s face lit up. “Speaking of the bedroom—”

Mercy groaned.

“Not that you brat,” scolded Charlie, before turning back to Hazel, “what were you saying before we got distracted?”

“Oh yeah, we didn’t bring our beds because A: we still want places to sleep when we crash at parents’ houses,” explained Hazel, “and B: both our old beds are doubles. Fine for sleepovers, but we’d start feeling really cramped with that little space on a regular basis.”

Charlie frowned. “But I like cuddling.”

“So do I,” reassured Hazel, pulling Charlie back into a hug, “but come the first heatwave, we are gonna be thankful that we can put a little space between us without one of us retreating to the couch.” She moved her lips close to Charlie’s ear before whispering, “not to mention, it gives us more room to play.”

“Hmm…” mused Charlie, “you make a good point. Alright, I’m sold. Now, what else do we need?”

“Some shelves, a coffee table, some night stands, maybe someplace we can set up a TV and stereo,” said Hazel, considering the space, “between what we brought and what the pack contributed, we’re pretty well set up.”

“I’m still not convinced we need the walnut kitchen table,” said Charlie, “feels too fancy.”

“Hey, we are nothing but class,” argued Hazel, prompting a snicker from Mercy. Hazel ignored her and continued on, “anyways, Grandpa Gus said it was just taking up space in his basement, might as well give it a home. As for the rest, I think tomorrow, we head to Ikea.”

“Good idea,” said Aaron, “you start packing survival supplies, I’ll get the compass and GPS. With luck, we can make it out with only two, three casualties tops.”

“Aaron,” said Hazel, “you do know that trips through Ikea go a bit smoother when you’re not trying to wrangle a small herd of siblings through that maze, right? I think we’ll be fine.”

“Your funeral,” joked Aaron, “when you don’t come back, can we have the table?”

Hazel laughed. “Sure.”

x-x-x

“Okay,” said Charlie, going over the list on her phone, “I think we’ve got the most of the item codes we’re after. We’ll grab them from the warehouse on the way out, and then the mattress will get delivered tomorrow. The only thing we’re missing is a cabinet for the office.”

“Wrong, we seem to also be missing our significant others,” Drix pointed out.

“What? Again? Did they make another wrong turn?”

“I don’t think so, they were with us past the last shortcut, so there’s no place they could’ve made a wrong turn.”

“Maybe they went ahead?”

“I suppose, but there’s nothing ahead but the marketplace and— oh no.”

“What ‘oh no’?”

“Well, knowing Aaron, he—”

Drix’s phone buzzed. He took it out and immediately put his hand to his face upon looking at the screen. Craning her neck to see what had irked him, she saw a growing list of texts from Aaron on the screen.

[OMG, you need to catch up!]

[There’s so much good stuff here]

[These mixing bowls are so cheap!]

[AAAAA! cutting boards!!!]

“I think we’ve found out why Elsie always kept Aaron distracted with the sibs whenever they came here,” joked Charlie, holding in laughter.

“You do realize that all of that is going into your cart, right?” Drix said.

Charlie’s eyes widened. “Uh, we better catch up… like, now.”

Fortunately, thanks to Aaron’s distraction, he and Hazel weren’t that far ahead.

“There you two are. Don’t worry, I’ve managed to keep him from buying out the section,” said Hazel, pointing to Aaron who was flitting about like a child in a world of pure imagination, “I’ve let him pick a few things to fill in the gaps of what we got from the family”—she pointed at a yellow bag in his hand—”but I’ve managed to talk him down from the full set of induction cookware et al.”

“Nicely done, how’d you manage that?” asked Drix, watching his boyfriend with a soft smile.

“Simple,” said Hazel with a smirk, “I simply pointed out to him that he had a lovely kitchen of his own to fill with these lovely knick-knacks at a later date.”

Hendrix stared at Hazel deadpan for several second before turning to Charlie. “Bad news, Sis. I’m afraid I have to disown your fiancée.”

She just shoved him good-naturedly. “Oh come off it, she just saved you a mint and you know it. Next time he wants to go to Sur la Table, you can just bring him here where there aren't any four hundred dollar frying pans.”

“Ok fine, but if our cupboards collapse, I’m blaming you.”

“Fair enough.”

“Hey Aaron,” Drix called, getting the man’s attention, “we need to get moving. Lots of stuff to buy and build.”

Aaron looked like a kicked puppy, but came back to the group nonetheless as they started making their way towards the end. About halfway through the marketplace, Hazel’s phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hey Haze,” came Laf’s voice, “how goes the swedish expedition?”

“Pretty well. We’re just on our way out.”

“Nice. Faster than I expected,” they said, “anything you’re missing? Your Mom and I are just at Target grabbing you some cleaning supplies and I noticed they have some furniture here pretty cheap.”

“We couldn’t agree on an office cabinet,” she replied, sharing a rueful smile with Charlie, “any prospects?”

“A couple. One second.”

A pair of images popped through of a couple respectable looking cabinets.

“Ooh, I like the second one,” said Charlie, “it has drawers like we wanted but the colour is so much better than the ones here.”

“You catch that, Laf?” asked Hazel.

“You bet, we’ll grab it and bring it by in a bit.”

“Thanks. Well, we gotta go. Time to slip a few discs to load this stuff up.”

Lafontaine laughed.

“I’ll have the painkillers ready for you.”

“Thanks! Love you!”

“Love you too.”

Hazel ended the call as they wandered into the warehouse and grabbed a flat-deck cart. “Welp, let’s do this. No pain, no gain.”

“You’re gonna make me get everything down, aren’t you?” whined Drix.

“Well, of course. Why else would we bring you along?” teased Charlie, “none of us have super-strength.”

“Maybe you like my company,” said Drix.

“We like Aaron’s company, does that count?” asked Hazel.

“I hate you... so much right now.”

“Aw, c’mon babe,” cooed Aaron, draping an arm over his shoulders, “ignore them. Besides, you know how much I like it when you show off; how much I’ll… appreciate it later.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Drix, perking up and increasing his pace, “we’ve got furniture to get!”

The rest of the group trailed after him, chuckling, Aaron and Hazel sharing a subtle low-five

x-x-x

Later that afternoon found Sky and Hazel in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded by pieces of entertainment centre.

“Thanks for coming over,” said Hazel, “I haven’t a clue where Aaron and Drix could have gotten off to.” She shared a knowing grin with Sky.

“Happy to help. There is honestly something soothing about building furniture.

“I know. I’ve never gotten where the stereotype of Ikea furniture being a nightmare to build came from.” Hazel picked up the instructions. “I mean, I suppose trying to convey some of these steps without using any languages can be a bit ambiguous, but the worst we’ve had to go back today was a couple steps on the bedframe cause we used the wrong bolt.”

“I think it’s cause that Ikea guy on the cover is creepy.” Sky pointed at the cover. “People see him and immediately throw the instructions out.”

Hazel laughed as she turned a locking bolt, bringing two pieces to a seam. “Makes sense”

“Is this the last one we’re working on?” asked Sky.

“The last Ikea one. Charlie and Mercy are assembling the cabinet in the office.”

“Still? They went to start that after they helped us with the bed frame. What could be taking so—”

“Fuck!” yelled Mercy from the office.

“—long?”

Sharing a look, Hazel and Sky got up and headed into the office where they found what looked like a scene out of a horror film, provided the victims were all pieces of furniture. Random panels and bits of hardware were strewn all over the floor, no rhyme or reason to their arrangement and in the middle of the apparent explosion, hunched Charlie and Mercy over a small cross section of shelves and a set of instructions of their own.

“The instructions clearly say that this bolt, F, is supposed to connect this piece, ‘14’, to this piece, ‘8’,” said Charlie, looking back and forth between the instructions and pieces

“I can see that, but piece ‘8’ doesn’t have any place for a bolt to socket into,” replied Mercy.

“I think that’s piece ‘18’, the sticker is torn.” Charlie pointed at the board.

“What?” squawked Mercy, examining the sticker, “this looks just like the picture.”

“It’s a rectangular piece of wood, they all look like the picture.”

“Here,” said Sky, picking up another piece from behind Mercy marked with an ‘8’, “I think this is the one.”

“Thanks Babe, how are you guys doing?”

“We’re onto the last flatpack,” Hazel admitted with a chagrined smile.

“Ugh, seriously?” said Charlie, “I wish I’d agreed with you on that glass-front one we saw. We’d be done by now.”

“Is it really that bad?”

“See for yourself,” Charlie said, handing over the instructions.

In comparison to the large booklet that currently sat in the middle of the living room floor, the double-sided sheet Hazel now held was an incomprehensible mess. The drawings were small, blurred and crisscrossed with lines supposedly showing where bolts and screws were supposed to go, though the destination of said lines was anyone’s guess.

Hazel turned the sheet over in her hand. “Why don’t you two go pick up where we left off on the entertainment centre? Some forward progress should help with the frustration and we can try to puzzle out this one.”

“And if you can’t?”

“Then we call in the ‘rents. Between Mom’s meticulousness and Laf’s ingenuity, they’d likely bring it to heel.”

“And if they can’t?”

“Then we burn it in sacrifice to exorcise the demons from the apartment and never speak of it again.”

“Sounds like a plan. C’mon Merc, let’s go feel smart for a while.”

“Ooh, that’ll be a new experience,” joked Mercy.

“Hey, none of that,” said Sky, snaring her girlfriend in a hug and resting her forehead on Mercy’s temple, “you’re plenty smart. Don’t let some manufacturer printing instructions in the ancient language of ‘dongivadam’ make you think otherwise.”

Mercy turned her head and gave Sky a quick peck on the lips. “I was only joking, but thanks.”

The two sisters left the room leaving the other two sisters with the mess.

“Come on, maybe if we sort this out, we can make some head way,” suggested Hazel.

“You really think so?” asked Sky.

“Hell no, but that’s not gonna stop me from trying.”

x-x-x

“Alright, that’s one queen-size mattress and box spring,” said the delivery person, having just placed the new acquisitions into the bed frame they’d built yesterday, “if I could just get you to sign here.”

Hazel took the phone and quickly scrawled out a signature with her finger on the screen.

“Alright, you have a good day Miss La Fountain.”

“Uh…” started Hazel, but the guy was already out the door. She just shrugged and proceeded to the bedroom where Charlie was pulling the new linens onto the bed.

“Oh, I can’t wait to sleep in this thing,” said Charlie as she smoothed out the flat sheet, “that hide-a-bed is pretty good, but I keep waking up stiff. It’s literally a pain in the neck.”

“I didn’t find it so bad.”

“That’s because you’ve been using my boobs as your pillow. Of course you’ve been comfortable.”

“What can I say, it works.”

“Oh, you’re terrible.” Charlie reached out and poked Hazel in the side, who squeaked and retreated. Charlie got an evil grin on her face and Hazel’s face fell, knowing exactly what idea had just popped into her head.

“Charlie…” said Hazel, stepping around the bed to try and keep it between her and Charlie. Unfortunately, she quickly found herself cornered, “no, no, no… ack!” Hazel burst into peals of uncontrolled laughter as Charlie lunged and began tickling up her sides.

Very soon, the two had fallen onto the half-made bed, the room echoing with laughter as they each tried to gain the upper-hand. Eventually, Hazel managed to straddle her fiancée and pin her hands above her head, both of them flushed and breathing heavily from the contest.

“Well Ms. Hollis, what a compromising position you’ve ended up in,” husked Hazel, her face barely an inch above Charlie’s

“So it seems. Now what are you going to do about it.” Charlie glanced at Hazel’s lips, licking her own in anticipation.

Hazel started closing the remaining gap agonizingly slowly, “well, first I’m going to—”

“Finished!” rang Perry’s voice from the office.

Hazel let her forehead fall against Charlie’s. “—do absolutely nothing because I forgot my Mom was in the apartment and that’s really not something that I think anyone wants to explain away.”

Charlie tilted her chin up to quickly smooch her fiancée before she sighed in resignation. “C’mon, we might as well go take a look at this cabinet that’s been causing us so much consternation.”

“Fine” groused Hazel, rolling off and helping Charlie to her feet.

The two walked into the office where Laf was packing up the remnants of packaging while Perry seemed busy polishing what was actually quite a respectable looking cabinet.

“Well,” she asked, “what do you think?”

“It looks good. I guess it was worth the effort in the end,” said Charlie, notably impressed by the furniture.

“Barely,” commented Laf, “I cannot apologize enough for saddling you with this thing. I’ve seen debunked scientific journals that made more sense than this thing. If it wasn’t for Per here, we wouldn’t have had a hope.”

“Well I wouldn’t go that far,” said Perry.

“I would,” countered Hazel, “thanks Mom.” She stepped forward and pulled her Mom into a hug. After a moment, she tightened her grip as tears started to spring forth. “Thank you for everything,” she whispered as Perry held her just as tightly.

They held the hug for what seemed like forever before Perry stepped back, wiping away tears of her own. “Well, since we’ve finished up here, I’ve got some cookies on the coffee table. Why don’t we head in there and celebrate? You two have finally moved in.”

The two looked at each other, not realizing until now that Perry was right. They were done.

“That sounds great,” said Charlie as the group moved into the living room. “It feels weird,” she said as she and Hazel sat down, “it doesn’t feel real; like once we’re done I’ll just head back to Moms’.”

Perry took a seat while Laf disappeared into the kitchen. “That’s normal,” she said, “it takes time to settle in, especially when it’s the very first time. But…” she added, glancing toward the kitchen, “it helps when you make an event of it.”

Laf had reappeared carrying a bottle of champagne and four flutes. “What can I say? We wanted to mark the occasion,” they said, filling the four glasses. Once they were ready, Laf took one and held it up in a toast, the others mimicking their motion, “so, let me be the first one to properly say this. Welcome home.”

With that, the four raised their glasses to their lips and drank to the new chapter in their lives.

Chapter Text

Dusk was growing close when the rabbit stuck its nose out of the warren. The sun had disappeared behind the surrounding trees and the light was low.

The old buck remained still at the burrow entrance, paying attention to any sights, sounds or smells that could indicate a threat. The only movement he made was the twitch of his ears as he pivoted them back and forth, listening for signs of danger, but the only sound that could be heard was the faint rustle of a gentle breeze through the surrounding trees.

Cautiously at first, the rabbit hopped across the clearing, heading towards a choice patch of clover. There had been a rainfall during the night previous and it had left the clover a choice grazing opportunity. Joining a couple of younger does, the buck immediately set into the greenery with fervor.

A soft snap came from the direction of the trees and the rabbits froze in place, ears pivoting on high alert. They remained still for several seconds until the needs of their stomachs took precedence once again and they resumed their meal, albeit with a little more attention paid to their surroundings.

The old buck ate his full and set about chewing pellets when an out of place rustle from the nearby tall grasses made him rear up on his haunches in alarm. He focused on the direction the noise had come from, nose twitching nervously.

There was a definite movement to the grass that was alarming him; with every passing moment he grew more tense making ready to run. He kept his attention in that direction and noticed, in the grass, a bright pair of predatory eyes staring right back at him. In an instant, he stamped his feet and bolted for the safety of the burrow.

From the grass behind him came a loud, frustrated yowl and the sound of scrambling paws as the predator gave chase. Ahead, the rest of the warren had heeded his warning and was making good their escape underground. He flew across the clearing as fast as his hind legs could propel him until he reached the warren mouth and threw himself underground. Moments later, there was a loud thump and the sound of scratching as whatever had been behind him tried to unsuccessfully follow him into the burrow. The rabbits retreated deeper into the tunnels, hoping that whatever was out there would just give up and go away.

x-x-x

Carmilla walked out from the trees into the clearing, now completely devoid of rabbits. She chuckled to herself; it appeared that the day's activities were done whether she liked it or not. It wasn't a huge problem though, it was getting late and nearing time to get home anyways. However, before she could, there was still the small matter of retrieving her son.

She wandered over to the centre of the field where the largest entrance to the warren was. However, instead of simply a well dug hole in the ground, the burrow was currently augmented with the flailing hindquarters of a panther cub. His tail was swishing in frustration as his hind legs scratched against the ground, trying to push him further into the tunnel system. Carmilla slapped a hand tightly over her mouth as she struggled not to burst out laughing. She quickly took the opportunity to snap a picture of the youngster with her phone before squatting down beside him and patting his back to get his attention.

“Hey little guy, I don’t think you’re gonna fit,” she said, “you might not be fully grown, but a weasel you’re not.”

A muffled meow came from under the soil.

“I know it sucks, but sometimes they just get away. Now c’mon, it’s almost dark, we should go home.”

Drix meowed again in agreement and immediately began to backpedal. Unfortunately for the cub, he made no more progress backward than he had forward, his paws slipping in the loose earth. After a few seconds, he dropped his butt to the ground and yowled.

“You’re stuck, aren’t you?” asked Carmilla.

He squeaked reluctantly.

She pinched the bridge of her nose with a smile on her face, shaking her head as she struggled not to laugh. “Alright m’boy, let’s get you out of there.”

Stepping behind him, she got a hold of him around his middle and gently pulled. He made a small murr of protest as his fur rubbed uncomfortably on the sides of the burrow, but before long, a very dusty Drix was extricated from the confines of the burrow. He shook himself in a token effort to get clean.

Carmilla chuckled.“A for effort, but it’s gonna take more than that to get you clean, I think” she said, Drix folding his ears back at the implication, ”for now it’s probably best if you don’t—”

Drix shifted, leaving a pouting eight-year-old with dusty clothes where the cub once stood.

“—shift.” Carmilla deflated slightly as she watched the boy try to wipe the dirt off his face, succeeding at only smearing it around. “Nice try, but you’re still getting a bath.”

Drix pouted. “Mama, I don’t wanna. I hate baths.”

“I know you do, Bud,” said Carmilla, taking his hand and leading him towards home, “but you’ll start to feel really icky if we don’t get that dirt off of you. Come on, you can quickly take a bath and then we’ll watch a movie with popcorn before bedtime, does that sound good?”

“Mmmm…” Drix hesitated, “can I have some blood hot chocolate?”

“Sure,” she said with a smile, “you did a great job today, I’d say you earned it.”

“But Mama?” asked Drix, “I didn’t get the rabbit. It got away.”

“You’re right it did, but you prowled up very well; you stayed low and stayed patient, the rest is just luck and practice,” explained Carmilla.

“It was really fast,” he mused.

“That’s why we have to stalk them,” said Carmilla, “they don’t look it, but that’s what rabbits do. They’re built to do two things to survive, out-run predators and out-breed predators.”

“What’s out-breed mean?” he asked, looking up at her.

Carmilla smiled back at him. “It means they have a lot of sex to make a lot of bunnies so there are too many to eat.”

“Oh, ok,” said Drix, getting lost in thought for a moment, “it’s like the circle of life, right? Rabbits get to live, predators get to eat.”

Carmilla laughed. “Yes, exactly.”

“Mama, can we watch Lion King tonight?”

“We’ll have to ask your sisters if they want to watch it too, but I think they’ll be happy with that.”

They got back to the yard just as night was settling in, a warm glow from the house welcoming them home.

“Alright, let’s get you clean. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can have chocolate.”

Needing no more encouragement, Drix ran into the house and upstairs.

Danny watched in amusement as the boy scampered past. “Good hunt?”

“Rabbit got away, but he did well, so I promised him a movie night.” Carmilla glanced upward at the sound of the tub being run. “Would you mind making some popcorn and hot chocolate? If I don’t get upstairs to help him, our bathroom floor will become an infinity pool.”

Danny laughed. “Go, go. Clean up the great hunter. I’ll get the stuff ready. What movie we watching?”

“Lion King, if the girls are up for it.”

“What? Not Alpha and Omega?” asked Danny with a grin.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” said Carmilla as she headed up the stairs.

x-x-x

The family lounged comfortably around the room. Everyone had been quite happy with Drix’s selection and was now happily enjoying their treats.

“You know Drix,” said Charlie, “you could learn something from this movie.”

“What?

“Well, you let some slow, waddling rabbit get away from you today,” she teased, “maybe you could pick up some hunting tips from these lions. What do you think?”

Silence answered her.

“Drix?” she looked around the room. Her Mom’s were watching her with amused expressions and Mercy was on the other couch, attention fixed on the screen. Drix, on the other hand was nowhere to be seen. “Aw jeez, I was just teasing, I didn’t mean to be mean. You can come back Dr—”

From behind the arm of the couch, a panther cub leapt onto Charlie, making her yelp in surprise. With her pinned, he began to aggressively lick her head, doing his best to mess her hair up.

“Alright, alright!” she pleaded, “you win. You can pounce just fine!”

Satisfied, he leapt off of her and onto the other couch, beside Carmilla who rested a hand across his back.

“That’s my boy.”

Chapter Text

“Hey! Hey Danny! Wake up!”

Danny groaned as she drowsily dragged herself to wakefulness. Her efforts, however, were obviously not quick enough as she found a pile of clothes tossed into her face.

“Ugh… Elsie, what the hell?” asked Danny groggily, glaring at her fellow Summer as best she could, propping herself up on her elbow.

“You asked me to wake you up,” Elsie replied cheekily.

“A knock on the door would have sufficed.”

“Nowhere near as entertaining though,” said Elsie as she slipped back into the hall.

Danny flopped back to the bed with a huff before noticing that the wad of clothing Elsie had tossed at her contained one of Laura's shirts. She smiled and held the fabric up to her face, inhaling deeply. Danny jerked her face back and held the shirt up for a moment before her smile widened even further. The shirt was definitely Laura’s, but the scent was almost entirely Carmilla’s.

She couldn’t help but wonder, if the vampire had worn Laura’s shirt over here, what was she wearing when she left. Danny brought the shirt back to her nose, letting herself indulge in fantasies of Carmilla wearing one of her shirts. She would be swimming in them, but Danny didn’t care, the image excited her anyways.

Danny’s reverie was interrupted by another clothing missile smacking her in the face.

“Y’know, if you want to stay in bed that’s fine,” teased Elsie, “just gives me more excuses to fling stuff at you from the doorway. I think I might have a few water balloons left over from when we pranked the Zetas last November.”

“Alright, alright,” said Danny, levering herself out of bed, “I’m up. Call off your dogs.”

“Hey, I had no intention of calling up any dogs on this,” said Elsie, “I wasn’t about to share my fun with the pack.”

Danny playfully shoved Elsie as the two walked into the hallway, “don’t let the rest of the pack hear you calling them dogs or you might be the one dodging water balloons.”

“Oh, they all know I love them. Besides, it’s not like any of them heard me.”

“Woof!” someone yelled from downstairs as Elsie’s eyes went wide.

“You forgot how well we could hear, didn’t you?” asked Danny.

“Little bit,” said Elsie, pressing her lips together in thought, “I wonder if Mel would like some company on her run this morning.”

Danny snickered. “Between Mel in workout mode and the annoyed pack, I’d go with the pack if I were you.”

“Hey, some of us actually get along with her, thank you very much.”

“And maybe hoping to get along a little better?” Danny playfully nudged Elsie with her shoulder.

“Well, if things happen to go down that road, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed. It’s the right day for it.”

Danny laughed. “Careful with that, it wouldn’t surprise me if that actually works against you. Mel’s never struck me as someone who really bought into the whole Valentine’s thing.”

Elsie glowered at Danny. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Oh yeah!” said Danny, perking up, “I’ve got things to get ready.” She strode forward into the bathroom, turning to face Elsie before closing the door. “I think I heard Mel warming up out front, you should probably go change and get out there if you want to catch her before she heads out. I’d wear tights, it’s supposed to be nippy out there,” Danny added, gesturing to Elsie’s shorts and t-shirt before closing the door and starting the shower.

Elsie huffed at the somewhat unnecessary remark before hurrying off.

x-x-x

“Hey Danny, how’s the day going?”

Danny jumped as Laf came up behind her as she stood outside their dorm building.

“Oh, hey Laf, you startled me.”

“Yeah, I noticed. What’s up? Usually the high-strung and twitchy part of your act belongs to Frosh.”

Danny frowned at the assessment, but really couldn’t disagree with it.

“Well, I want to go leave a note for them,” she said, nodding up towards her girlfriends’ window, “you know, do the whole ‘cute and mysterious’ thing for v-day?”

“Isn’t that Carmilla’s schtick?”

“She doesn’t have a monopoly on it.”

“So, what are you waiting for?”

“I’m trying to determine if Laura is there or not. She should be in class right now and therefore Carm will be fast asleep, so leaving the note will be easy. If Laura took the day off, however, they could both be up and Carm will hear me for sure.”

“You guys make all your squishy feelings just way too complicated. Look, I just got Perr a dozen roses from the Alchemy Club’s fundraiser by the cafeteria,” they said, holding up the bouquet, “and then we’re gonna spend the evening cuddling and watching a movie.”

“Well that sounds— did that bouquet just growl?”

“A little, I’m sure it’s fine.”

“...right. Well, that sounds great, but I just wanted to try and be a little fancier this year… and get flowers that don’t nibble on my clothing…”

Laf tugged the blooms off the hem of their coat. “Well, I won’t fault you that, but isn’t it a ways to the nearest actual florist?”

“About forty-five minutes each way, which is why I need to hurry up and figure out if it’s safe to drop my note. I’m supposed to meet them back here at five”

“Tell you what, give me the note and I’ll slip it under the door. Even if Carmilla hears me, you still get to be somewhat mysterious by sending it through a confidant.”

“Seriously? You’d do that? That’s really cool of you Laf, thanks.”

“Not a problem, it’s room 507, right?”

“Laf…”

“Kidding, kidding.”

x-x-x

Leaving the note in Laf's charge, Danny ran back to the lodge to grab her truck and begin gathering what she needed to set the stage tonight.

For the most part, her day went smoothly. The flowers had been easy enough to acquire, despite the long drive and crowded shop. Luckily, she’d had the foresight to order the flowers ahead of time, so her time maneuvering around the panicking women and men cramming the shop was minimal and she managed to escape the shop without having to cripple anyone too badly.

The next item, a pack of premium cookies for Laura from the bakery across town had taken a little more effort. The main street of town from one end to the other was taken up by a huge Valentine's fair. After thirty fruitless minutes of trying to find a road crossing, she gave up and ran to the bakery on foot. The bakery was blessedly quiet and the cookies were added to her bag of loot in short order. However, what should have been the easiest part of the day cost her an hour she didn't have and she still had to pick up the gift for Carmilla that she'd spent the longest time planning for.

Danny had gotten the idea for blood-filled chocolates months ago, but had had no idea how to go about it. Her own experiments in making them always seemed to result in burnt chocolate and coagulated blood. Asking Perry had, predictably, resulted in her fellow redhead freaking out, though Danny had to admit, her lodge room had never been so clean, so she figured that it wasn’t a complete loss.

It wasn’t until she’d noticed that the cafeteria staff had a proclivity for creating delicious, if mildly suspect, desserts that she figured she may have a solution. It took a bit of persistence, not to mention dodging a couple of hexes from annoyed cooks, but she eventually found one that was not only willing to help, but apparently already had a recipe that had been a ‘favourite of Governor Belmonde’. While it meant that Danny wasn’t a fan of the source, Carmilla would probably like them so she commissioned a couple dozen, for a rate that was not only reasonable, but in actual currency, much to Danny's surprise. She'd been expecting to have to hike for some obscure reagent which only grew on one of Styria's myriad cursed mountain peaks in exchange for the candy. The cook had laughed at the idea; apparently online shopping was a much better source for such things these days.

They'd arranged for Danny to pick them up the afternoon of the fourteenth, to ensure they were at their freshest. Unfortunately, she had been later than she'd hoped picking them up as she swung back in from town and had to evade a couple more curses for interrupting dinner prep. However, soon enough she had the chocolates in hand and tore her way back to the lodge to get ready. Opting for a simple shirt, vest and slacks, she gathered up her payload and launched herself out the front door with only minutes to spare.

At mere seconds before five, Danny arrived outside door 307, breathing heavily after her full bore sprint from the lodge. She was trying to take a minute to catch her breath when the door opened.

“Y'know, it kinda spoils your entrance when I can hear you panting the other side of the door.”

Danny didn't respond immediately as she was busy taking in the sight her girlfriend. “You're wearing my shirt,” Danny purred.

Carmilla looked down at herself and then back to Danny. “I squeeze myself into leather pants and it’s the baggy shirt you notice.”

“The pants look good”—Danny took a moment to trace her gaze over the curve of Carmilla’s hip—”very good, in fact. But I’ve been imagining what you’d look like in this all day, and I can say I’m not disappointed.”

Danny stepped closer to Carmilla, licking her lips as she leaned in until she found herself obstructed by her cargo. Both she and Carmilla looked down at the plastic wrapped bouquets crinkling between them. Carmilla smirked at the gifts.

“Well, I can’t say I’d dislike pressed flowers, but it might be healthier for them to put those in some water.” Carmilla stood up on her tip-toes to quickly peck Danny over the flowers before spinning on her toe and gliding back into the dorm.

Danny rolled her eyes and followed after the vampire. “Here, these are for you,” said Danny, holding out a bouquet of violets and irises.

“What? Not roses?” joked Carmilla as she accepted the bouquet.

“Sure, then we’ll go to dinner at Applebees,” said Danny, meeting Carmilla’s grin.

“Please tell me you’re joking,” said Laura, coming out of the bathroom in a smart pair of slacks and navy blazer.

“Of course I’m joking,” said Danny, walking over to Laura and handing her the other bouquet of red and orange tulips.

“We’re going to McDonald’s” jeered Carmilla.

The other two just stared at her with deadpan expressions.

“Ok fine, tough room.”

“Actually,” said Danny, “I’ve made us reservations at the faculty club for dinner.”

“Ooh, swanky!” exclaimed Laura.

Carmilla, on the other hand, looked like the wind had just dropped right out of her sails. “Oh, yeah. Yeah, that sounds great… I’ll just… uh… find a shirt…”

Carmilla got up and made to dig into the wardrobe, but before she could make it very far both of her girlfriends were at her sides.

“Ah ah ah, sit,” said Laura, putting an arm around Carmilla’s shoulders and bringing her back down to the bed, “we know you better than that.”

“Yeah, what’s wrong?” asked Danny, snuggling in from the other direction.

“It’s nothing, really,” said Carmilla, hunching further into herself, “dinner sounds great.”

“Carm,” said Laura, “c’mon.”

Carmilla wilted a little more. “Well, I just… I wanted…” She got up and wandered over to the kitchenette where she picked up a basket that had been hidden under a blanket. “I thought that maybe we could have a picnic under the stars.”

Laura found herself speechless, looking to Danny, who simply smiled at Carmilla.

“I think that sounds lovely. Let’s do that.”

“But you went to the trouble of making reservations.”

Danny chuckled. “I did a fair bit for today that could be described as ‘trouble’. Dinner reservations don’t fall under that umbrella.”

Carmilla frowned “But—”

Danny held up a finger, interrupting Carmilla’s protest as she pulled out her phone with the other hand, quickly dialing a number. “Hi there, I need to cancel my six-thirty reservation, something’s come up... yeah, under Lawrence… thanks so much… bye!” Danny ended the call and met Carmilla’s gaze. “Oops, it seems our reservation got cancelled, whatever shall we do for dinner now?” Danny intoned with a smile.

“Why it looks like Carmilla has a picnic basket, Danny,” Laura played along, “how very resourceful she is. Isn’t she just the best girlfriend ever?”

“Absolutely.”

“You two are dorks,” Carmilla said, laughing lightly as her eyes shone at them.

“Your dorks,” replied Laura.

x-x-x

Carmilla led them to the roof where she’d already set up what could only be described as a large nest of pillows and blankets. The three had snuggled together and in true Carmilla fashion, champagne and glasses were quickly produced to start off their meal. The evening was leisurely, the three revelling in each other’s presence and warmth as they nibbled at the simple fare of breads, meats and cheeses. Carmilla passed the time detailing the constellations in the night sky, telling the tales of the legendary figures.

As the night air developed a harsher chill, the scent of snow on the breeze, the three came to a silent agreement to return to the warmth of the apartment. They gathered up the plates and basket and Carmilla saying she’d collect the blankets later. This suited the other two as none of them seemed to want to break contact long enough to pick them all up.

“Carm, that was a wonderful idea,” said Danny, softly placing a kiss on top of Carmilla’s head as they reentered the room, still holding each other close despite the night’s chill having been left behind.

“I’m glad you liked it, though I’m still sorry I stepped on your surprise earlier,” she said.

“You didn’t,” Danny assured, “dinner was just someplace to go. I’ve still got more up my sleeve.”

“Actually,” interjected Laura, “I’ve got something for you two as well. You guys make yourselves comfortable, I’m gonna go get it.” She quickly placed on kiss on each of their cheeks before scampering into the bathroom and shutting the door behind her.

“Huh, well I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that we all planned something,” mused Carmilla as they sat down on her bed.

“I suppose not,” agreed Danny, “though I think we should talk ahead of time next year. Y’know, avoid the potential sitcom ‘where are you?’, ‘where am I? where are you?!’ thing.”

“Yeah. That’d be bad,” Carmilla said as she leaned into her girlfriend, resting her head on Danny’s chest.

The two cuddled for a few minutes as they waited for Laura to emerge when a large thump came from the bathroom, their heads snapping up at the sound.

“Cupcake? You okay in there?” asked Carmilla.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” called Laura through the door, her voice a bit overly chipper.

“Ok,” said Danny, skeptically, “let us know if you need a hand.”

“Will do!”

“We missed you today,” Carmilla said softly, after another few moments of comfortable silence.

“Did you not find my note?”

“Oh we did. The mad scientist bonked their head sliding it under the door.”

Danny chuckled. “So much for mysterious.”

“Oh, is that what you were going for?” said Carmilla, looking up at Danny, “well, it was a lovely sentiment, but I rather would have had you here.”

Danny squeezed Carmilla tighter before perking up and going over to her bag. “Well, I did have a few errands to run and this seems to be an opportune moment to give you something else I picked up.” From her backpack, she pulled out a plain white box which she handed to Carmilla.

“Danny what—” was all that Carmilla said before she caught a whiff and her eyes went wide, “wait, you didn’t.” She opened a box to find the neatly arranged chocolates inside. Experimentally, she picked one up and bit into it, a trail of blood running down her chin. Her eyes rolled back for a moment in ecstasy at the treat. “I haven’t had these in years. Not since my last, uh… sabbatical, with Mattie. Thank you.” Carmilla put the candies aside and pulled Danny into an embrace.

Fortunately for Danny, the metallic tang on Carmilla’s lips was something she was not only used to, but now anticipated as an aspect of sharing a moment with her partner, so the lingering blood did little to deter her.

The moment was interrupted a moment later by a knock and Laura’s shaky voice coming through the door. “Alright, I’m coming out now. Hope you’re ready for your surprise!”

A moment later the door opened and out stepped Laura, fully decked out in what could only be described as classic, black lace lingerie, complete with garters, stockings and high heels. The pieces hugged Laura’s curves perfectly, accentuating every well-toned muscle. Danny and Carmilla would have been completely floored if it hadn’t been for one little detail. Despite her best attempt at a sexy pose in the doorway, Laura looked about as comfortable as if she was wearing barbed wire.

“Wow, Laura,” Danny hesitated, “you look… great.”

“I’m glad you think so,” said Laura. Her voice was husky, but there was a definite quaver to it as well. Gingerly, she stepped forward, moving towards the two of them in a slow strut, “you’ve both been amazing today and I think that you both deserve aaaaaa—”

Laura’s lost her balance as one of her heels went out from under her and she began to tumble. Before Danny could react, there was a blur of motion from beside her as Carmilla surged forward and caught Laura before she could fall.

“Easy there, Cupcake. Those stilts are harder to master than they look.”

“Thanks Carm,” said Laura as Carmilla set her on her bed, “so much for my sexy surprise.”

“Nothing wrong with your idea,” said Carmilla, playing with the bra strap, “but if you’re not into it, we’re not gonna be either. Simple as that.”

“I meant what I said,” added Danny, as she sat on Laura’s other side “you look… damn good, in that.” Danny looked Laura up and down with a lick of her lips, making Laura blush and smile. “We’ll just have to save it for an occasion when it feels a little more… in tone.”

Laura raised an eyebrow. “So you’re saying we should just get rid of it for now?”

“Oh yes,” agreed Carm, leaning forward and catching Laura in a kiss. She broke the kiss a moment later but still kept her face close to Laura’s, “we’ll just ditch it and resume our evening.”

“And how do you suggest that we go about that,” asked Laura, her voice pitching down in earnest.

“Well, first…” said Danny as she reached behind Laura and, with a flick of her wrist, undid the clasp.

x-x-x

It was late the next morning when Danny, absolutely beaming, strode through the front door of the Summer’s lodge.

“Well look what the cat dragged in,” snarked Mel as she walked towards the stairs, coffee in hand, “doing the walk of shame, Lawrence?”

“Doing a walk? Yup! Shame? Oh no,” said Danny, “A bit tired for lack of sleep though.” She waggled her eyebrows at the other girl.

“Gross, Lawrence. Thanks for sharing.”

“Aww, Mel. Are you jealous?” said Danny, feeling feisty as she trailed Mel up the stairs.

“Jealous? Hell no. You can can keep your little threesome with the bloodsucker and cub scout. I am doing just fine, thank you very much.”

“Just fine, eh?” teased Danny, “why Ms. Callis, did you manage to find a little companionship to make your valentine’s a little less lonely?”

Mel stopped outside her bedroom door and turned to face Danny. “No, I didn’t find ‘companionship’, Lawrence. Not that I need to, I am doing just—”

The door to Mel’s room opened and out stepped Elsie in Mel’s bathrobe. “Hey, I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your— oh hey Danny. How’d yesterday go?”

Danny stayed silent and just looked at Mel with a huge smirk, who turned beet red before retreating into her room and slamming the door.

“Yesterday went very well,” said Danny, finally answering the question, “I guess yours turned out pretty good as well.”

Elsie returned the smirk. “You could say that.”

The two shared a high-five and headed off to start their days.

Chapter Text

“Trudy! Trudy, come here girl!”

The clatter of dog claws echoed through the house as the basset hound heeded her master's call. LaFontaine couldn't help but smile at their dog as she lumbered around the corner and trotted up to them, tail wagging. They crouched down to meet her, affectionately rubbing and scratching the dog’s ears.

“You know it’s funny,” Laf said, “here she is, as happy as can be and her face still just looks so sad.” They took Trudy's face in their hands and frowned dramatically at her before resuming their ministrations, scratching under her ears.

“If you keep that up, she is gonna be even sadder that you’re leaving her with us for the weekend,” said Carmilla.

“Well, someone oughta be,” said Laf, keeping their attention on the dog, “the girls can’t wait for a weekend away from us. It’s enough to make a parent feel rejected.”

“Sweetie, they’re just being kids,” comforted Perry as she fussed with her carry-on bag on the kitchen table, “they like a change of pace.”

“I suppose,” groused Laf, “I just wish they weren’t so obvious about it.”

“Well tell ya what,” said Carmilla, “while you’re gone, we’ll just lock them in the basement and turn off the lights, then they’ll be overjoyed when you get back.”

Laf chuckled and opened their mouth to joke back at her when they caught the aghast look Perry was giving the vampire. Quickly, they killed their smile and screwed their face into a disapproving frown as best as they could. “That is not funny.”

The vampire smirked at the obvious about-face. “Fine, we’ll treat them like our own,” Carmilla said with an overly dramatic sigh, “I guess you’re just gonna have to live with them being excited at weekends with us. I think I’ll take them out for ice cream.”

“You’re an evil, evil woman,” said Laf.

Carmilla smirked at them. “And?”

Laf huffed and went back to heaping affection on their dog.

Carmilla chuckled before turning back to Perry. “So we’ve got the number for your hotel at Martha’s Vineyard. The girls will come home with our own brood after school this afternoon and we’ve got everything to take care of Trudy, save Trudy herself,” she said, nodding her dog, “can you think of anything else?”

Perry paused, looking up in thought. “...No… I keep thinking I need to give you school or doctor’s numbers, but it’s all the same as you. You’re even our emergency contact, so that’d be somewhat redundant.”

“Well, alright then,” said Carmilla, clapping her hands together before looking at her watch, “in that case, let’s get you two to the airport and then I’ll take this pooch home.”

Perry’s head snapped over to the clock on the wall. “Oh my goodness, I didn’t know it was so late. Lafontaine, hurry up and go grab your things from upstairs! Carmilla, I can’t thank you enough for offering us a ride.”

Carmilla shrugged. “Eh, seemed less stressful than waiting for a cab that may or may not show up on time. Although, watching you chew out a late cabbie probably would have been amusing, but not enough to deal with the freakout.” Carmilla winked at Perry’s unimpressed glare.

“Alright, let’s roll,” said Laf, coming down the stairs with a large duffel bag over their shoulder, “Vineyard, here we come!”

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d be all that excited about Martha’s Vineyard,” said Carmilla, “doesn’t seem quite your thing.”

“Hey, I like a change of pace just as much as the kids do, this’ll be relaxing,” they protested, “besides, we’re going on at least one winery tour while we’re there. I don’t get to use fermentation much in my work, so seeing it in action will be interesting.”

“There it is,” said Carmilla, laughing as they loaded up and pulled out of the driveway.

x-x-x

“Okay kids, time for bed.”

A collective moan went up from the around the room as Danny picked up the remote and ejected the DVD.

“Mom, c'mon” pleaded Drix, “it's not a school night and we're having a sleepover, can't we stay up a bit later?”

“Ok bud,” said Danny, smiling at the eight-year-old, “how does eleven o'clock sound?”

“Great!” he said, missing the snickers of Charlie and Hazel.

“Alright,” Danny said with a nod, “go to bed.”

“What?” cried Drix, “but you just sa—”

“Drix?” interrupted Charlie, pointing somewhere behind him.

Following her direction, he turned to see the clock on the wall. The time: five minutes past eleven. “Oh…” he said, pouting.

“Yeah, ‘oh’” repeated Danny, “c’mon, you guys need some sleep and then you still have the whole weekend ahead of you.”

Lethargically, everyone in the room got up and filed their way upstairs as Danny went about cleaning up.

“Are you sure you two are okay sharing with Charlie and Mercy?” Laura asked as Hazel and Sky were brushing their teeth, “we can put you in the guest rooms downstairs if you want some privacy.”

“Ngh, agh wn t’ stgh wt Ehphy,” mumbled Sky around her toothbrush.

“What?” asked Laura, suppressing a laugh.

Hazel spat her toothpaste into the sink. “She said she wants to stay with Mercy and same goes for me. Being alone in the basement is kinda scary.”

“Alright, just thought I’d check,” said Laura, “You two sleep well. Don’t hesitate to come talk to us if you need anything.

“Thanks Aunt Laura,” said Hazel.

“Thank you Auntie Laura!” chirruped Sky, “good night!”

“Good night you two,” said Laura as the two went to their respective friends’ rooms. Satisfied that they’d be able to get themselves to bed well enough, she went into her own room and began her own nightly rituals. She was pulling on her pyjamas when Carmilla walked in, Trudy following at her heel.

“The kids settled in?” asked Carmilla.

“Yeah, I think so. Danny said she’d do one last check when she came up.” Laura looked down at the hound. “She didn’t want to sleep in her bed?”

Carmilla knelt down and scratched Trudy behind the ears. “I don’t think she sleeps in her bed at night anyways. I think she usually sleeps on one of her family's beds.”

“Go figure,” said Laura, “well, we’ve got plenty of room. C’mon Trud. Up!” Laura beckoned the dog as she slipped under the covers.

Trudy looked up at Carmilla for a moment before trundling across the room and, with a bit of struggle, hefted herself up onto the alaskan king bed and laid down near Laura’s feet.

It was a few minutes after both Laura and Carmilla had settled themselves in and were reading quietly that Danny came in. “Alright, the girls are all still up and chatting, but I think they’re flagging and will have themselves out before long,” Danny said as she started getting changed for the night. She was just lifting her shirt when she paused, looking at Trudy. “She’s spending the night with us?”

“Well, yeah,” said Laura, “she followed Carm to bed, so I figured she wanted to be in here with us.”

“So, what you’re saying,” said Danny, a grin slowly creeping onto her face, “is that there is already dog fur on the bed.”

Carmilla perked up, a matching smile on her face as she caught Danny’s meaning.

“I suppose she’s leaving some dog fur, but wh— oh…” said Laura, realization dawning on her face, “alright fine, just don’t get too snuggly. You two are like fur covered furnaces.”

Danny lit up and quickly changed into her PJs before shifting into her wolf and snuggling up, side to side with Carmilla, who’d shifted once she’d given Laura enough room. Trudy, noticing her new bedmates happily got up and flopped down on Carmilla’s other side. Laura smiled warmly at the three before returning to her reading.

A short while later, just as Laura was putting her book away, there was a knock from the door as it slowly opened, revealing Mercy.

“Moms?” she asked, a worried expression on her face, “Sky’s feeling homesick.” Behind her, as she walked into the room, the small redhead was sniffling and had tears running down her face.

“Oh sweetie,” said Laura, getting up and gathering the small girl into a hug.

“I-I-I’m sorry Auntie Laura,” cried Sky, clinging onto Laura.

“It’s alright, sweetie,” said Laura, “it always feels weird to spend the night in places that aren’t your own bed, no matter how familiar they are.” She took a moment to look back at her wives who, judging from their gazes, were already on the same page that she was. “Tell you what, why don’t you spend the night here with us? Trudy is here too, so it should feel a little more like home.”

“Really?” asked Sky, “thank you!”

“Umm…” said Mercy, “can I…?” She looked meaningfully at Danny.

Danny yipped and jerked her head in beckoning.

Mercy smiled and before long, the wolf pup was on the bed, nuzzled into her mother’s side. Laura let Sky slide in beside Trudy before settling back in. Laura turned out the light and snuggled under the covers

Laura couldn’t be certain how long she’d been asleep when she was awoken by Danny getting up and jumping out of the bed, shifting on the floor.

“Danny?,” Laura whispered.

“Can you turn on the light?” asked Danny, “I think we’re gonna have more company.” Danny headed out into the hallway and walked down to Charlie’s room.

Walking in, Charlie was fast asleep on the air mattress on the floor. Hazel on the other hand, was curled up on the bed, crying quietly. Tiptoeing past her daughter, she knelt at the bedside and placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder, making her start.

“Shh, shh, it’s just me,” Danny whispered, “you have a bad dream?”

Hazel sniffled. “Uh-huh.”

“You want to come sleep with us?”

“...yeah”

“Alright,“ said Danny, taking the girl’s hand and helping her out of the bed. They were about to leave the room when a hand grabbed Danny’s ankle. Danny chuckled. “Yes, you can come too.”

“Thanks Mom,” said Charlie softly as she got up and followed them into the hall.

Coming back into the master bedroom, Danny made a quick assessment of the logistics. “Charlie, you can go lay down by your sister; Hazel, you can sleep beside Sky and Laura there.”

“Thanks Aunt Danny,” said Hazel as she climbed onto the bed, letting Laura help her under the covers.

Satisfied everyone was comfy, Danny shifted back and leapt back onto the bed, the frame creaking slightly under the added weight.

“I don’t think even our bed was intended to take quite this much weight,” said Laura, looking over at Carmilla.

Carmilla just looked over at Laura and shrugged, murring dismissively.

Laura shook her head, but decided not to worry about it. She was about to turn the light back off when the room door opened, a panther cub nosing his way into the room, meeting Laura’s gaze questioningly. Laura rolled her eyes, but shuffled in from the edge of the bed as far as she could, trying to make room for Drix to jump up. Drix, instead, simply jumped onto the empty space beyond her feet and lay down.

The bed groaned again under the load, but otherwise seemed to remain stable.

“Alright,” said Laura, looking around at the very full bed, “I think that’s everyone… what’s the weight limit on the frame?”

Both Danny and Carmilla looked at her and shrugged.

“You’re both so helpful. Well, if it breaks, it breaks. I’m too tired to worry about it otherwise. A new frame might be a nice change of pace, Night all.” And with that, Laura rolled over and turned out the light.

x-x-x

“Hello!” called Perry as she walked into the kitchen where Laura and Carmilla were just finishing dinner.

“Wow, that was fast. Didn’t Danny just leave to go get you?” said Laura, checking the clock.

“We got lucky,” said Laf, “our luggage came out first so we were able to leave almost as soon as Danny got there. So how were our girls?”

“They were like little angels,” said Carmilla, before breaking down laughing, “okay, maybe that’s a little far, but they were good.”

“First night was a bit rough,” said Laura, “homesickness and nightmares.”

“Oh, poor dears,” said Perry, “I hope they didn’t keep you awake.”

“No, not that we would have minded. They’re as good as our kids,” said Carmilla, “we’d do anything for them. We just let them sleep in our bed along with Trudy.”

“Trudy too?” asked Laf, impressed, “didn’t your rascals feel left out?”

“Of course not,” said Danny as she came in the room, “in other news, our bed can support over a thousand pounds… apparently.”

Lafontaine laughed at that. “Well, at least you know you bought quality.”

“I should hope so for what I paid for that thing,” replied Carmilla.

“Well, I suppose we should get the girls and get them out of your hair,” said Perry.

“Out of our hair?” asked Laura, “Perry, we love having them here. Besides, the kids are having fun playing in the yard right now, dinner is just about ready and we made enough for everyone. You guys just got off a plane, just relax for a bit.”

“Dudes, you’re awesome. Thanks,” said Laf.

“Yes, thank you very much,” said Perry, sitting at the table happily, “we’ll try not to stay too late.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. We loving having you two just as much as them,” said Danny.

“And besides, even if you were to end up staying the night,” added Laura, “we’ve got room for everyone.”

Chapter Text

“Hey Mercy! Heads up!”

“Wha—”

Something soft impacted on the top of Mercy’s head and she was immediately covered from head to toe in water.

“Charlie!!” yelled Mercy, “what the hell!”

“It’s a hot day,” wheedled Charlie, “you oughta be grateful.”

“I oughta tell Moms you’re up on the roof throwing water bal—”

Another balloon exploded in her face,

“Sorry sweetie, I missed that. What did you need to tell me?” called Danny from behind Charlie.

“Mom!” squawked Mercy, sputtering indignantly before stomping inside.

“What's she angry about? It's a hot day,” Danny said, giving Charlie a high-five

x-x-x

Laura watched from her perch at the kitchen island as Mercy stomped through the room towards the stairs, trailing water behind her.

“Got you too, huh?”

Mercy looked towards her mother, who pointed to her own damp hair

“You couldn't have called to warn me?”

“I suppose I could've,” mused Laura, “but then again, if I had, you'd have probably gone to Sky’s and then who'd help me get back at them.”

Mercy glared at her mother in silence before huffing in annoyance. “Alright fine, but you get to clean up my water trail while I change into a bathing suit.”

“Deal, but we can't head out just yet,” said Laura, turning a page of her book, “we're still waiting on reinforcements.”

“Oh, did you call—”

“Mom!” came Drix’s yell from outside.

“Nope,” said Laura, turning another page.

Mercy just shook her head and headed upstairs.

x-x-x

“Alright!” cheered Charlie as she climbed through the window into her bedroom, “three for three! It's too bad Mama won't be home til tonight, we got plenty of water balloons left.”

“We went through less of them than I was expecting,” said Danny, passing the mostly-full bucket of balloons through the window to her daughter, “I think our aim must be improving.”

“Must've been all those snowball fights last winter,” mused Charlie, “takes practice to hit a leaping panther, y'know.”

Danny chuckled, “that it does.”

Charlie paused at the door to her room. “So, you think they're waiting to get us back?”

“Oh probably,” replied Danny, “I'd be disappointed if they weren't, but I doubt they're waiting in the hallway. Waterfights in the house tend to be unpleasant to clean up, so they probably won't try to get us in here.”

“Do you honestly believe that?” asked Charlie, “or are you just trying to get me to go first as bait?”

“Charlie Hollis!” exclaimed Danny, “I'm surprised at you. To think that my own daughter would think so little of me. I am shocked… shocked and appalled… shocked, appalled and horrified… that you figured it out.”

“Thought so,” said Charlie, deadpan as she opened the door, “age before beauty.” Charlie swept her hand towards the open door, receiving a glare from her mother.

“You are such a brat,” Danny complained, “I don't know where you get it from sometimes.”

“I learned from the best, of course.”

“Of course.”

Cautiously entering the hallway, Danny strained her senses, trying to detect anything suspicious. She could hear the shower running, but there was no other sign of movement upstairs. Turning back to Charlie, she nodded and led the way forward.

Carefully, the two made their way down into the kitchen, where they found a cranky looking Laura, hair still damp and scraggly, reading at the island. She glanced at them as they entered the room before taking a sip from a glass of ice water before pointedly returning to her reading

“What’s wrong? No grand declaration of revenge?” asked Danny.

Laura looked up from her book. “That was the plan, but my erstwhile allies were cheesed off that I didn't warn them about you two, so they each went to dry off in their own way.” Laura used her glass to gesture upstairs and then out the windows towards the back lawn.

Out in the middle of the grass, Drix was stretched out in his panther form, warming himself in the summer sun, with his t-shirt laid out, drying on the grass beside him. He had himself twisted around, kneading the air with his front paws as he dozed.

“To abandon you in your time of need,” said Charlie, hefting the bucket of balloons, “such dereliction of childly duties cannot be ignored.” She pushed her way out the doorwall and onto the deck, grabbing a balloon before heading down the stairs.

“I'm so proud to have such a loyal, caring daughter,” said Laura, wiping away a tear that wasn't there.”

“That we do,” agreed Danny, wrapping an arm around her wife, “we should probably teach her to not be so trusting of sob stories though.”

“Oh definitely.”

Outside, Mercy came out of her hiding place behind the barbeque and snuck up behind Charlie, bucket in both hands. Before Charlie was even aware of her presence, Mercy upended the bucket over Charlie's head, soaking her from head to toe. Charlie went rigid at the shock, dropping both the bucket and balloon, the latter bursting harmlessly on the grass. Slowly, Charlie turned her head to glare at Mercy.

“What?” asked Mercy innocently, “it's a hot day. You should be grateful.”

“Oh, I'll show you grateful,” said Charlie, a devious smile crossing her face. In a blur of motion, she jammed a hand into the bucket and flung a balloon as soon as it was clear. Her throw went wide, but it was enough to make Mercy scamper away with a shriek of laughter.

“Oh Charlie,” called Drix in a sing-song voice.

She turned back to him to find him staring her down with a big watergun in hand. Keeping eye contact, she fished another balloon from her bucket, cocking her arm in a stand off.

“So, who do you think is gonna flinch first?” Danny asked Laura as they watched the stand-off.

“Oh that's easy,” said Laura, “you will.”

“What do you— ack!” Danny flinched backwards as Laura reached up and slipped an ice cube into Danny's collar, from where it fell down into Danny's bikini top.

Giggling maniacally, Laura bolted out the back door as Danny tore her shirt off to get at the offending cold intruder.

“Well, if I can expect that sort of welcome, I should come home early more often.”

Danny whipped around to see Carmilla standing in the door to the mud room, eyeing her hungrily. Realizing she still had her hand in her top, Danny quickly fished out the ice cube and tossed it in the sink.

“Is it really that hot out?” purred Carmilla, raising an eyebrow at Danny before glancing outside, “cause of the two approaches, I really think the kids have the right idea.”

Outside, Drix and Charlie had somehow switched weapons and were chasing each other around the yard while Laura and Mercy were at the hose, refilling balloons and buckets.

“Ha ha,” deadpanned Danny, “care to join us? Charlie and I are outnumbered three to two. We could use a hand.”

“Hmm, let me think,” said Carmilla, putting a finger to her jaw as she made a show of thinking it over, “keep poring over the dry paperwork that drove me home in the first place, or play with my family in the summer sunshine. How ever will I choose?”

“Well, I understand if you’re too busy to spend time with us,” said Danny, slowly walking towards to door, pouting sadly.

“Oh come off it, Xena,” said Carmilla, jumping up on Danny’s back, taking the opportunity to kiss her wife on the cheek, “gimme two minutes to change into something more water friendly and I’ll be right out.” Carmilla gave Danny one more kiss before jumping down and running up the stairs.

Danny watched Carmilla run up the stairs before turning to go back outside. Before she went, she decided, she needed one last thing. Walking over to the fridge, she opened the freezer drawer and pulled out the bucket from the ice maker. Cargo in hand, she strode back to the door and out onto the deck.

“Alright everybody,” she called out, dumping the ice into the nearest bucket, “I think it’s time we chill out a little.” Danny then picked up the bucket and waded into the maelstrom.

x-x-x

“I think we drowned the lawn,” said Drix, taking a sip of lemonade.

“If it can handle the entire pack stomping all over it, it can handle a little over-watering,” said Carmilla.

“The flower boxes, on the other hand, I think are toast,” Laura said, pointing to the collapsed marigolds along the deck's edge.

“Eh, it’s not like we grew them from seed and sprout,” said Danny, “I’ll pick up some more from the nursery next week… once the boxes have dried out a bit so they’re more ‘garden’ and less ‘bog’. What someone needs to do, however, is get out there with a rake to clean-up all the water balloon bits.”

“Probably the person who had the brilliant idea of throwing water balloons in the first place,” suggested Mercy, looking between Charlie and Danny.

Danny’s mouth snapped closed as she and Charlie looked at each other.

“Well, we have two rakes,” said Charlie, pushing back her chair.

“Fair enough,” said Danny as she got up.

“Sit down you two,” said Carmilla, “you can do that later. This is family time.”

“I think we’ve been causing a state-wide water crisis with all the family time we've been having today,” noted Mercy.

“So what,” Carmilla retorted, “who knows how many more years we have before you kids start moving out and this”—she gestured around the table—”is no longer a regular thing. At the very least, let's get to the bottom of this pitcher of lemonade before we let reality intrude again.”

“Alright, sounds good,” said Laura, “but once we're done, I need to start dinner. We're expecting Laf, Perry and the girls over and I've lost track of time, so I'm not quite certain when—”

A high-pitched, curly haired yelp came from the back door of the house.

“—they're going to show up. Hi guys,” Laura greeted cautiously, concerned at the horrified look Perry was giving the yard, “is it five-thirty already?”

“Nah, only four-thirty,” said Laf, “we were coming over early to help with dinner, but looks like we missed the fun anyways.”

“A bit,” admitted Danny, “but come pull up a chair.”

“What on earth happened to your yard?” exclaimed Perry, surveying the carnage.

“What can we say?” said Carmilla with a smirk, “it's a hot day.”

Chapter Text

Hazel knocked on the door lightly as she entered Sky and Mercy’s apartment. “Hello? Anyone home?”

There was no one in the living room to greet her, but the apartment was far from silent. From behind the closed door to Mercy’s office the repetitive beat of a drum track could be heard accompanied by the occasional riff of an electric guitar.

Hazel chuckled and checked her watch. It was late in the afternoon so Mercy probably would call it a day before long, though Hazel secretly kind of hoped she would try and keep going; the entire family had personal permission from her and Sky to get… creative, whenever she started overworking and Hazel still needed to one-up Charlie’s “slick-string guitar”

For the time being, however, Hazel was willing to wait, so she headed into the kitchen to scout out something to drink while she waited. She was in the process of trying to reach past some purple stuff to grab a bottle when she heard someone enter the kitchen.

“Well, sounds like someone is home early. Hey there, sexy-pa— you’re not Sky,” Mercy finished dejectedly.

“Nope, close though,” said Hazel, standing up with a colourful bottle in hand, “also, is this Kool-aid? Are you guys twelve?” Hazel had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing at Mercy’s frustrated expression.

“We happen to like kool-aid, thank you very much,” said Mercy, snatching the bottle from Hazel’s hand and flinging it back into the fridge. Slamming the door shut, she flopped backwards against the fridge before taking a deep breath and looking up at Hazel, who was still struggling not to laugh. “So what brings you by? If you’re looking for Sky, she’s gonna be another hour or so.”

“Actually, she isn’t,” said Hazel, hopping up onto the counter, “Mom’s going to surprise her and take her to dinner after she’s done rehearsal. Get in a little one-on-one time.”

“Oh that sounds fun, you know where Aunt Perr is taking her?”

“That new Japanese place near the theatre, I think.”

“Ooh yummy,” said Mercy, “well, thanks for coming by to let me know. I guess I’ll grab a bite and get back to work.” She turned around and began perusing the fridge.

Hazel just stared deadpan at her sister-in-law. “Please tell me you’re not serious or are you really that much of a dork?”

Mercy looked back over her shoulder. “Well, I don’t know. How dorky is having bottles of kool-aid in one’s fridge?”

Hazel stood in stock silence before stepping towards her sister-in-law. “Alright, let’s go.” In one smooth motion, Hazel picked Mercy up and threw her over her shoulder, kicking the fridge closed behind them.

“Ack, no! What are you doing?!”

“Kidnapping you,” Hazel said as she calmly walked out of the apartment and locked the door, despite Mercy’s flailing. “Evening Mrs. O’Reilly.” Hazel smiled at Mercy’s neighbour as she stepped out of the elevator.

“Good evening girls.” The old woman beamed at the pair. “Going out for a night on the town?”

“Heather, help! She’s kidnapping me!” begged Mercy as they passed her.

“That sounds like fun dear, reminds me of the good ol’ days. Have a good night!”

Hazel stepped onto the elevator, not bothering to conceal her laughter. “We will!” she called back as the doors closed.

“So as much fun as it is talking to your butt, could you please put me down?” asked Mercy.

“Hmmm… no.”

“Ugh, you’re so annoying. Where are we going anyway? We meeting up with Charlie?”

“Yes, I am; not telling, it’s a surprise; and no, actually. Tonight’s the night she’s staying late on campus to see that anthropology talk, so it’s just you and me.”

Mercy continued to struggle futilely against Hazel’s grip as they left the elevator and walked through the lobby to the parking lot. “How are you so strong? You’re a friggin’ chemist, you should have noodle arms, dammit!”

Hazel only laughed at the comment as she opened her passenger door and unceremoniously dumped Mercy into the front seat.

“I could make a run for it now if I really wanted to,” said Mercy as Hazel for in the other side.

“You could,” responded Hazel, fastening her seatbelt, “but you won't.” She fixed Mercy with a smug grin and started the car.

Mercy glowered back at her, reluctantly reaching for her own seatbelt. “We better not be headed anywhere too nice. You didn't give me a chance to change.” Mercy gestured to the plain tank and comfy jeans she'd been working in.

“Nah, not fancy at all,” said Hazel, “flip-flops are fine for the opera, right?”

“Hazel…” growled Mercy softly.

“I'm kidding. Yeesh kid, you need to learn how to take a joke,” said Hazel, ribbing Mercy a little.

Mercy rolled her eyes, but smiled. “When one grows up with your wife as a sister, you kinda get in the habit of staying on guard.”

Hazel thought on that for a moment. “Alright, fair point. Actually, write down that opera thing. We really should have something ready next time she and Aaron get uppity.”

Mercy whipped her phone out and quickly typed something out. “Done and…”—the telltale chime of an incoming message sounded from Hazel’s front pocket—”done.”

The two women shared a conspiratorial grin before bursting into laughter.

“Alright,” said Mercy, “where are we going?”

“I told you, it’s a surprise. We’re not far, you’ll just have to wait it out.”

“But I don’t wanna wait,” whined Mercy, pitching her voice as nasally as she could, “I wanna know nowwww.”

“No!” exclaimed Hazel, “God, you’re annoying. Is this why we haven’t spent time together in months? Have I blocked out the memory? How does Sky put up with you?”

Mercy grinned smugly. “I find she tends to really like when I get loud and high-pitched.”

“Oh come on, Mercy,” said an exasperated Hazel, “I really don’t need to be picturing by baby sister doing that.”

“What?” asked Mercy innocently, “I sing for her. You really have a dirty mind, don’t you?”

“I swear, I will turn this car around…”

Mercy laughed. “Alright, alright. I’ll let up. But I still want to know where we’re heading.”

“Well, have a look then,” said Hazel as she turned the car into a parking lot, “cause we’re here.”

Mercy looked out at the colourful fenced grounds and vaguely cartoonish logo of the entrance as they parked the car. “A fun centre? Really? Which one of us was it that was supposedly twelve again?” Mercy teased as she got out.

“Your insult would have more bite to it if you weren’t so obviously excited with the prospect of being here.”

Mercy attempted to school her expression to something a little more sober, but the corners of her mouth remained stubbornly turned skywards as she pressed her lips together.

“Okay, stop that. We're here to play mini-golf, not plot world domination.”

“Can't we do both?”

“Without the map?”

“I keep telling you, my moms’ old copy of Risk isn’t an accurate representation of the world or our forces therein.”

“You mean, I’m not undisputed despot of Kamchatka?” Hazel asked with a sad pout.

Mercy patted her softly on the head, “sorry, maybe next year.”

The two made their way into the front entrance and quickly headed for the ticket counter.

Hazel looked up at the price board. “I figure we can start with mini-golf and then we can decide what we want to do from there.”

“How about whoever wins picks next activity?”

Hazel nodded. “Sounds good. What if we tie?”

“Pistols at ten paces,” Mercy said firmly, “as is tradition.”

“As is tradition.”

Before long, with balls and clubs in hand, the two were out on the course, enjoying the summer afternoon sunshine.

“Alright, so let’s see,” said Hazel, pulling out the scorecard after the eighth, “I got a three on that one and you got… four?”

“Five,” grumbled Mercy, “I hate bouncy holes. I always hit it the wrong way and my ball bounces off into a corner.”

“Hey, look at it this way. They let me catch up. I’m no good at the holes that require finesse. You’re great at those ones where they raise the hole up so your ball rolls away if you miss.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true,” said Mercy as they approached the next hole on the course, “and then there are the holes that just hate everyone.”

In front of them stood a house with a narrow ramp up into the front door, beneath which lay a wide trench. Through the door lay a hole in one. The trench? A journey into no-man’s land and a long shot to the pin.

“Well, you won the last one, so you get first shot,” said Mercy.

“Alright, no sweat. Just need enough pepper on the ball to get into the house.” She placed her ball on the rubber mat and, after a quick practice swing, lined up her shot and struck. Her ball whizzed forward, glancing off the ramp and into the protective mesh, obviously placed for just such an occasion, before dropping into the trench, popping out onto the far end of the green below. “Damn… too much pepper.”

“True, but you’re not being all that salty, so I think it’s okay.”

Hazel laughed as Mercy went to take her shot. After Hazel’s shot, she hit the ball with a greater degree of caution. Unfortunately, she ended up being too timid as the ball rolled back down the ramp and into the face of her club on the tee. Mercy and Hazel looked at the ball speechlessly before looking back to each other with smirks on their faces.

“Well, that’s one,” said Mercy before tapping the ball a little harder than last time. This time she was rewarded by a satisfying clunk of the ball making it through the door into the tube system inside. Gleefully, she stepped over to the green, waiting for her ball to appear. Moments later, it popped out of the near-side exit and rolled across the turf towards the hole… before missing it by a fraction of an inch. “What?! No! I was robbed!”

“No kidding,” agreed Hazel, “go ahead and clear and then I’ll start my long journey towards home.

In the end, Hazel ended up maxing out her score at seven before sinking her ball, giving Mercy a slight lead.

As they progressed through the course, they found themselves catching up to a young family with a couple of really little kids happily meandering their way through each hole. At the fourteenth, Mercy and Hazel took a seat at the tee to wait for the group to advance. Mercy couldn’t help but enjoy the innocent enthusiasm the small boy and girl gave to the game. Practically hugging their putters, they clumsily whacked the colourful balls down the green as their parents helpfully used hands and feet to keep the balls roughly on track. There was no sense of competition or conflict, just the freedom of the game. When the little girl sank her red ball and was swept up, giggling, by her father, she couldn’t help but find the child’s laugh infectious, and began laughing along as well.

It was then she looked over at Hazel, to see what she thought of the little ones’ antics, and saw the dreamy yearning she’d seen painted so many times on her own sister’s face over the years.

“Have you talked to Charlie about it?”

“Huh?” said Hazel, startled out of her trance, “talked about what?”

Mercy smiled softly and inclined her head towards the young family once more as they collected their things and moved along to the next tee.

“Oh…” was all that Hazel said, her face pensive.

“What? What’s wrong?” said Mercy, rubbing Hazel’s back.

“Nothing, nothing’s wrong. We have talked about it and we both want kids… like… soon.”

“Haze, that’s great! Have you talked to Zeke about it yet? Are you guys looking into donors? What about—”

“Whoa, whoa. Slow down, Merc,” said Hazel, holding her hands up defensively, “we haven’t taken any of those steps yet. We’ve only just both gotten onto the ‘we want kids’ page, but I really don’t know if we’re ready yet.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” exclaimed Mercy, “you two are gonna be amazing moms.”

“But look at us Merc,” said Hazel.

“Look at what? The endless love? The stable careers? The huge, loving and supporting family?” scoffed Mercy, “oh yeah, truly a terrible environment to bring a child into.”

“Mercy,” exclaimed Hazel, “we’re barely adults ourselves. We still mess around like kids. We play pranks on each other. Hell, I want to go for a night out and I pick fucking mini-golf! What kind of—”

Mercy shot her hand out, putting a finger to Hazel’s lips to cut her off. “Okay, first: watch your mouth, I’d rather those kids don’t pick up our guttermouth. Second: who said there is anything wrong with having fun like kids? If you have fun like kids, then you can have fun with kids. It means you have joy in your life. I know you’re worried about being a good mom, but worrying about it means you’re already a good step in the right direction, but you can’t stop having fun. You start to become too rigid and controlling and you end up like your grandparents.“ A shadow passed over Mercy’s face. “Hateful and bitter old husks who don’t deserve the title of ‘family’.”

The two sat in tense silence for several moments, tears running down each of their faces, as Mercy’s words sank in. Hazel opened and closed her mouth as she tried to think of something to say, but the words wouldn’t form. Eventually, she settled on just leaning forward and pulling Mercy into a hug.

“Thank you.”

Mercy squeezed Hazel back before breaking away and standing up. “No thanks necessary. You’re my sister and I love you. You know I’ll always be here for you.”

“Yeah,” said Hazel, wiping her eyes, “alright, enough of this sentimental stuff. Looks like they’re far enough ahead that we won’t get held up again, time to finish kicking your butt.”

“Excuse me?” said Mercy, “last I checked, I was ahead by two strokes. I believe it is your butt that is being whupped.”

“I’m just lulling you into a false sense of security. It’s all part of my master plan.”

“Well, let’s just see how well your master plan holds up,” said Mercy as she put her ball down and swung.

x-x-x

“Alright, I have to admit,” said Mercy, dipping a chip in the tray of molten cheese, “that was a pretty good master plan.”

“I thought so,” said Hazel with her mouth full, “having to work in three dimensions makes the eighteenth hole trickier, but it still boils down to geometry.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to bank your shot off the gnome’s forehead,” said Mercy, “but I won’t argue results.” Mercy held up a chip, which Hazel toasted with her own. “So what now, you won so it’s your choice?”

“Let’s head upstairs to the arcade, really get into that childhood spirit.”

“I like it, let’s go.”

They quickly cleaned up their table and headed up into the arcade, taking in the sight of a multitude of older arcade cabinets, pinball machines and ticket games.

“Ooh, DDR,” said Mercy, “good thing Sky isn’t here. We’d never be able to pull her away from that thing. You up for a round?”

“Nah, not really in the mood to flail around embarrassingly tonight.”

“As opposed to all those other night’s when you’re really craving getting a good flailing-about in?”

“Hey, I don’t judge your foreplay rituals.”

“Hey, hey, hey. If I can’t make sex jokes, you can’t either,” said Mercy, “besides… ew.”

“Fine,” conceded Hazel before spotting the skee-ball and dragging Mercy towards it, “this one. I love skee-ball.”

“Alright, I’m game,” said Mercy, dropping in a couple tokens, “you any good?”

Hazel grabbed a ball and sped it up the lane, sinking it into the centre. “Become one with the gnome.”

Mercy laughed and launched her ball up the lane.

x-x-x

It was late when Mercy, sleepy but happy, walked into her and Sky’s shared bedroom. Sky, who was already sitting in bed reading a book, looked up at her wife with a smile.

“Hey you,” said Sky, “where’ve you been?”

“Hazel decided that we needed a night out, so she kidnapped me.”

“Well, that much I knew, she texted me before she snatched you, but where’d you guys end up?”

“Oh, we went and played mini-golf down at the fun centre.”

“Without me?” Sky pouted.

“Yes.” Mercy glowered with a smirk at Sky. “How was your sushi dinner, by the way?”

Sky narrowed her eyes at Mercy. “It was fantastic. Mom and I had a blast.” Sky glowered as Mercy’s expression grew smugger, “Dang it, stop being right about things.”

“You love it,” said Mercy, crawling up on the bed to give Sky a quick peck on the lips, “oh, I got you a present.”

“Oh? What?”

Mercy reached into her pocket and pulled out small, plastic, siren whistle, handing it to Sky who looked at it dumbly. “I won it just for you at skee-ball.”

“Oh, I… love it,” said Sky, bringing it to her lips and blowing, filling the room with the whirring sound.

They both kept their serious expressions for about three seconds before bursting into laughter.

“So yeah, apparently I’m not that great at skee-ball,” said Mercy as she got up and got changed into her pyjamas.

“It’s not easy, though Hazel is good. She must’ve made out like a bandit.”

“She did, thousands of tickets,” said Mercy, getting under the covers, “but while she was deciding, some kids we saw earlier were fawning over some of the big prizes, so she just gave her tickets to them. They ended up getting a huge panda.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet,” said Sky as wrapped her free arm around Mercy, “well, I’m glad you guys had fun. You two deserved some bonding time.”

“Same for you and your Mom,” said Mercy sleepily, “love you, Babe.”

“Love you, too”

Mercy snuggled closer and began to drift off as Sky continued to read.

After dozing for a few minutes however, Mercy’s eyes opened once more. “Hey, Sky?”

“Yeah, Merc?”

“What do you think about having kids?”

Chapter Text

Sue was quietly reading a book in her living room when a knock came from the front door.

“Paul?” she called, “are you expecting anyone?”

He popped his head out of the kitchen. “Nope. Maybe it’s a package.”

“Maybe. I’ll get it,” she said, already most of the way to the door.

When she opened it, she found a nervous looking Carmilla, wringing her hands on the doorstep.

“Carmilla,” exclaimed Sue, stepping forward to hug her daughter-in-law, “what brings you by? You should know that you don’t have to knock by now.” Sue kept an arm around the woman, leading her into the house.

“I know and I normally would, but I wanted to ask you something so it felt rude to just barge in and start demanding things.”

“Nonsense,” said Sue, “you’re family. Now come on. I know for a fact Paul just brewed a fresh pot.” She led Carmilla back into the living room and sat her down on the couch before going and fixing them both cups of coffee. “There you go. Two bloods and no sugar, just the way you like it.”

“Thanks, but where did you get blood? Is Paul okay? Paul, she didn’t stab you for blood did she?” she called back to him.

“I’m fine,” he responded, “a little super-glue fixes an open wound right up.”

“Oh hush you,” scolded Sue, “we try to keep a couple blood bags on hand. Never know when a vampiric family member is going to drop by for coffee.” Sue gave Carmilla a wink. “So, what’s on your mind?”

Carmilla hesitated, looking uncomfortable. “Uh,” she started softly, “can you teach me how to knit?”

Any response Sue could make was cut off by a loud guffaw from Paul in the next room.

“One second dear,” said Sue with a dangerously sweet smile before getting up and walking into the kitchen.

Shortly thereafter a pronounced ‘smack’ and a yelp of “ow” came from the same direction. A couple minutes later, Sue returned carrying a large covered basket. Lifting the lid, she began to produce colourful rolls of yarn and large knitting needles from the basket’s contents.

“So why the sudden interest in the yarnly arts?” asked Sue as she dug through the basket.

“Well…” said Carmilla, hesitating again, “it’s kind of embarrassing.”

“More embarrassing than the bad-ass vampire learning how to knit?” teased Paul from the other room right before another loud ‘smack’ rang out, “ow! Oh, hey Zach. I didn’t hear you come in.”

Sue rolled her eyes and left them to their conversation, smiling at Carmilla expectantly.

“It was Laf's idea actually,” Carmilla said, smiling at Sue's look of surprise, “I suspect they may have been joking, but I wasn't about to discard it on that merit alone.”

“Why did LaFontaine of all people suggest you take up knitting?”

“Do you remember a few weeks ago? That huge ‘boom’ that came from the lake?”

“Yeah. Paul and I went to have a look, but there was no one there. We figured some kids must’ve been messing around with firecrackers or something stupid like that.”

Carmilla chuckled. “Well, you’re close. Laf took me to the lake to help me blow off some steam with some wonderfully explosive stuff from their lab.”

“Making steam to blow off steam?” said Sue, making Carmilla chuckle.

“Something like that.”

“So what was the source of said steam, if you don’t mind my asking.”

Carmilla bit her lip and blushed. “It’s kinda stupid.”

“All the more reason to get it into the open,” said Sue, putting a hand on Carmilla’s shoulder “odds are you’ll find someone can find someone to be stupid together with.”

Carmilla smiled and shrugged. “Alright, fair enough.” She hesitated, finding the words. “Do you ever get jealous when your grandkids spend time with someone who isn’t you?”

“Yes. So, what’s the stupid thing?”

“That is the stupid thing.”

“That’s a stupid thing to think is stupid.”

“What? Really? Well I still feel stupid, even if the stupid thing is stupid.”

“Who’s on first?” called Zach from the other room.

Smack

“Ow”

Both men broke out laughing as Sue glared at the door before turning back to Carmilla. “My point is that wanting to spend time with your grandkids, or great-grandkids, or anyone whom you love is natural so it stings a bit when they spend time with someone who’s not you. I know I certainly felt it when you left your little ones with a couple, whom to us, were people whom we were still getting to know.”

Carmilla’s eyes went wide. “Oh my god, Sue. I never even considered that. I’m so sorry, I should have thought—”

“Thought what?” interrupted Sue, “that you should have not let a pair of lovely people, who are essentially your children’s fourth and fifth parents, be a significant part of their lives to save our feelings?”

Carmilla opened her mouth before snapping it shut again, feeling somewhat logically trapped.

“Exactly,” confirmed Sue, “you’ve hardly denied us our family, instead you gave us more. Lafontaine and Perry, and Hazel and Sky are just as much our children and grandchildren as you and your kids are.”

Carmilla smiled warmly at the sentiment. “Well, I must admit. That sounds like a pretty good trade-off. Which begs the question, how did you deal with your frustration?”

“Well, funny you should ask that.” Sue smiled, twirling a pair of knitting needles in her hand before holding them out to Carmilla.

Carmilla met Sue’s grin with one of her own, taking the proffered needles.

“Now be careful. These are wooden needles and I’d prefer you don’t accidentally stake yourself,” Sue joked, laughing at Carmilla’s skeptical expression, “alright, let me show you how to cast on.”

x-x-x

A few hours and a handful of stitch lessons later, the two women were sitting in companionable silence, the only sound being the soft click-click of working knitting needles, the boys having wandered off to parts unknown.

However, it was then that Carmilla came to a stop, staring at her work with a puzzled expression “Uh… Sue?” asked Carmilla, holding up her knitting, “is it supposed to have this little ladder down the middle?”

“‘Fraid not, my dear.” said Sue, “I’m afraid you’ve dropped a stitch.”

“I have?” said Carmilla. Raising her arms, she looked on her lap and around where she was sitting before standing up and fully inspecting the area around her, slowly winding the loose yarn around her legs.

Sue quickly covered her mouth with her own work, trying her hardest not to laugh at the vampire slowly tangling herself up, which continued until Carmilla caught sight of her companion, silently shaking and eyes full of mirth. Looking down at herself, she glared in annoyance at the fuzzy strand entwining her.

“Well that’s just great,” she grumbled, slowly figuring out how to free herself.

“No,no, this is fine,” said Sue, “it’s quite common for cats to become tangled in their yarn.”

Carmilla’s glare was the final straw and Sue just broke down laughing. Carmilla simply huffed and untangled herself before plopping herself back down on the couch.

“Are you done?” she groused, looking mildly hurt as Sue’s laughter petered out.

“Oh dear.” Sue wiped away a tear. “I’m so sorry, honey. It was just right there on a silver platter. I couldn’t help myself.”

“You are so not allowed to get angry next time I make a dog joke.”

“Fair deal.”

“Now, can you please help me with this?” Carmilla looked imploringly at her mother-in-law.

“Of course,” said Sue, “now, your stitch didn’t fall off. It’s right here.” Sue twiddled the loop of yarn hanging off the back of Carmilla’s knitting. “Now, this is really common and completely fixable. It happens to me all the time, usually when I’m carrying a project around. First, get your left needle under that bottom rung and pull it up…”

x-x-x

“Honey, I’m home,” Carmilla said in a monotone as she walked into her living room where her wives were watching TV, Laura laying with her head in Danny’s lap.

“Truly, it’s like I’m in the room with Ward Cleaver himself,” said Danny, mirroring Carmilla’s deadpan expression.

“Your joke would ring truer if you’d actually been alive when that show was on the air,” jabbed Carmilla with a smile as she dropped onto the couch next to Danny

“Not all of us can be older than dirt, dead girl,” rebutted Danny, sporting an entertained grin of her own as she wrapped an arm around Carmilla, “so where’ve you been hiding all day. You missed a couple of great vintage hockey games.”

“I was over at your parents’ house” said Carmilla, to Danny’s visible surprise.

“What were you doing over there?” asked Laura, her head comically tilted upside down to look at Carmilla.

“This!” said Carmilla triumphantly, holding up a small purple square, with only slightly uneven sides and a mere two or three noticeable gaps in the weave.

“Great,” said Danny, “what is it?”

“It’s… uh… it’s a hot pad!” said Carmilla, “y’know, to go under hot dishes. I knitted it.”

Both of her wives looked at her like she’d grown a second head.

“You knit?” asked Laura.

“I do now,” Carmilla replied proudly, holding the square up again, “I got Sue to help me out. I’m going back next weekend for more.”

“You got Mom to… wait, is this about that whole grandchild thing?” asked Danny, “huh, I thought you were joking about the whole knitting thing.”

“Same here, to be honest,” admitted Laura.

“I think I was a little,” said Carmilla, “I honestly wasn’t certain, but I was feeling itchy today so I decided to go try. I figured even if I hated it, what’s one wasted afternoon in three hundred and seventy-ish odd years of life.”

“But I guess you liked it,” said Laura.

“I did. It’s soothing… and quiet, I like the quiet part.”

“And it gives you an excuse to sit around and do nothing for hours… well, more of an excuse,” teased Danny, drawing a glower.

“O-kay,” intervened Laura, levering herself into a standing position “as fun as this is, it’s getting late and we haven’t had dinner yet. I’m in the mood for spaghetti, anyone want something different?”

A pair of shaking heads answered her question. She gave them a thumbs up and headed for the kitchen.

“C’mon,” said Danny as she stood up, “let’s go give her a hand making dinner.” She took Carmilla’s hand, helping her off the couch. “And tell you what, we can use the hot pad on the table for the spaghetti.”

Carmilla lit up, a hopeful smile on her face before coughing, schooling her features to something a little more reserved. “Yeah, we can do that, y’know, if you want to.”

Danny smiled, and hugged Carmilla close, “yeah, I want to.” She kissed the top of Carmilla’s head and the two went to join Laura in the kitchen, brand new hot pad in hand.

Chapter Text

“What the hell is this?”

“It’s jello, you eat it.”

Carmilla watched in amusement as Laura spat the stolen spoonful of gelatin into the sink.

“I realize that it was jello. Why is it made of blood?”

Carmilla simply responded by raising an eyebrow at her wife.

“Alright, stupid question. Let me rephrase: why didn’t you warn me it was made of blood?”

“Well, it’s not like you really asked before you snuck a spoonful, but I’ll be honest. It was funny.”

Laura glared at Carmilla for a moment. “I am so putting garlic into your shampoo.”

“We use the same shampoo, cupcake.”

Laura’s face scrunched up in annoyance.

“Still hilarious…”

Laura huffed, bowing her head in defeat

“Alright, fine. But now I’m curious, why go to the effort of making blood jello in the first place? ‘Blood-O’? ‘Jellood’?”

“I quite like ‘Jell-O Positive’ myself,” said Carmilla.

Laura groaned before going to the cupboard and pulling out a sealed plastic tub holding a small bulb of garlic. “Y’know what? Smelling like an Olive Garden will be worth it,” she said as she made her way towards the stairs.

“Alright, alright. I’m sorry,” begged Carmilla as she ran over and wrapped Laura up in a hug from behind, “I’ll stop being a smartass… for a while. Besides, that was a good one, wasn’t it?”

Laura rested her free arm on Carmilla’s crossing her stomach. “Nnnnggg… fine. Painful as hell, but dammit it was good.” She turned her head, giving Carmilla a peck on the cheek before extricating herself and going to put the garlic back. “But, you haven’t answered my question yet.”

“I’m hoping to make having blood a little more fun for Drix.”

Laura’s expression softened as she sat down at the table. “Aww, that’s sweet of you, but he’s never had any issue drinking blood.”

“I know,” said Carmilla, “but it’s still something that he has to do to stay healthy that Charlie and Mercy don’t. I’m hoping being able to change it up will make it feel like less of a chore.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” said Laura, “getting them to eat their vegetables is hard enough, I really don’t want a round two.”

“What do you mean ‘getting them to eat their vegetables’?” said Danny as she walked into the room, “last I checked, you were the one who refused to eat her broccoli last night.”

“I keep telling you, broccoli is not food,“ protested Laura, “it’s topiary that got lost and should be returned to its rightful home.”

“Alright Laura,” replied Danny, placing a kiss on top of Laura’s head.

“Hey, don’t talk down to me —Carm, shut up!” Laura added, holding up a finger.

“I didn’t say anything,” said Carmilla innocently.

“You were going to,” said Laura.

“She’s right,” agreed Danny, “you were going to.”

Carmilla shrugged with a grin. “Yeah, I was going to.”

Danny rolled her eyes, kissing the vampire on the cheek before sitting down as well. “Mind if I have a taste?”

Carmilla nudged the bowl towards her, turning it so the spoon was within reach.

“Hmm, not bad,” Danny said after a small spoonful, “I couldn’t see sitting down at the table and enjoying a bowlful, but this’d probably be pretty tasty to a wolf’s pallette.”

Laura lit up. “Oh my god, are you guys thinking what I’m thinking?!”

Her wives just stared at her, dumbstruck. They shared a confused glance before Carmilla turned back to Laura. “I think so Cupcake, but how do we get Laf to wear that much spandex?”

“Yes! Wait, no. Carm!” Laura glowered at her wife before getting excited again. “Blood jigglers! The pups would love them!”

“That’s not a half bad idea, if we get blood from the butcher so we don’t drain our vampire stocks” said Danny, “but please never say the words ‘blood jigglers’ ever again. I know exactly what you mean and it still sounds creepy.”

“Fair enough,” said Laura with a laugh.

“Should be doable” said Carmilla, “the blood didn’t seem to hurt this setting up at all, so it should be just like the normal stuff?”

“Speaking of,” said Laura, “please tell me you made some regular. Blood flavoured or not, there’s going to be fights if only one of them gets jello.”

“Yes, there’s a bowl of strawberry in the fridge as well, ready for dessert… tonight,” she added, as Laura froze midway up from her chair.

“You’re no fun,” said Laura as she dropped back into her seat.

x-x-x

“What the hell is this?

“It’s a brownie, you eat it.”

Carmilla eyed the dessert suspiciously. “You sure? It doesn’t smell right, kind of dull. And this has frosting on it.” She took a bite before immediately spitting it into the sink. “Really bad, oily frosting.”

“Carm, chill,” said Danny, looking annoyed, “it’s from the store. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”

“You bought brownies from the store?!” gasped Carmilla, “are you feeling okay? are you sick? do you have a fever?” She pressed a hand to Danny’s forehead.

Danny swatted her off. “I’m fine. I was getting groceries earlier and they had trays of brownies by the check-outs; I bought them on an impulse. They’re alright.”

Carmilla just looked affronted. “I want a divorce.”

“Why are we getting divorced this time?” asked Laura as she walked in, spotting the confection on the table, “ooh, brownie.”

“Wait, Laura—” said Carmilla, too late as Laura took a big bite.

Halfway through her first chew, Laura stopped and glared at the brownie in her hand like it had shot her father. Without any hesitation, she walked straight over to the garbage, spitting out her mouthful and throwing the uneaten brownie in after it.

“Hey! I was enjoying that!” said Danny.

Laura looked back at her sadly, “oh… no. No, you weren’t.” Laura strode over to her wife, wrapped her arms around Danny’s neck and began rocking her back and forth gently, ignoring Danny’s incredulous expression.

“Would you cut it out?” asked Danny, trying in vain to pry the smaller woman off of her.

“It’s okay, love,” cooed Laura, “that sub-par confection can’t hurt you anymore.”

Danny gave up on trying to get loose and settled for glaring at Carmilla as she kept being rocked. “You know that both of you used to inhale things like that by the truckload back at Silas.”

“I know,” whispered Laura, “which is exactly why I know you can get past this too. I just takes courage… and help. Carm, make the call.”

“On it!” she said, whipping out her phone, “hey there, I was wondering if you could help us out…” Carmilla wandered into the other room as she continued the conversation, leaving Danny and Laura behind.

“Soooo… how long do you plan to stay latched onto me like this?”

“As long as it takes.”

“To do what?”

“Alright,” said Carmilla, walking back in, “help is on the way.”

“Did they say how long they’d be?”

“No, said they were coming and the line went dead. But they should only be—”

The back door flew open. “We’re here!” called Perry.

“—nearly instantaneous.” Confusion was written all over Carmilla’s face

Perry came into the kitchen, followed by a huffing and puffing LaFontaine, a large plastic container in her white knuckled grip. Without another word, she dropped the container onto the table and headed over to the cupboards, gathering plates

“Don’t ask,” said Laf, doubled over and still catching their breath “I don’t know how either, though I think the neighbourhood may be short a squirrel now, if that blast pattern of fur I saw is any indication.”

“It was fine,” said Perry, putting out plates, “I just grazed it and it ran off.” Once the plates were in front of everyone, she cracked the container open and the rich scent of cocoa filled the kitchen.

“Oh that is so much better,” said Carmilla, relief visible on her face, “you doing okay, frankenstein?”

“Oh yeah,” said Laf, helping Perry serve the treats, “I’m long since over that, thankfully.”

“Which is fortunate, because we have more pressing problems,” said Perry, taking a plate and placing it right in front of Danny, “eat.”

“Perry, I don’t need to be…” Danny’s protest died in her throat as she met Perry’s steely gaze, brooking no argument. “Yes’m”

She set in on her brownie as everyone helped themselves to one as well. The room fell into near silence as everyone tucked in.

It wasn’t until there were only crumbs left that Carmilla turned to Danny. “Well?”

Everyone waited with baited breath as Danny bit her lip and nodded to herself. “Twas blind, but now I see,” she said.

“Hallelujah!” said Carm.

“Alright, crisis averted,” said Laura, “but what do we do about the rest of that other tray? Garbage seems too good for it.”

“I’ve got an idea,” said Danny, “Carm, you up for some target practice?”

Carm grinned. “Oh, hell yes.

Grabbing the store brownies from the fridge, everyone made their way out onto the deck.

“You ready?” asked Danny.

“Pull!” yelled Carmilla, prompting Danny to pull back and fling the tray high into the sky like a frisbee.

Carmilla followed it with her eyes and seconds later, the store-made met its fate in a burst of flame, flashing into ashes in moments.

x-x-x

“What the hell is this?”

“It’s garlic bread, you eat it.”

Danny stared at Laura incredulously.

“I see. So you’ve finally snapped and are trying to murder our wife?”

“No, not yet. And besides, even if I was, I wouldn’t be quite this obtuse about it.”

“I should hope not. Nothing’s quite as off-putting as a poorly planned murder.”

“I know, right? I mean, if you’re going to go to the trouble, at least put in the effort. If you couldn’t at least base a decent crime procedural on it, why even bother showing up?”

“So if Carmilla’s imminent end isn’t in the cards, then what’s up?”

“Well, Mattie came by earlier and asked Carm to join her for the weekend. Some kind of big to do in New York.”

“And we weren’t invited,” said Danny with a frown.

“We were, but do you really want to go to something Mattie would think of as a ‘big event’.”\

Danny stared off into space for a moment before shuddering. “No. No, I would not… You don’t think Carm would…”

“No. Maim someone maybe,” mused Laura, “but I think unless the impossible happens and someone or thing is able to threaten Mattie, she’ll be fine, and in that case it’d be kinda justified.”

“Good point. And so you’ve decided to indulge her absence by eating garlic bread?”

“Oh not just garlic bread. We’ve got the rest of the weekend to air this place, and ourselves, out, so I’ve gone whole hog on this,” said Laura, a glint in her eye, ”Roasted garlic and goat cheese, pesto linguine, french fries with roast garlic aioli, the garlic bread and tiramisu for dessert.”

“There’s no garlic in that.”

“Do you honestly want me to make a garlic dessert?”

“Well, no. I’m just pointing out that it’s off theme.”

“Tough. Now I’ve got almost everything ready, all that’s left is boiling the pasta and baking the fries.”

“Baking? You using freezer fries?”

Laura laughed. “Not quite so basic. I hand cut them, but we don’t have a fryer and I’m not messing about with a pot of hot oil. That’s a stench I really don’t want to have to deal with alongside the garlic.”

“Good thinking. Do you want me to set the table?”

“Nah, most of the stuff is good appy style. We’ll plate up some pasta and watch a movie.”

“Sounds great, what did you…” Danny trailed off as she heard the front door open.

“Hey, I’m back. I—” started Carmilla before descending into a coughing fit, “what the hell?!”

“It sounds like Carm might be back from her weekend early,” said Danny, meeting Laura’s worried gaze.

The two of them waited but the vampire didn’t appear. A minute later, there was a knocking on the glass and they turned to see Carmilla glaring at them from the deck.

“I think we’re in trouble,” said Laura.

We’re in trouble?” replied Danny.

“Yep, I’m taking you down with me.”

“I’m touched,” said Danny, making her way outside, “hey Carm, what happened? Laura said you were headed for New York with Mattie.”

“The limo she ordered broke down, so we were going to delay until tomorrow.”

“Oh Carm, I’m sorry,” Danny said, stepping forward to hug her wife, who shied away. “It’s okay, I haven’t eaten any yet.” She stepped forward again and this time was able to wrap her arms around the vampire.

“Well, I guess you didn’t completely start celebrating my absence,” she said, a bit bitterly.

“Hey now,” said Danny, holding Carmilla a little tighter, “you know it’s not like that.”

“Hey Carm,” broached Laura, getting their attention, “I’d come hug you too, but I’ve been cooking all afternoon. I’m steeped in garlic right now.”

Carmilla chuckled a little. “I can tell. I can smell you from here.”

“I’m so sorry. It didn’t even occur to me you might need to come back. I kinda figured Mattie would whisk you away on some grand adventure and we’d have time to air things out.”

“Well, ideally that’s what would have happened,” said Mattie, stepping out of the house and making Laura jump, “though I think you went a little overboard darling. Pomme frites with Linguine? How very gauche.

“How did you get in there?” asked Danny.

“Carmilla left the door open when she came around, so I let myself in.”

“No, I mean, the garlic.”

“Please, pup. I can shrug off stakes, you think a seasoning is going to have any effect on me? Hell, if we tossed kitty cat in there, I doubt it’d do any worse than annoy her.”

“You’ll forgive me if I’m not all that eager to test out that theory,” said Laura, unconsciously moving herself between Carmilla and the open door.

Mattie smiled at the motion. “You know, you and I are really going to have to spend some time together. If we’re going to be spending eternity together, we really should be better friends. Same goes for you, pup.

Danny smirked. “Hey, you’re family, remember? Just come on by, anytime.

Mattie grinned. “Excellent darling, I may just take you up on that. Though maybe when you have a different menu. Which reminds me, kitty cat, our plans can resume as scheduled. I found a helicopter that can take us and we won’t even be an hour late for the party. There’s a cab waiting to take us to the airport out front”

Carmilla perked up. “Oh good. I was worried I was going to have to beg a night on the couch from Laf and Perry.”

“They’d have welcomed you, but I think this is better,” said Danny, “you deserve some fun.”

“And don’t worry, I’ll make sure the house is aired out by the time you get home sunday,” said Laura sheepishly.

“Sounds good,” said Carmilla. She kissed Danny on the cheek before quickly moving up and pecking Laura, making a face as she withdrew again, much to Laura’s amusement, “alright Mattie, let’s go.”

“I’ll meet you around front. Ta darlings,” said Mattie as she headed back through the house.

“Show off,” muttered Carmilla, before looking at her wives, “love you two. Enjoy our dinner.” She made her way back around the house.

“Have fun, Carm,” said Laura, “I love you, too!”

“Love you!” chimed in Danny, before turning back to Laura, “c’mon, we’ve got a gauche dinner to eat. Pick a movie and I’ll make us some plates.”

“Sounds great,” said Laura as they re-entered the house and shut the door.

Chapter Text

“Alright everybody, I think that does it for today. For assigned readings, I want everyone to continue through Poe up to the end of the Cask of Amontillado. We'll discuss the covered works next class. Everyone have a good weekend.”

The lecture theatre filled with the usual cacophony of footfalls and zippers as Danny’s students gathered their things to depart. At the front of the room, Danny slowly gathered her notes, taking time to hang back as the usual handful of students came up to ask questions about the lecture or the course. Like most days, this didn’t take more than a couple minutes as she finished gathering her things, most of the inquiries were simple or could be deferred to her office hours, where she was better equipped to deal with the more complex issues of both course and content. That was the nice part about Friday classes, her students typically wanted to start the weekend just as much as she did and so were just as happy to keep things short and sweet.

Danny slipped out into the hallway just as the next class started filing their way in. Weaving in and out of the surging crowd, she quickly ducked into the nearest stairwell and ascended to the comparable quiet of the offices above. Turning the final corner, she saw a familiar figure sitting on the floor beside her door, immersed in a book.

“Well, hello Rodney,” said Danny, cheekily smiling as she hung her head upside-down into his field of vision.

“Oh!” said Rodney, snapping his textbook closed, “hello Professor Lawrence!”

Danny gave him an amused look. “Rodney, you’re not one of my students or even in college yet… and you’re Sky’s best friend to boot. You don’t have to call me Professor.”

Rodney blushed. “Oh, uh, right. Sorry,” he stammered, clutching his things to his chest as he stood up, “I guess I’m a bit nervous. I was wondering if I could ask you a favour.”

“Sure,” she said warmly, pulling out her keys and opening the door, “come on in.” Danny gestured to the chair in front of her desk as she dropped a pile of folders onto the corner. “So how can I help?” She dropped into her chair, relieved to get off of her feet for a few minutes.

“Well, I’m trying to get into the performing arts program here. They have a choreography diploma that I want to go after.”

“And a reference from a member of the faculty would be a boost for your application,” supplied Danny.

Rodney nodded, looking at her hopefully.

Danny sized him up for a moment. “I think I can help you with that. I’ve seen how hard you work with Sky so I’d be happy to provide a reference, for as much worth a reference from someone who doesn’t know a pirouette from a plié can be.”

“Well, you pronounced both words,” joked Rodney, “that’s enough to get invited to the secret society meetings. Well, that and the blood sacrifice.”

“Hey, sounds good. I’ve got a kid to spare. Do I have to bring my own cloak?”

“Nah, they’re provided. Lined with lambswool, very swank.”

“Damn, our clandestine literary guild only sprang for linen. That’s what happens when you have to buy so many leather bound tomes.”

“Yeah, but would the unholy texts really have the same feel on an e-reader?”

“No. There’s nothing quite like that shiver of fear you get as you turn the page. They just can’t capture that digitally.”

“Exactly. I’d say it’s worth the compromise.”

“Fine, we’ll make due,” Danny said before they both broke into laughter, “oh my. So, how soon did you need the reference?”

“It’s not urgent. The application for early admittance isn’t due for a couple months yet. I’m just crossing my I’s and dotting my T’s now so I have time.”

“Smart. Alright, talk to me next week and I should have a letter that you can use.”

“Great, thanks Prof—” Rodney paused at her raised eyebrow. “Thanks Danny, I really appreciate it,” Rodney said, getting up.

“Not a problem, take care.”

“You too. See ya next week.”

Rodney opened the door and out into the hallway, nearly walking straight into another young man, his hand raised to knock. Both men jumped a little in surprise, each turning a bit red at the proximity of the other.

“Oh, uh, excuse me.”

“Ah, sorry!”

Danny couldn’t help but smile at the adorable interaction as the two jockeyed around each other. She ended up having to bite her lip to keep from laughing as they each ended up glancing back at the other.

“Xavier,” called Danny, getting the newcomer’s attention.

He snapped back towards her, blushing deeper at having been caught gawking. “Hey, Aunt Danny,” he said sheepishly as he walked into the office.

“Hey there, whatcha doing here?” she asked, checking her watch “we’re not supposed to meet to drive home for another hour yet.”

“My last class was cancelled so I figured I’d come by to see if you wanted to just head home early.”

“Hmm… let me check my schedule.” Danny flipped open her daytimer and dropped her finger onto the page without even looking. “Would ya look at that? It’s says ‘let’s get the heck outta dodge’.” Danny quickly grabbed her coat and briefcase and led the way out the door

“That’s a very specific entry,” said an amused Xavier.

“It oughta be. Took me forever to actually find a paper scheduling book.”

“Why bother with it at all? Why not just use your phone?”

Danny smirked, amused at the echo of her previous conversation. “You think a joke like that would land on a smartphone. Hell no. Comedy like that has gotta be earned”

Xavier laughed. “I mean for your schedule.”

“Oh, well I do.” She held up her phone, showing off a mildly crowded calendar app.

“Ooh, date night tonight!”

Danny shut off the phone and narrowed her eyes at him, receiving a cheeky smile in return. “I like the daytimer as an affectation. I’ve had it for years and even new, it was out of date. But, it makes me feel like a real prof to have things like that around. Bit of an odd quirk, I suppose.”

“No, it makes sense,” mused Xavier, “a lot of my profs only have a computer in their office. I don’t know why, but it’s kinda hard to take them seriously. Like I’m talking with an HR rep, not my educator.”

“Glad to know my efforts aren’t completely wasted then,” she said as they left the building and started heading up one of the pedestrian malls to the faculty parking.

“So, Aunt Danny… who was that?” Xavier asked cautiously.

Danny fought to keep the knowing smile from rising to her face. Calmly, she kept her sight ahead and pace steady. “Who was what, X?”

“That guy who left your office as I arrived.”

“Oh, the one you were watching walk away?” she asked innocently.

Xavier coughed, ears turning bright pink. “Uh, yeah.”

“Oh that was just Sky’s friend Rodney. He popped by to ask for a favour.”

“Sky’s friend?” he asked, hopefully, “from her dance stuff?”

“Yeah, he’s her partner, more often than not,” said Danny before dropping her voice conspiratorially, “and he’s very good.”

Xavier’s head at this point resembled a tomato with hair, much to Danny’s amusement. “Oh… is that so…”

“Yes. Y’know, we don’t see him much. Sky kinda keeps her dance friends separate, but he still comes by from time to time. I could probably get Sky to invite him along next time we have a family dinner.”

“Oh well, y’know, if you really want to. I suppose…”

“Yeah,” said Danny as they reached her truck, “I think that sounds fun. It’ll be nice for all of us to see him.”

“Yeah, sounds great,” said Xavier, a touch too eagerly as he got in and closed the door.

x-x-x

“So, like, being a freshman is really stressful compared to high school; I mean, I’ve heard they’re trying to weed people out, though that’s just a rumour. I find though, the stress isn’t that bad cause I really like most of my courses…” said Xavier excitedly as beside him, on the couch, Rodney hung onto his every word.

Danny watched clandestinely from across the room, doing her best to not draw attention to the pair. However, it became obvious that her efforts were not completely successful as Carmilla dropped onto the couch beside her.

“Okay, what’s going on?” asked Carmilla, “you look like the cat who’s gotten away with the cream, which is obviously my job. So, what’s got you hornin’ in on my territory?”

Danny smirked sidelong at her wife before indicating towards the pair across the room with the barest tilt of her head. Carmilla looked over, before snapping her gaze away, the barest hints of blushes on their cheeks telling her everything she needed to know.

“Huh,” she said softly, nuzzling into Danny’s neck to make it easier to talk quietly, “so that’s what you’re up to. I wondered why you were making him join us just to pick up a letter.”

“I didn’t make him do anything,” retorted Danny, “I just mentioned to Sky that coming by my office is out of his way and it might be nice for him to join us for dinner. If doing that means that certain sparks just might start flying, I can think of worse outcomes.”

“So Sky doesn’t know the real reason you invited him?”

“The letter is a real reason,” she defended, catching Carmilla’s disbelieving stare from below, “but no, she doesn’t know. No one does, besides us, X, and possibly Rodney —he was apparently rather eager to accept the invitation— but I didn’t want them under a microscope. If it works, great, but if not, it stays between them.”

“Except for the meddling aunt.”

“I’m just facilitating a meeting, whatever else happens is up to them.”

“Uh-huh,” replied Carmilla, skeptically.

“I don’t know about anyone else,” said Paul, getting everyone’s attention, “but who’s up for a run?”

Danny grinned as she stood and stretched. The night was going well and a run would feel fantastic. Plus, if she was right, the absent pack would give her little… project... a bit more privacy. She took another glance towards the pair to see a very confused looking Rodney and worried Xavier.

“A run? It’s freezing out there…” he was muttering.

Danny’s stomach dropped and she whipped her head around to Sky, who was also wearing a worried expression. As calmly as possible, Danny crossed the room and sat at Sky’s side.

“He doesn’t know about the pack, does he?” she asked quietly.

“No, he’s never needed to,” said Sky, frustration evident in her voice, “it’s one of the reasons I keep most of my dance friends separate, so I don’t have to worry about exposing us. I can’t believe that it didn’t occur to me that it might be an issue.”

“It’s fine, Sky,” comforted Danny, “it was my idea to invite him, I should have asked.” Danny paused in thought. “Do you think he can be trusted with it? Or handle it for that matter? We can still get him out of here. It’ll be hard to explain, but doable.”

Sky chewed on her lip as she thought for a moment. “I think he’ll be fine, provided he doesn’t see everyone change at once. Where’s Mercy?”

“Right behind you,” said Mercy from where she was leaning over the back of the couch, “what do you need me to do?”

“Go close the blinds, it’ll hide everyone shifting in the yard. Auntie Dan’, can you get Uncle Zach? I think we might need him.”

“You already have him,” said Danny, nodding over to where Zach had taken a seat beside his son and was chatting with Rodney, holding the young man’s attention.

“Oh, well that was easy,” Sky said, watching as the rest of the family made their way out the kitchen door. Carmilla, the last one out gave them a quick salute before heading out and shutting the door behind her.

Taking a deep breath, Sky gathered her courage and walked over to sit on Rodney’s other side. She smiled at her uncle and cousin, receiving encouraging looks in return before turning to her friend, placing a hand on his shoulder to get his attention.

“Rodney… there’s a part of my life that I’ve been… well, not dishonest about, since nothing like this has ever actually come up… but kept secret, I suppose is the best way to put it.”

She paused, trying to read his expression. He seemed apprehensive, but also curious. Hoping that was a good sign, she continued.

“My family… has always been… different. I’ve kept it close to keep them safe, though I always figured I’d tell you at some point; you’re my best friend. While catching you off guard like this was never my intention, I can’t say it’s entirely unwelcome.”

“Alright. I can appreciate that,” said Rodney after a moment,” so, what’s the big secret? Lay it on me.”

Sky gestured to Mercy, who was kneeling on the floor beside the couch. She smiled nervously at Rodney before her form changed, leaving a very large, red furred wolf, in the middle of the living room floor. Rodney’s eyes went wide as she dropped herself flat against the floor, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible.

“She changed... into a wolf,” said Rodney, staring into the puppy dog eyes Mercy was giving him, “she’s… a werewolf?” Rodney turned his question to Sky.

“Well, she’s certainly not an animorph,” joked Sky, drawing an annoying gruff from the wolf.

“How?” he asked, “was she bitten?”

“It’s genetic,” interjected Danny.

Rodney looked confused for another moment before realization dawned on his face. He looked from Danny to Zach before falling on Xavier, who smiled softly at him.

“Well, I have to say,” said Rodney, nodding amicably, “I’m actually somewhat relieved.”

“Oh?” asked Xavier.

“Well, with that lead in I was worried I’d stumbled into a vampire coven.” He laughed at his own joke before realizing he was alone. “What?”

“Well,” said Danny, “there’s one other thing you should probably know…”

x-x-x

“Hey Professor Lawrence!” said Rodney, poking his head into her open office door.

“Hey Rodney,” she said, “but we’ve talked about this. You don’t need to call me Professor. You’re Sky’s… no, you’re family.”

He grinned back at her. “Normally, I’d agree with you. However, I just got this from Admissions so it felt appropriate,” he said, holding up a torn open envelope with the University’s seal emblazoned on the corner.

“You got in?!” exclaimed Danny, jumping out of her chair.

“I got in!”

She strode around her desk and pulled him into a crushing hug.

“We need to do something to celebrate,” she said, “we’ll throw a party tonight!”

“That’s a great idea, but I’ll have to take a rain check. I already have plans to celebrate.”

“Oh?” asked Danny curiously.

“I’m meeting X after his class and he’s taking me to this little diner near campus.”

Danny burst out laughing. “I wondered why he didn’t need a ride today. You two have an amazing time, you’ve earned it.”

“We have, but it was still nice to have a little help.”

“Hey, the reference was easy.”

“Wasn’t talking about that,” he said slyly.

“But what… oh,” she said, realizing she’d been found out.

“Have a good night, Professor Lawrence,” he said, walking back out of the office.

All she could do was chuckle as she grabbed her own bag and headed home for the day.

Chapter Text

Lafontaine walked down the stairs with a contented yawn, tying up the sash on their housecoat. “Mornin’ Perr.”

“Good Morning, sweetie!” chimed Perry as she buzzed around the kitchen. On the counters around her, she appeared to have at least three different bowls on the go, “are the kids up yet?”

“Nah,” said Laf, looking back up the stairs, “still sawing logs. But it’s Saturday, if they want to sleep in, I’m not about to wake ‘em.”

“Well, I certainly agree that they can sleep if they want to,” said Perry, pouring a dollop of vanilla into one of the bowls, “but I have a feeling they’ll be up before long.” She smirked as she spun a rubber spatula in her hand and began folding the mixture together.

Laf made a beeline for their wife, gently hugging her about the shoulders from behind and placing a kiss on her cheek. “Whatcha makin’?”

“Pancakes with scrambled eggs and homemade sausage,” she replied, pointing to the three bowls in question.

“You're too good to us,” said Laf, nuzzling into her neck, “can I help at all?”

“Not at the moment, sweetie,” she replied, leaning into their embrace, “if you just want to get yourself some coffee and keep me company, I'd love that.”

“Can I skip the coffee and just keep you company from right here?” They gave her another squeeze.

“As lovely as that sounds, it'll be a bit hard to make breakfast with my arms pinned to my sides,” she said, turning her head to meet their eyes, which seemed to sparkle when she met them.

“Sounds good, let's begin immediately.”

“But then what will our darling daughters eat for breakfast.”

“We've got instant oatmeal in the pantry. We can keep them company together while they microwave it.”

“Oh, you're terrible,” teased Perry, swatting their arm.

“You love me,” they smarmed right back, placing another playful kiss on her cheek before letting her loose to go find their mug.

They wandered over to the cupboard, looking for their favourite mug; a gift Hazel and Sky had gotten for them a couple of years ago. The girls had gotten an electron microscope image of a couple of their hairs put onto the mug along with the caption: ‘Happy Birthday, from your two hairs’. Lafontaine had simultaneously choked up and doubled over laughing and promptly declared it their one mug, forsaking all others.

Unfortunately, it seemed to be missing from the cupboard this morning. Shrugging, they closed the cupboard and wandered over to the dishwasher and began searching through the rack for their absent mug.

“Something wrong, sweetie?” asked Perry.

“Just can’t find my mug.”

“Did you leave it down in the lab again?”

Lafontaine paused in their search, a chagrined smile working its way onto their face. “Yes, I think I may have done just that. Pardon me, would you?”

Perry chuckled. “Of course, of course.”

Lafontaine headed down into their lab, not bothering to turn on the lights as they made a beeline for their desk where they switched on a small lamp so they wouldn’t have to rummage around completely blind. There, on the corner of the desk, they found exactly what they were looking for. What they didn’t expect was for their mug to be looking back at them.

Affixed to the mug, just below the rim, were a pair of plastic googly eyes

Lafontaine shook the mug experimentally, the pupils bouncing around within the decorations with a slight rattle. They cocked their head curiously, wondering where the adornments had come from —they certainly hadn’t put them there— when out of the corner of their eye, they noticed that their mug was not the only item on their desk that had received the anthropomorphic upgrade. From the surface of their desk, their laptop, their stapler, their lamp, every last one of their pencils, everything, was looking right back at them.

Acting on a hunch, they walked back over to the light switches and began flicking them on, one by one. As each bank of lights flickered to life, they revealed a sight that walked the line between hilarious and creepy. All around the room, every single object in the entire room seemed to be watching them. Even the fridge and incubator had been adorned with sets of huge googly eyes the size of saucers.

As they looked around, they couldn’t help but laugh. Whoever had done this, they hadn’t missed a spot.

Picking up a nearby beaker, they picked at an eye experimentally, finding that it lifted free with almost no effort, which meant that clean-up would be easy for them, once Lafontaine found out who ‘they’ were.

Mug in hand, they switched the lights back off and ascended back to the ground floor. Back in the kitchen, Perry was working her magic on the griddle, already having produced a small pile of delicious smelling delectables.

“Hey Perr?” they asked, “you wouldn’t happen to know anything about this, would you?”

“About what, swee— why is your mug staring at me?”

“Not certain, but the rest of my lab’s gotten the same treatment.”

Perry frowned at that. “You don’t have anything dangerous on the go, right?”

“Not at the moment, luckily,” they confirmed, “though I’ll have to have a little chat with whomever did this about entering my lab unsupervised. I mean, points for a good prank, but my lab is off-limits most of the time for a reason.”

“Who got poisoned in the lab with what now?” asked Hazel, sleepily descending the stairs in her pyjamas, followed closely by an equally bleary-eyed Sky.

“No one, hopefully,” said Laf, holding the mug towards them, “either of you have anything to do with this?”

Hazel and Sky shared a look before looking back at their parent with concern.

“Uh, yeah,” said Hazel, “we got that for you a few years ago, remember? Were you the one poisoned? Mom, do we need to get Laf to Dr. Antos?”

Laf gave them a confused look of their own before they realized that they were holding the mug the wrong way round. “Oh, not that… this.” They turned the mug so they could see the eyes.

“Sorry Laf, not me,” said Sky with a shrug.

“Me either, though I can take a guess as to the pranksters,” said Hazel, “I won’t name names, but it probably rhymes with ‘Marley and Baron’.”

Lafontaine nodded in agreement as they picked the eyes off the mug and finally got themselves a cup of coffee. “I’ll run by later and talk to Charlie,” they said, getting down mugs for the girls, “but for the moment, your mother has made us all an amazing breakfast, so I think we should sit down and enjoy it.”

“Yes, please,” said Sky, “waking up to breakfast smells is nice, but it makes you ravenous.”

“Well, good thing everything is ready,” said Perry, laying the last plate on the table, “dig in!”

With a clatter of cutlery, the family set in and any thoughts of staring objects were banished for the time being.

x-x-x

Carmilla blinked her eyes as she woke up from her nap. She’d vaguely registered a knock on the door, but wasn’t quite conscious enough yet to really do anything about it. Swinging her legs over the side of the sofa, she scowled at nothing in particular as she continued to wake up.

“Hello? Anyone home?” called Laf.

“Yeah,” replied Carmilla, her voice still hoarse with sleep, “I’m in the living room.” She yawned, stretching herself as she waited for her friend to come into the room.

“Hey Carm, have you seen…” the scientist trailed off as they looked at Carmilla.

“What?” she asked, “have I seen…?”

“Oh, uh, Charlie,” said Laf, covering their mouth to keep from laughing, “though I think you’ve already answered the question I wanted to ask her.”

“Well, she and Aaron were going out earlier, but what do you mean?”

“Umm… maybe go take a look in a mirror.”

Carmilla looked askance at them but followed their suggestion, heading into the bathroom to see what they were talking about. All over her face; haphazardly spaced over her forehead, cheeks and chin; were about a dozen plastic eyes.

“Huh, well that’s a thing,” she said to Laf, who was standing in the doorway, grinning like an idiot, “she do this to you too?”

“Not personally, but my lab looks like the weirdest muppet show right now.”

“Managed to both sneak into your lab and get me while I was sleeping, impressive,” mused Carmilla, “so I guess we have three options. One, we just leave it alone.”

Laf’s only response to that was a deadpan look.

“Right, my thoughts exactly. Two, we ground them… well, Charlie. Can’t really ground Aaron, not my kid.”

“Eh, Elsie would play ball,” said Laf, “but really, that’s overkill. I still want to talk to them about going into my lab, but otherwise this is harmless.”

“Agreed,” said Carmilla, sporting a predatory grin, “which leaves us option number three, retaliation.”

“Now you’re talking.”

x-x-x

“Do you think we got them all?” asked Aaron as he tossed dumped another handful of eyes into the recycling bin.

“All the little ones, I think,” said Charlie, looking around the lab, “Laf said they liked the big ones so we’re leaving them alone.” Charlie gestured over to the large appliances still staring at them, “They said they’re gonna name ‘em.”

“The fridge and incubator?”

“Yep. Makes sense when they can watch you. Dunno what they decided on though.”

“Bert and Ernie, actually,” said Laf, walking into the room, “how you guys making out?”

“Ew, I don’t think your daughter or her brother would appreciate that very much,” joked Aaron.

Laf rolled their eyes and fixed them with a look prompting a laugh from both of them.

“We’re done,” said Charlie, still chuckling, “we didn’t hide any out of sight, so unless we dropped one or two, we’ve got ‘em all.”

“Excellent,” said Laf, clapping her on the shoulder, “this was a good one, but I’ve got both your promise that you won’t come in here without my say so again?

They both nodded, slightly chagrined expressions on their faces.

“Alright good. I don’t really need to be telling your mothers ‘sorry, I accidentally dissolved your kid’. I don’t run fast enough to get away from any of them, or most mobility scooters for that matter, but that’s beside the point.”

“We got it, Laf” Aaron said with a chuckle.

“Alright, you two. Everyone’s upstairs if you wanna come hang out and have a cookie.”

“Sounds good,” said Charlie, heading up the stairs, “what sorta cookies?”

“White chocolate chunk,” said Laf, falling momentarily into a dreamy expression.

“Ooh yummy.”

“There are the two fugitives,” teased Mercy as they stepped out onto the main floor.

“What fugitives?” said Charlie, “I got home and immediately asked Mama if ‘she saw what eye did?’ Wasn’t exactly trying to cover my tracks.”

“Okay, you’re lucky I wasn’t around for that,” said Danny, “the prank was funny, but I woulda grounded you for a week for those puns.”

“Alright, I guess I’ll just have to watch my language around you then,” joked Charlie, prompting groans from the entire room.

“I don’t know this woman and am not associated with her,” said Aaron, visibly backing away from his partner in crime.

“Wise move,” said Danny, narrowing her eyes at her daughter, “now, we’ve been waiting for you two so we can watch a movie. Come find a seat and grab a cookie.”

“Heck yeah,” said Charlie, vaulting the couch, landing beside her mother, “what are we watching?”

“Not sure yet,” said Danny, “your Mama said she had something in mind.”

“So not a disney movie, that’ll be a change of pace,” joked Aaron.

“Maybe later,” said Carmilla as she got up, holding a flash drive which she popped into the side of the TV, “for now I thought it might be fun to watch some old home movies.”

The smiles immediately disappeared from Charlie and Aaron’s faces while everyone else seemed thrilled at the possibility.

“I mean, we went to the trouble of recording them for posterity”—she gave Laura a wink—”would be a shame if we just let them sit around, collecting dust.”

Aaron and Charlie shared a look, already seeing which way the wind was blowing.

“I dunno,” said Aaron, “dust probably gives them character.”

Carmilla gave them a grin scary enough to peel paint. “Nonsense, who knows what gems we might find?” She dropped on the couch beside Laf, who handed her the remote. Quickly navigating the display, she brought up the file menu, quickly moving the cursor to across the screen and settling on a file from about a decade previous.

She clicked it and after a moment of thought, the video started with a near-static shot of the Hollis living room. There was a slight shake indicating the camera was handheld, but otherwise there was no motion. All of a sudden, from a stereo somewhere nearby, started a very familiar drum beat.

“Oh,” commented Laf, “looks like we’re getting disney after all.”

“I believe you're right,” answered Carmilla, bumping fists with LaFontaine

On the screen, in time to the beat, marched a tiny Charlie and Aaron. In the music, there was a rise in the orchestra and the two jumped in place to face the camera.

Let’s get down to business
To defeat
The Huns

In the room, the teenage Charlie and Aaron had turned red as everyone else grinned with unbridled glee at the display of adorableness playing out on the screen. The two children onscreen were singing their little hearts out, albeit out of tune. On the couch, Mercy was notably wincing despite the smile on her face.

Tranquil as a forest but on fire within

Little Aaron slapped his hands up above his head, standing straight as possible while Charlie started waving her arms and fingers, obviously trying to act like flames.

“Did you guys choreograph this?” asked Sky, completely delighted.

“Mimed would be more accurate,” said Aaron, chewing on his nails.

“Cute as hell would be most accurate,” said Laura.

“Agreed,” admitted Charlie, “embarrassing, but agreed.”

The video continued up to the course where the two kids started switching off lines

Be a man - You must be swift as the coursing river
Be a man - With all the force of a great typhoon

Aaron was singing the refrain as Charlie posed heroically, singing each reply. At this point, the entire room, the two subjects included, was descending into laughter as the children on the screen got more and more enthusiastic, doing their best to follow the lyrics. At one point they even ‘fought’, which looked more like a hug with arm waving, but it was obvious the camera person wasn’t gonna tell them that,

As the video approached the end of the song, Charlie and Aaron met each other’s eyes, seeming to decide on something. With a shared nod, they jumped up and began singing over their child selves, with a good deal better tuning, as they called and answered through the chorus leading up to the final line.

Mysterious as the dark side of… THE MOON

The two sang with everything they had, finishing in a pose in front of the TV, mirroring the stance of the children on the screen before the movie cut back to the file select screen. Everyone in the room applauded and cheered, Danny going so far as to blow a whistle with her fingers, as the pair bowed enthusiastically.

“I can’t believe you remembered the finishing pose,” said Drix.

“I should hope so, we practiced it enough,” said Aaron, prompting Charlie to smack him lightly, “I mean, we didn’t practice that. It was complete luck.”

Charlie rolled her eyes before setting her sights on Carmilla and Laf, who were sitting arm in arm, wearing matching smug grins. “Well, I hope you both know what this means.”

Carmilla and Laf shared a look, before returning their gaze to the other pair, smiles not having reduced at all.

“Of course we know,” said Laf.

Carmilla held her hand out towards them. “Your move.”

Chapter Text

“Remind me again why you have a centaur tied up in your truck?”

Carmilla watched as Danny struggled to undo the knots keeping the young stallion securely, if haphazardly, in place in the pickup bed. From the middle of the network of ropes, he remained quietly seated, unable to to move enough to help her with the process

“Stupid harpies managed to separate him from his herd yesterday,” Danny said, trying to dig her nails into the knot to loosen it, “though I have to say, you did a bang up job of evading them, kid.” Danny reached forward to ruffle his hair. He made a show of shaking her off, but was beaming with pride at the comment anyhow.

Carmilla rested her chin on her arms as she leaned over the side of the truck, watching with a bored expression. “So if he didn't become harpy food, why is he here and not back at his herdstead?”

He pointed to his foreleg, bandage wrapped and outstretched on an improvised cushion of Danny's jacket. “I ran into the forest to get away,” the youngster started, “but they followed me in. Your forest here is much more open than where we normally range.”

“Yeah,” said Danny, finally making progress on the first knot, “the dryads keep the area fairly orderly. They don't like the plants to choke each other out. It makes it easy to patrol, but it also makes it easy for interlopers to enter unchallenged.”

“Ah, the dryads, that makes sense. They are the reason for our sojourn here. Their herbology is unmatched according to my mentor, so we were seeking them out to trade.”

Carmilla snickered, drawing quizzical looks. She waved them off. “It's nothing.”

Danny continued to eye her girlfriend suspiciously, but the stallion continued, unperturbed, “I managed to lose them as darkness fell, right before I went hoof over haunch into a small gully.”

“Which is where Sumira and Annie happened across him this morning. They bandaged him up as best they could, but getting him somewhere safe on foot was an impossibility. They called me up, I brought the truck in and with a little effort, the three of us were able to help him into the truck bed.”

“Right before you trussed him up like a turkey,” said Carmilla, plucking at one of the still taut ropes, “and here I thought you wanted to keep this sorta stuff between the three of us.”

Danny’s cheeks went bright red. “I had to get him back down to the lodge somehow and the backroads aren’t exactly a smooth ride —I swear Carm, I can already see what you’re going to say, just no— we needed to secure him. Ford didn’t exactly provide seatbelts for ‘three people or one medium sized ungulate’.”

The vampire smirked. “Alright, makes sense. So, what do you need me for?”

“Well, the girls had to keep on their patrol route, and he’s too heavy for me to help out of here by myself…”

“So you need me to be a pack mule for the pack mule…”

“Umm… I’m actually a Bay, not a mule,” he protested quietly.

“Of course, she’s sorry about that,” Danny said, glaring at Carmilla’s eye roll, “and we don’t need to help him long. Just to the dryads’ grove.”

“Ugh, that's nearly a mile from here.”

“Please, Carm?” Danny pleaded, giving the vampire her best puppy dog eyes.

“Danny, stop that. You're demeaning yourself.”

Instead, Danny took the opportunity to shift and make her gaze even more forlorn. She even started whining softly to underscore it.

“Okay, okay! Jeez. I'll help, just cut that out, right now.”

Danny shifted back and immediately wrapped Carmilla up in a hug. “Thanks, Babe. I owe you one.”

“Yeah, yeah. Better be something good,” Carmilla groused.

“Oh, it will be, but like you said” husked Danny, lowering her voice, “better to keep it between the three of us.”

Now, it was Carmilla's turn to go bright red. “Alright, let's get you back to your family,” said Carmilla, a bit over-enthusiastically, “c'mon Newton, shuffle forward and we'll get you on solid ground.”

“My name’s Maius,” he protested weakly.

Carmilla fixed him with a withering stare. “Don't care, now scooch.”

With a childish pout, he gently shimmied himself forward onto the tailgate. With a great deal of coordination, they were able to get his three good legs on the ground by Carmilla hefting the bulk of his weight while Danny gingerly kept the broken foreleg supported. Now, standing at his full height, he towered over both of them, despite his youth.

“Alright, that’s the hard part done,” said Danny, “the walk will be slow, but it’ll more of a matter of balance than brute force now. You ready, kid?”

“Uh, Red? Aren’t you forgetting something?” asked Carmilla.

Danny cocked her head at Carmilla, sharing a clueless glance with the boy. “My jacket?” she guessed, glancing back at the rumpled heap in the truck, “I don’t think I’ll need it.”

Carmilla put her hand to her face. “I thought you Summers were supposed to be all about ‘Care of Magical Creatures’ and what not.”

“Well, firstly, we’re more guardians than caretakers,” Danny said before smirking, “and secondly, ‘Care of Magical Creatures’ is not a course from Silas, but Hogwarts. Did someone finally give into Laura’s prodding and read Harry Potter?”

Carmilla’s eyes went wide as she once again took to impersonating a tomato. “Uh, no. Uh…” She cleared her throat to regain her composure before pointing at his injured leg, which he was holding clear of the ground. “You need to make a sling for his leg. Even bandaged like that, he’s gonna end up jarring it every few paces. If we end up stopping every single time he has to nurse it, we won't reach the grove til after nightfall.”

“Hey!” he protested, puffing out his chest, “I'm not some weaning foal, I can take the pain.”

“Sorry Seabiscuit,” Carmilla bit back, “I don't care if you're the Herdmare herself, this is gonna hurt like hell now that you're not resting it. Just count yourself lucky you have a better fortitude than your equine cousins; keeping one of them alive this long with a break like this would have been a cruelty beyond measure, assuming the injury didn't kill them outright.”

The boy blanched slightly before turning to Danny “I think a sling sounds like a good idea.”

“Agreed,” said Danny, grabbing her first aid kit and pulling out a large triangle bandage. With help reaching around his barrel from Carmilla, worked to gently, but securely, cradle his hoof.

“So where did you learn to take care of centaurs?” asked Danny as she took one end of the bandage from Carmilla.

“I didn’t,” Carmilla admitted, “but I grew up with horses. Absolutely adored them. My dadd—” Her voice caught in her throat.” —my father even got me one of my own when I was little. A beautiful chestnut gelding.”

“Gelded?!” Maius winced. “Poor fellow.”

Carmilla laughed. “The stablehands took care of him mostly, but I learned all I could. He was mine and I loved to sneak out to the paddocks to see him. I never knew what happened to him after I died. I hope he had a good home.”

Danny secured the tie, testing it with a tug. “In that sort of society? Probably lived a pretty good life, no matter who he ended up with,” Danny said, meeting Carmilla’s sad smile with one of her own, “and I think I’ve got this secure, give it a look.”

Carmilla gave the bandage a few tugs to get it to sit right and get the limb resting how she wanted. Once Carmilla was satisfied with the dressing, she stepped in front of him, taking his hand and resting it on her shoulder. “Alright, Clip-clop. I'm not in the mood to lug you all the way there and I doubt you want to be seen being carried around like a sack of potatoes, so you are going to hold yourself up on my shoulders and both of us should get there with our dignity intact, got it?”

He tested holding himself up. “Yeah, this'll work.”

“Alright, let's get this over with,” said Carmilla, “Danny, walk beside him and make sure he stays balanced. If he goes over and breaks the other one, I'm just gonna put him out of our misery and be done with it.”

Danny chuckled, patting him on the back reassuringly. “Don't worry, she's kidding… mostly… just watch your step.”

“Right, yeah,” he said nervously as they set off.

x-x-x

The trio managed to set a decent pace and entered under the boughs of the grove a little over half an hour later. Across the grove, the centaurs’ encampment was set up just past the trees marking the far boundary.

“About time you got here,” complained Mel, walking up with Sumira in tow, “the entire herd has been on edge and ill tempered since you ran off.”

“Mel, he’s hurt and we got him here as fast as we could,” said Danny, stepping in between Mel and Maius, “if it weren’t for Carm, you’d still be waiting til I could get some of the girls to rig a wolf litter to drag him here.”

Mel took a look down at Carmilla, who simply glared back at her. “Fine. Let’s get him to a tent. With luck, now that he’s here, things will go a little smoother and we can go home.”

Carmilla snorted derisively but otherwise said nothing as she led the was towards the encampment.

“Don’t mind, Mel,” said Sumira, falling into step beside them, “the centaurs were pleased that you’re alright, but I don’t think your leader is used to leaving control to others. She and Mel have been butting heads since Mel relieved Annie earlier this afternoon. Having you back should relieve some stress.”

Once again, Carmilla chuckled softly, but said nothing, leaving Danny to wonder what was up.

Arriving at the circle of tents, a mare and older stallion sidled up to take the youngster from them. A little skittish of Carmilla at first, they managed to hook him under the arms and relieve Carmilla of her burden.

“Thank you all for the help,” he said, “my injury will make travelling back more difficult, but it is good to be travelling back at all.”

“Glad we could help,” said Danny, “safe journey.”

“Good luck, kid,” Carmilla said with a two-fingered wave, “and next time, don’t run off on your own.”

The centaurs turned and headed into the nearest tent as they began walking back towards the truck.

“Danny, thanks for coming to get him,” said Sumira, “I don’t know how Annie and I could’ve gotten him here ourselves. You too, Carmilla… even though you still scare the hell outta me.”

“So long as someone still is,” Carmilla joked, “at least you’re grateful.”

“Speaking of, I should get back to Mel, she’s still working with the centaur leader.”

“Good luck, Su’” said Danny, “see ya back at the lodge.”

As Sumira headed back into the heart of the grove, Danny and Carmilla continued on their path in silence until Danny noticed the wry smirk that had worked its way back onto her girlfriend’s face.

“Ok, what? What is it? You're not telling me something,” said Danny, nudging Carmilla with her elbow, “spill it.”

“I'm surprised you hadn't realized it already,” said Carmilla, looking overly smug, “his herd is here to talk to the dryads… to try and trade with them…”

Danny's expression went slack as she realized just what the vampire was getting at. “The dryad’s don’t trade…” she said, fighting a grin of amusement.

“Except with you and your little band of amazons.”

“That’s hardly trade,” said Danny, “we’ve been protecting the area for generations. They just give us herbs for our medical supplies if we need them.”

“Which means that whatever they work out, will probably take quite a long time.”

Danny snickered. “Oh Mel is gonna love that. Another group in the forest to watch over.”

“Well hey, on the bright side… at least our friend will be all healed up by the time they make the journey home.”

Danny couldn’t help but laugh.

Chapter Text

Sky hurt.

As she awoke, that was the first thing she realized. The second was that she was home, in her own bed, rather than the suffocating sterility of the hospital. The third thing she noticed was the pair of arms wrapped around her and the familiar presence not quite pressed up against her back.

Sky tried to adjust herself so that she could snuggle a little closer into Mercy’s warm embrace, but winced as angry muscles protested against the movement, letting out a hiss at the sudden pain.

Behind her, Mercy stirred, loosening her grip. “Hey, you okay?”

“Stupid jerk muscles won’t let me snuggle closer to you,” Sky complained, “little help?”

Mercy chuckled softly. “Sure yeah.” Mercy tightened her grip again, closing the distance that Sky had unsuccessfully tried to cover.

Another surge of pain shot through Sky and she tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a whimper. Feeling Mercy starting to recoil, she quickly put a hand on her arm, stilling her. “I’m alright, movement just makes my… everything protest. Just stay with me a while.”

Mercy frowned, pressing a kiss to the back of Sky’s head, but otherwise remaining motionless. “I’ll stay for as long as you’ll have me.”

Sky smirked. She loved cheesy lines like that and never missed the opportunity to tease Mercy when she used them. But as she opened her mouth to say something, she realized there was something wrong. Mercy’s tone held a desperation that Sky had never heard before. Letting the joke die in her throat, Sky laid her arms over Mercy’s just stroked her skin with her thumb as they both drifted back to sleep.

Some undeterminable amount of time later, they were roused by a soft knock at the door as Hazel poked her head into the room.

“Hey… Mom made breakfast if you guys wanna come down,” said Hazel hesitantly.

“Breakfast sounds great,” said Mercy as she sat up and stretched, “whaddya say, Babe? You feelin’ up to it?”

“I think so,” Sky said, experimentally shifting her legs towards the edge of the bed. She squeezed her eyes shut; her body felt like she’d run back-to-back marathons as every muscle screamed in protest.

Finally getting her legs over the edge of the bed, she managed to lever herself up into a sitting position. She paused, taking a moment to gather herself before attempting to stand. Looking up, she tried to give Hazel a reassuring smile only to find her sister averting her gaze, uncomfortably studying the doorframe. Sky's heart felt like it had caved in, there'd never been any sort distance between her and Hazel before, but now, the six feet to the door may as well have been six miles. Sky's shoulders slumped and she bowed her head, fighting tears.

“Uh, Hazel… we’ll be right down, kay?” said Mercy as she walked around the bed, sitting back down next to Sky.

“Y-yeah… sure,” said Hazel, a guilty expression on her face, “I'll just… sure.” Hazel turned and left, leaving the door ajar.

Sky sniffled, prompting Mercy to reach an arm around her and pull her into a hug.

“I hurt her…” said Sky miserably, cuddling into Mercy “I hurt you… I hurt everyone. Just because I was so goddamn selfish.”

Mercy held Sky close, rocking her gently. “Yes. Yes, you did and yes, you were. But…” she added, pulling away so she could look Sky in the eyes, “it'll be okay. You made a mistake, a huge one, but your family loves you —I love you— and no mistake, no matter how large, can destroy that.” She gently kissed Sky on the forehead before pulling her close again, trying to convey every bit of forgiveness that she could as Sky cried silently into her chest.

They sat in silence for several minutes before Sky pulled away, wiping at her eyes with a hand. “I suppose we should get down there,” she said, still sniffling a little. Mercy fished a tissue off the nightstand, which Sky accepted with a smile as she dabbed at her face.

“Only if you're ready.”

“Well, I'm not,” she admitted, “but I'm not about to hide up here for the rest of my life either.”

Sky put both hands on the edge of the bed, and with a hiss and a grunt, she pushed herself into a standing position. Mercy quickly came up behind her, arms ready to support her girlfriend, but Sky waved her off with a smile and stiffly began walking out the door.

It took a couple of minutes before Sky finally reached the kitchen, limping downstairs one step at a time. On the table was an enormous spread of food. Plates of bacon and sausage, fresh baked bread and muffins, a heaping bowl of scrambled eggs and a platter of fresh cut fruit. The smell in the room was absolutely incredible and both Sky and Mercy found their mouths watering immediately.

Across the room, Hazel and Laf were talking quietly, the plates in the table were still untouched. It appeared they, or more likely Perry, had been waiting for the girls to come down.

“Good morning you two!” chirped Perry brightly, “come sit down, there's plenty to go around.”

“G’morning Aunt Perry,” said Mercy, taking a seat, “this looks fantastic.”

“Mom…” asked Sky hesitantly, “how long did this take you?”

“Not long at all,” said Perry brightly, “I just whipped everything right up.”

“...Mom.”

“Well, I may have started bread and muffins at around six, to give the dough enough time to proof,” Perry said, her smile growing nervous, “but it's fine, I was up anyways.” She glanced over, meeting LaFontaine’s gaze as they worried their bottom lip.

Sky limped around the table and pulled her mother into a tight hug. “I'm sorry.”

Perry held her daughter close, rejoicing in having Sky safe and healthy in her arms. “I know, sweetie. It'll be okay.”

When they finally broke the hug, Sky turned to her other parent. “Laf?”

LaFontaine looked back at her with an unreadable expression. Sky braced herself as they opened their mouth, but before they said anything, their gaze softened, mouth closing into a pensive expression. They strode forward, giving her a quick hug before stepping back, still holding her by her shoulders.

“I’m not happy with you and make no mistake, we still need to talk about all this,” they said, Sky nodding ruefully, “but it can wait until later. I am glad you’re home and I think right now, you need a breakfast that’s not hospital food.”

Sky smiled softly. “Thanks Laf, I’m really hungry.”

“Well then let’s sit down before this gets cold,” Laf said, gesturing towards the chair.

Sky couldn’t help but feel a touch of relief. There was still an edge of tension in the room, but it felt like things would be okay, eventually.

x-x-x

After breakfast, once everything was cleaned up, which Sky insisted on helping with despite her stiffness and Mercy’s protests, everyone moved by unspoken agreement to the living room for the talk that needed to happen, as much as no one really wanted it to.

For several minutes, awkward silence reigned as no one was sure where to start. Hazel, who’d been looking back and forth between her parents and her sister, waiting for one of them to start, finally got fed up and dropped what had been on her mind.

“Why?” she asked, locking eyes with Sky, “I mean, I know why ”—she glanced at Mercy—”but you knew the serum was untested, that it was off-limits, that it was dangerous …”

Sky kept her eyes on her hands. “I… I know that…”

“Do you?” asked Laf, distress now plain on their face, “do you realize how close you came to dying?”

“Of course I—” Sky’s words froze in her throat as her head snapped up and she met the cold fear in LaFontaine’s eyes.

She knew she’d nearly died several times from both the change and the resulting fever; Dr. Antos had told her as much himself. However, up until this moment, it had felt like something she’d read in a book, that had happened to someone else.

Now, it was hitting her; she had nearly killed herself. She had nearly killed herself with the serum that Laf and Hazel had made. It would have been her fault, but they would have blamed themselves for making the serum. Her family, the entire family, would blame themselves for not seeing her desires and talking to her. And Mercy…

Oh god… Mercy.

...she would think that she was the reason for the entire thing… and the most gut wrenching part for Sky is that she wouldn’t have been wrong.

“Yeah, exactly,” said Laf, their voice thick with emotion as they noticed Sky’s face blanche and tears start to run down her face. They wiped their eyes with a sleeve as they, likewise, started to tear up. Leaning into Perry’s warm embrace, she wrapped an arm around them and they cried together, the emotion in the room overwhelming everyone.

“I’m sorry,” bawled Sky, held tight by Mercy, “it’s not enough, but I’m so, so sorry. I told myself it was for Mercy, so she could stop having to choose between leaving me behind or not joining the pack, but that was a lie. I wanted it for me, so I could be a wolf, be part of the pack. But how can I expect to be part of the pack when I’m willing to put everyone through something like this.”

Hazel, completely overcome as well, got up and moved to cuddle up with Sky and Mercy. “Hey, hey now. You are part of the pack, we all are, even if some of us lack the more lupine characteristics. Or did, til a short time ago.” Hazel chuckled in spite of the tears, prompting Sky to do the same. “Like Mercy said earlier, we all love you and no mistake, even if makes things awkward for a while, is going to stop that.”

“You brat,” teased Mercy, “you were eavesdropping.”

“Of course I was,” said Hazel, “I needed to make sure I hadn’t broken my little sister.”

There was a palpable sense of relief in the room as the mood noticeably lightened. Everyone took a minute as Perry fetched a box of tissues for everyone to dry eyes and blow noses.

“So, what now?” said Sky, “I guess I’m grounded, huh.”

Laf and Perry shared a look. “No. No, you’re not.” said Laf, much to Sky’s surprise “you’re an adult now, capable of making your own decisions, both good and bad”—they gave her a meaningful look—“and hopefully, learning from them.”

Sky was speechless. She looked to Mercy who gave her and equally flabbergasted look back. “Really?” asked Sky, “not even a ‘my house, my rules’?”

“We would never,” said Perry, “you know very well that we grew up in those sorts of houses. The unspoken next line is ‘if you don’t like it, get out’. We will never tell you —any of you— that.”

“Damn right,” said Laf, before looking sternly at Sky again, “that being said, this has cost you some trust. With me, with your sister, probably a little bit with everyone and nothing is going to repair that except time.”

Sky frowned solemly and nodded slowly.

“Now,” stated Laf, “while we aren’t punishing you for this, your decision has left you some responsibilities to fulfill. Do you remember what Zeke told you about making wolves?”

Sky swallowed nervously. “That making wolves was illegal. Though, he also said that since I’m my own ‘victim’, there’s a loophole that protects me since the rules never anticipated that.”

“Close, he’s not required to report it since it’s not the viral strain that you caught through an attack. However, Zeke needs info on your transformation to make sure he can protect the pack,” said Laf, a anticipatory gleam entering their eyes, “so we need to do testing to figure out how complete the change is.”

Sky visibly relaxed. “Well, what are we waiting for?” she said, jumping to her feet before cringing up in pain and collapsing back onto the couch, caught by Hazel and Mercy.

“That.” said Laf, pointing at Sky, “you need to heal up first, then we’ll get to the tests.”

“Sounds like a better idea,” groaned Sky, “actually would anyone mind if I went and took a nap.”

There was a chuckle around the room.

“C’mon squirt,” said Hazel, pulling Sky’s arm over her shoulder, “let’s get you upstairs.”

The two stood up and started towards the stairs. Sky paused their motion and looked back. “Laf? Mom? Thanks. I love you.”

“Love you too, Munchkin,” replied Laf with a sad smile.

x-x-x

A couple of weeks later, Laf and Sky found themselves out in the backyard accompanied by Hazel and Mercy. Sky was feeling much like her old self again. She’d spent the last few days stretching and moving to work her muscles out, finally resuming her daily dance routines in the family room. Laf, wanting to err on the side of caution, was skeptical, but an impromptu freestyle routine convinced them that she was ready.

“Alright,” said Laf, “we all ready to get started?”

“Sure,” said Sky, “but why are we out here and not down in the lab?”

“Well, aside from being more pleasant out here so that you’re not feeling like a lab animal,” said Laf, “we need room for you to move around.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Now, let’s get started,” said Laf, “Sky, if you can go ahead and shift.”

Sky bit her lip. “Um… I don’t know how.”

Laf’s eyes went wide with surprise and immediately began jotting things down.

“Really, Sky?” asked Mercy, walking up and rubbing Sky’s arm.

“Yeah,” said Sky with a frown, “I assumed once I healed up I’d feel something different, like a new muscle to flex or something. How do you shift?”

Mercy paused in thought. “I… don’t actually know. I just do,” Mercy replied, “Laf? what does that mean? Is she not actually a wolf? Did we go through all of this for nothing?”

“Calm down,” they said, “this is actually a good sign.”

“It is?” asked Sky hopefully.

“Yes. From what I’ve found out, genetic wolves actually have to learn how to transform. They all do it as infants, so it’s as good as instinctual, but it’s a learned skill like walking and talking. If the serum was acting like the viral strain, you’d just feel how to change and probably would have done so accidentally by now. This is good news, indeed.”

“Alright, but we’re still stuck on ‘how to change’.”

“I have an idea,” said Hazel, “Mercy, start shifting back and forth. If baby wolves change by watching their parents, there might be something to it Sky can sense now.”

“Sounds good,” said Mercy as she began walking a slow circle around Sky, changing from human to wolf and back again every few seconds.

Sky followed Mercy slowly with her head, studying each change.

“Anything?” asked Hazel after Mercy had made several laps.

“I… think so?” said Sky, “it’s hard to describe, almost intangible. It’s like there is something both outside and inside and if I just push against it—”

At that moment, Sky disappeared and in her place a small wolf with a two tone black and blonde coat stood, though only for a moment before the wolf’s legs collapsed from beneath it.

“Sky!” exclaimed Mercy, rushing to the wolf’s side, “what’s wrong with her?”

Laf smiled reassuringly. “Nothing’s wrong. She’s just never used wolf legs before. It’ll take her time to learn how to walk. It’ll take her time to learn how to do most things. She has more muscle strength than a puppy, I don’t know if that’ll help or hinder her, but the coordination will take time.”

Hazel looked askance at Laf. “Wasn’t the whole point of working out here so she could move around and junk?”

“I was being optimistic, though like the shifting, the less that’s instinctual, the better.”

Sky slowly lifted her head. It was a little wobbly but she managed to turn her gaze towards Laf enough to give them an annoyed glare.

“See? You’re getting the hang of it already,” said Laf cheerily.

“You’re loving this, aren’t you?” asked Mercy.

“A little bit,” said Laf, “I don’t mean to be mean. I’m mostly excited, this is really new stuff even amongst werewolves. Now Sky, I’m going to come take a look at you. Get some fur and swab for some DNA. We’ll have to get Dr. Antos to give your wolf a proper physical in the near future, to make sure the change is complete and healthy, but the samples will do for now.”

Sky gave Laf a slow nod as she continued to figure out the new and alien muscles. Moving quickly, Laf moved up and trimmed fur from her head, back, tail and forepaws. They then produced a swab and with some difficulty, Sky managed to open her mouth and hold her head at an angle for Laf to get at the inside of her cheek.

“Alright, that should do it for now,” said Laf, “now why don’t you try to shift back?”

Sky looked pensive for a moment before she changed back to her human form, face down on the lawn.

“Okay, that was not remotely like what I was expecting,” Sky said, rolling over and sitting up.

“What were you expecting?” asked Mercy curiously.

“Well, kinda like what it feels like to crawl on your hands and knees.”

“Oh yeah, no,” said Mercy, with a pained expression, “not even remotely. I wish you’d asked me, I coulda warned you.”

“Well, hindsight and all that,” shrugged Sky, before looking over to Laf, “what’s next?”

“For tests? Nothing for now,” said Laf, gathering their notes, “what I need will require more freedom of movement and the more medical stuff I want to leave to Zeke. We’ll make you an appointment.”

“Somehow I think I’ll like Dr. Antos’ tests somewhat less.”

“Probably, but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Laf, “now, we might be done actual tests, but why don’t you practice shifting and getting used to your new body. It’s probably going to be a fairly lengthy road to getting you to full strength, so best to start sooner than later.”

“Sounds good,” said Sky, standing up for another attempt.

“Wait!” cried Mercy, jumping up and latching her arms around Sky’s waist, “ok, now you won’t fall.”

Laf chuckled before heading back into the house, leaving the girls to their practice.

x-x-x

The pack gathered around the TV, looking at the webcam Laura had set up. On the screen, a sleepy looking Charlie smiled back through the screen.

“Well, I’ve got to go get my day started,” she said, “these ruins won’t dig themselves out.”

“Alright sweetie,” said Laura, “have fun and if a piece of those ruins just happens to end up in your luggage, we won’t judge.”

“Mom, I already told you, I’m not pillaging any ruins for you,” huffed Charlie, “I’m bringing you olive oil and you’re going to like it.”

Laura pouted. “Fine”

Everyone laughed.

“Just two more weeks,” said Mercy, “can’t wait to have you home.”

“Me too,” said Charlie, glancing off-screen, “alright, I really have to go now. I love you all.”

A mixed chorus of ‘love you too’s and ‘bye’s filled the room before the screen went black.

“Oh, it’s always so nice to talk to her,” said Sue, “she’s been gone too long.”

“Far too long,” agreed Danny, “not to mention talking to her while sitting in one place gives me cramps. I need to stretch my legs, who’s with me.”

The room filled with activity as nearly everyone got up and made for the backdoor. On the couch, Sky remained curled up, having shooed Mercy off to enjoy the run. She settled in to wait when Paul walked up to where she was sitting, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Aren’t you gonna join us, kiddo?” he asked with a smile.

“I… uh… what?” she stuttered, “I can join you guys?”

“I don’t see why not,” he said, “you figured out a lope the other day. You’ll be able to keep up.”

“But… I’m welcome?” she said, forlornly.

“Of course, you’re welcome,” said Danny, as she walked over, “heck, you always were welcome, you just woulda been bored to tears as a human; just ask Charlie.”

Sky tried to find words as she teared up a little.

Danny chuckled as she took Sky’s hand and helped her up. “C’mon, your family’s waiting for you.”

Sky could only nod as she followed Paul and Danny into the backyard where the pack was waiting. The group of wolves that was happily mulling about quieted slightly as Sky walked onto the deck. A mood of anticipation fell over the group, some even bouncing excitedly on their front paws.

As they reached the lawn, Paul and Danny each shifted and turned to Sky, inviting her in. With a smile and tears in her eyes, she descended the stairs and shifted into a wolf. Around her, the pack felt like a fire as their excitement got the best of them and one by one, raised their muzzles in a howl. Mercy hadn’t learned how yet, but it didn’t matter. They were howling for her, welcoming her.

Mercy walked up to her, nuzzling close as Danny led the way towards the woods. Giving Sky one more look of pride, Danny gave a bark and led the pack, and Sky, into the trees.

Chapter Text

“And finally, on a lighter note for this week, the Alchemy Club seems to have started off a perpetual display of fireworks just behind the Milgram building. Ideal viewing of the display seems to be from the south lawn from about nine to eleven in the evening. For those students who live within close earshot of the unending explosions, which at this point just seem to be the residents of the Zeta Omega Mu house, might I recommend a temporary change of accommodations, or at the very least, some earplugs. Well, that wraps it up for this week gentle viewers. Until next time, stay safe Silas.”

Laura reached out and cut off the recording, saving it to her hard drive to edit after class.

“Hey, Carm?”

“Hmm?” Carmilla looked up from her book, “yeah, Cupcake?”

“I’m off to class.” Laura plucked her bookbag off the stool and leaned over to give Carmilla a quick peck on the lips, “I’ll be back before dinner.”

“Alright, sweetheart,” said Carmilla, “don’t fall asleep in class now.”

“Pfff, I would never fall asleep in Literary History… again,” said Laura, “I’m not sure what was more embarrassing. Noticeably removing my note page from my face in the middle of the lecture theatre, or having to beg the notes from someone after aforementioned page-ectomy. Professor Matheson still teases me about ‘getting really into the material’.”

Carmilla chuckled. “Even better than coffee.”

“I still think I prefer a caffeine buzz over overarching social dread,” grumbled Laura, checking her watch, “now, I’ve got to head. I’ll see you later.”

“Bye.”

Carmilla craned her neck to watch Laura leave and listened carefully as her footsteps receded up the hall and down the stairs. Once she was satisfied her Cupcake was on her way, Carmilla grabbed her phone and dialed.

“Hey Babe. Come on over, coast is clear.”

x-x-x

Laura got back to the dorm several hours later, dropping her bookbag and flopping down onto her bed. She indulged in several blissful seconds complete lethargy before noticing her roommate was missing. With a frown, she got back up to find a note on Carmilla’s pillow in her typically beautiful script.

Laura

Danny and I went to get us some dinner. We’ll be back soon.

Love, Carm.

Laura whined in the back of her throat, annoyed at the immediate lack of girlfriends to cuddle. She flopped forward onto Carmilla’s bed, hoping for at least a mild boost but the bed was long cold and the smell of Carmilla, while comforting, was a pale shadow of what Laura really wanted.

Rolling over onto her back, Laura debated going out to find them, but quickly decided against it. Incorrectly guessing their location would simply delay cuddles even more, which was completely unacceptable. In the meantime, she would have to find herself a distraction.

She turned her attention to her computer. There was, of course, her video from earlier to edit and post. That would be a perfect distraction while she waited.

Waking her computer up, she opened her editor only to find that her video was not the most recent file in the queue. There was a recording from just a short while after she’d left for class that day. Curious, she grabbed her mouse and double-clicked the file.

On the screen, the video opened with Carmilla was standing in the foreground of the usual field of view reading some old tome. Instead of her usual casual attire, Carmilla was done up in a suit and bowler hat, which Laura decided suited her very nicely. In the background, Danny burst in through the door, wearing a very well cut tweed suit of her own.

“Aha! I knew I would find you here!” exclaimed Danny, pointing an accusatory finger in Carmilla's direction.

Carmilla closed the book with an emphatic ‘snap’ as she whirled around. “Indeed you did, Sir Pennystock! For it is here where I intended for you to find me.”

“Villain!” exclaimed Danny, “so it is a trap that you have wrought here, Lord Cliffhaven.”

“Trap? You wound me my fine fellow. I have… invited you here to share a scheme which I have uncovered not this very night. A scheme to pit us against one another and lead to the fall of both our families.”

Danny looked at Carmilla warily. “A bold claim, to be sure. Say I were to believe you, upon whose shoulders do you lay this accusation of double-dealing? I daresay I know of none in the realm who would dare the wrath of one of nine families, to say nothing of two.”

“None, of course, except perhaps… the highest.”

“No sir! Surely you cannot mean—”

“I do, sir!” exclaimed Carmilla, lifting up a cane from off-screen and gesticulating emphatically, “the perpetrator of this heinous scheme is none other than the King himself!”

“No, not Reginald the Deceiver! I won’t hear of it.” Danny dramatically turned away before looking back and pointing at Carmilla once again. “This is treasonous talk, Cliffhaven. You’d best give me some sort of proof or I’m going straight to the magistrate and it’ll be the gallows for you!”

“Please Pennystock. Do you think me daft?” Carmilla asked, now chewing on the stem of a pipe she’d produced from somewhere, “Do you recall the night of the midsummer’s ball?”

“Recall? How could I forget?!” growled Danny, clenching her fists, “it was to be my daughter’s finest hour. Her swearing in as captain of the royal guard, but the ceremony was ruined by that buffoon you call a son, blundering in so deep into his cups, I’m surprised he hadn’t drowned.”

“Indeed you are correct, but for one detail. My meandering progeny’s ailment was not of drink, but drug. When his brother finally managed to collect him, he found this upon his belt.” Carmilla tossed a small bottle across to Danny, whose scowl deepened upon inspection.

“This flask bears the mark of my house. You mean to lay blame for that… travesty, at my feet?”

“I’m certain that is what I was meant to do, and I would be a liar if I claimed that had not been my original intent,” Carmilla said, meandering as she talked, “but I am nothing if not a thorough man and I wished for something a little more iron-clad. Imagine my surprise when upon further investigation, I found the drug my poor son had imbibed was none other than amberroot!”

Danny’s head snapped up in surprise. “Amberroot? That’s impossible. It’s so rare that it’s reserved for use as medicine… for the royal family.”

“Exactly, so either you or your family somehow found one of the rarest herbs in existence and risked exile or worse, on an act of mere pettiness, or…” She trailed off, looking at Danny knowingly

Danny looked grim. “Why? We don’t like each other, but our families have been loyal to the crown for as long as has been recorded. We were both instrumental in the reign of the King’s mother, Queen Harriet the Whimsical, rest her soul.”

“Perhaps that is why,” said Carmilla, “our young sovereign seems to be charting a different course than his kin. Perhaps he means to sweep away her legacy and we are but the first obstacles.”

“Perhaps. It is a sign of dark times indeed, if you are correct,” said Danny darkly, “but that is still to be seen. I would see the proof of amberroot and, if I am satisfied, we will have to act swiftly. Not only are our families at stake, but perhaps the entire realm.”

“Indeed,” agreed Carmilla, “quickly, to my study.” She strode off to the left followed closely by Danny.

Laura stared at the window, a wide grin plastered on her face. She couldn’t help but giggle at a tweed clad arm sneaking along the bottom of the screen to to hit the keyboard and end the recording. When the screen went black, she finally let out laughter she’d been holding in during the little scene.

“She’s laughing at us,” came Carmilla’s voice from behind her. Laura spun around to see her pouting as well as Danny standing next to her sporting a grin, “we spent countless hours—”

“Minutes,” corrected Danny.

“—and utmost effort—”

“I think the hardest part was the five minutes we spent raiding the Lustig costume room.”

“—to put together a work of the finest art for you.”

Laura cleared her throat, trying in vain to stifle the grin that was twitching at the corners of her mouth. “Oh yes, of course. Truly a dramatic work for the ages. Worthy of the globe theatre.” She managed to hold a semi-straight face for only a few more seconds before she broke down laughing again, dragging her girlfriends into giggles right along with her. “Alright, joking aside, that was a wonderful little bit. Did one of you write that?”

“Sadly, no,” said Danny, still chuckling, “I found that scene in amongst my lit marking. I don’t know who’s it is, no one’s claimed it in my classes. Seemed kinda fun, so we had at it.”

“Oh dear,” said Laura, “I hope it wasn’t something important, like a creative writing assignment.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” said Carmilla, flopping down on her bed, “seemed like something a monkey could type out in a few hours, they’ll make it up.”

“Well, I thought it was fine,” argued Laura, “both the writing and the performance. It was so good in fact, I’ll forgive you two for not being here when I got back from class.” She got up from her computer chair and joined Carmilla on the bed, immediately wrapping herself around the vampire.

Danny rolled her eyes with a smile. “You’re so gracious, and before you ask, we did actually get some dinner.” She hefted a large paper bag she was carrying onto the desk. “Figure we can eat together before you get back to editing your video.”

Laura frowned. She’d forgotten all about editing her own video thanks to Danny and Carmilla’s and right now she really just wanted to spend time with them. Getting up, she walked over to her computer where the video editor was still open. Laura intended on closing the program, but at that moment a sly grin crossed her face as an idea occurred to her.

“Laura…” said Carmilla suspiciously, “what are you doing?”

“Well, I really should edit and get this video up tonight, but I’m really not in the mood to,” said Laura, “especially since you guys went and got… are those nachos?”

“You know it,” said Danny, pulling out condiments.

“So I figure I should give my viewers something while they wait for the update.” Laura nonchalantly dragged the mouse across the desk. “And it looks like there’s something available right here.”

Both Danny and Carmilla realized what Laura was doing a moment too late.

“Laura…”

“No.”

Laura just grinned as she clicked the mouse.

Chapter Text

It was your typical afternoon at the town saloon. The usual faces taking up seats, trying to find respite from the oppressive heat at the bottom of a glass. To one side, a poker game separated the otherwise honest ranch hands from their hard won earnings. Off in the corner, the piano player tickled the ivories with his usual unassuming skill and at the bar, the saloon keep idly polished a glass, waiting for the next thirsty soul wander through the doors. Said expectations were only half fulfilled when the doors swung open and a figure bearing an all-too-familiar silver star stepped into the establishment, plunging the room into silence.

Hands still resting on the saloon doors, she swept her gaze across the room, appraising each patron in turn as each of them stared back, praying they weren’t the target of her intent. The sheriff was a legend in these parts and kept the peace with a sure hand, but as far as the residents of the town were concerned, the name of Sheriff Mercy was one of the greatest ironies on god’s green earth.

The sheriff seemed to come to some sort of conclusion and gave a satisfied nod, striding casually towards the bar. The relief in the room was palpable as the off-key piano melody resumed and the bar’s denizens returned to their libations.

“Gimme a glass of the good stuff,” she said, leaning against the bar, “and none o’ that bottom shelf swill, a lawbringer ain’t no good if she’s blind.”

“Excuse me, young lady?”

x-x-x

Laura looked across the counter at her daughter with a combination of amusement and annoyance. “Did you maybe want to rephrase that request?” she said, steepling her fingers over the magazine she’d been reading.

“C’mon Mom,” whined Mercy, “I’m trying to talk ‘old west’, that’s what they sounded like.”

Laura remained silent, looking at Mercy expectantly.

“Fine,” conceded Mercy, “please?”

Laura smiled with satisfaction before going to the fridge and pouring a small glass of apple juice. Making sure she had Sky’s attention, she slid it down the counter into Sky’s waiting hand.

x-x-x

“Much obliged to you, barkeep,” said Mercy, taking a hearty sip of the whiskey, “kindly put it on my tab, if you would.”

“Course. Always glad to keep a patron happy.” The bartender swept up the glass and returned to her cleaning.

With a nod, the sheriff made her way across the room to the poker game where she found a familiar face, hat sitting low over his eyes.

“Good day, gentlemen,” she greeted, the men around the table sizing her up.

“Afternoon Sheriff,” said the man, “to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”

“Well, Mr. Hendrix, I couldn’t help but notice your little card game and decided to come have a look see. Make sure everything is on the level, as it were.”

“Actually, the table’s wobbly. Hence why we’re playing cards and not marbles.”

“Charlie?”

“Yes, Drix?”

“Hush”

“Now Sheriff,” cautioned Hendrix, putting his cards down on the table “gamblin’ ain’t no crime round these parts and this is just friendly game.” He gestured around the table.

“Well, you’re certainly right,” said Mercy, putting her drink down, “gambling’s not a crime… but cheating sure is.”

Hendrix’s stare hardened, but he kept his smile. “A bold accusation, Sheriff, and an incorrect one. If I were cheating, I’d be doing a might better,” he said, gesturing to his dwindling chip stacks.

Mercy remained unperturbed. “That you would. Actually, bit of an odd turn for Kid Hendrix, the most infamous card sharp this side of the Rio Grande. Almost like someone has another card up their sleeve.”

The player Mercy was standing next to went for his gun, but Mercy was faster and had her barrel to his temple before he’d even reached his holster. “Ah, ah, ah. Hands on the table. Now.” He did as he was told and with her free hand, she tugged at his sleeve, revealing a pair of aces in a clip above his wrist.

The other players at the table jumped to their feet in anger, drawing the attention of the rest of the room.

“Well as I live and breath, I thought my luck had taken an unusually drastic turn,” snarled Hendrix, “Charles Pickett, you snake in the grass” His hand slowly crept towards his own six-shooter.

“Hey, stow it Kid,” snapped Mercy, stilling his motion. He met her gaze, rage boiling in his eyes. “Don’t you worry. Charlie boy here is gonna have a nice long stay in the iron bar hotel.”

“Y’all can’t hold me,” protested Charlie as Mercy levered him outta his seat, “my mama will leave you for the buzzards to pick at.”

“Your mama can try as she likes, but I do not look kindly on threats,” warned Mercy, “now let’s go.”

“Hey, what about the pot?” asked Hendrix.

“Well, seems best for the rest of you to split it ‘mongst yourselves,” said the sheriff, “seems a fitting… repayment.”

“Don’t you dare!” yelled Charlie, “that money is mine. Mama is gonna come after all o’ yous!”

Hendrix looked from his fellow players back to the sheriff and her quarry. “I think we’ll opt for the former,” he said, as they started sorting Charlie’s former pile, “thankee Sheriff, for your devoted service.”

“Just doin’ my job,” she replied before hauling Charlie out the door.

x-x-x

“What’s a man gotta do for a decent meal round here?!” yelled Charlie from his cell.

Mercy pushed up her hat with a single finger from where it was covering her face, as she lounged back on her chair. “Your breakfast is right there where I left it.”

“Breakfast?” scoffed Charlie, “beans, bread and water ain’t breakfast, it’s pig fodder. I demand real food.”

“That’s as real as it’s gonna get,” she snapped, “now—”

She was interrupted by a pounding on the door to her office. With an inquisitive look, she got up and opened the door.

x-x-x

“Hi Mercy!” said Hazel, standing on the step with Sky just behind her, “what’s with the cowboy hat?”

“We’re playing Western,” said Mercy, “what brings you by?”

“Drix called and told us to come over, something about needing more people.”

“Hazel!” greeted Charlie, coming up behind her sister, “c’mon, you can spring me from jail.”

“Jailbreak? I’m in!”

“Me too,” echoed Sky.”

“I suddenly feel outnumbered,” said Mercy.

“Don’t worry,” assured Charlie, patting Mercy on the shoulder, “you’re the good guy. It’ll be fine.”

“Well, in that case…”

x-x-x

“Sheriff Mercy, I presume?”

“Yes,” Mercy replied, letting the woman into the front office, “and you would be?”

“My name is Hazel Pickett and I believe that you are holding my boy.” She levelled a cold gaze at Mercy.

Mercy remained stalwart, though she could understand the reverence the man in her cells held this woman with. “If your boy is one Charles Pickett, then you would be correct.”

“I want to see him,” she demanded, before softening slightly, “that is, if you would so allow.”

Mercy studied the woman for a moment before inclining her head towards the cell block, allowing her entry.

At the woman’s entry into the cells, Charlie perked up. “Mama! I knew you’d come for me.”

“Of course I did, my boy. How are they treating you?”

“Bad. Real bad, Mama. Won’t give me no real food or nuthin’,” he said, gesturing to the as yet untouched plate of food.

“Oh my poor boy,” said Hazel, “don’t worry. Mama’ll take care of it.” She turned to Mercy, who’d been observing the exchange from the doorway. “I demand you release my boy immediately,” she said implacably

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but your son here was was caught cheating, red-handed. Only person I’ll be releasing him to is the marshall.”

Hazel looked livid, but held her composure as she turned back to Charlie. “You’re gonna have to wait here a bit longer, but don’t worry. I’ll get you out.”

“I know you will, Mama.”

Turning for the exit, she only gave one last glare to Mercy before sweeping out the door of the sheriff’s office.

“Now you’re in for it,” cackled Charlie from where he sat.

x-x-x

The sun was getting high in the sky as Mercy rode her horse around the edge of town, making her patrol rounds. She was getting ready to turn back into town when the distinct sound of gunfire came from the direction of Main Street. Kicking her horse into action, she flew towards town.

Arriving onto the thoroughfare, she dismounted and hitched her horse, scanning the storefronts, trying to determine where the shots had come from. It was then she spotted Hendrix waving at her from the front of the hotel. His other hand was clapped to his shoulder, obviously covering a wound.

“Boy, Sheriff, you are a sight for sore eyes,” said Hendrix, leading her into the building.

“What happened?”

“Well, unless I am sorely mistaken, Charlie made good on his threat.” Hendrix nodded into one of the rooms.

Mercy looked in to see one of his card playing companions, stone dead, shot clean through the heart. It looked like the man had died asleep, never having woken up. “Where were you when this happened?”

“I was in my room,” said Hendrix, pointing across the hall, “I’m lucky the gunner was so sloppy. I was awake and ready before she could repeat her performance. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to be quite as sure a shot when her target ain’t asleep,” he said, indicating his shoulder, “unfortunately, I, myself, am not quite as adept with a gun as I am a deck of cards, and only managed to wing her.”

Mercy looked around the room, noting the respective blood stains of Hendrix and his assailant. “What’d she look like? Older woman in her forties or fifties?”

“If’n you mean Mama dearest, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint,” said Hendrix, “nah, this one was real young, probably about the same age as that fella you’ve got locked up.”

At that moment, the sound of an explosion came from outside, from somewhere in front of the hotel.

“Well, unless I miss my guess, I’ll have to correct myself. Fella you had locked up.”

“Tarnation!” exclaimed Mercy, running full bore out the front door and into the street. Sure enough, a plume of smoke was rising up the street, about where her office stood. Deciding it was quicker to run rather than unhitch her horse, she pounded her way up the dusty road and burst in her own front door.

The inside was filled with smoke and dust, making it hard to see. Making her way to the back, she noticed it was far brighter than it should have been. As she got close enough to see, she was able to discern that the back wall of her cells was blown wide open and her erstwhile convict was nowhere to be found.

Ok wait, an explosion that close woulda killed him. The shockwave would have turned him into soup even if somehow he avoided debris.

Hazel, you are very right. However, I’m invoking the rule of ‘it’s fun, so deal with it.’

...good rule, honestly. Objection withdrawn.

Boiling over with frustration, Mercy stomped back out into the fresh air to catch her breath and think. That was where Kid Hendrix found her.

“I take it from your countenance that I was correct and your guest has... excused himself from the premises.”

“Yep,” she said, popping the ‘p’, “and now they’re all loose and I have no way to find them.”

“Well, I have an idea,” he said, “there was one more player in our little game and I’ll bet Mama Pickett isn’t one to do anything by halves.”

Mercy nodded. “Good thinking. He’s a ranch owner just on the outskirts of town. Easy pickin’s way out there.”

“Then we best saddle up and mosey on over there.”

“Excuse me, we?”

“Well, of course,” said Hendrix, “last I checked there were at least three of them, but there’s only one of you. You need allies and I just happen to be ready, willing and able.”

“You’re hurt and you’ve said yourself you're a lousy shot.”

“I’m not the sort of man to let a scratch hold me back and better a gun that can’t shoot straight at your side than no gun at all.”

“Alright, if you’re game, let’s go.”

x-x-x

“I already gave you the money, why won’t you leave me alone?”

Charlie just grinned as he socked the man in the gut again.

“This isn’t just about money,” said Mama Hazel from where she stood, “there’s the insult to be dealt with too and really, this day has just downright vile. Isn’t that right, Skyler?” She looked towards the woman holding a bloody mark on her side.

Skyler nodded with a sneer before backhanding the man with her free hand.

Hazel? Charlie? Sky? Can you reel it in a bit? You guys are being disturbingly good at shaking down a teddy bear.

Sorry, Mom.

“Well, as fun as it’s been, we’d best be making tracks,” said Hazel, “Charlie, if you would kindly...”

Charlie grinned manically as he drew his pistol and pointed it at the man’s head.

“HOLD IT!”

All three whipped around to see Sheriff Mercy and Kid Hendrix standing at the entrance of the ranch, barring the way.

“It’s over, Picketts. You’re all under arrest.”

“Why Sheriff, you are not as intelligent as I gave you credit for if you seriously expect us to come quietly.”

“Well, I can’t say that we really expect it,” said Hendrix, “but it’d be making our lives that much simpler if you’d oblige us.”

Hazel simply smiled predatorily at Hendrix, “I must thank you Sheriff. How nice of you to bring not only yourself but Mr. Hendrix right to us as well. Saved us a world of trouble.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find that I’m a might more trouble than you’ve bargained for,” said Hendrix, moving his hand to his hip.

At the motion, Charlie brought his gun up, training it onto Hendrix, “this’ll show you for shooting my sister.”

A shot rang out.

Charlie collapsed to the ground, cradling his bleeding hand. Twenty yards away stood Mercy, her gun still smoking from the shot.

“Perhaps I wasn’t clear. You’re under arrest,” she said, sighting her gun on Mama Pickett as Hendrix did the same with Skyler.

Hazel ran to the side of her son, glaring venomously at the sheriff. “How dare you! How dare you hurt my boy!”

“Ma’am, just surrender your arms and come peaceably,” coaxed Mercy, “we can get your son a doctor and you’ll all get a fair trial.”

Hazel set her jaw as her posture slumped. “...fine.”

Cautiously, Mercy lowered her gun and moved forward, a coil of rope in hand to bind them. Too late, however, she noticed Hazel tense up, grabbing Charlie’s gun and swinging it around. It never made it as Hendrix’s gun rang out and she collapsed back into the dirt.

“Mama!” came the cries of both siblings, rushing to her side. It was clear already that the wound was not survivable.

Hendrix walked up, wincing at his handiwork. “Dammit,” he said quietly to Mercy, “I was aiming for the gun.”

“It’s unfortunate, but you saved my life. That’s still worth something.”

“Thanks. I hope it’s enough.”

Hazel coughed. “Sorry kids, I guess Mama can’t help you no more.” She looked Mercy square in the eye. “Get ‘em that fair trial, y’hear me?”

“I will.”

“Skyler. Charlie. Come close, I got something I need to tell you.”

“What is it, Mama?” asked Sky.

“We’re here,” added Charlie.

“...Rosebud.”

“Dammit Hazel, we totally had a moment there and you ruined it.”

“It was getting too dark anyways. What’s the fun of a western that gets all dramatic?”

x-x-x

It was several days later as Mercy watched over the bricklayers she’d hired to repair the jail. Skyler and Charlie had been taken away by the Marshalls and were awaiting trial, despite the urgings of several townsfolk to just hang them and be done with it. With the repairs on the jail nearing completion, the town was finally starting to return to normal.

A knock at the door drew Mercy out of the reverie and she hopped up to answer, finding Hendrix on her doorstep.

“Hey Kid, how’s the shoulder?” she asked.

“It’s healing up rather nicely, although I reckon that I don’t need quite as much bedrest as the good doctor suggests.”

“Best listen to him. If infection sets in, he’ll have to pull out the leeches,” she joked, “so have you decided what to do once you’re out from under his tender mercies.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll just move along. I hear there’s a good card tournament coming up back in Louisiana. Might see if I can rustle up a stake.”

Mercy nodded. “Well, I suppose you could do that. However, might I offer you an alternative?” From inside her breast pocket, she produced a small, polished brass star and held it out to him.

Hendrix stared at the badge like it was a snake in a top hat. “A Deputy? Me?” he asked.

“You’ve got good instincts and a good heart,” she said, “the rest is just practice. I could use a good partner.”

Hendrix considered the outheld star for a moment before he picked it up, tucking it into his own vest. “Why I believe that sounds like an offer I’ll just have to take up.”

“Welcome aboard, Deputy Hendrix.”

“Pleasure to be along for the ride.”

x-x-x

“And roll credits!” exclaimed Hazel.

“And don’t miss Sheriff Mercy 2: No Mercy at All,” added Charlie.

“You two are nuts,” said Mercy before giving Drix a hug, “thanks for playing with me.”

He wrapped his arms around her tightly, “anytime Merc.”

“Hey, what about the rest of us?” protested Charlie.

“Ok,” said Mercy, letting Hendrix go, “thank you for not ruining my game too badly.”

“Well, we’re happy to— HEY!”

Mercy and Drix broke down laughing, which was soon joined by the rest of the group.

“Wait,” said Sky, “no one rode off into the sunset.”

“Huh…” said Mercy, “you’re right. Well the TV kinda glows like a sunset. Who wants to watch a movie and we’ll count that?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Sky as the group clambered onto the couches and settled in.

Chapter Text

It was late.

Really late.

Laura sagged in the driver’s seat, squeezing the wheel impatiently as she made the final turn down the darkened road leading home. She felt completely dragged out and just wanted to snuggle into bed next to her wives.

She hoped they wouldn’t be too upset with her. She’d called earlier to say she’d be late coming home, but never before had ‘late’ meant rolling in at nearly one in the morning. She cursed herself for not calling or even texting to let them know things were dragging, but there was little that could be done about that now.

Turning up the driveway, she winced as she noticed the lights still on in not only their bedroom, but downstairs as well. They’d waited up for her, and they probably wouldn’t be happy.

Laura pulled her car into the garage and took a few moments to practice her ‘I’m sorry’ pout in the rear view mirror. Hopefully, she could cute her way past an argument and into the comfortable embrace of her bed and hopefully, a snuggly set of arms. Once she was satisfied that she had just the right amount of lip quiver, she took a deep breath and headed into the house.

Inside, the lights were out in the kitchen but light spilled through from the living room where Laura could see both Danny and Carmilla sitting together on the couch, reading. Steeling herself, she dropped her bag on the kitchen table and stepped into the doorway.

“Ok. I realize it’s really late and you guys are probably super worried and angry at me for not calling, which I’m so sorry about. I was just stuck for so long on my article that when I finally figured out what to write, I got into the zone and it just started flowing, then I totally lost track of time and when I looked up at the clock it was nearly midnight and I woulda called, but I figured you would be in bed by now, which, I mean,  obviously you’re not, but you could’ve been, so I figured I shouldn’t wake you up, which I wouldn’t have done, but I could’ve and if one of you would just say something so I can stop rambling on without stop I’d really appreciate it.”

Neither Carmilla nor Danny looked up. It was like Laura hadn’t said anything at all.

She stared at them incredulously. It was possible that being so tired had left her a bit irritable, but at the moment she was too exhausted to logically consider this option as she stepped forward. “Ok, the silent treatment? Seriously? I can’t believe you two. Yes, I’m late but after over twenty years of marriage, I think I deserve a little more respect than to be shut out by my wives.”

When she still got no response from them, she stomped around the couch and stood rigid in front of them. It was only then that their attention shifted to her as they both wore looks of surprise followed by wide smiles.

While slightly confused by their reaction, Laura was not going to be deterred from her anger. “What the hell is up with you two?”

It was their turn to look confused. Danny held a finger up before tilting her head and pulling what looked like a wad of plastic out of her ear. “Ugh, forgot I was wearing those. Sorry, Laura. Couldn’t hear you, these things worked better than I expected. What’s wrong?”

Laura’s mouth open and closed speechlessly as she watched Carmilla pull a matching set of earplugs out of her own ears.

“Cupcake?” asked Carmilla, “you okay?” She leaned forward, taking Laura’s hand.

Laura snapped out of her stupor, anger forgotten as she’d watched Danny dig her other earplug, a touch more stubborn than its sibling, out of her other ear. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine… why are you two wearing earplugs?”

“Oh,” said Danny with a slight chuckle, “Sky’s over.”

“Why does it matter if Sky is— oh…” Laura’s cheeks tinged pink as she caught Danny’s meaning.

“Yeah,” agreed Carmilla, “oh.”

“Are they really…”

“No, they kept it down,” said Danny, looking ruefully towards the stairs, “but that really doesn’t count for much when you consider we share a wall and how well Carm and I can hear. I tried to just ignore it and sleep, but I ended up giving up pretty quickly and Carm was just behind me.”

Laura winced sympathetically. “Yeeeeaaaahh. I don’t care how sex positive we are, I wouldn’t want to listen to our daughter… or surrogate daughter… or both for that matter…”

“Not that we really have the high ground here,” interjected Carmilla, “given the number of times we’ve inadvertently chased Mercy down the hall to Charlie’s room, I’d say turnabout is fair play.”

Danny chuckled and nodded. “True that.”

“Speaking of, our other children sleep through it?”

“Drix isn’t home, he spent the night at Aaron’s, and Charlie and Hazel are both sawing logs, I doubt they heard anything,” said Danny.

“Even if they did,” said Carmilla with a smirk, “I suspect they’re all a little more accustomed than we are to putting up with… things that go bump in the night.”

“Oh yeah, totally,” agreed Danny.

“Okay, as fun as discussing our kids’ sex lives is,” Laura quipped, “I’ve had a really long day and am completely exhausted. You think it’s safe to head on up?”

Danny tilted her head, listening experimentally. “I think it’s safe. Sky is snoring… at least I hope that’s snoring.” Danny made a face.

Carmilla shoved her playfully. “It’s snoring. And side note: please never go down that line of thought ever again.”

“Seconded,” said Laura with a frown, “now c’mon, I’m tired.” She reached out a hand to Danny and Carmilla each, helping them stand up from the couch.

Taking a moment to turn out the lights, they made their way upstairs towards their own door, which was ajar, letting light spill into the hallway. As they passed Mercy’s door, Carmilla paused and perked up, getting Laura’s attention. Trying to stay quiet, she looked back and cocked her head questioningly to which Carmilla just shook her head and waved Laura forward.

“It’s nothing,” said Carmilla, once they were safely into their room with the door shut behind them, “just an idea.”

Laura studied Carmilla’s face for a moment, before shrugging and walking into the bathroom to get ready for bed. Quickly running through her nightly routine, she crawled into bed and into the arms of her wives, who were still awake and waiting for her. Danny turned out the light and they settled in and began drifting off to sleep.

“Wait a minute,” came Laura’s voice in the darkness.

“What?” asked Carmilla sleepily.

“Why didn’t you just wear the earplugs to sleep?”

“We tried,” yawned Danny, “they drove us bonkers. Would have been easier to try and sleep with... accompaniment?”

“Oh, alright… wait, accompaniment?” Laura paused. “Y’know, I think I just got an idea of my own.”

“That’s good,” said Carmilla, “we’ll compare notes in the morning. Now go to sleep.”

With only a hum of contentment in reply, Laura snuggled in and drifted off.

x-x-x

“Good morning sleepy heads!” said Laura cheerily.

It was almost noon when Sky and Mercy came sleepily down the stairs. Everyone else was well into their day, Laura, Carmilla and Danny each doing some light cleaning while Charlie and Hazel had long left on some exploit of their own.

“We didn’t do a big breakfast this morning,” said Danny, “but we ran out early and picked up some croissants. They’re in the bag on the counter.”

“That sounds great, thanks Mom.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie.”

Sky and Mercy each warmed up a pastry and sat down at the table with some butter and jam to enjoy with it. They were about halfway through when Sky looked at Danny where she was cleaning the windows and noticed something.

“Aunt Danny? Are you feeling alright? You look kinda tired.”

“Gee, thanks,” joked Danny, smiling at Sky, “I just had a bit of trouble getting to sleep last night.”

“Ooh, that reminds me,” said Laura, putting down her duster and running from the room, her voice floating from down the hall, “while we were getting breakfast, we found something that we hope you’ll like.” She walked back in with a stack of three small boxes.

“Bluetooth speakers?” said Mercy.

“One for each of your rooms,” replied Laura, “we thought it’d be nice for you to be able to easily listen to music during the day… ar even at night. Never know what it might come in handy for...”

“Night?” asked Mercy suspiciously, “you sure? I mean we share a wa—” Mercy stopped and turned dark red as she gaped at her mother.

“What? I don’t get it,” asked Sky, “what does it have to do with Aunt Danny not— you heard us last night didn’t you.” Sky turned pink herself, though she was obviously not quite as mortified as her girlfriend.

“‘Fraid so, sweetheart,” said Carmilla, leaning on a broom handle.

“Moms, I’m so sorry,” said Mercy, “I—”

“Hey hey hey,” interrupted Danny, “it’s ok. You tried, just... wolf ears, y’know?”

“Oh yeah, I know,” replied Mercy, gathering herself enough for a smirk back at her mother, “well, we’ll try to be a little more considerate in future…”

Sky nodded in agreement.

“...and use this little gift to make things a bit less obvious,” Mercy added, picking up the box to look at what was included, the wheels in her head obviously already turning.

“Well, on that note, I have one more gift for you,” said Carmilla, digging into one of the kitchen drawers.

Mercy eyed Carmilla warily. “Oh, good. And what would that be?”

“Scented candles!” said Carmilla, slapping down a set of multicolour pillars on the counter as she, Laura and Danny burst out laughing..

Turning red once more, Mercy and Sky couldn’t help but join in the laughter themselves.

Chapter Text

“—and so I look up and this poor kid’s face and most of his, of course, white shirt is completely blue. Apparently, he'd decided he liked fountain pens and was trying to use one to take notes.”

“Wait,” said Laura as Danny took a sip of her beer, “did the pen explode in his face or something?”

“Nothing quite so dramatic,” she replied, kicking back to rest her feet on the deck railing, “apparently, it's not such a great idea to have an open bottle of ink sitting around without a proper inkwell. He flipped over his notebook when I referred to last week's lecture and the ink just went along for the ride.”

Carmilla cackled. “Seriously? How old was that pen that he needed to keep filling the reservoir?”

“Not sure. He just described it as ‘vintage’.”

“In other words,” snarked Carmilla, “‘obsolete but having it makes me feel superior’.” She took a long draught of her own beer to punctuate her statement.

“Sounds about right,” Danny agreed, “luckily for him, one of my other students took pity on him and was going to email him a copy of the notes, since most of his were also caught in—”

A loud, savage howl echoed out of the woods, drawing their attention. While wolf howls were a common enough occurrence on the pack lands, none of them recognized the timbre of this one. It carried a rough, almost broken, undertone that could only be described as bestial. It sent a chill down each of their spines.

“What the hell was that?!” exclaimed Laura, looking to her wives whose gazes were locked on the tree line, concern painted on their faces.

“A feral wolf, I think,” said Danny, “but I hope I'm wrong.”

“You're not wrong,” whispered Carmilla, a clear tremor of fear in her voice, “Danny, we need the pack… now.”

“Wait, really?” asked Laura, “how do we know it's not just passing through?”

“No, Carm's right, something's wrong here” said Danny, “our scent is throughout the woods for miles, even a feral wolf acting on instinct wouldn't draw attention to itself, unless… oh god, we need to call Drix and Ruth.” Danny ran into the house, leaving a scared and confused Laura looking to Carmilla for explanation.

“Unless what? What's wrong?”

“Unless it smelled something that made hunting worth the risk,” finished Carmilla, “vampire blood can help ferals regain some semblance of control.”

Laura paled, glancing towards the woods. “And everywhere that the pack’s scent is…”

“...ours is as well.”

“Would it be able to track the scents back to any of our houses? Wouldn't the smells be too mixed up to make a trail?” asked Laura.

“God, I hope so, but I sure as hell am not gonna bet the safety of our family on that.”

Laura frowned. “Can we do anything for it?”

“Probably not,” admitted Carmilla, nervously running a hand through her hair, “if it's held onto some shred of rationality, we may be able to calm it enough for Zeke or Laf to do something, but like Danny said, the fact that it's acting so strangely…”

Laura wilted, nodding in understanding

Danny ran back out of the house, phone still up to her ear. “—we'll meet you out there, bud. Please be careful, this thing is gonna be after you every bit as much as the girls. See you soon.” Ending the call, Danny tossed her phone onto the table, leaning over it for a moment to regain some composure. “Hayden and Aero are safe. Ruth is holing up with all their kids in the basement while Scout and Ava guard the house. If the feral attacks them, there's gonna be nothing but shreds of it left by the time we get there.

“What about Drix and Levy?” pressed Carmilla, the edge of the table cracking under her nervous grip.

“That's the bad news. Jaq and Levy are apparently out by the lake. Aaron’s calling them so they know to get up a tree, but we still need to meet Drix out there.”

“Well what are we waiting for? Let's go!” said Carmilla, pushing back her chair and leaping from the deck, landing as a panther in the yard. Looking back, she eyed Danny impatiently as she kneaded the earth, ready to run.

“Right,” said Danny turning to Laura, “call everyone that you can think of. This thing might be after vampires, but I doubt it'd hesitate to attack anyone else. I don't want anyone who can't defend themselves out before we've dealt with this.”

“On it,” said Laura as Danny shifted and joined Carmilla on the lawn.

Craning her head skyward, Danny took a deep breath and let out a powerful howl. This was not the bright, cheery call that punctuated most runs. This was a war cry. A call to allies and a warning to enemies.

As they pushed off into the brush, answering calls came from all directions as the able members of the pack acknowledged their Alpha and set off. However, it took several long moments before Carmilla and Danny heard the call they were listening for: Drix's long and low roar, echoing from somewhere near the lake’s southern bank.

Suppressing the urge to speed up, lest she run into their assailant completely exhausted, Danny loosed two more short howls, before closing towards Drix's answer.

They ran for several more minutes before a foul and unfamiliar stench on the air made them slow to a more cautious speed. Moving carefully through the woods, they came upon the most filthy, scraggly wolf they had ever seen.

She was nearly as large as Danny, but with strangely oversized shoulders and a wide muzzle, almost like a hound. She paced back and forth, gaze fixed up a tree. Every once in a while, she would growl at whatever was holding her attention.

An answering snarl told Danny and Carmilla precisely what was up there. Drix was somewhere in the branches, safely out of reach, but taunting the feral, keeping her occupied and away from any innocents until help could arrive.

Carmilla felt a surge of pride at her son's smart thinking before something else occurred to her. Nudging Danny to get her attention, Carmilla gestured with her head up the tree trunk they'd taken shelter beside. Receiving a nod, she quietly got a grip and ascended.

Breaking through the lower canopy and into the more open spaces of the upper branches, Carmilla's hunch was confirmed. Perched in the same tree as Drix, hidden from the ground in the upper reaches, were Jaq and Levy, the latter in her owl form. They were both looking right back at her with hopeful expressions.

Carmilla held a paw up to her muzzle, miming a ‘hush’ gesture as best she could before disappearing back down into the leaves, glad to know her grandkids were safe from harm.

She reached the ground, using a paw to point at Drix then up above, conveying the situation to Danny, who seemed to catch her meaning. Then she opted for a much less ambiguous gesture as she held up a paw and made a show of unsheathing her claws. Danny nodded resolutely and howled once again, highly pleased when a series of barks and yips came from very near by.

Danny and Carmilla pushed out of the underbrush, putting them face to face with the feral, who looked very surprised by the howl and sounds of the pack coming in. She kept looking nervously around them but her gaze kept falling back on Carmilla, full of desperation.

Danny's heart fell. She'd been expecting an animal, a beast whose humanity had been consumed by instinct. But there was still light in this wolf’s eyes, the pain of a person still grasping at their last thread.

Around them, the pack quickly materialized out of the brush. Mercy and Sky took up positions flanking the base of the tree, ensuring the safety of their brother and nieces. The remainder pushed in, forcing her away from the tree.

Fear clouded her eyes and both Danny and Carmilla could see the growing resolve in her stance. There was only a moment's notice as the feral tensed and leapt forward, intent on Carmilla. Carmilla, raised her paw, ready to strike, but Zach was faster.

He bowled into the feral from the side, sending her crashing to the ground before he threw himself on top of her. She struggled to free herself from beneath his bulk, but at over twice her size, he had her completely pinned. Eventually, she gave up and simply whined plaintively.

Shifting back to their human states, Danny and Carmilla crouched down by the feral’s exposed face, where it met their gaze with a blend of sadness and yearning.

“Can you understand me?” asked Danny, watching for a response. The feral glanced at her momentarily, a flash of something intelligent in her eyes, before she refocused on Carmilla

“What do you want to do?” asked Carmilla.

“I don’t know,” admitted Danny, “she’s delirious, possibly psychotic, but she isn’t some mindless animal that we have to put down. There’s no way she asked for this. She’d have a sire to care for her if this was deliberate. She was probably just lucky, or unlucky enough to survive an attack.”

Carmilla sadly regarded the wolf before nodding as she came to a resolution. Without another word, she raked her fingers across her left palm, slicing a gash which immediately began to bleed, flooding the area with the metallic scent of blood The feral began struggling again as her pupils blew out at the sight of the prize she sought.

“Carm, what the hell are you doing?” cried Danny, distressed at the sight of her wife hurting herself.

Carmilla looked at her palm as the gash knit itself shut, leaving only the blood behind. “Testing a hypothesis,” she explained, “if it works, we may have a chance to help her. Zach, keep her pinned. I don’t want her to be able to lunge forward.”

He gave her a sarcastic look, as if to say, ‘how’s that different from what I was doing already?’.

“You sure about this?” asked Danny.

“No, but it’s the best plan I have.”

Danny chuckled, “The fact that a terrible plan is our best plan is not really a selling point.”

Carmilla shared in the laugh. “Now where have I heard that before?”

“I dunno. Some old internet video I imagine,” said Danny, before looking serious again, “be careful. I’m right here beside you.”

“I know, I’m glad,” said Carmilla, clasping one of Danny’s hands in her clean one before letting go and shuffling up to the feral. She tentatively held her left hand forward, “alright, this might help you think a little more clearly. Please don’t bite me.”

Stretching her neck, the feral pushed her muzzle forward and began to lap gently at Carmilla’s hand. It only took a few seconds before every bit of blood was cleaned up.”

Shuffling back again, Carmilla kept watch to see if the blood had indeed helped. Then slowly, the eyes which had lost focus upon licking up the blood, zeroed back in on Carmilla’s as her pupils contracted, making her gaze look far more human than it had previously.

“Can you understand me? Can you shift?” asked Carmilla.

The feral looked confused, but after a second the wolf was replaced with a small, trembling woman. Zach tentatively got up, letting her loose but remained tense. She looked to be in about her mid-thirties and was covered in what looked like weeks of grime and her clothes were in tatters. She hugged herself tightly, hunching her shoulders as she began to rock back and forth.

“Hello, my name’s Danny and this is my pack.” She gestured around the circle, taking a step towards the woman. “What’s your name? Where are you from?”

“I… don’t know…” she spoke haltingly, as if the words caused her pain “hard… think… remember… water… sand… fur… teeth…”

“From the coast, sounds like,” said Carmilla, “or attacked there at least.”

“Yes… attacked… not dead... woke hungry…” she stuttered, “ate… chickens… cats… dogs…”

“People?” asked Danny.

“No… not people… afraid… hid… still hungry... ran…”

“And made your way here,” supplied Carmilla, “where you smelled us?”

“Yes… smelled…” she struggled, “smelled right… like prey…need more…”

“Alright, hold on,” Carmilla said, getting ready to make another gash, “I can give you a bit more and then we can get you some help.”

“N-n-n-no…” said the woman, her pupils beginning to noticeably dilate again, “need… MORE!”

The woman leapt towards Carmilla, her body beginning to shift when a blur sped past the perimeter of wolves and into the fray. Before anyone knew what was happening, the young woman lay dead on the ground, her head at an unnatural angle and over her stood Dr. Antos.

“Zeke?” Carmilla’s eyes widened at the sudden appearance of the family’s doctor. The strike had even been too fast for her to detect.

“I’m sorry, child,” said Zeke, “but I’ve dealt with the Abandoned before. She was beyond help.”

“How the hell can you be so certain?” yelled Danny, enraged at what seemed like a senseless death.

“I’d been watching for a while, young one,” said Zeke sadly, “I came as soon as Ms. Hollis got a hold of me. I had hopes, just like you did, that you could save this one, but she’d been like this too long. Recovery is usually possible within the first week of infection, but without a sire to properly care for the fledgling, the virus begins to consume all that is human about the host, most notably the mind.”

Carmilla was in tears. “But she came back, she was here.”

“And then she was gone again. Were she treatable, that much blood would have let her keep her mind for hours, not minutes. Even if we’d used Ser Lafontaine’s serums to drive out the virus and heal her physical ailments, her mind was already rewritten. Every second of her waking life would have been a semi-conscious agony. This was a kindness, child.”

Carmilla remained silent, glaring at Zeke with rage and sadness. She set her jaw and pushed past him to where the body of the nameless woman lay on the forest floor. “We need to get her out of here so she doesn’t scare the kids when they come down.” Gently, she knelt down and, almost reverently, lifted the woman’s body. “Danny?” she said, voice thick with tears, “I’ll meet you at home.”

Danny looked sadly at her wife and nodded before Carmilla sped off into the trees. Slumping down, she wiped her eyes, holding back tears of her own. “Thank you all for coming so quickly. I wish this could have ended better, but we’re all safe so I guess that’s what matters…” she paused, “I don’t know what to say. This feels so wrong.” She sniffled again as Zach came up and wrapped an arm around her

“That’s because it is wrong,” said Zach, “innocent deaths should never be right, even when it’s for the best.”

“The best?” asked Danny, startled, “you agree with him?”

“I do. All I could feel from her was pain and even with the blood, it was the barest flicker, like a dying ember,” he said, “Zeke may be startlingly frank about some things, but he’s never been flippant about death. You’re allowed to be angry at him, but I think it’s still worth trusting him.”

“Thanks Zach, I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“Anytime. C’mon, let’s all head over to Mom and Dad’s. I don’t think being alone would be good for any of us right now.”

Paul yipped from where he’d been watching quietly, seconding Zach’s suggestion.

“Alright,” said Danny, “sounds good. Uh, Dr. Antos…”

“It’s alright Ms. Lawrence,” said Zeke, “even if you wanted to invite me I would turn it down. Your family needs time to heal and having part of the cause of the wound around won’t help. I’ll be in touch.” With a sad smile, he walked away through the trees, leaving the pack as they helped the girls down.

x-x-x

Carmilla stood in the clearing, most of the pack at her back. It had taken them a couple days to build a proper pyre, but now it was ready with the unnamed woman atop it. She lay upon a bed of wildflowers that the grandkids had gathered in a desire to help.

Carmilla tried to think of some words to eulogize the soul before her, but her mind was drawing a blank. Her shoulders sadly slumped until arms reached around her shoulders from either side as her wives cuddled close to her. “I don’t know what to say…”

“It’s alright,” said Laura, “you don’t have to say anything.”

Carmilla nodded before catching Drix’s attention. Returning her nod they each turned their focus to the dry tinder. Moments later, at each end of the pyre, the wood caught alight and flames quickly spread the length and before long, the whole thing was ablaze.

Carmilla watched the fire sadly, drawing comfort from her wives, as she noticed Zeke enter the clearing. A surge of anger bubbled up, but she tamped it down as she watched him lay a bouquet of some sort against the fire where it was quickly consumed by the conflagration. Looking over, he caught her gaze and walked over to see her.

“Hyacinth and Plumeria,” he said, “an apology and a wish of protection for her.”

“Apology?” Carmilla asked, bitterly.

“Yes, though whether she forgives me is anyone’s guess.”

Carmilla snorted derisively, though said nothing as Laura or Danny, she wasn’t certain who, began stroking her back comfortingly.

“You’ve gone soft, my dear,” said Zeke, holding up a finger to forestall her protest, “and it is my sincerest wish that you remain that way. It has taken a long time to heal the wounds left by your mother and you don’t deserve any more. This was a necessary evil, but one that you, none of you”—he added, looking sadly at Danny—”should have to bear. Don’t carry this. Love each other, blame me if it helps, but remember that you tried to help this poor woman and protected your family, not the final result.” Nodding respectfully, he turned and began to walk away.

“Zeke?” Carmilla called after him and he turned back, “talk to Laf. They took samples from her. They are going after the virus. If you really want forgiveness, help them make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

He smiled. “It would be my honour.” He turned and walked away, with far more spring in his step than he’d had a moment ago.

Carmilla smiled in spite of her grief before turning back to the pyre. “We will do this right for her. She lost whatever family had to that damned virus, so we’re gonna be her family and we always do right by our family dammit.”

“Damn straight,” said Danny.

“I guess you thought of something to say after all,” said Laura.

“I guess I did, but something feels missing.” She looked at Danny who nodded solemnly.

In moments, every pack member who could had shifted and they raised their voices to the heavens. A low and mournful howl for the family member who found them too late.

Chapter Text

CK

[Bored.]
[Lunch?]

[Sure!]
[Usual place?]

[Sounds good.]
[See you 1-ish]
Read at 11:53am

It was shortly after one when Laf got to the diner where they found Carmilla already sipping on a milkshake, a novel open as she kicked back in the booth. Noticing Laf, she snapped the book close and raised her milkshake in greeting, though remaining stretched out on the bench seat.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Laf, tossing their jacket into the booth ahead of them, “I actually hit traffic. Apparently, a deer herd just wandered onto the road. No one can quite figure out why.”

Carmilla paused mid-sip, nearly choking on her milkshake. “That would probably be my fault. I was late so I was running here full tilt and kinda spooked a herd on my way in.”

“Huh, well between road full of speeding cars and a charging cougar—”

“Panther,” said Carmilla, annoyed.

“That too.” Laf ducked as a wadded up straw wrapper came flying across the table at them. They just laughed. “Between the two, I know I’d take my chances with the cars.”

“If I knew you were gonna invite me out just to make fun of me, I woulda stayed home,” groused Carmilla, “I could be having a nap right now.”

Laf just chuckled as they ordered a butterscotch milkshake before pausing. “Wait? Invited you out? This was your idea…”

“No… you texted me… ‘scienced out; need to refuel; lunch at the diner?’”

“Okay, that makes even less sense. I haven’t been in the lab today.” Laf pulled out their phone and began fiddling with it. “Waitaminute… look at your messenger. Do you have an odd gap in our conversation chain too?”

Carmilla pulled her own phone out. “No gap, but my last message is ‘See you 1-ish’. I don’t remember sending that.”

“Probably because you didn’t, even if your phone did.” Laf began looking around the room suspiciously.

Their server delivered their milkshake, eyeing Laf’s behaviour oddly. “Everything alright?”

Laf jumped a little. “Huh? Oh yeah. Everything is fine…” They took another glance around.

“Oookay,” said their server uncertainly, “are you ready to order?”

“Oh, sure. Cheeseburger with a side caesar,” said Laf.

“Bacon cheeseburger with fries, side of mayo for the fries, please,” said Carmilla, holding out the folded menus for the server.

“Always with the mayo,” said Lafontaine, “I don’t get how you can stand that.”

“It’s european and tasty, thank you very much.”

“It’s gross is what it is and…” they trailed off as their eyes widened before they ducked down.

“What?” asked Carmilla.

“I think I know what happened with our phones,” they said, “we’re in trouble.”

“What, why?”

“Look in the corner booth, try not to be too obvious about it.”

Slowly turning her head, Carmilla glanced back to where Laf was indicating and there, in the corner booth, sipping a mug of something, was Charlie, wearing a beret and what appeared to be a stick-on pencil moustache.

“Okay, so we know who invited us out,” said Carmilla, turning to face Lafontaine again, “now, what do we do about it? Should we leave? Get our burgers to go?”

Laf raised their head to take another glance. Charlie hadn’t seemed to have noticed that they’d seen her. “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances”

“Okay, one: quoting Tarkin right before he went ‘boom’ is not really an argument for sticking around and two: what? We’re having lunch, not making a last stand. We could easily go have a picnic.

“No, don’t you see?” said Laf, “we know they’re up to something. If we can figure out what they’re up to, it’ll put us one up on them.”

Carmilla glanced back at Charlie before returning her attention to Laf. “Ok fine, we’ll stick around, but if this blows up in our face, I’m blaming you.”

“Deal. Now all we have to do is remain vigilant and wait for them to make their move.” They took a sip from their milkshake, looking shiftily from side to side.

Carmilla rolled her eyes, taking a sip from her own milkshake. “Assuming they haven’t already. Who knows, maybe they spiked the milkshakes.”

Laf paused, going wide eyed. They spat the milkshake in their mouth back into the glass, and pulled the straw out, sniffing at the drink.

“Okay. Down scientist. I was being sarcastic,” Carmilla scolded, “I highly doubt our kids are gonna poison us for the sake of a prank. If there was something, we’d have tasted it already and really I'd expect them to be a little more creative.”

Lafontaine eyes flicked back and forth between Carmilla and the drink before nodding reluctantly and lowering the straw back into the glass. Cautiously, they took another sip, rolling it around in their mouth before bobbing their head acceptingly.

“Y’see? Now calm down.”

“Right. You’re right,” said Laf, though they remained tense, much to Carmilla’s annoyance.

“Anyways,” said Carmilla, sitting up, “any new projects coming up in the lab?”

“Oh,” said Laf, relaxing at the change of topic, “I’ve started to look into ways to try and grow polyester with bacteria. I got the idea when I noticed that—”

“Alright, we’ve got the cheeseburger with salad and the bacon cheeseburger with fries,” interrupted the server, setting down the food, “that everything?”

“A side of mayo?” said Carmilla, making a quick survey to make sure she hadn’t missed it.

“Right, be right back,” chirped the server, turning back to the kitchen.

“Or you could eat fries like a normal person and just use ketchup,” teased Laf, picking up and shaking the squeeze bottle.

Carmilla narrowed her eyes at Laf, looking very much like Laura in their opinion, before looking back towards the kitchen, seeing the server walkout, a small dish of mayonnaise in hand. However, what she also noticed near the kitchen was Aaron, wearing a Beatles style, bowl cut wig. He seemed to be signalling something. Curious, she turned to look back at Charlie whose look had changed completely. Now, she was done up in a fedora and handlebar moustache.

She thanked the server before looking across at Laf. “Okay, now I think we may want to be paranoid.”

Laf froze, about to take a bite of their burger. “Why?”

“Well, take a look at Charlie. I also just spotted Aaron over behind the counter.” She nodded towards where she saw him.

“What was he doing?”

“Signalling something to Charlie.”

Lafontaine looked past Carmilla at Charlie before putting the burger down, opening it up and beginning to go through it layer by layer. Carmilla looked bug-eyed at Lafontaine’s action for a moment before beginning to pull apart her own burger.

“Is everything alright?” asked the server, hurrying up to the table.

“Just fine,” said Laf. They looked at their fingers, messy from the activity, “if we could maybe get a few napkins.”

“And a spare plate,” said Carmilla absently as she seemed to be running out of room to neatly lay out her burger pieces on top of her bed of fries.

“Oh… okay…” their server responded with a concerned look, walking off to fetch the items.

“Anything in yours?” asked Carmilla.

“Nothing yet,” said Laf as they grabbed a knife to begin scraping into the melted cheese.

“Napkins and a plate,” said their server, frowning at their table in confusion, “are you sure everything is alright?”

Carmilla looked up from where she was cutting into her burger, smiling at the server. “Yeah, thanks.” She returned to her plate and their server decided to just back away from the table. Carmilla popped a piece of burger patty into her mouth, chewing experimentally. “Tastes fine.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” said Laf as Carmilla began reassembling her burger, “they have to have done something. Why else would they go to the trouble of disguises and signals?”

“Who knows?” said Carmilla, looking satisfied that her burger was back together, “maybe whatever it is, is in your salad.”

Laf went wide eyed and began picking apart the salad, getting dressing all over their fingers as they placed pieces of lettuce and croutons one by one onto the spare plate. Carmilla just shook her head and finally began to eat her burger.

x-x-x

Carmilla lazily sopped the last bit of mayo out of the dish with her last fry as Laf ate one of the last bites of their salad, still inspecting each forkful before consuming it.

“Well, so much for paranoia,” said Carmilla.

“No kidding,” agreed Laf, “at this point, I just want them to do whatever they’re going to do to get it over with.”

The server, who’d been avoiding their table for the past little while came up to their booth with a platter. “Got a treat for you two. Slices of our signature strawberry pie, courtesy of the young woman in the corner there.”

“Uh, thanks,” said Laf as the server walked off.

Sharing a look of confusion, they both turned to look at Charlie. She was now wearing a ten-gallon hat and a huge moustache, twice the width of her face. Looking right back at them, she tipped her hat before standing up and walking over.

“Afternoon Mama, Laf,” greeted Charlie, “mind if I take a seat?”

“Please,” said Carmilla, shuffling over to make room as Charlie took a seat, a huge grin plastered across her face, “alright my dear, what is going on?”

“Whatever are you talking about, Mama dearest?” Charlie affected an innocent look, which was somewhat undermined by the ridiculous get-up she was wearing. “I was simply enjoying a lovely lunch at our favourite diner. Great burgers here.”

“Oh no,” countered Laf, “if that’s the case, what’s with the costumes? and Aaron behind the counter?”

“I have friends besides Charlie you know,” said Aaron as her walked up, now wearing blonde shepard-girl pigtails, “I was simply chatting with my friend Adrianne in the kitchen as she worked today and as for the costumes”—he stroked the wig—”sometimes I just like to feel pretty.”

“Come on, look at all this” said Carmilla, gesturing to the landscape of wadded napkins, dirty cutlery and greasy fingerprints that was their table.

“Yes, you really made a mess of your table,” said Charlie, “I think you freaked out your server.”

“No kidding, remind me to leave a massive tip,” said Laf, “you two might as well put your little prank on hold cause what we did to ourselves has got to be worse than whatever you… had… planned— oh you little brats!” They looked between the two kids as they shared a high-five, a disbelieving grin forcing its way onto their face.

“What?” asked Carmilla, feeling left behind.

“All they did was set up lunch and wear silly outfits,” Laf said, “and proceeded to watch as we put ourselves through hell.”

Carmilla turned to look at her daughter, jaw falling open as she smiled. “They’re right. You’re both brats. Well played.”

“Thank you, thank you,” said Aaron, taking a seat beside Laf, “and don’t worry about lunch. I wasn’t lying about my friend here, she comped the meal and Char and I took care of the tip, since your poor server wasn’t in on it.

“Well then, thank you as well,” said Carmilla, “I’d say that makes this worth it.

“Now, to the victor go the spoils,” said Laf, “or a share of them at least. Want some pie?”

“Sounds great,” said Charlie, stealing her mother’s fork and taking a piece of pie, “I guess there’s only one thing left to do.” She popped the bite into her mouth, handing the now empty fork back to Carmilla

“Oh?” said Carmilla, prying a huge strawberry off the crust “and what’s that?”

Charlie nodded to Aaron and they each made eye contact with Laf and Carmilla across the table and spoke in unison.

“Your move.”

Chapter Text

“C’mon Remi, just lift up your paw and put it into my hand.”

Scout held her hand out towards the tiny wolf pup, who simply stared at her with wonder.

“Hon’, she may be able to shift, but she’s barely a year old. I doubt she understands what you mean,” said Ruth, sitting cross-legged on the couch above them, watching the interaction with fascination.

“I know we started developing Landon’s fine motor control about this age, how did we do that?” asked Scout, grimacing with frustration.

“I dunno,” mused Ruth, deep in thought, “I only remember Landon doing it, not actually teaching her. I think Ava actually was still taking mat leave. Maybe she taught Landon while we weren’t home.”

“Maybe... Ava?” Scout called, listening intently for their wife, but silence was the only answer, “shoot, she’s still out. Maybe she used an instruction manual. Take paw A and insert into open hand B.” Scout took hold of Remi’s forepaw and drew it up, holding it in a short paw shake. Remi looked at her mother’s hand and back to her face, no more understanding than before.

Ruth put a finger to her lips in thought. “Y’know, you might be onto something there. We just need to go back another step.”

“What do you mean?” asked Scout as Ruth got up, moving to sit beside Remi.

“Just use the same instructions you were before,” said Ruth before shifting, leaving a massive tiger now sitting in the same spot.

Scout looked between them before her a look of realization dawned on her face. “Okay. Lift your paw and put it in my hand.”

Remi’s expression remained just as blank as before but movement from her mother beside her drew her attention. Ruth lifted her paw, moving it forwards before placing her huge paw onto Scout’s hand… right before the weight of the limb slammed it into the floor. Ruth quickly recoiled, ducking her head in contrition as Scout rubbed the back of her hand where it had hit the hardwood.

Scout fixed Ruth with a wry look. “Ok, let’s try this again… lift your paw and place it in my hand.”

A bit more gingerly, Ruth lifted her leg up and gently laid it across Scout’s palm, keeping her weight off of it this time. Scout smiled at Ruth’s paw before looking at Remi, whose head was tilted at the display. Her front paw was lifting and falling, softly tapping on the floor.

“Ok Remi, your turn,” said Scout, shuffling back towards Remi, “lift your paw and put it in my hand.”

The puppy lifted her right paw and moved it forward, dropping it short of Scout’s hand. Looking down at her paw, Remi regarded the limb with confusion.

“You almost did it, Rem!” said Scout, drawing the pup’s face back to hers, “c’mon, try again!”

Remi once again lifted her paw before moving it up and placing it in Scout’s hand. An enormous smile blossomed on Scout’s face as she rubbed a thumb over the paw. Beside the puppy, a deep whuff of satisfaction came from Ruth.

“Ok, other paw,” said Scout, putting her hand back out. Remi, once again, placed her right paw into her mother’s hand, looking to her mother for approval with a wagging tail. Beside her, Ruth chuffed quietly with laughter.

“I don’t think she quite gets the concept of ‘other’ yet, babe,” said Ava Regan, from where she was standing in the kitchen, surrounded by groceries.

“So I gathered,” replied Scout, craning her neck to see Ava, “any suggestions?”

“Use your other hand, maybe?”

Scout closed her eyes in annoyance that she hadn’t thought of it. Opening her eyes again, she met Ruth’s gaze, ready to stare down any mocking look, but she only got a shrug from the tiger. “Ok, let’s try that,” she said, holding her right hand out to the youngster, “alright sweetie, put your other paw in my hand.”

The youngster compiled this time, mirroring her mother and placing her left paw this time.

“Very good, sweetie!” Scout put Remi’s paw down and reached forward with both hands, scratching Remi behind the ears. “Okay, something a bit different.” She held her left hand up again in a ‘high five’ position. “Put your paw against my hand.”

Remi stared at this new position for a moment before lifting her paw and draping it over top of Scout’s fingertips, looking at her mother with a tilted head.

Scout dropped her head and chuckled. “I guess we haven’t reached the concept of ‘against’ either.”

“Nope,” agreed Ava, “though for a one-year-old, she’s doing really well.”

“Wait…” said Ruth, shifting back, “didn’t you do this with Landon at about the same age?”

Ava looked at Ruth with a look of concern. “Uh, not really. I started exercising her limbs, getting her used to the canine motions but she was a few months older before we got to ‘shake-a-paw’.

Ruth winced. “I really hate when you guys refer to playing with our kids like we’re making them do tricks. It’s demeaning.”

“Oh give me a bloody break,” said Ava with a laugh, “who was playing fetch with Landon just last night?”

“That wasn’t fetch,” Ruth protested, “it was catch… with a lot of running… and dropping… and drool—okay, it was fetch. It just feels like we’re treating them like pets when we call it that.”

Scout gathered up Remi into a cuddle, smiling at Ruth. “I think so long as you don’t reward them with treats or use a clicker, you’re in the clear. You just have to keep in mind that most ‘tricks’ were developed because they benefitted the dog in some fashion, so they’re generally pretty good for us as well. I still remember my first game of fetch with Grandpa Joe. Grandma Bev just about tore his head off when he tossed the ball into lake, but damn if I didn’t get it back out of there.”

Ruth chuckled. “I still sometimes have trouble remembering that you grew up with this stuff. I was just an ordinary human girl. An ordinary human in baroque france, but human nonetheless. I didn’t get the tiger ‘til after I was killed and Maman gave me the old ‘cold reboot’. No games, no tricks, just training from Mattie and Mir.”

“Mir?” asked Ava.

Ruth chuckled. “Carmilla. She’s changed her name over the years, felt it gave her a degree of freedom from Maman. But like I was saying, I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up playing games with my family.”

A shadow passed over Ava’s face. “...yeah.”

Ruth took one look and knew she’d screwed up. In a blur, she sped across the room and into the kitchen, wrapping her arms around Ava and pulling her close. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to pull those memories up.”

Ava sniffled, tears edging out of her eyes in spite of her best efforts. “It’s okay, you didn’t mean to.”

“Ava, it’s alright. Just let it out,” whispered Ruth and Ava just buried her face into Ruth’s neck, stifling her sobs. They remained that way for several minutes before Ava lifted her face away, red but looking calmer.

“Here,” said Scout, offering a tissue with one hand, an infant hitched on her hip with the other, “I could just tear apart those bastards for doing that to you. I still wish we could have ended it last year.”

“No, you don’t,” said Ava, taking the tissue, “it would have left you scarred, to say nothing of if any of the kids had seen it.” Ava took a deep breath. “Back when I was their age, it wasn’t all bad. There were good days, playing with my brother, even occasionally with my mother or father; I try to hold onto those. As for now, I don’t know what’s happened to them and I don’t want to know. Being certain they can’t threaten us again is enough.”

Scout threw her free arm around the cuddle. “Alright, so long as you’re okay, that’s enough for me.”

“Thanks, love,” Ava said with another sniffle, “I love you both.”

The three held each other close for another few minutes, just enjoying each other’s presence, when a dull thump emanated from outside. Both Scout and Ruth began to look concerned, but Ava got a huge grin on her face.

“What?” asked Ruth.

“Well, you know how you were lamenting how you never got to grow up playing games as a cat before I had my little pity party?”

“It wasn’t a pity party, so don’t get down on yourself about that, but yes, I recall.”

Ava smiled. “Well, I don’t think it’ll be quite as much of an issue for Hayden and Aero. Y’see, I bought a small tub for Landon, and Remi eventually, while I was out, to make it a little easier to clean them up after runs. I asked the twins to set it up so I could fill it and if I’m right…” Ava trailed off as she tilted her head towards the yard.

Curious, Ruth led them out the back door onto the patio where they could see a small, round, plastic tub set up on the lawn with little Landon sitting a few yards away, regarding it curiously. What was also noticeable was a snow leopard, Aero, curled up within the confines of the otherwise empty tub. A second, nearly identical snow leopard, Hayden, came bounding across the lawn and jumped into the little bit of free space in the tub, forcing the Aero up and over the edge so that her legs were sitting on the lawn. However, she didn’t remain there for long as she foisted herself back in, landing right on top of him and the two slid so they were both on their backs, their paws flailing in the air being the only parts of them visible from the patio.

Ruth couldn’t help but smile at the pair as they wrestled for the space.

“If they fits, they sits,” said Scout cheekily.

“Among other things,” said Ava. Ruth noticed that she was recording the pair with her phone.

“Y’know, that’s not really not helping your case of it not making our kids a show,” Ruth joked.

“Oh come off of it, these are gonna be some fantastic memories and you know it,” protested Ava before smiling thoughtfully, “some great memories for all of us.”

Ruth chuckled. “Y’know, that’s some reasoning I can get behind. In fact…” Ruth went and grabbed a tennis ball from the patio table. “Landon! Wanna play?”

The youngster tore her attention away from her roiling siblings and yipped happily, bolting out onto the open lawn to wait.

“Alright!” called Ruth, “go for it!” And with a flick of her wrist, sent the ball sailing across the yard.

Chapter Text

Laura looked at herself in the mirror, studying her reflection. The girl staring back at her seemed strange, familiar yet as agreed never been before.

How did it come to this?

After all these years, all this time, it’s actually coming to an end.

I never thought this day would actually happen.

With a sigh, Laura gathered herself to stand straight and proud, steeled her resolve…

...and put on her mortar board.

Taking one more look over her robes, Laura smiled and went back out into the apartment. “Alright Carm. Bathroom's all yours.”

Carmilla peeked warily from behind the book she was reading. “Yeah, about that… no.”

Laura's face immediately fell into a pout. “Carm, c'mon,” she whined, “you barely have to do anything. We've got your robes and board already. It's not like you need to make yourself look nice”—Laura raked her gaze over Carmilla's supine form—”cause damn!”

Carmilla met Laura's enthusiastic grin with another skeptical gaze. “Bonus points for trying to butter me up, but that's really only the line you want to take when you want me to wear less clothes, not more.”

Laura felt her face heat up before shaking her head, trying to dispel the very pleasant images that sought to distract her. Stamping her foot, Laura pouted and opened her mouth to say something else when their front door flew open, revealing their smiling, redheaded third.

“Hey you two,” Danny greeted, eyes taking in Laura, “wow, babe. You look great.”

“You think so?” said Laura. She couldn’t resist giving a twirl in the middle of the room, smiling giddily.

“I do,” Danny said warmly as she stepped forward, “nearly perfect, you just need to adjust your hood.”

“I do?” Laura asked, looking down at the blue and gold sash marking her journalism discipline, “it looked fine in the mirror. Did my spinning knock it askew? I—” Laura looked up to find Danny now inches away.

“Oops,” said Danny, brushing a loose lock of Laura’s hair behind her ear, “my mistake.” She leaned in, sliding a hand behind Laura’s neck to guide her into a gentle kiss.

“Hey,” whined Carmilla, “feelin’ kinda neglected over here.”

Danny broke the kiss and, keeping her forehead touching Laura’s, turned just enough to give Carmilla a wry look. “Well, maybe if someone was in their graduation robes, they’d be getting some lovin’ too.”

Carmilla’s face darkened into a scowl. Without a word spoken, she brought her book back up, hiding her face behind it.

“Suit yourself,” Danny chuckled, before turning back to Laura “so, the fam is set up. They booked this huge villa just up the highway. The place is pretty darn swanky, I can’t believe that it’s less than half what it’d cost to put up the family even in a cheap hotel. Even better, it backs onto the Silas woods, so the pack can go for a run and play with the Summers a bit.

Laura went bug-eyed. “They got a place on the Silas woods? With the pups? And my very human, not used to supernatural crap, family?”

“I love how you say that as if Gus is defenceless and not carrying enough bear spray to dissolve a steel plate,” said Danny, “besides, it’s warded. You don’t build around here without a few safety measures. Having a mildly malevolent university on one’s doorstep makes for some interesting architectural considerations.”

“Wait… is that why there’s a pentacle inlaid in the floor of our building lobby?”

“Nah, that’s just a weird design choice. The wards will have been inscribed on the support beams.” Danny gestured vaguely around them. “Now, we’re planning on meeting up with everyone at the lodge and we can walk to Hawthorne Hall for the Grad ceremony from there. I can’t wait to see you two finally cross that stage and then we can finally put this place behind us forever.”

“Yeah…” drawled Carmilla, “I’m just gonna sit this one out. Find something more pleasant to do than parade around in front of a slack-jawed audience… like wandering the Library blindfolded maybe.”

“What? Carm, we talked about this,” said Laura, pushing her way onto the couch beside Carmilla, “you said you wanted to do this for some closure. A way to feel like you’ve finally gotten something out of this place.”

“I’ll still get that. I finally finished out a degree instead of running from Mother with my tail between my legs,” said Carmilla, “but I don’t need some ceremony for that. Just have to give ‘em an address and boom, fresh degree, straight to my mailbox.”

“Carrrm,” Laura whined, “c’mon. I don’t want to do this without you.”

“Oh calm down,” said Carmilla, “I’ll still come sit in the audience. I’m sure as hell not gonna miss your big day; I’d just rather not have mine.”

“But—”

“Laura, no,” interrupted Danny, “that’s fair. If you’re not comfortable doing that, we’ll support you. I’m a little disappointed that I won’t get pictures, but I’ve got your back.”

Laura looked like she was about to protest some more before nodding in acceptance. “Alright, you’re right. I can’t say I quite get why, but I don’t need to.” She wrapped an arm around Carmilla, who snuggled into the embrace.

“Thank you,” said Carmilla, visibly relaxing.

“But,” added Laura, “we are bringing your robes with us. We’re taking pictures after the ceremony and I want you there with me, dammit!”

Carmilla chuckled. “Alright, cupcake. Only for you… well, or you Red, but she’s the one with the puppy dog eyes right now.”

“That’s fair,” said Danny.

x-x-x

“Laura! Laura.”

Laura looked up from the program she’d been perusing as she waited in the staging area. Scanning the crowd for the owner of the voice, she finally spotted the young woman waving at her coming out of the crowd.

“Mary!” exclaimed Laura, giving her a hug, “I’ve barely seen you since moving off campus. How’ve you been?”

“I’ve been well,” said Mary, “certainly been easier to sleep some nights.” She winked at Laura who blushed lightly.

“Heh, I suppose that’d be true,” she replied, shaking her head with a rueful smile, “not that you didn’t give as good as you got some nights. How is Rose by the way?”

Mary blushed even harder than Laura had, but laughed anyways. “She’s good. She should be out in the audience right now.”

“Pity she still can’t do the invisible, ghosty, float around thing,” said Laura, “then she could go across the stage with you. She might not be a student, technically, but she should at least get to be part of the ceremony.”

“No argument about that, but as for the ghosty thing, I definitely prefer being able to see and touch my girlfriend.”

Laura laughed. “Very good point.”

“Speaking of deserving to finally cross the stage, where’s Carmilla?” Mary asked.

Laura’s smile went from mirthful to thoughtful. “She’s sitting this one out. She didn’t want to do the ceremony, so she’ll be sitting with our family in the audience.”

“What?” came a stern inquiry from behind Laura.

Laura knew that voice and didn’t need the slightly terrified face of Mary to tell her who it was. “Governor Belmonde,” said Laura, turning around, “how are you?”

“Gidget, I’m gonna get you to call me Mattie one day, even if it kills you, but that’s not important right now. What was that about Carmilla not getting her degree?”

“Oh, she’s still getting it… just not doing the ceremony.”

“Of course she isn’t. And I suppose she didn’t say why, did she? Just some drivel about not dealing with idiots, right?”

Laura hesitated. “Uh… yeah, pretty much. We didn’t want to press her if she didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, that’s nice of you,” said Mattie, “but I made a special trip from Morocco to be here.”

Laura couldn’t help it, she lit up with a goofy smile. “Really? You came all this way for Carm?”

“Yes, yes. Please stop making that face,” said Mattie, “now, if you could tell me where I can find my sister so I can put a stop to this nonsense.”

“Uh… she should be in the lobby with our families,” said Laura, “but you should hurry, they’re supposed to be starting the ceremony soon.”

“Oh darling, I’m running the ceremony. It’ll start when I say it starts,” Mattie said before turning on her heel and stalking off.

Laura watched Mattie’s retreating form with the usual mix of adrenaline and annoyance that usually accompanied the elder vampire’s appearance.

“Man, you guys don’t do family members by halves, do you?” said Mary, stepping up beside Laura.

“Eh, you get used to it,” commented Laura, returning to perusing the program.

x-x-x

Carmilla sipped at her wineglass of blood as she stood beside Laf in easy silence. The lobby was buzzing with the quiet din of conversation of a multitude of proud families.

“Unless I miss my guess,” said Laf, getting her attention with a nudge, “someone familiar is trying to get your attention.”

Carmilla followed their direction to the edge of the room and saw Mattie, smiling widely at her, waving uncharacteristically. “Oh my god! What is she doing here?”

“Who is it?” asked Zach, walking up next to them.

“She’s… uh… one of the board governors,” stammered Carmilla.

“And?” said Zach, looking at her expectantly.

“and someone we know,” said Laf, looking at him sternly.

“Okay, okay,” he said, holding his hands up, “I didn’t mean any harm.”

“I know,” Carmilla said, reaching out and giving his hand a squeeze, “she’s safe… to me at least. Try not to let Danny see her; they… don’t get along.”

“That’s one way to put mutually attempted murder,” said Laf.

“I’ll do what I can,” said Zach uneasily.

Making sure that no one else was paying attention to her, Carmilla casually made her way through the crowd towards the corner where Mattie was standing.

“Hey Sis,” said Carmilla, pulling Mattie into a hug, “what are you doing here?”

“I came to see my little sister graduate, but apparently you’re not going to.”

“Well—”

“Oh, don’t give me that ‘oh I still technically get my degree’ line,” said Mattie, staring at Carmilla incredulously, “you’re not gonna take photos and get dinner when you pull it out of the mail box.”

“It’s because of Mother, alright?”

“That pile of dust is dead,” said Mattie, “how could she be involved?”

“Every time I was here, after we were done with the ritual, she would want me to stay to finish whatever degree I had begun; no doubt to keep me under her direct influence that much longer,” said Carmilla bitterly, “but I always ran as soon as she no longer needed me.”

“I remember.” Mattie grinned. “We always had the best mayhems in the years after sacrifices.”

“But…” said Carmilla, “after we stopped Mother, I stayed for Laura and then Danny. To be near them. Playing the part of the student didn’t matter, because it was simply a way to easily stay with them. The degree itself is just a perk of that. But this…” She gestured around them. “This makes it about me . It makes it the degree that Mother wanted me to have.”

“Your point?”

Carmilla stared at her sister. “That is the point.”

“Oh, please. Firstly, this isn’t about you,” Mattie said, booping Carmilla on the nose, “at least, not directly. This whole rigmarole is about those who care about you —like the cub scout in the back there, like that group of pups over there… like me— to feel that moment of happiness and pride for you. I doubt Mother would have approved of that.”

“Certainly not,” agreed Carmilla, looking thoughtful.

“Secondly, you’d have a point if she was still alive and generally making the world a dreary place. Without a doubt, she’d hold it over your head, probably would even insinuate that she was the reason you graduated for more leverage over you. She adored games like that.” Mattie smoothly took Carmilla’s glass and took a sip. “Mmm, good vintage. But, she’s dead. She had nothing to do with how you did in your classes, nothing to do with you earning that degree and I honestly think that finishing the job only once she’s not around to gloat over it is probably one of the best insults to her memory that I could think of.”

A smile started creeping its way onto Carmilla’s face. “I never thought of it that way.”

“Of course you hadn’t,” Mattie said with a shake of her head, “thirdly, I flew into the wrong end of nowhere from my beautiful Morocco to keep that blowhard Vordenberg from presiding over your graduation ceremony so the least you can do is cross that stage so I can bestow the one degree I actually care about.

Carmilla’s hand instinctively went to her temple at the mention of the old coot. “Oh god, that would have been interminable, even just as audience. We wouldn’t have been out of here until noon tomorrow… assuming he kept his speeches brief. Alright, you’ve convinced me. Gotta run.” Carmilla quickly turned and crossed the lobby as quickly as she could manage. “Danny! I need my robes!”

Danny looked surprised for a split second before blossoming into a huge smile as she plunged her arm into her messenger bag, tossing the black cloth bundle to Carmilla. “Here you go!”

“Thanks! Wish me luck!”

“Break a leg,” called Danny, before turning back to the group, “well, I wonder what prompted that change of heart.”

“We can only guess,” said Zach, looking at the now vacant spot in the corner.

x-x-x

Laura sat in her seat amongst her fellow journalism grads. In her hands, she clutched onto the embossed black folder holding her newly conferred degree. It had been a somewhat odd feeling to have her degree conferred by Matska Belmonde of all people. She ended up being somewhat surprised to not only receive her degree unmurdered, but that there was what appeared to be a genuine smile on Mattie’s face when she conferred it. It was all quite surreal.

Now, she just had to sit patiently while the rest of the graduates got their degrees, proving difficult; she wanted turn around and look for Danny and Carmilla and their family. Fortunately, they were onto the department of Philosophy, which was the last group. She just had to remain still for a few minutes longer, if only she hadn’t had that second cup of coffee, or maybe it was the sugar from the cookies she ate in the staging area, or maybe—

“Carmilla Karnstein, Magna Cum Laude” the MC announced.

Laura froze. Had they made a mistake? Carmilla wasn’t doing the ceremony. Was she supposed to have told them? Laura’s thoughts swirled until she looked to the head of the stage and saw Carmilla striding forward, smiling, looking amazing in her purple hood and black combat boots poking out from beneath the robe.

She walked up to Mattie, who was sporting the brightest smile that Laura had ever seen on the vampire. They clasped hands warmly before Mattie took the black folder from her assistant and handed it to Carmilla.

She wasn’t close enough to hear but Laura distinctly see Mattie mouth the words ‘Congratulations Kitty Cat’ to Carmilla before tapping her with the ceremonial hat and Carmilla continued the rest of the way across the stage and back into the audience, somewhere behind Laura.

Before long, the last degrees were conferred and Mattie stepped up to the mic. “Traditionally, I’m supposed to make some long winded speech about the future and your place in it here, but I honestly don’t feel like making one and I suspect you’d all rather I just finish up, so I’ll just cut it here. Congratulations darlings. Silas class of 2018.”

With that, a storm of mortar boards leapt into the air.

x-x-x

“Carm!”

Carmilla barely had time to register the voice before Laura barrelled into her with enough force have bowled her over were she not so strong. “Hey, cupcake.”

“You did it! I’m so proud of you,” exclaimed Laura, “I guess Mattie found you then?”

“She did. You told her where I was?”

Laura nodded, smiling.

“I’m surprised. I thought you didn’t trust her.”

“I don’t, except when it comes to you. She’s your sister.”

“Very astute, gidget,” said Mattie as she walked up, “on both counts.” She gave Laura a wicked grin.

“Thank you, Mattie,” said Carmilla, giving her sister a hug.

“Anytime, kitty cat.”

“So…” said Laura, looking uncomfortable, “we were gonna take some photos and then festivities with the Summers and pack for the rest of the day. You’re welcome to come along… it is a family thing after all.”

Mattie gave Laura a surprised smile. “I appreciate the offer, I really do. But I don’t think I’d enjoy myself or be all that welcome, for that matter.”

Laura looked like she wanted to protest that point, but was coming up blank.

“Exactly,” said Mattie, “it’s no matter anyways, I’ve got a flight to catch. Mother’s old apartment is certainly luxurious, but it lacks the elegance of my penthouse in Casablanca; not someplace you want to spend the night, if you can help it.”

“I dunno, the solarium is kinda nice,” said Carmilla, prompting a snicker from Laura.

Mattie rolled her eyes. “I’m sure, darling. Well, I must be off.” She leaned in and kissed Carmilla on each cheek before giving Laura a pat on the head. “Ta darlings. Give my best to Fido and the rest of the pups!”

They watched as Mattie disappeared through a door at the back before they joined hands and walked out to the lobby to meet their waiting family. The first person they encountered was Danny reenacting Laura’s greeting from a few minutes prior.

“I’m so proud of both of you! Also, are you both okay? Did she break any bones?” Danny gently ran her hand along Laura’s arm, looking for injuries.

“So Mattie says hi,” said Carmilla.

“Mattie? The terrifying older sister, Mattie?” asked Gus, “huh, she’s smaller than I expected.”

“Calmer too,” said Zach, “at least when she was in the lobby earlier.”

“You could sense her and didn’t tell me?” said Danny.

“No, of course not. We saw her and Carmilla said not to say anything, so I just kept an eye out as they talked.”

Danny looked like she was about to go into conniptions. “And you just let her? She could have been— Mattie was the one who convinced you to go out, wasn’t she?” asked Danny, looking deadpan at Carmilla.

“Yup,” replied Carmilla, “I generally find arguments in favour of spiting Mother to quite compelling.”

“Huh, I can’t really argue with that,” said Danny, rather impressed, “maybe she and I can get along.”

“Alright,” said Gus, “I’ve been waiting four years for these photos, let’s get to it. Where’s a good place?”

“Let’s head for the front gate,” said Paul, “that thing is amazing, should make for a good backdrop.”

“That sounds great,” said Laura, “there is just one photo op before we leave the centre of campus.” She scampered away, leading the rest of the group.

It was only a couple minutes later when they came upon the ruins of the Lustig building, still resting from where they’d settled years before, no-one willing to deal with them properly.

“Here, Laura?” asked Danny, “why of all places, here?

“Well, I figure if we’re leaving Silas behind, this is the best place to give it the parting gesture it deserves.” She said sticking her arm out.

“Y’know, Laura,” said Carm, sticking both arms out, “I have to say, I like the way you’re thinking.”

“Me too,” added Danny, before calling out, “hey Laf! Perry! Get over here. We need the matching set to do this right. Zach, you got the camera?”

“Just say cheese.”

“Cheese!”

That turned out to be their favourite photo of the day, and was displayed for years to come.

Five friends, middle fingers raised at the rubble that had failed to claim them.

Chapter Text

“...Happy Birthday dear Mercy; Happy Birthday to you.”

In her high-chair, the toddler turned her head to and fro, eyes wide at all the people around her in pointy, coloured hats as they beamed at her, gushing over how adorable she was in the little party hat of her own. Where her attention always returned to, however, was the cake on the table in front of her. A single little candle happily flickered away on top of it, fascinating Mercy with its dancing.

“Alright, honey,” cooed Laura, bringing her face right up next to Mercy's, “time to blow out the candle. Can you blow, sweetie?” Laura dramatically puffed her cheeks and gently blew across Mercy's face.

Mercy smiled and scrunched her face up, giggling at the sensation. A soft chorus of adoring murmurs came from the surrounding family. Laura shared a smile with Carmilla and Danny who were standing on the other side of the high-chair, the former holding little Drix in her arms, the latter holding up the cake where Mercy could feasibly blow out the candle but on guard in case she tried to do something like snack on the flame..

“C'mon, honey,” coaxed Laura, blowing another short puff.

Still smiling, Mercy mimicked Laura's movements and while she didn't move a lot of air, she did manage to spray quite a bit of spit back into Laura face. Laura laughed as she wiped off her nose. “Good work! Now, blow out the candle!” She held up finger, pointing at the little flame, miming blowing at it.

Mercy looked from Laura to it and tried blowing again. It was pretty much just a little raspberry that made the flame flicker, but it didn’t go out.

“C’mon Mercy! Try again.”

“Mama,” said Drix, squirming in Carmilla’s arms, “I help.”

“It’s okay, Drix,” said Carmilla, touching him on his nose, “I think Mercy can do it.”

Mercy was staring at the flame intently now as Danny brought it a little closer, watchful in case she got grabby. However, touching it did not seem to be on her mind as breathed in again and blew out with an even greater buzz of noise. Laura added a puff of air out the side of her mouth and the flame vanished into a thin ribbon of smoke.

Mercy went wide eyed at the glowing wick, as the family cheered around her, looking up at Danny with wonder.

“Happy Birthday, Mercy!” said Danny with an enormous smile, “you’re one year old today.”

“Hadabuh eeeya” babbled Mercy happily, drumming her hands on her tray.

“Yeah, you’re growing up,” replied Danny, fairly certain she got the gist of Mercy’s nonsense speech, “alright, cake time.”

“Cake!!!” came the combined yell of Charlie and Hazel, startling Mercy. In moments, her mood plummeted and she began crying.

“Aww, sweetie,” said Laura, lifting Mercy from the chair, kissing her on the forehead as she gently bounced her daughter in her arms.

“Girls,” scolded Laf, placing a hand on each of their shoulders as they knelt down between the two, “you need to calm down. You scared Mercy.”

Hazel’s face fell contritely while Charlie looked absolutely mortified. Wheeling around, she ran over to where Laura was managing to calm Mercy down.

“I’m sorry, Mercy,” said Charlie, reaching up to try to touch the baby’s feet. When she couldn’t reach, she tugged at Laura’s pant leg. “Mommy, I wanna say sorry.”

Laura smiled down at Charlie, kneeling to bring Mercy down to the three-year-old’s height. “Ok. Gently.”

“I’m sorry, Mercy,” repeated Charlie, leaning forward to kiss her sister. Mercy wiggled a little at the contact, smiling and cooing.

“I think that means ‘it’s alright’, Charlie-bear,” said Laura and Charlie smiled once again, “now, go sit at the table with Hazel and Aaron and we’ll bring you some cake after we cut it, okay?”

“Ok, mommy!” chirped Charlie, grabbing Hazel’s hand and leading her around the table where Aaron was already working on getting himself sat down. Laura and Laf, both still knelt down, shared a smile. It’d been barely two months since Laf and Perry had adopted Hazel and already, she and Charlie were as good as sisters

Smiling after them, Laura stood back up and placed Mercy in her high-chair, straightening out her bib. On the kitchen table, Danny was working on plating up pieces of cake which Perry whisked away to the various party goers around the room. However, no one was digging in yet, aside from the kids who were enthusiastically ploughing through their own pieces. All adult eyes in the room were on Mercy as Danny placed a plate with a small piece of the chocolate cake in front of her.

Mercy simply stared at the confection at first. She’d never been given something like this before, but the smell was enticing. Tentatively, she reached out and dug into the cake with her fingers, pulling a small handful away before mashing it into her face, getting more of it around her mouth than in it.

She chewed slowly before her face lit up with a big smile. “Aaauuaa… vwba,” pronounced Mercy before digging in with her other hand, squeezing at the cake and watching it squish between her fingers.

“Is it good, Mercy?” asked Carmilla from where she was standing behind Drix’s chair.

Mercy seemed to ignore the question as she played with the cake in her hands. Moments later though, she leaned forward, pushing her face into the piece of cake, much to the surprise of the gathering before the room broke into peals of laughter. Even the kids stopped devouring their own cake at the sight, cascading into giggles.

“I think that would be a yes,” said Laf through chuckles.

“Laura?” said Danny.

“Didn’t miss a moment,” said Laura, camera in hand.

“Well whaddaya know, Perr,” drawled Carmilla, “you’re baking gains yet another fan, who’d a thunk it?”

Perry, a hand over her mouth to stifle her own laughter, glanced sidelong at Carmilla, giving her a ‘well, of course’ look. She turned her gaze back to Mercy, who was quickly getting closer to a full fudge and icing masque. Watching the child, her other hand slid over the slight swell of her belly.

“Looking forward to all this?” asked Zach, walking up with Xavier cradled in his arm.

Perry smiled at him. “You have no idea.”

“Oh, I think I might,” he said, bouncing Xavier with a knowing grin.

“Ok, fine. You probably do have some idea,” she said, “we just didn’t get to do this for Hazel, or any of it really. I love her so, so dearly and it hurts to not have these memories. Is that selfish? That feels selfish.”

“Maybe,” said Zach, smile becoming thoughtful, “but that doesn’t make it wrong. You’ll just have to make some memories of your own. Plenty of firsts left.”

Perry mirrored his expression. “Very true. I wonder if it’s too early to teach her to ride a bike.”

“Definitely not,” interjected Paul, “I had both Zach and Danny on training wheels round about her age.”

“But don’t forget a helmet,” added Gus.

“Really, Dad?” asked Laura, “ just a helmet? No knee, elbow and shoulder pads?”

Gus looked chagrined before recomposing himself. “Of course, I’m a big enough man to admit that my parenting methods were a little—”

Laura coughed theatrically.

“Alright, really overprotective,” admitted Gus, “in my defence, I didn’t have a nice network of other parents to tell me I was being an idiot.”

“Is it really much of a defence when you admit to being an idiot?” asked Paul.

“I’ll take what I can get,” replied Gus and the two shared a chuckle.

“Well, details aside,” said Laf, inserting themself into the conversation, “I think it’s a lovely idea.” They wrapped an arm around Perry and kissed her on the temple. “I’ll take her bike shopping sometime soon, see if we can find something she likes.”

“Mom?” asked Hazel, tugging at Perry’s pant leg, “can we have some more cake?”

“Not right now, sweetpea. It’s getting late,” said Perry, softly stroking Hazel’s hair, “but tell you what, there’s plenty left, so you can have another piece tomorrow.”

Hazel looked disappointed. “...okay. Can we watch a movie?”

“Of course, why don’t you, Charlie and Aaron go pick one?” said Perry.

“Okay!” said Hazel, scampering off, her friends in tow.

“I’ll go get them set up,” said Elsie, getting up and following after.

“Thanks Els,” said Danny before looking back to Mercy who was now awash in cake and cake-related detritus. She still looked quite happy, but was beginning to yawn. “Oop, looks like it might be time for the birthday girl to make her exit.”

“Yeah,” said Laura, capping the camera, “I think you’re right. If you want I can go clean her up and get her ready for bed while you clean up the high-chair… or frame it. The MOMA pays a mint for stuff like this. Call it a ‘lost Jackson Pollock’”

Danny chuckled. “Sounds good. I’ll be up to help tuck her in in a bit.”

Laura hefted Mercy out of her chair, doing her very best to keep any of the former dessert from taking up residence on her own clothing. Taking her upstairs, she quickly gave Mercy a bath; the toddler alternating between giggling and yawning as fatigue slowly overwhelmed the exhilaration of the party. By the time Laura had her dried off and was tucking her into a sleeper, it was clear from her droopy eyes that she wasn’t going to last much longer.

Laura was just zipping up Mercy when Danny and Carmilla came in the door of the room. Picking Mercy up, Laura held her close and joined her wives at the crib side as they all peppered their daughter with kisses.

“Happy Birthday, Mercy,” said Laura as she lowered Mercy into the crib, “I hope you had fun. We love you.”

“Ghebe av...bah,” babbled Mercy sleepily, “ah… mama.”

All three women froze.

“Did she say what I think she said?” asked Danny.

“C’mon Mercy, say it again,” coaxed Carmilla, “say ‘mama’”

“Rghf… va.. mama,” said Mercy.

“Very good, Mercy,” said Carmilla, reaching in and cupping her cheek, “we’re your mamas.”

“As much as I’d like to keep this up, I think she needs to go to sleep,” said Danny reluctantly.

“Yeah,” admitted Laura, “we can continue this tomorrow. Good night sweetie.”

“Love you, Mercy,” added Carmilla

“Sleep tight,” said Danny, switching on the mobile.

Mercy only stayed awake a few moments more before drifting off. Her mothers remained for a few more minutes, watching her sleep, before finally heading out the door and back down to the party.

Chapter Text

Drix crouched low in the grass as twilight closed in around him, his quarry just a short distance in front of him. It sat there, motionless but for a slight quiver, hinting that it could dart away at any moment. He tensed, waiting for his prey to make it’s move.

Suddenly, so quickly that he almost missed it, the mark bolted to the left and heading up the trunk of a nearby tree. Not wasting an instant, his powerful hind legs uncoiled and he sprung forward. Within seconds, he was right behind it, scrabbling up the bark after his target, which kept darting towards the upper branches, just tantalizingly out of reach. He pushed off with both hind legs, swallowing a huge vertical distance and nearly closing the gap. Just a little further and the little red dot would be his.

x-x-x

“Charlotte Terry Hollis!”

Charlie snapped off the laser pointer in her hand, instinctively hiding it behind her back. She turned to face Laura as she strode onto the deck. “Yeah, Mom?”

“Were you just teasing your brother with a laser?”

“Uhhhh….”

Laura held out her hand and looked at Charlie expectantly. Under Laura's gaze, Charlie wilted a little and brought her arm out from behind her back, depositing a small, mouse shaped laser pointer into Laura's waiting hand.

Laura stared down at the device, looking even less impressed. “A cat toy? Really?”

“It was cheap,” defended Charlie, “good business ones cost a mint.”

“Yes, because my concern is how much you spent to toy with your sibling.”

“Hey, I wasn't toying with him,” Charlie protested.

“No? Then care to explain what you were—”

“Hey, what gives?” asked Drix as he walked up onto the deck.

“Hi Bud,” said Laura, “I was explaining to your sister how rude it is to toy with your instincts, which I'm sure she wants to apologize for.” She looked at Charlie expectantly.

Much to Laura's surprise, instead of contrition, she was met with a deadpan look, clearly giving away who else had a hand in raising her. Charlie then shifted her gaze to Drix, motioning to their mother. Laura turned to look at Drix to find him staring at her incredulously as well.

“What?” she asked.

“Mom, we were just playing,” said Drix, “that's all.”

Now it was Laura's turn to look contrite. “Playing?”

“Yeah, just the three of us,” said Charlie.

“Three of—?”

Mercy loped out of the woods, a bright yellow softball in her jaws. She trotted up to Drix, dropping the ball at his feet. With a smile he grabbed it, wound up, and pitched it well over the treetops, somewhere towards Grandpa Gus’. With the light tearing sound of claws on turf, Mercy quickly turned and disappeared back into the trees in the same direction.

“Three of us,” Charlie repeated, a smug grin painting her features.

Laura chuckled; she knew when she was beat. “Alright, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed.”

“Well honestly, it's not entirely unwarranted,” admitted Drix, “something about the flickering point of light is really compelling. It would be kinda rude if we weren't playing a… game…”

Drix jumped forward, much to Laura's surprise as both of his hands landed on her shoulder. She found herself at a loss for words as she looked down where her was touching her. On top of his hands, was a little red dot. Snapping her head around, she glared at Charlie who simply grinned.

“Did I mention it was buy one, get one?”

Drix looked from the dot, to Charlie and finally to Laura, “ok, now you can chew her out.”

“Oh come on, it's not like you didn't know I had this; you were the one who pointed out the display.”

“I have… no idea… what you’re… talking about,” said Drix, feigning innocence.

“Uh huh… ‘C’mon Charlie! It’d be so much fun to chase it around the treetops.’

“Yeah, and so far we’ve done no tree topping at all. You led me up a tree and then disappeared leaving me nowhere to go but back down.”

“To be fair, that was Mom’s fault.”

“You couldn’t have just said ‘Hi Mom, playin’ with Drix, watch this jump’?”

“Gimme a break, Mom middle-named me. You try keeping up whatever you’re doing when she drops a ‘Hendrix Gus’ in your lap.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Alright, you two, I get it. I’ll leave you to your fun. Just try not to run him into any walls, okay Char?” She reached up and ruffled Drix’s hair, making him chuckle.

“Oh c’mon,” said Charlie with a whine, “a few impacts won’t hurt. I swear I’ll stop before he forgets the alphabet.”

“Alright young lady, but if he comes in later and he can’t pronounce the letter G anymore, we’re gonna have a serious talk,” joked Laura as she turned to go back into the house, “and try not to lose your little sister out there.”

“Ok, Mom!” said Drix cheerily.

“Alright Drix, let’s see how you handle that elm.”

Last thing Laura heard as she stepped inside was the distinct ‘thump’ of a large animal leaping from the deck and hitting the lawn.

Shutting the doorwall behind her, Laura tried to remember what she’d been doing when she’d caught sight of Charlie on the deck. Looking around the kitchen, she sighted her faithful TARDIS mug sitting on the counter, waiting to be filled with more ‘article-editing’ hot chocolate.

She walked into the kitchen and knelt down to get into a cupboard when she realized she was still holding Charlie’s laser pointer in her hand. She stood up, regarding the small plastic device.

Outside, Charlie seemed to be doing just fine with her back-up; Drix could be seen leaping between the trees on the yard’s edge while Mercy, obviously having returned from her last fetch, ran along the ground below, keeping pace.

“You’re already sick of that new office chair already, huh?”

Laura turned to where Carmilla had walked into the kitchen. “I’m sorry, what?”

Carmilla nodded at the laser pointer. “If you think my threat about those things and your vlogging chairs doesn’t still stand because we’ve had a few kids together, you’re going to get a lesson in deconstructive art.”

Laura paled, remembering the unfortunate results of her early experiments with lasers and her girlfriends back at Silas. It had taken nearly two weeks to get the last bits of desk chair foam out of her sheets and she’d had to make due with a stolen folding chair from the Robespierre building for the rest of the semester.

“Nononononononono…” rambled Laura, “it’s not mine, I’m just holding it… for a daughter…” Laura looked annoyed as she tried to fathom if she had, in fact, just said something that stupid.

“Uh-huh,” said Carmilla, looking more amused than annoyed.

“No, really!” said Laura, pointing at the kids outside. Both Drix and Mercy were now after the little red light as Charlie ran them in circles around the yard.

Carmilla threw her head back and laughed. “Okay cupcake, you’re off the hook.”

Laura breathed a sigh of relief as she put the laser down and set about making her hot chocolate.

Carmilla wandered over and picked up the toy, examining it as Laura puttered about. “Y’know, that looks pretty fun. They’ve definitely found a better time to use it, than say when a vampire is trying to study.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Yes, Carm. You made that abundantly clear to both me and my poor second-year back.”

Carmilla smirked. “No vampires are trying to study now.” She tossed the pointer to Laura.

Laura caught the device, staring at it with confusion until she slowly looked up at Carmilla, a smile of comprehension dawning on her face. “I suppose there isn’t.”

x-x-x

Danny pulled her truck into the garage and killed the engine, letting out a relieved sigh at finally being home. It had been a long day and she was looking forward to a relaxing evening just lounging around with the family.

Entering the house, she went through her normal routine of taking off her jacket, kicking off her shoes and dropping her briefcase on the kitchen counter. It was then that she looked up and noticed a small feather floating past her nose.

Curious, she moved over to the living room where many more such feathers filled the air. On one couch, Carmilla lay stretched out, reading a book. She would have looked completely relaxed and nonchalant had the book she was reading not been upside down.

However, if Carmilla was suspicious, Laura was an absolute beacon of guilt. She sat stock straight on another couch, her lips pressed together in an uncomfortable smile. “Oh hi Danny! Have a good day at work? Boy, you look good today, did you get new… eyes?”

Danny just stared at Laura before looking back at Carmilla, whose face was now dropped into the book in defeat. “Alright, so obviously I missed something. Anyone care to explain what happened?” Danny asked, looking around the room, “and explain why half the cushions are missing?”

“Jeez, what happened in here?” said Charlie as the three kids came in from the yard, “it looks like— Mom, you didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” asked Danny.

“Here’s a hint,” said Charlie, tossing her backup laser to Danny.

Danny flicked the laser on, waving it around experimentally, grabbing both Carmilla and Drix’s attention before Danny snapped it back off again. With a frown Danny looked expectantly at Laura again who hunched her shoulders as she held up the toy’s twin.

Danny pressed her lips together in annoyance before shrugging with resignation. “Well, it was a good chair. May it rest in pieces.” She turned on her heel and headed towards Laura’s office.

“Wait, no. Danny! Not the chair, I just got the setting right!” wailed Laura as she trailed off after her wife.

“Y’know, I can’t help but feel partially responsible.” said Carmilla, picking a feather out of her teeth.

“Agreed,” laughed Charlie.

“Worth it though, right?” asked Drix.

Carmilla grinned. “Totally worth it.”

They all laughed and went to make dinner as a telltale ‘crunch’ echoed from somewhere in the house.

 

Chapter Text

Guten Morgen alle !”

Guten Morgen Frau Perry.

Perry smiled at the small class as she unpacked her laptop and set about plugging it into the projector connections. Their pronunciation was atrocious, but the third week of German 100 was hardly going to be a place a great fluency.

“I hope you all had a good weekend and are getting settled in. Today, we're going to start off with some basic conversations based off of the assigned readings from last class,” Perry instructed as she put up a slide, “I want you to break into pairs and take turns asking each other questions. Here are some vocab reminders to help you out. We'll stop and move on in about five minutes.”

Her students quickly got to work, practicing their dialogue in stilted murmurs as they muddled their way through the foreign tongue. Slowly, she walked around the room, taking time to pause to help with the occasional wrong word choice or pronunciation. Much to her satisfaction, there was little page flipping; it seemed like everyone had done the reading, though she didn't expect such diligence to continue as their workload increased going further into the semester.

Meandering back to the front of the room, Perry noticed a message on her silenced phone. 

Weirdo <3

[Charlie had to run to the museum to deal with
a delivery so guess who gets to babysit!]

 

Perry smiled warmly, noticing a picture link with the message. Quickly checking that the class was still occupied with the exercise, she tapped the prompt and was greeted with a picture of LaFontaine taking a selfie with their one-year-old grandson, Trystan, hitched on their hip, distracted by something off camera. She took a moment to indulge the flutter of affection before turning the screen off and returning to the lesson.

“Alright, everyone turn to page forty-five,” she said, selecting a file, “we’re going to listen to an impeccably acted scene.” She got a few quiet chuckles. “Answer the questions on the page from what they say in the scene.” Making sure everyone was ready, she hit the play button.

x-x-x

“Alright Alex. Was macht dir Spaß?”

“Fußball spielen macht mir Spaß.”

“Schön,” Perry praised, “alright, last thing for today is the weekly vocab list.” She clicked the trackpad and the next slide came up. “Copy these down and you’ll be tested on them at the end of the week as usual and since that’s the last thing, you’re free to leave once you're done. Haben sie einen schönen Tag.

Perry walked back behind the desk as the sound of pencil scratches filled the room, gathering the few books and papers she could. As she slipped her copy of the textbook into the bag, her phone lit up with a new message. 

 

[just chillin on the deck]

 

She touched the picture file to load, looking up at the class. It looked like everyone was about done with a couple people starting to pack up their bags. No one looked like they were coming up for questions yet so she returned her attention to her phone.

“Scheiße!” Perry yelped, drawing the class’ attention.

“Should we add that to the vocab list for the week?”

Perry’s cheeks turned red as she recomposed herself. “No, that’s not something we formally cover until the advanced class, Fraulein Morgan .”

“Fine,” the girl said good-naturedly as she she picked up her bag and headed out, “ auf wiedersehen.”

“Tchüss!” Perry called after her, before returning her attention to her phone. On the screen was a picture of LaFontaine leaning against the railing of their deck while beside them sat Trystan on the railing, completely unsupported. Fighting to remain calm, Perry picked up her phone, trying to think of the politest way to tell her spouse to grow a brain stem.

Frau Perry? Can I ask you a question?”

“Oh… yes… yes, of course.” Perry put her phone down, directing her attention to the page her student was having trouble with.

Several minutes and a quick danke later, the student was on his way out the door. By now the room was empty and a bustle of students could be seen in the hallway. She picked up the phone again, but one glance at the clock told her that she was behind schedule and she had a faculty meeting to get to. With a huff, she packed up her computer and shoved her phone into her pocket, silently hoping that her grandson would remain in one piece.

Luckily, the meeting room was only a couple of floors up and she managed to avoid arriving last as a few of her fellow profs trickled in from far classes and student questions of their own. As the meeting started, she began jotting down notes on autopilot, not really listening to what was actually being said. She was an old hand at this and she’d be able to review her notes at her leisure later for anything that was actually relevant amongst most of the chaff about ‘student engagement’ and ‘grading rubricks’.

It was about halfway through the meeting when her phone lit up again. Her stomach clenched as she began to worry her lip, concerned about what may be waiting for her. She glanced around to gauge if she could risk taking a glance, though it seemed she didn’t have to be concerned; three of her colleagues completely immersed in their own text conversations answered the question pretty handily. Keeping up her notes, she quickly swiped at her upturned phone with her off hand. 

 

[Making Lunch. Trystan’s helping!]

 

Perry’s eyes widened in dread. Steeling herself, she downloaded the picture to see Trystan sitting on the counter, holding her good chef’s knife, beside the stove as LaFontaine cooked with a very active flame.

“No!” yelped Perry in complete shock.

“Excuse me, Lola,” said Professor Kramer, the department head, “did you have a problem with our proposed class rotation for next semester?”

Perry reddened, she hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Well, I…” Perry stalled, looking at the notes she’d made, comparing them to the projector screen. She went wide eyed, somewhat grateful to Laf for their lucky timing, “yes, yes I do. This schedule is missing Portgugese 307 and Mandarin 424, both degree requirements to their programs. We’d be better off cutting Liguistics 315 —it’s elective— and then reducing German 244 to two classes. Our three classes of 243 are under-enrolled, so we can afford to merge.”

Kramer glanced over his own notes, looking to his deputy department head. “What do you think, Mike?”

Mike flipped pages back and forth, looking quite discomfitted. Obviously, the new schedule had been his project. After another minute of comparisons, he nodded reluctantly. “She’s right, but her changes would free up the resources to run them. It’ll be a bit tighter than we were hoping for, but it’s sound.”

Kramer nodded affirmitavely. “Good. See if you can find any other ways to trim down but this’ll give us something to submit. Good catch, Lola. The Dean would have been breathing down our necks.”

“Thank you,” she said with a bright smile.

“Alright, next on the agenda, the new edition of the second-year spanish textbook.”

Perry let out a sigh and returned to her notes, eyeing her phone with worry.

x-x-x

It was mid-afternoon when Perry dragged herself into the ESL computer lab. After the meeting, she’d been pulled aside by Mike. She’d been expecting a chewing out for undermining his hard thought out class schedule. What she got however was a heap of gratitude for catching his error and a request to join him for a working lunch to workshop a better rotation.

Her concern over her spouse’s antics and a pressing desire to check-in made her reluctant to agree, but she was forced to admit that her eye for detail would make her an invaluable assistant in such a project. The fact that he was offering to pick up the tab for a lunch at the campus pub, rather than her usual hopeless quest to find something interesting in the faculty cafeteria, certainly didn’t hurt in convincing her either. Over the next two hours, the two worked highly successfully over plates of fries and nachos until Perry had to beg off to get to her last class of the day in time.

Taking a seat at the desk at a raised spot in the corner where she could observe the room, she watched as international students of varying stripes came in and settled in on various lab computers, starting in on their individual lab assignments. Once everyone was settled in and Perry was satisfied that no one needed any immediate help, Perry hazarded a glance at her phone. There was one message waiting that had come in sometime during lunch. 

 

[Taking care of some yard work]

 

Perry bit her lip, terrified at what was in store. With a tap, the image opened and she was greeted with the less terrifying, but still somewhat worrying image of Trystan driving the riding mower.

She didn’t get the chance to let the image sink in however as another text appeared on the screen. 

 

[Grandma Carm came by to play!]

 

A wave of relief passed through Perry’s body. No one was more protective of the grandkids than Carmilla. She could count on the vampire to keep any more of these shenanigans from happening. Expecting something a little more conventional, Perry opened the image, which promptly shattered her expectations.

The image was taken from a distance. In the middle of the yard stood Carmilla, her arms outstretched towards the sky. Far above, at least a couple storeys up in mid-flight, was Trystan, arms outstretched and a bright smile on his face. Perry gaped, completely flabbergasted. Superspeed or not, she couldn’t believe Carmilla would take that kind of risk.

She was so caught up in the image that she didn’t notice a student a student trying to get her attention until they walked up to her.

“Excuse me,” asked a girl with a scandinavian accent, startling Perry out of her reverie, “can you help me with order of words?”

“Oh! Yes. I’m sorry, Dagny,” said Perry, walking back to the girl’s terminal with her, “I let myself get distracted.”

“It is okay,” said Dagny, “was good picture. Good photoshop.”

Perry blinked. “What?”

“Is that not correct word?” asked Dagny, “you make picture with other pictures. Photoshop, yes?”

“Oh, yes. Of course,” said Perry with a smile to cover her embarrassment as she began to help Dagny with her assignment.

Of course the photos had been fakes. She wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty that she thought that Laf would actually put Trystan in that much danger or angry that they scared her like that. However, what really concerned her was how they managed so many photos so fast. Laf could put together a rough cut in maybe a day or so, but they spent too much time on their lab work to really hone those sorts of skills. The only way they could send so many is if they had…

Perry quickly formed a hypothesis as she finished up with the Icelander. After a quick walk around to check on the rest of her charges, she made her way back up to her desk and picked up her phone, starting a new conversation.

x-x-x

“Okay, okay, okay,” said Carmilla mirthfully as she gently bounced Trystan on her knee, “we go for the old William Tell. An apple, an arrow, a tree; it’s a classic.”

“Ha, not bad,” cackled Laf, “but we don’t have a bow and arrow.”

“We have steak knives.”

“I like the way you think, I’ll go get an apple.”

“Is she actually getting these? You haven’t heard from her all day,” asked Carmilla before turning Trystan around and making funny faces at him, eliciting a giggle.

“Yup, I’ve been getting the read receipts,” said Laf, tossing an apple in one hand, “she’s probably just having a busy day. Hopefully, she’s finding these as funny as we are and it’s helping the day pass quicker.”

“You’re assuming she knows they’re fake,” said Carmilla as her phone buzzed. She pulled Trystan close with one arm as picked up her phone with the other.

“She knows that I wouldn’t do things this stupid with our grandkid,” said Laf, “with myself? Sure, but not this little guy.”

“You sure about that?” said Carmilla, going notably wide-eyed at her phone.

“Uh, why?” asked Laf as their own phone buzzed. Meeting Carmilla’s concerned gaze, they opened the waiting message. 

 

Perr of hearts

[Well, that was amusing set of photos.]

[It inspired me to make a few of my own…]

 

LaFontaine did not like that ellipsis as a set of pictures appeared for download. One by one, they touched the screen, bringing the pictures into existence. The first made Carmilla’s reaction clear; a picture of Perry’s hand holding a burning copy of her brownie recipe. It didn’t concern Laf all that much, they knew she had that recipe memorized forwards, backwards and inside-out; though it didn’t bode well for the rest of the pictures.

The next picture was just a pair or scissors which confused Laf until they saw the next picture and they paled. Perry’s hand held a fist full of bright red, long, curly hair which was then shown in a garbage bin in the final frame. 

 

[see you at home <3]

 

“I think I might have screwed up…” said Laf.

“Yeah, I think we did,” said Carmilla, cuddling Trystan who seemed to pick up the mood shift and began whining a little in Carmilla's arms.

“Luckily,” came a voice from the doorway, “you can’t always believe everything you see.”

The two turned at the voice, seeing a smug looking Perry, her long red tresses let loose to fall over her shoulders and back.

“Perry!” exclaimed Laf, scampering across the room to wrap her in a hug, nuzzling into the cascade of curls.

Perry indulged them for a moment, before gently extracting herself. “Alright, I’m still annoyed with you. Let me hold my grandson who I’ve been worried sick about all day.” She swept across the room and accepted Trystan from Carmilla’s outstretched arms as Laf stood where she’d left them, trying to put two and two together.

“Wait, so if you faked the photos, how’d you do that so fast?”

“Simple my dear,” said Perry, hitching Trystan on her hip as she pulled out her own phone, “you should know that just because you commision an artist, doesn’t mean they won’t pick up another project. Thank you for your assistance, JP.”

“Of course, Miss Perry,” came JP’s voice from Perry’s phone, “I apologize for any distress I may have caused.”

“You’re already forgiven, sweetie. Thank you for your quick work.”

“Of course, Miss Perry.”

“I’m sorry too, Perr,” said Laf, resting their chin on her shoulder, “I thought you’d find it funny.”

“In hindsight, I suppose it was amusing,” she said, “just next time, maybe let me know? JP is very good at his craft.”

“That he is,” agreed Laf, before heading for the kitchen, “well, why don’t I whip up that chicken stew you like for dinner. It’s the least I can do to make it up for you.”

“That sounds lovely,” agreed Perry, “especially after a long day. First however, you two sounded like you had an interesting idea before I came in.”

Laf looked at Perry with confusion before a look of realization appeared on their face as they and Carmilla shared a look of excitement.

“Hey Jeep? You up for one more.”

x-x-x

Charlie grabbed her coat from the corner of her shared office as she got ready to go home at last.

“Finally getting loose, Hollis?” asked Rob from where he was kicked back at his own desk.

“Yeah. If I have to log one more urn in, my eyes are going to fall out. I just want to get home to my son and Wife.”

“How is the little guy doing?”

“Very well. He spent the day with his Buba,” she said as her phone chirped. She picked it up and looked at the screen, going slack jawed, “and learning new skills apparently.”

On the screen was a picture of Laf standing with an apple in their mouth and a knife in the apple while in the foreground, Perry seemed to be instructing Trystan in proper throwing knife technique.

“This explains so much about you,” said Rob.

“What can I say?” said Charlie, “they know how to make his Mama proud.”

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful morning as Mercy slowly came to wakefulness. Beyond the loosely drawn shades, the sun soaked boughs of the adjacent trees could be seen swaying in the breeze, the gentle sound of the blowing leaves lulling Mercy to fall back to sleep. Still half asleep, she revelled in the feeling of Sky pressed up against her back. Giving a quick scratch to the cat wedged under her free arm, Mercy started to drift back off to sleep.

Wait…

Mercy began to wake back up as she looked down at the small orange tabby who was comfortably stretched out in front of her. “Sky…” she said.

“Mmmmf,” came the still asleep moan from behind her.

“Baby?”

“Nnng… yeah?” replied a very groggy Sky.

“Did we get a cat?

“No, why?” asked Sky, looking over Mercy’s shoulder and spotting the feline on the bedspread, “we don’t own a cat…”

“and yet…”

“Is she… he… it? wearing a collar? A license?”

Mercy stroked the cat, eliciting a purr. “No, nothing and it’s a he, I think. Feels like a he.”

“Feels like a he?”

“The way he sits is a bit like Drix.”

“Eh, good enough for me. What should we do about him?”

“I dunno. We’ll figure it out. Let’s get up, make some coffee and get some food into us… and probably into him as well.”

Edging out from under the sheets so as not to throw their unexpected guest to the floor, they sleepily shuffled out of their bedroom.

“Well, I think I know how he got in,” said Sky, nodding towards their open screen door.

“We're on the fourth floor,” said Mercy, “how'd he get up here?”

“The building is surrounded by trees” noted Sky, “you of all people should know how easily a cat can get to high places.”

Mercy chuckled. “I guess I’m just accustomed to them going back down… or getting stuck and having to wait for Mama to get home.”

“Well, that solves the first mystery at least, now we have to see if we can find his owner… but first…” added Sky, scampering off to the bathroom.

Mercy laughed as she headed into the kitchen to start brewing the life-giving elixir that was their morning coffee. She got as far as loading the grounds into the filter basket when she felt something warm and fuzzy rub against her legs.

“Well hello little one,” she said down to the tabby, who was staring right back up at her, side affixed to her shin. She reached down to pet him as he pushed himself up into her hand.

“We got anything we can feed him?” asked Sky, going for the pantry.

“There’s a can of tuna in there,” said Mercy, chucking him under the chin as his eyes closed in contentment.

“Isn’t canned tuna bad for cats?” asked Sky.

“It can be, if they have too much,” said Mercy, “but a little from time to time is fine. Mom looked it up when they used to give it to me and Drix as a treat… though I never liked it as much as him for some reason.”

“How much, do you think?”

“Oh, he liked it alot!”

“I mean, how much should we feed him? You yutz.”

“Quarter can should be enough,” mused Mercy, “he’s a little one so it should tide him over til we can find his owner… or buy some proper food, whichever comes first.” Mercy shrugged as she stood back up and got the coffee started, the cat running over to Sky at the sound of a can opener.

“Well, he’s definitely someone’s,” said Sky, smirking as he began meowing plaintively, “he’s used to home noises.”

“But whose?” Mercy remarked with a frown, “you think the building manager might know?”

“It’s a good bet, pets have to be registered,” said Sky as she put down the plate, the tabby falling on it ravenously. She watched the cat silently for a moment before running to their room. A minute later, she returned dressed and with her phone in hand, snapping a picture of the cat as it ate, “I’ll go ask her if you wanna get breakfast started.”

“What do you mean ‘started’?” said Mercy, gesturing to the filling coffee pot, “it’s nearly done.”

“Merc…”

“I’m kidding. Go find out who our lost kitty belongs to, I’ll whip up some pancakes.”

x-x-x

“Why hello, dear.”

Sky looked up at her elderly neighbour as she exited the elevator out onto her floor. “Oh, good morning, Heather.”

“How are you on this lovely morning?”

“Pretty good,” said Sky, “just trying to solve a bit of a mystery.”

“Ooh, I love mysteries. I can lose an entire afternoon to Agatha Christie,” said Heather, “what are you trying to figure out?”

Sky pulled out her phone, showing Heather the photo she’d snapped earlier. “Trying to find out who this little guy belongs to. He snuck into our apartment earlier this morning. The manager didn’t have him registered to anybody.”

Heather’s expression became sad. “No, she wouldn’t. I’ve been seeing him around the neighbourhood for the past few months, after winter thank heavens, but I think this poor fellow is homeless.”

“He’s obviously used to people,” Sky mused aloud, “I wonder if he’s lost”

Heather looked thoughtful for a moment. “Or abandoned.”

“I hate to think of the kinds of people who’d abandon such a sweet little cat.”

“Me too, dear,” agreed Heather, “but it happens, sadly.”

Sky frowned, but nodded in agreement. “I hope that’s not the case here. We’ll put up some posters, ask the humane society.”

“It’s a good place to start as any, dear.”

“Thanks, Heather”

“Good luck. And say hello to that girlfriend of yours for me.”

“Will do.”

Sky left the older woman with a wave, making her way back to her apartment.

“Welcome back!” greeted Mercy, “first pancakes are just about done. Any luck?”

“Kinda, Heather says hi by the way,” said Sky. Mercy’s grin broadened at the mention of their neighbour, “but let me put it this way. Time for a trip to the pet store.”

x-x-x

“I’d say he seems about a year old, give or take a few months,” said Dr. Harvey as the vet gently prodded the less than happy cat, “he’s healthy. He’s a good weight and his coat is full and clean. How long have you had him for?”

“About three weeks,” replied Mercy, “we’ve been taking care of him while we try to find his owner.”

“And no luck I imagine.”

“No. No responses to the lost cat posters and the humane society hasn’t had anyone looking or any records for him.”

Dr. Harvey nodded sadly as she switched to simply stroking the cat, which he much preferred to her previous ministrations. “That doesn’t surprise me. He’s not chipped or tattooed, he’s not neutered and I’d bet he’s not vaccinated either. Probably a christmas kitten that got too big.”

Sky’s expression darkened, thinking back to her conversation with Heather. “Some people…”

“Yes. But then you have some other people who take in a lost cat without a second thought,” she said, smiling at the couple whose moods uplifted at the praise, “I think that at this point you need to decide whether to give him to a shelter who can find him a home… or become that home yourselves.”

Mercy and Sky looked at each other. They didn’t need a single word to know how the other felt.

Mercy turned to Dr. Harvey. “How soon can you get him in to get everything done?”

x-x-x

“Well, I have to say, I very much approve of your new pet,” remarked Drix as he sat on the floor and fed the tabby kibbles one by one, helping the cat eat while the protective cone made it difficult to do so by himself, “even if he chose you more than the other way around.”

“I actually think that makes it even better,” said Mercy from where she was perched on the counter, surreptitiously filming Drix with her phone, “he wants to be with us.”

“Well, I never claimed he was smart.”

“You are so lucky you’re holding him right now or you’d be dodging garlic, bucko.”

“But I am and he’s still hungry, so hush,” he said, holding another piece out between his fingers.

Mercy huffed at him, but couldn’t maintain her frown long before breaking into giggles.

“So have you guys decided what to call him?” asked Charlie from where she was leaned up against the fridge.

“We think so,” said Mercy, “given how he came into our lives, we wanted to give him a climbing name.”

“Of course,” said Charlie matter-of-factly.

“Sky suggested Edmund, for Edmund Hillary,” said Mercy to simultaneous looks of horror from her siblings, “yeah, I didn’t think it was a very cunning plan either.”

“So you were nice enough to spare him that name,” said Drix, scratching the cat out of sympathy, “but what did you decide on?”

“Tenzing, the name of Hillary’s guide,” said Mercy, “or just Tenz for short.”

“Tenz, I like it,” said Charlie, slowly gaining a smirk, “you could almost say it’s perfect .”

“Sorry, I suddenly hate the name,” said Drix, glaring at Charlie.

“Well, too bad,” said Mercy with a chuckle, “Sky and I both love it, so it’s here to stay.”

Drix shook his head with a good-natured smile and returned his attention to the hungry Tenz in his lap.

x-x-x

“Mercy, are you sure you want to do this?” asked Sky, cuddling Tenzing as he nuzzled up under her chin. Mercy was busy in front of them, setting up a baby-gate across the door to their bedroom.

“Yeah. He should know us like this,” said Mercy, “and besides, I miss being able to lounge around the apartment.”

“Well, if you’re sure…” Sky said reluctantly.

“Well, I’m not really…” Mercy admitted, “hence the baby-gate.”

“Where’d you get this anyways?”

“Went and borrowed it from Moms,” said Mercy, “they were awfully disappointed when I told them what I needed it for, though.”

Sky laughed. “Engagement first, then marriage, then babies. They’ll have to make do with their grand-cat for now.”

“My dear Sky, are you proposing to me?” Mercy batted her eyelashes coquettishly.

“Please, like I’d do that now. If I propose, it won’t be in my pyjamas and I’d probably enlist my entire dance troupe to help.”

“Sounds lovely,” said Mercy, filing the idea away for herself before stepping over the gate, “now, let’s give this a try. If we’re planning such a future with him, he’s definitely gonna have to get used to it.”

“Alright,” said Sky, sitting down on the other side of the gate, placing Tenzing into her lap.

“Tenz!” called Mercy, “pss, pss.” Tenzing turned to the gate, making eye contact with his owner on the other side.

Satisfied she had his attention, at least for the moment, Mercy took a deep breath and shifted leaving a large wolf staring at Tenzing through the gate. Mercy pressed herself against the floor, trying to look as submissive as possible. Tenzing puffed up almost immediately, arching his back and pressing back against Sky away from the new predator.

“It’s alright,” said Sky gently, stroking him reassuringly, “it’s alright. That’s Mercy. You’re safe.”

For several minutes, he remained pressed against Sky as she cooed soothingly at him, trying to keep him from bolting. As she kept talking, however, he began to relax. His fur slowly returned to normal and the tension gradually left his body until he was simply sitting in Sky’s lap, cautiously watching the canine.

Mercy, for her part, remained still, hoping Tenz would recognize, or at the very least, accept her. It wasn’t until she noticed him sniffing the air curiously that she became hopeful. Slowly, he stepped forward, out of Sky’s grasp and towards the gate. Mercy hardly dared move a muscle, lest she startle him. He eventually walked right up to the gate, his nose twitching furiously.

Suddenly, he gathered himself and with one smooth jump, he leapt over the gate, landing right beside Mercy’s snout. Cautiously, she lifted her head so she was nose to nose with him as he continued his investigation. Eventually, he stopped sniffing and simply sat back looking at her for a long moment. Mercy broke eye contact to glance up at Sky, who’s face looked quite hopeful. It was then that Tenz stepped forward, rubbing his face across the underside of her jaw and pushing himself up against her chest.

Mercy was overcome with joy. Without thinking about it, she bent her head to give him a lick to which he swatted her muzzle away.

“I guess he doesn’t like dog slobber,” said Sky with a laugh.

Mercy glared at her as she shifted back, picking up Tenz and scratching him as he continued to rub his face on her. “Laugh it up, babe, cause it’s your turn now.”

“Alright, one slobber free wolf, coming up,” said Sky as she shifted and they started to process all over again.

x-x-x

Laura knocked on the door as she, Danny and Carmilla let themselves into Sky and Mercy’s apartment carrying plastic containers of food. Somewhere nearby, the flowing melody of a piano could be heard.

“Hello?” she called softly before spotting a sight on the couch that melted her heart. Flopped across the cushions was Sky in her wolf, her front paw hanging off the side while up on her back, curled up into a small orange ball, was Tenzing.

Putting up a finger to her lips, Laura pointed towards Mercy’s office and handed off her containers to Danny who smiled at her with a nod before heading towards the kitchen.

Walking as quietly as possible, Laura headed to the office door and slipped in, waiting for Mercy’s to finish her tune.

“Hey there, we’re early,” whispered Laura.

Mercy cocked her head. “Why are you whispering?”

“Sky’s taking a nap with Tenz.”

“Pfff, she could sleep through a jumbo jet landing on the coffee table and even if you wake Tenzing, he’ll take two steps, lick his butt and fall right back to sleep.”

“Oh. That must be nice for practicing, you don’t really have to keep it d—”

A cacophony of hisses, yowls and yips cut Laura off as an orange blur flew into the room ending in a puffball pressed up against Mercy’s leg.

“That, on the other hand, may have woken her up,” said Mercy, cautiously lifting Tenz up off the floor, petting him gently as they walked back out to the living room.

In the middle of the room, Carmilla’s panther stood with a paw on her nose as Danny was visibly trying to contain her laughter. On the couch, Sky sat as a human again, looking rather irritated with Carmilla.

“What happened?” asked Laura.

“Well, Ms. I-am-the-night decided to try to introduce herself to Tenzing, cat to cat,” said Danny with a guffaw, “Tenz was not quite so enthusiastic and instead introduced his claws to her nose.”

“Yeeeah,” said Mercy, “we only just got him used to wolves. I don’t think he was ready for a panther yet.”

“Clearly,” said Carmilla as she stood up, red scratches on her nose quickly disappearing.

“Serves you right,” groused Sky, “worst, wake-up, ever.”

“It should have been easy. I’m a cat. He’s a cat. We’re practically family.”

“Excuse you,” said Mercy, “he is family.

“See?!”

“However,” Mercy added, “when was the last time you saw two strange cats get along from the get go?”

Carmilla visibly deflated as Danny had to stifle another round of laughter.

“We’ll help you with it later,” said Sky, “for now, let him get used to your scent —same goes for you Aunt Danny— then we can introduce you .”

Mercy walked over, gently handing off a calmed Tenz to Carmilla. He preened under attentions for a few moments before pulling himself loose and walking off to his water dish.

“This would be so much easier with babies,” complained Carmilla.

“One day, Mama. One day.”

Chapter Text

“Oh my gosh! Perr?”

Perry looked up from the book she had laid across her lap to where LaFontaine was standing in front of her, holding the next book in the pile. The look of sheer joy on their face was unmistakable.

“Does this mean what I think it means?”

Perry smiled sadly, placing her book aside so she could stand up. “Oh, I'm sorry, Love,” she said, cuddling into their side, “no bun in this oven, not that it could really happen all that spontaneously anyways.”

Laf snorted. “I suppose that would be a little unusual. I guess I was hoping you were surprising me.”

“Without letting you fully vet which fertility specialist we go with?” Perry asked, smirking at the way their eyes lit up, “what kind of wife do you take me for?”

Laf leaned in, peppering Perry's jaw with nibbles and kisses as they spoke. “I… apparently… gave you… far too… little credit…”

“Mmmm…” purred Perry, tilting her head to give them better access as she started tracing circles on their hip “I think I can find it in my heart to forgive you.”

“Well, perhaps it'll help if I'm a little more… spontaneous.” They slipped a hand up under her shirt as she dragged them back down into the couch.

x-x-x

“Okay… how 'bout now?”

Perry giggled. “As much as I agree that should have counted,” she said, still somewhat in a haze of endorphins, “I still think we're missing something.”

“Y'know, that fine,” they said, absently trailing their fingers over her bare shoulders, “this way I still get to have fun inspecting fertility labs. Though I think further experimentation has merit.”

“Sounds like something I'd be willing to help with.”

“What? The inspection or the experimentation?” they asked with a salacious grin.

“Both, of course, silly,” she said as she disentangled herself from them, getting up to retrieve her scattered clothes, “though I think I’m more qualified for the latter than the former.”

“Boy are you ever,” sighed Laf, “I don’t know if I can walk.”

Perry grinned smugly at the compliment. “Well, you’ll need to recover quick. We’re expected for dinner at six.”

“Oh, okay,” they said as Perry tossed them their boxers, “isn’t that a bit late though? L and Dan’ should have gotten home at five. We should go help them cook.”

“Love,” said Perry, raising an eyebrow at them, “they just got home. I really don’t think they’re cooking right now.”

Laf glanced around the room at their own scattered clothes. “Right, they’re newlyweds too.”

“Expecting newlyweds,” said Perry, “they’re kinda high on emotions right now.”

“Ooh, yeah. Y’know, I probably have time then to make a nice potato salad.” They leveraged themself off the couch, moving around the room, pulling on their clothes, “they won’t mind us being a little late.”

“That sounds like a lovely idea. I’ll start boiling some eggs,” said Perry.

“Nah, go back to your reading, Love,” said Laf, “I can handle things.”

“Alright, it’ll be nice to know a little more before I see Laura.”

“Oh, of course. That’s nice that you want to help out like that.”

“It seemed the right thing to do, though I still hope to use all this for us someday, sooner rather than later hopefully.”

“Me too, Love. Me too.”

x-x-x

“Hello!” called Perry as she walked in the front door. The hiss of water flowing through pipes could be heard somewhere through the walls but there was no other sign of life in the house as the couple made their way into the kitchen.

“Guys?” Laf hollered towards the stairs.

The hiss of water cut off with a squeak and there was a clamber from upstairs. Moments later Danny appeared at the bottom of the stairs, covering herself with a towel.

“Hey…” she said, red in the face and catching her breath, “you’re early.”

“Uh, actually dude,” said Laf, looking over to the clock on the wall, “we’re actually pretty late.”

Danny took one glance and her eyes just about bugged out of her head. “Oh jeez! Sorry, give us a few minutes and we’ll be right down.”

“Take your time,” singsonged Perry as she got stuff out onto the counter.

Danny disappeared back up the stairs as Laf went to assist Perry. She held up a finger, pausing them for a moment as she turned to look at the stairs. A moment later, Laura’s embarrassed squawk could be heard and another racket of activity could be heard from above. Both Perry and Lafontaine chuckled, sharing a low-five.

Before long a dishevelled and blushing Laura and Danny and an equally disheveled but more nonchalant Carmilla came down the stairs into the kitchen.

“Guys, I’m so sorry,” apologized Laura, “we totally lost track of time.”

“Frosh, chill,” said Laf, “we get it. Perr and I just get off earlier so we… got off.... earlier.”

Carmilla and Danny broke out laughing while Laura just stood there with a look of shock.

“Lafontaine!” scolded Perry. She lightly swatted them on the arm but couldn’t keep the amused grin off of her face.

“Ok, it’s official,” said Carmilla, making a beeline for the fridge, “this calls for a toast!” She pulled out a bottle of champagne and began pulling down champagne flutes from the cupboard.

“Oh, uh, Carmilla,” stuttered Perry, “I think you only need four glasses.”

“What, wh— oh.” Carmilla’s face fell as she looked over at Laura, glancing knowingly at her still-flat stomach.

“I guess that’s something I’m gonna have to get used to for a while,” said Laura with a resigned shrug, “I guess you guys will have the toast without me.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Danny, striding to the fridge, “we’ve got this.” She stuck her head into the fridge and began rummaging around.

“Thanks Perry,” said Laura, “I would’ve remembered after I drank it and then been up all night worried sick.”

“Well, it wouldn’t have been too bad,” said Perry, pulling a book out of her bag, flipping to a page, “an accidental drink generally won’t harm a fetus, though the author still recommends avoiding drinking deliberately.”

“Huh, good to know,” said Laura, “though I’m still glad you noticed before I drank.”

“Me too, sweetie.”

“Aha!” announced Danny, raising her hand out from behind the door holding a green can, “ginger ale.” She popped open the can, filling the empty flute with the pale soft drink.

“Thanks Danny,” said Laura, picking up the glass and raising it, “to living life!”

Everyone else raised their glasses.

“And to new life,” added Perry, nodding to Laura.

“Hear hear,” said Carmilla as they all clinked their glasses.

“Alright, it’s pretty late and I’m hungry,” declared Laura, “and since I’m eating for two, I’d say this is doubly important. Let’s get these birds on the grill!”

“On it,” said Danny, “what’s everyone want? jerk? cajun? or just classic barbeque sauce?”

“I vote for barbeque sauce,” said Laura, “I’m in the mood for something sweet.”

“L, you’re always in the mood for something sweet,” observed Laf.

“So? I’m consistent.”

“Alright, that’s one vote for barbeque,” counted Danny.

“Two votes,” interjected Carmilla.

“You want barbeque? alright,” said Danny, counting on her fingers.

“No. I want jerk—”

“How fitting,” cackled Laf.

Carmilla flipped them off and continued, “I mean, Laura’s vote counts twice since the baby gets a vote too.”

“Alright, two for barbeque, two for jerk since I’m in the mood, Laf?”

“Cajun.”

“So helpful,” jeered Danny, “alright Perr, it’s down to you. You have the deciding vote… or deadlocking vote, so y’know… no pressure.”

“Actually, I don’t think we should be using the grill.”

“...what?”

“Well, it’s just…” she picked the book up again, flipping to a different page, “the chemicals in smoke and char are bad for developing babies… bad for us for that matter, but we’re quite a bit bigger than your typical fetus.”

“Wait… typical fetus?!” inquired Danny.

“Best you don’t ask,” said Laf, “neither I nor Perr want to relive that particular visit to the Silas deep bio labs.”

“Alright keeping to myself,” said Danny, holding up her hands.

“So wait… no barbeque?” Laura made a face like a kicked puppy, “No burgers? No ribs? No steaks?”

“Oh sweetie, you can still have those things… in moderation.”

—Laura made a face at the ‘M’ word—

“You just really shouldn’t have them grilled. We can cook them other ways that’ll still be tasty. Here, I know a simple recipe for barbeque glazed chicken. It’ll still be nice and sweet, you’ll just have to make due without that smoke flavour for a few months.” Perry quickly moved to where the chicken sat on the counter and began prepping it.

“Well, if you’re sure… I suppose I can hold off for the sake of the baby.”

“That’s good, sweetie,” said Perry, as she began mixing tomato sauce and brown sugar in a pot, “it’s for the best.”

Laura smiled politely at her friend, but Danny and Carmilla shared a concerned look.

x-x-x

“Wow, Perry,” said Danny, “sorry I doubted you. That was incredible.” Danny felt full to bursting, she’d eaten so much. It was hard to resist the temptation to undo her belt and pants to relieve the pressure.

“Well, I’m glad you liked it. I realize that I kind of railroaded you and took over your dinner,” said Perry, “I’m so sorry about that.”

“If being railroaded gets us dinners like that,” said Carmilla, “I say tie me to the tracks and start the old timey piano music.”

“Wow Perry, with recipes like that, I should be able to weather eight months without a grill just fine.”

“I have plenty,” said Perry, “including a rib recipe that will probably make you never want to grill them again.

Danny scoffed but Laura looked excited as she popped up from her seat. “Can't wait to try it. Now, let's get things cleaned up, at least as fast as we can manage. I'm so full, I feel like I might have a baby bump already.” Laura lifted her shirt to check, but there was no sign of anything yet. She looked up at the table, making a show of pouting at the lack of progress before she began to gather dishes.

“Oh Laura!” exclaimed Perry, “let us handle that.” She nudged LaFontaine as she pushed her own chair back.

“Perry, you guys cooked. It's only fair that we clean up.” Laura reached out to take the large serving platter from the middle of the table which Perry snatched before she could grab it.

“No no. It's fine. You just rest.”

Reluctantly, and very slowly, Laura sat back down. She was still smiling, but her smile had gained a dangerous edge which was not lost on those still seated at the table. Perry, on the other hand, started humming happily as she whisked dishes into the dishwasher and sink, so happy she could help with the coming baby.

x-x-x

“Ooh, and I rolled another six. Sorry Laf, you lose another one.”

Laf removed another piece from the board. “Seriously, you have one guy there! How have you taken out eight of mine?!”

Carmilla picked up the red die with a smug smile. “Serves you right for underestimating the true strength of the Norse people.”

“I'm attacking from Iceland, they're vikings too!”

“Please, you started that horde in Alberta, they are totally Canadians,” said Danny, “only way they're beating some vikings is giving them hockey sticks and telling them Olaf has the puck.”

Laf considered this for a moment before leaning down to their pieces. “Psst, that's Bettman. Git’em!” they stage whispered, pointing at Carmilla's piece before rolling, “ha! Six-six-four!”

Carmilla rolled. “One. Your swarm of toothless barbarians buys your filthy lies and tears my poor Nordic villager apart. I hope you're proud of yourself.”

“Victory, eh?”

Everyone burst out laughing as Danny got up and headed into the kitchen. “I think this calls for dessert!” She ducked into the fridge, pulling out a plastic cake carrier. Putting it down on the counter, she lifted the lid with a flourish, revealing a low, wide brown slab, adorned across the top with raspberries, mint leaves and a dusting of icing sugar. “Voila! Flourless chocolate cake!”

“Wow, Danny!” exclaimed Laf, “did you make that?”

“We all did. Laura borrowed the recipe from her work.”

“It'll be in the lifestyle section next week, if you like it,” chirped Laura from where she was fiddling with the microwave.

“It certainly looks amazing,” said Perry, “even cold, the aroma is incredible.”

“You shoulda smelled this place yesterday when we baked it,” said Carmilla, “we ended up having to go out for dinner just so that we wouldn't eat the thing instead.”

“Oh man, I know that feeling, I have to hide in my lab when Perry bakes for that exact reason,” said Laf, “I can't wait to try this thing.”

“Soon enough,” said Danny, plating out five slices, “we just need one more finishing touch.”

“Fudge!” exclaimed Laura, stepping up with a bowl of molten chocolate which she began drizzling over pieces of cake.

“Wow,” said Laf, barely able to keep from drooling, “isn't this great, Perr?”

“Um, yes,” said Perry with a worried look, “uh, Laura? Are you sure you wouldn't like some fruit instead?”

“What?” said Laura flatly.

Danny took a step back, subtly sliding the knife away. “Uh…”

Carmilla watched Laura carefully. “Oh…”

Perry continued obliviously. “Or maybe some cottage cheese. Something less sugary? This book says that—”

Laura slammed the bowl of chocolate down onto the counter with a bang, making everyone jump. “Perry, enough.” Laura's expression was tight as she stared across the counter at her friend. “I get you're trying to help and I appreciate it, I really do, but do you think I'm not reading books too. Do you think I'm not taking care of myself? Hell, the reason we did this cake is cause chocolate is good during pregnancy. Perry, I love you, but I won't let you, or anyone, start treating me like a stupid child again just because we're dealing with something new.”

“Laura, I wasn't trying… I mean… I suppose I…” Perry looked across the island at Laura's pained expression and sighed. “You're right… you're right! I'm sorry… I was just so excited.”

Laura's expression softened and she walked around the kitchen island, pulling Perry into a hug. “I want your help. I'm gonna need your help once all I can do is waddle around. Just try not to hover, alright?”

Perry chuckled with tears in her eyes, squeezing Laura tight. “I think I can do that.”

“Good, cause convincing my Dad to back off is gonna be so much worse.”

“Actually, that reminds me,” said Carmilla, “I had to chase him off the other day. He was trying to wrap all the exposed edges in the house in foam.”

“Wait, is that why the front walk is all gritty?” asked Danny.

“Yeah, apparently foam isn't quite as resilient as yarn for playing in with claws.”

Laura chuckled. “Though I suppose I have help with that.”

“Very convincing help,” said Perry a bit uncertainly.

Laura gave Perry another reassuring squeeze. “C'mon, let's have dessert, the hot fudge is getting cold.”

With a murmur of agreement, everyone grabbed a plate and headed back to the living room where Carmilla began exacting revenge for her fallen troops.

“So, where did you read that chocolate was beneficial?” asked Perry as they watched the plastic carnage.

“Oh, right here,” said Laura, turning the page over from the sugar caution to a paragraph extolling the virtues of dark chocolate.

Perry's mouth opened and closed soundlessly as she gave Laura an embarrassed look. Laura returned it with a smug grin.

“Well, I guess I know who to turn to when I need advice once I'm expecting,” said Perry, smiling warmly.

“And I'll be more than happy to help,” replied Laura, wrapping an arm around her friend as they watched Laf’s pieces get washed away.

Chapter Text

“Oops…”

Danny looked at Carmilla incredulously as she took a deep breath, trying in vain to make her pounding heart slow. “Carm, we just knocked over a library stack, I don’t think ‘oops’ quite covers it.”

“Ok, so we weren’t quite as low-key as we were hoping,” said Carmilla, redoing the top few buttons on her top, “but it’s not like anyone heard that.”

“I’m less concerned about what any one thinks and more about what any building thinks.” Danny looked around nervously.

Carmilla smirked. “Oh, c’mon. The library likes us. You think I’d have tried jumping you in here before we helped Laura ‘Wicked Witch’ Maman? The place woulda swatted us before I even managed the first hickey.”

Danny unconsciously tugged her collar a little higher, trying to cover the mark Carmilla had been in the process of leaving when the shelves had given way.

“So long as we clean up, it’s not gonna try to kill us or anything,” said Carmilla. A book fell from seemingly nowhere, smacking her on the head. She rubbed her head, glaring at the empty ceiling. “Though it may not have anything against mild concussions.”

Danny looked at the book. “‘Unburning Alexandria’, subtle,” she said, looking up.

Carmilla snorted as she wandered around and surveyed the tilted stack where it had lodged against a pillar. “Alright, Gingersnap. I’m gonna go push this thing back up, you go stand out of the row so I don’t have to worry about pushing this thing over on top of you.”

Danny came round the end, watching as Carmilla ducked into the space under the shelf. “We are so lucky we weren’t in a place where this could domino.”

“I don’t think it’s so much luck,” grunted Carmilla as she wedged herself with her back to the pillar, “as this living escher painting we call a library wouldn’t be caught dead with nice even rows. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find shelves on the ceiling if this pile of wood wasn’t too lazy to hold them against gravity.”

An echoing groan, somewhere between a growl and a creak of aged wood emanated from around them.

“Prove me wrong then,” Carmilla taunted. They waited a moment, but only silence answered her, “exactly. Alright, Dan’, let me know when I’m almost there.” With a grunt, Carmilla pushed hard and the row of shelves began to shift back upright.

“You’re doing it,” said Danny, impressed by her girlfriend’s quick progress, “you doing okay?”

“Yeah, this damn thing is really heavy,” groaned Carmilla, “which is annoying cause I know that something could be done to lighten it.” She turned a glare to a random point on the wall. Again, she got no response.

“Just a little further and it should start to tip back into place,” said Danny, wishing she could help in some way but even as a wolf, she just didn’t have the strength for something of this scale.

Carmilla leaned into the shelf and with a grunt, gave it one more shove, shifting the centre of gravity just enough for the stack to tip back onto it’s base. However, the momentum proved to be a little too much and the shelf began to travel past the vertical. Danny’s breath caught and she cringed, bracing for the inevitable crash into the other aisle. The moment didn’t come however as the shelf’s progress was suddenly arrested in mid air and it snapped back upright.

“Oh, so you could’ve done that this whole time?” groused Carmilla, sweaty from the exertion, “lousy... judgemental... amazon-damned…”

“Alright Babe,” said Danny, stepping up to give Carmilla a pat on the back and a kiss on the head, “go sit down and rest. I’ll start cleaning up the books.”

“Thanks Danny,” said Carmilla, sliding down the wall to sit on the floor, “I’ll give you a hand in a couple minutes.” Thinking for a moment, she pulled out her phone and started writing out a text. “You think Laura would be out of class by now?”

Danny checked her watch. “Yeah, I think so. What order do you think these go in? I’ve got a textbook about horticulture, one on Ancient Mycenae, what appears to be half of a singed copy of Goblet of Fire and… ‘Playing God: A guide to advanced alchemy’.”

“Ooh, grab that last one for the bionerd,” said Carmilla, reaching out to take the text from Danny, “as for the rest, I doubt order matters. Organization is just a suggestion in here; I’m fairly certain I actually saw the card catalogue laugh at someone once.”

“Works for me, that’ll make things go a lot quicker,” Danny said, placing books on shelves, “what’d Laura say?”

“Serves us right for having fun without her, winky face, heart, heart, cluster of hearts…”

Danny hefted a huge cookbook onto the shelf next to a copy of something called ‘The Book of Steve’. “So is she gonna come give us a hand?”

“Yeah, she’s just stopping to grab a snack first.”

“Oh good, a sugar rush should really help us get through this quick.”

“She could be getting something healthy like an apple or granola bar or— yeah, she’s getting cookies.”

“Maybe try getting a hold of Laf and Perry too. With all five of us, this should go really quick.”

Carmilla just stared at Danny deadpan.

“What?” she asked.

“Okay, first: between ‘wait, this looks interesting, lemme just read it for a sec’ and ‘oh, I really don’t think that book goes there. Let me just dust it off first and then we’ll find it’s right place’ we would be here til the end of the semester. And second: do you really want to have to explain why all these books are spilled?”

Danny’s face scrunched up at the thought. “I see your point. Alright, no one besides the girlfriend learns of this.”

A screeching groan of wood echoed from somewhere around them.

“Ok, the girlfriend and a sentient arcane vortex masquerading as architecture— why did we think it was a good idea to make out in here again?”

“I don’t thinking came into it, my dear,” said Carmilla, stashing her phone in Danny’s bag, “personally, I like to think of the library as a little like a cat. Sure, it’s kinda weird at first but then you realize it doesn’t really care and can’t really tell anyone anyways. I mean, what’s it gonna do? Throw the collected works of Bram Stoker and the Kama Sutra at someone?” She stood up and stretched, making her way into the aisle to help.

“You’ll forgive me if I err towards the side of prudence now that I’m thinking about it.”

Carmilla stepped past Danny, making a point of taking her by the waist and pressing up right against her as she slid past. “You sure about that, Red?” she asked, stepping further down the aisle with a sashay of her hips.

Entranced, Danny took a step after her. “Well, I suppose if we’re careful this time and we watch— hey, cut that out!” snapped Danny, shaking her head to try and dissipate the rather pleasant twist in her stomach, “I’d prefer to not get smacked for getting distracted from the task at hand.”

“Oh, I’m sure it wouldn’t mind so long as we didn’t leave. I’m sure Laura would appreciate the surpr—” Another book, a paperback this time, flopped from somewhere onto Carmilla’s head. With an undirected glare of annoyance, the plucked the book off her head. “‘A Case for Chastity’... I almost feel like I need to ravish you on principle now.”

“Please don’t,” said Danny, “throwing books is this place’s idea of a gentle suggestion, I don’t want it to get insistent... You can ravish me later.” Danny wiggled her eyebrows at Carmilla before returning to the shelf.

“You’re killing me, Lawrence.”

“Yeah, but you were already dead,” said Laura from the far end of the row, making both her girlfriends jump.

“Jeez Hollis,” exclaimed Danny, “how the hell did you get here so fast?”

“Well, I got a snack, as well as something for each of you, so stop with the sad kitty eyes, Carm,” Laura admonished the vampire, tossing a paper bag over to her, “I came over to the library, walked in the front door and out of the bathroom just over there apparently.” She jerked her thumb behind her.

Carmilla handed the bag to Danny, a bite already missing from the large chocolate cookie in her hand. “See? I told you it liked us. Hot girlfriend, delivered promptly.”

Danny smirked at Carmilla. “I’m beginning to agree with you, though you really shouldn’t talk about our girlfriend like she’s something to— nope, just heard it in my head. Not saying it.”

Carmilla chuckled. “Care to give us a hand, Cupcake? I think we’re both feeling a little... frustrated at the interruption.”

“Oh, I’d love to, but let’s pick up these books first.” Laura winked at them as she began putting away volumes at her end of the row. Carmilla and Danny stood frozen for a moment, staring at her with red faces and stupid grins.

“Well, I don't know about you, but I feel really motivated all of a sudden,” said Carmilla, holding the cookie in her mouth and throwing herself into the task at hand.

Danny laughed, taking a bite of the peanut butter cookie still left in the bag before grabbing another book and sliding it away.

x-x-x

“So long ‘The Exhaustive History of Combine Harvesters’!” gasped Laura as she slammed the last book home.

“Wow, that took long enough,” said Danny, collecting her bag from the wall, “remind me to have a cold shower first if I want to come in here with one of you again.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” protested Laura as they started heading for the stairs, “leave me out of this, you’re the ones that decided to get frisky in public.”

Carmilla coughed. “littwotwelve!”