It was always foggy atop Mt. Pyre. No matter the weather or season, a chill mist shrouded the summit, seeping between the crumbling headstones that covered the mountainside like chipped scales. Some people said the fog was really the collected spirits of the dead, keeping watch over the holy peak; others, that a spell had been placed on the mountaintop long ago, the fog a protective blanket to soothe the souls who slept beneath it.
For all these myths and rumors, the top of Mt. Pyre was uninspiring. There was nothing there, usually—just a flat circle of bare earth, without even any grass or graves to enliven it. Today, however, a small wooden casket had been set on the ground in the exact center of the mountaintop, weathered and fragile, its lid lying beside it. It looked ancient, as though some traveler in ages past had left it for a minute and never returned, and it had sat there, undisturbed, all the generations since.
Two men were kneeling in front of the casket. Each had in his lap something round wrapped in dark cloth, and though their faces showed much thought, neither of them spoke. They looked like pilgrims, come to leave offerings at the makeshift shrine of a forgotten god, fulfilling some ritual too old to bear the need for words. The fog around them pressed palpably on every side, making small and eerie any noise from the rest of the world that drifted all the way to the peak, and giving them only the vaguest hint as to where the sun stood. If not for the earth beneath them both, and the light wind stirring their hair and clothes, they could have easily believed themselves elsewhere: a small white room without walls or doors or ceiling, another plane of existence.
The two men paused, and then, at the same moment, both reached forward and gently set the Red and Blue Orbs into the casket. There was a muffled clink as the cloth-wrapped Orbs touched one another before settling into the grooves carved into the bottom.
Archie rested his fists on his knees. Maxie carefully set the cracked wooden lid onto the chest; it fitted snugly. Then he, too, sat in silence, gazing at the intricate carvings on the lid: ribbons of water and tongues of flame, intertwined so tightly that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
For a time, they neither moved nor spoke. This too was part of the ritual, this last silence, understanding the offering that had been made. Not a gift bestowed in kindness, nor a sacrifice made in desperation, nor even a grudging relinquishing of treasure by thieves who had been caught, but something willing and humble: children with bowed heads returning a sharp, shiny weapon that they had plucked from over the mantle, thinking it a marvelous toy. At last, and in silence, they both rose to their feet.
Maxie dusted off the knees of his pants; Archie did not bother. Together they gazed into the white fog beyond the edge of the clearing, knowing that the old couple who kept watch over Mt. Pyre was waiting to take the chest back to the shrine in the heart of the mountain. Archie ran a hand through his hair.
"They'll be safe back where they came from," he said. In the utter stillness his voice sounded loud, though he spoke quietly. "Well, unless another couple of geniuses like us come around someday, I guess."
"One can only hope."
The two men looked at each other without hate. Then they turned and headed for the steep stone steps that led down the mountain, descending side-by-side. Neither of them glanced back.
Halfway down the mountainside, just below where the fog thinned to nothing, a group of people had assembled on a flat grassy patch relatively free of graves. Though none of them were dressed the part, there was an almost military bearing to the way they had arranged themselves into several neat rows. The crowd was silent, gazing intently at the veil of fog further up the mountain, and at last two men appeared from the mist. Everyone stirred.
Archie and Maxie stopped when the ground leveled off, nodding at one another before stepping forward. Shoulder-to-shoulder, they stood facing what was left of their teams. Aqua and Magma were not divided down the middle; the rows of people were a mix of both teams, and without their uniforms they were indistinguishable from one another. In the back stood Matt, Courtney, Shelly, and Tabitha, in that order; they, at least, wore their uniforms, or whatever pieces of them they had left. Courtney was chewing a wad of gum, and blew a huge pink bubble that covered half her face. When it popped loudly, Tabitha gave her a reproachful look from across Shelly's shoulders; Courtney ignored him.
"It is done," said Maxie.
The few whispering people fell still. Maxie raised a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat.
"I hereby formally disband Team Magma, and absolve its members of all the duties and responsibilities associated therewith. Anyone who may act in the name of Team Magma from this day forward will do so unofficially, and in violation of the spirit of the organization. But I thank you all for your loyalty and perseverance. I regret that I have nothing with which to reward you today except my gratitude."
Archie folded his arms, jerking his head at Maxie.
"What he said." He paused, then added, "Everybody go home."
There was a beat of oppressive silence. Courtney broke it with a loud pop, and someone in the middle of the crowd stifled a nervous laugh. Everyone relaxed. The rows of people shifted, then melted; no one went far, but everyone moved, scattering themselves over the grass in twos and threes. After a minute, conversations started up, chasing away the deathly stillness on the empty, grave-strewn mountainside.
Matt exhaled and fiddled with his collar. He had scrounged up a shirt for the occasion, but it did not fit him, and he pulled at the tight fabric with a grimace. Courtney popped another bubble of gum.
"Guess this is finally it," Matt said. He looked to her. "Where you headed now?"
Courtney rolled the wad of gum around in her mouth. Apparently it had lost its flavor, because she spat it onto the grass and dug in her pocket for another piece.
"No idea. But I guess I gotta get a real job now. Damn." She sounded annoyed. "What about you?"
Matt shrugged. "I dunno...Maybe I'll just go back to Lilycove. Figure they need mechanics out there, with all the reconstruction. If not, though...We'll see."
Courtney saluted when Maxie approached, but it was a reflexive, almost joking act. She grinned at him.
"Hey, boss. Nice speech. Short and sweet."
"Yes, well...It's not as if there's much to say at this point, is there?" Maxie shook his head. "But thank you for coming out today, Courtney. I realize you would have preferred to...mm, make a clean getaway, before now."
"Hey, I wanted to come." Another grin. "Been doing this Magma gig longer than anybody but you, I oughta at least hear the last word on it." She looked over Maxie's shoulder. "Having fun over there, Tab?"
Tabitha was on crutches. He growled something in Courtney's direction as he hobbled over, his bandaged leg hovering above the uneven ground. Behind him, his Mightyena nudged him in the rear when his balance faltered; he tried to look dignified anyway. Courtney laughed once he approached, smacking her gum more loudly than usual.
"You're a real sight," she said. "Wish I could get a picture."
"Give it a rest, Courtney."
"Eh, come on, Tab. I'm just screwing with you."
She gave him a playful jab on the shoulder that would have knocked him over had Maxie and Mightyena not steadied him. Tabitha spluttered, but Courtney just grinned.
"Save it, Tab." To Maxie, she added, "So, you know where you're headed next, boss?"
"Not yet, no. We still haven't decided."
"Well, you'd better hurry it up. We've already had two weeks' grace from the cops; I wouldn't hold out for more. Better split soon. Get outta Hoenn, if you can."
"Is that what you'll be doing?"
Courtney just shrugged. Maxie managed half a smile.
"Thank you for everything, Courtney. I hope to see you again someday."
"Yeah, yeah." She popped her gum. "Good luck out there, boss. You too, Tab."
Tabitha muttered some well-wishes, then said, more clearly, "Don't get into any trouble." Courtney snorted.
"Tab, I've gotten into enough trouble lately to last me till I'm old and saggy. Don't lose any sleep over me."
"Never have," Tabitha assured her. She snorted again.
"Well...You two keep your heads down from now on. I don't wanna see either of your mugshots on the news, all right?"
Maxie smiled. "We'll do our best."
Across the clearing, Archie, Matt, and Shelly stood in a circle, Matt still fiddling with his coat collar as he talked.
"Not a lot to go on," he admitted, "but it's a good place to start. Figure I can get set up that way and then work out what I wanna do in the long run."
"Sounds like a plan," said Archie approvingly. "You'll figure something out. Tech guy like you, you'll do all right, no sweat."
"Thanks, boss." Matt scratched behind his ear, then said, "Where are you both headed?"
Archie and Shelly looked at each other. Shelly tossed her hair; Archie shrugged.
"Haven't thought that far ahead," Archie said. "Well, I've thought about it, but..." He shrugged again. "Anyway, if you wind up staying in Lilycove, we'll look you up sometime. Dunno how, but—hell."
They clasped hands, and then Matt and Shelly exchanged nods. The three of them shared a look of mutual understanding; this could easily be the last time in their lives that they would gather together like this. There would be no more discussions or meetings or making of plans, no more late nights up scheming and long days spent working; if they ever met again it would be only on fate's whim. None of them was quite sure how to comment on this, and so finally Matt cleared his throat and said, "Well, uh...I guess this is it, boss. See you around."
"You too, Matt. Thanks for everything."
"Don't like having to run off," he admitted, "but Dylan's buddy's giving me and some other guys a ride. Gotta leave now if we wanna get there in time."
"Good luck, Matt," Shelly told him. "With whatever you end up doing next."
"You guys too. Stay outta trouble." Matt paused, considering his audience, then amended, "Or at least, try not to get caught."
"Want a smoke?" Craig offered.
"Nah." Courtney grimaced at the cigarette, then jerked a thumb at the gum she was chewing. "Trying to quit. Cigs are expensive."
Craig shrugged and lit up. Courtney watched longingly as he took a drag, then stuffed another couple of pieces of gum into her mouth, turning away. Craig, Sierra, Stanley, and Brooke were left standing in a broken circle that Stanley scooted over to close. When Craig exhaled smoke from his nose, his Houndoom did the same.
No one seemed to want to break the silence, and so it lasted several minutes, though it was hard to tell time there on the side of the mountain. The fog above, the unseasonably cool wind around, and the ground below littered with tombstones combined to suppress the desire for conversation; it felt like being inside a funeral home, though they stood in the open air beneath the sun. Sierra fidgeted. Her Mightyena laid down on the grass and rested its head on its front paws.
"So...What do we do now?" she finally asked.
They all exchanged blank looks, as though they had each avoided thinking about such a huge and frightening question until this, the last possible moment. Only Craig seemed determined, though it was impossible to tell whether he was faking it or not. He studied the glowing tip of his cigarette before sticking it back in his mouth.
"I'm going back to Mossdeep," he said, taking another pull.
"How come?" asked Sierra. "And don't say your cousin, 'cause we all know you don't even—"
"I've fucking got a cousin," he said through a cloud of smoke, "and he said I can come crash with him anytime. Finally heard back from him last night."
The others looked jealous. Stanley's Golbat, hovering above them all, blew away the dense cigarette smoke, then alighted on Stanley's head; his neck bowed under its weight, but he didn't seem to mind. He reached up and petted its short fur. It chirruped, framing his face with its leathery wings.
"Who knows when they'll start running all the normal ferries again, though?" Stanley said. "I mean, you might be stuck around here for a while."
"We all will be," Brooke mused. Beside her, her Crawdaunt clacked its pincers.
Sierra started coiling a lock of her long hair around one finger, then gnawed on the split ends. She paused long enough to say, "Well...I guess we'll figure something out. It's not like we have a choice."
The four of them looked at each other; their Pokémon mimicked them. A sudden breeze stole the smoke from Craig's cigarette, hanging out of the corner of his mouth.
"We'll find some way to be okay," said Stanley at last. His Golbat chirped resolutely. "We're still a team."
Archie and Maxie talked. It was impossible to say what about, since they had moved opposite the scattered crowd and stood with their backs to it; no one had the nerve to approach them. But once in a while, Archie's rough laugh rang loud over the other conversations, and when the two men finally parted, neither one looked ill at ease. Maxie was approached at once by Tabitha; Archie made for Shelly, who met him halfway across the grassy clearing. When they reached each other, they both turned to watch Maxie and Tabitha recede.
"What were you two talking about?" Shelly asked Archie, who glanced at her and shrugged.
"Ehh, nothing much. This and that, I guess. Burying the hatchet."
He regarded Maxie and Tabitha with some interest.
"Good riddance, you bastards!" he called suddenly, shattering the hallowed silence. Tabitha stopped hobbling to glare over his shoulder; Archie laughed and flipped him off, grinning. Shelly rolled her eyes.
"What?" Archie folded his arms, still grinning. "We won't have to see them ever again, right? That's worth making a fuss over in my book."
Shelly watched Maxie and Tabitha move toward the other side of the clearing.
"I'm not sure," she said. "I have a feeling we'll run into them again someday."
"Heh. I know what you mean. Feels like we'll never be that lucky, huh?"
But he said this without any malice, and was smiling when they both turned away to gaze instead at the vast, calm ocean to the east, shining under the high sun. In the distance, tiny blue figures churned the water; a pod of Wailord was passing by. They both watched it.
"What are you going to do now, Archie?"
Archie's mildly pleased expression sobered.
"I don't have anywhere to run off to," he admitted, stuffing his hands in his pockets and looking unusually moody. "Mom's dead, uncle's dead, haven't talked to my cousins in years. Best thing now seems to be starting over somewhere." He frowned at the endless sea. "Maybe the Orange Islands or somewhere like that. Someplace real outta the way. And..."
He didn't finish.
"And what, Archie?"
Archie glanced at her, then exhaled through his nose.
"Shelly, I...Look, I don't have a lot going for me right now. I'm starting from scratch, so I don't have anything to offer you. But I'd really like it if you came with me, wherever I end up going. Or, if you're going somewhere, then..." He faltered, then sighed. "Ah, hell, I dunno. I just wanna keep being with you, that's all."
"For how long?"
"For as long as you'll let me." He shrugged. "Face it, Shelly, we've done a lot of crazy shit together already. So whatever happens next, I know we can handle it."
"Well, I can't argue with that."
Archie tried to put his arm around her, but hissed through gritted teeth, instead clutching with his other hand at the bandages wrapped tightly across his chest. Shelly looked concerned.
"Yeah, a little bit."
"They said it would leave a scar."
"Yeah, well...I don't mind." Archie let go of the bandages and managed a strained smile. "I'll just tell people I got into a wrestling match with a Gyarados."
They exchanged looks; Shelly raised her eyebrow at him. Archie gave an apologetic sigh, which she seemed to accept, since she carefully pressed the side of her face against his injured arm before nodding towards the steps that led down the mountain. He brushed her hair out of her face, his fingers passing over the spot on her forehead where the cut she had received at Sky Pillar had almost healed. Then, together, they started walking.
"So...Where should we set up shop?" Archie asked—conversationally, as if this were an idle question.
"I don't know, Archie." Shelly frowned at the uneven ground as she walked. "But before we do anything else, I want to go to Pacifidlog Town."
"What's in Pacifidlog?"
Archie halted. Shelly noticed and halted too, looking over her shoulder at him.
"I want to know if they're all right, after all of this. Besides...I haven't seen them in a long time." She folded her arms across her stomach, looking pensive. "I think it's time to go back and say I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
Shelly shook her head. Archie watched her curiously, then wrapped his arm around her waist from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder.
"You don't wanna tell me what happened?"
"Not right now, Archie. But I will soon, I promise."
"Okay." He nuzzled her thick hair. "But..."
"Do I have to wear a tie?"
"Why on earth would you wear a tie?"
"Well...If I'm gonna meet your parents..."
"No, Archie, you don't." She reached up to brush her finger along his face. "But you do have to shave."
Archie was too horrorstruck to speak. Shelly's next laugh was louder, yet gentler than the first.
"I'm kidding, Archie."
"Good." He ran his knuckles against his bearded chin. "Shit, don't scare me like that."
Shelly kissed him, then tugged herself out of his grip, and they started walking again, soon reaching the stone staircase that led back down the mountain. It was too narrow for them to take side-by-side, and so Shelly went first, picking her way down the weathered steps; Archie followed. But they had not gone more than a dozen feet down before he spoke.
"Shelly, hold up."
Shelly turned. Archie had halted on the steps.
"I wanna give you something," he said. "Been holding onto this. Forgot I had it for a while, actually..."
He pulled something out of his pocket and held it out; whatever it was, it was so small that Shelly couldn't see it. She stepped up on the stairs just below him, but he kept his hand cupped around it until she extended her own. When he dropped the object into her palm, it flashed brilliantly in the watery sunlight that filtered to them through the fog above.
"It's not much," Archie admitted, "but if we sell it, it'll get us a few meals and some tickets. To Pacifidlog, and wherever we wanna go after that."
Shelly held up the heart scale, studying it. But for the shape, it could have been a thin flake of some rare gemstone.
"Thank you, Archie." She turned it over in her hand. "It's beautiful."
Archie shrugged, watching her examine the heart scale. She traced its outline with one finger, drawing a heart on her own palm, and then set it back in his open hand without any comment. This seemed to unnerve him.
"What is it, Archie?"
"Are we...Eh, what did you call it..." He paused, then remembered the word she had once used. "Are we a 'thing'?"
"What makes you think you still have to ask?"
He hesitated, then confessed.
"You don't need me the way I need you, Shelly," he said, almost accusingly. "You could get by without me."
"That's true, Archie. I could."
Shelly sighed and smiled. Then she reached out and closed Archie's fingers around the heart scale, holding his fist tightly in both of her hands, gazing up into his blue eyes.
"I would just be sad for a long time, that's all."
Tabitha could not stop himself from taking charge. He spent a good twenty minutes limping back and forth between what was left of the scattered grunts, speaking a few parting words to each of those who had been members of Team Magma. Though he was as curt and formal as ever, the overriding emotionality of the situation undermined him, and twice he nearly fell over on his crutches when a particularly heartbroken grunt hugged him goodbye. But that was to be expected. Those who had considered Team Magma or Team Aqua an exciting game, or one opportunity out of many, were long gone. The only people who had made the journey here to chilly Mt. Pyre were those to whom their team had meant everything, those who now had nowhere else to go, and nothing else to be. Tabitha did not berate them, not even the young woman who almost started crying. He understood.
Once Tabitha was certain he had spoken to everyone, he looked around for Maxie. At his side, Mightyena pointed its nose in the air, sniffing, and then trotted away; Tabitha knew it knew who he was looking for, and followed.
Maxie had separated himself from the crowd and was idling on the cliffside near a cluster of fragmented headstones, gazing out at the distant shore across the water. Tabitha navigated as best as he could over the rough ground; Maxie turned when he heard him stump over, and moved to him so that Tabitha would not have to hop over the headstones. Still, Tabitha wobbled a little. Mightyena steadied him from one side, and Maxie from the other, catching his shoulder.
"Thanks," Tabitha muttered. He scowled as he shifted his grip on his crutches. "I hate these things."
"It's only for a few weeks, Tabitha."
"I still hate them."
"It's fortunate you didn't suffer any worse. A broken leg is a small price to pay for what we've been through, I should think."
"What about you?" He nodded to Maxie's side. "Still hurt to breathe?"
"Not as much today." Maxie gingerly touched the bandages pressed beneath the right side of his coat, wincing when a flash of pain stung him.
"Don't touch it," Tabitha said worriedly. Maxie shook his head and sighed, then turned back to face the mainland; Tabitha stood beside him, balanced precariously on the uneven ground. Maxie ran a hand through his sleek hair.
"Well, it's all over now, Tabitha," he said. "Over at long last. So strange..."
"Oh, I don't know. Everything, I suppose. The way it's all turned out...How Team Magma ended...I simply never would have predicted any of this."
"Me neither." Tabitha sounded pensive. "But that's all right. It feels weird now, but I'll get used to it."
He said this with determination, as though get used to it were another mission for him to complete. It made Maxie smile.
"What am I going to do without you, Tabitha?"
"I'd rather not find out, sir."
Maxie sighed gently. "Tabitha, please don't call me 'sir'."
"Sorry," Tabitha grunted, adjusting his crutches. "Habit."
For a minute, both men stood gazing off into the distance, watching the sunlight dance across the water between Mt. Pyre and the coast; beside Tabitha, Mightyena stood proudly, like a sentinel. Tabitha broke the silence.
"What happens now, Maxie?"
"I'm not certain. I still have some money tied up outside of Hoenn, so I suppose we could go set ourselves up anywhere we choose. Perhaps somewhere in Kanto..." He looked to Tabitha. "Do you have anywhere you'd like to go?"
Tabitha frowned, considering.
"I thought about going to see my family," he admitted. "It's been a long time. I don't miss 'em, I just wonder what they're up to, sometimes. Like my kid sister...I sort of wonder how she turned out." He shrugged this thought off. "But it doesn't matter. I want to start over, not go backwards." A pause. "What about you? Do you have any relatives?"
"None living, no. Well, I believe I have some distant cousins, but no immediate family."
Tabitha watched a handful of Wingull dart past them below, skimming the craggy side of the mountain, looking for their nests. "So...what's out in Kanto?"
"A number of things. Mountains...volcanoes..."
"Volcanoes..." Tabitha paused. "That sounds nice."
But there was a hesitation in his voice that made Maxie glance to him.
Tabitha read his look, then admitted, "It's just...I've never left Hoenn before. It'll be a little strange. Like going into exile, almost."
They exchanged looks. Maxie smiled wanly.
"Well...That is what we're doing, in a sense. But if it's any consolation, we'll always have a piece of Hoenn with us, wherever we end up."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you recall that little box that was left for me in the hospital, just before we left?"
Maxie pulled something out of his pocket, which shone hard and pale, like a chunk of crystal. Tabitha's brow furrowed.
"What is that?"
"I'm not entirely certain, actually." Maxie turned the object over a few times in his hand, examining it from several angles. "It might be an apology...or perhaps a peace offering. I don't know which."
He handed it to Tabitha, who frowned, inspecting it. It was a rock, but an oddly translucent, beautiful one. The golden surface of it caught the sunlight, making the red interior flash like a flame. Around it was tied a paper tag, which Tabitha held close to read.
Specimen: Fire Stone
Locality: Granite Cave, Dewford Island, Hoenn
Size: 4.10 x 1.30 x 0.47 in.
Collected by: S.S.
"SS..." Tabitha looked to Maxie. "Is this from..."
"I believe so."
Tabitha paused, then handed the stone back to Maxie, who gave it another long look before pocketing it.
"I guess that's something," Tabitha admitted. He hopped a step closer on his crutches; Maxie reached out to steady him, then took one of Tabitha's crutches so that Tabitha could stand close, leaning on Maxie for support, one arm around him. The wind was cool on their faces.
Tabitha kissed Maxie's neck as best as he could, given the obstacle that Maxie's coat collar presented. Maxie sighed, smiled, and reached over to clasp Tabitha's free hand on his waist, entwining their fingers; Tabitha nudged the side of his head protectively.
"Who are we now? What do we go become, after all of this?"
"I don't know, Maxie." He kissed his neck again. "But we'll figure it out together."
Mightyena growled its agreement, its tail swishing. With his free hand, Maxie scratched it behind the ears; it growled again happily.
Together they stood on the mountainside, looking out over the sparkling water, watching the wide and beautiful world that they miraculously had not destroyed. So long did they linger that the clearing behind them began to empty as people headed back down the mountain; eventually Maxie, Tabitha, and Mightyena were the only living things left there, the fog that blanketed the upper slopes hanging above them and sometimes sending tendrils creeping down the cliffs. They did not speak. Only the wind and the cries of Wingull swooping below them gave life to the quiet grassy slopes of Mt. Pyre.
At last, Maxie broke the silence with a determined sigh.
"Well," he said, as if trying to pull himself out of a reverie, "I suppose we'd best go, Tabitha. It would be unwise to loiter here—or anywhere else, for that matter. Not for a long while yet."
"Are you worried about the police?"
"Yes. I have a feeling our friend Lance has been leaning on them a bit, but it would still behoove us to leave as soon as possible. We ought to get out of the immediate area, at least."
Tabitha nodded, then said to Mightyena, "All right, buddy, let's go. There's nothing else we can do here."
Mightyena growled and turned away, its tail wagging, leading the way towards the ancient stairs cut into the face of the mountain. Tabitha received his crutch from Maxie, and both of them followed Mightyena—though slowly, Tabitha trying to make sure of his footing on the rough ground. When they reached the top of the steps, they halted. Tabitha surveyed the situation, then adjusted his crutches.
"I should go first this time, Maxie," he said. "Don't wanna fall down and take you with me."
"You won't," Maxie assured him, but Tabitha had already turned and begun making his way down the first of the narrow stairs that led to the foot of the low mountain, inspecting each weathered step carefully before setting his crutches down on it. Mightyena followed beside him, its nose to the stone, watching Tabitha's crutches to ensure he did not slip.
Tabitha paused. Both he and Mightyena turned to look back up at Maxie, still lingering at the top of the stairs. Maxie stuck his hands in the pockets of his battered coat, the wind stirring his red hair.
"Tabitha—are you quite certain you wouldn't like to pay your relatives a visit first? I don't want to keep you away, if you'd like to go home to Slateport."
"No, it's fine." He shrugged. "Besides, those aren't the same."
"What do you mean?"
"It's just my family out in Slateport. Home is wherever you are."
He shrugged again, as though this fact was not terribly interesting, and returned his attention to the more pressing issue of getting down the mountain. Maxie remained still, silhouetted at the top of the stairs as Tabitha and Mightyena made their way down Mt. Pyre, Tabitha's crutches clunking dully against the stone.
Perhaps they would fall apart in a few years, crumbling under the weight of cold silences and bitter arguments. That was how these things always seemed to turn out, for him. But as Maxie watched Tabitha hobble patiently down the steps, he let himself believe that he had found, without looking for it, something as strong as the foundations of the earth. It would last for today, and tomorrow, and all the days of his life that followed: through need and plenty, sickness and health, hell and high water.