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Scattered Pieces

Scattered Pieces March When Cindy awoke, it was to the beep of hospital monitors. She bolted up suddenly, nearly dislodging the IV from her arm, and glanced around the unfamiliar room rapidly. Where was she? What had happened? The walls were white. Was she dead? Then her eyes fell upon Marcell, half-dozing in an uncomfortable chair next to the bed she was laying in, and she relaxed. If she was dead, then there was no way Marcell would be here. He blinked at the noise, and smiled, relieved. “You’re awake,” he breathed. “I was getting worried.” “What… happened?” she asked. “St. Adelaide’s, the Truth? Is everyone alright?” “They’re all fine,” he grabbed her hand. “As for Adelaide’s, well, I might as well show you.” Sighing, Marcell grabbed a remote from the bedside table and flicked it towards the TV. Cindy gasped at the image. Behind the scrolling text of the news program was live footage of St. Adelaide’s hill, or at least, what used to be the hill. All that was left there now was a gigantic crater. “Oh my god,” she muttered. “When we woke up, we could see the sky. Thank god it was dark by that point.” Marcell stared nearly wistfully at the TV. “When you were still out cold, we got you to the hospital. That was three days ago.” “Three days?” Cindy’s eyes widened. “And… the Truth?” Marcell made a face. Not the greatest of signs. “It’d be best if Aurum explained. But right now you need to rest.” “I have been sleeping for three days, you know.” “And now you’re going to sleep a little more,” he intoned before kissing her on the forehead. “Oh,” he added. “Before I leave and let you sleep…” he suddenly looked very guilty. “About what happened down there, when I… lost control…” “When you almost killed me, you mean?” Cindy confirmed. He nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I never should have—the two of us, it’s… too dangerous.” But Cindy just rolled her eyes. “I forgive you. And no, it’s not. If the only time I’m in danger is when you’re being forced into an existential crisis by an unfathomable cosmic entity, then I think I’m alright.”

Marcell just shook his head. “I’m never going to be able to dissuade you, am I?” “Nope.” “Then in response to your words down there,” he managed a small smile. “I love you too.” Cindy’s smile then was the sun itself. She grabbed his hands, and he pulled her in for a soft kiss, and in that moment, Cindy knew that everything was going to be okay. ~~ o ~~ The three of them were always there now, just on the edge of Doug’s vision. They sat in the chair in the hospital room, they looked out the window to the parking lot below, they never got too close, and they never spoke. But they were here now, in the real world for good, brought out of the depths of his head in a plume of mercury off-gas. A barrier had been crossed, and there was no going back now. Doug took this development as he had taken most of the others in his past; he shrugged, and simply thought: “Great. I guess this is my life now.” It had been three days since that Niko kid had brought him here, and at least there had been a little improvement since then. His vision was mostly back to normal—sans the constant visual hallucinations—and his thoughts weren’t running through his mind like the extra thick kind of Aunt Marma’s Genuine Maple Syrup anymore. The shaking and the spasms, however, had only gotten nominally better. “That will improve with time,” the doctor told him. “But it’s unlikely that they will ever fade entirely. Mercury poisoning is not something that can be easily reversed. Some of the damage to your motor functions and other parts of your brain might be permanent.” The doctor seemed nearly perturbed at how well Doug was taking all of this, but he couldn’t very well tell him that this was just the culmination of over two years of near-constant abuse. Then he’d be recommended a counselor and that would be a pain and Doug would much rather deal with it in his own special way: bottling all of it up and figuring it out himself. Sure, it probably wasn’t the most effective, but it was certainly the easiest. But he wasn’t thinking about all that now, not really. Because for the last three days, only one thought had been dancing through his mind, cavorting around his dreams: how he was going to kill Abigail Hodge. The first step of this complicated, multistage plan was to get out of this hospital. Then he was going to track her down and murder her dead. There were of course a lot of auxiliary steps in between this, not all of which made sense to anyone except Doug. But that was all that really mattered. He was going to kill her. For now, however, all he could do was bide his time. He still could only walk about to the bathroom and back before his legs began to give out from under him. But he was getting better, slowly regaining his strength back. Any day now, he would begin his quest for vengeance. Except of course, that nothing could ever go according to plan for Doug. Because the next morning, something wholly unexpected happened. A nurse just strolled into his room, grinned at him as if nothing was wrong, and said: “Doug, your sister is here to see you.” Doug’s blood turned immediately to ice. It was Abigail. It had to be. She was the only person who knew about that. But wrong again, for an instant later, the woman who strolled through the door set him into an even more confused panic. At first he thought he must be hallucinating the whole thing, because she should be dead. The last time he’d seen her she’d been through the windshield of Morgan’s car. But it wasn’t in his head, because Cocaine was in the corner, snorting something off the rim of the sink. This couldn’t be real. Elizabeth was dead. He couldn’t say anything, his throat glued closed. The nurse merely smiled at him, then turned to not-Elizabeth. “I’ll leave you too alone, Ms. Bailey.” “Oh please,” she grinned. “Call me Jilli.” Ah, he understood now. This was all some kind of trick. Some bizarre mercury-fueled dream. Clover’s relation, Elizabeth’s face, Jilli’s name. If he squeezed his eyes shut he’d wake up in a second. It didn’t work. “If you’re thinking this is a dream,” the woman smirked, “you’re wrong.” “Who the hell are you?” Doug asked. “Me?” she grinned. “My name is Kei. I’m a warrior princess from the moon. And I’m here to make a deal with you…” ~~ o ~~ April Both Cindy and Tommy had been in and out of the East Branch a lot over the last few weeks. After a short recovery, the whole group met once more and Aurum explained the situation. “Unfortunately,” she sighed. “It seems out mission is not yet complete.”

“What do you mean?” Niko asked, crossing his arms over his chest. Looking upwards, Aurum attempted to explain. “When you stabbed the Truth, you didn’t destroy it, merely fragmented it. Which is good, it’s far less harmful that way.” “But we still have to track down the pieces,” Marcell sighed. “This doesn’t seem all that uncommon,” she added apologetically. “Abigail claimed to have it in her mind, after all, and… other times.” It was subtle, but Tommy didn’t miss her glancing over to Servus. Strange. So Cindy was in and out helping Marcell and Aurum do research. She proved nearly invaluable with both her technological and magical advantages. Tommy, however, was there for a different reason. Even after everything that had happened, Mathilda still refused to budge, and he had come to the conclusion that she was broken. But then he remembered something: Aurum had said that it was probably Atlantean in construction, and now… well now there were two Atlanteans living temporarily in the library. So he asked them for their help. “I was raised in seclusion far outside of the city,” Gil confessed. “But Muirne may be able to help.” “Aye,” she nodded. “I’m no expert, but my mother was a makinist. You said this was a wagon?” “That travels between dimensions,” Tommy nodded. “I’ve heard of a few prototypes. I’ll take a look.” Just as they were about to leave, Tommy felt a tap on his arm. He looked down to see Servus staring at him with his usual deadpan expression. That had been the other reason Tommy had been coming to the library. Ever since that first raid on St. Adelaide’s, it appeared that Servus was beginning to develop a personality. It was very subtle, he had trouble emoting and especially speaking, and seemed to be terribly confounded and confused by all of this. And so from one lost kid to another, Tommy just kind of… took him under his wing. “Come?” Servus asked, one of his eyebrows twitching up an inch. Even though he was slowly becoming more human, Tommy had a feeling he would always be able to win first place in any resting bitch face competition he ever decided to enter. “Sure,” Tommy shrugged. “Why not.” After waving goodbye to Aurum, the four of them made the trek out to Mathilda, still in the abandoned lot across from the elementary school. Tommy frowned as he saw that weeds had begun to grow around her wheels, and he grumbled as he pulled them out. Muirne and Gil waited patiently for him to finish, while Servus bent down to help hm. “Thanks,” Tommy nodded, patting him on the head. Muirne looked over at the automaton, a slightly pained expression on her face. “Alright,” Tommy straightened. “Welcome to my humble abode.” He gestured ironically, and opened the door to the inside. He’d forgotten how musty it smelled inside. No one else had been in here in a long while… except maybe Cowell once or twice. He crawled over the pile of blankets to pull the small window on the side open, then stuffed the big comforter into the back. Muirne and Gil stepped inside, both politely avoiding crinkling their noses. “Mind if I poke around?” Muirne asked, and Tommy waved the affirmative. “Yes, this is definitely Atlantean,” Muirne muttered, running her hand along the carvings on a wooden beam. “Which means that somewhere along here…” she pressed the center of a decorative sun, and a small panel emerged from the wall. Tommy’s eyes widened. “Wha—?” “You never knew this was here?” Muirne chuckled. “Not a clue,” Tommy shook his head. He wondered if Remus had known about this. Muirne turned a few dials and examined the window, which snapped closed on it’s own to reveal a pale sort of overlay. “You know you’ve had this on ‘automatic,’ right?” she asked after a minute “Automatic?” “Aye. You’ve just been letting the old girl go wherever she wants.” Tommy felt a little weak in the knees. “You’re telling me… that all this time… there was a manual setting? I could’ve left at any time?” “That is what she’s saying, yes,” Gil raised an eyebrow. A grin began to spread over Tommy’s face. This meant… why, he could go wherever he wanted now. Any place in the whole cosmos, any adventure he wanted. He could leave Ede Valley, get out of this place that put so many bad memories on his shoulders. Free as a bird, nothing to tie him down. “Well shit,” he said. “Maybe I’ll…” But he broke off as he happened to glance over at Servus. It seemed to be dawning on the kid what it meant if Mathilda was fixed, if Tommy could leave. His first thought was to see if Servus wanted to go with him, incredibly fitting, after all. But he realized then that it wasn’t just Servus keeping him here. It was Cindy, who he’d just met again after all of these years. It was Mike, who he’d never known and right now needed help from people who could understand. And besides, how the hell could he quit his job at the Smiling Goat? Literally how. Cowell would somehow twist his words around in his mouth so badly that he’d be working more hours instead. And he realized then that the thought of flying away was a distant pipe dream. As much as he hated to admit it, he had roots here. As he was mulling this over, Gil and Muirne had been discussing something in the corner. As Tommy stirred from his internal monologue, Muirne jumped on him. “Please,” she said, “before you go, allow me to study her. If Gil and I had a machine like this…” Tommy smiled. He knew what Remus would want him to do. “Take her for a while,” he said. Gil and Muirne blinked. “Truly?” Gil asked, recovering first. “You are not ‘pulling our legs’?” “Not forever, keep in mind,” Tommy shrugged. “I expect you to take good care of her, and I expect her back in one piece. And don’t make a mess. I know exactly what’s going to go down in here.” And what had, many times over the last couple years, with many different people, he added to himself. Blushing furiously, Gil spluttered. “I don’t know what you could possibly be referring to.” Tommy clapped him on the back, and winked. “Yeah, you do. Anyway, give me one more night in her and I’ll clean out my junk in the morning.” “Thank you,” Muirne blinked. “I don’t know what to say.” “Just keep her safe,” Tommy requested. “She’s got a lot of good memories in her. Come on, Servus,” he added to the automaton, who seemed to have perked up considerably over the course of the conversation. “Let’s get you back to Aurum.” “Alright,” Servus lifted one side of his mouth an inch. “Hey, you almost did it!” Tommy beamed. “You know what, let’s get some ice cream on the way back. Wait, can you eat ice cream?” Servus blinked. “Don’t know.” “Welp, I guess we’ll find out, then,” Tommy hopped down Mathilda’s creaky step after Servus and they walked down the road as the sun began its slow descent into the horizon. ~~ o ~~ May Cindy had never expected so many people to show up to her high school graduation. Not that it was really a big deal for her, it was just a celebration of her assent from hell itself, but she was flattered nonetheless. Lucius was, of course, sitting with the teachers, but she kept noticing him glancing over in her direction with a slightly goofy grin. Tommy, Niko, Servus, and Cowell were on one side of the bleachers, and Tommy waved as she walked in. Servus held his camcorder, no doubt so Aurum could see as well. Her mother was on the other side of the bleachers, a handkerchief clutched in her hands, and Mike sat next to her, a finger hovering near his ear as if he was casually trying to block out some of the noise. He was trying for a grin, but Cindy could tell that he was very overwhelmed. She was surprised at the sheer volume of noise that accompanied her rise to the stage. In fact, it nearly knocked her off her feet. She’d been expecting polite applause and not much more. Then again, she supposed the friends she did have were not the quietest bunch. Though she couldn’t help noticing Mike leaving the bleachers shortly after she sat back down. As soon as the ceremony was done, families and friends lingered in the gymnasium, but Cindy snuck out as fast as she could. She found Mike just inside the front doors of the school, his eyes closed. “You alright?” she tapped him on the shoulder, to which he jumped slightly. “Yeah,” he said, “Just the people and… a little overwhelming.” Cindy frowned. “Sorry.” “’S not your fault,” he shrugged. “It’s not anyone’s really.” “Abigail’s,” Cindy supplied. “I’m not ever really sure about that,” he gazed off into the distance. “She’s just a slave to human instinct, curiosity. Just like all the rest of you.” It still felt strange whenever he didn’t include himself in ‘people’. He’d been acting more and more like Mike over the months, as he got some of his memories, some of himself back, but it was times like this when she knew that Mike would never truly return. Their mother found them a second later. “Oh, Cindy,” she said, wrapping her arms around her enrobed daughter. “I am so proud of you.” She pulled away, and began to tear up a little.

“Moooom,” Cindy rolled her eyes, but she smiled. “Thanks.” Tommy and the crew emerged from the gym a minute later. “Oh, there’s some friends,” Cindy said. “I’d better go say hi, I’ll be right back.” She ducked through the crowds, and came up behind them, tapping Tommy on the shoulder. He grinned, and they hugged. “Congrats on being the only one of us to actually finish high school,” he beamed. “Hey, I got pretty close,” Niko pouted. “Yeah, only missed by a whole entire year,” Cowell shook his head in mock disappointment. “It’s better than Tommy,” he insisted. “He didn’t make it past the third grade.” Tommy frowned. “I still got a good education,” he said. “Just not a very… conventional one.” “Oh yeah, what’s pi then?” “Uh, something you eat? Duh?” “I rest my case,” Niko folded his arms before looking over to Cindy. “But congratulations.” “Thanks,” she nodded, “and the only reason I’m even here right now is because while all of you were off having adventures I was stuck back here in good old Ede Valley.” “I don’t know,” Tommy said, glancing over to their mother and Mike. “I wouldn’t knock what you’re got.” “Tommy,” she put a hand on his shoulder. “You know you could always go talk to her.” “Yeah…” he paused for a moment. “You know what? Yeah, I think it’s time.” “Good luck,” Cowell smiled pleasantly. “Try not to give her a heart attack.” Glancing over to him, Tommy looked a little worried. “Please don’t tell me that’s one of your predictions.” He laughed. “Not this time. Merely being facetious. Or am I?” “Yes, you are,” Cindy said. Even though Cowell was still largely a mystery to her, she’d found that over the last few months her ability to read people had grown even stronger. “Come on, Tommy. We’ll see you guys later.” The three of them waved as Cindy and Tommy made their way back over to Mike and their mother.

Carol Miller for a second only looked at the newcomer with mild interest. “Oh, Cindy, is this a friend of y…” but she broke off as she looked up at his face. It felt like an eternity before Tommy could say anything, an eternity of their mother staring up at him, vague recognition and confusion dawning on her face before he was able to open his mouth. “Hi mom,” was all he could manage, in the end. “T… To—” she sputtered, as if almost afraid to say it. “Tommy?” He smiled sheepishly. “Yeah. I’m back.” Tears began to well in her eyes as she tackled him in a bear hug. “You’re alive,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Tommy, I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you.” “It’s alright,” he said. “I forgave you a long time ago.” “I love you so much.” “I love you too.” And finally, after so long apart, after runaways and psych wards and boarding schools, the Millers were at last all together again. ~~ o ~~ The four of them went out for dinner after that, Tommy filling their mother in on some of the details of where he’d been, and all of them enjoyed being together again. But once the food was cleared away and their mother had paid the bill—after refusing Tommy’s offer to do so instead—Cindy looked at her phone and saw the time. “Oh, is it that late already?” “Do you have plans tonight?” her mother asked. And it was at that moment that Cindy realized something. She wasn’t a high schooler anymore. She no longer had to lie. “Yeah I uh….” She couldn’t help grinning a little. “I… have a date.” Their mother gasped. “Really?” she asked. “Do I know him?” “No,” Cindy said. “And I can’t introduce you quite yet,” far too soon still, there’d be a few more weeks of minor sneaking around yet. “But I hope to soon. Anyway,” she stood. “I’d better get going. I love you all, I’ll see you at home. I think I’ll be home tonight.” Her mother looked worried, but she nodded. “Text me if you won’t be, alright?” “Will do,” Cindy smiled.

This whole time, Mike had been glancing out of the window towards the slowly sinking sun. A small figure was standing besides a nearby chain-link fence, waiting for him. “I… think I’m going to… go too,” he said absently. “Mike, it’s getting late…” their mother frowned. “I’ll only be a few minutes,” he explained. “And it’s not that far home, I’ll walk.” “Okay…” Carol began to look a little sad as Mike got up and left too. But Tommy was still there. “I’ll come home with you, mom,” he grinned, and stood, holding out his arm for her. She took it , and they left the restaurant together. “There’s still a lot of things we need to talk about…” ~~ o ~~ Mike waited for Tommy and their mother to leave the restaurant and be well out of sight before approaching the fence. The small girl with pigtails was there, waiting for him. They had never met, but he knew who she was. “Alpha,” he said, to be polite, even though she no doubt already knew he was there. “Beta,” she replied, without turning to him. They stood there for a moment, staring off into the distance. “I’m sorry for what she did to Mike,” she said finally. “It’s been so long for me that I barely remember what it’s like to be human. But you…” “I’ll live,” he shrugged. For the first time in the last three months, he could stop pretending to be human. It felt… good. He let his face drop into a neutral expression. Expressions were the hardest thing to fake. “I’m going to leave now,” Buttercup finally turned to him. “I’ve atoned for what I’ve caused.” “Of course,” Mike nodded. After all, if there was nothing holding you here, why stay? “Where will you go?” he asked. She shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I believe that I’ll just start walking. But Beta,” she gazed up at him with her old eyes. “Don’t follow me. I have a wish for you.” He tilted his head. “I have a wish that someday, you can figure out who you actually are. I didn’t live long enough as a human to do such. But you… you have a chance.” Mike… Nihil… Beta, whoever he was, he nodded. “I’ll try.” “Thank you,” she said before she started walking. “I’m sure we’ll meet again some day.” He blinked once. “I’m sure we will.” ~~ o ~~ Cindy sat on the balcony overlooking the back of Marcell’s house, her head on his shoulder. Her feet dangled through the posts of the railing, falling into nothing below the cliff’s edge. For the first time in a long time, it seemed at this moment that everything was alright. Neither of them said anything, they didn’t need to. Cindy’s mother had already been messaged and the night was young. For once, they were in no hurry to do anything. “It’s almost over,” Cindy said. “What is?” she felt the rumble of his voice in her bones. “The secrecy. The sneaking around. We won’t need to hide anymore after this summer.” “People will talk regardless of how long we wait,” he warned. She shook her head as much as she was able. “But now there’s nothing they can do about it.” Marcell chuckled. “Fair enough.” As they sat there, listening to each other breathe, Cindy pondered something as she looked down at the only town she’d ever known. “I want to go somewhere this summer,” she said. “With you.” “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I really just want to get in a car and drive.” She could hear the slight smile in his voice. “Why not? It could be fun.” They watched the moon slowly rising over Ede Valley, over the crater that used to be St. Adelaide’s. Cindy was excited, and nervous, and many other bundled-up emotions besides that she didn’t have names for. But she knew that whatever happened, it would certainly be an adventure.

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