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did they love you or what?

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Fig hasn’t been back to Aguefort Adventuring Academy since she graduated. In all honestly, she was hoping to keep it that way. Sure, she would show up for the ten year reunion to see her friends, but she’d be out of those clammy halls as soon as was polite. That wasn’t an option today, of course, because Arthur Aguefort has died.

She parks the tour bus outside of Basrar’s and hops out, leaning against the door. She always feels like a joke next to this bus, ratty and chipping next to the huge plaster of her younger self. She keeps her chin pressed to her chest and flips out her crystal.

You (11:23): arrived
You (11:23): r u guys here
gorgug (11:24): I’m a mile away don’t worry I am using voice to text
adaine (11:24): You know that isn’t a particularly safe option either, right? You should focus on the road.
adaine (11:24): I’ll be there shortly, Fig. We’re meeting at Basrar’s, right?
kristen applebees (11:24): Huh?? I thot we were meeting @ school
adaine (11:25): It’s a block away, Kristen.
kristen applebees (11:25): Ya a block in the othr direction. Will b like 5 mins late
fabian (11:26): I knew we shouldve told her to come at 11. That way she mightve been on time 😂
riz gukgak (11:26): sry didn’t see this til now. im inside fig

Fig pats her back pocket for her wallet and keys and walks up to the front entrance. There’s a tinkle of a bell as the door swings open, and a small green head whips up from the corner booth.

“Hi, Fig,” Riz says. Fig grins and jogs over to him. She slides into the seat and throws an arm around him.

“Riz! I’ve missed you.” She presses her lips into his thick hair and makes exaggerated kissing noises. He squirms in her grasp, but doesn’t pull away. She pulls off and snaps her jaw at the air above his head.

“No, don’t eat me,” he says in monotone. The door jingles again, and as the thunder follows lightning, in walk Fabian and Gorgug.

“Fabian!” Riz’s grin splits his face in half. Fabian scratches the back of his neck and returns the smile sheepishly as he slides in on Riz’s other side. Fig waves to Gorgug, who sits next to her and rests his hand on her back as she buries her face into his chest.

“It’s good to see you, too,” he says. She head-butts him.

“Touring isn’t as fun without you,” she says. “I can’t sit on my dummer’s lap anymore. I don’t know her like that.”

“We’ll have a reunion tour one of these years. I miss the road. Once the kids are older, right?” Fig leans back in her seat and nods. After Gorgug got his education degree and started teaching Barbarics Theory at Aguefort, he adopted a flurry of children to raise with the love his parents gave him. They’re super cute. They all look completely different, but none of them question a family without blood. They’d stopped caring about that long ago.

“They can be groupies,” Fig suggests. She turns towards Fabian and Riz, who are locked in their customary animated catching-up. “You guys too.”

Fabian scrunches his nose. “If I never sleep in a car again, it’ll be too soon.”

“That saying never made sense to me,” Gorgug sighs. “Like, too soon for what? Why don’t people just say they don’t like doing things?” Fig tilts her head in contemplative agreement. The door again. Adaine walks in and holds the door for a frazzled Kristen.

“When did we say Basrar’s? I totally thought we agreed on Aguefort.” She flops next to Fabian as Gorgug makes room for Adaine.

“We were talking in the group chat,” Fabian says, “and we agreed we wanted ice cream. You know, for old times sake.” Kristen frowns.

“Wanting ice cream and going to get ice cream are completely different,” she insists. Fabian shrugs.

“Well, we’re all here now. Who’s hungry?” There’s a chorus of agreements, and Basrar appears in a sprinkle of snow.

“Ah, the Bad Kids! It has been a very long time, no? What can I get for my dear friends?”

They place their orders. Then, immediately, they receive their orders. Service is mad efficient when your waiter is a djinn. They all thank Basrar and get to munching. As they eat, a familiar silence settles across their booth. Adaine looks up.

“I can’t believe he died,” Adaine says. None of them could lie and say they felt sad, but it was incredibly jarring. Arthur Aguefort has been alive as long as anyone can remember and then some. Kristen nods.

“Like, literally. I’m still not convinced.”

“They haven’t found a body,” Gorgug agrees. “Just that weird note. Do you think he’s tricking us to get the party back together?”

“Speaking of which, I had no idea he liked us so much.” Fabian says. “Like, sure, we’re famous and powerful and our chemistry is unforgettable. I just can’t figure out why we’re in his will!”

“We’re in his will?” Gorgug and Riz say in stilted tandem. They look at each other, and then at the rest of the group, who are suddenly enthralled by the cream melting in their cups and glasses.

“Yeah. We’re here for the beefing,” Kristen says.

“Bequeathing,” Adaine corrects. Kristen shrugs and grins across the table.

“I thought we were just getting together to seduce a bird in his memory, or something!” Gorgug moans. Fig pats his shoulder as he rubs the bridge of his nose.

“I assumed there was something fishy going on. Hell, this could be it! Maybe it’s a test. Maybe he’s trying to check our greed as we’ve grown older and wealthier—“

“Guys,” Fig says, “He really is dead.”

They go quiet and look at her. Adaine’s mouth parts. Fabian raises a hand to the table and grips his spoon. Everyone looks down at their plates. A gentle hand covers Fig’s back.

“You murdered him?” Gorgug asks solemnly. “I get it, man. I hope you know that you can tell us anything.” Kristen nods. Fig tugs on her own hair.

“No! Jesus. I would’ve called you guys if I was gonna kill anybody. We have a pact.” She takes a breath. “I know he’s dead because he’s in hell. I haven’t spoken to him, yet, but I watched him come down.

Fabian shakes his head. “It’s still crazy that you’re a prince of hell,” he says. “It’s like, ‘I didn’t choose to be punk, punk chose me’, you know.”

Fig shrugs. “Yeah, but I was definitely punk before I was revolution-ing the hellish government.”

“So he’s really gone?” Kristen says. Fig nods. Riz shakes his head.

“Who’s gonna run the school?” He asks. “You don’t think Gilear’ll step up, do you?”

“I think he could figure it out,” Fabian says. He nods at Fig. Hallariel and Gilear broke up ages ago, but Fabian’s weird respect for his almost-step-father remains strong. Adaine smacks her hand on the table abruptly.

“God, I forgot to tell Ayda!” She pulls her crystal out of her jacket pocket and starts tapping. Fig slides down in here seat.

“And there’s no chance to wait till I’m back in Bastion before you get her?” Adaine gives her a sharp look.

“Her father died,” she says. “And I know their relationship was tough, but she deserves to be here.” Fig bites her lip.

“Yeah, I know.”

And she does. The whole drive back to Elmville, she’d been dreading seeing Ayda Aguefort. It’s been since graduation, nine years ago. The breakup had been more or less mutual, but the freedom of non-commitment weighs more than the responsibilities of monogamy.

It’s been difficult. Fig stands up from her seat, startling Gorgug.

“I just remembered I have to do something before the bequeathment,” she says, and it’s only half a lie. She does have to do something; she has to go lay on the floor of her bus until she can find the tiny part of her brain that can reason its way through whatever’s about to happen. Riz frowns at her, but nobody stops her as she crawls across two laps and drops some gold on the table. “I’ll see you guys, uh, later.”

She walks towards the door just as there’s a huge plume of orange magic in the parking lot. Adaine clambers past her and flings the door open.

“Ayda, oh my god,” she says, and isn’t that so true? Ayda is standing in an empty parking space, wings spread wide and eyes burning holes into the middle distance. Her hair is shorter than Fig remembers. She looks...

Well.

“Where is he?” Ayda asks as she steps through the door. Fig makes herself small as the rest of the group leaves the table.

“Ayda, I’m so sorry,” Adaine says. She reaches out a hand, which Ayda takes. “These kinds of things are really hard. Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Ayda says. “I’m fine. He was as much my father as Cassandra was the Nightmare King.”

“Only by societal perception...” Kristen mumbles. She looks at her hands. Ayda nods.

“Is his funeral being held here? At Basrar’s? It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to anything but a burial at sea. Do we put him in the soft-serve machine?”

“What would Aguefort ice cream taste like?” Gorgug wonders. Adaine smacks him. Fig very pointedly does not make a joke.

“We were just meeting here beforehand. The funeral is tomorrow, but he left a very insistent pre-death note demanding his will be addressed before the burial. We’re just kind of going with it.”

“Weird,” Ayda says, “What time?”

“We should be heading out around now, I think,” Adaine says. “Riz, what time is it?”

Riz pulls a pocket watch out of his vest. Fabian bites his lip in a grin. “It’s about noon. We should get going,” he affirms.

“You riding with me, White Rabbit?” Fabian nudges Riz in the shoulder. Riz sticks his tongue out and follows Fabian out the door.

“The rest of us can take the Hangvan,” Gorgug says.

“Shotgun,” Fig says, and almost cries with relief when her voice doesn’t crack. She scuttles outside and slides into the Hangvan. Chill as ever, he’s already unlocked.

Fig! His voice swims lazily in her mind. I’ve been missing you, broski! How’s the tour going?

“Less fun without you, Zaphriel.” She rests her forehead against the dashboard. The engine purrs. The doors start clicking open and everyone hops in. Ayda sits behind the passenger seat. Fig only knows this because of the intense wave of heat licking the back of her neck. She’s not going to risk a glance.

“Hi, Zaphriel,” Kristen says. She kisses Gorgug’s headrest.

You’re makin’ me blush, dude!

They get rolling. Gorgug has opted out of his usual thrash metal and is playing an old midwestern emo record. He knows Ayda doesn’t like all the noise. Fig knows, too. She can feel Ayda’s claws tapping to the mathematical rhythms on the ground. She tucks her knees up to her chest.

Aguefort Adventuring Academy looks exactly like it always does—tall, rude, prideful. The hedges are trimmed neatly and the paths are clear of debris. There’s a commemorative bench near the front door: Spring Break! I Believe in You! Fig lets her hand trail across the inscription before racing up to the entrance and holding the door open with her hip. Her friends squeeze in past her and smile at her. Ayda opens the adjacent door for herself.

School on a weekend is a strange and foggy. The lights are off, sunbeams wafting through the windows and glinting off the red lockers. There’s a custodial cart resting in the middle of a hallway. The sanitary wipes container is open to the air, so Fig clamps it shut. She follows the group into Aguefort’s office.

Gilear is there, looking terrible. His under eye bags are a comical shade of purple and his shirt has some unfortunately placed coffee stains. He raises his head and cracks his neck as they enter.

“Children,” he says, even though they’re all in their twenties. “I’m glad you’re here. Please, make yourselves comfortable.” There are only two chairs. Kristen takes one, and Fabian pulls Riz onto the arm of the other. Fig walks around the desk and gives Gilear a hug.

“Hey, Dad,” she says. He pats her arm.

“It’s good to see you, Figueroth. Are you well?”

She squeezes his shoulder and straightens herself up. “Let’s bequeath this bitch,” she says.

Gilear spits some legal jargon that everyone tunes out except Riz, who takes notes, and Ayda, who asks the occasional clarifying question. Gorgug peruses a bookshelf, but stops as soon as he realizes that most of the writings are wizardly in nature.

“I won’t worry you too much with all that. You all have lawyers, I assume?” They all nod. Sklonda works in immigration, but they all trust her with just about anything. “Good. I now have to read the will as it is written. I apologize if it is crass.” He clears his throat.

“‘If this document has appeared, it means I’m dead. For real dead, everybody. I know I’ve faked you out a few times, but this one’s super legit. Basically, I got bored, and just decided to stop being immortal. It’s not that complicated’.” Adaine scoffs.

“‘Ms. Faeth can confirm my whereabouts. By the way, Figueroth, I promise I’m not there to pull any hijinks or escapades. I’m just retiring’.” The room shifts its gaze to her. She nods. Gilear continues.

“‘The manner of how I passed is none of your concern. I like to keep people interested! And it worked, because you’re all here. Sorry. No answers’.”

Gorgug rolls his eyes. Ayda is very still.

“‘With that out of the way, let us hash this out. To the Barkrock family, I’ve already left my cloning technology and the finances in relation. It’ll be a fun surprise. Gilear can... handle it’.” Gilear’s face sags with the notion of work. “‘To Adaine Abernant, I leave my cool time-freezing watch. You’re the Oracle. I have to assume you’ll use it wisely’.”

As he finishes reading, Gilear reaches into a padded envelope and retrieves the small silver watch. The letters “A. A.” are still etched into the fine plating. She holds it reverently.

“Kristen, you’ll show me how it works?” She asks. Kristen nods heartily. Gilear smiles in the basset hound way that he does, and speaks again.

“‘To Kristen Applebees, I leave my many centuries of study. I’m anticipating a religion made in my image within the next decade, little lady, and I won’t take anything less than your best’.” Kristen’s jaw slackens.

“Why would he give me a job? Aren’t these supposed to be gifts?”

“It’s not like he can hold you to it,” Fabian says, chancing a look at Fig, who shrugs. “He’s super dead.”

“No, I’ll do it,” Kristen says, “I miss the honeymoon phase. Cassandra’s great, but there’s no surprises anymore.” A glimmering shadow passes over her shoulders and she shudders. “Not in a bad way!”

“Please keep reading,” Adaine says. She looks like she’s about to start foaming at the mouth at the prospect of not being given that research.

“‘To Fabian Aramais Seacaster, I leave my phoenix. Under no circumstances may you... bone her. She’s getting on in regenerations, and she needs someone to look out for her. She loves sudoku’.” Ayda’s hair flares outwards. Adaine puts a hand on her shoulder.

“That would be my mother,” she says. “As far as I’m aware, you can’t bequeath a person. She’s a person.”

“I have no fucking clue what any of that meant,” Fabian admits. “Does this make me a dad?”

“Oh, god. I don’t trust you to not emotionally ruin a child. I’ll help.” Riz affirms. Ayda growls.

“She’s my mom. She’s a person.”

Fabian looks embarrassed. “Sorry, I know. Gilear, how was this notarized?”

Gilear shakes his head. “It wasn’t. It appeared on my pillow next to me, I assume the moment he died. I’m just kind of playing it by ear, as they say.”

Adaine rubs Ayda’s shoulder rhythmically. “Don’t worry, we’ll get your mom properly habilitated.” Ayda is very still. Gilear coughs.

“Would we like a moment?” Ayda shakes her head, hard.

“No. Please keep going.”

“If you say so. Um, where were we... Okay, good. ‘To Figueroth Faeth, I assume there is no earthly possession you do not have access to at this point in your career. However, I believe I owe you a creature of sorts. I trust you know what I’m referring to. Be good’.” Gilear looks up and tilts his head. “Fig?”

Fig glances around the room. “I, uh...”

“Classic Aguefort,” Riz says, “being vague and annoying even after death. Why the hell do we even bother?”

Fig wrinkles her nose. “Whatever. He’s right, I have too much shit anyway.” She tries to laugh. It doesn’t feel funny.

“Just a bit more to go,” Gilear says. The group settles back. “‘To my daughter, Ayda Aguefort, I leave my school.” Gilear stares at the sheet for a moment. “You are twice the scholar I could ever dream of being. Do with this place what you wish. I should have been a better father.”

Ayda stands. “Is that all?”

Adaine frowns. “Ayda—“

“I have to go. Sorry. Um, bye.” She squeezes through the group and bustles out the door, shutting it behind her. Gilear taps his papers on the desk.

“I’m guessing we won’t want to hear the conclusion just now?”

Adaine groans and stands up. “I’ll go find her,” she says. “I’ll meet you guys at Mordred this evening.” She exits.

Aguefort’s office is deceptively small. After years of sneaking and snatching, Fig thinks she knows where most of the hidden compartments and false portraits are, but she can never be positive. Aguefort was a man who could never let anyone know what was truly going on below the surface. He shared that trait with Ayda, in a roundabout way.

“Why didn’t I get anything?” Gorgug says. Kristen pats his arm.

Fig steps out of the room.

The walk back to Basrar’s isn’t long, but it makes her legs ache. She walks through the town that she grew up in and charts which stores have boarded up and which chains have moved in. There’s a house on the corner that used to be pink. Fig remembers because she used to make Gorgug slow down on their way to school so she could get a good look. It’s brown now, with carefully trimmed topiaries and tightly closed blinds.

She jogs into Basrar’s parking lot and leans against her bus. The parking lot is still empty. It’s not even one yet, she realizes, and feels her pulse between her fingers. She scurries into her bus and closes the door.

Inside, it’s messy and hot. She fumbles to turn the AC on and slumps down beside the driver’s seat. Some crumbs dig into her back where she sits. Her crystal pings.

adaine (12:41): Hey Fig, Do u know where Ayda is
Me (12:43): i left actually lol
adaine (12:43): ?? Where are you
Me (12:44): bus
adaine (12:44): I thought you were staying for the week?
Me (12:46): i think i still am sry i just needed a bit
adaine (12:46): I get it. Can u come back soon though so we can find Ayda
fig (12:46): ya
adaine (12:46): (: <3

Fig puts her crystal on the floor next to her, pulls her face into her knees, and yells.

They meet back at Mordred Manor early. Jawbone’s cooking some veggie stir fry in the kitchen, and you can smell it halfway across the property. There’s some Latin rock playing from a speaker, but nobody’s grooving. The Bad Kids are huddled around the kitchen island when Fig walks in.

“There you are,” Fabian says as she shuffles in. Jawbone runs up to her and wraps her in a hug.

“Good to see ya, kid,” he huffs. She wheezes as his big arms constrict her lungs.

“Is Sandralynn still in the Baronies?” She asks when she can breathe again.

“Yeah, she’ll be back in a week or so.” He sets her down and fixes her a dish of stir fry. She accepts it with a smile. “Does anybody want seconds?”

“Yes, please!” Kristen bounces in her seat and taps her hands on the table. Once everyone is settled, Adaine folds her hands on the granite.

“So, we’ve checked here, around the school, and I assume Fig didn’t find her at Basrar’s,” she says. Fig shakes her head. “Right. I really didn’t wanna have to do this, but I’m gonna try Locate Creature.” She cracks her knuckles and her face slackens as she melts into her spellcraft. Kristen smiles dreamily through a mouthful of water chestnuts.

“I love when she goes all wizard,” she sighs. Riz holds a finger to his lips. Adaine’s eyebrow is quivering minutely. As her eyelids flutter, spots of hot blue light grace her cheekbones and flicker away. Her mouth moves in tiny silent syllables. Fig takes a bite of carrot.

Adaine’s eyes open with a crackle of intense light and she heaves a breath. Gorgug moves behind her and pats her back. “Did it work?”

Adaine coughs. “No. She must have some kind of protection rune.”

A grumble ripples around the table. Fig crosses her arms.

“You guys know she’s, like, a grown adult, right? It’s not like she got lost in Fantasy Home Depot. She probably just wants time to herself.”

Adaine leans forward on her elbows and presses her forehead to the countertop.

“Clearly. She’s just going through something hard right now. I don’t want her to make any poor decisions.” She looks up and locks eyes with Fig. “I assumed you’d understand.”

Fig bites the inside of her cheek. Adaine’s right, of course, but that doesn’t mean she has to be happy about it.

“I’m gonna go,” she says. She pushes away from the table. She hears Fabian start to protest, but she’s already sliding onto the piano bench in the living room and hitting that funky chord that pulls her into her old bedroom.

The sheets are a little stale. She hasn’t been in here since she graduated. There are a lot of magazine cutouts and mall booth photos pasted on the bed frame. A small box, its cardboard lid askew, rests near the pillows. Fig stares at it, and then lays down next to it.

“Kinda beefing this one, huh,” she says to a photo of Riz holding his ear up to a wrapped gift. He doesn’t look at her. She turns on her side and looks at the dents in the cardboard.

“Stop it,” she says. The box doesn’t respond. It keeps sitting there, brown and grainy and half-full. The more Fig stares, the more the fibers seem to wobble. She kicks her legs in an effort to cool the hot guilt weaving through her gut. The box is unbothered.

“You’re the fucking worst, dude,” she says, and swings her legs to the ground so she can sit up. She pulls the box onto her lap and flexes her fingers against the lid a few times before pulling it off.

She remembers the day she packed this box. It had taken so much convincing on Sandralynn’s part for her to keep anything that wasn’t the shirt on her back and the bass on her hip, and even then she insisted on tossing most of her possessions.

“I can’t do this if I’m missing everyone all the time,” she remembers saying to Adaine over a can of root beer in the observatory. Adaine hadn’t said anything, but she’d placed her head on Fig’s shoulder.

“What do you expect the rest of us to do?” Adaine had asked. Fig pretended to be asleep.

The box is sparse. There’s a ticket stub from Fig and the Sig Figs’ first paid gig at the Black Pit, smeared with some kind of condiment. She remembers Kristen kissing her on the mouth that night, and Fabian telling her how proud he was, and how bad her throat hurt the next day. She remembers how Gorgug froze when a bra landed on him from the audience, and how Adaine had kicked someone’s ass for sexually harassing a minor. She doesn’t remember performing.

There’s a tattoo flash from Leviathan. It’s a thick-lined orange with an arrow through it, like how one might draw a heart in the margins of one’s history notes. She’d been too anxious to get it that night, but there was something in her that wanted to have it burned onto her forehead. Riz would call her chicken for months after that, flexing the “Swan’s Little Parade” ink on his forearm with a resigned grin.

There’re more photos and cards and trinkets lounging across each other, and on the very bottom, there’s an orange feather.

It hasn’t collected any dust. Even in its inactive state, it’s lustrous and shimmering with static arcane energy. Fig picks it up and turns it between her first two fingers. It still has a little dent near the tip from when she got locked in a crate junior year and had to call for help. She pulls her knees up to her chest and buries her face downwards.

“Ayda?” She says. For a moment, there’s nothing. Then, it’s a hot water bottle in her palm. It glows honey-yellow when she looks at it. She closes her eyes.

There’s a burst of hot air. The bed dips from a new weight before that weight hurriedly stands up and steps back.

“You kept it,” Ayda says. Fig nods. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Fig says. “I guess I thought... I don’t know.”

Ayda is quiet. Then: “Did you need something?”

“Adaine’s worried about you.”

“Why aren’t you with her?”

“I wasn’t helping.”

Neither of them say anything. Fig doesn’t look up. She hears the wall creak lightly, and fabric shuffling.

“He tried to bequeath my mom,” she says, at last, “to Fabian.”

“He’s fucking insane,” Fig says, and she lifts her head. Ayda has one talon propped on the wall, arms crossed over her chest, wings pulled tightly across her back. She chews on her lip.

“Why would he do that? Why wouldn’t he send her to a caretaking facility, or, or, with me?”

“I have no clue,” Fig says, “I could ask him, if you wanted.”

“No,” Ayda says. She shakes her head and cracks her neck. “He’s dead. If he had anything left to say to me, he should’ve done it while he was here.”

“Yeah. This fucking sucks.”

Ayda looks at her. Her eyes are huge and sweltering, just as they always have been. “What was your thing? He said he ‘owes you a creature’?”

Fig tugs at a hangnail. “No clue. Maybe there’s a bus with hands waiting for me in Hell.” She rolls deception, and it isn’t pretty.

“You’re lying,” Ayda says. She frowns. “I understand if you don’t want to see me, but please don’t lie.” Fig rips the hangnail off. A drop of blood forms on her skin.

“Sorry,” she says. She hides her face again. She hears Ayda move off the wall. Then, she hears the knocking of a syncopated rhythm on the bubble’s wall. The room moans as it flips around. Ayda’s talons tap on the hardwood as she moves away.

Fig stays in bed for another few hours, unsleeping, unmoving. She only rises when she feels a calloused hand on her shoulder, shaking her gently.

“Jawbone made dinner,” Fabian says. He looks a little worse for wear.

“Is something wrong?” She asks. He laughs. The irony of her question isn’t lost on her.

“Ayda’s really mad. I mean, not at me, and, like, she’s really chill about it, but I know she’s pissed about the whole phoenix thing. I don’t blame her.” He sits.

“What are you gonna do about that?”

“No idea.” He lays back. Their shoulders nudge each other. “I assume Adaine’ll work it out.”

“I guess, yeah. What did Jawbone make?”

“Pulled pork sandwiches. The ones he made at the barbecue last summer.”

“I was touring, man.”

“Oh. I guess you were.” He groans, stretches, and sits up again. “I suppose you get to try it for the first time. They’re good.”

“Obviously. Jawbone made them.” The two of them slump back to the kitchen where everyone is putting shredded pork onto toasted buns.

“She rises!” Kristen calls, waving her sandwich in the air and grinning. Fig smiles back and slides onto a stool next to her.

“Hey, cutie,” she says. Jawbone pushes a sandwich on a ceramic plate in front of her. She takes a bite. It’s really good. She imagines everyone curled up on a gingham blanket in the yard, laughing and swatting ants. She imagines a completely empty spot on the edge of the blanket, opaque and colorless. She imagines someone kicking their legs out and filling it. The blanket it full. She takes another bite.

Ayda is standing near the sink, nibbling away at her sandwich. Her nose wiggles as she chews. Fig doesn’t look. Instead, she looks at Adaine, who’s dabbing at her mouth with a napkin and clearing her throat.

“So,” she says, “what are we doing about this?”

“I feel kinda bad,” Riz says. “Like, respecting the dead’s wishes and all that, but—“

“But Aguefort was an ancient freak with no concept of healthy relationships.” Fig finishes.

Riz twists his mouth. “That’s a bit harsh. I mean, I wasn’t fond of the guy, but he helped us a lot.”

“Did he?” She cuts in. “Or did he send us on life-threatening wild goose chases during our formative years instead of taking care of his daughter?”

Riz looks at her incredulously. She stiffens. “Uh, sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

“She’s kinda right, though,” Gorgug says. “Kristen died twice before she was even a junior. Most kids just die once, and even then they’re usually not kids.” Riz nods. Ayda takes an audible breath.

“My father was concerned only with training impressionable children to live in his fucked-up ideology. Like, ‘if you die, it’s a lesson’. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you just die, and you don’t get to do anything past that.”

A silence.

“Fabian, I’m gonna get my mom a caretaker. I’m sorry you got put in the middle of that.” Fabian shrugs.

“I’m sorry, too,” he says.

“Ayda, are you spending the night?” Adaine asks. “We’re getting the rest of the legal stuff worked out tomorrow after the funeral. I understand if you want to head back.”

“I’ll stay,” she says. “I’ve gotta decide what to do with the school.”

Adaine nods. “Aelwyn’s out for the week, so you can have the bottom bunk in the observatory.”

“That’s fine. I can take a sofa. I know it gets too warm for you when we sleep near each other.”

“I can manage!” She insists, and the two of them walk down the hall. Kristen clicks her tongue to fill the silence.

“I have to make a religion outta this guy?”

“You don’t have to do anything. What’s he gonna do, pull you to hell with him?” Fabian says. The air is heavy for a moment after he speaks. He reaches behind himself and taps his fist against the wooden chair. “I mean.”

Kristen rolls her neck and exhales, eyes big. “Yeah,” she agrees. “Where are you guys crashing?”

Riz, Gorgug, and Fabian exchange a look. Gorgug nods. “My place,” he says, and the three of them stomp out the door. Kristen waves at them. Fig squeezes a napkin.

“Can I stay in your room tonight?” She blurts. Kristen grins.

“Fuck yeah, gay girl sleepover,” she says. She leaps from where she was sitting and grabs Fig by the elbow. “Let’s get our cuddles in!”

Kristen’s bed is large and comfortable, with room enough, Fig has to assume, for two people getting a little freaky. It hasn’t been freaked in for quite some time, though, and Kristen’s mind is far away from anything like that. She fluffs the pillows and grabs some throw blankets from a wicker basket. Fig tugs the clips from her hair and the rings from her fingers. The clinks echo in the converted chapel.

“When’s the last time we hung out, just the two of us?” Kristen asks. “It was before you left for your tour, right?”

“God, it must’ve been.” Fig flops onto the bed and inhales the lived-in smell. “Too long, whenever it was.”

“Tell me about it!” Kristen rolls under the covers. She’s somehow changed into her pajamas without Fig noticing. She assumes it’s a lesbian skill, to avoid attention in locker rooms. She finds Kristen’s hand under the comforter and tangles their fingers.

“How’s Cass? Are they treating you right?”

Kristen laughs. “They’re great. Oh, I’m stoked, we’re speaking at a Galicean leadership summit in Falinel next month. I love watching how guilty I can make them feel.”

“That sounds great,” Fig says. She runs her thumb over Kristen’s knuckles. “Is, uh, you-know-who gonna be there?”

“She’s not the Ight-nay Orb-yay, we can say her name.” She wrinkles a little. “I mean, probably. We’re chill, though. Her non-profit is doing a lot of good.”

“Do you miss her?”

Kristen ponders. Then: “Yeah. I think, in a way, I always will? But it really couldn’t have gone any other way. We were never gonna get married and have little half-werewolf babies. That’s not who we were to each other.”

“How do you know?”

“I guess I don’t, not for sure. But Tracker, for me, was more of a... okay, this sounds bad, but she was more of a milestone than a real partner? Like, she helped me figure out my whole deal, and I guess I helped her, too, by helping her start her reformation mission. We were rungs on the ladder of life for each other, not peaks.”

“Huh.” Fig says. She rolls over so her back is to Kristen’s chest. “Let’s spoon.”

“Fine by me,” she says, wrapping her big arms around Fig’s tummy. She falls asleep fast. Fig stays awake.

She knows exactly what Aguefort meant when he left her a creature. It was his weird way of giving a blessing, she assumes, which is gross, but it makes her toes tingle.

It’s a weird feeling, knowing that you and another person matched each other’s cosmic specifications almost exactly, and climbing down the ladder instead of holding on with everything you had. It’s a weird feeling, the emptiness in your hands and the tilting under your feet that you know wouldn’t be there if you’d stayed where you were. It’s a weird feeling, looking up and seeing the distance to go.

She lays for what feels like hours with Kristen’s nose buried in her spine. She tugs herself free, finally, when she realizes she has to pee. She inserts a folded-up blanket into Kristen’s still encircled arms and tiptoes down the hall. She takes care of business, washes her hands, and looks at her reflection.

Her eyes are shaded in days of unwashed eyeshadow. Her roots are coming in, brown beginning to curl underneath purple and black. Her ears sag downwards with the weight of nickel and silver clamps and rings. Underneath it all, there’s no mistaking the shaking sixteen-year-old checking her collar as she tunes her bass before she heads out for a local concert. Fig frowns and scrubs at her eyelids. Someone knocks on the door.

“Occupied,” she croaks.

“Fig?” Ayda says. She crumples in on herself. She opens the door.

“I need to wash my hands,” she says. Fig steps out of the way and sits on the lip of the claw-foot bathtub. Ayda runs the water as hot as it goes and holds her hands underneath the flow. Fig watches her look at her own reflection, widening and squinting her eyes, tilting and twisting her lips. She flashes a smile, shakes her head, and changes it slightly. She dries her hands on a towel, but doesn’t walk out.

“How was your tour,” she asks. She’s still looking at herself.

“Exhausting,” Fig answers honestly. “But worth it, I guess. Now the whole world has rock ‘n’ roll.”

“I love rock ‘n’ roll,” Ayda says. Fig laughs.

“I felt kind of like a hack, y’know?” She slides backwards, into the tub, her legs hanging out. “Like, it’s not like I invented electric guitars. I’m peddling someone else’s wares. It felt like I was lying.”

“Your music is your own,” Ayda says. “You weren’t selling anything that wasn’t true.”

Fig bites the inside of her cheek. “I don’t know if that’s true.”

Ayda pulls her eyebrows up with her fingers, then smashes them down. “You wrote all your baselines. You meant all of your lyrics, at least at some point. Storytelling isn’t lying.” And that’s sweet, but it makes Fig avert her eyes. She knows what Ayda means. Her set list is always littered with love songs she wrote in high school, back when she still believed she knew how it worked. She chokes out the lyrics on stage, if only because she remembers a time when her faith was unshakeable.

“Ayda,” Fig says. She opens her mouth, closes it, opens it again. “I know what your dad meant. In his will, what he said to me.”

“I know you do,” Ayda says. “I know that lying is easy for you except when it’s to me.”

“Yeah,” Fig says, because some things never change.

“You don’t have to tell me.” Ayda waves her hand through her firey plume of hair, watching the way it bounces off her dark brown skin. She’s glowing, a little, like she always is.

“I’ve read all your books,” Fig says, which is not what she expected to come out of her mouth. Ayda stills, and then turns.

“Why,” she asks. Fig works hard to meet her eyes.

“They’re good. I tell Gorgug about them, because he isn’t allowed to read them but you never said anything about hearing them.”

“You’re the last person who needs to know more about the intersections of magic and friendship,” Ayda insists, “the Bad Kids taught me everything I know.”

“We learned together,” Fig says, and she’s getting back on track now. “And you never stop learning about friendship, or magic, or, or love. It changes all the time, but it’s still universal.”

Ayda nods. She mutters something to herself. Her hands twitch near her book holsters, but they remain at her sides.

“And—well, it helped. When I was on the road, or on the sea, without any of my friends, I could read your books and know exactly what one of them was up to. It wasn’t as good as talking, but it was close.” She breathes. “I missed you.”

“You broke up with me,” Ayda says. She’s sounding out the words as she says it. Fig nods.

“You basically covered it in Volume VI. When you’re young, you think you know everything. When you get older, you think that everything you used to know was wrong. And then you grow up a little more, and you stop flinching away from who you used to be, and...”

She has to stop talking. Ayda’s eyes are huge and burning.

“What’s the creature?” She asks. Fig swallows.

“I think he was giving us his blessing. He was so crazy old, he might’ve forgotten that we weren’t together—“

“So what was the creature?”

“I mean, you. I think you’re the only person I’ve ever been serious about. I don’t want it to be a big thing, I know you aren’t interested anymore.”

“So, my father promised me to you in his will?” Ayda drags her gaze to the floor. “Like I’m an item?”

Fig nods. “He was a fucking wacko.” Ayda laughs, a little. She laughs a little more.

“This is the worst,” she says. She wipes at the tiny sparks that leak onto her cheeks. “It makes me want to forget you forever, just to be contrarian. I don’t want him to have what he wants.”

“Oh,” Fig says.

“I’m not going to. Sorry, I spoke unclearly. I have never forgotten about you. I missed you, too.” Ayda ruffles her feathers a little. “You really read my books?”

“I based my docking schedules around their releases,” she admits. “Like, boat docking, not—“

“No, I understand. Thank you for clarifying, though. Which one was your favorite?”

“Volume IX. I couldn’t go to sleep until I finished it.”

“I wrote that one listening to Big Sea Quest. I learned Total Domination on my hurdy-gurdy.” Fig expels a disbelieving laugh.

“What would that even sound like? Since when do you play the hurdy-gurdy?”

“I missed having music around the house.”

“Huh.”

Fig snaps out of the all-too-familiar comfort she’d slumped into. Talking with Ayda is the most natural thing Fig knows how to do. She really shot herself in the foot when they broke up.

“I didn’t let myself watch any of your performances. The albums are great, obviously, but I like you live. You always sing like you’re telling a secret joke to the audience. You’re really famous now. It’s probably hard to connect to whole colosseums.” Ayda is sitting on the countertop, now. She’s looking forward, but not at Fig. Something beyond her.

“I still got to play a lot of little venues,” Fig offers. “Like, introducing the whole world to rock takes a long time. It was kind of crazy. There are so many people who live so differently than us out there.” She looks at Ayda, her gaze as steady as it’s been all night. “What did you listen to before—uh, before you met the Bad Kids?”

“Whoever Garthy had playing the Gold Gardens, mostly. Pirate stuff. It’s pretty good, but when it’s all you hear, it gets old. Finding acoustic math rock changed my standards for music altogether.”

Fig laughs. She remembers the night they introduced Ayda to math rock. They’d all been in the Hangvan, shuffling through Gorgug’s crystal, when the speedy arpeggios snuck into the car and had Ayda flapping her hands. The time signature changes made her squawk out loud.

(She couldn’t help but kiss Ayda after that. Ayda stimming is maybe Fig’s very favorite Ayda. It’s a close tie with every other Ayda, of course.)

Ayda is smiling. Her real smile, the one that comes out when she’s too startled by her happiness to paste the mirror-practice beam onto her cheeks. Her real smile, the one that shows all her teeth and wrinkles her chin. Fig hardly realizes she’s stood up until she’s stepping in front of Ayda’s legs where they’re pressed tight together on the countertop. She’s back in her own head by the time she places a questioning hand on her left knee. Ayda is very still.

“I haven’t slept with anyone in eight years,” Fig says, and that is absolutely not what she wanted to say. Ayda’s eyes flicker as she blinks.

“Why not?”

And now Fig’s in the bottom of the furnace, pulling coal over her body like a blanket at staring up into the chimney. “I’m supposed to be a cool rock star, who, like, gets around, but I really couldn’t get anywhere. I tried, my first year away, but I figured out pretty fast that it wasn’t gonna work.” She’s looking at Ayda’s eyebrows, because eye contact is a little hard right now. “I don’t really care about being famous. I think I just care about you.”

“Oh,” Ayda says. Just “oh”. Her mouth barely moves to form the word. There’s a knock on the door.

“I’m in here?” Fig chokes out.

“Oh, sorry. I’m just gonna use the downstairs bathroom.” It’s Jawbone. Fig and Ayda don’t breathe until his footsteps fade towards the stairs. Fig tilts her head forward and sighs once they’re clear. Ayda’s brown skin is hot and dry where she’s still clutching her knee. It jerks, suddenly, and she laughs loudly. Fig can’t help but giggle along.

“You didn’t bone for almost a decade because you missed me?” Ayda asks, voice loud with joy, and oh, she couldn’t help but kiss her after that.

She intends for it to be short. Well, she hardly intends for it to be anything. It’s just what she knows she should do. It feels like when Adaine uses a portent roll on her, but she knows it wasn’t anything other than herself. Other than Ayda.

Ayda, who is a little sticky on the pick-up sometimes, doesn’t waste any time. She relaxes her knees to let Fig step between them, throws both arms over Fig’s shoulders, kisses like she hasn’t kissed in a lifetime, and isn’t that so close to the truth? Fig, hands on Ayda’s warm cheeks, thinks of the centuries of Ayda Agueforts who lived alone and studied alone and loved, so much, for so long, alone. She thinks of Ayda, twenty years old, dedicating her life to a magic she’s never let herself get close to before: friendship. She thinks of briar walls and oceans appearing from thin air and movie nights and how terribly she’d ached for years without this feeling, without Ayda digging her sturdy hands into the tense spot above her shoulder blades, rolling her bottom lip between her teeth, pulling away to breathe dry air between their decidedly not dry mouths before swooping back in.

Fig shifts backwards, hands still firm on either side of Ayda’s face. Ayda makes a tiny noise and it takes everything Fig has, all of her Hellish poise and power, not to lean back in. Instead, she speaks.

“I’m sorry I left you. I never want to be away from you again.” She winces. “God, that’s cheesy as hell.”

“It’s improbable that we’ll never have distance between us for the rest of time. However, I would very much like to be with you for as long as this life lasts.” Fig’s heart flutters, like it always does around Ayda. “I forgive you. I think we both needed a little time to decide what we wanted.”

“I want you, in case that wasn’t clear,” Fig says. “I love you.” She laughs, says it one more time, punctuating it with a kiss. “I love you,” she repeats. Ayda holds her close.

“And I love you,” Ayda says. She buries her face into Fig’s shoulder and makes a noise in the back of her throat. “Man, I wish my stupid dad didn’t have to be right about this.”

“I don’t think it’s him. I think it’s, like, a universal truth.” She bites back a gag after that sentence, forcing herself to sit in the honey-sweet honesty that fills her mouth with sticky cliche. Ayda taps her fingers against Fig’s back with agile working hands. Fig sticks her hand into Ayda’s hair and tugs the fire so it plumes out against the side of her face. In the brief quiet, they hear the sound of evening bugs singing together.

“Kristen’ll be sad if she wakes up alone,” Fig mumbles. She feels Ayda nod.

“Adaine’s gonna be chilly. She took all the sheets off her bunk.”

“I’ll see you in the morning?” Fig asks, and suddenly she’s sixteen, running past Ayda in the Compass Points Library, so desperate for an affirmation.

“I’m gonna go fall asleep right away so I can wake up quickly and come kiss you and do legal paperwork with Gilear. Maybe not both at once. But we’ll see.” She hops off the counter and pulls Fig into an embrace.

“I don’t wanna rush you into anything. We can talk more in the morning,” she mumbles into Ayda’s collarbone. Ayda squeezes her shoulders.

“Relative to our lifespans, nine years really isn’t a rush.”

They cross the Manor and return to their respective rooms. Kristen wraps Fig in her unconscious arms with no nudging necessary. Fig lays static, feeling vibrations from her fingers to her toes, before wiggling into Kristen’s chest and squeezing the two of them together in a sleepy hug. She falls asleep warmer than she’s felt in years.

In the morning, Fig wakes up alone. She’s been thoroughly burrito’d into Kristen’s blankets, and it takes a bit of effort to squirm out of her cocoon. She smells something warm and nutty from in the kitchen. She wobbles down the hall and leans against a cabinet. The boys have already arrived. Riz sees her and lifts his head off the countertop with a little wave of his mug. The rest of the group follows his gaze and she’s met with a chorus of greetings. Ayda stands up quickly.

“Hey,” Fig says. Ayda clacks over to where she’s leaning, lifts her up, and kisses her hard on the mouth.

“Oh!” Adaine says, not that Fig can really focus. Ayda’s hand snakes through her scalp until it reaches a horn, which she trails her fingers upwards. Fig gives a full-body shudder and tugs herself away.

“Babe, oh my God,” she pants. Fabian hoots.

“Seems like some things got sorted out last night!” He grins. Kristen looks baffled.

“Did you two have a dream meeting, or something? When did this happen?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ayda says. “Figueroth is my paramour and my true heart’s desire. It was always meant to end this way.”

Fig buries her face in Ayda’s chest and squeaks. Adaine and Gorgug make affectionate noises.

“Come get some French toast and spill, bud,” Jawbone says with a toothy grin. Ayda hoists her up and sits back down, placing Fig in her lap.

“Is this too much? Are we PDA-ing?” Fig hisses towards Riz. He shakes his head with fond exasperation.

“This is miles better than the alternative, dude.”

Fig tucks her arm around Ayda’s waist and inhales. She can’t help but agree.

“I can’t wait to fuck up that old man’s funeral.”