Disclaimer: John Peel owns Diadem and the characters who live inside it. Score, Pixel, and Helaine may have to submit to my will as a Fanfiction God of Writing but Mr. Peel gets the money and the credit. Without him, we would not know these fine characters. I am but a humble fan who writes fiction for non-profit.

He didn't normally do puzzles. He didn't normally do much of anything except wander the countryside and explore. It didn't take much effort and it was interesting. Not to say that he was lazy. Well, sometimes he was lazy. For a little while, he'd had Helaine teach him some fighting skills but she got really rough once. Jenna told him to stay in bed for a few days and ended up reprimanding Helaine. Which didn't go over very well, considering the hate the two already shared for each other. And then it just turned into a huge mess, involving not only the 4 magic-users, but also a few of the unicorn community as well.

Suffice it to say, he stopped taking lessons from Helaine.

So on rainy days like this one, he rifled through Pixel's stuff to find something interesting. He didn't know where Pixel got this stuff, or how he found the time to work on them considering the time he spent with Jenna. But he did have a lot of brainy stuff that Score sometimes tried to figure out. Other times, he just used the weird contraption to start an argument with Pixel over 'useless junk taking up space.' Arguments with Pixel didn't usually go well anyway, mostly due to the fact that Pixel wasn't very argumentative by nature and Score was bored soon after the argument started. And what's the point of an argument to entertain you if it ends up boring you instead?

Today, he'd found something remotely interesting. It was a 1000 piece puzzle with a unicorn on it. After an hour and a half, he'd only gotten the border pieces (minus one because stupid thing was hiding on him) but it was keeping him entertained. And it kept him from thinking, something he'd been desperately avoiding ever since Helaine had given him that kiss. And ever since Shannara had admitted to being his…

No. No thinking. Puzzle pieces, puzzle pieces, puzzle pieces…

It had been 2 weeks and he'd been avoiding both of the women who had turned his world upside down. Jenna and Pixel were avoiding him as well, mainly because they were confused about him and Helaine. The few times they'd said something about it to him, he'd snapped at them a bit harshly. Whenever he entered a room now, they quickly left it muttering something about having an errand to get to. He couldn't imagine any errand they would have to get to, but he understood why they were avoiding him. And frankly, he was okay with it. It made him a little lonely but he was starting to get worried about this 'friends' thing. Sure, having friends was nice, but what happens when you find out something extreme about them, some lie they'd been keeping from you, like the fact that they're your mother, or something else insane like that? Or what if you find out you're really buff, strong, killer instinct guy friend is really a beautiful girl, who later kisses you completely randomly?

Then you got the friends who end up dating and then ignore you to spend time with each other. Or they decide life with you is too mediocre, or too boring, or too unhappy, so they up and leave, just like your mother did when you were young. Well, the last one hadn't happened, but he put a 'yet' on the end of that statement whenever he thought it.

Having friends just wasn't a good idea overall. If it was just him, he could venture out into the world and not have someone yelling at him when he got back for not telling them were he was going. It was a lot less stress when it was just him.

He knew he couldn't keep it up – the hiding and the seclusion. Pixel or Jenna, or shit, even Helaine might come to him and complain about it, make him leave his room and spend time with them. As much as he liked them, he was getting too dependent on them. He needed space.

"Ha ha!" he exclaimed softly. "I knew you were hiding from me, you little sucker…" He had found the last border piece under the puzzle box.

Knock, knock.

He glanced up at the door and mentally evaluated who it could be and who he wanted it to be. Pixel would worry most about him, but Jenna might take his worry and run with it a lot sooner than Pixel himself would. Helaine would probably come barging in pissed off, or bang the door instead of knocking. It was probably Jenna and, out of all three possibilities, she was the one he most wanted to see. It would be easy to lie to her and tell her he was fine, he'd come out in a few days. And she wouldn't pry or yell at him like Helaine or Pixel.

"Come in," he said, just loud enough for her to hear.

"Hey," Helaine said as she opened the door.

SHIT. He mentally kicked himself.

"Hey," he said back, focusing on his puzzle.

"Can we talk?"

"About what?"

"About the other week."

"What about it?"

"Dammit, Score!" Her temper was especially thin, due to the stress he'd guessed he'd put her through the last few weeks.


"We kissed! Does that mean anything to you?"

"It means you find me irresistibly attractive."

She paused for a moment. He glanced up and her and noticed a small blush on her cheeks. He struggled to keep his face impassive.

"N-no, it… it means… are we like Pixel and Jenna now?"

"Are you sitting in my lap kissing me and making oogly eyes at me?"

"No! That's so disgraceful! Jenna doesn't even do that!"

"Not when you're in the room. Anyway, that answers your question."

"But… we kissed, Score."

"Actually, you jumped me when I was least expecting it and planted a kiss on me. There was pretty much no reaction from my side, except shock. Which is a lack of reaction, so yeah. No reaction."

"So you didn't feel anything when… I kissed you?"

"I felt your lips on mine."

"I mean emotionally, Score!"

"Emotionally? Like what?"

"Like… the warm and fuzzies!"

"Where the hell did you learn that phrase?"

"From you! That's not the point!"

"What is the point?" At this, he got serious.

"The point is, I really like… I want… why are you being so hard to deal with right now?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. You're the one who can't make up your mind as to what you want."

"I want you, dammit!"

He stared at her for a moment. "I'm sorry."

She blinked, hard. "Huh?"

"I'm sorry. You can't have me."

"Huh? Why… why not?"

"Because I'm not for sale."

"Dammit, Score! I'm being serious!"

"So am I!" He raised his voice a little. "I don't like you like that, Helaine! I'm sorry! We can't be like Pixel and Jenna because I didn't feel anything during the kiss and I don't feel anything for you! Okay?"

She stared at him for a moment. He couldn't take her looking at him like that, so he went back to his puzzle. A second later, it was thrown against the wall and he jumped back to keep the card table from hitting his legs. She didn't say anything as she stormed away from his room.

"Well that's ruined," he said, looking at the puzzle. Instead of picking it up, he shut his door and flopped down on his back on his bed. Covering his eyes with his pillow, he drifted off into sleep. When he wasn't doing puzzles, wandering the countryside, or annoying Pixel, he slept. It was another mind-numbing activity that he enjoyed greatly.

A few hours later, he woke up when someone came into his room. Pixel stood right inside the doorway, more angry-looking than Score had ever seen him, minus when the body-controlling Triad member had taken him over.

"How may I help you?" Score asked.

"What the hell is your problem?"

"Why, Pixel… you never swear. What seems to be the problem?"

"Why are you doing this? You keep making jokes when there are serious things to be discussed and when we're joking and teasing, you get angry at us and snap at us! You're pushing us away and I want to know why!"

Ouch. Again, Score was amazed by Pixel's powers of deduction.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He'd learned with his father that if he admitted to doing something someone didn't like, then bad things happened. It was best to remain aloof.

"You damn well do know what I'm talking about! What you said to Helaine was rude and out of line! You really hurt her, you know."

"Well, she was being pushy. I had to tell her the truth."

"The truth? The truth, Score? Seriously? You really like her and you know it. When she kissed you, that wasn't a disgusted look of shock on your face. It was a happy shocked face. And I know enough about the two of you to know that you both are always much happier when you're around each other. Which would explain why you've both been in sour moods the last couple of weeks."

"I'm sorry, Pixel, but have you forgotten that the last couple of weeks have been stressful for me? I almost got killed by someone I thought of as a friend, then found out that she's been lying to me for over a year now and she's actually my mother, on top of getting kissed by a girl who pretended to be a guy for the first few days that we knew her! I'm finding out that all my friends suck and I'd be better off without them!" He paused and bit his tongue. He really didn't mean to say all that. Or even any of it. And the look on Pixel's face wasn't very pleasant, either. He didn't want to make everyone pity him or anything; it just slipped out. "Gah!" he said, before Pixel could say anything. "I'm going for a walk!"

"But, Score, it's raining out! Stay inside, let's talk."

"I don't want to talk!" He grabbed a coat and left his room. On his way down, he passed Helaine and ignored her. He heard her huff but she didn't say anything. Just as well.

Outside, it really was coming down hard. He didn't bother using any of his gems to keep the rain off of him. It would have been too much work anyway, and he was miserable enough to let the rain soak him straight through.

He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked. Now that he'd let it all loose to Pixel, he had to think about things. Mainly, it was Shannara and what she'd told him that was bothering him. How could a mother just up and leave her son, allowing him to be raised by an insane and abusive man like Tony Caruso, and allowing her son to believe that she died? And then, better yet, try to kill him when he's thirteen for fear of him turning into a raging lunatic killer? Sure, if he ever became Traxis, he'd want someone to kill him. But not until he actually turned into Traxis. And not by his own mother. How could she do that? How? Why? Why would she leave him all alone for all those years? Why would she keep her identity a secret? Why would she lie to him? Why would she try to kill him?

He really preferred thinking his mother dead. This woman that he once called a friend, this woman who betrayed him and tried to kill him, this woman surely could not be his mother. His mother was in a grave in a cemetery in Manhattan and he visited her grave every year on June 13th, and often many more times than that.

Thinking about Shannara, he couldn't even start to think about Helaine.

Watch where you're going, you stupid human! he 'heard' Thunder roar. He stopped in his tracks and realized he was nearing a pool-sized puddle. One more step and the mud probably would have taken him straight into it.

"Thanks," he muttered. He started to trek around it, but felt a pull on his sleeve. Thunder had a bit of Score's coat in his mouth, stopping him. "What?" he asked, a little annoyed.

It's wet and cold out here. Helaine would give Flame an earful, who would tell Nova, who would yell at me if I let you stay out here. So come inside.

"Inside where?"

We have a little cave over here. He started pulling Score towards a cave. Flame and Nova are sleeping in the back so we can have privacy towards the front.


Thunder paused. If you don't want to, you don't have to. I've at least tried and they won't yell at me if I tried.

"It's fine." Score could tell that he was annoying Thunder, and he tried to keep irritation out of his voice. After all, Thunder had never done anything to him. Yet.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes. Score sat on the floor and Thunder laid down next to him.

I hear Helaine gave you a kiss.

"Ugh," Score said.

I always thought the same thing when I thought of two humans kissing. Though, I thought humans would enjoy it a lot. Pixel and Jenna certainly seem to.

"Yeah, well, I don't want to talk about it."

I take it it was not an enjoyable experience.

"That's not it." He thought for a moment. "I mean, it is, but it isn't."

Are you being intentionally confusing? Because it's annoying.

"Well, okay, I liked it." Score felt unusually honest when he talked to the one-horned animal. "I mean, I liked it a lot. But I can't… it's just… I can't."

You can't like it but you did?

"Kind of."

Please explain.

Score sighed. "She just… she…" he stopped there and growled in frustration. "Okay, I like her, I liked the kiss. But I can't… I can't trust people." He sighed after saying that. It was the honest to God, straightest answer he could come up to. And it bothered him to admit it.

Even humans can't trust each other. That's sad.

"Whatever Thunder, you can't trust some unicorns."

He huffed, admitting in an odd way that Score was right. After all this time, though, you should be able to trust her, right?

He sighed. "I just… I just found out that Shannara is my mother. When I was young, I was convinced she had died. And for the past year, she's kept that a secret. Then she tried to kill me two weeks ago. And that was my mother. How can I trust someone I just met a year ago?"

I see your dilemma.

"It's not a fixable dilemma. And you know what, I prefer to just not start anything with her anyway. I'll make her hate me and think I'm a jerk and then she'll go find some other guy, a better guy or something, and then I'll be off the hook."

And you'll live your life alone?

"I've lived my life alone up to this point. I think I can handle another 60 years."

In another few years, you won't feel the same. Trust me.

"Whatever. The rain's eased up, I'm going to head home now. Thanks for the chat."

Thunder was quiet.

"Where have you been? It's been raining like mad out there!" Jenna had a towel ready for him when he got home. "I'll make you some soup, you should go get changed into drier clothes. Honestly. You'll get sick if you go out in the rain like that!"

"Who cares, Jenna? Honestly, who cares?" He was irritated coming back into the house. He'd fallen a couple of times, due to the rain picking up speed and mass as he'd walked back home. He really hadn't wanted to be bombarded as soon as he walked in, so he felt that she deserved his wrath.

"I care, Score! I care if you get sick! And so does Pixel. And Helaine. Helaine definitely cares."

"Who cares whether or not Helaine cares? I certainly don't!" He kicked off his shoes and trudged up to his room, not caring about the trail of water he left in his wake.

"You're such an ass," Pixel whispered as they passed in the hallway.

"Oh fuck you, Pixel," Score said. He slammed his door behind him, not waiting for a response. He took off his clothes, piece by piece and threw them against the wall. He even wadded up his soaking shirt and chucked it at the wall as hard as he could. It made what looked like an inkspot and he figured it would probably leave a stain, considering he didn't feel like cleaning it up anytime soon.

As he zipped up his pants, he heard a knock on the door. "What the hell do you want!" he yelled.

"I want to give you soup!" Jenna yelled back. He yanked open the door. She thrust it into his chest and he had no choice but to grab it to keep it from spilling on him. "I hope you choke!" After that, she turned and ran down the hall.

"Me too," he whispered. He stared at the soup and then put it down on his bedside table.

Then he curled up on his bed and started to cry.

There was a knocking on the door and Score was roused from his slumber. He wiped his eyes to get the sleep out of them and realized they were a bit sore. Then he remembered that he'd been crying the previous night. He growled, angry with himself. And then he was angry with the person knocking on the door.

"Yeah?" he said irritably.

The door opened and Pixel came into the room. He shut the door behind him. "If you ever, ever make Jenna cry again, I won't let her stop me from coming in here to beat the daylights out of you. I don't care how much stress you've been under. You do not make my girlfriend cry."

The guilt cut through his anger suddenly. "I made her cry?"

"That's not the only person you've made cry in the last few days."

His heart dropped. He got up and pushed past Pixel, heading towards the kitchen. There was Jenna making something to eat. He tapped her shoulder and she turned around. He wrapped her in a hug gently, afraid he might break her. "I'm so sorry, Jenna."

He could tell he shocked her but she was so caring and forgiving that she returned the hug. "It's okay, Score. You've been under-"

"That's no excuse. I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted."

"Thank you for the soup," he said, pulling away.

"You're welcome. Was it to your liking?"

"It was fantastic," he lied. He made a mental note to grab the bowl and get rid of the contents later.

"I'll go get the bowl and clean it," she said.

"That's fine, Jenna. I'll just do it later. Please," he said.

"Okay. You know… I think you should apologize to someone else right now."

He knew what she was talking about but he wasn't ready for that. He might have felt guilty about making Jenna cry but he was still firm in his belief that friends were pointless. And his guilt over making Jenna cry just made him want to seclude himself even more.

That's when he decided to take a vacation.

Instead of answering Jenna, he left the room to go to his room and pack a small bag of belongings. Then he wrote a small note to leave on his bed.

He was winging it. The moment he decided he wanted a vacation, everything moved into fast-forward. He packed his bag, wrote the note, made the portal and stepped through.

And suddenly, he was back in New York.

After grabbing a hot dog (yeah, he nicked it but just to make sure he still had the touch), he wandered the city a bit. It was midday and the city was buzzing with commotion. It felt like home and he smiled for the first time in weeks.

"What are you doing?"

Score spun around and noticed Oracle. "Man, what the hell are you doing here?"

"That's what I just asked you. Shannara has been keeping a close eye on you and she noticed you coming here. She was worried."

"Tell her to… fuck off. Actually, you should fuck off. I'm taking a vacation. So leave me alone."

"Did you even tell Pixel or Helaine? Or Jenna?"

"No. They're not my parents. And even if they were, I wouldn't tell them. I don't owe them nothing."

"You owe them your life, actually. Several times over."

"Hey, I've saved their lives, too. So technically, we're even, and I don't owe them nothing. So fuck off."

"Score –"

"Fuck off!"

Score continued walking after his outburst, hoping Oracle would leave. Considering he didn't hear the annoying voice anymore, he assumed he had gone. Score rolled his eyes and decided to hit the music store.

"Well, well. If it isn't Big Bad Junior. Or should I say, Big Softy Junior." Score recognized the voice of one of Tony's underlings. All of his underlings made fun of Score because Score never fought back. He was more of the runner type. In this case, Score hoped ignoring and walking briskly would solve the problem. It didn't.

"Hey, hey! Matty, I'm talking to you!"

Apparently, Score was rusty when it came to knowing what streets to take and which ones to avoid. That, or they had changed their routines.

Soon, he was surrounded. Even if he had run, it would have been no use. There were too many of them and he guessed they had walkie-talkies or cell phones because some of them were oozing out of other streets at his front. Running or not, he wouldn't have had a chance of escape.

"Your father's looking for you." The guy had an orange scarf around his neck and a black hat. He looked like a fool but the gun in his hand made Score take him seriously.

"My father's in jail."

"Nope." Score looked at the man incredulously. "He got let off. There wasn't anyone to testify against him."

"Yes there were!"

"Nope. They got taken care of before the trial."

"You've got to be shitting me…"

"Wow, Junior's got a mouth."

"And a nose and a couple of ears, too. Moron."

They cracked their knuckles. "Lucky for you, Tony said to keep you in one piece. If there's to be bloodshed, he wants to do it."

"Oh whatever. The most Big Bad Tony Caruso has ever done to me was sprain my arm, and that was on accident. A couple cuts and bruises and he'll have worn himself out. Stop trying to scare me – I'm not a kid anymore."

"You remember all those guys who beat you up when you were a kid?"

Score glared at them.

"Yeah. Who do you think hired them?"

Score had always had a suspicion about those guys. He took a deep breath and snuck his hand into his pocket to find his gems.

"Ah, ah, ah!" the guy said. He twitched his gun hand, which was pointed at Score. "Please don't do that. I really don't want to disappoint the boss. But I will if I have to."

Score took his hand out of his pockets and raised it to show his surrender.

"Good boy. Now follow us."

"Fuck! Stop shoving me!" He was thrown into the living room of a very expensive house. He rubbed his wrist, which was a little sore from when Orange Scarf had to grab him when he tried to run off. As he soothed his wrist, he looked around the room. Tony was sitting on a couch in the middle of the room watching a police show on a big screen TV. "You've moved up in the world, I see," Score said.

"So I have." Tony didn't bother to do more than glance at Score just once. "Kaleb, take him to the basement. I'm busy right now."

"Sure thing, Boss." Again, Score was grabbed none too gently and taken into the basement. He struggled and almost got loose while they were in the kitchen. Then Kaleb grabbed his hand and bent one of the fingers back quickly. He felt and heard a sickening crack. He screamed.

"How about you quit struggling? Unless you want me to break all of your fingers?"

"No," Score said in a strangled tone. Kaleb grabbed his arm and led him down the stairs into the basement. Score saw that it had become a sort of dungeon – a cold dungeon. On the far wall was a pair of cuffs, obviously for his wrists. Kaleb quickly locked him in and reached into his pockets. He pulled out the gems and looked at them in awe.

"Well, well. I think Tony will want these."

"Fucker," Score said miserably. His finger was sending waves of pain through his hand and up his arm.

Kaleb backhanded Score. "Watch your mouth."

As he left, Score started to realize that this time might not be like all the other times his father threatened to beat him senseless. Maybe this time, his senses would really leave him.

About an hour later, he heard the creaking of the steps. He looked up through his hair and saw Tony approaching him.

"I see you've made yourself comfortable," he said, pulling up a chair and sitting in front of him. The cuffs were at waist length, just low enough so he could stand comfortably and just high enough that he could almost sit comfortably. Except for the blood loss to his hands. Though, at the current moment, that was fine with Score considering it meant his hand would go numb and he couldn't feel his finger anymore. However, it also left him vulnerable. He made a move to get up, but Tony stopped him. "No, no. Please stay seated. I just want to talk right now."

Score glared at him. "What the fuck could you have to say to me that I don't already know? I told you I won't join your 'business.' I won't work for you, I won't take over for you, I won't hurt other people, I won't nothing! Okay?"

Tony sighed and stared at him. "I think you just need a little convincing."

"There's nothing you can do to convince me. So just give up already."

"You're my only son. And from what I hear, a very powerful son. I can't get much better than you."

"Lucky for me, you're not my real father." Score remembered the curtains of Helaine's father's castle. That was his real father. And mother.

"Lucky for me, that doesn't matter. I raised you as my son, I treat you as my son, and as such, you will take over for me as my son."

Score sighed, frustrated. "I know how to fight, Dad. I just choose not to when it comes to you. And I certainly won't hurt innocent people for profit."

"Maybe I can change your mind."

"Maybe you can go screw yourself." Score smiled bitterly.

"Maybe you don't realize how serious I am." Tony got that look on his face that he only got when he was pissed off at one of his minions.

Score looked away. "Oh, fuck off already. Give it up."

Tony stood up and kicked Score in the stomach once before Score realized what was happening. He gasped and struggled for breath.

"First rule: Respect your elders."

"Fuck… you…"

Tony grabbed Score by the hair and lifted him to his feet. Then he punched him again in the stomach. Score's knees buckled but Tony's hold on his hair kept him in a standing position. Tony waited until Score had gained some oxygen.

"Want to say that again?"

Score glared at him but kept his mouth shut.

"Wise choice. Now, the next few days are going to be a little taxing for you. You seem rather set in your opinion and your morals, so it might take a while to break you."

"Break me?"

"You will be my heir, so to speak. And it will be voluntarily." He paused for a moment to let it sink in. Score swallowed hard. "And don't try to lie to me. I'll know when you break. I've broken enough people in my life."

"Yeah, I know," Score said bitterly.

"Is that attitude I hear?"

"No," Score said quickly. Then he kicked himself for being so weak. "I mean… whatever. You're pathetic. I'll never give in so you might as well kill me now." Tony looked at him for a moment, then grabbed an axe from the wall. The room had many different weapons and tools for pain in it, but up until now, Score had tried not to look at them. Now, Tony approached him with the axe. He tried to melt into the wall.

"Very well," Tony said. He stood to Score's right and held the axe like a bat. Then he started to swing.

Score shut his eyes in fear.

"See, I have to beat that fear out of you. You can't be afraid of death. Not if you're going to be my heir."

"You fucking prick," Score said when he realized Tony wasn't going to kill him.

"Ah, ah, ah. Respect, remember?" Tony picked up the keys from the nearby table and unlocked Score from his cuffs. Score still didn't move, fearing his newfound freedom more than his captivity. With good reason. Tony grabbed him by the hair again and threw him into the wall. He'd seen this many times on TV, but now he realized it was much more painful than it looked. Tony grabbed him by the hair again and pulled him to his feet. Score was a little dizzy from the impact of his head against the wall and he became even more dizzy when Tony punched him in the jaw, sending him sprawling to the floor again. This time when Tony tried to pick him up, Score resorted to a defensive pose with his hands covering his face. He knew he must have looked pathetic but he didn't care.

"Are you starting to get the picture, Matthew?" Score didn't answer, hoping silence would give him a reprieve. It didn't. Tony punched him in the gut again and Score was left breathless for the second time in twenty minutes. This time, he gagged while gasping for breath.

"Please… stop," Score whispered.

"What was that, Matthew?"

"I said," he said, louder, "please stop."

"Well, it's a respectful way to ask, I must say. However, I am far from done."

Indeed, he was.

Hours later, Score was left in a puddle of his own blood and urine. At one point, Tony had punched him in just the right place in his abdomen that his bladder had released. Tony hadn't even paused in his beating when he smelled it.

Score was still conscious, but barely. Tears were leaking out of his eyes and his face was pressed against the floor. He couldn't even begin to count the amount of broken ribs he had. He just hoped he didn't have internal bleeding.

"Hello, hello."

Score flinched before he realized it was a familiar voice. Not the voice of a friend, but not that voice of someone who could hurt him.

Score felt a cough threatening his lungs and he held his breath. A cough now, he felt, could be the end of him. He also restrained from greeting his non-friend, non-enemy.

"You look… unwell. Would you like me to ask Shannara –"

"No," Score said immediately, cutting Oracle off. Then he swallowed some blood.

"But she could –"

"I said no. Fuck off." He didn't know how he managed that many words out of his lungs but he was rather proud of himself.

"What about Helaine or –"

"I said no, Oracle. Leave." He coughed suddenly and whined in pain. Then he caught himself and dealt with the pain in silence.

"Very well." With that, he left. Score felt a stab of regret. Sure, he hated Oracle but he was a familiar face. He was a friend, sometimes. Except when he brought bad news. Or spoke in riddles. Or helped Shannara plot against him.

No, Oracle wasn't a friend at all. He was glad he was gone.

Score swallowed some more blood and closed his eyes. He wasn't bound to the wall anymore but he knew he wouldn't make it far if he tried to leave. And he certainly didn't want to give Tony a reason to start another round of beatings just yet.

He drifted into a near-sleep, almost-awake state. And he dreamt. He dreamt of Jenna healing his wounds, and Helaine hugging him, and Pixel bringing him a nice cheeseburger. Then Shannara walked into the dream and he was overcome with a few different emotions. He felt angry and hurt, but he also wanted to run into her arms like a five year old and have her hold him until he stopped hurting. He remembered when he was younger, she used to pull up the rocking chair next to the window and rock him while telling him stories about adventurous heroes. He remembered those as the good days.

Then the dream drifted to Tony beating him again and he twisted in his sleep. He awoke as if from a nightmare, due to the pain. His ribs were flaring and he wanted to scream in agony, but he guessed that would probably make the pain worse.

He heard the door to the upstairs open. Cold fear rushed through him and he froze in place. Then he closed his eyes to feign sleep. Maybe if they saw he was sleeping, they would leave him be.

"Wake up, Matthew. Come eat some pizza." His mouth watered at the mention of pizza. He hadn't had it in what felt like years. But he didn't think he could get up, or walk, or even chew. So he stayed where he was. "Don't make me tell you again. Wake up or I'll wake you up."

Score opened his eyes. "I can't move," he whispered.

"Okay, I'll help you," Tony said. Shit, Score thought right as Tony grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and lifted him to his feet. Score yelled in pain and Tony backhanded him lightly in the ribs, though it didn't feel very light to Score. "Shut up. Come on, or it'll get cold." Score limped over to the stairs and slowly made his way up them. "Faster, or I'll carry you. You don't want me to carry you."

"Dammit! You beat the shit out of me, then you want me to move like an athlete. What the fuck."

Tony stopped his ascension. "Excuse me?"

Score blinked. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

"You're sorry? That's all I get? You should kiss my feet when you ask for my forgiveness after such disrespect."

"You're kidding me. I'm not kissing your feet. I'm sorry I was disrespectful. Let's go eat the pizza, yeah?"

Tony started back down the stairs. "No, no. I think you need to be taught some respect again."

"No, no! I'm sorry, please!" Score would have felt disgusted with himself if he wasn't already half broken. He dropped to one knee right as Tony got to the stair above him. Tony stopped and waited for Score to make a move. Score resisted the urge to gag as he brought his face down towards Tony's boot. He thought maybe he could just make a kissing sound when he was close to the boot. Then he thought better of it, as one of the minions was downstairs watching the spectacle. He lightly pressed his lips to the boot and kissed. Then he sat straight up again.

"The other one too, if you will."

Score swallowed and gritted his teeth. Then he loosened his jaw because a flare of pain went through his head. He bent down and kissed the other boot as well.

Tony grabbed Score's hair and lifted him up. "If you are ever disrespectful again, I won't be nearly as lenient as I've been. I won't make you kiss my boots, I'll make you eat them. Is that understood?"


"Yes? Just yes?"

"Yes… sir."

Tony glared at him for a moment, then let him go. "Good. Let's go get that pizza. First, I want you to change. You smell like piss." Score's face somehow found blood to flame red with embarrassment.

It took him fifteen minutes to change. Somehow, Tony had found a pair of pants that fit him perfectly, even though he'd grown since the last time Tony had had possession of any of his clothes. He tried dabbing his face with some wet toilet paper but it didn't do much good and since he figured he'd probably get another round soon, he gave up.

In the kitchen, they sat and ate pizza like a regular old family.

"How's that cute blonde you were with last time?"

Score chewed a piece slowly and swallowed it. "She's fine."

"Just fine? You haven't made a move on her yet?"

Score pursed his lips momentarily. "No."

"Why not? You're not a fag, are you?"

"No. I don't like guys." Score thought of Pixel and the way he would tilt his head in confusion at the concept. He almost smiled.

"So why haven't you made a move on the girl? Chicken?"

"I'm only fourteen, Tony."

"It's Dad to you, or Boss. Okay?"

"Yes, Dad."

"I was screwing girls when I was fourteen," he said, picking up the conversation.

Score bit his tongue to prevent a witty remark.

"You mean you haven't thought of it?"

"I'm only fourteen, Dad. If I were to engage in any sort of sexual activity with her, it would be after we had been going out for a while and it would be at a more respectable age." Score didn't know where this language was coming from – he didn't usually talk like this. Maybe he picked it up from Pixel or something. But lately, he found he spoke like this when he was overly pissed off at someone or something. Lucky for him, Tony didn't realize that.

"Well if you're going to be my heir, you have to stop thinking like that."

"Why? Is it a job requirement that I sleep with every bimbo I see on the streets?"

Tony looked at him for a moment. "Is that what you think I do?"

"No," Score said, realizing his mistake. "I only meant that it sounds like you want me to have casual sex all the time and I don't understand the importance of that."

"Well if you don't have sex, then it looks like you're afraid of it. Like maybe you're not confident with what you have. And that's not very manly."

"And wouldn't it be better to leave people wondering than to have sex with a bunch of girls and have them go around telling people how unsatisfying you are, if indeed you are unsatisfying?"

"You know a lot about sex for a virgin."

"Like I said, I'm fourteen. I read a lot of magazines."

"When? You're always on other worlds."

Score looked at him, wondering just how much of his life Tony knew about. "Sometimes I come to New York, pick up a bunch of magazines, and then I'm set for a few months."

"All right, fair enough. So you know a lot about sex. This girl you hang around with is very cute. And you think you should have a relationship with her first. How come you haven't asked her out?"

Score looked at the floor. He really didn't want to talk about this with his father. He waited a few moments.

"When I ask you a question, Matthew, I expect you to answer it."

"I was thinking, Boss."

"Think faster."

"She's manly."


"She fights well. She takes the lead. She can take a hit. She dresses like a guy. She doesn't know any girly things. She never wears a dress."

"She does sound manly. Maybe she's a dyke."

"She's not a dyke."

"How do you know?"

"I just know."

"But how? Do tell."

"Because she kissed me."

"She kissed you and you didn't ask her out? She made the first move?"

"She made the first move."

Tony made a disapproving clucking sound with his tongue. "You don't let the girl make the first move."

"I didn't want her to make the first move. I didn't want any move to be made."

"Why not? She's cute."

"And manly. I don't… I don't want… anything right now."

"You don't want sex? Are you a eunuch?"

"Relationships aren't all about sex, Father," Score said, deeply angered. He knew his father was shallow, so usually he avoided his father and talking with his father about anything. Now that he was forced to listen to him talk about women as if all they were there for was sex pissed him off. "There's more to it than that."

Tony watched him for a moment. Then he stood up. Score immediately got scared.

"Back to the basement. Now."

"What'd I do wrong?" Score asked.

"Go. Now."

Score was tempted to resist and ask again what he did wrong but he thought better of it. He went back to the basement slowly, so as not to hurt himself any more.

A few minutes later, Tony came down the stairs. "I have another lesson to teach you. You don't get close to anyone. Not anyone." Score felt a pang in his chest, as what his father was saying hit close to home. "Not a woman, not a man, no one. Therefore, women are only there for your viewing pleasure. Or sex. Sex with no strings attached." Score instantly got pissed off. He imagined someone having sex with Helaine and then leaving her high and dry. He wanted to laugh because the guy would probably be ripped to shreds but he knew that while Helaine liked to beat things up, she was still only human. She was still a woman. Such a thing would still hurt her deeply. And that enraged Score.

He kept his mouth shut as Tony kept talking. "So in order to drive this point home, I've invited a girl over. And you're going to have sex with her."

"Fuck that."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm fourteen, Boss," Score said, using attitude and not caring. "I'm not going to lose my virginity to a woman I don't even know. And anyway – anyone you invite over will be committing statutory rape."

"Not if it's a sixteen year old girl."

Score froze. "So you'd be making her do this?"

"No. She's in my gang. She does as she's told. Willingly."

"Only because you'll beat her senseless if she says no."

"Score, this is how things are run. If you don't like it, I'll have to beat you some more until you agree with my methods. Do you want to be beat some more?"

"If it means not fucking a defenseless girl, yeah. Beat the shit out of me all you want."

Tony glared at him. "Kaleb. I want you to go upstairs and shut the door. Turn up the TV. And entertain Julia until I call for her."

"Yes sir," Kaleb said, smiling at Score. He went upstairs and shut the door. They could hear the television volume being turned up. Score swallowed but kept repeating his reasoning for doing this in his head.

"What do you mean, 'entertain'?" Score asked Tony.

Tony only smiled as he walked over to the weapons table. Score backed away. He watched Tony slide on some brass knuckles and he started shaking. Tony glanced at him and noticed his reaction. "You really should have thought about what you were saying before you said it. Now you're really going to get hurt."

"Fuck," Score muttered. He backed into a wall.

Behind Tony, he saw Oracle appear. Tony saw his eyes shift and turned to look at the hologram. "What the…" he started to say.

"Now?" Oracle said.

Score swallowed and almost said yes. Then he thought of the girl, Julia, upstairs. He couldn't imagine what was happening to her but he didn't think it could be good. He bit his lip, accidentally brushing a cut from earlier. "No," he said looking at the ground. This time, he really did want Oracle to tell Shannara to open a portal to get him out. Screw any grudges he had against Shannara at the time.

But he didn't want to leave the girl.

"No," he repeated and glanced up at Oracle sadly.

Oracle looked confused. Score looked up the stairs, hoping Oracle would get the hint. Maybe Oracle could go upstairs and see the girl, maybe rescue her for him. Something. Then he looked back at Oracle.

Oracle still looked confused. "Are you sure?" he asked, looking at Tony and the brass knuckles.

"Yeah," Score said, feeling sick to his stomach. Maybe the pizza was a bad idea. A chill ran up his spine as he glanced back at Tony.

"All right," Oracle said. Then he was gone.

"What was that?"

"A hologram," Score said absently. He just wanted the beating to start. The sooner it started, the sooner it could be over. Or that was his logic anyway.

"What was he asking about?"

"Nothing," Score said. He really didn't want Tony to know that he could leave any time he wished.

"What was he asking about?" Tony asked again in a sterner voice.

"He was asking if I wanted to have a birthday party or not. I tend to dislike the parties he throws, so I said no." Score was starting to ramble and freak out, but he couldn't stop himself. "I mean, he can't make cake or get ice cream, he can't call up a clown, he can't put up decorations, so his parties are always a drag. I'd rather Shannara or Pixel throw the party, really. Hell, even Helaine. She might put on some really great fight with a knight or something, and watching her fight is always pretty cool. But not Oracle. So I said no and sent him on his way. The nerve he had to ask me at a time like now anyway. Really, I should go give him a lecture for his idiocy. But I won't since your brass knuckles deserve some attention right now." He smiled at his father and gulped. He knew he had just dug himself a grave but he lifted his head and was willing to take the beating.

Tony came at him and he shut his eyes and put his arms up to cover his face. The knuckles slammed into his ribs and he screamed in pain. Then he blacked out.


He heard a familiar voice, a nicely familiar voice. He didn't want to leave the darkness since it was so warm and comforting but something tugged his consciousness into being awake. He opened his eyes.

"Jenna?" He blinked a couple times and tried to sit up.

"Don't," she said with a hand on his chest. He couldn't really move anyway, and he thought back to what had happened. Then he remembered.

"Oh God," he said. Then he wondered why he wasn't in pain. "Why don't I hurt?"

"I gave you some pain relievers. I healed some of your wounds but you had so many, I couldn't… I'm sorry," she said, blushing with embarrassment at not being able to heal all of his wounds.

He put a hand on her arm. "You did enough. Too much, actually," he said. "Anyway… how did I…?"

"Shannara opened a portal for you. You fell right through it. Pixel and Helaine caught you."

Suddenly he sat up. The world shook and his head pounded but he moved his legs to get off the table he was on. "Score! You need to rest!"

"There was a girl! A girl and she…" Score said. He was trying to make sense but his head was swimming, as was his vision. He really wanted to go save the girl. He knew Tony wouldn't kill her but he might take out his anger at him on her. He needed to go save her. Do something with her.

"Oracle said she's okay! When you went through the portal, he checked up on her. He said they just sent her home."

Score blinked and tried to think enough to figure out what she had said. "But… Tony was so mad… and… you shouldn't have taken me out of there." He was on the brink of passing out but he looked at the ceiling and took deep breaths.

"What? Score, he was killing you."

He looked at Jenna. "But it was my decision to let him," he said, giving her a straight look. She looked bewildered. "It's an honor thing. If I couldn't fight him, then I would have to deal with the consequences."

"And us. We would have to deal with the consequences too! I would have to heal you. And you would make Pixel and Helaine worry!"

"Jenna, that's not the point! You wouldn't have to heal me, I didn't ask you to! And I always worry about those two, so they can worry about me sometimes!"

"You worry about us?" Pixel said from the doorway.

"We always worry about you, too, Score," Helaine said from her place next to Pixel. "And we worry a lot more when you do stupid stuff like getting into a fight with your father when he's much stronger than you and you don't have your gems."

"But you shouldn't have rescued me. I told Oracle not to let you open a portal."

"Actually, Oracle tried to stop Shannara. She was watching the whole thing by scrying. She was in tears when she screamed that she couldn't take it anymore," Pixel said. They both looked sad and a little angry.

Anger sparked in Score again. "Oh. Oh now she worries about me. Not when I was 8 and one of his minions pushed me off the bridge. I got hypothermia and nearly died that time. Or when I was 10 and someone was holding a gun to my head. Or what about when I was…" He stopped himself and took a deep breath. "You know what? It doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter."

"She cares now! Isn't that enough, Score?" Pixel asked. He seemed genuinely angry with Score.

He hopped off the table and walked towards Pixel and Helaine. As he passed them, he said, "I wish it were."

He realized he was in Shannara's castle. She was nowhere to be seen and he was glad for that. He tried to get away from his friends; he just wanted to be alone. But he neared a couch and saw the outside of his vision starting to get black. "Shit," he said. He grabbed the arm of the couch and sank to his knees. He winced as his ribs touched the floor and his head rested on the cold surface. He twisted over so he was resting on his back, as it was easier to breathe like that.

He breathed in and out deeply a few times and fought off the urge to pass out. Once he thought he could get up, he slowly pushed himself off the floor. He got onto the couch and sat with his head hanging down and his elbows on his knees. He felt his lip start to tremble and his vision blurred. He had fought this off for a while but it felt like everything was coming to a head and he couldn't stop the tidal wave that was threatening to overtake him.

"Score, I'm sorry," he heard someone say softly. He looked up and saw Shannara. He saw his mother. She looked just like she had when he was younger. He started to cry a little bit more.

"I hate you," he said. "I hate you. I hate you!"

Every time he said it, she had a pained expression on her face. Like every time he said it was a whiplash. "You left me with a maniacal and abusive mob boss, then you lied to me for a year, then you tried to kill me! Now you try to pretend to love me?" By now, he had risen and was yelling at her. He was shaking and trying not to pass out again, but he continued yelling. "I hate you! I hate everything about you! I wish the Triad had killed you when they had the chance!" He knew he'd gone too far with that last comment, but he didn't care. He was hysterical.

"Shut up!" Pixel yelled at him. "Just shut up! How can you say things like that to your own mother?"

"The same way she sent me to a killer planet where she meant for me to die! You don't fucking understand, Pixel! You never had parents, you don't know what it's like to lose them, to be betrayed by them! They're supposed to love you, forever! How can she possibly love me if she tried to kill me? If she lied to me? If she left me with Big Bad Tony Caruso for my whole life!" The world was blacking out again, so he sat down. He couldn't really see through his tears anyway.

"I never had parents, but that's what makes me realize their worth so much more! I never had parents so you should be grateful for what you had! You might have had an abusive father for a bunch of years and a mother who betrayed you, but you had a loving mother who cared for you deeply when you were young. I never had that. I'm jealous!"

"Jealous of having a mother who tried to kill me. Right. You're fucked up, Pixel."

"Stop being such an asshole, Score!" Helaine yelled. "We're your friends, remember? Not the enemy? Why the hell are you pushing us away?"

"Because everyone I get close to hurts me, okay? And the closer I get to them, the worse they hurt me," he said almost quietly. His breathing was erratic, so it was hard to get out. Then he took a deep breath. "So just stay the fuck away!" He continued crying, though he couldn't understand why. Everyone was quiet for a few minutes. He thought they left because they were so quiet but then he felt someone sit down next to him. He didn't acknowledge them.

He felt a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, Score." He glanced over and saw that it was Helaine.

"Leave me alone," he said miserably.

"No," she said sternly. He took a breath as if to yell at her but she squeezed his arm. "That's not what you want right now. It's not what you need. I'm sorry you've been hurt before. And I'm sorry you thought I would hurt you. But I'm telling you right now that you are sorely mistaken. I would never, ever hurt you Score. Not ever." He could hear something odd in her voice and he looked at her. There were tears streaming down her face as well.

"I don't believe you," he said.

"You don't have to. I'll show you. I'll get you to believe me. I care so much for you, Score. And you know what? I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt you again. On my honor." She started to make a weird motion with her hands, some ritual he assumed from her home planet, but he grabbed her hands and pulled her to him. He held onto her in a fierce hug as his crying stepped up to the next level. She held him back. He didn't know what had happened to the rest of the crew but he didn't care. Nothing mattered to him at that moment except holding onto the one person he trusted. He didn't know how he'd come to trust her so completely but he figured if he had already fallen, he might as well stay fallen and see where it took him.

The next day, they were back at their home. Score didn't quite believe Oracle when he said that the girl had gone home unharmed. So he'd gone back to Earth, found her, and gave her $500 to get herself out of the city. Helaine had asked him if it was moral, to make $500 like that, but he just looked at her. She hadn't said anything about it after that. He figured Pixel would have but he and Pixel weren't speaking. And Jenna was only saying a few things to him, mainly about his health.

Back at their home, Score spent most of his time in his room. He told Helaine not to bother him. The only time he let her into his room was when she was returning his gems to him. He didn't ask how she got them back, just thanked her quietly and shut the door gently behind her.

Jenna kept coming to his room to give him food, to check on his wounds. She was like a mother hen and it made a wave of emotions rush through him every time. It angered him to be mothered like this, but it also touched him deeply and he couldn't be mean to her or push her away until she'd been satisfied, with either the food she gave him or with her check-up on his injuries. Mostly, it made him want to cry because she wasn't his mother but she was more motherly to him than his own mother was. That was what made him want her to stay away from him. Every time she left his room, he spent a few minutes crying. He feared his pillow was going to be constantly damp for the rest of his life.

He was lying on his back at one point, staring at the ceiling and thinking when Pixel came into his room. He didn't say anything about knocking, as he usually would. He just glanced at him and went back to staring at the ceiling.

"I'm sorry," Pixel said.

"No, you're not," Score said gently. He didn't want to argue but he didn't want to be lied to, either. "You don't think you did anything wrong."

"Well, I didn't," Pixel said. "But I am sorry that what I said hurt you."

"I don't…" Score started. Then he sighed. "I don't want you to be sorry because you hurt me. I want you to be sorry because you realize what you said was idiotic."

"But she's still your mother. No matter what she did to you. She's still your mother."

"I know, Pixel. That's why it hurts so much."

Pixel was silent. As if that one statement clicked on the light bulb above his head. Score could almost see the wheels clicking into place.

"You love her so much and that's why it hurt so much for her to betray you."


"I'm sorry. Really, this time. I guess I was just so focused on the idea that you shouldn't ever be mad at your parents because you only get one set that I didn't put myself into your shoes. I'm sorry."

"Me too, Pix. Not for me, for you. I'm sorry you never got to know your parents, or meet them. Sometimes I think you were better off, considering both mine and Helaine's experiences with parents. But even with the bad experiences, you still missed out on the good experiences. And the good experiences are sometimes what make the bad experiences worth it. If that made sense."

"It did. And you're right. But we all have to live with our burdens and regrets. Having parents is something I missed out on. You missed out on Virtual Reality." He shrugged sadly.

Score smiled sadly at him. He knew his eyes were probably red, and he probably looked like a mess. "Hey, Pixel? Can you try to keep your girlfriend out of my room for a while?"

Pixel looked alarmed. "Why?"

"It's just… she means well and everything, and I'm totally grateful, I just… it hurts to have someone mothering me like that. It just hurts." He kept his eyes on the ceiling.

"Yeah, Score. I'll try. But you need to come out of your room and eat. We're all a little worried about you. She's just the only one naïve enough to keep coming to check on you."

He smiled. "Okay, I'll try to show up to a meal or two. I don't really have an appetite but I'll show my face so you guys can know I'm not sulking anymore."

"Thanks." Pixel got up and went to the door. He paused. "And, Helaine…"

"I know. I'm on top of it, Pix. Thanks."

"Okay. Okay, good." He shut the door behind him.

Score started scheming after that. He knew he had really good friends and he really wanted to show them how much they meant to him. He just had to figure out how.

Later that night, he went downstairs to have dinner. Jenna and Pixel were making it and Helaine was outside chatting with Flame. Score walked up behind her and when she didn't turn, he knew Flame had probably told her already that he was there. So he came up right behind her and hugged her to him, wrapping his arms around her stomach. Flame dismissed herself and trotted off.

"Score?" Helaine asked. She sounded puzzled.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry."

She tried to turn around but he didn't want her to at first. It was easier talking to her back. But she was stronger than him and she succeeded in turning to face him. He kept his arms hooked around her and she rested her hands on his chest. He could see a faint blush on her face and it made him smile.

"What are you sorry about?"

His smile disappeared and he kissed her forehead. Now she was blushing furiously. "Everything. I said really mean things to you before I left. I was so out of line, and it was a lie."

"It's okay, Score."

"No it's not, Helaine. I loved kissing you. I loved it. I was pissed off at you when you pulled away. Every time I saw you the following weeks, I was pissed off when you didn't kiss me again. I'm pissed off at you now for not kissing me," he said, glancing at her lips.

They smiled and she stood on her toes and kissed him softly. "Happy now?"

"Are you?"


"Are you happy? With me? You know, I'm an idiot. And I'm weak. And I run away when I see danger. I'll probably be a horrible boyfriend. Are you sure you'd be happy with me?"

She looked him in the eyes for a few moments. Then she kissed him again. "Couldn't be happier, Wimp."

"Hey, don't call me a wimp."

"Why not, it's what you are, isn't it?"

"Is not. I'm very brave, I'll have you know."

"Right. While running away, right?"

"It takes a very brave person to run away when the time is right, you know."

"Right, right. Wimp."

He tickled her sides at that. Her giggle was just beautiful. "What? What'd you say? I didn't… I didn't quite catch that."

"I called you… a… WIMP!" she said as she pulled away from him and tackled him. He squirmed under her but she was somehow still much stronger than he was and she started tickling him in the same spot he'd been tickling her.

"No, no, no! Stop it! Helaine!" he yelled in between laughing.

"Wimp, wimp, wimp! Admit it! You're a wimp!"

"I admit it, I admit it, I'm a wimp! Stop tickling me!"

She stopped, grabbed his hands and pinned them over his head. They stared at each other as he regained his breath.

"So, you're gonna rescue me every time some big bad is hurting me?" he asked.

"Every time," she said.

"Teach me how to fight. I want to be able to rescue you every now and then."

"Me? Need rescuing?"

"Hey, you know you need it sometimes. Especially with our lives. Come on, please?"

She leaned down and kissed him again. "Anything you want. Just don't leave me again."

A jolt of guilt and surprise rushed through him. "Oh God, Helaine," he said, squirming to get up.

"No, stop. You've already apologized, okay?"

"It wasn't enough. I'm sorry. I never meant to leave you, that wasn't my intention." He squirmed again and she pinned him harder this time.

"Stop apologizing now. I forgive you. The end. Okay?"

He was hesitant but then she gripped his hands a little tighter to remind him what position they were in. "Okay, okay. The end. Thank you."

"You're welcome," she said. This time when he squirmed, she let him take over. They rolled around in the grass some more before going inside to join Pixel and Jenna for dinner.

No one had said anything to him. Not about Shannara. It was a delicate subject for him, they knew, so they avoided saying her name during casual conversation. But he could tell they wanted to. Not that he let it affect him in any way.

A couple of weeks after being rescued from Tony, he stepped into Shannara's castle. He gave her no warning and, lucky for him, she was not in the current room he was occupying. But if he knew Shannara, she probably knew he was there anyway. He was glad for the current time alone so he could gather his courage.

Walking around the room, he noticed a great lack of nothing attaching her to any kind of life. A woman of her age, he would assume, would be looking for a man. But the only people he knew that she spent time with was the three of them, Oracle, and Blink. Oracle was a hologram and Blink was usually asleep, so they didn't quite count. She didn't have pictures on her wall, no mementos from any of her lives, as he suspected she'd had a few.

"You're like me," he said aloud. He'd heard her walk into the room, though she'd been trying to be quiet. He waited a moment and when it seemed like she was going to speak, he spoke again. "I don't like connections to people."

"I like connections," she said.

"No you don't." He turned to face her and realized she was wearing a different face than before. He wasn't looking at his mother anymore, but an unfamiliar woman he knew to be Shannara. In his mind, he was trying to bring the two together and stop associating his mother with someone from his past. He had to keep reminding himself that this was indeed his mother standing before him. "You don't have anyone important in your life right now."

"I have you. I have you and Blink and Helaine and…"

"They don't count. I don't count."

"Score, I always…"

"Shut up," he said, interrupting her. "I don't want to hear it. I don't want you to try to convince me that you did it for my sake or that you're sorry or that you'll never do it again, or any of that other bullshit, okay? You might be my mother, but right now, I don't like you. I'm trying to figure out if I love you or not but even if I do, what you did was wrong. It was wrong and it hurt. And I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust you again. And anything you say right now will only make it worse."

She looked at him and sighed. Then she nodded gravely.

When he began again he looked at the floor, at the couch, at the walls – anything but her. "What I meant was, you haven't moved on with your life. You met a guy, fell in love, had me, abandoned me, and it seems that you've secluded yourself ever since." He glanced at her to see her reaction. She was staring at the floor and didn't deny what he'd said. "At first, when you brought me back from Earth, I was pissed off."

She looked up at him quickly. "I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry for doing that. He was killing you. Any longer and you would have been beyond the point of saving." He tried to interrupt but she stopped him. "No, I know I tried to kill you. I know I've betrayed you and hurt you before, but I've realized my mistakes. And I'm trying to make them better. I can't go back in time and fix what I did, so I'm trying to be the best I can be now to try and at least atone for what I've done. And leaving you there was not an option."

"I know." That shut her up. "I'm glad you brought me back. I was mad at first only because I was pissed off at myself. I hurt Helaine so badly before I left, and I made Jenna cry, and Pixel was wanting to beat me up, and you'd hurt me… I was just in a world of pain. I was in a dark place and the pain of being on Earth was physical enough to make me forget all the other pains. And I felt like I deserved it. Plus, I was on the verge of a breakthrough in my thought processes, so I thought that you bringing me back would ruin that."

"And did it?" she asked.

"No. The last few weeks I've spent a lot of time alone, thinking. Tony affected me, a lot. A lot more than I gave him credit for. When I was younger, I never had any friends. Sure, I had a few people from school that I hung out with a little, but no one I confided in. No one I trusted. No one I could really share anything with. And that was his doing. He showed me, numerous times, that people weren't to be trusted. If I couldn't trust him, and he was my father, then who could I trust? It didn't help that my mother had abandoned me when I was a child."

"But I didn't…"

"You need to think like a child, Shannara. I didn't know you'd abandoned me for real, but it felt like you abandoned me by dying. You were all I had and then you were gone. I was childish and I had a childish anger at you for leaving me alone, even if it hadn't been of your own will. So that all transferred into all my other relationships. That's why I had to leave in the first place. I felt like I was becoming too dependent on Pixel and Helaine and Jenna. I felt really, really vulnerable and everyone I've ever allowed myself to be vulnerable with had hurt me in the past. So when… when everything just got piled on me, Helaine's kiss, you're coming out to me and trying to kill me, everything just… even Pixel… it scared me that I trusted him so much but he could turn into an evil killing machine in an instant. And I realized that it could happen to Helaine, too. So all of that just overwhelmed me, and I ran to what was familiar. Lonely, but familiar. Painful, but familiar. And I didn't have to depend on anyone.

"Then Tony started trying to beat his lessons into me. He made me aware of the fact that the whole reason I was back on Earth was because of him. Because he made me afraid of being close to people. And all my life, I've been trying to do everything opposite of what he's done. He's the epitome of evil in my mind, besides the Triad and Sarman. But the Triad and Sarman are more of absolute evil and Tony was more like a day to day kind of evil. The Triad destroyed whole worlds and Tony just destroyed certain lives. Being good meant being what he wasn't. So finding out that I was playing into his hands scared the shit out of me. It made me open my eyes a little.

"Then he wanted me to have sex with a girl. He said women were just there for pleasure. And I thought of Helaine. I thought of someone wanting to do that to her and… I saw red. And that's when it hit me, you know? I had friends. I had people I loved. I wasn't… I'm not like Tony. It was like an epiphany. Like… I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I knew I wanted to be with them. That's where I belong – with them. It might have taken me a few weeks of intensive thinking to come to this conclusion, but I made it.

"That's why I'm here. That's why I'm giving you a second chance. I know people make mistakes. I made them and I don't know what I'd do if Helaine refused to forgive me. And even though she has, I still feel so guilty about it. I still want to make it up to her. And she's giving me the chance to. And that's love. That's friendship. That's what being good is all about. And I want to be good. I don't ever want to be Traxis or Tony or Sarman, I don't want to be… I want to be me. Score, teenage, wimp, rebel from Manhattan. And Score, teenage, wimp, rebel from Manhattan… I want him to be the kind of guy who gives people second chances." He looked at Shannara to gauge her reaction.

Her eyes lit up and tears started streaming down her face. She started to approach him but then stopped. "Can I… Can I hug you?" she asked. He thought for a moment, and then had to remind himself that this was his mother. His mother wanted to hug him. He couldn't remember the last time his mother hugged him.

"Yeah," he said softly. She came over to him and wrapped him in a tight hug. Suddenly, he felt like he was having a flashback. Up until now, he'd forgotten how she'd smelled, the way he thought all mothers smelled. They just had that certain perfumed air about them and hugging Shannara now, he could recall numerous times when, as a child, he'd crawled into her lap and could smell her. And that alone had comforted him, no matter what had been the problem. Now, he hugged her back, tightly. He shook slightly with repressed tears and was glad for her sobbing because that meant she couldn't feel it.

This moment alone finally sealed the two people as one in his mind – Shannara was his mother and his mother was Shannara.

"Sorry to interrupt the family reunion," Oracle said from the corner, and Shannara and Score both jumped apart at the sudden voice, "but there's an issue Shannara needs to deal with immediately."

Score coughed and scuffed his foot on the floor. "Um, right," he said. Then he thought for a moment. "Well, is it something that we should take care of?"

"No, I believe this is something Shannara can take care of herself," he said.

Score glanced at Shannara. She smiled to him as if asking for permission. "If I need help, I could give you guys a call, if that makes you feel better."

"No, if Oracle says you can handle it, then he's probably right. Go ahead," he said. Then he smiled briefly at her. "I have to get back to the castle anyway. Helaine will probably hang me by my toenails if I'm late to her training session."

He turned to make a portal when Shannara's voice stopped him. "Score?" He looked back at her. "Thank you."

He nodded and smiled. "Good luck," he said, knowing the phrase could be interpreted many ways. She smiled back at him and he turned away and made himself a portal back home. His real home.

So, a little of that was out of character, I know. Score is more of a dick, Pixel swears, Helaine gets tickled... but they're growing up. And I think we don't see enough of them growing up. I think Helaine and Score can be grating on Pixel's nerves. I think Pixel's patience has rubbed off a little on Helaine. And I think Score's past needs to catch up with him. And I like to see Score getting the crap beat out of him, apparently. Tony Caruso wasn't as scary in the books as I think he should have been. Anyway, if you still have objections, you're free to voice them. We all have our opinions.