Molly Phillips, widow and mother of two, had been having trouble sleeping for almost fifteen years.
It was the kind of thing you'd expect to develop after a person lost her husband and her faith in the same night, left with two young children who had no idea who or what their father had really been. Molly had made sure of that. She had made equally sure that neither her son nor her daughter *would* ever know. Or at least, she thought she had.
The precautions she had taken with Jack - the building of external shields, protections around him when he was very young, had, over time, blocked the abilities, inherited from his mother and father, that would have become apparent in later years. She had been certain, at the time, that she was protecting her children. She had done what she believed was the right thing. Fiona, at that age, had not displayed any evidences that she had inherited the same senses as her brother. And over time, as Jack's development slowed and eventually stopped, Molly had almost forgotten about it. They had both grown into healthy, normal young people. Or at least that was what she had believed, until Fiona turned twelve and learned to use her computer, the internet, learned to start asking questions, learned to start wondering what, exactly, had *really* happened on that night.
Fi had only been about two when Rick had died - she had been asleep the whole night, and she couldn't possibly have remembered anything about it. That had been another brick in Molly's complacency - she had let herself get too secure, let herself believe that things were safe. That *they* were safe. Never mind Areahannah's warnings, even before Rick's death, that drawing away into safety could put her and her children into *more* danger than living the life she had previously chosen, the life with no certainty, with no security. Molly had scoffed at the girl after Rick's first accident, not believing or not wanting to believe her. She had been cruel, she knew that, and the girl had been so *young* at the time. Areahannah had been given the world at the age of fifteen, and Molly hadn't thought her capable of dealing with it. Even on the rare occasions when her "mission" seemed at all genuine. Most of the time, Molly had harboured a suspicion that all of Areahannah's warnings and suspicions were nothing but well-fleshed-out conspiracy theories. That the whole thing was little more than an elaborate hoax perpetrated out of boredom, if not something worse.
After she'd left them, she'd made Rick promise to do the same. They'd fought over that, for weeks, for months, him accusing her of abandonment while she accused him of childishness, of disloyalty to their family. Maybe it was her anger and her fear and her spite in the wake of his incident that had finally forced him to make the promise she'd known it pained him to make. He'd said he was making a sacrifice - she'd said he was avoiding one.
When she'd made him promise, she supposed that she'd never really considered the consequences. It had never ocurred to her (or at least, if it had, she'd swiftly dismissed the thought) that if something happened, if "they" needed him, if Areahannah asked him to, he'd go back to them. That he'd feel *obligated* to go back to them, no matter what he'd promised his own wife. She supposed that she'd never really understood his devotion to them, to the child Areahannah had been, to their cause. She'd known when they'd gotten married that he'd give his life for them, if the need arose. She'd known it. But maybe she hadn't really understood it.
No; that wasn't true. The same had once been true about Molly, too.
::I got scared, I guess,:: Molly sipped from a steaming mug that contained, ridiculously enough, warm milk with a dusting of nutmeg. She'd never hear the end of it if Irene found out she was resorting to warm milk, now, to get to sleep. But her manager didn't really understand, and never had. Rick had only been her friend, as he had been Ned's friend. And as long as they'd known him, they'd never really known the truth about him, or Molly.
::And they never bloody will.::
After Rick's death, Molly had swept her children into a haze of attention and diversion, hoping to distract them from the sorrow that at that age, they were still able to evade to some degree. Jack had suffered nightmares, but after time, they'd passed, and things had started to settle down into something resembling normal. The crisis was over - but Rick was still gone. They were safe - but Rick was still gone. It would never happen again, but Rick was still gone.
It always came back to that. It always would, she knew - every thought terminated with some echo of that sentiment. Rick was still gone. Rick was still dead. He had still died for something stupid, and childish, and non-existent...
::Stop,:: she firmly told herself, as her eyes began to mist up. It didn't matter, anymore, why or how Rick had died. Just that he was gone, and she had to move on.
She had been moving on for almost twenty years, now.
And now there was that nagging doubt, that growing fear, that maybe she had been at least half wrong. It wasn't over. They weren't safe. Things were going wrong again.
::And it's ALL HER FAULT...::
Biting her tongue to keep an infuriated and pain-filled sob from escaping, she slammed the mug down onto the low coffee table, milk slopping over the edge onto the smooth, polished wood. Molly cursed and intercepted the puddle of milk with the sleeve of her robe before it could gain the floor.
::What am I going to do?:: she wondered, letting now lukewarm milk seep into her sleeve. Her face felt hot and flushed with panic, anger, grief, embarassment - what could she do, really, if now even Jack had chosen to go his father's way? Fi had been going that way for a long time - Molly had seen it coming and had been unable to stop it, unable to see the abilities growing inside her daughter that she hadn't seen early enough to stop, as she had in Jack. And even Jack... she'd been so sure, when she'd forbidden Areahannah to return, years ago when she had first come for Jack, that it had been ended, finally. There had been little argument, just fury and hurt in the Guardian's eyes. Jack hadn't understood enough of what she'd said to remember it later, or so she'd thought. It had been bare minutes before Molly found her, standing backstage, talking to her son. And she had stopped it. She had been so certain that she'd stopped it.
She had been wrong.
Molly cursed again and slammed one fist into the hardwood table, regretting the action an instant later when pain shot up her arm. Well, she certainly knew where Jack had gotten his temper from.
::Fi thought I didn't know what she'd done - she thought I had no idea what was going on when she came and told me she was leaving, and Annie was staying. She thought I didn't know that she had given up - everything - the thing that connected her to Rick, made her a part of him. At least she grew up knowing what it was like to see through more than just two eyes and ears. At least she understood what it *felt* like...:: Molly bit her lip. She had always felt more than a little guilty for what she had done to Jack - of course, she'd told herself that she was doing the right thing, the safe thing, to keep him from danger and the Circle's reach. But had she been denying him something worth so much more than his safety? Had she, perhaps, done it out of selfishness, wanting only, out of shock and grief and spite, to sever any connection between herself, her children, and the Circle? Maybe. Maybe it had been her greatest mistake. If nothing else, she had certainly thought she'd burned all her bridges behind her.
Fi had always understood - though she certainly didn't approve. She had been gone long before she'd left home. That was Molly's own fault, she knew. But what could she really do? The damage had been done, and apologies were impossible now. Even if it had been a long time, she still blamed the Circle, blamed Areahannah for what had happened, for all the hurt, and the interferences. She still wanted to hate her, wanted it to be her fault, even though she'd only been a child...
::I never asked her,:: Molly admitted to herself, quietly, in the back of her thoughts. ::I didn't care. And I still don't... do I?::
Molly sighed, tears welling up in her eyes. ::It isn't fair,:: she thought, for the umpteenth time in twenty years. ::It wasn't fair. To any of us. I wasn't finished being happy, to have it all be taken away like that... I hadn't even started yet...::
The sound of socked feet padding down the hall, toward the door behind her, made Molly sit up straight and try to dab the tears out of her eyes. She turned and saw Annie appear in the doorway, wearing an oversized t-shirt and a pair of flannel pants a few sizes too big for her. She rubbed her eyes sleepily, and looked at her. "You're back," she said, her voice thick with sleep.
"Did I wake you up?" Molly asked, hoping her brief attack on the table hadn't been heard by the entire household.
Annie shook her head and came a few steps into the room, leaning on the back of the couch. "No; I got up to go to the bathroom and your robe wasn't on my doorknob anymore. I figured you'd gotten back and reclaimed it." She grinned lopsidedly. "Sorry I keep stealing your stuff."
"Don't worry about it, Annie," said Molly. "It doesn't matter." She turned back to the window she'd been staring out of so morosely, and Annie followed her gaze.
"It's a pretty view, especially at night," she remarked casually, and then asked: "When did you get back?"
"About three hours ago," Molly answered, not looking away from the huge window. "I couldn't sleep."
"Ah," Annie said wisely. "Mind if I ask why not?"
The tone was still casual, but Molly's head snapped around to look sharply at the girl. Annie, however wasn't even looking at her, her gaze fixed still on the world outside the window. Still, there had been something about the question...
"No; just too tired to sleep, you know? And I was wired from the show."
Annie nodded. "I know. It's hard to sleep when you're worried."
Again, the tone was casual, but Molly could just *feel* the ulterior motive lurking behind the words. "What makes you think I'm worried?" she asked, striving to keep her voice even.
Annie shrugged. "Never said you were," she said. "I'm just saying... sometimes, when you worry too much about something you can't change, you end up worrying about things that might not even be true. Even things that you think are bad but not might be as bad as you think. Worrying messes up your mind, and keeps you from thinking straight. Kind of like being scared, you know?"
Molly said nothing, but Annie quickly shrugged, turned to her, and kissed her on the cheek. "It's pretty late - I'm going back to bed. Just wanted to say good night."
Molly gave her a quick hug. "Good night, Annie," she said as the girl stood up and headed for the door. She stopped a last time before disappearing down the hallway, turned her head.
"Don't worry, Molly," she said, a half-smile on her face along with some sympathy. "It'll be okay."
Molly sat in silent confusion after Annie left, then finally turned back to stare out the window. If Annie shared any similarities with Fiona, it was that both of them tended to seem inexplicably perceptive and even, at times, cryptic. Not that Molly had any trouble decoding the meaning of Annie's words. Even if she didn't know what was going on, she certainly must have noticed the prevalent mood in the house over the past few days.
Yes; that was all.
Molly sighed again, and tried to dismiss what the girl had said. She didn't know what she was talking about, not really, she just didn't like to see Molly and Jack unhappy, or angry with each other. That was all. It was just ignorant concern that had made Annie say those things. She wasn't even right.
She couldn't be right. She had no idea what she was talking about.
Molly kept repeating that to herself, trying harder and harder to make it sound convincing - but all the while, Annie's words echoed in the back of her mind as she drifted off to sleep, nestled into the couch cushions that smelled ever-so-slightly like vanilla and pine.