8302 words (33 minute read)

Part 2.

They do not sleep that night; Mirasol doesn’t cry for much longer, but in her sadness she latches on to Haik’s torso while the shadows ebb like waves. He must be used to reactions like hers, because he curls up around her in the dark.

The hospital calls her at eight, when she’s only gotten four hours of sleep, and lets her know there’s a nurse coming by for Haik in the evening.

“Really?” She wonders. “We just saw the doctor, though.”

“We’re just making sure everything’s okay,” the nurse says. “Sometimes people don’t notice big problems for a good week or two, and it’s always good to check up on him.”

“I… I guess that makes sense,” she says, but something tugs at her nerves.

When Mirasol mentions it to Haik at breakfast, he shakes his head.

“That’s not a nurse.” He grabs a few jars from the cupboard and the loaf of bread. “They’ll be here in a couple hours. Don’t open the door before you get the warrant. It’ll just be for arrest, so don’t let them search your house. If they play nice, that’s great, but if they don’t play nice, just yell my name and at least they’ll go viral for trying to beat up a little girl.”

“What are you--” She follows him into her room, where he’s packing a few outfits. He folds up the blanket from the couch and drapes it over a shoulder, then doubles back to the linen closet for a second one. “Haik, where are you going?!”

“Down there.” He points to the floor.

“The cellar?” She says. “It’s full of old stuff and I barely clean it.”

“Exactly.”

She follows him to the door in the grass, where he lifts it with the rusted chain as if it’s nothing.

---
ICE officers arrive two hours later, with a fairly restrained number of three squad cars. They slip the warrant through the mail slot on her request; it’s for Haik’s arrest, but not searching. When she lets them in, they explain that the hospital hasn’t found anything about Haik in Hawaii or Australia like he said, and they’ve seen no records about his tattoos.

“They’re traditional tattoos,” she tells them. “He might not have gotten any formal receipts, and he didn’t tell me the artist’s name.”

“It’s not your fault for taking him to the hospital,” one of the officers says gently. “That’s no problem. It’s just that we have to--”

“Deport him,” she finishes, and they’re a little flustered by her bluntness. “Well, good luck with that. He left already.”

“Fuck.”

“Why is that a problem?” She needles them. “The illegal immigrant is gone, so your job’s done.”

“It’s not just leaving,” he explains, but his partner sighs.

“Did he say anything about where he was going? If he was coming back?”

“He knew you were coming,” she points out. “He started packing the second I told him about the weird-ass hospital visit. He’s probably in San Francisco or Richmond by now, if he stole ten dollars for BART.”

“Are you hiding him?”

“Your warrant is only for arrest,” she reminds them. She keeps calm, but in the back of her head she wonders how he knew all of this. And even he only said they might play nice…

“Fuck.” The first officer shoves back his chair. “Thanks for cooperating, ma’am.”

And they leave.

---
She stays a little shaky until evening--not just from fear, but sadness.

She puts two bowls of rice and fish on the porch before she heaves at the cellar door. Haik pushes up from inside, but only enough to look out: His eyes scan her like a croc in the water.

Then he spots dinner ruefully, and is back to human. “You saw me getting food, right?” He crams himself to the wall so she can step farther in. “It’s not like I’m doing hard labor.”

“Still.” She sits on a box and sneezes from the dust.

“Thank you, though.” When he notices the food is fried fish instead of soup, he waves off the spoon and fork, digging into the rice with his hands. If he could get any more Filipino than he looks at this moment, she doesn’t know how.

But she stalls for time while she picks at her own food. The silence swells like the Pacific.

“You’re undocumented,” she finally says.

“Yeah.” He gets jabbed by a fishbone as he bites, and winces.

“Has this happened before?”

“Not to me.”

“Is this why you didn’t talk in the hospital?” She wonders.

“No.”

“When I found you.” She picks out her own fish-bones. “Who were you looking for?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does! Were they your--”

“Stop!” He snarls, almost literally--his teeth flash in the bare bulb’s flickering light.

There’s a quake from the support beams, and a revving noise. Is it just a car on the road, or is it Haik? Mirasol hears the crocodile-god roaring again, and her frayed nerves are jangling to run.

“I’m sorry.” He puts his bowl down with a firm exhale, wipes off his hands. “I just… I just want this shit to blow over so I can go back to your house already. Tell you more stories.”

“This is my house,” she reminds him, and shuffles the knick-knacks around to sit next to him.

He smiles and settles back down. “Well, your real house. Bed, windows. Reasonably clean.”

Now she remembers the whale-rider pressing her soaked forehead to his own, untouched by the sea. “Haik?” She ventures. “In the first part of my dream--”

“You should sleep,” he says, but something catches at the end of his voice. “Your day got fucked over because of me.”

“We did the… the Maori forehead thing.” But she can’t remember the name.

“Hongi.”

“Did we used to do that, too?” She presses her face into his shoulder.

“Ungngo.” He laughs when her face lights up. “That’s the Ilokano word, but yeah, we still do it. A lot of older Tagalogs, when they hug or kiss someone, they breathe in really deep. Spiritually we’re sharing souls, and physically it’s to get your smell. Bonding instincts.” He wedges a hand onto her shoulder and moves her back, though gently. “Not here.”

“This is my home,” she assures him.

“Yes, and it was two inches from getting raided because of me.” He sighs. “I’m sorry.” He’s rigid and pained now, a stark change from his hugs and free laughter, but he’s not unwilling: Just waiting, and nervous.

He smells like the sea as she lifts up onto his lap, and when she kisses him, his hiss of relief is like she’s cold water on volcano-hot skin.

She coaxes him to the island of blankets, and he definitely lets her do it--he’s twice her size, she wouldn’t be able to move him alone.

It’s not just the crooked walls of boxes and the gravel-strewn floor that keeps them from going too far. Everything he does is hitching and pained, though he’s well on his way to recovery.

She lets him draw bounds without question, for he’s nothing but gentle whether he stops her with his hands or whispers to keep going. (Haik the whale-rider has never hurt her, and even Haik the crocodile-god is gentle outside of fighting.)

She’ll ask why he’s so sad later.

---
In her dreams the Spaniards come, as pale as the Chinese on their square-sailed ships.

If the men had been kinder instead of looting and burning, she would have loved those tall wooden creatures. Even as they chase the remnants of her people, she cannot blame the ships--after all, only a fool blames a dog or horse for the cruelty of its master.

She’s not the datu this time--that’s her best friend Rahil (but she is not Muslim now, of course), crying for the loss of her parents. Instead Mirasol is their best sailor, or the best who is young and unhurt. She leads half a dozen outrigger canoes with fifty people crammed in, and three more canoes have been tied to the others with supplies.

Their balangay ships have been burned.

The Spaniards try to follow them, but even overloaded, dragging their fellows like horses with wagons, the bangka outmaneuver them.

At first the white men marveled at their boats who fly like birds, but now they rage as the bangka fleet shelters in reef-heavy waters, or squeeze along tight rocky shores. They would go upriver and cut across the land for even more distance, but many are injured.

The problem is, there’s nowhere to go. There will only be more Spaniards at the coast in Manila, and they do not know which tribes were already bought by the foreigners.

“Haik!” Mirasol calls, crow-like from the heat. “Haik, son of voyagers!”

The sea goes still like a mirror, with concerned yells from the other boats, and Rahil scans the horizon with her drumsticks ready to beat for the rowers. (The drum is small and half-burned, but they can hear it across the water and that’s the important thing.)

The crocodile-god comes in a few moments. To his credit, he turns human before he enters their boat, though two of the men shield the datu’s daughter out of habit. (Is Rahil the datu now? There is no one to hold the rites, and she has so few to lead.)

There are crocodile tattoos on his chest and his thick muscled arms, but he presses his forehead to Mirasol’s like a shy young man.

“Where do we go?” She tries not to, but she cries anyway.

“The river.” He points to the coast, and the mountains in the north loom stark in her head. From how everyone shivers, they see it too. "Up north."

“The mountains are the Kalinga’s land!” Her fear is shot with rage. “We have, what--ten, fifteen fighters?! They’ll kill us!”

He jumps off the boat. “Don’t be afraid.” He turns into a crocodile again, but even his huge shape in the water can’t calm her razor-edge nerves.

At night she smells him coming with the tender scent of seawater. He doesn’t do anything besides hold her, though, either through courtesy or simply because she’s too tired.

---
When they finally reach the mountains and come across the red and black clothes of a Kalinga group, her best friend steps forward. (Mirasol understands the speech, but the dream reminds her that the Kalinga are speaking Ilokano instead of Tagalog.)

“I am a datu,” Rahil tells them in clunking Ilokano, and at first the Kalinga laugh at her (she’s much too young), but they sober at how she shakes from tiredness. “Our village was burned by the white men in armor. We are the only ones left. We do not want to fight. We can stay with you, or we can rest and move on. We will try not to trouble you.”

“What about this guy?” Their leader asks about Haik, whose shadow falls long across his. “Hey--you. Why make a little girl do the talking if you have so many tattoos?”

“I am Haik, son of voyagers.”

“Yeah, that’s really specific,” the leader scoffs. “Did you marry into their village? You’re pretty dark for a Tagalog.”

“I live in the rivers and lakes, for all of them go to the sea.”

“You think you’re actually a crocodile?” The leader grins.

“No wonder they didn’t let him talk, he’s crazy!” Another man laughs.

“I am the crocodile-god,” he says. “The fish and whales and sharks, all the things in the deep are my kin. These are my people, who followed me here.” He puts a hand on Mirasol’s shoulder. “If you harm them without cause, do not come near the saltwater for the rest of your lives. You will never leave it.” He turns into a crocodile and lumbers away.

Haik, son of voyagers, disappears below the water. The Kalinga shudder as if the river’s drenched them all, and tell the group to follow them.

---
They plan to stay for a month or two--to restock supplies, and let the wounded heal.

Their shaman knows otherwise, though; near the end of the month, the woman sits with the Kalinga chief and the Tagalog group one night, at the end of summer.

“The rains are almost here; you don’t have to camp outside or in tents all the time,” the chief says to them. “Ask to stay with someone’s family; we don’t mind you too much. You are a datu,” he says to Rahil specifically. “You can stay in my home.”

There’s a wave of relieved sighs--Mirasol gets the feeling that some of them don’t want to leave anymore, and not just because of the monsoons or the Spanish. They’ve made friends with the villagers now, gotten better at Ilokano, and the mountains are beautiful. They know some of the Kalinga customs, how to read their tattoos, which tribes are friendly and which aren’t.

But as grateful as she is, she feels the inevitable longing at the back of her chest.

“You don’t look too happy to be welcomed into the village,” the shaman says to her. “Should we start making offerings to your crocodile-god, to keep him from eating us? I know a few bastards I’d love to get rid of.”

“I’m not unhappy,” she’s technically honest. “You’ve been very kind to us.”

“My husband was Tagalog,” the shaman says. “He loved me. We had four children, I’m pretty sure he didn’t hate me. But he was always away.”

“Off sailing?” She smiles.

“Inside.” The shaman sighs and taps Mirasol’s chest. “You went away, just now. I saw your face. He’d walk into the river with his clothes on. He’d sing sea-chanties while he fished, teach the others how to tie knots. It helped when we got married--men do like a warm bed and children--but I saw his dreams, even if he tried to ignore them. Full of whales and sharks and turtles, the great storms howling like demons. The bright blue water, like glass.”

“I’m still new here,” Mirasol says. “When I’m settled down, I won’t go as often.”

The shaman hugs her. “One of these years, little voyager, you will leave us and not come back. It’s not your fault--you are people of the seas and rivers, as we are the mountain-men.”

“Why would we leave?” She demands, but her eyes are stinging.

“My husband left after twenty-four years,” the shaman says to her. “He put on his old clothes, cut his hair short like Tagalog men do. He hauled out his sailing canoe, and he was crying like he was about to die. He did not want to leave us, little voyager, but his ancestors were calling.”

---
The first year goes by, and she’s determined to carve a home into the rock of the mountains. She sets aside her Tagalog clothes, gets married to a villager, and has her first Kalinga tattoo resting next to her Tagalog ones. At the start of the second year she has her first daughter, and celebrates when Rahil marries the chief’s son shortly after.

But she catches herself soothing her baby with the sea-chanties she sang on her voyages.

She often goes back to the days her people fled to the Spanish, and her husband learns from the shaman how to bring her back from the gunshots and fire, the desperate flight across the sea.

“When she says things like that, she’s gone away inside, to when she first came here,” her husband explains when their daughter is eight years old, and their son five. “She is Tagalog--she was running from the Spanish and her island was burned. All she knew about us was that we chop off people’s heads.”

“She came with the other Tagalogs,” her son points out. “And they don’t all go away like she does. Are the ones who do that her family?”

“It does not happen to certain families.” He puts them on his lap. “Sometimes bad things leave scars on your soul, like wounds do with your body, and they hurt just as badly. That’s why she can’t hear you sometimes.”

“What if we yell really loud?” Her daughter asks, and he shakes his head frantically.

“No,” he orders. “Don’t yell at her or get too close, okay? Never do that.”

“But you hug her and then she comes back!” her son argues.

“Because I’m grown up like she is, and I can keep her from hurting herself or someone else,” he says. “When you’re older, you can do what I do, but right now you’re too small. She won’t know who you are--she might think you’ll hurt her, so she might hurt you without realizing it. If she goes away and I’m not there, you get one of the neighbors, or the shaman.”

So her children grow accustomed to her fits of memories; after all, she is not violent--only panicking and sad.

When her daughter is twelve and her son nine, she goes with one of the village’s ships on a trading journey, and that is her mistake.

The two weeks themselves are lovely; her children squeal when they spot a sea-turtle, and her husband spends two days throwing up before he finds his sea-legs. But that is the problem, for it sparks all the memories of her childhood, warm and blue and salt-covered--and then she remembers the Spanish burning their village to the ground.

She’s filled with sadness as they return--her children think it is only her usual memories, but her husband waits until they’re asleep in their room.

“I shouldn’t have made you go,” he whispers in bed.

“You didn’t make me do anything,” she assures him. “I didn’t think the memories would be that bad. It’s not your fault.”

“Will you leave soon?” He asks.

“I can’t leave you with the children,” she says, but they both know what he means.

“Is the crocodile-god calling you? Or your ancestors?”

“No,” she says.

Not yet, they both know.

She tries to sleep: She mends the clothes and fixes their fishing traps. It tires her out, but her eyes won’t close. She settles for burrowing into her husband’s shoulder, breathing his smell in.

---
The years go by. Her memories loosen their death-grip, though sometimes she still calls for Haik, son of voyagers, or cries at the burning of her island.

“I am not unhappy,” she repeats over the pot of cooking rice, as Rahil visits her one day. “I am not, I am not. I have friends and my husband and children. I am not unhappy.”

“You’re still doing that,” Rahil says to her. It’s not mocking, only upset--they are best friends, after all. “Your daughter just got married. Are you still hurting after twenty years?”

“I don’t go back as often, now,” she offers, trying to smile. “When I do, it’s not as bad.”

The datu looks at her, long and sad, and hugs her tight.

---
On the thirtieth year, when her son gets married and her hair is going gray, she sees the crocodile-god swimming in her dreams now, hears the sailing songs and her ancestors at the edge of the river--she wants to throw herself into the water with them.

She tries and tries to stifle it, but they only call louder.

So one day Mirasol digs through her chest of clothes, where her Tagalog clothes lie faded and blotchy at the bottom. Her husband finds her half-dressed, screws his eyes shut as the pain hits him, and hugs her as tight as he can.

“They’re calling me now,” she whispers into his collarbone. “I want to stay with you.”

“I know.”

---
More people come with her than she thought, as she and her husband haul her outrigger: Her family and her best friend, she expects, but not the Kalinga chief and the shaman. And there are the other Tagalogs, the ones who haven’t died yet.

“You were born Tagalog,” the chief says to them, “But you are Kalinga now, too. We cannot let our people go alone. If you can’t take us with you, we will see you off.”

“What’s he talking about?” Her son wonders. “Father? The chief said they’re going to die!”

“We aren’t dying,” she says to him gently. “We’re going to the sea.”

“You’re going to sail down the river?!” He doesn’t understand. “You’re not young anymore!”

They travel in the chief’s own ship. She can feel when the water turns brackish, for the ancestors’ songs get louder and louder.

Her husband won’t let her go when they reach the great open bay, bless him.

She steps into the sea.

“Haik!” Mirasol calls, crow-like from the heat. “Haik, son of voyagers!”

Haik comes out of the sea on a great balangay ship with a golden crocodile’s head, and she can hear her son and daughter’s anxious yelling when it skims the water onto the sand. He’s exactly as she remembers, dark-skinned and muscled with crocodile-tattoos.

He presses his forehead to hers, gentle but no longer shy.

“You held out pretty long, didn’t you?” He congratulates her in a whisper. “Got married, had a family. You even managed grandkids.”

“I want to stay.” She sobs.

“Sometimes it’s not up to us,” Haik tells her. “Whether we want to stay or not.”

She turns around, and her family crushes her in a hug. Then comes Rahil, the datu of the Tagalogs, crying hard like thirty years ago.

A group of old men come forward, bowing as low as they can, and she realizes it’s the scout party who found them so long ago.

“Crocodile-god.” Their leader kneels in the water. “Have we done what you asked? They wanted to stay, so we took them in. They are our people now.”

“I’m pretty sure you didn’t mistreat them if they don’t want to leave.” Haik smiles at them, then waves up the remnants of the Tagalog group. “I’m not a slaver,” he says gently. “I won’t tie you up and drag you onto the ship. If you don’t hear the ancestors yet, you may stay home.”

Home, he says, and so half of them step back. Haik steps close and presses his forehead to each of theirs in turn.

“I will come back for you when you hear them,” he promises, and they weep.

And then she is young again: Her leathered skin softens up, her hair is thick, wavy black, and her tattoos are as dark and clean-lined as if they were just tapped on. Her faded clothes bloom like flowers. Her family’s startled back, and the others are rippling into youth as well.

No, not simple youth: To the way they were when the crocodile-god led them into the mountains. The ones in Kalinga clothes, their garments change into the Tagalog colors and styles. The only things that stay are their tattoos, a mesh of Tagalog and Kalinga.

The Tagalogs who stay cry hard at this miracle, latching on to the voyagers in sorrow--they won’t meet again for a long, long time.

---
Her husband’s afraid to come near her as they set up a tent.

“We spent thirty years together,” she assures him. “I don’t care what you look like.”

“Well, I do.” His laugh is bitter. “I’ll look like an idiot, calling this tiny young thing my wife.”

“You didn’t worry about that when I married you.”

“I was your age then,” he reminds her wearily. “You’re younger than our children now.”

Haik steps up to them, wordless, and puts a hand on her husband’s shoulder. He’s winded as the god turns him young again, pitching into the grass, but Haik helps him up.

“It won’t be for too long,” Haik says. “Only till you touch the water.”

“Thank you.” Her husband lifts her off the ground, crying in relief as he brings her inside.

---
The balangay still waits in the morning, sails tied up. She walks across the sand with her husband, but he lets go of her when she steps into the sea. She doesn’t blame him for wanting to stay young, but he was never vain; perhaps he just wants her to see him as he was.

“We love you,” she tells the villagers. “We want to stay. Please know that we want to stay with you.”

“Your ancestors are calling,” the shaman says gently. Her hair is all white now, but her arms are still strong as she hugs Mirasol. “If we make you stay after they call you to the sea, you’ll just be slaves longing for home, however nicely we treat you. Would you make us leave our people’s mountains on your ship?”

She shakes her head and goes a few more steps, but before she can climb aboard, her husband sloshes after her, hair fading back to gray, and he clutches her in his withering arms.

Haik flings his arms out and the sails unfurl without being touched, long spearheads against the sky.

“Aue!” he begins, “Aue! Do you hear them? The songs of our people!”

This is not a song that anyone’s learned--it is the ancestors who give them the words. “They call like the seabirds above!”

“Aue!” he goes on, “Aue! Do you see there? My brothers are coming!”

“Who comes upon the horizon? We do not see any ships!”

“Aue!” Haik cries, “Aue! All the things in the deep are my kin!” He pushes the loaded ship by himself, with a cracking groan of timber.

The song should be happier, especially with a god as captain, but they’re leaving homes and families, friends. The northern mountains rattle in their chests now, and who can uproot them?

She is the last to board, for her husband won’t let go until the crocodile-god himself gently pries him away.

At the front of the group is the shaman, white hair blowing in the wind. She’s crying, arms open with the memories of her husband, singing her people’s mountain-songs. The others join her, and they howl like the monsoon winds.

The wind arrives to fill their sails, and the ship lifts up on the swell of the tide. The voyagers cry as the land slips farther and farther away, and soon there is nothing but water.

The bright blue water, like glass.

---
She wakes up crying somewhere before dawn, to the drumming of the rain and the pulse in Haik’s neck. They forgot to turn the light off: It flickers dimly to the side.

“What’s wrong?” He holds her tighter. “More crocodile dreams?”

“I wanted to stay,” she cries. “I wanted to stay with my family. But you came on a ship and we all started singing.”

“Shhhh,” he whispers into her hair. His saltwater smell cuts deep into her bones, but at the same time she doesn’t want to move.

If she closes her eyes and puts her ear to the swell of his ribs, breathes in as long as she can, it’s like she’s floating in the high tide.

---
Her phone alarm goes off at 9am, buried somewhere in the blanket. She fishes it out and puts it on snooze, but at 9:08 there’s a text from her cousin Lloyd--he’ll be here on Saturday, around noon or one PM.

She sends him a dutiful text back, and burrows into Haik’s shoulder for fifteen minutes.

“When do you work?” Haik asks her.

“Any time,” she says. “It’s online, after all. As long as I meet the deadlines, I’m good.”

“Sweet deal,” he says. “Doesn’t it get lonely working alone all the time, though?”

Her dreams have been filled with people.

“Yes, Haik.” She pokes his ribs. “I get lonely in my own house, which I can leave whenever I want. But no, I don’t mind too much.”

He laughs. “Are you not a people person, then?”

“I don’t not like people,” she says. “They just wear me out a lot.”

“Small doses, then.” He sits up and clips one of the boxes. “Shit--” he barely catches it, and then finds out that it’s heavy. “Shit, not good!” At the weird angle his arms are at, they’re shaking almost immediately.

“Yeah, that’s the tools.” She gets her shoulder under it so he can put it back.

---
Her best friend Rahil arrives for lunch, hair uncovered, and Mirasol realizes she forgot to tell her to wear her hijab.

“Dude in the house,” she warns after opening the door.

Rahil goes back to the car for her scarf and pins it on. “Deflector shields up. Is Lloyd here?”

“No, unrelated dude.”

Rahil laughs. “You’re living on the wild side today, aren’t--” As she steps into the living room, her eyes go straight to Haik’s tattoos, though it’s wondering instead of leering. “Oh.”

He laughs and waves. “Hello.”

“Bruh.” Rahil demands of Mirasol. “Where did you find a Hawaiian and how do I sign up?”

“I was shipwrecked on the beach, but I’m Filipino.”

“Oh my god, you’re British.” She has to sit down. “Girl, you hit the damn jackpot.”

“Australian, but please: Continue with your compliments.”

Mirasol laughs and gets the plates out.

They spend three hours trading stories--sailing both traditional and modern, family trips to the islands, Mindanawon versus Tagalog cooking--but the mood flattens when Rahil asks to trade phone numbers.

“Well…” Haik shoots a look at Mirasol, warning her to be careful. “I don’t have one.”

“Oh right, shipwreck. Facebook?”

“No.”

“Figures the indio isn’t a tech guy,” Rahil teases. She puts her dishes in the sink and waves. “I’ll see you later!”

Haik and Mirasol move to the couch after the door shuts.

“Time for a plausibly vague cover story about the undocumented immigrant thing.”

“You don’t need a cover story,” Mirasol says. “Why not just tell her?”

“Because it sucks,” he grits out.

“Yeah.” She takes his arm.

They watch the sun set through the window, pooling red in the sky like a wound.

---
Her life in this dream is not as lucky as the others. She is not saved from drowning, or taken to the mountains for a husband and children who love her. (She will get a husband and children, but not in the way they wanted.)

This is the last time she sees the whale-rider, the dream warns her.

She’s house-maid to a Spanish insulare’s family--they’re not nobles, but well-off and influential. Lloyd is a fisherman, with fishnets tattooed on his hands for luck, and she visits him once or twice a week to trade some of her pay for a basket of fish. The master’s wife is kind to her, if pitying of her dark tan and small stature. If she knew Mirasol wasn’t Christian, she’d be even more so. And probably badger her to convert, too.

She and Lloyd find him on a larger paraw instead of a fishing canoe, so he’s certainly not from here. He’s tossing some of his catch to eager dolphins, and they wave to him from their boat.

“Where are you from?” Lloyd asks. “We haven’t seen you before.”

“You wouldn’t have, it’s been a long time,” Haik says, and they grin at his accent.

“Visayan,” she teases. “No wonder we haven’t seen you.”

“I lived there for a while, but I was born here.” He paddles closer and holds out a fish to Mirasol. “Do you want to try feeding them? They’re not gonna--”

A rogue dolphin spoils his efforts by jumping for the fish, and Lloyd’s canoe topples over with Mirasol’s shrieks.

“Well fuck you, then!” Haik laughs as the dolphin swims off, jumping in to help them right it.

---
As the weeks go on, she finds herself speeding through work a bit more than usual so she can go home and meet Haik. The mistress grins at the sudden change while Mirasol helps her fix her hair: “You’re awfully quick to go home this month,” she notes (in Spanish, the dream reminds her). “Planning to meet someone?”

“Yes, Senora,” she admits, though unlike the mistress’ daughters or the Christian islanders, she is not embarrassed.

“Just be careful if he tries to do anything before you’re married,” the mistress warns. “You know how young men like to trick young women. I wouldn’t want him to ruin your honor, you’re such a good girl.”

“I will, Senora.” She’s touched by the mistress’ concern, but makes a note to get the healer’s tea or some unripe papaya so she doesn’t get pregnant too fast.

---
“I think he’s a diwat,” Lloyd confides in her one day. “Or a diwatahan. Close enough.”

The diwat are the spirits like European fairies, she knows from her mother’s stories. A diwatahan is the Tagalog babaylan, the dream tells her.

“Why would you think that?” She wonders.

“He’s always on the sea,” Lloyd says.

“Well, so are you.”

“No, I’m on the sea in the day; I leave to sell my catch, and I go home at night,” Lloyd explains. “Haik, he only touches land if he has to, like the Badjao. He never stops smelling like the sea.”

“And how is this different from your life?” She points out.

“Just--” He can’t pin it down. “Just be careful with him--no, he’s all right. Be careful talking about him. If your master finds out you’re involved with an indio--”

“Oh.” There’s her problem. Her master and his family are devoutly Christian and avoid the openly-practicing indios like burning coals. She’s gotten by on attending Mass when she can and making excuses about work or family when she cannot, but sometimes she slips up on ‘God’ versus ‘gods,’ or forgets to hide her offerings.

---
Haik certainly looks like a diwat, with his muscles and tattoos on burnished bronze skin. He laughs when she swims out to him in the bay, in the red light of the sunset.

“Has your cousin’s canoe sprung a leak?”

“It’s my day off tomorrow,” she calls from the water. “I can afford to be slow.”

“You aren’t too bad at swimming.” He lifts her above the rail. “Any plans for today?”

“Maybe.” She wraps her hands around his shoulders--her hands barely meet.

“Interesting plans,” he whispers into her soaked hair. “If we have to get married, though, that may take more time than expected.”

“If I don’t get pregnant, who’s going to know?”

“Some of the Spanish check to make sure their women are virgins,” he reminds her in concern. “And they’re not always nice about it.”

“Well, I’m not Spanish.” She tightens her grip. “As long as I do my work and stay polite, they don’t care what I do.”

“Would you like to get married, though?” He wonders. “I’m not opposed to someone like you, even if you’re a bit small.” He tweaks her braid.

“There’s no shaman for fifty miles,” she tells him. “Why bother getting married if we have to walk two or three days to hold the rites? We’d spend our first week traveling.”

“I could call you my wife,” he offers. “Isn’t that all that matters? Some are too poor for the rites, and you’re too far away. The gods aren’t cruel.”

That is true. People say they’re married all the time. She can feel it in the dark of his voice--he wants to get married. But she has not taken part in any of her people’s rites since she got her period and her first tattoo, and there is a decade-long hunger for them.

In turn, Haik feels the sharp, stabbing ache in her soul.

“If I hold the rites for you,” he asks, “If we hold vigil under a baliti tree, if I sing to the gods and the ancestors--would you call me your husband?”

“You can’t do that.” She pushes away from him, though it’s more from concern than refusal. “It’s not just the songs--”

“I can if I want to,” he says, and the song of the whales swells beneath them.

“What are you?”

“I am the whale-rider,” he tells her, with the low engine-growl of a crocodile. “I am the son of voyagers, the crocodile-god, I break the ships in my teeth. Do you remember me?”

She doesn’t know any of those titles--and so many shamans and elders who would were long killed by the Spanish. But she remembers his smile and the feel of his hands.

The great blue whales rise like islands from the sea, and their song cuts so deep in her bones--she takes a running start and flings herself off the boat with a mangled joyous shriek.

Haik jumps in with her, laughing hard.

After two hours he sings to the ancestors (for he’s already a god), with his brothers’ great voices all but drowning him out. When he finishes, though, she gets flustered and starts crying, but not from fear.

“I--I haven’t done this before.” Especially not with a god. How many people has he loved, in his long life before her? “Just, what do I--”

“Not here,” he whispers like he did in the cellar, and brings them to land.

He sits down on the trunk of a mangrove tree--fish and reeds along the roots, tangled branches and vines almost like a chair, and beckons her onto his lap.

He cannot be impatient with his arms so soft and still, and there’s plenty of space on both banks if she wanted to leave--but Lloyd’s musings about the diwat come to her mind.

Can Haik leave the water for long, or does he just not like to? It swirls around their ankles.

“I won’t hurt you,” he promises, hands warm and pulsing on her back.

This is the last time she sees the whale-rider, the dream repeats in apology.

---
In the afternoon she meets Rahil, who grins at her absent-minded singing. “Someone had a fun night, didn’t they? Lloyd said you didn’t come home for four hours.”

“Well, yes--I married Haik.”

Rahil bursts out laughing. “If you need a break for a couple days, just let me know!”

“To be fair, it wasn’t the whole four hours,” she explains. “We were swimming for half the time, and then I… I got nervous. Once the excitement wore off.”

“Oh, honey.” Rahil gives her a hug. “You’ll get better in a few weeks. Why do you think we give new couples a month by themselves?”

---
The weeks go on, and then months. At the end of the first year she stops drinking the healer’s tea, since she’s saved up enough money in case she gets pregnant.

When she does, it all goes wrong.

“Does Haik have a name?” The master wonders as he visits her and Lloyd at their house. His guards are with him, as usual. “Where does he come from?”

“His--his name is Haik, Senor,” she says, voice shaky. She pretends to stumble and drops a wooden bowl, then strains to reach it around her growing belly. “Ay, this baby keeps making me drop things. It must be a boy, they’re so messy.”

“I meant a family name.” The master picks it up for her.

“Well, maybe he’s just been too busy with the fun parts of marriage to tell her his last name.” Lloyd grins and gently taps Mirasol’s torso. “You know the night they got married, she didn’t come home for four hours? Her friend Rahil said she was singing like a bird when she visited--”

“Not with the Senor!” She pretends to be embarrassed and thwacks his shoulder.

“You islanders love to tease each other,” one of the guards chuckles.

---
They aren’t lucky the second time, even after picking a name and cover story, as plausibly vague as they can.

The master allows it, but then he spots Haik’s tattoos. “You married an indio?!

“No, Senor--” she steps in front of her husband, even though she’s too short to make much difference. “The tattoos aren’t always pagan, they speak of his accomplishments--”

“Get out!” The master orders, gun raised.

“She’s pregnant!” Lloyd accuses.

“Not Mirasol, she’s a good woman.” He takes a deep breath. “This is why I won’t have her wandering around with an indio. I meant you.” He points to Haik with his gun.

“So you won’t hurt a pregnant woman, you’ll just shoot her husband?” Haik mockingly wonders.

The master flinches. “I… I don’t mean to shoot you.”

“But you’re pointing a gun and yelling.” Haik’s teeth flash like a crocodile. “Well, go on.”

“Don’t!” She’s crying, but not just from fear--it’s from the dream’s mournful warning, crashing like waves in her head. Can Filipino gods die? “Senor, please, we’ll all leave whenever you want, we won’t trouble you! You can find another maid!”

“Who are you?!” The master demands. “Why have you lied to this woman?!”

“I am Haik, her people’s sea-god!” Haik explodes. “I am the son of voyagers, the crocodile-god, who breaks the ships in his teeth! And our children will be gods!

The gun booms, and pain gnaws through her like a crocodile’s teeth--but through her screaming, Haik draws up to his god’s height, dark-skinned and fearsomely beautiful.

She tries to get up.

But Haik turns into a saltwater crocodile, filling the floor of the house. The master tries to flee.

“Haik!” She remembers falling into the sea now. “Haik, whale-rider!”

The crocodile-god does not answer, and clamps down on the master’s leg.

Lloyd presses his shirt on Mirasol’s gunshot. The baby writhes and gnaws in her belly--is he in pain, too, or sensing his father’s rage?

“Anak,” she begs, “please stop that, it hurts--”

“Shhhhhh.” Lloyd hugs her. “You’re okay. What’s wrong?”

“The baby!” She strains to get to the crocodile-god, who gulps down vengeance in the master’s screams. “Haik!”

He finishes eating and lumbers over. Morphs back to human, with a weary face. The meal has not made him feel better. He puts a hand on her wound, and it heals without leaving a scar.

But the baby struggles one last time, and goes limp.

Haik won’t kiss her with blood on his mouth, so he presses his forehead to hers. “Here we are. Here we are, let’s get you some help.”

He turns into a horse, has Lloyd and Mirasol cram onto his back, and makes it to the shaman in one day instead of two.

But the shaman spots Haik and Lloyd bringing Mirasol in, and shakes his head.

“The whales will not come back,” he tells them in regret. “If you couldn’t do it, what can a human do?”

“Please,” Haik begs him. “Please do something. Our children will be gods.”

“Whales are such gentle things.” The shaman presses his forehead to Mirasol’s as she cries. “The bringers of joy and song. And food, for the south islands.”

“My cousin isn’t a whale!” Lloyd tells him desperately. “She’s going to lose her baby!”

“The most I can do is get her out, so she won’t rot and kill her mother.”

Their daughter is a tiny, wounded whale-calf, even smaller than a human child, coming out with her ruined tail first. There’s definitely pain on the physical side, but it hurts even more when Haik takes their daughter and rocks her, hums a tumbling sea-chanty. Mirasol feels the music wash into her bones, calming her wrecked body--but the whale-calf stays limp and gray. Her bones will not knit back together.

Haik carries Mirasol to a set of rocky cliffs, while Lloyd and the shaman get Rahil and then collect at the shoreline dutifully. Their baby does not rot, in spite of the heat and travel.

There are no whales when the shaman sings the funeral dirge, even though they all wait until sundown. Everyone hears them in the way they hear the ancestors, down there in the sunless deep, but they are grieving as the people on land are, and will not break the surface.

They have other children--she is not infertile since her wounds were healed so quickly, and even if she was, her husband is a god. Their first living daughter is the quickest to show her power: Swimming at barely a year, fearless of the monsoons or the sharks. Their son takes a little longer, and shows his powers when his baby teeth fall out. But they grow up fierce and formidable, each as tall as their father, and prefer to be crocodiles when not human.

“Can you turn into anything else, anak?” Mirasol wonders to them one day. “Your father turns into whatever he wants, like a whale. He can teach you if you don’t know other shapes.”

“I don’t want to be a whale,” her daughter broods from the river, crocodile teeth flashing as she snaps up a fish. “They’re too soft and nice.”

“How would you know that?” Haik tries to laugh. “Have you talked to any lately?”

“Our sister is a whale, and she’s always crying,” her son tells them. “She can’t swim because her tail hurts too much. What life is that for her?”

“You… you don’t have any more sisters,” she says, but the old pain is throbbing again in her belly, and they know she’s lying.

“You’re not a god or a diwat,” her son tells her, changing back to human. “You’re not even a shaman. We can’t be whales and play in the water all the time. Who will protect you if Father’s not here?”

“I don’t need protecting every hour,” she says, but the tears are already falling. “Anak, it’s not healthy to be so… so serious. Neither of you are twenty yet.”

“The world always hurts people like you and our sister,” her daughter tells her. “That’s why you two are always sad. If everyone fears us enough, they won’t hurt you again.”

“I don’t want people to be afraid of my children!” They act like old warriors, she weeps bitterly, and wonders if they were ever young.

Haik takes her onto the old paraw, to the bay where the sun is setting. He holds the marriage rites like he did the first time, but they are alone now, with no whales to sing harmonies.

Their children circle the boat as saltwater crocodiles, like always.

“Go to sleep, anak,” Haik calls down to them. “Who celebrates a marriage with guards on duty? Especially if the guards are their children? You wouldn’t like to see how we got you here.”

But they don’t relax like he wanted, only go back to shore to give them privacy. Their eyes glow in the sunset and mouths gape in warning, ready to streak through the bay if something happens.

She can feel something break in Haik now--is it his heart, or his soul? Is it some godly piece that humans lack?

He is always gentle with her, but there’s no joy or whirling excitement now.

This is the last time she sees the whale-rider, the dream tells her, mourning, and she understands what that means now.

Haik is not dead--for he is a god--but he won’t be the whale-rider again for a long, long time. If at all.

---
Mirasol wakes up on the couch, with the aching empty sea in her bones.

She tries to stop crying, crosses to her room, and knocks on the door. Haik opens it instantly, wide awake with no shirt. His tattoos burn in the yellow hallway light.

“Do you remember me?” He asks, like he did in the memories. But he’s stock-still from pain, and the whales are not singing now.

“Haik. The whale-rider.”

He shakes his head, saltwater burning down his face. “I… I am the son of voyagers--”

“If I call you that name enough times--”

“--the crocodile-god--”

“--if I sing the old songs and throw myself into the sea--”

“I BREAK. THE SHIPS. IN MY TEETH.”

“--will you be the whale-rider again?” She latches on like she’s drowning, and he howls like the monsoon winds.

Next Chapter: Part 3.