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An Open Heart

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“Ei-mama, what’s a god?” Makoto asks.

Ei freezes, remembering her last attempt to explain a complicated subject to her curious child. ‘Gods’ are both more and less difficult to wrap one’s head around than ‘Eternity,’ so she almost calls Miko to answer for her—

Almost.

This is Ei’s responsibility, really. Miko’s semi-divine as a kitsune envoy, and Kokomi quite literally has ‘Divine’ in her job title, but… Ei is the only one of them that’s actually a god, and it’s from her that Makoto has inherited their divine status. To run away from explaining without even trying… It would be shameful.

Ei sighs and settles down next to Makoto.

“What’s a god?” she begins, eyes distant. “Where to start…”

“Ei-mama,” Makoto tells her seriously. “If you’re just gonna say words again, I’m gonna go ask Miko-mama instead.”

“No, no, I’ve got this,” Ei insists, flailing her arms around in an attempt to prevent Makoto from leaving. “I was just trying to figure out how to explain it.”

Makoto gives her the most doubtful look that Ei has ever seen from a five-year-old and crosses their arms.

“Ei-mama,” Makoto says. “You’re a really bad explainer.”

Ei sighs. This is her life now: Her Excellency, the Almighty Narukami Ogosho, God of Thunder… disrespected by a five-year-old. She no longer has even the tiniest shred of dignity left, all of it blown away in the face of her child’s brutality. Are children supposed to be this savage, Ei wonders, or is hers just especially vicious? She hopes that the child Kokomi is carrying proves to be of a more gentle temperament, because she’s not sure she can survive being constantly cut down to size by two children.

“If you ask most people what a god is,” Ei says quietly, “they’ll say that they’re powerful. That they rule over some kind of force, like I do lightning, that mortals can’t hope to match them. These days, gods are also associated with rulership of countries, like how I’m the Raiden Shogun of Inazuma.”

“What do you say a god is, Ei-mama?” Makoto asks, leaning in.

“A long-lived fool,” Ei sighs. “A being with more power and a longer lifespan than they have any right to hold, and no more wisdom than a mortal with which to use it. But people look up to us, and they worship us. They ask us for protection and guidance, and we grant it to them as best we can. In my mind, the most important trait for a god to have is a sense of responsibility for their people.”

Makoto frowns. “But Ei-mama, what makes someone our people?” they ask. “Is it because they worship us?”

“No,” Ei disagrees, shaking her head. “There are people who give honor to my name as God of Thunder across all of Teyvat, but… as cruel as it may sound of me to say, they are not my people. My people are the people of Inazuma, whether they worship me or not — many on Watatsumi Island still refuse to honor me despite your Kokomi-mama’s best efforts, but I grant them protection and aid all the same. All of the people of Inazuma are mine to love, to protect, to guide.”

“But…” Makoto mumbles. “Why? If they don’t want us… and why don’t we help people who do, just because they’re far away?”

Ei stretches out her hands, and behind her back a thousand more spectral arms take shape.

“I am the Thousand-Armed, Hundred-Eyed God,” Ei proclaims. “Within Inazuma, there is no place I cannot see, no problem I cannot stretch out my hand to wipe away. But… even for me, there is a limit to my reach. If I try to solve every problem in the world, I’ll never solve anything. My duty is to those who exist within the land I united, the tiny world encircled in my embrace. You need to understand, Makoto, that even we gods cannot do everything — I’m known as the Almighty Shogun, but the only sense in which that might be at all true is in battle.”

“…I don’t get it,” Makoto mumbles. “You’re still ignoring people who want your help and helping people who don’t, Ei-mama.”

“When you put it like that it does sound silly,” Ei agrees. “But Makoto… How am I supposed to help everyone who prays to me all the way in Sumeru without neglecting my people here? You’re asking me to spread my awareness across the entire world, and even for me that would be impossible. It’s hard enough to be aware of all of the goings-on in Inazuma… and for many years, I neglected doing even that much.”

Ei falls silent as the shame of her mistakes in those five hundred long years fills her. Had she only designed the puppet to cast her vision out beyond the walls of Tenshukaku, everything would have been laid bare. The civil war over the Vision Hunt and Sakoku Decrees would have been known to her, as would the treachery of the Tri-Commission. She would have acted to end those horrific errors long before the traveler girl had appeared before her in the Plane of Euthymia and, with Miko’s help, forced her to confront just what was happening to her people.

“We all need to accept our limits, Makoto,” Ei sighs. “And do everything we can within them.”

Ei’s foolish pride had blinded her to that for so long. She had managed to convince herself that she didn’t need to listen to her people, that she had already reached an understanding of the true path that had to be followed for the sake of Inazuma’s prosperity, but she had been devastatingly wrong.

Of course, it’s not like the other gods have been much better, but… Ei still views herself as a particularly special example of the fallibility of the divine. It’s an embrace of that very fallibility, though, that has led to the current Inazuma: a place where she consults with humans from all walks of life when making decisions, where she is a god who has chosen to serve her people rather than look down on them from on high.

“Gods are really just people,” Ei explains quietly. “People with a lot of extra power, people who will live far longer than the humans… but people. We’re flawed, we’re limited, we’re prone to devastating mistakes… but we need to do our best for those under our protection. For the sake of those who look up to us, for the sake of those who seek our gaze… we must never stop seeking to better ourselves.”

Ei pulls Makoto into her lap and hugs them.

“Some gods choose to leave their people,” she says. “They come to believe that the time of the gods is over, that humans need to learn to live on their own… but what they fail to understand is that even if they abandon their people, their people have not abandoned them.”

Ei thinks of Barbatos, who had gone to sleep for so many years and woken up to a nation in crisis, a nation that had needed the god who had abandoned it. She thinks of Morax, who had chosen to fake his own death in an attempt to cut his people entirely free but had been unable to put an end to the reverence they held for him even as he accidentally caused a financial crisis for all of Teyvat by thoughtlessly rendering important processes like creating Mora impossible through his absence.

Ei, too, had abandoned her people, had left them in the hands of a doll that had not yet begun learning to feel… but she had returned to them. She had come to understand her role as the bearer of their wishes, the tremendous honor and responsibility that they bestowed upon her.

“I don’t understand, Ei-mama,” Makoto says, expression troubled as they cuddle up against her stomach.

“…That’s fine,” Ei murmurs, petting Makoto’s hair. “You’ve got plenty of time to learn.”

It’s a lot for a five-year-old, Ei knows this. She would never have expected Makoto to know it by heart like she does, especially since they have so little experience with what it’s like to fail.

She hopes Makoto never has to feel like she has, never has to learn lessons about their role through losing everything. She’ll do her best to make sure her child has all of the time they need to figure out their place in the world, and if they decide they don’t want the duties of a god…

Well. Ei will shoulder them in their place, as she always has.

“What are you looking so serious for?” Miko asks, collapsing beside her and pulling her into a one-armed hug. “You’ve got such a little cutie in your lap, shouldn’t you be smiling?”

Ei can’t help but smile at that.

“You know, you’re right,” she agrees, rubbing her nose against Makoto’s. “I should be smiling. You know what would make me smile even more, though…?”

“What is it, Ei-mama?” Makoto asks, eyes wide.

“If I had a cute little fox in my lap,” Ei finishes, grinning.

Makoto’s transformation is instantaneous, and Ei trails her fingers through her adorable child’s fluffy fur.

“So cute,” she coos.

Maybe it’s a bias from having originally met Miko when her wife was in her fox shape, but Ei loves foxes. No other animal’s cuteness even remotely compares in her eyes — Makoto had loved shibas, but Ei has never been able to bring herself to like them much. Foxes, though…

“Who’s a good little fox?” Ei teases, aware of Miko rolling her eyes next to her. “Who’s a good little fox?”

“Me,” Miko deadpans. “I’m a good little fox.”

Ei and Makoto both turn to stare at her, Makoto doing a remarkably good job of expressing disgust with their tiny fox face.

“I was talking about Makoto,” Ei huffs. “You are a menace.”

“As if Makoto didn’t try to steal half of my fried tofu last night when I wasn’t looking,” Miko grumbles, pouting. “They’re the menace. I am the sweet and innocent Yae Miko.”

“…I’m sorry, I just got home, so I think I misheard,” Kokomi cuts in as she enters the room and joins her wives on the floor. “Because there’s no way I walked in on a lie as obvious as someone calling Miko ‘sweet and innocent,’ right?”

Miko gives Kokomi the most offended look Ei thinks she’s ever seen from their wife.

“Come on, Miko,” Kokomi says, rolling her eyes. “Nobody would fall for that one. Exactly how many complaints about you get filed with the Shogunate a month again?”

“…Rather less than before I had Makoto,” Miko sniffs.

“About ten on average,” Ei says. “It’s true that it used to be closer to thirty, so she really has shaped up a lot.”

“…I was thinking it’d be more like three or four,” Kokomi murmurs, gazing at Miko with a mixture of confusion and awe. “What do you do, Miko?”

“I simply believe in having fun a little more than most of the sticks in the mud in this country,” Miko says, holding her head high.

“Miko-mama,” Makoto says, having reverted to their human shape to crawl over and rest their head on Kokomi’s lap, ear against the ever-so-slight curve of her growing belly. “Your fun is kinda…”

Miko narrows her eyes. “My fun is kinda what, little one?” she challenges. “You wanna finish that?”

Makoto gives her an unimpressed stare, wraps their arms around Kokomi, and declares, “Your fun sucks, Miko-mama.”

Miko’s eyes widen, her mouth drops open, and she tips over. Ei pokes her, but she doesn’t react.

“Makoto, that was a little harsh,” Kokomi scolds gently. “You have a lot of fun with Miko-mama, don’t you?”

Makoto looks up at Kokomi with innocent eyes. “Uh-huh!” they agree. “Like I just did!”

Ei can’t help it — she bursts into laughter. Their child is so much like Miko sometimes that she wonders whether Miko has been giving them secret lessons in Miko-like behavior. If she hasn’t, then Makoto must be a natural… which is a somewhat concerning thought, really. Ei has heard that the teenage years are a trial for any parent, and if you combine that with a child that’s already a mini-Miko…

“Makoto,” Ei begins hesitantly. “If you ever feel the need to get back at me for something, please just tell me, okay?”

“…Okay?” Makoto agrees, tilting their head. “Whatever you say, Ei-mama.”

Not exactly reassuring, Ei thinks, but she’ll take what she can get.

“Oh, Ei,” Kokomi says, ruffling Makoto’s hair. “You’ll be pleased to hear this: I finally convinced the people of Watatsumi to accept you as a joint god of the Sangonomiya Shrine alongside the Watatsumi Omikami. Will you have time to visit and be formally enshrined any time soon?”

“…It’s finally happened, huh?” Ei whispers. “Why now?”

“Our marriage, probably,” Miko pipes up. “As good as they’ve been at holding on to a silly grudge, even the people of Watatsumi Island probably had to recognize that hating the wife of their Divine Priestess, the mother of her child, was a pretty bad look, especially when that Divine Priestess has been trying to convince them that she’s not their enemy for so many years.”

“Essentially correct,” Kokomi admits. “There had been a growing faction in favor of it already, but they surged in number after our wedding. There just weren’t enough holdouts against you to win when I put it to a vote. I hope you don’t mind sharing the shrine and offerings with Orobashi… I think if I tried to move his worship elsewhere I’d have a riot on my hands.”

“No, no,” Ei says, shaking her head. “I understand. I’m more than happy to share worship with him. He did a lot for your people, before… what happened.”

“People can have more than one god?” Makoto asks. “Ei-mama, didn’t you say gods are rulers?”

“I said people think of us as rulers,” Ei corrects. “Long ago, there were all kinds of gods… Some of them never took on a people at all, and others served as subordinates in wider power structures. Orobashi was one of those, choosing to submit to the rule of the Shogun for the sake of the people of Watatsumi Island, but…”

She trails off, trying not to let memories of that horrible war engulf her. She doesn’t want to remember what happened to Sasayuri, doesn’t want to remember the final confrontation with a god whose kindness she had once respected so deeply, but the grip that the past has on her is still strong, and she—

Finds two pairs of arms wrapping tightly around her, and a small fluffy body cuddling up against her stomach, pulling her out of the surging nightmare and back into the present.

“…I love you all,” Ei chokes out, unable to help the tears spilling from her eyes. “I’m so lucky to have you.”

If she hadn’t been a god, Ei thinks, if she had been able to live a normal life… would she have ever been able to find this happiness? She would have died long before Miko’s birth, let alone Kokomi’s. Makoto never would have been born, and their next child would never have been conceived.

Would Ei have settled down with some long-ago woman and been happy, or would she have died alone, as friendless as she had been in that period as a god?

Ei… doesn’t want to know. Doesn’t want to picture a world where she wasn’t a god, where she never met Miko or Kokomi, where her children were never born.

The idea of having had a normal life, as appealing as she used to find it, is now its own kind of nightmare. Being a god has been a source of enormous hardship for her, but it’s also because she’s a god that she has her family.

“We love you too, Ei,” Kokomi whispers, gently kissing her. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m the lucky one.”

Miko snorts and presses a kiss to first Ei’s lips, and then Kokomi’s. “You’re both incredibly lucky,” she says. “You’re married to me, after all.”

Ei and Kokomi look at each other and roll their eyes, but before they can say anything Makoto, back in their humanoid form, pipes up.

“That’s Miko-mama for ‘No, I’m the lucky one!” they say. “Mamas, I think you’re all lucky.”

All three of them immediately wrap Makoto in their arms.

“We are,” Ei agrees. “We’ve got you, after all.”

“I’d take you over ten Miko-mamas,” Kokomi agrees.

“…No respect at all,” Miko grumbles. “…but you’re right. Makoto’s the number one reason we’re lucky, and soon…”

She lets her fingers trail across Kokomi’s stomach.

“We’ll be even luckier,” Miko finishes quietly.

“We will,” Ei agrees.

Kokomi smiles softly at them, and they lean forward so that all of their foreheads are pressing together.

“I love you, Miko,” Ei whispers. “I love you, Kokomi. I love you, Makoto.”

“I love you, Ei,” Kokomi whispers back. “I love you, Miko. I love you, Makoto.”

“I love you, Kokomi,” Miko murmurs. “I love you, Ei. I love you, Makoto.”

“I love all of you, mamas,” Makoto declares loudly. “Ei-mama, Miko-mama, Kokomi-mama… I love you!”

As Ei joins her wives in covering their child’s face in kisses, she knows that she wouldn’t change a single thing about her life: all of the pain she’s experienced, all of the sacrifices she made to create the Inazuma of today, made her the person and Inazuma the place that had allowed her family to exist. All across Inazuma, she’s sure, there are families feeling this same kind of love, this adoration for one another… and they can do it in safety because of the watchful eyes of their god.

Bearing the wishes of the people, accepting their worship onto her shoulders, is a heavy burden. It’s not one Ei had ever wanted, not something she had ever believed herself fit for.

But if, by doing so, she can give others even a fraction of the happiness she’s feeling now…

It is a weight that Ei will bear with a smile.