Pearl bounced on her heels between Phoenix and Maya, hardly able to contain her excitement. Maya glanced over Pearl's head at Phoenix, noting that he was wringing his hands together, his own way of keeping his excitement in check. Sierra stood on Maya's other side, holding Maya's hand and staring around at the other people crowding the airport. Apollo and Trucy's plane had already landed, so they would be showing up any minute now.
Maya felt a tug on her hand and turned to look down at Sierra, noticing all at once that she could hardly see the little girl around her protruding stomach. She was five months along and wasn't exactly able to hide it anymore.
Sierra took a step back and craned her neck to look up at her. "Mama Maya, how much longer?"
"Not long," Maya said. "They should be here any minute. Are you excited?"
Sierra looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. She'd "met" Trucy already via video chatting, and Apollo had often poked his head into the camera to say hi to her, too. Seeing them in person would certainly be different, but Maya thought she would do fine.
Their attention was soon directed back towards the gate as they heard the sound of someone yelling something indeterminable, and of heeled boots hitting the marble floors. Maya looked over at Phoenix, finding great joy in watching as his face lit up at the sight of his daughter.
Trucy yelled so loud that other people in the airport turned to look at them, annoyed at first, but then with softening eyes as they saw the way Trucy flew into Phoenix's arms. It was obviously a reunion that was a long time coming.
Apollo wasn't very far behind. He was pulling both of their suitcases behind him while also struggling to carry two more of Trucy's smaller bags in his arms, but he smiled as he approached, his eyes sweeping over Maya first. She'd switched her old Kurain Master's robes for a new outfit, what she called her 'maternity robes'. In reality they were just a pair of robes that a more plus sized medium might wear, but Maya had one of the talented seamstresses in the village customize hers. They were silky and light, perfect for spring and the upcoming summer months, and had a flowery pattern with dark purple trim. Combined with the very real glow of pregnancy, Apollo blurted out the first thing to come into his mind.
"Wow, Ms. Fey. You look gorgeous."
Maya grinned at him. "Why thank you, Polly."
Trucy was still grappling Phoenix, but finally let him go in order to make her way over to Pearl, who she also grabbed in a crushing hug. Phoenix stepped up beside Maya, a faux look of disapproval on his face as he looked at Apollo. "Are you hitting on my wife, Mr. Justice?"
Apollo straightened his back. "No, sir, of course not!"
Phoenix's grin matched Maya's. "I'm just kidding, Apollo."
"O-Oh, right…. well, you really are glowing though, Ms. Fey."
"Hey now," Phoenix said, "watch it."
Maya swatted at Phoenix. "Stop bugging him, Nick. A pregnant lady needs all the praise she can get."
Trucy approached Maya next, her eyes wide as she knelt on the floor, her eyes level with Maya's belly. "My little brother or sister… I'm so excited! Aaaand," she said, peering around Maya to look at Sierra, who was currently hiding behind Maya's legs. "You must be Sierra!"
Sierra took a moment to study Trucy's face, then seemed to recognize her from their internet conversations. "You showed me the magic!"
Trucy smiled. "Yep, that's me. And wait, what's this?" She reached toward Sierra's ear, and when she pulled her hand back there was a flower in it, seemingly appearing out of nowhere.
Sierra's eyes were wide as she stared at the flower in Trucy's hand. Trucy handed it to her. "How'd you do that?" Sierra asked.
Trucy winked at her. "It's magic."
The drive back to the house was uneventful. Trucy and Pearl talked animatedly with Sierra sat between them. She was quiet but content as she listened to the older girls chat. Apollo gazed out the window, happy to be back in the United States if only for a little while. Maya leaned against Phoenix from her spot between him and Apollo in the back of the van, simply happy to finally have their not-so-little-anymore family back together, if only for a little while.
When they finally arrived back at the house, the girls all rushed inside, leaving Apollo and Phoenix out in the driveway to pay the driver and remove the baggage. After handing over a wad of cash for the long drive back from the airport, Phoenix followed Apollo to the back of the van where the trunk had been popped open.
"So…" Apollo started as he grabbed one of Trucy's bags. "How's life been?"
Phoenix raised an eyebrow. "Good. I mean, Maya's pregnant, we have Sierra, everything has been great. And now that you and Trucy are back, things are even better."
Apollo smiled. Phoenix continued. "And how's the law office going for you, Apollo?"
"Oh, you know," Apollo said. "We're still busy, but it's not as bad as it was when I first started. There are finally some other offices open, so we're not taking on more than we can handle anymore." Apollo grinned, looking proud of himself for just a moment. "But a lot of people do still come to us, just because of our reputation."
"That good, huh?" Phoenix said, starting towards the house with his armful of luggage.
"Definitely," Apollo said, falling into step beside him. "I'm really enjoying it. I don't really know if I'll ever come back here for good… Khura'in is feeling more and more like my home every day."
Phoenix felt a tiny flutter in his stomach at Apollo's words. He hadn't expected Apollo to come back any time soon, but there was still that small part of him that hoped one day the Wright Anything Agency would be complete again. And then there was Trucy. She'd also taken a liking to Khura'in; she was making good money there, she helped keep spirits up during what was a hard time for a lot of the citizens, and most of all she got to spend time with her mother and brother. He tried not to feel left out, after all he'd had the opportunity to watch Trucy grow up, he was there for so many milestones that Thalassa and Apollo had missed out on, it was only fair for them to be able to make up for that lost time. But if she decided to make Khura'in her home? He wasn't sure how he would handle that news.
He swallowed down those fears and forced a smile. "You're a legend in your own right now, Apollo."
Apollo grinned at him, always happy to hear encouraging words from his former mentor.
By the time they made it inside with all of the bags, the girls had already settled themselves down. Trucy and Pearl were in the living room with Sierra, and Phoenix heard Maya's voice coming from the kitchen. Peeking in through the doorway, he noted that she was on the phone.
"Mhm. Yes, two large pepperoni and cheese, one just cheese, one veggie, and one deluxe. Thank you." He listened to her rattle off their phone number and address, and then hang up.
"Pizza?" he asked.
Maya turned to him, smiling. "Hey, it's already late. Unless you want to cook dinner for six people?"
Phoenix frowned. "Pizza it is."
"That's what I thought."
Maya patted her stomach. "Besides, I'm kind of craving it. And hey, did you know that Trucy's a vegetarian now?"
Phoenix raised an eyebrow. "No, she never told me. I was wondering why you ordered a veggie pizza. That's not usually something you'd want."
"Mhm, apparently a new friend of hers in Khura'in convinced her to try it for ethical reasons, and a lot of the cultural dishes in Khura'in are already vegetarian, so it's a pretty easy lifestyle to stick to over there. You don't even know how much I was craving meat when I got back here to the States."
"I actually do, because I was the one who had to take you out to eat and pay for all of your steaks and burgers and chicken."
Maya smiled. "And I love you for it, Nick. But anyway, I didn't want her to feel like we weren't going to accommodate her if that's what she wants to eat now."
"Of course we'd accommodate her," Phoenix said, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms. "She's my daughter. She lives here."
"You know what I mean, Nick," Maya said, noting the way Phoenix was frowning. "She hasn't been home for an extended visit like this for almost two years. She might be expecting things to be a little different now."
"Well, she shouldn't. This is still her home, Maya."
Maya blinked, realizing suddenly why Phoenix's mood had seemed to change so quickly. He was worried; worried that Trucy wasn't going to stay. She was growing up and becoming her own person and he didn't want to let her go. She was, essentially, his first born. Pearl may have come into his life before Trucy but she had still mostly grown up in Kurain Village. He was Pearl's father figure, but he hadn't raised her, not the way he had with Trucy.
Maya said nothing, not wanting to give him an opportunity to deny it. "I know, Nick. You're right, obviously it's no big deal." She took a step forward to pat him on the arm. "Let's go. I'm sure Trucy and Apollo have enough stories to entertain us before the food gets here."
Phoenix simply nodded and followed her out of the kitchen.
It was late by the time they finished dinner. Maya and Phoenix took Sierra up to bed together, and Maya headed to their bedroom not long after that. Her pregnancy was going smoothly so far despite the risks, but she was over halfway towards her due date, and she always seemed tired. She took naps all throughout the day and went to bed early. The doctors assured them it was normal, her body was working for two after all.
Apollo had complained about jet lag and had retired to the basement where he was going to be sleeping for the duration of their visit. There was a pullout couch and another bathroom down there, so it worked perfectly as a guest bedroom. Trucy and Pearl had gone upstairs to Pearl's bedroom not long after dinner. Phoenix could hear them talking and laughing throughout the night, until it had finally quieted down around midnight. He assumed they'd finally fallen asleep.
He stayed up. He knew if he went to bed he wouldn't be able to sleep, so instead he sat in the small room he called an office, going through old paperwork, throwing some of it out and cleaning up the clutter. Anything to keep his mind busy.
It was after 1 am when he heard the door creak open. It startled him at first, but when he looked over he could see Trucy's telltale blue pajamas as she peeked through the opening. It reminded him so much of the times she'd sneak into his bedroom at night, complaining of a nightmare or a scary noise or a stomach ache. He'd get her some water and she'd crawl into his bed and sleep there, comforted by his presence.
That obviously wasn't what she was there for now.
"Hey, Truce. Come on in."
She pushed the door open and padded into the room, looking strangely shy.
"Something wrong?" he asked. "You didn't have a bad dream, did you?" he said, smiling at her.
She smiled back, but shook her head. "No, I just couldn't sleep. I went to the bathroom and saw the downstairs hall light on, so I figured I'd see who else was up."
Phoenix rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I'm kind of having a hard time sleeping tonight, too."
"Well, sitting in this tiny, cramped office isn't going to help," she said, looking around. "I can't believe how much more stuff you have in here."
Phoenix leaned back in his chair. "A lot has changed since you were here last."
She nodded, not meeting his eyes. He stared up at her, wondering if there was something more she wanted to say. Then, without warning, Trucy ran to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck, falling into his lap the way she had when she was a little girl. Burying her face in his shoulder, he heard her mumble.
"I missed you so much, Daddy."
He was surprised, but tightened his arms around her, hugging her close to him. "I missed you too, Trucy. Are you sure you're okay? Nothing's wrong?"
She sniffled but he could feel her shake her head. "No, nothing's wrong. Everything is really great, actually."
She pulled back and took a deep breath. He could see that she'd started to cry, but as she got up and moved to sit in the armchair near his desk, she swiped at her eyes to wipe the tears away. Despite her assurances that things were okay, he couldn't help the worry he felt. It took a lot to make Trucy cry. Even as a child she didn't cry that often.
She put her hands in her lap. "One of the reasons I couldn't sleep was because I wanted to talk to you about something. A couple somethings, actually. So when I saw the light on down here I thought now would be as good a time as any."
"You can talk to me about anything, Trucy," he said. It was true, even if it was something he didn't want to hear.
"I know. I'm just afraid…"
"Afraid of what?"
"Of how you'll take it."
He said nothing at first, taking his time to process her words. If she thought he was going to take it badly, it had to be something he wouldn't like, or at least something she thought he wouldn't like. He sighed. "It's okay, Truce. I'm a big boy, I can take whatever you have to tell me."
"Okay," she said. "It's about my shows in Khura'in."
Phoenix raised an eyebrow. "What about them? You're still doing well, aren't you?"
"Yeah, really well," she said. She stopped to clear her throat, sounding a bit awkward, like she only did it to delay the conversation. Then she decided to just come out and say it. "I'm doing so well that I've decided that this is what I want to do with my life. I know I always told you I'd eventually go to college, that these few years off were just so I would have time to spend with my mom and Apollo, but performing is what I really love."
"So, no college?"
Phoenix sat back. If that was it, then he could handle that.
Trucy cut that thought short. "I'm going to do another run of my show in Khura'in when I go back. I want to give everyone who wants to a chance to see it. Initially I was doing it as a way to help the morale of the country, but things have gotten a lot better over the past few years so I don't think they really need me as much anymore."
"So what will you do after?"
"I want to tour around the world. The Gramarye's have always been a travelling magic show, and I think I should continue that tradition. And after spending so much time in Khura'in, I really want to see more of the world. I'm lucky enough to have the chance, why shouldn't I take it?"
Phoenix smiled softly. It was what he was afraid of, his little girl off to do big and great things on her own, far away and without his help, but at the same time he was proud of her. She'd come so far, and he should have known this would happen someday. Trucy had always been an entertainer. Had he really expected her to stay in one city forever?
"So I guess this means you won't be staying at home much anymore, huh?"
Trucy's eyes lit up as she realized what his words meant. He was okay with her decision. "I mean, I'm going to be here at least until Maya has the baby—I have to meet my little sibling in person—and that's a few months still, right? And I'll take breaks between different legs of my tours, so I can come and visit then, too." She smiled. "This will always be my home, and you'll always be my Daddy. I'll never forget that."
"I know," Phoenix said. "I'll just miss you, that's all."
"You'll probably be glad to be rid of me once the baby comes. You sure you're going to be able to handle all the midnight feedings and the screaming and crying? You're not exactly young anymore."
Phoenix sat up straighter. "Hey, I'm not an old man, you know. Plenty of people my age are just having kids now. You forget that I was still young when I adopted you."
Trucy giggled. "Okay, okay, I'm just teasing."
They were quiet for a few seconds. Phoenix glanced at his watch. "Ah, we better get to bed, Truce. It's close to 2."
"Wait, Daddy," Trucy said, looking somewhat serious again. "I have one other thing to tell you."
Phoenix sat back in his chair again. "What? You don't have a secret Khura'inese boyfriend, do you?"
"No, not exactly…"
Trucy was smiling a bit, he noticed. "What then?"
"I have a secret Khura'inese girlfriend."
Phoenix blinked. "Oh."
Trucy raised an eyebrow. "You okay there, Dad?"
He nodded. "Yep, I'm fine. I just… wasn't expecting that."
"You're okay with it though, right? I mean… I thought maybe you already knew. I never had a boyfriend in high school and I never really showed much interest in guys."
"No no," Phoenix said, waving his hand. "It doesn't matter whether it's a guy or girl, what matters is whether or not they're good enough for you."
Trucy grinned at him. "You would love her, Daddy. She's beautiful, and funny, and super smart, and did I say beautiful already?"
Trucy sighed, staring off into the distance. He could tell that whoever this girl was, Trucy really liked her.
"How long have you been together?"
"About a year."
"A whole year? Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
She shrugged. "I was nervous, I guess. I didn't think you would care, but it's just one of those things anyone is nervous about telling their parent, you know? Plus I thought it would be better to tell you in person. I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner."
"I guess I understand," he said. "I'm just sad you've been so happy with someone all this time and I never knew, or even had the chance to meet them. A whole year, huh? You must really like her."
Trucy looked down, that happy little smile still on her face. "Yeah, I do."
"How did you meet?"
"I actually hired her to help me with the planning and effects of my show. It's gone through a lot of changes since I did Trucy In Gramaryeland here. It's an even bigger production now. She's helped me through all of it; the planning, the scheduling, the rehearsals, all of that stuff. I guess we just grew close since we were working together so much."
"Falling for your assistant. Like father like daughter, I suppose."
Trucy giggled. "I guess so."
"You'll have to invite her here eventually, Truce. Soon, maybe. I'd love to finally meet her."
"She's been asking me when I was going to finally tell you. She wants to meet you, too. She's heard of you, you know?"
"Oh yeah! Daddy, you're practically famous in Khura'in. Everyone knows you're that other guy that helped Apollo and Nahyuta take down Queen Ga'ran!"
"That other guy, is it?"
Phoenix sighed. Well, it was better than not being remembered at all.
"So, Trucy has a girlfriend?"
Phoenix watched as Maya stood over the stove, her bacon sizzling away in front of her. "Yes."
"Good for her," Maya said, flipping a piece of the meat with her fork.
"I told her she should invite her here soon," he said. "I want to meet her."
Maya turned from the stove and gave him a look. "When you meet this girl, you'd better be polite. It might've been okay to be the intimidating dad when she was a teenager, but she's an adult now."
Phoenix groaned. "I know, I know. I don't plan on being the 'intimidating dad'. I'm actually excited to meet her. They've been together a whole year and I didn't know! She said Apollo and Pearl have both known almost the entire time. She just didn't tell me, and she only didn't tell you because you would have told me." He sighed. "Sometimes I feel like I'm losing her, Maya."
Maya walked across the room to where Phoenix was sitting at the island counter. She wrapped her arms around him in a hug. "It's gonna happen, Nick. Eventually the same thing will happen with Sierra, and even this little one in here," she said, pulling back to touch her stomach.
Phoenix reached forward to touch his own hands to her protruding belly. "Don't say that, at least not yet. Time is already going too fast. I can't believe you're already five months along. It feels like just yesterday you were taking that test."
"I know, right? I still can't believe it." She walked back over to the stove to turn it off. She dumped her bacon onto a plate with the egg she'd already cooked. "You know the Elders in the village keep doing all these 'tests' and ceremonies and stuff?" she said. "It's kind of annoying, but I have to let them have some of their fun."
Phoenix raised an eyebrow. "None of it is going to be dangerous for the baby, right?"
"No, it's all harmless. It's just ceremonial stuff. All Kurain Masters have gone through it while pregnant, especially if it was their first. It's just blessings and stuff that'll supposedly make it more likely to be a girl, and things like that."
Phoenix hadn't known beforehand, but Maya had told him near the beginning of her pregnancy that in Kurain, finding out the gender of the baby via modern hospital methods wasn't technically allowed. Maya wasn't usually one for following the traditional rules in Kurain, but it was one she was willing to go along with, since it was relatively easy and wouldn't put the baby in any danger. She still went for regular checkups and ultrasounds, but she always made a point of telling the nurses and doctor not to point anything out that would indicate a boy or girl to her. He had stared at the sonogram pictures often, but he could hardly tell where the baby's head was on the blueish black pictures, let alone anything else.
"What are they going to do if it's not a girl? I mean, I know that it doesn't matter to us, but are the Elders going to pitch a fit or something?"
Maya shrugged. "Who knows? They'll probably just blame you and beg me to try again."
"Great, another reason for them to not like me."
"Don't worry," Maya said through a mouthful of food. "I'll put them in their place, and Rose always sticks by me. No son of mine is going to be driven out of Kurain Village, and I'll make sure they know it."
Phoenix smiled. Every time Maya showed off that in-charge attitude he felt his pride in her swell just a little more.
"Speaking of sons, want to go over the name list once more?"
Maya groaned. "Not the name list, Nick!"
The name list was ridiculously long, and he knew Maya hated it. She would rather pop the baby out and then think up a name after, but he refused to let Maya's post-pregnancy brain think up a name for their kid. He didn't want to end up with a child named Samurai, or Burger, or Noodle.
He had already pulled out the small notebook he kept in his pocket. The pages were filled with potential names, each one with a symbol for boy, girl, or unisex. He found a pen on the counter and opened the notebook up.
"Let's cut it back by at least ten today."