And the gods give as good as they get.
Mayari starts first, running headlong into the crowd of ICE officers with only two swords and a club at her back.
She is the goddess of revolution, Mirasol remembers, huddling by Haik, and she used to be a sun before she lost her eye.
Mayari rages like the sun, too, clearly holding to the idea that the best defense is a good offense: Long blades snaking around her in fits and bursts, ICE cannot use their guns without hitting each other or the civilians--and more gods would surely pitch in once civilian blood is spilled.
“Oy, mates, she’s only got one eye left!” Haik heckles them, though his crocodile-arm wraps around Mirasol’s shoulders. “You lot sure hate it when adults fight back, do you?”
“God, shut up!” One of them breaks ranks to deal with Haik’s insolence. “You only got back here because your pals came around!”
He aims his gun for Haik’s forehead, but then Banog pounces, kicking it into the water.
“Did you guys just forget about me?” he wonders. “Or did you think we’d quit fighting once our cousin came back?”
“You’re Haik’s cousin?” Hadassah asks. “But you didn’t even know him before!”
“Girl, he’s Lumawig’s cousin and that means he’s our cousin!” Banog laughs. “We got too many to keep them all straight! This happens all the time at our family meetups!” He tackles a second officer. “‘Hey Banog, you remember my son? He used to babysit you!’ ‘Nah, Auntie, I was five. What’s your name, Kuya?’”
A fresh squad of ICE officers comes up from below deck, heading straight for Haik--they must have gotten word about him. But Apolaki, covered in gold, throws Itak and Banog an eskrima stick each. Now they can hold the line instead of constantly pushing against ICE.
“But how did you go years without--” Hadassah punches a newly-arrived officer. “Without even seeing each other?”
“We’re undocumented, and our parents told everyone not to talk about us too much,” Itak explains, “and he’s also undocumented, so his parents must have done that, too.”
“The same magnets pushing each other away, man,” Banog says.
“Yeah, but it all sorts itself out in the end,” Banog chuckles. “Almost got deported, but we found one of our cousins!”
It’s so strange to have help fighting back, Mirasol thinks, for if it was just the kids and Hadassah, they would have been long on the way to deportation by now.
Gunshots. A few gods have to dodge, though they let the bullets graze them instead of avoiding it completely--and it is very telling that the bullets all conveniently hit walls and rails and windows, instead of the people clustered up against them.
“Stop fighting! Now!” One of the officers moves towards one of the undocumented immigrants (the boy who saw Turtle Island), ripping him away from his despairing father.
“Lovely,” Haik drawls into Mirasol’s ear, though his grip tightens on her as the boy’s parents plead through the tense air. “They’re afraid of troublemaking young folks, they needed ten people to throw one mouthy guy overboard, and now they’re using a kid as a human shield.”
“Bro, can you at least take an adult hostage right now?!” Lumawig demands. “Because you are not helping your case with--”
“Stop,” the North Wind grabs him and shakes his head. “Stop, Totoy, you have to stop--”
“Everyone!” ICE commands. “Drop your weapons.”
The clacks and clangs of orders being followed.
“Ina,” the whale-goddess whispers, leaning over the edge of the rail. She stretches one hand out to the dragon-headed ship, as the devilfish and sharks froth and snap below her. “We need help.”
“You’re gonna fall.” Mirasol takes her arm--but luckily, the whale-goddess laughs.
“Don’t worry! I was calling Ina!”
Both the gods and the ICE officers look at her when they hear--and worryingly enough, the gods are uneasy as well.
Where did Lola go? Mirasol wonders, with a sudden feeling of dread. She hasn’t seen the old dragon walking, or heard her voice for a while.
“Ina!” The whale-goddess calls again. “Quick, we need help! The little boy’s in trouble!”
A rumble shoots through the water.
The gods’ mothership sends a sudden bow-wave washing against the corvette, far too big and fast for a ship that’s been holding still--and the sharks and the diablo rojo begin to circle her, with the devilfish flashing bright blues and greens.
Ina! They call, with the rhythm of a song about to start. Ina!
Lola, wherever she is, laughs in her gravelly way.
And all the others hear her, Mirasol realizes: With the immigrants already nervous from the diablo rojo below, there are many who flinch at the old dragon’s voice.
“What are they doing?” The old woman whispers to Mirasol. “Your man can’t have that much blood.”
ONCE, Lola says. ONCE THE TAGALOGS LOVED ME AND MY PEOPLE, FOR WE CARRIED THEM ACROSS THE WATER. BUT DON’T BE AFRAID OF ME, LAND-PEOPLE, she assures the immigrants. UNLESS YOU’RE THE ONES HOLDING A CHILD HOSTAGE, THAT IS.
“Here!” The ICE officer shoves the boy back towards his parents. “Here, take him, go ahead!”
“Did she see it?” Another officer takes off to the railing, searching the sky and the water for any changes. “HEY! OLD LADY! WE LET HIM GO!”
AND THE OTHERS? Dragon teeth are growing out of the prow, with Lola’s jaws splintering into motion as she laughs again. YOU CAN’T DO THAT WITH ALL OF THEM.
Ropes and planks fall away as her forelegs emerge from the ship. A whirlpool drags the balangay below the surface, towing the corvette along the rim.
One bigger, final panic as the balangay’s sucked down below. Mirasol tugs at Haik’s arm.
“We have to get inside.” Mirasol tells him. “We have to get inside, like, right now--”
A dragon’s roar, so much like a T-Rex.
Here comes Lola now, springing like a tiger onto the corvette, amidst screams and prayers and full howls of fear.
The ICE officers blast their pistols at her, though she’s too big and her scales are too thick to get any real damage.
But for all her mirror-scaled bulk, Lola only rocks the ship a couple of times; she leaves no footprints either, no matter how the corvette groans.
“TAKE THEM BACK TO SHORE,” Lola tells the nearest waxy-faced officer, her jaws gleaming right by his chest. “ALL OF THEM. AND YOU LET THEM GO HOME, OR I WILL HEAR FROM MY COUSINS DOWN THERE.” A twitch of her head to the water.
Silence. Whatever the officer believes in, he must be fearing some god by now.
The officers all drop their guns, and hold their hands up empty.
“AY, ARE YOU ALL DEAF?” Lola demands. “I TOLD YOU TO TAKE THEM BACK! ARE YOUNG MEN SO SLOW, NOWADAYS?”
“Don’t be so mean, Ina,” Haik says. “You gave the poor blokes a heart attack.”
“NAPAKA BUWISIT,” Lola grouses, and tips back into the ocean, wrapping her tail around the corvette’s bow. “THEN I’LL DO IT MYSELF.”
The metal groans as her grip tightens.
Another ICE officer finally breaks out of his shock, sending a radio message for the other ship to follow them.
They have to see Lola towing the corvette along, her tail-ridges sunk like nails into the bow, for they follow as soon as they can.
They cannot get back to their exact location, since nobody was told and the ICE officers are too shell-shocked to say. Lola has to bring them to San Francisco instead, and Lands End to boot. The evening wind shakes the great fog-covered cypresses.
They’re shown to the rooms where their possessions are held, in ramshackle heaps of purses and backpacks and clothing; the luckier ones spot their things on racks or tables. It feels like a mortuary, or the holding area of a hospital.
“How are we going to find our things?” Mirasol wonders, tired.
Mayari grins and hands over her own phone.
“How did you all find Haik?” Hadassah wonders as everyone filters in to search, though a few ringtones are already sounding through the heaps.
“Haik is my cousin,” Lumawig repeats. “We been looking for him for years. Australia, Hawai’i, plus he got some family in New Zealand… Figures you’d be back home in California, Kuya.”
“We were starting to think he was dead,” Lakapati admits.
“If you’d been another week, I might have been.” Haik listens for Mirasol’s ringtone, muffled by everyone else’s bags and clothes, and starts digging through the piles.
“A week? Kuya, you were gonna get eaten!” Lumawig shakes his head.
“The squid weren’t eating me,” Haik assures. “They were mostly eating each other. Once they thinned out the ranks, I could have gotten away.” He finds Mirasol’s bag. “Found it, lovey!”
“They took the money,” Hadassah warns, showing her wallet. “My cards are still here, though.”
Lola chuckles and turns back into the gods’ mothership--though she makes sure that Haik does the halok with her first.
“Thank you,” he says, and the tears are starting to fall. “Ina. Thank you for coming.”
“DON’T WORRY ABOUT ASKING FOR HELP, TOTOY,” she tells him. “YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO BE SAD ALL THE TIME.”
About ten minutes after Lola turns back into the gods’ balangay, a crowd inevitably flocks to the three ships, and soon enough there are news trucks following their lead.
The ICE officers get strange looks when they talk about the wooden ship turning into a dragon, and when the newscasters ask the old woman about it, she’s suddenly not fluent in English.
“Ay, I don’t know about the dragons--they’re talking too fast,” she says. “But they threw the young man to the diablo rojo! If his cousins weren’t here, then he’d be dead!”
Haik winces as the cameras start crowding around him, straining to get shots of the cuts on his shoulders and chest. “Easy on the flash, mates. I’m not dead yet.” He links Mirasol and Hadassah’s hands, then points to the center of the crowd.
Itak and Banog are still fluent, but they’re conveniently preoccupied with the whale-goddess.
“I don’t know what the crazy white guys are talking about, but can we please find a bench?” Itak tells them. “Our sister can’t walk.”
“What did they do to her?!” Someone cries.
“Well, see,” Banog tells the reporter with the air of a rapidly-fraying parent, “ICE walked up and arrested a girl who uses a cane because she doesn’t have papers, and then they put her on a damn ship of all things, and now we don’t know where her fucking cane is!”
A brief and mildly shamed silence. But the questions just get foisted onto another unfortunate English-speaker.
“Oh my god, bro!” A teenager shoves his hood up and turns away from the reporters’ mics. “Y’all are really trying to interview a crippled girl and a dude who almost got ate by the diablo? ICE got all our names! Go find us in the morning!”
Hadassah purses her lips, and they melt into the rest of the immigrants before the newscasters reach them. “Let’s get Haik soon,” she whispers. “I’ll call my sisters to get us home.”
But after they find a café and gather Haik and their three children back together, eat sandwiches or pastries while Hadassah’s sisters drive up, still Mirasol cannot go home: She gets a call from law enforcement, telling her that Haik will receive a free medical evaluation for his ordeal, and she really can’t pass that up.
On the sluggish afternoon commute across the Bay Bridge, she checks her phone and listens to voicemails; there are half a dozen each from Rahil and Lloyd, but none from the rest of her family or friends.
She’s disappointed, but not surprised.
“Only two people even tried to see how you were?” Haik wonders, and wraps a scabbed-over arm over her shoulders. “Who are all the other folks’ numbers that you got, then?”
“Acquaintances, I guess.” She types out a group-text for the two of them: Got out of ICE jail. Heading to hospital for Haik. I’ll check back when I can.
Arriving in a cluster with other sick or injured people, she doesn’t expect to recognize too many, but as Haik is getting a checkup, Dr. Hideki sticks her head into the room.
“Why are you always in trouble on the water?” Hideki asks. “I can smell you twenty feet off again.” A wince as she spots his arm. “Are those the squid bites I keep hearing about on the news?”
Haik shakes his head. “If you think this is ‘always in trouble,’ you haven’t talked to fishermen.”
“You have face-tattoos?!” And Hideki darts over when she spots all of them, coming out from the edges of his hospital gown: His crocodile-teeth, the scales on his chest and back, and the pe’a. “Gods, you have everywhere-tattoos! When did you even get them?!”
“What do you mean?” The other doctor wonders.
“He had one sleeve when I treated him! No face tats!” Hideki points out. “And we had to dunk him in ice for the heat stroke, so I’m pretty sure no one saw those.” A gesture to his pe’a.
Mirasol is nervous, but Haik laughs. “I always had them, just couldn’t show them. Waterproof makeup and coconut oil, that’s a godsend.”
“Do you use a gallon of it, though?!”
“Still less trouble than people thinking I’m a Yakuza.”
“God, white people,” Dr. Hideki huffs. “These aren’t a thing like Japanese tattoos, they’re too black and symmetrical. They look Pacific.”
“Filipino,” he tells her sheepishly. “But yeah, we’re related.”
“When did Pinoys have tattoos?” She wants to ask another question, but she checks the clock and has to head out to her own patient.
Mirasol wonders if Haik just knows how to distract people, or if he had to “nudge” her back to duty with some magic.
With the evaluation back on track: Haik’s wounds are already clotting, and only a few need stitches. He’s released once they’re washed and bandaged, given a spare shirt and jeans to replace his wrecked clothes, and a bottle of antibiotics to keep any infections from starting.
“What’s up, Kuya?” The North Wind, dutiful as always, pulls up in a beat-up minivan when he spots them at the hospital entrance. He waves over to Hadassah and her sister in the next car over. “Don’t worry, we got them! Go home before the traffic picks up!”
Itak is riding shotgun; in the backseat are Banog and the whale-goddess, plus two other gods who Mirasol doesn’t remember--an old man and a woman who looks about Haik’s and Mirasol’s age, though it’s so often hard to tell with Asians.
The old man’s gray hair has never grown longer than its ragged knife-chop, and the tattooed leaves of a coconut tree peek out from his muscle-shirt’s straps.
“Tatay!” Haik says, almost vaulting over the car’s hood so he can hug him. “You came down from the sky-world?”
Bathala Maykapal laughs. “I come back for emergencies, anak,” he tells him with the sky-voice. “It’s been a pretty long emergency.”
A wind blows the clouds and fog away, brightening the air as Haik keeps holding.
“You missed one,” the last woman whispers, tapping his shoulder.
Haik’s afraid to look back when he hears her, eyes cautious and already wet.
He looks like his old clothes did--fraying and stretched thin, about to fall to pieces, and it is a long time before he manages to speak.
But once he does: “HINA.”
And he lifts her off the ground.
Finally, back at Mirasol’s house, the North Wind drops them off in the driveway. “We’ll see you in a couple days, Kuya,” he says, and gets out of his seat for a long, relieved halok.
Claire’s place next door has a moving truck in front, and the “For Sale” Sign is already up. There’s a shadow behind the curtained window, startled stiff as Haik and Mirasol limp up to the door, but they’re too tired to bother and Mirasol is still unused to solid land.
They step over the threshold and lock the door, taking off their shoes; the house is dusty and cold, but Haik pops his first day’s pills, checks the clock, and picks Mirasol up as he sings:
“Bahay kubo, kahit munti, ang halaman doon ay sari-sari--”
The house shudders, dust blowing away from his feet while the heater starts.
“I don’t have a garden,” Mirasol says.
“The backyard has plenty of plants, lovey,” he assures.
“Sure,” she laughs into his chest. “Grass and a couple of shrubs. And the weeds I don’t pull up. They take forever to kill and the lawn’s more interesting with flowers and vines and texture, anyway. Plus, I found out half of the weeds are edible, so I eat them when money’s tight.”
“That means you have a garden,” he finishes gently. “Very low-maintenance, too.”
What a soft way of describing that she’s broke, she thinks. Do the plants like her?
With the house straightening up by itself, and the return of vast ship-dragons and island-turtles, Mirasol flinches when Haik gets to her bedroom door. She’s half-expecting to see something strange on the other side, but her bed and dresser are there as usual.
Haik sets her down on the bed, fiddles with her braid between a few tired pecks on her neck, but in a minute or two, they settle against each other and crash into knife-edged sleep.
She wakes up nervous a few hours later, pitching onto the floor when she tries to grab her phone--she’s not quite used to a proper room yet, or the regular cycles of light and dark.
“Haik?” She wobbles back over to the bed. “Haik, where are you--”
“I’m here, lovey.” Haik is groggy, but he pulls her on top of him.
She burrows under the covers, but her skin is humming and she keeps saying something like--are you okay, are you alive, where did everyone go? How long has it been?
“Shhhhhhh.” He has to drape both arms on her neck, get all the way under her and bring his soft mouth to hers, until she finally curls around him like a hungry snake.
In the morning, it’s the mirror that’s different: Haik’s reflection has no bandages, shirt, or jeans. His wrists and ankles glitter with jewelry, with the necklace of jade and crocodile teeth, and the red silk tapis sits on his hips.
Her own Haik jolts out of his path to the bathroom, stopping dead--he pulls her away and keeps holding tight, as if he thinks their other selves will attack.
Haik’s reflection cannot just be wearing his restored Otherworld outfit: The other two show no sign of imitating them, and wave as if dropping by for a visit.
“What’s up, mate?” The other Haik asks. “It’s been a fuck-all time out here, ay?”
Mirasol reaches out, too distracted to tell Haik to just let go for a minute, and her fingers just graze the other Haik’s.
“Are those our souls?” She whispers, and gives her Haik a kiss where his neck meets his shoulder; he relaxes, but not a lot.
The silence gets filled with the sound of the ocean.
“Where have you been?” Haik finally asks, voice cracked and tears spilling. “Where have you been, I haven’t seen you--WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”
His reflection grins. “Looking for you.”
Three days later, the gods’ attempt to give Mirasol and Haik a break runs out, and they have to brace themselves against the fresh wave of newscasters clamoring for stories about the undocumented man who got thrown to the devilfish, and his citizen girlfriend who almost got deported as punishment, and the Jewish citizen who roped herself in out of duty.
Eventually they flush out Rahil into the news as well, the fulcrum who connects the two--though Mirasol and Hadassah have tried to keep her name out of things, the journalists have to do their jobs, and some are all too happy to show up at her door.
IMAGINE THE TERROR AMERICA’S BECOME TO OUR OWN PEOPLE! The headlines cry, blissfully unaware that America has always been so--just in different ways to different people.
There is her family’s sudden upsurge of remorse and admiration, trying to ignore that they haven’t seen or contacted her for days.
“If you really felt sorry, why didn’t you help her?” Lloyd asks their aunts or parents or godparents, and he usually gets a cuff on the shoulder for his alleged “backtalking.”
There are Filipinos and Pacific Islanders alike, wondering about the crowd of tattooed seafarers who rescued Mirasol’s tattooed seafarer boyfriend.
They crowd onto the beach where Lola rests as a ship, ecstatic to see her crab-claw sails and outriggers, the painted eyes and snarling teeth.
“So Tagalogs got war-canoes and Visayans have catamarans?” Someone asks Haik. “Fuck, man, you guys are cousins!”
“Cousins? No, mate, Tagalogs and Visayans hate each other,” Haik corrects. “You know how many Tagalogs tried to fight me about all my tattoos before I told them I was Tagalog?”
The rivalry goes better than expected with the Pacific Islanders: “Bro, what if the Maori and the Hawaiians were duking it out on the fucking ocean?! Islander fight-club, man!”
“I thought tattoos were for Visayans or Ilokanos,” Filipinos say. “Does that mean everyone used to do it? What else did we have before Spain?”
“Pinoys have stories about Maui?!” Yet more Pacific Islanders ask Lumawig and Bathala Maykapal. “You got a bird-god with hella brothers, and a coconut-god, and a voyager-god with Maui’s sister! That’s fucking lit!”
It’s about two weeks before there are no more stories that can be wrung out of them, and Mirasol can finally manage to ask Rahil to come visit.
They both have very similar-looking bandages on their forearms, and Mirasol gets distracted in the all-too-welcome silence before she notices Rahil is unwrapping hers.
This is the old-style batok, hand-tapped with a needle and hammer. The welts are still puffy and raw around the black motifs.
“I got a tattoo,” she confirms.
“So did I.” Mirasol shows hers.