The letter was in a thick manilla envelope, which weighed about twenty pounds. Inside was a brick of lead, which accounted for almost all of the heaviness, plus two smaller envelopes. One said “read me first”, and the other said “read me second, or maybe don’t?”. The first was a single sheet of paper:
I put a weight in here because it’s heavy stuff, and I wanted you to be able to feel that when you picked it up. I thought it was a bit funny. Not sure you’ll really get it though, or whether you’ll get it but not find it at all enjoyable. It seemed funny when I thought of it, then kind of dumb when I was actually doing it. Anyway. There are a lot of things that I’m not good at talking about, so I wrote you a letter instead, because ...
… Do you ever start a sentence without knowing how you’re going to end it, and then you get to the point where you need to write the conclusion, and you just have to stop because you’re drawing a blank on what could follow from the first half? Yeah, that’s me. I wrote you a bunch of letters because I missed you, but one of them I wrote because it’s been kind of gnawing at me for a bit, and I kept worrying that we would have a fight or something and it would all come gushing out, either from you or from me.
Mary encouraged me to write the letter, so if it turns out to have been a bad idea, we can both blame her.
All my love,
I took out the second letter, looking it over for a bit before opening it. I was up in my bunk, with the curtain drawn to give me as much privacy as I could. Most of the letters that I’d gotten from Fenn had been a bit scattershot, but enthusiastic to make up for it. I wondered what this letter would contain, and how I would feel about it.
Dearest, darling, Juniper,
Mary is kind of freaking out about the baby. I always call it “the baby” instead of “Solace”, because it seems too weird to think that Mary is pregnant with our friend. Would you consider Solace to be a friend? I think that I would, even though we didn’t know her very well, because she was cool, kind, and helpful. Plus she used some lightning bolts to blast a couple helicopters out of the sky, and that’s got to count for something.
But Mary is freaking out a bit, because there’s a part of her that’s treating this like it’s an actual pregnancy, instead of just a druid ritual. I think that maybe Mary had a fucked up enough childhood that she wants her own children, so she can give them the upbringing that she never had. Solace is probably just going to be Solace though, even if we have to change her diapers for a bit, and they’re never going to have a real mother-daughter thing going on, which is a little sad, maybe.
So she was talking about fucking her soul (masturbating her soul?), not like she’s going to do it right now, but after we convene the Council of Arches about it. Problem is that removing maternal love seems a bit more complicated, and Mary hasn’t been able to find the levers, even if she could get permission from the Council to move them. If you ask me, and I know that you would if you could, I think maybe this is some fallout from when she took away her love of you. Mary said that was bullcrap (paraphrasing) because you’re not suffering side effects from the level thing, and I said that maybe you were and they just weren’t noticeable, or maybe the level thing wasn’t a load-bearing part of your soul.
That pissed her off, and not in the good way. Eventually she settled down a little and we talked some more about what she would do if the pregnancy did end up fucking her up and either she couldn’t hack at her soul to fix it, or we said no to letting her.
She wasn’t very happy, and I was trying to make her feel better.
So I told her about my pregnancy, and the child I gave up for adoption.
Fuck, Joon. I don’t know what to say. When I put it there, it seems like something that I should have told you months ago, back when we first agreed that we were all going to stick together, but it’s not like you can just meet someone and say, “oh, by the way, here’s everything fucked up that ever happened to me”. I kind of envy Mary, because she’s enough of a public figure that you can find things out about her without having to ask her, and it would have been so much easier for me if you could just read a book and go, “oh, okay, this is all the bad stuff about Fenn”, without me having to say any of it.
I worry about what you think of me. I worry about it a lot, actually. I fucking love you so much, and I worry that if I say the wrong thing, or you find out the wrong bit of info, then you’re going to stop loving me.
It sounds really pathetic and desperate when I say it like that, but I also think it’s true, so maybe I’m just pathetic and desperate and don’t want to admit it. Like sometimes I do something and I think, “that’s kind of an asshole thing to do” and then I think “well, but I did it, and I’m not an asshole, so maybe there’s some way that it’s actually right”. I think we talked about this before. Well, it’s that, but with being pathetic and desperate.
You know, I set up that whole thing when you came out of the chamber with Mary, and I know that it wasn’t your favorite thing in the world, but the thought that kept running through my head was that maybe you were going to fuck Mary, and I said to myself, “self, if that happens, then you just leave, take your share of the loot and hop on the first train you can, and never look back”, and there was another part of me that said, “nope, not going to do that, if it happens, then I get on my knees, beg and pray that you’ll still love me anyhow, and if I have to share, then I’ll just swallow my pride and be really, really unhappy about it”. So I needed a distraction, which was why we played twins. Feels weird to admit that.
Yeah, definitely pathetic and desperate. That’s the girlfriend you’ve got. I’m in kind of a shit mood, sorry.
So anyway, when I was eighteen, I got pregnant. I already told you about the guy, he was a douchebag who wanted to fuck a girl from every single one of the mortal species. How’s that for a life goal? I didn’t find out until afterward, naturally, and the thought of going after him made me sick, so I was on my own. This was after dad had been killed and mom had stopped speaking to me because she had a new family.
When my little boy came out, he was the size of my palm and mewling like a kitten.
… I’m sorry, I don’t know if I can explain this right. Like, imagine that you’re you, in the depths of despair, you’ve pushed all your friends away, broke up with your girlfriend, hate yourself, whatever other shit you went through that you haven’t told us about because it’s painful or embarrassing or whatever, right? And then right when you’re more or less at rock bottom, you find out you’re pregnant.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been your reaction, but I just thought to myself, “okay, well I guess I’m going to be a mother now, this is who I’m going to be, because I’m sure as shit sucking at being everything else”. Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but I had high hopes, like this was deliverance (big word), the thing that was going to make my life make sense. I worked some odd jobs, saved up some money, stole a fair amount when I could get away with it, and was all ready to settle in as a mom. It was going to be us against the world, Joon.
Didn’t really turn out like that.
A nice human couple adopted him.
Sorry, stopped writing because I was crying, and I was going to just throw this all away, but Mary told me that I should keep going if it was important to me, and worst case, I could just vent to a piece of paper and then throw it out. She’s almost frighteningly sympathetic to my cause (the cause, currently, of being the best girlfriend I can be). Don’t let her know it, but I’m probably going to leave this time chamber thinking that Amaryllis Penndraig is one of the greatest people on the face of Aerb. I’m not going to read what I wrote before though, sorry if this is disorganized.
I had Nellan for about a year before I gave him up. I’d been prepared for a screaming, crying little baby, and instead I got this sweet little boy that hardly ever complained. He was so cute! Maybe I just thought that because I was his mom, but there were times I was run down and I’d look at him, and it would all be okay, because he was just so godsdamned adorable.
I shouldn’t have given him up.
I had to give him up, because the whole “us against the world” thing actually fucking sucked. Maybe if I had been stronger or better, I could have molded him into the kind of person who could endure it without flinching, but I was young and coming off some real nasty stuff, and I really had no fucking clue what I was doing.
He looked human, for the most part, close enough that he could pass, but not with me as his mom, not with pointed ears that I couldn’t always find a way to hide. I kept looking at him and thinking that at some point, someone was going to spit on this darling little boy for being part elf, and I was going to have to explain it to him. Or maybe someday he’d just realize that other people didn’t get the looks that we got, and how fucking heartbreaking would that be? I was tough enough to take it, but trying to take it for both of us was like a punch to the gut, every single day.
You might be wondering how any of this would have made Mary feel better. I don’t think that it did, except that she could put some of her energy into comforting me. She likes having something to do.
I don’t think I was a very good mother. I almost didn’t include that, because maybe I come off okay if you think that I was just a single mother who couldn’t hack it. It wasn’t that rosy, and I know it doesn’t seem that rosy to begin with. I don’t want to get into all the ways that I wasn’t a good mother, but maybe I can just say that I wasn’t devoted to the endeavor heart and soul, like I thought I would be when I knew he was coming. He was a quiet baby who didn’t complain much, and that almost made it worse, when I didn’t give him the love and care he deserved. And I did love him, really really did, but sometimes love isn’t enough.
I sent money to him every once in a while, usually when I was flush with cash after a successful raid into the Risen Lands.
There’s so much shit I haven’t told you about myself.
I almost never talk about prison, and I can’t tell whether you find that weird and just haven’t been saying anything, or whether it just doesn’t cross your mind because that’s not where I was when you met me. It was horrible and gross and I never talk about it because I worry that you have this image of me that I’m always in danger of breaking, and you’re not going to like the broken image. Mary’s got this theory that we’re all broken in our own ways because that’s what you like, or at least respond to, but I kind of don’t agree because there are different types of broken, and I worry I’m too much of the bad type.
So a week before we met, I was in prison, held there mostly because Anglecynn might have had a use for me. I was always worried that I’d be part of the next round of sacrifices. That happened sometimes, if you pissed the wrong person off. One day you’re eating shit food and trying not to get on anyone’s bad side, the next you’re facing trial by adversity. I might have fared better than the others, since I had experience on my side, but even if you lived, it was the Host for you, and that was its own pile of shit.
There have been times that I wanted to explain to you that before we met, I was living like a rat, keeping my head down, trying to survive the system. I don’t know how you’ll take the Nellan thing, and I don’t know how you’d respond if I told you about prison. Best case is maybe just that you nod along and don’t really get it, but you want to understand and be there for me. I keep my mouth shut around you though. I worry about what you’ll say or feel if I tell you about something like the time a guard got handsy with me raped me.
So there’s that.
Okay, all done crying. I’m probably going to rip this letter up and write a new one, but I guess if you’re reading this, then I didn’t do that.
I worry that you’ll hate me for all this.
I talked to Mary, she says that I’m a dumb bitch (paraphrasing here) and that if you hate me for any of what I wrote, then she’s going to poison you in your sleep and see whether we can get a better protagonist (not paraphrasing). She can be very fierce when she wants to be, which is constantly.
Still not decided on whether I’m going to send this to you. “Send”. Might have to burn it and write a new one that makes more sense. We shall see!
Okay, Mary vetoed burning it, because of the fumes, so I guess we’re back to ripping, if it comes to that. I feel like you’re a lot better at writing letters than I am. I know you said that you’d had pen pals in the past, on Earth, but I don’t know if it’s experience that’s making the difference, or if maybe you’re just more suited to it. Or maybe bullshit game stuff. At the very least, I should be half the letter writer you are, right?
I feel like this letter has already gone on way too long, but I don’t want to just leave you on a low note, so I’m going to ramble a bit, okay? (If it’s not okay, stop reading now. (See, I can do parentheticals just like you! (I love your parentheticals (and you).)))
Things have been going well with Mary. She’s such a good cook! My only problem with her cooking is that she always complains about what she did wrong. I thought she was fishing for compliments at first, but she seemed annoyed by me saying that it was good, so I don’t know.
I just asked her, and she said that if there’s a problem, she wants to root it out, not be told that it’s not actually a problem. I’m going to have to try to explain to her that if she puts my plate on the table and tells me that this thing needs some salt and this other thing is a little dry, it can ruin the meal before I’ve had the first bite. Not ruin, because it’s always really good food (almost always: remind me to tell you about the mashed potato incident), but you know what I mean.
Okay, okay, if you’re going to twist my arm, Mary used a blender on some potatoes instead of mashing them by hand, and they came out like glue. I’m realizing now that this isn’t a great story, and I shouldn’t have hyped it so much. I told her that it was nice to know she was fallible, and she told me that the last few months had been a string of failures, which made me want to give her a cuddle and tell her that everything would be alright.
I think I mentioned this in one of the other letters, but we’ve been sharing a bed. I’m hoping you’re okay with that. I like having someone to snuggle up with, and she’s a good sleeping partner. I wish that it were you instead of her, obviously.
Have I ever told you that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me? I probably have. Maybe I even did it earlier in this very letter.
Every time I take my sponge bath (boo sponge baths!) I look down at the line that marks where I was cut in half, and somehow I still keep thinking to myself, “surely this is all too good to be true”. If the deal was that I got to be with you, but I had to get punched in the face every single morning, I would turn up for my punch with a smile on my face.
I told Mary that, and she told me that I was just high on endorphins and hormones and whatnot, and that if I actually got punched in the face every morning, I would probably opt out by the third day. But she’s not really a romantic, especially now, even if she likes a good romance.
She told me to tell you that getting punched in the face is NOT romantic. I just told her that she should write her own damned letter, and she got kind of quiet, I think because we both realized that she doesn’t have to write letters, because she just spent a month alone with you, and is going to spend another month alone with you in the not too distant future. I’ll cop to being jealous.
Was that enough of a palate cleanser?
Remember that I love you lots. Heaps, even. We were listening to Doris Day, and I’ve got one of the songs stuck in my head. The lyric is about a bushel and a peck, which are apparently Earth measurements, which is the same as saying 1.25 bushels. I think that I love you rather a lot more than that.
Fenn (also duh)
P.S. Still not sure that I’m actually going to let you read this, especially since I don’t want to read it back to see what it says, but I’m leaning toward including it with the others, maybe with some warnings.
P.P.S. I’d understand if you thought that I should have told you sooner, but that’s the only thing that you’re allowed to be upset about.
P.P.P.S. I guess I don’t really have the ability to tell you what you can and cannot be upset about, that was rude, sorry. I just want everything to stay the same between us, for reasons like “I am in love with you, with all my heart and soul”. Sorry if that was too sappy, Amaryllis and I have been watching romantic comedies, and despite my best efforts they might be getting to me.
I set the letter down and wiped away my tears. I did wish that she’d told me earlier, not because I needed to know every dark and terrible thing that had ever happened to her, but because I wanted to be the kind of person that she wouldn’t be afraid of telling things. To me none of it reeked of desperation, it was just love, a desire to feel closeness and belonging.
(There was always a part of me that felt bad about crying, like maybe I wasn’t manly enough to just be stoic about things, or like I was being a drama queen. Neither of my parents cried much, and for my dad, it wasn’t so much that he disliked it as that he was exasperated. I remember, vividly, walking out of my room a week after Arthur had died, wiping the tears from my cheeks, and seeing my dad roll his eyes like he was fed up with me.)
“Okay,” I said, once I had mostly recovered. “I read the letter.”
“Is it too soon to talk about narrative?” asked Amaryllis.
“A bit,” I said. “I know what you’re going to say though, she’s got a son somewhere out there, and that’s a gun on the mantle.”
“Yeah,” I said. I shrugged. “Whatever, if it happens, it happens. I’m so fucking tired of second-guessing everything.”
“Okay,” said Amaryllis. “I suppose I can respect that. You won’t object if I make my own notes though? So long as we’ve got the time, we should be prepared for every eventuality. I was asking Grak about Darili Irid, and he stonewalled me, which I didn’t really appreciate. If I had access to the breadth of reading material across Aerb, I would look up his clan, but from what he’s said, they were fairly small, and there are an enormous number of those tiny, insular dwarf clans, so.” She shook her head. “Sorry, I’m distracted. Do you want to talk about Fenn?”
“No,” I said. “It makes a little more sense how much she doesn’t want kids. It makes me … sad, I guess.”
“Because you wanted children with her?” asked Amaryllis.
“A bit,” I said. “I don’t think that’s my brain working quite right. There must be some kind of chemical soup thing happening, to make me think that I would be ready to be a father.”
“You understand that you might have to be, in about two subjective weeks, right?” asked Amaryllis. “Solace is coming, and there have been some changes within her soul, a developing coherence, but … you might have to be her father, if only a little bit.”
“Like fatherhood on training wheels,” I said. Amaryllis hesitated, then nodded. “I’m ready for that, just … the idea of actually, literally having a child of my own right now is insane, right? If you look at how Uther’s kids turned out … well, no offense.”
“He wasn’t around much,” said Amaryllis. “Perhaps if he had been, or if he could have been, it might have been different.”
“Maybe,” I said. I shook my head. “I don’t want to judge him without knowing all the facts, which we really don’t.”
“I know,” said Amaryllis. “And Fenn? Are you judging her?”
“No,” I said. “I would tear apart the world for her.”
Amaryllis watched me for a moment. “Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that, now that you’ve said it.”
I shrugged, and tried not to think too hard about it.
I had a letter of my own to write.