"Mother," Kirk's voice was hushed with awe in the dusky morning light. He shook his mother's shoulder again.
"Mother!" She sat up, still half asleep, but alert for any troubles her son might have.
"Umm, so early in the morning! What time is it, Kirk?" He was always rushing to her, wide-eyed with new discoveries of youth, but he usually let her wake up first.
"Mother, it's Sharan." He drew himself up to his newly attained six feet. His father had not been so tall. And Kirk was not seventeen!
"My wife is pregnant!" Kirk's face was a picture of triumph,
His mother gasped, all traces of sleep gone now. Praise the heavens and those in them! At last. All the years of hope and despair could be put aside, and the new age could begin. Kirk's wife was pregnant....Now babies would follow babies until finally Kirk's mother and her few remaining friends could die easily, knowing the risk had been worth it, and the future was safe.
"When did you find out, my son?"
"Just this morning. Sharan woke me with the news. I have made you proud." It was not a question.
"Very proud, Kirk."
"I'm hoping for twins; a boy and a girl!" Kirk was already brimming with importance.
"That would be wonderful, son, but we will accept what comes, though I hope for a grandson first. Now, what are you doing still here with me? Go and thank your wife properly for such a marriage gift."
Word of Sharan's child-to-be flew through the small group of citizens still living in the city complex. There were great celebrations in honor of the couple, and almost everyone stopped by Kirk's house to shower him and his wife with gifts for the new one.
Kirk's mother had a more unpleasant task. Her husband had moved to the Far Gates years before, when Kirk had begun to walk, and she had not seen him since. It was her duty to tell him of the new baby, for in his way, he had worked as hard as she to see this day, and had suffered more, perhaps.
The way was harder than in the past, and she was not in as good shape. There were not enough people living in the city to keep the wilds from breaking in again, and closer to the Gates, the trees and vines had completely covered the roads. No one from the city group came here by choice.
Finally, sweaty and tired from hacking through the undergrowth, she found the clearing and the solitary building in it. It had partially sunk into the ground, and the vines had covered the rest, so that it looked like a cave. She moved towards the door.
"Rael!" she called, almost afraid to raise her voice. "Rael, come out! It's me, Deela. I have news."
There was a slight rustling from the dark doorway, and Rael stepped out. Deela fought to control her reaction. The handsome, rugged face that she had loved so well, once, was gaunt, gaunter. He seemed shorter, stooped under the pain of years alone. When he spoke, his voice was raspy, unused.
"So, you finally came. I thought perhaps I would never see you again. I hoped so."
Deela flinched at the bitterness in his voice, still alive after all these years. "I had to come, for you must know the news. It has happened. Kirk's wife is pregnant. We are saved."
"Why did you have to name him that?" Rael snapped, then shook his head. "I guessed as much. I knew you would never come all this way, alone, to see me for any other reason."
"He's your son, too. I...I have never told him...no one."
"He is not my son!" Rael screamed, a sob breaking through his voice. He shuddered as he tried to regain control. "I tried, oh, how I tried, to love him as if he were. I thought, that since he was from you, it would not be so hard. But then years passed, and he began to walk and talk...and look like...him. I had to leave, or I would have killed him....Or you."
Deela took an involuntary step back. Rael lifted his hand as if to touch and stop her, then let it drop.
"And now his wife is pregnant, and we are saved. Did you ever think of me as you watched him grow to manhood, or were your thoughts only of his father?"
Deela threw up her head."I wished many times that you were there to teach him the things I could not. To love him, if you could. And me,"she finished with a whisper. Never had her duty weighed so heavily.
"Rael," she pleaded, her voice strained with years of unshed tears. "Should we have died? Should I not have tried to save our world? If I had known the pain I would cause..."
Rael hesitated, then closed the distance between them, and finally allowed himself to touch her hair after so long. She did not step back this time.
"Deela, you...we had to do what we did. We must continue. I know that...now. At least, I know it here." He pointed to his head. "If only I could have given you... what he did..."
Deela put her hand over his mouth. "Never say 'if only'," she said firmly. "It always makes things worse."
They stepped apart and looked at each other, their strained emotions spent. By unspoken, mutual consent, they turned their thoughts to the future lying in Sharan's belly.
"If it's a boy, I will ask that he be called Raelon." Deela looked at him shyly, asking permission with her eyes.
"Son of Rael," he murmured softly.
"He is your son in spirit, as is Kirk," said Deela firmly, believing it for the first time. "He will need your guidance and counsel. Come back with me?"
He was tempted, she could see that. His eyes still held hunger when they looked at her. But that light died, and he shook his head.
"No. Your son must raise his son." Still it was 'your' son, never 'ours'.
"I must go. It's getting late. They'll be worried."
"You'll have no trouble. If it gets dark before you're back in the complex, the stars will guide you. You remember."
"Yes, the stars." She looked up, even now her thoughts trailing back to one man among the myriad of stars. If only...
"You see?" Rael's voice was light. "I can't come back."
She nodded. "Goodbye, Rael."
"Goodbye, Deela. We will continue. That is the most important thing."
She didn't answer, but turned and left the clearing, heading back to the complex. When she turned around again, the stars were out, and the clearing and its house were swallowed up in the creeping vines and trees.
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