It was a warm, typical day in Ribeirão Preto, now formally called Blackstream, when the Minister of Colonization strolled down a row of houses in the Hegemony compound. He walked slowly, because he had gained plenty of weight in the past few peaceful years, and his body was slowly feeling the pressure of Earth's gravity. He had spent too many years in space to ever fully recover the density his bones had once had.
The house he was heading towards was fairly obvious; three little children were in the front garden, laughing and throwing dirt at one another and running around in circles until they fell over. A white picket fence surrounded them, ensuring that they wouldn't stray from the yard, and an older woman sat on a rocking chair on the porch, a fourth small child in her lap. When she saw Graff approaching the house, he raised a hand in greeting.
"You can't take them," called the woman. "We know your name this time."
"I'm not here to collect any children," he replied. "Although I'm sure that if I were, these little boys and girls would be at the top of my list."
The woman made a face. "I don't appreciate the humour," she sniffed. "Not after you what you did to my children last time."
Graff bowed his head slightly in deference. "Is Petra home?"
"She's disciplining Andrew," said the woman. "Which means that, by now, it's dissolved into a ruthless battle of Tickle Monster." A pause. The woman surveyed Graff carefully. "But she'll be out soon," she added. "Come inside; sit where my husband usually does." She nodded towards an empty rocking chair beside her.
Graff opened the small gate and walked into the front garden of the house. The children were too busy playing some kind of intense Duck-Duck-Goose-esque game to notice his entry. He sat beside the woman, his limbs groaning slightly as he reclined. "Where is your husband?" he asked.
"With Nikolai," answered the woman. "He's taking the family sightseeing. I say: haven't you seen enough sights for the rest of your life? And he just nods to his baby and says it's good to travel when you're young, Mother, I would know." She shook her head. "He knows just how to get on my nerves."
"So that's why you're not with them."
"No," said the woman. "I'm not with them because my ankles are swollen and painful. And poor Petra has five babies, Nikolai has one baby and a wife to boot. He can take care of himself." Before Graff could reply to this, she patted the head of the child in her lap and said, "This is Bella, by the way. I didn't know if you could tell her apart from Poke."
He hesitated. "Poke?"
"That's what we call Little Petra. It was Julian's choice."
The moniker stirred something in Graff's memory. "Poke," he said. "Poke was the name of Achilles's first victim."
Elena Delphiki flinched. "We try not to refer to that monster in the Delphiki household, Mister Graff."
"I'm certainly not going to refer to you as Colmin, if that's what you were hoping for."
"You can call me Hyrum, Mrs. Delphiki."
"I will not. I am not your friend."
This only pained Graff a little bit. "Fair enough," he said, and for a moment there was silence as they watched the children play. Then Graff said, "She looks just like her mother."
Elena looked at Graff. Graff looked at Elena.
"Bella," he said, nodding towards the dozing child in the woman's lap. "She looks just like Petra did at her age."
"It irks me that you know my daughter-in-law well enough to say such a thing."
"I'll never forget the first day I met her," said Graff. "It took an extra something special for a girl to make it to Battle School." He paused. "She had that something special, and then some."
The woman nodded. "It's not surprising that my son fell in love with her."
"On the contrary," said Graff, "I find it very surprising that your son fell in love with her." He looked at the three children in the garden, now playing a game that looked like tag, only more vicious. "But I'm happy that he did."
"Very kind words, coming from a child-stealer," said a voice at the door to the house. Elena and Graff turned to see Petra standing in the doorway, a child in her arms. She put him down. "Go play with your brothers and sister, Andrew," she said, and then she straightened up and looked at Graff and said, "I haven't seen you in a while, Rumpelstiltskin."
"Funny," said Graff. "I've never heard that one before."
"What are you here for?"
Graff shrugged good-naturedly. "To be honest, I was hoping the Hegemon would be around. It's difficult to meet with him these days."
"Why would you need to meet with him?"
"Oh, you know," he said. "For old time's sake."
There was a silence. And then Elena stood up. "Here," she said, handing Bella to Petra. "Take your baby. I'll start dinner." She went inside, and Petra sat in the chair that she had just vacated. Bella opened her eyes, blinked once, muttered a few words, and then went right back to sleep, curling up against her mother's chest.
"We're not going into space," said Petra. "If that's what you want."
Graff didn't say anything. He was looking right at the sleeping child on Petra's lap.
"I'm sure that if you have something to say, you can say it in front of my daughter."
"I apologize for my hesitance. But I've learned to be very cautious around young children."
"She's six," said Petra.
"At her age, Bean could overhear ten words and guess the answers to all the questions the other kids didn't even know how to ask. I don't underestimate children anymore, Petra."
A short silence. Petra just looked at him. He looked right back. And then she sighed shortly, but before she could even speak, Elena Delphiki scurried out the front door.
"I thought you'd need me," she said. "I'll put her to bed."
She took Bella inside. Petra said, "You didn't come for Peter."
"I would've gone to Peter if I really wanted to talk to him."
"What do you want from me?"
Graff didn't say anything for a while. He just looked at the children playing in the yard. Petra almost said something, but then she stopped because there was something unfamiliar in his eyes. The old man cleared his throat slightly. He sighed. And then he said, "I want to apologize, Petra."
"Not to you," he said. "Specifically, I mean. But unfortunately I don't have the capacity to send a mass letter to everyone who's ever attended Battle School under my supervision ever, so I suppose you'll have to do."
"Thanks," said Petra. "Your flattery is charming."
"Your husband was a good man," he said. "One of the very best to ever come out of my school intact."
"What happened there was completely under my control. I could have made it easier for you all."
Petra was silent. Then she said, "But you didn't."
Graff nodded his head. "But I didn't."
The words that came next were difficult for Petra to say. She had thought much about her years at Battle School. She had spoken to Peter about it sometimes, when they were alone. She had thought about what Dink had said about it while he was there. What happened to Bonzo. She used to have nightmares about Bonzo. And she thought about Ender's face, that last time she ever saw him. And she thought about the way she had felt when she had cracked under the strain of a battle that she hadn't even known was real.
She remembered the first time she ever met Julian. How tiny he had been.
She remembered the old vids of the Scouring of China, of the blackened, empty earth that the Buggers had left behind. She looked out into the yard, at her babies playing in the grass.
Petra Arkanian Delphiki sat with the man who had singlehandedly destroyed so many children's lives, and she couldn't allow herself to deny the fact that he had saved the world while he was at it. But she couldn't forgive him for what had happened to the people she loved. Could she ever forgive him for the brokenness in Ender's eyes? For ignoring the threats, the Salamander soldiers in the halls, the way that Ender had all but given up? How could she ever forgive a man who had had to send a child home in a box, no matter how cruel and stupid the boy had been? How could she ever forgive the man who had orchestrated the games that had broken her?
How could she hate the man who had, at any cost, ensured that the earth would remain inhabited at least long enough for her to raise her children?
Petra sat there for many long minutes, searching for the words to say.
And then she thought of her daughter Bella, asleep inside the house, and she looked at her daughter called Poke, and at Ramon, and at Julian, and at Andrew, the spitting image of his father. And she thought of his father, a giant named Bean, somewhere up in space with their children. How long had it been for them? Weeks? Days? Surely the pain of leaving her still stung freshly in his heart. But he was a good man. He had always been a good man, despite the things that he went through. She would never forgive him for leaving her. But there was nothing but love in her heart for him.
She thought of the way that Peter looked at her now. She thought of the way that he played so easily with her children. She thought about what an insufferable eemo he was sometimes. She thought that maybe she really did love him too, after all.
And then she shook her head just a little bit.
"Colonel Graff," she said, knowing very well that he was no longer a colonel. "It would be hard to forgive you for what you did to us."
He bowed his head, as if he understood.
"But we won," she said.
There was a long silence between them.
Graff took a slow, deep breath, and then he nodded again.
"Thank you, Petra," he said, and he stood up. "I'll go."
He headed away from the house, lumbering slowly to the gate in the fence. The children were spinning in circles and screaming with laughter. Graff closed the gate behind him. He glanced back. Petra met his gaze. She didn't look away. But she wasn't angry. She just stared at him, and if someone else had seen her, they might have said she stared hollowly, bleakly. But Graff knew her better than that.
The Minister of Colonization nodded his head once more in farewell, and then he turned and walked away and didn't look back.
Oh Graff. Oh Petra. Oh Bean. You are all such tragic characters. I have always thought Graff was a fascinating character. He views himself as a sort of God, but I don't think he believes that he can get away with all of this without consequence. I believe he thought it was all necessary and, for all intents and purposes, worth it. But I think he knows what he's done. And he hates it and it tortures him. But I don't think he regrets it. Petra is a similar way. I think that she has hated Battle School and all it did to her and everyone for a long time, but I think she comes to terms with it. She never would have found Bean without it. Rereading Ender's Shadow, the first time the two of them ever meet always gets to me. She leads him down to his deck and she talks and talks and talks and he says nothing. And it's absolutely stunning, to know what happened to them like ten years later. Wow. Just wow.
Of course I had to indulge my inner Peter/Petra fanatic. I wish we'd seen more of them. Sigh.
Oh and also. I might write something about Petra and Bonzo. Not romantically at all; I do think Petra hated Bonzo, but at the same time, when Bonzo was killed...she knew him well. And that affected her. Shocked her. I can see how that might have affected everything she did. I wish we'd heard more about Bonzo from her. Raaaagh.
Well. I hope you liked this. I hope it made sense. I love Petra's children. And I love the concept of forgiveness. It shows up a lot in my stories. It's important to me.