To the End
“Should I get you anything before you go?” Varotontli asked, rubbing a thumb absently over her marble arm. “Maybe pack you some food for the road?”
Moe shifted her head in its place on Sofia’s lap to regard him. “Please.”
He was fussing again. “No thanks. I think I’ve eaten enough for another two years at least. And I’d rather travel light.”
Moe clicked her tongue and scoffed but offered no further protest. The three of them settled into silence again, seated there on the couch in front of the crackling hearth.
Now would be a good time to give that apology. Before Varosmosis had to end.
“Alvaro…” Sofia leaned her head against his chest. “I’m sorry I just… jumped into this really really important decision that’s gonna take me away for a while and possibly put me and our baby at risk without discussing it with you first.”
Varotontli drew her closer, then tightened his arm around her to take her hand in his. His thumbs rubbed over her knuckles. Moe shifted a little to make it easier for him. “Forgiven.” He looked up and smiled. “Even before you apologized.” His gaze dropped back to their hands. “I won’t say it’s easy to let you go.” He thought a moment, gathering his words. “But Sofie, I trust you not to make this decision lightly. And I couldn’t bring myself to stop you, anyway. I think your love for and faith in and dedication to your family are all so incredible. I’m really honored you’ve chosen me to be a part of it.” Awwwwww, Varotontli… He searched, for half a breath. “I’m scared for you, and for our baby, but…” He looked up again. “Malinalxochitl’s quarrel isn’t with you, it’s with her father, and no actual war has been declared yet. And you’ll reach Alejo. He very much wants you to reach him.”
Yeah… Yeah. Varotontli was right. Probably about Malinalxochitl, as well as Papá. Papá would come through for her. He always did. She just had to remind him that he wasn’t just the bearer—
—the ex-bearer of the sun.
Varotontli let go of her hand to reach toward the back of her head, cupping it in his palm. Sofia obliged, reaching for his, too. They pressed their foreheads together, noses touching. Breathing for a moment. Sofia’s shoulders began to ease lower and lower, releasing tension that she didn’t even notice had been there.
“I need, like, a pocket Varotontli,” she murmured. “So when I’m doubting myself I can pull him out so he can say that he believes in me.”
Moe put her hands over her face, taking a deep breath in and holding it tight.
A grin bloomed over Varotontli. “That sounds brilliant. And adorable.” He pulled away slightly, took up her flesh hand, and put it over his chest. Then he put his hand on hers. “But maybe a little redundant.”
Their matching heart tattoos. He was saying he’d be with her always. Without all the cliches. Well, aside from the fact that they had matching tattoos to begin with.
He was just the sweetest ever.
“Redundant systems are good, though.” Sofia kept her hand on his chest. She didn’t want to let him go. “You want fewer points of failure.”
He didn’t move either, save his grin growing wider. “That’s a good point.”
She wanted to kiss him again. But she’d been spending a lot of kiss-points this evening. “Besides, you can’t have too much Varotontli in your life.”
Moe let out her breath in a long, low, strangled groan. Then she sat upright and rose to standing. “Okay. I can’t do this anymore.”
Oh no! “Moooooe!”
She stopped, turned, and slid a half-glare over, setting her hands on her hips. “Look, I tried my best, okay? But, really, you two should be in some kind of containment before you kill us all.”
Ginger cupped her hands around her mouth to call from her place across the room, on the ceiling. “Secon—” Her statement ended with a small, enunciated burp.
“Mmm.” Moe stifled her humor. “Thanks for your valuable insight, peanut gallery.”
Ginger spread her hand over her chest, shock written all over her face.
“’Twas an accident t’is time,” assured Leanne. “An’ not a metaphor for t’at most pernicious sickness t’at arises from overexposure to concentrated waves o’ adorability.”
“Yeah, what she said,” said Ginger. “‘Scuse me.”
Moe spread a hand on her chest, rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, and smiled. Then she turned a little. “Have I told you two how much I love you?”
“We’ll stop,” Varotontli promised before the conversation could get further out of hand, twisting his smile in apology. “I’m just gonna give one more baby blessing, okay?”
Moe looked less than convinced.
Well… yeah, it sounded pretty cute. It totally wasn’t, though. “It’ll hardly be sappy at all.”
Moe hesitated, hand still on her chest, looking over them with too much suspicion to be genuine. She wanted to stay, but also wanted a show of being sold on it.
Well! That was doable! Moe was totally worth it. “He doesn’t even say anything. Just puts his hand here,” Sofia put a hand on her belly, to illustrate, “and that’s it. Right?”
“Nnnnokay. So long as you don’t draw it out.” Moe settled back in next to her. Sofia freed her arm and pulled Moe right up against her, who pinned her with a look. “But I swear to you, next time I’ll be outta here for real.”
“Thanks Moeytė.” Sofia gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You’re the best.”
Moe gently tweaked Sofia’s nose. “And don’t you forget it.”
After Moe stopped moving to make herself comfortable, Sofia gave a ready smile to Alvaro. He turned a little, brought his hand to her, and took a breath. Warmth spread from his fingers, and the scent of roses drifted in, seeping into her skin little by little. More of her began to relax, one muscle and one inch at a time.
Given enough of this, she would melt away entirely. That would be really nice, one of these days. When they had time for it. That and one of his amazing massages…
There was a small tightness that slid through her, somewhere beneath his hand. Felt like a muscle twitch, except it was too drawn out to actually be one.
Wait. That was—
Sofia gasped and quickly gripped Alvaro’s wrist, keeping him pressed against her. His gaze snapped to her, eyes wide, lips parted.
Moe straightened quickly. “What!?”
“I felt that!” A smile started to press in at the edges of Sofia’s open mouth. “That was… !”
Realization warmed over Alvaro, and a grin spread over him. “Yeah.”
Moe looked between them, expression hard. “Sofie, wha—!”
“I felt him move!” She should feel bad for making Moe scared, but yobannye passatizhi, she wasn’t expecting this! It was amazing!
Moe stared at her for a moment, uncomprehending. Her eyes shifted to Alvaro.
“The baby,” Alvaro supplied helpfully.
It wasn’t about occasionally remembering about not having had a period in a while and having sore boobs and a sorta-upset stomach from time to time anymore. He was actually in there, doing his own thing. And he would only get more there as time went on. Moving more, because he wanted things, like being comfy. Hiccuping, even, maybe! Until one day she’d be able to hold him. Play with him. And she’d be able to watch Varotontli hold him and play with him. And they could share him with everyone else.
She was a mamá. Alvaro was a papá.
They had a son.
That was so weird. And… and so… incredible.
Sofia let go of Varotontli’s wrist to give him probably the fiftieth kiss of the evening. And then another, because that just wasn’t enough.
Although maybe it was too much.
“Just tell me when you’re all kissed out,” she said.
“I am, a little.” He smiled. “But it’s alright. I might not be getting them for a while. I’d rather stock up now.”
“Okay, let me up.” She patted Sofia on the thigh. “I love you two, and I promise I’m really excited, but I am now officially cuted to death.”
There it was: the Rock of California, just outside. It would take them back to the Old World. From there… well, Rube knew the way. He’d said he’d be able to find it again. They wouldn’t have to try to get a hold of Ken.
Rube held his hands out as Sanura adjusted the straps on his wrists. Intricate silver-and-gold carvings shaped the low, crouching figure of a manticore, its teeth bared. She turned his hands over, ran a finger along the metal casing at his knuckles. Then she stepped back, examining them through narrowed eyes.
“Claw your hands, please,” she instructed.
He obliged. There was a quick pulse of orange light along where his tendons would be and then lengths of bone, sharpened to a razor’s edge, shot out of the knuckle casings.
Sanura pressed her lips together briefly. “Now make fists.”
Once more Rube obeyed. The light pulsed red and the lengths of bone shifted out a little further. Sanura nodded, then stepped forward once more.
“You can lock them in place here, at either length,” she said, sliding the lock across the back of his right wrist. “Relax your hands.”
He did so, and the left claws sheathed while the right claws remained out.
“Cool,” Rube said. “Thanks.” He reached over and unlocked his right claws, letting them snap back into their chambers.
Man alive, it was really good that he was a lot more relaxed now. For a little bit there, Sofia thought Rube was going to get into a shouting match with Sanura. Well… at Sanura, more like. She didn’t really shout. She might’ve just blown him off, ‘cause that’s what she used to do with Harry and Victor. Which would’ve only made Rube madder.
And Sofia was feeling a little better, too. It was gonna be hard to see Papá again, worse than he’d been before. It was gonna be really hard to work through all the things with him. But Alvaro was right. For all that had happened, for all he’d faced, Papá was still Papá. He still loved her to the end of the world and back. She could help him remember that. They could do it.
And then maybe he’d be able to be an abuelo.
He’d actually get to be around for that. No more constant fighting. No more cosmos on his shoulders. He could watch his family grow up for real now. Be a part of it, like he’d wanted all along.
Ohhh… She wanted that too. For him. For her son. And, well, for herself too. So bad.
Sanura turned towards Sen, opening up for Wessy. He handed him over, and Sanura tucked him securely against her. A smile spread over her, and smoothed his hair, kissed his forehead, and then brought him real close for a brief moment of babytalk. Then, when she stepped back, Sanura moved forward to Sofia, shifting Wessy to her hip. Her gaze slid skyward, searching. Despite the light filtering through the gray clouds, her eyes were shadowed and sharpened by night, glittering with the reflections of a clear, starry sky. As they flicked about, new constellations stood reflected, only to disappear with the next flick. Finally, they seemed to settle. She reached up with her free hand, as if beckoning. A light descended, sliding down her fingers to rest in her open palm.
As she closed her fingers over it, Wessy stared, a grave expression on his face. He reached out, putting his tiny hand on her fingers, either in awe or curiosity or some sense of ceremony. The light strengthened, spilling between her fingers.
That was just the most adorable ever. A “d’awww” rose up quick, almost before it could be stifled.
Sanura smiled, bringing her hand closer to him. He kept his hand on hers, staring the whole time. Then she opened her fingers up. The light flew, Wessy tracking it with his eyes, before settling over Sofia’s head, where it flashed and faded out.
“May luck be the star that shines for you through even the darkest night, when all other stars have gone out,” spoke Sanura, her tone grand and solemn. Then she offered Sofia a smile, and spoke normal. “Don’t tax yourself if you can help it, dear.”
Sanura then moved to Rube, to repeat the whole process.
Mom took that opportunity to approach, an arm around Lili, who was leaning against her side. She reached up, offering Sofia a kiss on the cheek and a smile. A blessing.
“We’ll be waiting here for you when you get back,” she said.
“With lots of hugs,” Moe added, giving her a cheek kiss on the other side.
Once Rube had got his own blessing, they set foot through the threshold of Danmairge, went to the Rock of California, and walked backwards and counterclockwise around it three times.
Then the Old World curled beneath her feet.
Hidden deep, deep below were memories of restless times, roiling and seething, over and over, to find its shape. She could feel it still, curled within her, in a tight, hot ball. Only the very edges of her skin felt solid, each dip carved, each peak stiff, just enough to contain her alongside the forever that circled around unto itself, beginnings coming to an end and endings beginning anew. Seasons lighted only briefly on her skin, a jumble of sunshine and wet and dry and cold and hot that mattered but didn’t matter.
A voice came from very far away. An important voice. “This way.”
Sofia pushed herself back up through her feet. Rube started off at a light jog, and she followed.
Black out stretched all around them. A dark haze of ash drifted, growing grayer and grayer the more it reached towards the sky. Far above, dark figures floated, wings spread across the sky. On the horizon around them, silhouettes lurked, either moving or still.
It was all suddenly so familiar, an old, almost-forgotten kind of familiar. Though so much had changed, the feeling of the Old World returned in force. It brought to mind long bus rides, so much presence in an enclosed space. Watching the scenery sliding by, the hope of not being too intriguing sort of idling comfortably in the back of the mind. Passing the time with books, or conversation, or…
Sofia felt the cadence of her steps. Let them pound the rhythm in her head. Then took in a breath.
♪My lover’s got humor / She’s the giggle at a funeral… ♫
A grin broke out over Rube. He took a breath in and joined her.