The moonlight brightened the half of the room the candles did not. Warm, summer air lingered around him from the open doors to the balcony. He dipped his quill pen in a bottle of black ink, the raven feather as dark as the color of the letters on the parchment beneath his hand. He scratched through the sentence he had just wrote, sighing. To his right, he sensed someone watching him. Wren looked over. His saw a pair of big eyes staring at him and tiny hands on the table. Wren put his quill down. "Now, who's come to see me? Is it my little prince or my little princess?" The young child stood up fully and skipped over to the side of the desk Wren sat at. The child wore a long night gown in a dusty shade of a pale pink with red lace. The child grinned. "I'm Robin." "Is that so?" Wren turned the child around. On the back of the night gown was embroidered a letter on each shoulder, an L on the left and an R on the right. Wren pulled the collar some and peeked down to look for the placement of a birthmark. This one was on the left, though he noted tonight another, fake, birthmark had been added to the right shoulder with ink. "Pretending to be your sister again, Leon?" Leon laughed. "You caught me." Wren shook his head. "You're a silly one. What are you doing up this late? Does your mother know you're here?" Leon shook his head. "Mama's asleep." "Are your brother and sister still in bed?" Leon nodded, then ran over to the other side of the room. He grabbed a small chair and pushed it up to the desk beside Wren's chair. The little boy hopped up in the chair. Wren noticed Leon was carrying a bag with him. "What do you have there?" Wren asked. Leon's eyes lit up. He opened up the bag. "Uncle came to see me. He gave me these for my birthday, but he said I shouldn't show you till everyone else was away." The child took out a dagger and a hair pin. The dagger had a lion design on it, the lion holding a sun made of citrine. The pin similarly had a lion on the end, eyes made of the same gem. "Could I see them?" Wren asked. Leon handed him the items. Wren looked over the dagger first. He noted on the blade an "LB" beside a small dragon symbol. The pin had the same dragon mark, but with the initials of "AB". Wren handed the dagger back. "Are both of these for you, or did you take a present for your sister?" "No, they're mine. Binnie's gifts were different." Leon said. "Her dagger and hair pin have a dog on it with moonstones. See, mine has a lion!" "I see." Wren gave the gifts back to Leon. "I trust that you won't misuse that blade the same as the bow I gave you earlier. If you do, I'll have to take both from you." "I won't, Father." Leon pulled his hair back, wrapping a golden ribbon around it. He haphazardly stuck the pin above the ribbon. The boy took another pair of items from his bag. He placed a book and a quill pen made from a swan's feather on top of it. Leon reached across the desk to dip the quill. He opened the book to a blank page a quarter of the way through. "What are you writing?" Wren asked. Leon's unsteady hand left sloppy letters on the page. A date, August 4th, 1462, was written across the top of the left page. "My diary." "Oh? That's a good habit to have. As you get older, you'd be surprised the things you start to forget. It's good to keep a record of things, especially the things that mean the most to you." Wren said. He watched his son draw a simplistic picture of a child and an adult. The adult had a long ponytail. The child held two things in one hand. Leon wrote beneath it "Uncle gave me two presents for my birthday". Wren smiled. "Important...what did you write on the day I was born?" Leon asked, scribbling away. "The day you were born..." Wren thought back. "I don't think I wrote anything that day. I wrote about it the next day." "How come?" "Well, you know, it was such a big day I couldn't write at all." Wren laughed. He got up from the desk and went over to a bookshelf. Wren searched for a particular one and took it back. He flipped through, then handed it to Leon. "This was what I wrote the next day." Eyes wide, Leon read through as quickly as he could, devouring each word. When he was done, he looked back up at his father. "Papa, can I write down some of this page into my diary?" "You want to quote me in your diary?" Wren chuckled. "If you'd like." Leon propped his father's diary up and copied down the sentences he liked. Wren patted him on the head and returned to working on the poem he started earlier. He wanted to send something to his friend, Hollis, but the words weren't flowing easily today. His mind was cluttered, cloudy. Watching his son copy his words gave him a thought. Wren gathered his thoughts and wrote what came to mind. "the meaning of letters long travelled and words tucked away in careful binding so goes their luster when all those who had ever cared, in love or hate, have crossed on; faded magic, echoing ghosts--to be discovered powerless and silent, their descendants rooted in repeating the same deafening fate for one moment of torrential downpour, a drowning unforgiving, loving, a shout in spite of sand" -common words" Wren read over his words. He wasn't sure he would keep them as they were, but it was worth keeping for now until he had better words and arrangements to make. He glanced back over at his young son. Leon was drawing another picture. One large figure, one small, at a table, both smiling. Leon's words beneath it said: "writing with Papa". Wren smiled, then looked out at the moon. The air was warm tonight. He got up from the desk. "Would you like to sit outside with me for a while when you're done writing?" Wren asked. Leon looked up. He nodded and started to close the book. "Wait, wait. Leave it open to dry first. You wouldn't want to smudge the pictures you drew." Wren said, putting his hand between the pages to stop it from closing. "Oh, right." Leon let it lay open flat. He put his quill down. The boy took his father's hand. He asked, "What did you write, Papa?" "I was working on a poem to share with Prince Hollis." Wren said. Leon looked back at the pages. "Could I read it?" "If you want. I don't know how well you'll be able to read it outside." Wren said, letting go of the boy's hand. "The moon's bright enough." Leon said, pointing to the waxing gibbous whose light shone on them. The boy grabbed what his father had been working on and followed him outside to the balcony. As he often did, Leon wrapped part of his father's deep red cloak around himself. He leaned against his father. The boy read the words, but he didn't understand the subject. At eight, he thought nothing of time beyond his own nor his and his father's inevitable absence from the lively landscapes around them. He handed the pages back to his father. "You like poems. Ro is always writing them too. He gives them to Roi all the time. But I don't have anyone to write poems to." "Ah, I'm sure you'll have a friend or a lover one day you may wish to share such things with. Don't worry on that. You know, you can write poems for yourself too. You don't have to share them with anyone else, either." Wren said. He looked over the words again, thinking on what he should cut and rephrase. "I don't know if I'll ever know someone like that." Leon said. "Perhaps I'll always be alone...and forgotten like those words in your poem..." Wren put his hand on the child's head. "No, you won't be. I'll always be here for you when you need me." "Forever?" Leon asked. "For all eternity." Wren reassured him. Leon yawned. He curled up against his father more, the cloak shifting to a blanket. He liked to sleep in his father's cloak. It always smelled like his father: of ink and parchment; woods he could not name and leather from animals he barely knew; roses red as his mother's lips; night air and moonlight resting on skin; rowan and holly berries; and something else that belonged distinctly only to his father--the scent of that cloak could always cast his father's power across any fear and slip him into the deepest calm. Leon couldn't stop himself from drifting. Wren hummed him a familiar lullaby, a family secret. The moon disappeared behind darkened clouds, but the boy did not notice. He was already falling far from that land into another time. "Are you getting up soon?" A voice called out. Leon opened his eyes, rising from resting under that red cloak, now his, that was spread out across his bed. He reached over for his beloved. "Roísín?" A woman greeted him. It wasn't his wife's face, yet he knew it was. He called out another name, but the world itself muffled the sound. He repeated it again as she slipped away from him. The room was cold and dark. Leon clutched the cloak. He called out again. "Father, where are you?" The room slipped away and he moved on to another time. Sky opened his eyes. He sighed. He hated dreaming. Sky checked his surroundings before leaving the shack he took shelter in that night. After looking through his bag's contents, he set out on his way to pass on the information he had recently collected about Moone & Wolfe. The information he collected was currently bagged, covered in the blood of others. The red had already faded to a dull brown. The heat of summer bore down on him, rays drenching through his clothes. He was on the border now, between the area that split the Red Madness and the Rust from each other, on the side of RM. He was vaccinated against RM, but he never stopped covering his body. There was no guarantee another virus wouldn't spread. He may have to run across the border for a reason unrelated to RM. Exposure to the Rust was fatal, still with not a hint of progress in protecting against it. He couldn't risk a single miscalculation. There were too many people left to kill. Sky looked down at the button on his bag, a lion on it. He adjusted his goggles and pulled his scarf up higher, then walked on. The road to the shelter he was seeking was an unpaved path, crafted by the cars the Sanctuary had modified or stolen. The unbearable sun exposed the muscovite and quartz embedded in the red clay, a few small garnets glittering here and there in schists. The sparkling display was dull to him, irrelevant. There was no time to stop and think on their beauty. Beside the clay, he saw other reds--old bricks of abandoned buildings, rusted metal fences, and fresh blood spilled to empty pockets and bags. Broken glass shined as brightly as the mica in the sun. The thin shards crunched under his feet. Tall, metal poles with cables that went to nothing stood high as reminders of a greater communication lost. He paid them all no mind. Their ugliness didn't warrant a thought either. After hours of walking, Sky found the building he was seeking. This one had been built two years ago, one of many the Sanctuary had set up along routes to other safety buildings. This one was like a small house, containing two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchenette, a living space, and a garage to protect vehicles from theft. The front door had an electric lock with a number pad. The code was changed monthly and only given out to a select few. The back door could only be opened from the inside. Kudzu and wisteria in full bloom covered half the building, painting the space in a soft violet. A large, dark van drove up to the garage. The van parked. Two men got out of the van. Sky glanced over to check they were who he expected, then looked away. "Sky!" One of them called out to him. The man had brown hair, an eye patch over his left eye, and a long scar across his left arm. "Hey, Eric." Sky looked over at the man again, his eyes fixated on the eye patch, then to the scar. "Alex drove, right?" "Most of the way." Eric said. A man with black hair wearing glasses came to stand beside Eric. "How have you been?" "Alive, obviously." Sky said coldly. "We should get inside. I have information to give you." "Well, alright. Straight to business then." Alex put in the code for the building's garage. Eric pulled the vehicle in and put in the code for the door from inside the garage, then closed it. Alex then put in the code to open the front door. "You shouldn't have him drive." Sky commented. "He just pulled the car up. It's fine." Alex said. They went inside. The two older men sat down at a table. Eric took his shoes off. Alex removed the short sleeved button up shirt he wore over a tank top. Sky was annoyed at their casual appearances with their uncovered arms and legs. So careless, he thought, how they were dressed without worry of death. He kept his anger hidden. "So, what did you find?" Alex asked. Sky removed only his goggles. He opened his bag and pulled out several items. He tossed them on the table. Sky opened a map and pointed to a specific location. "This was all the internal information I could get. They're about to renovate one of the Bubbles. This one right here. They're estimating renovations will take a full year to complete all of it. While that's going on, it'll be easier to get in and out of there. This location contains 'assigned' families rather than split by age groups like at some of the other Bubbles and Facilities. They'll be most vulnerable at their quarterly sterilization trips. I've obtained the dates for those. Seems Heather Smith will also be paying a visit for the third sterilization trip. That could be our best shot at killing her, and the most risky date to try anything. I'll leave that to you and everyone else to sort out. But if you go to kill Delilah, remember, it's by my gun she should die." Alex shook his head and looked at Sky with sad eyes. "Still fixated on that. We'll let you know if we plan on going after her. Now that Heather plays the role of Doctor and Delilah, taking her out would be a huge blow to the Moon. But I don't know if we have the resources to deal with her and everyone she'll bring." "I can drown them out." Sky said, eyes on the door. "We don't know what else they have on their side. They may have something worse than Heather now." Eric said. "There's nothing they can invent that will be greater than my rage." Sky balled his fist. "Sky..." Alex started to say. "Don't." Sky got up from the table. "Let me know when you're ready. I'll kill them all. I'll be going now." "Wait!" Alex got up. "Why are you leaving already? We just got here." "I delivered the information I needed to." Sky said. "Don't you know what today is?" Alex asked. "Hell if I know. I assume it's summer, given how hot it is." Sky said. He headed for the door. "It's July 7th." Alex said. Sky's eyes widened for a moment. He pretended to not care. "So?" "It's your birthday." Alex said. Sky kept walking forward. "What does that matter?" Alex grabbed his wrist. "Please, don't do this. I know you're busy...and you don't need us..." Alex's words pierced every person in the room, Sky most of all. "Alright, I'll stay for a while." Sky sat back down at the table. "Are you happy?" Alex opened his mouth to say something, but the words were captured by those invisible daggers he placed through himself. Sky noticed them, but he couldn't see a way to stop himself. Alex sat down at the table. He got out a box from his own backpack. A small cake, decorated with chocolate icing, sat inside it. "Kathy made this for you." Sky lowered his head. "How is she?" "She's been sick on and off lately. You should visit her sometime." Eric said. Sky stared down at the tiny cake. He could picture her making it with the same grace she had when she played the piano. He hadn't played a song with her in a few years now. He wasn't certain how many it was. "How old am I?" "It's your twenty-first birthday." Eric said. "Twenty-one, huh?" Sky thought that sounded about right. He knew he was twenty-something. It didn't matter. The days went on the same no matter what age he was. Eric cut the cake into three pieces. They shared the tiny cake. Sky thought the flavor was too sweet, but he never turned down any food. Whether he liked something or not didn't matter anymore. It never really did, he thought to himself. As they ate, Sky noticed Eric and Alex seemed unusually anxious. He wondered if it was because of his birthday, but he sensed there was something else. Not one to waste time, he got straight to the point. "Something's bothering both of you. What is it?" Alex dropped his fork. "Ah, what makes you think that?!" "You noticed." Eric said. "What is it?" Sky asked. "You know I don't like playing games or prying information out of people." Eric and Alex exchanged looks. Alex turned his gaze to the table, face pale. Eric looked down, then over at Sky. He lowered his voice. "The other day, they found a body..." Sky's heart raced. His mind ran through the possibilities of who that body might belong to. There were so many names in his head, and all of them hurt. "Who's?" "August." Eric lowered his voice. "A supply team came across him not far from one of the areas we removed part of the border. That place is...about two miles from here." Sky's body went cold. "What did they do with him?" "Nothing. We only determined it was him last night. Since touching his body is risky and his body is so deeply mixed in with clay and plants, it's too risky to burn him too. They left a marker instead with an R on it to let others know not to touch him." Eric explained. "They left him there." Sky muttered. "Left him there." "I'm sorry. We didn't know if we should tell you or..." Eric said. "Take me there." Sky said. He raised his voice. "Now!" "Sky...he'd be dangerous to be near. And he's not...there's nothing left at this point. You don't really want to see him like that..." "Like I haven't seen the insides of people I've loved before." Sky stood up. "Forget this birthday nonsense. Take me there." Eric and Alex looked at each other again. Eric got up. "If you really want to go there, we will. But Sky...are you really sure you want to see..." "I absolutely want to see." The two older men went back out to the van. Sky sat in the back. The drive over to the location was short, but felt like it lasted for hours in Sky's mind. His mind ran images in his head of what he might see. He pictured rot and bones, decay, worms and stained clothes. Pictures of his family's slow decomposition entered his mind, and how he sat there in his old home's basement watching all of it unfold on a tiny screen. He held tight to the side of his seat. He wanted to see it badly, to hurt himself. He didn't want to see it. He knew it would only cause him more nightmares. And for that, he wanted to see it more. The van stopped. Eric got out first. He led the way through the pines and oak, the dogwoods and maple. Sky's eyes searched all around for the thing he didn't want to see. Soon, it came into view without warning. As much as he expected it, as much as he knew what it could look like, the sight stole his breath. His heart stopped, then raced ahead of his emptying thoughts. All the warmth in his body left him and with it, all his color. His steps became heavy. The pine straw and discarded leaves rustled underneath him, as if moving like ghostly worms. His own body was foreign, a strange doll he moved in rhythm with. The closer they got to the body, the farther away Sky felt from himself. Somewhere halfway, he felt his spirit stop while the rest of him kept on marching towards that wretched sight. All the trees bent at strange angles and replaced their bark with a rigid, plastic finish. The ground seemed frozen over as the sun burned his back with temperatures over a hundred degrees. There was no skin left, no organs, no eyes. Dirty white, held up by the bottom of the steep cliff behind the bones, sat slipping slowly into the red. Kudzu grew through the clothes and chest, through the eyes, along the arms, everywhere the large leaves and purple flowers expanded out. The body could belong to anyone, with as dirty as the clothes were, but Sky knew it was him. As far away as he felt, he recognized plain as day the matching button on the coat and the bag that once had many more buttons than were left on it now. Sky wanted to keep up his usual cold demeanor. His body was crying, but he wasn't. Alex was crying too. Eric was holding him. He didn't want to be held by anyone anymore. Sky couldn't stop anything. After all, he was half a world away from where all of them were. When the tears stopped, Sky's voice returned to him. "Get me a shovel." "But it's too risky..." Eric said. "You'd do it, if it was for Alex. Let me do this." Sky put his bag down. Eric sighed. "I won't stop you." A few minutes later, Eric brought over a shovel from the van. The thick red clay of the cliffside and kudzu roots six feet under fought for the body. Sky's anger was stronger than their grip. He dug as deep as those roots to place the body in. As he rested the body down in the deep hole, he wanted to look once more in those eyes. If he had found him shortly after his death, those eyes would be empty. Now, there was nothing there at all. He could see them still, but their bright appearance was leaving him like everyone else he had ever loved. His memories were cruel. They paraded for him all of his worst moments while letting what brought him joy disappear in a hazy blur. The body below him, he knew was that boy he once wandered with, but all the parts that made August who he was were gone. He couldn't see him smile, he couldn't hear his voice. Sky covered the body in the same red clay that had kept him exposed, saving the head for last. He tried so hard to see those eyes again, but all that returned his gaze was a cracked skull. Eric placed blue flowers on the grave when Sky was done. "Do you want to stay here a while?" Sky held tight to the shovel. "I don't know. Set up the emergency shower at the van. I'll be over a second..." Eric and Alex walked back to the van. Alone with the grave, Sky cried again. Seventeen. He was seventeen then, he was sure. Twenty-one. Sky couldn't fathom how that much time had flowed since that moment. No matter how long Sky survived, August would remain seventeen forever. He screamed at the sky above him. He would kill them all, without an ounce of mercy. Before he made it back to the van, a heavy downpour drenched him from head to toe. He changed into a new set of clothes in the van. His old clothes were discarded with the shovel at the edge of the forest. They returned to the small building. The storm blew over, but Sky's rage stayed as it was. The sun was setting now. There was no point in leaving during the night. Travelling through the night was never safe. He spoke little to Eric and Alex. Around eight, Eric brought him over a plate of food. He had taken off his eye patch, revealing the large scar on his face and the dull left eye. Sky took the food without a word. Eric sat beside him. "I'm sorry about..." "Don't. I don't want to talk about it." Sky cut him off. He stared at the eye. "You shouldn't be out here." "Neither should you." Eric said back. He took out a hand mirror and looked at himself. "It's not as bad as it looks, you know." "I know it hurts." Sky said. "I've got pills for that." Eric shrugged. "Don't worry about me. You've got this backwards. I'm supposed to worry about you." "There's no reason to." Sky turned away. Eric put the mirror away. He wanted to say more, but knew it wouldn't matter. "I'll leave you be." Eric left to the bathroom. Sky heard the shower turn on shortly after. He wanted to say sorry, but he thought it better to say nothing. It'll hurt less in the end, he told himself, if he let everything fall apart. If no one loved him, it wouldn't matter what happened to him. And if no one loved him, he wouldn't need to love anyone ever again. But then where would his rage come from, he wondered. He knew that wouldn't fade and he knew why it couldn't fade, but lying to himself about his true feelings allowed him to justify that anger and everything that came from it. Alex came over to him next. "Hey." "Hey." "Are you doing alright?" Alex asked. "I know this isn't the best time to bring this up, but I don't know when I'll see you again. You stopped asking for refills of your medicine. Are you taking it?" "No." "Why not?" "What for?" Sky crossed his arms. "It doesn't matter." "Sky, you can't just stop taking your medicine like that. That's dangerous." Alex said to him. "I don't care." "Don't you want to get better?" "I've never gotten any better in all this time." Sky leaned back against a wall. "I've been wrong for three lifetimes. What the hell is your stupid drug gonna do about it?" Lightning flashed outside the building. "Sky...please..." "I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't have...I should've killed myself back then when she died, but I lived like a coward. I should've killed myself after August did. I should've killed myself after I killed June. I should've killed myself after May..." Sky's grip on his own arms was so deep he bled. "Sky, calm down. You're hurting yourself." "Don't tell me to calm down. You're not my dad. You don't know me. You don't love me." Sky got up. He yelled. The room shifted around him. "If I find her again, she'll die in front of me. And you'll die. And you'll let Eric die. And Kathy's going to die too. And I'll still be here, and I'll be killing everyone. You want to me my dad so bad? Then finish off what my dad failed to do and kill the last member of that family. Shoot me!" Alex stood up. He wanted to reach out to Sky. "Sky, please...please, I have a bottle of your medicine. Please, take it." "No!" Sky shouted louder. "What for? You think it matters if I have awful shit going on in my brain when I walk outside and everything's just as awful there? What's going to change? Will I level out enough for you? Why don't you ship me off to the Moon and they can put me on Aequa. That's really good at knocking out everything, right? Then I won't care about anything. My body won't feel anything. Go on, make me your Delilah. That's what you really want, right?" "Sky, I don't know what you're talking about." Alex took out a bottle. "Please. You're not thinking straight. You're saying strange things." Sky took out his handgun. He put it to his head. "I'll show you what my dad looked like the last time I saw him." Alex froze in terror. From behind Sky, Eric, half dressed and soaking wet, took the gun out of Sky's hand. "Give it back!" Sky reached for it. Eric pushed him back. "No." "Sky, please. Let me help you. If you want to...forget us, that's fine. But I can't let you hurt yourself." Alex's eyes watered. Sky came to his senses for a moment, but his mind betrayed him. Now would be the perfect time to burn it all down. He grabbed his bag and ran outside into the night. He didn't bother to try and get his gun back. He didn't care anymore. He'd gladly let anything and anyone kill him. Sky ran in the direction of the woods. The whole world moved too fast around him. He could feel, he was certain, the earth moving beneath his feet. The clouds raced away from him. Stars vanished and reappeared in the wrong place. The trees moved down, bending and breaking, reaching out to strangle him. There was no familiar, bright light to guide him in the dark. The moon was new and hidden from him. Running recklessly, Sky barely missed tripping over a pile of bones. He didn't think on who they may have belonged to. It could be anyone. It didn't matter. Where he was going didn't matter. He wanted to run off the edge of the world and cease to be. A strong wind swiped against him, coming from the storm he called himself in rage. The wind carried an unusual scent, one he recognized and didn't. Berries, leather, and ink; wood, roses, and something he couldn't name at all; he was sure he knew this scent from somewhere he had been long, long ago. Sky stopped. He finally noticed how hard his heart was beating. He caught his breath. The area around him was strange and frightening. He reached for his gun to give himself some sense of safety, but it wasn't there. Suddenly, he realized he had left his bag behind. He looked back. Sky knew he ran in a straight path, but he couldn't see the light of the building anymore. If he went any further, he'd likely get himself completely lost. Sky turned around and ran back. It was too late at night to walk without any protection. As he ran back, his mind started to clear. Did he really put a gun to his own head? Sky was shocked at himself. It wasn't the first time he had tried to kill himself--far from it--and each time always left him confused afterwards. He had a mission he wanted to accomplish. He needed to kill them all. Kill. The distortion started to seep back in again. By the time he returned to the building, he was exactly as he was that morning. Sky saw Eric and Alex with flashlights searching for him. "I'm back." Sky announced. The three of them went back inside and locked the front door. Sky didn't want to deal with his actions, but he knew he needed to say something. "I'm sorry about earlier." Sky said. "It's alright. I'm not angry." Alex said. "Are you okay?" "No." "Are you sure you don't want to take something? We could try a different medicine." Alex suggested. "It's fine." Sky said. "I don't need anything." Blue lights floated in the room. From dust specks to rabbits and deer, blue filled up the room. The dust particles stuck to Sky's body. Eric apologized. "I'm sorry. I can't suppress it right now." Sky's chest hurt. His face flushed. Eric's abilities were related to his emotions too. If the lights were this bright, Sky thought, he must've really hurt Eric. "I don't know why you bother putting up with me." "Sky, I don't..." Eric's gaze turned to something behind Sky. Alex's eyes went wide. He couldn't speak. "What?" Sky turned around. His face matched Alex's in shock. Those eyes he had wanted to see before were now staring at him. The figure of the seventeen year old boy reached out to touch Sky's face, transparent and blue. He felt an energy there, but no physical contact. The figure before him spoke with sounds that couldn't be called words, but Sky understood them clearly. The young man smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek. Sky reached out to touch him back, but his hands went through him. "Don't go." Sky said. "Don't leave me." August caressed his face and spoke words only Sky could hear. The boy, whose form floated a few inches off the ground, turned and slipped through the door. Sky chased after him. On the other side of the door, everything around them was lit up with blue, but that boy was nowhere to be seen. "Come back...come back..." Sky collapsed in the doorway. "It's not fair..." Arms hugged him from behind. Sky's body shook, hoping when he looked back he would see those eyes again. Alex held him close. "Stay inside. It's too late to go out." "But I..." "I know." Alex whispered. "But he's not..." "I know." Sky felt the tears falling down his face. When it stopped, Sky went to bed. He took one of the bedrooms while Eric and Alex took the other. Sky found he couldn't sleep. He listened to Eric and Alex getting ready for bed. Their nighttime chatter stirred in him happier memories he wanted to forget to hurt himself. Their voices made him feel safe back then. He never felt safe now, but he didn't really care. Eventually, their voices went quiet. He was the only one still awake. The blue lights dimmed some when Eric went to sleep. Sky rolled over in the bed, his mind returning to August. August looked like how he remembered him, but not. They were the same age, or they were when August was alive. When he saw him again, he couldn't help but notice August looked younger than him. When they were together, he always thought August looked more mature than him. Seeing him again, he looked like exactly what he was--a boy, not yet a man. Never to be a man. And he would never see him again. His mind was already replacing that blue spectre with white bones to torment him more. "Why did you wait for me?" Sky asked to the air. "What if I never found you? Would you wait forever?" Sky curled up in the bed. "She waited too. She's waiting now. All I do is trap people in waiting...if I didn't exist..." Quietly, Sky moved closer to the wall that separated the two bedrooms. He listened, hoping he could hear any slight movement or breath on the other side. He couldn't hear anything. "Dad...I had a father once who said he'd look after me forever..." Sky cried again, keeping himself as quiet as the moon. "You're not here now. Everyone dies, and I'm still here..." The blue dust gathered up on the edge of the bed. Sky heard someone humming. He looked over where the blue gathered. Another familiar figure formed before him. Sky sat up. "Father?" The lights scattered. A man in red sat in their place. This man wasn't transparent and his voice didn't come in through that strange filter. The person sitting at the edge of the bed was very much alive. "Uncle?" Sky said. His own eyes were now glowing a vibrant blue. The man in red with long black hair smiled. "So, it's true. You've been born yet again, nephew." "How did you find me?" "Your father sent me." The man said. "What for?" Sky asked. "He heard you calling." The man in red said. "The dead cannot return to this realm once their souls move on. They can only meet with the living through brief acts of nature and dreams. He's been trying to speak to you, but it seems the message isn't really getting across." "What message is that?" Sky asked. He instinctively reached out for the red cloak that the man was wearing. The scent on the cloak was slightly different from the one he picked up on the wind earlier. There was no parchment or ink, nor roses. In their place were water lilies, metal, and smoke. "You've forgotten why you came here. You came back to find her, not to kill." The man in red said. "Seems your sister became just as lost in that regard." "There's no point." "No point?" "What's the point of searching for love like that when it can be taken from me all over again? The last time I tried, it happened like this. Every time we meet, she dies young. If I meet her, I'll probably kill her. If we never met and I kill all of them, maybe she can finally live a happy, long life for once. My existence is a virus." Sky said. "Oh, how the madness of love distorts our minds. You say all these things, but you won't part from her when you find her." The man in red put his hands over the embroidered flowers on his cloak. "You were never one who handled death well either." "It's not fair." "What isn't?" "To live after other people die. Why am I still here?" Sky unconsciously pulled the cloak's edge over himself like a blanket as he rested back down on his pillow. "Why do we live to endure this again and again? We love just to be in pain. Why love at all? What's the point of this?" "Point? Why do you assume there is one?" The man in red unclasped the cloak and placed it on Sky. "Love exists. It gives us the greatest joy and the greatest pain. I can't tell you why, but a life without it at all is much more miserable than one with it." Sky felt himself becoming sleepy. "I'll never love again." "Silly thing. You haven't stopped loving anyone yet. You won't stop. If you stopped loving, you'd stop being human." The man in red hummed a melody again. The storm Sky called changed shape. Sky could feel the lightning and thunder were not his own. "Then I'll become a monster." "Shh...I won't let you." The man in red leaned down and put his hand over Sky's face. He hummed a melody. Sky fell into a deep sleep as new clouds rolled in above the little building. "Forgive me, nephew. I had no idea you had become like this or I'd have intervened sooner. In your father's place, I can watch you for as long as you walk the lands of the living, even if you choose to wander for eternity." When Sky woke in the morning, the red cloak was gone. He wasn't sure if what he saw that night was real or a dream. He had learned so many unreal things over the years, he never knew what to believe. This morning, he felt calmer than yesterday. His mind was clear for once. Sky decided to keep last night's encounter a secret and presumed it was only a dream. He joined Eric and Alex for breakfast. After finishing his food, Sky reached his hand out to Alex. "Give me my medicine." Sky said. "You want it? What changed?" Alex asked. He got the bottle out and handed it over. Sky took it quickly. "I don't know." "I'll pack some extras in your bag before you leave." Alex said. He stopped himself. "Ah, if you want me to. I'm sorry. I shouldn't..." "Dad, it's fine." Sky finished off his coffee. "I'm sorry about yesterday. And in general...God, I'm really losing it." "Sky, maybe you should just go back home. You don't have to do this." Eric said. "Yeah, I do. But I forgot why." Sky looked at the button on his bag and thought of the tarot deck inside his backpack. "It's's sickening, but it won't go away until they're gone." "What about the girl?" Alex asked. "That's why you came back." "I don't know what I'm going to do about that. I don't want to fall in love ever again." Sky sighed. His chest hurt deeply. "I don't want her to see me like this." "You can't stop yourself from falling in love." Eric said. "I know. But it's easier if she never sees me in the first place." Sky said. He ran his fingers through his messy hair. "Maybe I should go home for now. I haven't seen Kathy in a while." "You should go see her. We'll all go back." Eric said. "I think we all need a break from this." Alex said. Sky looked into his empty mug. "Yeah." Around noon, the family got back in the van and drove home. Sky watched the clouds above them. He sensed someone was controlling the weather the way he and Heather could, but he knew he wasn't causing it nor did it match Heather's energy. He hummed a melody to himself while he finished off the last bit of yesterday's cake.