Kiara wouldn’t consider herself a baker by any means. She’s a cook. She makes dishes out of fried food, lasagna, and spaghetti. She cooks meals and not cakes. There’s a picture on the mantle in her kitchen of her failure of a gingerbread house. Amelia had taken a picture of it. There’s a blur of blue in the corner of Gura making off with the chimney of the house. It’s an endearing little photo. It’s a testament to what she can make and what she can’t make.
When it rains at the Watson estate, it pours. It’s a dreary, musty nightmare that slogs at her boots and makes her jacket stick coldly to her shoulders. Kiara only knocks once on the door. She doubts anyone who knows Amelia waits to be let in. Maybe Ina, she thinks with amusement.
This is where loneliness is.
It’s the empty halls of an estate meant for a family no longer there. Kiara pokes her head into the living room. The fireplace is cold. The TV is off. She wanders down the hallway, past rooms that she doesn’t dare look into, past guest rooms that she’s stayed in, right down towards the smallest room in the estate, because Amelia is the type of girl to curl up into a dark, tiny space and never want to be found.
She knocks and waits this time. There’s not an immediate answer. She’s not a patient bird. She cracks open the door and peeks in. It’s dark. Amelia’s desk is tucked into a corner. The window blinds are drawn up and it’s cracked open. The rain sound is deafening. On the bed, buried under blankets and pillows, is her detective.
Kiara quietly closes the window. It’s not that she’s out of her depth here, she muses. She’s lived long enough that pain and violence are something that scratches along her skin but doesn’t leave long-lasting harm to her. She can take the blows. She can suffer through it and come out on the other side.
Maybe that’s a problem because the others are frighteningly the same. They take their punches with a grin. Troubles come to them and they power through them. The gift of immortality gives them that leeway. Amelia doesn’t have the same kind of skin for that. She thinks she does and that’s the problem. She hangs around immortals so much that she thinks it's normal to hole oneself up in their room on dreadful anniversaries.
“You’ll get sick like this.” She says, apropos of nothing. She doesn’t get a response from the bed, not that she was trying for one. She walks over with cautious steps. When she sits down, upsetting the stillness of the mattress, the blankets shift.
Tired blue eyes peek above the covers. Amelia’s hair is a shock of gold in the dark of this room. Her eyes are blazing fever bright. It’s the kind of blighted color that comes when she’s experimenting with her concoctions. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days.
“Sorry.” Amelia croaks. It breaks Kiara’s heart.
Kiara reaches out to soothe her hair out of her face. Amelia’s eyes fluttered close. It’s horribly vulnerable, the way she relaxes like a tensely coiled spring. Grief is tangible in the air. Kiara wishes she could burn it away. She hopes her hands are warm enough to at least offer that comfort.
“I wanted to check up on you.” Kiara murmurs. “It’s a good thing I did, hm?”
“Mmh.” The detective turns her nose into her pillows. Her shoulders hike up defensively. She’s not in a joking mood.
But Kiara has to try like she always has before. She whispers, “This house is too big for you, Ame.”
She gets a quiet, “I know.”
“Have you thought about moving?” Of course she has. Kiara knows she has. She’s never taken that step and the phoenix has a growing list of excuses. It’s a nice house and well, I’d have to move everything and that’s too much work. It all comes back to this, an anniversary with the only one to celebrate it being Amelia.
“I thought about something else.” Amelia’s voice is rough from lack of sleep. She glances at Kiara, “I thought about how much space it has.”
“Yeah?” Kiara prompts.
“It’s got a lot of rooms.” Amelia’s voice is painfully quiet, shy, scared. “Enough for eleven people.”
Ah, Kiara can’t hide the fond smile touching her lips. Her heart aches for this girl, too kind for her own good, hopeful and sweet. “Do you want to be roommates, Ame?”
“I mean,” She’s more awake now. She’s sitting up to say, “No pressure, or anything, I just thought it’d be a good idea. Calli doesn’t have anywhere on the surface to stay, you know, and Gura keeps mentioning how lonely she is in her apartment and-”
“Could I have that guest room I stayed in last time?” Kiara asks. “I liked having two windows.”
Amelia stares at her. She’s drawing her words cautiously, “Yeah. You didn’t like the color of the walls, we can totally paint it over-”
“You remember that?”
Amelia huffs, “It’s an old house! The walls are gonna be ugly.”
That makes Kiara laugh. She can see a small smile for her efforts, a firefly flickering to life in the dark. My little firefly. She leans over to press a kiss to the top of her head.
“Get up, get cleaned up, and go make some phone calls,” Kiara says. “I’ll make breakfast.”
Breakfast for Amelia is meticulous.
There’s a lot Amelia can’t eat because it makes her sick, not that she’d ever tell anyone not to make her anything on behalf of her health. Kiara rolls her eyes at the many occasions their group had gone out to eat and Amelia had eaten whatever was given to her, even if she was throwing up by the end of the evening. The detective was notorious for that.
Again, she’s not much of a baker. She also knows misery is sickeningly tight in the air. The rain taps against the roof relentlessly. There are certain foods that just wouldn’t sit well with this heavy air. The phoenix purses her lips and digs through the cupboards.
It would be good to eat lightly. Bread would work, the kind that won’t make Amelia curl up onto the floor in pain. The fluffier the better, Kiara muses. Softer foods worked great on dreary days like these.
She scavenges for ingredients and frustrates over substitutes. The oven freaks her out a little because it shrieks when the door closes. She’s losing her mind over it and she can hear Amelia laughing from the other room. It’s an encouraging sound.
She bakes cloud bread, fluffy flat little circles of bread that look more like cookies than slices of bread. They look pitiful by themselves. She ends up making small sandwiches out of them, putting ham and lettuce between each slice. She adds a small batch of blueberry scones to complete it. Breakfast with a dash of fruit to get the day going.
When Amelia walks into the kitchen, she looks normal. She’s wearing a pink sweater with puppy pawprints over it. Her hair is in a disastrous state, but she’s smiling. The bags under her eyes don’t look so severe when her eyes are bright like that.
“Something smells good.” She says.
“It better be you or I’m not letting you near me.” Kiara waves a whisk threateningly at her.
Amelia laughs and steals a scone. She dances out of Kiara’s range, wiggling her fingers teasingly as she heads for the phone. Kiara can’t be cross with her, not when she’s like that, not when it’s so drastically different from when she found her.
The cloud bread tastes okay. It’s a little crunchy between her teeth. The scones feel gooier than they should be. She comments on this.
Amelia has eaten two already and says around a mouthful of her third, “It’s delicious.”
Well, Kiara preens, that’s okay then.
Gura is the first to arrive at the surprise of absolutely no one. She’d be the first to get to any event or meet up. Anytime she’s directly called out on it the shark would grin and laugh. I got excited is a common excuse for that. Kiara knows, and she has an inkling everyone else does as well, that it’s more than that. Out of politeness, she simply doesn’t grill her for it. Something about teasing her for it feels like it’d end poorly.
She settles in well to the Watson estate.
“We should call it something else,” Amelia says. She looks better with dreadful anniversaries behind her. She’s back in her bones. The bags under her eyes are gone and Kiara wears that accomplishment with pride.
Gura is shoveling cereal into her mouth when she says, “The myth shack.”
“I invited council, you know.”
“Well, shit, just call it Kronii’s house. It’s hers now.”
“If she comes,” Amelia says. Her words are said lightly but there’s a tension there, hidden anxiety that Kiara picks up on. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t know the relationship between the time traveler and the time warden. It feels more complicated than the both of them let on.
It distracts Kiara. She’s busy with fixing the ugly walls of this house because, ugh, some of this just won’t do. Amelia supervises her, amusement radiating off her as Kiara fumes over colors and paint. She’s got yellow and blue smeared over her palms for several days straight. She’s so distracted with it that she forgets that Amelia isn’t the only one with awful anniversaries.
The detective is out on the job. It’s just her and Gura in this big house. It makes Kiara antsy to have so much space. She can’t imagine how Amelia has survived so long in its emptiness. She paints a single wall before the quiet gets to her. It’s lunchtime and she’d rather be spending it with company. She seeks out Gura’s room.
For Gura, she’s happy with any room given to her and isn’t picky about the details. She only uses it to sleep as typically the shark is more invested in the bathtub or the pool than she is with her bed. When Kiara opens the door she isn’t expecting to find a shark tail poking out from underneath the bed. It’s cute. It feels like she just found one of her cats making off with their favorite toy.
“Gura.” She knocks on the door with her elbow because her hands are covered in dried paint. “Come on out, let’s get lunch. Do you wanna go out and get something?”
She doesn’t get an immediate response. The tail disappears under the bed. Watery blue eyes peer out from under the bed. Kiara’s enthusiasm dips. Her stomach sinks to her toes. It’s not exactly rare that Gura cries. She remembers one time she took Gura and Ina out shopping. They’d passed by a pet store and Gura had absolutely folded like a lawn chair over the kittens. The whole trip had to be accomplished with an extra purchase of tissues.
Kiara says cautiously, “Gura?”
“Hey, um,” Gura sniffles. She wipes her sleeve over her face, “Uh, you caught me at a bad time.”
“Why are you under your bed?”
“Nightmare,” Gura says tightly. “Uh, it happens.”
Kiara knows that. The phoenix, and Amelia too, are weak to horror. They’d have night terrors for sure if they went out and watched a scary movie. Gura is the same but isn’t. Her night terrors can be blamed on scary things. She likes to blame them on scary things. Kiara has a hunch it’s a lot more than just a bump in the night that sets her off.
Kiara crouches down to better see her shark, “Wanna talk about it?”
Gura buries her head into her sleeves. Seeing her curled up in the cramped space under her bed reminds Kiara just how small the shark is. Even Amelia would have trouble fitting under there.
Gura’s voice is muffled, “How many centuries has it been?”
Gura groans. Her tail is folding over her head hiding more of herself from Kiara. Kiara frowns, “What, are you embarrassed?”
“It’s stupid,” Gura says. “I’m getting upset about something thousands of years old. It’s so stupid.”
Oh, Kiara thinks, oh. This was different than night terrors. This was memories. It’s hard to put fierce, sassy Gura into the title of the last Atlantean. It’s even weirder to put her in that spot with shadows over her face, her tail flat to the ground, and the ocean waves lapping at her ankles. Grief is different for everyone. She doesn’t know how to heal a wound that’s already been healed.
“You can still be upset about it.” Kiara offers. “It happened, like, you know you can be upset, right? You have every right-”
“I know, Kiara.” Gura sounds tired. “I’m fine, actually. I’m just frustrated.”
“That you had a nightmare about Atlantis?”
“It wasn’t a nightmare, I don’t think.” Gura's voice drops quiet, far away and sinking. “It was a memory. It’s been so long I forgot a lot of stuff.” She gasps a little like she’s trying not to cry. “Forgot a lot of faces. Didn’t expect to…to see some of them, is all.”
“Oh, Gura.” Kiara’s heart aches for her. She reaches a hand out coaxingly. “Want to come out and get something to eat? Maybe the food will help, it might distract you.”
Gura glances up at her from over her fin. She looks reluctant, “I don’t have an appetite.”
“You haven’t eaten breakfast yet, have you?”
She doesn’t get a response which is as good as a confirmation as she’s gonna get. She waits patiently. With a sniffle, Gura is unfolding from her spot. She grabs Kiara’s hand. When Kiara pulls her out she gets a better view of a tear-stricken shark. The scratchy red of her eyes and the red flush on her cheeks from crying makes her look younger, scared.
Kiara runs her hand through snowy hair, “Let’s make some snickerdoodles.”
That makes Gura snort, “Yeah?”
“I don’t know how to make them, you’ll need to read me the recipe.”
“Will do chief,” Gura says.
The afternoon is spent like that, with Gura propped up on the kitchen counter. There’s a cookbook in her lap that she reads out instructions diligently. Kiara fails basic hearing comprehension multiple times and panics over the ingredients. It makes Gura laugh, a soft little sound that makes her chest soar with emotions.
They make little blonde snickerdoodle bars. It’s the pinnacle of cinnamon and brown sugar and absolutely overloaded with way too much nutmeg. It makes them both laugh, clutching the countertops as they cough around their treats. It’s a dumb thing to laugh about. It makes her happy anyway.
Sana arrives next, which is a surprise.
Space flings open the doors, the entire house shaking with the cheeriness that the concept gives off. She picks Amelia off the ground and spins her until they’re both laughing so hard they cry. They’re clutching their stomachs as they walk around the house, Amelia touring her through the rooms until Sana finds the one she likes the most. It’s the one with a window facing the rising sun, every morning.
Kiara finds Sana watching it nearly every time she pokes her head into her room. Space is a gentle soul. She smiles and laughs and gives so much affection that it can be smothering at times. In those quieter moments, Kiara sees her watch the world wake up from her window.
Kiara is reluctant to break this spell but she asks, “I’m making breakfast. Do you have any preferences?”
Sana blinks over at her. A smile is sparkling to life across her face, “Oh hi, Kiara, no thank you.”
Kiara blinks, “Eh? Um… Are you saying no thank you to breakfast, or…?”
“I don’t have to eat as a concept,” Sana says. She’s kicking her feet from side to side. “I don’t want to impose.”
Kiara softens, “You’re not imposing! I’d love it if you’d try some of my cooking, er, baking? I’ve been baking a little recently, it’s not good at all, mind you, but I’d love it if you gave it a try.”
Sana perks up, “Oh! I’d love to try your bread, I’d love that. Kiara’s homemade bread.” She tilts her head back with a dramatic grin. “Divine.”
Kiara laughs, “Okay, you. If you want some of my food you gotta help me bake it because I’m not good at it alone.”
It’s odd to have someone beside her while she bakes. Sana is good around a kitchen. When Kiara might stumble, Sana is her crutch. Space is happy to correct mistakes. She moves around Kiara with enthusiasm, not interfering, not getting in the way, simply engaging in the moment.
“How’d you learn to bake?” Kiara asks as she’s wrist deep into flour.
Sana is tossing a bottle of lemon juice from hand to hand, “I learned a long time ago.”
“But you stay up in space, don’t you?” Kiara glances up at her limiter, bobbing away to every sway of Sana’s head. “Did you come down to Earth one day just to learn it?”
“Well, Mumei and Fauna don’t ever leave Earth,” Sana says. “Or they can’t, you know. The rest of the council can go wherever because the universe is like, all over the place. Time, Space, chaos, yeah it has it all. Fauna could leave, now that I think about it. I think she was worried about leaving Mumei alone. Mumei can’t leave.”
Kiara knows that at least. “She’s a human concept, yeah.”
Sana smiles, softer, “I came down here a few times to visit. One time I made a really good friend.”
Kiara goes quiet. She knows this story too, at least the layers of it that have been spoken of. Ina doesn’t mention much of space and when Sana is brought up the priestess turns to glass. She looks fractured and unsteady.
“Can I ask a personal question?” Kiara says.
“Why did you leave the temple, all those years ago?” Kiara prods. “I mean, they named you an apostle and everything. I don’t get a lot about what happened or what’s so interesting about the Ancient Ones, but you did join them.”
Sana is quiet. She’s looking down at the lemon juice bottle. For a moment, Kiara thinks she’s purposefully reading the nutrition facts just to avoid the conversation. When Sana speaks, it’s with a voice as gentle as a cloud.
“I can’t say.” Sana glances up at her with a wry smile. “I know she won’t forgive me, I can handle that. We’ve been hanging out more and more. Sometimes, she laughs at my jokes.”
Kiara stares at her. Her chest feels like it’s being wrapped tight with a rubber band. Sana continues demurely, “I tell her she’s pretty. When I first came back that made her angry. She’d get all quiet and walk away from me. Now she just rolls her eyes. Last month she said no You’re pretty to me.”
“Sana,” Kiara says. She doesn’t know what to say. She feels like she might cry.
Sana smiles sweetly. It’s painful to look at. “It’s okay! She doesn’t forgive me, but she’s starting to like hanging out again. I can make her smile. That’s good enough for me.”
Kiara’s voice is choked up when she says, “You’re gonna make me cry.”
“It’ll help the bread rise.” Sana offers unhelpfully. It’s a poor attempt at humor, but it works. Kiara sniffles through a quiet giggle. Sana offers the lemon juice and says, “It won’t make itself, Kiara!”
“I know, sheesh. You made me emotional now.” Kiara angrily grabs the lemon juice and says, “We don’t even need this!”
They end up making banana bread and when that turns out to be too small for their tastes, they add pumpkin bread to the batch. There’s coconut sugar on the floor that she’ll have to clean later. She can feel baking powder smeared over her cheeks. Sana smiles when she takes a bite of banana bread. She holds that smile, that wonder, as she closes her eyes and savors the taste. Kiara knows it’s far from perfect. The reverence in which Sana treats it makes it feel like it’s more than just the taste Sana is savoring.
“Thank you, Kiara.” Sana’s eyes sparkle when she opens them again. “I needed this.”
“Anytime,” Kiara says. She’s pleased with the results even if she isn’t entirely sure what the results were.
Mumei is next and by extension Fauna. They arrive together, civilization there with doe eyes and nature standing there in exhaustion.
“I got lost,” Mumei says.
Fauna says, “I had to find her.”
“Thanks,” Mumei says. It’s hard to find sincerity in it, which only makes Gura laugh so hard she chokes on the bagel she was eating. Kiara is delighted. The house is filling up. There are more voices to be heard in its walls. Sana brightens up at the sight of other council members. They fit in seamlessly together. It’s hard to find the house in a state of quiet. Usually, someone is making noise, whether it be the shower turning on, Mumei singing softly in the morning, Sana making something delicious in the kitchen, or the scratch of paper as Amelia swings her desk chair in circles.
Fauna is quiet. Kiara knows that’s just how she is. She’s a quiet woman that walks softly through this home. More than once Kiara has found nature standing silently before a window, her eyes far away and watching something that’s not there. She looks haunted, despite the gentle smile and tender eyes.
She looks sick.
“Have you been settling in alright?” Kiara asks one evening. She’s careful about this question. Fauna had been tired more recently for unexplainable reasons. Nature more often than not would be napping away in her room, basking in the light of her window. Now, Fauna was sitting on the couch. She cradled a tea in her lap. The TV was on, a low hum of noise over their conversation.
“It’s okay.” Fauna says. She takes a sip of her tea. Kiara watches the way her fingers tremble, only just slightly. “I was worried Mumei might forget why she’s here, but she’s been enjoying herself.”
“That’s good,” Kiara says but it doesn’t answer the questions she wanted answering. She tries again, “Have you been feeling okay? Under the weather at all?”
Fauna glances at her. A mirage of emotions pass across her face, trepidation, curiosity, and reluctance. She looks older now, ancient, the gold of her eyes foggier than before.
“Oh.” Fauna whispers. She smiles but it’s a faraway thing. “I suppose someone would have noticed eventually.”
“Are you sick?” Kiara frowns. “You should have said something. I can make-”
“It’s not,” Fauna breathes, “something medicine will fix, Kiara.”
Kiara stares. There’s something severe they’re encroaching on. It feels too large for this living room. Kiara asks, “Fauna? You can talk to us, we’re your friends.”
“Oh, I know, I know that.” Fauna exhales. She looks wistful. “I didn’t want to upset the move. Mumei has this habit of remembering bad things more than good things. I’d rather she not know, even if that’s selfish and cruel.”
This felt alarming. Kiara presses again, “Fauna?”
Fauna looks at her. Kiara is reminded that she’s talking to nature, the conception of life itself. It’s startling how tired she looks. There’s an exhausted sag to her shoulders.
“How much do you know about nature, Kiara?” Fauna asks, “Truly? Do you know enough to say you’re an expert?”
“Not at all, no,” Kiara says. “I’m sorry to say it never interested me very much.” Sheepishly, she tacks on, “I had a bit of an obsession with death than I did with life.”
Fauna laughs faintly, “Oh my.”
“No, c’mon,” Kiara steers the conversation back on track, “You’re being so vague! You’re not feeling well, right? Is something happening to you?”
Fauna looks at her gravely. She doesn’t say anything for a long moment, weighing her words. Her voice is quieter than a breeze when she says, “I’m dying, Kiara.”
Kiara stares. She can’t summon a reaction to that. It felt odd to have it exposed like that. They’re sitting in Amelia’s living room- their living room. It felt absurd to even think about. Fauna is dying sounded ridiculous. Nature is dying felt a little more tangible, rawer, and painful.
“Fauna.” Kiara breathes.
Nature waves her hand dismissively, “I haven’t told anyone. I don’t want to scare too many just in case it’s just a passing thing, you know.”
“How can that just be a passing thing?”
“Do you know how many times I’ve almost died?” Fauna laughs weakly. “There was a meteor, that was a thing that happened, Kiara. I lived through that.”
Kiara huffs, “Well, allow me to be a little afraid on your behalf! You haven’t been looking so well anyway. Forgive me for worrying, I guess.”
“No, no, I’m sorry for dropping it on you like that.” Fauna takes a sip of tea. She looks amused despite the conversation. “I’m afraid if Mumei finds out, she’ll blame herself again.”
“Why would…” Kiara trails off. Mumei is civilization, a concept born of humans. Humans who have notoriously taken steps in recent decades to make the Earth much warmer than it should be. “Oh, Fauna…”
“It’s okay.” Fauna closes her eyes. She looks content to savor her tea. “It makes me angry. Don’t think I’m happy about this in the slightest. I hate this feeling and I end up…taking it out on them a little.” She opens one eye, a flash of gold that looks menacing. “Hurricanes feel great in spring, don’t they?”
Kiara swallows dryly, “Ah…”
“Don’t worry about me.” Fauna reiterates. She looks at Kiara tenderly. “I’m sorry for worrying you. It’s just going to be difficult for me for a while.” She smiles down at her tea. “That’s why I was so happy Ame reached out to me. It’s not…pleasant, to suffer alone. It never is.”
Kiara doesn’t know what to say. Quietly, she offers, “You’re not alone.”
“And I know medicine won’t help.” Kiara moves to stand, “But I know a really good citrus cake recipe that might perk you up.”
Fauna looks at her with surprise. After a moment, she grins, her eyes curving upwards warmly, “I’d love that, Kiara. Thank you.”
Kronii doesn’t use the front door. Kiara only even finds out she’s here when she goes to paint the next guest room and finds it already occupied. Kronii has her own desk there, the blue woman dressed in casual clothes for once. Kiara can’t ever recall seeing time without her normal regalia. The big yellow hoodie was definitely not hers.
“Well, well, well.” Kiara drawls. She smiles as she leans against the doorframe. “Look who decided to show up.”
Kronii glances at her from over her laptop. The glasses on her were adorable. Kiara wants to fawn over her, but she knows the time warden would squirrel away from affection.
“Me,” Kronii says dryly. “Hi, thank you for welcoming me.”
“Wow, tough crowd,” Kiara says. “Mumei and Gura were placing bets on how long it’d take you to show up.”
Kronii scowls, “Oh really? What were the bets?”
“Gura said you’d be the last one.” Kiara grins. “Mumei said you wouldn’t show up at all.”
Kronii’s mouth falls open, affronted. “That little- why is it such a big deal, huh? I’m very busy. The others aren’t even here yet! I’m not last.”
“You should go collect from them.” Kiara loves rattling the cage like this. No doubt Gura and Mumei would put up a fight and the ensuing banter will be delicious. “On that note, you settled in well! I was just walking over to paint your walls.”
“Oh.” Kronii breathes. “Thank god. I can’t stand the eggplant color.”
“Don’t say that too loudly, you never know when Ina might show up.” Kiara jokes. She’s grabbing her paint buckets and waddling in with a excuse me. She hears Kronii stand up. The time warden hovers awkwardly.
“I can help,” Kronii says unsurely. “You don’t have, um, I can do it myself, it’s not a big deal.”
Kiara smiles. Kronii’s soft side was always endearing to see. “We can do it together, then. C’mon, grab some tarp, I don’t want this to get on your things.”
She spends her afternoon like that. Kronii is a perfectionist about the paint strokes. Each layer of blue looks pretty in this room. It makes the room darker. Kiara points this out.
“Dark like my soul,” Kronii says dryly.
“We should paint stars.” Kiara muses.
Kronii makes a noise. She’s not on board with that, Kiara can tell. She tries to coax her, “C’mon, Sana will like it, it’ll be pretty! It’s so dull like this. Hey, Ame even has a telescope, that’d fit the theme of this perfectly.”
Kronii’s expression shudders and she murmurs, “I don’t want to use her telescope.”
Kiara blinks, “That’s not what I was saying. I was just aiming for an aesthetic here.” Kronii grimaces and Kiara hastily tacks on, “Did I miss something just now?”
“No, you didn’t,” Kronii says shortly. She’s wiping paint off her hands with a rag. “Thank you for helping, Kiara.”
She was being dismissed. Kiara fumes, “Now hold on, you just dropped something just now. Did you get in a fight with Ame?”
Kronii reels. She looks at Kiara in bewilderment, “What? No, nothing like that, I just don’t want to use her telescope. Why is this a big deal?”
“I don’t know. You had a face.” Kiara mimics her face. Kronii scowls at her so she must not be doing a good job of recreating it. “What’s up, huh? You’re definitely running away right now.”
Kronii bristles. She’s moving buckets back away from the wall as she says, “Look. It’s not a big deal, okay? It’s just a telescope.”
“Is it really about the telescope?” Kiara drawls. “I think this is about Ame.”
“It’s not about Ame.” Kronii says, but her voice kind of wavers. Kiara doesn’t even need to hook her up to a lie detector to know what’s going on. The phoenix crosses her arms. She feels protective of her human and it’s taking a lot not to corner the time warden. The history between the time traveler and warden has been complex, enough so that Amelia has shrugged off all attempts to get any juicy details about the two. Ame stole the watch is a common rumor amongst their friend group. Even Kronii jokes about it, but that’s all it feels like to anyone. A joke.
“You are going to be living here.” Kiara murmurs. “She’s right down the hall. You’ll be seeing her every day. You can’t avoid her.”
“I’m not avoiding her,” Kronii mutters. The softness in which she says this has Kiara halting. She’s scrutinizing the time warden more closely. It’s less awkward tension hanging off the woman. There’s guilt there now.
Kiara whispers, “She didn’t think you’d show up.”
“Yeah.” Kronii exhales as she lets her paintbrush flop into a bucket. She crouches besides it, her arms tucked to her stomach and cradled by her knees. “Yeah, I know.”
“Mmh?” Kiara prods. “I knew there was more to it.”
Kronii rolls her eyes, “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“It kind of is.” Kiara allows some of that ferocity into her voice. The steel behind it reinforces I’d take a bullet for her. She’d protect all of her girls, even Kronii, but there was a universal agreement that Amelia was fragile enough to come first, always. Kronii regards her warily. “She means a lot to us.”
“That’s good.” Kronii whispers. “I’m glad she has someone to rely on.”
“What’s that about anyway?” Kiara asks. “I thought you were mad at her for stealing the watch.”
Kronii huffs, “Technically, I guess. She’s not a thief even if she did steal the watch.”
Kiara stares at her. That didn’t sound right to her ears. Kronii looks at her knowingly, “You know she’s had that watch since she was a kid, right?”
“I assumed so, yeah.” Kiara tries to find those memories of their early days when they’d first met each other. “She’s very good at time traveling.”
“She is,” Kronii says. She smiles faintly. “Annoying brat caused a lot of trouble in the beginning.”
“It’s funny to hear you call her a brat.”
“She was. She’d show up between the threads of time holding a McDonald's burger and yelling about a dinosaur she just pet.” Kronii complains but there’s such fondness in her eyes. It makes Kiara’s heart dance.
“Wait hold on now,” Kiara looks at her accusingly, “If Ame was bugging you that early on, what was stopping you from getting your watch back from a kid, huh?”
Kronii turns her head away. Her voice is quiet as she says, “I meant what I said. She’s not a thief. Back then, I was…a lot lazier than now. I wasn’t in a good headspace. Time is forever, eternal, and I’ll outlive all of you.” Kronii ducks her head down to her knees. “It usually doesn’t bother me. Sometimes I just…have times where I wish I wasn’t time.”
Kiara wasn’t expecting that. She breathes shakily, “Kronii?”
“Don’t worry.” Kronii glances up at her tiredly. “I’m over it.”
That makes Kiara snort, “Okay? That still worries me. I’m glad you’re feeling better but…”
“Yeah.” The time warden sighs. “So I wasn’t managing things very well. I didn’t care. Some of the items in my charge fell through the gaps of time. Unmanaged timelines collapsed. I didn’t bat an eye. I didn’t care. To hell with it I was thinking. Just let it all fall apart.”
Kiara couldn’t grasp every semantic of time and other universes and parallel timelines. It made her head hurt thinking about it for too long. She doesn’t know what to say about it either. They sit quietly for a moment, taking in the grief of something they’re unfamiliar with.
“And then,” Kronii’s voice is softer than a breeze, “a kid shows up one day. She’s jumping all over the place, excited to tell me about everything she's been doing. She called herself an explorer, a traveler, an astronaut, she couldn’t decide. She was bouncing from timeline to timeline, learning, waking me up in the dead hours of the night just to show me this cool rock she found.”
Kiara can’t help but smile, “Oh Ame.”
Kronii laughs soundlessly, “Right? It woke me up. I started paying more attention, because what if she fell into an unstable timeline and got hurt? What then?” She closes her eyes, her smile quiet and reserved, “She was never a thief, Kiara.”
“She definitely stole your heart.'' Kiara teases.
Kronii laughs at that, bright and loud, “Okay, sure, as if she didn’t do that to you too.”
“Oh hush.” Kiara smiles. “That still doesn’t explain why you let her run around with that watch. If you were that worried about her getting hurt, why didn’t you just take it back?”
Kronii glanes at the wall. Her eyes trace over their painted work and then back to the work they still have left. She murmurs, “That would have been easy, wouldn’t it? Take the watch away and send her home.”
“But you didn’t.” Kiara prompts.
“I didn’t.” Kronii whispers. “Because I was selfish. It never crossed my mind, I mean, sometimes it did when she was annoying, but I was always looking forward to her next visit. What will happen next? I asked myself that every day. It got me up. I continued my duties. I gathered lost items, I fixed damaged timelines until everything ran as smooth as butter. And every day, I got to see her again and again, safe and happy.” Kronii buries her face in her knees. “So. Yeah.”
Kiara gapes at her. Her chest is twisting itself into spirals. She can’t decide if she wants to laugh or cry. She says, “Kronii, you sweetheart.”
“Oh stop it.” Kronii groans. “I think she wanted to hang out with me more, to go on adventures, but I was never up for it. Depressive mood and all that. She gave up on it at some point, her visits started to die out, and I got…” She trails off.
Kiara whispers, “Lonely?”
Kronii makes a small affirmative. Kiara feels a smile twitching at her lips. The proud regal time warden, curled up and moping because her time traveler doesn’t visit her anymore. Kiara reaches over to pat her head.
Kronii grumbles, “Don’t patronize me.”
“I’m not, you’re adorable.” Kiara coos. “Ame has been lonely too, you know? I bet if you said you wanted to hang out or go out together she’d be thrilled. She’d never say no.”
“She wouldn’t?” Kronii asks. Her voice is carefully neutral. Kiara can hear the fragility of it. The phoenix ruffles her hair.
“She’d say yes. I think inviting you to live with her is a pretty big sign she still wants to see you, Kronii.”
The time warden relaxes at that. She doesn’t look like she’s seconds from stumbling off a cliff. She murmurs, “Thank you, Kiara.”
“Of course! We’re roommates now, we take care of each other.” She nudges time with her elbow. “If you need help breaking the ice, I know some good gluten-free recipes.”
“Thanks.” Kronii smiles in amusement. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Calli and Irys arrive together.
It’s hilarious to see the reaper's effect on the nephilim. Kiara remembers when the half-angel had first woken up she’d been a dreamy-eyed, confused little thing. She had a lot of poetic things to say about hope and world-saving songs. Kiara would go as far as to call her a dainty, soft girl.
When she shows up in a track jacket like Calli’s and a snapback pierced lovingly by her horns, Kiara laughs. Irys laughs too, she knows she looks ridiculous, but she does a little twirl, her wings sparkling and shimmering.
“Don’t I look cool?” Irys asks. “Calli says I’ve got swag.”
Amelia makes a gagging noise from the kitchen. Calli yells, “Gura! I got you a jacket too!”
“Fuck yeah!” The shark howls from down the hallway. “Is it blue?”
“You know I wouldn’t get anything other than blue for you!”
Again, with passion, “Fuck yeah!”
It’s getting livelier around the house. Kiara can’t stop laughing. They sit down for dinner and halfway through a bedraggled Bae enters the house.
“I took the wrong train.” She looks hunted. “I got on the wrong bus. I fell asleep on the bus. I missed my plane.”
“Oh my god.” Fauna frets over chaos, brushing her bangs back and checking her over, “Oh, Bae, I’m glad you made it safely.”
“Oh shit,” Amelia says. “It’s a rat.”
“Ame!” Bae cries and it gets dramatic from there because chaos is falling into the detective’s lap and fake crying while Amelia fake consoles her until the both of them are laughing about it. It’s a lovely dinner. Irys and Calli start singing some of their songs, a karaoke breaks out, Mumei and Gura move to the living room to play video games, and the others sit down around warm food and chat.
Kiara glances at the empty chair beside her and wonders.
It’s another year before Ina shows up.
Maybe Kiara should have expected that. It would have hurt less to be sitting on the roof of her house, the weird estate with ten people living inside it. There’s an empty room in this house for someone. She asked Amelia if Ina had been invited.
Amelia smiles, secretive, knowing, “Ina will come around when she can.”
Which is frustrating to Kiara. She’s not a time traveler, she can’t spoil herself with these things. Not having all of her girls within reach is upsetting. She sits on the roof and enjoys the stars. Amelia’s telescope is her company tonight.
And the shadows beside her taking the shape of her friend.
“Hi.” Ina greets her, softly.
Kiara glances at her. She doesn’t look different in a year and she supposes that’s fair. The priestess is immortal now. Her book floats loyally by her side. It’s a mark of her power, a mark of a long life that they all share.
“Hi.” Kiara whispers, just as quietly. “It’s good to see you.”
Ina smiles. It’s a tremendous little thing. Kiara can see the guilt there as the priestess says, “How…has everything been?”
“Here?” Kiara hums. “It’s been wonderful. Everyone is getting along so well. This house has never been livelier. It’s good.” She remembers dreary rainy days and says, “Really good.”
“I’m glad.” Ina breathes. “I…Kiara…I’m…”
“Have you been okay?” Kiara asks. Her heart is fragile and she’s afraid this conversation will end with Ina leaving again. She doesn’t want to talk at all, but worry and curiosity are driving her.
Ina murmurs, “It’s been difficult.”
“How so?” Kiara tries not to sound accusing. She doesn’t think she succeeds.
Ina closes her eyes, “...I don’t want to hurt anyone, Kiara.”
“What’s that supposed to…” She trails off as Ina glances at her. The priestess smiles faintly and it’s making her throat close in tightly. “Ina?”
“I’m a priestess of the Ancient Ones.” Ina glances at the book. “Technically, I’m their warden. I keep the balance. One day,” Ina lowers her gaze down to the roof, “one day it will overwhelm me.”
Kiara knows this. She doesn’t like it presented to her like this. She leans her cheek against her knees, “Was that why you were gone?”
“It’s not because of that.” Ina sheepishly reaches up to brush her bangs behind her ear. “It’s not anything like that, I just…”
“You just?” Kiara prompts.
Ina tentatively scoots closer to her. Kiara doesn’t move. She feels like she wants to snap at her, but she’s too grateful to see her friend healthy and whole. When Ina leans her head on her shoulder, Kiara exhales.
“I wanted to live here so badly.” Ina murmurs. “I missed you, all of you, so much. With so many people nearby and powerful immortals standing by me all day, I didn’t want to risk…” She trails off before forging on, “I went back to the temple and trained. Every day, every hour, meditating, learning.”
Kiara is softening. She draws her arm around Ina’s shoulders and presses her lips to the top of her head.
Ina sighs, “All I could think about, every day, was how boring it was. I was missing out on everything, I knew that. I also knew I couldn't end it early. I had to want it, you know? If I wanted to stay here and stay here for good.”
Kiara’s heart leaps. She asks, “For good?”
Ina shyly ducks her head. Her flaps are flat on her head as she says, “Well. If, uh, that’s okay.”
That nearly makes Kiara cry. “Oh Ina.” She wraps her into a hug, pulling the priestess close. There’s a tremble in her shoulders that nearly breaks Kiara’s heart. “We missed you too. You’re always welcome here.”
“No one’s mad?” Ina’s voice is quiet.
“Maybe a little.” Kiara muses. “They’ll understand when you tell them.” She pats her head. “Now c’mon. Your room is waiting for you and don’t think we’ll let you get away so easily.”
Ina laughs sweetly. Kiara takes her by the arms and leads her away.
In the morning, she’ll be the first one awake. Kiara will trudge out to the kitchen, intent on making her first meal for eleven people. She’ll pause as she regards a platter of freshly made chocolate chip cookies. There’s a note written beside them. A little takodachi is bouncing next to the words thank you.