Cory

Cory’s Got Her Boobs Back

 

I am too stupid to live.

“Really?” I asked for the umpteenth time.

Green, my day-lover, the warmest, most patient man I knew, narrowed his overlarge emerald-green eyes in frustration. “Which part of ‘pregnant’ are you not getting?” he asked suspiciously.

I looked from him to Bracken, their extraordinarily beautiful, sidhe-perfect anime features blurring in the face of my complete panic.

“The part where I have tiny humanoid beings growing in my body!”

Bracken grunted and placed his large, wide palm on my T-shirted abdomen, then closed his eyes.

Holy mother of fuck!”

Bracken yanked his hand away as though burned. Green placed his own hand there, this time skin to skin, and the pain went away.

I caught my breath and looked at my due’alle accusingly. “What did you do to me?” I asked, almost in tears.

He sent me a look full of remorse—and stubbornness. In Brack, that was always a lethal combination.

“You were being obstinate,” he said unhappily. “You know what being pregnant means. You even know how it happened—”

I opened my mouth to protest, then remembered that pain. Green—Green—hadn’t reprimanded him for the pain. That told me more than I ever needed to know about me being a complete pain in the ass.

“I overrode your wills,” I said quietly, the pain adrenaline fading quickly. They’d told me this. In a moment of need—and an assertion of my independence, if I was being honest with myself—I’d lain with each one of them, and….

And won.

You know that moment in an argument—any argument—with a loved one, when you actually win?

And then you feel like shit for having forced the issue—because really, how important was it that you were right when you were, in fact, in a relationship based on love, trust, and being considerate of your lover’s feelings?

Yeah.

I’d had that moment.

I was right. I was fully capable of deciding who I would kill for and who I would die for, and that yes, I might have been the queen of the vampires and the ou’e’eir to the leader of all the supernatural creatures between Crescent City and Grapevine, but I was not too precious to risk myself when the cause was worthy.

Excellent.

I was right.

Do you know what being right gets you when you’re in bed with someone whose birth control depends on his will? Do you know what happens when you override that will with being right?

Apparently, it gets you knocked up.

And when you have two sidhe lovers, it gets you knocked up twice.

With one semester to go before your degree.

My degree. I was pregnant with twins, and I hadn’t graduated from college yet. Hur-fuckin’-rah! I was right!

“You did,” Green said quietly. He extended his arm, fully expecting me to cuddle, go boneless, to trust, but I couldn’t.

I turned miserable eyes to him. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Bracken said, surprising me. I felt his hand in my hair tentatively. “You… you were right, and we were being stubborn. But you’re pregnant now. And it’s not just you in there.”

He flicked my head gently, and I managed a crooked grin. “I’m pretty sure that’s not where they’re hanging out,” I said softly. I looked at Green again, and he shook his head.

“Pretty sure you’re right,” he said, one corner of his wide, mobile mouth pulling up.

I took his offer of a hug then. I laid my head against his shoulder, then extended my arm so Bracken could do the same thing.

“Just because I was right,” I said, “doesn’t mean I did the right thing.”

“It took me five hundred years to learn that,” Green said in wonder. “You’re doing very well.”

Bracken nuzzled my cheek and, very carefully, put his hand on my abdomen again. I felt nothing but a little bit of hardness there, like I’d had a very full meal, except lower.

“What did you do? Why did it hurt?” I asked, half-afraid he’d put the pregnancy at risk in an effort to get through to me. I should have known better.

“Just talked to it,” he said. “One of them shares my gift. It was painful to have us talk through your blood.”

I noticed the way he said “one of them.” Elves did not pass down their own traits in the DNA. In fact, nobody really knew how elves and trait heredity really worked. Bracken’s parents were both lower fey. His mother was a pixie—three and a half feet of sex kitten with violet hair. His father was a redcap—same height, but built like the forgotten corner of a rock quarry.

Bracken was six feet six of beautiful, broad-shouldered, mostly smooth, pale-skinned, big-eyed sidhe perfection.

For all I knew, I was carrying a rock quarry and a pixie in my womb—but somehow I didn’t think so.

I blinked very slowly, wrestling with one thing at a time. “Does that mean I’m going to bleed out every time I pop a zit?” Yes, it was a gross analogy, but my skin hadn’t been this cluttered with acne since I was a junior in high school. Click. Oh, hell. Of course I was a big pimply mass of estrogen. Fucking Jesus—this was not going to get better.

“No,” Green said, his eyes meeting Brack’s. “In fact, we’re pretty sure the other one has my healing power. We think it was, perhaps, the Goddess….” He trailed off delicately.

“Trying to make sure I don’t die of my own stupidity?”

The lingering tension that had been present since I’d first gaped at Green and said “Oh fuck no!” began to dissipate.

“Not stupid, Corinne Carol-Anne,” he said softly. “Just very, very young.”

I usually railed at that. I’d finally reached twenty-two, right? Hell, there was a time I didn’t think I was going to live past twenty—and given how many scary things had tried to kill me, getting here was quite an accomplishment.

But not now. I had never felt so young in all my life—not even the morning I’d woken up in Green’s arms and we’d realized that our vampire lover had died the night before, and it was the two of us alone and grieving.

I snuggled in more tightly, and Bracken got a little closer. His hand brushed my breast as he did so, and my nipple gave a little shriek of pain. I gasped but kept it to myself—because hey, what girl hadn’t endured a boob shot when snuggling with one of her ginormous husbands, right?

Bracken grunted and stared at me through eyes the color of a weedy, brackish pond in shadows. “That hurt,” he stated.

“Yeah. The girls have been a little tender ever since Monterey….”

Just that quickly a kaleidoscope of our adventure down by the sea flickered behind my eyes. In particular, there was the moment when Teague, our alpha werewolf, and his husband, Jack, passive-aggressive pain in my ass, had both teamed up to protect me.

“Oh hell. Was that why Jack decided to side with me? Because I’m pregnant?”

Dammit! Of all the…. I’d wanted to win Jack over with my leadership abilities, or with my ability to protect his lover, who was one of my captains and one of my best friends, or even with my friendship with their wife, Katy, whom I both adored and was dazzled by.

“You have a problem with that?” Brack asked curiously. Yeah, Brack’s brain worked along straightforward lines—as long as the result was that I was protected, he didn’t give a crap why.

“I would have liked it if he’d just thought I was a good enough leader to serve,” I grumbled. “I mean, what’s a girl gotta do?”

Bracken pulled out from under my arm, his eyes blazing. He ran a distracted hand through his dark hair, setting it on end like an angry hedgehog, and stared at me.

That’s what you’re worried about?” he asked, sounding outraged. “Do you know how many dangerous, foolish things we did in Monterey? And you’re worried that Jack followed you for the wrong reasons?”

I shivered—which was one of the by-products of having an emergency field transfusion of his blood, which I didn’t remind him of, because hey—one more thing to be pissed at me for, right?

So instead of arguing, I actually thought about what he was saying. Then I wished I hadn’t.

’Cause, well, we’d jumped out of a helicopter to be caught by my magic and my magic alone, which was a first for me in the flying department. We’d stood up to a gigantic rabid wolf pack with nothing but exhausted, injured werewolves and a few tired Avian shifters as support, and I’d….

Oh God, I’d….

I’d been forced to mass kill again, when I’d sworn I’d never do that. Not on purpose. Not so soon after having to issue a death warrant on vampire children because they’d had the bad luck to be turned by a pedophile and would never be sane, never be safe, never be human again.

In my mind I went back to that moment, the lot of us trapped under the force field I’d erected out of magic and desperation in a back alleyway. We’d been just far enough from the sea for us to lose the smell of hope. The rogue wolves had been throwing themselves against it for what seemed like forever, and I’d been growing tired. I could make the shield lethal. I’d been able to kill with my power from the very beginning, but I just kept hoping they’d see sense, that they’d stop somehow, that I wouldn’t have to waste so many fucking lives….

And I’d been teetering between trying to fight our way out and simply making the shield enough to kill them all, when Teague—my captain, my right-hand man, my friend—had looked at me and whimpered. His back end had dropped then—as it should, since he’d been recovering from breaking every bone in his body less than a week before—and I’d seen it in his eyes.

Please.

His mates were there, Jack and Katy, and he wanted them to live.

Or that’s what I’d thought.

Instinctively I placed my hand over my lower abdomen, thinking of what we could have lost there. What Bracken had known I’d been risking.

“You didn’t say anything,” I whispered. I looked over my shoulder at Green. He was gazing at me levelly, with no apologies and no regrets.

“No,” Green said. He and Bracken were staring at each other as though they were reliving a terrible conversation of their own.

“But—” But why? Why would two men who had made my health and welfare their bloody science for the past two years not protest, not try to protect me, not try to talk me out of my own stupid pride when I had their children on board?

“You never would have forgiven….” Bracken looked around the living room like he was looking for words. “Anybody!” he burst out. “Any of us. You, me, Green—hell, the children-to-be. And if, Goddess forbid, anything had happened to Teague, it would have been—” He stood for a moment and flailed his arms. “Cory-ageddon. You would have self-detonated. This whole… baby thing would have begun under a—”

“A black karmic funk of epic proportions,” I supplied, feeling a little queasy just thinking about it. Of course, since I’d been feeling queasy pretty much for the past two and a half weeks, that was no big news. “But….” I could have died? Well, I could have died a lot of times in the last two years. I kept arguing that I would be fine—there were no promises, and my entire purpose was protection.

But….

Nothing.

“I asked for this?” Quiet revelations do sometimes sound like questions. “I did. I… I said I knew best, and… and….”

“And we trusted you to know best,” Green said quietly. “We trusted you with you, and our children.”

I closed my eyes, somewhat reassured. “That’s….” But I couldn’t do it. Maturity had apparently gotten me into this mess. It was time for honesty to get me out.

Terrifying!” I wailed, and then I dissolved into stupid tears on Green’s chest.

Bracken sighed and plopped behind me, and I cried until I fell asleep.

I remember saying once that I knew how bad things had been before I fell asleep based on how many people were in my bed when I woke up. The worse things were, the more people.

It was somewhat reassuring, then, to wake up and find Bracken—and Bracken only—sitting next to me, reading on his Kindle. (I had gotten him into the habit of romances when I’d been really sick once, and quite frankly, they’d been taking over our home. Since Green’s hill burrowed into the better part of a small mountain and our population kept growing, the e-reader was really a most awesome investment.)

I blinked for a second, disoriented by the nap, then tried to place the time, and then tried to place the entire feeling of wrongness around me.

“Where’s Green?” I asked muzzily. That should clear things up, right?

“Getting reports from Arturo,” he said cagily. Sidhe couldn’t lie—oh no they couldn’t—but they sure could tap dance around the truth like pros.

“Something I should know about?” I asked, eyes narrowed. Sidhe weren’t the only ones who could tap dance.

“Probably,” he admitted, setting his Kindle on the dresser and sliding down to put himself on my level. “But you and me need to have a little talk first.”

Everything inside me—heart, stomach, mood, blood sugar—all sort of sank down into despond in one go. We were going to talk about this now. Now.

“What….” I stopped because his brow furrowed, and I held up my hand. Maturity, right? “Okay, Brack? I don’t want to get into a big hairy argument, okay?” I said quietly. “I mean, I just took a nap in the daytime, and my boobs hurt, and I’m probably going to have to eat in about five minutes because that’s how I’ve been running for the last two weeks, and I didn’t know why.” Okay. Maybe not completely mature. “Anyway, just tell me what you want. I mean… not in a bad way. But you want me to know something or acknowledge something. This is my fault—I get that.”

He held up a finger, and I paused for breath.

“Not your ‘fault,’” he said quietly. “But go on.”

“I just… I need to know what you need from me so I can tell you if it’s something I can give.”

His grim mouth twisted in the corners in what was almost a smile.

“All right,” he conceded. “First of all, there is no blame here. Green and I didn’t see you grow up. It’s that simple. You kept trying to tell us—with words, with actions—and we didn’t see it. We know you better than that. We should have seen it. You needed something from us, and you took it.”

“I was wrong,” I said. Because even when you’re right, “winning” for the sake of winning apparently didn’t do anybody any good. “Wrong to force it. That’s… well, it’s sort of the opposite of what I was trying to prove, actually.”

Then Bracken did a wondrous thing. He smiled.

“Goddess, I love you,” he said baldly. “You…. Just when I’m afraid we’re going to kill each other, you say or do or realize something, or make us see it, and we’re all right again. You asked me what I needed from you?”

“Yeah?”

Gently he reached out and traced the contours of my face. “Take care of yourself. Not just because of our children. Take care of you. Don’t do the safe things because of the babies, or because Green and I will worry. Do them because you have people who love you and make you happy. Do them because you have something glorious to look forward to. Stay safe and unharmed for the same reason you got pregnant. Because you deserve more than to live in pain or fear or frustration. Can you do that?”

I opened my mouth and then closed it.

All of the things…. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But everything I’d done in my life that I was proud of, I’d done for them.

“I, uhm….” I swallowed and sat up, crossing my arms.

Bracken sighed and followed me, leaning against the headboard. I thought of a piss-stupid question.

“Oh God. If Jack and Teague know—does Nicky know?” Nicky, my accidental lover, had become an integral part of our family—and one of my husbands. Nicky was an Avian shifter, and by a freak accident of preternatural magic, he’d become bonded to Green and me in a giant sexual energy explosion. We’d made the best of a bad situation, and all of us—Bracken included—had come to love Nicky. What the four of us did in our marriage bed was both sublime and unfettered by jealousy.

But it would totally suck for him if he was the last to know.

“Oh yeah,” Bracken snorted. “He knew in Monterey—you almost gave him a heart attack.”

Okay. So Nicky knew. Jack and Teague knew. “Do the vampires know?” They’d been sort of… squeamish about taking my blood lately, come think of it.

And Bracken was nodding slowly, an ironic smile on his face.

Fuck.

“So is there anybody who doesn’t know?” I asked, feeling a wave of complete mortification wash through me.

Bracken nodded. “Your parents and Andres.”

My eyes widened and I threw myself into the pillow next to me. “I get dibs on telling Andres,” I mumbled. The sexy vampire might finally stop macking on me once I got bloated and fat—although he might still mack on Bracken, and I could totally deal with that. Brack and I were bound—nobody outside our marriage bonds got to bed either one of us alone without possibly turning Bracken into a puddle of ectoplasmic goo. (The Goddess spells got weirder the longer you were in the community. That one always seemed particularly cruel.) But if I was there….

Well, I had been there—Bracken inside of me, Andres inside of him—and it had been lovely, and I’d never apologize for it in a million years.

But, uhm, I wasn’t going to be doing that—not full of babies, I wasn’t. A part of me was like, “Oh yeah, sure, Cory, that’s where you draw the line?” But most of me was simply… full. Babies and my husbands. It was a smaller sphere than I was used to. I might get it to expand to accommodate more, but right now, it was perfect as it was.

And Andres would understand. He just would. He was perhaps the kindest man I knew, with the exception of Green.

“I’m not telling your parents,” Bracken said severely, and we might have had that brouhaha right then, except I caught a passing thought from Green—he was worried. He was also almost done.

I remembered Bracken’s rather neat evasion when I’d woken up, and sighed.

“Okay,” I said, grimacing. “What’s going on with Green?”

Bracken shook his head. “Weirdness,” he said on a sigh. “We are getting reports from… from everywhere. The wolves are multiplying; they’re getting bold. That phalanx we took on in Monterey was just a taste, I think. So Green has been planning some prep, mostly. Some magic things to maybe give us an edge.”

“So, like, what?” I asked, curious. The idea of magic being used for something not awful was something of a relief.

Bracken shook his head, rolling his eyes. “You are going to love this.”

A slow smile stretched my face. “Really?”

“Sure.”

But I was really not excited at all about watching Bracken fly solo.

Pretty much all of the elves had the ability to fly—but the impetus? That was something else. What Green wanted was an edge—a way to use surveillance and maybe even a way to battle that would keep our people safe.

The vampires flew all the time.

The elves would learn.

So for a couple of weeks, we pretended.

We pretended my boobs didn’t hurt all the damned time and pretended I didn’t have to throw up every goddamned morning. We pretended the wolves weren’t out there approaching, encroaching, and that someone wasn’t driving them toward us with a sure and malevolent purpose.

And pretended that elves were just born fliers who could naturally swoop and dive like the vampires and the Avians, and none of the natural rules of gravity applied.

Ha!

For two weeks nobody mentioned the babies, not even Nicky, and he shared my bed often enough to have to scoot out of the way when I ran to the bathroom in the mornings. Not even the vampires—they just pretended that blooding with me was suddenly not a big deal when it used to be like their favorite thing.

For two weeks I went out to the yard in front of the house and, under Green and Arturo’s able tutelage, summoned my power and lifted off the ground like I’d been flying all my life. And I watched Bracken, Lambent, Sweet, and a host of other elves lift off the ground like chipmunks wearing jetpacks in a Looney Toons short.

“Holy Goddess, Lambent, you are gonna fuckin’ kill—” I was flying backward to avoid him.

“Me!” Bracken screamed, and we collided midair and went tumbling to the ground in free fall.

I managed a power cushion under Bracken, and he bounced like a kid in a balloon house, rolling off the cushion and landing neatly on his feet. I went surging off the damned thing like Tigger on a trampoline, and by the second midair flip, I knew I wasn’t going to be okay when I hit the ground.

I poinged off the cushion until I lost momentum, then finally slid ungracefully to my knees and proceeded to throw up ignominiously on a giant azalea bush that was probably one of the lower fey’s great-grandmother or something.

I let the cushion die behind me and could have kicked myself when three other elves dropped out of the sky and plunged to the earth. I would have yelled at them for not warning me, but oh, hey, hello, there was something I’d eaten in the fifth grade, taking a hard exit.

The chorus of “Fuck!” “Jesus!” and “Godsbedamned cuntwhacking bitchtree!” (from Lambent) was lost in the sound of my own retching.

I was too tired by the time I was done to even apologize.

Green had to carry me back to the bedroom and clean me off and spell me to sleep. When I awoke, it was just Bracken and me.

I almost wished it was everybody. That might have made me feel better.

“Did anybody break something?” I asked, hiding my face.

“No. They were all wankers anyway—they shouldn’t have tried riding your power without warning you.”

I smiled weakly at Bracken. He was trying to be nice to me. Fantastic.

“Brack?”

His pond-shadow eyes were focused exclusively on my face, and I felt the soreness in my body from getting so violently sick. “We’re going to have to tell everybody I’m pregnant.”

“Beloved, we told you before—they all know.”

Ugh. God. Yes. I just kept trying to wipe that fact from my mind. “I mean, we’re going to have to let them know I know.”

He grimaced and passed his hands over my stomach. It was bigger than it had been two weeks ago, and I had the tight clothes to prove it. My breasts were just as tender—and straining against the flowered cotton of my bra. If I hadn’t spent most of the summer in giant T-shirts and men’s gym shorts, my body would have been a dead giveaway.

“It doesn’t have to be a big announcement,” he said quietly. “Just, you know—”

“One of those conversations you can have behind my back so you all can decide what to say without pissing me off?” I hazarded.

He had the audacity to grin. “Whatever works, beloved.”

“No, that’s not what works,” I snapped, my mood shifting mercurially.

“Well, flying isn’t working either,” he said, unperturbed. “And you’re still doing that, right?”

“It’s going to work eventually!”

“But it’s putting you at risk!” And for the first time in my bitchy funk, he showed some temper. “And Green and I haven’t protested, not once, so maybe let us deal with the troops in a way that everybody’s comfortable with. We have good ideas too, you know?”

I took a deep breath and got hold of my hormones. “You’re right,” I conceded. “I’m sorry.”

He took a deep breath too, and for a moment we were back to the friction we’d had when he and Green had first told me about the… the physical changes I’d be undergoing.

That’s right.

The physical changes.

Then he relaxed like the peaceful zen we’d achieved afterward had never receded.

“Am I going to need a neck brace?” he asked sweetly. “For all the times you downshift that fast?”

I opened my mouth to say something suggestive—as well as filthy and rude—and in that moment, I got a flash of Green, skin to skin with someone I didn’t know. I frowned. “Who’s Green with?”

Bracken actually looked like he’d rather talk to my parents than answer this. Tough.

“One of the shape-shifters brought in someone who needs our help.” He shook his head and looked at me as though he was trying not to be mad. “We’re going to need to go on a run. Jack and Teague are still in Monterey, so you’re going to have to wait until the vampires wake up, and maybe snag some of the elves.” He sighed and ran his hands through his cropped, pine-tar-colored hair. “Just try really hard not to get hurt this time out, okay?”

And I realized that, worry or not, he’d already conceded I’d go.

His words about taking care of myself for me returned, and I threw my arms around him, hugging tightly before he could swing his legs off the bed.

“I hate being hurt,” I said quietly into his ear. “I’ll do my best to stay safe.”

He melted into me for a second and kissed my temple.

“Thank you, due’ane.” The lover who was his equal. There were four of us bound together by blood, love, and magic, but Bracken was the only one who could yell at me and fight with me and dig in his heels with me like an equal.

He was asking me to make my own welfare equal to his.

“Love you, due’alle.

Maybe I could do that after all.

For him.