Puppets' Hope

"Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two." - Louis de Bernières

Alex stepped into the large Tudor-style house with Harper behind her, the two, along with Juliette, having trained for the past seven years for this mission.

With Natasha was Emile Zganjar, who would be taking over as High Commander when Natasha stepped down in another five or six years. While respect for her had been going up since she first became High Commander, Natasha was forced to admit that it would be best to step down when there were still Purities that still held her in suspect. Trust was a necessity, so she would be personally training Emile, a blessing she hadn't been able to get from the last High Commander.

Emile had a bright smile, though Alex still wasn't quite used to seeing skin so black, it was like he had been created by ink being poured into a mold. His eyes, though, were bright purple, almost iridescent. He also had hair that looked like snowflakes had landed on his head and had never melted, the silky locks currently slicked back away from his square face. It had been first meeting him Alex learned he had the same condition as that nurse from the hospital, Kristjana: Faerie Genesis.

"Where's Juliette?" asked Natasha, setting down plates. She was a decent cook, and it smelled like she'd made hamburger steak with egg on top for Alex and Harper, ultra-rare steak for herself and Juliette, and green-colored soup for Emile.

Before Alex could answer, Harper joked, "Trying to break up with Justin but ended up having sex instead?"

As the dark-skinned woman groaned in horror at the image, Emile snickered as Natasha commented, "Oh, the usual."

As a Notte, Juliette lived for as long as she could get blood. She'd been turned by Cindy van Heusen in 1667, after Alex (when she'd been a zolak-gai) had killed her to get the Gem of Passage inside of her for Set, ruler of the Unspeakables.

Juliette could not wait more than three days to drink blood, and even trying to would trigger bloodlust. Like Alex, Juliette had killed in the past. The difference was that all of Juliette's kills had been accidental, but the guilt was the same—or so the Notte had said when the two used to share a room.

Also, Juliette aged much more slowly than others, and Justin was twenty-seven now, his muscles toned and features mature. The blonde girl, however, while centuries old, still looked like she'd be about ready to graduate high school. Knowing that while Justin turned sixty, Juliette would still look to be in her prime, they had tried breaking up once or twice a month the past five years.

As if having heard, the door opened and closed, Juliette calling out from the foyer, "Sorry I'm late!"

"It's fine," Natasha called back as she headed into the kitchen. "Really, I revel in the ideas of my friends having better social lives than me!"

Tawny-brown eyes going wide when the Notte entered the dining room, spots came to her cheeks as Juliette sputtered upon realizing what High Commander Landon was suggesting. "N-no! That's n-not—I—" Palms coming together in front of her chest as the other three laughed, Juliette took deep breaths. "I was getting a drink, I swear! Commander Chandani was there as well."

"No need for an alibi," said Natasha, coming in with the steaks. "I'm joking."

Cheeks still flushed, Juliette sat in her seat. Natasha would be at the head of the table with Emile to her right and Alex to her left. Harper would be sitting next to Alex and Juliette by her future High Commander.

Once everyone was seated, Alex having to mind her wings, the discussion turned straight to the mission. There was still imbalance within Tartarus due to Idolon's presence, all the leaders distrustful of one-another and paranoid of any possible revolts. Word from spies said that Yin was the ringleader now, but both Natasha and Alex knew her to be a very devoted disciple of Idolon, even letting her use her body now that Idolon has been expelled out of Alex's.

Yin had the ability to shape-shift, once having disguised herself as Joan, who had been Alex's guardian, sent to her around the time when the potion was due to start wearing off, awakening Idolon. Yin had been in search of Alex's soul, so Idolon would have had complete control over her, but Alex hadn't found her soul until much later, after getting rid of Idolon—with Atol's help, even if he hadn't known.

Yin had last been spotted on Trisgrík, a planet in the Dragon Dust galaxy in Mzrisknu. Natasha had been having scouts watch out for her, even though Alex had assured that she knew just how to find Atol.

Centuries ago, she and Atol had merged their spirits, an extremely intimate action that she had urged towards. This was because in Avalon when the Evils had come to kidnap her as a baby, her soul had been hidden away.

Set had then been unable to control her completely as he did with his other followers. However, immortality could only be given to someone if he or she had his or her soul intact. Atol had been given immortality after many years of showing loyalty to Set, but because Alex (back then, Seraphina) could still die, the two had merged their spirits so that even if killed, Seraphina would still come back, because part of her essence was still alive in Atol.

It also gave them a psychic connection, which Atol had used to visit Alex in her dreams in the past. It had taken him years to finally find her, but not only because of that potion. After the revolt Seraphina had caused, Atol had gotten his soul torn out of him and forced into submission. Somehow, one of Idolon's followers must have gotten their hands on Atol's soul, but it was more than that.

That emptiness… Those wooden movements…

Yin was a member of the Thres Armani, who drank up spiritual energy where the Unspeakables took souls. She must have been drinking energy from Atol, which would explain why Alex, no matter how hard she tried, had yet to get a clear read on him.

They had to know she was after him—that she wanted to save him.

Halfway done with her steak and using a piece of her roll to mop up some of the blood that had leaked all over the square-shaped plate, Natasha inquired, "Harper?"

Tucking some hair behind her ear, Harper looked up, almost done with her hamburger steak. "Yes?"

Fingers wiped on the red cloth napkin that had been on her lap, Natasha blew away a rust-colored curl that had escaped her bun. "I've heard from Kristjana that you're interested in working with Silver Wing."

"That's right," replied Harper with a nod. She'd woven her hair into a fishtail braid, but the shorter locks closest to her oval-shaped face had been left free. "They were behind the earthquake in New York, and I heard from Krystle that they may be planning to test the systems again to create a huge hurricane that would make Katrina look like a rainstorm."

"That is true," responded Natasha, taking a sip of her red wine. "However, in following this quest, you understand there is the chance you will be unable to pursue that wish. I am sure Alex would understand if you decided to back out to fight to keep Mzrisknu free. Divines know it is the Evils using the Giltebreks and other groups like them in other dimensions to fulfill their own wants, so you would still be helping. Just on a different thread of the web."

"I'm going with her," Harper said firmly, "and then I'm joining Silver Wing."

Giving a nod, Natasha took another sip of wine and turned to Juliette. "And you? You realize the risks, yes?"

Juliette swallowed a bite of her steak and shrugged. "I've lived for three-hundred-sixty-two years. It's not that big a deal if I die."

For Justin it would be, but Alex had developed more than enough tact over the years to keep that to herself. Juliette more than likely knew that anyway, so there was no need to poke at that wound when they were finally on good terms.

Natasha gave another nod and smiled. "You got two real good friends, Alex. I've seen you three fight during your sessions together. You should do fine. Now, Alex, have you gotten anything?"

Steak gone, Alex stabbed the last of the fried egg that had been on top with her fork. "Everything's blurry. It's hard to get a read on him, but I've been getting closer."

"Just so you know they might be letting you get closer."

"I understand."

"And you're still sure?"

"Yep."

Another long sip of wine. "Divines help me for letting you on another crazy run." She turned to Emile, who'd been mostly invisible during the dinner, simply observing. "Keep note. She'll be your problem in several years. Those rumors you've been hearing about how she got shot in the chest and later had her skull run through by a sword and still lived? They're true."

Looking from Natasha to Alex after swallowing a sip of iced tea, Emile had a shine to his bright eyes that showed him wondering whether he should be awed or worried.

Meeting his gaze, Alex smirked, letting him know that both responses were appropriate. She then looked back over at the current High Commander.

Sighing, Natasha's green-blue eyes locked with Alex's, a corner of her mouth inching upwards. "But I've always been a hopeless romantic. Let's get to work on how you can save your man."

xxx

Locking herself away after magic lessons, Alex sunk deeply into meditation.

The white light in the center of her chest cavity was dim at first, pulsing slowly. Alex took the deepest breath she could, feeling pain from the intake. Then, even when she felt like she could take in no more air, she forced down three tiny sips, holding it all in until the light grew brighter. She then let it go slowly, keeping the flow controlled.

Alex repeated this many times, unaware to time as the light spread, engulfing her body and pushing out the dark-colored smoke of any accumulated negative energy.

Soon, her body felt fuzzy, as if there were no true separation between her physical self and the cosmos. Everything was part of the Aurora Web, Alex slowly reaching up, up, up…

The most melodious music resounded when she touched a thread of the Web, the Song thrumming through her, through the cosmos and everyone and everything within it. Most would go on as if never hearing the Song—only a small few that knew how to reach up towards the Web would get even the smallest of echoes that would float through their very souls.

Without giving herself any guidance—merely following the thread where it took her—Alex thought she found who it was she wanted.

Atol

A quick, soft, fluttery tempo like eyes opening after a long rest.

Atol, please answer. Where are you?

The hallow thrumming of life's comforting rhythm: Bum-ba… bum-ba…

He was kept only in the shallowest semblance of life, his rhythm slow—uneven in a few places as well.

Ser—

His voice, no more than the weakest of cracks, echoed through Alex's mind before she was viciously slammed back into her body. She doubled over, head pounding and stomach feeling as if it were trying to bounce up into her esophagus.

At the sound of her groaning, Harper rushed into the room, knocking over the burnt-out votive Alex had used in the beginning for keeping focus. Luckily, Harper hadn't turned on the light, which Alex was grateful for, eyes blurred with searing tears as Harper forced her to lay straight on her side. Bile leaked out of the corner of her mouth, waves of agony raking through her, but Alex forced her eyes open a crack, making herself stare at the candle's slip of smoke before it disappeared forever.

Whoever had forced her out of that meditation, he or she had been too late.

"It's okay," Harper whispered, petting her on the head like she used to when they were in elementary school. "Juliette! A nurse!"

"Already on it!" came a loud reply, the door slamming right after.

Pain beginning to ebb, Alex managed a guttural cough, bile and saliva flying.

"New York," she coughed. "He's in fucking New York."

xxx

There was a plot behind this. Of course there was a plot behind this. Just because Idolon wasn't in her head (literally) anymore, didn't mean she couldn't figure out how Alex would think. They were still the same person, so why, then, did Alex find it so hard to try and think of just what the demoness was plotting?

There was no turning back, though. Alex could never forgive herself, and she had found it extremely to forgive and re-forgive herself for her past sins as it was.

Idolon had to be banking on that.

In the basement of Natasha's house, Alex breathed deeply, though her muscles stayed tense.

"His name's Vicente," said Natasha, speaking of a friend of hers in NYC she had met when she was a scout. "Vicente Florez. He works a bar while attending university. He's one of our scouts, but he also acts as an ear for Silver Wing, also helping out other Wings when they need it. Helps out potential Wings too, and you may be seeing more of him later on, Harper."

Tying her hair back in a French braid, Harper smiled, hazel eyes alit with determination. "Sounds good."

Natasha nodded and turned to Alex. "How specific were you able to get with your meditation?"

"Manhattan Island. Way better than the 'hell if I know' I had before."

"True, but Vicente should be able to help you narrow it down even more."

"You really think they'd keep the soul in a mortal realm?"

"You want the body. Get Atol, keep his spirit from getting sucked out by that Yin bitch, and you should be able to find his soul later. We have to do this in segments, remember."

Nodding, Alex whispered, "Yeah, I remember. Just impatient."

Her heart pounded, and Harper and Juliette were by her sides as Natasha took a step back as she placed her left hand over her heart, which was where the Alicorn of Luna had become part of her. She then raised her right hand towards the ceiling, a pale blue light appearing at her silent command, stretching as she lowered her hand to the floor.

"Open," whispered Natasha, her voice an echo, eyes glowing silver around her dilated pupils.

The light expanded into a circle, Emile nodding at the women from where he stood near the staircase.

"May the Guardians be with you," he said as Alex leapt headfirst into the portal, Juliette next and Harper right behind.

Travelling through the portal Natasha had created was much less painful than that doorway in Tartarus Alex had taken to get to Wiztech after weeks of habilitation from having that lighting shoot her through the chest. (Natasha's lightning, but it had been Yin's and Idolon's faults, so Alex had long-since forgiven her.)

Just a blink, and the three were in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, a man that looked to be in his thirties looking up from his tablet. He turned it off and set it onto the high-backed chair he'd been sitting on, which looked to be the only furniture besides an old couch and a counter holding only a coffee maker and a hot plate.

"I expected some form of notice," the man murmured, coming forward. "Vicente, though most of the people here call me 'Vinnie'." He smiled, dark brown eyes bright. "Nat's already told me who's who, so shall we get started?"

Alex gave a nod. "Please."

It took a while to mark the most likely of places on Vinnie's map, the four standing over the counter having coffee, Harper being the only one to accept any cream and sugar.

The map was detailed and showed the geographical lines as well as showing where the buildings were, though Vinnie had explained that this was from the construction plans from a few years ago, so there was still the chance of some things having been changed.

"And you can just bring him back here," finished Vinnie, pushing his reading glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "Or I have a friend on call just in case, but here might be better if the circumstance is favorable. I can afford bigger, but I chose this apartment because of the power line that runs through the building."

Excess magical energy was oftentimes absorbed back into the environment after a spell, but when it accumulated over the years, "hot spots" were created. One of the most energy-laden places in the US, as told by Natasha, was the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, shots of energy causing giant rocks in that area to slide across the desert floor.

"How are the other energy lines positioned in the city?" asked Juliette.

"Here," Vinnie answered, rolling out a new map. "I've been studying the lines for years now, so they send me to major cities to map them out and send them the information. I'm almost done here, but this was one of the first things I noticed."

He pointed at the black lines he'd used to connect to red lines that marked the presence of accumulated energy.

"I thought where they gathered at random," Alex murmured, brow furrowed in thought.

Energy drew in more energy, so over the years, leftover magical energy would become drawn to one-another to create these lines, but from what she learned, where that was all depended on where the most energy was in the first place.

"They often seem random, yes," replied Vinnie with a nod. "However, New York City is a place that has housed millions upon millions of people for many, many years, and there aren't as many plants to absorb energy like in some other places. That much energy, sooner or later, patterns will occur. I wrote a thesis on it five years ago, though it got shot down by the board due to lack of evidence."

Alex nodded, staring at the image on the map.

The five-pointed star was a symbol with many meanings, both good and bad. Symbols were like that, especially ones of power. They simply existed—it was up to people to derive meanings from them.

Arms crossed as she looked down at the map, Harper asked, "Is this too easy, or is that really the best place to keep him?"

"Yes," answered Alex and Vinnie in unison.

"We'll just have to get ready for anything," said Juliette, tawny-brown eyes starting to glow bright red with anger, spirit, and determination. "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

xxx

The building was still in construction, plastic sheets covering many walls with tall scaffolds alongside two of them. There were no workers today, so that was good.

Although it was summer, Alex wore a long sweater to keep her wings hidden for now, and Juliette was kept inside a building she was currently occupying the roof of due to the sunny day. She should be able to find a way in through the underground.

Looking up, Alex smiled at the glare of the signal mirror from another building near their target.

It's on, she thought, reaching into herself to touch the light element.

The sweater came off as the light bent around Alex, rendering her invisible. She wasted no time leaping off the roof, wings unfurling with a sharp snap as she headed for one of the building's open windows. The spell would not last long, and even after seven years of intense studying and training, reaching to touch elements other than her main one still drained more energy from Alex than she was comfortable with, especially with a sure-fire fight quickly approaching.

Just as the blow came, Alex twisted her body to receive minimum damage as she hit the dusty floor, pain shooting through her left wing like lightning.

Alex was on her feet before the next hit could land, wings folding tightly against her back as she twisted away and drew her sword.

The sound was like a large bell cracking halfway through its chime as diamond blade kissed an iron one, Alex making sure to stand with the posture Desdemona and Jasmine had taught her.

"Getting slow," she said with a smirk, stepping to force the sword up and away before trying for a jab at her opponent's lower abdomen.

"Not as slow as you," spat Gabrielle as she dodged, mahogany curls longer, and black circles were around her azure eyes, which seemed smaller than Alex remembered. "You took more time than Idolon anticipated."

The two seemed to dance more than fight, each meeting of sword-on-sword laying down their beat.

"Couldn't get away?" Gabrielle goaded with a smirk, nearly catching Alex in the leg.

Bad move.

With Gabrielle off-balance, Alex wasted no time to flip her sword so it was perpendicular with the ground. It went through the woman's back easily, but there was no blood. Her body simply dissipated, and Alex scowled.

"Crap," she spat, turning around with her blade positioned in front of her, ready to fight.

She remembered from her lessons that members of the Etamitlu Live gained a special ability after enough time and upon gaining enough energy to do so by draining mental energy from their victims. The ability was to take light and condense it enough with their blood to create a temporary being. They only lasted for several minutes if not "killed" before then.

The one Alex had fought had been extremely realistic, though she should have been suspicious with the eyes. Most light-clones (as Alex preferred to call them) tended to look warped, often created in haste for battle. This one had taken time.

"You took more time than Idolon anticipated."

Without a mind of its own, the light-clone shouldn't have been able to speak. The real Gabrielle was somewhere in the building, watching.

As Alex slowly made her way to a dark corridor on the left, Harper's voice came in from the copper stud pierced just below the sharp point of her right ear:

"Gabrielle, but she disappeared before my energy-ball even touched her. Alex, you think she was able to drain that many minds?"

"Seems like it. I fought one up here. Even had a weapon and spoke. She had to have spent days creating them."

While the earring could allow Alex to hear her partners, she'd been forced to get a piercing on her bottom lip as well to be able to speak to them.

Juliette, able to listen in from where she was, growled. "But each creation can only last for minutes at a time. That's a lot of work to put into distractions or foot soldiers. Especially when Gabrielle herself will end up tiring out really fast with that trick."

"Guys," said Harper, "remember Crazy Blondie from WizTech? What if Gabrielle has all the people she's been draining for the past seven years here? Not all victims end up following those that drained them, but a lot do, right? If not controlled by a curse, then tricked into it by thinking they could become what Gabrielle is."

"It can be touch-and-go with that," answered Alex, watching every shifting shadow, every ray of light that filtered through a mostly-boarded window. "But it's possible, and even if there are hundreds following Idolon like Dani says, she wouldn't want to put too many of them here. Gabrielle's at a lower rung on the ladder in her group, but this mission would probably raise her status with the bitch."

"So Idolon's not even here?" Juliette was still growling her words.

"I say Blessed Divines," murmured Harper. "Alex? What are you thinking?"

A best friend didn't even need to see one's face to know the wheels were turning.

"The only reason Atol's a valuable asset to Idolon is because she knows I'd put my life on the line for his. She has immortality already. She doesn't need him to stay alive, and there's no real guarantee his life would ensure hers anyway when she's from a different reality with a different Atol. I'm not immortal, so she might think my motive is to make sure he stays alive for my own sake."

"But she knows you're not selfish as she is," said Juliette. "You may be the same person, but your personality is different. Different experiences essentially makes a different person."

"And she has a soul," Harper pointed out. "So she has the ability to feel love even if she chooses to ignore those kinds of feelings."

"She loves power," Juliette muttered. "So who would be here other than Gabrielle? Yin's too important, playing puppet."

Alex stopped as a figure appeared at the end of the hallway, small knives clutched between his fingers, which were curled into fists.

"The very person I'm fighting to save," whispered Alex. "Very Idolon."

The first blade only missed by centimeters, and Alex deflected the second with her sword as she caught the third with her other hand, throwing it back as she dodged the fourth and fifth.

"Atol, fifth floor," Alex announced, hearing Harper swear under her breath.

"Three more Gabrielles, but they're screwed up this time," declared the Wizard, sounding like she was preparing an assault spell.

"Basement's covered in symbols!" Juliette cried. "It's blood, I could smell it from outside, damn them. This must be where Gabi set up shop to control her zombies."

"Be careful!" warned Alex as she dodged another knife.

She ran towards Atol, but he dodged her sword, rolling before getting back to his feet. The move made him cut himself on his upper back, but he seemed to not feel it, golden eyes empty as in Cobh.

Harper screamed from where she was, but she soon announced that the light-clones were gone and she was heading for the basement. Juliette was under attack by Gabrielle's victims, forced to kill who had once been innocents, tied to a demon against their will.

All three hated it, but it was more merciful than allowing them to stay under the control of Gabrielle, they were forced to admit.

Even with such wooden movements, Atol was a formidable opponent, dodging everything Alex threw and nearly catching her on numerous occasions.

Finally, he just stopped, like his puppeteer had decided to just tie him up and leave, bored with him.

Without even thinking, Alex skewered the man, his expressionless face not even changing when the diamond blade made a home in his heart, the guard meeting his chest.

Clapping could be heard from behind, and Alex shoved Atol off of her blade, teeth grit and tears beginning to stream down her cheeks.

She whirled around, sword pointed at Gabrielle—the real one, Alex was very sure. She even mentally reached to touch the psychic element to see the pulse of her murky aura.

Definitely her, Alex thought, immediately letting go of the element to save her strength.

She felt out of breath, and the sun seemed to be setting. The shadows grew as its counterpart shrank, making Gabrielle's smirk seem all the more menacing.

"Idolon was quite correct," said Gabrielle, accent making her r's sound gargled. "You are a delight. You did not even hesitate to run him through."

Heart hammering, Alex's sneer deepened as her quicksilver eyes narrowed.

"Such a nasty look," Gabrielle tsked.

She cackled when Alex lunged, sword missing the brunette by nearly a foot. Gabrielle had flipped and kicked herself off of the wall to land where Alex had been, and she tilted her head as she smirked.

Harper's voice came through the earring: "Zombies taken care of. Juliette and I are still trying to figure out what these symbols are supposed to mean, though. For controlling victims, Gabi would just need to carve a symbol somewhere on their bodies and then the matching symbol onto herself."

As if hearing, Gabrielle held up her left hand, uncurling her fingers to show the type of symbol Harper was talking about. It was two triangles overlapping, symbolizing the connection of body and spirit (or in this case, mind). With that hand, she waved, her smile growing.

"Ta!" Gabrielle disappeared, and Alex fell to her knees as she dropped her sword, horror overtaking her.

Atol wasn't a valuable asset to Idolon anymore. She'd said that herself.

Idolon needed Yin to walk around, which the demoness would surely hate, prideful as she was. She would also feel weakened, having to use someone else's voice to speak to her followers and issue orders.

She'd want a new body.

She'd need blood and flesh for that.

Lots of it.

"Senka Divines."

"What's going on?!"

Juliette's harsh tone broke Alex out of her mind, and she shouted, "Get out of there! Now! This was part of her plan all along!"

As she said the last part, Harper declared that she and Juliette were already getting out of the basement and were getting ready to leave the building. Alex nodded even though they couldn't see her, grabbed her sword's hilt, and broke through the wood that covered the window to her left. Orange-red light from the setting sun drifted in, and Alex sheathed her blade as she cast a long look towards Atol.

"Just rest for now," she whispered through clenched teeth.

After another light-bending spell, she dove out of the window, heading for Vinnie's apartment window, which was wide open.

Harper and Juliette arrived about ten minutes after she did, and Vinnie was preparing some tea.

"What's going on?" Juliette repeated after slamming the door behind her, eyes bright red with fury. Her clothes were torn, but her Notte blood had already mended any injuries she'd gotten.

"All those people…," Alex gasped, tears dripping onto the counter as she pressed her palms against the wood. "They were sacrifices for Idolon. So she could make a new body. She'll be back."

Harper, battered and exhausted, dropped into a nearby chair, and Juliette had to stop herself from punching the wall.

"We knew she would," whispered Alex. "We thought she might have already. She could have."

"She was waiting for us," Harper murmured, light brown eyes wide with horror. "She knew we'd kill all of Gabrielle's victims."

"We knew she'd be doing a major spell thanks to Vinnie's maps," said Juliette, going towards the window. "We just didn't know it'd be this major, and the only reason she'd wait this long would be…" She clenched her teeth, unable to finish.

"To laugh at us," whispered Alex. "Show just how easily we can be manipulated."

She brought her fist down hard onto the counter, making one of the mugs Vinnie had set up fall over. He shook his head but looked just as full of rage and grief as they did.

"Maybe I shouldn't be so ready to die anymore," Juliette said after close to twenty minutes of silence, accepting the cup of tea with a nod. "I'm not letting death take me before I see that bitch go there first."

"What about Atol?" asked Harper in a tiny voice.

Alex hesitated. "I killed him." She took another sip of tea. "He'll revive in a week or so. I've already sent the coordinates for his body to be retrieved. Vinnie, someone already got him?"

The man nodded, getting himself a cup. "Didn't believe me at first that he wouldn't stay dead, though."

Harper sighed. "Even in our work, some things are just too hard to believe."

"Your work's about to change," said Alex. "Stay here. Vinnie, you don't mind putting up with her until she gets new papers and finds her own place?"

"I don't mind the company," said Vinnie just as Harper jumped to her feet and exclaimed, "What?! No, our mission's not done yet! Idolon still has Atol's soul!"

"Which I can find with Juliette," replied Alex, giving her best friend a sidelong glance. "But that will take many years. This task was to retrieve his body so his soul has something to return to. I also needed to make sure Yin and Gabrielle didn't keep sucking him dry. The soul can't exist in a body by itself."

"You wanted to help Silver Wing," Juliette pointed out, still staring out the window. "And I'm sure Idolon would be more than happy to use the imbalance the Giltebreks are creating to get things onto her side and overtake Tartarus completely. You can help us on this side."

There was a war in Harper's mind and heart, Alex could see plainly. It felt like a long while before the auburn-haired woman finally sat back down, picking her cup up again.

"You're right."

Finally, Juliette turned away from the window, her eyes brown again as they locked with Alex's.

"Now what?" she asked.

"Right now, defeating Idolon would be like trying to defeat the Evils entirely," replied Alex after a long sip of tea. She almost wished it had been loose leaf so she could attempt at giving herself a reading. "It's not possible right now, and it would just make things worse with how ingrained she is into the inner workings of Tartarus. They're trying to flush her out as well, separate her."

"Which would make her easier to beat," said Juliette with a nod.

"Our mission here wasn't to fight her." Alex set down her cup, her hand feeling hot. "It was to get Atol safe. That has to be done in stages, even, and we have the first one done. Idolon thinks we're puppets? We'll just have to figure out how to cut our strings."

"Which, like you said, will take years."

Alex shrugged. "I'm pretty sure I'm not immortal, but I might be somewhere, during some life. I've got time. You?"

Juliette smirked. "All the time in the cosmos."

xxx

"Ick." Alex coughed at the smell of cigarette smoke, so the raven-haired man put it out in a nearby ashtray. "You know those things can kill you, right?"

The man shrugged as he led his new guest upstairs in his small camelback house. "So can guns, but I risk facing those every day."

"Good point."

This guy didn't seem like the friendliest in the universe, but Vinnie had assured that Andor was one of the best at what he did, part of that entailing healthcare when contacting a doctor was impossible.

In a room upstairs, Atol lay atop a twin-sized bed, looking to be in a coma. The flat line on the small monitor to his right, however, said it was something quite different.

"He's dead but does not decompose," said Andor, looking like he was ready to take another puff from his cigarette before remembering he'd put it out. "So Vicente must have been right, and you are Alex, then."

"Yep."

It was night, and Juliette was keeping watch outside. Harper was with Vinnie, her papers almost ready.

It had been twelve days since the fight, but Alex had woken up early this morning feeling a pull on her aura.

She'd been feeling it (subtle as it was) since the night after killing Atol, but it had gotten much worse early this morning, to the point where Alex had felt as if she were going to suffocate. She had even gone into a seizure, Juliette and Harper holding her down as Vinnie went to get a sedative from his emergency kit.

Leaving the room, Andor announced, "I'll be downstairs. Tell your Vampire friend she can come in for something so long as I don't need to bleed for it."

Taking the chair from the desk by the door and bringing it to Atol's side, Alex chuckled. "Heard that, Juliette?"

The blonde snickered in return, sounding odd through the earring. "Hey, girl's gotta drink. Luckily, New York had plenty of venues where people don't mind donating a cup or two."

Alex couldn't help but laugh, though the smile didn't reach her eyes as she stared at the man lying on the bed. Why had she been willing to put anything on the line for him?

Guilt?

She'd betrayed him multiple times as a zolak-gai, yet he'd taken care of her when she'd ended up with a hole through her chest.

He'd been the one to stab her through the head, but that had been because he'd needed to buy time. He'd known Alex would come back to life so long as he still breathed. He had just needed time.

Now his soul was in the hands of his true betrayer.

There was another sharp pull that seemed to come from everywhere around Alex's body at once, making her seize, falling onto the floor.

As she began to push herself up, the monitor registered a heartbeat.

Scrambling, Alex got to her knees and leaned onto Atol's bed, staring at his face. His jaw was covered in stubble a shade darker than his hair, and the skin around his eyes looked bruised.

Tears seared Alex's cheeks and blurred her vision as she stared, mouth open as she gasped for breath.

Slowly, the man's long lashes fluttered before lifting, his golden eyes, brighter than before but still empty, opened halfway. The fingers on his hand closest to Alex twitched, and she wasted no time to clutch them, getting closer to lay his hand over her heart.

"Hey." The tears wouldn't stop, even as her smile grew.

Atol's eyes sparkled in recognition, showing that his spirit and mind were healing well.

His thin lips parted, but only a tiny bit of air came out.

Shaking her head, Alex whispered, "It's okay, it's okay. Don't talk. You're still hurt." She had to gasp for breath, Juliette asking over the communication piece what was happening. "Atol. Anatolsiskan…"

As if remembering the place he had been named after and just how far from it he had been falling, tears welled in Atol's eyes.

"We'll get there together," Alex whispered, lips coming down to brush along his cheek, scratchy from scruff. Her dark hair covered part of his face, and she could feel his tears wet the top of her head. "We'll get there. We'll help each other climb up. I promise."

As Atol's cool fingers curled in her hands, Alex felt as if he could almost feel his love towards her again.

There was hope.

There was always hope.

I felt the need to post up one more thing connected to Memories, and while I had a vague idea of how I wanted this one-shot to end, like always, the characters had different ideas to what was going to happen. I hope you all enjoyed it though! :)