Sarah Toranaga sat quietly on the couch beside her husband, letting the words and actions flow all around her. A part of her couldn’t think. Another part refused to stop. She was pleading; a low, desperate chant playing over and over inside a mother’s brain.
Not again, she begged. Please, God. Please don’t hurt my son again.
“How did it happen?” Peter asked quietly beside her, his tone less one of rage and more a cold, tired kind of dread. “How did you lose him? He’s my son, Dad. How do you lose a twelve year old boy?”
Hideyoshi’s head was in his hands, the words coming out a little muffled.
“It was a dynamic situation, Peter,” said the older man, his voice a dull monotone. “We told him to stay out of it, but he threw himself in anyway. We didn’t have time to pull him back.” He shook his head. “Binyamin was the only one who had eyes on him when it happened.”
“And he lost him?” Peter asked, incredulous. “Who the hell would even let him out of sigh-”
“James tried to go after the teleporter I was fighting before he could make off with Charlie,” Hideyoshi droned. “The man had an enchanted gun. Binyamin was too busy bending the bullet away from the kid to stop him going through the portal.” He sighed.
“By the time we got there, the thing was already closed. Jacqueline traced it back to an island in Bermuda. Apparently there’s a bridge-scar there leading off-world. She’s already gathering the energy to open it back up. Then we’ll follow them through.”
“Bermuda,” Peter whispered. “They’re with the Whale?”
Sarah’s heart went dead inside her chest. Peter gave her hand a squeeze.
“Looks like it,” he murmured. “…I’m sorry, Peter.”
There was a hollow sounding thud as Peter struck him.
“Don’t you dare,” he snapped. “Don’t you dare be sorry. Being sorry right now means you’ve given up on my son. You can be sorry when we’ve got him back. Until then, we’ve got a job to do.”
After less than a second’s hesitation. Hideyoshi nodded. The pair began to plan.
Sarah wasn’t listening. There was nothing she could add to this. No power, no skills, no history of tactical acumen. She was a sideliner; a supporting role, the one who stayed at home and cared while someone else went out to do the fighting.
And now James was lost. And there was nothing she could do. She hated it.
Peter gave her hand another squeeze. She pulled it from his grip.
The men glanced across at her as she stood. She didn’t look at them.
As she walked towards the hall, she spoke the one thought that she could truly put to words:
“You will not be part of this family until I see my son again,” she said quietly. “However long that takes.”
A momentary quiet, then Hideyoshi inclined his head.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “I know.”
The words didn’t help. She left.
She needed to be somewhere quiet. A place where she could rage or yell or throw things. A place where she wasn’t useless.
A place like that didn’t exist right now.
She moved downstairs into the basement. A part of her, a big part, had wanted to go and find her daughter; hold Rebeccah in her arms and remind herself that something, anything she cared about was truly safe. But no. Bex was in her room. She didn’t know about this. She didn’t need to know about this. To see her mother in such pain would only serve to frighten her. Sarah wasn’t about to put that weight on her.
There was a mattress in the basement; a broad futon resting over the frame of a fold-out couch. She made her way to it without bothering to turn on the lights. She tripped on something in the dark. It gave her an excuse to punch the floor.
She found the futon and sat herself upon it.
It was dark here; open and empty; a void with only the distant thrumming of the boiler to remind her she had weight.
She could yell here, just like she wanted. Peter knew better than to bother her. She could shout, rage, tear things and scream until it somehow made James safe again.
Sarah put her head in her hands, and began to cry.
“Just let him be alive,” she begged of no one. “That’s all I need, okay? Just let him be alive so I can hold him again.”
The darkness didn’t answer.
There was an image that had hovered in the back of Sarah’s mind for months, waiting to torment her when everything was calm; the memory of James in his hospital bed, his eyes full of fear and hurt.
The image that came for her now was so much worse. The image of her boy with nothing in his eyes at all. Cold.
She clutched her head.
Don’t show me that.
The image came through again, clearer now. The warmth of her child’s skin cooled to coagulated wax. She screwed her eyes shut.
The pinkish brown of his cheeks becoming a chalky not-quite-white.
The air felt heavy on her shoulders. A room full. A house full. The vastness of the atmosphere above.
It felt like it was crushing her.
She needed it to move.
Something in the frame beneath her snapped, sturdy pine giving way like a toothpick under stress.
Not enough. She pushed again.
Something rippled out of her through the shadows. She could hear a distant cabinet tearing itself apart.
“Not this,” she moaned. “Not now.”
Somewhere on the landing above, the door clicked closed. There was someone in here with her.
“Leave me alone,” she mumbled.
“Manifesting, huh?” Casper’s voice murmured back. “It’s pretty intense, right?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Just get out. Please?”
A moment’s quiet. Then the sound of something coming to rest against the staircase.
“He’s gonna be okay,” Casper murmured quietly. “You know that, right?”
Sarah took a long, shaky breath, and pulled her hands from her head, resting her chin against her fists.
“What makes you so sure about that?” she asked. “How do you know he’s even still alive?”
“Cuz I hang out with one of the most dangerous dudes on the planet. A guy so dangerous and crazy that he can molest little kids in the middle of New York without anyone trying to stop him.” Casper hesitated there for just for a moment before continuing:
“But a couple days ago, James punched him through a concrete wall. Just for being a creep. That’s how powerful your son is. Trust me. When Peter or Hideyoshi or whoever else you send gets through there, all they’re gonna find is James and Charlie sitting on a beach somewhere, along with a bunch of beat up bad guys.”
Sarah snorted in spite of herself at that.
“Oh, Casper,” she murmured. “I wish that helped.”
The boy was broken. Shattered was the better word, really; his mind fractured into a thousand smaller segments, each of them firing stress neurons and pulses of randomly selected memory across the surface of his brain, none of it really managing to connect.
His eyes were open; currently beyond the reaches of his faculties, or even his own comprehension of muscle control. Some disconnected part of him vaguely registered a star-scape up above, but there wasn’t an emotion to attach it to, so it held as little meaning as the memories.
Whatever small, infantile fragment of the boy there was that was still trying vainly to collect himself, clawing half-heartedly at the forgotten remnants of a being he could only guess at, was aware that the thing which broke him had been vast. So much so that even the faint memory of it sent tingles of something not-quite-pain shooting down his side.
He was tired. So very tired. But he had forgotten how to sleep.
That was when the thing beneath the water found him.
Its presence was subtle, at first, like the tide; a gentle ebb and flow of water slowly building around the splintered fragments of his mind. A broken window in a puddle. He wouldn’t have noticed it at all, but for how it eased the screaming in his soul. It grew quiet. He could hear himself think again.
Who am I?
The presence had no answer for him. Rather, if it had an answer, it wasn’t something he could presently understand. The response it gave was low and deep, like a thrumming just beyond his hearing.
The boy who had once been Charlie did his best to shrug. The answer didn’t matter anyway. At least the world was quiet now.
Around the many pieces of himself, the water began to flow, like a trickling at the bottom of a bathtub; a single shard of glass drifting lightly in the current. He watched it move inside himself; idly curious. Was that shard the price he had to pay for the absence of the pain? He accepted that. It wasn’t as if the piece had any value.
The trickle bore his fragment on, winding through the wreckage of his psyche, before apparently reaching its destination. His shard slid up alongside another; this one bigger; its edges jagged and wrong. The fragment found a place where its edges aligned with the other, and without a sound, it slotted into place.
It was like a lightning strike had smacked into his brain.
His eyes were open. Right. Of course. How had he not noticed that before? There were stars above him; thousands of them.
He didn’t have much of an opinion on that yet. For all that this newfound shard had given him perception, he still had no idea where lay any of his thoughts. What was he supposed to think of stars?
The water moved again, the trickle shifting to another tiny portion of himself, and slowly pushing it into place within his mind. The boy wasn’t bothered. The water could do what it wanted so long as it stilled the pain.
There was a certain comfort to be found in being numb.