Orlando was late. I’d asked him to meet me at a very beautiful place I’d found, where few humans roamed, and he promised to meet me there.
And then I heard footsteps. I eagerly turned toward the sound.
“Orlan–” The name died on my lips. Once, I might’ve screamed, but his face was familiar to me even now.
He looked…different. Sapped of color.
“…My apologies for my late arrival,” he said, his voice even hoarser than usual. “As you can see, I…” He trailed off, offering no further explanation.
“Orlando, whatever has happened to you?”
“I’m unraveling entirely,” he said, “at long last. Shadow consumes me…”
I attempted a smile. “But you’ve no reason to disappear,” I said. “Lyanna may be gone, but…she’s part of me. Surely that’s enough?” My voice rose and cracked.
“So I had hoped,” Orlando rasped, “but it would seem I can no longer exist without her love to sustain me. I don’t want you to watch my descent into shadowy oblivion, weasel. But I needed to bid you farewell–and apologize for being unable to protect you any longer.”
“You mustn’t go,” I said. “I–”
But he was already leaving…
“Farewell, Sky…” The wind carried his hoarse apology to me.
But I chased after him. “You can’t leave me alone, Orlando. You can’t.”
“Pah, you have no use for me,” he said, “not if you continue to grow stronger. Learn from your sister. Be wary of men with pretty faces. Live, Sky. Live.”
I threw my arms around him. “I won’t let you go. I refuse.”
But I wasn’t strong enough to hold him upright when he collapsed in my arms. “Orlando? I won’t leave, even if you pretend to do such a thing…”
He was pretending, wasn’t he? He’d never leave me like this. He promised to watch over me until he faded away…
“I’m sorry I’m not her,” I whispered. “I’m sorry I’m not the Lyanna you remember…”
His eyelids slowly fluttered open, and he managed to gaze up at me. “You didn’t have to be,” he rasped. “I loved you as you are now.” Why loved, not love? Was he so set on disappearing?
But before I could demand an answer, he lost consciousness again. And no matter how many times I tried to rouse him, his eyes wouldn’t open once more.
“Don’t go,” I whispered, even as his body seemed to become more and more insubstantial beneath my fingers. Solid flesh became more like gossamer…
And then he was gone, and I was alone. Pain stabbed at my heart–worse than any pain I’d ever known. Worse than finding out who I truly was, of a life lived and lost…
Sobs wracked my body–and rain poured from the sky. “Please,” I gasped. “Please, please, please. I love him…”
Raindrops mixed with my tears, indistinguishable from one another.
I cried and cried until I was certain I’d drained every bit of moisture from my body. I never stopped calling his name, even when my voice became as hoarse as his. I refused to believe he’d never come back.
And then…I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The rain stopped, and I wasn’t certain which of us lacked the strength to stand, but we both found ourselves tangled together on the ground.
“I heard your cries from the abyss,” he murmured, his voice clear and melodic. As pretty as he was. “You called me back, little goddess.”
“I’m hardly so powerful,” I whispered. “Not like my sister…”
“Shhh. Let me hold you. Please. Just for a moment…”
But it was far longer than a moment–and I had no intention of complaining. When at last we both had the strength to stand, we took succor beneath the shade.
“I feel rather strange,” Orlando said. “This is certainly unexpected.”
“You’re quite handsome…”
He snorted. “Of course–I’m fae. After so long existing as…” He shrugged helplessly. “A shadow of my former self, I suppose,” he finished wryly.
I kissed him. He was simply too pretty not to, and I loved him.
“Sky,” he breathed. “Do you always do as you please?”
“I do now, I think. After so long being afraid. I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”
He took my hand, and he looked very much like a prince of the fairies, even though I knew he was no such thing. “Are you dazzled?” he asked.
I gazed shyly up at him. “Quite.”
He laughed. “I remain yours to command,” he said, “until I fade away.”
But I didn’t want to think so far ahead; there were things in the near future I wanted to address first. Before anything else, I wanted to go home–not to the little house in Sulani, but to the realm of the fae. I’d been away from my parents for too long, hiding among humans.
The fae realm was as beautiful as ever…
And my parents were quite surprised to see me–with the exception of Papa Griffin, who could see the future.
Had he known to expect me–and the guest I brought along? I wasn’t quite sure what to say–nor did Orlando, who had been reluctant to come but agreed to remain at my side regardless.
“Hey, Sky,” Papa Griffin said. “We missed you. Orlando, you look good, I guess.”
“What is he doing here?” Papa Fox demanded, glaring at Orlando even as he directed his questions at me. “Why is he with you? And what did he do to make himself look like that–a fae glamour?”
“Fox,” Papa Griffin said. “Why don’t you ask him stuff while I talk to Sky? Don’t scare him away though…”
“He’s our guest,” Mama said softly, recovering from her surprise. “Our daughter coming home can only be a wonderful day.”
Papa Griffin found us a place to talk in private, though I couldn’t help but worry about Orlando.
“He’ll be okay,” said Papa Griffin. “Fox won’t hurt him or make him go away.”
“But he hates his father…”
“Nah,” he said. “Fox is mad and hurt, but he never wanted Orlando to die. I knew you’d save him.”
“Is that why you–why you told me the truth, all those years ago? About who I was? So Papa Fox wouldn’t lose a father…”
“It’s part of the reason,” he admitted, “but it was mostly for you. My daughter. I knew you’d remember Orlando one day–and that he might be gone when you did.”
“I was afraid of him for so many years,” I said quietly, unsure how to feel. “I was afraid of everything. But…I think I’m glad things turned out how they did, even if it was hard for me. I still have so very many years left to make up for the sad ones.”
“I’m sorry, Sky,” said Papa Griffin. “I never wanted to hurt you–or Fox. But it was the only path I saw that could fix things. Otherwise you’d both be sad for a really long time…”
“It’s okay,” I whispered, and it was. “Thank you, Papa Griffin.” I was sorry I’d never appreciated him enough in my youth–but I’d never make that mistake again. He loved me, I knew, just as much as Papa Fox.
Orlando and I decided to live in the realm of the fae, not far from my parents. It was strange, getting to know each other once more–as new people entirely. The next couple of years passed in relative harmony.
And soon, my sister had two new little people for us to get to know as well: my niece and nephew. Who would’ve thought my sister might wed the Sun King himself?
It was like something out of a human’s fairy tale… They both looked so very happy, despite the strange match. (My parents had been equally shocked, if not more so–but Mama hadn’t been upset, as Rain feared.)
“Careful not to drop her,” I said to Rain.
“Don’t worry,” Rain said, “she’s durable.” Her husband only laughed.
Our friend Lyra’s vampire husband, however, would’ve been horrified had anyone made a similar remark about their own twins, who were my niece and nephew’s frequent playmates at the temple. Lyra’s children were both slippery and prone to biting.
Small children, I’d soon discovered, were quite exhausting. Had Lyanna thought the same, or had she fully embraced motherhood then? She had loved her children; I was certain of that if nothing else.
After our visit, Orlando and I recovered at the water’s edge.
“Do you wish to be a mother again?” Orlando asked, as though he’d read my mind.
“I know I’m not Lyanna any longer, not truly, but…I feel as though we ought to make things up to Papa Fox and Clemmie first.”
Clementine was kind to me whenever I saw her (though she still didn’t let me call her “Aunt Clementine” just yet). She was far more wary of Orlando, albeit civil; one day, I hoped she’d truly warm up to him, but I wouldn’t push her. “And,” I continued, “I rather like it being the two of us for now…”
“I have much to atone for,” Orlando agreed, “and I intend to do so. Perhaps one day I’ll be fit to be a father–but until then, I shall enjoy your company alone.”
It wasn’t quite a fairy tale ending, not like Rain’s, but we’d both fought so very hard for it, and it was ours.
And there was always the future.