On the New Foundation grounds there is a black slab of marble as tall as a house with its back against the ocean and its foundation buried deep in the sand. We engraved the stone with golden names of our fallen companions that gave their lives in defense of New Foundation and against the Fear. I run my hand down that list of names, stopping at the ones I am familiar with: Vaquero, Mil-dot, Asperity, and Drone, and many more. They’ve added Lugs and Mago to the bottom.
With a blazing fingertip, I write:
Footsteps crunch in the sand behind me. I half suspect Bedevil’s followed me, given that later this afternoon we plan to fly over to the mountain and marry.
Instead of her, Saw Off joins me at the memorial to our friends. She’s traded her baggy cargo pants and camo jacket for a fuzzy sweater and pajamas, and her hair is loose and free to her shoulders. “Howdy. You’re all dressed up.” She gestures to my dress suit, which I’ve worn for the rushed wedding this afternoon.
“Hey.” I don’t have the words necessary to thank her or apologize to her. This woman that stands just barely up to my chest has bled for me more than her fair share. More than the fair share of all her teammates combined. I owe her an apology so large I could never finish speaking it. Yet my stupid mouth only manages: “Good job with the assassin.”
Saw Off scoffs and brushes her shoulders, but clearly she is hurt. Her eyes are empty. The bright young girl is dead. “It was mostly my team, and Echo. Girl practically knew where he was coming from. Ain’t nothing I did but blow his head off. He woulda got Archimedes if not for Tremble.”
“Still, I owe you.” I hold out my hand. “I can’t pay you back, ever.”
Saw Off stares at my hand for a long time, so long I worry she’ll try to blow it off. When she finally takes my hand and shakes it, I sigh in relief. “All this time and I thought I was making up for leaving you behind to fight Krater. And the time I almost put a bullet in you and your girl.”
“Water under the bridge.”
Saw Off doesn’t look convinced. “I thought maybe… your world sounded so beautiful, thought maybe I’d get a piece of it. All I got is suffering, Gabe.”
“I know.” I will never stop feeling shame for her losses.
“I need that mental health day. Mental health month.”
“It’s cool. We’ll let you go. Wherever you need to be, you let me know, and I’ll make it happen.”
Saw Off manages a small smile. That smile fades out as fast as it appeared, and she takes a knee to touch Lugs’ name. “He was the closest thing I ever had to a big brother. Closest thing I ever had to a dad, really. I’m gonna miss him fierce.”
“Me too.” The words seem weak, my sympathy not enough to fill the gulf I’ve created. “I’m sorry.”
Saw Off stands up. She shields her eyes from the sun and looks me in the eyes. The little smile returns when she pats my shoulder. “You’re a pretty piss poor replacement but I guess I’m stuck with you, aren’t I?” She glances down at Paul’s name, still smoking. “And it ain’t like you don’t know how to be a big brother.”
“It sucks. Just one moment and I lost him.”
“Yessir. That’ll happen. You’re not looking and bam. Gone.” Saw Off frowns, an unusual look for her, but then turns away from me. “I’ll be at that motel if you need me again. But don’t come knocking unless it’s real important, otherwise I’ll fucking kill you.”
I’ve got no plans to bother her for a long time. I’ll let her grieve her own way.
I do have plans to bother a certain best friend of mine. Flashfire. Funny how I’ve got family on the mind today. I suppose it’s because I’m about to make my new one official, in a way.
He no longer keeps his own apartment, but instead dropped the pretenses with Meltdown and moved in with her. I’m not surprised, though I wonder how Epione is taking that. Honestly, I can’t blame him, with Doppelganger’s wake washing over us.
Meltdown’s the one who answers the door. She’s holding her baby Jamie in her arms, though he protests and cries, pushing against her. Her face lights up when she realizes it’s me. “Gabe! How are you doing?”
“Oh, you know, peachy. Given everything that’s happened.” I shrug, unsure of what else to add to that. “Is Flashfire around?”
Flashfire pokes his head out of a doorway in the apartment. His friendly grin is a sight for my sore eyes. “What’s up, Gabe?” I beckon him over to the door and whisper my plans into his ears. He gives me a big thumbs up. He rushes back into the bedroom and a few minutes later comes out in a suit, and tells Meltdown he’ll be back later.
Meltdown smiles, almost knowingly. She nods to me every so slightly, just enough that I could be mistaking it, but it definitely felt like she was aware of my plans. Guess I’m not very subtle. I am wearing a suit after all.
Flashfire and I make our way to the hangar. We mostly stay silent. My stomach is full of butterflies, my heart is pounding. I’ve been sleeping in the same bed as Ruby for over a year but I’m still nervous to marry her. Nervous that she’ll say no or that she’ll decide at long last that I really am not enough. I know that’s childish and stupid but those are my worries.
Maisa waves at me from the cockpit of a White Shark. She pulls her lips into a wide smile with her fingers, gesturing for me to smile, too. The pantomime does make me smile. Though not for long. I’m still very nervous.
Bedevil’s golden hair betrays her crouching in the cockpit. I guess she’s really doing all the traditions — you’re not supposed to see each other on your wedding day before the ceremony.
Flashfire and I board. I sit down close to the cockpit door and knock. “Hey there.”
After a moment, Bedevil’s whole hand slips through a crack in the door, showing off her engagement ring, the one I carved from the mountain. I’d hoped to get her an actual wedding ring but I suppose making another one feels more meaningful.
“Love,” she says. “I’ve looked forward to this for a long time.”
“So have I,” I tell her. Flashfire rolls his eyes and smiles at me, but doesn’t say anything.
“Are you nervous?” she asks. “I am. A little.”
“I feel like we shouldn’t be… but I am.” I squeeze her hand and she returns the gesture.
“It’s okay. We’re nervous together.” She pauses, her grip loosening for a heartbeat, and then she tightens it again. “We’re together.”
We don’t talk much, just holding each other’s hand while Maisa takes control of the White Shark. Admittedly, I’m a little surprised that she learned how to fly one of these behind my back.
After an hour of flying and a couple of anxious exchanges between me and Bedevil, Maisa asks, “So which mountain is it?”
“I don’t think it matters.” I glance over my shoulder and immediately recognize the peak I originally made Bedevil’s engagement ring from. “That one!”
Maisa giggles in the cockpit and we lurch downward. A few minutes later and we’ve landed on the mountain. Bedevil makes me and Flashfire go out first. We walk across the snow to the scar left from where I dug through the rock with my burning fingers. While I walk I melt the snow with my power, providing a walkway for Bedevil and Maisa to follow after. I heat the air around us enough that this will be comfortable, if not downright toasty.
“You happy?” he whispers. “You look really out of sorts.”
“Yeah, I just… I floated this idea a while back. Before the raid. She didn’t seem keen but after the raid she told me she wanted to. Last night, in fact.” I don’t know why I should be doubting this. I should be over the moon.
“Might be that seeing Paul die made her want to have you that much faster,” Flahsfire replies. “I don’t know. You’re just the anxious type, too.”
I will grant him that one. “Yeah. I might just be rattled.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea then?”
“I want to marry her.”
“I know you do. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea right this second, you know?”
I consider that. He’s my best friend, always has been, and he knows me. He was right back in Houston when I clung to Home Run… and maybe he’s right now? Maybe the timing is off.
Except that when Bedevil steps off the White Shark, every doubt is struck from my mind.
I do not believe in gods, but she shakes my belief. Her hair shines bright gold in the sun, brighter than any gold I’ve ever seen. Her dress is woven from the same stark white snow of the mountain. Her veil dances with the frigid wind, but her red lipped smile does not waver in the face of the chill. Still, she sighs in relief when she enters the warmth of my influence. And then I see the tears in her eyes, staining her mascara. There is no music for us except the whispering of the sky as it kisses the earth.
That is all the music we need.
“Do you have your something old, new, borrowed, and blue?” I ask her.
Ruby laughs and nods, showing me the blue earrings she’s wearing. “The shoes I bought at a thrift store, and my necklace is borrowed from Echo.”
“And the something new?”
She grins and leans in to whisper, “I bought a new harness. I’m wearing it right now under the dress.”
My face flushes but I smile through it. “So that’s it, then, we’re up to snuff?”
Before Maisa and Jason we swear to love each other for the rest of our lives. We swear to cherish, to uplift, to hold close, until death do us part. We laugh as we fumble through the words without the guidance of a priest, because the words are not the important part.
Though we don’t speak as one as we mess up the vows and the parts we’re supposed to speak together, our hearts beat together, and we declare ourselves a family. We swear our vows before the sky and the earth.
I carve her a ring with my burning fingers, a new one that I polish with my fingers by vibrating them with kinetic energy, and she pulls its mate from the rock and forms it with her telekinesis. I cool them, we put them on.
Flashfire asks: “Gabriel Wayland, do you take this woman to be your bride?”
I search Ruby’s hazel eyes beneath her veil, I see they shimmer from tears. They are a well of color I want to dive into for the rest of our lives. “I do.”
Maisa asks: “Ruby Dawson, do you take this man to be your husband?”
Ruby can barely manage the words, her voice is choked with emotion. But she speaks them. “I do. I do.”
“Then kiss!” she cries. She laughs as we honor her request, and I take Ruby into my arms as my wife.
We flee the freezing mountaintop and fly all the way back to New Foundation. It’s not much of a honeymoon, but Maisa gives us the apartment and says she’ll find somewhere else to stay for a few days.
Bedevil and I make love until late into the night, until we are nearly passed out from exhaustion.
In the sleepy haze, as I wait to drift off and hold her to my chest, I feel her kiss my jaw. She leans up and whispers, “I love you, husband.”
“I love you, wife,” I answer. I can hardly believe it. “We’re married.” I grin down at her like a dolt. Whatever doubts I had earlier, they have been wiped away. Perhaps it is just the giddiness of marriage, the vows and the dress and the powerful emotions, but I can’t believe I ever doubted this.
Bedevil grins back at me. She presses her hand against my cheek and kisses me so deeply I worry she’ll steal my breath for good, but after a moment she relents and draws back with a shudder. “God. This is all I’ve ever wanted.”
I laugh and pull her back close. “I know it’s a bit cliche, but what now?”
“Well, you’re the one who said after marriage comes a baby carriage.” Bedevil strokes my chest and hums, and asks, “Do you want to? It doesn’t have to be now, but I do… I want that with you. I want to have a baby.”
“I do, too.” I kiss her forehead and stroke her hair. Her bare chest against mine moves with life-energy, heat I shift around to make sure she stays warm. “When this thing with Doppelganger is settled.”
Bedevil sours at the mention of his name. “What if… what if we never catch him? What if he disappears?”
“We’ll catch him.” Of that I am absolutely certain.
“What if it takes years?” Bedevil asks.
I don’t know what to say to that.
“We can’t let our future be dictated by him, Gabe. If we postpone for every villain, every enemy, then we’ll never have children.” Bedevil sits up in bed, draws herself into a pose like she’s languishing, and once again makes me question my atheism. Makes me believe that we are gods. Perhaps that’s shallow, but to see her leaning against our pillows naked, the outline of her body just visible in the dim light, I really think she is something divine. Something perfect.
Yet I still don’t think it’s wise to jump into having children. Not with that man looming over us like a specter. “Give me a few months. If it takes longer than that… then let’s talk about a baby, then. Is that okay?”
Bedevil doesn’t look entirely pleased with that, but she nods. “It’s reasonable.” She puts her weight against me, draws her knee up between my legs and starts to rub me with her thigh, causing a thrill of pleasure. She grins at my gasp. “If we have a boy, what should we name him?”
“Uh…” I can’t think. My blood is on a southbound path.
Bedevil moans into my ear. “Something for later, then.”
I’d say we went to bed before the sun went up, but we did not.
And so the next morning I found myself stumbling around New Foundation, bleary eyed and exhausted from the physical exertion. Bedevil goes with the rest of the New Foundation command to deliver the good news to President Genz, and I search for coffee to wake me up.
The Inheritors have a specific break room near our personal training rooms and our armory. I find Remise geared up for a mission, headed out of the armory and toward the hangar. “Something up?” I ask her.
“Oh, don’t trouble yerself,” Remise says. She grins at me. “Heard you and Bedevil eloped yesterday. Nice.” She offers me a fist bump, but I’m a little too slow on the uptake. She grabs my fist and forcefully bumps it. “Geez, when did you go to bed?”
I chuckle. “I mean, I went to bed pretty early. I didn’t sleep until—”
“Alright, alright, keep it to yerself.” Remise makes a gagging face. She pats my shoulder and says, “I’m happy for ye. Really am.”
“So where are you headed?” I ask.
“A little bit of recon on that cloak alliance we might be dealing with. I’m working with Linear on this one, just some observation stuff. Like I said, stuff you don’t need to worry over.” Remise salutes me and heads on to the hangar. “I’ll see you when I get back, my little newlywed. Have a good honeymoon.”
I don’t have the heart to tell her we’re putting that off for now, so I just go in search of coffee.
I’m surprised to find Epione in the break room, sitting with a bunch of embroidered cards, writing quickly with a fancy ink pen. She perks up when I enter. “Hey, Gabe! I’ve been working on your wedding invitations. Can you come take a look?”
Ah, shit. I kind of forgot to tell Epione we were planning the private thing. “Hey… uh… we kinda… did that… yesterday.”
Epione doesn’t look surprised by that fact. She settles into her neutral smile and turns back to her work. “Ah. Well. Do you think you’ll plan on a public ceremony, maybe a reception?”
“It’s a possibility.” I don’t want to get her hopes up, but I do think we’ll have a dinner at least. Something to celebrate over. “Can you change it?”
“Well, come take a look and tell me what you think, then.” Epione offers me one of the cards.
I eye the coffee machine where a freshly brewed pot steams, calling me over with its rich aroma.
“The coffee can wait, Gabe.” Epione’s voice becomes sharp as a tack.
I glance back at her, stunned she’d speak like that. I’ve never heard her take on that tone. But she doesn’t look angry, she just looks the same as always: demure smile, empty eyes, no facial tics. Too much like the old Epione, from when she maintained her armor religiously.
I take the card and open it up.
Gabe, do not speak or react to this like it is out of the ordinary. I don’t know who might be listening in. New Foundation is compromised. Doppelganger has replaced far more of us than I imagined.
Gabe, I am so sorry. I truly am.
You did not marry Bedevil. You married a replacement.
I am a ghost. My body looks up from the card to find Epione’s polite smile. Her eyes scream at me. They are not empty. They are full of horror.
I pick up the pen and write: How do you know? I pass the card to her.
She reads it and then shows me Cynic’s ring in the palm of her hand. She writes a new message: It’s how I found that one woman he replaced, the one that opened the gates for Paul to escape. I was looking over her mind to find obvious signs of Doppelganger’s influence when Bedevil strolled by the room. I saw her mind. I saw her memories.
She was replaced the day you came back from Scotland, when you were out on the beach.
A scream threatens to burst through my teeth.