Chapter 14: Letting Them Go

The doors to her local convenience store slid closed behind her. The evening breeze was beginning to settle amidst a vermillion tinted sky. The golden hour of today was even more beautiful than yesterday. Carolina without a thought to look up, strode along to her apartment. In her hand was a newly bought pack of beer. Epsilon looked at her with concern as pixels joined in his body on the holographic display. "Don't you have several cans from the previous pack still?"

"I will do what I want to."

"Is this because of what happened last night?" and she froze at his question. Bingo, thought Epsilon as he caught her cracking open a can and slamming it onto the floor. "That's none of your business."

"Drinking like an alcoholic won't change what happened."

"I know!"

"Then why the beer?"

She remained quiet at the growingly irritable questions. Epsilon crossed his arms and shook his head. "Just go easy."

Without a care for his warning, she gulped down the whole can in one go. She stared out the glass door window at the floating clouds. They looked so free, just flying up in the sky without a care for what happens to others around them. The clouds live a simple life. Come into existence, fly in the sky and eventually dissipate. So why can't humans be simple? Carolina threw the empty can to the side and took out another one.

Some time passed, and she was already on her last can. Her cheeks flustered, and her balance was questionable at best. Her mind was in a haze, shrouded by confusion, doubt and uncertainty. She was afraid as her failure stared her in the face. It gazed upon her miniscule existence exercising such fear over her. Why did things have to go wrong like this? I could have had him. I could have finally done something, but instead I failed. I failed to take one step closer against that bastard organization. Carolina gritted her teeth as she crushed the empty can in her hand. Most of all, I feel like I have failed to change. Even though I have met so many people, done so many things on this journey, I don't feel one bit enlightened. I don't feel as if I have changed at all. I am a failure.

She threw the can to the side and tried to stand up. There should be more beer in the fridge. Yeah, more beer is what I need. But as expected, in her drunken state she fell back down with a loud thud. Epsilon shook his head in disapproval. I tried to warn you sis. You really are taking this hard aren't you? If only I could do something, if only I had the power to do something. Epsilon to felt helpless and frustrated at his own inability to help her, he knew that if it was the old Church then he would have been able to snap Carolina out of this situation in a matter of seconds. But he was not the old Church. He didn't know what to do. Suddenly an idea struck him like a raging bull. He eyed Carolina who was struggling to get back up, but eventually she gave up and lay there on the cool floor. Sorry sis.

"I didn't think you would be one to give up so quickly Carolina," she heard York's voice echo in her mind. No, it felt more real than that. She looked around the room to find the yellow Freelancer sitting on the couch. Beside him were the other Freelancers. Carolina began to struggle in keeping her emotions in check. "All of you are here, how?"

A smile as wide as her lips would allow appeared on her face. She was happy to see them again. But this was illogical. The dead do not come back to life. York removed his helmet as did a few other Freelancer Agents. They all looked down at her with sympathetic and comforting smiles. "We were never really dead."

"Y- You weren't?" she asked of North. South intervened by pointing a finger towards the red head. "Yeah, because a certain someone won't let us die in peace! I mean how can we with all those regrets you have about us?"

"That is true, she does carry loads," CT interjected. York nodded his head to each one of them. "Yeah, it is quite worrisome. So how could we even think to leave you alone then? Not to mention, the regrets you carry from your recent happenings. It only keeps on piling up."

"Why can't you let go of it all Carolina?" Tex questioned from behind the group. Her voice was enough to leave a scarring impression of how serious Tex was. The mood went from a joyous reunion to uncertainty in Carolina's mind. Carolina looked down from the group and lowered her head in shame. "Why can't I let go? I wonder about that myself. These regrets are a part of my memories and a part of who I am. It is because of these regrets that I am here right now at the point I am at in life. How can I let go of something that is so deeply imbedded to my very being? Plus, wouldn't letting go mean letting go of all of you?!"

York was saddened to hear these words. "Carolina, you are destroying yourself like this. Your guilt will only get heavier on you until you could no longer handle it."

"That's not the case," she whispered averting her gaze from the group. Denial, an action she was so familiar with. York let out a saddened sigh. "Your denial is all the more proof for what I say."

"You are wrong…," Carolina did her best to hide her face. It felt like she could become a mess of emotions any time now. But York wasn't going to let her continue down this self-destructive path of failure, guilt and regret. "You need to let go Carolina!"

"Let go?" Carolina gritted her teeth. She clenched her fists and gazed upwards in anger. "And how am I supposed to do that?! Why don't you tell me how to do it?! Words alone are just hypocritical! If you can't do something yourself then don't tell others to do it! How can I let go of these regrets when some of those regrets reside in the memories of my family?!"

The whole room went quiet. Carolina dug her face onto the floor as tears began to stream down her cheeks. "Tell me, how can I let go of you all when all of you are so precious to me? How can I even imagine abandoning you all so easily? There is no way I could do something so horrid."

York stood up from the group and slowly approached her. He rested a gentle hand on her shoulder, Carolina's eyes widened at the touch. It felt so real, too real for her liking. She began to question whether they were just her imagination or not. York did his best to smile for her, but she knew that her words made an impact on him and even he didn't completely want for her to abandon them. But he considered his words carefully. "Carolina, it is not your family that you are abandoning. It is the guilt that you held onto all this time so wrongfully that we want for you to abandon, to let it all go."

"But if I had listened to what you had to say York," she again began to cry, but did her best to hold back the tears. "All of you may have been still alive today. The gang may have been together still, laughing and arguing like before."

"That's a possibility," York nodded his head in contemplation. "But then you would not have met your new family and that is a set of events to be appreciative for."

"I am thankful to them for accepting me as I am, a broken woman," Carolina covered her eyes with her hands. She felt shameful to let others see this side of her. "But how am I supposed to escape this guilt and regrets? I feel like I am constantly going in a cycle trying to find a way out of this loop."

York began to stroke her head. He spoke with the smile she cherished so deeply. "To abandon your guilt is to move on. To do that, you need to free your mind from these worries and negative thoughts. Live your life in the present appreciating all that you have right now. Be thankful for all the encounters and yearn for new ones. Brighten the day for others with positivity and surely it will come back to you. Fill your heart with love, and positive emotions."

"With love?" she looked up to find York's face shining so brightly in her eyes. It shone like the hope she had been subconsciously searching for. He nodded his head and stood back up. He walked back to the gang and sat back down. "We will always be there with you for our love is always with you."

Slowly, one by one they began to disappear. This caused a panic in Carolina as she tried to speak out against it. But no words would come to life. Her mind was frozen with the time all around her. York was the only one left. She began to shed new tears. She wanted to beg for him to stay in her life. With a wave, he too was gone. The room was silent again.

She felt empty, but at the same time strangely satisfied at the words exchanged. She lay back down and stared at the can to her left. She picked up the can and threw it into the nearby bin. Her head ached as it felt it was splitting apart. She covered her eyes as they slowly dropped close. "That was some trip I went on."

Upon hearing the clock on the table, she saw the time and stood up. She stretched her back, but her vision was still blurry and her balance was woozy at best. He was right. They were right all along. Church taught me this in the past as well but being the stubborn human I can be, I didn't want to accept it perhaps. Carolina stretched her neck from side to side and heard a satisfying crack. Maybe I just wanted to run from reality in the hopes of finding my own ideal world. Maybe I just wanted to avoid facing part of the truth about myself. Carolina rested her forehead against the glass window of the balcony door. "I need to let my regrets about them go."

She stared at her own fuzzy reflection with her resolve growing stronger. This journey is the reason I came here. I want to change even more. She stumbled back into her couch and stared up at the ceiling with a contented smile. "I made a vow to smile more and live in the present. I have a duty to hold up that vow, so I better stop slacking no matter the cost."

Epsilon stared at his partner happy with the results. It was a first for him, but even he didn't realize the level of control the neural implants gave him over Carolina's senses. In times like these, he was glad that he was an AI. Carolina closed her eyes and let herself sink into the couch. "I…I am going to throw away my guilt alongside my hatred. I will grow stronger."

A/N: So with this, let's just say Carolina opens new doors for herself and to a certain degree, she reaches a point of catharsis :).

I realize Carolina isn't the type of individual to openly cry as it may weaken her strong soldier woman image, but she is only human as well. For any person to change, there must be hardships involved for such struggles are the driving fuel for change.

I hope you enjoyed that chapter and found it at least somewhat emotional. Now, let us move even further forward with the world building and plot!

Catch you all next time.

~ Monty