Actions

Work Header

generations.

Work Text:

It starts as a pain behind Lito’s eyes. They got home from Paris two weeks ago, and breathing feels easier than it ever has. Just as he believes his headache is over, a new one manifests behind his eyes. He takes an aspirin and think’s that’ll be the end of it, and then two more an hour later when the first never kicks in. It’s not so bad, though, he can carry on with his day. A little headache is nothing compared to the massive one he and his cluster dealt with in Paris. He remembers Sun dangling from the prison ceiling, and Wolfgang strapped down to Whispers’ table, and thinks his sinus pressure is not so bad.

But it doesn’t go away. It doesn’t even fade. In fact, it gets worse and worse with every day.

By the time he tells Hernando and Dani about it, the ache is taking up the entire front of his head. It worries them endlessly, because, while he has a tendency to be overdramatic, they could see something bothering him even before he brought it up.

Hernando paces back and forth behind the couch, babbling endlessly about the possibilities in regards to the cause of Lito’s pain, while Dani is curled into Lito’s side, holding a glass of water up as Lito sips it through a straw. It’s excessive, and he can feel Wolfgang behind him rolling his eyes, but he likes being babied by the people he loves.

“What if it’s a tumor?” Hernando asks, gesturing wildly. “Do you remember that day you called me crying and yelling about cancer in your family? Does your species get cancer?”

“It’s rare for us,” Will supplies with Lito’s voice, dislodging the information from the back of his mind. “So, it’s probably not.” He goes to sit in the comfortable chair across from the trio.

“And that day, I was feeling Sun and her lady pains,” Lito explained. “I can lay it on thick when I’m not about to start my period.”

Dani snorts, and Hernando sighs.

“On a scale of one to ten,” Hernando says, rounding the couch to sit on Lito’s other side. “How bad is it?”

Lito’s eyes frantically dance around the room, trying to come up with an answer. “I don’t know, Hernando, I’m not good at this kind of thing!” He says, worked up in a panic. “It’s not as bad as what has happened to some of my cluster, but most of that shit doesn’t land on a scale of one to ten. How am I supposed to know what ‘ten’ pain feels like? Is it getting tasered? Or being strangled? Ten is too low a number to represent what that feels. So is this headache a two? Or a ten? I don’t know Hernando!” His eyes well with fearful tears. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” He pauses, and sniffles, then adds with a weak voice. “What if it’s cancer?”

From the corner of his eye, Lito sees Kala step out from behind Wolfgang with a sigh and a shake of her head. “Headaches are not a main symptom of brain tumors,” she tells him patiently as she crosses the room. “The most common symptom is personality changes.”

“And you’re the same, overemotional Lito you always are,” Nomi finishes for her, putting a supportive hand on Lito’s shoulder.

“And if it is cancer, then we will support you through it,” Capheus promises, and The truth of that resonates through all of them. Lito is reminded that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for him, and he would do anything for them in return.

Lead by Sun, the cluster takes a breath together and releases it, their heartbeat easing.

“It’s not cancer,” Lito says like he’s deciding it hit himself.

“It’s not cancer,” Dani echos with an enthusiastic nod.

Hernando waves his hand that isn’t wrapped around Lito. “Of course it’s not cancer,” he agrees, as if he weren’t the one to bring up the subject.

“But maybe it is a sensate thing,” Dani suggests. “You know? You said when this whole thing started, your head hurt for a week, right? Maybe that’s what this is. Like your mind is expanding even further.”

“Another cluster?” Kala asks, bewildered.

A bell rings in Will’s mind. “Jonas said any sensate can give birth at any time,” he recalls.

“Oh my god, I’m pregnant,” Lito groans.

“What?!” Dani and Hernando cry in unison.

“Calm down,” Wolfgang says, his hands finding Lito’s shoulders. “You’re not making this situation any better.”

“We could ask Mr. Hoy,” Riley suggests, from where she sits on the ground beside Will’s feet. “He would know if it’s a sensate thing or not.”

“Yes, lets ask Mr. Hoy,” Lito says. “You’ll come with me?” He gives her a pitiful, puppy dog look she could never be immune to. She rolls her eyes, but smiles warmly, nodding as she stands up. Lito looks back and forth between Hernando and Dani. “We’re going to ask Mr. Hoy.”

“Yes, Lito,” Hernando says affectionately. “We figured that out.”

“Give him our best when you see him,” Dani says.

Conveniently, it doesn’t take long for Mr. Hoy to make an appearance at Will and Riley’s apartment with a very chirpy, “Miss Blue!”

She and Will jump at his arrival. “Mr. Hoy!” She returns, just as brightly, and Will offers him a smile, too. “It’s good to see you!”

“You too, dear,” he says. “I heard you and your cluster needed something?” Like it were his cue for a movie, Lito is beside Mr. Hoy in a second, smiling down at him. “Good lord, laddie, you’ve got no trousers on!”

Lito looks down at his briefs and pulls his his blanket a little closer. “Sorry,” he says, covering his package. “I had a question and you’re the only one we can trust.”

“Well, I canna believe that’s true,” Mr. Hoy says. “Your cluster is quite popular these days.”

“You’re the only one we like to trust,” Riley supplies fondly.

“And you know the most about our kind than anyone else we’re connected to,” Will explains.

Mr. Hoy nods, understandingly, and sits at Will and Riley’s kitchen table. All three of them join him quickly. “What seems to be the problem, laddie?” He asks Lito.

Lito takes a breath and remembers the order the details are supposed to come in. “I have had a headache now for a week,” he says. “It started behind my eyes, and now it’s the whole front of my head.” He puts his hands on his face, covering his entire forehead. “It’s only getting worse and nothing is helping me. Is this a sensate thing? Or should I go to the doctor?” He takes a deep breath and leans in close to Mr. Hoy, looking gravely serious. “Cancer runs in my family.”

Mr. Hoy barks a laugh and slaps his hand down on Lito’s shoulder affectionately. “I dunna think you need to be worryin’ about cancer, my boy,” he said. Lito heaved a breath and sagged in his chair at the news. “I know what you must be thinkin’, and you’re most likely right. It sounds to me like you’re preparin’ to birth a new cluster.”

It makes Riley smile at Lito. She reaches over and puts her hand over his. “That’s great news,” she says, her voice as soft and warm as a campfire.

Lito gives her a bewildered look. “Great news?” He asks. “This is great news? How is this great news? I can’t have a baby cluster now! I’m in the middle of filming the biggest movie of my career! I’m not ready to be a father! I don’t know anything about childcare!”

“They won’t be children,” Riley reminds him.

“You don’t have to raise your cluster,” Mr. Hoy promises. “You just have to show them the world through the eyes of a sensate.”

“But, I don’t know anything about being a sensate!” Lito says, his panic still rising. “All I know about being a sensate is everything about the old BPO, and they are dismantled and my knowledge is useless. I still don’t really understanding visiting and connecting. I don’t know anything about births. And then we learned about the Lacuna and that made me realize that there’s so much that I don’t even know I don’t know!”

“Lito, calm down,” Riley says, squeezing his hand, and he feels Will’s familiar calluses on Riley’s petite fingers. “No parent knows everything. The only thing that matters is that you love them.”

“They’re being born at the perfect time,” Will adds. “They’ll never be hunted. Their father is well connected and has a big heart. You’re already going to be better than what we had.”

In the back of the cluster’s minds, they remember their only memory of Angelica, and how she stranded them in this world with no knowledge of what was happening to them. The sound of the gunshot echos distantly in their minds. Lito won’t let his new cluster scrape in the dark for answers like he had to. He will comfort them, and show them that they’re not crazy, and not wrong, but a little different to everyone around them.

Riley and Will smile at Lito, knowing the decision he just came to.

“Okay,” he sighs, nodding a little as he comes to terms with this. He squeezes Riley and Will’s hand, gently, a silent ‘thank you’ for their unwavering support. “Okay.” He looks back to Mr. Hoy. “What can I expect from this?”

The rest of the cluster files into the apartment in the distant background, listening in on this information. They’re thirsty for more information. At some point or another, they’ll all need to know it.

“Your headache is going to last a few more weeks,” Mr. Hoy started to explain. “It’ll take over your whole head over the next week. Soon, you’ll start to pick up glimpses of your new cluster, sights and smells and sounds, that sort of thing. The headache will become a migraine the day before the birth, and you’ll want to isolate. Don’t; you’ll need all the support you can get. The birth will be relatively simple, you’ll know exactly what to do when the time comes.”

“Does it hurt?” Lito asks.

Mr. Hoy pauses. He taps his fingers on the table as he puts his words together. “Right now, your mind is buildin’ the connection between the new cluster,” he says patiently. “It’s your connection to them, and their connections to each other, manifestin’ in your head. When it’s time, it’ll burst out out find its way to them. That isna the most comfortable of sensations, I can tell you that much.” Mr. Hoy smiles a little. “But it’s worth every moment of it. Seein’ their faces, just that first time, makes it all worth it.”

“What will it be like with them?” Lito asks softly, his voice full of wonder.

“Sharin’ isna as easy as it is with your own cluster,” he explains. “But visiting’ is like breathin’. They’re always on the outskirts of your vision, and you can always feel right where they are in the world.”

It eases Lito. He likes that idea, of protecting a new cluster, being everything Angelica wanted to be to them. He could make their mother proud. It relieved a little bit of the tension in his head.

“Have you had any clusters, Mr. Hoy?” Riley asks, releasing Lito’s hand. She rested her chin on her fist as she looked at him.

“Oh, aye,” he said, an absently fond smile taking over his face. “I had four clusters.”

“Four!” Will exclaimed.

Mr. Hoy snorted. “Laddie, four clusters is nothin’,” he says. “One of my cluster gave birth ten times in her lifespan. There are some out there who have twenty.”

“Twenty clusters?!” Kala asks, stepping up to the table from the other side of the room.

“You’re telling me this could happen nineteen more times?” Lito asked, the panic rising again. Once or twice could be fine, maybe a few more, but twenty? The limit for him was long before that.

“No, no,” Mr. Hoy backtracked quickly. “Twenty clusters is abnormal, it’s unlikely any of you would have twenty clusters, though you have proven yourselves to be quite a unique cluster. After all, you’re having a cluster so soon after your own birth, it’s only been, what? Three? Four years? No, most have three, maybe five, clusters, if they have the long life they should. I don’t foresee you having any more than that.”

They all sat in silence for a moment. That was a lot of growth for their kind. Nomi did the math quickly: if each of them had four clusters, that was over two hundred new sensates. It was daunting. Between them, they could give two hundred people the lives they didn’t know they were missing.

“It feels like a lot, doesn’t it?” Mr. Hoy says, bemused by their shocked expressions. “It’s a beautiful thing, and you shouldna be afraid of it. As the world grows, so do we, and you are doing your part. It’s natural.” He looks right at Lito. “You’re just the first of your cluster. You’ll know just how to help them when it’s their turn.”

Riley’s trust in Mr. Hoy reaches out and touches every member of the cluster. Their ease soothes Lito, and he can breathe a little easier.

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

Lito stands in his bathroom, grooming his beard line, when he sniffs. Cigarette smoke is somewhere in the distance, and it makes him want one. Hernando had him off cigarettes; he’d been trying to get Lito to quit for ages, and his psychic pregnancy was the perfect excuse.

“If it affects babies in regular pregnancies, and if there have been studies about nicotine’s affect on the brain and how smoking affects the oxygenation of the brain,” Hernando had argued far more intelligently than Lito was prepared to counter for, “then what makes you think that smoking will not affect this kind of pregnancy? I will not allow the Tobacco Corporations affect the gift you are giving to your new cluster.”

The lack of cigarettes did not help the headache. It hasn’t gotten worse over the past few days, which was nice, but Lito isn’t sure how it could get any worse. His whole head throbs, even in his sleep. It’s so bad, it’s actually affecting the cluster’s mood.

(Diego loves to irritate Will on a day-to-day basis, it comes with the territory of being brothers. It was a lot more fun for Diego in the last few weeks, picking at every raw nerve Will had, until he explained that Lito was pregnant, and every shitty thing he did to Will, he did to an already overemotional Lito. It made Diego stop. He called Lito personally, long distance, to apologize.)

Lito sniffs the air again, and drops in on his cluster who smokes, hoping to get a drag off of someone. Sun is deeply asleep, with Mun beside her and her dog wedged tightly between them. Wolfgang is asleep too, wrapped around Rajan who is wrapped around Kala. Wolfgang peeks an eye open, and, surprisingly, doesn’t look mad about being woken up.

“Sorry,” Lito whispers, holding up apologetic hands. “Sorry. Go back to sleep.” Wolfgang does, and it’s like a dream that Lito was even there.

He disappears from their bedroom and finds Riley, her headphones plugged into her equipment. She stops what she’s doing when she sees Lito.

“Oh, is it too loud?” She asks, turning the volume down immediately.

“No, not at all,” Lito says, smiling. “It’s kind of comforting, actually. I don’t know what I’d do if it all went quiet.”

Riley smiles and laughs softly. “Yeah, I get that,” she says, and she pulls off her headphones. “What’s up?”

“I—.” He hesitates, suddenly a little shy. “I thought I smelled someone’s cigarette. I was hoping for a puff.”

Riley gives him a bright smile. “That, I can do,” she says. She stands and walks over to her coat. She reaches into her pocket and grabs her pack and a lighter. “Let’s go on the balcony.”

Lito nods and walks with her to the window. She yanks it open and crawls out, and he follows closely. She lights the cigarette and passes it to Lito, and they sit down on the two little folding chairs that probably shouldn’t be on the fire escape. Lito takes a long drag and holds it before slowly releasing the smoke from his nose.

“So, you smelled the smoke?” She says, conversationally. “You’re either starting to see the future, or your connection with the new cluster is growing.”

Lito snorts, takes another drag, and passes the cigarette to her. “It feels tight,” he explains. “It doesn’t just hurt, it feels like my skull is stretched out.”

Riley smiles, and nods. “That’s what normal pregnancies feel like, too,” she says. “The last month before-, well. My skin was so tight, I was sure it would split. But it never did, so I think your skull will be just fine.” She takes a drag of her cigarette and gets a little caught up in the feeling of being a mother without her child.

“You’re an amazing mother,” Lito promises her. “You never forgot her.”

Riley’s eyes water. “I never will,” she whispers, only because she doesn’t trust her voice not to break.

Lito doesn’t need to ask, he already knows; she and Will can’t imagine a life without each other. They share dreams at night of being married and having children, of being a family. Will has no family left but their cluster, and they can all agree he deserves it. Lito may doubt his parenting ability, but he’s confident in Will and Riley’s. Their children will be beautiful, and they will be stronger than the combined force of their parents, and they will be loved so unconditionally.

The silent reassurance makes Riley smile, and sniffle a little. “Thank you,” she says, clasping his hand between them tightly. “Thank you. Sometimes I need reminding that it’s not some pipe dream, that it’s something that can be real. But my curse is broken now, isn’t it?”

Lito rolls his eyes, but squeezes her hand. “A curse cannot break if it was never put in place,” he tells her. “And you have never been cursed. Maybe unlucky, but not cursed.”

“I don’t feel unlucky anymore,” she promises. She takes a pause, wrestling with a truth. “And, maybe, the unlucky things were supposed to happen. They were supposed to teach me to be strong, so that I know how to be strong for you, now.”

“You were strong before all of that,” Lito promises.

“You didn’t know me then,” she says, with a tilt of an eyebrow. “I’m not who I used to be.”

“No one ever is,” Lito says, loftily. “I am not who I was when we first met. But I have always been Lito. And you have always been Riley. And maybe you used to be softer and more naïve, but you have always been a beautiful genius with a warm heart and cold hands.”

They just smile at each other. They see each other, and see more than siblings, more than twins. A shared womb is a connection any sapien would believe to be the deepest, that you could never be so close to another person. And even though there are two thousand miles between them in physical distance, no sapien twins could ever understand the closeness Lito and Riley share in this moment.

“You’ll be a wonderful father to your cluster,” Riley promises, easily.

They’re so close to him, it feels like if he reaches out, he might touch their edges.

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

Kala has been staring at the piece of paper in her hands for twenty minutes. Her fingers are trembling, so the paper trembles in her hands. She reads the words over and over again, like they’ll suddenly say something different, but the printed words stay as they are on the paper.

Capheus leans over her shoulder and reads the words. His sunshine smile spreads across his face as he lets out a crescendoing sound of excitement. “That is wonderful news, Kala,” he says. “Congratulations.” He puts his hands on her shoulders and squeezes gently.

Kala lets out a shaky breath. “Is it?” She asks, her mind racing. “Everything is still so new with the three of us, and we haven’t talked about any of this kind of thing. It all feels so fast!”

Capheus walks around her desk and sits in the chair opposite her. “That is true, it is very fast,” he says, knowing the three of them had only been settled into their life together for a little more than a month. “But you love each other. And this is a miracle! Will we ever be fully prepared for our miracles?”

She puts her hand on her cheek, and pretends it’s one of her men’s. It doesn’t comfort her as much as she hoped it would. “What if it ends badly?” She asks. “What if we’re not ready?”

“If we waited until we were ready for good things to happen, then we would be waiting our entire lives,” he explains. “And, Kala, this is a good thing. And you are ready for this.”

She hesitates. Her mind flashes to Rajan and Wolfgang. “Are they?” It comes out in a whisper, as if she’s ashamed of the thought.

Capheus smiles at her and leans back in his chair. He chuckles, shaking his head. “They will be wonderful.”

They’re in the Van Damn together, then, and he’s pulling up to the Kabaka home. Behind her, Amondi grabs her school bag and slings it over her shoulder as she walks to the door.

“Thank you, Van Damme!” She chirps, and it makes Kala smile. “Good luck at your rally next week! I’m going to ask my father to bring me.”

Capheus puts a hand on his heart as he looks at his little friend. “Thank you, Amondi,” he says, warmly. “I hope to see you there.” She gets off of the bus and walks around it, up the paved path to her house. He rolls down the window and calls out to her, “do your homework! Show those equations who’s boss!”

She whips her head around and makes a face at him, and both he and Kala giggle about it. The front door opens and Silas is there, and Capheus’ mother is behind him. She waves to her son with a bright smile, blowing him a kiss. She glows in a way he has never seen before. She looks happy and healthy, and how can he not be happy for her? Capheus excitedly waves back before putting the bus in gear and pulling away from the house to continue his route.

“You would also be a good father,” Kala tells him, sitting in the seat beside him. He smiles at her. “Any child of yours will be blessed with the most wonderful father.”

“Bringing a child into this world is so hard,” he says, remembering exactly how hard his own childhood was.

“Yes,” she agrees, looking down to her lap. “But you have already made the world better and safer for future generations. That is no small thing. And if anyone can protect a child, or let a child see that the world is not as bad as it seems, it is you.”

He smiles, glancing from the road to Kala. “I must admit,” he says, wagging a finger. “I had not even thought about it until recently.” His mind flickers to Zakia. She isn’t the first person he’s loved, but he has never loved someone like he loves her. “That felt fast, too. For all of my optimism, I have never been one to daydream about a family. But I met her, and everything changed.”

Kala laughs softly. “I didn’t think your heart could get any lighter,” she teases him. “And then you met her.” He blushes, but can’t stop smiling. “You want to start a family with Zakia?”

“Not right now,” he says, quickly. “But-. Soon. Maybe soon. Of course, I should talk with her about this, no?” He raises an eyebrow and gives Kala a wide grin.

“It might be best,” she grins back. But her grin fades. “Ganesha knows I did not have that conversation, and I wish I had. I might be able to know what I’m getting into.”

From her desk, she’s on the outskirts of her connection with Wolfgang. He and Rajan are out on the football pitch, starting a game of one on one. They look free and happy, and it makes Kala’s heart skip a beat. Their bond was instantaneous; Wolfgang had always believed Rajan was a good man, the best man for the woman he loved, and how could Rajan not fall for the iron-strong man who had captured his wife’s almost unattainable heart? Kala did not need her connection to Wolfgang to know that he and Rajan we’re past bonding and fresh into loving each other.

On the football pitch, they’re just boys playing. The weight they carry on their shoulders is on the sidelines for this game. Wolfgang is not the dangerous safecracker, and Rajan is not the president of a pharmaceutical company, and neither of them are soldiers in a war they never asked to be part of. They’re best friends, trash talking each other. They’re lovers, teasing with flashes of skin and promises of later. They’re the men she loves. And maybe Capheus is right, and they’re ready for this.

Kala is back in the bus, leaning back in her seat. “We can’t wait until we’re ready for good things to happen,” she repeats, deciding she agrees with him. “We have to accept the gifts as they come.”

Capheus smiles and nods at her. “You should take the rest of the day off,” he suggests to her.

“That is a wonderful idea,” she says, and she’s already standing from her desk chair, gathering the papers, shoving them in her purse, and exiting her office. She makes plans with a bubble bath and a movie on her way home.

A little more than an hour after she’s already taken a bath and painted her toenails, when Rajan and Wolfgang come home, their hair still damp with sweat and both of them stinking terribly, Kala welcomes them home with a kiss. She takes them each by the hand and pulls them into the living room.

“You should sit down,” she advises, grabbing the papers from her purse.

They pause, but follow her instructions and sit, their legs pressed against each other. “Is everything okay?” Wolfgang asks.

“Yes,” Kala says, quickly before either of them can worry. “Yes, everything is fine.” Improper as it may be, Kala sits on the coffee table before them. Each of her knees press against one of theirs. She needs to be close. She needs to see their eyes.

She hands Rajan the paper in her hands. He folds it open, and holds it between him and Wolfgang. As if they were the two connected, their eyes dart up to her at the same time, and the same emotions flash over their face: shock, and then a little bit of fear, but mostly delight.

“My wife, is this true?” Rajan asks, his voice full of wonder.

“This is real?” Wolfgang tries to confirm. She can feel his head spinning. It’s out of left field, but he isn’t unhappy. Kala takes a deep breath and nods. “You’re pregnant?” He laughs as he says it, the information settling into his mind. She nods again, a timid smile appearing on her face.

All at once, they grab either of her hands and pull her into their laps, wrapping her up tightly. Wolfgang can’t stop laughing. Similarly, Rajan can’t stop crying, but it isn’t at all from sadness. She’s so comforted by their embrace, she wonders why she worried in the first place.

“I know we haven’t talked about a family at all,” she says, a little muffled by someone’s shoulder. “And I know this, with all three of us, is still new, but-.”

“We’re having a baby!” Rajan cries excitedly, pressing kiss after kiss to any bit of skin he can, regardless of whether it’s Kala’s or Wolfgang’s.

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

When Lito’s cluster is born, he is clutching to anyone and everyone within his reach. Agony isn’t the right word, but Lito can’t think of any other to describe it. It feels as though someone is hammering open his skull with a chisel to get to his brain. Nomi feels the pain as if it’s her own anyway, and the memory of that exact thing almost happening to her sends an added ripple of fear through the cluster.

“That’s not helping,” Will says, doing what he can to stay calm. Even in the war, Will was more calm than this. Then again, he knows more about war that he does about birth.

Riley puts her hand on Will’s arm, and he takes a breath.

“Sorry,” Nomi says to Lito. “You’re doing great, honey.” She sits beside him where he lays on the couch. She wipes away some of his tears, presses a kiss to his head, right where it hurts the most, and he lets out a loud groan.

Meanwhile, Hernando is pacing back and forth behind the couch, waxing poetic about the birth of Athena, comparing Lito to the mighty Zeus. Lito is not listening. When he passes, Lito grabs Hernando’s hand and squeezes.

“Hernando, I love you,” he said through gritted teeth. “But, please, shut the fuck up.”

Hernando gets this hurt puppy look on his face. Normally, Lito would kiss that look off his face, but right now, it seems unimportant. “I’m sorry, baby,” Hernando apologizes softly. He kneels before Lito and brings his hand up to his lips, kissing at his fingers. “How can I help you?”

“Don’t leave me,” Lito pleads, as if Hernando was threatening to. He squeezes his lover’s hand tightly, and reaches out to his cluster with his other. All seven of them take hold of him at once.

Somehow, the pain intensifies, and Lito lets out a pained yell. His eyes snap open, and he can see Angelica, in her white dress, with her stringy hair, reflecting back at him in the mirror all the way across the apartment. His eyes are drawn straight to her. It distracts him from the pain, but only for a moment. Every single one of his muscles are contracting painfully, making him arch off the couch, and hold on tightly to his family. Dani kneels at his head, and she’s crying, too. She hates to see him like this.

Hernando is crying, partly because he sympathizes with Lito, but mostly because Lito has sprained his fingers with his squeezing.

The cluster is in agony, all of them clutching to each other for support. It feels like labor, Riley confirms this. They writhe together in their corners of the world, each of their partners whispering words of encouragement to Lito.

And, after what feels like hours but was truly only a few minutes, it stops.

He can still feel his cluster’s hands within his own, but they’re far behind them. His newborns, his children, stand before him, wide-eyed.

“I see them!” Lito breathes. His heart swells, and a laugh bubbles from his chest. “I see them! God, they are so beautiful.” His eyes graze over them, in their corners of the world, and he falls in love with all of them. He stands up slowly, wanting to be close to them.

The new sensates stare at him, slack-jawed. It takes a moment for them to start looking at each other. He’s with them as they start to visit. He can feel flashes of confusion and fear before him.

“It’s okay,” he promises, holding out his hands to them. “You’re okay, I promise. I’m Lito, I’m your father.”

“Our father?” A Chinese man, Lito instinctively knows his name is Li, speaks up, clearly confused.

“You’re Lito Rodriguez,” the American girl recognizes. He knows her, even before the connection was made. She’s famous, more famous than he is. Of course someone in his cluster would be more famous than him.

He smiles and nods. “I am,” he said. “I know you, too. You’re Heather Charles. I used to watch your show.” Once upon a time, when she was just a little girl, Heather played the spunky daughter in the most famous sitcom of the time. Now, in her twenties, she’s plastered on the front of magazines every week. To say he used to watch her show is Lito trying to downplay how much he loves her work.

“Holy shit, you are Heather Charles!” The French man, Julien, proclaims. “You are my style icon!” But before he can get lost in his excitement, his bewildered eyes find Lito. “What’s happening? Why am I here? In your living room?”

“I’m sorry, I got distracted,” Lito apologizes. “I have a lot to explain.”

(A week later, Dani asks when their birthday is. She giggles when she hears they were born on July Eighth.

“They’re Cancers,” she explains.)

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

Way back, during the war, after their stay in Chateau Bug, when they were finally allowed to go back home, Nomi and Amanita’s neighbor down the hall had a baby girl. They’d missed her entire pregnancy, and they felt so awful, because they knew she was alone, and they wanted to support her. After all, she was a single mom with a newborn, she wasn’t about to turn down any help she could get.

The baby was named Hazel, for her mother’s grandmother, and Angelica. Originally, it was going to be Frida, but something changed for her mother when she looked down at baby Hazel for the first time. It throws Nomi through a loop when she hears the name, but something soft and sweet about her eyes reminds Nomi of her cluster’s mother.

Nomi and Neets loved to babysit. They had a very special bond with the little girl down the hall. Hazel liked to be with them just as much, she absolutely adored everything about them. She loved dress up, and reading books, and singing too loud. She even loved Nomi’s terrible cooking.

Now, four years later, and two years after Kala had Siya, Nomi is woken up in the middle of the night. Specifically, Wolfgang wakes Nomi up, gently shaking her.

“There’s someone at your door,” he tells her very seriously, and she shoots upright in bed.

Amanita makes a sleepy sound as Nomi jumps out of bed. “What’s happening?” She asks, starting to get up.

“Someone’s at the door,” Wolfgang grunts with Nomi’s voice. “Stay here.” It’s enough to both wake Amanita up, and completely petrify her.

Wolfgang stalks to the front door silently. He peers through the peephole and sees no one. It makes him hesitate. He knows he heard a knock on her door. He unlocks slowly, then yanks open the door, and Nomi is face-to-knees with Hazel.

“Hazel, what are you doing here?” She asks. She kneels down to Hazel’s level, rubbing at her eyes.

“Mommy won’t wake up,” Hazel says, her voice nervous, and very timid. It makes Nomi’s heart race.

“Okay, come inside here,” she says, extending her hand. Hazel takes it and follows Nomi inside. “Neets? Will you come here?” She can hear Amanita getting out of bed and padding over to the living room as she walks Hazel over to the couch. Hazel sits down and grabs her book that’s always on their coffee table. She opens it and looks at the pictures. Nomi watches her for a moment, then pulls Amanita a few feet away.

“She says her mom won’t wake up,” she explains, quietly. “I’m gonna go over there. Will you keep an eye on her?”

Amanita nods, blinking her eyes awake still, and trying as hard as she can to process everything. “Of course,” she promises. “Be safe.”

“Always,” Sun and Wolfgang say in unison.

Nomi kisses her wife gently, grabs her phone off the counter, and leaves. She goes down the hall to the open door. She hesitates before entering the apartment. She walks to where she knows the bedrooms are. There’s Hazel’s mother, lying motionless in her bed. Nomi can see where Hazel was sleeping beside her.

She approaches the bed. Kala sits down and looks over her. She feels for a pulse, and checks for airflow, and finds nothing. She looks up to where Nomi stands and shakes her head.

“Okay,” Nomi says, shakily. “My neighbor is dead. What do I do?”

“Call 911,” Will says, half asleep. “Keep Hazel at your place. Don’t let them put her in the system.”

Nomi nods and dials the emergency number. She explains the situation, from the next room over from the body. When she hangs up, she leaves the apartment, closes the door behind her, and finds Hazel and Amanita asleep on the couch together. Nomi puts some pants on and waits at the door with coffee for the police and the coroner.

Hazel’s mom had a stroke in her sleep. Hazel had wondered why her mommy was acting so funny, and laid her down for a nap. Hazel was a big girl, and she could take care of herself while her mommy took a nap. She put on a movie herself, and climbed up on the counter to get a snack, and had a grand time by herself. When she ran out of crackers, she decided it was a good time to take a nap, too, so she curled up in bed next to her mommy. She woke up hours later, her tummy grumbling and her mommy cold. Something was wrong, and she didn’t know what, so she went to the only other people who had ever made everything feel okay again.

Amanita doesn’t allow the police officers to wake Hazel up, and she scares them a little bit, so they back off. For now, they let her sleep. She sleeps through the back bag on the stretcher walking past the door.

(Nomi spends exactly ten minutes in the California Social Services Network. It was almost no effort at all to make sure that no one could take Hazel away. Too many kids get lost in foster care, and she will never let that happen to Hazel. Amanita encourages her, with her way of making even the most dire of situations seem like perfect destiny.)

It’s another two days before Hazel brings up the subject of her mommy. She turns her big, beautiful eyes to Amanita and asks, “Where’s my mommy?” And Amanita doesn’t know what to say. She’s speechless. She looks up to Nomi with helpless eyes, pleading with her wife for assistance.

“Your mommy,” Nomi starts, but she doesn’t know what to say, either. She hesitates before following Amanita’s lead in asking for help.

“Your mommy passed away,” Sun tells her, putting a gentle hand around Hazel’s shoulders. “This life ended, and her next one began.”

“She left?” Hazel asks, not understanding.

“Sort of,” Sun tries. “She is still with you in your heart, and she always will be. I know she is looking at you and is so happy that her beautiful girl is safe.”

Hazel’s chin wobbles. “She’s gone?” She asks. “When is she coming back?”

Sun tsks, gently, sad that she must break this news, but knowing she would do better than Nomi. “She won’t come back,” she explains, and the way the tears spill over Hazel’s eyes makes her heart squeeze. “And you will miss her everyday. But your mommy loves you so much.”

Hazel cries and flings herself into Nomi’s lap. Nomi holds her, and she cries a little too, for this loss of innocence far too early.

The cluster all comes in and kisses Hazel softly, whispering to her in seven languages how much they love her. She doesn’t know the words, but she knows the feeling. They cradle her close, the way they would with their own children. It strikes Nomi that she’s been thrusted into motherhood, something she never thought she’d have for herself. She holds Hazel close, pressing their hearts together.

When she calms down, she looks at Amanita, rubbing at her red eyes. “Are you going to be my mommies now?” Hazel asks her, climbing from Nomi’s lap to Amanita’s and wrapping a pink dreadlock around her chubby fingers.

Amanita locks eyes with Nomi for a moment before looking down at Hazel. “Do you want us to be your mommies?” She asks.

Hazel thinks, staring right into Nomi’s soul, and then nods. “Yes, I like you,” she decides. Amanita wants to laugh at her seriousness. “I always wished I had two mommies.”

“Does three sound okay?” Nomi asks.

It gets Hazel to smile a little. She nods. “Yeah,” she nods. “That’d be okay.”

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

Riley’s giving birth, and Will is beside her in bed, clutching her hand. It’s like their connection has never been stronger. Her pain feels so real, more real than Lito’s did. But this time seems worse for them all. It feels twice as bad the entire time for everyone in the cluster.

But they know that this is it. This is the end of their three-week headache. After this apex of pain, everything is beautiful. Riley is bringing new life, and this cluster must be amazing. They have to be, if they make everyone feel like this.

It all breaks, and the light shines, and Riley exhales the breath that she’s been carrying all these weeks.

“I can see them,” she whispers, and she’s crying, because her children are more beautiful than she could have ever expected them to be.

Will is bewildered beside her. “I see them, too,” he breathes.

Riley tears her eyes from her cluster to look at her love. “What?” She asks, just as perplexed as he.

“I see them!” He says, moving to kneel on the bed. “Riley, I can see them!” The cluster he sees draws closer to him, and he reaches for them. They climb onto the little bed with Will. He wraps his arms around them and holds them, telling them how beautiful he thinks they are.

Riley looks, and sees her cluster before her, and she gets out of bed to go to them. She embraces them, forgetting for the moment about her confusion. She has more important things to attend to.

The rest of Will and Riley’s cluster stands at the door of their bedroom, gaping open-mouthed at them. They’re all piecing together what happened.

“They both had a cluster,” Nomi realizes aloud.

“Of course they did,” Sun says, dryly.

“I think it’s kind of romantic,” Lito says, smiling at the pair of them, hugging their separate no ones.

“That would explain why it was twice as bad this time,” Kala nods along.

“Twin clusters!” Capheus cries, jumping around in the cramped hall. “Can you believe it? Eh, do you think the clusters can see each other?”

Wolfgang locks eyes with Kala, just for a moment, and he doesn’t need to tell her that he still aches, just a little, behind his eyes. Her eyes grow wide and she jumps a little. “Oh, God,” she whimpers.

The cluster in the hall all turn sharply to Wolfgang and stare him down.

“Fuck,” he whispers.

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

Throughout Zakia’s pregnancy, Capheus would whisper to her belly, telling his daughter that she was his blessing. He would tell her all about his day, and all of the things he knew, and how much he loved her and her mommy. Zakia would smile at him and run her hand over his head.

He knows he can cry easily. He knows that any little reference to the family he has collected can set him off like a child. So, he knows, when Zakia goes into labor, that he will cry a lot within the next twenty-four hours. He apologizes to the cluster in advance, but they don’t care. They know Capheus, they love him, and they love his daughter. They cry with him, and the tears are fat and happy as they stream down eight faces.

But Capheus did not expect to react the way he did.

He has a breakdown of epic proportions when he touches his daughter for the first time. It brings him to his knees, and his tears drip a little bit onto her, but he thinks it bonds them. It’s a reaction that seems more appropriate for Lito, but no one says anything about that. Capheus thanks any and all gods and goddesses that brought his blessing to him, because she is so perfect in his arms. Mostly, he thanks the goddess that did all of the hard work, telling Zakia exactly how much he loved her thanking her over and over and over again.

It’s a day before he gets his emotions in check, at least for the most part. They’re back at home, and Zakia is resting, and Capheus can’t take his eyes off Johari. How could he love someone so much after just one day of knowing her? It was a question he would never know the answer to, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t need the answer.

Sun appears beside him, and she can’t look away from Johari either. She smiles a little bit, not realizing she’s doing it.

“She’s beautiful,” she whispers.

“Thank you,” Capheus says, quietly, not wanting to wake the baby. “I think so, too. She takes after her mother.”

“She takes after you, too,” Sun says. “She will be driving the Van Damn before you know it.”

Capheus huffs. “I hope not,” he says. “I want her to be a CFO, like her Auntie Sun.”

Sun smiles, and nudges Capheus gently. She looks back at the baby for a long time. “Can I hold her?” She asks.

Sun had not asked to hold any of the other babies that had been born. Of course, she loved them, just as much as their parents did, but Sun was not the type to hold babies. She didn’t really like babies. She and Lito were in agreement, babies weren’t all they were cracked up to be. As Hazel and, mostly, Siya get older, she play-fights with them, but she never held them as babies. It was different with Capheus; she had always felt the most connected to him. It was natural that she felt connected to his baby.

And maybe she was a little raw, too. It was a very emotional time, after all.

Capheus doesn’t hesitate to hand his daughter to Sun. He trusts her with everything in him. And Johari shifts a little in her sleep, like she can sense that it’s someone else holding her. She’s tilting more towards Sun in her father’s arms.

Sun smiles brightly at the baby, completely entranced by her. She loves her, and she never wants to let go, but she aches with the newborn in her arms.

“I heard what the doctor said,” Capheus murmurs. “I’m sorry.”

It was a hard thing to hear, just a week before Capheus welcomed his little girl into the world. The word “inhospitable” felt particularly harsh. She worked her frustration out over the word with a punching bag, and with Wolfgang at a shooting range. Kwon-Ho was kind, and told her it didn’t change anything, that they were still happy together. She hoped it was true. She hoped he wouldn’t think their life was incomplete.

Sun bites her lip, and shakes her head. Tears spill from her eyes, and Capheus lets her blame them on him. “It’s okay,” she whispers around the lump in her throat. “Some things aren’t meant to be. And, I’m already a mother in other ways.” She looks away from Johari and to her father. “I am not how a mother should be. I cannot cook, and I can only sow because of prison. All I know is fighting and finances.”

Capheus takes his time, thinking of the right words. “Maybe it does not make a good mother,” he says. “But it does make you a very fun auntie.” He smiles at her, and easily goads her into smiling back. She leans into him, and it’s like he’s holding both his daughter and his Sun in his arms.

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

Will and Riley get married in London very shortly after deciding to get engaged. It’s always felt like a place of victory for them, it’s always seemed so grand and glittering. Mostly, Will likes to remember it as where he met Riley.

It’s a fairytale. Every simple detail is executed perfectly. Everyone they needed managed to make the flights to London, even both Will and Riley’s baby clusters. Their own cluster and Diego stand on either side of the couple, dabbing away at tears the whole time.

The whisper their vows to each other, promising a long life of nothing but happiness and love to each other. Their hearts overlap and become one, they way they were always meant to. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s everything they wanted it to be, everything they dreamed it would be, and so much more. They slide rings onto each other’s fingers, a matching titanium set with an infinite blue loop in the center, and their bond is locked into place and sealed with a kiss.

The reception is the party to end all parties. Everyone eats too much and drinks even more, but it’s a good time. The cluster relishes in any opportunity they can be together. They have fun, they let a little loose in a way they haven’t since the war ended. They feel each other’s love. It’s the best feeling Will and Riley have ever shared.

Diego starts calling Will “Mr. Blue” after that. He has to admit, it has a very nice ring to it.

A year later, Riley welcomes their son into the world. She curses Will the entire time, and he sort of curses himself for doing this to her, because he can feel his vagina splitting open and he doesn’t even have one. But when they hear their baby cry for the first time, it’s suddenly all worth it. They look at him and see themselves, and each other, and it’s like magic.

They call him Erik Wilson Gorski, and they can never bear to put him down. He spends the first three weeks in one of his parents’ arms. Riley can’t stop staring at him. He is the most perfect, beautiful thing she has ever seen, and any little thing he does makes her beam. Every little face and fart makes her entire world light up.

Will knows she was born for this. He’s known forever that she would always be the most wonderful mother to his children, and now he gets to see it in action. Every time Erik makes Riley smile, Will falls in love with her all over again, even deeper than the last time.

 

 

 

 

{ - }

 

 

 

“Papa?” Ramesh tries to catch Rajan’s attention. Rajan hums distractedly, still focused on his laptop. “Am I your son?”

Rajan stares at his little boy in surprise for a moment. He closes his laptop and takes off his glasses. “What makes you ask that kind of a question?” He asks. He expected this, at some point, but he didn’t expect it so soon.

When Ramesh’s big sister, Siya was born, she was the perfect split between Rajan and Kala. It had been a question on all three of their minds during her pregnancy, who the biological father would be. Rajan and Wolfgang agreed that it didn’t matter, they would both be fathers to their baby.

When Siya was born, at first, Wolfgang was a little disappointed to not see any traces of himself on her perfect face. But when he held her, it didn’t matter, because this was his baby girl, and he would burn the world to the ground if it was something she wanted him to do.

Three years later, Kala had Ramesh. And while he had the coloring of his mother, his face was Wolfgang’s. Everyone close to their family knew that Wolfgang was more than just a bodyguard, but having a son who was clearly half German was a dead giveaway. Someday, they would explain it all. They had started to with Siya, but Ramesh was only five.

“The boys at school say I don’t look like you,” he explained, toying with a knickknack on his papa’s desk. “They say I look like Vati, and that means I’m Vati’s son, and not yours.”

Rajan sighs, and wishes his loves were with him for this conversation. He wishes, not for the first time, that he could reach out and clasp their hands from anywhere in the world, the way they can. “Come here,” he says, waving Ramesh over. The little boy climbs down from his chair and approaches his papa. Rajan lifts him easily and pulls him into his lap, holding him tightly in his arms. “You are Vati’s son. And you are my son. You have my last name. You do your homework at my desk every night. And I love you more than anything else in this world. Just because you look more like Vati doesn’t mean that you are not my son.”

Ramesh looks wary. Rajan has seen the same look on Wolfgang’s face many times.

“Am I your Papa?” Rajan asks him, poking him in his side.

Ramesh tries and fails to smother his smile. “Yes,” he says.

“Am I married to your Mommy and Vati?” He asks further, poking him again. They weren’t married legally, or in a big, extravagant way, but there was no doubt in their family’s mind that Wolfgang was also married to Kala and Rajan; he even wears a ring.

“Yes,” Ramesh agrees, smiling a little more.

“Then you are my son, and that settles it,” Rajan declares. He looks at Ramesh and sees everything he loves about Wolfgang and Kala. He had never questioned the validity of his fatherhood with Ramesh, not for one moment. Ramesh is eased by his papa’s words and leans into him. “Give me a kiss,” he says as he hears the front door of their home open and close. Ramesh obeys, kissing Rajan on the cheek. “Go find your sister.”

Ramesh doesn’t need telling twice; he jumps off Rajan’s lap and races into the next room, ready to bother his sister until she reacted to him.

“Hi, Vati!” He calls as he darts past Wolfgang, and he can’t help but chuckle at the boy.

He watches Ramesh launch into a fast paced story directed at his overtired sister, just for a moment, before walking into Rajan’s home office. “Hi,” he greets him, easily, leaning over to peck him on the lips. Rajan smiles, and fists his hand into the front of Wolfgang’s shirt to pull him back in for another kiss. Wolfgang sinks into Rajan’s lips, his fingers brushing over his beard.

“Hi,” Rajan says, his voice soft and warm. Wolfgang smiles at him, slowly pulling away to lean on the edge of the desk. “How was dance class?” Rajan knows the answer before he asks the question.

Wolfgang rolls his eyes. “She hates it,” he complains. “And I hate taking her. Why do you and Kala torture me? Why am I always the bad parent?”

Rajan raises an eyebrow at Wolfgang. “Those two love you more than they love Kala and I combined,” Rajan argues. “If I took Siya to dance class, she would never speak to me.”

Wolfgang nudges Rajan gently. “Come on, that’s not true,” he says. “She likes me driving her around because I’m different from all the other parents. You know more about dancing than I do. If she asked me to take her to a boxing class, that would be different.”

Rajan smiles. Perhaps their daughter would be better suited for fighting than for dancing. “We should ask her if she wants to switch classes, then,” Rajan suggests with a smile.

Wolfgang smiles right back, then looks into the empty space beside him. He tsks, shaking his head. “Kala doesn’t like the idea,” he says. He looks back to where Kala must be and says something quickly in German. Rajan can pick up on his profanities and the word “ladylike” and can get the gist of what he means. “How was school? Is he still the smartest?” He asks, turning back to Rajan, a mischievous smile in his eyes.

Rajan sighs and slumps further into his chair. “Some boys were saying that I am not his father,” he reveals. “That, because he looks like you, he is not my son.”

Wolfgang’s jaw clenches, and his hand balls up into a fist. “I bet I know,” Wolfgang answers a question Rajan didn’t hear. “I’ll bet it was that little fucker, Rohan Gupta.”

Rajan looks at Wolfgang like the entire cluster just spilled out from his guts. “He’s five!” He exclaims, then lowers his voice to a distressed whisper. “My heart, you cannot call a five year old a fucker. He doesn’t know what he says, he just says words he’s heard.”

Wolfgang frowns and huffs, folding his arms over his chest. Rajan is right, but that doesn’t magically make Wolfgang not angry. “People talk about us,” Wolfgang says, like he’s spitting the words out. “I know Gupta talks about us like we’re worse than demons, and I know it’s because he’s your competitor and he’ll never be as good as you. I don’t give a shit what he says about me, but he’s brought our son into this. No, fuck that.” He gets up from where he’s sitting on Rajan’s desk and goes for the door.

“Wolfgang, don’t,” Rajan says, getting up and stepping around his desk. It makes Wolfgang stop. He pauses, as if he’s listening to his cluster, but he turns his head over his shoulder to look at Rajan. “Assaulting my main competitor at a market time like this will not resolve his ignorance towards us and our family. It would only make matters worse.”

Wolfgang sags. “I hate it when you’re right and I’m angry,” he huffs through gritted teeth. He lets out a frustrated sound, then takes a deep breath. “Gupta doesn’t deserve a blind eye. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”

“I didn’t say anything about turning a blind eye or forgiving Gupta,” Rajan defend himself. “I just don’t want you to be arrested.” He walks to Wolfgang and puts a hand on his shoulder. “He is a simple-minded man, feeding bad information to his son. All we can do is love ours.”

Wolfgang looks into Rajan’s eyes and a little more of his tension releases. He inhales sharply and nods, and Rajan isn’t totally sure if it’s to him or to someone else. It doesn’t matter. Rajan gives him a soft, warm smile.

Hours later, at bedtime, when Wolfgang is tucking Ramesh into bed and kissing him goodnight, he’s asked a question he never realized he’d be asked.

“Where is your Vati?”

It’s so innocent, because Ramesh really has no inkling. Anton had not been brought up once since Wolfgang arrived in Bombay all those years ago. It catches Wolfgang off guard.

“You’re thinking a lot about fathers and sons today, aren’t you?” Wolfgang deflects. Ramesh just waits for an answer. “You don’t want to hear about my father.”

Ramesh groans loudly. “Vati,” he complains, like he’s asking for a simple bedtime story, and not the most haunting thing in Wolfgang’s very long past.

Wolfgang’s jaw tightens. He’s not ready for this conversation, and he’s not sure if he ever will be. The cluster isn’t helping, this is something he needs to do himself, and he knows he’s being chickenshit. “My father is dead,” he says, quietly. “He died a long time ago.”

“Oh,” Ramesh says, quietly, not realizing that was an option. “Do you miss him?”

God, Wolfgang loves him for his kindness. He reminds Wolfgang so much of Kala and Rajan. He wants to tell Ramesh what he wants to hear, but Wolfgang can’t bring himself to lie. “No,” he shakes his head. “He wasn’t a good man. If he were still alive, I would never want him to meet you.”

Ramesh’s eyes get wide. “Your Vati was very mean?” He asks, bewildered. “But you’re not mean at all. Scary, sometimes, but you’re not mean.”

Wolfgang smiles at his son. “I’m glad you think that,” he says, honestly.

Ramesh hesitates, like he has another question. So, Wolfgang pokes him to get him to ask. “How old were you when he died?”

“I was ten,” he says, and the memory flashes in his mind. The piano wire. The give of Anton’s neck. The smell of gasoline. The strike of a match.

“That’s old,” Ramesh whispers in awe, nodding his head a little.

Wolfgang can’t keep the amused look off of his face. “That’s not old,” he grins. “Only a little older than your sister.”

“Siya is practically a grandmother!” Ramesh complains. “She never plays anymore! She’s old.”

Wolfgang laughs at his son, but stops when Ramesh starts to chew on his lip nervously. “What?” He brushes his hand over Ramesh’s forehead.

“Are you going to die when I’m ten, Vati?” He asks, and Wolfgang’s son should never sound so afraid.

So, Wolfgang smiles at him. “You’re never going to get rid of me,” he says. He tickles his son’s sides until he’s squirming and squealing, then leans down and presses kisses to his son’s face. Ramesh laughs and laughs, wrapping his arms around Wolfgang’s neck, hugging him tightly.

Eventually, Ramesh settles back down into bed, his eyes starting to droop. “Goodnight,” Wolfgang murmurs. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Vati,” Ramesh says, his voice slow with sleep. Wolfgang adjusts the blankets a little bit before standing up and turning off the light. He looks at his son for a few long moments and feels so lucky to have his life.

Kala wraps her arms around him from behind, and then actually comes up behind him and holds him. “You’re so wonderful,” she whispers to him in German.

He smiles, and puts his hand over hers. “You’ve groomed me well,” he teases her. He laughs as she shoves him a little. He pulls her back in and kisses her softly. Kala pulls Ramesh’s bedroom door closed halfway.