The end.

Just kidding.

But it needs to end. I've milked this poor movie like Disney milks its sequels. Well...not really. But still, I never expected it to be this long. 'Sides, I wanna work on Savior! Anyway, here's one of those silly placeholder chaps to introduce a much better chap. I hope you all enjoy!

~Cel

Part Eighteen: The Gathering

"Foolish, thick-headed, stubborn boy!" 2 exclaimed as he hobbled into the room where 9 lay. 8 still sat beside him, keeping a vigilant watch over his friend. They both looked up in surprise as the old man came into the room, brandishing his cane and looking furious. 9 blinked, startled with the old man's outburst, then bowed his head. 5 and 7 must have told him what had happened out in the Emptiness. The young man sighed and leaned back as 2 kneeled slowly beside him, his face contorted and his lower lip trembling.

"What did you think you were doing?" 2 asked harshly and 9 could tell that he was trying not to cry. "I could very well have healed you, but you are a stubborn, reckless boy! You know that?" 2 sobbed, dropping his cane and leaning forward, gently wrapping his arms around his son. 9 blinked in surprise but then smiled softly and wrapped his arm gently around 2. He hugged the elder as tightly as he could, wincing as 2's hand brushed against his broken shoulder. The old man cried into his son's chest, metallic fingers digging into his back slightly. 2 then noticed the tear in 9's chest and leaned back.

It was then that 2 was able to get a proper look at 9. The crack in his optic was even bigger now. His shoulder hung at a strange angle, indicating that it was broken. His chest was ripped open, his wrinkled side indicated broken ribs and he was covered in dust and ash. 2 blinked in disbelief, shaking his head. What the hell had that boy done to himself?! 9 smiled sheepishly, looking extremely weak and exhausted. If he could have, he would have shrugged. The pain in his shoulder had quieted for a moment, but he needed healing fast. 2 looked as if he was about to slap 9 across the face for a moment, but he only hugged him again.

"What…what happened out there, 9?" 2 whispered, tightening his grip on 9, but being careful of his injuries. "What happened, my son?" 9 sighed and rested his only working hand on 2's back. He closed his eyes, his heart falling. 9 was afraid that 2 was going to ask this question. How could he possibly tell him what happened? How could he possibly tell his father that he had really and truly died, and then Alan sent him back? Opening his eyes, he gave a pained look to 7 and 5, speaking only with his eyes. 5 nodded once, knowing that they had to tell the truth. It was something that couldn't be kept from their family.

Before 9 could start his story, however, someone else burst into the room. The five stitchpunks looked up quickly, startled. It turned out to be 1, his eyes wide. His belted chest heaved, and it appeared that the poor old man had been running through the old mansion to get to the room. Everyone froze as they looked up at 1 in surprise. His concerned expression immediately melted into anger, his sinister eyes narrowing. He walked stiffly towards 9, looking as if he was about to slap the young man right across the face.

"What the hell have you done to yourself!? You look as if a Machine has gotten to you!" 1 snapped, waving a condescending finger in 9's direction. 9 could only sit and blink, too surprised at 1's concerned outburst to speak. The oldest just kept advancing on him, looking incensed. Before the others knew it, 1 was on his knees, clutching 9's uninjured shoulder in a tight grip. 9 blinked, but did not object or jump. 7, however, looked as if she was about to rip 1 to shreds. 5 reached out and placed a hand on her arm to try and keep the temperamental female stitchpunk calm. Women!

"What if we'd lost you? Hmmm? What if the clan lost its leader before he even was able to lead?" 1 snapped, a deep growl laced throughout his voice. 9 could only stare, trying to comprehend the words. Leader? 1 had granted him the leadership of the coven?

"W-What?" 9 stuttered, blinking. 5 and 7 stared as well. It was common knowledge that, throughout the time he was still alive, 1 had a deep hatred for 9, not only for his beliefs, but for his mistake as well. This decision was totally unprecedented, and 9 felt nearly as dazed as he was when he returned to Earth. 2, however, was smiling softly, and he took 9's hand comfortingly.

"We spoke while you were gone, young 9. We all made the consecutive decision that it's high time the coven had a new leader. As you can see, 1 and I aren't exactly spring chickens." 2 said, chuckling. 1 smiled at the comment, and then looked 9 in the eye, gripping his shoulder more gently now.

"9…" 1 began softly, then sighed and bent his head. 9 peered curiously at his face for a moment before 1 continued. "9, there is something I must say –" 1 said, but then 2 placed his other hand on 1's left shoulder.

"1, the poor boy looks as if he's been through quite an ordeal. Can't this wait until I've healed him?" 2 said gently, and the words seemed to spark something in 9. He shrugged 1 and 2 away and sat up as straight as possible. He winced as his broken ribs gave a stab of pain, but he didn't care. Looking intensely at 2, 9 gestured to 5.

"2, you promised me. You promised that as soon as I find 5, you will heal him first. I'm alright for now." 9 said firmly. 7 immediately turned to him and shook her head.

"Are you insane? I don't care what 2 promised you –" She began, but 9 cut across her words forcefully.

"No, Sev!" 9 argued. "Look at his face! Look at his leg! 5 needs more help than I. Alan promised –" He said, his sentence cut short as 2 nearly shoved 1 out of the way to look his son straight in the face. Taking 9's shoulder in a tight grip, he gave a slight shake to him.

"What? 9, did you say Alan? What do you mean, you met…?" 2 exclaimed in shock, looking from 7, to 5, and back at 9. The poor young man sighed, leaning back against the pillow. He was exhausted, but he knew 2 deserved and needed to know what had happened out in the Emptiness. This was a secret he couldn't keep from his family. Opening his eyes and looking straight into 2's, he began his story.

"2…I met the Scientist…"