I could list all the completely and totally legitimate reasons why this is late, or...
we could get to the chapter! I know which one lets me off the hook-I mean, is better for you guys!
Anyway, thank you so very much to everyone who read, reviewed, lurked, and waited. I really appreciate all your kind/funny/threatening words and support. So, without further ado...our final act.

18: One Up
in which many, many trees die a horrible death

"That way," the girl whispered, pointing. "You gotta stop the fight and revive Ed and Colonel Roy. The write-up's still in the pipe, but if you can hold him off for a little bit it'll go through and you'll be in the clear."

"The hell are you talking about?" I asked, my eyes turned towards the sound of a scuffle, hidden by more trees.

"You'll get it when you get in there. Now I gotta motor before something unexpected happens and I totally ruin everything."

I twisted around to see her release my hand. "What, you're gonna poof without even introducing yourself? Since you were flinging my name around..."

"Oh? Uh..." She worked her jaw for a second, like she was thinking it over. "Yeah, guess it can't hurt. I probly won't see you again. I'm Astrid, you can ask Tak about me later."

She smiled at me, saluted, and then disappeared in a snap of air.

I looked at the spot where she'd been for a moment, then pointedly rolled my eyes. All these mysterious people were giving me a non-dimension-hopping-related headache.

Resignedly, I turned and started trudging through the trees to find out exactly what was waiting for me. We hadn't landed too far. I saw a blue flash through the branches and heard what sounded like earth being moved by a bulldozer, and broke into a run.

Finally, I pushed through a couple of branches and screeched to a halt. It was that asshole, Mortimer. Even better, he was apparently wearing gloves with transmutation circles sewn on them. And even better than that, he was doing battle with Al, who looked a bit dinged up but okay. Al was holding a defensive position in front of some lumps on the ground, which, upon closer inspection, I realized were the unconscious forms of Ed and Roy.

...the hell? was all I could think.

As I watched, stunned, Mortimer slammed his palms on the ground and sent a rolling wave of earth towards Al. Al produced a sharp stick in his right hand, drew a circle in the dirt in record speed, and produced what I could only describe as a canceling effect on the rolling dirt wave, causing it to falter and collapse in the middle so it only rolled by on either side of him and his passed-out charges.

"I guess we'll be in this stalemate for a while," Mortimer said, all smugness and face-punch-worthy sneer.

"Just leave us alone!" Al shouted, sinking back into a defensive stance.

"Not until I get my hands on the colonel. I told you, I need him for my diabolical plan." At that, Mortimer slapped a tree that was innocently standing next to him. It transmuted into what looked like a wooden gatling gun. Al seemed uneasy but only tightened his stance.

I decided to intervene the best way I could think of.

"What the flying HELL?!"

Both combatants' heads whipped around to face me. "Is this seriously happening right now?" I raged, glancing briefly at All before leveling my full irritation on Mortimer. "You! Doucheface! You got demoted or fired or dunce-capped, why are you here?!"

"Ah, Miss Joey. It's been a while. How I've missed your unique wit," Mortimer said dryly.

"Going senile, moron? I saw your stupid face this afternoon!"

"Ahhh...was that today then? My timing is better than I realized," Mortimer said.

Once again, he didn't elaborate, and once again, I reluctantly bit. "Okay, what the hell do you mean?"

Mortimer spread out his hands. "Well, you see, the Mortimer Wing you are familiar with is, at this current moment, about to begin plotting out a very elaborate retaliation scheme after he finishes drowning his sorrows at his favorite pub and survives a nasty hangover. The one you see before you is the result of that, coming to you from four years in the future, now well prepared for said act."

"...So you traveled back in time to be an even more obnoxious douche?" I deadpanned.

"You make it sound so petty. But essentially, yes. I sweet-talked my annoying new boss into demoting me to a Manual Reconnaissance Youth and assigning me to an output in this world. Then I devoted myself to learning alchemy and—"

"No, please, shut up," I said, putting up a hand. "You're a moron and this monologue is stupid."

Mortimer's smug smile grew wider. "You know, I'll admit to having missed your witty remarks at times. Then I reminded myself that I would get a taste of it again when my plan culminated." His grin took on a scary edge. "And then I'd get the pleasure of reducing you from acid to begging."

I suddenly realized that I was in some serious danger. Mortimer still had that tree-gun, and now he casually pushed the barrel so it swung towards me. My eyes grew wide, and instinctively I turned and made a flying leap for the foliage I'd just come through.

I landed hard on some sharp and uncomfortable plants, most of which snapped under my weight. Just above my head was a spine-chilling ruckus of multiple bullets being fired through the spot I'd been standing in. I flattened myself as best I could, my hands going to shield my head.

Once the rapid gunfire died down, I heard Mortimer's borderline insane laughter. "Well well! No snappy comebacks, Miss Joey? Do you finally realize that maybe, just maybe, you and that little prick friend of yours pissed off the wrong person?"

Feeling rattled, I pulled myself forward with my arms, burrowing farther into the bushes. I took a couple of deep breaths, willing my voice to be calm, and then spoke. To my credit, I sounded mostly like I hadn't just barely avoided death by overkill. "You shoot like a cow!" I yelled.

I heard a weird crack noise, that I only found out later was him ejecting an empty magazine from his gun. Even though I wasn't sure what it was, I sensed danger and started scrambling for safety. Twigs scratched my face and arm and tugged at my clothes, but I pulled free and rolled wildly to the right.

Once again, Lady Luck was with me, as more bullets ripped through my little resting place. I felt a sting slice up one arm and resisted a yelp of pain, instead focusing on getting upright and throwing myself behind the nearest sturdy-looking tree.

"Oh, you certainly don't disappoint!" Mortimer laughed again, followed by another crack.

That bastard. He's enjoying this. I tried not to breathe so hard or loud, but my heart was thudding madly in my chest, and it felt like I couldn't get enough air.

"Now, let's stop this little charade. Come quietly and maybe I'll let you live," Mortimer went on, his voice drawing closer.

"Why the hell should I believe you?!" I yelled, immediately ducking and starting to move to a new tree.

"Well now I'm hurt. Maybe we didn't get along in the past, but I never lied to you, did I? I was happy to answer any question you had for me. In fact, I was far more truthful than your lying scumbag Tak, wasn't I? I mean, I didn't pretend to be your friend for years while secretly plotting to upset your entire way of life, now did I?"

I flinched, then mentally smacked myself. I wouldn't let this douche play head games with me. I quickly checked my stinging arm and saw no wound or blood. Maybe a bullet had just whizzed close enough to cause the pain.

"Now then, if you don't want to come out, then be a good girl and shut up while I finish dealing with my current opponent..." Mortimer trailed off, and I took the opportunity to sneak a little farther to a new tree to hide behind.

"What...the hell?" Mortimer went from smooth and smug to surprised and pissed in a split second. "Where are they?! What did you—!"

Al, I love you. Somehow Al had seen that I was buying him time and had safely gotten himself, Ed, and Roy out of sight, and perhaps even gone entirely. Thank you God, he's smart!

"Oh, this is unacceptable." Mortimer's voice had gone back to that condescending crap I hated, but it had a dangerous edge that made me nervous. "I've worked a bit too hard on this to be derailed by one smart-mouthed whale."

I rolled my eyes. Weight jokes, how original.

"You're going to tell me—" Suddenly bullets ripped through the trees and bushes to my left. I threw myself face down, covering my head with my hands. "—where—" More bullets, closer, and I flattened myself as much as possible. "—they ARE!"

This time the bullets started chewing up my tree, and I couldn't resist a brief scream. Risking it all, I started rolling to the right again, but to my horror I could hear the bullets follow, and every time I faced up I saw leaves and sticks and branches being obliterated over my head.

"FOUR YEARS!" Mortimer hollered during a break to reload. Wildly, I got to my feet and just started flat-out running. "YOU ARE NOT RUINING FOUR YEARS OF WORK!"


I felt a hard thunk in my chest, like someone had hit me with a baseball bat, and I catapulted into darkness.

"Don't worry, you're gonna be okay."

There she was again. "...Mom?"

"Yes, sweetie. Don't worry."

"I'm not worried, I'm just confused. Oh, and...I think I'm mad at you."

I couldn't see, but somehow I could tell she was smiling sadly. "I know. It might be a while before you can trust me again."

I sighed. "Damn straight."

I woke up facedown, to the sound of rather insane laughter. I had landed in a puddle of something, apparently, and it was soaking the front of my shirt. Even though I had to have landed on my head, it didn't hurt. None of me hurt. I felt great.

This had happened before, right? This feeling of being slightly superhuman, like I could take on any challenge and it would be cake. Before I could try and muddle out that mystery, though, I needed to figure out what was going on.

As I began to remember what had just happened, the laughter died off. "Oh, this is bad, actually. I needed you to tell me where that tin can had gone with the colonel." Mortimer sounded like he'd gone slightly more mental, and it all came back to me. He sighed. "And I never got to make you beg...this is a bit of a letdown."


I lifted my face off the ground so I could speak. "The more you say, the dumber you sound." I heard a startled noise from him as I pushed myself easily to my feet and turned to face him.

Between us and the area that Al and Mortimer had been battling in was nothing but mulched plant life and a couple of Swiss-cheesed trees that were somehow still standing. In the actual battlefield, though, Mortimer stood, now staring at me, one hand placed on his damned gatling gun.

"Joey Jones doesn't beg, especially to a deranged asswipe like you," I said, feeling a rush of adrenaline and general cockiness.

"Wh—b-but—I shot you!" he spluttered.

Did he? I glanced down, and paused. That puddle I'd thought was water or mud or something was apparently blood, and it was smeared all over the front of my shirt. My shirt, which, by the way, now had several ragged holes torn into it, in the chest and stomach area.

...The hell? was all I could think again.

When I looked back up at him, though, I was able to play it cool, like I'd expected this. "You missed," I said with a shrug.

He tensed, his brows drawing together angrily. "What are you? You failed your testing and were never reinstated. You shouldn't be able to do that."

"Not my fault you're too stupid to plan for everything," I shot back.

His hold on his stupid gun tightened. "So maybe your mother did something. Fine then. No one's immortal. I just have to keep going until you stop getting up."

...Oh. Shit. This could be bad, actually.

Even though I didn't understand my surprise immortality, it was a good possibility it had some sort of limit. And I didn't want to push that. I saw his hand move and instinctively dived for cover. Of course, all the cover was pulp, so it was like diving onto a giant potential garden.

Bullets fired, and I felt a sharp stab of pain through my ankle that made me gasp. I scrambled to move, but the pain in my ankle nearly immobilized me. I twisted around to see blood gushing from a rather horrific wound that made me suddenly want to throw up.

I heard that crack and looked up to see him reloading even as he pointed the damned gun at my face. "Recover from this," he said.

Holy sh—!

He fired, and I didn't get to complete my thought.

"What kind of hideous asshole shoots a girl in the face with a damned gatling gun!" I raged.

"That sounds...very gruesome," Dream Mom said, sounding queasy.


"But...don't worry, you'll have fifteen lives left when you wake up."

"Lives...? Wait a second, you said something like that before. What are you talking about?"

"It was actually the only petition that Tak brought to me, instead of the other way around. You've been imbued with a chain letter that safeguards you from fatal injury up to nineteen times. Usually it's only for very dire situations but he really wanted it to be used on you. I didn't think it was necessary, but I still—"

"Okay, okay, got it. Please shut up now."

I woke up and heard a crack. I felt great, and I immediately jumped up and started running again. "There we go!" Mortimer said with another crazy laugh as I made a beeline for some trees that hadn't been murdered and started running between them.

I heard more bullets right behind me and ran for my life, weaving around trees, hoping they'd provide enough cover. It seemed to be barely enough, as I could see them starting to shred even as I approached. I tripped over an exposed root, scrambled back up, tripped again, and bashed the side of my head against a trunk.

Pain exploded behind my eyeballs. My other headache seemed to return for revenge. I slumped against the tree for a second, my eyes open but not able to see. I heard, or thought I heard, someone call my name, but that was drowned out in the terrible sound of that damned gatling gun firing again, destroying the forest, reaching me—

Two hard, unyielding things wrapped tightly around me, and I was abruptly spun around. The sound of gunfire now competed with the louder, closer sound of hard things ricocheting off metal. It was all loud, and awful, and doing exactly nothing for my headache as well.

Finally all the noise stopped, the metal pinging dying off last. I heard another crack and a dose of crazy laughter. "There you two are!" Mortimer's voice said, sounding like a mad scientist trying to impersonate his usual smug tone. "Now all I need is the colonel and we can put this whole matter behind us!"

"He's gone insane," I mumbled into my hands, which were wrapped around as much of my hands and face as they could hold.

"Are you okay?" Al's voice asked over my head.

"Head again," I mumbled.

"Come now!" Mortimer said. "I can do this all day, you kn—"

His sentence stopped abruptly, then segued into a drawn-out noise I didn't really think humans could make when not drowning. I heard what sounded like the metal sching of a sword, then some more incomprehensible destructive noises.

"Uh oh..." Al said quietly.

"W-What is it?" I blinked a few times, and my vision finally started to clear.

Before Al could answer, I heard a familiar, sneering laugh. I blinked rapidly until I finally saw more scene than spots, and looked up. Al had saved me from the bullets with his bulk, and he now held me protectively away from the scene, though his head was turned towards it. I peered around his elbow to see what was going on.

Between us and the area that Al and Mortimer had been battling in was lots of ruined plant life. In the actual battlefield, though, Mortimer lay on the ground, twitching a little in a pool of his own blood. His damned Gatling gun had been sliced to pieces.

Standing over Mortimer and his gun were Lust and Envy, the former looking bored and the latter looking creepily satisfied.

Oh, wonderful. And now I want to puke for a bunch of reasons.

"Much better," Envy said, stretching his arms casually over his head. "What a loon."

"Lust...Envy..." Al said, as if he wasn't quite sure how else to react. And neither was I, except for that whole puking idea. Essentially they had just saved us...but it was entirely possible we wouldn't live very long to be surprised at it.

Envy finally seemed to notice us, then, and he waved a hand. "Don't look so amazed," he said offhandedly. "I told you I wanted revenge, didn't I?"

"He's far too unpredictable to be left alone," Lust added with a flip of her hair.

"And he had it coming," Envy said.

"...Oh..." was all Al could manage, though he didn't loosen his protective hold on me.

Envy scoffed and put his hands on his hips. "Oh stop it. We're not going to kill you idiots. We want you alive, Alphonse. And you..." He pointed at me, and I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him. "Well, I could definitely make an exception for you, but I expect Alphonse would put up a fight, and I'm really not interested right now."

"And in any case, the military will have certainly noticed this ruckus, and extra bodies would be inconvenient," Lust added, glancing off. "So be grateful you're more trouble than your worth, girl."

"Sure thing," I said, unable to not say at least something.

"Come on, Lust, let's go. We don't want to be around when the dogs show up. And now that I've wasted that lunatic I'm feeling pretty good," Envy said. He might have said something else, but my thoughts about puking then turned to actual puking, and I shoved myself out of Al's arms just in time to throw up all over the base of the tree I'd bashed my head against.

I didn't get a chance to really look up until well after the military started to appear, with a relieved and angry Lieutenant Hawkeye among them. So I knew that Lust and Envy were long gone, and we were safe for now.

I woke up to the feeling of a hand shaking my shoulder. I blinked my eyes open, and saw Ike, smiling sympathetically at me. "Have a good nap?" he asked.

"Ike?" I said groggily, sitting up from where my head had ended up against the window. Last I remembered, Riza had put me in her car, promising me with a stern look that I was going to get a serious dressing-down after she'd taken care of things here. And speaking of here, we were on the street now, instead of the forest. "The hell're you doing here?"

"Cleaning up some loose ends," Ike said. He gestured to the car door. "Come on. Let's go inside."

Pushing open the car door, he climbed out, and I followed him. The car was parked in front of the hospital, and a couple of military officers were milling around outside. I glanced around, as if expecting to see the Astrid girl somewhere.

"The lieutenant's inside," Ike told me. "I popped in on the way and told her to go ahead and take care of what she needed, and I'd watch you to make sure you didn't run off again." He winked.

"Har har," I said, glaring at him. "One, you're supposed to be off relaxing, and two, I didn't have much choice."

"I did go relax," Ike assured me, pulling open the front door and ushering me inside first. "I took off three whole days, even after hearing about this debacle, and came back when I was ready to work again. You were right about that mental back-cracking, by the way," he told me.

I just narrowed my eyes at him until I got it. Oh, he must have time traveled back, then. Show-off. "Well, that douche is dead now, so it's handled," I said with a slight scowl.

"Sort of. That was the Mortimer from the future. The present Mortimer is at a bar right now or something. He's still got some time," Ike said.

"Oh. Are you guys going to go arrest him then?" I asked.

Ike looked a little grim, and shook his head. "The higher-ups have decided to let nature run its course in this case, and let him do what he does. That'll end up with me approving his transfer, pretending like I don't know what's going to happen." He sighed. "It's kind of a mess."

I winced. I hated the guy, but I wanted to see him stewing in jail, not necessarily dead. The fact that they knew what was going to happen to him and weren't going to try and stop it was a little...well, disturbing.

We rounded a corner, and I spotted Al, sitting in one of a row of chairs set against the wall. He looked up, then stood when he saw me. "Joey! Are you all right now?" he asked.

I nodded. At some point my headache had magically vanished. I didn't know if that was because it wasn't all that serious or someone had done some chainletter voodoo on it, and I was a bit too worn out to care. "I'm fine. How are Ed and the colonel?"

"Well, the doctors aren't sure what knocked them unconscious, but said they should be all right," Al said. "I was so worried—you and the lieutenant just disappeared, halfway to us getting here. What happened?"

That was the million dollar question. I slowly shrugged, feeling a bit guilty. "I don't really know. Maybe I lost control or something. I'm, uh, sorry for putting you guys in danger."

"As long as everyone's okay, that's what matters," Al said firmly.

"Exactly," Ike seconded. "We'll probably do a brief investigation into the matter, but I'd guess it's like you said, that you lost control. That can happen to someone untrained using their abilities on purpose."

"Well I had no other options," I half-snapped, a little irritated.

Ike smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. "I'm not blaming you, Joey. But that does remind me, I wanted to ask if-"

The door across from Al opened, and Riza stepped out. She glanced at him, then saw me and turned to include me as well. "They've woken up," she said.

"Seriously? I can't believe I missed the action again!" Ed sighed, crossing his arms almost huffily.

"Oh, sorry, I'll put it on hold for you next time," I said, rolling my eyes.

He and the colonel were sitting up in their respective beds. Roy had already put his dress shirt back on over his hospital gown, which effectively hid the bandages up and down his arms. Ed, unsurprisingly, sported a bandage wrapped firmly around his head, and looked more peeved than injured.

"But Mortimer is dead?" Roy asked.

Riza nodded. "Once the military arrived we confirmed it."

"Which reminds me. If you're willing, I need to take Mortimer's body off your hands, for proper processing on my side of the dimension," Ike said.

Roy gave him a look. "We've got some processing of our own to do," he pointed out.

"Well yeah, but Mortimer doesn't have any proper identification here."

"We've got procedures for unknowns as well," Roy said.

Ike held up both hands, as if to show he was unarmed. "I won't interfere, honest. Can I have it when you're done?"

"Fill out the proper paperwork and we'll see."

"I still don't get why the Homunculi would get involved like that," Ed butted in, looking thoughtful.

"Well...how much do you know about them?" I asked.

He glanced at me, then sighed. "Not enough, apparently. But this is the second time they've saved me. I need to know why."

I knew exactly why, but I was keeping my mouth shut. Ike glanced at me and seemed satisfied with my silence, as he spoke next. "In any case, now that you're all properly back where you belong, us outworlders need to take care of the extracting."

The door popped open, startling me. I glanced toward the door, only to be blinded by a surprise flash of light and something sparkly.

"MY APOLOGIES, MY FRIENDS! HAD I HEARD OF YOUR DANGEROUS PREDICAMENT I WOULD HAVE BEEN HERE SOONER! AS IT WAS I ARRIVED POSTHASTE TO INQUIRE UPON YOUR WELLBEING!" Alex Louis Armstrong had already ripped off every upper layer, and now flexed majestically in the doorway, in the light of a spotlight from who-knew-where.

There was a moment's silence as everyone reacted kind of like I did: craning their necks back and making some sort of ridiculous face.

Alex flexed his way into the room, looming over Ed first, who shrank back warily. "You seem to be in fairly good health, lad, for which I am grateful." His majestic gaze turned to Roy, who flinched in turn. "I'd expect some sort of dangerous shenanigans from the Elric brothers, but you surprise me, Colonel."

"Things happen, Major," Roy replied dryly.

It took me a couple of moments to notice that someone else had come in with Alex—which is unsurprising, considering the attention-drawing said man is capable of—but noticed when the figure moved quickly to Roy's bedside. "Colonel? Are you okay?"

Roy glanced up. From my angle, I could only see a military uniform with the knee-length skirt and very long dark hair in a low ponytail. "I'm fine. Did you finish all your assignments?"

"Of course sir, every day including today. It was just..." She paused, seeming hesitant.

"We've all been very worried about you. You were missing for less time than the Elrics, but it has still been quite a few days," Alex boomed.

I saw Ed and Al quickly exchange glances, but I was kind of busy trying to figure out who the girl was. She didn't look like any of the characters I knew, at least not from behind. She seemed to feel my gaze and turned slightly, glancing at me. She wore large, thick glasses, opaque as hell like some stereotypical anime nerd. But she definitely wasn't familiar.

"Oh." She and I both turned to see Ike standing up with a smile. "Well this makes things make a bit more sense. How long have you been under the colonel's employ?"

The girl tilted her head suspiciously at Ike. "...A few months...why?"

Roy glanced over with his own suspicious look.

"Oh nothing, just wondering. You're doing a great job, by the way, so don't worry."

"W-What? I..." The girl seemed to realize something. "Wait, are you—?"

"A couple of ghosts who really need to be going." Ike moved over to my chair and put a hand on my shoulder, amidst suspicious looks from everyone else in the room. "Don't worry, I'm full of explanations. But first I need to hand them over to some other people."

And just like that, the scenery faded back to my house.

"What the hell was that for? I thought we'd dropped the mysterious thing!" I said, now giving him my own suspicious look.

"Sorry," Ike said, not sounding very sorry. "But that girl is in the middle of her own test, being supervised by someone else, and we really shouldn't get involved."

"Who was she?" I asked.

"Someone you might see again. In fact, you'll probably be able to see everyone else and give them a proper sendoff, if you're interested in hearing me out," Ike said.

"Hearing you out about...?"

Ike gestured to the sofa, and I warily sat back down. "I've been instructed to offer you a job with us," he said.

"Hold on, seriously? When your shitty organization has ruined my whole life?" I said, incredulous.

"Yeah. But listen to the whole deal. And if you're still not interested in the end, I won't bring it up again. Can you do that?" Ike asked.

The last thing I was interested in was working for the fools who had essentially turned my mother against me, and thought hiring Mortimer was a swell idea. But I nodded stiffly. "Fine. Go on."

"Okay, here's the deal. If you agree to work with us, we'll set the three of you up. Ricky and Cassie can still go to school, you'll get money for bills. We can help you get legal guardianship of your siblings, so you won't have an issue in the eyes of the law. We'll fund you for anything you need—a car, renovations on the house, clothes, food, leisure—hell, we'll move you to a new house if you want. You'll be set."

That did sound good on the surface. But if the price was my soul... "And in exchange?" I asked.

"In exchange, I bypass your test results and install you as a MaRYSuE. It'll require a license and some serious training, but you've got the potential. I think you just need a boss who'll be honest with you," Ike said.

"And that's you," I guessed.

"Yes," Ike said firmly, with a surprising amount of fierceness. "I'm gonna be honest right now. Experiencing this with you taught me a lot about myself. I acted like I was doing the greater good, but I stopped seeing people as people. Watching someone I care about undergo the sort of tactics we utilize made me realize how messed up we are as an organization. Maybe you and me can change that. We can help people who are trapped in other worlds, ensure safety during testing, maybe clue in some people who are being yanked around on puppet strings. We can keep what happened to you from happening to anyone else."

I sat silently for a moment, digesting this. "That sounds great, and optimistic, and hopeful and wonderful, and like something someone would say to convince a skeptical person to join their great new cult," I said bluntly.

Ike smiled, a bit sadly. "I know it won't be easy to swallow. Here's what I'd like you to try. Talk to Ricky and Cassie about it, see what they say. Think about my words, and whether or not you think I mean them. Will you do that for me, Jones?"

"...Yeah. I can do that much, I guess," I sighed. "But what about Ed and Al and everyone? I mean, they know about our world and stuff, will that change what happens to them?"

"Unfortunately they'll be under observation for a few days," Ike said. "Depending on their actions armed with this new information, they may or may not have their memories of the incident extracted."

"What? But you can't just—!" I exclaimed, half-rising.

"That's procedure," Ike said.

I sat back down slowly, simmering. It wasn't that I considered myself so amazing that it would suck for anyone to forget about me, but it just didn't seem right to take someone's memories away. "Is this the kind of procedure you plan on changing with your wide-eyed ideals?" I wanted to know.

"Well, first I'd need allies," Ike said with a shrug and a smile.

I glared at him. "Get out of my house, Tak. I'll talk to Ricky and Cassie like I promised. But if we want you guys gone, you had better not touch our memories."

"We won't, I promise," Ike said, sounding sincere.

The situation still sucked, but I sighed, my anger leaking a little. "Like I said, I'll talk to them. I'll...think about it. I'm not making any hasty decisions."

"I wouldn't ask you to. This is big, so it deserves some careful thought. Look, go ahead and get some rest. I'll come check on you tomorrow, okay?"

I shrugged, like it was no big deal. Ike smiled at me before fading away. I glanced at the space where he'd been, before sliding over and ending up lying on the couch. I slowly put my feet up, heaving a sigh.

Me, as a MaRYSuE. Ugh, not what I was really hoping to achieve in my life. But...if I could keep someone else from having to deal with the life-altering bullshit I'd been forced into, someone who could protect themselves or their siblings from the roller coaster of emotions we Jones kids had suffered...maybe it was worth it. Dammit, I didn't know.

But he'd said I could think about it. Well, I would. I'd think long and hard, discuss the matter with my non-traitor siblings, consider the pros and cons...and probably end up doing it anyway. I rubbed my face irritably. As much as I hated this nameless shadowy organization for mucking up my life, I bet there were a bunch of other people who had or would feel the same. And if I could do something about it...

"Fine. I'll be a MaRYSuE, dammit," I grumbled into my hands.

That moron Ike had better appreciate this.