Well, one of you asked so I thought I would subject all of you. *grin*
Rated PG13 for mild violence and language
“I hate. The cold.”
Carl grinned as he looked over to where Daniel stood shivering by the window. The room designated as their office for the duration of the Enclave was luxurious and certainly warm enough. “Staring at the snow isn’t going to make you any warmer. Besides. You’re the one with the natural fur coat. How do you think I feel?”
Daniel’s classically handsome face scrunched up in irritation as he retorted, “Very funny. Where are we?”
Getting down to business, Carl glanced back at his spreadsheet and reported, “Five confirmed pregnancies, ten more matings tonight that look promising, and another night to go.”
“Better than projected,” Daniel murmured, quietly triumphant.
Carl smiled to himself and saved the file before exiting, even though he’d made no changes. He’d already emailed the information to all the Council members and had it backed up on a flash drive and web server. He wasn’t paranoid, as others often claimed, he was simply being careful. As the first ever McTavish historian, and human to boot, Carl took no chances.
Looking back at Daniel, he asked, “When do you next see Lauren?”
“Have you worked out what you’re going to say?”
Daniel flashed him a boyish grin, pale eyes merry as he quipped, “Aside from, “Stuff it, you old bitch.” you mean?”
“Yes, aside from that,” Carl replied, dry.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something.”
“I believe that’s what Uncle Walt’s afraid of.”
Daniel waved off his mild concern and said airily, “I’ll make nice, don’t worry. I’ll have to, if I’m to take her Chair one day.”
Carl looked at him, nonplussed. “You know, I honestly can’t decide sometimes if you’re exceedingly ambitious, arrogant, or just plain stupid.”
That grin resurfaced as Daniel told him, “Little of each, I expect.”
A knock interrupted further possible declarations of grandeur, thankfully. Daniel walked over and, as he reached the door, a soft growl emanated from the Amoven, startling Carl. Daniel was the most obsessively in-control Amoven he knew. The other took a deep breath and opened the door with a patently false smile.
On the other side of the door stood Cole Bishop in his too-expensive clothes, and his perfect smile. He literally reeked of wealth and privilege. Not something that would tick off The McTavish on its own, but coupled with a condescending attitude and complete avoidance of anything resembling a work ethic or discipline, Daniel often was tipped over the edge into outright antipathy. Carl found their interaction fascinating, vacillating as it did between hate and a strange seduction of sorts.
Certainly, if they ever got beyond the natural enmity, they would make a striking couple on a purely physical level. Daniel’s classic Irish good-looks and pale blue eyes foiled by Cole’s blond lightness and amber eyes, both men exceptionally fit and highly intelligent. No matter what Daniel thought, Carl had witnessed Cole’s hidden smarts on three separate occasions. He wasn’t nearly the vapid pretty boy everyone assumed him to be, Carl felt it in his gut.
“You have to do something about that cousin of yours,” Cole stated bluntly. “She’s got the kitchen in an uproar.”
Daniel snorted. “You came all the way up here to tell me that?”
Cole offered a thin smile and replied, “Would you like to eat for the rest of your stay here?”
“It’s a phase, Cole. There’s stranger things than someone being a Vegan.”
“Not if one’s Amoven, as she is. The Executive Chef is…finding the challenge a bit more than he wants to deal with.”
Cole’s eyes flashed gold and he half-snarled, “Bring her in line, McTavish, or I will.”
Daniel moved almost too fast to see. In a blink, he had Cole against the wall, hand wrapped tight around the other’s throat.
Carl held his breath, wondering if this time, they actually would erupt into violence. He glanced over to the bathroom, the nearest place he could hide, and found it within acceptable distance if he had to run for it. One didn’t remain in the same room as battling Amoven if one expected to live.
“Don’t ever threaten one of mine again, Bishop,” Daniel stated in a surprisingly calm voice. “You won’t live to do it a third time.”
The calm was belied by the claws Carl suddenly spotted, tips digging into Cole’s throat. One had drawn blood, a sharp contrast to the golden skin.
Cole didn’t bat an eyelash as he snapped, “Don’t be ridiculous, McTavish! Let me go right now!”
Daniel held on a few more seconds, likely just to make a point, and then stepped back fast enough that Cole stumbled back through the door. Offering the other Amoven a bland smile, Daniel stated, “They’ll deal with Josie’s food choices or answer to me.”
He closed the door in Cole’s furious face.
Shaking his head, Carl returned to his spot at the table. He didn’t even remembering getting to his feet to make a bid for safety, if necessary. Daniel paced the room and Carl could practically see the swish of an agitated tail and the baring of fangs in the sharp, jerky movements. The main danger in having the Enclave at all, never mind on neutral ground that belonged to the Council, was the Alphas losing control and going after one another in a bid for dominance.
Despite being the ones in charge, Carl had observed Alphas to often have the least self-control. Daniel was an anomaly in that aspect. The McTavish had unusual discipline and controlled himself with a ruthlessness that Carl had never seen in anyone else except, perhaps, Uncle Walt.
“Sorry,” Daniel said at last, bringing himself to a stop by the table. “Cole just…”
“Gets under your skin?”
“Among other things.”
Reassured by the dry tone, Carl asked, “You have heard the jokes being made at Josie’s expense, right?”
Daniel snorted derisively. “She’s brought that on herself. I’m certainly not going to defend her against bad jokes.”
“Actually, some of them are quite good.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Well, have you heard the one about the Goth Vegan Amoven?”
Before Daniel could respond, a grin already twitching around his mouth, the door burst open and Josie herself stormed inside. Henna tattoos adorned pale, perfect skin and the dyed black hair made her seem even paler, accentuating perfect cheekbones and wide, wide blue eyes.
She flounced onto the bed and shouted, “I’m going home! I refuse to have those, those, dogs sniffing around me like I’m some bitch in heat!”
Daniel cleared his throat, a suspicious sound given the circumstances, and replied, “Josie, technically, you…”
“Do not finish that and expect to keep your balls,” she snarled, eyes glinting gold.
Carl stood hastily and said, “I think I’m just going to find Uncle Walt and give him the good news. I know he never checks his email.”
Daniel mouthed, ‘Coward,’ at him as Carl beat a quick retreat.
Holding the laptop protectively against his lower extremities as he dashed passed the bed where Josie sat, teeth bared, Carl escaped the room. As soon as he was far down the hall and safely out of even Amoven hearing, he collapsed in laughter against the nearest wall.
Regaining his composure a few minutes later, Carl wiped at his eyes and went in search of Uncle Walt. Given the older Amoven’s penchant for alcohol and solitude, he went to the east side of the mansion where there were various studies and discreetly hidden bars. Nodding respectfully to the assorted Amoven whose paths he crossed, Carl kept his eyes carefully on the floor in a deliberately submissive gesture. Not that anyone would attack him, but he felt it best not to give anyone an opening. Daniel was under enough stress as it was, he didn’t need to defend Carl from some purist looking for a fight.
The halls were chillier than the rooms, not a surprise since the place was massive and set in the Colorado Rockies. Carl couldn’t help but wonder at the art on the walls. Amoven lived for so long, he would bet most were original pieces, even though no glass separated a viewer from the art. The rugs absorbing his footsteps were thick and new, just about the only thing in the entire mansion that was new.
Carl found Uncle Walt in one of the libraries on the second floor, buried in a massive, leather-bound tome. Actually, they’re quite alike, he thought, bemused. Walter McTavish, late Alpha to the McTavish Clan, looked just as leathery as the book, small, dark eyes almost hidden behind folds of weathered skin. It was a stretch to imagine Daniel like that a hundred years down the line, but then, he wouldn’t be around to see it anyhow.
Sitting beside the old Amoven, he asked, “Anything good?”
“You tell me,” Walt rumbled.
Carl tugged the book towards him and peered at the unintelligible scrawl. Making a face at Walt, he complained, “It’s Amoven.”
Walt half-smirked. “Don’t tell me you haven’t figured that out yet, smart kid like you?”
“If I had a basis of comparison, then I most certainly could, but all the Amoven texts are kept here and someone refuses to teach me,” Carl reminded tartly. “It’s not as though there’s a lending library.”
“True enough,” Walt agreed.
Carl paused dramatically before announcing, “Five confirmed pregnancies and ten more matings tonight.”
Walt went very still. “Which Clans?”
Setting his laptop on the table, Carl brought up the data file.
(PRETTY TABLE OF NAMES AND PERCENTAGES THAT WON’T LOAD IN LJ)
Walt quickly scanned the names and snorted in apparent amusement. “Sanchez and Ross, eh? That’ll turn some heads.”
Carl grinned and commented, “I imagine Ramon’s going to have a bit of culture shock moving from Texas to Massachusetts.”
“Just a little,” Walt agreed, dry. “Why such a high renewed viability for them?”
“Ramon and Beth are both twins who come from twins,” Carl explained.
“Ah. Very nice. Might get a set of triplets out of them, or even a real litter of four or five.”
Carl shuddered at the thought of even an Amoven woman carrying that many babies. Amovens were stronger than humans by nature, but even that would be stretching things, pun intended. Beth would be closely watched, no doubt about that. He brought up the next file that contained the failed mating pairings and waited.
Walt scanned the list and shook his head with a sigh. “Too many on that list.”
Carl offered hopefully, “But we might have ten more from tonight. We’ll know in the morning.”
“There should still be more. I need to figure out what went wrong.”
Seeing that Walt had entered ‘mad scientist mode,’ as Josie put it, Carl simply closed up his laptop and informed him, “Daniel’s meeting with Lauren at ten tonight.”
Walt waved him off. “Daniel can handle himself.”
“Even with Lauren?”
“Especially with Lauren.”
Carl had his doubts about that, but didn’t voice them. One simply didn’t doubt one’s Alpha, even in private. The walls did, after all, have ears. Standing, he said, “I’m going to find Sandy and the boys.”
His comment fell on deaf ears as Walt re-immersed himself in the Amoven book, apparently dismissing Carl from his mind. Amused, and not, long used to his adopted uncle’s eccentric behavior, Carl left the library for the living quarters the McTavish Clan had been assigned. It didn’t take all that long to get there and he knocked politely on Sandy’s door.
“Come in, Carl!”
Carl opened the door, knowing Sandy had caught his scent through the crack under the door. It was a handy ability and one he frequently wished to have. Immediately jumped by a four-legged furball yelping with excitement, Carl fell over backwards with an oof of displaced air. He landed partway in the hall, laptop clutched to his chest with one arm and puppy held safely in the other, licking his face.
“Mason! Get off your Uncle Carl this instant!”
The dark-furred, bright-blue eyed puppy, already a good size when Changed, sniffed in obvious disdain and licked Carl’s face again before trotting off him.
Catching his breath, Carl sat up and found himself surrounded by the other Clan kids, all Changed as well. Giving Sandy a bewildered look as he stood and closed the door, Carl demanded, “What on earth are you thinking?”
Sandy waved airily at him, a McTavish gesture seriously starting to wear thing, and replied, “The kids were bored. I figured this would keep them occupied and wear them out at the same time. Win-win.”
It was a challenge to get to the sofa without stepping on one of the three wickedly fast puppies running this way and that. Five in total, two belonging to Daniel and three to Sandy, the children were the Clan’s most prized asset. Mason and Malcolm, ten-year-old twins and diametric opposites, each with their father’s traits in spades, though Malcolm was easier to take than Mason. Stella, Amber, and Kyle took after Sandy only to varying degrees, thankfully, and all with a great deal more common sense than their mother, even at 14, 12, and 10 respectively.
The three boys generally fed off each other’s energy, especially in foreign territory. Malcolm helped balance the more aggressive two with his quiet, naturally submissive nature. It was bad enough that Kyle and Mason butted-heads on a regular basis, both clearly Alphas in the making, if all three had been headed in that direction, there would be a constant, full-scale war between the cousins. As it was, Malcolm kept his louder, more boisterous twin in check at the worst of times. Such behavior prompted Carl to wonder, now and again, who the true Alpha was of the pair.
The girls were exceptionally intelligent and actually a lot more devious than their brother and cousins. In Carl’s firm opinion, they were far more dangerous. As most women were. He tutored Stella in languages after school and had access to her cutting remarks on a daily basis. From fashion and style to the ‘bitches’ at school, Stella had an opinion on everything. Fortunately, he didn’t take the fourteen-year-old’s remarks to heart when they got personal after a bad day. She was far too impatient with herself and it spilled out of her in oft-times viciously accurate comments.
Amber was the joker in the group and frequently got called to the principal’s office at school for her off-colored jokes and racy stories. Where a twelve-year-old thought up such things, Carl wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Daniel had actually been called to pick her up the last time, when it had resulted in an expulsion. No one knew the specifics, but Amber had been on her best behavior since, which meant, basically, that they were sitting on a time bomb.
The girls waved to him from where they sat in a corner, each plugged into an individual laptop and/or chatting online with friends.
“How’re the matings going?” Sandy asked curiously.
Carl winced, but Sandy had no problems with talking about sex in front of the kids. It was something she and Daniel had disagreed about many, many times. Personally, Carl was with Daniel on that one, but Sandy had the ultimate say, since she raised the kids. Clearing his throat, he replied, “Better than expected. Daniel’s to speak with Lauren tonight.”
“Dried up old bitch,” Stella commented from the side.
Carl sighed and looked at the pretty, dark-haired girl. “All the languages you can speak, and that’s what comes out of your mouth?”
She smirked, a disconcerting sight on a fourteen-year-old, and amended, “Putain ratatinée. Is that better?”
Since it was French for pretty much the same thing, Carl just sighed again and shook his head.
“Have you seen William today?” Sandy questioned.
Carl shook his head. “I expect he’s been busy looking after Daniel, but I never spot him.”
A distressed, muffled yelping caught everyone’s attention. Carl hopped to his feet, directly behind Sandy as they raced to one of the bedrooms. Mason was stuck half-way back to human form. It was a ludicrous and somewhat nasty sight, bones misshapen and only partial fur covering the smallish body. It was the most vulnerable five minutes of an Amoven’s life, Changing from one form to the other. The ones who’d been doing it for years could manage it in under two, but they were still helpless during those two minutes.
Sandy crouched beside the whimpering child-puppy and urged, “You can do it, Mason, just concentrate. You know what to do, sweetie. Listen to what your body tells you and will yourself to become how you know yourself to look like as a boy. That’s it. Good boy, you’re doing wonderfully! Good job!”
She cradled the quietly crying youngster in her arms, now fully human, and stood to announce, “I think it’s passed bedtime for certain young McTavish men. Everyone in the bathroom to clean up.”
Malcolm and Kyle grumbled perfectly normal boy grumbles, Kyle poking fun at his recently stuck cousin. Malcolm punched the bigger boy in the arm, ready to defend his brother, and as Kyle spun to return the favor, Sandy called from the bathroom, “In here now, boys!”
“You’re so dead!” Kyle hissed, pushing Malcolm aside to get to the bathroom.
Shaking his head, remembering tussles of the same sort from his own childhood, Carl returned to the living room part of the suite.
Human or Amoven, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s just the number three, Carl mused, sitting back down.
Daniel had been the youngest of them, but Carl and Jim had always been trailing behind their adopted brother while growing up. Even then, Daniel had been naturally charismatic and a leader.
“Hey, Uncle Carl?”
Glancing over at Amber, Carl managed a wan smile as he asked, “What is it, Amber?”
“What happens if the Enclave fails?”
Such an innocent, curious question from a girl who shouldn’t even know that the extinction of her species was possible, let alone in the making. Knowing that she wouldn’t be satisfied with a pat answer, thanks to her intelligence and how she’d been raised, Carl answered slowly, “In the immediate future? Nothing. Life goes on. There will be less children, though, and eventually, Amovens will die out.”
Amber frowned. “But I thought Amovens lived for hundreds of years.”
“They do,” Carl confirmed. “But you can only have children for a limited time period, just like human women.”
She went silent, turning back to her computer with a thoughtful air, still frowning.
Carl noticed the tense set to Stella’s shoulders, though the girl didn’t turn from her laptop to join or prolong the conversation. He worried about her, knowing just how much she internalized, but she was too much like her Uncle Daniel. Unless she was ready to talk about it, Stella remained silent as the grave.
Sandy came out about a half-hour later, just in time to usher the girls to their beds. There weren’t any protests, which told Carl that they were still thinking about his words. He grimaced to himself and thought, Not exactly pleasant bedtime thoughts.
Since the girls pretty much took care of themselves, Sandy was out in less than ten minutes. She sank onto the sofa opposite and gave a tired grin. “I love them all, but I’m exhausted.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” Carl told her honestly. “I’d’ve gone crazy about thirteen years ago.”
Sandy laughed softly and replied, “That’s because you men are weaklings.”
“And don’t I know it,” Carl agreed, grinning.
There was a hesitation before Sandy asked, “Why aren’t you married with your own kids by now, Carl? You’re a handsome, intelligent man with a gentle nature and a great sense of humor. I know a dozen women off the top of my head who’ve all asked for your number and for an introduction. You keep yourself so separate from your own people and we all wish for you to have your own family.”
It was something of a surprise that no one had ever questioned him on the subject before. He thought about it a moment, more about how to say it, rather than what to say, and finally explained, “I saw what Daniel went through with Elsa and what you went through with Greg and Mark, and decided it wasn’t for me.”
“But you need human contact, Carl,” she countered, clearly worried. “You can’t simply make us the be-all, end-all of your world.”
Carl offered a brief smile. “Too late for that, I’m afraid. And it’s not as though I’m deliberately avoiding romantic entanglements. It’s just…I’m very particular. I won’t risk any of you to those who would destroy you. Never. If that means I don’t have my own kids, well, I’ve got three wonderful nephews and two exquisite nieces.”
“What about sex?” Sandy asked bluntly.
He chuckled and assured her, “Not to worry. I have that whenever I get the urge.”
She huffed, obviously not amused, and informed him firmly, “It’s time you settled down, Carl. I’m going to find you the perfect woman.”
Alarmed, Carl sat up straight to try and divert her, but the door opened and Josie flounced in, interrupting him for a second time. As the young Amoven woman began her women’s rights rant on her elder cousin, Carl could only hope that the topic slid from Sandy’s capricious and often forgetful mind.