An alarm rang, filling the room with noise. He reached up to turn it off, missed, and decided he didn't care. It was warm, and he didn't want to wake up yet.
The alarm continued to ring incessantly, and the arm around him tightened, it's owner groaning against his neck. "At least turn it off, love."
Curt smiled with a hum, reaching up to do just that. He missed again, and figured it was time to finally open his eyes. The room was yellow with the light of the early morning sun.
….Since when did he have an alarm clock? And Owen—
The memories came flooding back, conflicting each other, and Curt knocked the alarm clock off the nightstand in his scramble to get away. He hit the hardwood floor, landing on his arm, sure to leave a bruise later. His leg was trapped in the sheets, and he heard Owen laugh, soft, amused.
The Brit pushed himself up on his elbows and looked down at Curt, smirking. "I keep telling you, if you sleep that close to the edge, you're bound to fall off sometime."
Then, he seemed to notice Curt's panic, and the smirk fell into a look of concern. With some effort, he sat up more, and offered a hand. "Curt? Love, are you alright? I'm right here."
The vision in his head of an angry, disillusioned Owen with a stony expression hiding his rage and a gun pointed to Curt's heart seemed all too real, and yet. The Owen in front of him looked the antithesis of that.
Curt reached out and touched his hand, testing to see if this was real. Owen laced their fingers together, sighing. "You had me scared for a second there, chap. But I guess it's best we wake up. You've got somewhere to be today, haven't you?"
The girl. The future. The portal. The whiteness.
Curt's eyes flicked up and met Owen's. "You're… really here?"
Owen nodded, slowly, and then froze as something seemed to dawn on him. "You're… You're back, aren't you? From the other world, o-or the future, or whatever it was. You're back."
He swallowed and fought the shaking in his hands, the overload of memories starting to settle. "I think so. How are you…"
"You told me what happened, remember?" Owen squeezed his hand. "Before we left. And… you were right, I couldn't stop it. But since I knew, I… I could believe you. That it was an accident. So, I…"
The memory resurfaced. Owen fell. Was declared dead, for a few months. The worst months of his life. He remembers when they were years.
But one day, a call came in. Cynthia, screaming at him for abandoning his partner. Owen had been found. His legs had both broken. His spine had broken in three places. Several ribs were snapped or out of place. There was a dent in the back of his skull.
He'd survived because someone had found him. A group they had no record of, that called themselves Chimera. He had managed to send out a distress signal from a phone a few months after they rescued him, and MI6 managed to sniff him out.
So the partners were reunited. Owen hadn't completely healed - he still hadn't. His legs were mostly okay, and his ribs got set, the back of his head flat but healing. His back was the issue. It resulted in him being slightly paralyzed, and he wore a large, stiff brace to keep the bones in place, and move around easier.
He was retired as an active field agent, but continued to help out in intelligence. He was still Curt's (professional) partner, and travelled with him as they tracked down Chimera.
Curt blinked back tears. He wasn't sure if he was happy or sad. He settled on both. "A-And you can- You can hear again?"
"Yes," he smiled. "And you aren't shot. Either time. Not the… Deadliest Man, as you called him, or the alien militia."
Curt held Owen's hand tighter, leading his forehead against it and fighting not to sob. All those years of hoping he'd come back. All those years regretting his fuck-up.
"I'm here, love."
Curt was tugged back into bed where he held Owen as tightly as he could without hurting the man. He could finally rest. He was finally home.
Until his watch started ringing. It had fallen off the bedside table and onto the floor during his panic, and he grumbled, knowing that it must be important but not wanting to move. Owen laughed, snug against him.
"Oh yeah. You best be getting ready for your assignment, huh? So we can get the bloody hell out of Texas."
Curt laughed too, and reluctantly moved to hang off the bed and grab it. "Yeah, I'm from the South and this state kinda sucks." The first part of Owen's sentence sank in as he sat back up with the watch. "Fuck, what's the mission again?"
"I'm sure Cynthia's about to yell at you for it," he shrugged. "Don't let her see me."
"She doesn't know you're here?"
"I'm supposed to have my own room, love."
"But it's—" the train of thought stopped. It was 1963, not 2019. It'd be a long time before they could ever be out. Probably not even in their lifetimes.
But he remembered those two girls, Deb and Alice. He remembered the woman, Emma, who was born a man. He remembered her partner, Paul, who had no preference.
Maybe he wouldn't live to see it, but they would. Somehow, the thought was reassuring.
He brushed his hair back with his hand and answered the call. He did not get to speak a word before Cynthia was screaming in his ear.
"Mega! You fucking shit-for-brains, where the hell are you? You better not still be in bed, I'm not gonna hold your fucking hand through this. I'm not in the kitchen making you lunch, wishing you a nice day at school, you fuckin' dweeb."
"I'm sure it'd be poisoned anyway," he sighed. "I'm on my way."
"Don't lie to me, Mega, you don't even know where you're supposed to go yet."
Owen covered his mouth to stifle a snicker, and Curt rolled his eyes. "Alright, then where am I supposed to go?"
"Don't sass me. Texas School Book Depository. 6th floor, Southeast corner. Get there ten minutes ago or you're fuckin' dead." She hung up with no further comment, and Curt sighed. He checked the time on the watch — 11:15AM.
"How far away is that?" He asked Owen.
"I think we passed it earlier this week. Maybe twenty minutes? Thirty if you take time to get ready."
"No need to take time," he slid his legs out of bed, "I'm just shooting a guy. I dunno why she went and bugged me of all people for this."
"A nice vacation from Chimera, I suppose," he joked, sitting up. Curt's instinct was to help, but he remembered that Owen didn't need help with everything — they'd had that conversation before.
"Who are you shooting, anyway?" He asked, snapping Curt out of his thoughts.
He shrugged, pulling on a shirt. "Eh, no one important. Some guy named Jack Kennedy or something."
Owen hummed for a moment. "... John Kennedy?"
"Yeah, that's it."
His phone was ringing. A custom ringtone, not musical, that went "Hey dummy, it's me, answer your phone."
Emma had recorded it and set it up after snagging his phone one night. It was the only thing she had done, aside from taking a bunch of pictures to fill up his camera roll.
He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and answered it on the fourth or fifth repeat with a groggy "Hello?"
"Hey, Paul," Emma sounded tired, and somehow nervous. "Sorry to wake you up so early."
Paul pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment to check the time — 5:40AM. "No, no, it's okay," he scrambled to answer. "I was, uh, already awake."
She laughed, and he smiled. It was a sound he'd never grow tired of hearing. "Well, look. My brother-in-law, Tom? He asked if I wanted to come over today, to uh. Have a late Thanksgiving, with him and Tim. And I was wondering if maybe… you wanted to come with me."
"Yes," the answer was too fast, and he choked on his tongue trying to make it sound less awkward. "I'd, um. I'd be honored. When?"
"He said to be there at six."
"Okay, I'll see you the—"
"Six AM. Sorry, should've clarified."
"Ah." That explained the weird time. "Well, uh. Still. I'll get ready and see you soon?"
"I'm actually, um. Already outside your apartment complex. In the car."
Paul couldn't help but smile. She had known he'd say yes? Or she had wanted him too? "Well, I'll get ready quick then. But could we get some coffee on the way?"
"Of course. I don't think Starbucks'll be open till six, but. I'm sure Tom won't mind waiting a bit."
"Great. See you in a few."
He jumped out of bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and hurried to get dressed. It was getting pretty cold, and it was a festive occasion, so he settled on a red and white patterned sweater, as well as a red scarf. Making sure he had his phone, keys, and wallet, he left his apartment and went down to meet Emma in her car.
He saw her through the passenger window, smiling casually, waiting patiently, and all the memories came back.
It was Black Friday. Paul had been stuck with fifteen or so others for two months. Most had died. Tom had died, Tim had died, Emma had died.
But here she was. Inviting him to her brother-in-law's house, just like she had that morning. Not knowing it was a scheme to get her to babysit while he went to get Tim a—
Paul felt sick. He couldn't do it again. It was hard enough the first time, he couldn't do it again.
He went through the portal so there would be a new world, with no Wiggly, but so far everything was exactly the same.
Emma gave him a weird look through the window, and he jumped into the car without thinking. Sitting, staring out the windshield, not saying a word, he prayed it wouldn't all happen again.
Emma looked at him for a moment, then elbowed him. "You really do need some coffee in ya, huh?"
He nodded, and blinked, and reflexively smiled. "Y-Yeah. Guess I'm just. Not awake yet." Maybe, if he pretended it was all a dream, it would become one. Or maybe it was all a dream, no pretending needed.
They drove to the Starbucks, getting there just as it was opening. There was already a line, and Emma groaned. "I hate Black Friday."
"Me too," he breathed, remembering. He hadn't even seen the worst of it on the actual day. He didn't intend to this time, either.
They got their coffees and were back on the road by 6:10, on time to arrive at Tom's by 6:30. Just like last time. He'd probably be mad at them again, too.
The two talked as they drove, the radio on, and Paul's stomach was doing somersaults. He was pretty sure he'd puke if he heard that damn jingle again.
But it never played. There was no jingle, there was no talk about Cabbage Patch Kids, there was no salad joke. Instead they just continued their conversation as normal, and pulled up to Tom's house without the dreadful conversation.
That was different. That was good.
Emma stood in front of the house, holding her coffee, hesitating. Finally, she sighed. "You know, I barely know them. The crash was last Christmas, and that's… not a great way to start a relationship. I just… I'm done fucking things up. I just need this to work. Okay?"
Paul patted her on the back. "It will. He invited you over, he wants you to be a part of his life! So cheer up," he smiled. "It's Christmas time in Hatchetfield. Isn't that fun?"
Emma smiled, and rang the doorbell. "Hey," he held her shoulders for a second. "Everything's going to be okay, okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
The door opened, and there stood an annoyed Tom Houston in a wife beater tank top and jeans — and both arms, firmly attached, no stitches in sight.
"You're late," he stated.
Emma looked up at him; he stood a great deal taller than her. "It's 6:30 in the morning."
"Yeah, and I said six. But I guess you had to go to Starbucks," he gestured to the coffees the two held.
After spending two months locked up with him in an apocalypse, Paul had kind of forgotten that his first meeting with Tom painted the widow as a bit of an asshole.
He let them in without another word, and sitting on the couch in the living room was Tim. Paul felt so relieved to see him, and felt the urge to just wrap the boy up in a hug and hold him tight.
But this Tim didn't know him yet. Neither did Tom. Emma knew him, but it was different. Those two, terrible months were missing for all but him. It was his burden to carry.
So, he swallowed his pride and introduced himself to Tim. He made the same slip-up as last time, on purpose. Tim seemed to have found it entertaining after the fact, as did Emma, though it was still just as embarassing in the moment.
He stayed silent when Tom revealed that he had invited Emma over to babysit. He stayed silent when Tom lied and told Tim he was shopping for tools. Then came the important part.
"Wow, great priorities, Tom," Emma's anger was leaking into her voice as the nine-year-old ran away. "First the tools, then the kid."
"I didn't say that," he argued.
"What are you gonna do for his birthday? Leave him at home and take the drill press to Six Flags?"
"I don't have a drill press. And even if I did, how would it fit into the Sedan?" He checked to make sure Tim had left the room before coming closer, lowering his voice. "I had to say something because I didn't want to ruin the surprise. I'm going to the mall, to get Tim's Christmas present, okay?"
Paul watched as Emma hesitantly warmed back up. "What are you getting him?" He waited for the answer with baited breath.
"I wasn't sure at first, but we couldn't win that stupid RC car at Pizza Pete's, but I remember, back, uh. Back when I was still teaching, um," his excitement died down as he seemed to be remembering bad things vividly. "Some kids told me about drones. I kinda wanted to build one, but I'm no programmer. But I think Tim'd like it, so. I'm gonna get him one."
Emma smiled, and bumped his arm. "That sounds sick, man! Drones are super cool. Not the Amazon ones though, pretty sure they spy on people."
"And," Paul found his voice, "it's something you can do together."
Tom looked up at him, seemingly having forgotten he was here. Paul stood his ground, though he looked away slightly. Tim and Tom had grown closer after Black Friday. It was a lot of effort, and it was awkward, but it was there. The boy had even been picking up guitar.
It didn't matter what Tom got Tim — as long as it wasn't Wiggly — what mattered was they did it together. And while Paul was by no means in control, he could still give them a little nudge.
After a moment, Tom shrugged, and scratched his neck. "Yeah, maybe. If he wants."
"Well, you better get going," Emma piped back up. "I'm sure the line at ToyZone's gonna be hell."
"What are you talkin' about," Tom checked his watch. "I'll get there ten minutes before they even open."
"Yeah, but it's Black Friday. I'm sure everyone had the same idea as you."
Tom sighed, and checked his pockets. "Well, I'll be back. Don't burn the house down, and he's allergic to strawberries, but I don't think we've got any, so."
He was out the door before Emma could finish saying bye, but it was still, to Paul's recollection, a better note to leave on than last time.
Last time. He couldn't stop thinking about it. The memories were still so prevalent in his mind, and he was still tense, waiting for it all to happen again. He couldn't wait for the day to be over.
Looking at Emma, he hoped this time would go better. It was already changing. Maybe he wasn't so doomed after all.
She waited nervously in the line. She didn't have a good excuse to be in it, she just knew that it's where she met Tom last time, and so she could hope that he'd show up this time, too. And she'd get to see his smiling face again, with both eyes.
Becky heard a shrill voice talking loudly on a phone and rolled her eyes. Linda would never learn, would never change. She was surprised that the woman would even do her own shopping — though Linda actually seemed to enjoy it. She paid the man in front of Becky in order to cut the line, just like last time.
This time she didn't have the same sense of urgency as she did before, which was probably Wiggly's doing. But it was still bribery, and Linda was still annoying, so she still interjected.
"No, Gerald," Linda continued to talk on the phone, "you cannot run across the street. I don't care if River has to use the bathroom, he can hold it like a man."
"What?!" Linda and the man turned, and her face fell into a look of disgust. Part of Becky wanted to shoot her again. "Oh my God. Gerald," she spoke into her phone, "hold on. Becky Barnes is accosting me. ... Yes, call the police!"
The woman had always treated her like trash, even before the rest of town did. She was really sick with putting up with it.
"You can't just do that, Linda," she stayed pacifist. "You can't just cut the line."
"Oh, no, no, no, I did not cut. I bought this spot, fair and square," she smiled, and the man turned to her.
"It's alright, lady, I let her in," he smiled.
Becky wasn't going to bother with him this time. Instead, she kept her eyes on the petite blonde woman in the silly hat. "Linda. Do you really think your children are better than everyone else's?" She already knew the answer.
"In so many words, yes!" She shouted, and the line booed. She ignored them. "What are you doing here, anyway? You don't even have children, thank God."
She had no excuse, so she went with the first thing that came to mind. "I'm looking to get new toys for the hospital. And… And I'm getting a gift for a friend."
"A friend who collects toys?" Linda scoffs. "Sounds like a creep." The man in front of her turned around and opened his mouth to argue, and Linda put up a hand. "No. Turn back around. I have pepper spray and I use it more than you could ever imagine."
He did so, grumbling about a lawyer, and Becky clarified. "For the friend's son. But it's really none of your business why I'm here. Or why any of us are here!" She gestured to the rest of the line, who all avoided looking at her.
Linda chuckled. "No one cares about your attempts at community, Becky. No one cares about the ra-ra, school spirit, cheerleader bullshit that you never grew out of."
Becky remembered what came next last time, and wanted to march right up to Linda and deck her, but found herself frozen, and not because of the cold. A second chance, and she still couldn't stand up for herself.
"It's why you stayed with Stanley, that monster husband of yours, right up until the moment he got bored and ran off."
She thought about the blood in the snow and on the knife.
"Or did you think your neighbors didn't notice you were wearing sunglasses on cloudy days? Turtlenecks in the summer?"
She thought about running away and climbing up a tree to hide. From him, from the police, from her actions.
"Well, they knew what was happening, they just… didn't care."
She thought about staying in that tree for two days, cold and afraid.
"And that's why you disgust me. Not because you're naive. Because you're so weak."
She thought about how mortified she was that the whole town had found out, and she thought about how scared she was that they might know what she did, too.
Linda raised her phone back to her ear. "Oh, stop crying, Gerald, I wasn't talking to you!"
Becky stood, silent and still, alone with her thoughts. Until—
"Miss, you think I can get your spot in line? I've got like twenty bucks, it's really important, it's for my kid—"
His voice melted her from her frozen state and she whipped around to face him. She knew exactly what was happening, and still, she was nervous.
Tom, however, was shocked, and had taken her place in being frozen. "Becky Barnes?"
Part of her expected him to remember her. Remember the two months they spent together with the other survivors. With Tim. His last words to her hung heavy in her heart, and even with all his turmoil now, he looked better by a million miles.
But, of course, he only remembered her from high school. And this time there would be no movie theater hook-up. He seemed to regret moving so quickly, anyway, but it was the end of the world. It made sense, then.
This time, she'd take it slow. She knew he felt the same, it just would take some time to get settled, and that was understandable.
As he stood frozen still, and the line gossipped around them, she smiled. "Good to see you, Tom. I've missed you."
Mid-day at the Woodward house, Bill returned from shopping. He was normally very good with money, but became a bit of an impulse buyer when there were sales. At least he had most of his Christmas shopping done, now.
Sylvia followed him in, looking around the apartment fondly. They had organized a little shopping-date, and now, Bill hoped she might get to meet Alice. He'd have liked to have had Sylvia for Thanksgiving, but sadly she'd already accepted an invitation from the CEO, who seemed to have invited some of his favorite employees and their families.
Alice, meanwhile, had a quiet Thanksgiving with Bill. She wanted to invite Deb, and Bill had even said yes, but she was stuck with her own family for the night. So they met up during the day, wandering around the mall, maybe catching a movie, running into Danny and Sof and hanging for a bit. Bill hoped they'd be home soon, and that the first meeting wouldn't be too awkward.
The couple put everything away, hiding presents in Bill's bedroom, and shared some leftover turkey and some wine. He was so glad to have her in his life.
He didn't know it, but Sylvia initially got close to him because it was suspected he may know more than he was allowed to about CCRP. He didn't, but she had grown close to him regardless. Her job was done, but she had no intention of leaving.
At some point, the two shared a kiss, and were broken apart by a yelp of surprise. Alice had returned home with Deb, who had just walked in on them.
"Uh," she stuttered, "hi Mr. Woodward! And… lady."
Alice joined her quickly, having heard the scream, and looked between her dad and the unfamiliar woman beside him.
Bill stood, and cleared his throat. "Alice, I'd like to introduce you to Sylvia Carpenter, my girlfriend. And Sylvia, this is my lovely daughter, Alice. And, her girlfriend, Deb Daggit."
Sylvia also stood with an excited smile and offered her hand. "I've heard so much about you!"
Alice hesitantly took her hand and shook it. "Yeah, uh. Nice to meet you."
Awkward, yes, but not nearly as bad as he had expected.
Ted and Charlotte had infinitely less interesting Thanksgiving's. Ted had spent it with his brother, Peter, and they had put very little effort into making dinner. The best cooked thing was the mashed potatoes, and they didn't even bother with a turkey, but it wasn't all bad. They shot the shit together, like brothers do, and still went to bed with full stomachs.
Charlotte spent her's with Sam. She did put a lot of effort into making the dinner, but had never been too skilled as a cook. The turkey was burnt, but she supposed it was better than undercooked. Her and Sam ate in silence until he got a call, and he left for the night.
So, naturally, the two met up today. Ted had no care for shopping, but he still gave Charlotte a hand, his brash personality helping make things go quicker. He did also bring Peter, as the boy had requested being dropped off at the mall, and the two quickly split up. Peter didn't care too much about Ted's various flings. He instead met up with Oliver Green, a boy with similar interests (though considerably less horny), and secured a ride back with him.
They went back to her place, put the bags on the table, and immediately went to the bedroom. Where Sam was, Ted didn't know, nor did he care. Probably fucking some other man's wife.
It was a bad joke, and he thought of it every time, but Charlotte Sweetly sure was sweet.
The Davidson house was empty on Thanksgiving — Ken's boss had invited him and his wife to a celebration at his house, and everyone ate, drank, and was merry.
The next day, Ken and Carol did some Black Friday shopping at Lakeside. Or, more accurately, they window-shopped and got hot chocolate, staying out of the cold and away from the lines. They didn't really need anything, or want anything. Sure, they sneakily got each other some presents for Christmas, but they didn't need anything big.
They already had each other, after all.
Ed Woods was perhaps a little too focused on keeping his squirrel son, Peanuts, in his pocket. He was getting older, bigger, more rambunctious. Much like a typical teenager, to his knowledge. These truly are the hard years of parenting. The struggle to connect with your child, and keep them safe without restraining them so much that they run away from you as adults… It was a difficult balance.
It was also difficult to keep your balance when you slam into someone. Peanuts gave a squeak of displeasure at the abrupt movement.
Ed turned and glared at the person he walked into. "Watch where you're going!"
The man was Chris Hartly, dressed in a bright red sweater. He returned the glare. "Hey, you bumped into me. It's not my fault."
"You could've moved."
"Well you could've been looking at the world around you and now… what is in your pocket?"
Ed looked — Peanuts was poking his head out, sniffing up at Chris. Ed gave him a scratch on the chin. "Peanuts."
"The Peanuts?" Chris gaped. "Why are you taking him out here? Isn't it… dangerous? For a squirrel?"
"I didn't want to leave him alone," Ed shuffled. "And it's fine if you don't go bumping into people."
Chris sighed. "Look, man—"
"Excuse me!" A nasally voice interrupted, standing between the two. He offered his hands to shake. "Gary Goldstein, attorney at law, is something the matter here?"
Ed took the offered hand without really thinking, but Chris backed up. "No? He just bumped into me, not that big a deal."
Gary turned to Ed. "He could've hurt our city's biggest celebrity, sir. And as Peanuts' caretaker it is your responsibility to set things right! I'd gladly represent you."
Ed could not back away, as Gary still had his hand. He cleared his throat and fixed his hood with his free hand. "No, he's right, it's not that big a deal. And Peanuts isn't hurt, so…"
"So you're going to let just anyone walk all over you and your precious little squirrel?"
Ed blinked. "Are you desperate for new clients or something? Don't you work for Linda Monroe, and the Young family?"
Gary paused, and after a moment he stole his hand back and fixed his glasses. "I'm tired of all the big wigs. I'd like to help the little folk too, you know."
Ed and Chris both stood taller than Gary, but that wasn't the point. Ed put his hands in his pocket and gently held Peanuts. "I think that I'm alright, thanks. Not looking to sue anyone."
Gary sighed, and shrugged. "Suit yourself. Law suit! Ha! Just a bit of attorney humor for you. Here's my card," he tucked it into Ed's collar, "happy holidays!"
The attorney left in a hurry, probably to find other angry customers willing to hire him. Ed shared a confused look with Chris before laughing. "Uh. Sorry."
"It's alright," Chris smiled. "Just keep an eye out."
"Yeah, I will. Good luck shopping."
Professor Henry Hidgens did not bother to celebrate Thanksgiving. He had no one to celebrate it with, and he didn't want to cook a huge meal just for himself. So he simply did his usual dinner routine and spiced it up by sharing a bottle of wine with Alexa and Siri, and playing them some of Workin' Boys.
The second it turned midnight he looked up the best sales online and got supplies he needed, both for his classes and for his personal projects. He also found a really nice hairdryer.
He also had assignments to grade, but. Who really cared. He could just give them all B minuses and be done with it.
Maybe he'd actually grade Emma's. She was his favorite because she didn't care but she still tried, and also she brought him groceries sometimes. She wouldn't help him with Workin' Boys , but she was tolerable.
Speaking of, that British Duchess should be coming to visit sometime soon to look for the Ape-Man. He had to work on that plan, find some loser willing to hang around naked and seduce the poor woman.
But that would mean leaving his house. Ugh.
Maybe he'd just put up a Craigslist ad or something. That should be fine.
"Nanners!" A woman shouted, slamming open her bedroom door. Hannah bolted upright, awake and confused. Standing in the doorway was her mother, Pamela, looking pissed. "Get up, gremlin, your nursemaid's here."
Hannah looked across the room at Lex's bed — she wasn't in it. She must have already left for work.
Suddenly, she remembered. Somehow, the memory calmed her. It was Black Friday again. Lex had to open at ToyZone, she'd get off at noon. Then the two of them and Ethan would leave for California.
In the old world, Lex was going to steal a Wiggly and sell it. In this one, she was going to steal money from the register.
Hannah's heart pounded. Wiggly was bad, but her new plan was still dangerous. She remembered, faintly, a world where her and Ethan got arrested for selling pills.
She hurried and got ready, pulling on her overalls and her flannel and tying her braids. She looked for the Warriors' cap, before remembering she didn't have it here. At least, not yet.
Hannah stood in the center of her room, lost in thought. This wasn't right. She was supposed to be away from her mother, now. She was supposed to be safe. She was supposed to be with—
"John." Hannah looked around the room, strained her ears. She couldn't see him. She couldn't hear him. "John?"
The only thing her calling summoned was Pamela, who shouted "What are you goin' on about in there?!" from the living room.
"I'm sorry, Hannah," she heard Webby, and felt the ethereal presence manifest beside her. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and saw the white of her web-like dress. "He's not here anymore."
"Came through, didn't he?" She looked up at the spider woman. "Must have merged."
Webby nodded. "I'm sure he did, but he's not from Hatchetfield, Hannah. If he merged like you did, he's probably back home."
"Said he'd find me. Find us. He's got too." She pulled her braids. "Can't leave. Can't go to California."
"Hannah!" Pamela shouted, and she looked to the door. Webby rubbed her shoulders.
"Go with Ethan. It'll all work out."
She disappeared, and Hannah slunk out of her room and then out of the house. Ethan was waiting outside in his jalopy, and she climbed into the passenger seat and buckled her seatbelt. Ethan was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.
"So," he drew the word out as they began to drive away. "Is today a good day or a bad day?"
She didn't know. There was no Wiggly, so that was good. But Lex could get arrested for stealing, and if they left for California, John might never find them.
"We can't go to California," she decided to say.
Ethan looked over at her for a second. "Why not? That's been the plan since forever, Banana."
"Have to wait for John," her voice cracked, and she covered her mouth.
Ethan slammed on the breaks, and Hannah held her breath. He looked at her fully. "John? The General guy, that John?"
"You finally remember!" He grinned. "It-It's been a week, I thought maybe I was goin' crazy, or I had dreamt it all or… I don't know. But you remember now!"
Hannah thought about it for a second. "Must have… gone back to when you came from. When you came through the portal."
He nodded, moving his hair out of his face. "I guess so. And I guess that means the spies are back in the 60s."
Hannah nodded. "Gotta wait for John."
"Did he come through?"
Another nod. "He'll find us."
Ethan took a breath. "Alright. Alright. I believe you." He started driving again. "But if Lex doesn't remember, it'll be tough to convince her."
"Lex went through. Went through Infected, but went through."
"I haven't seen her today," Ethan shuddered. "I hope she's not spreading that blue shit around or something."
"Merger is mental, not physical. She's okay." Hannah hoped she was okay.
They pulled up to the mall and parked, and walked to the back of ToyZone to meet up with Lex. She was smoking, and Hannah and Ethan spotted a tall man in a heavy jacket running off, a Sedan parked in the loading zone.
Hannah nearly cried at the sight of her sister, alive and well and the same as she always was. She ran up to the older girl and hugged her tight.
"Whoah, hey," Lex laughed, and patted her head. "You okay, Banana?"
Hannah looked up at her sister through her bangs. "You remember, right?"
Lex looked back, her face softening, her own eyes welling up with tears too. She nodded. "Yes. Fuck, Hannah, I—"
Hannah held her tighter, and Lex returned it tenfold. Ethan joined in, holding them both, and there the trio stood, together again at last. The moment was ruined when Lex's boss came to collect her, as it was time to open. He chased off Ethan, but Hannah grabbed Lex's arm and held her back.
"Don't do it. Wait for John. It'll be okay," she warned.
Frank gave her a weird look, and Lex patted her on the head. "I'll be okay. I'll see you later."
The sisters were split, and Hannah had to hope that Lex would listen. Ethan came and took her hand, and they walked through the mall to the cineplex.
Hannah sat on a bench while Ethan tried to barter with the ticket-taker. So much was different, but so much was familiar. Sure, this time there was no Wiggly, there were no riots, there was no death, no bad blood. But there was still the line at ToyZone, and here came the security guard to tell off Ethan, and Santa Claus is Goin' to High School was still playing.
Last time, the security guard was going to take Ethan to the mall jail or whatever, so this time she hopped up off the bench to take his hand and lead him away. They couldn't go to California, but she still didn't want him to get in trouble.
Instead, they walked around the mall and window-shopped. She saw Ed and Chris arguing, and Gary insert himself into the conversation. She tensed at the sight of him, but this Gary was not under Wiggly's influence. He may be a bit sleazy, but he wasn't going to kidnap her.
At one point they went into Starbucks to get a coffee for Hannah and hot chocolate with whipped cream for Ethan. As they waited for their drinks, she saw Ken and Carol Davidson, sitting together at a table, happy and in love.
She saw Bill and a red-haired woman coming out of a clothes store, and she saw Alice and Deb in a cooking store only a block over. She saw Oliver and a boy a bit younger than him walking and talking. She saw Ted and Charlotte half-arguing over shopping bags and the time. She saw Linda and her sons, and a man who was presumably her husband eyeing the Cinnabon.
She saw Becky and Tom talking quietly, holding bags from ToyZone. Tom looked nervous, flustered, but Becky looked calm. They both seemed happy, and she was happy for them. She figured Becky remembered, too.
At noon, they returned to ToyZone and picked up Lex. She looked exhausted, and Frank was reluctant to let her leave, but Hannah and Ethan wouldn't take no for an answer.
She had not stolen the money. Hannah was relieved. Now, they just had to wait for John.
"How about," Ethan suggested once they were all in the car, "we get some KFC or somethin' and have a little picnic. Oakley Park's prolly not busy."
"It's almost December, Ethan," Lex pointed out. "It's probably gonna be freezing out there."
"Eh, it's too cold then we go inside. No big deal." He looked over his shoulder to Hannah. "What say you, huh?"
Hannah had a good feeling about that park, and nodded. Lex seceded with a shrug, and Ethan drove them to KFC. It was chicken, not turkey, but it didn't really matter.
Lex was right, the park was cold, but the good feeling only strengthened, and she was determined to stay. The trio ate their lunch, and Lex and Ethan talked quietly while Hannah kept an eye out for John. He had to be coming.
After a while Hannah went to use the bathroom. It was less that she had to, and more that she was getting cold and just didn't want to admit it. If she washed her hands with warm water, she would hopefully feel better.
As she was walking back, a voice called out. "Excuse me?"
It was an older voice, kind and warm. She had heard it before, somewhere, but she couldn't quite place it. Hannah turned and saw a man with a beard and owl-eyed glasses approaching her. He gave her a gentle smile. "Are you Hannah Foster?"
The glasses connected it. She nodded. "You're Ed. Ed McNamara."
He chuckled, and nodded, seeming impressed. "I guess he wasn't lying. I mean, I didn't think he was, but it was quite a tale, so—"
"Is John here?"
Ed nodded again. "We split up. I'll go find him, you, uh. He said you have a sister?" Hannah pointed over towards where Lex and Ethan still were, at their little picnic. "Okay, you go back to them, and we'll meet you there."
Ed and Hannah hurried off in their separate ways, and she flapped her hands all the way back.
"John's coming!" She told them, trying not to shout. "He's coming, he's coming!"
"Where?" Lex looked around, but saw nothing but the open field, and the trees that lined the outer border of the park.
"Saw his husband! He's coming!"
"He has a husband?" Ethan asked.
Hannah paced around, looking for any sign of the couple. Minutes passed, and there was still nothing. She wouldn't lose hope. Ed said he was around. He had to be coming.
There was movement from the treeline, and Hannah held her breath. The trio watched, and out came a man with a beard and owl-eyed glasses. Ed waved and smiled, looking back over his shoulder.
She almost didn't recognize him.
His long hair was partially pulled back into a ponytail, the rest still loose around his shoulders, looking brighter and fluffier than ever. He wore a warm-looking red jacket, but his cheeks and nose were still kissed pink by the cold air. He wore jeans, but his boots were still what Hannah would call military.
He locked eyes with Hannah, and neither looked away. Step by step, they approached each other, never looking away, waiting with baited breath to see if this was real.
They stopped less than a foot apart and made no further moves for a moment. Finally, he swallowed and took his hand out of his pocket, offering it to Hannah. She reached up and touched it.
She did not phase through. His hand was warm, and his palms were calloused. The hands of a hardworking man; the hands of a father.
John dropped to a kneel, and the two fell into a tight hug.
"I don't know how to convince you," the other John sighed. "You can't fight your way out. And I can't fight you, I wouldn't want too. The only way out is together."
"There is never only one way," he argued.
"Usually, yes. But things don't work the same way here."
"The more you tell me, the more I'm inclined to disbelieve you."
"Well you aren't going to figure it out for yourself," the other John scoffed. "Clearly you aren't hearing what I hear."
"You're right, I'm not. Because I am not a psychic."
"Yes you are. I thought the same thing until I had this… psychic burst of energy. It's only happened twice, but we wouldn't be here if we weren't at least a little bit psychic."
"Then why do only you hear these directions?"
"Because I'm the one who has to get permission. I'm only informing you. The merger is your decision. You have the control here."
"But if there's only one choice to make, then it doesn't matter who's in control."
The other John sighed and turned away. "This is going nowhere. We're never getting out of here."
The argument stopped by nature of both of them shutting up. They paced around separately, contemplating the endless whiteness of their prison.
After who knew how long, John heard something. A faint whisper, he couldn't quite make out. Then again, and again, getting louder, clearer.
"Merge. Combine in the new world, or perish in this one. Merge. She's waiting for you. Merge."
The voice wasn't loud, or angry, or even that sudden, but he still felt the urge to cover his ears. The other John looked over at him. "Do you hear it now?"
"Yes," he admitted, voice shaky.
"Then you know I'm not lying."
"Yes, but…" he thought of Ed. He thought of Corey. He thought of his friends, his family. "I don't want to disappear. I know you're looking for the girl, but I don't want to be erased."
The other John looked at him for a long moment, and then walked up to him. He put his hand on his shoulder.
"You will not disappear. Neither will I. We will become one, both of us existing together, neither erased or replaced. I'm sure it will be more difficult than it sounds, but we won't be gone. You won't lose them."
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. As he released the breath, he nodded, and the whiteness claimed them both.
John woke to his usual alarm going off — it was five in the morning, the sun was still hours from rising, and the air smelled like baked goods.
Last night was Thanksgiving. And in bed beside him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, was Ed, his hair freshly cut short just earlier that week.
John turned off the alarm and sat up. Ed wrapped his arms around John's back and hummed. "Do you have to go?"
He remembered this conversation. He remembered so much.
He turned around to face his husband, and tears nearly came to his eyes. "Yes. But I'm not going to work."
Ed raised an eyebrow. "Tell me your not Black Friday shopping, John. That's gonna be a nightmare."
"No, no," he shook his head. "No, I have to go to Hatchetfield."
"Hatchetfield?" He sat up. "Don't you hate that place?"
"I have to find Hannah and Lex," he took a shaky breath and tried to calm down. The influx of memories was overwhelming, but he knew he had to find them. He promised he would find them, he would help them. He felt Ed take his hands and squeeze them, and John looked back at him. "How do you feel about having daughters?"
Ed blinked. "Uh, fine? Who are Hannah and Lex? Can you… explain this a little better, Johnny?"
Explain it he did. They sat in bed for an hour and a half as John explained Black Friday, and Wiggly, and being connected to Hannah, and the two months in Hatchetfield, and the merger. Explained that he was not entirely the same John he knew.
Ed listened, asked questions when he needed. At the end, he let out a long breath, shaking his head. "This is… not what I expected to hear on a Friday morning."
"No, don't be," Ed cupped his face. "I believe you. You do so much crazy shit, I mean. I'd be stupid not to believe you."
"I'm sorry that I'm not the same man. Not fully, at least."
"You remember me, right?"
"Do you love me?"
"Forever and always."
Ed smiled. "You sound the same to me."
John kissed him then, happy to finally be able to. Ed smiled into it, but pulled away after a few moments. "We should get going."
John tilted his head. "Going where?"
"To Hatchetfield? To find the girls?"
"You want to come?"
"Hey, you're the one who asked if I wanted daughters," he grinned. "It'd be wrong of me to not help find them."
The two men hurried to get ready. John knew he wouldn't be able to get away with using PEIP resources in order to fly to Hatchetfield, so he asked Ed to see if he could get them tickets. John knew how to work PEIP's technology just fine, but was a bit inept when it came to things like cell phones. Though, he was able to call and let someone know he wouldn't be coming in today — but there was no threat of Wiggly in this world. There was less risk.
Part of John felt odd wearing different clothes. He remembered wearing his uniform for two months, never changing, never dirtying. It had started to feel like a second skin.
Now he was in a pair of jeans and a button-up flannel. He kept his work boots, as they were his most reliable pair of shoes, and since he was now corporeal again, he needed a jacket to stay warm. Corey had gotten him a nice, thick red one last Christmas, and he'd hardly worn it. He didn't often wear bright colors, but it was nice and snug. Plus, a bright color might make him stand out more. Easier for the Foster's to spot.
He still felt awkward.
He grabbed his wallet, his keys, his cigarettes, his medication. He didn't have anything to take it with, and he preferred taking pills with something to drink, so he went to the kitchen to find one.
"Howdy, John," Wilbur smiled, handing him a cup of coffee. "Ed said you two're off to Hatchetfield?"
John took the cup, and nodded. He was halfway to raising it to his lips when the memory returned. Wilbur was dead. A servant of Wiggly, and John had killed at least a version of him.
He dropped the mug, and it shattered on the kitchen floor, coffee splashing both men's legs. Wilbur looked at it, confused, and John reached for a gun that wasn't there. His memories conflicted, and try as he might, he was panicking. He backed away. If he could get back to his bedroom—
"John?" Wilbur reached out, worry evident in his features. "Son, are you alright?"
"How are you—" He cleared his throat. "How are you here?"
"You invited me last night, I stayed the night. Are you feeling okay?"
John blinked hard, and took a better look at the man before him. He was definitely Wilbur Cross, or some version of him. His hair was mostly silver, and he had deep wrinkles around his face. He wore his dog tags around his neck, displaying his name and rank. His eyes were brown, and full of a fatherly concern.
More memories returned. Wilbur had gone into the portal that fateful day in 2005, and came out quicker than anyone had anticipated. John and his sister rushed to meet him, and he said that a woman in white told him to turn back, to stay out. That a child was with her, and urged him to heed her.
There had been more tests on the Black and White, more expeditions, and they had lost some lives — but no one had allied themselves with the monsters that lurked within. Not Wilbur, not anyone else.
John now outranked Wilbur, who had steadfastly refused to leave the active field, but he was now in his 60s, and finally getting ready to officially leave PEIP at the end of the year.
John almost started crying. His friend, his mentor, his father was back. Alive. Sane.
He stepped forward and hugged the man tight. Wilbur chuckled a bit in surprise, but wholeheartedly returned it.
Remembering the mug, John reluctantly pulled away and kneeled to pick up the glass. He threw it away and started to look for the mop before Wilbur stopped him.
"You and Ed best get goin'," he said. "I'll take care of it. Or I'll make Corey do it, heh heh."
John nodded, and took a breath. He grabbed a new mug, filled it with coffee, and took his meds.
"John," Wilbur put a hand on his arm. "Is everythin' alright?"
He looked to the older man, and couldn't help but smile. "Yes. Everything is good. And if this goes well, it will only get better." He patted Wilbur's shoulder. "I hope your ready for granddaughters."
John merely winked, and left the room. He drank the rest of the coffee as he looked around the little house for Ed, finding him with Corey near the guest room. The young man had clearly only woken up recently — he was a good soldier, but it was a holiday. He was more than allowed to sleep in.
The pair noticed John and looked over. Corey fixed his glasses. "So, what made you want to have more kids?"
"You'd rather stay an only child?" John tilted his head.
"I didn't say that."
"We can tell you the whole story when we get back. You're welcome to stay until then, by the way." He pulled Corey into a quick hug. "But we better get going."
The McNamara's said goodbye, and off they went. Four hours later, around noon, they landed in Hatchetfield, and John realized that he didn't know where to look. In the two months they had spent together, the group was staying in the Professor's house — they wouldn't be there now.
He recalled that Lex worked in the mall, at a toy store. That was where he'd found her last time, so that was where they'd start.
The place ended up being called ToyZone, but they didn't find Lex or Hannah there. Instead, they found the owner of the store, a charming salesman named Frank Pricely.
His face dropped when the couple admitted they weren't here to buy anything, just looking for Lex.
"Well, she got off at noon," Frank admitted. "Why, is she getting arrested again?"
"Again?" Ed started to wonder what he'd agreed too.
"No," John stated, blunt as ever. "It's none of your concern. Do you know where she went?"
"Her sister and her boyfriend came and got her when she got off," Frank shrugged. "Don't know where they went after that."
"It's lunchtime," Ed noted, turning to John. "Maybe we look in restaurants or something?"
It was a start. They looked around the mall, but saw no sign of the Fosters or Ethan.
As they continued to search the town, John found himself drawn towards a certain area — Oakley Park. Something about it gave him a good feeling, and he told Ed as much.
The two split up, and after maybe twenty minutes, Ed came running up to him. "I met Hannah. She looks just like you said she would, and she recognized me! She's so sweet, reminds me of you a little," he smiled. "Her and the other two are back that way a bit, they're having some kind of picnic."
The news was good, and John was excited, but somehow he was nearly too nervous to move. She wanted to see him. He wanted to see her. He hoped Lex would feel the same. He hoped everyone would get along.
So Ed took his hand and led him out of the woods. And John stood in his red jacket opposite Hannah and her overalls.
The hug he received from her was not the first he'd gotten that day, but it was the first he finally shed a tear over.
There was one thing left to do; go home. Lex and Hannah had little in the way of possessions, but there were still things to collect, and the girls' mother to deal with. John insisted on telling her what was going on, lest he be charged with kidnapping.
So, the group went back to the Foster trailer. Ethan rode with Lex in his jalopy, leading the way, and Hannah rode in the backseat of John and Ed's rental car, chatting with the two all the way. She was nervous to face her mother, but happy to leave.
They parked and found that there were already two cars out front; an old station wagon, and a 1987 Pontiac Firebird. Hannah only recognized one of them, but Lex beat her to the punchline. "Shit, was Duke coming today?"
John looked over. "Who's Duke?"
"He's our social worker," she shrugged. "He… tries his best."
"Good man," Hannah said. "Wants to help. But… Mom's sneaky."
"If we told him, things probably would've gotten worse for Hannah, so…"
John nodded. "I'd hate for you to end up in the system, or apart."
"Good thing that won't happen," Ed smiled.
"But, uh," Ethan pointed to the Pontiac. "Who's the retro?"
"I dunno," Lex squinted. "I don't recognize the car."
The group walked up towards the house, and it wasn't long before they heard shouting. Hannah took John and Lex's hands and held them tight, nervous.
"Pamela," a man's voice, Southern-twinged, was speaking, clearly trying not to lose his temper. "This is it. You are negligent to the point of abuse, you are relying on your teenage daughter to support you and her sister, and the state of your house and your mind show clear signs of child endangerment. I'm sorry, but I'll be contacting the court and having your custody of them revoked. Lord knows I should've done that ages ago."
"You can't do that!" A more obviously-Southern woman had no problem being loud. "They're my babies, Duke, they need their mother!"
"They need a responsible adult, that's what they need."
Soon, the pair was in sight, just a bit past the cars. Also with them was someone leaning against the Pontiac. Their back was to them, but they had long, bright red hair that Hannah could've sworn was familiar.
Unfortunately, Pamela was the first to spot them, and gave an exaggerated gasp. "There they are! Oh, my poor dears, I've been worried sick!" She made quite the show of running up to the girls, but when she got close enough, she flashed them a threatening look.
That was when John stepped forward, standing in front of the sisters. He wasn't much taller than Pamela, but his presence certainly was. She took a step back and glared.
"Who the hell are you?" She spat. "Get away from my girls! Pervert! Duke, this is who you should be lockin' up!"
The man in question had followed, and looked between the group, giving Ethan a small wave. He adjusted his jacket. "Thank you for bringing them here, sir. Could I ask your name?"
He stood straight and firm, like a tree. "General John McNamara of the United States military," he stated, stopping himself before mentioning PEIP. "I'm glad you're here. I hear you're a social worker?"
"Ah, yes. Doug Keane," he offered his hand, which John shook for longer than may have been necessary.
"Good to meet you, Mr. Keane. I intend to take custody of Lex and Hannah."
"He means," Ed chimed in, "that we're looking to adopt the two of them."
Pamela scoffed. "They aren't for sale."
"Adoption isn't a sale," Ed spat back, and John took his arm. No need for a fight.
"Uh," Duke fixed his hair. "I'm… not sure if it's that simple, Mr. McNamara. Or, General—"
"Johnny?" A third voice asked. Again, Hannah was certain she'd heard it before.
Everyone turned to see the red haired figure from before approaching. John blinked in surprise. "Lo?"
Hannah took the woman in. She had big hair, and a denim jacket. She was short, but drew attention, almost like magic.
It clicked, the memory resurfaced, and she bounced. "Witch!"
Duke tensed at the accusation, but the woman merely smiled. "Hello, Hannah. You finally made it."
"You know each other?" Duke asked. "Actually. Wait, hang on…" He tried to wrap his head around it, but the Witch assured him with a pat on the arm.
"Duke, this is my brother, John. And you, little miss," she turned to Hannah, "can call me Miss Holloway."
The Witch, or rather, Miss Holloway, shook Hannah's hand before looking back to John. "Surprised to see you here."
"You know about the other world, I assume?" He asked. She nodded, and he mirrored her. "Me, Hannah, Lex, and Ethan all came from it. As well as a few others, who I'm sure are scattered around town."
"I met Hannah in a dream, there," she explained. "I'm glad you're all safe."
Duke and Pamela both looked somewhat lost, and Holloway shrugged. "We can explain more later. For now, let's get this whole adoption thing settled, hm?"
"Now you wait just a damn second," Pamela snapped out of her stupor. "I ain't lettin' some military man take my daughters away."
"You're losing them one way or another," Duke reminded. "And I don't think you'll have much say in where they go. It might as well be to someone who, uh. Already knows and cares for them."
"No!" Pamela all but screamed.
Holloway, clearly annoyed, put a hand on Pamela's arm and stared deep into her eyes. "Why don't you go lay down for a while, hm?" Her voice echoed in the open space, quiet, soothing, hypnotic.
After a bit more persuasion, Pamela went back into the trailer to do just that. Holloway put her hands in her pockets, and Duke looked at her for a moment with an expression of pure love.
"Perhaps I'll be attending your wedding someday," John later whispered to her, only half joking. She responded with a blush and elbowed him in the side.
At the end of the day, after the lengthy explanation of how the McNamara's knew the Foster girls and how Holloway knew Hannah, Duke managed to pull a few strings and allowed the girls to leave with John and Ed, back to DC. They may have to return for a court hearing, but at least for now, they could leave.
"Though I gotta say, I'll be sad to see you go," Duke gave them a smile. "But it's for the best. Hatchetfield's nice, but there's not much room to grow."
"I'm sure you'll see them again," Holloway smiled, and looked at John across the table. "I'm sure we'll be in better contact now, hm?"
"I'll do my best," he promised. "But you're a hard woman to get ahold of."
"I'll give you my address, we'll be penpals."
The plane ride back was long, and Hannah slept for most of it. She sat between Lex and Ethan, the latter of whom was merely helping them move, and reluctant to leave his girlfriend and sister who he adored.
John and Ed's house was dark and quiet when they arrived, early in the morning on Saturday. It only really dawned on Hannah that it was Saturday until just then.
Black Friday was over. There was no war, not riots, no nukes, no death. No Wiggly.
She took John's hand, and held it tight. There was no badness here, no evil.
She was with her family. She was home.
Hannah slept on the couch that night, beside John and Lex. It was the best night's sleep of her life.
And once everyone was in bed, a kind, ethereal presence joined them, tucking them in with a blanket made from spider's silk. She kissed Hannah on the head, and disappeared back into the Black and White.