Torshael and Tayne's Story: Between Missions

Chapter Twenty-Six


The sight of the City's gates was usually an inspiring, uplifting sight, especially to someone for whom it meant "home" and "family" and "familiar". And it was that... it was just other things, too. There was some nervousness, of course, because there was the possibility that his secret was out, and because their reception was likely to be uncertain, even if it wasn't. There was a certain reluctance to face the family with such a counter-conventional bond in tow-- or even without said bond, as he had been gone for weeks now, and he'd left without anything more than a note. And there was a vague resignation at returning to someplace where he could no longer be himself, no longer be open and careless, something which felt alien next to the relief at seeing someplace that meant "home".

"How come you shifted into this big monster, again?"

Well, Tayne felt those things. Fluniarlii didn't seem to feel anything but mild irritation at being reduced to a little white speck on her bond's forehead, easy to overlook; excitement at arriving at a new place; and anticipation of meeting-- and shortly after scandalizing-- her bond's family.

"Because otherwise Mother will squish me when she comes out to welcome me home. Besides, it's sort of tradition. At least one of us ought to be a supernal, and since you can't manage it, I get to."

"But you're huge!" Lii complained, holding tight to his face-fur. Her little claws pricked at his skin through it. "No one will even look twice at me-- or even see me!" 

"I can shrink, if you like," he suggested, amused. "But then there's still the problem that Mother will squish me, and thus you."

"No, no," Lii huffed. "I'll be fine, I'm sure. I wish I was bigger...."

"You'll grow soon enough," Tayne chuckled at her. Lii's confidence was bolstering; even if his family hated him-- or hated her, which was probably more likely, if no one knew about his digressions away from home-- he knew he wasn't alone. He could at least put aside his less than pleasant feelings, for a little while, and be pleasant to his family and friends. "Hello!" He managed to sound cheerful for the guards, approaching the shining gates. He could sense Fluniarlii, clinging carefully to his short facial-fur, melt into a neutral expression, eyes going half-lidded and humor erased except, he expected, from the faint twinkle in her eyes. She'd look sober and proud and rather impressive, for a tiny thing, especially to supernals, who would look first at her color. It was her "white act", as he'd come to think of it.

"Welcome home, Tayne Peregrin," one of the guards said, smiling back at him.

"Who's that you've got there?" the other asked.

"A little white flea," Fluniarlii said, her voice completely deadpan. "Come to infest your city and bite everyone's butt, so that they all itch in the most improper of places."

"This is Fluniarlii," Tayne explained with an apologetic smile as the two Favored guards stared in surprise at the unexpected answer and incongruous expression that went with it. He was proud not to stumble over the name; a couple more introductions, and it might even sound natural in his own mouth. "She's my new bond."

"Ah," the first said, his wide eyes still on Lii, who merely smiled serenely before quite suddenly crossing her eyes and gaping her beak in a most inelegant fashion. Even though Tayne couldn't see her, she favored him with an image from her own imagination of what she looked like, and he was hard-pressed not to laugh.

"Looks like a good match," the second guard commented after a pause, putting a wry grin on her muzzle.

"You think?" Tayne snickered. "We get to introduce her to the family today. Think she'll go over well?"

"Sure!" she chuckled. "She'll fit right in!"

Lii fluffed her fur up importantly. "That's what I said; he keeps disagreeing with me!"

"Don't listen to him," the female guard winked at her. "You just be your unexpected little self."

"Oh, I'm going to," Lii grinned wickedly.

"All right, all right," Tayne laughed. "Come on, Lii, you can be your 'unexpected little self' again soon enough. You two have a nice day," he told the guards.

"And you," the first guard nodded.

"Good luck," the second added.

"We'll need it," Tayne agreed jauntily, and headed through the gate.

::Now, just remember....::

::I know, I know. No talking about your boyfriend. Even if they already know.::

Tayne pulled his ears back, still a little embarrassed at hearing Tekas called that. He'd somehow managed not to put a name to what he was beyond "good friend"... even though he knew perfectly well that "good friends" weren't usually in bed together. He needed to stop making a habit of falling for "good friends" and then refusing to think of them as anything else.... ::Right,:: he said. ::It could get us into a lot of trouble if anyone found out.::

::No one will hear it from me,:: Lii promised again-- she'd already promised once, back on Kynn, the day before. ::You two are so bloody cute together, you really think I'd want anything to break that up?::

::Lii,:: he mock-growled. She took on a purposefully matronly tone sometimes, when talking about him and Tekas, and it was one of the things that could actually annoy him about her. She could tell, of course, but hadn't stopped yet. This time, she "apologized" for making light of the situation by reaching back and preening a tuft of his mane affectionately, but he knew she'd do it again.

::I won't do anything to make you that unhappy, don't worry.:: Tayne sighed and consciously let go of the annoyance, put his concern from his mind; he knew she was telling the truth, and would do her best to protect his secret, no matter how flippant she might be about it all. "So this is the City, huh?" she asked aloud, looking around. She sounded vaguely impressed, if grudgingly so. "It's... pretty. I guess."

Tayne snickered. "Don't bother to try and hide it; it's awe-inspiring to anybody."

Lii snorted at him. "It's impressive, sure. But it's a little-- pretentious."

"Where'd you learn that word?" Tayne laughed, though he agreed with her, when it came to some parts of the City. Not all of them, but some of them. Like Torshael's house, for example.

"Oh, I picked it up somewhere," Lii said. "Well, isn't it?"

"At times," he shrugged. "My mother's house is about the opposite of pretentious, though I expect you'll find other things to comment on. Privately, I hope."

"I want to shock her, not hurt her," Lii assured him. "Anything too mean I'll just share with you."

"Good. There it is." Tayne opened a wing to point out the sprawling manor of a cottage, or cottage of a manor, or whatever it was. "Where I grew up. Probably not where we'll be staying, unless we just get too sick of Torshael's mausoleum and have to flee here, but definitely where we're going first."

"How... ... uh, quaint," Lii said, staring at it, as if unable to come up with another word for the elder Peregrin residence. Tayne wondered briefly if Vaillal would go back to her maiden name now that she was widowed-- or even remarry; he didn't think she was the type to enjoy being alone.

"Wait until you see the inside," Tayne chuckled, and pushed open the gate with one forepaw. "Better hold onto something, I'm probably going to be tackled here in a minute." Lii obediently backed up, pressing her furry rump into the first curls of his mane-- just in time, too, as the front door flew open and a bolt of white fur came hurtling out onto the path. Tayne dug in his paws and even grew a foot or two, to anchor himself against the superior height, as his mother hit him with barely a pause to check her momentum, throwing her wings around him with a cry that was, thankfully, more glad than grieving this time. He still staggered back a pace, the air forced out of his lungs, flaring his wings to keep from staggering further.

There was a yelp from the top of his head, and several sudden, sharp pin-pricks into his scalp, and suddenly Lii was exclaiming, "Hey, lady, bugger off! Watch where you're pouncing!"

::Lii!:: Tayne said, a little shocked even though he'd known something like that was coming. But this was his mother! He apparently couldn't help be a little offended for her sake!

::What? She almost knocked me off!::

Vaillal was staring at Tayne-- or, rather, Lii perched in his mane-- with surprise. She hadn't even wiped her eyes yet, which were still teary with her usual emotive greeting. "Who's this, Tayne?"

"Fluniarlii, my bond. That's why the High One sent me away. Fluniarlii, this is Vaillal Peregrin. My mother." ::Where did you learn that??:: he demanded, half still shocked and half tempted to laugh.

::Tekas says it sometimes,:: she told him smugly. ::I liked the sound of it.::

::You get all your dirty words from Tekas, seems like.::

::Most of them!::

"Um, it's nice to meet you, Fluniarlii." Tayne sourly noted that Vaillal had no trouble with his bond's fluid, mouth-filling, tongue-fouling name.

"You, too," Lii grinned. "Even if you do run into people like-- like a runaway beer wagon!"

Well, Tayne thought as Vaillal stared with even wider eyes at his small, smart-mouthed bond, though this was certainly one way to forestall Vaillal's usual gushing, he wasn't sure that this was the method he would have chosen. Still, it was sure to cause a stir in the City, and that was exactly what Lii wanted.

"Why don't we go inside?" he suggested, smiling at his mother.

"Yes, yes," she agreed, blinking. He ushered her back into the house with a wing over her back, while Lii purred from his mane.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

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