Chapter 24: Family Ties

I’d formed a new routine when winter had started. Every Saturday I woke up so early that the others were still asleep. I quickly shovelled down a hastily made omelette, brushed my teeth, got dressed and tried to fade out my scars with makeup before I headed out. The morning air was frosty and stung my nostrils in that peppery way chilly air tended to do.

I trudged through the freshly fallen snow and got into our car, driving through a by now familiar route towards the local witch’s house. Sabine was of course still not a witch. I mean, that would be silly because the only real magic was fairies who used their powers to hide and switch up babies. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised anymore if there was a whole world of all sorts of magical creatures out there. But Sabine Bellechance wasn’t one of them. She was just an old woman who had a lot of compassion and wisdom underneath her bitter and aloof shell.

I’d worked on her garden until it was cleaned up, and then proceeded to maintain it. But when the winter rolled in, I of course wasn’t needed. Not until this year, when Sabine had asked me to help with her groceries and cleaning too. I hadn’t needed to think about it much; I’d said yes almost immediately. Not just because it meant more money. I’d done it mostly because I really liked Sabine.

She was getting older. I noticed it from the way her walking had got slower and of course from the fact that she needed a cane to walk long distances now. But despite that, she kept her back as straight as she could and insisted on walking to the store with me. She looked very snazzy in her sleek coat and her awesome purple bowler hat. She didn’t even seem to mind the cold or the people who occasionally stared at her with suspicion because of the witch-rumours.

“Oh, they need to have their gossip,” she said nonchalantly when we were making our way to the EverFresh Delights Supermarket and a couple of people had started whispering when we’d passed by, “It makes life feel more interesting than it really is here.”

“I guess…” I said, “It’s not nice, though.”

“Well, no. It’s not. But then again, I don’t care enough to let it hurt me.”

She kept her head high, and I secretly wished that I too could grow old as gracefully as she did. Sure, she came off as rather cold sometimes, but maybe it was the coldness that had preserved something important in her soul. Maybe. Whatever it was, it seemed to work for her.

But I had a feeling she didn’t think it would work for anyone else. Especially for me. She talked about it several times when we got back to her house and took a moment to sit down and chat. She especially talked about how people shouldn’t be so apathetic and let life pass them by.

“I don’t mean to point fingers, especially at you,” she said today after I’d helped her with cleaning the house and we’d gone outside to sit in the beautiful snowy afternoon, “I mean, I don’t know everything that has happened to you, but from what I’ve heard, you’ve been taking steps to live a life the way you want despite all the hardships.”

She smiled.

“Although, you’re also spending time with an old woman like me.”

“Maybe that’s also a part of the life I want,” I replied, idly poking the frozen plastic daffodils on Sabine’s garden table, “I like talking to you.”

“And I’m glad about that. But I also think I’m not the most uplifting company.”

“I’m not uplifting either.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Sabine smiled, “You see a lot of beauty in the world. I read the short story you sent to that contest. You know, the one that got published on the web.”

“Really?” I blushed, “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It wasn’t too long ago. I liked it. Dark but beautiful. I especially liked the bit about the two worlds.”

I smiled shyly.

“Thanks.”

Sabine returned my smile with her own.

“Just don’t let life get you down. It did that once, and I never really got over it.”

I pondered her words when I finally started to drive back home. Sometimes I spent the entire day at Sabine’s, and this was one of those days, but I was still almost surprised to see how dark it had got. I wondered if Sabine thought that I spent time with her out of pity. Because it felt like she really had no one in her life other than me now. She at least seemed to think that her presence made my depression worse or something. It didn’t, really. I really felt like we could become good friends once she finally accepted that I did enjoy spending time with her and respected her despite – or partly because – of the slightly sour, mysterious aura that surrounded her.

I tried to remember when the last time I’d thought about the letters we’d dug up with Min had been. I was still way too curious about them, but I knew enough not to pry. It was Sabine’s secret, and a big part of me had already accepted that she didn’t want to talk about it. I convinced myself that after all this wondering, the actual answers would just be anticlimactic anyway.

When I got back home I was met with a happy greeting from Rem. He and Merrill had braved the cold weather – which to be fair had got considerably less cold during the day – and got out to build a snowman. The snow had become just sticky enough once the weather had warmed up a bit, and Rem had already rolled up most of the snowman while Merrill occasionally took a break from eating snow to pat the snowman’s sides where he could reach them.

“You wanna help us?” Rem asked excitedly, “I think we’re going for a traditional touch with this one!”

I thought about wasted time I could instead waste on reading or surfing on the internet. Then I thought about silly cheerful things that made the blanket over my mind thin.

“Sure. Why not.”

“No man snowman!” Merrill sang in response and punched the snowman’s side with his small fist.

“Merry, what have I told about mistreating other people’s work?”

“It’s bad?”

“Exactly. Don’t worry, you can still stick the carrot-nose on no-man-snowman’s face, okay?”

I grinned at my brothers and joined them.

“Kielo and Alvar are going to visit tomorrow,” Rem said once the snowman was done and he had flopped onto his back into the snow.

“Really?” I asked and picked up Merrill, who was starting to complain about the cold, “They got their phones finally working again?”

“Nah. I saw them. I’m really trying to see little things so I can then maybe see the more important things without messing them up.”

Rem moved his arms and legs to make a snow angel – or a snow fairy – and didn’t seem to care that the sticky snow was quickly soaking his jacket.

“Sometimes it’s easy…” he said, “Seeing… but a lot of the times I still don’t get it.”

“Are you going back to Twinbrook again, then?” I asked, “For some more lessons?”

“Probably, yeah. Maybe tomorrow for a quick visit. I asked mum and dad and they said it was fine as long as I was back before the night.”

I remembered a time when mum and Patrick had been really uncertain to let their son go alone to study with fairies, but things had changed. It had taken a lot of visits from Kielo, and she’d even had to show mum and Patrick the forest until they’d been happy. She’d been a bit hesitant to do it, but in the end she had agreed. Now it almost felt like a devastating family secret had become a hobby of sorts. Like evening classes about wonky magic.

“You wanna come with us?” Rem asked, “Kuura especially has been asking about you a lot.”

I shrugged.

“Maybe later. I’ve still got some schoolwork I want to do.”

“I wanna go!” Merril suddenly said.

Rem smiled.

“Sorry, Merry. Not until you’re older.”

Merrill scrunched up his nose and then turned to whisper into my ear:

“Rem is stupidhead.”

“Hey! I heard that!”

I laughed. There really was a lot of sense in not letting life get to me. Sometimes I thought that I already had, but then I found these little moments when I felt light and happy. That was when I knew that I wasn’t a completely lost cause yet.

Sure enough, Kielo managed to call us that night with her cell phone, which she had excitedly figured out about six months ago, but which kept breaking because she tended to experiment with it too eagerly. She and Alvar arrived early in the next morning after they got permission to take Rem away for a day. They looked almost convincing in their winter clothes, though I was pretty sure the clothes had been either scavenged or stolen from somewhere. They kicked their shoes off as soon as they got in, but they didn’t even have time to take off their coats before Patrick was there, hugging his biological son and welcoming them to the house.

“I guess we should visit more often and not just come here to take Rem away every once in a while,” Alvar said, and then seemed to realise how wrong his words sounded in light of what had happened all those years ago, when the fair folk really had just tried to take him away, “…sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Patrick, “But yes, you should visit more often!”

They shed their winter clothes, and then it was time for more hugs. It had become a ritual whenever Alvar visited. Lots of hugs and pleasantries followed by Rem often leaving for the day and then returning at night. This time was no different.

“Hey there, little guy!” Alvar said as soon as he got a hold of Merrill and lifted him high into the air, “You’re growing so fast! I don’t think I’ll be able to toss you around like this much longer. Soon you’ll be wrestling all your siblings to the ground!”

Merrill giggled and flailed his arms wildly. He’d really got attached to his half-brother, and seemed to always remember him even after a longer break from seeing him. That was quite remarkable for a pretty self-absorbed three-year-old. Rem and Alvar had also developed this very natural sort of camaraderie that made me smile. Though I had a feeling it wasn’t without its tensions. They were simply very good at hiding their problems. Or then I was just being pessimistic again.

We traded news about our respective lives, and mum and Patrick asked slightly stern questions about what Rem would be doing among the fair folk this time, like they always did. Usually the anwer was more of the same: practising. Rem had been very eager to learn how to control his fairy magic powers, and he really had made good progress with it during his visits.

“I think Lumi has planned some focus training or something,” Kielo explained this time when Patrick asked her about it, “You know, practising the… doing what you want to do with magic stuff. I’m not really good at the academic terms for magic, you know. I can barely pull off my glamour.”

“I think it looks fine,” I said, “Especially the fauxhawk.”

“The what?” Kielo frowned.

“Your haircut.”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Cool!”

“I just hope there’ll be some time to do stuff together too,” Rem told Alvar, who was trying his best to chat with him while holding a wiggling Merrill, “We can maybe try to finish building that treehouse for the kids.”

“Yeah!” Alvar laughed and then winced when Merrill tugged his dreadlocks a bit too hard, “Kuura, Halla and Marras have been pestering me about getting it done for weeks now!”

“It sounds like things are really going well for you,” I said, “You know, despite the pestering kids.”

Kielo smiled.

“We always pull through.”

“Is the winter rough for you, though?” asked Patrick, “It’s much colder than last year. Don’t you do a lot of gathering and farming?”

“Oh, our winters are always really mild,” Kielo said, “It’s a part of having magic hiding us; it also gives us pretty good shields against the frost and snow.”

“I love the snow here, though,” Alvar said, “I wish we had more of it in the forest. It’s so beautiful.”

“And fun, right?” Rem added, “If it were a bit warmer, we could build snowmen and have snowball fights again!”

“Well, maybe next time.”

“Right…” Rem glanced at the clock on his cell phone, “Hey, I think we should be leaving already. I’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Exactly. Remember to get back in the ten o’clock bus,” mum said for the fifteenth time that weekend. Rem nodded and dashed upstairs to cram his backpack full of essentials like muesli bars, sketchbooks and pens.

They were always gone so quickly. We had a quick chat that didn’t tell anyone much about anything, and then dad was standing on the porch, waving goodbye to an excited Rem and our new-ish relatives. He always smiled after them until they were gone. Then he stood on the porch a bit too long and his expression changed to a forlorn one.

I had a feeling I knew what he was thinking. He was maybe afraid that someday Rem wouldn’t come back. That Rem would want to stay among his people instead of us. I knew that was a totally irrational fear. Rem had chosen us long ago, and I doubted a few visits were going to change that.

Especially considering that the visits were like attending school on weekends. Rem had told us in detail how it all usually played out. It involved quick hellos to the other fairy villagers, and maybe some time to spend with Alvar and Kielo before Rem had to go see the Matriarch’s adviser Lumi, who was the resident magic expert and healer. She always had a magic lesson planned for Rem, and she was stern and demanding.

Usually it began with her leaving Rem to meditate by the river for an hour while she was finishing up her chores for the day. After that came the actual teaching. Sometimes she taught illusions and magic that the fair folk could do. It was apparently essential to survival.

“If you can’t master it, you could be killed, or kill someone else with an ill-timed magic surge!” was what she’d said. Her motivational speeches were usually more on the terrifying side.

Sometimes she tried her best to teach Rem how to control his gift of clairvoyance. Because Rem’s mum had been the only actual clairvoyant in the village, there was no one there who could properly teach him that anymore. But Lumi was apparently doing pretty well with what she knew. She explained the importance of focus and of not getting lost into the visions, which I recalled had been what had killed Rem’s mum. She also told Rem about the most common symbols in visions.

I had thought that Rem’s visions were just personal things, just his way of getting glimpses of something he then usually interpreted through fairytales. But apparently there were some universal details in weird psychic powers too. Rem had once excitedly told me about what some of the things he saw could mean. About how animals often represented people and how a stormy weather in visions usually meant that something bad was about to happen.

I was especially fascinated and horrified by his description of the shadowy, silhouetted figure that was apparently an omen of death. The fair folk, influenced by their matriarchal society, had at some point decided that it was female despite not having enough characteristics to tell for sure. They had named her Tuonetar, who was apparently a benevolent if morbid figure in the fair folk’s mythology. The death goddess or something. Someone who ferried the souls of the dead to the beyond.

It had all been interesting, sure, but all I could think about when I heard the description was the black figure I had seen in my dreams after the fire. Rem had mused that it must have been because he had linked his dreams with mine, and because he had seen death. My near-death, probably. The mere thought made me feel dizzy. I also remembered the shadowy figures we’d sometimes been surrounded with back when we’d been little. Maybe Rem had been seeing them a lot and then just accidentally made me see them too. He had been so close to death when he had been born, after all. It was unnerving to say the least.

I wondered what his lessons would be like today. Maybe more of the same. Or maybe he’d be learning about fairy dreams this time. About how he had been able to link his dreams with me sometimes. Before this, Rem had done all those things mostly without knowing what he’d been doing. Now he had the chance to actually learn it.

It was hard work, definitely, and Rem often returned half-asleep and with a headache that made Patrick regret his decision to let his son go on fairy field trips even more. But the next morning he’d again be happy and jumping around like he always was. And he was always so excited about finally learning how to control the visions and powers that had previously manifested as confusing fairytale-esque metaphors. So I figured it was just good for him.

But while Rem was away, I spent the day mostly writing and doing schoolwork and helping mum and Patrick around the house. And because of that I had plenty of time to catch glimpses of Patrick’s worried face and quiet moments of regret.

In those moments I really hoped that he was worrying for nothing. And I also hoped I could have said something to make him feel better. But I could never come up with anything convincing.

But Rem came back, like he always did. He was tired and went straight to bed, and the next day he was skipping through the snow into the school bus as if nothing weird had happened. And Patrick could sigh in relief and our week could properly start. Happy. Safe. And normal for us.

After school I came home to find Rem outside on our swing set. That wasn’t anything new, really. However, he wasn’t really swinging, but instead just sitting and staring wistfully into space. He was even ignoring the awesome igloo Patrick had built for us while trying to think happy thoughts before Rem came back from Twinbrook.

“Hey, you okay?” I said.

Rem looked up at me and smiled weakly.

“Hi. It was a long day.”

“You were home long before I was.”

“Yeah…” Rem leaned his forehead against one of the swing’s chains, “Yesterday… Lumi told me that I was making a lot progress. That I wasn’t completely hopeless with magic anymore.”

He fell silent for a while, and blinked a few stray snowflakes from his eyelashes. I slowly sat on the other swing and waited.

“She told me that I might be ready to start officially becoming a shaman… their new clairvoyant.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Really? Already?”

“That’s what I wondered too,” Rem pursed his lips, deep in thought, “She did say it would mean a pretty long process of studying and practise and rituals and all… but… I still don’t know. I think they just want someone who can see the future into their village again. And I think…”

He hesitated, and I dared to finish his sentence with what Patrick was secretly fearing:

“That they want to make you stay?”

Rem nodded.

“I think they want me to feel like I have to,” he said, “They’re being nice about it, though.”

“Well, what do you really want?” I asked, “Would you want to become their shaman? I have to admit it would look awesome on a résumé.”

Rem laughed, but the laugh was clipped and not natural like it usually was.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, really,” he said, “I don’t think I even have to know yet. But I… I do know that I want to stay here. But I want us all to be happy. Them too. My other family, I mean.”

I nodded slowly.

“I think that sounds like a plan. We should be able to work with that somehow. And don’t worry; we’ll all make sure no one will break us apart again. Not even if they’re being nice about it.”

Rem laughed again, this time sounding much more like himself. He kicked the ground with his feet and quickly worked up speed as he swung back and forth, back and forth. His smile lingered in the air amidst the snowflakes.

“You’re right,” he said, “At least I want to think that.”

I watched my brother trying to reach the sky and thought about how far we’d come. I wasn’t sure if I could keep my spontaneous promise of us staying together no matter what. In fact, my pessimistic, usually overpowering side said it was unlikely. But I forced myself to silence it, and closed my eyes and let the lazy snowflakes fall on my face.

Even if it was unlikely, I’d definitely do everything I could to keep us all together and safe.

“No… no…”

“Nathaniel…”

“It was all a lie… You… YOU ALL KEEP LYING TO ME!”

“Please, ma’am. Calm down. What is-?”

“IT WAS REAL! YOU CAN’T CLAIM HE WASN’T HERE! THE FAIRIES TOOK HIM!”

“…They took my son…”

Author’s Note: Yeah, this is another sort of set-up chapter. I could have merged this and the previous one together but ehh… I wanted to get something out sooner so the previous interlude-thing was born. So… setting up possible conflicts and other things and desperately trying to make sense of the very random shadow-people comment in the prologue that really went nowhere because I changed my mind about the nature of the story quite a bit in the beginning. That’s what I get for not planning ahead enough!

But let’s talk about something more positive now… uh… I love how cute everyone looks in their winter hats! Yeah! And winter in general looks gorgeous. I could just take endless screenshots of the snowy scenery!

Also, Tuonetar is a death goddess in old Finnish mythology, though not exactly what I described the fair folk’s version of her being like. I figured that since I’ve used gratuitous Finnish to name every fairy in the story, it stands to reason that their gods/spirit guide-creatures also have Finnish names. I apologise for cramming my native culture down your throats… or then I’m not, because I figure I’ve done it mostly tastefully so far. Feel free to complain if it’s too much.

I’ve been having some trouble with loading some of my Fey saves. I think it’s because the saves are getting too big. I’ve been trying to clean them up and so far I’ve managed to at least get them working. Let’s hope I can keep things functional. So far my TS3 has been very kind to me so we can hope it will keep doing that.

I hope you enjoy! I’ll start working on the next chapter as soon as I have time and energy. Right now I’m pretty busy with school and all. Have a lovely time you all!

PREVIOUS Chapter: One And a Half Years

NEXT Chapter: The Princess and the Pixie

Chapter 22: Rebirth

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…

I…

I k-

No.

Yes…

He would have killed us!

I…

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’m a…

I k-

No!

I didn’t!

I…

I didn’t want to k-

Kill…

Murder.

I’m a murderer.

When that word finally formed in my mind, I felt my world shattering again.

I had killed someone.

I had…

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.”

He sighed.

“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.”

Alvar nodded.

“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.”

Kielo smiled.

“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.

Alvar nodded.

“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.

Together.

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.”

Rem nodded.

“Before this we were too afraid to go.”

“Yeah.”

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.”

“I know.”

“Hello?”

“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Donna Brooke?”

“Yes, I am, who… oh my gods!”

“Nathaniel?”

“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… howwhere have you been?”

“Um…”

“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!”

“…Nathaniel…”

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.

PREVIOUS Chapter: Recoil

NEXT Chapter: One And a Half Years