Kamila shot up the flare signifying they were ready to go. Cabanela followed along, shaking his head. He’d forgotten, in the heat of battle and the weight of his own misery, that petrifaction could be cured if the subject was un-shattered. He sighed. This was a success, he supposed, but he’d made so many mistakes, been so careless. How could he even hope to dream of a future with reconciliation, let alone friendship or love, in it? He had failed at everything.
Kamila slipped her hand into his. “Don’t worry, Uncle Ca—I mean, dad. You guys can work it out.”
Cabs side-eyed her. The princess was growing up too fast, he supposed, but he, too, remembered the dream and the unexpected pang of joy he had felt when she called him “Dad.” “I hooope so, baby, but—”
“But, nothing. Mama’s alive, Papa’s alive, you’re here, they’re here. No one had to sacrifice anything. Don’t you think that might be a good enough first step?” She took her hand away from his and skipped forward to grab the rope ladder. “Don’t give up yet, Dad!”
Alma slept for days. Cidgeon, well-versed in caring for coma patients, undertook to teach Jowd and Cabanela what to do as they took turns. When the moment finally came that she awakened, they were there, awkwardly wedged into opposite sides of the room, but coexisting for her sake.
She opened her eyes. “How am I here? I thought—I was dreaming and—” she pushed herself up in bed. “So. You almost fooled me again.” She closed her eyes in resignation. “At least I don’t have to save anyone this time.”
“Or ever again, if that’s your choice,” said Jowd, sitting on the side of the bed. ‘But I hope you’ll change your mind.”
“Leave me alone, you figment.”
“Wrexsoul is dead, Alma. We were there, and we shattered his vessel.”
“No, no, no, you can’t fool me,” Alma said restlessly. “You are all dead, and I—I—!”
Cabanela hurried to the other side of the bed. “Alma. Breeeeathe, baby. Four in and all that, remeeember?”
Alma looked at him wonderingly. “I remember telling you that, years ago. I never thought you listened.”
“I listened to everything you ever said, baby,” Cabanela said before he could stop himself.
“Now I know you aren’t real,” Alma said, with the first hint of her old humor. “Cabanela would never say something so cheesy without following it up with three more just like it.”
He tried to smile, but it turned into a sniffle, then full-blown sobs as he turned his back on both of them and sank down beside the bed, long legs splayed as he wept.
Alma, alarmed, reached for him, but drew back her fingers at the last second. “Cabanela? What--?”
“Real. What’s real? Who’s real? All this tiiiime and I still can’t prove I’m who I say I am.” He wiped his eyes. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I won’t intrude.” He stood up, headed for the door.
Jowd put a hand on his shoulder. “If you leave now, you’ll never convince either of us. Is that what you want?”
Cabanela slumped. “I don’t know how to convince you anyway. You can’t even look at me, and who could blaaaame you? And I killed you back there, Alma. Do you remember thaaat?” He couldn’t turn, couldn’t see their faces. “I thought when we were all together again, it would be better. I let your daughter convince me to hope.” He shook his head. “I should have known that better’s never going to happen. You and Jowd called yourselves garbage and trash back there in that heeell-dream, baby, but what we had was worth everything to me, and it’s been that way from the moment I saw you both. I threw it all away for magic. I wasted whatever good I could have been.”
Cabanela put a hand on the wall to support himself. He was empty, drained. He’d come to the end of words. It was time to leave, to let Jowd, Alma, and Kamila rebuild their shattered lives without the puzzle of how to fit him in it.
“I’m going to the tower,” he said. “I hope that you’ll remember me foooondly, once in a while.”
“Wait.” Alma said. “Don’t leave. I don’t know how you can prove you’re not a dream, but I—we—know that you’re not that made thing. We do.” She sighed, “Please, turn around and look at me.” Cabanela turned, the bare minimum of a shuffle, just enough to display his profile to her instead of his back. “Won’t you let me see your eyes?” she asked. “Sulking doesn’t really suit you.”
Cabanela turned and looked at her. “Look at me. See me.”
“We do,” she said softly, as Jowd nodded, eyes held steadily on Cabanela’s face.
It wasn’t better, but it was something. As the three of them planned their assault on the jester’s tower, a small thought flickered through Alma’s mind and made her chuckle.
“What is it?” asked Jowd. “What’s funny?”
“Oh. It’s nothing,” said Alma. “I just thought—one person’s trash is another one’s treasure.”