Asylum Temporary Headquarters
New Year’s Eve
“You’ve been gone a while,” Frank remarked as Agent and Natalie returned to the tower. After kicking her boots off, Natalie went to the lounge, kicking her feet up on the sofa and pulling the knit blanket over her feet.
Agent shook his head and went to the staircase, presumably to his room to freshen up. Natalie’s family had spent the last few hours alternately whacking him on the arms for scaring them and tousling his hair for bringing Natalie back. The normally well-groomed Agent took pride in his appearance, so Natalie knew that they wouldn’t see him again until he could change.
“Oh, you know the roustabouts,” Natalie said. Frank wasn’t well acquainted with Thomas Fawkes’ boarders – affectionately referred to as “the roustabouts” by the twins, as they all worked on her father’s stage show – but he had heard stories. “They wouldn’t let us go without dinner, dessert, and gossip.”
“You told them what happened, then?” Frank said, bringing over a bowl of popcorn and sitting on the couch next to his friend. “I called my family, too – they would have loved to see you today, but Mom knows your issues with people. She said you can visit them tomorrow.”
Natalie took a handful of the popcorn, savoring the salty, buttery flavor. While the Primordials hadn’t starved her, she had been surviving on bland rations since the kidnapping and had missed eating real food for the last few days. “I’ll call her before I go to bed,” she said. “I can do that at least.”
“I’m sure she’d appreciate it,” Frank said. He stared at her for a few seconds and added, “I can’t believe you’re really back.”
“Weren’t you the one telling everyone I was still alive?” Natalie asked, throwing a piece of the popcorn at him.
“Yeah,” Frank said, “but still.”
“Hey,” came a voice from the doorway, “Is there room for more at this party?” Natalie looked up and saw Rina, Reiki, Haley, and Eli standing in the doorway. Rina was the one who had asked, but she didn’t wait for an answer before crossing over to the lounge chair.
“Sure, why not?” Natalie shrugged as the others came in as well. Reiki sat at the tea table, and Haley and Eli perched on footstools instead of seats.
“So, big day,” Eli said, grinning as he took some of Natalie’s popcorn.
“Get your own,” Natalie growled at him, covering the bowl protectively. “And it’s no big deal.”
Reiki raised an eyebrow at her. “‘No big deal’?” he repeated. “You came back from the dead, discovered a lost underground city, fought a bunch of elemental Third Gens, and you call that ‘no big deal’?”
Natalie shrugged, talking through the handful of popcorn she had shoved in her mouth. “Rea-y ‘ough,” she said, swallowing the popcorn before continuing. “Considering what else has happened this year, it’s not that big of a deal.”
“We had a funeral for you,” Frank pointed out.
“And compare that to, say, prisoners escaping from Zatvor – the inescapable prison,” Natalie said. “Or Haley and Butterfly getting abducted by aliens. Or the Elutherios drug, or Rina meeting her long-lost jerkwad father, or your sister getting kidnapped, Frank,” she listed.
“Not to mention the tower getting blown up in the riots earlier this year,” Haley piped in.
Natalie glared at her. “Or that,” she admitted. “Or Dark David stabbing Rina, or Hatter switching our bodies… face it, with everything that’s happened this year, me quote-unquote ‘dying’ is a drop in the bucket.”
“Fair,” Frank admitted. “So what do you guys want to do tonight?”
“We haven’t had a movie night in a while,” Natalie said. “I’ll go pick something out – hang on.” Her phone began ringing, playing a decade-old song called “Birds”. Natalie bit her lip, knowing who it was without looking at the caller ID. “I’ll be right back.”
It took her a few minutes to get downstairs and outside of the building, but she had to see him. Parker was skulking in the alleyway next to the Asylum Headquarters, waiting for Natalie to come out.
“What’re you doing here?” Natalie asked, shivering in the cold night air. In her haste after hearing his ringtone, she had forgotten to bring a coat with her, despite it being the middle of winter.
“Can’t I come see my sister after she returned from the dead?” Parker asked, holding up his hands in a shrug.
He took off his Faun mask, letting Natalie see his face for the first time in months. His blond hair was still cut in a short, spiky do, but instead of the professional cuts he had gotten for as long as she could remember, it looked as though he trimmed it himself with a knife. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, either, and his outfit seemed worn. His unkempt appearance showed her how difficult life had been for him, but he also did not look nearly as bad as she had imagined.
“Okay, you’ve seen me,” Natalie said brusquely. “Now what?”
Parker sighed. “I’m sorry, Nat,” he said sincerely. “I know I haven’t said it yet, but I really am sorry for everything.” He took a step toward her, and she took one back in response.
“Really?” Natalie asked, her patience wearing thin. “What exactly are you sorry for? For blowing up the tower? For lying to me for months about your ‘secret mission’? What?”
“All of it!” Parker exclaimed, running a hand through his hair and spreading his wings nervously. “I’m sorry for all of it. I was obsessed with bringing down Claw, and I got in too deep and didn’t know how to pull myself out. I’m sorry!”
Natalie pursed her lips, considering for a moment, before she ran forward and hugged her twin tightly. “I’m your sister,” she said, hiding her tears in the hug. “If you’re in trouble you can always come to me for help!”
Parker seemed taken aback for a second, but then she felt his arms hugging her back, and she knew they would be okay. They stayed like that for a few more seconds before Natalie got self-conscious and pulled back.
“Oh, hey,” Parker said as they both brushed off the moment of sibling affection. “I brought this for you.” He fiddled with his mask and handed her a small memory chip from the side of it. “There’s a lot of stuff on there, but the last bit is from the memorial service. I knew you’d want to see it.”
Natalie chuckled. “You’re right, I do,” she said, pocketing the chip. “I hear they said a lot of nice stuff about me.”
“Dad did, anyway,” Parker said, shrugging his shoulders in that familiar way of his. “I think after they saw me they tried to cut it short without making a scene.”
“Boo,” Natalie pouted. “I’ll have to give them hell for that. My funeral should mean the focus is on me.”
“I know, right?” Parker laughed, and for a moment it felt like old times; Natalie and Parker laughing together, the twins against the world.
Then the biting wind chilled Natalie enough to bring her back to the present.
“Have you seen Dad?” she asked.
Parker shook his head. “I saw him at the funeral,” he told her, nodding to the chip in her hand, “but that’s the most I’ve seen of him since going underground.”
“He misses you, you know,” Natalie said.
“Yeah, right,” Parker scoffed, the grin sliding off his face. “More like he doesn’t know how to feel about me now. His son is a wanted terrorist.”
Natalie shook her head. “Haley heard from her brother that you were coerced,” she told him, and Parker froze. “The only reason you were on that video was because Claw set you up. The guy might be willing to testify, if – ”
“It wouldn’t make a difference,” Parker cut her off. “Scott’s a nice enough guy, but he’s a satyr and a former Faun. His word wouldn’t mean beans in court.”
“You don’t know that,” Natalie said, raising an eyebrow. “If the Asylum was also backing you up…”
She trailed off, but Parker finished the sentence for her. “Then I’d be put into a nice prison cell,” he said. “Besides, there’s more going on than you realize, and you wouldn’t believe me if I tried to explain it.”
“Try me,” Natalie said, folding her arms. “I can guess some of it. Agent’s been acting weird, and Haley keeps bringing up the question of who put the bombs in the tower. What explanation could you possibly give that I wouldn’t believe?”
Parker shrugged. “Aliens?” he said. Natalie stared at him until he started laughing. Despite herself, Natalie also grinned.
“Okay,” she said. “There’s one explanation. ‘Aliens’, hah.”
“Seriously, though,” Parker said once he stopped laughing. “We’re all caught up in a very tangled web, and I don’t even know most of it. A lot of it is centered around the Asylum, though, so just… watch your back in there, okay?”
Natalie put her arm around his shoulder in a half-hug. “You’re worried about me?” she asked, teasing him. “You’re the one living with a bunch of feral degenerates.”
“They’re not all bad people,” Parker said, shrugging his arm over his sister’s shoulder in turn.
“Yeah, I met your girlfriend,” Natalie said, giving him a sly grin to let him know she was only joking. “Smart girl. Makes me wonder why she’s going out with you.”
“Kiara’s been great,” Parker said, hanging his head as he accepted his twin’s ribbing. “She helps me take my mind off things.”
“And Haley?” Natalie asked, poking his side with her elbow as she broke the hug. “What’s up with you two, anyways?”
Parker shrugged again, shaking out his wings. “Honestly, I have no idea,” he said. “Before the funeral the other day, I only met her once when she was doped up on that drug, and then again when she showed up on my doorstep asking if I’d help her get David back. She seems to trust me, but I can’t figure out why.”
“Seriously?” Natalie said. “The way she talks about you, you’d think she was your best friend. She’s always defending you.”
“Well, I did save her brother’s life,” Parker pointed out. “Though from talking to Scott in the Fauns, I thought there was no love lost between them.”
“Huh,” Natalie said. “Well, chalk it up to another mystery.” She shivered again in the wind, and looked back at the building behind her. “I’d better get back,” she said, “before the others start wondering where I went. Agent hasn’t let me out of his sight for very long.”
“Of course he hasn’t,” Parker said, grinning. “Speaking of what’s up…?”
“He’s my boss,” Natalie said. “Sure, I like him, but my crush is of the unrequited variety. I’m too young for him, anyway.”
“Ri-ight,” Parker said, giving her a teasing grin in turn. “Well, I’ll let you go. Enjoy the show,” he added, gesturing again at his recording of the funeral as he put his Faun mask back on.
“Hey,” Natalie said as Parker crouched to take off. “Stronger together?”
Parker gave her the first sincere smile she had seen that night as he finished their old ritual. “Stronger as one,” he said. With that final word, he jumped into the air, launching himself above the rooftop of the building next to the tower before flying off into the night.
Natalie watched him go, waiting until he was a speck in the distance before heading back inside the tower. She fiddled with the chip he had given her as the elevator took her back up to the living room.
“Hey, there she is!” Rina called, patting Natalie’s spot on the couch. “Where’d you go?”
“Not far,” Natalie answered, putting the chip into their TV before sitting down. “Just had to pick up the evening’s entertainment.”
As the recording began with the cameraman landing slightly away from the cliffs and walking into the funeral, Natalie caught Frank giving her a sideways glance. Nobody commented on her obvious source, however; Reiki dimmed the lights, and the team spent the evening groaning and laughing over the memorial service for their living friend.
All in all, it was a pleasant homecoming, with the promise of a better New Year.
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