"Angus." John MacTavish offered his hand, and after the youngest son of one of his closest friends finished gulping, he quite approved of the young man's grip.
"Sir." Angus took a breath. "Kacey invited me to-"
"That's all right. MacLoughlin and MacTavish have always been partners. You're family. Well, as much as Corlane, at least." He really did approve of Angus, and proved it with a little smile. The young man returned it, even if his eyes were nervous.
"Ardyn!" John made sure to give her a hug before she could get started. "You look lovely. How were you this week?"
"I...I was fine." The blonde blinked. "Uncle John-"
"How did your garden project go? The fae houses?" The Laird MacTavish leaned his cane by the door. "Are they finished?"
"Not...yet," Ardyn admitted. She blinked. "I didn't expect you would be-"
"Ach. MacDougal's not half the negotiator I am. Was in and out in a tick." John glanced to Soap, and he took a quiet breath.
"I believe Brigid was nearly finished with some pie," he finally said. "Isn't that right?"
"Yes, my laird," said the maid. "Shall I be back to it?"
"I'm sure Angus and Ardyn would love to help you sample the finished product," John agreed.
"Of course," Angus said, with an apologetic glance over his shoulder.
"But, Uncle John-"
"Please, Ardyn." John patted her shoulder. "Give an old man a few minutes alone with his daughter, won't you?"
She didn't like it. But Ardyn, for all her youth, was a wise old soul, and she nodded compliantly after only a moment's hesitation.
Brigid left, and Angus and Ardyn followed...and then it was just John and-
"What would you have had me do?" Kacey snapped, glaring his way. "He was dying!"
"Kace-" John quieted as her eyes flashed.
"Don't you Kace me!" The redhead's ponytail should have cracked like a whip, such was the fury with which her pacing set it to swishing. "I know the bloody rules! I knew you'd come home all in a tizzy and you'd read me the riot act for it! So what? I did it anyway! It's done!" She very deliberately leaned down, taking Soap's stick away for another toss, this one without even looking. "Someone in this house loves that dog enough to put her money where her words are, which puts me one up on you and Brigid!"
John waited. He counted off in his head, relying on his impassive diplomat's features to conceal it, until ten seconds of silence had passed.
"Hello, Kacey," he finally said. "I'm back from my trip. Have you been well?"
That shamed her. It registered in the dimming of her eyes and the slowing of her pace, and finally in her little sigh.
"Sorry," Kacey finally mumbled. "I didn't mean to just...spin off at you."
"That's fine." John opened his arms, and with only a little hesitation she drifted into his embrace. He held his only child of body close, breathing in the scent of her. "How have you been, love?"
"I've been..." Kacey had never been one for small talk, and she couldn't follow through. "Dad...I did what I thought was-"
"Come here." John took her hand, and gently he led her to the stone bench. They sat, and Soap wandered up, stick forgotten as he sought affection. Father and daughter spoiled him together, and for a moment, it was quiet.
"He looks well," John finally said. "You did a good job."
"I..." Kacey struggled with that. "I thought you'd be livid."
"I love Soap too. I tried not to think about him all the time I was on the road." John sighed. "Kacey, you should know Brigid was going to-"
"I asked her to! She refused." The redhead growled in the back of her throat. "So I did it myself."
"Brigid was waiting for the right time, when people wouldn't notice Soap's miraculous healing. I'm sure you beat her out by a few hours, or maybe a day. Not long enough to matter."
"He would have suffered for that long," Kacey protested.
"And he would have been fine at the end of it." John took a breath. "Kacey, the rules are the rules for reasons. I don't make them to dampen your life. I make them to keep you-"
"I'm tired of being safe," Kacey growled. "I'm twenty-one: by any count, that's grown enough I shouldn't be answering to daddy's rules."
"Kacey...just breathe." John reached out to brush her hair back. "People are afraid of things that are different. People are afraid of what they don't understand. And there's bad blood between your kinds. Of all people, I know that." His fingers brushed red away, and John's gaze lingered on Kacey's ear.
It was subtle. It was small. If one didn't know what to look for, it would take an act of the gods to see it...but there it was anyway. John knew. Anyone who had ever seen a more full example would see it too: the little abnormality in the shape of Kacey's ears.
The slight points on them.
"This is just like what happened with the racehorse," John finally muttered. "Remember?"
"What was I supposed to do? He had a broken leg. They were going to put him down." Kacey's eyes seared again. "Did you want me to let him die?"
"You can't...Kacey, I'm so proud of how big of a heart you have, but you can't undo every little suffering in this world without-"
"Says you!" She threw herself up, and John fought down the combative instinct to rise with her. True, sitting he was shorter, but he only had an inch or two of advantage at his full height anyway. Kacey seethed. "Just because...because you're a coward-"
"Kacey." John knew his tone and gaze alike sharpened at that, but he was fairly sure he was justified. "The bad blood between humans and drow is not something you can ignore. You are different."
"I'm sorry to be a bloody inconvenience," Kacey snapped.
"You know that's not what I meant," John scolded, and she looked away, ceding the point. "There's nothing wrong with different, Kace, but you have to be careful. There are people who would-"
"Then why am I here?" Kacey demanded. "Why didn't Mum take me back with her when she returned to her people?"
"That's neither here not there." John left it at that. "What matters is you're living with your human family, not your drow one. You're half-and-half, and if people realize that-"
"So that's an evasion?" Kacey threw her hands in the air. "Have you nothing to tell me about her? Twenty-one years and you've never even told me her name-"
"That's not what we're discussing!" John rose now, and tried to look as stern as possible. "Don't change the subject."
"I wouldn't keep trying to if you would just tell me something-"
"Kacey, you cannot just resort to witchcraft to solve your day-to-day problems," John snapped, composure fraying. Perhaps his daughter got her temper from his side after all. "Vod is forbidden in these lands, and that's not even considering what's liable to happen if a wizard bumps into you and figures out you're a half-elven Vod-witch-"
"I was trying to save Soap!" Kacey cried. "That's all! And I did it! So you can lay off me, thanks much!"
"Kacey-" John stopped as she turned for the house. He marshaled himself. "Kacey Susan MacTavish!"
She did halt, but she didn't turn. John counted that as win enough.
"Promise me this won't happen again," he ordered. "Yes. You did it, it's done. Brigid and Corlane and I will do what we need to do to make sure no attention gets drawn down here. But you promise me that you've learned from this, and you'll let us deal with problems like this in the future. You have to keep this side of yourself hidden...so promise me you will."
Silence. The wind whipped over Sapphire Sound and the White Cliffs, up from MacTavish Town laid out not so far away. He waited, a lump in his throat.
Please promise, he urged in his head. Please. Please, Kacey, don't make me-
"I can't lie to you." Those five words tore John in half: half with pride that he'd raised a honest young lady, and half with fear and misery as he confronted what that made inevitable.
"No." She started back for the house at that. "I can't let animals or people suffer. If I have this gift, I have an obligation to use it."
"Kacey..." John trailed off as she left, storming back inside with her mother's fiery tread. He wavered on his feet, throat dry.
Slowly, his eyes turned over Sapphire Sound to MacTavish Town, and John beheld the large stake set in the market square, the base blackened by scorch marks.
He winced when the door slammed behind his daughter.
"Right, then," John whispered, after several solid minutes passed. He sank onto the bench, feeling every one of his years and a few dozen more. Idly, he reached out to pat Soap's head. "I'm sorry, Kacey." He closed his eyes, leaning his head in his free hand. "I hope you'll come to forgive me."