In the Underground, Penny tells Jane that memories are meant for everybody, but Jane knows this is bullshit. If everyone could just take any memory they wanted, they wouldn’t be speaking in English.
“Well, of course I can’t speak it,” Penny says. “I’m British.”
As if that’s all that needs to be said. As if that’s the only explanation she needs.
“Well,” Jane says, fiddling with the flower in her hand. “I’m not.”
It should come as no surprise that Jane was a bit different than the rest of the freaks Niles claimed as family. Somehow, despite Niles’ constant insistence that he had a safe, welcoming home, she still leaves. Because a part of her doesn’t trust anyone, not even the man who rescued her from the unfortunate fate that befalls far too many in the mental health care system. There were some feelings she could never explain, certain experiences she would never tell him.
But if she doesn’t tell him, who does she tell? Cliff, who had, in his good intentions, forced his way into the deepest corners of her mind? Larry, who was so wrapped up in his own issues he couldn’t spend a moment thinking about anyone else? Vic? She didn’t know Vic. To be honest, she didn’t want to. As soon as the Chief comes back, he’ll leave. There was no point in pretending otherwise. And then there’s Rita. Dear Rita, who insists on caring about nothing but herself, yet still tries to persuade Karen, still insists on trying to save a doomed teenager despite calling children a disgusting waste of space the day before?
Sometimes, Rita was a real bitch. Sometimes, she wasn’t. It was hard to say what Jane had been hoping for when she sits down besides the other woman, but whatever Jane had expected, this was not it.
It starts, as many things do, with Rita talking about herself. Jane has heard much about the lovely Rita Farr over the years but somehow, in this quiet evening Jane learns something new.
“You know, I’m fluent in quite a fair amount of languages,” Rita says. “I traveled a fair amount in my career, and I suppose I felt it served me well to understand the locals, even if I… well, I suppose I could have been nicer. But I know how it feels to speak in a way you’re not as comfortable with. Best to just pick the language most loved and go from there.”
“You know how it feels?” Jane asks. Rita fiddles with her shirt collar.
“I used to speak Yiddish very well,” Rita says eventually. “But of course, it’s such an… ugly accent to have. It’s simply not fit for the pictures at all. So I stopped speaking it. And now I have the beautiful voice you hear today.”
Rita smiles at Jane, all Hollywood charm, but Jane knows how to read between the lines. Because of course, the dialogue isn’t the most important part of a script. It’s the context.
“Some of us used to be able to speak Spanish,” Jane says. She’s not going to pry into Rita’s life. If the other woman wants to say something, she will. “But there’s only one left who really knows it.”
Jane never told the Chief about La Llorona. To be honest, she’s not someone Jane thinks about that often. But she tells Rita.
Everyone in the Underground has their own story.
La Llorona is as much a protector as Black Annis and fronts just about as infrequently. Driver 8 says that they’re sisters. And there’s a certain symmetry to that. Two creatures feared by the world, but loved by the system.
Jane knows how the stories go. She knows that in Europe, people warn their children about Black Annis. That she’d use her claws to tear their flesh and wear it around her waist if they didn’t behave. She could be hiding anywhere, living in the cellars of some old castle, waiting in a great oak tree, or slumbering in a nearby cave. If you don’t listen to your parents and be a good little girl, Black Annis will swallow you whole. But they were never a good little girl, and Black Annis had never cared. Annis was not interested in hurting children. Only the fathers who had frightened their daughters enough that the girls tremble in her presence.
And while Black Annis hunts down men, La Llorona searches. Jane knows this story, too. A woman in South America, searching for her children she had lost. Wandering, wailing, “Ay, mis hijos,” as she walks across the river bend. If you stay out too late, La Llorona will find you and will bring misfortune to your family. And Jane cannot imagine a luckier child than one that sees La Llorona.
Sometimes, La Llorona stays in one place, protecting special memories. Memories that can’t be forgotten. Memories people tried to make them forget. But most of the time, she searches. She rides Driver 8’s railcar and sings sad Spanish lullabies as she looks for the daughter she has lost. But she will still come when you call, but you must speak an honest plea, and you must speak in her native tongue.
But Jane does not know her native tongue.
Rita tells Jane she doesn’t know where she comes from.
She knows her parents were Jews. She knows she is Rita Farr.
This is all she has, she says. Her parents were very big on the whole melting pot. She remembers the traditions, but they’re all out of context. She’ll rip a tear in her shirt, above her breast, but she won’t remember why it makes her feel like crying.
“Sometimes I wonder if that’s what’s wrong with me,” Rita says. She gives a shaky laugh. “I did some… well, I told you. I wasn’t the best person. I don’t know if being religious would have helped, but. I would have liked the opportunity, I think. To find out for myself.”
“Yeah,” Jane says. Church had helped Miranda, she knew, but Miranda was also the reason none of them could be in a church anymore. And then there’s Stigmata, who looks always so holy in the Underground but never does anything but make them bleed when she surfaces. Jane’s not sure if she feels jealous of Rita. Is it better that way? To not know all the ways something meant to help you can hurt so much. Or maybe she does know, just not in the same way Jane does.
Jane wants to tell Rita it’s not too late to try, but maybe it’ll just sound hypocritical coming from her. That she doesn’t have to start looking today, but she should still consider her options or whatever. That there has to be some fucking Rabbi willing to teach an immortal blob woman about her culture, but she’s never seen a synagogue in Clovertown.
There’s not a big latino population, either, though that doesn’t mean much when you share a body with Flit.
Still, Hammerhead doesn’t trust it. She tells Jane that this is on purpose. That no one made The Chief live here, and that someone who travels as much as he does has to have some fucking resources for someone trying to reconnect with their culture, and Jane—
She gets it, okay? She gets that she can’t trust men, and she can’t trust white men, even if they save her from hospitals that try and tear her open on the daily, even if the man’s immortal and refuses to say how, even if he wants her to go live with a bunch of broken superheroes, because obviously, what is she besides the girl they call crazy when her back is turned? She—
When Jane disappears, the Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter politely excuses herself.
“Did I say something wrong?” Rita asks. “I didn’t mean to upset her.”
“It wasn’t you,” The Hangman’s Daughter reassures. “A lot of things have happened recently. Sometimes, you need a break.”
“Oh,” Rita says. “Well that’s. good, I suppose.”
Rita stops paying attention as soon as she hears Cliff greet the Daughter. After all, what does she care about a conversation that isn’t about her? So Rita knits like a boring old grandmother waiting for her grandchildren to come for a visit.
She tries to put aside her conversation with Jane. Bury it in the back of her mind where she doesn’t have to think about it. But of course, the mind is a fickle organ. Rita’s not in charge of what she thinks, not really. So instead, we get a flashback.
Rita gets her first paycheck as a child too young to understand just how much money she’s just made. What she does know is that her father sweeps her into a hug
“I always knew you’d get picked for the role,” Father tells her. “I always knew my little girl was going to be a star.”
Father had been an actor, too, but not the kind Rita was. He had acted in theatres, mostly Yiddish plays. Father has said there was no way he could get to pictures, but Rita was different. She was all American, and all adorable, but still Jewish.
Her mother used to say that her people always made for very good actors. After all, the first trick any good actress learns is to make your audience love you.
Now, Rita had lived a sheltered life as a child. If she wasn’t at home, she was in some acting class or in her father’s theatre. But she still listens to the radio. She still hears the talk of the war, and she knows what’s being fought over.
Rita may have been a child, but she had never been an idiot. She had always known what her mother had meant.
She had always known her mother was afraid.
The train feels empty, even with both Hammerhead and La Llorona staring at her from their seats. The train floor is filling with water, but Jane doesn’t bother complaining. They all know Llorona can’t help it. Also, she’s already crying, like always, so Jane would feel kind of like a dick for yelling.
The Hangman’s Daughter sits far away from them all, carefully balancing the drawing supplies in her lap to avoid the wet. Jane doesn’t pay her any mind. Jane knows that Hammerhead is here because she always likes to be close by, just in case something happens. She wants to be ready to protect them. She wants to make sure she’s not even a moment too late.
It’s kind of weird seeing her next to Llorona. The two of them look nothing alike. La Llorona has wide, constantly crying eyes and her skin is brown and weathered. Nothing like Hammerhead, with her shaved head and her leather jacket, or her pale skin.
“Hey,” Jane says. “You’re white.”
“I’m not,” Hammerhead snarls, tone more vicious than Jane usually hears in the Underground. “I’m not one of them.”
Jane hadn’t been expecting this reaction, but it didn’t surprise her either. She had phrased her question poorly, but in a way, she already had her answer. Of course Hammerhead was latina. Hammerhead was aware of every possibility of violence and had been present long enough to know there was reason to be proud in spite of it. Hammerhead remembered Mamá. Jane had never gotten a chance. Everything she knew about their mother was something she had learned second hand. Maybe one day she’d get over it.
“Sorry,” Jane says. “I didn’t mean--I know you’re not. You’re more latina than me.”
Hammerhead’s face softens, instantly transformed from the mad woman she appeared as on the Surface to the sweet butch the Underground all knew her as.
“It’s not a competition, Janey,” Hammerhead says. “It’s just a label for you to hold. If you want, I mean.”
There’s not a lot that belongs to Jane. Not a lot she feels like she’s allowed to have. Can she still call something hers if she’s only experienced it second hand? It’s the same with their powers. The people they’ve fought, the victories they’ve had… The only reason any of it’s Jane’s is because she’s the one putting them in harm's way.
Maybe what she needs is a sign.
“What I want is to see Sun Daddy,” Jane says. Hammerhead frowns as the train comes to a stop. As the doors open, the train car is filled with light. Jane steps onto the platform. Llorona waves goodbye.
When he’s on the Surface, Sun Daddy is all destruction. He burns and terrifies and burns some more, just for good measure. But in the Underground, he just waits. He sits crouched at the entrance to his station and watches as his light grows plants out of the tiles around him. He’s so tall in the Underground. Tall enough for Jane to stand in the palm of his weathered brown hand and pace.
Sun Daddy can’t talk, but he’s a great listener.
“I’m so fed up with making all of our decisions,” Jane says. “And I’m so fed up with second guessing myself. It’s like… If he wasn’t honest, then who is? How am I supposed to know if he really wanted to help us? Any of us?”
Sun Daddy carefully sets Jane back on the platform floor. Jane watches him as he sets his palm in front of her, slowly making the heat rise. From where he stands, his light will make the plants grow. But if he gets too close, they’ll wither away. A plant needs more than just sun to survive. Without the water trickling in to his station or Rain Brain stopping by, all Sun Daddy’s efforts would be for nothing.
This is why he doesn’t like going to the Surface. He knows just how much damage he could do to it. Too much of anything is never good.
“Okay,” Jane says. The train arrives. Jane pats Sun Daddy’s hand as she leaves. “Yeah. Okay.”
The next day, Vic holds a team meeting about finding something strong enough to face Mr. Nobody which ends in them going to a house in the middle of nowhere where a teenage girl with a monkey’s face informs them very seriously that the house is full of ghosts. Her name is Dorothy. She doesn’t ask them any questions about themselves, only offers answers.
“It’s where I got Charlie,” she says. Charlie is the doll in her hands. She seems too old for these things, but of course, haunted dolls are for everyone to enjoy.
“Does that mean they’re not dangerous, then?” Larry asks. Dorothy bites her lip.
“Kids aren’t allowed to go in,” she says. “But not because they want to hurt anybody! George and Marion wouldn’t live with them if they were mean ghosts. They’re just kind of… adult.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Vic tells her. She blushes. “Do you know if either of your friends knew someone named Niles Caulder?”
“He was my dad’s friend!” Dorothy says. “He helped me get set here. Well, it was mostly Joshua, but he did help. He comes by sometimes.”
“You wouldn’t by any chance know about Mr. Nobody, would you?” Vic asks.
“If you need to beat someone, you should ask Kate,” Dorothy replies. “She’s the best at everything.”
It’s not really an answer, but it is a nice side quest. Dorothy tells them Marion and George would want them to spend the night, so they decide to find Kate in the morning.
“She lives here, too,” Dorothy says. “But sometimes she’s out late. She’s got her own life, you know?”
The house unsettles all of our dear heroes, but not for the reason they expect. The ghosts are fine. They’re naked but, hey, who are they too judge? Larry and Jane are the only ones who are really bothered by them, though Rita gets a little quiet around some of them, and after Scarlet Harlot scares them off with her power everything is fine, even if Larry and Rita both practically glue themselves to Jane’s side once they leave. But then there’s the dreams.
Jane doesn’t actually dream, though someone in the Underground does, as well as the rest of the team does.
“I dreamt I was a child again,” Rita murmurs. “The first play I ever saw and not a word of it was in English. It was beautiful.”
“I dreamt about being a kid, too,” Larry says softly. He doesn’t elaborate.
“Yeah, I dreamt that I was doing this science project with my mom,” Vic says. “I was so excited about it. When I was little, all I wanted to be was like them. Do you think—is it this place? Some weird side effect of being around ghosts?”
“They did tell us this place was haunted,” Cliff says. Cliff, surprisingly, does not dream about Clara. He dreams about his mom, buying him ice cream. Just a good, simple, human experience. “Guess weird dreams are all part of the haunting.”
Jane sees the girl’s doll, Charlie, slumped in the corner of the room. It hadn’t been there when she had gone to bed.
“We should go,” Jane says finally. “This place creeps me out.”
“I know this place is weird,” Vic says. “But we came here to find something that could bring down Mr. Nobody. And clearly, there’s a lot happening here. So I think we still have a shot.”
“Whatever,” Jane grumbles. “Don’t come crawling to me when you get possessed.”
Babydoll is the only one in the Underground who had dreamt, and she’s bursting with excitement she feels the need to share. It was a special dream, Babydoll says. Magical. She had dreamed about the ocean, but she had dreamed about Miranda, too. It was all of them, all 64, and they were all holding hands, like one very long cut out of paper dolls placed lovingly atop the water.
“And someone was singing!” Babydoll says. “Just for us! I don’t remember the song, but I know I’ve heard it before. I just wish I could remember…”
It was, she assures Jane, beautiful.
When George and Marion actually meet Larry the next morning, the couple bursts into tears. It’s not hard to see why. The two are made out of bandages, but unlike Larry, there’s nothing inside. Just a bunch of wraps in the form of someone who used to be a human being. Somehow, they’re still more fashionable. Marion has her bandages styled around her in a bob, while George has several strands of bandages flying in the back of his head like a ponytail and both of them are wearing shockingly normal clothes. Marion’s even wearing lipstick.
“There used to be so many of us,” Marion says. “They told us they’d give us work, but then they made us into this! I’m not bitter about it at all, really, but we could only bring so many people with us when we escaped. It’s hard not to miss them, especially knowing what they’re going through.”
“We just want them home,” George says, hugging his wife.
“I’m sorry I disappointed you,” Larry tells them, shifting uncomfortably on his feet.
“Meeting a new friend is never a disappointment,” Marion reassures him. “You may not be who we thought you were, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be glad to see you!”
“It’s nice to meet you, Larry,” George agrees, giving him a hug. Larry stiffens, but he doesn’t pull away.
“Did you think you were the only one?” Dorothy asks Larry. “There’s a lot of the others in the house. I guess they didn’t come up to meet you.”
“Well, they are a bit busy with their jobs,” Marion says. “But I should introduce you to them all. I’m sure they’d love to meet you.”
“They run a sex hotline,” Dorothy whispers, looking as though she expects the people around her to gasp in shock.
“It’s not just sex!” George says. “Some of them do oracle predictions. We’re very popular.”
Cliff lets out a surprised laugh.
Jane and Rita find Kate in a bookstore downtown. She tells them she was granted great power by a being who loved her. Back when she was doing sex work, she had met someone covered in bandages who glowed like a foreign star. She had offered her assistance, and the being offered hir own. They had sealed the deal, breathed to life a promise with a kiss.
Kate is not sure where xe came from, but it is far from here. A different world, maybe. A different time. But a part of hir will always stay to protect Kate because that’s what love does, and just because they only spent a night together doesn’t make the love any less true.
Aside from the nesting doll hanging around her neck on a chain, Kate seems like a normal woman hanging out in a bookstore. Her hair is long. Her voice soft and beautiful. But when Jane tells her that they’re fighting some asshole who trapped their friend in a different universe all Kate does is raise an eyebrow.
“Well,” she says. “I can’t travel dimensions or anything like that. Not on purpose, anyways.”
“What can you do?” Jane asks. Kate grins. The woman at the store counter claps her hands in excitement.
“Are you going to do your trick again?” the woman asks.
“Get me a bottle,” Kate says with a wink. The woman does.
Kate waves her hands in front of her like a magician doing a trick.
“Lo, I call upon the mysterious powers granted me by my Goddexx,” she declares, keeping her voice steady and loud. “I was granted the gift of love, and to this love I ask again: coagulate!”
With that, she grabs the bottle and turns it upside down. Nothing falls out. Rita inches closer and Kate winks at them. She waves her hand above the bottle, grazing it with her palm and says, “Dissolve,” as it dissolves into liquid. Rita gasps at the spectacle and claps her hands. Jane just rolls her eyes.
“Do you have to do that every time?” she asks.
“No,” Kate admits, looking sheepish. “But it’s fun, isn’t it? I like to pretend I know where I came from. And everyone loves a good story.”
A good story is important. Especially for Dorothy, who could bring her imaginary friends to life.
“I like to dance with them now,” Dorothy says. “I used to be really scared of that, until the Orishas came along. Kate and Cerise put together this whole cleansing ceremony for me. They told me they loved me, and I danced in the moonlight.”
“Sounds witchy,” Jane comments.
“Kate’s really into spiritualism and stuff like that,” Dorothy says. “She says the religion doesn’t matter as much as the people do, though. Family’s always the first thing you should look for.”
“Sounds Jewish,” Rita comments dryly.
“I think she is, kinda,” Dorothy says. A trio of dancing women with deer legs appear in front of them. Dorothy waves.
“Those are the Vegans,” she tells them. “Sometimes they come even if I don’t ask for them. Uh, do you want to dance with them?”
“I’m afraid not, darling,” Rita says placing a hand in front of her face. “These days, it seems I have two left feet.”
“That’s okay,” Dorothy says. “And it’s okay. If you still want to dance, I mean. We won’t judge. Cerise says it’s always important to let yourself be bad at things.”
Here is a story Jane knows:
Miranda isn’t old enough to know what exactly Daddy’s telling her, but she knows Mamá isn’t coming back. She knows it means there won’t be any more Spanish at home, and she knows it’ll mean that Daddy—
(Miranda had never known what Daddy did. She couldn’t be happy if she knew, and she needed to be happy. Or rather, she needed to be someone who could one day be happy, far away from schools that taught fiction like truth and teachers that called her by the wrong name.)
Daddy makes her cook in Mamá’s place, but he doesn’t like her meals. Doesn’t like the music she sings when she cooks. So Miranda hums instead, and her spices run out, and she gets quieter. But she promises herself she’ll never forget the language Mamá taught her. And she still has church, still has the last words Mamá said to her so she’s okay.
“Te amo, m’ija. Lo siento. Quiero creer nos vemos pronto. Te amo. Sé fuerte.”
She’ll be okay.
Here is the story Rita knows:
She learned to sing by practicing her Hebrew, a language she’s all but forgotten now, but whenever she’s asked, she tells the papers she used to sing along to the radio as a child. A small part of her has always wished for something more. Has wondered what would have happened if Rita Farr had never come to be. Instead of practicing to smile for beauty pageants, she could have been in school, learning about the world. She could have been asking questions. Finding answers.
Instead, she finds herself, all these years later, with only one question: who is Rita Farr?
She thinks she would have been fine working hard in some factory job. She’s not sure if being an actress spared her any stress or if it just gave her the money to remove the wrinkles. But now she knows. She knows that she has waded through alligator infested waters, stopped the apocalypse, and fought off a beard hunter. She knows she would have been fine as Gertrude Cramps, unsightly as her last name might be, no matter how hard life would be. At least then, she would know who she was supposed to be, because she would spend all day being that person. And that would have been enough.
“Mr. Nobody kidnapped the Chief,” Vic explains, sitting in George and Marion’s dining room. “He’s really dangerous, but we’re trying to get him back. Chief helped all of us, so we want to get him back. I’m not going to force you into this, but if you any of you have some way to help, we’d really appreciate it.”
“The Chief didn’t help me,” Kate says. “He just threw me in a room and told me to start coagulating.”
“And he was so rude to you!” Marion adds. “I’m sorry I let him in to our house.”
“I thought Dorothy said he helped her?” Cliff asks.
“That doesn’t mean he helped me,” Kate says. “He told me I was too proud to accept his help, but that’s not it. I’m not going to listen to someone who thinks he knows my own life better than me. He doesn’t know what would help me be a better person, because he doesn’t know what will make me be a better lesbian. It’s as simple as that.”
“But he was friends with Danny,” Larry says softly.
“And I’m a friend of Dorothy,” Kate says, clearly unaware as to who Danny was. Larry pulls his coat tighter. Marion, seeing his discomfort, unravels her hand and lays a bandage on his shoulder in an attempt to reassure him. Jane knows he wasn’t really arguing with Kate. Mostly, he was arguing with himself.
“There is a lot of powerful creatures in these woods,” George says. “We don’t get involved in fights, but maybe if you ask some of them…?”
“It’s too dangerous,” Marion argues. “It’s best to leave them alone.”
“The wild girls definitely aren’t going to like a bunch of grown-ups in their woods,” Dorothy says, wrinkling her nose. “And the Fox is still out there, I think.”
“Oh, I’m sure a bunch of heroes can handle a couple of warring deities,” Kate says with a laugh.
“A couple of what,” Jane asks, fully aware that they’re going into the forest no matter the answer.
And, sure enough, Kate and Dorothy take them into the forest.
“They call themselves Foxfur and Crowdark,” Kate says. “They’re opposites, in a way. A couple of months back, the Fox riled up all these people at an old folks’ home. They started talking about how they were going to take back the world from kids or whatever, than Crowdark showed up with her wild girls. She takes kids who don’t want to grow up and lets them play in the forest. The Fox said she had eaten his collection, so that she had to pay.”
“We stopped them, I guess,” Dorothy adds. “Crow likes me. She calls me the bloodchild. And Foxfur calls Kate the daughter of the equinox. I don’t think they really stopped fighting, though. They just called a truce for us.”
The clearing they come across seems to sneak up on them. First, they’re in a forest. And then suddenly, the trees peel away to reveal a fox the size of a man wearing a suit standing beside a woman with a crow’s head. She’s wearing a leather jacket and leather pants, but no shirt and Jane can see that all of her skin is a dark blue. Jane can also see her very nice tits.
“You’d be correct,” the fox says. “But now there’s more people here, there’s more pawns on the chessboard. Enough to have a game, wouldn’t you say?”
“I would say you’ve hurt enough people in your attempts to rile me, Foxfur,” the crow says. “But I am not above revenge.”
“Listen,” Vic tells them. “We didn’t come here to get involved with your stupid rivalry. All we want is to get a friend of ours back.”
“Nothing can be given freely,” Foxfur says. “That’s simply not how it works. But play our game and one of us will help you. That I promise.”
Vic looks at the rest of the team. They shrug. He sighs.
“Alright,” Vic says. “What do we have to do?”
Foxfur grins, showing all of his sharp teeth.
And then they’re not in the forest anymore.
Jane’s alone, surrounded by moonlight.
“Choose me, girl,” Crowdark’s voice says, echoing around her. “With me, you can be dangerous. With me, you can be safe.”
“Like hell I can,” Jane mutters. She doesn’t care how powerful Crowdark is, she never trusts promises of safety.
Jane walks. With every step she takes, the moon grows lower and the sun rises, until Jane’s standing in the mid-day sun. She’s not in the forest anymore. She’s in a beach, a beach that looks far to familiar for Jane’s comfort.
There’s a beach in the Underground. It’s somewhere they’ve been hearing about ever since they were young, young enough that even Kay could remember it if she ever woke up.
The beach was more of a dream than a memory, but Jane could feel it in her all the same. Even before Flit had actually taken them there, had let them all feel the sand on their feet and smell the salt of the sea, Jane had felt it deep in her heart. Mamá belonged to Colombia, and a part of them did too.
“If you choose me,” Foxfur tells her. “I will grant you want you need. Crowdark may be convinced you’re perfect the way you are, but we both know that’s not true.”
“Shut up,” Jane says. She keeps walking.
Mamá used to tell them about their family in Colombia. The beach was just one of many that Mamá had seen in her childhood. Daddy didn’t like it, but Daddy never seemed to like Mamá, or the watchful eye she had had on them when Daddy was around.
It was one of the few kind secrets they had. Something to be protected from men like Daddy trying to shovel the beach out of their memories. Mamá had always said to keep it close to their hearts. To always remember where they came from.
And now Foxfur was taking that from her. Removing it from the Underground, from where it was safe, and placing it out in front of Jane like someone dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit. It’s such a stupid thing to tempt her with, too. Out of everything Jane wants, she thinks about this the least.
“Is there nothing you want to change, Jane?” Foxfur asks. “About your body? About your soul? About your mind? Quieres saber el idioma de tu mama? ”
“ Cierra--,” Jane replies, then winces. It never sounds right when she says it. Whatever part of them belonged to Colombia, it wasn’t Jane. Of course it wasn’t. When Flit finally took them to Colombia, it had been Jane who refused to look for anyone, refused to even ask if anyone knew anything about her family.
“You find your accent disgusting don’t you?” Foxfur says, and damn it , he’s right. “So American. That’s such an easy fix, Jane. Don’t you want to speak your mother’s Spanish?”
Yes. No. Yes. Jane doesn’t care about her mom, because how can she care about someone who left them with a monster? She knows it hadn’t been on purpose. She knows the only thing Mamá is guilty of is caring for her child, hoping for a better life. And Jane can’t lie. She wants to see Mamá with her own eyes. For her to call her her own name. Her shitty accent was just one of the many things in her life she felt shitty about. What she really wants is harder to pin down with words. It’s the emotion that rises in her chest when someone asks her if she hablas español, the way her throat closes up when she says no. They way she shrugs and says that her mom just wasn’t around enough for the language to stick in her head. The way she’s only never told anyone “my mom was deported, and my father didn’t even try and stop it, because he wanted me all to himself.”
Jane stops walking. The sky is darkening again and the sea breeze is fading. It’s almost twilight, but now she sees something glowing on the horizon. It’s Dorothy, running towards her with a stick in her hand. On the top of the stick is some kind of glowing cloth head, complete with a lipstick mouth. Her doll, Charlie, is in her other hand.
“Jane!” Dorothy cries. “Please don’t choose, Jane. It’s not going to end well. Foxfur doesn’t care about the Chief. And I love Crowdark, but she doesn’t either. Don’t give them an excuse to start fighting again. Please. I don’t think this city could stand it.”
“I’m not going to choose,” Jane scoffs. “You think I’m going to let a man tell me how to speak? Fuck no.”
“Then come to me,” Crowdark whispers. “You’re almost in the dark, now. Come to my kingdom.”
“I don’t want a kingdom, either,” Jane snaps. She takes a step back. She can hear Foxfur yip with joy.
“Jane,” Dorothy says. “It’s okay to sound funny. When I danced for the first time, everyone made fun of me. They told me a monkey shouldn’t dance. And my stepmom, she said—well, she wasn’t so nice, either. But I want to dance, Jane. I don’t care if a stupid boy thinks I’m too ugly to be a ballerina. Sometimes I still think of ruby slippers, and it makes me so afraid . But I don’t want to let that stop me. The first time I danced with Kate in that ritual was the happiest day of my life. You shouldn’t let Foxfur take that away from you. I don’t know you, Jane, but I bet you’re really strong. Whatever he’s offering you, I bet you can do one better.”
Dorothy holds out her stick in front of her, waiting for Jane to grab on. Jane hesitates.
“Dorothy,” Jane says.
“Yeah?” Dorothy asks, eyes wide.
“It’s--I… forget it. Let’s go.”
Jane grabs the stick.
“It’s going to be okay,” the stick says. “One day, you will gain the clarity you’ve been seeking.”
“What the fuck?” Jane shouts, taking her hand off.
“It’s just the talky-stick, Jane!” Dorothy says. “One of my imaginary friends. It knows everything. So that means, if it says you’re going to be okay, you will. Even if you’re not happy with how you sound now, you will be one day. I promise.”
It’s a foolish, child-like thing to say, but Jane can’t find it in her to argue. Dorothy smiles up at her, eyes bright and full of love and all Jane can do is smile back. She doesn’t know this girl. Dorothy’s practically a complete stranger, but she’s still willing to talk about all the traumatic she experienced to make Jane feel better. And it works. Jane doesn’t want to talk to Foxfur. She doesn’t think anyone in the Underground does, either. Right now, all Jane wants is to know more about this girl willing to jump between to deities, just for her.
“Thanks for finding me, Dorothy,” Jane says. She takes the stick again and the light grows and grows until it forms a bridge.
Together, they go.
Jane finds Rita sitting next to a pond, staring at an image of herself in the light of the moon.
“Ugh, Rita,” Jane says.
“Leave me alone,” Rita says. Her hair is a mess. “I want to be alone in the wilderness without any beautification.”
“And what, you think you’re not going to have that chasing after a supervillain?” Jane snorts.
“I know Crowdark is really lovely,” Dorothy says. “But I don’t think you were meant to stay here, Miss Farr. And I don’t think any good can come out of indulging them. That’s what Charlie says, anyways.”
Rita stares at her.
“Charlie,” she says. “Your doll.”
“Marion and George call him the Inner Child,” Dorothy tells her. “He’s really smart.”
“Well, if Charlie says it’s dangerous,” Rita sighs. “I suppose I should hear him out.”
“Thank you,” Charlie says, making Rita and Jane both scream. The doll hops down from Dorothy’s arms and moves toward Rita.
“You have a very deep voice,” Rita says stupidly. It’s clear she can’t think of any other way to respond but hey, neither can Jane.
“There was a time when I was human, once,” Charlie says. “Long ago. What happened isn’t important. The important thing is that I know all about beings like Crowdark and Foxfur. They’re not evil, but they are inherently very different. The only thing keeping them in balance is their nature. And this place they brought us will mirror that nature. If you chose one, so will the Earth. Nothing given is free. We can’t survive just on moonlight, Miss Farr. You cannot choose either.”
“Maybe I don’t have to choose,” Rita says. “Maybe I should just stay here. I’ve been thinking about everything I’ve done lately. All the women I betrayed so I could focus on myself. Always thinking about my own comfort, while they played the part I never wanted to. I’ve been cruel. I’ve been selfish. And the worst part is, I still am.”
“You’re not a bad person,” Jane says, awkwardly placing a hand on Rita’s shoulder.
“I’m not good,” Rita replies, shaking her head. “If you knew, you wouldn’t…”
Rita plucks a leaf out of her hair and sighs.
“I just. I spent so much of my life focused on beauty. On playing the part, until that’s all that was left of me. I was rotting inside while Rita Farr, star of the silver screen lived on. And that’s all I am now. The husk of a woman so obsessed with her career she’s nothing without it. That she’s no one without it. There’s so many things I could have done, but instead all I am is as vapid as an interview in the back of a gossip magazine. There’s nothing more to me. No hobbies, no skills. Just a PR-sanctified woman.”
Rita’s voice cracks. She stares back at the pool.
“There was so much I wanted to know,” Rita says. “But I never learned anything.”
Charlie pats her leg.
“When I was human, I was called Rebbe Isaac,” Charlie says. “As Rebbe, I learned many things, but one of the most important bits of knowledge I can pass on is that ignorance is not inherently a fault. You are not a bad person because you could not find someone to teach you what you needed to know.”
Tears well up in Rita’s eyes as she sinks down to the doll’s level.
“I wasn’t always so ignorant,” she whispers, cradling her hand in her cheek. “There were so many things I was taught as a child. But it was all crammed in between lessons in beauty. A blessing here, an acting lesson there. A prayer here, a week filled with dancing there. Over and over, until all that’s left is a woman who can mold herself into anything. Except, of course, herself.”
“It’s not too late,” Charlie tells her, patting her head. It’s an odd sight, but a distinctly paternal one. “Your time is your own, Miss Farr. And if you need help sounding your way through your Hebrew, my home will always be your own.”
“Thank you, Rebbe,” Rita says. There are tears in her eyes.
It’s so easy to make Rita happy. When Jane tries to be nice, she can flatter Rita in an instant. And yet, somehow, in all her years of living with Chief, she was still depressed. He hadn’t helped. He hadn’t even really helped her with her oozing either, really, just pawned it off to someone else. Pawned it off to a man, as if men ever knew anything about the shit women had to deal with. As if men ever knew anything.
Jane thinks that Rita might have needed Niles, but as she thinks this, she remembers Sun Daddy’s hand in her face. Plants can’t survive too close to a head lamp. It was time to give her some water. Time to bring her into the natural light. It was time to show her the moon, without the guiding hands of a goddess with an agenda.
All Rita had ever wanted was for someone to tell her she was doing her best. Jane gets that. It shouldn’t have taken her this long to hear that.
“So,” Jane says. “Rita Farr is a bitch. Cool. That’s not news. But what do you want to do?”
“I want...,” Rita hesitates and wipes away her tears. Her face is surprisingly goop-free. “I think I just want to help people.”
“We can do that,” Dorothy says eagerly. “We could become a great superhero team! But you have to want to leave first.”
Rita shakes her head fondly.
“Okay,” she says. “I suppose you’ve got me. I’ll go. Join your little team.”
“Yeah man,” Jane says. “Of course you are. We’re fucking amazing.”
Jane helps Rita up. Helps her get the rest of the twigs and leaves out of her hair. Teases her for getting so into this so quickly because, really Rita? A crow flashes her boobs at you and suddenly you’re ready to give up shampoo?
“No more moping around,” Jane declares. “You’re too good for that.”
“If you insist,” Rita says, as if she’s doing Jane a great service by agreeing. After a moment, she smiles at Jane. Jane smiles back.
And they leave.
The rest of their friends are very conveniently gathered together. Kate is riding on Cliff’s shoulders while Vic and Larry argue.
Dorothy grabs Jane’s hand and they walk closer.
Everyone seems to notice each other at the same time.
“Jane!” Cliff says. “Where the hell have you been? Wait— Larry? What’s wrong? ”
“I’m just saying, we can’t trust them,” Larry says to Vic. “I spend a second alone, and the Negative Spirit drags me all the way to Vic. If they don’t want us to make a deal, then I’m not going to.”
“But it’s not that simple,” Vic argues back. “We haven’t found that Flex guy yet, and these are the only people we’ve seen that could actually stand a chance against Mr. Nobody. We can’t give that up.”
“Actually, I think we can,” Cliff says. “Foxfur tried to pull that shit on us, too, but we’re not falling for that! He tried telling me that he could fix things with Clara, but according to him, part of that’s his fault! He couldn’t go back and change things, but he could make her forget or some shit. But I’m not going to do that. I don’t fucking know that’s what Clara would have wanted, and I don’t deserve the power to make that choice for her. Plus, I was kinda worried about you guys. I have no idea where the hell we are.”
“You shouldn’t choose between them,” Dorothy says quietly. “Not like this. Not while they’re fighting.”
“See?” Larry asks, gesturing towards the girl. “Even the kid says it’s dangerous. We should go. Find some way out of here.”
“Does it even matter what happens at this point?” Vic demands. He sounds tired. “I mean, we’ve been after Mr. Nobody for so long now and we haven’t gotten any closer. Can’t we just… take the help? Worry about the consequences later?”
“Really?” Jane asks. “ You don’t care what happens?”
“Yeah, I bet the Justice League’s not gonna like that,” Cliff jokes, but he can’t keep the worry out of his tone.
“Everytime I close my eyes, all I see is that weird dimension Mr. Nobody put us in,” Vic says, voice trembling. “Staying the night at Marion and George’s house was the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in a month. I’m just tired. I want to go home. I want to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about turning into a monster, or what my dad’s hiding from me. Can’t this just be over?”
Rita slowly places a hand on Vic’s back. Kate climbs off of Cliff’s shoulders to do the same.
“I didn’t realize this was getting to you,” Larry says. “You always seem so… put together.”
“Well, I’m not,” Vic says. “I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. The difference between us is, I try my best. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I just want Mr. Nobody out of my head. So someone just… pick a side, and let’s go.”
“I’m sorry,” Kate says. “You can’t.”
“I didn’t realize it’d be so dangerous at first, but they’ve both been getting really powerful lately,” Dorothy says. “And they took us somewhere. I think it means more, if we chose one now. Because we’re not just choosing which one we believe in or whatever. We’re choosing who we think is stronger. And whoever we pick will be.”
“So they can stop him,” Vic says. “Listen, if you don’t want me to pick, that’s fine. But we’re getting something out of this.”
“We can’t, ” Dorothy insists again. “Foxfur is a sun god, and Crowdark’s the moon. The moon can’t be stronger than the sun. What’ll happen to the plants? What’ll happen to the animals? I mean, if they don’t see any light, they think it’s still time to sleep. It’ll mess with the ecosystem.”
“ Who cares?” Vic asks. “We have a reality bending supervillain on our hands. Can’t we just… get some help and pretend that there’s no strings attached? Deal with whatever comes next some other time? I don’t care if I have to save the world. I just don’t want it to be from Nobody.”
“Vic,” Larry says. “I’m sorry we were so caught up in our own shit that we never helped you. But I really don’t think you should do this. It’s…”
“Listen,” Cliff tells Vic, grabbing one of his shoulders. “I know Foxface has a pretty tempting offer, but the thing is? It ain’t real, pal. Say he promises me a body. Well, I know it’s not going to be my body. You gotta be specific about shit like that, or else you’re gonna get stuck with the cheap shit. Whatever help we would get isn’t going to be what we really need. I know how to read the fine print on this shit, okay? I was going to be a lawyer.”
“You were going to be a what?” Larry asks as Vic shrugs Cliff off.
“Yeah, took the bar exam and everything,” Cliff tells him. “That’s what I was planning on doing if the whole racing thing didn’t work out. Figured it was good to have a backup plan.”
Vic shakes his head.
“Only you would think that,” he says. “Can’t race? Might as well go to law school.”
“Does this mean you’ll hear us out?” Cliff asks.
“I think he has to,” Kate says. “You’re the lawyer.”
“I am,” Cliff says proudly. “Vic? What about you?”
“I get it, okay?” Vic says. “But that bandage couple thought everything would be fine. So what’s changed?”
“George and Marion were never Crowdark’s champion,” Dorothy says. “She said, didn’t she? You heard her. She wants revenge.”
Vic sighs and looks down.
“Okay,” he says. “We can go. I’ll figure something else out.”
“ We’ll figure something else out,” Rita tells him. Vic looks at her, surprise in his eyes.
“We’re a team or whatever,” Jane reminds him. “We’re supposed to help each other out.”
Vic’s halfway through a thank you when Foxfur’s laugh interrupts him.
“You think you’re getting out so easily?” he asks, voice booming out from the sky.
“We don’t take kindly to people who go back on bargains,” Crowdark’s voice echoes out from between the trees.
The world shakes.
“Shit,” Cliff says.
“Shit!” Jane says, pushing Dorothy away from a ball of flame falling from the sky. Dorothy looks up at her. Jane can feel her trembling, hand gripped tight onto her body’s arm, but the feeling seems so far away compared to the echoing of the Underground’s train.
“Whoever’s coming better be bringing a fire extinguisher,” Jane tells the closed doors. On the Surface, the trees crowd around them like bars in a prison.
“Jane,” Dorothy says. She’s still trembling. “Don’t worry. I-I got this.”
This poor fucking kid. A blur of white leaps out from Dorothy’s skull, unfolding into a full and very angry woman in robes.
“Heart of Ice!” Dorothy cries. “The flames! Put out the flames.”
In the Underground, the doors open. La Llorona walks out hesitantly.
“You?” Jane says. “Not Rain Brain?”
“La hija,” Llorona says. “Ella necessito ayuda.”
Of course. For Dorothy.
Jane nods. Steps out of the way.
“ Ayudame , or whatever,” Jane says.
And La Llorona takes control.
Rain Brain controls the rain, but La Llorona brings the tides with her. She’s a hurricane, a current ready to drown and right now, she only has one purpose . La Llorona no lo mira a la niña , but she sees her. Sees Rita quickly pull her away from the action while Kate tries to dissolve the trees and La Llorona becomes one with las mareas remolinas around her, dragging down the crow woman. The crow sputters, but the fight in her is gone. She stares at La Llorona, a familiar sadness in her eyes as el zorro laughs from his perch in the sky.
“What the fuck,” the metal man asks. Cliff , Jane reminds her. It’s Cliff.
The crow woman grabs La Llorona suddenly and pulls herself above the water.
“Stop,” she says. “I won’t fight the sea, no matter who it belongs to. You win.”
Es la verdad . La Llorona’s presence has changed something in her.
So she lets the sea go and turns towards the girl clutching Rita’s arm. Pobrecita. She had scratched her knee during the turmoil. La Llorona gives a watery smile and walks toward the girl, waving her hand above her knee.
“Sana, sana, colita de rana,” La Llorona mumbles. The girl looks at her. La Llorona smiles.
And then Jane’s back, wringing out her hair as Crowdark speaks.
“There was a time where I knew a woman with a power much like yours,” she says wistfully. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen anything that reminded me of my love. I don’t wish to harm you. I couldn’t. And I won’t let him hurt you either.”
“You’re never any fun, Crow,” Foxfur says, walking down from the clouds as if the sky itself was a set of stairs. “But I suppose if that’s the way you wish this to end, I won’t interfere.”
“There was never a chance we would do any real harm,” Crow says. “We both already promised to protect Caulder’s daughter.”
“Who?” Jane says, but Dorothy’s eyes go wide with fear.
“No,” she says. “I’m not--he’s not--I had a dad! I know who he is, because I had to make him up!”
Dorothy gestures to the space around her which is suddenly filled by a suited figure with a newspaper for a head.
“ He’s the only dad I have,” Dorothy says. “ He cares about me. And that’s because I made him up. ”
“I am sorry,” Crowdark says. “But many years ago, he found us and struck a deal. It took him nearly half a century to complete his end of the bargain, but when he did, we told him to find any house near the woods and we would make it safe for you. If I had known someone like you was his daughter, I would not have given such a steep price.”
“Half a decade?” Kate repeats. “But Dorothy’s sixteen!”
Dorothy looks just as surprised as Kate, and twice as angry.
“I think I want to go home,” Dorothy says.
Crowdark plucks a feather from her head.
“Here,” she says, handing it to Dorothy. “A boon. An apology. Use it as you wish. I am sorry you never had the opportunity to be average, bloodchild. I hope it brings you comfort to know you were always meant to be extraordinary. Your worship honors me in more ways than you understand.”
Dorothy takes the feather, but doesn’t say a word. Crowdark dips her beak in a nod, and vanishes along with the fake forest. Suddenly, they’re back where the started, right on the edge of Marion and George’s lawn.
“So,” Cliff says. “That was fun.”
“I need a shower,” Jane says. She starts to head into the house, but pauses.
“The ghosts don’t go in the bathroom that often,” Kate says. “Nothing more annoying than people making out where you pee, you know?”
“That’s nice of them,” Larry says.
“Sure is,” Kate agrees. “Hey, Dorothy, you’re not really… I mean, I celebrated your fifteenth birthday with you. And your sixteenth.”
“I thought I came to live with George and Marion when I was eleven,” Dorothy says. “I don’t… I don’t know what she’s saying. Do you, Charlie?”
“The time you spent with the woman you called your step mother must have lasted longer than you assumed,” Charlie says. Cliff and Vic have a moment to freak out about the talking doll, though Larry seems to take it in stride. “I’m sorry, even I don’t know everything. I wish I could tell you what happened to your mother, or why your father chose to leave you here.”
“You shouldn’t be the one who has to tell me,” Dorothy says. “I never got a chance to know my mom. All anyone ever told me was that she was from some mountains. I always kind of hoped that I’d get out one day, you know? I’d find my way to her hometown, wherever that was, and someone would know enough to tell me at least what tribe she was from.”
Dorothy twirls the feather in her hand.
“But anyone who knew her is probably just as dead as she is,” she mutters. Jane gives her an awkward pat on the back.
“I really didn’t know my mom either,” Jane says. Kay had known. Miranda had known. But not Jane.
Dorothy sniffs and Jane pulls her close.
“I know that if we’d met, my mom would have wanted to tell me everything,” Jane says. “I know she tried. I know I wanted to learn it with her. But… it’s not like I have nothing. And it’s not like you don’t either.”
“Mr. Caulder says I look like her.”
“I’m not talking about that,” Jane says softly. “I’m talking about your friends. You’ve got a shit ton of power, kid. And your mom probably did too. She’s probably got a gift for you somewhere. You just gotta find it.”
Jane pauses, aware of how wet Dorothy’s eyes are and aware of how wet Jane’s clothes still are. Jane pats her on the back again.
“So, uh,” Jane says. “Don’t lose hope. Maybe your mom’s not here, but… I don’t think you’re alone.”
When Jane comes back from her shower, everyone’s arranged themselves in the living room. Cliff is making exaggerated gestures as he finishes explaining what exactly happened to them. There’s no chairs left, so Jane sits on the ground, next to Dorothy. Marion and George tut sympathetically and apologize for sending them on a wild goose chase, but Rita and Cliff both shush them. It had been a fine way of spending an afternoon, honestly, and Dorothy did get that feather, so it’s not like nothing happened. At the mention of the feather, Dorothy immediately tries to pawn it off to Jane, insisting that she’d been the reason Crowdark had even paused long enough to actually give it.
“That wasn’t me,” Jane says. “That was La Llorona. And she’s not going to take it, either.”
“So what’ll you do now?” George asks.
“Rethink our strategy, I guess,” Vic sighs. “Look for someone named Flex. Hope we run into something with the answers to our problems.”
“I think,” Cliff says. “We should have another group therapy.”
Jane immediately bangs her head against the legs behind her and groans.
“We need to talk to one another, Jane!” Cliff says. “Cyborg was suffering, and we didn’t even know it.”
“I’m not really suffering,” Vic says. “I was being… over dramatic before.”
“No, dude,” Cliff says. “You told us you were scared of your dad. We shouldn’t have just let that one pass by.”
Larry raises his hand.
“Are people not supposed to be afraid of their fathers?” he asks.
“I think I’m okay with the fact that none of you noticed my problems,” Vic tells Cliff. “No offense, but I’m not really sure you guys know all of your own problems.”
There’s a round of shrugs. Fair enough. Actually, wait, they’ve got to stop taking this shit so in stride. Didn’t Larry see Niles as like a dad or whatever? Jesus. That probably explained a lot.
“I know we don’t have all the information,” George says. “But you’re--well, you seem like a really good kid. Finding us, looking through dimensions--that sounds like hard work. If you need a break, you’re welcome to stay here.”
“We shouldn’t,” Vic says.
“And we have a bad habit of bringing trouble wherever we go,” Larry agrees.
“Trouble?” George laughs. “This town’s already plenty of trouble! We have two forest gods who love inciting chaos and whatever they think justice is. I’m sure no one’ll notice whatever messes you guys make.”
Dorothy wants to go with them, when they do leave. Vic says no almost immediately, but Rita protests. She just wants to meet her father. Dorothy presses her lips together in a way that suggests that she doesn’t really care about Niles so much as she had something she wanted to say to his face. The Chief, Dorothy says, only really checked up on her once or twice a year. If he wanted her to think of him as a father, he had time, but now she’s perfectly happy with her imaginary dad. But he still probably knew things about her that she didn’t know. And she was definitely old enough to know.
“You’re not going to like Mr. Nobody,” Vic says.
“Okay, but honestly?” Cliff interrupts. “This kid might be the only one of us who actually knows what she’s doing. So I vote we make her team leader.”
There’s kind of an argument about that, until everyone finally admits that they don’t really want to leave Dorothy Spinner. Kate offers to come too. The Negative Spirit, apparently, looked a lot like something she had seen before and she thought it might bring her closer to finding whoever had given her her powers. Besides, she couldn’t just leave Dorothy. They were friends.
So they decide to stay another night. Figure something out, or whatever. Dorothy hands Charlie over to Vic with a promise that he’ll protect the hero from bad dreams. The look on Vic’s face suggests he doesn’t entirely believe it, but he graciously thanks her anyways.
The next morning, Jane finds herself pulling clumps of grass out of the lawn next to Dorothy.
“Do you really want to find the Chief?” Jane asks.
The reply is immediate.
“He had his chance to be my dad,” Dorothy says. “But he didn’t take it, so I made someone up to take his place. I made up a mom, too, but that’s different. I can have more than one mom.”
“How’s that work, anyways?” Jane asks. “You just think ‘Huh, today looks a little cloudy. Better think up someone with umbrellas for hands!’”
“I have to really believe in it,” Dorothy says. “That’s why… The dad you saw, he was one of the first. My stepmom, or whoever she really was, didn’t really like me, and I couldn’t go to school. So I made up parents that would teach me what she wouldn’t. I didn’t really think they were real at first. I just knew I needed them and they came. Not like my real parents.”
“I get that,” Jane says. She tosses a fistful of grass to the wind. “My powers… Well. They’re not really mine. I’ve got headmates. It means that there’s more than just me in this body. And when they take over, they bring their superpowers. Like La Llorona.”
Jane didn’t know what it was like to be a scared kid realizing the people you thought you made up could talk back because she’d been one of the people talking back. And she had never been a kid. She had emerged old enough to take care of herself but more importantly, she had been born old enough to help Miranda. Not as the Primary, but as a friend. Someone to help heal the mind of a girl already dealing with far too much.
“So our powers are kind of similar then, huh?” Dorothy says. “We can’t fight. But our friends can.”
“We can fight too,” Jane says. “Just not like they can.”
Rita emerges from the house and Jane tosses a fistful of grass at her. Rita scowls, then folds herself up next to Jane.
“You’re making a terrible mess of someone else’s yard,” she scolds. “Dorothy, dear, are you alright? I’m sure yesterday must have been a bit of a shock.”
“Kinda,” Dorothy admits. “I’m still thinking about my mom, I guess. I just wish I knew what she was like, or where she came from. I don’t want to go the rest of my life not knowing who I am.”
Rita gives Dorothy a sad smile.
“I know,” she says. “That’s always the hardest part. My mother used to say that everyone deserves to know their ancestors, if for no other reason than to know how proud they’d be of us today. I had a… complicated relationship with my past, but I think that’s still true. My father came to America in hopes that it would make my life greater. And perhaps I everything I’ve done isn’t something he’ll be proud of, but… I will survive it all. And that’s not as simple as it sounds. So I know he’d be proud of that.”
“I think my mom would be proud that I’m getting older,” Dorothy says slowly. “When I lived with my stepmom, I always felt so small. Like all I could ever be was some kid causing her trouble, no matter how hard I tried to be good. She didn’t want me to do anything but sit in my room. But Marion and George and Kate aren’t like that. They’re always asking me to come along with them, and trying to make sure I get an education, even if I don’t go to school.”
Dorothy pauses, a thought suddenly occurring to her.
“You know what?” she says. “I never celebrated my birthday till I came to live with George and Marion. No one cared enough, before. Maybe that’s it. I didn’t know how to grow up right because no one showed me how.”
“But now you know?” Jane asks.
“Now I know,” Dorothy confirms.
“That’s good,” Rita says, her smile genuine as she wraps an arm around Dorothy.
“Hey Jane?” Dorothy asks. “That, um, headmate of yours? The one I saw yesterday? She said something to me before you came back.”
“Oh, the stuff about the frog?” Jane replies. Dorothy and Rita both stare at her. “It’s just something that’s supposed to make you feel better because it rhymes. So, sana means heal, and that rhymes with rana, and that’s frog. So you put that shit together and tell kids to heal the frog’s tail. But there’s a second part of it, too.”
“Is that about frogs too?” Dorothy asks. Jane didn’t expect her to sound so invested.
“No, sorry,” Jane says. “It’s about healing. You tell them that even if things don’t get better today, they’ll get better tomorrow.”
“That’s a nice sentiment,” Rita says. “How does it sound in Spanish?”
Jane wilts. Babydoll knows it, but Jane always forgets how the second part goes. Sina sala or something.
“Give me a sec,” Jane says. She knows Babydoll will tell her the words, but only if she does it right. It’s a ritual, after all. The first kind of magic power they had. So Jane adjusts herself to crouch over Dorothy. Her knee’s still slightly skinned, so Jane waves her hand over it. “Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sana hoy, sanará mañana.”
Whatever Jane was planning next is immediately replaced by a shocked yelp as Dorothy’s injury actually disappears. Dorothy doesn’t understand what’s so important, but Rita does, and the two women scream at each other.
“You have a power,” Rita says. “Holy shit.”
It’s not as if Jane didn’t have her suspicions. She’d always known their body had stopped aging because she did, and not the other way around. But Jane never really thought she’d be able to do something helpful.
“Yeah,” Jane agrees. “I didn’t know I could do that. Holy shit.”
Vic’s back from his morning run, and before he can ask what the fuss is about, Jane runs over and smacks him, then shouts “Sana, rana!” and Vic’s eyes widen.
“You just healed my muscles being sore,” he says. “Did you know you could do that?”
“I have no idea what I can do, dude!” Jane says. “I was kind of trying to heal your face because I just smacked you.”
Vic pulls a face, but starts hypothesizing why her powers would come out now of all times. Maybe she just thought she never had it in her before, or the words had been so closely associated with healing for her, she couldn’t just not heal something when she said it. The power of suggestion, or something.
But Jane knows what it is. It’s Mamá’s words. A gift. Everyone in the Underground had heard those words before, knew at least vaguely what it meant, but it was only Jane who could use it.
Not just because Mamá had said it, but because it was Spanish.
And that would always belong to Jane.
Here is a story you know:
A woman lives alone on a mountain. She has always been on this mountain, but she had not always been alone. She stays, for the same reason anyone stays. Because this is her home. Because this mountain is a part of her. It’s her life.
The day you leave Oweyah’s mountain is the saddest moment in your life. More and more of your tribe leaves the mountain every day and every day, you can see her heart break more. She’s the oldest out of all of you. You call her the first woman because you think that there could not possibly be someone older. She’s everyone’s aunt. Their second mother and their grandmother. You had hoped that you could stay long enough for her to meet your child, still growing in your belly. You know Oweyah feels this as two failures. First, that you must leave at all. And second, that she will never get the chance to love your child like she loves you.
You know she will not leave the mountains. Some people can’t. Oweyah says she will die on this mountain. You tell her you do not believe she can die at all. She grins and tells you, on special occasions, she is only human.
You will miss her so much.
You tell her, when you children ask where they came from, you will speak of her. You will tell your grandchildren about her. The fate of your family is not set in stone, but you want to believe that one day, your children--or their children, or their children’s children--will come back to the mountain.
“Or maybe,” Oweyah says. “One day, my daughter will come to you.”
You do not know that one day, someone will write down the stories you will tell, or the stories Oweyah has told you. You don’t know even know that you’ll survive the winter. And you don’t know that one day a white man will find your most sacred place, a place Oweyah has protected for centuries, and assume that there’s no one like you left, believing that just because he couldn’t survive your winters alone, neither could you. But you know you are strong. You will not be written out because it’s what’s easy, or because it’s what the people invading your land want.
But what you do know is that you love Oweyah. And anyone you know finds her daughter, they will greet her like a sister.