A/N: Welcome to the final chapter of Belonging! I don't have a whole lot to say so let's just jump right into it! It's been incredible writing for you all and I hope that you all enjoy the final installment of the story. Take care and be well, everyone!
The girls had stopped at Max's home along the way to Lewis's apartment to pick up the locket. He gave Cleo her locket back first and she quickly put it back on her neck where it belonged – it had been for a good cause that she had been without it, but she felt like a part of her had been missing for the past day. When Max pulled out Cora's locket and showed it to the girls they were ecstatic. It was perfect; it looked just like Emma, Cleo and Rikki's lockets with the exception of the coral-colored stone. He smiled, seeing how in awe they were and the happy wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened.
"You girls have done right by her, yanno. You know what that color signifies, don't you?" He asked. The girls looked at each other briefly before shaking their heads.
"No, we have no idea. But for some reason it just sort of stuck out to us – it felt right for her." Emma replied. It had been the truth – none of them had been able to come up with reasons why it felt so right, but they knew that it was. Max's smile grew wider and dropped the locket into Rikki's hand.
"Well," He started, pulling a book off of his shelf and thumbing through the pages. He stopped a little more than halfway through and smiled, handing the open book to Cleo, "I would say that you hit the nail on the head. You made a good choice, girls." Emma blinked down at the book in Cleo's hands and scanned the page briefly before reaching the paragraph they were looking for and read it aloud.
" 'The color coral is often representative of the warmth of our mother Earth. Because coral is a gift from the ocean, many cultures consider it to carry with it connotations of mother Earth's careful protection of all things in nature. In addition to signifying softness and friendliness, coral also signifies energy and adventure.'" She finished reading the small paragraph slowly and looked up, closing the book and looking at Cleo and Rikki both of whom had expressions of pleased shock on their faces, "Wow. I guess we did pick the right color."
"I second that." Rikki muttered in surprise.
"Thirded!" Cleo squeaked excitedly, "I think we ought to bring this over to her now. Emma, have you got the box?" She asked. Emma nodded and reached into her purse. She dug around for a few seconds before presenting a neat black velvet jewelry box. To an outsider it may have just appeared to be a regular jewelry box, but to Emma it was much more special than that. This was the box that she had been keeping her necklace in whenever she took it off, which was rare but had to happen occasionally. Whenever her necklace was in that box she knew that nothing bad would happen to it and it never did. Now she wanted to pass that safety off to Cora – just as a little something extra from her. She opened the box and Rikki lay the necklace inside and finally Emma carefully snapped it securely shut and slipped it back into her bag.
"Thank you so much for everything, Max. We really appreciate this!" Emma smiled brightly at the old man that had become almost an uncle to them over the years and he smiled back.
"Any time, girls. She'll love it, don't worry," He smiled happily at the three girls and walked with them to the door, "Don't be nervous – it's Cora. She wants things to be all right between you all and her just as much as you do. Good luck!"
"Thanks, Max!" Rikki smiled nervously and with that the three of them were off to walk the few blocks to Lewis's apartment.
The knock on the apartment door is what finally broke Lewis and Cora away from watching their favorite show, 'Mythbusters,' on the couch. He sighed quietly and pulled his arm out from around her and pushed himself up. Cora put her legs back down on the floor and stood up too, and Lewis smiled at her.
"You don't have to get up, you should be staying put." He said, but couldn't push the smile off of his face. He wanted her to stay resting but the fact that she had gotten up with him made him happy. She smirked shyly and pulled her hands out of her sweatshirt pockets.
"I don't mind." Her voice was quiet and she walked with him to the front door, idly slipping her hand into his and standing slightly behind him as Lewis pulled the door open. They were met by Rikki, Cleo and Emma, all of whom had nervous looks on their faces – until of course, Cleo noticed that Lewis and Cora were holding hands and her face lit up.
"Hey, guys. Come in," Lewis smiled tiredly at his friends and he and Cora stood aside to let them through the door. Cora bit her lip slightly and stood back a little as the girls passed her – she knew she hadn't necessarily done anything wrong this time around, but she was couldn't help but be nervous around the girls – it was second nature to be, now. She hoped more than anything that they really didn't still think she was a killer like they had said, but she didn't want to give off any possible signs that she might still be a threat so she subconsciously put her free hand back into her pocket and stood a little bit behind Lewis as all five of them walked into the living room. Emma, Cleo and Rikki sat on the long couch and Lewis and Cora sat down on the love seat to the side of them, "So what's up, guys?" Lewis asked. The girls were quiet, looking at each other briefly before Cora spoke up quietly.
"Did I leave something at Max's house? Cleo, I'm sorry I don't have your pajamas with me… they're back at my house; I washed them and everything just a few hours ago. I can go get them if you want, though?" She asked. She was rambling a little and Lewis could tell she was nervous. He frowned a little and looked up at Cleo briefly before looking down at Cora again.
"You're not going anywhere else tonight. Besides, I don't think that's what they came over here for… is it, guys?" Lewis asked the girls. It was somewhat rhetorical – he could tell by how nervous and fidgety they looked that there was more to the story than returning things.
"No, that's not what we came over here for. Cora, we have something for you – and it's not anything you might have left at Max's house." Emma voice was kind and calm, thankfully putting everyone a little more at ease. Cora blinked and furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.
"I don't understand…" She said quietly and cast a nervous glance at Lewis. His face was calm, reassuring her that she shouldn't be worried. However, he was a little perplexed as well but then Rikki spoke next.
"Cora, we knew that as soon as this whole thing was over that you would do your damnest to stay out of our way even though we were the ones that screwed up. But we really meant it when we said we were sorry, and we really want to give this whole thing another shot if you'll have us." Even Rikki's voice was free of harshness and it took Cora aback for a second. She felt her head tilt to the side curiously but still couldn't form her mouth around any words. Cleo saw that she was struggling with what they were trying to tell her as much as they were struggling to find the right words to say and so she leaned forward and smiled warmly at the bewildered girl sitting next to her best friend.
"If you'll have us," Cleo continued Rikki's sentence, "we want to be your friends, Cora. We really, really do. We don't want to have you off on your own anymore, we want you with us as one of us. No mermaid should have to be on her own in this kind of world, it's dangerous."
"And yes, we know that your powers aren't working at the moment but we have faith that they'll come back. And we don't just mean that we want you to be your friends until your powers come back – after that, too," Emma smiled softly at the girl sitting across from them watching them.
Cora's mouth dropped open slightly; this didn't feel like they were lying, it felt genuine and real and she blinked quietly – did this really mean that they wanted her around? She wanted things to be okay between them more than anything, but she had been so convinced that this was the last thing that they wanted that she had long since abandoned all hope of that ever happening. She tried starting a sentence a few times but still had no idea what she was supposed to say and so she stuttered a little bit.
"But… I thought… I mean I didn't think…"
"…Didn't think that we would want that?" Rikki cut in quietly and finished her sentence, her mouth curved up at the side in a half-smirk, "We want that, Cora. We were just too stupid and stubborn to let it happen sooner. But we really want this to work. I've been kinda quiet about it because emotional crap and feelings aren't really my thing so bear with me, but we feel a pretty strong connection to you. The mermaid thing is a lot bigger than all of us and we know that, but we don't just want you around for the mermaid-sake of it. You belong here; it might sound weird to you but you do. If you left or if you kept yourself away from us we would feel like something big was missing. I know that after how badly I screwed up it's going to be hard to completely start over but that's what we want to do."
"And," Emma spoke up, her warm smile never faltering, "We wanted you to know how much we meant it so we brought you something." She smiled and reached into her purse and carefully pulled out the velvet jewelry box. She stood up and walked over to Cora and smiled down at her and held out the box. Cora glanced up at her quietly and lifted her hand slightly but glanced carefully at Cleo and Rikki before reaching out the rest of the way and taking the box from Emma gently. Emma smiled again before returning to her seat and Cora sat at Lewis's side merely holding the box and staring down at it quietly. Lewis cast his eyes sideways at her and subconsciously tightened his arm around her securely. He had no clue what was in the box, but he wasn't worried – he was curious, but he wasn't worried. The girls may not have been so trusting lately and it had made him mad, but that certainly didn't mean that he would be untrusting too. He knew that they wanted to do right by Cora and he did trust them.
"Open it, it's killing me!" Cleo let out a sigh of excited exasperation after just a few seconds and leaned forward on her knees watching the dark-haired girl clutching the velvet box. Cora looked up at her and smiled softly before looking down at the box. Simply holding it in her hand had already put her more at ease and in some way confirmed to her that the girls weren't mad at her anymore – regardless of the fact that she had no idea what was inside. She bit her lip gently and pulled the box open and froze when she saw what was inside. There was complete silence for a few seconds and her mouth dropped open slightly but she couldn't bring herself to touch it just yet. Her brown eyes darted around the room at the three smiling girls and then up at Lewis whose face had completely lit up. He had thought that his day couldn't get any better but this gift was brilliant. Cora stared hard at the glinting silver in the box for a minute before finally just barely letting her fingers brush against it – almost afraid that if she touched it that it would disappear. A dazed, happy tired smile slowly made its way onto her face before she was able to manage to look up at the girls.
"This… this is incredible… You guys didn't have to do this, I can't even… I don't… Wow. It's… it's beautiful."
"Do you like it?!" Cleo couldn't contain herself. She had tried to be quiet, really she had. But it actually was killing her now, and she didn't bother to take into account that fact that Cora had already given her the answer. Cora didn't mind, however. Her tired face had brightened and her smile and stretched wider.
"I love it, Cleo. I don't know how to thank the three of you, really I don't. Please tell me how I can thank you for this?"
"You've done way more than enough, Cora. This is our way of thanking you, and we really hope you'll accept it." Cleo was beaming and her face was so hopeful that Cora couldn't help but smile back.
"Of course I accept it. This is all I've wanted this whole time. Well, you know… not the necklace, but… to be able to be closer to you guys."
"We know what you mean, don't worry. We're just sorry that it took us so long to come to our senses!" Emma smiled and leaned forward in her seat. Cora's smile grew and she glanced shyly at the girls and then up at Lewis, still holding the box carefully in her hands. Lewis grinned and looked down at her.
"Aren't you gonna put it on?" He asked, raising his eyebrow. He was really just teasing all four girls now – he knew she would and he also knew that the girls, especially Cleo, were dying for her to put it on. Cora bit her almost completely healed lower lip and smiled shyly before reaching into the box and picking up the necklace carefully. She held it in her hands for a few seconds, staring down at it. Lewis smiled and reached down gently taking it out of her hands and unclasped it. Moving her hair off to the side and out of the way he fumbled with it clumsily for a second at the back of her neck before finally clasping it shut securely with a triumphant smile on his face.
Cora blushed slightly and pulled her hair back into place and gently brought her fingers to the silver locket resting between her collarbones, brushing her thumb up against the coral stone at the top and smiled. She hadn't failed after all. She had come to Australia to do what she had had to do and hadn't failed, and as a result had found others like her who genuinely wanted her around. The warm, tired smile plastered on her face couldn't be removed even by the purely overwhelming flood of emotions that she was feeling at that moment and she was shaken out of her reverie by a curly-haired figure at her other side who was now hugging her tightly – Cleo.
"Welcome to the family, Cora!"
One Week Later – Rikki
The week since we'd given Cora her locket has been pretty uneventful so far, but in the nicest way possible. After the eventfulness of the last few months, having nothing going on was kinda nice. Cora came on her first swim with us a few days ago and we took her on her first trip to Mako Island to show her where it all started for the three of us. I'm glad that things have worked out for us – I mean, I'm not glad that it took the girl almost being killed for it to happen, but I'm glad that she's with us and with Captain Science now. She might be a dork but actually, she's pretty cool and nice, and she makes incredible chili. And possibly best yet, now Emma has somebody to drag on her jogs with her instead of trying (and failing) to get me or Cleo to come. It might have taken a while but I guess now I know why Lewis likes her. One thing that worries us is that her powers still haven't come back yet even though she's still a pretty strong Protector which could be a really potentially dangerous combination. But, we're gonna cross those bridges when we come to them. Until then we're just going to do whatever we have to do to keep each other safe, and now that Cora is one of us that means her too.
Now I'm sitting around once again bored at work on a Saturday. I don't even know why they bother opening banks on Saturdays, nobody ever friggin comes IN. Ever. But it's only for another hour and at least I'm getting paid, right? I sighed and rank my fingers up through my hair idly clicking the keys on my computer around in my riveting game of Tetris. I have no idea how long I had been playing but after a while I noticed a person come through the door and who was now standing in front of my desk. I held in a bored sigh and paused my game and without looking up I pulled out my boss's appointment book that he leaves with me every morning and asked the same question I ask everybody.
"Do you have an appointment?" I asked while I flipped through the pages to today's date. When I reached the most recent page of the book I froze a little when I saw a familiar name at the bottom of the list. The voice I heard next made my blood run cold.
"As a matter of fact, I do. Hello, Rikki – It's so nice to see you."
I looked up. Standing in front of me was none other than Linda Denman. Keep it cool, Rikki. You hate her but she's not supposed to know that you destroyed her lab.
"Hi, Dr. Denman. I didn't know you were still hanging around the Gold Coast these days."
"Oh, well I wasn't supposed to be. I was on my way to Canada for my newest experiment but I've run into a bit of a setback. You may have heard, but my lab was destroyed the other day in a freak-storm. Quite strange… But as you can imagine I've put my trip on indefinite hold because of it," She paused and I swear I saw her give me a look. The look, that knowing look that you dread getting from parents and teachers. She knows something. "We've got some financial matters to attend to because of how much was ruined so I'm here to talk some things over with your boss. Is he in?" Her voice is so sickeningly sweet I could just punch her in the face. But instead I forced my nicest most professional smile and pushed a button on my phone.
"Mr. Vikaars, your 4:00 is here."
"Send her in, Rikki – Thanks." I heard my boss's voice come back through the speaker and smiled at Denman.
"Back and to your left." I directed her and I could swear that I saw her glare at me through her forced smile, and then she was gone, "Ohh crap…" I flung my drawer open and grabbed my phone where I had stashed it last time my boss walked out of his office. I quickly slid it open and started texting a mass message to Cora, Lewis, Emma and Cleo as fast as my fingers would let me:
'We have a VERY big problem.'
A/N: It's overrrr! Thank you all so much for reading the story! What did you think? Let me know! I love hearing from you all and I welcome PMs as well! : D To those of you who were wondering about Denman, because I know there were definitely a few of you – dun dun dunnnn, she ain't gone yet! LOL I know, I know. I left another cliffhanger. I hope you all enjoyed Belonging, and look out for the sequel which will be starting very soon (if you guys want it, that is)! : D Reviews are gorgeous and so are all of you, hoping you're all doing well!