Life in the Pryas household had never been dull. As the household had been established on a world given to constant warfare that wasn’t terribly unusual but even once they had relocated to the far more peaceful environs of Titanus, Hector and Osgood had kept up a busy and demanding schedule. They were used to laboring for long hours each day and getting to see far less of each other than they preferred.
Meals were sometimes eaten on the run and other times skipped all together in the bustle and roil of days that offered little in terms of downtime. It was the price they paid for building their new and (mostly) peaceful home world though. They’d thought a lifetime of such demanding schedules would prepare them for fostering the dozen children assigned to help with Osgood’s recovery. They were, of course, completely wrong in that belief.
“It wasn’t me!” Alendo said, his voice high and loud enough that distinguishing it from his sister’s was possible only because she cursed more.
“Yes, it was! I saw you break the painting! I saw it!” Quinn said. “I’m not letting anyone else get in trouble when you did it!”
Osgood sighed and shook his head. In the two weeks that the children had been with them, the house had become a warzone to rival the most ferocious conflicts on Hellsreach. The children were talented at their crafted, and any one of the might make a great healer someday, providing that they didn’t kill each other long before then.
From what Osgood could see, the children didn’t even dislike each other. The fights usually erupted over nothing and aside from the destruction of priceless relics from Hellsreach, rarely involved any actual damage being done. The only consistent thing about the battles was that the lines were drawn very clearly with Hector and himself as being “Out of Bounds”.
As long as one of the adults in the house was present the children confined their quarrels to cutting remarks against each other which they seemed to believe the adults were incapable of noticing. As outsiders, Hector and Osgood also enjoyed the privilege of being beyond the scope of the children’s ire.
In part that might have stemmed from the reputation that Osgood was developing as “the Ambassador who took on a whole pirate fleet” (the tale of his involvement in rescuing their ship having grown wildly out of proportion with reality). A lifetime of politics had taught Osgood to recognize the motivations that people kept hidden even from themselves though.
For as much as they sparred with each other, this was a vacation (of sorts), and none of the children wished to endanger that.
“We don’t have to tell anyone,” Alendo said, lowering his voice so as not to be heard. It was a strategy which would have worked better if he hadn’t been screaming a moment earlier, and might have had some small chance at success if Osgood didn’t have a listening spell cast so that he could keep an ear on what the youthful destroyers of his house were up to.
“They’re going to notice the painting is ripped in half,” Quinn said.
“I can fix it! They’ll never know!” Alendo said.
Osgood was tempted to speak up then and defuse the argument before it escalated to physical blows. The painting was a one-of-a-kind from Hellsreach, but that didn’t mean it was any good. Hector had a fondness for cheesy artwork. Osgood did not. The painting outside their room was all Hectors and if it was as damaged as the children claimed, Osgood was considering whether a monetary reward and the suggestion of where they could find other painting’s Hector had hung up would send the wrong sign.
“You can’t fix it, you’re a klutz with mending spells,” Quinn said.
“I am not,” Alendo said. “I only failed the last test because it was stupid.”
“You’re just going to make it worse if you try to put it together again.” Quinn said. “And you don’t have time. We’re only here till tomorrow morning.”
“Then I’ll do it tonight!” Alendo said.
Osgood considered whether jinxing the painting would do any real damage to Alendo’s development. Odds are Quinn was right and the boy would mangle the painting beyond all hope of repair on his own but Osgood felt the need to be certain of that. It really was an awful piece of work.
“Fine,” Quinn said. “But if you don’t make it look perfect, I’m telling Mr. Pryas and the Sisters that it was you, and they can leave you here.”
“Fine,” Alendo said. “Maybe I want to be left here!”
“They’re not going to leave you with the Ambassador you know,” Quinn said. “They’ll send you to gem mines cause you’re a kid and they can stuff you in narrow places.”
“That’s stupid,” Alendo said. “They don’t have gem mines here.”
“Of course they do you idiot,” Quinn said. “Didn’t you read anything the Sisters gave us.”
“Why would I?” Alendo asked.
“So that you wouldn’t be dumb,” Quinn said. “The gem mines are what people come here. It’s the big deal for why everyone is coming to this place. The whole planet is one giant gem that they just keep chipping off pieces of.”
Osgood frowned at that. Titanus was not a gem world, although such things did exist. Either Quinn was making things up to mess with Alendo or there were rumors circulating about Titanus that could lead to nothing but trouble in the long run.
From his time on Hellsreach, Osgood concluded that the most likely scenario was that both options were true. What Quinn could make up, many other people could too. For the vast majority of the galactic citizens the idea of moving to a different world was a dream that they would never actually be interested in seeing made true.
New worlds were dangerous, scary and uncomfortable. Titanus in particular had issues of strife above and beyond the usual difficulties encountered by a new planet. For many people who’d led comfortable lives on planets where real peace had reigned for decades, the idea of bearing the burdens of settling a new colony had to be motivated by something they could understand. Like greed. That was something humans and most other sapients could understand on a primal level.
That was fine so long as the people believing that were content to stay home. Osgood knew that was unlikely to remain true forever though. Whether by force of arms or financial duplicity, people would turn their eyes towards exploiting “the gem planet Titanus”. As Ambassador he was in the position to head that sort of thing off, but he had to balance his efforts so that he didn’t make Titanus look too unattractive or it wouldn’t be able to attract the sort of tourism and trade that was vital to developing a new colony.
That was a problem for another day however and as such it joined a rather towering mountain of similar problems that were stacked on Osgood’s metaphorical desk. So long as he was recovering in bed however all those issues were out of his reach. Instead, he was forced to turn his attention to more immediate matters.
“Hector?” he asked on their telepathic link. “When you have a moment, I’ve got something that I need to talk with about.”
It was always best to broach difficult topics in person, but that was a luxury that they were rarely afforded.
Later that night, after the children had, in theory, gone to bed Osgood wove a simple spell and waited. As he expected though, he didn’t need to wait long.
“The workshop was a good choice,” Osgood’s projected image said.
Alendo stopped dead in his tracks and turned to look at the ghostly blue image that Osgood had conjured. Remote presence spells had a wide variety of uses, a fact Osgood had come to appreciate more during his weeks of enforced rest. In this instance however, the very simplest use of the spell would suffice.
“I’m not feeling sleepy?” Alendo said. As excuses went it was weak, and the rising, questioning tone Alendo finished with sapped away what little strength it might have possessed.
“So I can see,” Osgood said, nodding towards the pieces of the painting that Alendo had in his hands.
“Oh, umm,” Alendo said. “This isn’t what it looks like.”
“It looks like you’re trying to repair a priceless artifact of pre-relocation Hellsreach art,” Osgood said, smiling at the wheels that he saw turning in Alendo’s mind.
“Priceless?” Alendo asked.
“Technically, yes,” Osgood said. “I mean, honestly, could you imagine anyone buying that hideous thing?”
Alendo’s flush of rising panic turned to a blinking gaze of confusion.
“Wait, so it’s not important?” Alendo asked.
“Art is always important,” Osgood said. “It’s just that some of it shows what not to do when being creative.”
“I…I don’t understand,” Alendo said.
“Don’t worry, it takes a while to see things like that,” Osgood said. “The question is what are you going to do with that, and why?”
Alendo looked around, glancing quickly over the room as though searching for a hole to bolt into or a path of escape. With no options presenting themselves, he sighed and looked down before speaking.
“I’m going to fix it,” he said.
“Why?” Osgood asked.
“Because I broke it, and it’s not right to leave it like that,” Alendo said.
“You’ve broken a number of things here in the last two weeks,” Osgood said.
“Yes,” Alendo said. “I can pay for them. Someday.”
“Is that what’s important?” Osgood asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” Alendo said.
“Why? Because you’ll be punished if you don’t?” Osgood asked.
“No, I’ll get punished no matter what,” Alendo said. “It’s just not right. I mean I didn’t break everything, but you still don’t have all that stuff and someone should make up for it.”
“And why would that be you?” Osgood asked.
“Cause you caught me?” Alendo said.
“So if I hadn’t noticed you would have left without saying anything,” Osgood asked.
“No,” Alendo said. “I don’t know. Maybe? It still wouldn’t be right, but sometimes I do the wrong things. Like breaking paintings. And yelling at people.”
“Would you like to change that?” Osgood asked.
“Yeah, but it’s hard,” Alendo said.
“I know of something that makes it easier,” Osgood said.
“What’s that?” Alendo asked.
“A family.” Osgood said.
“I’ve got a sister and she just makes everything worse,” Alendo said.
“So you wouldn’t mind if she stayed behind here while you left?” Osgood asked.
“What? No! You’re not going to send her to the gem mines are you?” Alendo asked.
“That’s an interesting thought,” Osgood said. “And one I’ve spent a bit of time pondering today.”
“No! You can’t do that!” Alendo said. “She’s not good with tight spaces. She gets really freaked out. Send me there instead. I was the one who broke most of the things.”
“I was thinking we might send you both there,” Osgood said. “I’m afraid there’s not much mining being done these days but the Life Crystals do offer some lovely tours if you get to know them and the trust you.”
“Uh, what?” Alendo asked.
“Yes, we could make it a day trip,” Osgood said. “I’m supposed to be getting up and about again soon and I’ll need to find things to do with my time while I wait to be cleared by my doctors. A short visit with the Life Crystals seems like exactly the thing in this case.”
“But we’re leaving tomorrow?” Alendo said.
“Only if you wish to,” Osgood said.
“What do you mean? We can stay?” Alendo asked.
“The short answer is, yes,” Osgood said. “The long answer involves forms and interviews and evaluations, but I can assure you that if you decide you want to stay with us the answer to all of those will be yes as well.”
“Are you…are you going to adopt us?” Alendo asked.
“That’s up to you,” Osgood said. “I’ve talked it over with Hector and we’re both willing to start the process, but ultimately it will be your choice pending final approval by the adoption review specialist.”
“Oh…that’s…” Alendo said and then fainted mid-sentence.
“Apparently better news that you were hoping for?” Osgood finished for him.
Morning found the Pryas’ + 2, seeing the other children back into the care of the Sister’s of Water’s Mercy. Several more would be staying on Titanus as well, having found potential adoptive families during their stay. The rest were set to resume their training as healers under the tutelage of the Sisters and while there were tears at the departure, the promises to stay in touch were heartfelt and followed up on in more than one instance.
Hector wandered over to massage his husband’s shoulders once the mob was gone and Alendo and Quinn were upstairs, taking in their new rooms.
“The house is going to feel a lot more full with those two here,” Osgood said.
“Too full?” Hector asked.
“No, just about right I think,” Osgood said.
“I’m just glad our lives will be able to get back to some semblance of order again,” Hector said just in time for their bell to ring.
With a puzzled expression, Osgood turned to look up at his husband.
“Are we expecting anyone else?” he asked.
“No,” Hector said, frowning in confusion.
“Well, it’s not assassins,” Osgood said. “They never ring the bell.”
“Just in case, how about I get the door?” Hector said.
“Just in case, how about we both answer it together,” Osgood said.
Together they marched to the entrance to the house and, with defensive spells at the ready, threw open the door to reveal…their son.
And the woman he loved.
Who was very clearly pregnant.
“Hi Dads,” Darius said. “I know this is kind of unexpected, but well, surprise you’re going to be grandfathers. And we need a place to hide. But just for a few months.”