Sacrificial warranted this, particularly after the chapter where Pi used her witchy charms on 1, and he freaked out. I promised I'd find some time to explain how he knew what she was doing, so here we are! 8D
We can also classify this one as a "gifts" prompt, for Christmas. But mostly, this is an aide to Sacrificial. A lot of weird stuff that 1 has said in that story will be explained to some extent here. Let it be said, he knows witchcraft when he sees it. :/
Also, a bit of this came from The Powers That Be, which I wrote before Sacrificial, and sort of helped inspire it. So... Yup. Happy Advent, everyone!
Of Knots and Loose Ends
"You may now kiss the bride."
Six little words. Simple, monosyllabic words. But somehow, they had felt so oddly heavy in his mouth. They echoed like a sonic boom through the whole world. In a miraculous instant, those words had changed all their lives forever. Again.
1 supposed that it was because he had never dreamed he would have to say them. He had never once predicted that flighty 7 would have a chance to be married to anyone. And if she ever did come upon that chance, he certainly hadn't expected her to want him, of all people, to preside over it. That was a responsibility for the man who had raised her, or perhaps her brother. It was their place, not his. She had never thought of him as a legitimate part of her family. She had never even liked him. In fact, they had spent most of their time together hating one another.
But no. She had come to him, to respectfully, humbly, ask him to do the honors. That had been a few weeks ago, and the first real conversation they had had since the Lost had been brought back from the Netherworld. He was still adjusting to the idea of being alive again; and she was still adjusting to the idea of any of them being back. It had been a long and unusual twelve months for all nine of them.
But now there were years of discovery and adventure ahead of them. And 9 had chosen to start them off by finally asking the woman he loved to be his wife. To bind himself to her for all time. To never, ever leave her side again. And she had agreed to his proposal without hesitation, so overjoyed she had nearly wept in front of everyone. They had waited for this for so long. After all they had been through, if this was truly what they wanted, 1 supposed that they had more than earned it.
He knew that such a union would never suit him, and he sometimes felt that forging such unbreakable bonds was foolish—perhaps borderline insanity. But then, there were many things that didn't suit him, which 9 seemed to assimilate very well. Leadership had turned out to be one of those things. Surely, the life of a married man would turn out to be another.
But that they would choose him to marry them… 1 couldn't wrap his head all the way around it. They had made sure that all their family had some part to play in the ceremony. But again, she had never considered him a part of her family; and frankly, he had never considered himself a part of it, either. Feeling as though he had no real place in the affair, he had quickly coped with the fact that he would stand apart and watch from a distance. Perhaps he wouldn't even ruin their wedding with his presence. But secretly, inside, it made him sort of sad.
Instead, she personally gave him the privilege of joining them in matrimony. He would stand at the very font of the entire thing, an intermediary between the bride and groom, and God Himself. After all that had happened, how could she just hand him that sort of trust?
Maybe she wanted him to be a part of their family now, just as much as he wanted to join it.
The ceremony had taken place in the midmorning, when the late summer sun shone most mercifully over the library courtyard. Now it was early afternoon, and they had all retired to the shaded light of the globe for further festivities. 1 understood that it was customary for great celebration to carry on for hours after a wedding. There was typically mountains of good food, high quality drink, and exquisite music for dancing to. It was a time for all the members of the bride and groom's two families and all their friends to mingle and socialize, now that they were so permanently joined. In some cultures, the celebration of a wedding could go on for days, even weeks—long after the happy couple had retired to a private honeymoon, away from the ongoing festivities.
Today, their celebration wasn't anywhere near as elaborate. There was no need for food or drink, as Stitchpunks are incapable of eating or drinking; and there were only the nine of them, one whole family together. It would probably only last as long as the sun stayed up, until everyone grew tired and wandered off to bed. But it was just as joyous an occasion as any wedding celebration could be.
Everyone bounced around in excited conversation, pondering all the opportunities they had as a family, how bright their future was, and how perfectly the wedding had gone. It was glorious to think of—the clan's first wedding. Their kindhearted new king had a fierce and beautiful queen. 1 was still convinced after all these years that their 7 was the most beautiful of their kind. He had seen other females before, long ago; but there was simply no way they could ever compare to her.
Perhaps, if he had told them about the other clans, their celebration would have been bigger. Maybe even big enough to last a few days like the celebrations of old. He would probably have to tell them soon…
With that thought pressing his mind, he turned his attention back to the young couple he had married, and their first dance. The twins had found a gramophone in the depths of the library, and a collection of records to go with it. They were all of stately classical music, by composers with very German names—Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, and others. 3 and 4 decided that this was a suitable soundtrack for a wedding, and selected Beethoven to play first, all the while rattling off facts about why his work was so particularly romantic and appropriate.
The particular piece they chose was a lilting waltz in a hauntingly beautiful minor key. At first, it seemed like a grim selection for a wedding. However, 9 led his 7 to the middle of the cleared floor, and propelled them into the graceful steps of the dance. 1 smiled to himself, wondering when exactly they had learned to dance so well, and what situation might have led them to it. Whatever the answers, the two made it look easy. They complimented each other so wonderfully. Suddenly, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in D did not seem so grim anymore. It was just… Lovely.
Beside him, his brother was beaming uncontrollably. He was so happy to be alive right now, to have been able to give his only beloved daughter away in marriage, to the man who truly loved her and always would. 2 stood in oh-so content silence, watching them dancing to the beautiful music, rather oblivious to everything else around him. As if he were contemplating a painting, held captive by its beauty. He took in a long, deep breath, and gave a slow, happy sigh.
"They make a fine couple, do they not?" he commented, not taking his eyes off them for a second.
1 couldn't help but smile, feeling in full agreement, though he didn't answer. He still had a lot of things on his mind, and he wanted badly to discuss them with 9; but he wanted to do so in private. It seemed rather impossible now. Damnation. Of all the days to finally want to talk to someone, why did it suddenly have to be today? He glanced around at the other seven of them, and suddenly considered that they had all given the happy couple some form of gift. Gift-giving was also a wedding custom, which typically took the form of home-goods. Linens, electronic appliances, furniture—things a newly married couple might need to make their first house into a real home.
They all lived in the library together now; and 7 had lived there for a few years already. 9 had lived there for a year, as well. This place was already their home. Their wedding presents from their family were mostly just thoughtful and sweet, and in a case or two highly useful. He understood that 9 was surprising his wife with a real bed—with a soft mattress, fluffy pillows, warm sheets, and everything else—which he and 5 had worked on in secret for a week or two. The twins had worked together to make a patchwork quilt for this alleged bed. Upon receiving it earlier, 9 had smiled and winked knowingly at them; 7 looked perplexed, commenting dumbly that it was nice, but that they had no bed for it to cover.
Boy, would she be surprised…
6 had drawn them a few very nice pictures—it was one of the few things he had to offer, but he had done a magnificent job. He said he knew they weren't good for much, but hoped they would brighten his brother and sister's new dwelling space. His drawings had been received with as much love as they had been given with. 2 had built a desk and a new tool kit for 9 to use—the boy's own building projects and materials needed organization, if he intended to share his quarters with a lady. For his little sister, 8 had carefully crafted a new spear with a double-edged blade. She had looked odd as she took it and held it firmly, testing its weight like any true warrior would, as her elegant lace veil trailed down her back to the floor. A bride, holding a spear. It seemed so out of context, it was kind of hilarious.
But 1 hadn't thought of a gift to give them. He had already married them—before, he had thought that this should be sufficient. But it finally occurred to him that as nice as it was, it wasn't enough. And now he was the only member of the family who had no gift. Except… Maybe he did, after all. He had information aplenty, and answers to a number of questions that hadn't even been thought of to be asked yet. 7 couldn't do much with that, but 9 would appreciate it. If he was to lead them effectively, he needed to know some of these things. He could have stood to know them yesterday.
I've put this off for entirely too long…
The waltz slowed to a smooth, graceful close, and the dance ended to enthusiastic applause from the whole family. From her perch on the gramophone, 4 jumped up and cheered, "Now we need a father-daughter dance! 3, help me change the song. I know just the one!"
"Bet I'm thinking what you're thinking," her brother agreed, as they worked together to adjust the needle. In the middle of the dance floor, 7 planted a fist on her hip and gave her adopted children a bemused look.
"Another one of your wedding customs?" she asked dryly. It sounded like she'd gotten her fill of wedding etiquette for life.
"That's right," 4 answered, unfazed. "The bride and the groom share the first dance; then the bride and her father dance; and then everyone else can join in after that. It's the way it goes."
7 sighed and shook her head. "I'll never sit down again, at this rate," she commented, though she looked so happy she couldn't possibly have minded.
"Only for the day," 9 answered, and gave her a sweet parting kiss. "Have fun, my love," he said as he traded places with 2, who gave his arm a friendly punch as they passed each other.
And suddenly, rather thankfully, 1 and 9 were standing together again. The last time they had been this close had been in this very room, a little more than a year ago, and it had been anything but pleasant.
"Thank you, for today," the young man said with a smile. "It means a lot to both of us."
1 hesitantly reached up and patted the boy on the shoulder. "I was… Glad to have the opportunity," he answered, carefully choosing his words to maintain some of his usual character. "Do you mind if we walked for a bit?"
9 looked up at his bride, dancing with her father, assured that she wouldn't miss him if he left for a few minutes. That settled, the two walked out of the globe in companionable silence. They walked off a ways in silence, and stopped in the lee of a pile of books.
"You look better than I recall," 1 commented once they were out of earshot of the others.
"I feel better," 9 agreed. "Less troubled. I haven't been so relaxed in all my life."
"That is good to hear." Their young new leader had cleaned up well for his wedding day. He had bathed, for one, scrubbed his rough skin free of all the dust and grime he had gathered on his adventures. (Which he was still reluctant to say much about.) He had loosely tied a satiny black ribbon around his neck and wrapped it around his zipper tab like a tie for the occasion. He looked impressive and sharp, amazingly professional. A bit out of character for his curious, adventurous self. But it was only for today, and it suited him.
"There were some things I wanted to tell you."
"Oh, really? Well, I'm listening."
Again, he hesitated, unsure of where exactly he should begin. "…You remember that day, when you destroyed that thing?"
"How could I forget it?"
"You know that, in another life… You died."
"You've read that infernal tome, am I correct? Then you must know about its three basic functions—construction, deconstruction—"
"—And reconstruction. Yes, I'm familiar with this."
"You never knew this, but before he sent us away, our creator entrusted the functions to 2 and myself, for safe keeping. To my brother, he gave the first two because, frankly, he was more trustworthy. And he left me the third, because he said I might one day find a need for it. I never believed such foolishness… Not until that day, anyway."
"So, wait… You were the one who used it?"
"You gave up your life, so the rest of us might have a chance to live on. But in the end, the four of us who remained gained just as little as if you had run from that fate. And suddenly, I found myself with a need for that impossible blob of metal.
"I couldn't let things go on, the way they were. Not when I had a chance to change it. So… I went back in time, and changed the only thing there was to change."
"You saved my life. Twice."
"…Yes. Yes, I did."
9 paused for a moment to soak up this revelation. "I had tried to use the function, myself, a few months ago. But the book says it can only be used once. I had wondered why it didn't work—who could have used it, and for what. I thought I would never know."
"What were you trying to use it for?"
"7 and I had a terrible fight," he answered, slowly and sadly, sheepishly rubbing his arm. "She didn't want me to leave again. She… really didn't want me to leave again. But I had to. She was… Not happy about that. We said awful thing to each other that night. I was certain she'd never speak to me or even look at me ever again, and I couldn't blame her. It hurt more than you can imagine. And I thought, if only I could go back, try again, take back some of that and save us…
"And then I remembered the reconstruction sequence, and I was so happy. There was a way, after all. But I dialed the sequence, and nothing happened. I was crushed. There was nothing left to do but press forward the way things had turned out, and hope I could fix it the old fashioned way.
"But I was right. She barely looked at me until I came home for good. I thought I had lost her forever."
1 gave him a rueful grin. "And yet you convinced her to marry you. Quite happily, I noticed."
9 chuckled to that. "I had mentally cursed whoever had used up that sequence. Actually, I threw an amazing tantrum. You might have enjoyed it. But now that I know the truth…" He patted his newest friend on the back.
"Thank you. Thank you, for saving my life. If you hadn't, none of this would have been possible."
"You are a seeker. You seek knowledge and truth. A Stitchpunk doesn't need to spend a lot of time with his creator to gain a lot of both, whether he wants to or not. There are a great many things I learned from him against my will. I stand by what I said last year—it is a dark craft that I want part in past being alive. Though at the very least, I suppose I've come to know it when I see it. But you seek desperately to know these things. You deserve to know the truth. Perhaps, on a less special day, I will tell you more."
"Was there something else?"
"Yes, actually, there was. You must have seen many unusual things on your journey. It is a big world, with big mysteries and discoveries awaiting folk as small as us."
"There were some pretty incredible things waiting for me out there, yes," 9 agreed casually, perhaps knowing where this was going. "It was as much about coming to peace with myself as it was about finding you."
"Then I don't suppose you encountered… Any of the other clans?"
The boy let his eyes wander into the rafters. "I don't know what you're talking about."
1 narrowed his eyes, not sure whether the boy was being serious or playing dumb. "There are four other clans of our kind out there, scattered among the ruins. I've lost track of them, and I certainly haven't told the others that they exist. But surely, you've encountered at least one of them in your travels."
"They sound secretive," 9 commented coolly. "If they were found, perhaps they wouldn't want anyone else to know it."
Hm… There was a hidden message in that statement. "So… have you seen them or not? Tell me!"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it. Although… If one of their leaders—say, of the third of these clans, for example—had helped me out greatly and asked me to say hello to you when I brought you back, I would tell you," he answered, nodding his head vehemently.
"The third… Tishrei? That touchy, grabby old coot is still alive?"
9 shrugged. "Perhaps. I've never heard of him."
1 raised an eyebrow with a knowing smirk. "Could it be, you specifically chose to have your wedding on opposite day, of all days?"
9 smirked back at him. "Mmmm….. Sort of."
"Why should he swear you to such secrecy?"
"Beats me. If I ever did come across them, I would ask if they were hiding from something and didn't want to be found."
"Hiding from something? The third clan fancies themselves akin to the Maccabees of old—the great Hebrew warriors of Israel. What would they have to be so afraid of?"
"Once again, they sound secretive. Who's to say they would tell me, even if I begged for an answer? Or if they would care that much, when they haven't seen the fifth in nearly six years? Wow, not having answers to those questions would… bother me for months…"
"Fifth clan? Aha! So you do know."
"Um… Look, I really can't talk about it. I don't like having to keep this secret, especially not from the woman I just married. I think she has a right to know. I think they all do. But for now… You won't tell anyone about this, will you?"
"I do not mind keeping secrets. I've kept their existence hidden for this long. Perhaps, when the time comes, we will tell them… Together."
"Together… Yes. That would be nice."
"Well, well, look at this," interrupted a sweet voice nearby. They both turned to see 7 walking toward them, her lovey lace veil trailing behind her. "Whatever could the two of you be discussing so civilly?" she teased. 9 went to meet her, taking her hands in his and pulling her closer.
"Just wrapping up some loose ends, my dear," he answered, gently kissing her finger. She grinned and sighed happily.
"It's so good to see you getting along," she commented. "I had been afraid things would just go back to the way they were before. I'm happy I was wrong about that."
While they shared a quiet, tender moment, and he stood apart contemplating them—how happy and in love they were—1 decided to cautiously approach them. When they noticed him again, he held his hand out to 7. He hadn't spoken directly to her in days. And on her wedding day, of all days, it was unacceptable.
"Congratulations, child," he said to her, keeping his voice as even as he could. "Today, I can say in all honesty, I am truly happy for you."
She looked at him with wide, wondrous eyes, as if perhaps she couldn't believe what had just happened. But it passed in an instant. All at once, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him close. He was paralyzed, amazed. He had only been hugged a few times in his life; it was so easy to forget how pleasant it was. And this time, it was completely magical.
"Thank you," she whispered, sounding like she might begin to cry. She surprised him yet again by raising her head and giving him a gentle kiss on his weathered cheek. "Thank you for saving him. Thank you for giving him back to me."
Oh, she had no idea how right she was about that. 1 slowly relaxed and hesitantly hugged her back. He wondered if it was improper, holding another man's new bride so close, letting her kiss him, and on such a day, no less. But they didn't seem to mind. And he didn't mind, either. She was so beautiful and warm… And mostly, she was so full of love. Love for her family. And now, she was willing to share that same love with him.
How have I lived so long, refusing this? Why have I never sought it for myself, or even accepted it when it was freely given? How could I have been such a great and terrible fool?
After a long and glorious moment, she released him and said, "I'm glad you've come back. In the space of a few seconds, you did so much for me. I thought I would never get the chance to thank you. You'll never know what that meant to me—what it will always mean to me. I could never thank you enough, for everything."
"Eh… This was more than enough," 1 insisted rigidly, reassuringly patting her strong but dainty hands. He grasped her shoulders and turned her around, propelling her back to her husband. "Go on, now. Go be married."
7 smiled at him over her shoulder—she hadn't smiled at him since before the war, and it filled his aged heart with warmth and a light that he couldn't hope to explain. He also couldn't help the smile he beamed back at her. She took her beloved by the hand and led him back toward the globe.
"Actually," she said to him, "the whole reason I came out here is that 4 is looking for you. She specifically requested a dance."
"Oh, is that it?" 9 answered, chuckling understandingly. "It would be my honor. Anything, for my 4."
1 hung back and watched them walking away. He found himself just looking at them a lot lately. Because, well… By all the powers, they were an extremely attractive pair. Two young, beautiful people in the middle of a beautiful love. The sort of thing that famous paintings were made of. It was hard not to look at them, sometimes. He lifted his eyes upward, toward a hole in the roof where the fading light shone in the dark oranges and pale purples of the sunset. He could see the sky, still bright blue, with the flame and darkness encroaching on it quickly. But for now, the opposing shades were met in the middle. Just like them.
For a moment, he thought he would cry, himself.
"And thank you," he whispered to the sky.
As if in response, a distant star suddenly appeared and twinkled brightly in the darkening expanse above him. He smiled back at the star, every fiber of his being feeling blessed. Even more so than when he had come back to the world of the living, received a second chance to be alive, and had no idea what to do with it. He finally turned away and walked back to the globe, because he now knew what he would do with this new life.
He would spend it with his family.