“Then a giant cat leapt from the hole above their heads and said ‘I am always watching you. From the ceiling.'”
“Papa? This is a really strange story. Is that really what the book says? ”
Lyra listened from the play area, distracted from the the colourful tower in front of her. Like the others, she had her doubts that this was in fact the story of the Last Llamacorn – it was far more likely that her papa was hallucinating from lack of sleep. Still, it was pretty fun to listen to him. The fact that he was still awake was impressive. Her dad had fallen asleep almost an hour ago.
She heard the sound of his head hitting the book and a soft snore, followed by giggling. Maybe she’d spoken too soon.
“Why don’t you take a nap? We’ll stay out of trouble.”
“Well, I’m going to explore” Leo said, looking around at his siblings before resting his gaze on Ellie. “You said there were some monkey bars across the road, right?”
Malik woke from his nap blurry-eyed but content. It was the first time he’d woken up to anything but the sound of crying in a while. Actually… not only was there no crying, but there was no sound at all. That wasn’t normal. He got up and searched the house, becoming more and more frantic as each room turned out to be empty.
“Lor! Wake up, the kids are gone!”
“They aren’t in the house or the garden. What if something happened to them?”
“Mal,” Lor said, taking the man’s shaking hands in his own, “if they’re all gone that means Ellie is with them. She’ll look after them.”
“But what if-”
“They won’t have gone far. Come on, let’s start looking. I have an idea where they might be.”
“Leo? I think maybe we should have left a note.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I hope you have a good explanation for why you all vanished. We were worried sick!”
They stared at their feet guiltily. The silence stretched until Ellie couldn’t take it anymore, words rushing out of her mouth.
“I’m sorry, dad, I know we should have told you. We just didn’t want to wake you up, because you looked so tired and…” she trailed off as Malik put a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. Was she in trouble?
“That’s sweet, but next time please leave a note. You almost gave me a heart attack. I’m sure your papa would say the same.”
“Where is he?”
“He fell asleep on the way here, so I sent him back.” Malik’s vision faded, and he stumbled slightly. He should really be asleep, too.
Altair was having his own issues. He was trying to understand what he’d done to anger the girl above him.
“Stay away! I don’t want to be infected by your weird alien germs.”
“I don’t have any germs, I promise. I can play on the other bars instead…”
“Then you’ll infect those ones!”
“Leave my brother alone! He wasn’t hurting anyone.”
“Ewww, they’re everywhere” she said, screwing up her face in disgust.
“Come down here and say that to my face, you-”
“Leo? It’s fine. We need to go home anyway” Al said, his voice soft.
“Yeah, go back to your own planet” she sneered. Leo looked at the hurt expression on Altair’s face and began to climb up. He would fight her if he had to. The girl swung down easily and walked off, not even bothering to look back. Leo went to follow her, but Al grasped his sleeve. When she’d rounded the corner, he turned to glare at his brother, stopping short when he saw the smile on the other boy’s face.
“Woah, don’t go getting sappy on me! I just didn’t like her. Lets go home.”
Malik had heard the end of the fight in the park, and had been about to step in when Altair had called his brother off. He was proud of them both. Leo for protecting his brother, and Al for stopping things before they got out of hand. He just wished that they had been able to remain untouched by all this for a little longer. They were only children.
He spoke to Lor about it that night as they lay in bed, and his heart hurt to see the pain in his fiance’s eyes. He interlaced their fingers and snuggled closer, kissing away the tears that were trickling onto Lor’s pillow.
Things would get better in the end. They had to.
“We’ll look after them, ok?”
Lor smiled weakly and pressed his face into Malik’s chest as warm arms wrapped around him. “Ok.”
“Besides, Leo will beat up anyone who even tries to say anything.”
A snort of laughter came from the man in his arms, and Malik started to laugh, too. It was true, though. They fell asleep soon after, exhausted. They’d deal with any problems if and when they happened, and they’d deal with them together.