The sky rained fire over the vast expanse of a horizon broken only by the black outlines of trees.
Bones sat on her back porch, sipping her rapidly cooling coffee as bright sparks caught, burned, and snuffed themselves out. Trails of smoke streaked the sky, catching gold light at their edges in fading tribute to each short-lived flame.
A tiny boy stood for a moment silhouetted in the light from the kitchen doorway, still dressed in footie pajamas as he toddled out onto the porch.
“Bug!” Bones set her coffee aside and beckoned him over. “What are you doing up?”
He pointed one chubby fist at the flickering green, grey, and gold of the sunrise, while still knuckling sleep-bruised eyes with the other.
Bones patted her knees, and the child lost no time climbing into her lap. She wrapped her arms around him, marveling at how much he had grown. His tousled head rested just below her chin, filling her nose with the sweet purity of youth and watermelon shampoo.
“Bitsy said there’s a dragon in the sky,” Bug mumbled as he snuggled warmly against her chest.
“Did she?” Bones murmured. “And where did she hear that?”
“Do you think there’s a dragon?”
They watched in loving silence as the fantastic sunrise transitioned to a normal green haze.
“I’ve been up there, you know,” Bones said.
“Did you see the dragon?”
“Nope. No dragon.”
“Bug…” Bones turned the child so she could look him in the eyes. “A dragon didn’t make the sky look that way.”
Wide, trusting eyes looked up at her. “Then what did?”
“A long time ago, before you were born… Before your mother was born. Before even I was born—”
Bug gasped playfully, and Bones rewarded him with a tickle.
“Long ago,” she repeated, when his giggles had faded, “people built giant airplanes.”
“Like the ones that you fly in?”
“In a way. But they were much bigger and flew much higher. And after the airplanes were built, there was a Great War.”
Bug’s round face suddenly grew solemn. “Like people fighting?”
“Exactly. And many of those airplanes got broken in the sky.”
Bug pursed his lips into an unhappy, silent moue. When he didn’t respond, Bones continued.
“When you see fire in the sky — what Bitsy called dragon’s breath — it’s the pieces of those planes still falling.”
“Still?” Bug demanded. “But why did they have to fight?”
Bones sighed and kissed the top of his head.
“I wish I knew.”
“Bug!” A cheerful soprano shattered the peace of the morning. “Your mom will be here any minute. Time to get dressed!”
Bones looked up just in time to see her wife step out onto the porch. Dawn light glimmered highlights in snow white hair caught up in a messy bun. She clutched a cup of coffee to her chest, and the way her house robe pulled tight around her slender frame still made Bones’s heart skip a beat, even after so many years.
Bug lingered just long enough to kiss Bones on the cheek, then scampered off.
“I might be biased,” Bones drawled, “but I do believe we have the best grandchild of them all.”
“Probably,” Lily allowed. “But his mom isn’t going to be happy. She didn’t tell him about the war, and you know why.”
Bones rolled her eyes. “I had to tell him. Some kid told him it was a dragon for Genesis sake.”
“So?” Lily’s grey eyes glittered over the rim of her mug. “Is that so bad?”
“It’ll give the kid nightmares,” Bones grumped.
“And the war won’t?”
“I didn’t tell him that much.”
“Anyway, better to have nightmares about truth than fantasy. Kids need to know what happened.”
A disapproving silence settled like fog between them, but Bones knew better than to break it. She watched the brightening sky, waiting until Lily signaled her forgiveness by settling next to her, shoulder to shoulder. Silently, Bones rested one knobbly paw on Lily’s arm.
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Lily whispered.
Bones sighed. “It’s the last mission.”
Lily’s brow arched a gentle challenge. “That’s what you said last time.”
“Technically, it’s the same mission.”
“Because you crashed—”
“I didn’t crash,” Bones interrupted. “I bailed out. The ship crashed.”
Lily kissed Bones’s shoulder. “I’m just worried.”
“I know. It’s going to be okay.”
“Promise this is your last flight?”
Bones wrapped both hands around Lily’s, meeting her gaze. “I love you.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“It is the last mission.”
“I said last flight,” Lily insisted.
“This time it will work, and the mission will be over.”
“Succeed or fail, I don’t care. Last flight.”
After thirty years, Bones recognized the characteristic stubbornness, but the unfamiliar fear reflected in her wife’s eyes broke her resolve.
“I promise.” Bones pulled Lily in for a short kiss. “You’re lucky I love you.”
Somewhere in the house, an alarm beeped.
“I better get dressed.” Bones kissed her wife again. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Lily grasped her hand tightly, then reluctantly let go. “Be careful.”
Bones laughed as she retreated inside.
“You just focus on planning our retirement,” she tossed over her shoulder. “And it better involve coconut shells!”