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you do not have to be good

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  1. Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver / “You Do Not Have to Be Good” by Shaina Taub and Elizabeth Swados 

It’s a slow, easy morning in their chantry apartment, and Esther is levitating about three feet off the ground. There’s a pile of work on her desk and probably more landing in her email inbox, but they saved the world last week and she thinks she’s allowed this. To lazily send a mage hand to turn on the coffeemaker; to leave her staff and Ricky’s bat in the corner by the door next to both of their pairs of shoes kicked off and left askew; to sing something soft under her breath.

To spend her spells on nothing more urgent than letting herself gently float around the apartment, a watering can in hand and her legs crossed comfortably in midair, making the rounds of the houseplants whose watering schedule has been put on the back burner in the chaos of the last months. It feels good to put it in order: to open the blinds to let the herbs in their kitchen get a little extra sun, to hover closer to the ground and give Ox a good scritch behind the ears before floating back up to check on the pots hanging from their window. After so many years under the curse, after so many years not thinking she’d ever have this, after so many months saving New York for the who-knows-how-many-by-now time, she’s earned this. 

Ox trots happily past her over to where Ricky’s sitting on their bed with a sheet of paper and a stick of charcoal in hand and a focused little wrinkle in his forehead. Esther can feel his gaze on her back and it’s comfortable, as warm as the sunlight coming in through their big windows. There’s the sound of his pencil on paper as he does his best to sketch it out. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t looking forward to seeing what he makes, even if Ricky thinks he’s not much good at art yet. This moment feels worth capturing. 

Esther trails off singing and turns back towards the bed to put down her watering can only to find Ricky looking at her, pencil not even in his hand.

“You stopped singing?” he asks, tipping his head to one side. Esther feels a little embarrassed to be caught, even if she knows he’s heard her terrible attempts at belting in the shower plenty of times. And that he’s joined in, even worse than her and fully aware of it, happy to just make her giggle. “It sounded like a good song. Something about a family of things?”

“It was a poem first,” Esther says, “I can read it to you, if you want.” She starts hovering lower and Ricky reaches for her phone on the bedside table, handing it up to her. “It’s called ‘Wild Geese.’”

Ricky leans back on his elbows on the bed to listen to her, and Esther does her best to fit her voice around the poetry. Usually when she’s reading out loud it’s teaching, drier and more esoteric texts than this. Esther’s explained arcana to Ricky before, tracing the highway hex on a map of the city years ago, but this feels magic too. And harder. 

“‘Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,’” Esther reads, and she watches Ricky nod earnestly out of the corner of her eye. 

She finishes the poem and puts her phone in the pocket of her cardigan. Ricky looks like he’s processing it, so she waits for him.

“I think maybe I’ll name the new afterschool program that,” he says finally.

“Wait, what? Wild geese?” 

“You don’t have to be good,” Ricky says simply, picking up his pencil and writing it in the corner of his paper so he doesn’t forget. He puts it back down and beams up at her, still leaning back on his elbows so she can see his whole face, open and happy. “I’m really excited. I hope our kid likes it.” 

It’s a little out of left field but it’s so perfectly sincere that it hits Esther right in the heart. This man. She loves him. 

Esther floats down to sit on the bed in front of him, and Ricky leans over to scribble some last note on his paper underneath “you don’t have to be good.” She watches his tongue sticking just a little out of his mouth when he writes, the way it does most of the time when he draws, too. She’s maybe been watching him do that for the whole past hour. Or more. Who’s counting. Her boyfriend—her fiancé—is cute, and she’s allowed. 

Ricky finishes whatever “Wild Geese”-inspired note he had and leans over to put his papers on the bedside table, still smiling divine-bright at her. She hangs on to the Fly spell for just another moment, just so she can lean down to him for a slow, easy morning kiss. 

 

You do not have to be good. 

 


  1. Brokeheart: Just like that by Patrick Rosal

 

Ricky’s no stranger to hard work, and after Simos and Null and saving New York City again there’s plenty of that to be done, soft early mornings notwithstanding. He’s winding down his work at Helping Hands (with plenty of promises to help out with their fundraising next year, but Ricky’s really looking forward to just being a stay-at-home dad. Maybe with that afterschool program in the works), but he and Esther have plenty to do even in the chantry apartment.

Cleaning up their apartment is—not easy, but it’s matter-of-fact. Esther levitates up by their ceiling to reach the lightning bolt scorch marks up there with mending cantrips, and Ricky scrubs at the ones lower down with elbow grease and an absorene sponge. Ricky lifts their tipped-over bookshelf back into place; Esther realphabetizes her library. There are dents in their doorframe from the struggle, both the concerningly deep knuckle imprints of an ex-First Fist and the even more concerningly deep gouges from a wizard with a staff she’s not afraid to use. 

Cleaning up their apartment is hard, but they do it together. 

Cleaning up the Society is different, and Ricky feels a little helpless. Esther’s frantic, trying to get everything back up and running in the months before she gets not-so-gently convinced into actually taking maternity leave. There’s the Umbral Engine to repair and arcane texts to be retrieved from where Simos was sneaking them off to Staten Island and an entrance hall to repair and betrayal to reckon with. 

Esther comes home late, flings her staff into the corner, and drops her bag to the floor with a tired clatter. She stumbles towards Ricky and almost falls into his arms. It hurts to see her worn out and angry and sad but he’ll be there to catch her, always, for the rest of their lives. 

Ricky wraps his arms around her and lowers them both as carefully as he can onto the couch so he can shift Esther into his lap, letting her face curl into the crook of his neck, fingers curled around handfuls of his t-shirt. 

There’s no poetry to it, just sadness, just Esther curled small in a way she should never have to be and an angry soul-tired sadness Ricky wishes he could fight off for her. Esther’s grieving Alejandro, grieving her library that she thought she’d kept safe, grieving having to polymorph a traitor she’d taught and thought she’d known into a statue in the lobby. Ricky brought takeout by the Society to eat dinner with Esther and JJ and Ana and Amelia yesterday and it had still been there. 

There’s no bat in his hand, no spell either of them knows that can fix everything that’s been broken, but Ricky holds Esther as hard as he can, as if that can help. He reaches one arm back to take the throw off the back of their couch to wrap it around them in a bubble of warmth and rubs small circles on her back and listens when she wants to talk, small-voiced and frustrated.

There’s no poetry in it, but eventually Ricky hitches his arm under Esther’s knees and carries her to bed, tucking her in while he goes back out to turn off all the lights in the apartment for the night.

He comes back to Esther having picked up one of her thin poetry chapbooks off the stack of thick arcane tomes on the nightstand and having curled herself around it on the bed like a lifeline when he walks back in. He doesn’t know if she’s noticed him except that she switches from reading to herself to reading out loud.

Esther finishes the poem as Ricky crawls into bed, and she curls herself around his back. Esther presses her nose into the center of the whorl of his hair so she can whisper thank you in the same voice she uses to read poetry to him, in a voice still wet with tears.

 

Sometimes sadness is just / what comes between the dancing.

 


  1. The Orange” by Wendy Cope

 

Esther’s reading, out loud the way she reads all poetry these days since Ricky mentioned he liked the ones she’d shared. She’s curled into a corner of the couch, resting her elbow on the armrest and half-hearing the sounds of Ricky puttering around the kitchen fixing a late lunch for the both of them.

There’s a sharp crack that makes her look up mid-poem, surprised, and Ricky’s standing in front of her holding an apple split in half with his bare hands. 

“I figured it’s like the poem,” Ricky says, offering her half. 

“I— sweetie, what?” Esther looks back down at her book. “The orange?”

“The apple. Uh huh. We didn’t have any oranges,” Ricky says. Esther sticks her finger in to hold the place, closes her book, and takes the apple half. Ricky nods approvingly. Vitamin C , he’s probably thinking. 

It’s sweet when she takes a bite, an almost perfectly round Fuji. “Are you proposing again?” Esther asks, teasing him a little.

Ricky frowns. “No, but did you need me to?” The little wrinkle he gets in his forehead when he’s worried is back. “Because I would?”

He’s deadly serious and Esther’s book and apple get put down somewhere to the side as Esther surges up, because, well, she has to kiss this ridiculous man right now

 

I love you. I’m glad I exist.

 


  1. Omen to Get Your Ass Up” by Angel Nafis

 

Ricky listens to Esther read in the just-past-sunset purple light, neither of them having bothered to go turn on a light yet. Over the past few months Esther’s been reading more poetry, with a slowly growing stack of chapbooks and thin paperbacks on their coffee table starting to compete with the usual arcane textbooks.

Esther’s reading out loud, her voice a happy rhythm, and Ricky’s quietly doing pull ups on the bar in their doorway when there’s a knock on their front door.

As in a magical one. As in one that booms like a cannon and lets a gleeful Ana and Amelia inside, an enthusiastic tornado of teenage wizards shattering the domestic quiet and plucking Esther right out of her chair. She only fakes reluctantness, throwing her arms around both their shoulders with a smile even as she half-scolds them about what did I tell you about using Knock in my goddamn house.  

Ricky just smiles, happy to see her happy as Esther’s forcibly bundled out the door by Ana and Amelia, intent on an evening girls’ night shopping date and gossip session visiting all their favorite cafes before Esther, as Ana puts it, “gets all boring and broody and also we have to do all your work at the Society.” Esther turns up her face for a kiss before she goes and Ricky drops down from the pull-up bar to comply, adding in a wave and a “have fun!” shouted out the door as they go. 

On his way back in, he puts a bookmark in Esther’s book and closes it so the spine doesn’t get too trashed. It was a good poem, Esther smiling and loud and getting into the rhythm of it as they read. There will be other times for quiet and poetry, and Ricky’s going to finish his workout and maybe text JJ to see if he wants to go on a night jog and get some dumplings while Esther has fun with Ana and Amelia. There’s room in their lives for all of this, for poetry in the apartment and knocks on their door and cafe crawls. Maybe he can ask her to finish it when she gets back.

 

    Here I am           glad to be another loud mouth / through an open window       exercising the right / to be beloved

 


  1. Iron” by Elizabeth Acevedo

 

They trudge up the stairs into the apartment, no spell slots left in Esther to levitate. It was an unseasonably hot Sunday afternoon, not helped in the least by a longer-than-expected fight against some rogue bridge trolls they’d gone after in DUMBO attacking the Brooklyn Flea Market. It was just a little thing, barely breaking the Umbral Arcana, and most of the other heroes of New York had happened to be busy, so they hadn’t thought twice about it being just her and Ricky.

It is fun, going on little weekend quests just the two of them, staff and bat in hand and Umbral Arcana shielding their arcane lightning from view of the tourists. They’ve been doing this all the time for the past three years. But it’d maybe been a little more than they could easily handle, no big deal but a reminder to stay humble. Esther can feel Ricky watching her a little worriedly on the way back to make sure she was okay, offering a little extra Lay On Hands than he would normally. The whole thing had been a little scary, but they’re both okay.

They live dangerously, that’s the agreement she and Ricky made and it suits both of them, but Esther’s more than a few months into this pregnancy and it’s starting to hit her that they can’t do this all the time. That she’s going to hand off her work to Amelia next week and actually start her maternity leave. That it’s frankly crazy to have a child in the Unsleeping City and that they’re really doing it. Days like this she thinks maybe she’s crazy for it. This city has trolls

Esther took first shower and scrubbed the river sludge off and now she’s just lying on the couch, flipping through one of the poetry magazines that have started to take over their coffee table. 

She’s bone-tired and tapped of spells but Ricky comes out of the bathroom after his shower. He’s rubbing a towel over his hair and has another one around his waist and well, she might be tired but she still has eyes

Ricky flops himself over the arm of the couch so he’s lying right next to her, still shirtless, and it makes her want to giggle and also to run her fingers through his sticking-up shower-wet hair. This ridiculous man. 

“What’cha reading?” Ricky asks, propping himself up on an elbow. Esther considers swooning backwards into the couch cushions. 

It might be crazy to have a child in the Unsleeping City, it might be crazy to live dangerously, but it would definitely be crazy to live a life that was any farther than this from Ricky Matsui, nearly nose to nose on the couch and her fingers scritching through his hair because she wants to and she can. It’s not the same kind of fireman’s-calendar hot that Ricky is at the end of combat, sweaty and magic-touched with her Haste spell shimmering over his skin. This is the kind of Ricky Matsui hot that only Esther gets to have, asking about the poetry magazine she’s flipping through idly as she waits for him to finish taking the second shower. 

Esther does her best to read it for him, she really does, but she makes it only halfway through before Ricky’s blushing so hard she has to put the magazine away to kiss it off his face. 

 

my hands are not an iron, but look, they’re hot, look / how I place them       in love       on his skin

 


+1. B (If I should have a daughter)” by Sarah Kay

 

Esther’s read a lot more books than he has, and she’s probably right that this doesn’t do much, but Ricky got it in his head at some point that reading to the baby would be a good idea. Earlier today Esther helped him put his hand on her belly and feel the little fluttery kicks, which is just wow, awesome , and now they’re sitting close on the couch and Ricky’s got a book of poetry nervously in his hand. 

Esther’s doing something last minute on her laptop, some spreadsheet full of numbers Ricky doesn’t super understand and some arcane runes he super doesn’t understand that he knows better than to convince her to stop working on. She’s already staying home more, getting close to the due date, and texting Sofia all the time to commiserate. For someone who’s as much of a workaholic as Ricky knows Esther is, this is progress.

He doesn’t always get it when Esther reads poetry out loud to him but he always listens, and even though Esther still has her fingers on her keyboard maybe he can trick her into taking a break too. Ricky opens his book and clears his throat and he’s been practicing, Pete told him it was fine and you’re already going to be a great dad but this is too cute you’re gonna make me barf in my new bookstore from all the cute, but he’s still. He’s not good at this. 

But he doesn’t have to be good. 

Ricky doesn’t quite know how to get into the rhythm of the words; he’s not sure if he picked this poem right because he’s a dad and he doesn’t think this is supposed to be from the point of view of a dad. But he thinks about how Esther’s really smart and probably their kid is going to be really smart because he hopes they’re going to be just like her, and pretty soon he’s not going to be able to teach them anything at all so he might as well try as hard as he can right now. 

“If I should have a daughter,” Ricky starts, haltingly, and Esther closes her laptop to listen. “She’s going to call me ‘Point B.’”

When he’s getting to the final lines, Esther leans over to bump her shoulder into his and says, “That was a really good poem, sweetie.”

And Ricky bumps her back (gently!) and says, “Awesome. I’m glad you guys liked it.” 

 

You tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.