Here On Earth
By E. Red
I woke up crying in the very early morning, desperately clinging to my pillow as the nightmare fell away from reality, and barely contained a startled “Eep!” when my pillow hugged me back. Allan gave a small grunt, and twitched a little when I'd moved, but remained asleep.
Immediately, my mind flew to remember what he was doing sleeping with me, but I forced myself to relax when the events of yesterday night seeped back into my consciousness. He stayed the whole damn night with me... The thought made me feel warm inside, and I snuggled down in his arms, intent on enjoying what life had presented me with at that moment.
Sleep would not come to me, however. There were too many things tumbling around in my head for that. A glance at my alarm clock showed four thirty, and I groaned internally. There was no point brooding about something in bed. Not this something, at least. As gently as I could, I managed to extricate myself from my boyfriend's arms in about five minutes.
Only a few more minutes later, and I was hitting the front step at a dead run, having changed into a pair of sweats and my windbreaker. And a few minutes after that, my worries left me alone with nothing but the wind and the road. Other people ever tell you that you can loose yourself in your workout? They're right. Especially when you can feel every last molecule of H2O in your body shifting and flowing between your cells.
I must've run ten miles before I finally started to wear down, and stopped for a short stretch and a breather. A nearby coffee shop supplied me with a light breakfast, and then I was back on the road. I ran a bit farther before I found an empty playground that would serve perfectly for practicing my bar work. Of course, having hyperactive reflexes and heightened reaction timing meant I could already pull off just about any bar trick, but this was more of a confidence building exercise than anything else.
God knows I would need the confidence soon enough...
I was several blocks away from the house when I saw her. She was possibly the most pitiful sight I've ever laid eyes on, sitting there beside that dumpster. The only reason I even noticed her was that she moved slightly as I ditched the empty bottle of my energy drink into the bin. But when I stopped to look, I was astounded by what I saw.
It was her. The little girl from the clinic, the one from the news. She was filthy, sitting in the dank alley in her ripped and soaked pink dress, shivering in the morning chill. One look into those haunted eyes told me everything in a second, and my heart broke for her. She stared up at me, tears in her massive green eyes, and I forced a smile onto my face. "Hey, there. I remember you. You were at the MORFS clinic, right?"
She nodded, a tiny motion that was almost lost in her shivers.
"You look like you could use a friend." I said calmly, fighting the urge to cry myself as I unzipped my windbreaker and slipped it off. "Can I help you with that?"
The terrified look in her eyes flickered for an instant, and she tensed up like she was going to bolt. But the next instant, she was in my arms, weeping silently into my chest. I wrapped my jacket around her and held her close. Something inside me snapped, and visions of Julia, an angry red welt on her face as she cried herself to sleep, flickered into view. "Shhh.... I've got you... You'll be okay..."
*I knew you'd come...*
The words blocked out all of existence as they popped into my head, then vanished, leaving me a little dazed and disoriented. I looked down at her, and she was staring straight back into my eyes. "Did you just... Do that?" She nodded silently, her lip trembling as she burst into fresh tears.
Fresh, silent tears.
"You... Can't talk, can you?" She shook her head and buried her face in my shirt again. My eCom buzzed in my jacket pocket, and it took a minute to fish it out. Dad was calling. I pressed the receive button. "Daddy?"
"What exactly happened to you last night?" He asked, and I could hear the grin in his voice. "You'll never guess who I found in your bed this morning..."
"Later, Dad. We've got a problem."
All of the humour drained out of his voice in an instant. "What is it? Are you hurt? What happened?"
"No, Dad. I'm fine." I held in the sigh. "I'm almost home, and I've... Got company."
"What? Who? Are you being followed?"
"No, Dad! Jeez... I found the missing girl. The one that's been on the news for the last few weeks." Antoinette... That's her name...
There was a slight pause of complete silence, and I heard a door slam. "Where are you? I'm coming to pick you up."
I told him, and he hung up with no further words. I was left alone with my tiny new friend. Taking a closer look at her, I could see the tell-tale signs that she was beginning her ascent into young womanhood, the same differences were present in her as the ones Julia had gone through when we were younger. The dress was not only ripped and filthy, but it was a size too small on her, a fact made all the more evident by the angry red lines where the collar was pinching her neck. She was starting to bud in other places, and her feet were wrapped in a ripped shirt, evidence that they had outgrown whatever she'd been wearing when she went missing.
It felt good, to be the pillar of strength again. Maybe it wasn't Jules, but this little girl needed me in a way that Julia hadn't for several years. I felt better than I had in a while. I guess I have a bit of a hero complex, but knowing that I was needed again...
The poor girl cried herself out, and I had to lift her gently into the Jeep with me when Dad pulled up beside me. "We'll have to take her to the police, Mia." Dad said quietly, and I nodded.
"I know..." My mind flickered back to the report I'd seen on the TV. "But there's nobody left to take her... She's all alone..."
Dad was silent the rest of the way to the PD.
Some social worker started the whole mess. My little friend slept through the whole trip, and even through me carrying her into the station. But the lady they sent to collect her, well...
I woke her up when they said someone was going to come and look after her for a while, but as soon as the words entered my mind, she went pale as a ghost, shaking her head and holding on to me tighter. "Hey, come on... They're not gonna hurt you..."
That was when the woman walked in, and the world ended.
I woke up on the floor, curled protectively around Antoinette, with the scream still ringing in my head. Well... Scream is about as accurate as I could put it. My whole body was trembling, and there were no less that three cops standing around us with their stun batons in hand. "Wha...?"
"Miss, please let go of the child." One of them said nervously.
*I don't wanna go!*
Again, the world was blotted out for an instant, and I had a brief moment of vertigo, which was seemingly echoed by the three little pigs... Err... Police officers...
"Err... Toni?" I managed after a slight head shake. "Could you please hold off on that for now?" She flushed crimson in embarrassment and nodded, tearing up again. "Hey, shhh... We'll figure out how to turn the volume down, don't you worry..." I rocked her in my arms a little until she stopped crying as hard.
"Miss, I asked you-"
"And the child in question has expressed a desire that is contrary to what you asked me, sergeant." I said as coolly as I could manage, noting the chevrons on the man's sleeve. "If I'm not mistaken, the well-being of a traumatized child supersedes an order that will prove to be detrimental to said well-being."
The man stared at me, slack-jawed.
"I would suggest, officers, that your time would be better spent elsewhere." I put up a false expression of importance, pointedly ignoring the looks of the other two officers and staring straight into the dumbfounded sergeant's eyes. "I will make sure that Antoinette stays safe on this side of the glass wall, and I'm sure you've got paperwork to do."
I refused to say anything to them after that. Not that they asked me to. We were more or less left alone after that. And by left alone, I of course meant locked in the room.
Again it took a few minutes to calm my young charge down enough to get some nods out of her. "It looks like we may be in here for a while, Toni... Uh, you don't mind me calling you that, do you?" She shook her head and gave what looked like a silent giggle. "Okay, then. Let's try and figure out this volume problem of yours..."
I'm no expert on telepathy, of course, but we ended up spending most of the afternoon in that room, mostly alone, so we had a lot of time to try. It was slow going, though. She hadn't said much at all in weeks, and now that she had someone who was willing to try and listen, she had so much to say.
"You're still focusing too hard on your words." I said a little dazedly after being mentally stepped on for the sixtieth time. Her face fell, and she looked away. "Hey, come on now. So we try something else, so what? I'm not going anywhere, so let's try again."
She smiled at me and the whole room lit up. "So let's try... Err... Something simple... Try talking normally, but without moving your mouth at all... Yeah, that sounds good......"
*You mean like this?*
Where it had been like getting hit by a fire hose before, this last sentence was more like your typical garden hose. A little jarring, yes, but much easier to recover from. "Yeah! That's much better! Way to go!"
She let out a mental squeal of delight and threw her arms around my neck, and I felt great. And the feeling only got stronger when the door of the room opened and my Dad, not another cop, came through with some... Slightly odd news.
"We're... Taking her home with us?"
He laughed at the slightly dumbstruck expression on my face. "I've spent most of the day talking to both the district attorney and the head of the California Department of Social Services. We came to the decision a few minutes ago."
*I get to go home... With you?* She sounded surprised, and a little confused, but she looked up at me with those big green eyes, and I melted.
"Well, of course, silly. That's what he just said." I was being smothered in hugs and kisses before I even knew it.
Toni told me she needed to use the washroom before we left, so we stood outside the door while she did her business. Dad got a very serious look on his face as soon as the door clicked shut. "You need to know that there will be hard times ahead because of this, Mia."
"It never gets any easier..."
He gave me a look, and I bit off the rest of my comment. "That little girl has imprinted on you as her new mother figure, which means she's going to come to you for everything. I am legally her guardian now, yes, but the one who will have to deal with her is you."
I had no response to that.
"And besides all that, there is the matter of the company that she just inherited." He said, sighing a little. "I'm going to get a friend of mine to act as the executor of the estate until she's old enough to decide what she wants to do with it. But by simple virtue of her status, well... This is going to be a media circus, and you and I will have to be the ringmasters." He paused long enough to cast a sidelong glance at me. "Think you can handle it?"
"I... I don'-"
*Can we go now? I'm finished.* Toni smiled up at me, and I shoved all my worries out of my head, and into the dark corner with all my other bad memories. The last thing I needed was for her to pick up on what I was thinking.
"Yeah." I told her, taking hold of her hand and looking my Dad straight in the eye. "Yeah..."
"What do you mean, she's dead?" The man growled into the phone. "The kid killed her? .... Massive brain hemorrhage? Right... No... No, she wasn't one of mine... Then she was definitely one of theirs. Sweep up, and disappear the whole thing. Yes... Yes... Good. Get it done." The phone made a satisfying click as the man slammed it home, letting out another sigh that sounded more like a growl.
The message from Lone Wolf was still blinking on his screen as he reached for a nearby bottle of scotch. "Don't like spying on 'his' children... Huh... Looks like the man's emotions are interfering with his work... Shame... They're almost due for their checkup..."
Julia was still giggling, long after I had led Toni into my bathroom to use the shower. She was projecting a mixture of amusement, awe, and something that I would later realize was jealousy. "Laugh it up, shorty." I snapped good-naturedly.
"I think it's adorable." She said firmly, sitting down on my bed next to me and kicking up her feet. "You'll learn a lot about life, and develop some mothering-slash-parenting skills, which will be useful later in life." I felt my face heat up in an instant, and a glob of water suddenly shot under my bathroom door and hit Jules square in the face.
She coughed for a moment, and then started laughing heartily, not upset in the least, which made me feel kind of bad. One quick flash-dry later, and she was hugging me tightly. "You should've seen your face... It was priceless!"
We sat watching TV until Toni came out of the bathroom, looking like she was drowning in my bathrobe. "Sit." I commanded, and she only hesitated for a second before complying, sitting down in the appointed chair. I sat behind her on my bed, gently running a comb through her hair, using my talent to help ease the many and varied knots out of the long curls.
"You do that like a pro, dear sister." Jules teased, and I stuck my tongue out at her in reply.
*That's because you're helping her, silly.* The voice was still a little jarring, but the afternoon had enabled me to get used to it... To a degree, at least... Jules looked like she'd been slapped across the mouth, though. Lucky me...
"What do you mean?"
*You're doing it for her.*
"...I don't follow."
She giggled her silent giggle. *Here. I'll show you.*
Thar's when the lights went out., At least, that's the best analogy I can give. Suddenly, nothing felt right. My clothes were tight, far tighter than I was comfortable with, and they felt... So odd. The bra felt like something completely alien, and it made my breasts jut up too much for my mind to be comfortable. My hair itched on my exposed back, something that disturbed me a little as I realized that I was wearing a tank top, which showed off way more of my figure than was strictly necessary.
My body felt odd, too light in some places, far too heavy in others. My limbs looked tiny, and my lips felt huge. The way my hips settled as I sat on the bed. The way my butt raised me up too high.
Everything was wrong.
Julia frowned. "See what? You made her stop brushing... Wait, are you okay?" She shuffled over and sat beside me, and a sudden contact on my back made me jump, and drop the brush. It was only her hand though, but it proved the point.
I guess it's not that hard to figure out. I'm surprised it took me the, what, two months? Two and a half? But there it was, slapping me right in the face.
I was leeching off of my sister.
"That's... A little jarring..."
*I can put it back-*
"No. No, It's okay." I felt... I don't know how I felt. I had been so comfortable about myself, but it was all coming from Julia. And then, in an instant, everything was back to normal. I was fully balanced, and my clothes fit properly again. I wasn't as concerned about the way that my body felt at all.
It was rather like jumping into a cold pool after sitting in a hot tub for too long.
Jules had that look on her face when I finally shook my self out. "Are you gonna be okay?"
I shook my head."I don't know... It's a little... Disheartening, I guess..." Cue spark of worry. "No... I'll be okay, I just need some time..."
We let it go at that, and the rest of the evening went fairly smoothly. We ordered in for dinner, and Toni went absolutely buckwild when we got pizza. We watched some more TV until about eight-thirty, when our little charge started to nod off in my lap.
I carried her up to the guest room with little trouble and helped her into some of Julia's old jammies before tucking her into the queen-sized bed. She looked so tiny and fragile in that huge bed...
*Miss Mia?* Her 'voice' jumped up a little in volume, and I turned back from the door to see her sitting straight up, hugging her pillow to her chest and blushing bright crimson. * Thank you... For saving me.*
It's hard not to fold under such an adorable little girl's gaze. I stepped back to the bed and gave her a big hug. "No problem, Toni. None at all..." I held her for another moment before lowering her back to the mattress. She was already halfway to sleep as I pulled the covers back up.
* G'night...* I heard the whisper in the back of my mind, and it brought out another smile. "G'night, Toni..." I whispered into her ear, and without really thinking about it, placed a gentle kiss on her forehead before turning away.
"Awwww..." I felt my own face go red as I closed the door to the sound of Julia's voice. It's just another day...
Julia watched the door close, and smiled at the small, embarrassed glow from the other side. It was obvious to her that, even in only the half-day since they'd met, thet little girl had helped her sister. There was a hole in Mia's heart that had always been evident to her, ever since they'd moved in with their father. And, as much as it hurt her to admit it, she knew that she could no longer patch that hole herself.
Her sister, even when she had been her brother, had always been so wonderfully giving. She had done so much, both for her friends and her twin. Always giving, never ever thinking of herself. But in the past few years, Julia had finally had an environment in which she had been able to grow and become self-sufficient, no longer needing her twin's help with every little thing.
She had, of course, lied at times, asking his help where none was needed, but it always made her heart ache to see that little flame sputter back to life, only to die out again when the task was completed. But this little orphan girl needed her sister in ways she couldn't begin to describe, and she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shouldders when she saw that flame roaring behind Mia's eyes once more.
And it hurt, just a little, at the same time, to know that it was no longer a flame for her. Jealousy reared it's ugly head, but she forced it back down each time. No, this was good for her sister. Maybe this little girl could finally bring peace to her broken soul...
It was the tiniest sound that woke me up. I can't even claim it was really a sound. But it was... I really don't know how to describe it...
But I knew that it was, after a moment's thought. My robe came flying off it's hook, and I crossed the hall to the guest bedroom as quietly as I could. The door gave a single creak as it inched open, and my heart nearly broke at the sight that presented itself to me. Our poor little ward was shivering uncontrollably, clutching at her pillow as tears spilled out of her closed eyes, her little mouth coughing, silently screaming as she slept.
At first, I didn't know what to do. She was crying out for help, but I was deaf to the solution. What do I do?! What would Jules do?!
And of course, the answer was simple. How had I woken up on those terrible nights? What had chased away the nightmares?
The covers slid away just enough for me to slip in under them, but unlike me, little Toni flinched away from my hand on her shoulder, her eyes shooting open and a stab of blind terror blocking out the moonit room for an instant.
"Hey..." I managed to whisper, somehow, through the spike in my pulse. "It's just me..."
The room snapped into view in an instant, and she looked up into my ees with the most horrible sadness I'd ever seen. *I'm sorry...* She said, looking away.
I don't think she was expecting the hug. "It's okay... We all have bad nights sometimes..."
She stared up at me in silence for a long time, and I forced a smile back. "Go back to sleep, Toni, or you'll be a mess tomorrow."
She gave another slight shiver. *Will you stay with me?*
It was the tiniest, quietest thought she had managed to send yet, and it made me feel... I'm not sure how... Just... Really, really... Warm...
"Of course I will." I felt my heart skip as she snuggled deeper into my arms. "Of course..."
* Good... *
I laid there for a long time, listening to the quietest breathing I'd ever heard, feeling her little heart beating so terribly hard against my chest. But she had stopped trembling, at least, and her eyes finally fluttered closed after a moment.
I couldn't get to sleep for a long while. My mind kept wandering back to those scant few moments, when she had severed my empathic link... It was like... Rather like closing the blinds, shutting out the sunlight. I felt like myself again, like I had before... It felt natural, at least in my head, if not in my body. Well...
And you know what?
I didn't like it.
It's somewhat ironic... I'd become almost everything that I detested in the world, a small, weepy little weak-willed girl. And yet... When all those feelings... All those little things... Went away... I felt cold inside.
I tried to think of another word, but that one was the only one that sprang to mind.
And yet, as I lay there with my little charge snoozing silently in my arms, I remembered exactly what was about to happen. Who was about to reenter my life. And I knew that new-me wasn't up to the challenge.
Erik Walker would make one last stand.
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/