Valeria enters the Victorian Rose Society and Gardens, her expression faraway. After a few minutes, Jenner walks in slowly. Noticing him, she whirls, eyes lighting up. "Jenner...?"
"Aye, Little Raven," Jenner says tenderly. "Come here and let me hold you for a moment."
Holding back the tears, she flings herself into his arms. "I have so much to tell you..." Her throat closes as she is overcome by emotion.
"Hush now, little one," Jenner murmurs, holding her tightly. He enjoys the moment for a little while, then says softly, "I received your letter."
"And I, yours..." says Val. She swallows before continuing. "You're going to leave me?"
Jenner's tone is hushed. "I don't want to, Val, but it looks as though my time is running short. The weight of my years is finally catching up with me, and the Dreaming beckons me to dance one last time."
Val takes his hand in hers. "Before you go, I want to tell you something..."
"What is it that you want to tell me?" Jenner asks. "Go on, Little Raven..."
She places his hand on her abdomen, looking up at him with shining eyes. "Alan and I..." She smiles beatifically.
Jenner looks away, and Val gives him a stricken look. "What's wrong?" Her voice is very small.
"How long have you known?" Jenner asks after a long pause.
"I was only sure of it just before I came back to Ashland," Val says softly, smiling at the memory. "I think it must have been Midsummer..."
"I'm sorry, Val," Jenner says quietly. "It's just... his bloodline. You know how I feel about satyrs."
"It's okay..." Val whispers.
"Do you love him?" Jenner asks, his tone serious. "Does he love you?"
She is uncertain of risking Jenner's disapproval, but must say it anyway. "Yes...more than anything. And he loves me." She fixes Jenner with a questioning gaze. "You told me once that love is too precious to be wasted...even said you'd go into the Dreaming itself to look for him---was that a lie?"
Jenner's expression is unreadable. "Val, you have much to learn of me...As I stand so close to the edge of oblivion, I've finally gotten clarity." Then, his expression becomes deeply hurt. "And I'd never lie to you." He touches her hair softly. "...And if you feel this love so strongly, then it must be true." He is trembling now. "Val, do you find it odd that, despite my kith, I still reap Gwydion's boon and suffer his frailty?"
"And what about these?" asks Jenner, pulling his sleeves back to reveal Ailil's sigil.
"You told me about those before..." says Val, puzzled.
"Oh, Val... I've been Dreaming for so long," Jenner says, anguished. Then his tone becomes distant. "Have I ever told you about Elisabeth?"
Val gulps, and shudders involuntarily. "No...why are you telling me this?"
Jenner struggles for the words. "I need to share this story with someone before I..." he sighs. "Before Jenner Rain-Water's time is up."
Val gets herself under control and nods. "Okay."
"Elisabeth..." says Jenner softly, his expression far away as he remembers. "She was my first love in this life....I loved her even before my Saining..."
"Who is...or was..Elisabeth?" Val asks, frowning.
"Elisabeth is just a girl with a fickle heart." says Jenner. "She made me dream for the first time. I loved her with all my soul...Yes, she taught me to love."
"And...?" asks Val.
"We grew apart, as humans often do," Jenner responds. Then he sighs, "My mind is divided. My faerie mien and human seeming grow apart. Yet we are united by memories of this girl." His voice drops as he remembers. "Hers was the first 'I love you,' that I dared to believe in. My soul was in her smile. It was perfect, for a while...."
Val starts shaking. "Mother Goddess, is it...?"
Jenner looks quizzically at her. "Finish what you've begun to say... Go on, Val."
"Bright Lady, if you tell me that I was her, I don't think I could take it..." Val mutters.
"No, Val, not you," Jenner says softly, "But my soul resides in your smile as well."
At his answer, she can't help sighing a little with something that sounds suspiciously like relief.
"I'd have chased down a star for her, if that were her wish," Jenner murmurs. Then, a wave of pain crosses his face. "Then she gave into temptation. She indulged in drugs, alcohol, and sex...all because of one man." His words grow soft with anguish as he continues. "His name was Justin." His voice is suddenly small. "Does that name sound familiar?"
She nods, reaching out to caress his cheek. "Now I understand why you...did what you did."
Jenner's voice is low, burdened by bitter memories. "The irony is that she still lives---only, when I look into her eyes... I see nothing. She was just a girl... but I still love her." He looks at Val seriously. "Justin was a satyr...now do you understand my worry?"
Val nods. "I do...but I promise you, Alan's not like that...we knew one another before, and he remembers me..."
"Val, Ashland has this bizarre affect on me," Jenner continues. "Lives become muddled, memories often seem more vivid than reality..." His voice drops. "Morwen..."
Unsure of what to say, Val simply waits for him to continue.
"Morwen may not have existed as I recollect her," Jenner says softly. "Arcadia... Lord Lysander... all my adventures...it's all ephemeral." He is on the verge of breaking down. "And if I lose touch, it will all be meaningless..." He pauses for a moment. "Close your eyes, Val, please."
"Wait..." Val interjects. "Before I do, tell me one thing."
"What is it?" asks Jenner.
"You were there when my father died," Val says slowly. "Do you know what happened to his sword?" She holds up her arms, showing her sheathed daggers, for emphasis. "Or was that all a dream, too?"
Jenner recoils as if struck. "Your father was the greatest leader, warrior, and closest friend I ever had." He takes a deep breath. "His sword shattered...the fragments were forged into your daggers." He pauses for a moment. "...All, save one piece---which is still embedded in Ironheart."
Val nearly falls with the shock of this information. "Then...what my aunt said...'like calls to like...'"
"But it will be for naught," Jenner continues, "...unless I finish the job your father started."
"'Like calls to like...'," Val murmurs, her voice dangerously soft. "Maybe these daggers are the key to stopping Ironheart's reign of terror."
"If you mean to kill Ironheart..." says Jenner quietly, but firmly, "...I won't let you."
Val's eyes blaze with blue fire. "And why not?"
"I won't lose you like I lost your father," Jenner returns. "Besides, you have an obligation to live." He gestures to her belly. "If you go to Arcadia, you may not come back. You found love, and this fight isn't yours..."
Val nods, then slides her daggers from their sheaths and offers them, hilt first, to Jenner, but he stops her. "No. You'll need those. One day, you'll need those."
Val's eyes overflow. "Oh, Jenner...my father..."
He smiles as he finishes her sentence. "...Would have been proud of you. I am."
She rests her head on his chest. "Please...just hold me a little while longer...?"
"Valerie?" Jenner asks softly. He has slipped into his mortal seeming.
"Yes?" Val responds.
Jenner is not looking at her faerie mien. "Have I ever told you how much you resemble your mother?"
"Which one...?" asks Val as she reverts to her mortal seeming.
"Both," Jenner says softly. "Close your eyes for me, Valerie? I need to tell you something as a human."
She obeys, though tears glimmer as they seep through her long dark lashes.
"My soul is in your smile." says Jenner tenderly.
At that, she smiles, though tears trace their way down her cheeks.
"I see you, and what I feel is real," Jenner says. "It's not just the side effects of a lucid dream." His voice drops a level as he cradles her against him. "You've been my child for so long now..."
Val rests her head on his chest, comforted by the steady rhythm of his heartbeat.
"I was wondering, Val..." Jenner continues, "...could I be yours?"
Her voice is low, meant for him alone. "Yes, my father, my child...yes."
"So it shall be," Jenner pronounces. "Thank you, Valerie."
"Thank you, Jenner Rain-Water," Val returns, "For everything."
"I..." Jenner stammers, touched by her words. Then, he regains control and continues. "My fae mien has always been unusually strong. It may be too much for your child to bear." He looks solemnly at her. "I cannot win this fight against Ironheart. Protect the child, Val. He may decide the fate of our people. When the time comes, both you and the child will know what to do."
"I promise," Val returns solemnly.
"I honored my word to your father, Val," says Jenner, smiling.
Val returns the smile. "Yes...yes, you did. He couldn't have asked for a better friend. I'm sure he's proud of you, too."
Jenner tenderly cups her face in his hands and gazes deeply into her eyes. "I...I love you, little one." Then, recovering a bit, he removes his armor, greatsword and pouch, and hands them to her. "Here...give these to your son when he comes of age."
She accepts the treasures, her expression serious. "I will." Then she frowns. "What do I tell him?"
"He'll...I'll know." Jenner answers with certainty.
"May I tell him of the one he'll be named for?" Val asks.
Jenner looks at her, startled and then pleased. He smiles in spite of himself. "You mean you'll name that boy Jenner?"
"Uh-huh." Val returns with a smile.
"Val, don't tell the boy or Alan about me," Jenner says softly. "Let them enjoy youth. For, when the time comes, I shall return."
Val nods, smiling despite the tears that threaten to come. "But I'll remember you, my father."
"Good night, Val, I'll see you when I wake," Jenner says gently. "Tonight I sleep, perchance to dream... for there may be no tomorrow."
Tears threatening, Val kisses him. "Goodnight, sweet prince." She stands in the gardens as he walks off, heedless of the tears streaming down her cheeks, her hands resting protectively over the life inside her.
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