"Sounds like it." Fliss drew in a deep breath, wiping her face dry with ruthless hands. "It isn't too obvious, is it?" she asked anxiously, not wanting Lucas to think there was anything wrong.
"Not too," he replied, with a fond smile. "Fliss?" he added, needing to tell her one more thing. "You know you can come to me or ... or your mom anytime with anything, right?" he asked, referred to Liv as her mother this time, since that's what she was. The papers had been signed, and they were legally Fliss' parents now.
"I know. I promise, I do know that." She lurched forward to hug him tightly, kissing his cheek before rising to her feet to rescue Lucas from the possibility of being invited to share her little brother's bath. She wouldn't put it past Maria to invite him to sleep in her room, either.
"Love you," he whispered as he hugged her back, thinking that Lucas was a very lucky boy to have captured his daughter's heart the way he had. If he was as important to her as he seemed, they would definitely have to get to know him better. He didn't know the boy's whole story, but it was easy enough to see the boy was lonely. He sighed as he watched her go, hoping he had said the right things. Whether he had or not, he had a feeling he and Liv would be having a long discussion later. He got off the chair to help wrangle the two younger Storms and get them into bed. He'd finish the dishes later - they weren't going anywhere.
With her parents wrangling her brother and sister into their nighttime routine, Lucas had been left at the mercy of Bella, who seemed to think he was the best thing since dinner had been invented, bouncing around him with her ball in her mouth, trying to bark through it so he would throw it for her. Fliss laughed at the sight as she wandered out of the house to join them. "She likes you."
If Lucas was suspicious of what had been going on in the kitchen, it didn't show. He smiled at Fliss' return, almost relieved that she was back. While he liked her siblings and her dog well enough, he was there because of her. "Yeah, I guess she does," he admitted, glancing back to Bella and taking the ball from her, laughing and making a face. "It's all slimy now!" he said before throwing the ball as hard as he could for the dog to either catch or fetch.
"Sorry I took so long," she apologized, laughing as Bella bounded off with loping strides, trying to outrun the ball before it landed. "Mom takes chores kind of seriously, and with her getting bigger every day, Dad's kind of paranoid about keeping her happy." She mentally crossed her fingers, hoping neither of her parents ever found out that she'd made them an excuse for having abandoned her boyfriend for so long with her younger siblings. "You survived Mar and Alex, then?"
He thought he saw signs of tears on her face, but he was careful not to mention it. What she'd been crying about he wasn't quite sure. Maybe the incident earlier in the afternoon. She wasn't crying now, though, and he didn't want to make her start, so he pretended not to notice. "Just barely!" he replied with a laugh. "Your brother asks a lot of questions and Maria asked if I wanted to stay the night." Of course, for him to have understood Maria, she would have had to go through Alex as her translator.
Fliss snickered softly, crouching to catch Bella as the dog bounded back and retrieve the ball from her. "I thought she might," she admitted a little ruefully. "She's probably gonna ask Mom and Dad, too. Alex didn't ask anything too weird, did he?" She threw the ball again - it was hard not to smile at Bella's excited attempt to catch it.
"He wanted to know if I'm your guardian angel. He seems to think you need one," Lucas replied with a thoughtful look on his face. He sank down onto the grass, careful of the wings at his back, which made a simple think like sitting and sleeping a real challenge. "He really cares about you, Fliss," he told her, though he wasn't sure why he thought she needed to hear that. "And he's very protective of Maria," he added, indicating he was pretty observant.
Fliss blinked, surprised by this insight into her brother. "I guess there's a lot more to Alexei than I give him credit for," she considered thoughtfully. "It's weird, being the big sister. A few months ago, I was an only child, and now I have a little brother and sister, and we're gonna have a baby to look after before Christmas. Lots of changes." She watched Bella nosing her ball around for a minute. "We're all pretty protective of Maria," she admitted quietly. "She came out worst, with everything that was done to them before Dad got there."
"You're lucky, Fliss," Lucas blurted before he could stop himself. She knew him well enough to know he was all alone in Rhy'Din, at least, as far as he knew. Unlike her, he wasn't an orphan, but might as well be one. He wasn't sure if he could ever go home or if he'd ever see his family again. It was his little brother he missed most though, and he had to blink a few times to stop himself from tearing up. "They'll be okay," he assured her, the outsider looking in, more observant perhaps than those who were too close to the situation. They were young, after all, and they were obviously loved. "Does she have nightmares?" he asked, curiously.
"So're you," she told him, settling onto the ground beside him. One hand wound its way into his, toying with his fingers. "You've been introduced now, you can't get rid of us." She smiled at her friend - her boyfriend - warmly. "You know, if they ask you to stay, I-I wouldn't mind." She had to get that out before she touched on Maria's nightmares. "She has them sometimes. Usually when Mar has a nightmare, everyone ends up in Mom and Dad's bed with them. Even Bella."
"Maybe I don't want to get rid of you," Lucas replied with a smile as his fingers tangled with hers. Maybe he didn't want to get rid of any of them. It felt good to be part of a family again, even if that family wasn't his. He arched a brow at her remark about staying, but before he could say comment on it, she was drawing a mental picture for him that made him chuckle. "I wouldn't mind staying over, but I don't think I want to wind up in your parents' bed."
Fliss laughed, glancing up at him from their entwined fingers. "I don't think we'd all fit if you felt like joining in," she assured him. "I only go because ... well, I feel left out if I don't. I know I'm not little and I shouldn't need my mom and dad as much as they do, but sometimes I do."
"There's nothing wrong with that, Fliss. You've been through a lot, and you're lucky to have them. They're great, by the way. Your whole family is great," he told her, laughing a little as Bella dropped the ball in his lap. "I get the hint!" he told the dog, scritching her behind the ears before picking up the ball and giving it another toss.
"They like you," she told him, smiling as he played with Bella. "I can tell." Not that it took a genius to tell when Maria took to someone, or Alexei, for that matter. Between the incessant questions from one, and the insistence on holding hands from the other, it was a wonder he hadn't been inducted into the family right then and there.
Whether Lucas was Fliss' guardian angel or not, he took something else from what Fliss had said and felt the need to comment on it, knowing how hard it was to be the eldest. "You can talk to me about stuff, you know. That's what friends are for," he told her, though it seemed they were now more than just friends.
She hesitated for a moment, but after royally upsetting her father inside, what more harm could she do to confide in Lucas? "I feel awful just admitting to it," she confessed quietly, looking down at their joined hands as she spoke, "but I resent them sometimes. You know, before they came, it was just me and Mom and Dad. Now sometimes it feels like I have to make an appointment just to hug my own parents."
"And your mom is having another," he pointed out helpfully, though he could see another side of thing that maybe Johnny could not. "Do you think you'd be happier if it was just you?" he asked, knowing she wouldn't be, but wanting to see if she'd realize that herself.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I'm jealous, I guess. But if it was just me, what would happen to Alex and Mar? And ... would I be watching my parents' hearts break because they can't conceive? I wouldn't be able to do that." She sighed softly, leaning against him, arm to arm. "No, I don't think I'd be happier without them in my life. I'm just not adjusting very well."