Heart of Stone Ch. 16bypsyche_b_mused©
16. Future Echoes, Past Reverberations
It took two weeks to make arrangements with Ramona's cousin Arnie, and another two before he could pull everything together on his end. Arnie didn't ask any questions about why the instructions were so specific, or so unusual. Mary wasn't sure if she liked that or not. Ramona assured her that he was trustworthy, and the rest of the gargoyles arrived without any obvious incident. Mary realized long before that the four she had been told were destroyed hadn't been. It was another deception they all thought had been necessary at the time. In the beginning, Mary had been angry about that. As time went on though, she understood the reasoning behind it. Holding grudges wasn't in her nature anyway.
The decision had been made -- after much discussion -- that the others should be in the garden with Esme. Esme liked the idea of having others around her as she rested, even if those others were strangers for the moment. In seeing Aiden and Esme together, Mary realized how social gargoyles were, and how lonely the two of them had been for others of their own kind. As the sun went down on the evening of the arrival of the others, Mary walked slowly around and between them. She told herself that she was deciding on what plantings would look best, but she was really trying to get a sense of who these new ones were.
Of the ten new ones, eight were male. They were all different from each other as well. One of the males appeared to be only slightly taller than she was, but his muscle mass equaled Aiden's. One of the new females seemed taller and slimmer than Aiden, but her forearms were lined with long spikes, and there were shorter ones on the points of her shoulders. There were two who had no wings and no tails. One of the males had what appeared to be a long braid down his back.
"It is not hair." Esme said. After two weeks she had become as fluent in English as Aiden was. Mary was still amazed on some levels, but she was used to hearing the other female speak. "Males in his clan wear a braided headband as a sign of rank within the group."
"What about females?" Mary asked.
"A female always acquires the rank of her mate. Before that, she holds the rank of her father. In clans where outward symbols are worn, she would wear something similar to what her mate wears. You are well this evening?" Esme stroked Mary's rounded stomach.
"Just fine." She smiled up at Esme and started to walk back toward the house with her.
"But something troubles you." It wasn't a question.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but it feels a little odd having the others here." Mary stroked her middle lightly.
"You fear for the child?" Esme sounded surprised.
"I know it's silly. This was all my idea, but I can't help but wonder what will happen if they won't accept me as Aiden's mate. If his child isn't recognized-"
"If Aiden's authority is challenged in any way, he will fight to secure it. From what we have been told, the ones who are here are of the noble clans. It is less likely that there will be such divisiveness."
"The others accepting me and the child is part of his authority?" Mary asked. She hadn't considered it that way before.
"Of course. I believe the males will accept the two of you more easily than the females. Especially if those females are still within their fertile years." Mary stopped and turned to Esme.
"Were you upset or offended?"
"No." She chuckled. "I am several decades older than Aiden's mother. Even if you did not exist, I can no longer bear children so mating with Aiden would have been pointless."
"I'm sorry." Mary sighed.
"The end of childbearing is as natural as the beginning." Esme smiled. "If any female thing lives long enough it will lose its ability to conceive new life. It is a change, but not a lamentable one. If the other females are younger, they may see you as an intruder. The position of chieftain's mate is highly coveted among females. With so few of us, that desire may be intensified. I doubt any of them will even put their feelings to words, let alone act on them though. Matings have always been looked at as unbreakable bonds."
Esme stopped and Mary looked at her curiously. Before she could ask what was wrong, she heard Aiden's wings flapping. Esme took a step back and bowed her head. The behavior had surprised Mary at first, but she learned it was simply a sign of respect for a leader. Mary stepped into Aiden's outstretched arms. He kissed Mary softly, his arms and wings wrapping around her for a delicious, warm moment.
"You had a pleasant walk?" He murmured.
"Yes I did, thank you." His arms tightened for a moment, then he released her. "You rested well, Esme?" He asked. They agreement between everyone was that Aiden, Esme and the others when they were awakened would all speak English around Mary and the other humans. She realized that it made her considerably more comfortable.
"I did, thank you." She smiled. "And yourself?" The three of them began to walk back toward the house. Mary knew that Aiden didn't like the idea of her being outside shouting distance of someone else. Mary still didn't like the constant attention, but she had to admit that he had calmed considerably in the past few weeks. She wasn't sure if she should attribute that to her continued good health or to Esme's influence. She wasn't about to question it though.
Mary lay back on the exam table and let Jenna help her adjust the gown and a sheet to expose her rounded abdomen while still maintaining some modesty.
"Have you ever had an ultrasound for anything before?" Nigel asked.
"No, never. I read a little bit about it online though, when I first found out I was pregnant." Mary answered.
"Then you know it's a simple procedure." Nigel said. "There shouldn't be any pain or discomfort at all, so if you feel anything unusual, just let me know an we'll stop. This shouldn't be too cold." He squirted a thin gel onto her belly, and goosebumps broke out on Mary's skin. "Sorry." Nigel said.
"It's okay, just a little surprising." Mary laughed.
"Now, let's have a look at this little one." He smiled and pressed the probe against her lower abdomen. Mary's eyes were glued to the screen. For a few minutes she didn't see anything other than a grainy black and white blur. The longer she didn't see anything recognizable the more nervous Mary became. Nigel was calmly proceeding though.
"What's wrong? Why can't we see anything?" She asked.
"Everything's fine. Just relax." Nigel said. A few seconds later the recognizable profile of a human being came into view. "There we are." It took Nigel a moment more to get a clear picture on the screen.
"You can see the head and profile." Nigel pointed to the screen. "Two arms, two legs." He pointed to a white line opposite the face. "This is the spine here. If you look here," He pointed to the small chest. "That fluttering is the heartbeat." Mary barely heard what he was saying, she was too transfixed by the image on the screen.
"It's so fast. Is it supposed to be that fast?" Mary asked.
"It's perfectly normal." Nigel smiled. Either the wand shifted or the baby did, because they got a better view of his face.
"What's that?" Mary asked. "On his forehead."
Nigel looked more closely.
"I've never seen anything quite like it before." He said. "Considering the position and his parentage though, I'd say they were the underpinnings of horns." Nigel typed a command and a photo printed out.
"Does he have wings too?" Mary brushed away tears. It was one of those moments that Aiden's absence was a physical ache. Nigel shifted the wand again.
"Not that I can see right now. That may change over time, or it might not. I'm not certain when that kind of structure would develop, but since he isn't fully gargoyle, it's entirely possible that he won't have wings." Nigel looked almost as amazed as she was. Mary felt the baby flutter inside her. The movement was recorded on the screen, and this time the motion of another appendage was clearly visible.
"Was that the umbilical cord?" Mary asked.
"I don't think so." Nigel answered. He moved the scanning wand again, hoping to get a better view. It took a few minutes, but he succeeded. Mary felt the fluttering movement again. He smiled. "Unless I'm very wrong, that's his tail. I'll make a video of this for you."
"Can you tell for sure if it's a boy or a girl?" Mary took the tissue that Jenna offered her.
"It's a bit early to be certain. Usually, we wait until twenty weeks to make a determination because the structures are more developed at that point. Do you and Aiden want a boy or a girl?" He asked.
"Aiden says it doesn't matter, but I think he wants a boy." Mary was calmer now, but she still wiped her her eyes.
"What about you?" Nigel asked.
"Since I found out I felt this WAS a boy, but, I don't think it matters so much to me. I just want whatever it is to be healthy." She answered. Mary had begun to worry about that more lately. She knew she was doing everything she could for herself, but that didn't change the fact that this baby was not fully human and not fully gargoyle. She remembered from high school biology that hybrids of any kind were always weaker than their 'pure' parents. Nigel had avoided the subject so far.
"Then I'll keep saying 'he'." Nigel said. "I need to get a few measurements, so it will be just a few more minutes."
"Okay." Mary relaxed, her eyes on screen, watching the small being moving in grainy black and white.
Mary climbed carefully into Aiden's lap. He wasn't awake yet, but he would be soon. As she moved, she realized that an act she didn't think twice about before the pregnancy was going to get more and more difficult as she grew larger. Her center of gravity was already off. By the time she was settled, she was beginning to sense the change in his body. She sat still until his arms wrapped around her. When they did, Mary snuggled into his chest.
"I like waking to find you in my lap." He kissed her lightly.
"I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to do it." Mary kissed him again. "I already feel off-balance."
"You are not unwell, are you?" One large hand moved over the bulge in her tummy. Mary laid her hand over his and laughed softly.
"We're both fine. I'm just changing shape faster than my balance can adjust." She snuggled close. "Nigel said that's normal."
"You saw him today, correct?" Aiden got up and carried her inside.
"Yes. He gave me something for you." Mary said.
"Not more questions to answer. I can think of no personal detail that I have not shared." He stretched out on the bed. Mary settled next to him just long enough to kiss him softly.
"Nope." She smiled and got up slowly. She took a white envelope from her handbag and settled next to him. "Some pictures."
"Of what?" He looked her at her curiously.
"Your son." She smiled.
"But he is still inside of you." Aiden said.
"I told you I was going to have an ultrasound today."
"Child, you told me this morning, after I was resting." He laughed and stroked one talon through her hair.
"But you heard me." She said.
"I heard you, but you did not understand what that meant."
"Oh!" Mary blushed. "I thought you knew." Even though her own understanding was limited, she managed to explain how sound waves moving through tissue created an image of things inside the body. Then she showed him the pictures, and he didn't care about how they were made anymore. He stared at the images and then held Mary tightly, his body wrapped around hers.
Mary kissed him lightly. She was surprised when his tongue slipped past her lips. His body moved over hers carefully, his tail wrapped around her leg. Mary found herself quickly lost in his kiss, her body responding easily, hungrily. Her hands traveled lightly over his chest, her fingers teasing his nipples.
"Esme." Mary managed to mumble between kisses.
"What about her?" One hand lifted the long skirt of her denim dress. Mary moaned against his mouth, completely unable to answer while his hand lightly stroked her thighs.
"Won't she be looking for you?" She murmured finally.
"It is not her place to look for me, she knows that." His mouth got hungrier. Mary shifted so that she could pull the dress up over her head. She tossed it aside.
"Don't you still hunt with her?" She lifted her arms so that he could take off her blouse.
"She is able to hunt on her own." He kissed her firmly, his hands going to the back of her bra. She could feel that he was trying to unhook it.
"Aiden-" His talons tore through the fabric before she could finish her statement. The look of chagrin on his face spoke volumes. Mary couldn't resist a little laugh. "It's okay. That one wasn't fitting very well lately anyway."
Her mouth found his as her hands took away his loincloth. She stroked his shaft, and he growled against her mouth. She teased him until his hips were thrusting against her hands, then she stopped and pushed her panties down and off. As soon as there was no impediment between them, he settled between her legs. Mary knew that he was very ready, but she wasn't entirely sure that she was. Still, seeing him looming over her, his wings spread and arched, his muscles tense, thick shaft standing almost weapon-like between them, Mary opened herself wider to him.
He didn't need any more encouragement. Aiden's tail stroked her opening only long enough to determine that she was ready for him. He pushed slowly inside her, Mary wrapped her legs around his waist, drawing him in. He was confident now that he could take his pleasure and still not do her any harm, even in her more fragile condition. He began to move, and Mary moved under him, moaning with every deep penetration. She heard him growling with pleasure, she felt the way his wings stirred up the air, none of that mattered though. The pleasure that overtook her was all-encompassing and Mary went with it.
Mary's intensifying pleasure cries mixed with Aiden's deep, growling moans. He moved faster. Her legs tightened around him as the pleasure overtook her. She cried out and succumbed to the intense waves of pleasure that washed over her. His release followed quickly. Mary whimpered softly. He moved her carefully so that he was laying behind her. One hand rested protectively over her rounded tummy. She snuggled back against him.
"I didn't think those pictures would have that effect on you." Mary laughed softly.
"Finding you in my lap when I wake always arouses my passions." He kissed the top of her shoulder. "And, it has been nearly a week since I have seen you like this. Sometimes I feel as though Nigel sees more of your skin than I do." Mary turned to face him.
"I still feel a little self-conscious sometimes." His talons trailed lightly over her breasts. Mary closed her eyes, enjoying his touch. She sighed and relaxed further, ignoring the incongruity of her reaction. "Sometimes I'm just so tired that all I want is to feel you holding me. It seems like it would be wrong to curl up with you like this if I just couldn't go further."
"Do it anyway." He murmured against the side of her head. Mary laughed softly.
"Alright, but I'll remind you that you said that." She took his hand and placed it over her stomach. "He's moving." She murmured. Mary was a bit larger than most women in the sixteenth week of pregnancy because the child she was carrying was a bit larger than a human child at the same stage. She knew it was still too soon for him to feel the child moving, though. The desire to have his hand on her in that way, in that moment, simply wouldn't be denied. He smiled and held her close, his lips brushing her forehead.
"He looks like you, you know." She said when the fluttering sensation stopped. Aiden chuckled.
"How can you tell?"
Mary sat up and found the view she wanted. She snuggled against him again.
"I don't think anyone in my family had horns." She smiled and pointed to the tiny spots on the small forehead. His eyes narrowed curiously, then a smile tugged at his lips.
"Then he will be the first." Aiden pulled her close again. Mary nestled comfortably against him.
For several long minutes Mary just lay there listening to his strong heartbeat, and relishing the heat of his body.
"Are you prepared for tomorrow?" He murmured.
"As prepared as I ever am." She answered, her eyes still closed. "Do you know the one we're trying to wake?"
"I think I may know of him." Aiden answered, his tone subdued. "Esme believes him to be Calvus. He was a warrior when my father came to power. By the time I was born, he had turned his talents to metalwork, and became quite famous throughout the clans. If he is the same Calvus, he is the one who made my rings."
"So his clan was an ally of yours?" Mary finally began to feel the chill of the room. She reached out for a blanket. Aiden found one first, and wrapped her in it. She relaxed against him again.
"Yes. Calvus and the next two we wake will be, though the alliances are of varying strengths. I believe that when we begin to wake those who were not allies in the past, a position of unity will be crucial."
"If Calvus made your rings, he must have been very talented." Mary could picture the delicate designs incised in the steel. She had never considered their origin before, though.
"He was. If this is the same Calvus, I hope he will agree to make rings for our son as well." Mary opened her eyes and looked up at him.
"I hadn't thought about that. When were they put in?" She asked.
"The smallest one at my naming ceremony, a month after I was born."
"But you were so young! It must have hurt." Her protective instinct took over.
"I do not remember the pain. Besides, it is the smallest one that contains my name and my father's name. Without it, I would not have been accepted as part of the clan." He stroked her cheek softly.
"I don't think that I want him to be pierced like that, at least not so young." Her hands rested protectively over her tummy.
"He is not only human." Aiden pulled her close. "He must know both sides of his heritage, and you must know that I would do nothing to harm him." Mary relaxed against him.
"I know." She sighed. "I just worry that I'm going to make some terrible mistake. I'm going to do something that I shouldn't, or not do something that I should. At least right now I always know where he is and that he's safe."
"You will love him. Maureen and Esme and the others will help you with the rest." He kissed her temple lightly.
"Was Bergit this nervous?" Mary rarely asked him about Bergit, but now she had no other way to phrase her question. His silence made her believe that she shouldn't have asked.
"I do not know. If she was, she would not have told me."
"I'm sorry." She said softly.
"There is no reason for you to be sorry, child. I am the one responsible for those choices." He kissed her softly. "This is a new century, and I am wiser."
Mary stood in front to the full-length mirror and brushed her hair. It had been six weeks since she and Aiden lay in bed and speculated about whether or not the next one was the Calvus that had made his rings. Now they knew it was. They had also gotten to meet Jerel, and, after him, the dangerous-looking female called Kitra. Waking them had almost become second nature now, what was still difficult for Mary was the fact that with each new one they woke her time with Aiden seemed to decrease. She could see how much he needed others of his own kind, and how much they all needed each other, but she still felt like an outsider.
She winced when the hairbrush caught and lightly tugged the small steel ring that now occupied the tip of her right ear. The night before they woke Jerel, Calvus presented her with a ring bearing her name and Aiden's, as well as the date of their mating inscribed in gargoyle script. Aiden had arranged what he called a dedication ceremony and placed it in her ear himself. Calvus and Jerel accepted her with warmly, as did Esme, but Kitra still looked at her with suspicion.