They hadn’t even looked at her, aside from that first snap of incredulity as she walked in, Summer at her hip, and set the diaper bag down. They’d barely listened to her. Just sat in their tall-ass tree seats and looked down from on high. One guy sittin’ on a stump in the corner even went so far as to give her dirty looks and huff like she was crashing their party or something. Fuck, she was tryin’ to be all diplomatic and shit—she’d even introduced herself in her broken-ass Russian.
Normally she’d just blow it off after a bit. Fuck ‘em. This wasn’t about her. So long as the message got across. But Ken and Sasha were working so hard to get her voice heard—they had to fuckin’ literally say what she’d just said for her to get any kind of response from this council of gods. They went so far as to shoehorn her fuckin’ pedigree with Jan and the Pack and the siege and shit into the conversation. And she could see Ken getting tighter and tighter, more and more encabronar at this. Him and his winding words and redirection, and Sasha’s extensive fuckin’ prompting weren’t any match for sheer fuckin’ stubbornness.
Oh, but they sure as shit were listening when Summer was humming. Mijita had been quiet for two fuckin’ hours, on her own. She was still being good, just humming a little, ’cause the music goddess—Pizamar—was making music too, from her spot in her seat. They paid attention to her then. Gave her all kinds of dirty looks.
Carmen pretended not to notice. If they wanted something done about it, they’d have to call her out on it to her face. Their stubbornness would be no match for the blitheness of her little girl.
— Lady. — One of them, the square one, with the short face, Prove, leaned forward in his seat, his hands pressed on his knees. — I must ask you to cease the disruption.
Nope, not fuckin’ good enough.
Carmen looked around at each of them, putting her best clueless face on. — Huh?
He nodded at Summer. — The child.
Well, it was something, anyway.
— Oh, sure. — Carmen looked to Summer and switched to English. “Hey, mijita?”
Summer looked up. “Wat up, Mami?”
“Can you be quiet for a little longer?”
Then she looked back at Prove and folded her hands. He eyed her for a moment, then leaned back as Summer fell silent, signaling for the discussion to continue.
But the guy in the corner rose and stepped forward. — If I may, Lord Prove.
Prove stopped, then nodded, motioning for him to take the floor.
— I move to end this meeting. It appears not all parties are taking this discussion seriously.
If the safety of Bakersfield and the lives of her family weren’t on the line, she would forgo formality and tell that cabron to ve a chuparle el peson ha un chango. As it was, she had to fight to stay in her seat. Steam wisped around her, collected on her skin and in her hair.
But then: — Please elaborate, Lord Stribog.
Carmen knew that tone. She’d used that tone. It was the still-water voice, smooth and flat as glass, hiding a shitload of things going on underneath. It was from one of the women up there with a tree-seat thing, the one with the gloriously untamed curly hair which stuck out from under her scarf and fell over her face like willow branches. Dovilė’s mom—Mokosh. She hadn’t said a word this whole time. May as well have been Dovilė up there. Shit, now that she was looking, Carmen even could almost feel the waves of “itching for a cig” rolling off her.
— It is a waste of our time and resources to so much as entertain this idea of helping them out. — Though he was answering Mokosh, he wasn’t looking at her, regarding the rest of the council instead. Culero. — Leaving aside that breaking our laws that prevent us from interfering with mortals would be unavoidable should we take this course of action, we cannot afford to promise aid to these Bakersfieldians to begin with. Dawn approaches, and there are far more important issues that we did not get the opportunity to discuss due to this ‘urgent meeting’, such as what further actions we should be taking to return Our Lord Creator Svarozhich to his rightful place. These Bakersfieldians have demonstrated they do not value our time half as much as it is worth, so I fail to understand why we gave it to them in the first place.
Fuck. Keep your mouth shut, Carmen. Cussing him out won’t do any good. This clearly wasn’t anything personal, anyway. He was acting like she and Ken weren’t actually there. Plus he was right. Asshole.
— If I am to issue a vote on this, I would like to know who exactly is it that isn’t taking this meeting with utmost gravity. — Mokosh said, tone as still as before. She was going for the gerrymander.
Stribog regarded her directly. — I can answer, Lady Mokosh, if the council calls for it. But compared to my other concerns, it is an incidental detail. And I trust the council’s votes and their expediency, is, as ever, driven by the impartial wisdom our Lord Dobrozhe credits to those he has chosen to seat it in his own wisdom.
Now he was just being shitty.
Prove held out a forestalling hand. — Thank you, Lord Stribog. — He turned to Sasha. Poor Sasha looked for the world to be even more uncomfortable than when he first sat in that big-ass chair two hours ago. — Lord Dobrozhe, not only do I second Lord Stribog’s motion, but—while I will not argue there are virtues to this council—I think this demonstrates the downfalls of decisions made in this fashion. I personally recommend that you adjourn this meeting with your executive power, lest we lose more time.
¡Qué chingados! This guy’s tone was like he was waiting for an excuse to make this kind of recommendation.
Judging by Sasha’s face, he was going to fall for it. Shit… Don’t do it, manito. Don’t let them play you.
Sasha was silent a long moment, his eyes darkened with intent thought. Then he took a deep breath. — I agree that Lord Stribog has raised some important issues which are of more immediate concern to this council. — He glanced at the window. — So I will take your advice, Lord Prove. This meeting will be adjourned. But first I move to begin a meeting about suspending our non-interference policies with mortals until such a time as we have the resources to either properly discuss providing aid to future petitioners or to restore my Lord Father to this seat.
Fire took to Mokosh’s eyes, scary bright. — Seconded! — Quickly, she added, — And since I am representing my husband’s vote in his absence, I will put it in favor.
— I vote in favor. — said the god with the starry cloak.
— Lord Svantovit, I will assume the vote you issued prior to this meeting still stands? — asked Prove.
— Yes. — said the god who looked like he was looking everywhere at once.
— On my Lord Dazhbog’s behalf, I abstain. — said one of the spring goddesses.
— A majority vote in favor, Lord Dobrozhe. — Prove stated.
— Then we will meet again at sunset. — Sasha said. — Meeting adjourned. —
Oh Sasha. Too bad that sort of decision couldn’t happen fast enough. All-in-all, not a win. Fuckin’ politics.
Carmen remembered to bow and began gathering up Summer. Ken gave her a passing smile, promising return, and turned to head towards Sasha.
“Tak now, Mami?” Summer whispered.
She was so good. Carmen kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, baby.”
“Wheah goin’, Ten?” Summer asked.
Ken flickered back around. “I am going to talk to Sun-Shine, Summer.”
“Oh.” Summer looked over, brightening, and gave Sasha a wave. “Top monen, Shunsine!”
Gods. The way Summer said things wrong was so cute. Carmen just couldn’t stay encabronar—she’d have to settle for just mad. S’okay, she’d get pissed again later, when she told everyone back home about all this bullshit.
“Say it ‘Sun shine,’ mijita.”
Her heart twisted a little. Carmen almost felt like she was drowning a kitten or something. But it was, like, good for her mental development and shit. “You got it!”
Sasha glanced over Prove’s shoulder and gave an answering smile which drove away all the grim seriousness in his face. After a quick wave, he turned back to Prove, resetting his intent, businesslike manner.
“Ten tak, Sun-shine!” Summer turned to look at her, asking if she got it right with those big-ol’ gorgeous eyes.
A smile overtook Carmen. “Ken’s a big boy, he can speak for himself.”
“Ah, Clear-Eyed Carmen, but it never hurts to have an advocate.” He gave her a wink. “And who better to speak to the sun on my behalf than our little Summer here, eh?”
Carmen turned her smirk to him and gave him space to depart. Ken took it, waving brightly to Summer before turning away.
She, on the other hand, had to get the hell outta there.
“Mami, wheah goin’?”
“But Sun-shine, Mami.”
“We can go see him in a bit. But right now Mami needs a break.”
Carmen stepped out of the grove, set Summer down, and stepped under the branches of a nearby tree, leaning against its trunk and pressing her hand at her temples.
They’d taken every precaution they could think of. Magic wards, fires, offerings, shit, even a fuckin’ moat. Could anyone say overkill? But that was the problem—no one could, not for sure. In fact, Jan probably didn’t even need to get close. Carmen had seen Dovilė at work—a moat couldn’t do shit against a good vantage point and a bullet. Neither could wards or fires or offerings. Only gods could do anything, at this point. The real reason for all that other shit was to keep everyone busy, make everyone feel safer.
Fuck. There was no saying when Jan was coming after them, either. Or even if that was who Mad Mag was talking about with her creepy-ass omen. Shit, Aida had the whole death thing down, maybe she was coming back. In which case they should be planning a fuckin’ party, not going all medieval.
Yeah, she couldn’t blame that asshole for being all conservative and shit. But she’d still blame him for being an asshole.
A small hand patted her thigh clumsily. “It’s tay, Mami. It’s tay.”
“Thanks, baby.” After a final pat, Summer’s little footsteps padded away from her.
And then all around the whisper of leaves grew to a hiss, and branches creaked and groaned. The soft press of skin against soil carried to Carmen’s ears.
It sure as hell wasn’t Ken’s sighing winds brushing by, or Sasha’s warmth and powerful beating heart and heavy steps that patted everything into place. Carmen took her hand away from her temples to regard the newcomer.
“Ah, look at you!” It was English, with a Russian accent thick as honey. Mokosh. Damn, she was short. “There is nothing quite like not taking important matters seriously to etch wrinkles in your brow and make your hair gray, da?” Her tone was mild, her face still, but her eyes were still bright with fire and venom. “No wonder why Lord Stribog—who, in his wisdom, treats every matter so very gravely—has such a youthful disposition!”
Thank the gods. Literally, apparently.
Carmen crossed her arms. She was fuckin’ done being diplomatic. If she lost political brownie points or some bullshit, fuckin’ fine. Sorry Dovilė. “Oh, is that the secret to eternal youth? A stick up the ass?”
Mokosh’s brows twitched upward and she briefly, casually passed a hand over her mouth. “Good for fighting off the insidious agents of chaos at least.” She motioned vaguely towards Summer. “You surely know how determined they are to undermine the order of all things.”
Summer, who had seated herself to dig her fingers in the dirt, sneezed messily. Alongside Carmen’s answering “¡Salud!” was a “Boot’tye zdorovy!” which was quickly responded to by a “¡Gasias!”
Carmen clicked her tongue as she pushed away from the tree trunk, giving Mokosh a sidelong glance. “Shit, sign me up!” Then she turned toward Summer. “C’mere, baby, lemme get that snot off your face.”
“Tay, Mami.” Summer curled her feet in, leaned forward, giving them a good view of her loam- and leaf-dusted diaper, and pushed herself up unsteadily with her hands. Then she walked over, picking carefully over jutting roots. She was getting better, surer-footed. When she drew close enough she stuck her chin out, presenting her face to Carmen. Carmen stepped forward and crouched to receive her, then began rooting around in the diaper bag. Shit, she never seemed to be able to find the snot rag whenever she needed it.
Then fabric fluttered at the edge of her vision. Carmen turned a little. Mokosh wordlessly held out a little white handkerchief, some Russian colorfully embroidered in it. Carmen took it with a grateful smile and cleaned Summer up.
She offered it back, and Mokosh flicked her fingers dismissively. “Keep it.”
Summer looked up at Mokosh. “Top monen, Booska.”
Mokosh raised a questioning eyebrow Carmen’s way.
“‘Top of the morning, Babushka,’” Carmen translated. “It’s how she says hi.”
A smile curled at the corners of Mokosh’s mouth, which she smoothly pressed out. “Well! Privyet!”
This time it was Summer’s turn to give her the asking look. “Who is, Mami?”
“It means ‘Hello.’”
Mokosh nodded, looking between Summer and Carmen. “See, over here mornings have no tops or bottoms. So we say ‘privyet.’”
Summer stared at her for a moment, mouth shifting and pushing a couple times before she spoke. “Peev-het.”
That smile made a return, and didn’t go away this time.
“vvv… vvv… vet.”
“Very good! So I say ‘Privyet!’ and you say?”
Man. That was some real talent right there, being cute in just about every fuckin’ language.
Mokosh’s smile spread to a grin, broad and warm and full of delight. Kinda like how Mamá used to smile sometimes.
She crouched to be on a level with Summer. “Ah, you are a wonder, douschenka! What’s your name?”
Awww shit. Awwwwww shit. Time to drown another kitten. “Your name’s Summer, baby.”
Summer looked up, her little eyebrows pressing down. “No, Mami.” She crooked her head pointedly. “Mijita.”
A sudden crack drove back some warmth. “Summer—”
That… that was the Stern Mami Voice.
Carmen shut her mouth and took a breath.
She almost took that all personal. There was no way Summer could know that her Papi had picked that name out for her. That their room in Bakersfield was just a little too big for them. That she wouldn’t be getting as many kisses as she should.
Her corazoncito. She’d needed him here, at this meeting, to be her Wolf. Maybe together they would’ve worked it out.
Fuckin’-a. All this because Summer was doing the baby thing. Carmen was no match for the blitheness of her little girl.
She threw up her hands in mock surrender, trying to let it all wash back out to sea. “Alright, alright. You win.”
Mokosh lifted her chin, regarding her for a bit. “Dear, you look like you could use a sit in the sauna and some good tea.” She rose, decisively. “I just dried some tea leaves yesterday, and if we get started now the scones should be ready by the time you’ve gotten a good sweat.”
That sounded fan-fuckin’-tastic… but not in the cards. Death was still on the horizon. “Thanks. I really should be getting back, though.” Carmen brushed Summer’s diaper off.
Mokosh nodded. “I understand. I will keep a cup ready for you, and a space in the sauna, for when you are ready to start taking things seriously again. Come any time.” Her lips spread a little. “You too, Summer-Mijita.”
“Careful, one of these days me and the agent of chaos here might take you up on that.” Carmen rose, her girl in her arms.
“Luckily I have an abundance of sticks.” Mokosh nodded deeply to Carmen. “Da svidaniya.”
“You too.” She gave the goddess a brief bow, then looked to Summer. “Alright, mijita, let’s go talk to Sunshine, get Ken, and go home.”