It turned out that the mating mark had an odd, stabilizing effect on Atticus and I's relationship. We still disagreed heavily on certain things but the ferocity of our answer was significantly subdued. It frightened me at first—was I being turned into a zombie?—but Cecile assured me it was normal. That was what the marks existed for: to temper the uncontrollable instinct of demons.
Time passed at a disturbing rate. I didn't think I'd ever be accustomed to the concept of never dying and I would constantly look at myself as the years went by and I never aged. Atticus kept my mother at her age as well and I was ecstatic that she was able to move on from dad and be happy. She met Patrick fifteen years after being brought back to life and spilled the truth about our weird family after a decade. He was surprisingly accepting of it and my mate granted him immortality as well.
My nieces and nephews grew up but I stayed away. Katrina never forgave mom and I for what happened to dad and I had no interest in extending the olive branch. She moved up north with Gabriel, freeing us from the uncomfortable presence of the nephilim.
Atticus and I left the apartment to live in a house. We wanted the complete opposite, of course: he was hoping for a gigantic mansion and I wanted something quaint. Eventually, after plenty of arguing and hissing, we settled on a place that struck the middle of both extremes. It was nestled near the ocean like the Perkins mansion with a big yard and two floors. My mate complained frequently that it was small.
We traveled the world, sometimes in the traditional style and occasionally cheating. I fell asleep at the top of Eiffel Tower while Atticus looked on over Paris. We had a picnic at the top of Mt. Rushmore. We looked out over Staten Island from the Statue of Liberty. We stood at the top of Mt. Vesuvius and even Mt. Everest. I walked around Stonehenge with my arm wound through his while he whispered the truth of its creation in my ear.
It gave me plenty of opportunity to go to college. It wasn't about getting a degree—I took classes in whatever interested me. Atticus and I spent a lot of our time reading quietly together. My partying days with my friends were long over at that point, as they were close to being middle-aged. Mentally, you never stopped growing, and that was an odd incidence with the body of a 20 year old.
After 60 blissful years had passed, we both had an enormous but not entirely unwelcome shock.
Atticus had gone to Hell for a week for some political nonsense. He'd offered to bring me but I wasn't interested in facing my grandfather, Asmodeus, again. I remained on Earth and spent my time chatting with mom and Caia over the phone. It was nice to feel human, even if I drank blood out of a wine glass during the conversation.
The mark tingled when my mate drew nearer and I quickly hung up the phone to greet him, lonely from my seven days on Earth. He actually walked in the front door and slipped his sunglasses over his head, narrowly catching me when I threw myself at him. I laughed and kissed his hair.
And he stopped very suddenly to set me back on my feet. Confused, I grasped Atticus's forearms and looked up into his wide brown eyes. Had I done something wrong?
"Are you okay?" I asked.
His gaze swept down my abdomen, settling near my stomach. "…I can feel another demonic presence."
I gasped and turned away from him to rise on my tiptoes. "Seriously?! Do you think they're still stupid enough to try attacking us? I guess they haven't—"
"It's coming from you, Keira."
"I'm a demon?!" I shrieked, covering my mouth. "When did that happen?!"
"Don't be obtuse." He pointed the tip of his talon to my stomach and realization flooded through me when our eyes met. "I believe you're pregnant."
Pregnant? The first emotion to seize me wasn't joy or excitement, but outright terror. Why was I suddenly pregnant after 60 years of unprotected sex? Cecile and Sebastien were certain Atticus and I were both infertile and neither of us thought anything of it. It was going to be the two of us until the end of time, whenever that may be. Holy shit. I was pregnant.
We stared at one another for a beat. Demon pregnancy wasn't the type of thing you celebrated immediately, especially between us. I'd gotten the details about Atticus's conception (unfortunately) and Cecile happened to be a demon as well as Sebastien at the time. It had never happened between a cambion and a full-blooded demon, though. Would I survive it?
Atticus immediately transported us to his parents' home and was knocking on the door before I'd blinked. Caia and Belias had moved out a long time ago and spent most of their time in Hell but I could hear my sister-in-law shrieking with glee as she ran to the door. Verrier was barking.
It flung open to reveal the only other cambion in existence and in a heartbeat I was wrapped up in her arms. She beamed at her brother and I as Belias stepped up quietly behind her. The demon's eyes narrowed and flickered down to my stomach. She could sense whatever was there, too.
"We thought you guys were still in New Zealand!" Caia gushed, pulling me inside.
Atticus swatted her away, irate and overprotective. "We need to speak with Cecile and Sebastien."
Cecile was at the top of the stairs with her black hair thrown over her head in a messy bun. She hadn't aged a day of course and bounded down the stairs to hug me like her daughter had. She had gloves on—even immortals needed to keep their houses clean.
"Luvart and Olivier went on vacation to Romania," Caia said. She was frowning now. "What's wrong with you two? You look like you saw a ghost."
"Is everything okay?" Cecile pressed with a nervous pitch in her voice.
Atticus and I exchanged a glance and he wrapped an arm around my waist.
"We think Keira may be…" he began, trailing off.
I winced. "Pregnant."
Everyone blinked at us in shock, save for Belias. She had her mouth twisted in an odd disapproving look and kept staring at my stomach. The silence dragged on until Sebastien joined the group in his usual formal attire with both hands in his pockets. His golden eyes focused on my abdomen as well.
"Four weeks," the ancient demon said offhandedly. "You didn't present your demonic energy until about that time in the womb."
Atticus ran a hand through his black hair. "Well? Should we terminate it?"
"Atticus William Perkins!" Cecile admonished.
"Wait, I'm going to be an aunt?" Caia squealed, defrosting from the surprise. She turned to Belias and kissed her on the lips. "We're going to be aunts!"
It was a flurry of activity. I pressed closer to my mate's side and he tightened his grip, uncomfortable like I was. We'd never factored children into our lives. Both of us thought that wouldn't happen either way and didn't worry ourselves with it. Would we make good parents? What would our offspring be like?
Sebastien shrugged, utterly indifferent to our predicament. "That's your decision. If you're concerned about the fetus harming Keira, I highly doubt that will happen. If you're concerned about the reactions of the angels and nephilim, perhaps you should consider it." He smiled mirthfully. "It's quite strong. Male, I believe. Cambions have a less noticeable pressure and are strictly female."
We decided to go ahead with the pregnancy in the end after discussing it at length with Cecile. She warned me it could be pure torture sometimes but I was positive I was ready for it.
Everything else was put on hold for the year I was pregnant. It worsened as our son grew bigger and more desperate to escape his temporary prison, and Atticus would snarl furiously at my stomach when he punched me repeatedly from the inside. He swore he would snap his neck when he was born.
Demons weren't really born, though. They simply clawed their way out.
Atticus noticed the shift in our son's pressure one afternoon while I was sitting beside him knitting a sweater. It was a fun hobby I'd picked up on all the days I spent lounging around drinking my weight in blood and eating twice that in food. It was akin to having a parasite. Our eyes met briefly and I opened my mouth to ask what was wrong when I felt the tearing begin.
Even being half demon, the pain was excruciating. Atticus had to pin me to the floor and help him escape me while I screamed in agony. I could see my mate shedding tears during the process and begging me to forgive him while our son silently crawled out of me and into the world. It wasn't a traditional mother and child relationship. I was merely an incubator.
Luvart and Olivier arrived toward the end, when Atticus would reattach my flesh while they took our son off to clean him. But when they came up behind my mate I saw all of their eyes widen in horror. Atticus's hands were covered in my blood and he was trembling.
"What?" I rasped.
Slowly, Atticus removed a small, shivering thing from me that fit in the palms of his hands. It was bloody but I could see legs and arms and a mess of stark white hair plastered to the head. He choked and leaned back to cradle the sad creature against his chest. I stared in horror, praying it wasn't our son, when I saw two small, taloned hands grasp my stomach and dig in.
I'd become to numb to the pain that I watched Dante calmly crawl out of me with no expression on his face. His hair was the same palatial shade of white but as he crept onto my abdomen, it began to gain some brownish color. His eyes were glacial blue and frightening.
Olivier scooped Dante off of me and scurried out of the room to clean him while Luvart covered her mouth in horror. The tiny life in Atticus's hands took a couple of rattling breaths and went limp.
I'd never seen Atticus look so anguished before. His eyes were wide and his pupils were fully open, blankly looking at the unmoving body in his hands. He staggered to his feet with the second baby we had not expected and turned to Luvart.
"Get Sebastien for Keira," he said.
He disappeared, leaving me alone on the floor with Luvart.
Sebastien returned quickly with the rest of the family in tow and easily fixed my wounds. I was petrified by what I had seen—we had a perfectly healthy baby boy and another baby that wasn't moving and was much smaller. What had happened? No one noticed the other baby in the womb.
Olivier returned with Dante, who squirmed until he was in my arms. He bit down on my shoulder and greedily pulled blood while Caia shifted on the couch impatiently for her turn to hold him. He was about six pounds and already had some fine motor controls. I held him at arm's length when he finished eating and noticed his hair was halfway between white and brown. Blood dribbled down his chin.
Cecile took him and he frowned up at her. She brushed his hair.
"White?" she asked, looking to Sebastien for an answer.
"There's nothing predictable about demon genetics," he said.
When Caia held him he bit her and drank some of her blood as well but she didn't care. She and Belias played with him and I wrung my hands anxiously. Where had Atticus gone?
An entire week passed before he returned. Dante was already walking and he was incredibly stubborn, stomping around the house while Verrier nervously followed behind. The family had stayed to support me during my mate's absence and when he abruptly walked into the living room, all of us were angry.
"Where did you go?!" Cecile demanded. "Keira just gave birth!"
"That was mean, Attie," Caia added.
Atticus had a bundle in his arms and he looked haggard. He pushed past all of them and approached me, sinking into the couch at my side to seek comfort. I embraced him, trying to hold back tears and anger, when I noticed something squirming in his arms. There was a collective gasp.
A tiny female baby was yawning, showing off perfectly normal gums with no fangs in them. She had gotten bigger but was still small and her shock of white hair hadn't gone away. Golden eyes like Sebastien's blinked at us curiously from the brown cloth he had wrapped her in and when I offered her my finger, I noticed hers were rounded like any other baby's.
My mate didn't look away from her. "She's a human."
Cecile sat slowly on his other side to look at our daughter, eyes brimming with tears. "Oh, Atticus. Was she sent to…?"
"The Styx, yes. I had to incapacitate Asmodeus to get to her." He adjusted her blanket and his eyes began to redden—from tears? "She was tainted by her brother's presence. His pressure nearly crushed her—it stunted her growth—but all is well now."
Sebastien was looking at her curiously. "Hm. She does have a mild demonic aura, but she is not a cambion from what I can ascertain. It may present within the next few years."
Dante outstretched his arms to be picked up and I set him in my lap so he could see his sister. He frowned at her and when he reached to touch, his talons extended. I quickly drew him back and she burst into tears, a comforting human reaction to fear. Atticus held her closer, cooing softly, and glared at his son. Uh oh.
"I don't think I can feed her," I said, stroking Dante's hair. "I don't, er… produce her type of food."
Atticus looked back down and touched her cheek. "I will get her milk."
Everyone was a bit unnerved by his maternal nature toward her. Even Sebastien looked quizzical. Going to the Styx to drag her little soul back had to be horrible but Atticus had done worse things.
Caia leaned over the back of the couch. "What do you think you're going to name her, guys?"
"Sigrid Eira Perkins," Atticus said without missing a beat. "Her demon title is Decarab."
"Beautiful?" Sebastien said, echoing the translation to English.
"Yes. Because she is."
No one, myself included, wanted to question his name choice. It was strong and I didn't mind it. I held Dante firm in my lap as everyone convened around Sigrid and became acquainted with the newest and only mortal member of the family.
At the tender age of 80, I became a mother.