Chapter Four | The Woman in the Mirror

The mammoth doors to the wing of the library Rhyan currently inhabited swung open with an urgency that sent a ceiling-rattling crash echoing through the vast room. It yanked him from his reading, his head jerking up from the pages below him and his attention instantly zeroing in on–


Rhyan blinked, surprised, still shaken by the sound, and instantly went on guard because Natara looked shaken herself, a state he wasn't honestly sure he'd ever seen her in. By the time he closed his book and opened his mouth to voice his first question, however, she was already speaking.

"Because there is no gentler way to tell you this," she began sharply, "your brother is with child. On learning this, he fled and has locked and spelled himself shut in his room, and I fear what he might intend to do."

Two blows to the head and heart, real as bricks and just as hard to take. Rhyan's mind swam, spinning with the information and treading water to catch up. With child? At first, it sounded so bizarre he wondered if he'd fallen asleep in his reading and was dreaming the scenario, but then his brain caught up. Baisyl had spent the last eight months as a woman more often than not. And just over two months ago, he'd had a lover.

Rhyan was standing before his book hit the floor, and out the door a moment after that, immediately on Natara's heels. "When did this happen?" he pressed, speaking rapidly as they went and walking as fast as walking allowed without breaking into a run. "When did he learn of this?"

"Minutes ago," Natara filled him in, her pace quick and strides so long that Rhyan nearly did have to jog simply to keep up with her. "I didn't mean to, I merely…he's been having symptoms, but none of them added up to me until too late. We were sparring…"

As they approached Baisyl's quarters, she took the time to explain the sequence of events in full, and Rhyan's gut sank as he listened, panic rising with each reveal as the depth of the situation unfolded. When she finished, they were nearly there, and he swallowed a knot in his throat, his mind still buzzing with the same impossible, repeating monologue, beating against the inner sides of his skull like an off-beat metronome. Baisyl was pregnant. How could that be possible? His brother was pregnant.

"So, he…didn't take it well?" Rhyan guessed, the words coarse and prickly in his throat.

Natara's look said more than any words could hope to, and Rhyan drew a slow, paced breath. And released it.

"Forget I asked."

When they arrived at Baisyl's door, Rhyan knocked first, waiting for any sign of a response. Even with the barrier between them, though, he could feel the force of his brother's reeling emotions, which only served to feed his own, stoking his pre-existing fear.

"Baisyl…" After trying the lock and finding it—as Natara had forewarned—bolted and latched, Rhyan immediately went to work on the spells holding it shut, his voice rising even as he struggled to retain his calm. "Baisyl, please just open the door…" His fingers traced quick, glowing runes onto the wood, "…whatever you want to do, we will do it, but think before you act…" First the magic lit up red—red for destruction; red for breaking—unraveling the spells Baisyl had already quickly tossed into place and then white, skittering along the grooves of the wood as he unfastened the lock itself.

The instant it came unlatched, he slammed the door open, and although he had schooled himself to be prepared for the worst, his knees weakened, body swaying threateningly when the worst was exactly what he found.

"Baisyl–" He lurched forward with the cry on instinct, but his brother's response froze him in his tracks.

"Stay where you are…" Baisyl sounded impossibly cool, eerily put together for someone whose magic was all but billowing around him, writhing like screaming ghosts and laced with his hurt, fear, confusion and betrayal. "I somehow doubt you'd want to startle me at this point…"

"Baisyl…" the word cracked out of Rhyan's throat, and he felt sick. His hands shook, fingers digging into the wood of the door frame, but his feet remained rooted no matter how he tried to reason with them. Baisyl—his brother—was standing, poised, on the lip of a window sill, a thousand foot drop to the bottom with nothing but biting wind and snow in between, and Rhyan couldn't bring himself to move. "Baisyl, please…"

"Tell me, brother…" The wind stole half the force of Baisyl's words because he refused to turn around, but Rhyan heard them anyway—clear and sharp and terrifying with their implication, "…have you ever dreamt of flying?"

Rhyan shook his head, though Baisyl couldn't see it, the words in his throat trembling on his tongue before finally falling out of his mouth. "No…Baisyl, don't—you can't–"

Baisyl held onto the frame with one hand when he turned, putting his back to the outside but not stepping down, and he met Rhyan's stare head on. He eyed him then slowly, his expression curious and thoughtful, but riddled with barely veiled pain in a way that wrung Rhyan's heart into petrified knots. "I love you, you know…"

Rhyan couldn't identify the sound that spilled from his throat at that. It certainly wasn't a word. A sob, perhaps? "Baisyl–"

"I'll be back in a moment."

Confusion hit, barely making a dent in his fear, but before Rhyan could open his mouth to ask, his brother let go. And vanished over the edge.

The exact sequence of events that followed was lost on him, because in the moment that his brother disappeared into the sky below, Rhyan's world collapsed in on itself. Screaming filled the room—or wailing, maybe—and a disjointed part of him distantly recognized that the blood-curdling sounds knocking against his eardrums were being torn from his throat and no one else's, but most of him was focused on the lurching of the room as he surged forward, careening for the window as if driven mad by the hope that he still might catch Baisyl if only he moved fast enough.

Hands latched onto his forearms, strong, hard fingers snatching him back from the window's edge before he reached it, and someone was saying his name, calling him back even as he fought the grip in vain. His feet gained no purchase, his body writhing uselessly under the steel hold—whoever it was was far, far stronger than he.

"Rhyan…Rhyan," Natara's voice registered finally as a growl by his ear, harsh and yet somehow soft and wounded at the same time, and the rest of his situation clicked shakily into place: these were her fingers digging into him with painful insistency, holding him down; her words tethering him to reality like a stake driven sharply into a tent threatening to blow away with the wind, keeping him from leaping after Baisyl in his initial fit of anguish.

Piece by piece, his struggles diminished, his strength waning as much from the emotional impact as the physical fight, and his jerks and screams disintegrated, falling apart into broken trembles and then soft, body-wracking sobs. He found himself leaning on her, dependant on her support when his legs gave out, and she surprised him by holding him up, bearing the full brunt of his weight without hesitation, comment or complaint.

"He can't…" The words sounded foreign to Rhyan's ears, even as they left his throat, "…he can't have—he was right there–"

Silence answered him, though he couldn't have expected much else. What did a person say in the face of sudden, jarring tragedy? Rhyan's mind spiraled as he struggled to wrestle his thoughts into order, only barely aware that every loose item in the room was shaking with him, several brittle ones already having toppled from their perches and crashed to the room's floor.


The temperature in the air, too, had spiked, his skin already beading with sweat, but Baisyl was gone, so what did it matter? Breathing in felt hot, like drawing the first wall of air from a just-opened kiln into his lungs or standing too close to a great blaze.


Everyone in the castle had known. Everyone had known, and not a one of them had warned him. Not a one of them had prepared him or eased the news to him. This was their fault

"Rhyan!" Natara insisted, her interjection finally sharp enough to jerk him unwillingly from his boiling thoughts as she nudged him forward. "Look…"

At first, Rhyan couldn't determine the target of her attention. Look at what? Why should he care? He–

Then, he spotted it. At first, it looked like a shadow, a dark spirit or ghoul, its shape mostly concealed under the numberless slipstreams of wild, twirling snow, but it was moving fast—far too fast, Rhyan thought—to be any sort of beast on the ground.

A bird, then?

No, despite looking small from here, it was far, far below them—though admittedly making impressive time as it streaked, dark red as a bloodstain according to the glimpses of color he caught of it, along the icy ground below—so up close it would be massive in comparison to any beast, fowl or otherwise, that he knew of.

Abruptly as anything he'd ever seen, it changed course, swerving from a low-to-the-ground aerial sweep into an arrow straight dive up—and up, and up, and–

Rhyan's heart seemed to expand in his chest, growing increasingly oversized with each beat of the creature's wings until the instant it burst through the veil of snow and into visibility. There, Rhyan's pulse promptly catapulted itself messily into his throat, and his legs threatened to give again.

Almost perfectly level with the window but a hundred feet away, the creature came to a hover: morning sunlight glinting, brilliantly red, off of a gleaming coat of scales which armored fully spread wings spanning easily the width of two small houses lined up wall to wall, a body with the mass of four war stallions combined, and a wicked, sweeping tail that licked from side to side like an angry cat's as Rhyan gawked.

"That's–" Natara started.

"Baisyl." Rhyan croaked his brother's name, his throat too hoarse and too strained to manage much else at that point.

Before them, the dragon—'No, Baisyl,' Rhyan mentally corrected—roared. Rhyan felt the air quiver with the sound. And everyone, from those in the castle's tallest tower to those working the docks at the sea's edge, knew exactly what they'd been keeping amongst them. A choked sob, pregnant with relief, broke unbidden from Rhyan's lips, and he sank elbows first to the windowsill beneath him, staring at his brother through bleary, watery eyes.

"I'm going to kill him," he blurted weakly. "I'm going to kill him, and then revive him, and then kill him again for terrifying me thus…"

Baisyl's wings beat the air—graceful, powerful sweeps of movement that might have been breathtaking to behold if Rhyan weren't still shaking with the aftereffects of watching him fall moments before—and then, a ripple of a thought hit him. A strange, foreign thought, not his own, pushed upon his mind clumsily as a wave tumbling up against the shore. Away from the window. Away. Back up.

Rhyan stumbled backwards, uncertain whether his feet were moving of his own volition or not at that point. A moment later, though, as he jerked to the side and out of the way of the direct path in, he was glad of it, because when Baisyl dove forward, he closed the distance between himself and the castle wall in little more than an instant. It was a messy landing.

It looked, from Rhyan's perspective at least, as though Baisyl intended to shrink and shift—his huge form rippling and winnowing down almost as an afterthought at the last possible second—but as it happened, he barely made himself small enough to make the fit before his magic broke altogether, and thus it was his tumbling, limp human body that Rhyan darted forward and, with Natara's help, caught when he crumpled on the spot. Still, as soon as she allowed him to take the burden himself, he sank to his knees with it.

From there, it took Rhyan only a half second longer to process that his brother was not only human, but also a woman again. And completely naked.

Before his cheeks had so much as the chance to heat, though, Natara was already jerking the top cover off of the bed and thrusting it towards him, and—with Baisyl's somewhat uncoordinated help, all fumbling, weak fingers and indecipherable murmurs—Rhyan managed to wrap it around his brother's exposed body in reasonably short order, preserving whatever remained of his dignity.

"That's…peculiar," were the first recognizable words out of Baisyl's mouth, spoken in a manner that made Rhyan want nothing more than to strangle him for his casualness, despite the overwhelming air of exhaustion evident in his pose and expression. "When Alroy…did that, and Mother, I could have sworn…they retained their clothing through the shift…"

That dragged a reluctant, choked laugh from Rhyan's throat—or at least the start of one, anyway, except that the sound fractured in its final moments, splitting into a half-sob—and his brother's attention darted up, his fallen lashes lifting immediately to reveal an expression awash with guilt, apparently taking in the state of Rhyan's face for the first time.


"You…died," Rhyan whispered, and he made no effort to quell the tremor in his voice. "I watched…" Once started, the words spilled in an unmitigated, crescendoing free fall from his lips. "I just watched…my brotherleap out of a thousand foot tower to his death!"

A protracted, heavy pause hung between them for a long moment, his accusation ringing sharply in the air for what seemed like several long minutes but was probably only a moment before Baisyl reached out, and Rhyan hadn't realized he'd squeezed his eyes shut until the pads of Baisyl's fingers drew an impossible gentle stripe along his wet cheek, causing him to open them again. The look on Baisyl's face, despite Rhyan's best intentions, made him regret shouting. When he opened his mouth, however–

"I am so sorry," Baisyl whispered, painfully sincere, before Rhyan could get a word in edgewise. "I never stopped to think that–" His expression twisted, growing ever more conflicted, and finally, he dropped his gaze, dipping his chin and letting his fingers fall to catch, clinging lightly, at the nape of Rhyan's neck. "I never stopped to think," he said. "At all. It was needless, foolish…beyond foolish, and selfish of me not to warn you more properly."

"You…" Rhyan shot him a convoluted expression. "You planned that?" he yelped, and Baisyl blinked, looking up again.

"Well," he responded carefully, "as much as any last moment, flight of fancy idea could fairly be called a 'plan', yes, I suppose…of course there was no way I could be positive it would work, but I thought, seeing as the majority of our magic is fueled by strong emotions and I certainly have no shortage of those at the moment…it seemed like an opportune time to attempt the feat."

His expression flickered briefly there, as if he were debating whether or not to add something.

Eventually, he continued, "The fact that I might or might not have felt especially inclined to leap off a building at that point anyway could arguably have played a small role in my decision making, but I promise you…I had no intention of dying." A pause, and then, quieter still: "I wouldn't leave you here alone…not for the world, no matter what my…condition."

Rhyan drew a slow, paced breath. At last, finding the voice to speak, he said, "You can't…go on thinking you're invincible, Baisyl. Someday…it's—you're bound to–" But he never finished that sentence and bit down on his lip instead, unwilling or unable to follow it through to its natural conclusion.

"In my defense," Baisyl pointed out quietly, "…nothing has happened yet to prove that I'm not…" At Rhyan's frigid look—its effect only slightly dampened by the glossy redness around his eyes—Baisyl quickly conceded and didn't press his point. Instead, he lifted a hand, wordlessly tucking a loose lock of Rhyan's hair out of his face and leaning up to press a chaste kiss to his cheek. "I do apologize…more than any words can express, truly, for frightening you as I did. It was not my intention."

Rhyan released a defeated sigh and shook his head, dropping it instead to tuck his face wearily against his brother's shoulder. "I'm sure…that I will find it in my heart to forgive you eventually," he murmured, "and in the meantime, I can't imagine I'd have approved of your idea even if you had given me proper warning. It still likely would have terrified me, though not quite as much, had I known your intentions from the outset…"

For some immeasurable amount of time, they stayed like that: Rhyan tucked against his brother, arms wrapped around Baisyl's now smaller body and eyes shut as he waited for his trembling heart to finally rein in control of itself, and Baisyl simply holding him, patiently waiting out the silence. Rhyan wasn't sure when Natara had left, since he'd never heard her move, but he knew before the end of it that she had and he was silently grateful. For all her help, this wasn't the sort of state he felt comfortable being seen in, and he appreciated the privacy.

Eventually, though, as the rest of his thoughts calmed and the reason for this chain of events returned to the forefront of his mind, Rhyan felt a stab of guilt at his weakness and clutched briefly tighter to his brother. He wasn't the one who ought to be clinging to Baisyl for comfort. If anything, it ought to have been the other way around, and after swallowing down his internal frustration with himself, Rhyan pushed gently back, seeking out Baisyl's attention. His brother met his gaze squarely.

"You…" Rhyan hesitated before finishing, "You will be alright…?"

Something unreadable rippled through Baisyl's expression—a wince? cringe? shame? anger?—but he masked it almost immediately, looking away and taking on a practiced, blank frown. "Of course I will," he replied quietly, cool composure returning to his words like the donning of a familiar cloak. "Have I ever been otherwise?"


"I have a lot to think about," Baisyl said, withdrawing from Rhyan's embrace with sudden purpose and tugging the sheet he wore tighter around his body as he stood, leaving Rhyan on the floor. In the process of arranging it, his fingers lingered once, regretfully, at the space on his neck where his pendant ought to have rested, but he quickly shrugged that emotion off, too. "I will need to dress, again, and then arrange an audience with our most distinguished…hosts here."

Rhyan was not so blind as to miss that the word 'hosts' came dripping with a venom Baisyl had never previously directed towards their current keepers.

"I feel all but certain," Baisyl continued, "that my flight will have attracted attention—positive and otherwise—and they may well have at least as much to say to me as I do to them…"

"I will seek out the captain, then, and inform her of your desire for an audience," Rhyan said, not yet rising from his knees, but looking up to his brother from the floor as Baisyl glanced down. "Is there anything else you'd have me do while I'm at it?"

Debate warred in Baisyl's expression, something hidden and unspeakable lingering just beneath the surface. Then, again, he shoved it aside and said without inflection, "Find out how I might be rid of this child, if you can. I won't be keeping it."

Rhyan bowed his head, shutting his eyes against the chill that swept him at the words, but soon after, he managed a nod. "Of course."


At his name, Rhyan lifted his head. And his heart went out to Baisyl, because never in his life had he seen his brother look so torn.

"I can't…" Baisyl said quietly, a thousand things wreathed into those two words. "Can you understand that?"

Rhyan bit his lip, and no, he didn't understand, but how could he hope to? He couldn't even begin to imagine himself in his brother's position, let alone empathize with him. Thus, aloud, he said only, "I will not begrudge you your choices, Baisyl, as they are yours to make…whatever that might entail."

Baisyl opened his mouth, but shut it again before speaking and closed his eyes, giving an upwards twitch of his fingers instead. "Stand," he said. "You look like a servant kneeling on the floor like that."

Blushing in spite of himself, Rhyan obeyed, rising quickly, and Baisyl opened his eyes, looking up to him as he did. "It still feels strange to be taller than you," Rhyan admitted softly after a time. "Seems as though you ought to always stand above me or something's not right with the world."

Baisyl gave a quiet snort.

"And yet…" Rhyan continued before Baisyl worked in a verbal response, "even like this…" He laughed—a brittle, short sound, "…even like this…as a woman, wrapped in nothing but a sheet, and with child…" There, he swallowed the knot in his throat and shook his head. "Somehow, you still find it in you to look like you could take up a blade given half the chance and take on the world if it so foolishly chose to challenge you…"

A wan smile ghosted across Baisyl's lips before his lashes flicked down, guarding his expression as his attention dropped to the floor. At length, he responded, "I'm glad I at least manage to look the part then…because…" Finally, on that last word, his voice wavered for the first time, and he caught his lip, holding his breath for a beat before continuing, "I am terrified, you know."

Baisyl's cheek was smooth and dry under Rhyan's thumb, and for a fraction of an instant he wanted nothing more than to sweep his brother back into his arms—to hold Baisyl as Baisyl had once held him, when they were children, sheltering him from whatever storm caused him torment—to soothe him in whatever way he could. It felt unjust, painfully unfair that he was so helpless to help him.

"You will be alright," Rhyan whispered, this time with quiet conviction instead of as an inquiry, and the corner of Baisyl's lip edged back up, a fraction higher than before.

His lashes lifted, revealing an open sea of mottled green, and Baisyl said, "Of course I will."

Rhyan hesitated, but before he made up his mind on what to say, Baisyl nudged his head towards the door.

"Go on," he encouraged, "go. Find the captain. I'll manage in the meantime."

Rhyan took a cautious step back. "You're sure?"

Baisyl arched an eyebrow. "Shall I promise not to dive off of any precariously high ledges in your absence, for your peace of mind?"

"I'd like that."

"You have my word, then," Baisyl assured him. And then, because Rhyan's continued apprehension apparently showed, Baisyl sighed, adding, "I do feel better. The initial leap in and of itself was fairly…refreshing, I think. I feel more relaxed…clearheaded. Wind under my wings, world beneath me and such. It was a fairly exhilarating experience."

Rhyan shot him a dubious look.

"Not, of course," Baisyl hastened to add, "that I would recommend you try it, and, in fact, I would be very cross with you if you did…"

Finally, Rhyan's mouth twitched up with the beginnings of an honest, if flabbergasted, smile. "Fear not, brother…I think you might well be the only person who would find a death-defying leap into oblivion 'refreshing'. Personally, I could go my whole life without ever trying it and die quite happy."

Baisyl afforded him with a lazy smirk, and finally, with a huff and another brisk nod of farewell, Rhyan left Baisyl to himself.

As the door shut behind his brother's back, Baisyl watched, listening to Rhyan's footsteps until their echoing clicks moved completely out of range. Only then did he allow himself to sink wearily to the side of his bed, dragging his cover with him as he flopped bonelessly back onto the soft mattress and shutting his eyes.

He did feel better. At least, he felt better in the sort of way that only coming within a hair's breadth of permanent, irreversible end could remind a man of the value of his own life—of all the things he wasn't willing to leave behind. He loved his little brother.

If absolutely nothing else, he could not leave Rhyan alone here. Not in this castle, in this foreign land, among these people they had only a tentative alliance with. Not to mention, should Baisyl die, Rhyan would instantly inherit all of the issues currently saddled on Baisyl's shoulders: the inheritance of his grandfather's title when the time came, serving as a linchpin in a war that hadn't started yet, and becoming the target of any number of powerful persons who would rather see his head on a block than on his shoulders.

No. No matter what his personal conditions, he could not afford death even if he truly desired it. So long as he lived, he served as a bastion between Rhyan and the certain dangers he would otherwise face. If he died…

Baisyl pursed his lips and opened his eyes, frowning at the ceiling. Such thoughts accomplished nothing. He would not die, simple as that, and Rhyan's future would be safe.

Unfortunately, with that train of thought behind him, his mind wandered in other directions, and his fingers tapped a listless beat against his stomach.

Kedean's child. There, barely formed, under his fingertips. Baisyl drew a slow breath, holding it when his lungs could take no more and then counting the beats of his heart in his head. What mad gods concocted this fate for him? Did they look down on him now, to laugh at his expense? He let his lungs deflate, the air rushing past his lips and his fingers coming to a standstill over his midsection.

He couldn't blame Kedean. The man simply hadn't known. How could he have? If it hadn't been for Natara, Baisyl wouldn't even have learned so soon, and he couldn't resent his former guard for decisions made without information.

'And hadn't you, until this morning, been trying to put him from your head as best possible?' a small voice chided at him. He worried his lip and wondered if Kedean would even want to know…

Likely not, Baisyl decided. Not if he intended to be rid of it, in any case. At that, he frowned. Not since he intended to be rid of it, he mentally corrected. There was no 'if' in this. And yet…

Frustrated, he shoved himself upwards and left the bed, stalking towards the room's closet with every intention of at least dressing to make himself presentable. His steps faltered when he passed the single, full-length mirror on the wall opposite his bed, and his eyes lingered as he stilled, frowning at his reflection. After a protracted pause of indecision, he changed course and approached it.

For all that he had inhabited the body for months, Baisyl rarely looked at himself like this. At first, seeing himself this way had disgusted him—a blatant, jarring reminder of an existence he hated, of being reduced to something beyond worthless in his eyes—and he remembered, on either his first or second day in this body, vehemently ordering that every mirror in his room, bath, and the surrounding halls be either covered or removed. As if, if he couldn't see the evidence of his curse glaring back at him, he might somehow forget or ignore it.

An impossibility, of course. But it had mattered little to him at the time.

Now, he faced the woman in the mirror in an entirely different light, and he was surprised to find that—despite all she'd put him through, despite all his grief and fury and confusion thanks to her appearance—he no longer hated her. Or, certainly not as he once had.

She was lovely.

She might have been a noble woman, Baisyl thought. Pretty and delicate. Serene. Obedient. Hosting parties, dressing in elegant gowns and entertaining visiting lords and ladies, pleasuring her husband, smiling at all the right times and laughing at all the right things—but never too loudly, of course, not too bold—everything a man might ever want in a woman. Everything to make her father proud.

Idly, Baisyl drew one lock of hair forward, sliding it between his fingers and dropping it across his front like a deep blot of red ink on the pale parchment of his skin. Then, spurned by indolent curiosity, he released his hold on the cover wrapping his body, letting the soft fabric drop, ripple, and sink into a loose pool about his feet.

'It's a fortunate thing for the men of this world that you weren't born a woman, Baisyl…'

Baisyl tilted his head and drew his thumb in a lazy sweep along his throat, remembering with vivid clarity the press of Kedean's lips there, warm and ever gentle. A shiver licked through him; a subtle ripple from the base of his spine on up.

'And why is that?'

Two months. Longer than that, even, since he'd last seen the man, and he still saw him in his dreams, still woke up more mornings than not and wondered for an instant where Kedean had gotten off to before he remembered his once upon a time lover was many miles and a great ocean away.

'You'd have had them one and all at your absolute mercy.'

He wondered if it were true. If, had he been born a woman, he would have ruled men—with his beauty and his body, which men seemed so drawn to, and then with his mind, after the former distracted them and left them open to manipulation. Or, if he would have been molded by his upbringing and fallen victim to the same traps every other woman faced.

In the midst of that thought, his eye caught on something in his reflection, and he blinked, frowning as he stepped closer. A dark blot on his skin, at his elbow. A bruise, he realized quickly, and he knew instantly how he earned it—more than one rough tumble to the ground after having one's feet upended from beneath them did that to a person—and as he looked more critically, he soon spotted more. Another spot on his hip, a scrape on his shoulder, and a mark on his lower jaw where he'd received a good knock against something—likely Natara's elbow or the floor.

All these marks stood out to him, suddenly, and as he glanced back over the woman in the mirror, he realized she could not be a demure, well-to-do young lady. Whatever he might have been was irrelevant; this woman fought her fate, and she had the marks to show for it. She'd been sent off to marry someone who didn't interest her and run away instead. She'd learned to dance to songs she'd never heard of, eaten things she'd never tasted, fought possessed wolf demons, traversed unfamiliar territory, faced off against pirates, and fallen in love with a peasant. And now, she carried his baby.

If he were a woman, would he have kept it?

Perhaps it ought to have merited more thought, but Baisyl knew instantly that he would have. What woman rid herself of the offspring of a man she loved? More than that, he knew of women who would die protecting the offspring they'd borne of men they hated—men who had raped them, or at the very least husbands who they harbored no affection for—simply because they were their children. Mothers did this. They put themselves last, sacrificed everything for their children. Not all, but many, and it was a sentiment completely foreign to Baisyl.

He knew intrinsically that no matter how he might look it, he would never be a mother. But he wondered, as his fingers came to rest on impulse over the as of yet flat expanse of his stomach, if he might, possibly—eventually—make peace with the idea of being a father.

A/N: Been looking forward to writing that first scene for quite some time (I mean what author doesn't want the chance to write a character leaping out of an icy tower and turning into a dragon?), but I can only hope it came off as fun to read as it was fun to imagine in my head.

Also, are these the first signs of acceptance, Baisyl? Well...possibly the first hint of a thought that maybe it isn't quite as tragic as he once thought, but I also really wanted to get across that Baisyl isn't about to go all "mommy" on the audience. I had a reader tell me sometime back in TCatT that they were giving up on the story not because they didn't enjoy it, but because they didn't want to watch the "inevitable" shift of Baisyl from a man struggling to hold onto his identity despite his body to a mother figure, overcome with natural instinct. One of my (many) goals with this portion of the story is to write an mpreg that doesn't succumb to that trap. There will be a balance, certainly (mothers AND fathers are extremely protective of their children, Baisyl, not just mommies), but I hope you're not on the edge of your seat waiting for Baisyl to start knitting little baby socks and knickerbockers and vacillating over what color to paint the baby's room and where to put the crib.

Finally, Ryette, I'm curious as to why you think Kedean is a heartless douchebag? I feel like if he were the official "sub" in the relationship, people would have been screaming at Baisyl to chase after him ages ago, but because he's "the man" (cringe), everything is suddenly his fault even though he has no idea what Baisyl's going through at the moment (and he's still missing him terribly anyway).

Long a$$ A/N, my bad. :)