My husband and I had a baby.
But my cousin Lloyd stole him from us.
Lloyd, the bastard, said he would return our baby to us in the forest.
My husband, Damon, was a dragon shifter. Though he wasn't the largest dragon in the world, even he would have trouble moving through the dense forest. So he would go in his human form with me.
I used to be a dragon shifter, too. But I was born in the wrong body. I didn't want to suffer from gender dysphoria and be trapped in a woman's body forever.
A witch had made me an offer. She could turn my body into what I wanted, but I would have to give up my dragon abilities and live as a human male. I accepted her offer and have never regretted it.
We crept deeper into the forest. The crackling of the foliage was putting me on edge. I was conscious of how much noise we were making, that we might attract enemies.
And then I heard a cry. Was that our son?
Damon and I rushed towards the sound.
But I had a hunch that something was wrong.
Indeed, the small child gazing up at us was not a baby, but a toddler. And while his facial features were similar to Damon’s, he wasn't ours. But I could tell he was a shifter in human form.
Damon crouched down till he was at eye level with the toddler. "Hi there, what's your name? And where are your parents?"
The toddler wiped the tears from his cheeks. He mumbled, "Adonis."
I would have laughed at the name if the situation wasn't so serious. "Then where are your parents?" I asked.
Adonis's eyes started to grow moist again. "I don't know. Uncle Lloyd took me from my mom and put me here. I just want to go home."
Despite my worry for my own son, my sympathy rose for him. "Who are your parents? Maybe we can help you find them."
Damon shot me a glance, no doubt questioning why I would expect a toddler to already know his parents' names. But I was in luck. The child uttered, "Agnes and Alexis."
Something in me relaxed. I knew that my husband couldn't have cheated on me, since he was by my side all the time. And I didn’t believe he would have sneaked away while I was sleeping, either.
Plus, we had heard rumors that Damon's father, Alexis, had a child three years ago with a woman who was half-naid, half-human. Her name was Agnes, and she apparently wanted a baby to carry on her family lineage.
I didn't like my father-in-law, but I was sure he wouldn't have slept with a random woman for no reason. Alexis and his wife, Clarissa (Damon's mother) were still married on paper but were separated in reality. They were still close friends, however; they just didn't work out as lovers.
It seemed that Clarissa was okay with her husband sleeping with another woman. And Alexis didn’t mind Clarissa sleeping with other people, either. Damon's parents were both bisexual.
I tugged my husband's arm. "Why don't we take Adonis with us while we look for Philo?" Philo was our son.
Damon nodded with a pensive expression. "Adonis, do you trust us? Alexis–is also my father."
The toddler, with his blond hair that he must have inherited from his mother, blinked awkwardly. He repeated, "I just want to go home." Then he got up and looked like he was ready to go anywhere with us.
I didn't expect him to trust us this easily. Maybe he believed that his brother would be kind to him just because he was family. Not that the familial bond ever made Alexis treat his son well. Clarissa was only slightly better as a parent.
Damon picked up the child. Adonis looked sleepy. He stretched and soon began to doze in my husband's arms.
I had the strange feeling that Damon, despite being the brother, would make a much better father to Adonis than Alexis would. I also realised that we were taking this toddler to find his nephew, our son Philo.
It felt bizarre, carrying my father's child in my arms. This three-year-old child was my younger brother…
I already felt a connection with him. Whatever Alexis, Agnes, and Lloyd had done, I vowed that we would help Adonis as best as we could.
Emmanuel cast me worried glances from time to time. I asked, "What is it?"
My husband sighed. "So much has happened. We lost our son, only to find your illicit baby brother."
I grimaced. I loved Emmanuel, but he could be a little blunt. I asked, "What if Philo isn't in this forest? Maybe it was just a decoy?"
Emmanuel shuddered and made a face. "I wonder why my cousin has to be so brutal. At first, I thought he was just jealous that I have you. But now… If he's involving someone else's child, could it be for a bigger reason?"
We traipsed through the forest in silence, the autumn leaves swirling around us.
A yawn broke the silence. I winced when Adonis punched me in the jaw. The toddler widened his eyes and murmured, "I'm sorry. I promise I won't do it again. I won't be such a bad boy…"
It disturbed me how fearful the child seemed. I could only imagine how his parents treated him.
So I said in a gentle tone, "Don't worry. Why don't we take you back home? We want to find our baby, since he's lost too. But we have no idea where he could be in this forest. Do you?"
Adonis shook his head.
My husband muttered, "Our son must be here somewhere."
I sighed. "I know, but we can't just carry someone else's child – well, my brother – in the forest like this. His folks might miss him –" When I said that, I realized how it might not be true. Was Agnes or her relatives abusive? Maybe, just maybe, we could keep him with us. An idea started forming in my head.
"Adonis," I said carefully. "How are mommy and daddy like back home? Are you happy?"
My husband shot me an annoyed look, but I ignored him for now. Adonis took a while before he responded, "Mommy is okay. Sometimes she plays with me, but most of the time she's gone out somewhere. Nina, the maid, takes care of me. Daddy sometimes drops by to visit, but I usually don't know where he is." The child shrugged, but I could tell that he was hiding a lot of sadness.
I wish I could just tell him that his father was not worth his love anyway. But I didn't want to frighten him.
It sounded like his parents didn't abuse him, but they neglected him. Still, I had to clarify this. So I took a more direct approach. "Does the maid or your parents ever hit or hurt you?"
Emmanuel tensed beside me, and Adonis avoided my eyes. "Only when I'm naughty. The maid slaps my hands. It's okay, though. I'm a big boy."
I couldn't tell whether he was being honest, and I had never been good at seeing through lies, let alone from children. I persisted nonetheless, "Would you like to live with us sometimes? I'm your brother, after all."
Adonis looked away again. "I'll have to ask mommy and daddy first."
Something deflated in me. Why was I once again fighting with my father? This time not over territory, my freedom, or my love life, but over my little brother.
"Adonis," said Emmanuel. "Do you like your mom?"
The toddler stared at my husband for a moment, as if unsure. "Why not?"
My husband pressed his lips together with frustration. "How about your maid? Do you like her?"
The toddler stared off into the distance. "She's okay. Sometimes she makes a lot of rules, but I'm fine."
"How about your dad? Do you like him?" My husband's voice rose a little in pitch and volume.
Adonis fell silent. Just when I thought he wasn't going to answer, he replied, "Yes, but he's almost never around. I don't remember the last time I saw him."
I didn't expect my brother's lack of bitterness. But there was a time when I had also looked up to my father and thought he could do no wrong. Too bad that time didn't last long.
As we trudged through the forest, I soon heard a strange keening sound.
Something light blue flew past my face in a blur.
"Philo!" Emmanuel cried out our son's name and dashed after the blue silhouette.
Adonis wailed in my arms, and he grew heavier and heavier.
My brother started sprouting wings, claws, and scales. Before long, Adonis became a small purple dragon. He blinked up with a bewildered face.
I whispered, "Come on, let's get your nephew."
My heart was about to leap out of my chest. Philo zipped through the air like a comet. As a human being, I just couldn’t run fast enough to catch him.
Damon soon caught up to me, with his brother in his arms. I gazed with amazement at the purple dragon.
My husband said, "I can shift, but I would be too clumsy with all these branches in the way."
Adonis piped up. "I can get Philo." He fluttered out of Damon's arms, and was gone in a burst of speed!
Damon and I raced after them, but the baby dragons were too fast.
Lloyd was one conniving bastard. In any other setting, Damon could have flown there as a dragon in no time. But with dense trees and branches blocking him, he would have trouble moving freely. As for soaring above the trees, it would be hard to see where the tiny children were beneath the mass of leaves.
I staggered to a halt when I heard an ear-piercing scream. But it wasn't from either of the children.
My husband and I hurried to the scene and came across a clearing. My son perched on a flat rock, and Adonis sat next to him. Both dragons peered into a bubbling pond.
A naked man with spiky blond hair wrestled in the water with another naked man with slick, light brown hair.
The blond man was my cousin, dragon lord Lloyd. The other man was Jace, an obnoxious dolphin shifter.
I reached to scoop my son back into my arms, but he lashed out with his tail and tried to bite me. I sighed and let him go for now. While I loved my son, it was possible that he didn't love me. Thankfully, he didn't resist when Damon picked him up, but it still hurt.
"Lloyd, Jace, what the hell are you two doing?" I hollered.
Jace leered at me. "What do you think we're doing?"
Lloyd aimed a punch at Jace's head, which the dolphin shifter dodged.
Dragons were usually less agile in the water. Lloyd was the more aggressive fighter, but Jace evaded his attacks with ease.
Adonis called out, "Uncle Lloyd, what did my parents tell you?"
I was struck by how mature the three-year-old sounded. It took a few moments before the men finally ceased their struggle.
Lloyd swam back to the shore, with Jace following at a leisurely pace.
My cousin grinned at Adonis. "Your parents are… Coming soon. But I had a score to settle with your Uncle Jace."
It shouldn't have startled me that Adonis knew Jace, too, but I guessed Lloyd and Jace were cut from the same cloth.
Adonis continued, "What was the score you were settling? And what's with my – nephew?" The purple dragon glanced with confusion at my son.
Philo looked amused and burbled with delight in Damon's arms.
Lloyd made a nasty smile at my son. "Philo, come back with us. Don't be a bad boy."
At his words, Philo scrunched up his face and began to cry.
"Jace," I said. "Why were you fighting with Lloyd? And is it related to Adonis and Philo?"
Jace seemed very happy to answer, especially as I usually gave him the cold shoulder. "Lloyd and I used to be friends." His suggestive tone implied that they had been more than friends. "But we had a disagreement. Lloyd wanted to nab your son to be his heir. I fought him to save poor Philo."
I pressed, "Why do you do this, Lloyd? You're not dying and in need of a will, are you?"
Lloyd had a cocky grin on his face. "There's so much you don't understand, my dear cousin. I'm a dragon lord, so I need an heir sooner or later, regardless of whether I'm writing my will or not. I won't get a child anytime soon, as I'm not the type of man who would settle down with a partner."
Damon wrinkled his nose. "Why do you choose our son in particular? Do you need his blood lineage to his grandfather Alexis?"
Jace combed a hand through his wet hair. "He wants leverage over you, Damon. Plus–"
Before the dolphin shifter could go on, the ground beneath us rumbled. Adonis flew onto my shoulder. My son was unfazed. Damon looked perturbed, Lloyd appeared smug, and Jace seemed afraid.
There was a roar above us, and then the heavy beat of wings. Through the canopy of leaves, I could see dark red scales, and formidable eyes. Seconds later, the beast transformed and dropped onto a tree. A tall, buff man with some of Damon’s features stared back at us. But while Damon’s eyes were kind, the eyes of this man were dark and cruel.
He slid off the tree trunk and landed nimbly onto the ground.
My husband glared at him. "What do you want, father?"
I huddled closer to Damon to give him my support.
Alexis, Damon's father, let out a raucous laugh. "Damon, you haven't seen your father in ages, but you can't even give me a proper hello."
Adonis clutched my shoulder more tightly. I whispered, "You don't have to speak to your father if you don't want to. We'll protect you."
But Alexis overheard me. "How nice it is to see you, my dear son-in-law. And Adonis, it looks like you've met your brother and brother-in-law."
Adonis hid his face in my neck, and didn't say a word.
Lloyd interrupted with a cheery voice, "So, Lord Alexis, how about what you promised?"
Even in my father’s presence, my mate was brave and stood his ground without trembling. I nuzzled him with my arm, and Emmanuel nuzzled back.
It was comforting that even with Alexis, Lloyd, and Jace around me, I still had someone reliable on my side.
Alexis said to Lloyd, "Go to the mountains where we first met. You'll find the cottage and… What you were looking for."
Lloyd looked dubious, but he nodded, as if he had no choice but to assume my father was telling the truth. Lloyd bounded up the trees like a cat. He shifted into a sleek green dragon and flew away.
Alexis grinned. "Let's go somewhere more open, shall we?"
I didn't like the thought that my father could shift back to his dragon form when we were out in the open. Yet, I could shift, too. As a dragon, I felt claustrophobic if I stayed in a place where I could barely shift for a long time.
Even my son was excited as he bounced in my arms, and his jubilance only increased when we were back out in the open. We were walking on a large field. Everything looked so innocuous, with shining bright grass, dazzling flowers, and a smooth lake nearby.
Philo cooed and squirmed like he wanted me to put him back down. I did, and my son shifted back into human form. Our beautiful baby stared up at us, and he crawled happily on the grass.
But as much as I wanted to keep watching my son, I couldn't delay the inevitable. I steeled myself and said, "Father, what did Lloyd want? Why did he really want to steal Philo? And what did you promise Lloyd?”
Alexis crossed his arms over his muscular chest and gave me a snide smile. "Surely you can't be that daft? The only thing Lloyd wants more than unlimited sex, is power."
I frowned. "So Lloyd believes that taking your grandson as an heir, will make him rise up the ranks in the dragon council?"
Alexis snorted. "Clearly you don't understand dragon politics. While Lloyd could get a slight boost in status if he has a ward from a high-ranking family, that's not what he's really going for. There are all sorts of powers. Power over the land and its people, is only one type. Some dragon lords desire power of a much more – personal kind."
"So he wants Damon under his thumb?" Emmanuel demanded. He looked defiant, as if he could punch my father at any moment. "Damon already said no to Lloyd many times. And Damon's my husband now, so why is Lloyd still trying?"
My father gave a nonchalant shrug. "To a dragon who gets almost anyone he wants, a man who consistently rejects him, is all the more appealing and irresistible."
I grimaced at the memory of Lloyd's persistence. Yet, was it just me, or was there a missing piece in my father's story?
At this point, Adonis hopped off of Emmanuel's shoulder, and went to sit by my son. Adonis shifted to his human form, too, and he looked like an older brother watching over the baby. My heart melted at the sight, and I was determined to keep him.
I announced, "Father, I request that we keep your son, my brother, Adonis. It's evident that neither you nor Agnes do much childcare. Adonis would be much happier with us." I glanced over at my mate and was relieved to see his nod of approval.
Jace seemed stunned at my declaration, while Alexis's face was unreadable. My father said slowly, "Are you sure you know what kind of responsibility you would be getting into?"
I bristled at his condescending tone. "I do. And I won't be alone. I have Emmanuel. Just look, Adonis and Philo are already like brothers to each other."
Alexis peered at his son and grandchild. If my father were to say no, I would fight for my brother. While Adonis didn't seem to be abused, at least not physically, it would be cruel to leave him with such absentee parents. I knew from firsthand experience just how traumatizing it was to be brought up in a cold and neglectful home. I resolved not to let that happen to my younger brother.
My father leaned back. "Let's see what Agnes thinks. And what about you, Adonis? Do you want to stay with your mom? Or with your brother Damon?" Alexis's voice was menacing as a snake's.
Adonis leaned back against my leg, his body tense. He answered in a trembling voice, "I’ll go with whoever wants me.”
Alexis nodded, his face still emotionless. He said, “Agnes, it’s safe to come out.”
I was stunned into silence as a feminine face poked out of the pond. A woman emerged from the water like the nymph she was.
She swam to the bank, and you could tell how much she enjoyed showing off her scantily-clad body, even though Alexis was the only one here who was attracted to women. My father didn’t even bother to mask his lust at the sight of the naiad.
Agnes, with her blond hair draping around her shoulders, approached us with a smile and gazed down at her son. Adonis shrunk back. Agnes asked, “My child, stop asking what other people want. What do you want? Do you hope to stay with me, or would you like to live with your handsome brother?” Her sugary sweet smile widened. “Mommy won’t be mad either way, I promise.”
Adonis began to tremble. The toddler glanced at me, Emmanuel, Philos, and then at his parents. He uttered, “I don’t know.” He lowered his eyes and looked like he just wanted to disappear.
Agnes moved closer, and I realized she could be even more dangerous than Alexis. I ventured to ask, “Would there be a problem? Would the faeries mind if you let me raise your son? Even though I'm his brother?"
The mirthful expression on her face unsettled me more than any angry expression would have. Her voice was like warm honey, but with a poisonous undertone. “Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about that, Damon. Faeries are more open-minded than you dragons think. We’re not so rigid about rules. I care most about my baby’s happiness and well-being. So I want him to decide where he wants to live. We adults intrude too much into our children’s lives.”
I grimaced. Her words made sense on the surface. But Adonis was too intimidated by both Alexis and Agnes for him to make a decision. Maybe she was gambling on his fear to manipulate him to come back to her. She was just pretending to be a caring mother.
Just then, Emmanuel said, “Adonis, come here.” The toddler looked uncertain, but he ambled over to my husband, who promptly scooped him up in his arms. Emmanuel murmured, “Come. Let’s get away for a bit and discuss what you want to do. Then we can come back and tell your brother and parents your final decision.”
When I realized what Emmanuel was suggesting, I cried out, with some panic, “Wait! Shouldn’t I come with you?”
Emmanuel shook his head with a smile. “I love you, babe, but you are apt to be biased. Aside from Jace, I would be the only neutral party here, and frankly, I don't trust Jace to take care of a child. No offense, dolphin shifter. We won’t be long.”
It felt like an eternity until Emmanuel and Adonis returned from where they had hidden.
There was a notable change in the young dragon-faerie shifter. Adonis seemed more cheerful and confident. He gazed directly at Agnes, and then at Alexis. “I want to stay with my brother.”
Agnes looked surprisingly sad, but she nodded without protest. Alexis glowered at us, as though he had lost a battle he had fully expected to win. But at least they didn’t fight us. Soon enough, both Alexis and Agnes departed. Alexis had shifted into a dragon and carried Agnes away with him.
Jace heaved a sigh of relief, too.
I asked, “Emmanuel, what did you say to Adonis to help him decide?”
My mate looked cheeky and a little proud of himself. “I just told him to be honest about what he wanted. I explained that with us, he won’t have to be lonely. At least one of us will always be around, and Philo will be here, too. But back with Agnes, he typically only gets to see the maid. I gather she’s not mean, but she’s not charming, either. His mother is often not around, let alone his father.”
I was amazed because though all of this was true, I couldn’t believe that this reasoning was enough to instill confidence into my younger brother.
And I was glad that Agnes and Alexis didn't object to Emmanuel's clear influence on Adonis. I balked when Emmanuel called himself the neutral party. But maybe Agnes and Alexis had more self-awareness than I thought. Perhaps they both wanted an excuse to give their child to someone who could take much better care of him.
Jace laughed. “I’m glad for you two. I really am. It’s almost worth setting that trap for Lloyd.”
“What?” Emmanuel and I cried out together.
The dolphin shifter appeared sheepish but also smug. “Well, though I don’t like your father–or Agnes, I knew they would at least be sympathetic towards Philo, since he is Alexis’s grandson, after all. Agnes felt sympathetic as she herself has a child now.” At my astonished look, Jace chuckled. “Truly. Agnes isn’t as awful as she seems, though she's still far from my favorite person. She’s not that terrible towards kids, though she’s not the most attentive mother, either. Still better than Alexis, though.” He gave me an apologetic glance.
Jace went on, “So I contacted them both to help me get Lloyd away from Philo. We had to think of something that would make Lloyd willingly and permanently abandon his crazy scheme of taking your child for his own.” The dolphin tittered. “So we arranged for Lloyd to ‘lure’ you out, while I risked my neck to free your son. Alexis, and later Agnes, would arrive on the scene. Alexis took care to promise a certain reward for Lloyd first.”
I furrowed my brow. “And what sort of reward is this?”
“Oh,” Jace seemed shy and glanced away. “I don’t think you'll want to know.”
“Believe me, I do,” I insisted.
The dolphin shifter winced. “Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He took a deep breath. “Lloyd requested a clone of you, Damon. To be precise, he wanted a robot designed to look just like you, so that he can control it at will."
I stared at him with horror and disbelief.
Jace shrugged. "Don't shoot the messenger. Lloyd isn't that interested in political power, since he already has plenty of that. Even if he's still a little lower-ranking than your parents. But Lloyd is obsessed with you, Damon, not just because you're nice eye candy, but also because you're the only guy he wanted who didn't succumb to him. So he tried to steal your son for his heir, and even got a clone robot of you. Lloyd is determined to have you in whatever way he can. He just doesn't like to lose. And his desire for you is sincere, even if it's disturbing."
When Emmanuel, Philo, Adonis, and I parted ways from Jace, we were silent for a while. I was still reeling from the discovery of what my father had given Lloyd.
Emmanuel sighed. "I'm sorry."
"What for? You didn't do anything wrong. Your cousin is just sick and perverted," I said.
My spouse chuckled a little awkwardly. "I know I'm not to blame. But it’s possible that my cousin's obsession with you is to do with me. Lloyd was always jealous of me in some way or another. He technically had a higher social status, but our families liked me better. I was the baby of the family, even when I became an adult. Now that I'm gone, transitioned into a boy, thankfully, and no longer a dragon, Lloyd ought to have peace. Except he doesn't. Because I swooped in and took away the one man he couldn't get."
I snorted. "You and I were together before I ever met Lloyd face-to-face. You came first."
"Yes," Emmanuel said. "But right before you met Lloyd, we weren't technically together. We were just…sexually involved. So you weren't committed to anyone at the time. But you still chose me instead of him. So at the end of the day, I won and he's the sore loser."
It was sobering to hear these thoughts. While I was disgusted at what Lloyd did, I also felt some pity towards him. He was a dragon lord with power, wealth, and influence beyond most people's imagination. He was handsome and rich enough that he could get almost any guy he wanted, provided they weren’t straight. But he just had to fixate on something unattainable, and make himself so miserable and wretched. I shook my head.
But that was Lloyd's problem. I gazed down at Philo, Adonis, and Emmanuel. No matter what, I would take care of my new family till the end.
I took a deep breath and summoned the change. Silver scales flashed down my body, wings erupted out of my back, my tail sprouted into being, and my claws stretched out from my toes and fingers. A moment later, I glanced down with love at my mate, through a dragon's eyes.
Emmanuel smiled and hopped onto my back. The two dragon children clambered on as well. With two flaps of my wings, I took them into the sky.
We were finally free.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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