A/N: As usual, I own nothing. This story contains spoilers for through season 3, but especially "Ding, Dong, the Witch Ain't Dead." Feedback is welcome and very appreciated. Enjoy.
June was seriously starting to think that to live in Orchid Bay, magical beings had to agree to be zapped with some sort of stupid beam. Sneaking out of Jody's bedroom at one in the morning without waking her wasn't exactly fun, but she had long ago accepted that getting through an entire sleepover without her bracelet going off was about as likely as Monroe not spending the night after any kind of party moaning in the bathroom while his stomach reminded him that it was, in fact, the size of a golf ball.
So she was used to having to tip-toe past her best friend, who always insisted on sleeping right under the window, without tripping on her golden hair, which seemed to come to life and try to entangle whatever it could as soon as the pig tails went down. At least Ophelia'll sleep through anything. I bet she'd stay out through Loki and Thor having a fight on the front lawn. Well, if she could see or hear them, anyway. She sighed. It was better not to think about that kind of thing.
Yeah, sneaking out was annoying, but no big deal. Leaping through the night was even kind of nice sometimes, as long as it wasn't raining and she got to sleep in the next morning. But she always ended up arriving at the disturbance, only to be confronted once again with the fact that she was dealing with monsters whose combined intellect paled in comparison to a couple of large rocks being rubbed together.
Tonight was no exception. I mean, come on, she thought as she swung off a tree branch towards a low roof, sure, if you wanna start a minor apocalypse, trying to bring back J'than the Frakian Lord of Chaos back from banishment is a good place to start. But seriously, doing it just to get revenge on the neighbors for letting their cat eat your azaleas was just dumb. She'd suffered through a screaming rant after she'd dared to call them pink roses, but it was dark, and it wasn't like she was going to stop to smell the flowers up close when someone was threatening to bring back the guy who started the Great Fire of London for fun. Never mind what he tried to do when he was actually plotting evil.
That should've been the end of it: show up, smash the summoning altar, listen to something with green skin and six arms rant about his precious flowers, beat them all up and go back to Jody's before anyone knew she was missing. And it had gone almost perfectly. Admittedly, she should've paid more attention to the antelope snake, but everybody else was coming at her with clubs and ceremonial knives, and he was just standing there under a tree messing around in his satchel. Worst case he'd try to zap her with some orb or something. He would, of course, find out just how brilliant an idea that was.
Just as she'd sent the last one of them actually brave (or idiotic) enough to try attacking her sailing into a tree, she looked up to see the snake pull a two-liter Diet Coke and a package of mints from his satchel. Looking back, she should have moved, or thrown a rock at him, or something, but it was soda--not exactly a Terellian pus sore potion. So she just stood there while he unscrewed the cap, poured in the mints, and screwed it back on. Next thing she knew, he hurled it at her with all the demonic speed he could muster.
A loud bang, and she was flying backwards, drenched in soda and too shocked to react--she'd let herself be hit with a Diet Coke bomb. And as if that weren't embarrassing enough, she managed to land in the destroyed, dug up flowerbed. Gross didn't come close to describing the feeling of being drenched to the underpants with soda and rolled in dirt. Even adding some of those words her parents said that she wasn't ever supposed to repeat didn't get her there. At least Ah-Mah didn't laugh at me when I showed up. Much. The forty-minute shower was nice, though.
By the time she was on her feet the antelope snake was long gone. It had to be the stupid ray in action. Either that, or all the magical creatures got together just to do weird stuff to see how she'd react. Part of her thought she shouldn't complain; he could've thrown something a lot nastier at her. But the rest of her wasn't going to forget the sensation of soda-dirt for a long, long time. She sighed again. And my hair smells like soda mixed with orange shampoo. I washed it three times! So not fair.
She bounced off a lamppost as she rounded a corner and grinned as Jody's place came into view. Almost there. By the time she made it to the back fence, her grin all but split her face. She hopped up, balancing on one of the pickets with almost instinctual skill, and somersaulted onto the roof, landing in a near-silent crouch. Don't wanna wake up Jody's mom or Rachael. Especially Rachael. At least I had a spare set of pajamas at Ah-Mah's. It would've been hard to explain the mud. And the soda. Ick. She walked slowly across the roof until she was standing above Jody's room, directly in front of the old tree outside her window. She yawned. Okay. Sleepy-time.
She stepped forward, letting herself freefall for a moment before reaching out and snagging the nearest branch that would hold her weight, flipping onto it with practiced ease. She dropped to the next lowest branch and found herself looking into Jody's room. She couldn't see Jody, and hoped that meant she hadn't stirred from her spot under the sill. Ophelia had literally not moved an inch. If I couldn't see her chest moving I'd start to worry. She could at least snore or squeak or something every once in a while. Still, perfect. They'll never suspect a thing. Reaching out, she gently started to lift the unlocked window--and nearly dropped it a second later as a sharp whimpering, moaning, very familiar sound hit her ears. Jody?! A cold shiver shot down her spine. If that whole dime-store demon summoning had been some sort of ruse to lure her away and--
The window was up and June was crouched in the middle of the room almost before she realized what she was doing. Ophelia actually turned over, but that was all. June's eyes darted around the room, looking for something, anything, out of place. Nothing. She started turning back towards the window. I don't--oh. She felt the adrenaline leaving her system. Oh, man, she thought, crossing the room quickly, thoughtful scowl spreading across her face As much as she was glad no one was trying to eat anybody, she hated dealing with kind of stuff.
She knelt next to Jody--or rather, the curled up, shaking, mewing mass of purple pajamas and blond hair she assumed to be Jody--and tried to figure out the best way to wake her up. She obviously wasn't coming out of whatever nasty dream she was stuck in on her own. Nightmares suck. Dealing with other people's nightmares--I'd rather be turned into a lemur again. Still, and unfortunately it was becoming ever more clear, there were only so many kinds of problems she could pummel out of existence. Okay, so just shake her awake. No big deal. She grabbed one of her friend's shoulders and moved it gently back and forth. "Jody?" she hissed. "Hey, Jody, wake up. You're having a nightmare, or that weird dream where you marry Jack Nickelson. Which is also kind of a nightmare, I guess." Her frown deepened. Jody wasn't coming around. That's not good. "Hey," she dared to raise her voice, just a little, "snap--"
With a high-pitched squeal, Jody turned over, an absolutely wild look in her wide, shining eyes, and let loose a wide, backhanded punch that somehow managed to plow into June's nose.
June blinked. The part of her brain that wasn't frozen in surprise figured that must be what it felt like to be slammed in the face by an angry butterfly. It took several more seconds for the shock to fade enough for her to remember that she was supposed to be keeping the whole super-strength-and-near-invulnerability thing under wraps, and not reacting to being clocked in the face might seem odd. Then again, June thought, just as she was getting ready to make it look like she'd been clocked, she'll really freak out if she thinks she punched me. Maybe she won't realize what she did. Yeah. Let's try that.
She knelt in front of her friend just as Jody seemed to start coming back to reality. What the heck just happened? June tried to think of a single instance in the last eight years of Jody ever hitting anything and came up empty. Wow. Must've been a real doozy of a dream. Then the pale glow of the Little Mermaid nightlight fell across the blonde's face, illuminating fresh tears. June's frown was suddenly painful. Aw, man. Not cool.
Jody blinked, eyes darting around frantically as she took deep, shuddering breaths, looking to June for the briefest instant like someone who wasn't quite sure where they were. "J-June?" she whispered finally, fear still plain in her voice. "What? How did I get--where? But the m-m-monkey...hit the monkey... stay away ..."
Monkeys? Weird. June forced a hopefully reassuring smile onto her face as an uncertain feeling tickled the back of her mind. She was missing something important here, she was sure. "Hey," she whispered with what she hoped was a soothing tone, "relax. It was just a ... very strange sounding ... dream. You're in your room with Ophelia and me, remember? You probably just had one too many atomic s'mores before bed or something. Next time we won't let Ophelia use so many Red Hots." Now snap out of it. You're creeping me out, here. Please?
"Just a dream. How could it be just a dream? It was so ..." she shook her head.
June scratched the back of her head. Well, that's normal.
Jody gasped. "Ophelia?" She glanced across the room, but their punk friend was still sleeping peacefully. "I didn't wake her up," she said gratefully. "At least there's that." She blinked, looking like she was starting to calm down, then peered at June. "Hey, June. I didn't wake you up, did I?"
Oh, crap. Think fast. "No, no, no," she amped up her grin a few watts, shaking her hands in a placating gesture, "I had to go to the bathroom, and when I came back you were all 'Eeeee!' so I was trying to wake you up." Jody moaned miserably.
"You're not a very good liar, June. Your eyes get really big and you smile too much," Jody keened, eyes starting to water again. "I did wake you up. June, I'm so sorry. Please don't be mad," she finished desperately.
Jody still had to be half-asleep to be so blunt. It wasn't like June was convinced Jody believed everything she said all the time, but having it thrown back in her face didn't exactly make her feel too good. Guess I kind of deserve it, though. Princess of Flakes and all that. Sure, Melissa was an absolute jerk, but she'd hit a little close to home with that particular nickname.
"Okay. You got me," June said with a sad smile. "But I promise I'm not mad. I know you didn't mean to. I'm glad you woke me up so I could snap you out of it."
"Yeah," Jody said quietly, nodding. "Me too. Thanks." June let the smile drop. It wasn't doing much, and she was sure she looked more like a moron with every passing moment. Jody grabbed a water bottle from the neat row of them she'd lined up next to her sleeping bag and started sipping, wiping at her eyes. "I hate when this happens."
It really must suck, June thought absently, to be so afraid to run into your own sister that you stash snacks and drinks in your room just so you won't have to go by her bedroom door to get to the kitchen. But I'm getting off track, here. "What?" June frowned. This wasn't like Jody. In fact, nightmares weren't really like Jody, either. She wasn't really sure what she was supposed to do, though. "Everybody has bad dreams."
Jody shook her head. "I don't. Didn't. But now--I hate it, June. It's terrible." She shuddered. "I didn't even know where I was when I woke up," she finished in a whisper, looking away.
No kidding. Whether she was talking about the nightmare or having nightmares, June wasn't sure, but she definitely didn't like the idea of her friend being so bent out of shape. She still looks pretty tense, too. Probably isn't going to be able to go back to sleep anytime soon. And truth be told, June knew she wasn't going to sleep either as long as she was worrying about it. An unhappy Jody definitely qualified as outside the natural order of things, even if it didn't make her bracelet go off. She took a deep breath. "Wanna talk about it?"
The corners of Jody's mouth turned down and her eyes narrowed in what was probably supposed to be a scowl. She looked more like she'd just sat in something wet. "Not really. You'll think--er--never mind."
June had far more practice with her scowls, but managed to keep her latest set to stun, not kill. It was easier to get her to talk after Melissa put out that horrible election ad. A bolt of anger surged through her at the memory, but she pushed it down. "I won't think anything--except that you're freaked out and aren't gonna be able to go back to sleep until you chill, and now I'm going to sit up worrying about it all night." She smiled lightly. If concern doesn't work, a touch of guilt will. "Hey, seriously--whenever I have nightmares, telling Mom about them usually calms me down." Except for those nightmares she couldn't tell her mother about, like the one where HAM toted off Ah-Mah and Ray Ray and Dennis and--she gave herself a mental shake. So not the time. "And whatever it is, my lips are sealed."
That seemed to do the trick. "Okay, maybe you're right, June. But," she tossed a glance at Ophelia, "not here. I don't want her to hear," she breathed, so quiet June could barely hear.
June blinked. Oy. "Hey, it's not like she would make fun of--" June blinked. Even she knew better than trying that. "It's not like she'd mean it." There. That'll work.
A half smile glided across Jody's face. "I know. It's how she deals with stuff. But I just don't want to hear it, you know?"
June nodded. "Yeah." Suddenly, she had an idea. "Hey, grab your blanket. We're going outside."
Jody blinked. "W-what? It's two in the morning."
Closer to three, actually. "You want privacy. The tree outside your window will do the trick. Maybe sitting outside in the dark will make you sleepy again. Like camping. Without the mud." She smirked a little. "I'm not hiding in your closet again. It smells like mothballs."
Jody looked embarrassed. "Mom makes me keep them in all my sweaters." After a moment, she nodded, and balled up her blanket. "Deal. I think you're right. I really don't feel like sleeping."
June opened the window and got ready to help Jody outside, but for someone who couldn't stand gym class, she was surprisingly agile, and didn't seem to have any trouble moving around in the dark. If June didn't know better, she would've thought Jody had snuck out before. Nah. Talk about "stuff not like Jody." Sneaking out is definitely near the top of the list. After a moment, she planted herself with her back nestled against the trunk, tightened her blanket around herself, and looked at the stars. "You don't have a blanket, June," she said flatly.
It was a particularly wide branch; June had plenty of room to settle in next to her friend. "I was kinda warm, actually. Don't worry about it." She grinned. "So spill."
Jody swallowed. "Okay. But you have to promise you won't tell anybody."
Didn't we already go through this five minutes ago? June's sour expression was back with a vengeance. Luckily, Jody never could see too well in the dark. Okay. We've left weird, passed creepy way back at the last exit, and are coming up on really disturbing. "You're really serious about this, aren't you? Jody, I swear, whatever you tell me doesn't leave ... uh ... the tree. Now come on, you're really worrying me here."
"That makes two of us," Jody frowned at the stars. "Okay, so, remember when Ambiguous Angst's new album came out? Remember how we decided not to go to the mall?"
The uncertain tickling from earlier was back, but now she felt
more like someone had let angry bees loose in her stomach. "Yeah.
Sure, Jody, I remember." No way. There's no way--
"Well," even in the dim moonlight, it was obvious Jody had paled. "I ... I ... I dreamt we decided to go. And ... something happened. Something bad."
June heard a soft creaking noise, and looked down to find the hand she'd rested on the branch trying to ball into a fist, much to the misfortune of the bark and wood underneath it. She quickly forced her hands in her lap before she snapped the entire limb off. Explaining things would be ... troublesome. She wouldn't have noticed what she was doing if not for the sound. Her conscious mind was too busy being in shock, a single thought surging between her ears, all encompassing as white noise. She remembers. Roon. Oh my God, she remembers. She took a deep, cleansing breath, trying desperately to remember the calming mental exercises Ah-Mah had taught her that she'd almost never ever used, except to prove she'd actually learned them when Monroe decided to quiz her.
This shouldn't be possible. Ah-Mah said we rewound time. Only magical beings would remember any of it. She remembered clearly how it had felt to corral all of them--even her friends--into the nearest Java Hut with promises of explanations, all of them so trusting, only to seal them in and proceed to undo everything. Does she remember that? She had no idea what was about to happen. None of them did. After what felt like a long time, but couldn't have been more than ten seconds, June managed to find her voice. Gotta find out what she saw. She thought of the obvious terror Jody had been in when she found her curled into her sleeping bag, and knew she wasn't going to like the answer. "Then what happened?" she heard herself ask softly. Jody, totally oblivious to her friend's growing unease, hugged her knees to her chest, and kept talking.
And so June listened with mounting horror as Jody described, every bit of the trip in perfect detail, up until the point June went outside to stall Ah-Mah, exactly as June remembered. Her quivering voice was punctuated by an occasional pause to rub at eyes June couldn't make out in the dark, but June couldn't bring herself to move to help, her mind too preoccupied with trying to collapse in on itself at the wrongness of what she was hearing. Moving--even speaking--would make it all totally real, and she'd have to do something, and she just wasn't ready for that yet.
But after another half minute, Jody started talking about things June didn't remember, everything that Roon had said and done before she'd made it back inside. June had never even thought to ask what exactly had happened--it had only been a few minutes, after all, and she was concentrating more on how terrified Ray Ray sounded than anything else as she burst through the ceiling to confront the witch--but now she sat and watched Jody tremble as she talked about how the demons corralled them all together and talked about eating them, how delicious they would be, how, as Jody said through quiet sobs, they flippantly discussed how "children tasted like frog legs," and what sorts of seasoning and cooking methods to use for maximum flavor. "D-dinner party," Jody managed tearfully. "They were going to have a dinner party. And we were all going to--going to..." More sobs, and June felt a sharp piercing pain in her chest.
A familiar flash of anger surged somewhere deep inside her, and she latched onto it like a drowning person who'd just bumped in to a life preserver. She basked in it, channeling it towards the haze of shock fogging her brain and feeling the slightest bit of triumph as it burned away. But even then, she recognized it wasn't the sort of anger she usually felt--the ever-useful blend of adrenaline and frustration and stress. White hot to the point she could feel the heat burn across her shoulders, smoldering to the point it felt like it would suffocate her ...
If she'd known what they'd said, what they'd almost done to everyone ... she would have hit them harder. Kept hitting until they couldn't get up, until they begged her to stop, and maybe even after--
And just as quickly, she pushed it away, pushed it down and breathed it out. Some anger was useful, but not that. Never that. Maybe she wasn't her grandmother yet--maybe she never would be--but she knew the difference between protecting people and getting revenge. But it was simpler than that. She still remembered, just after she turned nine, Ray Ray was finally old enough to start to really understand what was going on, what June was, the kinds of things she would have to fight. He should've been afraid, like a normal six year old. She knew she had been afraid, and she was (a little bit) older.
But he was almost calm, or at least wasn't climbing up the walls like she'd thought he would. She'd asked him how he could be so sure she'd be fine, and wouldn't screw up and end up getting Orchid Bay destroyed by a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and he'd just grinned. "You're a superhero now. Superheroes always win, and save old ladies stuck in trees and kittens in burning houses. They always catch the bad guys and wrap them up in duct tape for the police at the end of the story. You can do that kind of thing. No sweat. You'll be fine."
It was sappy and he was six but she never let herself forget what he said. Her brother thought she was a superhero, and he had very specific ideas about what that meant. As goofy as it sounded, there was a part of her that couldn't bear the thought of ever disappointing him.
And spilling European winged demon insides on the mall floor just because she was pissed certainly wouldn't have made him proud.
"June?" Jody's small, curious voice broke into her thoughts. "Are you okay? You're making a funny noise. Is there something stuck in your throat? I have more water bottles if you want one." She definitely sounded eager for the distraction.
June blinked, belatedly realizing she'd been grinding her teeth together and almost growling. Okay. So I'm not going to go Michael Meyers on anybody. Doesn't mean I'm not pissed off. At least it's too dark for her to see my face. June knew for a fact she tended to wear her anger like a mask. "I'm fine, Jody. Just breathed in a little pollen or something. Allergies." She smiled, hoping it would come across in her voice. "So, is that it?"
Silence for a few seconds, and their momentary joviality was gone. "No," Jody finally said. "Not quite."
Crud. Jody was getting close to the part of the evening where June made her entrance. She couldn't begin to imagine what Jody thought about that. At least it's a dream. She doesn't think it's real.
Jody started to speak again. "...then, I'm not sure...this part is f-fuzzy. But R-Ray Ray is there and the evil fish lady grabs him, and starts asking him for s-something. A tea swan tree or something like that. But he ... doesn't have it and he s-starts screaming for you and she points her staff at his head and--and," she sobbed. "He screams and then there's this ... h-h-horrible noise and a huge flash." She swallowed hard. "I think ... I think she shot him," she wiped at her eyes. "That's all there is." She hugged herself even tighter.
June gasped, the small part of her brain not shocked offline hoping Jody would interpret her horror merely as a reaction to her particularly nasty sounding nightmare, and not for what it truly was: fear. She needed a little time to figure out what to do. She wasn't stupid--it was obvious Jody remembered everything perfectly up until the point June revealed herself--obviously the little piece of the Elders' spell designed specifically to hide the existence of the Te Xuan Ze had held up, even though Jody had somehow shaken off the effects of time reversal that should've wiped out everything. June didn't know enough about what Ah-Mah had done to guess how that could even be possible. It was the purest kind of magic, straight from the Elders themselves, probably the most powerful magical beings in any dimension.
She'd been led to believe nothing and no one could overcome their power, not even a rogue Te Xuan Ze. Or a tea swan tree. Oh, man, Jody. No wonder you're so upset. All you can remember is being terrorized by that ... that ... monster. Not being rescued or anything else. She'd never ever stopped to consider what Roon would have done to Ray Ray if she'd been just a few seconds slower busting through the ceiling. Not even months after.
First thing's first. Calm her down. "Jody, that sounds terrible. Believe me, I don't really like thinking about the Wicked Witch of the West and her Spanish fish zapping Ray Ray, but it was just a dream. It's not--dreams can't hurt you." She'd been about to say it wasn't real, but that was a lie, and she couldn't bear the thought of lying to her best friend. Not this time. Not about this.
Jody nodded, sniffling. "I know." She shuddered. "Thank goodness."
June smiled tightly. At least Steven is too much of a wimp to ever pull a Freddy. Wuss. But I'm still missing something here. Gotta figure out how she can remember. "If you know it's not real, what's keeping you so upset? I get being scared when you woke up and didn't quite know where you were yet, but..." June congratulated herself on keeping her voice calm and encouraging. A part of her thought she should still be freaking out over Jody remembering. She didn't know why she wasn't. Maybe she was too confused to panic? Or maybe, came a small voice from the back of her mind, there's a part of you that's glad she remembers something, even if it's something nasty. June pushed the voice away. Sure she wanted her friends to know, but not like this.
"Why am I still huddled up and weeping like a little girl?" Jody hissed, and June flinched. She hated when Jody got this way. "You can say it. You're stuck watching wimpy me blabber like an idiot over a dream. I know I'm not as tough as you and it was just a dream and you probably think--"
"I think I'm worried about you," June said quickly, "and I'm sorry if I've ever made you think you're a wimp. I don't. I swear. You're just more sensitive than the rest of us. There's nothing wrong with that." Dennis likes it, apparently. June shuddered. Now was not the time to be thinking about that, either. "It's cool. You don't have any problems being yourself." You're lucky. "That's cool."
Jody's grin was unmistakable in her voice. "Thanks, June." She sighed. "This isn't the first time I've had the dream, though. That's what really gets me. It .. keeps ... happening."
June gaped into the darkness. The part of her that might have actually been a little happy withered up and died as a new, horrible thought occurred to her. "How many--how many times, Jody?"
"...Six," Jody whispered, "since the night we decided not to go to the mall to buy the CD. Whenever ... whenever I get really scared too late at night it happens, and it's always just the same. On Halloween night it was even worse. After you and Ray Ray ran off Ophelia and Roger dragged me into a haunted house. I couldn't sleep at all. Every time I tried--it's always exactly the same, June. Exactly the same."
June felt her own eyes watering. Somehow she and Ah-Mah did something wrong, and whenever Jody got too scared she was stuck reliving what had to be the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to her, without the happy ending. They'd messed something up inside her brain and ... Oh, God. What did we do? What did I let us do? Ah-Mah said they'd all be fine. She promised. She narrowed her eyes, thinking back to being locked away while her grandmother nearly got herself killed fighting Kai Yee because she was sure June wasn't strong enough to do the right thing, in spite of all the talk of how she would be the best of all of them. She promised ... but she's lied to my face before. Whenever it was convenient. She was suddenly glad Jody couldn't see her. She didn't want to try to explain the looks that must've been flashing across her face. Got to try to fix this somehow. Got to. "Jody, I..." I what? I'm sorry we broke your brain? But hey, at least it's a dream, so you can't feel the pain when those talons dig into your shoulders. Ha ha! Not that they were strong enough to actually injure her, but June could still feel them when they clawed at her. It would only hurt worse to a normal human.
"I read a lot of dream analysis books, June," Jody whispered solemnly, her voice suddenly strong. "Mom was happy to drop me off at the library for six hours one Saturday. I tried to figure out what it meant to have violent dreams over and over, but there was nothing exactly like what I keep seeing. The closest stuff talked about ... mental instability and stuff and ... you know what that means, right? What if I'm going c-c-cra..."
June narrowed her eyes, scooting close enough to her friend that they would be able to see each other clearly. "Jody, you are not crazy." We did this to you. We did it. Us!
"But--June, it's the same every time. Something's wrong inside my head. How can you say that and believe it without knowing for sure?"
June grinned. Because I do know for sure, and there's even a bit of truth I can tell you. "Because, Jody, if you can still ask yourself if you're crazy, you're not. If there was really something wrong with you, you'd have no idea anything was wrong. ... Thinking about reworking that sentence, but you get the point."
Jody's voice held more than a little doubt. And maybe a bit of indignation. "How would you know?"
June frowned. She hadn't wanted to go into this. But if it helps her believe me... "You remember Uncle Eddy?"
Jody grinned. For some strange reason June couldn't quite get, she really liked Uncle Eddy. "Yeah! He's adorable!"
So weird. June felt the corners of her mouth pull themselves down again. "Just after I turned seven, we found out his wife--Aunt Cassandra--was really sick. I didn't know what it was exactly, then. My parents wouldn't tell me then because I was too young. I'm still not sure exactly what she had--I can't really bring myself to ask my parents. I remember how she slipped away. The last time I saw her, she thought I was Ah-Mah. Like, from when they were kids." June sighed, wiping at her eyes. She never liked to think about this, much less talk about it. "My point is...you're not losing it."
Jody gasped. "June, I'm sorry. I never--"
June forced a smile. "Of course you didn't. None of us likes to talk about it. Ray Ray doesn't remember it. Don't mention it to Uncle Eddy." June decided a hug would be useful, and wrapped a loose arm around Jody's shoulder. "Point is, I promise you're not going crazy. You probably had that nightmare once and it scared you enough that you remember it whenever you're really freaked out. Your brain wants to spook you so it digs up the best thing it's got."
Jody took her off guard and caught her in a quick bear hug. "You ... you really think so?"
Sure. Sounds plausible enough. Too bad it's not what's happening. Whatever is happening. Time for more not-lying. "Do you think I would be sitting so close to you if I thought you'd gone off the deep end? In the dark?"
Jody giggled. "I guess not."
Something occurred to June. She gets the nightmare whenever she's really scared. Oh, man. I did this, too. "Jody, I'm sorry."
Jody blinked. "For what?"
"For siding with Ophelia when we picked tonight's movie. I was sure you'd like Gremlins--Gizmo's like, the coolest Furby ever, and you like Furbies. I had no idea it'd freak you out so bad."
Jody shook her head. "Of course you didn't. I hadn't told you yet."
June frowned, then smiled. "I'll tell you what. I think what we should do is keep you from getting too scared for a while. If we go long enough, I'll bet your mind will stop focusing on that nightmare. Next week when we have movie night, I'll vote with you when we pick something to watch. Anything you want."
Jody grinned, and June suddenly thought maybe she was in trouble. "Even Labyrinth?"
June raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that the one with David Bowie and the muppets? And he's got those ... pants?"
Jody's grinned maniacally. "Yes! I've never gotten you guys to want to watch it with me."
Because it's freaky. "Sure," June grinned, "it's a done deal. That's democracy in action. Rigged democracy." She shrugged. "Close enough."
Jody got quiet for a moment. "Hey, June? Thanks. For listening and ... everything."
June smiled. "Any time. Feeling better?"
Jody grinned at her. "Actually, yes. I think I am."
Excellent. "Mom's pretty smart about these kinds of things," June said. "Feel like you can sleep now?" Jody took the opportunity to yawn hugely. She blushed, covering her mouth. June heard herself giggle. "I'll take that as a yes."
Jody started to move for the window, but looked back when June didn't move. "June, you coming?"
June frowned in the darkness. "In a minute. I got kinda warm inside. I wanna cool off a bit more."
It was proof how sleepy Jody was that she didn't notice June's obvious lie. "Okay. If you're still warm when you come in, wake me up. I'll turn down the air. Mom gets upset when guests mess with it."
"Deal," June forced a smile she knew Jody would hear more than see. "Goodnight, Jody." Sweet dreams. I hope.
"Goodnight, June. Don't stay out too long or you might get sick. And thanks again for listening. You're a good friend." A few more moments and Jody had disappeared through the window, calm and ready to rest. Which left June alone with her thoughts. Not pleasant company, at all.
Mission accomplished. Not. She thought back over what she knew. Jody remembered all the worst parts of the Roon incident, and her mind was doing its best to remind her whenever it got the opportunity. Keeping her from getting too scared was only a stopgap solution. So was a real, working dream catcher, but June couldn't afford one of those. Steven. He owes me a favor after the fiasco at the dance. Dork. She smiled. I'll get him to help. Fluffy, happy dreams. Flying teddy bears and stuff. But that's only temporary. Even if he agrees, a favor from a guy with an ego like that will only last so long. She wasn't about to ask Ah-Mah for help. She'd probably just goblin dust Jody or something without even trying to figure out what happened.
June wasn't going to let it come to that. I'll fix you. I'll find out what happened and I'll figure out how to make it right. Monroe had a library's worth of books on memory erasing methods and the powers of the Elders and magical side effects. He'd been trying to get her to read them for years, "like a proper Te Xuan Ze." She would start going through them tomorrow; he'd be so happy she was studying he wouldn't think to ask why. Not that she would tell him. He'd already proven he would side with her grandmother if it came down to it, and she wasn't going to give either of them the opportunity to meddle with Jody's head again.
She couldn't help but think they would care more about protecting the secret than fixing things--they'd already proven that by messing her up in the first place. She'd known better than to agree to let them do it. It had just felt wrong. But she'd caved and now, somehow, Jody was paying for it--
Not again. She was supposed to be The Great Protector. As far as she was concerned, that meant protecting innocent people from harm, not inflicting it on them whenever convenience and tradition dictated.
Might need help. If she had to, she'd tell Ray Ray to keep Monroe distracted--he wouldn't need a reason. Could let Dennis in. He's better at the magic stuff than me. She shook her head. No. He'd get all weird once he realized what was going on. Who we were trying to help. Ugh.
If putting things right meant telling Jody the truth so she would understand what was happening to her, so be it. Even if it wasn't strictly necessary, part of June felt like she deserved to know why she was so miserable. You don't deserve to think you're crazy. She couldn't imagine Jody would be too thrilled once she knew the whole story. It won't be like after I saved them all from Roon. She won't be proud to be my friend this time. Maybe she won't even want to be my friend anymore. But she deserves to know. June felt her eyes water again. Maybe, someday, Jody would forgive her.
When she was ready, when she knew exactly what had happened and why, she would confront Ah-Mah and ask for help in setting it right, or at least make sure she and Monroe wouldn't try to stop her from doing it. Won't go well. Can't even risk telling Ah-Mah Dennis knows. June narrowed her eyes. She'd zap him silly just 'cause some musty old book says to. Still not sure why Monroe hasn't ratted him out. "Not like I'm about to try to dethrone the Elders." I'm the Te Xuan Xe now. It's time I did things my way.
And her way was simple. She had no trouble admitting she wasn't a big picture kind of girl. Being lectured about the balance between magic and humanity didn't do a thing for her. When she'd thought that way, Kai Yee had mopped the floor with her because her heart just wasn't in it. No. It came down to protecting people. Her parents. Her grandmother. Her friends. Her teachers. Everyone else. If protecting one of her friends meant going against her grandmother and Monroe, who both sometimes seemed so focused on the balance itself they forgot the little things, like people, then that's what she would do.
Well, she sighed, mind buzzing with thoughts of what lay ahead, this is going to be fun. She blinked, abruptly realizing she was wide wake, and turned a wistful smile to the window. At least one of us is sleeping peacefully. "Happy thoughts, Jody. I'll fix this soon. Somehow. I promise."