a/n: SO THIS IS IT. i've been working on this epilogue for four days now and i am very happy with the outcome; it's everything i had planned for and more. thank you all again so very much for your kind words and encouragement. i might just have to start up something else soon!
*memories in order of relevance, not in sequential order
fifteen years later.
"you're going to be late if you nitpick any longer." i glanced over my shoulder to look at cosima, my rose colored lips sliding apart into a smile as i rolled my eyes at her.
"well sorry," i shot back, spinning the stool i was on around to face her, "not all of us can be ready for our wedding two months ahead of time." instantly, cosima's cheeks flushed and i couldn't help but laugh. "operation buzz lightyear, hm?" i posed quietly, glancing down at my hands, how tan they seemed in comparison to the white of the gown beneath them. i lifted my head to steal a glance at my mother and although i was sure i'd rained a bit on my own parade, she was wearing a small smile. she folded an arm over her waist, holding onto her left elbow as her hand hovered just below her chin. perhaps absent mindedly, her thumb ran over the black ink on her ring finger and there was a distant twinkle in her eyes.
"to infinity and beyond." her whispered words were quiet, but they caused tears to prick at the back of my eyes.
"stop that," i chided her quietly, dabbing at the corner of my eye, "you're going to ruin my makeup before i even get out there." cosima crossed the room, coming to stand in front of me as she held my hands gently in hers.
"your maman would be so proud of you," she told me, reaching up to touch the side of my face, and i nodded sadly in return. i cleared my throat and looked up at her as she fixed the loose blonde curls that fell over my shoulders.
"have you seen niko? how's he doing? is he still okay with this? i-" before i could keep going, cosima put her hands on my shoulders and leaned forward, meeting my gaze.
"seraphina, deep breath. you're going to drive yourself insane and then you'd leave your fiancè waiting at the altar and we wouldn't want that."
holy shit. i was getting married.
there's something to be said about fighting a battle, something more to be said about waging a war, but when it comes to waging that war twice? that is one thing that has always been, for me, beyond the measure of words. i had grown up under the notion that the hardest days of my life were behind me. i had blindly hoped that it was a reality i could exist in happily, but life worked in mysterious ways, didn't it?
being sixteen, it seemed as though there were few things that mattered more than homecoming dates and football games, at least to most people in the city. i, however, tended to care more about curling up with a good book and a hot cup of coffee than school functions and popularity contests. i didn't party excessively with my peers and instead would have opted for a night in having movie marathons with my best friend time and time again. she was a year older and a grade ahead of me, but she still spent a great deal of her time helping me study when i needed it; she knew how much it meant to me to keep up my 4.0; not only was it a feeling of self-accomplishment, but i knew that both my mom and my maman could rest a little easier knowing i wasn't going to fail out of high school and start flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant.
as spring of my sophomore year rolled around, i started to feel unseasonably under the weather. i was constantly tired, lacked any motivation or desire to get out of bed in the morning, and couldn't stop thinking about the pain in my stomach long enough to focus on anything being taught to me. at first i had assumed that it was the flu, that it would eventually go away, but the longer i let it go, the worse it got. i didn't want to blow it out of proportion, or make it seem like i was just looking for attention. in retrospect, i should have known better, but i was stubborn, just like my mom.
it was the night of prom, but as an underclassman, i wasn't allowed to go unless asked by a senior, and that was quite alright with me. however, despite the fact that she could have gone, kira insisted that it wouldn't be as fun if she couldn't have her best friend there to enjoy it alongside her. instead, we had settled on going to see a movie and planning to grab pizza afterward, though we'd never get that far and not for reasons i would have been preferential to. as we climbed out of kira's car, i was hit with an overwhelming sense of nausea but tried to choke it back, though the instant sense of vertigo was assisting with quite the opposite. i ran my hand along the smooth surface of the car as i attempted to make my way around it, but before i could meet her around the back, everything went black.
when i awoke, i was in a place all too familiar, a place i never wanted to find myself in ever again. the sudden assault of light caused me to groan, squeezing my eyes shut at my failed attempt to open them. my hand was instantly enveloped by a warm hold and i gave another go at prying my eyes open. when i did, i saw my maman at my bedside; her eyes were red and swollen and i knew in an instant that she had been crying. there was only one reason i would be where i was, waking up to see my mother in tears.
as it turned out, a couple of cells that had plagued me as a child had reappeared, only in a mutated structure, one that had metastasized to my bones. i should have been scared, terrified even, but it had been caught early enough that although it would be taxing, it could be treated. it seemed so much more frightening, the idea of battling that demon at an older age. what if it bested me? what if i didn't have that kind of will, the kind i'd been so capable of when i had been a child. i did not cry, though my maman did, just like cosima did. crying would be of no use to me; i would not mourn for myself because i hadn't lost anything, and if i had any say in it, i wouldn't.
i had dozed off some time in the afternoon and when i came to, the sun had set and i could see the night sky outside the window of my hospital room. in an almost delayed fashion, i realized that someone was holding my hand. i expected it to be my maman, but when i glanced over, i was startled to see kira. "hey," she greeted with a smile, leaning toward me. when she spoke again, she knew that she was the only one who could say something so obvious and get away with it. "how'ya feeling?" i actually laughed, rolling my eyes at her.
"like a basket of roses," i answered with a quiet chuckle. the truth was, i felt like i was seconds away from a nervous breakdown. i wasn't sure the sixteen year old me could be as brave as the six year old me had been. i tugged gently on her hand and she let go, moving to sit on the edge of my bed. we were quiet for the longest time, her fingers padding lightly on the bed while i was trying to keep it together, but i wasn't succeeding. instead, after a few more moments of silence, i broke. the tears started before i even knew they were coming and i was gripping tightly at kira's hand. "i'm scared," i admitted, my voice cracking in desperation. her face softened and she brushed her thumb over my knuckles.
"don't be. if anyone can do this, it's you." her words were sweet, but the cynical side of me immediately won out.
"miracles don't happen twice." i watched my words strike a nerve in the intricate lines of kira's contorted facial expression. she had opened her mouth to say something, but the dam walls had busted and there was an outpouring of emotion from the very core of who i was. "and if they do, what does it matter? who's going to want to fall in love with a ticking time bomb? who's going to want a bald girlfriend? who could possibly want anything to do with... with this?!" the tears were pouring down my cheeks and i had to squeeze my eyes shut to keep the them at bay. i could hear the shifting to my right, but i was too focused on trying not to slide even farther into the abyss. before i could find the strength to open my eyes, i was completely and entirely caught off guard at a warm sensation on my lips. startled, my eyes flew open and i was staring at kira at close range. i opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out. i was flabbergasted.
"i do," she started, watching me carefully to gauge my reaction as she kissed me again, this time more delicately, "i do, and... oh yeah, i do." she lightly took my hand into both of hers, holding it in her lap. "if you can't fight for you, then fight for me. you're my best friend, sera, and i... i need you around, okay?" her voice trembled and i could tell that she was just as blown away as i was by the last hundred and fifty seconds.
i breathed a soft chuckle and gave her hand a squeeze. "call me crazy," i started softly, "but i'm pretty sure best friends don't kiss other best friends like that." kira's face broke into a smile and she lightly swatted at my leg. seeing that light in her expression, it compelled me. "or like this." i leaned up and cradled her cheek, holding her still so that i could press my lips neatly to hers, finding every last bit of resolve i would need for the fight ahead in the taste they offered.
i turned back around to face the mirror and suddenly, a tidal wave of nerves smacked right into me. this was it, this was the day i dreamed of as a little girl. maybe i'd even known who i'd be standing across from, but maybe that had just been wishful thinking as a child. there were so many things going through my mind at once time, so many things i could hardly fathom. i was trying to be brave, to be happy, and to not let anything put a damper on the day, my wedding day. i was hard, though, when i tried to take in the bigger picture.
of course this was shallow of me; there were still so many things about that day to be happy about, to be absolutely thrilled over. it would do me no good to dwell in the past, the wish so desperately that i could change things that were beyond my grasp. it was still a process, really, learning to mend and heal. thankfully, i had the most amazing woman in the world holding my hand through it, letting me fall asleep on her shoulder, which (more nights than not) had become soaked in my tears. that was the woman i was going to spend the rest of my life with. that was the woman i was going to make the most of every day with. the one who held my hand when i faltered and guided me to safety, the one who had known my favorite color since she was eight, the one who had never let me forget what it was just to be alive, and to be happy in doing so.
as i glanced at cosima's reflection above my own, i offered a small smile, trying to reverse the polarity of my thoughts. i glanced at the empty space above the sweetheart neckline of my dress and for a moment, i was hit with a pang of guilt. before cosima could ask me what was wrong, the door opened behind her and sarah slipped in, donning a rather proud grin. she greeted her sister before turning to me, her smile only growing.
"well look at you," she mused, raising an eyebrow. "really, though. you look absolutely beautiful, love." she stepped forward and wrapped me up in a warm hug. sarah and i'd had more than a handful of long, contemplative conversations over the years, and in our most recent one, she'd empathized with me in assuring me that she, personally, was positive that my maman was proud of me, of the way i was living my life, even if i ever came to doubt that. i knew it was because she, too, was a mother, and she simply understood. for that, i was thankful. as i pulled back, sarah held up her hand, obviously holding something in it. "however, i think you might look more beautiful with this." she just barely moved her fingers and a gold chain and locket dropped down. my locket. the locket my mother had given to me as a graduation present, the same locket that i had lost on my twentieth birthday. "monkey told me to tell you that she was going through a few unpacked boxes from when you lot moved and it was in an old jewelry box." sarah pulled it around my neck and worked on fastening it as she spoke. "and she also said, and i quote, 'i told you it would be where you were least expecting it.'" her impression of her daughter was, as always, quite hilarious, but i couldn't help but smile at the thought of hearing kira's voice musing the same thing to me oh so many months ago.
"most things usually are, aren't they?" i asked, glancing at her over my shoulder in the mirror.
"c'mon," i murmured, unlacing our fingers as we made our way into the house. i attempted to shut the door as quietly as possible, but my maman had a keen ear and i knew that she would, without a doubt, be all too aware of my arrival home. we had made it no further than the bottom of the stairs before her head popped around the corner.
"bonne soirée, papillon. good evening, kira," she greeted. "are you two studying here tonight?" unintentionally, the two of us nodded in sync. i was fully aware of the fact that my maman knew that kira had graduated four months prior, but i think we'd gotten by on the fact that our cleverly constructed ruse of her helping me prep for the SATs held up quite nicely. she turned her attention to kira, her smile still warm and clueless, which was quite alright by me. "want to stay for dinner?" kira gave a small nod and thanked her before we turned and headed up the stairs, grinning like two idiots, trying not to laugh.
the moment i shut the door, leaning against it, though, that was all out the window. my cheeks almost instantly ached from how hard i was smiling, but i didn't care. i wasn't even sure what was so funny, really, it was just the effect she had on me. i let the strap of my messenger bag slide down my arm as, without missing a beat, kira sauntered toward me, her hands instantly making a move for their home on either side of my face. my own hands, like idiots, fumbled for a moment but then found her sides just as she kissed me, leaving me entirely and completely reeling. i instantly stepped into her, backing her into my bed as i helped her get free of her jacket, throwing it aside haphazardly. she reached down between us and pulled up on my sweater, stripping it off and paying no heed to where it landed on the floor. as she did so, though, pulled forward, causing me to lose my balance, falling into her and simultaneously on top of her as we hit the bed, giggling wildly as we kissed. it was true; i was a lovestruck teenager and had been since that night almost two years prior in the hospital, even through the thirteen month relapse and the hell it entailed. i had kira, that was what mattered.
i was thankful for the guise of our close friendship, to be honest. it provided a cover of comfort until we were ready and able to figure out the sticky situation we were in. we were afraid of how our parents would react; cosima was... well, my mom but at the same time, she was also kira's aunt and... it got to be too much of a headache if i would dwell on it for too long. instead, it was much easier to go about our lives how we so chose, which involved a lot of whispered giggles and quieted make out sessions. that evening seemed no different in the least, but i could not have been any more wrong about that. as we laughed and kissed, kira flipped me onto my back and straddled my waist, leaning over me which caused the ends of her hair to tickle my face.
my hands had started to roam over her hips, beneath her shirt, and were trekking higher, but in an instant, i realized two very terrible things: 1: i had been in such a hurry to kiss her that i had not locked the door. 2: my mother was coming through it at a seemingly accelerated pace.
"oh sera, i meant to- oh! merde, merde. je suis désolé! mon dieu!" with that, she was shutting the door and i was positive that i was about eighty different shades of red. well, so much for the cover of comfort. i could hear the echo of my heart hammering clear up in my skull and my palms were instantly clammy, my stomach dropping several stories beneath me. my skin must have instantly paled because kira was holding my face, looking down into my eyes.
"hey, hey. it's okay. i mean... we were gonna get here eventually, yeah? maybe i could... you know, just call my mom and have her come over... we can properly tell them when cos comes home." she stopped and chewed on her bottom lip, her next words gentle and quiet. "i mean... that is, only if you want to. i... don't feel rushed or anything it's just... well, the cat's out of the bag now." her lips tugged up in the cutest of smiles and despite the fact that i could feel the panic tightening up my chest, she was soothing me, diffusing my nerves. the truth was, i had no real reason to be worried; it wasn't like my maman or my mom were going to disown me, it was just a bit of a... bizarre situation to explain. then again, who really hadn't seen it coming? she had been there for me through all of my bad days, never once letting me feel like i was alone. she was nearly the only other kid my age that i was ever around when i was younger, and there was something special that rooted in that bond.
the older we got, well, it seemed like the years only tied us closer together and inevitably, someone had to have had at least some idea that it was a possibility. truth be told, i was rather impressed by the fact that we hadn't been found out sooner; a year or so, give or take, was rather impressive when it came to being stealthy, but in a heartbeat, that was over and i was so torn between the taste of her lips, her skin, on mine, and dealing with the more pressing matter at hand. as tempting as it was to stay there with her pretending like nothing had happened, it was probably going to be easier to just get it out of the way. i sat up, wrapping my arms around the small of her back, and stole a brief kiss, biting my lip as i pulled away. "go on, then. call her," i loosely instructed with a bit of a lopsided smile, rolling my eyes with a flourish of my hands that indicated surrender. kira took hold of my face and stiffened her posture, tilting my head back so that she could lean down and kiss me, and although i knew it was a gesture of appreciation, it took every fiber of my being to not simply pin her to the bed and relish her with kisses. in the skip of a heartbeat, she pulled away and removed herself from my lap to fetch her phone, leaving me feeling unsatiated and rather cold. with a groan, i flopped back onto the bed, closing my eyes as i could hear kira's voice from the other side of the room, and the way her pitch hiked just slightly because of how excited she was.
it was that very moment that took away my doubts, my fears. she sounded so honestly... happy. that was all i ever wanted for her, to be happy. in turn, it spread to me, like a warmth traveling from her to me, emanating outward to encompass me as a whole. her joy, her laughter, they were the only things worth truly living for. i sat up on my elbows, watching her as she hung up the phone and looked over at me, an oddly happy, alluring smile hanging on her lips. i turned a palm upward and beckoned her with a finger. she obliged and knelt on the bed over me, my hands cradling her face. "i love you, you know?" she asked me, causing a smile to bloom on my lips as i went in for a kiss.
"i do know. and i know i love you, as well."
as we sat on the couch across the room from my mother, cosima, and sarah, i could hear my heart hammering away, thudding steadily against my ribcage, begging to be set free. in that moment, i wanted nothing more than to be able to hold her hand, but i knew better. we couldn't just jump in head first. my mouth was instantaneously dry and i was frantically searching for the proper construct of words to start with. i opened my mouth, but nothing emerged, so i pressed my lips together, swallowing down the lump in my throat. as i started to make another attempt to speak, kira reached over and picked up my hand, squeezing it. despite the fact that i wanted to take in cosima's and sarah's reactions, i couldn't tear my eyes away from my maman. her eyes softened and her lips twitched just slightly before she scooted toward the edge of her seat, holding her hands out for me, beckoning me to her. i stood and crossed the space between us, taking her hands as she pulled me onto her lap, hugging me close.
"je t'aime, papillon," she told me, holding me tightly. after a moment longer, i untangled myself from her grasp and returned to my place next to my girlfriend, lacing our arms as i wrapped my fingers between hers.
"when i relapsed... that first night when you guys went home to sleep, things changed. and it wasn't that we were trying to be secretive... we just... well, i don't really know." i laughed nervously, but kira gave my hand a gentle squeeze; i could almost immediately feel my heartbeat slow and my breathing even out.
"we didn't want to make things weird."
sarah raised an eyebrow. "the night of prom, yeah?" we both nodded in response and sarah's face fell. "shit."
cosima shook a fist triumphantly in the air. "aha!" she held a hand out toward sarah expectantly. "pay up, sister."
i gawked at them. oh my god, they were serious. completely and utterly serious. "you bet on us?!" i asked, my mouth hanging open- partially in disbelief, but partially in amazement. of course they had. when i was younger, i can still vaguely remember the way my maman and my momma used to sneak around, thinking that i didn't know that they smiled at one another an awful lot, or that i couldn't tell that they were happy when they were together. i could finally understand why they thought they were getting away with it. when you're that in love with someone, it doesn't matter who you want to know it, because in the end, the whole world can tell.
"i had my money on sooner, hones'ly," sarah confessed, causing kira to pick up a pillow from behind her on the couch, throwing it at her mother, who laughed as it collided with her legs.
"you two think you're so smooth," cosima mused, rolling her eyes. "please."
"oh, don't even," i countered with a grin. "you have absolutely zero room to talk." she shrugged her shoulders, as if she were innocent, and i couldn't help but laugh, shaking my head. she had started to say something of a smart-alleck nature in a retort, i was sure, but kira cut her off.
"so does that mean we can do this now?" she posed, reaching up to take hold of my face as she kissed me, eliciting a chorus of 'ew!'s and 'gross'es from our mothers. as i glanced at them out of the corner of my eye, they were all flailing to cover one another's eyes and i couldn't refrain from laughing against kira's lips, the happiest i had been in an incredibly long time.
as sarah gave me a kiss on the cheek for good luck and made her way out, the door swung open not a moment later after a brief tap, and i turned to see my brother, clad in his tux and donning a smile. the moment he saw me, his face lit up and he lifted his hand to point at me before raising it to his eye and sliding it down and finally reaching up by the opposite side of his head with a half-opened hand and pulling it down as he closed it into a fist. 'you look beautiful.' i smiled warmly at him and pulled him close into a hug, holding him tightly for a few long moments.
as i let him go and reached up to fix his wind-swept hair, he noticed maman's locket hanging from my neck and nearly went giddy, reaching up to touch it. i lifted my hands to my ears and puffed out my cheeks and then moved my right hand down to pinch my thumb and forefinger together, raising my hand in an 'OK' gesture before i pointed to the locket as well. 'monkey found it.'
he hesitated for a moment but made a move to do what i was not brave enough to do. with a gentle touch and steady fingers, he popped the locket open and turned me to face the mirror. on the left side, it was a picture of maman and on the right was a picture of the five of us (kira included) the night i graduated from high school. i looked at his reflection in the mirror and caught his eye, giving him a teary smile. i reached for the locket, running my fingers over the smooth gold before i closed it and got to my feet, hugging my little brother tightly once more before letting him go to shoo him away, insisting that he needed to promptly make his way to his post.
despite the fact that kids my age wanted to have kickball tournaments and light off fireworks on the fourth of july, i had other plans, ones that did not involve leaving the house. maybe it was strange for a ten year old to refrain from social activity, but at the time, i did not care.
i spent hours upon hours with my brother, helping to teach him more of the things i, too, was learning. as maman and momma learned what was appropriate to teach him at each age group, they taught me, too. i was a quick learner, and always had been; i was more than certain that it was because i grew up knowing how to speak french and english, which i constantly thanked my mother for.
we would sit on his bed or on the floor in the living room with flash cards, just practicing with one another, learning together. he was so young, but he knew so much, could process so much. of course, i didn't recognize that at the time, i just knew that what he was learning, i was learning too, and it was going to give me a way to communicate with him, which was all i could have ever really wanted.
it was like that through the years, though. the older her got, the more his vocabulary expanded. i encouraged him to read in the same way that cosima had encouraged me in my younger years and so, he was constantly asking me with help on translating words he didn't understand, or wanting me to explain certain things. most siblings got annoyed at this type of thing, but i never did. he wanted my help to grow, to learn, and unless i was in a foul mood for whatever reason, i was never one to turn him away or decline that thirst for knowledge.
when he was thirteen, we had been going through our normal routine of flash cards when i heard something by the door and inconspicously glanced over to see maman peering over the top of momma's head, both of them gawking at the two of us perched on his bed, quizzing one another. i tapped the bed twice and angled my thumb toward the door, causing niko's head to whip up very obviously, which in turn, caused maman to topple backward, pulling cosima down with her as they both hit the ground in a tangle of legs. niko laughed and as i looked up, he was waggling his finger around his ear. 'crazies,' he mused happily with a grin.
i sat back down in front of the mirror and after a moment, i realized that where i was going, i needed to go alone. politely, i turned to cosima and asked if she could give me just a couple of moments to gather myself before everything started moving at such a fast pace that i wouldn't be able to keep up. she kissed the top of my head with both hands on my shoulders and assured me that she would be just down the hall if i needed absolutely anything at all. i thanked her gently and closed my eyes until i heard the clicking of the door, signifying that it was shut.
for a split second, and for the first time that day, i immediately knew that i could not keep hold on the stoic facade i had been managing throughout the day. it was why i had wanted to be alone, why i didn't want anyone around me to bear witness as i fell to pieces. slowly, almost reluctantly, i opened my eyes to stare at the sight before me in the mirror. i truly did look beautiful; i felt beautiful. for a moment, my mind wandered to just how beautiful kira would be at the end of the aisle and how i would probably be so taken by the vision of her that i would most likely trip over my own feet on my way toward her. slowly, my eyes traveled down toward the center of my chest, where my locket hung again, in it's rightful place.
if i had not known any better, i could have sworn that it had taken on an entirely new shine, that it was brighter than it ever had been before. i had known, perhaps weeks before, that the likelihood i could make it through my entire wedding day without at least one lapse into wanting what i couldn't have, was slim to none, and i was right. as i stared hard at the golden heart that made my skin seem so pale in comparison, i could not keep from reflecting onto how simple i once thought it all was, how life shouldn't have been so complicated or difficult. i had reached a milestone in my life, one i had thought about frequently since i was a little girl. i often wondered what it would be like if my dad could have been there. but then, there was cosima, who was to be there alongside my mother, who was going to be there for me. it's funny how life works, isn't it? i thought i'd had it all figured out, that i'd pinned down every detail in the forseeable future, but i had been naive to think that things couldn't change in the blink of an eye.
gingerly, i reached up to touch the locket, succumbing to do what my brother had done moments prior. i opened the locket once more and stared at the reflection of it in the mirror; more specifically, my maman's picture. my eyes fluttered shut once more and i ran over in my mind what it would have been like to see my mother on my wedding day, to kiss her cheeks as she handed me off to my fiancè. it was almost like a dream, a distant future that should have been within my grasp, but had blown away in the wind.
"mmm, your phoneee." despite the fact that i could hear it ringing from the nightstand, i had no desire whatsoever to make a move to answer it; i was too occupied by what i had started to stop. slowly, i bunched up the bottom of her sweater, kissing over her navel and up her abdomen. i could feel her squirm beneath my lips as she reached for my phone, checking the screen. "s'cos," she murmured, but i was uninterested in any phone call at the moment, especially when i had her so close. i tugged gently on her shirt, pulling her up so that i was in her lap, our chests close together as i pulled her shirt over her head. my lips instantly found her neck as my fingertips traced down the length of her arm, gently prying the phone from her grasp. i tossed it on the other side of the bed with a smirk, my hands canvassing her sides.
"she'll leave a message," i muttered into her skin, grazing my teeth up the side of her neck, nipping lightly at her ear. it was liberating, really, being able to be alone, to not have to worry about being busted or walked in on. we had moved into an apartment together just before the beginning of my freshman year of pre-med at berkeley. it was in the heart of the city, about a twenty minute trolley ride from campus. it was homey, it was so very... us. even two years later, it felt just as warm and welcoming as it had when we had initially moved in.
my fingers slid around kira's back, but stopped as my phone started to ring again, seconds after it had stopped. as i glanced over at it, seeing it was momma again, i removed myself from kira's lap and picked up the phone, an instant sense of dread sinking in the pit of my stomach. the sound of her voice immediately put me on high alert; it cracked over her words as she struggled to tell me that they were at the hospital and that i needed to make my way over immediately. as i fought the tears stinging at the backs of my eyes and struggled to keep myself from asking the obvious, i choked out an 'okay,' and hung up. i picked up kira's sweater and handed it back to her as i explained that something was wrong and that i was too shaken to drive to the hospital. it was unlike me, but i knew to trust my gut. i knew that i was running over the worst possible scenarios and in doing so, i was shaking myself up. the anxiety was causing my palms to sweat and my throat to close up; if it got any worse, i knew i couldn't responsibly be behind the wheel of a car.
kira agreed to wait in the lobby as i took a brief kiss before making my way over to the receptionist. on instinct, i gave her my maman's name, and i was right. she did not tell me what had happened and i did not have the heart to ask. instead, i followed her back through the double doors and around a corner, heading down a hallway until i stopped, seeing my mother and brother both standing in the hallway. in the blink of an eye, like a speeding freight train, it hit me. all at once, i understood. maybe it was in the way she held niko close to her chest. maybe it was in the way their eyes were swollen and red and i could tell they had been crying. maybe it was in the way i had known, the moment my phone rang a second time because of the nagging at the bottom of my heart. with a shaky step, i moved forward, peering into my mother's hospital room. what i saw, it pulled the strength right out of my knees. my stomach was in knots and i had started to collapse, but was surprised when i did not hit the ground. instead, my brother's arms wrapped tightly around me as he pulled me close. he was thin, but he was the tallest kid in his grade, and taller than me by a few good inches. i clung to him, holding him tightly as i gripped his shirt in my palms, sobbing into his shoulder. as i lifted my head a moment later, i glanced over at cosima. she glanced through the window into the room, chewing on her thumbnail, a habit she'd broken long ago, her other arm wrapped around her torso. "a semi blew a stop s-sign," she choked out, digging her teeth into her lower lip to refrain from falling apart in sobs. "the c-car rolled... at least e-eight times... and..." she paused, her lip quivering in a way that pained my heart. i knew even before she spoke again that my mother was never going to wake up again. there was a steady ticking of a machine that was breathing for her, that was keeping her alive. "the collision severed her spinal cord." at this, i cried out again, burying my face into niko's chest, crying harder than even i had realized.
as my sobs quieted due to the way niko rubbed my back, cosima found her voice again. "we... they're keeping her... long enough so... so that we..." she couldn't get it out. i knew she was trying, i knew what she meant, but i understood that saying it out loud meant understanding that it was reality, it was honestly and inevitably going to happen. after a few more moments in the hallway to gather ourselves, the three of us made our way into her room. niko closed the door behind us and as he looked over at maman on the bed, his eyes instantly filled with tears. i didn't blame him; she was almost unrecognizable as a result of the bruising and swelling that covered her from head to toe, but i knew it was her. i watched, my breath nervous and shaky in my chest, as niko pulled a chair up next to her bed and pulled her hand in his. he laid his head down on the bed and in the most heartbreaking outpouring of love, he just began to cry. i clutched tightly at cosima's hand, doing everything i could in the world to keep from completely breaking down, though i knew it was probably what was best. maybe it was because the true immensity of what was happening had not fully registered with me. as niko got up from the bed and came to stand against my side, causing me to hold him close, i tugged gently on cosima's hand and led her forward toward the bed.
i held niko close as cosima moved to take his seat, pulling her glasses up to rest on the top of her head. i could tell almost immediately that she had started crying, but she found her voice, however uneven, as she started to speak. "i... i'm so sorry, delphine. i know that... that i couldn't have prevented this, that i couldn't have stopped it from happening... but i never wanted to face the idea that maybe... maybe i could ever lose you. i never thought that the time i made you breakfast in bed on your birthday would be the last time, or that when i kissed you, i'd never get the chance to do it again. i... i'll never love anyone again, not the way i loved you. and... and n-now... now i'll think of you every time sera laughs, or every time niko makes a silly science pun that i know you taught him." she stopped and pressed her lips to maman's knuckles. "i... i don't want to let you go," she admitted in a weak cry, and my stomach dropped. for as hard as i knew the entirety of the situation would hit me in the coming days, seeing my momma lose the love of her life... it crippled me. cosima got to her feet and leaned over the bed, placing the lightest of kisses across my maman's forehead. "goodbye, delphine. i'll see you again some day."
she got to her feet and as she turned around, i could easily tell that she was still crying, the tears staining her cheeks. this wasn't how things were supposed to be. she still had so much life to live, so much to see and do. hesitantly, i let go of niko and shakily made my way over to the chair cosima had previously been in. much like my brother had, i laid my head on the bed, squeezing my eyes shut as i lightly ran my fingers over the back of her hand. i wanted to change it, to fix it, to make it right. in that moment, i would have traded her places in a heartbeat. niko still needed her. i still needed her. she never would have accepted it, even if it were possible; the thought of burying me had been hard enough for her to handle twice throughout my lifetime.
"what am i gonna do without you, maman?" i crackled in a broken whisper, moving to hold her hand, just barely. "i... i'll never forget the lullabies you used to sing me, or the way you would braid my hair with the flowers momma would pick." i buried my face in my arm, the tears in a constant state of freefall. "i'll never forget you, maman," i cried weakly, sniffling as i lifted my head just slightly. "je vais vous voir dans les étoiles qui illuminent mes nuits. je t'aime."
i'd hardly made my way back to the lobby, to kira, before it actually hit me. she looked up at me and got to her feet, heading straight for me, but it hit me like a tidal wave, drowning me. "she's... she's g-gone," i gasped, nearly collapsing into kira as she wrapped me up in her arms. i clutched at her desperately; i felt so unbelievably empty. the one person, the only person i had known my entire life was gone. cosima and niko emerged behind me a few moments later and told us we were more than welcome to come home and stay for the night; i wasn't going to argue. it was exactly what i needed, to be with them.
kira and i had pulled down the futon in the den and got ready for bed, but i had an even more sinking feeling in my stomach, like there was something i was missing. i gave her a light kiss and pardoned myself; i could tell instantaneously by the look in her eyes that she understood. i made my way up the stairs and turned to the left, heading for niko's room, but paused when i heard something outside of the master. the door was barely ajar, but it was open just enough. i tilted my head to rest against the door frame, closing my eyes as i listened hard to the sound of cosima's voice.
"what am i going to do without you?" she questioned brokenly, the sound of her tears evident in her voice. i couldn't see her, but i just knew that she had her chin pointed to the ceiling, that she was speaking to maman. "niko needs you... and seraphina... you're her maman. and... and i need you." she got quiet, but i could hear her sniffing gently. "our journey wasn't supposed to end." i clenched my jaw and attempted to blink back my tears, but instead they cascaded down my cheeks once more. i had been so focused on her, on trying to keep myself from falling apart, that i had not noticed niko emerge from his room until he wrapped his arms around me in a hug, causing me to jump, accidentally kicking the door open just sightly. from her spot in the center of the bed, cosima's head whipped up to see us standing there, startled. after a moment, her lips curled up in a sad smile. she pushed aside the photographs and keepsakes she had been pouring over and patted the bed, waving us over.
we spent the rest of the night going over the family pictures, laughing and reminiscing. i still didn't want to believe it; i knew i wouldn't be able to for days to come. i would think that she was going to call me friday morning to invite us over for dinner, or that she would send me an email to wish my week well on sunday evening. even as cosima and i continued to rifle through photos and talk quietly, nikolai had fallen asleep with his head on her lap. maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was nearing four in the morning, but i had lost hold of most of my emotional bearings. i looked up at momma, tears in my eyes, and finally voiced what i'd been burying all night. "i don't know how to live without her." i wiped at my face, but it only cleared the way for more tears. "i... i mean it. she... i've had her my entire life. i... i don't know what to do." she opened up her arms and i immediately moved to her side, laying my head on her chest, despite the fact that i was crying. after my eyes had run dry, sometime after five, i fell asleep like that, hidden away in a state of subconscious where i didn't have to face the truth.
i dabbed at the corners of my eyes, attempting to keep them from leaking and ruining my makeup, but i was not entirely successful. i had managed to repair any damage done and had started to put on my shoes when there was a light tap at the door and cosima poked her head through. "almost showtime. are you okay?" i smiled warmly at her and gave a nod, inhaling slowly. i got to my feet and made my way over, pulling the door the rest of the way open to see my little brother holding his arm out for me to take. i kissed him lightly on the cheek and threaded my arm through his as we started our journey.
the doors opened and i couldn't help it; my eyes instantly went to kira and i had to bite my lip to keep from gasping; she looked absolutely ravishing, so breathtakingly beautiful. that was what i was going to get to wake up to every day for the rest of my life, no matter how long or short it was. we had invited friends and even though it was a small ceremony, it was still just right for us. as we reached the altar, my brother helped me up but then turned his attention to kira. he extended his fingers straight and pressed his thumb to his mouth before he moved his hand down into his waiting palm before he pointed to me. 'be good to her,' he instructed, and i couldn't help but breathe a quiet laugh.
kira lifted her hand, pointing out only her index finger and moved it in a circle, her lips curled in a warm, assuring smile. 'always.'
"you don't have to do this, you know," i informed her, raising a brow curiously. kira simply shook her head at me dismissively and shuffled through the flash cards in her hand.
"yes i do. i mean, i want to be able to have conversations with your brother that don't always involve a pen and paper. plus, i wanna be able to tell if he's shit talking me when i'm least expecting it." i couldn't help myself; i burst into giggles, rolling my eyes at her.
"you could be studying for your chemistry final," i reminded her, nudging her leg with my toes. "just think, once you pass it, we're free for summer." kira's sixteenth birthday had been a couple of weeks earlier and we had both been putting off studying for exams.
"you know, i waited far too long to look into this. it's really interesting." i smiled up at her, an undeniable fluttering in my chest. she was so sweet that i could hardly wrap my head around it. as far as she was concerned, she was going to be around frequently enough that she needed to establish a line of communication with niko. in retrospect, i think it was because even then, she knew she was going to be in it for the long haul, i just hadn't quite caught up.
standing there, holding kira's hands in my own, i couldn't fathom, in that moment, just how much i loved her. she had been an integral part of my life, of my survival. she had been my reason for fighting, for trying so hard to make something out of the worst possible circumstances. maybe, in simpler terms, she had imprinted on me at a young age. she'd been my crutch in my younger years before i could even truly understand what that meant. maybe we had been meant for one another all along. no matter the logic behind it, as we stood there, trading our vows, i knew that i finally understood. i had reached a level of comprehension i had never before known possible. as the 'i do's' left our lips and i looked into those beautiful eyes, i could finally get it. that feeling that i got when i looked at her for the first time, when i walked in the door, that was what it was to love someone so much you would literally do anything for them.
that was what it was like to love someone so much that even if they left before they were meant to, living in their memory was the only course of action.
"you may kiss your bride."
as her hands found both sides of my face and her lips fell lusciously against my own, i could hear the beating of my heart, like it surrounded everyone that had gathered. as i pulled away, my thumb brushed over her cheek and i couldn't contain my smile.
"i love you to pluto and back."