“Thank you again,” Mayumi says to the gryphon Geryon. “You were very brave. We will never forget what you did for us.”
Lounging on an old sofa that someone has scrounged from somewhere and placed in the bar, Geryon inclines his head. “Well…I couldn’t allow that brute harm my favorite bartenders, now could I? I’ve had cocktails at the best clubs in the First Ring, and none are better than Cherry’s.” He chuckles as Merri, sitting beside him with his forelegs across her thighs, giggles and cuddles his head against her bosom. Though his inflexible beak cannot reflect his pleasure, the way his eyes squint indicate a roguish grin.
“Speakin’ of my admittedly awesome cocktails,” Cherry says, “here you go, May.”
As Mayumi takes the drinks, Cherry touches her hand and smiles at her sadly. Things are still a bit tenuous between them, but Mayumi’s homecoming a few hours ago in the very early hours of the morning, and the way Cherry and the others had ardently welcomed her back, did much to heal the break between them. Mayumi turns her hand and grasps Cherry’s fingers, looking into her elder’s eyes, and nods, then picks up the squat, thick glasses and carries them to Lyria on the other side of the room.
The goddess has a delicious salad before her, and laughs as one of the younger Bunnies filches a sprig of broccoli from it while dashing past. “Chime…” Mayumi warns. “Eat your own salad, now.”
Lyria receives a cocktail with a quiet word of appreciation, takes a sip, and closes her eyes in pleasure. After a moment she says, “Oh my…that is good.”
Mayumi takes a sip and nods. “Cherry says she is developing a signature drink for the bar. I think she has it right, but knowing her she will be harder to satisfy than anyone. She may be experimenting with it for months.” She puts it down after another sip. “That…is good. But stronger than what I would wish to drink for lunch, before going on duty.”
Lyria takes another mouthful and considers. “Vermouth, bourbon, a dash of bitters… Yes, it is quite strong.” She glances around the bar. Kori, Chime, and Tulip are chasing each other, dashing about faster than any human child could, literally bouncing off the walls, turning in mid-spring to hit the wall with their feet and push off to the next leap. Cherry is disappearing into the kitchen to prepare more vegetarian dishes, and Sage is seated at the bar, listening to a tall, athletic-looking Guardia Popula with a long plait of curly hair down her back as she describes the arrest she has recently returned from. “Who is that young woman Sage is speaking with?”
“Aliyah. Corporal – sorry, Constable Kaur. She is a good friend to us all,” Mayumi replies, “but she is especially close to Sage.” She smiles as she watches them chat, Aliyah suddenly stammering and blushing, Sage keeping his cool but clearly attracted to her as well.
“It doesn’t bother you?”
Lyria’s question makes Mayumi blink and look at the goddess. “What?”
“That.” Lyria is watching Sage and Aliyah as well. “And that.” She gestures with her chin at Merri and Geryon. She looks at Mayumi curiously. “No jealousy? I saw the way Sage was holding you this morning. And the way you were holding Merri.”
Mayumi shakes her head. “No. It’s not like that. We don’t…grasp at each other. Don’t possess each other.” She frowns. “We know, no matter what, no matter how many others we love or what disagreements we may have, we are always there for each other.”
Lyria smiles. “Fascinating. Beautiful inside and out. But you look troubled, little one.”
Mayumi sighs. She looks into Lyria’s beautiful, maternal face, so warm and inviting. She feels such a sense of connection, of trust. She remembers talks with this same woman, when she was a teenager in her dreamtime, sitting with her sometime-substitute teacher, pouring her heart out to her, hair and face different but unmistakably the same person.
“I…am,” Mayumi admits.
“Will you tell me what troubles you?” Lyria’s voice is low and gentle.
Mayumi pauses to gather her thoughts. “I don’t know how much you remember of the times you visited me in my dreams. Much of it is hazy for me as well, but…my father there was Guardia, an inspector, and he taught me to always uphold the law, regardless of personal considerations.” She pauses again, and takes a deep breath before continuing. “And what Alma did…I know she did it to protect us. Perhaps it was even justified in a moral sense, and in a practical sense. But it was against the law. Wasn’t it?”
Lyria looks back at her, her eyes sympathetic. “Little one, what is the law?”
Dreamtime memories of her Guardia Academy oral exams come flooding back, and she says, “It is a code laid down over millennia, argued over, amended, tried and tested, and it is the duty of the Guardia to uphold and enforce it.”
“And who makes the law?”
“In days past, it was kings, pharaohs, tyrants, emperors. These days it is the Senate, the Comita Tributa, and the Council of Archons, with the Courts Dei and Popula interpreting them.”
Lyria nods, seeming to fall back into the role of teacher that she played in Mayumi’s dreams. “Gods and mortals, then.”
“Yes. Mostly gods.”
“And what is the law written for?”
“So that all we have will not fall into chaos.” Mayumi’s answers come swiftly, formally.
“To protect and serve the people who write it and, sometimes, those it is written for, wouldn’t you say?”
Mayumi pauses to consider. “Yes.”
Lyria reaches out and strokes Mayumi’s jawline. “Has the law served you, May? Has it protected you?”
Mayumi looks up at the mother of her creator, wanting to say yes. But she glances away, her ears fold down, and she says, “No. No it hasn’t.”
Cradling Mayumi’s cheek in her palm, Lyria asks softly, “For as much as you uphold it, has its blind hand kept you from harm?”
Mayumi shakes her head in silent answer. Lyria slips her hand under Mayumi’s chin and gently raises her face, gazing into the Bunny’s eyes. “Even the law has its blind spots, little one. And when the law fails, other values rise.”
“But…but if we break the law, if Guardia break the law,” Mayumi protests, “it will all fall apart!”
“May…did your father never arrest a youth for committing a first crime and then, after a stern lecture, look to the side and let him go?”
Mayumi remembers three classmates. “I…yes, but…”
“We all, even Guardia, must decide which laws to uphold, which to enforce. The code of law fills entire libraries. None but the greatest gods of Law can hope to contain the whole of it in their minds. It is a labyrinth that no mortal or even lesser god could possibly navigate in complete safety. There are so many laws, and so convoluted and obscure, that we could be violating laws every day, every hour without realizing. And this is done on purpose, little one. So that only those at the top are truly protected by the law, and so those at the top can use it as a weapon against everyone below.”
“But…” Mayumi feels all she knows, all she is, cracking from repeated blows. First Alma’s action, saving her and her family. Then Sky’s words defending Alma just hours ago. And now Lyria.
“When your father released those petty criminals, knowing it was the right thing to do, was he following the Curia’s law, or his own?”
Mayumi finds it very difficult to say the words. “He…was making his own decision in how to apply it.” She sighs, and sits back, slipping her face from Lyria’s hand. She feels empty. “I had forgotten that he did those things. That his words did not always match his actions.” She shakes her head. “It’s hard to remember. The dreams slip away, fading more and more.”
“You are finding your place in this world. The details will fade. What is important will remain.” Lyria pauses to take another sip of her cocktail. “And perhaps you will remember something he said: ‘If you judge a petty thief as you would judge a bank robber, the first will rot in jail for all the money the second stole’.”
Mayumi nods. “I had…constructed a memory of him. One that is far from complete.” She looks up suddenly. “Do you know him? Here in the waking world? Do you know where he lives? Today, meeting you here, changed but the same – I must find him! I need to know him as he really is.”
“I do not know him. But I can.” Lyria closes her eyes, and a smell of spring blossoms and a faint sound of birds singing fills the air. Whatever she is doing takes only a moment. Her eyes open and she says with a smile, “His old station was replaced and renamed. That is why you could not find him. He lives in Sawara-machi, in the Third Ring. His name is Sueyoshi Ishijima.”
Mayumi gasps. The name unlocks memories she had thought lost, and for a moment they overwhelm her. She had never called him by his name, of course: to her, he was always Otō-san – father – or, after she became Guardia under his command, Keibu, Inspector, while on the job. But she heard friends call him Sueyoshi, or more often Ishijima-san, or Ishijima-kun, depending on the level of familiarity. And she was herself Mayumi Ishijima. She had a family name: Stone Island.
And she remembers more of him. His kindness. His strictness. His laughter. His sudden explosive anger, but also how he never once hurt her, how he only ever wanted the best for her. His gratitude to whatever fate or chance or gods had sent her to him, a lonely, childless man.
She hears Lyria’s musical laughter in her ear, and realizes she is cheek to cheek with the goddess, her arms around Lyria’s neck, holding her tightly in gratitude without even realizing it. She awkwardly lets go, steps back. “I-I’m sorry! But…I knew he was real! I knew he was alive!”
“He is,” Lyria says, her hands on Mayumi’s waist. “But he is not quite as you remember him. Dream selves and waking selves often differ.”
Mayumi nods. “I cannot go to him now.” She looks over her shoulder at the other Bunnies. Sage is bidding Aliyah farewell. The Constable glances around and takes a breath and suddenly hugs him, closing her eyes. Sage smiles and embraces her, the top of his head only reaching the tall, muscular woman’s chin, and that only because she’s lifted him from the floor, a handspan of air under his feet. Mayumi can feel the need from Aliyah, the desire to kiss Sage. You should do it, she thinks at Aliyah. He is a wonderful kisser. He gives all of himself with every kiss.
On the sofa, Cherry is perched on the edge, leaning back against Geryon’s side, as if he is a comfortable pillow. One of her arms circles his neck and is pulling his head close to hers, and she’s grinning and joking with him, her head craned back, making him laugh as he eyes the front of her blouse, looking down it, and Mayumi is sure Cherry knows. Merri has moved behind the bar and is bringing a bottle of beer for Geryon. Mayumi wonders briefly why she didn’t pour it into a mug as usual, but then she realizes, The beak, of course. Easier to pour beer into his mouth from a bottle than from a mug.
The three younger Bunnies are nowhere to be seen, and she realizes she should go find them. The trouble they get up to.
She looks back at Lyria, who is smiling at her, eyes bright. “What will you do now, little one?”
“My job,” Mayumi says. “My family needs me. And I them. We need to stay together, until Alma returns.”
Lyria gazes at Mayumi with an affection that seems to surprise them both. She caresses the Bunny’s black-furred ears. “Who could guess that my daughter would create the most beautiful, fascinating creatures I have ever seen? And out of all the things she could have given them, she gave them her heart.”
Mayumi smiles, then slips away and goes to the sofa, touching Merri’s arm and then kneeling before Cherry, who looks at her in surprise. Mayumi reaches out and takes Cherry’s hands, and pulls her forward a little, so that Cherry slips off the sofa to kneel smoothly with Mayumi, their knees intersecting.
Mayumi takes Cherry’s face in her hands and places her forehead against Cherry’s, pressing their noses together. She keeps her eyes open, looking into Cherry’s big brown eyes, wide with wonder at Mayumi’s actions.
“Cher,” Mayumi says, low, her voice quivering. “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Cherry’s eyes fill with tears. “Aw, May…” The darker Bunny pulls Mayumi to her full, soft lips, kissing her, and moments later Mayumi feels Merri’s arms around them both, and then Sage’s, and Mayumi finds herself crying yet again and starts laughing because This is really getting ridiculous – in these few weeks I’ve cried more than in the rest of my life! and she pulls back even though she really wants to kiss Cherry more, kiss all of them, but she clears her throat and demands, “All right, where are those scoundrels? Tulip? Chime? Kori?”
There is a crash from upstairs, like fourteen metal pans and a large rusty spring being dropped. “Everything’s fine!” Kori’s voice rings out from the stairwell. “Don’t come up here!”
Mayumi groans and stands, extricating herself from the loving crowd of now-laughing Bunnies. As she heads for the stairs, though, she thinks of how happy she is. And yet, there is something there: the cracks in her foundation, the loss of her certainty. But she pushes it from her mind. There are more important things now.