Light spilled across his upturned face, warm and intruding, and he squinted against it.
His back throbbed; sleeping while sitting upright wasn’t a good decision. Numbness tingled along his toes. His shoulder pulsed with a low but evident pain. Helena was still sleeping peacefully on his chest, and the sight of that dulled his aches. He absently stroked her pale hair, smiling.
“Did you sleep well, Reid?”
Tiberius watched him, his amber eyes unblinking and curious. Gray covered his features; apparently rest hadn’t been enough for the older Celestial. The egg-shaped communicator rested silently in his grasp. He noted Reid glancing toward it and shook his head. “No further correspondence, I’m afraid. They know where we are. That’s the best news that I can offer.”
“They will come,” Reid said. Apparently, kisses from a beautiful woman, alien or not, went a long way in laying a foundation of confidence. “I believe it. It’s going to be all right.”
Tiberius nodded once. He turned his eyes to the ceiling of the car and sighed. “It shall be, Reid. I only hope that it is soon.”
“As do I,” breathed a soft voice below his chin. Helena looked up with bleary, golden eyes. She offered Reid a sheepish smile. “Thank you for your comfort. It helped.”
He couldn’t contain the blood that rushed to his face, and he was surprised that he was able to manage “You’re welcome,” without stumbling over his words. As her weight lifted from him, a new pain awoke in his lower back. He also realized, with some embarrassment, that he really needed to pee.
When he admitted he needed to step out, Helena smiled and excused him.
He walked a good length from the car, standing before the tall grass and watching as it swayed against the breeze. It was a warm morning; the heat baked the top of his head and face and promised a sweltering afternoon. He unzipped and felt sweet relief as he watered the grass. He stood there for a while, saturating the ground. He hadn’t ever gone this long so far as he could remember, and he chuckled at the thought.
He turned and zipped, and felt slight embarrassment as he watched Helena approach him. He hoped she hadn’t seen him taking a pee. If he had known she was going to follow him, he would have at least gone further into the grass…
“Stop worrying,” Helena said with a laugh. “I wasn’t watching you. I am just stretching. That vehicle is far too small for the likes of me.” She leaned from side to side, limbering her back. She rolled her shoulders and sighed. “This is much better. I couldn’t imagine staying in there much longer.”
“They’ll be here soon, and then we won’t have to hide in the car anymore,” Reid replied, and he found that her smile wasn’t as happy as he’d hoped it would be. He opened his mouth to ask her what was the matter, but she put a hand on his lips and shook her head.
“It’s nothing, sweet Reid.” She sighed.
“Is he going to stretch his legs?” Reid asked, gesturing toward the car. “It’s going to get awful hot soon. He could get sick being in so much heat.” He paused and shook his head. “Then again, I don’t know. Could he get sick? I know people like me do, if we get too hot. Humans, I mean.”
“It would not do for him to be too hot,” Helena agreed. “But he is too weak to move. I offered him some of the food we brought, but he did not wish for any.” She pointed at the vacant hangar. “We should perhaps park in there, to keep the sun from the car. I can handle the communicator while Tiberius rests.”
Reid pulled the car into the hangar. He glanced in the mirror on occasion, and while Tiberius was awake, his eyes looked distant. His breathing had become labored and he visibly winced with even slight movement. Reid hoped that the shade would be of help.
He walked beside Helena, who stood with her face to the bright sky. She was visibly serene, the most calm that Reid could remember. He drew close to her and put his arm around her waist, and was relieved when she did not pull away. He shared her view, marveling at the bobbing masses of white and gray, floating past sluggishly, fading into the blue.
“I will miss this place,” Helena said. “Despite everything, I will miss it. The clouds…they are so beautiful, Reid. I often find myself marveling at them. The humans I knew thought me strange. They ignored the wonders of the everyday. I think that is disappointing.”
“My mama used to tell me that when people get used to stuff, they get bored with it,” Reid answered. “She said that’s why sometimes daddies and mamas don’t stay together, and that’s why sisters and brothers fight so much. She told me to always appreciate what I have, because if I didn’t, I’d always want what I couldn’t. And you can’t always have everything.”
“Your mother was very wise, Reid. I am sad that I will not be able to know her.”
“She was the best.” Reid laughed. “Wanna hear something funny? You talk about how pretty the clouds are, and my mama used to tell me that angels live on them same clouds, looking down on us and smiling. Well, maybe that’s why the clouds look so pretty today. Mama’s an angel now, so she wanted to make sure that her new home looked its best when she got a chance to see us.
“That’s a beautiful point of view,” Helena said, and as she looked down upon Reid, he could see the tears in her eyes. “No matter what may come, I ask that you always look upon things this way, Reid. Always look for the good. It’s what is so special about you.”
He smiled. “Thank you. You’re special, too.”
A trembling smile rested on her lips, and she looked away. “Forgive me, Reid, but I feel like I need to speak with Tiberius. I will be right back.”
She loped away, no longer looking to the clouds. Now she seemed much more focused on the ground beneath her feet. Reid noticed her sadness, and he wondered if he had perhaps said something wrong. He opened his mouth to call out to her, but was distracted by a noise in the high grass. He stared for a moment, and by the time he was certain that his mind had been playing tricks on him, Helena was already talking to Tiberius.
The floodgates were filling to their limit, and Helena was certain that they would overflow. She felt so terrible about the inevitable truth. As she looked upon the older Celestial, she felt a mixture of pity and frustration. She’d hoped so badly that he would say something to surprise her, but as it was often, Tiberius was a dear friend with predictability.
“Whom will he harm?” she asked him, her voice cracked and desperate. “He does not know corruption. He is a lamb that lives amongst wolves. Leaving him here and now, after all we have been through, is nothing short of cruelty.”
“He is of them,” Tiberius wheezed. “There is a possibility of gentleness even in a hungry beast. That gentleness is never enough to erase the possibility of the hunger taking over the beast’s mind.”
“He may be of them, but he is not them. He sees beauty in the midst of madness and he sees love over all of this world’s hatred. How can you not see that?”
Tiberius shifted and groaned. “What I see in Reid does not erase the sight of humanity doing all in their power to destroy those of us that came to help. Our people would never understand us taking one along with us. We would be accused of madness. We would be cast out. Is that what you wish for him? To leave here, only to be exiled?”
“No.” She sniffled. The first tears began to flow. “I care for him. I do not wish to see him hurt. If we leave him here, they will hurt him.”
“We cannot control what the humans will do. We never could.”
“I have seen his heart. Tiberius, he loves me, the way a man is to love a woman. If I leave him here, the betrayal…” Her face crumpled under the pressure of her grief. “It will destroy the goodness in him, I fear.”
“There is naught we can do concerning that, my dear. Our brethren would never allow him on the ship. It is past time that we face the facts before us, Helena: Reid cannot join us when we leave. He must stay behind.”