Man oh man. College is sort of kicking my butt right now with its anxieties and its papers and its workloads. It's also my fault because I am the type that is easily distracted. So I pretty much stare blankly at the computer screen for a while before going off to check a few comics or something.

This really should have been done sooner. And, in fact, I had it finished two days ago. In any case, I'm pretty sure this is the last chapter of this thing. It's so awkward and blah and gah and stupid dumb and I'm trying to be all wise and message-ful but really I'm just stupid-dumb. I barely even remember what I wrote for the other chapters so maybe there's some sort of disconnect. I probably screwed something up somewhere. I'm pretty sure Yomiel wasn't as reluctant to talk as he is here. Baaahhh I just make noooo seennnseeee.

I also ruin things for everybody when I self-deprecate like this. I should shut up. Baaaaah.


It was dark. He suddenly had a bad sense of deja-vu. "No, don't—"

Sissel flipped on the lights. As soon as Yomiel heard the first few chords of 'Happy Birthday to You,' he grabbed Sissel around the waist and pushed the both of them down to the floor rather loudly and painfully. After a yelp and a thud and a few seconds, there was a bang, as he had expected. Only the wrong kind of bang. He realized this as soon as he felt streamers land on the two of them.

The engaged couple slowly stood back up, Sissel wincing as she unbent her knees and Yomiel rubbing his jaw (what luck to land on it). Everybody else emerged from whatever hiding place they chose, some shouting 'Surprise!', not at all aware what had just happened, others quickly asking about their well-being. Sissel quickly nudged him sharply. "Jeez! What was up with that?"

"Uh, sorry…I thought…" I thought something stupid, that's what. There wasn't even a gun hung up on the wall anymore. If only he had seen that earlier.

"Heeeeeey, just a liiiiitle healthy paranoia, hmmm?"

"Wouldn't call any sort of paranoia 'healthy,'" Jowd muttered. "Is my humble abode really that untrustworthy, Yomiel?"

"N-no…I just…" Oh man. There was absolutely no way out of this without looking like a fool.

"I'm sorry it scared you…um…Mr. Yomiel…" Ah. And here comes Kamila. Was he good at making little girls sad or what? "I was trying to make some improvements…"

"I…uh…'improvements…?'" That was about the time that Yomiel noticed a banner that said 'Happy Birthday.' It seemed to have been unfurled in the middle of the whole thing. "…It's not my birthday."

"Well, they don't exactly sell banners celebrating an escape from prison, you know." Shock of red hair. Ah, Lynne. The other young lady…though now she was a bit older…

It still surprised him how…okay she seemed to be around him. No hidden trauma? Or fear? Or anything? Every time he saw her, he couldn't help but want her to be angry. People like her made it hard to make up for past mistakes.

"M…Maybe…do you think people would buy some?" Sissel suddenly murmured by his side.

"No," he replied firmly. "Besides, I didn't 'escape' from prison. That makes it sound like I got out illegally."

"…But we shouldn't talk about this…shouldn't we be celebrating? Let's go eat the cake and be merry for our new couple." Now who was that? Ah…Alma.

It…wasn't exactly comfortable for him to be so near a woman he had killed in a different timeline. In fact, he almost felt sick looking at her. Like she would suddenly remember that he murdered her and suddenly transform into some wrathful spirit or something. Something silly like that. He stopped his hands from shaking by pocketing them and said, "We're not technically married yet." This earned a punch on the shoulder from Sissel.

It was lucky that Alma didn't sit next to him. If she had, he was sure that he would die again and that would be rather inconvenient. It was bad enough that he could see her from the corner of his eye. See her smiling and laughing with her daughter and then see her collapsed on the floor and her daughter sobbing loudly because it was her fault. He allowed her to believe that it had been her fault for five years…

Stop that. It didn't happen.

Both Jowd and Cabanela were trying to get Yomiel to join the loud, boisterous, manly chat they were having. It was all jokes and laughter and rough clapping on the back and talking with their mouths full. Chatting wasn't exactly something he did often, so he mostly stayed silent. He would probably need all his concentration in order to avoid inadvertently glancing at Alma and starting the whole guilty flashback all over again.

It was much easier to glance at Sissel, who was sitting opposite him. Lynne was engaging her in conversation. Sissel looked quite confused until they finally found something they both could talk about and started talking about a new movie at the same time. Having been in prison for the past ten years, Yomiel couldn't exactly join in.

Cake crumbs were falling on Jowd's beard as he enthusiastically clapped Yomiel on the back. Yomiel almost dropped his fork. "Well now, see you're still wearing those sunglasses. Never understood why you're always wearing them!"

"Hmmm, perhaps he has something to hiiiiiiide?" Cabanela suggested, elbowing him jokingly.

Dear god, he was being attacked on both sides.

"No, no," he said, his shoulders instinctively rising. He didn't look up at either one of the men, who were no doubt grinning ear to ear, instead opting to have a staring contest with the plate in front of him. What was it about parties that made him feel so awkward? "I just like wearing them. Sunglasses are just cool."

"Ah, of course. I wear this large trench coat…because it's cool."

"And I dance whereeever I go because it's cool."

The two men nodded and made general noises of agreement while Yomiel was stuck between them, wondering if he was being made fun of. He glanced across the table and found that Sissel was still talking easily with Lynne and seemed to have become one of Kamila's favorites when he wasn't looking. Which was nice, but he was still stuck here trying to figure out what to say.

They didn't even have anything in common. Besides the fact that they were all involved in the same incident. But that didn't seem like a very good topic. ("Hey, guys, remember when you interrogated me ruthlessly? Yeah.")

Yomiel took another discreet sip of grape juice and scanned the room again. Missile was here too, bothering Sissel, or rather, the other Sissel, bounding around the cat and yapping wildly while he silently napped (or at least pretended to).

Yomiel tried to send a help me his way. Sissel opened an eye and stared at him for a few seconds before closing it again.

'I'm not here to get you out of every uncomfortable situation. Stop being asocial.'

Yomiel bit back a screw you but he suspected that Sissel heard it anyways.

"Well, I certainly hope you won't talk this much at your wedding. The guests will barely get a word in." Jowd smiled wryly at him with a quirked eyebrow.

Ah, good, a more familiar territory: blatant sarcasm. "My eloquence is certainly something to behold," Yomiel mumbled.

"Aaah, right, I believe it's this week, riiiiight? I certainly hope weeee're invited."

Hearing this, Sissel butted into the conversation briefly and said, "Of course! Everybody here's invited!"

Yomiel couldn't possibly sink in his seat any lower and so settled for leaning on the table and rubbing his eyes underneath his shades. Not good at social situations. At all.

"…I think soooooomeone's not happy with us."

"What's wrong? Think we'll embarrass you?"

"Uh. No, of course not, nothing like that." Really, Yomiel, you're just offending people all over the place. "It's, ah…" Remembering his earlier conversation with his old pet cat, he dropped his voice slightly and continued, "I'm not sure if I can, uh, support us…especially after the wedding, you know? I'm sort of out of a job and I don't know if there'll be anybody who'd want to take me…" Thankfully, he managed to repress any sarcastic tone.

Both Jowd and Cabanela grinned at him, obviously very pleased with getting to reveal the second part of the surprise. "Well," they both said at the same time and then glanced each other, waiting for the other to start, before talking over each other again.

"You got a job," Jowd said as Cabanela crowed, "Welcome to the police force!" The women, apparently having waited all this time for this specific moment, suddenly stopped chattering and stared eagerly at the surprisee.

Yomiel had been preparing to look surprised, but the look on his face now wasn't faked. "I…uh…police…?" he stammered.

"No, nothing like what you're thinking. You're not trained after all. That would be just silly."

"You're our new computer speciaalllist!"

"Not sure if you noticed, but our place is a little…old-fashioned."

"Our guards pin up reminders. On bulletin boards. Veeeeery old-fashioned."

"So we're going to get this whole police database thing. You'll be in charge of it."

"Building it from scraaaatch, you know."

"Isn't it great, Yomi Bear?" Sissel finally blurted out, eyes brimming with excitement. "I mean…you like it, right?"

Okay. He had been prepared for 'a job.' He certainly hadn't been prepared for this job. This was certainly a…very important job…

He finally managed to smile wanly. "You mean your superiors actually trust me with important police information?"

Jowd grunted. "If anybody has a problem with it, I'll beat some sense into 'em."

"And aaaafter that, I'll dance all over them!"

"And I'll step on their toes!"

"It was a joke," Yomiel mumbled. "I'd rather not get three detectives kicked out at the same time. You don't really have to do that for me."

"I'll poke their eyes out!"

Yomiel stared. "Sissel, I think these people are a bad influence."

'If necessary, I could haunt them.'

'You're not helping.'

"Really, all these suggestions are so violent. I'm sure there won't be trouble, but if there is, shouldn't you just protest non-violently? With media coverage, the story would go nationwide and more likely than not paint Yomiel as the victim so that as a result, for a worthy cause, many would swamp him with invitations for job interviews, leaving the 'perpetrators' to possibly be scrutinized and either demoted or fired."

Everybody stared. Jowd mumbled, "Alma, sweetie…" while she just smiled brightly in her seat.

And then he couldn't help it. Yomiel laughed, and everybody laughed with him, laughed at how silly they were being, laughed away the past and laughed because the future was good.

Alma and Lynne. They were here and they were people, lives that went on independently from his. They didn't disappear when he stopped thinking about the mistakes they symbolized to him because that wasn't all there was to them. Hell, one of the mistakes didn't even happen because he, too, was here, not there.

Alma and Lynne. If they forgave him, shouldn't he also forgive himself? Fully forgive? Why build a wall to keep out the people who cared about him? He needed to do them a favor, actually, everybody here a favor, and start getting to know them all as people, not mistakes.

He wouldn't have been able to marry Sissel without doing what he should do here and now.

With a wide grin, he hooked his arms around the two men's shoulders, though while Cabanela was thin enough to make this possible, Jowd's shoulders were so broad that he had to settle for clapping a hand on his back. "With all this, I can't help but think that everybody here is exempt from bringing wedding gifts."

"I wish I knew that before I went out and bought one, then."

"I didn't buy one at aaaaaaall."

"…Well that just hurts."

"Um, I made one for you, Mr. Yomiel! I made—"

"Hang on, don't tell me. Keep it a surprise."

"She made a—"

"Noooooo, Mommy, he said to keep it a surprise!"

"It's so hard keeping secrets…"

"Ha! That reminds me of that one time, Missile, he snuck into my secret biscuit hiding place. I don't even know how he got the door open. Now I have to buy a new bag of doggie treats and find somewhere else to keep it…"

Sometime during everything happening, Yomiel leaned over and kissed Sissel lightly. She looked surprised for a moment before shyly smiling back, brushing her hair away so that she could see him better, see that somehow, he wasn't the type to be embarrassed with public displays of affection.

"I love you, Sissy Fish."

With a giggle, she said, "I know."