The familiar sight of the villa was a welcome one as the car finally came to a stop. Serene thanked the miracle of modern medicine for the ease of her journey from the hospital to their small countryside home. Her recovery time was far from over but, at least, the first week was done. Three more until her stitches could be removed and six more until she could finally be off bed rest and back to doing what she did best! She just had to endure the remainder of her recuperation.
The week in the hospital had been spent choking down copious amounts of hospital food and slipping in and out of consciousness from drug-induced narcolepsy. As much as she hated being at the mercy of the medical staff, there had been a benefit to being at the facility. The close proximity to the state building had allowed Relena the opportunity to come each day and spend her lunch hour with her, something she found she enjoyed immensely.
Relena sat in the hard metal chair next to her bed, fidgeting with her hands. Serene had noticed her older sister seemed nervous… unsure what to say or where to begin. Being her first visit since her initial one with Zechs meant there was a lot that still could, and probably needed to be discussed. Relena offered her a small smile and Serene returned it, deciding to start them off.
"How is your workday going?" Relief flashed across the older girl's face.
"It's going well, I suppose." Relena began. "There is a trade agreement renewal being negotiated between Earth and the L5 Colonial Establishment."
"Sounds like so much fun." Serene quipped with a smirk and her sister gave her a crooked, tired smile, brows slightly knit.
"For the last two days they have been debating the technicalities of fuel costs and who should pay for what and when during the exchange. Honestly, there are times I feel like a babysitter instead of a negotiator." Serene chuckled. "But I don't want to bore you with the details. " Serene shook her head.
"No, it's fine." She smiled warmly. "I'm just glad to finally be able to talk to you… like this… and as your sister instead of your guard…".
"I'm glad too…" Relena took her hand. "I always wanted a younger sister, you know?"
"Really?" Serene smiled as Relena nodded. "I always wondered what it would be like… to get to know you."
"Well, now we have the rest of our lives to appreciate this." Relena smiled and squeezed her hand gently.
Those visits continued whenever her sister could get away and were always nice. Of course, there was the added bonus that with Relena came Trowa. He mostly kept his distance, standing by the door, but he made sure to watch her closely, offering her the occasional smile. It was good to see him. Both visitors brought with them good tidings of great food as burgers and the like would usually be offered in lieu of the usual hospital faire.
Usually, the time passed quickly with Relena talking her ear off about her day, but Serene could tell her sister's mind was elsewhere. Serene had learned of Heero's return, but apparently, as quickly as the former 01 pilot had arrived he vanished. She knew how much this must have hurt Relena but she also hoped Heero had very good reasons for leaving again.
'He better have a good reason…'
What had surprised Serene most, however, was finding out that, when Kevin insulted her, Relena had decked him! Serene wished she could have been out in the lobby to witness that herself! Nothing else was discussed about Relena's personal life, but the conversations were a pleasant distraction as were the meals between her medically induced mini-comas.
As she stepped out of the car, she heard the familiar bark of her canine companion as he bounded his way to her, nearly knocking her into the car.
"Toby!" She hadn't seen her dog for far too long and welcomed him into her arms, allowing him to thoroughly soak her face in slobber and doggy kisses. She scratched his ears affectionately, pushing him down after a short while to make her way to the house.
Daniel had been the one to pick her up and take her home and had refused to let her carry any bags of any kind. He'd simply given her a long hug and called her 'seedling' as he had since their first meeting, before shuffling her into the car. Serene hadn't needed to pack much. The villa always had plenty of what she needed but her surrogate uncle had insisted on treating her like glass. It was something she would never be used to and something she hoped would come to an end soon.
Constance came out to greet her, beaten to the punch by Amy and Tommy who immediately threw their arms around her! She knelt down and pulled them close, allowing the relief to hit her. She was really home. Both of the children began bombarding her with words of greeting and affection. Tommy put on the tough guy act and backed away from the extra affection, but it was clear that they had missed her as much as she had missed them.
As she stood, Constance finally got her chance for a hug. The newly forming baby bump did not escape Serene's notice as she relaxed into Constance's hug. So much was conveyed in that simple action. Serene knew. She knew Constance had been told everything. She wanted to apologize right then and there but with the children so near, it was not the time or place. For the moment, Serene would allow herself to enjoy the sensations of her safe return. After all she'd been through, after all that had happened, she was finally safe.
She was home.
"Welcome home," Constance said in her ear before pulling back to get a good look at her. She saw the older woman frown briefly before a smile took its place.
"It's good to be back." Serene stated. "Looks like the place is basically unchanged." Serene smiled.
"Basically?" Constance quirked a brow. "Everything is as it should be. Nothing has changed."
"Not entirely." Serene smiled and pointed to the evidence of Constance's third pregnancy.
"Oh! Yes!" Constance smiled.
"How far along are you?"
"Near the end of my first trimester!" Serene stared at her for a moment before the older woman laughed. "Three months, silly." Serene nodded, laughing. It felt so good to relax. "But enough about that! Let's get you in and get you settled!"
Serene allowed herself to be led inside and let herself get lost in the comforting smells and sounds that were unique to the villa. Part of her wanted to find Kit-Kat. She knew she was there. Treize had told her the general idea of the whens, wheres, and hows of the next few weeks and so she knew the older girl was here. As discussed before their departure, Thiana had already been at the villa for a few days. In spite of everything, Serene could not help the guilt that overtook her when she thought of her friend. There was so much she needed to say to Kit-Kat; so much that needed to be worked through but she couldn't… didn't know how to approach her. Let alone discuss all that had occurred between them, but, at the moment, she didn't need to.
'She probably hates me but… I do need to talk to her… Just not now.'
"Where is Kit-Kat?" Serene asked, her voice a little hesitant and Constance smiled.
"She is in her office going over some important issues. She was ordered to only light duty and she's lucky I don't have her tied down in bed to keep her from doing any work, but I figured if she really wanted out there would be little I could do to stop her, wouldn't there?" Serene chuckled and smiled, nodding in response.
"She is rather stubborn." Constance smiled.
"Serene! Come over here! We made something for you!" Serene found herself dragged away by the two children where she was shown various crafts and pictures the two had made for her. It warmed her.
Supper was large and full of fatty foods loaded with carbs. Any other time it would have been strange to get such a spread from the health-conscious Constance, but given the weight loss and weakness of her and Kit-Kat, Constance knew they would need the extra calories. Kit-Kat, however, did not come to the table… Daniel took the older girl her food instead. Serene felt her heart sink, and yet, could not deny she felt relieved. Too tired to do much more than eat, she listened to the children talk her ear off as she ate her fill. It didn't take long, however, before Constance noticed said exhaustion and promptly ordered her to bed.
She bolted upright in bed, the sudden awareness of her wet hand shocking her mind out of its inner terror. Toby sat on the floor next to the bed licking her hand. Judging by how cocooned she was within her blankets she could only surmise she had been tossing and turning a lot on her dream-induced journey through her mind. The first night back at the villa she'd woken up in a cold sweat because of the dreams… Too upset to return to sleep but too plagued by the desire to continue she had found herself on the couch in the living room watching a movie and snacking on whatever leftovers she could find. She needed the nourishment anyway.
These dreams had consistently added on more and more each night… This time, Toby had wined and touched his cold wet nose to her cheek to wake her up and the rush of pain in her abdomen told her why. He could clearly sense she needed her medication. Patting his head reassuringly, she untangled herself from her mess of covers and pulled the water and bottle of pills off of the nightstand. It was the same dream every night for the last week…
Again and again, she would wake up, take her pills and go to the kitchen where she would find a cup of hot cocoa waiting for her. Constance, obviously hearing her night terrors fixed her tea most nights, but as time passed, the tea was replaced by the chocolate-y aroma of fresh German milk chocolate and warm milk with cinnamon told her exactly who had taken over her nightly beverage: Kit-Kat. She made a mental note to thank her but the older girl had always seemed to be 'busy' in her bed rest state.
Tonight… there would be no beverage... She was so close… so close to the end… she could feel it… She just needed to try once more… as the pills began to kick in, she felt the drowsiness return and laid back down, allowing sleep to take her once more to the maze within her mind…
Flowers stretched out before her as far as the eyes could see. Their fresh fragrance wafted through her senses and relaxed her, pulling her back to a time and place long forgotten. The old tree had its swing sawing lazily in the afternoon breeze as she made her way over to the house. Her house. The house that didn't exist anymore…
She ran to the house, the smell of chocolate and the sounds of laughter taunted her, leading her forward. She reached for the doorknob and felt her whole being freeze up. The sky darkened. The wind picked up as a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. The thunder rumbled so loud she felt it reverberate through her chest. She turned the knob and dove inside just as the first drops of rain threatened to soak her.
Hallways of cold steel and polished tile surrounded her. This wasn't right. The smell of cake had been replaced by that of bleach and stagnant air. She knew this place. It was the base. This was where they had taken her. This was where she had met Kit-Kat and Boy. This was the place of her torture and ruination. This was the place where the child was killed and the monster was born… But she wasn't a monster… she wasn't...
She felt an unseen force pulling her forward to the first metal door. She needed to do this. She needed to see what lay behind. She reached out and undid the latch; pulling it open with caution before she made her way in. she blinked against the sunlight that beamed in her eyes. A child knelt in the flowers. She was making wreaths of the small yellow flowers. Serene knew she was seeing a memory. She had to be. The girl was her, many years ago, innocent and untouched by the terrors time wreaked on her.
The smell of chocolate cake and a fresh spring day wafted through the open window as she played in the sunshine. Her mother was making a cake for her fifth birthday and had promised to call her in when it was time to put on the icing. They lived just the two of them in their small house a few miles out of town. They were happy... They were happy...
"Serene, honey, come on in. It's time to ice the cake!"
"YAY!" she jumped up from her perch on their tree swing, laughing all the way to the door.
Serene watched her younger self run inside and show off the floral necklace she'd made for her mother. She could almost taste the icing as her younger self sampled some from the cake and felt the ornery glee as her mother admonished her tenderly for asking for cake before supper. It had all been so innocent.
"Happy birthday, my little chipmunk." That was right. Her mother had called her chipmunk. She always thought it was funny. She had gotten her locket that year. The locket she still wore. It was her favorite present her mother ever gave her… and the last… Her mother looked so happy; so young and beautiful. And then THEY took her away. THEY ruined everything!
And she hadn't been able to stop them...
The rumble of engines from large military trucks shook the house.
"No… no… not this… please…" Serene found herself begging no one...
Serene's mother sprang to the window and saw men carrying guns exiting the vehicles. Serene looked at her mother puzzled as her mother shoved her into a secret compartment in the house.
"Stay here sweetheart. No matter what you hear, no matter what you might see, keep quiet. Don't come out until I come for you ok? Promise me."
"No buts, just do as I say ok, sweetie. Mommy loves you more than you'll ever know."
"Mommy!" Serene yelled, but the woman could no more hear her than Serene could reach her.
Everything played out before her again in horrific detail. The sounds as they defiled her mother… her mother grunting as they beat her mercilessly. She couldn't look away. Wouldn't look away. As they fired the gun, she winced with every shot. Tears burned her eyes and poured down her face at her mother's suffering. She couldn't stop them. Not then and not now.
"Time's up little girl. I'll count to ten and if you fail to show yourself, your mother will die." He paused, pressing the gun to her mother's head. "Ten… nine… eight…" he continued to count. She felt the knot forming in her stomach all over again. "Four… three… twoooo…." His voice was now almost playful in a sick, twisted way. "One. Say goodbye!"
Serene watched as her younger self flew from her hiding place and ran to her mother's defense. The sickening satisfaction the men showed as they tore mother and daughter apart forever wrenched her heart out just as it had then.
"Don't worry about your mother. We'll take care of her. Oh, yes, we'll take care of her indeed. Take her to the truck."
"No!" her mother ran forward, only to be thrown back by the mean men.
Thick silence worse than white noise filled the air… The soldier cocked his gun. It all happened so fast, the shot resounded through the small house as her mother's lifeless body fell to the floor.
"NOOOOO! MOOOMMMYYYYY!" Her own scream joined that of the child as she knelt next to her mother's lifeless form. The men and all else vanished as by some cruel miracle she had been allowed to pull her mother's lifeless form into her arms. Sobs wracked her body uncontrollably as she sat there, cradling her mother's corpse.
"I'm so sorry mommy… I'm so sorry… If I had been stronger… I could have… I could have…"
"Serene…" She looked up and realized suddenly that her mother's body was gone. Instead, standing in front of her was her mother; unharmed and alive… no, not alive. This was a dream…
"Mother…?" Serene reached out to her.
"My little chipmunk." The softness and love in her mother's eyes filled Serene's heart. "None of this was your fault."
"But mommy... If they hadn't been looking for me… If I had never been born, then you would still be alive…"
"Serene, listen to me. There was nothing you could have done to stop it. Having you was the greatest achievement of my life. I would never trade having you for anything in the world. I love you, my brave little girl. I am so proud of whom you are and all that you've become."
"Mommy!" Serene ran to her then, throwing her arms around her and burying her face in her mother's shoulder as the tears flowed freely.
"There, there, my little chipmunk." Her mother soothed. Serene could smell her mother's perfume… it was so real… "I will always love you, my precious baby. Never forget how wonderful you are." She pulled back and placed her hands on the side of Serene's tear-streaked face. "I love you."
"Mother…" Serene smiled. "Thank you… Thank you for loving me; for protecting me…" her mother smiled, leaned in and kissed her forehead.
"I'm always with you."
"I know." There was a new sense of peace in her heart; the warmth of what could only be closure seemed to have healed a tear in her heart. Slowly the vision of her mother disappeared and she found herself once more in the cold hall, staring at the path to the next large door. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and made her way forward, steeling herself for whatever lay behind the next steel trap.
The darkness behind the door was staggering as was the despair and helplessness she felt there. She saw her younger self again, this time she sat alone in the small room in a vertical fetal position, slowly rocking back and forth. She knelt down next to the scared child, wishing desperately she could comfort her younger self in some way. As was the case before, she could neither be seen nor heard.
She remembered this time vividly. After they murdered her mother, they dragged her kicking and screaming into the base where they threw her into this small, dark cell. They had beaten her for her defiance. She had been left there, alone, in complete darkness for days. They had brought her food and water, but she had had no appetite. They left her completely alone for days… until Kit-Kat found her…
The crack of the door let in just enough light to make a pitch black room a shadowy box. She strained her ears to try and hear anything. If it had been the bad men coming she would have heard the sound of heavy boots, yet there was nothing. With each passing second her small body tightened in fear as she curled even tighter into a ball. It was a monster. It had to be, and the monster was just watching her...
"Kit-Kat?'' Her eyes jumped to the form of a young girl, not much older than herself, standing in front of her in a nightshirt and matching sleep pants. The girl's face was a shadow but for some reason even in the dark her solid blue eyes showed an unnervingly unreadable light. "Kit-Kat? Candy? You eat right?"
She hadn't trusted her at first. She didn't know who she was or why she was there and-to be fair- Kit-Kat had almost seemed to be studying her like a cat with a new toy. She had had no idea if the girl was sent in as a trap or a trick by those that had kidnapped her. But it hadn't taken long for Kit-Kat to alleviate her fears and become her first real friend.
"Who are you?" She heard her younger self ask this and remembered how she felt at that moment.
"They call me Alpha." The girl seemed to stare at her for a moment, studying her. It made her feel weird not knowing what she was thinking. "What's your name?"
Serene remembered how the soldiers had tried to erase her identity; how they beat her while calling her Beta and beat her harder still every time she said that wasn't her name.
"So… what's it to be? Serene? Or Beta?" Kit-Kat, ever the rule breaker, had urged her to fight back and hold tight to the name her mother gave her.
"Serene." She found herself again, saying this in unison with her younger self. After which, she gave Kit-Kat her new name. Brief glimpses of their lives together flashed before her: two of them sneaking out to see movies, sharing a birthday, training together and terrorizing the men who would torture them for fun. She told Kit-Kat stories, something she later did with Heero as well after he had been forced to join their makeshift family.
As if summoned by that thought, the scene changed to the first time she met Boy… laughing with him as she told her stories and they shared in the hijinks of their youth… Boy and Kit-Kat had been the only good parts of her time on the base… and then it was ripped away, just like her mother… everything that had caused her happiness was taken by THEM...
THEY had told her and Boy that Kit-Kat had abandoned them; that Kit-Kat had died in the escape attempt. After that, she and Boy had been allowed to train together for a short time before Dekim found it necessary to cease that altogether. She had begun her training to be the perfect stand in for Relena as Dekim's back up plan… She had blamed Kit-Kat; hated her and trained all the harder to surpass her supposed fallen former comrade. The one too selfish to stay.
How blind she had been.
When she finally had reunited with Kit-Kat she had been half dead, sent in her own gundam in an act of mercy by Dr. A. She had taken a swing at the older girl. Partly in anger and partly in self-defense…
"Serene? Are you awake?"
She watched as her younger self's ice blue eyes cracked open.
"Kit…Kat?" Her younger self whispered.
"Yes, Serene it's me" Kit-Kat had given one of her few true smiles but it was short lived as the next moment her head was snapped to the side as a young Serene landed a punch.
"You're dead! You left… you abandoned… you're dead…" Serene heard herself speak from the confusion. Through her now adult eyes she could see the pain and personal anguish in Kit-Kat's dark eyes.
"I know I left. I'm sorry I abandoned you, and I'll allow you to finish this fight later if you need to fight me. However, right now you're dying, and I won't let that happen. Please trust me for the moment." Serene had felt confusion and disbelief before giving the smallest of nods and passing out cold.
"I promise, I'll never abandon you again. The only way you'll never see me again, is if you tell me to leave."
Snap shots of time followed: Kit-Kat had worked to get her healthy again. Constance, Daniel and the rest of their makeshift family had returned her to some semblance of what she had been before everything had been taken from her… Christmases under the tree laughing like the children they were, junk food binges and shopping trips… all flashed by, warming her heart and reminding her how far she had come.
If she had been the monster THEY had tried to make her, then she would not have had these experiences. The people she held dearest in the world clearly loved and valued her and saw something endearing and redeemable about her. The faces of all the people who she loved and who she knew loved her flashed before her, her brother and sister being the newest to be added to the list… It filled her with a warmth and peace, the same variety as she felt earlier... and then there was an unexpected face added, one that took her breath away...
She suddenly found herself back in the cold hallway, in front of a new door… she reached out a hand to undo the latch, but found that it wouldn't budge…
"Why…? Why won't you… let me through?" She leaned her forehead on the door… so many people… so many loved her… had been there for her… she owed it to them to find out… to finally find out… Deep green eyes flashed in her mind…
The door opened-or rather-evaporated out of her way… She could see herself… her younger self on a solo mission… running down the halls of the base… she remembered…
She watched her younger self run through a base… A boy perhaps only a few years older was slightly ahead of her and taking out more than his share of the enemy… He was holding his own.
Suddenly, time skipped. The boy was in danger, and from what she could tell, if someone didn't help him soon he would be overcome by the enemy. His light brown bangs obscured one half of his face, but the half that she could see revealed one green eye. What she saw in that eye made her pause.
He wasn't afraid. His eyes seemed to be daring the enemy to end his life. Standing alone against the three troops in front of him things looked grim. She found herself urging him to fight, to resist death and fight back. The unmistakable clicks from an empty magazine showed just how helpless he'd become. One of the soldiers was now on the boy, holding him down while the other raised his gun to finish the boy off. Before she knew what she was doing she charged forward and took out the enemy, saving him.
"Trowa…?" she watched the exchanges between him and her younger self.
Their eyes met, cool green to ice blue and for a moment she felt something stir within her. No words were exchanged, yet his eyes were trying to tell her something. The sounds of battle made her remember where she was and that her objective had yet to be finished. She broke his gaze and ran; ran from him and from whatever she had felt…
That's right… she met him back then… way back… and she'd felt something…
He had been her first crush!
She felt her mind swim and fought a sense of nausea as the scene shifted again… She was in an air duct… the one on Peacemillion…
Quatre, Wufei, Duo and Trowa were carrying on an important conversation regarding the upcoming battle.
She sighed and watched as her younger self adjusted her position to hear better.
"Where in the world has Heero gone?" Duo asked.
"Out on the Virgo carrier we recovered. You know where he's headed." Trowa didn't so much as look up from his reading to give this quick answer.
"But how come he left wing zero behind? What's he gonna have a fistfight with Zechs?" Duo pressed.
"Knowing him, he'll fight whatever way he can." Wufei answered.
"Well I'm pretty sure that's not the only reason he went out." Quatre smiled and sipped his drink again.
"Wait a minute. You mean he went over there to save that girl?" Duo stated, a bit amazed.
"Yeah." Quatre said this, almost laughing.
"In that case I was giving him too much credit. I had him figured as the most sane guy among the lot of us." Wufei quipped. Serene never did learn to like him...
"Well I'll tell you that just goes to show how powerful that girl is to influence a guy like Heero."
Her focus fell on the one who made the last statement.
"Trowa…" The name slipped from her but neither they nor her past self could hear her...
This was the first time her past self truly took notice of him. This was the point where she realized that this man before her and that little boy were one and the same.
The next time she had seen him was a few years later at Preventer… she had left Julliard… because… because of…
"Jace…" The scene flashed and changed and she saw a door in front of her… it looked like her old flat in New York… she walked forward and turned to knob... The door opened…
This portion flashed before her quicker than the last. Meeting him in class, their hangout sessions. Toby hating him. Laughing. Joking…
And then that night… time slowed down. The vision played out in real time…
They were out for her birthday; celebrating. Just the two of them. Things were going so well…
"I never want this to change. I want you to stay here…" She remembered how he'd looked, the sincerity in his voice…
They were sitting together in the park. It was a cold evening for early spring…
"...maybe when you come back, we could continue to see each other."
"Of course we can! You're my best friend, Jace. My trip round the Earth-Sphere isn't going to change that."
"That's not what I meant..." He moved closer. "Serene… I love you." She felt that same shock hit her again… she didn't know what to say… how to respond… and then things went horribly wrong…
They showed up… threatened Jace… threatened her… beat him up and tried to.. Tried to…
"Well, well; ain't this a pretty picture, boys? We got ourselves a pair of love birds. And it looks like they have a bit of cash to spare."
"And a nice piece of ass to go with it." Serene turned to see a group of guys dressed head to toe in ragged clothes standing at every angle in front of them. They looked her up and down in perverted appreciation.
"We don't want any trouble." Jace said, stepping in front of her.
"We don't want any either. So hand over the cash and step away from the girl and maybe we'll let you walk away in one piece."
"Leave her alone."
"Make us." Jace took a stance, but Serene could tell instantly that he had no real background in fighting but by looking at him.
"Jace." She didn't want him to get hurt. It would be too easy for her to break all of them in two. Snapping their bones would be like snapping twigs but she didn't want to.
"Come on, pretty lady. If you come quietly, you might actually enjoy it."
They hit him over and over... Knocked him to the ground and kicked him. She tried to stop them. A pair of large arms wrapped forcefully around her waist.. They pulled Jace up off the ground and held him with a large knife to his neck.
"Hold still and be a good girl and I won't slit your boyfriend's throat open." The man gave her a predatory grin.
"Hold her down." The four thugs grabbed her, pushing her to the ground. She struggled, but the flash of the knife reminded her of the delicacy of the situation.
"I get to go first."
The panic. She felt it rising in her throat as it had that day...
"Little man has a death wish." It was all blurring together.
She had been afraid. Afraid of what might happen if she showed what she could really do. If she lost control, she hadn't known if she would be able to stop... but she had to stop this!
She felt his rough hands begin to roam her body as if they were still there. Watched as his hands ran up her side to her breast where he gave it a good squeeze, kneading it.
Her vision blurred. She was at another place at another time with another flash of another man… cigars. It burned. He hit her… was hurting her... he touched her… in places meant only for someone special… Her vision swirled again, her stomach heaved… she was back with Jace… watching again… this is why… this was what triggered her… why she blacked out… she had been abused once… she knew. Thiana told her but now… now it made sense...
Something inside her snapped. She saw that old man grinning with evil joy, felt a cigar burn her arm all over again and the crack of a whip echoed through her mind. 'Not this time!'
She saw what happened. Remembering what she did. Each punch, each blow dealt to her attackers resonated in her fists and feet as though she currently fought them… at the end of the fight, they were all down: various limbs were bent at awkward angles and each man was bleeding in at least one way or another. She looked at her fists covered in their blood in horror. What had she done? Were they alive? She focused her heightened hearing on them and found that they still breathed, their hearts beating slowly and almost sighed in relief before a groan caught her attention.
"Jace!" He laid on the ground, leaning against the wall, his arm obviously broken, his nose and lip bleeding. She took a step towards him only to find that he flinched away, his eyes wide in horror; not for what almost happened. The horror was directed at her.
"Stay away from me!" She took a step back. She looked down at her hands, the bruises on her knuckles slowly healing before her eyes.
"What are you…?" He gasped out as he tried to stand up. She stepped toward him again to try and help him but he flung his arm out. "Don't come near me!"
"Jace, please, let me help you."
"No! You're a monster!"
"Stay away from me! Just stay away!" The look in his eyes had always haunted her: fear, horror, and-worst of all-disgust. He was disgusted by her. The man who just said he loved her, couldn't bear to be near her… How could anyone… love her? Like that?
This was what she'd feared. She was someone to fear; a monster waiting to be loosed on the unsuspecting public. He was right to be afraid of her: she was afraid of herself… but she didn't have to be afraid anymore… She had already fought Beta. Beta was gone… she fought Kit-Kat… nearly killed them both… but Beta was gone… The monster was gone
Green eyes flashed in her sight. A face. A kind smile. She knew those eyes. That face… that smile…
She was there. But this time, she wasn't watching. She was holding the gun. The man was bloodied. She had been torturing him… he had deserved it...
"Only one spot left. Do it. Be the monster HE wanted you to be; the one I kidnapped you to be! Everyone from that base knew what a monstrous freak you and those other two were by the end!" He paused, staring at her.
"Finish me!" He goaded her on. Her finger trembled on the trigger. She felt someone come up behind her:
He pressed his chest into her back and reached up, putting his hands over hers on the gun.
"I'm with you." His words were soft, barely audible in the dim room, but his meaning was clear. This was her choice. It was up to her to pull the trigger but he wasn't going to let her go through it alone and as she was wrapped in his arms she realized there was another way.
"Let your boyfriend here see what a monster you really are!" She heard voices from her past: soldiers from the base calling her a monster. They laughed and jeered and gossiped about Dekim's little attack dog being a monster. She heard Kit-Kat telling her 'never let them win' and then the soft, peaceful humming of her mother from so many years ago. She smelled the flower field, the chocolate cake and frosting. Her mother's laugh filled her ears…
"I'm not a monster!" With a cry of rage, she lashed out with one last kick to his head hard enough to knock him unconscious as she chose the other path. His body crumpled to the floor, blood staining his fancy Persian rug. She felt Trowa's arms tighten reassuringly around her as she lowered her arms; gun clattering to the floor. "I'm not a monster… I'm not…" She kept saying this over and over as Trowa turned her around and pressed her into the warmth of his chest. He held her as the tears poured freely from her.
He hadn't run from her. He had seen but he didn't run. Not like Jace. Not like those men. He was here. He was holding her. She felt him nuzzle his face into her hair and whisper to her though she was too upset to hear what he said.
He accepted her…
"I'm with you…"
He… might even…
The scenes before her melted away and left her standing in a dark voice. One light shone from above on a door. Beta waited there for her.
"So. Now you know it all… and we are finally ready…"
"Ready for what?"
"Yes." She reached for the door, Beta disappeared, and the door opened… to the future…
She bolted uptight in a cold sweat, but while her heart was racing, she was at peace… she looked down to find Toby waiting for her again without worry. It all made sense now. All of it. Her past. Her behaviorisms and decisions. All of it was clear to her now. She kicked off the covers and wrapped her arms around her large puppy's neck.
"I'm free, Toby!" She began to laugh. Her heart felt lighter than it ever had before… with that laughter came tears… tears of joy… of relief. Kicking off the covers, she noticed the blue-grey light of twilight through the glass of her patio doors. Jumping out of bed, Toby fell in behind her as she made her way to the door.
The villa felt different to her, though she couldn't quite say why. She walked through the hallways making her way to the kitchen to get the usual cup of cocoa. Tonight, however, there wasn't a mug waiting. She knew it had been Kit-Kat leaving the cocoa, so it's absence spoke to one of two possible things: either the older girl had quit caring-which she highly doubted-or, Kit-Kat had merely gotten distracted. Either way, Serene could not put it off any longer. She needed to talk to her old friend. Making her way down the corridor to Kit-Kat's side of the Villa, she spotted someone on the terrace out of the corner of her eye. Deciding to investigate, she stepped out the sliding doors onto the patio. A thermos sat on the table beside none other than Kit-Kat.
"Well it's not going to keep hot forever." Serene smiled at Kit-Kat's words. They hadn't spoken to each other in over two weeks and that was her first response. She'd seen Kit-Kat over the last week in glances but as she neared the chair she could take in her first real assessment.
Other than looking slightly tired Serene noticed Kit-Kat seemed… different. There was an unexplainable lightness around the older girl; one earned from self-reflection and inner strength. The weight of the world no longer seemed to be pressing down on her friend's shoulders. Physically, Serene could tell that Kit-Kat had been through a lot of trauma. As the skies started to lighten even more and the sun neared the horizon, she noticed new scarring mostly on Kit-Kat's wrists, there was a yellowish hue to her skin where bruises were fading, and there was a thinness to her frame that hadn't recovered. Yet, there was something stronger in the other girl, an inner peace that went beyond her physical body. A 'rightness' that Serene felt in herself for the first time in years.
"Technically, that thermos is meant to keep it hot for up to 6 hours. It hasn't been that long, I'm sure." Serene retorted in jest.
"I've been here for five, and six still isn't forever. So my original statement holds true." Kit-Kat quickly fired back in their usual easy way. While Kit-Kat still kept her eyes on the stars above, never turning to face Serene, her former superior stayed wrapped in an extra large fuzzy blanket against the damp morning chill. Serene knew she was smiling.
"Good point." Serene walked over and took a seat in the other chair relaxing into the waiting blanket. Kit-Kat reached for the thermos, poured her a steamy mug and Serene took it with a grateful smile. "So… five hours?"
"Sleep is overrated."
"Not when you're in recovery it isn't." She took a sip and watched as her friend waved off her words.
"Daniel is watching out for me with his guided meditative rest sessions. So don't worry."
"Worry? About you?" She tried to joke, but her heart wasn't in it. Her earlier guilt returned as she remembered the reason for some of her friend's injuries. "I'm sorry." She blurted out. "Back there. At the old house. It wasn't me. I mean it was. But she wasn't- I didn't mean to…" she realized she was babbling and looked down.
"I know, and I forgive you." Those words came so easy from Kit-Kat that Serene almost fought against the truth that rang from them. Kit-Kat couldn't really mean them. After everything that had happened. All the trouble and hurt Serene had caused; mostly to her.
"How can you… forgive me so easily. I almost killed you… and what I said… those terrible things… I could hear them but I couldn't stop it… I didn't want to… it's hard to explain.." Serene began to recount to her old friend what exactly had gone on in her mind, knowing full-well how insane it all sounded. Kit-Kat sat quietly and listened to every word and when Serene finished her tale, she waited for her friend's judgment. "I know it sounds crazy…"
"I'm the reason it happened."
"No," Serene stopped her. "Dekim is the reason it happened. I know that now. He's the reason for all of our suffering."
"True, but I'm the reason you were sent. You were to be protected. There were special plans for your future use. I was the Alpha. I was meant to be used, to go undercover and be the tool for blackmail. However, I just couldn't bend. I took pride in sticking it to Father Creeper every chance I could. It was a punishment for saving Boy instead of leaving him to die on the mission when he was caught. You were used in my place."
"Sent where? What are you talking about?" Serene looked at the older girl, needing answers.
"You were a gift to an Alliance leader. A blackmail bargaining chip used to keep the man under Dekim's control." Kit-Kat's voice was almost a whisper as she continued. "For three days they worked Boy and myself almost to the point of death. Never letting us get even a moment's rest before resetting the training sessions. They had fun with those electric collars. It was after that I found you broken huddled in a corner. You wouldn't even respond to your name. I couldn't even touch you without a reaction. You had no idea who I was and it was all because Dekim couldn't count on me not to kill the man he sent me to."
"The man…" The smell of cigars and his perverted laugh came to her mind unbidden… that was the memory she suppressed… the one that flashed when she and Jace were attacked… it all made sense… She shivered and wrapped the blanket around herself before shaking her head, and the nightmarish memory out with it. "But it still wasn't your fault. Dekim did this. Dekim did it all. Made us what we were… what we are… but we don't need to live in his shadow anymore."
"I know that, but you asked me why I could forgive you so easily. The same way you just forgave me. Also because I don't hold your demons against you because I have the same ones. Well, different but she's there nonetheless. I'm just on better speaking terms." There was an edge to Kit-Kat's statement that seemed to make the air chill, and Serene understood the said words.
"I don't think either of us will ever truly be free of them. We are free of him. And our lives are finally ours."
"When did you become so philosophical?"
"A week of self-reflective fever dreams can do that to a person." She smiled and took another long drink. Her dreams had been eye opening in more than one way. It made her realize something about herself… about what she really wanted. And there was no time like the present to tell Kit-Kat "There is something else that I… I want to talk to you about it." Silence settled between them as Kit-Kat gave her the time to speak.
"I think I joined ALPHA Corp because I felt like it was all I had the right to do… to fight. To use my abilities to protect…"
"And now?" Serene paused and looked out to the beauty of the world around them. So much promise and hope lay ahead of her.
"I think I'll go back to my music… and to Julliard if they'll have me."
"And what about ALPHA Corp... and Trowa?"
Trowa. She closed her eyes as the memory of his supportive embrace warmed her. She didn't want to lose that… to lose him. Quitting ALPHA Corp. meant that their time together would be coming to an end… but did it really have to…? She hadn't known what to call their bond. There had been no willingness on her part to explore it before due to Beta's insistence on staying detached but… Beta was gone. And these feelings… the way she felt when he said her name, held her close… the worry she saw in his eyes for her… she knew. She finally knew what she felt.
"I don't know what will happen when I tell him my decision, but I…" she felt her cheeks heat at her coming thought. "I think I know what I want the response to be."
"Are you blushing?" Kit-Kat had finally turned to look at her as the sun was just cresting the horizon. The heat in her cheeks intensified and spread though her body.
"What? No! I… I mean… well…" her mind reeled as she tried to reign in her embarrassment. "Well, what about you?"
"...What do you mean?" If Serene hadn't been watching she would have missed the quick resettling and quick composure falling into place of her friend.
"Hold on... something has you frazzled, Spill." Serene pressed again. This was the first round of 'girl talk' they had had in… a long time...
"You're changing the subject." Kit-Kat's glare held no heat and it just made Serene laughed as the birds started calling out as the sun rose higher.
"Of course I am!"
"Fine, let's just say some dreams aren't bad even if they keep you up all night, and I know what I want the response to be too." At that a real blush covered her friend's features and she looked like a normal girl with a crush. Serene laughed more, joined shortly by Kit-Kat's laughter before a comfortable silence settled in again as the sun began to peak on the horizon. A stray thought from a conversation form nearly another lifetime ago surfaced and she decided to share the random thought.
"Do you remember when we were kids up in that tower and we told all of those stories?"
"You told them. I listened."
"Yeah, yeah." Serene smiled. "Do you remember when we both swore we'd never kiss a boy?" a pair of green eyes flashed through her mind and she blushed again.
"Well I failed that promise…" Serene nearly spit out her cocoa at the sheepish way Kit-Kat said her confession.
"Oh yeah… you did." Serene smiled sheepishly. Again. The memory of Trowa's supportive arms around her came to mind."I wonder… if…"
"Nothing! Never mind!"
"Oh I see how it is. Serene and Trowa sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G…"
"Knock it off!" she playfully hit her friend as the two broke out into fits of laughter.
"Seriously?!" A male voice cut across the grounds causing Serene and Kit-Kat to freeze. "It's too early for this." The voice was stern but when they both looked over they just saw joy in seeing them together.
"We're just reminding you what it will be like to wake up for the new baby, Daniel." Kit-Kat sing-songed back.
"Daniel, leave them alone!" Constance's voice could be heard from inside the guest house scolding him.
"Is it time to play?" Amy's sleepy voice joined her parents as she looked out from her bedroom window.
"Why are we up this early?" Tommy responded from his open window looking like a copy of his father as he rubbed sleep from his eyes.
"Great you two. Now they're awake. What did I do to earn this life with people who love the mornings?" Daniel complained to his wife.
"You know you love us!" Constance laughed and turned to go inside the villa.
"As long as we're up, I'll go ahead and start breakfast.
"But… sleep…" Daniel protested.
"I want pancakes!" Yelled Tommy.
"Me too!" Serene and Kit-Kat seconded the boy's request. Constance laughed again. Yes, the day ahead would be a bright one, as even as the sun had yet to fully rise.