Flash 6: Hybrids (1)

Joham did not actually leave his firstborn in the Outback alone as an infant, but it was a near thing.

Throughout the winter of 1689 (not by the local calendar, but he wasn't sure if the locals had one), he'd been seeing several women, one from each of a cluster of nearby human communities. "Nearby" by his standards: he traveled between them during the day, visited his lovers at night. They didn't know about each other, as it was easier to coax them into bed when he played the part of a supernatural being uncharacteristically charmed by their beauty with eyes for no other.

He didn't always bother with the coaxing. But he was beginning to suspect that it would make his successful conceptions less likely to drown themselves or slit their throats when they became aware that they carried his children, or even before. The death toll from the pregnancies which didn't suicide (or get themselves killed by outraged fellow humans) were already in the dozens, but he persisted: surely if it was possible for them to conceive, it should be possible for them to bear. The children at two weeks along - as far as he'd seen any get - were not strong enough to live apart from their mothers, however promptly Joham arrived on the scene to tear them out of the dead womb.

But when he did take the still bodies out of their mothers, they were perfect little creatures save for being dead - vampire-like skin, but they would have breathed if they'd lived, their hearts would have beaten, who knew what else they might do? Who knew what marvels they'd have grown into?

Joham meant to find out, so: he left Pangari when dawn approached, promising to return to her in a few days. He spent the light of day traveling from where she lived to where Tathra lived, and came to her at dusk.

Except Tathra was, unaccountably, dead, with her belly ripped wide open, and beside her on the ground were several of her family, jagged scoops of their necks missing and surprisingly little blood pooling below the wounds.

Joham smelled the air, but there was no trace of any vampire having been in the place but himself. There were only the smells of blood (he controlled himself; he'd fed on his journey and there wasn't much left in these vessels anyway... but why? It hadn't all soaked into the ground...) and standard human odors of food and refuse and the like, and a sweet-spicy smell that was neither familiar nor important.

So a vampire couldn't have killed them. Humans killed each other sometimes, but not like this, not typically. And a wild animal seemed... unlikely.

He almost didn't examine Tathra's midsection more carefully. He would certainly have noticed if she had become pregnant, of course, would have noticed weeks ago.

Except perhaps he wouldn't, because the hollow of the tear was lined with the damply glistening shell he'd become familiar with. How in the world...?

Joham ignored a sharp pain in his ankle and studied the scene. The bodies appeared to have been dead for different amounts of time. Tathra first, this fellow (a brother? He hadn't bothered to ask about her family) after her, then the woman (her aunt, he thought); then the girl perhaps ten years old (maybe Tathra's niece?) was still warm. Something had killed that girl not an hour before his arrival. He was entirely baffled.

The pain in his ankle subsided. He looked at the ring of punctures while they healed, then put his foot back down; it didn't matter where they'd come from and they were recovering normally.

"-aaaa," said a baby's voice from the ground beside the dead child.

Joham stared at her: a healthy brown baby girl with gloss to her skin and blood on her lips. How had he not seen her? She'd been there the entire time, he realized, watching him, biting his leg, but... Still, she was obviously his. He broke into a broad grin. She copied him, smiling a toothy, red smile, and flung her hands up, crowing "Vwee!"

"Oh, my, indeed vwee," he purred, bending to scoop her up. "Now how did I miss you, you charming little miracle?"

"Ababababa," she said, fastening her warm little arms around his neck and clinging there. She didn't seem to have any trouble supporting her own weight, although he propped her up anyway.

"You have been hungry, haven't you," he marveled, surveying the destruction she'd wrought. "I'm just not sure how you escaped my noti..."

He dropped his arms to his sides, blinking. He wasn't usually given to talking to himself, and he wasn't grief-stricken over Tathra to the point where he'd sentimentally address her corpse. At any rate, whatever had killed her and her relatives, it wouldn't look good to the Volturi if he just fled the scene and it somehow led the local population to believe in blood-drinking monsters. It wasn't Joham's fault, or any vampire's that he could smell (some witch who concealed his or her tracks, maybe...?) but it could be Joham's downfall if the Italians caught wind.

He torched the building, and fled into the night.

He visited his other women in their customary order: one fell pregnant and died, one fell pregnant and was murdered by her father, one he killed accidentally while trying to get her pregnant (these accidents were becoming less frequent, but happened occasionally), and one he gave up as probably barren and had for supper.

Only after all of these events had passed, and he'd spent a couple of days in the wilderness taking a break from his lifework, did he notice the baby clinging to his back.

She'd evidently been continuing to feed herself - come to think of it, that might explain what he'd written off as a mistake on his part, although he hadn't thought much of the chunks torn out of Pangari's throat at the time - and was some inches longer than she had been, but she was the same child. "My word," he said to her, choosing the language Tathra had used. "What a peculiar magic you've got." It had to be magic, that was obvious. And a particularly insidious sort: he could now remember her attaching herself to him and hanging from his neck as he'd traveled, but at the time she'd seemed inconsequential. The humans had apparently been affected the same way. It would have been easy to lose her. But she'd apparently been motivated to stay with him, and successful at it to boot. "Aren't you smart. Aren't you! Now, don't you fade away again, I need to name you..."

It was a romantic notion, perhaps his only one, but he liked the idea of letting the deceased mothers of the large number of children he hoped to sire name them. In advance via idle conversation, of course, but it was easy enough to get his conquests to produce preferred names for a boy and a girl, and Tathra had been no different.

"You're Allirea," he said, touching his daughter's nose.

"Allirea," she repeated clearly.

Father did not know that hybrids slept until he saw Noemi doing it.

Allirea had never known it was remarkable - she only tucked her hands under her elbows to lock her arms in place around his neck and let him carry her around, and then she woke up, and since she often clung to him and said nothing even awake, he never noticed the difference in retrospect. She'd assumed that he slept sometimes. Less than her, clearly, but she'd expected that he probably found a quiet place to lie down (on his front, she supposed, since she'd never been squashed) and nap every day.

Then Noemi fell asleep after a long day of chewing her way out of her mother and drinking three humans down for her first meal, and Father stared at her like she was doing something remarkable.

Allirea watched the baby, touched her downy pale hair and her pearly pale cheek. Noemi looked more like Father than Allirea did. And she slept and this was interesting to Father.

Allirea unfaded and looked at him quizzically. She didn't need to call his attention to her beyond that; he knew after fourteen years (however sporadic their interactions) that when she unfaded it meant she wanted to talk.

"Allirea, my precious, do you sleep too?" he inquired.

"Yes," she said. "Everyone sleeps."

"Vampires don't," he told her.

"You have said you do," she protested. She began listing occasions when he'd referred to waking up, or going to bed, or catching up on sleep, while she'd been eavesdropping.

"I was lying," he said gently. "Not to you, if you had ever asked of course you would have gotten the truth, but I have to lie to humans, you know that. You don't believe that I'm thirty-three years old, do you?"

"No," admitted Allirea. "But you told me you were not."

He kissed her scalp. She'd taken to shearing off all her hair when there were implements available; she didn't like to fuss with it. "I tell you now, vampires, including me, do not sleep. But it is a blessing indeed that you can. Do you dream?" he asked, sounding wistful.

Allirea nodded. "I dream."

She dreamed of being awake, mostly, only nothing she made was still there in the morning and nothing she'd learned was still true. Sometimes she had terrible dreams, where someone had seen Father do something he shouldn't have been able to do, and she couldn't make the fading cover him, and everyone looked at him and shouted and brought fire to kill him. Sometimes she dreamed about wandering around in the place she was from, by herself, with no Father at all because he hadn't come back for her or she'd let go while he ran. Sometimes she dreamed that they ate all the humans in the world and he starved and she had to eat bread that tasted sour and dry and sticky. She wasn't sure it was such a good thing to dream. But if Father wished to dream, she was lucky to do so. Allirea filed away this blessing with the others he'd told her she - and her new sister, now - had.

She had nothing more to say, so she relaxed and Father's eyes unfocused and slid away from her, and he looked at Noemi, and Allirea looked at her too.

Noemi almost didn't get to meet Nahuel.

At the time Nahuel was born in 1853, Noemi was busily playing house with her vampire paramour - not "mate", but wasn't Father proof that mating wasn't strictly necessary? - in Warszawa. Noemi's childhood had been full of loving attention from said father and, sometimes, her sister, but she'd always found the running around the world between batches of potential-mothers-of-more-siblings tiring. Allirea could hitch a ride whenever she liked and never be told to get off their father's back, but Noemi'd had to run to keep up since she turned four.

So she'd broken a little rule - just one of Father's, which would get her scolded, not one of the Volturi's that could get her killed - and she'd let on to a vampire what she was. Jarek held the territory around Warszawa by himself, without the aid of a coven, which she found impressive. He was quite willing to let a fetching, exotic immortal like Noemi charm him into an explicitly temporary affair. Temporary because sooner or later, even if they never really tired of each other, Jarek or Noemi or both would find a mate. They agreed in advance that this was to be accepted without rancor on both sides when the time came. He was charmingly reasonable about it, Noemi thought.

Father had sighed and paced and shaken his head at Noemi, but finally he'd agreed to leave her behind in Poland. "I will come here to look for you the next time I am near," he said to her. "If I do not find you here - if you have moved, perhaps - then we will work out something else to find one another." And they had decided on a series of landmarks to check, any one of which was unlikely to disappear soon, and signs that could be left near them to indicate updated locations. Father was gone as soon as his last Polish experiment choked on her own blood and died, a week and a half along.

Noemi found that stationary life agreed with her very well. She slept during the day, in Jarek's cellar hideout, and when it was too sunny for him to venture out he would stay in and hold her. At night she woke, and they hunted together, and played absurd games of hide-and-seek that sprawled across the entire city, and Jarek repeatedly lauded his good fortune at having found a warm and durable bedmate without having to wait for the whims of whatever controlled mating.

This last eventually resulted in Noemi becoming pregnant, which was alarming to the both of them.

"I hope I haven't killed you," Jarek said. "That is not what I was trying to do."

Noemi laughed, because he was funny, even when the situation could be deadly serious. "I feel healthy enough," she said, running a hand over her distended belly. "I'm stronger than a human. Maybe I can survive it."

Noemi stayed in the cellar, and Jarek brought her food enough to satisfy her increased cravings, and she continued to feel healthy (if a bit bloated). The baby (Noemi named it in advance like her mother had done for her, just in case: Kanimir if a boy, Jaromira if a girl) grew fast. Faster than Noemi had seen Father's other attempts at children do. But as long as she kept eating - especially first thing every evening when she woke up - she felt... fine. The baby didn't break her bones or rupture her organs or drain the life out of her.

Kanimir was born three weeks and two days after he was conceived. Noemi had warned Jarek about her kind's propensity for chewing, and when she felt the first stab of agony he tore her open as neatly as he could with his teeth. When Kanimir was safely out and wriggling happily on the floor beside his mother, Jarek held the edges of the wound together, Noemi panted and scrunched her eyes shut, and a jagged scab formed and started to scar.

Once Noemi could sit without opening herself up again, Jarek went out for more prey: for her, to recover, and for the baby. Kanimir was small and symmetrical and looked like he was made of porcelain. He had his mother's blonde hair, and black eyes that didn't change color when he fed.

Noemi's scar didn't go away, although it did get thinner and turn white. It was colder than the rest of her, probably the result of the venom Jarek had bitten in. She did return to her original, svelte shape over several days. Kanimir's shell was apparently absorbed back into her body without incident.

The little family was very paranoid about letting Kanimir be seen for his first few years of life, when someone might have mistaken him for a full vampire - and an immortal child, based on his size. But he grew even faster than Noemi had. He was three when he finally looked fourteen: the cutoff age, beyond which it was permissible to turn. Anyone making the obvious mistake would not make it to the point of having the child executed for a capital crime.

It wouldn't be a hard mistake to make. Kanimir didn't have a heartbeat. He wasn't cold, like a vampire, but he did tend to hover around room temperature. He ate less often but more avidly than Noemi did, and had almost his father's grace and speed, albeit not strength. He slept - occasional, optional catnaps he could have whenever he chose in opposition to Noemi's rigid nocturnal schedule, the naps totaling no more than an hour a day.

Jarek was full to bursting with pride.

He wanted another.

Noemi... did not. She was pleased with Kanimir. He was a delightful child, always ready with a kiss for his mama and a new discovery about the world to cheer about. But even knowing that, for her, motherhood was survivable, she didn't want to repeat the experience.

Her relationship with Jarek didn't long survive the moratorium on lovemaking.

He didn't push the issue. He could have, but either lingering affection for Noemi, or fear of Joham, or some combination, prevented it. They went on living together amicably, and raised their child cooperatively, but ceased to be lovers.

Kanimir stopped growing when he was five and could pass for eighteen. In indirect sunshine, he glowed like Noemi; under high noon on a cloudless day there was a twinkly sheen to him like crushed white mica. He wore his hair long and went barefoot and tasted human food just once.

"Grandfather will want to know if you can or not," she coaxed, that having been the reason she'd had a pastry when she was six: to see if she could. "He will be back to check on me any year now; wouldn't you like to already know the answer when he asks?"

"If I can't won't it make me sick?" Kanimir asked, wary of the slice of bread she was holding. She'd eaten half of it to convince him of its edible nature, although she wouldn't want to make a diet of the stuff.

"It wouldn't even make your father sick," she said. "He'd only have to cough it up, he wouldn't be hurt. Go on."

Kanimir ate the bread, and didn't feel compelled to choke it up later, but never wanted to consume anything other than blood again. Noemi didn't push it; she'd leave that to Father when he returned.

Father returned to Warszawa when Kanimir was eleven. He found Noemi and Jarek and their son right where he expected to, and was thrilled to pieces with his grandson. "I knew," he kept repeating, after coming to understand that Noemi had given birth and looking at her scar, "I knew my children would be superior creatures. How marvelous. How absolutely marvelous." For several days he monopolized Kanimir, inquiring after every facet of his capabilities and development.

Noemi was pretty sure Jarek and Father had talked about her reluctance to have a second child while she was asleep, because Father never asked.

"I'm going back to South America," Father announced after he'd been in Warszawa for two weeks. He looked at Noemi, and at Kanimir.

"Why South America?" Noemi asked.

"I was there seven years ago," Father said. "I lost track of one of my experiments..."

"Lost track?" Noemi exclaimed. "Father!"

"I had others to look after, and by the time Pire's turn came up again she was gone. I suspected that she'd been killed by her tribesmen, you know how common that is..." Noemi nodded. "But it occurred to me recently that her sister, to whom she'd been very close, was also missing when I returned. There's something puzzling about that. I'm going back to make a more thorough search, in case there's anything left to be found."

The unspoken question was, Will you join me?

"I will come with you," Noemi said. She glanced at her son. He looked grown. He spoke and acted like a man. And of course she knew what it was to be adult at a young age. But she hoped he would come with her anyway.

Jarek was looking at their son, too, hoping to keep him in Poland.

"I will go, and then I will come back," Kanimir decided finally, and both of his parents had to be satisfied with that.

Noemi had crossed oceans before. The usual method was for Father to tow a boat with her on it, and a few humans tied up to eat on the way in case they didn't encounter any ships to hunt on. A larger raft was called for with Kanimir in tow, but otherwise the procedure was the same. They took the trip at a leisurely pace to let the untraveled quarter-human see the sights on the way, and stopped in France for Father to begin and kill off a round of experiments, and then they went across the Atlantic and landed on the wrong coast of South America.

They went across, slowing down and meandering north-south more as they got closer to the west edge.

One evening, Noemi woke up to find Allirea unfaded, a vampire woman in their camp separated from her limbs and guarded by Kanimir, and a half-vampire man shouting at Father.

"She did not attack first!" roared the strange man. "Allirea picked us up against our wills and took us here -"

"Allirea could hardly have stopped your aunt if she had struggled, Nahuel," Father pointed out. Noemi did not think this was a fair characterization, but kept silent.

"Let her go!" exclaimed the new hybrid, who Noemi tentatively identified as her half-brother. He lunged towards the flailing, detached parts of his aunt, but Kanimir batted him aside easily and Nahuel sprang back, growling.

"Do calm down. I am not planning to kill her," said Father. "Huilen was the first to make a violent move. Allirea was defending me; before that no one had been injured. I only want to talk to you, my son."

"I am no son of yours," snapped Nahuel.

"You are," said Father levelly. "If only Huilen hadn't made off with you I would have been there to see you born and would have raised you as my own; I have already apologized for the timing -"

"You killed my mother!"

"And gave you life," Father said. "A human, traded for a miraculous creature of incredible rarity and -"

Nahuel interrupted with an incoherent roar, and Father appeared to be getting less patient. "Don't you eat?" Noemi asked her brother quizzically.

"Of course I - that's not the point," Nahuel said. "I don't want to go with you. Let me put my aunt back together, and leave us alone."

"Please reconsider," coaxed Father. "You are one of only three like you! You belong with your sisters."

"No," snarled Nahuel. "I'm staying here with Huilen. She's my family."

"Won't you at least tell us how to find you, so we can visit?" Noemi put in. "Kanimir is going to live with his father in Poland when we return to Europe, but I will know how to find my son. I would like to know how to find my brother."

A tense conversation later, they were agreed on where Father, Allirea, Noemi, or Kanimir could leave a note and suggest a meeting time and place for Nahuel. He agreed to check it "periodically". Noemi suspected that he didn't intend for that to amount to anything frequent, but there was a glimmer of something in his eyes when he looked at how she touched Kanimir's hair, or how proud Father looked when he placed his hands on Allirea's shoulders. She thought he'd probably look in more often than he meant to when he promised.

The family left Nahuel to reconstruct his aunt, and traversed the sea again (after a three-week stop in Paraguay for tourism - and more experiments, all failures). Kanimir parted ways from his mother and grandfather when they landed in Liberia: Father and Noemi continued inland while Kanimir traveled up the African coast to make his way back to Warszawa.

It was on this occasion that Noemi learned she could cry.