Holy. Freaking. Crap.

I want to rip this chapter apart and burn it in Hell. It hates me, I swear to God it does. But, to my loyal fans, here is Chapter 17 of Eternal. Only about two more chapters or so to go. Perhaps three, I'll see what is going on. But it is ending soon.

Oh, guys? If you would be so kind, and if you have time, please don't forget to read and review some of my other stories. I feel they've been kind of neglected and left in the dust in the wake of MKA and Eternal. There's especially one, Real Men, Real Friends, I would like to be read. Only if you want. :)

Without further adieu, here is Chapter 17 (and I really promise the next wait won't be nearly as long X/)


Part Seventeen: The Arrival

It wasn't his injuries that did it. The weakness that conquered his frail body, he could fight. The pain that enveloped his entire form, he could ignore. It was the bloody swaying that nearly put him to sleep. With each step, 8's muscular and yet surprisingly gentle arms swayed in motion with his large body. 9 was lying in 8's arms, unable to walk and, frankly, unable to move. The swaying was like the rocking of a cradle, and the motion was calming. Unfortunately, 9 was fighting against his consciousness, trying his paramount best not to fall asleep. He needed to stay awake until he was at home, lying comfortably in his hammock, and he was completely healed. And his family, his brother, were all fine as well.

7 and 5 walked slowly beside them. 7 was helping 5 to walk, taking most of his weight upon her. His burned leg still throbbed with an intense pain, and he couldn't put any kind of pressure on it. Weakness had taken a heavy toll on 5's body as well, and he could barely walk – even with 7's help. He limped heavily, making their trek home slow. However, nobody minded. All that they thought about was the fact that their coven was whole once more – and that everybody was going to be alright.

"9? Are you still with us?" 7 asked softly from next to 9's head. He had been staring at the stars far above them, making out constellations and struggling to stay awake. Blinking, he slowly turned his pounding head in 7's direction, looking at her with his big, round, lively eyes. 7 grimaced when she saw the crack in his optic again, and how his eyeplates shuttered. She knew how exhausted he was, and how desperately he needed to sleep. Nonetheless, he smiled gently at her, and with whatever strength he had left in his body, he lifted his hand to gently brush her cheek. She smiled back at him as they continued to walk on.

"Yeah. I'm fine. Are you guys okay? 5?" 9 asked, craning his neck to try and get a good look at 5. The one-eyed stitckpunk smiled up at him, his single eye twinkling in the moonlight.

"I'm just fine. A little bed rest and I'll be right as rain." 5 said, and 7 gave a small chuckle. 9 smiled, but gave a small groan when 8 shuffled him back into his arms. Nonetheless, 8 was quite gentle with 9, and he didn't hurt him.

"Settle down, kid. You're gunna hurt yerself even more." 8 grumbled, tucking 9's head back into the crook of his arm and looking over him with beady, worried eyes. 9 couldn't help but smile again. Everybody knew 8 as a giant brute who bullied everyone else and only answered to 1. But now, he had transformed into a caring, gentle man, who seemed to genuinely love his family now. With a hand, 8 brushed some dust off of 9's right shoulder, and grasped his wrist, laying it over his chest. He grumbled and hummed the whole time, almost like a concerned nanny.

The four continued to walk through the silent, desolate Emptiness. The only sounds in the night were the soft clicking of their feet across the rocky terrain and the wind whistling in-between the crumbling buildings. The stitchpunks remained silent for most of the journey, determined to save 9 and 5's strength. The two boys each endured their own struggle – 9 to stay awake, and 5 not to fall over. His leg throbbed with an intense pain, but he knew that he would be healed by 2. Oh, 2! He couldn't wait to see his mentor – his father – again. Although it had never been spoke aloud, everybody saw 2 as the kindly father to the younger members of the coven. Everybody adored him dearly, and 5 couldn't wait to finally reunite with 2 again. He realized that he would never be lonely again. He had everyone he had ever loved with him now. The coven wasn't split and broken, as it had been for years before 9 had even woken. They were all together now. They were a family.

9 soon lost track of time. He didn't have a clue how long they were out in the Emptiness, walking monotonously through the wasteland of what once used to be a beautiful city. In the back of his mind, 9 wondered what this place looked like before the war – what it looked like when it was full of life. He had seen a few paintings of the meadows that surrounded the city. He had seen an acrylic once of a young couple riding in a beautifully decorated carriage. It was pulled by a gorgeous, sleek bay mare. Bows hung from her reins. The entire scene was covered with snow and twinkling lights. 9 knew that he would not get to see something like this in his lifetimes, but he remembered what Alan had said. If he came back to Earth, then the humans would have a chance to come back. 9 suspected it would be after he and his family had all passed on, however long that may be. 1 was the oldest, at a mere eleven, but those like the twins and 7 (who were nine and five years old, respectively) showed no signs of slowing down. Perhaps, when everything had calmed down, the stitchpunks could have a celebration similar to the one 9 had seen in the painting…perhaps they would even get some snow…

"We're home, 9. Look." 7's gentle voice came from beside him. The young stitchpunk was jerked out of his thoughtful reverie as he stared at the stars peeking through the clouds. Blinking wearily, 9 turned his head to see that the four stitchpunks stood at the first step that lead into the entrance to the mansion they now lived in. 9 sighed softly, a smile forming on his lips.

"Home." He repeated hoarsely. He swayed in 8's arms as the immense man stepped up the steps to the porch. He kept 9 held tightly, but gently, to his chest and tried to jostle him as little as possible. 9 could hear 8 give a heavy, deep sigh. Finally, they were home. 7 took the lead, dragging 5 behind her. He chuckled and tried to keep up as the young woman rushed to get into her home. She turned behind her and snapped impatiently at 8, determined to get her best friend into the house as well.

"C'mon, 8! Get him in here!" She hissed, irately beckoning to 8. The larger stitchpunk huffed a growl at her.

"I'm comin', I'm comin'! I'm tryin' not to hurt the kid." 8 snarled as he brushed past 7 and into the house, fighting against the urge to push the delicate, bloody little girl to the floor. If she wasn't burdened down with a heavily injured 5, he might just have done so. 9 looked up to see the parlor and the first corridor leading into their beautiful home. He sighed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes for a moment. He allowed himself to relax, and it seemed like a great amount of strife and stress merely slid from him. He felt…lighter, almost.

"Alright, 8. Set 9 down with 5. We have to find 2." 7 directed. 8 nodded and walked with 7 into a small guest room. The bed had been overturned at one point, and all of the fancy, feather-filled pillows lay forgotten on the wooden floor. 7 walked over to an ornate red one and gently set 5 down to sit against it. He winced as the pain spiked through him, but as soon as he was able to lean back and rest, he exhaled a deep sigh of relief. Reaching up, he took his sister's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. 8 came over to set 9 down against the soft pillow as well, until 5 stopped him with a hand.

"Wait. 7…7, I want to see 2. I've…I've really missed him. Please." 5 asked softly, looking up at her with his single eye. 7 immediately looked like she was going to reject his plea, but then she sighed and bent her head. She knew how dearly 5 loved 2, and how much he had missed him. Sighing again, she reached down and wrapped her arms around 5, bringing him to his feet once again.

"Alright. But as soon as you see 2, you are going right back down. 8, watch over 9. Make sure he's going to be alright." 7 said, looking from 8 to 9, who was still lying in 8's arms. She didn't want to let 9 out of her sight for one moment. However, she knew that he needed healing desperately. Turning briskly, 7 helped 5 limp out of the guest room, and to go and find 2, wherever he was. 8 walked to the pillow, and as gently as he could, set 9 down to lay upon it. He put an enormous hand behind 9's head to brace him as he lay down. 9 grimaced, clenching his jaw and screwing his eyes shut. The pain soared through him, his wounds agitated by the sudden movement. However, 9 smiled up at 8, who was looking worriedly down upon him.

"Thanks, 8." He said breathlessly, taking a few deep breaths and trying to relax. 8 grinned back and gently patted the top of his head.

"Yer welcome."

The mansion was an immense maze to the small ragdolls. More than once, 9, 7, and the twins had gotten lost within it. 7 remembered a time ago when 3 had come running up to her, sobbing, because he had lost 4. 9 and 7 immediately went on the search for the littlest stitchpunk, eventually finding the poor fellow curled up in the laundry closet. In more recent times, the resurrected stitchpunks had gotten turned around. 1 had gotten hopelessly turned around upstairs until the twins had directed him to the staircase. Poor 6 kept getting lost outside and forgetting where the back door was. At one point he had gotten himself locked in a kitchen cupboard. All of this happened with them oblivious to the horror occurring out in the Barrens…

"I know he's gotta be here somewhere…" 7 muttered. She didn't want to call out to 2 – she might wake up the rest of the stitchpunks. She continued to walk forward, keeping her sharp eyes out for a flickering light or something of the sort – signifying if 2 was still awake. She suddenly spotted a tiny flickering light against a wall, beaming out of one of the rooms on the right side of the hallway. 5 gasped happily as he too, saw the light. He was going to see his father again! As fast as he could limp, 5 followed 7 into the room with the light.

"2! 2, look who –" 7 began, but she stopped short as she realized she was not looking upon the elderly stitchpunk. The light was coming from a small white candle in a bowl. The wax was melting slowly, the wick curling under the orange and yellow flame. Sitting before the candle was a small, lumpy shape. As 7 got a better look at it, it appeared to be a blanket, slung over two identical bodies. At the sound of 7's voice, the lump jumped and whirled around, the blanket cascading from their shoulders. The wide, curious eyes of 3 and 4 locked onto the two stitchpunks standing before them. Everything froze for a second as the twins took in the bewildering sight. 5 couldn't help but grin widely. His beloved little brothers were right here before him, and they both looked hale and hearty and full of life.

"Hey, you two! Hey, guys!" 5 exclaimed happily, unable to help himself. The twins blinked in unison, still frozen. There was a moment of tense silence before the twins leapt to their feet and abandoned the thick book they appeared to have been reading. In a flash, they were running towards 7 and 5, their eyes flickering furiously. It was obvious that they were crying out to their dearest 5. Oh, how much they had missed him! They opened their arms and wrapped them around 5, holding him close and crying into his buttoned chest. 5 chuckled lightly, hugging the two tightly and nuzzling the top of their heads.

"Aww. I missed you two so much. I'm so happy to see you again." 5 said softly, rocking the twins back and forth. They nuzzled his shoulders, his neck, his cheeks, trying to feel if 5 was really real – if he was alive, and this time, for sure. 5 and 7 both laughed at their tender assault, nearly bringing 5 to the ground. He swayed unstably, nearly losing his balance. He managed to keep his injured leg upright, standing on it gingerly.

"Careful, guys. I'm not very strong right now." 5 said gently, patting the back of their hooded heads with love. They looked up at him with concern and love. 5 patted their heads again as 7 laid a hand on each of their shoulders. They turned to look at her, eyes wide. She gave them a quick squeeze, happy to see them once more.

"Do you guys know where 2 is? 5 needs some help…and so does 9. 9 needs a lot of help." 7 added softly, looking down. The boys both jumped, looking at one another with horror. 9 had been just fine when he had left to find 5! They had been aware of 9's dislocated shoulder…but from the solemn and miserable expressions on both 7 and 5's faces, the twins immediately knew that something was terribly wrong with 9. 3 grasped 7's hand tightly and tugged gently. 4 pointed out of the room, indicating that they wanted 5 and 7 to follow them. Draping 5's arm across her shoulders once more, 7 followed the twins as they scurried from their room, looking over their shoulders anxiously.

7 and 5 continued to follow the twins as they darted through the maze-like hallways of the old mansion. They impatiently beckoned 5 and 7 forward as they turned this way and that. Though 7 loved her boys dearly, she was beginning to become impatient. 5 wasn't the lightest guy around, and he was still injured. Why the one-eyed dork couldn't just sit and wait with 9 was beyond her. Finally, the twins stopped at the entrance to the room that looked as if it was once a study. They pointed excitedly into the room, grinning up at 5 and 7. The young woman of the two gave them each a brief pat on the head in thanks before escorting 5 into the room.

2 was sitting at a little desk, a candle burning at his side. He looked haggard and worn as he read a small scrap of newspaper. He must have heard the twins come to the door, for he said tiredly, "Hello there, boys. Can't sleep?"

5 was smiling widely, his lower lip quivering as he looked upon his father. 9 had healed him finely, and although he looked exhausted, it appeared that he was alright. Turning to 7, 5 gave her a wide smile, and nodded. She grinned back and took her arms from around him. She held out her hands to steady 5. He wobbled, his knees trembling violently. He could barely stand on his injured leg. However, he was determined to reunite with his mentor, and he held a consoling hand out to 7. Using whatever reserves of strength he had left within his body, he stumbled forward, shakily putting one foot in front of the other. 2's brow furrowed at the sound of the footsteps. The twins weren't that heavy. Turning around in his chair to investigate, his eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he laid eyes on 5.

"5! Oh, my boy," He cried, standing up from his chair and hobbling over to 5 as fast as his old legs could carry him. 5 beamed and met 2 halfway with an excited, relieved cry of, "2!" 5 enveloped 2 in a tight hug, giving a strangled sob. 2 grasped his son tightly, his eyes closed tightly and his dry, cracked sobs of happiness filling the room. He stroked the back of 5's head, relieved that his eldest was finally home. Their family was now complete.

"Oh, my boy," 2 whispered, his chest heaving. "Oh, 5. You're home. You're home now." 5 nodded into 2's warm leather shoulder, his shaking fingers digging slightly into the old man's back. He had missed 2 so very much while he was trapped in the Emptiness. Now, he and his father were reunited. He was going to see the rest of his family when the morning dawned. It was going to be okay. After a few minutes, 2 and 5 withdrew. The old man placed a hand on 5's cheek, smiling in joy. His smile then disappeared as he finally noticed 5's injuries.

"Oh, dear. 5, are you alright? You – my God, boy, what happened to you out there? Don't you worry, I'll have you fixed up in a few moments," 2 said, breathing a sigh of relief that at least 5 was alive. 5 grinned back at his mentor. Same old 2. Then, they looked to see 7 standing behind them, grinning. 2 reached forward and wrapped an arm around her, hugging his daughter tightly. The twins stood beside them, beaming with elation. It was then that 2 noticed that not all of his children were present and accounted for. He pulled back, looking up at 5 and 7.

"Where is 9? Isn't he with you?" 2 asked worriedly, looking from 5's face to 7's. Almost immediately, their expressions went from ecstatic to heartbroken. 2's heart fell, and he grasped their arms, giving them each a sharp shake.

"Where is my boy?!" 2 questioned them. He was remarkably happy to finally see his 5 once more, and in his real form now. He had been so very worried for his safety. However, the solemn and miserable expressions on both 7 and 5's faces told him that something was very wrong with 9. There were a few moments of apprehensive silence before 7 answered 2. 5's head hung low, and it looked like he was about to cry.

"2, something….something happened out there. I – It's hard to explain. But 9 is hurt really bad. He needs your help." 7 said, placing a hand on 2's shoulder and slowly guiding him to the door. 2 closed his eyes and willed his old, racing heart to slow. This is what he had been afraid of happening. He knew he should have healed 9 when he had the chance. But that boy was probably the most stubborn young man he would ever know. Taking one of 5's arms over his shoulder, 2 looked up at 7 with hardened gold eyes. 5 sighed as the pressure was taken off his leg, but then he looked to the door in anxiety. His brother needed help, and he needed it fast.

"Take me to him, 7." 2 said softly. 7 nodded, and she began to escort 5 and 2 out of the room and towards 9, the twins trailing behind them…