Epilogue

 

Are you ready?” Chloe called as she walked from the ensuite, pushing the back of the earring into place.

Luna, standing in the stillness of the living room, called, “Yes,” before picking up her clutch, and walking towards the anteroom. Standing, waiting, are the faces of her life, Galla, Abraxas, Jamere, Caro, Arlo and Quin.

You look beautiful,” Chloe said, breathless at the sight of Luna. It is ridiculous she felt this way all the time, “Ready?”

Luna nodded and pressed for the elevator, the group filling it when it arrived.

As they crossed the lobby one the elevator let them out, the doorman opened the external doors to escort the ladies to the waiting car, and with a brief slight hum, they knifed into traffic.

Luna picked up Chloe’s hand to lace their fingers together, squeezing her hand tightly. Feeling her as a reality was infinitely insane. Chloe could tear her apart and put her back together with just her voice.

The speech ready?” Chloe asked.

Luna nodded and smirked, “Can’t wait.”

Silence rested with them for the remainder of the journey. They pulled up to the conference space forty minutes later and walked through the crowd. Finding their names at tables delicately prepared, chatter ensued, small voices becoming a cacophony of noise. Food was served and removed, wine gently flowed through the room, relaxing the participants.

Hunter Parker, CEO of Rainbeaux Homeless Youth Charity and the host of the Esther Ball, stood to the podium while flashing lights dimmed and rose to seek the silence of the crowd. Once the audience calmed, Hunter began.

Welcome to the annual Esther Ball, in support of Rainbeaux Homeless Youth Charity. We welcome tonight Luna de la Sky as our guest speaker. Her story is a fascinating one. Over seven years ago, at fourteen, Luna and Kai-Tashka Semira, escaped an alternative enclosed community with no access to outsiders. Kai, whose death, along with his partner, Gerome, shocked us all was active in HYC programs and while many of us remember him fondly, we had little knowledge of this past. Please welcome Luna de la Sky.”

 

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Tempenka

They went out to Westwood Manor after the funeral. Luna releasing his ashes to the Lake, watching him float away before walking the wooded curve of the lake, arms casually linked in Chloe’s. Luna’s voice began to drift in the silence between them, hesitantly, in her soft autumn turning fall timbered voice, “It always begins with the dead. Every truthful story does. Twists and weaves into the knots binding us to ourselves and each other.”

Do you think he would’ve liked being let go here?”

No. He would’ve wanted to go to Tempenka for burial rites. They wouldn’t have. But I’m here and so shall he be,” Luna breathed in the denseness of the forest before she continued.

The community I was born into was lead by Sashenka, the divine name of the divine leader, descendant of the divine spiritual line. Our Temple opened to the sky. Tempenka is used in self reference to not insult the name of the divinity, mixing the words Temple and Sashenka. I was born into Tempenka by parents who joined when they were both sixteen. They relinquished to Sashenka directly acknowledgement of any other life. I found this out when the FSA took us into custody,” Luna scrunched her nose.

It had about a hundred and eighty five members by the time I left. About two thirds were generational members, the rest newer members who added their life to the binding. Tempenka itself is about a hundred and fifty to two hundred years old. They didn’t recruit and are super suspicious and paranoid about outsiders. New members had to know of Tempenka and actively attempt to join. Tempenka did not participate in a wider social community or integrated at all with the closest village,” Luna waited for the breeze to settle.

The one ascending to the role of Sashenka is by divine prophecy and was considered divine by decent of bloodline, although, it is the divine coursing through your veins that purified you, not by descent of any human. Sashenka held together all five elements, the four existing on this plane — Earth, Water, Air and Fire — as well as the most important — Spirit. Spirit is fundamental to who we are, dictates everything and all four physical elements submit to Spirit. Sashenka wielded Spirit as if a weapon,” stepping through an uneven patch of ground, Luna paused to swallow before continuing.

Tempenka developed its own language, Tranqi, a hybrid mixture of about three languages descending from the founders and meshed over time, melded and folded like paper with new members integrating. We were educated in Tranqi. Kai and I,” her voice corkscrewing as she said his name, “were born the same day, two women expelled us from their bodies in unison, fulfilling a sacred prophecy as births on the same day were considered fortuitous, the soil double-blessed with supplicant gifts. Births are regulated. Your sexual partners are definitively controlled. The community believes this is divine will, for it is written in our foundation documentation and our birth patterns recorded and tracked from inception.”

Now, of course, I understand, this is done to prevent in-breeding. Sashenka decreed we were the single soul, dual bodied divine destiny to be bound at divine times. Bounding meant exclusive breeding. The destiny of this divine purpose is ordained by Sashenka, prophet leader,” the sounds of the forest fill the gaps hovering inbetween Luna’s voice.

We’re named by Sashenka prophecy, and were destined to be the future leaders of the community. We would’ve become Sashenka. I told you my name, Luna de la Sky, means Moon of the Celestial Sphere and Kai-Tashka Semira means Tree with Deep Earthen Roots. Our names are a balance of each other, an ecliptic harmony. If we ascended our prophecy, the names of our breeding would’ve been Stellar Sphere Tellurian and Azure Elysian Vale. Both variants with the same meaning — sky and earth produce the celestial stars,” Luna paused, her eyes unfocused, drifting, trusting Chloe would not let her fall.

She quietly added, “we would’ve shed our names once on ascension to Sashenka. Part of the foundation prophecy is twins. The only other twin Sashenka were the first that ascended. They reformed Tempenka while in infancy. We were important, the fulfilment of so very much. Kai and I, born within a minute of each other. We were so destined, full of prophetic vision.”

Your children were named?” asked Chloe, gently reassuring Luna she is listening.

The divine spoke through Sashenka. All children belonged to Tempenka, or rather everyone in the community belongs to each other and the social ideology of group dynamics. Everyone equally responsible for everyone and for yourself. Community is everything, paramount in the lives we led, in the dimensions and within the sacred music we played, our bodies as we danced. Tempenka considered themselves curators of consciousness, even though they’re radical, anti-state, anarchist. Cities and the outside world were like unicorns. We were safe in our own enchanted universe. Cars and trucks were unfathomable. I didn’t understand anything existed outside of our reality until I left,” stopping, Chloe reached to fold Luna’s hands within her own.

Coming here, it was devastating to see how insulated we were, and it made me angry we were, but as angry that in quite a few issues, they were right. Death is a natural consequence of life, not taken by any other than the divine. Murder is anathema. Still, I’m never used to the violence out here, this hideous brutality. We can’t escape our training. This is why most members were there. We may look like we fit, but we’ve never escaped our cultural conditioning, so trained into us is the priority of service to community,” Luna’s face so fallen Chloe heart thudded to the pit of her stomach.

The silence broke as Luna’s voice became a lullaby, “Everyone had a specific job. The teachers and child attendants, people who worked with animals, those who grew the crops, cooked. Children under a hundred and twenty moon are considered infants, after that you are trained in the ways all the jobs for the next seventy-two moons. Except for Kai and myself. We were only trained to be Sashenka. We were divine. We were rotated through all the jobs, but for understanding than functionality.”

Luna swallowed, “The council of six hold their position for four seasons and were rotated via age. The Council made day to day decisions regarding the community. You had to serve. If you wanted to change jobs, you could apply to Sashenka. Every three months there is a convocation of every adult member of the community, where community changes were allowed. Its both uniformity and unique.”

Luna saw the lake as they walked back down towards it, “Parentage is forbidden knowledge for anyone not Sashenka. We’re taught from birth how to lead, how the divine spoke. We would’ve eventually learnt the breeding lines Sashenka managed. The birth givers will know which child is biologically theirs, the adults of the community know, but they will not say, will not speak of any child with possession. When I left I eventually received a copy of my birth certificate. Every external soul who joined the community is given a cleansed, divine name, free of the filth of the world they discarded. They rarely changed it legally, though. I’ve a birth certificate because Tempenka was…is…very conscious of being legal as possible. I was told I was new blood, so I made some deductions. I guess its confirmed now. Meredith Ransley. But death seems to be the way of things, I guess.”

She pulled her arms out of Chloe’s and sat down, looking out over the water when really, she was lost in memory of farm, the curve of the earth and running barefoot everywhere. Her hands started to drift along with what her memory is showing her.

She felt Chloe sit down beside her, yet did not truly see her, as she spoke with inflected cadence, “We had our foundation documents, building organic rules upon these, an evolution of our community in language. Such focus on natural, agrarian policies naturally took us further away from this, mainstream culture, evolved further away from each other. Our insulation, severely sheltered us beyond normal. The distance between our settlement and anything from the outside is these thick forests. Come to life as you are and leave as you should be.”

The community buildings are clustered inside a wooded area, off to the right, at the middle of the property. There is cleared farming fields with corn, wheat, an orchard and paddocks with cows, goats, chickens, alpaca’s and a thicket of trees running outside of this. A creek ran through our property, along a north-west to south-east delineation. It split some fields naturally and provided us with water. Where it ran across our property, the trees and plant life were left four meters along both the outer edges to protect the purity of the water. We had old aqua ducts to take this water around the farm. This is one of those things we need to know how to maintain,” Luna struggled.

We didn’t use electricity, obviously, and much of our lives were dictated by the sun, but I remember making candles, their soft glow belaying the fact we made them out of the dead animals, tallow raised and boiled, cooled in moulds and glass jars made by the glass maker. Their was a pottery master, making all that we ate off. All of these jobs apprenticed at various stages, traditionally completely self-sufficient. The older you became, the more responsibility you were given in the community,” her voice crackled along with the memories, cluttering all of her words together, stacking them on top of each other. Chloe listened to Luna intently describing all of the labyrinthine small things involved in her life.

Kai and I were inseparable, secluded and separated by our own difference, our joint divinity, as much as by our choice. When we turned one hundred and sixty eight moons, Sashenka announced our ‘Flowering’ another divine prophecy, an inspired co-joining of ancient and new blood lines. Kai’s genetic heritage is one of the founding families, bloodline legacy. We learnt more about the prophecy of our blood-lines than most in the community as we were in training to become Sashenka, and permission is needed to participate in ritualised bonding. We needed to understand the connections,” Luna snorted.

Usually bonding for child flowering is for the ‘middling’ or people who are past two hundred and forty moon age. We were young and concern was raised regarding the flowering of us too early. There was a consideration this may inappropriate and would highlight our community to the outside unnecessarily. However, Sashenka called a convocation,” Luna, tapped into an emotional reservoir she is deeply remembering, fell into using Tempenka association.

The council is one adult member for every one hundred and twenty moons over the age of two hundred and forty moons. Convocation is every adult member of the community. A week after the convocation, a ceremony was called, then a celebration. The convocation passed our bonding placement. We were placed in the ceremonial room, inside the sacred circle, next to the creek, hemmed in by trees. The cloth canvas green, to match the surrounding forest, and the floor earth covered in moss, for us to blend natures focus towards each other. Council guardians were assigned to watch us consummate the divination.”

Luna, tears twinkling in the light drew a rough mud map in the dirt before leaning back to Chloe. She gleaned a sharp spiked breath before continuing, her voice wavering.

This tent is outside the edge of the village on the opposite side of the creek. The village is at the centre right of the property, within a forested enclave, after this there is the farmland the community tilled, and a thick, wide forested border for keeping the other world out and divine in. This creek running through our property was never stripped of its protection and was left with craggy, fluffy trees edging the snaking watery pathway out beyond the boundary. Kai and I did what we needed, what was expected for the bounding under watchful eyes before they left us, momentarily, to inform Sashenka and for us to meditate together and bond the sky and the earth together,” Luna shuddered with the memory and shuffled closer into Chloe, absorbing her love by osmosis.

They breed you?”

Bonded us, yes they’re very committed to fulfilling our prophecy, for us to complete the training to ascend, for our union to produce children.”

But…”

Chloe, I understand what your asking, I really do, but no. Its not as bad as what your think. We were raised under vastly different circumstances. This, what they asked, was part of our training and culture…”

Okay…”

Stop it. We were young, even for us, yet still we can’t be judged according to your expectations,” Luna quietened, her voice hollow with pain, swallowing the shadow within telling her she could never matter, “We celebrated each month and the change of seasons: Harbinger of death, rebirth, life. Times of loss, darkness, change and light. Our clothes changed, our pillows and blankets filled with the feathers of chickens, ducks and geese. Each moon was a rebirth for all of us, to shake off the old and welcome new, each month new lessons of renewal, change and responsibility.”

There was silence when they retreated, temporarily to return to the continued celebrations with the rest of the community. It would’ve been like this the rest of the night, us bonding with an observing guardian, our silent meditation and the continued celebration of the community. Our bonding and the accompanying celebration was divinated into a six cycle contact. Kai and I would have to meditate in between these six cycles to channel the divine. We were still in training, still learning all the intricacies of the breeding program, we felt out of control, unable to understand why this needed to happen so soon,” Luna shrugged, turned away, turned back.

Our bond of oneness had been violated, used against us, single soul in twin bodies, brother and sister reflections an illusion thrown back at us, innocent and in spite of our training we were thrown into a responsibility we hadn’t been taught yet. So I ran. We were only one hundred and sixty moons, still seventy-two moons away from our entry into the convocation in the community, our consideration as full community members,” Luna quietened for a moment, her recollection overwhelming.

Chloe wrapped her arms around her, drawing Luna in-between her legs, holding her, offering her the only thing she could give: comfort. Luna relaxed completely into Chloe, burying her face within. Her voice shattered as she started speaking again.

We used the creek as cover. I can still feel the trees rustling quietly. We ran forever, the darkness thick surrounded us. I tripped over something and ripped my robe. It stung, so much. It wasn’t until Kai helped me up I realised he followed. The darkness held until we hit the fence line and tumbled onto the road where it hit the hard line edge of the creek. We kept going, walking shoeless and wrapped only in ceremonial embroidered robes over our nakedness. A trucker eventually picked us up, however kicked us out rather quickly due to our inability to speak or understand the language he was speaking. He looked at us as if we were alien and I guess we were looking at him the same. We were stranded, exhausted, terrified and alone,” Luna sniffed.

We jumped into trailer’s, vans, trains, did whatever we needed to kept moving in case they followed us, for days and days until we eventually wound away across the scars of the earth to end up here. We became scavengers, living on the hard underbelly of this brutal place, on the streets for eight months, learning how to exist in this world. We did many things I’m not proud of. We were not proud of,” Luna paused, swallowing.

Kahtya was able to hide us, mostly, and Violet Pier’s industrial estates, empty in the night. When they became too violent, we stayed in Ianthe, or worked nights. Ways and means. Jamere and Ash’s always good. As long as you were clean, looked like you had purpose and stuff, looked like you could belong, the police never noticed and you could escape their raids in Kahtya. We picked up this language, badly, hiding in all of these places, sublimating our accents to be just strange, rather than noticeable. We were taught to pay attention to cycles, to animal behaviour, and attempted to apply this knowledge to at least attempt to blend,” Luna’s voice is thick and muffled.

We’d never done the basic things of this world like caught a bus, rode in a car, been to school, watched television, listened to radio, used a computer. We’d never seen any of these things. We’d never eaten anything deep fried, or drank anything that wasn’t from the creek. Yet we learnt, quickly, how to exist, how to shelter, learnt our voices for the first time. Eight months and we made a mistake. Food usually could be gained for free from a charity, or one of those mobile food vans. Clothes, however, were not so easy. We stole some and we were caught,” anger diffused through Luna’s voice.

Family Services collected us from a police station. I’d so much rage and courage, emotionally disconnected and violently oppressed, yet ready to fight. I was scrappy. In either world we’re raised to be servants and slaves. Tempenka is not revolutionary in its intention to ignore industrial life for superficial and cosmetic reasons. Out here, it is the same, industrial life ignoring agrarian life,” Luna’s voice deepened, bitterness changing her cadence, the fear weeping back in.

We still communicated mostly in Tranqi, separated by our differences. We refused to speak and were placed separately into foster care when the store did not press charges. It was devastating for us, never having been apart. We never considered separating. We ran from our first three placements and from the group home,” Luna waited a moment for squawking birds to quieten.

I met Galla in that group home. We were in the same dorm, she in the bunk above my own. They’d gendered dorms, so Kai and I were more often apart and had restricted contact with each other. Meal times and the music room became our usual monitored interaction, we were watched so intensely. I think they’d have separated us permanently if they could have, but we would not function without each other. Galla didn’t speak much, mostly played this battered violin she had and belted anyone who touched it. She slept with it, breathed it.”

Luna, lost within the burden of her history compressing her heart, she remembered Galla’s face, her fingers caressing the violin that sung to her soul, “I think this is why Kai gave up music. Galla and I could make music together, he felt excluded. He was always super jealous of anyone closer to me then him. Not that Galla is, but he just thought she was.”

The foster system can be toxic, and we survive when we hang on to the few things of beauty we have. Galla…we connected, music a language between us before anything else. She was placed into care before we escaped and returned before we were caught again, bruised from a beating with her arm slung in a cast. Our names written on water, lost when the breeze rippled across the surface,” Luna fluttered her fingers.

Galla stayed with the state after her incident, battled and gained her emancipation at sixteen. I was placed with Gretchen, but we stayed in contact, burdened as we were by forces we could not control. Galla, Archer and I became close at around this time, most of those reasons you already know, or they’ve told you. Kai kept only me, really. In between all of this, we were surrounded with each other.”

Luna paused, waiting for the irredeemable dark memories upon her face to clear again before she continued, settling the wavering in her voice.

We celebrated our one hundred and eighty moon birth month in a social service office, our case worker at a loss with what to do with silent children. This is where FSA and the Stokers became involved, most of which I told you at Amberlai. They threatened and separated us for seven days, yet this made us determined to hold our silence. We are both trained in the ways of power and understood our ability to leverage information we had against what they wanted. We’d been surviving for far too long to not smell their desperation. We were trained for service,” Luna waited for a second.

We ate at Jamere’s and volunteered in feeding others. We served because we were trained to. Jamere is such a phenomenon, really. She took me into her heart when I had no right to be there. Kai and I tried to blend in, but we couldn’t help but stand out. All for the community. Trained too well, I guess. Even when we were able to communicate, we still didn’t blend. Our souls were so inexorably intertwined in the shreds of our lives. Their threats against our future meant nothing in comparison to our past. The only thing we really did not get was a joint placement, yet we understood this was not a permanent separation,” Luna sighed, swallowed as Chloe’s body murmured against her.

How did you survive?”

Abraxas and Jamere. They insisted we not supporting characters in anyone’s catastrophes, instead we’re all leads in our own lives. Being out here is all about conforming to this ludicrous brand of society, abnormally enforced efficiently by all participants. We needed to conform to laws not our own, a reality not of our own making. Any world is filtered by perception and our reality changed so rapidly. Those two taught us how to control our will.”

They’re absolutely vital too you,” Chloe said, “terrifying though.”

They are absolutely terrifying, like this uptown mafia and I couldn’t live without any of them. After Mitsuko, change was rapid. Our case manager changed. I was placed, as you know, with Gretchen, Kai with a married couple with a pair of daughters. In the end, I think it was a perfect choice, as we got to see something we wouldn’t have if we remained together; the world around us. It allowed us to forgive ourselves for the past. Probably the future. Due to my educational issues, Gretchen had me privately tutored and in the three years I spent with her, I managed to complete college level classes, as well as having a specialist linguistics minor,” Luna smiled.

I was desperate to learn as much as I could, but also desired for mediocrity, for FSA to have no basis for destroying us further. I became very insulated, scared if I messed up, our consequences could be more than Kai could pay. I know how fortunate we were. Extremely fortunate. I’ve been working for Pacer since shortly after I moved in with Gretchen, and when we were lucky enough to be considered adults, Kai and I moved into our own apartment, actively controlling our own destiny instead of being part of cookie cutter set of rules,” Luna hooked her nose when she curled her lips.

Actually, our education with Tempenka was very good. It was predominant in natural sciences, maths, music, performance, and theatre arts, although all in Tranqi. What we lacked in social, political and cultural development was made up for,” she swallowed a couple of times, “I wanted to be unseen. For all of that time is Tempenka, I was always noticed. Trained and feted, but always focal points. I liked being able to be unknown, until I lost that, too.”

Not unknown by everyone?” Chloe ran her fingers lightly over her arm.

No, I guess not that,” a soft exhale, “the irony is I ran from one responsibility to all types of others.”

Some burdens can be shared?” Chloe’s reassurance drowning Luna.

Yes,” Luna stopped and turned in Chloe’s arms.

Chloe leaned leaned in and kissed Luna deftly, attempting to convey that she is the tangible reminder of every single sacrifice made completely worthwhile. It is inescapable she belongs in her heart, in her life, in her bed, fitting perfectly, already nestled deep into her life. Luna drew back and smiled, asking, “You’re not scared?”

Chloe shook her head, “Of course not. You’re full of this tragedy and all it has done is make you magical. You’re staggeringly impressive.”

Chloe, always intensely meticulous and inevitably cautious, leaned into the woman who rebuilt her heart to taste her lips again. She understood why Luna sheltered the love that grew between them, how she was a gift that could mute both their pasts.

Chloe whispered against their lips, “You’re my light, how I negotiate the dark. You’re not simply Moon of the Celestial Sphere, not simply a name. Its who you are to me.”

I loved you when I couldn’t hide myself,” whispered Luna.

I love you,” as Chloe spoke, Luna let go, released her history as Chloe affirmed, “I love you.”

They kissed again, softly, lingering as it deepened, warmed, filled them. Luna leaned back, her breathing jittery. Chloe stood, pulling Luna up and lead them along the pathway, resting within the silence. As they came to the mansion, she tugged Luna in, seizing her lips with her own, “Thank You. Really. Thank You.”

Luna woke to the silence of their room, chilled with Chloe breathing deeply beside her, and as Luna rolled in towards her, snuggling in, seeing her resting, beautiful face. Chloe evoked inexplicable cravings in Luna as she moved her head close enough to feel her heartbeat in the darkness. Luna ran her fingers from the hip upwards over Chloe’s ribs, drew her body in tighter.

Chloe mumbled pulling Luna in against herself. Luna snuggled into her neck before lifting her head up to see a sleepy Chloe blinking at her. Luna leaned kissing, so tenderly it reminded her of everything within the abyss. Luna subtly shifted to curled their love together. Kissing within this entanglement always she could do for hours. She loved and was loved.

Inheritance

Luna sat on the bench in the garden. The sky crystalline blue, mixing with the yellow light of the sun, bright. She is offended the day is glowing when all she feels is disconsolate. She hears the noise of life drifting to her — cars and voices and metal — as her head pounds behind her eyes, sketching black spots inside her vision. Everything is screeching loud, grating against her body. She feet the bristle of air changing and the soft fall of Chloe’s feet. Sitting next to Luna, offering warm tea, a glass of ice, tequila and a slice of lemon. Steam gently curled out of the mug, dew drops formed against the chilled glass.

Chloe’s voice a caress, floated to Luna on an undercurrent, “I didn’t know which one you wanted.”

Luna took the tequila and swallowed all of it, shivering as it hit her empty stomach. She placed it down on the armrest and reached for the tea, slipping the slice of lemon in before wrapping both her bands around it, “Thank you.”

After a few sips, she placed it next to the glass. Luna shifted until she is flush against Chloe, slipping her head into the crux of her neck, picking her hand within her own, “There’s too much noise.”

Luna leaned further into Chloe as her eyes welled, slipping over her lash and down her cheek, brutally raw to the world, “Are they all still here?”

They understand. They’re family. They care.”

Family?” Luna tensed, went to withdraw her hand, but Chloe, swifter, manoeuvred Luna closer.

Kai and you have history within yourselves. Since you’ve been here, you know these people are family. You’ve told me as much, they definitely love you,” her voice remained soft, an undercurrent flowing between them, “Jamere, Abraxas, Galla, Archer, Caro, Arlo and Quin. Even Gretchen, Mitsuko and Bree. Me. We’re family.”

They’re all here, still?”

Yes, Abraxas has private investigations. Archer and Ivie are…I’m sure the less I know about what they’re doing the better. Jamere and Caro have taken over the kitchen.”

Galla?”

Is helping Archer and Ivie. The five of them are terrifying,” silence fell between them, noise of the city filling in the gaps, as Luna snuggled back into Chloe, enjoying the weight of them, until her soft voice sung between them, “Jamere said to remind you of Archer when you first met.”

As scattered as the pieces of herself are, Luna knew that Chloe would collect them all and give them all back to her in perfect order. Chloe shifted minutely and said, “I added this for you, I hope you don’t mind.”

Luna looked to where she was pointing, at the white leaves and yellow centre, speckled blue and silver flowers cascading down from the pot, “No, not at all. I don’t like them in bunches, cut from life. Growing them is better,” Luna looked up at Chloe, “these are perfect, meant to live and grow.”

Yes. Well. I though it time to add orchids,” She caressed Luna lightly, “is the moon orchid and is perfect. Caro raised it.”

Luna, overwhelmed, asked, “Weren’t you going to tell me a story?”

Yes. Yes, I was,” Chloe spoke into the quiet.

Come on. Distract me.”

Chloe wrinkled her nose as she smiled, fluttering her fingers around, indicating the penthouse, “I wasn’t always this, my parents were young, underage, living an itinerant lifestyle, escaping a system that mostly seemed to fail them. My father’s parents fled one type of oppression for another, languishing against a broken system with broken languages. My mother fled her own immigrant parents, raising children just as lost as they were in a world they did understand. They met jumping through cities big enough to hide them. Until they had me, I guess. They were still underage and under educated.”

Chloe smiled, remembering her fathers voice tell her this story as a child as she was now telling it to Luna, “Yet, I gave them purpose. Sometimes life events make people become who they’re meant to be. My birth did for my parents, young, hungry and fierce. They started an import business. I don’t remember what they were importing. My mother was thirteen when she had me, dad a year older. They started the business while mother was still pregnant. She doesn’t talk about this period. From what I’ve gleaned over the years, they returned to her family. They were young but had been raised in this country and held more grasp on the reality of how it functioned.”

Chloe gently circled her fingers around Luna’s back, “My father used his family as much as my mother did, connecting them to the edge of an industry just beginning to boom. My mother used her own extended family to import, from what I can gather, something vastly shadier, potentially illegal. It became rapidly successful, and by the time I started school, they could afford their own education. I would’ve been about five, my mother eighteen. My mother became a successful litigation attorney, my father an international business consultant. Within ten years, my parents were both wildly successful yet still both in their late twenties. Their careers took over their lives, and they worked constantly. I was raised by nannies and boarding schools. I’ve been at boarding schools since I was six and I thought of them as my home.”

Chloe sighed, snorted and licked her lips, “over the holidays, when I was younger, I was sent to summer expeditions until I was old enough to attend summer camps, and then it became a mixture of both. I don’t think I went to my parents home for six or seven years. I asked my mother why I didn’t see them for years, why they didn’t raise me. She said they didn’t know how and then could afford someone who could.””

Chloe stopped, looking out to the sky, remembering isolation and deeply held senses of loss and entitlement. She felt her heart beat rapidly, and her sentences became clipped as a result, “My father died when I was sixteen. A heart attack. I became his sole beneficiary. My mother became the guardian of my estate until I was twenty-five. I didn’t find out about his death until six months later. I don’t think Isabeau thought to tell me. I also become co-owner of family property and trusts. My estate was earning twenty-three hundred a week. My parents were very particular about their financial clarity from each other and my inheritance. I think it was a taxation issue. My mother was ruthless with my trust management, and tripled investments by the time that I’d turned twenty-five, she had diversified into property, industrial, scientific and medical programs.”

Luna noticed how tense Chloe became, and moved them both to lay down on the grass, stretched out against the length of her body, gingerly wrapped her arm over. Chloe tensed momentarily before relaxing and moving her arm over Luna’s, her fingers drifting lazy circular patterns over her skin as her memory drifted back to days she had long since left behind.

I graduated high school at fifteen in the top one percent of the country. I was always the youngest in the class and I decided to study overseas for a year upon graduation, I guess as a kind of gap year. Quin, Caro, Arlo and I met at that school. I wouldn’t have survived without them. We wouldn’t have survived without each other, hijacking summer to spend the time together. Arlo lived in the village our boarding school was in and was the local student on full scholarship with alumni that are bankers, politicians, owners of umbrella corporations owning multiple others. Her family was large, noisy, and poor,” Chloe flattened her vowels in latent anger.

Until Arlo cam to school, she shared a room with three of her siblings. The bathroom was always full, the water always cold, food a continual struggle to have enough off. Arlo initially struggled, unable to concentrate and ostracised, she this tiny doll, dressed in torn, faded second hand uniforms bobbie pinned together. Arlo was dragged from the local community as a public example of the school’s benevolence and charity, but internally a representation to the student body of what they were better than. After her first summer at home, her family noticed the shift within her, the change in dialect and the syntax of her conversation. Arlo had a choice, as she could not live in both words and survive. She found her way, though, understanding this was her way out, her opportunity to escape,” Chloe sighed, pausing to kiss Luna’s hairline.

Quietly, she continued, “Quin was an outcast already on the first day of school via the alumni magazine on freshmen, the garbage empire child and teased mercilessly. Her father ran a counties sanitation disposal program. His company grew to include several counties, and they lived in a small village where Quin attended the local school and was ostracised even there. She attempted to kill herself, and her parents decided to to send her to an out of state boarding school, but she could not to avoid the stigma, as the school was mostly legacies like Caro, with her pale, ice hair, transparent eyes and old money.”

I’d freedom from my parents and we didn’t really know each other, communicate much or even see each other. Yet, I’d no direction, no idea what I wanted. When I left to study, I took with me the nanny I myself hired. For lack of anything else to do, I took art classes while travelling. I remember how lonely I was. I don’t remember the face of my father,” Chloe’s voice dipped to a whisper, a jagged collective of consonants shuddering all over each other.

Her voice dripping in memory, “It was after this study I returned to my parents to discover my father’s death. My mother, in her grief, did not think to tell me. For lack of anything else to do, I went to law school. Again, I graduated with honours, the top one percent of that years graduates. I found it a ruthless and distasteful profession. I was at an indefinitive end, young and educated and rich if only on paper rather than reality. So, I fled, lacking a home or a family to bind me together. I spent six months travelling around the country, free finally from the obligation of education and the paid concern of nannies, but not quite free from myself. My mother too busy, as usual, to be concerned with an already overachieving daughter. On paper, I was the perfect daughter of those who were wild too young, however just like I was wealthy on paper, most things are an illusion,” Chloe’s breathing regulated to the weight of Luna’s, absorbing the peace of her body.

Chloe’s voice dropped an octave, “In the isolation of refusing to deal with the death of my father, I drifted among the relics of a culture which discards those who do not participate according to the rules. Arlo came with me on that trip, Quin and Caro stayed in the city, studying. My parents didn’t play according to these rules, but changed the game to dominate it. It was a world of the disenfranchised, an emotion I was familiar with. We were all hidden in plain sight, just on the wealthy side. I stayed into the dark, a prodigy lost, all the while knowing it was unlikely I wouldn’t be searched for if I didn’t return. I hid from everything wrong within my life by abandoning it. I met fabulous people who taught me many skills unknowable in my sheltered life, but life was desolate and lonely, a wasteland of the unfound.”

Luna watched Chloe intensely fall through the memories, her voice husky yet tender. A gentleness flowed between them as Chloe’s lips curled up at the edges, “I was at this beach, surfing. When I paddled back in, thinking of how I may just sleep on the beach before moving on, when an out of place car, black and shiny and expensive, puffed up a dust cloud on the gravely dirt road. By the time I ran out of the water, and up to my backpack, my mother stood, silhouetted against the sandy dunes, the black car, the cloudless blue sky. She requested I return to her house.”

Chloe closed her eyes, “So I did, for lack of anything grasping for my attention or direction. My mother felt she’d allowed me enough time to grieve and I needed to commence my future. She requested a decision be made within the month as to my future direction and if it was unsatisfactory, I would be disinherited. She requested my presence within her house be limited unless I engage my future appropriately.”

Luna gasped slightly, strengthen her arms around Chloe, causing a slight smile to grace her face, “Why did she bring you back?”

Chloe frowned, “Because she could, I guess. I used to hope because she noticed. All of this was once hard, reflecting was be intense and could immobilise me for days. I applied to medical school, eventually specialising in neurosurgery. I worked, consumed by the intricate nature of brain patterns and repair. I studied and researched, wrote papers and topped out again with stellar academic record. I worked and I drifted into relationships but also as soon as out of them, they were auxiliary to my main life and hard to maintain.”

Chloe’s voice lightened, “The four of us, though, became own enclave, our own family. We all felt safe when we disappeared in the Manor, and we discovered the possibility of happiness within. Development of the Manor was slow, meticulous and detailed as Quin was very specific in her vision, design and implementation. Quin and Caro’s lives were peppered with visits from Arlo and myself, through the completion of degrees, internships, specialities and career advancements. Within the noise and the silences, they noticed the understated sigh of pleasure together and shifted into their relationship,” Chloe truly smiled at the mentions of her friends.

Arlo worked an eighteen hour day after a sixteen hour one the day before, and was in a taxi, drifting through traffic mutilated by the darkness of night. Two cars slammed into each other in the middle of an intersection the taxi had paused at, then drifted together in a fan of sparkling metal before collecting the taxi and slamming them all into a building. Arlo said she felt weightless for an infinite moment, before she struck the door of the cab, slammed her head against metal, which dazed momentarily, before she jittered into hyper alert as adrenalin flooded her body and dis-embedded herself from the door,” Chloe’s voice has lowered into dusk.

The driver was unconscious and Arlo was unable to reach her through twisted metal inhabiting the space inbetween them, so she turned to door, which is when she saw the body pressed up against the window, wedged between the car and the building. He was struggling to breath, fear tumbling out of his eyes and spooling against Arlo, who watched as his life fell from him. Arlo fell into shock, time falling away until she was pulled from the wreckage,” Chloe visibly struggled and Luna firmed her hug.

Arlo’s body was marginally damaged, mostly bruises and sprains. However, watching the life drain from a stranger cracked her, broke on essential part that held her together. She was in hospital for three days, under observation for potential brain injuries. My mother attended, being the emergency contact for all four of us, as she was the only parent and reasonably organised adult of any of us in the city when we started at university. Her assistant periodically contacted us to update our information. As none of us has had any reason to change this arrangement,” a derisive giggle escaped Chloe.

My mother is still the only relative that lives in the city. Caro’s, Quin’s and Arlo’s families are settled, the closest three states away. I was the only one with a parent based here. My mother is only nine years older than the three of them, thirteen years older than me. Arlo quit her job after her release from hospital, and unable to stop seeing death leak from his eyes, Arlo retreated to Westwood Manor. Quin and Caro had been there for sixish years and the manor felt like home — lived in and comfortable — and she felt it sooth the broken parts of herself, the haze of her nightmares reduced. When she stumbled out of the darkness caressing her, she realised life gifted her with opportunity and love,” Chloe wrinkled her nose, smiling as Luna shifted closer, twirling their legs together.

I was both focused and untethered, ebbing into a strange and unbalanced hybrid life, spectacular professionally, distant and indiffident personally. It took me far longer to negotiate my own recovery and integrate all this history together. Honestly, I began to develop my own worth by recognise my own passions. Being wealthy and independent allowed me many freedoms that took me years to learn,” pausing to relish the love in her arms, acknowledged they are both here because of her life, not in-spite of it.

I realised the insanity of my own hate, of my own distance. I’m privileged in so many ways and it has taken me to adulthood to understand them. I realised the choices I could make, what I could develop and become. This greenhouse is an example. I gradually started to accept invitations to advisory committees and became a member of several boards, most particularly at my boarding school. I wrote papers and became part of a peer group reviewing papers for publication. I developed procedures for allowing existing extant tissue to remain at a far higher ration then previously when removing diseased or damaged tissue,” knowing she did all of this to fill in the lonely gaps, the pre-Luna oblivion screaming her apart.

This is how I knew Gretchen. I’d no idea she fostered. She is a highly respected forensic neonatal specialist, and consults for various governments as well as teaching trainees with various law enforcement agencies with primary directives regarding the care of infants in criminal cases and the high impact socio-economic development delays in infant care,” Chloe is silent as she reflected, “I’ve become much more contented. My mother, still practising litigation, and we’re not become much closer as adults.”

Chloe stopped and shrugged. Luna smiled, pushing herself up onto her elbow and lifted Chloe in close, kissing her velveteen lips, slowly relaxing into an extended, delicate tasting of each other.

Three days later at Galla’s insistence they went to what was becoming a favourite place, CLS Bar, a city institution named, and infamous for, the particularly lethal combination shot of espresso and café liquor. It’s old, warm and a fire filled atmosphere, ancient, intimate and relaxing beyond measure. The espresso – liquor shot combination also branched into various sponge cakes, muffins, even cereal. The pair, highlighted against each other, went inside and found a booth, flush against a brick wall. They ordered and waited it to be delivered.

Stoker walked to the bar, took a stool and ordered a drink. Chloe noticed, glancing at the incongruous beauty besides her said, “One Moment.”

Luna mumbled her assent yet did not focus her eyes. Chloe snaked her way through the chairs to the bar, “What are you doing here?”

I cannot leave. I am the only one.”

She doesn’t want to speak to you unless you have answers,” the bartender approached and Chloe waved him off.

I know. We have been looking for five days. No unexplained dead bodies, no unaccounted for stolen cars, no ransom demands made, all stolen credit cards and obvious false names checked out at hotels. Once we realised he was missing, we highlighted to other federal agencies as well as the team observing Tempenka. Five days of nothing,” Stoker sighed and sipped his drink.

He looked at Chloe before continuing, “I’m her handler irrelevant of whether she wants one or not. I would be here without this. I am to stay visual, as we have to be sure his disappearance is not habitual. I am here for the safety of Sky.”

Chloe fury burning within her at the overtly threatening behaviour, turned away before adding, “She has a point about your department. If I see you again anywhere near Luna or myself, I will be pursuing legal action. I believe she challenged you successfully before.”

No…” Stoker half-stood, raising a placating hand.

Chloe cut him off without hesitation, “I’m not a scared child, nor a traumatised young adult. I do not care for you, or your department. It is actually important whether she wants a handler or not. I cannot easily be discredited. I have resources you cannot imagine. I’ve no idea where on the food chain you are, but just so you understand I have begun pursuing legal resources in information regarding Luna. Push, Stoker, and see exactly what I will do to protect her.”

Most of the time, the right thing is a luxury,” Stoker said, “like an environmental tax everyone wants yet does everything to avoid. I do what is needed and necessary.”

That’s some pathetic attempt at a moral argument as I’ve ever heard,” Chloe laughed, “yet, legally, you have nothing.”

Chloe walked off, her mind focused on Luna, who has been torturing herself since Stoker visited them on the island. She had only been sleeping because Chloe was mildly sedating her. Their life, exploded with this disaster and the days filtered by with Luna’s anguish and her own worry. Returning to the table, and sitting down, Luna splayed her fingers over the table, reaching for comfort in Chloe, who immediately reciprocated.

Chloe…”

Yes?”

You get used to it. Used to them.”

Why should you get used to it? Why should you have to?” Chloe pitched her voice evenly, pulling her anger back.

If Caro, Arlo and Quin turned up and joined the table, would you be offended or would you simply include them in the table, like they naturally belonged?”

Naturally belonged,” Chloe frowned, “What’s your point?”

That’s how it is for us. We don’t notice. Its like its natural.”

That’s twisted, Luna,” Chloe said, “Did you just compare love among friends to being stalked by the government. They don’t treat me like Stoker treats you.”

I know, but its the same Pavlovian response. Galla, Archer, and Kai wouldn’t notice if one of them sat at the table with us. They’ve always just been there. Well, except for the ones who failed to follow Kai that night. I imagine they’ve, at the very lest, been fired.”

Its just seems too passive of an adjustment to reality over an aggressive one. As if prefer to live deconstructed, without expectation.”

Why put it together when it inevitably leads to…not disappointment exactly, but not what was hoped for. If nothing can be constructed, you can cope with the lost, with loosing.”

Maybe. Not everyone has hidden nefarious agendas,” Chloe recognised the precociousness of the woman fulfilling Luna’s life without malicious agenda, a sense of exquisite balance rendering a sense of completeness, “How do Abraxas and Jamere deal with it?”

It’s not meant to sound bleak,” Luna commented before she chuckled, “I’m constantly surprised Abraxas hasn’t killed one.”

Three agonising days later, Chloe and Luna lay naked on the bed, a slightly sweaty glint shearing over their bodies. Luna, propped up on her elbow, gently running her fingers in an ever increasing circular pattern over Chloe’s stomach.

I’m sorry for being difficult.”

Chloe took Luna’s hand and kissed her fingers, shifting her body closer to Luna, encouraging desire, “You’re not difficult. I love you. I love you.”

Luna smiled, kissing Chloe’s wrist, her hand bee lining across Chloe’s skin. There is a slight tap at the door and both scrambling out of bed, grabbing robes, going from relaxed to tense in an instant. Chloe opened the door for Galla to walked in.

Looking pale as she quietly said, “Stoker. He is in the…”she waved her hand at the ante-room, “…he wants to speak with you.”

Okay,” Luna swallowed thickly, “I’ll be out in a second.”

She went over to the clothes hastily thrown on the floor as Chloe closed the door behind Galla, pulling on jeans and a shirt. Chloe followed, dressing as hastily as Luna. They walked through the silence of the clustered group and out together.

Stoker, waiting, looked to Luna as she walked up to him, “I am sorry Sky. His body was found, pulled out of the river this morning. He was just identified.”

What happened?” Luna asked as tears involuntarily started streaming down her face.

Stoker pulled out his notebook and opened it to a page two-thirds of the way through and said, “The taxi was hailed on the streets by Gerome and both entered at zero four three zero from the Esther Ball Homeless Youth Charity after party. He drove them to a riverside industrial estate, where various indications suggest torture. They were weighed down and thrown into the river at approximately zero six three zero.”

Do you know the perpetrator?” Chloe asked, hand bracing Luna’s back as her tears turned to sobs.

Nash Ransley, male, sixty-three. He drove the taxi, resisted arrest and shot at the arrest site. Deceased.”

Luna tensed, “Wait. You knew the taxi driver was missing? Or you didn’t bother checking on him?”

Stoker paused “We were looking for him, yes. He delivered the taxi to the next driver and failed to show for his next shift. As I said no criminal past. He was interviewed at the time.”

Luna screaming, irredeemable hysteria breaching her voice, “How could you keep this, of all things?”

Yes. However we could not ascertain if he knew who Kai is…”

Liar, you knew exactly who he is, knew from the name,” fury emanated off of Luna and scorched all of the oxygen out of the room, “he would’ve been well aware of Tempenka. FSA would’ve made damn sure he knew where you suspected his daughter went. They blew up a military faction…”

Look…”

Luna managed to slap him across the face before Chloe pulled her back. She struggled to compose herself, and said through gritted teeth, “Please. Leave.”

I am so sorry,” Stoker stood and left.

Luna is unstrung, sobbing, and pushing Chloe away as her heart crumbled to ashes and dust. Snot dripping form her nose, her eyes swollen, her breath ragged with her shuddering body. Luna’s throat hitched as she failed to speak and fell back into Chloe, who lead her back to the bedroom to lay her down.

Luna’s voice scratched and broken, “He’s my last connection, my last evidence I existed. I’ve lost myself. I destroy people.”

Chloe fell apart at the sight of Luna breaking. Yet she waited, watched as Luna shattered, “Ransley. That’s my mother’s name on my birth certificate. Meredith, no middle name, Ransley, aged sixteen. Father Bailey, no middle name, Weaver, aged seventeen.”

Chloe curled up around Luna and for hours laid like that in the silence. Eventually, Luna shuffled and cuddled further into Chloe, before whispering, “Every single one. Kai is dead. Gretchen is broken. Archer rarely leaves her basement.”

Chloe felt the terror inside of her. Finally, the tears Luna shed slowed. Chloe moved to a sitting position, reaching for tissues and handing them to Luna, waited in silence. Luna looked up and held Chloe’s gaze, connected for the first time since she became upset. There is silence.

You’re extraordinarily,” Chloe said, “every day you’re extraordinary. You may be torn and frayed at every edge, but you’re a masterpiece to me.”

Luna went to withdraw, almost recoiled as Chloe shifted and moved next to her, wrapped her arms around her, pulled their bodies tight defiance of Luna’s instinct to run.

Chloe’s voice, even and strong and soft, said, “I know you don’t want to, don’t like to hear it, but you’re so phenomenally remarkable. You don’t destroy. You’re a gift. You allowed Kai a choice. You love him. You gave Gretchen an idea outside of herself. You gave Archer hope when she had none. You’ve given me so very much, and I’m illiterate to the world without you. You’re worth waiting for, worth the pain. You, I ran towards.”

Luna slumped against Chloe, curling down until her head rested in her lap. Her body shuddered softly with silently shed tears. Chloe ran her fingertips up and down Luna’s back, relaxing her slowly.

Her voice tiny, a whisper above audible, softly into the darkness “Why does it feel like he died because of me? I don’t remember us ever having being loved. Exalted, but not loved. There was always a price-tag. An expectation. We were meant to lead the community. I was meant to protect him. Gretchen wanted a daughter. Stoker wanted information. There was always something. Always. Even from myself. Especially for Kai. Why not you?”

Why don’t I have a price-tag?” Chloe said. Luna nodded, murmuring her assent. “I do. It is simply you. You’re absolutely my collateral damage, destroying my desolation. I love you. That’s everything there is. There are no expectations, not even for you to love me back. You’re a privilege. I’m not going to save you. I don’t need to, you can fall apart, but I’ll be here and I’ll love every single piece. That’s what I’ll do, love every single second, because you’re a treasure. My treasure.”

Chloe held no other answers, only comfort, only love. They stayed that way, hibernating together within love and sorrow.

Chloe took Luna to bed after encouraging her to eat and stayed until she fell to irredeemable exhausted sleep, before returning to sit with Jamere, the table scattered with remnants of dinner. Galla and Archer escaped up to the greenhouse as soon as Luna went to bed. Jamere knew they would go to her side soon enough, once they drew their brokenness enough together to be of use to her. Abraxas silent at the edge of the table, watching.

What did Stoker say?” asked Jamere, hearing the sounds of the kitchen, moving bodies of the trilogy tidying.

Nash Ransley killed them, tortured them.”

Ransley?”

Yes. There is information they’re not telling us.”

Of course their is,” Jamere’s voice reflective of the voice she uses with Luna, gentle love, a hug wrapped within her cadence, “however Ivie would have found it if there was why.”

Ransley is her birth mothers birth name,” Jamere paused, reflecting on those first years with Luna and Kai, “she was pretty sure she knew who her mother was. You understand the name thing, right?”

Yes. How it connects you to you’re true self and to others true selves. Names matter.”

Yes, they’re infinitely fundamental to who you are, and your place in the world. They’re a gift to yourself,” Jamere paused, “When she was supplied with her birth certificate, Meredith Ransley and Bailey Weaver, were the names printed, yet not the names of who they were inside Tempenka. Kai’s had who they were inside, so he always knew who his biological parents were.”

Jamere stopped to sip her coffee as Abraxas shuffled in her chair to move closer to Jamere, calming them both, “Luna attempted to guess her parents based on this name philosophy. Meredith Ransley means Guardian of the Sea Raven Meadow. Inside Tempenka, a woman went by the name Sea Raven. Bailey comes from Bailiff, weaver as in the profession. Their was a man called Thatcher. She was definitive about Sea Raven, far less certain about Thatcher. It took her a long while to understand how parenting works in this world, initially it made her angry and bewildered.”

She said she rebelled against Gretchen as she couldn’t understand how one parent was enough,” Chloe stated.

True. Kai, though, loved it, loved the family he was placed within. He is lost without structure. Luna, though, rebels, always making things extra hard on herself.”

She’s lost and lost and lost,” Chloe fell.

She’s gained and fought and collects love. Kai followed her for no other reason than love. She broke his life long training. Galla and Archer love her, sisters that may have started in pain and loss, but finished in love. Abraxas and myself,” Jamere watched Chloe intensely, “You.”

Chloe quietened, her heartbeat quickened irregularly as she unravelled, let all the pent up horror go, the wasted, languishing time, and of history full of shadows chasing the dawn, and quietly allowed it all to fall, salty pathways divoting down her cheeks. Jamere stood and grasped Chloe, drawing her body in, holding comfort within her grasp, and over her shoulder saw two figures emerge only to disappear within the master suit.

Luna woke, groggily, to find two soft bodies surrounding her. They were all curled together like when Cressida had died, all limbs and comfort.

Hay,” Luna pushed them over her to get to the water on the bedside table.

Hay,” Galla mumbled, rolling over.

Off,” Archer pushed as Luna climbed over her.

Anything?” Luna asked, “The taxi cam?”

Not more than we already had. They’ve closed the case,” Ivie broke through, as Luna climbed off the bed and walked into the en-suite. Galla tumbled off of the bed to follow her.

There is nothing, really, to action,” Archer said.

Yes, I know.”

Its frustrating,” Galla agreed, “but he is dead. What’s done is already done.”

Of course. How’s everyone?” Luna flushed and walked to the basin.

Isabeau, Gretchen, Mitsuko and Bree went back to their apartments. Everyone else won’t leave,” Archer said as she walked in, stretching out the sleep while Galla walked to the toilet.

At least we know,” Luna sneezed.

I know. What do you need?” Archer leaned over the basin to wash her face.

Luna shrugged, “Nothing can replace the dead.”

Foozeball…” Ivie butted in.

Ivie…” Luna frowned.

You want a distraction. Iviesphere is sympathetic, but do you really want to hear all of those messages?”

Not right now. Where is Chloe?”

Living room with the Jamere and Abraxas.”

Thanks Ivie.” Luna looked at Archer and Galla, waiting for her.

She loves you, you know,” Galla smiled.

I know. I love her, too.”

Do you want me to tell her to come in?” Ivie asked.

No, shower first,” Luna tugging at her clothes to get them off before attending the panel button. Galla and Archer followed her, the three standing under the water.

This shower is insane. You sure you don’t want Chloe?”

I absolutely do. I cannot unlearn her and the tangle of beauty she binds me too every single day, how explicitly she learns the details, enveloping our love, weaving it it into the quiet us. I cannot unlearn the caress of her lips against my skin, the comfort of her presence, just her ability to allow me to exist within my own space. All the fighting I had to do, exhausting myself just for my own space, and she just lets me in…”

Luna…”

No. Let me finish. We had all of what I just said first. We did. I need you both, as well, because I cannot unlearn us, either.”

Stoker

That’s Stoker. He’s my liaison, my handler. Remember I told you we ended up with social services? That’s when Federal Security Agency found out who we were and considered us assets,” Luna spat, derisively, laughing bitterly.

Assets. Not just, informants on secrets the government felt it should have. We spent so much time in therapy, but we’d always been cloistered within Tempenka and the communal secretless environment that the concept was lost on us. They could only attempt manipulation based on their own cultural heritage. My own experience was so far beyond them as too be alien. They were trying to break us, damage as to gain absolute compliance. We’d no basis for comparison for what FSA wanted, only a hunger for being able to be free, make our own decisions. We were watched, interviewed. I think at some point even when we were legally ‘out’ of their abuse, FSA felt we could still be spies for them and they never gave up,” Luna breathed, jittery, until it evened out.

We were forced to participate with some aspects, taught them Tranqi, liaised with linguistic professors. FSA never changed their blunt stupidity, always wanted to keep us under control, attempted to assert their authority by legally obtaining court ordered control. We were lucky to escape from Tempenka, luckier still to escape from them. For us, we were risking our souls escaping Tempenka to only be thrown back into the fire, a circle of punishment for survival. FSA thought to tap foster carers to keep us under control,” Luna laughed, bitterly.

It didn’t work out the way they planned, though. Gretchen is the one who hired Mitsuko and Kai’s foster parents were adamant we were capable of being functional members of society. They diversified our private tutors with an education to include all social, financial and legal responsibilities, and we both maintained employment. We were responsible and participated in charity. Our therapists concurred. The outcome was a year of supervised independence, continued therapy and handlers as we determined to leave our foster parents to create a home of our own. After that year we were officially released on our own recognise. FSA kept the observational handlers, though, waiting for anything that could, that would, prove us incapable just once.”

Chloe gleaned some of this history, but to hear the full extent appalled her. Luna stopped, twisting her fingers around each other, looking hassled and angry, before continuing.

I made it clear when therapy cleared me, I would not communicate with them or participate in whatever their schemes. I didn’t want to associate with FSA, but I fought so hard to not be controlled. I didn’t want to be a puppet. I guess they held out hope, but we’d such excellent foster placements they failed themselves. I haven’t seen that particular Stoker since that first year,” Luna rubbed swollen, red eyes.

I’m sorry I didn’t say,” her ragged breath still hitching, her throat swelled and sore at the memory of their constant presence in her life, “I’d only hope they’d leave us alone. I knew they were watching, following, hoping we’d return to Tempenka so they’d have an excuse to raid as we weren’t willing to spy for them. The agents, the Stoker’s used to came to Pacer often until Ivie banned them. I’m sorry I never told you.”

Tempenka?” Chloe realising she didn’t know the extent wrapped up inside this woman she loved. She relaxed into Luna’s pain, waiting for her voice.

Tempenka is the enclosed community I’m from that FSA has held a file on for over one hundred years, since the delirium caused by jazz aged bootleg alcohol fuelled a dangerous underground economy. Two suspected bootleggers involved in the accidental burning of a valley, six villages and the death of eighty people, fled into Tempenka. Seventy five years later, two eco-terrorists who blew up a military facility, the eighteen injured simply collateral damage against the destruction. It took FSA three years to track them to Tempenka, but also left them unable to definitively prove if the pair joined or just used the closed village as a way station. Without proof, they were unable justify entering the compound,” Luna swallowed thickly, drawing herself further together.

Her voice is jagged, “I remember how bloated the file was, but full of incomplete information, transcripts in a language no one understood, open cases on people who may as well be dead. Tempenka was classified a potential domestic threat, even with nothing recorded against them in the eighty-five years before the bootleggers joined, nor in the seventy-five years until the newest theoretical converts. There’s nothing, again, until Kai and I escaped and presented FSA with their first real chance to gain significant insight into the inner working except that we escaped the team watching the community, crossed multiple state lines and disappeared here, lost from them for over a year.”

Stoker?”

Tears continuing to fall as she felt the burden pressing, enclosing her, “Stoker is what we call our observer, a code name. That person behind it probably has a name, but we don’t care. They know we call them Stoker and never correct or offer their real name. When we met Galla, she introduced us to one of her favourite gene’s, vampire’s, and her favourite conspiracy theory that novelist Bram Stoker exposed the secret that they actually existed in real life. The constant presence, even at a distance, of the secretive federal agents stalking us became the revelation of a conspiracy no one believed.”

Chloe held her and waited until she stopped. Chloe stood and pulled Luna up, looked her in the eyes, and firmly said, “I love you. Let us see what he wants.”

Luna nodded numbly, understanding Chloe, without hesitation, assisted with a burden she could not understand. They showered and dried quickly, dressing solemnly and waited for the knock on the door. Chloe walked the few steps over and let Stoker in. He sat on the chair next to the small, rounded table. Luna and Chloe sat on the foot of the bed, unsmiling.

I am sorry to startle you. This is important. Semira has disappeared.”

When,” Luna asked sharply.

A moment of confusion passed Chloe’s face before she realised it was Kai’s last name. They were twins. She quickly filtered the information out.

The night before last. He went out clubbing. He got into the taxi with another male, approximately six foot, three inches and of a similar age at zero-four-three-zero. The taxi never dropped them off at their apartment. He has not attended his shifts at Marlene’s nor contacted them. We have been monitoring the community, however he has not arrived at that destination. Has he been in contact with you? When did you last see or speak to Semira?”

He observed quietly, as the pairs case was intriguing. Initially, child protection services did not flag them as anything unusual. The FSA only been notified when certain hot words were entered pertaining to the runaways were hit upon, including the vital clue of language spoken, Tranqi.

Luna became furious, outraged, her voice escalated to shouting, “How could you lose him? You stalk us relentlessly and you LOST him?”

Chloe rested her hand on Luna’s tense, agitated shoulder as she continued, “How dare you insinuate he returned to Tempenka. You know how we feel. You need to stop assuming…we would NEVER go back,” she spat the last words out at Stoker.

Luna breathing began to tremble as she began twisted her hands together and said, “We had dinner the night before we flew out. I texted him after we checked in, and everyday. We Iviedioed last Sunday and the first Friday we were here. He was not clubbing, he attended the Esther Ball.”

Luna looked at Chloe, receiving reassurance in her realising that he hadn’t been in contact today before continuing, “his boyfriend Gerome is the other boy?”

We have been unable to confirm the identity of the companion as yet, however it is most likely Gerome, who has not returned to work or the apartment.”

Luna stood and started to pace, a feverish expression on her face. Stoker waited. Chloe watched.

Luna turned, frustrated, “Why?” again, in anger, “How can you not know?”

We keep very little tabs on either of you. You made you decisions remarkably clear,” Stoker paused, stood, only to sit again, before stating, “we have been intercepting letters from Semira to Sashenka.”

Tempenka,” Luna automatically corrected, shuddering at his gravelly voice’s use of the divine name, “since when?”

About a month after you moved out and Gerome moved in.”

Intercepted? This is a little intervention is it? Were they sent on at all? Or is that too much intervention?”

Stoker shrugged, “They were copied to Semira’s file and sent on. Would Tempenka accept you back? Semira?”

NO. We’ve been over this,” fury entering Luna’s voice and adjusting her demeanour, “they couldn’t. It’d rupture the tranquillity of the place. We’re tainted. We’re shunned. We, who were destined, fled perfection for sin. You know all of this. Your reports state exactly what Sashenka said when she was informed of our capture by the state. We had to translate the message,” Luna frowned, “you’re still monitoring them?”

Stoker nodded. The linguistics professor who had worked with Luna during those years she had been with Gretchen and built a comprehensive vocabulary of Tranqi to translate transcripts of conversations recorded from the community still worked for the FSA.

Did they get the letters?”

Stoker shrugged.

I know, they never open or check the mail at the gate.”

Yes. We know,” Stoker replied with a tone bordering on recrimination. Chloe looked at him scathingly.

Luna nodded, “Yes, I remember mail only ever being taken directly to Sashenka. Which means you know that. You just want to know my reaction,” she grimaced, “what was he writing for?”

For his parents to be in contact.”

Luna smiled maliciously, “It would’ve been Gerome, Stoker. You know this. If you were any good, you would know exactly who sent it. You’re intentionally baiting me, torturing me. What exactly is going on?”

No. I am not baiting you,” knowing he was, “our analysis concluded the same. Semira did not know what Gerome was doing.”

Stoker is frustrated at her reticence. The FSA simply wanted information, and these two were perfectly placed to re-infiltrate and establish an accurate level threat level from the community. Yet since taking them into custody, they remained taciturn and non-communicative. In spite of the experts brought in, this pair was, still is, unbreakable. No amount of separation, threats or coercion were able to infiltrate their bond.

Of course not. Kai is generational Tempenka. We were raised without parents. What is going on? Outside of your Tempenka parameters?”

That Semira and Gerome have disappeared.”

Oh. So Gerome’s the other, then? I’ve told you all I know,” Luna held outright dismissal in her voice.

Stoker nodded curtly, “I know you are meant to fly out tomorrow, can you stay here until we find Semira? Just in case it is something we should be concerned about?”

Concerned about what?”

In case it is targeted.”

Targeted? From whom exactly? We’re only ever targets of your department? I think you should concentrate in finding Kai. Tempenka has nothing to do with this. They do not leave that farm,” Luna started to clench her fist in anger.

You come here, bringing your stupid, arrogant prejudice. NO ONES ever left that community beyond sunlight hours. NO ONE. That place,” she spat, “is at least a thirty-two hour drive, or seven hours of connecting flights to the city.”

Luna was infuriated, “Which you’d know from your own reports. You job is to find Kai. Not make unfounded accusations. We battled and fought not to go back to that place from idiots like you, who only ever wanted to place us back and sought to discredit us when you failed.”

Stoker went to placate Luna, however was denied.

You’ve absolutely nothing to say on when we return. I’m not your asset. Get out,” Luna pointed furiously at the door.

Stoker stood and walked out the door. Stoker remembered clearly, the betrayal of this entire fiasco. The FSA brought in a perceived easily coercible civilian consultant who became increasingly difficult to manage before she exited the case and employed a civil rights attorney. Mitsuko and Gretchen effectively broke the deadlock, manipulating the situation to effectively and efficiently outmanoeuvre them.

The pair understood first how the components of Tempenka had formed the children beyond conventional control and conspired against the FSA to gain control of the situation. After that, the teams management of the children was corrupted by public backlash of the perceived abuse of minors.

This lead the pairs legal team to be able to leverage their fundamental need to understand Tranqi, against the pairs access to real lives. Gretchen fostered Luna, always the strongest twin. Trying to exploit the weakness in Kai, he held beyond what they thought he could, as traditional interrogation techniques did not work on either of them.

As the door clicked closed, Luna burst into tears. If Stoker had come to her, she should be terrified. Chloe stood quickly and wrapped her arms around Luna, who withdrew to draw all of her unravelling back into herself. She shifted from Chloe’s hug, wilting to sit on the bed.

Love is never free. I wanted it to be, but it always costs me greater than I could give. Leaving the community cost me my own divinity, language and home to become merely human. Loving you has cost me Kai. The balance is unjust and hateful, I’m loosing more than I can ever gain. Love is never equal, it can never be,” Luna shame and guilt pervaded her, controlled her, lived within her, weighing her down.

I ran from my responsibilities as the future leader out of fear and lead Kai out of a world he loved. Kai wanted the life offered within the community, held no curiosity of the outside world. I couldn’t contain my infinite desire to know, to seek, to understand. I just wanted and wanted, enough to flee. I understood Kai’s disorientation of this world, felt guilt for where I led him, yet without him, I’m only half a soul, a fractured shell,” shuffled in time, she remembered perfectly, yet forgot sporadically, truth an envy of memory and heart, a whisper of the selfless to the protection and detriment of her own self.

I’m overwhelmingly responsible for him, and I’m to blame for what our life tore irrevocably inside of him,” Luna learnt there was nothing else for problems but to run and stay in the darkness, and when unable to run, she stood to take it all for the both of them, took all the brutal lessons.

She learnt, though, and found Jamere and Abraxas, Galla and Archer, while Kai desperately clung to her alone. She drew together a shadow of herself and Kai sheltered beneath it, all her energy in surviving their existence.

Luna whispered as her voice hitched, “If FSA have lost him, he must be dead. How could they loose him? I don’t understand. Its never happened before.”

Luna looked through blurry eyes at Chloe, whose compassion seeped out of her and coursed through Luna’s veins. Her voice hitched as she rebelled against this look, whispering, “I’m too broken to be loved.”

I love you,” Chloe pulled Luna in, wrapping her arms around her, “and I will love you like I loved you since I met you — infinitely.”

All I feel is cracked…” Luna, sobbing, curled within Chloe, felt the love ebbing through their skin.

…and I’ll continue to pour love into all of them…” Chloe held her, this unbelievable creature, “…I’ll not let you fall. I’ll catch you and bring you home. I desire all of your broken things. You’re so very worthy of being loved.”

Luna cried, loosing herself as she free fell further into oblivion, hearing what she felt; home. Chloe raised Luna’s hand to her lips and kissed each finger individually, before moving to her wrist, slowly and delicately moving up the soft skin beneath her arm.

I love every single part of you,” between kisses, Chloe murmuring her devotion to Luna, “Your wounds are you. I love them. I love you.”

You know what frustrates me the most is Tempenka, while defiantly exclusionary to the outside, is decisively non–violent. Holds no weapons. They’re a simple farming community rejecting the callings of sin, delineating the evils of society from themselves. They’re not secretive, simply selective. They don’t want what the world offers. You either reject it all or embrace it all. They stay at the farm as it’s the only place they control, the only place they feel safe. One hundred and fifty years of non-violence, yet they’re viewed as a threat. They don’t believe in a mythological doomsday, or in culling yourself. They glorify life. Why FSA insist Tempenka is anything else is beyond me. Its not like anyone has left before and condemned them. We were…young and ran as an act of rebellion against growing up. If it wasn’t for where we came from we would’ve meant nothing. I don’t understand why they fear without provocation.”

Chloe said nothing, let Luna drift with her emotional Landscape. Far too much had been interfered with and inferred. Chloe resolved to distract Luna the only way she knew how, and gently kissed her. Luna, for lack of anything else that would make her feel less like she was alone, pulled open Chloe’s shirt, and kissed down her body. The mind works with it’s own brokenness, suffering in the quietness, initiating raids on others, Luna is lost and furious and vicious and sacrifices her own sanity to unleash her savage lunatic to ravish Chloe.

She let her mouth fall into Chloe’s taunt glistening, grasping her nails against muscles tightening along a spine-arched. Her teeth ran a curved length before her tongue fled from her mouth and into the sultriness too fuck the pain away. That night and into the following day, Luna locked herself into a spiral of sex and sleep.

The monsters in her past are real and heavy and twisted beyond measure and Chloe packed and pulled Luna out of their room and back through airports and planes to their home. Caro, Quin and Arlo picked them up from the airport and stayed with them, hovering around attempting to assuage the tension. Galla, Archer, Jamere and Abraxas all were waiting at the apartment, their voices hushed and sympathetic. Luna couldn’t look at any of them, and went past to the room she shared with Chloe and closed herself off.

Luna,” Chloe said, following her into the bedroom.

Luna rolled away from her, not wanting the conversation, remaining silent and inanimate until Chloe retreated back out. In the silence, Luna became restless and unleavened and took a sneaky way to escape the apartment, hearing low murmured voices drifting from the living room. This is one of the first things she did when she moved in, learn all the escape routes. She is gentle with her freedom, uncomfortable with the rush of noisy people continuing with their lives.

Luna reached the dark, lopsided unit block, and stomped up to the apartment. It was unchanged since she left, just smelt more of boys. She walked to their room, with a scattered mess of clothing on top of a mattress much like the one she had left here. Luna crawled on top of the pile and pulled up a shirt smelling of Kai. Luna lay their, intimately drowning in the familiarity of his scent. She did not notice the sway of the day, nor the noisy silence of the cities heartbeat bleeding out.

Chloe noticed her gone just over two hours after she left, and asked the others to stay when she told them of Luna’s absence. Chloe knew where she had gone, felt the link between them flicker as she weaved her way to her lover. Chloe found her, lost in the darkness and called Galla when she is unable to gain any effective response. Luna, loose from even her own voice, floated I a place where even she could not reach. Galla’s frown knitted her scars from her forehead to her chin in parallel lines, branded as she was by fire and metal, when she picked up Chloe’s call.

Galla answered, “You found her.”

Yes,” Chloe said, “exactly as we expected. That’s why I called.”

Okay. Give her the phone.” Chloe walked over to Luna and placed the phone against her ear.

Luna,” Galla said.

G?” Luna hadn’t moved, her voice crackling with pressure.

I know. There’s nothing you can do there. Nothing at all but unbalance yourself, alienate Chloe and hamper what Archer and I have in place.”

G…”

I don’t care, L. I understand. You love so hard it breaks you a little every single time anything goes remotely wrong, but I don’t care. Kai’s the priority. Ivie’s infiltrated the cities CCTV and police systems. We’re retro-tracking his phone. Talk to Chloe. I’m doing what is needed to find Kai.”

G…”

No, Luna. You can’t tear anyone apart. Not me. Not Chloe. Not Abraxas or Jamere or Archer. We’re here and we’re helping. You’re absolutely not allowed to be irrational, vicious or mean right now. Fall apart all you want, but that’s it. Come home. I’ll speak to you soon,” Galla hung up.

Galla had spoken to Archer immediately after the police and had interviewed her. Ivie’s security software unrivalled and Archer unleashed it, subverted, into the cities law enforcement. Luna looked at the phone, focused on Chloe, waiting, then sat up.

Galla said to go to home.”

Okay.”

She said there was nothing I could do but wait.”

Okay.”

Archer and Ivie are doing what they can.”

What do you want to do?”

I don’t know. Its waiting either way. Circles are pointless,” Luna shrugged, “I’ll be haunted until he is found. I’m sorry I’ve been cruel to you, Chloe. I’m really sorry.”

Thank you,” Chloe said, “however you weren’t until you disappeared.”

She also said we should talk.”

I’d like that.”

Can I ask you something?”

Of Course.”

Can you tell me about you?”

Yes,” Chloe lent over the bed, taking Luna’s hands in her own, entwining their fingers, and pulled her up, “when we return home and we’re ready.”

Chloe walked out to the living room, leaving Luna asleep in their room, moving to sit on the sofa.

Tea? Coffee? Whiskey?” Abraxas asked.

Thank you, no,” Chloe sighed, leaning back and sinking down like a dead weight.

How’re you holding up?” Abraxas voice is honey warm, trickling around Chloe.

Chloe shrugged, closing her eyes, “Better then how Luna is.”

This is not a comparison deal. How are you?”

Exhausted.”

Whiskey in the coffee, then.”

No. Its okay. I think if I start on whiskey, I may not stop and as exhausted as I am, I’m still too wired for coffee,” Chloe swallowed around the lump of emotion hurting her throat, “Where is everybody?”

Archer and Galla are at Circe, something about Ivie and something else, they may be installing her here. Quin and Arlo are lying down, Caro and Jamere are in the kitchen. I’m concerned that with the amount of food they’re cooking. It looks as if they’re planning on feeding the city.”

Chloe chuckled softly, “Sounds like Caro.”

Mmmm, and Jamere. I think they may be feeding each others crazy.”

If that’s how they’re coping, let them be.”

Isabeau and Mitsuko are getting along remarkably well.”

Mother is here?” Chloe frowned, “She handles emotion by fighting. Both of them do, and they’re less attached to us then to their careers. Is Bree still here?”

Roped into helping Archer and Galla, I believe.”

Gretchen?”

With Mitsuko and Isabeau.”

How did you survive?” Chloe asked so lightly Abraxas read her lips more than hearing her.

Jamere. Always.”

What happened?”

Do you really want to know?”

Yes,” Chloe closed her hand over Abraxas’, “you understand Luna. You carry damage, as much as we all do and she chose you to be her mothers. She listens to you beyond all others.”

Okay. I think. You would rather know the cost of the damage, over the rewards of love?”

I see the consequences of love is this extraordinarily family you have,” Chloe squeezed her hand, “I feel the love.”

Yes. Our stories are each others at his point,” Abraxas looked at their hands, “Cressida and I may’ve been physically identical, but were extremely different. Cressida joined a band, toured the world, slept on beaches, revelled in alternative living, always the one living with a reality outside of the main discourse. I studied, researched and built, manipulating and controlling reality. Yet, there was always a definitive bond snaked between us, we didn’t need to speak with each other, implicitly understanding the truth between us.”

Like Kai and Luna?”

I suppose. They were trained to be close. Cressida broke multiple parts of her hand and arm whilst on tour and returned to the city, pregnant, with Saber in tow, buying the basement record shop to occupy her time. I was hibernating at university, twisted within the confines of medical robotic engineering, building intricate robotic equipment, experimenting with miniatures. Saber was a quiet delight, winding magic at home and where he worked, at Mathilde Research Hospital, as an equipment engineer, fixing the softly beating machines. Cressida had Archer, a perfect infant born without sight and raised her like anything sacrosanct, with devotion and love.”

Archer said she has robot eyes?”

Yes. Saber and I made them for her. When Cressida found Ash’s Smash Repairs, a café tucked within the folds of the city, much as her basement was, a life long history wove itself into the future. Cressida had an unwavering connection to the music and rhythm of song and humanity, felt for the destitute starving off the bones of the city. Jamere, seeing the problem of survivors becoming scavengers along with the sallow, waxy skin of the starving, fed them. Cressida assisted in this new venture, and tumbled us along with her. Jamere and I spent so much time together, we became entwined, realising with the help of Cressida and Archer, our love mutual and unstitched our loneliness to knit ourselves together,” Abraxas smiled before dropping her voice.

Over twenty years ago now, when Jamere’s mother Charlotte was sick. Asher gave up their business to care for Charlotte six months in, after she become unable to leave home. Saber was the medical technician who helped them set up at home, worked the night shift for them. Charlotte took five years to fade and finally relinquish to her illness. Asher, while not alone in her grief when Charlotte passed, fell into a darkness she could not escape from, and came apart at this deeply personal loss. She lasted only eighteen months, until heartbroken, died. Jamere watched Charlotte and Asher fade,” Abraxas quieted for a moment and leaned into the couch.

Loving her changed everything. My apartment had been as monochromatic as my life. Once she…once I let her in, I evolved, becoming golden and full of autumn colour and spring sensations. She is my favourite scent, changing and softening everything, surrounding our lives. She improved everything, linking our lives and infecting others with music, food and almost the worst of all — hope. My life filled with Jamere and Cressida and Archer,” Abraxas stiffened again.

That’s exactly how Luna makes me feel,” Chloe quietly said, “how everything was dull and she is an explosion of colour.”

It must be a family thing, these women of ours. Six years ago we shifted our schedule’s to be with one another — an extremely rare occasion for both of us, but we forged the anxious rush of the world for each other and stayed inside our circle binding our love. Mid-morning, we began gently shifting into the day, shifting around each other, implicitly harmonic when the internal phone rang. The desk clerk told me the police were here. I still remember their sharp knock echoing through the apartment,” Abraxas shuddered.

Two officers delivered terrible and horrendous news, violating the core of our lives, silencing our world. We went to find Archer in the Pacer basement, the electrical hum vibrating through us, making all the fine hairs on my body stand on end. I didn’t want to tell her, but Archer felt the distortion emanating from my soul and I felt her crack, split across tension, I instinctively leaned forward to catch her as she fell, and failed, followed her into an entangled mess together on the floor. They’d been driving,” Abraxas wiped a tear out of her eye.

Archer stayed here for a while, her bedroom a refuge. Archer, hibernating in her room with Luna and Galla, encircled within the darkness, began to renovate the basements of Pacer, changing the lowest level to one that could contain herself and Ivie, refusing to leave the Circe Tower apartment in the meantime. I had Jamere with me and very slowly, life began to repair itself. We shelter each other. All of us.”

That is the truth right there,” Chloe gently said, “circled by love, we heal. Its quite a history.”

Yes, it is. All families have one. Every single one. I love ours. We love ours.” Abraxas said, “I’m sorry I’ve been weird with you.”

You possibly understand her more than most.”

We all understand, doesn’t make it okay,” Abraxas countered, “and I’ve gone about it the wrong way, finding out if you love her. I would’ve seen it if I hadn’t been so belligerent.”

I mean you loosing Cressida and Luna loosing Kai. She is so frightened she can no longer feel him.”

We’ve all lost more then we ever thought we could possibly bare. We endure because we want to, because we need to, we choose each other so we don’t have to endure any of this alone, tangling our lives and mazing our love. But we did and we do and we will together.”

She is…its horrible to see her in this much pain when I love her…she is dissolving before me and I don’t know how to help,” Chloe brushed tears away from her cheek.

You know that’s not true. She seeks your comfort, takes relief from your presence, loves you even in her darkness. I know. I felt Jamere when I could no longer see any other. I saw her when the world was grey. Luna sees you in colour.”

She sees all of you, too.”

Yes. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t see you. You need to stop feeling inadequate, otherwise it will filter down to her and you’ll just infect her with it,” Abraxas freed her hand from inside of Chloe’s and wrapped her arms around to hug.

They’re always patterns to our behaviours. We’re all puzzles, fitting together, shifting our lives until we find our places,” Chloe’s voice is muffled, drifted as she forgot the rest of it.

We draw lines in the sand, thinking they’re drawn in cement. When we’re left alone, it solidifies us into these worlds of immovable marble, beautiful but freezing. Other times, important times, storms come and thrash this sand that we think is marble with water and waves, scour us clean, wash away all that dirties us. We wake into a new, spectacular dawn and simply glow. Some things are broken, some torn away, but the gift is that which is torn away can be rebuilt on again, added to. We can choose to be broken or to be loved, and even more perfectly, we can choose to be both. We’re our own revolutions, battling our demons until we find our own compromises, our own rebellion. We owe ourselves our own consciousness,” Abraxas continued the quote, as she felt the shifting in Chloe’s face, “When did you last sleep?”

No idea. I’m asleep and I’m awake.”

Luna stood at the threshold, looking to the living room, feeling a tiny bit better at the sight. Chloe and Abraxas are outright asleep on the sofa, their heads tented together over their slumped bodies. Jamere’s feet are tucked up underneath her, head leaned over a book. She could hear muttering from the guest room, pretty sure Ivie is one of them.

Caro, Quin and Arlo sat together at the table, armed with the vicious nonchalance of experienced gamblers competitively playing, as Luna walked to Jamere, “Hey.”

Jamere jumped and dropped the book at her feet, “Shit, sorry.”

Luna, inflecting her voice down while scooping up the book, “Its okay.”

Jamere moved over for Luna to curl up next to her, dropping her arms around her, “Baby girl.”

Mmmm,” Luna dipped her head into Jamere’s neck, a rare event she had not done in years, since the night she sliced her leg open and needed to hide her pain from Kai.

Anything you need?”

Just this,” Luna whispered.

The trilogy, watching, turned back to their card games, leaving Luna nestled with Jamere. This is how all of their tangled collective love divides into the universe; imperfectly perfect.

Mapped it,” Ivie shimmered, haphazard in the light.

Can we do it here?” Galla asked, sitting in an alcove in Chloe’s apartment, the only space not invaded.

Archer sat in her corner chair, uncomfortable and hard, tapping out commands, “Video and 2D imagery, yes. To get full 3D imagery, we’ll need to go to the Aunts or the basement.”

Will it be better in full imagery?”

I don’t know. We’ve gathered as much as there is to find. From CCTV, GPS and satellite. From the club to Ianthe are clear. The internal camera on the cab is broken. I can track some movements from cell phone coverage, mostly texts and calls from Kai and Gerome to event participants as both of their location data was disabled, and blocked.”

How much is actual useful information?” Galla looked up from her position on the floor.

Nothing substantial enough. FSA have assisted RCPD, and most of this information they either have or deduced,” Archer shrugged.

You’ll see more in 3D,” Ivie stated.

Yes,” Archer stood up and packed her laptop, “lets go. We’ll walk.”

Of course,” Galla pushed herself up.

As they walked out, Bree was loitering in the shade, sipping from a coffee cup, “Hi guys.”

Bree,” Galla nodded but they didn’t break their step.

Bree fell in line, “Please let me help.”

Fine, but either be helpful or quiet,” Archer had no tolerance for babble.

Okay.”

Ivie?”

I’ve cleaned up as much as I can of the CCTV from Kahtya and Violet Pier. Its terrible, but the best I can do. The times here are approximated.”

I thought you were installed at Chloe’s,” Galla asked.

Preliminary instillation. I’ve been waiting for upgrades to the building systems before more will be done. Chloe was a little apprehensive, however can see the security integrity I can maintain.”

It was for Luna,” Archer said, “the FSA are concerning when it comes to Luna.”

You look so hurt she didn’t just want Ivie. She is such an anomaly for anyone outside of the Pacer bubble,” Galla nodded at the door man as they entered Circe, and crossed the lobby.

Yeah, but she’s mapped practically the entire route of Kai’s disappearance. She’d contributed the most.”

Stop grumbling,” Galla soothed, “they can’t get to her, okay, really, they can’t take Ivie away. You’ve made sure of that, and they don’t have anyone smart enough to steal her. Renegade hackers never work for the feds. And they lost track of Kai.”

I know, but we’ve the most info, and we still have nothing.”

The aunts apartment was silent, and echoed the noise as they dumped their bags on the ground and moved around the living area.

Ivie?” Galla called as the room brightened with artificial light splattering out of Ivie’s camera’s, creating a cityscape, contours of the city, the club, the taxi, as Ivie starts the progression.

Bree stood in the middle, frozen at the vertigo she experiences being inside this living video. Footage shows Kai and Gerome leaving the club, entering the taxi and heading west on Despine Avenue.

Ivie includes annotated text appearing in the air above black spots and reconstructed parts before she starts narrating, “the CCTV ends here, and mobile reception places them here, here and here,” pulsing dots appear on the map, the last one near the industrial embankment adjacent to Violet Pier.

Violet Pier usually had awesome CCTV?” Bree asked.

Yes, its substantial, but is internally maintained by the companies, so generally covers their own building and car parks. I’ve checked all of that that I can and only have what I’ve shown you. Police have been focusing on this section,” Ivie highlighted the three block section against the river and focused on it.

How’s the investigation?” Galla asked.

Archer snorted, “PD aren’t doing much, standard missing person procedure. The Bingo Preacher is actually pressuring he investigation. FSA is taking is seriously, and have the Stoker team suspended and under investigation.”

I’ve looked for patterns, attempted to correlate data, but there is nothing,” Ivie stated, “nothing to indicate where Kai is. The CCTV gives us the route, but nothing at the end, where it counts. All of this only indicated our own illegal behaviour.”

How long were you gone?” Chloe asked as Jamere pushed her thick black coffee over the bench, “I mean between leaving Eloise and coming back?”

Twenty years. I built a reputation and was always offered another job, an enticing new experience in a new country. Until Charlotte became sick, I had never returned home. Asher and Charlotte always came to me,” sadness seeped into Jamere’s cadence, “When Charlotte was brought home, Saber helped Asher with the burden of watching love die. I didn’t realise Saber was Cressida’s husband, or Archer’s father until much later. It was always Abraxas – Archer – Cressida.”

Jamere’s voice shattered as if glass, swimming in the clatter of the kitchen, and the house moving around them, “I was here two years before I converted Ash’s to the café. Cressida, Archer and Abraxas came opening day. I’ve seen Abraxas ever day since, through watching one mother die and then the other. The progression of Charlotte’s illness is what started my odd, random hours and why I always ended up Ash’s in the phantom hours of the morning. In all of this, I saw Abraxas’ face beyond all others. I wouldn’t have survived without her, her love, she held me together when I fell apart, loved me when I couldn’t. Abraxas gave me myself when no other noticed, never failed in her capacity to love. Every morning during those desperately dark hours, I woke in her arms. Every day we’re unable to be apart. Life is dull without her.”

That’s what she said about you, that you held her together when Cressida died.”

That’s what love is, holding all the parts together when she cannot, like you for Luna. Like she did for Kai. Like she will for you. We all get each other in death. Its this, the trauma and hope, death and love twisted together,” Jamere’s voice drifted with the weight of the conversation.

Sounds tragic, death bringing us together.”

Abraxas and I began within the noise of death, yet death did not diminish us. We don’t survive the dead, we visit within them in the space between guilt and memory. Archer, this ball of love between us, stretched and burgeoned our love, expanding around the girls and Kai, expands with you and the trilogy. Now, go. I have to start breakfast for real.”

I see what Luna loves about being here,” Galla is sitting in the greenhouse, staring at the colour surrounding them.

It is beautiful,” Chloe replied, “I’ve relearnt its beauty again because of Luna.”

You got used to this?”

I guess so.”

Chloe noticed the small cylinder sitting in front of Galla, saying “Ivie, you can come out. The others will be okay too, you’re not gonna scare them.”

Probably will.”

Not really,” Chloe looked over to Galla, “Luna said your scars have a story.”

She didn’t tell you?”

No. She said its your story to tell.”

True enough, I guess.”

It’s from when you were a child?”

Memory is a funny thing. I was abandoned at the racetrack. They thought I was only a couple of hours old, no more then twenty-four, yet the first memory I have is of a giant fluffy teddy next to a bright pink pillow. It makes me sneeze, all of those fine little stray hairs in my fist, snuggles at night, giggles at movies. I don’t remember their faces, my first parents.”

You’re the racing baby?” Chloe remembered the news story, the splash of the infant and maintenance over the news.

Yes,” Galla didn’t blink at the epithet, “adopted by Ceara and Ernest Zenobia. They died when I was five. I was placed in the home of a sitar player, Qadir and his cellist wife, Nilaruna. I was with them almost five years. We were driving. I don’t remember the car accident, only waking up in hospital, unable to see, my head covered in bandages. I remember the hospital distinctly, as I was the centre of everything and I got a new teddy bear. When the bandages came off, my face was like this. They never made it out.”

He taught you the sitar?”

Yes,” she shrugged, shivering even in the warmth, “family is an odd, odd thing. I initially didn’t get placed because of these scars, they scare people. They want perfect children, not monsters. I only had a single placement, I was sixteen, just after I met Luna and Kai. I was there for only eleven weeks. They’d several other female teenage children, useful to their very specific business interests. They picked us especially for our brokenness and kept us locked up, selling us over and over again. I kept fighting, resisting, falling into their cycle of drinking, screaming, violence, beatings. They allowed a customer to break my arm and wrist before dumping me at the hospital, left me unconscious in a car park…”

Silent tears ran down Chloe’s face, not turning her face fast enough before Galla saw them, “…no, no don’t. Look at what I got, Luna and Archer, Abraxas and Jamere. I’ve my family, they got jail time. I emancipated myself and received a trust from my first parents, enough to get my apartment. Its the first time I understood self-inflicted unemployment could be incendiary and beautiful. They create monsters, we create flowers, etching monuments out of rubble. I won.”

Chloe still looked mortified, “That’s still truly terrible. How have you all survived?”

It is as it is. What else is their to be? I’ve more than most in my situation. I’m gifted with my family, such as we are. Not everything is entirely broken. Before Jamere and Abraxas, I didn’t think I deserved family, before Luna and Archer, I didn’t think I deserved sisters. Musicians don’t see this,” she waved her hand over her face, “and I can play, and I’m good, too. Music saved all of us. What lies within is the sound you send out, beyond the music, outside the space between what I give and what you take.”

Galla paused, momentarily, to gather the unloved child inside of herself attempting to make her small again, even to herself, especially to herself. She knew death surrounded her to collect a debt she was given at birth, one that marked her soul and left her unforgiving, “Childhood is a disease, adulthood the cure, yet one is the mirror of the other, a cowrie shell echoing the sea inside of eternity, throwing the wreckage of ones own life, the complexity of being both broken and fixed all at once. These scars are simply an echo.”

Mercy

VIII MERCY

Dinner with Jamere and Abraxas at Karaleigh’s was a progression to their relationship she found hopeful and endearing. Luna thought about these two women who dominated her life as mothers as she slipped quietly out of the bedroom, shoeless yet dressed.

Luna?”

Hmmm?”

You look beautiful,” Chloe walked up and procured kissed her cheek.

Thank you,” Luna whispered, encircling Chloe to smooth their bodies together, kissing her.

You need to calm down,” Chloe murmured between kisses, her breath rustling against Luna’s lips.

I know. Dinner is serious, though,” Luna sighed.

Unlike anything else we’ve been doing?” Chloe waited for the soft giggle, “and only because its absolutely obvious we’re…”

We’re what?”

In love…” Chloe sighed, “…it falls of us.”

Only?”

Heroic, then,” she laughed, “but we should get going or we shall be late.”

Heroic?” gathering her bag, she followed Chloe out of the apartment, “like an old time movie?”

Everlasting. We’ve beautiful live. All of those showers and sneaking off for inappropriate nap times…” Chloe pushing the elevator button, the door at once opening. They stepped in and Luna hit the lobby button. Chloe dropped her hand, lacing her fingers into Luna’s. Walking out of Ellysion, flawless, together they turned to walk up to Karaleigh’s.

Chloe squeezed slightly too tightly, “…is this how you felt going to Westwood?”

Yes. Except Jamere and Abra already like you because I love you and you’ve all met on several occasions,” Luna crinkled her nose, “and I hadn’t met the trilogy.”

It wasn’t that bad!”

No, and neither will this,” this becoming a pattern for them, calming each other.

Finding the crisp spring air refreshing, invigorating them through Clovia Hills and into Briar, towards the waterfront boardwalk, strings of light glowing their path to Karaleigh’s.

You know the Chef?” Luna asked while walking the last half block.

No, the trilogy do. She has a place out at the lakes, and obviously uses their stuff. Knows Callister, too.”

Callister’s. Where we had that beautiful breakfast after you took me ballooning?”

Yes,” Chloe replied, walking into a cacophony of noise, murmured voices both at the booths and the packed bar.

Welcome to Karaleigh’s. How may I help?” asked the perfectly suited maitre’d.

Karaleigh’s is shaded in lush, vibrant greenery, interlocking plants cascading from the roof and covering the walls. Only the view of the riverside remained unhindered, glass doors open to the sounds of the city at night. Their table overlooked the languid river, black slate underneath the quarter moon.

Luna, Chloe,” Abraxas stood as they approached, Jamere smiling. Light kisses are exchanged before settling into the booth.

You walked?” Jamere asked.

Of course. You?” Chloe replied.

Yes,” Abraxas answered, “Zola said she’s already prepared our meal.”

Of course she has,” Luna snorted softly.

Abraxas raised her eyebrow, “Luna?”

Her names means famous bearer of rulers. She is a commander. Of course she’d dictate our menus.”

You and your names,” Abraxas said softly, lovingly, squeezing Luna’s knee, “connecting us all.”

You said you were apprenticed at the Eloise together?” Chloe asked of Jamere.

Yes, I replaced her as the first year once she went to second.”

Intense?”

Absolutely,” Jamere’s smile did not reach her eyes, “as I imagine a medical internship may be.”

Luna cleared her throat sharply as appetisers appeared on their table. Jamere flushed, “Eloise was, is, a very tough place to learn. They do not allow mistakes.”

Clientele can be quite demanding at Eloise, I’m sure,” Chloe is unsure if she is being tested or not, “but at least your mistakes won’t kill people.”

Awkward silence uncomfortably fell, pervading the four.

Really?” Luna said, rolling her eyes, “Abraxas. Jamere. Chloe. Now, of all times?”

Sorry,” Abraxas straight off said, not at all meaning it, “isn’t this context meant to be an inquisition?”

As opposed to any other time you’ve met?”

Really,” Jamere shrugged, laughing, seeing the immutable truth of their love, “I feel you are being rather diplomatic, want to trade horror stories?”

Maybe,” Chloe subtly relaxed, “Isn’t there fierce international competition for this Eloise’s apprenticeship?”

Yes. Very much so. Prestigious and exclusive, only taking one applicant a year. Eloise guarantees it’s graduates work. Several of the Eloise board had their multi-million dollar car’s repaired at Ash’s. Most of them knew me from when I was an infant.”

This is when Ash’s was an actual smash repairs?” Chloe asked, “using connections to get the job, hmmm?”

Yes,” Jamere laughed softly, “Charlotte and Asher, my mothers, were very indulgent of me. I found cooking very early, and they both wanted the best for me. Eloise is defiantly the best.”

So, a love of cooking and connections got you the Eloise?”

Yes, and it was horrible. I was possibly a very indulged child, and an apprentice is the kitchens kicking post, the absolute bottom of the hierarchy. It made me fierce and fearless, though. In those four years, I worked very hard, and barely slept, yet still was bullied, demeaned, pushed to extremes. I was very talented, however my mothers had called in favours to get me this, so I held my silence, favours they could have used later on. I was offered a position at Eloise, but I left, ran away, rejected Eloise for a fellowship overseas, in a country known for its culinary delights. I was tainted, weary and unforgiving.”

How long were you gone?” Chloe’s voice an undercurrent, soft and flowing, between them as their table was cleared of the entrée and main meals placed in return.

Twenty years, building my reputation from one job to the next, a new experience in a new country. I came back when Charlotte became sick.”

I’m sorry.”

It was a long time ago,” Jamere smiled sadly, as she deflected by asking, “you interned at MARH?”

Yes. The neurological unit. I wasn’t as feted or as loved by my parents, but everything else is frightfully similar. Intense, hierarchical, inescapably fatiguing,” Chloe’s voice rueful, “but I love it, I guess it’s why I now head the unit. I get to fix the part that runs everything, the brain’s this monstrous machine, and it’s amazing.”

Luna hadn’t seen Chloe talk about working before and its turning her on all over again, being so understandably ferocious about her passion.

I think we need something lighter to talk about?” Abraxas countered.

What about you two?” Chloe responded, “How is it you found each other?”

I met her at Ash’s the week it opened,” Abraxas said, “with my sister, Cressida.”

Chloe looked between them, sadness dripping from their voices, evoking the death of sisters and mothers, “Luna said Charlotte is the reason for Smash Punch?”

Yes, she was amazing. When I opened Ash’s, I saw homeless shifting within the shadows of our sub-streets, sheltering from the wrath of weather and fellow humans. The name came from one of Charlotte’s journals,” Jamere’s hand drifted to Abraxas’, entwined together, absorbing their love, while plates are moved to make way for desert, “and I met Cressida, Abra and Archer.”

Abraxas understood Jamere intimately, knew what her touch asked, “I founded Pacer Philanthropic Organisation. Cressida loved Ash’s, and Smash Punch, and wanted to help. From the start, our charity and lives kind of weaved together.”

Luna said you came here for Lunch? Showing each others version of the city as a getting to know each other ploy?”

Yes. Lunch was spectacular,” Chloe smirked at Luna, “you said it was a ploy?”

No,” Luna sighed, smirking right back, “I think they figured that bit out themselves.”

Well it worked,” Chloe said, stealing a quick kiss quietly while desert is cleared and aperitifs appeared, “very well, in fact.”

Since the group Lake St. Clair trip and dinner with Abraxas and Jamere, Chloe relaxed into her immeasurably improved life with Luna. The cohesion between them stunning, her isolation left far behind as she could see the city in a fundamentally new way. Galla gradually becoming her friend, and slow development with Kai brought the fresh quartet circling into each other. She sat at CLS, waiting for Luna as her mind drifted around this delight, always a misstep away.

Luna was finishing at eight and agreed to meet her here. She arrived dishevelled from work and still stunning, Chloe stood to greet her, lips lightly meeting, falling towards Luna’s green eyes until she is swimming within them, her fingers grazing black corset, ribbons intertwined and tied into discreet little bows over intricate lace. Leather pants and heavy boots filled her out. Chloe sat, distracted by the bows, wanting them in her mouth, desiring to unwrap the hidden treasure beneath. Drinks appeared before them as they drifted around the circular booth to sit next to each other, shoulder to knee, their arms entwining from elbow to fingers.

Remember when you asked me about Gretchen?”

Yes,” Chloe said, encouraged by Luna gradual revealing of herself understood how exhausting and traumatic, it could be.

We survived living on the streets, as infested as they were, only to end up twisted, irrevocably, in a system that wanted more from us than we could possibly give. Our saviour was Mitsuko Cho, a civil right attorney who knew our case could gain her the career advantage. It took three years of her fighting from when we were fifteen, and our freedom at eighteen to catapult her status to partner within her firm. I resented the lead physician on our case, Gretchen, for eventually gaining custody of only me. It was obvious that the agency wanted me and I resented the interference in our lives. Gretchen was sickly sweet, insidious in her persistence, attempting to curtail invasive needles and injections in exchange or trust,” it tumbles out of her all at once, words hitting into each other.

Chloe squeezed Luna’s hand, leaning the infinitesimal distance to kiss her on her cheek, feeling her sharp breath and minute relaxing beneath her lips.

I…” Luna struggled, “was unkind to her. She loved me and wanted me to stay, wanted me to be her daughter. I couldn’t. I resisted her at every turn. Within the community I was raised in, every adult was responsible for the raising of children, no one claimed ownership. To think one would be enough, I didn’t understand, and I could not give up Kai. The day I turned eighteen, I left everything she gave me and never told her where I was. It…” Luna paused again. Her eyes spun inward, a certainty now an uncertainty, “…was some thing I did because I felt I didn’t want to be controlled. I hurt her. I regret it.”

Thank you for trusting me,” Chloe smiled and leaned in grazing their lips together, “I love you.”

Luna sighed into their kiss, smiling through her tangled distress, she could never hear that enough, “There’s one more thing. I’m to invite you to family dinner.”

Family dinner?” Chloe asked.

Yes. Abraxas, Jamere, Archer, Kai and Galla. You and me.”

So I passed? This happens often?” Chloe said, excited, the invitation extended beyond bringing her into Luna’s world, but within Luna herself. She felt wanted as well as the familiar moistness gathered between her legs.

When we can all fit it in. Usually every eight weeks or so, at Jamere and Abraxas’ place in Circe Tower. Well, Ivie usually schedules everyone but Kai. Do I have your permission to give her access to your phone and calendar? Or more accurately, I guess, install her?” Luna answered.

Install her?”

Yeah, well she’s the operating system on my phone and laptop, but some of her functions distilled into apps,” Luna shrugged.

Yes…” Chloe pulling Luna in to connect their lips, unable to resist any longer, “of course.”

Bree was thirteen when her life changed, enabling her to see choices could be made that were her own. Her mother had taken the case of the two teenagers who were alone in the world against a government agency, the Federal Security Agency (FSA), attempting to circumnavigate their choices and control their lives.

Mitsuko is a formidable force and in watching her argue that choice to determine ones own destiny was a right made her realise she could choose for herself, her future could be her own over the destiny dictated by her parents. Luna became her inspiration, however it was not easy to stand up to the legacy thrust upon her.

She was infinitely impressed her mother had fought and won against the government, yet her mother was a dichotomy. She had forged a career on self-determination, and an affinity for the freedom to make your own, yet managed Bree down a very specific path she was not allowed to deviate from.

Gretchen started in paediatrics, and almost by accident become a consultant with the police for infants coming in from Kahtya Slums, mostly on neonatal infant abuse, death and drug cases. She developed quite stringent forensic procedures as her case load spread across the cities law enforcement agencies for providing expert testimony in court cases. Her world full of infant rehabilitation programs and consulting. She was content, fulfilled beyond measure and built her life where knowledge and connections made her wealthy. Her apartment within Phoenix felt more home than anywhere else, her own silence against the noise of the world.

Gretchen consulted on a case for the FSA, two teenagers who spoke in a language only the two could understand and the girl spoke exclusively for them both, with her pale hair and searing green eyes. She shielded the boy with fierce intensity. Her initial directive, to complete a medical history of them both, was difficult. Kai would not speak, and tailored his responses in test stimuli to mimic Luna’s, in spite of them being separated. Luna would answer with very direct and specific information and refused to elaborate. Separating the pair simply made Gretchen’s job impossible.

Gretchen received infinitesimal information from the FSA — what she did receive was eighty percent redacted — yet she knew they’d been homeless for twelve months and before this, were in an isolated community. There was a suggestion of sexual abuse, but Gretchen found no evidence.

She assembled a team experienced with isolated and non-communicative minors, but met with resistance and interference from the FSA. The psychiatrist submitted a damming report the damage being perpetrated by the FSA in these circumstances worse than what they had experienced. Gretchen placed the pair back together and did not seek their trust but their cooperation. Luna stood for them both, always brazenly independent.

Both had particularly unique blood work. Kai’s contained no antibodies found in the general population. Neither had had their infant shots, but at least Luna’s indicated some form of hereditary inoculations no more than two generations back. It was phenomenal they had not both been severely ill, knocked out by some simple flu. The FSA attempted to use this as evidence they needed to be in a permanently controlled environment. While Gretchen determined an immunisation schedule, she argued their exposure and survival during the year on the streets voided their argument. The psychiatrist report indicated they would suffer irrecoverable damage if contain within such an environment.

The pressure from FSA became so relentless Gretchen, concerned for the welfare of the pair, contacted Mitsuko Cho, and initiated her legal challenge. After much negotiation and expert testimony, the FSA failed in their bid to keep control. Kai, emotionally underdeveloped and in most need of a cohesive, structured environment was considered secondary to Luna. Luna presented to be much more challenging in finding a suitable placement. To keep her protected, Gretchen gained custody, unperturbed by the threats from the FSA.

The regular psychiatrist appointments and reports indicated allowing them both independence from each other was fundamental for their development into constructive adults. They were unlike any other case she had seen. Neither had been neglected or abused, both could be considered educated and adept at transferable survival and social skills. Not long after she moved in, Luna began to work at Pacer, Gretchen encouraged the stability and continued development of her friendships with Galla and Archer, important to be outside of her dynamic with Kai.

Over the three years Luna and Kai were in care, they were freed from their forced committed to, but not from their control of the FSA. While they were still held under constant monitoring and surveillance, as much as they did with Tempenka, no argument could be made they could not or did not function perfectly within society. They fulfilled all of the practicality and duties Cho had negotiated and developed a wealthy support base in the Pacer group that could not be dissuaded or broken, and, at eighteen, had each other. Gretchen was almost flummoxed that they managed to received what was at worst described as corporate sponsorship and believed that this was the mitigating factor in their release rather than her own or Mitsuko’s effort.

Luna threw up in Chloe’s bathroom. Chloe sat to the side, back up against the wall until Luna finally settled back to rest on her feet. Chloe handed her a cool, damp cloth.

I’m sorry, Chloe.”

For what? I’m sorry she upset you so badly,” Chloe’s voice a melody calming Luna’s stuttering heartbeat.

Unexpected is all. She’s intense,” Luna knew after a lifetime of arguing, Chloe’s mother wielded language like a weapon, her voice full of concise, sharp edges.

She is,” Chloe agreed at the unannounced and therefore unexpected arrival of her mother for lunch, “She’s a powerful woman is all, her job is to be intimidating.”

She certainly is. I should be used to intimidating women by now,” Luna concentrated on regulating her breathing, and forced her stomach to settle, “what’s your mother’s full name?”

Isabeau Jeveria Mehira.”

Really?” Luna looked surprised.

Why? What’s wrong with it, doesn’t it fit?”

Nothing is wrong with it. Isabeau means pledged to deity. Jeveria, blessed female spreading happiness, Mehira, swiftly, capable. Your mother,” Luna smiled lopsidedly at Chloe, “pledged to spread happiness swiftly. Also, she gifted the world an orchard.”

So, she fits?”

You certainly make me happy,” Luna stood, her legs slightly shaking.

Chloe stood to hold her, balance her, “She turned up because I told her about you. She knew if I told her anything at all, you mean something to me.”

What did you tell her?”

The truth,” Chloe smiled, “that I love you.”

When?”

I told her the day before the opera,” and even though it is mid-afternoon, asked, “Shower?”

More of a brush my teeth adventure, but sure…”Luna giggled softly, “…we tend to get distracted easily in the shower, though.”

Of course…” Chloe began removing Luna’s shirt, “But we get distracted everywhere, to be honest.”

Luna slipped out of her pants as Chloe pushed them down, standing as nakedly exposed as she figured out the dates and asked, “You told her you loved me before you told me?”

Pretty well much,” Chloe began undressing and uncharacteristically left her clothes where they fell on the floor as Luna walked to the control panel, pushing her favourite settings, “in my defence, I told the trilogy before that and why I love you, and you know, took you to meet them.”

Hmmm, well…” Luna took the toothpaste covered toothbrush from Chloe, moving beneath the water, the rest muffled by white noise.

We really won’t see her much. I barely see her now.”

That’s not really the point, is it?” Luna turned under the water to face Chloe.

I guess not. Still,” Chloe nestling her body against Luna’s, “She’s her own life. I have mine with you, and I want this. We only intersect because we’re related. Outside of us, don’t care.”

It wasn’t that bad, I just wasn’t prepared,” Luna dumped her toothbrush on the bench, “it’ll be fine if I know.”

I love you,” Chloe leaned in to rest their foreheads together, “and I’m sorry. I should have planned for a meeting, knowing she would do this.”

I super love you, too” Luna leaned in, resting in the weight of them perfectly, “and possibly you should’ve, but been and done now.”

Luna thought about Gretchen, about the love she offered and was rejected for it. Everything about that time wrapped in deception, secrets and lies and Gretchen had represented all of this to her still learning self. The truth is far more complex, and in the three years since she walked out without a word, Jamere reminded her of this severe misjudgement of Gretchen. Love constructed masks for her life and she thought herself unable to live without these masks until Chloe taught her she could live.

Now that lust had settled to a more manageable dull ache rather than desperate neediness, Luna noticed all the small things Chloe did in the everyday ordinariness of their connection, the quiet shift of alignments that pegged them together. Love removed her mask and forced her to reconsider her past behaviour. Gretchen compromised her career to give Luna the opportunity to be free, her love never told her lies. Luna still knew her number by heart, remembering out of guilt.

Hello. Gretchen speaking.”

It’s Luna.”

Gretchen inhaled sharply, but said nothing.

I was wondering if we could have coffee?” Luna’s voice quivered. Silence crackled over the line until Luna could not stand it.

Asceline,” Gretchen said, pitched so low that Luna almost missed it, “thirty minutes.”

Thank you.” Luna said before the phone clicked in her ear. She was nervous, but knew Jamere was right. It was time to release both of them from the past.

Luna made her way from her flat to Briar and into Asceline. Luna arrived early, ordering for them both, remembering her exact order, always. The building smelled of paper, ink and comfort. Their coffee was delivered as Gretchen walked in and Luna watched as her eyes drifted over the cafe’s seating, resting when they hit her face. Sitting in uncomfortable silence momentarily as Luna drew herself back in, preparing for what she had to say, “I’m sorry, Gretchen, for the way I treated you.”

Silence fell again as Luna picked at the tablecloth. They had mutated each other, Luna realised as she sat contemplating Gretchen’s silent reaction. Both of them corroded and in pain and abrasively chased the cracks within each other even deeper. Gretchen watched Luna grow and learn in the years together, and maintaining her subversive sense of self against developing any relationship. She was self-determining at all times, maintaining her own structure and boundaries against incursion.

Gretchen learnt she herself had been corrupted by maternal love, unreciprocated but powerful and found Luna’s rejection unexpectedly brutal. Luna slayed Gretchen’s expectations at every turn as they developed along with each other, expanding with her sense of maternal responsibility. Life back then continued, both of them methodically concious of the delicate nature of them. Luna worked and studied whilst all the time maintaining her stringent distance from Gretchen, who worked at building a relationship between them.

Galla and Archer were permanent presences, as were other adults allowed into the life Luna refused Gretchen access to — Jamere and Abraxas. Luna volunteered for the charity the women run, worked for their niece. These were the women Luna spoke with and went to for advice. It had broken Gretchen a little more each time, that she was never family chosen. Gretchen desired to provide a family for Luna, but had instead been left for one.

Even as Bree failed her audition, her parents were organising for her to attempt again, passing off the failure on nerves. It was here Bree understood it is not enough to fail, she needed to stand up for herself. She left the family apartment in Circe and walked to the place that always made herself feel safe, Asceline. Walking in, she saw Luna sitting with Gretchen, both looking intense and melancholy. She understood their complicated history and slipped up a level, leaving the frappe she wanted for later.

Bree remembered Gretchen’s presence as she became friends with Mitsuko over the trial with FSA, remembered the chaotic emotional resonance tearing through all the music she composed. Bree understood, more than the others, Luna’s trauma is her own and nothing Gretchen could do or offer would fix it. Gretchen was developing these desires for family and while she should’ve been looking at the bigger picture, Bree’s family became her alternative.

Bree saw the turmoil when Gretchen initiated adoption paperwork in the six months before Luna’s eighteenth birthday, the filing of this paperwork set off a chain of events requiring Mitsuko to battle the FSA for attempting to bring the pair into permanent government custody. Bree knew Mitsuko had proven Luna and Kai success when they both completed their education, maintained employment and participated in charity, fulfilling all obligations of their release to foster care. Publicly, the FSA looked like monsters, privately Luna did, taking her ferociousness out on Gretchen.

Bree watched as Gretchen stumbled when Luna, with the freedom her mother had fought for her, took the insignificant amount of items she collected and left. Gretchen returned to an empty apartment where there was nothing. Gretchen focused so much of her energy on Luna that this devastated her, and she took the lack of any contact as vicious absence and rejection. She stayed in the apartment a week until Mitsuko pulled her out of her pain, showing her new ways to survive. They all attempted to keep track of Luna’s life, in spite of the zero communication. While Gretchen envied Jamere and Abraxas, the closeness shared with Luna, Bree saw how Archer, Galla and Luna formed not only an impenetrable sibling bond, but had found freedom.

Gretchen now understood Luna as a catalyst, but not responsible for developing the sense of maternal desire causing her to suffer: her disappointment is her own. The sense of melancholy that invaded her was not a deprivation of herself but a transformation. In the face of pain, twisting the length of her body, she chose dignity.

Thank you,” Gretchen’s voice an undercurrent of all of their history as Luna felt it fracture against her, “Can you tell me why?”

Why I’m sorry or why I left?”

Both. I think I understand, but I want to hear you say it,” Gretchen distinctly remembers the day Luna come home, this slight, pale anomaly with green eyes, deep as an ocean and with as many secrets, remembers it for changing herself beyond the capacity to return to who she had been.

Gretchen, always has been driven, focused and alone suddenly was not responsible for simply herself, but for the intricate daily welfare of another with particularly special needs. Gretchen stood aside as their primary physician, a job she understood intricately, to gain full legal responsibility for Luna, a path she became lost within.

She tried as much as she could to gain Luna’s trust, setting a bare minimum of cohesive, distinct rules. She provided tutors to attend Luna’s education, and by the second year she was taking college level courses. They reached a commonality at a very basic level and for three years, existed in this quiet battleground, a delineated space where everything existed and yet nothing was resolved.

I’m sorry I hurt you and rejected you. I’m responsible for Kai and I believed at that time you were part of the group attempting to control us. I mistook all of your actions as proving this. I was wrong and for that I’m sorry.”

Thank you. Really.” Gretchen smiled at last. Three years and not one word from Luna. But she clung to the belief forgiveness can be bigger than pain, “that’s what I thought. I’m sorry for pushing so hard.”

They returned to silence again, but it was indefinitely more comfortable. Gretchen looked up at Luna before asking, “Where do we go from here?”

I don’t know,” Luna smiled.

Bree found Luna an hour later, alone, standing to leave. Bree, desperate to free herself, saw the opportunity and walked up, “Luna?”

Yes…” Luna looked up, sensing the desperation, “Bree? What is wrong?”

Bree was silent for a moment, said, “Can we talk? Would you like another drink?”

Yes. Thank you.” Luna sat back down as Bree took the short walk to the counter and indicated Luna as she gave the order. She returned to shyly sit down in the chair vacated by Gretchen.

Bree?” Luna said, too exhausted to maintain much of a pretence. She waited until Bree made eye contact before stating, “What is it?”

How do I…” Bree faltered, twitching with nerves, her voice low and squeaky, “I want to be free.”

Her voice so quiet Luna would not have heard it anywhere else but in the silence of a book store, “What do you mean?”

Do you remember me?”

Luna frowned, “Remember you?”

I’m Mitsuko’s daughter.” Bree watched as Luna reacted, her face betraying the memories Luna went through, this on top of the conversation she had with Gretchen overwhelming.

Mitsuko?” the weight of those years flooded through Luna.

Yes,” Bree nodded, “I was thirteen when all the stuff happened. Well, started.”

You played music?” Luna didn’t remember Bree, yet recalled the haunting music filling Mitsuko’s apartment.

Yes. That is my problem. My parents want me to play with RCPO. I failed my audition. Intentionally. I want them to leave me alone. But…” Bree struggled not to cry, “they want me to audition again. I love music, but they make me hate it.”

They don’t know you failed intentionally?”

Bree slowly shook her head, her eyes downcast. She was quiet as she said, “I don’t know how to tell them no.”

Why are you asking me?” Luna maintained her eye contact even when Bree was unable to, failing to see the reasoning of the younger girl.

Because you seemed so…controlled. Even when you had none. You made your own decisions.”

But I ran away, Bree.”

I know. But you also ran towards what you wanted.”

I don’t know what I want. Even now.”

Except to be free,” Bree intonation mournful. Luna showed her that artists are crazy bohemians who break the rules to recast their own, gathering life rather then follow neat, maintained pathways. Luna traced out new space for herself to be free, unlearning the constraint of her youth while refusing to live by new ones.

Yes. Except that,” Luna conceded, opening her palms up from the cup, “Talk to them. Truth is hard, but it needs to be told. It is better than loosing your family? Ask for what you want, but expect resistance, so give them time frames. Realistic ones. You can ask for a year, and offer them a proper audition at the end of this.”

Sitting quietly, the silent shuffling of Asceline’s customers pervading calmness. Bree said finally, “I’m scared.”

Its better than not saying anything and never getting what you want, or never finding out what it is that you truly want,” Luna understood why Ivie did not tell her Bree’s connection to her. Bree was not a threat to her, simply a misguided teenager seeking freedom.

Okay,” Bree shuddered.

Your mother argues logically for a living. Your father deals with numbers and figures. That’s how they will understand. Present her with a cohesive argument, calmly.”

They’ll not listen…” Bree said desperately, “…they never do.”

Then you’ll never be free. Running away did not make me free, it made me a target. Running from your family has consequences,” Luna’s truth brutal, but Bree wanted what she could not give her, permission, “You want freedom? Then take it.”

Thank you,” Bree whispered, understanding Luna was not placating her with what she wanted to hear.

Ivie’s assimilation into Chloe’s life both startling easy and frustratingly complex. Ivie initially asked for endless permissions to access her phone and laptop and work computer, her shared staff calendar, managed by her executive assistant. Endless requests to add her calendar to Luna’s, her permission to compare it to Galla, Kai’s, Jamere and Abraxas’. She found it surreal.

Ivie lead her from work to Antique Atelier one night. She weaved her way through the crowd to the end of the bar shifting in to a spot with a view of the stage, captivated by the restless energy of jazz as it danced across her, catching her breath as it refused to stand still. Antique was full, crowds shuffling against each other, softly murmuring underneath the powerful music cascading around the room. It was darker than Chloe remembered, full of shadows, the seating was precisely haphazard, arranged in an odd viewing arch rather than for eating.

Galla was playing the sitar and Luna’s body wrapped around the cello. Chloe recognised the pianist, saxophonist and double bass player, but could not place their names. Bree played percussion. Their jazz is nomadic, it can’t, won’t stand still and flooded Chloe with unexpected permeations. Fingertips tapped her on her wrist, a drink placed next to them. Chloe turned, smiling at Cat, mouthing thank you as she waved off payment.

Chloe struggled to regulate her breathing as she watched Luna taken by the music, the group centring around tones and playing off each other spectacularly. Chloe noticed Pacer’s symbol, along with another, a Reaper with “PBLH” along the scythe blade, on some of the equipment, and the group are surrounded by similarly branded microphones.

Most days Luna’s sex appeal is effortlessly accidental, as if a simple by product of her beautiful existence, but when done on purpose, with this type of focused intent, the effect on Chloe is absolute with its utter devastation. The group are dressed as Noir dancers — old and timeless, at once ancient and infused with youthful energy.

Chloe ached, moistness dampening inside her underwear, as she watched, fascinated, becoming vulnerable and unmoored. At the close of midnight, the band finished, taking the applause with them while disappearing into the backstage. Chloe, lost, slowly began reeling her scattering back into herself, withdrawing her heartbeat to a more regular tone, even thought the rush of blood still dominated her hearing. As lights came on, and she walked out to feel the brisk air clean her head, the crowd slowly dissipated along the darkened street, the soft bleating of her phone asking her to wait.

Hay,” a voice drew her out of her reverie as Luna’s body collected into her own, connected along their length, kissing her deeply, before, “Chloe…” Luna said, drawing back slightly to look her in the eyes, “Are you okay?”

Yes,” Chloe’s voice is deep, “Really. You’re phenomenal. I’m overwhelmed by your talent. I love you.”

Chloe, I love you. Its simply playing…you’ve literally performed brain surgery. I simply played a little cello,” Luna murmured in her ear as the employees emptied into silence, “I didn’t know you were coming. I’m glad you did.”

Ivie told me.”

Chloe sighed against Luna’s cheek, filling with emotions she couldn’t describe or say.

Luna,” a voice called from the doorway called.

Luna twisted away from Chloe, who tensed at the loss of full body contact, “Hey, Galla.”

Hi Chloe. We’re going to Harper’s.”

Awesome,” Luna smiled as the rest of the players hustled out of the door behind her. Feeling down Chloe’s arm, she grabbed her hand, “Chloe, this is Claudia, Xaiden, Calais, Estelle and you know Bree.”

Hi.”

Guys, this is Chloe,” Luna shifted her head slightly, “You want to go to Harper’s?”

Chloe twisting Luna into her and wrapping her arms around her waist, pulling her flush against her, drawing her lips together, kissed Luna and nodded, “Yes, sure.”

The babble of voices around them continued as they walked up to the monorail, Luna’s hand secured within Chloe’s.

You okay? You sure that you want to go to Harper’s?”

Yes and Yes. Why do you play jazz?”

Because I’m nostalgic for a life I’ve never lived and a history I’ve never encountered. It teaches me how to embrace imperfection, celebrate it, revel in it.”

What is the Reaper symbol?”

Pacers Bootleg Live. They record live music. What we just did will be available at the shop.”

Really?”

Yup. Galla wrote that, too, composed it.”

You act like none of this is a big deal.”

Because its not,” Luna shrugged, indiffident. Chloe sighed at how remarkable she found herself loved by this.

Will we get a copy? Do you have many recordings of your playing?”

If you want a copy, sure. Ivie has a music app player, and you can get a digital copies of past stuff if you’d like.”

Yes, please.”

Later, as they lifted their glasses, the group taught her a new toast, “May we always be this incomplete.”

The truth is it made her life easier when Ivie integrated everything. While she found annotating her appointments, meetings and functions for Ivie initially invasive, they gradually began to fade as Ivie learned her idiosyncrasies. The side trip to Antique Atelier and every day subtle contact with Luna was innovative, and by the time family dinner arrived, Ivie co-coordinated the schedule so precisely, she realised she had stopped maintaining any of her own events.

Ivie felt that Chloe was initiated enough and trained her functionality enough to be invited to join Iviesphere. Chloe noticed the invitation and called Luna to clarify what she was getting herself in for. Ivie patched her through to Luna’s headset, and her voice immediately lightened Chloe’s day.

Hay Chloe.”

Hi,” Chloe paused, remembering the first time she called Pacer and was rejected this privilege.

Chloe? What’s wrong?” concern filtering through.

Oh, nothing, happy to hear your voice is all. What on earth is Iviesphere?”

Oh. Right. I’ve mentioned it before. Ivie must’ve thought you were ready. The internal social network for Pacer and Ash’s staff, Smash Punch volunteers and associates, but is often extended to family and friends.”

Oh, Okay,” Chloe sounded confused.

You don’t have to, you know, but its the like the fun side of the calender/life management,” Luna giggled, “and you already know Archer, Kai, Galla, Abraxas, Jamere, so…”

Help me with it tonight?”

Sure, but, you know, just tell Ivie and she will probs do it for you.”

Okay…” Chloe sounded dubious.

Life management, Chloe, she’s totally invasive.”

Okay. Anyway, thanks. See you tonight?”

Yes, tonight. Still love you,” Luna chuckled.

Always love you.”

Raptor City had three gated tower complexes, defining the skyline, all located in Clovia Hills, a symbol of the wealth pervading the city. Luna was sitting in Abraxas and Jamere’s dining room, swirling her glass around. Archer, Galla, Chloe and Kai were sitting around the table. Circe Tower is quiet, as always, and a beacon, shinning the comfort of home none of them spoke of, yet built together after their first families imploded. Tonight Chloe’s induction into the ritual, and they walked from the Ellysion.

So, you met with her?” Jamere asked.

Hmmm,” Luna assented. Gretchen lived in the Phoenix Complex. “At Asceline.”

And?” Jamere pressed.

I apologised. So did she,” Luna smiled as Chloe’s hand appeared on her leg, squeezing reassuringly, subtle intimacy, “She seemed okay. But then a weird thing…Bree came up to have a chat.”

I’m proud of you,” Abraxas said, “that took courage.”

Bree’s the one you introduced to me at the lunch for SP?” Jamere asked, nodding at Abraxas’ words.

It was odd,” Luna said, as she nodded, “She was so…desperate to break away from her parents. Mostly her mother, I think. Remember Mitsuko? She was a kid when her mother defended us. Its as if she wanted me to do it, you know, talk to her mother.”

Yes, she’s Mitsuko’s daughter. They live in this building,” Jamere stated, surprised still that Luna did not recognise Bree, missing the connection. Chloe accepted another anomaly of Luna’s past half divulged.

Mitsuko can be intimidating,” Kai smiled, “Bree would probably feel that as well.”

Trust Bree to see any of us as people to look up to,” Galla snorted.

She was a child when all of you were around,” Abraxas reminded them, “Of course she looked up to all of you. To her you were free. You didn’t have parents telling you what to do.”

No, we’d strangers instead,” Luna rolled her eyes.

She didn’t see that,” Abraxas countered.

I guess,” Luna said, “I should’ve probably been gentler.”

Brutality may suit you, most likely not Bree, so yes, that may be more appropriate,” Abraxas laughed.

Chloe watched the exchange, the trust encapsulated in this warm room. They were family as much as Caro, Arlo and Quin were to her, and she felt within this moment loose, as unbound as she had ever been before.

Goodbyes were said as Kai left for his shift. Archer sidled up to Luna, whispering into her ear.

Okay,” Luna following Galla into Archer’s bedroom.

I guess they’re leaving you here with us,” Jamere watching them disappear, “Coffee?”

Please.”

Chloe sat close with Abraxas and Jamere, coffee aroma filling the room.

Did she forget I’m here?”

I highly doubt that. She’s rather taken with you,” Jamere said.

I suppose I’m rather taken with her as well.”

I like how close she is now. Ivie show you the quickest way to walk here?” Abraxas sipped at her coffee.

Yes. I think Ivie’s conspiring to keep Luna there more often,” Chloe blushed slightly, “not that I mind.”

Absolutely Ivie would do that. She hates Luna’s flat. Uninstalled herself and refuses to go back. Expect a request for her to invade your home.”

Ivie’s terrifying and easy. She lead me to Antique Atelier to see Galla and Luna play Jazz one night. Yes, her flat is quite…” Chloe searched for the right word, “…abysmal.”

Luna said you turned up,” Abraxas smiled, “Ivie does that, coaxes everyone astray even while leading them together.”

How was Alpha house?” Jamere changed topics.

This past week, or just in general?”

Both, I guess. She first took you on her twenty-four hour date, yes?”

Yes. It’s vastly different to the charity I do. I usually make decisions. Alpha is front line. I like being with her when we volunteer together. Luna said you’ve been together all of Archer’s life?”

Abraxas face tightened, “Yes.”

Sorry, did I say something wrong?”

No. We’ve been together since she was two,” Abraxas replied.

Cressida? First customers at Ash’s?”

Yes…” Jamere sighed, as Abraxas’ hand tightened over her thigh.

Sorry, Chloe. Its one of those transformative times in our lives. We met, yes, fell in love, but my mothers, Charlotte and Asher were already very ill. Charlotte died the second year we were together, Asher the third. We met Galla, Luna and Kai not long before we lost Cressida and Saber,” Abraxas nose twitched, her voice falling, “Luna is herself and I’m very glad she found you, but they’re our daughters, and we are concerned as inevitably any consequences, positive and negative, affect us all. It almost seems some times we have an awful exchange rate.”

Luna is quite a charmer,” Jamere added, “and hasn’t been defeated by her life.”

Yes, she certainly is,” Chloe leaned back into her chair, “and you’re so protective of her.”

How much has she told you?” Abraxas quietly asked.

It’s hard to tell,” Chloe lifted her eyes, searching their faces for how to proceed, “She half tells me things, mentions things in passing before I realise there is an entire story behind it. If I ask, she simply closes down.”

We know, she is….” Jamere looked apologetic, “…extremely difficult to know…”

But immeasurably easy to love,” Abraxas added.

Chloe hummed her approval, “Yes, very much. She told me about Archer and Cressida, Charlotte and Asher, Gretchen and some about Kai. Its hard to gather a history half told, but it’s easy to wait when she’s with me.”

There are only so many ways to fall love,” Abraxas shrugged, “all at once or not at all.”

Did you both fall in love all at once?”

Archer did,” Abraxas laughed, “fell head first at Jamere and refused to let go.”

Yes. Well. Neither could I. She was adorable,” chuckled Jamere, but her eyes betrayed terrible sadness, “this little squishy infant.”

What happened?” Chloe asked, her voice infused with cream.

Jamere leaned into Abraxas instinctively, seeking immediate comfort in her presence, whose response one of uninhibited love. Chloe saw how similar they are to Caro, Arlo and Quin, elliptical within their acoustical love, and hope skittered within her for Luna’s and her own future.

A lot happened,” Jamere said, “but all a long time ago.”

Not for Luna. She doesn’t forget, holds everything.”

We know,” Abraxas frowned, “So hard it hurts.”

Neither of you hurt her. Galla and Archer don’t. I don’t. That’s why I am here, isn’t it? Kai hurts, but he’s connected to everything, something deeper, she’ll not say.”

You’re remarkably perceptive,” Abraxas looked at Chloe, inscrutable.

Yes. Well.” Chloe looked at her coffee, sensing the minute shifts on the sofa as they touched each other as close as possible, lengthening against each other, she said, “Cressida taught Archer music, you taught her responsibility. You both wanted Luna, Galla and Kai but were denied, yet have become a family anyway. Archer, Galla and Luna are exceptionally close, bonded by death and love,” Chloe sipped at her coffee, looking at Jamere, “Asher protected Charlotte and they loved you.”

Yes she did, yes they did, yes we did,” Jamere smiled, “History is a funny thing.”

Its a torturous thing,” Chloe retorted, “makes the present jittery and the future uncertain.”

Yes. Certain,” Jamere added, “Death happened. Life happened. Love happened.”

Chloe looked at them both, absorbing the subtle energy inhabiting the space, the almost drunk, pervasive peace.

Perfection happened,” Abraxas, running her hand along Jamere’s arm, said “We’ve the scars.”

Cressida? Charlotte? Archer?”

We prefer the living, but yes,” Jamere continued, “Charlotte always said I was the gift of her life. I never really understood until I met Archer.”

Giggling broke through their conversation and a streak of laughter following one body from a door flung open, over the couches and into the kitchen.

Its absolutely offensive how in love you are with her,” Galla snickered.

Precisely,” Archer nodded, “It’s disgusting.”

You both can shut up,” Luna rolled her eyes as he rearranged the pillows, shuffling further into the centre of the bed, as the other two curled up around her.

I can see why Ivie loves her,” Archer settled her head in Luna’s lap, Galla’s in hers, the three a circle nestled in Archer’s bed.

Ivie is happy with anyone you give her permission to talk to…”

She is beautiful.”

I know. I’m kinda finding it hilarious she is out their alone with Jamere and Abraxas right now…”

She’ll be fine. Dinner went well?” Galla laughed, “Abraxas wasn’t wholly insane.”

Yes, it did. I know, she’s just been fierce every time she’s been near Chloe.”

I guess you’re not staying tonight?” Archer frowned.

Didn’t really think about it to be honest. We walked from Ellysion.”

Her presence at family dinners is required now, she understands, yes?”

She’s still getting used to Ivie. Although she did followed Ivie’s instructions to Antique for Jazz night,” Luna exhaled in delight.

You know Ivie is basically obsessed with you both, yeah?”

Why are you saying that like its a bad thing?”

Its not bad…per se, but…Ivie keeps using the way you look at each other to look at me. Its disconcerting.”

What, with devoted, worshipful love?” Galla chuckled.

I know,” Luna scrunched up her face, “its pathetic, but I can’t help it.”

It tots is,” Archer laughed, “and nope, you’re hopeless.”

She…” Luna smiled, “is insidiously subtle. You know she stocks Bumblebee Love in the fridge? She got me these stupid fluffy giant slippers that are just perfect…”

Seriously, cute as,” Archer fumbled with Luna’s hand.

No, its not….” Luna whined, “…you know her housekeeper washed stuff I left these and now I’ve a shelf in the closet? And now she’s bubblegum body wash. Ivie…have you been selling me out?”

Ivie giggled, “No…”

Ivie…” warning crept into Luna’s voice.

I helped her with her shopping list…you said to help her…”

Ivie, you are so precious…” Galla joined in Archers laughter.

Galla, this is not funny!”

Oh, but it is disgustingly awesome…” Galla snorted, “Ivie is trolling your love life…”

Why are you three jumping over the couches?” called Abraxas as another jumped over, running from the third chasing.

Because we want…” one of them called back, until the rest was drowned out by three bodies physically collected against each other through the door and into the kitchen.

Abraxas stood with Jamere and followed them. Chloe stood to do the same when Luna rushed out, covered in cream, followed rapidly by Archer, Abraxas and Galla all covered in cream and sundry. Luna snuggled into the back of Chloe, who felt dampness soak through her shirt.

Did you just get cream all over me?”

Maybe. Also. Honey.”

In an all to close amount of time, Chloe was surrounded as Archer squished cream into Galla, and five bodies snaked around each other, laughter bubbling around them.

You cant hide behind Chloe forever, L…”

Does that happen at every dinner?” Chloe asked as they walked back to Ellysion. She had changed into some of Luna’s clothes, left in Archer’s room.

Its ridiculously how beautiful you are even in my clothes.”

You’re being entirely too flattering and completely evasive.”

No, things like that rarely happen,” Luna said quietly, “they were kind of teasing me about you, so I distracted them…”

Chloe pulled her slightly to a stop and drew her in, kissing her, ferocious, “You started a food fight because of me?”

Hmmm,” Luna hummed against her lips.

Chloe drew them in again, whispering, “You’re so deliciously perfect.”

Let’s continue this at home,” Luna drew her the last two blocks.

The penthouse is so silent it hurt until Chloe trailed Luna towards the bed, lowed her down while pulling her out of her shirt and unclasped her bra to throw them both to the floor. As she whispered her lips across pearly flesh, she hooked her thumbs into the pants and underwear to drag them down Luna’s legs until they, too, fell to the floor. Luna moaned, straining against Chloe’s caress until their faces were once again together. Luna looked into Chloe’s darkened eyes, arching her back as fingers pushed and curled inside of her.

Chloe moved to the soft of Luna’s neck and began another descent until Luna whimpered, “No, no, stay with me, please.”

Chloe moved back up to link their lips, connected by all the emotion she held over the day against Luna, whispering against them, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Brushing her thumb against the swollen bundle of nerves, she pushed harder and quickened her pace. Lifting her eyes to fall into Luna’s she glided into the galaxy they contained, their bodies shuddering uncontrolled together. Chloe gathered Luna up, sheltering her close as possible.

When her breathing regulated, Luna muttered, “Chloe…”

Chloe caressed Luna’s bottom lip before kissing her, quelling any fear and moved her lips, fluttering down soft skin, over the pulse escaping Luna’s neck, into the sharpness in the blades curving in her arms.

Chloe,” insistent, Luna’s voice drifted.

Let me….please….” Chloe murmured against her skin.

Luna felt Chloe taste every scar, worship every anomaly, unstrung herself against such love. Chloe made her feel she could fall apart any second and it was glorious. Life on the edge where she is no longer alone and it exhilarated her. After, Chloe’s head lies on Luna’s chest and she hears the sound of her heartbeat thrumming, a whisper of her good fortune. She finds how beloved this sound is as it lulls her to sleep with steady, unwavering precision, draws her unconsciousness out and leaves her dreaming into space.

It is Ivie that leads her astray again, diverts her driver from her apartment and her into the Pacer basement by the side door, codes and directions supplied by Ivie’s insistence of her attendance at Archer’s apartment. She stopped after crossing the threshold of the door, to look at three bodies in the open space, swinging wildly, waving their arms over their head and turning rapidly in one hundred and eighty degree angles, light shimmered around them, bathing them in halos as their performances mimicked movements closer to ballet then anything gamer related.

Galla called out first, then Archer before Luna turned and broke through the viscous light stream and positively bounds up to Chloe, slipping a kiss onto her lips, “Hi, what are you doing here?”

Um. Ivie?”

Ivie?” Archer called, giggling a question rather than in warning, “Hay, I was winning?”

Ivie!” Galla laughed, “Outrageous!”

Coffee?” Luna mumbled against Chloe’s lips.

Yes.”

Okay,” Luna lead her back to the kitchen and released her over to Galla and Archer as she walked over to the machine. Ivie dropped down out of the light stream and flickered into her usual human form, looking bashful.

Chloe snorted at her, “What game you were playing?”

Kind of dance battle cross composer cross orchestra mixing, its kind of difficult to explain. I mean, really, its evolved over time. Kind of maybe musical scrabble twister?”

Sounds…terrifying actually.”

Only to ones who have never played, I guess,” Galla smile turned predatory, “like all games by corrupted by family. Unrecognisable to the uninitiated…”

Galla. Coffee.”

Galla’s head snapped around at the call, before she sat down with Archer on stools surrounding Chloe, as Luna pushed mugs across, “You should be initiated. You followed Ivie here, so family games it is.”

Chloe took a sip, swallowing shallowly, “Okay.”

Hungry?”

Yes.”

Excellent. Jamere sent enough food to sink us all in,” Luna left her steaming mug and waked over to the fridge, pulling out a container and plating food while Chloe followed her efficient, precise movements.

You can’t really help yourself, can you?” Galla shouldered her gently.

Huh?” Chloe turned, shuttling her cup on to the bench.

Watching her,” Archer shifted on her seat, answering Chloe.

Chloe blushed slightly, “No, I guess not.”

Hell, I guess you two can be a team, then.”

Luna pushed food towards them all, “Of course you would shaft me with the newbie.”

But you have me,” Ivie broke in, “I don’t want to be on my own team.”

Okay. Well, at least with Ivie, I’ve a chance,” Chloe agreed.

Singular mode for us, double for them,” Archer confirmed as they shared the light and easy lunch, parleying coffee until the inevitable match between them.

Chloe became quickly lost within the game, confused yet pleasured by the intricacies of the game. As they finished there second round, Ivie called dinner.

What time is it?” Chloe asked.

Seven,” Ivie shrugged.

We’ve been playing for….”

Four hours.”

This is unexpected…” Chloe frowned, “…I lost track…”

Your schedule was clear,” Ivie said as Archer giggled, “and I’m monitoring your work correspondence. I would tell you if anything came up.”

Luna and Galla joined in the laughter at Chloe’s flummoxed face.

Giggling already?” in their revelry, all four had missed the hissing of the door, “before dinner?”

Abra, Jamere,” a chorus of voices called.

Ladies,” Chloe nodded.

You look flushed,” Jamere noticed Chloe’s face as she walked up, “Girls, what did you do?”

Zee Zee.”

Abra snorted, “Even I don’t know how to play that.”

Yes, I’m not sure I do, either,” Chloe laughed, “thank you Ivie for leading me here.”

As Archer, Luna and Chloe began unpacking the bags Jamere and Abraxas had dumped on the table. Galla lifted her head to see Chloe’s face, “Jamere always feeds three hundred.”

Oh…” Luna looked up from opening containers, “…yes, Jamere feeds an army.”

Can you blame her? You three eat like black holes, greedy in your hunger,” Abraxas drew glasses down, having decanted the wine already, “give Chloe time and she’ll learn all of our idiosyncrasies.”

Archer shrugged, grabbing plates, taking them to the table, “She has all the time.”

As Chloe joined the five at the table, Luna’s hand appeared on her thigh, weighted comfort squeezing, it certainly felt like it.

Kai finally succeeded in getting them all to the new Tequila bar, Arantxa, subtly lit with a golden hue and spring loaded dance floor. Reaching Ash’s in the early dark hours, sweaty from dancing and dizzy from tequila, seeking comfort food and for their night to never end.

Kai asked, “So, have you been to the new restaurant, Karaleigh’s?”

Yes,” Luna mumbled through a mouthful of eggs.

Jamere walked in from the dark and scanned the interior, bare of interesting customers before she hit the table of chattering friends. She pulled the jacket and gloves off, dumped them behind the bar with her bag and walked over, “Hey guys.”

Jamere. Starting ever earlier,” Galla stood to hug her.

Yes, when will demands,” shrugging, “Chloe, Luna, Kai, Gerome.”

Nice to see you again,” Chloe nodded.

And you,” the night server brought coffee over to Jamere as she grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the table, “So, where have you all been?”

Arantxa.”

That new tequila bar? How was it?”

Fine. They’ve a springy floor. Busy,” Galla said, smiling as she shrugged, “Why haven’t taken me to Karaleigh’s?”

Karaleigh’s is swanky. They use produce only from those types of places,” Gerome rolled his eyes, “They’ve no sense of community.”

Hey! Westwood Manor is one of the their suppliers,” Chloe laughed.

So, have you been?” Kai asked of Jamere.

Both Chloe and Luna smiled as Jamere nodded her head.

Hmmm, dating as a group?” Kai looked aghast, mocking them. Chloe and Luna shrugged as Jamere laughed, “Please, Kai, there more interesting things inside of the house.”

Yes, but you can also do certain things in public…” Gerome said.

Of course there are,” Jamere said “Whatever would I do if you two weren’t here, stretching the limitations of my business. I don’t have an adult entertainment license.”

You didn’t tell me you had a second job….” Luna said, joining the laughter until they were all gasping for breath, the communal nature of comfort lifting them all.

By the time they finished their food, and contented with coffee, the black sky edged towards a soupy grey. Jamere walked over to the kitchen to begin her work day as Luna, Chloe, Galla, Gerome and Kai drifted to their apartments to sleep.

VII Lake St. Clair

Why is it so early,” Luna mumbled as she relinquished to being awake, “we weren’t out that late.”

I think it was what we did when we got back…”

Why, Chloe,” Luna rolled over, smiling salaciously, kissing the warm instep of Chloe’s neck, running her hand tauntingly over the hip underneath her fingertips, feeling Chloe’s heart beat raise beneath her pursuing lips.

Chloe moaned soft and raised her hip, responding to Luna’s insistent invocation heating her body. Unfurling to each other, whispering truths between moans, drifting further into merging their bodies until an alarm shrilled across the room. Luna shifted as Chloe’s body slowly twisted away and pushed herself from the bed to attend the beeper. Luna sighed and moved off the bed and into the bathroom, pushing the control panel starting the shower. By the time the water relaxed her frustrated muscles, Chloe joined her.

I’ve been called in,” kissing Luna on the shoulder, running her arms around her.

Okay,” Luna smiled at the slippery touch, “know when you’ll be off?”

Not at this point, will call you when I can?”

Absolutely. Call Ivie if I don’t pick up.”

What are you doing Monday?”

No plans.”

I’ve an idea and three days that I’m off and not on call. Think that you could get away?”

Yes, most likely, I’ll check with Ivie. Why?”

Excellent…” Chloe mumbled against her neck, “…road trip.”

Where are we going?”

Can Galla, Kai and Gerome get time off?”

Where? Yeah, probably, why, what about them?” Luna smiled, turning within the embrace.

The manor. I know Kai and Galla are important to you. There’s no reason we cannot all be…its not a choice between them and me. It’s felt like that lately, you’ve been balancing the scale between us. It shouldn’t have to be a choice.”

Luna considered what she is saying, “If its a balancing act, I’ve crashed.”

So. All of us. Three days off?”

Okay, sounds perfect,” Luna said, stepping out of the shower, and grabbing a towel, followed by Chloe. She loved the overnight trip they had taken, loved the peace of the Manor. She wanted to see Caro, Quin and Arlo again. Kai, Luna knew, would love it too.

Dressing and walking out of the penthouse to the street, a car waited for Chloe. She kissed Luna before reminding her, “Call you when I finish?”

I’m on at midday. Galla and I’ll be having dinner after if you wanted to come.”

Okay, I’ll keep it in mind. I’m not sure I’ll be up for much.”

Chloe…”

I don’t know what I am facing yet. Say hi to Galla?”

Will do. I’m on the same shift tomorrow. After?”

Yes. See you around nine-ish?”

Yes,” Luna leaned in kissing Chloe before she slid into the car and glided into traffic.

Luna walked up the street, aiming for the monorail. The grey sky casting steel blue throughout the mid-morning habitation of the cement streets. She did have enough time to go home but its easier and simpler to change at Pacer.

She skipped three stops on the monorail and come out onto the street Pacer dominated, lucky for always keeping extra clothes at work. The clothes she kept at Chloe’s were more relaxed and comfortable, incompatible for Pacer. She slipped down the side of Pacer and continued on to Ash’s to gather something to eat. Luna took her reserved seat in the corner of the bar and pulled her mobile out to see a text waiting from Chloe, “I love you.”

What are you smiling about?”

Luna lifted her head, “Hi Jamere. Nothing,” as she slipped her mobile back into her bag.

Chloe?”

Yep…”

Would you like to eat today?”

Okay, Okay,” Luna laughed, hands up in defeat, “She’s invited Galla, Kai and Gerome to the manor.”

To the place she took you on for the weekend getaway at Lake St Clair?”

Yes,” Luna flushed slightly, recalling the feeling of peace at the lake mansion, “She did. But just…you know, overnight, left on Saturday, came back Sunday.”

Family dinner time, I think,” Jamere smiled at the buoyant energy emanating from Luna. “I’ll bring her to the next one?” Luna sighed, “but, be gentle. She may’ve met you all, but I’m not sure she is ready for all of us together.”

That should do just fine,” Jamere handed Luna a brown bag with sandwiches.

Thanks,” Luna skipped out and back to Pacer to organise her time off with Ivie before shift.

So, where we eating?” Galla asked

Close to home?”

Sahntyna it is then. No Chloe tonight?”

She’s still at work. Some complicated case,” Luna shrugged, “On that note, would you like to come Lake St. Clair on Monday? Three day getaway.”

To that mansion she has out there?”

Yup, Chloe, Kai, Gerome, you and me.”

Is she crazy?” Galla snorted slipping among the meagre crowd and into the carriage, “Why?”

Because Chloe wants to. Kai is my brother and you are my closest friends and I’ve been neglecting you. I want us all to at least be familiar if not friends.”

This sounds like a serious attempt at integration.”

Yes. Jamere said I have to bring her to the next family dinner.”

I’d love to. I’ll call Ivie.”

Already did. You’re good.”

Sneaky, assuming I’d say yes.”

Luna shrugged, smiled and shifted out of the carriage, down the stairs, and towards the neon glow of Sahntyna. Walking in they saw Kai and Gerome in the back corner booth, midway through their meal.

What are you doing here?”

Looks like the trouble’s arrived,” Kai said around a mouthful of paella.

Trouble was already here,” Galla pushed him over in the booth and picked up some chips.

Luna sat next to Gerome and pulled sauce drenched chips from his plate, “how do you feel about a long weekend away in Lakes St Clair? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”

Long weekend? Chloe’s place?”

Yes, Chloe’s place, Westwood Manor,” smiling at her oldest friend, “Simply a few days away.”

All of us five? Sounds suspiciously delightful. How we getting there?”

Chloe has a car,” Luna finished the chips and started fishing around for Kai’s.

She doesn’t really know us….hey, grab that waitress, as you ate all of my chips,” Gerome sighed. Luna shrugged and called the roller skate wearing waiter over and ordered extra food for herself and Galla.

Kai looked at Luna. Watching her as he fractured subtly, his light flickering in the shadows of darkness. The happiness pervading her was alien. He rapidly became overwhelmed with old fears, encouraged by the memories of the voices screaming during those first nights.

Luna stood, always, to face the world and adapt to it. She had, chameleon like, adjusting to exploit favour, learnt how to remain unseen in a city with too many watchful eyes, how to manipulate the weakness in others to her advantage. Galla was the first person she met she had not been able to bend to her will, and this made them friends.

Kai searched for the power he felt on their last night at home, a pervasive sense of destiny and failed when, here, separated when placed into care, all fate was off. While Luna evolved and grew into her power, Kai relinquished his too a world intent on defeating him. He failed to thrive, stayed too long in Luna’s shadow, siphoning her power and protection for comfort. Looking past his own turmoil, Chloe seemed perfect to Kai when he felt her as keenly as Luna obviously did. The quartet sat deep into Wednesday night, highlighted in the neon glare.

The next night Luna and Chloe lay in the living room eating Chinese out of cardboard containers, the muted glow of the television flicking light to the room, “Why are you really taking all of us?”

Because connections shouldn’t be disregarded. Kai, Galla and you’ve too much of a history and I want too much of a future. Archer was, of course, invited, yet Ivie mentioned that she declined. Too far away.”

Luna sighed contently, “Yes. Okay. That makes sense, I guess. But 3 days in the Lake’s District?”

You’ve been spending time with me at the expense of your friends. No reason why we cannot all complete the circle. It’ll be fine. And fun.”

But….” Luna struggled against the inclusion of her love and her life, failing to understand how far she ventured into this love that she was renouncing the life she fought to have made, “…Chloe.”

Luna, it is simply just…We. Us. Our.” Chloe smiled, shrugged and nodded as she reached out her hand to trail it down Luna’s face, “You are here. I do not fear for anything.”

Chloe…”

That first week, you know, when I saw you at three every morning?”

Hmm.”

What did you do those three days in-between that and the date on Monday?”

I worked the Winter Solstice Festival.”

Played at the festival?”

Yes. Celebration of life and death. Galla and I played. We also play the Summer Solstice Festival.”

What did you play?”

Violin.”

Was this for Smash Punch?” for by now Chloe knew Luna did nothing without charitable purpose.

Yes, it was. Always.”

Why are you with me?”

Luna sat up, shifted to look in Chloe’s eyes, “What do you mean?”

Chloe tugged gently, pulled her back into her, “You do everything with intent. I seem a little off plan is all.”

Luna relented to Chloe’s persistence and laid her head back on Chloe’s shoulder, “You are definitively off plan. But much of my life here has been off plan. Actually being here at all is in fact extremely off plan,” Luna snuggled in as Chloe wrapped her arms tighter, “but you broke me out of being so dedicated to everything else but myself, I guess.”

This is a good thing?” Chloe murmured against her temple.

No. Of course not. Change is an awful, terrible thing…”Luna squirmed in Chloe’s embrace as she giggled, “Why do you want to know?”

I was just thinking if I hadn’t come in to find Beethoven, or come back at three in the morning, or asked you for the first date. How terrible it would it have been not to have you?”

Luna shifted her head up and kissed Chloe, “You are incredibly sweet you are.”

You need to know how important you are to me, how serious I am about you. I love you,” now she could say it, she couldn’t stop.

Chloe…” Luna’s voice obscure as she leaned in, kissing her briefly again before returning her head to the perfect space in the crest of Chloe’s neck.

If only you could see yourself how I see you, you would see how beautiful you are,” Chloe tenderly continued, caressing Luna’s back, exquisitely exploring all of her details.

Are we getting there the same way?” Luna softly spoke, feeling overwhelmed as the pieces final came together, loving the soft touch caressing her skin, gentle as whispering wings from a butterfly.

Yes. They can all stay here the night before or we can pick them up on the way through. When are you all working?” Chloe accepted the diversion.

Galla and I get off at three am, Kai and Gerome at six.”

So, your all going to sleep all the way there?”

Probably,” Luna smiled, “I’ll tell them to dump their bags here so we can just pick them up on the way out,” mumbling as she finished her food.

Makes sense,” Chloe stood and grabbed the empty food containers, Luna stumbling to help, before slipping into their bathroom for their evening ritual. Luna’s favourite was the shower, carnivorous space she could do as she willed, pursued flesh exposed, water causing slippery bodies to flush together.

Finished, Luna pulled the blankets up and snuggled into Chloe’s body, pressing her lips against bare skin, “I never let myself have a spare moment. Ever. I couldn’t. If I had one single second, I would think and then I would’ve fallen apart.”

Was it that bad?”

No. But I could never forgive myself. Kai refused to speak. Gretchen was overwhelming. By then, everything had fallen apart and twisted into each other, warped how I felt about everything. I rejected opportunities out of spite. I…” Chloe felt the warmth of tears collecting in the hollow of her throat, “I couldn’t reject you.”

Chloe felt the chasm snap, breaking her wide open and spilling out of her. Luna’s voice is heavy as she said, “I cared until I couldn’t. Galla noticed, pushed me into confronting how I didn’t negotiate my reality. And then there was you. Caring. I had always chosen to be busy because it was easier. Until you offered me…you, I guess.”

Chloe felt hot breath tickling across her throat and she swallowed hard before saying, “I always fought everything. You made me different. For you, that first time I saw you, I wanted you and wanted to fight that I felt that. Instead, insanely so, I submitted to pursuing this. I was terrified, knowing that you could say no. But, here you are, a revelation.”

Luna shuddered, surrendering to this feeling of improbable, decadent love, “You are my dream before the dawn, yet still you stay gold with the rising of the sun.”

Chloe leaned in, drifting into a kiss as light as heaven, weaponising this sentimentality held between them. Luna leaned forward, meeting her lips and falling deeper into their kiss. Luna realising that better than being loved is loving, and encompassing them both in words she could not say but show. Trembling, she kissed down Chloe’s neck, across skin stretching in pleasure and her tongue began to trace lace, teasing the wetness soaking through.

Whimpering drifted down to Luna, encouraging her exploration, her lips burned down Chloe’s body until she was blooming beneath her. Moving up just a couple of inches, her lips murmured across the ribbon trimmed pantie line as Chloe shivered when her teeth made contact. Luna peeled down the lace, pulling them away from the body she desired and kissed her way back up the leg to bury her face in luscious sweet taste of Chloe.

Anticipation compressed the next three days into laughter filled fun. At the end of their shift, Galla and Luna took the town car Chloe insisted on sending for them to her apartment, where they played games, too excited to sleep until Chloe woke by alarm and dragged herself over to the excited friends, “Morning Girls.”

Morning. Shower?” Luna asked.

Chloe vaguely nodded, the alarm still buzzing around in her head. Luna nodded at Galla and went to shower and dress with Chloe but was quick enough to head back to the kitchen to prepare breakfast burrito, easy to take in the car.

Hay, G, use the bathroom through there.”

Blue room?”

Yup.”

Kay, thanks.”

They fumbled through the rest of the getting ready before the three went down to the apartments basement car-park, the car already stacked with their bags. Chloe, driving, asked Luna for directions to Marlene’s and pulled up just after six, the car full of Galla and Luna’s energy.

Kai and Gerome scrambled into back seats and collapsed against the back rests, “Well, that’s one shift I’m happy to leave behind.”

That bad?”

No one good goes to a strip club on a Sunday night.”

Ew.”

Yup.”

The sun shone off the purple river. Raptor City was built hard against a river twenty three kilometres from an ocean. The water flowed from the deep heart of the country, hidden tablelands and cavernous underground caves. The last three kilometres of Violet River were muddy tributaries crossing purple veined swamp trees. There’s still no explanation as to why the water threw a violet shade.

They chatted aimlessly enough for half an hour before gradually each one drifted off into an uncomfortable slumber, half slumped against the cool, chilled glass and left Chloe driving on alone. The early morning city traffic graduated to the empty silence of country highways. Only a three hour drive, Chloe could handle the soft twitches of dreaming friends.

Pulling up to the house into a circled gardened roundabout she tooted the horn. Three bodies collected out of the door with excited smiles, “Chloe.”

Arlo,” a swift hug, “Caro,” until, “Quin,” the four of them laughing as Luna stirred with the breeze, struggling against the sleep pulling her underwater. Chloe turned back to the car as Luna mumbled “Chloe?”

Hi,” Chloe walked around the passenger door and pulled it open as Luna slipped out into her arms stretching into the hug under the sunlight, unfurling like a cat. Luna stumbled against Chloe as her spine snapped back in and Chloe kissed her laughing, overwhelmed at how quickly this beauty has hijacked her heart, scrambled all the signals and rewired her brain.

Luna kissed back, twisting out of her arms to turn into the car, reached over the seat and pushed Galla, “Hey, G, time to see sunshine.”

Ehhhh,” Galla resisted waking by thumping Kai and Gerome.

Luna giggled as she turned back, stretched again before moving to hug the three women, “Ladies.”

Luna,” three voices spoke in unison, laughing, pointing at the car, “You did that on purpose.”

Gerome crawled out after Galla while Kai, leaning against Gerome, is jarred awake as he hit the seat. He stumbled from the car, stretching out his arms and stamping his feet awake. Luna turned from the women and gestured at them, “Galla, Kai, Gerome.”

Turning in recognition of their names, Luna said, “Arlo, Quin, Caro, and yes, I did.”

The eight stood silent for a moment, shaking off sleep and excitement, unknown elements with the love for Chloe and Luna stringing threads between all of them.

Hi,” all smiling at each other awkwardly.

Let’s get those bags in,” Quin said.

Galla stretched following her to the boot, replying, “Sure, as long as it gets us out of this sun.”

Luna, distracted by Chloe, turned to say, “Did someone say bags?”

Yes,” Arlo moved to the back of the car, the rest swirling around to the back end while Chloe released the catch. Galla, Luna, Kai and Gerome grabbed their own bags as Arlo, Carol and Quin extracted the shopping bags.

Galla, guys, come with me. I’ll show you to your rooms, as long as you all don’t go back to sleep,” Chloe said.

Okay, but we get to eat soon, right?” Kai smiled.

Yup,” Luna laughed, “that burrito was lucky it took you this far.”

Silence,” Kai swung his bag playfully towards Luna, “for we need sustenance.”

Well, then you better follow me quickly,” Chloe took Kai and Gerome to their room in the right wing of the third floor and showed Galla to hers across the hall, and after confirming they all remembered the way back down, left them.

I will see you all downstairs,” as she led Luna on to the left wing of the hall suite.

Luna put her bags down, Chloe embraced her immediately, knowing Luna’s precocity for waking up, “You okay?”

Hmmm. Yes.” Luna squeezed tighter, melting into the warmth, the stillness between them changed, mutated against their silence, drifting to places both of them could inhabit. Peaceful, Luna thought, peace she had never encountered, at least not in this way.

Luna. What is it?”

Nothing, really,” Luna buried her face into Chloe’s neck, “I like it here.”

Unsure of where she meant in her arms or at the manor, Chloe’s voice soft, imbued with love, asked, “Hungry?”

I guess,” Luna gently kissed the pulse beating under Chloe’s skin as she drew back.

So am I,” Chloe reached out for Luna’s hand, entwining their fingers.

She knew how completely monumental her love for Luna is, that she desired her terrifyingly so, desperately so, and they are in a place they could both afford to show their feelings, where she could exhibit her devotion. She still feels love is a terribly inaccurate representation of how she feels, “Let’s go.”

Walking down the stairs, holding comfort with each other and smiling at the raucous laughter drifting from the kitchen as the group attempted to make sandwiches. Chloe and Luna joined, smelling the multi-layered scents of home. Luna tightened her grip on Chloe’s hand, feeling the gravity of finding her home among the wreckage of her life.

The eight of them together combined over food freshly made. Quin, Caro and Arlo, this iconic apex triumvirate, melted into such a flawless symphony together and even Chloe in awe of them. Their relationship created a pervasive sense of calm beauty that infiltrated the guests, diffused their demeanour.

The day expanded around them as much as inside of them ans they wandered the groves, and swam in the dual temperatured lake, in-between the sun warmed upper layers and chilled, icy lower layers, eight bodies bobbing up and down, voices and splashes intermingled in the open air. They all flowed together around the day, enjoying the expanse of the house and the lake while the world spun outside of them.

The daylight of the second found Luna walking the path out to the lake, Galla to the forest and Kai and Gerome ventured to Miller’s Inn. Chloe sat on the couch, over stuffed and soft, confident, relaxed in love. Quin, lying across the sofa, kicked out beyond the full satisfaction of lunch, turned her head to the side and looked over to Chloe, “She’s still delightful.”

I know.”

They’re young.”

Yes. But ravaged enough for all of us.”

Gerome seems the odd one out.”

Yes. But only because he is not as mangled as the rest of us.”

Probably,” Quin laughed, “you two are insufferably sweet together.”

Chloe looked out towards the lake, contemplating, “She’s filled that blank space. I don’t know how else to describe it…everything that’s me has an exceptionally exaggerated value. My education, my wealth. She is this enigma, the single entity not exaggerated. Her loss would be so extravagantly fatal. All else blurs and crumbles into insignificance. She shines against all of those dark places I carry in my heart. She is why I wake up in the morning. I think of her constantly, even when we’re together. “

I can see it. You are worthy, you know, you are enough. Even if she is part of some secret hipster criminal underworld,” Quin leaned back after shuffling the pillows behind her.

They certainly look that way, don’t they,” Chloe laughed, shrugging against the emotion overwhelming her, her voice low “…I guess we’re so unexpected.”

It usually is. No one expects it.”

How did you get it?” even though Chloe saw it happen and they had had this conversation before, perspective always a fabulous thing.

I didn’t. I was the last to know. Caro was…” Quin waved her hands around, “Caro noticed our love in the silence, noticed before either of us our potential together, how our movements sang to each other and bound us all together, love deeply forged. Caro raised Arlo to us, extending our enclave for the three of us. Caro was certain, quelled any anxiety we had about a trilogy of love. She wrapped us three together, enfolding all of us together. There is nothing else we wanted, settled as we are into desire, love weaved through us, passions pursued, our tranquillity was…” Quin sighed, “…Still felt like a surprise. Both times. Now, they would probably say the same, that it was unexpected and a surprise. Yet, here the three of us are. In love. Still.”

I guess,” Chloe smiled, “You three have always just been.”

No. Us four have always been. Everything else is just surface story. We may be clubbing at our half-century, but we’re all finally the people we are meant to be, more solid, cohesive and together.”

Galla left the stone home soon after lunch on this second day, willing herself to walk under the coolness of the canopy. Shades of green over layers of brown and a sedate sense of dampness. A sharp, soft crack behind her made her turn.

Hi,” Caro said. She held two baskets in her hand, and offered one out to Galla, “Interested?”

Yes,” Galla took the basket, “What are we looking for?”

Dinner,” Caro indicated Galla to follow, walking deeper into the forest.

Almost all of their food is produced at the farm and Caro preferred to sell the excess at the farmers market. Quin created heavenly concoctions from other portions, mixing chilli mushrooms, lime apple preserves and creating tastes they all loved. It was Arlo who knew what she could do, knew these things were definitively marketable.

How do you know what’s okay to eat?”

I cultivate it.”

OK…” Galla placed her hand against a trunk and steadied her herself while negotiating the incline.

Intentionally tilling by creating farm land gives you versatility to grow things not naturally grown, a chance to encourage mutated growth. I choose not to do that. I grow what can and what should be grown here. We’ve an intentionally small production, as we never wanted to be a commercial farm.”

You’re popular for a non-commercial venture.”

It wasn’t the plan we wanted to be self-sufficient,” Caro paused and turned, looked at the stone manor, the centrepiece to this flowing forest bloom, eyes unfocused.

Only Caro seemed to remember where all the growth is and when to extract the delicacies, only she attuned to the play of the seasons. All her life she had been. before continuing, “Some things are grown by allowing the earth it’s own time frame, allowing the natural heart to bloom. There is nothing grown here that couldn’t find its place in the eaves of trees, in the cracks of the bark, along the boroughs or nestled within the dark, moist dirt fed by decaying leaves.”

Have you always wanted this,” Galla shrugged, gestured around, “wanted to be a gardener?”

She refocused and turned towards Galla, “I was raised in a mansion by the sea. The salty breeze always followed me, highlighting the ice in my hair and making the hollow colour in my eyes stand out. I was the twelfth generation to live there in a long line of wealthy heritage and breeding. I was meant to be a lawyer, but I was the eight child of an overzealous mother, wanting to make up for an absent, industrialist husband. This became a gift, allowing me to escape the banality of inheriting my family estate and be constrained by legacies of expectations, I don’t miss the sea in this forest,” Caro pulled at a tree root, he voice lost in the breeze, hustling through the trees as Galla understood she was talking about more than simply the forests, “we wanted our own world. We didn’t want the false positive reality offered. We wanted…” Caro stopped and shrugged.

Galla looked at the shadows dancing with the afternoon, softly completed Caro’s sentiment “…to feel more than what you were told you should feel.”

Caro looked at Galla, observed the young, scared face before answering, “Yes. To feel. To know.”

Why here?”

Chloe hasn’t said? Can you grab those?” Caro pointed to edged mushrooms, spawned in the recess of tree roots.

Galla climbed up the slight embankment and gently pulled the storm grey cups, sheltering them in the wicker basket. Standing to brush dirt against her pants, she continued along a path set by Caro, quickly adding, “She may have told Luna.”

We all met back at school. It was one of those where rich parents leave their children when they become too old to be cute yet to young to be useful. That age where its better to be locked away then to get up to any scandalous behaviour,” She stopped and kneeled down to pull out buried carrots, thin crystalline green tops shuddering in the breeze.

My father caused the scandal, drinking at a business function, drove the three hours home, and closer to home then not, hit a local and killed him. He lasted a year, ashamed and broken, before taking his own life. I became a pariah when I returned to school after this, the legacy of my father sent gossip filtering down to school friends. I could never escape my name, not the way I look,” Caro swallowed, “I’m obviously a Xanthe, we all have the same sharp cheekbones, glacial eye colour and ice white hair. It is so much the dominant family trait that my siblings are virtually indistinguishable from each other, to anyone outside the family.”

Galla kept quiet, waiting for the soft cadence of Caro’s voice to continue, “I was excluded for the first time because of my family rather than included due to it. I was lucky to attend boarding school far enough away to only return to the house during the summer holidays. The four of us were all different. Strange. Excluded somehow. That’s how we became friends. What I could do is choose the family I wanted, and I did. From what I can gather, how you, Luna and Kai chose each other. Mutual trauma.”

Caro delicately reached up and plucked greens from behind bark hollow which, falling to the ground as the protection was no longer needed, landed in a gentle whispered thud before her voice lilted once more, “Quin came out here, working the summer after graduation. She found this place in ruin and when Chloe and I visited, she showed us. The Manor was a devastation, and we all fell in love with it. Quin stayed and turned this place into what it is. It took me a couple of years to move out here, where I began cultivating the garden. Quin and I…” Caro paused to kneel to the ground and began digging, fingers probing into earth, pulling out beetroot, “In that corner, between those two trunks. Dig there.”

Galla drifted between the trunks and imitating Caro, caressed the ground, shifted the dirt around, and began excavating. Caro’s voice again drifted the divide, as she stood basket in one hand, brushing the excess dirt off with the other, “When you find home, you stay. The grove is down here.”

Luna walked barefoot from the house down to the jetty, and swung her feet as she sat at the end. Westwood Manor both busy and delectable in its tranquillity. The natural noise filtered from everywhere around her and it gave her a peace she hadn’t felt since Tempenka. She knew she irrevocably lived forward, yet can only remember backwards. This place was softer, woodier, richer. Tempenka was grassier, drier, duller. Yet both swayed Luna’s physical memory triggering each other, the past and the current, shuffling within her like a deck of cards, looping time inside of itself. Westwood Manor stood in stone behind her, blended into the sky, slumbering against the earth.

Arlo slipped down to the jetty and sat next to Luna. Relaxing silence nestled in around the two as they mimicked each others slow arch leg swing. Luna spun her fingers through seeds carried upon the wind, Arlo waited.

I missed this. There is silence here unlike the city.”

Yes,” Arlo looked out upon the lake, watching pale arms unfurling, fingers drifting, “Chloe said that you were raised on a farm?”

Yes,” Luna folded her insect thin arms back into her body and rested her hands to her lap, absolute stillness, “I forgot how quiet it is outside of the city. Memory is a funny thing — one insignificant detail can trigger others.”

Bad? Good?”

Both,” Luna remained still, “as everything usually is.”

This silence is gentle between them as Arlo asked, “Why does Galla have those scars?”

A car accident when she was a child. She exchanged her parents for those,” Luna’s voice reflected a loss not her own, but one she held for her friend.

She doesn’t have anyone?”

She has me and Archer, Kai. She has herself.” Luna opened her arms and showed her palms, offering what she had, smiling sadly as she did so.

Yes. She does.”

Like you’ve Chloe,” Luna stated, understanding their relationship beyond what could ever be told.

Of course we do.”

Luna sighed, tilted her head, “What is Arlo?”

I was named after a folk singer.”

Why a folk singer?”

Chloe mentioned you’ve a connection with names. It means my mother listened to his particular music a lot while she was pregnant with me.”

What about Quin and Caro?”

Caro, after her grandmother. Quin after her father. Chloe said you know what our names mean. How our names are a jigsaw fitting together.”

Okay. Like Gerome was named after his father. Yes, names represent the pattern binding us together.”

Why are names so important?”

Names connected to who you are and to who everyone else is and anchored to both your presence and destiny in this world. My name means Moon of the Celestial Sphere. Kai’s means Tree with Deep Earthen Roots, our names balance each others, creating a harmony,” Luna subtly shifted her position, “names are the truth of who you are.”

Caro’s middle name is Celestia.”

I told you. Names connect us to the people we are meant to have in our lives, kind of prophetic,” Luna voice lilted with laughter as small pieces filled gaps that had been void for years. These three were as much part of Chloe as Chloe was of her, all of them orbited the woman in love with moons.

Gerome was counting the buildings at Miller’s Inn as Kai walked around from the end of the street, calling, “Seriously. This is amazing.”

I know,” Kai ran his hand down the stonework, looking at twelve shops standing along a quiet street.

I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Look,” Kai pointed at a glass shop as they walked over to the glazed window. A small sign hung in the recessed door with opening hours posted, “there beautiful.”

Who runs it?”

We can ask,” Kai shrugged, “Luna would love that one.”

I guess,” Gerome turned back to the street, stone cobbled in its short length, “Its like time has stopped.”

Or being regressed. The Manor brings tourists here.”

So cynical,” sighed Gerome, “for someone so temperamental. The Manor shop is in Kaxis Wood, anyway.””

Kai rolled his eyes, “the shop is closed until four. The café on the corner said it will open at three.”

That is still an hour away. Nothing will open before then.”

Should we wait or walk back?”

Walk back. We can go for another swim.”

Luna walked into the basement to find Arlo’s office with an ancient wooden potting desk and an open view to Quin’s basement space, along with a phone, only ever answered during business hours, a laptop and desk lamp. The basement Quin specifically designed to include all of their work spaces, bottles labelled and stacked into precise rows. Installed refrigerators walled along the left, close to the external stairs, filled with the chilled excess of Caro’s haul.

The trilogy shifted around each other flawless, building together a boutique, organic empire branded as luxury. Arlo was grateful the organic boxes Caro produced for the Atelier along with Quin’s Preserves had exceeded expectations in the wider population. Arlo manoeuvred them in a perfectly placed position of desire being greater than supply, when she limited the products available, and boosted there exclusivity.

Among this consuming work, Arlo noticed the subtle coil of Caro’s fingers as she constructed a place for her attention, her scent as she leaned in and changed an order. Arlo watched as Quin, unnaturally petite yet filled a room with her presence, measured and turned simple treats into flavours beyond imagination, evoking landscapes usually sequestered in dreams, she hummed lullabies, a lilted murmur of comfort underneath her breath.

Caro and Quin independently spaced their own endeavours in harmony, shifting together, creating delicacies. All of their products tasted unlike anything else, an orgasm for the palate. Within ten years, the business provided the household income, and a store opened in Kaxis Wood, enticing the tourist trade with their treats. Arlo would not provide to third party sellers, but did donate four boxes, one for each season, to charity auctions.

Hi Luna,” Arlo looked up from her paperwork, “What’s up?”

Hi Arlo,” Luna looked around, “Chloe told you anything about Smash Punch?”

A little,” Arlo shuffled some files in the back right corner of her desk, pulling out Chloe’s email, “She said something about a charity box for a gala?”

Yes. That would be it.” Luna sat in the chair Arlo indicated.

Chloe said she’s getting us tickets. We’ll bring the box in when we come in. You’ll need description and photo of completion seven days before for the program?”

Excellent. Yes. Photo and content.”

Of course,” Arlo annotated the email, included an update for the donation schedule, “Chloe said that you are the donation co-ordinator?”

Yes, first time, actually.”

How you finding it?”

Good. Usually, I’m more background prep. At most, I may play. This is much more responsibility. I love it.”

You have many items?”

Yes. We’ve regular donors. But I’ve been trying to get a bit more variety, like this is a bonus even if I didn’t get it myself,” Luna’s lopsided smile charmed Arlo.

Yes, you did. You’ve learnt the first rule if any event. Connections.”

Yup. Always a bonus. How do you guys choose where your donation goes.”

Mostly pulled out of a bag of applications. Sometimes where here of ones we want to donate to. Like Chloe and Smash.”

Thank you.”

You’re as special as she says.”

Luna scaled various shades of red, “I think you know she’s the special one.”

Absolutely,” Arlo nodded, “look at the symmetry in that.”

An open fire glowed scattered light across main living room. None of the sofa’s matched and the pillows an array of splattered colour to hide the stuffing peaking from underneath the buttons. All eight nestled within the safety of the fires yellow glow. Galla lay across some pillows, smelling the lyrical notes of the room, and observing the relationships snuggled in the room.

Kai and Gerome, their youth buzzing with tension, tangled over the floor. Luna and Chloe, rested in delightful freshness, coiled in the corner of a sofa. Caro, Quin and Arlo, a triangle shaped trilogy floating beyond the boundaries of each other and curled into contentment beyond measure. Galla felt hope, comfort in this future where love could flourish against sharp harsh reality plaguing this group. Eight voices each sang a song, melting into a syrup shaped lullaby.

Luna lay in the large bed, darkness deep with only pale moon illumination. Chloe’s arm slung over her, snuggled together, sharing the warmth of each other. Luna is so sure at this moment, so certain of their nest she feels an emotion she barely recognises: safe. She is unfamiliar with safe and its unsettling, unmooring her from inhibitions in remembering the past. Even though she is gentle as she shifts out of the bed and walks over to the windows to look out into the world, Chloe woke, feeling her absence.

The darkness filtered shadows drifting around the slight figure standing in front of the universe, as black is burned blue with the light of a thousand million tiny fires, leaving trails of light reflected off her skin, she is beyond this realm. The quarter moon cast a ghostly sanguine light. Chloe waited for her eyes to adjust as she shifted to sit up. Her soft voice drifted under the noiseless space, “Luna?”

Its so pretty here,” Luna’s murmur flattened the space between them.

What is it?”

Just thinking. When I was younger.” Luna remained still.

Chloe crossed the room and slid her arms around Luna, who leaned back into her warmth, comforted as she drifted and continued, “It was so quiet at night. We all slept in a big room together, all of us under twelve. The nursery guardians, our teachers, slept by the doors. We used to escape out of this window and go down to swim in the creek. It would’ve been very early morning, two or three. We would’ve done this when we were four or five, I guess. The creek was always freezing in the darkness. It was so much fun.”

Luna’s eyes unfocused, the curve of her mouth hovering fondly with the memory. Chloe remaining wrapped around the woman she loved, allowed her float among the memories reflected upon the surface of the lake. A short while later, when it was apparent she would not say any more, Chloe pulled Luna to their bed where Chloe drifted back to sleep in her arms.

Luna, unable to sleep, as it is too evasive in this peace, disentangled from Chloe and slipped out of the large, warm room and of the mansion into the cool pre-dawn. The path comfortably worn and smooth beneath her naked feet. The wood squeaked as she walked to the end and sat down. The steady heartbeat of Chloe asleep in the darkness is duplicitous, both an enticement and terrifying. The rhythm of her own heartbeat changed, tuned to Chloe’s source and aligned itself, until she could hear both beats rushing the sound of the sea through their bodies.

She knows she loves Chloe because her reality is defiantly better than even her dreams and she lost any desire to sleep when she could live it. The boards of the pier squeaked while the pallor of the lightning sky turned grey. Life is both waking from it’s sleep to welcome the rising star with slow haphazard grace, and beginning to sleep, feathers rustling as night faded.

You haven’t slept,” a voice behind her stated as it moved and sat next to her.

A little,” Luna shrugged and nestled her head into Chloe’s shoulder while still maintaining her view of the lake.

Tell me. Please.” Chloe’s gently evoking love, amplified echoes through chambers of them both.

It reminds me of when we were children. Kai and I. The sounds of the water in the creek. Finally understanding how to read. Morning sun rituals. How to bake bread. Beheading the ancient chickens.”

Luna quietened, stilled by the ripple of pink flooding the world, replacing the gray while an undercurrent of peach rose to kiss the underbelly of sky, “but none of its really honest. It was keeping us infantile, hidden from reality, whist pretending we knew it all. You make me a better me. These memories are sticky residues and don’t remind of home. You do. You, I find insane I want to wake up to you and when I don’t, I miss you. I find it terrifying that I want to wake up to your face. Yet. I want to. Still. Sometimes it stops me sleeping.”

You humble me every single day. I love you,” Chloe said, flushed as the gold dawn swayed over the lake and blazed the glass lake into fire.

Good,” Luna lifted her head and turned slightly to look in Chloe’s eyes, finally able to say what she felt, her tone so slick, Chloe slid right off without ever finding purchase, “Because I love you.”

There lips met as the sky completely shattered darkness into daylight.

Kai and Luna are lying like they used to, on the earth with their souls bleeding into it, soft skin touching from their shoulders to their hands, resting love. It is a sense memory from childhood they could not remember not doing. The soft noises of Lake St. Clair surrounded them as dirt scratched across their backs, the sun heating their shirtless bodies, “I’m sorry Luna. I was jealous. Am jealous.”

Why?” the lilt in her voice reflected in his, always matching.

You…you ran. I kind of followed. I never would’ve on my own. I always thought you’d have left, irrelevant of whether I followed. You didn’t need me at all. You always have this, I don’t know. Luck. You got us to the city. You got Gretchen. I got the bingo preacher. Galla was scarred and almost blinded. You, though, just went on.”

Kai, it’s still all you. You followed me. Preacher was very good to you, you just missed the comfort of Tempenka. Galla’s scars are her own. As are mine. We deserve to live, Kai. I know we were taught that outside of bounds would be cursed, but you need to grow beyond that. Challenge what we were taught. I’m not taking your jealousy.”

And I’m not giving it. I felt out on the serrated contour of reality when you ran, you carried within you the genesis of our destruction, you lost our freedom by stealing the opportunity to survive the urban decay thrust upon us, living as if we held no value or beauty or interest. We’ve always infected each other with this type of emotional contagion. I’m simply telling you it’s been hard to see you get the luck again. We fly within our own wingspan, but sometimes another flies in front of you and eases the burden. You always flew in front of me, I took your tailwind yet missed what you can see out the front. Chloe looks at you with such beauty. I see how she is with you, cusping the wind and guiding it to you.”

Glowing in the sunshine, their unease with each other always temporary, their words only part reflection of the legacy within them, their birth bond unbroken.

Kai. I don’t know. Really. But she’s something. She’s willing to love me past our pain. She isn’t just willing, she does. She does love me. Loves us. Because we are. At some point there is no…I’ve always loved lonely, because I’ve never been lonely, Kai. I’ve always had you and a destiny that is hard to outrun. We will never be those children again. She eases my pain, Kai. Please relax. She loves me because of our past and in spite of it,” Luna paused, waiting for her voice to come back, waiting for the words to assemble, “Kai. This is how the future happens, not by avoidance, but by standing. I’m standing.”

VI Locust Grove

VI LOCUST GROVE

Why don’t you live at Lake St Clair?”

They were sitting in the glasshouse, watching the sky fade to purple. Chloe knew truth fell from her lips, “Because I was afraid. I am afraid. I’m close to them, but am not one of them. They’re bound together beyond love.”

You’re not bound?”

They are themselves,” Chloe sighed, unable to explain the isolation created in being the only friend not intimate within the relationship, simply a natural consequence of them belonging exactly where they are. The three languished exquisitely around each other and were only to each other, loved beyond measure, as any gifted trilogy should.

Are you not?” Luna noticed the sorrow dancing behind Chloe’s eyes.

Because I…am myself, yes, but I’m not part of that…romantic relationship,” truth is this knife slicing between them, “after they became three, there was this this pervasive sense of life teetering on perfection. They transformed into beauty they’d been unsure they could ever feel. This intense love broke through, allowing serenity into their lives. From our disenfranchised lives and broken families, they build connections born of choice. I am, naturally, on the very edge of inclusion. I never knew how to negotiate this…feeling. Those three are as improbable as us. Yet. Still. There they are. Here we are and I am, flawed, finding myself having difficulty negotiating what everything means.”

I understand,” Luna desired Chloe, desired all that fell between their displaced souls, filling the breaches with each other, “we are both flawed. Yet. Here we are. Preferring to be with each other.”

I want to show you my twenty-four hours…’ Chloe said.

Yes?” Luna smiled, standing from the grass, “Did you factor in sleep?”

Much better than you.”

Luna smirked as she lent down and pulled Chloe up, “Really?”

Linking arms to walk down to the apartment, “We’ll need to be in the car at four.”

Seriously? That’s insane.”

It’s my twenty-four hours. You’re frequently awake that early.”

No, I’m still awake that early.”

You only allowed me three hours sleep!”

Luna laughed, “Okay, Okay, but I’ve made up for it since…”

I suppose you have,” Chloe snickered, “however, I feel we should at least attempt to get some sleep.”

The car service is waiting at the door of Ellysion. Always the same black sleek luxury, the interchangeable chauffeur opening the door seamlessly for the pair to enter. Spring caused an early morning chill and the few steps from door to door allowed a lisp of condensation upon their breath, with the buildings insulated against the damp sky from reaching the ground, street lights producing a murky grey. Luna snuggled into Chloe, wrapping her hands underneath her light coat, not even attempting to resist the urge to fall asleep.

Do you care where we’re going?” Chloe wrapping her arms around Luna in response, mumbling into her hair.

Not at all. I trust you,” Luna burrowed further in, feeling the smile leaping across Chloe’s face and settling throughout her body.

Chloe felt the weight of Luna, with its barely there warmth and is infinitely comforted as she looked out at the constantly adjusting scenery, waiting for the ghostly grey to fall beneath the yellow glow. Luna kept close for the hour trip, drifting within the sound Chloe’s heartbeat made. Chloe kissed Luna gently to pull her from her daze.

Hmmm,” Luna moaned, tracing Chloe’s arm until her hand is firmly grasped, held within Chloe’s own as her tongue traced along her bottom lip, pulling them further together, leaning into softness as the car curved left, tugging at the gravel before pulling into an open space. Colourful balloons swollen in the sky are tied against rattan baskets. Chloe pushed Luna from the car and walked them over to a clip board wielding organiser.

Imani, Chloe, two.”

Thanks, Six, the swirled multicolour,” he pointed to one a third of the way across the dark field.

Thanks,” Chloe slipped their hands together and as they walked, the hissing sound of propane gas burners firing shushed into the quiet. Several were already burned in the sky.

Ballooning?” Luna was looking at the giant bright bulbs sitting above them as they passed.

Yes,” Chloe’s eyes suddenly widened, “you’re not afraid of heights?”

No,” Luna snorted as they came to their balloon, “rainbow?”

Hey, I just booked it. It didn’t come with an option of balloon material design.”

Hello,” the operator jumped against the ground in front of them, “I’ll be your driver today, Allura.”

Hi. Chloe, this is Luna.”

You both ready to go? All the checks are done.”

Yes,” Luna nodded as she clambered into the basket, steadying Chloe as she followed, settling in before being untethered from the earth and tilting skyward. Allura watched the entire time, observing and adjusting the burn while negotiating the rise.

How spectacular,” Luna smiled, speaking against Chloe’s ear.

Really,” Chloe relaxed, “you like?”

Yes, I would never have thought of it,” Luna smiled as she moved against the edge of the basket and looked over the valley, “how long are we up here?”

Chloe moved against her, wrapping her arm into Luna’s, “About an hour. The car will pick us up where we land.”

How can the earth look so large and so small at the same time?” whispered Luna, “its magnificent and terrifying.”

Yes,” her fingers tightening around Luna’s arm, resting their bodies in full contact with one another.

Allura had that spectacular ability to be unobtrusive even in this tight space. Luna anchored herself to Chloe as she drank in the view, spiralled her turmoil into the peace this offered. Noise was a vacuum, only broken by propane. They landed in a field after an hour, the basket stuttering against the ground. Luna clambered out, turning to help Chloe, who stumbled and knocked them both over onto the ground. Luna giggled, until she was breathless.

Chloe, you’re a delight.”

A success, yes?”

Absolutely utterly amazing.”

Chloe pushed herself off of Luna and helped her up, pulling her into a hug, “thank you for joining me.”

This is very special. You brought me to share in this. Why?”

The first time was at the village fete near where our school was. All of these locals knew Arlo, knew her family, judged her and were nasty, unforgiving of her opportunity. It was ugly to watch. Caro took us up in the balloons, to escape. Told us stories of wizards and tornadoes and magic shoes. Made sure Arlo knew we loved her and not the horrible things they said, changing the mundane into the beautiful.”

Life is large and insignificant. We are larger and stronger than what seeks to destroy us. They’re insignificant. We’re the power, stronger than the insignificant.”

Exactly. How do you always know what I mean?”

Because I’m me and you’re you and we’re us,” Luna smiled in the morning light.

Chloe kissed her, impulsively joyful, “Come,” pulling her too the car, inside, warming them up.

Luna stretched out over Chloe, “What’s up next?”

I’ll never tell,” their lips caressed each others, gently loving each other within the gaps.

Both quiet as the car silently moved through the valley, a short while later turning into another gravel road. Luna left the car and looked up at the rustic wooden sign mounted over the steps leading to the veranda. Callister. Chloe came and stood next to her before leading her up the stairs to a table overlooking the valley.

Callister?”

Yes.”

No menu’s?”

Oh. I took a lesson from you and prepared our champagne breakfast order already. Its traditional after ballooning.”

Okay…” Luna laughed, delighted, “So. Why here?”

Callister and I were at medical school together. Turns out she hated medicine.”

A bed and breakfast is quite a radical change.”

Yes. Well. Its kinda perfect. Its close to the city, yet far enough away for an overnight or weekend trip. But this café is why I come.”

Not the bed?”

No,” Chloe snorted, “her wife is brilliant, amazing and would kick my ass.”

Her wife?”

Yes. Cameron Zoe,” a smirk graced Chloe’s lips.

That television show, magazine empire Cameron Zoe, the garden architecture one?”

Yes, that’s her.”

Yes, totally agree she is amazing and could kick your ass.”

Thanks. You read The Garden Goddess?”

No. Abraxas and Jamere love her.”

Okay. Maybe we’ll set up dinner.”

Sure.”

Their breakfast arrived and eating in the slice of sunshine illuminating their table, both methodically worked anti-clockwise around their plates. This gave them great pleasure, sharing a predication for how they ate. Luna felt tranquil as they finished and walked back to the car, slipping satiated inside.

Its still early,” Luna said, fully awake and now confined to a car, sliding over to Chloe and kissing her.

Yes it is” Chloe smiled at the energy, kissing back, “and we’re already onto our next activity.”

Mmmm,” Luna mumbled against Chloe’s lips, “how much time do we have?”

I don’t think so,” Chloe murmured back, “We may irrevocably shock our driver…”

They were lost in each other until the car shuttled around and stopped again, shit down and the driver opened Luna’s door.

Luna. Go on,” Chloe pushed her towards the door and out into the early crystal pallor. Hills edged larger and knitted together, creating a valley. The city unstrung behind them.

An apple orchard?” Luna looked to the other cars in the lot, people slowly bubbling through an arch with Honey Queen Apple Orchard swirled in metal.

Of course. The first spring haul.”

Tell me why?”

Coming here is a yearly tradition, attending the first spring pick of the season and for me is, the perfect compilation of space and solitude. It is gratifying, the smell of the apples first scenting the orchard, then the car and, at last, my apartment. The smell always reminds me of life and renewal. Locust Grove was once a village now since gathered by the ever expanding city and in spite of containing the notorious Avalon Asylum, the grove always retained its own enigmatic charm. This was what I want to share with you.”

Passing through another archway into a cottage, picking up baskets and continuing out to the orchard, Chloe linked her arm through Luna’s as other couples fanned out and lead her to her favourite part of the orchard, a corner where the trees clustered together in a wild fashion.

Why is coming here a yearly tradition?” Luna asked.

During my residency at MARH, I was working all the time and so very tired. I felt loose, frayed at the edges, never knowing if I was awake or asleep. One day, delirious, I rented a car and just drove. I was dreamlike, drifting in a haze,” Chloe reached up and picked off the lowest branches, “I woke up in my apartment three days later to the overwhelming scent of apples. My memory was disjointed, but I felt human again. So, every year I come back. It reminds me of how hard I worked, and also how I shouldn’t work until I fall apart.”

Luna climbed up a ladder they came too and into the tree, scaling out onto one of the borough’s, stretching for the roundness at the top before her voice drifted down to Chloe, “This place gives you yourself.”

Yes,” Chloe whispered catching the apple Luna dropped down, and positioned herself for more, grateful Luna understood the deeper reason beyond the explanation given.

As the light crested into morning Chloe and Luna gradually filled their baskets while slowly walking back to the cottage shop next to the parking lot. Keeping the wicker baskets and picking up a mixed case of Locust Grove Brewery Cider, they relaxed back into the car as it slipped over the gravel drive and out to the road. A Thermos of coffee was waiting on the seat for them.

Coffee?”

Of course.”

Perfect,” Luna leaned in for a kiss.

Yes, you are,” Chloe followed Luna as she withdrew, seeking another kiss.

Where we going?”

Not saying.”

Why not?” Luna pouted.

You’ve ideas you want to follow up on. You don’t care where we’re going, just how much time we have.”

Yes,” Luna’s kiss burned her up, yet Chloe was happy to languish within these kisses as the car sleeked through traffic, winding the hour around busy mid-morning traffic, too pull up to Asceline. Chloe and Luna bounded out of the car and into the book store, as old as the city.

Walking in the heavy wooden oak doors propped open by a stack of old encyclopaedias, inside were three split levels, half-elevated from each other, stairs often hidden by stacks of books with mismatched jumbles of chairs hidden throughout the store. Luna looked around at the overstuffed shelves, pathways swaying between stacks piled where the shelves had no more room. Luna breathed deeply of the smell of fresh new books and the musty warmth of second hand love traded for more, she let go of Chloe and walked up to the second tier, over to the music section and knelt to begin sifting through sheet music.

Chloe followed her, “You’ve been here before.”

Not really a Briar kind of person.” Luna hadn’t even looked up, focused on the box in front of her, smiling at Chloe’s statement, “but yes.”

Slightly judgemental?” Chloe laughed soft, noticing the evasive non-answer. Briar District, next to Clovia Hills, had sprouted from the same wealth pervading both areas. Briar is full of bespoke shops, cafe’s and by-laws forbidding chain stores, with wide, tree lined immaculate streets and patrolled by private security.

Luna looked up at Chloe, beautifully statuesque, “You hadn’t been to the places I took you. Harper’s is a place you would’ve gone, located such as it is in Ianthe?”

Point taken.”

Okay, but why here?”

When we were all at university, Arlo worked here. This became our hangout, I guess. We all practically lived here. Caro learned how to make coffee here on this clunky old machine. Quin started her passion for architecture here.”

A home when you had none?”

Yes,” Chloe still astounded at the understanding between them.

I’m going to look,” Chloe waved her hand and walked off, at once wanting to know what Luna wasn’t telling.

Luna turned back to the pile, separating what she wanted from the rest. Asceline was quiet, except for the shuffling of customers and the soft sch-sch sound of books rubbing against each other. The time ticked by, twisting with the sunlight twinkling throughout the window.

You done?” Chloe found Luna curled in one of the stuffed sofa’s by the window, reading with a neat stack of books next to her.

Yes. No. Mostly.” Luna laughed and shrugged, “It’s a book store.”

Asceline means of the moon.”

Really?” Luna stood, picking up the stack.

Variations on a theme I am rapidly coming to enjoy,” Chloe replied as they walked to the counter, paid and took their purchases out to the sunshine.

Medical texts? Old ones?” Luna questioned

Yes, I collect them, they remind me of a time when we started to learn and develop and grow,” she shrugged, “Asceline stocks them.”

Awesome. Its beautiful to know where one comes from.”

The car sat waiting and Luna handed her bag over to the chauffeur, but Chloe stopped her from getting in, “We walk from here.”

Okay,” Luna liked her arm through Chloe’s as they walked up the street, “we’re staying in Briar?”

Absolutely. Lunch.”

Chloe led them around the corner and up a few blocks and inside Karaleigh’s, sitting in a booth overlooking the artificially constructed park and pond, encompassed on all sides to exclude the outside. The meal already organised by Chloe, in her meticulous planning of this day for Luna. Wine poured by silent the wait staff, melting into the background. Luna wound words around Chloe, delicately creating worlds aloud as food appeared and became part of their delight.

Why here? I thought you haven’t been here?” Luna asked.

True. I haven’t, however I wanted to start our own place,” Chloe shrug smiled, all of the sudden shy, “I wanted some place that’s ours, I guess.”

And you picked here?”

Exactly, because I picked somewhere that I would pick…” Chloe searched around for words to makes sense, “I wanted a new memory for us, but also I wanted one that is ours. I picked it, yes, I know we are connected to our pasts, and this place seemed connected to Jamere and Abraxas for you, which I thought would be good…”

Luna is swept up into the brutal beauty of Chloe’s gift, “Thank you.”

Our time is up. We’ve another event,” Chloe stood and offered her hand. Luna took it, to follow Chloe to the car. The trip was short as it pulled up to the Ellysion.

Here?” Luna said.

Yes. We need to change,” Chloe exited and led Luna up to the penthouse, clothes already laid out for them. The afternoon set in, daylight angled from the side of the sky.

Chloe. This is a dress. These shoes match.”

Yes, it is. Yes, they do. Now put it and them on.”

But…”

Luna. My day. Put the clothes on.”

Luna looked at the dress and noticed the designer label. She sighed and changed. Luna took the hand Chloe again offered as she lead them back down and out to the car. The car journey is quick and took them to the cities ballet company, housed in the distinct Ysabelle Theatre, designed and constructed over a hundred years previously after the last one burnt to cinder in a riot. Walking into the lobby, they were handed a glass of champagne.

Thank you,” Luna took the glass offered by the stem, unsure whether the dress or the company was making her feel uncomfortable, “the ballet?”

Yes. This is a co-sponsored charity benefit.”

Really? For what Charity?”

Humanities and Arts City Youth Program.”

Excellent,” Luna scanned the crowd until her eyes met Gretchen, also with a glass of champagne in one hand and in mid-conversation when she spotted Luna.

Excuse me,” muttered Gretchen as she left her date and walked over to her former foster daughter.

Luna.”

Gretchen,” Luna, unsurprised, yet unsettled, she is here, levelled her voice flat.

I did not…” Gretchen struggled to pull herself back in “…think I would see you here. If I remember, you said ballet is pretentious?”

Well, um…” Luna had not seen her since she left her care at eighteen, refusing to be taken here under Gretchen’s care and therefore never seen the ballet live, “Chloe?”

Chloe turned from the conversation she was having to find Luna and Gretchen staring at each other, tense with a mixture of pain and unspoken history, Luna saying “I believe that you two know each other. Gretchen, Chloe. Chloe, Gretchen.”

Turning to each other, Chloe smiling as she said, “Gretchen, how are you?”

Fine, thank you. You?” Luna tensed as the damages from her past spiked in her mind, twisting against the core of herself.

Well.” Chloe felt the tenseness radiating from Luna, exchanged the champagne glass from one hand to the other and slipped her arm protectively around Luna, who leaned flush against her body, shifted her own arm across her body and laced her fingers into Chloe’s hand upon her hip. She was used to people scrutinising her, watching her, judging her. Chloe’s arm didn’t move, slipped further around her and in spite of her fluctuation, in spite of herself, she felt Chloe’s warmth, releasing against her arm, the tightness is stitched into her soul.

You two know each other?” Gretchen, observing the intimate movement between the two intensely, feeling the quiet, solid love, the type that required serious hard quarantine and felt acutely at a serious tactical advantage.

Yes. She is my date,” Luna’s voice was clipped.

Congratulations. Excuse me,” Gretchen, a surprised look shuffled quickly over her face before she nodded her head and returned to her date.

What was that about?” Chloe asked Luna with a bewildered look on her face.

I’ll tell you later,” Luna is shaking ever so slightly, “don’t worry about it.”

Luna…” Chloe leaned in, pulling Luna’s body tighter, whispering in her ear, “Are you okay?”

Chloe, really. This is your day,” Luna still looking perturbed, but made a visible effort to smile, “I’m good.”

Chloe continue to whisper into her ear, “Okay. Please don’t look so worried,” and before she realised the words tumbled out her mouth, “I love you.”

Luna’s breath hitches in her chest, shuddering through her body, mixing with the unsettled vibrating air around her, “Why?”

Because.”

Why?” Insistent, eyes on fire.

I love you because of so many reasons…” her voice is tight at the challenging, yet soft, “…your actions and compassion…” she leans in for a kiss, “…let me love you…”

Luna felt the words from Chloe’s mouth wash over her. Although she heard these words from Kai, Galla, Jamere and Abraxas before, this was different, made her feel naked, exposed, terrified and warm. Luna wasn’t ready, not with Gretchen staring hostility in their direction. Chloe’s arm remained wrapped around her as emotion jostled her until she gathered herself back in, her chest constrict under all of this weight.

Chloe felt the trembling stop along her arm as Luna relaxed enough in her arms to smile. Focusing on Chloe’s touch as she looked around Ysabelle theatre. She could not allow Gretchen to throw this day off balance.

The ballet is evocative and reminded her of the delicate balance within life, both physical and emotional. The balance between Chloe and herself. The balance lost between herself and Gretchen. Walking out to the street, Chloe, remembering the same look from the opera waited for Luna to come back to her. In the last of the afternoon, sleek black cars were lined two deep outside of the theatre.

Chloe drew Luna away from the babbling crowd, resting flush against each other, as the traffic swelled and was slow, but finally they passed through the worst and exited onto a street unfamiliar to Luna. Luna settled enough into herself to have relaxed and is able to relinquish herself into Chloe.

Chloe?”

Chloe leaned in as soon as she spoke, pulled her close to kiss her. Even after all this long day for Chloe, Luna smelled like fire and home. Pulling back, she whispered against their lips, “we’re going to Clovia Fields for the charity dinner.”

Clovia Fields?” Luna sat up as the car stopped against the curb.

A private event for the organisers of the charity ballet,” Chloe sighed, leading her out of the car and into the building, continuing into the ballroom, whispering against Luna’s ear conspiratorially, “come on, before we’re noticed.”

Luna let Chloe lead her away, around the edge of the ballroom, and though a service door, past busy kitchens and up service stairs to the building roof. Chloe led her around the industrial clutter and various structures to the sunset side and stopped. The sun was blurred into the ground, giving this city an opaque orange burgundy light. Chloe tilted her head until she saw Luna’s face, her lips slightly parted and full of colour in the light.

It looks so…undecided from here,” Luna said.

Yes, I guess.”

Not like this morning, when it was open and hard.”

The giving and the dying of the light is such a powerful perspective,” Chloe murmured.

Is that what this is? Here?”

Yes,” the sunset noise is dirty, contrasted against the breezy peace of the roof, “we saw dawn together. I wanted us to see it fade as well.”

Luna de-tangled their hands and stood against Chloe, shifting her arm around her waist, “You mean the sweetest things.”

Thank You.”

There is nothing like this light. Yesterday, it would have been different. Tomorrow, it could be more orange or less purple or something. Thank you for sharing this one with me. This only one with me.”

Chloe twisted her around, kissing her ferociously, emotionally tumultuously after a day like today, she whispered against Luna’s lips, “I mean the sweetest things?”

Yes,” Luna kissed quickly, “absolutely, and I hope you can negotiate your way out in this darkness.”

I’m sure I’ve the light to do so…” Chloe kissed her again, breathing in Luna’s scent, “…getting hungry?”

Eh. Thirsty.”

Okay. Come.” Chloe led them back down the way they come.

You know all the sneaky ways.”

Chloe snorted “Only in places I want to. Not, you know, hidden art installations in abandoned buildings.”

Yes, but the food here is better.”

The audience, and ever so slowly, performers entered the space, filling it with voices and conversation. Chloe, a member of Clovia Fields and on the board of both the City Ballet and the Humanities and Arts City Youth Program, is elated to show off Luna. Dinner is noisy and exciting, full of company, food and dancing. The names of everyone Chloe introduced her blurred across Luna’s brain, making her feel fuzzy. Her dress and gloves tightened around her like the wealthy members of the club.

Luna…” Chloe nudged her, “…would you like to dance?”

Please…”

Chloe lead her out to the dance floor and into an effortless waltz. Six songs later, Luna withdrew from Chloe’s arms and indicated she needed water. Following, Chloe asked, “How did you learn how to waltz?”

Abraxas insisted,” Luna ordered them both drinks, and handed Chloe’s to her.

Why?”

No idea. She just took us all. We were all living apart. Archer already with Ivie in the basement, Galla went to an independent community school, Kai and I were in specialist school, I think it became something we could all do together.”

Bet she loved it when Kai became a stripper.”

Don’t think she cared, as long as we look good at the Smash Punch Gala. Kai and I learnt some sort of dancing when we were kids.”

Chloe, placing her empty glass back on the table, took Luna back to the dance floor. Night had fully formed when they wandered out, glowing with the majority of the evening on the dance floor. The car waiting for them as Chloe whispered into Luna’s ear, inhaling her delectable scent, “There is one more thing to do.”

Okay,” Luna was tired, yet she did not want to give up this day as she allowed Chloe to seat her into the car again. After the deafening noise at the dinner, both remained quiet throughout the twenty minute journey, finally pulling up to the cities Natural History Museum’s service entrance. Chloe and Luna walked up to the door, guarded by a suited, gloved attendant.

Nyx two-five-six,” Chloe said as the door squeaked open.

Natural History Museum?” Luna smiled at Chloe choosing this, “Nyx?”

Another secret club. We get access to many things,” Chloe laughed.

Secret club?” Luna looked wearily at Chloe as they moved inside.

No, No…just access…” Chloe said, hearing the edge in Luna’s voice, “One of those wealthy privilege things…”

Luna elbowed Chloe at the jest, “scandalously privileged. So, reasons for here?”

Simple love, really. A compliment to Asceline, I guess. When I wanted solitude and a sense of gravitas to where I belong. That all things are not lost.”

Life will remain even when you do not?”

Stop reading my mind so precisely,” Chloe smiled, struggling with how delightful they are together.

It is another place Luna had not been or explored, however with Chloe as her tour guide, she was led through the shaded, subtle lighting baroque maze of a building. Luna enraptured in seeing a history that is not her own, trinkets of cultures as dead to this one as to hers. Instead of giving her a sense of loss, it gave her a sense of comfort that everything dies, but what we leave behind can flourish. In spite of the interest in looking at everything, fatigue rapidly settling over both of them. Night crept around midnight when at last they headed out.

This was perfect, Chloe.”

But we’re ready to go?”

Yes.”

Then there is one last surprise.”

Chloe…” but her hand was taken to be swiftly led back into the car, silent in traffic. Luna nestled into Chloe, exhausted by a full day, manufactured light blending through the glass. Their town-car pulled under a curved annex and the door opened. Luna stepped out to the doors of the Ectoria Hotel and as she felt Chloe step out her behind her, she turned with a raised eyebrow and smirk.

I still have until six,” Chloe shrugged with a suggestive wink.

You better lead the way, then.”

Chloe organised for her assistant to check them in and take their bags to the room, only requiring her to pick up their key. Luna gently moved her fingers to caress Chloe’s wrist in the elevator, gently rotating her body, opening a space only to close it again, falling into this quietness that became a yell. There elegant room melted around them as clothing fell to the floor.

Luna moved against a flexed body, brushing her lips over hard nipples pushing against Chloe’s laced bra, the movement deliberately taunting and wound her hands around Chloe’s back, tugging the hooks holding them away. Unclasping while pushing her against the chair, Luna pressed herself onto Chloe’s lap, flinging the bra against the wall, running her nails over the curve of her stomach until she reached the crest of her hips, the sharp decent caused Chloe’s sharp intake of breath as Luna tasted rain in the sunshine, feeling the infinite strung between them.

Sitting in the early morning light, pale filtering refracted by the wall to floor windows, lighting Luna’s pink and purple hair spiked in a thousand different directions, floppy and reflective of bed. Room service coffee was steaming up from their cups, “What’s with Gretchen?”

Luna looked startled before she frowned and laced her fingers around her cup, shivering against its warmth. Chloe waited patient. Silence drifted until Luna raised her eyes to meet Chloe’s, “We’ve a complicated history.”

That much is obvious.”

I told you when Kai and I were placed in foster care…” Luna stopped, her face in a look Chloe could not read, “…I was placed with Gretchen. She wanted to adopt me. I said no.”

She stopped and made no indication she would continue. Chloe left off pursuing further information, sensing this was deep pain she would eventually be told. She willed herself to work harder at making her feel this way, including extending there progress over the last twenty four hours. Chloe led them to the shower before checking out. Luna returned to her own apartment to change and head to work.

Luna stood in her kitchen fumbling against the crumbs left by Kai and Gerome. The apartment felt different, abstract, along with the changes rapidly evolving within her. It is rare when she came back here, in-between work, Smash Punch and Chloe. She is feeling exposed, like she could move on, could release her demons, that living and being alive are vastly different things.

Luna, hoping to see Jamere for advice about Gretchen, walked into Ash’s and over to her seat at the end of the counter. It is just after three in the morning. Jamere walked in shortly after, dumping her bag and pouring them coffee.

Luna,” Jamere noticed Luna twitching,“spill.”

Gretchen was at the ballet,” Luna said, sipping at her thick coffee. Gretchen is the biggest confusion and regret, her first lesson in compassion and consequences, current behaviour learned from old behaviour, how history creates the present. She wanted to fix a situation she still found difficult to understand.

Oh. Well. We did miss her at the opera. And what did you tell Chloe?” It as astonishing to watch the differing way the madness of love has shaped Luna, fractures her to rearrange what remains in far better order.

That we have history. She didn’t pressure, but she kind of want to know.”

How was she?” Jamere still remembered the woman’s desperate pain, the unsure obliviousness of Luna. Jamere is blessed, having Abraxas and Archer. But in truth, they also have Luna and Galla, always had. When, at eighteen, Luna moved from Gretchen’s to the terrible, tiny place in Zvyah, Abraxas wanted to buy her an apartment, or at the very least bring her back to their own. Jamere, with her logic and beautiful voice, brought her back from the ledge, understanding how they needed to find a way to mend their own cracks and why they needed to prove themselves. Jamere made it clear their home is always open for the daughters Abraxas and her collected.

Still upset. Hurt. Angry. Confused.”

It’s been three years. So you think it’s time you gave her closure?”

Luna tensed, “Closure?”

Baby girl. You have seen enough to know. When you know better, you should do better. Release her. You may not have wanted what she offered, but that’s no longer an excuse.”

I know that,” Luna shrugged, smiling ruefully, “I guess we feel unfinished.”