Astrin lay on the floor, one hand gripped on his stomach, every inch of his body in pain.
Natenal, I’m sorry. Forgive me, please…
He couldn’t open his eyes, but the voice sounded human enough – and any human would either run or try and put him out of his misery.
‘You’re the starchild, aren’t you?’
He lifted his head a little, then dropped it. ‘Yes,’ he croaked. It was what the Professor had called him – and it was much kinder than “leech”.
‘Hey, hey dude…’ He opened his eyes a little and saw the reflective shard in the stranger’s hand. ‘I like to keep a little miracle around, but you look like you could use it more than me.’
The human pressed the shard against him, but he lifted a bloody hand and wrapped it around his hand. ‘Wait…’
The stranger withdrew his hand. ‘There ain’t a whole lot of “wait” left in you, dude.’
The man took a step back. ‘You’re pregnant?’
The stranger knelt beside him and pressed the mirror into his hand. ‘Do what you have to, dude.’
He gripped the mirror, the dead heart of his world and pressed it to his stomach.
Natenal, please, live…
His child kicked and he felt the piece of mirror flow from his hand. For a moment, he worried that he hadn’t wished for the right thing, or that his mistakes would make it impossible, that his last act in the world would be a failure, that-
A baby cried.
The stranger lifted the baby from his stomach and brought it closer. The child was perfect – green skin like Mela’s father, Mela’s nose and his chin. He brushed the back of his furry hand over his son’s cheek. ‘I love you, Natenal.’
He closed his eyes and felt all the pain drop away. It was no great surprise to see Death standing before him when he opened his eyes again.
The pain was gone, he could no longer feel the bullets worming their way through his body and his blood leaking from the multitude of injuries, or the dozens of bruises that his fur had covered. He looked down at himself – he was no longer a monster – he was the man who’d jumped into the void, he was the man who Mela had fallen in love with. He stood, unafraid of the darkness and the cold.
‘Do you know where you are?’ she asked.
He nodded.
‘Your wife has already passed, though surely you know this.’
‘I feared,’ he replied. He looked down into the empty nothingness below. ‘No, I knew. It was my fault.’
‘She made her own choice. It’s no crime to try and escape such a cruel fate.’
‘My son – who will care for him? I’ve…left him nothing in the world, I’ve-’
‘Take solace in the knowledge that he will live, not simply become a starbright.’ Death lifted her mask. ‘If you cannot trust a god to care for your child, who can you trust?’
‘He will grow, he will live, he will – for what it is worth – know that both of his parents loved him. You failed your wife, you did not fail you son.’
‘Is it my fate to wander the dead forests until time ends?’
She gestured to the void. ‘I do not know what will be your fate once you pass, I am simply the gatekeeper.’ She paused for a moment. ‘Are you ready?’
He thought of his wife, and his son, and stepped into the void.
Hummer wrapped the baby in his jacket as best as he could – it had been forever since he’d cared for a child and the last time, there’d been others to help. Here, and now, his powers diminished, the human way would have to do for now.
He looked back at the body and prayed that he would find his way beyond the void. Holding the crying child tightly to his chest, he walked from the building – he didn’t have to worry about the body, that’s what the angels were for.
Rubbing his hand in circles on the baby boy’s back to calm him, he realised that he still had the slight problem of a green baby. A glamour wouldn’t be good enough, as permanent as they could be, the child deserved better.
He heard the squeak of a leather shoe above him. Looking up, he saw an angel holding a dead recruit staring down at the baby. Without a word, the angel disappeared.
Whispering another prayer for peace beyond the void, he patted Natenal’s head – glad that there was some new life in world, not just the numerous deaths that always went along with a mirrorfall.
Down the street, he saw his saving grace – a small sliver of mirror had punctured a garbage bag and was almost completely hidden by the folds of plastic. He stepped quickly toward the bag, not wanting to jostle the baby further – he was sure its tiny lungs would fail if it cried anymore.
He extracted the piece of mirror, wiped it on his shirt, sat down in the middle of the street and pressed it to the baby’s forehead.
You gotta look human, little dude, that’s what people expect…and a little like me wouldn’t hurt, if I’m gonna look after you.
Green skin and darker green hair were lifted from the child, and for a moment, he held a baby that appeared as though it were being shot with black and white film. Colour faded back into the baby – the red skin of a crying newborn and a little tuft of blond hair that matched his own.
‘That’s a little better, Natenal.’ He frowned. ‘And we gotta do something about that too, dudling, otherwise your future teachers are gonna yell at me.’ He smiled. ‘Nathaniel, how’s that? It’s close enough, just got a couple of extra letters, and is slightly bigger than you.’ He held the child close, and faded away.