Sleep. Just eight hours, uninterrupted. Even six hours at this point would be such a gift. Just six hours, in that big bed, without having to rip herself from a dream, without being kicked by one chubby foot, without having to attend to some unreasonable demand from the prince of the household.
Hikari knew her eyes were red, her face was pale, and drawn with irritation, because it had been days now that she had gone without a solid night's sleep. Poor Jasper. It wasn't his fault. He couldn't help being a child. It was just that normally, Will was there, and Hikari was not forced, for twenty four hours a day, to be ready to respond to the boy.
She wanted to blame Lance, for dragging Will away for two weeks, on some League convention or some ridiculousness, and she knew that that, too, was a symptom of the sleep deprivation. Though to be fair, her list of complaints about her husband's employer were still many and varied.
"Hikari. You need to sleep."
She was too tired to even jump at the voice behind her, although she hadn't expected it, and slowly, she turned, looking wearily up at the speaker. "I am aware."
Cyrus's head was tilted a fraction, that way it did when he was worried. "Go," he said.
She shook her head. "No, I'm watching Jasper." He was thumbing through a picture book, curled up on a pile of pillows in front of one of the windows.
"I will watch him. Go sleep."
She hesitated. She had promised from the beginning that she would never force responsibility for her son on Cyrus, but this was different. He was offering. It was different, wasn't it?
"Go," he said again, and this time, she obeyed, rising from her seat in a daze. With one hand on her elbow, he led her down the hall. She slid into bed, letting her fingers linger a second on his wrist. She didn't have to thank him. And then sleep, the gentle embrace of sleep, almost instantly, and a dream of how wonderful life was, because it was wonderful, as tiring as it was.
Cyrus disappeared back to Jasper's room to find the boy had reached the door and was looking up, brow furrowed in adorable concern.
"Is Mommy sick?"
"She is very tired, so I sent her to bed."
A tilt of that violet head, a mirror of Cyrus's own occasional moments of curiosity. "Will she be okay?"
"Once she sleeps, yes."
"Oh." He stood there, looking up at the man towering over him, this strange person who had just always been a part of his life with no particular explanation. He had learned early on that reaching up to Cyrus would get him nothing but a confused look, and it was rare that he was ever alone in Cyrus's presence long enough to bother. Now, though, it was just the two of them, no mother around to come over and scoop him up and hug him and smile and brush over the awkwardness of Cyrus's failure to understand what on earth the child would want from him.
They watched each other, neither one apparently bothered by the passage of time.
"Will you tell me a story, Cyrus?" Jasper finally asked. He was only four, but he spoke perfectly, with a curt little accent that one could only pick up on the occasions when he spoke much - not often, really. That had come from Hikari, whose own speech had been so influenced by years with Cyrus and his flat inflection and his deliberate enunciation that she had her own accent now. She had fussed when Jasper was younger, and refused to speak or hear any "baby talk" in the house, the result being a child who, though not talkative, was still more eloquent than many adults.
"Alright." Cyrus stepped into the room, and Jasper reached up, taking his hand. They looked so silly next to each other, those long calloused fingers being clutched by pink baby fat. He did not react. Hikari had managed that much, that the occasional handholding was safe, and it was easy enough to pretend Jasper's eyes, wide, bright blue, with those heavy lashes that she had, too, were hers.
The little boy led him to the rocking chair by the window. It was a place of honor, Hikari was the only one who ever sat there. It was where she read to him every night, and then silently sat, and rocked, watching him, until he fell asleep.
Cyrus did, and Jasper tried to climb up into his lap, but Cyrus put a hand out, and said softly, "Please don't."
The boy paused, frowning, a match of his mother's often-adopted "I do not like that answer" expression. "Why?" And the question was not really a question, it was flat, and that, too, was Hikari's, learned from Cyrus.
"I do not like to be touched."
After a moment, Jasper climbed up onto his bed a few feet away. He crossed his legs, and looked expectantly at Cyrus. "Tell me a story."
The scientist cleared his throat and began to speak. Jasper listened, leaning forward eagerly as Cyrus wove a story that may not have been a story after all, not that the boy would have been any the wiser. He was cross-legged on the bed, resting his chin on his hands, and watching intently as Cyrus's hands gestured wildly, telling the story just as much as his words. Even with the lack of emotion in Cyrus's voice, on his face, Jasper was enthralled.
Some time later, Cyrus sat back, finished. He glanced at Jasper, who was still watching him, that round face curious, always. He wasn't bad, as children went, at least as far as Cyrus was concerned. He was not generally loud, or unruly, he did not often argue. Hikari's refusal to leave him alone was more a product of her own fear than of any inclination of Jasper's to be a pain. Now, though, with those blue eyes fixed on him, Cyrus had to wonder. What on earth does this boy want from me?
And then Jasper opened his perfect little mouth, those lips that looked just like Will's, and spoke. "Mommy says that you are going to be a god someday."
He turned his head, from one side to the other. "I wonder what it would be like, to be a god. I imagine it would be very strange."
"Yes. I imagine something like an omnipresent hive."
Jasper stopped, his face screwed up in concentration as he thought, and he looked so much like her, when she was puzzling over a particularly frustrating homework problem. "A hive is like a beehive, but does om-ni-pres-ent mean always giving?" He spoke the word carefully, feeling every syllable, every letter as he said it.
"It is 'present' as in 'here', not a gift." And then he was talking again, and just like that, he had drawn Jasper in, and the boy was wide-eyed listening.
"When you become a god, will you tell me about it?" he whispered, awed.
"If you wish."
"Yes, I would like that." He smiled, and for a second, her face was there again. He had that same easy smile, the one only a few people saw often on her, but he was so much more generous with it than she was.
Cyrus rose from the rocking chair. "I think it is time for you to sleep now. If you'd like, I will tell you another story tomorrow night."
Without complaint, Jasper scooted under the covers. "Will Mommy be awake then? Will you tell her, too?" he asked as he settled down on his pillow.
"I would hope she wakes up," Cyrus replied. "If not, something is terribly wrong."
A horrified expression came across Jasper's face, one so frightened that even Cyrus noticed, and tried to rectify his misstep.
"I am sure she will be fine after a good night's sleep."
Jasper nodded shakily, then looked expectantly up at Cyrus, who of course, remained oblivious. "You have to tuck the covers in real tight, like Mommy does," he instructed.
"Oh." He leaned over, pushing the sheets under the edge of the mattress, until Jasper was quite well tucked in, and nodded at him.
"Mommy kisses me good night every night, and Daddy does when he's home, but I don't think you want to kiss me good night. But it's okay." He yawned and smiled up at Cyrus. "You tucked very well."
"Thank you. On both counts. Good night, Jasper." He turned to go, but even such a simple thing was not meant to be simple tonight.
He stopped. "Yes."
"Do you dislike me?"
"No." If Hikari could have seen, she would have been proud. He hesitated, but not in the way that meant freezing up, just thinking before he answered.
Jasper smiled, and closed his eyes. "You don't talk much, but I don't either. But you have a lot to say and I think it's interesting. I like to listen and I like learn. Maybe you can teach me things that Mommy and Daddy can't."
Jasper could not see the thoughtful look on Cyrus's face. "Yes," he said, watching the boy breathe under the tightly tucked sheets.
"Good night, Cyrus." His voice was soft, sleepy already.
"Good night, Jasper."
The next morning, Hikari woke early, just before dawn, and slipped down the hall in her bathrobe. The door to Jasper's room was cracked open, and she glanced in. Jasper was sprawled out on the bed, one leg hanging off the edge, the other twisted up in his sheet. His hair was splayed across his face. She smiled, and stepped in, but nearly jumped to the ceiling when she saw the figure sitting in the rocking chair.
Cyrus looked up. "Hi."
"Hi." She sat next to the chair and put one hand on his knee. He shifted uncomfortably, but did not object. "Thank you. Jasper was good, wasn't he?"
"Very." Cyrus looked back at the Kindle in his hand. "He's a good boy."
She smiled, in that truly happy way that made all of the lines disappear from her face, and she looked like she had when they first met, so long ago. "I'm glad. I'm so glad you think so." She took his free hand, resting on the arm of the chair, and pressed a soft kiss into the very center of his palm. When she let go, he brushed a stray hair away from her face, and set his hand back where it had been. His fingers were closed over the spot she had kissed, however, and she stood with that serene smile on her face.
"I'll go make breakfast."