This is for the prompt of "Pregnant". I surprised myself by ending up with a story inspired by one of the ideas I had for the "Eternal" prompt, but this is vastly different than that one would have been. I hope you enjoy it.
I'm also three for three with bleeding young men, which possibly means something. I'm not sure what.
Kathan stopped moaning abruptly and lifted her head. "Taryn," she said, looking perplexed. "Do you hear screaming?"
Taryn lifted his mouth from her left breast, absently running his palm up the soft, curving expanse of her belly as he moved. She shuddered, but didn't relax.
"Seriously," she said, and he could see the white of her eyes glinting as she blinked in the low light. "I really hear screaming." She shifted so that she could look at him more easily, forcing Taryn to move away from her before she knocked him off the narrow bed. "You can't hear anything?"
Taryn suppressed a sigh. "Kathi…."
"Don't 'Kathi' me!" Kathan lifted her hips, thrusting herself backwards awkwardly so that she could sit against the wall. Her breasts, each as big as greenhouse melons, bobbed enticingly until she crossed her arms in front of them, pressing them to her chest. It looked uncomfortable. Her belly was so big it made her seem almost alien--something exotic and unearthly, as frightening as she was beautiful. "It's not hormones. I tell you, someone's screaming and I can hear him!"
"Him?" Taryn asked, blinking himself now. He tore his eyes away from her body and forced himself to look at her face; she got upset if she thought he wasn't paying attention to her.
But the 'him' got him to concentrate, finally, and he realized that he could hear it too. It had been so faint he'd dismissed it as noise from the air scrubbers, but the sound was organic. And it was coming from his transrec, which was normally secured to his ear, except that Kathan had yanked it out and replaced it with her tongue. He didn't remember her dropping it on the floor, but he'd been distracted.
Grimacing, Taryn groped for it over the side of the bed, finally managing to scrabble it off the floor. He twisted it in his fingers, finding the correct orientation by memory in the semi-darkness, then pressed it back into his ear. He winced when the screaming was instantly amplified until it felt like his right eardrum might snap.
"Doctor Roncen! Doctor Roncen! Please respond!" That was Jak Saaven; Taryn recognized his voice. It was hard to hear him with the screaming in the background, but it sounded like Jak had been trying to contact him for some time.
"I'm here, Jak," Taryn said. He glanced guiltily at Kathan. "What's wrong? Is that the b--Is that the one you just processed?" he asked, because Kathan was listening.
"Yes, sir," Jak answered, and Taryn could imagine Jak nodding his head in that frantic, bobbing way he had when he was stressed. "He started about five minutes ago and won't stop. Leung wants to kip him, but we need you here for that."
"Do you know what's wrong?" Taryn asked. He was already out of bed, yanking on his underwear. He looked at Kathan again, but it was too dark to read her expression. He mouthed I'm sorry, at her, but he couldn't tell if she'd seen him. She had her hand on her belly, where his had just been.
No, sir," Jak said. In the background, the screaming went on and on, and Taryn was sure Jak had his hands pressed tightly to his ears. "It's not like we can ask him."
"Right." Taryn nodded grimly and yanked his boots on over his bare feet, sealed them closed with a fast press of his fingers. "I'm on my way." He could be there in four minutes, provided the elevators in the complex weren't late, or broken.
"That's great, sir," Jak said, his voice heavy with relief. "I'll send Nolan to meet you."
"Roncen out," Tayrn said. He looked at Kathan. "I'm really sorry."
Kathan just nodded. Her smile was a dark curve on her shadowed face. "Be safe," she said.
"Thank you for coming, Doctor Roncen," Zara Nolan said. Zara only ever called him 'Doctor Roncen', as if not even 'sir' was formal enough. She started walking quickly, obviously expecting him to follow her. She looked anxious and miserable.
The screaming was even louder, now that he was only two barriers away from the cells: a terrible, disjointed stereo coming through his transrec and his naked ear. Jak and Leung had to be deaf by now. Taryn was privately amazed they hadn't kipped the prisoner anyway, whether Taryn was present or not. He tapped his transrec off.
Taryn had his own security clearance, but he waited patiently while the doorbot read Zara's eyes and voice print and the reinforced door swung ponderously open. Three meters later Zara had to do the whole routine again, and Taryn thought of Kathan and pointedly didn't look at the automated machine guns set into the ceiling, aimed so that nothing in the small space could possibly survive.
The prisoner was housed in the special wing reserved for the most lethal criminals, though right now that was because this part of the prison was empty. Jak and Leung were both standing in front of the door to the prisoner's cell, looking anxiously through the bars. Jak saw Taryn and Zara come up and he swung around, his expression tight and unhappy. Leung moved when Jak did. He was holding a large tranquilizer gun in both hands.
"Thank God," Leung said, loudly. "I think my ears are bleeding." His hands twitched around the gun, as if he couldn't wait to use it.
Taryn nodded to them both, going right to the door of the cell. Leung and Jak instantly moved aside so he could look in.
The prisoner was kneeling in the center of his cell, his legs far apart. His head was hanging, and Taryn could see how badly he was shaking, how much effort it cost him to pull enough air into his lungs. He'd used his claws to slice deep grooves into his arms, his chest and his naked stomach, probably as a way to distract himself from the pain. It was obvious he was in agony.
His wings were spread to the fullest extent he could manage in the tiny cell, which obviously wasn't their full span. They were dingy grey and shaking violently, like muscles held in one position for too long. Like he'd been trying to stretch them for days, and couldn't.
Taryn knew the prisoner couldn't speak, and had barely made a noise since being processed. He wondered how long the man had endured before the pain had overwhelmed him.
"Should I kip him?" Leung asked. He lifted the gun.
Taryn stepped back, nodding. "Yes," he said. "Then get him out of there."
All three of the guards blinked like Taryn had slapped them.
"Are you kidding?" Leung burst out. He never used formalities at all. "What if he wakes up?"
"Look at him," Taryn snapped. "He'll die if you leave him in there! Is that what you want?"
Leung muttered something, low and angry, but he finally slid the muzzle of the gun through the space between the bars. Taryn watched him aim it, and he heard the surprisingly quiet noise when it fired, but Leung was in the way so he couldn't see it hit.
"Gotcha," Leung said, triumph in his voice. In the cell, the screaming finally stopped.
"Thank God," Zara said, fervent as a prayer.
It was Jak who went to the door, fumbling his key ring until he found the right one. They were strictly low-tech in this part of the prison, in case any of the prisoners here got a hold of the guards. He swung the door open wide, keeping it between himself and the man in the cell. Taryn saw that but didn't call him on it--he was scared as well, and only mostly certain they wouldn't be hurt. But it was his job to look after the health of the prisoners here, and he wouldn't ignore any of them.
Taryn glanced back at Zara before he ducked into the cell. "Come with me," he said, expecting her to follow. Zara was the smallest of all of them, which meant they'd have more room.
The prisoner had slumped backwards as he lost consciousness, but his spread wings were holding him upright, so that he looked like a scarecrow on a scaffold, or a corpse trapped in barbed wire. His sharp, inhuman face was wide open with pain, wet with sweat and tears and snot. There was a thick line of drool running down his chin, a small puddle of reeking vomit between his knees. His half-open eyes were too round, like circles, and too large for his face--bird eyes. They were blue as they skies denied to him. His arms and torso were glistening wetly with his sweat and blood, lined with deep, red cuts.
The birdman's head had been shaved when he was processed, and now it was too short to know what color it had been. Taryn guessed blond.
A lot of parents wanted blond children.
The birdman's hands and feet were two digits short. Claws instead of nails, thick and curved, streaked with red. He'd torn a young man's throat out with those claws--a young, unaltered man, according to the official report and the news clips. The public defender had insisted it was self-defense. The prisoner, of course, hadn't said anything at all.
Zara was standing in the doorway, awkward with fear. "What do you want me to do?" she asked. Leung and Jak were hovering behind her. Leung had his tranq gun up again.
"Put the gun down before you shoot one of us," Taryn said. "Help me with his wings," he explained to Zara. "We have to fold them."
Zara's eyes went almost as round as the birdman's, but they were brown, small, natural. Taryn didn't feel like shuddering when he looked at them. And she had brown hair and brown skin like he did, and Kathan, and almost everyone he knew.
She nodded jerkily and walked the rest of the way into the cell, moving with almost ridiculous care. She kept her eyes on the birdman the whole time.
"Okay," Taryn said when she was close enough. "Watch what I'm doing."
He put his hands gently on the prisoner's wings, waited until Zara had taken a deep breath and was doing the same. The feathers under his hands were scraggly, grey more from dirt than actual pigmentation. Taryn was sure they were meant to be bright, unblemished white; he wondered if the grey had disappointed anyone. They were flecked with the blood the man had torn out of his own body.
They were surprisingly soft. The long, thin bones felt terribly vulnerable, under Taryn's large, long-fingered hands. The muscles were still shaking: minute trembles that reminded him uncomfortably of something dying.
"Gently," Taryn said. "One part at a time--follow the direction the joint wants to fold. Don't force it." He started bending the part of the wing that coincided with a human elbow, relieved and grateful when he didn't have to force it to move.
"That's it," Taryn said quietly. He finished folding the wing as best he could in the limited space, then watched as Zara finished on her side, moving much more slowly.
"Great," he said once Zara had her hands wrapped awkwardly around a bent wing. "Jak," he called, "help us get him into the corridor."
"I'm sorry," Taryn said softly. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"S'okay," Kathan said sleepily. She was lying on her side, her eyes luminescent with the light shining in from the corridor. Her belly took up more than half the bed. "I'm glad you're back. What happened? Why was that poor man screaming?"
Taryn took a breath and sat down beside her, his back resting against hers. He reached behind him and put his hand on her hip.
"Don't," she protested, squirming feebly. "I'm fat."
"You're beautiful," he said automatically, meaning it.
"And you're a liar," she said, though he could hear the smile in her voice. "Tell me what happened."
Taryn opened his mouth, hesitated. He licked his lips. "It doesn't matter," he said. "He was in a lot of pain, and I gave him analgesics and muscle relaxants, and he got moved to a bigger cell, and he'll be just fine." The last part wasn't true--the birdman would probably be put down, unless there was a public outcry about it--but Kathan didn't need to know that part. It was doubtful that the birdman knew it himself. Just as well, Taryn thought.
"That's good," Kathan said, sounding sleepy again. She put her hand over Taryn's on her hip. "Go get changed and come to bed."
"I'm going to," Taryn said, but he didn't get up.
"Kathi," he said carefully, "do you think we did the right thing, having the child altered?"
He felt Kathan go still. "Of course we did. He'll be beautiful. Why?"
She rolled onto her back when he didn't answer. Taryn could feel her belly against his back, was keenly aware of the child inside her, almost ready to be born. "Why, Taryn?" Kathan asked. "What's wrong?"
"What if…he's not beautiful?" Taryn asked her. "What if it doesn't work right? What if he's disabled somehow?"
He turned enough so that he could see her. Kathan had her arms over her belly, as if she was protecting the baby. Maybe from what he'd just said; maybe from him.
"We'll keep him anyway, right?" he asked, very quietly. "I mean, we won't abandon him?"
"Of course not!" Kathan said, voice sharp. "What's gotten in to you? That's horrible!" She began rubbing the skin over abdomen, as if their son needed soothing. "All the scans showed the alterations have taken perfectly, anyway." She picked up his hand and put it on her abdomen. He could feel the solid plain of his son's back. "He's going to be exactly what we wanted."
"Sure," Taryn said, putting a smile into his voice. He patted Kathan's belly, then stood. "I'm going to take a shower."
Kathan was asleep when he returned, lying on her side again, sleek as a well-fed cat. And their son, sleeping inside her, who was going to be beautiful.
Taryn lay next to Kathan and put his arm around her, around their child, and stayed there, awake in the darkness, for a very long time.