My name echoed softly through the salt-laden air. It sang in my blood, diving core deep.
My mother. Her. The Deep. They called. The life within me called my name. Called to something primitive my body had no choice but to obey.
I covered my round belly with both hands, soothing the ache radiating from my lower back to my abdomen. Excitement deepened my breathing.
It was time.
Noah shifted beside me in the bed, and a tickle of soft hair fell on my shoulder. His voice drifted out of the waning darkness in a husky whisper. “Everything okay?”
“Yes.” I found his hand, lifted it to my lips and kissed his knuckles. “Go back to sleep.”
My fingers feathered his hair as I watched the sky lighten through the open window, cherishing the breeze on my skin, savoring these last moments it would be just the two of us. When Noah’s breaths fell even again, I slipped from the bed.
I padded down the hallway, taking a moment to admire the pictures of Noah’s family that decorated the wall. It was my family too now, and soon we’d add another to the collage.
I wasn’t the only one stirring on this first day of summer. Lara stood at the threshold of her room, a question in her pale green eyes. A question I answered with a nod and clutch of my belly. She approached, her expression tender with knowing. She closed her eyes, her mouth moving in a silent prayer. I couldn’t hear the words, but I felt them in the calming of my blood, the absolute rightness that pervaded my entire being. Her eyes opened slowly and in a reverent whisper, she said, “Call when you’re ready.”
Another nod from me, this one full of gratitude. She understood my desire to start this journey on my own.
The sun’s fledgling rays sparkled over the gentle tide. Another pain had me grabbing my back, fighting to bring air into my lungs. But I didn’t need air. I needed water and I hurried toward it. Toward another new beginning, another change, one I welcomed.
Gulf water wrapped me in protection. I glided through the next pain, my skin absorbing the salt water, taking what it needed. My Song begged for release, but I held back, enmeshed in the quiet and the memories of a mother I never knew. I felt her though, in the current’s force, the hint of a presence waiting in the recesses of the Deep. I wasn’t alone. Here I was never alone.
I gave myself over to instinct, let it override any fear or apprehension as I coasted through each contraction. Time slipped by, the color of the water shifting, growing brighter as the sun continued its rise. The contractions gradually intensified, putting an end to my need for solitude. I let go of the Song demanding release; a call not only to Noah, but to the entire tribe.
The next contraction came swiftly, strong with impatience, and I knew my first moment of fear. Noah appeared so fast I wondered if I hadn’t slipped from bed unnoticed after all. He clasped my face in his hands, kissed my lips, held me until the vice twisting my stomach eased. His eyes spoke of pride, his body of strength, and I felt both when he took my hand and guided me forward. With Noah by my side, I let any fear float away on the current. We set our pace to slow, our progress measured by the seizing of my belly, the demands of the life I carried running one into the next.
I felt them come, my tribe, my family. Heard them in the distance, the subtle vibrations in the water, their signatures heralding to the Deep and all creatures everywhere the coming of a waterborn. They flitted in and out of my line of vision like butterflies, careful not to invade on mine and Noah’s privacy, keeping any predators at bay, keeping us safe.
My stomach cinched ever tighter, and I stifled a scream. I squeezed Noah’s hand hard enough to break bones, and I wondered for a split second if I’d hurt him. He didn’t seem to notice, or care, fierce sympathy radiating from his green eyes. I’d take this pain for you if I could.
I smiled then as the pressure abated. Floated into his arms, kissed his cheek. I’m all right. As long as you’re with me, I’m all right.
And this pain was worth it. At the end of this pain was a love that promised so much good, so much hope.
Noah’s eyes became my focal point, his light grip on my arms the anchor keeping the fear at bay. I had nothing to fear. I was made for this. Made for life and love, and I was surrounded by both. I gripped his shoulders, nails drawing blood as the pressure built once again, this time harder, more insistent, until life emerged in a gush of relief.
Water to water. Breath to breath. A new life. A new beginning.
Noah caught the small bundle of flailing arms and legs, silver-white hair streaming over his hands and wrists. A tiny mouth opened, and a wail echoed through the water. Noah’s face brightened with awe, eyes shining with total and complete adoration. I gazed into the face of our baby, my heart near to bursting.
A boy. Noah and I had a son. A beautiful baby boy with sun beam hair and blinking eyes already a striking green. We counted toes and fingers, marveled at the tiny gills fluttering gently behind the ribbons of hair—so much of it for such a small creature. Perfection in human form. Noah used his knife to sever the umbilical chord. I was so in awe I barely noticed the pressure signaling the passing of the afterbirth. All of my focus was on the baby in Noah’s arms.
Time stalled under the swell of emotions, love blooming hot and bright and all-consuming. She cradled us in buoyant hands, and I wished I could freeze this moment, hold on to
it longer. Experience this sensation of falling in love over and over with this new life we created. Falling in love all over again with each other.
My name again, coming to me in a voice a long ago memory supplied. “He’s beautiful,” I whispered back, overwhelmed with a depth of feeling I never could have imagined. Staring at my son, his slowly blinking eyes, his perfectly shaped lips, I finally understood the sacrifice my mother had made, the why. I’d gladly give my life for my son’s. “Thank you.”
I hope she heard. Felt that love being passed on. I kissed those perfect lips, making a silent vow to love him deep just like my mother had taught me.
Cradling our son in one hand, Noah reached for me, pressed his lips to mine, and I tasted his tears. I recognized the gratitude in his eyes, shared the wonderment, reciprocated the fierce love. I could ask him for anything at that point and he’d give it to me. Whatever I wanted, but I already had what I wanted.
“I love you,” Noah mouthed and placed our son in my arms. A laugh bubbled out of him as he continued to shower our baby’s head with kisses, spared more for me. Then he caught me under the knees and around my shoulders and headed for shore where our tribe waited, where Shay’s tribe waited.
* * *
“I can’t believe this.” I stared down at our precious bundle of joy. His belly was full, his diaper clean, but still his face contorted in displeasure, tiny fists punching air. He’d been sound asleep seconds ago, waking, as he was prone to do when I laid him in his crib, with a vengeance.
“It’s not possible.” I shook my head slowly, not wanting to believe.
Rain pelted the window and thunder rumbled overhead in a boiling roll. My skin prickled with heat, the hairs on my arms standing at attention. The sizzle of energy was a familiar sensation.
“One way to find out,” Noah said, nodding toward a now wailing Shay. Thunder boomed loud enough I flinched. A flash of lightning chased its heels. The storm raged right on top of us.
I leaned over Shay’s crib and scooped him in my arms, hugging him close. He quieted immediately, the little tyrant, sucking on one fist. The crackling energy slowly dissipated. The rain stopped. Minutes later, the clouds thinned, and weak morning light brightened the sky, confirming our suspicions.
“This cannot be happening,” Noah said, running a hand over his hair. ”
“Don’t worry,” I said, quickly adopting that sing-song baby voice shared by parents everywhere. “Daddy’s just grumpy because you’re interfering with his beauty sleep.” Though I supposed I sported the same droopy-eyed look as Noah. I’d hardly had a chance to glance in the mirror to check. The last month had passed in a whirlwind of sleepless nights and naps stolen during the day. And now, to confirm we had a weather-making machine on our hands, and a spoiled one at that, was admittedly a lot to handle. I thought of all the ways Shay’s tantrums could wreak havoc. Just last week he’d spent the entire night with a tummy ache. Nearly five inches of rain had fallen. They’d had to postpone the Billy Bowlegs Parade.
“What are we going to do?” Noah stepped closer and Shay’s eyes followed his movement. Noah claimed he was Shay’s favorite, which might be true until feeding time. Shay latched on to Noah’s finger, legs kicking furiously as if to say “See how strong I am?”
Noah laughed as they played a little tug-of-war with his finger. “I see you, buddy.”
“One more time. Just to be sure,” I said. The look Noah and I exchanged was pure skepticism. “See, you have a nice bed.” I placed Shay back in his crib, then gave the octopus mobile Maggie had given him a turn. “Look at all the yummy octopus. You’ll get to taste one someday.” He was totally unimpressed, still clinging to Noah’s finger.
“I’ll take that back now.” Noah pried his finger out of Shay’s tight grip and initiated a slow retreat. “It’s okay, buddy. Time to sleep now.” The second Shay sensed abandonment, he wailed loud enough to bring the skies down. I closed my eyes, sighing in defeat. We’d birthed a little monster.
“It’s safe to say he gets that from you,” Noah said, staring down at the helpless infant who was now in the throes of a full-blown tantrum.
“He’s also a show off,” I responded, trying not to be impressed with the chaos Shay could produce so quickly. “And that he gets from you.”
“Are you giving my grandson a hard time?” Athen breezed through the back door and headed straight for Shay’s crib.
“You feel it?” I asked, though my tone was more combative, as though Shay’s gifts—haha—were Athen’s fault. Come to think of it, it kind of was his fault. And the question didn’t merit an answer. Of course he felt it. Sol probably felt this wave of energy all the way in Okeanos. I glanced at the door half expecting to see him stroll in too with a smirk on his face and a smartass comment about our parenting skills, which were nil at this point.
“He can’t help it,” Athen said. “He doesn’t know he’s doing it.”
“Whether he knows it or not, we need to make it stop,” I responded. “How do we make it stop?”
In a dramatic display of the obvious, Athen leaned over and scooped Shay into his arms, the swift movement sucking all the energy from the air. The drone of rain on the roof stopped, and the thunder faded into the distance. “Keep him happy until we can teach him some sort of manners.” He said this with a smile, as if it was that easy.
“And when will that be?” Noah asked, fatigue shadowing his eyes, making them look brighter.
“A year.” Athen gave Shay a tender pat on the back. “Maybe two.”
“Two years?” I knew parenthood wasn’t always a walk in the moonlight, but I’d never considered Shay might have special needs and certainly not of the uncontrollable, destructive sort.
“It won’t be so bad.” Athen tried and failed to contain a chuckle.
“This isn’t funny,” I said. “It could be dangerous. For Shay.” Not all of us possessed such coveted powers, and we’d seen firsthand the lengths some would go to tap into those powers. Jamie had escaped being used in an ever-growing list of experiments and, even though we’d destroyed the Facility and put an end to the hijacking of our genetics, we were still being watched. If Shay possessed the powers I sensed he did, he’d be a target.
Athen’s calm continence shifted, dark with levity. “You’ll have plenty of help.” Then just a crack of a smile, which seemed a tad out of place. He smiled so little. “It takes a tribe, right?”
That was true enough. Between Lara, both my dads, and Thomas, there was never a short supply of eager arms. Not to mention Jeb and Kate, who stopped by every couple of days to drop off groceries And Shay didn’t seem to mind who held him as long as he was being held. How many times had they warned me, when one of the tribe has a baby, the entire tribe has a baby?
“I have a few things to do this morning, but I’ll come back later and watch him so you and Noah can have an hour or two to yourselves.” Athen handed Shay back to me, and temperamental or not, he was the sweetest thing in the world. “What do they call it? A date night?”
A date night sounded heavenly, though I wondered if I wanted to leave Shay for that long. Tyrant he might be, but the thought of being away from him for even an hour was panic inducing. I was about to refuse when I caught sight of Noah. His lips turned up and his eyes got all soft with undeniable heat. “Say yes,” he mouthed.
Yeah, an hour or two would be nice.
* * *
Date night, while not quite a bust, had been short-lived. As much as Noah and I were into each other, we were both obsessed with the little guy at the moment, and an hour had been all the time we could stand to be away from Shay.
The swim had worked wonders, combating a lack of sleep. We’d discovered a renewed craving for each other, every kiss, every touch, fueled by delightful urgency. We’d come back eager for our parental duties.
We sat on the beach, Shay cradled on Noah’s thighs, my head on his shoulder. Shay’s eyes were wide, his tiny lips forming a soft coo at the moon hanging clear and bright in a star-studded sky. Totally wide awake with dawn hours away.
“Well, since it looks like we’ll be up for a while, I’m going to get some food.” Noah handed Shay to me, then sprang to his feet. “I won’t waste my breath asking if you want something.”
If my hands hadn’t been full, I would have been tempted to punch his flat belly. I still carried a bit of a paunch, though Noah insisted he didn’t see it, and that I was as beautiful as ever. But he was right. Eating as I was for two, I was in a constant state of hunger. “Maybe one of those peanut butter cookies your mom made.”
Noah’s “humph,” was full-on sarcasm. “I’ll bring the whole plate.”
“That will work, too,” I said, not willing to be shamed.
It was a marvel to watch Shay’s bright eyes blink as he discovered the lights in the sky, the moon. The beach was the one place he was always happy. Not that I could blame him.
A cloud passed over the moon, dimming its light. Shay’s tiny fists punched at something I couldn’t see. Moisture dampened my skin, and I realized it wasn’t a cloud obscuring the moon but a thick fog. I smiled. Kissed Shay’s downy cheek, whispered in his ear, “Your Uncle Sol likes to make an entrance. He’s probably jealous of all the attention you’re getting.”
I searched the water, expecting to see Sol striding out of the Gulf, but all I saw was a heavy mist, then a shadow formed, dark in the light. Dark hair. Too short to be Sol. I rose to my feet, hugging Shay to my chest.
“You.” It was the woman from the town square. The one who’d given me the letter from my mother. But it was obvious now. This was no mere woman. She was every woman. Or maybe not a woman at all, but something more.
An ageless hand skimmed Shay’s head, and he blinked a welcome. “He’s a spunky one, isn’t he?”
I laughed. “That’s one word for it.”
The woman’s gold bangles clinked when she reached for Shay’s bare toes and gave them a playful tug. His mouth opened, and one fist shot out. I felt a zing in the air, the slightest bit of concentrated heat. “Powerful.” A seriousness passed over her expression. “A fine boy. Handsome like his father. Strong like his mother.”
I didn’t feel strong. I felt emotional and weepy. Shay slept little and demanded much. But I loved him with a depth of feeling I’d never thought existed. The woman lifted her gaze to mine, and I sensed the revelations she kept hidden in her dark eyes, waiting to be revealed.
“I can see you’re disappointed.” Understanding thickened her voice, and it rolled over my skin in a gentle tide of acceptance.
“I’m not disappointed.” How could I feel anything but elated with this perfect baby cradled in my arms? I was living the fairy tale denied my mother.
“Not with your boy,” she amended. “But you longed to be like your father, your brother. To use your abilities to protect the ones you love.”
I started to shake my head, voice a protest, but I knew she spoke to a truth I’d buried. As much as I loved Shay and Noah, I hadn’t foreseen this for my life, or even wished it. Barely twenty years old with a baby, the rough map of my future already penned.
“Power and strength come from many sources,” she continued. “The sky, the air, the water.” She laid her hand on my chest. “And here.” Quiet energy stirred where she touched and spread outward with every heavy beat of my heart. “Some gifts are more powerful than others, more lasting. Some fade in the blink of an eye, and some are eternal. True strength comes from life. That’s your gift. Life. And with life comes love, the purest gift of all.” She dropped her hand and took a step back, then another. Her voice whispered over the surf rushing onto shore. “The next one will be a girl.”
Shay wailed, breaking the spell her presence cast. I crooned down at him, tears trailing down my face, plopping onto his tiny bare chest. He clutched my finger, the strength in his grip surprising a laugh out of me. I felt the truth of the woman’s words, the swelling of love so strong. The Song in my mind took flight, soothing. Shay quieted, still holding to my finger, the seed of a smile teasing his lips.
So many questions swarmed in my mind, so much I wanted to ask, but when I looked up, the woman was gone, lost in the fog. Until it too lifted and I stood on a beach under a star-studded sky, the emerald sea stretching to forever.
“Caris.” Noah jogged across the beach toward us, a plastic container in his hand, a sandwich in the other and love surged higher, sank deeper, consumed every thought, fueled every breath. That was my gift to Noah, to our son. To myself. Noah slowed and his gaze held mine captive as he walked up to me, wordlessly kissed my mouth, then bent to kiss Shay on the top of his silky head. Shay squirmed and smacked his lips. He’d be hungry soon.
“Did you see her?” My voice cracked slightly, throat tight with emotion.
“See who?” Noah searched the empty beach.
The woman might be gone, but I felt her on the breeze, in the water washing over my feet, heard her in the rush of the waves. I smiled. “No one.”