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Out of the Clutch of Chaos

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Janet woke up on Christmas morning and thought, for no particular reason but as clear as day, I'm pregnant and my baby's father is in thrall to the Queen of Faerie. She had considered this a hundred times before, and in fact was developing the ability to exist in a world where both those statements were a part of her daily life, but somehow, suddenly, the sheer ridiculousness of the situation struck her, and she laughed.

“Shut up,” Lily said, rolling around on her mattress so that her sleeping bag crinkled in the way that so annoyed Janet. “I'm sleeping. And I want my bedroom back, by the way.”

“It's not forever,” Janet said. Her parents, now aware that Thomas was the baby's father, had consented to have him stay for Christmas, but had insisted, bizarrely, that he sleep in Lily's room. As far as Janet was concerned the damage they were worried about was already done. At least it stopped Andrew from asking even more awkward questions than usual, which might, now that she thought about it, have been their intention. “Two more nights.” She almost tacked on the old 'Lily-Milly' nickname, but Lily resented both the scandal of having a pregnant sister and the imposition of being kicked out of her own room so Janet's boyfriend could stay over, and was not likely to take kindly to a reminder of more peaceful times.

“Huh,” said Lily, in the same tone in which she might have said “fuck you”, and rolled over again.

Janet, wide awake and not likely to go back to sleep, put a hand against the slight curve of her belly. It still seemed somewhat impossible that she should be able to produce a real live person sometime in the next six months, and that she and Thomas would have to figure out how to raise a child. With Shakespeare as our guide, she thought wildly, considering King Lear and his daughters. Robin had known Shakespeare, although what he actually remembered was questionable; perhaps she should ask him about Shakespeare's theories on parenting. This thought required her to put the pillow over her face, in the manner of Molly, in order to prevent further disruptions to the sibling relationship.

She was, as the cool, disconnected part of her brain informed her, becoming increasingly hysterical, and for no good reason. Queen of Faerie, she told herself. I'm having a baby and I actually think Shakespeare might help.

Perhaps this was a side effect of pregnancy hormones.

Hearing Andrew's voice downstairs, Janet got herself out of bed. Lily was likely to stay where she was for as long as possible – until Andrew's impatience got the better of him and he came to pester her until she admitted defeat – and it would perhaps be kind of Janet to leave her alone. Lily had certainly drawn the short straw in this awkward if temporary arrangement. She put on her robe, and went next door to wake Thomas.

Thomas was, in fact, already awake, and sitting cross-legged on Lily's nicely made bed, writing in a notebook. He seemed larger and more radiant than usual, surrounded by the pink minutia of Lily's childhood and assorted posters of the Grateful Dead, including a signed poster donated by Molly, who had discovered herself not to have a use for it after all.

Janet went in and shut the door; Andrew being safely distracted and conveniently out of the way for the time being. She promptly began to giggle, and, going weak in the knees, collapsed onto the bed beside Thomas and discovered his shoulder to be a convenient place on which to rest her head.

“Morning,” said Thomas, sounding mildly alarmed. “Also, merry Christmas. Have you been imbibing something you shouldn't at this hour of the morning?”

“No, not at all,” Janet said, when she had regained composure enough to speak. “It just occurred to me that this situation is just completely bizarre.”

“Well, sure. Should I be assisting your parents with breakfast?”

“No, you should not, because my father will start quizzing you on the Romantic poets just to make you uncomfortable. You and I will do the dishes, and save Andrew and Lily-Milly from the horror of dirty plates.” Janet lifted her head from Thomas's shoulder. “I was wondering something, actually,” she said, although it had been more a mild curiosity in the back of her mind. “What on earth are we to tell this child?”

“Shoes and ships and sealing wax,” said Thomas, solemnly, and Janet found herself possessed of the urge to giggle madly again. Thomas seemed to recognise this because he said, quickly, “About what in particular?”

“You. Me. Medeous. The fact that it will grow up with a godfather who knew Shakespeare, although I don't think any of us can guarantee that Robin won't go off and play in Faerie for a while. Except, okay, I think maybe Molly can, but we will still have to explain Robin.” Janet knew she was rambling; her mother had certainly referred to that as a pregnancy-induced symptom, even if the giggles could not be explained away in such a manner. With effort, she dragged her mind back on track. “What if it wants to go to Blackstock? And really, what about Medeous?”

That last threat Medeous had made still sat coldly inside her. Perhaps they should make sure they were all safely in Tahiti or somewhere in seven years. Janet and Thomas and the baby, who would be almost as old as Andrew was now, Molly and Robin to be on the safe side, and they could bring Tina along too for old time's sake. It was unlikely Medeous's power would reach to small Pacific islands, but Janet made a mental note to try to get something sensible out of Robin on the subject.

Thomas had balanced the notebook on one knee, and was looking at her. “That's a very good question.”

“I know it is,” Janet said. All urge to laugh had completely left her. She wondered if the baby would inherit Thomas's overpowering charisma, and whether any of that was the influence of the Faerie court, and whether being conceived in Chester Hall while the yarrow bloomed out of season would affect it. “There must be precedent. I mean, you knew that having a pregnant woman pull you off a horse would save you.”

“Sure. It's happened once or twice, that's how I knew. But I don't know how things worked out afterwards, if that's what you're asking.”

“It is,” said Janet. “I think I'm actually asking a hundred different questions, I just don't know what they are.”

Thomas ignored this improbable sentence, which was kind of him. “I can try Kit and Johnny, and attempt to convince them to co-operate,” he said.

“I was thinking Robin, but they might make more sense if you can convince them to talk.” Janet cast her mind around for other possibilities, dismissing instantly Peg Powell and the Beauvais sisters. She wondered how much Melinda Wolfe knew.

Frantic footsteps sounded on the stairs, accompanied by the over-excited noise of a child on Christmas morning. “Here comes Andrew,” Janet said. Thomas was wearing jeans and a white muslin shirt, with the scent of lavender that hung about everyone Janet mentally referred to as that lot. He was appropriately dressed for Christmas morning; she, however, ought to put on some real clothes. Molly had loaned her the elephant daishiki, the issue of what clothes would fit over Janet's expanding belly having become a problem towards the end of the semester. It would cover the safety pin with which she was now required to keep her jeans up, the zipper no longer able to function as it should. “Stay here,” Janet said firmly to Thomas, as Lily produced the indignant noise of someone who has been pounced on by a younger brother. “I have to save Lily and Andrew from each other and put on socially acceptable clothing before we go downstairs.”

“Certainly,” said Thomas, gravely. Janet was now more confused about how his family worked, rather than less, but he was, at least, not accustomed to younger siblings. (At some point, they would have to consider the issue in rather more practical terms, possibly when the pre-existing child was five.) She got up, and went to the door, preparing to intervene in the latest outbreak of sibling bloodshed. “Janet.”

She stopped, and turned back to look at Thomas, who was still exactly as she'd found him that morning. “Yeah?”

“Thank you,” said Thomas, with such sincerity that Janet knew that there was only thing to which he could possibly be referring. She was compelled to walk back over to the bed and hug him tightly, which did nothing to decrease the noise coming from her bedroom.

“We'll have to read the baby fairy tales,” she said.

“Chaucer and Shakespeare and Keats.”

“Oh my,” Janet said, automatically. She suspected Thomas had done that on purpose. Their conversation had not done much to ease her mind, but it had at least assured her she was not alone in her concerns. “Be good,” she said, with as much lightness as she could muster, and went to stop Lily and Andrew from destroying her room.