I’d missed dinner. That was disappointing. Sven had cooked it, so I knew it had to have been good. Oh well, I thought as I walked across the parlor, attempting to sneak up on Renata. Maybe there’s some left. And even if there’s not, it’s not like there’s ever a shortage of food in this house.
Lyndsey saw me, but just smiled and went back to studying her cards. No one else noticed me. “Boo,” I said quietly, touching the shoulder of the wonderful woman who’d been kind enough to let me stay in her house for the past few korvare.
“Hi, Quinn,” Renata said, amused, as she tilted her head back to kiss me.
“Hello, cartima. Lyndsey, good to see you again. Nice bruise. I take it the other person looks worse?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” the young woman said, tossing a handful of credits into the pot.
“How’s the game going?” I asked as I pulled up a chair.
Kris and Courtney grumbled, Lyndsey shrugged, and Renata said with a grin, “I think you can guess.” I was rather amazed they were playing with Courtney. Telepaths are banned from the majority of professional games for a reason, after all.
I whispered a suggestion in Renata’s ear. “She doesn’t need your help, sivak,” Lyndsey said, calling me what I was sure was a very rude word in some language.
“Who said what he was saying had anything to do with this game, kid?” Ren said, lying smoothly. “Maybe he was making a suggestion for after the game. Did you ever think of that?”
“Mom, Quinn’s never bothered to be subtle about propositioning you before, why would he start now?”
I chuckled. Lyndsey did have a point, loath as I was to admit it. Once upon a time I’d had too much class and decorum to have propositioned someone blatantly in front of their children, but that was before I spent many years as a Dagger. Some of the less savory behaviors of my fellows had rubbed off on me.
“You know, he could have been suggesting something that had nothing to do with kista or sex, child,” Renata said, tossing another fifty into the pot. Internally I smiled approvingly. She was taking my advice.
Everyone else at the table looked incredulous. “He coulda been! Just because it’s not likely doesn’t mean it’s impossible!” Ren argued.
“Suuuure, Momma,” said Kris, before shaking his head sadly at his cards, folding, and saying, “I need to get going, and I’m already out more money than I wanted to be so good luck convincing me otherwise. Good night, everybody.”
I started to ask if I could join the game in his stead, but before I got the first word out, both Lyn and Ren gestured to the seat he’d abandoned. It was an enjoyable game. Courtney apparently couldn’t quite read our minds well enough to get much of an advantage . . . Lyndsey was probably doing that bizarre ninja thing where she keeps an annoying song in the forefront of her mind to help, I was thinking in Ruvellian as I almost always do when I play kista, so that left just Renata, and she was having such incredible luck that no amount of knowing what cards she had or what she was thinking would’ve helped anyone much. Eventually Courtney left the game, deciding that helping Crystabel do someone’s hair was more fun. Kista does not work well as a three person game — it twists the odds in weird ways — so I was about to propose looking for a fourth player when Martoz came over, Soshanna sleeping in his arms.
He kissed Lyndsey’s cheek and said, “I think we should get home. She’s sound asleep, and Val’s not going to be awake much longer.” Lyndsey looked so maternal right then, so unlike the woman I’d seen easily dispatching foes so many times, as she kissed her baby’s head with a soft, sweet smile.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m gonna go tell other people goodbye.”
“So I guess it’s getting late?” Ren asked. The large Mugdaran nodded. Renata smiled at me seductively. “Maybe we should head up to bed too.”
I inclined my head in agreement, took her hand, and escorted her to my room.
We were woken up much too early by an enthusiastic small child clamboring onto the foot of the bed and crawling her way up between us. “Morning, Mommy!” a tiny voice said.
It’s a testament to how much Renata loves her children that she forced a smile and said, “Good morning, Arcielle” instead of growling and spewing a torrent of epithets worse than most spacers of my acquaintance knew, which is what she’d done every time I’d woken her that early.
“Play?” the happy little girl asked, clearly already wide awake.
“After coffee. Why don’t you go see if Daddy Vik is up?”
She frowned. “Writing.”
I took pity on the beautiful woman next to me. “I’ll go play with you, sweetheart. I think your mommy might need some more sleep.”
“Oh,” the tiny girl said as she took my hand in a surprisingly strong grasp and pulled me towards the door of the large room.
Ren shot me a thankful look, tucked the duvet closer around herself, and looked like she was quite ready to stay in bed for another few nulaire.
Soon other children joined Arcielle in the playroom, so I drifted downstairs to help with breakfast. Viktor’s husband, Donovan, was making a pot of coffee; Tera was pouring tea; and Lance was sitting on the counter talking.
“Don’t you ever do anything useful?” I teased as I started cooking some sausage.
“I am being useful. I’m entertaining people,” the former space rat said.
“Oh? That story was supposed to be entertaining, was it?” Donovan said, his accent still terribly thick despite having lived on Sweytz for years. Poor man seemed to have no head for languages.
“Yep,” Lance said, smirking. “You just didn’t appreciate it cuz you’re a prude.”
“Decorum keeps me from saying what you are,” the Terran countered.
“You know I can tell what you’re thinking so that does no good, right?”
“I can’t control what I think. I can control what I say though. You should try it some time.”
I tuned them out; I’d heard variants of this argument several times before. Donovan was usually a very easy-going man, but Lance always managed to get under his skin.
They were still bickering several saenaed later when Viktor came in, ink stains on his fingers. It always amused me how primitive his preferred writing tools were, but having seen the man struggle with the simplest computer, I could understand why he used something even Terrans considered old-fashioned. He sighed and gave his husbands a significant look, a look that suggested they should shut up now or, at best, they’d be sentenced to one of his lectures about proper behavior and setting a good example for the children.
Lance hopped off the counter and embraced Viktor, saying, “Good morning, sexy.”
“You’re not getting out of trouble that easily, dear. Why were you tormenting Don again?” Viktor sounded more like a father scolding a child than a husband right then.
“I wasn’t!” Lance said indignantly. “He was tormenting me!”
Viktor looked at Donovan pointedly.
“I wasn’t tormenting him any more than he was tormenting me, Viktor, so keep that damned glare to yourself. Now, could you come here and tell me if I got the coffee right? I’m thinking it might’ve come out a wee bit too strong.”
After sampling the coffee and declaring it perfect — which warned me to stay away from it, as Viktor’s taste in coffee is vile — he helped all of us finish making breakfast. Right as we were about to serve the meal, Renata came in looking groggy. Wordlessly, Viktor handed her a cup of coffee that he’d roughly half filled with sugar. “Good morning, love,” he said. She grunted inarticulately in reply and downed the coffee quickly enough that I’m surprised she didn’t hurt her tongue.
I stared at her in disbelief, despite having seen her do this countless times before. Viktor noticed my experssion and said, “I suspect she’s immune to pain this, ahem, early in the morning.”
She stuck her tongue out at him and poured herself another cup of coffee.
I’d just stepped out onto the porch for some peace and quiet — or as close to it as can be had at Renata’s house — when Lyndsey arrived, alone. “Martoz and Ana got tired of you so quickly?” I teased.
She smiled. “Nah. They apparently haven’t done all my Jül present shopping yet, so they went to do that today. Ana’s folks wanted to show the kids off to some friends of theirs, so I had nothing better to do than come over and pester my siblings, parents, and assorted hangers-on.”
“Assorted hanger-on. That’s a new one for me to be called.”
The younger, blonde Renata clone shrugged. “It fits. So, wanna help me gather up some of the small fry for an epic snowball fight?”
“Sounds fun,” I said.
I found myself volunteered to be the captain of one team while Lyndsey captained the other. The game was fun, if a bit marred by Viktor storming outside at one point to lecture Lyndsey for climbing on the roof and encouraging her team, even the very young members of it, to join her up there.
I concentrated on trying to get my team to pay attention to me and the other team instead of Lyndsey’s punishment so I only heard bits and pieces of what was said, but I still got the very distinct feeling that Viktor’s reaction wasn’t solely about this incident. Lyndsey’s behavior had been . . . erratic . . . for some time. All Daggers are cocky. It’s a survival trait in our line of work. Lyndsey, for the past several korvare, had been pushing the boundaries of good sense more than normal even for a Dagger in her quest for adventure and fun.
I was, I must admit, a bit glad she was receiving this lecture. I was beginning to worry about her. I’d lost too many friends to heedless overconfidence over the years.