Her husband dies when their boy is eight months old, and then suddenly he isn't their boy anymore, he's just her boy. She holds him close and she works hard, and life passes by like the currents in the ocean.
Seven years after becoming a widow, she meets The Man. He's handsome and charming, and he calls her beautiful and takes her boy to the park. She doesn't marry him, but she might have. She came close. He was just so sweet, so nice.
The Man was such a good liar.
Her boy is eight when he falls down the stairs, except he didn't.
Her boy is eight when the door swings into his face and blackens his eye, except it didn't.
Her boy is eight when she calls the police and waits with him at her mother's home, crying and refusing to let him go, trying not to see the dark bruises up and down his arms. She holds him close and she works hard, and life passes by like the currents in the ocean.
When she starts online dating, she does more research than she ever did in college. Potential dates get x'd out because they were in a single fistfight in middle school, or because they like Johnny Depp movies, or because she just gets creeped out by the smiles in their profile pics.
When Donald takes her up in the helicopter, she pretends to be surprised to find out how rich he is. She knew, though. She knew about everything except the children.
She checks with her boy over and over again, introduces him to Donald as carefully as she can, explains over and over where her priorities are. She gets her sister's seal of approval. She gets her boy's seal of approval again and again, and after the fourth time he tells her emphatically that he likes Donald, she gets married.
When she finds out about the kids, she's… well, she's annoyed to not know something. Secrets scare her. But they're good kids, they're sweet, nice kids. It doesn't take long for them to become her kids. Their kids.
Her boys have a blast going off on wacky adventures together, and she knows that Adam and Chase roughhouse, but her boy never gets caught up in it. They're careful with her boy. They know he's not like them.
Her boy is fifteen when she watches him from the kitchen, terrified, as a heavy crate hovers above him. He could die. He could die. He could die. It's like a heartbeat hammering in her head, Leo Leo Leo Leo Leo Leo.
When he was born she had tunnel vision, held him in her arms and he was all she could see. It happens again, as she watches helplessly with Donald from the kitchen, cowering behind a counter.
Chase's eyes glow green and he lowers the crate, and suddenly he isn't her boy anymore, like a switch has been flipped. Chase goes from being a boy she loves to a Man intent on hurting her son, and her stomach clenches in fear.
But her boy is so, so smart and his heart is so, so good. He talks Chase down. He saves them all. He even comes up with the idea for Chase to use his Override App to stop Adam and Bree. And everything's okay. Everything's okay, okay, okay.
Except she can't sleep. How could she? She can't even look at Chase, it's like all she sees is The Man, all she sees is her son's broken body, all the terrible, terrible timelines that could have stretched out before her.
She finds herself wandering the halls until she ends up outside her son's bedroom. When she knocks, he tells her to come in. Her boy is sitting up in bed, tapping away at his Nintendo DS. He doesn't look up from his game until she sits down beside him.
"You okay, Mom?"
What the hell is she supposed to say? Of course she's not okay, she just watched the superhumans who have become her kids try to kill her family. She just watched her boy talk his way out of being crushed to death, after she promised him and herself that he would never get hurt again.
"I don't know, honey," she says, feeling small and scared. "I don't know what we're going to do."
Leo shuts down his DS and sets it on his nightstand, and then he turns toward her. "We're going to rebuild Adam, Bree and Chase's capsules," he says. "We're going to stop Krane and Douglas. We're going to figure out a way to get Big D's money back. And we're going to be okay."
He sounds so sure of himself. He almost seems like a completely different kid than the eight-year-old who tearfully confessed to her that her boyfriend liked to hit him. Almost. "We can leave," she says, rubbing circles into his upper back through the thin cotton of his graphic tee. "You and me, we can just pick up and go, somewhere far away, and we wouldn't have to worry about Victor Krane or anyone else."
He jerks away to stare at her incredulously. "No!" he says. "How can you even…? Mom, Adam and Chase are my brothers. Bree's my sister."
"I know, and I love them too," she says. "But they're built different from you. You almost died today—"
"So did Chase," Leo argues. "Everything would have been way worse if I hadn't been here. You know that."
She thinks again of the sudden shift in her perception of Chase. How he'd become like a stranger to her when he attacked Leo. Adam threw Donald to the floor and Bree went after her, but Chase is the one who sticks in her brain like burnt sugar. "If you hadn't stopped Chase," she says quietly, "I don't know how I would've… what I would've…"
"But I did stop Chase," Leo reminds her. He can tell that the issue isn't settled. "And… and more importantly, Mom, Chase stopped himself."
She hadn't thought of it that way yet, but he's right. Leo hadn't hacked into Chase the way Chase did Adam and Bree. All he did was talk. He reminded Chase that they were brothers, and Chase… Chase remembered. Chase got himself back in control.
"You're right." She scrubs a tear from her eye. "You're absolutely right." She pulls her boy in close and kisses his forehead.
"I don't want to go away."
"We won't," she promises. "Of course we won't." She hugs him one last time and then says goodnight, stepping back out into the hall.
Chase is there.
She jumps, and he looks upset at having startled her. "It's just me," he says, holding his hands up. In the dark, it's easy to see that his eyes are just eyes, no creepy green light. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," she says, taking a closer look at him. He looks miserable. It takes her a second and then she remember his bionic hearing, and the fact that he probably heard everything she said to Leo. "Oh, honey—"
"It's okay," he says, still with his hands up. "We'll go. The three of us. You and Leo don't need to move, it's okay. We were leaving anyway, we should've just stayed away. I'm sorry—" She throws her arms around him and hugs him tight.
"Don't you dare."
"I almost killed Leo," he says, standing like a statue in front of her. His voice sounds stilted, shuddery, like he's trying not to let a sob creep in. "I couldn't stop it."
"You did stop," she says. "You stopped. You won, Chase. You're stronger than Krane and Douglas." She leans away to look at him and notices that he's also crying. Wiping the tears away from his face, she realizes he's gotten taller in the year and a half she's known him, shot up like a sprout right before her eyes. She has to look up at him now. "You're my son," she says emphatically. "You're my boy. You're not going anywhere, and neither am I."
In the morning, her boys make toast and cereal. They laugh and talk and sip chocolate milk out of orange cups, and she watches the line between child and stepchild fade away. It's okay, she tells herself.