The Aftermath

Like the fury of the heavens exhausted at a single point on the ground. A roar to shame every creature and engine that had uttered such a sound before, building to overcome the chatter and mechanical drones of the streets nearby. Faces were drained of colour as they turned in its direction, no doubt wondering what hideous twist in reality could produce such a sound.

Such a light. Searing the air clean, wiping a particular mansion and its surrounding estate from the earth. Cleansed in fire, and if it had been just moments sooner, she would not have made her escape in time.

Thrown to the ground by the tremors it had produced, skin torn from palms and knees. Blood seeped in meandering droplets from every place where a needle had been torn through her flesh, but she was standing straight, and regarding the world through eyes of gentle grey.

Brought back to the pain, like waking from dreams after her mother had died. Standing alone, and how was she to-

Not alone, offered a whisper from the back of her mind. I wouldn't have considered leaving you alone at a time like this.

Gwyn. It felt as though she'd had lifetimes to become familiar with the name, with every part of the being who owned it. It was hard to believe that she'd been so small when they had found her kneeling at her bedside.

Still so small in body, turning scuffed hands back and forth before her face. Fragile, when she remembered him being so strong in so many other hosts.

The thought was closing her throat and chest, a feeling that belonged at gravesides and alone during sleepless nights. Like a scream beneath the skin, one that she'd hoped never to feel again.

“I don't want this,” she answered in the only voice that she could manage, quavering and even smaller than the body. “Send me back, I want to stay in your memories.”

There was no distance between them, between her and the warmth which rose in their response. Why?

They knew, didn't they? They knew everything, they had seen so much. They'd won again and again, more than she'd ever fought for.

“I'm scared,” she whispered to the empty air and its reek of ash. “I don't know what's going to happen here.” She was standing alone, whatever they said, and no one would look after her. There wasn't enough of her, not of her own memories and experiences. Not enough for that.

I have another secret for you, Andrea, that warmth offered from the centre of her. The way they had so many times, just before showing her visions of the universe which made her laugh for their beauty. Eagerness enough for her to wipe her eyes, swallowing until she could speak again.

“You do?”

I do, they confirmed, always so quick to answer. As though they never questioned what to say. It isn't in my power to choose which of us is facing the world. If you want to go back, you can, but I think that there's a reason you've chosen to be here now. Something that you know – something that you're ready to do.

That she knew? What did she know?

The things that they knew. It meant pausing and concentrating, but she knew where they'd been, all of the things that had happened to them in more worlds than she could count. Like a library living inside of her head, almost more than she could think about.

She knew that she was alone, that the ashes in front of her had made up her entire life to date. No mother, no father. He had been cruel to so many, and yet...

Yet she was still...

I am sorry, they soothed her from within. For the end to which he brought it. I know that he was-

“No,” she answered, one of the few times when she had thought to interrupt or contradict them. The backs of hands dragged across her eyes again in an attempt to keep them dry. “If it hadn't been you, it would have been someone he could hurt more. He had to-”

Yet she couldn't wipe her eyes fast enough, her chest was still closing, and that voice was the only warm thing about her. Still, you're allowed to cry for something that's come to an end.

She couldn't have helped doing so, dissolving into the heaviest of those sobs as the first shouts sounded nearby. Those who had spotted her and the full extent of the destruction, running to meet her with questions and cries of concern.

All of them fainter than the second voice which lived beneath her skin.

I have penance to make to you, they assured her, And a promise. I may not stay forever, or as long as you live, but I'll be here until you're safe. Until you can smile at the world and mean it.

The End

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