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Chapter Text

Helena

 

In the mornings, when the apprehensive sun is just coming through the windows of the garage, before the city has begun making any sounds of life, Helena holds her children. She lifts them out of their cradles and tiptoes around with them pressed to each side of her chest. Not because they are crying – at dawn they have most often finally gone to sleep – but because she needs to know she still can.

Helena has never gotten to hold anything she loves. Once, she had a doll that she loved dearly. But the nuns took it away from her, and after that people kept taking away from Helena: her clean conscience, her unsullied body, her freedom of will. Her trust: in God, in truth, in herself, in anything real. They took away from her until there was only bad and ugly left, only other people's ideas and convictions in her mind. Perhaps that is why she did all those terrible things that she tries not to think of. Because she never got to learn how not to. Not once did she get to stroke something along it's back and feel the honor in return. Never did she get to care for anything. Love anything.

Until now.

Now, Helena has more people to care for than she can count. Now, Helena has so much love that she feels it stack in her throat and weigh her bones down. Now she has something more valuable than she thought she would ever get to have. So every morning when a new day breaks, she has to lift her children up to make sure that she still can. That they aren't a dream or a mirage or a trick, that they are really hers to comfort, with her hands stroking their backs endlessly soft. Her sons. They whimper into her chest and stir in her arms, and it vibrates through her whole body. To get to hold something close. Protect it. Love it.

Mother it.

She tries the word on her tongue sometimes, as she sways around in the quiet of the garage. I am your mother. It lies uncomfortably in her mouth.

She never had one, always wanted one. And then she got one, but Helena killed that mother. Knife through mother's ribs. Mother's blood on Helena's hands. Something drove her to drain the life from the promise of mother and Helena cannot understand what it was. Maybe anger that she didn't get to be a daughter because mother decided so, or confusion, or fear, or maybe a terrible combination of them all. Maybe she did it because it was all she knew how to do: take things away.

Then Helena was pitch black with envy for girls with mothers. Sarah. Kira. Gracie. They all knew something, a secret that she would never understand. She prayed to God every day for something she couldn't name. She never got to learn how to say the word. She never had anyone look at her in that way, that way that says nothing is ever going to matter as much as you. She wanted so badly it made her sick, but she didn't know what it was she wanted. Empty of everything but others' ideas. And yet, all the time while stumbling through those meaningless corridors of darkness, so enraged, so appalled at herself for throwing away her own remedy.

Then Helena got a sestra. Holy and alive. Despite the scars on her skin and the blood all over her hands, Helena got to hold her in the cabin of a shower while they both shook in tandem, and for the first time, she was loving something and holding it in her hands. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Helena wanted something that she could put a name to. After that she got many sestras and maybe a couple of brothers, and her hands became full and she stopped thinking so much of mothers.

Until she became one.

Alison calls her mommy. Delphine calls her mamán. Helena holds her children up in front of her and looks deep into their green eyes and tries to become one. She doesn't find herself any closer. Still cannot close her mouth around the word. She asks Sarah how she did it. "Oh meathead," Sarah says, "I still haven't. I'm still in way over my head, and it's just a matter of time before Kira realises I'm actually a shit mum and moves out."

Helena wants to argue with that, wants to tell Sarah how she almost stole Kira away because she was so unfathomably, achingly jealous of the way she was looked at by Sarah. But she also wants an answer, so she asks Alison.

"Oh, honey," says Alison and stops folding laundry to look at her fondly. "It took me months- maybe even years, before I really felt like I was a mother. I think you just have to pretend you know what you're doing, until one day, you wake up, and you don't feel quite as much like you're lost at sea anymore. And your child smiles at you in that... way, when they see you and you're just sort of... there. You know?"

Helena doesn't know. Alison smiles at her and puts the folded dresses into the top drawer. "It'll come. Don't worry."

Helena tries not to worry.

She lets Krystal cut her hair so it falls soft onto her shoulders. When she lifts the shirt over her head and glances back into the mirror, the lines on her back have started to whiten. She finds a razor blade in the bathroom one day and her hand doesn't dare to touch it. Is afraid of what would happen if she felt it between her fingers: if her arm would bend back of its own accord to remind her of how unholy she is.

Helena still tries to talk to God sometimes. But God has never really listened, and before she thought it was because she was undeserving, but now she thinks it might be because she doesn't need him anymore. The part of herself that Helena would cut open and bleed out on the floor for God to take has been gingerly picked up and sown back into her body. By her sestras, her sestras with their beautiful brown eyes and shining faces and their hands that are always there in some way: stroking her back, pulling her up, holding her still to remind her who she is.

Perhaps she doesn't need mothers, or gods, because Helena has something else to love now. Something that loves her back. And so finally, she manages to pick the razor blade up from the sink and fold it into toilet paper until it isn't sharp and hurtful anymore, and she throws it away and walks out into the summer's day, her hands clean.

 

Chapter Text

Cosima

 

There is no more blood. In lungs or in eyes or in glass vials. When Cosima laughs it doesn't warp into a cough. When she jogs up the stairs, when she twirls below Delphine's hand in dark clubs, her lungs don't collapse in on themselves.

At first, after the first test result came back and Delphine's lips trembled when she whispered the growths have regressed, Cosima, it's working, she was afraid to do anything at all. Afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid of the memory of seizuring, still there like a phantom pain in her limbs. Cosima used to be the first one to dance at university parties. She used to be the loudest one in the concert crowd, the first one to reach the top of the hill, the last one to get out of the water. She used to close her eyes and become only a fluttering heartbeat and a collection of sighs when Delphine mumbled feverish love into every corner of her chest. Now, she sat on the couch and tried to remember how to do it all. How to trust things not to fall apart.

She hated it. How she had come to fear what she used to love. How those people had control over her even now, even after most of them were dead in the ground, and she had found a cure for their reckless gambles and won against the sickness inside her. How sometimes she became scared to touch a petri dish, suddenly reminded of how not long ago her own cells had been smeared onto it. How not long ago her hands had been cold, shaking things that couldn't hold onto science.

She told Delphine this, and Delphine cradled Cosima's face in her hands and said defy them. Cosima didn't say that that would mean defying Delphine too, because Delphine was theirs once, was once incorporated in the signature after the patent that was tucked into her DNA in code. That sometimes when she thinks about that patent she feels so trapped in her own skin that she has to heave over the sink like she's trying to physically reject it, but no, no, they're dead now, and Cosima is still here, she's still alive after all, and she will not be dictated by anyone anymore.

So she does what Delphine said. She stands from the couch, even though it's frightening. She searches for every name on the neatly printed list Felix gave her until she can cure them or mourn them. She lies between her sisters in the hammock in Alison's back yard and lets Sarah trace the shape of the golden ratio on her wrist, and she watches with equal parts fondness and amazement as Helena gently plays with her sons on the blanket on the grass. She lets peace come to her in short moments, and then in longer ones. She teaches Kira the basics of genetics. She steps on a plane to visit her parents, she goes back to school and laughs at Scott's silly jokes in the lab, and eventually she jogs up the stairs, and dances in dark clubs and she laughs at how life tickles her skin again, and it feels so wild that it drowns out the fear.

Once a month, she lets Delphine push the clear liquid through the syringe and into her bloodstream. They do it on the sofa during commercials, or in the hallway before she goes to class, or leaning towards the kitchen counter after dinner. Never in the bathroom. Never in bed. Cosima throws out the box of surgical gloves Delphine has stored in the bathroom cabinet. She's not a patient anymore. She'll never be a test subject again. From now on, she refuses to be anything less than an equal.

Some fears take longer to lure away than others.

"Promise you'll always be honest with me," Cosima whispers in the blackness of their bedroom, their bodies flush beneath the sheets. She can barely keep her voice from sounding like a threat.

"I promise," Delphine murmurs.

I thought you were dead once, and sometimes it's still so hard to believe that you're alive, she doesn't say. I love you so much but I don't know how to trust you again, she doesn't say. You're still the safest thing I know, and that's scary, she doesn't say.

“Promise me you'll stay," she says.

"I promise," Delphine whispers.

And every morning that Cosima wakes up and Delphine is there, kissing her shoulder, making her french toast, walking her to the train, Cosima doubts a little less. Delphine's patience never wavers, and neither do her eyes. Je t'aime, Cosima, she mumbles into Cosima's hair every chance she gets. And those people, they stole so much from Cosima. They don't get to steal her courage to love, she thinks, with the scent of Delphine still a memory below her tongue. She has to defy them one final time, show them that despite everything they did, she is brave enough. To breathe deeply, to be unapologetically free, to trust.

She laces her fingers with Delphine's in bed at night.

Her hands are warm.

 

Chapter Text

Alison

 

She goes to the cemetery as often as she can. It's not as often as she'd like to. There are just so many people who are still miraculously alive around her craving her attention, and she's so willing to give it to them.

Oscar is growing into a middle schooler who drags mud into the house after soccer practice and eats astounding amounts of mac'n'cheese. Gemma is almost ten and has begun squinting through the shop windows in the mall with a concerned expression, carefully counting the contents of her piggy bank every week. Charlotte is her new best friend, and Charlotte, with her vivid smile and features just like Alison's once were, and her leg that's too slow for her when she runs after Gemma up the stairs, presents Alison with a whole new toolkit of worries and aches and affections.

And then there are the twins, with their eyes wide open to the world and their little hands gripping onto Alison's fingers like they're afraid she'll leave them. Helena lets her take one or the other sometimes, because Alison always offers to, and it's her favorite feeling in the world to have a small, warm little being sighing against her, clinging to her, depending on her.

Helena requires caring for too, what with her strange antics, apparent belief that rocks are baby toys and inability to maneuver the washing machine. "Alison, washing machine is flooding," she can shout from the laundry room, and Alison needs to come and show her how to shut the door properly and where the floor mop is. And then there are diapers that need changing, food that needs to be cooked, bedtime stories that need to be read, backs that need rubbing, a whole house to fill with love.

And then, there are her sisters, who keep growing in numbers, and who have deemed Alison's house some sort of base camp. Not that Alison tells them to leave. They come over to plop down on various couches and tell Alison about their respective lives and Alison needs to comfort or scold or counsel them, and there are more backs to rub and more food to cook, and endless hugs to hand out.

Still, she tries to make time for her first sister as often as possible.

Beth's grave doesn't have a real headstone, sculpted and smooth, proud and upstanding, golden engravings and carved birds. It is a small, naturally rounded rock protruding humbly from the grass, perhaps fifteen inches across, in a pleasant dove gray shade. Alison couldn't afford anything bigger, even though it's what Beth deserved. Beth deserved a mausoleum decorated with a thousand flowers. Most of all, Beth deserved to live, but there's no point going down that road.

Alison had the small stone picked out and engraved, and she rented a burial plot near a large oak at the local cemetery and had the urn interred on a Tuesday afternoon, with the bleak Toronto sunlight looking down on her. She had wanted Cosima to be there, Cosima had wanted to be there too, but with flight prices and school schedules and secret after hours lab research it simply wasn't possible. So Alison stood alone and looked on as the remains of Beth's body were placed in a hole in the earth by the burial custodian, and the soil was tucked back around it.

She stood there for some time, after he left, and tried to find something fitting to say, something that would help her loosen the tightly wound knot of fear and anger and desperation that was growing in her chest. Beth had been the motion in Alison's monotonous life. When she had been treading water in Bailey Downs, silently wondering if this was it, Beth had called her from a private number and asked her to meet. After that meeting, Alison had gone home and felt powerless in a whole new way. She had hated what Beth had revealed to her, but what she had hated most of all was to feel as if she was of no use. So she had decided to help Beth, to be of purpose in whatever way she could, and if that was through money, then so be it.

Beth had kept calling, sounding a little less pissed off each time and a little more dejected. Alison had made lunches, placed them in paper bags and brought them to the parking lot of the grocery store next to the police station. Beth had looked tired but grateful. She had told Alison about monitors with bit back betrayal in her voice, and Alison had tried to comfort her, but she hadn't known what to say. After a while, she had taught Alison how to hold a gun and hit a target, and Alison had gone home with a little more purpose to her hands. Now, she could at least defend her family.

And then months had spiraled on, the panic in Beth's eyes had grown but Alison hadn't been able to make it better, because what could she say? She was just a component in the machinery that Beth was uncovering, living proof that Beth's nightmares were true. Beth had kept her distance, and autumn had turned into winter and Beth had stopped calling and stepped in front of a train. Because after all, they hadn't really known each other. They had just been on the same side of a war, and Beth had never hugged Alison or told her about her issues with Paul or called her sister the way Cosima did. Alison had been left sitting in the dead silence of her crafts room staring at the glass of wine before her, trying to find some purpose for her hands. And when she hadn't found any, she had picked up the glass instead.

“I wish you hadn't done it,” she bit out at last to the little pile of dirt on the ground, and it didn't help at all, and then she turned and left.

The next time she came to Beth's grave, the stone had been installed. Alison had had great difficulty choosing an epitaph. It hadn't felt like her task. She was grateful to Beth, admired her and hurt for her, but she hadn't really known her. After all, she hadn't really known her.

She had thought of choosing Gone but not forgotten. Respectful, yet not making claims on a shared life. When she had suggested it to Cosima, Cosima had blown out smoke through her mouth in a disapproving way, clouding up the Skype call.

“I mean. Isn't that a little impersonal? Beth put everything on the line for us.”

“Well,” Alison had defended herself, “it's not like I can put loved forever on there! We barely knew her.”

“Alison, Beth might have been closed off and stressed out, but we knew her. Come on.”

Alison had fought the knot in her chest. “I don't know. Wouldn't we have noticed what was... happening with her, if we did?”

The pixelated image of Cosima on Alison's screen had looked concerned. She had peered over the edge of her glasses seriously.

“Alison, you're not blaming yourself for Beth, right? You know it wasn't your fault."

Alison's chest had threatened to break. She didn't allow it to. “I know, I just... I just wish she was still with us.”

Cosima had sighed again. “I know. Me too.”

Cosima had offered to take over the task of picking out an epitaph and Alison had agreed to it, because she felt more and more like she couldn't breathe properly. She woke up panting and sweaty in the middle of the night from dreams she couldn't recount, and her children began looking at her like they didn't recognize her sometimes. She started going to play rehearsals with a small bottle in her purse.

Cosima emailed her a few days later. Alison read the line in italics a dozen times and closed her eyes. It felt fitting.

And now, at the other side of everything, it is.

It's another warm day; summer seems to stretch on endlessly this year. The light is almost white as it hits the rows of stones and paths of grass in the cemetery. They have to squint as they tread slowly between the stones, but when they reach Beth's spot, there's semi-shade from the canopy of the old oak. Soft circles of light dance around the familiar letters on the stone, the wind rustles through the leaves and catches the hem of Alison's dress.

Helena stops silently a few feet behind her. She is dressed in Alison's old overalls and the ringlets of her newly washed hair shine like a halo in the sun. Alison motions for her to step forward and she does so hesitantly, chewing on her lip. Alison clears her throat.

“Hi Beth,” she says lightly.

In the beginning, Alison found it impossible to talk when she visited Beth's grave. It felt like talking to a ghost, or to herself, or to the body of her guilt. The first time Cosima had come with her, she had knelt down and brushed the snow from the letters of Beth's name, and murmured hey Beth, we really miss you. I hope you're doing good, wherever you are. Cosima had talked a little about her progress in the lab with Katja's briefcase, and Alison had looked down at her own hands and they had seemed more useless than ever.

“Do you really think she is somewhere?” she had asked in the car on their way back.

“How do you mean?”

Alison had shifted uncomfortably behind the wheel. “You talked to her as if she was just... someplace else.”

Cosima hadn't quite smiled. She had leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “Who knows where she is. Nobody knows if the soul lingers after death, but it's comforting to imagine. You know that poem, 'I have only slipped into the next room'. I don't think she can hear me, but it helps me connect to whatever I have left of her, you know?”

Alison hadn't known. She had wished she was a clever scientist like Cosima or brave and resourceful like Beth, and she had wished there was something she could do, and she had wished for the motion back in her life. She had pressed her lips together and stared at the mud-colored snow and the road ahead.

“Maybe try it, next time.” Cosima had momentarily put her hand on Alison's arm. “I know you miss her.”

Alison tried to talk to Beth. It made her feel ridiculous and frustrated and like a faker, she didn't know what she was supposed to say, but she persisted. With time it got easier to let the words come to her, to not feel like a fool or a fraud, and to see Beth in her mind, smiling wryly back at her and rolling her eyes when Alison told her about Sarah's escapades and how Cosima had managed to fall in love with her French monitor.

Now, she smiles at the name on the stone, and then back at Helena, who looks heart-achingly unsure. “I brought Helena with me today. I think you would have liked her."

Helena glances at Alison a few more times. “Hello,” she says awkwardly. “It would have been nice to meet you.”

Alison pats her arm. She lets the by now familiar sadness bloom in her. It's not full of confused resentment and fear anymore, it's much quieter, but it's still there, next to the piece of Beth in her heart. “We miss you,” she sighs. “It's a beautiful day today.”

Helena leans closer to Alison and whispers, “should I tell her about babies?”

Alison smiles at her. “I think that's a wonderful idea,” she says.

They stay at the cemetery in the shade of the oak for as long as it takes Helena to solemnly recount the way her children won't let her sleep a full night, and what type of green their eyes are, and how sestra Sarah helped her have them, and how very, very much she loves them. “You are aunt now, sestra Beth,” she concludes ceremoniously. And how is it possible for peace to be so beautiful and so heavy at the same time? How can Alison be standing there in the sunlight with her insides scrubbed clean and still feel like crying? Helena takes her hand. They breathe through it.

Before they go, Alison bends down and brushes some imaginary dirt off the stone, and the inscribed letters below her palm are a reassuring truth when they turn away to go home.

 

Elizabeth Childs

1984   † 2012

You gave your today for our tomorrow.

 

In the car back, Helena turns to her.

“She was sad?” she asks, eyes big and searching.

Alison sighs. “Yes. But she was strong, too. She fought for us. She was very brave.”

Helena nods. Through the corner of her eye, Alison sees her finger trace patterns in the dust on the car's window. “I will tell my babies about her when they know language,” she announces.

Alison thinks about that poem Cosima told her about when they sat in the exact same place all that time ago. Death is nothing at all. Death is something, Alison thinks, but it doesn't have to be the end.

When they get home, Donnie meets them at the front door looking harrowed, one crying baby on each arm.

“Thank God you're back,” he says feebly. “I need you.”

Alison closes the door and walks into a home where diapers need changing and sandwiches need to be made, and Gemma's homework needs helping with and Oscar's soccer practice needs to be driven to. And they wake up to new days where breakfast and lunch and dinner need to be cooked and plants need to be watered and babies need to be comforted and backs need to be rubbed. Sometimes Krystal comes over and Alison needs to make sure she doesn't burn Gemma's hair off, or it's Felix and Alison needs to act relationship counselor, or Art brings Maya and Charlotte and Alison needs to make sure there are enough pillows in the hammock and enough coffee in the pot to make Art stay.

Alison reminds herself as often as she can how lucky she is. That she is alive, that her husband and her children are alive, that her sisters are just a phonecall away, and that she came out on the other side. She looks at Sarah and she sees how hard she is trying to be okay, she looks at Mika and sees the ghosts of her past still swirling in her distant eyes. Alison made it back to happiness, and she needs to help her sisters get there too.

And so new days keep coming, another summer turns into another autumn and Alison has people depending on her, she has a whole beautiful family to take care of, and her hands always have a purpose.

 

Chapter Text

Mika

 

It takes a long time to learn how not to be alone. Get used to the way it frets. She has been for so long, she has forgotten how to be anything else.

In a basement. In a motel room. In a trailer. In the woods. Gunshots and fires and suffocation. It's just better to be alone.

Every morning she brushes her teeth for two minutes and thirty seconds, looking at the picture of a laughing Niki stuck to her dirty mirror. Niki when she was alive and warm and keeping Veera together, keeping her from being alone. But it only held for so long.

When Sarah starts calling her, Mika does not pick up. She sits in the eternal silence of her trailer and thinks about Beth. Beth, with her hard eyes and the drugs beneath her bathroom sink and the tremors in her voice. Beth tried to call for her, tried to lure her into an affinity that Mika knew would only lead to more death. But for some reason Beth kept coaxing, despite coming apart at her own seams.

Mika.

That's a nice face. You don't have to do this by yourself. I didn't know where else to go.

Mika.

How was Mika supposed to close the door? Beth looked just like her. She looked just like Niki. She was just trying to survive like everyone else, she was scared and alone too, and she gave Mika a name and made something human out of the hard scientific binary that she was made up of. So Mika let her in and she made iced tea and offered to think for her when she sagged on a chair in the darkness of the trailer. Mika sat there and felt Beth shake like a leaf below her hand, something dangerous stirring in her own body. And then she was entangled.

Then she stood in Beth's frosty apartment and knocked on the closed bathroom door, pleading, and everything inside her screamed you knew it would end like this. Then she had Beth yelling, not being able to look her in the eye, her voice a dying animal, pressing a gun into her hands. Mika begged not to be abandoned, and she had silence in return. She had Beth drawing her close for a single striking second, before stepping back and looking at her for the last time, and then she had the taste of iron in her mouth and a heart beating so fast she thought it would break and hands that could barely type the password to unlock her laptop and then, she had Beth stepping in front of a train through the grainy, hacked footage of a surveillance camera.

Just like Niki had been taken from her, so was Beth. And she was alone again.

Mika had so many deaths to avenge in the end that they erased the rest of the world. She just wanted to kill him. Them, all of them, but mostly him. To see the spark leave his eyes little by little and know that the last face he would ever see was the one he had thought he could defeat. A life for thirty-eight lives. It didn't seem fair. But it seemed like the only possible way to go.

Was it worth it? She can't say. Mika had a family in Niki that was different from anything she'd had before. It didn't matter in what way they loved each other: they belonged together, almost became corresponding parts of the same strange organism. Could have been. Could be now, too, if he hadn't done what he did. Mika stopped caring why, eventually. She stopped caring about illegal experiments and what was right or wrong in the world. She stopped caring about who put her in the world and why. She stopped caring because all she could ever think about was that once, she'd had a net of warm glowing lights around her, and one after the other he had put them out. Like candles. He had shut the warm glowing part of Mika down and left her in the dark, so now, he needed to pay. A life for thirty-eight lives. Three point seven million dollars.

It didn't seem fair. But then again, none of it was.

She saved Sarah for Beth's sake. She just meant to make that one phone call, and then disappear again. But Sarah became a distraction. She confused Mika with her obnoxious intrusion and resemblance to Beth, almost having her on the edge of becoming entangled once more. But she didn't quite succeed: Mika had become an expert at being alone by then, and when Sarah simply handed her his name and his face after all those years of looking, any trace of caring vanished from her mind.

It's simple, to stare at a single point until everything else fades. Was it worth it? She can't say. All she knows is that it kept her alive.

Within hours she had his body chained to a bomb. She had the truth burned into his eyes and watched the arrogance slide off his face; saw desperation replace it. She had it all lined up. A candle for each sister he had taken. Gallons of gasoline. She was the wolf, he was the deer caught in the trap.

And still, somehow, he walked out alive. Still Mika was left with painful, hollow echoes of warmth and Sarah's voice like an alarm in her head.

Mika. Mika. Mika.

Did it only take a name to break her? One juvenile promise? One soft voice persuading her to care about yet new sisters who would surely just end up dead, the way everyone Mika touched ended up dead? What was the point, when he still got to live?

She left Beth's apartment with betrayal and disappointment tearing at each other in her chest, and decided to stay alone.

Sarah calls and calls. So does the detective. Once, Alison Hendrix calls. Mika looks at her display, clenches her hands into fists, looks at Niki's picture, never picks up. She tracks their IP addresses: watches, like Beth told her to. She watches Cosima Niehaus reveal the truth about Neolution's founder and Rachel Duncan dig her bionic eye out. Mika has a coughing fit over a cup of iced tea and her laptop gets spattered with blood. She considers her ringing phone for a second, but quickly shuts the thought down.

She watches the branches of Neolution falter and die, board members resign or disappear, journalists begin investigations, companies declare bankruptcy, men in expensive suits look troubled. She watches Sarah crush the skull of the man pretending to be P.T. Westmorland and stagger outside clutching two newborn babies and a sister. A strange feeling grows in Mika. She doesn't have a name for it yet, but it makes her braver. Makes her sleep a little sounder at night, deactivate the bomb beneath her doormat, and one day, when it's been over a month and nobody has died and Sarah's number appears on her screen yet again, she picks up.

“Took you long enough,” Sarah sighs on the other end. Mika doesn't know how to explain, so she says nothing.

The first time she goes to Mrs S's house, she nearly turns around four times. In the journal in her backpack is the picture of Niki. You know how this ends. But she's coughing up blood almost every day now, and she's scared again, so she goes anyway.

When she gets there, Sarah gives her a tired smile and a muttered apology that Mika doesn't know what to do with. Then she invites her in and introduces her to Felix and Kira. Kira doesn't seem confused by her presence at all, just sits down on the chair next to her and smiles happily at her. She is so acutely alive, it almost makes Mika want to get up and leave, but Kira turns to her as if she knows what she's thinking and tells her to stay for tea, please.

Felix is a little loud, but speaks in a kind way and watches his niece amusedly. His eyelids are painted a soft shimmering purple, and he has a comforting habit of kicking each of his family members beneath the table when they say something that makes Mika blush or stutter.

But Mrs S is Mika's favorite. She's calm and mostly quiet, and when she does speak she has a safe weight to her voice, and she smiles like she knows everything, so you don't have to keep track yourself. When Mika is stepping outside to leave, after Sarah has called Cosima and arranged a meeting two days later to get the injection and Felix has squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, Mrs S walks her outside, closes the door and comes to stand opposite her on the porch.

“I know you wanted to kill Ferdinand Chevalier,” she says.

Mika goes cold and can't meet her eyes. Mrs S reaches for her clenched hand and puts her own over it.

“You don't need to worry about him hurting anyone ever again. I watched him take his last breaths almost two months ago.”

Mika looks up. “He's dead?”

Mrs S nods. “Sorry for stealing your moment,” she smiles ruefully.

"You killed him?" Mika breathes.

Mrs S stops smiling and watches her carefully. "Yes," she says soberly. "I shot him. He's dead."

Everything in Mika stills. For a second, she floats, weightless, cut off from everything else in the world - even the ever-present ghosts of her sisters. When her heart starts beating again, it's in a different gear. Mrs S hugs her so tight she squeezes the hardened grief out of her.

Cosima is bright and attentive and holds her arm gently when Delphine picks up the needle. She smiles so warmly at Mika that she nearly forgets to cover her scar. After they're done and there's a band-aid over the place of punctured skin, Cosima makes her tea and starts conversations that she carries with her hands, starting at video games but soon veering into genetics and cosmos, and she doesn't seem to mind that Mika doesn't keep up.

Sarah drags her to her first dinner at Alison's, and there is a bit too many people there and a bit too much noise, but Cosima smiles encouragingly at her from across the room, and Sarah squints at her and leads her to the corner of the kitchen, where it's a little more quiet and nobody can see her scar. Eventually, Mika has said hello to Alison, who seems genuinely touched to meet her, and Krystal, who engulfs her in a cloud of sugary sweet perfume and starts talking about nail polish and animal testing and hair dressers, none of which Mika can focus on, but Sarah dives in and diverts Krystal before she gets too riled up.

Meeting Helena is the scariest. She looks the least like the rest of them; her eyes are different somehow, and she moves like something belonging in the forest. Mika knows what she has done, knows about Ania and Katja and Danielle, but there is also what Sarah and Cosima have told her about convents and wing-shaped scars and brainwashing. She knows that Helena has saved lives too, and she knows about the twins. Mika tries to understand but it's difficult: easy to focus on that single point of death and ruin and let it blind you to everything else. She grips the hems of her shirt and tries not to.

When Sarah drags Helena over to the kitchen counter, she smiles shyly at Mika and says in broken English, “Hello new sestra, it's nice to meet you.” Her accent sounds the most like Mika's. Her clothes look the most similar to her own. It's strange and new and perhaps what lets Mika be brave enough to uncurl her tensed fingers and say hello back.

Sarah smiles fondly between the two of them, but when Helena asks if Mika wants to meet her babies, Sarah puts her arm around Helena's shoulders and proclaims “alright, meathead, it's time for dinner, come on.”

Dinner, once everyone has finally had their plate passed around to be served, is nice. When everyone is chewing, they're not talking over each other. It's a comforting feeling to be sitting by a large table, full of food that someone cooked with their own hands. And it tastes much more and much better than what Mika is used to eating. She catches Alison's eye and smiles tentatively, and Alison beams back at her.

After, she feels exhausted and wrung out but a little less hollow. She goes home to her trailer that Sarah is trying to convince her to move out of and sleeps for twelve hours, dreaming of hands opening and reaching out to her.

Some days, she still needs to stay away. Stay curled up in front of her laptop and stare at the dots moving around on the screen, not talk to anybody, not put anybody in danger. She knows that the danger is gone, but she can still feel it on the surface of her palms. Sometimes she still hears that voice inside her, whispering that it'll never stay good. You know how this will end.

But eventually, her phone rings, and she glances at the frozen smile on Niki's face on her mirror, next to the newer one of Sarah, Alison, Felix and Kira smiling from the hammock in Alison's backyard with their arms around each other, and she picks up.

“Do you want us to call you Veera?” Sarah asks one day over mugs of hot chocolate in Siobhan's kitchen, when the fallen leaves have become brown sludge on the pavements and you need double pairs of socks to fight off the cold. Sarah is in a huge knitted sweater, there are no smudges of black around her eyes and her hair is pulled into a loose ponytail.

“No,” Mika says, looking down at the mug in her hands. “I like Mika.”

Niki cannot come back. Mika knows that. And neither can Justyna, or Jade, or any of the others. Neither can Beth. And neither can Veera. If she ever wants to be okay, it must be as the person Beth made of her, and the one Sarah and her family insist on seeing in her now. Maybe Veera died alongside Niki, and maybe that is as it should be.

Sarah looks at her with almost, yet not quite, pity. More understanding, maybe. “Too many bad memories?”

“Something like that,” she agrees.

Sarah leans back, her eyes going distant. “Yeah, I get that,” she mutters.

In the living room, Kira is making drawings. Mika sits down beside her by the big table and lets her demonstrate her works.

“I made this one of mom and auntie Helena,” Kira explains, showing her a drawing of two figures – one blonde, one brunette – in colorful swirly dresses standing on a meadow beneath the endless, crayon-blue sky. “Because they're twins. Did you know that?”

“Yes,” Mika says, tracing the thin golden lines connecting the two bodies on the paper. Some cold unwelcome feeling stings her, like envy. Like she has any right to be envious.

“And I also made this,” Kira continues, extracting another drawing from the pile. “It's of you.”

Kira places the drawing on top of the previous one. It depicts a single figure, hovering in a dark blue space, also in a dress that floats around her body. Her eyes are dark, her expression is solemn but content, and all around her body, tethered to her by the same frail golden threads that connected Helena and Sarah, are dozens upon dozens of warm, glowing stars.

Mika feels like crying. “How did you know?” she whispers at last, looking down at Kira.

Kira looks back at her solemnly, as if she can see everything there is to her and she accepts it, and Mika had forgotten what it felt like to be looked at in that way. “I don't know,” she replies. “I just do.”

Mika looks back to the drawing. “Is she lonely?” She asks through the thickness in her throat.

“No,” says Kira with confidence. “She has a big family.”

The floor creaks and when Mika looks up, Sarah is coming through the doorway from the kitchen with Felix trailing behind her, and she sits down opposite them and gives Mika a sympathetic smile.

“You get used to it,” she murmurs, nodding to Kira, who is fiddling with something underneath the papers, and Mika just nods a little in response, still trying to fit this long forgotten emotion inside of her body.

Kira finally looks up and hands Mika a purple gel pen. “Can you write your name on it?” she requests, gleeful again. “I don't know how to spell it.”

Mika accepts the pen and realizes, as she puts it to the corner of the paper, that she has never written her new name before. There has never been any reason to. Now, there is one.

She writes four letters on the paper. Perhaps this choice is another one in the line of choices she needs to make to become free.

Kira makes a sound beside her and after a bewildered second, Mika realizes it's a laugh.

“Your name almost has the same letters as my name!”

“That's right, monkey,” Sarah agrees with a wry smile, peeking past the piles of paper on the table. “It does.”

“And it means “lovely scent” in Japanese,” Kira supplies brightly, already pulling Mika's drawing over.

Sarah snorts. “What? How do you know that?”

“Dad helped me Google the names of all my aunts,” Kira shrugs, filling in some more blue in a white space. Mika never thought about Kira's father, just sort of assumed he didn't exist, but evidently he does because she sees Sarah blink at Kira for a second and then turn back to Felix, whose eyebrows are so far up on his forehead that they're almost eaten by his fringe, his lips pressed tightly together.

“Uh, did he, now.”

“Yep,” says Kira. “We email.”

The living room floor becomes a decoding software as Sarah and Felix pass another series of looks and minute shrugs over it, which Mika doesn't understand but which obviously mean something, since they end with Felix shaking his head bemusedly before returning to the kitchen and Sarah making a dejected gesture and turning back to peer expectantly at Kira. Mika thinks she really does need to get better at this silent language that siblings have.

She thinks, as Sarah begins interrogating Kira about this Dad and his googling, that maybe this is what siblings are: people who invite you for hot chocolate and teach you new languages. People who don't mind that you forget to hide your scar or that you don't understand science. People who want to hug you and cook you dinner and give you extra pairs of socks because it's getting cold out there. People who see the fear in you and allow you to be scared, but who don't leave you just because you are.

Mika thinks of all the sisters she has lost and all the ones she's still got. She thinks of how they have started to take hold of her hands for no real reason. Alison and Cosima and Kira, mid-conversation or while walking down the street, without getting hurt or dying. Something inside her has begun to flicker faintly, almost like a flame, and when she doesn't pull her hand away despite the fear, the flicker grows a little more distinct, and perhaps that is what it means to not be alone.