Mistakes: 1.7

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4:30 PM, New York:

Peter rose from his desk with a sigh, clasping his hands together behind his head and pulling them backwards in an effort to stretch his cramped muscles. God damn he hated his job sometimes. He glanced back down at the mound of paperwork littering his work-space, each page marked with colored tabs, noting particular key words. He really would have preferred to do more of his work by computer, but the vast majority of his contacts refused to communicate via anything more electronically complicated than the early telegram. He let out a small collection of mumbled aggravations, picked up his coffee mug, drained it to the dregs, and exited his office, flicking off the light and throwing his jacket over himself as he went.

“Heading home early, Mr Toranaga?” His assistant asked, smiling at him from her own, slightly smaller desk.

“Yeah,” he replied, returning the smile. “Hoping to spend some time with the kids tonight. Could you wash my mug for me before you leave, Maya?”

“Sure,” The girl shrugged. “Just leave it on my desk and I’ll get to it. Would you like me to refill the cookie stash in your second drawer? I noticed it was running a little low.”

Peter chuckled. “Maya, what in god’s name would I do without you?”

“Crash and burn, sir.” She grinned. “Crash and burn.”

Peter shook his head wryly, set his mug down on Maya’s desk, and made his way down the hall towards the elevators. His phone buzzed in his pocket, a snatch of queen’s ‘Don’t stop me now’ emanating from it. He let out an instinctual groan as he reached into his pocket. That was his father’s text alert. His father never texted when he could speak, and that meant that he was deliberately trying to stay quiet. Peter checked the screen, and the sinking feeling in his stomach deepened.

‘Paris, Rue du Bac, could use a hand, if you’re free.’

Well, there went the next two hours of his life. Peter turned on his heel, walking away from the elevators and back towards his partner’s office, sliding his phone back into his pocket as he went. He opened the antechamber door and walked straight through, giving the assistant a perfunctory nod on the way through before knocking once or twice on the office door.

“Come in,” said a tired sounding female voice from the other side. Peter pushed it open and stepped inside. “If it’s about the budget statements, you’ll have them in an hou- Oh. Hey Peter, need something?” A middle aged woman sat at her desk, the glow of her computer screen casting unhealthy looking shadows across the wrinkles just beginning to edge their way out from her eyes and cheeks.

“Hey, Jackie,” Peter murmured, sliding the door closed. “Sorry. I’m afraid I need a favor. Can you open me a gate to Paris?” He pulled out his phone, showing her the message. “Family thing. Do you mind?”

Jackie groaned, pulling herself up from her seat and stepping towards a section of floor space kept clear specifically for making the gates to and from the office.

“You know, if your father needs your help as often as he seems to, maybe he should retire. No shame in being too old to hunt anymore.” As she spoke, she raised a hand into the air before her. A few dots began to emerge on a flat plane around her hand, glowing a faint blue in the empty air. She began drawing small lines between them with her fingers, leaving behind faint traceries of light behind her that slowly started to fill into a solid pattern of glyphs and signs.

“Heh,” Peter chuckled. “Don’t let it fool you. He doesn’t ask for help because he can’t handle things. He only does this when he wants to talk about something and doesn’t want me hanging up on him.”

“Well, can you get him to stop?” Jackie asked, her fingers tracing out patterns connecting the last of the little dots together. “I mean, not for nothing, but having a heart to heart with your father isn’t really big enough to justify building a planar gate between two completely separate continents. Do you have any idea how draining these are?” As she spoke the last few words, the glowing pattern shifted, the glyphs forming into a set of rings around one another as they began to rotate, each layer in a different direction to the ones on either side.

The rotations grew faster and faster, the glow intensifying as the rings began to condense, shrinking rapidly towards a central point. The disc shrank from perhaps two feet wide, to one foot, then an inch, then, for a single moment, condensed into a single point, smaller than a pinhead. Then, in less than a second, the point expanded, widening into a brightly glowing circle encompassing perhaps two meters of space. Within that ring, Peter saw the image of a darkened alleyway, tall buildings to either side. The image was so complete that it obscured his partner behind it.

“You’d better bring me back some decent coffee,” Jackie’s voice called out from behind the portal, oddly quiet, given the only two steps or so that divided them. “Real french stuff, none of that granulated swill.”

Peter snorted. “Of course not, Jacqueline, would I ever do that to you?”

He stepped through, the sound of his his friend grumbling “Don’t call me Jacqueline,” following him out into the cool parisian air. The portal winked out of existence behind him.


10:35 PM, Paris, Rue du Bac:

Peter stepped out of the alleyway and glanced around. The street was largely empty, but for a few late night wanderers, most of them clearly too young to be his father. He turned left, and set off along the sidewalk at a jog, eyes scanning his surroundings constantly. It would have been nice if his father had at least told him what they were hunting so that he could know what he should look out for. He found the man leaned against what looked to be a hotel wall, his slight form draped in a heavy trench coat despite the warmth of the nighttime air.

Hideyoshi Toranaga was not a large man, nor was he what anyone who didn’t know him may call even slightly physically imposing. Even draped in the heavy coat, his form was slight and small, even a little hunched. His hair was balding, covered for the moment by a brown fedora, and his face was almost uniformly unremarkable. He looked, in almost every way, the very definition of an unremarkable old man. Those who knew him better, however, knew this to be intentional.

“What took you so long, Akira?” The older man asked in quiet japanese. his fingers tearing the plastic free of a fresh packet of cigarettes and depositing it in a nearby trash bin, his other hand fishing in a pocket for his lighter. “I sent you that message nearly ten minutes ago.”

Peter rolled his eyes at his father’s use of his birth name, a habit the older man only tended to dip into when he was delivering reprimands.

“Might’ve gotten here quicker if you’d given me more info,” he grumbled back. “An address might have helped, or maybe a hint on what you were hunting.”

Hideyoshi flicked at his lighter a few times, swore quietly when nothing emerged from it, and snapped his thumb and forefinger together. A candle sized flame flickered to momentary life between his digits and he lit his cigarette, waving his hand a few times to extinguish the flame. He took a deep puff of the smoke, held it in his lungs for a moment, and exhaled.

“You really shouldn’t rely on supplied information so much.” He answered eventually. “Sets you up for situations where you have to make do without it.”

Peter considered this for a moment, weighed the idea in his mind, and eventually replied. “The hat makes you look stupid.”

The old man snorted. “Your mother likes it. Says it makes me look like a detective.”

“My mother is an angel and a liar,” Peter replied with a grin. “Now, where are we headed? I’d rather get home quickly, I did have plans for the evening.”

Hideyoshi nodded, pointing with the tip of his cigarette towards the river at the terminus of the road.

“Reports of shadow figures skulking about around an apartment block near the Pont Royal at night time.” He murmured. “A few random assaults in alleyways leaving people with perplexing injuries. A Swedish boy severely wounded at a local youth hostel, the girl who was traveling with him, one Tuva Bergqvist, hasn’t been seen since. I’m thinking someone developed some summoning powers.”

Peter glanced at his father, irritated. “Bogeymen, really? You needed my help dealing with some novice summoner who, by the sounds of it, can’t even keep a few bogeymen in command?”

“If I wanted to hunt them,” Hideyoshi replied. “Then yes, I could have done this myself, but this newbie has shown a little bit of talent. One of these bogeymen, if the report is right, remained corporeal even after being hit by a car. Besides, I’m fairly sure most of the harm done was accidental. I think the kid might be worth training. There might be one or two control issues, but there’s power there. Figured I might give them a shot.”

“Alright, fine,” Peter answered evenly. “But the fact remains, it’s not like you need any help to restrain some entry level summoner, even if they do have some skill.”

“I don’t speak french nearly as well as you,” said his father. “Let alone swedish. Figured you wouldn’t mind helping your old man talk the kid down and make the offer.” He turned a stony look across at Peter. “Seems like the least you could do, seeing as you keep refusing to let me train my grand kids.”

Peter took in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on maintaining his calm. “That was a low blow, dad.”

Hideyoshi shrugged, offering the cigarette packet to his son. “I’ll stop bringing it up when you let me train them. Simple as that.”

“Is it really too much to ask that you just let your grand kids live normal, happy lives?” Peter asked, raising a hand in refusal of the offer.

“A little,” his father replied mildly. “At this point, I just wish you’d tell me what it is you’re so scared of. They’re your kids and my grand kids. There’s no doubt they’d be powerful, so what’s the problem?”

“The problem, dad,” Peter replied as they began walking together in the direction of the bridge, trying to pretend he wasn’t just repeating the same argument for the hundredth time. “Is the mortality rate. Spin it any way you like, but those two have a better chance of living long, healthy lives if they don’t know a damn thing about any of this.”

“And how are you going to stop them figuring out something’s amiss when they’re still around at a hundred and forty, hmm?” Hideyoshi asked. “Longevity is well established in our family, Peter, and your kids are included in that, even with their mother being as powerless as she is. Or what if one of them breaks an arm or something and manifests their powers?” He gave his son a pointed look. “I heard James just got out of hospital.”

“Dad,” Peter sighed. “I know. I’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since the injury, and he hasn’t shown any signs. I even set him up for a psych eval to see if he had any mental powers hidden away. Nothing, not for a week and a half. Looks like James is just a little too tough for a broken leg to do it.”

Hideyoshi grunted. “Well, he is my grandson. Of course he’d be hard to crack. You could at least teach the kid a martial art or something, you know. Who the hell is clumsy enough to break a leg on playground equipment?”

“Eh, the bars were slippery.” Peter muttered. The lie flowed surprisingly easily off his tongue. James had asked that no one know why he had been placed in the hospital, so a broken leg and playground equipment it was. “But hey, if it’d make you feel better to start teaching him martial arts, you are more than welcome to offer.”

Hideyoshi finished his cigarette in silence as they made their way towards the bridge, tossing the nub into the gutter.

“In any case,” he grunted eventually. “We’re nearly there.” He pointed towards a building on the opposite side of the road to them. “Most of the shadows seem to be originating from this apartment block. Given where most of the stories take place, I’d hazard that our summoner is holed up near the top somewhere. Feel like giving your old man a hand?”

Peter shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

The two wordlessly stepped inside, stepping shoulder to shoulder so as to fill the narrow hallways of the building as they made their way up to the upper floors. Peter had half expected to encounter a bogeyman before they even reached their destination, but the place was surprisingly quiet. He did notice, however, the way the shadows seemed to flicker and shift in the corners of his eyes, the dim light of the corridor lamps not quite penetrating the dark as far as it should, both classic signs of the entities, to be sure, but it was surprising to see them so non-aggressive. It took a lot to restrain their naturally violent tendencies. Bogeymen were, after all, usually formed of nightmares and negativity, and thus tended to be fairly… impulsive.

“Any ideas on narrowing down where this girl’s hiding?” Peter asked as they made their way up a flight of stairs to the highest floor.

“Not really,” Hideyoshi replied. “Thought we could scare her out, see how she handles the pressure.”

“Nice to see you still have your mean streak,” Peter snorted. “Sounds workable. Give me a few minutes to set something up.” He dug his phone out of a pocket, opening up a web browser, and finding an appropriate sound file. “If her shadows have hurt people in front of her, then she’s bound to be on edge. This should do the trick. You wait by the stairs to intercept. I’ll do the rest.”

Hideyoshi nodded, leaning casually against the stairway wall. Peter made his way along to the end of the top floor hallway, before pressing a few buttons on his phone. It began to emanate the sound of a french police siren, relatively quiet. He turned the speaker to its highest setting, before he began to speak, relatively loudly, transitioning easily from japanese to french.

The vast majority of powers that people tended to manifest had very noticeable effects; his father’s pyrokinetics, this Tuva girl’s monster summoning and Jackie’s intercontinental teleportation, to name a few. In his early career, his childhood especially, he had envied such powers to a degree. When his own power had been diagnosed to him as ‘intuitive linguistics,’ both he, and his parents, to a lesser degree, had been distinctly disappointed. Their family traditionally tended towards combat readiness in all things, and a power that helped one avoid conflict had seemed, at the time, counterintuitive at best. It was times like this one, however, when he couldn’t help but relish it a little.

“Tuva Bergqvist!” He bellowed over the sound of his phone’s klaxon wail, his Parisian accent nigh on perfect. “We have you surrounded! Please do not be alarmed! Please come out quietly with your hands over your head!”

The response was not long in coming. One or two confused looking heads poked out from behind apartment doors, gazing at the strange, shouty man apprehensively. One door, however, burst open with such force that the hinges were almost pried from the wall, causing the startled onlookers to rapidly return into the safety of their homes. A young woman emerged from within, surrounded on all sides by at least four separate and distinct shadow men. The girl sent one terrified glance towards Peter, before positively bolting down the hallway, all but one of her shadows running in stride with her. The remaining shadow turned towards Peter and spread its arms wide, not moving, but clearly intent on barring his path. He almost laughed, stepping forwards towards the thing. His right hand dipped into a pocket, his fingers threading through the grips of his knuckle dusters.

The creature, if that was even the correct word, opened what passed for its mouth, a gaping maw of glistening, oily looking teeth embedded in a featureless plane of a face, and let out a screeching wail that was half animal, half washing machine. It raised an arm high into the air, a massive, clawed hand poised to strike. Peter decked it in the face.

The creature briefly recoiled from the blow, only to rear up and let out another unnatural sounding wail. It made a break for the window at the end of the hallway.

Peter grimaced. It was not unexpected that the creature would run, bogeymen were surprisingly cowardly things. But broken windows tended to attract attention. He whirled around as it passed him, and slammed his fist once more into its odd, almost gaseous head. As with most apparitions, bogeymen tended to break if one applied too much damage to a given spot, so he aimed once again for the face. There was a sound like a glass cracking, and something similar to smoke began to billow from the creature’s head. Whatever physical presence the thing had, it began to lose it. He struck it again, and the shadow lost cohesion, its body exploding into a cloud of faintly foul smelling black smoke.

Peter stood, brushed himself off, and made his way after the girl at a brisk jog. He made it to the stairwell just in time to watch the last of the bogeymen disintegrate, immolated by his father’s flames. The old man hadn’t even moved from his position, leaning against the wall.

The girl, Tuva, was backing away from him, not looking behind herself and, as a result, she bumped into Peter in the attempt. She whirled on him with a little yelp, a look of undisguised terror in her eyes. Apparently by sheer instinct, the girl attempted to strike him. Peter caught her hand in his own with little effort, and said, not unkindly:

“Miss Tuva, please calm down. We’re here to help you.”

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Mistakes: 1.3

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Author’s note: So I won’t normally be doing this, but here I think it’s important. This chapter contains a scene you may find very hard to read. I know that I found it hard to write. If you have read this far, then you already know that this story deals with child abuse and molestation. This chapter explores that further and while it is not, to my mind, tasteless or crass, some of you may find reading it a difficult experience.

James:

James exited the school building with a yawn. It had been a tiring day. A good day, to be sure, but a tiring one. He glanced sidelong at Casper walking alongside him. The other boy had come to find him the moment classes ended, picking up their conversation where they’d left off at lunch without missing a beat.

“So, how’re you getting home?” He asked, gesturing to the parking lot. “My parents usually come to pick me up, you?”

“Meh,” Casper shrugged. “I walk home. It’s not too far to my place, and there’s some stuff I like to do on the way home.”

“Oh yeah?” James replied, curious. “What sort of stuff?”

“Fighting crime,” Casper replied, totally straight faced. “Me and this other kid I know. We find evildoers and beat them up and stuff.”

James snorted, shaking his head slightly. He was rapidly coming to the conclusion that his new friend might actually be a massive dork.

“Like superheroes?” He asked. “That sounds fun. Do you have an evil league you get to fight? Or maybe one super smart rich guy with way too much free time.”

“Space Nazis,” the freckly boy replied immediately. “They’re like regular Nazis, but they live in spaaaace!” He raised his hands to shoulder level, wiggling his fingers for dramatic emphasis.

“Does living in space make them extra evil?”

“Absolutely,” came the reply. “These ones steal puppies!”

James let out an exaggerated gasp, raising a hand to his mouth in feigned shock.

“Oh no! That’s SUPER evil!”

“That’s not all, though,” Casper continued, his grin growing wider. “Every puppy they steal gets experimented on and added to their secret legion of puppy cyborgs. They’re gonna use them to take over the earth!”

James let out a high pitched little giggle at the sudden, vivid mental image.

“Okay, stop it!” He said, giving the other boy a gentle shove. “I gotta go, my parents are waiting.” He pointed a finger to the parking lot where, sure enough, his mother’s car sat waiting for him. “This was fun, though. See you tomorrow, Casper!”

“Yeah,” came the shouted reply from behind him as he set off towards the car at a jog. “See you tomorrow, James!” He waved behind himself in Casper’s general direction, before reaching the car door and yanking it open with a sharp tug.

“Hi Mom,” He greeted as he climbed inside the car, catching sight of each of his family in turn. “Hi Dad. Hey Bex! I had the best day today!”

The response this proclamation received was not as expected. Sarah gazed at him, eyes transfixed for a few moments, before reaching out and yanking the boy forwards into a tight hug.

“That’s good to hear,” she murmured, her words masked by a slight sniffle. “I was so worried.”

Peter, for his part, gave his son a few brief pats on the head, smiling down at him.

“That’s my boy.” He said quietly.

“Uhh,” Rebecca muttered from her seat, glancing around. “Mom? Dad? Why are you being weird?”

James felt a slight twinge, a momentary regret for making his mother sad. He pushed it aside, prying himself free of his mother’s grip.

“It was really cool!” He continued proudly, determined to reassure his mother that everything was fine. “I got to talk to all my friends and handed in all my homework and then I made friends with another boy called Casper who talks about space Nazis!”

Peter chuckled slightly at his son’s words. Sarah, for her part, nodded along, rubbing at her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket as she listened.

“What’s a space Nazi?” Rebecca asked, prodding her brother in the side.

“It’s like a regular Nazi,” James replied, turning to his sister with a grin. “But it’s a Nazi that lives in space! They have evil puppy robots!”

Rebecca gazed at her brother for a few moments, before crossing her arms and scowling at him.

“I don’t get it,” she muttered. “Your friends are weird.”

James prodded his sister in the side and she yelped, giving him a look of utmost betrayal. He stuck out his tongue at her and she replied in kind.

“Now now,” Sarah chided with a wet little chuckle. “Be nice, kids.”

“So,” Peter asked, his tone casual. “You gonna come back to school again tomorrow?”

James stopped for a moment, glancing first at his father, then briefly at his mother.

“Well…” He said, his voice small. “I mean… I wanna. But, if it makes you sad, I-I guess I can stay ho-“

“No!” Sarah cut him off, shaking her head vehemently. “No, if you’re having fun and it’s making you happy, then that’s all I need to hear! I’ll be fine, sweetie, I promise.”

“… You sure?” James asked, gazing up at his mother uncertainly.

“Yeah,” she replied, giving him a brief nod. “I’ll be fine.” Without looking at her, Peter placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder, his fingers tightening to give her a little squeeze.

The three of them gazed between each other for a few moments, James feeling uncertain whether he should be feeling happy or sad right now. The moment broke when Rebecca, apparently deciding she was being ignored, chose to capitalize on James’ lack of attention by launching herself across the seat at his unprotected side, roaring a battle cry and poking him fiercely between the ribs with every chance she got. The boy yelped in surprise and the tiniest amount of pain, before making his counterattack, playfully wrestling his sister back into her seat. Peter and Sarah only laughed.

The car was about halfway home, stuck at a set of traffic lights, when James spoke again, deciding to air a topic he had been debating with himself all day.

“Uhh…” He cleared his throat quietly, drawing his parents’ attention in an instant. “I umm… I was… K-kinda hoping… m-maybe I could try sleeping in my own bed again tonight?”

Almost immediately, the light atmosphere within the car dropped, both adults turning to look at him with very different, but equally serious expressions.

“Are you sure?” Peter asked, his voice set in a tense sort of calm. “We can go as slow with this as you need to, you know?” Sarah nodded, her expression set in stone, before returning her eyes to the road.

James hesitated, uncertain, but eventually nodded.

“I… I had a really good day today. F-felt more normal than I have in a long time and… and I think maybe it’s enough… You know?”

“Sure I do,” Peter murmured, his tone low. “Of course you can, James.”

“You know where our room is,” Sarah added quietly, still not turning her eyes from the road. “Come in anytime if you can’t sleep. I don’t care if you wake us up.”

James nodded, relieved.

“Yeah. I will. Thanks Mom. Thanks, Dad.”

Casper:

Casper grunted slightly as he thought back over the events of his day, slowly trudging his way home along the slightly less crowded city streets.

James was a confusing one; that was certain. His emotions seemed just as stable and happy as any other kid for the most part, but Casper couldn’t help but notice the strange flicker of fear the boy felt every time a teacher had passed his desk. Further than that, though, he’d felt James’ parents once again as they picked him up from school, and had received possibly the strangest influx of mixed emotions he had ever felt. Anxiety, relief, a moment of what felt like pride from the father and a stab of guilt from the mother. Casper shook his head. Every new piece of context he got, it just made the puzzle seem harder to figure out, somehow.

“Why didn’t these damn powers come with a manual?” He grumbled, his feet starting to stomp slightly as he trudged his way home in the afternoon sun.

James:

“Shh!” The stranger said urgently, his voice halfway between a whisper and a command. “It’s okay! I’m not gonna hurt you!”

“But you ARE hurting me!” The boy yelled, trying to pull away with all his might. “Let go!” The hands grasping his wrists only tightened their grip as he struggled.

“It’s okay!” The man replied, his voice taking on a tone of false sounding reassurance. “You’ll see. It’ll be fine! Just hold still.”

The boy groaned and fought as a hand grasped him by the back of the head, forcing his face down onto the grimy surface of the bathroom wash station. His nostrils filled with the stinging aromas of industrial hand soaps and grease. Despite every effort, his vision started to blur as water began slowly building around his eyes.

“No, let me go!” He yelled hoarsely, trying to lift his head, only for it to be pushed back down even harder than before. “Please!”

The assailant did not respond, but for a few small grunts of effort as he pulled at something outside of the boy’s field of view.

The next thing James felt was pain. He let out a single, ragged scream.

“Shhh now…” Said the stranger quietly, his voice catching occasionally with exertion. “It’ll… stop hurting… in a minute.”


James awoke in tears, his body rolled tight as he could into a little ball. The boy was so out of it that, for the first few moments, he completely failed to notice how his body hung, suspended, almost three feet above his bed. Instead, he focused inward, trying to bring himself to some semblance of calm.

“Just a dream,” he whispered to himself in the silence, tears still streaming down his face. “Just a dream. Just a dream.”

Only when sufficiently calm did James open his eyes, noting with a small yelp how far away the covers of his bed seemed. He uncurled himself, stretching out and grasping for the tangled sheets below, just an inch or two out of his reach. Panic rising, he began moving, almost swimming, trying to pull himself through the air towards his bed.

“Come on,” he muttered to himself, trying and failing to quell his rising terror. “Just… a little closer. Gotta get… back… down.”

All at once, gravity seemed to reassert itself. James fell back to the bed with a soft thud, landing awkwardly on one shoulder. He bounced, his body going base over apex, before coming to rest on his back. He lay there for a long while, staring up at his ceiling with glassy eyes as he tried and failed to absorb the shock.

“What’s happening to me?” He asked quietly of the empty room.

Peter:

Peter had never been a deep sleeper, even before his parents’ training had instilled vigilance in him. As such, the faint creak of the bedroom door slowly swinging open, its hinges allowed to rust on purpose so as to always alert him to an entry, was enough to rouse him immediately. Peter moved slowly, feigning sleep, reaching an arm under his pillow and finding the grip of his gun. He heard the soft sound of footsteps approaching as the intruder drew nearer and felt his body drawing tense in response, like a coiled spring. Taking a firmer grip on his pistol with his right hand, Peter moved his left to gently prod Sarah awake beside him. She roused with just the tiniest shudder, coming to alertness near instantaneously.

There was a minute shift of weight as the newcomer reached the bed, their breathing heavy and, perplexingly, dropped down onto the mattress. Peter allowed his eyes to open a crack and glanced down at the newcomer in the darkness. Hard to make out. He began to slowly pull his gun free of the pillow, ready to confront whoever this new assailant was.

The stranger made a small sniffling noise, their small form coming into sharper focus as they began to crawl up along the bed sheets. Recognizing the intruder, Peter immediately let his grip on the gun relax, pushing it back deep into its hiding place.

“Hey James,” he murmured, his voice quiet. “You okay, little buddy?”

The boy didn’t respond, shifting up to his father’s side and laying himself down, silent but for the occasional quivering breath. Peter let out a small sigh, reaching out and pulling his son in close, letting James’ head rest against his chest. He felt the child’s hands reach up around him in return, the boy pulling himself in tighter.

“Couldn’t sleep?” He asked, moving his hand to slowly stroke the boy’s pyjama clad back. Again, no response. He felt James’ arms tighten around him, the boy practically clinging on to him. “Okay,” he answered quietly. “It’s okay. Wanna talk about it?”

James shook his head, the movement producing a slight rustling noise as his hair shifted against the bed. Peter gave a small nod, shifting slightly to hold his son more comfortably, one arm dropping back to the mattress as the other draped over James’ shoulders.

“I see,” he murmured, allowing his eyes to close once more. “That’s okay. Go to sleep, buddy. It’s gonna be fine, alright?” Against his chest, he felt James give a small nod, his breathing beginning to settle just a little. “That’s right,” he said gently as the boy began to slowly drift off to sleep. “There we go.” Under the covers, Peter felt his wife’s hand find his own, wrapping around his fingers and giving them a squeeze. He squeezed back, slowly trying to clear his head enough to fall back once more to sleep.

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Mistakes: 1.2

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“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sarah asked quietly, gazing back at her son in the rear view mirror. “We can always wait a few more days, you know.”

Before she’d even finished talking, the boy was shaking his head, arms folding defensively.

“Yeah, I know, mom,” James replied. “But I really wanna get back there. I’m sick and tired of just staying at home all day. I wanna see my friends. Please? You said I could.”

From his spot in the side seat, Peter raised a placating hand.

“No one’s stopping you, James,” he murmured. “We just want to be sure you’re ready.”

“Well I am, ok?” The boy replied with a hint of impatience. “Can I go now? I wanna say hi to Charlie before class starts.”

Sarah sighed, glad at least to see her son acting a little more energetic today.

“Do you have your phone?” She asked, turning in her seat to face him. James nodded.

“Yup. And it’s fully charged.”

“Lunchbox?”

Another nod.

“Schoolbooks?”

“Mom,” James grumbled, shooting an impatient glance out of the window. “I have everything, I promise.”

Sarah chuckled.

“Alright, sweetie,” she murmured, reaching out to pull the boy into a hug. “Have a nice day.”

“I will,” James replied, grinning. He pulled back from the hug after a few moments to open the car door, hopping down onto the pavement with a light thud. “See ya later!”

The door slammed closed behind the boy and the two parents watched, smiling out of the window at their son as he made his way up the steps to the school building.

“Well done,” Peter said gently, still holding the smile fixed in place as James ascended the last of the steps. “Now just hold the smile till he moves out of sight, okay?”

“Yeah,” Sarah replied, her voice tense. “I know. Can’t let him know how hard this is.”

As James reached the top of the steps, he turned, glancing back at his parents and giving them a wave. Peter and Sarah waved back, smiling as best they could. The deception seemed to work, and James turned back away from them, stepping in through the wide double door.

The moment James was out of sight, Sarah lifted her hands to her face, covering her mouth before letting out a muffled noise somewhere between a scream and a primal groan.

Peter placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder, attempting to reassure her as best he could.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “He’ll be fine. There’ll be teachers around him the whole day and we’ll be here to pick him and Bex up the moment classes finish. It’s going to be fine.”

Even as he spoke the words, Peter was trying desperately to believe them himself. Even knowing them to be true, it was not easy.

Sarah, head still buried in her hands, nodded slowly.

“I hate this,” she whispered, her voice coming out slightly muffled. “Watching him cry in his sleep. Having to pretend I’m totally fine when it feels like I’m breaking inside. I hate it.”

“I know,” Peter replied, reaching out to wrap an arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “Me too.”

“You know what the worst part is, though?” She continued, leaning in against her husband’s chest. “The worst part is having to apply that fucking makeup every morning. Having to look at those damn markings for ten minutes and pretend that it isn’t bothering me at all.”

“I know,” Peter answered, slowly rubbing Sarah’s back in comfort. “If you want, I can take over makeup duty for a while.”

In spite of herself, Sarah let out a choked little chuckle, leaning backwards a little and removing her hands from her face to gaze across at her husband with slightly wet eyes.

“Oh please,” she rebuked gently. “As if you know the first thing about makeup.”

“What if I do?” Peter replied with the very smallest of smiles. “I’ll have you know it takes a lot of work to look this perfect.” He gestured to his face playfully.

“As if!” Sarah snorted. “You don’t need makeup. You have that perfect Asian face thing going on. You’ll look twenty right up until you turn forty, and then you’ll look like an old man forever.”

“Oh, so it’s an Asian thing, is it?” Peter grinned. “I take offense at that, racist.”

Sarah chuckled, adopting her best deep south accent.

“Sorry partner. All you Japs look the same to me. Yessir!”

The two gazed at one another in silence for a moment or two before both, near simultaneously, began to laugh.

“What was that voice?” Peter asked, prodding his wife gently in the shoulder. “That was terrible!”

“Sorry!” Sarah chuckled. “Guess I never spent enough time working on my stereotypes.”

After a few moments, the levity died away, the interior of the car falling slowly back to still silence.

“Thanks for being here today,” Sarah murmured eventually. “I don’t think I could have done this on my own.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” Peter answered. “It’s not as if I would have been able to focus at work today anyway.”

“Still,” said Sarah, giving her husband a small squeeze before pulling back and setting her attention to starting up the car. “Thank you.”

Casper:

Casper arrived at the school early, as had become his habit in recent months. Arriving early meant that the emotions all around him would build up gradually, allowing him to slowly acclimatize to each new arrival rather than being overwhelmed in having to deal with them all at once. At the same time, arriving earlier made it easier for him to find a mind to focus on in order to help drown out the others. It was easier focusing on just one set of emotions. Doing so made it possible to discern his own feelings from the jumble.

He sat on the steps as the first of the other students began to arrive, slowly opening his power out and allowing their minds to brush against his. He ignored most of them as best he could, identifying each mind by feel before continuing his search for one that might make a good shelter for the day.

In the months that Casper had been taking refuge in the emotions of others, he had found three or four minds that he preferred over the rest. These were the minds that tended to be the steadiest or the happiest, rendering them both more comfortable to focus on and somewhat less distracting. These were also students whose schedules placed them close to him throughout the day, preventing the necessity of finding someone new as they moved away.

Casper’s attention was drawn for a moment by the arrival of a mind he hadn’t felt recently. A boy from the year below him; James, if he remembered it right. Despite never having spoken, Casper liked this boy. His mind had almost always been calm and cheerful, a trait that had led him to take refuge there a number of times and which was also what drew his attention now. Something was strange about James today, beyond the anxiety he seemed to be feeling. He felt… different somehow, more serious. Had something happened to the boy?

Curious, he glanced over to the spot where he felt the other boy’s emotions emanating from. He found James with relative ease. He was sitting in the back seat of a car, talking to an Asian looking man and a blonde lady who Casper took to be his parents. As he watched, the boy’s emotions shifted, moving from anxious excitement, to defensiveness, through irritation and then back into the same anxious excitement, tinted now with a small touch of relief. Had he just won an argument?

Confused, Casper expanded his power out slightly further, attempting to gain some sense of context from the minds of James’ parents. He reached out, brushing his mind against theirs for the briefest of moments. Almost instinctively, he recoiled, pulling his power back from the pair. He stared at them both as they waved their son goodbye. Both adults were anxious on a scale that he struggled to even find the words for.

Casper shook his head, trying to clear it of the sudden surge of emotion, before returning his attention to James. The boy’s emotions shifting slightly towards excitement as he encountered a cluster of his friends inside the school building. His curiosity piqued, Casper made his way inside the school, resolving to observe the strange boy further through the day.

James:

Being back at school was, for James, an almost incomprehensible relief.

For the first time in what felt like an age, no one was looking at him strangely, aside, perhaps, from one or two teachers, perhaps noticing how he tried to keep his distance from them. It wasn’t really something he could help. Adults made him nervous.

James’ friends, however, didn’t seem to notice a thing, and he relaxed into their presence like a warm bath, chatting about tv and football and books at every opportunity. It felt normal. It felt right. He found himself smiling again without having to make an effort. It was nice.

James sat on the outskirts of the school oval at lunchtime, eating an apple as he watched his friends play some undefinable ball game they’d devised between themselves, one bearing a passing resemblance to both dodgeball and rugby. They’d invited him to join, but he’d declined, cautious of the delicate layer of makeup covering the marks on his face. James had instead elected to watch, sitting with his back to a wall. It felt safer knowing there was no one behind him. He took a bite of his apple, munching on it slowly as he soaked in the rays of the early afternoon sun. He’d missed this.

“Hey,” came an unfamiliar male voice from somewhere to James’ right. “Can I sit with you?”

James turned his head, his eyes falling on a sandy haired, freckly boy who he vaguely recognized as being from the year above him.

“Sure,” he shrugged, shifting to the side by a foot or so in invitation. “Plenty of room.”

The other boy took a step forward, his form slumping down beside James without ceremony. The two sat silently together for a few minutes, watching the game. James took another bite of his apple.

“Why aren’t you joining in?” The unknown boy asked, his voice mild, one hand gesturing to the other children moving in clusters around the ball.

“Didn’t feel like it today,” James lied with a shrug, only a touch regretful. In honesty, he’d have liked nothing better than to be playing ball with the others. He took another bite of his apple.

“Huh,” the freckly boy replied after a few moments, staring at the ball. “That’s kinda weird. I usually see you out there running with the others.”

“I didn’t know there was anyone watching,” James muttered, glancing sideways at the newcomer. “That’s kinda weird too.”

“Meh,” The pale boy shrugged. “Just saw you playing every now and again is all.” He grinned, casting James a mischievous look. “Or maybe I should say I’ve been watching from the shadows for years. For fate determined us to be star crossed millennia ago, when I was just a boy, and I have kept this form for years, waiting for you to arrive.”

“I think maybe you watch too many crummy romance movies.” James replied with a snort.

“Nah,” The freckled boy chuckled. “Mostly just anime, really.”

“Yeah?” James asked, interested. “Me too. My grandparents keep giving me boxes of them so I won’t forget my Japanese.”

“You speak Japanese?”

“Yup,” James replied proudly. “Ojiisan and Obaasan come from there, so they wanted me to learn it early.”

“Oji-” the other boy began, one eyebrow raised, before James cut him off.

“My grandparents,” he supplied. “Sorry.”

The two were silent for a few minutes, watching the game. The quiet was broken by a small grumble from the sandy haired boy’s stomach. James glanced at him, head slightly cocked to one side.

“Don’t you have your lunch with you?” He asked mildly.

“Uh… No,” the pale boy replied awkwardly, his eyes dropping to the grass between his knees as he began picking at a stray root. “I uhh… forgot to grab it on my way to school.”

James shrugged, one hand moving to his own bright red lunchbox by his side and digging around in it for a moment, before producing a small, plastic wrapped package.

“I have a spare sandwich if you want it,” he offered. “I’m not gonna eat it.”

The freckled boy shook his head awkwardly for a few moments, his face flushing slightly in embarrassment.

“N-no thanks,” he mumbled. “I’m okay.”

James gazed at the other boy for a few moments, before very deliberately placing the sandwich on the ground between them.

“Well, I’m not gonna touch it,” he said with a shrug. “So I guess it’ll just sit there till someone comes and cleans it up.” That done, he returned his attention to the game, watching the newcomer out of the corner of his eye.

After a few moments, the sandy haired boy picked up the sandwich, carefully avoiding looking at James the whole time. He held the package between his knees as he unwrapped it, looking almost as if he was trying to shield it from James’ sight. The boy took a bite, chewing for a moment or two, then swallowing.

“T-thanks.” Came the quiet mutter, sounding almost ashamed.

“S’okay,” James replied, smiling. “I’m James, what’s your name?”

“Casper,” the boy said quietly. “I’m Casper.”

“Nice to meet you, Casper,” said James, grinning. “So, what sort of anime do you like?”

Previous Chapter:                                                                                         Next Chapter:

Prologue: David.

Doctor’s notes, Subject #24170. Alias: David. Session 1.

Notes and recommendations of attendant therapist, Natalie Sharpe:

                David (Pseudonym provided by parental request, to be removed if deviation abilities are confirmed) has displayed mild to moderate behavioural change since occurrence of primary event, sexual assault by an unnamed individual. Behavioural changes are concerning, but within expectations. Parents report that David has been angry, withdrawn and largely non-communicative since the event, frequently displaying signs of recent crying, but never doing so in their presence. Subject discharged from hospital three days previously, no signs reported of physiological or metaphysical manifestations: weight, body temperature and brain activity all normal for a child of his age. Mild decrease in muscular strength flagged as concerning, possible sign of type two manifestation, but no corresponding change in bodily density. Listing shock and physical trauma as probable cause, overall risk graded as low.

                Behavioural changes are cause for possible concern, if antisocial patterns develop, could lead to greater risk of harm in the event of deviance.

Personal note from attendant therapist: ‘While I am aware that the social and emotional wellbeing of the child is not the concern of this examination, I still feel a moral obligation to point out the need for sensitive treatment of this issue for the sake of his development into the future.’

                Be advised, David has been noticeably skittish with all adults besides his parents since the event, more so with males than females.

Transcript of audio-visual session recording taken down by supervisor Sullivan is as follows:

David enters, standing by the doorway for several seconds. Notably, his marks of purity and pain, obtained during the sexual assault in question, seem to have been covered, presumably with makeup. He lifts a hand to the side of his face, apparently reassuring himself that the marks are still covered.

Doctor Sharpe: “Hello, my name is Doctor Sharpe, Natalie, if you prefer. What’s your name?”

David: “Don’t you already know my name?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Yes, but I feel it helps if you have a chance to introduce yourself to me, rather than me just knowing these things.”

Both David and Doctor Sharpe are silent for a short period of time.

David: “…David.”

Doctor Sharpe: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, David. Have a seat if you like.”

A pause.

David: “Do I have to?”

Doctor Sharpe: “No, you don’t have to. If it makes you feel more comfortable to remain close to the door, that’s perfectly understandable.”

A pause.

David: “Is this the part where you ask me where on the doll the bad man touched me?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “I take it your parents let you watch Law and Order then?”

David laughs.

David: “Sometimes.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs as well.

Doctor Sharpe: “Just let me note that down here, it’s very important.”

David appears to grow mildly agitated.

David: “Is it?”

Doctor Sharpe: “No, it’s not. I was joking David, you can relax.”

A pause.

David: “I already told the other doctors, I don’t know who he was.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s not why we’re here, David.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “We’re here to make sure everything’s okay with you, to make sure that what happened didn’t hurt you permanently.”

Doctor Sharpe stands, retrieves a soda from the fridge and offers one to David, who accepts.

David: “The doctor at the hospital said I was recovering fine.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Not that kind of hurt, David.”

A pause. Doctor Sharpe opens a second can of soda and walks with it towards David. He flinches slightly as she approaches. Doctor Sharpe hesitates, before placing the can on the floor and returning to her seat. David mumbles something too quietly for the recorder to pick up, before retrieving the soda, returning to his position by the door and drinking. David looks out of the office window for several minutes. Doctor Sharpe watches David in silence.

David: “I… I remember it sometimes.”

Doctor Sharpe: “I imagine you do, yes.”

David: “H-he said it would stop hurting after a while, but it didn’t.”

A pause. David begins to cry, wipes his eye on a sleeve, takes three deep breaths and continues.

David: “I keep remembering it when I try to sleep. It keeps me awake, makes it harder.”

Doctor Sharpe consults her notes briefly.

Doctor Sharpe: “Your parents didn’t mention any sleep problems.”

David shakes his head.

David: “I didn’t tell them.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Why not?”

David: “I didn’t want them to worry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Trust me David, they’re already worried.”

David: “I know.”

A pause.

David: “Is there anything you can do to help me sleep? I’m really tired.”

Doctor Sharpe: “There are a few things we can try, yes.”

David: “Can you give me some pills or something? Something to make the memories go away for a while?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Pills are certainly an option, but we don’t really want to depend on them, especially not at your age.”

David crosses his arms and frowns.

David: Imitating Doctor Sharpe, “Not at your age.”

Doctor Sharpe raises her eyebrows.

Doctor Sharpe: “You’re twelve, David. Too many pills could cause problems.”

David: “So could not being able to sleep.”

Doctor Sharpe: “There are other things we can try for that besides sleeping pills. For instance, you might find it easier if you tried sleeping somewhere where you felt safe. Maybe your parents’ room?”

David: “But that’d make them worry even more!”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “It may sound strange, David, but having you close by might be enough to help them worry less.”

David: “That’s stupid.”

Doctor Sharpe shrugs.

Doctor Sharpe: “Yeah, adults are stupid sometimes.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “Have you spoken with anyone about your markings?”

David moves his hand to the side of his face, brushing a finger against the point where the mark of purity sits.

David: “It still feels weird having them there.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s understandable.”

David: “Does it feel weird for adults when they get them?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “It can take some getting used to, yes. I remember when I got my mark, a lot of my friends used to tease me about it, they kept asking me who the lucky boy was. I imagine it’s a little harder for you though. Most people get them by choice, after all.”

David: “I guess that makes sense.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Have you spoken to anyone about your options in that regard?”

A pause.

David: “One of the doctors at the hospital said they could bleach the skin, cover them back up or something. I’m not sure how I feel about doing that, though.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That’s understandable. Would you like for us to talk it through together? It may help you decide how you feel about it.”

A pause.

David: “Sure.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Good, I’m glad. Well, first of all, there is the social aspect. How do you feel about interacting with your friends and family members with the markings?”

David: “It… it feels weird, sort of like everyone’s staring at me for having them.”

Doctor Sharpe: “That is a concern, yes. People in your position often find that the presence of the marks attracts a degree of unwelcome attention. As you are probably aware, the purity marks usually appear when an individual loses their virginity. In kids your age, this can often lead to a degree of unwanted questioning, how do you feel about that possibility?”

A pause.

David: “Not great. I… I’ve been sort of hiding it from people whenever I leave the house.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Yes, I noticed you had them covered up. Did your mother do that for you?”

David: “Y-yeah.”

A pause. David hesitates for some time, staring at the floor, before raising the cuff of his sleeve to his cheek, seemingly in an attempt to wipe the makeup off. Doctor Sharpe speaks before he has a chance to start removing it.

Doctor Sharpe: “You don’t have to take it off if it makes you uncomfortable David. I promise, I am not going to judge you.”

David seems relieved, quickly returning his hand to his side.

David: “Thanks. It… I know it’s not good to lie, but…”

Doctor Sharpe: “No. In this case, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. It’s a very private thing you’re trying to deal with and you don’t want your peers to know. You aren’t doing anything wrong.”

A pause.

David: “Thanks, Natalie.”

Doctor Sharpe nods in acknowledgement. David shakes his head.

David: “Eww, no, sorry. Calling you Natalie feels weird.”

Doctor Sharpe laughs slightly.

Doctor Sharpe: “I guess I can understand that. Moving on, do you have any problems or concerns about the idea of covering the marks that you’d like to talk about?”

David: “Yeah… I… I’m kinda worried about… what if it doesn’t look real?”

Doctor Sharpe: “I can assure you David, the process is very thorough. I’m sure the doctor showed you some pictures. Besides, no one is going to question it much if your face doesn’t look exactly the same. To be honest, most people don’t pay that much attention.”

A pause.

David: “Could they do it in time for me to go back to school?”

Doctor Sharpe: “Probably not, if you decided to go that route, you’d probably have to keep wearing makeup, like you are now. As I understand it, the surgery has a bit of a waiting list.”

David: “So then how do I stop my friends from finding out? I mean, I know I can cover them and stuff, but what if it rains or something?”

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “That is a valid concern, David, but not as much of an issue as you might be thinking. We usually supply skin patches to people in situations like yours, to help hide the markings for the time being. I was informed that these ones should be a decent match to your skin color.”

Doctor Sharpe opens her desk drawer and rifles through it for a few moments, eventually finding the patches in question. She stands and moves to place them on a table in the middle of the room. Doctor Sharpe returns to her desk to allow David to take the patches without coming into contact with her. David takes the patches and examines them for several seconds.

David: “They look all weird. They feel wrong, too.”

Doctor Sharpe: “I know. These aren’t as realistic as the surgery will be, but as long as you keep them under makeup, they should hold up fine until the replacement surgery. That way, if it rains and your makeup gets washed away, you’ll have time to excuse yourself and go get help.”

David: “Are… are there any downsides? Is there something bad the surgery might do?”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “It… it depends on what you call a downside. For one thing, if we clear the skin, it stays clear. The marks won’t come back the next time you have sex.”

David’s expression changes to one of disgust.

David: “That’s fine. I don’t ever want to do it again anyway.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe: “You may feel differently about that when you get older.”

David: “I don’t care. Right now I never want to do it again. It hurt.”

A pause.

Doctor Sharpe nods.

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, you can make that decision when you come to it. Even if you decided you didn’t like it, the markings could be tattooed back on eventually, if you wanted.”

A pause.

David: “Sure.”

Doctor Sharpe: “Well, I hope talking about it helped you see everything a little more clearly. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

David shakes his head before looking over his shoulder at the door.

David: “No, I think I want to go back to my mom now. Sorry.”

Doctor Sharpe: “I understand. To be honest, I think you did very well for a first session. I’m glad. Until next time, David.”

David: “Yeah, bye.”

David opens the door and exits the room.

Doctor Sharpe waits for the door to close, then sighs. She produces a hand recorder from her desk drawer and begins recording.

Doctor Sharpe: “Personal notes, Patient 24170, session 1. Patient exhibits no observable signs of deviant cognitive changes. His emotional intelligence seems unusually well developed for a twelve year old, although not to any degree that might indicate some empathic ability. I suspect he is simply ahead of his age group in that regard. His reaction to the concept of engaging in sexual activity at some point in the future is, while understandable, still concerning. Action may need to be taken to prevent him from forming unhealthy or inaccurate attitudes towards sexual activity on the basis of his negative experiences.”

End of recording.

Notes and recommendations of supervisor Sullivan regarding case #24170:

                Doctor Sharpe reports no visible or cognitive evidence of deviance manifestation. An all-clear will be issued pending the results of a two week observation period. Doctor Sharpe requests permission to pursue additional sessions with David on a pro-bono basis for therapeutic purposes. Permission will be granted provided the all-clear is received. On a related note, Doctor Sharpe may be too emotionally susceptible to engage in higher level work. Requesting approval to restrict her to positions with level one clearance only.

Report concludes.

James walked out of the office, deep in thought. Talking with Doctor Sharpe had given him a lot to think about. His mother, Sarah, got up quickly, moving towards him with that same look of poorly hidden concern she had been wearing for days now. She looked exhausted, deep lines etched into her face, drawing the pale skin taut.

“How was it?” Sarah asked, reaching out a hand for James to grasp as she made her way towards the receptionist, a large woman seated in the only comfortable looking chair the waiting room had available.

James didn’t answer immediately. He was too busy gathering his thoughts in an attempt to make some sense of them to be fully aware of his surroundings.

“It was… fine, I guess,” he answered eventually. “It was good having someone I can talk to about… stuff.”

James could tell by the way her grip tightened around his hand that something he had said was painful to his mother. Even so, she kept her face carefully controlled. The boy waited patiently as Sarah spoke briefly with the receptionist, before leading him gently from the doctor’s rooms.

“You could always speak to your father and I, you know?” Sarah said quietly as they walked towards the car. “We’re your parents after all, we care about you.”

James sighed. Guilt was a hard thing to deal with, even when applied unintentionally.

“I know, Mom. It’s just… There’s some stuff I don’t want to talk to you about because you’re my parents. I… I’m scared you’ll… look at me different.”

“We won’t,” Sarah replied in that same gentle voice. “I promise.”

‘You’ve been doing it all week.’ James bit back the words, refusing to say them because he knew they would only hurt his mother. Unfortunately, it seemed his silence was equally hurtful to her. She gripped his hand tighter, as if to remind herself that he was still there. James gritted his teeth, angry with himself. He had no idea what to say.

“Hey,” Sarah spoke eventually into the silence, her voice quavering slightly in betrayal of the cheer she forced into the words. “Wanna go get some ice cream on the way home?”

James shook his head, forcing a smile.

“No thanks, Mom. Can we just go home? I promised Bex I’d help her build a spaceship today.”

James wasn’t sure what he would have done without his sister there. It was amazing just how grating people talking soothingly became after a solid week. It had eventually reached the point where he thought it would drive him mad. The only escape the world had offered was Rebecca. At five years old, she lacked the subtlety to pretend everything was okay when it wasn’t. When everyone else around was spouting hollow sounding platitudes and half-heartedly promising that nothing was different, Rebecca wanted to build spaceships with her older brother. James had no words to express how thankful he was of that.

Sarah smiled, slightly more genuine this time. Seeing James spending time with his sister had seemed to reassure her recently.

“Sure thing kiddo.”

The two drove home in silence, freed from the social obligation to converse by the blessed presence of the radio. Sarah let James pick the channel. Arriving home, James tracked down his sister, marched her into the small playroom the two of them grudgingly shared, and proceeded to dump the entire contents of their Lego collection out onto the floor. Both James and Rebecca understood the universal truth that Lego was simply better when it was in a jumbled heap. The two then constructed the grandest spaceship of which they were capable, complete with engines, living quarters and, because Rebecca was five, Dumbledore’s office.

Later, at dinner, James told his parents about his nightmares, including what Doctor Sharpe had said about sleeping somewhere he felt safe. Both Sarah and Peter, James’ father, had agreed to let him sleep in their room without hesitation.

That night, James got a decent night’s sleep for the first time in a week. When James woke in the dark, whimpering and mewling quietly, his parents gently shushed him back to sleep, reassuring the crying boy that everything would be alright. For the first time that week, James believed them.

Next Chapter: