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Chapter Eleven

"My Lady?"


Honor twitched in her comfortable limousine seat and looked up.


Nimitz was curled tightly in her lap, pressing against her while he radiated comfort. The 'cat clearly didn't understand all of the reasons behind her consternation and anxiety, but his loving concern and support poured into her, and she treasured them. Unfortunately, Nimitz couldn't begin to resolve all of the potentially disastrous consequences which might stem from her condition.


"Yes, Spencer?" she said, looking at the fair-haired armsman who'd spoken.


"We just received a com call from the spaceport, My Lady," he said respectfully. Her youngest armsman obviously also realized something was wrong, but he didn't know what, and his tone was cautious. "The Tankersley just made orbit," he continued.


"She did?" Honor sat straighter, her chocolate-dark eyes brightening suddenly. "She's early."


"Yes, My Lady."


"Thank you, Spencer. Simon," she leaned forward, looking past Hawke to the armsman in the pilot's place, "contact the escort and turn us around. We're going to the spaceport to pick up my parents."


* * *

"Now, then, Honor Stephanie Harrington," Allison Harrington said sternly, "what in the world has your panties in such a knot?"


Honor, Nimitz, and her parents were alone together for the first time since their arrival. Allison and Alfred Harrington sat in Honor's office while she stood facing the crystoplast wall, arms crossed, with Nimitz on her shoulder, but she had no attention to spare for her favorite view of Jason Bay. The twins had been handed off to Jennifer LaFollet, Allison's Grayson-born personal maid, and Lindsey Phillips, their Manticoran nanny, after properly affectionate greetings, but Honor had tasted her mother's concern as Allison watched her with Faith and James. She'd often thought Allison had a lot in common with treecats, and her ability to read her daughter's mood and body language so acutely was one of the reasons.


"What makes you think anything has my underwear tangled, Mother?" Honor replied now, turning back from the bay to face her. She unfolded her arms and reached up to scratch Nimitz's chin soothingly with her right hand.


"Oh, please, Honor!" Allison rolled her eyes, then waved at Nimitz. "That furry little henchman of yours is as tightly wired as I've ever seen him. Certainly since the day the two of you snuck off for that first trip to his home range which I'm sure you both continue to fondly imagine your father and I knew nothing about." Honor's eyes widened, and Allison snorted. "And as for you, young lady! I've never seen you as skittish around the kids as you were this afternoon. So, what is it?"


"Oh, nothing much." Honor's voice wavered slightly around the edges, undermining her attempt at nonchalance. "I just got a little . . . unexpected medical news this morning."


She looked back out at the bay, then faced her mother's eyes.


"I'm pregnant, Momma," she said quietly.


For a moment, Allison—and Honor's father—both seemed as totally clueless as she'd felt when Frazier informed her. Both of them recovered from the instant of total noncomprehension much more quickly than she had, however. Probably, she thought, with a flicker of half-bitter amusement, because they weren't the ones who were pregnant!


The quick, bright flare of their emotions once the news truly registered upon them was too powerful and complex for her to sort out clearly. Astonishment. Consternation. A bright flash of joy, especially from her mother. A sudden surge of concern, tenderness. Protectiveness, especially from her father. And wrapped around all of it an abrupt spike of concern as their reaction to the news took them to the place it had already taken her.


"Hamish?" her mother said, and Honor nodded, feeling her eyes brim with tears. She'd never discussed her relationship with Hamish with her parents, but both of them were highly intelligent and knew her altogether too well.


"Yes," she said, and Allison opened her arms. Honor stepped into her embrace, hugging her mother's small, immensely comforting form tightly, and her father reached out to stroke her hair as he'd done when she was a very small girl.


"Oh, my," Allison sighed. Then she shook her head ruefully. "You simply can't do anything the easy way, can you, dear?"


"Apparently not," Honor agreed with a slightly watery chuckle.


"The timing could have been better." Her father's observation was totally unnecessary, but she chuckled again at the dry, tender amusement in his tone. "What about your implant?" he asked after a moment.


"Ran out," she said. She gave her mother another squeeze, then stood back and shrugged. "We haven't had time to figure out exactly how it happened, but there was a glitch in my records. Neither Doctor Frazier nor I realized that it had run out months ago."


"Honor," Allison said reproachfully. "Your parents are both doctors. How often have you heard us say it's the patient's responsibility, as well as the physician's, to keep track of things like that?"


"I know, Mother. I know." Honor shook her head. "Believe me, you can't scold me for that any harder than I've already scolded myself. But there was just so much going on . . ."


"Yes, there was." Allison touched her forearm remorsefully. "And you don't need my scolding you about it on top of everything else, either. I suppose it's just the shock of discovering I'm about to be a grandmother."


"Are you, Allison?" Alfred Harrington asked gently, and his wife's head snapped around abruptly. Allison Chou Harrington was a Beowulfer by birth. More than that, she was a daughter of one of the great medical "dynasties" of Beowulf. For her, the termination of a pregnancy was unthinkable, except under the most unusual possible circumstances. Something out of the barbaric era before medicine had made so many alternatives available.


She started to open her mouth, then visibly stopped herself, and Honor could actually feel her throttling her immediate, instinctive protest. Then she inhaled sharply and turned back to her daughter.


"Am I, Honor?" she asked quietly, and Honor felt a deep, sudden surge of love as Allison asked the question without a trace of pressure either way.


"I don't know," Honor said, after a moment. Despite all Allison could do, hurt flickered in her eyes, and Honor shook her head quickly. "I'm not going to have it terminated, Mother," she said. "But I may not be able to acknowledge the child."


Allison frowned.


"I realize this could be very awkward for you, Honor. Both personally and politically. But you and Hamish have responsibilities."


"I'm fully aware of that, Mother," Honor replied, just a bit more sharply than she'd intended to. She heard her own tone, and made a small, quick gesture of apology. "I'm aware," she continued, her voice calmer than it had been. "And I intend to meet them. But I've got to consider all of the possible consequences, not just for the child, or for me and Hamish, or for . . . anyone else, on a personal level. And it may be that placing the child for adoption would be the best alternative."


She met her mother's gaze steadily as she said the last sentence, and Allison looked back for a long, still moment. Then she shook her head.


"That's the last thing in the universe you want to do, isn't it, Honor?" she said very, very softly.


"Yes," Honor admitted, equally softly. She inhaled deeply. "Yes, it is," she said more briskly, "but I may not have a choice."


"The one thing you can't do," her father said, "is decide too quickly. If you make the wrong decision here, it will haunt you. You know that."


"Yes, I do. But it's a decision I can't take too long making, either. I'm due to deploy in two weeks, Daddy, and not aboard a passenger ship. Even if Regs didn't completely prohibit shipboard pregnancies, it would be criminally negligent to take a fetus into that sort of environment."


"Even so, there's no medical reason you have to rush things," he argued gently. "You've already ruled out simply terminating the pregnancy. Obviously, that means tubing or a surrogacy. And if you're going to have the child tubed, you're talking about a routine out-patient procedure. Your mother's a geneticist, not an OB, but she could perform the procedure in a half-hour."


"You're right," Honor said. "I am going to have to have her—or him—tubed. And," her voice wavered again, very slightly, as she looked at her mother, "you were right, too, all those years ago, when you told me I'd understand why you didn't have me tubed when it was my turn. I don't want to. God, how I don't want to!" She pressed a palm gently to her flat, firm belly and blinked hard. "But I simply don't have that option."


"No, I don't suppose you do," Allison said. She reached up to touch her daughter's cheek. "I wish you did, but you don't."


"But, if I have the child tubed, I have to tell Hamish before I make that decision," Honor said. "It's my body, but it's our child. And the longer that I—that we—delay in making our final decision, the harder it's going to get, for both of us."


"That's true." Allison looked at her thoughtfully. "You're thinking about Emily, aren't you?"


"Yes," Honor sighed. "Oh, the political consequences if this were to get out don't bear thinking on. Not right now, not when things are still so up in the air, and when Hamish is First Lord and I'm a designated fleet commander. And especially not after what High Ridge and his cronies tried to do to us. But it's Emily I'm most concerned about."


"From what I've seen of Earl White Haven," Allison said slowly, "and from what I know of you, Honor Harrington, I don't imagine the two of you have been sneaking around behind her back."


"Of course we haven't. Even if we'd wanted to, we'd never have been able to get away with it!" Honor's chuckle carried a slightly bitter edge. "What with my armsmen, the newsies watching every move either one of us make, and the White Haven staff's devotion to Emily, if she hadn't been in on it from the start, we'd've been tripped up the first time we kissed each other."


"Which," her mother observed with a slight, devilish twinkle, "you've obviously done."


"Obviously," Honor agreed repressively.


"In that case, while this may come as a surprise to her, it's a consequence of something she's tacitly approved," Allison pointed out.


"That may be true, but she had every right to expect Hamish and me to be responsible enough not to let something like this happen. She had no reason to anticipate that the fact that he and I are lovers would become public knowledge, which is exactly what will happen if the two of us acknowledge this child. Worse than that, I don't have the least idea how she'll react on a personal emotional level to the fact that Hamish and I are going to have a child."


"Are you sure you're not borrowing trouble, Honor?" her father asked. She looked at him, and he shrugged. "They've been married longer than you've been alive," he pointed out, "and they've never had a child. Did Emily even want children?"


"I haven't really discussed it with her," Honor admitted. "She's a wonderful person, but we're all still feeling our way into this relationship. She's a lot more Beowulfan—" she smiled at her mother "—about this than I am, and she's the one who took the initiative in resolving how Hamish and I felt about one another. But there are still some things we simply haven't discussed, either because we haven't had enough time for it yet, or because we might have felt . . . awkward."


"And does this come under the heading of 'not enough time' or 'I'd feel awkward as hell'?" Allison asked.


"The latter, I'm afraid."


Honor folded her arms once more, and Nimitz shifted his weight on her shoulder as she leaned back, propping herself against the edge of her desk.


"I think Emily probably did want children, at least once," she said slowly. "I think she'd have made a wonderful mother, and I think it would have been incredibly good for her to have a child to invest herself in. And I think she and Hamish fully intended to produce children—and an heir to White Haven—when they married."


"Then why didn't they?" Allison asked, frowning thoughtfully as she listened intently to her daughter. "I'm not asking you to violate any confidences, Honor, but that sounds rather unlikely in a lot of ways. While I realize the nature and extent of her injuries would make a normal pregnancy impossible, they could easily have had a child fertilized in vitro and tubed, or used a surrogate. And they're obviously well provided with staff; finding caregivers couldn't have been a problem."


"I'm not positive, but I think I know," Honor said. "Mind you, this is all speculation on my part, since we've never discussed it."


"So speculate," her father said.


"All right. You know, obviously, that just like me, Emily doesn't regenerate?" She paused, and both of her parents nodded just a bit impatiently for her to continue. "Well, I think she's afraid any child of hers would inherit the same inability."


"What?"


Allison blinked. She looked at her daughter for several seconds, then shook herself.


"That's ridiculous," she said. "Even if it weren't, look at you! God knows I wish you'd been a bit more careful about getting bits and pieces of yourself shot off, but regen or not, you're still fully functional. Are you telling me she's afraid a child of hers would not simply be unable to regenerate but experience the same sort of catastrophic damage she did?"


"I know it sounds irrational," Honor said. "But I think that's what it is. I know, from something Hamish once said, that they were waiting to have children until his schedule was a bit less hectic. He was working himself almost as hard at the time of her accident as he is now, and both of them wanted to be available as full-time parents. So I'm guessing whatever changed their plans is related to what happened to her. I suppose it's possible she felt her injuries would prevent her from being a 'proper mother,' but, as you just said, she has to've known she and Hamish could still have provided the best child care on Manticore. And on the one or two occasions when the subject of regeneration has come up—most people are pretty careful not to discuss it around her—what I've 'tasted' of her emotions strongly suggests she's not as completely rational about what happened to her as most people assume she is from how well she copes with it."


"It's certainly possible," Alfred Harrington said before Allison could respond. His wife and daughter both looked at him. "I've seen a lot of serious neural damage," he said, with massive understatement. "Admittedly, very little of it's been as severe as what happened to Lady Emily. I haven't reviewed her case file, obviously, but the fact that she survived at all is clearly a not so minor medical miracle. And even people with far less severe impairment than she's suffered often experience difficulty adjusting to it. You've done far better in that regard than many do, Honor," he added, gesturing at her artificial arm, "but I strongly suspect that even you have the odd moment when you're less than totally reconciled to what's happened to you."


"I don't know if I'd say I wasn't 'reconciled,' to it," Honor replied after a moment. "I will say there are times I deeply and intensely regret it, though. And times I still experience the 'phantom pain' you warned me I would."


"But you aren't trapped inside a totally nonresponsive body," Alfred pointed out. "Emily is, and she's been that way for over sixty T-years. She's learned to compensate, as much as anyone possibly can, and to get on with her life, but the fact that she's had to accept her impairment doesn't mean it's stopped hurting—especially for someone who was as physically active as she was before the accident. I think the thought of even the remotest possibility of her seeing someone else she loved in the same situation, rational or not, would terrify her. So, if she's managed to fixate on the possibility of her passing her inability to regenerate on to her children, she could, indeed, have simply closed off all consideration of having children in her own mind."


"That's exactly what I think she's done," Honor said. "And if she has, if Hamish and I have a child, I think we may rip her wounds wide open. I don't want to do that to her. In fact, I'll do anything to keep from doing that to her."


"I'm not at all sure you have that choice, Honor," Allison said with a certain implacable gentleness. Honor looked at her, and her mother's expression was an odd blend of serenity and sternness.


"I'm not speaking just as your mother," Allison continue. "I'm also a physician, and not just any physician. I'm a geneticist—a Beowulf geneticist—and Emily Alexander is Hamish Alexander's wife. She may have decided to force the issue of the way you and Hamish feel about one another, and she may have decided to embrace both of you. For that, I respect and honor her. But that doesn't change the fact that she's his wife, and as her husband he has a deep-seated moral obligation to tell her about this, just as you have a deep-seated moral obligation to tell him. You may want to 'spare her,' Honor, but I don't think you have the right to. And even if you tried to, what would happen if she later discovered what you hadn't told her? What would happen to her trust in you—and Hamish?"


Honor stared at Allison, and Nimitz rose on her shoulder, wrapping his tail protectively about her throat. She felt him pressing against her, radiating his support . . . and his agreement with what he read in her mother's emotions. And the hell of it was that Honor could read those emotions herself. And that she knew her mother was right.


"I don't know how to do this," she admitted after a moment.


"I don't either," Allison said, "but I do know how you should start. And so do you." Honor looked at her, and Allison snorted. "Go find Hamish and tell him. I know both of you may have believed your implant would prevent this from happening, but it takes two, and he shares responsibility. Don't you try to take all of this on your shoulders, Honor Harrington. Just this once, spread some of it around where it belongs."


* * *

"Pregnant?"


Hamish stared at Honor. They were in his Admiralty House office, the one place whose security she could be sure of, yet which was neither her Landing mansion nor White Haven. He'd seemed just a bit baffled when she screened him and requested a few minutes of his time on undisclosed "official business," but he'd cleared the last half-hour of his day's schedule for her.


Now she sat stiffly upright, facing him with Nimitz in her arms. Samantha's head had come up, the instant Honor and her mate entered the office; now she leapt from her perch behind Hamish's desk onto the back of his chair and sat upright, bracing herself with a light true-hand on the top of his head.


"Yes," Honor said, watching him closely and tasting his emotions even more intently. "I found out from Dr. Frazier just before lunch. My implant's expiration date was incorrectly entered in my Bassingford records when they reactivated my medical file. Dr. Frazier checked the test results three times." She shook her head. "There's no question, Hamish."


He sat absolutely motionless, radiating shock. But then, like a slow-motion recording of an opening flower, other emotions began to blossom. Surprise. Disbelief, fading quickly into an incredible melange of feelings so intense, so strong, she couldn't even begin to untangle them. His arctic blue eyes glowed, and he rose from his chair and crossed quickly to her. She started to stand, but he dropped to one knee in front of her chair before she could and captured both of her hands in his while the wild, vaulting tide of emotions cascaded through him.


"I never—" He stopped and shook his head. "I never expected, never thought . . ."


"Me either," she said, freeing her organic hand from his and running it across his hair. She blinked misty eyes as an unmistakable strand of joy soared to the top of his swirling emotional tide. But then she made herself sit back.


"I never expected this, Hamish," she said quietly, "but now that it's happened, we have some decisions to make."


"Yes." He stood slowly, then sank into an armchair, facing hers, and nodded. "Yes, we do," he agreed, and although the glowing ribbon of joy remained, she tasted anxiety and sudden concern rising to the surface beside it.


Samantha hopped down from his desk and pattered across the floor. She leapt up into Honor's chair long enough to rub cheeks with Nimitz, then leapt across to sink down in Hamish's lap, and his hands stroked her silken pelt slowly, reflexively. Just, Honor discovered, as her own hands were doing with Nimitz.


"Your command," he said. "Emily."


"And the media," Honor said, and grimaced. "My mother asked me why I couldn't do anything the easy way. I wish I had an answer for her."


"Because you're the Salamander," he said, his mouth twisting wryly. "Although, just between the two of us, I wish you could jump into a few less fires, at least where your personal life is involved."


"Unfortunately, we're in this one together, love."


"Yes, we are." He smiled a bit more whimsically. "I'm tempted to take the coward's way out and tell you that since you're the one who's pregnant, we'll do whatever you think is best. But you didn't get pregnant all by yourself, and it strikes me that a father shouldn't begin his duties by trying to shirk them. By the same token, you have had at least a little bit longer to think about this. So, having said that, do you have a strong feeling for what we ought to do?"


"Well, I'd thought the best place to begin would be to ask you whether or not you wanted to be a father," she said with a smile of her own. "Fortunately, you've already answered that one. So the next step is for us to decide how we tell Emily." Her smile disappeared. "Frankly, I don't have any idea at all how she's likely to react to this news, and I desperately want to avoid hurting her, Hamish. But I think my mother was right. We don't have the moral right to 'protect' her from something like this. Besides," her mouth tightened, "remember what an ungodly mess we made trying to 'protect her' before."


"You're right," he said. "And so is your mother. And I'm not sure how she'll respond, either. I know she wanted children when we married, and I know she changed her mind after the accident. Her mother had something to do with that, I think."


His expression took on a certain bleakness, and Honor tasted a cold, bitter strand of long-held, steely anger.


"Emily's mother didn't take what happened well," he said quietly. "At first, she wanted us to move heaven and earth to save her daughter's life. Later, when she realized how badly Emily had been damaged, and that it was permanent, she changed. I can't really fault her for not reacting well, at least initially. I didn't handle it very well—no, that's not fair; I completely, one hundred percent screwed up—when I finally accepted that I couldn't make her well again.


"But Emily's mother never did get herself back on track. For her, it was a quality-of-life issue, and she actually told me once—not in Emily's hearing, thank God!—that it would have been far kinder of me to simply let her die than to 'heartlessly condemn her to such a horrible life as a pathetic, helpless cripple out of pure selfishness.'"


Honor's jaw clenched. Emily's mother might never have said it where her daughter could hear, but Honor had discovered for herself just how observant Emily was, and how acutely and accurately she read the people around her. There was no way Emily Alexander could have been unaware of her mother's feelings.


"I don't think Emily ever saw herself as a helpless victim," Hamish continued, speaking slowly as he looked for exactly the right words. "I'm not trying to say she was a paragon of total courage, who never felt sorry for herself, never asked 'Why me?' There've been times, I know, when she's had to fight incredible bouts of depression. But she never saw herself as helpless, never saw herself as a mere, passive survivor. She was always her own person, always determined to go right on being her, no matter what happened.


"But I think . . . I think that despite that, a part of her saw herself through her mother's eyes. Or, maybe what she saw wasn't so much her, as some other victim. Someone else in the same condition, without the combination of support team and sheer guts and integrity that got her through it. Someone else who might agree with her mother that a life like hers wasn't worth living."


"You're talking about her children."


"Yes. No." He shrugged. "I don't know that she ever actually thought it out, or that it ever reached that level in her conscious thought. But I know she started shying away from the notion of having children, even after her physicians pointed out to her that there was no reason, given the state of modern medicine, why she couldn't still have them. And I know it started after her mother's attitude became obvious to those about her. And," he frowned, "I know I never pushed her about it. Never tried to work through it with her. I simply went along with what I believed her wishes to be, without examining for myself—or pushing her into examining for herself—whether or not they truly were her wishes."


"Well, I think we're all going to have to find out," Honor said softly.


 


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