BY : Rina76
Category: Final Fantasy Anime > Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Dragon prints: 1515
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII Advent Children or any of the characters from the film. I am not making money from the writing of this story.

Part 9.

“What the hell am I doing?” I mutter to myself. I’m lost. Hopelessly and completely lost. I have no idea where I’m going or even where I’m supposed to go. All I know is that it’s here somewhere. But I’ll be damned if I can find it. There are no houses in this forest. If it could even be called a forest, since all the trees are dead, branches brittle and white, like old bones. It’s more like a cemetery, filled with hundreds of similar tombstones.

Whirling in useless circles, I contemplate calling a cab to pick me up and take me back home but then I realise I have no way of letting the driver know where I am. I have no clue of my location, only that there’s trees and rocks, the occasional pond and oh yeah, more trees. It’s close to midnight, it’s dark and the only reason I know I’m in a forest is because all the towering tree-trunks are glowing with a ghostly kind of illumination. It’s like they’re alive somehow, even though they’re frozen and don’t have leaves anymore. I feel like they’re watching me and it creeps me out. There’s no sound in this forest, no birds rustling in the branches or nocturnal animals scurrying through the undergrowth. Nothing at all. The only signs of movement are these odd little balls of white light that randomly appear and float around in the air before fading away. I dunno what they are but they’re not fireflies. They’re too big to be bugs. Maybe they’re spirits of people long passed, lost in the underworld and doomed to drift eternally without a purpose. I’d like nothing more than to get the fuck out of this morbid place but I don’t know which way to start walking, each lifeless tree looking almost exactly like the one next to it, stretching out as far as the eye can see. I’ve already been wandering around for what seems like an hour, tripping over rocks and broken branches and even though I’m wearing my comfy sneakers my feet are still hurting like bitches.

I’m ready to give up. Whatever I’m looking for, apparently it doesn’t exist. Not here, anyway. Maybe I was given incorrect information. The only landmark I’ve been able to find in all this silently shimmering sameness is some weird stone sculpture that looks like an enormous seashell. I checked it out but there’s nothing inside of it. It’s like a monument or something. A monument to what exactly, I don’t know, but it proves that people have been in this forest before because somebody had to have put it there. I wish whoever it was would show up because I’m beginning to feel very, very alone in these woods and more than a little afraid. Nobody knows I’m here and nobody will come searching for me if I go missing. I could have told Shandi where I was going but she’s not my roommate any longer. She shacked up with her girlfriend and is too busy with her own life to care much about mine. The reason I couldn’t find her that night in the club when all the mayhem and violence was happening was because she went back to our apartment with that chick in the red dress and missed the whole damn thing. Here I was looking for her, worried about her safety and she was home already, blissfully having girl-sex. She just forgot to tell me. When she heard me come home crying I tried to explain what happened and why I was so shaken and shocked but when I told her the appalling things I’d seen she didn’t believe me, Shandi thinking I’d just had too much to drink. Our friendship kind of went downhill from there and since she’s moved out I don’t really talk to her anymore.

I’m still relatively close to my foster brother Jaren and I suppose I could have informed him about what I was doing tonight, and had him come with me, but he would have said it was a dumb idea and he would have been right. What was I thinking?

“Smart,” I congratulate myself for choosing to wander around a deserted forest in the middle of the night unescorted. “Really fucking smart.”

I pull the hood of my coat further over my ears and stick my hands into my pockets, glad I wore the fluffy purple one for tonight’s excursion. It’s a tad chilly out here, the cool air turning my cheeks and the tip of my nose cold. Or maybe I just feel cold because all the trees look like statues carved from ice. Maybe I should head back to that shell thing and curl up inside it until morning when it will be less creepy and confusing. I’ll be safe in there and maybe I can sleep a little. Perhaps if I look around in daylight I might be able to find the road that leads back into town and then I could get a ride home and try to forget I was ever here, doing something as stupid and impulsive as this.

Just as I’m about to call this insane idea quits, I hear a noise. A twig snaps behind me, a loud deliberate sound, like someone – or something - stood on it just to let me know I’m not alone. The back of my neck tingles in warning and my pulse starts pounding. Shit, why didn’t I bring mace or something? I got nothing to protect myself with. Maybe it’s only a chocobo... Sure, right. In these dead, icy woods? Don’t think so. Dreading what’s waiting at my back, I gulp in a breath and slowly, very slowly, turn around.

It’s them.

Yazoo, Kadaj and Loz. They’re all standing there in a line, silver hair shining like steel, their gazes gleaming in the darkness like three big panthers. All are wearing their leather suits. Loz and Yazoo have their guns drawn and pointed right at me. Loz is also wearing Dual Hound, the silver stun-shield strapped menacingly to his left forearm.

“Who the fuck are you?” he growls.

“And what are you doing in our forest?” Yazoo adds sweetly and dangerously.

“Shit! Don’t shoot! It’s only me. Cate,” I babble, flipping my hood back so they can see my face, looking to the bigger brother in desperation. “Loz, please say you remember me or I am so screwed right now!”

Instantly recognising me, Loz lowers his gunblade, staring in shock. Also realising that I pose no threat, Yazoo elegantly sheaths his weapon in the holster behind his back and angles his head to the side, inquisitively gazing at me with those beautiful blue-green eyes. Even though it’s been months since that night, he clearly remembers who I am and even seems pleased to see me, if that’s possible. Kadaj, who never even drew his sword, is also looking at me, a light of recognition starting to glint in his equally green but more malicious gaze.

“Hey, Loz. Isn’t that the girl from the club? The one that ditched you? The one you took into the bathroom and fu-”

“Shut UP, Kadaj!” Loz quickly snaps, cutting off his sibling’s crude remark.

Smirking at me, Kadaj comments, “Obviously is, then. Almost didn’t recognise her without those slutty boots.”

He lazily looks me up and down, noting my baggy jeans. “Gods, you’ve gained weight.”

It stings but I ignore that unnecessary insult. Now that I know I’m not going to be assassinated, I turn away from Kadaj, instead facing Loz gratefully and hesitantly. He’s even taller and broader than I remember.

“Hi, Loz. How’ve you been, big guy?”

He doesn’t answer, just stares at me dumbly, as though his brain doesn’t believe his eyes. Kadaj mutters something about him being a pathetic love-struck idiot.

Trying the last of the trio in the hopes of some kind of welcome, I nod to the prettier male standing on the left. His torn coat has been repaired.

“Hello, Yazoo.”

He gives me a small, knowing smile. “Hello, Cate. It’s nice to see you again.”

Relieved by his friendliness, I reply, “You too. Wish I could say the same for your little brother. But that would be a lie.” I shoot Kadaj a glare. “He’s still an arrogant asshole.”

“And you’re still feisty, I see,” Kadaj joins in, evidently recalling how I swore at him and rudely rejected his overconfident seduction attempt back by the bar. “I don’t know what Loz finds appealing about opinionated tomboys such as you. I find them entirely too bothersome and difficult to handle. They never learn their place.”

“Which is where?” I retort. “Chained in the kitchen?”

“I’m thinking of another room. But the chains can definitely stay.” He starts to add another suggestive comment but then stops and creases his smooth brow. “Wait...How did you know where to come looking for us? Did Loz bring you back here that night? Because that’s against the rules and he knows it.”

He slices a fierce look at Loz.

“I didn’t, I swear,” Loz hastily replies. “I never brought her here!”

“He’s telling the truth.” I back Loz up, speaking to Kadaj. “As you so tactlessly pointed out, the nightclub bathroom was the only place he took me.”

“So, how DID you find us, then?” Kadaj asks suspiciously. “It’s not like we hand out business cards.”

“Wasn’t too difficult; just took a little persistence.” I shrug. “I went to the club during daylight hours and asked your bouncer buddy Roscoe where the three scariest guys on the planet hung out. He refused to tell me and wouldn’t accept my bribe so I waited around the back and eventually that Tommy kid came out for a cigarette break. He wasn’t keen to tell me either, said something about not wanting to get skewered by a certain double-blade.”

Here I glance uneasily at Kadaj’s frighteningly designed weapon but it remains sheathed behind his back and not held to my throat. He’s frowning at me in displeasure but stays silent, waiting to learn who sold him out, probably so he can go slice them up into little piles of human pastrami.

“Please don’t hurt Tommy for telling me,” I say anxiously. “He’s a good kid and he didn’t do it just for the money. I kind of...manipulated him into giving me the information. You know, played helpless crying girl so he felt sorry for me.”

I drop my gaze, not proud of what I did but I had a very valid reason for it. Besides, the tears were only half-fake.

“He didn’t say exactly where you lived as he didn’t know the address; all he mentioned was the Forgotten City and the crystal trees. Then I got a cab. The driver would only take me part of the way, though. No matter how much I offered to pay he refused to go any further into the forest so I had to walk the rest. I don’t blame him. Man, this is a spooky place.” I hug myself and glance around fearfully, eerie white branches reaching up to the dark sky like the bleached finger-bones of long-dead giants. I face the brothers again, the three tall, cat-eyed young men in black even more intimidating than the desolate landscape they’re lurking amongst.

“And you’re all spooky guys.”

“So you found us. Congratulations.” Kadaj is drawling. “Now, let’s get down to business. Why are you here?”

“Not to see YOU, obviously,” I drawl back. “I came to talk to Loz. Alone, if you don’t mind.”

Sensing that we need privacy, Yazoo affords me an agreeable nod and turns away with a swish of his long coat and hair, starting to walk back the way he came, not so much as a leaf crunching under his soundless footsteps. Kadaj lingers, staring at me disdainfully.

“You made my brother cry. Remember what I said about that?”

“Kadaj!” Loz exclaims, mortified.

The young leader raises a pointed eyebrow at him. “Well, you did.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t have to mention it in front of her!” Loz hisses in angry embarrassment. “You’re such a douche sometimes.”

Kadaj rolls his eyes. “I’m getting bored. Can you handle this, Loz, or do you need my assistance?”

The unpredictable teenager stares at me again, slitted gaze gleaming like a predator about to give chase. “I can make her disappear for you...”

“Why don’t you make /yourself/ disappear?” Loz says impatiently. “Get lost, Kadaj. I got this.”

“Fine.” Kadaj sighs, disappointed that he won’t get to have any fun torturing me. “I’ll leave you be. But you really shouldn’t have one-night stands, brother.” He pats Loz on the shoulder condescendingly.

“You’re just no good at them.”

Darkly, Loz scowls at his sarcastic sibling but Kadaj has already dismissed us and is heading after Yazoo. The older male stuffs his gun back into his thigh-sheath and turns to me, mumbling.

“Sorry about him.”

“It’s okay. I kind of expected it,” I admit. “I’m sure the last thing any of you want is for some random chick to show up at your doorstep.”

“You’re not random,” Loz objects. “Plus, we don’t have a doorstep. Just a rock. And behind that, a tunnel.”

“You live underground?”

He nods.

“No wonder I couldn’t find your house. What is it, like a bunker or something?”

“A cave. Well, it used to be. But it’s totally modern inside now. No bats.”

“Oh my gosh.” I can feel my jaw dropping. “You have a LAIR. I mean, I knew you guys were bad but damn. That’s like, super-villain bad!”

“Is that why I haven’t seen you for so long? Because I’m a bad guy?” Loz guesses, uncertainly toying with the straps that hold Dual Hound to his arm. “I saw the way you looked at me before you ran out of the club. You were terrified.”

“Yeah, I was.” Being frank with him, I state, “It’s not every day you see guys summoning big, black bony dog-demons right out of the floor.”

“They’re called Shadow Creepers. I can’t summon them. Only Kadaj and Yazoo can.” He peers at me worriedly. “They didn’t attack you, did they?”

I remember how one of them looked me right in the eye, so close I could feel the sulphuric heat of its breath, before it leapt over my head and attacked the guy behind me.

“No.” I shake my head. “They didn’t touch me.”

“Good.” He lets out a breath of relief. “I was worried about that. I told Yazoo to make sure they left you alone.”

“So...your brothers can do magic?” I venture.

“A little.” He shrugs. “Kadaj, mainly. He gets stronger when he’s got materia.”

I know what materia is. It’s power that comes from the Life Stream coursing through our planet, a lot like coloured energy. Materia can be contained and compressed into little balls or bottles to make magical spells and potions for healing injuries, increasing strength and the like. If you have the ability you can make it yourself or else you can buy it from specialty shops but it’s highly expensive. I’ve never bought any. Aside from me not being rich, I’ve never had the need for such things and anyway, I don’t trust magic. Something about it seems unnatural to me. I suppose these boys have use of it, since they’re assassins and must get injured occasionally participating in that type of highly hazardous job.

Or /are/ they assassins? Maybe they aren’t. Maybe that’s just their cover story, to hide whatever it is they really are. But the way Loz reacted when he told me in the club, the way he was afraid of letting it slip...it seemed too genuine.

Trying to find out what the deal is with Loz and his mysterious brothers, I query, “So, what’s your special power? That blue-flashy thing, where you zap from one spot to another? Can Kadaj and Yazoo do that too?”

“Nope. I’m the only one who can. So yeah, I guess that IS my special power,” he states, starting to sound proud of it. “And I don’t even need materia for that. I can do it anytime I want.”

Cutting through the crap, I look directly at him and ask, “What ARE you guys, Loz? And don’t give me some made-up bullshit or tell me I didn’t see those things you did. I know what I saw and I want the truth.”

After a very long pause, he says, “It’s complicated.”

“You said that last time we met.”

“I’d like to tell you, Cate, really I would,” he insists, “but Kadaj wouldn’t allow it.”

“Well, I don’t think he’s going to have a choice.” I swallow apprehensively. “You’re gonna have to tell me whether he likes it or not.”

Starting to frown, he questions, “Why’s that?”

The intense way he’s looking at me makes me suddenly nervous. Well, even more nervous than I already was. Trying to think of the best way to break this to Loz, I fumble, “Because...uh, you and I...When we were, you know – together - we, um... somehow...”

Floundering, I give up on finding the right words and just clumsily unbutton my furry purple coat, spreading it open.

“Somehow THIS happened.”

I wait for his reaction, my heart fluttering fearfully.

He stares in astonishment at my rounded stomach and the t-shirt stretched over it.

“Whoa...” he utters, taking a step backward. “Are you...Is that a...?” He stares some more.

“Are you pregnant?”

Hands on my hips, I comment wryly, “Certainly looks like it, don’t it?”

He glances at my face, his eyes wide and surprised, then back down at my belly.

“So, that’s really a baby in there?”

Was he this thick last time we met?

“Seriously, dude. Of course it’s a baby,” I reply chidingly. “And in case you haven’t realised, it’s yours.”

“Mine? You sure?”

Like we’re playing a game of Questions Only, I answer, “You think I’d go traipsing around a creepy crystal forest at night by myself if it wasn’t?”

“How?” He spreads his hands in complete befuddlement. “We used protection!”

“I know we did,” I affirm, sighing, “but it only takes a single sperm to fertilize an egg and one could have wriggled out somehow.”

“Was it my fault?” He rumples his brow, thinking hard for any mistakes he might have made. “Did I do something I shouldn’t have?”

“No. I’m not blaming you at all, Loz. Even when you do everything right, condoms are still only 98 percent effective. I guess we got the two percent of complete and utter fail.” I smile humourlessly. “Lucky us, huh?”

He finds the nearest fallen tree log and sinks down onto it, looking a little faint and whole lotta bewildered, his jade eyes darting around aimlessly. Understanding how much of a shock this must be for him, I lumberingly lower myself next to Loz and clasp my hands beneath the melon-sized bulge of my belly, staying quiet and giving him a bit of time to process this news.

Finally looking at him, I ask, “You okay, biker boy?”

He shakes his silver head, turning to me with a still-pale face. “No. I dunno. It’s just...this is... I never...” He gives up attempting to describe how he feels and just lets out a long breath.


Dryly, I reply, “Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction too. I didn’t tell you this, Loz, but I was on the contraceptive pill that night. I tend to get hormonal acne and taking it helps my skin clear up. I couldn’t believe I’d still managed to fall pregnant while I was on it so I did a home pregnancy test. Actually, I did four of them just to be sure. All came back positive.”

His eyes drop to my stomach. “Do you know what it is yet - boy or girl?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t even been to a doctor. I haven’t had any examinations or blood tests or ultrasound scans. I was too afraid of what they might find.” I avoid his gaze, my voice low. “I was scared that they’d tell me there was something wrong with the baby, that it was abnormal or...not human.”

He doesn’t try to reassure me otherwise or tell me that he IS human because we both know he’s not a normal man.

Skipping over the issue of what type of creature he really is, Loz carefully hedges, “Do you want to...uh...take care...of it? If you don’t want to have it I can give you money or take you to the clinic or whatever.”

I afford a short head-shake. “I’m too far along for an abortion now. I did think about it at the beginning but when I felt it move in me – felt it alive and kicking, I changed my mind. With me on the pill and you using a condom, all I can say is that this kid really wants to be born. The Gods must have made this happen for a reason so I can’t just fuck with fate.”

I bravely face him. “I’m going to keep it, Loz. This baby deserves a chance to live. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to turn out like but it’s mine and even if it’s got a tail or webbed feet I’ll still love it anyway.”

Leaning forward on the log, Loz digests this for a while, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his fist, gazing intently and thoughtfully into the quiet forest.

“If you want to keep it then I’ll support you,” he eventually announces, turning back to me. “I’ll help you in whatever way I can, I swear. This is my responsibility too.”

“Thank you. I really don’t have anybody else,” I confess, my voice wavering with the effort of trying not to cry. “I was so scared you weren’t going to care. I thought maybe you would tell me to get lost and never come back.”

“Hey, I’d never do that.” Tentatively, Loz touches my arm, showing that he still cares about me. “I just wish you’d come sooner. Why didn’t you call?”

“I lost your number.” At his sceptical look, I maintain, “I did! My phone fell out of my pocket when I was running home that night. I went back and retraced my steps but never found it. If I had, I would have called and yelled at you for scaring the shit out of me. You could have warned me that you guys were gonna go psycho and damn near maim everyone in the club. I’ve never seen so much blood in my life. And then when you smashed that dyke’s face in...”

He winces at the reminder. “Cate, I never would have hurt you. It was just a stupid brawl. And that bitch’s girlfriend hit me first.”

“Yeah. I realise that now. But at the time I didn’t know what the hell was happening. It was completely crazy and fucked up.”

He lowers his gaze and nods, understanding how freaked out I must have been by what I saw.

“Believe me, Loz, if I had your number, I would have contacted you well before now and informed you that you were going to be a father. That’s why I’m doing it in person. You deserve to know.”

“Thanks,” he mumbles belatedly. “I guess we should tell my brothers too, huh?”

“I think Yazoo’s guessed already. He was sort of smiling at me like he knew.”

Loz gives an unsurprised ‘humph.’ “Figures. I know he doesn’t look it but Yaz is pretty sharp. He don’t miss much.”

“Kadaj definitely doesn’t know. What do you think he’ll say?”

“Dunno. He probably won’t be too happy about it.” Loz makes an expression of dread. “There might be some yelling.”

“Maybe we should break it to him gently,” I suggest. “You know, work up to it. Certainly don’t just blurt it out.”

“Yeah,” Loz ponders, picturing his volatile little brother’s response when we tell him the big news. “Maybe we should do that.”

“Anyway, how did you guys know I was here?” I query. “Did my loud, clumsy stumbling give me away?”

“Motion sensors,” he informs me, pointing to a small device attached to the trunk of a tree. “We got them everywhere. We don’t actually own the Sleeping Forest but we like to know who comes here and when. We got lotsa enemies and don’t want nobody sneaking up on us.”

“Like you snuck up on me? How’d you guys DO that?” I squint at him in amazement. “There are leaves and sticks and shit lying everywhere all over the ground and you didn’t even step on one of them. At least not until you wanted me to know you were there.”

He casually lifts a wide shoulder. “We’re good at being stealthy.”

Like cats, I think to myself, glancing at Loz’s pupils. They’re rounded at the moment but I’ve seen them as narrow as paper cuts. The boys didn’t bring torches with them when they tracked me down amongst the trees so it certainly seems as though they can see in the dark too. Like feline hunters, stalking prey. Or reptiles. I shiver involuntarily, wondering if they’re some kind of half-animal, half-human hybrids.

Misinterpreting my shivering, Loz furrows his brow in concern. “You wanna go back home to talk? It’s a little fresh out here and I don’t want you to get a cold. I’ll tell you everything you wanna know then, I promise.”

“Okay.” I stand up when he does and scout around the deserted woods. “Where are your bikes?”

“We didn’t bring them. You would have heard us coming otherwise. We walked from the lair.”

“How far away is it? My feet are killing me and my ankles have puffed up like overcooked sausages,” I complain. “I’m only five months along but I swear, this is the heaviest friggin’ baby in the world.”

“It’s not far. I’ll carry you.” He goes to reach for me and then retracts his hand uncertainly. “I mean, if...if that’s okay.”

After witnessing the damage Loz can do with his powerful arms and fists, a lot of girls wouldn’t want to be touched by him ever again but strangely enough, though I know what he’s capable of and what unnatural strength lies in his large, muscular frame, I’m not scared of him. Even in the club when I saw him breaking bones, I wasn’t really scared that he’d break mine and I’m not afraid of that now. I know he can be violent but I also know he can amazingly gentle too.

“Sure,” I say, looking up at his towering figure with a half-smile. “I’d love to be carried.”

“Let me just turn this off first,” he advises, fiddling with the safety switch on Dual Hound. “Don’t wanna accidentally give you a shock.”

The large metal contraption on his forearm looks heavy and bulky but he wields it with ease, as though it’s part of his skeletal system. I can hear a crackling hum as it turns off and powers down, all the electrical components deactivating. With his titanium stun-weapon disabled, Loz bends down, slipping a hand behind my lower back and one under my knees, making sure the two sharp tips of Dual Hound don’t poke into me. Though I weigh a lot more now than I did back then at the club, he swings me into his arms like I’m a light bundle of straw, lifting me up and holding me against his broad chest.

“Wow, I almost forgot how strong you were,” I remark breathlessly, recalling the last time he picked me up and how effortless it was. Thinking about what he did with me after that causes a slight flush to heat my face and a tiny tingle to race along my inner thighs, my body evidently remembering the hot bathroom wall-oral as well. That was a damn sexy experience. I’m sure he’s remembering the exact same thing I am but thankfully he doesn’t mention it, just gives an awkward cough and then begins to walk, my arms slung shyly around his neck.

“Lair’s this way,” he utters, heading past the lake with the seashell in front of it and through the glowing parade of trees, in the same direction that Yazoo and Kadaj went earlier. There’s no discernable path worn into the ground and all the surrounding landscape looks exactly and confusingly the same. A person could easily get disoriented and lost forever in this place - like I nearly was - but Loz definitely knows where he’s going so I relax and put my trust in him. Being this close to him again after so long is thrilling and wonderful. He hasn’t changed one bit. He’s still got the silver scythe-shaped sideburns and the perfect pixie-hair. His jaw is every bit as chiselled as I remember it, his nose just as straight and pointed. His cheekbones are just as defined and his lips just as wide and attractively-formed, eyebrows still thin and slanted above those shimmering bluish-green irises of his. He’s still as solid as a rock, all his muscles firm and ready for fighting beneath his tight suit of belts, buckles and zips, his gun strapped to one powerful thigh. He’s big, handsome, fit and deadly, like the merciless hit man he’s paid to be. His jacket is unzipped to his breastbone like last time, just above the connective ring of his cross-straps, his collar stiff and upright, opened at the front to reveal his Adam’s apple and the cleft between his pecs, his skin still pale as marble. I lean into his neck and nudge his collar aside so I can inhale the fragrance of his aftershave. He still smells great, too. I nuzzle into the side of his throat, wanting to drink in his musky, manly, leathery scent, the scent I always dream about when I’m alone at night in my bed.

“I missed you, Loz,” I can’t help whispering.

He stops walking. Loz closes his eyes and exhales a shaky breath, his heart beginning to thump hard in his chest. I know because I’m held right against it. Feeling his reaction to me makes my heart start to thud harder too and I press closer to him with a sigh of longing, threading my fingers in his thick, soft hair. Whatever we had between us in the club – attraction, desire, magnetism – is still there. It’s like it was lying under our skins all this time, waiting for us to get near each other again and now that we are, it’s flaring into life once more, drawing us together the same way it did that night. I don’t care if he’s a cat-creature or a lizard-creature or any other type of creature – I still have feelings for him. Pretty significant ones. Despite my unplanned and advanced pregnancy, I still want him and if he laid me down on the ground right now and started taking off my coat, I’d let him do it. However, he doesn’t try anything like that. Not even when I attempt to kiss him, lifting my chin and seeking his mouth, wanting to taste him again, wanting to feel his lips on mine. Being a complete gentleman, he simply turns to gives me a chastely sweet peck on the forehead.

“Later, little girl,” he whispers, letting me know that although he wants me too, we should wait until a more appropriate time before tearing each other’s clothing off and going at it. Like maybe when we’re inside and have some seclusion and not out in the forest setting off the motion sensors. Finding out what type of baby I’m having would be a useful thing to know first as well. I’m disappointed that he won’t kiss me yet but I also understand why so I nod my agreement to wait until later. He presses his lips to my brow again before looking forward and continuing along the secret track only he and his brothers know, stepping over rocks and branches with sure, steady strides, carrying me securely in his strong yet careful embrace.

Soon, we come to a large bunch of boulders, covered in climbing vines. Loz presses a concealed spot on one of the boulders and a hidden door slides open, wide enough to drive a car through. Loz carries me inside. It’s dark and smells like a mixture of oil, rust and salt. The door closes after us, a fluorescent sensor-light blinking on overhead. We have entered a large cavern, converted into a triple-sized garage, the ceiling high and covered in clusters of intricately shaped stalactites, formed by centuries of dripping water that have long since dried up, leaving behind tapered straws and lumps of cream, yellow and orange crystallised mineral deposits that sparkle in the light like rough diamonds. Some of the older, thicker stalactites resemble other living things, such as mushrooms, coral or palm tree trunks. Some even look like penises, with rounded knobs on the ends.

“Awesome,” I breathe, gazing around as Loz sets me down on the ground. The floor has been levelled and covered in sand which has tyre tracks in it. Three greenish metal motorcycles sit silently in a row, huge, rusty and battle-scarred. They have machine guns mounted on them. There’s also an ugly, rickety pick-up truck, something I didn’t think any of these kick-ass assassins would own but I guess they need something to collect their groceries in. Even hit men would have to eat and buy toilet paper and such necessities. Loz takes me by the hand, leading me past the vehicles and a long workbench that’s carved directly into the cave wall, its top covered in tools and greasy rags. There are also more tools on the ground and a welder. I get the distinct impression this is Loz’s domain and an area he spends a lot of time in. I just can’t see Yazoo or Kadaj in here, fixing flat tyres or welding together broken mechanical parts. There’s a door at the back of the garage and another one at the right side. Through the right entrance is a tunnel-like hallway with a much lower ceiling and Loz takes me along it, our path lit by more fluorescent tubes. It slopes downward. Unlike the garage, concrete has been laid down the corridor, providing a smooth, hard-wearing surface to walk on. It’s a really deep tunnel. My sore feet wish it was an escalator or one of those travelator things you see at airports, carrying people along without having to walk. Knowing how privileged I am to see inside Loz’s lair, I don’t complain, though, just gaze around in wonder.

We reach the end, turn left and come out into a very modern kitchen with granite bench tops and stainless steel appliances. You’d think with it being part of an actual cave system that there’d be bugs and other nasties crawling all over the place but it’s very clean. No cockroaches or centipedes on the counter. No spider webs on the roof. It’s not wet down here either, the rippled sandstone walls dry and slime-free. There was a chill factor in the air outside in the forest but it’s nicely toasty in here which surprises me since we’re Gods knows how many feet underground. I suppose rock is a natural insulator and I start to see why they’ve chosen to live beneath the planet instead of on it. Not only does it conceal their headquarters from any enemies, it must stay warm in winter and cool in summer, probably saving them a bunch on heating and cooling expenses. This place is unmistakably a natural structure with its domed stone roof and curved, bumpy walls but it has been modified to a liveable, stylish space by installing lights, power, ventilation and proper flooring. There’s a glass kitchen table and metal-framed chairs, a silver refrigerator, even an expensive looking coffee-making machine on the counter. Somebody has brewed some very recently going by the rich aroma still swirling around the room.

Through a naturally-formed archway is another living area with a flat-screen television against one wall, as well as a stereo with large speakers, a long modular leather lounge and a couple of matching arm chairs. There’s thick charcoal-coloured carpet on the floor. It looks like a designer home. Everything is in shades of silver, grey and black and is either made of stone, steel, glass or leather, giving the whole domain a contemporary aura of minimalism and masculinity. It’s totally a guys’ retreat. There are no feminine touches anywhere – no flowers, no plants, no paintings or other pretty things, except for the boys that live in it. Beyond another entrance I can see into a second hallway which must lead to bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s like an entire house has been built within a cave.

Awed by what I’m standing inside, I murmur, “This place is so fucking awesome.”

“Yeah,” Loz replies happily. “It’s home.”

We cross into the living room and it’s only then that I notice Kadaj and Yazoo are in there, sitting on the lounge beside each other. Their weapons are lying on the coffee table in front of them, as well as two empty mugs. They’ve clearly been in a discussion, most likely about me and whether I should be allowed to live or not. I think Yazoo is on my side but then again I AM a stranger in their midst so I’m not sure how well I’m going to be received, standing in their home. I’m incredibly nervous to be here, in a lair occupied by lethal assassins, but extremely thankful that Loz is with me, the bigger brother holding my hand comfortingly in his. By the deep breath he takes before we leave the kitchen, I can tell Loz is nervous too. He’ll be wondering how Kadaj will take it, finding out his older brother knocked up some chick five months ago in a nightclub toilet. When we enter the living room together, Yazoo glances up, meeting Loz’s anxious gaze. A moment passes between them and then Yazoo smiles, nodding. A relieved expression fills Loz’s face, as though Yazoo has just said something reassuring to him. But neither of them spoke a single word.

Leaping to his feet when he sees me, Kadaj blazes, “What the fuck is SHE doing in here?”

Boy, he sure knows how to make a girl feel welcome.

“I thought you were going to handle this, Loz. You were supposed to get rid of her, not invite her in for a cup of tea!” Kadaj throws up his hands in aggravation. “Gods, if we didn’t share the same cells, I’d have killed you long ago. You never do anything right!”

“Chill out, Daj,” Loz cautions at his little brother’s ranting. “We got some important news to tell you.”

“Oh, no. You didn’t /propose/ to her, did you?” Kadaj says in distaste, looking at our linked fingers. “That would be just the sort of impulsive, idiotically romantic thing you’d do. Anyway, how can she take your last name when you don’t even have one?”

“We’re not getting married,” Loz says impatiently. “We’re having a kid, okay?”

So much for gently breaking the news.

“A...kid?” Kadaj blinks in confusion.

“Yeah, a kid. A child. A tiny little person. Gods, and you think I'm the dumb one in the family,” Loz grumbles.

“So what you said about me gaining weight, Kadaj - you can take those words back and jam them up your ass," I haughtily advise. "I’m not fat, you insensitive moron. I’m pregnant.”

Just to prove it, I part the front of my coat and let him see my swollen belly. Kadaj just stares at it, utterly out of smart remarks for once in his life.

“Motherhood suits you, Cate,” Yazoo says, graciously smiling. “I noticed your new glow straight away.”

Whipping his head around, Kadaj turns on him in angry accusation, his hair swinging in a short arc. “Excuse me? You KNEW, Yazoo? Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

Undaunted by Kadaj’s demanding tone, Yazoo just replies, “It wasn’t my place to tell. It’s theirs.”

Now focusing all that anger on his bigger brother, Kadaj exclaims furiously, “You fucking idiot, Loz! How did this happen?”

Shooting Kadaj a ‘duh’ kind of look, Loz retorts, “How do you think?”

Kadaj grits his teeth. “I realise you had sex, you imbecile. What I meant was: I gave you a condom. Didn’t you use the damn thing?”

“Of course I did.”

“Did you use it properly? You didn’t put it on inside out or anything, did you?”

“Hey!” Loz booms in outrage. “I’m not that much of a dumbass!”

“Well, is there a chance you could have torn it with your haste? You were in a mighty hurry to get one from me, as I recall.”

Sticking up for Loz, I butt in, “He didn’t tear the condom, Kadaj. I was watching. He put it on fine.”

Still disbelieving, Kadaj returns, “So, it was defective, then? Had a hole in it?”

“It IS possible, brother,” Yazoo steps in. “Besides, what does it matter how it happened? It’s already done and as such can’t be undone.”

Kadaj looks sharply at me. “Is that so?”

“Don’t even suggest it,” Loz snarls, tensing his muscles and glaring vehemently at his younger sibling. “We’re NOT killing our baby. If you say that I’m gonna rip out your tongue and stuff it back down your throat.”

“Such threats of violence,” Kadaj mocks. “Does innocent little Cate know you’ve actually done things like that before?”

“You’re thugs for hire. Yes, Loz already told me that. And he’s right. We’re keeping this child. It’s our choice, Kadaj,” I stipulate. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the head of this family - it’s a decision WE get to make. Loz and I. Not you.”

Slowly sitting back down on the lounge, Kadaj turns silent, gazing at my belly as he mulls over this unforseen situation.

“Are you really going to keep it?”

“I really am. In fact, I’ll probably end up having it right here, in this bat-cave of yours. Not that I want to do it without any medical assistance but I’ve thought a lot about this and I can’t risk going to a hospital to deliver the baby in case it comes out looking like any of you, which, let’s face it, is a distinct possibility.” I glance apologetically at Loz and then the other two. “I think a newborn with silver hair and slitted pupils might draw a lot of unwanted attention. They could even take the baby away from me and I can’t let that happen.”

“I won’t let it either, Cate,” Loz promises defensively. “Nobody’s taking our kid. I’ll kill anyone who tries.”

Appearing nauseated, Kadaj queries, “You’re going to give birth HERE? Where we live?”

“You got any other ideas?” I challenge him. “You got any pals in the maternity ward? Any trusted doctor friends that can assist me?”

Clenching his jaw, Loz grates out, “Doctors. I hate those white-coated assholes.”

“No, Cate,” Yazoo says regretfully to me. “We don’t know any medical personnel we can trust. I’m sorry. ”

“Yeah. Well, you see my dilemma?” I gaze between them all in frustration. “Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was come here begging for your aid but I have no other choice. Where else can I have this damn baby? At home alone on my apartment floor? Because that’s exactly what will happen if you don’t help me. Please, guys. I don’t normally ask anyone for anything but I don’t know where else to go.”

Yazoo turns to Kadaj, long metallic-grey hair slipping silkily over one armoured shoulder.

“She’s right, brother. I think this is the best place for her to deliver the child, where nobody knows about it and can’t interfere. We can assist her. And once it’s over, we’re going to have a new addition to the family. A new little Remnant.”

Remnant? What does that mean?

“Kadaj, you and I...we’re going to be uncles.” Yazoo’s lips curve into a small smile. “Aren’t you pleased?”

Realising the futility of his protests, the youngest of the group finally starts to accept what’s going to happen.

“All right,” he grudgingly concedes. “She can have it here. Just don’t expect me to watch.”

“I wouldn’t let you anyway,” I flatly emphasise. “There’s no way you’re ever looking between my legs.”

“At least we agree on something,” he flings back, his eyes hateful and mean.

The baby chooses that moment to roll over and everyone stares at my moving stomach while I self-consciously rub at it, trying to get the kid to settle back into place. It’s unsettling being stared at by three pairs of brightly-coloured amphibian eyes, their pupils narrowing almost in unison.

“What does it feel like?” Yazoo asks with mild interest. “Having something growing inside you?”

Only half-joking, I reply, “Like I’m incubating an alien.”

They all glance at one another. Nobody’s laughing. In fact, it seems like they’re talking intently between themselves, only without words, expressing their opinions with frowns, head-shakes and other small facial gestures.

“Is anybody gonna tell me what the deal is with you three weirdos?” I press, unnerved by their voiceless communication. “I already figured out you’re not regular dudes because aside from the telepathy and the lizard pupils, regular dudes can’t summon demonic creatures out of thin air or flash from one place to another leaving behind a blue trail of light. Nobody human can move like you guys do. So what exactly are you?”

The other two look to Kadaj for the answer, Yazoo questioningly and Loz pleadingly.

Kadaj shortly shakes his head.

“C’mon, Kadaj,” the oldest implores. “We have to tell her.”

“She’s a civilian. She doesn’t need to know.”

“Yes, she does. If you aren’t gonna tell her, I will,” Loz threatens. “You can’t stop me!”

In a cold voice, Kadaj returns, “Oh, can’t I?”

Yazoo interjects before Loz and Kadaj start throwing punches, the long-haired male speaking rationally and calmly. “I think since she’s carrying a part of us inside her – and therefore a part of Mother’s cells inside her - Cate deserves to know the truth of how we came into existence and what effect our bloodline might have on the child.”

“Yeah, what he said!” Loz echoes heatedly. “We’re telling her and there’s nothin’ you can do about it!”

Kadaj levels his snake-eyed stare at me, the narrowed green orbs glittering with venom.

“I could kill her. That’d solve everything.”

Instantly, Loz shifts protectively in front of me like a growling grizzly bear, raising his arm-shield. “You could TRY.”

“Kadaj, killing her is not the answer. You’d kill the baby too,” Yazoo logically reminds him. “Is that what you want? To kill a part of Mother?”

At those words, Kadaj hesitates, uncertainty flickering in his face. Yazoo focuses on him, big dreamy eyes gazing hypnotically into Kadaj’s, the pretty one’s deep voice becoming silky and irresistibly convincing.

“Think about it, brother. Is that what our beloved Mother would want you to do?” He touches Kadaj’s cheek in a persuasive, caressing manner. “Destroy one of her children? Destroy her legacy? Destroy her future?”

Sensing this is an argument he won’t win, Kadaj makes a noise of impatience, batting Yazoo’s hand away. “Fine,” he snaps. “If you want to tell your new girlfriend all our family secrets, Loz, go right ahead. Just don’t come crying to me when she walks out because she can’t fucking handle it!”

And with that parting shot, he pushes up from the couch and stalks off, trouser legs flapping with each fast, fuming stride. He disappears around the corner into the depths of the cave while I stand there hugging my belly uncomfortably, hating to be the cause of such disruption and arguing between what is otherwise a very close band of brothers.

“Sorry,” I mutter. “I didn’t want to cause any trouble for you guys.”

“It’s not your fault,” Yazoo assures me. “He just needs time to deal with the news. And please, do sit down. You look uncomfortable.”

“Well, I’ve had five months of knowing about this baby and I’m still dealing with it,” I admit, heavily plonking onto the couch, grateful to be off my aching feet. “I never wanted to be a mom so early in my life.”

“I never wanted to be a dad either,” Loz confesses, sitting his big frame next to me. “But I do now.”

After unbuckling Dual Hound and setting the weapon aside, he takes my hand, squeezing it guiltily. “I gotta own up to my duty and be a man. I gotta accept accountability for what I did to you.”

I squeeze his hand back. “You didn’t do this to me, Loz. It’s just something that happened.”

“Maybe Kadaj has a valid point, though,” Yazoo muses, glancing at his older brother. “Do you think Cate can handle knowing what we are and where we came from?”

“I can handle it!” I jump in before Loz can express any doubts about my mental capabilities. “If I can handle terrifying nightmares and flashbacks of you three breaking people’s limbs in half and conjuring up hideous flesh-eating hell-hounds, then I can handle whatever it is you’re going to tell me. When it comes to you guys I’m already expecting all kinds of weird.”

“You really wanna know?” Loz asks me seriously. “It ain’t no fairytale.”

“Yeah, well, neither is being pregnant to you,” I say bluntly. “You wanna act like a father, Loz? Start by telling me what you are. Who’s your mother? And what the hell is a Remnant?”

“Well, a Remnant is kind of like...pieces... or left over parts of... uh...” Loz looks sheepishly to his middle sibling. “You explain it, Yaz. I ain’t that good with words.”

Yazoo nods, perfectly fine with being the one to tell me. “How much do you want her to know, Loz?”


Nodding again, Yazoo faces me warningly. “What you’re about to hear may shock and disturb you, Cate.”

I take a breath. “I’m prepared. I need to know. That’s why I came here.”

Yazoo’s gaze grows distant as he delves back into the past, his voice low and soft as he tilts his head in memory and begins recounting their story.


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