After the Rain

Timeline Note: Just after the debacle with Sarkissian. John isn't ready for talking, and Sarah badly needs to...

Tonight, as I'm losing control
I will drink to the queen of my soul....
- Blue Rodeo

He came from nowhere, in a black jeep with an army bag full of weapons. They had been eating spaghetti. John's choice, and she has been indulging him on these matters lately, trying to break the tension. He still won't talk talk to her.

She hears the jeep first, snaps to alertness when it's still half a block away, puts down her fork and tenses.

"Geez, Mom," he says.

She shakes her head. "You should have noticed. You need to notice."

"Notice what? That the world has roads? Full of cars?"

"Listen. It's coming closer."

"Cars do that. As they drive on the roads."

He doesn't get it. She feels anger, underneath the nerves. They'll die. If he doesn't learn to get it, he'll die, they all will, and this is what she's living with right now. He doesn't get that either. At last, when they actually hear the door of the jeep slam shut, the footsteps heading up their driveway and the knock on the door, he looks up. Now, he's noticing. And noticing her anger too.

"Oh, come on," he says. "Terminators don't knock."

"They don't have to. They'd have killed us already, before you even put down your fork."

Derek is still in the shower, and Tin Girl wouldn't pick up on the vibe even if it was loaded with semi-automatic weapons and wearing a sign. So it's just her, and John, glaring daggers over plates of garlic-laced noodles and canned tomato product.

"Fine," he says. "I should have noticed. Well? Are you going to get it?"

She hesitates, and he seems to soften a little. "Terminators don't knock," he says again.

She gets it. She opens the door and he's standing there, black and gray fatigues bulging over well-trained tattooed arms, and she screams. In delight, this time.

"Carlos!" She all but falls into his arms and Derek, leaking wet foot prints as he runs in, towel wrapped around his waist, looks at John. "Hey," he says. "Are we supposed to know who that guy is?"

--

She had spent three months on the run, driving up the coast of Baja California, heading into Mexico. The morning sickness was slowing her down. She was tired all the time, sore in places that made her uncomfortable, and she could keep down saltine crackers, two at a time, as long as she was very still while she ate them and didn't add too much stomach-sloshing water to her poor, pregnant body while she ate. And she was crying a lot, whether from hormones or from general unhappiness at the situation and at fate and at life. There was anger, too. And fear, lots of it. But pushing that all away right then was the queasy roiling in her gut and the constant need for a bathroom.

She had rolled into a truck stop, looking for saltines, and there she met Magritte, sister of Carlos, the baddest ass to ever bad-ass the truck stop cash register---and eight months pregnant, to boot. Her relief at this sight was indescribably profound. There was hope yet, and pregnant Magritte and her ex-army brother would show her the way.

She still remembers the first time Carlos had tried to train her. He was running her through some basic stances, and she was holding her own, surprising herself by being a quick study. It had been going just fine until he asked her to kick. The motion rocked her queasy belly, and she had thrown up on his shoe. He laughed.

"Magritte does this. It is the child, yes? You are otherwise well? Come on, then. No resting. You won't die from a little bit of sick."

It would not be the first time she would be thusly overcome. He would give her a three-second grace period to spit the bile out of her mouth and get her balance back, then he would come at her again. He always said they could stop if she told him she couldn't take it anymore. But she never went there. She did not have that luxury now, to stop. And she was learning that there was almost always more that she could take.

--

Seventeen years later, and here he is, in her kitchen, pouring himself a shot glass of Dos Equis and taking in the details with wolfish, army eyes.

"Lovely home, Sita."

It's from Sarita, the Spanish form of her name, and it had been his special endearment for her. She smiles at hearing it again.

"Just passing through," she says. "We don't last long in places like this one."

"No? What happens to them?"

"Car bombs. Fires. Cyborgs."

At this, Derek snaps to alertness. "Hold on a second. You told him about those?"

"I was nineteen, alone, pregnant and scared out of my mind, Derek. I'm sure I told a lot of people a lot of things. Most of them either thought I was crazy, or they believed---and died bloody, painful deaths when they tried to help me."

He concedes this point, steps back, turns for the bedroom to rummage for clothes. Carlos appraises her with a satisfied nod.

"Always had a strong tongue, didn't you? Perhaps a tiny bit stronger now? As it should be. You've had time to hone your skills."

"Among other things," mutters John.

"And this is your boy? Your babe, for whom you fought so hard?"

"This is John. And...my god, Carlos, Magritte, she was pregnant when I was. Her child, is he..."

"His own strapping lad, in spite of the flowery name. Magritte is her own kind of tough, but she is a romantic underneath it all."

"Picked something off a soap opera?" she guesses, remembering Magritte's little weakness.

"Miguel Carlos de las Estrellas y Santa Maria," he affirms. "Migue for short."

He pronounces it with an accent on the final e. Mee-gay. But in Spanish, it doesn't quite sound stupid.

"And you, Sita?" he says. "You're good?"

She hesitates, feeling her shoulders stiffen. So, he has spotted the tension. Of course he would, he's the one who taught her how to hide it from people.

"Well, then," he says with a brisk clap of his hands. "Let's get it out there, Sita. Release. It's good for the soul."

They both spot the bloom of horror in both John and Derek's eyes, and Carlos laughs. "Dios mio, not like that. She is like family, yes? Now, Sita, you stretch. I'll get my bag."

--

They reconvene in the yard, a spacious and lush one they have not yet made themselves at home enough to enjoy. John and Derek remain curious, but skeptical. She, however, knows what's coming., and she's already stripped to an undershirt and is hopping on the balls of her feet, flexing her arms, rolling her shoulders in slow, deep circles. Warming up. When Carlos returns, it is with a bag as long as he is, and he pulls out swords and fencing masks.

"Like that?" John says. "That's how you plan to..."

Then, he stops. They've started, moving into a dance of sorts with languid, gentle feints. The swords are like extensions of their bodies, clean lines that whoosh and swirl as they touch, then withdraw, then touch again. She's sweating sooner than he is, but it's clear she's lighter on her feet. She's smaller than he is, a compact little bundle of muscle and nerve and energy. And whatever it is inside her that is needing this odd little catharsis, it's giving her a fire he doesn't have right now, because all he's doing is going through the motions, falling easily back into his role as a trainer. This is easy for him. For now.

Derek comes up beside John. "Did you know she could do this?"

"No," he says.

"Did you know she needed to?"

He shakes his head, too mesmerized by the tableau to draw himself away. She's grunting now, coming at him with her all as he blocks her. It's effortless for him, but hers is by far the more beautiful performance. Carlos knows her moves, predicts her sweeps and feints with barely a glance. He suspects she could best him if she stopped trying to beat him at his own level and played to her strengths---her smallness, her lightness relative to him. If she could get under him instead of trying to be on top...

Carlos corners her, puts the tip of his sword to her chest and holds it there. She drops her head, bows, conceding the match. Then holds her forehead on his chest and lets him wrap his arms around her as she suddenly starts shaking.

"There," he says. He's clearly seen this coming. He hugs her into him, runs a finger through her hair, then braces her, carrying her weight when her body slackens and she drops, suddenly weeping.

"Mom!" John calls. She's struggling in his arms, her cries breaking off into anguished, panicked gasps as she fights for composure, and Carlos waves John away, his eyes never leaving her, her arms enfolding her like a strong, warm blanket. He is resting his chin on her head, maintaining an intimate contact, whispering directly into her ear.

"Let's clear out," Derek says.

"But..."

"John. They won't finish it if we're watching. She's in good hands."

She finally drops. Her lowers her gently to the floor, sits down, pulls her still, limp form into his lap and cradles her. He nod again to John, imploring him. Leave.

**

To be continued...