Chapter 15

Trygg's form altered four more times during the school day, none of which were significant changes, and I was convinced that two of them he never even noticed.

Ivory was quiet at lunch, but I figured she just didn't want to draw attention to the fact that she was eating nothing but meat and carbs, not surprising considering most snake species were carnivorous or nearly so. She probably also didn't want to draw attention to the fact that her fangs got in the way of eating instead of helping at all, which probably made her really self conscious. I didn't comment on any of it, I figured that'd just make it worse for her and no one else did, either. I figured eventually she'd figure out that none of us actually cared.

[I'm surprised you can eat bread,] I admitted to her finally after sixth as we waited for Mia, who had stayed behind to talk to her teacher and for Trygg to finish at his locker. Ask and Rose had already left to catch their movie and Raven had already left as well, since Justin was picking her up, all the happy birthdays had all already been long communicated over lunch and everything.

"Oh, you know about-"

I nodded. [Snakes are carnivores.]

"Right, well, shince I'm half human I can still prochessh carbohydratesh, it's just fruit, veggiesh, and most junk food that doeshn't agree with me. The latter I can eat in shmall amountsh occashionally, like birthday cake later today, but other than that it'sh not a great idea. Mia knowsh all about what happensh when I break that rule."

I chuckled. [I'd imagine you two probably got up to a lot, huh?]

She nodded. "We were friendsh for a whole year. With time traveling sho much, meeting shomeone outshide the guild and remaining friendsh that long wash... nearly imposshible. And even thoshe in the guild I didn't alwaysh shee on a frequent bashish. Every asshignment could be with a whole new group, but at leasht the organizersh were shmart enough to place me with thoshe who were... tolerant..."

[Definitely nice of them.]

"Yeah."

"Freak," I heard someone mutter our way. I ignored it, she did too, but we both deflated a little at that.

She gave me a confused look when she realized the reaction it had gotten from me. "Do they call you that, too?"

[Some, yeah. People still think it's weird that I'm mute, five years later. People are idiots sometimes.]

"Oh, I'm shorry."

[I'm sorry you know what I'm talking about, but like I said, we're the safest group to be introduced to. None of us are exactly... normal.]

"Raven can shee and prevent death in people, can't she?"

[Yeah, apparently most people find that creepy.]

"They do, we had one in the guild, but mosht didn't like working with her. Courshe, she wash alsho a know it all shnob, too, sho she wash hard to work with on top of that."

"Oh."

Trygg came over, his scales had gone to gold and his form, while still female, was now filling out his clothing a lot better. "I'm never going to get used to this."

I kissed him on the cheek, which made him smile and part of the dark raincloud over him dissipated. "Yeah, I know, perspective. We still waiting on Mia?"

I nodded.

"Okay," he looked at Ivory. "I hope people have been treating you reasonably."

She shrugged. "About how I exhpected."

He winced but said nothing.

Mia showed up then. "Hey, hope you all haven't been standing around long."

[Been to your locker yet?]

"I was there before class, so I'm good actually."

[Okay,] I said as the four of us headed to the elevator and started walking home.

Mia looked at Ivory. "I hope you still like salmon as much as you used to, cause my dad is making salmon cakes."

Ivory grinned. "I love thoshe! And it'sh been quite a while, too."

"Both Dad and Bri cook amazingly, so if you ever want to eat like a queen, just invite yourself over. I guarantee you no one will care and those two will just be happy for the challenge."

I nodded. [We're both masochistic that way. Make sure you give me a full list of your dietary restrictions sometime, okay?]

She nodded, dumbfounded.

[I mean, seriously, you're dating my sister so you'll probably be over a lot, it only makes sense.]

"They also both enjoy cooking for new people who aren't used to the quality and will squeal with delight," Trygg said.

[I'd argue the point but then I'd have to lie.]

He chuckled. "Like I said."

"Oh, um, I'll remember that, then."

I smiled and took Trygg's hand. It seemed warmer than usual, but I decided not to comment on that. I figured his body temperature wouldn't be the only thing changing over the next few days.

*I've noticed you like silence more than you used to,* I suddenly heard Mia's voice in my head.

*Yeah, well, you learn how to enjoy it when you can't fix it.*

*I guess, but it seems like more than that. I think maybe Trygg isn't the only one who's calmed down in the last five years, it's just that you mellowing out looks different. You always used to be doing something or hanging with someone or... you know... being the social life of the party. Like you were afraid to be alone or afraid of silence.*

*Yeah, well, guess I was a little. Certainly made going mute harder.*

*Guess it would.*

Trygg gave me a sideways look. "Did you and Mia just figure out how to use those things to communicate telepathically?"

I nodded.

"It's actually pretty simple, once I thought about it," Mia said.

I let go of his hand. [Show off. Took me a lot of research to figure out how this could possibly work.]

"You responded back just fine."

[Well yeah, only because of all the research I did.]

She didn't have much to say to that.

When we got up to our condo I was unsurprised to hear Dad in the kitchen with Beethoven softly wafting through the air with the smells of cooling chocolate cake and baking salmon, which was much more complimentary than it should have been. Only Dad could make chocolate and salmon smell good together.

Mom appeared from the main room with a huge smile on her face. She skipped saying or asking anything and went straight for hugging Ivory. [Welcome, make yourself at home.]

"Thank you," Ivory said, sounding shocked by the reception. "What did Mia tell you, exhactly?"

[That you were coming for dinner and what you couldn't eat. You two are dating though, right?]

Ivory blinked.

Mia nodded.

"How did you know that if she didn't tell you?"

Mom smiled. [It's in the way the two of you stand next to each other.]

"Oh."

"Told you it wouldn't be a big deal we're dating," Mia said to Ivory. She looked at Mom. "I was going to say it, but I didn't want to say something like that over a text."

She smiled. [I'm just glad you're happy, and I did say it before you had a chance to, so don't worry, alright?]

"Okay."

Dad came out then with a smile. "Ivory, right?"

Ivory nodded. "It'sh great to meet you, finally."

He smiled. "Oh, we've met. You're Maxine and Harold Green's daughter, right?"

"Wait, you know my parentsh?"

"Course, they're pretty important figures in Eugene, after all, and you look just like your Mom. Always have. Your twin sister took more after your father, though I haven't seen her in a number of years, either."

"Oh, right. Uhm..."

"Relax, I won't tell them you're here. It was hard to miss when they stopped talking about both you and your sister, what, ten or so years ago?"

Ivory nodded. "I got really shick when I wash sheven, would have died, probably, if the time traveler'sh guild hadn't taken me to to the future. They took Meriden at the shame time because she had a different genetic defect which would have killed her, shlowly, by the time she wash thirteen. Our parentsh had to forget we exhishted in order for me to go to the future with them, though, and while they wrote me back in now, it will be a while before my parentsh remember everything, or even mosht thingsh. That'sh why I heshitated when you shaid you knew them. I'm not shupposhed to contact them for the nexht year, minimum."

Dad nodded. "I was afraid you'd both died and your parents didn't want to deal with it. I'm glad that's not the case. Meriden, is she...?"

"Shtill in the future, thankfully. She'sh... obnoxhioush."

Dad smiled. "So she still acts like a princess, then?"

"Bashically, yesh. I didn't realizhe you knew ush."

"Peripherally, but yeah, I do. I only met you both a few times and you were both young enough I'm not surprised you don't remember." He looked from Ivory to Mia and back. "Though speaking of writing you back into time, it will probably help that you're here and dating my daughter. You'll settle into the flow faster."

"Oh. Uhm, I didn't know you knew about mattersh of time."

"I don't, usually, but something like that is... well, it's one of those things. Bri changes things by being in them, as well, which will also help. You probably won't have to contact your parents, either. Once they remember everything word will get around and I'll find out they're looking for you. I've got the running pulse of the magical community, so you can breathe easy there, at least."

"Thank you."

He smiled. "You're welcome. But enough of that, come in, make yourself at home, we won't be eating until six. Salmon's done cooking but I have to wait until I can turn it into salmon cakes. You can eat flax seeds...?"

She nodded. "Thankfully."

"Okay, cause if not I can use something else."

"No, flaxhsheed is fine."

"Alright then."

The group of us headed into the main room and sat down. Mia pulled up next to part of the couch that wasn't perpendicular to the armchair and Ivory looked at the couch, then the armchair and dining chair and before she could say it Dad smiled at her.

"I know sitting on chairs is strange for most snakes, you can curl up on the floor if you'll be more comfortable."

"Really? I mean, you wouldn't find that rude or-?"

Dad waved it off. "We're all about comfort here, honest. I have to deal with polite society all day at work, and I try to leave work at work whenever I can."

Ivory smiled and quickly curled into a coiled cylindrical pyramid of sorts that looked terribly uncomfortable to me, but she seemed to relax a lot when she finally settled in, head and torso sticking up out of the center, her head was at about the same height as Mia's.

Mia smiled at her. "You have no idea how glad I am that you're here."

"You have no idea how glad I am to be here."

There was a knock on the door. I got up. [I'll get it.]

No one argued as I headed that way, though Trygg opened his mouth for a moment, then shut it, probably before he could make some smart ass comment.

I opened the door without even thinking about it, and was surprised to see Trygg's mom, of all people, standing there looking a little sheepish in a purple dress, flats, and really short cropped hair. "Happy Birthday."

[Thanks. What are you doing here?] I asked, knowing full well she didn't understand.

But instead of saying anything or asking anything, she handed me two smallish bags. One was red, one was blue. "The blue one's yours, the red one is for Mia. I'll be back tomorrow to give Tryggnyr his."

I stared at her in surprise.

She gave me the barest of smiles and started to leave. I opened my mouth and quickly shut it again, wishing once more that it worked the way it was supposed to. She caught the look on my face, though.

"I'm not staying, I don't want to cause a scene. I know Tryggnyr has no reason to be happy with me and-" Her eyes went wide as she looked behind me. I looked to see Trygg standing there, wordlessly surprised as his mom's mouth got tighter.

"Hi, Mom," he said in barely over a whisper.

She inclined her head. "Like I was telling your husband, I'll be back tomorrow to give you your gift."

"Thanks, but I don't really care about that. I really hate arguing with you like this and I hate being this distant. Can we stop now? I'm married, arguing is pretty pointless."

"That... depends... why are you a girl?"

"My magic is being weird. Trust me, I don't like this any more than you do, but I'll return to normal once magic stops being funky. It started altering-"

"Mmmm. Do you want me to bring over your... other wardrobe?"

Trygg blinked. "What?"

"The one you got after you went traipsing around as a girl for a week and a half?"

"Mom, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You don't remember the fact that you have at least four dresses in your closet?"

Trygg blinked. "Last I remembered, I only have those cause one of your friends insisted I have them when she found out what was going on. I wore one, once, to be nice, and that's it. I only kept them cause I thought it'd be rude not to."

"You wore them more than once."

Trygg sighed. "Does it matter? Mom, I might look like a girl but I'm not trying to be one."

"Maybe that's the problem."

"Wait, what?"

"Trygg, you're half dragon, half shapeshifter. Being a shapeshifter means you're basically half female, yet you keep trying to be all male. You can't keep having the best of both worlds."

"Okay, I'm confused. Are you mad about the fact that I look like a girl or that I'm trying to be a guy?"

"Both, but if you're going to be a woman you need to be one, not just look the part."

"But I'm not. I'm male. You and Dad raised me to be male, and I like being male. The fact that I look female right now is, or should be, irrelevant."

"Tell me how it's irrelevant when you get pregnant with Brinorr's child."

"Mom-"

"Look, I didn't want to cause a scene, I just wanted to drop off Bri and Mia's presents and say Happy Birthday."

I put the bags down next to me. [Honestly, the best birthday present you could give me is peace between you and my husband. It hurts and it sucks that things are hanging like they are. I'd rather it didn't if it's possible for it not to.]

Trygg instantly translated, like he did, and she seemed surprised. "Did you really just call Trygg your husband?"

I nodded.

"Even while he's- a she-?"

[Course. He is to me whatever he says he is. Honestly, I don't care and I don't get it why you do. Shapeshifter or not, his personal identity is whatever he says it is, always has been.]

She sighed and shook her head. "Honestly, I've never understood how your relationship worked, especially after he started transforming like he did last year."

[Why should parts matter?]

"Because they do! They matter!"

[Why?]

She just stared at me like the answer should be obvious.

I sighed. [We're getting off topic, anyway. None of this is about me. You were cool enough at the wedding, why is there still animosity here? He's happy with me, I'm happy with him, our relationship is pretty healthy, all things considered, and really, he's still your son. I figured you just want him to be happy like most parents do.]

She pinched the bridge of her nose. "It's not that simple."

[How is it not that simple? I don't get it.]

Trygg's form changed again, this time it was more significant. His hair grew out to his shoulders and became perfectly curly blonde. He dropped three inches and his hips and breasts became more pronounced.

His scales shifted to a pearlescent purple color, and when it was done he hugged his breasts, face heating up as he looked at the floor. He looked at me after a moment. "Sorry, I have a, um, wardrobe malfunction."

[It's okay, it happens.]

He nodded but seemed to be blushing harder.

"Trygg, look at me," his Mother said with a bit of a hard edge.

He reluctantly looked at her, still hugging his breasts.

"Why are you so embarrassed to be a girl?"

His embarrassment made way for puzzlement. "What?"

"You heard me. It's been like this with you since you first started transforming. You were changing species and colors and gender for a good month after you turned eighteen, but the only thing you were embarrassed to be seen as was female, especially around me."

"No, especially around you and Dad."

"Trygg, we're your parents. Why should it be any different-?"

"Do you not remember what Dad did every time he saw me in female form? And you wonder why I have a complex, really? And I saw the disapproving look on your face."

"I only disapproved of the way you refused to embrace what you were given. The magical explosions happened for a reason, Trygg, and whether or not I like what that means for you, you are what you are, and you shapeshift into what you shapeshift. You may not remember this, but it was you who decided to be male, Trygg. I tried my hardest to keep an open mind, when we adopted you they warned us, told us, that it could go either way with you. But from the moment you met Bri you refused to be anything else but male."

"Mom, we met in second grade, I was pretty set in my gender identity before then."

"Actually, you met him when you were five, right after we moved here. Daycare."

"Wait, you mean the one you pulled me out of only after a day because you didn't like the place or whatever?"

"Yeah, that's the one. I pulled you to keep you away from him. One look at him and you didn't want to be yourself anymore."

"Mom, I was five, that's spectacularly unfair. And besides, I think that's a perfectly good time to develop a gender identity even if you were right about that. I probably wasn't aware of it existing before then."

"Tell that to my photo album."

"What does that mean? I thought you didn't like this because you didn't agree with gay relationships."

"I don't. I also know that what you two have should be more than just a gay relationship, but you won't let it be one. Granted, your father with his one sided view of you doesn't help, never did, and he probably helped push you into being male, but-"

"Mom, no one pushed me into being anything. I'm male, everything else aside."

"But you're not! You should be following the example your body is giving you!"

"Mom, can you hear yourself? I should be, what, genderless, multi-gendered, something, just because my body's weird?"

"Your body isn't weird, you're a shapeshifter, it's normal!"

"And even shapeshifters have gender associations! They're not all just... asexual or whatever."

"That depends on the group."

"What?"

"I did research. It depends on the group and the subspecies of shapeshifter. And from all accounts, you should be both!"

"But I'm not, in part because I was raised in the culture of the United States, which has gender specific pronouns and boxed gender identities. I can't believe we're even having this discussion. I also can't believe that the real reason you're mad at me is because I won't be a girl for you."

"I don't want you to be a girl for me, I want you to be yourself!"

"I am being myself! Why the hell won't you accept that?"

"Because I know better."

"How do you know better than me what I am inside? How can you even begin to believe that you-? Hell, Mom, I was five, I'm allowed to change quite a bit in fourteen years!"

She sighed. "I'll be back tomorrow with your birthday present. Let me know when you want your dresses." She turned to leave.

Trygg followed and caught her arm. "I'm not going to let this end here, cause here's the deal, Mom. I'm nineteen, I'm happily married to the love of my life, and I like the person that I am now, here, today, I don't have any major regrets and I don't think I've made any significant errors in my life, for which I'm fortunate. And despite what's happened in the past, oh, year, I still consider myself male and I probably always well. That's about me, my identity and my choices and you have absolutely no right to tell me that I'm not being enough of a girl for you. I am aiming to be more comfortable with having a female form and parts sometimes, and I am looking to ease myself into the idea of someday getting pregnant and having Bri's kid, but once more, that's about me, and Bri, and again, it's none of your business to say that I'm not doing it right, whatever your reasons are. I hate arguing with you every time I see you, but I don't know how else to get it through your thick skull that me being gay, or male, really has absolutely nothing to do with you and that you get absolutely no say in the matter. I am who I am, so you either need to get over it or get the hell out of my life."

She turned and stared at him. "You're not being serious."

"I thought I was being perfectly serious when I chose Bri over you and Dad. Bri's my life now, we're married and he sees me as me, girl or boy parts, it doesn't matter to him. I don't know how, but it doesn't. None of his family shove the gender choices I've got down my throat the way you and Dad do, and they don't care we're in a gay relationship, either. I could use all the support I can get right now, honestly, and if you're going to just cause more strife and uncertainty in me every time I see you, well, honestly, I can live without it. I love you and Dad both, but I won't let either of you ruin me or my life because you still think I should be the five year old kid with no concept of gender, or whatever else it is you see when you look at me. This half-in-half-out thing is driving me crazy and I really wish you'd pick one. Dad threw me out, you haven't really made a choice, one way or the other, just went along with Dad and what was happening. But Mom, that's not going to fly anymore, especially since the two of you are getting a divorce. You don't just get to ride on his coattails and play both sides of this disaster. I'm not asking you to be okay with this, I'm asking you to accept that you don't get a say in where my life goes after this."

"I just want you to accept what you are."

"And I just want you to accept who I choose to be."

She smiled slightly. "I'm sorry, Trygg, but I can't stand around and watch you sabotage yourself like this. As much as you might want me to, I'm not leaving you alone but I'm not going to sit by and watch you do this to yourself, either. I will give you some space, though. I'll come back by tomorrow and drop off more of your things and your birthday present."

He sighed. "Are you even listening to me?"

"I heard you," she said as she headed off. "I'll be back same time tomorrow."

He sighed and didn't bother going after her this time.

He shook his head. "I thought that was going to go... differently. Nothing happened, did it?"

I shrugged. [You found out some stuff about your mom.]

"Did I? What, exactly, did she just say? I'm still confused as to what it is, exactly, she's mad at me about."

[I think she's pissed that you refuse to be female even just a little, cause if you were it'd make our relationship okay in her eyes.]

"Wait, you think that's it?"

I nodded. [She's big on the magic explosions being God's will, which means it's His will that you're a hermaphrodite, I don't understand why being gay isn't in the plan the way she sees it, but it seems to not be.]

"So, she's, what, grasping at straws?"

[I think she's trying to figure out how a gay relationship can involve you giving birth someday to my kid. I don't know what all that was about you deciding to be male when you met me, though. I think that'd be something we'd both remember, don't you think?]

"I would think so."

I closed the door.

"I'm... I'm going to go change."

[Do you want me to get another bra from Mom?]

"She actually told me she was going to leave a few things in your room for me when you were in the bathroom this morning, so I'm fine."

[You mean our room.]

He smiled. "Our room, right. One of the perks of being married."

I grinned. [Exactly.] I kissed him. [It'll be fine, eventually, really.]

He nodded and didn't argue. "I'll be right back."

[Take your time,] I said as I headed back into the main room.

"Wow," Mia said. "That was... yeah. She's crazy."

I chuckled and handed her her present.

She gave me an eyebrow. I shrugged. She left it in her lap.

Trygg came back in looking sullen but not any more than when I'd left him to go change, really.

"I'm sorry, I would have gotten up to help you out, but it sounded like you were trying to work it out with her yourself," Dad said.

Trygg nodded. "I appreciate it, she probably would have shut up if she'd remembered that anyone else was here. I really don't get her, and I really wish I could remember what the hell it is she's talking about."

Dad shook his head. "I don't know, clearly I wasn't there when it happened. Bri and Mia were in daycare half days for a year before they started school to help them acclimate to being around nonmagical kids their own age, so it could have been anytime in there, really... But I think that's something you two would have remembered if it was true. I'm sure something that looked like that to her happened, your gender identity probably did become much more firm once you were socialized heavily with other children, but I doubt it goes as far as she says..."

"Even if she's right, it doesn't matter. I'm a guy now and she needs to respect that," Trygg said.

Dad nodded. "And there's that, too, yeah."

"Was she right, about the way some shapeshifters aren't...?"

"Of course. There are pockets of shapeshifter communities that work both ways, at this point it's believed to be mostly social but no one has gotten to see their society as anything other than an outsider, so who knows. How she knows you came from a group like that is beyond me. As far as I knew those things were nearly impossible to tell. Course, I'm also not an expert in differences in the subcategories of shapeshifters, either. Not sure anyone is, really. There are too many, and too many groups no one has gotten access to."

"So... she's making broad generalizations and finding facts to fit her version of reality...?"

"Kind of looks like it."

"Awesome. There's no way to combat that, and apparently telling her to fuck off didn't even work."

[You didn't tell her to fuck off, you told her to either fuck off or stop trying to change you to her version of reality. She picked neither.]

He sighed. "Right, yeah, that's technically true. I don't think it'd work if I told her to just fuck off, though, either."

[She's your mom, it's where you get your stubbornness.]

He opened his mouth and shut it. "Maybe so. Why does she always have to pick the exact wrong times to come over, anyway?"

I shrugged and snuggled in next to him.

He chuckled and put an arm around me. "I hate it when you do that."

I lifted my head up to give him a confused look.

"Get the last word in without saying anything."

I smiled, chuckled, and tucked my head in on his shoulder again.

"So, do any of you feel like doing anything in particular while everything cools?" Dad asked.

"Cards?" Mia asked.

He smiled and got up. "What the birthday girl wants, the birthday girl gets."

She laughed. "Maybe we should do this at the table?"

I shrugged but didn't move. Trygg chuckled. "I think your girlfriend and my husband are too comfortable to even think about moving."

Mia looked at me, then at Ivory who had adjusted herself so that the only thing you could see of her was her head, neck, and the beginning of her torso. "Hmm, I think you're right."

Dad came back with one of the full decks and started to shuffle. "Game?"

*Go fish?* I asked Mia.

She laughed and looked at me. "Seriously?"

I shrugged and sat up. *What? It's better than you smoking the rest of us at poker.*

"I wouldn't do that to you on your birthday."

*Yeah, sure, course not.*

"What are you two talking about?" Trygg asked before Dad could.

"Bri's trying to talk me out of convincing the rest of you to play poker. I'd say rummy but I know Bri hates that game with a passion."

[Thank you.]

Dad looked at me, then at Mia, then nodded. "Oh, there it is. You two finally enchanted that wood from forever ago."

Mia nodded. "This morning."

"I'd say I'm surprised you two managed to figure out telepathy this quickly, but it looks like you specifically designed it to make that easy."

"That was mostly Bri," Mia admitted. "I mostly followed his lead." She looked at me. "I mean, hell, you were a 1/4 of the way done by the time I started."

[I also knew you'd catch up before we reached the critical parts. I was right, wasn't I?]

She rolled her eyes. "So we going to agree to something?"

Ivory looked at Mia. "I only know how to play crazy eightssssss." Her eyes went wide and while I knew she couldn't actually blush, the look on her face said she would be if she could.

Dad smiled a little. "First time that's happened?"

Ivory nodded and looked even worse, if that was possible.

"Well, you're a little old to develop that, but it happens."

What little hope she had written on her faded. "Sssso there issssn't a cure for thisss?"

Dad blinked. "Do you want one?"

"It wasss hard enough getting ussssed to lisssping my ssss. Sssspeaking like thissss jusssst makessss me a walking cliche."

Dad smiled a little. "If it makes you feel better, your mom told me she did that for a month straight after she transformed."

"But her sssspeach wassss... issss... perfect."

"Yeah, cause she figured it out. She doesn't even hiss in true form, you know."

"Right, yeah, I figured sssshe never had."

Dad shook his head. "She did. From the way she says it, it was worse than you."

"Oh. Ssssso thissss might actually be a good thing, you're ssssaying?"

He nodded. "Though it probably won't seem like that for a while."

"Right. Do you know how sssshe... figured it out?"

"She never said. I can ask her, though, say I'm asking for someone else. It wouldn't be the first time I've gone to someone over there for advice. The schools around here tend to come to me for help when someone transforms. Mostly the middle schools."

"Right, they would sssince that's when transsssformationssss ushually happen." She sighed. "I wish I could talk to them myssssself."

"You will, in no time at all. In the meantime you can teach us crazy eights, if you want."

She smiled a little. "Alright."

#

We continued to play cards even after Dad had to go back to finish dinner, only stopping, really, when it was time to eat.

Dad made salmon cakes with buttered asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. He'd asked Ivory ahead of time, and it turned out that she could eat it in small amounts, so he made sure to add less than he usually did. It still tasted amazing and when it was all said and done, I knew I barely had any room left for cake.

Dad, thankfully, didn't pull out the cake right away. We just sat and talked over the remnants of dinner. Ivory wasn't using a chair here, either. At Dads' prodding she admitted she hated using chairs as a rule and we insisted that we really, really didn't care. I think by the end of the meal she actually believed us. Course, it probably helped that her telekinesis meant that she could pass any dish from anywhere on the table and didn't even have to put down her silverware to do it, which impressed both the parents and she and Dad ended up in a long discussion on telekinesis, some of which completely went over my head, which I had to admit to Trygg with a shrug when he gave me a confused look at one point.

Dad eventually pulled out both cakes, which already had the candles on them. One had yellow frosting over it, the other was red.

"Wait, you figured out how to make raspberry frosting, too?" Mia asked.

Dad smiled. "From scratch. I've picked up a few things in the past five years."

"I guess," she muttered, amazed.

"Frosting really isn't that hard," Dad said. "Hard part was getting it to taste right. But if I can make your brother the perfect lemon frosting, I think I can make raspberry frosting, too."

She looked at me. "You got picky, didn't you?"

I shrugged. [Dad wanted me to challenge him when I turned sixteen, so I gave him a challenge. Big deal.]

She chuckled. "Right. Sorry."

Dad started lighting the candles and I suddenly had this distinct impression that... that I should have been able to do that with my breath. But that wasn't my weapon, hadn't ever even been hinted at that it might or would be, though at first both Sam and Mandy had thought that maybe I wasn't speaking because I'd inherited a breath weapon.

Trygg caught the look on my face but didn't ask with words. I shook my head and tried to look natural, but I knew that Mia had caught it, too. If anyone else did they didn't say it.

Dad finished lighting the candles, happy birthday was sung and I realized that I had to come up with a new wish. Every year I'd wished for the same thing. For Mia to return, alive, from her training. I knew it was pointless to wish for my voice back, but honestly, there wasn't anything else I wanted, so I wished for it anyway as I blew out my candles in one breath.

Mia apparently knew what her wish was much faster than me, she hadn't even hesitated before blowing hers out. Which meant that as soon as mine were out dad handed me a knife and started cutting Mia's with another.

Mia didn't mind, which wasn't surprising. She always managed to cut herself anytime she used a knife and I doubted very much she wanted to test it again, now, over cake.

Mom grabbed the small dessert plates from the kitchen and before long we were all munching down to amazing cake.

"I swear, you're getting better at this," Trygg said.

Dad chuckled. "Just wait til you see yours tomorrow."

Trygg blinked. "Wait, you're actually-"

Dad gave him a confused look. "Course."

"But until a couple days ago you, and everyone else here, thought I was born in March."

"Trygg, if we can get a wedding together in a couple days, I think I can manage cooking for your birthday." He smiled.

Trygg smiled and chuckled. "Yeah, I guess that's true. Thank you."

He nodded. "You're welcome. Just so you know, I'm making Thai tomorrow."

Trygg blinked back his shock, badly. "Since when do you cook Thai?"

Dad shrugged. "I got some recipes from a friend of a friend and I have tomorrow off, so I figured it was a good day to try it."

"Oh. But tomorrow's Friday and isn't there a crisis going on right now?"

"Actually there isn't much to do but sit back and wait for things to stop pinging around. And the dragons insisted they could handle everything without me for a few days."

I chuckled. [You mean they all but ordered you to go home and take a long weekend.]

"That too."

"I see what you mean about the lemon frosting," Mia said. "It's sweet but you didn't use any artificial flavoring, did you?"

Dad shook his head. "That was the challenge."

I don't know how I did it, but I managed to eat a slice of each. Actually, so did everyone at the table, though Ivory had asked for a half a slice of each so she wouldn't get sick.

Ivory looked at Mia when we were all finished. "Now I get it, why you were alwaysssss going on about your Dad'ssss cooking. It wassss ccccertainly worth waiting for."

Dad smiled. "Thank you for the compliment."

Mom insisted we all stay seated as she started to gather the dishes and take them to the kitchen. The moment Mom went into the kitchen with the first load Ivory gathered the rest and moved them in one group with her telekenisis. When Mom noticed she joked with Ivory about how she was being a show off.

When we were all back at the table Dad pulled out two small boxes and handed one to Mia and one to me. They looked identical even in their plain brown wrappings, which made me wonder how he knew which was which. Honestly the only way would be if they were magical.

I thanked him then ripped it open and pulled the box lid off to find a black and white speckled newsboy cap inside. I could instantly tell it had been laced with spells, but all of them were dormant. I put it on and none of that changed.

Mia's hat was a solid black tam with gold buttons across part of the top, and hers too was laced with spells, though slightly different.

"Huh. Looks like... are these teleportation spells?"

Dad nodded. "I wondered if either of you would be able to pick that up by looking at it. They're designed to teleport you anywhere within a ten mile radius of where you're standing just by thinking about it. It took a while to find the right people to help me design these, but the two of you will be going to college next year, with a college student's budget. You can only use them twice a day, but the spells won't fade out or run out. If it ever does, it's because you're not close enough to a hotspot."

I stared at him. [How long did it take you to get these made?]

He shrugged. "Been looking into easier ways to get to D.C. for over a decade. This discovery was the best long term solution to teleportation I've found thus far. Well, without being born an eastern dragon, that is."

Mia and I thanked him profusely, and after a while the six of us decided to sit down for a movie. Mia chose, since I'd seen all our movies and she hadn't, and at about nine Ivory said she had to go home so she could do her homework before bed. Mia decided to walk her out of the building, so to speak, but only after Ivory refused Dad's offer to drive her home. She said she only lived a few blocks from here, and walking would help her digest.

[You two are so grown up,] Mom said when Mia got back. [Settling down and everything.]

Mia chuckled. "We're not that bad, Mom, really."

[I meant it as a compliment.]

"I know."

Dad smiled. "I'm just glad you both have good taste in dating partners."

"But you're still going to give me the talk later, aren't you?"

He shrugged. "Ground rules are never a bad thing, and they're easier to set at the beginning before things get too serious."

"Right." Mia looked at me. "Speaking of serious, what was that look you had when the cake came out?"

[It's nothing.]

"Oh, yeah, right, like I believe that."

Trygg gave me a look that said I should just out and say it.

I sighed. [Really, it's nothing. I just had this weird feeling for a moment like I should have been able to light my own candles... with my breath.]

Trygg blinked. "Well, if that shapeshifter wasn't lying about everything, he said that your gift would have been different if we hadn't met."

[You don't really believe him, do you?]

"I don't know, but it might explain what you were just feeling."

I shook my head. [Maybe, but in reality it doesn't really matter.]

"It might if you're tapping into another reality," Dad said.

[You think I'm tapping into another reality?]

"It's possible, but I don't know how we could prove it either way."

[And either way, I have homework.] I gave Trygg a significant look.

He laughed. "Yeah, yeah, I know."

The two of us went to do homework then more or less crawled into bed after.

When the alarm went off I got up and got dressed, but when I looked back over at Trygg I noticed he was still lying in bed. He was still in female form with those same purple scales covering every inch of skin. He looked a little terrified and just kind of stared at me.

[What is it?]

He put a hand over his eyes. "This isn't happening."

I walked over, confused and still missing a shirt as I pulled his hand off his face, took the other one, and pulled him into a sitting position.

That, at least, got him to laugh, he then pulled me in for a hug.

When we released I gave him a confused look.

He sighed and threw back the covers to reveal shredded flannel pjs and a mermaid tail that was covered in the same purple scales.

[Oh. Right, yeah, that's a problem.]

"And a first," he muttered. "I don't have any memories of transforming this drastically before."

[Magic wasn't this crazy before, either.]

"That's true. So... now what?"

[Now I go get a shirt on and go wake up my dad.]

"Do you have to put on a shirt?"

I raised an eyebrow.

"Just saying."

I chuckled, grabbed the first thing out of my dresser, put it on and went and knocked on Mom and Dad's door.

"It's unlocked!" Dad yelled groggily. That had been his standard response to a knock on his door since I went mute and I wondered if he remembered, one, that it wasn't just the two of us anymore, and two, if he'd taken Mom into account before yelling that. He was a morning person typically, sure, but his powers of observation before coffee weren't exactly stellar. I decided to give them both a moment before opening the door and turning on the light. I hated having to do that, but with the blinds closed neither of them would be able to read my sign otherwise.

I didn't need it, apparently. Dad saw the look on my face the moment the light was on and instantly got up. "What's wrong?"

[Trygg turned into a mermaid.]

"Oh." The two of us left, me turning off the light again as Mom started stirring.

When we got back Trygg was still in bed looking exactly the same.

Dad pursed his lips and looked him over. "Do you mind if I-"

"No. Do whatever you need," Trygg interrupted.

Dad nodded, knelt next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

Dad's magic had, as long as I could remember, been pretty understated, visually, so I wasn't surprised when it looked like nothing happened. Course, it helped that I could feel it, every ounce of it, and I realized he was using more than usual. A lot more.

He was also more powerful than me by far and with a lot more experience, training, and practice, so I also wasn't surprised when something really complicated happened and Dad did... I wasn't even sure what, before pulling back all the excess magic back into himself.

Trygg blinked. "I feel... I feel really different, but I look the same."

Dad nodded. "Try changing your shape."

"Oh. Um. Okay." Trygg pulled the blanket over his lap, closed his eyes and he went translucent again. When he opened his eyes he was back to his normal form and gender, but his scales were all bubblegum pink, his hair was darker pink, and his eyes were lighter pink.

"The hell...?"

"I wondered if that was going to happen. Magic has calmed down enough that I could help give you a boost in the right direction. You won't be changing forms randomly now, but you're probably going to be pink until magic finishes integrating."

"Oh, lovely. Well, at least I'm me again."

[And you can stand up.]

"That's true, that's a huge bonus." He looked at Dad. "Thanks."

Dad nodded. "This might be the wrong time to say it, but happy birthday."

Trygg smiled. "Thanks."

"I'll let you get dressed."

"I appreciate that."

Dad smiled and closed the door behind him.

Trygg breathed out a huge sigh of relief. "Thank god." He got up and dug out a plain black shirt, jeans, and boxers. "Any more of that and I was going to go crazy."

I kissed him on the cheek and finished changing.

When we went to go eat breakfast Mia was already there eating cheerios. "So I heard you two already had quite the morning."

Trygg chuckled. "Waking up as a mermaid is not my idea of a great way to wake up."

"I'll bet. You're at least mostly back to normal now."

"Thankfully. I was hoping I wouldn't have to spend my birthday as a girl."

When we got back with cereal Mom was there, dressed and smiling with a box in one hand.

Trygg's eyes went wide. "You didn't."

She smiled wider and handed it to him. He quickly put down his spoon and gingerly took it from her, opened the box and instantly put on the intentionally aged looking brown leather coat. He then wordlessly got up and hugged her, tightly. He was wiping back tears when they released. She rubbed his back a little.

"Thank you," he finally managed.

[You're welcome. I figure it's the least I can do to make up for how horrible your own parents have been to you.]

"Thanks, I appreciate that, but you really didn't have to."

She smiled. [You're part of the family now, so don't even think about it, okay?]

He nodded, wiped back more tears, and sat back down as she went to grab breakfast from the kitchen. I put my hand on his arm. He smiled at me and we both went back to eating.

*What does he want for his birthday?* Mia asked.

*I don't know, we didn't talk about it. I mean, it wasn't supposed to be until March. Right now I think the only thing he really wants is for his mom to be reasonable.*

*And unfortunately I have no control over that.*

*Did you know his parents don't even know sign?*

*Seriously? Okay, that's just wrong. You've been mute for five years, and dating for four, right?*

*Yup.*

*But other than that...?*

*My plan was to take him out to a nice dinner in March and dip into my college savings a little if I have to to get him a nice pocket watch. It's the one thing I know he has always really wanted.*

*Got it. What do you mean if you have to, though?*

*Beylaan pays me to do archiving sometimes. You know how the dragons are with technology.*

She chuckled in my head, it was a weird sensation. *Right, they're afraid they're going to break it. So they pay you to digitally archive their records?*

*Yeah, and because they're dragons that's actually harder than it sounds. Beylaan picks me up about once every two or three months and I spend the better portion of a weekend catching up before he drops me off here. It keeps me in spending money, I'm good at it, and it beats trying to find a job here. I don't even want to know what my job prospects would look like otherwise, being mute and still being in high school and everything.*

*Right. So when are you due to go back?*

*End of October, probably, with the way we keep having crisis after crisis. I'll probably be there once, maybe twice more if I'm lucky before March, which will give me enough time to save up for it without making Trygg suspicious, especially since he gave me blanket permission to just do what I was going to do in March.*

*That's awesome, unfortunately that doesn't help me at all.*

*Just talk to Rose, ask her what her runner up gift was going to be and get him that.*

*You're such a guy.*

*Luckily Trygg doesn't mind.*

*I think that's an understatement.*

I smiled. *True.*

"Okay, what the heck are you two talking about?"

[You.]

He blinked.

"He's not wrong, I was trying to pry information from him," Mia said.

I shrugged.

He laughed. "You want to know what to give me for my birthday."

"Guilty."

He looked at me. "What did you say?"

[Talk to Rose.]

"That's pretty good advice."

Mia shook her head. "Rose is right. You two are weird."

I smiled. Trygg chuckled. "I'd give you advice but I know you won't take it. You're one of those people who think gifts should be a surprise, right?"

"Well, yeah."

Dad walked in and dropped a black, orange-red, and tan plaid striped panama on Trygg's head with a black band as Mom came back in with a bowl of oatmeal.

"Wait, you got me one, too?" Trygg asked.

"Well yeah, those hats aren't designed to teleport more than one person. And before you ask, I had to have them all enchanted at the same time anyway, and now I have a legitimate excuse to not wait until March to give it to you."

"Oh, um, thank you. A lot."

Dad smiled. "You're welcome. Happy birthday." He went into the kitchen.

Trygg took the hat off to get a better look at it. He smiled and put it back on before looking at me. "Your dad knows me scarily well."

[He's just been paying attention, is all.]

"My parents would have assumed I'd want something in black."

[You don't accessorize in black, though. When you do you accessorize in the slightly unusual.]

"I figured you knew that, I didn't realize anyone else did, though."

[With as often as Rose keeps repeating how weird we are? Really?]

"Okay, you might have a point."

Dad came in and sat down with Wheaties.

We finished eating and before we could get up Mom handed Trygg a shoebox.

He gave her a confused look. "Another gift?"

She shook her head. [Now that you're male again, I can't let you out of the house wearing your old sneakers. Don't think I didn't notice that there's a hole in the bottom of one of them. How long have you been wearing them?]

I smiled, instantly glad it was her saying it and not me.

"A... a while..."

[Thought so. And just so you know, I hid them, so you really don't have a choice in this. If you don't like the shoes we can get you something else, but you are not wearing those again.]

"Um... thanks?"

She smiled. I chuckled.

He half glared at me. "What?"

[I wondered who was going to finally pry you away from those things. I should have figured it'd be Mom, she's hard to say no to.]

[I had help, don't worry.]

"From who, exactly? Nevermind, I don't think I want to know," Trygg said as he opened the box and revealed a pair of black sneakers with red accents and black laces. "Oh. Okay, these aren't far off the mark."

[I tried to find something in the same brand you might like.]

"I appreciate that."

[Do I sense a but coming?]

"Not really. I just don't normally put red on my feet," he admitted as he put them on. "They're comfortable enough, though."

[I'm relieved to hear you say that. Honestly I was expecting more resistance than this. I figured if Bri was letting you walk around in those things then you must be pretty attached.]

[I just know when to pick my battles.]

Trygg stared at me.

[What? You haven't mentioned it, but I noticed the hole too.]

He sighed. "Right, forgot I can't pull a fast one over on you." He looked at Mom. "Did you really hide my shoes?"

She nodded. [They'll be in the dumpster by the time you three get back from school.]

He chuckled. "Got it."

[We should go.]

"Yeah, don't want to be late." He looked at my parents again. "Thanks again."

They both nodded as I took our dishes into the kitchen, we grabbed our stuff and left.

"I can't believe your mom hid my shoes."

"I can," Mia said. "Wouldn't be the first time she's done something like that. Though with me it was with a coat I'd practically worn through. Luckily that's about as brutal as she ever gets."

"You have a point, and after all this craziness with my parents I can live with that." He looked at his feet. "And the shoes will grow on me."

"Hopefully not literally."

"Oh, ha ha."

She chuckled and when we got to school she actually intercepted Rose before she could get anywhere near either Trygg or I. I just stood by the locker and waited for them to finish and didn't bother closing the thing.

Trygg actually made it over before they did. "So Mia's still pumping Rose for information, huh?"

[Looks like.]

"Ask said he owes me a movie."

I chuckled. [Guess the next one's on him, then.]

"Looks like. We were thinking tomorrow sometime."

[Sounds good to me. Why are you still wearing your hat? You know we're not allowed in class.]

He chuckled. "Forgot I was wearing it actually, it's really comfortable."

He left and Rose came over, finally, with a shake of her head. "How is it you're completely useless in giving your sister pointers on what to give your husband for his birthday?"

[I've know what I'm getting him for a while, it just takes a while to save up for it without him realizing I'm saving up for something. I mean, I work twenty-four hours out of every two or three months. That doesn't give me a lot to work with. I'd ask for more hours, but I know the dragons don't actually need me more than that, and I'm not getting a job in the non-magical sector. That would just be depressing to try cause no one would hire me.]

"Oh come on, you'd stand more of a chance than that."

[Yeah right. Who hires a mute high school student part time when they have bundles to pick from? Skilled labor, later, is different, this is high school menial stuff.]

"Well, you have experience archiving stuff, you could get a similar job elsewhere. Those kinds of jobs don't require much talking anyway."

[That's true. I'd be a pain working somewhere where no one knows sign, but that's true everywhere. Did you manage to give Mia some help?]

"Yeah, don't worry, she's got some ideas. I still think it's crazy that both you and Trygg told her to see me."

[Well, you know Mia, she wants anything she gives to be a surprise whenever possible.]

"That's true." She unloaded things from her messenger bag and closed the locker. "Nice hat, by the way."

[Thanks, my dad gave it to me last night. It's also laced with teleportation spells. Mia and Trygg have one, too.]

"Wait, really?"

[Yeah, it can be used about twice a day, he says, and has a ten mile radius.]

"That's useful. That's incredibly useful."

[It can only be used on one person, though.]

"And knowing your dad it's probably keyed to you and only you, right?"

[Probably. Didn't think to ask, but since he knew whose was whose with identical packaging that's probably the case.]

Raven came up then. She was dressed in a short sleeved white shirt and an ankle length red and white flowered skirt.

I raised my eyebrows.

[Don't say it. So much of my closet was black that my parents gave Justin a bunch of money and made him take me shopping at the mall. The mall, of all places. So I now have a closet full of normal clothes and not great amounts of desire to wear any of it. The only reason I agreed to this was because they told me they wouldn't make me get a new wheelchair if I went along with it. That, and the healing thing. At least it wasn't my foster parents taking me. That would have been... a nightmare, really. You should see the way my foster mom dresses. She's nice enough, but has no sense of what looks good on her whatsoever.]

"Justin didn't push you into anything, did he?" Rose asked.

[Not really, he mostly did a lot of standing around looking uncomfortable and blushing when I asked for his opinion. Honestly I was expecting him to crack a bunch of jokes but I think he found me too hot to do so.]

"Well there's that, at least."

[Yeah, the only other up side to this. My boyfriend seems to find me hotter in normal people clothes.]

Rose laughed. "Normal people clothes."

[Well, what else is there to call them?]

"Street clothes?"

[I guess.]

"Wow," Ask said as he stopped next to us. "Raven, you look good."

She sighed. [Thanks.]

"She's wearing normal clothing only under protest," Rose said.

"Oh. Well, at least it looks good on you."

[Thanks.]

Trygg, I noticed, was talking with Ivory next to his locker, but I decided not to ask Ask about it or comment.

"Well, looks like Trygg stopped changing into female form," Rose said.

[Yeah, Dad had to do something this morning to help. He woke up a mermaid.]

"Seriously?"

[Yeah. Up side is he can control his changes now, down side is that he's pink until magic settles down.]

"Got it. He's probably not real thrilled about that, is he?"

[Not really. Also, Mom hid his shoes and gave him a new pair once the giving of presents were finished.]

"I wondered," Ask said. "He'd been wearing his old ones nonstop for, what, two and a half years?"

[Probably. Surprised you remember that.]

He shrugged.

Mia came over, but before she could say much more than hi Trygg and Ivory came over. "So, I think it's official, anyone who wants to come tomorrow can join us at the theater."

"We're thinking about watching A Mysssstery in a Theater."

"Sounds good to me, been wanting to see that," Mia said.

"Agreed," Rose said. No one so much as blinked at Ivory hissing her s's even though I was pretty sure Raven and probably Rose and Ask hadn't a clue that had changed. "Do we know when it's showing?"

"Let me look it up on my phone," Ask said and started to do so. "Eh, not a whole lot of showings. Afternoon probably, right?"

"I want to sleep in," Mia agreed.

"Then either 1:35 or 4:45."

[I'm pretty sure I can make the 1:35, not so sure about the 4:45. Does anyone mind if I invite Justin?]

"Go for it," Mia said.

"He's a nice enough guy, he's welcome anytime we manage to get our stuff together," Rose said.

[Getting our stuff together seems to be the key point in that sentence, sadly.]

Rose smiled and shrugged.

[Cool, then I'll tell him.]

"Oh, Trygg, happy birthday," Rose said as she handed him a book of Tibetan prayers. "I know you've been wanting to look into other religions but have been afraid to do it while you were living with your parents, so I figured now that you aren't I'd help you with that."

Trygg smiled. "Thanks, Rose, I appreciate it. Honestly with all the craziness I'd completely forgotten that's one of the upsides to living at Bri's now."

"You're welcome."

The bell rang so we all scattered as Trygg put the book in his backpack.

"I can't believe you remembered I wanted to look into this first."

She smiled. "I guess that's why you told Mia to ask me for gift ideas."

He laughed. "Yeah, okay, you got me there."