Here On Earth
By E. Red
It was early morning, christmas eve, when they phoned in. I didn't hear the call, but when I felt Jules' reaction to it, I knew it was time.
*Toni? Could you come here for a minute?* I sent the thought, knowing she would hear it.
*'Kay! Just a minute!* The 'volume', so to speak, was perfect, and I had to smile. The week had been long and tiring, but as Toni was getting more and more comfortable with her new 'voice', her control had grown in leaps and bounds, as had her confidence. I'm not sure how, but I think she psi-linked herself to everyone in the house, because I woke up that first morning to what could only be described as empathic giggles, and I could tell right away that they weren't coming from my sister.
But watching her run across the yard made me glad for all the weary nights and long days. She was smiling and laughing soundlessly, the knees of her jeans a little scuffed and dirty. She paused at the back door, wiping her feet and stopping our miniature black lab, Trooper, from coming in. The poor dog sat down on the porch, looking so 'upset' that I almost burst out laughing. I still feel a little bad about how little attention I paid to the little guy in the early months after my change, but Toni told me it was 'making him sad' the first time she saw him...
"Did you have breakfast already?" I asked, smiling as she looked away in embarrassment.
"Good." *Do you remember what we talked about last night?* The switch from voice to thought made her frown, but she nodded. *Good. They're almost here, so I need you to do it, please.*
*Right now?* She asked, and I nodded. I had just enough time to take a deep breath before, just like last time, she severed my link to Julia's mind, and all my equilibrium up and vanished. I was a stranger in my own body again.
*Thanks... I know you don't like doing that, but it needs to be this way, at least for a little while...* She nodded a little sadly, and I forced a smile. "Don't worry about it. Now go wash up, they'll be here soon."
She scampered off, and I let my smile fade back into a scowl. I'd asked her to cut the link a few times earlier in the week, and she had said that she didn't like having to do it.
*It makes you sad, and it hurts when you feel like that...*
Just another reason to hate myself, I guess...
It was about an hour later that the knock on the door came, loud and unbidden. My gut flipped over and I had to clench my teeth to keep from tearing up. One thing I noticed, more clearly than anything else, was that my overactive emotional swings could be resisted, and even controlled, when I was not linked to my sister. I guessed (Correctly, I might add, though I didn't find out till much later...) that her 'influence' kept me from bottling them up.
Which I suppose is healthy, if not helpful.
My mother came through the door first, and she was just as overbearing as I remember. She swept Dad up in a big hug. "Darling, how've you been?"
"Well enough." He replied. "And yourself?"
"Oh, good, good..." She said in an offhand way, stepping back. "Now where are- Oh my..."
Her eyes locked with mine, standing in the kitchen, and I felt a shiver travel up and down my back. I hadn't seen my mother since right before I left to live with Dad, and seeing her there was harder than I expected. I had never stopped loving my mother, even through all the crap I had too put up with from my stepfather. There were times where I would hate her decision, but I knew better than to judge her for it. The falling out between my parents had been more work related than anything else, and for the few months she'd been alone, I could tell even as a child, she was terribly lonely.
And so I never, not once, blamed her for anything that happened.
But as she crossed the hall and stood in front of me, I realized just how much I missed her. "Hey, Mum..." I managed to say after a moment.
"Look at you..." She murmured, looking me over. "My little girl, all grown up..."
I felt my face flush and bit back a flinch. "Err... Your little... Boy, actually..."
Her eyes widened. "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, dear, I-"
"It's okay, Mum... I'm... Used to it..."
"No, no. That's no excuse." She said, wrapping me up in a huge bear hug. "You look absolutely gorgeus, if it's any consolation." She sighed as I leaned my head into her shoulder, chewing on my lip to keep from crying. "I missed so much... And I missed you so much..."
"I missed you too, Mum..."
Any further comment was bitten off right there as I locked eyes with him. He was staring blankly at the two of us, an odd, unreadable look in his eyes. He was a little shorter than I remember, and a bit chubbier, but there was no mistaking him for anyone else.
"Momma!" We were blindsided by my grinning twin, and Mom started laughing, but I was lost to the whole scene. Memories of bad times were smouldering in my soul, and even without Jules' 'input', it was hard to keep the emotion off my face.
"Are you alright?" Jules gave me a nudge as Dad took over the greeting. "About all this, I mean?"
"I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
I wasn't. "Yeah."
Julia was careful to watch over the next few days. Her twin seemed to fall back into some semblance of her former self, shutting out the world around her. Toni was constantly by her side, and the little girl seemed to be the only thing that brought a smile out of Mia, and even then, only once or twice over the course of the weekend.
Toni herself was being smothered by the twins' mother, like a kid with a new toy. The mute girl loved every minute of it, and Julia had her suspicions about the girl's parents, and their 'parenting methods', but didn't comment. Not verbally, anyways...
Christmas passed uneventfully, gifts of sweaters and cards and knick-knacks aplenty were exchanged, but the house felt stifled. Toni had taken to sleeping in Mia's room, to give the visitors the guest room, but each morning they would wake up to a silent Mia, sitting alone at the breakfast table, playing with the remains of her breakfast until their stepfather came down, at which point she would silently excuse herself to somewhere else on the property.
Their friends had been by, of course, but even they couldn't bring her around. The boyfriend himself, despite being alone with her for a goodly amount of time, got the cold shoulder even worse, having been left alone on the back porch with nothing but a frown and what looked to be a tear.
The day after boxing day, she'd finally had enough. Julia calmly asker her dad to watch Toni for a few hours before bodily hoisting a violently protesting Mia over her shoulder and carrying her out to the Jeep.
The engine gave a small whine as she killed the gas, and she sat back in the silence. Mia pointedly looked out the window, staring down the beach. "You're not going to talk to me about this, are you?" It was a question, but Julia already knew the answer.
"There's nothing to talk about." Her sister's reply was cold and sharp, and she almost flinched. She hadn't spoken like that since... Well, before the change, at least.
"You got Toni to shut off our link just so you wouldn't have to deal with your emotions, and now you won't even talk to me in private. What's going on?" She asked, exasperated.
"Like I said, there's nothing to talk about."
Her twin flinched under the touch of her hand, but the action made her make eye contact, and Julia could see the pain in her sister's eyes, and she knew she could see the concern in her own. "Come on... Talk to me. You never talk to me anymore... What happened to us?" The next one was a low blow, she knew, but if it helped her get an answer... "Don't you care about me anymore?"
Mia jerked like she'd been struck, a dejected, hurt expression flickering into view for the instant before she turned away. "Of course I do..." She whispered, resting her head on the cool glass of the window. "Always and forever..."
"Then tell me what's wr-"
"I'M SCARED!" The shout came unexpectedly, and loudly within the confines of the small vehicle. "Is that what you want?! Are you happy that I admitted it?!"
"Is that all you have to say?! You dragged me out here to spill my feelings all over the Jeep just to say 'What?'"
Julia shook her head, a little dazed. "Sweetie, you're gonna have to calm dow-"
"DON'T YOU GOD DAMN TELL ME TO CALM DOWN, I HAVE EVERY RIGHT-"
"YOU'RE SHRIEKING LIKE A BANSHEE!"
The abrupt silence was almost as deafening as her sister's voice had been. There was a second's pause before...
"Sorry..." Her voice was tiny and full of hurt.
"Don't be. I asked for it."
Julia shook her head. "Don't worry about it. Just talk. Please." The violet eyes that turned, ever so slowly, away from the tinted glass were so full of hurt and fear that it made her sick to look into them, but look into them she did. "I want to help you... For a change..."
"It... It's really hard... Now..." Mia spoke haltingly, in whispers at first, and avoided eye contact for too long, as if she could still feel her sister's discomfort. "I told myself that... It wouldn't change us... Not really... But now I know that we'll never be the same..."
"I liked being your hero..." She sniffled, shifting uncomfortably in the seat. "I liked being needed... And now... I feel so... Weak. And useless... Because you don't need me anymore... And... I needed... I need... You..."
Silence once again enveloped the Jeep. The twins sat, avoiding each other's eyes as they both processed what the 'younger' sister had admitted. Julia sighed suddenly, reaching over and unbuckling her sister's seatbelt before awkwardly pulling her into the backseat and hugging her tightly.
"You'll always be my hero, sis..."
And thus were the floodgates opened.
"A-and I... I don't LIKE feeling like this!" Mia said finally. They had been sitting there for almost an hour, but it didn't matter to Julia. She had intended to see this through, and she would. Even if it took all day.
"I'm all weepy and twitchy and scared all the time! It's not natural!"
Jules rolled her eyes. "You're overreacting again."
"How would you know..." Eyebrow. "Ugh. Never mind. The point is... I don't feel like me anymore... And... I'm not sure if I can deal with that..."
"Well, you seem so well adjusted all the time, we all just assumed..."
Mia sighed. "I know... And I don't blame you... 'Natural reciever', remember? How could we know I would leech all that confidence out of you...?"
"I hate that word."
"What, leech? It's true-"
"No, it isn't! All those years you spent protecting me from everything... You're not 'leeching' anything I wouldn't give freely, sis..."
She flinched. "I guess... It still feels... Well..."
"Just don't think about it so much. I'm sure after a few months, you won't even notice. You just have to... Find your own balance, you know?"
"...That was my song, you know."
Mia blinked. "What?"
Julia gave her a lopsided smile. "The one you wrote at halloween. That you leeched out of me. The chords, at least..."
"If you apologise, I'll hit you." Julia poked her sister for good measure. "You used it in a way I never would have. I'd been agonising over those notes for months, and you sorted them out in an hour. That's impressive, at least."
There was another comfortable silence for a while, one twin offering support, the other asking forgiveness. A long afternoon in the sun passes faster than one may realize, and soon, the sun was setting before they started to feel the effects of spending a whole day without food or water. Julia flushed a deep crimson wher her stomach gave a sudden gurgle of discontent.
"I guess we should go..." Mia spoke quietly, a note of regret in her voice.
Julia's fingers gently lifted her sister's chin, and a violet gaze was shared for a moment. "We're never alone, so long as we have each other. Right?"
"Right... I'm sorry... About all this..."
"Don't be. Just... Try to let go. Be whoever it is you're meant to be, and stop fighting it..."
"I will... I promise..."
"Good. Now, let's go home."
Mom was all over me when we got back. I really didn't want anything to do with anyone at the moment. Too much on my mind. But, social conventions and whatnot...
Toni ran out of the kitchen right after her, leaping straight into my arms. What do you think the first thing she asked me was? *Can I fix it now?*
"Yes, Toni. Please do." And you know what? As my equilibrium righted itself, and I felt across the link and into my sister's brain, you know what I realized?
She was right. And I was being a jerk about it.
So it was, that an afternoon in the sun changed my outlook on life. Not immediately, of course. But seeds were planted that day. And, in time, I realized that. But something else happened that day. Something infinitely more important. As I felt my subconscious align with Julia's, I saw something. And, well... My theory is that the reconnection to Jules opened up some part of my mind that I had blocked off. It's hard to put into words, you know? But I'll try.
He was sitting there. When I came in, I mean. He was sitting in our front room, watching something on the TV. And... I can't explain it, really. Just looking at him, I could tell that something was... Wrong. Looking at him, slumped in the chair. He looked... Well, dead, really...
I don't claim to be an expert on the human psyche. Hell, mine is rather fractured at the best of times. But there was something in his eyes...
Now, I'll be the first to admit, I hhave no love for the man. That dissappeared along with the use of my left hand. But... Well, I was scared of him. Deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, or in public. I just... Hid it. Very well. Sometimes too well.
"Can... Can I get a minute?" I excused myself from the group, and took a step forward into the room. Another step. Two more. And there it was. Whatever it was I thought I'd seen, it was right in front of me when I stopped.
He did something I never thought he'd be able to do, though. He looked me right in the eye. I didn't think he could, but he did. And I... I really don't know what to say here... What I saw was not the man I remembered.
What I saw was broken.
He was holding something in. And I think I knew what it was. I didn't find the words for it until much, much later, though,
He was ashamed.
Not of what he did. No, too much pride for that. But rather... Of what came of it.
I know it doesn't make sense, but follow along for a second here...
See... There are times... In a person's life, I mean... Times where something old is remembered, or something new is learned, either by choice or demand. Times of absolute, unmerciful, Earth-shattering clarity.
You get the picture.
What I saw... Was me. A younger, angrier, stupider me. And I saw him. A younger, angrier, stupider him. But now... I looked at him and I felt... Ashamed. Just as he did. Because I realized that I had done something terrible to him.
Don't get me wrong. I think he deserved what happened. But still... His and Mom's relationship had been on the rocks ever since I'd left, and Jules had followed suit. I know, because I can just barely remember it, that they were in love at one point. And all their troubles...
It was me.
Not a pleasant thing to realize when your brain is reorganizing itself.
So I did something I'd never, ever considered doing before.
There. I said it.
Irrational thoughts and rational minds tend not to get along very well. But there it was.
He frowned, and for a second, I think he was going to ask me what for. But his eyes locked with mine, and something cracked between us. He froze, and for an instant, I was afraid I had been wrong. But those same eyes, ones I'd hated for so long...
He didn't say anything. Nor, indeed, did I expect him to. But... I dunno... Some of the tenseness was gone. A tiny amount of peace, in a storm of regrets and might-have-beens.
It would be much, much later in life that he would finally apologise to me. But that is not in this story. And so I fall again.
The break passed within a blink of an eye. Soon enough, they were packing their bags and getting ready to leave us. Mom was a wreck, but she promised to keep sending those emails and pictures even as she walked out the door. Him, on the other hand... He spared a smile for Jules, who wished them a good trip. But me... A nod. Tiny. Discreet. But acknowledgement.
Steps ahead, and all that.
Toni... She took their leaving rather... Poorly. She returned to what was ostensibly 'her' room, but the nightmares came back, every night, worse and worse. It took three nights, of the last four of the break, for me to snap. She was moved back into my room with little ceremony, and even less fuss. We got her set up in a new school, the one I would have gone to... Well...
It was on the way to ours, so she could be dropped and retrieved on the way. Interestingly, we looked through the records of her old personal toutor, and she was a full three grade levels above where she should have been, and was enrolled as such. I wasn't worried about school. She would always have me to come to, after all, and that 'psychic scream' of hers really packed a punch.
Granted, we did end up working on toning it down to sub-lethal levels for the whole break. And a couple of months after that.
Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.
Anyway, that last night of break... It was a bad one...
"You're... Breaking up with me?" I flinched at the tone in his voice. I guess the whole 'week alone with that man' thing had got him all bothered, but it was my decision to face it alone.
"Romantically, yes. I don't want to date you anymore, Al."
Oh, Gods... Sometimes, I hate myself...
"What are you talking about?" He looked so hurt...
"I don't know. It's just... I think I rushed into it too quickly, you know?" He went quiet. I hate that, don't you? When you're trying to talk to someone, and they just clam up? "Please, talk to me..."
"What do you want from me, Mia?" He asked, sitting down in my desk chair. I sat down on my bed, trying to stay calm.
"I want..." I didn't really even know, to be honest. "I want you to be my best friend again."
He huffed, rubbing his temples. "Just like that, huh?" He shook his head, standing up suddenly. "You should really figure out who you are. All this switching around is starting to piss people off. Me included."
He left me there to feel bad about myself.
But of course, he was right...
"What?! But they've only just gotten into place!"
"I don't care, and neither does the master." The voice was cold, unwavering and uncaring. "You will cease all actions and leave those two to me. Or you will answer to him."
The man behind the desk swallowed heavily, a nervous twitch making his face tick. "I suppose, then, that the girl will be taking care of this." His eyes flickered, towards the darkened corner where the aforementioned girl sat, small shivers wracking her body.
"Why else would she be there, Sloan?" The screen flickered, but it didn't stop her smirk from transmitting. "I trust you need no more... Instruction... Do you?"
The man scowled. "No, ma'am."
"Good boy, Sloan. Good boy." Her gaze flickered over to the corner, and the girl flinched. "And you?"
"N-Never, m-mistress..." The girl whispered.
"Of course not. And don't you ever forget it, Verity." The woman on the screen straightened. "Get it done."
"Yes, m-mistress... I will..." Small, beaten eyes glanced up.
Small, beaten, violet eyes.
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