A/N: This little one-shot has been rolling around in my head for about a week or so! Please R&R and thanks for reading!
If I Stay
When she opened her eyes she was in a forest. She laid there on the ground, taking in her surroundings before sitting up. "But, but this is impossible." She whispered as she looked around, "Absolutely impossible."
"But it's not." A voice responded.
Cindy stopped and stared at the figure hovering above her. The arrival of the woman dressed in a deep blue gown, her brown hair in gentle waves around her, did nothing for Cindy's state of mind. "Impossible." She repeated. "You're not- you're not real."
"I am Guinevere. Queen of King Arthur, ruler of Avalon. And I assure you, that I am as real as you."
The blonde paused to process this for a moment. Deciding to just go along with whatever was happening here (a skill she had perfected being at the right hand of Jimmy Neutron), she inquired, "What's going on? Why am I here?"
"What do you remember?" The queen responded.
The blonde rubbed her forehead. "We were in the gym. There was an explosion and-" She paused, but nothing else came. Knowing that there had to be more, one doesn't simply go from a high school gymnasium to an enchanted forest after all, she tried harder but still nothing. "Black."
Guinevere nodded. "There was an explosion. You got the most of it."
"But-"She licked her lips as she looked around. "Then how did I end up here? This place isn't real."
"So you do recognize it then?"
"Of course I do. It's Avalon." Avalon, the imaginary place she had created as a child. She had been obsessed with Camelot after her dad had read her the legends, and with her mother not allowing her to play with any of the children in her neighborhood, she recreated the fabled kingdom in the forest behind their house. Their pool had become the fabled Kingston Maurward, the home of the Lady of the Lake. Her tree house was the castle Camelot and the forest beyond was Avalon. Her role, depending on her mood. Some days she was the Lady of the Lake, other days she was Morgan LeFay, and still others, she was the doomed Elaine of Astolat. For a lonely girl, it helped fill a lonely void. But why in the world was she here now?
As if reading her mind, the queen spoke. "You're in limbo, between life and death." Seeing the look of horror on Cindy's face she continued. "The explosion was worse than anyone could imagine. You sustained more radiation poisoning than anyone else. You're in the hospital."
"Limbo is Avalon?"
"Well, yours is. It depends person on person."
"So," the blonde paused, "How does this work then? I just sit around and wait for God or Buddha or whatever to decide if I die or not?"
The queen gave her a closed mouth smile. "No. That decision my dear, belongs to you."
"Oh." Cindy flopped back down on the ground and closed her eyes. "Then bring it on."
Guinevere stared down at her. "Surely the decision cannot be that simple for you."
"I'm going to go ahead and assume here that everyone in, well, the "real world" assumes that I'm already dead?"
"I wouldn't say-"
"That being said, we all die eventually, unknowingly. Why not just go now, when I have some say in the matter?"
Now the Queen of the Summer Country was glaring at her. "You are eighteen years old!"
"And you are an imaginary friend I made up when I was five."
"You have so much more to live for."
"Like what? A dead end job living in a ratty old apartment as a spinster woman?"
"You were always so critical about yourself." Guinevere said quietly.
Cindy pushed some dirt around with her foot. "Yeah, well, when thats the only things your parents tell you, you tend to believe it."
"You have so much more potential than that."
Cindy merely shrugged and scratched a design in the dirt, not responding. Guinevere sighed. "Look Cindy, will you give me at least one, one chance to show you what will happen if you choose death?"
She thought for a moment. "Fine." There was a flash of light and she looked around with a frown. "If you wanted to convince me of my life's purpose, why did you bring me to Retroville High?" But the Queen just pointed.
Stepping further in RHS' main hallway, Cindy felt it immediately. An overwhelming cloud of depression and sadness seemed to cling to the air. A flash of bright colors out of her left peripheral vision caught her attention and she turned. It was her locker. It was covered, well layered really, in a variation of notes, cards, and pictures. She stepped closer.
"We'll miss you Cindy."
"Heaven just gained a beautiful angel."
"The stars that shine the brightest always burn out the soonest." She was silent as she read notes from everyone from teachers to her classmates. So many of them were extremely heartfelt and she was surprised to see them. Her hand grazed over an envelope with her name labeled on the front in Libby's familiar slanted handwriting and she pulled back as if it burned. That one she simply could not bring herself to read.
Guinevere stepped to her side. "Well?" She asked quietly.
"I never- I never knew that people liked me so much. She looked at the locker again, but then shook her head. "This and a full page spread in the yearbook. Time heals all wounds. They'll move on."
The brunette raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"
Another flash of light and they were in an unfamiliar living room whose only occupant was a little girl who appeared to be around six or seven, with coco skin and her black hair in pigtails who was reading peacefully on the floor. Cindy had a sneaking suspicion of who it was and her idea was confirmed when an older version of Sheen and Libby walked into the room and sat down on the couch.
"Whatcha reading there sugarpie?" Libby asked her daughter.
The little girl looked up and grinned widely at her parents as she held up her book. "It's about karate! Look dad!" She scrambled over to her father and placed the book on his knees. "This guy can break a board with his fist!"
"That's very cool," Sheen said with a smile as he patted her head.
The little girl nodded. "It is! Can I learn how to do that mommy? Please?"
Libby smiled. "Sure sweetie. I'll look into it."
The little girl squealed with excitement as her parents smiled at each other. "Time to go wash up for dinner Cindy," Sheen told her and the little girl took off.
The blonde Cindy's eyes widened. 'Cindy?'
Libby gave a muffled sob and leaned into Sheen's shoulder. Sheen put his arm around her and pulled her close. "She's so much like her Sheen." She whispered.
"I know," Her husband whispered and Cindy was surprised to see his eyes fill up with tears as well. "We all do. Carl and Elkie want to come up next month for the anniversary."
Libby nodded into his shoulder. "That would be best, if we're altogether." She leaned away and wiped her eyes. "You'd think it'd get easier but it doesn't."
Cindy turned to Guinevere but before she could say anything they were whisked away to another place. An office it look like, with a bunch of men slumped over computers, eyes squinted at the screens. The only noises were keyboard clicks accompanied by the ticking of the clock that was displayed against the plain white walls. The NASA symbol on the far left wall offered the only splash of color.
"NEUTRON!" A balding man in a horrific plaid tie came barreling into the room, his eyes darting around the room.
Cindy followed his gaze to the middle row of computers where an older Jimmy Neutron stood up and made his way over to the man. "Yes, Mr. Rowland?"
"What about them?"
"Off?" Jimmy took the numbers from him. "But I entered them exactly as the scientists said to-"
"Well run them again!"
"May I remind you Neutron, that you are merely a low life Information Specialist? You are not a scientist, nor a researcher, nor an engineer. You do as I say, now get back to work!" With that he turned and stormed out leaving Jimmy looking after him.
"No, no, no." Cindy said in disbelief as she turned back to Guinevere. "This isn't right! This is Jimmy Neutron we're talking about! He's supposed to be running NASA not doing this! What happened?" Seeing the look of expectancy on Guinevere's face, the blonde took a step back. "No. Absolutely not. This is not my fault!"
"It's amazing-" Guinevere mused, "What happens to one's ambition when they no longer have a muse."
"Me?" Cindy squeaked. "I'm Neutron's muse? Okay, now I know you're crazy."
"Space. Inventions. A willingness to bend the space time continuum," The brunette listed off.
"Which," The blonde retorted, "Were all attempts to show off his freakin' genius IQ. And if he was trying to impress anyone, it was that slut Betty Quinlan!"
"Or you." The queen countered. When Cindy was silent she pressed on. "After the accident he refused to invent any more. This is what occurred. A lifetime wasted. Inventions destroyed. Cures for diseases lost to time."
But her words had the opposite effect she was hoping for. "So what?!" The blonde screamed at her. "I'm supposed to choose life so the world will have the brilliance of James Isaac Neutron? For his happiness?" She threw up her hands. "Its just like my childhood, people giving me a choice that isn't really a choice, forcing my hand!"
The blonde collapsed on the floor and buried her face in her arms. "He can't love me that much," She whispered. "He just can't."
"Love like this comes around maybe once in a lifetime." Guinevere's voice floated into her ears. "I showed you that not to guilt you to stay for the world's sake but to show you what you would be giving up if you left. For your sake."
When she raised her head she was in the forest again. Guinevere raised a hand and pointed ahead of her, where two wooden doors stood. "The decision is yours of course. But its a decision you need to make. The left will take you to the Great Beyond. The one on the right will take you back to the Land of the Living. I hope whatever choice you make will be the right one." Then she vanished.
Cindy stayed on the ground, eyeing the two doors. Her mind pulling her in two different directions, to two different paths. She stood up and brushed herself off. She paused before walking to the door and opening it.
She blinked once. Twice. Three times attempting to adjust to the bright hospital lights. Her mind was woozy, her vision hazy, her body sore. The heart monitor started to beep louder as she struggled to sit up and a doctor and a nurse rushed in.
"Why Miss Vortex!" Her doctor said in shock and surprise as he eyed his young patient. "Welcome back!"
"What- what's going on?"
"Mr. Neutron's invention exploded at the science fair." The doctor explained as the nurse bustled around her, "You were hit with quite a bit of flying debri, some of which had high levels of radioactive substance on them. The substance got into your bloodstream through the lacerations and well- You were poisoned. We cleaned your bloodstream and were waiting for you to come out of your medically induced coma."
"Oh." She fidgeted with the frayed edge of the blanket. "How long was I out?"
"About a week." He gestured to the various balloons, flowers, and stuffed animals that lined the walls. "But you've been quite popular. Your friends have been in to see you multiple times."
It took three more days before the doctor declared her ready to go home and back to school. At approximately 8:23am, she stood, backpack slung over her shoulder outside RHS. She ached everywhere, but she knew where she was needed. Taking a deep breath in time with the final bell, she walked inside, and was promptly mobbed.
"Welcome back Cindy!"
"How are you feeling?" And various other shouts of happiness and greetings overwhelmed her as soon as she was spotted. She tried to respond to everyone but soon someone was shoving others out of the way and she quickly found herself face to face with Libby.
The two best friends' stared at each other, tears in both their eyes before Libby launched forward and hugged her best friend tightly. "Oh thank god," Libby sobbed. "We didn't know if you were going to make it." She pulled back to wipe away her tears. "Why didn't you tell me you were going to be back today?"
Before Cindy could respond, she noticed the crowd parting again. Libby turned around to follow her gaze to see that the crowd had parted for Jimmy Neutron.
The genius stared at Cindy in disbelief before quickly moving forward to pull her into an embrace. Her body hissed at the sudden pain, but she when she was folded into his arms, it all melted away. His arms wrapped around her waist and he held her close. "I'm sorry Cin." He whispered. "I am so sorry."
"Break it up people! Break it up!" Principal Willoughby moved through the crowd. "Back to class! You're all going to be late! Why Miss Vortex!" He said in surprise catching a glimpse of his young charge. "I wasn't aware you'd be back today. Follow me to my office and we'll talk about what you all missed."
"Yes sir." She went to move but Jimmy pulled her back.
"Meet me at your locker after school, okay?"
All day she was treated with kid gloves, not like she minded. Libby was constantly at her side, catching her up on everything she had missed and she received several hugs from both Carl and Sheen. Libby told her how several kids had gone to the ER following the accident, including Jimmy, but much like what the doctor had told her, she had sustained the worse. "Everyone was a wreck," Libby whispered to her during Pre-Calc, and Cindy could read into it enough to know she meant Jimmy.
"Need me to carry your bag home for you, Cindy?" Nick Dean asked her at her locker after school.
"No, I got it Nick." Jimmy responded as he appeared at her side. Swinging her back over his own, he offered her his arm and led her to the small park outside the school. "How are you feeling?" He asked as they sat on the bench.
"I hurt." She admitted. "But that's to be expected until I regain my strength."
He nodded and looked out at the street, drumming his fingers on his knee before he spoke again. "Cindy, I am SO sorry."
"You didn't do it on purpose. It was a freak accident."
"I know but-" He covered his face with his hand. "I thought, you were- you almost died Cindy and I can't, I can't imagine living my life without you."
Gently she reached over and pulled his hand from his face. "Jimmy, look at me." It took a moment but he eventually obliged and she spoke. "I forgive you okay? I know it was an accident. I know you didn't mean it. And I don't want you to stop inventing because of this, okay? Promise."
"Yeah," The genius paused to intertwine their fingers. "I promise." He paused again before leaning forward and kissing her soundly. He pulled her gently into his lap and she winded her fingers in his hair. He stopped kissing her to move his lips to her neck, he whispered into her skin, "I love you Cindy. I love you, I love you, I love you. Gods, you will never know how terrified I was of losing you this week. Of not being able to tell you that. Of having a void in my life you could only fill, I-" He pulled back to look her in the eyes. "I can't imagine life without you."
Still slightly out of breath from kissing him, and her cheeks slightly flushed she gave him a gentle smile. "I love you to Jimmy."
He grinned but it was short lived as he glance down at his watch, "Gas planets is that the time?! I need to get you home to rest!" She slid off his lap so he could jump to his feet before reaching down for her. "I'll take you home in the hover car."
He took her home and helped her up the stairs to her bed. "You don't have to," she objected as she took her books out of her bag and placed them on her bed. "I'm perfectly capable."
He shrugged her off as he piled books. "Its the least I can do since this is sort of my fault." He tossed her a grin, "Besides what kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn't help out my girlfriend?"
She shook her head and laughed. "Alright, alright." She involuntarily yawned and attempted to cover it up but Jimmy saw.
"Get some rest." He handed her meds and a glass of water for her to take before leaning down to kiss her on her forehead. "Call me if you need anything okay? I love you."
She yawned again. "I love you to." She crawled under her blankets after he left and her head had barely hit the pillow before she was asleep.
When she opened her eyes she was in a forest. She laid there on the ground, taking in her surroundings before sitting up. The trees seemed to sparkle with the light of a million tiny fireflies and a familiar silhouette sat on a tree stump, waiting for her. This time, she knew that it wasn't impossible. Taking another glance around her dreamland, she smiled at the figure and curtseyed, "Your grace," and Guinevere smiled at her.