When One Portal Opens...
A humming buzzed in Tony’s ear, vibrating him out of a deep, blissfully dreamless sleep. He pressed a hand over his face, trying not to groan. Much to his relief, Faith was still curled against his side, snoring softly, her hand covering her eyes like a grumpy cat trying to take a nap in a well-lit room. Tony almost smiled but the buzzing grew louder. He sprung out of bed and peered over the rail of his sleeping loft at the thin line of light slashing through the air.
Right in the middle of his Goddamned living room.
Slowly, it peeled open and Tony’s stomach dropped, his fingers tightening on the railing. “Shit,” he hissed through his teeth.
His curse made Faith sit up with a snort. “What? What is it? You said something.” Her hand rested on her rounding belly as she blinked away her grogginess.
Tony turned towards her, stretching his arms across the railing to block her view. “Nothing,” he said out of reflex.
Faith arched a brow. “Yeah, you don’t randomly say “shit” in the middle of the night. What’s wrong?”
Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. Two years with Faith Conway made one thing absolutely clear: hiding things from her was foolish. “There’s a portal downstairs,” he reluctantly admitted.
“What?!” Tony shushed her and she blushed, lowering her voice to a whisper. “How is there a portal in the living room? We’re warded against all that!”
Tony reached for his wand on the nightstand. “This isn’t mage magic. This is something else. I’ll go-”
“Oh no,” Faith scooted across the mattress on her backside. It squeaked and groaned as she grabbed his wrist. “No, no, no.”
“No no no, what?” Tony lifted his dark brows, feigning innocence in the face of his wife’s scowling disapproval.
“I know what you’re thinking and I’m telling you no.” Faith gave his bare chest a hard poke as if driving home her point.
Tony rolled his eyes. “And pray tell, what am I thinking?”
“You’re going to go down there and investigate like you’re some superhero crime-fighter or something.”
“We established some time ago that I’m no hero.”
“Semantics!” Faith snapped. She blew a raspberry at him and he chuckled. “Well, you’re not going without backup,” Faith added.
His amusement disappeared. “Faith, you are not going to back me up in your condition.”
“Then I’ll stay up here and shoot shit!”
Tony was about to retort, then peeked back over the railing. The portal was wide open, its edges glimmering with golden sparks, but no one charged though, slinging magic in the middle of his loft. There were only some soft whispers followed by… giggling? Tony pursed his lips as faint, feminine voices snickered and murmured. He couldn’t make out any words, but they didn’t sound threatening.
“Unless dark mages giggle now, I think we’re fine,” Tony said.
Faith managed to waddle out of bed, teetering as her huge belly weighed down her tiny frame. The tittering grew louder and Faith craned her neck to look over Tony’s shoulder.
“Did you just summon two teenage girls? Because I don’t think I’m cool with that,” she said.
“What?” he turned on his heels, leaning over to stare.
Tony’s students were known to play their harmless pranks, but none of them were advanced enough to break into his loft; hell, none of them knew where he even lived. The school he and Faith created was a good distance away due to Tony’s constant paranoia that someone was still hunting him.
Two young women stumbled through the portal, shushing each other with drunken finger waving. One was ethereal; fair, perfect skin, white-blonde hair down to her waist and icy blue eyes. She was dressed in a gossamer gown of the palest green, a circlet of golden thorns haloing her brow. When she tossed her hair back, Tony spotted pointed ear tips. A fae. Tony had never made a deal with the fae, so what the hell was one doing in his home? It hit him when he laid eyes on her companion.
“Phoebe?” Tony groaned. “Oh for fuck’s sake.”
The third Constance sister had snuck into his domain. While Valerie and Adelle had vowed to leave him alone, Phoebe had not, what with being abducted by the crazed Dryad king at the time. Tony had vanished after she was rescued, not wanting to stick around to see if she’d “consent” like her sisters had. Being surrounded by surly werewolves tended to make a mage nervous, especially if they had already threatened to rip his arms off.
Faith’s eyes went wide. “Wait, is that-” She was silenced by Tony’s quick peck on the mouth.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
“Are you trying to distract me?”
“No. But I do want you to stay up here.” He pressed a finger over her lips. “Please. She probably isn’t dangerous but why take the chance?”
“Because I don’t want you to die, duh.”
Tony pressed a hand over her belly, feeling the baby inside shift beneath his fingertips. His heart swelled as he cupped the back of her neck, pressing his forehead to hers. “I’ll be fine. It’s the two of you I’m worried about.” There was a symphony of girlish laughter down below and he sighed. “But I believe my worry is misplaced.”
Faith nodded, a little smile brushing her wide mouth. “I’m blasting if I get a bad feeling.”
Tony tweaked her nose. “Just be gentle on the walls, this time?” He gave her a wink then went down the stairs.
Tony charged, the tip of his wand glowing a bright blue as the two stumbled into silence. They gaped as he pointed his weapon at them.
“Phoebe Gwendolyn Constance! What the hell?!” he shouted.
Phoebe put up her hands, teetering on her feet. There was a drunken haze clouding her bright blue eyes as she suddenly bolted forward, arms spread, shouting, “Tony! You goober!” Before he could dodge, he was caught in her embrace and squeezed until breathing was difficult.
Tony froze, staring down at the tiny half Dryad. Panic’s icy grip took its hold and suddenly, he had no idea what to do. Should he hug her? Push her away? Wait for her to finally tear off his genitals like she had threatened to so many times in the past? The strong smell of tequila wafted from her stuttering hiccups. That gave him some explanation for her sudden affection.
“You smell like a dive bar,” Tony said.
“That’s appropriate! We were just in a dive bar!” Phoebe snorted then finally released him, taking a step back to give him a once over. Then she doubled over, grabbing her belly, her laughter echoing off the high ceiling. “Your pajama bottoms have ducks on them!” She stumbled back into her companion, grabbing a hold of the fae’s long sleeve for balance. It didn’t work and she fell flat on her ass. “Oh my God! Duckie pants!”
Tony rubbed his temples. Confronting a former enemy and he had to be wearing the pants Faith had made for him. At least, when Faith had decided to experiment with sewing she had chosen mallards and not the bright yellow rubber ducks she had originally wanted.
“They were a gift,” Tony said.
“When you sit, do they quack?” Phoebe asked.
“Yes, sister. The waterfowl breeches are quite amusing,” the fae slurred. “And is the room actually spinning or is it a trick of the drink?”
“Oh my God!” Phoebe squealed. “That’s a Harry Potter wand! I thought mages hated Harry Potter! You’re wearing ducks and being a geek! This is the best night ever!”
The fae tried to pull Phoebe back to her feet. She failed and tumbled right on top of her, the two a pile of giggling body parts on the hardwood floor.
Above him, he heard Faith snicker. He shot a glare towards the bed loft, finding her leaning over the railing, mouth covered and eyes watering with mirth.
“Really? You too?” he asked.
“They are so wasted!” Faith replied through her fingers. Tony rolled his eyes, knowing he wasn’t going to get any moral support from his wife. He pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Whoever said that was right! We are wasted!” Phoebe shoved aside the fae’s flailing legs and stumbled to her feet, yanking her companion up beside her. “Oh, hey! You haven’t met Ashryn, yet! This is my half-sister. She’s queen of the Dryad.”
Tony slapped his forehead. “You brought fae royalty into my living room!”
Phoebe nodded. “And this is her first time drinking alcohol!”
Ashryn turned her delicate face into the crook of her elbow and let out a not so delicate belch. Then she gave Tony a thumbs up.
Tony tried to tune out Faith’s giggles from overhead. “What do you want, Phoebe? I already fulfilled your vow years ago.”
“No favors! I just wanted to, you know, talk, clear the air, tell you I’m getting married. That sort of thing.” She jerked forward to catch Ashryn before she face-planted on the floor.
Ashryn turned green, her cheeks puffing out as she pressed her hand over her mouth; the universal signal for “I’m going to puke all over your shoes.” Tony sighed while waving his hand and a bowl sailed off the kitchen counter, into his waiting grip. He offered it to her. “Both of you. On the couch. Now.” He ushered them along, making sure Ashryn’s face remained planted in the bowl.
Phoebe shook her head. “Ash is a lightweight,” she whispered far too loudly for it to be secret.
“No joke.” Tony paced in front of the two drunkards, eyeing them. Despite all the vows made he still suspected revenge from the Constance sisters. Phoebe was always the least reluctant to spill his blood, but she did talk a big game. “So you’re marrying the werewolf?”
“Yup!” Phoebe clapped her hands like a child. “In two days! Tonight is the bachelorette party. We left Valerie and Adelle behind at the bar ‘cause you know, they would get super uptight about me contacting you.” She flapped her hands in the air. “They still totally hate you, whereas I have weird mixed feelings.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you broke into my home.”
“You say that as if it was hard to do. Ashryn can stick a portal anywhere. Okay, yeah, so that makes things a little… adventurous when she’s drunk but…” Phoebe trailed off, her brows furrowing as she attempted to focus her gaze over Tony’s shoulder. “Who’s she?”
Tony turned to see Faith waddling up behind him, one hand resting on her belly, the other kneading her lower back. Her generous mouth was turned up into a radiant crescent as she gave a little wiggle of her fingers. Tony wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against his side, shoulders squared, hand squeezing his wand tight. Now that Faith was in spitting distance, every one of his hackles was on high alert. Yet the shock on Phoebe’s face was almost laughable. Almost. She was still dangerous, albeit adorable. That was always her greatest weapon against him, her cuteness. It either made him want to wretch or give in to her every baby sisterly whim.
“This is Faith, my… my wife,” Tony said. When Phoebe’s jaw hit the floor, he smirked. “Yes, you heard me right.”
“Married?!” Phoebe rubbed her eyes then squinted at Faith.
“Yes,” Tony sighed.
“You got married?!”
“A year ago, yes.”
“And she hasn’t killed you yet?”
Faith laughed. “Trust me, there have been days.” When Tony gave her a lemon-soaked frown, she only batted her eyes at him.
Phoebe’s lips moved as if trying to form the proper words. She clutched her hair, her gaze flip-flopping from Tony to Faith then back to Tony. “Was she always pregnant or is that yours?”
“Oh, I was pregnant when we met.” Faith said, her expression serious. “It’s been two years now. I’m like a giraffe.”
Phoebe snorted. “I’m not that drunk, okay?”
“Phoebe,” Tony interrupted. “Why are you here?”
Phoebe gave him a big, toothy smile. “Family reunion?”
“Not a good enough reason,” Tony said.
“Because I’m impish?”
Phoebe blew some of her hair from her eyes then flopped back against the couch. “I know that what happened with Mom was an accident and I wanted to talk to you about it, okay?”
Tony’s arm slipped from Faith’s waist, his wand falling from his fingers and to the floor with a clatter. His stomach dropped to his knees as the room began to spin, his sister the eye of the vortex. Faith pressed her hand against his shoulder before he could stagger backward.
“Don’t fall over,” she murmured. “This is a good thing.”
“Just… unexpected.” Tony rasped.
Phoebe started to squirm under his heavy gaze, twirling her fingers in her hair. She looked to Ashryn, presumably for backup, but the fae was bent in two, her face resting in the bowl on her lap.
Tony shut his eyes, willing the room to stop spinning. Phoebe wanted to talk about Cybil. All this time she had believed he had murdered their mother and yet here she was, wanting to talk, maybe even….forgive? He bit back his groan. This was definitely something that was going to come up at his next therapy appointment. His hands went numb and suddenly, he wanted to throw up. Instead, Ashryn retched into her bowl.
Well, better her than me.
“This is not very becoming for my station,” Ashryn moaned, her voice hollow against the ceramic.
Tony pinched his brow. “Faith, could you please take her highness into the bathroom to clean up?”
Faith clasped her hands under her chin. “You always give me the best jobs! I love you soooooo much!” She planted a noisy kiss on his cheek.
Tony took a gentle hold of her arm leaning in to whisper in her ear. “I just need a moment. I’ll make this up to you. I promise.”
“I know.” Faith tweaked his nose. “Have your talk. You need this.” She penguin walked to the couch and offered Ashryn a hand. “By the way, Jerkface, if I puke from the smell of puke, you’ll have double puke to clean up. Puke-ception. Just letting you know.”
Tony sighed. “Understood.” He watched as Faith ushered Ashryn into the bathroom, then she smiled, giving him a reassuring wink. The door shut behind them with a soft click.
“I cannot believe you are having a baby,” Phoebe said. She pressed her face into her hands. “Wow, that sobered me up quick.”
“We’re having a boy,” Tony said. He rubbed the back of his neck, his weight shifting from one bare foot to the other. “Already eight months along.”
“Holy crap! You’re going to be a dad that soon?!” Phoebe leaped to her feet. “I’m going to be an auntie again!? Super cool!”
Tony rubbed his temples. At least she was talking about being an aunt and not about removing his testicles with her Dryad powers. Either he was having a stroke, or something was on the horizon. Whether that something was good or bad was up for debate.
Definitely one for the therapist visit.
“Of all people to start breeding.” Phoebe shook her head. “Tony Harris-”
“Conway,” Tony corrected. His cheeks heated and he quickly bent down to pick up his wand, hiding his blush. “It’s Tony Conway, now.”
Once again, Phoebe’s slack-jawed expression teased a chuckle from behind his clenched lips. “Get the hell out!” she exclaimed. “You changed your last name, too?! Is it hers?!” She pressed her hands against her cheeks and sang, “Oh my God that sooooo sweeeet!”
“About your visit…” Tony began, dying to change the subject.
“Oh yeah.” She slapped her hands on her knees. “So I’m getting married.”
Tony nodded. “To the puppy.”
Phoebe gave him a frown. “Don’t be a dick.”
“Old habits die hard.”
“You are only being a dick to defend yourself because you think I’m here to ruin your day. Well, I’m not. Seriously. I wanted to talk to you since I found out you helped Harry’s pack when I was stuck in the Dryad realm.”
“Don’t get romantic. I did what I did because I wanted to keep my skin on my bones and protect Faith.”
All right, that was mostly a lie. Maybe, just maybe, there was some sentimentality involved in his heroics that day. Maybe he had wanted to do something right by his estranged sisters. Tony put on his best glamour of indifference, anything to hide the red-hot tangle of emotion swelling in his chest. But Phoebe’s sly grin said that glamour was flickering at best.
“Uh huh. Look, I’ll get out of here as soon as Ash is done hurling, but here’s the deal.” She wiggled her feet as she searched for her words. “I talked to Mom recently.” Phoebe paused, then added. “She comes to me in dreams sometimes. It sounds weird, I know but-”
“She comes to me, too,” Tony said.
“I mean it’s not all the time but usually when I’m having conflicting thoughts. Like now. Or, then, actually. Because I made my decision….” Phoebe’s babbling faltered, her brows shooting straight up. “You…too?”
Tony rocked on his heels, her shock easing his own. At least the tables were turned, even if for a moment. “Only on occasion,” he said.
Phoebe chewed on her lower lip for a silent second. “Oh…well… There’s that.”
“I was one of hers too, Phoebe. In case you forgot.”
“I didn’t. I just assumed you two weren’t talking.”
“She’s forgiven me.” Tony let out a long breath as a rush of cool filled his veins. Even after two years of living with Cybil’s clemency, it still filled him with a relief that made his heart full. He lifted his chin a bit higher, ready for a battle of words, ready for Phoebe to tell him he was a liar.
“Oh… cool,” she said.
Tony scrubbed his jaw. There would be no sparring match tonight. He rubbed his chest, shocked by the ache he felt. It was a strange emptiness he thought he had filled after he had found Faith and her family. With two hesitant steps, he was sitting on the couch beside her, stiff-backed and hands balled on top of his thighs.
“Look, I’m not over what happened,” Phoebe said. “But I’m the only one willing. Well, after five gin and tonics I’m more willing.”
“Willing to what?” Tony asked.
“Open a dialogue.” Phoebe swallowed, the haze of booze fading from her deep, blue eyes. “I was the last one to find out how Mom died. For years, I was told it was a car accident until I manifested my powers. Then Val finally told me what happened.” She slumped, hissing out a breath between clenched teeth. “I never really understood why you vanished from our lives until Valerie came clean. God, I hated you. Even when I summoned you to help Harry, I wanted to tear your damn head off.”
Phoebe tucked a few of her gold and pink locks behind an ear. It was pointed now, a sign of her fae blood. It suited her and only added to the adorable factor that was now working its magic on Tony’s stone walls. Dear God, they were crumbling fast.
“But then the Donnellys said that without you, they never would have survived battling the Dryad. And then I started wondering if maybe my hate was misplaced.” She finally looked at him, her eyes wet and shimmering. “So, a few weeks later, I went to Mom and asked her for advice.”
Tony’s mouth trembled, aching to spill outcries of “It was an accident!” or “I would have told you if I thought you’d believe me!”. His shoulders knotted, the lump in his throat choking him. “What… what did she tell you?” he asked instead.
“She said what you did was an accident. And I believe her. She told me it was my choice to either block you from my life or try to mend fences. Either way, she’d support me. So, here I am.”
Tony cleared his throat. He raked his fingers through his already tousled hair. “We’re at a truce then?”
Phoebe nodded. “I guess, yeah.” She seemed unfazed by his bewilderment and continued. “Here’s the thing: I miss having a big brother. More than I thought I would. Honestly, I’m still edgy about this, even after talking to Mom.” She gazed up at him, tears brimming over her thick lashes. “But I… I miss you.”
“Miss me?” Tony whispered
“Val and Del were always there for me, yeah but you… you actually listened. You always… you always knew what it felt like to be overlooked and you always used to try and make it better. Well, in your weird, arrogant mage way you did.”
Tony swallowed down the huge boulder that settled in his throat. She missed him. How could any of the Constance sisters miss him? More so, how did he just now realize how much he missed his baby sister in return? Phoebe, with her big, blue eyes and cheerful laughter. The girl who would throw her arms around his neck and squeeze until he could barely breathe. His sister who had always told him, “I love you, you big goober!” even during the worst of his moods.
That emptiness in his heart returned, reminding him of exactly what used to sit in the void. He coughed into his fist, willing away the sorrow that was about to swallow him like a tsunami. “This isn’t how I thought this evening would go,” he said.
“That’s all you’re going to say?” Phoebe asked.
“That and don’t punch me.”
“Look, if you want to disappear into the sunset, I understand, but…” Her fingers played in the pink ends of her hair. “If you want to come to my wedding, you totally can.”
He almost fell right off the couch. “Definitely not what I expected,” he said, his voice a rasping mess.
“And I’m sure I’d be assassinated if I showed up.”
“More than likely. I have a lot of angry in-laws now.”
“No doubt.” Tony fell into a long silence, rolling her offer around his brain. After releasing a breath, he nodded, his decision a painful one. “It’s probably for the best that I don’t go. I don’t want to make waves.” Finally, he met her gaze, his own softening as Phoebe gave him a tender smile. “But your offer hasn’t gone unappreciated.” He bit the inside of his cheek, turning away from her.
Phoebe pressed a hand over his. “Thanks for hearing me out.”
“And thank you for not cutting off my dick.”
The snort that left the bathroom made Tony’s head snap up. Through the cracked door, he saw Faith peering out at the scene. The abrupt sound of Ashryn retching into the toilet made her turn green. The door shut quickly.
“Okay, I better collect my drunk half-sister and head out.” Phoebe stood, dusting off her jeans, looking everywhere but him. “God, she is such a light weight!”
“Fae don’t handle hard alcohol from this realm well,” Tony said.
Phoebe blinked, her cheeks turning bright red. “Oh, shit. No wonder she was flying after half a cocktail.”
She hop-stepped towards the bathroom but Tony held up a hand. “Wait.”
Phoebe paused, tucking her hands behind her back. Her expectant look froze him to the couch and he was transported back decades ago to when he was just a gawky teen and she a roly-poly little girl, waiting on the porch for him to come and visit. When Phoebe smiled, he shoved himself to his feet and swooped her up into a bear hug, his chin resting on her head. He closed his eyes, damning the moisture that threatened to leak down his cheeks. Soon, Phoebe’s arms were tight around his waist, her tiny sniffles making it harder and harder to keep his composure.
“Thank you for this,” he whispered. “Thank you. So much.”
“Sure,” Phoebe half giggled, half whimpered.
The sound of two people puking rumbled from behind the bathroom door. Tony pulled away from Phoebe’s embrace to rub the space between his eyes.
“I think your wife finally lost her cookies,” Phoebe said.
“No doubt,” Tony sighed.
It was like herding cats, but eventually, they managed to get Ashryn and Faith out of the bathroom. Faith, who was looking rather green around the gills, opted to sit on the couch with her head as close to between her knees as she could get while Tony said his goodbyes in front of the shimmering portal.
“So, there’s no way I can convince you to come to the wedding?” Phoebe asked.
“I’d rather live,” Tony said. He tucked his hands behind his back. “But I’ll grant you another magical favor as a wedding gift. I won’t even whine about it this time.”
Phoebe smiled at him. “I’d rather have a blender.”
“Too bad. This is worth more.”
Phoebe sighed over dramatically “I suppoooooose,” she said, then kicked at the floor. “Thanks. I’m…I’m glad we did this.”
Tony nodded, raking his hands through his hair. “Me too.”
There was a loud thump behind them. Ashryn had fallen face first through the portal. Phoebe winced. “Oh yeah, I better go.”
She quickly hopped through the portal and it sealed behind her until nothing but a tiny pinpoint of light remained. Tony let out a long breath, rubbing his chest. He staggered to the couch, plopping down beside Faith, his spine tingling and his lower lip trembling. He groped across the cushions until his fingers curled around Faith’s hand. The gentle squeeze she gave him made his heart start beating again.
“See, told you it was going to be a good thing.” Faith said. She groaned as she sat back up, the color returning to her cheeks.
“Yeah…” Tony stared at the spot the portal once was. A smile tugged at his lips as he nodded. “It was a very good thing.”