AN: So it's near the end of the story, just a couple more chapters then the epilogue. Hope you guys have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Any questions, just ask but I'm gonna start tying things up in the next chapter so everything will be tied up by the end :) Sorry if this chapter's a little boring and not very revealing at all but is there to link things for the next couple of chapters and I swear the next chapter is better. Please R&R. I give virtual cookies/brownies to those who review and if you review, you can request and I shall send in reply :)
It had been 2 days since Oscar had left my room and we hadn't spoken since. Well actually it was like he was avoiding me like the plague and that nearly drove me to cut again but thanks to SJ, Alex and Edie, I hadn't. I was now 2 weeks without cutting and 11 days without hurting myself deliberately. This was good for me. Despite problems with Oscar, things were finally starting to settle into routine and be normal – well as normal as they could be. Maybe I could have a normal life after all.
A knock at the back door surprised me. I got up from my chair and went to see who it was. I scowled and opened the door, just to shut it in his face. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you hated me."
Stark stuck his foot in the doorway, stopping me from shutting the door. "Look, I… Can we talk please?"
I blinked. "Uh…" Then I looked at him, really looked at him. His eyes were dark and shadowed, his face unshaven and hair messy like he hadn't bothered to comb it. I frowned and despite my instincts telling me to shut the door, I smiled and said "Sure, come in."
I led him through the kitchen and into the lounge, the whole time wondering why he was here. I mean he hates me so why did he want to talk to me? Surely he had someone else to tell his problems to. Or maybe he didn't. Maybe that was why he was here telling someone he hated. We sat down in awkward silence, neither one of us wanting to speak first. A Sophie and Tom monster came stumbling in and laughing. I smiled and tried not to laugh as they came towards me and tripped, landing face down on the floor. I helped the monster to its feet and separated it by untying the scarves which joined them together. I watched, smiling as they ran off together, no doubt to get up to more mischief.
As I turned back to Stark, I noticed Oscar walking past, probably heading towards the kitchen. "Oscar?" I called.
He stopped and glared at me. Without saying a word, he turned and carried on towards the kitchen. At least he was acknowledging me enough to glare. Stark hesitated, as though he was going to say something but didn't. We sat in silence, both of us watching as Oscar walked back past with enough food for him to survive in his room for a couple of days. Great, now he was avoiding me completely. I'd obviously done something to make him worse. At least before he was speaking to me. It felt horrible to have someone you care about so much ignore you and act like you don't exist.
Stark coughed nervously. "K-Kittie, I didn't… if I'd known… you… well, I'm sorry."
I stared at him, unsure if I'd heard him right. Stark apologized, to me. Had the world gone mad? It probably had which would explain Stark apologizing, Oscar hating me and me losing Mum, Dad, Robin and Alan. But then again it was me. No, I shouldn't think like that. I noticed Stark staring at me, waiting for me to speak. I looked at him, still unsure how to react or what to say.
"Look, Kittie, I hate to admit this but I need your help."
"H-how do you need my help?" I asked, finding my voice.
"I… I need you to help find out what's wrong with me."
"Other than you're a sadistic bitter man who hates my guts?"
He glared at me and I felt a little better with things being the way they normally were.
"Kittie, I'm serious!"
"You don't think I was?" I muttered, looking down at my lap.
He ran a hand through his thinning hair. "Kittie, I can't, I can't sleep. I just keep thinking of Frank being stuck in a SKUL cell. I'm a wreck. I can't do anything."
I smiled, recognising his description and realising that Stark was human after all. "St-uh… Horatio, it sounds like you're in love."
He looked at me shocked. "You – what? No. No. You can't be serious."
"I am," I replied. "I went through exactly what you're going through. You love Frank."
I looked at him. "You're going to have to admit it sooner or later, to yourself at the very least. You love Frank."
He gripped the edges of the arm chair, all colour draining from his face. Then he looked at me and I could tell he was trying his best to stay calm. "Say I did love Frank, how do you know I love him?"
I smiled, a little sadly. "I've seen people like you. Everything you're going through, I've been through and I know you won't rest until Frank is safe. Everyone wants to keep their loved ones safe" I looked down at my lap sadly, trying not think about when I hadn't been able to keep my loved ones safe. "As much as you want to protect them you can't always and that hurts."
Stark looked at me. "You've really been through a lot. I'm sorry for giving you such a hard time. I hadn't realised how much you gave up for others. I'm sorry for being so mean to you before."
I smiled up at him. "It's okay, I'm used to it." In a way I was. Everywhere I went, throughout my life, I was picked on for one thing or another.
Stark slammed his hand down on the arm of the chair. "It's not okay. Just being here I've seen what you do for your family and how you're trying to help. You could have turned me away, especially after the way I've treated you, but you didn't. You're a good person and you're only trying to help."
I looked up at him. "It's alright. I'm a big girl." I paused. Maybe all Stark needed was to change. Hopefully realising more about reality he would. "If you want to make things right, be nice to people. You have to admit you're wrong sometimes. I do. You may not be able to fix things you've done or said but if you change and do good things, you can make the future better for people."
"So I should be nice to people? I should apologize? All because of love?"
"Especially because of love. Love is the greatest force in the world. There are so many songs about love. Love leads you to do crazy things but without love, life would be pointless."
Stark ran a hand through his hair and looked at me desperately. "So what am I to do? Am I to let Frank stay there with SKUL?"
"No, you've got to rescue him. If you love him, it would be breaking your heart for him to be there."
"It is," he muttered quietly, looking down, away from me. I pretended not to hear.
"You need to rescue him. I can get you out of there but getting in is up to you." If he loved Frank then he would rescue him. Through Abbey, Jack and perhaps even Jonny, I could get him out but in… that was something I couldn't do easily.
He looked up, hope in his eyes. "You'll help?"
I nodded. "Yes. For love and because he's my leader. We're lost without him. But you need to tell him how you feel. I didn't and now it looks like it's too late." I looked away. I didn't want to think about how I had messed things up with Oscar.
"How? How do you tell someone you love them?"
"You just do. Somehow you find the courage and just trust in love, that things will be alright, that they'll feel the same way. You will find love. God wouldn't let you live without it. Love is the ultimate force. A loveless world is a dead world and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons and all one craves for is a warm face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart. That is why I'll help you."
Stark shook his head. "I can't do it."
"Yes you can, you just have to trust in love."
"What if he rejects me?" mumbled Stark quietly, his head falling into his hands.
"He won't." I cursed slightly, realising my mistake. "He loves you." I thought I might as well tell him seeing as I more or less had.
Stark looked up, his eyes shining. "He does? You really mean that?" The joy in his voice wasn't hard to miss. Even Tom could have picked up on it.
I nodded. "Yes, I do." And you know what, I wished them the best of luck.
Stark leapt to his feet. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go and rescue him."
I couldn't let him rush off and make a fool of himself or get himself hurt, even after all he'd done to me. "Horatio, wait. You need to think about this properly. You can't go rushing off, otherwise you're going to get caught. As I said, I can get you and Frank out, getting in is something you have to think of yourself. I can't let my friends get hurt because I'm asking them to risk their lives for me. I don't want anyone to get hurt because of me."
"I understand." Now I could see he was thinking like a leader, not a lover. "So what… how do you plan on getting me and Frank out?"
How indeed? I sat and thought. Heimlich couldn't work, neither Jack and Jill. Humpty Dumpty was more for getting in and Muff-Tuff just wasn't right for this situation.
Sophie skipped past the door singing "I think I'm gonna like it here."
I smiled, realising the perfect way of getting Stark out and perhaps even in. But as usual we were going to need inside help, plus a face they didn't know… or recognise.
I looked at Stark and saw he was trying not to bite his nails. I recognised the inner-turmoil between feelings and professionalism, or at least how you were expected to act.
"Stark? I have an idea, well a plan. Now…"
I closed the door after Stark left and despite not really liking the man, I felt glad that he was a little happier. No-one deserves to be sad. I climbed the stairs to my room and turned on my laptop. Mum and Dad had each got us one last Christmas (apart from the little ones) to help with our work and stop the arguments. The little ones still had one they shared in the playroom. I turned and sorted through my laundry pile as I waited for my laptop to load, separating my clothes into lights, darks and colours. That job finished, I grabbed Sophie and Cal's laundry baskets and separated their clothes too, adding them to my three piles. Running down the back stairs quickly, I put the clothes in the correct baskets in the kitchen to wash later. I saw Michael had already sorted out his, Tom's and Charlie's clothes which surprised me as he doesn't normally sort them on a Saturday until after I'd told him several times that he needed to bring his laundry to the kitchen. Oscar I noticed hadn't. At least this gave me a reason for going and talking to him.
I climbed up the stairs and instantly noticed there were messages up on the screen – something Red had installed for really important messages. One was from Amy asking how Oscar was. I'd told her Oscar was staying with us for a bit but didn't tell her why. I couldn't get her involved in the crazy spy-world. The second and third messages were from SJ and Edie asking how I was. As usual both were worried about me. Of course I couldn't tell them. I didn't want anyone worrying about me. I couldn't ever tell anyone when things were wrong with me. I had to be strong.
The last message surprised me. It was from Lexi. The last I'd heard he'd been in Russia. The message was a long one, probably because we hadn't spoken in weeks. As I read through the message, I smiled despite being a little confused. I read it again to see if I had read it right. I was very confused and didn't understand half the stuff he said. He was never this confusing or chatty. Then I remembered what we'd been learning at Barclay just before I left. Tony had come in with a bunch of letters which when we first read them, they seemed like normal – if not slightly odd, letters. Then he explained to us that they were letters sent by spies during the world wars and contained secret messages. After being shown how to incorporate a secret message in a message – and spot one, our little group had come up with a system which even Tony had problems understanding. It was only us who knew what to look for and where that could understand it and whilst the principles stayed the same, the actual key didn't. Whatever the case, we would always end up with weird messages if we weren't careful.
I mentally slapped myself. How could I not realise? I printed off the message and looked at it properly. Using a pen, I began to underline words, after underlining the second number on the paper, until the message looked like this:
1 House Lane
Carter is coming to visit from his home. Thought I'd set surprise task for my cousin before went to Russia but was wrong. In the end never told him but now time to :) but decided he must lay down :( Saw plane fly low so I had to tell everyone. Was cool. Sorry, you don't need to hear more of my silly ramblings when you always hear how I am at home. Did get amazingly cool photos of back of plane which went to the west. Was from England.
Miercola, I am so sorry. When we all heard about how poorly our friend Oscar is, Nana asked just what the doctor said – to have some medicine daily which you will administer. When's that done? Is it mostly tablets as they are stronger but honey will help. I just recently learnt that.
Should have heard the noise earlier. Quite frankly it was awful. Aggie got clothes for the baby. Caught Anya eyeing them up.
Look, I don't know how to say this but well the thing is… well the sky is so big!
Your package with cupcakes in is coming with me now instead, in a big aeroplane by second class. Can't wait to meet you at airport soon. Well, I uh really miss you because well uh, you know I love you. Just where are you? Talk tomorrow,
P.S. You know how much I love to send you confusing messages just so you can smile. Hope you enjoyed this one ;)
I frowned then wrote out the underlined words. Eventually I was able to get this:
coming home / task went wrong / told to lay low / tell you more when I get back to England / sorry about Oscar / have you done anything as honey recently / heard frank caught / look to the sky / package coming in second / meet well you know where / Lexi.
Of course that was after I got rid of the –ly in frankly to make it make more sense. Still slightly confused, I called Lexi. I got no response – he was probably busy hence the message. Instead I decided to call Abbey.
"Hey, listen, I need a favour. I'm trying to get Stark off my case and the only way I can think of right now is for him to be happy, tall order I know. But there is one way of making him happy and that's rescuing Frank which is where you come in."
I crossed my fingers behind my back saying "Yes, I know. Jack told me everything," as she tried to protest and give me some random speel about not knowing what I was on about. The truth is I'd guessed a lot and some Jonny had told me. Other things I'd found out from looking in Jack's room and I know I shouldn't have searched it but I'd needed answers, which I now mostly had. I had the why but not the how.
I shook my head to escape from the digression of thought. "Look Abbey, I really need your help and I want Frank safe so please? He's my boss. You would do the same. All I need is you to get Stark and Frank out. I was thinking the Annie."
"But we don't have any orphans who need adopting or fostering," came the slightly crackled response from my phone.
I rolled my eyes. "That's… alright, the Bundles," I said using the less known name for the… method, I guess you'd call it. If you were a thief it would be a heist.
"Oh," replied Abbey now understanding what I meant. "Is that to get them out or Stark in?"
"Both although getting out is going to require a Bennington-Smythe as a distraction. Else a le Chat gets pulled getting them out but I don't think Frank is going to be in a fit state to walk let alone run."
"Okay, meet me in 10 at the tree house."
I nodded and hung up forgetting that she couldn't see me. That was twice now I'd been asked to go to the tree house, a place I hadn't been in since Alan died. I scowled at the prospect and turned off my laptop. Grabbing a jacket, I headed downstairs. Hearing a noise from the lounge, I went in to see what it was. When I walked it, I noticed Oscar sat on the sofa, Tom and Sophie sat on his lap and Cal sat at his feet. They all looked happy as they stared at the TV. I smiled, watching them for a few minutes. I couldn't believe that they'd managed to take over the lounge so quickly. Mind you, this was my family and Tom had dropped the remote in the fish tank again this morning and it was currently sat in a bag of rice drying out. This meant that they couldn't change the channel so they had obviously decided to come downstairs and watch a film.
Tom looked at me, causing the others to stop and look at me. The kids were grinning. Oscar was not. "Don't mind me," I said softly. "I'm going out for a bit and will be back soon. Enjoy the film and please don't burn the house down. Love you all." I blew air kisses to the little ones and turned to go.
"Kittie!" cried Tom, jumping off Oscar's lap and running to me. "I wanna come too."
I turned to him and knelt next to him. "No, you need to stay here." I watched his smile fall. Way to go Kittie, make your little brother sad when you don't spend much time with him as it is. I looked behind and saw Sophie, Cal and Oscar peering around the doorway. I glared at Oscar, and for a second I blamed him for all of this. If he hadn't wandered off on his own he wouldn't have gotten caught, then we wouldn't have had to rescue him, Frank wouldn't have been caught and I wouldn't be having to spend my time looking after him and rescuing Frank. I instantly hated myself for it. It wasn't his fault, it was SKULs and even then I shouldn't blame anyone for what's happened to me. It's fate or whatever you want to call it.
Oscar turned away and went back to the lounge. I watched him go then had a thought. "Tom," I whispered, still on my knees. "Do you think you could do me a favour? I need someone to keep an eye on Oscar for me. Someone sweet, and clever and smiley. Know anyone like that?"
He thought for a second then grinned. "I could. I'll look after him."
I smiled. "Okay, but it's our secret, right?"
He nodded eagerly. "Yeah, secret." He held out his little finger, something I'd seen him do with Cal and Sophie, something that I'd done with Jack, Luke and Michael, although never Alec. I never really got on with him.
I smiled and linked my little finger with Tom's. "Secret."
He smiled and hugged me. "Love you Kittie," he said.
I hugged him back. "Love you too." I let go, knowing I had to go and meet Abbey. "Bye bye baby, be good." I kissed his forehead and went out the front door.
I heard Kittie shut the front door and I felt a little sad. I was still really annoyed at her but I missed her. I was worried about her too and, well, I was a little jealous. I know it's my fault for not talking to her but still. She'd been keeping to herself since I'd left her room and I was beginning to wonder if things were getting bad for her again. She'd told me how once she'd gone through some really bad stuff and had ended up spending the night in hospital just to get away from it, and partly cause she couldn't cope and needed medical attention. She said before, she'd stopped talking to everyone, even Robin, always hiding in her room because she couldn't cope being around people. To me it seemed like that was starting to happen again because I was pushing her away, and I didn't want that to happen again.
I looked around the room and decided it would be okay to leave them and follow Kittie. Michael was here and could keep an eye on them. Getting up from the sofa, I walked over to the doorway and looked at her younger siblings. Tom had come in and was sat on the carpet with Sophie and Cal.
"Alright guys, I'm…" What did I tell them? That I was going to stalk their sister? Should I just tell them I was going for a walk? Or lie to them altogether and say I was going to my room? I thought of the consequences of each and decided it was best that they know I've gone out. "I'm gonna take a walk, clear my head. I'll be back in a bit. Any problems, Michael's downstairs with Charlie. Be good, and like Kittie said, don't burn the house down."
They barely acknowledged me as I left. Maybe they were mad at me too. Or, maybe I was paranoid and maybe they were just more interested in their film.
I walked out the front door, hoping I wasn't too far behind her to lose her but also not close enough that she could spot me and send me home. As luck would have it, I spotted her walking down the road, headed towards what looked like the park. I followed her, walking past a house which looked vaguely familiar, like a dream I couldn't quite remember. We entered the park through a gap in the woodland, a path which looked less used than the main path we'd used when we took the little ones here before. The path, whilst not unused, really was not used much. I brushed aside tree branches and avoided tree roots as quietly as I could so that Kittie didn't hear me. I could see the edge of the park but instead of heading across the grass, she turned right and headed deeper into the woods. I frowned but kept following her.
We wandered through the woods for about 10 minutes, following no real path. She turned suddenly and headed up a very overgrown path to a fence. I didn't know there were houses around here. I frowned. What was she doing here? Quietly, she went up to the fence and touched it, as though she thought it might bite. She jumped slightly then shook her head. She turned her head, trying to see if anyone was around and I ducked behind a tree. I was half expecting her to come storming down and start yelling at me for following her but nothing happened. I risked a glance around the tree and saw he push on what must have been a gate. It must have been used a lot as it opened really easily. It was strange and seemed so out of place in this forgotten wood. As the gate shut, I counted to 20 then went up the path and followed her through. As I came through, I turned so I could shut the gate quietly so Kittie wouldn't hear me. I turned back around and bit down on my hand to stop me from making a sound.
The garden looked like a bizarre jungle. Amongst the overgrown brambles and the ivy which covered everything, I could just make out the leafy remains of potted plants cut into animals. Trees stretched up high, blocking out the thin rays of sunshine that had broken through the greying sky. I looked down at my feet and where paving slabs had once lain empty and clean, weeds clumped everywhere like toxic little green rats, slowly taking over the world. It looked like Mother Nature had revolted. Then I looked past the wild vegetation at the house, or what was left of it.
The house stood amongst the plants sadly, forgotten and abandoned by its people. Ivy vines twisted around the crumbling brick work, reaching through the cracks in the windows, darkened by the years of dust. One section of the house had fallen down, leaving a small stone circle. The roof was riddled with holes, many of them filled with bird's nests. It really looked… well a mess, so why was Kittie here?
Instead of going into the house, she walked past it, towards the right-hand corner, towards the massive tree. However this was no ordinary tree and before you ask, no it's not the Far Away tree or any kind of magic tree. It was the most enormous tree house I'd ever seen, and was the only thing that looked in good condition here. She walked right up to it and stared at it. Maybe she was a little nervous about going in, I mean she just came onto someone else's property like that, not that anyone lived here. She stood there, just staring at it for a few minutes.
Then another girl appeared and stared at the tree too. She looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't think why. I thought Kittie didn't notice her but then she began to talk to the girl, her gaze never leaving the tree. The girl talked back, her lips moving quickly as she shook her head slightly. Kittie turned to look at her annoyed and I could see they were having an argument. I had no idea what they were saying. I wish I'd taken the time to learn how to read lips. This carried on for about 5 minutes then Kittie pointed up at the tree house. The girl rolled her shoulders and gritted her teeth, a little annoyed but climbed up anyway, with Kittie following her. I waited until they were both inside before climbing up after them, all the time asking myself what was she up to?