October air was crisp on her skin. She looked out at the kids in their handmade costumes. A ghost, a witch, and a vampire, all around ten, ran past her to climb the long stairs of the old house down the street. A few years ago, she would be doing the same in a witch costume of her own and with the painted canvas bag her mother threw out last year. She got in the back of the car while her dad put her suitcase in the trunk. Tonight, while children played under stars and other teens went to parties, Dani was checking into a psychiatric hospital. If she was good, her parents said, she might be out soon. What was good? Dani thought on that during the long, dark ride. She thought she was good enough as she was. Dani made straight A's and was a popular student at the private school she attended. She never missed training for soccer. So many of her teachers loved her. She used to have a lot of friends. The moon peeked out at her from behind a cloud. A waxing gibbous, bright and piercing. Dani wished it would disappear. She wanted to vanish with it. Dani thought about a ghost story she heard once at a sleepover, about a man looking in his rear-view mirror and seeing a strange woman sitting behind him. Lately, Dani hadn't been able to eat much nor go out anywhere. The doctor told her she was anemic. Dani imagined she must have looked like a ghost to anyone looking in the backseat of the car. An hour and a half passed before the gray building came into view. Dani shifted in her seat, crossing her legs and fixing her skirt. She prayed to god for the car to break down or her parents to change their minds. Her father walked her through the door with a tight grip on her sweaty hand. Her things were searched through while a lady discussed a few last minute things with her parents. No one spoke to her until the lady said, "Ms. Fox, your room is this way. Say goodbye to your parents for now." Dani gave them a pitiful look as her last attempt at forgiveness. Her parents coldly said goodbye and went on their way to a party nearby. Her father's wealth ensured her the privilege of a private room. The bed creaked under her weight. A single window revealed the moon, barred with rusted iron. Autumn mercifully kept the night warm. She could feel a breeze coming in through the window. Dani closed her eyes and hoped to wake in her room, relieved to wake from this strange nightmare. Morning came and brought her emptiness. At breakfast, none of the girls spoke to her. The boys mostly gathered together on the other side of the cafeteria to talk amongst themselves. Dani sat in a corner by a girl drawing in a sketchbook. The girl briefly looked up at her and went back to her sketch. Dani caught a glimpse of what the girl was sketching. It appeared to be a woman wearing some sort of veil, but the sketch was too rough for her to make out any more than that. She stared down at the food on her tray. Her stomach turned. A boy put his tray down beside hers. He had black hair and brown eyes. She couldn't quite tell his ethnicity. He looked like he was mostly white with something else, but she couldn't place what that was. The boy was on the taller side. He smiled at her. "You're new. What's your name?" "Dani." She said, averting her eyes. "Danny? Isn't that a guy's name." He said. "It's short for Danielle." Dani hated having this conversation with people. Going by Danielle would have been easier, but she hated her name. "It's spelled D-A-N-I." The boy nodded. "Oh, really? I'm Damon. How old are you?" "Sixteen." "So, you're a year younger than me. I saw they brought you in last night. Have you ever been in a place like this before?" Damon asked. "No." "I've been here a while now...What're you in for? I can tell you're in for some bullshit reason." He grinned at her. Dani leaned forward to let some of her red hair fall in front of her face. "Don't wanna talk about it." "Did you kill anybody?" He asked. "No!" Dani rolled her eyes at Damon. "So, what are you here for? Being obnoxious?" "Something like that." Damon laughed at her. "Have they put you on any meds?" "No. I'm not here for anything like that." Dani shook her head. She wanted the boy to go away. "They'll force them on you if you get out of line too much. I never take mine. I only pretend to." Damon said. A woman in white came over to their table. She grabbed the back of Damon's shirt. "Hound! What are you doing over here?! You're supposed to sit with the boys." "I gotta go. Nice talkin' to you, Dani. I'll see you around." He waved as he walked off with her. 'What's his deal?' Dani thought. She looked over at the girl beside her. The girl was further into her sketch. Her tray was as full as Dani's. Dani poked at her food and stared out at the single window in the cafeteria. 'Could I fit through that?' After breakfast, Dani was taken in for a one-on-one session with a therapist. The furniture in the room was black and the walls were white. On the walls hung framed accomplishments, degrees and other awards. The therapist's desk was decorated with a howling wolf and an old clock. She sat across from the woman in an uncomfortably large chair. It made a slightly creaking noise every time she moved. "Hello, Danielle. I'm Dr. Birch. You'll be seeing me daily during your stay with us here for at least an hour every day." Dr. Birch gave her a fake smile that would shame plastic. "Now, according to the information your parents gave us, you have issues with sexual misconduct." Dani put her hands between her legs and closed her knees tight. "You were recently pregnant and gave it away. Oh, goodness. You're only sixteen." Dr. Birch said. Dani grit her teeth at her words. Only half of that was the truth. "Your parents are looking for a new school for you to attend while you stay here. Of course, you will be doing school work while you are here. After your session with me, you will be taken to a room to work on a set of home schooling material appropriate for you. We have tutors in every subject. You will be well taken care of here." Dr. Birch smiled at her again. "While we're here, we're going to work on your behavioral problems. Unmarried girls from respectable families shouldn't be engaging in such activities. Ms. Danielle, could you tell me, what tempted you into such ways?" Dani bit her lip. She stared at the floor. "Ms. Danielle, silence won't get you out of here. If you continue to be disobedient, you will lose your phone privilege for tonight." Dr. Birch said without any change in tone. "My boyfriend wanted to." She mumbled. "Speak up, dear." "My boyfriend wanted to." Dani said louder. She glared at the woman sitting across from her. "He pressured you into it? Is that what you're saying?" Dr. Birch wrote something down on a piece of paper. "Yes." "You could have said no." Dr. Birch said. "Why didn't you refuse him? Did he rape you?" Dani's body froze. She didn't want to answer the woman. "Ms. Danielle, did he rape you?" Dr. Birch asked again. Dani stood up. "I have to go to the bathroom." "Ms. Danielle, sit down. You can hold it until the session is over." Dr. Birch said. "No, I can't...it's..." Dani held her stomach. "It's a feminine emergency. I need to put something on. Can I see the nurse to get some pads?" Dr. Birch narrowed her eyes at her. "I will have you escorted to the nurse." The woman who yelled at that boy earlier escorted her to the nurse's office. Dani brought the pads to her room. She didn't need them then. Staff allowed her to rest in her room until it was time for her to work on school assignments. During her "class" time, she sat at a cubicle in the corner. The boy from earlier took the spot beside her. "Hey Dani. How'd it go? Did they put you in a group or by yourself for therapy?" Damon asked. "By myself." Dani worked through a set of math problems. "They always put me with a group, because they know there's nothing to really talk about to me. No one's gonna come get me out of here." Damon leaned back in his chair. "My parents haven't bothered coming here in years." "So, why are you here?" Dani asked. "Behavioral problems. That's what they put down." Damon nearly tipped his chair over. He caught himself. "Hound! Do your assignments!" One of the tutors yelled at him. "Yeah, yeah." Damon leaned forward. He muttered under his breath. "Bitch." Dani sighed. She didn't want to do the school work. She wanted to crawl into her bed and never come out of her room again. Damon scooted his chair closer to hers. "Hey, tonight, do you wanna hang out?" "Are we allowed to do that?" Dani asked. "No, but they don't really pay attention to what we do at night." Damon said. "I have a copy of the master key. There's a spot I like to go to outside at night. You can see the highway from there." Dani rested her head against her palm and looked the other way. She was pretty certain what Damon wanted from her had nothing to do with the highway. "I'd rather not." "Why? We won't get in trouble." Damon said. "I'm on my period." Dani erased a number off her paper. Damon stretched. "Whatever. Is that why you're so moody?" "Yeah." Dani said. She worked in silence after that. Damon bothered the tutors for a while, asking them questions meant to waste their time. He was dismissed an hour before the end of their school time to be disciplined. Dani didn't see Damon after that for the rest of the day. Dr. Birch had it arranged that she wouldn't be allowed to use the phone that night. Dani went to sleep, wishing she had taken Damon up on his offer. He clearly wanted sex, she thought, but if she got anywhere close to seeing the highway, maybe she could run for it. Dani dreamt of being in her bedroom on a sunny morning. Her balcony doors were wide open. The curtains swayed upward in the autumn breeze, warm and inviting. Outside, she could see the orange and yellow leaves falling on her balcony. The sun was beautiful, bright, too bright. She closed her eyes and opened them again. Night greeted her, the moon shining nearly as blindingly as the sun. Color vanished. The warm air remained. By the wind's temptation, she moved across the room like a leaf in the breeze. On the balcony, she heard cars nearby. Dani looked down and saw a highway. There wasn't one there in reality. Outside of her balcony, her only view was of the backyard and the horse stable. This fact eluded her in her sleep. The highway felt as though it had always been there, rumbling low mummers through the air and flashing imitations of the stars above. Dani reached out for it and slipped over the side. She floated down, slowly, until she met with her bed again. She opened her eyes. The white room surrounded her. Someone screamed down the hallway. Dani turned over in her bed. She clutched her stomach in pain. Her pants felt wet. Dani looked between her legs. Her pants and part of the bed were stained. 'Well, there's no pretending it now.' She sighed. The doctor told her that her next few periods might be off. She was a week early, and it was far heavier than normal. The cramps were worse than usual, though not as bad as her last period. Dani changed clothes and went to tell a female staff member about what happened. She skipped breakfast and therapy again, choosing to lay down until she was required to work on her schoolwork. In that time, she soaked through everything the nurse gave her and needed another pair of pants. The nurse told her, "It's nothing to worry about. It's because of the baby. You'll get back to normal in time." Her cramps were so bad that she returned to see the nurse before the time for working on lessons ended. That night, she was allowed a phone call to her parents. "Dani, hello. How are you doing?" Her mother asked her. Her voice was cheery, as if Dani was simply on a short vacation. "I'm okay. Um, I wasn't able to finish any therapy sessions yet." Dani said. "Why not?" Her mother asked. "I haven't been feeling good." She said. "That's no reason to not go." Her mother's tone turned cold. "I know, but it's my...my cycle came early. My cramps are really bad. I've been with the nurse resting and taking pain medicine." Dani lowered her voice. She wasn't alone in the room. "What did the nurse say?" She asked. "She said my body's trying to get back to normal and it'll get better eventually. But it hurts so bad." Dani said. "Mom, can't I come home? Please...I've learned my lesson. I won't let anything like that happen again. I promise." "You're going to have to wait. We're still looking at where to send you." Her mother said. "We already told everyone you'd be studying abroad in Paris until you graduated. We can't pick a school anyone from St. Lucy's Girls Academy might know of. You may have to hold out until college." "But Mom...I'm not going to tell everyone about what happened. Why do I have to go to a different school? Please...I'm not even half way through my junior year." Dani's body went cold. Her heart rang in her ears. "You should've thought about that before you embarrassed us like that. What the hell were you thinking?" Her mother yelled at her. "I don't know how you even got knocked up. We sent you to an all girls school! Where did it happen? The bathroom of the school dance?" Dani's cheeks burned. "Mom, please...I said I'm sorry...You know Roger's family lived nearby. You always saw us together." "You sit there and think about what you did." Her mother sighed loudly. "Thank god we were able to get you an appointment with that doctor so quickly. Imagine what it'd be like if we had to hide you being pregnant for nine months and deal with an adoption agency. Your poor father wouldn't be able to take that shame." Dani cried quietly as she listened to her mother. She did take a long trip abroad, but it wasn't for school. The phone call did nothing to ease her pain. She went back toward her room. On the way there, she passed Damon in the hall, flirting with another new girl. As she walked down the hall, one of the male guards followed behind her. He walked too close to her. Dani walked faster and ducked into her room. The guard followed her. He opened her door. Dani quickly reached in her bag and opened up a pad. The guard stared at her and then closed the door. When she was certain he was gone, she fell to her knees and cried. The day they came home from their trip abroad, her parents took her to a priest to be forgiven. They washed their hands clean of the incident, guiltless in their own eyes. That same innocence was not lent to her. Though she begged for forgiveness with them, all the scorn remained aimed at her back. She felt it now, in the words her mother etched into her soul every time they spoke. Sleep couldn't come soon enough. She didn't care that the staff didn't change her sheets. Nothing mattered. She wanted to dream and never wake up again. A week went by like that, with Dani finding any excuse she could to get out of therapy and classwork. Most nights, she ended up having her phone privilege denied. At the end of the day, she'd return to her room, cry, and go to sleep. There was nothing else to do. She asked for a calendar to keep time, waiting for the day she'd finally turn eighteen. It was 1986 now. In 1988, she'd have her chance at freedom. That's what she told herself. During the second week, Damon approached her again. The girl he had been flirting with left the hospital nearly as quickly as she came. Dani envied her. In her little time there, that girl was the only one she saw leave. Damon sat with her at breakfast. "Hey Dani. How have you been doing? Looks like you're staying here a while." Damon said. "Where's your girlfriend?" Dani asked, not looking at him. "Who? Do you mean Michelle? She got out last night. Lucky, huh?" Damon said. "Do you always bother the new girls?" Dani asked to test him. Damon smirked at her. "Am I bothering you? I only wanted to talk to you." "Why don't you talk with the other boys?" Dani asked. "They don't really pique my interest." Damon laughed. "Look, I don't know why you're here, but we're not getting back out any time soon. You can't blame me. Blame the guards who keep us in here." "You're not remotely subtle." Dani rolled her eyes at him. "I don't have time to be." Damon said. "I'm never leaving here. When I turn eighteen, they'll move me to a different building." "Why?" Dani asked. While Damon annoyed her, there didn't appear to be anything wrong with him either. He seemed like a completely ordinary seventeen year old boy. Of course, she thought, most people there didn't seem like they had anything wrong with them either. She certainly didn't, or at least, she didn't think she did. Whenever she saw people put in places like this in movies and on TV, they were scary. No one here frightened her. "Cause I'm not right." Damon picked at his food. "You're cute. I like you. If you hate me, tell me to fuck off." Dani stared at him. "You're weird." "Yeah." Damon leaned closer to her. He whispered. "Do you want to go on a date tonight?" "A date? Where exactly are you going to take me?" Dani asked. "I told you. I have a master key." Damon said with a smirk. "Come on. We don't have to do anything. Most of the girls I take out talk with me. It doesn't have to be more than that." Dani thought about it more than she wanted to admit to. For as much as Damon bothered her, he was very attractive. Something else about him drew her in, but she couldn't name what it was. "I'll think about it. Ask me again later." "Kay." Damon smiled widely. One of the staff yelled at Damon to go to the other side of the cafeteria. He waved goodbye and mouthed "see you later" at her. Dani waved back without thinking. Several of the other girls stared at her. Dani sunk down in her seat. The girl sketching beside her sunk down as well, seemingly just as embarrassed to have anyone look in her direction. Dani had no choice but to go to her therapy session that day. Dr. Birch wasted no time in making her uncomfortable. "Ms. Danielle, it's been a while. You've taken every measure to get out of seeing me. Are you that afraid of discussing your actions? Your parents will be very disappointed." Dr. Birch looked at her with cold eyes. Dani said nothing back. "Keeping quiet again, I see." Dr. Birch said. "If you keep that up, you'll lose your phone privilege again tonight." Dani stared at the ground. She didn't care. If her parents weren't coming back to get her any time soon, she didn't want to talk to them. "We were discussing your behavior last time. What was it that led you to your actions, Ms. Danielle? You attended a very prestigious private Catholic school and from your parents, I hear that you attended church at least once a week with your family." Dr. Birch said. Dani refused to look up at her. "Do you intend on sitting there in silence for an hour?" Dr. Birch asked. Dani didn't answer her. "Very well. You will not have phone privileges tonight. If this continues, I will prescribe you some medication to help with your behavioral problems." Dr. Birch wrote something down on a notepad. 'Behavioral problems.' Dani thought. 'If I have them, you're part of the reason.' Dani sat in silence for the rest of the hour, never once looking at Dr. Birch until it was time for her to leave. She went on her way to work on her assignments for school. Damon sat in the cubicle beside hers. "Hey Dani. How'd your session go?" He asked, scooting his chair close to hers. "I lost my phone privileges again." She said. "Oh, so Dr. B didn't like what you had to say?" "I didn't say anything." "That's even worse to her." Damon laughed. "I used to have to see her when I first came here. I'm surprised that decrepit, old bitch hasn't kicked the bucket yet. She was old as hell back then. I think she feeds off of other people's misery, like some kind of energy vampire." "That's disturbing." Dani said. "I know, right?" Damon said. "So, do you wanna go out tonight?" Dani thought about her parents and her session with Dr. Birch. "Sure. It's not like there's anything else to do here." "Great! I'll come by your room around eleven. There's only a couple of guards that patrol around then. The rest of the staff except one of the doctors or nurses goes home before then." Dani caught herself smiling. Guilt washed over her shortly after. Everyone adult around her already told her she was dirty now. She didn't just have sex, she managed to create proof of it by getting pregnant. There was no undoing that, and if she fooled around with this boy, her parents would be furious if they ever got caught. They would stamp their scorn even deeper into her skin. Dani didn't want to wear that mark, but she wanted to defy them just the same. Her mind stayed locked in between those two desires of absolute submission and rebellion. If being good wouldn't get her out of there, she thought, what was the point in being their quiet doll? She talked with Damon while she worked on her schoolwork. When night came, she went to her room and waited for Damon to come by. He showed up ten minutes early. He slipped into her room so quietly she didn't know he was there until he was sitting on her bed. "Ready?" Dani sat up in bed. "Yeah. How far is this place?" "It's not too long a walk. Oh, I'd wear your shoes." He said. Dani put them on. "Let's go." He led her down the hallways to an exit. Damon used his master key to unlock the door. He took her out to a hill near one part of the fence. There, the highway was visible in the distance. Dani watched the lights of cars pass by. She sat on the hill with him. "It's cold out tonight." Dani shivered. "Yeah." He opened the bag he'd brought with him. Damon pulled a blanket out. "We can use this. I snatched an extra one a while back." Dani got under the blanket with him. His body was warmer than the thin blanket he'd brought. She leaned against him. "Sorry I pissed you off when you got here. I never know how long anyone's gonna stay, so I move faster than some people are used to. I do like you." Damon said. "Do you? Or are you just horny?" Dani asked. She didn't want to admit it, but she was the latter at the moment. Shame hit her again. She didn't know why she was. It never felt good with her ex-boyfriend. Damon laughed. "I won't turn you down if you asked for that, but I don't care either way. This is what I wanted." "What?" "Something normal." Damon said. "I've been in here since I was five. Most of the people who end up here haven't been in here that long. They get to go to school and go on dates and shop at the mall. I can see the lights from the mall from here. That's as close as I'll ever get." "I hated going to the mall with my parents to buy new clothes, but right now, I wish I could go and sit in a theater. I wouldn't care what movie it was or what food was there." Dani said. "I can't remember going to a movie theater. I know I have been. My parents took me to a couple of movies when I was really little, but I don't remember any of that anymore." Damon looked over at her. "So, Dani, what are you really here for?" She pulled the blanket closer to her body. "I don't really want to talk about that." "Was it something really bad?" He asked. "My parents think so." Dani said. She wasn't completely convinced of that herself. "Hey, are you a virgin?" Damon changed the topic. "No." "Me neither." Damon said, as if boasting. She rolled her eyes. "I assumed." He laughed loudly. "Dr. B lectured me about that. She told me I should've waited for marriage. I'm never getting out of here. So, what? Wait forever?" "Does she focus on teenage sexual behavior a lot? She asks me really...weird questions." Dani pulled her knees in. He slipped his arm around her shoulder. "Yeah, she does that a lot. Before I had sex, she used to want to know about every detail of what I did when I masturbated. Started that up when I was nine or ten. Creepy. Why would you want to know about that?" "Did you tell her anything?" She asked. Damon nodded. "Yeah, I did. I wanted to make her uncomfortable for being such a creep and asking about that. So, I gave her what she wanted in explicit detail." "What'd she do then?" Dani asked. "I wasn't allowed out of my room to do anything for a full week and she increased the dosage on the medication I'm supposed to take. Eventually, I got moved to group therapy not long after I first started sleeping with girls." Damon smirked. "Jokes on her. I never take it. I just pretend to and spit it out later." "She's started threatening to give me medicine, even though she knows there's nothing wrong with me." Dani admitted. "How do you pretend to take it?" "I go through the motions, but I keep it hidden under my tongue. Then, if they ask to see under my tongue, I don't lift it up all the way or I hide it on the side in between my teeth and my cheeks, way in the back. They don't look too thoroughly most of the time, so they never notice. Most of the staff don't give a shit about anything." Damon explained to her. Dani kept that information for later. She suspected Dr. Birch would be giving her medicine she didn't need in the near future. "Do you like me?" Damon asked. "I don't know." She answered him honestly. Damon kissed her. She kissed him back, from desire more than her want to rebel against her parents. They kissed for a while before Damon put his hands on her chest. She recoiled away from him unconsciously. "No?" He asked. "I don't know..." Dani's shoulders shook. Damon looked at her as if he could read exactly what she was hiding inside. He asked, "Do you want to go back?" "No." Dani shook her head. She thought about seeing Dr. Birch in the morning. Dani undid her bra. "You can touch me." "Uh, you don't have to force yourself." He said. She pulled up her shirt and bra. "I want you to." They lay in the grass as they kissed. He felt up her chest and pulled her close against his body. He situated himself in between her legs. Through his pants, Dani noticed how aroused he was. In the same place on her own body, she was soaking wet. She pushed him away again. "Is something wrong?" He asked. Dani looked away from him. Her face was flushed, and her hands were shaking. "I want to go inside now." She expected Damon to question her further or demand her to stay. He simply said, "Okay." Damon walked her back to her room. When they reached her room, Dani apologized. "I'm sorry." "For what?" "We didn't do it." She said. "That's okay." Damon whispered his next words. "Are you okay? Did...something happen to..." "Nothing happened." The words left her lips quickly. "Okay." Damon leaned in close to her. "Um...is it okay if I kiss you goodnight?" "Not right now." Dani bit her lip. Her eyes were watering. Damon pulled away. "I don't know what's wrong, but I hope you feel better. Goodnight, Dani. I'll see you tomorrow." "Goodnight." Dani said. He left after that. Dani went to bed and cried. She did want that last kiss. She cried herself to sleep. The next morning, Dr. Birch began her questioning again. "Ms. Danielle, are you going to speak to me today?" "I don't like speaking to you." Dani said. "Already you're like this. I heard from other staff that you've been spending a lot of time with Damon Hound. Given your past actions, I would advise against getting close to that boy. He will tempt you into a shameful life. He sleeps around with any girl he can convince." Dr. Birch said. Dani decided to use Damon's method on her. "I want to have sex with him." "Excuse me?!" Dr. Birch's eyes went wide open. "How can you think such a thing? Are you not at all ashamed about what you've already done?" "I'm definitely going to have sex with him the first chance I get." Dani said. "Ms. Danielle, consider your phone privileges revoked for the next week. I'm prescribing you a low dosage of Aequa to start with. You'll begin taking it after lunch. That should help with curbing some of your behavioral problems and these extreme urges." Dr. Birch wrote something down on a piece of paper. "I don't care. I'm going to have sex with him." Dani said with a blank face. "That's enough!" Dr. Birch nearly dropped her pen. "I hope he cums inside me." Dani said in hopes of riling her up more. Dr. Birch stood up. "You're going to be put in confinement for today, effective immediately. We'll be putting a guard at your room. You will be given bathroom breaks after lunch and dinner and before bed." "What if I need to go before then?" Dani asked. "You will hold it until then." Dr. Birch yelled at her. "I have to go now. I need an escort." Dani said. "No, you will wait until it is time." Dr. Birch said. "I'm not playing your games. You could've waited the last time you pulled this with me, and you can wait now." Dani did something she hadn't done since kindergarten. She wet her pants. Dr. Birch called for security and the janitor. Dani felt bad that the janitor had to clean up the mess on the chair, but she couldn't stop laughing at how angry Dr. Birch was. The security guard grabbed her and put her arms behind her back like she was a violent, dangerous criminal. It was beyond comical how absurd it was, she thought. Before she left the room, Dr. Birch had her revenge. "Well, this certainly proves there was no rape involved with you." Dani's body went cold at those words. The guard dragged her out of the room and paraded her around for the other children to see, not bothering to offer her a pair of clean pants. Damon saw her in the hallway. He tripped the guard and had one assigned to him soon after. He was forced to stay in his room for a day as well. Dani was given medicine with her lunch. She did what Damon told her to do to trick them, then got rid of the medicine later. Two days later, Dani was assigned to group therapy. Later that night, she got a phone call from her mother. Her parents wanting to talk to her overrid the hospital's ability to not let her use the phone. Her mother was the one who called. "Dani, I received a very disturbing call from the hospital recently." "What was it about?" Dani played dumb. "The therapist told me you were bragging about planning on whoring around the hospital and that you...you acted like a toddler!" Her mother raised her voice. "I did." Dani said. "What is wrong with you? Why are you embarrassing us even now? We sent you there to think over your actions. Do you have any idea how much money we're spending on you right now? How much we had to spend on covering up your little mistake? You keep this kind of behavior up and you can kiss your trust fund goodbye." Her mother lectured her. "I don't care." "Your college is on the line right now. You'll be eighteen in less than two years. Do you really want to throw away your future?" Her mother asked. "I want to go home. Let me go home and I'll stop." Dani said. "Listen, young lady. You don't get to make demands when you're the one who messed up in the first place. This is a punishment. There will be no negotiating. Do what the staff tell you to or you're not going to college. Your father can't take hearing things like this. I haven't told him what you did. Don't make me have to disappoint him." Her mother warned her. Dani hung up the phone. She looked over at the staff member in the room. "My call's over. Can I go back to my room?" Staff escorted her back. Damon visited around midnight. "I heard you pissed on Dr. B's chair. Did you really?" Damon snickered at the thought. "Yeah. She told me I couldn't go to the bathroom unless they allowed me. I wanted to prove her wrong." Dani said. Damon laughed. He lay beside her in the bed. "I also heard you got moved to group therapy. Too bad it wasn't my group." "So, what are you doing here?" Dani asked. "I was wondering if you wanted to go out tonight." Damon said. "I won't touch you this time." "I'm sorry about that..." Dani rolled over in the bed. "It wasn't about you." "I know." Damon said. "Come on. Let's go. The sky's really clear tonight. We'll be able to see a lot farther out than last time." "Okay. Let's go." Dani said. The two teens snuck out of the building and went out to the hill. Damon brought a blanket for them to share again. They watched the car lights in the distance. This night, Dani could just barely make out the lights of the theater inside the mall beyond the highway. Damon didn't make any moves on her that night. They barely talked at all. He walked her back to her room around two. Dani slept a little better that night. In the morning, she went to group therapy and didn't have to say a word. A few of the other teens there spent most of the time talking. She didn't listen to a word any of them said. After that, she went to shower. The showers were shared and split by sex. Dani took a shower farthest from the rest of the girls. She didn't really want to socialize with them. Another girl did something similar. It was the girl she met at lunch on her second day there who was always drawing. She ignored the girl and focused on washing herself and facing her body away from the others. Someone tapped her on the shoulder. Dani turned around to see who it was. Damon stood before her, completely naked. She unconsciously covered her breasts with her hands and turned her body away from him. "What are you doing?! This is the girl's shower!" "I'm showering. What else would you do in a shower?" Damon said. "Get out, pervert!" She motioned for him to leave. "I'm not peeping. I just don't wanna shower with the guys. Things get weird in there." Damon said. "Weird?" "Yeah." Damon put a finger to his lips. "Don't tell the staff I'm here." "You need to go." Dani said. She looked around. The other girls noticed he was in there. Some of them were laughing and pointing at him. "Come on. It's not a big deal. We were born naked. Like you haven't seen a guy naked before." Damon said. "It's not about me seeing you naked. It's the other way around." Dani's eyes wandered. She glimpsed between his legs, then looked again, noticing something about him did look different than the other men she'd seen naked. He was more intact than she was used to. "I've been looking at your face the entire time. You're the one with wandering eyes. But if it'll make you happy, I'll turn around." Damon turned his back to her. Covering most of his back, Damon had a large mark of a wolf and a raven on him. It looked neither like a tattoo nor like a birthmark. "Were you in a gang? What's with this mark?" Dani asked. "I don't know what it is either. It's been on my back since I was a baby." Damon answered. "How? Wouldn't it be messed up looking by now from you growing?" "You'd think, but it never changes. I don't know what it is. Haha, maybe it's some kind of skin cancer." He said, laughing. "That's not funny." Dani relaxed her arms. She wasn't sure why she covered them, except out of social expectation. She'd already shown him her breasts before. "Can I turn around?" Damon asked. "Yeah. Whatever." Dani said. Damon looked over at the other girl nearby. "You don't mind, do you?" The girl shook her head. She smiled at him a little. Her cheeks were bright red. Dani saw in how the girl looked at Damon that she clearly liked him. Damon yelled across the shower. "Anyone else care?" The other girls laughed and shook their heads. Damon washed his hair. Dani rolled her eyes at him. "You wouldn't be able to get away with that if you weren't cute." "I know. But I'm really not here to check out girls." Damon said. "Then why haven't I seen you do this before?" She asked. "I usually keep to myself, but last time I took a shower, some guys tried to get into it with me. These guys are just bullies. I've seen them do that to some new guys, but I avoid them when I can. My record's long. Fighting gets you the most severe punishment here. If I got into it with them, they'll give me a harsher punishment than the other guys even though I'd be defending myself. Anyway, their little leader made some threats to me yesterday when I told him to stop messing with this one guy. Didn't want to deal with it. Sorry for bothering you." Damon told her. "Does no one ever do anything to them?" Dani asked. "No. Their parents are all really wealthy and most guys are afraid to say anything to staff about them. Most people who come here are pretty well off, but these guys are on a completely different level than us." Damon reached over and wiped shampoo off Dani's face. "Hold on. It almost got in your eye." "Oh, thank you." Dani's face flushed at his touch. A female staff member came into the showers. "Damon Hound! Get out of here now!" "But I didn't do anything! I'm showering." Damon said. The female staff member then had three male guards escort him out. The girls screamed and covered themselves. The girl who had taken the far side of the shower beside Dani cowered in the corner, her eyes never leaving a specific guard. Dani watched the entire display with awe. What was the point, she thought, in having them escort Damon out because he shouldn't be there if they did so with male guards? None of the girls were so alert and panicked when it was only Damon there. Dani overheard staff mention that Damon was being taken to a special room to be isolated in for a week. She saw him two weeks later. From what she heard from staff, when he was released from that room, he got into a fight in the showers that same morning and was put back in confinement for another week. She finally saw him again at lunch after his second isolation ended. "Hey, I'm back." Damon said, taking a seat beside her. She noticed he was covered in bruises and scrapes. "You're finally out." Dani said. "Yep." "I heard you got into a fight." She said. "Yep." Damon leaned closer to her. "They got me pretty good before I fought back. Couldn't take it. It's really hard to sit there and take it. That, and they tried to...well, apparently, they think this is prison." Dani gulped. "How...far did they get?" "They had me pinned down. That was when I started fighting back. There was no way in hell I was going to let them do that so I could get out of being punished." Damon said. "The good news is that their leader's been transfered to another building. He's an adult now. The other two were both moved to other buildings at their own request. Without their leader, they're just spineless cowards. Probably thought as soon as I got out, I'd beat their asses down." "At least they're gone now. You won't have to worry about them anymore." Dani said. "Yeah." Damon held her hand under the table. "Do you wanna go on a date tonight?" "Yeah." Dani held his hand back. That night, they went out to the hill again. Dani kissed him first. They made out for a while. Dani wanted to tell him to take her pants off, but her body twisted in unease at her own arousal. They stopped when things were getting very heated. Damon sensed her discomfort quickly. He rolled over beside her, holding her hand and staring up at the sky. "Hey, um, we've gone on a few dates now. Do you wanna go out with me?" Damon asked. "Okay." Dani said. "Really?" Damon grinned widely. "I haven't had an actual girlfriend in a while. Most of the girls I've taken out end up leaving before things can really go anywhere." "What happened to your last girlfriend?" She asked. "She left too. She stayed here longer than the other girls." Damon raised his left hand into the air at the moon above them. "Everyone leaves. It's only me and the moon that stay." Dani cuddled up against him. "I don't think I'll be leaving any time soon." "Yeah, but I'll be eighteen before you leave." "When is your birthday?" Dani asked. "Next June. That's when they'll move me." Damon said. "That's still a long ways off." "What about you? When's your birthday?" Damon asked. "I'll be seventeen in March." Dani ran her hand over his chest. "Who knows...I might end up where they take you to. My mom threatened me that if I didn't act right, they weren't going to let me go to college. They may keep me in here and keep lying about where I am. They've always lied about everything. I hate my mom so much." "If we end up at the same place, let's keep dating." Damon said. "If we can never leave, at least we'll have each other." Dani closed her eyes. "My last boyfriend was really nice to me at first. Then he turned into a monster. Are you a wolf in disguise?" "I'm definitely a wolf, but I don't think I'm the same kind of guy as him. I don't know anything about him, but I bet he's more of a worm than a wolf." Damon said. "A worm?" Dani laughed under her breath. "That sounds more like him. A parasitic worm crawling under my skin." "Do you want to talk about him?" Damon asked. "No." Dani said. "I hate him too." "We should talk about something else then." Damon put his arm around her. "Say, what's your family heritage?" "I don't really know much about that. European something or other. My mom claims we have Indian in us, but it's the usual Cherokee princess nonsense. I don't think there's really any. Why?" She asked. "Just curious. I wish I knew what I am. I know I'm mostly white, but there's something else there and I don't know what it is." Damon said. "How do you not know?" Damon put both of his arms around her now. "My parents...aren't my biological parents. There was some weird mix-up at the hospital. My mom and her biological son were both really sick after she gave birth and had to stay at the hospital for several days. On the seventh day, the nurse went to check on the baby and he was gone. I was in his place. They never found the other baby, and they never found my parents either. It was like someone just stole their baby and left me there on purpose. Since they couldn't find my parents or their son, eventually, they took me in and adopted me." "Did you make that up? That didn't really happen." Dani said in disbelief. "It's true. They're actually still looking for their real son." Damon spoke in a serious tone. "Why did they keep you?" She asked. "As a replacement, I guess." He shrugged. "Then why are you here?" Damon laughed. "Oh, well, they think I'm a demon." "What?" "Yeah." "Why would they think you're a demon?" Dani asked. "Because I do weird shit." Damon said. "I think the other part is Asian, maybe? Or maybe Middle Eastern? I don't know. What do you think?" "I don't know. You don't look like a demon, at least." She said. "I know I'm not a demon." Damon said. "That's about all I know." Dani waited for Damon to explain what it was that was so strange to them, but he never did. He took her back to her room around two. They carried on like that for over a month, meeting in secret to kiss and talk under the night sky. Both of them were in and out of isolation for various things. Dani got a call from her mother again at some point, but she refused to take the call. One night, Damon came to take her out again, but Dani didn't feel up to it. "What's wrong? Don't wanna go?" Damon asked. "No, I don't feel good." "Are you sick?" Damon asked. "Should I take you to the nurse?" "It's nothing like that." Dani clutched her stomach. "It's just girl stuff." "Oh. Um, okay." Damon kissed her on the forehead. "I hope you feel better tomorrow. Oh, uh, if one of the guards comes by, you should really play up how sick you feel." "Why?" Dani asked. "One of the guards has been watching you a lot. He watches a lot of girls. I can't confirm he's ever done anything, but be careful." Damon said. "I'd stay, but I'll get in big trouble if I'm caught sleeping in a girl's room. Mm...then again, if you really wanted me to..." "I'll be okay. Go ahead and go back to your room." Dani declined the offer. "Alright. I'll see you in the morning." He kissed her again. Dani went back to sleep, but her cramps made it hard for her to stay asleep. She tossed in her bed, debating on whether she should go see the nurse or not. An hour after Damon left, her bedroom door opened again. Dani looked over, expecting Damon again. The figure at the doorway was taller than Damon, with broader shoulders and shorter hair. Dani closed her eyes. She heard the man walk over to her bed. The man was leaning over her. She could feel his body heat near her face. Dani made a show of pretending to toss and turn in her sleep. She then pretended to wake up. When she saw the man up close, she realized he was the guard who tried to get close to her like this before. Dani clutched her stomach. "Oh, thank god you're here. I need to go to the nurse right away. It hurts so bad!" Dani said. She forced herself to wince in pain as she curled inward and clutched her stomach. "Please, I need medicine right now." The guard agreed to take her. To complete her act, she begged to go to the bathroom on the way and forced herself to throw up. She was as loud as she could possibly be. The doctor was on staff that night instead of the nurse. She gave Dani some stomach medicine. Dani begged to let her stay there overnight because she was worried about the pain. The doctor let her sleep there. Dani decided after that she would go out with Damon even when she felt sick. She didn't want to go through that again. If she made it to the hill, she could at least rest from that point on. Dani told Damon about what happened the following night when they went out to watch the highway lights. "I always knew there was something off about that guy." Damon said. "Good thinking staying with the doctor overnight. He might have come back later. What a creep." Dani put her hands in Damon's pants. She kissed him while she touched him. This was what she could manage right now. Her body wouldn't let her be touched right then, but she wanted to touch him badly. He didn't last as long as she hoped but she enjoyed herself. Damon was quiet for a moment, lost in a daze. When he snapped out of it, he fumbled through his words. "Do you want me to do anything to..." "Not tonight." Dani said. She wasn't quite sure what "anything" actually meant. She couldn't think of anything he could do to her other than put it in. 'Maybe he means different positions?' "If you're sure..." Damon kissed her. "I didn't expect that." "Was it bad?" She asked. "No, not at all." He kissed her again. "It felt really good." "My ex always said I was bad at it." Dani said. She always felt shame about that. He was never happy with anything she did for him. She felt as much shame about that as she did about the fact that she had sex at all. "Forget him." Damon kissed her on the neck. "I bet you're good at other things too. Maybe his problem is that he wasn't attracted to you." Dani thought about it more than she expected. "He did tell me my boobs were too big." "What? You're like a C cup. Isn't that average?" Damon raised an eyebrow. "I think so. I don't know. He told me they looked gross." Dani said. He always had a complaint about her body whenever she was naked. There was one night when the two of them snuck away from a party at her parents' house and he pointed out the spot of hair she missed when she shaved her legs. It wasn't a big patch. Dani barely caught it herself after she dressed for the party. He always managed to find those little imperfections. "What? Was this guy even into girls?" Damon said. "I'm pretty sure he was. He never liked any part of me except here." Dani put her hand over her crotch. "Well, if I remembered to shave. He'd complain if there were any hairs because it's gross or whatever. And that I smell down there." "Was this your first boyfriend?" Damon asked. Dani nodded. "I went to an all girls school. We had school dances with the all boys school. The only other boys I got to talk to were boys who came with their parents to parties my parents went to or boys who lived in the neighborhood. Roger was in all three of those categories. He was one of the only boys I got a chance to talk to a lot." "Huh. So you've been around less boys than I've been around girls, more or less." Damon said. "Yeah." "So, he's the only guy you've done it with then, huh?" Damon asked. Dani nodded again. "He told me that he wanted to marry me, so it was okay if we had sex. He wasn't a virgin himself. I saw him having sex with a girl in the girls bathroom at a dance before we were dating, but he really convinced me that he wanted to marry me and live more Christ-like." Damon didn't buy it. "That seems...kinda contradictory with the whole sex before marriage thing, doesn't it?" "He said it didn't count if we got married. That wasn't breaking the rules." Dani felt stupid saying all of that. More than him convincing her, she simply wanted it to be true. "I agreed to have sex with him one night. I hated it. It hurt so much. He said that was normal. It hurt all the other times too. I told him I didn't want to do it anymore. Then he..." Dani's vision got blurry. Damon held her close. "You don't have to tell me any more if you don't want to." "When I was making Dr. Birch mad on purpose, I told her I wanted to have sex with you because I knew how she'd react to that. She told me I couldn't have ever been raped in the past if I wanted to have sex with you now." Dani cried. "But she's wrong. He did it so often I stopped resisting him because I was scared...I was scared of what he might do to me. And he'd tell me over and over that I'm supposed to do this and that because I'm his girlfriend and that's what women are supposed to do." "I told you that woman is a stupid bitch." Damon kissed her on the head. He petted her hair. "Then I got pregnant. My parents put me in here because I'm bad for getting pregnant." Dani buried her head against his chest. She didn't know why she was explaining all of this to him. For some reason, talking about Roger made everything overflow inside her. "This is a punishment." "Pregnant? So, you're a mom? Shouldn't you be with the baby?" Damon asked. "I'm not." Dani forced herself to say the next part. "They made me get rid of it." "At an orphanage?" "No." Dani couldn't look at him. "They took me overseas and...they took me to this shady doctor no one they knew would ever know. My parents said I had to get rid of it immediately so no one could tell I was ever pregnant." "Did you want to keep it?" Damon asked. "I don't know. I was never given a chance to think about it. It all happened so fast." Dani said. As she spoke, the memories of those days flooded back into her mind. Her parents showed no sympathy to her when they learned about her being pregnant from a nurse. "My parents found out when I was in the hospital, the day after my ex-boyfriend found out." "Did the baby make you sick?" Dani's body shook. "My ex-boyfriend pushed me off a balcony." Damon's eyes widened and his mouth hung open. "Oh my god..." "He didn't want to take care of a baby. He said it was my fault, but he wouldn't use a condom and I wasn't allowed to say no. I told him we could get married, but he told me he never really wanted to marry a stupid slut like me. He was only using me for sex." Dani couldn't remember that part clearly. She remembered Roger yelling and her back hitting against the railing, and then she was at the hospital. Roger told her parents she fell on her own. Dani was too terrified then to contradict his story. "We both survived the fall, somehow. I never told anyone what he did. I was stupid for believing all of his dumb lies. He only ever wanted one thing from me." "Have you seen him since?" Damon asked. "Once, at the hospital. He came to see if I told on him and if the baby lived. I told him my parents' plan. When he found that out, he apologized and asked me if we could still go out." Dani's stomach turned thinking about then. In that moment, she almost agreed to. Dani couldn't understand what drew her to Roger. He was sweet at first, but she already knew he used the same routine on other girls before her. She wasn't even the first girl he got pregnant, from what she heard at school. Dani, more than Roger, was the one lying to herself. She was lonely and horny, and needed an excuse to explain away her pent up frustrations. If it was Roger's idea, it wasn't hers. When she went through with it, and she didn't want it anymore, he wouldn't allow it. She wanted to yell at her past self for not fighting back more, but that was all she ever saw. Her mother always submitted to her father, as did she herself, whenever his temper flared up. The way her mother's shoulder's trembled whenever he gave her a certain look or raised his voice ever so slightly was permanently embedded into her. Before she realized it, Dani's shoulders did the same. When she was laying in that hospital bed, a part of her was anticipating Roger's rage if she said no and was ready to roll over to please him again. That was how her life had always been. Barely stronger, the other part of her, her most primal self, was screaming at her to find an escape. If she had fallen differently, she could have died. There was no gain in appeasing the anger of someone who had already risked her life so blatantly. "What did you tell him?" Damon asked. "I told him I didn't want to. He begged me." Dani wiped her eyes. "Really? What the hell was that about?" Damon asked. "I think he...he liked that I went quiet." Dani said. "Not every girl would be like that. He didn't want to deal with a baby. With that out of the way, he thought things could go back to how they were. I could keep being his little toy to play with whenever he got an urge he wanted to take care of. Sometimes, I'd lie there and try to convince myself I was enjoying it. I don't know why I wanted it at all. My mind was full of thoughts about wanting sex, but when we first started doing that, I hated it. It would feel worse the longer it went on. I'd be waiting for him to hurry up and get it over with." "It's really not supposed to be like that." Damon said. He dried off her cheeks. "Did he go away after that?" "I lied and told him I was going to study abroad after seeing the doctor. He left then. He always talks bad about exes. My mom's probably right to think everyone knows about what happened at this point. He probably told everyone at his school, and they probably told everyone at my old school." Dani looked up at the stars. "Am I really so awful for this?" "No. But you know, I don't think it'd be a good idea for you to go back to your parents." Damon said. "I have nowhere else to go." Dani touched her stomach. "Mom said if I was a year older, she would have pushed my dad to let me carry out the pregnancy and give it up for adoption. Then I could do a little homeschooling and go to college without worries. She was planning on locking me away in my own room. They're always running away from everything. My parents and their circle of friends aren't friends at all. They're all like that. They run whenever they might look bad." "You're not the only girl here like that. You know Linda? The girl who's always drawing at lunch? She sits besides you a lot. Something like that happened to her. They made her give the baby up for adoption. She draws pictures of Mary for the baby she can't see. Her parents don't plan on letting her out until she turns eighteen so they can ship her off to a college in another state where no one knows her." Damon said. Dani realized immediately which girl he was talking about, though she herself had never once asked the girl her name. "She's a nice girl. She prays before all of our therapy sessions." "I prayed to god a lot when I was overseas. He didn't answer my prayers. No one answered me. My parents aren't going to let me out until I'm eighteen too. I know it. They're waiting for the same thing. To move me somewhere else so they don't have to deal with the rumors or keep me locked in here forever. They're probably still telling their old acquaintances now that I'm in studying in Paris." Dani cried. "I'd give anything to be studying in Paris right now." "Whenever you can get out, don't ever let anyone cage you again. Run. Disappear somewhere they can't touch you. If you get caught again, you may never get another chance." Damon kissed her again. "I'm in here for life, and that's an absolute." "Why? Why won't your parents let you out at some point? You'll be eighteen next year. Why can't you leave?" Dani asked. "Doesn't matter. I've been marked as too unstable. When I turn eighteen, I can guarantee you they'll find a way to never let me out of here." Damon looked up at the sky. "And I know there's nothing wrong with me." "You know all the secrets in this place. Why don't you escape?" She asked. "If I run away from home, I won't have my parents' protection anymore. They'll be free to do whatever they want to me. That's the only reason I'm not in the other building, the research building next door. They're waiting me out, hoping I try it or they manage to convince my parents to let them. If I leave my cage, I'm free to be hunted." Damon said. "Hunted? What does that mean? What would they do to you?" Dani asked. "Why would you be moved to their research building?" "I'm different than other people." Damon locked eyes with her. "I can do things other people can't." "Like what?" Damon let go of her. He sat up and raised his right hand. He snapped his fingers. Flames appeared above them, hovering in the air. Dani stared in shock. "This is only a small fraction of what I can do. I've made it rain before. The first time it happened, I was on the outside with my parents. I don't know why, but I wanted it to rain so badly in that moment. And then it did. I tested it. I can still do it." Damon stopped the flames. "Could you show me?" Dani asked. "I'll have to concentrate. It's harder than making this." Damon stretched and straightened up. He took a deep breath. The air around them changed. Dark clouds hid away the stars. Thunder rumbled. Lightning flashed across the sky. Rain fell across the highway before reaching them. The rain started to turn to ice. Damon stood up. "Shit. It's too cold for rain." Damon offered his hand to her. Dani grabbed his hand. They ran back inside. "Can't you stop it?" Dani asked. "I'm not good at that part!" Damon led her inside. He took her to the laundry room. "Here, let's get some new clothes. Sorry. I didn't think about the temperature. That was really stupid." Dani shook her head. "No, it's okay. That was amazing. I can't believe you can do something like that. Can you do other things?" "Yeah, all kinds of things." Damon changed clothes. "Watch this." He disappeared as soon as he said that. Dani jumped back. "Damon? Where are you?" Something tapped her on the shoulder. Damon reappeared behind her. "Hey." "How did you do that?" Dani asked. "I don't know. I think it and then it happens. I can do that with a lot of things, but it doesn't always turn out how I want it to, and I can't always stop it either." Damon sat down on a chair in the laundry room. "Like with the rain. I can make it rain, but I can't stop it. When I was five, I made myself float off the ground...about three feet in the air. My parents put me in here after that." "Can you still do that?" Dani asked. "No. Every time I think about it, I remember what happened the last time I did it and then I can't. I can't concentrate anymore." Damon said. "The people here know some of what I can do. That's why I'm at this specific hospital. They want me here, and they want my parents to give up on me so they can use me as their lab rat. They already do it with other children." Dani changed into a fresh set of clothes. "What other children?" "The ones in the other building. They don't ever come from this side. I don't know where they get those children from. Some of them, they make themselves. I read that in their files." Damon said. Dani stared at him. "What do you mean they made them?" "Tomorrow, if you want, I'll sneak you into the other building." Damon said. Dani didn't know what to expect, but she agreed to let him take her there. The next night, Damon met Dani in her room. Before they went out to the other building, the teenagers had some fun together on Dani's bed. Damon kept his hands above her waist, and she kept hers below his. Dani wanted something, but she couldn't get herself to say it. She felt disgusted by the wetness of her own body even though the mess he cleaned off her hand didn't bother her. After cleaning up, Damon took her to the other building, the research building at the other side of the property. Dani didn't pay much attention to that building before. They were forbidden from going over there, and the staff rarely let them have any time outside of the main building. It was a one story building, but it was much longer than the hospital. The inside was disorienting. Damon led her through the maze-like halls to a specific room, one at the farthest end from the entrance. He unlocked the door. Damon looked over at her. "Are you sure you want to go in? It might...be bad in here, if they have someone in there." "What do you mean if someone's in there? Is this a bedroom?" Dani asked. Damon hesitated in answering her. He thought over his words carefully. "No, it's a lab, but I've seen them keep kids and parts in their machines." Dani tilted her head and squinted her eyes. "Parts?" "Like arms and stuff." Damon said blankly. "You're...you're messing with me." Dani recoiled away from the door. "No, I'm not. That's why I'm warning you. Do you want me to look first before we go in?" He asked. Dani nodded. Damon cracked the door open to take a peak inside. "Looks like it's just organs today. No people." "What kind of organs?" Dani asked. "A heart and some lungs. Kinda small. Probably to preserve the tissues for some kind of experiment." Damon said. Dani was terrified of seeing, but a morbid curiosity overcame her. She inched closer to take a look. "They don't...kill people to get them, right? They must be donated organs." "I don't know. Could be. There are people that donate their bodies for research." Damon turned the door knob. "You sure you wanna see?" Dani thought it over for a while. She worked up the courage to step closer to the door. "I think I can handle it." Damon opened the door more. Dani followed him inside the room. In the center of the room, a cylindrical tank full of water and human organs was placed. Dani was terrified by the size of it, and that the heart inside of it was beating. Wires connected to and inside of the heart and pair of lungs. A computer was running nearby, collecting some kind of data. As disturbing as it was, Dani hoped that the frightening display was for some kind of organ transplant research to help people. Damon put his hand to the glass. "I've seen children in these before, left in here overnight. They're not dead, but they don't wake up either." "How could you leave someone overnight inside a tank of water? Wouldn't they drown?" Dani asked. "They always have these masks on. I think it gives them oxygen while they're in there. I don't know what's actually in this stuff." Damon said. He tapped the glass. "But I've watched them for a while. When they're in there, I've seen cuts heal into scars in an hour or less." "Really? They can do something like that? But this is a psychiatric research facility. Isn't this outside their field?" Dani asked. "From looking through their files, this isn't official. They don't publish the research they do in this room, and many of the other rooms. I don't think this research is legal, even if it might be useful for the general public. But I don't really know what they're doing here other than testing different things on humans. Some of the people I've seen in the tank I've read about and seen pictures of in the files. They cut them up a lot, but it doesn't sound like it's for anything necessary. You'll see shit that basically amounts to 'hey, this didn't kill the test subject, success' and it'll be something like cutting an arm off or seeing how long an organ can stay outside the body before shutting down." Damon unlocked one of the file cabinets with another key he had on him. "Found this inside of the desks a couple years ago. They're so stupid." Dani felt nauseous. "Surely, there must be a good reason why they're doing all this?" "Dunno. They tests their drugs on kids in here a lot too, but they do that on everyone. We get the more 'refined' version. They get the early versions. But none of what they give us is on the market. Did Dr. B put you on Aequa?" "Yeah." "Same. Yeah, that's not something that's been approved yet. It's not remotely ready, but they give it to most of the kids in the hospitals. They're using us all as lab rats." Damon flipped through the files. "They do it in prisons too. The public doesn't get upset when they hear about 'crazy' kids getting drugs shoved down their throats for 'acting up' or felons being forced on pills, because hey, they're all violent killers, right? If that part got out, no one would give a fuck." "But there isn't anything wrong with me." Dani said. "And a guy getting busted with marijuana a few times probably ain't killing people either. Doesn't matter. You're in here. You could tell everyone you have anorexia or depression, and you'd be treated the same as a psychopath because you're in here and that's all that matters. People in here are 'bad' people, just like prison." Damon handed her a thick folder full of papers. "Here, read this one. AB14's been in here longer than all the others I've seen come and go since I've been here." "A...what?" Dani opened the folder. The side of the folder read "AB14". A picture of young, blond boy with brown eyes was taped inside the front of the folder. She flipped to a random page inside the folder and read from the top of the page in her head. It read: "Subject appears to be reaching all milestones at expected ages. Suggested tests to begin upon onset of puberty are listed on the following page. Subject reacts negatively to sugars. Effects of putting the subject on diet of two to ten times the recommended sugar intake for an adult produced interesting results. Anaphylaxis can occur even at twice the recommended amount of sugar for a healthy adult, a surprising result as most children already consume higher than healthy amounts of sugar on average. At normal amounts for an adult, the subject becomes very ill, and at levels recommended for the subject's age range, there were symptoms of nausea and severe cramping. This has been effective in giving researchers a better understanding of the subject's pain tolerance, which has been determined to be higher than average." Dani reread the paragraph again. She felt sick. This, she thought, couldn't really be about a child. Dani skipped to a different page. "Subject has shown increased tolerance of physical pain. Cutting the subject open with a scalpel no longer requires restraints or sedation. Subject no longer screams nor whimpers, but cries sometimes." She glanced on the next page. "Reattachment of the leg was successful. Minor sedation was required and two nights in the tank. Solution used in the tank for this experiment is detailed on a separate page. Subject was able to walk on the leg again within a week. There appear to be no issues with the leg. While this is promising, detaching and reattaching a head is still too risky of a procedure to perform with our current knowledge. Another interesting development. The subject no longer cries during any experiments. Now that the subject has reached such a high level of pain tolerance, we will begin performing some of our previously shelved experiments." Dani couldn't look away. She flipped to another page. "Per recommendation, the decision of whether to accelerate or delay the onset of puberty have both been shelved. For the time being, the subject will not be effected in this way to see if all milestones are reached at appropriate times. Vaccine research for this patient has been useful, but a better subject is needed. All currently available information on the subject's physical condition has been attached, for use in developing a replacement. The tank has so far only produced two specimen who have lived beyond the age of five. Though countless have reached adult maturity through accelerated aging, none have lived long after this. The first being AA93, who is quite unstable and potentially dangerous when not with a handler. AB14 does not have the mental instability of AA93, but also lacks any of the unusual abilities seen with all other specimen created in the tanks. AB14 is effectively 'normal', and as such, makes for minimal use in the lab outside of running tests that are slightly 'unethical' by the law to perform on our hospital patients. As per our last meeting, an experiment using a modified specimen in a more naturalistic way is underway. If this method proves to be a better usage of resources, AB14 will be recommended for termination." Dani's eyes watered. Her hands shook. "What is this? This...is this really real?" "Gross, isn't it?" Damon said, grimacing. "This is...this is evil." A tear slipped down Dani's cheek. She looked at the picture of the little boy again. Underneath "AB14", something else was written. "AKA Scott Thomas". She cried more at seeing the boy's name. "Does termination mean...That can't mean that. How would they get away with that?" "I told you. The kids that they cut up and inject in here don't come from the hospital. They make some of them in here to be used for testing. Some of the others, I think they're state wards or homeless runaways. The state loses track of kids in foster care all the time. It'd be pretty easy to get away with." Damon sat down at the desk near the file cabinet. "I've talked to AB14 in here several times. Well, he was asleep, so he didn't talk back, but he's the one I've seen the most. He has a lot of scars already. Look at his birth year." "1979. He'll be eight this year." Her tears hit against the photograph. The little boy, if he were living an ordinary life, should be in third or fourth grade. A child that age, Dani thought, should only be worrying about school and playing with their friends. "Let's see, I got put in here when I was five. That was in 1974. So, he's been here five years less than me. Damn, is it really going to be thirteen years this year? 1986 flew right by." Damon leaned back in the office chair. "AB14 doesn't know me, but I feel this connection to him, because he's always stayed too. But...I don't know how much time he has left, and I'll be moved soon. I wish I could tell him to run away. Maybe he'll sneak out of here. Haha, I know that's wishful thinking, but I want someone who's suffered in this hellhole for years to actually get out. It's either you stay a few days to a few years and you go, or you die in the moon's hands." "The moon?" Dani asked. "That's what the staff and researchers call this place. They're shortening the company name. Moone & Wolfe, the moon for short. I've gotten used to doing it too, because I hear it so much." Damon said. He fidgeted with a pen on the desk. "They'll put me in here one day. As soon as my parents stop bothering to pay my bills, they'll find a way. I know it. I've heard them talk about it. They want to cut me up and see if they can replicate what I can do. They want that kind of power." "What would they want to be able to do things like that for? Would they really care that much about being able to make storms and fire?" "It's the storm part they're really interested in. Do you realize how much you could control an entire region by weather alone? If they could figure out how to move the ground itself, they would." Damon got up from the chair. He put AB14's file back in the cabinet. "These people aren't interested in mental health research or medicine. They want to know how humans work and how they can control them at every level." "For what purpose?" Dani asked. "I don't know. Nothing good, that's for sure." Damon took her hand. "Let's head back. I don't think we should stay here too long." Dani nodded. They went out to the hill side to watch the lights from the highway. Around three, they went back to their rooms. The next morning, there was a lot of noise. Staff were everywhere. Dani overheard two of them discussing cameras and choosing children. At breakfast, she asked Damon about it. "What's going on?" "The big boss is coming by today to film some promotion thing." Damon said as he shoveled poorly made scrambled eggs into his mouth. "Who's that?" Dani asked. She picked at her food. It looked nicer than usual, but tasted awful. "Alexander Summerfield. He owns the company and controls everything. Think he's bringing his daughter, Edith, today too. I've met her several times before. She's pretty plain looking, but half of that is because she dresses so frumpy. She's around our age. Follows her dad everywhere." Damon looked over. He pointed to the other side of the cafeteria. "Speak of the devil. There he is with his little minion." Dani looked over. A tall man in a white business suit was surrounded by staff. At his side was a teenage girl, who looked as uncomfortable as every other teenager in the building about being there. She wore a plain, white dress that went down below her knees. The dress had no shape to it, making her look younger than her face suggested. An announcement was made that there would be no therapy sessions that morning and the children would be free until their lessons. The girl that came with the head of the company, Edith, wandered around, silently observing all of the other teens. She glanced over at Damon and gave him a rude look. Damon stood up and smiled at her. "Hey Edith. Nice dress." "Do I know you?" She sneered. "You should. I've been here for years. I mean, I fucked you in the girls' bathroom last time you stopped by, so I'd think you'd remember that." Damon grinned. "Or that time you sucked my dick in the nurse's office." Edith's face went deep red. She slapped him hard across the face. "I did no such thing, you creep." Her father, Alexander, rushed over to her. He got in between Damon and Edith. "What did he do to you?" "He didn't do anything. She slapped him." Dani said. "I didn't ask you." Alexander said to her. He glared at Damon. "Hound, I don't have time to deal with you. Where's Birch at? Birch, get over here." "Yes, Director? How may I help you?" Dr. Birch bowed to him. "What's this girl here for?" He asked. "She can't keep her legs closed or behave herself in any respectable way to any authority figures. She's been giving us trouble the entire time she's been here." Dr. Birch said. Dani's face was red now. "She's with Hound, right?" Alexander Summerfield said as if Dani was not in the room with them. "From what I've seen." Birch responded. "Lock them both in their rooms for today. I can't have anyone interrupting this. It's extremely important." He said. "Of course, sir. Right away." Birch bowed again and smiled at him. As soon as the pair wandered away, Birch narrowed her eyes at Damon and Dani. She ordered one of the other staff nearby to take them to their rooms and have a guard stationed at each of their doors. Dani wasn't allowed out until the following morning. From what Dani heard, they filmed a TV special about how wonderful the company was for children and teens. Some of the children filmed were actors brought in and others were from the hospital. At one point, they wanted Linda to be in the special because of her looks but she was too terrified by all the attention to say her lines. The amount of staff at the hospital returned to normal. Dani didn't listen to a word anyone said at her group therapy session. She waited for the day to end so she could go off with Damon again. That night, Damon took her to a different location. He snuck her into a break room the staff used. Dani and Damon ate some of the snacks in the fridge and made out on the couch. Afterwards, Damon turned on the small TV in the corner of the room. A special titled Unsolved Mysteries was playing. Damon sighed. "Again? I've already seen this special. Do you like murder mystery stuff?" "Sort of. When I was a kid, I read a lot of Nancy Drew books." Dani said. "What's that?" Damon asked. "Oh, um, they're mystery books mostly aimed at young girls. Nancy Drew is the protagonist of the series. She's a teenage girl who solves mysteries." Dani tried to think of something to compare the books to. The obvious answer was the Hardy Boys, but it was likely Damon didn't get access to those kinds of books either. She looked at the TV. "Have you ever seen Scooby Doo?" "Oh, so, it's like that. Huh. Didn't know there were books like that. All our assigned reading is so boring, and the staff only keep romance books around with lots of weird sex in it." Damon opened a box. He pulled out a dart. "Do you like darts?" Dani shook her head. They only made her think of her father drunkenly throwing them around with his equally drunk friends on weekend nights. Damon threw the dart at the board. Dani absentmindedly watched the TV instead. She drank from the soda she stole out of the fridge. Dani was never a fan of soda, but it tasted better than she remembered then. All they were allowed to drink was milk and chocolate milk, for their "health" as the spokesman from the dairy company once told them during a presentation they had to sit through once instead of their usual therapy sessions. If they were lucky, there might be orange juice some mornings. They wouldn't even give them water. Dani drank the soda as if it were expensive wine, savoring every bit of the taste. Dani didn't drink coffee either, but the smell of the ground coffee beans nearby lightened her mood. This was the only room in the hospital that felt like people lived in it. She didn't care what was on the TV or what she was drinking or that the sofa creaked a little every time she moved on it. It wasn't like being out there. It wasn't cold and empty. Dani rested her head on the arm of the couch. "How'd you get the master key?" Damon threw another dart. "A weird guard gave it to me. Actually, I think he might have been a spy." "A spy? For who?" Dani sat back up. "I don't know for sure. A lot of people want to get their hands on the moon's research. He looked mixed, definitely part Asian." Damon paused to think back on the encounter. He put down the dart he was about to throw. "He had an accent...I couldn't tell if he was British, Scottish, or Irish. Hmm...maybe Australian. They all sound kinda similar to me." "None of those sound alike." Dani corrected him. She wanted to add that each of those had many types of accents, but then stopped herself. Damon likely wouldn't know much even about American accents. Damon shrugged. "I can't tell the difference. Anyway, he was one of those hippie types. He had really long, black hair all braided up in a ponytail. I've never seen a guy with hair like that. If his hair was down, it'd definitely be past his ass. He was dressed like one of the guards. He caught me sneaking around one night and took me outside with him while he drank." "That definitely doesn't sound like he was a real employee. That sounds so shady..." Dani raised an eyebrow. "Right? So, we were drinking for a while." Damon leaned against the table the darts were on. "He gave you alcohol?" "Haha, yeah. He did. Not a lot. We were sharing his canteen...actually, now that I think about it...I can't remember if he actually drank anything out of it. Anyway, I was telling him about how much I hate being in there, and he gave me the key out. He told me I should make a run for it, and he'd cover for me once I got out if I asked him for help. I've never run away before. I don't see the point, and I doubt that guy had good intentions. He's probably from a foreign agency looking to research me. I've seen him a few times since then, but I don't talk to him too long. At least I got a key out of that." Damon tossed the key up in the air. "That guy definitely sounds like he was up to no good. I wonder who he was." Dani said. "Who knows. Another asshole wanting to cut me up." Damon put the key back in his pocket. He returned to playing with the darts. Dani looked over at the dartboard. "You're really good at darts." "When I was a kid, I wanted to learn archery. My parents put me in here before I was old enough to try it out." Damon threw another one. "This is the best I'll get. Sometimes, I dream about shooting a bow. That guard...he told me he was an archer. I bet he was lying." "Probably." Dani said. She watched him play for a while, then fell asleep on the couch. Damon woke her around three and took her back to her room. That night, Dani dreamt of falling. She didn't see how she fell nor did she hit the ground. She just kept falling, unable to hold on to anything. The next morning, at breakfast, the staff surrounded her table. Dani prepared to hear them yell at Damon, but they weren't there for him that day. The staff had come for Linda. "Good morning, Ms. Hart. Today is your eighteenth birthday. We'll be moving you to the building for adult women today." Dr. Birch said. Normally shy and quiet, Linda raised her voice. "No, this must be a mistake! My mother said I was going to college soon." "Your mother and I have spoken to each other many times over the last few weeks, and it has been determined that you would be better off staying with us for the time being." Dr. Birch said calmly. "But I didn't do anything wrong! This isn't fair! I want to speak to my mother!" Linda put her foot down. "We do not have to allow you any phone calls. Come with us or you will be moved by force." Dr. Birch said. "We have already determined that you are not safe to be released." "I'm not leaving until I speak to my mother!" Linda refused her. "Ms. Hart, you are making a scene." Dr. Birch said. Dani's heart raced as she watched on. She didn't know what to do. "You can't do this! This is illegal! You're holding me here against my will! I am not dangerous. I don't even have a mental illness!" Linda argued at Birch. "Your record says otherwise." Birch turned to one of the guards. "Hold her down. We're sedating her." Two male guards grabbed each of her arms and threw her down on the floor. They held her down while another staff member injected her with something. "No, let me go! I'm supposed to be leaving today! She promised me!" Linda screamed and cried. Dani looked away and turned to Damon for comfort. He looked more terrified than she was. The guards dragged Linda out of the cafeteria after she passed out. The entire room was dead silent. At night, Dani asked to call her mother for the first time in a long time. "Well, finally calling home. Have you come to beg for forgiveness?" Her mother mocked her. "I'm sorry. I know what I did was wrong. Please, let me out of here. I won't do it again. I'll do everything you want me to do." Dani pleaded with her. Her body shook as she spoke. "We get all the little updates about your misbehavior from the hospital. I know you haven't changed. If we get a few weeks of good reports, we might bring you home before your senior year starts. If I don't hear about you improving, it won't be until you're eighteen." Her mother said. "Please, Mom, can't it be sooner? It's torture in here. I'm scared." Dani whispered her words as she cried. "Scared? Of what? We're paying top dollar to keep you there. This isn't a vacation." Her mother lectured her. "We're paying for you to have a private room and good food. Your father and I toured the hospital before we brought you there, you know. You can't trick us into thinking you're in prison. These places aren't like what they used be like when I was young. You're just spoiled." "Mother, please...I don't want to be here." Dani cried more. "I want to go back to school. I know I made a mistake. Can't we tell everyone I came back from Paris early?" "I'll reconsider if your behavior actually improves. All I've heard from Dr. Birch is that you've gotten worse. I'm not rewarding you for bad behavior." "Why are you so mad at me? You know, I'm not stupid! I can do math! You were seventeen when I was born!" Dani blurted out in frustration and anger. "Consider my previous offer to be nullified. We'll talk again when you're eighteen." Her mother hung up the phone on her. Dani put the phone back on the hook and cried into her knees. The lady in the office came over to her. "Ms. Fox, you need to go to your room now." Later that night, Dani went out with Damon to the hillside. She told him about the argument she had with her mother. He held her as she cried. Damon walked her back to her room around three. She cried herself to sleep. In her dreams, she was in a waiting room somewhere she couldn't read any of the signs of. She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't move. When Dani woke in the morning, she felt dazed and disoriented. She got up from her bed and marked another day off on the calendar. She'd be seventeen soon. Another year was waiting for her after that. Her eyes were heavy from the crying she did the previous night. Dani stared at the calendar. "How am I supposed to make you happy?" Dani couldn't pay attention during group therapy. Her mind was too distracted by depressing thoughts about the future. Seeing Damon afterwards didn't cheer her up. She only thought about how his eighteenth birthday would be coming in a few months and she'd probably never see him again. Then, she'd be alone in this place for several more months. She wanted to die. On her way from therapy, a guard stopped her in the hallway. He tapped her shoulder from behind. "Hello, Ms. Dani. You're a friend of Damon, aren't you? I'd like to talk to you." The man said. He had long, black hair and a strange accent. Dani couldn't place it. It sounded closest to some type of British accent, but not quite right for any area she'd ever been to. The longer she thought about it, the stranger it sounded to her, as if her very thoughts themselves were trying to confuse her. Stranger still, while the guard was wearing the same clothes as all the other guards, rather than pure white, this guard wore only red. She looked closer at his face. He looked like he was part white and part Asian, but she couldn't tell what ethnicity for either part. The more she looked at him, the more her eyes blurred. Dani's heart pounded. This was the guard Damon told her about. "Um, do you work here?" "Yes. I work at several of the hospitals. They rotate me as they need staff. Come walk with me." He said. "Shouldn't I tell somebody?" Dani asked, backing away from him. "I'll take care of it." He said with a smile. "Actually, I really need to..." The man in red grabbed her wrist. "Listen to me. I'm not here to hurt you." Dani nodded and went with him out of fear. The strange man took her outside. He asked, "Are you Damon's girlfriend?" "I...um...why do you ask?" She asked back. "He likes you a lot. I can tell." The man said. "Why did you bring me out here?" Dani asked. She looked around. They were completely alone. "I want you to convince him to leave. I've been trying to get him out of here for years, but I can't get him to leave unless he wants to go on his own." The man said. "There are people waiting for him out here. He won't have to go back to those people who claim to be his parents." "What do you mean by claim? Do you know who his real parents are?" Dani asked. Him mentioning that detail made her think that he might not be a spy after all. She doubted many people knew about the situation with Damon being switched with another child. Then again, she thought, maybe that was common knowledge among the people who wanted to research him. While she considered that, her gut instinct told her the man wasn't involved with those kind of people. "His real name isn't Damon Hound, but I suspect you already knew that he isn't those people's son. His birth name is Raven Blackwell. He was switched with another boy when he was born. He shouldn't even be in this country. I'm telling you this because I want you to get him to leave." The man in red explained to her. He put his hand to his chest. "That boy is part of my family." 'Raven Blackwell?'. Dani repeated the name a few times in her head to not forget it. She asked the man. "How do I know you're telling the truth?" The man in red raised his hand. Above them, the clear sky clouded over and turned dark. Thunder rumbled before the rain came pouring down on them and the wind hit hard against her skin. The man grinned. "This should more than prove it to you." "Who are you?" Dani asked. "You may call me Nanakamado." The man replied. Dani didn't believe him. "Why was he switched?" "Someone wanted to get back at me for something trivial. It took me too long to find him, and he ended up here. I've been trying to get him out since he's been in here." The man said. "Why can he do the things he can? What are you?" Dani asked as the wind pushed her back. The man in red smiled again. He stopped the rain. "That's not important. Will you help me?" "Why should I?" She asked. "Run away with him. We can keep you safe." He offered. "Who is 'we'?" Dani asked. Before the man could answer, the door behind her opened. Alexander Summerfield rushed out. "What are you doing out here..." Alexander grabbed Dani and positioned her behind himself. He stared fiercely at the man in red. "Who has summoned you?" "You have something of mine." The man in red said. "If you mean the boy, I cannot hand him over to you. He's too valuable to the family." Alexander replied. "He is my family, you piece of shit." The man in red raised his hand again. A line of flames erupted before Alexander and Dani. Alexander pulled a button out of his pocket. He pressed it, then talked into a radio. "Code King. West Exit." Sirens went off all around them. The fences that lined the property rose higher. From beneath the man in red's feet, mist spread out. It turned into a thick fog within seconds, then dissipated. When the fog cleared, no one was there. Several guards rushed outside of the building to find nothing. "Damn! He was so close. We could have had him." Alexander looked back at Dani. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "What did he say to you?" "He wanted...he wanted Damon." Dani said. "Did he say anything else to you? Anything?!" Alexander's voice was filled with desperation. "He...he asked me if I was Damon's girlfriend." Dani blurted out the next thing she could remember. "Is that all?" He shook her again. "Yes!" "Did he say his name to you?" Alexander dug his fingers into her skin. "Tell me, girl." "Nana...na...I can't remember it all. I'm sorry...it was a foreign name...it sounded like it was Japanese or Chinese. I don't know." Dani's eyes watered. "Nanakamado. That's the name he gave you, didn't he?" Alexander said. "That's it!" She nodded her head. Alexander released his grip on her. "He's getting bold, coming here." "Who was that man?" Dani asked. "A monster." He said. He pushed her into the arms of one of the guards. "Take the girl inside." A guard escorted her back inside. He brought her to the room where she did her classwork. Dani sat down beside Damon. "Where have you been? You're really late." Damon pushed his chair closer to hers. "I'll tell you tonight. I can't say it here." Dani whispered to him. "Oh? Something happen?" He whispered. "Yeah." She lowered her voice more. "The head of the company's here today. Do you know why?" "Yeah." Damon asked. "What about him?" "I'll tell you later." She said. The teens met up at their usual time that night. "Hey. Wanna go outside or talk here?" Damon asked her. "I don't know...I'm scared to go out." Dani said. "What happened?" "I met that man. That weird guard." "Did he do something to you?" Damon asked. "He said he was a relative of yours and he made it rain, like you did, but he could make it stop too. Mr. Summerfield tried to catch him. I think he's part east Asian, if I were to guess and he might be from the United Kingdom. Maybe...I'm not sure...his accent, I can't...I can't seem to remember it anymore." Dani wasn't entirely certain of that last part. She could recall what she was thinking of the man then, but everything about him was disappearing from her memories. When she tried to conjure his face in her mind, she only saw a hazy blur of colors. "He made it rain?" Damon's eyes widened. "Did he hurt you?" "No, he wanted me to get you to run away from here. He said he couldn't take you unless you came willingly." Dani explained. She told him everything that happened. Damon grew more nervous the more she talked. "I don't want to go with that man." Damon said. "Why? Who do you think he is?" Dani asked. "I don't know, but he freaks me out." Dani bit her lip. "Actually, this may be stupid, but...if you're not going to leave, can you help me get out of here? Just as far as the outside of the fence." "Why? Are you going to try to run? What if that guy's out here?" Damon asked. "I don't think he'll bother me again if I'm on the outside. Then, he can't use me to get to you." Dani rested her head against his chest. "I can't take it. I have to get out of here. My mom's not going to let me leave until I'm eighteen. She probably won't let me even be friends with anyone I used to know." Damon held her close. "If you really want to...I could..." The door opened. A guard shined a light on them. "What are you doing in here?" Damon moved away from Dani. He got off the bed. "We're just talking." "Come with me. You know where I'm taking you. Girl, don't you dare leave this room. I'll be back later." The guard said. Damon walked out of the room with him. Dani waited until she couldn't see the guard in the hall anymore. She had to run somewhere, anywhere. That guard was the same creepy guard she had to hide from before. Dani considered hiding in the nurse's office again, but she presumed that would be the first place that guard would check. Instead, she ran in the opposite direction, to the other side of the building, and hid in a bathroom on that side. She went into the stall and locked it. Dani sat on the toilet and pulled her legs up. She looked up and assumed the bathroom had the same ceiling tiles the other bathrooms did. She wondered if she could manage to get up there. 'Could I do that without making a lot of noise?' Dani thought. 'Would those hold my weight?' Dani couldn't see anything to know what she could climb on. She'd only managed to find the stall from the dimly lit hall lights when she opened the door. No one was supposed to be on this side of the building. Most of the lights in the building were off, and the ones in the hall switched over to much dimmer lights than the ones used during the day. The bathrooms closest to the bedrooms would still have their lights left on right now, but she knew that would be the first place they would look. Eventually, they would look here once they realized she wasn't on that side of the building. 'I should've stayed put. What am I going to do? I'm going to get in so much trouble now.' Dani silently cried in the dark. 'But if I stayed...that man...' Dani fought within herself over the possibilities. Eventually, she stopped debating herself. That's when the fear set in. It was so dark and quiet in the room. She couldn't tell how much time had passed since she ran off. Dani listened closely for any noise outside in the hall. She heard things, but they amounted to nothing. Her mind was playing tricks on her. Every minute or so, she swore she heard footsteps and she would wait. Nothing happened. She told herself every sound she heard wasn't real, until it finally was. The bathroom door opened and the light turned on. Then, it went back off. A flashlight shone around the room. The light was shone above her at the ceiling, then all along the ground. It lingered underneath the stalls. Then, the light went away and the door closed again. Dani heard the footsteps moving away. She cried quietly in the stall. Dani tried again to think of somewhere else to hide, but there was no way out of the building other than hopping the fence. The top of the fence was covered in barbed wire. She considered trying it anyway. Sirens went off around the building. There was no more time to run. She stayed in place where she was and waited for them to find her. Rather than a guard, a police officer pulled her out of the stall. She was brought to an office with the head of the hospital and Dr. Birch. Damon was already sitting in the office. Dr. Birch made a phone call to Dani's mother. "Ms. Fox, I don't give you this punishment lightly. You will be put in one of our isolation rooms for the time being. We haven't determined for how long yet. Hound, you already know you will be going there." Dr. Birch said to the both of them. Guards escorted them to a part of the hospital Dani had never been to before. She was put inside a room that had no windows. The door had a small screen at the top of it for guards to look in at her and an area for them to hand her food without opening the door. They left the light off in her room. Dani cried until she fell asleep. When she woke up, she cried again. She was given breakfast inside the room. Dr. Birch came to visit her during breakfast. "Ms. Fox, I am very disappointed in you. We almost never have to put children in these kinds of rooms. Your mother is very unhappy about this." Dr. Birch's tone sounded caring, but Dani knew better. After she left, she heard another voice. "Dani?" "Damon? Are you in the next room?" Dani answered back. "Yeah. You're in my usual spot. I heard you ran and they called the cops." "I didn't know what to do...that guard is..." Dani's voice trailed off. "Yeah, I know. Your mom's gonna be pissed at you, but you didn't do anything wrong. Neither one of us did." Damon said. "How often do they check on us?" Dani asked. "Supposed to be every fifteen to twenty minutes. It'll be an hour from now, at best. Most days, no one else comes in this area except to give food." Damon explained. "Is anyone else here?" "Right now? No, it's just you and me." "Damon, I want to leave." Dani pressed her face against the wall that separated her and Damon. "Show me the way out. I'm going to run." "Where will you go?" Damon asked. "I'm going to try seeing my aunt. Her and my parents don't talk anymore. She's too embarrassing for them because she's a lesbian. She won't send me back to them if I explain...I think. I just...have to find a way to get to her." Dani said. She wasn't completely sure her aunt would help her, but her aunt was a nice person, from what she remembered. Before her parents forbid her from seeing Dani anymore, her aunt, Miranda, was her favorite relative. Dani only saw her now at funerals and weddings, if Miranda was invited. "Where does she live?" Damon asked. "Los Angeles." Dani said. "Dani...we're on the east coast....That's a long way to go." He said. "I know, but there's buses that go that far. And I wasn't planning on going straight there anyway. If I immediately show up, the cops might be checking her place when I get there. I need to take a long time to get there." Dani said. She could hear Damon lean against the other side of the wall. He said, "I'll go with you. It'll be a hard trip if you go by yourself." "But, if you leave..." "I'm tired of being caged. Let's go." Damon said. "We'll wait till it gets dark. They never staff anyone here overnight, even though they're supposed to." "Are you sure about this? If you get caught..." "I won't get caught. I can turn invisible, remember?" Damon laughed to hide his fear. "Where will you go? I could explain things to my aunt...she might be able to hide you, but then..." "I'll be a prisoner in a different cage." Damon said. She couldn't see him, but she somehow knew he was putting his hand against the wall. "I'll keep running. If I never stop running, they can't cage me." Dani mirrored the unseen gesture. "But then....I'll never see you again." Damon went quiet for a moment before responding to her. "We were always going to part ways, Dani. There's no getting around that. Let's make the most of our time together and part ways on our own terms." Dani's heart sunk. "Is there no way you could stay with me?" "It's best if I run. It won't be easy...maybe I can slip out of the country. I don't know...surely, they don't have too many connections outside the states, right?" Damon laughed again. His nervousness was growing more apparent in his voice. "I don't know. I'd never heard of this company until my parents told me I was coming here." Dani said. "I don't know either, but I'm going to take my chances. And you, we've got to get you out of here. You're sure your aunt will protect you?" He asked. "If I tell her what happened, yes. She won't send me back to them." Dani said, in part to convince herself. "Then, we're doing this. Tonight." Dani and Damon planned their escape in the times when no one else was near. At midnight, they made their escape. They stole some of the clothes stored away for teens to change back into when they left. Then, Damon led them outside through the front of the building. They ran into the woods and followed the highway lights until they made it down to the highway itself. They waited for a car to pass, then dashed across to the other side back into the woods. They ran until their feet ached. The first night, they slept huddled together in the woods. No one found them. Damon hid them behind an illusion. The next day, they ran until sunset, crossing deeper into the forest and farther away from the lights of the mall and the highway. Dani and Damon survived off of what little they found edible in the woods. Dani's stomach ached and her feet dragged heavily on the ground. Damon faired a little better, but Dani saw he was growing weak too. By luck, they stumbled upon a road at the border of Alabama and Georgia. They followed it into a town and ate out of a McDonald's dumpster. The store manager chased them off the property, but they had already filled their hands with all they could carry. The two teenagers found a quiet place off the road, out of sight, to eat and talk. Damon unwrapped a burger. "They really throw away a lot of food. There's nothing wrong with this." "Other than it having been in a dumpster." Dani added. "Well, yeah, but I don't see why they couldn't serve someone this. Whatever." Damon took a bite out of his burger. "We need some money. Should we beg? Or steal?" "I don't know anything about stealing." Dani said. "I'm pretty good at pickpocketing." Damon said. "Used to do it all the time with the staff." "I don't know...I don't feel right about taking someone else's money. They might need it as much as we do." Dani said. "Survival of the fittest." Damon said. "I gotta eat, sleep, and live. If I have to steal to do it, then that's what I gotta do. We're all animals." "I think I'd feel better begging, but..." Dani's voice trailed off. "If we beg, we'll be in plain sight. Cops are probably looking for us, and we haven't gotten that far." Damon opened a coffee cup. It was empty. He tossed it down. "I'm going to have to steal. That's the safest option." "What if you get caught?" Dani asked. "We run like hell." Damon said. He kissed her on the cheek. "We're gonna need a map and to keep moving. A bus would help us, but given that they're likely looking for us, they're going to check that too. We'll have to lay low for a while and avoid being out in public as much as we can." "Can we really do this? I'm scared." Dani admitted. She was already regretting her decision. "We'll survive. Besides, we have some tricks at our disposal, remember?" Damon turned himself invisible, then turned back. "That's right...wait, can't you steal stuff from the stores like that? We wouldn't have to take people's wallets. I don't really care if Walmart loses money." Dani suggested. "I was going to do that too, but we'll still need money for some things. And there's another problem." Damon stretched his arms. "If I'm going to hide us at night, I can't do that kind of thing too much in the day. There's only so much I can handle. Last night was really draining on me. That's another reason the bus is a problem. I'd hide us both if I could, but I wouldn't be able to manage it forever. If I mess up at the wrong time, that could be really bad." "Then we don't have much of a choice, do we?" Dani lowered her head. "Not really. I don't know what they'd do to us if they found us." Dani thought about her parents. They would likely move her to an even more restrictive place until she turned eighteen, then they would choose a college for her to attend to get at least another four years of control out of her. She doubted they would keep her inside a hospital forever, but that there was any chance at all terrified her. There was no going back now. Damon stole a few wallets later that day, targeting the most well dressed people he saw around. He took the cash and tossed the wallets outside of a church. Dani hid in the woods while he did that. He stole some food from a grocery store before meeting back up with her. For days, they walked and stole during the day, then slept in the woods at night, always keeping an eye out for police. Damon mentioned he saw a news report on TV about them being missing when he was getting them food. One grocery store had pictures of them next to other missing teen posters. While he was hiding himself, Damon overheard the cops talking about looking for them. They weren't far away enough to be out in the open. Damon handed her an apple before sitting down beside her in their little camp in the woods. "They put up rewards on the posters now. They sure love throwing money away." Dani heard rustling behind them. Damon heard it too. They both got up and readied themselves to run. A strangely dressed man walked out of the bushes. His hair was blond and shoulder length, and he wore a robe rather than pants and a shirt. Dani wondered if he was in costume and got lost from a performance or a renaissance faire. His blue robe went down to his bare feet. The man appeared to be in his mid-twenties. The man in blue held his hand out to Damon. "I've been looking for you. Let me take you home." Damon got in front of Dani. "Who the hell are you?" "I've come to help you." The stranger said. Dani tried to place his accent. Like the man in red, she couldn't. His accent didn't sound like any accent she knew, but it was a little different sounding than she remembered the man in red sounding like. She couldn't clearly remember his voice either. Her memories were foggy, and as she thought more about the voice of the stranger before her, the less she could pinpoint any possible location. It was as if his voice itself was distorting her thoughts. The stranger looked over at Dani. "The girl can come too, if she wants." "I don't know you, and I don't want your help." Damon held Dani's hand. He moved back. "Please, I'm not here to hurt you. I can keep you safe." The man walked closer to them. "Run!" Damon yelled. "Please, wait!" The stranger yelled back. Damon ran. Dani ran as fast as she could, holding tightly to his hand. Damon turned them both invisible. The man ran after them, having no trouble in tracking them. He called out to them again. "Please! Listen to me!" Damon didn't answer the man. He kept running without looking back. Dani watched the stranger running after them. Damon abruptly stopped and held her. She nearly fell when he did. Dani looked ahead to see why he stopped. They were at a cliff. The stranger was getting closer. Without warning, Damon grabbed her by the waist and jumped. Dani screamed as they fell. The speed they fell at slowed down until they were gently floating. Their feet touched the ground without so much as a thud. Dani looked up at Damon. She smiled. "You...you did it. You floated down." "Hah...don't be mad at me, but I wasn't sure if I'd actually be able to do that." He laughed and grinned. They both looked up. The man in blue was staring down at them from the top of the cliff. "You don't think he can do that too, do you?" Dani asked. "I don't plan on finding out. Let's keep going." Damon said. They both ran again. When they looked back, the man in blue was watching them from the top of the cliff. They ran until they had no strength left to push on. The two ended up near a main road. Dani caught her breath at a bench. Damon sat down beside her. His shirt was soaked in sweat. Dani held his hand. "Damon...I know it's risky, but can we stay somewhere for a while? Somewhere that won't ask us a lot of details. We have money for a few nights at a cheap place." "I don't think we have a choice. Don't like the idea, but I don't want to be out with whoever that guy was. He was following right behind us. How did he see us? Did I fail at disappearing?" Damon wiped sweat from his forehead. "I don't think so." He was still breathing heavily. Dani noticed his skin had turned pale. He leaned against her on the bench. "I don't think I can keep doing this much longer either. Keeping us hidden all night, every night is exhausting. I need a break." "Who do you think that man was?" Dani asked. "I don't know. I've never seen him before." Damon said. He stood up. "There's a park over there. Let's head that way for now. We shouldn't stay by the road too long." Dani followed him into the park. The park sign was faded. Dani could barely make out what it said. No one else was there. The small playground for children hadn't been kept up in a long time. All of the swings were broken, dangling from one chain or missing the seat. The slide was sinking into the ground. A small path was paved out, but was being covered up by a mix of grass, moss, kudzu, and English ivy, depending on the location. The grass off the path was up to her knees in some spots. A small pond was hidden behind some trees. It looked like a bridge once went across it, but it was long gone. Damon found a half covered wooden swing near the pond. He ripped the kudzu off of it enough for them to sit down on it. He leaned heavily against the the side of it. Dani grew worried. They had only walked a short distance, but Damon looked completely exhausted. "Are you alright?" Dani asked. She felt his forehead. Rather than hot, his body was cold and clammy. "I need... a few minutes." He lifted his head to look at her, then rested it down against the arm of the swing. Dani rubbed his back. Floating down that cliff, she suspected, had depleted nearly all of his energy. She leaned against him. Dani looked around at the small park. Without any visitors and left so unattended, the park had come to possess a strange stillness about it. Few animals seemed to be in the area. Little noise from the road nearby carried over into the secluded area. It unnerved her. She felt like they were a pair of ghosts, lost on their way to a cemetery. Dani sat up and rubbed her eyes. She yawned, then got up to stretch a little. Dani glanced over. She froze. The strange man from the woods was standing directly behind the wooden swing. He was staring at her. His hands were on the top of the back of the swing. The man raised one hand and put a finger to his lips. Dani forced herself to speak. "Da-Damon...get up." "What's wrong?" Damon asked. He sat up. Dani pointed to the man behind him. Damon looked back. The stranger now locked eyes with Damon. Damon's eyes opened wide before he stumbled off the swing. The stranger leaned over the swing. "Wait, please...I need to talk to you." Damon got to his feet and grabbed Dani's hand. They ran toward the road. On the other side of the park, a pair of police officers were standing by. The officers were questioning someone. They saw the teens running and tried to stop them to ask what was going on. Damon ran past them and yelled back. "That blond guy is trying to kidnap us! In the park! Help!" The cops ran over to the entrance of the park, crossing paths with the blond stranger at the old, faded sign. They blocked the stranger from going past that point. Dani heard them asking him questions, but couldn't make out what anyone was saying. Their questions turned to shouting. They kept running. By sheer luck, given their location, they managed to find a bus stopped and picking up people. Dani and Damon hopped on and got off several stops later. The entire ride, Dani and Damon barely spoke. They sat near the back and kept their heads down to avoid being seen by anyone. Damon had no energy left to hide them. He tried to mask it, but Dani noticed how heavily he was breathing and how weak his movements were. They found a shady, cheap motel to stay in. Damon booked them for a full week so he could regain his strength. Having a locked door made Dani feel a little safer at first, but there were so many unsavory people loitering around the building at all hours, she never really felt safe. There was also the fear that the police might show up at some point. At the very least, she had a blanket to sleep under and wasn't directly sleeping on dirt. Dani took a shower that night for the first time in a long while. The hot water felt good on her aching body. Damon showered with her. The hot water seemed to be helping him even more than her. They washed each other off, enjoying the brief moment of peace. Afterwards, he put his underwear on and grabbed the phone book to order some pizza. As soon as he lie down on the bed, he fell asleep. Dani covered him with the blanket and dressed herself. She ordered the pizza for them. They ate their first hot meal since leaving. Damon went right back to sleep after eating. Dani watched TV for a while before falling asleep beside him. Dani dreamt of falling again. She woke to the sound of sirens outside. Dani looked outside the window. An ambulance was carrying someone away. She closed the curtain back. The next few nights, Dani and Damon would be awoken by all sort of noise. Dani was getting used to the disturbances. She almost didn't bother getting out of bed on the fourth night when heard something tapping at their window. Dani got up, dressed in only her shirt and underwear, to peek at who was roaming around so late at night. She assumed someone had leaned against their glass again to smoke or wait on someone. When she pulled back the curtains, she saw the man in blue staring at her. He tapped on the glass again. "Let me in." He said. Dani let go of the curtain. "Damon!" She rushed over to the bed and shook him to wake him. Damon rubbed his eyes. "What?" The handle of their door turned. Dani watched the door unlock itself. Damon didn't bother getting dressed. He grabbed Dani's wrist and ran with her to the bathroom wearing only his boxers. Damon locked the door. Dani cowered near the floor while Damon blocked the door with his body. They listened. Dani heard the door of their room open. Footsteps came closer until she saw a shadow cast underneath the bathroom door. The handle turned and the door unlocked itself. Damon stopped it from turning any further. He slammed his body against the door. "I'm not trying to scare you. Please, I need to talk to you." They heard the stranger say. "Go away!" Damon screamed at the man. "Please, please, leave me alone! I don't want to go anywhere with anyone." "I'm sorry for scaring you. I'm not out to hurt you. Please, listen to me. You may not believe this, but you're my son. I've been looking for you all this time." The stranger said. Dani peered underneath the door. She saw the ends of the blue robe and the man's bare, dirty feet. "You're a liar. You're too young to be my father. And that other man said the same thing! You can't both be my father. I already have one. He left me in a cage. Do you want to pin me down too? Who do you work for?" Damon yelled at the stranger. He banged on the door. "He wasn't lying to you. I can explain everything." The stranger said. "Go away!" Damon yelled as loud as he could. "I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone. When you want to come home, call for me." "Call for you? I don't even know who you are." Damon angrily said. "My name is Robin." The stranger softened his voice. "And yours isn't Damon. You can feel it, can't you?" "I don't feel anything about a name! Leave us alone. I'm not going with you. Ever." Damon responded with the same ferocity as before. "I'm sorry." The stranger's voice was soft and quiet. Dani peered under the door again. No one was stranding there. She pointed to the door. Damon pressed his ear against the door and listened. Cautiously, he opened the bathroom door a little. No one was in their room. The door was closed and locked like it was before. "Where is he?" Dani asked. "I don't know." Damon's body shook. He left the bathroom and grabbed his pants off the floor. "We're leaving in an hour. If we have to sleep in the woods again, then so be it." "What if he comes back while we're in the woods?" She asked. "At least we can run." "Do you think he's going to hurt us?" Dani put her own pants on. "I don't know what he wants. My father...what kind of bullshit is that?" Damon buttoned his pants. He looked around for his shirt. "What about that strange guard? Do you think either of them are telling the truth?" "Both of them look like they're in their twenties. There's no way either one of them could be. But..." Damon stood still. Something dawned on him. "That guard...he's always looked young. He hasn't really aged since I first met him. What if one of them is my father?" "That man said they both were." Dani reminded him. "Yeah, right. Two men can't have a baby together. How the hell would that work?" Damon rolled his eyes. "What if it was some kind of experiment? Like in a lab with an artificial womb? You said yourself Moone & Wolfe does all kinds of weird human experiments. What if those men are your parents through some type of unethical experiment?" Dani suggested. It seemed plausible enough given the other types of research the company had done. Damon told her before that they often made children solely to experiment on them. "I don't think even Moone & Wolfe has the ability to do something like that." Damon put his shirt on. "And they're not with the moon either. I've heard there's another company that competes with Moone & Wolfe. Or, well, they interfere. The front part of the company pretends to be about criminal investigations, but I've heard the moon researchers mention they do research too. Aurora. They might be with Aurora." "Damon, please, let's stay in another motel. I don't want that man sneaking up on us. At least in the motel, we can hide in the bathroom." Dani hugged him from behind. "I doubt anyone has any rooms open right now. We'll have to risk it." Damon put his hands over hers. They went up to the front and checked out. They spent the night in the woods, neither of them able to sleep for very long. When sunrise came, Damon and Dani went looking for another motel to stay at. He took a map from the lobby of the next motel. It was for the state of Alabama. Damon and Dani decided they would only stay at the same motel for a single night, then move to a different one, so it would be harder for anyone to track them down. They hopped from motel to motel for a week straight. On the seventh night, Dani brought the topic up to Damon. "He hasn't come back. Do you think he will?" "I don't know." Damon said. "Have you ever seen him before that time he came after us in the woods?" Dani asked. "No." Damon sat on the bed, staring at the map. "No one from the moon has showed up either. We might be able to try a bus soon." "Couldn't you make us invisible if we took a shorter bus ride?" Dani asked. "Too tired. I can't even make a flame right now." Damon held up his hand as if to do something, but nothing happened. "I don't understand. I've been resting, and I'm still exhausted." "I'm sorry. This is all my fault." Dani's shoulders dropped. "No, it's not." Damon kissed her on the cheek. "I want to do this too." "But if I make it to my aunt's place, you..." "I told you. I'm going to try and start over out of the country. If no one's looking for me there, I can blend in." Damon held her hand. "I promise you, if I ever find a safe place to be, I'll call you. Just give me your aunt's phone number. If you move, she can give me your new number." "What if she moves too?" Dani asked. "How likely is that?" Damon asked. "I don't know." She said. "I'll find a way. Trust me." He kissed her hand. "If I find a safe place...and you still want to me with me, maybe you could come to where I'm at." "I'll still want to be with you, even if I have to wait half a century." Dani hugged him tightly. "I'm flattered, but I really doubt that. If I'm gone that long, you should move on to someone who can make you happy where you are. No one should have to wait around that long." Damon hugged her back. "If they catch you, I'll never know." Her eyes watered. "I know." Damon nuzzled his face against hers. "Let's not think about that right now. We're going to get you to your aunt's place. That's all that matters right now." Damon kissed her. She kissed him back. Before she knew it, they were both half dressed. Dani felt over the front of his underwear. Her cheeks burned. "Did you want to do it?" "Yeah." Damon caressed her cheek. "Are you sure?" Her body was locked between fear and desire. Dani worked up her courage. "Go ahead and do what you want." "Go ahead and what? Are you not participating in this?" Damon looked at her strangely. Dani looked away. "I told you. I don't really like sex." "Why?" "It always hurts." "I remember you saying something about that. Have you seen a doctor? Are you sure you don't have a condition?" "No." Dani said. Her body suddenly felt gross. She couldn't stop noticing the sensation between her legs. "Girls don't enjoy sex. Girls just do it to make guys happy." "Who told you that?" Damon asked. "A lot of people." "You don't masturbate?" Damon asked her. She gave him a strange look. "Girls can't masturbate." "Yes, they can." "How would a girl masturbate? Are you sure you're not a virgin?" Dani said. She couldn't believe he said such a thing. "I definitely am not." He sat up. "Dani, do you really not know that much about your own body? Here, I'll show you how you do it." Damon pulled her panties off. Dani watched him in confusion. She didn't understand what he could possibly show her. From what she understood, to do that, she would need a body part she didn't have. "What are you doing?" Dani asked. Damon got between her legs. He put his finger on a part of her she'd never paid any attention to before. "You see this? Do you know what this is?" "Um...part of my vagina? I don't know the name of that specific part." Dani's mind conjured up a diagram from health class, but the only things she could name were internal. "It's called the clitoris. Girls touch this part to masturbate. And in here too, if you want." Damon slid his finger further down to a place she was more familiar with. "What would that do?" Dani asked. Her face felt hot. Her body was reacting against her will. She waited for Damon to comment on how disgusting her body was. He asked, "Can I go down on you?" "How...how would you do that with a girl?" Dani asked, more confused than before. Damon grinned. "Wanna find out?" "Okay..." Dani agreed, unsure of what to expect next. She watched Damon get between her legs. The texture of his tongue on her body sent shivers through her. It was familiar to a degree. When she first agreed to have sex with Roger, her body was wet like this and ached in this same way, anticipating something she couldn't explain she wanted. She felt like this too when Damon touched her and when she would slip her hands into his pants. At the same time, she felt strange. When Roger did touch her, it hurt more than it felt good and he always seemed to be rushing through his motions, racing towards his end goal. There wasn't any time for her to enjoy the moment. Once he was in her, he'd stop kissing her and touching her breasts. It was only about him and her needing to not interrupt him. Up until this point, she had only let Damon touch her above the waist. She didn't know where this feeling was taking her. Whatever it was, something was building inside her body. Her body tensed. Dani began comparing what Damon was doing to when Roger made her go down on him. She remembered the awful taste, how he smelled, how gross she felt during it. Damon didn't look disgusted. She noticed he had pulled down his own underwear and was touching himself. Seeing him touch himself made that tension building in her grow. She couldn't think about anything else. Damon touched inside of her. She gripped the sheets and moaned. Dani breathed heavily, dazed and overcome with a sense of satisfaction she had never known before. "What did you do to me?" "Did it feel good?" Damon wiped his face off. Dani's face went a deep red. "Something happened at the end." "Probably an orgasm." Dani looked down at him. "Girls can have those?" "What the fuck was your ex good for?" Damon gave her a look of pity. "Nothing." Dani's satisfaction turned to embarrassment and anger. "Why did nobody tell me about this?" "A lot of people believe a lot of wrong things about sex. May be no deeper than that." Damon got on top of her. He kissed down her neck. "And you did that to me. You don't feel gross?" She asked him. Damon asked in between kisses. "About what?" "Being between my legs." "I...what? I have to get between your legs to put it in." He said bluntly. "No, I mean...your face. It doesn't feel humiliating to you?" She asked. "I like doing that. Why would I be humiliated?" Damon brushed her hair off her face. "It always felt like that for me...when Roger made me do it to him. It felt so gross." "Why?" Damon asked. "He'd...never clean himself and he'd make me get on my knees and he'd move my head and..." Dani couldn't explain everything that bothered her. Saying those details aloud was too embarrassing. She covered her face in shame. "He'd call me names. I felt so...dirty." "You don't have to do it on your knees. Or any of that stuff, actually." Damon kissed her on the cheek. He smiled at her. "I just took a shower. I'm clean. Do you want to try it on me? I could lay on my back. Then you'd be on top of me." Damon rolled over onto his back. "I don't know...Are you going to put your hands on me?" Dani asked. "I won't, if you don't want me to." He reassured her. Dani stared down at Damon's body. She wanted to touch him. 'I did it for Roger. I can do it to him.' It wasn't as bad as she anticipated. Damon kept his word and didn't put his hands on her. She watched his expression change the longer it went on. Damon stopped her for a moment. "Do you want me to tell you when I'm about to cum?" "What for?" Dani asked. "Some girls I've been with didn't want it in their mouth." Dani stared at him for a moment. She never considered that she might have a choice in the matter. "I...I don't like the taste." "Okay. I'll let you know when." As he promised, he let her know. Dani pulled away and only got in on her hands and on him. Dani wiped everything off. Damon, through heavy breaths, asked her. "So...did you hate it?" "No...I don't know if I liked it or not, but I didn't hate it either." Dani felt guilt wash over her again. "Is it really okay if I don't swallow it?" "It's your choice." He shrugged. "What do you want?" Dani asked. "I think it's sexy when girls do, but if you don't want to, you don't have to." Damon added. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to." "But..." Damon pulled her close into a hug. "You've got a lot to let go of. Do you still want to go?" "I guess." "What do you really want?" Damon asked her. Dani knew she wanted to. For some reason, it was still so hard for her to say so. "I don't know...I'm a little curious...if you might show me something new." "Maybe I will. Maybe something good." He kissed her. "What position do you like it in?" "I don't know..." "Then, can I pick the position?" He asked. "Okay." Damon kissed her more. He touched her all over her body. Dani allowed herself to explore him more than she usually would. When they were both ready, Damon helped her get into the position he wanted. Dani hadn't done this one before. Roger preferred her to be facing away from him. Being on top of Damon was intimidating. She didn't have the strength to keep at it. Damon took over, but she couldn't take that either. Dani bit her lip and held back a whimper. Damon stopped moving. "Are you okay?" "I'm sorry..." "Does it hurt in this position?" He asked. Dani nodded. "Oh, I'm sorry. Why didn't you say so?" Dani got off of him. "I didn't want you to be mad." "I won't be mad. We can just switch positions. No big deal." He held her hand for reassurance. Dani used the opportunity to say something she was too afraid of saying earlier. "Could we not...do anything where I'm on my stomach?" "Oh, okay. Does that hurt too?" He asked. "No, but it feels...I don't like it." Dani glanced to the side. Roger would force her down on her stomach when he didn't get his way. She didn't think it would bother her that much when doing this with someone else, but she didn't want to feel her body in that position then. At least, not right now. "How about from behind on your side? I like that position." Damon suggested something different to try. "Like how?" Dani asked. She didn't quite understand what he meant. "Here, like this." Damon got behind her. He cuddled up against her back and put his arms around her. "Like this, I can hold you really close. Do you want to try it?" Dani nodded. She hadn't done it in this position before. It felt like they were cuddling like they usually did. His breath on her neck, his face against her hair, his arms resting gently around her waist, all of it made her feel safe in that moment. It didn't hurt when he was in this position. She noticed he wasn't as far in as before and the angle was very different. She wondered if that was causing it to not be painful, but she was too embarrassed to ask Damon about things like that yet. "This position gives me good reach for this too." Damon let his hand slip down from her waist to touch her more. Dani liked what he was doing. She worked up the courage to ask him another question. "Could you...go slower?" Damon moved his hips more slowly. "Oh, did you mean with my hand or my...?" "Both." He did as she asked. Damon kissed her cheek. "How does this position feel?" "I think I like it." Damon clung more tightly to her. "Should I...pull out? I'm not wearing a condom." "Um..." Dani forgot about that. It didn't really cross her mind. Roger never wore anything. Dani didn't know what to say. She instinctively worried saying yes would make Damon angry. "Please decide, like, now." Damon bit his lip. He buried his face in her hair. "I can't...for..." Dani panicked. All that came out was. "I don't...I don't know..." "I'll..." Damon was too late to stop himself. He couldn't finish his sentence. Catching his breath, he apologized. "Sorry...I...miscalculated." Dani blushed. "It's not your fault...I didn't give you an answer." "I should have asked you beforehand, but I forgot. I'm sorry." He rested his head against her shoulder. "We should get some condoms. If you get pregnant, that will make things more complicated. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." "No, it's okay, really." Dani smiled at him. "It felt good, for once." "Oh, you didn't get off this time. Here." Damon touched her more. "You...don't have to...do this..." Dani looked away. "This isn't a burden, you know." He kissed her. "K-keep going then." Dani managed to say. The second time she came was as good as the first. They cuddled together afterwards. Damon fell asleep holding her. Dani stayed up for a while after Damon fell asleep. She felt strange. Everyone kept telling her how awful she was for having sex and she felt awful about it, because it felt bad when she was doing it. But this felt good. If it was so bad, why did it feel good this time? Dani looked down at her own body. She touched herself where Damon showed her. Dani kept at it, but she couldn't get herself worked up the way Damon could. She tried for a good twenty minutes before giving up. 'What am I doing wrong? He managed to do it.' Dani sighed in frustration. She got up to take a shower. As she washed her body, more memories tumbled out. She used to wait for Roger to leave, on edge that her parents would somehow realize what she had done. She wanted to wash immediately afterwards. Dani would scrub herself thoroughly. Her body felt so dirty, from him and from herself. Sometimes, she scrubbed her skin raw. As Dani washed herself off in the shower, she realized she didn't really feel all that dirty then, not in that way. Her body felt dirty in a normal way, like she was washing her hands off after eating ice cream or sweating through her clothes in summer. The dirty feeling she was used to was different. It was something invisible, soaking deep into her skin. Dani touched herself again as she looked down at herself. Some changes from the last few years aside, this was how she had always been. Nothing about her really changed all that much. Why did she start to feel so disgusted by herself in the last few years? Was it before or after she started seeing Roger? She couldn't quite remember, but something told her Roger wasn't the original source of her shame. Dani tried to forget about all that. She thought again about what she had done with Damon, and how it felt. She envisioned his warm arms around her. Dani turned off the shower and went back to bed. She didn't bother getting dressed. She cuddled up against Damon under the blanket. He woke up for a moment. "Hmm? Did you shower?" "Yeah." She said in a soft voice. "You smell nice." He pulled her closer and closed his eyes. "Night. I love you." Her heart skipped a beat. "Night." When she woke, it was pouring rain outside. Damon was making breakfast out of the food they had. He wasn't wearing anything. Dani sat up in bed. "Morning." He walked over to her carrying a bowl. Damon handed it to her. She took it from him. "What time is it?" "Noon." "That's not morning." "Nope." Damon got on the bed. He kissed her on the cheek. "Sleep well?" "Kind of. I wasn't as afraid about someone finding us, but my back hurts more than when we sleep outside." She ate. "Yeah, this mattress is shit." Damon ate beside her. He turned up the volume on the TV. Dani stared at him. "Why are you naked?" "My clothes are drying. I washed them this morning. They're hanging in the bathroom." He said. "Oh." "Hope you don't mind, but I washed yours too. We're gonna have to stay indoors today." Damon leaned back against the pillows. "It's raining out anyway." He watched a mystery show on TV. Dani felt flustered sitting with him, both of them naked. She expected he would want her to do something. Dani waited, but Damon seemed more interested in eating and watching TV. She pretended to need to pee to see if the clothes were dry yet. They were slightly damp. She returned to the bed and ate with him. Dani kept expecting something to happen. She soon realized it wasn't really that she expected Damon would want something, but that she herself was the one who was aroused. Dani tried going down on him again. She wanted to compare him further to Roger in ways she avoided last night. Dani asked for him to do the same to her. Her shame and guilt were fading away. Their clothes took all day to fully dry. By night, Damon was restless and wanted to go on a short walk nearby. The rain had let up. Dani went with him. They stopped by a grocery store to snatch a few things. At the front of the store, Dani saw a poster of herself on the wall. She walked away from it quickly. Damon made sure to steal a box of condoms for them. On the walk back, they held hands in the dark, avoiding the streetlights. Dani leaned against him as they walked. Some day, in the not so distant future, she was going to have to say goodbye to him. As much as they struggled now, she didn't want that day to come. Dani prayed for the first time in a long time that Damon would find somewhere safe quickly and she could run off to join him. Dani doubted her prayer would be answered. God never answered any of her others, but she held on to that hope anyway. They wandered around the south for a while before changing direction and moving northward. They spent more time outside when they could, and stayed in motels when Damon became too exhausted to hide them. Damon eventually got better maps for them to follow. He worried they might wander into somewhere dangerous. They both lost track of time. One night, when they were in Michigan, intentionally far off track from California, they watched the stars and talked in the darkness. "You know, I might be able to get into Canada." Damon said. "Do you think I can do it?" "What will you do after that?" Dani asked. "Haven't thought that far ahead yet. Guess I'll figure that out when I get there." Dani lay with him under a blanket. She pulled it up higher. "You've got Mexico you can try too." "Yeah." He held her close. "I'll figure something out." "And then I'll find you." Dani said. Damon kissed her. "Maybe...maybe we can have our own place somewhere. Somewhere away from everyone, somewhere the moon can't reach us." Dani stared up at the bright, circular light above them. She knew what he meant, but she coldly joked to herself, 'And where would that be?' The two teens were starting to fall asleep when they heard something moving nearby. They both went quiet to listen. A figure loomed over them. The figure sat down beside Damon. Damon held Dani close. He glanced up at the figure. "What do you want?" "I want you to come home." The figure answered. Dani recognized the voice as belonging to the stranger they met who wore blue. "I told you before to leave me alone." Damon said. "Please, listen to me. I am not trying to hurt you. I want you to come home." The man in blue put his hand on Damon's shoulder. "I don't want to go with you. Leave me alone." Damon didn't move. "Your real name. Let me at least give that back to you." The man in blue moved his hand away. "Raven Blackwell. I gave you your name when you were born. Don't let anyone else know it." That was the same name that the other man told Dani before. Dani spoke up. "You said before that he has two fathers. How is that possible?" "It is possible in the same way that we can call the rain." The man in blue put his hands together. A light appeared in between his palms. Then, it burst open. Where the light once was, a flower, glowing a bright blue, floated. "It took me a long time to be able to perform such a feat. I'm one of the only people ever to have done such a thing. You were born, here, between our hands." Dani and Damon watched him in amazement. Damon was more entranced with the display than Dani was. He reached out for the flower. When he touched it, his hand glowed with it. "What are you?" Damon asked. "I am human, the same as you." The man said. "If you're telling the truth, how can you do these things?" Damon asked. "I studied how to, and taught your other father how." The man in blue put the flower in Damon's hand. "I can help you control it." "I don't trust you." Damon sat up. He couldn't quite make out the stranger's face in the dark. The moon cast most of his face in shadow. Damon stared in the man's direction. "What was I made for? Am I a lab rat that got misplaced? Is that why you want me back?" "I gave you life because I wanted a child." The stranger said. As he spoke, the land around them began to glow the same bright blue as the flower. The area was as bright as a overcast day, cast in azure lights and misty shadows. Dani and Damon both stood up. The stranger stood up after them. Up close, Dani could see the man in blue and Damon were the same height. Dani saw in the glow of bright blue, though the shape of their eyes differed, the color was identical. Damon's black hair contrasted sharply to the stranger's blond, but the texture of the strands was the same. The shape of his face, the way the stranger smiled, and his voice itself, when she discarded his accent--all of it was the same as Damon. Whatever the circumstances, whether the other man was related at all, Dani was convinced the man standing before them had to be Damon's biological father. "I don't know you." Damon said. "And I don't...I don't trust you. Leave me alone. Don't bother us again." The man in blue's smile vanished. "If that is what you wish, I won't come to see you again unless you call for me. Please, do not forget my name. I am Robin. Use my name however you wish." All at once, the blue lights vanished. "Hello?" Damon called out to the stranger. The man didn't answer. He reached in the dark for Dani's hand. "Dani?" "I'm right here." She fumbled to find him as her eyes readjusted to the darkness. Damon and Dani found each other. They didn't run that night. "Do you think he'll come back?" Dani asked. "No, I don't think so." Damon's voice had a hint of sadness in it. "Did you want to go with him?" Damon held her hand under the blanket. "Shh. Let's go to sleep." They moved on from there, heading west. When they next stayed in a motel, Damon noticed the calendar in the front lobby. It was June 6th, 1987. "Well, well, looks like I'm legally an adult now. Too bad I don't have an ID and I'm running for my life, so this is completely meaningless." He said as they walked to their room. "Oh, you're seventeen now, right? Your birthday's already passed." "That's right. Huh. I forgot about my birthday." Dani's mind was on too many other things to care about that. She wondered what her parents did on her birthday. Did they miss her? Were they angry with her? Regretful? When they got to their room for the night, Dani was tempted to call them and see. A part of her wanted everything to go back to normal as she knew it, back to her old school with her old friends in her old room. Her fingers traced the outline of the phone. Dani watched Damon take his shoes off. The bottom of the soles had holes in them. She moved her hand away from the phone. "We should really start moving towards Los Angeles now. It should be enough time by now, don't you think?" Damon said. Dani blinked. "What?" "To your aunt's place. It should be okay to take you there now, right?" "Oh, yeah. Probably. Should we go by bus?" Dani asked. She sat down on the bed. Her heartbeat rang in her ears. "For part of it, that might be okay. Surely, we're not in the news anymore." Damon sat down beside her. "Might be a good idea to take our time, but no more wandering in random directions." "When we get there, where will you go?" Dani asked. She stared at the floor. "I'll try north first. If I can't get into Canada, I'll go south to Mexico. There's got to be some way to get out of this country." Damon said. "And then you'll call me." Dani leaned against him. "Yeah. As soon as I can find somewhere safe, I'll call you. I promise." He swore to her. Dani feared that call would never come. Time passed by too quickly. Dani did everything to slow down their trip. She wanted to be safe, but she didn't want to let go of him. No matter what she did, she knew their time together would be over soon. Dani was hungry for any affection she could get out of him. When they ran out of condoms, she would tell him not to worry about getting up and going to the store that night. She couldn't waste a moment of time. Damon worried about it, but didn't turn her down either. It was reckless, and she worried when she didn't get her period one month. However, since they had been on the run, her cycle had become very irregular. She'd missed a month before. Dani told herself that was all it was and that it would come the next month some time. In late October, they were nearly there. Dani would be there by tomorrow. She looked at the calendar. Tomorrow was Halloween. One year ago, her parents took her to that place. Tomorrow, she would be truly free again, and she'd have to say goodbye to Damon. Each passing minute cut across her soul. Her anxiety rose further after sunset. Damon rested on the bed. "We're almost there, aren't we? I can't believe we've been on the run this long." "Me either. We're so close now." Dani joined him. They exchanged looks. Damon brushed back the stray strands of hair on her face. Dani held back tears. They stayed awake long into the night, lost in each other's sadness and warmth. In the morning, Damon walked her to her aunt's home. Damon stopped at the edge of the driveway. Dani looked back at him. It was time. "Goodbye, Dani." He forced a smile and waved at her. "You'll see me around, probably." "Damon..." Dani tried not to cry. She rushed back over to him. He hugged her, then whispered. "Go fall in love with someone else." "I'll never..." Dani started to say. Her words were cut off by a kiss. He pulled away and smiled again. Then, he vanished. "Damon? Damon, please...please don't leave yet." Dani felt around for him. She knew he couldn't have gotten far yet. "Damon, please don't go..." She collapsed to her knees. She couldn't hold the tears back anymore. Her aunt found her outside soon after. Miranda brought her inside. "Dani...how the hell did you get here? What are you doing here? They told me you might have been kidnapped." Miranda hugged her niece. "I ran away. No one kidnapped me." Dani wiped her face clean. She begged. "I can't go back. Aunt Miranda, please don't make me go back." "Why? What happened?" Miranda handed her a box of tissues. She got one for herself as well. Dani took one out of the box. She sat and explained most of everything. She expected her aunt wouldn't believe a portion of her story. Miranda listened quietly, in awe and in horror, at every word her niece had to say. "You don't think I'm crazy?" Dani asked. "I don't know about all that research stuff, but you know, I've read a lot about weird research people have done that normal citizens weren't supposed to know about. Who knows what's out there? I don't think you'd lie to me, and I don't think you're crazy. Everything you said about your mom certainly sounds like something she'd pull." Miranda said. She added. "To think, she'd have the nerve to pull something like this after what happened when she was a teenager. You know they put her in an asylum for a while when she was a teenager? It was the first time she got pregnant." "Wait...first? But I'm an only child." Dani's eyes widened. "You and your mother share more in common than you think. But they didn't go out of country. They did it in our bedroom, and it was a lot more dangerous than what that doctor did to you. Then, they put her in that place for a while. When they took her out, they transfered her to a different school. She met your dad there and well, you were born about a year later. Your mom and dad had a shotgun wedding as soon as your grandpa found out your mom was pregnant. I can't believe she went and put you through the same thing." Miranda shook her head. No one had ever told Dani this before about her mother. "Why would she do that to me when someone already did it to her?" "I don't understand it either, Dani. Your mom and I used to be close before all that happened. We were both troublemakers at school and didn't care about making it to our classes or morning mass at that school they sent us to. Once we left the house, we ran wild, like tigers in a jungle. We used to play pranks on the nuns and the boys from the other school whenever we had school dances. After that night, when our parents found out she was pregnant, everything changed. She was their little doll after that, and she suddenly hated everything about me because I wouldn't 'comply' the way she did. I used to tell her all my secrets. When I told her the one that mattered most, she kicked me out of the family. But I suppose you already know about that." Miranda went over to a wall of pictures. She touched the one of two teen girls in pink uniforms. Dani looked at it. She recognized it as a slightly older version of the uniform she used to wear to school. Dani looked closer at the two girls. The one with really short red hair she recognized as her aunt, and the one with unruly, curly red hair as her mom. Her mom looked smug in the photo. She was holding up a bag. Dani realized that the bag was a distraction. With both hands, her mother was flipping off whoever took the photo. Both their skirts were hiked up higher than was allowed by the dress code. Dani's mother's button down shirt was half unbuttoned. Bright red lipstick adorned her face, another dress code violation. Dani was in shock. Her parents would never ever allow her to look like that. "That's really her?" Dani asked. "Crazy, huh? We used to go out all proper, then on the walk there, we transformed into our real selves. Oh, the nuns would have a field day on my knuckles." Miranda laughed. "Helen was a master at getting under their skin. She'd smile when they hit her. You know, when they moved her to another school, they moved me too. Had to cover every angle. They knew I'd talk. They cut off contact with her boyfriend too. He actually offered to marry her, but they didn't want him. He was the son of the gardener. They fired that guy too. What a mess. The only reason they pushed your mom to marry your dad is your dad actually comes from money. More money, in fact. I dunno why she was with that dumbass. I always thought he was a piece of shit." "I don't know. I don't think Mom and Dad really love each other. I know Dad's cheating on her with his secretary, and I think Mom is cheating too." Dani said. She hadn't told anyone that before. It was a taboo subject for her to discuss with anyone. "Figures. Wish she'd taken my advice back then. But who knows. Maybe that would've turned out worse." Miranda sat down on the sofa. "What advice?" Dani asked. "Well, she told her boyfriend first, then me. He already offered to marry her and quit school to go straight to work. I told her to run off with him. I knew how our parents were. Whatever was going to happen wasn't going to be good, but I couldn't have foreseen it was going to be even worse than I imagined. She didn't want to leave me behind. I told her I'd run off with them, and I could quit school too to help get money for the baby. She didn't want to ruin either of our futures. That's what she said. The next day, she told our parents about it, hoping they would at least give her some support to take care of the baby. The three of us had been spending all that time discussing all these plans and options to take care of this baby, and my parents just up and decide there ain't gonna be a baby." Miranda leaned back on the couch. She looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "Back then, your mom wasn't really religious or anything like that. She wasn't worried about going to hell over anything. She wanted the baby because it was his baby, and she already thought they were going to get married one day anyway. They were starting their family 'early'. Adoption never crossed her mind, and certainly not abortion, because she was just dead set that guy was going to be the one. Your grandfather slapped her when she told him about wanting to marry him." "Do you know what happened to that guy?" Dani asked. "Dunno. Our parents made sure we never saw that guy ever again." Miranda said. "Now, the really hard part was working our brains around how are parents forced her into that, while at the same time spending so much time telling us girls who did that were evil. It's murder. And then they shamed my sister for it, even though they made it happen. But you see, it was ultimately her fault, because she got pregnant on accident. Or something. I'll tell you one more. Your grandparents got married because my grandma was pregnant and your great-grandparents didn't want to deal with the shame of having a pregnant, unwed daughter. It's an endless cycle. All this over image." Dani put her hand over her stomach. She thought about something else. "Um...Aunt Miranda...I don't know if you'll be mad at me, but...could you buy me a pregnancy test?" Her aunt looked over at her. "That boy?" "Damon and I were dating. I'm sorry." Dani hung her head in shame. Her aunt put her hand on her shoulders. "It's gonna be okay. I'll get you one. Did you want to keep it, if you are pregnant?" "I...I don't know yet." Dani answered. "It's okay if you do. I'll help you out, and I won't let anyone get in the way this time. I couldn't help your mom, but I'm here." Dani hugged her aunt. "You're really not mad at me?" "No, it's alright." Her aunt held her. "I've had enough of this stupid cycle. It's your turn. You decide what you want, and we'll make it happen." Miranda went out to the store and got Dani a pregnancy test. She took the test in the bathroom. Dani came back out to tell her aunt the results. "Well?" "I'm pregnant." Dani leaned against the bathroom door. "I'm pregnant... What if they find out..." "I won't let them do anything about it. Do you know what you want to do?" Miranda asked. "I...I don't know...I need to think about it." Dani's mind was filled with a thousand different thoughts. Her aunt let her stay in her guest room. It had a small balcony, like her old bedroom did. Dani spent a few afternoons on that balcony, weighing her options. She didn't have much time to decide. Dani thought back to her first pregnancy, of the duration it lasted. The entire ordeal was terrifying for her. She tried to picture what she would have done if her parents hadn't forced her into something. She likely would have carried the baby to term if Roger said he wanted it and she may have tried to marry him. That was her original plan. After being with Damon, horrible as it was, she was actually a little grateful that Roger revealed his true colors to her that day she told him. If he hadn't and she ended up married to him, getting out of that, or even seeing how abusive their relationship was, would have been much harder. That single push over that balcony may have prevented her from a lifetime of torture. She felt sick to her stomach that she had convinced herself that all relationships with men were going to be like with Roger, and even more ill that part of the reason she had so little knowledge about the world and relationships was because of her parents' restrictive upbringing. It didn't need to be like that. If she had met Damon first, or someone like him, she doubted she would have given Roger the time of day once he started getting more possessive and controlling. She didn't think she could have managed to raise Roger's child after the fall either. That moment would be burned into her mind forever and present every time she looked at that child. Could she surpass that pain? She wasn't sure. In her current state, she doubted she could handle it emotionally. It would have been best to let the child be adopted or to get the abortion at that point, but then she wondered too if she would have been able to make it through the pregnancy itself after what happened. How much would it break her mentally to do so? Could she endure that pain too? She wasn't sure about that either. Dani had already been on the verge of breaking down even before she found out she was pregnant. With as distraught as she was, she may have lost it. Dani ate very little around that time. The more she thought about it, the more the answer became obvious to her what would have been the decision she would eventually reach had she been given the choice herself. That it aligned with her parents choice infuriated her at first, but then she let that anger go. Her parents could have as easily forced her to carry the pregnancy to term and raise the child instead. It wasn't the decision that they made for her that was what the most angering aspect to her. It was that she was given no choice at all in the matter, as if she were a doll someone was placing a different dress on to cover up a crack in the porcelain. More than that, after having her choice taken from her, they provided her with no emotional support to deal with that choice either. Rather than support to cope with the pain, she was immediately cut off from her circle of friends, from her classmates, from the outside world itself and thrown into an invasive world of strangers with no freedom. None of this needed to be as painful as they made it. She accepted that her parents had, without a doubt, done this specifically with the intention of increasing the amount of pain she endured. Dani processed these feelings in silence in the autumn air. The Halloween decorations she saw on the day she arrived were quickly replaced by Christmas ones. The air, not quite chilly nor warm, lingered on her skin as she lost herself in thought. Orange and yellow leaves danced around her like a summer storm. Dani turned her thoughts to the present. She placed her hands on her stomach. What was forming inside her, growing now as she debated the heavy weights on her shoulders, was create in part by Damon. This fact alone let her cast off one option. She wanted Damon's child to be born, solely for the fact that Damon himself was never allowed to live normally. She wanted to carry it to term so that this child, with that man's blood, could be normal. That left keeping it or giving it away. Raising a child as a single, teen mom would be very difficult. Her aunt told her she would help, but she didn't want to overburden her either. She considered giving the baby up for adoption may be the best route to let the child lead the happiest life. Above her, a single green leaf fell from a mountain ash seemingly growing out of place in the flora of the backyard. Absentmindedly, Dani reached up to catch it as it floated slowly down above her head. Her fingertips grazed the tip of the leaf before the wind carried it far away from her. Dani stood up and watched it drift away, disappearing out of sight over the fence. Dani went back inside to talk with her aunt about her decision. She sat down in a chair in her aunt's home office. Her aunt stopped working. "Is something wrong?" "I've been thinking about Damon. I wish I could see him." Dani said. "Do you know where he is now?" She asked. Dani shook her head. "He told me he wouldn't call until he was somewhere safe. He hasn't called here, so he must still be running or they caught him." "I'm sorry. I'm sure he's still running." Miranda said. "Do you really believe me, about everything I told you?" Dani asked. "It's a pretty crazy story, but there's a lot of crazy stuff in the world." She said. "Even the stuff about Damon making it rain? Are you sure I'm not crazy?" Dani asked. "I don't know about all that, but I want to believe it's true. That would be something." Miranda spun her chair around and faced the window. "When I was little, I used to believe in fairies. I'm a lot more cynical now, but there's this part of me that still wants something magical to be real. I think everybody carries that part no matter what happens." "I want to keep the baby." Dani said. "Are you sure?" "I didn't plan for it, but I want to give his baby the life he should have been able to have, not locked up in four walls. That's what I want to do, and I want to be the one who makes that happen." Dani said. She had one more motivation she didn't voice. "It's your decision. I think that's a wonderful sentiment. Do you want to do night school?" Miranda asked. "When I'm further along." Dani touched her stomach. "You don't think I'll lose it, do you?" "We'll make sure you stay as healthy as you can be to avoid that happening." Miranda said. "Do you think a doctor can tell me if it's a boy or a girl yet?" Dani asked. "I think it's too early." "I hope it's a girl. I want a girl that looks a little more like him than me." Dani watched the leaves drift in and out of sight. "Then, it's like we're one even if he's not here." Miranda gave her a pitying look. "You miss him a lot, don't you?" "I wonder if they caught him." Dani faced the ground. "I'm sure he's still running. He's probably two steps ahead of them right now." Miranda said to comfort her. "I hope so." Dani bowed her head. "I'm sorry. Now, there will be two extra people for you to worry about." "I'm not worried about that. We'll get you back in school and get you whatever care you need." Her aunt said. Dani saw a doctor about the baby a week later. Given her weak physical and mental condition, the doctor gave her several recommendations to get her to a safer weight and better stability. Dani followed the diet laid out for her by the doctor without fail. She tried to keep her daily life as peaceful as possible. Dani enrolled in night school, one her aunt found that was more for girls in her situation. She found herself surrounded by other single, teen moms and her last bit of shame faded away. Dani read books on pregnancy and raising children when she wasn't working on classwork or checking in with the doctor. She continued to progress. The doctor congratulated her on her improved health at the appointment he revealed to her the baby was female. Dani was overjoyed. She informed her aunt and her classmates about what the doctor told her. Dani started a list of names for the child. She waited by the phone, hoping to tell one other person the good news. No calls came for her. Midway through her fifth month, her parents showed up at her aunt's house. Her aunt didn't want them in the house, but her parents threatened to charge her with kidnapping if they didn't get to talk to Dani. Miranda reluctantly let them in. "You have to get rid of it." Her father said when he saw her belly. "Dad, I'm five months pregnant already." Dani replied. "That doesn't matter." Her father grabbed her wrist. "We have to do this." "Why are you so adamant about that? I thought you and mom were for abortions being illegal worldwide. How are you coming in here to tell me to get another one and one so far along?" Dani pulled her wrist away from him. If this were a year ago, she would have cowered before him. She turned her nose up at him and stood tall. "This is different." Her mother interjected. "No, it is not. I am not different from any other girl." Dani said. "This isn't about you. This is about our family. You're going to have to get rid of it. If anyone finds out about this...This has to be done." Her father said, his expression a mix of both fear and rage. "No, I'm having this baby." Dani said. "You're not old enough, and you're not even married. Who the hell is the father of this baby?" Her father demanded. "It's none of your business who the father is." "You probably don't even know." He sneered. Dani wasn't hurt by his accusation. Such words no longer carried any weight to her. "Oh, I know who he is, but I am not giving you his name for you to harass him." "Where is he? Why isn't he here with you? He ran off when he got the word, didn't he?" Her father attempted to mock her further. Dani was well aware what he was attempting to do by mocking her. She wasn't going to play into his hand. "He broke up with me before he knew I was pregnant." "That doesn't matter. He should be here. It's his baby." Her mother added. "He doesn't know I'm pregnant. He doesn't live here anymore. That's why we broke up. He moved." Dani said. "I can't believe you've done all this. You escape the hospital, get away from us, and now you're knocked up again." Her father tried to touch her again. She recoiled away from him as he did. "Look, there's still some places we can fly you to and get rid of it." "I'm not getting rid of it. My decision is final." Dani stayed firm in her words and tone. "Don't talk to me like you're some grown woman." Her father belittled her once again. "I won't go with you." Dani said. "Honey, I know getting rid of it might be painful for you. We could always give it away once it's born." Her mother got between them in an attempt to persuade her. "No. It's mine." "Then, we'll need to find you a man to marry." Her mother said. "I am not marrying anyone right now." Dani gave her mother a death glare. "You know what? Fine. Stay here with the dyke. Drop out of school for all we care. Consider yourself disowned and don't expect another penny from us." Her father barked out his last available threat, his final attack he hoped would defeat her spirit. Dani laughed and smugly grinned at them. "I don't want anything from you." Her father's face turned red with rage. He yelled a few obscenities at her before storming out of the house. Her mother, like an obedient dog, followed behind him in a panic. That was the last time she ever saw her parents. Miranda congratulated her for standing up to them. They went shopping for things for the baby after her parents left. Dani assembled a crib in her bedroom. She set up a star-themed mobile above it. As she worked on it, Dani's mind turned once more back to her first pregnancy. She wondered if that one was going to be a girl or a boy. She couldn't explain why, but she got the feeling that one would have been a girl too. She tried hard not to see a child in her mind. She was barely along when it was ended, but she couldn't force herself to see things that way. Dani turned her eyes to the window, staring at the sky above. "I never gave you a name. I never got a chance to think about anything." Dani said aloud. "But I want to give you a name. Lily is a pretty name. It's my favorite flower. I'm going to keep your sister. That's what I've decided. Do you hate me?" Dani cried. She cried for her past self. She wiped the tears away, and stood up. Dani opened the balcony doors to let in the breeze. Dani watched the grey clouds above her twist and turn. A storm was coming. "I don't think I could have loved you right. I'm sorry. Are there flowers where you are?" The wind caught in her hair as the sky rumbled. Dani went back to work as the sky drenched the land. May 10th, 1988, Dani gave birth to a little girl. Her aunt was the only one who came with her to the hospital, but she was happy with that. She wished there was one other person there to see her that day. As if to to apologize for his absence, a thunderstorm rolled through during the delivery. The little girl was born with brown eyes and black hair, just like her father. Dani named her Damia. She told the doctors she didn't know who the father was. When she was handed the child for the first time, she instantly loved it. The little one's eyes were full of light and joy. All of Dani's efforts had paid off. The doctor informed her that the baby was very healthy. Dani was released from the hospital not long after the child was born. She went back to school soon after that. Dani asked her aunt care for the baby when she was at school in the few first months. She didn't want the child exposed to too much yet. Later, she brought the baby with her to class. The other women in class were excited about seeing her. Seeing other people happily hold her child filled her in turn with greater happiness. She couldn't imagine her parents expressing that kind of love at the sight of her. Dani was grateful they came when they did. She didn't want her daughter to ever have a relative look at her with scorn, even if it was at an age she likely wouldn't remember. At home, Dani would feed the child out on the balcony and watch the sky. She hummed lullabies to the child. Dani's heart raced every time she heard the phone ring, but no calls came in for her. At seventh months old, the baby showed her she inherited some of what made her father special. The baby raised her hands to make waves in the bathwater. Dani watched her in awe. What she saw didn't frighten her. It only reminded her of those memories she held of him. She tried not to worry about it too much, but at some point, she would need to figure out what to do about that. She couldn't keep Damia inside forever, but she couldn't let too many people know about that either. When she was a year old, not long after Dani enrolled in college, Damia learned how to lift water. She lifted all the water out of a kiddie pool Miranda had bought for her. Miranda and Dani watched in amazement. "Her father really was something magical. You said he was switched at birth with another baby, didn't you? What if he was a changeling?" Miranda suggested. Dani asked. "What's a changeling?" "It's a fairy's child left in place of a human child. There's a lot of old stories about that. Maybe he's a fairy." Miranda said. Her eyes lit up at the idea. "I don't know about that. I never saw any wings, but...he did have a mark on his back...and he could float." Dani recalled the strange mark. "That's all the more proof. I bet that mark was hiding his real form. I bet he does have wings." Miranda said, having made up her mind about the matter. "I don't know about that." Dani picked up her daughter. "Come on. Put the water back down." The baby giggled. All the water fell, most of it not falling back in the pool. By age four, Damia could make it rain. Dani finished college and started working as a librarian around the same time Damia started preschool. She kept a tight budget to save up for a down payment on a small house. The phone was never for her. Dani accepted that Damon was likely captured and that she may never hear from him again. Before Damia started school, Dani had a conversation with her daughter about hiding her powers. Damia was mostly an obedient, well-behaved child. Dani didn't have to do much more than tell her not to for her daughter to comply. But as time went on, Damia began having questions for her mother. One night, after coming home from work, Dani was taking a bath with Damia. Damia creating waves in the water like she usually did. "Mommy, where is Daddy?" Damia asked. "Daddy had to go away. Bad people were after him. He left us behind so they wouldn't chase us too." Dani said. "Is Daddy okay?" Damia asked. "I'm sure he is. He's very sneaky. They won't get him." Dani said. She wanted to believe her own words, but she knew it was likely a lie. Damia stopped moving the water. "People in class ask me where my dad is. What should I tell them?" "You can tell them he lives out of country now because of work." Dani said. Damia asked. "Do you think I'll ever get see him?" "I don't know. That depends on if he can find somewhere safe." Dani said. Damia didn't bring up her father again until she was in kindergarten. When her class was making cards for Father's Day, the other students had many questions for her about where her father was and why he wasn't with her. That night, Damia asked her mom more about him. "Tell me a story about Daddy. How did you meet?" Damia asked. "We met at a hospital. It wasn't a good one. One the bad people were in charge of. Your grandparents put me in there, and that's why we don't talk to them. He was there and we escaped together. He helped me find Auntie Miranda. Then, he had to go away because the bad people were still after him." Dani said. "Why did the bad people want to hurt him?" The girl asked. "Because he was different, like you are. He could do things other people can't. But they don't know what you can do. You have to keep it a secret." Dani said. She patted the girl on the head. "What would happen if they catch him?" Damia asked. Dani picked up a framed case of a pinned butterfly her aunt kept. "They won't ever let him go. They'll hurt him." "Do you think they'll catch him?" Damia started to cry. "No, no, they won't catch him. He's too clever for that." Dani leaned down and hugged her. "And I won't let them catch you." "I wish I could see him, just once." Damia said. She frowned. Her eyes watered. "I know. I wish I could too." Dani kissed her on the forehead. "Why don't you do a little magic? Can you make it rain for Mommy?" Damia wiped off her tears. She held her hands up. Outside, lightning illuminated the night sky. A soft drizzle followed. Dani praised her for her performance. She tucked Damia into bed shortly after. Dani went to the living room and watched the phone. She picked it up, not dialing any number, and listened. "Can you hear me?" Dani held back her tears. "Please, call me." The monotonous tone of the phone repeated in her ears. Dani put it back on the hook and let the sound of the storm drown out her voice. At the library, Dani used her free time to look into the company that caused her so much pain. There was very little on Moone & Wolfe in public record. Who founded the company was unknown. She discovered that it was founded in 1890. The Summerfield family appeared to be in charge of it since nearly the beginning, and several other family names came up repeatedly in the records. Thomas, Weaver, Beaumont, Winter, Giovanni, Marsh, and Lowell. These eight families appeared to be interconnected through marriage records as well. Very little research had been conducted by the company itself. What she found strange was that the current head of the company, Alexander Summerfield, owned a record label, a film company, a magazine, and several other businesses that had absolutely nothing to do with mental health or health in general. Currently, he appeared to be in the process of handing all of these over to his son, Thomas Summerfield. Edith Summerfield, that girl she once met in that horrible hospital, also now held high ranking positions in all of those companies as well. There was a third sibling, Sable, but she appeared to be unconnected to any of it. Funding for their businesses came heavily from wealthy elites and the federal government. Something didn't seem right about any of it. Dani tried to trace the Summerfield line back to 1890, but she couldn't find anything. Everything seemed to start in 1900. There were few records at all of what the company was doing between 1890-1899 beyond having received several large sums of money from the government and a handful of investors. Dani gave up on looking deeper with that. She returned to investigating the Summerfield family's various businesses. For the last several years, the media-focused portion of their businesses propped up a woman named Tina Tiffany as their star, as both an actress and a musician. As of last year, she suddenly retired and the record label and the film company were both heavily downsized afterwards. Dani tried to look into their former star for more information, but she found nothing. Her whereabouts were unknown. The film company was now focusing on creating a children's program. There was almost no information on this beyond it being an education program aimed at the preschool age range. The employees at all the companies kept low profiles. Only Edith, Alexander, and Thomas gave public interviews. All she could find out about any of the former or current employees was an article about a former researcher named John Beaumont going missing and his wife, a former musician with the Summerfields' record label, Hannah Beaumont, dying in a car accident the same day. There was some speculation that he may have murdered his wife and made it look like an accident, or that they were both murdered. The official police report concluded that Hannah Beaumont was killed in an accident and that it was not premeditated murder. John Beaumont was concluded to have likely committed suicide after hearing about the death of his wife in a secluded location, but no body was ever found. Their daughter, Katherine Beaumont, had gotten some attention for claiming the upper staff in the company murdered them both. Some conspiracy groups wrote books about this, but for the most part, the daughter's story was written off as either a failed attempt at publicity for her band or the misaimed rage of a grieving orphan. Dani made a note to try and contact Beaumont at some point. Dani turned her attention next to Aurora. There was more publicly available about them. The company was founded in 1900 by Forrest Blackwell. Dani paused at that name. Blackwell. That was the last name both of the strange men who were after Damon claimed his last name was. So, she thought, there was a connection to Aurora after all. But what was it? She looked more into their company. As Damon had told her, the company helped law enforcement with difficult and unusual criminal cases, both national-wide and internationally. For all of the company's existence, the head of the company had always been part of the Blackwell family, and seven other family names repeatedly appeared in records relating to the company. Ó Rinn, Devin, Lobo, Brennan, Baines, and once again, Winter and Beaumont appeared. Dani used those last two families to look into public records about their connections. She created a very interconnected family tree that spanned all of the family names from both sides, with the only breaks being at a certain point in the Summerfield and Blackwell lines at the same point in time, in the mid-1800's. Dani couldn't figure out what it was, but something clearly happened in between then and 1900. She suspected by the dates and information that was missing that the Summerfield and Blackwell families were one and the same. Dani couldn't wrap her head around what this meant. She looked for a Robin Blackwell on the tree she created, but she only found a Robert Blackwell, not a Robin Blackwell. She wondered if perhaps that man's last name wasn't Blackwell, but one of the other connected names. Across every family, there hadn't been a man named Robin within the last two hundred years. She couldn't remember exactly what the other man claimed his name was, but she remembered it started with "Nana". Nothing remotely resembling that was anywhere on the tree she created. Dani thought he was lying about his name then. She presumed that was definitely the case, but the other man didn't appear to be lying. She looked through the less connected names for a Robin. Nothing. Who where those two? Why did they say Damon's last name was Blackwell if they weren't on the tree? Dani read over the entire tree several times. If the black haired man was lying, his name may be right in front of her face and she wouldn't know it. And if Robin was not a Blackwell, then the black haired man was likely the one who's name was Blackwell. Where was he? Dani requested more documents to read over. On an international front, Aurora had offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Spain, Greece, and Australia. Moone & Wolfe seemed to exclusively operate in the United States, but some of their investors were from abroad, largely from Canada. Dani suspected both companies had connections she wouldn't be able to find on paper. While she was researching at the library one day, in late October of 1994, a man approached her. The man did not introduce himself nor ask her name. He said, "Danielle Fox, you're quite the investigator. I've been looking to hire someone like you." Dani was taken aback by that comment. Her name tag only said "Dani". "Who are you?" "My name is Robert Blackwell. I'm the head of an organization called Aurora. I know you've heard of us. We work on helping law enforcement solve unusual international crimes." Robert said. Dani's blood went cold. "What do you want with me, Mr. Blackwell?" "I was hoping to do an interview with you in the near future." He said. "I wasn't looking for a job. I'm quite happy where I am." "Oh, and here I thought you might actually like to take your research into Moone & Wolfe further. We know what you look into." Robert leaned over the front desk. Dani looked around. No one else was in the library at that time. "I'm not interested. Thank you for the offer." "Then would you be interested in knowing we recently collected someone you know. Does the name Damon Hound ring a bell?" Robert smirked at her. Dani's heart stopped. "Damon? What are you doing with him?" "I can let you see him, if you come work for us." The main said. "How do I know you're telling the truth?" Dani asked. Robert took a Polaroid out. He handed it to Dani. In the photograph, Damon was standing in front of a brick building wearing different clothes than the ones she'd last seen him in. He looked a little older. "You want to see him, don't you? Come work for us and you can see him all the time." Dani hid her real emotions in front of the man. "Why is he with you?" "He is not a prisoner of ours. He agreed to stay with us." Robert said. "What did you do to him?" Dani asked. "We didn't coerce him. It's the moon he's running from. He got tired of running, and we found him. That's all. He can leave whenever he wants." Robert said. Dani didn't believe him. "Why would you want me to work for you?" "You have talent, Ms. Fox. If you'd like, we can arrange for that to be Mrs. Hound." "We broke up years ago." Dani said. "I know you want to see him. You wouldn't be doing all this if you didn't." Robert started to walk away from her. "Come see him, then we'll talk about the job." "Where am I supposed to meet you?" Dani asked, in spite of everything in her telling her to run. "I'll pick you up tomorrow morning." Robert said. "How do you know where I live?" She asked. "That's public record, Ms. Fox. You should already know that." Robert waved and left the building. Dani asked Miranda to stay home with Damia the next day while she went with Robert Blackwell. It was Halloween. Dani watched some children get on a school bus already dressed in their costumes. Dani hoped this whole thing wouldn't take too long. She wanted to take Damia out that evening and she wasn't completely convinced she would actually see Damon at all. Robert took her to a location about an hour from her home. The brick building was surrounded by a tall fence. It reminded her of the fence at the hospital. On the inside, the building was decorated more normally than the hospital she stayed at. The hospital was nothing but white, black, and grey. The interior of this building wasn't anything special. It was almost eerie how ordinary it was. Robert took her to a room near the back of the building. He opened the door. "He's in here, Ms. Fox. I'll let you two have some privacy." Robert let her in and closed the door after. Dani looked across the room. She couldn't believe it. Damon stood up from a chair near the far end of the room. He walked over to her slowly. "Dani?" "Damon...what are you doing here?" She couldn't look away from his eyes. "They almost caught me, the moon. Then, these people picked me up. I don't know if I trust them." Damon said. "What happened?" "I've been running for so long and hiding myself. They've gotten smarter in that time. I couldn't just be invisible and go unnoticed. They've figured out a way to track me even then. Once they figured that out, they were always at my back. They nearly got me into one of their vans. I only escaped because I bit the person pushing me in the van." Damon said. She saw weariness in his eyes. "All this time...and we're back in a place like this." Dani said. "I never thought I'd see you again." Damon smiled at her. He asked. "Have you gotten married yet?" "No, I'm single for the moment." "I see." Damon glanced to the side. "I doubt that'll last long. How have you been? Did your parents come after you?" "They did once, but I stood my ground and they haven't come back since. I've been disowned." Dani said. She wanted to touch him. Her body ached with that want, but there was a great distance between them now that didn't exist before. "My aunt's been helping me. I finished college not too long ago." "Really? That's great." Damon wanted to reach for her too, but he refused himself. "They told me you work here now." "Yes, I've been recently hired." Dani said. She hadn't accepted the job yet, but once she saw him, she couldn't tell him otherwise. "Then, I might stay. If I have to be in four walls again, at least I can see you sometimes." Damon caught himself. He clarified. "Uh, if you want to visit me. I'm sure you've got more important things to do." "What happened to 'go fall in love with someone else' or whatever you said to me when you ran off?" Dani teased him. "I don't intend on interrupting your life again. I just...don't really know anybody else. And I thought...Sorry. I messed up again." Damon looked away from her. "I wanted to see you. For all these years, I had no idea if you were captured or still alive." "I'm sorry, but now you know why I didn't call you." Damon sat back down in the chair. "You couldn't cross the border?" Dani asked. "No, by the time I was getting close to Canada, they'd found a way to see me and track me. I've barely slept." He put his hands to his face. "At some point, I was sleeping so little I couldn't tell if I was awake or delirious and seeing things." "I'm sorry...This is my fault. If I hadn't asked you to..." Dani apologized. "No, I had to get out of there. My time as a safe prisoner was always running out." He said. "At least they said I can leave if I want. But what are you doing here?" "Mr. Blackwell hired me as an investigator. He was impressed with the research I'd been able to do on my own about the moon." Dani repeated what Robert said. "I'm sorry. I'm afraid." Damon looked up at her. "I'm afraid I'm still in love with you." Dani couldn't hold back anymore. She hugged him. "I told you I would wait decades for you." "And I told you, please fall in love with someone else." Damon cupped her face. "I can't bring you happiness. Loving me will only imprison you." Dani kissed him. She pulled away. "I've been a prisoner since the day we met. Leaving your side didn't make it stop." She saw pain in his eyes. He kissed her back. Dani accepted the job that day. Robert briefed her that while she would assist with solving plenty of ordinary cases, their top priority cases related directly to stopping efforts by Moone & Wolfe. "They're a shady bunch. Plenty of human trafficking, kidnappings, serial killings...they go back to the moon. These are our main focus." Mr. Blackwell informed her. "What exactly is their goal?" Dani asked. "For now, quietly gaining control of major industries and government positions to take over the country without fuss. They've been quite successful in some regards. There's a lot of rich people who like the kind of research the moon does." Robert said. "What exactly is so interesting to them? Nothing I saw was anything but torture." Dani said. She thought about the file she read that one night about that poor child, Scott Thomas, born only to be experimented on. "Well, some of that does interest them. There's a market for videos of some of the unethical things they do to people, but what really attracts them is the promises." Robert shuffled some papers at his desk. "There are ways to control the mind, change the speed of aging, regrow organs, and undo death itself. These are the parts that the wealthy elite want. Anyone who can promise a completely subservient base of followers and eternal youth is going to catch the eye of those who are never satisfied with their personal horde. I'm sure a few of those things would interest even you, Ms. Fox." "For the cost of human suffering and human life, I think I can pass and accept my own mortality." Dani replied. "Haha, you're just like Coyote. Speaking of which, when he gets back from his latest mission, you'll be paired with him. He'll be your partner." Robert said. "Coyote?" Dani asked. "That's his nickname. Jake Corbin. He's a triple agent working for both sides. Right now he's doing some work for Tom Summerfield to help him transition into his new role as Director of Moone & Wolfe starting next year. What Tom and Alexander don't know is that Jake's feeding them false information about us while he slips us their information and covertly sabotages their goals here and there. He's completely adored by the Summerfields. They don't notice a thing." Robert Blackwell explained. "How do you know he's really on your side?" Dani asked. "Well, that's the thing about Corbin. You never really know what he's thinking, but I trust him. He'll be back in a few months. For now, I want you to help with a case involving a serial killer. We haven't been able to catch her. She's quite sneaking. Though we think she is currently in Georgia somewhere. That's your home state, isn't it?" Robert said. He sifted through several folders. "Yes, sir." "We won't be flying you out there for now. You'll be helping with analyzing information. We already have someone in the field there." Robert handed her a thick folder. "You're not squeamish, right?" "Not particularly." Dani opened the folder without a second thought. She dropped it back on the table immediately. Pictures of the crime scenes fell out before her. Blood and bones, exposed, decaying organs, limbs and heads scattered about--these images greeted her. Dani put her hand to her mouth. "What is this?" "Our serial killer is very fond of dismembering teenage boys. She goes by several names, but her real name is Lynne Jones and we suspect she is currently working with the moon in some capacity. Most likely, she is providing them with 'raw material' to work with. This seems to be a more recent development. Jones has been killing for a while now. We've gotten close to capturing her a few times, but she always slips through our grasp." Robert sorted through the pictures to find one of Jones herself. "This is her." Dani looked at the photo. The woman had a deranged, gleeful expression. "Do you know why she's doing this?" "She gets sexual gratification out of this. From what we've gathered from victims we managed to save and people she's worked with, Jones is always sexually involved with her victims for a while before she kills them. She targets homeless runaways or foster kids who the state's lost track of. Her victim age range is thirteen to eighteen, but she prefers the thirteen to fifteen range. She kills eighteen year olds differently than the rest." "What does she do differently?" Dani asked. "For the underage ones, she cuts them up like what you see in the photos. She mostly does it along the joints and across the neck, then she cuts off the genitals. For the ones that turn eighteen, she cuts them up into much smaller pieces, and she removes the organs first. The uncut organs are usually found with the finely chopped up parts. She leaves the heads mostly in tact regardless. But for the eighteen year olds, she poses them in a way that makes it look like the head is looking down at the rest of the body parts. We don't know her motives, but we think there's something about that age that makes her more violent in killing her victims. We couldn't get much out of her surviving victims." Robert flipped through the pages and pulled out a few for Dani to read over. "We know she pimps them out to keep money flowing in while she houses them, and she tends to have at least two boys in two different locations at once. She makes sure they feel dependent on her, but her surviving victims all had trouble telling us much more than that. Many of them are currently in treatment for PTSD. Right now, we think she's in Atlanta. No bodies yet, but I got a feeling we'll find one soon." Dani took the folder home with her. She informed the library the next day that she would be quitting soon. Dani focused on reading through everything about the case involving Lynne Jones. She wasn't convinced that Robert Blackwell had intentions any better than the Summerfields, but she could get behind doing this kind of work. Dani was briefed further about the case the next day when she was given a desk in a room. Robert told her the other desk in the room belonged to her partner, Jake Corbin. Dani set up her desk. Out of curiosity, she looked around Corbin's desk area. Her partner kept a lot of photos up. She noticed the same man appeared in many of the photos. Dani assumed he must be her partner and the people in the photos were family members or friends of his. His desk was a mess. She tossed out a half empty soda can and a few Twinkie wrappers. A newspaper was on his desk in a language she didn't recognize. Before she left for the day, Dani went to see Damon again. He was happy to see her, but the distance between them remained. Dani carried on like that for a month, burying herself in research and visiting Damon before she went home, never doing more than kissing him goodbye. She couldn't bare it any more. She had to tell him. Dani asked Robert if she could bring her daughter to work. "You want to bring her to see her father, you mean?" Robert asked. "I never said she was..." Dani started to say. "You named her Damia. Come on. Do you think I'm stupid? I know she's his daughter. However, the moon doesn't. You don't need to worry. We're not going to let anything happen to your daughter. You may bring her to see her father. Actually, I'd prefer you did. It should cheer him up." Robert said. "I want him happy here, so he'll stay with us. We're considering using him in some of our research." Dani narrowed her eyes. "So, that's it then. You're no different than they are. You want to cut him up too." "We're not like them. We do want to do research, but ours is to fight back against them and we're not forcing people into this. He can leave if he wants. If we start researching on him, it will be with his consent. That's how all human research is done by ethical researchers." "Then, I will leave that as his choice. I won't try and convince him for you to let you do anything to him." Dani said. "I didn't ask you to. I only want you to keep him happy while he's here. He was miserable out there." Robert said. Dani questioned Robert's intentions, but she brought Damia to work the next day. "Are we really going to see Daddy today?" Damia was bursting with excitement. "That's right. He's staying where Mommy works now. They're trying to keep him safe from the bad people." Dani told her. Dani took her to see him first thing. She presented her to him. "I've gotten permission to bring her." "Who is this? Is she a relative of yours? A niece?" Damon asked. "This is my daughter, Damia. Damia, this is your father." Dani introduced the two. Damon looked at the girl, then back at Dani. "What? I didn't know you were pregnant when...did you hide it from me?" "No, I didn't know yet." She said. Damia walked over to him. "Daddy?" Damon smiled at her. He patted her on the head. "I guess I am, if your mother says so. She'd definitely know." Damia's eyes sparkled with light. She was grinning from ear to ear. "Mommy told me you can do magic too." "Oh, can you do magic? Show me." Damon said. He was grinning too. Damia made the lights flicker. Outside, thunder boomed. Rain poured down on the building. "I like rain. Do you like rain, Daddy?" The wind howled. He smirked as it grew louder. "I love it, almost as much as I love your mother." Dani's eyes met with his. She clutched her chest and looked away. "Daddy, when are you gonna marry Mommy?" Damia asked. "Your mom and I aren't together anymore. I can't have freedom, and I don't want her to live like that. I'd be happy if your mom married someone else. No one else should have my lot in life." Damon said. Damia didn't like his answer. "Isn't Aurora keeping you safe? Are they hurting you? You should be able to marry Mommy now." "A cage is still a cage even if you don't have clipped wings." Damon hugged her. "But if I were caught by the moon, they'd definitely hurt me. There's nowhere I can really be and not be locked up by someone. Don't tell anyone you can't trust what you can do. Then, you'll end up like me and your mom won't be able to protect you from that." "I'm not going to let that happen. We've talked already about how she should hide it." Dani said. "That's good." He said. "Go on and keep doing magic, but don't let anyone find out you did it, okay?" "Okay." Damia nodded. "Can't you drown all the bad people?" Damon wasn't sure what to say to her suggestion at first. He laughed it off. "I definitely could, but then I'd be a murderer. I don't want to be like them." "Aunt Miranda says you're a fairy." Damia said. Dani blushed. "A fairy, huh?" Damon laughed more. "I don't know about that. I don't see any wings." Dani sighed. "My aunt likes fairytales." "Heh. A fairy. What a thought." Damon laughed again. Dani didn't get any work done that day. She spent the rest of the day with Damon and her daughter. Dani started bringing her daughter by the building on the weekends, so it wouldn't interfere with school. The distance between Dani and Damon was fading more with each week. She wanted him more than ever, but they both held themselves back. A few months later, at the beginning of 1995, someone was waiting for her across from her desk at work. He was the man in so many of the pictures. He stood up and shook her hand. "Dani Fox, was it? I'll be your new partner. The name's Jake Corbin. Nice to meet you." Dani gave him a firm handshake to match the strength of his. "I wasn't aware you were back yet." "Yep, got back last night. Have you been mostly working alone here?" He asked. "That is how it's been. I talk to everyone out of state on the phone." Dani said. "I heard you're Damon Hound's old flame." Jake pointed to the photo of Dani and Damia on her desk. "Is she his?" "Mr. Corbin, I am not interested in discussing idle gossip with you." Dani pulled her hand away and returned to her desk. "You're the serious type, I see. That's good. People say I'm not serious enough. Maybe we can balance each other out." Jake sat down at his desk. "How've things been going here? I heard there ain't been much progress with Jones." "No, not yet. They found another body. We haven't identified the boy yet." Dani said. Jake leaned back in his chair. "Damn. You're gonna have to catch me up on things. I've been gone 'bout a year now. Pretty tough to keep things a secret. Usually ain't a problem, but my family doesn't know about what I do here. Right now, they think I'm working overseas, but I got family not too far from where the moon's main building is. So glad to be away from Tom for a while. That guy gives me the creeps." "So, Thomas Summerfield has officially become the head of the company now, then?" Dani asked. "Mm hmm. I can never tell if that dude just has no sense of personal space or if he wants to bang me. I dunno. He gets all up in everybody's space. I hate it. Like damn, man, let me breathe." Jake opened up a can of soda. "Then there's that bitch Edith always right behind him. She's so up tight. You know, one time I walked in on her fucking Tina Tiffany. You know that actress?" Dani sat up. She nodded. "Yeah. Last I looked into her, I couldn't find any record of her whereabouts. Are you saying you know where she is?" "Yeah, but she's going by Heather again now. She's always been with them." Jake opened up his drawer and got out some snack cakes. "What do you mean by always?" Dani asked. "Hmm? How much do you know?" Jake asked back. "Not as much as you, clearly." Dani answered. Jake wheeled his chair over to her desk. "Oh, so we got a lot to talk about. Hey, speaking of which, I know you're Hound's old flame, but is that 'old' part true or are you guys still a thing?" "That's none of your business." Dani glared at him. "Riiiiiight." Jake handed her a drink and a cake. Dani shook her head. Jake opened the cake for himself. "So, the moon's been working on this project for decades. They want to make children to test on in the lab, for all their unethical bullshit. But when they do it, they do all kinds of weird experimentations right off the bat. So, before most of these kids are what you could classify as a baby, they're already really off. They want 'em to come packaged with special abilities, like what Hound can do. But they can't replicate that. That's why they really want Hound. He's their holy grail. Anyway, most of these babies don't make it to five. They're messed up physically. Tina or Heather, as she goes by now, is one of only two that actually hit puberty. Her original name is AA93. That's probably why you didn't find shit on her. She has no past. She's a lab rat they touted out for the public to give her a test run after they screwed around with her brain some. But she got too willful, so they messed with her brain again." "They did what to her?" Dani asked. "This is one of their other pet projects. They've got a machine that can alter your memories. By changing your memories, they can change your personality too. They did that to her. That's why she's Heather now. These are two of their key projects. One day, they want to be able to use the Memory Box on larger groups of people in one go. It's still too early to be able to do something like that. They have to do it one person at a time right now. Imagine the political potential of that monstrosity. You could do anything you wanted to people." Jake stuffed his face. He spoke with his mouth full. "They're working on a pill that works alongside it. It negates your emotions and makes you more susceptible to suggestion and memory alteration. They're going to market it as an anti-depressant once it's ready for the public. I've been, uh, doing some damage here and there on their files in regards to that." "An anti-depressant, huh? I've been seeing a lot more ads on TV for them. That wouldn't have anything to do with them, would it?" Dani asked. "Haha, well, they're not the only ones. Market's gonna be big for those in the future. A lot of people are looking to get a lot of people on them. It's a quick, easy sell. Some of the talk behind closed doors, I won't be shocked if painkillers end up being big too. Just you wait." Jake waved his hand around. "Shouldn't what's prescribed be related to people's ailments?" Dani asked. Jake laughed loudly. "Oh, boy. I have a lot to tell you about marketing and business. We'll get to that. Back to the moon. So, AA93 is the oldest one. The other one is a boy, but they lost track of him." "AB14." Jake nodded with a grin. "Oh, you know that one?" "I read a little of his file once. What do you mean they lost him?" Dani hadn't forgotten him. She could still see the boy's face in her mind. "That's it. They lost him. They don't know if he escaped or someone stole him. I think he ditched 'em. They were about to kill him anyway." Jake gulped down half his soda. "Why would they do that? Was there something physically wrong with him?" Dani asked. "Nope. He was too normal. He couldn't do anything special. They already have test subjects like that from all the orphans they snatch up. No point in wasting extra resources on him." Jake took a deep breath. "Boy knew his time was up. I think he ran for it. Ah, I've been running my mouth a lot. What have you been up to?" "Do you tell this sort of information to everyone you've known for less than an hour? What if I was a double agent?" Dani asked him. Jake laughed again. "You're not a double agent. I'm really good at reading body language, Fox. I know what you're about. I'm gonna be honest. I don't usually talk this much, but being stuck around those dipshits will drive anyone crazy. I needed to talk to someone, about anything." "Are you single?" Dani asked. "Right now. I don't usually do relationships. Too risky in my position. For me, it's gotta be a one night stand or something really casual. Definitely can't talk to anyone about this stuff outside of these walls." Jake glanced over at her desk. "You're really organized. Rob told me you were working as a librarian before." "Yes, I was." Dani opened a drawer and took out a folder. She didn't want any attention in regards to her own life. "We should discuss Jones. Here is what we have on the latest victim. He was found along the Chattahoochee River and had last been seen in Grant Park. We haven't identified him yet, but given the way in which the body was found, he was likely under eighteen." "She sure likes her white boys, huh?" Jake flipped through the information. "Another prostitute." "Same as all the others. On the street, he was known as Bambino and Bambi, depending on what part of Atlanta he was working. No one had seen him around prior to the last couple of months. We're working from the idea that he's not from the area, and we've already checked him against all known missing boys in Georgia in his age range. We're moving further out now, to nearby states. So far, no other leads have come up." Dani hadn't quite gotten used to those gruesome photos that came with her work, but her stomach was getting stronger. Sometimes, she had nightmares about the boys in the pictures, but she kept that to herself. "She's one nasty bitch. I was down at the scene once. It was for this boy." Jake pulled a photo out. "I've never thrown up at a crime scene before until that day. He was the first eighteen year old we found. I still can't believe we haven't caught her." "Why do you think she really does all this?" Dani asked. She averted her eyes after she got a look at the photo. "I can't wrap my hand around wanting to do something so disgusting." "For her, I think it's a game she's playing with them. They're her toys. I don't know the rules, but I think it's something like that." Jake said. "A game? I don't think these boys knew she was playing a game with them." Dani looked at the photos of the most recent victim. They had managed to get a single photo of him from when he was alive and living in Atlanta. He looked young, barely into puberty. Why wasn't he with his parents? Dani thought back on the months she spent with Damon on the run, and how much time he spent running for his life after that. Anything could have happened to them while they were alone. If they had caught them, would the moon have kept her for testing too? She shuttered at the thought. "Thing is, I think that's part of the appeal to her. She's hunting them, like a cat after a mouse." Jake ran his fingers through his hair. He sighed. "There are some strange, sick people in this world. That's why I have to keep all these photos up." "Why's that?" Dani asked. "These are photos of my family. My brothers, my parents, my grandparents, and so on. I keep them in here so I remember, when I see shit like this and think about how shit the world is, that I don't forget that's not all there is." Jake said. "After all, isn't that why your daughter's photo is sitting on your desk?" "You're an interesting man, Corbin." Dani said. She wasn't sure what to think about him, but out of everyone she had met at Aurora so far, she trusted him a little more than the rest. At lunch, she went to get something to eat. Another employee stopped her on her way back to the office. "Just heard. They paired you with Corbin, huh? What a nightmare." Her coworker said. "Should I know something about him?" Dani asked. "He's a triple agent. He works here and at the moon. They think he's working for them and feeding us false info, while he's actually doing that to them. So they say, but no one really trusts him. I think he's playing us too." The man said. He rubbed his chin. "Everyone in his old department called him 'Coyote'. You can't trust anything he says. I'd watch your back. He might not be one of us." "A coyote, huh?" Dani nodded along. The man's words were mostly what Robert already told her. She reassured the man. "I should be able to handle him." "Best of luck to you, and watch your back." The man went on his way. Back in their shared office, Jake was on the phone. "You're eating alright, right?" Dani overheard Jake say. "Haha, I know. Don't blame me. You ran off. Someone's gotta keep an eye on ya. How's Lidia? Uh huh. That's cute. Well, if you need anything, give me a call, okay? I love you. Bye." Dani made eye contact with him when he hung up the phone. "My baby brother, Cyrus. I check in on him about once a week. He's a good kid, but really stubborn." Jake said. "Oh, how old is he?" Dani asked. "He's about to turn eighteen. He lives with his girlfriend in Atlanta. I know he's not Lynne's type. She prefers her men as lily white and fair haired as possible, and he's got his girlfriend and all, but I still worry about him being in that area with that monster roaming around, you know?" Jake picked up one of the framed photos on his desk. He handed it over to her and pointed to a teenage boy in it. "That's him. These other two dorks are my other younger brothers." "Oh, are you the oldest?" Jake nodded. "Yep. It's me, then Todd here. Next is Chris, then Cyrus." "Are you all close?" Dani asked. "Yeah. We live really far apart right now, but damn if I wouldn't be in Atlanta by morning if Cyrus called me for help." Jake put the photo back. "They all worry me. Todd's off roaming all over Africa, chasing lions. God, every time I get a call from him, I always hope it's not someone else coming to tell me he got eaten or trampled. Chris isn't out to us, but I know he's gay and I keep worrying about someone doing something to him because of it. And Cyrus, he's always up and down. There's a lot of darkness in his mind he won't talk to us about. He's the one I worry about the most. I'm always worried he's gonna go out and hang himself or drink himself to death. He wouldn't be the first man in our family to do it." "Must be hard having so many siblings to think about." Dani said. She was an only child. Dani wondered if her life might have been different if she had an older brother or sister. "Yeah, but you're a mom. I'm sure you already know how I feel." Jake stopped himself. "Sorry, I'm running my mouth again. You probably don't want to hear about all this shit at work." "No, it's fine. I don't mind listening. I'm a little envious." Dani felt strangely comfortable around Jake. All her defenses fell away the more she listened to him talk. "I don't have any siblings, and my family's...well, I don't talk to my parents anymore. It's only my aunt, my daughter, and me." "Two's still better than none. And you're forgetting one more." Jake smirked. "I don't understand." "Hound. He's your family too." "We're not blood related." Dani said. "He's your daughter's father. That makes him family." Jake nudged her. "You wouldn't be working here if you didn't still care about him. You can't fool me." Dani wanted to deny it, but the words wouldn't come out. Jake smiled at her and went back to him desk. She didn't know what to think of him. Dani kept her distance, but Jake was good at getting close to anyone around him, regardless of the barriers in his way. The following Monday, Dani spent most of the day with Damon instead of working in the office. Robert didn't mind that she did this. It seemed to be the real reason he hired her in the first place. Damon sat a little closer to her that day. "You didn't bring her last weekend." "She went to a party with her friends." Dani said. "Oh, that's nice." Damon put his hands together. "Why didn't you tell me sooner about her?" Dani expected this question was coming. "I hadn't decide yet if I wanted you to know." "That's a little unfair, don't you think?" Damon said. "I wasn't sure if I could let her see you in here like this." "You didn't have to bring her to tell me about her." "I thought it might upset you." Dani said. "That doesn't mean I shouldn't know." Damon gazed into her eyes. He gave her a small smile. "She's beautiful. That must have been difficult, raising her by yourself." "My aunt helped me out." "How long has she been doing magic?" He asked. "Since she was a baby." Dani said. "She would make tiny waves in the bath." Rather than happiness at her special abilities, it only pained him. "I'm sorry. I've saddled you with a very heavy burden." "She's not." Dani snapped back. "She's not a burden. I've never thought of her like that. Not once." "I'm sorry." "No, you don't need to apologize." Unconsciously, Dani reached for his hand to comfort him. When their fingers met, both of them froze. "Yesterday, I accepted the offer Robert gave me. They're going to experiment on me." Damon faced forward. "They're going to pay me for it, so I can buy some things for myself." "Are you sure you want them to do that to you?" Dani asked. "I don't want the moon to hurt more people. If cutting me up a little prevents someone else down the line from having it done to them, it's not that bad, right?" Damon couldn't face her. "Besides, he said I can stop doing it any time I want. If it gets too much, I can refuse to do more and go back to how things are now or leave." "If that's what you want to do, then I can't stop you, but you don't have to do this." Dani held his hand tighter. "I know." Damon held her hand back. "You don't have to bring Damia all the time. I don't want to take away all her weekends." Dani quickly corrected his assumption. "She loves seeing you. She almost didn't go to the party because she wanted to see you." Damon pulled his hand away. "Am I making her a prisoner too?" "She wants to be near you. If this is how it has to be, then that's what we'll do." Dani said. Damon looked over at her. He brushed her hair back and kissed her. Damon led her over to the bed. They kissed for a while, but went no further than that. Dani cuddled with him in bed. This bed was much nicer than the ones they slept on in motels or the ones in the hospital, but she missed how it felt when they cuddled together in the woods underneath the stars. At the latter part of her work day, she fixed herself and went to her office. Jake smirked at her, but didn't say anything. Progress on the case went nowhere. Another boy was found, but they couldn't identify him either. Dani saw Damon most days, and brought Damia by on the weekends. Damon rarely talked about what sort of research was being done on him. He would only tell her vague details about it being medically related. Near the end of the year, Dani bought a small two-story house near her aunt's. It was taller than it was wide. The first floor contained the living room, a tiny dining area, and the kitchen, and; the second floor had two small bedrooms, a full bathroom, and a half bathroom. The front yard barely existed, and the backyard was about double the size of the front, surrounded by a tall wooden fence and overgrown plants. The house was at the end of a dead end. Four other houses were on the short road. The place was quiet. Dani liked that, but she missed having a balcony. Miranda helped her furnish the house and move out. Dani thanked her for all her support. Now, it was only her and Damia in the house. She felt uneasy about that. Miranda was always a calming, protective force in the house. Without her, Dani suddenly felt vulnerable again. She told herself she was an adult and the feeling would pass. Damia liked the new house. She had her own bedroom now. Damia wanted to paint it right away. Without the comfort of her balcony, Dani spent her evenings sitting outside in a chair near the back door. Damia played in the backyard while her mother watched the sky and read books. One afternoon, Damia told her something strange when they were out in the backyard. "Mommy, Grandpa's coming over tonight. He told me he wanted to talk to you." Damia said. A shiver went down Dani's spine. "What are you talking about? Has someone been visiting you?" "Grandpa's been visiting me for a long time." Damia sat down at her mother's feet. She scribbled with her chalk on the concrete surrounding the back door. "Damia, can you draw me what he looks like?" Dani asked. Damia grabbed three colors from her deluxe box of chalk. She drew a picture of a person with a long black hair dressed in all red. Dani sat up straight. "When is he coming?" "He said he'd be here at seven." Damia scribbled another figure beside the person in red. She drew a blond person in all blue beside the one in red. "Only one of them is coming." Dani stood up, heart racing. She opened the back door and looked in at the kitchen clock. It was six fifty-five. "Damia, come inside." Dani said. Damia picked up her chalk and went in. She sat down at the kitchen table. Dani followed behind her. She locked the back door. Then, she went to the front door to make sure it was locked. Dani turned around. A man in red sat beside her daughter at the kitchen table. "Hello, Ms. Dani. It's been a while." The man said. Dani ran over to her daughter. She pulled her away from the table. "How did you get in here?" "Does it really matter? I told you I was coming." The man motioned to the table. "Please, sit down. I'm not here for anything nefarious." "Mommy, what's wrong?" Damia asked. "Nothing, dear." Dani sat down at the table. She sat Damia in her lap. "My daughter tells me you've been visiting her." "I have. She is my granddaughter. It's only natural I would want to see her. I came to ask you about my son. I know Aurora is housing him now. How is he?" The man in red asked. "He's fine. They're keeping him safe." Dani said. "Is that so? I'd like you to convince him to leave and come back with us. Even if they are keeping him safe, he belongs with us. A pretty cage is still a cage. I can give him real freedom." The man in red said. "I've tried to convince him. He won't leave." "I see. I suppose I can try to reach him in his sleep again. I don't understand why he won't come with me." The man in red sighed. "How long have you been visiting my daughter?" Dani questioned him. "Since she was very small. I would come when you were away to see her, so I wouldn't bother you." The man in red held his arms out. "Damia, come to me." Damia slipped out of her mother's grasp and ran over to the man. He picked her up and held her. "Give me my daughter back." Dani glared at him. "I will. I'm not taking her anywhere. I only wanted to hold her." The man in red smiled at the child, then looked back at Dani. "Look at me. Look at my face. Look at hers. I am no stranger in this house. I mean you no harm. I am sorry I have frightened you, but I am not part of this place anymore. The way this world works is quite foreign to me. But I assure you I would never hurt my own flesh and blood." "Mommy, are you mad at Grandpa?" Damia pouted at her. "No, I'm not. Your grandfather can visit you, so long as he doesn't take you anywhere." Dani kept her eyes on the man in red. "I wouldn't take her anywhere without your permission." The man in red said. "Go back to your mother." Damia got down and went back to Dani. The man in red stood up. He walked to the door. "Are you going?" Dani asked. "Yes." "When will you be back?" He unlocked the door without touching it. "I'll let you know. Goodbye, Damia. I'll see you soon. Be good for your mother." The man in red walked out into the backyard and closed the door. Dani immediately opened it. The backyard was filled with fog. When it cleared, no one was there. Dani didn't sleep well that night. She looked into adding more locks to the doors in the house, but didn't bother getting anything installed. If they could already unlock the ones in the house now, what good would another set do? She tried not to think about it. In 1996, there was a break in the case with Lynne Jones. Another boy was found, and identified as a former patient at one of Moone & Wolfe's mental hospitals, the location in Decatur. His parents had placed him in their care after he had a mental breakdown following the death of his older sister in a car accident. He escaped the facility and had been missing for a year. From eye witness reports, the boy had been seen on the west side of Atlanta, around the border of Fulton and Cobb county, before his death. His remains were found along a small river, cut in Jones's usual way. He was sixteen at the time of his death. Someone had gotten a photo of the boy with Jones. The witness told them the woman went by Kitty. "She's definitely there. This isn't some copy cat." Jake tossed the photo of Jones and the boy. "This is the freshest kill we've ever found. Damn. She really does it in broad daylight like that? Holy hell." "If she's just killed him, she has at least one more boy nearby. Her previous pattern included keeping several within a certain mile distance of each other. The other boy has to be here." Dani circled an area on the map covering parts of Fulton, Cobb, and Douglas county. "My gut's telling me he's in Atlanta, and I bet she won't wait long before she has another one lined up." Jake rubbed his temples. "Something's not right though." "What is it?" "This isn't enough. She used to kill more boys than this at once. Are we not finding them or is she slowing down?" Jake looked through the stack of papers before him. "The last time she slowed down, it wasn't long before she up and vanished again." "You think she's about to disappear?" Dani asked. "That's not the only thing bothering me. For the first year, she vanished a lot. She's been hovering in this general area of Georgia for a few years now. What's going on?" Jake tossed the papers down. "Why weren't you moving before? What's keeping you here? Why are you leaving now? I don't understand it." A horrid idea crossed Dani's mind. "You said you think she's playing a game with these boys. What if she's been playing this game with one boy for a long time now?" Jake's eyes opened widely. "That's it. Someone's beating her at her game. But what happens if the boy wins?" "Eighteen." Dani said. "She cuts them up differently if they reach eighteen. If they reach that number, does that mean she lost?" "A sore loser, huh? How much time do we have left? It has to be less than a year." Jake picked up the phone. "We have to catch her within the year. If we don't, we'll miss our chance again. We have to beat her to it, before the boy wins the game." Jake called their associated in Atlanta and discussed with them everything he and Dani talked about. When the call was over, Jake put his head down on the desk. "I'm so sick of this bitch. I can't get anything out of Tom about her. I know he's working with her. I know they have all kinds of ways to shovel organs and corpses in to fuck with. How the fuck does he sleep at night doing all this shit? What do you think of all this, Fox?" "All of what?" Dani asked. "Aurora, Moone & Wolfe. The more I look into them both, the less sense anything makes." Jake took a deep breath. "I don't know. Are you planning on betraying us?" Jake waved his hand at her. "Oh, come on. I know you're not here because you're loyal. You want to see Hound. Rob told me that's how he recruited you. Pretty shady, if you ask me." "Is the moon any better?" She said. "Of course not. They're worse, but..." Jake sighed. "You and I both know Aurora is the lesser of two evils. I've seen the records of what they're doing to Hound. I know it's to help combat everything the moon is working on to hurt a massive amount of people with, but there's still something inherently disgusting about forcing one person to suffer for the sake of strangers who will never know anything about this." "It's his choice. He can leave." Dani parroted Damon's words to Jake. She wanted to ask Jake what exactly they were doing to Damon, but she was too terrified of finding out. "He won't. Not while you're here." "What? He came here before I started working here." Dani said. "He came here a week before you started working here. They know they couldn't hold him without dangling something over his head. Now that he's seen the girl too, there's no way he'll leave. He wants to be with you. That's why he's letting them put him under the knife every day. Rob's got you both trapped." Jake opened a can of soda. He poured it into a glass. Jake took out a bottle of beer and poured half of it into the glass. Dani's heart sunk at hearing that. "Why are you telling me all of this?" "I don't know. I feel sorry for him. He clearly loves you a lot. Whatever happened between you two must have been something." Jake drank from the glass. "Heh. Maybe I'm a little jealous." "What are you trying to accomplish here? Are you trying to get me to betray Aurora?" Dani turned her chair to face him. Jake took another sip. "No, of course not. Things don't have to be so black and white, you know?" "Who's side are you really on, Corbin?" Dani asked. She stood up from her chair. "That should be obvious. You know what they call me." Jake relaxed in his chair. "I don't believe in everything Aurora is doing, but what they want to accomplish aligns with what I want in the end. The moon is a self-destructive cult obsessed with distorted memories no one was alive for and disturbed morality. They'll implode at some point. I intend to make sure that happens before they take most of society with them. I do this for my family, so that they may know a future. If I have to lie to them at every turn to keep them safe, then I will. That was the promise I made when I was a boy, that I'd always keep my family safe." "A promise to who?" Dani asked, confused. "A pair of coyotes, as thanks for protecting my baby brother." He smirked at her. Dani raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?" "Who knows. Nonsense, probably." Jake laughed off her concerns. "We don't have to use Hound. You should set him free. Run off with him, if you want. He's more of a liability while he's here anyway." "A liability?" "Hound's not ours to keep, or the moon's. Someone higher up wants him back. I think you've met at least one of them." Jake pointed up at the sky. Dani perked up at hearing that. She hoped, with all his secret knowledge, Jake may have answers for her no one else was willing to give. "Who are they? Do you know? I thought they must have worked for Aurora or some other international agency." "Oh, so you met the pair? Haha. How much of Aurora and Moone & Wolfe's history do you know?" Jake leaned forward in his chair. "We investigate strange things. You've seen a lot since you started working here, I imagine, both outside and within these walls. Your daughter, she's got unusual abilities like her father, doesn't she?" Dani's body filled with panic. She didn't answer him. "Don't worry. I won't tell anyone. Where do you think all that comes from?" Jake shot her a sly look. "I don't know. I assumed Damon was born from an experiment." Dani said. "He wasn't. He wasn't created in a lab, but I suspect he has no human mother either." Jake's smirk grew wider. Dani raised an eyebrow at that remark. "What does that mean?" "The power to create life without a womb...without a lab...that sounds like magic, doesn't it?" Dani sat back down. "You mean like in fairytales?" "What we do here is only an imitation of the real thing. I've read from the more guarded records that there are those tied to the Blackwell family who learned the secrets of magic. I wouldn't dare say their names. To even attempt to do so might get their attention, and we don't want that. They're already furious at us for holding Hound here. I doubt Damon Hound is his real name. They wouldn't ever let us know that." Jake said. "It's not." Dani said. She revealed only part of the truth. "That's what one of them told me. His last name is Blackwell." "And the first?" Dani spoke coldly. "I don't think I should tell you that." "So, you know his real name. You should keep that to yourself." Jake rested his chin against his hands. "What about the mark? Do you know what it's for?" "I don't know. I know he's always had it." Dani said. "It's to hide something." Jake looked up. "Something humans shouldn't have. I wonder what." "What? Like a tail or wings?" "Haha, who knows. Maybe horns and hooves." He joked. "He doesn't have those." Dani said. The air in the room was thick after their exchange. Dani excused herself for the day to see Damon. He was laying on his bed. Dani joined him. Damon greeted her with a kiss. "How's your day been?" He asked. Dani caressed his hair. "The case is moving along. What about you?" "They did a lot of tests today. I'm tired." Damon rested his head on her chest. "Are you in pain?" She asked. Damon played with the buttons on her shirt. "No, just tired. How is Damia?" "She's gotten interested in watercolors. I bought her a palette and some paper for her to use last week. She's painted me a lot of pictures." Dani rubbed his back. His warmth against her stirred desires in her she had long gotten used to ignoring again. "There's no window in this room." Damon said. "They're worried about people seeing inside the building." "Please, could you talk to them about getting me a room with a window?" "I can try, but I don't know if they'll approve it." She said. "I want to see outside. If it's not safe for me to be out there, can't I at least look at what I'm missing?" Damon's voice was strained. "I still got to go outside when I was at the hospital." Dani's heart ached. "I'll ask Robert tomorrow. Surely, they can let you have a window." "Thank you." He said with a kiss. Dani asked Robert Blackwell about getting Damon a new room first thing in the morning. She eventually got him to agree to it, solely because Robert knew he had to keep Damon happy if he wanted to continue using him for research. Damon was moved to a new room within an hour. The window wasn't very big, but Damon was happy to have it. He made it rain outside. His eyes lit up in a way she hasn't seen in a long time. The months passed by and 1996 was drawing to a close. Jake grew more anxious around New Years. He became fixated on Jones and the unknown boy. Their associates in Atlanta hadn't found any new leads on Jones. Christmas came, and Jake flew out of state to visit his family for a week. Dani spent the first part of Christmas day at her aunt's and in the evening, she brought Damia to see her father. She visited him again the day after Christmas. Few employees were in the building. Most were on vacation. She found Damon by the window, watching the wind blow through the empty trees. He looked over at her with weary eyes. "Is something wrong?" She asked him. Damon got up from the window. He kissed her. Damon took her hand and led her over to the bed. He held her close. "Are they watching me?" Damon whispered. He entwined his legs with hers. Dani whispered back. "Your room is private." Damon pulled her closer. "Do you still love me?" She petted his hair. "Why do you ask?" "I told you to fall in love with someone else. Have you?" His face was only an inch from hers. His warmth on her ignited a fire within her. "I'm not looking for love." "I don't want you to love me." Damon slid his hand up her shirt. "I'm lonely." Damon locked eyes with her. He kissed her. Damon slid his hand further up her shirt. Dani undid his pants. He got on top of her as she took her shirt off. Her bra was tossed aside. His shirt joined hers, then both of their pants. Damon slowly slipped her panties off. His underwear was next. Dani embraced him with the same intensity as she did that last night they spent together before parting ways. In his movements, she felt all of his desperation and desire. Soft and slow, he kissed his way down her body. He kissed the inner part of her thigh and nuzzled against it. Dani's body burned hot. He lingered for a moment before leaning down. She reacted to his actions more strongly than she expected. In all this time, she hadn't bothered pursuing a new relationship with anyone. She spent her time waiting by the phone, buried in work, or taking care of her daughter. The idea never once crossed her mind. The only contact like this she knew were on the nights when she touched herself while thinking of him, an exercise itself rife with pain as it only increased her longing for him. She had no way of knowing if she would ever see him again. Her nights were cold and long, filled with thoughts of what ifs and what wasn't. His tongue against her was hotter than she remembered. His fingers easily entered her. Dani glanced over at the door. She shouldn't be doing something like this at work, but where else could she do this with him? She forced herself to keep her voice down when she climaxed. Damon wasted no time in getting inside her and getting her worked up all over again. She didn't care what position they were in, so long as he was there. He moved with a deliberate slowness. His hands were occupied with touching one of her breasts and between her legs. No words were exchanged between them. He planted kisses down her neck. Dani's body was tensing up again. She took hold of his hand and moved it faster against herself. Damon understood and kept up the speed she asked for. He buried his face against her shoulder as he sped up with another part of himself. He was seconds behind her this time. Dani caught her breath. Damon rolled over beside her. She curled up against his chest. Dani expected to see happiness in his eyes. What she saw reflected there was the same sadness as that night from long ago. He wrapped his arms around her. "It wasn't safe for us then, but sometimes, I wish I could go back to those months when we were on the run together. I miss waking up beside you." "We could go back to that. You don't have to stay inside here." Dani said. "If I leave this place and stay with you, you'll be in danger." Damon said. "I already am by working here." "It's not the same. They'll use you in ways they wouldn't now. They'll use her too. I can't. Even if you want to, I can't. I don't want to put a child through anything I've endured. And if they know she's mine...they might..." Damon couldn't finish his sentence. Tears slid down his face. Dani stared in shock. "Dani, I want to die." His words barely escaped him. Dani held back tears. "I don't want you to die." "They did another experiment this morning." He wiped his face off, but the tears kept coming. "My body is damaged by fire at the same temperatures as normal people. Isn't that useful?" Dani's heart raced. "They burned you?" Damon raised his left arm. Small burn marks were on the back side of his upper arm. "They were bigger earlier, but they're already healing up. Yesterday, they tested how long I can hold my breath under water. They wouldn't let me up until I passed out." Dani held him tighter. She forced herself not to cry in front of him. "I'm sorry." "This is better, right?" Damon laughed at his own pain. Tears streamed down his face. "If I go outside, then the other side gets me and they'll put me in one of those machines and cut me open more. Haha, what's the point of me living at all? I'm the same as him now, as AB14, I'm the same as Scott. Will they kill me when I'm not useful?" "They won't do that. You're allowed to leave. This isn't the moon." Dani cleaned his face off. She caressed his cheek. "If you need to leave, please, run away. You could go with those people." "I don't know those people. How do I know they won't do something worse to me?" Damon asked. "I don't think they will." Dani said. Dani stayed with him for most of the day. Damon's mood never improved. She wanted to talk with Robert about what he was doing to Damon, but Robert wouldn't be back until mid-January. She couldn't rant to Jake either. He was still on vacation. Dani turned to the only person left, her aunt. "You should get him to leave with those people. He's not supposed to be here." Miranda said over the phone. "Do you really think he's a changeling?" Dani asked. "I'm positive he is." She said. "He shouldn't be with us at all. Humans destroy everything beautiful they find." Dani spoke with Robert about the experiments on Damon as soon as he got back. He gave her excuses for why they needed to do such things to him. It was the same as Moone & Wolfe. They wanted to know the same things. They wanted to know why he was special. Aurora couldn't have caught a better test subject. Dani's skin crawled thinking about what else they might convince him to let them do to him. She kept him company. The distance they had kept between themselves disappeared entirely. She got used to locking the door whenever she went to Damon's room alone. No matter what she said to him, Damon refused to leave. In April of 1997, there was a break in the case. They had narrowed down the area where Jones was working in. Their associates in Atlanta were getting ready to capture her. Jake worried she was about to vanish soon, but he had other issues on his mind. Shortly after a phone call for work, Jake received a personal call from his younger brother, Cyrus. Dani tried not to listen in on it, but it soon became impossible. "Hey Cyrus, what's up? I'm at work right now, so..." Jake said in his usual cheery tone. His expression shifted from happy to alarmed in seconds. "Where are you right now?" Jake went quiet. He wrote something down on paper and handed it to Dani. Dani read the note. 'My brother is suicidal. Can you do please do a big favor for me? I need you to buy me a plane ticket while I talk to him. I'll give you my credit card.' Dani nodded back at him. "So, you're at your apartment, right? Is there any friend you can stay with right now?" Jake wrote down more information for her and handed her his wallet. Dani went to take care of that right away. When she returned, Jake was still on the phone with Cyrus. He covered the phone with his hand. "Did you get it?" "Yes." Dani said. "Thank you." Jake removed his hand. "Cyrus, I'm coming down there, okay? We're gonna talk. If you can't find a place, Chris is less than a day's drive away. We could talk to him and...okay, okay. I can get you somewhere to stay if it comes to that. I need you to not go anywhere tonight. Please, don't drink anymore. Promise me. It's gonna be okay. I'm leaving right after this to get ready and I'll be there as soon as I can...If you think about doing that again, please go to the place I gave you the address for. Don't worry about the bill. I'll take care of it. Okay? I love you. I'll be there soon. Bye." Jake hung up the phone. "Dani, tell Rob I have a family emergency. I have to go, now. I'll call him tomorrow to explain." "Is your brother okay?" Dani asked. "No, he's not." Jake rushed out the door. He stopped and looked back. "Thank you for doing that favor for me. I owe you." Shortly after Jake left, Dani got another phone call from their associates in Atlanta. They had lost track of Jones, and they found another boy. Photos of the scene were faxed to her during the phone call. She looked at the remains. The boy wasn't cut up the way she cut eighteen year olds. "This one...we've already identified him. He's only been missing a month. Fifteen, ran away from home. Parents think it was stress of the divorce they're going through." The woman on the other line sighed. "He can't be the last one." "No, there must be one more. Which means, we're either going to find him soon or she...did she take him with her? She's never done that before." Dani chewed on her pen. This didn't make sense. Where was the last boy? She feared they hadn't found his body yet. "Do you think she would? Maybe he escaped." The woman suggested. "If he did, we need to find him. He might still be nearby." Dani said. They had to start over again. Jones was gone. Jake returned to work two days later. He arrived at work before Dani did. She found him reading through the documents faxed in his absence. "She got away, huh?" Jake said. "She's eluded us once again." Dani moved her chair near his. "How's your brother?" "He's...I got him to calm down some, but I'm gonna call him again at lunch. I called him this morning." Jake said. "Is it alright if I asked what happened?" Dani asked. "Yeah." Jake took a deep breath. He leaned back in his chair. "Cyrus walked in on his girlfriend cheating on him. He's been a wreck since then. And to make things worse, it's her apartment. He moved in with her. Now, he needs to find another place to stay. When he called me, he was drunk as hell telling me he wanted to jump in front of a MARTA train. I took him out and rented a hotel for us to get away in and talk. It's been a while since he's gotten like that. When I left, he seemed okay. I already called my other brother, Chris, to make sure he checks in on him too. Chris is in Orlando. He can get to Cyrus faster than anyone else in the family." "Does Cyrus have a history with things like this?" Dani asked. She moved her chair over to be beside his. "Yeah. This isn't his first go trying to kill himself. I talked him out of the last one too." Jake poured himself some soda into a glass. He followed it up by adding beer to it. Dani put her hand on the can. "Should you really be doing that too?" "I'm fine. I haven't had any before now." Dani took the can from him. "You need to be as sober as possible when you talk to him. Dump it out." "You're just like my mom." Jake poured the contents of the glass into the trash can beside his desk. "I don't like talkin' about this, but my mom's side of the family...there's a lot of alcoholics, mostly men. Out of the four of us, I'd say Todd's the only one who actually watches himself about that. Chris and Cyrus are terrible about that." "If that's the case, you should be even more careful." Dani said. "I know." Jake's eyes lingered on her for a long while. "You and I really are the same." "What?" "Haha, don't worry about it, Dani." Jake half smiled at her. "Let's get back to work." Dani felt something strange then. She couldn't name what it was. "I hope everything works out for your brother." "Thanks. I hope so too." Jake looked over at a family photo. "I won't lose him. I won't let that happen." Dani overheard some of Jake's conversation with his brother later in the day. Jake was in a good mood after that. She hoped that meant Cyrus was doing better. At the end of the day, Dani visited Damon. He was setting up a VCR in front of a TV. Dani sat on the floor beside him. "When did you get these?" Dani asked. "Today. Do you know how to set this thing up?" Damon turned the VCR over. "Watch." Dani took it from him. She set up everything. "Oh, it has the time on it. The one at the hospital always showed a bunch of zeros." Damon said. "A lot of people are too lazy to set that part up. Did you buy any movies?" Dani asked. "Yeah. I asked some of the researchers what movies they liked. That's what I'm starting with." Dani looked at the pile. She saw several Spielberg and Kubrik films, some popular movies from the last few years, and a few 'classics'. Dani rolled her eyes at the copies of Home Alone and The Sound of Music. She wrote down a list of movies she thought would better suit him. Damon messed with the remote. "How do I watch TV shows?" "Do we have cable here?" Dani took the remote from him. "Hmm...we should at least be able to access the free channels." Dani found a local channel. The news was on. Damon went quiet. He listened attentively to the reporter. Dani's heart ached at seeing him like that. The TV was another window, like the one beside his bed. It could give him a glimpse, but it wasn't freedom. Dani watched TV with him until she needed to go home. Dani kissed him goodbye. Damia waited for her at home. She had something she wanted to show her mother. "Mommy, look what Grandpa gave me." Damia held up a recurve bow with red limbs and a blue riser. Around her daughter's waist was a blue quiver holding small arrows with two red fletchings and one blue fletching. A leather finger tab was around her daughter's right hand. Dangling out of one of the two zippered pockets on the quiver was a leather glove. On her left arm was a red arm guard. Shock was followed by anger, then annoyance. "He gave you a weapon." "He said I'm old enough to use it." Damia held the bow protectively against herself, worried her mother might take her new toy away. "Grandpa showed me how to use it. He taught me a bunch of things about safety. I won't use it wrong." "And where did you practice this at?" Dani asked. "In the backyard. He brought stuff for me to shoot at." Damia lowered her head. "Are you mad at Grandpa?" "When you see him next, inform him he is not allowed to give you any more weapons without my permission." Dani said. "Does that mean I can't keep the bow?" Damia made puppy eyes at her. "You may only bring it out when he comes by, or if I take you somewhere you can shoot at." Dani said. She held her hands out. "I'm going to put it in my room in the mean time." "Okay." Damia handed the bow over. Dani patted her on the head. "I'm not taking it away from you forever. But I don't want you playing with it unless one of us is present. It's to make sure nothing happens." "I know." Damia was unhappy about it. She handed over her quiver to her mother. "I could look into seeing if anyone around here offers classes. Then, you can practice more. Maybe there's somewhere that does it in the afternoon or on Sundays." Dani said. Damia perked up. "Really? Will you really let me take classes?" "I'll look into it. If there's somewhere we can go, we can try it out. Maybe I'll try it with you." Dani said. The last part was more to cheer up her daughter than out of genuine interest. She didn't like having to keep a gun on her at work, and hated training with it. She doubted a different weapon would be of any interest to her. Dani put the bow up in her room. She tossed her shoes off and collapsed on the bed. Dani felt something on the pillow beside the one she was on. It was a note. She read it. 'I know you're going to take it from her. To ensure the life of the bow, please store it according to my instructions below. I've included the measurements and other information about her equipment at the bottom of this page. If you leave her bow strung and propped upright in a corner or dry fire her bow, I will strike your roses with lightning. You have been warned.' Dani got up and moved the bow. "You arrogant bastard." Dani threw the note in the top drawer of her nightstand. She thought about something. Dani picked it up to see if it had been signed. "Nanakamado. What the hell does that mean?" The next day, after work, Dani took Damia with her to the local library where she used to work. She searched through the foreign language section. Dani didn't know what language "Nanakamado" would be part of, but the man himself physically looked part Asian. She started with a mandarin dictionary, then moved to a Korean one. She found what she was looking for in a Japanese dictionary. "Japanese rowan tree. What?" Dani went next to the botany section. She found the tree in a large tree encyclopedia. "Sorbus commixta, the Japanese rowan, member of the rose family, produces orange to red berries and has white flowers...what the hell is this related to?" Dani stared at the pictures of the tree, hoping it would give her some kind of answer. She put the book back on the shelf. "Is this some kind of code? What does this mean?" Dani went back to the Japanese dictionary. She broke the word down in parts. "Nana" meant seven. Was the number seven important? Dani couldn't see how. She felt stupid. Dani gave up and went home. Little changed in the next few months. Dani enrolled Damia in archery classes on Sundays. She watched several movies and TV shows with Damon near the end of her shifts. During the day, she worked with Jake on Jones's case and some others that came up. In July, Jake left for Georgia again to work undercover with Tom Summerfield for a while. Dani and Jake were in regular contact while he was away. The office seemed too quiet without him there. Jake returned in December with Lynne Jones. He informed her in advanced he was bringing her back. "We got her." Jake told her on the phone. "Jones?" "Yep. Got that bitch in a cell right now. I'm transporting her back. Found her in Miami in the middle of a kill. The boy's in the hospital right now." Jake said. "Is he going to make it?" Dani asked. "Right now, it looks like it. We weren't in time to stop him from being hurt. He lost an arm, but the odds are really good he's going to survive. When he's physically recovered, he'll be receiving counseling. He gave us some information. We were able to find another boy she was housing." Jake said. "What about the eighteen year old? The boy we never found?" Dani asked. "We found him too. Or well, he contacted us. But I already knew who he was before he contacted us. You could say he's of interest to the moon." Jake said. Dani straightened up in her seat. "The moon?" "I'll explain more when I get back." Jake arrived a few days later. Jones was kept in a cell within the building for the time being. Dani and Jake met up in their office. Jake greeted Dani with a hug. She was taken aback by it, but hugged him back. "It's been a rough year, but damn, we finally got her." Jake took a seat at his desk. "I've got so much to tell you. I've already given my report to Rob." "You said they caught her in the middle of trying to kill one of her victims. How did they find her in time?" Dani asked. "Luck. A whole damn lot of luck. Wish I could've been there to take her down myself." Jake opened a soda can. "Tom's pretty pissed about her too. He let it slip one day while we were having lunch. She got herself a hold of someone she wasn't supposed to have. But you know, Tom pissed me off damn good too." "What happened?" "That bastard shot my brother for being too involved with Mr. Eighteen." Jake narrowed his eyes. He slammed the drink down. "Is your brother..." Dani was almost afraid to ask. "He's alright now. I can't believe him. He had the audacity to shoot my brother after acting like I'm so special to him. That death cult really doesn't give a damn about family ties despite all their interconnected family bullshit. How could he think, if he believed I was loyal, that I'd be loyal after that? And he still thinks I am. What a fucking dumb shit." Jake ranted on. "I had to kiss his ass to get him to not come back again and kill him. Told him I'd keep an eye on the situation. It was the least he owed me for all the 'work' I did 'undercover' at Aurora." "Who is the other boy? Why did the moon want him so badly?" Dani asked. "AB14." Jake grinned. "He's alive. He escaped after all, and Jones happened to ensnare him in her game right after. That's why they couldn't find him, and that's why Jones didn't move. She was there because of AB14. Scott Thomas, that boy is one hell of a survivor. Didn't expect he was so close to me. I can't believe Cyrus is dating him." Dani couldn't help but smile at hearing that. "He made it out. Damon will be happy to hear that." "Did they know each other?" Jake asked. "Not quite. Damon knew of him, but not the other way around. He snooped through their research a lot." Dani couldn't wait to tell Damon about Scott's escape. "I didn't know your brother was gay. I thought you said he was dating some girl not that long ago." "He says he's bisexual. I was a little surprised at first, but I always had this gut feeling about that." Jake took a picture out of his pocket. He handed it to Dani. "Here. This is what AB14, AKA Scott Thomas, currently looks like." Dani looked at the photo. A young man with blond hair, brown eyes, and fair skin stood next to a man of around the same age with dark brown hair, blue eyes, and light, russet skin. She remembered the brown haired man's face. He looked like a younger version of Jake, except with blue eyes instead of dark brown and slightly longer, messier hair. She didn't quite recognize him at first. Most of the photos Jake kept of his brothers were when they were still growing. "This is Cyrus, right?" "Yeah, that's Cyrus." Jake said. He grinned widely. "I think Scott's gonna be the one." "The one what?" Dani handed the photo back to him. "The one he sticks with. I can tell by the way he looks at him. He's already decided it, even if he doesn't know it yet." Jake taped the picture to the wall with the others. "How do you know that?" Dani asked. "Just a feeling I got in my gut. And it's getting me worked up, you know." Jake stared at the newly added photograph. "Cause if that's how it is, I gotta protect him too. Now, he's my brother. Todd thinks the same way, and he's not exactly the most observant person. If he sees it, it must be." "What's he like?" Dani asked. "Scott? He's a nice kid. Got some bite to him though, if you piss him off. I like him." Jake said. "You're okay with it?" Dani clarified. "Your brother's relationship, I mean." "Yeah, Scott's nice. Better than the last one Cyrus dated. That girl was a real bitch. Scott's gotten my brother out of that depressive rut he was in, and he was willing to turn himself over to Tom in exchange for my brother's life. If he's willing to die for my brother, that's more than good enough for me. That's exactly the kind of quality I want out of my brothers' dating partners." Dani liked how Jake was most when he talked about his family. There was a fierceness in him that only came out then. "You're quite the protective man." He laughed, then looked her dead in the eyes. "Haha, what strange words coming from you. You're no different than me. Who would you kill if anyone touched a single hair on your daughter's head? The only reason you're trapped here is precisely the same reason I am. You're no fox. You're a coyote too. You're here to guard your family and trick or hunt anyone who gets in your way." "Oh, a coyote am I?" Dani laughed with him. "Maybe I am." They both laughed for a while. Jake looked over at the clock. "Well, Dani, it's about time. Do you want to do the honors in questioning Jones? Tom's confirmed she was working for him. We need to find out what she was doing." "I would. I'd like to finally meet her." Dani stood up from her chair. "Be careful. She's a real firecracker. She'll blow your head off if she gets the chance." Jake warned her. "I'll be fine." Dani said. She walked towards the door. "Let me walk you there. I've got a few things I wanted to talk with Rob about anyway." Jake offered. He walked her down to the interrogation room. A guard was stationed outside the room in case anything happened. Dani went into the room. The blue room had a single, small table and two chairs in the center of it. A woman in handcuffs sat in one chair. Dani took a seat in the opposite chair. Dani leaned in, a stack of papers in her hand. She introduced herself. Jones dodged answering most of her questions. "Ms. Lynne Jones, who was it that hired you? If you give us the name of your employer, you might receive a lighter sentence." Dani said. "What did you say your name was again? Something Fax?" Jones leaned back in her chair. "Damn, it's stuffy in here. You got any smokes on you? I haven't had a cigarette in days." "It's Dani Fox, and you may not smoke in here. Did you forget you are under arrest for multiple counts of murder, statutory rape, kidnapping, and child trafficking? This is a serious situation, Jones. It's in your best interest to cooperate." "Danny? Oh, Danny Boy, you know that's not a woman's name. What's your real name? Clarence seems more right than Danny." Jones snickered. "Was Danielle not butch enough for you, Danny Boy? You look like the type of women with a taste in cheap rugs." "Jones, who employed you?" Dani ignored her comments. "Did your employer work for this company, Moone & Wolfe?" "Give me a cigarette and maybe I'll answer you." Jones said. "Answer a few of my questions and maybe I'll let you have one." Dani said back. "You wanna know about the guy that hired me, huh? He said his name was Tom, Tom Oak. Brown hair, brown eyes, 'bout six feet tall or so. Didn't look like he got much sun." Jones cracked her knuckles. "Where did you meet Mr. Oak?" Dani asked. Dani recognized the name Tom Oak. It was an alias of Tom Summerfield, one he primarily used for writing his propaganda novels. "He picked me up and took me to a hotel. He said he wanted me to perform some services for him. I thought he wanted somethin' freaky the way he was lookin' at me, but he wasn't there for that kind of business. He wanted my leftovers, bagged." Jones made a motion like she was dangling something in the air. "What do you mean by leftovers?" "He said he knew what I got up to, and he wanted me to collect up some of the blood from the boys I cut up. Paid me a grand a boy, two if I drained him real good. Was a nice way to pay the bills every now and then when one of the boys would get too sweet on me." Jones laughed. "You can get a lot of blood out of one boy." "Do you know what he was doing with these bags of blood?" Dani asked. "Fuck if I know. He looked like a doctor. I bet it was some shady medical shit. I don't care. He always paid in cash." "Where would you two meet when you had a supply of blood to give him?" "Different hotels. I'd call the number he gave me, then he'd tell me a hotel to meet him at. After that, he gave me a new phone number to call." Jones looked over at the door. "I see. Did he ever request anything else of you?" "He wanted a pair of eyes once, but keeping eyes preserved is way too much work. I told him where the body was and he could get 'em himself if he wanted that. That shit they use to preserve bodies in smells so bad. Ain't no perfume strong enough to cover that. One of my boys would have definitely asked questions." Jones motioned with her hands to suggest wafting away an aroma. "Speaking of which, you left one of the young men alive. Why did you not kill Scott Thomas? He was living with you for four years." Dani said. "He wouldn't crack." "What do you mean?" Dani asked. "The fun of it was getting them to fall for me, then tearing them apart. That boy didn't have an ounce of love in him, just like me. He was good in bed, at least. I'm talking damn, real good. But those four years were a waste. He turned eighteen before I could break him. Adults aren't any fun. As soon as he wanted to officially be on the lease, I knew I needed to accept I lost and cut him up real good. Then I heard you bastards were looking for me. Didn't get a chance to cut him. Wouldn't've been fun anyway. Cutting up the ones that make it to eighteen always makes me angry." Jones leaned on the table, pouting. Dani winced. "Was Mr. Oak aware of the identities of your victims?" "Most of them. He always wanted to know things like that." "Did this include Scott Thomas?" Dani asked. "Why don't you give me a cigarette and I might tell you? You said you would if I answered a few questions, and it's been more than a few. I might know, but my memory's slippin'." Jones rubbed the sides of her head. Dani rolled a cigarette across the table. Jake had given her a pack and a lighter before leaving specifically to persuade Jones. Jones snatched it up immediately. "Where's the lighter?" "You never asked for that. A few more questions and I might light it for you." Dani kept a calm demeanor. "Damn bitch." "As I was saying, did Mr. Oak know you were planning on killing Scott Thomas?" Dani reiterated her question. "Hehe, that's a funny story. I didn't tell him the names of the boys unless he asked. He took their names when I gave him their blood. But he did ask me several times if I'd seen Scott around. I asked him why, and he told me he wanted to dispose of him personally. I wasn't supposed to touch him. But damn if I ever let anyone tell me what to do. I was gonna phone him and tell him I left him a package somewhere to pick up and leave the boy as a surprise once I got around to cutting him. But you got in the way with that too. I let him go, and I didn't bother telling Oak nothing. Haha, serves him right. But we made a deal, and it's about time for him to deliver on that." Jones stood up. "What do you mean by that?" Dani stood up too. She put her hand on her holster. The lights flickered above them. "Oh, looks like it's time." Jones, crazed, laughed loudly. Sirens went off. Jones bolted for the door. Dani slammed her against the wall and pressed her gun against Jones's back. The guard opened the door. He pulled out his gun and fired at Dani's arm. Jones knocked Dani to the ground and ran off with the guard. Dani fired her gun at the closing door. She put her hand over the wound. She was bleeding heavily. Dani forced herself to get up and chase after them. A loud explosion went off somewhere else in the building. Smoke filled the hallway. Dani couldn't see anything. She gave up on Jones and went to check on Damon. Dani found him in front of his room's door. "Damon! Are you alright?" Damon covered his mouth. He coughed. "Dani? What's going on?" "I think we're under attack. Come with me. We have to get underground." Dani grabbed his hand and led him towards the underground bunker. "Dani, your arm..." Damon noticed the blood. "Don't worry about that right now." Dani got out her radio. "Corbin, what's going on?" "The moon's planted a few bombs around the building. Where are you?" Jake answered back. "I'm taking Damon underground. Jones got away from me. The man who was supposed to be guarding the door turned on us. He shot me in the arm and left with her. I lost them in the smoke." Dani explained. "Shit. We suspected this was coming, but we couldn't sort out who the traitor was. Get to the bunker and stay there with Hound. We can't let them snatch him too." Jake said. Two more explosions went off before they reached the bunker. Several of the researchers were already inside. One of them helped Dani with her injury. Damon stayed close beside her. "Who's Jones?" Damon asked her. "She's a serial killer with ties to the moon. I was questioning her to get more information about what they were up to, but she didn't seem that important herself. What are they planning on doing with her to bother with this?" Dani looked over at her arm. Her sleeve was drenched down to her wrist. "She must be special in some way." Damon said. "How bad is it?" "I'm sure I'll be fine. I'll get to a doctor when this is over." Dani reassured him. Damon held her close. Above them, they heard gunfire and more explosions. Then, it went quiet. They waited down there for a while. Dani held tightly to her gun just in case. Jake was the one to check on them. He took Dani to one of their doctors to be treated. Damon requested to be with Dani while they sorted out where to house him. Dani called her aunt Miranda and informed her she needed Damia to stay with her for a while. Damon couldn't enjoy a moment of his slight increase in freedom. He only worried about Dani. Once they were alone for a while, Dani told him about Scott. "Damon, do you remember AB14?" She asked him. Damon nodded. "He's alive." Damon's eyes lit up. "Is he safe?" Dani tried to sit up in her hospital bed. She was too weak from blood loss to manage it. "He's dating Corbin's younger brother. He outsmarted them and got away from that serial killer woman. Scott's out now and living a normal life. Corbin's going to pretend to keep tabs on him to keep him safe from the moon." Damon smiled. His eyes watered. "So, he did make it out. I'm so glad. At least one of us is free." Damon's words stung Dani deeply. She wanted him to be free too. The entire west wing of the building was in ruins. Other portions of the building were damaged, but repairable. Damon was moved to a new room with a slightly bigger window. Jake was assigned to do another round of undercover work at Moone & Wolfe for a couple of months. When he returned, Robert called them both into his office. "You called us, Rob?" Jake said. "Yes, we have to discuss what happened." Robert had a stack of papers in front of him. "Fox, I've reread your report several times. Are you absolutely certain you didn't see Jones do anything strange?" "Nothing I could see, sir. If she did do something, it wasn't something I could physically discern." Dani said. "We've identified the traitor. Benjamin Blackberry. We were going to search his home, but he'd already burned it to the ground before he took Jones. What we can say for certain is he was sleeping with Jones. We have that on surveillance video. That may be his motive, but we don't know what the moon wanted with Jones." Robert put his hands together. "You think she seduced him and convinced him to help her escape?" Dani asked. "That appears to be the case." Robert turned to Jake. "What alarms me more is your report, Corbin. Tom's done a full memory treatment and personality change for Jones, giving her the new name of Felicia Dogwood. He's personally only ever bothered doing a full memory wipe and a personality change with one other individual." "AA93." Jake said. "For AA93, it was necessary. She was dangerous prior to being changed to Heather and then again to Tina. Now, she occupies the two personas of Heather and Delilah, a character for one of his company's children's TV show, being used in whatever way the moon needs. What is the angle with Jones? She would go on killing if he wanted her to. What's more disturbing is, according to your report, he's pulled some strings to enroll her in a university to study psychiatry." "Psychiatry?" Dani raised an eyebrow. Jones didn't seem the type who would be able to finish any type of degree. Jake said, "Weird, huh? I asked him about it, and he just winked and said 'you'll see eventually'. I don't know what Tom's up to, but I don't think Jones is ordinary. She must be able to do something, like Fox said, that we can't physically see. She might be gifted naturally the way Hound is. The question is in what way?" "I want you to keep an eye on what they're doing with her. She can't be ordinary. They'd never do all this for an ordinary person. They haven't once tried to take Hound or any other asset we have like this. What is she?" Robert's shoulder's tensed. Robert dismissed them shortly after that. Dani was left unnerved by everything they discussed. Jake was sent back undercover again, and Dani was told to focus on a new case. Damon's new room was larger and had a bigger window, but his mood only worsened. Dani comforted him as best she could. "I don't have any things now. I'll have to get new ones." Damon rested his head against her chest. "How's your arm?" "It's healed up." Dani said. Damon felt over the scar left behind. "Will they come for me like that one day?" "They haven't tried before." She reassured him. Damon got on top of her. He ran his fingers through her hair. "You should quit. I don't want anything to happen to you." "If I quit, I can't come see you while you're in here." Dani said. "I know." He kissed her forehead. "That's for the best. You'll be safer away from me." "I want to be near you." Dani said. Damon unbuttoned her shirt. "Forgive me." "For what?" Dani asked. Damon kissed her on the lips. She wrapped her arms around him and forgot the world. Jake returned for a couple of weeks before being sent abroad to South Korea for another mission. In the time before he left, Jake revealed something new about Jones. "Fox, come look at this." He called her over on his first day back. "What is it?" "I haven't reported this to Rob yet, but I've found out some weird stuff about Jones." Jake showed her a log of information and transcripts. "She seems to create some sort of confusion around her whenever she wants." "What do you mean?" Dani asked. "The moon's had the technology to wipe memories for a long time now, but it has to be done very selectively, individual by individual. Whenever I've worked around her, sometimes I noticed I lost track of time. I recorded all my time at the moon, so I went back and listened to the conversations I had around her. I couldn't remember any of it. Not a single one. It's only around her. After a while, some of the conversation started coming back to me on their own. Whatever this is, it's temporary. She may be less of a great manipulator, and more that the people around her can't remember the things she's done and don't know to get away from her. That, I think, is part of how she was able to keep her victims for so long." Jake explained. "You think they forgot about the things she did...and if they were in constant contact with her..." Dani was horrified by the thought. "A constant state of severe brain fog." Jake said. "I talked to Scott about this. He confirmed to me that he started remembering some of Jones's most disturbing behaviors only after she fled from the police, and it took a long time for it to all come back to him. He assumed it was a response to the trauma of living with her, that he couldn't look at his memories clearly. But I don't think that's it at all." "If she can really do that...my god, and they have her now with a new personality." Dani shuttered. "What an asset to have. I'm going to South Korea soon. They're sending 'Dogwood' over there for something, and I'm going to find out what. Rob also wants me to try to recruit one of their scientists, Ha-seon Yoo. Seems he's pretty brilliant and not too fond of the direction the company's going in." "Good luck to you. Be careful. If she can do this..." "I know. She's far more dangerous than anyone else they employ." Jake said. Due to the nature of his mission, keeping in contact with Jake was more difficult. Dani only got occasional updates from him. She focused on another murder case while he was away involving a former employee of Moone & Wolfe. Before Jake could return, the case was closed. The suspect himself was found dead, likely also disposed of by the company. This was a frequent occurrence. Aurora's investigators would get close to capturing someone or getting somewhere with a case, only for key people involved to end up dead or completely vanish. The only person who seemed untouchable was Katherine Beaumont, but Dani learned quickly Beaumont was off limits. No one would explain to her why. She considered contacting Beaumont in private, but assumed Robert would know about it if she did. When she wasn't working on cases, Dani spent time with Damon and Damia. Their weekends were often stormy. Since the father and daughter shared that ability, Damia could perform that magic in the building with no one knowing she helped contribute to the weather outside. Sometimes, Dani asked Robert permission to stay overnight with Damon. She told him it would make him happier if she did. To her surprise, Robert offered to allow her to live with Damon, and that he could get another room for Damia. Dani declined the offer. She didn't want her daughter in that building for any amount of time unsupervised, nor did she want to be so deeply tied to the company. If they turned on her, they could easily trap her in the way they currently trapped Damon. She had other motives for staying overnight. Dani did want to keep Damon happy. But when night fell and the little family turned in for bed, Dani slipped him quiet words of escape. With Damia lost deep in sweet dreams, Dani whispered. "You should run again. Let me run with you, like we did before." "I can't. I can't bring her on such a trip. She already has a mostly normal life. How can I steal that from her?" Damon replied. "We could all leave with them." Dani said. It was no longer necessary to clarify who "them" referred to. "I don't know them. I can't..." Damon caressed her cheek. "You should forget me. Live normally and move on. Let her live normally." "I love you." Dani put her hand on his. "She loves you too. Please...isn't there any way we can stay together outside these walls?" "No." Damon said. "Forgive me. I've caused this. I should push you away more, but every time I see you...I am afraid...of being alone. Someone's going to kill me one day." "I won't let that happen." Dani said. "You can't protect me and her. Keep my daughter safe." Damon looked down at the sleeping child between them. The moonlight from outside illuminated half her face. "I have never lived, and will never live. Please, let my daughter be free." "Damon, we're both alright with leading a harder life to be with you. We're already choosing to walk into this place to be with you. Why do you push away everyone who wants to love you?" Dani asked. "I don't want anyone to be dragged into Hell with me." "Then why do you keep seeing us? Why don't you turn us away?" "Because I am selfish." Damon pulled his hand away. "I'm afraid...if I no longer see you, either of you, if I am left alone here...the me you know now will die, while my body lingers on. I don't think I'll care anymore what they do to me. Them, the moon, they can put me up in those tanks with a mask on and I can sleep while they cut me up. It won't matter anymore." "How could I possibly leave you after telling me something like that?" Dani asked. "I am sorry." Damon covered his daughters ears out of fear she might be pretending to sleep. "I want to die. I want to die so badly." "Please, don't die. Can't you run on your own again, if we can't go with you? I could...I could let go if I knew you were out there." Dani said. "I don't...I can't do that anymore. That nearly killed me. If I walked out of this building right now, I'd go and jump off a cliff." Damon's voice was barely audible. "I don't know what to do anymore. I'm a bird in a cage, and cats are guarding the door." "Then if there's no way out, let us stay here." Dani touched his face. "Let me stay here with you, like when we were on the run, hiding in those motels and in the forest. I don't mind being inside the cage with you. I'll keep Damia in school and when she's on her own when she's older, it'll just be me and you." "But..." "Damon...I have always wanted to stay with you. I don't care where that place is." Dani said. It wasn't what she wanted. She wanted them to all be living normal lives, and she would press the matter again and again, but this was good enough for now. She needed to keep him as stable as she could. If his mental state deteriorated too much, she may not be able to pull him back out of that darkness. And if that happened, there was no hope at all of convincing him to free himself. Whenever she stayed overnight with him, she dreamt of running and floating. The two of them were teenagers again, running up to Canada. She was holding his hand, leading the way. They'd find the border only to see the moon bearing down on them. Then, she'd run with him to the south, toward Mexico. Guards waited for them at that exit. There was no escaping. They were trapped within the country, running in circles. Then, a hole opened up underneath their feet. They fell into darkness, floating down somewhere unknown. Dani held tightly to Damon's hand. Underneath them, when the light above was too far away to see, a blue light flickered. Damon took the lead from her and held her close. He landed them in the blue. She saw the outline of something, but she always forgot what it was when she woke. On the days Damia didn't come with her, when the door was locked and the blinds closed, Dani often traced the mark on Damon's back. A wolf and a raven. The man in red told her Damon's real name was Raven. She wondered if that was what the raven stood for. What was the wolf then? She amused herself by picturing Damon with a long, furry tail. Dani doubted it related to that. The moon used a wolf as part of their symbol too. If Blackwell and Summerfield were once one family, did the wolf hold special significance to them? She hadn't found anything about that in her research. The morning after she would stay the night, her and Damon shared a shower together. She would catch him staring at the mark on his back in the mirror before getting dressed. In his eyes, when he looked upon his reflection, Dani saw what it was he was most afraid of. Those men who offered him their home, the mark on his back, the magic in his hands...more than being cut open or drugged or locked in a cage--what Damon feared most was that the parents who cast him off were right and that he deserved everything he endured. When they were teenagers, stuck inside that hospital, Damon told her he knew he wasn't a monster or a demon. She wondered if he still felt the same way now. Dani couldn't get herself to ask him. Jake returned near the end of the year. "Dani, I'm back." Jake walked into their office with a drained look on his face. "How was your mission in South Korea?" Dani asked. "Utter failure. I couldn't stop what Tom had planned." Jake dropped his things by his desk. He plopped down in his chair and sighed deeply. "Couldn't recruit Yoo, and never will be able to now." "Couldn't get him to leave the moon?" "Oh, he left them alright. Once he did, I was meant to keep him protected until we could get back in the states while also pretending to investigate him for Tom. Well, Tom caught on too quickly that Yoo was leaving. He's dead." Jake shook his head. Dani was afraid he was going to say that, but she expected it. It happened so often she was never surprised by it anymore. "What happened?" "He got away from me." Jake rubbed his face. "I didn't see what happened, but I heard Tom brag about it later. We can confirm Jones's abilities now. She can both distort memory and control actions of other people to a degree." Dani's mouth hung open. "Mind control?" "Sort of. As Tom explained it to me, she can make it difficult for a person to think clearly and maintain a train of thought. That makes it easy to get most people to do things they wouldn't normal do. They won't fully comprehend what they're doing. I asked Tom how she could possibly do something like that." Jake opened the backpack he brought with him. He grabbed a folder and handed it to Dani. "They've done research on her. She's not the first female in her family to have this ability. Her body itself is giving off some kind of chemical that's causing the memory and thought disruption. They're currently working on a vaccine against it, for use amongst their upper staff. I already snuck out what research they've done on that. Rob will be getting that soon." "So then...Jones must have gotten Yoo alone at some point." Dani read through the papers. "Yeah, she met him in the hallway at the building we were staying in and led him away. She was definitely Lynne Jones when she did it too, not Felicia Dogwood." Jake said. "Have they reverted her personality back to her original one?" Dani asked. She saw a photograph of Jones in the folder. The woman going by Felicia Dogwood shared nothing in common with Lynne Jones beyond their facial features and hair and eye color. The personality projected and manner of dress were that of a friendly intellectual. If this woman were walking amongst people at a college campus, no one would bat an eye. Dani noticed something else off. She assumed some of it could have been hidden by make-up, but there were little signs of aging on her face. She looked at least a decade younger than when she last saw her. Dani knew they had ways to alter the aging process. She assumed making her younger looking was part of changing her identity. "It was only for the killing. They're doing what they've done with AA93. They're switching her to whatever persona they need for any given moment." Jake opened his drawer and took out a soda. "I've got a new mission from Tom too. Yoo's old girlfriend is pregnant. They want me to keep track of her for now. Amanda Linwood. She's pretty ordinary. She was a school teacher working abroad when they met. As far as Yoo told me, she doesn't know anything about this stuff. Tom knows that, but he's not interested in her. He wants me to monitory the baby." Dani looked up from the papers before her. "What for?" "Tom really didn't want to kill Yoo, but the idea of Aurora having him was too dangerous to allow. Yoo was a genius, and honestly, that's why they couldn't keep him. He saw the dangerous of what they might do with his biological research, and he wanted to get away, even if it meant he could die." Jake opened the drink and took a sip. "He signed his death warrant that day Jones came to get him. That crazy bastard managed to destroy every bit of research he did for the moon and some of the research in his department prior to him joining. I mean every single copy. I don't know how he pulled it off. Damn, he would have been great to have on our side." "Does Summerfield really intend on waiting for this baby to grow up to use them? What if the baby is nothing like Yoo at all?" Dani asked. "I told Tom that, but he never listens to anyone. He's determined that this baby may even be his successor." Jake shook his head. "Why would he think that?" "Because the Summerfields' are batshit. That's why." Jake took another swig. "Haha, I hope that baby grows up wanting to destroy the moon." "Do you know where Jones is now?" Dani asked. "She's still attending school. They're planning on getting her licensed as a psychiatrist at some point. She's going to work for them at a hospital, and oversee some of their research later. Tom's running his own experiment on her that she isn't aware of. He wants to see if her influence will make his researchers more productive. Tom and Edith are real big on that, productivity. Alex was never that focused on it. He liked order and control." Dani assumed 'Alex' meant 'Alexander Summerfield'. "Why do you think that is?" "Dunno. It's something they've both latched onto. Not that they don't like order and control too. They've got a lot of plans for Ms. Dogwood. A woman who can easily manipulate people by altering their mental state being allowed access to a host of people thinking they're being treated for mental illness. What a nightmare. And if they act up, they can just switch her to Jones to clean up the mess and take the remains to a different room for research." Jake rubbed his fingers against his temples. He turned and looked over at the photographs on his side of the room. He touched the one of Scott and Cyrus. "I don't know how much more info I can really get out of Scott at this point. I really don't want to ask him more. He's already been through so much shit." "How is he doing?" Dani asked. "He's doing good. He's working as a mechanic in Arizona with my brother." "So, your brother's a mechanic too, huh?" She asked. "Yep. My mom's been real happy about them moving out that way near where they are. She can get one of them to fix my parents' cars whenever something goes wrong. She's been taking advantage of that a lot." Jake cracked a smile. "I'm glad they're there too. My family's gotten so spread out over the years. Sometimes, I wish we could go back to how it used to be...when all six of us lived under one roof. Me and Todd shared a room, and Chris and Cyrus had one of the other ones. We were all pretty loud and got on each other's nerves, but I wouldn't trade families with anyone." As Jake talked about his family, Dani's mood improved with his. She was envious of his stories about his family. Jake's childhood sounded so happy compared to hers. Dani read through the papers thoroughly while listening to Jake tell her stories about his family. During their lunch break, Jake left the office to talk to one of his brothers. She worked through her lunch, going over everything in the folder again. She wondered why Jones didn't bother using her abilities on her when they were in that interrogation room. There was no way of knowing. Dani spent the rest of the day with Damon after lunch, then went straight home. In the car, her mind returned to Jones. She was shaken by the information Jake told her earlier, far more than she had been when he told her in the moment. Her mind conjured for her the photographs of the youths she deliberately dismembered and arranged, and how she had ensnared those boys into her game. Dani felt over the scar on her arm. She wondered if her job would get her killed. What would happen to her daughter then? Would they snatch her away from her aunt or would the state attempt to send her to Dani's parents? What would happen to Damon? Every shadow cast by her headlights tricked her mind into seeing movement that wasn't there. She turned on the radio to convince herself she wasn't alone in the car. She wished it were summer again. The days were short now, and the darkness ever present. At a four way stop, Dani breathed a sigh of relief to see so much traffic backed up. Cars and people were everywhere. The roads around her had paved sidewalks. A few people were jogging and walking their dogs. Streetlights kept the area well light, and lights from businesses brightened up the night. When it was almost her turn to go, she noticed someone sitting on a bench to her right. A blond man in a red business suit wearing sunglasses and a hat was sitting on the bench reading a copy of A Farewell to Arms. A thick, knitted scarf hid most of his face with a small pin of a green dragon on the end. She couldn't tell the length of his hair. It looked like it was brushed or pulled back. Dani didn't think anything of the man at first. Then it dawned on her something was off. It was night already. Why was the man wearing sunglasses? She looked at him again. The man looked up from his book. He pulled his shades down and stared. Dani thought he looked somewhat familiar, but she couldn't get a good look at the rest of his face. The man waved at her. Unconsciously, she waved back. A car honked behind her. Dani paid attention to the road again. She turned when she could. Dani looked back at the bench, but no one was there. She told herself he probably left, and it wasn't anything more than that. Dani couldn't figure out who the man was. He waved at her. Did he mistake her for someone he knew, she thought. Dani wondered if he was a former employee at the library or one of the part-time jobs she once worked. Whoever it was, she couldn't remember. Dani fixed dinner when she got home. Damia was already working on her homework. They watched TV together while they ate. Afterwards, Damia went to her room to talk with a friend on the phone. Dani went to work on the dishes and getting some things prepared for both of their lunches for tomorrow. A storm started up a quarter past seven. The weather caught her attention. She thought Damia might have done it, but it didn't sound or look quite like something her daughter would make. Around seven-thirty, the doorbell rang. Dani answered it. Jake was standing outside her front door. "Hey." "What are you doing here?" Dani asked. "I wanted to talk to you, outside of work." He said. "It's about Damon." "Why couldn't you talk to me at work?" Dani asked. "This isn't the sort of thing I'd want to risk anyone else overhearing." He peeked inside her house. "Can I come in?" "You're already here." She opened the door wider and let him in. "Where's your daughter?" Jake walked into the living room. "She's in her room." Dani said. "It wasn't supposed to rain today. Is this her handiwork?" Jake asked. "I don't know." Dani closed the door and locked it. "It doesn't look like it to me. She doesn't usually create lightning like this." "So, you can tell her magic apart from nature. You are her mother." Jake took a seat at the dining table. "This storm doesn't sit right with me. It looks like one I've seen before." Dani checked the back door. She locked it. "It's one of them, isn't it?" Jake said. "What?" Dani asked. "Damon's real parents. Do you think they'll be here soon?" Jake said. "There's nothing we can do about it if they do come here." Dani sat down across from him. "You've met them both, haven't you?" He asked. "Yes." She said. "They're terrifying." "Haha, that they are. I've met them both too. That's part of what I wanted to talk to you about." Jake laughed. Damia came down the stairs. "Hey Mom, can I go outside?" "No, there's too much lightning out." Dani said. "But Grandpa's coming today." Damia said. Dani's heart stopped. "How do you know?" "He called me earlier." Damia smiled. "What?" Dani's eyes widened. "What number did he call from?" "It wouldn't display on the caller ID." Damia begged her mother. "Please, can I see Grandpa for a while? We were going to talk in my room." Outside, the wind howled loudly. Lightning lit up the windows. The rain came down in sheets. Upstairs, Dani heard footsteps. Jake stood up. "He's here." "Damia, stay here. I'm going to talk to him first." Dani told her daughter. She and Jake went upstairs together. Dani opened Damia's bedroom door. The light was off, but the window was open. Dani flicked the light on. The man in red sat at her daughter's desk. "Hello, Dani. I've come to see my granddaughter for a while." The man in red, looking no older than the first time she met him, said. The hair on Dani's arms stood up. A chill went down her back. "What do you want with my daughter?" "I only want to talk to her. She's my family. I have no ill intentions." The man in red said. Jake stepped in front of Dani. "The Bloody Raven of the Blackwell family, the lost prince who defied death and occupies the realm beyond ours, I have only one question for you." The man in red glared at Jake. "You again. What do you want?" With complete seriousness, Jake asked. "Are you gay?" Dani looked over at him, dumbfounded. The man in red gave him the same look. "You could have asked me anything in the world, and that's what you went with?" "There's a pool going on at the research department dedicated to collecting information on the Blackwell family about whether you're straight, gay, or bisexual. If I can get an official statement, I could win a lot of money." Jake grinned at him. The man in red laughed loudly, amused at the absurdity of it. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of, but I'll indulge you. I suppose using your terms, I'm gay." "Okay, can you repeat that? I want to record it. Also, I have another question, about heirs..." Jake pulled out a recorder. "I never said I'd repeat myself. You should have thought of that before you asked." The man in red grinned back at him. "Damn. They'll never believe me. Especially not Karen. She'll just lecture me about applying modern identities to historical figures or some shit. She's no fun." Jake pressed play on the recorder. "Okay, but did you ever have sex with your former fiancée?" "Why do people care about this sort of thing? That was centuries ago." The man in red snapped his fingers. Jake's recorder turned off. "I don't care about your dumb bets. I'm not here for you. Dani, may I see my granddaughter?" "Are you here to take her away?" Dani asked. "No, I wouldn't do that unless she was in danger or she wanted me to." He spoke more politely to her. "Please, may I see her?" Dani yelled down the stairs. "Damia, come up here. Your grandfather's here to see you." "Thank you." The man in red thanked her. Damia ran up the stairs and hugged the man in red. "Grandpa!" The man in red hugged her back. Dani led Jake down the stairs back to the dining room. "Are you sure about leaving her alone with him?" Jake took the same seat as before. "I believe him." Dani did as well. "It sounds like you know a lot about who he is, and what he is." "He's definitely human, but he doesn't age anymore. He wasn't lying about the centuries thing. He was born in 1424." Jake said. Dani's jaw dropped. "What?!" "Officially, neither side acknowledges his existence, at least not on any records the average person within the two companies can access. I can get access to anything." Jake bragged. "You're telling me the man upstairs, my daughter's grandfather, is hundreds of years old and hasn't aged in centuries." Dani said. Jake nodded. "Yes." "How is that possible?" She asked. "That part, I don't know. No one does. And he won't tell anyone either. Both sides want to catch him to find out his secret. There's a lot of people who'll pay a ton of money to stop time for themselves. But no one can catch him. He's just like Damon. He can do things we've only scratched the surface of understanding and mimicking in the lab." Jake explained. "Who exactly is he? What is his connection to the Blackwell family and Aurora?" Dani asked. "Take a look at this. It's a portion of the Blackwell family tree. Here." Jake took out something from the bag he brought with him. He unfolded the massive piece of paper. Jake pointed to a specific name on the tree. Rowan Blackwell, born 1424, died 1451. "This is him." "This says he's dead. He died in his late twenties." Dani said. "There was never any body found, according to records. He was presumed to be killed in a battle, and the body carried off by animals." Jake took out another paper. This one was in a protective case. It was a silverpoint drawing of two men. One of the men had short, dark hair and the same face as the man who was with her daughter upstairs. The other man had light hair, tied back in a long braid. He had the same face as the man in blue. "This is a sketch that was done of him and his closest friend. Does he look familiar?" "That's...that can't be." Dani's body went cold. She read the writing underneath the portrait. It read 'the moon and the sun, eclipsing one another, Rowan Blackwell and Robin Ó Rinn'. The portrait was dated to 1451 and signed by someone named Luke Ó Rinn. "That's not the name he gave me." "They're both the type to give fake names. I'm sure you recognize the other man too." Jake said. "Yes." "This is a copy of the original portrait of them, but this copy is very old. There's only a handful of portraits of either of them in existence. This was apparently a gift to that man upstairs, one he left behind when he supposedly 'died'." Jake rubbed his chin. "I wonder if you could get it out of him, what his secret is." Dani shook her head. "I doubt it. He never tells me any more than he plans on saying in the first place." "I thought as much. Back to your question. He's a member of the Blackwell family, that's for certain, but he is more important to the Blackwells than the Summerfields who run Moone & Wolfe. They'd prefer he not exist at all, despite how much they want to cut him open and spill out the secrets hidden in his guts. His very existence proves the splitting of the two families was pointless." Jake tossed the portrait sketch on the table. "What do you mean the splitting?" Dani asked. "Well, I suppose you wouldn't know about that information. At the turn of the century, two brothers in the Blackwell family got into a feud. One changed his last name to Summerfield and took over Moone & Wolfe. He took half the family with him. Those who didn't follow him and stayed as Blackwell founded Aurora. The dispute was over that man, or rather, his grandfather, Christopher Blackwell." Jake said. "Do you know anything about the pact with Delilah?" "I don't. Who is Delilah?" Dani asked. She had only heard that name in connection to the children's show Tom Summerfield was creating. The name belonged to the lead character in the show and was being played by AA93. Jake laughed. He continued. "In 1675, a portion of the Blackwell family came to America. The family used to be powerful centuries prior, but had mostly lost their power and wealth by then. The few who had money settled over here, running a small town and controlling a large amount of farm land. Since its founding, the town was known as a hot spot for hauntings, the most infamous being that of the dead witch who supposedly haunted the mines and the farm land. From what records we can gather, while her real name is unknown, it appears that she was likely a rape victim who was hung as a witch to protect her wealthy attacker. The most likely perpetrator was the head of the town, Leon Blackwell. Public records at the time have the townspeople putting the hauntings as having been of a demon woman who even the people who had already been living on that land for centuries knew of before there was a ever a town there, but diaries from the townspeople paint a very different picture." Dani stopped him. "Excuse me, but...are you making all of this up?" "No, I'm not. Whether or not any of this is actually true is another matter. I'm only telling you what the higher ups of the two families believe. You need to know this to understand why they do the things they do." Jake said. "Journal records say her ghost only starts appearing after a certain woman is hung, and the townspeople were so afraid of Mr. Blackwell that they won't even write the victim's name out. They all either abbreviate her name to 'DD' or the 'mistress of the fields'. I suspect she was a servant of the Blackwell household." "What does any of this have to do with Delilah?" Dani didn't follow. None of this made any sense to her. "Getting to that. Well, the crops all start dying out and everyone's starving. To appease the 'ghost', the townspeople decided to do a big sacrifice to her--a human sacrifice. Twenty families got together and sacrificed one child each. The Beaumonts went first, offering up a slave child. Some of the other families did the same, but most of them offered up one of their own children. According to family legend, one of the children came back to life, possessed by the spirit of the ghost, Delilah Blackwell. Delilah claimed she had been chosen because of the magic in her blood. The land became prosperous again, and all of the families dedicated their devotion to the Blackwell family and serving Delilah. When Delilah eventually died, she told them she would come back, again and again, and to search for her among the twenty families that made the pact." Dani nodded along, not believing a single word of what Jake was telling her. It sounded like something out of a movie or a horror novel. "So, eventually, the Blackwells started debating about which one of Delilah's parents the 'magic' came from. One side claimed it was from her father's line and it was the Blackwell lineage that carried magic. The other half argued it came from her mother, who's maiden name was Summerfield. This came to a head in 1900, and that's when they split apart. Some of the lines of the original twenty families had already died out by then, but both sides claim Delilah will only appear among them. Currently, the Summerfields think AA93 is 'Delilah'. The original egg and sperm samples used to create her came from two of the twenty families. The Blackwells believe she's not the real deal, and that they'll get her this time. I think it's all horseshit, because I have a brain." Jake shrugged his shoulders. Dani's head hurt. She thought about everything Damon and so many children went through. All of this was tied back to some strange story about a ghost. It would be funny, she thought, if their actions weren't so heinous. "You said something about...a Christopher? Where does he tie in?" "Christopher Blackwell is the grandfather of the man upstairs. The Blackwells maintain, as their proof they are the origins of the magic, that Christopher made a deal with an ancient spirit long before the deal with the ghost witch, and that's where the magic entered the bloodline." Jake said. "What sort of deal did he make?" Dani asked. Jake folded up the tree in front of them. "According to supposed diary entries written by Christopher before he was murdered by his son, he claims that starting with his grandson's generation, no further bloodshed between relatives would occur, so long as they stayed within the lands they lived on because of the pact Christopher made with some spirit. Don't know why he would have started with his grandson's generation, given his son was murdering his other kids left and right, but hey, legends like these always seem to be full of obvious logical failings. Anyway, the Summerfields hold that the diaries of Christopher Blackwell are fake and fabricated by the family members that stayed as Blackwell. So, that's where we're at. They both believe in this witch and Delilah, and some of them believe in this first pact with some other ancient spirit. Because of this, they both think they've been granted some higher purpose over society itself for their 'ties' to ancient magic." "That's a very interesting story, but it sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me." Rowan said, sitting in the chair in between theirs. Dani jumped in her seat. "When did you get down here? How did you get down here?" "With my feet. You have those too, don't you?" Rowan laughed. "You're a real smartass. I like that." Jake leaned in forward on the table. "Well, since you're here, why don't you tell us your secrets?" With a straight face, he said. "A naiad gave me a strange drink on my wedding day and now I'm immortal." "That sounds like even more bullshit." Jake said. Rowan shrugged. "It's the truth though. There's really nothing deeper than that." "What kind of drink makes someone immortal? Is this something like the fabled fountain of youth?" Jake put his hand to his chin. "The what?" Rowan asked. "The fountain of youth. It's really famous." Jake repeated himself. "Never heard of it." Rowan shook his head. "I don't know what it was. I drank it and then it happened. That's it." "A wedding, huh? Who did you marry?" Jake started up his recorder under the table. Rowan turned it off immediately after he turned it on, but Jake didn't realize this. Rowan reached across the table. He picked up the silverpoint portrait and smiled. "Who else?" Dani and Jake looked at each other. Dani said. "You can't marry a man." "I left here hundreds of years ago and that's still the case? What have you people been doing all this time?" Rowan narrowed his eyes. "I, well..." Dani was at a loss for words. "Where do you live exactly? We've theorized that place as an alternate dimension or some kind of other realm." Jake said. "I'm not telling you. You'll come over there and try to change everything. I'm not giving you a chance to undo my marriage." Rowan glared at Jake. Jake fumbled through his words. "I...wasn't planning on coming after your...marriage..." Rowan snapped his fingers. Jake's chair slid out from under him. He fell to the ground. Rowan faced Dani. "Anyway, Dani, I wanted to talk to you before I left." "How the fuck did you do that?!" Jake sat on the floor in shock. "Shut up." Rowan glared at him, then returned his attention to Dani. "About my son. How is he? I can't get to him in there. This ass over there helped them the other day in trying to catch me. Does he want to leave yet? I'll come get him, if he does." "He won't leave yet." Dani said. "Can you not convince him?" Rowan asked. "Where will you take him?" Dani asked back. "Home, where he belongs." Rowan said. "I don't know if I can convince him." She said. "I see. Well, thank you for trying. I'll stop by again soon to see Damia. I'll be going now." Rowan stood up. The front door unlocked itself and swung open. Rowan walked away from them. "Wait! I have one more question." Jake chased after him. Rowan sighed heavily. He turned back. "What?!" "Do you have the other boy? The real Damon Hound that was switched out?" Jake asked. "Yes, but he goes by Luca now. I'm not giving him back, not after the way you people treated my other son." Rowan said. Fog rolled into the house. Dani heard the front door shut. The fog cleared. He was gone. "He's really something else." Jake shook his head and sat back in the chair. "How often has he come here?" "He's only come by a few times when I was actually home. Damia has told me he's visited her before while she was at school or when I was at work." Dani said. "I don't like it, but he's never done anything to her to make me worry." "Sounds like he really just wanted to see his family. I wonder though, why now? He's been avoiding speaking with anyone in the Blackwell family for many generations now." He looked down at his recorder and realized it was off. He rolled his eyes. Dani stated what she thought was obvious. "It's because Damon is his biological son. All those other people, at this point, are barely related to him." "That's true. For him, they share his name and nothing more." Jake picked up the portrait. He laughed. "So, he's married his best friend. How quaint. I want to know more about this other place, where his marriage is legal. Sounds like they have their own society going on over there. Do they have governments or kings? Haha, maybe I should brush up on my folklore." "Where do you think that place is?" Dani asked. "Don't know. We can't get there. At least, no one on either side has ever figured out how to get to that place. The most we've accomplished is seeing brief flashes of what lies beyond death, and we still don't know if those are really beings or afterimages of those left behind." Jake put the recorder away. "What?" "This is more the moon's interest. Aurora doesn't study death. Over at the moon, they've found evidence of...something. I wouldn't really say it's proof of ghosts, but there does seem to be some type of energy that lingers in places most can't normally see. You have to change the energy of the entire environment to see what's there. Under the right conditions, most appear as blue or white lights, floating above the ground. Most don't really move. They're just floating. Every now and then, they find one that does move. We don't know what it actually means, but they take on the shapes of people and animals. There's something there. I don't know what you'd call it though." Jake put the portrait away. "I bet he knows what it is." Dani listened to the storm moving on outside. "Oh, I bet he does. And I doubt he'd tell either of us if we asked." Jake packed up his things. "I don't think you'll see him again if Damon leaves with him. He'll probably still visit your daughter, but you won't see him. After all of this, once he gets what he wants, I doubt we'll ever see him again after what we've done." "No, I don't think we will." Dani said. "Well, I'll be headin' out. See you tomorrow." Jake headed for the door. "Wait." Dani stopped him. "I know you won't tell me, but who's side are you really on?" "I told you, I'm on the side that keeps my family safe. That is currently Aurora, but I am not loyal to anyone. If they steer off course the way everyone at the moon has, I'll betray every last one of them." Jake looked her in the eye. "Are you going to tell our boss I said that?" Dani shook her head. "I didn't hear anything." "They know, the upper members, that Damia is Damon's daughter. Keep an eye on her. Might be for the best her grandfather stops by every now and then. If the moon figures out who she is, you'll need to be even more vigilant." Jake said. "I'm prepared to fight." Dani said with rage in her eyes. "You're quite the intense lady, Dani." Jake waved to her. "I have to go report to Rob about what he said about the other boy. So, Luca, huh? I think I'll leave that part out. Of course, he might be lying." She watched Jake drive away. Dani leaned against the doorway. "You really are a coyote, aren't you?" Dani checked on her daughter before heading to bed. Damia was sketching on her bed. Dani sat at the edge of the bed. "What did you and your grandfather talk about?" Dani asked. "A lot of stuff. He asked me how school was and if I'm still practicing with my bow. Oh, he gave me a new cup." Damia picked up a ceramic mug off her nightstand. A starry night scene was painted on it. Near the top, a raven flew in front of a full moon. Dani realized something. A raven. Jake called him "The Bloody Raven of the Blackwell family". Was that a name he once carried, she thought. The raven on Damon's back then might not be because of his name. Rather, both the raven in the mark and Damon's real name were references to his father. 'Then the wolf...' Dani looked inside the cup. White droplets moved around the bottom. When the light hit the liquid in the mug, she saw a rainbow shimmer. "Did he give you something to drink?" "Some milk." Damia said. "He usually gives me something to eat or drink. Last time, it was candy." 'Milk? What kind of milk was this?' Dani kept the mug. "I'll take this with me downstairs. Did you have fun with Grandpa?" "Uh huh. He taught me something new." Damia put her hands together. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Slowly, she pulled them apart. A ball of white light floated in between her palms, then burst into tiny particles before vanishing. Dani watched her, reminded of another magical display she saw many years ago. "That's really pretty. Did he teach you anything else?" "Not today. We just practiced this." Damia went back to sketching. "Mom, do you not like when Grandpa comes by?" "He's a little disrespectful sometimes." Dani said. "But I don't mind him that much." "Oh, um, he wanted me to ask you if it would be okay if he taught me how to use a sword." Damia said. Dani sighed. "Absolutely not." "I thought you'd say that." Damia slouched down. "Maybe when you're older." Dani said. She leaned over and kissed Damia on the forehead. "I'm heading to bed soon. Don't stay up too late. You have school in the morning." "I know. Night." "Night." Dani left the room. She considered collecting a sample of the liquid in the cup and having it analyzed at work, but she couldn't think of a lie to tell the other employees where it came from or why she wanted to know. Any questions they might have that could lead them back to her daughter needed to be avoided at all costs. Dani washed the cup out, telling herself it was nothing but ordinary milk. She hoped that would be the last she would see of either of those two for a while, but she had another visitor the following afternoon. This time, it was the man in blue, Robin, and he'd brought another man with him. The other man had black hair and brown eyes. They both carried archery equipment with them. Robin came in through the front door, letting himself in without knocking or touching the door itself. Dani happened to be sitting in the living room when it happened. She immediately stood up when the door opened. "You...you've never come here before." Dani said to Robin. "I have. I didn't visit you." Robin replied. "Who is he?" She asked, pointing to the other man. "This is my son, Luca. I'm here to see my granddaughter." Robin said. Dani looked him over. The man before her was the real Damon Hound. While they had the same hair and eye color, this Damon looked nothing like the one she knew. He was very attractive, but in a different way than Damon. From his clothes to his demeanor, Luca gave off a very flashy persona. "Why did you bring him?" "He wanted to meet his niece. He hasn't seen her before." Robin explained. He asked. "How is my other son?" "He is still within Aurora's research facility." Dani said. "I'd like to set it on fire, but he might not leave his room if I do that." Robin balled his fist. "I don't know if he would." She said. Luca approached her. Grinning, he took her hand and kissed it. "You must be Damia's mom. You're quite pretty. Are you still seeing my brother or are you single?" "Uh, well..." Dani blushed. Luca leaned in closer and whispered in her ear. "I'm single at the moment." Robin pulled him away from her. "You shouldn't chase after someone your own brother has loved." "What an odd statement coming from you." Luca adjusted the strap on his quiver. "I'll make sure to tell Alan that one later." "Go on upstairs." Robin's face had a hint of red in it. "Alright, alright. I won't flirt with her." Luca looked back at her. "Unless she wants me to." "I am still seeing your brother." Dani answered him. "Oh, my apologies. What a lucky man." Luca walked up the stairs. Robin put his hand to his face. "Forgive him. He's a hopeless flirt." "It's fine. I know how to deal with men like him." Dani laughed it off. She stopped. "You've never spoken to me like this before." Robin exchanged looks with her. He smiled at her. "You know, it's not like we're enemies. You're my son's girlfriend, and my granddaughter's mother. I don't hate you." "Could've fooled me with the way you terrorized us before." Dani crossed her arms at him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. I don't cross over here very often. Rowan and I hadn't bothered coming to this side until Raven went missing. I've forgotten what it's like to be mortal." Robin took her hand. He kissed it. "Please forgive any disrespect I have given you." Dani was perplexed by his behavior. "You really are from the fifteenth century, huh?" "Yes. What century is it now? I don't keep track of time anymore." "It's the end of the twentieth century." Dani said. "Huh. Am I really half a millennium? It all blurs together after the first century." Robin waved to her. "Well, I'll be upstairs." "What's with the equipment?" Dani asked. "We entered a human competition for fun. It was Luca's idea. He dared me to enter as 'Robin Hood'." Robin snickered. He went on his way to see Damia. Dani couldn't believe the frightening man who chased them in the woods and terrified them in that motel was the same one who had just spoken with her. He seemed so ordinary, albeit strange. More than ever, she was certain she had no reason to fear those two and that Damon belonged only with them. When she next went into work, Dani tried again to convince Damon to leave, but he didn't have the experiences she had with them. Damon's only frame of reference for the pair were from before. He was convinced they were out to harm him. Dani tried to convince him whenever she could in spite of his refusal. "You really don't need to be afraid of them. They're both nice to Damia and me." Dani said. "It's a trap. I know it has to be a trap. It can't be that easy." Damon said. Dani leaned against him. She held his hand. "Why can't it?" "Because...it can't." Damon held her hand tightly. "No one else has ever cared about me like that." "No one?" Dani gazed into his eyes. He averted his. "Other than you and her. I'm not convinced. I don't know...who they are, but I don't believe they're really my parents. They must want to do something to me, like everyone else." "And if they don't? Damon, they can do all the things you can and..." Damon cut her off. "I'm not like them. Please, don't tell me I am." "Why are you so afraid that you might be?" Dani asked. "What do you think they are?" "I don't know." Damon said. She knew he was lying. Jake started visiting her more often after work. He gave her copies of documents Robert didn't allow her access to. She poured through them while Jake entertained Damia. He brought over games for the two of them to play with while he answered Dani's questions. "Do you like racing games, Damia?" Jake asked. "Yeah." She said. "Why don't we play a few rounds?" Jake set up the console for them to play on. Dani watched them from the sofa. She read through one of the diaries Jake brought over with him. The first one she picked up was one of several diaries that belonged to Robin. She flipped through to the middle and started reading. Within those old pages, she expected she might come to understand those two strange men a little more or something about Damon. Dead in the middle of a diary, all she found was a teenage boy complaining about being a virgin and his boyfriend not wanting to have sex yet. She checked the dates and the large family tree. Robin was seventeen at the time of the entry. Most of the entries after that were more complaining. She read over the phrase "I am dying" and rolled her eyes. 'Is this all teenagers think about?' She flipped towards the end of the diary. Robin complained about someone named Eider, Rowan's father, and being required to wear pants. She reread that last part several times, unsure what the issue was. She grabbed another journal from the pile, one starting a few years later, expecting to find a more mature individual within those pages. She was hopeful at first. The first few pages were about politics and war. Then, she found a lengthy entry that appeared to be a very detailed sexual fantasy she could only presume from the handwriting was written while the other hand was very occupied. Dani skipped several pages only to land on the start of an entry about Robin trying something new in bed with Rowan, followed by another entry containing an even more detailed erotic fantasy. Dani closed the diary and picked up one of Rowan's instead. His entries were more focused on worries, about people and responsibilities. He didn't resemble the confident, enigmatic man she knew in the present. His teenage years detailed worries about beginning a relationship, repression, and shame. As time moved closer to his seventeenth birthday, war began to be a bigger focus. Entries about death and guilt, regrets and powerlessness, Dani felt his pain in all of them. Her stomach turned at some of his accounts of what the aftermath of a battlefield looked like. Water and blood stained pages contained fears of the man's younger brother possibly one day being required to join him. A strained relationship, of distance and love, existed between the brothers. As she read further in time, his relationship with Robin grew more strained as well, from the war and the pressure on both of them to marry and have children. A third factor entered the picture later on. Robin's reckless, alcoholic younger brother, Luke, publicly pursued Rowan and Rowan in turn befriended him. Rowan did not go into detail about Luke's past, but he suggested Luke's life hadn't been an easy one. Dani went back to Robin's diaries. She cross-referenced Rowan's diaries against Robin's to see his reaction to certain events. As she suspected, Robin wrote vaguely or omitted entirely details about painful events. While Rowan had spent fifteen pages writing about the death of the knight who had trained them both in combat, Robin did not write a single page for sixty days straight despite having written nearly daily prior to. His pain, he chose not to record. Rowan's entries suggested that while Robin was quite open about most of his feelings, he was near silent about his fears and sadness even to his own lover. In both of them, Dani saw Damon. She also saw bits of herself, and the man sitting before her in her living room. Dani opened up a box of artwork. She saw the silverpoint drawing again. There was another underneath it. Rowan was standing with a young woman. She checked the names. The woman in the sketch eventually married his younger brother, Wren. She saw a portrait of him with Robin underneath that one. Wren looked nearly identical to his brother, except for the shape of his eyes and being much slimmer. The latter factor made Damon look more similar to Wren than Rowan. The next one was of Robin alone. Robin was wearing a heavy cloak. He had a mischievous look on his face. Underneath the sketch was written 'A wolf masquerades as a pet dog'. Dani didn't understand what that could have meant. There was another portrait of Rowan, this time alone. Rowan was posing shirtless, sitting and holding a bow against his body between his open legs. His hair looked wet. The expression on Rowan's face was far more devious than Robin's in the previous portrait. His pose suggested the portrait was meant for the sexual enjoyment of its recipient. There was no writing on the front, but a lengthy note was written on the back about the portrait being commissioned by Rowan for Robin. In the bottom left corner was noted "1 of 2". Underneath that one was a sketch of Rowan and Wren. She looked for a drawing of Luke, but didn't find one. Then, she realized why. He had drawn all of the sketches. They were all from the same year as well. She put aside the sketches. At the bottom of the box were pictures of paintings too large to be carried around. In one painting, Rowan put on a stern, cold face. He posed stiffly and stared out with dull eyes. If she had seen the painting in a museum, it wouldn't have stood out amongst any of the others from that time period. Red and black adorned him. The painting of Robin was similar, except Robin wore blue and white. Dani caught that he had a slightly smirk on his face. The last painting was of both of them as children standing with a blond man. The man had his hand on a sheathed sword. The boys were each posing with wooden practice swords. Dani thought the man might be Robin's father, given his hair color, but the other name beside theirs on the photo copy didn't share Robin's last name. The man's name was Ronan Maenki. She glanced back through the diaries. That was the name of the man who trained them. She expected there would be at least one painting of either of them with a parent, but there were none. Dani leaned back on the sofa. She sighed and looked at the time. It was getting late and she hadn't read through the letters in another box. Damia put her controller down. She stretched. "I think I'm gonna head to bed. I have school tomorrow." "Alright. Goodnight." Dani said. "See ya around, kid." Jake waved at her as she left. Damia waved back. She went upstairs to her room. When Jake was certain she wasn't coming back down, he asked. "How far'd ya get?" "I skimmed through the diaries and looked through the pictures." She said. "What'd you think?" "I think I have a better understanding of them now." Dani packed away the things she had taken out. "Could you bring the rest by again sometime?" "Sure." Jake put the console and controllers away in a bag. "I feel a little guilty about reading these. No one wants their diary read by another person." Dani said. "Well, at this point, all the big players in Aurora have read all of them anyway. The moon had copies too, but theirs are intentionally censored. They don't have any copies of the original texts anymore." Jake helped her put everything away. "What? Why would they do that?" Dani asked. "The Summerfields may trace their line through Delilah Blackwell's mother, but anything that might tarnish the reputation of any of the original families in any way is censored. Moone & Wolfe has a pretty negative outlook on homosexuality and sexuality in general. They've censored a lot of the various families' records over things like that. Aurora used to do the same until relatively recently, but the family's too purist to tossed out the originals." Jake explained. "They would have an archived copy, and an 'acceptable' edit to pass around." Dani put her hand on the stack of Robin's diaries. "I'd imagine there wouldn't be very much of his left." "Haha, you're right. I've seen the censored copies before. On both sides, his many volumes were condensed into one. The guy's a horny bastard." Jake laughed loudly. He picked up one of the boxes. "You mind helping me get these back in my car?" "Oh, of course." Dani picked up a box and walked outside with him. "Thank you for bringing these over, and playing with Damia. I can tell she was having a lot of fun." "No problem. I love kids. Haha, kinda have to when you're the oldest, you know? My baby brother, Cyrus, is six years younger than me. It's crazy to think he's an adult now. Him and Chris will always be kids in my mind." Jake put one of the boxes in his trunk. "I did a lot of the parenting. I love my parents, but they were pretty absent when we were all a lot younger. They both worked a lot. Neither of them cut back on that until one of my grandpas died and left them a big chunk of money. But then work got replaced with them 'experimenting' with different hobbies and religions. I was still 'dad' after that." "Religions?" Dani asked. "Yeah." Jake walked back inside with her. "That's how they met. My mom lived in Montana. They met when my dad moved there from Georgia for college. He was deeply involved in a bunch of counterculture stuff, met my mom, and quickly dragged her into the New Age shit in the 70s. My grandpa on her side always used to talk shit about him. 'Why are you running around with that dumbass visiting plastic shamans when you know what the real deal looks like?' They never got along. We'd stay with my maternal grandparents over the summers a lot and he'd talk all kinds of shit about my dad's interest in 'mysticism' and surface level fascination with things he had no real understanding of. I didn't get it as a kid, but I do now. Looking back, some of the things he did around my mom make me cringe." "I don't really know much about New Age stuff." Dani said. She helped him get another round of boxes. "To sum it up, the New Age movement takes a lot of shit from a lot of unrelated cultures, usually incorrectly, and mashes them together in a big, incoherent mess that barely resembles anything it borrowed from. I don't really get the appeal, and honestly, I don't think my mom has ever believed in any of the stuff my dad would become obsessed with for a while. She loves him and supports him in spite of how ridiculous whatever he's into at the moment might get. Right now, they're Wiccans. They were Buddhists at some point. Nothing stays with my dad. I think he's looking for somewhere to belong because he never felt like he had a place when he was younger. But I dunno. Haha, you probably don't care about any of this." Jake loaded up another box. "No, it's interesting. When I was growing up, I wasn't really allowed to explore any line of thinking other than what was taught at my church and the private Christian school I attended. My parents forbid me from wearing make-up and all my skirts had to go halfway down my calves to be acceptable to them." Dani said. "Damn, really? Huh. I didn't think that something like that could play a factor too. He never talks much about his childhood, but I always assumed he didn't hate his parents that much. They were the reason we got so much money. My mom's parents were poor as dirt." Jake closed the trunk. "Still, he should really learn to actually study the stuff he takes an interest more deeply, but I don't think it's about belief. I think he wants a community more than that. Whenever anything unexplainable happened, my dad was always the first to be in denial of it. If he could stick to a hobby, I bet he'd be an atheist real quick." "What about you? What do you believe?" Dani asked. "Me?" Jake grinned. "Who knows. And you?" "I'm not a religious person anymore, but I'm not atheist either." Dani said. "Over the years, I've seen a lot of things I can't comprehend. I don't know what to make of any of it. That's my stance. I know that I don't know much of anything." "That's a pretty good position to take. You don't get more solid and honest than 'I don't know'." Jake said. "Are you mocking me?" "Not at all. I think it's good to be aware of one's own ignorance and limitations. It makes a person a lot less arrogant." Jake opened his car door. "Well, I'm headin' out. See ya at work tomorrow." "Bye." Dani waved to him before heading back inside. She checked on Damia before turning in for bed herself. Jake came over regularly to slip Dani information she wasn't supposed to have access to. She would read through what he brought while Jake played games with Damia or helped her with her homework. Damia didn't mind the arrangement at all. She took a liking to Jake quickly and looked forward to when he would come over. The main appeal for the girl was the various video games Jake brought with him. Dani didn't own any kind of console herself. Typically, Damia only played those kinds of games at friends' houses. Dani considered buying her daughter one, but her daughter never asked for one either. She seemed content playing with other people's things whenever the opportunity arose. Single player games didn't interest her the way two player ones did. Jake's afternoon visits became part of Dani's routine, alongside seeing Damon on the weekends and taking Damia to her archery classes. Whenever Damia went to her room, Dani and Jake would discuss the information she read before getting off-topic about various personal matters. She had long realize Jake, if not interrupted, could go on about anything for hours. The man loved talking. It wasn't annoying the way listening to some people rambling on was. Whenever Jake spoke, he managed, without any effort, to gain the full attention of whoever he was talking to and he could steer that conversation in whatever direction he wanted. Unlike Jones, Jake didn't need anything special about him to do this. He had no magical abilities or unusual biology. Jake's weapons were charm, cleverness, and absurdity. With those three ordinary things, he managed to get whatever he wanted out of anyone. Dani found this amusing. One day, Aurora or Moone & Wolfe might be able to replicate what Damon could do, but no amount of experimentations in a lab setting by either company could ever mimic what this man did so effortlessly. Dani suspected her daughter's grandparents might be the only people she knew who could outwit him. As much as she had grown to like him, Dani kept a small barrier between them. Jake warned her before. The only person he was loyal to was his family. She never forgot that fact for a second. Late into the summer of 1999, when fall was nearing, one afternoon, Dani came home early. She spent the first half of the day with Damon and worked an hour after lunch. Dani was feeling ill and went to lie down for a while with Damon before heading home. Damia was already staying home with the flu. When Dani got home, she called out to her daughter. Damia didn't answer her. She went upstairs to check on her and noticed the bathroom light was on. Through the door, she heard the sink running. "I'm getting Chinese food later. Did you want to come with me?" Dani asked through the door. The sink turned off. The door opened. Standing in the doorway was Rowan. Dani jumped back. "Not who you were expecting?" Rowan asked. "What are you doing in our bathroom?" Dani questioned him. He gave her a mocking look. "Would you prefer I piss in the yard?" "No! I...I didn't think you would need to do things like that." "I'm alive, you know. I may not be aging, but my body works the same as yours." Rowan walked past her. "I'll be leaving now." "What did you come here for?" Dani asked. "To see my granddaughter. We already talked for a while. Goodbye." He said. Dani caught up with him. "Wait...I want to talk to you." "About what?" Rowan asked. "I wanted to ask you some things...about Luca and Da...Raven." Dani used Damon's real name. It felt strange on her tongue. "Alright. I've got plenty of time. Would you like to talk outside? The sky is beautiful today. There's going to be a rainstorm later." Rowan accepted. Dani took him out to the backyard. Rowan sat in one of the chairs. "Luca...It's a pretty name." Dani started the conversation. "I named him after my brother-in-law, Luke." Rowan said. "Why your brother-in-law?" She asked. "We're close friends. I'd say after my husband, he's my closest friend." Rowan said. A word bothered her in what he said. "Is? How is he still alive? Corbin showed me on the tree that he...Don't tell me." "He's a cheat too." Rowan confirmed her suspicions. "Robin's entire family has defied Death. Hell, one works for the man himself, and he managed to pull off a resurrection without facing any consequences for it." "What do you mean...works for? That is a job someone can do?" Dani struggled to take in what he said. 'Death is a person? Death is a he?' "It's not an easy job to acquire, nor one most would want, but yes. He guides the dead to where they need to go. No, I'm not telling you anything about that. I don't trust you that much." Rowan added. "That's Robin's grandfather who does that work. His biological one, not the one listed on the family tree. And don't tell that Corbin fool any of this." "I won't." Dani listened closely. Rowan had never bothered talking to her like this before. "You said a resurrection...is it really possible to come back from the dead?" "Well, of course it is. People are revived by doctors in your hospitals every day. But I know you mean being revived after being long dead, and while the answer to that is yes, it's not quite like you'd imagine. Only a few people can do it, and you won't come back exactly the same either. Your physical form cannot be exactly the same, though the soul will be. My father-in-law came back with green eyes instead of brown, pointed ears, and wings. His personality is...a little off too. That was very....unexpected." Rowan seemed to be reminiscing on the event. "Wings?! Like fairies and angels?" Dani asked. "Yes, but only one of those is real. He can fly with them too. It's really impressive. I can't do that without transforming myself." Rowan said. "What can you transform yourself into?" She asked. Dani immediately thought about her aunt, Miranda, and how she would react if Dani told her about a man with wings and pointed ears. "Anything human-like. I can't transform into things like dragons or other animals like that. It has to be pretty close to my current form. I'm really not that skilled at it, and I can only maintain it a few hours at most. It's very mentally draining." Dani was so intrigued by the idea of transforming into another body that it didn't register in her mind that Rowan was telling her dragons existed. "Why is that?" Rowan wiped his forehead. "It's rather hot out. Do you have anything to drink?" "Oh, I have some lemonade and tea. I could get you water, if you'd prefer." Dani said. "Lemonade would be nice." He said. Dani got up and fixed him a glass of lemonade with ice. She poured one for herself as well. Dani brought the drinks out. She handed him his drink. Rowan put his hand over it. The drink glowed with a white light for a moment. "What are you doing?" She asked. Rowan put the drink down. He held his hand out. "Let me see yours." Dani handed him her drink. He did the same to her glass. Rowan handed it back. "What did you do?" "Your water is filthy. I purified it." Rowan picked up his glass. He drank from it. "But I use a filter..." Dani stared at her glass. "It's not that bad. Not like it used to be." Rowan put the glass back down. "What were we talking about again?" "Oh, transformation. You said it was draining. I asked you why." Dani said. Rowan nodded. "Right. Imagine being in someone else's body. It's a very unpleasant sensation. You feel disconnected, because your mind knows it is not yours. That's why I can't do any that aren't like my own body. To go further than that at my current abilities would probably make me lose my mind. I can barely manage a female body for more than an hour, and that's as a human female. The easiest form for me to change to is another male human. My husband is much more skilled at it. He can take just about any form, but how long he can last depends greatly on the form. The longest he's lasted was as a human male for about a year, then as a human female for nearly as long. He could only manage ten minutes as a fox." "Why stay in another human form so long?" Dani asked. She couldn't comprehend what it would feel like to turn into an animal. She wondered if it affected the way he thought or if he retained his human sense of self. "He was testing his limits." Rowan said. "Those eleven months in a female body were hard on him. It was very disorienting. Those eleven months were hard on me too. I am so grateful Luke is our neighbor." "What do you mean? That it was strange for you to see him in a female body?" Dani asked for clarification. She wasn't sure what Robin's brother had to do with it either. "Well, that was strange, but I got used to that. He only modified a few parts, so he mostly looked like his younger sister. That really ended a lot of physical intimacy in our relationship during that time. I knew mentally he was my husband, but every time I looked at him, I only saw Avis and I couldn't. I couldn't even think of it. I could never have sex with her." "Avis?" Dani asked. "His little sister." Rowan clarified. "What does your brother-in-law have to do with this?" Rowan grinned. He looked away. "He helped me take out some frustration." "Uh...am I misinterpreting you? Do you mean you...?" "When you live for centuries, you try a lot of things you didn't expect you would." Rowan confirmed what she thought he meant by the way he said it. "Did he know that you...?" "Now, why do you want to know about that?" Rowan smirked at her. He waved his hand in the air. "Actually, that all happened not long before Raven was born. That was why he was testing out how long he could last in a female body. He hadn't mastered the method we ended up using yet. We were going to try a more...'natural' method at first and have one of us carry the baby. But I couldn't last at all, and while he could make it long enough to withstand a pregnancy, it was very hard on him mentally. He was worried he'd accidentally change back if something broke his concentration. That would end the pregnancy immediately. So, we didn't go that route." "Would you have been able to...conceive a child with him while he looked like his sister?" Dani asked. "Oh, we decided early on I'd attempt to get him pregnant indirectly." Dani looked over at Rowan. She tried to picture what he must have looked like transformed into a female body, but she couldn't visualize it well. "Couldn't he have changed his form to look less like his sister?" "That was more mentally taxing. The fewer modifications, the easier it was. Well, mostly." Rowan explained to her. "I asked him if it were possible to do a partial transformation...only change the absolutely necessary parts and keep the rest the same. Apparently, that was actually harder for him to pull off because he had to concentrate on two different body types at once. He couldn't maintain a cycle consistently. If he couldn't manage that, that path was already doomed." "What did you do exactly?" Dani asked. She was going to see how much she could get out of him, not for Aurora's research, but for her own curiosity. Dani wanted to know everything about Damon's birth and this family he had somewhere else. "Robin used a different sort of magic. I can't really explain it to you, but he did most of the work. I only helped with channeling energy. The method we used allowed him to choose exactly how the child would look. Robin gave him half my features and half his own, and something extra. It took about...hmm...maybe ten minutes to get it done. Much faster than waiting nine months or more with the other method, and no transformation needed." Rowan held up his hands to show Dani the way their hands were positioned when it happened. He lowered them back down. "We only had him for a week or so before they snatched him away from us and we got Luca in his place." Dani realized something. With them both being men, there was an obvious issue they would need to deal with. "I'm curious...how did you care for him and Luca? Does formula exist where you live?" "No one uses things like that over there. We knew someone who would help us, but Robin wanted to be able to do it on his own. For Raven and Luca, he'd transform into a female form for that." Rowan said. "He was able to produce milk on command?" Dani blinked several times. "Yes, he had to sort out exactly how to do it, but that modification can be learned. I was able to learn it too, a few months after Luca had been with us. Haha, that was something." Rowan touched his chest. "Did you breastfeed Damia? I've heard a lot of humans these days use this 'formula' thing instead." "I fed her. I used to feed her outside on my aunt's balcony a lot and watch the clouds." Dani said. She thought back on then. Some of the women she talked to found it taxing, and at times, it was for her too, but she also found it relaxing at other times and she felt something she could only describe as satisfaction at providing her child with nutrition in such a direct way. Dani was so worried about keeping Damia healthy when she was young that she didn't want to try out formula. She preferred keeping to a diet her doctor recommended her. Dani, however, did not enjoy that time together as much when Damia's teeth started coming in. "It's pretty bizarre for me to hear about two men doing that. Why was he adamant about doing it himself?" "He's never been one to like sticking to order or rules. He wanted to see if he could defy nature itself." Rowan laughed. "He's ridiculous." "And you?" "I don't know. I was curious what it was like. It wasn't as strange as I thought it'd be." Rowan picked up the glass of lemonade. He made it glow a light orange color. "Robin taught me a little spell that one can do on liquids to give someone a bit more strength. I used to enchant the milk when I fed him. Luca was so sickly when we found him. I suspect he must have been snatched out of a hospital rather than his parent's home. I was always worried he'd die on me." Dani asked him a question that had been burning in her mind since he told Jake he kept the other child. "Why didn't you give Luca back?" "We considered doing that when we found out who his parents were. That was around when we sorted out the general area Raven was in. When we realized exactly where he was, we worried about what might have happened to him. Robin and I looked into everything and questioned Luca's birth parents. After they told me they put him in there because of what he can do, I decided then and there I would never give them Luca. He was ours from that day forward. They had the audacity to call me a monster when I told them I could do everything Raven can and far more." Rowan drank from his glass. "Since then, I've tried contacting Raven, but he refuses to listen to me in person or in his dreams. He seems outright terrified of Robin for some reason." "He's pretty terrifying." Dani went to drink from hers. Her glass flashed orange. Dani glanced over at Rowan. He was smiling. "I suppose I've been away too long. I don't comprehend why you would think that. I can do most of what he can." Dani drank the enchanted drink without fear. She didn't answer him why. "What made you decide to have a child? It seems like you went through a lot of effort. Couldn't you have taken in a child or gotten a woman to carrying a child for each of you? Did the child really need to be biologically both of yours?" "Yes, for Robin. He became obsessed with the idea. Personally, I was content with not having any children, and I certainly didn't want some woman to carry a baby for me. I was trying to get away from that sort of mess when I left." Rowan rested his chin against his palm. "It's really petty, but the reason he became obsessed with it was because of something his father told us about after he was brought back from the dead." Dani nodded as she listened to him. "Apparently, his father met some lady in his garden as a child and she cursed him. Then, she predicted his future. In that future, none of his children would have children with the person they were destined to be with. Robin didn't like hearing that. So, he immediately started researching how to make that happen out of spite." Rowan said. "And that's really it." "You mean to tell me he dedicated countless years of studying to defy nature itself...out of pettiness?" "That's how he is. He's petty and hard-headed." Rowan took another sip of his drink. "I really love that about him, sometimes. All of his family is like that, on both sides." Dani remembered something. "Oh, Luca mentioned this name...who is...Alan?" Rowan looked over at her, surprised to hear that name. "Alan? That's Luke's husband." "Oh, so he's married to a man too." "My father-in-law only has children attracted to people of the same sex. He thinks it's hilarious for some reason." Rowan swirled the liquid in his glass around idly. "Why? What did he bring up Alan for?" "Your husband was telling him not to flirt with me because of my history with Raven, and he said something about telling Alan about that." Dani said. Rowan chuckled. "That little shit. Did he really flirt with you?" Dani nodded. "I shouldn't have named him after Luke." Rowan finished off his drink. "You've been asking me a lot of questions today. Are you going to tell Corbin all of this?" "I might tell him some of it, but I plan on keeping most of it to myself. He won't tell anyone else. He's not like how you think he is. Corbin is playing both sides to keep his family safe. He doesn't care about either side's goals." Dani defended Jake. She wasn't sure why she felt compelled to do so. "Oh, is that how it is? Interesting. I might mess with him some more then." Rowan turned his gaze to the sky. Thunder echoed around them. "Won't be long now. There was something else you wanted to ask me. Go on and say it." Dani went quiet. She worked up the courage to ask him what she feared. "Is Damon...Raven going to live as long as you?" "Yes." Rowan said. "When you are seventy or a hundred, he will look no different than he does now." Dani sunk down in her seat. "I see." "If you'd like, I can change that." Rowan said. Dani shook her head. She had one more question. "What's underneath the mark on Raven's back? Corbin said it hides something." "That's a secret, but it was a request of mine. I wanted to give him a gift, one that would be with him his entire life." Rowan stood up. He handed her his glass. "It's about to pour down. You should go inside. I'll see you again some time." Dani stood up. She opened the back door. She turned around to tell him goodbye. He was already gone. At work the following day, Dani asked if she could see the family tree Jake showed her before. She found Robin on the tree and confirmed he had a sister named Avis. The father-in-law Rowan mentioned being revived, she presumed, must have been the one on the paper, Faolán Ó Rinn. Dani wasn't sure how that name was pronounced. She noticed something strange. All of Robin's immediate family members supposedly died around the same time frame. Their branch of the tree ended with no children born from any of Faolán's children. The Ó Rinn line carried on through a man that had been adopted into the family. Dani looked at other names from that time frame. She didn't know how to pronounce many of them. One in particular left her completely perplexed. The name was Ruaidhrí Ó Ruaidháin. 'What the hell is that?!' Dani tried to sound out how she thought it might be pronounced. "Ru..Rah...Rai? Rai-dree?" "It's the old way of spelling Rory, or something like that." Jake said. He was leaning over her chair. "What are half those letters for then?" Dani asked. "Hell if I know." Jake shrugged his shoulders. "Why are you looking at this?" "I wanted to see something." Dani said. She closed up the paper. "Guess who was at my house yesterday." "Was it someone from the moon?" He asked. "No, someone much older." Dani said. "Oh, did one of them visit you?" "The same one you saw visit at my house before. I caught him in my bathroom, and we had a long chat after that." Dani said. "What was he doing in your bathroom?" Jake asked. "Peeing." "Did you walk in on him?" Jake joked. "No, he was washing his hands." Dani rolled her eyes at him. "Huh...so, he still has to do that? Interesting. That must mean he eats and drinks too. I was wondering if his body was effectively stuck in time, like a vampire, but it sounds like his organs work normally. I bet both sides would love to see what's going on inside him." Jake pulled up a chair beside her. "Cut him to pieces, you mean." Dani said. "Of course. I bet his cells do some interesting things too. I wonder if he can be killed. Could he withstand being crushed or having his head severed? Haha, I can see the moon testing something like that." Jake had his usual can of soda in hand. He opened it. "Do you want to test that out?" Dani asked. "No. That'd be akin to cutting off a unicorn's horn." Jake put his drink down. "Do you think he has to sleep?" "I don't know." "What'd you two talk about?" He asked. "We talked about the other boy, Luca." Dani said. "They kept him because the Hounds put Damon in a mental hospital, and it pissed them off." "Figured it was something like that. Wonder how he's doing." Jake said. "I've met him before. He stopped by once with one of them. He's really...flirty." Dani's cheeks burned. "Flirty? Did he hit on you? Heh." Jake shook his head. "So, did you learn anything else about him?" "They breastfed him." Dani said bluntly, wanting to get a rise out of Jake. He spit out his drink. "Excuse me?" "They breastfed him. Both of them did." Dani held back her laughter at Jake's reaction. "How did they...I...this raises a lot of questions for me." Jake rubbed his chin, deep in thought over very odd things. "Apparently, they can transform." Dani explained. "You've been off for a while again. What have you been up to?" "Tom wants me to keep tabs on that baby, Yoo's kid." Jake leaned back in his chair. "I'm keeping records of a woman's phone calls just in case she says something about a baby." Dani wasn't shocked by that. It sounded like exactly the kind of nonsense she expected out of Moone & Wolfe at this point. "Is all that necessary?" "Tom thinks so. Alexis Linwood, that's the kid's name." Jake said. "A daughter?" "No, a son." Jake corrected her. He slouched. "I'm supposed to have any of their mail opened and repackaged to check what's in it now. Tom's as disgusting as ever. He's been sending Linwood letters pretending to be Yoo. Haha, I really want that baby to destroy them." Dani sighed deeply at Tom too. She thought, 'Jake's right. These people really are batshit.' "So, breastfeeding, huh? That's wild." Jake was stuck on that thought. "How did they...That's crazy. I kinda wanna tell Rob about that, just to see the look on his face, but I don't want him knowing they're visiting you. Oh, there was something else I was going to tell you about..." Jake opened a drawer at his desk. He pulled out some papers. "Jones is already working for the company officially and participating in research studies with them. I've already sent Rob everything I snatched." "What have they been using her for?" Dani asked. "They're seeing if her memory effect is stronger than the drug they're developing. So far, it is, at least in the short term." Jake said. He handed the papers to Dani for her to read over. She glanced over them. The drug she was being compared against was the same experimental drug Damon and her had been prescribed when they were in the hospital, Aequa. "They're going to use her to find a way to enhance their drug, aren't they?" "That's the current plan." Jake closed the drawer. "I talked to Rob about running some kind of campaign against the drug once it's on the market, but our hands are tied. We're not allowed to mess with that industry too much. There are some wealthy people who have their hands in both companies at once. They don't really know shit about what's going on, though they think they do, but Rob doesn't want us to piss them off. We need the funding." "Money rules everything." Dani said. "Not everything. The rest is ruled by people's beliefs." Jake added. "That's why the moon has spent a lot of time working on propaganda for their plans. Since they see themselves as the ones entitled to rule over society at large, they already have plans for how they want us to all to be. What's acceptable, what's not. The seeds are being planted now. Once they have a more malleable audience to work with, they'll begin their moves on the general public while they keep their wealthy donors happy with any modification they desire. I've heard Tom and Edith talking about which companies will be manufacturing things for the moon once they reach their end goal." "What is their end goal? Do you know?" "Total control. They want everyone to be dependent on them and worship the heads of the Summerfield family. You could call them a cult. They have non-employees who live their lives around the books Tom publishes. Now, he's got a bunch of kids hooked into their ideas through his kid show. They've started it in the hospitals too. You were out too early to catch it. But what they really need is a figure to worship. Humans love worshiping, whether its a god or a celebrity or a hero in a comic book...it all fills the same need. Cults need someone for the followers to gravitate around. Tom and Edith don't got what it takes. Once they have that, they'll gather more people into their fold." Jake cracked his knuckles. He looked up at the ceiling. "From what I've read of Summerfield's books, he seems to want a sexless, colorless, hyper-productive segregated society." Dani said. "Is that really what he wants to accomplish?" "Yeah, him and Edith both. Their old man, Alex, was like that too, but he didn't really care that much about productivity." Jake said. "I don't understand them. They want that Linwood kid to be Tom's replacement. Makes no sense. Racial mixing is against their rules. Then again, here I am, high-ranking in the moon too. You've read the shit. You know what they should be thinking about me. Haha, I don't know. Maybe Tom sees me like a pet dog or something. Piece of shit." Dani read through Thomas Summerfield's novels years ago. They disturbed her then, for a number of reasons. The content was full of hatred, violence, and horrible sex scenes wrapped around two very unhinged characters, Delilah and a character simply known as 'the doctor'. The duo imposed their views on others, with cruel and ghastly fates awaiting those who defied them. People were separated by race, with each race given a template of "perfection" to adhere to. Those who did not match the template were killed to not "dilute" each race. No sexuality was tolerated. Children were born in laboratories from donated materials matched in a database to achieve the "best" results. People did not have relationships, romantic or otherwise, and had no hobbies. They spent their days working in white buildings dressed in black and white clothes, striving each day to work just a little harder than the previous day. Sex was punished with physical violence. Only Delilah and the doctor could engage in sex without a punishment. The inherent contradiction in the narrative when it came to sex was something she could never wrap her head around. She tried not to think about those books too much now. Having a young daughter herself, many scenes with the character of Delilah were hard for her to read. From what she saw of the children's show that Moone & Wolfe created featuring a character of the same name, Dani assumed they were meant to be the same. Many of the other characters from the books, like Delilah's animal helpers, were in the TV show as well. Knowing what Jake told her about the family's history, she thought the name being used in both was a reference back to the original Delilah, Delilah Blackwell, who was a child when she died. Knowing that fact made her all the more uncomfortable with many scenes in the books and the TV show. She once asked Robert why they didn't interfere in more of Moone & Wolfe's non-medical endeavors. Robert told her he had his reasons, but wouldn't say anything beyond that. She wasn't important enough to know. That knowledge was forbidden to her like many other things she encountered at work. Jake was the only one who would ever be honest with her about anything. Terrifying as they were, Dani had a hard time believing they could accomplish anything on such a grand scale. Their beliefs were absurd and nothing they did publicly ever garnered much attention. She always saw the company ending itself before anything catastrophic could happen. She made a mental note to reread the book series at some point, to re-familiarize herself with some of their more subtle beliefs. Dani saw Damon after lunch. They spent most of the visit cuddled together in his bed. Damon petted her hair. "I'm not interrupting anything important, am I?" "No, I'm done with work for today." Dani said. She rested her head on his chest. "It's been really hot lately. Do you know how to make it cooler?" "Nah, if I tried that...I might end up freezing everything." He said, a playful smile on his face. It vanished quickly. "No one's found out about Damia's power's, have they?" "No, she's really good at keeping it a secret." Dani said. She ran her fingers across his skin. "Did you know those men can transform?" "Transform? Like turn into something else?" Damon asked. "Yes. But only one of them is really good at it. Apparently, it's really hard to do. I wonder if you could learn that." Dani suggested. "If it's hard for them to do, I doubt I could get good at it enough for it to be useful." Damon put his arms around her. "Lately, I can barely do much of anything." "Have they been making you do magic for them?" Dani asked. "Yeah. I can barely move." He said. "I don't know why. They never learn anything no matter what I do." "You should decline their requests for a while. They shouldn't be allowed to run tests on you every day." Dani nuzzled her face against him. "I might...It's hard to say no. I'm so tired." Damon stared up at the ceiling. His hands slipped away from her. Dani tried to cheer him up some. She unbuttoned his pants. Damon looked down at her, anticipating what she might do. When she was younger, she would have told him to keep his hands to himself during this, but lately, she liked it when she asked him to. His fingers felt good through her hair. Afterwards, she teased him a little. "Are you still tired? You look a little more up, at least." Damon laughed under his breath. "You could say that." Dani moved up. She whispered in his ear. "Let's run away together." "You know I can't..." She put her finger to his lips. "Shh...for a moment, let's pretend we can. Where are we going first?" "To a shitty motel, obviously. The kind with a bed that creaks every time you move." Damon played along. He was smiling, but Dani sensed what he really felt. "And the shower barely works." Dani added. "The mini fridge definitely doesn't work." His smile grew. "There's mini fridge? How nice." "Well, yeah, because they forgot to put in the microwave they advertise in their photos." Damon said. He laughed a little. Dani laughed with him. "And the blankets have cigarette burns in them. There's a whole pattern of them near the top." "It was kindly put there by staff to distract you from the blood and cum stained sheets underneath." They laughed more. "To be fair, we've left both those kinds of messes before." Dani said, recalling a few embarrassing incidents. "It's supposed to be someone's job to wash or throw those sheets out occasionally. I don't think any of the places we stayed at ever changed their sheets." He poked her. "You left bigger messes than me anyway." "My body was doing a lot of weird things then. Nothing was normal." She said. Dani brought the conversation back into focus. "Okay, we stayed at the motel. What next?" "Steal food, preferably from a big chain. We eat some of the fruit in the store so we don't have to carry it with us." "Oh, my. What else do we need?" Dani asked playfully. "Condoms, gotta have those. And a helluva lot of beef jerky." Damon's smile disappeared again. "What about Damia?" "We're teenagers. We never parted ways." Dani quickly said. Damon's mood dropped. "Dani, we can't do this." "It's only pretend." "Even there, we can't." Damon put his hand to her cheek. "We can't go back." Dani put her hand over his. "I know." She watched TV with him until it was time for her to go home. Neither of them brought up the subject again, talking only about what was on the show they were watching. On her way home, Dani picked up a pizza. She couldn't muster in herself the desire to cook. Damia and her ate together in Damia's room while she helped her with a homework assignment at her desk. Dani was tired and drained from the day. After dinner, she wanted to go straight to bed. Dani opened her door and found Rowan laying where she usually slept. Rather than panic, she only sighed. "What are you doing on my bed?" Dani tossed her shoes off. "I'm staying the night. Would you prefer I take the sofa?" Rowan sat up on the bed. "Yes." Dani threw her jacket on the floor. "Very well." Rowan stretched. He got up from the bed. "Why are you staying here?" Dani asked. "Damia wanted me to stay longer. I'll be out of your hair tomorrow night." Rowan said. "She wants me to see the full moon with her tomorrow." "Couldn't you come back tomorrow?" Dani put her bag beside her dresser. "I'm already here." Rowan said. "I didn't give you permission to stay over here." "You know, back when I lived on this side, hospitality was a given. I will accept your refusal to share the bed, but if you're throwing me out altogether, I will consider it quite rude." Rowan crossed his arms. "I don't understand." Dani said. "It used to be refusing someone lodging could be a death sentence at the wrong time of the year. Moreover, I am a family member. To refuse me is exceptionally rude, but I understand if I have offended you in some way." Rowan said to her. Dani sat down on the bed. She took off her socks. She was used to him, but having him in her bedroom was making her uneasy in a way she hadn't felt in a long time. The feeling crept up on her unexpectedly. "You frighten me more than you offend me." "I frighten you? Even now? What do you think I am going to do to you?" Rowan asked. "I don't know." "Then why are you afraid?" He asked. "Is it because you don't know what I can do?" "Yes." Rowan sat down on the opposite side of the bed. He put his shoes on. "If it bothers you so much, I'll come back tomorrow." "You may stay." Dani stopped him. "I'm sorry, but I don't have a spare bed." "What do you have a bed this big for? I've never seen you bring a man home." Rowan pointed at the queen sized mattress. "My aunt bought it for me. I didn't pick the size." She said. "Seems quite wasteful for a single person to have a bed so big." Rowan commented. "Was sharing a bed common when you lived here? I don't see why this bothers you." Dani wanted to change out of her work clothes and shower before bed. She didn't want to talk to him. "It would be unheard of for a single person who was not royalty to have a bed so big and not share it, and even then, many nobles still shared beds with their family members and servants. My father didn't, but my father hated having a family at all. You live like a queen with a small castle." Rowan motioned to all the space around her. Dani didn't care anymore. She was too tired to care. "Fine, sleep here. But you better not put your hands on me." "Oh, you don't like cuddling?" Rowan teased her. She glared at him. "I'm joking. Are you really so concerned? I'm not attracted to women." "That doesn't mean you can't hurt me like that." She snapped back. Rowan changed his tone. "You're right. My apologies. Perhaps, I should take the sofa." "No, it's fine. I know you won't. I'm not reacting to you. It's..." Dani realized what was bothering her. She stated the truth to take away some of its hold on her. "I've been assaulted before. This situation is making me uneasy." Rowan took his hair down. "I am sorry. Is it alright if I ask...my son didn't do that to you, right?" "Oh, no. He wouldn't do anything like that. It was someone I met before I knew him. That was a long time ago." Dani looked back at him. Rowan's hair appeared to go to about halfway down his thighs. "You have really long hair for a man." "I like my hair long." Rowan took her brush from her nightstand and brushed through his long locks. "It looks like I'm out of fashion for the moment." "I'm going to shower before bed." Dani got up off the bed. Rowan asked. "Do you mind if I sleep without my shirt on? I don't want to make you uncomfortable." "That's fine." Dani didn't like this feeling existing in her. She sought to further destroy it. "You can sleep in your underwear, if you want." "I'm not wearing any." Rowan said. She wasn't, however, interested in taking in that far. "Ah, then keep your pants on." Dani locked the bathroom door. After she did so, she felt silly. He could unlock it if he wanted to. She showered quickly. Her mind was getting the better of her. When she finished showering, she dressed herself in a tank top and a fresh pair of panties. Rowan was already sleep. Dani got under the sheets, keeping a large distance between them. After an hour of restless thoughts, rather than fear, curiosity got the better of her. She sat up and turned her lamp on to get a better look at him. Up close, Rowan looked a lot like Damon. They had the same eye, nose, and lip shape. Damon's skin tone was somewhere in between his parents'. The hair was the same shade. Rowan was much more muscular than Damon was. His body was covered in scars. Dani wondered what they were from. She watched him sleep, observing his chest moving up and down as he breathed. How was it possible, Dani thought, that the man laying beside her, sleeping so peacefully, was really centuries old? He claimed to be human, but could he really be called that now? Dani thought about him and Robin. Whatever they were, they were the closest she had ever gotten to something god-like, and yet she could not deny how human they were. Dani thought about Damon. If he was really the same as them, could she call him human? She couldn't stand it. Dani wanted to know more. She put her fingers to Rowan's wrist to search for his pulse. It wasn't hard to find. His body was warmer than she expected. That wasn't enough to satisfy her. She wanted to listen to his heart beating. Dani leaned down a little. "Now, I thought we weren't touching each other?" Rowan said before opening his eyes. Dani quickly moved away from him. "I'm sorry, I..." "Wanted proof I am actually alive? You can listen." He put his hand on his chest. Dani leaned down. She put her ear against his chest. Her heart raced when she heard his beating. She heard him breathing and his stomach growling. Every small noise sounded completely ordinary. "Satisfied?" He asked. Dani listened a little longer before sitting up. "You really are...normal...but how can that be?" "There are a lot of things that are very ordinary and very strange at the same time." He said. "If you have a heartbeat...can you die?" "Yes. There are three ways I can die. They're the same ways Damon can. Do you wish to know them?" He asked. "Are you sure you want to tell me?" Dani asked. "You won't hurt me." Rowan sat up. He pulled his hair off his face. "My body heals itself quicker than it did when I lived here. I can regrow a hand if I lost one, but that will take more time to heal than cutting open my hand. However, I can only heal what I had the moment I became immortal. If I had already lost an arm, I could never regrow that arm. My organs can be repaired as well, and even completely regenerated...with the exception of two. I need a certain portion of my brain or heart in tact for those to heal, and if either is completely crushed or ripped out of me, I will die. I can lose most of my brain and still recover, but I need at least half my heart to regenerate the rest or I will die. If you wanted to kill someone immortal, for most, crushing their head or impaling their heart with a large enough object would get the job done." Dani remembered what Jake said about what Moone & Wolfe might do to Rowan if they caught him. They would likely succeed in killing him. "Are there people who can't be killed by those methods?" "Yes, but they are the most ancient of beings. You'll never encounter them, at least not until you die. Then, you might meet one of them." "Do you know then...is there a god?" Dani asked. She couldn't stop herself. "That really depends on how you define 'god'. Given the number of churches I see when I come visit, I take it Christianity is still very popular. That god does not exist." Rowan said with certainty. "Who created us then?" Dani asked. Rowan lie back down. "I think I'll keep that a secret for you to ponder on." He went back to sleep without answering her question. After he fell asleep, she realized he didn't tell her what the third method was. Dani doubted he ever would. She fell asleep not long after he did. The sound of her alarm woke her in the morning. Rowan was taking a shower. Dani recalled she used the last clean towel in the bathroom. She went to get him one. Dani went into the bathroom. He hadn't locked the door. She stood beside the shower curtain. "I've brought you a towel." Rowan pulled back the curtain slightly. His long hair covered a fourth of his face. "Oh, thank you. Do you need me to get out?" "I took a shower last night. It's fine. I'm going to work in an hour." Dani told him. "I see. When will you be back?" Rowan asked. "I'm coming home early today. I'll be back around three and then I'll be picking up Damia from school." She said. "Oh, really? Can I come with you?" He asked. "Is that a good idea? Should we really be seen together? I know Robert knows Damia's your granddaughter, but I don't think anyone at Moone & Wolfe knows yet." "She'll be fine. They can't touch her. But if you want, I can disguise myself." Rowan went quiet. He stared at Dani's shoulder, eyes wide. "Don't move." "What?" Dani asked. She froze. Rowan got out of the shower. He moved slowly over to her before quickly snatching something off her shirt. Rowan enclosed what he grabbed in an orb of light. He held the orb out to Dani to show her a large wolf spider. "This was on your shirt." Dani grimaced. It moved around inside the orb, crawling in her direction. "Open that window up for me, please. I'll let it outside." Rowan said. Dani went to the far end of the bathroom. She pulled back the curtain and opened the small window. Rowan held his hand out of it. He controlled the orb of light, letting it gradually float down to the ground. Rowan released the spider once the orb touched the grass. Dani shut the window back and fixed the curtain. "There." Rowan said. "Thank you. I didn't feel anything there at all." Dani said. With the spider gone, her attention turned to something else. Without meaning to, she looked down, then immediately looked to her side. Rowan turned around. "Ah, my apologies. I'm indecent." "I've seen men naked before. It's not a big deal." Dani said. She laughed under her breath. Dani noted a hint of red in his face. Rowan joined her in that laughter. He wrapped the towel around his waist, then turned the shower off. "I know, but still." Dani meant nothing sexual in her staring, but she couldn't help herself in looking over him more. Though his hair covered most of his back, where she could see, Dani noticed there wasn't anything there. Rowan didn't have the sort of large marking that Damon had on his back. Rather than symbols, Rowan's skin was etched at every angle with scars. "I don't mean to pry, but I remember yesterday you told me that when you become immortal, you can completely heal yourself. But you have so many scars..." Dani noted a few very thick scars. "Yes, I can heal anything except what was already damaged when I was mortal. These are scars from fighting." Rowan held his arm up. He looked at the ones on that arm. "I was a warrior a long time ago, skilled with sword and bow. Never bothered with guns. They weren't precise enough for me back then, and I don't really need that kind of skill now." "Your husband fought alongside you, didn't he? Does he have scars like this?" Dani asked. "Yes, but I'd rather not think about those memories." Rowan put his pants on. He dried his hair off with the towel before putting his shirt on. "There's something I've been meaning to give you. It's from my husband." "What is it?" She asked. Rowan pulled a necklace out of his pocket. It had a stone she didn't recognize at the end of it. Rowan handed it to her. "Here. This is a protection charm. No one can hurt you while you wear this. And don't worry. Nothing any of those ignorant fools can use will detect it. Robin gave Damia a charm like this a long time ago. You should carry one too. I'm relying on you to help me protect my granddaughter." 'When did he do that? I've never seen anything like this before.' Dani put the necklace on. "How does it work?" "Don't worry about that. Just make sure you wear it every day. Keeping it in your pocket or bag is fine." Rowan walked over to the bed. He sat down to put his shoes on. "As for the ride, would you like me to disguise myself?" "I think you should." Dani said. Rowan asked. "Do you mind if I use your kitchen? I promised Damia I'd cook for her tonight." "Go ahead." "Thank you." Rowan tied up his long hair. That morning, Rowan offered to cook breakfast for them as well. Damia watched her grandfather carefully as he cooked. Dani swore the bacon tasted much better than usual. Damia went to school, and Dani went to work, leaving Rowan at the house. She wanted to talk to Jake about the previous night, but there was too much going on in the first half of the day for her to talk with him about it. She decided she would wait until lunch, but Jake received a phone call then. She eavesdropped a little while she ate her lunch. Jake was telling someone on the other line about being in Okinawa and something about an ex-girlfriend in the middle east. She had no idea what he was talking about. When the call was over, she asked him. "You're in Japan, huh? Is that part of your script to keep your family in the dark?" "Yep. I work for the military. Currently doing work in Japan. I used to have a girlfriend who's parents don't like me when I was doing work in the middle east. That's the story. My parents don't live around here. They'll never know the difference. They don't know where half the countries on the globe are." Jake shrugged. "Scott's the only one who knows what I really do." "Scott...have you spoken with him recently?" Dani asked. "Yeah, he calls me pretty regularly, but I hear from Cyrus he calls Chris more." "He calls you?" "To talk about stuff, check in on shit about the moon sometimes. Mostly he calls to talk about Cyrus." Jake said. "How is your brother doing? Is he doing better?" Dani asked. "He's okay. Sometimes, he still gets really depressed, but it's always been like that. I'm glad Scott's there. I don't think my brother can handle living alone safely. He needs someone there in case things get bad." Jake took a few photos down from the wall and handed them to Dani. "Don't think I showed these to ya. Scott sent them to me recently." Dani looked at the photos. Scott was smiling in all of them. She smiled too. Dani wanted to be able to give Damon a life like that. They talked about Scott for a while. Soon, lunch was over and Dani was on her way to see Damon. She would tell Jake about everything tomorrow, she told herself. In his room, Damon was sitting by the window, reading a Nancy Drew book. Dani sat beside him. She said. "Your father's at my house right now." "My father? Which one is that?" He looked up from the book. "The one with black hair." "What's he doing there?" Damon asked. "He's been visiting now and then to see your daughter." "Are you sure he's really my father and not after her?" "I know he's not. He can do everything you can and more, and he looks so much like you. I know he's your father." Dani said. "What about the other one? The blond one?" "He's visited me before, but I rarely see him. I don't think he's lying either." "Men can't have children together. How would that work?" "They made it work, somehow. I assume the same way you can make it rain and become invisible." Damon marked his place in the book. He placed it down on a table beside his chair, then put his arm around Dani. "If they're so powerful, and want me so badly, why don't they steal me?" "I think they want you to come willingly." She said, leaning into him. "They terrify me." He turned to face her. Damon put his other arm around her. "I'm sorry." "For what?" She asked. "I am weak." Damon kissed her. He led her over to the bed. Later, when Dani was dressing herself, Damon asked her a question. He played with the charm around her neck. "What's this necklace?" "Your father told me to wear it for protection." She said. "What if it's something else?" "I don't think he's trying to trick me." Dani put her shirt on. "I think he's worried about Damia more than me anyway. Are you sure you don't want to go with them?" "I can't." "What's keeping you here?" She asked. Damon changed the subject. "Could you bring Damia by this weekend?" "If you left, you could still see her. They come and go as they please. They might be able to teach you how to..." "Dani, please. Will you bring her?" Damon insisted. "I will, if she wants to come." "Have you fallen for someone else yet?" He asked. "What?" "I'm sorry. You don't have to bring her. I'm sure she has plenty of things she'd rather be doing on the weekend." Damon turned away from her. "Damon...What's wrong?" She asked. He turned back and forced a smile. "Nothing's wrong. I love you." "I love you too." Dani kissed him and let it go. She left work early, as she promised her daughter she would. Dani swung by the house to pick up Rowan before heading over to the school. Damia had been excited when the last school year started up, but this year, Dani sensed Damia dreaded it. It was only the first week of school, and Damia was already asking her to get out of class. If this continued, she would ask her about it. School was never fun for her. Dani told herself it was likely that Damia simply didn't like it anymore, much lost more children didn't the further they went up in grades. Dani tossed her bag down by the front door. "I'm home. Are you ready?" Dani called out. A blond man dressed in a red tank top and red shorts came out of the kitchen. His hair was down his back, done up in a French braid with a red ribbon on the end. He wasn't Robin. The face was similar, but not quite right. "Who are you?" Dani backed up against the front door. She reached for her gun. "It's me, Rowan. I've disguised myself like you asked." The blond man smiled at her. Dani relaxed. She asked. "Why this form?" "Oh, this? This is Luke's appearance. It's easiest for me to transform myself into people I know well. I doubt anyone from either of those horrid groups would recognize his face at a glance." Rowan took a pair of sunglasses out of his back pocket and put them on. "Shall we go?" Dani led him out to the car. Rowan sat down in the front passenger seat and put his seatbelt on. He locked the car door. Dani was surprised he knew to do that. "Have you been in a car before?" Rowan nodded. "I can drive." "Oh. Are there cars where you live?" Dani asked. "No. No one really needs them there." Rowan turned on the radio. "Luca wanted to learn how to drive. I learned first so I could teach him. Robin can't though. Well, not the correct way." "What do you mean?" "He can control it through magic. To him, if he can do it with magic, he won't bother learning any other way." Rowan said. Dani backed out of the driveway. "So, this is what your brother-in-law looks like, huh?" "He's pretty cute, isn't he?" Rowan smirked. He rolled down the window. "I've asked him to stop by before, but he's such a hermit these days. He was so wild when we were young." "What does he do all day? I don't know if this is stupid of me to ask or not, but do you...have jobs or bills?" Dani asked. "I don't work a job like you do. My 'job' is to get food. I hunt, fish, and cook. Robin tends to our garden. Luke does something you would think of as a job. He's a blacksmith, but he doesn't work for money. He barters for his services. Quite handy having him around when I need something fixed or replaced. His husband works alongside him. I split some of my kills with them. There are places where money is used and people need professions to maintain their residence, but I don't live in a place like that. My land is my land because it's where my home is, and that's really all there is to it." Rowan explained. 'How vast is this place?' Dani tried to imagine. "What does your house look like?" "It's nicer than these poorly built boxes. More efficient as well." "Do you have electricity?" She asked. "Yes, and running water. That's what you were going to ask, wasn't it?" Rowan pulled the shades down slightly and looked over at her. "Yes...How do you have those things?" "Magic." Rowan put his hand out the window for a moment. The wind howled outside the car. "I have to use magic to run everything in my home. That's why at least one of us has to always be sober." "What does drinking have to do with it?" Dani asked. "You can't perform magic if you have alcohol in your blood." He said. Dani remembered something from a long time ago. "But...wait, Damon told me the first time he met you, you offered him alcohol." "Oh, that. I altered the flavor of some grape juice to make him think he was drinking something alcoholic. I added it to a flask for added visual effect." Rowan laughed about it. "Why don't you just take him home?" Dani asked. "I can't. He has to come on his own." "Why?" It started raining outside. Rowan closed the window. "He is the very barrier to stopping me." "What do you mean?" She asked. "When he is afraid, he puts up an invisible shield. My magic can't get through to him then, nor can Robin's despite Robin being far more skilled than both of us. Those who don't know how to correctly channel their energy, but are born with great magical strength, are extremely dangerous under the wrong conditions. If he wished it hard enough, he could kill me. When he was born, we didn't worry about those sort of things. Robin was going to train him from an early age, but they snatched him from us. They have no idea what he can really do if they pushed him too much." Rowan looked out the window at the storm. Lightning struck down on the road much further ahead of them. The lightning strike startled Dani for a moment. "Why hasn't anything bad happened yet?" "That was my doing. While we did little to affect his personality, I did ask that he have an aversion to violence. I intended it to keep him a peaceful individual. My family history is drenched in blood. In these circumstances, rather than a warrior, I've unintentionally ensured his reaction to danger is to run or give up. He is physically capable, but his mind prevents him from hurting anyone." Rowan said. "But there are ways to escape without hurting people. He could have still run away from the hospital. Why did he not run until I wanted to?" "That one's easy." Rowan changed the radio station. "I think you already know why. You stayed quite a while too. Why didn't you try to escape right away?" Dani gripped the steering wheel tightly. Her heart ached. "All that time...he was waiting on his parents to free him, the ones he saw as his parents." "And they never came." Rowan said. He propped his elbow against the door and rested his head against his hand. "Robin and I considered letting them keep him if they had become a close family, and keeping Luca for ourselves. We were prepared to do that, because we didn't want to hurt him. They'd cast him aside by then, and only wanted Luca back. That they couldn't at least care for my son while searching for theirs...is unforgivable to me. I know Raven likely knew they would never come back, but children can be quite foolish in hoping for the love of a cruel parent. It is a yearning and pain I have also known." "Are you talking about your father?" Dani asked. "He loved no one but himself. Everyone else was his plaything for him or there to stroke his ego. Outside of that, we had no use to him." Rowan spoke coldly. "I have also known that pain." Dani confirmed to Rowan what he had already implied about her. She glanced over at him. The man beside her was centuries her senior. She wondered what words he could offer her about that. "What did you do?" Rowan took the shades off. He smiled, radiating warmth. "I gave up on wanting his love. I had plenty of love from other people." "I've always thought of my family as so small...my aunt and my daughter, but Corbin said to me that Damon is my family too. And if he is, then you..." Dani kept her eyes forward. "I don't know if you consider me your family or a nuisance." "I consider you my daughter-in-law." Rowan said. Dani's face flushed. "Damon and I aren't married." "That doesn't really matter." "About Damia...she has powers like her father...is she..." "Dangerous? No, Robin's been training her. You don't need to worry about that." Rowan pointed to a sign coming up on the right side of the road. "Is this it?" Dani looked where he was pointing. "Yes." She went inside to get Damia. Rowan waited in the car. Damia noticed him when she went to open the front passenger door. Seeing him there, she went to the back instead and sat in the passenger seat behind the driver's seat. Dani got them back on the road. Damia was silent for a portion of the trip, staring at Rowan. She broke her silence when they were halfway there. "Do you work with my mom?" Rowan turned to face her. He gave her a devilish grin. The voice he spoke to her with wasn't his real voice. He said. "I don't. I'm her new boyfriend." "What?!" Damia looked over at her mother for confirmation. Rowan couldn't stop laughing. "That's not funny." Dani rolled her eyes at him. "Damia, it's me." Rowan spoke with his real voice. "I'm in disguise." "Grandpa?" Damia's eyes lit up. "I came with your mom to pick you up, but she was worried about those bad people seeing me around you. What do you think? How's my disguise?" Rowan turned back to face forward. "I had no idea it was you." Damia leaned forward in her seat. "Who are you disguised as?" "Your great-uncle, Luke. Robin's brother." Rowan turned back again. He pointed to his eyes. "Look, same color as you." Damia looked into them. "It's weird hearing your voice with a different body." Rowan and Damia spent the afternoon and a good portion of the night together. Outside of dinner, Dani left them alone. Dani watched them occasionally from her bedroom window. Rowan enveloped the area surrounding the backyard in a thick fog to conceal them. In the center of the fog, blue lights illuminated their feet. All the flowers in Dani's garden were covered in specks of glowing blue. From above, she watched Rowan help her make the blue lights with her hands. Moonbeams, cast from the full, white light above, danced on their skin to give the illusion of transparency. Like the floating orbs around them, they moved like ghosts rising from their graves for a night of mischief. Rowan brought Damia inside at midnight. He carried her in his arms. The girl was fast asleep. "She's out cold." Rowan told her mother. "I'll put her to bed." Dani held her arms out. "I can do it, if you're alright with that." He said. "Why don't you help me?" "Alright." Dani took Damia from him. Rowan got the bed ready. She took off Damia's shoes, socks, and pants, then put on a pair of pajama shorts. He pulled the covers up over Damia when she was done. Rowan kissed her on the forehead. "Goodnight, my little bird." "Little bird?" Dani kissed her on the forehead too. "I suppose she is, isn't she? Are you leaving?" "I should be going. It's already late out." Rowan said. "How long do you need to travel?" Dani walked with him out of the room. She turned off Damia's bedroom light and slowly closed the door. "Not long, but I'll have to wait a little longer before I go straight home. It's not wise to travel around my home before sunrise and after sunset. I might take a walk around here for a while first." Rowan said. "It won't be sunrise for several hours. Do you live in a different time zone?" She asked. "Yes." Dani waited for him to elaborate further. When he did not, she accepted he likely would never tell her. The silence between them was unbearable for her. "You can stay the night again. I don't mind." Rowan opened Dani's bedroom door. "Planning on getting a few more secrets out of me?" "I don't know. It feels rude to tell you to leave so late at night." She said. That was true, but she had to admit to herself that he was right as well. "Well, if you don't mind, I'd prefer not to go out at night. I'll have to tell Robin I'm staying another night." Rowan walked inside. "How will you do that? Do you have...phones?" She asked. "Hold on." Rowan held up his hand. He stood in place, then sat down on the bed. "Alright, he knows." "But...you didn't do anything?" "I told him mentally." Rowan took his shoes off. "How...how do you know he heard you? How did you do that?!" "Just a bit of magic." Dani waited for him to explain that, but he didn't. She went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. When she got back, Rowan was brushing his hair. He took his shirt off and lay down. Dani joined him on the bed, keeping some distance between them. "Do you mind if I watch TV before bed?" She asked. "That's...that box thing, right? I don't mind." Rowan rolled over on his side. Dani turned on the TV to watch the news. A commercial for Moone & Wolfe aired advertising a hospital opening nearby. "Even here?" Dani felt sick. "They're quite infectious, aren't they? Like a plague spreading from town to town." Rowan said. "Ever since Corbin told me about it, I've been noticing how much medical advertising is on TV. There's so much advertising in general. The moon has other outlets too, a music label and they used to make films. They have a small publishing company too. If they own a little of everything, how much could they manipulate people's minds?" Dani asked. She rested back on her pillow. "Propaganda is an old technique. I've used it myself." Rowan sat up. He stared at the TV. "A lot has changed since I left, but in many ways, humans are the same as ever. It takes very little to change a man's mind when one knows the right words to say. But back then, it wasn't as easy to access the minds of so many at once. And now, they've doubled their power." "What do you mean double?" Dani asked. "Women have greater power now, and so will be targeted in ways they wouldn't have been back then. The more power one gains, the more others will seek to exploit you to gain more power for themselves. Though what disturbs me more is the way you sell...things. Do people really buy things so frequently? What for? How fragile are your things that you need to replace them so often?" Rowan asked. "A lot of it is about trends, but...there's also a lot of things that are cheaply made to keep the prices low." Dani explained to him. "So you get a poorly made item so you can replace the poorly made item multiple times? That seems foolish and financially unsound for the person buying. Why not make your own?" Rowan asked. "I wouldn't be able to make most things I need." Rowan raised an eyebrow. "Do you not know how to make clothes?" "No." She answered. "Well, you did come from a wealthy family, but surely poorer women know how to make clothes, right?" 'He is from the fifteenth century.' Dani reminded herself. "Some might, but most people don't make their own clothes. I've met people who only eat out. Many people don't know how to cook. And I wouldn't be able to make anything else in my house. I can't make furniture." "If your clothes get a hole in them...surely, you don't throw them out...?" Rowan asked, expecting her to refute him. "I...well, a lot might. Some might patch it, most would replace it." Dani avoided answering him directly. She didn't want to tell him she had no idea how to sew at all. "You all really do live like little kings. But who makes the items I see in stores? Those are not made by the people running the stores?" Rowan asked her. "Most of that comes from overseas. They're made in poorer countries, because it's cheaper that way." "Are they conquered people? Why do they accept less money if they're doing most of the work for you?" "I...well, the standard of living is different there...I don't know. That's just how it is." She couldn't come up with a good explanation for it. She didn't really know much about that side of business herself. "Well, that settles it. I'm teaching Damia how to make clothes. I won't stand for her being so helpless." Rowan decided. "I bet she'd be good at working with wood too. Or perhaps leatherworking...And I must show her how to make shoes. Shoes are very important." "I thought you used to be really wealthy. Why do you know all of that stuff?" Dani asked. "Because while I do sometimes travel, I am a hermit, the same as my husband. I have to rely on myself for most things. For most of my life, people have come to us, not the other way around." Rowan said. "You complained to me earlier about your brother-in-law not leaving his house much. Was that jealousy?" Dani asked. "Oh, Luke is much worse than us. He would be quite content to work on a few knives for half the day, then sit outside and stare at the ocean until sunset. I doubt he will ever want to see human society again. It's scarred him far too deeply for him to care for it anymore, and he has no interest in exploring any other societies either." Rowan lay back down. He pulled the sheets up higher. "I shouldn't complain too much about him. He's lost his wildness, but he seems happier now." "He doesn't get bored of that after centuries?" "I don't really get bored myself. It's much easier to be content with things when you are already happy. I enjoy hunting. I never get bored of it." Rowan rolled back over, facing the wall. "Hmm...I should have him make you some pots and pans for your kitchen. Then you won't need to keep buying those poorly made ones." "You don't need to do that." "Oh, he'll love doing it. Besides that, when you're older, you can give it to Damia or any other children you have. It will last far longer than the ones in your kitchen now." "That's really not necessary." "Nonsense." Rowan turned back over to face her. "Oh, I wanted to ask you if I could take Damia on a hunting trip one day." "I'd rather you didn't." Dani said. 'Where exactly would you be taking her?' "Alright, but I think it'd be good for her. It's good to know how to catch your own meat if you need to." "There's plenty at the store." Dani said. Rowan chuckled. "I'll ask her when she's an adult." Rowan left in the morning before Dani and Damia left for the day. Months passed and the year 2000 came, ending the 90s. All of the offices at Aurora now had computers. Faxing was still the preferred method of sending most things internally. Jake was used to computers already. He had one at home. Jake showed Dani how to work it. She got used to the basic functions of it with enough ease to be able to teach Damon how to use one when he took an interest in getting one himself. Dani managed to convince Robert to allow Damon to have internet access in his room. He permitted it, with some restrictions on what Damon was allowed to do with it. He was forbidden from putting online, chatting with, or emailing anyone information about Aurora or Moone & Wolfe. Robert required him to sign a contract before letting him get online. Damon did so without a second thought. Now, Damon had a third window into the outside world. He watched Dani with glee as she got him online for the first time. "What do you want to search for?" Dani asked him. "I...I don't know." Damon said. "You pick something." Dani searched for free copies of books online. She found a website hosting some. "Look, you don't have to buy these." Damon's excitement grew. He took over with the mouse and clicked on the mystery section. "There's a lot of them." "Hours worth of reading with no need to order." Dani got up to let Damon sit down. He took her place in front of the computer. Damon struggled with typing. He took a long time to type anything out. Dani helped him find a program to teach him how to type properly. "That mail thing. How do I set one up?" Damon asked. "Are you allowed to have one?" Dani asked back. "He said I couldn't talk about them in any mail. He didn't say I couldn't use it at all." Damon said. "What are you going to use it for?" Dani asked. "You have one, don't you?" "An email address? I do have one for work, but I don't have a computer at home." She said. "You know...Corbin has a computer at home. Why don't you email him?" "What for?" Damon searched information about using email. "He knows Scott Thomas, AB14. He could send you pictures of him." Dani said. She had his full attention then. Damon asked, "He wouldn't mind, would he?" "I doubt it." Dani said. "If you get him started talking about family, he'll never shut up." "Could you ask him to do that for me?" Damon asked. "Sure." Dani said. As promised, she asked Jake about it later that day. Jake laughed about it, but agreed to it. Dani gave him the email address she and Damon had set up together. The next day, she asked Damon if he received anything from Jake yet. Damon's eyes had bags under them, but he looked happy. "Uh huh. He sent me a lot of them, but um...I think I've been saving too much stuff to the computer. It's really slow now." "I'll pick you up some floppy discs later. You can put them on those to free up space on the computer." Dani sat with him. "What have you been doing?" "Reading, searching...I went into a couple of chatrooms. That was fun. Jake's been sending me messages back and forth. He helped me with setting up an account to chat with." Damon said. The computer made a noise. Damon opened up the chat client he downloaded. "Oh, he sent me one just now." "He's been chatting with you during work hours?" Dani asked. "Yeah, but don't you?" Damon teased her. Dani laughed at herself. The computer kept Damon's spirits up more than the TV and books did, for the time being. Both of those had elevated his mood before, but the effect gradually wore off. She wondered how long Damon would be entertained by the computer before his sadness returned. Over the next few months, Dani saw Rowan a couple of times, but he and Robin mostly visited Damia without her being present for it. Whether Damia said anything about them visiting or not, Dani always knew when they did. Damia couldn't contain herself in showing off whatever new thing they taught her how to do or had given her as a gift. They came most often during the warmer months, she noticed. Sometime in July, when Damia was on summer vacation, Dani came home to find her performing magic in the kitchen. Damia stood over a teapot, hands a few inches above it. The bot glowed with a white light. Dani stood beside her. "What are you doing?" "Grandpa taught me a recipe for cramps. I'm making it." Damia said. She lowered her hands. The light faded. Damia poured herself a mug of tea. "Which one taught you that?" Dani asked. "Grandpa Rin." Damia said. She blew on the tea before taking a sip. "Rin?" "That's what he told me to call him. He told me I shouldn't use his real name much. Come to think of it, you don't talk to him much do you?" Damia drank more of her tea. "Oh, you mean the blond one." Dani said. Robin hadn't given her an alias before. She made sure to try to remember it. "When did he teach you this?" "Last month." Damia showed off the tea. "I enchanted it! I made it so it'll make me less tired too. Do you want me to make you one too?" It looked completely ordinary to Dani, but she wanted to give it a try. The painkiller she took earlier had worn off. "Alright." Damia got a mug down from the cabinet. She poured her mother some tea and handed it to her. "My great-uncle came by last time too." "It was...Luke?" Dani asked. She took the mug from her daughter. "Yeah. He made me a knife for cooking with." "Oh, did he?" Dani smiled, but she wanted to yell at them to stop giving her daughter sharp things without her permission. "May I see it?" "Are you going to take it away? It's only for cooking. I won't use it for anything else." Damia said. "Let me see it, and I'll decide if you can handle it by yourself." Dani said. "Okay..." Damia opened the kitchen drawer with the rest of their knives. She picked up a knife out of it. The knife had a bird and a dragon design along the handle. "See? It's not that big." Dani took it from her and looked at it more closely. "I think you're old enough to handle it. Did he give you anything else?" "He did, but I ate it." Damia said. "What was it?" "Beef jerky, a whole bag...I kinda ate it all before he left..." Damia added. "It wasn't a really big bag or anything." "Must have been tasty." Dani said. "Next time, save me a piece." "Kay." Damia took another sip of her tea. "Hey Mom, how come my grandparents are both men?" "Your father wasn't born in an ordinary way. They used magic." Dani said. "How come they're married? Why can't men get married here?" Damia asked. "Aunt Miranda can't marry her girlfriend." "Our laws don't allow that. They can do that where they live." Dani explained. "But why is it?" "Some people think it's wrong." "Do you think it's wrong?" Damia asked her. "Well, I suppose if two men can stay happily married for half a millennium, they must be doing something right." Dani answered. "Uncle Luke told me his sister married a princess, and she lives on an island with a bunch of pretty girls." Damia poured herself some more tea. "They sit around and braid each others hair and make flowers grow." "Oh, does she?" Dani laughed. 'Who is his sister? Sappho?' "It's not fair. Why can't girls marry girls here? That'd be much more fun." Damia said as she downed more of the tea. Dani's heart sped up. "You don't want to date any boys? They're not all that bad, you know." "But boys just aren't pretty like girls are." Damia whined. "I guess there is one boy at school who's kind of cute, but the rest are gross." Dani was unsure what her daughter's words meant. She couldn't tell if it was a sign that her daughter might be attracted to girls or simply didn't have any interest in anyone yet. Given her age, Dani decided not to push the topic. Whatever the truth was, she was certain Damia would tell her in time or it would become obvious to Dani anyway. "Your aunt would be pretty happy if she could get married." "Exactly! It's not fair. They should change that. Then, at the wedding, there could be two big, pretty dresses instead of one and double the brides' maids. And the decorations..." "Oh, do I have a little wedding planner in the making?" Dani laughed at the thought. 'Maybe it really is that she isn't interested in dating yet. We'll see.' "I think I'd rather make the clothes. Oh, Grandpa Ro helped me finish up a new dress. Let me show you." Damia ran to her room. Dani assumed 'Ro' must have been short for 'Rowan' if 'Rin' was Robin. Damia returned with a brightly colored sun dress. "Isn't it pretty? I came up with the design!" "It's very nice." Dani said. "Why don't you put it on for me so I can see it better?" Damia nodded and went to her room to change. She returned and spun around to show off her dress. "You look beautiful." Dani said. Damia bowed before her mother, cheeks red. She looked up. "Mom, I know you're probably gonna say no, but...Grandpa Ro wanted me to ask if I could go hunting with him sometime." "I already told him no. You can go with him when you're an adult." Dani said. "He told me you'd say that. Oh well." Damia stood up straight. "There was something else I wanted to talk to you about. This year, I want to try entering an archery competition." "You feel ready for it?" "Yeah. I don't think I'll win one, but I want to see how I'll do." Damia said. She grabbed a piece of paper off the table and handed it to her mother. "There's a competition nearby next month, but there's a fee to enter." Dani looked over the paper. "Alright. We'll go." "Really?! Thank you!" Damia hugged her mom. Dani took her daughter to several competitions that year. Damia won a few prizes. Some of it was equipment, some were small cash prizes. Damia used her prize winnings to buy more art supplies. Jake came to a couple of the competitions for support, as a favor to Damon. To Dani's surprise, Jake and Damon hit it off and were now good friends. Rowan and Robin attended one together, in disguise. At work, Jake and Dani kept tabs on what the researchers at Moone & Wolfe were up to, but very little progress was made in stopping anything. Dani sometimes suspected that it was Robert himself getting in their way, and questioned what his real intentions were. She spent plenty of time with Damon. He was happy, most days, but his sadness returned at full force on others. For the most part, he seemed alright. Dani thought, maybe, they could carry on like this forever. In fall of 2001, Damon pushed her away. She came to visit him in the later half of the day like she always did. Dani went to kiss him to greet him. He put his hands up to stop her. Dani was taken aback by this. "What's wrong?" "We have to stop this." He said. "Why?" "Because I love you." Damon said. "And you need to move on. You should have a normal relationship." Dani didn't understand why he was pushing this again. He hadn't brought anything like this up in over a year. "What about you?" "They did some tests on me yesterday." Damon sunk down in his chair. He stared out the window. "Apparently, the cells in my body have some unusual characteristics. I'm not aging." "I know." Dani said. Damon looked up at her in surprise. "You knew?" "Your father told me. You won't age like me. They don't age. They're hundreds of years old." Dani said. "That's what the researchers told me, that I might be able to live long like that." He watched the leaves fall from the trees and be captured by the wind. "Your hair is starting to grey." "Am I not attractive to you anymore?" Dani asked. "I don't care if all your hair goes white." He clenched his fists. "I'm going to outlive you. My body guarantees it, unless they manage to murder me. Please, don't waste anymore of your time on me. I want you to live a normal, happy life. You shouldn't be stuck in this hell with me. That's why I never visited you after we first separated. I wanted to see you so badly, but I didn't...I didn't want you dragged into this anymore. Please, if you love me, love someone else. Don't touch me again. Don't kiss me. Tell me you've fallen head over heels for some guy and you're getting married. Please, live, because I am not." "If I fall in love with someone else, what's left for you? You won't leave this place. Do you not want to see your daughter anymore?" Dani asked. Her heart was heavy, but she saw an opportunity she knew she had to take. "Of course I do, but I don't want her in this awful place. I don't want her to see this place at all and risk them looking at her for more than a second." Damon said. Dani bit her lip. She forced the words out. "If I move on and get married, will you leave?" "What?" Damon looked up. "If I do this, will you leave? Promise me, you'll leave and never come back." Dani said. She held back her tears, keeping her face calm. "You have a home with them. No one here or from the moon can touch you there." "If I make a vow like that, will you promise me you'll let my daughter go too, if her body turns out to be like mine?" Damon asked. "That's her decision. If she wants to go there with you, I won't stop her, and I'll never let them have her." Damon stood up. He gazed into Dani's eyes with deep longing. "Then, Dani, please go fall in love with someone else." After work, Dani invited Jake over to talk about what happened. She sat with him outside in the backyard. "Is that so? He told you that." Jake opened up a can of soda. He looked up at the sky. "Why don't we get married?" Dani's eyes turned to him, not believing his words. "What?" "Marry me." He had the same goofy smile on his face he always did when he joked around. His eyes told Dani a different story. "Then, he can go." "But...why would you do that?" She asked. "Because you're both dying like this." Jake kept his eyes on her. "I don't care if you love him until the day I die. I don't know. When I see him, I see Scott and I don't want him in there. We're not family, but he feels like he is. And I think that's because of you and Damia. You two feel like family too, and he's definitely part of your family. If you're my family, then he is, so I can't let him stay there." "I don't understand you." Dani said. "You want him to be free too. I'm good at lying. If you want to see someone else or stay faithful to him or whatever, that's up to you. I won't stop you." He said. "As long as he's here, you're trapped here too. I've been thinking that I should find a way to free you. The only way to free you is to free him, and the only way he'll walk out of there is if you're marrying someone else. The solution is simple." "Why would you want to do all of that for us?" Dani asked. "I told you. You're family to me now. Let's make it official." "I don't know...if I can..." Her heart pounded in her head. She needed to do this. She didn't want it to end. "Dani, you don't have to move on from him if you don't want to. But you'll have to pretend, at least for him. Let him think it. You're the only one with the key to the birdcage." Jake put his hand on hers. "Give it some thought. What is it that's most important to you?" "Stay tonight." Dani said. Jake pulled away from her. "Are you sure?" "Yes." Damia came outside. She noticed Jake there. Damia asked. "Do you guys have a lot of work tonight?" "Yeah, we do." Jake said. "I'll probably be here all night." "Oh, okay." Damia said. She turned to her mother. "Can I eat dinner outside? I wanted to watch the sunset." "Okay." Dani nodded. She got up to start on dinner. Jake helped Damia with her homework while Dani cooked. Later, when Damia had gone to bed, they went to Dani's room. Jake asked her again. "Are you sure you about this?" "I want to give it a shot." Dani said. She kept her back turned to him. "But I don't know...how far I can take this." "It can go as far as you want." The entire time, she felt guilty. The man she was touching wasn't Damon. She felt like she was cheating, even though she knew she wasn't. Jake moved away from her afterwards. He sat up and grabbed his pants. "Are you leaving?" Dani asked. "Your eyes tell me everything." He puts his pants on. "I can't have him." Dani gripped the sheets with her hands. "I have to break my heart to free him, but I don't know if I can love you." "You don't have to love me. We don't have to have sex. I told you I'm good at lying. I can do everything everyone will want to see. We can do something else behind closed doors." Jake put his shirt on. "You know, you're not as good at lying as you act like you are." Dani wrapped an arm around one of his. "What?" Jake looked over at her. "I know you're in love with me." Dani met his gaze with intensity. "I've known for years. Is this really about helping Damon or getting what you want?" "I can set you up with someone else. I don't care if it's me. I offered myself up first because I know I'd do it. But you're not entirely wrong. I am selfish." Jake laughed at himself. "I would fall for the only person who can see through me. So, what do you want to do?" Dani asked. "If anyone tries to get in the way of freeing him, would you risk dying to get him out of there? I need to know." Jake wasted no time in giving her an answer. "Without question." Dani recalled their conversation earlier. She put her hand over his. "Then I accept your offer, and I expect that loyalty to extend to my daughter." "Oh, I'd have risked dying for her years ago. You don't need to worry about that. Someone in my family's gonna get me killed cause I'm gonna have to save them. I don't care which one it is. That's how I want it." He smiled at her. "I don't know if I can fake more than for a crowd." She said. "That's okay, but do you think we could keep trying? I can't replace Damon. I'm not trying to. I..." "I can't stand it." Dani cut him off. She smiled at him. "Seriousness isn't for you. Make me laugh." Jake laughed with her. "You're right. That's not really my style, huh? How about we try again tonight, Dani? I bet I can work out what you really like." Dani indulged his foolishness, less guilty this time. He fell asleep beside her not long after. That night, she dreamt of floating. Damon held onto her as they drifted down from somewhere far away, having dropped too far to see where they came from and too far from the ground to see where they were going. They moved together like leaves on the wind, without purpose or direction. The world was far away and close, empty and full. Her heart was breaking and overflowing. They exchanged no words, and didn't need to. Behind him, she saw something beautiful. When she woke, she couldn't remember what it was. Something black and big, delicate and light. She could almost see what it was, but the image was too hazy in her mind. Jake was holding on to her from behind, still dreaming. She thought back on her life. After she escaped and Damia was born, when she attended college, Dani thought about dating other men, but her heart betrayed her. She couldn't convince herself to want anyone other than him. There had only ever been three men she allowed to sleep in bed with her through the night, Damon, Rowan, and Jake. She laughed at herself that one of those three had nothing to do with sex at all. It was surprisingly natural, she felt, to see Jake there beside her. He had been beside her a long time now. No matter how much she put up a barrier between herself and others, he always managed to slip right through. Maybe, she thought, she could try this. After all, she told herself, plenty of widows love again after losing ones they never stopped loving. To free Damon would be to let him go, from herself and this world. Death was an apt comparison. But unlike those women, she would help him walk to that other side, and rather than die, he would begin to live. She had to, to save him from a real death. Whether by Aurora or the moon, or by Damon's own hands, it was coming if she did not interfere. He would never run on his own. She had the key to the door, and everyone around her knew that. Dani was tired of being used by other people. She was tired of seeing fresh wounds on his body and unspoken agony in his weary eyes. She was tired of wondering what sort of sick experiment they would put him through next, and the twisted justifications Robert would hand her if she complained. And above all, she was sick of herself for not doing this sooner. Dani loved him more than anyone. That was why she could so easily be trapped and go along with this. This situation allowed her to see him constantly. The same as she could when they were running in fear, the same as when they were locked in that horrid hospital. It was all the same. And she loved him far too much to let this go on. If it took breaking her own heart and never seeing him again to end this alluring nightmare, then it had to be done. This time, she would deliver him his freedom. Dani prepared herself for the day. She cleansed her mind as she washed her body in the shower. Dani cooked breakfast in one of the pans Rowan had gifted her. The small raven design on the handle seemed to shine more than usual. Jake ate breakfast with her and Damia. He left around lunch and told her he would call her later that day. Dani worked on preparing her mind. She was going to have to tell Damon about her and Jake. As much as she was now determined to free him, every part of her ached at the thought of saying such words to him. Dani realized she couldn't do it right away. She doubted he would believe her if she said something to him so soon after he told her to move on. Dani put those thoughts aside for the time being. She asked Damia if she wanted to go out anywhere. Damia told her no, and that she wanted to study for school in her room. At dinner, Damia didn't speak to her. Dani confronted her in the evening, when she turned her down to watch the stars. "What's wrong? You've been avoiding me all day." Dani asked. Damia turned away from her mother. "Nothing." Dani softened her voice. "Damia, I can tell something's bothering you. It's okay. You can tell me." Damia's shoulder's tensed. "I saw him." "You saw who?" Dani asked. Her posture slouched down. "Jake was sleeping in your bed." Dani went quiet. Her face flushed. She took a deep breath. "Oh. Well, I suppose we need to have a talk." Damia looked back at her mother with tears in her eyes. "You don't love Dad anymore?" "I do, but...well, there's a few things we need to talk about, about your father and about you." Dani wiped away the tears on her daughter's face. "Let's sit outside." Damia didn't respond. She followed her mother outside. Damia sat down in one of the chairs, her face red and her eyes swollen. Dani sat in the other chair. She brought a box of tissues with her. "I'm sorry. I was going to tell you everything, but I...wasn't ready yet. Recently, they did some tests on your father and determined that he's not aging, just like your grandparents. When he realized, he told me he didn't want us to be involved romantically anymore. He didn't want me to stay stuck with someone who can't age with me, and he told me he would finally leave with your grandparents if I married someone else. He won't free himself until he thinks I've moved on." Dani said. "That doesn't mean you have to really do that." The tears flowed down the girl's cheeks. "I know, but Damia, when I mean freeing him, I mean, he won't ever come back here. Neither of us will see him again. That's the safest option for him, to go live with your grandparents far away from here. We'll have to say goodbye to him." Dani handed her the box. Damia refused to take it. "Isn't there any other way?" "No, both sides want him too much. If he lived here, he'd never be safe and neither would we. It has to be like this. You may not understand this yet, but I've been trying to force it. I know I have to let him go, and to do that, I have to move on." Dani held back tears of her own. "You don't know yet the true pain of loneliness." "Jake isn't my father." Damia snapped back. "I know. He never will be, but he's a good person and he's doing this to help your father. And me. He wants to see your father freed too. Last night, he agreed he'd risk his life to make sure we can get your father out of there." Dani said. Damia's frustration and anger left her. Her face went pale. "Mom...you're not going to die, right? Are they going to come after you?" "I'm trying not to. Robert told me he could leave if he wanted. We have to do a lot of paperwork, but I know he's going to push back and I don't know if he's as willing to give up your father so easily as he claims." Dani put her hands together in her lap. "I don't know what will happen." Damia cried more. "It's not fair. Why do they have to do all this to him?" Dani got up from her chair. She knelt before her daughter and hugged her. "Because the world is full of a lot of bad things. That's why we can't let anyone see what you can do. If they don't know, they won't come after you like they did with your father." Damia hugged her back. She cried on her mother's shoulder. "I hate them all." "I know. I do too." She wiped Damia's face off. "There's something else we need to discuss. The results of that tests...might apply to you too. We don't know for sure, but...when your body finishes completely developing, you may stop aging. From your father's records, it looks like his body stopped in his mid to late twenties." Damia wiped her nose. "What does that mean? I'll look twenty-five even when I'm seventy?" "You may look twenty-five at two hundred." Dani said. A shiver went down Damia's spine. "What? Wait, so...then Dad's exactly like them? Is Dad going to live as long as my grandparents?" "It looks that way." "Then, if he stayed here...they could keep him prisoner for centuries..." Damia bit her lip in an attempt to stop herself from crying more. There was too much pain inside her. It came out anyway. "That's why I have to get him to leave us. So they can't. Do you understand?" Dani asked. Seeing her daughter cry so much forced open up the cracks already forming in her heart even wider. Damia nodded through her tears. "If I live as long as my grandparents...what if I live so long I forget everybody?" "I don't think you'll forget anyone important, no matter how long you live." Dani blinked several times to stop herself from crying. "In a way, if you live really long, a part of them will still be alive, living in your memories." "Mommy, that means you're gonna die before me." "Damia, I was always meant to die before you. I'm your mom. That's a normal part of life." Dani reminded her. "But I wouldn't live that much longer afterwards! It'd be decades, not centuries! Only a fraction of my life would be without you!" Damia cried out. Dani held her closer. "Shh..." Dani did her best to comfort her daughter, but when Damia finished crying, she returned to her room to be alone. Dani gave her space to come to terms with everything. That night, she spoke with Jake on the phone. "I told Damia about everything earlier." Dani said. "How'd she take it?" Jake asked. "It will be a while before she accepts it." Dani said. Her own eyes were red from crying. "That's about all you can expect. How are you doing?" Jake asked. Dani twirled the cord of the phone around her finger. "About the same." "When do you plan on telling him?" Jake asked. "I don't know yet. Not immediately. He won't believe me if I tell him so soon." Dani said. "I don't know what I should do...tomorrow...Should I stop visiting him?" "No, I don't think so. It's gonna hurt, but you should visit him until he leaves. You can give him 'updates' on how you're moving on, so he believes it more and can get himself ready to leave." Jake's tone turned more serious. "And personally, I'd worry about him not seeing at least one person he cares about regularly. Isolation and loneliness are dangerous. Aurora may not figure out how to kill him, but I bet he can find a way himself. We can't let that happen." "Right." Dani said. She hung up the phone. Seeing Damon after that was painful for the both of them. She informed him of her intention to look for a new boyfriend. Damon told her she didn't need to keep seeing him anymore. Dani promised she would keep visiting him until the day he finally left. As she suspected, telling him she intended to move on wasn't enough. He needed more proof than that of her intentions. The following night, she had a visitor when she was sitting outside. Robin sat down beside her. "You." Dani said. "Hello, Dani." He greeted her. "Why are you here?" She asked. "I came to see my granddaughter. I heard something interesting from her about my son." Robin's eyes were full of light. He smiled widely. "Are you really planning on getting him out of there soon?" "I am going to try." Dani nodded. "He's almost ready now. I don't think it'll be that much longer. Then, he'll be yours again." "Thank you." Robin took her hand. "I'm counting on you. I swear to you on my life, I will never allow anyone to ever hurt him again." "I'll bring him to you soon. Before the year is over, he'll be yours again." Dani said. Hearing those words both made her joyous and sad. Dani went on dates with Jake. He stayed the night sometimes. Her guilt faded more and more. Whenever it cropped up, she thought of Damon. She pictured him walking through a forest, somewhere far away from anywhere she knew, performing magic without a care. She could see him standing underneath a beautiful storm, the source of its power. The mark on his back would be gone, and its secret on full display. Though she may never know what was hidden there, it didn't matter. She wanted him to be free to show it to anyone he pleased. She was nearly ready to tell him that she was marrying Jake. There was one more matter she needed to deal with before that. In late October, Jake received some more information about the Thomas family. On one of his missions undercover at Moone & Wolfe, he managed to sneak out several documents about a boy named Idris Thomas. Jake was a favorite of the Summerfields, but records related to this boy were kept very secretive. Jake did not actually have the clearance to see them. "Idris Thomas? Is he Scott's brother?" Dani asked. She looked through the folder. There was a photo of a teenage boy in it, but this boy had brown hair instead of blond. His facial features were very different from Scott's. "No, he's the biological son of the people Scott was raised by. They have two at this point. The other one is named Eric. He's a little kid, and they seem to be holding off on using him as a test subject. Looks like he was more of an 'accident' than planned the way Idris was. You've read some of Scott's file before, right? Do you recall them mentioning anything about trying to make a lab rat the 'natural' way?" Jake asked. "Vaguely." Dani said. The contents of Scott's files were a very hazy, distant memory now. "Idris was the result of that." Jake continued. "From what I've read, they did a lot of experiments on his mother, Serena Thomas, while she was pregnant. Idris was one of two children that came out of this project. The other is a girl named Sarah Winter." "What are they doing with them?" Dani asked. "Like all the other children, they're using them to try and replicate the sort of things Damon can do, and performing some of their usual, unethical bullshit on them. Looks like they're planning on moving on to a new phase of their research. I haven't gotten the full details on that yet. Tom really doesn't want whatever that's about to get out." Jake said. "What about the younger one, Eric?" Dani read over the pages. Some of the descriptions of what they were doing to Idris brought back her memories from that night she went exploring the research facility with Damon. Despite all of the horrible things she had seen over the years, reading about children being tortured never stopped disturbing and enraging her. "Right now, Tom isn't interested in using Eric as a test subject, but Edith is. If she ever gets hold of the company from her brother, both brothers will get picked clean." Jake sighed. He leaned back in his chair. "Do they ever stop?" "No, they never do." "Jake, if I leave the company...what will happen to me? Will Robert have me killed?" Dani asked. She hadn't wanted to bring it up before. The only reason she was here was for Damon. "If Damon's not going to be here...I don't want to do this anymore." "I can protect you." Jake held her hand under the desk. "That's what I do best. I won't let anyone touch my family and get away with it." "Tomorrow, I'm going to tell Damon about the wedding." Dani's hand shook. "I don't know what Robert will do." "I've got your back. Don't worry about it." Jake assured her. He held her hand tighter. "Don't worry about anything but him. Tomorrow, you set him free." Dani couldn't stop shaking. She avoided seeing Damon that day. At home, she could barely face her daughter or sleep. Damia watched over her, as nervous as her mother was. On October 31st, 2001, Dani went to see Damon to inform him of her engagement. It had taken her weeks to work up the courage to tell him about it. For all that prepping, he was the one who brought it up first. "I heard you're getting married soon." Damon said. "Next summer." Dani said. She sat beside him with her hands between her legs. She couldn't face him. "That's nice." Damon put his hand on hers. He smiled at her. "Are you going to walk me out?" Dani's heart stopped. She expected he might ask her this. That didn't make hearing the words any less painful. "Are you ready?" "Yes." "Do you want to see Damia before you go?" She asked. "No, that'll make it harder for me to leave." Damon shook his head. "Take me to sign the papers. They promised me I could always leave if I wanted. That was the deal." Dani walked him to the office. Robert Blackwell made it obvious he was upset about the situation, but he had no choice but to let Damon go. "I know I told you that you could leave whenever you wanted, but I hoped you wouldn't leave. You've been an invaluable research subject for us. We've made so much progress thanks to you." Robert said. "I know that, and I know it may be selfish of me, but I'd like to spend some time living outside of these walls. I've given you years already. You promised me I could go when I wanted." Damon said. Robert sighed. "I know. If I forced you, I'd be no different than the moon. I have to warn you...if I let you go, I must revoke from you all the protections of Aurora." "I know that. I don't want them anymore." Damon said. "I'd like Dani to escort me out." Robert glanced over at Dani. "Ms. Fox, I had hoped hiring you would prevent this from happening." "You got several years out of him. That's more than you would have gotten if I didn't work for you." Dani said. "And I told you back then, we aren't together anymore." "I'm sure you two think I don't know, but I know that you've been lying to me about that." Robert pulled a device out of his desk drawer. "Hound, give me your right arm. I have to remove the monitor we implanted in you." "I didn't know you did that." Damon looked over his right arm. He couldn't begin to guess where it was. "You weren't supposed to know. It was to monitor your bodily reactions." Robert took his arm and put the device against Damon's wrist where his veins were visible. The machine beeped. Damon flinched. Robert pulled the device away. A small pool of blood formed where the device had been underneath his skin. "Your body gives off a very distinct signal when you have an orgasm. It wasn't hard to check Fox's visits against that signal." Dani's face flushed. Damon balled his fist. "You told me I had privacy." "There were no cameras in your room. We watched nothing. We only know about this because it appeared in our readings of your physical condition, nothing more. What we did when gathering that was no different than what any doctor could get away with doing." Robert put the device away. "A normal doctor would have to get my consent to put any kind of monitoring device inside my body." Damon signed the release papers. "I think we're done here. I'm ready to leave." "Fox, escort him out. I want a full report on today by tomorrow morning." Robert said. "Yes, sir." Dani nodded, but she had no intentions of giving him anything more than a page of vague emptiness. Damon stood up. He walked toward the door. Dani got up to join him. She walked him out of that building the two of them had spent so many cold days inside. Once she returned to work, things would go about as they always did, but he wouldn't be there anymore. They walked out to the parking lot. Other employees stared at Damon. She ignored them. They both got in the car. "Where should I take you?" Dani turned the car on. "Do you remember the forest we stayed in when we ran away from the moon? I want to go back there, and see it with my own eyes." Damon buckled his seat. Dani knew exactly where that was. The trip would take days of driving. "That's a long drive." "Can you take me?" He asked again. "I will. I'll have to call and let everyone know I'll be gone for a while." Dani pulled out of the parking lot. "I'm surprised you want to see that place." "I want to face the place where I was in the most pain and where I was the happiest." Damon was smiling. His eyes watered. "In my dreams, my parents have been visiting me. I told them I might be coming soon. They told me their real names, their full names. You heard one of their names before." "I've heard both." Dani said. "Oh, really? They told me my real name too. Do you know it?" Damon asked her. "Raven Blackwell." "So, you knew that too. I like it better than Damon." Raven said. "They showed me what was behind the mark on my back." "What is it?" She asked. "I'll show you when we get there." Raven laughed under his breath as Aurora's research lab disappeared from their view. "I'm sorry. After all this time, I'm still in love with you." "I know." Dani held back the tears. "I love you too." "Don't tell me that now that I've finally left." Raven bit his lip. "I can love more than one person at once." Dani couldn't stop it. The tears flowed. "I will always love you, for the rest of my life. Please, for the rest of yours, move on and be happy." "I wish the same to you." Raven cried with her. He laughed and wiped his face off. "But you know, I was surprised to hear you're marrying Coyote." "Even you call him that?" "That's what he is. A coyote." Raven grinned at her. "That's not a bad thing. Coyotes are tricky creatures. They're not easily caught. If I have to let go, I'd rather it be to someone like that, someone who can slip out of their grasp." Dani asked him something that had been on her mind for a few years now. "If Damia wants to leave, will you come meet me to take her?" "I will." There was one more question she wanted to ask him. It was a completely selfish one. To ask it betrayed everything she was currently doing. The words forced their way out of her. "What if I wanted to leave with you?" "I don't think you should. Not until Damia is older and knows what she wants. She's only thirteen right now. And I think you should give your other relationship a shot first. Damia may want to stay here. She seems to like her life already." Raven gave her the words she wanted to hear to steer her off that course, but it wasn't enough to dull that want. "Yes, she does." Dani said. "But she also loves her father. Are your parents going to stop coming once you return to them?" "I don't know. I don't know what their plans are." Raven lowered his voice. "I'm afraid...of what's on the other side. All I've ever known is this. But now that I'm leaving this, I feel sick." "What do you mean?" She asked. "I've been a prisoner for most of my life, living in agony. This might sound stupid, but I don't think I ever really felt the depths of it until now. It's like I've been existing all this time, and I'm finally breathing. Now that I can breathe, I can taste how toxic the air is. I know it's probably going to be better over there, but living at all is..." "You'll be alright. You have two parents who've been spending decades trying to get you home. They'll take care of you." "I heard I have a brother too." He said. "I met him. He's nice." Dani said. "His name is..." "Luca." Raven finished her sentence. "He's the one who was supposed to be Damon Hound. He doesn't want to come back either. Maybe it is really nice over there." "I'm sure it is." Dani gripped the steering wheel. "Damon...Raven, if I do want to leave..." He put his hand on her thigh. "I'll wait for you." "That could be decades." "I have decades to spare." Raven smiled. "Besides, I'm sure I won't want to be with anyone for a long time. I have a lot I need to catch up on in terms of starting over and just learning to live. I've got thirty-two years to make up for." "What do you plan on doing?" Dani asked. "I don't know. I guess that's the first thing I'll have to learn is...to decide what I want to do." Raven looked out the window. He laughed under his breath. Old pines passed by them. "I feel like I'm going back in time." "So do I." "Thank you, for taking me there. I know it's a lot to ask." Raven rolled the window down. The autumn air rushed in and filled the car. It was the same scent as the night when they escaped the moon, and the same as the night when her parents first brought her there. The special scent of Halloween, a crisp autumn breeze with smoke and sugar dancing in the captured heat. Sunset wasn't long off, and the moon was already visible in the sky. The bright, round light had to be almost or completely full, Dani thought. The first night, when her parents took her to that hospital, her father was driving the car and she was cowering in the backseat, hoping to become a ghost. The night she escaped with Raven, they ran, hand in hand, through the woods like frightened deer. Now, she was driving back to that place that caused her so much pain, that forest where she hid like prey on sleepless nights. Moone & Wolfe still kept that hospital there in operation. If they caught wind of them being there, she might lose him to them. She drove onward through the night until she was tired. They booked a room together at a cheap motel and rested for the night. Unlike their journey to the west coast, where they meandered for months here and there, the trip took only a week. Jake laughed when she told him what she was doing and said, "It's about time." He added something a little embarrassing at the end of that call. "I won't be mad, you know, if some things happen that you don't want to tell me about." "What sort of things?" Dani asked him. "Who knows." Jake laughed again. Her daughter wished her father goodbye over the phone at the first motel they stopped at. The week passed by faster than she expected. She wanted to memorize every word of every conversation they had, but they slipped away from her as the minutes did. When they reached Georgia, her body tensed. Their time was almost gone. She had to thank Robert later, for allowing her to do this and for keeping Raven's leaving a secret from the other side. No one from Moone & Wolfe came after them despite them passing so close by one of their hospitals. Not a single person bothered them. The long road to that forest was empty. There were no cars on either side of the road. No one followed behind them other than the leaves caught in the wind's embrace. Raven took them deep into the woods, to a cliff in the forest. "Do you want to see what's underneath the mark?" Raven stood facing the cliff. "Yes." Dani answered. She watched him from a foot behind him. "I know where I'm from, and I know how to get there now." Raven unbuttoned his shirt. He let it drop to the ground. The mark on his back glowed with white light. He turned around. "Will you tell them?" "This is our secret." Dani said. The light grew brighter, spreading out into the air on both sides of him. Then, the light dispersed. Black feathers shined, sleek and thick, replacing the light. He pulled the black wings in close to his body. Dani stood there, breathless at the sight of them. Over the years, she had seen many things beyond what she thought was possible. All of them, though many were terrifying, captivated her. In their beauty and power, she questioned if she was seeing something divine. Here before her, she swore she saw him transform wholly into something new and beyond human comprehension. His soul, she could feel, was finally free. In that moment, she knew she would never see something so beautiful again. "Goodbye, Dani." Raven said. He took a step back closer to the edge of the cliff. Her mind could not control her any longer. Betraying every word she had given him before, she said, "I'll see you again." He smiled at her. "Probably." Raven stepped back again, then jumped off the cliff. He vanished in seconds. She waited there for a while. Her mind was in shock that he was not still with her. She led him to this place to let go, but she couldn't possibly prepare herself for this moment. Like all those years ago, when he disappeared from her at her aunt's home, she expected he would appear again to her at any moment. Dani collapsed to the ground in tears. After sunset, she called her fiancé and asked him to come out to her. Jake was already leaving to board a plane. She met him at Hartsfield-Jackson in the morning, and he drove her the rest of the way back home. He reassured her again and again she did the right thing. "He's free now." Jake told her. "No one, from anywhere, can ever hurt him again. You saved him." Dani stared out the window. She watched the sign for the Georgia-Alabama border disappear. "If you vanish too, I won't be angry." Jake said. She looked over at him. "What?" "Loyalty is about more than keeping someone close." Jake smiled. "I'm here for you, for as long as you need me." "I know." Dani said as she rolled down the window to let in the night air. Dani never told anyone what she saw that day on the cliff. Not her husband, nor her daughter, or the son she had with her husband. Her husband knew she freed him, and that he could never pry from her the words exchanged between the two of them that day. That moment she carried with her as too sacred to ever speak of. By the following Halloween, Dani quit her job and returned to working as a librarian while her husband continued to work for both sides until fully committing to Aurora in 2014 when he left the other company. The family moved overseas around then, as Aurora failed its mission in the United States. She let her daughter go shortly after her twenty-fifth birthday, a year before their move. Dani remained faithful to her husband until his death at sixty when he sacrificed himself to ensure his younger brother, Cyrus, escaped a fire. For a year, she mourned him in solitude. On October 31st, 2032, she made her decision.