thirteen: past and present

"It runs in my family, on my da's side. None of the cub-bearers can bear more than one, I don't know why. No one ever told me why. But my da, when I was six he died carrying his second. My little brother. I think that the cub was an accident, but Da wanted to keep him." Lupin sniffed slightly, shivering into the hand that still cupped his hip. Hemlock sat up just long enough to swipe his shirt off of the dawn-chilled asphalt and drape it over the smaller Kindred, then returned instantly to his former position of comfort.

"Go on," he nudged softly, and Lupin pillowed an arm under his head, swallowing.

"No more to it than that, I guess. Papa tried to tell me exactly what was wrong with me after he came h-I mean, after my da died. But he was pretty broken up." He stopped, sighing. "Well, as was I. I didn't really get much out of the conversation. I was only twelve."

"And your father?"

"What about him? Where is he, do you mean?"

Hemlock's other hand ghosted shortly over curly yellow hair. "No, but you could answer that one too if you like."

"He's dead. Day before yesterday, about noon. I sent him on myself, haven't got any kin near anymore," he finished quietly, blowing out a great gust of breath between tight lips. "But I'm not staying. I can't. I'm not afraid of the Lonely Sickness." A half-smile slid into the damp green eyes. "I guess that'll mess up the healers' reckoning, though. I'll be the first in centuries."

"Not the first," Hemlock announced abruptly, his fingers tracing lightly over still bare skin under the rescued shirt. "Lupin, how old are you?"

"I'm twenty-three. Why?"

"That makes you seven years older than Sineult."

"Who's Sineult?"

"Lupin, listen to me. You won't like this, but it is not my place to keep it from you, especially if I want to be your husband. Spouses should never keep secrets from one another, isn't that right?"

Mystified, Lupin replied. "Yes."

"Your father sired another cub, a cub-bearer. He lives in this city. His name is Sineult and he married a friend of mine, Onyx Curan. His mother was human, but..."

Lupin's head began shaking reflexively.

"...his sire was most assuredly a Kindred, and one closely related to you, by the similarity of your scents. Sineult only turned sixteen this year. You would have been seven-"

"No!" Lupin burst out, interrupting. "He didn't! What are you saying?" He sat up and backed away from the other Kindred, catching up his clothes as he went and starting to pull things on. "My father would never have abandoned a cub of his!"

Hemlock rolled over and sat up too, both hands coming out to slow the rapid dressing process.


"No, I'm not staying here to listen to you talk about my father like this. I'd rather just die." A quick tug and the last garment made it over the blond head. "Let go of me, I'm going home."

"Lupin, I was not trying to imply-"

"You were, or you wouldn't have said it in the first place. Now please, let go of me!"

"Not until you listen to me. I was not trying to insult your father, I was telling you something I thought you should know."

Stiff, hurt, and angry, but more angry than anything else, Lupin had no intention of listening. It would be a betrayal of his father, for him to listen to this.

"I can make you let go if I have to," he interrupted coldly. "You know I can."

Hemlock stopped talking. Seeming to give up, he sighed and let go.

"Then why aren't you doing it?"

That wasn't the answer Lupin had been expecting. For one thing, it was another question he couldn't answer. Ashamed and close to tears, he realized that he didn't want to go. Not to go home to the empty house again, not even for his father's honour. And, in spite of everything, he still, deep down, did not want to leave the possibility of his resolve leaving him and his heart taking over. The longer he stayed, the more likely it was that he wouldn't be able to go on resisting, and his traitor of a heart actually rather liked that idea.

"Fine, I'll listen," he said shortly, shutting his eyes, which felt abnormally hot. "But you might want to get dressed first."

Dropping his head into his hands, he sat back down against the wall and waited for a few minutes, listening halfheartedly to the thin spirant sounds of fabric rubbing against itself as his companion gathered and donned his clothes. After a while the sounds stopped.

"Alright, I'm done. Are you listening?"

"Yes. Go on." Lupin's hands slid down from his eyes to hold his chin up, so that he could watch across a wall formed of his palms. It wasn't polite to withhold eye contact when you were supposed to be listening to someone, not even under the circumstances.

"Alright then. I know you don't want to hear it, but it is true, I swear to you. Is it not possible that somehow, your father sired a cub, not knowing that he had? Perhaps he didn't abandon Sineult. Perhaps he simply didn't know that he existed."

Lupin's eyes were hot again. "My daëarú was not gone a year when I was was seven: my father loved him so much that he almost lost his mind when he died. He would not have done something like that, do you understand?"

"But he did! Do you want to come home with me and see for yourself? I can prove it to you."

"No you can't, because it isn't true!"

"Well, maybe it isn't, but how will *you* ever prove it if you don't just come with me? You don't have to say a word to him, I'll do all of the speaking if that's what you wish. Just come and meet him. You'll like him anyhow even if my idea does turn out to be mistaken. He has a beautiful spirit."

Suspicious, accusatory green eyes turned to survey Hemlock's face closely.

"You like him, don't you."

Hemlock stilled, seeming to think this over.

"Yes I suppose I do. But it's because he is so like you." His hands came up again to rest lightly on Lupin's shoulders. "Will you come then? If you are so certain that your father is not his, then what can meeting him possibly harm?"

A lull fell into their narrow space between the brick city buildings. Somewhere a few streets over a lonely pigeon called out. Then the younger Kindred blew a hissing breath outward through gritted teeth.

"Okay, I'll come with you."

Breakfast in the Curan household has just finished, and Onyx has retreated to his back room to paint with strict orders that Sineult call him for any lifting, or heavier work. Sineult smiles out of the sink window at a nesting female robin that he hopes can sympathise with him. Silly Onyx! As if Sineult would do something like that, when he knows it might put his cub in danger. Onyx should try to be a pregnant cub-bearer and see if *he* doesn't get irritated when people keep telling *him* obvious things.

His smile softens automatically as his eyes go to his rounding belly. He's not very big yet, because there are still many months to go, but it's still nice to be able to see the cub growing. Sometimes in the mornings he likes to stand by the window and let the light in on the active bumps and hollows of his cub's housing. Now that the little one has learned to move, he's always at it. Especially at night.

Sineult giggles and returns to the dishwashing. Jade was right, Onyx will have his hands full soon, keeping husband and cub out of trouble and making them sit still.

The breakfast dishes are barely done when a knock sounds on the door. Sineult dries out the last spoon and drops it into the drainer before going to see who it is. Surely Spruce won't have come visiting so soon after Jade's close call? Sineult is sure that Spruce wanted to stay home as much as possible. And Jessamine seemed pretty happy just staying in and doing housework. Which only leaves one.

"Who is it?" Onyx calls from his painting room as Sineult takes a quick peek through the spyhole.

"I's Hemlock!" he calls back excitedly. "An' he's go' somebody with 'im. Can't see 'em, though." Happy to have someone new to meet and talk with, he swings open the apartment door to let the pair in.

Hemlock looks vaguely tired, like he's been out all night, but his voice is awake enough when he introduces his companion. Lupin is going to be his husband, he says, but his eyes when he looks at the curly-headed blond say quite clearly, "Whether you like it or not." The blond doesn't notice; his own eyes are too busy eating Sineult up with a pained kind of hunger. Sineult invites them to the living room, trying to ignore the weirdness of that gaze.

"Have you had breakf'st?" he asks as they sit down, obviously carrying on a silent battle over whether to sit close together or far away that Sineult finds strange, but funny. If the cub-bearer would just look at the expression Hemlock's wearing, he would know that the war is all for nothing. Mem isn't going to let him get away.

Spruce's brother and his new mate exchange a quick look. "No," Hemlock says, "but we can wait until we get back to Spruce's house. Da will want to meet Lupin, and Jade needs some good excitement too." He smiles briefly, thinking of Jade.

"But I thought that we would come to visit you first," he goes on, his smile disappearing. The cub-bearer gives a quick, stilted inhale of breath and moves closer to Hemlock all of a sudden, clasping his hand. He looks almost ready to faint: his eyes have gone huge, and suddenly Sineult sees how very green those eyes are.

Lupin takes another deep, deep breath and swallows hard. "I don't-I don't know how-" he begins, shaking a little. Sineult is starting to get worried.

"What is it, Mem?"

"He deserves to know," Hemlock says quietly to Lupin, who looks like he wants to cry. "Would you rather tell him, or shall I?"

"What?" Sineult asks again, feeling panicky. Do they know something about his cub that he doesn't? Did Jessamine send them with bad news? No, Hemlock said they hadn't been to Spruce's house yet. He makes himself relax, wondering unhappily how it can be so hard not to worry when it was so easy before he had his cub.

Lupin is trembling a little harder now, and when he blinks, there's a shiny glitter, like tears, on his eyelashes. "You tell him," he says, and Mem nods, then takes his hand to rub little calming circles on the back while he talks.

"Lupin is your half-brother," he says simply.

Sineult gapes. That was surprising.

"But m' mum's dead," he replies blankly. Then something occurs to him.

"M' dad?"

Lupin swallows again, but he doesn't say anything. Hemlock only nods.

"M' dad is his dad?" Sineult is still finding this hard to muddle out. "An' m' mum's not?"

"Your mother isn't his, no. Lupin is a full-blooded Kindred, and he had a da, not a mother."

Sineult is aware now of warm hands on his shoulders, and Onyx's voice murmurs in his ear, "You're shaking, love. Calm down, we'll get it sorted out. Are you warm enough?"

That Sineult can answer, so he nods. "Uh-huh, 'm okay."

"Good." Onyx comes around Sineult's chair and sits down in the one next to it. His eyes are angry when he looks across at Hemlock and Lupin.

"Would you explain to me why you needed to come here first thing in the morning and upset Sineult?"

Lupin drops his head into his hands and starts to cry. Now Hemlock looks angry too. Sineult knows that he's got to stop this before it gets out of hand, so he stands up and goes over to sit next to Lupin on the couch.

"G' 'way, you two! We wanna talk by o'rselves now. Sort stuff out," he tells the males, reaching out and shoving Hemlock gently. "Go see Ja'e, he'll like vis'tors. An' don' fight on th' way!"

The males goggle at him. He can't help it, he laughs.

"Y' look like fishes! Go on! If we don' keep Ja'e busy, he'll get all tired o' bed," he explains, quite logically. It's not his true reasonings, but it will do, and Onyx knows that he won't back down. The red-headed Kindred sighs and heads for the closet to find his sneakers while Hemlock eyes Lupin with a worried look, until finally, Lupin manages a watery smile for him.

"I'll be okay," he says, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "Go on, I won't run off while you're gone."

Hemlock smiles the smile of the truly relieved and heads to the door to wait for Onyx.

"So," Sineult says to Lupin, once the others are gone to see Jade. "You're gonna be Mem's mate?"

Lupin sniffles slightly and starts drying his eyes on an edge of his sleeve. "I guess," he replies in an uncertain kind of voice. "If he still wants me to."

"Why wouldn't 'e?"

Lupin shrugs, but doesn't answer, so Sineult leaves it at that.

"You live in town?" he asks, moving on.

"No," the other blond replies, sniffling more. "Fairly far out in the countryside, about a half a day's walk. If you walk fast," he adds, as a sort of afterthought.

"An' y're not married? So your da an' dad an' brothers anchor y', then?" Sineult continues casually, prying gently for information. He can see easily that Lupin doesn't want to think about them being brothers, but he knows too that if they're going to be any good at it, then they'll have to face up to facts. Maybe it's bad for Lupin's father to have had Sineult? Maybe he's jealous? But Lupin's face looks almost ashamed, not angry, and his tears are real tears of sadness.

Why is he sad?

Lupin hesitates; then he says very slowly, "Papa did. My da died when I was six, and I never had any siblings." He leaves the obvious 'before this' off. "I've been told there were two of us when we were concieved, but my twin died long before I was born. He wasn't born with me. So Papa and I lived together, just the two of us."

Sineult hears the past tense, and his curiosity gets the better of him.

"Is 'e gone now?"

He's sorry the very second he finishes and sees the tears fill up Lupin's eyes again. His shoulders stiffen while he tries not to cry, and his head nods once, quickly. Sineult sucks his teeth, reproaching himself.

"Do you wanna see m' cub?" he asks suddenly, trying to cheer his new brother up. Lupin has to snuffle and gulp before he can reply.

"May I?" he asks, sounding small, timid, and waterlogged.

"Sure, if y' wanna," Sineult tells Lupin, taking his instinctively shielding hand away from his stomach. After a moment's reservation, Lupin reaches out tentatively to touch the swollen hill gently and smiles, sniffling. "How far along are you?" he asks shyly.

"Six months. 'e's gonna be m' first," Sineult tells his brother proudly. Lupin looks a little surprised.

"Only one?" he asks.

Patting his now happily frolicking cub back into contented stillness, Sineult nods. "Ja'e says maybe I'll have two nex' time," he adds, hopefully. "But 'm not all Kindr'd, so not this time." He tilts his head in a question. "Y' know 'm not, don't y'?"

Chewing his bottom lip, Sineult's new brother nods again. "Hemlock told me on the way over here," he mutters, looking humiliated and still very sad. He falls into a silence, and Sineult waits because he knows that something important is going to come out now.

"He told me we were half-brothers," he says all of a sudden, his back getting all straight like he's bracing, finished deciding. "I didn't want to believe it, because my father..." He stops, sighing. "He shouldn't have done it. My da had just died, and I was at home waiting for him, and I didn't ever think he could do a thing like this. It took a little to understand about just the whole idea, wanting someone else after my da, but it had been a whole year and I have no right to judge. I've never lost a mate, I don't know what it does to one." His eyes turn to look at Sineult, blinking away tears. "But leaving you alone like that... Do you know what I mean?"

For a minute Sineult doesn't, but then all of a sudden a light sort of comes on in his head, and he sees what his new brother is trying to say.

"Y' mean, 'e should've took me 'ome with 'im? To take care of me?" Sineult brings up out of his mind the memory of Jade's lessons in Kindred manners and stuff. So this is what Lupin is sorry about, that his father was mean to Sineult and left him on his own when he could have taken him home and made him part of their family. Kindreds never leave their cubs, Jade said once. Cubs are important.

Lupin nods slowly, and Sineult's heart lightens. If that was his only problem then this is easier. "But m' mum said m' dad left before she knew I w's there," he tells Lupin. "Y'r dad di'n't know tha' there was a me."

Faint hope brightens Lupin's eyes, and under his shirt, Sineult can feel his cub nestling against the place where Lupin's hand is, like he's welcoming Sineult's new brother to the family.