The cemetery was awash with the bold colors of autumn as the trees had begun to drop their leaves being cued by the arrival of an early cold front in late September. Even now, the weather seemed a bit cool for Texas this time of year. The tombstones jutted like old grey teeth from the litter of vibrant fall leaves that danced in the whimsy of the cool breeze that flirted through the ancient cottonwood trees.
A shiny silver car pulled up and a figure exited the vehicle, carrying a bouquet of lovely tiger lilies- Marva's favorite flower. The figure was tall for a woman, wearing a chocolate brown, fitted trench coat over a stylish wrap around, ankle length skirt in the same color. A soft, cashmere scarf decorated with many colors draped over her shoulders. Her honey colored, curly hair was pulled back in a stylish twist and her face was just barely showing the lines and creases of a woman in her mid-thirties, belying her true age. Her brown suede boots crunched through the drying leaves as she made her way to the grave.
The stone that she and her brother agreed on had a small cherub seated on top, resting a chubby cheek in one hand as a tear striped his cheek. "A loving wife, devoted mother, and friend to all, Marva Burrows-Trudeaux." She never took Jim's last name, she already seemed to have so many and she wanted to keep ties with her children. Jim didn't care, he had her and that was all that mattered.
A silent tear fell as she places the lilies on her mother's grave. Reaching into her coat pocket, she produced a lariat and set it in front of the neighboring stone. It hurt even now, five years later, to think of how that month had gone. No one really knew how devoted Jim was to Marva, except maybe Hagi. 21 days after Marva took her last breath, Jim was found in his bed. His heart had just given up while he was sleeping.
Claudia smiled as she remembered something he told her while she placed flowers on her mother's fresh grave. "Now, when my time comes, don't you go bringing me no damn flowers, girl! I ain't one of those girly-men! I'm a ranch hand and cow herder."
She then stepped back and began to speak, "Hey Jim. Hey Momma. I know it's been about a month since I came last, but you know the fashion industry. Joel has been wonderfully excited about your new grandbaby," she placed a hand over her belly. "Not by me! We're adopting a baby girl from Vietnam in the Spring."
"The ranch is doing really well under Clay's supervision and the new men are working just great. One of them has trained a new horse that Jeffrey will be riding in the next rodeo in Houston. He's Fury's grandson and black as midnight. He has that same fiery spirit as his grandfather." She cupped her hand to the side of her mouth and continued, "Of course, you know what that means- Hagi is completely taken with him."
She gave a small laugh and then looked back to the tombstones and smiled, "Look at me. Most people would think I'm a loony standing here talking to the graves, but they just don't know how much we've all been through." She thought for a moment and then continued, "Mom, you were right when you said Hagi was special. Look how much he's been through and how we all banded together to support him. It brought us all so much closer to each other." She looked off into the distance as if she was seeing something far off. She mused aloud, "He's so happy now. So full of smiles and he rarely shows that stoic side off anymore. But he's sad sometimes, too. He really misses you, Momma."
She shook her head and then spoke cheerfully, "Robert has changed his name to Joel VII and is planning to take Joel's place as the CEO of the Red Shield and Goldschmidt Pharmaceuticals. He is on the verge of a Master's Degree from Berkley. He'll be working with Julia from time to time. That reminds me, the Second Knight of Chasina- the silver haired one… White! Kyle White- that's it."
She chuckled, "Saya calls him the Silver Knight. Anyway, he and Julia have been giving a few queens the injection- the one's that want freedom from that creepy dungeon. Queen Chitose, Saya's aunt, is now pregnant, too. They had to do it via artificial insemination since Nathan has no drive to do anything the natural way."
"He visited Saya and Hagi recently. You should have seen the look on his face when he came face to face with all those children! He just commented, 'I guess that's what happens when you make a man wait more than a century.' Of course, he had to continue on this line of conversation when he noticed how embarrassed the two were. I won't go into details, but the funniest line was about how their wedding night must have been a BLAST!" Claudia burst into chuckles.
Tears squeezed from her eyes as she tried to compose herself. She finally calmed herself and continued, "Natalie is now a CPA and Joel has practically begged her to come and work for the Red Shield, but she says she'd rather have her own accounting firm. She does very well for herself, I'm very proud of her. She and Richard are expecting your first great-grandchild. I'll know more in a couple of months as she's only a month and a half along."
She smiled wistfully and commented, "Can you imagine me, a grandmother?" She then thought aloud, "I wonder when my son will finally get the gumption to finally marry that young lady he's so attached to?"
She shrugged and then spoke again, "Jeffrey- gosh Hagi and Saya are so proud of him. He is now in law school and maintaining a 4.0 GPA all the while! He still rides when he can and is an ace at roping. He's even made great efforts toward pushing that Bill through congress, even though he hasn't even begun a political career."
"The older he gets, the more he looks exactly like Hagi. He tried wearing a modern suit, but found he liked the style his father wears more. He actually commissioned me to make several jackets, shirts and slacks similar to the ones his father has. He even wants the opening in the back for his wings- yes, he has wings too. He discovered this a year ago when he and Rose went mountain climbing. His footing slipped and he fell. You can imagine the horror that must have been for his parents. He commented that as he felt panic rising in him, he felt the deep purple wings sprout from his back and he slowly glided to the ground."
"He was so ecstatic about the UN actually inviting him to speak at a convention last year. They were astounded by his intelligence and drive as well as his knowledge of Environmental Law. Every country now recognizes chiropterans as an endangered species and they're all under the protection of the EPA. No one can hunt them or give them any trouble."
She smiled and commented softly, "He's going to be one very amazing King when the time comes."
"Julia says that all of the kids will stop aging around the age of 22, like Hagi. They are indeed immortal, but their blood does not crystallize like the queen's blood. It isn't poisonous to one another either, nor is it poisonous to their parents. Julia confirmed the kids all can reproduce, so that'll give Hagi and Saya lots of grandkids, when the time comes."
"Jeffrey has been dating Queen Samiyah for a year now." She grinned as she recalled, "Saya was angry since she thought that Samiyah was only looking for a mate. She fussed that her son was not some lab rat and that she wanted him to find love first. So it looks like Samiyah is going to have to fall in love. The way Jeffrey looks at her, you know he's already there."
"Hagi and Saya are working with the kids to see if they have any powers, too. I'll let you know if they do."
"Lance plans on taking up criminal justice and wants to become a police officer. I'm sure that he'll one day make it to FBI. He's so smart and so very strong. He's starting to look more like Hagi, but he's bit shorter and his hair is more like Saya's. He keeps it short and wears glasses for reading. He doesn't need to, but he claims it makes him look older."
"Rose is a beauty. She's still the only girl and seems to like it that way. 'Daddy's Little Princess', that's what Hagi calls her. She looks more like Saya every day, but those violet eyes, they are just gorgeous. She is still quite adventurous, doing gymnastics and dancing. She, like Lance does not want to play music. They just opt for listening to Jeffrey play the piano."
"Daniel, believe it or not, is now 8 and has already started learning the cello. He's another replica of his father, like Jeffrey. He looks so small next to that cello, Momma. It's just too cute. He also has been riding, too. Hagi and Saya gave him one of the horses, a bay colt, and he really has a talent for riding."
A leaf gently fell from one of the trees and landed on Jim's stone. She reached up a manicured hand and brushed it off. She continued, "Joshua is in First grade and just so cute. He has Saya's round face and I think he's going to actually look like her."
"I told you last time that Saya is indeed pregnant again. This time it's twins! She's having one each, a girl and a boy," she informed with a sparkle in her eye. "That will give them a grand total of 7 children."
She gave a light chuckle and commented, "I asked Hagi if they will ever shut down the chiropteran factory they seem to have going and he simply shrugged and gave me that tired old line, 'If that is what Saya wishes.'"
She was shocked to hear someone saying the last line with her- a voice she knew very well. A long arm clothed in a long black sleeve wrapped around her shoulder and she turned to see him. The same as ever, Hagi stood in his black jacket and slacks. The shirt was black this time and he gave his sister a smile. "Claudia, I have missed you," he said as he pulled her into a hug.
"I missed you too, Big Brother," she agreed as she gave him a loving squeeze.
"You were talking with Mom and Jim?" he asked. Noticing the crimson shade in her cheeks he responded apologetically, "I will return later if I'm interrupt…"
She placed her finger to his lips, silencing him. She then scolded, "Hagi, we're family- don't get me started with you."
He chuckled and then asked, "Did you tell Mom about the horses?" She shook her head and he informed Marva, "We now have 12 horses on our own land. One of them is the horse you gave me before Rose was born." Hagi had named the horse Hephasstus, after the Greek god of fire. The horse is as red as Fury was, but somewhat more docile. "All of them are healthy and strong. One of the mares is close to foaling. Any day now, we will have 13 horses."
"I will be entertaining guests tonight- more potential customers for the winery," he informed.
"Aren't you a millionaire now because of the winery, Hagi?" Claudia asked as she nudged him.
A hint of pink came to his cheeks as he corrected, "Multi-millionaire. Wealth doesn't seem to agree with Dan. He gives much of his share to various charities and helps Bubba and Ray out now and then since they are retired."
Claudia shoved him playfully, "Like you're one to talk. If you weren't spending yours on the amazing number of kids you and Saya are bringing into the world, you wouldn't know what to do with your money either."
Hagi's cheeks became pink again as he laughed. He agreed, "True. I certainly wouldn't know what to do with the money."
"Is that why you keep having kids?" she teased.
"Claudia," Hagi groaned. He turned to Saya, who had joined him and wrapped an arm around her. "Are you alright?"
"Hagi," Saya scolded as she thumped his chest. "Of course I'm alright. I'm only 4 months along."
"8 months to go?" Claudia asked.
"8 months to go," Saya agreed. "Jeffrey came home, he'll come by when we go back home. He's watching the smaller kids for us."
"Poor Jeffrey," Claudia groaned as she thought of the three younger ones that seemed to enjoy creating chaos when their parents were away. She then remembered, "So am I invited to dinner or are you going to leave your sister to the mercy of Anna's cooking."
"I think I'd enjoy suffering through Anna's cooking," Saya smiled and then noticed the look in Hagi's eyes and commented, "Of course, Hagi is making lamb tonight." She knew he was only teasing her, so she felt like teasing him, too.
Hagi agreed, "Of course you're invited, Claudia. I am surprised Joel isn't here with you."
"He's still at the ranch," she informed. "He and Kai are working on a few security issues that happened at Julia's clinic. Nothing was taken, they never got past the broken window. I think it's just a couple of kids being vandals. Hibiki got tired of the hospital and is now working there, too."
"I know," Saya smiled. "Kanade and George work with the CIA with Lulu now. I wish Lewis was still around. I miss his smile."
"I don't miss chasing him out of the kitchen," Hagi added, causing everyone to laugh. "George- isn't he Kanade's chevalier?"
Saya nodded and then informed Claudia, "Kai was upset, at first, but then when he heard that George had been fatally shot in the head, he understood."
"Riku wants to take over Omoro when his mom and dad retire. He really loves that place," Saya informed.
Hagi nodded and then took a breath and looked at the women, his two loves. The third was buried in front of the tombstone. His smile had fallen as his head dropped. It still hurt that she wasn't there with them.
Saya's arm snaked around his waist as Caudia's did the same from the other side. Despite the hair falling in his face as he bowed his head, Claudia could see the tear fall down his cheek. "Big Brother?"
He cleared his throat and reassured, "I'm fine." He swiped a hand across his face and remained quiet.
"I miss her, too," Saya whispered as she caught his gaze. "It's okay to be sad sometimes, Hagi. Just remember you're surrounded by people that love you and you love them."
He nodded as Claudia hugged him to her. She commented, "And, boy, are you loved! You have this enormous family and an even bigger extended family. I can't even begin to count all the friends you have now."
Hagi smiled and then pulled them to him. "I am happy," he reassured them and then asked, "Should we head to the house?"
"Yes," Saya enthusiastically agreed. "I am getting hungry." She was gently turned and she and Hagi began to head to their car followed by Claudia.
"Oh," Hagi teased, "I can't let that happen. Not when you're carrying my children."
"Your children?" Saya argued, "Don't you mean our children?"
He turned back to the tomb and added, "Happy Birthday, Mom." He brought the bouquet of white roses to the tomb, almost like he had forgotten he had them.
When he came back, he heard Claudia repeat his words. She looked at him and asked, "White roses, Big Brother?"
He smiled slyly and then answered, "I knew you would bring Mom tiger lilies, so I thought I'd bring something completely different."
She smirked at him as they headed to the car. "It's so you to bring roses, Big Brother."
They laughed as they returned to their vehicles, arm in arm, crunching through the autumn leaves. Soon Jeffrey would come with Lance, Rose, and Daniel. Joshua was too young to remember their grandmother and he decided to stay home and help his father and mother prepare dinner. They would bring more flowers and birthday wishes with tears in their eyes.
It started out at the Eiffel Tower and ended at the ranch in Texas. The journey between was as colorful as the autumn leaves. A relationship that was born of curiosity had evolved to become something deeper and far reaching, changing their lives for the better.
The memory of that day hung in the air:
A tall figure dressed in dark, formal clothing sat at the highest level of the Eiffel Tower. His coat tails touched the floor behind him as he drew the bow across the strings, creating the most beautiful, somber sound. The onyx strands of hair that fell around his alabaster face, shined in the light of the rising sun. His brow furrowed slightly, as if the thought he was having was quite painful. Suddenly, a bandaged hand released the bow and it clattered to the ground next to him.
Most people would think he was merely tired, but the young woman dressed in brightly colored bell-bottoms and a tie-dyed t-shirt knew better. She could see the pink in the corners of his eye and the very slight way the corners of his mouth turned downward- this man had been crying and might even start crying now.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
He looked up into the round sunglasses of a young woman he'd passed by the previous night. She looked so out of place with her brightly colored clothing.
"I am fine," he responded as his gaze turned back to the horizon and his expression held no emotion.
"You sure?" she pressed. "You look like your cat died."
The wind picked up again and the rainbow of leaves began to dance on the ground and in the air, the memory swept to the wind along with them.
A/N My Christmas gift to all my loyal readers and reviewers- a finished fic! Merry Christmas and please, please leave a review.