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KnightDisciple

And Point Me Toward Tomorrow

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Stesha's House, Sanctuary
December 26, 2014
12:30pm Local Time
 
Between the late hour of the Communion's attack on the Lighthouse, the time the fight had taken, the cleanup, the debriefings, and a quick power nap, it was well into the day after Christmas before Gabriel had a chance to head to his second home. He'd debated coming immediately after the debrief, but he needed a shower, and when he got to his apartment he ended up sleeping for a fair bit of time. The up side was that not only did he come out of it more rested...Stesha would hopefully have had time to calm down.
 
He'd missed all the "drama"; he'd been in the medbay getting patched up and looked over for his collection of minor wounds. There had been a metahuman healer present, so he shouldn't get any scars. From this fight, anyways. No way to ditch the other scars at this point, not without actual surgery, and he didn't care enough about that. But as soon as he'd walked into the debriefing and seen Dark Star in his energy form, a complete absence of Fleur de Joie, and the incredibly awkward atmosphere in the room as the meeting started, the young Irish man knew something bad had gone down. It turns out, no one else knew many details, either.



The meeting had adjourned, and the star-hopping hero Dark Star had left the room. What was perhaps odd was that absolutely no one else had left it, not yet. Gabriel glanced around, an action mirrored by everyone else. Even the Raven seemed a bit off-put by the tense atmosphere that had accompanied Dark Star, and been enhanced by the lack of the world's premiere plant controller. Finally, Captain Thunder spoke up. 

 

"It would probably be good if one of us checked in on Fleur in the next day or two. I am sure she is fine, but just in case. This was a...rough...day, I think."

 

Johnny Rocket spoke up next.

 

"Yeah but not, like, all of us. Just one person. We don't want to overwhelm her or anything. Needs to be someone who's close to her, friendly, can easily excuse going by to see her..."

 

Now, normally Carson could read discussions, interactions, intentions, and hidden meanings with the best of them. For all that he fought with the sound and the fury, he was more at home helping people talk down from their problems. He knew most every trick in the book, and his natural and unnatural charm helped him fill in the gaps. He could read people and their intent better than most any veteran ambassador, despite barely passing three decades of life. But today wasn't a normal day, which is why he went and opened his mouth.

 

"Yeah but who will it be?"

 

It was a testament to how tired he was that the words coming out of his own mouth didn't register until every single other person in the room turned in unison to look at him. When Raven simply quirked one of her eyebrows at him, Gabriel blinked, signed, and closed his eyes. 

 

"Right. Stupid question. I will...well, I'll see what happens."

 

So that is how he found himself, dressed in civilian garb, with a thermos in one hand and a bottle of Bailey's in the other, knocking on Stesha's front door and deciding if it would be blasphemy to curse being the most gifted diplomat on the planet when your ability had been granted by an Archangel.

 

Even if it would be it was starting to look mighty tempting. 

Edited by KnightDisciple

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Stesha's home was, as might be expected, the greenest and lushest place on Sanctuary. That was saying something for an enclave that boasted a lot of very nice, sometimes extremely large flora. Even in the wintertime, grass grew under its dusting of snow, flowers nodded their heads along the crushed-stone walkway, and the house itself was a thousand shades of leafy green. It was quiet today though, very quiet, with no noise of Ammy running through the rooms, no music playing, no television sounds even when he was right up at the door. His knock was met with silence too, till it almost seemed as though nobody was home at all. Several minutes, and several more knocks, passed before the door finally inched open. 

 

"Did you need something?" Stesha asked through the narrow gap in the door, barely peeking her face out. She looked pretty terrible, swollen red eyes and a blotchy face, for all it looked as though she'd hastily scrubbed herself with a cold washcloth. "I know I turned my comm off, I'm sorry. Have we been recalled to duty?" 

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Having slept, Carson's features were more easily schooled, and so he didn't even raise an eyebrow at Stesha's disheveled state. Instead, he simply offered his friend a smile and a gentle shake of the head.

 

"No, nothing that dire. We're still off-duty for a while; things are as calm as they're going to get, it seems. Though the Stephensons were wondering if they should plan for another night or two of sleepover? Ammy's having a blast, so there's no rush. And Brother Adams wanted to talk to you about a few minor administrative things, but I guess that could wait."

 

He paused, internally bracing himself, before pressing on.

 

"Say, do you want to split this coffee?"

 

He held up the thermos with a small smile.

 

"Some of Brother Lawrence's best work in months."

 

Said monk was considered the local patron saint of coffee, a title he took on with humility and humor, though considering the eclectic beliefs of the residents of the world, that title might end up outlasting him....

 

"I'll get the jitters if I drink it all. Plus I just wanted to make sure you were okay. No, like, injuries or anything. We all figured you had some important business to attend to, but there were a couple of things I can catch you up on. If that's okay?"

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Stesha stared at him for a minute, looking uncomprehending, then took a deep breath. She built herself up almost visibly, first straightening her back, then her head, then assuming the air of calm, very casual authority that served her well as the administrator of the ever-growing Sanctuary. It was all a facade, but it was a good one, nearly convincing if it weren't for the disaster of her blotchy face. "Yeah, sure, come on in." She drew back from the door and let him inside, switching on a few lamps as she went. The house still had Christmas clutter in the main room, toys and wrapping paper that spoke to an interrupted family time when she'd been called up to  the Lighthouse, and a small pile of photo albums on the couch. 

 

"I'll give the Stephensons a call and have them send Ammy to the creche school in the morning, she shouldn't miss and it'll give them a respite," she decided aloud, walking into the kitchen and taking two mugs off the shelf there. "It's lucky no one was badly hurt, that was a hard fight. Let's go ahead and deal with the administrivia, get it off the table so I can sleep for three days straight without guilt." Her lips quirked in a smile, but her eyes were too full of misery for it to be convincing. "Want a cookie?" 

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Gabriel had just finished fighting soulless cybernetic abominations. In his past, he'd fought giant insects, armies of fae soldiers, demons, mad sorcerors, and plenty of other terrible foes. He'd once fought his way out of a rioting super-prison filled with completely insane inmates all on his own.

 

Somehow, he felt more afraid now than at any other time in his life. But fear was meant to be conquered and overcome. So he walked inside, studiously not looking at the pile of photo albums, though their presence just deepened the sadness resting like a rock in his stomach. instead, he walked to the kitchen and set the two liquid containers on the counter.

 

"I love cookies. Here, let me have those."

 

He deftly took the mugs and quickly poured out two cups of Irish coffee, the liquid in the cups giving off a wonderful aroma. The leftovers were left in their bottle and thermos on the counter as Carson picked up his own cup, closed his eyes for a quick sniff test, then took a sip.

 

"Mmm. I can see why Brother Lawrence guards his secrets well."

 

He opened his eyes and looked at Stesha, compassion beginning to shine through.

 

"Stesha...what's wrong? Is there anything I can help with?"

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Stesha took a sip and nodded at the taste, then set it aside and turned away. "It's..." she began, then trailed off for a minute. "It's nothing you can help with." Pursing her lips, she opened one of the large blossoms on her counter, reaching inside to pull out a tray of decorated sugar cookies. Judging by the decor, half had been done by Stesha with her artist's eye, half by Ammy with her great enthusiasm for sprinkles. She set the tray of cookies in front of Carson, selected an Ammy creation for herself, then sat down on one of the kitchen stools. "You know Derrick and I were having problems," she blurted suddenly, not quite meeting his eyes. "Well, we're... we're over. It's done." Her voice hitched and she took another drink of coffee. "I just have to file the papers." 

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Carson opts for one of the more artful pieces, taking small, clean bites as he waits for Stesha to speak. After she's done, he takes a few moments to consider his next words.

 

'What all of us feared and few of us hoped for.'

 

He washed down his cookie with a swig of coffee before speaking, his voice soft, his whole person reflecting empathy.

 

"I cannot say I understand what you feel, not really. I haven't walked that path. But I can understand that this decision wasn't easy, and it wasn't something you enjoyed. And I can at least grasp that the loneliness of the last few years was painful for you, even if I cannot ever understand the full measure of that pain."

 

Of course the whole situation left him feeling uneasy. Suspicions were one thing, but outright admittance was another; the whole relationship between Derrick and Stesha had been wrought with problems, from what he gathered, but still his heart and soul ached that this was seen as the best response. He was sure some others in her life had been pushing her to choose this for months or more. But something told him that enthusiastic cheers weren't what she needed right now.

 

"What I can do is offer to help you out with little things around Sanctuary, and offer to be a friendly ear whenever you need it. I hope you reach out to a few others, when you feel more comfortable; I believe sharing this pain, even with just a select few, will help reduce it. I can't claim to be able to offer much advice."

 

He gave a sardonic smile.

 

"After all, I've had all of two serious relationships in my entire life, and neither one is with me today. But if nothing else, I know a small glimmer of what it's like to be left alone and aching in the heart, even if my pain will never be yours. If you ever, at all, need to talk, tell me, and I'll do my best to be there. If nothing else I'll make sure to get attacked by super-ghouls again, then you'll have a captive audience."

 

His attempt at humor regarding the terrible state he'd been in a few years ago probably fell flat, all things considered.

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She barely seemed to be listening to him, a distinct change for the normally very attentive Stesha. In most of her conversations, she seemed to look for ways to center the conversation on other people rather than herself, but right now she seemed to barely have the energy to sit at the counter. Breaking an edge off her cookie, she dipped it into her coffee and watched it begin to dissolve into crumbs. "I thought I'd done all the crying I was going to do about him. When Ammy was a baby, every week he was gone, then every month, I was so disillusioned. I had this dream of how it was going to be, and that's been gone for years, so you'd think it wouldn't hurt so much, right? But actually seeing him again..." She swallowed hard, slow tears trickling down her cheeks as she stared fiercely into her cup. "But it wasn't ever going to get any better. He can't not be who he is, and the longer he was away from us, the thinner the connection got. I could've given him an ultimatum, stay here with us or else, but what would be the good in that?" 

 

Stesha sighed as the bit of cookie broke apart in her hand, dissolving into a soggy mess and slipping into the coffee cup. "Some part of me knew it was coming for a long time. Did I ever tell you what happened to me during the time slips, back when I was pregnant with Ammy? I got sucked into one, bounced a thousand years into the future on Sanctuary." She smiled a broken little smile. "It was beautiful, even the ocean was clean by then, and the bees had their own city. And Dark Star was waiting for me there. He said I had told him about coming into the future in a thousand years, and he'd come to this spot and waited for a decade for me to arrive, just so he could apologize for everything that was going to happen. I think some part of me then knew that things weren't going to improve between us. You don't wait a thousand years to say you're sorry for a few months of not being around." She pressed her fingers into her forehead. "I... I forgave him, and I went home and tried to forget anything had happened. I didn't want to believe that there's any future that can't be changed. But part of me knew." 

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"There's always more room for crying, I've found. There isn't anything wrong with tears, Stesha."

 

He sipped, then continued.

 

"I will make sure everyone knows you're taking a couple of days of personal time, to be disturbed only by absolute emergencies. That's all they'll know."

 

He shook his head at her question, then listened to the story. By the end, he was staring at his own cookie and not really seeing the counter. 

 

"You hadn't told me, no. And I don't see why you would have. In a lot of ways that sounds even worse than what I went through. I saw death and suffering, but...well, I didn't really know any of them. To face the possibility of a future like that...I am sorry, Stesha. It is difficult to comprehend; I can't say I'd have done anything different from you. Those portals were funny things; it's easier to just push it all in the background."

 

He chewed on a bit of cookie for a moment. 

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"Everyone's going to know," Stesha corrected him quietly, "no matter what you say or don't say. The hero community's just like any other small community, and the League even more so. Half the main League, plus Max Atom and a couple of other assorted hangers-on saw me and Derrick meeting up, and I swear to God they had a better bead on the situation than he did." She shook her head and began picking cinnamon pastilles off her cookie. "And I will bet everything I own that he didn't even touch down on Earth before he took off again. Everyone knows."

 

She rubbed her forehead tiredly. "I'm just hoping it doesn't make the gossip magazines when I go to file.on Monday. I can cover my hair and ask for a gag order, but my secret identity is... not so good." She almost laughed, but the sound that came out was too painful to make the grade. "The wedding coverage was so lovely, and when Amaryllis was born and Derrick decided to announce it on the moon... everyone's going to have an opinion, and I don't know if I can take it. People know Dark Star is a hero, so why would I leave him, right?" She drank her coffee like medicine, shuddering a little at the alcohol and cookie sweetness. "Maybe I can just stay off Prime for awhile. There's plenty to do here." 

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Carson frowned at the thought of the gossip rags having a go at his good friend. Whatever his personal thoughts or convictions on this terrible situation, that wasn't the sort of thing Stesha should be put through.

 

"Does it have to be one of you who puts the papers in? Or can a third party file them? A lawyer or something like that? I mean, okay, the League probably has a good idea of what's going on, but they won't yap to the press, especially not the ones worth less than the ink or pixels their words are printed on."

 

His voice unconsciously dropped a half-octave and lost any trace of an accent, as he slipped into his Hero Voice without meaning to.

 

"And if you can't, and they do try to turn this into bread and circuses, the League will make it clear to them that the private and personal affairs of our members are just that: private and personal. Besides, you're just as much a hero as Dark Star, and frankly, you've actually been around Freedom City consistently. You've been involved in a lot of major rescue and hero efforts. It's not like you're some meek housewife who never leaves her home, Stesha. This whole thing sucks but it doesn't automatically make you a villain or anything, and if the bottom-feeders out there can't see that, then to the deepest levels of Malebolge with them."

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"I think that's where they're from," she pointed out, and this time at least her laugh was a little closer to real. "Would explain a lot, anyway." Stesha sighed and looked into her now-empty cup. "I'm just so tired, and I don't want to think about any of this stuff anymore," she admitted. "I just... I want to sleep for days, and eat an entire cheesecake and drink a whole bottle of wine, but the last time I did that I wound up throwing up on Avenger's lawn and becoming immortal, and it didn't even make me feel better." She looked up and gave Carson a crooked smile. "Guess that's another story I haven't shared, but you probably don't wanna hear it. Thank god nobody cared who I was back then." 

 

Rising, she carried her mug to the sink she'd finally gotten properly plumbed and rinsed it out, then filled it with water. "Maybe you're right about the lawyer, but it's- it's very hard to talk about with anyone, much less a stranger. I used forms I found online and figured he wouldn't contest anything because there's nothing to contest." She sighed, sipped. "And I guess maybe I hoped that if the judge or the clerk or whoever saw who I was, they'd make it easier, because the rules don't work the same way for people who don't even live on Earth. But that's eating my cake and having it too, I suppose." 

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Gabriel shrugged at the story.

 

"One of these days remind me to tell you the story about the bishop's lawn. I'll know what it means, and you'll get a kick out of it."

 

His slight smile went away soon as he considered the situation.

 

"I could make a couple discrete inquiries. I know a few people who are very good at discretion. If the forms are signed and valid, which I would think they are, I'm sure they'll know the most private way to do things. I'll make sure to be as general as possible and name no names. There's nothing wrong with wanting your privacy, Stesha. I'm not saying we involve 30 people; this would, hopefully, be maybe a half-dozen folks beyond ourselves. Counting the person or persons the papers are filed with."

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"I'll think about it," Stesha murmured into her mug. "Part of me, and I know it's probably stupid, but part of me says that I should file it myself because it's the least I deserve. God, I- I didn't think it would blindside him the way it did. I don't understand how he didn't even seem to realize anything was wrong. I mean, by the end I almost hated talking to him on the phone because I hated how nagging and bitchy I'm sure I sounded, wondering where he was, wondering when he would be home again. How could he have not noticed how bad things were getting? But then he was standing there, and he couldn't even change back into human form right away because it had been so long, and he didn't realize he'd been gone two whole years, and he acted like we'd just pick up where he left off. And I know I really hurt him." 

 

She closed her eyes, as though that would keep her from remembering Derrick's face. "And it was my decision, and I made it happen, and maybe I deserve whatever fallout I get over it. But I don't want it to touch Ammy, or the work here on Sanctuary." 

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"You aren't out to cause pain or hurt people, even Derrick. It's not nagging to wonder where your husband, the man who swore oaths and promises to you, is when he's gone from home for months or years. When he is, through neglect, essentially abandoning those same vows. Perhaps he has been busy saving whole worlds. But if that effort of heroism means that he cannot find the responsibility and time within himself to be part of a family, he should never have tried to start one in the first place."

 

The words are harsh in themselves, but Carson's tone is caring.

 

"And you aren't stupid for loving him. For wanting him to be around, or for not foreseeing the future. And there's nothing wrong with wishing he could have been around like he was before this all happened. I don't believe you wanted to hurt him, not really. I think you did what you felt was best for all three of you. And whether people disagree with you about it being the best choice or not, anyone who tries to extend any sort of disagreement to Ammy or Sanctuary is wrong."

 

The force behind that word is jarring considering how quiet he'd been.

 

"If it is within my power and skill I will do everything I can to assure that nothing changes for Sanctuary and our aid to it-"

 

And here she knows that "our" means "Carson and the Church".

 

"-and that anyone trying to lay so much as a smudge of metaphorical soot on Ammy's nose is instructed on proper journalism."

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Stesha gave him a watery smile. "If anybody can shut them up, it's probably you," she agreed, wiping her eyes with the edge of a dishcloth. "And maybe I'm blowing things out of proportion, maybe people won't even be interested. I can't keep up with what people are interested in these days. Have you ever been to one of those superhero fan conventions? Kind of a surreal experience. I haven't been for years, but I think some of those people know more about my friends than I do. At least their professional lives. And I've got a little plush Fleur de Joie somebody made and sent me through the League. Ammy's got it in her doll collection now. But this isn't my hero life. It's just my life." 

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Carson gives a humble shrug.

 

"I do have a bit of a way with words and people at times."

 

The sheer level of understatement makes it clear this is a joke. At the question of a convention, he actually...becomes uncomfortable.

 

"Ah, yes, I've been to a couple of the "superhero conventions" in town. The League likes to use them for better Public Relations, and guess who one of the official Ambassadors of the Freedom League is?"

 

The man who's superhumanly good at making people like him is, yes. What a shock.

 

"But after the Fangirl Incident I kind of cut back my non-speaking-panel appearances. The plushies are kind of cool, though."

 

The way he blushes when mentioning this "Incident" suggests it's embarrassing.

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"Now that sounds like another story to hear," Stesha commented, her lips curving just a bit. Despite everything, it was hard not to feel a little bit better when someone like Carson was trying so hard to cheer her up. She didn't even think he was using his powers, it was just the kind of guy he was. She picked up another cookie, this one a green Christmas tree, and nibbled on the edge as she leaned against the counter. "If you're not going to tell me about the one with the bishop's lawn, it seems like you at least owe me this one." 

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Carson sighed and took a fortifying sip of coffee.

 

"You've been to one before, so you know how crazy they can be in general, yeah? Well, I'd just done one of those speaking panels, and was headed to the floor to "meet and greet", sign some of those charity photos, take photos, and so on. Nothing major, right? I've even got a couple of "handlers" who mostly just help me not get lost in the blasted convention center. 

 

So there I am, on the floor and mingling. This was just over a year ago, so I'm all shiny and silvery and white and stuff, right? Stick out like a sore thumb. Well, I'm signing a couple pictures for these cute-as-buttons little kids, one of whom's in a wheelchair-"

 

Because of course he was. Stesha can just picture it, and picture the PR department for the League faintly drooling at the good press that sort of imagine conjures up.

 

"-When I hear this...chorus of squeals. Sound like as much to make a hardened veteran freeze or the hairs on a banshee's head curl. Suddenly I'm standing alone and there's this corridor of frightened people at least 20 feet away to either side of me. I turn and look, and there's this group of women. Not, like, 5 of them; I'm talking probably 50 or so. Some were barely old enough to drive or vote, others are older than my mother. But they're all wearing tshirts or waving signs and banners that say "I Heart Gabriel" or some such, a few of them said things that shouldn't be said in polite company, and several were holding those damned plushies. They all had seen me. Not that it's hard; a stealth hero, I'm not. 

They zero in on me and start running. And of course I'm in a space with a ceiling low enough, and with enough random tall things, I can't just fly up and away. Too crowded to fly low. I try to just kind of casually back up, but suddenly they're all around me. Fastest I've seen non-speedsters move."

 

He shuddered, even as he blushed a bit more.

 

"They're all screaming and chanting. Declaring undying love, praising me as the greatest hero, asking me for...well, all sorts of things, a couple asked to "have your baby", they're all waving photos and notes and trying to grab and pull me. It wasn't the most lethal situation I've been in, but there's a certain level of raw panic when you're packed in that tightly with that many people making that much noise.

 

I ended up pulsing out a few sonic waves that left them gently stunned. A couple cheered at being sonic-ed by the great Gabriel.

 

Basically, a total disaster, PR-wise. It took me weeks to convince the papers I hadn't instigated the whole thing."

 

He seemed insulted by the idea. 

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Stesha giggled, putting a hand up to cover her mouth as she listened to Gabriel's horrified retelling. "Oh wow, I did hear about that, I forgot it was you that got mobbed by the amorous soccer moms. You poor, poor man." She took another bite of cookie and seemed to enjoy it a bit more this time. "I was asked to do a panel at a convention for the League a while back, but I turned it down. I have hardly any free time as it is, and I don't want to have to answer in person some of the questions people send in on my fan page. Though I have had people thank me for having a costume that's easy to cosplay, so I guess that's something?"

 

She looked down at the faded pink and yellow sweatsuit she'd donned after shedding her damaged uniform and shrugged. "They should've seen me when I started out, patrolling in jeans and a green hoodie. God, it seems like a hundred years ago. But it's not even six." Her face fell as she considered all that had happened in those eventful years. "Who'd have guessed we'd all end up where we are today?" 

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He gave a not-really-faked shudder.

 

"It's just so...disconcerting. I mean, I get that I'm a good talker, but it still baffles me that I'm popular. Like, that kind of popular, I mean."

 

The poor deluded man is actually serious and doesn't realize how man-pretty he is.

 

"I actually had to talk down a couple of League lawyers from trying to file assault charges on my behalf. None of those women deserved that, even in civil court; I just held a press conference saying I forgave the...impropriety...and asked that in the future it not happen again. Between that and just not going out on the floors, it seems to have worked."

 

None of his teammates have the heart to tell him about the fan sites. The many, many fan sites.

 

"I used to get thanks like that; people told me that, other than the coat, my outfit was easy to make. Now? Not so much. But yeah, that's something. And I think people understand that a woman who can literally make deserts bloom can be busy sometimes."

 

Gabriel poured himself more coffee, then added in the "extra flavor" again. He raised his mug, as if in a toast.

 

"To the simpler days of fighting street thugs and petty themed criminals."

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Stesha raised her mug of water in acknowledgement of the toast. "Those were the days," she agreed. "Sometimes i really miss the days when my biggest responsibility was the flowers for the next party and I faced off against enemies like The Beekeeper. I thought if I had a little more control, a little more power, everything would be easier, but it always just gets harder. I used to have time to go out and have fun with Taylor and Moira and Derrick, and now she's an interdimensional guardians and she's a goddess and he's... he's just gone." She pursed her lips tight and swallowed, unwilling to start crying again just yet. "I'm happy that I have Sanctuary and I am glad that I can help people, but I'm... I don't know. Just tapped out, I guess. I was going to pick up Ammy on my way back from the Lighthouse, but I couldn't even do that. I wish he was here, and now I'm probably never going to see him again." 

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Gabriel hated seeing his friend so sad. What person would enjoy such a thing? But he also knew there was little he could really do. At least, that was ethical, anyways.

 

"You work so hard, Stesha. It's alright to need a break, to need to take some time. It's also okay to miss friends you don't see much or any of any more."

 

He paused, trying to formulate his words as carefully as possible.

 

"And it's okay to miss him. It's okay to wish he was here. If he does not return for decades or centuries, that is no one's fault but his. Don't forget, though; you do still have friends. Both here on Sanctuary, and on Earth. I'm sure you could speak with Megan, if you'd like; she's gone through somewhat atypical circumstances herself, as I understand it. I'm always willing to talk and listen. I'm sure Tarrant would be, too. Tiamat...well if you want to go smash things for stress relief she'd be up for helping you with that, at least."

 

He trusted Gaian Knight's dragon companion implicitly but she was not a subtle or "touchy feely emotions" type of person.

 

"And there's more. Maybe your bonds with some of us aren't as strong as your old friendships, but I can speak for at least myself when I say I'm always willing to be a good friend.

 

The point is, you're not alone, Stesha. You have friends here, for whatever you need our help for."

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She was quiet for a minute, staring into her cup as though she expected to find answers in its depths. "You're right," she finally murmured. "Thank you. I know this can't exactly be easy for you with... everything." Everything encompassed a lot of things, the battle they'd just lived through, his church's views on divorce, his own collapsed relationships. "You're a good friend. I'm lucky to have all of you." She rubbed her forehead with the heel of her hand, disrupting the crown of wilted daisies that still wreathed her green hair. "I think... I think Sanctuary is okay for tonight. Everyone should be able to manage okay for the evening. I'm going to sit on my couch and eat popcorn and binge-watch the Harry Potter movies." She looked up, gave him a faint smile. "Want to hang out awhile?" 

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"The most important and critical things in life are rarely easy."

 

Gabriel knew full well the meaning behind "everything".

 

"We count ourselves lucky to be your friends, Stesha. You are a great friend, and a fine hostess."

 

He nodded and smiled.

 

"I think that sounds like a fine idea."

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