Flash 7: Hybrids (2)

The first time Allirea was away from her father for more than a day was in 1910. She'd always been afraid of losing him. He'd tear apart the Earth to find her again, of course - if she could stay unfaded long enough to let him remember that she was lost. She couldn't. Sleep, if nothing else, would end the constant expenditure of willpower that it took to remain noticeable.

But in 1910, she decided that it was safe to leave him. If she couldn't find him again where she expected him to be right away, she could go to Warszawa by herself and wait until he visited her nephew. Or to Nahuel's home in Chile, which Father also visited sometimes.

So, that winter, she unfaded and waited for Father's acknowledgement.

"Yes, my dear?" Father said, looking up from the game of chess he was playing with Noemi. Noemi cocked her head, also curious.

"I want to go somewhere alone," she said. "Tell me where you will be every month for the next several years so I can meet you there when I am done. If I want to take longer than that I will go to Poland and stay with Kanimir so you can find me."

Father didn't usually keep a schedule in advance, but he worked one out anyway, on the spot, and she memorized the plan, and he swore - to Noemi, so he could remember - that he would stick to that itinerary. And then Allirea relaxed, and the chess game resumed, and she hugged them both unawares and steeled herself to march out of the hotel room they were keeping.

She kept track of where she went, so she wouldn't become lost and unable to find any of the planned meetup points, but she didn't have a specific destination in mind. Eventually she wound up on a boat to Puerto Rico.

She didn't have anything planned for what to do with herself there. So she did what she always did: watched, without being watched herself.

People-watching without Father around was a different experience. He always told her and Noemi that humans were animals, food, experimental subjects, not the nigh-deific heralds of a new world order that the hybrids were. Allirea did eat in Puerto Rico, of course. But she also noticed other things, without Father there to act as a lens.

She noticed a man.

Orlán was funny, and Allirea, who almost never laughed, followed him around to seek that insidious humor. Inside of a week of first seeing him, she watched no one else. She slept next to him, though he didn't know it. When he cooked at his chef's job she tasted what he made, out of sentiment, even though it was all inferior to warm, sweet blood. And he made jokes, for his friends and his little brother and his nieces, and Allirea laughed.

She decided that she wanted Orlán to make jokes for her, so she let him notice her. Only when no one else was around, snippets of ten and fifteen minutes during most days. He was convinced he was imagining her, or daydreaming her, since he couldn't introduce her to anyone and never seemed to recall her existence for long - but that didn't stop him from talking to her. It didn't stop him from making jokes. And she laughed, and eventually she decided to kiss him, and she decided that Noemi had not been silly to go off and live with a man after all.

They enticed each other to bed over several weeks (she didn't mention that she'd been sharing his for a while already). Orlán was engaged, but Allirea was an unusually solid fantasy, so he thought that was all right. She didn't challenge the interpretation.

She considered eating his fiancée, but eventually decided against it. He would probably make very few jokes if he were in mourning.

Orlán was bemused, but accepting, when his daydream turned up pregnant and her belly swelled impossibly quickly.

He was less accepting when their son, who was not naturally prone to being intermittently forgotten, was born (with less violence than Allirea's nephew, via the standard procedure) ten weeks later. He did not accept that at all, and, confronted with Allirea's reality, wanted nothing else to do with her.

Allirea could still watch Orlán if she wanted. He could hardly stop her. She could even lift his spirits in spite of his preoccupation with his child out of wedlock, if she folded the baby into her own protection. When their son was forgotten like she was, Orlán would joke as he had before.

She faded into the background, and protected their son the same way as much as she could, until Orlán's wedding. Then she left town. She didn't want to watch him living with her.

But she did name the baby after his father.

Allirea was awkward in attempting to raise little Orlán. Whenever she relaxed for a moment, he thought he was alone, and cried. He slept, but at seemingly random times, and it was almost impossible for him to wake her up in the middle of the night when he opened his eyes and feared the dark or wanted food. When he learned to crawl, climbing and walking followed soon after, and she had to put him in what amounted to a cage before she went to sleep to prevent him from haring off into the darkness.

If she took him into a populated area, she had to fade him or unfade herself. Humans would try to grab her son right out of her arms if she did neither, because there was an unattended child, and they had to find his parents, of course. Especially because he was an unattended, cute child: he had thick black hair that curled when it got long, and though he didn't glow in the sun, he did have a healthy clay-colored complexion, midway between Allirea's nut brown and his father's deep tan. He wasn't the ethereal vision of beauty that a vampire was, or the solidly healthy and even-featured specimen that first-generation hybrids seemed to turn out to be, but he was extraordinary if mistaken for a human.

Little Orlán drank blood quite happily (which didn't affect his brown eyes a bit), but he also enjoyed select human foods that Allirea was, at best, neutral about. She let him have them when he asked. They didn't do him harm.

It became easier to care for him as he learned to talk. He started with Spanish, but once he had a solid command of that at six months old, she taught him her first language to use instead, the Aboriginal tongue her mother had spoken. Orlán speaking Spanish sounded a little too much like his father and Allirea didn't like to hear it.

He was slower and weaker than her even as he grew up, and sometimes he forgot things - not random, background things, like the ones Allirea could forget, but occasionally even important things. He still had a better memory than a human, as far as she could tell.

When Orlán was ten and looked twenty, he stopped growing. He was tall, topping Allirea's five foot two by almost eighteen inches. He moved easily among humans, telling the right lies and hiding the full extent of his abilities. But he wasn't shy about demonstrating them, up to the limits Allirea guessed were safe and carefully instilled into his memory using the techniques that would let her admonishment stick when her existence didn't.

When he was eleven, he went into a town by himself, got a job fishing, and was gone for a week and a half before Allirea figured out where he'd gone. He came back to the house she'd built them in the safety of the middle of nowhere, blinked at her when she reasserted her presence, and apologized for scaring her, but he went back out when she dropped her unfading again.

Allirea thought about it long and hard, but eventually she decided to let him be. Carefully, she left instructions for how to find his cousin in Warszawa, or his uncle in Chile, and where he should leave a note when he decided to move somewhere new, so she'd be able to find him again.

Then she got on a boat to Portugal, and waited in Sintra for Father and Noemi, who arrived on schedule and were pleased to see her again. They wanted to visit Orlán, so they did, although Allirea hung back beyond what she needed to do to introduce everyone.

Allirea left them twice more: once in Uruguay in 1939, and once in South Africa in 1990 not long after Iseul was born. (Allirea was not especially fond of Iseul, at least compared to Noemi, and that time she left at least as much to get away from the excessively perky child as she did to enjoy herself in Cape Town.) Each time she left, she followed a man. An unattached man - she'd learned her lesson. Each time she eventually revealed herself, eventually made love to him, inevitably got pregnant, and bore a daughter.

Ella, the first daughter, was actually quite welcome to her father Camilo, who had the freedom to be eccentric that came with self-made wealth and wasn't much harmed by a daughter of mysterious origins or put out by the inconvenience of hiding her age. In order to placate Camilo's sensibilities, Ella was raised entirely on human food supplemented with occasional pigs' blood. Allirea was able to leave Ella with Camilo - and with a mostly fictional explanation of why the girl would grow so fast and be so extraordinary - and so Ella didn't have the difficult childhood her brother had. She grew up surprisingly human in outlook.

In fact, Camilo was entirely able to manage their daughter, and everything else, without Allirea at all, which went a long way to disenchanting her with him. He was no happier when she was noticeable than when she wasn't. Allirea stayed in Uruguay, despite her lost interest in Camilo, until Ella was grown and in spite of the girl's alien identification with the animals around her. Allirea made sure that her second child had the same resources Orlán did to get ahold of her mother's side of the family. But Allirea herself felt superfluous, and so after her daughter turned ten, she went to Puerto Rico to update Orlán on his sibling status, and then met up with Father and Noemi in La Paz.

Siphiwe, Allirea's last daughter, was not such a pleasant addition to her father's life, but Allirea didn't have to raise her alone as she had with Orlán after being turned out of her lover's house. She brought baby Siphiwe with her to Namibia, where Father and Noemi and Iseul lingered, and convinced Noemi to live with her in South Africa and help until Siphiwe was ready to be on her own. Father wasn't thrilled with the geographical requirement, but in order to stay near his elder daughters he confined himself and Iseul to the southerly half of Africa for the next decade. Noemi and Allirea set up in Port Elizabeth, and Siphiwe grew up thinking of Noemi as as much of a mother as Allirea was - more so, when Allirea was faded.

Allirea's children all met each other once: in 2000, when Siphiwe was grown (and so was Iseul), Allirea declared an unprecedented family gathering, and got Father and Noemi and Nahuel and Kanimir and Iseul and Orlán and Ella and Siphiwe to congregate in Natal, Brazil, a reasonable geographic midpoint.

It was a lukewarm event. Father was excessively self-congratulatory about the quantity and quality of his descendants. Orlán didn't seem to like having sisters, and Ella, who'd had half-siblings on her father's side and hadn't liked them much, wasn't interested in developing new relationships of the same kind. Siphiwe hated travel and desperately wanted to go home, and Nahuel wouldn't stop worrying about having offended Huilen by attending the gathering. Kanimir was annoyed at Allirea (whenever he recalled her presence) for not inviting his father Jarek. Iseul took an immediate shine to her nieces and nephews and seemed oblivious to how annoying they found her.

But everyone was there, and everyone exchanged contact information and got to know each other and memorize their network of relationships, which was what Allirea wanted. That way, she could expect to find anyone in her family through anyone else, if she lost touch somehow.

Allirea faded out, and followed her father and sisters as they left Natal.

Iseul listened carefully to her father's repeated, insistent warnings about the Volturi when she was growing up. "The Volturi do not give second chances," he told her - told all his descendants. "They will kill even you, my miracles, if you are caught in violation of the law. You must avoid notice if you can. If you are noticed you must avoid angering them."

And so when Demetri found her in the street in Bayankhongor, and called her name, and she saw the black cloak... Iseul wanted to run. But she couldn't get away from a vampire, so she was polite to him and did as he asked, and then he called Jane and jumped out the window looking intent on something Iseul couldn't place.

Iseul huddled next to Noemi on the couch, worried about Jane's approach, wishing Father would return home sooner than planned. It would be no good to leave town hoping to avoid meeting the Volturi weapon; Demetri found them once and would have an even easier time finding them again. They would just have to be very polite to her and hope the Volturi didn't want to hurt them.

Jane did want to hurt them (although not damage them). She took exception to Iseul drifting off to sleep at six in the morning before she was done talking to them, and wouldn't even let Noemi try to wake her before resorting to her usual bludgeon. Sleep insistently clawed at Iseul from one direction and Jane's fire from the other. Noemi had learned to stay up past her usual bedtime with practice, but Iseul couldn't do it. When the little witch finally left with her companions at her heels, Iseul couldn't stop trembling, and she felt more tired than she ever had before, but it was almost noon and she couldn't make herself fall asleep at the wrong time.

And Father had been helpless. Strong, confident Father, who ushered in a race of gods, who was - her father - could do nothing about a little hissing teenager with fire in her eyes. He'd been afraid. For himself, for his children.

Iseul didn't like that at all.

After she got a morning's sleep, she felt better, but still unsettled, and the feeling didn't go away after another day, or a week, or a year. Father worried about her - it was unlike her - but he couldn't get at the source of her worry and she knew it.

Someone else could, though.

Someone did. Iseul heard it from Allirea, who she'd seen only once since Demetri had first visited them. Usually the absence hardly made a difference and certainly wasn't noticed, although it did seem to Iseul like she had trouble moving unnoticed through crowds more often than she had before. But when she realized her sister had been gone for five years save two "visits"... and picked up on the clues about what she'd been doing... she felt sick to her stomach.

But Allirea brought news, the most interesting news to have ever been current during Iseul's lifetime: the Volturi were gone. Well, most of them -

Jane was gone.

Iseul couldn't even manage to be upset about the new hunting laws when she heard.

Joham was mildly put out about the new regime, until it became clear that the new Empress had an agenda roughly compatible with his own. Some procedural changes would be required, nothing more. Her Majesty (and her charming daughter the princess) permitted him to outline an advertisement, which was then stacked in the PRPR waiting room to be skimmed at random or clipped to women's turning rejection slips if they ticked the relevant box on their application.

He wasn't the only vampire who was interested in having children, but he was one of a very, very few who had the practice under his belt to safely arrange it the old-fashioned way. That, with the fact that he was demonstrably willing and able to raise his children alone and didn't require ongoing participation from the mother, appealed to a niche - the ones who didn't like the idea of the medical procedure and the ones who didn't really want kids, just a bloodstream full of venom.

Still, most of them backed out after talking to him, although one wavered enough that she got as far as meeting his daughters before changing her mind, and one appeared set to go through with it until a vampire mated to her and got her through the screening process that way. Joham was patient, though. The new arrangement would be unlikely to lose any of his precious children once he got to the point of creating them, and would probably improve his rate overall.

It was eight years into the new system before he finally got his fifth child. The boy's mother declined to name him, or otherwise involve herself, and Joham had never been particularly creative, so he called the baby by his own name and withdrew his advertisement until Joham II was mature.

There was a reasonable number of half-vampires by then, and while the princess lived with the Golden Coven, Nahuel remained in Chile, and the Clearwater boy resided with his wolf siblings, other hybrids born under the new regime had happened to cluster near the capital site in Florida. Joham settled into a residence within the environs of the cluster, and Junior played not only with his sisters but with Marcus's daughters (how odd, that they were not princesses as they would have been if they'd been born only a decade earlier) and the others who lived nearby.

Joham Jr. matured and, unlike his sisters, was not interested in continuing to live with his father, although he didn't go far. Siphiwe eventually moved nearby, and Kanimir's five-eighths human twins when they were grown, and Joham resumed putting advertisements in the PRPR offices.

The volume of requests the office handled had gone up since his youngest's birth, and he got another taker within the year.

That one turned out to be his mate.

His mate, Lucy, had read the relevant pamphlets, and so when she was made aware of this, she was roughly familiar with the position the phenomenon put her in - which position was markedly different from the one she would have been in fifty years previous, and starkly in her favor given that she did want to be a vampire.

Lucy informed him that there was to be none of his characteristic behavior with anyone but her in the future. She informed him that she wanted one child, no more, as she didn't care for the idea of hers gestating in someone else's body and there was still no way for a human to manage two half-vampire pregnancies.

Lucy named their baby girl Athena, and Athena was his last child, but around him, the ranks of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren swelled.

Joham considered it reasonably likely that in a few hundred years, he would be an ancestor of every new child born.

He considered this satisfaction enough for his life's work.