Gargoyles Fanfic: Sweet Silent Thought

Sweet Silent Thought


by Nancy Brown (nancy@tooloud.northco.net)
copyright 1996, 2001
Rated R

As always, the universe of the Gargoyles belongs to Walt Disney, Buena Vista, and so on. Arkham and its inhabitants are the property of DC Comics. I would like to extend my gratitude to LJC, Leva, Nicole and Amy for making some wonderful suggestions along the way. This story is rated R for language and mature (although not explicit) situations. It is dedicated to the memory of my dog Spike, 1985-1999, the six pound Yorkie what always thought he was a pit bull. I miss you, buddy.

As life doesn't come with a soundtrack, but animation does, I humbly recommend Alanis Morrisette's "Jagged Little Pill" as background music. It provided much of the inspiration for the tale about to unfold.


For a prison cell, it wasn't bad, she thought, her eyes taking in every nook, every indentation, every single detail of the stone-walled room. She knew without being told that the walls were reinforced with steel, and if that wasn't sufficient, electrified steel. She might dig through, but she'd be fried faster than a bug in one of those blue lamps she'd always liked. Not that she'd be digging out anytime soon.

She sat down on the cot, noted that it was just a shade softer than the one in her last cell, then disregarded its existence. It would be a place to sleep, a temporary necessity, to be cast off when the time came like so much else she'd cast off in her time.

There was a window, if she could justify calling a sliver in the rock looking out into darkness a window. There had been no windows in the cell she'd just vacated; the administration hadn't wanted to keep her anywhere with an outside wall that could be blasted or chiseled or otherwise broken. They were getting smarter every day. There had also been guards, at least three at a time, all dedicated to watching her as she ate, slept, and used the toilet. It was embarrassing at first, then just annoying, and she had amused herself by making every effort to fill her captors with revulsion. She'd made more than one of them sick.

Here the guards were called orderlies, and although they still carried weapons, they weren't always aimed at her head, with standing orders to shoot if she sneezed wrong.

Even the food seemed to be okay, although what she'd been fed on her arrival might not be the standard fare. She'd found no insects crawling inside, either having hatched there or having been placed by one of her adoring caretakers. Instead, the plate she'd been brought had contained everything that was supposed to be on her diet for the next five to six months, and if it wasn't the Monster Burger and twisty fries from Hardees she was craving, at least it was edible.

All things considered, it wasn't bad. For a prison.

"Hey." She didn't jump, although the voice had startled her. She looked for a source, then located it: the far corner of her cell, which bordered another. She had a neighbor. Yet another difference between one place and the other; solitary seemed to be a thing of the past. She'd been getting used to it, too.

"Yeah?"

"What're ya in for?" Female.

"The usual. Armed robbery, attempted murder, resisting arrest, that sort of thing."

She mentally pictured her new companion nodding.

"Same here." She said it strangely: "hee-uh."

They both went quiet again, and she figured that the interview as it was had ended. She went back to studying her cell.

The voice came out of the darkness again. "It gets kinda cold at night. You might want to ask for another blanket. They're pretty good about that."

"I'll think about it." She was beginning to notice an annoying, whiny quality to the other woman's voice. If this was the only person she was going to have to talk to until everything was over, she was going to really go nuts. Then they'd probably keep her here.

As if reading her mind, the other woman said, "It's not so bad. The guards are supposed to treat us decently, and most of them do. If you're good, they may even let you have time in the common room. Just don't try to argue with Ivy over the t.v. She gets mean."

"I don't think they'll let me out to play."

"Sure they will. I think they like letting all the crazies loose in one room. Gives them something to look at."

"I'm not here because I'm crazy."

The other woman's tone took on a very sympathetic tinge. "First time in? You'll learn."

"I meant it. I'm not crazy."

"Neither am I. Neither are Ivy or Jervis or Penguin or any of the rest of us. We're just more 'creative' than most people. Yeah. Creative."

She rolled her eyes, knowing the gesture would go unseen. Arkham Asylum did have one big drawback over Riker's Island: everyone here was criminally insane. Except her. While she knew she was better off in this place than the last one, the thought of being constantly surrounded by the other inmates was enough to almost make her regret the bargain she'd struck. Almost.

"By the way," said the voice. "My name's Harley Quinn. Everyone calls me Harley, except Tony. He calls me Doc." She giggled. Oh yeah, this one was definitely a few french fries short of a Happy Meal. But she was company.

"Why does he call you that?"

"Because I used to be a shrink, before my Puddin' changed my life."

A shrink. Just perfect. She feigned interest in Harley's fantasy world. "Really?"

"Yeah! I was pretty good, too. Talk to me for five minutes about your dad, and I can sum up your life's story."

And winged blue monkeys might fly out of my butt, she thought. "I'll pass."

"Okay, but if you change your mind, neither of us is going anywhere!" Harley giggled harder. "Get it?"

She shuddered.



The first night reminded her of another night she'd spent, now long past. There'd been a couch rather than a cot, not that she'd slept on it, or even that she'd really slept at all. Just like tonight. She sat on the edge, staring out into the dark patch of sky.

Her latest conversation with her former leader came back to her. They'd finalized many of the arrangements that had been made for her in the outside world. Papers had been drawn up, though the final ones wouldn't be signed until January or February, and then her transportation from Riker's to Arkham had been readied.

There'd been no word from her brother, but hell, she hadn't really expected him to contact the person who'd gotten them arrested, had she? So he'd finally split. After all the years, all the worrying, all the times she'd been certain she would lose him for good, only to find him waiting patiently, or somewhat less than, beside her, he was finally out of her life.

Fine, she thought. Let him go. I always told him I could take care of myself. Now's the time to prove it. I have to stay put for now, but when this nonsense is finished, I'll bust myself out, go freelance without him. See if I care.

She laughed out loud, letting the manic sound echo through the darkened cell. He'd taught her that, to laugh when she wanted to scream. It had been her way of dealing with him, especially when things got bad.

She pushed those thoughts away. Memories were supposed to be pleasant things that you went back to later and cherished. She supposed she had a few good ones here and there. The boyfriends before they turned into assholes or went away. Summer evenings spent outside doing nothing but making love and stargazing until dawn. Memories weren't supposed to be of enclosed dark places, where there was no air, no light, nothing but the sound of a crazed person on the other side telling you this was for your own good.

She laughed harder, knowing she was probably disturbing Harley and not giving a good god damn about it. Laughter chased away the darkness, made it creep into that locked room alone and not drag her back there with it. Laughter made the memories stay back, the faces stay dim. Laughter almost made her feel better.

She did eventually fall asleep, the blanket on her cot tugged around her shoulders. Her defenses slipped, and dreams crept into her mind.



When she tried to remember her father's face, she could recall only shadows. He hadn't been a big man, she knew, but his wiry frame had always seemed the strongest in the world to her when he picked her up over his head. He had a smell about him, too, very sweet. She hadn't known what it was when she'd been four years old, and she'd forgotten it with his face and voice, only to be reminded ten years later when she'd smoked her first joint. Her mental images of the man were from the family portrait on the wall, which had been taken when she'd been two, and his high school graduation picture, which she'd found going through her mother's things one day looking for cash.

For years after he left, she let herself imagine that he was some kind of spy away on a secret mission, like James Bond or Illya (Nickovitch) Kuryakin, and that he'd be back for them as soon as his mission was complete. From the multitude of television programs she'd seen in an equal myriad of houses, (only two had ever really qualified as home; the rest were as shapeless in her memory as her father) she knew that a spy's life was always in peril, and that he certainly could never risk letting the Russians know about his wife and kids back home. So he stayed away to protect them. To protect them more, he'd had their mother put her and Jack into the foster homes, so that even if his enemies found out about them, they'd still be safe.

In the home where there was no t.v., she spent a lot of her time in her room, thinking of all the adventures her father was probably having. She wondered if he thought about her, and if he remembered how she'd been his special little girl. Sometimes, she imagined what it was going to be like when he got home. Of course the government would pay him lots of money for having undertaken such a dangerous task, so they would be able to afford to live in a nice house. She would have her own room, with a canopy bed and a phone, and she'd be able to wear short skirts to school, and she'd have new clothes of her own, and she'd have a boyfriend with a car who would pick her up so she didn't have to walk.

One chilly morning, as she, Jack, and the three "real" kids of their foster parents were walking to school, she casually mentioned how nice it would be when their father got home. Jack stopped dead.

"What did you say?"

She rolled her eyes. "I said, 'Won't it be great when Dad can drive us to school?'"

Betsy snickered until Anne Marie poked her in the ribs. Jack ignored them both and grabbed her arms roughly.

"Hey! Stop it! That hurts."

"Don't you dare say that again," he growled. "He's not coming back. Ever. Do you understand? Not ever!" It wasn't the first time she'd seen her brother's anger, but it was the first time she was afraid he'd really hurt her.

"I understand," she said in her meekest voice. Gradually the pressure on her arms decreased. When he pulled away, she could feel the bruises forming. She rubbed at them, and reminded herself to give him a good Indian rope-burn later.

They continued walking, and she tried to comprehend what had happened. Jack didn't believe that Dad was coming home. While Jack by no means knew everything, he certainly knew a lot more about life than she did, just by having been on the planet two more years than she'd been. His flat denial of everything she'd let herself believe over the past nine years came as a huge blow, and she physically trembled as she allowed herself to think that he was right.

No Dad? No chance of getting out of the succession of bland non-parents and snotty children? Maybe even never seeing Mom again? And the worst thought of all: if there were enough homes, she and Jack would be split up eventually, and then she would be alone.

She stayed silent the rest of the way to school. Jack and Anne Marie left them when they reached the high school. She stayed, watching until he was inside, then hurried to catch up with Betsy and Martin, who were already halfway to the middle school. The first three periods passed in a blur. She tried paying attention, but her mind kept drifting. When Mrs. Stevens worked a word problem in math class, she began drawing stick figures in her notebook. There was a mother and a father and two kids, a boy and a girl. First, she drew an X through the father, then through the mother, and when Mrs. Stevens finished the problem, another through the boy.

She became somewhat more aware during Reading, just before lunch. The class was reading a translation of "The Odyssey" out of their book, the various adventures of Odysseus conveniently divided into smaller stories. In today's story, Odysseus was sailing between two monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. She looked at the pen and ink drawings in her book, and thought how stupid it was that people could believe such things. It wasn't like there had ever been monsters like these or the Sirens or the Minotaur they'd read about the week before. They were just stories made up for kids who didn't know about life, or about how dads went away and didn't come back.

She ate lunch with the usual group, who weren't close enough to her to be friends, but were sociable enough to let her sit at their table anyway. When recess started, she went outside and sat down. Her thoughts kept chasing themselves, first about her father, then about the possibility of losing Jack. She began to shake, then to cry, which caught the attention of the teacher on duty. An uneasy, distracted look on his face, he came over to her. "Hannah, what's wrong?"

Her breath hitched. "Nothing." She sniffed, and tried to stop her crying. A lot of the kids were staring at her now, including Betsy's group of friends. Betsy frowned at her, then airily turned back to them. She caught a few words: crazy, foster kid.

The teacher, Mr. Allen, sat down beside her, looking even more unhappy. Everyone at school knew he wasn't married, and a few of the girls had what they thought were secret crushes on him. He was either oblivious or smart enough to pretend, but it was clear to all that he had trouble dealing with female students. In a rare flash of insight, she suddenly wondered if he was queer. "Something's bothering you. Would you feel better talking to the nurse?"

She shook her head. The nurse, with her funny smell and her endless series of projector reels about nutrition and reproductive organs, scared the hell out of her. "I'm fine."

A pained look crossed his unhandsome features, as he realized that he was going to have to deal with this himself. Fortunately, the bell rang, rescuing them both from further embarrassment. He patted her on the shoulder. "If you think you're going to be all right, then go ahead." She nodded and scrambled to her feet. He stood up as well, watching her expectantly.

She tried to fathom what he wanted, then knew. "Thanks." He smiled brightly at her, and she felt the burning glance of every girl on the playground hot on her neck. As they lined up to go back inside, she saw Betsy staring her way with open hatred.

The remainder of the day went by as the beginning had. In Social Studies, she began thinking about what Jack had said again, and felt the tears sting her eyes. The Social Studies teacher hadn't been able to see past the second row for fifteen years, and didn't notice.

By the time the final bell rang, she felt as though she'd lived a year in a day. Jack and Anne Marie were waiting on the playground for them as usual. Betsy waved good-bye to her friends and scurried to her sister's side to whisper. A sinking feeling filled her as she tried to ignore them.

"You look like hell," Jack informed her.

"Good," she said, and marched ahead of him. Several kids stared at her, and she felt the sadness inside her merge into cold anger. Damn them all, anyway. She didn't need them. She didn't need anyone, not even Jack.

Her new-found attitude lasted until dinner, when Betsy felt it necessary to announce to everyone the events on the playground.

Mr. Green, whom she abjectly refused to call "Dad," had the same half-embarrassed look on his face as Mr. Allen had, and she had her second insight of the day: men were idiots. Mrs. Green had a more sympathetic look. As soon as the dishes were done, she called Hannah into the kitchen and sat down at the table with her.

"Hannah, how are you feeling? Does your stomach hurt?"

She rubbed her tummy experimentally. "A little." Mrs. Green nodded wisely, and a breath of the floral scent she wore drifted by, gently enchanting.

In a whispery, almost excited voice, she said, "It's a little late, but I think I know what's wrong."

Her heart jumped with a sudden love of this woman. She was calm, round, not beautiful but very kind, and just soft enough to hug. Best of all, she knew! She would be able to fix it, to tell her that everything was going to be fine, that Jack wasn't going to go away, that even if their father was gone for good and their mother was more interested in going out than in noticing her kids, she at least would still love them. "You do?"

"I think you're becoming a woman."

Her sails fell flat.

She'd had the lectures in school about the "very special changes" her body would be going through. Sure enough, most of the girls in her class, including Betsy, had gone through said changes, and she was certainly noticing some strange things going on with her own body. But to first have the shock of her entire dream world crumbling, and then to have that pain brushed aside as "just female hormones" was too much to bear.

She stood up and pushed the chair back. "May I be excused?"

Confused, Mrs. Green simply nodded, and she dashed up to the room she shared with Betsy. She threw herself down on the bed and began weeping with all her heart. Eventually, she fell asleep with her faced buried in her pillow, only to be awakened an unknown time later by the slow opening of the bedroom door.

"Sis?" Slowly, she sat up, feeling the impression left on her face by her hair. Like she cared. Jack sat down on the edge of her bed, and gently brushed the strands, sticky with dried tears, off her forehead. "Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to torture it out of you?"

"Torture."

Like a flash, he reached out and started tickling her. She didn't even flinch. Finally, he stopped and watched her, his eyes contrite. "Listen, if I hurt you this morning, I'm sorry. I didn't think I grabbed you that hard."

"That's not what hurt."

"You really thought he was coming home, didn't you?" She nodded miserably. He sighed, and for a minute, he looked much older than his fifteen years. "Listen, Sis. I know you won't believe this, but we're much better off with him gone. You don't remember much about him, but I do. I remember more than enough for both of us."

"I want a family," she said. "I don't care if he's the worst man that ever lived, I want him back so that we can go home to Mom and all be together again."

"No you don't," he said with absolute conviction. "Maybe Mom will marry someone else, but don't ever wish him back."

"Why? What was so bad about him?" Jack's face darkened again.

"Don't ask. You were little."

"I'm not little anymore."

"Sure you are, baby sister." She punched him lightly on his shoulder. He pulled his arm back, and she braced for a blow. Instead, he wrapped her into a bear hug. She sank into it, clutching at his shirt like a lifeline.

"Don't leave me, Jack. Promise me you won't ever ever leave me."

"I promise." She closed her eyes.



The light streaming through the tiny window in her cell was warm on her eyelids, but too bright to let her sleep. She rolled to a sitting position, and cleared her head of cobwebs. The dream had been so real. Like it had been yesterday. She had been so certain that he would come back for them. There was nothing else in her life that she ever believed with as much faith as the fact of her father's triumphant return.

What the hell. Just one more disappointment.

She stretched.

"Hey." Again the disembodied voice. She tried to remember the owner's name. Oh right. Harley.

"Now what?"

"How did you sleep?"

"Like a log."

"I heard you laughing last night." She was dealing with a mental giant here. "It reminded me of my Puddin'."

It was a setup. She knew it was a setup. But it was either ask or have no one to talk to at all. "'Puddin'?'"

"Mr. J. He was the one who made me what I am today!"

She considered this. "I'd kill him if I were you."

Harley didn't seem to hear. She began talking about her boyfriend. She'd heard of the Joker, of course, but he'd been out of commission through most of her time in New York, so she'd never had the pleasure. Harley had, in more than one sense of the word, and began regaling her with a particularly lewd adventure.

She tuned the chatter out. While she would be more than willing to listen any other time, right now it only served to remind her of how long it had been, for many things.

Breakfast, when it came, was as well-prepared and balanced as her dinner had been. She had to eat in her cell under careful scrutiny, but she was used to it. She didn't even cut her food with her fingernails.

Harley had been allowed to go to the common room, had skipped gleefully down the corridor followed by a weary-looking orderly about fifteen minutes before. When her own guards left with her tray, she found herself alone.

It was about time.

She opened a compartment on her arm and poked inside. The cockroach wiggled enough to let her know it was still alive, if just barely. She flicked a few crumbs of toast into the compartment and watched, delighted, as Spike gobbled them down hungrily. She hadn't fed him in a few days. She'd have to remember more often if she didn't want to carry around a dead bug.

"Good boy," she said, though she didn't know if Spike was male, female, or some weird insect combination of the two. So long as it didn't lay eggs in her internal circuitry, she was happy.

With a last pet on Spike's shell, she closed the compartment again. The guards on Riker's Island could have cared less about her little pet. These folks seemed a little neater.

Now that Spike was fed, it was time to get on with the rest of the day. Which meant sitting or standing and pacing for the next four or five hours.

Boredom hit like a punch.

Her only reading material, a copy of the "Tattler" Fox had given her, had been left in her last cell. She had nothing to play with but Spike; most of her "accessories" had stopped working when her hydraulic systems had been cut. They were determined to keep her this time. Even when she got out, and she did intend to get out soon thank you, it would be even bets that she'd never get half of them online again. So much for playing spider, or lending someone her ear. Well, it'd been fun while it had lasted. Like most things.

With nothing to occupy her thoughts, they drifted back to the dream. Life with the Greens had been pretty good, as she could admit now. The adults had always treated their foster kids like part of the family, and Anne Marie, the older girl, had followed suit. Betsy, who'd been her age, had seen her as an interloper, and Jack as a nuisance. She let them know it. Martin had been caught neatly between adoring Jack as the big brother he'd always wanted, and wanting to please his sister.

Mrs. Green had taken the five of them to Church every Sunday, and unlike too many of the other faces in the pews, she lived the same way every day of the week. Mr. Green went with them occasionally. On the mornings he didn't, his wife prayed out loud for his soul during the Mass, then went home and was just as kind to him as ever.



Chris happened along in April of her eighth grade year. They went to the Spring Dance together, and by the time they held each other for the last dance, she was in love. She walked on air for the next two weeks, as they sat together at lunch, held hands during recess and passed tender notes during class. Instead of walking home with Jack and the others, she hung behind with him so they could walk much slower.

The day before classes ended, she saw him in the hallway, talking and payin close attention to another girl. When she asked him about it on their way home, he told her that, since they had only known each other a short time, and since they were going to different highschools in the fall, he thought they shouldn't spend so much time together. She was certain her heart was broken forever, that she could never find another boy as wonderful as he'd been. She moped around for five days, and then another guy from school asked if she wanted to go to a movie. His name was Steve Michaels, and by the end of the movie, she was rolling around the name Hannah Michaels in her head and liking it.



July 6th marked the second anniversary of their life with the Greens (it was easy to remember, since Jack had lit off July 4th of '79 with a bang at the last home). The whole family celebrated with chocolate cupcakes and the remainder of the watermelon from this year's Fourth. Jack stayed home long enough for the food, then disappeared to God knew where. She stayed home for another hour, then left to meet Steve.

Steve showed her two new ways to celebrate. The first involved a six-pack his older brother Brian had bought for him. The second wasn't nearly as much fun, she thought. It hurt at first, and when she just started to like it, Steve was already done and falling into a doze. After a while, he was awake again, and with a jaunty stride, he walked her home.

She spent most of the night worshiping the porcelain god.

When he came by for her the next afternoon, Mrs. Green watched him from the kitchen, a frown on her face. Steve matched it with a big smile. "Hello, Ma'am. Is Hannah ready yet?"

She cleared her throat, and he flipped around. "Oh! She is." His smile widened as he saw her tank top and cutoffs, but Mrs. Green only frowned deeper.

"Don't stay out so late tonight, dear. There've been bad things happening in the neighborhood. Mrs. Brockey told me this morning that the Vargas' dog was found dead in their yard." She looked at Steve as if trying to force some kind of confession out of him. Hannah considered telling her what Steve had been doing the night before, then chose the better part of valor.

"I'll protect her," Steve said, and took her hand. As soon as they were outside, he bent to her ear. "She is so out of it."

"She's okay." His touch slipped from her hand to rest on her bottom, and only reluctantly moved to her waist as Jack rounded the corner and stopped. "Hi Jack," she said brightly. "We're going to hang out. Wanna come?" Steve pinched her.

"No." He stared at Steve until the younger man dropped his gaze and looked restlessly at the ground.

"C'mon, Hannah." He pulled at her.

"See ya, Jack."

"Yes, you will." He was still staring at Steve as they left.

"God, Han, how did you both come from the same gene pool?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Jack. He's bizarre. Does he turn into a werewolf at the full moon or something?"

"Don't be stupid. He just likes being different."

"Well, he does a great job at it. He redefines weird."

"Steve, he's my brother. Drop it."

"Sorry, just stating an opinion."

"When it comes to Jack, keep it to yourself." She wasn't about to let anyone badmouth her big brother. Sure, he was a little odd around the edges, and sometimes when they roughhoused he got mean, but he was her family, and he'd sworn to always stay with her. That was enough.

"Okay, okay." He pulled her to him and kissed her. "Am I forgiven?" It wasn't a very good kiss, she knew even then, but she nodded anyway. "Good!"

There wasn't any beer that night, and as far as she was concerned, that was just fine. Not only did she not feel sick to her stomach, but Steve went slower with the other thing this time, and she started enjoying it more.



Just before school started up again, Steve told her some friends of his were throwing a party, and that he wanted her to go with him. She told the Greens she was staying at Jessie Miller's house (a safe lie because Betsy hated Jessie and because the Millers were unlisted in the Yellow Pages) and walked to Steve's house instead. Brian's car was already running when she rounded the corner. She ran into the house, tossed her overnight bag into Steve's room, and went back outside. She slid into the seat behind Brian's girlfriend, whose name was either Rita or Reena, and they were off.

The house was out beyond the city limits, big and grand and made all of cedar. The "host" was called Gary, and his parents were on vacation the entire week, rather fortunately leaving the house in the care of Gary and his sister Alice, whom Jack had dated for a few days the year before, if she remembered right.

When she stepped inside, the house was filled with noise and people and a heavy, almost choking cloud of smoke. She got a Coke, and hung out by the record player while Steve went to say hi to some guys he knew. Another guy walked up to her, making eye contact only at the last moment.

"Hey."

"Hey," she said, feeling exposed. She took a sip of her soda and looked for Steve in the crowd. Her new admirer didn't take the hint.

"What's a pretty girl like you doing all by herself?"

"I'm not by myself. My boyfriend's over there." She gestured, and hoped Steve would notice. He didn't.

"But he's not here now."

Why wasn't Steve coming over? The guy stepped closer to her, and she smelled the alcohol on his breath. She was getting very nervous, and when he touched her shoulder, she jumped.

"Hands off!"

"Hey, babe. Just trying to be friendly."

I'll bet, she thought. She put on her best impression of Jack, and in a low, dangerous voice, said, "Go away. Now."

Loverboy stepped back with half a stumble, and she smiled thinly at him. Steve chose that moment to come back and slip a protective arm around her.

"Hi Ron. I see you've met my girlfriend." Ron's eyebrows lifted.

"Kinda."

She turned to Steve. "Wanna dance?" She begged him with her eyes, and he nodded.

Ignoring Ron, they moved out into the clear space in the middle of the floor. The music wasn't the loud rock they played at the parties, but it had a strong, almost primal beat to it. Steve clutched at her, and whispered into her hair, "God, I want you." His breath was strange, sweet. When the music stopped, he led her into one of the bedrooms, where a group of kids she vaguely recognized were smoking roll-your-owns. She didn't smoke, but Steve pressed one into her hand, and insisted.

Her lungs filled with fire, and she coughed. A few of the others laughed, and she got angry, took another drag. This one was a little easier to take, and she breathed out happily.

That's when it hit. The smell of this place, these people, this thing in her fingers, it was reminding her of her father. He'd had the same smell on his clothes, and in his mouth when he kissed her good-night. Her hands went numb as Steve took the joint from her and then put it between his lips.

She wondered when the good feeling she'd heard about would come. One guy looked up at her. "First time?"

"Yeah," she admitted.

"Don't expect anything, then." He took a puff from his own cigarette, and blew a ring. Beside him, a young woman stared at it glassily.

Steve finished the joint for them, and then pulled her out of the room. In the living room, she could breathe again. They stopped in the kitchen so Steve could get a beer. She got another Coke, but he took it out of her hands.

"Here, try this." He poured it into a large glass, then filled it the rest of the way with something amber from a bottle on the counter. Hesitantly, she sipped at it. Liquid fire scorched her already-raw throat.

Steve walked up behind her, placed his hands on her hips, and began kissing her neck. In a few more minutes, they went outside. He backed her against a tree, fumbling at the waistband to her shorts.

That was the last thing she clearly remembered about the party. Later, she had a vague recollection of going back inside the smoky room, and sitting in Steve's lap on the floor. She had another weird mental image, that of being in a different room, this time with the guy called Ron, his mouth against her stomach. Other than that, there was nothing but a long chunk of fuzzy faces and loud music.

The next morning, she woke up behind the couch with no idea where her panties were or, for that matter, where Steve was. She found him outside, passed out on the patio. When he was fully awake, they hunted down Brian and Rita or Reena. They drove to Steve and Brian's house, where Brian and his girlfriend went back to sleep. Steve crashed in his own room, while she took a long shower and changed into the clothes she'd left there the night before. She walked home while the others slept.



"When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a dancer." Although she couldn't see it, she could hear Harley humming to herself, dancing in her paper slippers. She'd seen her on her way in and out a few times: a surprisingly young woman with wide blue eyes, her blonde hair in two pony tails like a kid. Total nutcase.

"I was gonna tour Europe ... " As she had many times in the past month, she tuned out Harley's reverie, and pulled her blanket around her shoulders. November wasn't as cold as it could have been, but her circulation was poor right now, leaving her few organic bits numb, almost painfully so at night. And on the ever present subject of pain, she was going to need adjustments soon on various non-organic parts. Refits, so to speak.

Harley's near-incessant litany of stream-of-consciousness gibberish had paused. She'd asked a question.

"What?"

"I said," she repeated in her baby-voice, "what did you want to be when you were little?"

"Older."

Harley giggled. She did that a lot. It was beyond annoying and well into justification for homicide. "Besides that."

What had she wanted to be? She couldn't remember a time when she'd been a kid that she'd wanted anything more than some undefinable state of happiness. There hadn't been a moment when she'd said to herself, "Self, let's become a mercenary when we're older." She hadn't intended to be an actress, either. And she certainly hadn't intended to be a convict. Like the rest, it had just sort of happened.

But there had been a time before all that, when she might have done something different if she'd been of a mind. Once upon a time, there had actually been folks who'd cared about what she wanted and needed, but she hadn't been able to see it then. Memory, with eyes clearer than hers had ever been, reminded her of what was perhaps the best chance she'd had to change the path her life had taken.

"I told you. I wanted to be older."



High school started without incident. She had one class with Steve, none with Betsy, and she had the same lunch period as Jack, whom she never actually spoke to but for whom she usually spared a wave. Anne Marie was a presence in the hallways, but a pleasant one, as she always smiled at her freshman foster-sister. She also saw Ron now and then, and found out through a little research that he was a second-year senior.

She broke up with Steve just before Halloween, after he'd drank too much and had a minor accident. Mrs. Green never actually said anything about it or him afterwards, but there was a calmness about her which made Hannah happy. Even Betsy was almost bearable, having latched onto a junior varsity player with whom she spent most of her time.

By Thanksgiving, she'd met boyfriend number three, a guy who'd also been to Gary's party but had left early. He lasted until New Year's Eve, when they had gone to someone's house. He drank a little, but he thought pot was pure evil. When she smoked one in front of him, he left. She pretended not to notice.

Valentine's Day brought a box of candy from Ron in the morning, and an incredible night later at his house. Finally, she knew why people enjoyed such frenzied grasping in the darkness, and longed to explore it further. Around 3am, he told her that, yes, they'd done it at Gary's, and that although she couldn't remember anything in particular about the experience, he hadn't forgotten her. She kissed him deeply in reply, a vague worry in the back of her mind about him that she brushed aside when he wrapped his arms around her again.

For her birthday in March, he gave her a gold bracelet. Betsy was mad with jealousy. Jack saw it and only scowled.

A week later, Friday, they got into a fight after she saw him eyeing Anne Marie when he picked her up. He told her she was being too possessive. She ended up walking from his house, which was seven miles from her own. She passed Steve's house on the way home, and on a whim, knocked at the door.

Steve answered it, and his eyes opened in surprise when he saw her standing there.

"Hannah!"

"Can I come in?"

"Sure." They went into the living room. Steve put on a record, and they sat and talked about nothing. After a few hours, his arm slid around her, and she pressed against his side. Their eyes met, and without a word, they walked hand in hand to his room. He'd gotten better, she'd give him that much. He wasn't Ron, but he wasn't nearly as rushed as he had been, and when he finished, he helped her finish, too. Afterwards, she snuggled with him, and felt utterly content, only a passing guilt nagging her into sleep.

Monday morning was a shock. She saw Steve in class, but he ignored her, instead lavishing attention on another girl she'd seen with him before. When she passed Ron in the hall, he ignored her and refused to talk to her after school. By Wednesday, she'd caught up with the rumor mill. Steve had told his friends she'd thrown herself at him, and by the time the story reached her ears, it had been embellished enough to make even Ron blush. She felt eyes on her whenever she walked down the halls, now, and without anyone to walk with her, she was horribly alone.

It got worse.

She was tired and listless. Getting up was a chore. There was an outbreak of mono at school, and she was fairly certain that she'd caught it from either Ron or Steve. There was no way she could tell Mrs. Green, and Mr. Green had taken to hiding behind his National Geographics and inside his radio baseball games whenever she was in the room. April was half-done; if she could make it through May, she could take the summer off to rest, which she'd heard was the best remedy.

By the end of April, she wasn't sure she was going to make it after all. She could barely walk to school, and although Jack was now seventeen, he didn't have a car. It wasn't until she turned the "Butterfly!" calendar on her wall to May that she realized with a cold shock that she was almost a month late.

She didn't bother to buy one of those tests where she had to go in a cup; things made far too much sense. She walked through school in a daze, trying to figure out what to do. She laughed when she was given homework; algebra meant very little as she realized that her life was pretty much over.

Three days after she figured it out, Jack came into her room while Betsy was out with Mr. Junior Varsity.

Without meaning to, she ended up telling him everything. She thought she was going to cry, but found nothing inside. Instead, she sat dry-eyed, waiting for him to make everything better.

He said slowly, "Do you think you're ready to have a baby? Think before you answer."

She thought. "No."

"Then we'll deal with it. But whatever you do, don't tell Mrs. G., and don't tell Betsy, or it'll be all over school." She nodded.

"What are we going to do?"

"There's a clinic downtown that can take care of it. I know a few people who've gone."

"Does it cost a lot?"

"Leave that to me." He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. "Now get some rest."

Trusting him, hell, having no one to trust but him, she went right to sleep. The next morning at breakfast, Mr. Green read an article from the paper out to them. It seemed that the Peoples Drug down the street had been robbed the night before. Mrs. Green shivered and reminded them all to be careful. Mr. Green remarked that he could remember when the neighborhood had been safe for kids to play outside at midnight, and what a shame it was that things were changing. Hannah nibbled at a piece of dry toast and said nothing.

Her appointment was on the second Friday in May. She hooked from school and took the bus downtown, three hundred dollars in her shoe. The bus stop was half a mile away from the clinic, and as she walked, slowly, she saw more baby carriages along those four blocks than she had in the first fourteen years of her life. It wasn't the babies that got to her most, though. She saw a woman holding the hand of a little girl who couldn't have been more than three, shining dark hair and brilliant blue eyes, and her heart broke. She walked by the clinic, glanced inside, and kept walking. She bought herself lunch at McDonald's, and wondered what was to become of her.

She walked around downtown almost until it was time for school to let out, then took the bus to the high school. She met Jack on the playground. She watched him read her face, then lower his head. He said nothing to her on the way home, and batted her hand away when she tried to give the money back to him later that evening. He refused to comment further on what in her mind had become The Problem, but she could tell in a thousand little ways that he was disappointed in her.



School ended the first Friday of June, and Anne Marie graduated the next day. Greens from all over the state came to see her get her diploma and eat at the impromptu barbecue Mr. Green had set up in the backyard. People she'd never met before pinched her cheeks and informed her how lucky she and her brother were to be with the family. No one tried to pinch Jack's cheeks. She was sure he'd eventually duck out of the party, but he surprised her by sticking around the entire time, even smiling when the relatives wanted pictures of all the kids. She ended up being the wallflower; the hotdog Martin had shoved into her hand didn't agree with her at all. Mrs. Green was waiting when she finally came out of the bathroom, remarking only that she hoped Hannah wasn't coming down with something.

The guests were gone by the following evening; Monday was grocery day, and since school was no longer a problem, Betsy, Hannah, and Martin were corralled into coming along. At the A&P, Mrs. Green caught her staring at the baby food, and demanded to know then and there if she was "in the family way." Knowing there would soon be no way to hide it, she nodded and wouldn't meet the woman's eyes.

That evening, after an absolutely silent dinner, the Greens shooed their children and Jack out, and ordered Hannah into the kitchen.

"To think," Mr. Green said, "we took you in."

"Gave you a good home."

"A roof over your head."

"A family!"

"You've had it better here than you would ever have had it anywhere else."

"We loved you and Jack like our own children."

"And you repay us with this!" Their faces wore matching looks of outrage, under which she could only cower. She was weak from not eating much, and from losing what little nutrition she'd gotten, and all she really wanted to do was sleep.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Sorry!" Mr. Green sounded disgusted. "You create a new life with such wanton disregard for anything but your own pleasure, and you're sorry?"

"I thought we raised you better than that."

"Who's the father?" he demanded.

She gulped. That was actually a good question. The math she'd learned in the seventh grade informed her there were two candidates. "I don't know for sure."

A look of horror crossed Mrs. Green's face.

Mr. Green touched his wife's shoulder gently. "What do you mean you don't know for sure?"

"I mean it could be Ron's or it could be Steve's. I don't know which one."

Mrs. Green sat down. Mr. Green, fully angered now, (which she found rather interesting, as she had previously never seen him get emotional over anything) said, "I see."

"Trollop," Mrs. Green said quietly. "We brought the Whore of Babylon into our home and didn't even realize it." She looked at her husband. "God knows what she's done to the children."

She felt a prickly anger building. "Your kids do enough on their own without any help from me!"

Mr. Green pulled his hand back, and she flinched for the coming slap. She never felt it. She opened her eyes. Jack had stopped the older man's swing firmly, and was now bending the offending hand backwards.

He said in a quiet, almost conversational voice, "Don't ever hit my sister. If you do, I'll kill you."

Mr. Green met his eyes, but Jack had mastered the art of staring long ago, and soon, Mr. Green looked to Hannah instead.

"Get out. Both of you."

"Fine," said Jack. She got to her feet and ran upstairs. There were a few things she'd brought with her when they'd come, almost three years ago: a deck of cards, a barrette, some letters from her mother back when the woman had cared where her children were, an eight-track of "A Night at the Opera." She threw them, two pairs of shorts, and three big t-shirts into her backpack. She grabbed the bracelet Ron had given her from the dresser. Maybe they could pawn it. The money Jack had given her was inside her backpack already; she pulled it out and shoved it down her shirt, just in case.

She met Jack at the front door. His backpack was even lighter than hers. Without looking back, they walked out, Jack slightly in the lead, heading towards the Greyhound station. When they reached it, she gave him some of the money, and watched as he bought two tickets for home.

The bus wasn't due to leave for another hour. They sat down outside in the warm evening air, saying nothing; there was nothing to be said. They'd had a good place, and they'd blown it. She'd blown it. She felt sick again.

"Jack! Hannah!" She turned to see the last person she expected running up, out of breath. Betsy stopped in front of them. "Where are you going to go?"

"Home," said Jack. "If Mom doesn't take us back, I'll get a job somewhere so we can afford a place to live." Hannah looked at him and wondered how long he'd been planning this.

Betsy's lip trembled, and Hannah realized she was about to cry. "You can't leave."

She tried to be flippant. "Look at it this way: you get your own room back."

"I don't want my damned room. I thought the seven of us were a family."

"We were," said Jack, which surprised her. "But eight was one too many."

"Will you write?" She sounded so eager, so young. Hannah found herself wishing they could have been friends. She nodded. "Good." She dug into her pocket. "Here." She handed Hannah a wad of cash.

"What's this?" It had to be at least seventy dollars.

"It's my birthday and Christmas money. You're going to need it more than I will."

She considered telling Betsy that they already had enough money to make it okay, but a warning look from Jack nixed that idea. Instead, she stood up and hugged the other girl tightly. "Thank you."

Betsy hugged her back. "Take care of yourself." She placed an awkward hand on Hannah's stomach. "And take care of the kid."

"I will."

Betsy held her hand out to Jack. He shook it, a rare smile on his face. "Be good, Bets."

"You too." She turned and walked away, pausing to wave from the end of the block.

When the bus came, Jack grabbed two seats together. She got the window seat, and when he was settled, she rested her head against his shoulder. The motion of the bus, while not gentle, lulled her to a half-sleeping state, and then to full sleep.

She dreamed of fairies.



Well, now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure what she'd dreamed of. Over fourteen years later, she could still recall it with near-perfect clarity. There had been a boy about the same age her brother had been, and he'd been fighting Papa Smurf. In her dream, though, Papa Smurf had been much bigger and much meaner than his typical three-apples-high self. She could remember other people around her, familiar to her but unseen. And she'd been someone else, that much she knew. At the time, she'd been under the impression that it had been the baby she'd been carrying, all grown up. Whoever it was stayed hidden from the others, which was important for some reason, and was rooting for the boy. After a while, he and Papa Smurf changed shapes, but she always knew which one was which.

It had been incredibly strange, which was probably why she had never forgotton it.

"Mail call!" Tony, one of the orderlies, appeared at the doorway to her cell, waving an envelope. "Someone must like you."

She snorted as she grabbed it. "It's fan mail. I was a star, remember."

"Whatever you say." He gave her a half-wave and walked off.

"Who's it from?" asked Harley eagerly.

She inspected the envelope. No return address. It had been opened already, probably by the head doctor. They did things like that. "I don't know."

It wouldn't be from Fox. She would either deliver whatever she needed sent herself, or she'd send one of the thousands of XE employees to do it. The last thing she'd needed to see had been brought by that stiff twit Burnett.

She slid her fingers inside, and pulled out a piece of paper. It was a comic strip. Little Orphan Annie. The date on it was from a week and a half back. The other side boasted classified ads; someone was willing to give away a "wt prbd Maltese, no papers, no children" to a good home. She read the comic, then crumpled it and tossed it to the floor.

So maybe he hadn't split after all.



They stopped in every podunk town along the trip, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for just enough time to run to the restroom and back. Her stomach did continuous flips during the long hours, and more than once, she'd lost the battle with it. At one of their longer stops, they went to a grocery store and bought some fruit, sodas, and at his insistence, crackers. About twenty miles down the road, after they'd emptied the bag, she used it, then stuffed it under the seat. Jack made her drink some ginger ale, and nibble the crackers, and then she felt a little better.

When a few well-meaning, or insatiably curious, people asked where they were going, Jack told them promptly that they were visiting relatives for the summer, that his name was Eric and his sister's Jane. She tended to follow his lead. Yes, their aunt and uncle were kind for taking them for the summer. Yes, it was a great adventure. No, she wasn't feeling well, and her parents had hoped a change of scenery might do her some good.

It didn't turn out to be the two worst days of her life, not by a long shot. When she looked back on the trip, she remembered it as a kind of turning point in her life, a movement from being dependent on a host of "parents" who didn't need her, to being both dependent upon, and oddly responsible for, her brother.

She knew that she needed him now, more than she'd needed anyone in her life. At the same time, she was becoming aware of how much his own existence was bound to hers. Several times during the trip, she woke to find him watching her. Other times, when he would let himself get some rest, she found a fascination of her own with the strange calmness on his face, which clashed with his closed eyes, darting quickly even in sleep.

When the bus finally pulled into the last station, they threw away their grocery bag. There was a pay phone inside the station, with a phone book attached. The page before the one they needed was torn out, but the listing with their mother's name was intact. Hannah wrote down the address while Jack popped a dime in and dialed. No answer.

The agent at the station was useless, but there was an Amoco across the street, and for a smile, she got directions to the apartment building. An hour later, there were on the fourth floor, outside of 4-C. After an experimental knock on the door went unanswered, they sat down to wait.

From the dingy window at the end of the hall, she could see shadows lengthening to finally overtake the other buildings. There was a yellow light hanging from a chain in the ceiling, keeping them from pitch darkness, if only barely. Around nine, her stomach started rumbling; the last of the crackers had been gone by noon.

She paced up and down the hallway, tired and edgy and wanting a nice warm bed. Jack stayed sitting outside the door, his knees folded against his chest. When she asked him what he was doing, he replied, "Planning."

At half-past one, a woman dragged her way up the stairs and stopped on the fourth floor. When she saw the two teenagers sitting outside her door, she shrunk back, looking for escape. Jack raised his head from his knees.

"Hi Mom."

She peered closely at them. Hannah was suddenly far too aware of their bedraggled states, her own especially. She'd changed into a fresh tee-shirt that morning, but that had been eighteen hours ago. She saw suspicion in the woman's eyes. So did Jack.

"For Hannah's fifth birthday, you took us to Burger King. Hannah asked you to wear one of those godawful cardboard crowns, and you didn't really want to, but you did it anyway." Her eyes widened.

"What are you doing here?" Again, Jack had a reply.

"We missed you. Also, you're going to be a grandma around Christmas, and since the Greens weren't buying the idea of a virgin birth, they told us to find another inn."

Her face fell as she walked over to them. She sighed, then unlocked the door. Only after they were locked inside did she hug them. Then she yawned. "There are boxes in the spare bedroom, and I'm not clearing it tonight. The couch folds out. Get some blankets from the closet by the bathroom. We'll deal with this after I've had my coffee tomorrow morning." Without another word, she went into her bedroom and shut the door.

Hannah sat down at the table in what passed for both dining and living room. This wasn't how she'd expected to come home, and the reception from her mother was the icing on the cake. Numbly, she sat and thought nothing at all as Jack folded out the couch and made the bed. She was somewhat aware of using the bathroom, slipping out of her shorts into just her big shirt, and rinsing some water through her teeth and over her face. She was even less aware of Jack steering her onto the couch, to rest her head on a cushion, and she didn't notice at all as he climbed in on the other side, flipped the light off, and turned his back to her. When she started shaking, she did notice him roll over to place his arms around her protectively, but it registered less as a touch, and more as just another layer of her own self, folding in on her like wings.



Over her second cup of coffee the next morning, Mom finally asked, "Do you know whose kid it is?"

She shook her head. "There are two guys who could be the father."

"Either have a job, or at least a rich family?"

She thought about it. Ron had just graduated with Anne Marie, and would probably continue working in his uncle's auto body shop. Steve had two years of high school left, and was talking about doing electronics at the Vo-Tech. "No."

Mom sighed. "If you're gonna have a baby, you're going to need one or the other. And since our last name isn't Rockefeller, we don't have a lot of options."

Jack said, "I've been thinking about that. I can get a job this summer, no problem. Hannah can, too, if she lies about her age. When school starts, I'll keep my job part time. That'll help some." He glanced at her. Before Mom had gotten home yesterday, they'd discussed telling her about the money. Jack decided that they should keep it quiet for now, and use it for emergencies. She'd agreed.

"I can probably talk Mike into letting you work at the diner. The hours are hell and the pay sucks, but the tips pay the rent, and Mike's good about sick time. He'll give you time off after the baby's born."

"She won't be working then. She'll be in school."

"She can't stay in school. She's going to have to go to work, and she might as well start now."

Jack's voice went down to a whisper. "She's staying in school." Hannah squirmed; Mom hadn't been around Jack these past few years. She didn't know that bad things happened when Jack used that voice.

Or maybe she did. She drew back with a shocked expression, and stared at her son for several long moments. "All right. She can stay in school as long as she's able. But don't even think I'm staying home with the kid. I have a job." She turned to her. "You want to go on Welfare? Fine, that's your business. I'll keep the rent paid on the apartment. But you pay for the baby." She downed the last of her coffee, then headed for the shower.

She waited until the door shut. "She's right. I oughta drop out now. I can get my GED later."

"No."

"Why not? You can't make enough money with a part time job, and besides, I should be home with the kid anyway."

"You're staying in school, and you're going to make good grades. I'll worry about how to pay for the kid." "Like you did before?" She saw the surprise on his face, quickly masked. "Did you think I wouldn't know how you got the money? It was right down the street, for Chrissake. I'm not an idiot."

Jack leaned over the table. As if she were still five years old, he explained, "We needed money. I got money. You don't need to think about where or how. Got it?"

He was offering her a choice. Force the issue, and he'd leave. There was no way he could stick around if he couldn't trust her not to tell. If she dropped it, he'd stay there, help her take care of the baby. They had been in the homes for a good reason; Mom wasn't much more than a kid herself. Hell, Jack had been born when she'd been in high school, and she'd dropped out to take care of him. Now, written too clearly on his face, she saw fear that they would repeat the same patterns their parents had, and also grim determination to keep it from being so. He would stay, would make her keep up with school, would even help make some kind of home for the kid. But in return, he needed one thing.

"Got it," she said. Jack smiled.



When she thought about things later, it was with a kind of bitter irony that stuck in her throat. Jack had robbed a store to get her money to go to a clinic, then she hadn't been able to go inside. She'd gotten them both kicked out of the only real home they'd ever known, and they'd ended up back where they'd begun, with a mother who was either at work or with her friends at the pool hall.

The greatest irony of them all happened late one night in early August, when she woke up at half past one with shooting pains in her stomach. By daybreak, The Problem that had started all the rest had fixed itself permanently. Jack called in to work for them both, told them she was sick, then grabbed Mom's keys to take her to the hospital. When they got home that afternoon, Mom had already started her own shift, and when she returned well after midnight, she was more upset about having to take the bus that day than about the loss of her almost-grandchild.

Having spent half the day crying, Hannah found that she could only sit and listen, without even the strength to say a word. Then Jack sat beside her and placed his hand on her shoulder. Without words of his own, he told her clearly that Mom's only purpose from this point onwards was to provide a place for them to live. He was going to consider her another foster parent, one that couldn't kick them out or pass them along for "behavioral problems," which was really the same thing. Silently, she agreed.

She tuned the rest of her mother's rant out, and when Jack finally explained, she ignored the kinder words that followed with an equal detachment. There was only one person in her family now, one father, mother, sibling and friend, one person in all the world who gave a damn about her, one person who loved her. When she noticed that her mother was done speaking, she realized she was waiting for something, like Mr. Allen had waited after his half- assed attempt at helping her, God only knew how long ago. With a vapid smile, she looked up at her mother and said, "Thanks, Mom."

She glanced at Jack, saw the comprehension on his face, greeted it with a determination of her own. Yes, we will play this game, she thought, act like dutiful children, be home when we should, play nice when she has to see us. But when she isn't around, which will probably be most of the time anyway, we'll be ourselves. She may even know, but she won't care so long as we're out of trouble, and that's the important bit, because we won't get caught ever again.



With no baby to get in the way, she registered for her sophomore year a week later. Jack signed up for his senior year, and although there was some trouble getting their records transferred, they started school with everyone else.

It was almost heavenly. No one knew about the events of the past few months; they were just two more new kids. In a few days, she'd found a group much like those she'd hung with in elementary school, not really friends, but close enough to make no difference to anyone looking in.

Jack kept mostly to himself. All he needed to graduate was an English class, but instead of taking all-day study hall like most of his classmates, he signed up for three gym classes and managed to get a few credits for a computing class at the local community college. He also filled out her schedule, so that her gym class coincided with one of his, and informed her that she was going to take Geometry this year, to be followed by Trig the next. When she balked, he gestured around the apartment, his unspoken "You would rather live like this?" reverberating eloquently. She took Geometry.

Her social life was just about dead. Jack made her study every night except Thursday, when he was in his computer class, and since her tests were usually on Fridays, she had to spend that night studying, too. She did strike up a few friendships with the people in her classes, smart people who knew what they were talking about when they mentioned the Pythagorean Theorem. The closest of these friends was a girl named Lisa, with whom she went out to the mall now and then. Jack, while never being overly enthusiastic about any of her friends, tolerated Lisa.

Boyfriends were a different problem. They fell into a pattern: she would notice a guy, and if she liked him, she'd start spending more time around him. Then, after a week or two, he would avoid her like the plague. It took her until November to hear through the school grapevine, via Lisa, that the guys she liked had all received anonymous notes informing them they would lose whichever parts of their bodies came in contact with her. She immediately went home, bent on ripping out Jack's kidneys through his ears. After several hours, they reached a compromise: she could date, but he had to meet the guy first. This scared almost as many guys off as the notes had.

Gym class was her favorite part of the day. For the first month or so, it was organized play, but by mid-October, they had what amounted to free time. She and Jack took the opportunity to learn whatever they could from the instructor. Fortunately, although Mr. Haslett had indeed been an All-American in college, he had also done a stint in the Army during the tail end of Vietnam, and so had some clue about real physical fitness. Somewhat angry at a school system that "bred out-of-shape pump jockeys and lazy welfare-moms-to-be," he was more than happy to teach two kids who actually wanted to learn what he knew.

Mr. Haslett had no patience with what he called "Egg Foo Yung" fighting, i.e. the entire culture of the Far East. Instead, he showed them what he said had saved his butt time and again, "good old American street fighting," which started with groin kicks and got meaner from there. When they started out, they both went home every night ready to die. By February, she was able to throw both her teacher and her brother with enough force to daze them.

Sometimes, Jack let her come along to his computer course, telling her to absorb as much as humanly possible while she sat there. She did. It wasn't much. The instructor for the class was a grad student named Bill something, the geekiest man she had ever seen. When he lectured, he talked to the board. When he came around to the students' terminals, he usually ended up typing whatever needed to be done without telling them how to do it. When Bill ended each class, he rhapsodized on how someday everyone would have a computer and talk binary to one another over telephone lines. Hannah would then look at the glowing green monitors, stare at the little half-eaten rainbow apple sticker, and be quietly certain that the man was a moron.

The only useful computer she'd ever seen was the one at Lisa's house. She'd gone over to study for their damned geometry test, and when they'd gotten bored, they went downstairs to where Lisa's kid brother was playing a game called "Adventure" on the family's Atari. It involved dragons and knights and castles and bats and keys, and for a brief moment, she could picture being inside a game like that, her eyes, ears and hands covered so that she could be the golden knight. In that instant, she saw what Jack saw in the sickening green letters, but only for that instant, because a few seconds later, the dragon ate the knight and the game ended.

Their mother was a barely-registered presence in the apartment, like a ghost that inhabited the same space without ever actually affecting the daily patterns of their lives. Now and then, she'd bring home one of her boyfriends, and sometimes she'd even remember to introduce him to them. Hannah was vaguely aware of their rotation, noticing only when one stuck around for an entire month.

Jack ignored all of them, although when he helped Hannah with her homework, he would glower towards their mother's closed door whenever the noise from the other side grew loud. She tried to block them out, tried not to remember what it was like to have someone there with her, making her squeal. There were times when it got so bad, they closed the books and went out for some fresh air.

The park was the best place to go, and when they were together, they were in no danger. Sometimes, they talked about the past, or about school. Often, they would find a clear spot and spar until they were both exhausted, then walk back quiet and happy. Never did either one mention the future that loomed ahead, drawing closer every day. It was too big to contemplate, bigger than the sea of stars above them. She secretly hoped it would stay as distant.

It didn't of course. Jack graduated in the top half of his class in June, his grades not quite good enough to get any scholarships. That wasn't entirely his fault, she thought defensively. He'd been suspended from school a few times when they'd lived with the Greens, mostly due to things they never proved. Sure, someone had made, and detonated, nitrogen triiodide during chem lab, but the instructor had never proven it was on purpose. The same was true with the Walkman that had magically appeared in Ron's locker on the last day of school for seniors, wedged into a corner in such a manner that it clicked over and over. They had been given the afternoon off while the Bomb Squad soaked all of his books. The infrequent fights, which Jack always won, were a little harder to deny. He had taken the suspensions with an easy grace, happily forging Mr. Green's signature on the papers home, and subsequently spending the days at the library. At this school, at least, he had stayed out of trouble, and she was rightly proud of him.

Their mother got the night off to see him get his diploma, then informed them she had plans afterwards. They ended up going to Denny's while the rest of his class partied with friends and relatives. Afterwards, they meandered until they reached the swings in the park, and having nothing better to do, they used them for almost an hour, finally stopping and sitting, neither wanting to speak, both knowing they would have to eventually.

She was the one to break the silence. "So now what?"

"We could swing more."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know."

"I have two years left to go, unless I drop out. I'm sixteen; it's legal."

"You're not dropping out."

"Are you going to leave me?" She hadn't been certain she would be able to ask.

"I told you I wouldn't. I meant it. I'll get a job, save up some money and wait till you graduate. Then we can get out of this town, maybe go to L.A. or New York. We'll figure out where later." She found no words, only a jumble of thoughts. He shouldn't stay; he needed to be free of both the women in his life for a while. He couldn't go; she needed him here. She moved the swing with her feet. He was really going to stay.



Jack worked, put away all the money he made, and stayed mostly out of trouble. She worked through the summer, then studied like mad for her Trig class. Mr. Haslett still worked with them, only now it was after school; they paid him with dinner and enthusiasm.

One of their mother's boyfriends stayed around for three months, and quite suddenly, as far as they were concerned, proposed. At first, Hannah was prepared to treat him the same way as they had their mother: just another warm body to avoid in passing. Jack followed her lead. Unfortunately, Jerry had a different idea. Jerry, who had no kids of his own, decided that he would be the male role model for his fiancee's two willful children. Jerry was going to get Jack "off his butt and doing something useful," and he was going to get Hannah to dress in more becoming clothes and stop hanging around with her "lazybones brother and that geek of a best friend." She knew Jerry meant well, as did Jack, and as long as he kept his nose out of their business, they had no quarrel with him.

Jerry moved in. Since he was home a great deal, which in turn led their mother to be home more often, the in-house training sessions with Mr. Haslett came to an abrupt halt. When the two of them complained, Jerry called Mr. Haslett and informed him he'd be receiving a lawsuit if he ever came back.

The last straw for Jack was when Jerry took him aside for a heart-to-heart, asking him if he didn't think it was unnatural for a man to be living at home, sleeping on the couch, and spending so much time with his little sister? Jack, never to be at a loss for words, answered with a question of his own: wasn't it also a little unnatural for a man to move in with a woman just so he could sponge off her?

The ensuing argument lasted three days, with their mother taking Jerry's side, and with the only calm times being when Jack was at work. On his way home the third day, Hannah hooked her Bio class and met him. They detoured to the park, even though it had snowed the night before, leaving the January air so cold she could see her breath.

The swings had been thrown over the top bar for the winter. She set her bookbag down, then hopped up on Jack's shoulders to grab two and untangle the knotted chains. And then they sat, and then they talked. For hours, they went back and forth in spurts of discussion, intermingled with long periods of nothing but swinging in the biting air. It was well after dark when she managed to convince him to leave, by informing him that if he didn't, he'd be in prison on a murder charge before he was old enough to drink. He didn't want to leave her, teased that there would be no one to forge their mother's signature on permission slips, worried what she would do when he left. She told him that she would be fine, and she swore to keep her work with Mr. Haslett going.

They went home and told Jerry and their mother that he was leaving. Two days later, she watched the Greyhound pull away, bound for L.A., wondering how she would possibly survive the next year and a half without him. She felt Jerry put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and her skin crawled.



The wedding was on Valentine's Day. She sent a letter to Jack, letting him know that the Asshole was now officially their Step-Asshole. For no reason she could think of, she also sent a letter to Betsy the same day, telling her things were going okay for them.

Betsy must have written back the moment she got it, for the response was there less than a week after she mailed the letter. Anne Marie was engaged to a nice guy. Martin was on the football team (the mental image of little Martin getting jumped on by three hundred pound mountains was almost painful). Mother had been in the hospital to have her gall bladder removed, and at Christmas had mentioned that she wondered how their "other two kids" were doing. Betsy had known about Ron, and she told her that he'd been brought up on drug charges, but his sentence had been reduced from five years to six months. She ended the letter with the news that the Junior Varsity player had gone Varsity, and was doing so well that he was probably going to be recruited by Notre Dame. If he went, she was going to join him there.

Hannah didn't write back.

Jack sent a reply a few weeks later, telling her about his life. At night, he did maintenance and some janitorial work at the local hospital. During the day, he spent his free time at a local gym. He'd found someone who would train him in "Egg Foo Yung" in exchange for keeping the man's car tuned up and doing a few odd jobs that Jack didn't specify. He was sharing a small apartment with two other men who worked at the hospital, but they did the day shift, so it was like having the place to himself. He sounded happy, for Jack, and she supposed she was glad he was doing so well in such a short time. Of course, that didn't explain why she cried herself to sleep the night she got the letter. For that, she had no explanation at all.

She kept her word, and during gym class, she spent time with Mr. Haslett, learning as much as she could about fighting. After school, she went over to Lisa's, or to the library, but mostly to the park, where she could study or read magazines or practice or simply hang out for a while. Jerry seemed to be just as happy to have her out of the house, and her mother was contented by the fact that they weren't arguing. It was a calm existence, one she would remember later only for its relative lack of conflict. She managed to finish the year with a decent G.P.A., thanks more to Lisa than her own study habits, she knew. That made it doubly hard when Lisa's mom got transferred in June, making Lisa and her brother go with her to Richmond and leaving Hannah quite alone.

Over the summer, she switched jobs from waitressing to working a cash register at a drugstore. When she thought about it, she would wonder if she was trying to somehow pay back the store Jack had knocked over for her. She tried not to consider it much. At least it was a job, and if she decided to stay after she graduated, she could probably get the manager's job by the time she was twenty. Not a bad deal, she thought.

After work, Jerry was still at home, and his continued presence grated on her nerves. She found excuses to stay out all night, coming home only to wash clothes and shower. He yelled at her for worrying her mother, something she doubted would ever happen. It was getting obvious that his protests were for show only.

She began hanging out with some kids from her school and the other two high schools in town. Without Jack there to scare men off, she also managed to find another regular boyfriend. Tim was going to be a senior at the rival to her own school. This fazed the jocks they met at McDonald's, who were similarly put out by thoughts of interracial couples and the theory of evolution.

Tim was the kind of guy she'd always liked. He was a rebel, forever talking about how the system only existed to screw you over, and how it was made to be ignored. He knew the right people to get what he wanted, and he let her in on everything he did. He introduced her to meth, which she didn't like, and coke, which after a few tries, she did.

The only thing about him personally that she disliked was the cigarette that almost constantly drooped from his lips. It made his kisses taste bad. He pointed out that, considering some of the things they'd both smoked, Joe Camel was lagging way behind in the race to kill him. She had to agree.

School started; she barely noticed. She signed up for her requisite English class, for two gyms with Mr. Haslett, and for a lot of study hall. She showed up for what she had to, paid as little attention as possible, and left. She mustered up strength for gym class, but Mr. Haslett was quick to notice that she simply wasn't as good as she had been, even when she had time to get back into shape.

A few of the other girls in her class made a point to watch her sparring matches. When he tried to teach her a new technique that incorporated some gymnastic moves, one of them made the unfortunate mistake of calling her Mary Lou. She made the even more unfortunate mistake of calling her this after she'd fallen on her butt, having missed her catch. The suspension lasted three days; the other girl sported her black eye for over a week.

Mr. Haslett confronted her about her behavior near the end of September, after he'd knocked her down for the third time in two minutes. He asked her point blank, first about smoking cigarettes, then about smoking pot. She could easily deny the former, but he saw her eyes drop on the latter, and she couldn't lie her way out of it. He gave her a long lecture about drugs and life and responsibility that she'd already heard a hundred times before. If they made her watch that damned Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" video one more time, she was going to hurl. She said as much.

That signaled the end of her training with Mr. Haslett. Although she still had the classes with him, he refused to teach her anything else until she cleaned up, which she had no intention of doing. She began spending her gym classes sitting on the bleachers, waiting for the time to end. After a while, she didn't even bother showing up. Her report card at the end of the quarter was abysmal but passing. She forged her mother's signature herself, doing just about a good a job as Jack ever had, and didn't think much about it.

She forged the same signature for the release form from the doctor when she went on the Pill. Tim had been getting insistent, and he didn't like condoms. She'd told him he wasn't getting any without them, but she also knew they didn't always work. There'd been reports in the news lately about some disease transmitted by sex that could be stopped by rubbers, but Tim told her only queers got it, and since he wasn't queer, he wasn't wearing one. She wasn't so sure about whether she'd catch it or not, but she'd already lost one baby. She had no intentions of conceiving another one, especially to put it through the hell of being born only to watch it waste away.

Her letters to Jack were as upbeat as she could believably make them. Yes, school was going fine. Yes, her training was progressing smoothly. No, she hadn't heard from Betsy. No, Jerry wasn't bugging her much. Yes, she missed him terribly. If he ever had any idea that she was lying through her teeth on everything but the last, he never showed it.

He called on Christmas Day, and their conversation was extremely ... polite. She found out that he was enjoying the relative freedom of working at night, and that he was even taking another computing course between working out and working for his other employer. She hung up feeling empty, and went to her own room.

Tim's family had gone to visit his grandparents in Florida, and above his protests, had dragged him along with them. She spent as much time as she could during the long vacation hiding in her room; she'd lost her job at the drugstore after missing work one too many times. Good thing they'd never found out about the money that had found its way into her purse, destined for Tim's friend Paul. She knew that she needed a job, or something to get her out of the house and making money. Swiping a few dollars now and then from Jerry didn't foot the bill. Paul was willing to trade a few hits for a trip to his back room, which worked out fine when Tim was out of town. That didn't cover her pills, though, and Tim would be home in time for New Year's.

She flopped down onto her bed. The headboard cracked against the wall. At least the neighbors wouldn't notice; they'd gone out of town like everyone else with any sense. They were probably ...

She sat upright. She opened her window, poked her head outside. Was it possible? She slipped her legs out the window, and got a slender purchase on the ledge. She made herself look out rather than down; suddenly the fourth floor was a lot higher than she'd remembered. She inched over ten feet of ledge, taking a good fifteen minutes in the freezing cold to do it. She reached the next window, and holding her breath, pressed her fingers against the glass. It stuck. With a curse and a little added pressure, it jerked upwards a crack. Eureka! Several icy minutes later, certain she was going to be caught any time, she slipped inside.

"Mary Lou indeed," she said in the darkness, and went to work. She paid Paul the same way she had the time before; he was happier with sex than cash anyway. When he was done, he even made a line for her there, "no extra charge." Tim got home the next day, which meant it was back to paying with real money. They brought in the New Year with a bang.

Somehow, she managed to survive two more quarters with only a few in-school suspensions. Detention was another thing. Her name seemed to be written in ink on the list. She used the time to catch up on her homework, and pulled her grade in English from barely a D to a C+. Therefore, she graduated.

Jack found a super-cheap flight out, and showed up the day before. She asked Tim to drive her to the airport. He stayed back when Jack finally stepped out of the umbilical connecting the plane to the terminal, a backpack slung over his shoulder. She went to throw herself into his arms but stopped at the expression on his face when he saw her.

"Sis?"

"You were expecting Madonna?"

"No. I wish you'd told me she'd be here." His tone, his eyes, everything asked her what the hell she'd done to herself. She resisted the nervous urge to check her clothes, knowing that all the people she hung with dressed this way. Black was a nice, basic color that went with everything. At least her hair wasn't the poofy hairsprayed terror favored by the other girls at school.

She frowned at him. "I get this from Jerry. I don't need it from you." She had been practicing her stare for over a year; for the first time ever, Jack dropped his eyes before she did.

"You're right. I came here to see you." He pulled her into a hug, then whispered against her ear. "But we are going to talk later."

On the drive home, Jack got acquainted with Tim. By the time they'd reached home, she could tell he didn't approve. Well, who cared what Jack thought, anyway? He wasn't her father, just her big brother who cleaned floors for a living. Tim had been her boyfriend for nearly a year. He'd casually mentioned moving in together after they graduated, and she thought it would be a good idea. If Jack didn't like it, he could deal with it.

Tim dropped them off, not completely unobservant to Jack's dislike, muttering about needing to get home. They walked up the stairs silently, the miles yet yawning between them while their hands remained half an inch from touching. Their mother, oddly enough, saved them from doing or saying anything devastating, by greeting Jack with all the warmth she'd never demonstrated when he'd lived with her. Hannah wondered vaguely if she'd hoarded it for precisely this occasion, as the woman shed a rainfall of tears on his shoulders.

She went to bed early, but didn't go to sleep. After the parental units closed their door, she heard a tap on her own, and knew the only person it could be.

"Come in."

He slipped inside, paced around the room uncomfortably, and finally sat down beside her on her bed.

"Tell me. I'll find out on my own anyway."

"There's nothing to tell."

"Bull. Is it Jerry? If he's laid a finger on you ... "

"He hasn't. He's a jerk, but he's not evil."

"Then what is it?" She refused to answer. He grabbed her arms, and looked at her elbows.

"What the hell are you doing?!" She pulled away and stared at him.

"Looking for tracks. You don't have any."

"You know I hate needles."

"I know. I also know that you aren't the same girl I left a year and a half ago. Are you back on the drugs again?" He wasn't really asking, just confirming. It was in his eyes.

"It's not like everyone else isn't doing them too."

"You're not everyone else. Neither am I. We had plans."

"No, you had plans. You never even told me what they were, just that you had them. And then you left, and your plans went with you."

"You know why I left. You told me to leave." "I know!" In a softer voice, she repeated, "I know."

"Sis, you're done with school. Come back with me to L.A.. Chet moved out; there's room for one more at my place. I think it would be really good for you."

"I'm not leaving Tim."

His mouth turned. "Tim's going to destroy himself before he's twenty-five. What did he take before he drove you to the airport?" "Nothing. He doesn't do and drive."

"How considerate of him." His voice dripped sarcasm.

"I take that back; he'll drive right after he does me." She was rewarded by a flinch. "Oh come on, it's not like you're a virgin." She watched his face again. "Are you?" she asked incredulously.

"I refuse to kiss and tell."

"I'm not asking about kissing."

"And I'm not telling. Think about it, Sis. I promised to take care of you, but you have to want me there. I can't stay here. You can come with me if you honestly want to go." Then he did something he hadn't done since they were young. He kissed her on her forehead. "Goodnight, Hannah."

"Goodnight, Jack." He closed the door behind him, leaving her in darkness.



She broke up with Tim on July 4, 1985, a few days after they moved in together. He'd been in the mood; she hadn't. He'd cajoled, wheedled, and pleaded, but it had been a long day and all she'd wanted to do was sleep. She had turned her back to him, and had nearly nodded off when she felt him grab her shoulders and roll her over. She twisted; he held, and when she paused for breath, he slid his grasp to both of her wrists, using the other to slide her legs open.

Some small fragment of remembrance from Mr. Haslett went directly from her subconscious to her muscles.

Two seconds later, Tim was howling in agony, both arms hanging limply. At the hospital, he was also informed that she'd cracked one of his ribs. While he was getting them taped up, she took the car back to the apartment, grabbed what she considered necessary, and threw it into two suitcases. Most of their things were his, or were things she'd taken from her mother's place. She left everything but what she absolutely needed, and walked to the bus station.

She called Jack from the station in St. Louis when she'd had an hour layover. She told him then why she'd left, but she wasn't sure if it came out right, or even if she still meant it. By the time the bus hit Tulsa, she was regretting hurting and then leaving Tim. He wasn't bad to her, really. He took care of her, and loved her, and wasn't that worth a few fights now and then?

By Phoenix, she decided to get on the next bus back home, and try again with him. She even got as far as picking up the phone to call Jack and tell him that the plan was off. As she fumbled for the number, she caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the glass partitions between the phones. Maybe it was just because she was tired, and maybe it was partly withdrawal, but for an instant, she saw her mother's face superimposed on her own. Flickers of memory played back to her; she recalled the sight and sound of her mother's sobs when Jack had been at school and Daddy had gone to work. Her eyes had been rimmed red and deeply shadowed, and she'd lit her cigarette with a trembling hand. A few deep drags later, her shaking had stopped enough for her to get on with things.

She didn't call.



When Jack picked her up from the station in downtown Los Angeles, she was wired on coffee and soda, too hyper to take note of her surroundings, almost ready to burst out of her skin. She wasn't sure if she needed sleep or a hit or to run until her legs fell off. The car trip must have lasted a good portion of forever, during which she fired questions at him like bb's. What was the apartment like? Was his roommate weird? What could he tell her about this other boss of his? She stopped only when the car idled and died in front of a large, graffiti-covered building.

"Don't tell me this is it."

"Okay, I won't." He got out, taking one of her bags in the process. She grabbed the other and followed him up the grungy stairs. As he unlocked the door, she saw a roach the size of a silver dollar creep down the wall.

From the shimmering dreams on the television, and the same shadows reflected in larger than life colors on the movie screen, she was expecting California to be a land filled with beautiful, glamorous people and things. For some reason, cockroaches had never fit into the equation. Jack followed her gaze, then shrugged. "You'd be amazed what you can get used to." They went inside.



For Christmas Eve, the inmates of the asylum were allowed an extra hour in the common room. She was allowed to join them, though she would have rather stayed in her cell. She felt the eyes of every lunatic in the room on her, watching her, gauging her strengths, weaknesses. She'd heard stories about each of them, had heard even more from Harley in their long interment. Sociopaths and psychopaths, the lot of them, known for crimes unimaginable, theft, kidnapping, murder. In different circumstances, she would have been happy to compare notes.

"Hyena!" She looked around, saw Harley waving to her from in front of the television. Ignoring the continuing stares from the rest, she made her way over, and settled in awkwardly beside Harley on the overstuffed couch. Harley smiled vapidly. "You're just in time." She pointed at the screen.

"The Grinch?" For this, she had left her cell? She could be snuggled up in her blanket, talking to Spike, thinking about Christmases past. Bored. She made herself as comfortable as possible, which was getting less and less easy as time went by.

Another woman sat on Harley's opposite side, a redhead who put her in mind of Fox. The redhead gave her a calculating look.

"Seven months?"

She pulled her oversized blue shirt a little more over her. "Seven and a half, yeah." The woman made a noise and turned her attention back to Whoville. "What?"

"Nothing."

Harley piped up, "Ivy's still mad at Bats for killing her sprouts."

She heard material ripping. "Ivy" had torn five parallel gashes in the arm of the couch. "I'm going to get him for that."

Harley patted her on the shoulder. "We all are." She sighed dramatically. "He put my puddin' into solitary for the holidays."

"Your boyfriend signed his own ticket with what he pulled on Christmas '90."

She focused on the cartoon. It wasn't much to distract her, but it was better than nothing. She hummed along with Boris Karloff, patting her belly in time with the lame music. It would be over by a little past eight-thirty, and then she would have to go to her cell. She would be alone with her thoughts again.

Suddenly she wished very hard that it would be forever until the Grinch's heart grew three sizes.



Four days after her arrival in California, she started work as a cashier at a Jack-in-the-Box near the hospital. The pay sucked, but it was a place to begin while she considered her options. Jack was quietly but firmly pushing her towards some kind of college, if just secretarial school. He was convinced education would save her from herself. She was just as convinced that she didn't need any saving, thank you very much, unless it was something to save her from the tremors in her arms and legs. God, but she needed a hit.

Within her first week, she'd met the right person: another cashier at work who knew exactly where to obtain what she needed most. She cashed her first paycheck before she went home, and pocketed enough to cover expenses. The rest went to bills, rent, and food. Jack didn't comment on the small amount she brought home, and she found herself hoping he wouldn't. She could probably convince him it had all gone to taxes and Social Security, but she wasn't positive he would buy it.

'Tash kept her supplied for the next three months. She was smart enough not to use until Jack had left for his own job, and she made an effort to keep things hidden from his watchful eye. It wasn't as hard as she'd feared it might be; his other roommate moved out right after she arrived, leaving her his bedroom. She kept her makeup mirror clean, and hid the Zip-Loc's between her mattress and the boxspring of the bed. She was also careful how she used; freebasing was too intense and was thus regretfully out of the question. Just doing lines wasn't nearly as much fun, but it would work until a better arrangement came along.

She finished her shift at 1am, after cleaning the counters and disposing of the day's unused food. It had been a good night, too warm for October as far as she was concerned, but nice nonetheless. She'd been kept busy since she started at four, and all she wanted to do was go home and soak in the tub for a while.

She caught the city bus home. When she got off during the day, she'd usually walk, but when she worked closing, she simply refused. It was worth the seventy-five cents to get home in one piece. That thought made her sigh. There had been a time when she wouldn't have been afraid of the street. Jack still wasn't; he had improved his fighting skills greatly since he'd left. She bowed out of his daily trips to the gym, pointing to lack of time, not wanting him to see how out of practice she'd gotten. Strangely, he'd accepted that excuse without comment. It was weird. She was just about getting away with murder under his nose, and he was letting it slide. He'd even stopped with pushing school on her. While she wasn't about to complain, she had to wonder why he was so different from the Jack she had known just two years before. Had he finally accepted her as an adult, or had he just given up?

Thoughts like these filled her ride home and her walk down the block to the apartment. They continued until she stepped inside and saw the lights on, including the one in her room. A sick feeling grew in the pit of her stomach as she counted out the steps to her doorway, suddenly remembering that Jack had the night off from work.

Her room was a mess. Forget the normal piles of semi-clean clothing and stacks of read magazines on the floor; the mattress was off the bed, and all her drawers were emptied onto it. Jack, looking almost comically sad, sat on the boxspring holding a familiar-looking baggie in his hands, staring at it like he might make it go away by sheer force of will.

"Why do you need this?" he asked, his eyes never leaving the bag.

She stayed at the doorway, ready to run. "Because if I don't have it, I get bugs crawling under my skin."

"No, Sis. Why do you need this?" He held it up in the light. She edged into the room. "What the hell are you running away from now?"

"I'm not running away from anything. I just like the way it makes me feel." She made a grab for it, found his hand around her wrist. "Let go!" She pulled, but his grip was like steel. When had he become so strong?

"You need help, Hannah. I thought getting you out here would get you away from the scene back home. You were working, and you looked like you were finally doing okay." He met her eyes. "You're a much better actress than I thought you were."

"I'm doing just fine. I only use it when I need it, and I don't do half the stuff the rest of my friends do. Now let go!"

"You're not doing it any more."

She laughed in his face. "Wanna bet? I don't need you to take care of me."

"Yes, you do. And I'm going to. You're going to a treatment center, and you're going tonight."

"Like hell I am." She tugged her arm harder, and was rewarded by the unmistakable feeling of her shoulder slipping out of its socket. "Lemme go!" she screeched at him again, and to her surprise, he did. Unfortunately, she'd been pulling away from him so long, she was horribly off-balance. She fell on her bottom, then sat there, giving him her best glare. "It's about time."

He watched her with a disgusted look on his face. "Get up."

She folded her arms and stared. Her heart hammered in her chest, but she was damned if he was going to make her do anything. This had been a bad idea from the start. "I'm going back home."

"With what?"

She thought quickly. She didn't have enough for bus fare all the way back. He probably knew it, too.

"I'll figure out a way. I'll hitchhike if I have to." She considered calling her mother for a few seconds. Scratch that; the woman wouldn't send any money. Hell, she probably hadn't even noticed that she'd gone.

"Oh, that's brilliant! The old 'Sleep Your Way Across the Country' method of transportation."

Unable to think of a good response, she flipped him off, then pulled herself up. As she went to push past him towards her stuff, he grabbed her shoulders.

"Hannah, you're not leaving."

"Watch me." She shrugged off his grasp, but he caught her again. She felt his fingers dig into her, making her stay put.

"Ow! Quit it!"

"That's what I want you to do." She decided a pissed-off expression would be most effective. She was wrong. "If you give me that look again, I'm going to slap you."

She let her face pull into a wide smile. In her favorite come-hither voice, she said, "Oh, slap me, Jack, slap me hard. You know you want to." It worked; he dropped his hands immediately and stepped back, a very peculiar mix of expressions on his face, only one of which was disgust. She laughed and turned to get her stuff. She was half-expecting him to try to talk her into it again. She was not expecting him to grab her arms and yank them roughly behind her back.

"Hey!"

Before she could wriggle free, he'd tied her wrists together with something. She found out later that it had been the telephone cord, which led to several dark nights of wonder as to why he had the cord already unplugged. She struggled with the bonds, turning to face her brother. The smirk on his face told her all she needed to know, and it remained through the stream of obscenities she hurled in his direction as she vainly tried to free herself.

When she finally stopped out of exhaustion, both with the attempted untying and several attempts at kicking Jack's kneecaps, he still stood there, wearing that same turn of his mouth. "Pardon the cliche, but one of these days, you're going to thank me for this."

"Like hell."

"You will," he said in his Wise Big Brother voice. "Now you have two options as to how the rest of this goes. You can either go quietly and check yourself in, or I can carry you and commit you. Your choice."

"I'm not going."

He sighed. "Option B it is, then." He slung her over his shoulder like a sack (well, a sack full of rabid ferrets, but a sack nonetheless) and proceeded to carry her to the car. He dumped her unceremoniously in the back seat. She immediately squirmed to a sitting position, but discovered that the back of the front seat was just high enough to keep her from climbing over, bound as she was. The doors were locked, of course, and with the car in motion, unlocking one with her tongue really wasn't going to get her anywhere. She finally sat back in her seat, and began planning all the things she was going to do to Jack when she was free. A smile spread across her face as she entertained herself with highly graphic mental pictures.



The nurses on the midnight shift weren't pleased with their new patient; she made a valiant effort to bite anyone who came into range. Jack locked her in a bearhug from behind after she managed to draw blood from an unlucky intern, and remained in that one position until the doctor on call had arrived and ordered her to be restrained properly while they filled out the necessary paperwork.

She was tired from having worked, and then having fought, and the fact that it was approaching three am didn't help anything, either. After testing her restraints, she sat on the cold floor, put her head against her knees, and gathered herself as she waited for Jack. She knew he would come back for her; he always came back for her. He'd leave her here for a few hours, maybe even a day, scare her a little, then let her go home. Jack was like that. An unknown time later, the door opened. Jack, followed by the doctor, knelt beside her. She looked up at him, her eyes purposefully large and wide and frightened. "Are we going home now?"

He brushed her hair out of her eyes, and she tried to hide her glee. Good old Jack could never leave her here.

"You're going to stay here for a little while, Sis." This was probably just part of the scare. She hoped.

"Jack, I'm sorry. I'll be good from now on. No more coke."

He drew back, his face an unreadable blur for the second time that night. She was getting good at this. "You're probably not going to understand this right now, and maybe not for a long time. You have to stay for at least two weeks. You'll be reevaluated then."

"Why do I have to stay here? Can't I do it at home?" Ignoring the doctor, she put as much wheedling in her tone as she could without making it annoying; she'd just about perfected the voice she needed to get anything from Jack. She watched his resolve quaver.

"Hannah." At no time in her life had his voice been so gentle, and in all the years that followed, she never knew him to have quite the level of emotion he did when he said, "I'm not doing this to be cruel, or to punish you, or for any other reason you might think. I'm doing this because I don't think I could face losing you."

Without another word, he stood and quickly walked out of the room, leaving her there with the doctor.

"Hannah, I'm Dr. McLaren. Your brother will be allowed back in a few days. In the meantime, you and I are going to get to know one another."

She'd been staring at the door, willing Jack to walk back in and rescue her. When she finally realized that he wouldn't, that the bastard had left her, she looked at the doctor. There was a firmness in the woman's gaze that said she dealt with people like Hannah every day, knew all the tricks already, and wasn't about to be fooled by a girl who'd been brought in tied up with a telephone cord.

She offered Dr. McLaren her brightest smile and told her to go take a flying fuck at the moon.



She stayed on the floor the rest of the night, nodding in and out of sleep. Dr. McLaren stayed with her for about an hour, saying nothing else, and taking everything she said without comment. When the doctor finally left, she mentioned how the couch was far more comfortable than the tile, then gave Hannah a pitying look that made her blood boil. She delved deep into her memories, and came up with a few half-forgotten vulgarities learned on the playground, then hurled them with abandon on the closed door.

She had to get out of here. That was all there was to it. Jack, the only person in the world she'd really trusted, had abandoned her to the wolves. "He promised," she muttered to the couch. "He said he'd never leave." The couch had no reply.

She nodded off, waking up when her skin caught fire. She knew the symptoms of withdrawal from her last cross-country trek, knew the itching would follow soon. If her arms were still restrained, she'd be unable to scratch, or even to move. As she contemplated her state, she felt her chest closing. The temperature in the room rose by at least fifty degrees, and soon, her clothes, the same she'd worn to work a lifetime ago, were soaked through.

This will pass, she repeated in her mind over and over. This will pass soon, and the craving will start. The pain and the shakes would return, new and improved, but if she could ride the first wave she would be all right. She tried to convince herself she could live that long.

When she could move, she half-crawled to a corner of the room, and lay there, sobbing quietly until she fell into another light sleep.

She woke again when someone new entered the room, another doctor by the looks of things. He looked down at her huddled form, and again she saw no trace of leniency, only a calm determination that she would be made well in spite of herself.

He said, "If you're in a more congenial mood, I'll let you out of the jacket." Her exhaustion left her nothing to throw at him; she simply nodded. He bent down to her and somehow unfastened her restraints, then held out a hand to help her up. "Welcome to Day One. Once we get you settled in your own room, we'll introduce you to everyone else."

As he led her out towards what would be her room for the duration of her stay, she made a promise to herself that Jack was going to pay for this.



During the next two months, she was only allowed one cup of coffee or one soda per day, and a smoke break every three hours if she so chose. She did not so choose. The rest of her time was spent in day-long seminars on how to break addictive cycles, how to communicate with the people around her, and how to view herself as a worthwhile person. She hadn't been spoonfed such concentrated crap since she'd graduated, and she gleefully told the counsellors that whenever they asked, and often when they didn't.

Jack was allowed to visit for an hour each week. She spent the hour studiously ignoring him. If he was going to treat her like a kid, she was going to be one, dammit. He tried what he probably thought was reaching out to her, telling her about things that were going on in his life. She pretended not to hear that he'd quit his job at the hospital and was now working full-time for Mr. Whisner. She also acted utterly disinterested when he told her about the courses he was taking, paid for by his new boss, in chemistry and aikido. At the end of his hour, he would tell her that he loved her, and that he hoped she would be a little better by the following week. She wouldn't even watch him leave.

She was allowed one call every other day. She'd used her first call to phone Tim. A woman's voice had answered. She'd hung up without speaking. Her next call had been to her mother, who had already spoken with Jack. There was no help from that end. She didn't use any more of her calls.

In time, she noticed that people who'd come in after her had already checked out again. She didn't want to stay in any longer, either, but how to leave? She couldn't check herself out, and she couldn't walk out. There was only one way to get out with her sanity intact. The next time Jack came to visit, she paid attention to him. He left smiling. She used her calls to find out how he was doing, if he was making the rent, how his new job was going. He answered her every question eagerly.

With a little luck in her timing, she broke down during a group counselling session just as one of the head doctors walked by. She started asking questions, demonstrating responsibility, and even made an effort to be nice to the other patients.

Less than two weeks after she started playing nice, she was discharged. Jack took her out to Red Lobster for a celebration dinner, and she let herself enjoy the food and the company, quietly holding a celebration of her own inside. Jack wasn't the only one who could keep secrets.



Now she had to be doubly careful. Jack had told her point blank that he expected her to fall back within the first six months of being clean. Since she had no intention of staying clean, she guessed it was justified. 'Tash was a little leery when she dropped by a few days later, but when Hannah dropped five tens on the coffeetable, her suspicions went out the window. She actually only bought enough to use there. There was no way she was going to bring a stash home for Jack to find again.

She kept her use to a minimum. She got another job, this time at a bank, and she did surprisingly well at managing large amounts of money. She had a few friends now, but she made an effort to keep them at a pleasant distance. The fewer people she let in, the fewer could betray her trust later.

For the time being, she held the same attitude towards men she met. She felt eyes on her, now and then, some appraising, some less subtle. Sometimes, she returned the glances, and sometimes more. Twice, no, three times in the first six months after rehab, she spent the night with a man she'd met that day at work. Of the three, only one warranted another night, and then she dropped him with the others. No use getting involved with someone, just to have Jack scare him off minutes after she brought him home, and besides, she felt safer this way. None of them stayed long enough to break her heart.

She started a class of her own at the same college Jack was attending. It was just a basic psych course, but it was interesting, and it made Jack happy. She finished the semester with a low A, giving her a buzz of a different kind, one she hadn't felt in ages. There were summer courses offered in accounting, and she felt confident enough to do one. Jack took the same class, again sponsored by Mr. Whisner, and once more she found herself doing her homework with her brother. They started a friendly competition, in which whoever got the lower grade on each test had to do the dishes until the next one. The one with the higher grade at the end of the class got dinner anywhere in the city on the loser. Jack edged her out, but only by half a percent.

The world as she knew it ended quite abruptly when 'Tash was busted on possession and selling. She named Hannah as one of her clientele. When she thought about it over the next month, she knew that it wasn't so much the loss of the supply, nor even the extremely humiliating, and fortunately fruitless, search of her body and then her room, so much as the look of utter betrayal on Jack's face. The cops didn't find a thing, but she could tell he knew the charges were true, and somehow, that was worse.



Her door was stuck shut. She wasn't fully awake, and had stumbled towards the bathroom, only to discover that her way out was barred. This was bad. She knocked on the wall, thinking maybe they'd had another earthquake and she just hadn't noticed.

"Jack?"

His voice didn't come from his room; he was standing outside her door. "I'm here."

"My door is stuck." Her brain slowly pulled out of the fog in which it had been after she'd cried herself to sleep the night before.

"No, it's locked."

She thought about this. "It doesn't lock from the outside."

"It does now."

"Jack, I need to go to the can." And as soon as I'm out of here, I'm running.

"There's a portable pot in the corner. I put it there after you went to sleep."

"That's disgusting."

"Get used to it. You're going to be in there for a long time."

She was about to offer a rebuttal when his words sunk in. "What?!"

"Rehab didn't work. All you learned was how to lie better. So we're going to keep you off the drugs a different way. My way." She went completely numb. She'd known Jack all her life, had seen what he could do to other kids when he was pushed too far. She also knew about things she never spoke to him about, how sometimes stray cats in the neighborhoods where they lived would disappear, and sometimes someone's pet cat or dog. There was also a higher rate than normal of small, unexplained fires that traveled with them, nothing spectacular, really, except for that one Fourth of July. She had always accepted these things naturally, the same way she'd accepted the sunrise and the foster homes and the pain in her muscles after a workout. She knew, the same way he knew her, that her brother had dark places inside of him that were best left unexplored. Suddenly, she found herself inside one of those places. She wondered if the cats had felt the same utter terror.

She fully expected to die in that room. She told him that she had to go to work; he called in sick for her. She banged on the floor, the walls; he let her know that the neighbors were on vacation, and the people below had moved out. She cried; he consoled her but would not let her out. He slipped food under the door when she was hungry, and had somehow hooked up a hose to slide under it, too.

By the end of the second day, her voice was gone from shouting. She could barely manage above a small peep, and all the water in the world couldn't soothe the burning in her throat. He left on the third morning to go to work. She spent the time trying to unscrew the hinges on her door with her fingers. Her fingernails ripped and bled.

The stupid apartment had no windows in her stupid room. If there had, she could just slip out the way she had when she'd been younger. Instead, she was trapped in here, her fingers soaking her sheets with sticky blood, her muscles under their own volition, the whole place stinking. By the time Jack returned, she was too weak to cry. She curled up on her bed and wished she could die.

He continued his litany of "You'll appreciate this later," "This is for your own good," "It's hurting me more than it's hurting you." She wanted to stuff the most evil, vile, disgusting things she could imagine down his neck. She told him so, or tried, until the pain of talking drove her back to silence.

When he left again the following day, she didn't bother trying to escape. Neither did she touch the food he'd left. She was just going to lie here until she died, or he let her out. She'd seen what had happened to the animals. She was betting on the former.

It wasn't fair. How dare he lock her up? How dare he tell her how to live, what to be? It was her life. She had the right to do with it just as she wanted. He was her brother, not her boyfriend, father, or master. And he was going to kill her. She was quietly certain of that, became more certain as the fourth day moved into the fifth, and then the sixth.

By her second day without food, she was getting dizzy. She wasn't used to privation, and spent all her time staring at the ceiling, fighting a headache. Visions swam across her eyes, monsters, devils, parents.

She grew confused, unsure. Jack's voice outside her door took on cadences she'd never heard in another living being, and by the sixth night of her incarceration, she wasn't certain if she was hearing Jack, her father, or God. If it was God, then she was probably already dead and in hell. Same with her father. If she was still hearing Jack, then she was alive. Nominally.

She needed to know.

"Jack?"

"I'm here, Sis."

"Do we have any bananas?"

He chuckled. It had to be Jack. God didn't chuckle. "Yeah. I'll see if I can fit one under the door." It was smooshed a little, but sure enough, it was a banana. After she ate it, she felt better. Her thoughts cleared, and then cleared more as she drank some water.

It was the seventh day. She was alive.

Once she was sure her voice wouldn't give out, she started talking to him, saying whatever she could think of to get him to open the door. He talked back, and for the first time, he talked about their father. She remembered few things from the time he'd been around. She did recall the cast she'd worn on her leg when she was little; Jack had carefully printed his name on it in big block letters. She'd always been under the impression that she'd fallen, even had a vague memory of being pushed over by a large dog. Jack told her that there had been a dog, but that it hadn't pushed her. She'd gone up to it and petted it, toddling away from their parents to do so. She'd been punished, but her bones had been very little back then, and the punishment had been too much for one of them.

He told her that he thought sometimes she could remember, even when she thought she didn't, and that was why she was ruining her brain cell by cell. She thought that was the same bull she'd heard in school, and then in treatment, but she wisely chose to keep her mouth shut.

She could tell there was more, that Jack was keeping other things back. There were words he never said, hidden words like magical spells. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what demons he held at bay by not speaking the incantations. Instead, she asked him how he dealt with it. That was the key, both figuratively and literally.

The door opened.

He let her shower and change, for which she was grateful, then felt absurd for the gratitude: he'd kept her locked up! When she was ready, he took her out to an even worse part of town than where they lived. It was nighttime, and she felt a little nervous, but there was a kind of anxious excitement about her brother she'd never seen, and it was contagious. She was safe, they were safe, so long as they held their aura of anticipation.

They stopped in front of an abandoned building. Jack scouted around, finding a few bums sleeping nearby. He woke them and chased them off. Then he pulled out two vials from two separate pockets.

The first held dark crystals. These he poured in a careful line, reminding her of a little white line, and she rubbed her arms to still the sudden chill that went through her. The second vial had a clear liquid in it, which smelled like cleaning solution when he opened it. He poured the liquid over the line, then stepped back to wait.

After a few minutes, she was getting impatient and more than a little scared. He hushed her, then got a scrap of newspaper from a nearby dumpster. He folded it into a paper airplane, and from several feet away, threw it at the line.

When the nose of the plane touched the line, the whole thing detonated. Jack grinned.

"Better living through chemistry, I always say."

"Can I try?"

"Sure." He handed her the vials, which weren't completely empty. She poured the smelly stuff on the crystals, then dropped a pebble on the mush. Nothing happened. Jack explained, "It has to be dry. Wait a few." She did, then tried again.

The crack wasn't as loud as Jack's had been, but a thrill went through her all the same. It wasn't as powerful as cocaine, and it certainly wasn't as good as sex, but it was definitely a new rush, and one she could share with Jack. Laughter bubbled up inside of her, filled with the fear and the pain and the knowledge that she could have died, which had saturated her thoughts this past week. Not safe now, not secure, knowing only that she was going to live, she let that mad laughter free.



Her cell was situated in the building so that, in January, the sun didn't shine into it at all. It would creep up on the stone wall to either side, then pull back just before it sparkled into view. She spent hours at a time watching for it, waiting, hoping it would finally move to where she could feel it warm against her face. A few seconds would be enough. The longer she spent indoors, the more she ached to be outside, even though she'd heard the wind chills were easily thirty below out there.

She'd behaved herself these past few months. No complaining, no swearing, no rude comments, no escape attempts. In return, she was allowed out into the common room to exercise. It wasn't the same.

She heard Harley stirring in her own cell, and sighed. The quiet had been nice while it'd lasted. While her block-mate slept, she could pretend she was the only person in the world, and she didn't have to look the past into its scarred face. Once the other woman was fully awake ...

"Hyena?"

"What?"

"Did you go back into rehab?"

"Not quite."

Harley had started asking questions after Christmas, and for lack of anything better to do, she'd answered. She'd learned shortly thereafter that Harley had the attention span of a four year old. Within five minutes, she'd be off on another tangent. At first, she hadn't cared, but it was getting frustrating.

She wanted to tell. She wanted someone else to hear the story, know what it was like for her, for them. Maybe it wouldn't make a difference to anyone else. Harley was loopier than a truckload of Spaghettio's. No one would listen to her later, and even if they did, they were certain to get it skewed beyond recognition; Harley had an unique perspective on what constituted reality.

That didn't matter.

The more she told the mad woman next door, the more it finally became real to her, and things that were real could be worked with, set aside, or even killed. Telling Harley made her face everything again, and allowed her to lay it to rest.

The need to tell both consumed and repulsed her. She needed to get it out. She needed to hide everything away, make it a non- occurrence by not acknowledging it. She needed, she wanted, she feared, and after talking Harley to sleep, she cried with the force of memory. Even during sleep, visions of the past haunted her in nightmares, robbing her of rest until she rid herself of them for good with words.

There was no choice. She had to continue, and she had to hurry. She only had a week, maybe two.



Jack showed her all the amazing things that could be done with the right chemicals, and none of them to be put in her arm or up her nose. The drugs still in her body worked their way slowly out of her system. For a long time, tremors were a regular part of her life, but every time they came, Jack was there to hold her until they ceased their assault. There was still pain, and her mind would flash until she was sure it would break out of her skull, but Jack's voice was with her, coaxing, soothing, until the agony receded further and further away.

As the last vestiges of her addiction moved through her, she noticed she had more energy, letting her mind move in sharp, clear patterns. She accompanied Jack to the gym, and began the tedious process of relearning everything she'd forgotten. He was a patient teacher, though, and she wanted to learn, for him.

Jack continued working for Mr. Whisner, and as she improved in her fighting techniques, she went with him on the "odd jobs" he'd mentioned but never really explained. It turned out that certain people were inconvenient to some of Mr. Whisner's business ventures. Jack's job was to convince them it wasn't in their best interests to continue being inconvenient. This was accomplished by the application of the second law of thermodynamics: Jack and Hannah greatly increased the amount of entropy in their target's life. Cars suddenly fell to pieces in the middle of the freeway. Minor appliances exploded. Family pets went missing. It always amused her to see what new things Jack thought up.

They only caused one death, and that was by heart attack, so she really didn't think it counted.

The money was good, and she eventually quit her job at the bank to make more time in her day to spend with Jack, planning and executing the most delightful things. Mr. Whisner liked her, but Jack put his foot down quickly on that one. She grumbled until he told what had happened to their employer's last mistress when he'd tired of her.



In September of '89, one of Mr. Whisner's associates was apprehended by the F.B.I. Mr. Whisner was subsequently indited on more charges than a battery factory. Jack thought it would be a good time for them to relocate. She'd agreed.

They took the scenic route across the country, pausing in places they'd wanted to visit since they'd been kids. They had enough money to linger in one place a week, in another for two, and for the hell of it, they changed identities each time. In one city, they were Bill and Chrissy Stroderman, in other Michael and Angie Belzner. They spent three days in Orlando at Disney World, at her insistence, and pretended to be newlyweds. It was great fun to put on each face, leave it behind again.

But there were other things that weren't so easy to leave behind.

They stopped in the town where the Greens lived, and went to the house. A strange face met them at the door, and looked from one to the other warily as she answered their questions. No, she didn't know about the family who'd lived there before. They had left a forwarding address, but it had been misplaced two years back and never recovered. The next door neighbor was a little more helpful, volunteering that Anne Marie Green, Tipton now, lived a few streets over. They walked the two blocks. No one was home.

They were about to leave town again when Jack stopped at a phone booth. He flipped through the pages, then pointed out a name and number to her. Steve. Her heart jumped, then jumped again when she saw that his address was also listed. She looked up Ron's name and address. Good old Yellow Pages.

Rick and Teresa Lowell supposedly checked out of their room in the Best Western early the next morning. They took the paper with them, the headline reading how two houses had mysteriously burned to the ground on opposite sides of town between midnight and 1am.



She wasn't certain how they ended up in New York, only that it had seemed the proper place to be. Their journey had lasted three months, bringing them to their new home at Christmas. They found a cheap place in Brooklyn, and proceeded to look for jobs, as the money they'd earned from Mr. Whisner's employment was finally running dry.

After New Year's, they both got jobs in a shipping company loading and unloading boxes. It was mind-numbing hard labor, but it paid the rent, and more vitally, they were together. By that point, she had spent almost every waking moment with Jack for the past two years. She'd hardly dated since she'd started working with him full time, and the few guys that she did see were usually frightened off by her brother's mere presence after the second date. It was annoying, but it was worth it, somehow. Jack was with her all the time, and now she knew he would never leave her again. That single fact, imprinted on her soul, was worth the world to her.

On the weekends, they continued their training. No one could compete with either one of them for long; Mr. Haslett's lessons in how to win were permanently etched on them both. They usually drew a crowd, and occasionally, they taught a few enterprising souls, though most dropped off quickly, unable to keep up. That was fine with them; they sparred together, usually splitting the victories down the middle.

August 10, 1990 marked her fourth year of being clean. Jack surprised her with a cake, and feeling stupid for doing it, she cried.

The next time they went to the gym, there was a new face in the crowd. She wouldn't have noticed, but this one wasn't typical of the usual bodybuilders that hung out there. For one thing, the newcomer was female. For another, she was drop-dead gorgeous, and she frowned when she saw Jack notice that, too. The woman said nothing to them, only watched from the sidelines, and leaving when they were done. Hannah allowed herself a sigh of relief, and couldn't say why.

They worked overtime the next weekend, and for Labor Day, they took a drive to Coney Island. It wasn't until the second week in September that they made it back to the gym. The woman was also back. Hannah saw her face brighten visibly when she saw them walk in, and she tensed as the stranger approached them. Jack's sudden intake of breath disturbed her twice as much as the woman's feral, nearly hungry smile.

She took the initiative. "What do you want?"

"A challenge."

Hannah laughed; it had been a while since even a man had challenged her, and the last was still regretting it. She noticed a man walk up behind the woman, someone more typical of the gym's usual patrons, although none of the regulars sported a mohawk. She made an effort not to roll her eyes.

"He with you?" She jerked her thumb at Mohawk.

The woman nodded. Hannah sensed Jack deflate just a tad, felt both vindicated and a little angry.

She looked up at the beefy male. "You wanna go a round with me?"

The strangers looked surprised. The woman recovered much faster. She asked her companion, "Are you up to it?" Her voice carried just enough sarcasm to make the man bristle. Hannah saw him immediately size her up and come out wanting. She hid her grin.

"I'll try not to hurt 'er," he muttered in an accent, either British or Australian. She couldn't tell, and she really didn't care. They moved to the center of the practice room.

He was good, damned good. She found herself struggling to keep even with him, and that only ever happened when she fought Jack. She realized as he feinted and attacked that she'd grown a little lazy just fighting her brother; she knew all his styles and techniques because they were her own. They had to learn a few more, like what this guy was doing. Maybe he would be willing to trade secrets.

As the battle waged on, she noticed something important: he was relying a great deal on his larger size and strength. He wasn't doing it to nearly the extent as most of the men here did, and he was much subtler in his method, which was why she hadn't seen it at first. She changed strategy, aiming for setting him off-balance. He caught on quickly, but her smaller frame was a shade faster than his.

In half a minute more, he was facing the ceiling.

The woman laughed as Hannah helped him up. "Good show!"

Hannah panted. "Not bad, big guy. That's the best exercise I've had in ages."

He mumbled something as the woman handed him a towel. She turned to Hannah. "That was excellent, though I've never seen the technique before. Would you be willing to show me sometime?" Her face seemed open and friendly now, but Hannah wouldn't quickly forget the first impression she'd seen that day, of a wild creature acting tame only because it chose to do so.

"I'll think about it." The smile turned closer to genuine.

"Attitude! Perfect!" With that mystifying phrase, she turned to Jack. "Are you as good as her?"

"I taught her everything she knows." Showoff.

"Then perhaps you can fight me and prove it." Jack's eyebrows shot up. Mohawk just shrugged.

"If you insist," Jack finally said. Again, a space was cleared, and the combatants met in the middle.

Jack opened with a move directly from their first day with Mr. Haslett. The woman countered with an equally simple move. They tested each other like that for nearly ten minutes before Jack started on the real stuff. The woman blocked him effortlessly, then attacked on her own. Jack countered, with one of his better blocks, and seemed a little put off by her skill.

Five more minutes passed with the two of them locked in heavy combat. By that time, everyone in the vicinity of the match had come by to watch; Jack was the best brawler in the gym, along with Hannah of course, and to see their equal was something new. Jack feinted again, caught her, threw her across the floor. The woman snapped around in midair and came back after him. Catching him off-guard, the woman broke his balance. Jack fell hard, and the woman leapt onto him, her knee against his chest.

She'd won.

A sigh went up from the crowd as the two disengaged. It parted around the woman, keeping a respectful distance from the four of them, but staying nearby, probably in case a real fight broke out. Hannah considered it.

The woman must have been a mind reader, for she held out her hand to Jack, and shook it firmly. "That was wonderful. I've had better sparring partners, but most of them were professionals."

Jack, still unable to speak, nodded mutely.

The woman turned to her companion. "I'd say we've found our last two members."

The man nodded agreement. "And I'd pay money to see Wolf take on either of 'em."

The woman smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Let's hope other people will, too,"

Hannah looked at Jack, who seemed as confused as she was. "What are you talking about? Members of what?"

"Our team," the woman said.

"Team," said Jack. Jack wasn't a team player. She could sympathize.

"Team. How would you two like to be stars?"

She glanced at her brother again. He looked uncertain. Her mind raced on its own. Stars? As in movie stars? "You an agent or something?"

She laughed. "Not quite." She held out her hand again. "The name's Fox. This ruffian is called Dingo. I'd like to make a business deal with the two of you."

Okay, so they had weird names. They could fight well, and they were offering money. The job at the shipping company paid next to nothing. What could it hurt to listen?

Jack touched her shoulder. "What do you think, Sis?"

"I think we're all about to become very good friends."



"So we joined them. At first, we did some odd jobs, same as we used to do for Mr. Whisner only not usually as violent. When the t.v. deal finalized, we switched totally to acting and doing personal appearances. The royalties alone would have been enough to live on for years, if we scrimped. But Jack and I had already done the poor thing, and we didn't want to go back. When the show was canceled, and later, when we got out of jail the last time, we stayed working for Pack Media." Technically, she was telling the truth. They hadn't known until near the end of things that Xanatos had actually been calling the shots from the beginning. Her keeping mum on it was part of the deal she'd struck to get out of Riker's Island and into Arkham.

"Wow," said Harley, awe apparent in her voice. "I remember watching your show. I used to tape it when I wasn't going to be home. Till they started all the reruns, anyway. What did you and Jack do after it ended?"

She didn't answer at first. There had been so much in her life with and after the Pack, but she was uncertain how to continue.

How could she expect Harley to know what it was like to be worshipped by thousands of children, to be sought after for autographs and interviews, to see her own face on mass produced plastic toys with movable limbs and fireable weapons that only vaguely resembled those from the show? How could she possibly describe the aftermath of Fox's and Wolf's arrests, with those same children pulling away, frightened, and those same toys sold in clearance bins for a third of the original price? Could she find a way to speak of her own arrest, of escaping and falling in love and losing that love over and again, of being so desperate to keep improving that she had bartered away pieces of her humanity in exchange for strength and speed and form?

And even if she found a way for explaining all the rest, did she dare to hope Harley might understand what happened afterwards, when Wolf and Coyote were gone, and her brother, who'd briefly become a god, was reduced to the dim shadow of a human being he'd always been?

No. Harley might have been the most brilliant psychologist on the face of the planet once, but now, there was just no possible way she could understand the last part.

"We survived," she said, and that was all there was to say.

Harley spent the better part of an hour trying to wheedle the rest of the story out of her, but the wellspring of words had dried, leaving her empty.

Almost.

There was one other thing, past all the rest, after the show and the first arrest, after their upgrade, after Egypt and Guatemala. Right after her second arrest.



She waited in the examination room, her arms and legs shackled three times over. She amused herself with thoughts of eviscerating her captors. She bet herself that she could have the doctor's intestines decorating the floor before he had time to scream.

The door opened, and she turned her head towards the sound with her widest smile, already tasting blood.

Her smile froze on her face.

"You ... "

"You were expecting Bob Dole? I'm afraid he's busy right now."

She recovered quickly. Hell, Goliath had shown up in the rain forest; after that, she wouldn't really be surprised if Bob Dole did pop into her life.

"What do you want?" Might as well find out what was happening this time.

"I'm here to see you."

She crossed her arms. "Color me unimpressed."

He held up a piece of paper. "How about I color you Green instead, Ms. Phillips?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I have here a name and an address of a fellow you might know. He used to go by John Phillips. I guess that would be Senior."

"So?"

"I am willing to give you this piece of paper and two million dollars."

She gave him a once-over. "Robert Redford you ain't, but what the hell."

He looked at her sourly. "That's not what I meant. I have a little business proposition I'd like to discuss with you."

It was money in the bank, half up front, half upon delivery, so to speak, with the added bonus of spending her sentence in a sanitarium rather than a prison. For just a little of her time, which would be spent in stir no matter what anyway, she got a sweeter deal than she could have possibly wrangled alone. And the address.

The newspaper clipping she'd received told her the address had been put to good use, that they'd never have to worry about their father's return, triumphant or otherwise. She could only presume her brother had found a good use for the first million, and rather hoped the use involved breaking her out once she'd made good on her part of the bargain. That would be any day now. She would be free, with plenty of cash to spare. The subject of the deal would go into Fox's possession, and she would just bet that Fox had no idea what she was really getting. Her little slice of revenge.

It was a perfect arrangement.

So why was she regretting it?



Epilogue

Smoke billowed from the hole in the side of the transport; Jackal poked his head through, careful not to touch the melting edges.

The guard nearest to her took aim. Milliseconds later, he was sporting another buttonhole, which conveniently went through to the back of his uniform. The other guard, whose survival instincts were slightly sharper, ducked. Jackal thoughtfully removed her kneecaps so she wouldn't be tempted to follow them later. She wasn't sure what had happened to the driver. She was certain it hadn't been pretty.

"Ready to go, Sis?" He extended his hand. Literally.

She took careful hold of his fingertips, scowling as she remembered for the umpteenth time that her own didn't do that anymore. They'd have to do something about her hydraulics as soon as the initial manhunt simmered down.

"I'm ready." He escorted her out of the ruined transport into the freezing rain outside. Already, she could hear sirens, as the police came to rescue their own. Her thrusters were off-line, and would be until they made repairs; he swept her up and blasted off into the cold sky. When they were clear, he shifted her, bent his wrist again, and fired at the van. It exploded in a satisfying conflagration.

"Nice."

"Thought you might like it. How're you doing?"

"Fine," she lied. Every muscle in her body ached now that the anesthesia had worn off. She wanted to be warm and safe and asleep and she wanted the pain to go away.

But it wouldn't.

She wasn't certain where they were going; Jackal no doubt had some safe hideaway, and he would have to let her rest once they got there. She was the first to acknowledge that a Caesarian was the only way the baby was getting out, but she also knew the tradeoff: she'd take at least a week to recover, instead of one or two days. In the meantime, maybe Jackal would consent to giving her something to deaden her nerves. She could hope.

They landed. She half-stumbled inside, taking only vague notice of her whereabouts. With weird familiarity, she was reminded of the night of their homecoming, as her brother again readied things for her. This time, he guided her into what she could only presume was her own room, and pressed something into what had once been her hand.

It looked like a horsepill. She swallowed it dry.

She wasn't going to slip again, she told herself. Jackal wouldn't let her. She just needed the drugs until her system recovered, and he would make certain that she stopped as soon as it had. He would take care of her again. He always would. Every time she thought of that, she'd be able to laugh, all the too many losses in her life restored by the knowledge that one dear friend, at least, would stay. And sorrows end.

She was so tired; it had only been four hours between the birth and when the bastards moved her out. She lay her head on the pillow, felt her brother pull the covers over her. He clicked off the light, was about to close the door behind him.

"Jack ... "

He paused. "Yeah?"

Her thoughts were growing less and less organized. She needed sleep in the worst way. But one thought plagued her, and she wouldn't sleep until she'd put it into words. It was too late to tell Harley, but she could tell him, and set it to rest.

"I get it now. I know why Mom put us ... " She stopped, tried to catch the thought again. "The homes. I get it. Why she gave us up." Her train of thought left her. Jackal remained at the doorway for several minutes, finally exiting when he thought she was asleep.

She mumbled to the empty room, "Not because she hated us. Not at all."

Warmth, whether from the drugs or the realization, filled what remained of her body. She could see everything with utter clarity now. She had to call home, tell her mother that she understood, after facing the same dilemma, she finally understood.

Her new resolve offered nothing in the way of getting her muscles to cooperate, and she settled regretfully back into the pillow.

She'd sleep now, call when she was awake. She and Jack could go home for a while, make up for lost time. Yes. Turn over a new leaf, have a fresh start with Mom and each other and maybe even Asshole. Things would be different this time. Perfect.

When she woke up, she promised herself, and drifted into a place of no dreams.


The End