She wants to just let her phone ring because she needs more time, they need more time, but Haik swipes the green button for her, pressing his face into her shoulder.
“Hey--Mirasol. Are you with Haik?”
“What’s wrong?” But they all know why he’s called, and Mirasol switches the lamp on.
“Fucking ICE called me. I told them I didn’t know who he was, but they’re still coming at midnight. Don’t leave right now, leave when it’s dark so people don’t see you--”
“Fuck.” She and Haik start packing. “Fuck!”
Haik’s already got his own duffel bag, so they only need to team up and bag some of her clothes while she presses the phone into her shoulder.
“Don’t take him to my place, they’ll head there in two goddamn seconds. Go to Rahil’s, it’ll take them a little longer since you’re not related.”
Haik takes the phone. “I’m sorry,” he creaks out, heavy and old like a statue. Mirasol wants to turn the clock back to yesterday, where she saw a glimpse of the whale-rider again. “I’m sorry. Dragging her into this.”
“Bruh, she grown. She dragged her own self into this.” Lloyd laughs, though bitterly. “Give her the phone.”
“Lloyd?” She laces up her boots and slings the duffel bag across her shoulders.
“Don’t panic, okay? If you get deported, head east of Manila to the Laguna de Ba-i--”
“And stay with Grandma and Grandpa. I know.” But it still hurts.
“They’re gonna sue the whole damn government for deporting an American, ay?”
She laughs into Haik’s chest, dizzy and pained.
Lloyd hangs up, and Mirasol switches the lamp back off. She doesn’t turn any others on. This is her home--she doesn’t need light.
When the last of the bloody red sun has left the sky, Haik grips her hand behind her, a ship towed along in the dark.
They get to the doorway where Mirasol thinks Claire must be coming, but it’s not until they reach the driveway that they hear Imelda’s raging.
“Y’all barely even saw him, you stupid--”
“Don’t.” Haik’s fingers gnaw into Mirasol’s arm. She works loose anyway because the tears are looming, and if she isn’t mad it’s just going to hurt--
“YOU CALLED THE FUCKING ICE DEPARTMENT?! IT WAS YOU?!”
“Well, they called me and--and it’s pretty obvious he’s not Lloyd--”
“You could have at least gotten his name before you snitched on him!” Her tears of rage burn. “What if this was a different brown guy with tattoos?!”
“I’m not racist!” She pleads. “Mirasol, you know me! I was just--”
“WHAT?! WHAT WERE YOU DOING?!”
The storm darkens the sky in Claire’s silence. Haik is stock-still behind her and quietly broken.
“Just following orders,” he finishes for her, bitter. “Is that it?”
Claire finally processes the duffel bags slung on them like armor. “What are you doing?”
“Someone got a call from ICE and warned us they were coming! Y’all think we gonna sit here and wait for them?!” Mirasol grabs her keys and heads for the car, but instead grabs Haik and starts heading down the sidewalk--they’ll know her license plate.
Claire dithers after them, but can’t manage to actually grab Mirasol. “You’re--you’re leaving? That’s breaking the law!”
“I ain’t letting him get deported for almost drowning!”
“What does that mean?”
“I found him on the beach!” She rounds back to Claire. “He was fucking half-dead and I took him to the hospital! That’s how ICE found out he had no records! If y’all took five damn minutes to talk to him--”
“Oh.” Claire fidgets, and Mirasol feels a stabbing glee at how hard Imelda’s laughing at her, but she’s too wired-up to appreciate it right now.
Imelda’s still cackling as she catches up, but her arms are warm as they wind around Mirasol’s neck. “Girl, y’all better learn Tagalog fast in case they deport you, too.”
“Why would they deport her?” Claire says. “She’s American!”
“Well, she helping a criminal, so they gonna put her in jail or ship her to the Philippines if they fucking want.”
“They can’t do that!”
“They doing it to Latinos already!” Imelda points out, ruthless. “Now that she ain’t the cute little schoolgirl who follows orders, she just a brown bitch who needs to go back to Asia. She ain’t light-skinned like a Chinese girl, they ain’t gonna let her stay.”
“But… but she was born here!” Claire is crying now.
“Are you upset because you actually know me?” Mirasol wonders. “Y’all didn’t think twice about setting ICE on Haik, but now I’m going off with him--”
“All you had to do was say ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about!’ It ain’t even a lie!” Imelda hounds her. “At least I knew his damn name before I pretended I didn’t know about him!”
Haik latches onto her wrist, drags her away from the chaos and her own anger, and they run.
On the way to Rahil’s house, she has to sit down for a minute because the laughter is coming again, hard and dizzy.
“This is like World War Two,” she says after the first wave. “Everyone fucking called it before Trump got elected.”
“Except white people,” Haik muses, pecking her temple. “They thought the election was like Harry Potter.”
“Who the fuck did they think JK Rowling based the Death Eaters off of?!”
“Ay.” But it’s tired and empty; she doesn’t know if Haik is happy or sad. Now it’s his turn to not-laugh, eyes welling with saltwater. He wraps his crocodile-scales around her neck, tilts his forehead into hers for the ungngo.
“Do you want to hear a story?” He whispers.
The question is, which one? How did the sharks betray the toothed whales, so badly that the whales hungered for live prey instead of kelp? Why is Haik ‘the son of voyagers,’ and not one himself? And why was she sacrificed to Haik all those centuries ago, if he’s so friendly?
“Westerners always panic about sacrifices,” Haik says when she asks. “They aren’t good or bad--they are necessary. The Spaniard--he was not a sacrifice. I didn’t need to kill him to save you or the baby, I just lost my shit. But a few hundred years earlier, you were a sacrifice. You were the datu’s daughter, they were running out of food, and they could not waste time or grief by sacrificing other people to risk their prayers going unanswered. If they were going to lose you anyway, they might as well get it over with.”
One death for a village, she remembers.
She takes her bag off, but keeps it on her lap for an easy reach in case they need to run again. “Why did they offer me to you, then? Why not… I don’t know, the harvest god, or the rain god? Rice doesn’t come from the sea.”
“But the sea was your only option,” he says. “You weren’t from a big island, like Luzon. Well, the island was good-sized in those days--ten miles long, half a day’s walk--but size doesn’t always mean prominence.”
People from a tiny northern peninsula have conquered the bulk of the world, after all. “Why do we only call you the son of voyagers? Didn’t you learn enough about sailing?”
He chuckles. “Figure of speech. You are a daughter of the Philippines, ay?”
“Are you still Paikea, then?” She gets her phone out. “What are his stories?”
“Not anymore.” He grabs her wrist and shakes his head. “This is not ta moko,” he says of his crocodile scales. “It is batok. The Philippines has a lot of jade, but we call it bato-lungtian, not pounamu. If you want to find things we still share with the Pacific, you look for Lumawig.”
“Maui?” She barely keeps her voice down, and here comes his real laugh now.
“Lu-mau-ig,” repeats the crocodile-god, teeth flashing at the look on her face. “The last-born son of the meddling North Wind and her human husband. Shapeshifter, fire-bringer, face-stealer, who fished out the sea’s daughter for his wife.”
“Did our daughter ever marry?” She doesn’t remember it, and doesn’t think she’d approve of such methods. Or such a son-in-law, for that matter. “You’re the god of the sea, right? That’s the only thing people remember about you. ‘Haik, the Tagalog sea-god.’”
“I shouldn’t have said that--people always think it’s the same thing,” he muses. “I am a sea-god,” he says, with that careful god’s distinction. “I am the son of voyagers, the crocodile-god, who breaks the ships in my teeth.”
The whale-rider, a stranger’s voice adds gently, from the great black void of the sky, and he winces and ignores it.
“But there are many sea-gods--and river and rain-gods, too, for we are all related in the end,” he finishes. “There is only one god of the sea.”
She’s prepared for her burst of questions now: Who is the god of the sea--are they friendly like Haik? Why is Lumawig the last-born, if his mother is a goddess? Whose face did he steal? What are the other three Winds like, if the one from the north is so troublesome?
They have to get to Rahil’s house. She puts her bag on her shoulder again, but Haik grabs her before they start moving.
“I… I can leave after you get there,” he offers, but reluctantly. “I can take your wallet, your phone, both. You can make up something about how I stole your shit and ran. And ICE won’t go after you. I’ll just come back, you know.”
“Do you want to leave, though?” She knows the answer--the words have to rip away out of his throat. But she wants to hear it.
“No,” he admits. “But I will come back. You remember.”
She’s taken his offer before, and she knows he’ll keep his oath. It took him weeks, months, and three years at the longest, but he has always come back and he will do it again if he has to. She can hear it in his voice.
But how many times have they retread the same frantic pattern? A few years of happiness--or love, if not the former--and then come the Spaniards, or the Americans. Or lately it’s been their own people, brainwashed into Catholicism or siding with their conquerors.
All it does is waste their energy and pain.
“I can’t,” he apologizes. “If I stay, they’re going to kill you--”
“Don’t leave.” She grabs his hand and tows him behind her.
Something churns beneath their feet, like a great sleeping beast against the unlit trees of the park behind them. It’s not just her nerves making her dizzy, because all he does is shift back and she suddenly can’t go forward--she keeps forgetting he’s twice her weight.
“No.” His crocodile scales close around her neck. “No, why did you do that?”
The dream loosens up on them, confused and thrown off. There is no miracle right now--ICE will not magically stop hunting Haik--but perhaps one is coming.
“Why did you do that?” He’s hovering lost along the curb--she can feel the pulse in his wrist spiking. “I can’t see anything.”
“I’m tired.” She hugs him tight around the waist. “We just keep doing the same thing. Over and over. I don’t even remember it all and I’m tired. Aren’t you?”
“I would rather have you.” The saltwater comes down along his face. “I would rather be stupid or crazy, I would rather keep doing the same useless shit for the next few centuries, if it means you are with me. They killed our daughter.”
“Why do you keep thinking about her?” She’s not angry at him--he’s wounded too deep to be normal, and the dumugo bird flitters through her head, eternally weary and blood-stained. Can gods get PTSD?
“She wasn’t even a baby yet,” Haik tells her. “I could die and come back, I know the way across the sea. But all she knew was the dark water while you carried her, so when we took her to the sea, she stayed there! She’s stayed there for centuries, I cannot make her come back!”
How many times has he tried?
And suddenly she wonders: How many brothers and sisters does he have among the whales? Humpbacks, blue whales, fin whales, all the other kinds in the Pacific? How empty does the sea feel to him now, with his thousands of siblings waiting just out of his reach?
Of course he’s stuck to this waste of a loop for so long, if his only companions are a dwindling group of followers and a short-lived wife. He’s like an abused dog afraid to leave his master, since at least his life is predictably painful. Find wife, live with her. Lose wife, grieve. Wait for her to come back. Repeat.
But he’s been long grown for at least two lives, from boy to man and then from Maori to Tagalog, so it’s not like he doesn’t know the world outside of this misery-cage--he just doesn’t want to leave it now.
Perhaps her question shouldn’t be if gods get traumatized, but how much.
The same as people, she thinks, wiping at bitter tears in vain. She has to sit against a sequoia--she can feel thick scars in the bark, and long green needles scattered by the arm-thick roots.
“You… you changed your mind about our other kids, so can you do it again?” She asks. “Make your other children gods?”
“I didn’t say my children,” he explains in that god’s way of his. “Our children. Our children will be gods.”
“The whales came to us!” Haik explodes with a molten flash of teeth, and it echoes in the park. “They could have stayed put in the deep and not made a sound, we would have been the same whether they were there or not, but my brothers came to us! And they have not come again since our daughter died, not in five hundred fucking years, but now you heard them singing! You are the one who hears my brothers coming back! It’s you!”
And from the dark inside the earth comes the screeching T-Rex’s roar like in her dream.
The pattern is broken.
The ground is shivering underfoot like Mirasol, but the cars and streetlights stay calm as anything. What pattern are they in now?
“The old days--the old days were when the dragons still lived!” Haik laughs through his tears, full of joy from whatever he’s called. “They had great tribes when the world was young, but now are only few!”
From the breaking soil comes a tusked open maw that reaches her waist, and again she’s the babaylan screaming at her people’s dragon-shifted god--but then comes her thirteen-year-old self, huddled behind the couch in fear of dinosaurs.
“The crocodile’s ancestors!” Haik holds her tight, as much for comfort as to keep her from running blind into the dark.
The dragon is very much Asian, long and armored with glittering fish-scales and mother-of-pearl back ridges. As it shakes the soil off like water, Mirasol flicks a glance out from Haik’s chest--she can only see its tree-trunk legs.
Haik laughs through his tears at her shaking, but he is gentle as usual and only holds her in place; he does not haul her closer to the dragon’s tusked maw.
“Hello, Mother.” She lowers her boar-like head, tail swishing. “You’re always so small.”
“You… you’re a dragon now?”
“I remember being one,” she says. “It’s not quite the same.”
“Dragons carried us across the water, so we did not need ships.” He pecks Mirasol’s temple, and then the side of their daughter’s huge nose. “You’re a little early, anak.”
“Ay.” She does the ugngno with Mirasol, letting her wind an arm around one long tusk: She is gentler as a bus-sized lizard than she’s ever been as a teenaged girl. And then their daughter burrows underground again, digging down among the trees like a boar-sow rooting for food.
Mirasol steps back from the scar of a tunnel, but as the last of their dragon-daughter’s spike-lined tail sinks in, the earth heals itself. Everything’s as still and untouched as if she’d never come roaring back out of the earth.
Something in her is gearing up to run, but not in fear of ICE. She remembers speaking to trees, to dragons, to taro roots and carabao and devilfish--something like laughter is brimming from the great sequoia’s needles, and she wants to ask him what he thinks--
But with their new freedom to move comes the rush of the unknown.
Where have they been marooned, now that she’s blown them off-course? Are they in the lost world from Haik’s stories, grand and terrible and full of magic--or is it a new one, similar but unexplored?
“We have to go,” Haik tells her, and she takes his hand and runs.
It’s half an hour total to Rahil’s apartment on foot--not too long, but they don’t wait for the stoplights unless there’s a straggling late-night car. Her nerves get more frayed as she checks her phone after every block of four-to-six-minutes, every pause to catch their breath.
A dream hasn’t come to Rahil, since she answers the door in pajamas. But she only looks at them--dressed and packed for a journey at ten in the night--and the tears start coming down like the monsoons, before she can finish wrapping her scarf.