Truth Will Out

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Margo's gloves were sticky against her fingers. The last weeks of winter were upon Twinbrook; the temperatures had risen above freezing, but as one last hoorah for what had felt like the longest winter in history, a midnight snow had coated the town in silverine purity. It seemed serene; the ugly buildup of black slush on the roads looked clean once again, and the park, always freckled in footprints, was smooth... at least, for a little while longer. 

But a blank slate begs to be drawn upon, and Margo and her cohorts had decided if winter needed one last snow, then they needed one last snowman.

But the warmth of the air and the warmth of her hands was already melting through their material, soaking into Margo's gloves and the first few inches of her sleeves. Margo didn't mind--in fact, she barely noticed. She never felt uncomfortable when grimy, and soggy gloves were no exception.

Besides, she had more on her mind than the current moisture level on her appendages.

"I really wish the whole thing wasn't so important. Over half the people I've talked to don't want to go, but it's social suicide if you don't! Doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

Kenzie looked up from their project momentarily to smile at Veronica, who rather than help was busy fretting and leaving a large dent in the snow where she paced. "That's high school for you, Ronnie. I'll dye my hair purple if it ever makes sense."

"You missed a spot. Just there." Margo nodded Kenzie towards a small bump protruding from her side of the snowman.

"At least you have a date, Kenz," Ronnie sputtered, clearly having no desire to drop the subject. "The prom's in like, a month... Everyone who's going to have a date already has one. Penny has a date, too... Not that that's really surprising." She sighed deeply. Her twin sister always had a lot more luck when it came to romance. Or anything social, for that matter.

"Why is that even such a big deal?" Kenzie laughed, surprised at Veronica's fervor at the predicament. "Last time I checked, we were committing social suicide just by existing in high school."

"Because it's prom," Margo whispered, offering a small shrug when Kenzie looked her way. "Who doesn't want to go to prom, at least once?"


Veronica sighed, toeing a small clump of snow on the ground while she grumbled under her breath. "It'd be fun."

"Then why don't we go? Together? Not as a date, just... you know." With another shrug, Margo sent Veronica an inquisitive glance from behind the snowman's slowly growing stature. "Keep each other company while Kenz is off being busy with her boooyfriend."

"He's not my boyfriend," Kenzie scoffed. "Yet, anyways. That's a good idea, though--that way we all get to go. Not really uncommon to go to prom stag, anyways--all the upperclassmen do it."

Ronnie considered this for a moment, but confusion quickly fell into her expression. "But Margo... What about Dylan? Aren't you guys... you know. ... Something?"

Margo finally looked up from their project, staring at Veronica with her brows furrowed but her cheeks steadily deepening into the red spectrum. "No. I don't know. Maybe?" She looked away, attempting to hide her embarrassment; in truth, Margo wasn't sure WHAT was going on, there. "We're not going together, though. He doesn't go to our school, and besides, I don't think school dances are something he'd be interested in. Too many people."

"Really? So... you're free to go with me?"

Margo smiled broadly. "Of course."

A laugh bellowed out of Veronica's mouth, shortly followed by a soft shriek of excitement. "Oh this is going to be fantastic, Margo! We can get each other corsages, and everything! We'll have to go dress shopping--I don't have anything to wear... I suppose I could borrow something of Penny's, but... Oh gosh, Penny!" Her eyes widened. "I need to go tell Penny! She's going tobe  so excited I'm coming after all!"

Without a moment's hesitation, Veronica disappeared, her own excitement bubbling forth in a few well-placed skips that took her around the corner towards her car. Several 'bye!'s and 'see you tomorrow!'s were hurled after her, and she waved her hand above her head in recognition, but beyond that she had no hesitation in her mission.

As soon as she was gone, Kenzie giggled and got back to work etching a crease around the snowman's head with her fingertip. "Sometimes, I do not understand her," she muttered, shaking her head.

Margo knowingly smiled. "Yeah, I know. Me neither. But at least she's happy."

There was a brief pause before Kenzie eyed Margo over the rim of her glasses. "You wanted to go though, right? You're not just going to make her happy..."

Margo considered this for a moment. "I do. But I don't. I dunno. Makes me a bit nervous, but it's better than going alone. To be honest, I'm glad she doesn't have a date... Otherwise I probably wouldn't go at all. Unless I could convince Dylan, somehow..."

"That's for the best, anyways."

That response was not what Margo expected. "What do you mean?"

"Margo... I don't know how to say this." As if about to plunge her head under water, Kenzie took a deep breath and exhaled sharply before responding. "It's Dylan. I mean... he sounds great and all. But that's it--he sounds great. All you ever do is talk about him, but we've never met him--doesn't that seem a bit suspicious, to you?"

Margo's frown deepened as she intently stared at Kenzie's shoelaces. "Maybe. It's his family--they're really... shy."

"No, Margo, you're shy," she retorted. "He sounds like he's hiding. I wouldn't even believe he was real, if you didn't have photos."

"He's not hiding!" Margo exclaimed, defiant. "Just... doesn't want to be bothered."

"Look, I get it. He's mysterious, and charming, and it's your type, Margo. You like the bad boys." Margo's nose scrunched in disgust, but a point-of-fact chuckle rose from Kenzie's throat at the sight of it. "Oh come, don't even try to deny it. You know I'm right."


"Just be careful, okay? I've heard... things."

Margo sheepishly bit her lower lip. "What do you mean, 'things'?"

"That his family is up to no good, here. That the police have their eye on them. That they've already caused a bit of ruckus. I know the idea of gypsies or whatever is 'romantic', Margo, but there's a reason they're stereotyped as being criminals... Sometimes, stereotypes are true."

This was something Margo was used to. Kenzie was an inquisitive person, and rarely left a rock unturned if she could help it. Ever the detective, Margo thought--but she never suspected her friend would put an aspect of her own life under scrutiny. It formed a gullet of betrayal in Margo's stomach, but she did her best to keep from crying. "Kenz, have you been digging up dirt on them?" she finally asked as calmly as she could manage.

"Maybe, I just was worried about--"

"Please. Just, stop." Margo shook her head, proverbially putting her foot down. "I know you're trying to look out for me, but trust me: I'm fine. Dylan, his family... They're just misunderstood. Trust me, okay?"

"I..." Although hesitant, Kenzie relented after another hurt look was sent her way. "Okay. I trust you."


Kenzie sighed, but nodded. "Yes. I promise."

Margo attempted a smile, but as if caught on a fishing line it twitched a little on the dimple of her cheek; she had to rub it to get it to go away, leaving a wet palm print on her face. "Oh, ick... C'mon, let's go get something to eat before this place becomes a swimming pool."

With a smile, Kenzie looped her arm around her friend's and dragged her closer. "Sure thing, bud. I'm starving."

A growl erupted from Margo's stomach as she ascended the stairs onto the third floor of Twinbrook Foundation Hospital. 'Uuuggh, I shouldn'tve eaten so much,' she thought to herself, pressing a hand against her belly only to feel a small burp exit out her throat. 'Good thing Mom's not making dinner tonight.'

Her focus quickly changed as she crossed the floor's main waiting room. This would be one of her last times seeing it--during one of these kinds of visits, anyways. Although it was technically bad news, when Margo had heard her father would be coming home again, her heart had nearly exploded from joy. He'd been here nearly 6 months. 6 months in this horrific place; she had no idea how he didn't just die of boredom.

But, his freedom came at a price.

"I'm afraid... there's really nothing more we can do. The chemical is building up in his blood faster than we can filter it out, now. At this point, you have to decide what's more important. A few months at home, or another year here."

Dr. Pesce's words weren't comforting, but it was an easy decision. Another couple of miserable months was not worth it--not to her father. And though Margo would have kept him in this sterile box for eternity if it meant he would live forever, she was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth: she wanted him home.

This contemplation had herself so buried in her thoughts that she almost didn't hear the loud banter of voices coming from inside her father's room before it was too late; her hand had already grasped the handle when she heard her father, wheezing, speaking to someone she couldn't quite see through the blinds from her current angle.

Soundtrack: Battlestar Sonatica - Bear McCreary [Listen Here ♫]

"It was only a matter of time," he spoke, sounding defeated. "To be honest, I expected them sooner."

"And you're sure that's why they're here?"

"I wasn't at first--I thought they might just be here to taunt me. But then the break-in happened. If it hadn't been moved back to the lab for repairs, they likely would have it by now. They aren't like you, they don't have your... methods... but that doesn't mean they won't figure out where it is and try again. It isn't exactly hidden."

"They're nothing more than pickpockets and lockpicks." At this point, Margo recognized the second voice: her grandfather. But who was this 'they' he kept referring to? "However, tragedy has a habit of turning the lowiest artist into Van Gogh. Amateur as they are, your worry is understandable. Desperate people are... dangerous."

"That is why you have to do this for me. I have no idea why they want it, but it's better we never find out."

"I'm inclined to agree. So long as you are sure this is what you want."

"I am." Bradley paused for a moment, before what to Margo sounded like him shifting slightly on the creaky hospital bed. "I've never asked you for anything before, father. I've always hated what you do. Still do. But dying has a way of changing perspectives. As you said: desperate people are dangerous."

Her grandfather chuckled. "Indeed."

"However... There is one more thing I must ask of you."

"Two favors in one lifetime? My, aren't we a spoiled child."

"Funny." Margo could practically hear him glower through the door. "But I'm being serious."

"You never could take a joke. What do you need?"

"It's not what I need. It's what Korva needs." Margo had to quickly clasp her mouth shut with her hand. Korva? What did she have to do with anything? "My condition has had a huge impact on her. She's become reckless, even violent." Margo rolled her eyes. That was an understatement. "There's little I can do. I made her promise to not hurt anyone, and despite her many shortcomings breaking a promise isn't one of them. But once I'm gone... I don't think that will be enough to stop her."

"I thought you didn't want me involved with your children."

"I don't. But it's not about what I want. It's about what Korey needs. Alesha isn't equipped to deal with her--you are. I hate to admit it, but Korva's more like you than like us. You need to help her, before it's too late."

"And Margo?"

"Margo is struggling, but she won't need anything more from you than a grandfather would give. When I'm gone, Alesha will manage." At this point, Margo found it so hard not to try and analyze what her father meant that she almost missed what he said next. "Korva, however, needs more... specialized education."

"I can do that... but you won't like what it will involve."

"No. No, I won't. I don't even like the thought of it. But what's the alternative? She runs away? Gets addicted to drugs? Ends up in prison? I'd much rather you find other ways of channeling her frustrations than completely self-destruct. She turns 13 in a couple of weeks, she still has time to change." 'Not likely,' Margo groaned to herself. "And... I'd rather she end up like you than a common criminal."

"Generous of you to promote me beyond 'common'." Jebidiah sounded genuinely amused.

"Just... keep her out of harms way. I know keeping her out of trouble is impossible, but... Keep her safe."

Margo peeked through the door; her grandfather had moved, giving her better vision of him. He had paused next to the bed--and after a moment of contemplation, nodded. "Of course. Try as you might to believe otherwise, I love your children a great deal."

Some time passed. Margo was tempted to try and tip toe away without being seen through the blinds, or even bust through the door smiling without acting as if she'd heard anything, but something about the heavy sadness wearing on her father's face--something she had never seen before in all her 15 years--made her desperate to hear more. After what must have been several minutes, she was not disappointed.

"My inventions... I always saw them as my legacy. My way to live forever, and leave a footprint on the world. But I was too much of an idealist, assuming what I built would be used for good." Margo heard him sigh in pain. "I was so wrong, father. I create a time machine capable of so much discovery, but instead they use it to plan terrible things for the future. I create an artificial intelligence nearly human, but instead they're developing drones that cannot feel, to be little  more than what, slaves? I create a device capable of curing any genetic illness, at the expense of my own life, but half the time it just..." His head buried into his hands; Margo tried hard to make out what he said next, but his words were muffled until he removed them. "And even then, only the richest people on earth could afford what they're charging for its use, now."

Just as cool and collected as he always was--calm in a way that gave Margo the willies--what Jebidiah said next almost sounded like it was said with bored omnipotence. "We are a selfish species."

Her father gritted his teeth together angrily. "And I will make them pay for it. When you're through, I don't want one calculator left intact. I want it to be like I never existed. No records. No notes. Nothing left for them to reconstruct. I have brought terrible things into the world, things that never should have existed--and I want you to help my daughter erase them."

"You want me to involve her in this? She may not be ready."

"Then wait until she is. Korva would do anything for me... She is loyal to a fault. God knows why, but she is. She is angry and hurting because she has no control over what is happening to me--but in this, she would. It would be my last gift to her, to end my legacy on my behalf. If that makes sense."

Jebidiah took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, groaning before his deep voice made one last pact. "It does. I don't know if I agree it's a good idea, but that isn't my prerogative. If you insist, I will."

Margo's mind was swimming. 'What on Earth are they talking about? Korva's education? Dad's inventions? Is he really asking Grandpa to destroy them?' There was so much information--so much she could barely comprehend--that as she tried to piece together even some of it, more and more pieces slipped from her grasp, fading from her ability to understand what was going on. None of it made sense. 'Why?!'

But she would not find out. Not today, anyways; just as her eyes bobbed back to the window to see if she could catch anything else, she saw her grandfather's slow steps towards the door, and heard some muffled parting words.

She managed to disappear into a spare room just in time, missing an intersection with him by just moments. As he disappeared, a small part of her almost wished she had. It was selfish--and probably undeserved--but it was small wish: to be entrusted as well with whatever her sister soon would be.

By 5 P.M. that evening, the cold swept back in like a bad April Fool's joke. Slush began hardening, and the ground's soft, fluffy cotton blanket was replaced with crisp, hard sheets that crunched and broke off in large pieces when tred upon by unsuspecting victims.

As badly as Margo wished for spring, she almost wanted it to snow again; it was always warmer when it snowed.

She sat balanced on the bottom run of the ranch's fence, resting uncomfortably and watching the cloudy sky mock expectations of a beautiful sunset. The sun just disappeared without herald beyond the horizon, leaving the shadows to slowly melt together.

Those that were still visible were the largest--especially those of the horses she was watching. As if unaware that snow was an obstacle, Dusty and Badger lazily pawed their hooves at it, revealing sheltered grasses they could awake from slumber and ravage with their stomachs. It wasn't all that compelling, but Margo--and her current companion--watched it with curious interest.

"Look at 'em," Dylan drawled in his typical Irish brogue. "It's amazin', how they're able to find anythin underneath all that snow. Or willin' to eat it, for dat matter."

"I dunno about Badger, but Dusty eats pretty much anything, at least that I've seen." Margo laughed, remembering fondly all the strange things Dusty had had the urge to nibble: loose hanging clothing, her reins, even another horse's tail. "It's nice though, to see them getting along. I didn't think Badger liked anyone but you."

"Eh, every rogue needs a good woman in his life." When Margo looked up at him, she caught Dylan send her a teasing wink.

They fell back into lazy company again; Margo thought it not unlike what she saw of old married couples. No need to speak, but an ease of heart when relaxing in each others' presence. She felt no stress, no anxiety, none of her usual symptoms around others. Even Kenzie and Ronnie, as much as she loved them, were tiresome after a while... But Dylan didn't need to talk. Dylan didn't expect her to act a certain way. Dylan wasn't from a culture that wanted her to be the best or the brightest or... anything, really. It was refreshing, going from her world into his.

But unfortunately, between Kenzie's warnings and the very odd assertions she had overheard from her father earlier that day, there was something Margo simply couldn't get out of her mind.

"Dylan, can we talk for a minute?"

"Ain't dat what we're doin'?"

Margo rolled her eyes. "I mean about... serious stuff."

"Oh bugger." Dylan groaned, causing Margo to flinch; he was a friend to her exactly because there was no pestering or prying on either side, and she hated having to alter that pretense, even if only once. But, after a moment of thought, Dylan eased himself off the fence he was resting against and settled down on the ground next to her. "If dat's what you want, I spose I can manage."

Margo thought for a moment; if it was Dylan's family that her father had been talking about--those "pickpockets and lockpicks"--she didn't want to outright say it. But she needed to know the truth.

"Why did your family really come here? To Twinbrook?"

"Reasons," he replied, causing her to furrow her brows. After a moment, she realized he'd actually said 'reasons', and not 'raisins'. His accent was charming, but often confusing.

"Dylan, we've known each other months now... I know you have a hard time trusting outsiders, by now you should know, I'm different."

"And why should I trust you?"

"Because I'm not judging you," she stated firmly and honestly. "I just don't like being lied to."

She didn't think he would actually respond, at first. Dylan had been very secretive in all the time she had known him; he brought her to his family's campsite frequently and they all liked her, but whenever certain things came up, a hush always washed over them and left her feeling like an intruder. But, clearly she had proved herself to some extent, because after shaking off some snow from the hem of his jeans he began to speak in the most serious tone she'd ever heard him take.

"Moy brother. Bout 2 years ago... he was just turnin' eight. Bright kid. Brighter than the whole lot of us, combined. He had a chance. A real chance to make sometin' of himself."

"I didn't know you have a brother."

"Had. Not have." Dylan bit his upper lip; he almost looked angry. "It was slow, at first. Barely even noticed the signs something was wrong. But finally, it got too bad for us to ignore--we took him to a hospital, despite how much my father despised the idea." He took a deep breath, then turned his face away from Margo so she could no longer see it. "They diagnosed him with a rare genetic disorder--incurable, but not terminal. But living like that to him was worse than dying. He was too young to make dat decision, but my parents let him. It was his life."

"What happened?"

"He applied to participate in an experimental new treatment program. It was dangerous, but he wasn't scared. More scared o' bein' sick, really. And wouldn't ya know it, he was accepted. They said it was real luck, te be picked. Well--it wasn't." He laughed--a horrible, disgusted laugh. "At first, he got better. But like all medicine, sometimes tings go wrong. After about o' month, he just... died. All his organs failed at once. Nottin' they could do."


"No mind you. It's te past, now. But every year, on his birtday, we come ta see him."

Margo's eyes widened. "He died... here? In Twinbrook?"

"Yeh. Buried up at ta cemetery."

Before Margo could inquire anything more, Dylan rushed to his feet and--like the flip of a switch--his entire demeanor changed from bitter to his usual carefree air.

"'Nough witta gloomy chat," he said peppily while offering Margo his hand. "I tink it's a time you 'n I take a gallop 'round te lake."

"Dylan, I have homework," she groaned into a chuckle. "Besides, I don't think my boss would be too happy about me riding Dusty outside the ranch--if something happened she could get sued."

Dylan snorted in rebuke. "Nansense, te path is clear, 'n dat fat lump needs some exercise. Yer just doin' everybody a favor. 'Healthy horse is a happy owner.'"

"If you get me in trouble..."

If Dylan cared about this possibility he didn't show it, because before Margo even realized what he was doing, he had already lobbed her over his shoulder and lifted her off the ground.

"Aaiiieee! Dylan! DYLAN, PUT ME DOWN!" she hollered, trying to sound serious but failing amidst laughs she simply couldn't contain. "I'm serious, Dylan!" She tried adding for clarity, but it didn't work.

"Gosh, don't any of ye civilized folk know how te have fun?" Dylan snickered, then carefully plotted his way over the frosty snow towards the horses. "Live a little, Margo! Yer a big girl!"

Margo felt a bit like a sack of potatoes as he flung her over Dusty's backside; the horse startled a little, as she hadn't even realized what was going on amidst her search for the perfect morsel, but she was far too lazy to do anything but turn her head around and stare at Margo's clambering arms with empty, bored eyes.

Dusty's fur was long enough to grab ahold of, so after a few good tugs Margo managed to pull herself upright; not that that made the prospect of being atop her any less stressful.

"This isn't a good idea... I've never ridden Dusty bareback before." Margo whimpered, trying to get some idea where to hold onto. "Actually, never ridden ANY horse bareback, alone."

"'N what a great time to learn, wit me at yer side! C'mon, if dat homework of yers is so important, we need te get goin." Margo looked around and saw Dylan already astride Badger and heading towards the front of the stable.

It took some coaxing--Dusty was an easy ride but a stubborn, lazy one--but Margo managed to get the girl moving, plodding off in the path of footprints Badger had just left behind.

'This is such a bad idea,' Margo whined to herself. As she was considering the possibility of a carrot on a stick working remarkably well on Dusty, she noticed that Dylan and herself had not been alone at the ranch like she previously believed; in the small ring cleared out for jumping practice, none other than Daisy de Wynter was busy trying to coax her own horse to do something it clearly did not want to.

"Mumba, you are being so--bloody--stubborn!" she growled so loudly even Margo could hear from a distance. "There's no ice around the jump, it's completely safe, the jump's set half height it usually is at practice... What is WRONG with you?!"

Margo pause for a bit to watch; the last thing she wanted to do was pass by unannounced at the wrong time, and get blamed for Daisy's failings. She was curious, anyways; although Mumba was finicky, she was a solid jumper. Daisy should be having no problems.

But clear as a summer morning sky, right before Mumba reached the obstacle, she halted; and this time, instead of just coming to a stop, her entire body flung up into the air, rearing and screeching so loudly that Margo couldn't make out Daisy's profanity as she slipped backwards off the saddle.

Margo winced and turned away; it wasn't a horrible fall, the snow was still soft enough to provide a nice cushion, but Daisy clearly hadn't mastered the art of tumbling from cheerleading because nothing about the way she landed was graceful.

At the very least, Mumba skittered off in the other direction without adding more injury.

She waited until Daisy had righted herself before guiding Dusty into the ring, not realizing she had done it like second nature to her.

"Daisy, a-a-are you alright?" Margo stuttered, her voice cracking.

Daisy, busy brushing the snow off her backside, didn't even raise her head to acknowledge Margo's presence. "I'm fine, freak face... Just go away."

"I-I-I just..." Margo gulped. Her mouth was drying over fast, but now was not the time to be nervous. Deep breath. Pretend you aren't Margo--pretend you're the instructor, pretend you're Christina. "I noticed, you're seizing on the reins a bit much on your approach--you're sending Mumba the wrong signals, that's why she keeps refusing the jump."

Now Margo had Daisy's attention--and her fury.

"Sending the wrong signals?" Daisy spat. "What the hell makes you think you know what you're talking about, Margo? I know what I'm doing. I'm not an idiot. This horse is just a temperamental headcase."

"I... I-I don't think you're right. I know she's antsy and high strung, but I just watched you--I know what I saw."

"Look, weasel. I am twice the rider you will ever be--working here shoveling crap all day doesn't make you an expert. In fact, of the two of us, only one of us actually owns a horse; and guess what, it isn't you."


"Speaking of which, I hope you have permission to ride that thing, because I sure as hell know it isn't yours. And what do you know, I know the owner, and you know me--I just can't keep a secret."

Margo was so frozen by Daisy's threat that when Dylan's voice came from behind her, she almost fell right off the horse.

"Don't listen te her, Margo," he said with a half sneer. "Te shit's just comin' outta her horse's arse and right up t'rough her mouth. Amazin' feat o' science, but it ain't worth yer time. Let's go."

This left Daisy infuriated; her face, already reddened from embarrassment, turned an even deeper shade. "She's going to hear about the company you've got while you're supposed to be working, too!" She screamed, clenching her fists at her side. "Good luck keeping your job!"

Luckily, Margo didn't have to respond; Dylan had begun leading Dusty in the other direction, turning the four of them away from the hazard and back towards their original destination.

But even as they got out of earshot, Margo couldn't get Daisy's accusation out of her mind.

"I don't know, Dylan... Maybe I should put Dusty away, this is a bad idea."

"And give her the satisfaction of scarin' ye?" Dylan wagged his finger at her. "I don't think so. Besides, no one's gonna come stormin' down here at her whim, she ain't a fairy princess--and who'd you believe, whiny little her or sweet little you?"

"I... I don't know."

He laughed. "Ye worry too much. Relax."

"Yeah... I'm sorry. I guess you're right."

Margo looked up at him again, this time catching a glimmer of pride in his eye. "What?" she mumbled, nervous.

"Lookit you! Ridin' bareback like a champ. I d'no why you were so worried. You're t'ree times te rider she thinks she is--and dat's really sayin' sometin."

Margo giggled shyly and bit her lip. "I suppose," she agreed after some contemplation. But without even thinking, more words just fell out of her mouth. "Thank you, Dylan. For trusting me."

He looked taken aback. Perhaps it was part of his culture--maybe it was just who he was, too--but Dylan was rarely on the receiving or giving end of such a statement. Things were not done for gratitude; all was done in trade, in equality, no need for anything else. Debts were almost seen as an insult.

But she knew more about him, now. She now knew why, the day she had met him, he seemed to understood her feeling of loss--and that, to her, was worth the gratitude. The comfort of knowing someone who felt her pain without a need to over-analyze it. It just simply was; it existed. An understanding. An unspoken bond.

"No skin off moy back," he responded in a jesting way, but seeing the softness in Margo's eyes, smiled and extended his hand to grab hers from her side. "But aye. Yer welcome, lass."


Beneath the Mistletoe

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oh, the holidays--when families travel thousands of miles to see each other, spend more than they can afford on presents, when everyone is forced to listen to every Christmas song in existence each time they enter a store until well into the new year. It can be a time of hardship, but the flying and the spending and the singing is all in a pursuit of something worth every penny: that feeling of warmth and excitement the moment they wake up on December 25th.

It's not something that anyone would expect to find in a hospital; the cold floors and white-washed walls don't lend itself well to the spirit of the season. Even the decorated trees seem sterile under the radiant lights. But for some, that isn't a roadblock that can't be passed.

For some, it's not the location that matters--just the destination.

"DADDY!" Korva cried as soon as Alesha gently pushed the door to the hospital room open. The sudden squeal nullified any attempt her mother had made trying not to wake up the entire wing--but the world outside this room was quickly forgotten as soon as Alesha saw her husband's smiling face.

The room was suddenly luminous; even Bradley, sitting tiredly in his wheelchair, felt a tickle at the corner of his eye when he saw his daughter running towards him with arms outstretched to meet his.

"Korey--oh, you look beautiful, sweetie," Brad choked, weakly raising his own hands to grasp hers when she reached him. "You all do," he remarked when he turned his gaze to the other two girls hanging behind Korva with tender smiles on their lips.

As Korva carefully began to crawl into his lap, the rest of the crew shuffled into Bradley's room with the door left carelessly open behind them. "Merry Chriss-miss, Daddy!" Korva whispered into his ear as he wrapped his arms around her, hers encircling his neck and nearly crushing his windpipe. "The bike is so so so so perfect. Everybody at school's gonna be soooo jealous."

"Careful Korey, you don't want to hurt him," Alesha mothered, but still barely giving her husband a chance to breathe as she swept in and planted a kiss on his lips.

"You guys are going to be the death of me." Bradley wheezed when they finally gave him some space. His eyes met Margo's and glimmered when he saw the care etched in her smile. She tried not to cry herself, but a familiar sniffle was unmistakable when she moved in and placed her arms around her mother's.

After almost a full minute, they finally pulled back--but only after Brad had exchanged hugs and kisses with all of them, of course. The break finally gave Margo's voice a chance to chime in with the rest. "Thank you so much for the camera, Daddy--I promise, I'll take lots and lots of pictures for you."

"Perfect." His gaze flickered quickly between both girls. "I can't say I got out much to do some shopping, but your mom is... very helpful." Alesha rolled her eyes and chuckled when she caught his teasing wink.


"Oh, why hello! Looks like the whole gang's already here... Should we come back later?" A light rapping sound on the door drew their attention to the entrance, where two gray-haired heads peeked around the corner with quizzical expressions.

"Meredith!" Alesha said sweetly, waving her hand to invite them to enter. "Jebidiah! No, no, of course not--the more the merrier. Merry Christmas!" She reluctantly drew herself away from Brad to extend them both a warm, greeting hug.

Without warning, Margo found herself in their embrace as well. "Oh you little beanpole--you're taller every time I see you." Meredith tutted at her when she finally released her from a tight squeeze. "You're going to be as tall as your grandfather soon if you don't quit sprouting."

"She would only be so lucky," Jebidiah retorted, one eyebrow raised. As he withdrew and rested his weight against the hospital bed, he added, "There's nothing wrong with a girl with some height to her. She's perfect just the way she is." Margo blushed as her grandfather wiggled his nose at his snarking wife.

As everyone began to attempt to make themselves comfortable in a room severely lacking in comforts, another bright-eyed face popped through the door.

"Oh, hey! Why did no one tell me there was a party going on?" Lilobot joked, inviting herself in with a springy step.

The room chuckled--except Alesha, who spoke up with a scolding tone. "Well, you would've known we'd be here if you'd checked your answering machine--I wanted you to meet us back at the house, first."

Lilobot cringed, her gears whirring distinctly louder while she shuffled towards the group. "Oh. I... must have forgotten. I am sorry, I--er--I had to go--there was this--"

"Don't worry about it sweetheart," Alesha smiled, shaking her head dismissively. "You're here now, that's all that matters. Get in here and make yourself at home... If you can." Unfortunately, as Alesha surveyed the room, she began to realize that there really wasn't much here to be at home with.

Except one thing: each other.

As time ticked on, more and more people began to make an appearance, and space to 'make yourself at home' quickly disappeared. The room was already cramped to begin with, but in order to fit the decorations in, a lot of seating had to be sacrificed. It left most of the "party guests" milling around the small floor space, almost like caged animals.

But that was not how anyone felt. As each tiny patch of real estate was taken by a  new smiling face, the entire room only grew brighter and brighter. Despite the cramped quarters, not a single appeared any less worse for wear--in fact, just the opposite.

You would never know such happiness could be found in such a stark, white world, but every person made the room less a hospital and more a home for every person there.

Well... with a few exceptions.

Within a couple of hours, most of the open air was traded in for a chance to be surrounded by family and friends. Even Brad's former co-workers made their appearance; not one person who cared for him wanted him to be alone, today.

Needless to say, as the last of Brad's worldly companions filled this little sardine can to the brim, Bradley was absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. It was exactly what he would have wished for.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one who was overwhelmed.

Despite how much she cared for every person there, Margo could feel the walls slowly opening their jaws to swallow her. Everywhere she moved, she bumped into someone; she couldn't even hear the sound of her breathing, losing all sense but the mingling voices that, combined, made a very odd and unintelligable conversation.

"There's not a lot of leeway, but if we're careful--"
"--so bright, did you decorate it your--"
"--great opportunity, but we have to decide if it's--"
"--found a way to integrate the module into--"
"--so fast and I really don't know how I'm--"
"--if that's okay with you!"

She had to get out of there.

She wondered: would they notice if she disappeared? Everyone was so enraptured that they had completely forgotten she existed; even Korva, her last choice of company, was captivated by every word out of Dad's  mouth, despite not understanding any of it. She wished she could be that fascinated too, but it was no use. Everyone had arrived to make sure her father didn't go thirsty, but now she was drowning.

"I'm going t-to go find a vending machine," she said as loudly as she could, but her light-headedness made everything, including her words, a blur to her senses. "Does anyone w-want anything?"

No response. She hadn't wanted one, but the emptiness it filled her with was so palpable she thought she might vomit.

Her retreat to the hall was too easy; no one saw her tiptoe away from the group, or how the door closed easily behind her. Each voice still continued to wash over her, but they were muffled enough that she could melt against the glass and be lulled out of her anxiety.

She was so relaxed that when a slight shuffle resonated a ways down the hall, her entire body snapped back to life, heart pounding. "H-hello?" she whimpered; hospitals spooked her on a good day, even when they were flooded with activity. Today, though--at least in this ward of the hospital--things were very quiet... almost haunting.

 However, the noise certainly wasn't a ghost. Margo felt silly once she realized source of the noise was just a boy--but fright quickly became confusion as she studied his features. "... Ian?"

His head whipped in her direction. She was still halfway down the hall, but she could already tell that his face had soured the moment he made eye contact. "Who else," he groaned, shifting his weight off the wall to take a few steps towards her.

"Why are you here?" she asked timidly,

"I have a better question--the hell is that on your head?" Ian scrunched his nose in disgust, raising his finger to point towards the top of her head.

Margo's eyelids began to flutter, befuddled. Was he serious? "They're... antlers? You know, reindeer antlers?" She gave her head a little shake and wiggle, causing the bells inside the ears to jingle.

He shook his head, turning to begin walking away. "... Right, okay."

"Now, your turn--" she prodded, not allowing him more than a couple feet of distance. "--why are you here?"

"What, is the hospital somehow out of bounds for me? Do you have to question everything I do?" His eyes seemed to growl at her; but when her face saddened, Ian grumbled and reluctantly obliged her request.

"If you must know, my Dad's decided his Christmas present to himself is to keep me out of trouble. He doesn't trust my Mom to keep an eye on me, so --" He waved his arms out in front of him, walking a few steps backwards to "present" the hospital. "--here I am, giving him a present: pretending for 24 hours that he can keep  me on a leash."

"That's... nice." It was an attempt to sound genuine, but Ian's chuckle mocked Margo's horrible lying prowess. "Well... where would you rather be?" she asked.

Ian scowled. "Anywhere but here."

"... Oh." Margo bit her lower lip. At this point, the conversation didn't appear as if it was going to go anywhere; Ian was clearly not in a good mood, and she was out of ideas. She was almost tempted to strike off and explore the hospital on her own, when: "... Oh!"

"Oh?" Although he didn't seem too interested, Ian had apparently surrendered to the fact he was stuck indulging Margo's whimsy. "... What?"

"Look up!"

"Uuh... okay?" Ian blinked a couple of times as he stared directly above them. "It's... a weed."

"Not just any weed--" Margo seemed to sing into her words, bouncing on her tiptoes to try and get a better look at the small sprig hanging from the cieling. "It's mistletoe!"

Ian's face could not have fallen faster. "You've gotta be kidding me," he groaned, taking a small step in retreat. "You better not be expecting anything."

Margo tilted her head back down to pout at him, but still maintaing a small smile. "But it's tradition!"

His entire body seemed to reel in rejection. "Yeah, a stupid one."

The way Ian seemed to treat her proposal like some sort of allergy destroyed all enthusiasm she had managed to muster. "I dunno," she said in a quiet, mousey voice. "It's kinda sweet, encouraging people to, I guess, be a little silly for a second or two."

For several moments, they were both silent, their gazes refusing to meet. She didn't want to feel insulted, but Margo couldn't help it; most of what she liked Ian thought was stupid; it was normally fine, but this one actually hurt. "I wish you didnt think it was stupid," she added weakly.

"Why?" Ian's brows furrowed, and his hands began speaking of disappointment as they moved wildly in front of him, enunciating his actual words. "Why does it matter what I think? If it makes you happy fantasizing about wiggling a branch over someone's head to have an excuse to exchange saliva, that's fine by me. Just dont expect me to care. My opinion shouldn't be important."

Margo finally looked back at him. "It's not that, it's..." Well, for a second at least. Her eyes quickly turn back towards the wall. "Nevermind."

Ian tapped his foot, now looking beyond annoyed. He hated when she did this. "No, you started--you gotta finish. Spit it out."

"Its.... this place." Margo shrugged, trying not to become emotional--and failing. "I hate coming here, Ian. I hate seeing my dad like this and I hate that my entire family has to box themselves up in a little room because we can't go anywhere else and still be together and I hate how they throw a few bows on the wall and pretend like this place isn't still full of sick people and dying people and crazy people and--"

Margo felt a brief tap on the side of her arm, snapping her out of her tirade. "Hey hey, calm down," Ian  murmured his voice an attempt at comforting. He let out a heavy sigh. "I dont get it though, how is mistletoe any different than the rest of that crap?"

She shrugged again, this time finally able to meet his gaze. "Everything else, its just stuff. More pretend holiday fluff. But mistletoe..." Her voice tapered off, pausing as she imagined all the invisible walls a hospital is built of. The illness, the death, the separation. "Its the one thing I can see in this place that doesn't drive people apart. It brings them together."

 Ian said nothing for a while; the longer he didn't, the more she wanted to run away. He though she was being silly, just like he thought mistletoe was silly. She knew it. "I know. I know, its stupid," she said, unable to hold back a small sob. "Its stupid and I shouldn't have told you. Just forget I said anything."

There was another pause, before his voice finally returned--this time, so devoid of annoyance it didn't even sound like him anymore. "No, it's fine," he said quietly, turning his head in shame. "I get it."

"Ian, i just..." Margo couldn't bottle it in anymore; she'd already let too much go. "I just wish it wasn't this way. Everyone keeps leaving, Ian. They're going to keep leaving. There's nothing I can do to stop it. I'm surrounded by everyone that loves me, but I've never felt more alone.'

'I know its wrong, I know I'm just being silly, I'm so lucky to have what I do but I'm so afraid to lose it all, I can't handle this all on my own, I'm not brave enough and I just can't--"

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland (Click to Listen! ♫)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,

Next year all our troubles will be
out of sight, 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yule-tide gay 

Next year all our troubles will be
miles away, 

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us 
Will be near to us once more 

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow 

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow 

So have yourself  

a merry little Christmas 
... now. 

A torrent of goosebumps flooded up Margo's arms and legs; his lips against her cheek made her shiver in a way that was foreign to her. So foreign it felt a little scary, but not enough to make her want it to stop. When it did, it felt like a weight had lifted off her chest--like the only thing left holding her down to earth was a string tied to her her feet.

As he pulled away, his nose brushed a few stray locks away from her ear. "You never have to be alone, Margo," he said gruffly--not without care, but with such an intense earnestness it could not be said in kindness. "Not if you don't want to be."

Her heart was beating so fast that when he had moved away, she couldn't register that any time had passed; everything was melting together. It wasn't real. It couldn't be. "I don't--I don't know what to--" She desperately tried to express, her fingers pressing against her cheek where his kiss had fallen.

He paused in his flight to turn and give her a surly smile. "Consider it a christmas present. Just don't tell anyone else, I don't want a reputation of helping damsels in distress, ya hear?"

 Margo laughed, almost squealing. "Uh, I..." Her lips stammered, almost incapable of words. "Don't worry--I d-don't think anyone would believe me if I tried."

Ian considered this for a moment, then nodded in agreement. "Huh. Yeah, probably not, but don't chance it." He gave her a sour look, but continued, jesting, "No good deed goes unpunished."

For a moment Margo thought he was turning to leave, but again, he halted in his tracks. This time, he twisted his head around far enough to look straight at her, making her knees reconsider their purpose in life.

"Ya know, there's something I just really don't get, about you. The things you make me do, Margo..." He seemed confused, speaking of her like a witch with a man under her spell. "The things you make me say... Nobody else can do that, ya know?"

She swallowed, unsure how she was supposed to feel about that. "I... no. No, I didn't know. Is that bad?"

Ian shrugged. "As long as you keep me in one piece... I guess not." He smirked and turned away. "See you later."

'Well... That doesn't sound too hard,' Margo thought to herself as she watched him close the door behind him.

Where he was going--she had no idea. Clearly he'd decided his promise to  his dad wasn't worth sticking around for, or maybe he just wanted to leave her feeling like he'd just ripped her heart from her chest and taken it for a ride on a ferris wheel. All things considered, she was okay with that. Of all the ways he'd left her before, this was definitely her favorite.

She turned to return back to the room where her family had undoubtedly still not noticed she had disappeared from. As she did, Margo considered something Ian had said. "You never have to be alone."

Margo wasn't sure if she believed him or not--she certainly couldn't always choose whether she was alone or not--but for now, it was a thought worth holding onto. The faces might change, friends and loves will always come and go, but not everyone. And, perhaps, not him.

Maybe she'd feel alone, but really, she never truly would be.


HEY GUIZ! So, this took forever and a day, and I'm sorry about that. I originally intended it to go up on Christmas Eve, but I guess 2 months late will just have to suffice. My writing is horribly rusty, but as you might know if you follow me on tumblr, I really enjoyed sneaking in some hints as to how this Season ends. If you remember to come back to this after the finale, I'll be interested to see if you guys can pick up on them. ;)

I want to apologize again--especially for how negligent I've been keeping up with what everyone else has been up to--but all is said and done, and the best I can do is keep coming back if I can. You guys are all truly amazing, and I love every single one of you guys. If you could cash in my debt of gratitude, you'd all be millionaires.

I hope all of you guys did have a wonderful holiday season, and continue to have an amazing year. I have a feeling 2013 is going to be a great one--so let's make it happen!
Cheers! ♥


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