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i'd be home with you

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It’s quiet in Amnesty Lodge, all the residents have long gone to sleep, murmuring goodnights and closing doors, shutting off the lights. It’s late spring, and the waning moon peers through the window of Mama’s bedroom in puddles of silver, lighting up the grey of her curly hair. She’s awake, lying on top of Barclay on her stomach with her head on his chest, face turned away from the window. The blankets are kicked off to the side and clearly forgotten. He’s propped into a half-sitting position by a large pillow, playing with her hair with one hand, holding a book in the other, tilted to catch the moonlight on the pages. It’s an old paperback with a worn and cracked spine, nearly too small for his hands, and from the stack of similar sized books on his nightstand, it’s clear that he favors them. This one has a crab on the cover, picking up tiny humans in its massive claws.

He slips a hand down under her hair to rub at her bare shoulders, trying to ease out some of the knots. They’re both shirtless, Barclay in a pair of reading glasses and a worn out pair of black sweatpants, and Mama in red boxers.

Barclay folds down a page corner and shuts his book, putting it back on the pile. “Hey,” he says, taking off the glasses, “What do you think you’ll do after the gate closes and moves somewhere else?”

Mama shrugs. “Figure out where it opened up and move.”

Barclay furrows his eyebrows, hand freezing midway on its stroke down her back. “You’re not going to retire?” he asks, confused.

She shifts her head over to look up at him, resting her chin on his solar plexus. The grilles in the window cast dark lines across her profile, bending over the bridge of her nose, her irises pools of rich black. “No,” she says, “Why would I?”

“Because you’ve been doing this for, what, twenty-five years now? And risking your life every two months?” Barclay says, a little horrified.

“What if nobody figures out what’s goin’ on wherever it opens up next?” Mama asks, leveraging herself up onto her elbows. “Should I just let folks get slaughtered? And even if they do figure it out,” she continues, pushing herself backwards and upright, “They’re gonna need help. They’re gonna need someone to help ‘em find their footing, someone to make sure they don't attack Sylvain for somethin' people over there didn't do, and I ain’t just gonna leave ‘em to that.”

“Okay, but even so, why not just help them for, I don’t know, the first hunt? Leave your number in case they need any help and then let them handle it?” Barclay asks, sitting up. His dark curls slip free from the loose bun he’d scraped them into, the hair elastic falling onto the pillow with a whisper of a noise.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

She shakes her head at him, her mouth twisting unhappily. Shadows pool in her laugh lines and crow's feet, and she goes to shuffle back to her side of the bed. Barclay catches her hand, gentle, and her fingers curl into his automatically.

“Hey,” he says, running his thumb across the scars on her knuckles. “Talk to me.”

“Barclay,” she says, “Either these things are gonna kill me or I’m gonna kill them, and if I’m bein’ honest with you, it’s probably gonna end up being the former. I can’t just quit on the world, not when people are gettin’ hurt by - by things they can’t even see. By monsters they don’t even know exist.”

Barclay stares at her. “But - but what about us? What about Jake, and Dani - what about… Are you just gonna leave the Lodge behind?”

Mama lets go of his hand, lets it fall against the mattress. She stares down at the sheets - light green flannel - suddenly unable to look him in the eyes. She’s quiet for a moment, and then says, “It’ll be safe for you here when the gate closes, ain’t nobody gonna bother with you lot. And I’ll leave all my money with y’all, and whatever art I’ve not sold by then -,”

“Stop, hold on -,” Barclay says, alarmed, but she keeps going over top of him.

“That should keep this place goin’ for a good decade or two before you gotta open up actual rooms and treat it like a real hotel, and I’ll take out a life insurance policy, make you the beneficiary -,”

“Stop!” Barclay says, eyes wide, both hands out towards her, palms first. She does. “You… You’re gonna leave us all behind?”

Mama puts a hand on his knee. “Now, don’t think ‘bout it like that,” she starts.

“How in the fuck else am I supposed to think about it, Mama?” Barclay asks. It comes out airy, almost a laugh by the tail end, more shocked exhalation than word. “You’re really gonna leave me behind?”

He looks sick to his stomach. He rubs a hand over his mouth, scraping through his beard. Mama shifts to sit cross-legged, and they’re both quiet for a long minute. Outside, the night breeze shakes the pines, and a cloud briefly passes over the moon. For a second, they’re both still, dark figures in a dark room, only distinguishable by outline. Nuclear shadows. Then the moon is back, and they can see each other again.

Barclay looks shaken, his mouth slightly open. His front bottom teeth are slightly crooked, too close to each other and slotted in a tad bit sideways. He shakes his head, scoops up the hair tie, and puts his hair into a messy top knot. When he makes eye contact with Mama again, he looks determined.

“What if I went with you?” Barclay asks.

Mama scoffs, already shaking her head, and Barclay holds up a finger.

“Now, hear me out at least. I got a shard of the crystal, so that’ll keep me going, and we can find where the gate opened, get a group together there to take care of it, and then I can bring you back home. You don't need to do this forever, you’re allowed to rest .” Mama shakes her head again, smaller, looking down at her lap. Barclay reaches out for her hand. “I’ll talk to Dani about getting more involved in running the Lodge, she's got the brain for numbers. We’ll start planning,” he says. Mama brings his hand up to cup her face, tucking her nose against his palm. He rubs his thumb under her eye, across her cheekbone. “And we’ll do it together. You aren’t all by yourself anymore, Mama. You can ask for help.”

“I don’t think I can quit. I - I don’t think I know how,” she mumbles against his skin.

“I know,” Barclay replies. “I’ll help you figure it out.”

“What about you?” Mama asks after a moment. “What’s your plan for when the gate moves?”

“I just told you. Where you go, I go.”

Mama huffs and jabs him in the stomach with two fingers. He flops back down into the pillows with a soft oof . “Don’t get too sappy on me. I mean, if you didn’t have the Lodge. Or me. Wouldn’t you want to... I dunno, go raise horses in Wyoming or somethin’? Nothin’ would bother you out there.”

Barclay makes a face. “God, no. Horses are terrifying.”

Mama laughs, flopping down beside him. “Barclay, when you take this off,” she plucks at his bracelet, “You’re eight feet tall and can lift my truck.”

“Half!” Barclay corrects. “One end! And I only did that one time!”

“Half my truck is still a fuckin’ ton. You could probably throw a horse.”

“They’ve got hooves and they’re always angry,” Barclay says simply, shoving the pillow until he can lie down comfortably.

“Seriously, though,” Mama says, “What would you do?”

Barclay thinks for some time, gently rubbing his fingertips along her scalp. “... I don’t know,” he says, finally. “I kind of assumed I’d be here forever.” He traces the shell of her ear, slings an arm over her torso to pull the sheets over them both. “I like it here, and I don’t want to leave. The Lodge is my home. I guess I intend to stay.”

“Yeah,” Mama says, and if her voice cracks, it’s between them and the silent silver moon. “Yeah. Me too.”