Epilogue

Claire,

My sister should have delivered this to you. They don't keep as much of an eye on her as they do on Zach or Dad.

You've (hopefully) just finished reading my little narrative. If you're completely weirded out now, I understand. It was a little strange to review the past two years of my life and all the events and decisions that led up to fighting for my life in Groak's throne room.

And watching Allie die.

I can't tell you how awful that was, Claire, and how many times it plays out over and over again in my dreams. Imagine being her mother and all the hope that she had going underground to find her daughter.

I don't like to imagine much anymore.

Yeah, it's been more than a year since you heard from me. There's a reason for that. First of all, I had to settle back into normalcy.

It was harder than you might think. It took months before Mom and Dad let me go anywhere by myself. And there's still an element of trust that is gonna take a very long time to get back, if ever. They're also really jumpy.

For example, I climbed out of my window onto the roof a few weeks back to write some of the account you've already read. It was so nice outside and climbing still hasn't become a big deal to me.

Remember when we went rock-climbing that one time at the sporting goods store with Aaron? I still smile when I think about having to use all that harness equipment. Of course, I'd need it now.

Anyway, when Dad came outside to water the lawn, he saw me on the roof and totally freaked. He dropped the hose, sprang up onto the shingles, and brought me back down to the ground, all in clear daylight. Lucky nobody was around. It would have been funny if he was less angry and the situation wasn't so pathetic.

Maybe you're wondering about school. Maybe you don't care at this point. By now you've probably written me off as crazy. Still, what the heck, I'll tell you.

I never went back to high school. Through an arrangement with S.H.I.E.L.D., I finished my education and made up what I'd missed. The tutor was some stiff-necked government dude with a weak chin and a comb-over. It was gross. But whatever. I'm done.

The second reason why you might have thought I dropped off the face of the earth is that I've pretty much been forbidden to keep any link to my past. No contact with anyone. Period.

S.H.I.E.L.D. has unfortunately done an efficient job of covering their tracks. After that last time of seeing Jake cuffed and surrounded by government soldiers in the throne room (they showed up after Zach and I returned), I haven't heard from him.

Thorn ran into me once about two months ago. By ran into me, I mean purposely found me but pretended that it was an accident. She's not supposed to see any of us either. I think she feels bad.

I started to blow her off, but then she told me that she'd been dismissed. Other than a very clear command never to seek Zach or me out, Thorn'll never get another order from S.H.I.E.L.D. again. She didn't tell me what she was up to now. I didn't ask.

Speaking of Zach…

He has had a terrible time shifting into "family life" gear. He still up and disappears on us. Not literally anymore, but he leaves without warning quite frequently. It really worries Mom sometimes.

But he always comes back. And I think that shows more than they realize.

The rest of my family has taken to him pretty well, considering the circumstances. My little brother Ben has even started including Zach in some of his pranks, both cooperatively and…uncooperatively. They get along pretty well.

Knowing you, Claire, you must be dying to know if Zach and I are dating. To be honest, I'm not really sure. At least, I wouldn't consider him my boyfriend. We're both too scarred to just jump into a romantic relationship. Right now we're just trying to heal. Together.

How are you and Luke doing? Still a couple? He should be getting the medical treatment he needs now. That was the one thing I demanded from S.H.I.E.L.D. in exchange for keeping my mouth shut and going along with their plans for my "transition."

Here comes the hardest part of this letter.

I have to tell you that I am breaking some serious rules by writing to you at all. Part of the agreement that's helping Luke requires that I never again make contact with someone I met during my time with Odrade.

You would be one of those people.

Consequently, you can't answer any of my questions and I can't answer yours. And you'll never see me again, although I might check on you. Who knows? I could be watching you read this.

Betcha anything that you just glanced at the window. My last little joke.

There's not much else to say now except goodbye.

So.

Goodbye, Claire.

Good luck and all that.

Love,

Fantasma

P.S.

Burn this.