Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O’Kanes in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
Memorial: A Patreon Reward Story. This story is a short vignette voted on by our Patreon supporters. In it, Noah & Emma finally take some time to remember someone they lost.
Characters: Noah & Emma
Timeline: Set after the end of Beyond Surrender
Most of the time, Emma Cibulski was laid-back. Pleasant. Sure, she had her gloomier moments—she had, after all, been Ace Santana’s apprentice, and he’d perfected his brooding artist routine while she was still in diapers. But usually she could go with the flow, get along with anyone and everyone.
That changed once a year, every year, for one day. On the twenty-third of August, no one wanted to be around Emma.
If you asked them, they might tell you that they were giving her space. A little breathing room. But the truth was that on that single day, for twenty-four hours, it hurt just to look at her.
Noah found her holed up in her studio.
One look at him, and she knew he knew. Of course he did. Cib may have been her big brother, but he was Noah’s best friend. The trauma of the day Cib died would be laser-etched into his brain, too.
“Hey.” A bag crinkled as he set it down on her table, and she could smell roasted lamb and fresh tzatziki. “I brought you lunch.”
She didn’t reach for the bag. “Gyros?”
“From the cart across from Tatiana’s old shop.” He dragged a stool over with his foot and sank onto it. “It’s okay if you don’t want to eat. I don’t, really.”
“No, I’m hungry.” It was just the goddamn inertia, like the amount of energy it would take to unpack the food was beyond some reasonable threshold. “Taking a break?”
“Taking the rest of the day.” He opened the bag and started to unpack the food. “Figured…it’s the first time we haven’t had to spend it alone.”
Emma never had to be alone. It was just easier that way. “At least we both understand.”
Noah reached out to stroke her cheek. His fingers trailed up over the curve of her ear and into her hair. “I miss him too, sunshine.”
Years ago, Emma used to beg Noah to sit for portraits, ostensibly so she could practice her drawing. But she just wanted to look at him. She’d spent so many hours back then studying him that it was easy to spot the differences in him now. The years had hardened him, giving him lines around his eyes and a muscled frame accustomed to fighting for survival. She even thought she saw a few flecks of silver in the ginger hair at his temples.
But he was still Noah. Her hero. The love of her life. “It’s not just Cib,” she whispered. “I mean, it is. But it isn’t.”
His touch drifted to her shoulder, tracing one of her tattoos. “What is it?”
“I lost everything that day. My brother, my home.” She swallowed hard. “You.”
“You didn’t lose me.” He traced the ink lower, around the inside of her elbow. “Even if you couldn’t see me. Even if I thought you were long gone… I never stopped loving you.”
She felt his words, in every molecule of her being. “I know, but that’s the thing, isn’t it?” She reached for his hand. “I found a new home. I even found you again. But Cib…”
Noah slipped an arm around her waist and tugged until her stool rolled against his and he could tuck her under his chin. “I know. I feel it more this year. He’s the only thing that’s missing.”
When she’d had to divide her grief between several losses, none of them had seemed so singularly overwhelming. Now that her brother was the only real loss left, it felt…sharper. More focused. “How do we remember him without remembering the bad shit, too?”
“Maybe we don’t.” She heard his sigh as he turned to rest his cheek against the top of her head. His body was warm, his arms strong around her. Solid. Familiar. “We didn’t love him because he was perfect. We loved him because he was Cib.”
Because, even when things got rough, he’d loved them, too. “I wish…”
If wishes were horses, Emmy, beggars would ride. Their grandmother’s saying, but Cib had used it often enough. It didn’t do anyone any good to wish things had been different. They’d all been dealt a hand, and they all had to play it.
“Nothing.” She wrapped her hand in the front of Noah’s shirt and held on. It felt like his heat was the only thing warming her as she lifted her face and met his eyes. “Do you think Cib would have been proud of me?”
“You don’t have to wish for that.” Noah cupped her cheeks, thumbs ghosting gently back and forth. “He was proud of you every damn day. Seeing you now, what you made of your art…he’d be the proudest man in the whole damn world.”
Cib may have been her brother, but Noah had been closer to him. Known him better. Whatever hopes and dreams Cib had held for her, Noah was the one he’d shared them with. He would know.
She swallowed hard and nodded. “I think…it’s time to ask Finn what happened to his–” Body. Corpse. Remains. She couldn’t say any of them. “What happened to Cib after we left.”
A shadow filled his eyes. “I asked Finn. It’s one of the first things I asked when he came here. I wasn’t sure you’d want to hear it, though.”
So many possibilities, and not many of them decent or humane. A mass grave at the edge of the sector, dumped in alongside the rest of Fleming’s enemies. Compacted with the rest of the trash. Left to rot in the desert.
Another chill swept over her, raising goose bumps on her bare arms despite the heat. “Is it bad?”
“No.” He pulled back and brushed at her hair. “No, Finn took him to the spot on the edge of Five where the devout built their little cemetery. He doesn’t have a headstone or anything, but…I know where he is.”
Relief was a tangible thing, settling over her like a blanket. “I have to go. I want–no, I need to say goodbye.”
Noah nudged her stool back toward the desk and gestured to the food. “Finish your lunch. And then I’ll take you.”
The little cemetery was the greenest place Emma had ever seen in Five. The rest of the sector was all hard angles–concrete and brick and steel and glass. Huge factories to churn out medications and complexes to house the workers who made them run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But here, in this tiny little shard on the edge of the sector, even the low stone wall encasing the graves was covered with green moss.
Emma didn’t know how to process that–the sheer amount of life in a space dedicated to death.
He led her down a path lined with lovingly tended flower beds. The wildflowers formed a riot of color–yellow, red, white, pink, purple. All jumbled together, bright and cheerful life. There were bare patches amongst the flowers, and colorful spots of color resting in front of the markers.
Noah stopped and plucked up a couple of wild daisies. “I don’t know who tends these, or how it doesn’t get trashed. Maybe there’s always been bits of good here that even Fleming couldn’t snuff out.”
“Not even him,” she agreed quietly. Part of her wanted to believe that Mac Fleming had wanted to turn his sector into a hellish place for everyone but himself and his buddies, but she knew the truth, and it was worse.
He simply hadn’t cared. They were all just collateral damage.
There was a spot near the wall, a gently rounded mound with what looked like a concrete block sunk into it, its pitted surface even with the ground. Blades of grass curled over it, but when Emma stepped closer, she could see the surface was blank. Unmarked.
Somehow, in that place deep in her chest where helpless sobs always began, she knew.
It was surprisingly careful, this little mound of earth. Her brother’s grave. Finn had gone to a lot of trouble to bury him here, and she wondered if he’d been driven by guilt or something deeper–like a desperate attempt to hang on to what was left of his soul.
“It’s nice,” she whispered.
“It is.” Noah knelt and laid the daisies on the stone, their bright yellow an impossible pop of color. “We can talk to someone, maybe. Get his name carved into the marker.”
There was no real reason for it, no one else left who cared enough to visit–but perhaps that was the point. Something lasting, something permanent. A way for people to come here and know that Cib had existed, even after she and Noah were long gone.
She didn’t know if Cib would have cared about that or not. A strange thing, having no goddamn clue how her own brother would have felt about it. But they’d never discussed death. They’d avoided it almost superstitiously, as if opening the door to that conversation would let the Grim Reaper himself slip in.
But she cared. Emma had spent years mourning her brother, and only getting it half-done because everything about it felt so…unfinished. Not just sudden, but messy in ways she was still discovering. She still had so many questions, and she’d never learn the answers now.
But if she could come here, talk to him, at least ask those questions, that was something.
She turned to Noah and slipped her hand into his. “A marker, definitely. And I think I’d like to visit again–just not on this day.”
He folded her into his arms, and something shifted into place in her chest–the last jagged piece of her once-broken heart.
Cib had made some poor choices, disastrous ones, but he’d always meant well. He wanted what was best for her, even when he couldn’t provide it, or when the hazy veil of addiction and desperation had made him lose sight of that. He’d done what he could.
The rest was up to her.
“Come on.” She’d spent years locked in her own head on the anniversary of Cib’s death, tangled up in grief and regret. But the best way to keep him close was to honor his life. “I think…I want to start a new tradition.”
“Instead of thinking about how Cib died, I want to remember how he lived.” Before the drugs, before his painful spiral into darkness. When he’d played silly games with her, and they’d stayed up whole nights with Noah, laughing and talking. “I want to remember my brother.”
Noah was silent for a long time, his chin resting on the top of her head, his fingers trailing up and down her back. “Want to go home and eat pizza and watch zombie movies?”
“Just like old times?”
“Mmmm.” Noah tilted her head back and wiped a stray tear from her cheek with his thumb. “For him. And for us. Let’s make today about family.”
Family. Once upon a time, she’d thought she’d never have one again. Then she found the O’Kanes, and Noah found her. Now, she had it all. She even, in a way, had her brother back.
She wrapped her arms around Noah’s neck and pressed her cheek to his. “Let’s go home.”