Dafydd turned his head just in time to avoid getting soapy water in his eyes. “Idris, what did I say about splashing?”
His son gave him a toothy grin and lifted his hand to do the forbidden act again. Dafydd reached over the side of the tub and took hold of the baby’s wrist. He was careful to keep his touch light—not enough to hurt, merely to contain.
“I said ‘no’. Stop being such a chopsy boy or bath time is over.”
Idris looked at him, his violet eyes assessing, as always. Even at his young age, he was calculating how much he could get away with. His growth spurt had been troubling, although not unexpected. He should have still been a wiggly bundle of soft skin and small bones…if he were human. He wasn’t. Instead, he’d grown to toddler-size—and with his father’s monstrous intelligence in the bargain.
And his evil inclinations.
No, he couldn’t think like that. It was too early to tell what manner of boy, then man, he might grow into. He didn’t have to become like his brothers, a shadow of their alien father’s nature. There was a chance—a good one, if he were to believe his current hosts—that Idris would mature into whatever manner of man Dafydd raised him to be. He’d never been given the chance to influence the twins. This time would be different. Maybe if he showered this son with love, he could dispel whatever bad thing lurked in his blood. He might have done the same with Bran and Cadoc, regardless of the manner of their conception, if he’d been permitted.
The mere thought of his other sons and what he’d been forced to do with one of them caused his vision to blur. For a few seconds, he didn’t see Idris sitting in a bubble bath. He saw Cadoc’s wide-eyed look of surprise before his face and body crumbled into dust. His heart squeezed in an echo of the grief that had overtaken him at the time. He wouldn’t have thought he’d have any capacity to love his sons, yet he had.
He mentally shook himself. There was no value in dwelling on it. His life went on and so did this newest child’s. There was a chance for him to make things right, to raise a hybrid to be a good citizen of this world, not a monster. He’d taken the first step by putting aside the forced pregnancy and the way he’d loathed it. Idris wasn’t to blame. He knew, and mostly felt, that.
Idris blew a raspberry before saying, “Otay, Dada. Duck!”
Dafydd gave his son an approving smile before releasing his hand and reaching for the New England Patriots rubber duck. Idris squealed in delight as he took it and plopped it into the water. The boy was an odd mixture of abilities. His understanding of language was excellent, as was his vocabulary. But he had what Harry referred to as speech impediments, reflective of the way his body was growing rapidly. He was also a bit clumsy. This was all normal, his hosts assured him. He had to trust them on that. Other than being used as a punching bag at Dracul’s encouragement, Dafydd had had no real hand in raising his first two sons.
“How is bath time going?” Lucien, Harry’s husband, asked the question from the doorway of the large bathroom.
Dafydd tamped down his irritation. He didn’t like being monitored, even unobtrusively as Lucien typically did. He understood their concern. Having first rejected Idris then killed Cadoc, Dafydd’s intentions toward the baby were a little suspect. When he was being fair-minded, he could see their point of view.
“Fine,” he replied without taking his eyes off his son. “No one’s drowned yet.”
He winced. Now who’s being the chopsy boy?
He looked over his shoulder. “Sorry. Not funny, I know, and I need to watch what I say in front of the baby.”
After grabbing the bottle of shampoo, he squeezed a dollop onto his palm and began to work it into Idris’ thick hair. He could feel Lucien’s gaze on his back then heard him come into the room to stand next to him.
“I’m sorry if it feels as if I’m your jailer.” Lucien had a lovely voice, soothing, and a quiet way about him that put Dafydd at ease.
“No, that’s fine. It doesn’t. Not really, like.” He glanced up. “I’m doing all right, though, yeah?”
Lucien smiled. He was such a pretty man and appeared to be so happy to have been changed in a way that had allowed him to bear Harry a son. Dafydd had hated that whole thing and was glad to be rid of that ability. Harry had kindly cut the unnatural womb out of him. Although he had never been actually able to detect the thing within him, he still felt better now. His body had changed back to the state he wanted and he’d never been healthier in his life.
“You’re doing very well, indeed. I’m here to help, Dafydd. That’s all.”
No, it wasn’t, but Dafydd held his tongue.
“You know,” Lucien continued, “I was hopelessly out of my depth caring for Demi his first couple of years. Harry was of little help, having had no experience, either. We figured it out as we went along. I hope my experience can be of use to you.”
“For a certainty. Rinse now, Idris.”
This was the tricky part. Nobody wanted soap in their eyes, so the boy naturally kicked up a fuss as Dafydd tried to sluice water down his head using a cup. He shielded the boy’s face with his other hand, but when Idris’ movements got stronger, Dafydd lost his grip. Down the boy went backward into the water, his slick skin too hard for Dafydd to keep a hold on.
For a brief moment as Idris’ face went under, Dafydd flashed on another time and place. Only it was he who was looking up as a smug Dracul held him under until his lungs burned and his panicked thrashing sent water spraying around. He’d been stupidly rebellious in the beginning, too young to truly understand that fighting outright would earn him nothing but pain. The near-death experience had broken him more than any rape or beating had, more than having the blood sucked out of him.
“Oh my God!” He grabbed the slippery baby and hauled him out of the tub. He clutched the squirming body tightly to him for fear of dropping him back in, or on the floor. Idris’ outraged wail made Dafydd hug all the tighter.
“It’s all right, Dafydd.” Lucien quickly wrapped a towel around the baby, forcing Dafydd to loosen his grip. “He’s fine, except you’re squeezing him. Ease up.”
The man’s calm tone and sure movements helped pull Dafydd back from the emotional cliff he’d been careening toward. Damn, every time he thought he was okay, something happened to prove he wasn’t ready to be a real father to Idris.
“Here, take him. Please,” he added, as he pushed Idris into Lucien’s arms, although with his heart pounding and his nerves on edge, he didn’t feel the least bit capable of civility.
Lucien, bless him, was quick to comply. He pressed Idris against his shoulder and rubbed his back through the towel. “Everything’s fine,” he crooned. Whether it was only to soothe the baby or Dafydd, too, was hard to tell.
Didn’t matter, either. Dafydd pushed back his loosened hair with a shaky hand. “Thanks for that.” He stuttered out a breath. “I’m that tired, I guess. Do you mind putting him down for the night?” He swallowed hard. “I know I should. It’s only…”
Lucien flashed a smile. “It’s all right. I understand and am always happy to help.” He jiggled a fussy Idris with practiced ease. “With my own son grown, you know I’m desperate for time with yours.”
“Yeah.” Dafydd edged away and toward the door. “And you’re better at it than I ever will be.” Familiar panic was rising inside him, eager to get out and send him spinning out of control
“Don’t say that. It’s only a matter of practice. You’re too hard on yourself. You’ll get there.”
“That’s kind of you to say. I wish I had your confidence.” God, how was he managing to carry on a conversation given the screaming in his head? Oh, right, practice, as Lucien had said. Living with a monster for centuries made it easy to be one thing on the inside while showing a different face to the world.
“I’ll be back in a little while,” he said, then turned to race from the bathroom.
There was just the one bedroom for him and the baby, so he couldn’t stay there while Lucien put the boy down for the night. He needed air and privacy, and there was only one place for him to find that.
He opened the door to the hallway, peering in both directions before stepping into it. Not enough time had passed for him to shake the ingrained habits of checking out his surroundings and being on the look-out for big, scary men who would drag him back to where Dracul had set him. He wasn’t a prisoner anymore—or so everyone kept saying. He wasn’t sure he believed it. Trust was something he’d lost long ago.
He hurried down the hall then punched through the door leading to the stairwell. The pounding beat of the club could be felt all the way to his floor. A faint amount of music floated up as well. Although he liked listening to it when he could, the idea of going down held no appeal. There were too many men who looked at him with hungry eyes. He’d tried a few times and had run back to the relative safety of his room within minutes.
So, solace was above him and of his own making. He reached the roof quickly and pushed open the door with some trepidation. There was typically no one up there, although sometimes the scariest of the men he lived among—Val—would stand around, smoking a cigarette and checking out the night sky. Dafydd breathed a sigh of relief when he confirmed that was not currently the case.
He had no interest in enjoying the view himself. Not yet. Instead, he made straight for the stash he’d created behind the great big whirring thing that made the building cool. Crouching, he grabbed the bottle first and popped its lid. Small white pills rattled around inside, although not enough for his liking. He frowned as he tapped one onto his palm, already planning how he’d cage more from Harry. It was only a light tranquilizer—for his nerves, as he still slept poorly. The doctor would understand, and if he didn’t, maybe Dafydd could find a way to be extra nice to him as an incentive.
No, don’t be daft. That’s not how things are done here. You can’t offer to suck his cock for favors.
Besides, Harry wasn’t his only option. There was another with dark brown eyes, only not quite the same shade as his own, and slightly curly brown hair, again different than his. Ric, the human doctor who had refused to let him die. His vehemence on that point had almost made Dafydd laugh, even during Idris’ horrible birth. And there had been strength in the man as well, a power that came from something other than brute strength—confidence, perhaps, although wrapped in an amazing gentleness. He’d put Dafydd at ease, never wavering from his certainty and remaining calm in the face of Dafydd’s storminess.
The man had effortlessly brought out things in Dafydd that he’d tried to keep buried—a desire to live, not the least of which, but also a nascent sense of hope. There were reasons to keep living, including now raising Idris. With quiet persistence, the doctor had forced Dafydd to see parts of life that he’d tried to block out. It wasn’t only a desire to keep breathing and be a father. No, the man had persuaded a much more surprising part of Dafydd to rise from the depths of his soul—desire. Dafydd had thought it dead and buried, desecrated by Dracul’s brutality. And yet there was a disturbing spark, a tug that made Dafydd remember long-ago fantasies and guilty spying on men bathing in a pond.
Alarm had him dismissing his own thoughts.
I don’t want him. I don’t want any man ever again.
Although if he needed to make the doctor think otherwise, he could do it—for the pills, nothing more. If it became necessary—which it wouldn’t. Harry would help him. There was no need to go to Ric, even though the man came with alarming frequency to check up on him and Idris.
Putting the worry aside, he closed the bottle then popped the pill into his mouth. He chased it down with a swig of brandy wine that he’d picked up next. No, they called it only ‘brandy’ in the here and now. Oh, but that was fine stuff, sliding down his throat with a smooth burn, if that were a thing. He only knew that it was very dear, and he felt slightly guilty in having pinched it from the bar’s storage room, except that the leader of this group of aliens, Alex, was as rich as Dracul had been. The man could spare a bottle or two.
Taking another slug, he slid down with his back against the low edge of the building and looked up. It was a warm and pretty night. The stars here looked much as they did back home. He tried to appreciate only their beauty and forget that monsters lived up there and sometimes came to Earth to steal stupid boys and turn them into slaves.
Ah, and there he was again, getting maudlin. The past was best buried. He had a good future to look forward to, if only he could pull his shit together. The pill helped and so did the spirits. Warmth and peacefulness infused his body, making his muscles lax and letting his worries go.
Yes, this was what he needed. Idris was fine with Lucien. Once down, the babe slept straight through the night. He didn’t need Dafydd fussing over him. No one would miss Dafydd if he sat there for a couple of hours, easing his pain and gazing at the stars. His brain already felt fuzzy, his panic in the bathroom a distant memory. More brandy would make it even better. He took another long swallow and stuttered out his breath.
It was so peaceful with only the sounds of the city intruding. He liked them, actually. Having spent so long in isolation, it was good to know he wasn’t buried away somewhere. Life teemed around him yet couldn’t get close. He was safe on that roof. Another pill would blur his thoughts and fear even more, but no, he had to conserve those. He frowned at realizing he’d quickly forgotten how few he had left.
More brandy. That was what he needed. Plenty of that was available for the taking. He just had to be careful not to drink too much. Idris was extra hard to deal with when Dafydd woke with a heavy head. That was hours away, though, so he could have a bit more. Another sip, more star-gazing and he could almost forget the demons that plagued him.