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At All Costs: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Saturday, August 6, 2005 21:08 EDT



    "So, what do you two have on your minds?"

    Emily Alexander looked back and forth between Honor and her husband, one eyebrow arched. She sat in her favorite nook in the White Haven atrium Hamish had built for her years before, gazing at them speculatively across the constantly rippling surface of a crystal-clear koi pond. Honor could taste her curiosity, and with it a faint edge of amusement, and her own lips twitched as she realized how much she and Hamish must resemble a pair of truant schoolchildren, standing before their instructor with their 'cats on their shoulders to own up to their misdeeds.

    But the temptation to smile disappeared as Honor reflected on what they were here to "own up to," and she inhaled deeply.

    "Emily," Hamish said, "Honor and I have something we need to tell you. I hope it won't distress you, or cause you any pain, but it's something you have to know about."

    "My, that sounds ominous," she said lightly, with a smile. But Emily Alexander had been the Star Kingdom's leading actress before her accident. Her expression might have fooled others, yet Honor tasted the sudden throat-tightening surge of anxiety behind it, and she felt herself shaking her head -- hard -- before she even realized she was going to speak.

    "No, Emily!" she said sharply. "It's not that." Emily looked at her, green eyes suddenly vulnerable, and Honor shook her head even harder. "Hamish and I both love you," she heard herself say with a fierce intensity which surprised even her. "Nothing can change that. And nothing between me and Hamish could ever change the way he feels about you."

    Emily looked at her for two or three more seconds, then nodded slowly. Not just in acceptance of Honor's reassurances, but in admission. Strong as she was, confident as she was in herself, she could never quite forget that Honor was all of the things, physically, that she could no longer be. There was always that tiny edge of fear she couldn't quite crush that the sheer vibrancy and physical health radiating from Honor would, indeed, change the way Hamish felt about her.

    "Honor is right," Hamish told her softly, crossing to sit on an ornamental stone bench beside her life-support chair. He reached out and captured her one working hand in both of his, lifting it to press a kiss onto its back. "In an odd sort of way," he continued, gazing into her eyes and reaching out to cup the side of her face with his right hand, "you've become the center for both our lives. Maybe we've both simply been too contaminated by our Grayson experiences, but somehow the three of us have become a unit, and neither Honor nor I would ever change that, even if we could."

    He paused for a moment, and she closed her eyes, pressing her cheek into his palm.

    "But," he continued, after a moment, "we're both more than a little concerned about how you're going to react to the news we do have for you, love."

    "In that case," she said, with something very like her normal tartness, "perhaps the two of you should stop trying to prepare me for it and go ahead and tell me what it is."

    "You're right," he agreed. "So, to cut straight to the conclusion, there was a screwup with Honor's medical records. Both of us thought her contraceptive implant was current. It wasn't."

    Emily looked at him. Then her eyes darted to Honor, opening very wide, and Honor nodded slowly.

    "I'm pregnant, Emily," she said quietly. "Hamish and I never thought this was going to happen. Unfortunately, it has. And because it has, we -- all three of us, not just Hamish and I -- have to decide what we're going to do about it."

    "Pregnant?" Emily repeated, and the sudden torrent of her emotions surged over Honor like an avalanche. "You're pregnant!"

    "Yes." Honor crossed to Emily and sank to her knees, facing the older woman, and Nimitz and Samantha crooned softly, comfortingly. She started to say something more, then stopped, forcing herself to wait while Emily fought her way through her own emotional tumult.

    "My God," Emily said after a moment. "Pregnant." She shook her head. "Somehow, this is one possibility that never occurred to me." Her voice quivered, and her working hand tightened on Hamish's left hand as she blinked hard. "How . . . how far along are you?"

    "Only a few weeks," Honor said quietly. "And I'm third-generation prolong, so we're looking at a pregnancy almost eleven months long. Or we would be, at least, if I had the option of carrying the child to term normally."

    "Oh, God." Emily tugged her hand out of Hamish's grasp and reached out to Honor. "Oh, no." She shook her head, green eyes welling with tears. "Honor, if something happens to you now --!"

    "I'd like to say nothing will," Honor said gently, taking Emily's hand and pressing it to her own cheek as the confusion of Emily's initial response focused itself down into a single, overriding emotion. Concern. Concern not over the consequences of the pregnancy for her, or even for the three of them, but for Honor's safety, redoubled and concentrated by the fact of her pregnancy.

    "I'd like to say nothing will," Honor repeated, "but I can't, because it could. A lot of people are going to be hurt or killed before this war is over, Emily. And a lot of babies are going to be born because of people's fears of what may happen to them, or to the people they love. All of which mixes into the concern Hamish and I feel over how you may feel about this."

    The last sentence came out as a question, and Emily shook her head.

    "I don't know how I feel about it," she said with an honesty which was almost physically painful for Honor. "I'd like to say that all I feel is happy for you -- and for Hamish. But I'm only human." Her lower lip quivered ever so slightly. "Knowing you can give Hamish the physical intimacy I can't hurts badly enough sometimes all by itself, Honor. I don't blame you for it; I don't blame Hamish for it. I don't even blame God for it, very much, anymore. But it does hurt, and I'd be lying if I told you it didn't."

    A tear trickled down Honor's cheek as she tasted Emily's determination to be totally candid, not just with Honor and Hamish, but with herself. Perhaps to be totally candid with herself for the very first time.

    "I look at you, Honor," she said, green eyes glistening, "and I remember. I remember what it was like to have two legs that worked. To be able to stand on my own. To be able to move. To be able to feel anything -- anything at all -- below my shoulders. To be able to breathe by myself."

    She looked away and drew a deep, shuddering breath.

    "Did Hamish ever tell you just how bad the damage was, Honor?" she asked.

    "We've discussed it . . . some," Honor said with an odd serenity, returning candor for candor, and reached out to wipe a tear from Emily's cheek with her thumb. "Not in great detail."

    "It wasn't just my spine that was smashed in that accident," Emily said, still looking away from Honor. "They repaired everything they could, but there was an enormous amount of damage that couldn't be fixed. Or that there was no point in fixing, anyway, because I haven't felt anything except my right hand -- anything at all, Honor -- below my shoulders in sixty T-years. Nothing."

    She looked back at Honor again.

    "I can't survive outside this chair. Can't even breathe on my own. And there you are. So healthy, so fit. And so beautiful, though I doubt you actually realize it. Everything I once was, you are, and, oh, God, Honor, there are times I resent it so. When it hurts so much."

    She stopped for a moment, blinking, then smiled tremulously.

    "But you aren't me. You're someone else entirely. A rather wonderful someone else, actually. When I first realized -- when you first told me -- how you and Hamish truly felt about one another, it was hard. I realized, intellectually, at least, that it wasn't your fault, and I recognized how dreadfully the two of you had hurt yourselves in order to avoid hurting me. And because of that, and because of the political consequences if the world had believed the Opposition's smear campaign, I made the decision -- the intellectual decision -- to accept what couldn't be changed and try to minimize the consequences.

    "It was only later, when I'd come to truly know you, that I realized emotionally, deep down inside, that you truly are a part of Hamish, and so a part of me, as well. But that still doesn't make you me. And the hurt I still feel sometimes when I look at you standing beside Hamish, where I used to be able to stand, or think about you in his bed, where I used to be, is so much less important than who you are and what you mean to Hamish . . . and to me.

    "And now this." She shook her head. "Now, whether you meant to or not, you've moved still further beyond me. Moved to do something else I used to be able to see myself doing. A baby, Honor." She blinked again. "You're going to have a baby -- Hamish's baby. And that hurts, hurts so terribly . . . and feels so wonderful."

    A glow of joy flowed out of her, like sunlight through the chinks between thunderheads. It wasn't really happiness -- not yet. There was too much jagged-edged hurt and a lingering resentment which knew it was both unreasonable and irrational. But it was joy, and within it Honor sensed the capacity to become happiness.

    "Hamish and I have discussed this," Honor told her, meeting her gaze steadily. "We both want the child. But even more, we want to avoid hurting or distressing you. Among the philanthropies Willard is overseeing for me from Grayson I've got at least three orphanages and two adoption affiliates, one on Grayson, and one here in the Star Kingdom. We can place this child for adoption, Emily. We can guarantee that she -- or he -- will have loving, supportive parents."

    "No, you can't," Emily said. "Can't place it for adoption, I mean. I know you could find loving parents. But I couldn't ask you to give up your child. And if something does happen to you, I couldn't ask Hamish to give up the only part of you that he -- we -- could keep."

    "So," Honor paused and drew a deep breath. "So you want us to keep the baby?"

    "Of course I do!" Emily looked at her. "I'm not saying I don't have mixed feelings, because I do. You know that, if anyone does. But mixed feelings can get themselves unmixed, and even if they couldn't, how could I possibly ask you to give up your child just to spare my feelings?

    Honor closed her eyes, pressing Emily's hand more firmly against her cheek, and, to her surprise, Emily chuckled.

    "Of course," she went on, her voice and the glow of her emotions both much closer to normal, "now that I've gotten past my initial surprise, I can see where this could pose a few problems. I don't suppose the two of you are hoping I can help solve them… again?"

    "Actually," Honor said, raising her head and smiling a bit mistily at Emily, "that's exactly what we're hoping."



    "All right, let's look at the problem and our options for dealing with it," Emily said much later that evening, after the supper dishes had been cleared away and the three humans and two treecats were alone once more. She'd regained most of her emotional balance, and Honor treasured the serenity flowing from her.

    "First, Honor's -- our -- giving up this child is not an option," Emily continued. "Second, Honor's carrying the child to term naturally is also not an option. Third, the potential political consequences of our acknowledging the pregnancy at this particular point in time would be . . . difficult. Both here, in the Star Kingdom, and on Grayson. Fourth," she looked back and forth between her husband and Honor, "however we resolve the problems, I want and intend to be involved in raising this child. So, with option number one already settled, what about the second one?"

    "Under normal circumstances," Honor said, "and bearing in mind that Mother is from Beowulf, the solution would be simple. She'd become my surrogate, but I'm afraid that won't work here."

    "Why not?" Emily asked, cocking her head. Honor looked at her, and Emily flipped her hand in the gesture she used for a shrug. "It just seems like such a good idea from so many perspectives, I'm wondering if we're thinking about the same difficulties."

    "It would be a wonderful idea," Honor agreed, just a trifle sadly. "Mother's always had easy pregnancies, and the twins are just old enough now that she's started missing having a toddler around. And I can't think of anyone who would be a better surrogate. But legally, this child will replace Faith in the Harrington succession, and eventually I'm going to have to acknowledge that publicly, which presents all sorts of problems in using Mother as my surrogate. If she's visibly pregnant, the assumption on Grayson will be -- unless we tell them to the contrary -- that Father is the father."

    She paused and chuckled wryly.

    "'Father is the father,'" she repeated. "Does that sound as odd to you as it does to me?"

    "It does sound a bit peculiar," Hamish conceded. "But you were saying?"

    "I was saying that everyone will assume the child is Mother's, and she's much too visible to be pregnant without someone's noticing. Which means that either we tell everyone, including the Conclave of Steadholders, who the actual biological parents are, or else we have to lie."

    She shook her head, all humor fled.

    "I won't do that. I can't. Not only would it be wrong, but it would be politically disastrous for me when the truth finally did come out. It would be far better, in terms of Grayson perceptions and politics, for me to go ahead and acknowledge Hamish as the child's father right now, despite all the potential adverse reaction, than to be caught lying about the paternity of my child before her birth. And," she looked back and forth between Emily and Hamish, "maybe I've been a Grayson too long myself, but I'd agree with them."

    "But eventually you're going to have to tell them what happened, and when," Emily pointed out.

    "I'm willing to stand on my legal and moral right to privacy," Honor replied. "I'm not saying my Graysons will be happy about it when the truth comes out, however we handle it, but they'll accept that I had the right to not tell them something at all much better than they will my having lied about it."

    "Don't you have an obligation as Steadholder Harrington to inform the Conclave of the birth of any heir to the Steading?" Hamish asked, frowning intently.

    "Not precisely."

    Honor reached out and handed Nimitz a stick of celery. The 'cat broke it neatly in half and passed one piece on to his mate, and she watched the two of them chew blissfully -- and messily -- for a second. Then she looked back up at Hamish and Emily.

    "My obligation, legally, is to inform the Sword and the Church," she said. "Technically, it could be argued that I'm not under any obligation to inform anyone at all until such time as a child is actually born. Trust me," she smiled a bit bleakly, "I've done some research this afternoon. But, while the law specifies that the birth of an heir has to be reported to, and acknowledged by, the Protector and the Church, the practice has always been that they're to be informed when the pregnancy is confirmed. So, the two people on Grayson I have to tell about this, legally speaking, are Benjamin and Reverend Sullivan. I'm sure Benjamin would respect my confidence, and the Reverend's vows would require him to treat it as privileged information, like something revealed under the seal of the confessional, at least until the child is actually born."

    "At which point?" Emily asked.

    "At which point your guess is as good as mine as to exactly what happens," Honor admitted. "I can't see any way it would be possible to conceal the child's birth even if I wanted to. And, to be honest, I don't want to, for a lot of reasons. I think the best we can do, really, is to buy nine months for the political climate to change before I go public."

    "We could always consider placing the embryo in cryo until the 'political climate' has changed," Hamish said slowly.

    "No, we couldn't," his wife said flatly. He looked at her, and she shook her head firmly. "Honor is going into combat very soon now, Hamish. It's possible, however much we'd all like to pretend it isn't, that this time she could be killed." Her voice wavered slightly, and she looked across the table at Honor. "If God is actually listening to me, that's not going to happen, but sometimes I think He's lost my com combination. And, if that happens, we are not going to have deprived her of a single moment she might have had holding her child in her arms first."

    Honor's eyes burned, and Emily smiled at her. But then the older woman shook her head again.

    "Even if that weren't a consideration," she continued, "it would still be the wrong thing to do. If something does happen to Honor, the exact circumstances of the child's paternity will be in question. I realize genetic testing would confirm that the child is Honor's and yours, Hamish, but if Honor were killed -- if she weren't around to confirm the circumstances under which conception occurred -- there would always be someone who'd accuse us of some sort of Machiavellian plot to 'steal' Harrington."

    "There are procedures for a posthumous declaration of paternity," Honor pointed out.

    "We're not talking about what's legal or illegal," Emily replied. "We're talking about public perceptions, and on a planet which, if you'll forgive me, is still coming to grips with the implications of modern technology. Specifically, of modern medical technology."

    "That's true enough," Honor acknowledged. "My parents and I are working on that, but sometimes it seems to me that at least half the people on Grayson still consider what we can do black magic. They don't really understand it, and some of them are probably at least as frightened by it as grateful that it's become available."

    "Precisely. And it's that portion of the population least comfortable with modern medicine which would be played upon by anyone who wanted to make trouble."

    "Why should anyone want to make trouble?" Hamish asked almost plaintively, and Honor and Emily turned almost identical pitying looks upon him. Then they looked at each other, and Emily snorted.

    "Frightening, isn't it?" she asked Honor. "And hard to believe he's a senior member of the Queen's Cabinet."

    "Oh, I don't know," Honor replied with a crooked smile. "He's probably not any more totally incompetent where politics are concerned than I was when they first sent me to Yeltsin."

    "But with so much less excuse," Emily said, eyes twinkling.

    "Not really," Honor, chuckling wickedly as Hamish leaned back, raising one eyebrow, and folded his arms in resignation. "After all, he suffers from at least one physical handicap."

    "Which one?" Emily asked, then shook her head quickly. "Oh, I know! You mean that 'Y' chromosome of his?"

    "That's the one," Honor agreed, and both of them laughed.

    "Very funny," Hamish said. "And now, if the two of you are done cackling, how about answering my question?"

    "It's not so much why we can think of anyone wanting to make trouble," Honor said much more seriously, "as our responsibility to recognize that someone could want to. Human nature being human nature, some idiot who disapproves of all the changes on Grayson -- and don't fool yourself; there are still a lot of them, even if they are a distinct minority -- is likely to fasten on it out of simple delusional paranoia. And don't forget Mueller and Burdette, or the current Grayson Opposition. They'd probably see forcing Benjamin to expend political capital defending you as worthwhile in its own right." She shrugged. "It might be unlikely to create serious problems, but Emily's right. The potential's always there, and on the level of a Steadholdership, any problem can become a serious one."

    "So what you're saying is that we really have no more than nine months before we have to go public," he said.

    "I think that's exactly what I'm saying," she acknowledged. "I can stand on my right to refuse to declare the child's paternity even after her birth, which would probably work out fairly well on Manticore. It won't play on Grayson, though. Or, at least, not very well. But I'm going to have to acknowledge the birth itself as soon as it occurs."

    "That's true," Emily agreed. "But every month we can buy before you have to go public would be very much worthwhile. It would give the political situation time to stabilize, and put some more time between the Opposition smear campaign and the moment of truth. Not that it's not still going to be messy, you understand."

    "Oh, believe me, even a political incompetent like me understands that, Emily," Hamish said wryly.

    "So what I think we're really saying here," Emily said after a moment, looking back and forth between Honor and Hamish once more, "is that our only real option is to have the child tubed under conditions of medical confidentiality and hope that by the time she -- or he -- is born, the political and military situation will have changed enough for the fact of her birth to generate somewhat less of a firestorm."

    "I'm afraid so," Honor replied.

    "Well, in that case," Emily said with a whimsical smile of her own, "I think Hamish and I had better spend the next few months learning how to be salamanders, too."

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