Beth had told him he was empty inside. Paul didn’t doubt it. He still caught himself being like that sometimes, hollowed out and far away. Trapped in his head with no way to voice it. Sarah called it PTSD, and then would turn around and call her own flashbacks daydreaming. That was Sarah, though. She hadn’t changed even though the war was over. She couldn’t, maybe. Nature and nurture had done what they were going to do.
He’d thought he was set in stone, too. Thought he’d die the way he’d lived - stupid and pointless. But Siobhan had kept him alive after everything in Mexico despite his best efforts. Recovery hurt. Couldn’t remember why he was bothering most of the time, but in the end it was worth it. He got to see Sarah again. Sarah, whose eyes got bright with angry tears for all of a few seconds before she wrapped him up tight in a hug. She was the only one who’d ever come back.
Things were still lonely, at first. Sarah had a lot of other things to do, and she liked to always be moving. His apartment, Siobhan’s, Cal’s house, Felix’s place. She rarely spent the night somewhere more than twice in a row. But somehow, Paul ended up seeing her most days. She’d pop in for lunch, or come by at midnight to fall asleep next to him, or bring him coffee. “I missed you,” she said just once, and touched the healed holes in his gut.
It was so nice to be missed. This was the first time he’d tried it.
He did whatever she asked, anything to spend more time together. He picked Kira up with her, and ran errands for Allison, and helped Cosima get a secret ID just in case. He made dinner at Siobhan’s, and helped Kira with homework, and wondered if Sarah could hear him begging her to love him with everything he did. Being a team with her, that was the only thing that felt right in his life. The only thing where his first instincts worked, and helped, and if she decided she didn’t need him he genuinely didn’t know what else he’d do.
They had a Clone Club party after he got back. Allison greeted him at the door, or at least he thought it was Allison because she looked at the lasagna in his hands and said, “Good. At least someone in this family is able to respect the rules of a potluck.” She took it from him and left him there. He had to step in himself, technically uninvited.
Half the people in there had Sarah’s face - Beth’s face, Rachel’s face. One of the others was Mark. Mark shook Paul’s hand, and seemed genuinely happy to see him alive. “So you made it out," he said with a smile.
“So did you,” Paul said.
“Sarah,” Mark said by way of explanation.
Paul smiled. “Sarah."
He ended up on the couch when just a couple of them were left, Cosima and Sarah and Helena all tipsy and tired. Cosima was in an armchair on top of a sleeping Delphine. Paul was between the twins, with Sarah’s head on his shoulder and Helena’s feet in his lap.
“Y’know it’s an interesting question,” Cosima murmured from Delphine’s lap. She was lying back over an armrest.
“What is, love?” Siobhan spoke up from the other chair.
“Consciousness. Do we have a responsibility to the stars to know them, or is it human arrogance to assume we can ever understand even a little bitty piece.”
“You’re drunk,” Sarah said. “Sober Cosima would never ask that question.”
“Sober Cosima is me still,” Cosima said - slurred. “I’m fine.”
“You two are staying,” Sarah said.
“I am not staying,” Helena announced. “I do not wish to have knife in my back from Paul.”
Paul felt Sarah’s glare through the change in her posture. “Helena.”
“C’mon, H,” Siobhan said. “Don’t start a fight now. It’s been a nice night.”
“I have started nothing. I only must finish.” Helena wiggled her toes in his lap, and Paul felt threatened, sort of. She didn’t do anything, though. She just stayed there.
“Carl Sagan said it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring,” Cosima was saying softly. “That’s how I feel about us, y’know? I’d rather know what we’re facing. Even though it’s way scary sometimes.”
That was the kind of big-picture thinking Cosima specialized in. Not Paul’s department. He didn’t need to know what was happening. As long as the clones were the ones giving him orders, as long as Sarah kept holding him close. That was about all the direction he needed.
He started running into Cal more often, and that was weird at first. They gave each other awkward smiles and said very little. Sarah usually was rushing them apart anyways.
That lasted for a while. Longer than he had any right to expect it. Only a matter of time before something had to give. Sure enough, Sarah eventually had a new mission she didn’t talk about. She disappeared for hours and then days. Paul couldn’t let himself ask for any more.
One of those days, Paul picked Kira up from school. He wound up coming inside at Kira’s request, making dinner at Siobhan’s, and staying the night. It wasn’t exactly right without Sarah, but Kira seemed to like him okay. More than anything, she seemed surprised for him to be there. “You don’t have to stay,” Kira said around bedtime. “Mummy’s gone all the time.”
“I’d like to,” Paul said. “If that’s okay with you.”
Kira said that was alright and Siobhan was cautiously open to the idea, so Paul stayed the night in Sarah’s bed. In the morning he took Kira to school, and then he went to Felix. He almost hoped to find Sarah on the couch, sleeping off a hangover, but she wasn’t there, of course. It was Felix and the usual mess, plus a couple new penis paintings.
“Oh. And what are you doing here?” Felix said in an accusatory tone.
“Sarah’s missing,” Paul said.
“Yeah, get used to that.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s Kira.”
That got a moment of softness from Felix, a reluctant tilt of his mouth. “What about her.”
“Her mom keeps disappearing and I don’t know the game plan, for her. Doesn’t seem ideal.”
Felix gave him a frustrated glare, one with half a smile underneath. “You may come in,” he said, and moved out of the doorway. “How long’s it been since you’ve spoken with my sister?”
“Early yesterday morning.”
“Me too. Y’know anything about her new mission?”
“Me neither.” Felix’s expression shifted to one of genuine concern. “S was busy?”
“What do you mean?”
“Busy, too busy for Kira. To pick her up and take care of her.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”
“Was she there this morning?”
“No, she left before we were up. Asked me to take Kira to school when I saw her last night, so.” Felix was looking at him strangely. “What?”
“Huh,” Felix kind of grunted, and then gave Paul a narrow-eyed stare. “What was your childhood like?”
“Answer the question.”
Paul folded his hands in his lap. “I moved around a lot.”
“No, not that. Abstractly. Violent? Hostile?”
Reluctantly, Paul nodded. “Both, sometimes.”
“Right. Well, if I ever find out you’ve even so much as raised your voice at Kira, I will kill you,” Felix said with absolute certainty.
“I would never do that.”
Felix had to try not to like that; he crossed his arms and glared. “I don’t know that, do I. Sarah and I had a shit childhood before S. I’ll never let that happen to Kira.”
“Me too. Same reasons.”
That worked, he thought. Felix sat back and huffed out half a sigh. “Okay. Well, I’m not going back with you. I’ve had to deal with Kira’s disappointment too many times, and it sounds like she’s alright with you.”
“Yes,” Felix said. “When I come over, it’s code for ‘Mummy’s gone missing and we’re worried.’ You should keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Not the answer you were expecting?”
“No. Not quite.”
Felix liked that. He gave Paul a long look that was a smile in the eyes. “Well,” he said then. “Welcome to the family, I suppose.”
Hey, he’d only had to blow himself up to win his way back in. A good deal, all in all.
He picked Kira up that afternoon. It just felt a little different to have someone’s permission to be here. Kira didn’t seem to notice. She had other things on her mind. “Did Mom call you?” she said right away.
“Nope.” Paul had to say. “You?”
“No. Will you make dinner at Mrs. S’s?”
“Yep. And I’ll stay again.”
That got her to look at him in surprise. “You don’t have to.”
“Kira, I know I don’t have to,” he said. “I’m here 'cause I want to be. 'Cause I like you.”
“Oh,” Kira said after a moment. And then she was quiet for the rest of the ride. He wasn’t sure that was the right thing to say, if she was so quiet, but he didn’t say anything. Kira probably didn’t need him to confuse the matter by taking it back.
When they were at S’s house and getting out, she asked, “What’s for dinner?”
“I can make lasagna,” Paul was saying when Sarah came out the front door.
“Fuck, Kira, come here, darling,” Sarah said, jogging the few steps to her kid. She hugged Kira but he wasn’t sure Kira held her back all that tightly. “I’m so sorry, I crashed with my friend and my phone died, and I couldn’t get back ’til now.”
Kira pulled away. “It’s fine. Paul was here.”
Sarah hugged Paul next, kissed his cheek. “Hello. Thank you. You’re a lifesaver, did you get help from S?”
“Not much. I stayed here last night, Kira asked me to.”
She didn’t find that weird. Just asked, “Fancy doing it again?”
After that it started to happen more. Sarah would disappear for a day or more, and Paul would step in. If he wasn’t around, Kira would call him. “Is Mrs. S there?” he asked the first time.
“Yeah,” Kira said. “But she’s my grandma.”
There was a second half of that that seemed obvious to Kira so she didn’t say it. Paul spent a lot of time thinking about how to fill it in. Who was he, to her? Certainly not her dad, she had a dad.
The question didn’t preempt his responsibilities, though, of course. He stayed productive. Aside from taking care of Kira, his role in the new Clone Club was counter surveillance. Making sure no one new had gotten it in their heads to follow the girls. Locking down safe houses with Siobhan’s help. Checking out the cars Allison thought were following her, just to be sure even though it never was anything. He did all of that, and made sure he was there at the end of the school day for Kira, too.
“Sarah busy?” Cal asked the first time it was just Paul.
“Yeah. She’s got a permission slip for you to sign.”
“I’ll make sure I take care of that,” Cal said, with a weird little smile.
Paul didn’t trust him exactly. He knew too much to trust him. But he knew Cal loved Kira and Sarah. An ally, in the cause of making sure nothing happened to them. He was happy with that being the extent of their relationship.
Cal seemed to have other plans.
“Dad asked about you,” Kira said one day. Paul was sitting with her, helping her with a worksheet.
“What’d he say?” Paul asked when she seemed to have nothing else to add.
“He wanted to know where you were.”
“And what’d you say?”
“I said you don’t always stay here.”
That was accurate. Simply factual. Paul couldn’t object to it, even if he wasn’t exactly excited for Cal to have that information. So he was surprised when Cal brought it up himself, later. Paul had stopped getting out of the car to drop Kira off; this time, Cal motioned for Paul to roll the window down. “You don’t live there but you do Sarah’s errands?” he asked, leaning in the window frame.
“You have a point?” Paul asked.
“Yeah. Lot of moving around.”
“I’m used to it.”
“Okay. What, that’s supposed to make it better?”
Paul frowned. “I’m fine. I don’t need your concern, for… whatever you’re thinking this is.”
Cal put his hands up. “Hey. Just trying to get some stability.”
It made him uneasy at first, but Paul had to admit Cal had a point. Kira didn’t have a home as much as she had a network of people taking care of her. And it took a village, sure, but Paul thought that probably wasn’t meant to be the direction for living arrangements. Kids needed a home. Look what happened to him, someone didn’t have one.
So. Next time Cal showed up at Siobhan’s and got it in his head to make conversation, Paul made it back. They both watched soccer. That was prime small talk material. Sarah got all weird whenever she was there and they were visiting. It wasn’t part of her plan, it made her antsy. But it made Cal smile, and Paul started to prioritize that a little bit more. It was only smart, to keep everybody happy. It was just practical.
“You and him are what, friends now?” Sarah asked, after Kira was gone with her dad.
“Something like that,” Paul said. He didn’t tell her he didn’t have friends - that was the kind of thing that made Sarah worry about him, and he was trying to do that less.
“Yeah? You don’t hate talking to him?”
They hadn’t talked about the fact that for all intents and purposes, it seemed like she was in a relationship with both of them. Sarah didn’t like to talk, and Paul was trying to be easy. Besides, he knew Sarah. Her love was a renewable resource. “Yeah,” Paul agreed. “I’m good with this.”
Sarah shook her head, like she couldn’t believe him. “Brilliant."
So that was probably all he’d get. Paul couldn’t bring himself to ask for anything else.
Cal didn’t work like that, though. He asked for all kinds of things, for Paul to have a drink with him or for Sarah to stay another night. He asked questions and favors and there was never any pressure. Just quiet observation. He was a smart guy, Paul saw it in the way he watched and listened and waited. Paul wanted to know what he saw. But he wasn’t the guy who asked questions. He did what he was told, answered what was asked, and months kept passing without any input from him at all.
Cal hadn’t heard from Sarah in three days. That was not reason to panic. At least, not on its own. He was waiting until he heard from Paul. Sarah was much more likely to keep in contact with Kira, and Paul had Kira at the moment. Cal had learned to stop taking it personal, when she disappeared. She needed that to feel free, which made a certain kind of logical sense. Walking away was her specialty. So. He had to learn to live with that. It was predictable, at least.
Sarah’s boyfriend was less predictable. Cal had made some progress with Paul over the months; Paul was much more willing to come inside for a little bit, if he had nothing else to do. Cal caught Kira loving it, he saw the way she smiled at the two of them talking, so he kept making the effort. Even when the best Paul had some days was a dead-eyed smile and a nod. Other days were better.
Today was one of the good ones. Paul seemed actually happy to see him. “Hey man,” he said when Cal met them in the driveway, and then a moment of a frown passed over his face. He could see Cal was worried. “Kira’s got to finish her book for school tonight. Don’t let her tell you otherwise.”
“I wouldn’t!” Kira insisted.
Paul raised his eyebrows at her. “You want to go do that now, maybe?”
“Maybe,” Kira said, and went inside.
They heard her go up the stairs, both listened for her to make it to her room before talking. “What is it?” Paul asked then.
“Have you heard from Sarah?”
“In the last three days.”
Cal nodded. “Me neither. Seems like not a great sign.”
Paul pulled out his phone and called her right then. It went to voicemail. Then he called Felix. “Sarah,” he said when Felix answered, and whatever he heard didn’t make him any less tense. “Okay. Thanks. Yeah.” He hung up. “He hasn’t heard from her either.”
“You think something’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.” Paul was clearly running scenarios in his head, thinking things over. “You should check with Cosima. And Allison. There’s the one in Europe too, who can help track her down if we need that.”
“How would someone check in with Cosima?” Cal asked.
Paul frowned at him, like he thought this was some kind of joke. “You don’t have her number?”
Cal shook his head. “The only clone I know is Sarah.”
That had clearly not occurred to Paul. “Right. Well. Should I…”
“If you don’t mind.”
Paul didn’t know how to reply to that; he did a quick double blink, and then his stance relaxed a little bit. “Sure. I don’t mind. Now?”
“I think that’d be good.”
“Can I get you something? A beer?”
That offer always set Paul on edge, but today it faded after just a second. “Yeah. Thank you.” And he didn’t even watch Cal open it. That was a real moment, for them.
Paul had a different type of voice for each of the clones he talked to, different rhythms. Cal had heard him with Sarah, the way he gave her exactly what she asked for. Now he heard the way Paul teased Cosima, and the way he handled Allison with a sort of gentle briskness. He hung up, finished his beer in one long pull, and then looked at Cal. “Okay. Nothing from either of them.”
“What does that mean, then?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t been gone this long before.”
Cal shook his head, confirming it. “Do you want to stay here? Until we know?”
That was not a question Paul had expected. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to one side. “Here,” he repeated.
“Because I’m not trying to lose track of another person,” Cal said, which was a true-ish answer. A cute answer. He forgot, for a second, that he was talking to Paul.
Paul hated a cute answer. “Do you usually keep track of me?”
“Not what I meant.”
Paul gave him a long look, assessing. “Are you that worried about Sarah?”
Short answer? Kind of. Long answer was more along the lines of a list of things. Worry for Sarah was top of that list, and then there was worry for Kira, and then there was worry for Paul, alone, and under all of that was this sort of fundamental desire Cal had always had. To settle in and build a place around him and everyone he cared about. Not that there were ever that many of them.
There was this new dimension, too: he thought of Paul as being a lonely sort of guy, most of the time, which made it strange to consider that Paul might have more friends he saw regularly than Cal did. What did it mean, he had to wonder, that Paul was so adamantly against letting his guard down over here. And then Cal had one of those lightning bolt moments where the world lined itself up for him to understand; it was probably a lot easier to trust people who shared the same face.
All of that was a long pause. It meant a lot that Paul waited with him, didn’t leave. The thing Cal always thought Sarah probably liked about Paul was how easy it was for him to cut and run. It was something he had a lot of practice with, as far as Cal could tell. So it meant something too, that Paul stayed to be Kira’s third parent. That he stayed now, in the kitchen.
“There’s a lot of things I’m worried about,” Cal finally said. “And you’d take a handful of them off my plate if you just stayed here.”
“Tell you what,” Paul said. “I’ll stay if you explain whatever the hell that means.”
“You got it.”
That must’ve seemed too easy; Paul gave him a look. “For real.”
Cal nodded. He’d been sort of just waiting for the chance to lay this all out anyways. “I mean it. I will.” And whatever trust he’d earned with Paul got him at least that much. Paul stayed for dinner.
He wasn’t what Cal would call relaxed. When Cal passed behind him, Paul went stock still. Any sound outside got his attention for just a second, and Paul could never bring himself to look comfortable when Cal was holding a knife even in the context of pork chops. But he sat through dinner. More than that, he teased Kira. He asked Cal about his work day and volunteered a few personal details about helping Allison with soccer practice. It was all very domestic. Very normal.
The thing was, Cal’s fantasy future had variables. It didn’t have to be Sarah. Actually, it didn’t even necessarily need to be a woman. As long as they were people he loved. He needed them to have somewhere safe to come home to. After everything he’d done to make the world a more dangerous place, this was something he could concretely do to walk that back. This, tonight, was sort of exactly what Cal wanted to be. So much so that, hey, maybe he was starting to question the whole monogamy thing, too.
Cal put Kira to bed as usual. He let Paul say goodnight. And then he let Paul herd him back into the kitchen. “You want another drink?” Cal asked.
“I’m good,” Paul said. Then he seemed to think better of that answer. “Sarah’s missing, I need to stay sharp.”
“Okay,” Cal agreed, but had another one himself. He was pretty sure nothing was going to happen tonight. Decently sure. Everything was locked down for the night. Plus it’d take more than three drinks to get him off his game. He poured a whiskey. He drank it. He looked at Paul. “Should we sit or something?”
“If you want.”
Cal wrinkled his nose up, and shook his head a couple times. “Alright. One of these days you’re going to actually tell me what you want.”
That got a fraction of a smile out of Paul. “Am I?”
“I hope so,” Cal said. “Because I want to give it to you.”
Paul didn’t stop smiling. “Almost sounds like the truth.”
They did sit down - Paul first - and after Cal finished his tumbler Paul took the glass and tapped his fingers against it. “So,” he said, and then didn’t seem to know how to ask. Maybe he’d never known people who wanted to give him answers.
“Look, man. Tell me what would help you trust me.”
“Loaded question,” Paul said.
“What, does offering make it suspicious?”
Paul smiled at the table and didn’t answer.
“Well, I think it’s pretty straight-forward. She goes dark, I want to make sure you don’t,” Cal said. He leaned back in his chair, and looked at the other man closely. Closer than he usually let himself, because Paul would notice. But let him notice. “That makes sense, to me. So what are you missing?”
“What do you think this is?” Paul asked, his eyes pleasantly narrowed. “Because from where I’m standing we’re competition.”
Cal frowned. “That’s presumptuous.”
“What am I presuming?”
“That this is a zero sum game. You’re important to Sarah, why can’t I want you to be safe?”
This had clearly never occurred to him. “I just…” Paul began, in a tone that didn’t mean to be talking. He tilted his head one way, hesitated, and then finished the thought. “I can’t put you together. Micro-optics tech genius. Moral crusader who wouldn’t go military. Sarah’s home base. Guy who has a loaded gun under his sink.”
“That doesn’t add up to you?”
Paul didn’t answer right away. He was thinking. The progress was in how he let Cal read it, the way he let himself be knowable. Cal had that moment with Sarah too. When she let him in. It felt exactly the same.
Cal spoke, when the silence dragged on so too long. He’d promised to tell him, that was part of it. Paul seemed like he might be more of a follower than a leader, too, that was the other part. The kind that might take a show of faith for that it was, and show some faith back. “I’m dumb, where Sarah is concerned,” Cal said plainly. “I met her and she stole ten grand from me, and for whatever reason I let her back in when she showed up. Well. For Kira. But still.”
“Kira hit you with the puppy dog eyes?” Paul asked.
“Sarah did that time,” Cal said with half a smile. “They definitely run in the family, though.”
“You’re telling me.”
It was working. Cal kept going. “It’s pretty simple math. I’ve got a knack for electrical engineering, and I thought I was making pollinators to replace bees. Didn’t plan on being anywhere near the military, and I still don’t. No offense, Major.”
“Not a major anymore,” Paul answered. “Are you really a contractor?”
“I am,” Cal agreed, and in this moment he decided to confide in Paul. “I’m working on a new cabin.”
“Yeah. I’ll show you where.”
Paul flicked his eyes up to Cal’s for a second, then looked down at the table again. He chewed on his lip for a second. “Huh,” he said then. “So you’re…”
With a sort of helpless shrug, Paul answered. “I don’t know.”
Interesting. Cal waited him out. He crossed his arms, and then uncrossed them and ran a hand through his hair. Paul watched him, sort of absently, and then went back into staring at not much as he thought through things. Paul was a slow processor, Cal was starting to get that. “Don’t you want to know more about me?” Paul finally asked. “Before you decide we’re on the same page.”
“Nah,” Cal said. “No offense, but. I don’t think there will be that many surprises.”
That was the first time Cal got Paul to laugh; it only made him want to do it more. "Fair enough," Paul said, with a smile still on his face. "You got a spare room or what?"
"I had a spare room," Cal said with specific emphasis. "Now it's yours." He leaned over to clap his hand on Paul's shoulder.
Paul let him, absorbed the gesture without moving. "What are we telling Kira? If she asks why I'm here?"
"Easy," Cal said. "We're friends, it got late."
"Easy," Paul repeated. It seemed like he was joking, but Cal didn't know what the joke was. He knew what to do, though. He kept his smile casual, he stayed relaxed. Playing dumb was easy to do; people seemed all too ready to believe Cal was simple. Smart guys were assholes, after all. Being nice made you a rube. It bugged him when he was younger. Now he used it. He didn’t push Paul on the issue. He turned the game on for them to watch, and kept half his attention on the guy on the couch next to him. And when it was late, he gave Paul a pair of pajamas for the night, a spare toothbrush, and let him be.
So then Paul sometimes stayed the night. It wasn’t often. After the first time it took several more months for there to be another good opening - another Sarah disappearance. This time Paul raised the alarm, when he came to pick Kira up. “Hey,” he said when he got there. “You’re handy. Would you come take a look at my alternator?”
That seemed like a lie. Specifically, a lie that Kira wouldn’t know enough to argue about. Cal nodded cheerfully. “Yep. Five more minutes, Kira, and then time to go.”
“Okay,” Kira said without looking up.
That got them outside alone together. Paul popped the hood of the car, looked in and said, “I haven’t heard from Sarah in five days.”
“Five?” Cal demanded.
“Its been less for you?”
“It’s been two,” Cal said. “Now that you mention it.”
Paul watched, while Cal called Sarah and then Paul did the same. Nothing. They looked at each other for a moment. There was something heavy in the air. Cal took a risk and asked, “Any chance you’d stay?”
“Sure,” Paul said.
Sure, like it wasn’t a big deal. Cal just smiled, and followed him inside.
Paul was there for two nights that time, because Sarah stayed missing. The second night, Paul cooked dinner. He was a good cook, Cal was a little surprised. “Why did I picture you eating like, MREs and slime cooked over an open flame?” Cal said, as Paul spooned sauce over the roasted potatoes on everyone’s plate.
“Ew,” Kira said. She was already eating the sautéed snow peas.
“Slime,” Paul repeated with a smile on his face. “Really?”
“Hey, never been more happy to be wrong.”
Paul put the pan in the stove, came back and sat down in the spot that was becoming his, at Cal’s right hand. He looked at Cal for a moment before he dug in. “Thank you,” he said then, oddly serious.
“Letting me into your home.”
There were a lot of things Cal could say. He could point out how this was several months late, or how all the thanks in the world didn’t mean much if Paul wouldn’t let himself be comfortable here. But this felt like the first step of something new so Cal just said what he meant. “Thanks for staying.”
Saying that to Sarah would’ve been the fastest way to make her run. But Paul wasn’t Sarah, and Cal was starting to get a handle on just what Paul was. Saying that to Paul made him smile, because Paul also knew staying was something he did on purpose.
“Well,” Paul said. “Not like I had somewhere better to be.”
Cal nodded, waited a normal amount of time - several bites - before saying his next piece. “Pretty sure we’d like to have you any time you don’t have somewhere better to be,” he said then, and took a drink to seem more casual.
“Yeah!” Kira said immediately, her voice bright and excited. She didn’t sound like a kid that often; she did then. “Oh, please say you’ll stay, please?”
Paul’s face was always so warm, when he looked at Kira. “I guess I could. Since you asked so nicely.”
He was there for a week, and back home for a week. Then he was over again for a few days and away for two weeks. Cal didn’t make a big deal about it, even though he and Kira both were starting to miss Paul enough to mention it. Something was telling Cal to let Paul come to his own conclusions. Some pattern he’d recognized but not articulated. He waited.
The next time Paul came, he stayed for almost a month. He brought some things with him, a backpack of clothes and the few personal items he seemed to allow himself. After that, he didn’t really leave.
Sarah was used to people surprising her, but not like this. Somehow, nothing she’d experienced had prepared her to see Cal and Paul walking into Kira’s parent-teacher conferences together. And not together as in one after the other. They walked in the building as a unit, in unison.
Paul noticed her first, in that uncanny way he always saw everything around him. He put a hand on Cal’s shoulder to let him know, and Cal turned to look at Sarah with a smile already growing on his face. That same stupid smile she saw ten years back and fell for, that let her believe she'd be safe with him. She was in love with these guys, both of them, against all odds. Despite everything she'd been through. That was the only reason she didn't freak out, here. Even though the whole Paul being a monitor thing gave this situation a skin-crawling familiarity. She wasn’t a huge fan of discovering the people around her weren’t what she thought. This made her nervous. But Sarah didn’t shrink from things that made her nervous, she tackled them head on. Or, in this case, walked right up to them and gave them hugs.
“Hey. What's this?" she asked, trying not to sound too freaked out.
"What?" Cal said innocently.
Sarah gave him a suspicious squint. That was too charming to be trusted. "You guys are friends?"
"Well, since we’ve been taking care of Kira while you’ve been busy, we thought it made more sense to consolidate," Paul answered, with a significant look at Cal on that last word.
“Yeah. So he's been staying with me, instead of in that sterile box he calls an apartment. Or in the house owned by the secret agent that raised a clone,” Cal finished for him. Now that warm smile of his was turned on Paul.
“For how long?” Sarah demanded.
The two men exchanged a look. “Couple months?” Cal said.
“Seven weeks,” Paul shrugged.
Seven weeks, and she hadn’t noticed. In her defense, she’d been out of the country for more than half of the time. She’d been taking care of the last Topside stragglers with Helena, and then Cosima needed them overnight for lab things and she just didn’t get home a lot. She picked Kira up from Cal’s a couple times for zoo days and mummy-daughter lunches. She’d stopped by Mrs. S’s once or twice, didn’t see Paul there and didn’t see anything strange about it. Actually, if she was talking strange she’d probably have to say it was more odd how she hadn’t had time to see either of the blokes she was in love with for two months.
“I didn’t realize it’d been so long,” Sarah said. That felt inadequate. “How’s it been, then? With you two as roommates.”
Again, they looked at each other. Felt like they’d done that a lot, like there was this whole history built up between them all of a sudden. “Good,” Cal said. She was starting to pick up too, on how he always went first between him and Paul. “I think it’s been good, at least.”
“Just good?” Paul had a bit of a smile on his face.
“Great?” Cal suggested.
“I’d say great.”
Hold the fucking phone. Either Sarah was really misinterpreting these vibes or her boyfriends were flirting with each other. And she’d know what that looked like, from both sides. “Great,” she said without meaning to.
Cal picked up on something there, he gave her a look. “Shall we talk to the teachers?” he prompted. “Felix said he’ll only watch her for two hours. He’s got a booty call after that.”
“You know Felix?” Sarah asked in bewilderment.
“Yeah. Paul introduced us.”
Life wasn’t making much sense again. So Sarah did what she always did best, and she played along. It was easy. Like the best days with Felix, she wasn’t working alone. Cal and Paul were a well-oiled machine. They knew the teachers, they had specific questions. Sarah barely needed to speak.
“You are so lucky,” Mrs. Schmidt said. Kira’s English teacher. Cal and Paul had discussed Kira’s extra credit reading assignments with her and had already stepped aside, satisfied. “My husband and my ex definitely don’t get along that well.”
Sarah processed as she spoke. “Yeah, well. Lucky all around. Kira’s a great kid,” came out of her mouth. The right thing to say - it made the teacher smile. Like the best lies, it was nothing but the truth. Kira was the best thing Sarah ever was part of. And, Sarah was starting to realize, Cal and Paul were almost as much of a miracle. Not one person she trusted with Kira’s care, but two of them. They were talking about Kira’s favorite books.
“You coming back tonight?” Cal asked Sarah when she joined them, standing in a little clump. “Paul has a roast going.”
“Sure,” Sarah said. “I’ll grab Kira and we’ll be right over.”
“Make sure she doesn’t forget her jacket this time,” Paul said.
Sarah was an adult now, she didn’t ignore directions just because she didn’t like being told what to do. She gave Fee a hug and kiss and made sure Kira had her jacket. “So Cal and Paul are close, huh?” she said to Felix, as she helped Kira with the sleeves.
“Who would’ve seen that coming, huh? And to think, I once considered Paul tragically, immovably heterosexual,” Felix said archly. He was holding a little wine glass full of what smelled like Kahlua. “Little did I know he just wasn’t into twinks. No accounting for taste.”
“Let’s not,” Sarah began, and then stopped. She didn’t have grounds to object to that. Really, she couldn’t say who Paul fancied besides her. Sort of felt like something she should know, even though the next thought she had was just how little time they’d gotten to do anything but save each other’s lives.
“Wait. Don’t tell me this is the first you’re considering the possibility,” Felix said, nudging Sarah with one bony shoulder.
“I can’t do this right now, we have to get back.”
Felix knew better than to fall for that. He eyed her suspiciously as she bundled Kira towards the door. “You know they basically moved in together, though,” he said as she rolled his door open. “Surely you know that, right?”
“Bye, monkey,” Felix said pointedly. So fuck him.
Kira was quiet on the walk down to the car and for most of the drive. “Are you back for longer now?” she asked at last, when they were a couple streets away from Cal’s. Or was it Cal’s and Paul’s, now? Was it hers?
“I hope so, baby,” Sarah said.
“You don’t know?”
In truth, she could probably choose to just stay. All her sisters would understand if she wanted to be less involved. Mika could handle most of it; Sarah had gone more for her own peace of mind than anything else. But there was still something inside of her that balked at the idea of turning down a fight for any reason. Even a good one. Sarah ran a hand through her hair and didn’t use a turn signal and chewed on her lip.
Cal’s house was picture-perfect, like it had been every time she’d been over. As always, it smelled like home from the moment she opened the door - real food and warmth and- “Who’s drinking coffee right now?”
“Paul,” Cal said. “Tell him he’s nuts.”
“What the fuck are you doing?” Sarah demanded of Paul readily.
He was already smiling. “It tastes good.”
“Tastes good,” Cal repeated. “As if that’s the objection here.”
If Cal were teasing her, she’d say something back here. She’d tell him to stop being a dick with a smile on her face. But Paul just shrugged, his face warm, and had a sip. “Glad you’re here,” he said to Sarah.
“Yeah? Could say the same to you.” The words whipped out on instinct, more bitter than she thought she was.
Paul looked at Cal after she said that - at Cal, again, like he’d been doing. Since when was Cal that person for Paul? Weirdest fucking feeling, here, that while she was off saving the world and her sisters, her partner had stolen her boyfriend.
"Let's have a nightcap," Cal said, and guided all of them to the table.
It was what she liked about him from the beginning, how Cal nurtured and cared for everyone he could. He was a duvet cover of a man, and she would swear she didn't mean that as an insult. Except now, seeing it with Paul, Sarah found herself suspicious. She sat at the table between them, noting how they were facing each other, and had a sip of the very nice drink Paul made for her. He'd made them different things - whiskey sour for her, something frothy for Cal. “Love an egg white foam,” Cal said, and Paul smiled.
“Hey,” Sarah said. “What’s going on here?”
“Good question,” Cal answered. “Are you back to stay?”
Somehow, the one thing Sarah had not expected was for the tables to turn. “What? What’s that got to do with anything?”
Cal shrugged. “I have some questions of my own.”
Indignance filled her chest, and Sarah choked it down. “Okay. Go on, then.”
“Cards on the table,” Cal said, warm and sincere. “I want you around, babe. I love you. But if you’re going to be gone for much longer, then we need to have a conversation about what this looks like.”
Sarah blinked. She downed her drink. “I thought… I thought it looked like you letting me handle my shit.”
“It does,” Paul said.
“Not indefinitely, though,” Cal added. “Kira has questions I don’t have answers for.”
“Okay. Fine, sure. But I think before we get into that, I get to ask what’s going on here. With the two of you.”
Paul quirked the corner of his mouth up. Cal rolled his shoulders, the smile on his face widening. “Well, nothing. At least, not yet. What do you think we want to talk about?”
“Just to be clear,” she said when her head stopped spinning. “You want to talk about, like. The two of you. Together.”
They looked at her. She wasn’t sure who to focus on, so she looked at Paul. The real surprise in all of this. “You like guys."
“I like Cal,” Paul said. “And you.”
“He’s great with Kira,” Cal chimed in. “Even better with keeping us safe.”
Sarah frowned at him. “I know. I know what he’s good at, Cal, Jesus. I just don’t know… I don’t know about this. The…”
“You think you’d be jealous?”
“I don’t know,” she snapped. “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it.”
“And as you think about it. You’re not a fan?”
What a fucking question. Sarah dug the heels of her hands in her eyes. “Give me a sec. Just.”
“Sleep on it,” Paul suggested.
That seemed like a good idea. But she couldn't put it off that long. Had to think about it even before she slept, because these were her two guys, here. Her muscle memory was strong. She took her glass to the sink where Cal was doing the last few dishes and slipped under his arm while she was there for a hug. It was as comfortable as ever, she felt the same sense of a puzzle piece clicking home. “I’m sorry that Kira’s been asking questions,” she said.
Cal squeezed her with his arm, keeping his wet sudsy hands away from her. “Hey. We just need a plan.”
She wandered out of the kitchen and found Paul on Cal’s couch, as relaxed as he got. That was something she didn’t feel like she could ever get used to. She’d known Paul a lot of ways - as a liar, as a partner, as a ghost back from the dead. She’d never thought to try and change him. But maybe Cal didn’t have to try. Maybe he was a greenhouse, and Paul had needed the warmth to unfurl.
“Hey.” She sat next to him, pinning him between her and the arm of the couch.
Paul relaxed, looked at her up close and let a little smile out. “Hey.”
“You like Cal.”
“You want to…” She struggled to put words to it.
In the silence, Paul turned to her. He’d always seemed alert in that combat way, an eye on everything. Now that was all trained on her. “I want to keep you safe,” he said, sincere and serious. “I want Kira to grow up with her mother, and I want…” Didn’t seem comfortable with those words. “You.”
“Me,” she repeated.
“You. You both, if that’s…” Again, he stalled out.
“If that’s what I want?”
Paul nodded gratefully.
That phrase was being thrown around a whole hell of a lot. Sarah kissed him for the moment, and went upstairs to say goodnight to Kira.
Kira’s room was a lot more lived-in than the last time Sarah saw it - and she wasn’t exactly sure when that was, now that she was thinking about it. She'd taken Kira to S's last time she was home, that was it, and she hadn't made it up here. She would've noticed these things before, the new books on the shelves and clothes on hangers. Kira was growing up so fast it practically felt like an evolution. And Sarah didn't use that word lightly.
"Hey, Monkey," she said from the doorway.
Kira was in bed, writing something with her lip trapped between her teeth. "Hi."
"You need anything before bed?"
"No," Kira said. Like she didn't even need Sarah here these days, more used to Sarah being gone than being here. Two dads and no need for moms. Though, no sooner did Sarah half-think that than Kira's eyes were on her, clear and light. "Things don't stop when you're not here, Mom," she said simply.
Of course they didn’t. Sarah knew that. It didn’t make sense for her to be so annoyed by Kira saying an obvious truth. She bit down on her lip on purpose, buying herself time to get her head on straight. That was motherhood, choking back your first reaction to be more reasonable. Part and parcel. “Obviously. Yes. I know that. I’m just checking.”
Kira didn’t look up. “Okay.”
“Cal says you have some questions for me."
Sarah motioned towards herself. “Well? Go for it, ask away.”
“Okay.” Kira shut her book and looked at Sarah. “How much longer are you going to be away?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will you be back for good?”
Again, Sarah had to say, “I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you want to be here?”
“I do,” Sarah said indignantly. “I do! But there are important things going on, things I have to take care of.”
“Can’t someone else do it?”
“Well.” Strictly speaking, someone could. Especially since there was barely anything else left to be done. The last of the Neolutionists were dead, their underground networks totally rooted out. She was being careful, really. Better careful than dead. Though, Sarah had to admit that there was little chance of the latter.
Kira was still waiting for her answer. “Yes,” Sarah said. “Someone else could. I was doing it to make sure it gets done right, alright? There is nothing more important to me than keeping you safe. But.” She took a deep breath and combed her hair back from her face. “Well. I think, it’s easier for me to be in the action rather than on the sidelines.”
“Am I the sidelines?”
“No, sweetheart. No, that was just a metaphor.” Sarah went to sit on the end of Kira’s bed, so she could put a hand on Kira’s leg while she spoke.
“Well maybe it’s a metaphor but that doesn’t mean it’s not true,” Kira said.
The hazards of having a kid that’s maybe clairvoyant and a whole lot of other things. “Good point,” Sarah said, and scrunched her nose up. “I’m sorry. Cal’s just so good at the dad thing, I didn’t think you needed me.”
“You’re my mom, of course I need you.”
Sarah motioned Kira in for a hug, and held her tight. “Okay. Well. I’m gonna be around for a while. Let’s start there, yeah?”
“Okay.” Kira nodded a couple times.
“Goodnight, Mom,” Kira said, and this time it sounded more like she meant it.
Good. Sarah gave Kira a final kiss on the cheek, a quick ruffle of her curls, and then went for the door. She was halfway out in the hall when Kira added, “Paul’s good at it too.”
“At dad stuff. In a different way.”
Huh. Sarah nodded for the moment and kept going where she meant to, back downstairs to the guys. Easy to refer to them like that, she noted. Like the two of them made sense as a unit. Though, maybe she was reading into that a little too much. It was just words, and words could be twisted up into any shape. Actions were what mattered.
Actions like how Cal saw her on the steps and moved aside to let her sit between them. "Hey hot stuff," he said with that smile she'd learned was never as naive as he pretended it was. He put his arm across the back of the couch behind her shoulders. "All good with Kira?"
"All good," she agreed.
"Crazy that she puts herself to bed. I'm still not used to that."
Sarah heaved out a deep breath, one it felt like she'd been holding. "Yeah. Yeah, I missed a lot."
"He didn't mean that," Paul said quietly, but Cal didn't chime in and that told Sarah all she needed to know.
She held her hands out to both of them, and they each took their respective hand without hesitation. Cal’s was bigger, Paul’s hand harder. “Alright. I’ve been gone. Is that why you want to… try each other out?”
Cal snorted. “This isn’t just a quirk of leaving us alone together for too long, it’s not that simple.”
“Well, excuse the fuck outta me for asking, it’s never happened to me before.”
“This is a sort of new scenario for all of us,” Paul said over her head at Cal, a smile on his face. “Maybe we could be a little less confrontational.”
He sounded like Cal, Sarah registered dimly. Because he’d been here, with Cal and Kira, for weeks. Months. He’d learned to ask for what he wanted. Sarah told herself these facts to make them feel real. Real as the hands she was holding.
“Okay,” Cal said. “Good point. Clean slate. We’re communicating now. Sarah, I don’t want you gone for long stretches. I don’t. I know you might have to, but I don’t like it. Paul, same for you. When I finish the safe house, I’d really like to keep that Clone Club only.”
So Cal was in the Clone Club. Not that he shouldn’t be, but just that he wasn’t before. Now he was. That was fine. She felt no particular way about it.
Well like, Sarah could recognize the dissonance here. The satisfaction she got out of keeping all these things separate and distinct, or maybe that wasn’t the right word. Maybe it was more like security. If one relationship went up in flames, she’d have the other one. Something like this was the polar fucking opposite. If this went wrong, she was fucked.
Really, though. Really. Wouldn’t she be fucked no matter what?
All of that spilled out the moment Sarah saw Cosima - before Cosima could do much more than close the door, Sarah found herself saying everything that had even half-occurred to her about this whole clusterfuck.
It wasn’t comforting as much as it was affirming just by nature of saying it. Like she was talking to a mirror with horn-rimmed glasses on. Sarah spoke and paced and damn near pulled her hair out, and then she collapsed in a jittery heap on Cosima’s artfully-disheveled couch. Worn out, nothing left in her. She could hear Rachel in her head, knew exactly what she’d say. A cheap photocopy of the real deal, soaked through and this close to falling apart. And fuck her, but. The worst thing about the bitch was how she sort of had a point sometimes.
“Okay,” Cosima said slowly, reasonably. “So I’m going to guess you’ve come to me with this because you’re like, seriously thinking about polygamy.”
“I don’t know what I’m thinking about.”
That was apparently a grim enough thing to say that Cosima, very sweetly and gently, pulled out her bong. So that fucking helped, and after they’d had a few hits apiece Sarah was much more able to sit down and think.
“I guess I am seriously thinking about polygamy,” Sarah said.
Cosima nodded. “Okay.”
“Is that a good idea?”
“Well. It’s completely consensual. You’ve discussed it with all relevant parties. They’ve agreed, of their own volition. I don’t see any reason to not go through with it if you wanted to.” Cosima curled up sideways against the opposite arm. “Do you think you’d be too jealous?”
What a question. Sarah pulled her hand through her hair, fingernails scraping her scalp. “I don’t know. I mean, yeah. Well, not if I knew they wouldn’t box me out.”
“There’s a pun in there somewhere. About your box,” Cosima said thoughtfully.
“If they wanted to do it without you, they would’ve by now.”
Sarah took a deep breath, let it out. That was a really good point. Like, a really fucking good point. If they’d been trying to shut her out, they’d have done it before. Both of them were more than capable of doing shit behind her back, if history had taught her anything at all. But they hadn’t. They’d been waiting for her to open the discussion. Okay. That said something. That was an action through inaction.
People could be surprising. That wasn’t an excuse for being blind. And like. Fuck conventional wisdom. Love wasn’t blind. Love was looking at what you couldn’t bear to see too closely and trusting that you didn’t have to like what you found. At least for somebody who couldn’t help but go looking, like Sarah.
She walked in to find Paul cooking. “Where’s Cal?” she asked him.
“Shower. All good?”
Paul didn’t used to ask things like this. It had never occurred to her to try and change it, but here it was. Changed. That’s why they had Cal, to gently tug them into better versions of themselves.
“I’m great. Cosima says hi.” Sarah went over to lean on the counter and see what he was making.
He shifted out of the way to let her see; he was assembling something in a big flat dish. “French toast casserole. Breakfast for dinner.”
While she was there, he took a closer look at her. She felt his eyes on her, caught them while they were sharp. But sharp didn’t necessarily mean dangerous. She trusted them with her kid, for Christ’s sake. She could trust them with herself.
Cal joined them by hugging her from behind, kissing the back of her head. All of the sudden she wanted to see him do that with Paul so bad her head spun.
“Okay,” Sarah said. “Let’s try it.”
Paul and Cal shared a look over her head. “You heard her,” Cal said. “Come here, hot stuff.”
Yeah. This would work.