The Settling Ash
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In light of the containment breach at Site-36 early this morning, it has been decided by this administrative committee the Horizon Initiative has acted in violation to the terms of the Non-Interference Operations Pact. As such, the Foundation has withdrawn from this pact, though it recognizes that the breach was the result of rogue agents within the Horizon Initiative. Further investigation of SCP-089 and its purported influence upon Foundation personnel is ongoing.

This committee has also seen it fit to award Mary-Ann Lewitt an honorary Foundation Star for her part in neutralizing SCP-089. In addition, the body of Ms. Lewitt has been returned to the Horizon Initiative, as a sign of goodwill to relieve tensions during dissolution of the Non-Interference Operations Pact.

- Overseer 04

The main drawback of Samson’s braid, DeMontfort determined, was that when it was removed, all the damage sustained during its use, and all the pain that went with it, came back at once.

Five fractures, a broken leg, two bullet wounds, internal bleeding. For a man of his age and condition, it was something of a miracle that he survived it. He was quite certain he’d be better off dead.

The justice had been swift this time around. Relics taken back, Malleus dissolved completely, his position stripped from him permanently, his future a certain reassignment to some backwater research project or monotonous desk job somewhere where he could cause no trouble and work off his penance for a decade or so. Either that, and he shuddered to consider this alternative, or they would send him back to parish work.

Ugh. Might as well drown out the pain and boredom and survivor’s guilt with that mightiest of man’s creations, television.

He pressed the remote on the arm of his hospital bed. The TV on the wall flicked on, to reveal Dora the Explorer going about her pitiful purgatorial existence. Thankfully, it was muted.

Hey. Fuckface.

DeMontfort blinked. Yes, those subtitles said exactly that. He reached for his bedside table. Napkin…pen…there.

Hello, Deer. DeMontfort wrote on the napkin.

About time you got in touch. Goddamn, son. That was impressive shit. Nearly brought a tear to my eye.

You? Caring about things? Perish the thought.

I gotta care, ‘cause if I don’t, I’m just going to be bored. You fucked shit up, and I respect that. Not as much as Top Mom McLiftsalot, but hey, you do what you can do.

That’s the closest I’ve heard to a compliment out of you.

Guess you’re on your way out, eh? Good for ya. You’re well overdue for an ass-stick-oscopy.

It’s a pity I promised not to hunt you down anymore.

I know, I’m an inconsolable mess over it. If we keep going on this route we’ll end up in a buddy cop movie and GOD FUCKING DAMMIT SWIPER I’M TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION HERE…bah, whatever. What I’m trying to say is keep yer head up. You ain’t dead yet, and let’s be honest, that never stopped me. Didn’t stop her either.

DeMontfort didn’t know what to make of this. Human emotion from Saturn Deer?

Bear in mind, I say that only because if you give up, I’m a Joker without a Batman, and that’s no fun.

Ah, there it was. That made more sense.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I got shit to do, money to steal, and bitches to fuck.

The subtitles shifted back to their usual dissertation of preschool Spanish. DeMontfort changed the channel. Maybe there was a game on.

Hey. If you’re reading this, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it home.

I hate the fact that I’m writing this, honestly. Part of me wonders if it’s a good idea at all: it might just cause you more pain, to hear me after I’m gone. Then I realize that I need to write this, because if I don’t, some things might go unsaid. I can’t let that happen.

I love you.

Salah, you’re my best friend, and the best man I know, and the best husband I could have ever asked for. You were there when I needed you, (and even when I didn’t), and made the little moments of my life meaningful. I know you’ll raise Naomi right: You’ve got this.

Naomi, I’m sorry I won’t be there for you. I’m sorry you’ll only ever have stories and pictures of me. Just know that I love you, and I’m proud of you. Watch over your dad for me, okay? Don’t want him stirring up too much trouble. And take care of that guitar: It’s yours now. It got me through a war, so whenever you’re feeling down, just play away.

As a final thought…don’t mourn me too much, okay? Get those tears out and then put that chin up. Always keep looking for the little things that make life good. The world is a tough and ugly place, but there’s more than enough good to make all the pain worth it. God's in the little things.

You two taught me that.

I love you both, and I always will.

I, Salah Zairi, hereby resign from active duty in the Shepherd Corps of the Horizon Initiative…

Salah laid Naomi down in her crib. First night home from the hospital. First night of the rest of her life. The scars would stay, as would the damage to her lungs, and she would grow up knowing no life but one filled with those injuries, but it would be life.

The house was quiet. Dark. Empty. And yet Salah felt like he would simply walk into the next room and find Mary-Ann sleeping on the couch, exhausted from work or from playing with Naomi, hair all frazzled and snoring gently.

But she wasn’t there. The house was hollow. The living room was dark. The bedroom was empty. The kitchen was cold. The feeling was finally sinking in, now that Salah no longer found himself spending every free moment at the hospital with Naomi.

Salah walked into the kitchen and turned on the light. He’d make some soup for himself and go to bed. He hadn’t eaten all day. He felt like sleeping forever.

It took a moment to realize that he had opened the wrong cupboard. Instead of canned soup and corn and peas, there were plates and cups, and a glass bottle with a thumb of whiskey left in the bottom. The last little bit of Mary-Ann’s rainy-day stash.

There was a pang of pain. This was the last anchor of Mary-Ann in the house: her guitar had been passed on to Naomi, and most anything else was just dressing. Just things. Not really hers. But this was hers, and it would just linger in that cabinet and grow old and dusty and unused. Well and truly dead.

Salah stared at it for a moment, before reaching for the bottle and the tumbler that sat next to it. A thought had occurred to him, and without hesitation he was going to follow it through. The young man he thought tamed dusted himself off and screamed at him, screamed that he was turning his back on his own identity, that he would be no proper Muslim. Salah told the young man to shut up and fuck off. Identity? Who was he, when you really got down to it? A Muslim who loved the Queen of England and wrote essays on Chaucer and had heard the Clockwork Voice of God. A man born in obedience, raised in hate, turned to peace, who had found love and ended up with more questions than answers. He was Salah, and right now there was one thing he was sure of. There was one Truth he could define with absolute conviction right now: No god worth worshipping would throw a hissy fit over a man who wanted proper closure.

He sat down at the table, opened the bottle, and poured himself what was left.

“Here’s to you.”

He lifted the tumbler and drank its contents in one swift gulp.

Eight Years Later

Naomi Ibtisam Zairi-Lewitt sat on top of her father’s desk, legs dangling over the edge. A thick book rested in her lap, and her face was scrunched in concentration as she read it. She had a day off from school today, so she had spent it exploring the English department and browsing through her father’s collection of literature under the watchful eye of Joan of Arc on the wall.

A few feet away, Salah typed away at his computer, putting the finishing touches on his e-mail.

…Either way, I’m thrilled that they’ve considered review of the Old Brass Gospel for entry into the Universal Texts. Three cheers for progress! We might actually be able to see it published before we die of old age. (Though it will probably take them another decade to make any changes.)

Give my best to the others. Naomi and I will visit soon.

God bless

-Salah

“You ready to go home, sweet pea?” he said to his daughter.

“Yeah.” Naomi shut her book, hopped off the desk, and began to gather her books and drawings and inhaler into her backpack. Salah sent his e-mail, shut down his computer, and collected his papers from under the paperweight that had a lot of ciswords on it. A short time later, the two left the office.

To anyone watching in the hall, they would have seen nothing but two average people: one a man with glasses and a few grey hairs at his temples and a red paisley tie and a grey jacket and a brown briefcase. The other a skinny, dark-skinned girl with dirty straw hair and scabby knees and burn scars all over and a bright blue t-shirt with Pikachu on the front and a cherry-red backpack and twiggy arms weighed down with books.

They went home, and had dinner, and finished the rest of Naomi’s math homework, and after a while Salah tucked her into bed, though he knew she would stay up late reading the next chapter of Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān anyway. Salah sat up a while and graded papers, and then went to bed himself.

Life went on.

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