What Child is This

by llamajoy

(Note: Many, many years post-game. Had this idea for ages now, but the timing finally seemed right.)

It might have been just another supper in the Black family household, stew on the table and candles lit in the windows against the early dark. Might have been-- but it wasn't.

Jessie inhaled twice before he spoke again. "What did you say?"

"Nothing," Billy said, too quickly. "Forget it. It's not even--"

"You get some girl in trouble, Billy Lee?" Jessie's voice was stern, or trying to be, the stain of incredulousness undermining his authority. "You, Billy?"

His son snorted, his mouth wavering between a laugh and a scowl. "You could at least not be insulting! She's not in trouble. She's--" he choked. "She's married."

If possible, Jessie's eyes opened even wider, and when he opened his mouth no sound happened. After a moment, he managed, with the ghost of humor in his voice, "If you're trying to outdo your old man, kiddo, you can stop trying now."

Billy sighed, exasperated. "Oh, honestly. It just sort of happened. It's not as though she's... I mean, I... I know her husband."

Jessie's hand came up to his mouth, and stayed there. He looked as though he wanted to shout. Finally he said, in a strangled whisper, "You slept with the Holy Mother of Nisan."

"Please!" Billy put his head in his hands. "You don't have to make it sound so... so..."

Jessie put a hand on his son's shoulder. "Sorry," he said, trying to swallow his own disbelief as he realized what Billy must be feeling. "Few enough people in the world these days, making babies is no sin." Billy shook his head wordlessly, so Jessie went on, talking into the silence. "It's just come as a little bit of a surprise to me, you know? Never thought you--" Billy glared up at him, wetly, and Jessie backpedalled, judiciously. "Guess I always assumed you were sweeter on the groom than the bride, 'f you know what I mean."

Billy made a tiny sound, face back in his hands.

Trying to get a rise out of him, to bring back that familiar edge, Jessie said gamely, "Come to think of it, it's sort of like me and your mama used to--"

Billy's head did come up at that, stalling any further words with an earnest entreating look.

Jessie shut up, his mouth wobbling. "...You know for sure it's yours?"

Billy chewed on the inside of his lip. "I can't believe you want to have this conversation," he said, with a hint of his usual sharpness.

"No, no," Jessie grinned, "I mean really. You're--" he coughed, trying to be diplomatic, at least a little, for Billy's sake-- "you're not the only one who sleeps in that bed, right?"

Billy's fingers were tightly interlocked, he looked at them as though they might start speaking for him, to save him the trouble. "No," he said, slowly. "But the timing is right. And it couldn't be Bart's, because Bart was... doing something else at the time."

Watching the fascinating shades of red that Billy's ears were turning, Jessie felt fairly certain that Bart hadn't been, say, in a council meeting at the time. He said good-naturedly, "It's okay, kiddo. I don't want to imagine it any more than you want to tell me."

Still Billy stared fixedly at the floor.

"Hell, there's no shame in it, Billy Lee," Jessie sighed explosively. "You can quit looking like you expect me to take your damn fool head off.

"Won't you?" Billy sounded skeptical, but with the beginnings of a smile.

It made Jessie laugh. "Who am I to do that? I've got my own damn fool head to worry about." He wagged a finger under Billy's nose, though, for emphasis. "You're good to her, aren't you?"

"I love them," Billy said, and couldn't say anything else for a minute. Jessie was struck silent too; it wasn't what he'd expected him to say. "I love them both," Billy said again, more quietly, and wouldn't meet Jessie's eyes.

Jessie's eyes softened, though Billy, looking away, didn't notice. "Did you think I would blame you for that, Billy Lee? Did you think I hadn't noticed, more and more trips to Bledavik any chance you'd get? How dense d'you really think I am?"

Billy sniffled but tried to make it sound disdainful. "How should I know?"

Jessie chuckled, shaking his head. "Didn't think I'd have a grandchild so soon, Billy Lee."

Billy blushed crimson. "I'm twenty-five."

"And about as likely to sleep with a girl as I am to--"


"Wait, wait-- You've gotta tell Sig."

"Sigurd already knows," Billy exhaled, as if glad to be getting it finally over with. "He was the first person we told."

Jessie frowned. "Told Sigurd before you told your own dad?"

"Yes," Billy said primly, his lips thinned. "Because I knew Sigurd wouldn't blow all his capillaries and holler to wake the whole neighborhood. All I wanted was some sound advice. You--" his eyes flashed a little-- "you should respect that."

"You little brat." Jessie was actually smiling now, rather fondly. "At least your mama wasn't married."

Billy shot him a look, then they both laughed. "Well, that didn't sound quite like I meant it to," Jessie said at last.

"Bart is glad," Billy said, apropos of nothing, looking at his hands. "I thought he'd be... angry, or something. But I'd never seen him so happy."

Jessie smiled. "Think I know why, kid," he said, ruffling Billy's hair though he spluttered and protested.

"And I like children," Billy went on, not really listening. "And Edwin likes me."

"I ain't arguing that point!" Jessie said, and added more softly, "Damn sure I never thought my grandson would be a prince of Aveh."

Billy shut up abruptly, and smiled a little. "Granddaughter," he said.

Jessie bit his lip, something indefinable heavy in his chest. "A girl, huh. You sure? Not like medical technology back in Solaris--"

"Sigurd says it'll be a girl," Billy said matter-of-factly. "And Sigurd was right about Edwin, too."

"Well, the odds are fifty-fifty," Jessie started, but didn't let Billy voice his budding protest. "But I trust Sigurd as much as you do, don' get me wrong. You got a name picked out and everything?"

Billy was smiling in earnest now, looking as though he wanted not to feel shy but couldn't help it. "Renee Racquel."

For a moment Jessie couldn't quite swallow, the back of his throat aching. "That's real nice, Billy Lee. Real nice."


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