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A Simple Twist of Fate

By Starsong Lightwing

 

"Come in!"

Jedar took a deep breath, and walked through the door on lead feet.

Cutter turned, his eyebrows raising in slight surprise. "Jedar. I didn't expect you back so soon. Where's Kalani."

"There was an accident," Jedar began, and promptly forgot everything he had been going to say. He pulled an ivory saber handle from his pocked, and placed it in Cutter's hand. "We -- she fell, slipped on some wet stairs, it looks like -- Tarrin says her neck is broken... I'm sorry..." He trailed off as the blood drained from Cutter's face.

*****

Cutter approached the bed, his eyes empty. He reached out a trembling hand and touched the soft black hair, then stroked it. His hand slipped down to her cheek and along the ridge of her beak as his face crumpled. He slid to his knees beside the bed, and for once held nothing back. He began to cry, a choked, sobbing wail that was heartbreaking to hear. Nylessa started toward him, but Jedar caught her arm and shook his head. He guided her out, understanding his friend's need for this private moment of grief. The couple waited outside, holding each other tightly, giving and receiving what silent comfort they could.

Tam arrived with Kai. The young man's face looked numb, and he walked with heavy feet. His hair fell into dull, expressionless eyes. He gave Jedar and Nylessa barely a glance, and stood silently when Nylessa came to embrace him. Kai waited until she let him go, and then walked past her. He paused outside the door to take a ragged breath. The tears were already in his eyes when he slipped into the room and joined his father at Kalani's side.

Cutter's tears were silent now, and he stood, trembling, offering what little strength he could to the boy. Kai went to his beloved maku's side, and touched her hand. He whispered a Lianan blessing in a trembling voice, and then turned his wet face into his father's shirt.

When father and son finally emerged, worn and haggard, only Jedar remained in a lonely vigil beside the door. His own face was streaked, and he tried to speak, but could only offer a hand. Cutter clasped it strongly, the barest ghost of a smile touching his beak. Jedar wanted to say something, anything, but he knew that his friend placed little faith in words, and all he could offer was this silent apology. That smile, he knew, was Cutter's unspoken forgiveness, an absolution of any guilt Jedar might feel.

Cutter put his arm around his son's shoulders and guided him down the hall.

Cutter stayed with Kai until the boy fell into a sleep born of pure exhaustion. Wearily, the older man left the room in desolate silence. His feet traveled the familiar path without thought, and he found himself in front of the room he and Kalani had shared for almost seventeen years. He opened the door slowly, and stepped in. He entered the room as one would enter a church, with quiet steps and solemn reverence.

She was everywhere. He ran the tips of his fingers over the mahogany desk, over the smooth surface of her laptop. He could smell newspaper ink from the clippings she hoarded in her drawers. He touched the petal of one bright silk flower, and tuned away. His reflection in her mirror seemed dim and lifeless. One of Kai's poems was stuck in the frame of the mirror on one side. On the other, there was an old photograph of the strange little family. Someone had captured them in a rare unguarded moment. Cutter sat in a chair with a sleeping, eight-year old Kai in his arms. The boy was sitting in his lap, curled against his chest. Cutter couldn't remember who had taken the picture, or when, but he remembered how strangely comfortable the heavy, warm lump had felt against him. Kalani was standing behind him, her arms draped loosely around his neck as she smiled down at him, her loving smile reflected in his face as he looked up at her.

Cutter sat down on the bed as if it were a stranger's, and closed his eyes. His fingers strayed to the pillow where her cheek had rested just this morning, when she smiled a sleepy hello.

Tears began to drip into the deep green carpet.

*****

Hesitantly, Querida knocked on the door to Cutter's room. She hated to disturb him, but arrangements needed to be made for Kalani's body. She eased the door open, and looked in. The room was empty. She closed the door carefully and made her way up to A-level. She checked the mainframe, but Cutter wasn't there. She checked the hacker's workshop, but there was no sign of him. The door to the storage area that had been Cutter's room stood open. Kerry slipped in and peered around through the boxes and piles of equipment that Cutter refused to label 'junk'. Beyond a dusty pile of old tools, wedged in a corner and nearly hidden by a stack of boxes, Cutter's old bed still stood. Sprawled across it in less than peaceful slumber was the man himself, an old photograph dangling from the fingers that hung over the edge of the bed. The sight was heartbreaking. Kerry retraced her steps, unable to disturb him. She nearly backed into Iliana. Querida turned, apologizing in a hushed voice, and her eyes fell on the smooth white envelope in the older woman's hands.

"I made a copy of the part concerning her burial wishes," Iliana said softly, handing Kerry a single folded sheet. Kerry took it rather numbly and opened it, reading quickly, and then folded it again, nodding.

"I think I can take care of most of this without his help. I don't think he's in any shape to deal with it right now."

Iliana nodded. "I don't think he will be terribly concerned as long as her instructions are followed."

"Right." Kerry shifted her weight back and forth. "He's asleep right now."

"I will leave this for him, then." Iliana placed the envelop prominently on a workbench that was, for once, clear of clutter. She laid a hand on Kerry's shoulder as she passed out of the room. Kerry lingered for a moment, looking at the envelope. She glanced back down at the paper in her hand, and turned quickly to leave. There was a lot to be done.

*****

It was, Cutter thought, a rather appropriate gathering. Kalani would have approved. Her possessions were arranged on a table at the front of the mess hall, carefully arranged and labeled. Cutter had meant for he and Kai to do it together, but in truth Kai had done the most. Cutter had written out the names, but it was Kai that arranged the table, arranging the items carefully around the silver urn that held his mother's remains. As people drifted in, they stopped at the table to pay their respects. Cutter watched as Milantha herded her family to the table in her no-nonsense way, lining her children up in front of it. At her direction, they each laid a flower in front of the silver urn. Shockwave trailed a little behind her, rubbing his hands together nervously. Jayla looked up at him after placing her flower and reached to take his hand. Shockwave had to bend a little to give it to her.

Milantha frowned, and then picked up a fake potted plant with silk flowers the color of Sparky's hair. She smiled, chuckling a little, and laid her flower in its place. She turned, and nodded to the slightly-stooping Shockwave, who led his family into the main part of the crowd to find chairs. The demonstration was more formal than most but touching in its own way, and Cutter had to smile a little.

Rather unexpectedly, it was Shockwave that stood up first. He stepped up to the table fidgeting nervously, his eyes flickering across the ground in front of him. "Kalani was always, uh, always nice to everyone. Um, at least I think she was. Anyway, she was nice to me. And she was nice to me when I wasn't there... I mean, she did nice things for me without telling me it was her. She said lots of things without speaking. And she never got angry... well, no, she got angry, but she didn't let it make her do mean things like most people. I, um, wish I'd told her how great she was before... It stinks that good people go away when someone still wants them around... I don't know why it happens... but I do know that Kalani was really happy here, because she loved Cutter and Kai lots and they loved her back... So I'm pretty sure that Kalani wouldn't have done anything differently than she did... That's kinda rare I guess... to get through your whole life without regretting it... I hope I can say the same thing when I die, that I'd do it all over... or that someone could say it for me... anyway... there's plenty of reasons to remember her proudly..." He trailed off, and fidgeted for a moment more. Finally he seemed to give up and returned to his wife, who took his hand and squeezed it with a little nod. Cutter lifted his face long enough to flash a lopsided, grateful grin at his student, and then fell to studying the table of possessions.

Jedar went next, and Nylessa. Iliana spoke, and Leila did too, shortly. Cutter watched in silence as one by one Kalani's friends stood. He nodded to each, feeling strangely detached and a little giddy. It didn't seem real; he hardly felt that it was happening. It was too fast, he kept thinking, it wasn't supposed to happen so suddenly; too fast, too soon, too senseless, too quick, too shallow, not real.

Finally Kai stood up beside him and walked deliberately to stand behind the table, with what was left of the woman who had been his mother in front of him. His green eyes that were no part of her traveled over the crowd, visible for once from beneath neatly combed hair. He's only fifteen, Cutter reminded himself.

"My mother was so many things," Kai started, his voice low but steady. "A lot of them don't make sense together, unless you knew her. But somehow she balanced it all." Kai's eyes were distant, but focused, as if he was staring at a point just above everyone else's head. "She wrote a lot," he continued. "She made me want to do the same. She never told me I had to, or she wanted me to, but she smiled when she saw me. She wasn't a poet, but there was poetry in everything she did, and I wanted to be a part of that."

He paused for a moment. "She didn't make me," Kai said at last. "But she made me her son. I loved her for that." His eyes seemed suddenly to focus, intensely, on the people in front of him, and he straightened up almost unconsciously. "I treasured -- I still treasure -- her poetic soul. She has always been, and will always be, my mother."

He took a step back, and seemed to slouch again, peering at his father through his hair. Cutter stood up slowly, and walked up beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder. Kai picked up the urn that held his mother's ashes, and together the family quietly left.

For a bit they walked in silence down the hall.

"I hope they have a good time," Kai said at last as they descended the stairs. "She would want it that way."

"Yeah," said Cutter. "So...what are we going to do with this?"

"We should do what she wanted," Kai said, sounding a little uncertain. "Shouldn't we?"

"I guess so, yeah."

Kai was quiet for the moment. "Should we do it today?"

"No," Cutter said, considering. "I don't think we need to do it today."

Kai nodded. "We can do it... later."

"Later sounds good to me.

*****

The days after the memorial service were a poorly remembered haze. Cutter went through the motions of his normal routine, but remarkably little got done. He felt numbed and slowed, as if he were always moving through water. His perceptions seemed dulled, hollow and empty. A casual observer might not have noticed a difference in him--perhaps he was quieter than usual, but no more. His friends were worried, however. His efforts at normalcy were half-hearted. His attention often wandered, even during the middle of conversations, and his activities in the workshop were mostly confined to aimless tinkering.

Every night he collapsed on his worn old bed, half-hidden behind boxes of past projects and dusty piles of abandoned equipment.

For his part, Kai was in much the same state, at least outwardly. His normal blank and detached attitude made the depth of his depression harder to judge than his father's. It worried everyone that both father and son seemed bent on carrying their grief alone, keeping apart from each other as well as others. Concerned friends made overtures to one or the other, but each time the words seemed hollow and meaningless, even to those who spoke them, and the two were largely left to their private grief.

Things got only a little better over the next three months. Cutter and Kai were less distant from each other, but much the same towards others. Over time Cutter's old room had been somewhat cleared of junk, and took on a more lived in appearance. He avoided B10, and though Kai remained in B11, the door between the two rooms might as well not have existed.

*****

Cutter selected another gem from those resting in his drawer awaiting his attention, and placed it in the cutting laser's brace. In the past, he had done much of his gemwork by hand, but he didn't really care enough anymore. He calibrated the laser almost lazily, and turned it on to let the roving lasers do their work.

He had left the drawer partially open, and his eyes fell on a good sized piece of amber that rested in it. He picked it up and turned it in his hands. He had thought it might make a good necklace, and had intended to set it himself, but...

Cutter put it back, and opened another drawer instead. He took out an envelope and read again the letter it contained.

"Hey."

Cutter tensed slightly, but calmly folded the letter and replaced it in the drawer before turning.

"You didn't return my hacks," Xenon said from where she leaned against the doorframe. "So I thought I'd come in person."

"Have a seat," Cutter commented, turning back to the laser cutter. "If you can find one."

He could hear her pick her way across the room as he examined the gem and set it back in the holder. She took a seat nearby and was silent for a moment. He started the machine again. He could feel her eyes on his back.

"How's Kai?" she asked in a way that suggested she thought she should.

"Better. He's working it out. I think his poetry helps. It's good that he has an outlet, at least." Cutter realized he was rambling, and shut his beak.

More silence.

"Did Jedar ever tell you anything about CK?" Xenon asked after a moment.

"No," Cutter said in a voice that was only somewhat duller than it used to be. "I assume he's still plotting against my life as usual."

Xenon shook her head. "He's gone. He fell in love with--someone else. He left." She examined a piece of equipment that had been left on the counter. "I think he may have been a bit fed up with me. Can't imagine why, though."

Cutter glanced at her, but didn't say anything. Xenon frowned.

"Geez, Juliet, you must be depressed. You never miss an opportunity for an insult."

"First time for everything."

"I bet Sparky's pulling the strings now."

"He can handle it."

Xenon seemed taken aback, and couldn't find anything to say for a moment. He hoped she would just go away, but only half-heartedly. It was rare that someone came to see him and acted anything resembling normal. His appreciation for that one act of mercy outweighed all of his irritation, both at her presence and her taunts.

After a minute Xenon hopped down off of her stool and hooked onto his arm. "Come on. Finish what you're doing, and I'll take you out. You look like you could stand to get out of this place for a while."

Cutter almost refused, but, in truth, she was right. He suddenly very much wanted to be out among strangers who wouldn't pity him and try to make him talk it out, or pretend they understood. He removed the finished gem from the brace and locked it back in his drawer. "I'm done."

*****

"Damnit, you lousy jerk," Xenon muttered to herself, staggering as Cutter leaned heavily on her. "I told you not to drink that, and you just wouldn't listen."

"Your idea," Cutter reminded her, slurred. "Should've just left me in the gutter. Best part of this damn city anyway."

"You're a real downer to be around when you're drunk," Xenon growled.

"Not my fault the world is shit," Cutter replied amiably.

She helped him down the corridor, glad that he was at least sleeping on the first floor now. As she dragged him by the staircase, though, she nearly bumped into someone. "Damn," she sucked in her breath. Cutter raised his eyes.

"Kai," he muttered, slurring a little.

"You're drunk," Kai sighed. He looked at Xenon dully.

"I took him out, but I didn't tell him to drink," she said, at once defiant and defensive. "I know what a lightweight he is. He wouldn't listen to me."

Kai nodded, slipping under Cutter's arm. "Come on, Dad."

Together the two got the hacker back to his own room. Navigating him around the boxes that were still crowded on the floor was a challenge, but finally they managed to more or less dump him into her bed.

Kai looked at Xenon. "I'll take care of him. You can go home." Xenon shifted her weight.

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Don't worry, it's not your fault. It's probably good for him anyway."

Xenon raised an eyebrow. "If you say so. I guess I'll go home then."

Kai nodded, sitting on the bed next to his dad. He waited for Xenon to leave.

Cutter cracked his eyes open, looking blearily at his son. "Guess you're going to scold me."

"Not my job," Kai said, pulling Cutter's shoes off. "Don't do this again, dad. I don't like it."

Cutter looked at him, trying to focus. "Okay then."

"Go out. It's good for you. But don't drink. You'll hurt yourself."

"Okay," Cutter grunted. "You too, hey?"

"Yeah." Kai sat down next to the bed, leaning his back against it. "You can go ahead and sleep now."

"Yes sir." Cutter watched the ceiling waver. "'m sorry about this, son."

"It's okay."

The next day Cutter found Kai sitting in that same position, sound asleep. Profoundly ashamed, he lifted the boy into the bed and tucked the blanket around him.

Cutter went out into his workroom, and looked around. The place was a mess. Worse than usual. Moving slowly because of his throbbing headache, he began to put the place to rights. Next time, he resolved, he would actually make an effort.

*****

"Hello, Xenon." Cutter didn't look up from his tools.

Xenon froze on her tip-toes behind him, and pouted. As if to make up for being caught sneaking, she stomped loudly the rest of the way across the room to him, and put her hands on her hips. "You know, you might like to be surprised if you'd just let me try..."

Cutter's old grin appeared, an occurrence that was becoming more common of late. "Find something worth surprising me with and I'll consider it."

She pretended to be insulted. "Maybe if you were worth it I'd come naked. Too bad for you." She threw herself down into a chair next to him, and starts fiddling with the Brotherhood security system.

Cutter set his things down and plucked her hands off the controls. "Let's not go putting our hands where they don't belong, now."

Xenon wagged a finger at him. "Hey, I'm Brotherhood now, bucko. Just making sure you're doing a good job protecting me."

"You're in good hands, my dear. Very good hands." He felt rather more like his old self, and exchanging witty remarks with her was regaining its old appeal. His mind felt lazy; unused.

Xenon takes his hand, and turns it palm up, gently running her fingers over it. "Did I ever tell you I can read palms?"

Cutter watched her. "No, I believe that's a new one."

"Another girl taught me while I was working at the brothel. Here." She examined his hand carefully. "Wow."

Cutter raised an eyebrow, curious in spite of himself, but unwilling to show it. Xenon traced the lines of his hand, and sighed. "You'd better give me your other hand, so I can check."

Cutter rolled his eyes slightly, sure now he was being taken and about to be mocked, but a part of him welcomed it, so he said nothing as she looked his other hand over carefully.

"Just as I thought. Do you want me to tell you?"

"I suppose it would spoil your fun if I said no."

She gave him a Look, but continued anyway. Cutter smiled a little, watching her face. "This line says you don't fall in love easily. This one says you have great wealth on the way. And this one says you're a gullible bad dresser with little hacking talent."

Cutter gave her an amused look. "Well, that showed more restraint than I'd have given you credit for."

She gave him back his hand. "That's just your way of saying I'm right."

"You're very good at self-delusion, you know."

"That isn't all I'm good at." She batted her eyes at him in a purposely over-the-top manner and laughed.

Cutter rewarded her with a near-smirk. "You learned from the best."

"If you mean you, you're sadly mistaken. You weren't even paying."

"Since when does the tutor pay the student?"

She looked sad for a second. "When the tutor wants them young." He touched her hand, but withdrew it quickly. She grinned at him. "Are we finished with the insults for today?"

Still unused to her admissions, Cutter spared her dignity the only way he knew how, letting his eyes slide away and ignoring the first remark to focus on the second. "If you've had all you can take for the day, I suppose we can move on."

Xenon grinned. "Okay, Juliet." She looked around carelessly, to avoid looking at him. "Broke it off with Cipher a couple of weeks ago."

Cutter took on a rather dry look. "I'd ask why, but since I'm hard pressed to find a reason you would have stayed with him this long..."

She shrugged. "Well, he was kinda funny at first. And easy. But it got to the point when I wanted to have a conversation, and I couldn't."

Cutter nodded slightly, but didn't say anything. He shifted a little uncomfortably, staring at nothing for a moment, hoping to see in his mind... he didn't know what.

Xenon tried to smile. "You know, he doesn't even know my name. He never asked..." She trailed off, and looked at her hands.

Cutter smiled slightly, less unnerved by the straight conversation than he felt he should have been. "Eventually everyone gets to a point when they want something more than someone to keep their bed warm."

She rolled her eyes. "Even me." She got up and started to wander around the workroom, picking up things as if she was trying to find something to do with her hands.

"Shocking, isn't it?" Cutter grinned. "You always think it'll never happen, then..." He trailed off, and stared at nothing again. He felt hollow.

"You know what?" Xenon broke into his thoughts, from the other side of the room. "CK really loved me, and I used him and threw him away. But then I made sure that I kept him loving me, so I could keep on using him... God, I wish I could tell him I'm sorry..." She blinked hard.

Cutter cleared his throat, trying to sound normal. "Past is past. He's happy now. She-- Kalani used to tell me that there was balance, in everything. I-- hurt, a lot of people, myself, and I never told them I was sorry, or why I did the things I did."

"No," Xenon answered softly. "You didn't." She visibly shook herself. "Sorry, I'm supposed to be cheering you up..."

Cutter waved her off. "I'm as cheered as I can be, at the moment. It's...better now. Not gone, but...better. I don't feel like I'm the one that's dead."

"I... still want to be your friend." She paused. "I sound lame."

Cutter grinned, lopsidedly. "Yes, you do. And if I may be permitted to sink to your level for a moment, thank you for standing by me. I needed a friend. One irreverent enough to treat me normally."

Xenon came back and sat down next to him. She fiddled with the computers, and Cutter let her, watching her hands on the keyboard without really seeing them. He laid a hand on her shoulder for no good reason...just to touch another human being. She felt real and warm beneath his hand. She jumped, but didn't acknowledge him otherwise. She got into the mainframe without a word from Cutter, and was considering this fact when he spoke, startling her into jumping again.

"I'm sorry."

She logged out, not looking at him. "For what?"

Cutter dropped his hand and sighed. "I don't know, exactly. I'm not sorry for us. We had some good times. And I can't say that I'm sorry I left." He was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry that I was wrong when I tried to believe I would stay."

"Oh. That." She grinned. "Nah, you were better off gone. It's... forgiven."

Cutter grinned back. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and leaned over to hug him. "I'm sorry that I was such a bitch for so many years. Well, I'm still a bitch, but maybe in a better, bitchy way."

Cutter returned the embrace, trying to maintain his bravado at the same time. "I think I've shown the same sort of improvement. I'm a kinder, gentler pain in the ass."

"A pain in the ass? Is that what you're calling it now?"

"Dare I ask if you have a better suggestion?"

"I don't think I do."

"That's what I thought."

Xenon leaned her head on his chest a bit more, tentatively.

Cutter sighed slightly. "Birds of a feather," he said with a rather odd mixture of affection and irony.

Xenon moved her head until she was looking him right in the eye, close. "Cutter... I... don't want to hurt you."

Cutter looked at her face for a moment, taking a long breath, and then he kissed her gently. She closed her eyes and kissed him back, just as carefully. After a few moments she pulled back with a wry expression. "You beat me to the punchline."

Cutter grinned, and then looked at her seriously, flattening his hands against her back. "I don't want to hurt you again either, Keely. I can't make any promises right now..."

She ran her hand down the side of his face. "Then don't." She kissed him again, a little harder this time. Cutter closed his eyes, hesitating. The hollowness was fading. He took her face in his hands and returns her kiss, and kisses her again, and again.

*****

Cutter held her as they reclined in the dusty bed of his old room. "What are you thinking?"

Xenon absently walked her fingers down his arm. "Maybe it's time I went. I wouldn't want to leave the kids alone too much... they've probably been doing the same as us as it is." She made a face. "His mother's son."

Cutter smiled faintly, but he was, he felt in himself, no longer capable of just leaving it at that. "Then what?"

"Then..." She paused. "Then maybe you could come and see me sometime."

Cutter was silent for a moment. "What if I did?"

She rolled onto her back and folds her arms behind her head, staring at the ceiling. Cutter propped himself up on one arm to look at her. "Then maybe we could have some coffee. We might talk a little. You could stay over if you wanted. Then you could go back home."

Cutter brushed her hair back. "I think maybe that could work."

She turned her head to see him. "I know we have separate lives. I'm okay with that. But they can cross sometimes, can't they?"

Cutter nodded. "I'd like that."

She squeezed his hand, and sat up. She smiled at him, gently. "Then I'll be seeing you."

Cutter smiled back. "Until then."

*****

"Kai?"

"Come in."

Cutter opened the door to his son's quarters, and stepped into a mess that put his workroom to shame. Cutter said nothing, being a firm believer in the concept of organized chaos, and picked his way across the room to where Kai sat in the middle of his unmade bed.

Cutter sat down next to the boy, snagging a pillow for his back, and leaned against the wall. He gave Kai a half-grin that was half returned.

"How're you doing?" he asked.

"Okay."

"Feeling better?"

"Some. Still hurts."

"Yeah. Me too."

Kai looked at him from beneath his hair, and Cutter was rather touched as he realized his son was concerned for him. He reached out and tousled Kai's already mussed hair. Kai relaxed a little. They were silent for a moment.

"Xenon was here last night," Cutter finally said, looking at his knees.

Another moment of silence.

"Okay."

"She may be around more often."

"Okay."

"I might go visit her sometimes."

"Okay."

Cutter looked at him. "If you don't want me to, I won't."

Kai didn't look at him for a moment. "You look better this morning."

"I feel better," Cutter admitted, watching him.

"I was worried," Kai informed him solemnly.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Kai raised his eyes and sighed. He gave Cutter an almost smile. "Tell Xenon hi for me."

Cutter smiled. "I will."

There was another silence, but it was the kind of comfortable silence that they used to have. After a moment, Kai looked up again. "You want to do it now?"

"We probably should," Cutter agreed.

Kai got up and pulled some shoes on, grabbed a jacket, and shuffled through the papers on his desk. He selected one, folded it carefully, and put it in his pocket.

Cutter stood and together they went out of Kai's room and into Kalani's. Kalani's belongings had been distributed as her death letter had requested, and all that remained now was her furniture and the deep green carpet on the floor. There was nothing of her left here.

Nothing, except a small urn sitting in the middle of her old desk, and a gold band set with alternating stones of onyx and amber beside it.

Cutter picked up the ring and pocketed it, then lifted the urn with hands that shook only slightly. The two left the room and shut the door behind them.

Cutter's motorcycle rumbled out into the midmorning, carrying the two into the city. Kai clung to his father with one arm. The other carefully cradled the urn. Cutter drove to the river, then turned and followed its path to the outskirts of the city. A side road brought them to an old two-lane bridge that saw little use, since most of the traffic through the city took the larger, newer, wider bridge that spanned the swiftly running river deeper in the city.

Cutter pulled over and they both removed their helmets. Kai got off the bike and went to the bridge's red brick wall. Cutter followed, placing a hand on his son's shoulder. For a moment they stood together, watching the river churning on its way below them. Kai held the urn out to Cutter, who took it and removed the cap. The wind turned the stream of ash into a swath of grey mist as he poured, spreading it out across the water until it disappeared into the waves. Kai took a piece of paper from his pocket as Cutter set the empty urn on the wall, and began to read.

When he was finished, he took a lighter from his pocket, and, holding the paper by one corner, he set it on fire. He held it until the fire had almost reached his fingers, and then released it. Only ashes reached the water below.

They stood a moment more. Finally, Cutter took the ring from his pocket. It flashed gold in the sun before becoming part of the river that rushed to the ocean that touched the shores of both her home and her homeland.

Together, Kai and Cutter turned and got back on the motorcycle. Cutter put the bridge behind them, and the family headed home.

 

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