I didn’t know how long I sat there in the emptiness. All I saw was blackness broken apart by an occasional flash to dead bodies. My breath was coming out in strangled gasps. After I realised I was still clutching the gun in my hands, I threw it away in frantic disgust, but I could still feel the cold metal like a phantom limb.
I faintly sensed someone moving next to me. First it was Rem, who curled up near me. Then it was Alvar, who scrambled to his feet and ran to Villia. Through the slimy darkness that obscured my vision, I saw him shaking her unmoving body and yelling her name in a heartbreakingly young voice. I barely heard through the loud thud-thud-thud of my heartbeat when Laketon of all people called for help on his phone. My hands were still shaking.
I had to…
He would have killed us!
I had to…
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, my voice shattering and tears I hadn’t noticed before spilling again. My throat was sore from my scream, but I didn’t care. I deserved all the discomfort I felt.
I didn’t want to k-
I’m a murderer.
When that word finally formed in my mind, I felt my world shattering again.
I had killed someone.
My hands shook so badly that I had to clench them into fists and smash them into the sand to keep them still. I hit the sand again and again until it hurt. Then I stopped and would have screamed again if I had had a voice anymore. I sunk back into the darkness, let it into my mind and my lungs and my heart. Tears splashed on the sand in front of me.
When the sirens invaded my ears, I didn’t feel anything anymore.
I didn’t know what happened after that, other than that we were surrounded by all sorts of emergency personnel, and then later our parents, who had again had to suffer a shock because of us. They fussed around me after Rem had been carted away into an ambulance. I noted all of that through some kind of thick haze. Even the fact that Alvar sat next to me and cried or the shouts of surprised paramedics that discovered Villia’s body that had by then shed its disguise weren’t snapping me out of it. I was empty, or then I was just so full of shock and emotions that they couldn’t get through anymore. The people tried to ask me questions, but some other people ushered the questioning ones away. I didn’t even register who was asking what.
One of the paramedics gave me something. A pill, or maybe something to drink. Maybe both. I couldn’t remember. The blanket of darkness thickened and wrapped around me, turning from cold and suffocating into warm and almost comfortable. It weighed me down into a dreamless sleep.
I struggled awake in a warm bed and looked up at mum and Patrick’s faces. They were so worried and so relieved at the same time. I blinked up at them and managed to pry my dry mouth open:
“I… Did… What-?”
“Oh, thank goodness!” mum breathed, “Are you okay?”
No. I wasn’t. I struggled to sit up. The room was vaguely familiar. Maybe because hospital rooms always looked basically the same.
“Where…?” I trailed off. I didn’t even know what I was asking. Patrick interpreted it pretty well, though.
“Rem’s in surgery right now,” he said, “The doctors are optimistic about it. Still, he…” he swallowed, “He had a bullet in his shoulder…”
I pressed my mouth into a thin line. Mum gave both Patrick and I one-armed hugs.
“Everything’s going to be just fine,” she said quietly.
I buried my head into my hands and burst into tears.
I couldn’t remember what exactly happened. It all was a haze in my head, partly because of the shock and partly because of the medication they had to occasionally give me to calm me down. I remembered people introducing themselves to me, but their names slipped my mind almost as soon as they got there. I remembered people asking Alvar about Villia and about his family, even though Alvar was in a similar state of shock as I was, I think. I saw his blank face and how he curled up in a ball and couldn’t answer most of the questions directed at him. Sometimes I wanted to open my mouth and tell Patrick: “That’s your son! Go to him! Take care of him!” But I couldn’t. Not now. It definitely wasn’t the time nor the place.
I wasn’t sure how long it took for the worst of the chaos to pass. I wasn’t even sure how long Rem was in the operating theatre. It had to be less than what my mind stretched it into. I was in a fog, or in the same darkness I had tried to leave behind years ago.
I didn’t know if I could do that this time.
I was a murderer, after all.
When I managed to surface from the cold, dark thoughts for the first time to at least get some air, I was sitting on a white, modern chair and breathing in the scent of hospital. Mum, Patrick, and I were waiting outside of the room where Rem was slowly waking up in.
“Lynn?” said mum very quietly, “Are you awake?”
I blinked sleepily, realising that my brain was sluggish and relaxed at the moment. I nodded and watched numbly as Merrill played in a kids’ corner across the hall. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alvar sitting a few doors away from us. His clothes had got soaked with Villia’s blood when he had clung to her, and he was now wearing an old university hoodie and too big jeans from the hospital’s lost-and-found box. He looked so lost that I wanted to hug him. I really hoped someone would come looking for him.
“Lynn?” mum asked again.
“I wish I could be like Merrill,” I answered, although it wasn’t a real answer. I bit my lip, “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be,” said Patrick.
They had told me so many times already that what I’d done had been in self-defence. That all I was going to get for it was some therapy to help me get through it. According to them, Laketon of all people had been quick to tell the police that I was not a murderer. And then he had disappeared from our lives again.
I wondered idly where he was now.
I heard Alvar let out a quiet sob. The fog in me lifted just enough to let my heart ache for him again. Patrick looked at Alvar worriedly.
“Poor kid,” he said, “No one’s been picking him up.”
That’s your son. Go to him.
I stood up and excused myself for a while. I sat next to Alvar. He jumped slightly when he realised I was there.
“Hey,” I said quietly.
Alvar nodded, and then wrung his hands.
“Are you… how are you?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said in a monotone, “I… I think they took Aunt Villia away… They shouldn’t see her like that. It’s against the rules.”
The ache in my heart got worse.
“I don’t think that matters right now,” I said.
“It always matters,” Alvar sniffed, “She… I don’t get it! She was always telling us about her adventures and how she got through all the tight spots. And I knew how awesome she was. I just…” his voice broke, “I always thought that she was invincible.”
I thought about her lying on the sand in a pool of blood. It had been so sudden. So… unceremonious that it made me sick. In a way I too had thought of Villia as a mighty force. And she had been that. The Tree Lady. The mystical schemer from the leafy shadows. But now… to be taken out like that… It wasn’t fair. And I couldn’t even imagine how Alvar felt. He’d already lost so much. And on top of that he was sitting right next to his long-lost biological dad and couldn’t even approach him.
“I’m so sorry,” I managed to say. We fell silent. Alvar sniffed a couple of times, and his tears made his eyes shimmer.
“Is… is anyone coming for you?” I asked after a while. Alvar shrugged.
“Aunt Kielo, maybe. I’m sure she’s worried about me, at least.”
“How did it go so wrong?” he asked, and I was sure he was asking that from the universe rather than me. But since universe remained cold and quiet, I answered for it:
“It was bad luck. Terribly, terribly bad luck.”
“Is Rem going to be okay?” he asked.
“I think so.”
Alvar glanced at mum and Patrick again. His eyes lingered on Patrick’s face. His breath hitched, and he shook his head.
“Shit…” he muttered, “This… I don’t know how to deal with this.”
“Neither do I,” I hesitated before adding, “You should talk to him, though.”
“I know. But I… I’ll wait until Rem wakes up.”
I nodded. I saw mum and Patrick look at us worriedly, and stood up. The darkness threatened to push me to the floor.
“Hey,” Alvar said after me, “You’re a hero. Don’t… don’t be too hard on yourself.”
I froze. The darkness wavered, but became suffocating again.
“I… I’m not,” I said, “I’m not… anything.”
I hurried to sit next to mum again. Mum and Patrick looked at me questioningly.
“Have we met him?” Patrick asked, “I mean, it’s of course nice of you to talk to him. But it’s just that he… looks familiar.”
I hesitated before nodding.
“You’ve met him. Don’t be surprised if you don’t remember it properly, though. It was… a long time ago.”
It just made them more confused, but I wasn’t about to say more. We sat in silence, or maybe it was just me who was silent, until we were invited in to see the now awake Rem.
He looked terrible, but at least he was alive. For a while, there were no words. Just us lining up to give him very careful, teary hugs.
The next few days blurred together. I rested a lot, mostly because of the sedatives I’d been given. My waking hours were spent forcing myself to function and getting a lot of hugs that were slowly trying to chip away the blanket of dark around me.
At some point I was taken to a psychiatrist, who had a warmly decorated office and a very naturally friendly smile. I filled some forms and talked about my guilt and about me being a murderer. I don’t remember what I said. All I remember was the feeling of something having got stuck in my brain. Like the gears had slipped out of alignment and were struggling to move. Sometimes it repeated the murderer-mantra on a loop. Sometimes I was so tired I didn’t want to think anymore.
In the end the visits to the therapist did help, a little bit. It was still too early to say anything final about my recovery, but at least the feelings of being stuck let up somewhat already by the third visit. After that the thoughts started flowing again, and there were too many of them.
I cried a lot after that. Again. I cried because of what had happened. I cried for us and for Alvar and Villia. I cried because of secrets and mysteries and deadbeat dads. And then the tears stopped coming for a long while. I was all cried out. Mum was there most of the time, hugging me like I was a little kid – because I was – and I would often hug Merrill, who still probably only had a vague idea of what had happened.
In-between that we visited Rem as much as we could, and when we couldn’t visit him we asked the doctors for some updates on his condition. He was slowly recovering. He was as exhausted and sleepy as I was, and he barely spoke a word even when we were there with him. He looked at me with a very gentle look sometimes, though. As if to say “Stop doing that to yourself.” Alvar visited too sometimes. He looked so lost in his borrowed clothes and with a police officer with him. He was under police protection until someone would pick him up. The police sometimes asked me questions too. I tried to answer in ways that wouldn’t make me break down again.
It was maybe the fourth or the fifth day after the incident when Kielo showed up. She came in with a pair of police officers, who thankfully stayed back and let her bring Alvar to us without asking too many questions.
At first I didn’t recognise her. But then I saw the yellow eyes and the pointy ears and made the connection. She presented herself as Alvar’s aunt named Lilian Fern and wanted to speak to us. Mostly it was just to say: “Thank you.”
When she asked to see Rem, however, Patrick stepped forth.
“I’m sorry, miss,” he said, “But my son’s not feeling very well yet.”
His eyes added: and we don’t know you well enough.
The door to Rem’s room cracked open, however, and Rem peeked through.
“Dad…” he said in a scratchy voice, “They can come in. And… you and mum too.”
He shifted his feet and clung to the door handle.
“I’ve got something I really need to tell you.”
I looked at Rem with raised brows.
“Are you sure you can deal with this now?” I asked.
Rem nodded fiercely.
“It has to be now. Hiding… hiding things has just got us here. I’ll be fine.”
“Rem? What’s going on?” asked mum.
“It’s… it’s fine, mum,” Rem said, “Just… you really need to know this.”
I was left in the hallway with Merrill, then. When Kielo walked into Rem’s room, I noticed the air wavering around her, and I assumed she was doing it so possible outsiders wouldn’t hear what was going to be said in the room.
It didn’t stop people from seeing the doors fly open after half an hour, and Patrick’s quiet, trembling voice ordering Kielo and Alvar out.
Alvar looked blankly at the floor.
“Well, that went about as well as I feared,” managed to say.
Kielo patted him on the shoulder.
“Give him time,” she said, and then she looked up at me and smiled sadly.
“This is really going to take some explaining, isn’t it?” she said. She sighed, “This shouldn’t have gone this way at all…”
“No,” I said, “It shouldn’t have.”
I glanced at Alvar, who looked ready to cry.
“But I’m glad someone came for Alvar.”
“Of course I did! When he didn’t come home, I started looking for him at once.”
She wrapped her arms around Alvar.
“We may be running out of family, but that just means we have to stick together even better.”
“Yeah,” I managed to say through the sorrow that was stuck in my throat, “I’m so sorry about all this.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Kielo said firmly, “None of it was.”
She had to know about the shooting. I gave her a faint smile. Maybe one day I could believe when people said that.
I wasn’t sure how long Rem, mum, and Patrick spent in the room, talking and explaining and occasionally yelling. It had to be hours. But finally Patrick opened the door again.
This time there were no words anymore. At least not many. Patrick hesitated for a moment, but then his eyes started to shimmer with unshed tears.
“Nathaniel?” he whispered.
“If that’s what you used to call me, then yeah. But… I’m Alvar now.”
Patrick nodded and smiled through his tears.
“Yes. Alvar. Of course.”
Then they hugged. Father and son. For the first time in days I felt something warm in my chest. It was so close to happiness that I felt like we could maybe survive this set of traumas as well.
In the end, nothing changed.
Well, that wasn’t true. Because almost everything changed. Our perception of the world, to begin with. But in the end, Rem stayed a Monsoon and Alvar stayed an honorary member of the fair folk. What changed on the surface was the link that was probably the first friendly one between humans and the fair folk in centuries.
It was a tentative start, really. I was sure mum and Patrick weren’t yet fully ready to accept the fact that their sons were changelings and that magic and fairies existed. But when a couple of fairies were standing right in front of them, it was pretty hard not to believe it. And I saw some kind of enchantment in their eyes at times. Like they… loved the idea of magic on some yet unrealised level. They were less thrilled about the being lied to and having a child stolen -side of things. But even with that… it went much smoother than I’d expected. Maybe they figured there had already been enough anger and abuse around us lately.
So they were friendly and ready to listen. And Alvar even got the permission to hold Merrill. He was so amazed, and his large hand curled around Merrill’s small one, and there was maybe a quiet connection between Merrill’s slightly muddled babbling and Alvar’s delighted, one-worded answers.
Even Kielo seemed to be overjoyed, and actually relaxed after that. She somehow managed to wrap all the people in the hospital around her finger during her short stay.
Maybe it was magic, maybe it was her charmingly sarcastic and slightly mischievous personality. Maybe both. All I knew was that the people in the hospital loved her and she made them smile. I think she even affected me a little. Or maybe my head was realising that it really needed some smiles. In the end, Alvar and Kielo left the hospital with a promise to keep contact, and a promise to return once things had calmed down a bit and once it was easier to really talk things through.
I had a feeling that the real reason why they left wasn’t really not wanting to intrude on an already chaotic situation for long. For soon after they had left, Villia’s body disappeared from the hospital’s morgue, and it caused a buzz for about a day until everyone just seemed to forget about her. All that was left were vague images of bodies that weren’t real after all. The only ones who remembered Villia in the hospital after that were Rem and I. Or at least that was what we concluded. Meanwhile, Kielo and Alvar quietly disappeared from Twinbrook as well, possibly walking into the mist of the swamp like a fading dream.
Rem started to recover rather quickly after that. And I kept going to therapy that turned from talks about guilt to talks about the future. I didn’t know what that had to do with the fact that I had just… killed a man… but it made me feel better, at least. I sat on a cream-coloured couch and slowly started to realise how long a journey I had ahead of me. There was a glimpse of the horizon I had always kept in sight and what had recently been obscured by guilt and depression.
The air around me became lighter again, and this time it wasn’t because of fairy magic.
Around the same time when Rem was about to be discharged, the police informed us that the redheaded woman they had arrested on the beach had talked. That they knew which criminal gang she and the other thug worked for. They told us that with the recent events backing them up, they could arrest the higher-ups of the gang in no time. I felt like I was free to breathe again. Like we were all free to breathe.
Rem got properly out of the hospital under police protection about two and a half weeks after the incident. Grandma and Grandpa were waiting for us with pie and some of our old Twinbrook friends. Bree and Jace greeted me with relieved smiles, and we gathered into a group hug. There had been a bit too many hugs in my life lately, but I realised I minded them much less than before.
Jace looked rather embarrassed when he talked to me, though, so I sighed and put my hand on his shoulder.
“Look, Jace,” I said, “I know things went weird between us, but I just shot a guy who tried to kill me and my family, so… let’s agree that an awkward kiss is like nothing and move on.”
Jace burst into a relieved laugh, and Bree beamed at me.
“Well, I’m glad to see you’re taking this all really well.”
She narrowed her eyes after she’d said that, though.
“Well, you aren’t, really. Are you?”
My smile faded.
“I’m getting there,” I said to reassure her. And because I wanted to think that I really was.
We returned to Sunset Valley a couple of days later. Our home was waiting for us, and I realised just now how much I’d missed it. It wasn’t quite the same, of course, but it wasn’t as bad as when we’d gone through trauma before. I knew that we still had to follow the police case of the criminal gang for a while longer, and I knew that I’d still have to go to therapy, but at least it still felt like home.
The rest of the summer went quietly, like it wanted to slip out of our lives as quickly and unnoticed as possible. Given what had happened during it, I couldn’t really blame it.
Towards the end of the summer I received an email that said I’d actually won one of the writing contests I’d spammed my stories with. It was a decent amount of money. A couple of months ago I’d have been ecstatic. Now the darkness that – despite it being less thick than before – had settled in my head just allowed me to smile gently. I saved the money I’d earned and thought about my tattoos. But I also thought about horizons, and an idea tried to break through the darkness. I went to sleep that night with a buzzing in my mind.
“You want to leave,” Rem said one day when we sat on the porch. It had become a good place to talk. It had fresh air and a chance for Rem to trace the smooth, wooden steps with his bare feet.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“The fact that you want to. Don’t you?”
I thought about the horizons again.
“Just for a little while,” I said, “And not yet. I mean, I’m only just adjusting to taking the depression meds so I think I’ll wait for the worst to pass.”
“I think it’s a good idea.”
“Mm-hmm. I was thinking of saving up some more money and asking some of my friends if they’d want to travel abroad with me. I’ll be going to university or wherever I’m going in just a couple of years. This could be my last chance to actually see the world without too many other things messing it up.”
“Before this we were too afraid to go.”
Rem studied his hands.
“I was thinking of visiting Alvar and the others soon. I promised, after all. And I really want to learn to use my magic properly. Do you want to come with me?”
“I don’t think mum and dad will let you go yet. Twinbrook’s police is still hunting those criminals.”
Rem nodded quietly and then smiled at the slowly setting sun. It made his hair look like it was catching fire.
“Well, there’s still plenty of time.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Who knows what will happen.”
Who indeed? We sat in a comfortable silence, brother and sister. Because for the first time ever, there was nothing so-called about our bond as siblings.
I had to admit that I liked that.
The horizon turned pink, and I knew that soon it would be red like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Full of promise and mystery and hope. I smiled through the shadows.
“In the end, I think we’ll be alright,” Rem said as if he was reading my thoughts.
“Yeah,” I said, “In the end.”
The sun seemed to agree, or then it was just my imagination. Probably the imagination.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Alvar?”
“…Yes. I’m sure.”
“Alright. Then… I’ll be right behind you.”
“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Donna Brooke?”
“Yes, I am, who… oh my gods!”
“You… you recognise me?”
“I… of course I do! You’re my son!”
“I’ve… I’ve missed you so much!”
“Mother… I’m sorry.”
“Shhh… It wasn’t your fault! You were just a baby. Those… how… where have you been?”
“Go on, Alvar, that’s why we’re here, right? Closure.”
“Okay… well, it’s a bit of a long story…”
“Well, that didn’t go nearly as well as with father.”
“I was afraid this would happen. Villia told me that your mother was very obsessed with your loss.”
“I wish we didn’t have to… do all that, though.”
“I hoped so too. But… she… I hoped we could have trusted both of your parents with the truth. Don’t worry. She’ll wake up with no memory of this.”
“I guess… Sorry, mother.”
“Hey, cheer up! At least you have a dad now! And us! We’ll be perfectly okay.”
“Yeah. It’s better to be safe than… pursued by a grieving mother, I guess.”
“Exactly. Now, come on. Let’s go. I really want to get the hang of this cell phone -thing!”
Author’s Note: Well, this is what I call the end of the first long story arc. Yay! It just took a bit over a year and over 100 000 words. 😀 But this is not the end of the story. I still have another story arc planned, and I have to tie together those subplots, like Lynn’s work as Sabine’s gardener and stuff. Also I think I should do something about Donna and the fair folk and… yeah, things will still happen. The arc I’ve planned should follow Lynn and Rem to adulthood, or at least young adulthood, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Thank you all who have stopped by to read, like, comment, or even just given this a passing glance. I really appreciate your support, and you guys are awesome!
Have a lovely time, and I’ll see you after a little break that I’ll take now because I need to plan the next story arc a bit better before I continue. In the meantime, stop by on my other story if you feel like it. I seem to have too many ideas for that too.