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Into the Black and White

Chapter Text

Hannah was running. Not unusual; Hannah ran and hid a lot, usually because she was instructed too. Lex would tell her to run and hide when their mom was in a violent mood. Ethan told her to run and hide in the tunnel of the play structure. 

She realized that, whenever she ran and hid, someone she loved got hurt. 

Hannah couldn’t remember why she was running this time, but she was being chased. A crowd was following her, stumbling, zombie-like, in rhythm. Like a dance. Hannah thought she could hear singing.

Any sound she may have heard was interrupted by a familiar voice, and Hannah felt like she was falling. Not unusual; Webby’s messages often felt like this. 

Her booming voice filled Hannah’s ears and shook her to her core. “Tomorrow will come, tomorrow won’t come, tomorrow come today.” She repeated over, and over, and over, and over until the message was surrounding, enveloping, drowning Hannah.

There are hands, clawing at her, so covered in blue that Hannah wasn’t sure if there was any skin under it. The bright color surrounded her, filling her vision until the familiar darkness disappeared, replaced by nothing but blue.

Webby’s commanding voice and eerie message, the countless hands clawing at her flesh, the intensely bright blue… it was too much. Where was Lex? She wasn’t alone, right? 

Hannah felt something drip down her face. Was it blood? If so, who’s? Webby’s message didn’t let up and Hannah continued to drown, helplessly hoping for rescue from a threat she didn’t understand.

A voice cut through the madness and sensations. A simple, “Stop, that’s too much.” Said with force, but not anger. 

Hannah sat up in her makeshift bed. Her face was wet with tears and sweat. Webby’s voice continued to chant, but much quieter than while she was sleeping. Hannah took a moment to calm down and breathe, looking around the room. She was alone, but Lex had left her own makeshift bed unmade and messy, standing out in comparison to Alice and Tim’s neatly-made beds. Deb’s was completely put away, as usual. Hannah wondered if she had even taken it out the night previous.

Hannah’s observations helped her calm down. The Professor’s house was grey and sterile, but it was safe, and the group had slowly been making it more like a home, much to the Professor’s distaste. 

As Hannah was getting dressed and re-braiding her hair, she noticed that Webby had stopped chanting. Worried it was because she had ignored her friend, Hannah mumbled an apology.

As if in response, Webby spoke back up, saying a new phrase, only once. 

“The Apotheosis is upon us.”

Hannah stopped mid-braid. “What?” She asked aloud, but received no answer. She frowned, fiddling with the unfinished braid.

What the heck is an apotheosis?

Her internal wondering was also left unanswered, and she huffed. She hated it when Webby ignored her. They were supposed to be friends! The other voice… she didn’t want to think about him right now. Webby didn’t like him, so neither did she.

Hannah finished her braid, put on the warrior’s hat, and half-made her bed. She really didn’t see the point in doing it, but Lex said she had too. 

With the room all set up, Hannah cracked open the door and peered out into the hallway. There was no one out there, but she could hear voices not too far away, and something else too…

Music. It wasn’t music like in her dream, it felt less sinister and more goofy. 

Hannah stepped fully into the hallway and shut the door behind her. It was probably the Professor; he liked to play music, but didn’t share it that much. The fact that he was playing meant that the house was probably mostly, if not entirely, empty.

She thought for a moment. The Professor was, well, a professor. He knew lots of things about science and music. He would know what an apotheosis is, right?

Hannah found her logic to be pretty sound, and followed the music to a small room with a tiny, raised stage. On the stage, unsurprisingly, was a keyboard, and playing the keyboard was the Professor. From time to time he would sing, but he wasn’t today.

It didn’t take long for him to notice Hannah and stop playing. He grinned at her and stood. “Hannah! Glad to see you finally woke up. Your sister was getting worried. Are you hungry?”

Hannah shook her head no, which was the truth, but reminded herself to eat later. The Professor had a lot of food stocked up for situations like this, but with so many people at his house, it wouldn’t last nearly as long as he planned. It’s important to eat while you can.

The Professor got off his tiny stage and walked over to her. “Did you need something, Hannah? Or just wanted to see the show?”

Hannah fiddled with her shirt. “Apotheosis.” She mumbled, looking at the keyboard.

“Apotheosis?” The Professor repeated, urging her to explain. Adults always wanted her to use her words.

“What’s apotheosis mean?” She clarified.

He nodded and walked back towards the stage. “Well, it has two meanings.” He grabbed the stool from behind the keyboard and set it in the center of the room before sitting on it. Hannah inched closer and sat on the floor near him.

“First,” he began, “an apotheosis is the highest point in someone’s life or job. Like, reaching the top of the mountain, it’s all downhill from there. Or the climax of a novel!”

Hannah nodded, truthfully understanding. She wasn’t sure how she could have reached her apotheosis when she was only thirteen, but Webby was never wrong.

“The second definition is…” The Professor paused, a hand on his chin. “Well, to put it bluntly, it’s the evolution into godhood. Being raised up into the heavens, that kind of thing.”

That got Hannah thinking, and her thinking worried her. Was Hannah becoming a god? Or was Webby talking about Wiggly? Even thinking his name made her shudder. 

Eventually, Hannah sighed, frustrated and getting a headache. It was probably not too big a deal; most of Webby’s warning’s didn’t directly affect Hannah. She still hadn’t figured out what the “Cross” and “two doors not one” messages had been about. This was likely just another one to add to the pile.

The Professor snapped Hannah out of her thoughts with a question of his own. “May I ask, where did you learn that word? It’s not exactly widely used, not anymore.”

At least it was an easy answer. “Webby.”

The Professor nodded. He liked hearing about Webby and the Black and White, and had sprung up a million theories about it. He sometimes complemented the Professor’s work, other times criticized it. Hannah didn’t care either way, she just wanted him to be quiet.

“I figured I would ask. You see, I’m not sure if I’ve told you before or not, Hannah, but I had a theory about how the apocalypse would happen.” The Professor gestured widely. “The whole world would become a musical! Everyone singing and dancing, all united as one, all across the world! World peace… but at what cost?”

The Professor continued his rant and Hannah listened patiently. She had a feeling he didn’t get to talk to people much. It was nice to hear such passion, even if it was about the end of the world.

Her peace, however fragile, didn’t last long.

There was a hum in her ear. “He doesn’t know how on the nose he was. Right apocalypse, wrong dimension.”

Hannah frowned and tore at the hem of her shirt. It was him.

“Apotheosis. Bad, John.” Right on cue, in came Webby. Normally Hannah would be relieved, asd Webby usually got him to be quiet, but Webby had been so loud in her dream and then ignored her all morning, so she wasn’t so certain.

“I know it’s bad.” He said, and Hannah could hear the tension in his voice. “I never said it wasn’t. I simply said Professor Hidgens’ theory was correct. I see no issue.”

“Hannah.” Webby growled, and Hannah flinched, despite the tone not being directed at her. 

“I’m sure Hannah doesn’t mind. Right?”

Hannah blinked and tried to rip apart her shirt. He always wanted her to answer. He couldn’t hear her think like Webby could. Why did she have to talk?

Webby interrupted before Hannah could open her mouth, not that she planned too, and sounded angry. “Stop. No talk.”

He sighed. “I’m not forcing her to talk. I’d rather keep this argument between you and me.”

“Webby wins.”

“You can’t just say that you win and end it. Nothing is ever that simple.”

“Leave.”

“I wish I could.”

“Leave Hannah!”

Outside her head, Hannah’s hands had drifted from her shirt to her ears, and the pressure was enough to make her head rumble. Unfortunately, the rumble wasn’t nearly loud enough to drown out the bickering voices.

It took a few tries for the Professor to get Hannah to notice and hear him. She let him take her hands and help her calm down, breathing slowly and drying her tears. As she calmed, the voices fell silent. She knew they were listening, they always were.

Once she was more settled, the Professor moved back to his stool, which he had brought a bit closer. “Hannah,” she noted his habit of saying people’s names often, “may I ask you a question?”

She nodded yes.

He nodded in return. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I noticed you’ve been a little more… on edge lately. Has Webby been saying anything to you, Hannah? Besides the apotheosis stuff.”

Hannah thought. Really, Webby had been no different than she had ever been. Sure, Webby’s warning’s scared her from time to time, but she was a friend, and she didn’t mean too.

It wasn’t Webby who was upsetting Hannah. It was him. John.

Hannah almost told the Professor as much, but stopped herself. There were people in the house who thought she was weird, she knew that. They didn't believe Webby was real, and thought she was crazy. Something told her that if she admitted she was hearing a second voice now, it might just make the rumors worse.

She sighed, and thought an apology to Webby, before looking at the Professor’s neatly-styled grey hair.

“Argues. Loud. Talks too much. Mean, not helpful. Scary, always. Makes me talk.” She resisted the urge to pout, and hoped the Professor wouldn’t have her explain further.

He looked worried. “This seems out of character for Webby. I certainly hope something isn’t wrong…” He trailed off for a moment before resuming focus on her. “Hannah, if you ever need help, ask me or your sister. The two of us, for certain, will be glad to help however we can.”

Hannah nods. In her head, Webby tries to stay quiet. “You, John. Scary. Unhelpful. Loud.”

There’s a pause, and Hannah assumes he is ignoring Webby before being immediately disproven. “I see. Hannah, I sincerely apologize for scaring you. I promise, in the future, I will do my best to help you without causing you any harm.” There’s another, briefer pause. “I will stay quiet unless one of us needs the other, and that is a promise.”

Hannah huffs. As if she’d ever need him

Now that all was quiet, Hannah asked the Professor where Lex was, and he led her to a room they had recently dubbed the “Fun Room,” courtesy of Paul and Emma trying their best. Inside was all the games and fun things they had, which wasn’t much. The most entertaining thing in the room was the large amount of LEGOs, which the Professor had collected for a while before falling out of it, but never got rid of. He claimed they made good defense measures, but Hannah figured he just liked to build with them.

In the room was Lex, as promised, who immediately came to check up on Hannah, as well as Tim. Hannah figured Deb and Alice were off being cute together somewhere. The Professor decided to stay, and the four of them chatted and played chess (or in Tim and Hannah’s case, watched the Professor and Lex play chess). 

It was a while before there was a knock on the door, and in came Tom and Paul. Tom sat with his son, and Paul stayed near the door, relaying to the Professor what supplies they had found and where, a list which Hannah mostly tuned out. If there was anything important, Webby or Lex would tell her.

The more impactful news came with Emma and Becky. Emma nearly fell asleep in Paul’s arms, claiming she had run all over the house looking for everyone, and gestured to Becky to explain.

“There are people at the Old Starlight Theater.”

A simple enough statement as it is, Hannah didn’t see any problems with that. There were bound to be more people around the town. 

But Becky continued. “They seemed to be putting on a show of some kind. But, the weirdest part is… some of them are people we knew.”

The Professor looked up from the chess game he was currently losing. “What do you mean, Becky?”

“Well, I saw the ToyZone manager there, and some doctors from Saint Damien’s-- even Linda!” She fixed her hair and tried not to get mad. Becky wasn’t one to boast about murder, but she was happy to have killed Linda Monroe.

The Professor was intrigued, the chess game forgotten. Lex looked worried. “Bet it’s a cult. Maybe they’re reviving people…”

“Well, there was one other thing.” Becky mentioned, trying to politely interrupt.

Emma groaned against Paul’s side and shifted so she could be heard. “There’s a weird fu-” she caught herself, remembering there were children around. “There’s a portal on the stage. I saw people coming out of it.”

The Professor paced around the room. “Singing and dancing, like in a musical. A portal. People back from the dead… This could be a much bigger deal than you think. We need to investigate immediately!”

Chapter Text

The survivors — all eighteen of them — were gathered in the living room-slash-bar and discussed who would further investigate the Old Starlight Theater. 

The five children were eliminated first, as the adults were doing their best to protect them. Lex didn’t consider herself a child by any measure, and despite her arguments that Oliver was only a year older than her and yet was considered an adult, she was confined inside. 

In the end, Ken Davidson and Chris Hartly ended up being the pair to go. Ken said goodbye to his wife and they left.

Hannah looked at the clock. That was five hours ago. “They were only supposed to be gone an hour,” she once again told her sister.

Lex’s frown only grew deeper. “I know, Banana. They probably just got lost.” The same thing she said last time.

Hannah sat with her chin in her hands, watching the older kids play poker, betting with any random thing they had in their pockets. Lex had bet her phone, now useless since the phone lines went down ages ago, but at least it had some games. Alice had bet a ribbon tie, and Deb her signature beanie. Oliver wasn’t going to join, until Deb convinced him to bet his suspenders.

Normally, when the older kids would have games like this, Hannah would bet with Tim on who would win, but he was with his dad playing guitar, so she was left to bet with herself. Currently, Hannah thought Deb would win, and also thought that she would probably hold onto her prizes for a day or so before returning them. That’s how the games usually went.

Hannah glanced at the clock. Five hours and eleven minutes. 

She tried to ask Webby what had happened, but got no response. She was a fickle spider. Briefly, Hannah considered asking John for help, but wrote it off just as quick. If she asked John, him and Webby would just start arguing again.

The teens finished their game, in a turn of chance Alice ended up winning, and she gave back everything but Deb’s beanie, and everyone went to bed, Oliver leaving to go to the room he shared with Ed and, usually, Chris. 

Tim was apparently spending the night with his dad, as he never came back to the room. The thought that maybe he somehow disappeared like Ken and Chris kept Hannah up most of the night.

The next morning, Hannah felt a headache coming on. She figured it was a lack of sleep, but secretly hoped it could be a sign that Webby had something to say. 

She greeted the Professor in the kitchen, getting some breakfast. He tended to let her and the other kids have a little more than their share of food, but she did her best to stick to the proper rations.

“Hannah,” he almost always started with her name, “good morning. How are you doing?”

Hannah shrugged.

He nodded. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

She took a bite of her toast, wiping the crumbs off her mouth with her sleeve. Eyes on the ground, she mumbled, “Worried.”

“Hm? Hannah, what did you say?”

He said the same thing the first time he heard her speak, and she had been a normal volume then. She supposed she had just surprised him. Hannah repeated, louder, “Worried.”

“Worried.” He echoed. “About what?”

She took another bite of her toast to buy time. She really didn’t feel like talking much today. “Starlight. Apotheosis. Ken and Chris.”

She looked up and saw the Professor’s mouth was a little “o” shape. He sighed and fixed the sleeves of his turtleneck. “Do you want the truth, or do you want comfort?”

Without hesitation, Hannah responded, loud enough for him to hear. “Truth.” There was a beat, and she added, “Please.”

The Professor nodded. “The truth, Hannah, is that Ken and Chris are likely not coming back. If they found what I think they found down at the Starlight…” He rubbed his face. “I’m sorry, Hannah. You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Hannah ate her toast and the two stood in the kitchen in silence until Charlotte and Ted came in, who were immediately too loud for Hannah’s liking.

Hannah snuck out of the room. Charlotte was nice, and Hannah liked talking to her alone or with other girls, but around Ted, and honestly, any adult man, she was different. Ted, meanwhile, was loud, and rude, and smelled weird, and was altogether a weird experience for her. He did his best to avoid all the kids, and their few interactions were short.

In the living room-slash-bar, Hannah found a small group of adults, standing around. She sat on the couch and listened.

There was Emma, Paul, Becky, Bill, Ed, and Carol. Emma was quietly but passionately arguing with Carol, with everyone else taking sides.

“Emma, you aren’t married. You don’t know what I’m going through!” Carol rubbed her eyes, fighting back tears.

“Mrs. Davidson, get it together!” Emma’s voice raised slightly and Hannah flinched.

“I’m sorry,” Paul added in a softer tone, “but your husband, and Chris… if they aren’t back by now, they’re gone.”

“Which is why we should look for them!” Carol pressured, Ed nodding and petting Peanuts behind her.

“If they’re hurt, I can help them.” Becky chimed in. “Me and Henry have been making sure we have everything stocked for a medical center, there’s quite a bit we can treat—”

“Becky, please, shut up.” Emma groaned. Hannah didn’t really understand why they didn’t get along. Becky was really nice, and Emma was too, she just tried not to be.

Bill stepped in front of Emma. “Becky, I’m sure you could help them, but I just don’t think it’s worth sending more people out. I mean, there are kids here, we can’t leave them alone during an apocalypse!”

Ed looked down at Peanuts. “You have a point there.”

Carol groaned. “Your squirrel is not a child, Edgar!”

He held Peanuts close to his chest. “How would you know? I’m pretty sure you don’t have kids!”

Carol scoffed, and the argument fell to pieces. Hannah tried to tune it out, but it got too loud, so she left.

It wasn’t until she was in the front room that she realized Paul had followed her. He didn’t say anything, just waved, and she waved in return. They sat against the wall in silence for a while, and Hannah found herself feeling better in his company. 

It was a long while before she spoke up. “Thank you.”

Paul looked over at her. “No problem. I had to get away from that mess anyway.”

She nodded. That kind of chaos was just too much. 

Hannah had another, more personal question on her mind, and after some debate, decided to ask it. “Do you miss it?”

Paul once again looked over at her. “Miss what?”

“Everything.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I do. I can’t imagine anything much worse than this.”

And then the doorbell rang. 

Both jumped up, shared a glance, and then Paul pressed his ear against the door. “Who is it?”

“Paul?” Came the voice from the other side.

“No, I’m Paul! Wait.” He sighed. “Yes, this is Paul, who is this?”

“Your boss! Let me in, it’s insane out here!”

Paul looked back to Hannah. “Go get the Professor.” He then leaned back against the door. “Uh, one moment Mr. Davidson. There’s, um. Something stuck in the lock.”

Hannah ran back to the kitchen, hoping to still find the Professor there, with no luck. She returned to the bar area, where the argument had stopped but the tension had only grown. “Professor? Professor?” She asked them all, looking between the many faces.

Emma came to her side. “He’s in his lab, what do you need?”

“Doorbell. Paul. Ken. Door.” She pulled on her braids. “There’s someone at the door.”

At the mention of her husband’s name, Carol shot up. “Ken’s back? Oh, thank God!” And she dashed to the front room.

“Carol!” Emma stomped. “God damn it, Carol!” And she also went running off.

Not sure where the lab was, Hannah stood in place, thinking for what to do. She didn’t have to think long, as Bill kneeled beside her after a few moments. 

“Hannah, you go find your sister and stay safe, okay? I’ll get the Professor.” He smiled at her kindly, and she nodded, leaving for the game room.

Sure enough, Lex was in the Fun Room, playing go fish with Oliver. She tugged on Lex’s sleeve. “Someone’s at the door, the door…”

Lex dropped her cards and gently took Hannah’s hands in her own. “Who’s at the door?”

Hannah squeezed Lex’s hands, looking at the burns from cigarettes (and worse) on her fingers. “Ken. Paul. Emma. Carol.”

“Ken?” Lex sounded confused, and Oliver cleared his throat.

“Ken Davidson, one of the two who went to investigate the Starlight Theater.” He pushed up his glasses. “Lex, you really need to start learning people’s names.”

“Thanks for the advice, suspenders.” Lex stood and rearranged her hands so that Hannah could hold one comfortably and have the other still be free. “C’mon, Hannah. Let’s make sure this isn’t bad news.”

Hannah wanted to let go, to stay where she was, to play go fish with Lex and Oliver. Something inside her screamed this was bad news, and they should stay away. But, she trusted Lex. Her sister could protect her. With Lex, Hannah was safe.

They arrived in the front room to an argument. Paul was leaning against the door, Carol trying to pull him away but being held back, barely, by Emma. The Professor was pacing, not helping much, and Bill was desperately trying to be the mediator. Somewhere amidst the chaos, Hannah could hear Ken still begging to be let in.

Lex listened to the adults yelling for all of five seconds before she told Hannah to cover her ears, which she did. Lex let out a loud whistle, drawing everyone’s attention to herself.

“You’re all fucking idiots. Come on, you’re the adults here! You’re supposed to be civil and set good examples!” She scoffed, putting her hands in her pockets. “Assholes. Look, I don’t care what you do with the guy outside, just do it quietly, okay? Not everything needs to be a fucking war.”

Paul nodded. “Thank you, Lex, you’re right—”

“Paul.” The Professor interrupted. “Open the door.”

There was a moment of hesitation after he spoke, and then, at the same time, Emma shouted in disagreement and Carol whooped with joy.

Emma let go of Carol and moved to the Professor’s side. “Professor, we should talk about this more!”

“No, Emma.” He stroked his chin. “I need to see if I’m right. And if I’m wrong, it will be disappointing. But! It will be good to have him back.”

“Professor—” Emma was cut off by the man in question grabbing her shoulders.

“You are in charge. I’ll be back in less than five minutes.”

Before she could complain, the Professor had run off. Emma groaned.

Bill broke the silence. “Are we supposed to wait for him to get back?”

“I would figure so.” Paul shrugged, still leaning against the door.

“He said to open it!” Carol argued. “So open it! Or I’ll do it myself.”

Paul put his hands up in a surrender motion. “I’m just saying— Ah!”

Clearly impatient, Carol grabbed Paul’s wrists and pulled him away from the door. He tumbled into Bill, nearly sending them both to the floor. She then unlocked the door and opened it, arms outstretched to hold her husband once more.

From Hannah’s point of view, she couldn’t see much. Just Carol hugging someone, and arms around her as well. Then Ken stepped inside and shut the door behind him.

Webby immediately started shouting, frantic. “The Apotheosis is upon us, the Apotheosis is upon us, the Apotheosis is upon us—” over and over and over. Hannah screwed her eyes shut.

“Hannah,” came that dreaded second voice, “you need to get everyone out of here. Isolate Ken—”

“John said quiet!” Webby roared, reminding the man of his promise.

“I know,” he kept his voice level. “But this is life-threatening. If she doesn’t leave now—”

“Quiet! Not helpful! Rude!”

“Do you want her to die?”

The argument continued, just as Hannah figured it would. She covered her ears, but as usual, it didn’t help.

She barely registered a hand on her shoulder, guiding her into the hallway.

A soothing touch was undoing and redoing her braids. When Hannah opened her eyes, she was unsurprised to see it was Lex. The older girl smiled at her. “Too much for you? That’s okay. We can go and play with the other kids, if you want. Maybe Tim can show us his new guitar moves, huh?”

Hannah focused on her breathing, and repeated what she could remember Webby and John saying. “The Apotheosis is upon us. Isolate him. Apotheosis, life-threatening…” She trailed off with a sigh. The rest was the two arguing. 

Lex nodded, solemn. “Webby then. I see. What’s an apotheosis?”

“High point. Evolution. Godhood.”

“Wow.” Lex moved her hair out of her face. “Webby knows some weird words.”

“Professor told me.”

“I see.” Lex stands. “Well, whatever it means, it’ll be okay. Right?”

Lex didn’t mean it as a real question, but Hannah took it as such anyway. She furrowed her brow, looking for the right way to speak her thoughts.

“Don’t trust Ken. I don’t trust Ken.”

Lex frowned. “I mean. Yeah, it’s suspicious he came back. But why?”

Hannah shrugged. “Today has bad vibes.”

Lex laughed, Hannah heard it. But the laughter was cut short by the sound of screams, and Lex’s face dropped.

The two rushed back to the front room to a bizarre sight.

Bill was on the floor, clutching his neck, terrified eyes firmly watching Carol. Paul was standing in front of him, trying to usher Bill back, and Emma was at Paul’s side. In front of them was Ken and Carol, something blue and sticky-looking dripping from their mouths. Their eyes seemed to glow with that same unnatural blue, and they wore grins so wide it looked like their faces would crack.

Hannah had seen it before. Her dream, of drowning in blue. It was that same blue. “Apotheosis.” She whispered, her breath catching. 

The couple looked back at Lex and Hannah. When they spoke, it was in unison. “We remember you all. You were already part of the Hive. Don’t you know you cannot leave? We live here.”

“No, I live here.” Came the Professor’s voice, and two gunshots rang out. Hannah covered her ears, and felt Lex pull her close. When she looked up again, Ken and Carol were on the floor, bleeding blue blood.

“Professor?” Emma sounded relieved, frightened, and impressed at the same time. “You shot them!”

The Professor sighed and held his gun at his side. “I leave you in charge for five minutes.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault Carol’s insane!”

Paul helped Bill to his feet. The older man was very shaken up. “I-I was just trying to help her, why did she choke me? I.. I…”

Paul patted his back gently. “Maybe we should go find Becky?” Bill simply nodded. Paul and Emma shared a look and then he led Bill away to the makeshift medical center.

Hannah was looking at the bodies, but soon found her eyes covered by Lex, who also dragged her back to the hallway. Once they were away from the bodies, she uncovered Hannah’s eyes. “Let’s go play in the Fun Room, okay? Okay.”

Later that night, Hannah laid in her bed, clutching the warrior’s hat to her heart. She was trying to ask Webby what had happened with Ken and Carol, but Webby would only say “Apotheosis” and nothing more. It was frustrating.

Once she was certain everyone else in the room was asleep, Hannah whispered. “John?”

She heard a soft hum of acknowledgment.

“What happened?”

Another hum. When he spoke, his voice was soft and quiet. “They were infected. By an alien virus, from another dimension.”

It certainly wasn’t the answer she expected. But John explained eveything she asked about; it ended the world in another universe, it turns people into musical zombies connected to a hivemind, they can be hard to differentiate between non-infected people, and more complicated details that Hannah didn’t entirely understand.

Webby didn’t interfere a single time.

Once she had no more questions, Hannah settled more into her bed. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She could almost hear the smile in his voice, despite how serious he seemed.

She laid in bed, trying to sleep, but found something eating at her. “John?”

“Yes?”

She hesitated, but decided it was only fair. “Don’t have to stay quiet. Just… no arguing. Not too loud.”

There was a pause, and Hannah almost wished she could see him, and try and tell if he was mad or not.

“I promise I won’t fight with Webby anymore, Hannah.” He finally responded. “Thank you, for trusting me.”

Hannah nodded. “Welcome.”

“You should go to sleep.”

She nodded again, and this time, she was able to fall asleep when she tried.

Chapter Text

Hannah awoke the next morning at what she deemed to be a reasonable time. Everyone was still in the room, with most of them still being asleep. Alice and Deb were quietly talking as they made their beds. Hannah heard a sound near her and reflexively looked for the source of it, relaxing when she saw it was Lex, snoring.

Hannah stretched and got up to get dressed. As she pulled on her yellow flannel and began re-braiding her hair, she silently wished she had more clothes options. It was the little things that really made her miss… everything. Wiggly was never born into her world, but he still managed to destroy it. Lex and the Professor had been keeping a calendar, and according to them, it had been nearly a month; the day should be December 20th, 2018.

“Birthday.” Webby added when Hannah remembered the date. “Wiggly birthday. Hannah birthday.”

Hannah heard John hum. “Wiggly does not have a birthday, he is an eldritch, ageless being.”

“Not born. Birthday.” Webby huffed.

“Christmas.” Hannah whispered. “Wiggly came on Christmas.”

“Oh.” John sounded… Hannah wasn’t sure. Angry. Nostalgic. Sad. Understanding. “I see. The portal opened on December 25th, 2005. That’s when Wiggly gained access to our dimension, and…” He cut himself off, but before Hannah could ask anything, he cleared his throat and continued. “Is your birthday on Christmas as well, Hannah?”

She nodded before realizing he wouldn’t be able to see. Much to her surprise, he responded.

“I see. Then happy birthday, Hannah.”

“Three!” Webby added with excitement.

“Thirteen . ” Hannah quietly corrected her.

John stayed quiet for a moment. “You were born the same day the portal opened. Perhaps that’s the cause of your strong connection with the Black and White. Regardless, congratulations. Thirteen is a good age, even in a situation such as this.”

“Not yet.” Hannah finished her brains and put on the warrior’s hat.

“Not yet?”

“Five days.”

“Ah, I see. My apologies, time is hard to keep track of here. Five days means today is the 20th, correct?”

Hannah nodded again, but this time she also spoke, “Yes.”

He laughed, only slightly. “I’ll try to congratulate you on the proper day. Will you do me a favor and tell me when it’s the 23rd?”

“No help. Unhelpful.” Webby argued, her booming voice turning protective.

Hannah ignored her for the time being. “Why?”

John was quiet for a moment. “I suppose there’s no harm anymore in saying. December 23rd is my birthday.”

Hannah smiled, deciding to make her bed. “Happy birthday. How old?”

John gave another slight laugh. “Easily old enough to be your father. Forty-three.”

“Baby General.” Webby laughed.

“I may be young for a General, but I assure you I am no less qualified or experienced.” He defended.

“General?” Hannah questioned.

“Yes.” John’s tone turned professional. “General John McNamara, of the United States Military, Special Unit P.E.I.P., we call it Peep.”

Hannah laughed slightly. “Peep?”

“They’re a good team. Good peeps.”

Hannah laughed and covered her face with a pillow to not wake anyone up. She could hear Webby and John laughing as well.

The laughter didn’t last, however, and John’s tone turned somber. “It is… unfortunate that I cannot be with them anymore.”

Hannah calmed down and set her pillow on her lap. “Why not?”

“Black and White. Two doors not one. Goodman.” Webby offered, but Hannah didn’t understand.

John, however, did. “Yes, exactly. President Goodman entered the Black and White to negotiate with Wiggly, a futile effort I now see… I went in to rescue him, but entered without a protective suit. I should have been absorbed into the Black and White. I still don’t know how I survived, but seeing as how I am tethered to you, Hannah, I cannot return to P.E.I.P. headquarters. I cannot leave the Black and White at all.”

Hannah nodded. “Sorry.”

“It isn’t your fault, but thank you.”

Hannah heard a noise beside her again. She looked, and once again it was Lex, but something seemed wrong. She was fidgeting, sweating, and looked worried.

Hannah put a hand on Lex’s, which was then smacked away. Hannah saw tears running down Lex’s face, and she tossed and turned, muttering something that Hannah couldn’t hear.

“Lexie…” Hannah reached out again, and Lex shot up, eyes wide.

“Ethan!” She choked out, holding her arms to her chest.

Hannah gently set her hand on Lex’s arm, and she flinched before looking at her younger sister. Hannah saw thoughts and emotions flash through Lex’s eyes before she detensed, and smiled weakly. “Hey Banana,” she cleared her throat. “Wow, you got up way before me, huh? All dressed and everything.”

Hannah wasn’t sure what to say. She saw Ethan die, and it was terrible. She didn’t like to think about it. But Hannah, with a bit of help from Becky and Tom, had to be the one to break the news to Lex.

As Emma was leading everyone out of the mall to the Professor’s house, Lex stopped in a panic, realizing that, in the chaos, she had forgotten about Ethan, much to her guilt and anxiety. Tom had to hold her to stop her from running back into the burning mall as Hannah and Becky told her that they saw Ethan being beaten to death by followers of Wiggly, thinking he had a doll. Tom ended up carrying Lex most of the way to the Professor’s house. 

Hannah had nightmares about Ethan, too. But he was Lex’s boyfriend. He helped her so much. And Lex had gone hours without even knowing that he was dead. Hannah knew she still felt very guilty that his body was left to burn in the mall. But she never had anything to say.

Hannah instead just pulled Lex towards her into a hug. They stayed there for several minutes, quietly mourning.

The rest of the day was quiet. Hannah didn’t find very many people around the house, which allowed her to have small conversations with Webby and John throughout the day. She saw Tim and Tom sitting in the medical center, playing guitar for Becky. She spotted Alice and Deb babysitting Peanuts for Ed while he was elsewhere. 

It wasn’t until dinner that everyone was together. The Professor and Emma arrived late, both furiously washing their hands. Once they sat down, it took a while before either spoke. 

“Me and Emma have been doing tests on the blue…” He trailed off, glancing at Hannah and Tim, “...slime. Produced by Ken and Carol.” No one asked for elaboration, but everyone was lending their ears. “I’m afraid to say that at the time of their deaths, they were no longer human, but had metamorphosed into a strange alien breed… They are not of our world.”

Hannah tuned the Professor’s explanation out, she had heard most, if not all of it, from John and Webby. Musical aliens from another dimension. How weird can it get.

As she got up to clear her plate, something caught her attention again. 

“We cannot keep the bodies with us, at risk of infection. Per Emma’s suggestion, we will be holding a funeral tomorrow morning.” 

Hannah peeked back in. “Funeral?”

The Professor nodded. “I thought it would be best to incinerate them immediately, but apparently that is cruel and inhumane, so we will be giving them as much of a proper funeral as we can.” 

“You’re insane.” Emma scoffed, getting up to clear her own plate. “It is cruel. Yeah, we didn’t know them that well, but it’s what’s right, yanno? Like, jeez.”

Hannah moved to the side so Emma could get in, the older woman nodding in thanks. Hannah snuck back to her spot at the table.

“Emma’s right.” Paul added, keeping his gaze on the table. “Mr. and Mrs. Davidson were good people, and so was Chris. They deserve to be buried.”

The table largely agreed, with only a few quiet dissents coming from Ted, and the conversation finished there. 

Hannah was woken abruptly the next morning to yelling and a gun pointed at her head. 

Chapter Text

Hannah saw only the barrel of the gun before hiding under the covers, trembling. She whispered, curling up, for help from Webby and John.

The two voices were frantic, and together they were so loud Hannah could hear nothing else, and she could barely register any of it. From what she could tell, John was directing her on how to fight back and get away, and Webby was repeatedly yelling something. There were other voices, shouting and arguing and Hannah couldn’t make sense of it.

As she lay, awaiting death, Hannah’s mind dragged her back to things she wanted to forget. Hiding with Lex in closets and under beds. Hiding by herself under sinks and in cabinets while Lex tried and failed to calm their mother down. The one time Ethan got involved and she hid in his trunk all night. 

As she relived the memories, Hannah cried. The familiar feeling of being unable to breathe consumed her, as she panicked and sobbed.

After what felt like an eternity, Hannah faintly registered a hand on her shoulder. Webby had stopped yelling, everything felt quiet. She heard John whisper, “Hannah, you’re safe, for now. You need to get moving.”

“Don’t want too.” She croaked out. “Bad. Mom. Hide. Lexie…”

“Hannah,” she heard Lex’s quiet voice. “Mom isn’t here. You’re going to be okay. Look at me, Banana, c’mon.”

Hannah forced her eyes open. Instead of the gun, she saw Lex’s face, worried, but happy to have Hannah safe. Hannah leaned up and pulled Lex into a firm hug, silently crying into her shoulder.

When Hannah was calmer and finally let go of Lex, she looked around the room. All the kids were still present, as well as the Professor, who was standing by the door, holding a gun.

Her and the Professor made eye contact, and she found herself glaring at him. “Why?!” She didn’t intend to be so loud or forceful, but decided she didn’t care. “You were going to shoot me!”

He broke their staring contest by looking down to the ground. “I’m sorry.”

Hannah huffed and Lex growled. “I can’t believe you would come in here ready to fucking shoot us—

“I was not going to shoot you!” The Professor shouted. “We don’t know who may have been infected!”

“And to find out,” Deb argued, keeping Alice and Tim behind her, “you decided to point a gun at a twelve year old?”

“They mentioned her by name. Of course I would assume that she’s with them!”

Hannah covered her ears. “Don’t know! Be quiet!”

Everyone had quieted down. Lex ran her fingers through Hannah’s hair, and handed her the warrior’s hat, which Hannah held to her chest. “Banana, we gotta find everyone and stay together, okay. Those aliens being weird, we were gonna have a funeral? They’re gone, they might come for us, and we have to get somewhere safe. You okay to go?”

“Shit.” John whispered. “I’m sorry, Hannah. I forgot to tell you. These aliens are incredibly difficult to kill. You must destroy them entirely in order to prevent them from coming back.”

“Unhelpful! Dangerous! John!! ” Webby yelled, irritated and worried.

Hannah stood, and put on the hat. “C’mon. Find them.”

Lex stood with her. “Yes, Hidgens said he already knows where Emma and Paul are—”

“No.” Hannah interrupted. “Find Ken and Carol.”

The Professor nodded. “That’s what I was planning. We must apprehend and destroy them.”

“What happened to a funeral for them?” Alice piped up from behind Deb. 

“Funerals are for humans.” The Professor argued. “They are no longer human.”

Hannah pushed past the Professor and into the hallway, with him and Lex following close behind. Alice, Deb, and Tim reluctantly followed as well.

The group stayed mostly silent as they searched, gaining a few more people along the way; namely, Paul, Emma, Ed (and Peanuts), and Oliver.

Once they got to the medical center, where they found Tom and Becky, the group locked the doors and tried to make a plan of action.

“They wouldn’t have left the building, right?” Tom asked. “We should find them and take them out now, before someone else gets hurt.”

“I agree, Tom.” The Professor nodded at him, pacing around the room. “But who would go? It’s a bad idea to leave people here. We can’t take the children. And not all of our group is here. It’s possible the remaining people have already been infected.”

“Who are we missing?” Lex askex, looking around the room.

“My dad, for one.” Alice said, squeezing Deb’s hand.

“And Charlotte and Ted, too.” Paul added. “I think those three are the only ones now…”

“Five murderous, musical aliens, versus six adults, only three that have experience with weapons, and six children.” The Professor sighed.

“Those sound like pretty good odds to me.” Tom argued.

“Tom, you haven’t seen them in action.” The Professor stopped his pacing to gesture at Tom. “If my theories are correct, then just one of them could easily rip open a human’s stomach! Tear out their guts and make them part of the Hive!”

Tim held tighter to his father’s arm, and Tom responded by pulling his son closer. The Professor lowered his volume and overall toned himself down. 

“All I’m saying is it’ll be dangerous. We don’t know what we’ll find.” He explained, tense.

After a moment of silence, Becky stood up. “It’s worth it. We can’t lose more people.”

“I agree.” Deb joins her, and Alice also pops up. “I know Bill doesn’t like me. But he’s a good man, and I don’t want him to die like this.” Her speech prompted Alice to hug her from behind.

Pretty much everyone else concurred, and the Professor sighed. “Alright. We don’t have enough weapons for everyone. I propose that me, Tom, and Becky arm ourselves and go alien hunting, as we are the only ones who have experience with guns.” Just as people were nodding in agreement, he continued, “The problem with that is the risk. Becky is our only doctor, Tom is a father, and both are some of our best defenses. Not to toot my own horn, but I believe I am rather valuable as well—”

“Shut up, I’ll go.” Lex interrupted. “I can use a gun. I’ll take Becky’s place.”

“No, no.” Becky stepped up to her. “You shouldn’t go. And if you do go, you should take Tom’s place. He has a kid, I don’t. But you shouldn’t go at all, you have Hannah to watch over.”

Lex grumbled, looking at Hannah, before deciding not to argue any further.

Eventually, it was agreed that the Professor would go with Emma and Becky, a decent compromise. After they were gone for half an hour, Hannah got impatient.

“What’s happening?” She whispered, hoping for a clear response from either Webby or John.

It took a long time for either to speak up. “Exodus.” Was all she got from Webby. Hannah sighed, unsure of what it meant.

Seeming to sense her confusion, John clarified. “She means leave. You have to leave, Hannah. Go find them.”

“Safe?” She whispered, watching the room to see if anyone would notice her leaving. 

“It will be dangerous. But you should be safe.”

Hannah took a deep breath. “Okay.” And with a final look around the room, she slipped out the door.

In the hall, she headed towards where the Professor said they would be going; upstairs, to the other bedrooms.

Upon first arriving at the Professor’s house, Paul, Ted, and Bill all shared a room, while Charlotte shared a room with Emma and Becky. The children were in one room, and Oliver shared his with Chris, Ed, and Peanuts (much to Oliver’s disdain). Tom shared a room with Ken and Carol, which he also complained of.

It had only been a couple of days since Chris, Ken, and Carol’s deaths, but the rooms were already being re-arranged. Tom and Becky had taken to meeting in the room he once shared with Ken and Carol, and Ted and Charlotte had been sneaking into each other's rooms often, usually resulting in Emma and/or Paul replacing them. Bill, in order to avoid the couples, took Chris's place with Oliver and Ed.

Since Emma and Paul were found together outside the bedrooms, and Tom and Becky were down in the medical center, Hannah was willing to bet that Ted and Charlotte would be together, either in Charlotte’s room or Ted’s. If in Ted’s room, Bill would likely be there as well.

The only problem was that Hannah wasn’t sure whose rooms were whose. There were no signs, and so her only hope would be if she spotted the Professor and the others who went looking for everyone.

Hannah was choosing to trust John, something she was still unused to doing, after doing her best to ignore him for almost a month, and could do nothing more than hope it was the right decision.

As she headed up the stairs, Hannah heard footsteps behind her, and whipped around, her unbraided hair whipping her in the face.

Frozen before her was Tim, doing his best to silently follow her up the stairs.

“Go back.” She told him, trying to act like a big sister.

He frowned. “ You snuck out. Why can’t I?”

“I’m older. I know what I’m doing.”

Tim crossed his arms. “You never come up here. Do you even know where dad’s room is?”

Hannah paused, frowning, before shaking her head. Tim walked up the stairs to where she was. “I’ll show you. We’ll get them back. We’ll be like spies!” He noticed his own excitement at his last statement and quieted down. “Secret agents. Move quietly.”

John hummed. “He has the right idea. Stay close to the walls, be prepared to run if you need too, and make as little noise as possible.”

Hannah nodded in response and the two kids crept off down the hall.

After some searching, the two found a trail of blood. It wasn’t regular blood however; it was much more gooey and slimy, as well as a bright neon-blue. It led down a hallway, and the closer they got, the more yelling Hannah and Tim could hear. As they saw it led to a closed door, Hannah paused and listened. Underneath the yelling, she could also hear singing.

“They’re in there.” She pointed to the door. Tim stepped forward and she stopped him. “Dangerous. Ready to run, okay?”

Tim nodded, and they opened the door as quietly as they could.

Inside was Ken and Carol, dancing together and singing what Hannah thought sounded like a very cheesy love song. Further back in the room, hiding behind a bed, was Ted, Bill, and Charlotte, all seemingly fine. Ted seemed to be enjoying the singing, but still just as frightened as the other two.

Hannah scoured her brain for a plan, but unfortunately, she wasn’t fast enough. It only took a few moments for Bill to spot the two children and call their names in shock. Then, everyone’s attention was on them.

Ken and Carol, gunshot wounds still visible and leaking, stopped singing and focused solely on Hannah.

“Hannah Foster,” they spoke in unison, matching grins on their faces. “the Prophet of Hatchetfield. It is of no surprise that you are the cause of our continued misery.” The two marched towards the door, and Hannah shoved Tim as she backed away, hoping he would get the message and run. 

“You and Paul were always such headaches. So many thoughts and memories. Too much, even for us!” The two lunged at Hannah, and she turned and ran back the way she came, quickly catching up with Tim and dragging him along.

As they ran, Hannah realized a handful of things.

One, they couldn’t go back to the medical center. Tom was the only armed person there, he surely wouldn’t be able to keep the two of them down for long enough.

Two, Ken and Carol had begun singing again, this time a more high-stakes chase song, but underneath that, Hannah thought she heard more footsteps than people.

As they reached the bottom floor, a gunshot rang out, along with yelling voices. Tim was panicking, and Hannah, in a split second decision, ran for the front door. The aliens were chasing her . Surely, they would follow her out of the house.

There were more gunshots, but the singing continued. Hannah slammed against the door, glancing over her shoulder and she struggled to open it. The aliens were closing in, and she opened the door, all but falling through it. Barely catching herself, she ran around the corner of the building.

As she again looked over her shoulder, hoping to catch her breath, Hannah saw two things she really didn’t want to see. 

One, Ken and Carol were still following, looking angry and with a couple more bullet holes.

Two, Tim was still with her. His eyes were wide with terror as he looked to her for a solution.

Hannah’s solution, unfortunately, was to keep running.

The Professor’s house was on a hill, and Hannah’s panic-ridden brain thought the only solution was to run down it, towards town. 

As she dragged Tim with her, he couldn’t quite keep up, and tripped, causing Hannah to trip, and both of them tumbled down the hill. Mixed in with their own sounds of hurt and distress, they heard more gunshots coming from the house.

Finally, they came to the base of the hill. Hannah got up, pulled Tim up, and ran to a patch of bushes to hide and finally catch a break. The two children panted, keeping their heads low and huddling together. After a bit, Hannah peeked over the bushes. There was no one in sight.

With a sigh, she sat back down. “Safe… but not really.”

Chapter Text

Tim was shaking, frantically rubbing tears out of his eyes. “We’re stuck out here, forever, we’re gonna die, my leg hurts, I can’t do this!”

Hannah felt guilty, curling up on herself. She was so caught up in getting the both of them away from the infected, she hadn’t let go of Tim before running outside. Instead of a sacrifice, she had doomed them both.

“Sorry. I’m sorry. Tim? I’m really sorry. Should’ve let go…” She tried to touch him gently, to calm him down, despite not wanting to be touched herself at the moment.

Tim tried to take deep breaths, surely mimicking his father when he had panic attacks, and looked up at her, eyes still a bit watery. “I-It’s okay. I wo-would’ve died if you had l-let go, probably.”

Hannah nodded slowly, not really believing it. “Still sorry. Stuck out here…” She looked around, the clouds blocking the sun turning everything grey. “Not good.”

“You should head back up the hill,” came John’s voice, “get back inside as soon as possible.”

“Let us in?” Hannah asked, forgetting for a moment that John wasn’t physically there.

Tim looked at her. “You me-mean the adults? Maybe. D-Dad would. Your si-sister, too. Right?”

She looked at him, silent and worried.

“They’ll let you in, Hannah.” John reassured. “They’ve surely noticed by now that you’re missing.”

“Careful.” Webby added, voice stern. “Weapons. Infected.” She imitated the sound of a gunshot and Hannah got the picture.

“Gotta be careful.” She told Tim, feeling a little more hopeful. “If the Professor thinks we’re zombies, he won’t let us in.” And she too, made a gunshot noise that caused Tim to flinch. She mumbled an apology and didn’t feel like talking anymore.

The two sat in silence for another moment before Tim spoke up. “Is it safe to go back up the hill? What if the Davidson’s are still there?”

Hannah frowned. The possibility of them being there was high, especially if what John said about them needing to be destroyed completely was true. Even if they were shot, it was still risky; they had come back once, they could probably come back again.

Eventually, she sighed. “Have too. We have too. Just… be careful. Run if it’s dangerous. Capiche?”

Tim nodded. “Okay.”

Ethan had taught Hannah the word capiche. It was a good word. She liked the sound of it. She fought back a sigh; she really missed Ethan. He would help them.

But Ethan wasn’t here, and Hannah had to save Tim and herself on her own, with some guidance from Webby and John, of course.

She stood, and Tim stood with her, but only for a moment. He let out a small cry of pain and satg back down. Hannah kneeled beside him. “Hurt? A-Are you hurt?”

Tim shrugged. “My leg hurts, b-but I just thought it was because we rolled down the hill…”

Hannah looked at his leg, gently rolling up his pants. It didn’t take too long to find the problem: his ankle was swollen and bruising quickly. Hannah hovered her hands over it, not sure of what to do.

“It’s likely sprained.” John told her. “He needs to get home and rest. Avoid putting weight on it.”

“Becky Barnes.” Webby added.

“Yes, get him to Becky.” John agreed. There was a pause, and then his voice came again, softer. “You can do this, Hannah. We know you can.”

She took a deep breath to calm herself and stood again, offering a hand to Tim, which he took. She helped him up and told him to stay off his hurt foot as much as possible. Slinging one of his arms around her shoulder, like she saw in movies, the two slowly began their journey back up the hill.

Hannah did her best to keep them near the trees and bushes, so they could easily hide if they needed too, but there were times where it was too thick or thorny to navigate, and they had to walk in the street, out in the open.

Tim was focused on keeping off his hurt foot, not wanting to hurt himself more. Hannah supported him, but with the uphill climb, it was rather exhausting. The wind kept blowing her still unbraided hair into her face and mouth, distracting and occasionally blinding her.

When the two could finally see the Professor’s house again, they agreed to take a short break and rest. There was a fallen tree that they sat behind, watching the clouds pass through the grey sky of Hatchetfield.

Hannah took a moment to look down the hill. They were high enough up by now that they could see most of the town. Apartments, houses, schools, the burned-down mall, and the Old Starlight Theater. Further back, Hannah could just barely make out the remains of the Nantucket Bridge. 

It had been destroyed that fateful night. Nobody was sure if the rest of the country had survived Black Friday at all. With the bridge and phone lines down, they had no way of knowing.

Hannah looked back up at the sky. It would be lonely, to be the last people on the planet. She hoped that somewhere, there were more survivors.

“Hannah?” Tim whispered, looking over at her. “Can I ask you something?”

Hannah turned away from the desolate town to face Tim and nodded.

“Um. I guess I just wanted to ask what your family was like. Earlier, in the bedroom, Lex was telling you that your mom wasn’t here, and…” He trailed off.

Hannah pulled at her shirt and nodded again. “Mom… bad. She hurt me. Hurt Lexie. Hurt Ethan, once.” Hannah shook her head, blinking tears out of her eyes. “Yeah, she’s bad.”

Tim frowned. “I’m sorry. Um, couldn’t your dad help?”

“Dad’s gone. Don’t remember him.” She sighed. “Lexie does. Doesn’t like talking about him.”

“Oh…” Tim pulled up some grass and rolled it between his fingers. “Sorry for asking.”

“No need.” There was a moment of tense silence before Hannah asked, “Your dad’s good. Your mom…?”

Tim looked away. “She’s gone. But, she was very good. The best! I…” He trailed off. “I miss her, a lot. But, weirdly… I’m glad she’s not here for this. I wouldn’t want anyone to be here for this, you know?”

Hannah nodded. “End of the world. Bad place for anyone.” She looked once more to the clouds, and saw the sun shining behind them, making the sky a little less grey. “Your dad loves you.”

“I know.”

“Wiggly…” Hannah paused, unsure how to word what happened. “Took advantage. All Tom wanted was you to be happy.”

Tim nodded. “I’m glad I still have him.”

“Good dad.” Hannah found herself wishing to know her own father. Lex assured her that he wasn’t a good person, but something in Hannah wanted to believe otherwise.

Deep down, she knew what she really wanted. She wanted someone who loved and cared for her like Tom did for Tim, or Bill for Alice.

“Webby cares.” The spider assured. 

“I’m sure she knows.” Said John, a somber sigh in his voice. “But it’s not the same thing.”

When Webby spoke again, her voice was tense. “Move. Home. Apotheosis.”

Hannah sat up and looked around. There didn’t seem to be anyone around, but she heard something in the silent street.

“Footsteps.” Tim whispered, having heard them too. He looked at Hannah. “Should we go? Or hide? What do we do?”

“Go!” Webby pressured.

“Wait.” John interrupted. “It might be someone from the house coming to look for you. They could help with Tim.”

“No arguing.” Hannah whispered, silencing the two voices before either went further.

Silently, she pondered the options. It was unlikely that it was someone from the house. But it also might not be an infected. And if it was, they could surely outrun her and Tim. It would be best to hide.

She crouched down, gesturing for Tim to do the same. Hidden by the tree trunk and weeds, Hannah waited for the footsteps to pass, occasionally sneaking glances out at the street.

After a tense few minutes, Hannah saw the source of the footsteps. There was a woman, around Bill’s age, walking through the empty streets. Her curly brown hair was unkempt, and her clothing was torn and dirty. She walked slowly, tiredly, up the hill.

Hannah moved to Tim’s side. “Lady walking.”

“Is she an alien?” Tim whispered, louder than she would’ve liked.

Hannah shrugged. She couldn’t tell. John had told her it was hard to tell the difference, and it was surely even harder from further away.

As she put a hand on the tree trunk, intending to peek over again, it rolled slightly, shifting the grass and weeds around them.

A moment later, a woman’s voice called out. “Hello? Is someone there?”

Tim’s eyes widened and he looked at Hannah. She looked back at him, confused.

The woman called again, and the footsteps got closer. “Hello? There was a noise here just a moment ago…”

Tim’s eyes were watering. “Mom…” He whispered, and Hannah’s own eyes shot open.

“What?” Came John’s voice.

Hannah repeated, louder, “What?”

The footsteps stopped and the two children looked up. The woman was standing above them. “There was someone here. Are you lost, too?”

Tim sat up, almost standing but instead choosing to kneel, grinning at the woman, tears running down his face. “Mom! You’re back! How?”

He reached over the trunk to hug her, and the woman looked surprised, before smiling gently and hugging Tim back.

“Tim… it hasn’t been that long. I just saw you, before we got seperated.” She assured him.

Tim didn’t reply, just continuing to cry against his mother’s stomach.

She then looked to Hannah, tilting her head slightly. “And who might you be?”

Hannah looked between Tim and his mother cautiously. “...Hannah.”

She nodded with a smile. “Nice to meet you, Hannah. I’m Jane.”

Hannah frowned at her before looking back at the house on the hill. “Need to get back.”

“Back?” Jane followed Hannah’s line of sight. “Oh.. is that where you’re staying? Who else is there?”

Tim pulled away enough to be heard. “Dad is! And a bunch of others! It’s a Professor’s house, it’s pretty cool. Dad’s been teaching me guitar, and me and Hannah are learning all sorts of card games from the older kids. I hurt my leg, but there’s a doctor there, so we need to get back. You’re coming with us, right?”

Jane looked back down at Tim before smiling and squeezing his shoulders. “Of course. But I have a game to teach you first. And it’ll make your leg feel better!”

Tim rolled his eyes. “Mom…” He whined. “I’m not a little kid. Games don’t heal things. And my leg is really hurt.”

She shook her head. “Now, now. I’m sure it’ll help. Hannah can play too! Now… You in or you out?”

Tim smiled, radianting pure joy. “Alright. How do you play?”

Jane smiled wide. “Open your mouth and say ‘ah.’”

“Are we playing doctor?” He giggled, but did as he was told. Every muscle in Hannah’s body was tensed.

“Keep doing that.” Jane looked to Hannah with the same grin, and her heart skipped a beat. She had seen that smile before, on Ken and Carol.

Blue began leaking out of Jane’s mouth, between her teeth, and dripping down her chin, and Hannah screamed.

Tim closed his mouth and opened his eyes, looking from Hannah to Jane, and then himself screamed, trying to get away.

Jane held tight to Tim’s shoulders. “No…” She smiled, almost singing the word. “That’s not how you play, kids.”

Tim struggled against her, but Jane’s grip stayed strong. He called out to Hannah for help. She looked around for anything she could use to get Jane away from Tim.

“8 o’clock!” John ordered.

“What?!” Hannah looked up. It was likely barely noon.

He sighed, frustrated. “To your left, Hannah! On the ground!”

She looked where he pointed and sure enough, there was a rust-covered crowbar hidden beneath layers of weeds. Hannah dug it up and did her best to ignore the awful texture.

Jane had Tim pinned to the tree trunk, blue still leaking out of her mouth. He sobbed, begging his mom to snap out of it.

Hannah held the crowbar like a baseball bat. She was pretty sure it was impossible for Jane to stop.

With a roar, Hannah hit Jane in the face with the crowbar, and then again in her upper chest. Pulling back from the second hit, small chunks of flesh were pulled off, bleeding blue.

Jane had stumbled back but was still standing, and in a moment of bravery, Hannah rushed forwards and hit her a third time, in the stomach, and then a fourth in the same spot, tearing open a section of her flesh, blue blood and a bit of guts spilling out.

Jane howled out in pain, and Hannah dropped the crowbar to help Tim up and get the two of them out of there.

Despite running up the hill as fast as they could manage, it wasn’t long before they heard a haunting song in pursuit of them.

Do you want to play with me?

Lovely girl, darling boy

Do you want some candy?

My lovely girl, my darling boy

Let’s play some games

Let’s play some games, today

Funny games

Some funny games today…”

Tim looked horrified. “I.. I didn’t know.. she could sing that good!” He explained between breaths.

“It’s not her singing.” John explained. “It’s the alien. I’m sorry, you should’ve listened to Webby. This is my fault.”

“No!” Hannah shouted. “Not your fault! Mine. Should’ve known..”

Tim glanced at her. “Webby told you about this?”

“A little.”

The singing resumed, but sounded slower, like a record slowly stopping. 

“Do you want to play with me?

Lovely girl, darling boy

Do you want some candy?

My lovely girl, my darling boy…”

As Jane sang, Hannah slowed slightly, remembering something. She had heard this song before. But where? Her mind brought her to a time and a place. Black Friday. The play structure. Tom and Becky were looking for her, looking for Wiggly. And they sang, rather beautifully. But they weren’t blue. They didn’t look infected. They were singing for the fun of it, perhaps?

Tim tripping slightly brought Hannah back into reality. That had never happened. Tom and Becky had tried to lure her out that day, yes, but they weren’t singing. When had that happened?

With a growl, Hannah focused on getting up the hill and moving faster. She could think about it later.

They were nearing the top and Hannah spotted a shed. Glancing behind her, she couldn’t see Jane, and could barely hear her. She steered Tim towards the shed and bolted, shutting the door behind them.

The shed was dark and cramped, the only light coming through the gaps in the wood from years without upkeep. The two children held their breath as they listened for Jane.

Her voice got closer, but also weaker. Eventually it stopped, and Hannah strained her ears for footsteps. After a long moment of silence, she heard some heading away from the shed. Sparing a peep through one of the larger gaps, Hannah saw Jane stumbling out of sight, leaving a trail of blue blood.

Once she was out of sight for long enough, Hannah finally felt like she could breathe and opened the door, gesturing for Tim to come closer so she could support him again.

“Almost there. Home stretch. Stay safe.” She whispered, and he nodded, wiping sweat and tears off his face.

Quietly, keeping a steady pace, they headed up the hill.

Almost there, they could see the door, Hannah pulled Tim into some bushes. They were thorny, and scratched their skins, but made good cover.

Tim tried to look through the bushes. “Is… Is she back? Or is it the Davidsons? What’s going on?”

Hannah peered over the top of the bushes at the two fighting figures she saw, just a few yards from the Professor’s windowless house.

“Ethan.” She breathed.

“Who?” Tim asked, trying again to get a better look.

The two figures came closer, became clearer, and Hannah once again whispered, “Ethan.”

Upon closer examination, Hannah found that it wasn’t just Ethan. The person he was fighting was also Ethan. She furrowed her brow. How were there two? And why were they fighting? The infected didn’t seem to fight eachother.

As the fight got closer, Hannah could hear it. Ethan was singing. He always had a nice voice, but something about it was more sinister this time.

Like looking in a mirror

Do you like what you see?

Know that no matter where you go

You’ll never escape me!”

Unlike with Jane’s song, Hannah didn’t recognize this one, and clearly, neither did the other Ethan.

“Dude, what the fuck are you talking about? Shut up and stop singing, I do not sound that good.” He had a knife, but was trying to keep his distance.

The singing Ethan was unarmed, at least, unarmed in the usual way. As he turned in Hannah’s direction, she could see the blue dripping from his mouth as he sang. 

“You and I, we share a soul

Two bodies, many minds

There is nothing left to fear

Step forward, join the Hive!”

“No thanks.” The not singing Ethan took a step back, towards where Hannah and Tim were. “I’m allergic to bees.”

With a frustrated sigh, the singing Ethan stood up straight, looking rather disappointed. “You’re supposed to sing back, you know.” He said.

“Ohhh.” The not singing Ethan leaned back before straightening up. “Why didn’t you say so? Oh, boy, what’s a song. Uh, how about Greased Lightning?” Dancing in place, Ethan sang poorly. “Greased lightning, goooo, greased lightning!”

“Stop. Please.” The singing Ethan was exasperated. “You sound awful.”

“Aw, c’mon now man, I was just gettin’ into it! Sorry I ain’t as good a singer as you, sheesh.”

“Door. Home. Becky.” Webby gained Hannah’s attention. It was important to get Tim to safety as soon as possible.

“Wait.” John said, once again. After the near-catastrophe with Jane, Hannah really didn’t want to listen to him anymore. It wasn’t his fault, but she knew whatever his idea was would tempt her. “Hannah, I think the one with his back to you is not infected. I’m not sure how it’s possible for there to be two in the same place, but…” He trailed off.

Webby huffed. “Bad blood. Fire. Black Friday.”

Hannah nodded, a wave of sadness coming over her. “Ethan died.” She whispered.

“But he’s here now. Leaving him behind would kill him again.” He mentioned, pausing at the end. “I shouldn’t be trying to guilt trip you. Apologies. They’re distracted with eachother, you should be able to get to the house easily. Just be quick and quiet.”

“John right.” Webby agreed. “For once.” He didn’t respond to that.

Hannah kept her eyes on the bickering Ethans. It was the best course of action to leave, and they could do it. But... she didn’t want Ethan to die again. He had died such a horrible death that night, and it was to protect her. Regardless of whether or not this was the same Ethan, she owed it to him.

Looking around, Hannah found a rock, small enough to throw, but large enough to do some damage. She picked it up, moved out from behind the bushes, and threw it at the singing Ethan.

It hit him in the side, causing him to fall over. The not singing Ethan looked behind him, knife at the ready. He almost dropped it when he saw Hannah.

“Hannah?” He stepped forward, clearly shocked. “What are ya doin’ here, kid? Where’s your sister? Wait.” He stepped back. “You ain’t gonna start singing, right?”

Hannah shook her head no, also trying to shake the tears out of her eyes. “Inside. Hurry.”

Hannah went back to the bushes to help Tim up, who was very wary of Ethan, and Ethan looked back at his musical doppelganger.

The singing Ethan had stood back up and looked angry. He made eye contact with Hannah and grinned the same wide grin all of the infected had. “Hannah Foster, prophet of Hatchetfield. You have defied us twice now. We will not let you get away again!”

Hannah stood in front of Tim, hoping to protect him, as the singing Ethan dashed towards her.

Before he could attack her, he was on the ground. The not singing Ethan had tackled him.

Glancing at Hannah he smiled weakly. “Close your eyes, Banana.”

She did as she was told, and heard a sickening crack, and the sounds of the struggle ended. Then there were footsteps, and a hand on her shoulder. “You can open ‘em now, kiddo.”

Hesitantly, Hannah opened her eyes and was met with Ethan’s kind face, unbloodied, unbeaten, and certainly no blue slime dripping from his mouth. She tried to look around, but he stopped her. 

“Trust me, you don’t wanna see the other guy. At least he’ll finally shut up, huh?” Ethan stood and offered a hand. “You’re stayin’ at this place, right? I was gonna try and break in when I found that guy. Can I have your permission to stay?”

Hannah looked at him carefully for a long moment before finally nodding. “Be careful. Professor doesn’t like people coming back.”

Ethan was confused, but didn’t ask any further. He helped Hannah with Tim, introducing himself in the process, and they walked to the door without any further problems.

They rang the doorbell and knocked loudly. Finally, a voice from the other side. Hannah recognized it as the Professor’s.

“Who’s there?! We’re armed, so don’t you try anything!”

Ethan looked down at Hannah, who was holding his hand. “You sure they’re gonna let us in, Banana?”

Hannah nodded. “Hannah. Tim.” She paused. “Ethan.”

There were whispers on the other side of the door. Finally, the Professor’s voice returned. “Prove you’re human!”

“What?” Ethan laughed. “Why? How would we even do that?”

“Musical aliens.” Hannah explained to Ethan. “...Sing.”

Ethan was clearly confused and tired of all of this. Nonetheless he shrugged and once again attempted to sing Greased Lightning. The Professor cut him off very quickly.

“That was horrible, whoever you are. Hannah, Tim, you can’t come in until we know you’re human.”

Tim cleared his throat and sang the Spongebob theme song, face red as he stumbled over the words. Ethan did his best not to laugh at the nine-year-old.

“Alright.” Came the Professor’s response. “Hannah?”

Hannah froze. Not only could she not think of a song, Lex and Ethan had always told her she was a good singer. She was terrified to think she wouldn’t be let in because of that.

Ethan squeezed her hand. “Hey. Look at me.” She looked up at his curly hair, and squeezed his hand back. “I won’t go in without you. Okay?”

Hannah nodded. She sang, quietly, the beginning of Moana. She stopped herself early, not wanting to make herself look worse.

The Professor was quiet for a long moment. Apparently too long for Ethan’s liking, as he knocked harshly on the door. “Hey! She proved herself, now let us in!”

There was a bit of commotion on the other side of the door, which grew louder and closer. In the chaos, Hannah could hear Lex’s voice, as well as Tom’s.

Finally, the door opened. Standing with her hand on the doorknob was Lex. When Hannah saw her, she immediately became aware of how tired she was, how scared she had been. Tears streaming down her face, she let go of Ethan’s hand and jumped into Lex’s arms.

They held eachother close for a long time. A hand on Lex’s shoulder gently asked her to move so they could get to Tim and help him, and they finally moved.

Once everyone was inside, the door was shut and locked. Lex hugged Hannah tightly again before letting go, hands on Hannah’s shoulders. “Never, I mean never sneak out again. I don’t care if Webby said to do it, I don’t care if Hidgens said to, never ever leave without telling me. Got it?”

Hannah nodded vigorously. She didn’t plan on sneaking out again, ever.

Lex smiled, clearly relieved, and then looked up. Her face dropped, and Hannah looked to see Ethan standing behind her. He looked worried.

“Lex?” He asked, trying to smile. “What’s wrong? Ya look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Lex pulled Hannah behind her. “How are you alive.”

 Ethan’s confusion only grew. “Uh, I don’t really know. Heart pumps blood, lungs breathe air, brain does… things-”

“No.” Lex interrupted, voice harsh. “How are you alive.

“I. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Hannah saw you die. So did Tom and Becky. Even if you fooled them, you would’ve burned up in the fire. How are you alive.

Hannah rubbed her eyes. Clearly, the day was not done being exhausting.

Chapter Text

Hannah watched as Lex slowly fell apart as she tried to piece together that Ethan was alive and well in front of her, and Hannah found herself wondering the same thing. She was certain he wasn’t infected, he wouldn’t have been able to pass the Professor’s singing test if he had, but she was certain Ethan was dead. She was there .

The universe didn’t allow her to dwell on it for too long, as Ethan tried to take Lex’s hand and she shoved him to the ground before crumpling herself. All those remaining in the front room rushed to her side, and Hannah had to fight to stay near her sister.

Lex was breathing quickly and pushing away anyone who touched her or got too close. Hannah recognized her panic attack right away, and tried to usher the small group away from Lex as to not overwhelm her, to no avail.

Ed and Emma were at Lex’s side, trying and failing to calm her down, with Paul hovering nearby. The Professor was loudly threatening Ethan, who was arguing back, clearly growing more frustrated by the second. In the chaos of it all, Lex was only growing more panicked, and Hannah felt herself getting there as well.

Unsure of what else she could do, Hannah whispered an apology to Lex before yelling so loud she made herself flinch. She felt even worse when she saw Lex curl up on herself even more. On the bright side, it caught everyone’s attention. With all eyes on her, Hannah searched for something to say.

“Leave Lexie alone. It’s too loud. Argue somewhere else.” She stayed quiet, and didn’t look away from Lex.

She saw the Professor lower his gun in her peripheral vision. His voice was quiet as he kneeled beside Hannah and Lex. “I’m sorry, we should’ve known better. Should we take Lex to the medical center?”

Hannah gestured for him to back up, and he complied. Gently, Hannah offered her hand to Lex. “Lexie, breathe, remember?”

Lex looked at Hannah’s hand, a vague recognition in her eyes. She shook her head. “No, please. I-I can’t do this, I can’t go through this, please, God…” 

Hannah hovered, her worry growing. Usually, Hannah or Ethan could pull Lex out of a spiral pretty quick, even though Hannah knew that Lex was never fully okay for a while afterwards.

Before she could do anything more, Hannah felt something in her mind, and in her chest. A tiny opening, being pulled open and reached through. Hannah froze, not sure what to do, until she heard a distant, echoing voice, calling Lex’s name.

Lex took a deep breath and nearly fell backwards, gasping and staring at the wall, and Hannah felt the gap close, taking a deep breath herself.

Lex was sputtering, clearly still not fully out of her spiral. “I- Wha- Wh-Where’d he go?”

Paul kneeled beside Lex, careful to keep his distance. “Lex, deep breaths. Who are you looking for? Ethan?”

Lex shook her head, trying to follow Paul’s directions. “No, no, no. Th-The guy, the f-fucking soldier, with the be-beard!”

“Tom?” Ed offered. “Him, Becky, and Tim went to the medical center.”

“Everyone’s here, Lex.” Paul added, voice soft. “Everyone’s safe.”

Hannah nodded, and Lex looked over at her, detensing slightly. “I… Okay. Yeah, r-right…”

“Do you want to go find Becky?” Paul asked her, hand still offered. She looked at it, suspicious. After a moment, she shakily takes it and nods. Paul stands and slowly helps her up, and him and Emma walk her out of the room, presumably to join Becky and the Houston’s in the medical center. Ed trailed out after them.

Hannah was about to follow when the Professor’s voice stopped her. “Hannah, can you stay a moment? I’d like to know how you found this young man here…”

Hannah turned to see that the Professor all but had Ethan by his collar, keeping him in the room. Hannah fiddled with her shirt. “Outside. Fighting.”

“Fighting who?”

“Ethan.”

“Yes, Ethan.” The Professor nodded, looking a little impatient. “Who was Ethan fighting?”

Hnnah frowned. “Fighting Ethan.

“There was some weird clone of me who wouldn’t shut up.” Ethan explained. “Can I go see if Lex is okay, now?”

The Professor let go of Ethan, but continued to look between him and Hannah for another moment. “Hannah,” he begins, “this is the boy you, Becky, and Tom saw die on Black Friday, yes?”

Hannah nodded, and Ethan’s jaw dropped. He scoffed, fading into laughter. “Uh, I’m obviously not dead, Banana. Plus, Black Friday isn’t for another week, you should know that! We’ve been countin’ down the days, remember?”

Hannah began to shake her head, but then stopped and nodded, and then stopped completely. Yes, she remembered her, Ethan, and Lex counting down the days to when they’d be able to escape to California, which they found would be Black Friday thanks to Wiggly. But it had been nearly an entire month since that terrible day. And she was certain she saw Ethan die.

Ethan seemed confused and worried. “You… don’t remember?”

“I remember.” She explains, pulling on her braids. “...Today’s the 21st. December. December 21st.”

Again, Ethan was visibly shocked. He looked between Hannah and the Professor. “You’re kiddin’, right? I wasn’t passed out for a month, there’s no way.”

The Professor looked to Ethan for a long moment. “Ethan, how exactly did you get here?”

Ethan thought for a moment. “Uh, I was on my way to the mall to meet Lex and Hannah. And then there was this big, bright circle in an alley, so I went to go check it out, ‘cause I thought it was scrap metal and it could be good to use, and then next thing I know I’m tripping over a cat and falling against the circle. Or maybe into? When I looked around, I was in the alley, but the circle was gone and the whole mall was burnt down…”

Webby made a vibrating noise, Hannah thought it sounded a bit like humming, and spoke in a serious tone. “ Portal. Starlight. Apotheosis.

Hannah repeated Webby’s message, and it clicked a moment later. “Old Starlight Theater. Portal on the stage. Aliens came from there, Ethan came from another!”

The Professor nodded. “That is certainly how it sounds, Hannah. And it all adds together.” He walked in a circle around Ethan, examining him. “Dead in this universe, but not infected either. Doesn’t know the date. And if you came from the mall, you wouldn’t have passed the Starlight on your way here.”

Ethan looked like he was trying to piece everything together on his own. “Are you saying… I’m from another dimension?”

“Exactly, Ethan.” The Professor nodded, solemn. “And who knows what else came with you.”

“That isn’t the worry.” John spoke up, his voice strained. “The problem is we don’t know how many other portals there are. There are horrible things in the multiverse. The infected are already here…”

Don’t scare. ” Webby warned.

John made a strange noise. Hannah thought it sounded a little like how Lex did earlier, while she was having a panic attack. Concerned, Hannah whispered, “You okay?”

“Don’t worry about me.” He almost sounded distant. “I’ll be okay. Go help your sister, alright?”

Still unsure whether or not John could see her, she nodded and looked back to the Professor and Ethan, who were having a strange conversation about portals and dimensions.

Hannah cleared her throat and they looked to her. “Lex?”

Ethan nodded. “Lex. Let’s go find her.” He stepped forward, offering her hand, and Hannah took it. “You know how to get to this hospital place, Banana?”

Hannah nodded and led the way, Ethan keeping her pace and holding her hand tightly.

There were less people at the medical center than Hannah expected, which she was grateful for. Emma, Paul, and Ed must have left after bringing Lex, as they were nowhere to be seen. Lex herself seemed better, though still far from perfect, and Becky was taping up Tim’s sprained ankle while the father and son duo talked quietly.

Hannah let go of Ethan’s hand and approached her sister. “Lexie..”

The older girl, who had a blanket draped over her shoulders, looked down at Hannah and smiled weakly. “Hey. Sorry about that.” Her voice sounded slightly hoarse.

Hannah shook her head. “No need.” She offers Lex her hands, which Lex took and squeezed lightly.

After a moment, Hannah remembered Ethan was still there and looked over at him. He was standing awkwardly, obviously wanting to comfort Lex, but feeling conflicted since he was the cause of the panic attack in the first place.

Lex followed Hannah’s gaze and tensed for a moment when she saw Ethan. Before she could react more, he lifted his hands in a surrender gesture. “I know what you mean now, about me being alive. Hannah and that, uh, Professor guy said I’m from a different dimension? I guess? I don’t entirely understand, but uh, apparently it’s the most likely explanation.” 

Lex seemed wary, but Hannah felt her detense somewhat. “...That doesn’t make any damn sense.”

Ethan laughed. “Yeah, I thought so too.”

There was a pause, but Lex was smiling wider, her eyes watering slightly. “It’s good to see you again.”

Ethan grinned in return. “Hasn’t been that long for me, but I’m always glad to see you.”

He stepped forward to sit with Lex, but hesitated for another moment. Lex watched him for a moment and then let go of one of Hannah’s hands and patted the spot next to her. He sat beside her, and she took his hand.

As Hannah watched the two of them slip back into their old, silly banter, she smiled. Ethan appearing was still suspicious, but Hannah found herself caring less. Her family was being put back together.

In the back of her mind, John’s concern resurfaced. And with his worries about the portals in mind again, Hannah’s own worries about how he sounded and was acting came back stronger.

“You okay?” Hannah whispered again, hoping John would answer, but hearing nothing. 

Instead, Webby responded. “Healing.” She explains. “ John… give him time.” 

Hannah sighed and looked back to Lex and Ethan. It hadn’t been that long since she started not minding John, but she worried what him disappearing meant. Why did he need to heal? What had happened? 

Hannah thought back to the gap she felt, and Lex’s sudden reaction. Was it possible, she wondered, for John to talk to Lex? He said he couldn’t disconnect from Hannah, so maybe that’s what hurt him?

Hannah supposed she’d have to ask once he came back.

Chapter Text

It was barely noon and Hannah was already exhausted. Her and Tim had been outside from about nine in the morning until eleven, and the following hour had passed quickly. 

Distracted by the adrenaline and her thoughts and worries about Ethan, and portals, and John, the rest of the day went quickly by and she crashed in the living room early in the night.

On another plane of existence, leaking into Hannah’s, was one General John McNamara, leaning against a couch that, for him, didn’t actually exist. Of course, from the couch’s perspective, he was the one who didn’t exist.

It was dark, in the Black and White. Endless blackness. A starless, hopeless void, home to creatures beyond imagination.

It was home to him now, too.

John sighed, keeping an eye on Hannah’s sleeping form, as he thought about his old home on Earth. He was supposed to take Corey out for his first drink at the end of the month. They were going to visit Ed’s family in Washington state just a few days after Black Friday. Jolene had been planning a weekend get-away for some of the higher-ups. She desperately wanted to go to Vegas.

John wondered if any of them were still alive. Despite his newfound connection to the Black and White, he didn’t know everything. Occasionally the blackness parted and he would see things to come, or things in the past. It was up to him to connect the dots. The visions provided the questions that would lead to answers, eventually.

John felt a tickle on his leg and looked down. A spider, the color of the cosmos, sat on his knee, looking up at him. Webby often appeared to him in this form; he figured her true form was likely too much to comprehend.

Unlike usual, however, Webby was very quiet. For the first couple weeks of John being tethered to Hannah, they spent every moment Hannah wasn’t awake arguing, and most of the time she was awake as well. He still felt guilty about that; Webby wasn’t bad, she only wanted to protect Hannah. Even after he had resigned to his fate, Webby still talked to him frequently. John was beginning to suspect that she was lonely, only ever talking to a single person. A new face, no matter how disliked, is always interesting.

He watched the spider, and she watched him. Finally, she broke the silence. “Healing?”

John nodded. “I’ll be fine. Do you know what time it is?”

“Time… non-existent.”

He nodded again. Answers like that usually meant she didn’t know. “I’ll most likely be fine by the time Hannah wakes up. Thank you for worrying about me.” He smirked, and swore he could see Webby rolling her many eyes.

“Not worried. Not for you.” She turned her back to him and he couldn’t help but laugh slightly. But after only a moment his chest began to ache and he felt like he was falling apart again, the world disintegrating around him.

Once he caught his breath, John looked around. Webby was facing him again, and while she didn’t exactly have a face in this form, he could tell she was concerned.

“Why, John?”

He sat up further, trying not to disturb her. “Why what?”

“Talk to Lex. Break connection. Why?”

John hummed. It had been an impulsive decision, one he wasn’t sure would work. But seeing Lex, and thus Hannah, in pain…

“I’ve talked to her before.” He looked up at the blackness above him. “I thought perhaps I could calm her down. But I didn’t have enough time, and only startled her more.”

“Wanted… to help?”

“Yes. I’ve nothing else to do here,” he gestured to the infinite realm around him, “and nowhere to go. I’d rather be helpful than a nuisance.”

Webby stayed quiet for a while. Eventually she jumped off his leg and scuttled off into the darkness. John watched her for a moment before looking at Hannah again, still sleeping soundly. He could faintly see someone coming closer, and then shaking her from the opposite side of the couch. When she didn’t stur, the person came around to the front, where John saw it was Ethan, with another figure near him, presumably Lex, and picked her up gently. John stood with them. He had to move with Hannah, or else the Black and White would tear him apart, like it had when he reached out to Lex.

Ethan carried Hannah up the stairs into the kids room, set her in her bed, and tucked her in. Lex sat beside her and carefully undid her braids. John sat nearby and faced away from them. Being bound to the young girl, he was forced to observe her a lot, but he did his best to give her the privacy she needed and deserved. Such a soft moment between the three wasn’t for him to watch or intrude on. John was not part of their family, or even their community; most of them didn’t even know he was there.

The isolation of the Black and White was one of the worst aspects of it. It was infinite, and infinitely empty. John only had about a twelve-foot radius around Hannah that he could move in safely, and those twelve feet were just as empty. When someone came into view, he could see them, but they were in separate realities. No one could see him, and the only person who could hear him was Hannah. So close, but so far away.

John spared a glance over his shoulder at the trio. Lex and Ethan were making sure Hannah was all settled before standing to leave. They walked straight through him, and he didn’t feel it at all.

John missed feeling. He missed the sun, the wind, the snow. He missed hugs and kisses from Ed and Corey, and firm handshakes and pats on the back from Xander and Jolene. He missed warm showers and cold drinks. 

He missed texture. The “ground” of the Black and White had no feel, no pattern, no distinction. The only thing John could feel was himself, and the things he had come in with. The cold, heavy metal of his gun. The annoying scratchiness of his hat. The firmness of his vest. The weight of his watch, a gift from his father, on his wrist, though it had long stopped ticking. 

John ran his hands through his hair and wondered if he wasn’t just fading away slower than he thought. He could only feel so much, and those feelings had become muted in the near-month he had been trapped in the Black and White. As he combed his hair with his fingers, it felt so distant. He barely existed, even to himself.

And God, did he long for a cigarette.

The sound of scuttling brought his attention back. Webby had returned. She sat again on his knee, and while he felt the sensation, it wasn’t how it was supposed to be. 

“Worry makes less handsome, John.” 

Her comment thoroughly snapped him out of his spiral and he laughed heartily, forcefully cutting himself off before he hurt himself again. “Thank you, Webby, but worrying is my job.”

“Worry, worry, worry. All we do.”

He sighed, the melancholy already returning. “Yes, it sure seems like it, doesn’t it?” He paused, once again looking at Hannah over his shoulder. “She’s worth the worry, though. She’s a good kid. Deserves better than all this…” 

“Worry for more than Hannah.” Webby mumbled. “Worry for you.”

John was surprised to hear that from the spider; Webby was more adamantly against him than Hannah was. “You worry about me?”

The spider on his knee fidgeted in place, its legs gently tapping against his. “Saw you hurt her.”

“Saw me hurt who?” Webby didn’t respond and, looking over his shoulder a third time, he connected the dots. “Hannah? When did I hurt Hannah? Well, I suppose the arguing-”

“No.” Webby interrupted, voice firm. “Hurt her. Neck. Air.”

Suffocation , he thought, and grew upset. “Why would I suffocate Hannah? When would I ever?”

“Not yet!” Her voice boomed, too loud for her spider body, and frankly, too loud for John. He hated the arguing as much as Hannah did for that very reason. He found it ironic; a soldier should be more used to loud noises, surely. 

“Not yet.” Webby repeated. “Future.”

John settled a bit as he pieced it together. “You foresaw me suffocating Hannah.” The spider twitched, and he took it as confirmation. “Is that why you never liked me? When did you see this?”

“Before Wiggly. Turkey day.” She twitched again. “Treat you badly, because… afraid. Sorry.”

He nodded. “Fear consumes us rather easily, whether we’re human, spider, or anything in between. I’m sorry for fighting with you, I surely wasn’t easing your worries. But I swear on my honor,” he picked up Webby’s small form and held her closer so he could look into her eyes, “I will never harm a hair on Hannah’s head. I’d sooner let myself disappear.”

The spider seemed to nod and he set her back on his leg. Not a moment sooner, the blackness of the Black and White was replaced with a myriad of colors and shapes, transforming the landscape.

“What’s going on?” John asked, slightly panicked.

“Future.” Webby repeated, and John felt like he was falling. He'd had some visions before, but nothing this intense or overwhelming.

He saw Hannah, back in the ruins of Hatchetfield. This time she wasn’t alone; he couldn’t see who was with her, but she was surrounded by people, who were all circled around a collapsed building.

He saw new ruins, near the water, and could make out people with their arms raised to the sky, surrounding an individual he couldn’t quite make out, standing against a metallic background.

He saw cold metal and concrete and a familiar face with an unfamiliar smile.

Mostly clearly however he saw two scenes, from the perspective of someone else.

The first scene was of collapsing, falling down, down, down, to a horrid demise. From up high, a man, watching, his face clear as day.

The second scene was of someone being shot. Standing above the shooter, John could see the gun and the gunman, his face clear as could be.

Both scenes had the same face. A man with a square face and soft edges, framed by short, neatly-combed black hair, and almond-shaped eyes with blue-brown irises. He had the aura of a professional killer, and based off the visions, he had the skills to match.

The man was present at two deaths to come in the future. John only hoped that Hannah wouldn’t be there to see them.

The colors of the visions faded back into the blackness of the Black and White and John let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

“Worry time.” Webby muttered, and John nodded, silent.

Chapter Text

Hannah was falling. She saw flashes of things yet to come, things that would never happen. 

Eyes as bright as suns, peering from eternal blackness. Two figures stood in front of them, mere silhouettes, but they were clearly fighting with all their might. 

Another flash; a man’s face, eyes serious, gun raised. He pulls the trigger and she’s falling again, and there he is again, running away, but she’s still falling. 

Another flash and she sees people she knows gathered around an abandoned building, it’s walls broken and windows smashed, but they’re going in anyway.

Another flash and she sees a bespeckled man, lying in bed, a smile on his face as the life in his eyes drains away. 

Another flash and she sees and hears herself, singing, walking with the shambling bodies of the Infected.

“Worry time.” Said Webby, and Hannah woke up.

The visions worried her, they always did. But Webby usually had messages to go with them, clues that made it easier to piece together. This time, Webby had nothing to add, and that scared her more than the visions themselves did.

“It’ll be alright, Hannah.” Came John’s voice, gentle and soothing. “We saw them, too. We’ll help protect you.”

Hannah nodded, and then froze. “John?”

“Yes?”

“Okay?” She fiddled with her hair, which had come undone at some point. The more she thought about it, the more she remembered falling asleep in the living room, not the kids room.

“Okay?” He repeated. “Of course I’m okay. What makes you ask?”

Hannah bit her lip. “Quiet yesterday. And… Webby said you were healing.”

There was a moment of silence. “I see.” She heard him take a breath. “I didn’t mean to worry you, Hannah. I… I suppose I was hurt, yes. But I’m alright now.”

“How?”

“How?” He repeated, and cleared his throat. “How did I get hurt?”

She nodded. “I think… Did you talk to Lexie?”

Another pause. “I did, yes. In doing so I suppose I got too far from you and it hurt me. But, like I said, I’m alright now.”

Hannah frowned. “Don’t hurt yourself, John. Please.”

A third pause, this one the longest and most telling. She heard what sounded like suppressed laughter before he spoke again. “I promise, I won’t do anything like that again.”

Hannah nodded with a slight smile. Then she got up, got dressed, braided her hair, put on the warrior’s cap, and went to the kitchen to get breakfast, just like every morning.

She stayed in the dining room for the better part of the day, eating a peanut butter sandwich remarkably slowly. She wasn’t very hungry, but Lex and the others wanted her to eat, so she would, but at her own pace.

People came and went from the room and, from what Hannah could tell, outside. No one was gone for more than a couple hours, and the worst injury she saw was a large scrape on Emma’s arm from falling into some rocks. 

When she asked the Professor why people were leaving so frequently, he sat down at the table to explain. “Well, it’s actually quite remarkable, Hannah.” He smiled, and Hannah thought he looked like a mad scientist. “You see, Ethan not only from another time, but another dimension. From my questioning, I’ve discovered that the world he came from is slightly different from our own. There’s a different President, for example. But more importantly, there is no Wiggly.

Hannah’s eyes widened. “No Wiggly? But… how?”

The Professor shook his head. “How doesn’t matter. What matters is that if Ethan was able to come to our dimension,” the Professor gestured largely with his hands, “then we should be able to go to his.

John hummed, and Webby echoed the sound, and so did Hannah. John then cleared his throat again, and spoke up. “That would make sense. But it would be incredibly dangerous.”

Hannah did not repeat John’s comments, and instead made her own. “Which portal is Ethan’s?”

The Professor tapped on the table. “Yes, that’s the problem. That’s what everyone has been going out looking for. You see, Ethan said he came through a portal in an alley of the mall. But we’ve been searching there, and have found several portals, some of them appearing and disappearing in seconds.” He paused for a moment before looking up at Hannah, who promptly looked down at the table. “We need to find a stable portal, and then find a way to see if it’s to a safe and habitable world. All that is, well… it’s easier said than done.”

Hannah nodded. “Could be dangerous.”

The Professor straightened his jacket. “Most certainly. Right now we’re simple trying to make a map of all the portals we know of. Even if they disappear, if they’re all localized in one area, that could be useful.”

After that, Tom and Ed came inside, both seemingly unharmed, though Tom was missing his flannel. The Professor looked up at them. “Welcome back. Who’s next? Paul, Bill, and Ted, right?” 

The three men talked about portals and patrols and walked off to elsewhere in the house, leaving Hannah alone.

She took another bite of her sandwich, silently chewing. It was finally almost gone, then she could go back to her room, or the Fun Room, and distract herself.

Webby hummed again for a moment. “Bored or scared?”

Hannah swallowed the bite of sandwich and mumbled, “Both.”

After a moment of silence, John spoke up with the same gentle tone from that morning. “It’s okay to be afraid. This is a scary time, and I regret that you have to go through it. But you are very, very brave, Hannah, and I’m proud of you. Your sister, everyone, they all can see you’re doing a good job.” He paused a moment, and Hannah wished she could see him.

“Things may get more difficult, more frightening, more dangerous. But we’ll get through it. Do not let your fear consume you; use it to drive you forward.”

Hannah rubbed her eyes. She didn’t want to cry. Even if John couldn’t see her, a fact she still wasn’t sure of, someone else might walk past, and she didn’t want to look like a little kid.

“Thank you.” She mumbled, and ate the last of her sandwich.

She didn’t want to say it aloud, but Hannah was really starting to like John. He was nice, and smart, and listened to her. Him and Webby didn’t fight anymore, so they weren’t loud, and when they were loud they quieted down when she asked. He was a good man, and Hannah was glad he was on her side, even if she still wished he wasn’t trapped in her head.

“As for the bored part,” he added as she stood to clear her plate, “I may have an idea, if you’re willing.”

“What’s the idea?” 

“Do you know how to play chess?”

Hannah shook her head no, and John hummed for a moment. “Would you like to learn?”

She thought for a moment, and shook her head yes. “You’ll teach me?”

“Of course, that’s why I asked. There’s a board in the Fun Room, right?”

“Think so.” She left the kitchen and walked upstairs to the Fun Room. 

Surprisingly, there was no one there. Alice and Deb were likely off somewhere together. Now that Ethan was back, him and Lex were likely doing the same. As for Oliver and Tim, she didn’t know, but figured it was for the best if she was by herself here, since she’d be talking to John the whole time.

Hannah took the chess board out of the pile of board games. It was heavier than she expected, but she set it down gently on the table and sat beside it.

“Alright, you’ll have to set up the pieces.” John told her. “They go in a specific order. The pawns, those small ones with the round top, all go in a line in the second to last row.”

As she set up the black and white pieces, John explained how they moved and what they were called. There were a lot of rules, but he reassured her that he would remind her if she needed help.

“Will you play a game?” Hannah asked, tapping on the table.

“Of course.” John responded quickly. “But you’ll have to move my pieces for me, okay?”

Hannah nodded. “White first. Where?”

“Move the pawn in column D one space forward, please.” He directed her. Hannah was glad the rows and columns were labelled.

Ultimately, the game was not very long. Hannah quickly left her King unguarded, which John pointed out. She spent several turns moving until it was safe, but still got caught.

It wasn’t all bad, as John pointed out. She managed to steal a few of his pieces, including both of his Bishops, and she would’ve got his Queen had her King not been in check from one of his Knights.

Once the game and analysis was over, she heard him sigh, content. “It takes a lot of practice, a lot of thought. You did well. Would you play again?”

Hannah thought for a moment, then nodded. “Not today, but yes.”

“I’m glad.” John said, and she could hear the smile in his voice. “I hope we play again sometime.”

Their moment was interrupted by the door opening. Hannah looked and saw Alice, sobbing, and Deb leading her in, whispering comforting words.

Hannah was scared to ask, but walked up to them. “What’s wrong?”

Alice responded by crying harder, which made Hannah flinch. Deb, however, looked up and cleared her throat. “Paul, Ted, and Bill went looking for more of those portals. They haven’t come back.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the day was filled with unsuccessful rescue missions and various forms of stress and anxiety. Alice fell asleep in Deb’s arms after several hours of crying and despair. As night fell and morning rose, there was no sign of the three men who had ventured out into the wasteland of Hatchetfield.

The next morning was similar. Deb and Tim comforted a depressed Alice. Oliver was on a patrol looking for the missing men. Lex, Ethan, and Hannah were making breakfast for all the kids.

Hannah was on toast and drink duty. She made very good toast, so she’d been told. Two pieces for each kid, minus Oliver, meant 12 total. Luckily, the Professor had one of those fancy six-slice toasters, so it was going quicker.

Ethan was making eggs. He made the best eggs. Perfectly cooked, never popping the yolk, seasoned to each person’s specific tastes. Tim didn’t like fried eggs, so his were scrambled, but Hannah was sure they would be just as well-made and delicious. 

Lex was plating everything, and delivering it up to the kid’s room. She was also making bacon in the oven, as Ethan was at the stove and she didn’t like to cook bacon over the stove anyway, after she got burnt by the grease a few too many times. 

The drinks Hannah would deliver herself. Milk for herself, Tim, and Lex. Orange juice for Ethan, apple juice for Deb, and tea for Alice, though Hannah had never made tea before so she had to ask Ethan for help. The Professor had several kinds of tea and coffee, and Lex and Ethan figured chamomile would be best for Alice’s worrying.

Once breakfast was all made and everyone was back in the kid’s room, they had a lovely little indoor picnic together. The chefs were complimented, the talk was light and pleasant, bellies were full, and Alice seemed a little less stressed. 

After everyone ate and the plates were set aside, the teens grabbed the cards, intending to gamble more, but Tim had asked if they could all play a game, so they decided on War instead.

“Trade one game of chance for another.” John commented, seeming amused. “Real war isn’t much different, I suppose.”

“Always war.” Webby sighed. “Earth. Space. Both. War, always.”

Hannah grumbled. “This is a game. Not a real war.”

Ethan looked over at her quizzically. “That spider still talkin’ to ya, Banana?” Hannah nodded, adjusting the Warrior’s cap. “Well, if Miss Space Spider is buggin’ ya about war, tell her I’ll be startin’ one with her for scarin’ ya so often.”

Lex elbowed him. “Webby isn’t bad. She’s helpful, she predicts the future.”

Ethan laughed as he set down his card, the King of Spades, and looked at Lex. “You believe in the imaginary space spider now, too? If she predicts so much, why doesn’t she tell us how to get outta this mess, huh?”

Lex huffed, setting down her own card, the Ace of Hearts. “She predicted your death well enough.”

“She did?” Ethan and John asked, simultaneously.

“Bad blood.” Webby recalled, and Hannah repeated aloud.

Deb cleared her throat and set down the Queen of Hearts. “Let’s not talk about death right now, okay?”

Hannah glanced at Alice, who had already put out her 5 of Diamonds. Her eyes were glassy and red and she held tightly to Deb’s arm. “Sorry.” She told her. “I’m sorry, Alice.” The older girl just nodded.

Lex and Ethan apologized similarly, and though only Hannah could hear him, John did too.

Tim nudged Hannah. “You have to play your card!” He himself had played the 10 of Clubs.

Hannah took the top card from her deck and set it down: a Joker. Lex’s Ace beat everyone else, but the Joker beat the Ace, and Hannah won the round.

The game continued with much lighter chat. When it was played with two people, War was usually very hard to actually win, and often only ended when someone gave up. But with a deck of 52 spread between six people, it was easy to knock people out completely. Eventually it was down to just Hannah and Ethan, and it became a standstill.

Then there was a knock on the door. Tim got up to answer it, revealing Oliver, having returned from his search with Ed and Peanuts. 

Alice stood and rushed to his side. “Well? Did you find them? What happened?”

He smiled. “We found them. They’re all a bit scraped up and scared, but they’re alive. Hidgens and Becky are looking them over right now.”

Alice tried to get around him but he held her in place. “Alice, they specifically asked not to be disturbed. They’re making sure none of them are infected.”

“My dad is not an alien.” She argued, voice cracking.

“I believe you.” He stepped forward and shut the door. “But they want to double-check, with all three of them.”

Alice sat back down without further argument, seeming relieved but impatient. Deb sat close, rubbing her back.

Oliver cleared his throat. “So. How was breakfast?”

Hannah offered him a piece of bacon she had saved, which he gladly took. They restarted their card game, but Tim didn’t want to play anymore, so the older teens decided to go back to gambling instead.

Hannah sat apart from them, thinking to herself. Remembering her poor chess skills, she got up and ran down the hall to the Fun Room to grab it.

“Hoping for a rematch, or are you going to teach Tim?” John asked.

“Gonna play with you.” She told him, walking back to make sure she didn’t drop the box full of ceramic pieces. “I wanna get better, so I can beat you.”

“Well, practice makes perfect, Bug.” He had a laugh in his voice, and Hannah stopped walking. 

“Bug?”

There was a moment of silence. Webby repeated, “Bug? John?”

“I’m sorry, Hannah.” He finally spoke. “I-” He cleared his throat a few times. “That was an accident. I’m sorry.”

She kept walking, slower than before. “Who’s Bug?”

“It’s just a nickname.” He said quickly. “Like how Lex and Ethan call you Banana.”

Hannah was beginning to grow impatient. “John. Who’s Bug?”

“Just…” There was a long pause, and she heard him take a breath. “Someone in PEIP, that I used to know.”

“Why can’t I know?”

“You do get to know. I told you.”

“No you didn’t! You can trust me!”

“Look out.” His tone had turned serious, and ice cold. 

Hannah looked up to see Paul stumbling through the hallway to the kids room, blood dripping through his jacket. Despite her loud voice just moments ago, he hadn’t seemed to notice her.

“Infected?” She whispered.

“No.” John told her. “His blood is red. The infected’s blood is blue.”

Hannah was relieved, but she didn’t let her guard down yet. She set the chess set on the floor against the wall of the hallway, and walked up to the wounded man.

“Paul?” She asked. “What happened?”

Paul looked at her with glazed-over eyes. “Hm… Hannah?”

“Yes. What happened?”

He took a moment to respond, falling to the right before hitting the wall, his eyes fluttering shut again. “Uh… Bill. ‘ttacked us. Had to get back. Becky ‘nd Hidgens left…” He coughs, sliding down the side of the wall.

Hannah joined him, kneeling. “Bill attacked you?” Paul nodded. “Infected?” He nodded a second time.

“Hannah, get him inside the kids room.” John ordered, and she did as she was old, opening the door just a few feet away, and doing her best to guide him inside.

Lex, who was worried about why Hannah ran off, was even more worried when she saw the bleeding Paul, and helped him inside. Hannah shut the door behind them.

As the teens struggled to help Paul, who they discovered had quite the gash on his side, Hannah repeated what he had told her.

Alice crumpled. “Dad… No. No, it must’ve been someone else!” Her tears return tenfold, and Deb holds her tight.

“He also said Becky is gone.” Tim frowned, staying away from all the blood. “What happened to her?”

Surrounded by tears, questions, and blood, Hannah sat against the wall, tugging on her braids. “Safe? Are we safe? Lexie? John?”

Lex offered Hannah a hand and she took it, squeezing tightly. “We’ll be safe if we stick together, it’ll be okay. Can I help Paul, or do you need help?”

Hannah shakes her head, and Lex gives her hand one more squeeze before letting go and returning to helping Ethan and Oliver with Paul.

“Lex is right, Hannah.” John’s voice is warm again. “Stay with her, and you’ll be safe.”

Webby hummed, or perhaps vibrated. “Infected. Stay safe. Find nurse. Blood, blood, blood. Red, blue, black.”

Webby’s message scared Hannah, but she understood the deeper meaning: They had to find Becky or Paul would die. 

Oliver seemed to come to the same conclusion, and he stood. “I’m going to the medical center to find Becky, or at least supplies. If I’m not back in ten minutes, assume the worst.” He left before anyone could argue, shutting the door behind him.

Hannah watched the room. Deb held Alice as she sobbed. Lex and Ethan did their best to stop Paul from bleeding out. Paul himself was pale and his breathing was slow. Tim was in the corner, on his bed, under his covers. She could see the cast on his foot sticking out from under the blankets. 

Hannah thought back to mere moments ago, and the chess set in the hall. She still didn’t know who Bug was, or why John wanted to hide it. Or why John had called her that at all.

After eight minutes, Oliver returned with bandages and a syringe with a bit of liquid in it. Lex and Ethan moved to take it from him, but he only handed over the bandages.

“The cut is bad, yes, but if it was bad enough to make him delusional, he wouldn’t have survived overnight.” He showed the syringe. The needle looked slightly red. “It seems more likely that Becky had maybe given him a sedative so she could sew him up, and then left suddenly in the middle. It’d be best not to give him anymore.”

Ethan had already started patching up the cut as best he could, his hands and sleeves stained red. 

“But why would Becky leave?” Lex asked, a subtle fear in her voice. “She’s a professional, she wouldn’t just get up and leave in the middle of a surgery.”

“Maybe something scared her off.” Oliver suggested, and everyone knew what he meant.

“If so, then why didn’t that something attack Paul? Look at him.” Lex gestured at the man on the floor. “He’s a wimp even when he’s not bleeding out, he’s an easy target.”

Oliver shrugged. “We shouldn’t assume the worst. Becky might still be alive.”

Hannah kept her eyes on Paul. “Blood, blood, blood. Red, blue, black.” She repeated Webby’s message from earlier.

Lex looked at her. “Webby?” Hannah nodded. “What does it mean?”

Hannah thought for a moment. She pointed at Paul. “Red blood.” She furrowed her eyebrows. “Infected have blue blood.”

“Then what’s the black?” Ethan asked, tying the bandage around Paul’s torso.

The door was kicked open, and the lights flickered. All eyes were on the doorway.

Before them, in the flickering light, stood two people with blue-stained faces. A man and a woman.

The man, to everyone’s surprise, was not Bill, but Ted. His mustache was stained with the blue blood of the Infected, and below his mustache was a sickeningly wide smile, all teeth and no joy.

Beside him, her organs falling out of her stomach, all of them blue, was Charlotte, who had a matching, blue-stained smile. On her sweater, however, surrounded by the blue, was more blood. It was dried, soaked into the fabric, and had turned black.

They shut the door behind them, and began to sing.

“It is time.” Charlotte commanded. “To die!

Some part of Hannah’s mind thought the note she hit was impressive, but mostly it was spinning out of fear. She looked around, desperately thinking of a way out, even if it was only her.

Webby was chanting something about the apotheosis and blood, John was trying to tell her how to fight back or run, but Hannah just sat still, watching the room, watching the zombies of former friends sing and dance about the teens’ inevitable deaths.

As the song seemed to come to a close, Hannah registered the sound of a gunshot. Ted and Charlotte froze immediately. They hurried out of the room, making a strange humming noise as they left. The children and Paul were relatively unharmed.

More gunshots followed, and after a few moments, the doorway was filled once more, this time by Becky, a gun in her hands. The Professor ran past her, shooting after the two zombies, chasing them out of the house.

Becky set her gun on a shelf and kneeled beside Paul, checking his pulse and looking over Ethan’s bandaging job. 

Tim peeked out from under his covers. “Becky? Are you…?”

She looked over and gave him a smile. “I’ll be fine. Ted took me by surprise is all.” Becky moved her hair out of her face, and Hannah noticed the large bruise on her neck. “Can anyone help me get him back to the medical center? He never should’ve left, but I guess his blood trail is what led us here, so…”

Lex and Ethan helped Becky lift Paul up and over their shoulders to take him downstairs, but before they left, Alice called out to them.

“Wh-What about my dad? Is-Is he…” She trailed off, forbidding herself from assuming the worst.

Becky gave Alice a small smile from over her shoulder. “Bill’s a little banged up, but he’s okay. Henry had him stay in the lab.”

Deb frowned. “Then why did Paul say Bill attacked him?”

Becky shifted Paul’s weight on her shoulder. “The three were attacked by some Infected. From what they could tell me, one of them was Bill, despite our Bill being fine. Henry thinks it’s like how Ethan was able to come here. Alternate universes and all that.”

Alice let out a sob of relief. “Can I see him? Please?” She was already standing. Becky gave her a nod, and Alice and Deb followed closely behind the group.

Later, at dinner, the Professor explained that he unfortunately lost track of Ted and Charlotte once they got outside, but at the least, everyone within the house was safe and uninfected. 

Paul was recovering from his minor surgery, and had apologized for the miscommunication. He hadn’t known Ted was infected, so he couldn’t even slightly warn them in his delusional state. 

The adults figured that Ted, after attacking Becky, must’ve gone looking for someone who trusted him more, namely Charlotte, to infect and have a better chance against the group.

Besides the news, dinner was quiet. They were on the verge of having more children than adults.

The kids went to bed, though Alice refused to leave Bill’s side and so the two stayed in the living room for a while longer.

When Hannah woke up the next morning and went to get breakfast, she quickly realized something big had happened overnight.

The Professor gathered everyone in the dining room for breakfast, which was a rare occasion, and sat at the head.

“We have now lost five people. Five adults.” He began. “So… starting today, we are allowing those sixteen or older to join us in searching the ruins of Hatchetfield for usable supplies, and portals to better worlds.”



Chapter Text

It was Christmas Eve. The day before Hannah’s birthday. In years past, she would be excited for Christmas, and her birthday, and the time she would surely be spending with Lex and Ethan. This year, her head was clouded with thoughts of fear and worry.

Lex, Ethan, Alice, and Deb were all allowed to go outside now. Something Lex had fought for since the beginning, but now she seemed reluctant. Hannah figured it all went back to Ethan.

Today, however, they were not going out. The remaining adults had left in an effort to more thoroughly map out the area, as they wanted to keep the teens out of certain, more dangerous areas. 

So it was just the kids inside today, as well as Oliver, who Lex still argued should count as a kid, and Paul, who was still recovering from his injury from the day before. They were all in the Fun Room, and Hannah had her head in Lex’s lap. The older girl was undoing and redoing Hannah’s braids, not because they were messy, but rather as a soothing gesture, for both girls. Ethan sat beside Lex, and would occasionally reach over and pat Hannah’s head gently.

It was very quiet, and Hannah figured she must’ve fallen asleep for a bit. Part of her wanted to get up to play chess with John, but it was so nice and comfortable. She didn’t have to think about all the bad things.

Eventually, though, the chatter of the older kids got her attention. They were searching for things to bet.

Hannah sat up. “Gambling again?”

Tim scooted forward. “You should teach me and Hannah! We’ve got stuff to bet!”

Hannah wasn’t sure how she felt being looped into all this, but the older kids were already debating among eachother.

“Poker’s not so bad with friends.” John chimed in. “But don’t go to casinos. They’re rigged.”

“John? Gambler?” Webby asked, a teasing tone in her voice.

John grumbled. “No. I went to one on my honeymoon, haven’t been since. Though we occasionally play for fun down at PEIP headquarters.”

“Honeymoon?” Hannah whispered, watching the teens do tricks shuffling cards. “You’re married?”

John was quiet. “Yes.” He finally answered. “But that’s for another time. You should play with them. Have a little fun.”

Hannah wanted to know more about John being married, and remembered yesterday how he did the same with calling her Bug. She frowned. He really didn’t like answering questions.

“Hannah?” Lex interrupted her thoughts. “Are you gonna play?”

She looked at the table. Most of the usual bets were there, as well as Ethan’s jacket and Tim’s guitar (well, it was really Tom’s guitar, but Tim had it at the moment). 

She thought for a moment. What did she have to bet? Meaning to pull at her pants, Hannah found her answer in her lap: the warrior’s cap. While she was reluctant to part with it, it was only for fun, so she gently placed it on the betting pile, and was met with cheers.

Most of the teens agreed that it’s better to learn on your feet, but in order to make things a little more fair, they split into teams. Alice and Deb, Tim and Oliver, Lex and Hannah, and Ethan was the dealer. 

Once each team had two cards, Lex instructed Hannah to look at them discreetly. Hannah had an Ace of Hearts and a Two of Spades. Lex nodded and whispered to Hannah.

“This is pretty good, aces are pretty high value. We should try for maybe four of a kind, or full house. So basically, we want to get more aces and twos.”

Hannah didn’t entirely get it, but nodded.

Ethan cleared his throat. “So, we do the betting a little differently since none of us have money. So if you raise, you have to offer up another object. So don’t raise unless you have something to offer.” The table nodded. “Here comes the flop.”

Ethan put down three cards; a four of hearts, an eight of clubs, and a seven of spades. He explained for everyone, “You look at these and compare them to your hand. The two cards you have, plus two more I’ll put out later, are going to be your options for your ending hand. You’ll have five cards total, and the highest value wins.”

Lex whispers to Hannah again. “We aren’t doing so good. We can’t make anything with our cards against those ones. So when it’s your turn, just say check, because I don’t think anyone’s gonna raise.”

Tim and Oliver were first clockwise, and they raised, adding Oliver’s glasses to the betting pool. Lex sighed.

“Okay, you can either call, and keep going, or fold, and give up. It’s up to you.”

“Call.” John advised. “He could be lying. That’s a big part of this game. It’s best to stay in, you might get better cards.”

When it came to Hannah’s turn, she called, and at the end Ethan revealed another card; the Ace of Spades.

Lex patted Hannah’s leg under the table, and she took it as a sign tides were turning. Across the table, Tim was frowning.

“That’s the Ace of Spades, for those of us who are blind.” Ethan smirked at Oliver.

“I know what the card is.” Oliver huffed. The table snickered in response.

After another way around the table, with nothing changing, Ethan put down the final card. “Two of Diamonds.”

Hannah had two matching pairs, and though she still wasn’t sure what that meant, it seemed good!

“You have a Two Pair.” Lex whispered to her and John confirmed. “It’s not the best, but it’s still good.”

In the last go-around, Tim folded with a pout.

Ethan clapped. “Alice versus Hannah! Showdown! That means you show your cards, Hannah. Tim, you don’t have too.”

Hannah revealled her cards, and Lex shouted “Two Pair!”

Alice also revealled her cards, and said the same. She had an eight of Spades and a four of Diamonds.

Ethan grinned. “Pretty good, Hannah. You and Alice get to split the pot.”

Alice smiled at the younger girl. “That means we each get half of the stuff we betted.”

Alice obviously took her and Deb’s bets back, but also stole Oliver’s glasses, which Deb immediately put on.

Hannah took back the warrior’s cap and Lex’s phone, as well as Ethan’s jacket. All that remained was Oliver’s suspenders and Tim’s guitar, between which she took the instrument.

Lex gently held the guitar while Hannah put on Ethan’s jacket. He collected the cards.

“That was fun.” He smiled. “At this rate, you’ll be a master in no time. At some point we’ll have to play without teams.” He looked around the room to see Lex gently strumming Tim’s guitar and Oliver all but begging Alice and Deb for his stuff back. “But it probably won’t be today.”

Hannah stood up and started taking off Ethan’s jacket before he stopped her. “You can keep it for now. Just promise to give it back later, okay?” She nodded, smiling, and decided to look for the chessboard.

“You left it in the hallway.” John told her. “Looks like nobody put it back.”

Hannah thought for a moment and did remember setting it down upon seeing Paul bleeding out in the hallway. She quietly stepped out of the room to go and find it.

It was down the hall closer to the stairs, still against the wall. She picked it up and turned around to head back to the Fun Room.

“Will the others think it odd if they see you playing chess against yourself?” John asked.

Hannah hummed. “Think I’m weird anyway.”

John made an unhappy noise. “They shouldn’t think that without reason. They shouldn’t think that at all.”

“Webby is reason.” Hannah mumbles. “Can’t hear her… don’t understand.”

“That’s a poor excuse.”

Hannah shrugged. She was pretty used to being left out. Lex and Ethan were all she needed at this point. They loved her no matter what.

Hannah returned to the Fun Room with the chessboard to a small concert. Tim had his guitar back (though Oliver’s belongings were still being held hostage) and was playing a little song, Hannah didn’t recognize it, but knowing Tom it was probably from when he was in highschool. She sat nearby and listened. Her, Webby, and John all ended up humming along.

When Tim finished, he gave a sheepish smile and the room applauded.

“What’s the song, Tim?” Deb asked. “I think I might’ve heard it before.”

Tim fiddled with the guitar. “It’s called Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing. I don’t know the words very well.”

“Maybe we’ll learn ‘em.” Lex suggested. “We can sing while you play.”

“Really?” His eyes lit up.

Lex grinned. “It’s a promise. But I warn you, I’m not a very good singer.”

The room devolved into various casual conversations and Hannah moved to a table to set up the chessboard. Just as she finished, however, Tim sat opposite of her.

“Will you teach me?” He asked.

Hannah shrugged. “‘m not very good.”

In the blink of an eye, all the teens were nearby, giving the two kids advice on strategy, with the exception of Ethan and Deb, who were just as confused and commenting on how unrealistic chess is.

As the group coached her and Tim, she smiled. She could play with John later. Right now it was time for the kids.

Chapter Text

It was finally here.

Hannah woke up to Webby chanting, which wasn’t unusual. The pleasant change of pace, however, was what she was chanting.

“Birthday, birthday, birthday, birthday!” The spider cheered.

Hannah held herself close. Today was Christmas, and she was officially thirteen.

John sounded a bit confused. “Is it the 25th already?”

“Yes, John.” Webby sounded disappointed. “Birthday.”

There was a pause, and then she heard happiness and warmth in his voice. “Well, happy thirteenth, Hannah. And merry Christmas.”

Hannah thanked them both and hurried to get dressed and braid her hair. She wasn’t expecting to get any gifts or anything, for her birthday or Christmas, but she hoped her family would at least acknowledge the anniversary. Lex and Ethan always did their best to throw her little parties when her mother wouldn’t.

In her hurry, Hannah left the Warrior’s cap on her bed, remembering it as she stepped out the door. Sparing a glance, she decided to leave it; she didn’t need its protection today.

Outside the kids room was quiet. Usually there was the distant sound of someone moving somewhere, but today there was nothing. The air was still. Despite herself, Hannah felt a twinge of anxiety. Had everyone left her alone?

“Try the kitchen.” John advised. “They’re probably having breakfast.”

Stepping down the stairs, Hannah continued to strain her ears for any sign of life, but there was nothing. No footsteps, no voices (besides those of John and Webby), no plates being set down or cleared… Silence.

But she continued onto the kitchen despite the eerie quiet.

Right in front of the kitchen door, she still heard nothing. She opened it, and for a moment looked into an empty void. Then, light. Sound.

“Surprise!” It wasn’t just the kids, it was everyone. Tom held Tim on his shoulders, with Becky at his side. On his other side was Emma, and leaning on her slightly is Paul. Beside Paul is Bill, and then Alice and Deb. Finally there was Ed, Peanuts on his shoulder, and the Professor smiling politely just a bit behind them. In the front was Lex, Ethan, and Oliver, and in front of them were fourteen cupcakes, each with an unlit candle.

“Thirteen and one to grow on.” John commented.

Hannah rubbed her eyes and ran to hug Lex, who held her tight. She rubbed her back and asked, “Do you want to blow out the candles, Banana?”

“No fire.” Hannah told her, turning slightly to see them. She also saw Ethan playing with the lighter, and Oliver and the Professor trying to get him to stop.

She felt Lex laugh. “We’ll have someone with a brain light ‘em. And then you can make your wish.” She smiled at her sister and gently let go to snatch the lighter from Ethan.

As she watched the comical struggle, Hannah thought about the wish. When she was little, Hannah would make the same wish every year: to have a happy family. It never quite came true, and by the time she was ten, she had quit wishing. Lex and Ethan were all she needed. They were her happy family.

Hannah was not going to go back to her childhood wish. She knew it would not be fulfilled. But a new wish came to mind, one she knew, deep down, would be impossible, but what were wishes for if not for the impossible?

In the end, Becky lit the candles. Hannah stood before them for a moment. Thirteen years and one to grow on, yes, but there were also only fourteen of them left, perhaps in the whole world.

Hannah closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and as she blew out the candles, she wished that everything would be okay.

Becky then advised that the cupcakes should not be eaten for breakfast, and Tom made pancakes for everyone, Emma and Paul helping by cutting fruit as a side and finding various ingredients, as Tom did not get them all at once. Hannah decided they were the best pancakes she had ever had.

Lex and Ethan cleared their plates first, and then stood on either side of Hannah.

“We’re going outside.” Lex put it bluntly, and it felt like a stab to the stomach. “We’ll be back around noon. Okay?”

Hannah shook her head no, and held onto Lex’s hands. “Why? Stay, please, Lexie…” She did her best not to whine.

Lex held her hands tight. “You’ll be okay, it’s just for a little while. It’s for a surprise.”

“Don’t need a surprise.” Hannah insisted. “Need you.

“Mr. Houston’s comin’ too.” Ethan added, and she looked over her shoulder at him. “He’s a big strong guy, and he gets to use a gun! We’ll all be safe.”

Hannah absolutely did not want them to leave. She wanted to have a nice, simple day with her little family. Lex and Ethan leaving was the opposite of her wish.

“Let me come too.” She begged.

“Hannah, you’re not allowed.” The Professor told her. His voice and face were stern, but his eyes gave away his own anxiety. “Lex and Ethan asked me about this, Tom already agreed. They won’t be gone long, and they’ll be in what is pretty much the safest area out there.”

Lex squeezed Hannah’s hands. “I promise you’ll like the surprise.” She kissed her forehead. “We’ll be back soon. And then we’ll have cupcakes together, okay?”

Hannah had no choice but to be okay. She nodded, her gaze locked on their hands. Gently, Lex squeezed them once more and then slipped away. Tom quickly cleared his plate and the three of them left.

Hannah did not finish the last of her pancake. She let Peanuts have it, and then cleared the plate and went upstairs to the Fun Room.

Yesterday, she had gotten much better at chess, thanks to the teens’ advice, though some of it conflicted. She didn’t get to play with John, though, and had wanted to see if she would fare any better against him now that she had a bit more practice.

Now that she has the time, however, her mind is occupied with what could possibly be happening to Lex and Ethan and Tom. John convinced her to play a game, but she was so distracted that he quickly won, and she didn’t want to play anymore.

“Hannah,” he told her as she was putting the pieces away, “I understand that you’re worried. I don’t think they should have gone outside either. But Lex can handle herself, as can Tom, and I’m sure Ethan can too. They’re going to a safe area, and they won’t be gone long.”

She knew he was right, but that didn’t stop her worrying. Lex and Ethan were her world. Without them, she was alone. And she didn’t want to imagine how Tim would react if he lost his dad.

Her thoughts consumed her until 11:45, at which point she realized they should be heading back soon. And an idea came to mind.

She ran downstairs to the front room and pulled a stool over to peek through the peephole. She could stay safe, and keep lookout for when Lex would come back.

Her hopes fell when she looked through the peephole and saw it was painted over. She hopped down and moved the stool back, and then sat on it.

“It’s okay, Hannah.” Came John’s voice again. “They’ll be back soon, and you’ll be the first to greet them.” 

“What if they don’t come back?” She tried not to let her voice quiver.

“They will come back.” He assured.

“They will come back.” Webby echoed.

“They will come back.” She tried to convince herself.

At twenty minutes past noon, they still had not returned. Hannah would not let this birthday be ruined by the deaths of her sister and brother and Tom. She unlocked the many locks, and opened the door. 

Hannah felt the dry wind blow through her hair, and stepped outside. It wasn’t until after the door shut that she remembered that she left the Warrior’s cap on her bed. 

And it was in that moment of realization that everything went wrong.

Chapter Text

She had felt so brave just moments ago, opening the door and stepping through. But as she heard the heavy door shut behind her, all that bravery was immediately gone.

“Hannah.” John sounded concerned, and a bit angry. “You need to go back inside.”

He was right. She knew he was right. But the doorknob wouldn’t turn. 

“Stuck.” She told him, and began to panic, trying to turn it. “Stuck, stuck, it’s stuck!”

"Calm, Hannah." Came Webby's echoey voice. "Calm."

But Hannah could not stay calm for long. Her mind was reeling from fear, and regret. If she couldn't get inside, what could she do?

She could find Lex. Lex, Ethan, and Tom were still outside, and they would be getting home soon. Lex could keep her safe. They'd figure it out together.

"Hannah." John sounded stern as she began to walk away from the door, from the Professor's protected home. "You should stay put. Knock on the door, someone is bound to come by soon. Or Lex, she'll be coming back."

"Finding Lexie." She told him. "I'm gonna find Lexie. And I'll be safe with her."

"You will be safer if you stay put. She'll find you ."

Hannah wasn't listening. She was heading down the slope of the hill the Professor's house was on. She shuddered as she remembered the last time she was out here. 

Lex would protect her. Hannah just had to find her.

Since it was so close to when they were supposed to be back, Hannah expected to find the group coming up the hill. But as the minutes passed and she continued down the hill, there was still no sign of them. 

At the bottom of the hill, Hannah sat in some bushes and cried. She was certain John and Webby were talking to her, likely telling her to go back to the Professor's house, but she couldn't hear them over her own worries and tears. She was alone, outside, and her sister was missing. 

Time passed, and Hannah calmed down. She had to be brave, she reasoned with herself. She had to be brave for Lex. She had to find her. Hannah would not lose her sister. Not on her birthday, not on any day. Not if she had something she could do about it.

Hannah hopped out of the bushes and continued heading into town, further than she had been since Black Friday. It had only been a month, but it already felt like so long ago.

Hatchetfield was in ruins. There wasn't really a better way to put it. When Emma had lead the group (so many of them, then) to the Professor's house, there was still chaos in the streets. People still under the influence of Wiggly. There were fires, car crashes, screaming, blood, buildings collapsing…

Now it was just quiet. Not even birds chirped. The wind made no noise as it passed through the limbs of the barren trees.

There was still snow, however. Hatchetfield never got a ton of snow, usually just barely enough for some sledding, but it was cold nonetheless. Walking down the hill, Hannah barely registered it. She was so confident that she would be meeting Lex within moments that the weather had little effect on her. Now, the cold stung. She could feel it through her shoes and socks, and shoved her hands in her pockets to keep them as warm as she could.

Why had Lex come out here in the snow? Just a few days ago, not even a week, Hannah was out here with Tim and while it was cold, there was no sign of snow. Then again, the Professor had very few windows in his house (something about lightning) and she hadn't been out since. It seemed pretty fresh, it may have been the night before. Or, worse yet, it started snowing while Lex was out.

Looking around, Hannah couldn't spot any footprints that weren't her own. It must have snowed while Lex was out. And that was why she hadn't come back! The group was stuck somewhere because of the snow.

Hannah wasn't afraid of a little snow. If Lex needed to be dug out, then she would dig. It would sting, but not for long. 

Periodically, John and Webby would speak up again, trying to convince her to turn back, return to the Professor's house, that Lex and the group would be back soon enough. 

Every time she would refuse, argue with them briefly, and stubbornly continue on. She was close, she could sense it. Like a string, leading her along through the snowy ruins of the town.

After at least an hour of walking, if not more, the cold was really getting to her. Her whole body trembled violently, and she could barely feel her toes. It had begun snowing again, coating her hair and eyelashes. 

She intended to blink, but her eyes stayed closed longer than she intended, and when she opened them again, she was tripping, falling face-first into the snow. It was so cold. She took her hands out of her pockets to push herself up, and the snow stung her palms. Sitting on her knees, she wiped the snow out of her face and clapped her hands together.

"Hannah," John's voice sounded more urgent every time he spoke up, and this time he sounded truly scared. "You need to go back. It's too cold, too unsafe. At this point you risk death. Do you really want to do this to your sister? She's probably waiting for you back to the house."

"Please, Hannah." Webby urged, and she sounded scared too. "Be safe. Inside. Home. Warm."

"Warm…" She echoed. For the first time, the scales tipped in her protector's favor, and she stood, dejected and cold.

As she was turning around, something in the snow caught her eye.

"Footprints." She pointed them out, and for a moment, felt heat rise in her face and chest. "Footprints. Footprints, footprints!"

"Hannah, no, that could be anyone!" John warned her, raising his voice slightly.

But she was already running through the snow, following the footprints. They led into a little clearing, which after a moment, Hannah recognized as a town square, where there used to be Christmas tree lightings and other holiday celebrations.

She looked around the clearing; there were no more footprints. They stopped here.

"Hannah," came John's voice again, softer, and filled with concern. "You need to go home. Or at least take shelter. If you're out here by nightfall…" He trailed off, but she understood what he meant.

Something in Hannah wouldn't let go, and she cried, making her face all the colder.

"Lexie!!" She called out. "Ethan! Tom! Lexie…"

Amidst her tears and shouts, Hannah heard someone crunching through the snow. She whipped around, heart pounding, praying that she would see her sister, or Ethan, or Tom. Someone to help her home. Someone to help her feel warm.

However, she was met with a face she didn't recognize. A man, with a thick black vest, and tall boots. On his head was a funny black hat, and his dirty-blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, with a matching beard. He looked at her with intense blue eyes, and a curious expression.

She took a step back, and he smiled at her. His teeth were straight and clean. "Hello, there."

"Wh-Who a-are you?" She stuttered, both from fear and from the cold.

"Hannah, get away from him." John commanded, voice cold. "Now. Run."

And as he spoke, she recognized the man's voice.

"J-John?" She asked, tentative.

He nodded, and then held a hand over his chest. "General John McNamara, at your service. You are?"

"Ha-Hannah."

"Good to meet you, Hannah." He looked at her closely. "Why are you all alone?"

" Hannah. " The John in her head spoke up again. "You need to get away from him!"

"He's y-you!" She whispered, but the other John heard and stepped forward.

"Who is me?" He continued to creep towards her. "Are you alright, Hannah?"

"Fi-Fine." She stepped back. "Y-You… From a d-di-different dimension? P-Portals?"

Recognition shined in his eyes when she mentioned the portals, and he nodded. "We came through one. Did you?"

"N-No." She shook her head. "We?"

"Yes. Me and my squad, and my family. Lots of us."

"Fam-Family?"

"Yes! I could take you to them. We have a base, it's warm."

"Warm…" She echoed. It was tempting. But she shook her head. "Go-Gotta find L-Lexie."

"Lexie?" He tilted his head, never looking away from her.

"F-Family."

He nodded. "I see. Well, we have found a few people in our time here. Some of them have joined us. Perhaps Lexie is there."

"Hannah!" Webby yelled, and Hannah flinched. "Run! Bad double! Blue! Apotheosis!"

Hannah covered her ears. She just wanted Lex. She just wanted to be warm. She just wanted to go home. She just wanted everything to turn out okay, like how she wished.

Besides, the John in front of her, the physical one… he wasn't singing, or dancing, or glowing. He was nice. She wanted to trust him. She wanted to play chess with him. 

"Hannah." She opened her eyes, her head clear. He was kneeling right in front of her now, intense blue eyes staring into her own timid brown ones. He smiled at her again, all teeth. "Would you like to meet my family? I promise you won't be cold anymore."

She was too cold. Too scared. Too alone. Too desperate.

"Y-Yes. Please."

John smiled wider. He put a hand on either of her shoulders.

"I know you from another life.

I've seen your face before,

As part of the hive

You will be now, if you weren't before."

She felt a rush of adrenaline, and suddenly wasn't cold. But it was too late. His hand wrapped around her neck, and lifted her up as he stood, and continued to sing.

"Poor child! You will die so young.

Over and over again

Give up the pain and sadness

Through apotheosis, you will be reborn."

In her head, she could hear Webby and her John frantically telling her what to do, how to escape, to fight back. Hannah wasn't registering any of it. She barely heard them over the blood rushing to her ears, and her own thoughts, and the not-John's singing.

"Come now child, and sing with me!

Sing to the heavens, smiling with glee!"

She couldn't breathe. It was so cold. He said it wouldn't be cold anymore. Why did she trust him? Why was she so stubborn? If she had just stayed inside, none of this would've happened. She would be safe and warm. She would be with Lex. Celebrating her birthday.

"Come now, child, the time has come!

Go to sleep, it'll hurt you none."

Go to sleep? That sounded nice. For a while now she had really wanted to just lie down and go to sleep. It would be much more comfortable, she was sure. Maybe even warmer…

"Join the hive! And feel alive!

A better life than you've ever known.

Join the hive! And have no fear!

Stay with us, and be safe, my dear.

Stay with us, and be safe, my dear.

Stay with me and be safe, my dear…"

Could she really stay safe with him? His voice sounded softer, and his expression had shifted similarly. Or maybe Hannah was just losing consciousness. Everything seemed blurry and soft. She couldn't breathe. She had never been so cold in her life.

The not-John had brought her closer, and her feet could almost touch the ground. She once again looked into his eyes, which now seemed more confused than anything else. She distantly thought it was odd that he had never seemed malicious. Maybe the other infected she had seen were just bad at hiding.

"I know you in another life.

With me you'll be safe and sound.

A child's place isn't in the army,

Nor is it six feet underground.

Join the Hive, Hannah!

And I will keep you safe.

Don't you know my face…?"

She didn't know his face. But she was seeing double. There was another John, further back. He seemed weak and… glitchy. Fading in and out of her quickly dying vision.

"...I've known you in another life.

We swear we've known you, in another life…"

As he sung what she figured were the last notes of the song, she heard a loud bang, felt herself fall to the cold ground, and her vision went dark as she lost consciousness.



Chapter Text

He never should've let this happen.

Yes, he warned her several times. Ordered her to leave, run away, go home. He couldn't make her obey. That's just how kids were.

But the blame was still his own. Hannah wasn't his daughter, but he was protecting her, along with Webby. 

And he had failed. His infected doppelganger choked Hannah to death, and John could do nothing but watch.

Webby was on his shoulder, still trying to reach out to Hannah, to get her out of the situation. John's mind spun as he desperately searched for a solution, a way he could save her.

He pulled his hair, unable to look away. If only he wasn't trapped here. If he was in the real world, he could save Hannah. He could have prevented this. 

In the midst of his self-loathing, John was struck with an idea.

"I'll save her." He said, taking Webby off his shoulder. She hissed at him.

"How??? Stuck, stuck, dying…"

"I broke out when I reached out to Lex." He reminded her. "I'll do it again. Maybe I can stay out long enough to get him to let go of her, so she can get away."

"Impossible." Webby stated. "John. Hannah. Both die."

"If I die, then so be it." He took a few steps forward, so he could see Hannah's face, which was rapidly turning blue and purple. "At least she'll be alive." He turned around, and looked down at Webby with an intense expression. "Make sure she gets home."

The spider gave him a barely-discernible nod before vanishing.

He took a deep breath. Behind him, he heard himself singing. He's never been that good a singer. Ed always said he went too high too quickly. The only rhythm he could keep was a marching order.

He also heard Hannah's ragged breaths, slower each time. She would die if this didn't work.

John ran. He ran as fast as he could, as hard as he could, beyond the point that he was safe to move in. It hurt. He felt the Black and White eat away at him again, like it had before he stumbled upon Hannah. He felt himself disintegrating into the void.

But he kept onwards. Each step was a struggle, each breath was a war. But he kept going. Step by step. Through the Black and White. With all his might, he did his best to fight his way through, to cut through the Black and White with a blade of truth.

He could hear nothing but static, the singing of his counterpart and Hannah's weak breathing long gone. He saw nothing but darkness. He felt nothing at all.

Then, he felt like he was floating, and saw a bright light ahead. It looked so comforting, so welcoming…

He refused to go near it. He turned away. He reached out into the nothingness and took hold of it. He pulled and pulled and pulled until he heard it.

A shattering noise, the likes of which he had never heard before. He felt himself falling backwards, being torn apart, the breaking reverberating in his ears, he could feel the noise down to his very bones, it was so, so overwhelming.

John covered his ears and let himself fall, squeezing his eyes shut. It felt like forever, but eventually, he hit the ground. It felt cold, and crunchy.

The shock of the cold caused him to bolt upright, to open his eyes, to take his hands off his ears.

Around him was the ruins of Hatchetfield, covered in snow. The sky above him was blue-grey, and behind him, he could hear singing.

John whipped around. Before him stood his double, still singing, still choking Hannah. She was fading fast. 

Not thinking, John pulled out his gun and shot the other him, who immediately dropped Hannah. She fell into the snow and didn't get up.

Before he could even think to hope it wasn't too late, the other John turned around, blue slime leaking from his mouth, and from where he had been shot in the shoulder. He looked at John, curious.

"Now where did you come from?"

John didn't answer. He thought that if he opened his mouth then, all that would come out was a scream. He raised his gun and shot his double until he didn't have any bullets left. 

The alien fell to the ground beside Hannah, bleeding blue, a twisted smile remaining on his face alongside long-dead, unnaturally blue eyes.

John put his gun in it's holster and ran to Hannah's side. The young girl was breathing, but faintly. Being in the snow wouldn't help her chances of survival.

He reached to pick her up, hoping to get her to safety, but he couldn't. His hands phased right through her.

" Fuck. " He hissed, glaring at his hands for not doing their job.

Upon closer examination, John noticed there was something wrong with his hands. They would sometimes fade into being see-through, other times glitch out for a moment only to come back just the same.

He sighed as he figured what must have happened. Yes, he technically broke out of the Black and White, at least enough to help Hannah, but he still wasn't really there. In fact, looking around, the world was slowly closing in on him, fading into the void, save for a twelve-foot radius around Hannah, which remained as detailed and colorful as the whole town had seemed just moments before.

Looking back at Hannah, John frowned as he saw there was already a bruise around the young girl's neck from where his double had strangled her. 

"So this is what Webby saw." He muttered, attempting to brush her bangs out of her face and only succeeding in phasing through her again.

Speaking of Webby, he couldn't see her, but distantly heard her voice. She was talking, constantly, about Hannah, about him, about the infected, and so on and so forth. He only hoped she would calm down before Hannah woke up.

If Hannah woke up.


Hannah didn't remember a time without Webby. As far as she knew, the space spider had been with her since the moment she was born. Many of her earliest memories involve Webby. She was a welcomed presence, even when people didn't think she was real.

Hannah did, however, remember a time before John. It wasn't hard, he hadn't been with her for very long. Even with the world ending, she never would've thought she needed him. She certainly never would've thought he'd be the one to finally kill her. She always thought that would be her mother.

Hannah remembered the first time she heard John's voice. It was Black Friday, just before midnight, mere moments before the bomb went crashing into the Nantucket Bridge.

They needed a place to stay, somewhere safe. Emma had suggested the Professor's house.

"Well, I hope he doesn't mind us showing up unannounced." Paul said, adjusting his scarf. "We can't call him, the phones stopped working - I don't even know what time it is. What am I supposed to do without my iPhone?"

And from within her mind, she heard a scoff, and a man's voice. "Wear a watch."

Without thinking, she echoed. "Wear a watch."

Lex gave her a hug, thinking it was a clever quip, and Tom, who had a watch, announced that it was 11:57.

As they talked, gathered the group who would eventually make their way to the Professor's house, and counted down the minutes, Hannah's mind raced.

For one, Webby was giving her a warning that would come to be her morning reminder; "Tomorrow will come, tomorrow won't come." She still wasn't sure what it meant.

The other part of her mind was wondering where on Earth that voice come from. She had never heard it before.

It wasn't until the bomb landed that she heard it again. It was sad. "Surely revenge for Moscow… but why here?"

He didn't sound like he was talking to Hannah, so she didn't respond. She didn't know the answer anyway.

The man didn't talk much. Webby didn't seem to acknowledge him. It wasn't until a couple days later, at the Professor's house, when he finally addressed her.

"Hannah Foster." He said, and she froze. "That's your name, right?"

She stayed still. After a moment he continued. "I don't mean to scare you. But it seems I'm sticking around. Do you know where we are?"

After that, Webby had intervened. The two fought until she cried at the loudness, and Lex came to comfort her. After that it was a nearly daily occurrence. Somewhere along the way she had learned his name was John. It wasn't until recently they had even remotely become friends.

And then he had to go and kill her. Was this what all friends were like? Is everyone but Lex and Webby bad?

Hannah had thought John was bad for most of the time she had known him. She didn't want to think that way anymore.

Really, she just wanted to sleep. It was so cold. She wanted to wrap herself up in a blanket and go to bed.

But she didn't even know where she was. It was dark, and cold, and she was alone. That's all she knew. 

Was this what death felt like?

She felt something under her neck, but only for a moment. It happened again with her bangs. After that, nothing. She frowned. What had touched her? It was warm. She wanted that warmth.

Hannah fought to open her eyes. She hadn't even realized they were closed until she tried to open them. It felt like an uphill battle against herself. It was so cold, and she just wanted to sleep. But she had to know what that warmth was.

Eventually, she got them open. Above her was a blue-grey sky, a bit of snow on the edge of her vision, some of it tinted pale blue. And, at her side, sat a man. He had shoulder-length dirty-blond hair, let loose, and a matching beard. On his head was a funny black hat, and he wore a thick, black vest. He wasn't looking at her, but he seemed very upset and worried.

Hannah knew his face, knew his silly hat. It was John. He hadn't killed her. But he was still here, and she was so cold. She couldn't outrun him. How could she escape?

Thinking for a moment, Hannah decided she would run or die trying. She forced herself up, ran a few feet, and promptly tripped into the snow.

So it was die trying.

"Hannah!" Came his voice, and as she sat up, he was kneeling by her side. She backed away, freezing tears pricking at her eyes. 

"G-Go! Go away!" She kicked snow at him, and to her surprise, it did nothing. It seemed to go right through him.

John kneeled before her, not moving. He watched her for a moment with soft brown eyes. After a moment of tense silence and neither moving (except for Hannah's shivering), he spoke.

"Can you see me?"

Hannah found this to be a ridiculous question. "Y-Yes."

He nodded. "Hannah, I'm the real John. The other one is…" He trailed off, looking back towards where she had woken up. She followed his gaze and saw, amidst the white show, a lot of blue, and the bottom of a pair of military boots.

She looked back at him. "H-How? How a-are you he-here?"

He shrugged, not quite meeting her eyes. "I'm not sure. Webby didn't think I could break out of the Black and White without destroying myself, but…" He raised his hand and looked at it. "It seems I'm relatively in one piece."

Hannah, feeling brave but mostly cold, reached out to touch his hand. She felt nothing, phasing right through him. He frowned, and set his hand down.

"I'm still not here, " he told her, "but at least I stopped that madman." He looked back at Hannah with intense eyes that she quickly looked away from. "You need to go home."

She nodded.

"You should have listened the first time."

She nodded.

"Me and Webby both warned you!"

She nodded, and flinched slightly at his louder tone.

John sighed. When she looked at him, he seemed sad.

"Please… Please never do anything like that again. Your sister couldn't bear to be without you. And…" He trailed off, a deep frown on his face.

"I-I'm sorry." She whispered, teeth chattering.

He looked at her again, and nodded. "Let's get you home."

He stood, and offered a hand. She took it, but once again phased through, and both of them huffed with annoyance. Hannah stood on her own, and she trudged through the snow. John walked beside her, silent, not even the snow acknowledging his presence.

As they walked, following her own footprints back, it got colder. The sun was beginning to set. Stupid winter and the early nights. Worse yet, it had begun snowing again, and Hannah was quickly losing track of her footprints. Not to mention how cold she was.

She stumbled, and sat up, but felt weak. She wasn't sure she could stand, and once again she was on the verge of tears.

John kneeled beside her. "We're going to get through this, Hannah." His voice was soft, but she could hear that he was scared.

He looked around, surveying the area, and pointed to a house nearby. "Can you get inside there?"

It wasn't too far away. She nodded, and forced herself to stand. He stood beside her, angled like he would catch her if she fell, but both knew he wouldn't be able too.

She made it to the door. It was locked. 

John tentatively raised his hand and put it through the door, and then peeked his head through, and finally stepped in fully. A few moments later, he returned. "The window is unlocked. You just have to open it."

Hannah could barely feel her fingers, but she needed to try. Stumbling over to the window, she grabbed the bottom, and recoiled. It was metal, and freezing. She may be losing feeling in her hands, but the shock of the cold metal was still painful, if not slightly dulled.

John frowned, and tried to open it himself. When he couldn't, he held his breath, clearly upset, before slowly releasing it. "Okay. I'm sorry, but you have to do this. This house is still stable, and it looks well-furnished. Once you're inside, you'll be able to get warm, and wait out the snow."

She nodded. It was this or risk dying, again. She grabbed the window again, the cold metal stinging her palms. She forced it up, and pulled herself inside, quickly shutting it behind her before too much snow could get in.

Once inside, she sat down, dizzy. John was looking around again, but stayed within the room.

She was tired, and cold. But she was safe now. Surely it was okay to rest her eyes for a bit…

"Hannah!" John's voice startled her awake. He was in front of her again, fear apparent on his face until she jolted forwards, and it melted into tense relief.

"You can sleep soon, Hannah. There's a bedroom just beyond the living room, and from what I can see there are blankets. You'll be able to warm up."

Hannah nodded. She stood, shaky, and John rose with her. He was much taller, at least as tall as Tom, but something seemed different about him now that they were inside.

As she walked to the bedroom, she figured it out. He was see-through. She could've sworn he wasn't before.

The bedroom was just as John said it was. The window was closed, there were blankets on the bed, and it overall felt pretty warm. She was exhausted.

But before she even climbed under the covers, she froze. There was a voice, coming from nearby.

"Not alone." She whispered, beginning to panic. She didn't want to face another infected. Her neck still hurt. 

John was tense too, seeming more solid for a moment. He stood by the door, listening… and then he relaxed slightly. "I know that voice." He told her, stepping outside the room. She followed him down the hall into a kitchen. On the counter, alongside some rotted fruit, was a radio.

"We've made our way through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia." The voice said, sounding very professional. "Currently, we are searching Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and parts of Kentucky and Ohio. With our limited supplies and personnel, we can't work nearly as fast as we'd like, but I assure you. If you're listening to this broadcast, or even if you aren't, we will find you. We aren't giving up on you. This is a time to stand together, to work together. To love thy neighbor we will find thy neighbor, and together we can rebuild. As always, I ask anyone who can hear me to try your best to reach out. These announcements are weekly, but this channel is always open. If you have the ability to send any kind of radio signal, do so, so that we know you're out there. I wish you all good luck, and a merry Christmas. This is President Howard Goodman, signing off."

The broadcast turned to static, and then the static stopped. John nodded at the radio, smiling.

"President?" Hannah asked. "You kn-know the President?"

"We worked together, once." John told her. "On Black Friday. He went into the Black and White to negotiate with Wiggly, a futile battle I now see… But I'm glad he made it out alright. I'm glad he's looking for people."

Hannah looked at the radio for a long moment. It looked to either have a very long battery life, or it was somehow solar powered. She turned it off and took it with her into the bedroom.

Now that the house was officially safe, Hannah truly was exhausted. She climbed into the bed, under the covers, setting the radio on the nightstand beside it. John sat on the edge of the bed, looking off at the wall.

"Sleep?" She asked him, yawning.

John shook his head. "I don't really get tired anymore. I'm sorry for staying near you, though. I can't go too far."

"Or you get hurt?"

"Exactly."

She nodded, closing her eyes. "'s okay. You be the lookout."

She heard him chuckle. "Yes, of course."

Hannah smiled, and before falling asleep, she opened her eyes again, wanted to look at him once more, to get all the details that made him different than the John that attacked her. But when she looked, he was no longer there.

"John?"

"Yes?" She heard him respond, but couldn't see him.

"You're gone…"

He took a moment to respond. "I suppose I'm back in the Black and White. It makes sense that I could only be out there for so long…" He sighed. "But you shouldn't worry about that. I'm still here, even if you can't see me. Get some rest."

That, she could do, and gladly would. Hannah fell into a dreamless sleep quickly, as the snow continued outside.


Elsewhere, a thin circle of light was cutting through the snow. It swirled and slowly filled, until the translucent hole stood strong in the snowstorm, unnoticed.

After hours of quiet, as the snow began to cease, a man came flying through the portal, landing backwards in the snow. He fired his gun through the circle, hitting nothing, and then sat, bewildered, as he observed his new surroundings. While he was distracted, the portal closed.

He stood, shivering, and promptly zipped up his jacket, glad that it kept warmth so well. Realizing he was no longer in imminent danger, he put his gun away as well, hiding it in the deep pockets of his slacks (which were made for looking suave, not for traversing snow).

The man took a moment more to observe his surroundings, as he was trained to do. He didn't recognize any buildings, or anything at all.

He sighed. "Well, fuck." And took out a flask. Shit like this is why he never quit drinking. At least the snow would keep his whiskey cold.

He pocketed the drink and began trudging through the snow to seek shelter until he could figure out what the hell was going on.



Chapter Text

Hannah woke to sunlight on her face for the first time in over a month. She opened her eyes and looked at the window, light peeking through the blinds. The Professor's house was lonely, separate, distant from the rest of the world. The windowless mound of grey was a home base, but not a home. 

"John?" She looked around the room. The radio was where she left it, the rest of the room untouched. No sign of John.

"Resting." Webby told her.

"Hurt again?" She didn't want him to have hurt himself in saving her. Making it so Lex could hear him for a moment took him out for a whole day. Who knew how long he would be gone for because he did something so she could see him.

"Small hurt. All healed. Tired, stressed."

Hannah nodded, sitting up. She was, admittedly, disappointed, until something dawned on her.

"Webby? Yesterday…" her hand went to her neck. It hurt when she put pressure on it, and she was certain there was a bruise. "John was there…. you were gone."

"No!" Webby sounded indigent. "Was here! Talked, talked lots! Very worried. Very scared…" She sighed. "Hannah ignore? Distracted? Cold? Couldn't hear?"

Hannah thought. "I didn't hear you. I'm sorry, Webby."

"Believe you, Hannah." Her voice was kind and comforting. But both wondered how, after thirteen years of constant communication, Hannah was suddenly, temporarily, unable to hear Webby.

Hannah's thoughts were interrupted when her stomach growled. She pulled away the covers. It was cold. She stood up and decided to wrap the comforter around herself, and go to see if anything in the kitchen was still edible.

She was met with rotting fruit, spoiled milk, and many more gross things, but she was able to find some cereal that had yet to expire, as well as some juice boxes. She put some in her pockets for later, drinking a few now and eating the cereal dry. The rest of it she wrapped up in it's bag, discarding the cardboard container, and also put it in her pockets. They were very full now. She wouldn't be able to fit her hands.

She heard a sharp intake of breath. "Hannah?" It was John!

She looked around, calling his name. For a moment, as she looked back in the bedroom, she saw a ghost of him, barely visible. Just visible enough to see the fear on his face melt into relief as he disappeared again.

"Good morning." He sighed.

"Thought you didn't sleep?" She asked, munching on some cereal.

"I suppose phasing in and out of reality takes a lot out of you. Is the food safe?"

"Expires March 15th, 2019." She recited what she had read on the box, and envisioned him nodding. 

"Good, good. You need to eat. And we need to head back. You should look for a coat, or gloves, or both, ideally."

"How far away?" She looked to the front door. The house was cold, but it was much warmer than outside. She was afraid of getting lost, or worse.

"I'm not sure." John told her. "It's been a long time since I've been in Hatchetfield."

"Me too." Again, it had been over a month since Black Friday. Over a month since she had been in town.

It took a moment for John's words to sink in, and she looked over to where she figured he would be. "Been to Hatchetfield before?"

In his hesitation, she saw him slowly fade into existence, still very ghost-like, a thoughtful, conflicted look on his face, pointed at the dusty floor.

"Yes." He seemed to decide, nodding. "I… I lived here, for a while. Four years, when I was about your age."

"Family moved here?" She guessed. "Military?" She knew several people from military families who came to the island because they were stationed nearby.

John, however, shook his head. "No, I wasn't involved with the military until after I was adopted and moved to D.C.."

"Adopted?"

"Yes. I… lost my family, when I was twelve." He immediately seemed tense, and depressed. "I was relocated to Hatchetfield, stayed here for four years. Then, the man who would become my father came to town…" He trailed off.

Hannah expected him to be happy, remembering his adoptive father fondly. But when she looked at his face, noticing he was becoming progressively more solid the more he talked, she saw quite the opposite. His eyes were hard and angry… and sad.

"Dad… bad?" She asked, unconsciously shrinking in on herself.

John looked at her, and the anger went away. He seemed to soften, and calm down. "No." He told her. "Not always. But that doesn't matter."

"Are you okay?"

The question seemed to take him by surprise. "Yes, why?"

Hannah shrugged, looking away. "Bad parents hurt."

John looked at her for a long moment. "Can you see me right now?" She nodded, and he stepped forward, his steps making no sound.

Hannah turned to face him, and he strictly avoided eye contact. He did, however, roll up the left sleeve of his shirt all the way to his shoulder. There were many scars, she assumed from his various military excursions, but on his shoulder there was a different type of scar. Burns, in distinct circles.

"Before I was adopted, I stayed with many foster families." He explained. "In one, the father smoked. It's how I got into it. Don't smoke, by the way." Hannah couldn't help but chuckle at that, and he did too.

"He didn't like how I acted. Jumping at loud sounds, stimming, not making eye contact, not to mention the trauma from before I came to Hatchetfield… so his solution was punishment. Human ashtray."

Hannah reached out to touch the burns, but despite his apparent-solidity, she still phased right through him. Both of them sighed.

John rolled his sleeve back down. "He warned me that if I ever told anyone, he'd kill me. So, naturally, I told the foster home when they came to check-up on me." 

He took a moment, and looked up at her, initially in the eyes before both parties moved more towards the ears or nose. "Sometimes, you have to be brave. Or else things will only get worse. It can be hard, very scary… but silence is scarier."

Hannah nodded. She wished she could hug him. "You are brave. I… try to be."

John smiled. "Trying is the best anyone can do."

Distantly, Hannah heard Webby, just as John was beginning to fade away again.

"Hannah brave!! Hannah fight infected!! Save Tim!! Look for Lex!! Very brave, very proud!!"

"Yes," John added, "I'm proud too."

Hannah smiled, flushing. Usually she only got compliments from Lex, and even those were few and far between. Webby and John made her feel happy, safe, and wanted.

The morning was ushered along after that. John disappeared by the time she returned to the bedroom, but he helped her look through the closet to find a thick winter jacket, as well as some gloves. She put the little radio into one of the large pockets of the jacket, hoping it would be useful back at the Professor's house.

As ready as she could be, Hannah left the house.

It was still stingingly cold, but it was much warmer than the day before. She was feeling confident that soon, she would be reunited with her family.

It must have snowed overnight, as her footsteps were long gone, but the sun was out, so she was confident it would melt soon enough. That would make it warmer, too.

The hard part, however, was finding her way back. She was deep enough within the town that she couldn't see the hill the Professor's house was on, so she couldn't use that as a landmark.

She did, however, remember how to get there from the mall. All she had to do was find it again.

After a bit of wandering and talking, Hannah was feeling tired. She broke out one of the juice boxes, quietly sipping it as she stomped through the snow, doing her best to follow in the footsteps.

Hannah froze. The footprints she was stepping in were larger than her own. Her hand went to her neck as she remembered the day before, panicking, afraid that the other John would come back to finish the job.

"Hannah?" Webby asked her, concerned.

John piped up. "Footprints." He whispered, unnecessarily. "Be careful. We should get out of this area."

Not willing to risk it, Hannah nodded and turned around, going back the way she came. There soon became two sets of footprints, one of hers and one of some mysterious, probably-infected stranger. In her hurry, she picked the larger set.

After a bit, Hannah tripped, but caught herself before she fell. John and Webby advised her to slow down, and she did, continuing to follow the footprints in the melting snow. They led into a neighborhood, but not the one she had been staying in.

"Wait." John ordered, voice serious, and she complied.

She saw a faint ghost of him kneeling on the ground, looking at the footprints. "We aren't going away from these prints. We're following them."

Hannah kneeled beside him and looked. Sure enough, the footprints were heading into the neighborhood, not out of it. She had been going the wrong way the whole time, walking straight into danger.

She tried not to panic. It was as easy as turning around. But just as she was about too, there was a voice.

"Hey, kid!" Hannah looked up. Across the street, on the porch of a house, was a man wearing a black and red leather jacket and dress pants. He was far away, so she couldn't quite see his face, but he felt familiar.

"Do you live here?" He asked. She backed up.

"No, no, it's okay! I'm not gonna hurt you or anything, kid, I'm just… I'm not from around here, I think. Just looking for some help."

"Run, Hannah!" John told her. He was a ghost beside her.

She didn't question him, yesterday had taught her not too. She turned around and ran, not caring what direction.

"Hey, wait!" She heard the man call. Looking over her shoulder, she saw he was following her. Not only that, he was fast, and quickly gaining on her.

Thinking fast, Hannah turned a corner and ran into the nearest house, feeling lucky that the door was unlocked.

Dashing through the house, she ran into a bedroom and slipped under the bed, holding her breath, just like Lex taught her.

She stayed still, eyes closed, breath quiet, for several minutes. When she opened her eyes, she saw boots. Her heart raced until she realized they were see-through, and that it was John, standing guard.

Outside the bedroom, she heard footsteps, and a voice.

"Hey, kid?" It was the same man. "I promise I'm not gonna hurt you. I'll help you, if you need it! I just need a little guidance around the city. I haven't met anyone else."

"He's coming into the room." John warned her. "Stay quiet, stay hidden."

She listened, breathing as slowly and quietly as she could, not moving another muscle otherwise. She heard the man's footsteps as he carefully paced around the room.

"Maybe I should introduce myself. I'm Frank." He walked around the bed, by the window. "...Frank Carvour. I do a lot of… odd jobs, we'll call them, heh. I like a good whiskey and a good laugh… I guess that's not something to tell a kid."

Frank continued around the room for a bit, giving random facts about himself. Finally, before John or Hannah could react, he crouched by the bed.

"Hi. You okay?"

Hannah shrunk away from him, popping out the other side of the bed and standing. Frank stood with her, very calm. John was beside him, ghostly but becoming more solid.

Now that they were closer, Hannah could get a good look at the man's face. He was familiar. And after a moment, Hannah realized why.

She had seen him in a dream. A man with a square face and soft edges, framed by short, neatly-combed black hair, and almond-shaped eyes with blue-brown irises.

She saw him there, watching someone fall, presumably to their death. She saw him there, standing below another person, gun raised, ready to kill. 

She backed up into the wall. She turned, hoping to open the window and jump out, but it was locked, and she had no time.

"Listen, I know this is a weird situation, but you don't have to be afraid of me." Frank tried to reassure her.

Hannah looked over to John. He seemed to recognize the man too. He looked back at her, eyes serious. "Run. You can get past him. Go as fast as you can."

He didn't have to tell her twice. Hannah ran past him, out of the bedroom, and out of the house.

Frank followed her, still shouting. Once again, he was gaining on her.

John was beside her. "Up ahead, there's an opening to the sewer. Go down it."

It sounded gross, but she would listen. She ran faster, harder, and ran straight into the bars of the sewer tunnel, but then slipped through them and hid deeper within. It was warmer than she expected, and not as smelly.

Soon, Frank came into view. He looked around, having lost her, but spotted her footprints and approached the sewer.

"Kid, I can't fit in here, I don't think." He announced, and Hannah sighed with relief.

Instead of giving up, he continued to stand in front of it.

"I haven't been entirely honest with you. But you keep running away from me, haven't even told me your name, and so on and so forth, so honestly? I think we're even."

John was beside her, ghostly again and fading slowly. "This tunnel surely leads somewhere. You should be able to get away from him."

"Infected?" She whispered.

She saw John sigh and shrug. "I'm not sure. But better safe than sorry. I'm not risking you getting hurt again."

Frank stuck his head through the bars. "Are you talking to someone back there? I can barely hear you." He chuckled.

"Go away!" She shouted, and he frowned.

"I would love too, kid, but you are literally the only person I have met so far, and I have reason to believe there isn't anyone else here."

John frowned. "He doesn't act like an infected."

"Infected tricky." Webby warned.

"Look, how about this." Frank interrupted. "If you can point me in the direction of literally any other living human being then I'll le-"

Frank cut himself off, turning around. Apparently seeing nothing, he carefully stepped away from the sewer, a hand creeping towards a pocket in his pants.

Hannah creeped forward a bit too, listening. After a moment, she heard the crunch of footsteps in the melting snow, even though her and Frank had stopped moving, and John's footsteps didn't make any sound.

She watched Frank look around, and apparently find where the footsteps were coming from.

She saw his jaw drop, she saw him take a step back, she saw him pull a gun out of his pants pocket.

"How are you here?!" He demanded, a tinge of fear in his voice.

Hannah watched as a second man stepped into view from the sewer. He wore a brown jacket, had black hair slicked back, and thin blue eyes on an angular face.

The second man smiled. "Hello, Curt."

"Curt?" John asked. "Damn liar. I knew he was untrustworthy."

Frank, or Curt, apparently, took another step back. "How are you here." He asked again, calmer this time, more as a statement.

"I'm not sure, love." The second man looked around at the snowy ruins. "I just woke up here. I'm surprised to see you. How are you? It's been a while, hasn't it?"

She saw Curt's hands shake, and the gun slowly lower.

"Owen," he sighed, shaking his head. "You shouldn't be here."

Chapter Text

Curt was distracted by this newcomer, Owen, which gave Hannah the chance to escape through the sewer. Curt said he didn't think he'd fit through, but Owen was much thinner. They clearly recognized eachother, and she worried they'd team up and attack her.

Unfortunately, the tunnel only went another twenty feet or so before becoming too small for even Hannah to fit through. The only way out was the way she came in.

"I'm sorry." John sighed, and she faintly saw him look back at the entrance to the sewer. "Maybe they'll go away if you stay hidden."

Webby seemed to agree, so Hannah stuck to the shadows and watched the two men talk. As she sat, she tasted blood, and wiped it away; her nose was bleeding. Touching it even a little hurt. Running straight into metal bars was not her brightest idea.

Meanwhile, Curt had not put away the gun, but it was low enough that, if he were to shoot, it would only hit Owen's legs. Despite being calmer than he was initially, Hannah still got the sense that he was afraid. Owen, meanwhile, stood still and casual. When he took a step forward, Curt took a step back, keeping the distance.

The conversation was largely an exchange of confusion.

"Why shouldn't I be here?" Owen asked. He had a posh accent, and Hannah thought that in another situation, his voice would be soothing.

"Because I-" Curt choked on his words. "...You should know why. Zombies can remember shit, right?"

Owen gave a short, scripted laugh. "I'm not a zombie, Curt. Put that gun away, it's cold out here. Just sapping your heat."

Curt did not do so. "You've gotta be. There's no other way you can be here."

"How are you so sure?"

"Because I killed you, God damn it!" Curt shouted, and Hannah flinched. She knew it. She saw him do it.

Owen laughed again. "I know. You did it twice, actually."

Curt looked defeated. She saw his arms shaking. "Thanks for reminding me."

"What makes you think I couldn't come back again?"

Curt didn't respond, but she saw him raise his head slightly.

Owen grinned. "I came back again, Curt. And this time, things can be better."

"Better?" Curt echoed.

"Much, much better. I know a place where we don't have to worry about being caught, about agencies, about anything." Owen offered his hand. "It's a paradise. You can drink all day, and no one will bat an eye."

Curt looked at Owen's hand for a long time. He tentatively reached out and touched it with his right hand, his left still holding the gun. He seemed to decide that it was real, and Owen intertwined their fingers, stepping closer.

"If this paradise is death, I don't think I can come with you." Curt sighed. "I've got stuff to do."

"I know." Owen reassured. "But there are others who can take care of it. Not everything is on your shoulders, Curt."

Before Curt could respond, Owen cupped his face with his other hand, causing the smaller man to jump in surprise. 

"It's not hard to get too, I promise." Owen smiled, leaning closer. "We'll get you out of the cold in no time."

For a moment, Hannah saw Curt's eyes close, and he also leaned closer, before he suddenly tensed and shoved Owen away, both taking several steps back.

Curt looked into the sewer, and Hannah held her breath.

"What?" Owen sounded annoyed, following his gaze.

"There was a kid." Curt explained. "She was the only other person I'd seen, until you showed up. Ran in here."

Owen walked to Curt's side, never looking away from the sewer. "What did she look like?"

"Brown hair, braids. Big, heavy jacket on, and jeans."

"Was she wearing a baseball cap?" Owen asked, almost cutting him off.

"No." He turned to look at Owen. "Why, have you seen her?"

Owen did not look away from the sewer. "Me? No."

"So… someone else has? How many other people are here?"

"Not many. But she's with a rather stubborn little group. Worse than the lunatics by the bridge, by far."

Hannah tuned out their back-and-forth, thinking back to what John told her about the infected. That they lure people that the host knows in order to spread. They gain trust, and then attack, like the other John did to her.

She made her decision. Curt was not infected. But Owen was. Which meant that they were both in danger.

Gathering her courage, Hannah stepped out of the shadows, ignoring John and Webby's protests.

She walked towards the two, staying far enough away to not risk getting hurt. "Hello."

Curt jumped and looked at her, bewildered. "There you are, kid. Uh, you didn't see anything right?" He sounded almost desperate.

Owen, however, grinned. "Hello, Hannah."

Curt looked between the two. "So…. you know each other, then?"

Hannah looked into Owen's eyes. They were blue. Unnaturally so. She shook her head. "Never met him. "

Curt fixed his hair. "Okay, this is super cryptic and I hate it. We all know eachother, kind of, can we go?"

"He's infected." Hannah stated.

"Infected?" Curt asked. "Like, what, with the flu? A cold?"

"Aliens."

".....Aliens."

Hannah nodded.

Curt nodded vigorously. "Oh, yeah, definitely. Infected with aliens. That makes a lot of sense. So much sense, in fact, tha-"

Hannah, annoyed, cut him off. "You know Owen?"

"Yes." Curt sighed. "We're.... old friends."

"Good." She looked back to Owen, who was scowling at her. "Are his eyes blue?"

"No," Curt shook his head, "they're brown. Like, honey brown, you know? Light mixed with some dark, and in the light they're really pr-" He cuts himself off, looking nervous, and Hannah jumps on the opportunity.

She points at Owen. "His are blue. Because of the infected. They turn blue."

Curt was quiet for a moment, looking at Owen, who continued to glare at Hannah.

Finally, he found his voice again. "Who are you, really?"

Owen blinked hard and faced Curt with a smile. "Agent Owen Carvour, who else?"

Curt took a step back, eyes growing cold. "Whoever you are, you're a bad actor, and an idiot too. You think he'd just admit he's a spy, with a civilian right here?"

Hannah flinched as Curt's voice grew louder, taking a few steps back into the sewer.

Owen's smile had dropped. He was quiet for a moment, and then shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. I am Owen, your Owen, as luck would have it." His accented voice then turned sinister. "But I suppose the man who killed me twice wouldn't bother remembering."

Curt shook his head. "Don't you turn this around on me."

"Then shoot me."

"What?"

Owen grinned, teeth stained blue, and held his arms out to his sides. "Shoot me. If you're so confident I'm not Owen it shouldn't be a problem killing him a third time, hm?"

Curt tensed, and raised the gun to Owen's head.

And after a few tense moments, he wavered, and lowered it again. Owen laughed, no longer scripted, but dark.

"I knew it."

"Sorry I don't want to see him die a third time." Curt spat.

"Hannah." John's voice cut into her eavesdropping. "They're distracted. Now's your chance. Sneak out and then run."

She crept towards the side of the sewer, almost tripping over a rock. She looked away to step through the bars, not wanting to slam into them like she had before, and in that moment everything fell to pieces.

When she looked back, Owen was directly in front of Curt, who was trembling with gun in hand, eyes hollow. And then she heard a haunting voice.

"Once a spy,

Always a spy,

Forever, forever.

The warmest hello

To the coldest goodbye,

Remember, remember.

Spies never die~"

Owen had grabbed Curt's wrist, moving it (and the gun) away from himself and twisting it harshly, causing Curt to shout in pain.

"Spies are forever."

The rock bounced off the back of Owen's head and hit the ground stained with an unnatural blue. He looked over to his assaulter, shoving Curt to the ground.

Hannah stood, hands shaking. Her plan had worked, but not as well as she had hoped. Now she was the target, yet again.

"Hannah Foster, prophet of Hatchetfield." Owen smiled, eyes narrow. "We just keep running into eachother, don't we?"

"Not a prophet. Just a kid." She insisted. "Your bad. So we'll stop you."

"We?" Owen asked. "Who is we? You and your little tribe of rogues? You'll all join the Hive soon enough. Why not just come willingly? It truly is a paradise. You'll never be hurt again." He took a step forward. "Lexie can come too."

"No!" She screamed. "Stay away from Lexie! Stay away from my family!"

Owen stepped forward, and she stepped back, tripping into the snow. 

"You don't have that much of a say, child." He stood over her, dripping blue from his mouth, when a gunshot rang out, and he dripped blue from his chest as well. Hannah rolled to the side before he could fall on top of her.

Behind Owen, across the clearing, was Curt, gun still at the ready, now in the opposite hand. His eyes were red and his cheeks were wet, but once he noticed her, he quickly rubbed it all away.

"Hannah, right?" He asked. "Sorry, about him. I… should've done that way sooner."

Hannah stood up and walked over to him. "It's okay." She whispered. "I've lost friends, too."

He looked at her for a moment. "Your nose is bleeding."

She wiped it away and recoiled in pain when her hand bumped her nose again. "Sorry for running. Thought you were infected."

Curt shrugged. "Don't be, I can't blame you. Me chasing you and not really giving any good explanation certainly didn't help. Which reminds me…" He held his gun under his arm and offered his hand to shake. "I know I said I was Frank Carvour earlier but, uh. My real name is Curt Mega. Don't tell anyone, okay?"

She took his hand and shook it. "Cool name. Why not tell anyone?"

He laughed, briefly. "That's a secret, kid." He looked around. "So, listen. I have no idea how I got here. One second I was running from some….. people. And next I'm out in the snow. Do you know where we are?"

"Hatchetfield." She told him plainly.

Curt grumbled. "Great. No idea where the f-" He cut himself off with a cough. "Um. No idea where that is. So I probably haven't been here before."

"An island. In Michigan."

"Michigan has islands? Far out."

Hannah giggled. Who says far out anymore? Curt, however, pouted.

"What? Sorry I don't know everything about a state I've never been too."

She shook her head but didn't explain. She quickly calmed down, and then remembered Owen's attack. "Hand okay?"

"Huh?" Curt raised his other hand. "Uh. It'll be fine." He shoved it into his jacket pocket. "Just gotta find a place to fix myself up. You happen to know anywhere?"

Hannah stayed quiet as she thought. He definitely wasn't infected. But does that mean she should bring him back? Ethan was different, she knew him, but Curt was a stranger. Not to mention, he was clearly dangerous. She saw him kill someone, she figured Owen, in her dreams, and then saw him kill Owen again right in front of her, even with an injured hand.

Hannah suddenly remembered Owen, and looked over at his body. He hadn't moved, but she didn't want to risk it.

"Okay. Okay. Come on." She ran off, and Curt, confused, followed quickly behind her.

"Why are we running?" He wasn't even out of breath.

"Infected… get back up."

"Oh. Great."

They ran until Hannah tripped, and from then on they walked cautiously. Curt would stay quiet for long periods of time, and then talk incessantly for even longer periods of time, before repeating.

"Sorry," he muttered at one point. "I tend to bash ears, I know. You're actually taking me somewhere, right?"

Hannah nodded. "The Professor."

"A professor? Oh boy. How's the Teach like with newbies?"

Hannah made a face, and Curt sighed. "Well won't this be boss."

Hannah nodded. "He is the boss, mhm."

"No, I…" Curt trailed off. "Do you not know slang? Like, at all?"

She shook her head. "Lit."

"Lit what?"

"Nothing. Lit. Slang."

"I have never heard of that in my life and I've gotta be at least double your age."

She pouted. "Kids use slang. Never heard of boss."

Curt sighs. "I guess the world changes faster than you think. How old are you?"

"Thirteen. Birthday yesterday."

"Happy birthday, kid."

"Thank you. You?"

"My birthday?" Hannah nodded. "Uh. Classified."

"You have a lot of secrets?"

"You have no idea." He paused. "I hope."

She heard John sigh and mumble something. "What?"

Curt looked down at her. "What?"

"Not you." She looked around to see if John was visible.

"You… talk to other people?"

"Webby. Space spider. Black and White. Warns me." She explained, and then figured he probably didn't know anything about any of that. Regardless, she hesitated. "And John. General. Chess. Protector."

Curt didn't respond other than looking at Hannah strangely. She looked back at him for a moment and then down at the snow. It was the usual response, but it still hurt.

"Don't tell them about John, please."

Curt hummed. "Who?"

"Family. Friends."

He nodded. "Why not?"

She frowned at him. "I keep your secrets."

He shook his head. "No, no, I will. I was just wondering why. Do they not know?"

She shook her head. "Know about Webby. Not about John."

"I mean, what's one more voice gonna be to them?"

She stayed quiet. She just didn't want them to know. Some already found her strange for hearing Webby. She didn't want it doubled.

"Your nose is bleeding again." Curt pointed out, and she groaned, wiping it onto her already-bloody gloves, and yelping a bit when she hit her nose too hard.

Curt stopped walking. "Kid, let me see your nose."

She looked back at him. "It's fine."

"Pretty sure it's broken . We've gotta set it."

She crossed her arms. "No. It'll hurt."

Curt waved dismissively. "You're tough, you can take it. Besides, it's not good to leave it out of place like that."

Hannah didn't respond, and just continued pouting. 

"Look, Hannah." Curt stepped towards her. "I've set many a broken nose. It'll bleed less once it's fixed, too, and it only hurts for a second."

She stayed silent.

John piped up. "He's got a point. Better to fix it before it gets worse."

She sighed. "Fine." It came out as a mumble, but Curt still heard. He had her sit on the ground and held snow to her nose with his good hand (after putting his gun in his pocket, of course).

When she couldn't feel much of her nose anymore, Curt took his other hand out of his jacket pocket. When the sleeve moved up, she saw how red and swollen his wrist had gotten.

His hurt hand held her face, and his good one hovered over her nose. "Okay. This is gonna hurt. But once it's back in place it'll be much better. Ready?"

She wasn't, but nodded anyway.

"Count of three. One, two-" He quickly twisted her nose until it fit and then leaned back, letting her go. "Three! Okay! Should be good until we get to your Teach's place."

Hannah held her nose and tried not to cry. It was bleeding again, and she stayed leaning forward, watching the blood drip into the snow. But, like Curt said, it did feel better. The dull, constant pain she had been feeling the whole time subsided. And when she wiped the blood from her nose, touching it didn't hurt nearly as bad.

Once she was ready, they continued through the town. Soon enough, Hannah spotted the hill, and they began their ascent.

Curt was in one of his bouts of silence when he froze, looking around. Hannah stopped a few steps ahead of him and whispered. "What?"

"Heard something." This was far from the first time he had done this. Curt had become very paranoid very quickly, Hannah assumed. 

They stood silently for a few moments before Hannah, straining her ears, could hear a voice.

"...nah? Hannah!"

Hannah searched for the source. "Lexie!"

Curt raised an eyebrow. "You know who it is? You sure it's not a double? What'd you call 'em… infected?"

"Not infected." She insisted. "Lexie. Sister. C'mon!" She grabbed his hand and dragged him along.

They had to power through some bushes, and around the corner of the hill they found footprints. Far too many footprints to be just one person.

"Kid, I don't think this is a good idea." Curt stopped in his tracks, not letting her pull him further.

Hannah simply let go of his hand. "Stay then."

"We're so close!" He looked up to the windowless house at the top of the hill. "I'm sure your sister is up there, now come on."

"No."

"Hannah," Webby's voice was comforting, but urgent. "Go to Professor."

"No." She repeated.

"They're right, Hannah." Came John. "It isn't safe. It's not worth the risk-"

"No!" She shouted, covering her ears. "Lexie! Lexie!!!"

Her shouts echoed across the hill, and were met with silence.

Until she saw someone running up the side of the hill. Messy brown hair, thick grey hoodie; it was Lex.

Hannah ran to meet her, but soon heard her sister's voice.

"Run! Run, Hannah, run!" And as she came fully around the hill, Hannah saw who was following Lex.

Owen, shirt still stained blue. And with him were several other familiar faces. Ken and Carol Davidson. Chris Hartly. Jane Houston. Ted. Charlotte. Ethan. 

The scariest face was her own. Eyes glowing blue, a horrifically wide smile across her face.

Hannah turned and ran, Lex hot on her heels. Curt, watching from afar, had already begun running up the hill, looking over his shoulder at the two girls every few seconds.

The chorus of the infected floated around the hillside.

"One step ahead

It's how it's always been.

No matter what you do,

You'll always lose,

And we will always win!"

The three slammed against the door of the Professor's house, the group of infected not far behind. Their cries rang out, and Hannah only hoped they didn't fall on deaf ears.

Turning around, she could see John, almost solid, back to her. His gun was at the ready, but she wasn't sure if it would do any good. As Lex continued to pound at the door, Curt pulled his own gun and shot Ken.

The singing subsided as Ken fell. Owen stepped forward. She saw John pull the trigger, but nothing happened. Curt's hand was shaking.

Owen looked serious, and angry. His voice was quiet, and with Lex still banging on the door and yelling, Hannah could barely hear him.

"Ready to come with me?" He asked. "Or are we going to make it four times?"

Curt's whole body went still. "You aren't him. I'll stop you."

Owen smiled. "You'll do your best."

A gunshot rang out, and Owen fell to the ground, a new wound in his head. Another, and Ethan fell too. The rest of the infected backed away.

Curt turned, and Hannah followed suit. In the doorway was the Professor, shotgun smoking.

"Get inside, now."

Not a soul hesitated.

Of course, the moment the door was shut, that life-saving gun was on them.

Hannah was quickly ruled out, as her nose started bleeding again with the sudden change in temperature, and her blood was not blue.

Lex was next, as she had told the Professor she was going out to look for Hannah, and hadn't been gone long.

Finally, there was Curt. He introduced himself as Frank Mega this time, and said he was a locksmith who had been visiting Hatchetfield for the holidays when the infected started coming around.

"Who goes on vacation on Black Friday?" The Professor questioned.

"Thanksgiving?" Hannah offered, and Curt agreed.

"Meeting family. Lost 'em in all this nonsense, though." In the blink of an eye, Curt looked to be on the edge of tears. She was glad such an actor was on her side.

After a bit more interrogation, the Professor sighed and gave him a pass. "First Ethan, now these two." He mumbled before straightening up.

"Alright. Hannah, Frank, find Becky. She should be in the dining room. Your wounds should be treated as soon as possible."

Hannah nodded, and gestured for Curt to follow her. Lex wanted to come too, but the Professor asked her to stay behind. 

Before her and Curt stepped through the door, the Professor stopped them.

"Hannah." He said, voice stern and face angry. "Do not leave this building again, do you understand me?"

Hannah nodded, and hurried off.

Once out of earshot, Curt scoffed. "Why's he keeping you locked up in here?"

"Dangerous." Hannah frowned. "Only adults go."

"I mean. Makes sense, but yeesh."

They arrived at the dining room and Hannah was quickly smothered, and Curt interrogated. Once questions were answered and injuries pointed out, Becky ordered everyone to back off and stood to clear her plate.

She was met at the doorway to the kitchen. "I can handle it, ma'am. Sounds like you've got a job to do."

Hannah and Curt tensed at the voice, and within seconds Curt's gun was drawn.

In the doorway to the kitchen, taking Becky's plate from her, was Owen.



Chapter Text

Not for the first time that day, Curt had a gun aimed at Owen. While this time his hands were less shaky, he still hesitated on pulling the trigger, and everyone leapt on that hesitation.

The room was quickly filled with shouting and overlapping explanations, and Hannah covered her ears and hid behind Curt, feeling blood drip into her mouth from her nose.

Though it was hard to tell, it looked like the only people not yelling were Curt and Owen. Looking up, Curt's face was cold and serious, but his eyes showed fear and sadness. Owen had a similar, casually calm expression, but his eyes reflected Curt's fear, as well as his own worry and confusion.

Owen slowly raised his hands in a surrender pose, and everyone quieted down with a few last confused shouts and questions. 

"Curt," Owen's voice was quiet and level. "Put the gun down. Have you been drinking again?"

"God, I wish." Curt's voice shook slightly, and he talked at a normal volume. "I'm way too sober for this."

Owen laughed to himself. It was soft, tired. Not like the harsh fake and sinister laughter from earlier. "C'mon, chap, I know you're not a cabbage. Why've you got me at gunpoint this time?"

"Why?" Curt's laugh was much harsher, sadder, angrier. "Well maybe because I just saw you outside, singing your heart out. Oh, and trying to kill me and the kid, that's an important detail."

The room was quiet, and Owen frowned. He put his hands down. "I would never try and kill you. You know that. Whatever you saw, it wasn't me."

" Bullshit." He spat, and then looked at Hannah over his shoulder. "Sorry, Hannah." He looked back to Owen, angrier than before. "You would try to kill me. You have. "

"Then shoot me."

"What?"

Owen shrugged. "Then shoot me, Curt. You know how to take out a threat. If you really think I am one, then it's your job to take me out."

The air in the room was tense. It broke for a moment, as Lex and the Professor came in, but they quickly froze. Lex looked over to Hannah, seemingly relieved she was fine, and then looked just behind her, tensing again. Hannah peeked over her own shoulder: only the wall.

She didn't have time to dwell on it longer. Curt had yet to pull the trigger, and had just let out a frustrated yell.

Owen took a step forward, arm outstretched. "Hey, it's alright." He smiled, and his voice was soft. "I told you, Curt, I'm real."

Curt took a step back, falling into Hannah but catching himself. Hannah, however, fell to the floor, but avoided hurting herself further. She moved away, and took a look at Owen as the two talked.

"Owen, I've seen you shot too many times." Curt sighed. "And now there's aliens, or something. Maybe I can't shoot you, but anyone else here can." He flipped his gun and offered it to anyone, but no one took it.

"I saw the aliens too! It's how I found this place. Some of the ones I saw were people in this room, Curt. But they're real, and so am I."

After a moment of quiet, the Professor spoke from the back of the room. "You two know eachother, yes?" Both nodded, and he turned to Curt. "The Infected seem to only have access to recent memories, especially if the body they take over died before apotheosis. You could ask him something from long ago, to test. It would help us, too."

Curt looked back to Owen, and thought for a moment. "How did we first meet?"

Owen smirked. "Our official first meeting, or our real first meeting?"

"Our first meeting."

He nodded, smiling fondly. "This'll blow our cover, but fuck it. Ukraine, about a decade ago. MI6 and the A.S.S. sent us both to recover the same files from the same location, without telling the other. We ran into eachother, you punched me in the throat, and then felt bad once you realized I was more of an ally than an enemy, which allowed me to nab the files from you and get home victorious." The cocky smirk returned as he looked Curt in the eyes. "We didn't see eachother again until a year later, where we were properly introduced as partners."

The room looked to Curt. After a long moment of staring at the floor, he put his gun in his pocket, and everyone gave a collective sigh of relief. 

"Now that that is settled." The Professor walked over to the two newcomers. "From what I can tell, you both lied about your identities. And I'd like to know the truth now, or else you won't be welcome in my home any longer. So!" He looked between the two of them. "Who would like to go first?"

Both were quiet for a moment, and then Owen offered his hand. "Agent Owen Carvour, spy for MI6. This is my partner, Special Agent Curt Mega, spy for the American Secret Service."

"I can introduce myself." Curt muttered.

"Don't bother." The Professor sighed. "I would like to say I can understand why you would hide your identities and professions, but given our situation, I don't see the logic in it."

"Whatever do you mean?" Owen asked, raising an eyebrow.

The Professor stared at him. "When you first came here you said you were on vacation, visiting a friend, that you had been here for over a month, now."

Owen bit the inside of his cheek. "That… might've been a lie."

The Professor sighed. "How long have you actually been here?"

"About a day." He admitted, smoothing down his hair. "I overheard someone say it was December, figured I was somewhere in America, and made an excuse that would tie into Thanksgiving."

Curt pouted. "Yeah, same here."

The Professor paused. "Tell me about the world you remember."

They think for a bit before Owen starts listing facts, counting them off on his fingers. "Harold Macmillan just became Prime Minister today, Britain and France got the hell away from the Suez Canal because the U.N. told them too, Olympics in Australia back in November, got some good metals there, good Mrs. Christie came out with a new book..." He looked to Curt. "How about on your side of the Atlantic?"

Curt kept his gaze away from Owen. "...None of that sounds right. But none of this makes sense, so. Uh, Iron Man, he's a thing, getting me back into comics now. Alcatraz closed, there was a break but they won't admit it. Cool spy movie, James Bond, inaccurate though. I have a zip code now? Which is stupid, mail is annoying enough. And so much civil rights stuff. Dr. King, Malcolm X, everybody's fighting, you know?"

Owen frowned. "Clearly, I'm behind on what's going on in America."

The Professor tapped his chin. "What's the date?"

At the same time, Curt said, "November 20th, 1963," and Owen said, "January 10th, 1957." They looked at eachother in disbelief, and the color drained from Curt's face.

"1957? It's… you think it's 1957?"

Owen paced, bewildered. "It is 1957, Curt, we were just together! What are you going on about it being 1963?"

"I hate to break it to you," interrupted the Professor, "but you're both wrong. Today is December 26th, 2018."

Curt scoffed. "That's not a real year."

"Mind telling me where in the world you last remember being?"

He frowned. "Hannah said this is Hatchetfield. I dunno where that is, but I was in Dallas."

"We were both in London." Owen added quietly.

"You are in Hatchetfield, which is an island off the coast of Lake Erie, Michigan." The Professor explained.

There was a lot of confusion and yelling and denial for the next several minutes as the Professor explained the portals and how the two spies theoretically got there, as well as the situation of Black Friday and Wiggly and the current state of the world.

Once emotions were calming down, Curt sat on a nearby chair someone had abandoned during all the chaos, staring dully at the floor. "We're sixty years in the future, in a place I've never even heard of, and he's from 1957. "

Owen carefully stepped over to Curt and put a hand on his shoulder, trying to be empathetic and comforting, but having the opposite effect and Curt immediately jumped up and away from Owen. 

"Stop that!" He shouted, and Hannah covered her ears. "Just, stay away from me, okay? You-You have to go back to your own time, a-and I have to go to mine, and we have to not see each other, okay?"

A moment ago, Owen had looked dazed, confused, but no worse for the wear. But as soon as those words left Curt's mouth, Hannah saw his face morph into pure heartbreak. He tried to laugh and smile his way back into normalcy. "Curt…" he hesitated, like he was going to add something else, but his eyes flicked to the group in the room, and he decided otherwise. "What are you talking about? Just because we're from different times doesn't mean-"

"You still don't see, do you Owen?!" Curt cut him off, still yelling, but he seemed to surprise himself with his own volume and quieted down. The look in his eyes told Hannah there was so much he couldn't say. Defeated, he looked to the ground. "Just because you aren't an alien doesn't mean we have to be friends, or partners. I'll work with you if I have too, but other than that, stay away from me."

Owen had no response. He tried to not look shattered, but failed. 

Curt offered his good hand to Hannah and pulled her up to a stand. "I believe we were supposed to go with a doctor or something?"

"Nurse, technically." Becky commented, guiding them over to her.

Curt shrugged. "That's just as good. C'mon, kid, let's make sure that broken nose doesn't get any worse. You're bleeding again."

Hannah huffed and reached to wipe, but Becky stopped her, not wanting Hannah to knock her nose out of place again.

The three left the room, with Lex not far behind. Normally, she would walk directly behind Hannah, or right next to her, but she was suddenly keeping her distance, and Hannah was worried that her sister was so mad at her for leaving that she didn't want to be near her.

Once Becky officially set Hannah's nose (it was still slightly out of place) and put one of those weird little bandaids on it, and made sure all the blood was gone via putting little cotton balls up her nose, her worries were subsided, and Lex kneeled down and hugged her tight, being careful not to bump her face.

"I told you not to go out again." Her voice was shaky. "Why did you go out again? It was your birthday, why did you leave? "

Hannah held her just as tight, sobbing as she felt nearly two days worth of near-death experiences hit her all at once. "Looking for you, Lexie. Scared you were gone."

Lex pulled back, as much as Hannah didn't want her too, and gripped her shoulders. The older girl was just as tear-stained as Hannah was. "That is not an excuse. Banana, I promise, I will always come back. And…" She frowned, eyebrows tightly furrowed. "And if I ever don't come back. Or if I come back as a zombie. Then you have to keep going, you understand me? If somehow I leave, you do not throw everything away to be with me. You keep going, for Ethan, and for Webby, and for everyone else here, and most importantly for yourself."

Hannah sniffed, and nodded. She didn't believe herself, but it was the right answer.

Lex pulled her pack into the hug. "I'll do every damn thing I can to not leave. I'll stay with you as long as you want me too, as long as I possibly can. We're gonna get outta this together, okay?"

Hannah nodded, still unsure if she believed herself, and the two sat, hugging, for a long time.

Once the two were finally calmer, Hannah looked to see if Curt was any better, and to her surprise, she saw three people.

One was Curt, with a new splint on his wrist. Beside him was Becky, explaining that he cannot, under any circumstances, use that hand for at least two weeks, and Curt was begrudgingly agreeing.

The third, however, was John, only slightly see-through, standing near Hannah, watching the exchange with slight curiosity.

He spoke quietly to Hannah without looking over. "You should ask about hypothermia. You were out in the snow for a long time."

Lex pulled away from where she was still partly hugging Hannah and quickly looked around the room, freezing when her eyes landed just beside Hannah, and up. She didn't say anything, just shifted between the spot, Becky and Curt, and Hannah.

Hannah thought this was very odd, but figured she should take John's advice anyway, and cleared her throat a few times, and John did the same.

"Miss Becky?" The nurse looked over, as did Curt. "I was… in the snow. Long time, a lot. Very cold. Am I.. okay?"

Becky kneeled beside her, putting the back of her hand on Hannah's forehead. "Are you worried about hypothermia? I did think you were pretty cold, even after having been inside for a while during… all that."

After a bit, Becky had Curt get off the cot and Hannah get in, making sure none of her clothes were wet. Hannah kicked off her shoes and took off the oversized jacket, as it was a bit damp. Her socks were also wet, and she was still having trouble feeling her toes. The bottoms of her overalls were also a bit damp, but she didn't want to take them off while everyone was around. Becky went to go find blankets and towels, and told Curt he could leave if desired.

He hesitated, looking back at Hannah, tucked firmly in the cot, and Lex, still staring at the same spot, though she had moved to sit on the cot beside Hannah. 

"Uh." He paused, cradling his injured hand. "Thanks. For bringing me here. I'm sorry if I scared you earlier."

"'s okay. Thanks for helping." She gave him a small smile, which he returned.

"I'll, uh. Be around. Yell if you need anything, kid." With those parting words, he left, clearly unsure where to go.

The two sisters were alone in the medical center, quietly staring off into space. Out of the corner of her eye, Hannah saw that John had faded.

"Who are you?" Lex said aloud, to no one in particular.

Hannah felt her eyes instinctually well up with tears. "L-Lexie…?"

Lex looked over, her scared expression changing to something much softer. "No, no, no you, Banana. I…" She bit her li, hesitant. "It sounds weird, but everything about our lives is weird right now. I think there's a ghost following you."

"What?" Hannah asked, short of breath.

"Ghost?" She heard John scoff.

"Lexie… see John?" Webby asked.

"What… What does the ghost look like?" Hannah asked Lex, afraid that Lex's description would match John.

And match John it did. Lex turned back to the spot she had been staring at, and listed features. "White guy, some kind of military uniform. Fluffy, dirty-blonde hair. Brown eyes. Weird hat." Lex tensed, and her voice fell to a whisper. "He's looking right at me…"

"Can you hear me?" John asked, and Lex didn't respond, other than squintly slightly.

He repeated. "Lex, can you hear me?"

She frowned. "That was my name. We… We've met before. On Black Friday. And when Ethan came back. Who the hell are you?"

"General John McNamara." He answered.

After a moment, Hannah repeated. "General John McNamara."

Lex looked over. "How do you know that?"

She looked away. "....Told me."

"You see him too?"

"Sometimes. Always hear him. Like Webby."

Lex paused, thinking. "Why did you never tell me?"

Hannah tried to hide further under the covers. "Afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"Second voice."

It took a moment, but a look of understanding spread across Lex's face. "...Have you heard him as long as you've heard Webby?"

Hannah shook her head. "Black Friday. Wear a watch."

"I saw him on Black Friday. He gave me a gun, I don't really get how… he said we both have powers."

"You do." John said casually. "For some reason, you both are very connected to the Black and White. You can hear it, Lex can reach into it. But I believe her being able to see me is my own fault."

"But why does he follow you?" Lex asked, unaware all that was said.

"Can't leave. Hurts him…" Hannah frowned. "Don't want him to get hurt again. Saved me."

"Saved you? When?"

Hannah began recounting her adventure outside, but was interrupted just as she was breaking into a house by Becky coming back, Ethan in tow, with a ton of blankets.

"It might be hot, but it's better than you being cold. Just ask for help if you're hungry or need to go to the bathroom or anything" The Nurse explained.

Remembering, Hannah told Lex to check the jacket she had been wearing for the radio. Sure enough, it was just where she had left it.

"President. Talking on the radio. Weekly, he said. They're looking for people. Saving people. Maybe they can help us." She explained, and over the blankets saw looks of hope blossom on everyone's faces.

Becky took the radio. "I'll tell everyone, most of them are still in the dining room. Thank you, Hannah, great job! But please don't go out again."

Once she was gone, Ethan sat on the cot, back to back with Lex. "Did ya tell her about the surprise?"

Lex sighed, but it turned into a laugh. "No. With all this hell I forgot."

Ethan smirked and looked at Hannah. "Want me to tell you your birthday present?"

"We couldn't wrap it." Lex added. "And you'll probably have to share."

Hannah nodded, a bit excited.

Ethan's smirk grew into a giddy smile. "We found a TV. All the works. DVD player, Switch, movies and games…"

"That's why it took so long to come back." Lex admitted. "It was hard getting all that shit back. We actually took two trips, one for the TV and one for all the other stuff." Her smile fell. "It wasn't until after then we noticed you were gone. I'm sorry, Hannah, we… We've gotta look out for you better."

"No." Hannah croaked, feeling tears again. "I… I gotta listen. I'm sorry, Lexie, Ethan…"

It was crushing, getting such tight hugs on top of all the blankets, but it felt like home.



Chapter Text

The next week was spent healing up and making plans. Plans that Hannah wasn't really present for, and only heard of second-hand.

The first two days back, she was barely allowed to get up from under several layers of blankets, as her body progressively re-adjusted to being warm. It left Hannah very bored, and Lex and Ethan couldn't be by her side every second of the day, which left her to mostly talk to John and Webby.

Neither of them understood exactly how Lex was able to see John, but they figured it was a mix of Lex's powers and John's recent breaking of the barrier. Through some trial and error, they figured that the more clearly Hannah could see John, the more clearly Lex could hear him. 

Speaking of being able to see John, it seemed to only be in situations where one or both of them were scared or worried. John theorized it may be linked to strong emotions, since that's what let him break out in the first place, and the thought made Hannah sad. She only ever saw him when he was scared, or worried, or angry, or upset. She wanted to see him happy, relieved, smiling. Was joy not strong enough of an emotion?

Finally, there was Webby. When Hannah could see John, Webby sounded fainter. When he was solid, which hadn't happened since she had been outside, she couldn't hear Webby at all. It was disconcerting, an interruption of her routine, and simply very scary to her. She had gone 13 years of hearing Webby. She wasn't used to being without her.

Despite the lingering questions and dimensional talk, Hannah was still very bored those first couple of days. She convinced Lex to bring down the chessboard and played a game with her (which Lex let her win). Once Lex had left, Hannah played with John.

It was a quiet game. Hannah focused more on trying to outsmart the General than really pay attention to his presence.

When she managed to get his King in check, she grinned and looked up, not expecting to actually see him sitting across from her, legs criss-cross-applesauce, studying the board intently.

He wasn't very solid, much more of a ghost, but he was there.

Hannah was pretty happy at the moment, her boredom momentarily forgotten in what would likely be a temporary lead in the game. So she watched him for a moment and quietly asked, "Are you mad?"

He chuckled, and she watched his shoulders rise and fall. "At being in check? No."

"Are you scared?"

"Why would I be scared? Chess is but a game, not a real war."

John instructed her to move his king diagonally away from her rook. As she did, she asked, "Are you happy?"

He was quiet for a moment, and Hannah saw him stare at the wall as he thought. "Yes. Why do you ask?"

Hannah smiled as she rocked slightly, trying not to disturb the board. "Can see you."

John looked surprised, and faded almost completely before slowly returning, stronger than before, though not by much. "Strong emotion."

Hannah nodded. "Strong emotion." She moved her knight to take one of his pawns near his king, and he pointed to it. 

"King takes Knight."

She huffed and removed her piece. Looking up, she saw him smiling softly, eyes to the board. Some of his hair had fallen in his face, and his weird little hat was askew.

She had always seen him as this very put-together, very strong, rough-edged military man. He usually spoke rather monotonously, except for when he got loud. But ever since McNamalien (as she had taken to calling his double) attacked her, he seemed more gentle, more protective. He had never sounded so scared until then. She wasn't sure what had changed. It was possible that he had always been like this, but now she could actually see him, and so she could finally notice. He was easier to read now that she could see him, however ghostly he may appear.

Hannah smiled to herself and decided not to linger on it. He was a nice, welcoming, protective presence. John was beginning to feel more and more like home to her.

They talked quietly as the game continued, and after a few close calls, Hannah was finally in checkmate.

"You did much better then." She saw John smile as she reset the pieces. "I'm glad to see you're learning so quickly."

Before Hannah could respond, the door opened, and John was standing before she could even register who had entered.

It was Curt, which wasn't too surprising. He had visited a few times over the last couple days, sometimes looking for Becky, sometimes wanting to check up on her.

His wrist had been badly sprained, nearly broken, by the other Owen, but he seemed to be taking it in stride. Becky had told him to not use it for at least two weeks, but based on how often he had been coming in to get the split adjusted, Hannah figured he wasn't listening to her advice at all.

This time looked no different, as once John sat back down, Hannah could see that Curt was cradling his hurt hand with the other, and looking around the room for anyone other than Hannah before striding up to her.

"Hey, kid. Warming up?" He stood at the foot of the cot, leaning on it slightly, but not sitting down. Hannah watched John fade slightly as he sat back on the bed, the sheets never acknowledging his presence. She nodded at Curt, shifting her gaze to his hand.

"Keep hurting yourself?"

He shrugged. "I'm not used to this place, yet. Keep runnin' into things. And it keeps getting all fu-" He cut himself off, looking away from Hannah. "The wrappy things. They keep getting all undone when I'm asleep."

Curt and Owen very obviously used to be friends, Hannah knew that much. But they were from two different times, and she also knew Curt had killed Owen — apparently more than once. But somehow, she felt she wasn't getting the whole story.

Curt refused to sleep in the same room as Owen. From what she had overheard, the British man had been awfully quiet around Curt ever since his outburst, and didn't put up much of a fight about sleeping arrangements.

So now things were mixed up again. The kids still had their room, and Tom and Becky had theirs. With Charlotte and Ted gone, Emma and Paul took one of the rooms for themselves, leaving one empty until Ethan claimed it. Bill and Ed (and Peanuts) were still roommates, but Oliver quickly convinced Ethan to let him stay in his room so he could finally get away from the rowdy squirrel. Once the spies were added into the mix, Owen went with Bill and Ed, and Curt with the Greens.

"Are you playing chess against yourself?" He interrupted her thoughts, eyeing the pieces. She offered one to him and he shook his head. 

"No thanks. Chess is for nerds." He looked idly at some cabinets. "'Sides, I never learned to play. Owe could never teach me." Getting up from where he was leaning, Curt walked over to the cabinets. "Always got distracted."

Hannah watched him look through the cabinets and take out various boxes before putting them back. "Owe?"

"Huh?" Hannah began to repeat herself when Curt cut her off. "Owe? Oh. Uh, that's… an old nickname, for Owen. Kinda hard to make a nickname for someone when their name is already short, yanno?"

She nodded, and continued to watch him. "What… are you looking for?"

Curt just gave a long hum in response, shutting a cabinet and opening a drawer. "Hey, what's this?"

He wasn't really talking to her, she could tell, but she tried to see what he was holding. It was a brown bottle, with a blue label, and some kind of liquid in it. Curt was shaking it around.

As she watched, something clicked in Hannah's brain. "Bored?"

"Absolutely." His response was immediate, and he put the bottle back in the drawer upright, making it so the drawer couldn't close. "Getting hurt is the worst. It hurts, and then everyone tells you that you can't do anything, that you have to rest up…"

He continued to ramble, jumping topics a few times and pacing around the room, and Hannah noticed him fiddling with the wrapping of his wrist, causing it to become even more undone. She pointed it out to him.

"What? Oh." His face dropped as he sighed. "This always happens. It just doesn't feel right, you know? It squeezes too hard, and the stupid bandage feels weird."

"Texture?" She reached to feel it, and when he let her, she recoiled.

Curt nodded. "You get it. You'd think they would've made better bandages in 60 years or whatever." He sighed, and tried to wrap it back up himself. "Becky said it might be a brain… thing? Attention defective hyper-something. It was a weird name."

Hannah watched his hands, not that he was trying to look her in the eyes anyway. "ADHD?"

"I dunno. Sounds boring, so it's probably right."

Just then, Becky entered, saw Curt, and sighed. "Undo it again?"

He shrugged, and she beckoned him to follow her towards the cabinets he had been looking in previously. She took the weird bottle and put it back how it was supposed to be.

"Hannah, did you go through this?" She asked over her shoulder as she looked through the now-disorganized cabinet for the proper wrappings.

Hannah shook her head hard enough for her braids to whip into her face, and Curt cleared his throat awkwardly.

"That was me. I… don't know why."

Becky found what she was looking for and set about fixing his wrist yet again. "I get that you've got a lot of energy, and need something to do, but please don't mess with medical stuff. Or your wrist, for that matter."

Curt was facing away from Hannah, so she only saw his head nodding, but figured he had probably been told off like this several times by now.

"Other band-aids?" She decided to ask, sparking both adults to look over to her.

"What do you mean?" Becky came to her side, looking her over and testing her temperature. "Are you hurt?"

She shook her head again, less violently this time, and pointed to Curt. Becky turned to see that Curt, while looking in another random drawer, was already picking at the new wrappings.

"Curt." She called.

"Hm?" He didn't look over.

"Does the bandage bother you?"

That got his attention, and he gave an exaggerated nod. "I don't know how anyone puts up with this stuff! It just feels-" And then he made a long groaning noise that made Hannah and Becky laugh.

"We have a couple other types we can try, but I want you to promise not to undo it again, okay?"

Curt put his hand over his heart. "I promise, if there is a less horrible-feeling bandage tape thing, I won't screw it up."

"That's the spirit!" Becky looked through the cabinets and took out a couple boxes, talking as she did so. "I was telling you about ADHD, right? Sensory issues are a symptom of that. So, not liking certain textures, or tastes, or smells. Just tell people about what's bothering you, I'm sure no one will mind."

"Yeah. So, uh, what am I supposed to do to not go insane but also not hurt myself more? Is that an ADHD thing, too?"

As the two talked, Hannah listened. She was confused how Curt managed to sound bored and interested at the same time, but he seemed to be doing his best to pay attention and listen to Becky. 

Once they found a type of bandage that didn't bother Curt, she wrapped his wrist back up and he waved goodbye to Hannah. Becky then checked on her again and left as well, leaving her and John alone once more.

They decided to take a little break from chess, and John faded as he walked around the room restlessly.

Feeling alone, Hannah's hands found her neck. It was tender, and while it had been a while since she looked in the mirror, everyone had told her that it was still dark purple. McNamalien had quite the death grip.

But her John, the real John, had saved her. It was hard to believe that just over a week ago she had still hated John, never wanted to hear his voice, believed that he was unhelpful and scary. Now she talked to him at least as much as she talked to Webby, if not more.

Still, sometimes, when John appeared or spoke suddenly (which was often), she would jump, afraid that it was McNamalien, or another different John. One that would hurt her. 

She only hoped he hadn't noticed.

John was very observant. She figured he had to be, as a General. Generals were leaders, and leaders had to have a good idea of what was going on, and had to pay a lot of attention to everything, all the time. 

Hannah paid a lot of attention to her surroundings, usually. It was less paying attention and more noticing little things. Lex and some doctor had told her it was a trait of autism.

Hannah was what the doctor and her mother had called "high-functioning," which Lex didn't like. She was upset Hannah's struggles were being overlooked just because she could talk well when she wanted, and usually didn't have that much trouble in school. Lex never felt like Hannah was getting the help she needed — it was part of why she wanted to get them to California.

Deciding to set the chessboard up again, Hannah spared some glances around the room, trying to see if John was visible again.

He was, and he was doing something she didn't recall ever seeing him do before. He was standing near the cabinet that Curt had messed up, back to her, and flapped his hands around. John was rather broad-shouldered, so she mostly just got quick glimpses of his fingers and such, but she had done the same often enough before to recognize it.

She flapped her own hands around for a bit before pulling on her braids. "What are you looking for?"

John froze and looked over his shoulder before turning back to the cabinet. "Curt made this area very disorganized, and Becky didn't fix it all." She heard him let out a frustrated sigh. "I'd like to fix it, but unfortunately, I can't interact with anything."

The disorganization hadn't bothered her that much, in all honesty. Such things only bothered her if it was her stuff, or something she saw often. But John sounded rather frustrated, at least with not being able to do anything, and it made her sad.

Hannah slipped her legs out from under the tightly-tucked blankets and stood, the cold tile briefly bringing her back to the snowy hellscape she trudged through just two days prior.

John must have heard her, as he turned around. He had stopped flapping and instead moved to fiddling with his vest. Still, he looked to her with a stern stare. "Get back in bed."

She stepped forward. "Gonna fix it."

"You aren't supposed to be up."

"I'll be okay." She jumped up onto the counter and kneeled on it, opening the cabinet one door at a time to avoid knocking herself off. John stood behind her, looking more solid and ready to leap into action and catch her, despite knowing it would do nothing.

Looking at the shelves, it was definitely messed up, but Hannah couldn't remember what went where, as she had been paying more attention to what Curt was taking out of the cabinet rather than where he had gotten it from or where it was put back.

John, noticing her hesitation, pointed to a white and green box of surgical masks. "That went on the bottom shelf with the others like it." He pointed to a smaller box of bright blue bandage tape, the type that had been used for Tim's sprained ankle. "And that is actually in the right spot, but the other bandage boxes got scattered around."

Hannah moved everything around how John directed her too, and remembered more about autism that Lex had told her; good memory, and disliking when things were out of order. Hannah experienced both of those, and as she closed the cabinets and climbed down from the counter, she couldn't help but wonder if John wasn't the same as her.

"Thank you." He did sound genuinely relieved. "Now, please, get back in bed. I don't want you getting cold."

She nodded and did as she was told, but once she was back under the covers, she searched for him. He was returning to his spot cross-legged on the bed, and they briefly locked eyes before both parties abruptly looked away, Hannah dropping to his chin and John to the pillows just behind her head.

That was something that had happened several times. And he had mentioned, back in the house with the radio, that a foster father who hurt him didn't like how he avoided eye contact, and other behaviors.

She set up the chess board, and just as John opened his mouth to say something, Hannah interrupted with the question that had been rattling in her head. "You're like me?"

John looked closer to her eyes. "I am?"

"Are you?"

"Maybe. How do you mean?"

She pulled on her braids. "Autistic."

"Oh, that? Yes."

He admitted it very casually, making Hannah feel silly for thinking it was a big deal. He didn't seem to notice, but smiled at her regardless.

"Growing up I was a lot like you. I still am, but I think being in the military forced me to better work with some of my symptoms, or else hide them. It's not something to be ashamed of, but it certainly gets in the way of my job at times. You have to work with it, not against it. Some people don't understand that," He sighed, staring at the black and white tiles of the board. "My father was very helpful and supportive when he was around. Helped me adjust to working with PEIP. I owe... a lot to him." 

"Lexie and Ethan help me."

"Exactly. It's good to have someone to fall back on."

The game began, and Hannah mirrored John's pawns, drumming her fingers on the side of the board, thinking, but not about chess. "Lexie says there's stuff we like to talk about. I like spiders. Do you like things?"

John nodded, becoming more and more solid. "Special interests. Baseball has been one of mine since childhood."

"Baseball?" She scooted forward, trying not to jostle the board and pieces, but more interested in what John had to share.

He grinned at her, and spent the next hour talking about everything baseball: origins, teams, players, why baseball cards exist, records, so on and so forth, the barely-started chess game long forgotten. 

Hannah had never been interested in sports, but she could have listened forever, feeling giddy just listening to his passion. And when he eventually wound down and asked her about spiders, she was happier than she had been in a long while.

Chapter Text

On December 29th, Hannah was officially allowed to leave the medical center. With three days until the new year, the house felt tense. There had been progress bonding over the month since coming together, progress that had unfortunately been based in loss, but with their newest members very much at odds, it invited speculation to many relationships around the house.

Late on the night of the 26th, once Hannah was safely tucked in the medical center and the room arrangements once again moved around to accommodate the spies, Tom and Becky sat in their room in a peaceful silence.

Or at least, it would seem peaceful to an outsider. Tom could tell Becky was lost in her own head, and he'd be lying if he said he wasn't the same. 

Lately, Tom had been asked more and more frequently to go into situations that he would need to use a gun for, and it was starting to feel like he was back in Afghanistan. He hadn't had to shoot too many times, and he was glad. The second he was handed a gun his hands started to shake, he doubted he could hit a mark.

He couldn't even pull himself together to shoot an insane cult leader, who also happened to be Linda Monroe. He let her come screaming down to him and twist his hand, and the gun, out of her face. He let her get the doll. 

Part of Tom really felt like it was all his fault. Maybe if he had pulled the damn trigger and stopped her from ever touching the doll, things would be fine. Or at least better than they currently were. They would be safe instead of living in fear. Tim would be getting ready to celebrate New Year's instead of sporting a sprained ankle.

Tom could only thank God and Becky that Linda died. In his spiral, he still managed to find her and wake her up. It was Becky who did the job. Becky, the nurse, had to take another life. It could be easily argued that Linda deserved it, but he knew she feared the blood on her hands. He had just given her even more.

He jumped at the feeling of a hand on his back, and turned to see a blurry Becky, her hair in a loose, low ponytail for the night. He blinked and she became more clear, and his face felt wet. He quickly wiped the tears away. "Sorry."

"It's okay, Tom." She gently set her hand on his back, waiting a moment before softly rubbing it around. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Something Tom really appreciated was that Becky always asked. Jane would pry everything out of him, whether he was ready to talk about it or not. He understood she wanted to help, but it made him feel like her patient and not her husband. Becky gave him the freedom to say no, and it was refreshing.

In this case, he almost wished he didn't have the freedom, though. He wanted to talk about it, but felt oddly embarrassed. He didn't want their whole relationship to be about his trauma. He wished he could be the man she used to know.

"Just… thinkin' about, uh. Lately, you know? All the outings, and the threats." He looked down to his shaking hands. "And Linda, on Black Friday…"

He felt Becky's hand go stiff for a moment as he mentioned Linda, before she continued her calming movements. "If they've been bothering you, I'm sure Henry will give you a break. The outings, that is."

"I don't mind the outings."

"I know." He could feel her smiling softly. "You can ask about the guns, too. Either way, they'll cut you some slack. You deserve it."

"Someone'll have to take my place."

"I can do it."

Tom shook his head. "You shouldn't have to."

"I can handle a gun, Tom, you know that." She tried to reassure him.

"You shouldn't have too, Beck." He trembled. "Taking lives is…"

"Tom." She pulls gently on his shoulder so he'll face her. "I've taken two lives. Both of them deserved it. It's horrible, I know it is. You know it better than I do, I'm sure. This… is a terrible situation. But you don't have to force yourself to confront your PTSD head-on because of it."

"It's either that or kids have to take up weapons, and I can't let that happen."

Becky frowns, and presses her forehead to his. "There are other options, Tom. Especially with Curt and Owen now! They're literally spies, they can take the load off."

"One of 'em's got a broken wrist."

"Sprained. He'll be fine." Becky cupped his face. "The point is, Tom, you're putting the entire world on your shoulders. This isn't your fault, and you don't need to face everything alone." She looked into his eyes, determination shining in her stormy blue irises. "You don't need to subject yourself to your trauma in order to help out. There are so many other options, and it's not good for you. You're just wearing yourself out."

Tom's own dark, depressingly blue eyes studied her face and hair. God, she was pretty. He loved Jane, he still loved Jane, but he had missed Becky. He missed the woman who knew him when he was his best self. It was so easy to fall back in love with her, it almost scared him.

She wiped his cheeks with her thumbs and he realized he had been crying again. "'m sorry."

"You're okay, Tom."

"Because of you." He paused, kissing her nose. "Thank you."

She smiled, sweet and familiar, and the weight felt a little lighter.

"Are you alright?" He asked as they laid back down.

Becky shrugged. "It's nothing, we don't have to talk about it right now."

"I'd love to hear it, if you want to tell me."

She was quiet for a moment, and he whispered. "Is it him?"

She shook her head. "No… I think about Stanley a lot, but no. It's, um. Well, it's about Tim."

Tom tensed. "What about Tim?"

"Don't worry," she put a hand on his chest. "Nothing bad. I just… worry about him with me. If he resents me, or if he just sees his mom, or…"

Tom ran his hand through her ponytail. "Becky, he loves you. I know he misses Jane, I do too. But he loves you, we both do."

She was quiet, and curled in closer to Tom. "I'm not jealous of her." She whispered. "But sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if she were here. Obviously we wouldn't be together, and that's okay, but… would I still be with Stanley? Would I be even worse off? Would we ever meet again?"

Tom held her tight, worry in his brow. "I hope so. Beck, if I had known about him sooner, I would've killed him for ya. Jane or no, I wouldn't let you live like that."

They both lay quiet for a moment, and Tom felt something dripping onto his chest. He held her closer as she silently cried, playing with her hair and rubbing her back.

"I love you." She eventually muttered. "As a friend, as a partner, as a person . I love you."

As the two calmed down and fell asleep, they stayed intertwined, safe in each other's arms.

The morning of the 27th, Ethan was up early, bothering his cousin and roommate, Oliver, to get ready faster so they could find out where their new roommate, Curt, had gone off too.

"You are way too obsessed with that guy." Oliver commented as he fixed his tie.

Ethan frowned, leaning against the wall. "He's a spy. From the 50s . He's like, about as cool as you can get."

"That's just because you have a 50s aesthetic." Oliver grumbled, searching for his glasses, which were on his head. "Besides, he said he was from 1963. Owen is the one from the 50s."

"Yeah," Ethan shrugged. "But Owen's British, that's like, way different. Besides, he gives me weird vibes."

"Really? He seemed fine to me." Oliver finally huffed and rubbed his eyes. "Have you seen my glasses?"

"On your head, jabroni." Ethan took them off of his cousin's head and handed them to him with a smirk. "And, uh, I dunno. I guess he just seems like… he's clearly got a lot of secrets."

"I'm sure Curt does too. They're spies, they probably know more about the government than we ever will."

"Look, I don't gotta explain to you why I think the guy's vibes are off, okay?" Ethan snapped, only half-joking. "He just makes me nervous."

"Well, I can agree with you there. Both of them put me on edge." Oliver frowned, wringing his hands.

Ethan gave him a strong pat on his back. A solid four inches taller and a good bit stronger, it sent the bespectacled teen a couple steps forward. "You're nervous about everything, Ollie. But you're right in this case." Another pat, and Ethan headed for the door. "Let's go find Curt!"

"I really think we should just leave him alone. You pestered him enough last night." Despite his words, he still followed Ethan.

"Look, we need something new to do." The taller boy frowned at his cousin. "Beating you at poker is great, but believe it or not, it gets old, and I've just about run out of places to hide your suspenders."

"Yeah, I'd appreciate it if you stopped that. Those were a present from-" He cut himself off. "Anyway. If bugging a spy who could easily kill you will stop you from hiding my stuff, then sure."

"Hell yeah!" They continued down the hall, and just as Oliver thought that perhaps Ethan hadn't heard his slip-up, it was called out. "Who gave you the suspenders?"

Oliver flushed, despite his best efforts. "Oh, y-you know. Just a friend of mine."

He was met with a cheeky elbow from Ethan. "Oh, come on. You're not gettin' outta this that easily, Ollie. Someone ya like?"

"Doesn't matter now." Oliver frowned and stepped away from Ethan. "It's the apocalypse. If she's not with us, she's long gone."

"A gal, huh? Is she pretty?"

"I think you're missing the point, Ethan." He frowned, and it deepened as Ethan's arm slid around his shoulders.

"No, I get it. I mean, fuck, I'm not even from this dimension, but pretty much everyone I know is prolly gone." Oliver felt him tense, and looked up to see his normally lively green eyes were glossy with unspoken worries. "But, I mean, it's nice to talk about 'em still, right? That's what I think, at least."

"I guess."

"And…" He paused and looked to the ground. "Yanno, I came from another dimension. Curt and Owen are from different times. Maybe there's a way we can get them back, or go to them."

Something clicked for Oliver, and he wrapped his arm around Ethan. "That's why you're talking to Curt so much?"

It was Ethan's turn to flush. "That's not the only reason. I do think he's cool. And, yanno, like you said. Aesthetic and all that."

"I don't know if he knows how he time traveled, just that he did."

Ethan nodded, disappointed. "Yeah."

They walked, half-embracing, in silence for a bit longer. At the bottom of the stairs, Oliver stopped, holding Ethan back. The leather-clad boy raised an eyebrow.

"Grace. Grace Chastity gave me the suspenders." Oliver admitted.

Ethan stared for a moment before laughing. "Really? Nerdy prude Grace Chastity, thats who you're after?" He ruffled Oliver's hair, walking forward. "Actually, that sounds like a match made in Heaven, huh?"

"She's not a nerdy prude," Oliver grumbled, "She's nice, and smart, and actually respects me, unlike a lot of people."

"She's definitely a nerdy prude, but you are too." Ethan grinned. "It would work out great."

A statement that five minutes prior would have depressed him to the point of tears, it now made Oliver ever-so-slightly hopeful. "Well. Once we find a way out of here, maybe I'll ask her."

In the end they didn't bother Curt, and instead bothered Professor Hidgens until he threatened to experiment on them. But what was family good for, if not getting each other into trouble?

Mid-day on the 28th, Paul and Emma were enjoying each other's presence in the laundry room. They were supposed to be doing laundry, but 5'2" Emma had hopped up on the washing machine to better reach Paul's face and, well, things devolved from there.

Between kisses, Paul was thinking. This happened often. Not for the first time, he remembered his first conversation with Tim.

"I'm Emma's… boyfriend." He had said, only slightly confident.

"Well," she had interrupted and immediately destroyed that confidence, "we haven't put a label on it, yet."

And then, of course, he had to go and say, "But we are intimate!" To a nine-year-old.

Remembering it made him cringe, and Emma pulled away. "...Something wrong? You can just say if it's too much, or something…"

He appreciated that she looked out for when something was, as she put it, too much, but this time it left him in an awkward situation. "Um," was all he could think to say for a second.

Her hands went to his hair, a place he never minded being touched. Emma was doing her best, but she was clearly confused. "Paul? Can you tell me what's up…?"

He nodded, unfortunately shaking her off of him. "Yes, yes, I just. Lost everything for a second. Uh. Well. I-I was just thinking about, um, Black Friday."

She sighed, tapping her fingers on the washer. "Yeah, that was a shitstorm of a day, huh? But… we're doing better now. Making the best of it, at least…"

Paul shook his head, and then nodded it. "We are, we are, I know. But, I, um. I meant that morning. When we got to Tom's house."

"Oh, the whole 'we're intimate' thing?" She smirked. "Terrible first impression, but hey, it's funny now."

Paul flushed, and leaned against the dryer beside her. "Yeah, that was awful. But I… well, I just keep thinking about, um. Right before that. Not putting a label on it."

It was Emma's turn to be awkward. "Oh. Yeah. ...That."

Both were quiet for a long moment, before Paul started tapping his fists together with a barely-audible clapping sound. "So…?"

"So, what?" Emma mumbled, and he turned to her.

"Well. I think we should."

"Should what?"

"Put a label on it."

"It's 2018, Paul," Emma huffed. "Relationships don't need labels."

"Yeah, but they're nice to have." He looked down at their reflections in the floor. "Good for explaining to people."

"Is that why you want one so bad?"

"I don't know. I just…" He held his breath for a moment. "I really love you, and I'd like to know whether this is something temporary, or something we're actually going to put effort into."

Emma looked at him, surprise evident on her face, as well as a blush. "You love me?"

Paul looked back, expression much calmer than he felt. "Yes, of course?"

For a moment, Emma simply stared, her autumn brown eyes into his winter blue. The moment ended when she abruptly looked away, hopping off of the washing machine. Paul followed suit and stood up from his lean.

"Don't leave!" He didn't mean to shout, or to beg, and anxiety was churning in his stomach and shaking in his hands.

Emma sighed, her back to him. "I'm not leaving, Paul. I just… need a second."

He waited, for more than a second, before asking softly, "Why are you afraid of this?"

Emma shrugged. "I've never been good at relationships. I cut myself off from my sister and her family for years. I don't have any friends from high school that I kept contact with. Coming out as trans cut out a lot of people from my life, but good riddance in that case. Even my last boyfriend, he wanted to get married and I… left." She turned back to him, avoiding his face. "It's easier to stay if there's no label. Because… I want to stay, Paul. I think I love you too and I don't want to fuck it up."

"Oh, Emma…" He stepped forward, arms outstretched; an offering. She accepted, and he held her tight. "I've… never had a long term relationship, not a good one. There's always one thing or another, it's usually my fault. And you know me, I don't even try things that don't interest me. But… I want to try with this, with us, I really do. I was just scared that you didn't."

There was a muffled voice against his chest, and he could make out Emma saying, "I want to try, too."

Paul kissed the top of her head. "We don't need to label it right now. Or ever. As long as we're on the same page. Okay?"

She pulled back from the hug slightly. "Okay."

"Okay!" He repeated with a smile, and for a moment they exchanged "okay"s and laughed. 

Once they were both more at ease, Paul looked over her head at the laundry they had yet to do. "Should we get to work?"

Emma followed his line of sight and shook her head. "Fuck it, we can do it later. I think we should pick up where we left off, hm?"

Paul cracked a grin. "Sounds good to me."

The morning of the 29th, not long before Hannah would be given the all-clear from Becky, Alice was wandering the house, bored and worried, waiting for Deb to return from the mission she had gone on with Professor Hidgens and Ed. Instead of finding something interesting to waste time on, she stumbled upon her dad, Bill.

The Woodward's were not always so tentative around each other. Before the divorce, Bill and Alice were pretty close. She found him the normal amount of overbearing, and he took her to be a pretty average teenager. Once Bill and Delilah split, and she was given majority custody of Alice, things became more tense.

Now, however, Alice didn't even know if her mother was alive, and she was trapped in a building, more bunker than house, with her dad. And despite the end of the world, they still had the same issues they had been having for the last year.

As the two walked around the house, Bill tried to make conversation, and Alice largely ignored him. Until, of course, talk came around to Deb.

"You'd think she'd be more focused on surviving than smoking." Bill had muttered through a strained smile. "Life or death doesn't really leave time for getting high."

Alice, frustrated at this topic yet again, stopped in her tracks. "You know," she glared at him as he stopped to look back at her, "you'd think in the middle of an apocalypse you'd be a little more accepting."

"I'm just saying-"

"You're making stuff up!" Alice threw her hands in the air. "She went out to be helpful, to try and find where the stupid portals are so hopefully we can go through one. Not to steal pot off of a corpse!"

Bill had no response, and Alice, after a tense moment, continued to walk, and he followed.

"I just want the best for you, Alice." He told her quietly.

She rolled her eyes and wandered into the nearest room available, which was just another hallway. Their steps echoed on the black and white tiled floor. "I think I'm old enough to know what's best for me when it comes to dating. It's pretty much the only thing in my life I get to control anymore."

"What are you talking about?" Bill asked, looking around the hallway. He had never been down here before. "You have lots of control over your life. I try to be pretty lenient, actually."

" Try is the keyword there, dad." Alice hovered at a door, and then continued down the hallway. "You try to be nice and all that, but you just…" She trailed off, not wanting to say something she'd regret.

Bill paused for a moment. "I just what , Alice?"

She didn't respond, in words, and instead walked quicker down the hallway.

" Alice. " Said Bill, voice firm as he hurried to catch up to her. "Answer me."

"Nothing." She spat out, curling in on herself. "It's nothing, forget it."

"It's clearly not nothing. What is it that makes me so bad a parent, huh? How am I ruining your life?"

"Because you don't listen!" She shouted, stopping in her tracks, hands in her hair. "You don't listen to me! You just assume what I want instead of asking, and when I tell you, you don't listen! So then I don't tell you, and you wonder why I'm so quiet! I'm not quiet! I talk a lot! You just don't listen! "

The two stared at each other, silent and emotional. Bill was the first to calm down enough to speak. "I try to listen. I'm sorry that apparently it's not enough."

Alice glared at the floor, feeling pinpricks of tears in the back of her eyes. "What's my favorite color?" She asked, voice wavering slightly.

Bill looked at her for a moment. "Pink, always has been."

"No." She shook her head. "You and mom have been getting me pink stuff since I was seven, but my favorite color is yellow. It has been for years."

Bill frowned. "How were we supposed to know?"

"I told you. Both of you, several times. But you didn't listen." She looked up more. "Do you know my favorite band?"

He thought for a moment. "Last I recall it's that panicked guy."

"Panic! At the Disco." She nods. "I admit, that's closer, I did have an emo phase. But it's AJR. And again, I've told you and mom that before. I asked for some of their albums for my birthday."

Bill sighed, defeated. "Okay. Great. Apparently I know nothing about you, is that what you're getting at?"

Alice fidgeted with her nails, anxious and frustrated. "What I'm getting at is that I've told you these things. But you don't listen, or you don't care enough to remember. But Deb, who you are constantly shitting on, does know that stuff!"

"Don't swear." Bill cut in, equally frustrated. 

"Is that all you got from that?!"

"No!" Bill groaned, covering his face. "Alice, look… I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry that I've missed this stuff. But the last year has been terrible, and I've barely seen you. So when I do see you, I'm not focusing on your favorite band, I'm focusing on the bigger things in your life. Like your play, and your college plans, and yes, your girlfriend! Believe it or not, Alice, I care about you, and I want to know what's going on in your life because I want you to be safe. Is that so much to ask?"

"If your version of safe is one where I don't get to pick who I date like it's the medieval ages, then yes, it is!"

"That's not what I'm doing, Alice."

"It sure feels like it!"

"I just don't want you getting hurt, or getting involved in something bad."

"Dad!" She turned to him, her anger overriding her anxiety. "Have some faith in me! And have some faith in Deb! She smokes weed, so what? Weed is basically harmless! And she doesn't want to do other drugs, and! She has never once pressured me to try smoking. Danny and Sof have, but never Deb. In fact, we stopped hanging out with them for a while because they were being pushy assholes."

Finally, she starts to come down from her emotional high and the anxiety returns. Hiding in her hair, she mutters, "Just believe in me a little, okay? If I felt unsafe or something, I wouldn't still be dating her."

Bill is quiet. He looks at his daughter for a long moment before putting a hand on her shoulder and pulling her into a hug, her face against his chest, his head atop hers. They don't speak, but a silent understanding has been reached, with the hug as the signature.

Once the hug was broken, the two continued to walk together quietly, much more peacefully. They happened across a large, vault-like door and opened it to find a lush greenhouse. They sat in the sun and watched the sky through the dome-like ceiling.

"Do you ever… think about her?" Alice asked, as light snow began to fall.

"Who, your mother?" Bill looked to Alice, and she nodded. He frowned, turning back at the ceiling. "Sometimes. I… I know I'm better off without her. I'm still, even with all this, mad at her." He sighed, shifting his gaze to the grass before him. "But I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I do hope she's okay."

"I miss her." Alice mumbled. Bill rubs her back, a sad smile on his face.

He waits a moment, biting his cheek, before deciding to be honest. "I… Before all of this, I, um. Well, I had started… seeing someone."

Alice looked at him, genuinely surprised. "Who? How long?"

He smiled, almost embarrassed. "Someone from CCRP. She works on the top floor, receptionist for the CEO. Her name is Sylvia, we were only dating for a couple months." Bill paused, fondness turning into nostalgia for things that never happened. "I should've introduced you two when I had the chance. I think you would've liked her."

"More than mom's boyfriend?" Alice asked, amusement evident in her tone.

Bill scoffed. "Way more."

Alice laughed, which led to Bill laughing with her. They spent the rest of the morning talking about friends and relationships, past and present.

Around dinnertime the same day, Alice and Deb were in the kitchen, talking and making food for each other and the other teens. It had been a while since the little group had held a game night, but once Hannah was released from the medical center, tensions felt a little lighter, and they wanted to celebrate.

Alice had never considered herself a great cook, but she lost the rock-paper-scissors tournament, so she was stuck with it. She was just glad that Deb "Took a Shitload of Culinary Classes" Daggit offered to help her out, out of the love in her heart, and also out of the guilt she felt after Alice begged her for ten minutes.

"Hey," Deb began as the two waited for the water to boil (they had found a bunch of pasta and figured it was their best bet). "Do you remember Wayward Guide?"

"Oh my God, yes!" The thought brought a smile to Alice's face, but it quickly fell. "We never got to finish it."

"I don't think it got to finish coming out. We were on episode, what, seven?"

"Six, I think."

"And there were supposed to be ten." Deb sighed. "Guess we'll never find out what happened in that weird-ass town."

"Werewolves being real would be the least of our concerns right now."

"I would love werewolves to be real." Deb grinned. "I would be down to be a werewolf."

Alice elbowed her playfully. "Furry."

"You're thinking of Danny." Deb nudged her back. "...Do you think they're okay?"

Alice looked up at her girlfriend, brushing her hair out of her face. "Who, Danny and Sof?"

"Yeah." Deb frowned. "I keep thinking... if we all hadn't split up, they'd just be here with us, right? And they'd be safe. They were assholes sometimes, but…" She trailed off, and Alice reached over and grabbed her hand.

"I'm sure they're okay. They're smart enough to keep out of all chaos." In all honesty, Alice had her doubts, but she didn't want to think they were dead. They may not have been the best of friends, but the thought of people she knew and cared about being gone…

"It's just… We haven't found any survivors." Deb stared into the pot of hot water. "I'm worried for them. Danny, Sof, Zigs… Hell, even Grace Chastity."

Alice bit her lip at the mention of Zigs and Grace. She found that she longed for the days where her biggest concerns were her grades and whether or not Zigs was going to try and steal Deb away from her, rather than whether or not they'd even survive the day.

"Well," she started, trying to be a bit more cheerful. "I heard Curt tell Professor Hidgens that there were people down by Nantucket Bridge! Maybe they're there."

"I hope so. Are people going out there soon? That's a long way to travel on foot."

"Jeez, remember when we could drive everywhere?"

"I have never missed driving more than I do now."

The two laughed, tension slightly lifted. The water was boiling and Deb had Alice put in the noodles. As she stirred, Deb leaned beside her. 

"You know, I never understood why you were jealous of Zigs."

Alice scoffed. "I was not jealous of Zigs. We have a rivalry ."

"You have a lot of rivalries." Deb listed on her fingers. "Zigs, Grace, Sof, Bee, probably even me-"

"Oh, hush." Alice tried not to pout. "I just… I love you a lot, you know? I didn't want to lose you over something stupid, like… like not being good enough."

Deb hesitates a moment, and then hugs Alice from behind. "Alice, you'll always be more than enough. If anything, I'm not good enough for you."

"Bullshit!" Alice turned around, properly returning the hug before pulling away slightly so they were face to face. "Deb, you're the most wonderful person I've ever met, and I love you so much. You're a thousand times good enough."

Deb blushed lightly, looking deep into Alice's eyes before they both leaned in, meeting halfway.

Distantly, Alice thought every kiss was as magical as their first, but she knew that wasn't true. Their first kiss was Alice's first ever, and it was kind of a disaster.

Her barely-present thoughts, as well as the kiss, were cut off by the sound of a door closing, and both girls looked to the source of the sound.

Turning away from the now shut door was Curt, hands slightly raised in a non-threatening gesture. Before either of the girls could say anything, Curt whispered, "Don't worry! I'm not gonna tell anyone."

There was a beat before Alice, brushing her hair out of the way, asked, "Uh. Tell anyone what?"

"About you two." He gestured to the two of them with his bad hand. "I, uh. I'm the same way. I promise I won't let anything happen to you because of this, I know some people can be… real violent."

Another moment of silence followed as Alice and Deb looked at each other, confused. A sudden realization crossed Deb's face and she whispered, "Holy shit, he's from the 60s."

"So?" Alice raised an eyebrow, but a moment later understood. "Oh. Oh!" She leaned into Deb's shoulder for a moment and laughed.

She heard Curt ask, "What? What's funny?" sounding confused, and slightly afraid.

The couple broke apart and turned to Curt, hands linked. "Curt…" Alice explained, still not over the humor she found in the situation. "Same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015. It's… okay to be gay, now. No one is gonna hurt us, not here at least."

Deb nodded. "Hatchetfield is pretty chill. There are still homophobes an' shit, but most people are supportive, or at least don't care."

Curt had been very tense, but as the explanation went on he looked more and more… surprised. Happy, even. "So, you're saying… we don't have to hide? No one's gonna kill us for being like this, we won't get fired and probably killed there, too?"

Deb shook her head. "No, man. Those are pretty extreme cases."

"Some people will still try, " Alice added, "but there are laws in place to prevent it. LGBT people might not be accepted everywhere, but they aren't illegal. Not in the U.S.."

Curt nodded, not saying anything further. Alice took a hesitant step forward. "You… You said you were like us?"

He nodded again. "I didn't think-" He cut himself off with a near-choking noise. He had a small smile on his face, yet looked to be on the verge of crying.

Deb offered him a hand. "I was fourteen when it happened, and I cried I was so happy. It's oddly exhausting, to be accepted."

Curt cracked a grin, laughing slightly as he took her hand and squeezed it. He looked to the door, happier than either had seen him in the three days he had been there. "I've gotta tell Owe-" he cut himself off, and the smile dropped instantly.

Deb tapped his hand, trying to get his attention back on them, to no avail. "Hey, man, you okay…?"

Curt nodded, eyes cold. "Fine. I'm fine." He slipped his hand out of Deb's and took a step back towards the door. "...Thanks. For telling me. It's nice to know, really."

"No prob, man." Deb muttered, confused.

"Glad that you can be yourself, now." Alice gave him a smile, hoping it would help a bit.

He gave her a weak smile in return as he opened the door. "Stay safe. Oh, and," he gestured to the pot, "your noodles are burning. See ya!"

Sure enough, they were getting overcooked, and Alice nearly burned herself rushing to get the pot off the fire. Once all the water was drained, they were left with slightly stiff noodles. 

Alice got out plates as Deb quickly heated up some marinara sauce, making a mental note not to put any on Hannah's, as Lex had told her that she didn't like the texture.

"I think him and Owen were dating." Alice stated, plating the noodles. "And that night when they arrived sounds more and more like a break-up."

Deb considered it for a moment, and then nodded. "I can see it. But hey, some relationships end."

"I hope ours doesn't. Alice turned to her girlfriend, a teasing smile on her face. "A thousand and one nights with you isn't enough."

Late afternoon on the 30th, Hannah snuck away from the teens to get some time with herself. Well, with John and Webby. She had been smothered, literally and figuratively, for the last few days and just wanted to talk a walk around the house. 

Apparently, there was a lot she hadn't explored. Alice had told the group about the greenhouse her and her dad had stumbled upon, and no one else had seen it. They sent Oliver as a representative to ask the Professor, and he came back confirming its existence, along with several other rooms the kids had never seen.

Hannah enjoyed nature, and was currently trying to find the greenhouse, but Alice couldn't give very good directions so she was pretty certain she was just getting herself lost. It was less scary than being lost outside, but part of her worried that she would never find her way back.

John and Webby were talking, mostly to each other, but Hannah wasn't listening. Whatever they were talking about, it sounded boring and technical and if it was important they'd tell her later.

She wandered down hallways and up and down stairs, looking for the two details Alice was able to provide; black and white tiled floors, and a big door that looked like a safe.

When she finally came across black and white tiled floors, she bounced, hoping she was finally close. She opened and looked into every door, hoping that it would lead to another hallway that would have the safe-like door to the greenhouse. 

Unfortunately, none of them did. She did, however, throw open a door to find a large library… and a gun pointed in her direction, not for the first time. She let go of the doorknob and ran, only to find herself lost, and apparently having looped back into the same hallway.

As she stopped and looked around for a place to hide, she heard a voice, gently accented. "It's alright, Hannah, it was just instincts, I'm sorry." 

For a moment, Hannah thought the voice was in her head. She faintly saw John kneel beside her, voice calm. "It was a false alarm. It's just him."

Hannah turned around, and walking up to her was Owen, no weapon in sight. He fixed his hair and smiled at her, anxiety hidden under a charming facade.

"Are you alright? I figure you've been in that situation a few too many times, haven't you, my dear?"

She nodded, taking a step back. This Owen was not infected, she knew that, but there was still so much about him that felt off. Perhaps she just trusted Curt too much. The two spies had barely spoken in the few days they had been here, and the few times they were even in the same room the air was tense.

"Hannah?" He kneeled to her height, and she looked firmly at his jacket. It looked warm. "Are you lost?"

She shook her head. "Looking for greenhouse. Safe door."

He nodded. "I haven't come across any greenhouse, sorry. This place is… labyrinthine."

"What?" That was a weird word. Owen and Curt seemed to use a lot of weird words.

"Ah, maze-like. Twisty, confusing." He stood up. "Somehow, this hallway circles back, all while seeming like a straight hallway. I assume it turns very subtly, but who in their right mind would design a place like this? And who would choose to live in it?"

"The Professor."

Owen sighed. "Apparently so." He walked past Hannah, back towards the room she had found him in. "A lot of these rooms are empty, but this library is immaculate. And there's so much I haven't even heard of… probably because they haven't been written yet, I suppose."

Hannah followed him, though she wasn't sure why. She didn't exactly trust him, but he was the most familiar corporeal thing around here, and he knew how to use a gun, so she figured he'd be safe enough for the time being. Furthermore, libraries were nice and quiet, and she was interested in what books the Professor had.

Owen picked a book up off the floor, making sure the pages weren't bent, or at least not much, and sat back in his chair, picking up where he left off.

Hannah searched around for something interesting, Webby and John making suggestions, almost none of which she agreed with. With a huff, she stomped over to the chairs and sat across from Owen. He glanced up at her with a smirk before returning to the page.

"You remind me of him," he said quietly. "Curt, that is. And that's not a bad thing."

Hannah tilted her head. "How?"

"You're intelligent, but not necessarily in the typical way. You're curious about the things that other people do, and try to copy them, but can't stay with it." He smiled, gaze steadily on his book. "It's comforting, I suppose, to have someone oddly familiar around."

Hannah looked at her feet. "What're you reading?"

He paused a moment before explaining. "It's called Doctor Zhivago. The book doesn't seem to have a publishing date," he flips to the beginning for emphasis and to look again, keeping his spot with his thumb, "but I've never heard of it before. It's about Communism in Russia at the beginning of the century. There's a romance aspect too, but it seems to mostly be a tragedy."

"Sad things aren't… always bad."

Owen nodded. "I completely agree. And while this book is a bit hard to follow, it's very interesting."

Hannah nodded back, and continued to stare at her feet. For a few minutes they sat in silence, Owen reading and Hannah thinking, before she finally spoke up again.

"What do you.. think of Curt?"

Owen kept his expression neutral and his eyes on the book. "We were partners. Friends. It's all over now, and so we are simply… survivors, existing in the same space." He aggressively flipped a page. "There's not really anything else to it."

Hannah kicked her feet. "Think you like him. I think you like him, still."

Owen hesitated a moment, staring at (but not necessarily reading) his book. "...I don't think I do. He left me, humiliated me in front of you all, was ready to shoot me… It was a betrayal ."

Hannah looked up. Owen's voice had faltered at the end, and his expression had similarly twisted. Dark eyes continued to glare at the book, which he gripped tightly. Before Hannah could speak up, he continued.

"You know, he swore he never would. He promised me, he would keep in touch when he could, he wouldn't lie to me, he wouldn't abandon me like everyone else-" The book was dropped, and Owen's hands pulled at his hair, eyes screwed shut, breath speeding up, and he continued, "He said he wouldn't do this to me, he knew what the others had done, but apparently he's a filthy liar who was prepared to shoot me on the spot! I can't believe he fooled me, I can't believe I trusted him, why would he do this? He promised he would always love me!"

With that, Owen seemed to snap out of it. His eyes opened wide and he seemed, for a moment, calm. Quietly, he added, "He promised. And I promised him the same." 

His hands fell to his lap as he took long, calculated breaths, lost in thought. He stared forward at Hannah, but saw straight through her.

She sat quietly, watching his chest rise and fall. "Partners." She whispered. "Not just spies?"

Owen gave a microscopic nod in response. "He always called me out for holding grudges, losing my temper…" He leaned down to pick up the book that had fallen from his lap, once again checking for creased pages. "It seems the tables have turned. I just wish I knew why."

He tried to return to his book, but Hannah continued to watch him, mindlessly. She knew what happened. Rather, she knew part of it. She wondered if telling him would help, or make things worse.

"Broken bones, broken trust," Webby muttered. "Bloody bullets, bloody hands. Spies never die."

"Spies never die," Hannah repeated.

Owen looked up. "What did you just say?"

She looked away, at the arm of the chair he was sitting on. "Spies never die."

"...Where did you learn that phrase?"

"Webby."

"Ah," he tried to relax, but Hannah could tell he was confused. "The, um, space spider, is it? She… she sounds nice, from what I hear."

Hannah nodded. "Very nice. Protects me." She paused. "Most people… don't think she's real."

"Is she real to you?" He asked, leaning forward. Hannah nodded. "That's all that really matters, doesn't it?"

Hannah bit her lip, shrugging. "People say I'm weird. Crazy." She flapped her hands, anxious, but then settled on tugging her braids. "Lexie says… Wired differently."

"Does your sister believe in Webby?"

She nodded. "I think… she didn't, 'til Black Friday."

Owen hummed. "That whole mess is still rather confusing to me, I admit. Dimensions, monsters, timelines… And war with Russia. I guess our work really is for nothing."

Hannah watched his fists clench and bit her lip harder. "You're helpful!" She exclaimed, much louder than she wanted. "You… You and Curt. Help a lot, I know it. Helped me, and the Professor, and everyone. I dunno about before, but… I'm sure you helped then."

Owen was quiet for a long moment, and she continued to bite her lip. When she dared to look closer to his face, she saw him smiling softly. 

"I'm sorry, Hannah." He stood, walking over to her. "You're smart and brave, but you're still so young. I shouldn't be stressing you with my problems."

Kneeling in front of her, his smile faltered. "Look at that, your lip is bleeding."

Hannah reached up to her face and saw that she did, indeed, draw blood. "Sorry, sorry."

"No, no, don't be. I thank you for listening, but I shouldn't have worried you." He stood and offered her a hand. After a moment of hesitation, she lightly took it, standing herself. 

Owen's hands were rough and calloused, and she was sure there was theoretical blood covering every square centimeter… but something about them comforted her. These were hands capable of so much pain, but he chose to do good. Hands that wielded a gun, but also flipped pages through pages of love stories. 

When they reached the doorway of the library, his grip slackened, but Hannah held tighter. He faltered for a moment before resuming his hold.

"Alright, then." He looked around. "Let's see if we can't find our way back to the group, shall we?"

Hannah wiped the blood off her chin and gave him a nod. He led the way, but walked at Hannah's pace. 

As they neared familiar hallways, she looked up at him. "You're like Curt, too." She told him, honesty ringing in her tone. "You're both good."

The evening of the 31st, the teen had convinced the adults to throw a small party for the New Year, in hopes it would boost morale. At least, that was their reason; the truth was more that they were getting bored hanging out by themselves.

All things considered, the party went rather well, though the usual cliques and couples stuck more to themselves. Everyone was far too tired to stay up till midnight, and the Professor didn't quite trust the clocks anyway, so around ten o'clock most everyone had retired to their rooms.

Not long after falling asleep, Ethan and Oliver were woken up to the sound of panicked breathing and someone thrashing around. Flipping on the lights, they found the source was in the room with them — it was Curt. He was tangled in his sheets, his normally neatly-combed hair stuck to his face with sweat, his breath quick and sporadic.

Oliver put on his glasses and joined Ethan at Curt's bedside. Ethan was gently shaking Curt's arm, trying to wake him up, but only succeeding in making everything worse. The spy lashed out, just narrowly missing Ethan, who jumped back.

"Don't mess with him," Oliver advised, backing up himself. "It's obviously a nightmare. He'll either wake up or get through it."

"That's a shitty way of dealing with it," Ethan grumbled. He gestured widely to Curt, glaring at Oliver. "Does that look like he's just gonna get through it? We gotta do something."

"There's nothing we can do. It's his nightmare, he has to deal with it."

"Banana gets nightmares all the time. This doesn't…" He looked back to Curt with worry in his brow. "This doesn't look the same."

"Hannah is thirteen, Curt is… Well, I don't know how old he is, but he's an adult. Of course there's a difference."

Ethan stayed quiet for a moment before snapping and turning back to Oliver. "He's a spy!"

"Yes," Oliver sighed, "we've known that."

"I know, I know, but listen. He's clearly been a spy for a while, he's prolly been through some shit. Maybe it's that fuckin', uh… thing Mr. Houston's got!"

"PTSD?" Oliver thought for a moment. "That… does make sense, actually."

"Yeah! And it takes one to know one!"

"Wait, what?"

Before Oliver could get Ethan to explain further, he was gone, rushing out of the room and down the hall. Oliver sighed and sat on his bed, rubbing his eyes. 

It wasn't that he didn't care about Curt, but the spy didn't seem like the type to want someone to sit with him through a nightmare or a flashback or whatever this was. He also just really wanted to get back to sleep.

Ethan came back a few minutes later, with a very tired Tom in tow. Oliver held his head in his hands. "You woke up Mr. Houston?!" He whisper-shouted.

"Yeah!" Ethan chirped, at a normal volume. "Because, like, if he's got it he would know how to help."

"Ethan, it's the middle of the night-"

"It's alright, Oliver." Tom held up a hand and the boys settled down. "This shit… it sucks to be alone. You were just doing what you thought was right."

With that, he kneeled beside Curt's bed and did as Ethan did, gently shaking the man to try and wake him up. Again, he lashed out, but Tom caught his arm, holding it steady.

"Curt? C'mon, buddy, you can snap out of it…" Tom's voice was calm and steady, and sadly experienced.

Curt continued to struggle, and Tom continued to try and wake him up. Now that the door was open, his struggles and cries could be heard down the hall, and a few people showed up, confused and sleepy, looking for answers. 

Finally, Curt's eyes shot open and he lunged forward, reaching for something, screaming one word: "OWEN!"

The cry was pure, visceral anguish, and those close enough could feel it echoing in their chests. Curt sat, gasping, in his bed, awake but not necessarily aware.

Tom had one hand on Curt's chest still, and eventually the spy found and clutched it. It seemed to help ground him, and he went from staring vacantly at the wall to Tom, and then further back to Ethan and Oliver.

Just as his breathing seemed to even, there were footsteps, and everyone looked to the door. Owen had just walked up, tucking his gun away into the inside of a half-put on jacket.

Him and Curt locked eyes, and for a few long moments, there was silence. 

Just as Owen began to speak, Curt pulled Tom's hand off of him and got out of bed, pulling on his own jacket. He still seemed dazed, and his breathing was far from even.

As he headed for the door, Tom put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Curt, you should sit-"

The spy was clearly not listening, as he shrugged Tom's hand off his shoulder and muttered, "I just need a drink."

He slipped past Owen and the rest of the small crowd, heading down the hall, and down the stairs, into the kitchen.

His flask had been empty for a while now. Every now and then, when this happened and he didn't feel like refilling it, he would try and convince himself into going sober. His current high score was a week.

The Professor, luckily, had an extensive collection of booze, and Curt had found in his short stay at the house that modern alcohol was much more potent than what he was used too.

All the quicker to get shitfaced , he told himself, pouring some very strong vodka into his flask.

As he sat at the bar, drinking from the bottle, he tried to fix his hair and calm down from his nightmare. It was always the same, with small, insignificant changes.

Owen died. Twice. Just like real life. They were both Curt's fault. Just like real life. 

Every time, he told himself he had moved on. That the Owen he killed wasn't the man he once knew. And he was just starting to believe it when this shit happened.

Owen was back, and he didn't know what to do, so he pushed him away. He'd rather Owen hate him then have him die by his hands a third time. He already had to shoot a zombie-Owen, and even that was too much. Had him breaking down in front of a kid, who does that?

He fiddled with the flask. Owen had gotten it for him, for his 28th birthday; his first after they started dating. That night they had hid away and drank out of it together, the taste of the alcohol an afterthought to the presence of each other.

Fuck, he missed Owen. He missed him every day.

The barstool next to Curt was pulled back with a screech, and a man in a familiar brown jacket sat beside him. He stole the bottle out of Curt's hand and took a swig.

Owen set it back down with a sigh. "We can't keep doing this. It's not how we work."

Curt took the bottle back, avoiding looking at Owen as much as he could. "Keep doing what?" He asked, playing dumb, before taking another drink.

"Avoiding each other. Causing infighting." Frustrated, Owen added, "Playing dumb and getting wasted," as he once again took the bottle from Curt and slid it down the counter away from them both.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Curt argued, reaching for his flask. Owen got to it first, and Curt tensed. "That's mine."

"I'm the one who gave it to you," Owen frowned, tracing his finger over the engraved symbol. It was a tree, fully in bloom, but the trunk was a helix. Owen remembered that he enjoyed the symbolism, but Curt just thought it was a neat tree.

Owen tapped the flask. "You said you wanted to grow a tree like this someday." He smiled fondly, recalling their late-night discussion about an ideal future. "You wanted it in the backyard of the house, with a tire swing so you could spin the kids around until they were too dizzy to stand."

Curt chuckled, tapping the countertop. "Yeah… but you told me trees don't grow like that, and it's just a symbol or whatever."

"It means resilience. And the tree is for change." Owen set the flask back on the counter. "A little contradictory, but I thought it suited you perfectly."

Curt sighed, stealing the flask back, but not drinking from it. He stuffed it into the inner pocket of his jacket, and dared to look over at Owen.

"You're handsome." He nodded. "I can say that now, you know? It's not illegal. I won't die for it anymore." He leaned on the counter, not looking away. "It's nice. One less thing to be constantly stressed about."

Owen nodded, smiling, but stared steadily at the countertop. "I heard. Alice said she thought I should know."

"She's a good kid. They're all… good people, you know?"

Owen nodded, and then abruptly shook his head. "You got me off topic, you old bloke. I wanted to talk about us."

Curt was suddenly brought back to reality and forced himself to look away from Owen. "There's nothing to talk about."

"Yes there is. I understand why you were wary of me at first, but you've become so aggressive, and you're still avoiding me… What did I do? Why are you-" The words died in his throat, but Curt understood. Guilt settled in his stomach as he glared across the counter at the fridge.

"I can't tell you." He finally responded. "It's… It hasn't happened for you yet. It's not your fault."

Owen was quiet. Curt glanced over and winced when he was met with the other man's seething glare. He looked too much like the man Curt killed on the stairs.

"I'm dead." Owen stated flatly.

Curt sat up, eyes wide. "What?"

The two spies locked eyes. "By 1963 I'm dead, aren't I?" He asked. Curt said nothing, and Owen sighed. "I'm not stupid, Curt, it's not that hard to figure out."

"...Yes." Curt gulped.

"Yes what?"

"Don't make me say it, Owe."

Owen nodded, conflict showing in his eyes as he finally looked away and released Curt from his trance. "That still doesn't make sense. Death is part of the job, Curt, it's inevitable. Even if I died very recently for you, how you're acting makes no sense."

Curt sputtered, an anger rising in him. "What the hell are you talking about? How does this not make sense to you?"

"The Curt I knew wouldn't let himself drown in grief and misery. He wouldn't lose himself like you clearly have. Yes, he would mourn, and I believe he would miss me. But for all his bullheadedness, the Curt I know would understand that he has to keep going."

Curt is silent for a moment, swallowing his emotions to keep his voice level. "You don't know what happens."

"I don't need too." Owen faced Curt once again, holding his counterparts' face to force eye contact. "Curt. I love you. I love every version of you. But this  you is not the man I know and love. He's not the man I'm partnered with in every way." He gently rubbed his thumb over Curt's cheek before reaching up and fixing his hair. "I'd like to be partners again. But to do that you have to trust me."

"It's not that I don't trust you," Curt whispered, leaning into the touch. "It's that I don't trust myself."

"Now what could've possibly happened to cause that?"

"I don't think I should tell you." He gulped. "I don't know if I can."

"Of course." There was a beat, and Owen sighed. "Seeing you like this kills me. Seeing you not trust me, or yourself, it truly hurts me. But…" He pulled his hands away, and for a moment Curt chased after the warmth. "...That's not something I can fix. Not without you putting in the effort, too."

Curt paused, gazing into Owen's brown eyes; honey brown, you know? Light mixed with some dark, and in the light they're really pretty. They were really pretty right now, too.

"If I… got better," he asked, slowly, not looking away, "what would you do?"

Owen chuckled, smiling sadly. "I'd see if anyone around here knows any happy songs and lead you in a dance."

He sighed, standing and patting Curt's shoulder. "Maybe we'll get there. It's been a long time since we've danced."

"Yeah… maybe." Curt muttered, hanging his head.

Owen began to leave, but paused at the doorway, looking back at Curt. "Goodnight, love. And happy New Year."

Curt looked up; a clock on the mini-oven (apparently called a microwave) read 12:11AM in bright green numbering. When he looked back to the door, Owen was gone, but he still whispered "Goodnight, darling," into the night.

Chapter Text

Hannah blinked. Her vision stayed fuzzy, her other senses similarly muted. Everything felt far away.

She couldn't remember how she had gotten outside again, and so far into town, further than she had gone on Christmas. She called for Webby and John, but neither answered. Hannah couldn't even hear her own voice.

As she walked past abandoned buildings, she came across two men, neither of whom she could make out too well. One had glasses, and was dressed warmly. The other stood with unnaturally good posture, like he didn't feel the cold at all. 

"Hello, sir," The strange man spoke, tone flat. "It's very cold out. Do you need somewhere to stay?"

"You can dr-drop the act," the bespeckled man chattered in a nasally voice. "Our le-leaders are brothers. I've come to st-strike a deal."

The strange man tilted his head. "You are not one of us, yet you know of Pokotho?" He waited as the man with the glasses nodded. "Interesting. What is this deal?"

"Hi-Hidgen's group is a problem for us both," he explained. "I c-can help you get in. I just n-ne-need one of them."

"Simple enough."

"There's more," he interrupted, raising a gloved hand. "N-Not just any one of them. We need th-the Prophet."

The strange man seemed to stiffen further, if that was possible. "What purpose does he have with the Prophet?"

"She can in-interact with the Black and White. W-We need her to co-complete our project."

The strange man didn't respond for a long moment. "We need her as well. We'll agree to this deal as long as she is given to us once he is finished with her."

The bespectacled man nodded feverently. "Of c-course! Of course. And I pr-promise you, I'm a man of my word. A-Always was."

He offered his hand to shake, but the strange man did not take it. Instead, his voice grew intense as he added, "Make sure to tell him not to break her, or he'll have Pokotho to answer too. And you will have it even worse."

The man with the glasses took his hand back and nodded again, slower. The strange man waited a moment before speaking again, though it was closer to singing. "So~ when do we start?"

Before the man with glasses could respond, Hannah's world spun, becoming even harder to understand than before. She felt herself falling through the ground, and then through an endless black expanse, past bright, looming eyes, and into the many large arms of a familiar woman in white.

Hannah blinked. The fluorescent lights above her flickered near-imperceptibly. She was safe in her bed, in the Professor's house.

Her head was spinning from what she had just experienced, and she jumped when Lex rubbed her back.

Her sister took away her hands the second Hannah flinched. "Hey, Banana, happy New Year. How are you feeling?"

Hannah reached for her braids, only to find they had been undone, like every night. "Bad day," she croaked out.

"Bad day? It's barely started," Lex frowned. "What's wrong?"

Hannah tried to talk, but the light was still flickering and no one else seemed to notice, and her dream was still vivid in her memory, and her ears were ringing, and she still hadn't heard from Webby or John, so try as she might, she couldn't make herself say anything more. She settled for shaking her head at Lex and waving her off. 

Lex nodded, offering her hand, which Hannah refused. "You tell me when you're ready, okay?" She whispered, and Hannah nodded. The older girl looked to the end of Hannah's bed before reluctantly returning to getting ready.

Hannah put on the Warriors cap and pulled her blanket over her head. The world was too much for the moment, she just needed to calm down a bit.

As the fog began to clear and she could think a bit more clearly, there was a faint voice in her head. "Safe, Hannah. Caught you."

"I know," She whispered. "I-" Her voice caught in her throat.

"Don't force yourself," whispered John. She could see part of his crossed legs cutting through the blanket into her tented area. "Just relax. I'll see if I can get the lights off."

"No!" She croaked, pulling her hair too hard. "Stay, stay…"

John didn't respond, but he didn't leave either. Listening, Hannah could hear people walking, and the lights flicked off. A humming she hadn't even registered until then stopped, and she almost immediately felt better.

"Do you want me to stay, Banana?" She heard Lex whisper at her side.

Hannah decided not to try and talk this time and instead stuck her hand out from under the blanket. Lex took it and gave it a gentle squeeze.

The girls sat quietly in the dark until Hannah felt calm enough to get ready for the day. The first day of 2019 — what a way to start.

They sat on Hannah's bed as Lex braided her hair, John somewhat visible, sitting on the edge.

"Can you tell me what upset you?" Lex asked, tying off the first braid after several tries to get it looking nice in the dark.

Hannah fiddled with the Warriors' cap in her hands. "Nightmare time… I think."

"You think?"

"People talking. In town. Coming here, looking for Prophet." She looked over her shoulder, making eye contact with her sister. "Not safe here. Someone's coming."

Lex paused, unsure how to respond. "We're pretty safe here, this place is, well. A safehouse, more or less. If someone comes in we can hide in one of those rooms deeper inside until they pass, and then sneak out, or fight back."

Hannah shook her head, but turned so Lex could restart the other braid. "Not safe. Made a deal. Looking for Prophet."

"Didn't they call Linda the Prophet?" Lex pointed out. "And she's dead, so we're safe. If they're looking for her body, it's… well, I guess Gary made off with it, but it's probably still by the mall."

"Linda was the Prophet of Wiggly," John clarified, and Lex jumped.

"Fuck, that's what you sound like?"

"Oh, you can hear me?" He looked down to Hannah, who was still fidgeting. "I suppose that makes sense."

"Yeah, Hannah told me about the, uh, emotional link thing," she sighed. "I guess this is pretty serious, then."

"We saw it, too," he told Lex. "Me and Webby, that is. It was different than the usual premonitions. It was… too clear. Too long."

"So that means what? It's not from the future?"

John snapped back up to look at Lex, but quickly looked away from her face. "A solid theory, though all the more worrying. If it's not from the future, then it's already happened. Their plan is surely in action already."

"Well, they're looking for Linda, right?" Lex tied off Hannah's other braid, patting her sister's head before letting her put on the Warriors' cap. "Why would they come here if they're looking for her?"

"That's what I was saying. Linda was the Prophet of Wiggly. But three separate times now, Hannah has been called the Prophet of Hatchetfield by the Infected," John explained.

Lex's face dropped. "They're looking for Hannah?"

"It would seem so."

She clenched her fists for a moment before forcing herself to relax and putting a hand on Hannah's shoulder, getting her attention. "Hey, we're gonna protect you, okay? No one's gonna hurt you, not on my watch. Okay?"

Hannah bit her lip, but nodded. "Okay."

"Good!" Lex smiled. "We should tell everyone about this, right? So we can prepare? Lock the house down and all that?"

Hannah nodded again, and the two girls got up, John following suit. As they walked through the house, warning those they found, Hannah tried to gage people's reactions. 

The teens overall believed her, or at least were worried enough to help out. The adults, however, were a bit harder to convince.

Tom believed her, he had been trusting her predictions wholeheartedly since she kept Tim safe outside, and he seemed to convince Becky. Curt believed her, for reasons he couldn't articulate beyond a gut feeling.

The rest were a different story. Owen claimed to believe her, but seemed more confused than anything. The Professor said he believed her, and even spoke of preparing, but it didn't sound like he was taking it seriously, or really listening that much. The rest wrote it off as a nightmare, most citing that Hannah couldn't give enough details to solidify it as a real threat.

The only three remaining people to tell were Bill, Paul, and Oliver, who had been out since earlier in the morning, looking for a usable vehicle so the group could hopefully travel to the Nantucket Bridge and see who exactly had holed themselves up there.

Feeling defeated, Hannah sat in the Fun Room with Lex, making chess pieces fight or kiss or something, she couldn't really tell, they didn't have faces or limbs. 

"It'll be alright, Hannah," Lex tried to reassure her. "Some people don't believe you, and they're idiots, but they'll still help protect you, even if only because they're gonna be protecting themselves too, get it?"

Hannah nodded, not looking up from the table. She was getting really sick of these life-or-death scenarios, and she didn't want anyone else getting hurt.

Across from her, beside Lex, sat John. He was a bit ghostly to Hannah, a little quiet for Lex, but present nonetheless. He had tried to give Lex and Hannah more information to help convince people, but there were some screw-ups in the relay, and not everyone knew what the hell he was talking about, so he ended up feeling a bit pointless.

He fidgeted with his vest and hair, earning a couple curious looks from Lex, which he ignored. Him and the Foster's had decided not to go telling everyone he was there, as his case seemed to be different and more complicated than Webby's, and most people in the house only barely believed in her. 

With only Hannah and Webby, and occasionally Lex, to talk too, John had been feeling more and more disconnected, ostracized, and that was on top of the several dangerous situations Hannah had gotten into recently, some of which were his fault. One of which almost killed her.

No one wanted to consider how things would be if John hadn't managed to break out of the Black and White. Hannah would've died — worse, been infected — but that would've only been the start. Lex and the others surely would've looked for her, possibly getting infected themselves. The Hive would have access to Hannah's powers. 

And what would happen to John? Would he be tethered to an Infected? Would it affect him, too? Or would he cease to exist, like he was supposed too?

John blinked hard, looking away from the spot on the table he had been glaring a hole into. He was safe, for now. More importantly, Hannah was safe. And he would make sure she stayed safe.

Lex, apparently tired of the sullen silence, began collecting and setting up the chessboard. "C'mon, Banana, let's play. You've been getting pretty good."

Hannah handed over her pieces, and as they were deciding who would be what color, a crowd came in. Ethan stomped over to Lex and Hannah, looking irritated, and sat where John was, though he couldn't see. Hannah covered her mouth to stop herself from laughing, and Lex sputtered as John stood and paced around the area instead.

Along with Ethan, Alice and Deb had come in, huddled together, looking worried.

"What happened?" Lex asked, looking at her boyfriend.

Ethan's frown deepened. "Henry's being a dick. He said there's no threat to prepare for, if the Infected get in then it'll be fine, yadda yadda."

"And the group is late," He added, rubbing his face. "Bill, Paul, Oliver, they went looking for a car, they should've been back a while ago."

"That explains a lot," Lex sighed, rubbing Ethan's back. She looked to Hannah across the table and shrugged. "I guess you were right about it being a bad day, huh?"

Hannah nodded, looking at the black and white pieces on the chessboard. She decided that too many things were black and white. They were really overrated colors.

Deb had decided to distract Alice by putting on a movie. Since getting the TV and setup on Christmas, the group had held a couple movie nights, but not as frequent as cinema fanatic Ethan would've liked. 

Though it was a little late for it, they found a version of A Christmas Carol that was some kind of 80s musical. On any other day, Hannah would've enjoyed it, but today she just had too many thoughts, too many worries, and music was just too much. 

She covered her ears and glared harder at the chessboard. Lex tapped the table to get her attention. "Do you wanna go somewhere quieter?"

"Yeah, say the word, Banana, and we'll split," Ethan dropped his pouting and gave her a smirk.

Hannah shook her head. "Stay here. Gotta stay here. Safer here."

Lex bit her lip, and glanced at John. He held his breath, worry in his brow. There was something in the air. Maybe it was the emotions in the room, but he couldn't help agreeing with Hannah; it was safer in the Fun Room. 

When she didn't get a verbal response from John, Lex sighed and looked back to Hannah. "Okay. We won't go anywhere you don't wanna go."

Hannah hummed her thanks, and she sunk into the chair. It was terrible in here, but she had to stay. She had to stay.

About halfway through the Christmas Carol, Hannah sat up, eyes wide, looking at the door. John had done similar, and Lex followed their gazes. "What is it?" she whispered.

"Don't open it," Hannah whispered back. "Don't open it."

In her head, Webby was chanting, "Stay locked, stay safe, stay locked, stay safe, stay locked, stay safe-"

Ethan raised an eyebrow, looking to the door as well. "There's no one there, Han-"

The doorknob rattled before he could finish. The door was locked. Alice turned down the TV, and Lex threw a chess piece at her to get her attention.

"Don't open it," she whisper-yelled through gritted teeth.

Holding her head where the piece hit her, she gave Lex a confused look, mouthing "What the fuck?"

The doorknob rattled again. After a moment, it was followed by a knock. And then another. And then a voice.

"Hello? Anyone in here?"

Alice jumped up; it was Bill. She ran to the door, relieved her dad was finally back.

"Don't!" Hannah and John shouted at the same time, though only one was audible to her.

It was too late. Alice unlocked and opened the door, and upon seeing it was, indeed, Bill, she hugged him. "You've gotta stop doing this, you keep coming back late and giving me panic attacks!"

Bill looked around the room before hugging Alice back tightly. He gave everyone else a tight smile. "I promise I won't do that anymore. What've you all been up too?"

Deb shrugged. "Watchin' a movie… I think they're playin' chess."

Bill looked to the chess table, where everyone was tense and anxious. Hannah and him locked eyes before she looked away, focusing on Alice's hair instead.

His grin grew, and he stepped forward, shutting the door behind him. "Sounds like fun," he patted Alice's head, and she finally began to release her hug.

Bill's grip remained firm. He looked to the TV, which had been paused. "A musical? My favorite!"

Alice laughed, but it sounded nervous. "Yeah, a little more like a horror movie given our current situation…" She tried once again to escape his hug, and again failed.

She coughed. "Uh, dad… You can let me go now…"

Bill continued to look at the (still paused and muted) TV. "I think I know that song, too. It's sweet." He looked down at Alice with a smile that had turned unnerving. "Reminds me of you, Alice."

Hannah covered her ears as the man began to sing, all but forcing Alice to dance with him.

"I don't know about fancy things,

I don't know about luxury~

But tonight I feel like a King

surrounded by the Royal Family."

His singing was too perfect for someone who had never seen the movie before and only seen some of the lyrics on screen. Alice realized this too and screamed, trying, desperately, to get away from the man who was once her father. Hannah could see her arms bruising from across the room. 

As the song continued, Lex and John stood in front of Hannah, hiding her in the corner and looking around the room for any potential weapons. Ethan and Deb, meanwhile, tried to wrench Alice free from Bill's grip, with little success, as he repeatedly knocked them away.

"Being with you,

Being together is a treasure

Impossible to measure

It's priceless!

Even a King

Even a Queen

Could never buy this,

feeling that's inside us,

it's priceless!

Priceless!

Priceless~"

Lex stood to help, and Hannah grabbed her sleeve, shaking her head. She repeated what Webby was now saying, "People coming, gunshot, run, gunshot, run. Wait for gunshot. Lexie," she begged, "Don't leave."

Lex looked back to where the struggle was happening, hesitant, and then kneeled beside Hannah again. "I won't leave you, Hannah. I'll be running right with you, okay?"

There was a crash, and the girls looked back to the fight. Ethan and Deb had finally gotten Alice out of Bill's grasp, and he was standing in front of the doorway, silent. In the moment everyone was holding their breath, he looked to Alice, and began to sing a different tune as he shambled closer.

"Why does it hurt to love you?

Why am I in pain?

Why does it hurt to know you?

You've let me down again…

If I turned my insides out,

would you even know that I was there?

Why does it hurt to love you?

Why does it hurt to love…"

His haunting words seemed to have frozen Alice, as she breathed heavily, panicking, looking for any recognition in his now blue eyes. He put his hands on Alice's shoulders, and the rest happened in a flash.

Alice screamed.

Deb and Ethan rushed to get Bill off of Alice again.

The door was kicked open, and in the doorway stood the Professor, gun at his hip.

There was yelling, Hannah was too scared to make it out exactly, and Curt took the gun from Professor.

A gunshot.

Hannah blinked, and Bill was on the floor, lying on top of Alice, blue blood leaking from a wound in his stomach.

It was Deb's turn to scream as she rushed to Alice's side, shoving Bill's corpse off of her.

Lex covered Hannah's eyes, but she saw. Red blood.

She heard the gun fall, she heard Curt sputtering, piecing together what happened and trying to fix it before he fell apart himself, she heard Deb scream obscenities at him in response-

"Deb, no!" Lex yelled, jumping up and removing her hands from Hannah's eyes.

Deb had her lips to Alice's. She sat up, pressed on Alice's chest a few times, and did it again. Ethan and Lex tried to drag her away, but she punched Ethan between his legs and sent him tumbling, successfully distracting Lex.

She kissed Alice again, and then jerked back as Alice coughed. 

For a moment, Deb looked relieved, before she began coughing as well. Coughs became hacks, became frantic wheezes, and she was choking. Hannah's breath caught in her throat as Alice's head turned to her; the blood around her mouth was blue.

Deb collapsed, but was up quick. She too looked to Hannah, eyes shining with something inhuman.

Three voices sang in unison as three bodies arose, the melody ringing in Hannah's ears.

"Look what happens, Nightmare Time!!! "

"RUN, HANNAH!" Webby's voice boomed louder than the Infected's, and Hannah jumped up and ran right as the three lunged for her.

She collided with the Professor in the doorway, and he held her in place for only a moment. She met his eyes for what felt like the first time ever, and her blood ran cold when she saw the wild look within them.

She was shoved, and she heard Curt yelling, telling her to run, to get away. She didn't think twice listening.

Halfway down the hall, she heard a gunshot and spun around, looking for any sign of Lex and Ethan. Relieved, she spotted Curt shoving them in the other direction.

She would meet up with them on the bottom floor, and they'd be safe together. Everything would be fine.

Hannah ran down the hall and tried not to trip down the stairs. At the bottom, she looked towards the main room, trying to see if Lex and Ethan were at the bottom yet.

"Look out!" John yelled, but he was too late.

There was an arm around Hannah's neck, and before she could scream, there was one over her mouth and nose as well. The arms squeezed, and Hannah's head spun with panic as she recognized the too-familiar feeling of losing oxygen.

She kicked and clawed and tried to bite and yell, but whoever her assaulter was, they didn't let up. John was solid in front of her, at first pulling out his gun and shooting, but there were only clicks. Clearly frustrated, he threw it at the person holding her hostage, but it seemed to do no good.

With no other weapons, John tried to punch and pull the person's arms off of Hannah, but he continued to just phase through, doing nothing.

Hannah felt tears streaming down her face as her vision became spotty and her head light.

"..nnah! Hannah!" John shouted, cutting through the fog in her mind. She met his eyes, and despite all seeming lost, felt safer. "Hannah, blink if you can see me, quickly."

She did so, and he wasted no time. Cupping his hands around his mouth, John shouted louder than she had ever heard before. "LEX! LEX, WE NEED YOUR HELP! LEX!!!"

As Hannah's eyes shut again, she found she couldn't force them open again. She heard a scream, and a crash, and then she was falling through endless black.

Chapter Text

"Hannah… Hannah? C'mon, you gotta wake up, silly."

The voice was soft and kind and not one Hannah had ever heard before. She would remember such a calming voice.

Opening her eyes, the world felt blurry and soft, but what was more surprising was the fact that she was in her bedroom. Not the kids room at the Professor's house, but her bedroom, the one she shared with Lex at their trailer.

The only thing not blurry in the immediate area was the woman sitting across from her. She had wild red hair and an all-denim wardrobe. As Hannah sat up in her bed, the woman smiled.

"Nice to meet you," she offered her hand, which Hannah hesitantly shook. "Well, now. Trouble just seems to keep finding you, huh, Hannah?"

Hannah nodded. Looking at the woman's pretty red hair, she mumbled, "How'd I get here?"

"Oh, this isn't real," she admitted, gesturing to the room, which rippled with the movement. "I just thought you would want to see someplace familiar, rather than the Black and White. It's very empty and boring." She paused. "And… dangerous."

Hannah perked up. " In the Black and White?" She whipped around, eyes scanning. "Webby and John?"

"Ah, I'm afraid they aren't here," she frowned, "though I'd love to see them. It's been a long time. But we're only technically in the Black and White. You were getting lost in your mindscape, so I brought you to mine. The memory of this room, however, is yours."

"...How?"

The woman laughed, polite but genuine. "I'm like you! Psychic, that is. Once I discovered my powers, I learned to control them, and use them as I please. So, I suppose you could call me a witch."

"Witch…" Hannah was very impressed. She barely understood her own powers, and definitely couldn't control them. This witch was very cool, indeed.

"I brought you here… well, to give you a break. It was pure luck that I ran into you, and the second I got too close…" the Witch frowned. "I saw so much heartbreak, even before Wiggly destroyed your world. You're so young, but you've lived a lifetime already…"

Hannah rubbed her eyes, trying not to cry. She knew. It still hurt to be reminded. 

The Witch patted her back, as gentle as her voice. "I can't help you much, but I thought you deserved a little rest. Somewhere safe, just until you're ready to wake up."

"What if I don't wanna wake up?" she asked.

The Witch smiled back at her. "Doesn't matter. I don't believe that's the case. You have people to return too, a chance to get everyone out of there. You don't strike me as a selfish kind of girl."

She was right, of course. Hannah couldn't leave Lex, or Ethan. Webby and John weren't here either; she was more alone in this moment than she had ever been in her entire life. 

"Will… Will I see you again?" Despite this being their first meeting, Hannah felt connected to the Witch. She was nice, gentle, and for once, knew what the hell was going on. It was refreshing.

"I think it's possible," the Witch admitted. "We have a common friend, after all. Duke Keane?"

"Duke!!" Hannah bounced at the name. It had been so long since she had seen him; thinking about him too much made her sad. If he wasn't with them, he was probably dead. "You know Duke?"

The Witch laughed. "Yes! We're good friends, and we work together."

Hannah quirked her head. "Social worker?"

"No," the Witch shook her head, bangs falling in her eyes, "Duke's the social worker. I'm a child psychologist. He calls me to help with kids from time to time. Sometimes its psychology… occasionally it's otherworldly. Either way, I'm his go-to expert."

"But… can't help here?"

The Witch's face dropped. "No, I'm sorry. You seem to be perfectly healthy mentally, minus some trauma from the woman who calls herself your mother… Ah, Duke has told me a bit about you, before, because he was thinking of having me help you before your mother shot it down."

"Sounds like her," Hannah grumbled.

"Anyway," the Witch continued, "as for otherworldly problems, well. While the causes of the apocalypses you're going through are definitely from the Black and White, they're not in it. They're in the real world, and I'm from a different dimension. I'm sorry, Hannah."

Hannah nodded with a sigh, reaching up to adjust her bangs when her fingers brushed the hat she had forgotten she was wearing. The Witch watched the movement and smiled.

"Where'd you get that hat?" she asked. 

Hannah took it off and held it so they both could see the Nighthawks logo on the front. "Ethan. Given to him by a great warrior. Magic, imbued with-"

"-the power of Greyskull," the Witch said with her. Hannah looked up, and she smiled. "Ethan Green, right? I worked with him a long time ago. It's nice to know he kept it after all this time."

"You… You're the great warrior?"

"I suppose so! I give the hats to the kids I work with," the Witch brushed her fingers over the logo, "and they are a little magical, by the way. Protection wards, pretty basic magic, but they can work wonders."

She took the hat from Hannah and put it back on her. Briefly, their eyes met, but Hannah found that despite her calming presence, she still couldn't look the Witch in the eye.

She did, however, see her lips turn to a sad smile. "You're going to have to wake up soon, I'm sorry to say. There's someone waiting for you."

Hannah nodded sadly, and with a final look around the room, made her decision. "I'm ready."

The Witch nodded. "Good luck, Hannah."


When Hannah opened her eyes next, she was much less comfortable, left with a strange metallic taste in her mouth. The Witch was gone, her room was gone. Instead, she was in a small room that smelled like cleaning supplies, empty except for two chairs, one of which she was tied too.

In the other chair sat John, leg bouncing anxiously, the most solid she had seen him since the McNamalien incident; not even talking about special interests had gotten him to the point where he was indistinguishable from a corporeal person. 

"John!" she was intensely relieved to see him, despite the circumstances. Before the word was even fully out of her mouth, he bolted up.

"Hannah," he sounded exhausted. He told her once he didn't need sleep anymore, but after today, she had some serious doubts. "Hannah, Bug, tell me you're alright."

"Tied up," she huffed, "Neck hurts. But… okay." She bit her lip, figuring it was far from the best time to bring up the "Bug" thing again, especially with how closed-off about it he was before.

Regardless, he seemed relieved, though didn't become any less solid. "That's good. Don't struggle, keep your energy. They're bound to untie you at some point, and that's when we'll make our escape. We'll have to find a quicker way back to Hidgen's house, though, walking across the whole island will take far too long-"

"Across the island?" Hannah questioned. "Where are we?"

"At the bridge," he had begun pacing around in front of Hannah, hands flapping like he was trying to shoo away all his anxieties. "At the bridge. At Nantucket bridge. Some little, little building right by the bridge."

John then smacked himself upside the head and stopped pacing. Hannah frowned. "Don't do that. Don't hurt yourself. We'll be okay. John? We'll be okay."

"I know," he let out a long breath. "We do this all the time. PEIP does this all the time. You'll be fine. I just-"

He was turned away from her, but she heard a struggled and irritated breath. Sitting back on the chair, he crossed his arms, leg bouncing again, and said nothing else.

"You okay?" she whispered.

John gestured vaguely at the lights with trembling hands and recrossed his arms. He cleared his throat repeatedly, then shook his head with a huff.

"It's okay," Hannah continued to whisper, realizing what was happening. "It's okay, it's okay."

She looked around for a lightswitch, but only found it by craning her head backwards over the chair. It was right by the door that she hadn't known was there until just then. It made sense for there to be a door, of course, how would anyone get in or out of the room. 

The bad part was that, since she was tied to the chair, Hannah could not get to the light switch.

With a sigh, she slumped back into the chair and lifted her head to look at John. "I'm sorry."

He had his eyes closed, but gave her a brief smile that said "thanks for trying."

They sat in silence for another moment, as they couldn't communicate for obvious reasons and Hannah didn't want to make things worse. She wondered what Webby was surely yelling at them. Though, it was possible that John could still hear Webby even though she couldn't, a sensation that was still very foriegn to her. In that case, she knew Webby was also being quiet. Whenever Hannah had overloads or shutdowns or when things were getting too much but weren't painfully dire, Webby would be quiet until it was time to be comforting. Surely she would do the same for John.

The quiet didn't last very long though. John had taken to messing with his hair, Hannah assumed it was some kind of calming stim, when he suddenly froze, eyes opening wide. Before Hannah could speak, he gestured for her to stay quiet.

John stood, walking around her chair, and she heard it. 

Footsteps. John's movements never made any sound, so they couldn't be his. They had to be coming from behind the door.

She held her breath, and the door swung open, colliding against the wall with a loud clang that made John and Hannah flinch, as well as the newcomer.

"Sorry," he muttered in a nasally voice. "Didn't mean to be that loud."

The man came around her chair and sat across from her. John paced around them both, glaring at the newcomer all the while.

He was dressed warmly, in an overcoat and a scarf, and he wore dark gloves. Under the coat, Hannah saw the remains of a suit, though no tie. He had round glasses and faced the papers he held in one hand while the other rubbed his temple.

Hannah trembled as she realized she recognized the man. "Gary Goldstein, attorney at law," she repeated the commercial she had seen countless times. She knew his face from much more recently, as well. Bad blood.

It wasn't his identity that made her afraid, though. It was that she had seen Gary in her dream. The other man was obviously an infected, but the shivering man with the glasses was the one sitting before her.

Distantly, through her fear-riddled mind, she remembered another vision about a man with glasses, lying in a bed. The same glasses, as a matter of fact. She was sure of it.

Hannah glared at those glasses. "Saw you. Black Friday," she clenched her fists as the memories of the day came back full force, along with a brand-new rage replacing her fear. "Killed Ethan."

He met her eyes and she looked away, dropping down to his scarf.

"A lot of people died on Black Friday," he stated, looking back down to the papers he held. "Heretics, mostly. Not trusting in the power of Wiggly."

Hannah tensed at the name. "He's bad . Tricks you, kills you!"

"I'm sure this… Ethan, you speak of, deserved to die."

It took a moment for Hannah to realize she was screaming, because she couldn't hear it. She only felt it, saw it. She felt the sound vibrate through her body and across the room. She saw Gary and John cover their ears.

The lights flickered, then went out, and Hannah stopped screaming mostly out of surprise.

For a few moments, the room was silent, before out of the darkness came a wicked cackling. John, at the least, was still visible, and Hannah's eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness. 

As the cackling subsided, however, a light source appeared; two small, green lights, floating in the darkness across from her, just inches apart.

With the light, her vision finally adjusted, and she found the light was coming from Gary's eyes. Glowing a sickly, evil green behind his glasses, the rest of his face came into view.

"Well. Glad to see it wasn't all for nothing!" he laughed. "I was worried for a while there, that maybe-"

He cut himself off abruptly, and Hannah faintly saw his hands pressing against his temples. The light dimmed when he shut his eyes, but did not go away completely.

"No, of course not," he spoke. "No, you know I trust you completely! ...I-I thought nothing of the sort, I promise you, sir!"

Hannah figured he wasn't talking to her, and the question of who he was loomed over her. Had his exposure to Wiggly followed by a month of isolation broken him? Or was there actually someone on the other end?

Given her own experiences, Hannah was inclined to believe the latter, and she once again found herself worried about who might be talking to him, especially since the communication seemed to hurt.

The conversation didn't last long, and soon Gary sat up with a cough. "The point is, kid, you have an incredible amount of psychic power. And thus, you will be perfect for our little project."

As he stood, he wobbled, holding a hand to his mouth. He was frozen for a few moments before finally settling, and walking around Hannah's chair to grab the back of it, dragging her (with quite a bit of effort) out of the room and into the hall.

"Sick?" she questioned him, not really expecting an answer.

"Nothing to worry about. I'll be fine." Despite what he said, his voice shook, and moments later he let go of Hannah's chair and threw up into a random room. She heard him mutter something about losing his lunch as he sputtered.

"Something-" John croaked, startling Hannah, "-Something's. Wrong."

Hannah hummed in agreement, and Gary came back, taking off his scarf. He tied it in a knot around Hannah's already-tied hands, and soon found herself being cut free.

Before the last of the rope was cut off, Gary raised the knife so she could see it. "Do not try anything. We're just walking outside."

She nodded, and the rope (save for that around her hands) was gone, she stood, and kept her close with his scarf and the knife. 

After a bit of walking, Hannah found her voice. "What's the project?"

Gary grinned at the opportunity to speak. "There are portals popping up all across the island, I'm sure you know, I know Hidgens and the others have been tracking them, just like we have. But! We've been tracking them longer. With the help of Wiggly, we know more than you all could hope too. And with our knowledge and Wiggly's guidance… we're building our own portal."

Hannah shivered. "A portal… to where?"

"To the Black, of course." Gary looked down to her. "Though, I suppose you know it as the Black and White. Wiggly says you have a very bratty spider on your shoulder."

"Webby is good. Lady in White," Hannah huffed. She wished she could hear Webby right then. Surely she could get them out of this. She believed in John, but she also knew how hard it was to function when overstimulated.

For now, the best move was to play along. "Why'd you need me? Powers?"

"Yes. Wiggly says you are the strongest psychic in history. Anyone with power like yours should be able to open the portal," he explained.

"No!" Hannah stopped walking, and Gary turned to look back at her. "No, won't open it. Can't open it."

"Oh, please. You absolutely can open it. You're the one who turned off the lights."

Hannah shook her head. "Can't. Can't touch the Black and White. Just hear, see it, sometimes."

Gary paused, glaring at her. "I knew it, I told you it was too good to be true!" he shouted at no one in particular.

The shouting stopped with his sudden cry as he held his head in pain. The glow in his eyes was back, as was the muttering. Hannah couldn't make it all out, but it sounded like apologies and praise.

John whistled, and tried to touch the scarf, an act he failed to do. Nonetheless, Hannah got the message and tried to run. She only got a few feet before the scarf was pulled harshly, and she fell backwards onto the floor. 

Gary stood over her, eyes glowing and teeth bared. "Didn't I say not to try anything? Wiggly's right, you are a rotten little banana."

His wording made it all click together, and Hannah blurted, "You can hear Wiggly?"

He grinned, but it was less chaotic and significantly more tired. "Blessed with it. After Linda died, I was promoted to Prophet, with all the benefits." He then flinched violently, rubbing his eyes with one hand. "Get up, we're almost there. And you will open the portal, or your day will get much worse."

"S'already terrible," Hannah grumbled, but found her way to her feet regardless.

Sure enough, just around the corner was a door leading outside. It was snowing, luckily only lightly, but the cold brought Hannah back to Christmas day, and McNamalien. As her breath turned white in the freezing air, she could only hope she wouldn't be forced to stay outside long.

They walked down the street and headed across the Nantucket bridge, passing other people who began to follow behind, shambling like zombies. Soon, it came into view.

The bomb crashed into the bridge, making it uncrossable, but never went off. Hannah thought it had sunk into the lake, but apparently not.

A large bomb with writing in letters she couldn't read was stuck in the rubble of the bridge, and as she got closer, it felt less and less cold. The air smelled like bleach, and the metallic taste from earlier grew stronger.

"Radiation poisoning," John's voice was a whisper. "Gary. Everyone. It's radiation." There was a pause, and Hannah looked to him beside her. 

"They're dying," he admitted.

In front of the bomb was a circle of metal and wires and debris. It looked like it might've been hooked up to the bomb at some point, or possible still was, the wires were impossible to follow. 

"We built our base here," Gary coughed, "because we thought the bomb could power it. Wiggly said it was possible, but it's from Russia, and some government or other must've deactivated it. We can't hack into it, so…" he looked at Hannah. "...time for plan B."

Hannah shook her head. "Can't open it. Can't touch."

"You can, kid. You just have to try," Gary offered, sounding deceptively kind.

Soon, other members of the cult joined in. They encouraged, threatened, chanted, begged for her to open the portal and lead them to their God. Hannah tried to cover her ears with her shoulders.

Gary looked tired, like he might blow away with the wind. It made sense that he was dying. "You have to do it, kid," he whispered. "Please."

"I can't!" Hannah shouted, frustrated.

Though Gary seemed resigned, the crowd was becoming angry. Before she knew it, someone had picked her up: a man in a long trench coat and a scarf. He held her in the circle where the portal was and shouted, "Open the fucking, portal, I'm in a hurry!"

Hannah felt panic rise in her chest and tears in her eyes and thought, distantly, about how the Witch could control her powers. Maybe she could too. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought hard about forcing him to let her go.

And with an echoing bang, she fell to the ground. There was something wet on her face, and she opened her eyes.

The man collapsed — a new hole in his head, bleeding profusely. Hannah had a feeling the wetness on her face wasn't tears.

"Did I do that?" she whispered, wide-eyed and afraid. This wasn't what she meant, she didn't want to kill him.

"Hannah!" she looked up to the crowd, who were now panicking. She spotted them fighting their way through the crowd, flinching at every bang.

The familiar black and red jacket of Curt, and the unmistakable slicked-back hair of Owen.

Chapter Text

The gunshot echoed in Curt's ears, briefly cutting off his senses before he came back to reality. The man holding Hannah had already collapsed, and heads were turning their way.

"Owen," he growled through gritted teeth, "this was supposed to be a stealth mission."

"What, you were just going to let her get hurt?" his partner ( mission partner, he reminded himself) snapped. "I'm honestly surprised. Normally you're the impulsive one."

"A lot has changed," Curt sighed, and double-checked his gun was loaded. Once they two were certain, they leapt from their hiding spot.

"Hannah!" Curt called, and he saw her look around for the source. He wasn't sure if she had seen him before her head drifted back towards the dead man's.

Even from this far back, he could see the blood on her face. He only hoped it didn't scar her too much; being kidnapped was bad enough as it is.

The spies fought their way through the crowd; way more people than expected, not infected, but still not right. The smell of radiation stung their lungs as bullets and fists flew.

By the time they got to Hannah, the two had their fair share of cuts and bruises, but luckily there didn't seem to be any guns in the area. The man with the glasses who had brought Hannah up to the bridge was nowhere to be found. Curt mentally cursed him for being a coward.

Looking at the young girl, who had tears mixing with the blood on her face and shivering from more than just the cold, Curt remembered the promise he had made to Lex.

They had managed to chase the infected out of the house, the threat of death temporarily stopping Curt from having a panic attack over causing the death of two teenage girls, but not without more loss.

First and foremost was Bill and the girls, the latter of which were largely Curt's fault. Henry refused to shoot, for some damn reason, so Curt fell back on his impulsive side and took the shot for him. He killed Alice, and as a result, Deb died too. He had promised them he would protect them, and ended up being the cause of their deaths. Once things were more settled, he definitely had a bit of a breakdown over that.

Aside from that, he came to find that there was another casualty; Oliver Green. The two had split up upon returning to the house, seemingly to cause as much destruction as possible.

Besides the deaths, Henry, Paul, Becky, Lex, and Ethan ended up injured. Luckily, most weren't too bad; among the worst were Henry, who nearly got infected, Becky, who broke a few fingers (luckily not on her dominant hand), and Lex, who fell down a flight of stairs and got a pretty serious concussion. 

It was only after the chaos died down that anyone noticed Hannah was missing. They began searching the house but Lex, still fighting to stay conscious, stopped them. 

"Hannah's taken," she had told them. "The guy with glasses took her."

"How do you know?" Henry questioned. "You were out cold when we found you."

"She was talkin' to someone before she passed out," Ethan argued. "Said to go with somebody, keep 'em safe, she'd find 'em."

"Soldier guy," Lex shook her head. "What the fuck is his name?"

Becky instructed Lex not to shake her head like that, lest she make her concussion worse, and Curt remembered what Hannah had confided in him when they first met; she heard voices. One was a spider, the other a General.

"Where did he tell you she was going?" Curt had kneeled in front of Lex to ask.

"Wasn't sure. Thought the bridge, maybe? Guy with the glasses, from TV, he had a fuckin'... motorcycle, he said." Lex's words were slurred and she was clearly dazed, but Curt didn't have the heart to disbelieve her.

He hadn't told anyone, and didn't plan too any time soon, but he caught glimpses, sometimes. Of a man with the Foster girls. Sometimes he even looked to be talking with them, or otherwise interacting.

If this was the General that Hannah spoke of, then Curt believed what he said was true. 

Curt had taken Lex's hand and met her bleary eyes. "I'm going to get Hannah back. I promise. I won't return until I've got her, okay?"

Lex tried to stand. "'m coming with you."

Ethan gently tugged her back into her seat. "Babe, you're heads all fucked up, you can't cross the island like this."

The teen sobbed. "I have too! I have to protect her, it's my job! Our stupid fucking mother won't do it, so I have too! I have to save her, please…"

Ethan held her close as she continued to plead, a look of heartbreak on his face. Him and Curt had made eye contact and the boy gave a nod of approval on behalf of Lex.

Curt stood, ready to go right then and there, to save the kid and make up from his mistake earlier, when he was stopped.

"Your hand is still broken, Curt," Owen pointed out.

"Sprained," he had corrected, turning back to face his fellow spy. "I can still use it."

"You're not supposed too."

"When have I ever been one to follow the rules?"

"Curt," Owen sighed, "you haven't been here that long. You don't know the terrain, the roads, all you know is she might be at a bridge. Going into this single-handedly, quite literally, is going to get the both of you killed."

Curt crossed his arms, and without hesitation, said, "Then come with me."

"I beg your pardon?"

"C'mon, Owen," Curt smirked, attempting to hide his real feelings on the matter. "We're the best in the business. We know how to work together. If anybody can do it, we can."

" I haven't been here that long either, you know."

"That's not what matters. What matters is if something goes wrong, I know you've got my back. And I've got yours." Curt offered his hand. "Come with me?"

Owen had looked at the offered hand for a long moment, worry in his brow. With a sigh, he gripped Curt's arm just like he always had. "Alright. No time to waste, then."

"I'd already be halfway there if you hadn't stopped me."

"Oh, please, love. You'd be lost without me."

Paul threw them a set of keys and explained to the group that the scouting mission, despite everything, had been a success and they had a decently-gassed car. It took a bit for the two to figure out how it worked, modern technology was unnecessarily complicated sometimes, but it was worth it, as the trip was made much faster, and much, much warmer.

They had parked a few blocks away from the bridge in a nearby neighborhood to avoid suspicion, and followed a crowd of people to a bridge with a bomb lodged in it. On the side, in Russian, was "DEAR WIGGLY, LOVE MOSCOW."

The idea of a nuclear war with Russia was no longer scary to Curt, it was a threat he had faced for his entire career as a spy. It was the message, "DEAR WIGGLY," that struck fear in him.

That and the idea of failing again. Owen had cut Hannah free, but she still wasn't responding and they were out of time. Curt pocketed his gun and lifted her up; she was cold, and much lighter than a thirteen-year-old should be.

"Curt, your wrist," Owen fretted.

To his credit, the strain of carrying even someone so light did make his wrist hurt like it was on fire, but he shook off Owen's worries. "I'm better off carrying her then shooting with a shitty hand."

That they seemed to agree on, and with Owen as their cover, the trio ran.


Hannah had never seen a dead body this close before. There were the infected, but they didn't behave like dead bodies. They didn't stay dead, and they didn't seem to rot. 

It felt like it had been ages since she had seen red blood. Now it was the only thing she could focus on. The weight of it on her face, the stream of it coming from the man in a hurry's head, the growing pool of it on the ground.

A pair of slightly see-through hands covered her eyes. John. He reminded her of the Witch. Grounding, calm, warm. Not really there.

The blood had dried in the cold winds, but her face was wet. Crying. Why did she always cry? Why was she crying over a man who would've killed her? Or was she crying over John, a ghost she barely knew?

There was a hand on her shoulder. She didn't bother shaking it off. There were voices all around, her name, pleas to move, the flick of a pocketknife and the feeling of freedom for her wrists. Eventually she was picked up by strong arms covered in worn leather, and a bandaged wrist. She held onto his neck and closed her eyes.

"Blood," she whispered without realizing. "Red, blue, black. Ruins. Smile. Glasses. Eyes. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow-"

She felt a pinch on her leg and froze, then blinked hard. She saw the sky, and Curt's face. 

"C'mon, kid," he managed a charismatic smile despite the situation, "don't get lost, okay? We need you here."

Her vision blurred, but this time it came with the sensation of tears. She bit her lip and turned her face into Curt's chest, trying not to cry. It was time to be strong, not scared. She'd been through worse. McNamalien. Her mother. Linda. Getting kidnapped and having a man's blood (and maybe more) spatter on her face was just… another one on the pile.

"Fear not bad," Webby told her, voice calm and confident. "Fear makes human, Hannah. Surviving makes strong. Hannah very strong!"

"Do you think you're weak for being afraid, Hannah?" John's voice was a similar tone, with an added hint of surprise. "Webby's right. It's okay to be scared; you just can't let it hinder you. Use it to power you forward, instead."

Hannah looked up trying to see where John was. She spotted him, more solid than ghost, running beside Curt. They made eye contact, and neither looked away.

"Are you ever scared?" she whispered.

Curt looked down at her, briefly, but didn't seem to have heard her. If he did, he seemed to have known she wasn't talking to him. John, meanwhile, gave her a snow-melting smile.

"Always."

Soon after, the spies came to a stop, hiding in the ruins of a mostly-destroyed shed. Hannah was set down and sat between the two of them. 

"Why'd we stop?" Curt asked, looked over the ruined wall toward the direction they had come from. "We're near the car, aren't we?"

"I don't want them following us there," Owen whispered, doing the same. "It was hard enough to drive here, I'd rather not have to hurry back surrounded by a mob."

After a bit of silence, the two crouched down slightly, hiding their heads and communicating through looks. Hannah tried to take a look herself, but barely got a glimpse before she was pulled down by the spies, who gave her a shared look of "Don't."

Anxiety building, Hannah quietly crawled to the slightly-more sheltered part of the building, to at least get out of the snow. She felt a cold breeze by her hand and found a hole, just big enough to peek through. Steeling herself for the worst, she dared to look.

At first, Hannah didn't see anything odd; just John, walking towards them. She found it odd that he was so far away from her without getting hurt, and when had he put his hair up?

The sight of the ponytail struck fear in her heart and she jumped back, instinctually reaching for her neck, her other hand covering her mouth to stay quiet.

McNamalien. Of course he came back, the infected always came back. Of course he'd be looking for her, she got away last time. Cultists she could deal with, they were people, but the infected were just as terrifying as the first time she had seen one.

She snuck back over to the spies and whispered, "Infected, McNamalien, gotta go, c'mon!" She tried to tug on Curt's sleeve, but neither budged.

"We can handle one infected," Owen reassured.

"Tough. They come back. Let's go!"

"I think it's better to retreat," Curt agreed, "before more show up."

Owen frowned, hesitant. "If they follow us to the car-"

"They won't if we leave now," Curt assured.

He thought for a moment, biting his lip, before seceding with a nod. "Okay. Hannah, can you walk yourself?"

She nodded, adjusting the Warriors cap, which had thankfully managed to stay on during the fiasco of the day. The three stood, but quickly hit the deck at the sound of gunshots, the bullets imbedding themselves in the rotting wood of a remaining wall.

Heart pounding in her chest, Hannah slinked back to the hole she had peered through. There was more than just McNamalien; there were no less than six people now, all dressed in the same military uniform as John, though most had helmets as well. Several had their guns raised, no doubt having fired them moments prior.

She backed away from the hole, John becoming more visible by the second as he too learned what was going on.

"Those are PEIP agents," he whispered. "Bradley, Julie, Robert, Lavender-" he cut himself off with an unrestrained gasp. He didn't seem so much afraid as he did heartbroken. "...Corey. Oh, Corey, Bug…"

His lamenting of the particular soldier was cut off by none other than his doppelganger calling out. "We understand you are from a different time, so perhaps you don't yet know how things work here. For that, we'll give you some lenience. Hand over the Prophet, and you two will be spared."

Curt mimed for Hannah to cover her ears, and she did, but could still hear him clearly shout, "Eat shit!!"

There was synchronous laughter at his comment, and John looked like he might be sick.

"Then," the six infected agents all spoke as one, "you will die."

The gunfire resumed, some breaking through the walls of the shed, others bouncing off. Hannah covered her ears tighter at the deafening sound,

When she managed to force her eyes open, however, afraid to see the spies lying dead on the ground, she instead found something mesmerising.

Curt and Owen communicated without speaking. The second the gunshots let up even slightly, they would take turns popping up from behind the wall to take their own shots. Judging from the sounds dying down and the fact that even John had looked away, she guessed they were hitting some targets.

Finally came a moment where Curt popped up and stayed up. It was quiet. He nodded at Owen, who kneeled rather than stood, and Hannah creeped closer, too afraid to ask aloud if it was safe.

Just as Hannah began to stand herself, it started again.

There was the sound of a gunshot, of Curt yelling to move, of Owen being shoved to the ground.

And then there was the red of Curt's blood, spilling from a bullet in his side. Another shot, and it came from his neck.

Curt hit the ground, though more shots followed and continued to rain down on the trio, and Owen was at his side immediately. Both held their hands to the wounds, and Curt pulled one hand from his side to gage how bad it was.

Owen muttered, "Don't look, love, don't look-" but wasn't heeded. Curt saw the blood from the bullet hole, the blood on his hands, and turned to the side, throwing up.

Owen instructs Curt, quietly and calmly, to keep pressure and not look at the blood anymore. He gives Hannah a passing glance and she cannot force herself to look anywhere near his face. The expression he had was pure rage and bloodlust.

He collected Curt's gun, as well as his own, checked how many bullets each had left, and stood.

Hannah watched in horror and amazement as he hit every target, dead-on. In the chest, in the neck, in the head. Blue blood littered the battlefield and Owen didn't stop until both weapons were completely out. Even then, he pulled the trigger a few more times.

Once the bloodbath was over, Owen pocketed the guns and returned to Curt's side.

"Now why the fuck ," his voice shook, "did you think it was okay to do that? Hm? "

Curt, dazed and losing blood, found it in him to laugh. "I can't lose you again, Owe. I'm not gonna be the reason you die a third time."

Owen was understandably confused, but his training seemed to take over, and he managed to get Curt to stand and half-carried him. Finally, he looked at Hannah.

"Don't doddle. The car's not far."

Chapter Text

There were no other interruptions as the trio made their way through the snow to the car, the sun beginning to set. Curt was laid in the backseat, and Owen instructed Hannah to hold down on the spot he got shot. Curt, only half-awake, held his neck. Owen told her it hadn't hit anything, just broke the skin, but it still bled a lot.

He drove like a madman, partially out of desperation and partially not being used to the technology, and Hannah tried not to jostle Curt too much. He'd be okay. She was helping. He saved her, now she'll save him. It's happened a couple times now — it's become a game.

Webby was chatting quietly, telling Hannah she was doing well and that things would be okay. John, visible but see-through, sat in the front seat, silent. When she looked over her shoulder at him, caught glimpses of him flapping his hands around in front of him, much more vigorously than back in the medical center. 

She bit her lip and turned back, focusing on helping Curt; she could help John later.

"Blood, blood, blood," Webby chanted. "Taken, given, lost. ...He'll change."

"Who?" Hannah whispered, barely even able to hear herself.

"Him. Spy. Curt. Same today. Different tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow…"

Hannah bit her lip, unsure of what that meant. "...Alive?"

Webby didn't answer immediately. "Alive."

Hannah decided that was a good enough answer for now and shifted her focus back to helping Curt.

She wasn't sure how long it took to drive home, but it felt infinitely longer thanks to the total silence in the car. Not another word from John or Webby, nothing from Owen, and only pained breathing from Curt.

When they arrived back at the Professor's house, Owen was out of the car before the engine had died down. She did as he said to help get Curt out of the back, and once he was, Hannah was sent ahead to get the door open and get the medical center prepared.

She tried the door; locked, as usual. Knocking loudly resulted in Emma's voice coming through. "Who is it?"

"Curt's hurt!!" Hannah ignored the question, rattling the doorknob. "Curt's hurt, tell Becky, let us in!!!"

Emma paused. "Uh. Let me get the Professor?"

"No time! Please!" Hannah once again tried the doorknob, looking over her shoulder as Owen approached with a seemingly-unconscious Curt.

"Who is it?" he asked, quiet.

"Emma," Hannah told him, stepping back and pulling on her braids.

Owen moved a bit closer and knocked on the door. "Emma? Still there?"

She took a moment to respond. "Yeah…?"

"Emma, I promise you we aren't infected. If you don't open this door right fucking now , Curt is most likely going to die. And if that happens, I personally will kill you. Open the door."

Despite the threat, the trio was met with more hesitation and silence. When the door finally opened, they were met with the face of the Professor, Emma hovering behind him. Owen shoved past with Curt, and Hannah followed, noticing how the Professor kept a close eye on the wounded spy.

They rushed to the medical center, and luckily Becky was already there, checking on some other injuries sustained during the attack.

With a loud, "MOVE!" from Owen and Tom quickly pulling Tim aside, Curt was laid on the cot and soon began to cough. Owen wiped the blood from his hands onto his jacket and covered Curt's eyes. 

"Don't look, love. We don't need you throwing up again, okay?" his voice was much softer than it had been in a while.

Curt managed a laugh between breaths. "Just thinkin' makes me sick, darlin'..."

Becky was shooing people out of the room as she dashed around, collecting what she would need and asking Owen frantic questions.

"How many injuries?"

"Two," Owen continued to hold his other hand over the shot in Curt's side.

"Are the bullets still there?"

"One is, the other didn't enter, just grazed."

"How long has he been bleeding?"

"We applied pressure the whole way here. I'd say about ten minutes." Owen paused, glaring at the blood soaking Curt's shirt. "He's lost a lot. He'll need a transfusion, I'm certain."

"What's his blood type?"

"O Negative."

Becky went over to a metal chest and opened it, looking through the red bags inside. Hannah, the last person in the roo besides Owen, felt a growing sense of dread.

"Henry!" she called, having chased him out of the room. He poked his head back in, an uninterested look on his face. "Where's the rest of the blood?"

He raised an eyebrow. "That is all the blood."

Becky gaped. "Henry… this is all B Negative. Do you not have any other blood types?!"

"Why would I?" he challenged. "That's my blood type. I never planned on having twenty or so other people in my house during the apocalypse! Why would I keep blood other than my own?"

While his reasons made sense, the implications were blood-curdling. Owen was frozen, that look of rage from earlier back on his face, now directed at the Professor. Becky, meanwhile, only allowed herself a moment of horror before she returned to putting everything together.

"We'll do what we can," she explained. "Owen, help me get his jacket and shirt off, c'mon!"

While they worked together, Hannah snuck out of the room, trying not to cry. "Webby said alive," she whispered. "How?"

She was met with a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, it was Ethan, who pulled her into a hug. "We've been worried sick, Banana," he mumbled. "Oliver… is gone. He almost got Lex, but she's okay, just a concussion. She's restin' right now, or else she'd be here to hug you, too." He rubbed her shoulders and tried to give her a smile. "Everything's gonna be okay, now. Curt's gonna be fine, okay?"

Hannah shook her head. "No blood. Wrong blood."

Ethan frowned. "Uh. Well, they can get it from someone else! Hell, I'll do it if I gotta, what's the type?"

Hannah tugged on her braids. "Becky said…. B Negative?"

Ethan blinked. "Fuckin' perfect! I've got that! C'mon, see? I told you it'd be fine!"

The two joined hands and walked back into the room, and no sooner than the door had opened, Ethan proudly stated, "I can give blood! Hannah said you need B Negative, and I've been to the hospital enough to know that's what I've got!"

"We have that," Owen snapped, "Now get out, we have work to do."

"Sorry, Ethan," Becky was kinder. "What we need is O Negative."

Ethan had deflated a bit at Owen's frustration, but quickly bounced back, and without missing a beat, said, "Oh, Hannah's got that."

Everyone in the room looked to Ethan, which he took as a sign to continue. "Yeah, uh, her mom's a bitch, never took her to a doctor, so me and Lex saved up some money to get her vaccinated, and there was some blood test done too? To make sure she wasn't allergic or nothin', and I remember, they said she was a fuckin' uhhh-"

"Universal donor," Becky cut him off. "This is perfect, Hannah, come here, roll up your sleeve." She started grabbing needles and tubes and bags from drawers, and Hannah fidgeted.

Ethan held her hand. "Hey," he kneeled to her height and whispered. "Sorry, I shouldnt've said that. If you don't wanna do this, you don't have too. Maybe someone else can."

"Die," Webby chirped ominously. "Must be Hannah. Change, but alive."

"It's not fair to force her to do that," John argued. "She should not be forced to have his life riding on her acceptance. Hannah, this is a decision you must make for yourself."

She bit her lip, and Ethan reached to rub his thumb against it. "You gotta stop doing that, kid, or your gonna tear it open again," he warned, voice warm. "I'm sorry, but you've gotta decide now. What are you gonna do?"

With a deep breath, Hannah started to roll up her sleeve. "Saved me. I'll save him."

Ethan nodded, and helped her to a chair that Becky had placed near the cot. Soon, the needle was in the vein and Hannah held Ethan's hand to focus on something other than the sensation.

"Now, Hannah," Becky caught her attention, "We're going to get the bullet out of Curt and sew him up. I need you to not move, but you don't have to look. In fact, you shouldn't, okay?"

Hannah nodded, and the nurse went to work. It wasn't her area of expertise, but Owen stayed to help, and with his basic knowledge of emergency medical aid, they were managing.

Ethan did his best to distract Hannah from the blood leaving her body, and keep her awake, as he was worried she would pass out. Owen was right — despite their best efforts, Curt had lost a lot of blood.

After a couple hours, the hard part was finished. The bullet was out of Curt's side, both the wounds had been sewn and patched up. Some trouble arose when Becky noticed that his new wound had opened up an old one that, from the looks of it, had never been properly taken care of. 

Once the surgery was done, Hannah stayed more or less tethered to Curt for a bit longer, until he started to look a bit less pale.

Afterwards, however, Becky had Ethan help her set up a second cot, and got Hannah to lie down on it. 

"You sent a lot over to him," Becky explained. "More than I really should've let you. I want to keep you under observation for a bit, make sure you don't pass out or anything. So just rest and let your body make some more blood!"

She tried to deliver that final line cheerfully, but in all honesty it just sounded creepy. Nonetheless, Hannah listened, and laid quietly in the bed. The sun had set by the time they had gotten back — by now it was past dinner.

Her stomach growled. Hopefully someone would have the mind to bring her something.

She had half a mind to ask Owen, who had stayed in the room and taken her chair, refusing to leave Curt's side. He had barely said a word since his outburst to Ethan, and never took his eyes off his fellow spy.

Becky was exhausted, cleaning up before probably going to eat herself, and Ethan had gone to check up on Lex. Hannah felt oddly disconnected, and remembered what Webby had said in the car. Blood, blood, blood. Taken, given, lost. He'll change. 

Hannah's blood was taken, and given. Curt's was lost. She didn't know how he'd change, but she feared the worst. Webby said he'd be alive, but… the Infected weren't exactly dead, were they? Was it possible that Curt had gotten infected and they hadn't noticed?

After Webby gave no response, she had no choice but to simply wait and see.

The night flew past surprisingly quickly. Becky brought back food for Hannah and Owen, and Ethan brought Lex to come hang out quietly for a bit before saying goodnight. Becky explained she'd come by to check on Curt and Hannah every few hours. Owen still refused to leave, but was clearly exhausted as well and eventually fell asleep in the chair, hand clasping Curt's.

Now, however, it was 2am and Becky had already been by twice since everyone said goodnight, and Hannah couldn't sleep. The adrenaline from the day hadn't worn off yet, and she had too many thoughts bouncing around her head, keeping her from drifting off. 

After flopping around and adjusting her position for the millionth time, John piped up. "Something bothering you?"

Hannah sat up, fiddling with her sleeves. Her arm still ached from the transfer. "Can't sleep."

"Can't blame you. You've been through a lot today."

She shrugged. "Been through a lot every day."

She watched as he slowly faded into existence, sitting cross-legged at the end of the cot, a troubled look on his face. "I'm sorry I can't do more to help you," he admitted. "As a matter of fact, I've led you into more trouble than I've gotten you out of. For that, and all the other trouble I've caused, I apologize."

She reached to take his hand, and then recoiled, remembering she would just phase through. "It's okay, John, it's okay. Helped a lot, I promise."

It was John's turn to shrug as he tapped his fingers against his knees. "I'll find you a way out of this. You, your sister, Ethan… all of them. You all aren't trained for this kind of thing, and you're good people. You don't deserve to be going through this, especially not so young."

" You're going through this!" she pointed out. "Overload, at the bridge! And… Bug, again." John tensed, and Hannah frowned. "John… who's Bug?"

He didn't answer right away, but his emotions betrayed him as he became more solid. Finally, he sighed. "Bug is a nickname. For… my son."

She bounced, surprised. "Son? You have a son?"

"Yes," he nodded, "He would've turned twenty-one at the end of December. His name is Corey, but we've always called him Bug. It was just a little nickname that never went away. I believe Ed is the one who came up with it first…"

"Ed?"

A smile found its way to John's face. "My husband."

"Husband?!" Hannah gaped. "Never told me!"

"I didn't know I was required to share," he deadpanned for a moment, then smirked, and she giggled.

"Truthfully, I admit I was worried about what you'd think," the smirk fell as he explained. "For a while, you and I didn't get along well, and after I slipped and called you Bug, I didn't want to make things… strange. Especially since I can't exactly leave."

Hannah shook her head. "Not strange. Nice, it's nice." She gave him a smile, looking at his face, mostly obscured by his hair. "Bug is for Corey, though. You can call me Banana."

John turned his head, and the two met eyes. All was quiet, but neither looked away, and finally, John let out a breathy laugh.

"Banana it is, then."

Hannah put the Warriors cap on her lap and began untying her braids, as she had forgotten too in all the chaos. As she undid them, she asked him, "Ed? What's he like?"

John looked off to the far wall, his hair falling out of his face as a nostalgic expression formed. "Ed's wonderful. He's a baker, and I've never come across a better apple pie than his. He knows… more about PEIP than he should, but I'm allowed a bit of lenience. I'm the one in charge, after all."

"But, you're here," she frowned. "Who's in charge now?"

At that, John frowned, too. "I'm not sure. There isn't another general, and PEIP is relatively small as it is. I wouldn't be surprised if Schaeffer's taken the lead. She's a good leader, trustworthy, but this… would be a lot to take on so suddenly."

"Schaeffer?"

"Colonel Jolene Schaeffer. A good friend and a good soldier, I've known her for a long time. Too long, perhaps." He thought for a moment. "She was there for the portal opening, so that's at least thirteen years…"

Hannah bit her lip. "Should you be telling me this?"

"Not at all," he responded immediately with a shake of his head. "But who will know? I can't get back. The only people who can see or hear me are you and Lex, and Webby, I suppose. I could really say whatever I want, and quite frankly, I love talking about PEIP."

"Special interest?"

"Yes, actually."

For a while, she let him talk about PEIP as he got progressively more visible. Ranging from things he clearly had never told anyone, such as other invasions from the Black and White, to simple stories about his friends and soldiers daily lives. Hearing such passion from someone who tries so hard to be stoic was comforting.

She learned a bit from the rambling, namely that Corey was a recent addition to PEIP's ranks, and that John's father and sister also used to work in PEIP.

"Used too?" she had interrupted, curiosity winning over her politeness. 

John stopped in his tracks, stumbling over his words for a moment as his tongue caught up with his brain. "Ah, used too, yes."

"What happened?"

He paused. Then took a breath. "My father… passed, on a mission. Afterwards, Lo didn't want to be involved with PEIP anymore. She moved back to Hatchetfield, as a matter of fact."

John looked around the room. "I never wanted to come back to this town. It doesn't like people to leave. So I wasn't in much contact with her for a long time. She came to my wedding, and we write letters from time to time." He paused, sadness shining in his eyes. "I miss her quite a bit, to be honest."

"Sister sounds nice," Hannah rubbed her eyes. "Sisters are good. Sorry about dad."

"It's alright," John sighed. "It happened a long time ago. I'm… moving on. New name, new life… it's in the little things."

"New name?"

"McNamara," he explained. "It's Ed's name, not mine. I started using it before we were even married, actually."

She nodded. "Your family sounds nice."

"They are. I'm lucky to have had them."

"Still have them," Hannah insisted. "Not here , but still have them. Family stays with you."

He looked at her for a long moment, and smiled. "I suppose you're right, Banana. Thank you."

She nodded, wiggling under the covers more. He chuckled, "Tired?"

Hannah nodded, holding the Warriors cap close to her heart. "Thank you. For talking."

"You're welcome. Thank you for listening, and letting me talk." 

As Hannah finally closed her eyes and drifted off into sleep, John grabbed the corner of the blanket and pulled it up higher, tucking her in.

"Goodnight, Banana."

Chapter Text

Hannah awoke to more people than she recalled being there last. Someone had tucked her in the night before; she somewhat recalled it happening, but wasn't sure who had done it. 

Obviously, it didn't matter in the moment. The group wasn't here for her — rather, everyone was surrounding Curt. The room was nearly silent, save for a quiet, continuous muttering, and Hannah's heart sank, preparing for the worst as she crept out of bed.

Curt was sitting up on the cot, hands pressed tight over his ears, eyes wide open. Beside him, a hand hovering over his shoulder, was Owen, and on his other side was Becky and Tom. By the door stood Ethan, with Tim sitting near him. 

Hannah stood beside Owen, intending to ask what was going on, but she was met with a hand. He held a finger to his mouth and shook his head, and she covered her mouth with both hands.

Curt seemed to curl in on himself more, and everyone froze. With the quiet, it quickly became clear that the muttering was coming from none other than Curt himself. As she listened to what he was saying, Hannah froze too.

"It's too much, there's too much, just shut up, you stupid fucking monsters, shut up! I don't want to hear any of it, I don't want to know your plans, I don't want to be here, let me out, let me out, let me out-"

"Changed," Webby sighed, "Changed. Troubled. Connected. Not meant to be."

"Changed," Curt mumbled, "Changed, troubled, connected, I don't fucking care, let me go, I don't want to be stuck in this fucking web. Please."

"He can hear," Hannah breathed. "He changed."

"You don't react like this," John whispered, unnecessarily, "so why is he?"

"Not meant to," Webby repeated. "New connection. Hard at first. Insanity."

"No," Hannah stated, leading to the corporeal adults looking at her. She reached out and grabbed Curt's arm, causing the man to violently flinch.

"No!" he shouted. "No, don't fucking touch me, I don't want part in your fucking schemes, let me go!"

Hannah did as he asked, biting her lip. Before she could try again, Tom picked her up, whispering, "You gotta leave him be, kid. He's not doin' well."

Hannah struggled against Tom as he tried to carry her to Ethan. "I can help!" she insisted, "He hears! He hears what I hear!"

"SHUT! UP!" Curt screamed, and suddenly Tom dropped Hannah.

Looking around, everyone was suddenly covering their ears, expressions of pain etched on their faces, some having even crumpled to the ground. Hannah felt a faint buzzing in her head, and heard a quiet high-pitched sound, but nothing that hurt her or would cause her to react similarly; just kind of annoying.

Over the buzzing, Hannah heard Curt breathing heavily between crazed ramblings. "Tomorrow will come, tomorrow won't come, the apotheosis is here, he's falling, I'm falling, please just stop, it's too much, please-"

Hannah hopped up and sat cross-legged on the cot, facing Curt. She reached out and offered her hands.

"Do you see what I see?" she asked.

Curt blinked, and looked up at her. She did her best to keep eye contact, but the intensity of his eyes scared her. "See? I just… there's flashes. I don't, I can't, I don't see much. But hear?" he conjured a deranged laugh. "I can hear everything ."

When Hannah didn't respond immediately, he looked down at her hands. "Is this what you hear all the time?"

Hannah gave a small smile and nodded. "You learn to ignore it. Focus on the important parts. See the future, sometimes." She bit her lip. "The Witch can control it. I can't. But I can teach you to make it quiet."

She flexed her fingers, reminding him that he can take them. "Black and White is big, scary. Lots of bad things," she admitted. "But, good things too. Webby is good. John is good. Focus on good."

Slowly, Curt took his hands off his ears, and clasped Hannah's hands. She took a deep breath in, and he mirrored her. Together, they breathed in sync.

"Sometimes it's still too much," Hannah told him, "but being calm helps. Be present. Stay on Earth."

Curt nodded, letting his eyes close. "I just- I don't get- Why is this happening?"

"Blood, blood, blood," she repeated.

Curt's eyes snapped open and he said with her, "Taken, given, lost."

"Changed," Hannah mumbled, "because of me. Gave blood… gave powers."

Curt breathed out a laugh, tightening his grip on her hands. "I think I had some. Sometimes… Sometimes I saw things. Or heard things. I thought I was crazy. But it was never like this…"

"Can't stop it. Just… don't listen."

"Easier said than done, kiddo."

"When it's too much, do something else. Talk. Play. Distract." She sighed. "Sometimes, can't stop it. But lots of it, just… washes over you. Don't fight it. Don't focus."

Curt laughed, seeming a tad bit calmer. "Now that is something I can do. I tell ya, I'm an expert at not focusing."

Hannah laughs a bit too, feeling the buzz in her head fade. "Stim helps. Helps me, at least."

"Stim?"

"Like this," Hannah slipped her hands out of Curts and flapped them around. He watched for a moment before doing so himself. She caught his left hand, the hurt one, and guided it to his lap. "Don't hurt more."

He continued to wiggle his right hand, and then arm. "This is nice, actually."

"Yeah! Can do lots of things to stim," she pulled on her hair, only partially as an example. Remembering something she learned in school, she bounced and asked for his arm.

He didn't have a jacket or shirt on, leaving his chest and arms bare. He had more scars than she would've expected. When she held his arm, she saw some that were most certainly self-inflicted.

Pressing down on parts of his forearm, moving up to his elbow, she chimed, "Buttons, buttons, buttons."

Before long, there was a smile on his face, and she let him do buttons on her arm as well. Hannah had barely heard it in the first place, but the high-pitched noise was long gone.

Owen and the others uncovered their ears, breathing sighs of relief. Curt looks around, surprised at their reactions. "What happened to you guys? Wasn't I the one who got shot?"

"Don't joke about that," Owen grumbled, rubbing his temples. "Not when my ears feel like they're about to explode."

"Ringing," Hannah told him. "There was a ringing. Heard it quietly, but…" she looked at the recovering group, "...might've heard it loud."

"How did you not hear it?" Becky asked, genuinely confused. "I'm surprised no one's ears are bleeding."

"Changed," Webby chimed again. "Powers. Protection. Fear."

She heard a snapping sound, and John piped up. "Like when you turned the lights off at the bridge. It was your powers, reacting to outside stimulus as a defense mechanism. Curt was overwhelmed, so his new powers shut everyone down to protect him."

"Yes, yes! Good John!"

"And I imagine it didn't affect Hannah because she has similar powers?"

"Yes!!!!"

As happy Hannah was that her two guardians were getting along, she had to interrupt to relay the information to Becky and the others. They were all very surprised such a thing was possible.

"Why have you never done that before?" Tim asked before he could be shushed by his dad.

Hannah tried to hide in her hair. "Can't control it. Just happens sometimes."

Curt reached over and patted her on the head. "I believe in you, kid. You taught me something today."

They exchanged smiles, and then Curt winced, bringing a hand to his head. A moment later, he let out a breath and asked, "What the fuck is a Workin' Boys? I- Sorry, Hannah, Tim."

Becky shrugged, moving her hair out of her face. "I think I've heard Henry talk about something like that before. You could ask him?"

Curt shook his head. "No… I think we gotta keep an eye on him. I… I saw it, this time. Something bad involving whatever that is."

"Future?" Hannah asked, and Curt nodded, wincing again.

"Good man, who? Emergency… radio…" he flopped back onto the bed. "This sh… stuff, is hard to keep up with."

"Good man," John asked, a ghost beside Hannah, "or Goodman?"

Before Hannah could repeat the question, Curt responded. "Goodman. One word, like a name."

"Like the President?" Tom offered.

"I have no idea who that is."

"President on the radio, said weekly," Hannah offered. "But… Tuesdays. Yesterday."

Curt shrugged. "I just.. I heard someone say like, emergency broadcast, Goodman, and a few other things… I think I heard your name, Hannah," he looked at her, serious. "I think you oughta find that radio."

She hesitated and he made a "go on" motion with his hand and Becky checked to make sure his psychic overload hadn't reopened any stitches.

Fearing the worst, Hannah ran to the living room, where they had been keeping the radio. She was in bed when the President's weekly broadcast had gone off, and had yet to hear what he had said in it, or if there had been one at all.

Turning it on, there was nothing but static. Hannah sat on the couch, watching it, waiting for anything to happen. After several minutes of only static, she sighed. Curt's vision was of the future — that didn't mean it was of the immediate future. 

As she reached to pick it up, the static cleared and she heard a voice. 

"-n emergency broadcast from President Howard Goodman," said the radio. After some shuffling sounds came the voice of the President.

"Hello, everyone. I apologize that I was unable to broadcast last night. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a situation. It seems there are still followers of Wiggly out there and… we lost a few of our troops."

Hannah sighed. It was just a late update. Terrible to hear about the attack, but she was glad it wasn't any worse.

As he talked and she half-listened, Hannah's mind drifted. The Witch could control her powers. Curt has powers now. If both her and Curt had the potential to be a danger to the rest of the group, that was bad, right? His ringing could've hurt someone, Becky said so. And Hannah had turned off some lights, but what if she could've done more? Would she have saved herself, or hurt John?

"John," she asked, looking for him, and sadly not finding him visible. "Know the President, right?"

"That is correct," he confirmed. "Why?"

"Could he help?"

John didn't respond immediately. "Well, he is looking for survivors. If we could contact him, I'm sure he could help, but he shouldn't send anyone here. We can't risk the infected getting off the island."

Hannah nodded, and reached for the radio. She held it in her lap and closed her eyes, concentrating. She didn't know where the President was, but she could follow his voice, right?

"Hello?" she asked, in her head and aloud. "Hello? President?"

A moment later, she heard through the static, "Hello? This is President Goodman, who is this?"

"...Hannah."

"Good to hear from you, Hannah," he said, and did genuinely sound relieved. "Where are you? Are you safe?"

"No. Yes?" She tried to stay focused. "Safe for now. Hatchetfield. Don't come, dangerous. Infected, Wiggly, all bad."

"Where is Hatchetfield, Hannah?"

"Don't tell him," John advised. "If you tell him, people will come. We can't risk it."

"Can't say," Hannah shook her head. "John says can't say…"

"John?" the President asked. "How many people are with you?"

"John… not here. Professor, Lexie, Ethan… Oliver, Tom, Becky, Tim. Curt, Owen. That's all."

"So that's ten, including you? Where is John, if not with you?"

"Black and White."

There was a pause. "John McNamara?"

Hannah forced herself to keep her eyes closed. "Know him?"

"Yes, we worked together… once. I owe him my life. He's with you? Or, well, you're in contact with him?"

"Talk to him. Tethered." She pauses, biting her lip. "Shouldn't tell you. Don't tell anyone."

"I won't, Hannah. But will you give him a message from me?"

"Sure."

"Tell him… Tell him thank you, please. And tell him that I'm sorry."

Hannah heard John scoff. "He has nothing to apologize for. If anything, I'm sorry for not helping more, and for sending him in there in the first place."

"Says nothing to be sorry for," Hannah repeated. "Says he's sorry he couldn't do more."

There was a pause, and then laughter. "Of course," said the President. "Hannah, please tell us where you are so we-"

The rest of the plea was static. Hannah focused, trying to regain the connection, but there was nothing. She opened her eyes. John was sitting beside her, present but see-through. She set the radio on the table, turned it off, and pretended she was leaning on his shoulder.

Chapter Text

The next week passed slowly. The President gave another update on the proper day, and Hannah failed to communicate with him. Curt was hesitantly released from the medical center, but completely banned from leaving the house for the foreseeable future. Everyone was healing, physically and mentally, and the week was more or less a break from the madness. 

Plans to go out were finally being made again due to the insistence of the Professor, and Hannah had found a closet to hide in. She kept thinking about the Witch, who could control her powers, and Curt who couldn't but at least knew what they were and what usually caused them. A few days prior, Lex, who was still getting over the last of her concussion, had accidentally startled him and he nearly knocked her to the ground with the mental ringing he produced.

Webby and John had a few theories, and what the three had settled on (with some input from Lex) was that it was something of a fight-or-flight instinct. 

Curt, likely due to his profession as a spy, was always on "fight" mode, so his powers kick up in situations where they aren't needed, even without trying. Hannah, meanwhile, has spent her whole life running and hiding, and so her powers either aided her in doing so or didn't come out at all. Lex was suspected to have been a similar case to Hannah, finally breaking that habit and picking to fight when John came to her on Black Friday.

The theory made sense, which led to Hannah's current position in the closet. Over the last few days, she had been trying to control her powers. In order to do so without interruption or the risk of hurting anyone, she had found a faraway closet and closed herself in. 

She had succeeded in making the lights flicker briefly, but she needed more practice. Webby, unfortunately, didn't have much advice to offer.

"Had apprentice, friend, once," she had told Hannah in a sad voice. "Used books. Potions. Witchcraft. Lost her, trials, brothers…"

Hannah had heard bits of the story before — the Witch in the Web. Webby didn't like to talk about it much, so there were a lot of details missing, but Hannah could tell they once were friends. Otherwise, Webby would've killed her for good a long time ago.

John, on the other hand, could only offer some of PEIP's training and his own beliefs. 

"We keep a special eye out for psychics when recruiting," he had explained, sitting cross-legged across from her. "A good portion of PEIP is such, and the rest learn metaphysical tactics as at least some sort of defense. They seem to work well."

"Are you… psychic, or metaphysical?" she asked him, curious.

"People who have gone into the Black and White tend to develop minor psychic abilities, at least temporarily. I believe I have some of these, but I am not a psychic."

"What?" Webby had interrupted. "John psychic."

"...No," he shook his head, "I think I would know if I was."

Webby had muttered angrily in response and fell quiet. Not unusual for the finicky spider. Hannah thought she heard something about birds, but wasn't sure.

John's metaphysical techniques had been confusing, and they were not helpful with her lights endeavor.

Instead, Hannah had been taking her own approach. She focused her energy on the light in the closet, like she had with the radio to talk to the President. If she focused, she could control it.

It was hard to tell with her eyes closed, but she thought she saw the lights flicker. She focused harder. After a moment, the light turned off… and then back on. Hannah groaned, frustrated, and opened her eyes.

"I give up," she grumbled, hugging her knees. "Can't do it."

"Come now, Banana," John's voice was encouraging. "These things take time. You just have to keep trying."

She shook her head. "'s not gonna work."

"It will. Any new thing takes practice."

"Try something else?" Webby offered. "Future? Ringing? Movement?"

"Those all seem… more difficult," John countered. "I think you should take a break, and then come back to this."

Hannah huffed, uncoiling herself from her legs. "Fine." Learning new things was hard. It was worse knowing that she had already done what she was trying to do, and just couldn't replicate it.

Regardless, she didn't want to be in the closet anymore, so she left, going to the Fun Room. Maybe she could find something to watch for a bit, or play a game of chess. That was a new thing she had gotten better at. Probably because it was normal.

Sometimes, Hannah really wished she was just a normal kid. No voices in her head, a normal family, a normal school life. Not living in a post-apocalyptic world. There were days where she felt willing to give anything for that life.

In the Fun Room, someone had left the TV on, playing a DVD of an old animated TV show, the Solve It Squad. She vaguely remembered watching with Lex and Ethan at the Green's house. Apparently it got cancelled for being too dark or something, but the couple liked it, so Hannah didn't mind. 

She got the chessboard and set it up on the ground in front of the TV. As her and John played, the sounds of the show went from being pleasant background noise to an annoying distraction. Growing impatient, she made a bad move, taking a Bishop with a Queen, and promptly lost her Queen to a Rook she had forgotten about.

There was stage laughter from the TV just as it happened. Frustrated, she stood to turn it off. As she did so, she tripped on a discarded chess piece, tumbling into the TV.

She heard both voices in her head call for her, asking if she was alright, but she didn't hear a crash, or any other sound she expected to hear from a breaking TV.

Opening her eyes, Hannah saw that she was no longer in the Fun Room. Wherever she was, it was dark. Not black, but grey, ever-shifting. It reminded her of the static that would sometimes come on the channels, but without the sound.

"Hello?" she called out, and her voice was crisp and clear, with no interference. A moment later, there was an echo.

"Hello?" It was her exact voice, tone, and cadence, but this time sounded muffled, like someone speaking through a door. It was coming from behind her.

Hannah turned around. There was a large square, at least three times Hannah's height. It looked to be some kind of window, and through it she could see the Fun Room, just as she had left it. The most jarring part about the image, however, was that she could see herself.

The Hannah through the window took up a large part of the view. She had one hand on the glass, and her eyes were open, but blank. Hannah could almost see static over her irises. Besides the eyes, however, this Hannah looked no different than herself.

She pulled on her braids and called again. "Can you hear me?"

A moment later, the Hannah through the window repeated, "Can you hear me?"

She hummed, and then gasped as she spotted a large, fuzzy spider crawling up her back onto her shoulder. It looked at the other Hannah as she repeated the sound.

The spider was one she had only seen in dreams. Larger than almost any spider on Earth (male Goliath Bird Eaters can grow to be nearly a foot wide in leg span, and Hannah had many times reminded her of that) and the color of the cosmos, Webby was pretty much the last thing she expected to see through the window.

A black vest with lots of pockets appeared, blocking her view of the rest of the room. When the wearer kneeled down, she saw the familiar, worried face of John. Her hands went to her neck despite herself.

Seeing John was far from a new thing at this point, but seeing him so clearly was still startling. The picture through the window seemed fuzzy almost, but they were there.

"Webby? John? Can you hear me?" she stepped closer to the window, looking up at them

The other Hannah repeated, and the worry on their faces grew. Yet, she could hear John's voice, muffled and a bit staticy, "Yes, we can hear you. You can let go of the television, Hannah."

"Not holding it," she said, growing more than a bit panicked. She jumped around and waved her arms. "See me? Can you see me?"

Webby twitched on the other Hannah's shoulder, blinking all her eyes. "Hannah… split? Powers!! Powers, powers!!"

"Split how?" John questioned, eyes not leaving the other Hannah. "She seems in one piece…"

"Body here," Webby tapped her many legs, "Mind elsewhere. Talking elsewhere."

Hannah listened to what Webby said and thought, looking around again. "What's… on the TV?"

When the other Hannah repeated, she heard John hum. "That… weird show stopped. It's just static." Turning back to the window, she saw him cover his ears for a moment before shaking his head. "Not a very pleasant sound," he muttered.

She was inclined to agree, and was glad she couldn't hear it wherever she was. Speaking of, his answer seemed to confirm her suspicions. "I think… I think I'm in the TV."

Hannah's body relayed and John frowned. "An interesting place for your powers to go."

"Come back! Hurry back!" Webby insisted. "Split… dangerous. Can't survive."

John nodded, solemn. "The mind and body cannot survive without eachother. Is there any way back?"

"Only the window…" Hannah looked up at it, at her own hand pressed against the glass. She stood on her tiptoes and tried to reach it.

Setting her hand on the glass opposite of her own hand, she felt a shock, and jumped back. On the other side of the window, her body flinched — the first movement besides talking it had made this whole time.

Catching her breath, Hannah stood. Clearly that was something right. Walking back to the glass, she set her hand on it, nowhere in particular. The same shock, and she stepped back.

Steeling herself, Hannah put both hands on the glass, and pushed. She felt some kind of electricity course through her, and tried not to bite her tongue. It didn't hurt, but it still wasn't a pleasant sensation.

After what seemed like forever, Hannah felt herself fall forward and moved to catch herself.

Her head bonked the wall, and she heard an electric zap and a pop. Opening her eyes, she was met with darkness, but not the same kind she had just been in. She felt the weight of the TV in her hands, and moved to set it back upright. Stepping back, she felt the chess pieces, again. 

"I think," she saw John, just barely a ghost, "your recombination must've caused some kind of surge."

"Strong powers! Strong Hannah!" Webby cheered, and Hannah saddened when she couldn't see the spider on her arm anymore.

"Should I… fix it?" she asked, unsure if she'd even be able too. Once again, she had succeeded by accident.

"That might be best. Wouldn't want anyone tripping over more chess pieces." He smirked, and she pouted. She was pretty sure he was teasing, but still. She wasn't really in the mood.

Closing her eyes and clenching her fists, Hannah focused on the lights in the room. She flexed her hands as if spreading her fingers would spread the light. Briefly, it did, but they went back out almost the second she opened her eyes. She groaned.

John, however, hummed. "Hannah," he stepped towards her, "I think you might be focusing on the wrong thing. You know, not just the lights are off in here. The television is, too. Maybe, instead of the lightbulbs, you should try to focus on the wires?"

"Can't do it," she insisted.

John kneeled, and he met her eyes. She looked away, at his see-through hair, but he persisted. "Give it one more try, Banana. I know you can do it."

She took a breath and rubbed her face before returning her hands to her sides. Again, she closed her eyes and clenched her fists. She focused her energy on the wires, on the electricity itself, as John suggested. She felt the electric tingling she had felt coming out of the TV running up her arms and down to her fingers.

She unclenched her fists, spreading her fingers, and the lights came on. Behind her, the TV began playing the theme song of the Solve It Squad. Slowly, Hannah opened her eyes, detensed, and the power continued to run.

Realizing what she had done, Hannah grinned, flapping her hands and even squeaked. "I did it! I did it, I did it, I did it!! Webby, John!!" she looked for them, shaking with excitement.

Webby was very quiet, but her voice was excited. "Good, good! Hannah powerful! Good work!"

Turning, Hannah's gaze landed on John, and she realized why Webby was so quiet. The General was grinning back at her, nearly as solid as he had been at the bridge, practically glowing with pride. He even bounced a bit. "I knew you could do it."

Hannah laughed and ran towards him, trying to pull him into a hug in her excitement. Naturally, she phased right through him.

Stumbling to catch herself, Hannah sobered from her excitement and remembered. John, this person she had come to care about so much, who clearly cared about her , wasn't physically there. 

He had become a comforting presence, a guardian, a friend. He filled a role that was missing in her life, a role that always had been empty. Hannah wasn't sure if she was ready to acknowledge that particular fact.

"Hannah," his voice was soft and kind, "you did a great job. Don't get hung up on me, alright?"

She rubbed her eyes and turned to face him. He had faded slightly, but was still smiling, still proud. She found herself smiling back.

"Do you want to tell your sister?" he offered.

Hannah bounced, "Yes!!" and threw open the door to the hall. She was met with more darkness, and could hear some distant yelling. Her excitement once again drained.

"Big powers," explained Webby, "big problems."

"The surge must've affected more than just the Fun Room," John translated. "But, no matter. You know how to fix it now."

She nodded, and again focused on the wires. The lights of the hallway flickered on, but she saw that downstairs and other parts of the hall were still dark. Sighing, Hannah made her way through the building.

"At least," John offered, "this is good practice."

"Practice is perfect!" Webby chimed.

" Makes perfect," he corrected.

Webby grumbled, and Hannah continued on her way. 

As she wandered through the first floor, turning lights on and wondering why the Professor's house didn't have any windows, her eyes caught a light. Thinking it was someone with a candle, she called out. "Hello? Sorry… I'm fixing it."

No response. She turned the lights on — it was requiring less and less effort — and saw a person, facing away from her, wearing an overcoat and a scarf.

A scarf she recognized.

Gary turned around, glasses reflecting the green light from his eyes, and she screamed.

The lights she had just turned on flickered, and he covered his ears, doubling over. Hannah turned and ran, hoping that people had flocked to the sections of light she had brought back.

She rounded a corner and ran directly into Tom, who caught her and held her tight against his chest, moving her against the wall. Only then did he kneel and hold a finger to his lips.

She nodded, but whispered, "Gary-"

He nodded quickly back and stood, gesturing for her to stay. He stood near the corner she had come around, and soon, they both heard footsteps. Just as they were getting close, Tom jumped out from around the corner.

"Hey, Gary," he greeted, much too casual.

She heard the attorney stutter. "I- Uh- Tom! There you are!"

"Lost ya when the lights went out. You okay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine-"

"Good," Tom cut him off, "it'll hurt more then."

"What wi-"

Hannah heard two thumps in quick succession, and a groan of pain. She held her breath.

"I'm not an idiot, Gary," Tom's voice had grown cold and sinister, like it was when she met him at the play structure in the mall. "You ain't gettin' outta this so easy, I can promise you that."

"C-Come on, Tom!" Gary's voice wavered, clearly frightened. "How long have we known each other? I'm not up to anything bad —"

"You're always up to somethin' bad," Tom spat, and Hannah heard another sound of distress.

He came back around the corner, practically dragging Gary by the scruff. Hannah backed further against the wall when she saw him.

"Hannah," Tom prompted, "is this the guy that took you?"

She nodded.

"Lovely," he glares at the attorney, and begins dragging him off. "Your sister's in the medbay, kid. Wait there."

With no further discussion, Tom dragged Gary deeper into the house. The smaller man didn't put up much of a struggle, and Hannah wasted no time heading towards the medical center, turning lights on along the way.

Sure enough, inside the medical center were many people, as well as many candles. Hannah turned the lights back on and everyone looked around, surprised, but overall relieved.

As soon as they saw her, Lex and Ethan were at her side with questions about where she had been all day and if she was hurt. She answered absent-mindedly as she noted who was missing from the room. 

Tom, obviously, wasn't there, but Tim was, staying near Paul. Emma and Becky, who likely would've been the boy's second choices, were also missing. Curt was here, rolling his wrist (which had recently been freed of its wrappings, as was Tim's leg a few days prior), but Owen was gone. Ed was sitting beside the spy, petting Peanuts. 

That left only the Professor, and Hannah decided she was glad he wasn't in there. Ever since the incident with Bill, she had been wary of him. There was something amiss.

"I'm just-" Lex interrupted her thoughts, "I'm glad you're okay. You weren't scared in the dark or anything, right?"

Hannah shook her head with a pout. "Not afraid of the dark, Lexie. I'm not a baby."

The teen smiled, and ruffled the Warrior's cap. "I know, Banana. Just wanted to make sure. This place was literally pitch black, we're lucky we were having a meeting, or else I'm sure we'd all be lost in the hallways…"

"Some are," Hannah looked around again. "Tom took Gary somewhere…"

"Gary?" Lex stiffened. "He came back?"

Hannah shrugged, bowing her head. "Wants the Prophet…"

Lex growled, holding Hannah close. "That fucking attorney shut off the power somehow…"

Hannah shook her head. "No, no. I did. Accident. Sorry…"

Lex, and a few others, looked at Hannah intensely. She stared at the floor. " You turned off the power?"

Hannah nodded.

"How? Why?"

"Was an accident," she insisted. "Powers. Trying to… work them," she trailed off into mumbling.

"Well," Ethan grumbled, "now we have a loony lawyer to worry about."

"It's not her fault," Ed interrupted, Peanuts in his hood. "The power going out wouldn't have let Gary in, the door isn't electric. It still would've been locked. Either he broke in, or someone let him in."

"And seeing how thick that door is," Curt shrugged, "I doubt that twink could've cracked it open."

Lex turned to look at him. Like a mother catching their child swearing she asked, "Who taught you that word?"

He shrunk under her gaze. "Deb…"

"...I guess that makes sense."

"Anyway," Paul spoke up, standing. "Gary is here, Tom took him somewhere. I, for one, trust him. Emma, Becky, Owen, and Henry are all armed. I think we should try and regroup, maybe get the power back on." He looked over to Hannah. "Can you do that?"

She nodded. "Been doing that. Works slow though…"

"We'll stick with you, then," Lex patted Hannah's shoulder. "Right, Ethan?"

The boy nodded. "Pfft, of course. C'mon, Banana, let's split." He stood, pulling Lex up, and Hannah joined them. She waved everyone goodbye, and the trio left to make their way around the house.

As time went on, Hannah was able to reach a bit further with her powers, and thus cut down on the time a bit. At one point, John proposed that Lex may be able to do the same, which Hannah suggested to Lex, and so she tried.

Lex struggled with it, much like Hannah did, but with the tips the younger psychic now knew, she ended up getting the hang of it.

"Should split up," Hannah suggested. "It'll be quicker."

"We're not just leaving you alone," Lex argued. "What if you run into Gary, huh?"

"Tom took Gary. Safe now."

"Well," Lex crossed her arms, "I don't wanna risk it."

Hannah looked to Ethan with pleading eyes, and he frowned. "Sorry, Banana, I'm with Lex. We've gotten too close to losing you too many times."

She sighed. "Gonna take forever. "

"Better than getting jumped by some dipshit attorney," Lex countered. "Now c'mon, we're just wasting time standing here."

"It'd be cool if y'all could, like," Ethan gestured, "combine your powers. Right? And then you could just — whoosh — bring the power back all at once."

"Yeah, I guess," Lex shrugged, "but I don't think it works like that."

Hannah, meanwhile, had paused. "...I think it does."

The teens looked at her, and she explained. "I think… powers can work together. Might have before, when hiding. Talked about it with Webby, remember?"

Lex nodded. "But we don't know how we did that, or if it actually happened."

"Worth a try."

Hannah offered her hands, and Lex looked for a moment before taking them.

"Lexie, Hannah. Very strong," Webby hummed. "Work together. Power possible."

"This was a very good idea, Ethan," John spoke quietly, hopefully realizing the boy couldn't hear him. "Hannah, try and focus on Lex's powers, like you have been with the wires. It may expand both of your abilities."

She nodded, and closed her eyes, holding Lex's hands tight. Her sister held the grip just as strong.

Hannah felt a numbness creep up her arms as she focused her energy on Lex's powers. It was different than the buzzing static of the wires, and much more frightening. Was Lex feeling the same thing? Was this what the Black and White felt like?

Despite her fears, Hannah held on. When she felt the numbness reach her chest, her heart, her lungs, everything seemed to stop for a moment. It was black, and quiet. Two luminous eyes hung from the sky.

With a gasp, Hannah's eyes shot open, and she stumbled backwards, seeing Lex do much the same. As they let go of eachother, the lights flickered for a moment before coming back on. Looking down the hall, they saw lights turning on in rooms and hallways they hadn't yet reached. 

Ethan cheered and pulled the Foster's up and into a hug. Hannah couldn't bring herself to be excited, and when Ethan let them go, she saw a similar expression on Lex's face.

"You saw that too, right?" she asked, desperate.

Hannah nodded. "Wiggly."

The smile dropped from Ethan's face. "Uh. What's going on?"

"Nothing," Hannah answered reflexively. "Just. Seeing things. It's okay." She smiled up at him, and he smiled back, unsure.

"If ya say so…" he looked to Lex, who forced a smile and nodded. "Should we go back to the hospital then…?"

"Yeah," Lex nodded again, taking his hand. "Let's regroup."

Hannah took Lex's other hand, walking silently. In her head, Webby and John talked about why she may have seen Wiggly, what the implications were. She tried to tune it out.

The group had reconvened in the dining room, and this time everyone was present. They had walked in on the middle of a meeting.

"We could use him as bait," the Professor stated, sitting at the head of the table.

"Bait for what?" Emma gave him a funny look. "If we give him to the infected, then that's just one more to deal with. And why the hell would we want to lead them here?"

The Professor shrugged and glared at the rifle on the table.

Owen was standing, pacing. "I'm telling you, I can get him to crack. I am very well-versed in this type of thing."

"We're not letting you torture a man," Becky argued. "It's inhumane."

"I never said anything about torture!" Owen shot back. "Curt is the brute-force type of agent, and I'm the mastermind type."

"He's right," Curt piped up from against the wall. "If anyone can get him to talk, it's Owen."

"Why not Tom?" Paul offered. "They know eachother, right?"

"After the shiner I gave him, he won't be talkin' much to me, I can tell ya that," the man in question huffed. "I say we let Owen go to town on 'im."

"You guys went to Hatchetfield High together, right?" Ed questioned. "Is there anything you know that we can, like, use against him?"

"He fucked Linda."

Several people in the room shouted "What?!" and soon everyone was talking over each other and Hannah was overwhelmed. She stepped outside and walked down the hall, pulling on her braids.

After a bit of silence, she heard John clear his throat. "On the bright side, you made good progress today. I'm sure you and Lex will be able to master your powers with time, and practice."

She nodded, hopeful.

As she continued to walk aimlessly through the halls, she heard something. A voice, coming from behind a door.

The door was nothing special, it looked like all the other doors around the Professor's house, but Hannah could almost sense the malice coming from behind it. She put her ear to the door, and could faintly smell cleaning supplies.

"Yes, yes, I know," the voice muttered. "They're not going to kill me, sir. ...I-I'm sorry. I'm sorry. ...I'm not a failure! ...I miss Linda too, damn it, but I'm the one who's kept your people alive! I deserve a bit of respect, don't I?!" The person behind the door cut himself off with a cry of pain, and Hannah backed away.

Voice trembling, she whispered, "Gary."

Chapter Text

Hannah backed away from the door, trembling. He was right there. Presumably he was tied up, or the door was locked, or both, but she still felt unsafe just being this close to him. 

She leaned against the opposing wall and pulled on her braids. "Prophet, wants the Prophet…" she muttered, sliding down into a sit, and wrapped her arms around her legs.

It's then that she saw John appearing, but he wasn't facing her. Rather, he walked towards the room Gary was in. He stopped just before the door, arms crossed.

"Perhaps," he hummed, "we could get some information this way."

"Becky said no torture," Webby grumbled, more disappointed than Hannah had expected. 

"Torture?" Hannah found her voice. "No, no, don't. Can't anyway, right? You… You can't touch."

John took a moment to respond, but eventually did shake his head and turn to face her. "No, I can't. And I wouldn't. I don't think they should." He walks forward, and sits cross-legged beside her. "I do hope they question him, though. I do believe he would have beneficial information. Even just things about the cult could be useful in preparation, at least."

"Preparation?" she looked up at him. "What for?"

He bit his lip, then admitted, "We can't let him go. So the cult will likely come for their leader. ...They may come for you, too."

Hannah curled up on herself more. "Don't wanna be a Prophet."

"I'm sorry, Banana."

After a moment, Hannah stood. "I… Should talk to him."

"No," John rose with her. "No. You should stay far away from him."

"Can get information. Like you wanted," she started for the door. John tried to block her, but she simply walked around him, not wanting to phase through her guardian once more.

The doorknob wouldn't turn. All three sighed; one with relief, one with disappointment, and one with frustration. 

"Wish we could touch," Webby huffed. "Could hurt him."

Hannah shook her head, backing off from the door again. "Why do you want to hurt him?"

"Hurt Hannah. Deserves it."

"Webby…" Hannah didn't know how to feel. Normally the spider was a kind and welcoming presence, but even she had admitted she had a dark side. Hannah didn't really want to see it.

John stood beside her, faint, frowning. He reached out, and he hand went through the door. He retracted the hand, shaking it like he had gotten it went.

"I have an idea," he stated, and walked past Hannah. There was another door to the left of Gary's. "Try this door, Hannah."

She did as he asked, and sure enough, it was unlocked. She flipped on the lights and saw that it was a closet, lots of towels and blankets and tarps inside. It was small, but not suffocatingly so — it actually felt very safe.

"Okay," John stood in a corner, surveying the closet. "Here's the plan. Owen was trying to convince the group to let him talk to Gary. He seems to be a good debater, so I'm sure they'll agree — if not Owen, someone is bound to come and talk with him. You stay here, close to the wall, and I'll go in the other room and listen in. Can you do that? Will you be alright?"

Hannah thought about it for a moment. "You won't hurt him?"

"I promise I won't, Hannah," he held a hand over his heart. "Even if I could."

"Then okay," she nodded, and shut the closet door. "I trust you."

Hannah grabbed a couple blankets, setting one on the cold floor to sit on, and wrapping the other one around herself. She sat in the corner closest to the room Gary was in.

She looked up at John, who was fiddling with his vest. She really wished she could hug him. "Please be safe," she whispered. "Don't hurt yourself."

John looked to her, seeming surprised for a moment before melting into a kind smile. He tried to pat her head, but neither felt the contact.

"I'll be safe, Banana. I promise," he assured. "I'll just be on the other side of the wall."

Hannah smiled back, not as confident as him, but trusting him. He wouldn't go far, and besides, he's a General. He could take care of himself if need be.

With that, John walked through the wall, and into the room Gary was being held in.


John didn't like walking through walls. He wasn't a ghost, damn it, and besides, it reminded him just how little he could interact with. How alone he really was. Plus, the indescribable sensation of walking through a solid is really not a pleasant experience. 

Needless to say, he tried to do it as little as possible, but this time was important. He didn't trust that the group would tell Hannah the whole truth, but she deserved to know. John wanted to know, so he could protect her.

While phasing through a wall was not a fun experience, neither was entering the room and seeing Gary tied to a chair and muttering to himself. 

The scene was one John had seen before. He's tried to keep PEIP from doing too much bad, but the sad nature of the military was that some things were unavoidable. Sometimes you had to do harm to prevent greater harm.

Torture, in John's opinion, was crossing a bit of a line. It was distasteful — there were better methods, usually. But looking at the face of this man, a man who was leading a cult, who had struck a deal with the Infected, who had harmed Hannah … John was willing to make an exception. 

He had promised Hannah he wouldn't hurt Gary, and he would keep his word even if he was corporeal, but God, did he want to at least get one good punch in. Just for catharsis sake.

As he paced around the room, not going too far from the wall, waiting for someone to show up, Gary chuckled.

"Wiggly's told me about you, General," he spat, and John stopped in his tracks. 

Slowly, he turned to see Gary looking right at him. He fought to look as close to the man's eerie green eyes as possible.

"You're a fool," he continued, "charging into the Black like that. Challenging Wiggly. And then, to save your own skin, you latch onto a weak little girl. Pathetic."

Anger bubbled in John's veins, and he walked closer to the attorney, malice in his stride.

Gary did not shut his trap. "I guess it makes sense. I mean, you had to be stupid enough to end up in the Box somehow, little birdy."

John stood face to face with Gary, and the attorney looked away. "What are you gonna do? Glare me to death? You're not even here ."

"Let me make one thing clear," the General stood over him, fists curled at his sides. He spoke low, voice cold. "You should feel very, very lucky that I can't touch you. Thank your precious god every day for that."

Gary gulped, and said nothing in response. John backed off, shaking out his hands. He didn't hurt Gary, he didn't break his promise, but he was angry that he gave into his emotion like that.

He didn't have too much time to lament, however, as the door opened, and in walked Owen.

The spy shut and locked the door before setting down a bag, and pulling a chair from nearby up to sit across from Gary.

"Cheers, mate," he grinned, teasing and charming. "How you doing?"

Gary refused to answer. He looked to be quite literally biting his tongue.

Owen shrugged, pulling the bag closer with his foot. John stood to the side, unseen by the spy.

"C'mon, now. I just wanna have a little chat. From what I hear, you're very talkative."

"Maybe if you need to know about the law," Gary counters, and then winces.

Owen chuckles darkly. "Yes, you were an attorney, I've heard. But, I would've thought you'd know better than anyone that laws aren't real anymore."

"You can't get rid of the law."

"Oh, yes you can. You did! By bringing about this god fellow, and ending the world."

"I didn't bring about Wiggly. He's existed for longer than any of us, and will outlive us long after we're gone."

"Yeah, yeah, I know how god works. Don't have a row about it."

"With him comes a new law," Gary continued, shifting in the chair he was tied too. "One above any created by man. His word is a divine law that we all abide by sooner or later. I'll be glad to defend it, in or out of court."

"I know how religious terrorism works, too. I'm from Britain."

Gary glared at Owen, and John stifled a snicker.

"I'm just messing with you, mate," Owen smacked Gary on the shoulder, playful, before a sinister glint appeared in his eyes. "Seriously, though. I'd like to know everything you know."

"Well, Michigan became a state in 1837, and the courts were established-"

"No," Owen cut him off, leaning forward. "You know what I mean, Gary. The cult. Wiggly. Why you needed Hannah. Why you came here. Better get talking."

"I don't have to tell you anything, Mr. Carvour."

"So you know my name!" Owen laughed. "I hope you know what comes with it. Or maybe it'll be more fun if you don't."

He stood, lifting the bag and setting it on the chair he had just been sitting on. He opened it, stuck a hand inside, and then put something in his jacket pocket. John didn't get a good enough look at it, but it reflected light. 

"Let's start simple," Owen began to walk around Gary in a large circle. "How did you find that this was our base?"

It wasn't a hard question, and the fact worried John. Hidgens' house was easy to find, there was a road more or less directly too it. The fact that this group was the only other living one on the island would mean it was easy to follow. On top of all that — it wasn't information that was risky to give away.

Despite these facts, Gary did not respond. Owen paused, standing in front of Gary, hands in his jacket pockets. "Are you going to answer?"

When met with no response, Owen shrugged. He took his hand out of his pocket and punched Gary square in the jaw. John heard a clang, and saw what Owen had taken out of the bag; brass knuckles. 

Gary, reeling, saw them too and seemed dumbfounded. Owen flexed his hand, showing off the weapon. "I was surprised the Professor had these, but he's actually got quite the arsenal. Just prefers the rifle, I suppose. But he was more than happy to loan me a few things."

Gary groaned, wincing, and Owen crossed his arms. "Do you want me to give you a second chance to answer?"

The attorney shook his head, not as a denial, but to get the pain away. "We-" he cut himself off with another wince and a twitch. 

"I know Henry. Sues people sometimes," he gasps between words, in pain, but not from Owen. "Seen him — and the group — around town. Figured it was here."

Owen watched Gary writhe, intrigued not with the answer, but with the pain. "One punch really hurt you that bad, huh?"

"Don't flatter yourself," Gary spat, seeming to finally settle. "This punishment isn't yours."

"Oh," Owen nodded, drawing out the sound. "Yes, I think I recall. You can hear that god of yours, right? I guess he doesn't want you to spill."

Owen doesn't wait for a response before punching again, square in the jaw. 

"I guess I'll have to hurt you worse than he does."

Gary spits blood and coughs. "Don't you work for the government? Torture is illegal."

"I did! But government isn't real anymore, Gary. Neither are laws. And even if they were, well," he smirks, meeting Gary's eyes. "My line of work is… a special case. I'm actually a bit of an expert on this sort of thing. A master of torture, if you will."

Owen pockets the brass knuckles and returns to the bag, looking through it as he talks. "Next question. You were trying to build something at the bridge. What was it, what's its purpose?"

Gary coughs again. "Didn't you come through a portal?"

"That's not an answer, Gary."

The attorney huffs. "It's a portal. A portal for Wiggly."

Owen holds something behind his back and walks away from the bag. John takes the opportunity to peek into it, but he can't see much. What he does see makes his blood run cold.

Knives. Syringes. The barrel of a gun. And some kind of black, rectangular object. John hopes it isn't what he thinks it is.

"So you're trying to bring Wiggly here?" Owen continues his questioning.

"No," Gary scoffs, and then tenses, full-body. He stays that way for a moment before finally gasping, relaxing into the chair.

Owen watches. "Your little god doesn't want to share, huh? Unfortunate. For you, that is."

With a quick movement, Owen takes a knife out from behind his back and drives the blade deep into Gary's thigh, eliciting a scream from the man as blood stains his pants.

The spy twists the knife as he asks again, "What's the portal for, Gary?"

Between cries, Gary spits out, "Us! It's for us!" before tensing again, banging his head against the back of the chair.

Owen removes the knife and holds it in Gary's face. Blood drips onto the attorney's glasses and cheek. "Was that so hard?"

"You're insane," he muttered through clenched teeth. 

Owen didn't honor him with a response. "What do you need a portal for, Gary?"

The knife was still over his face, and Gary had his eyes on it. The longer he waited, the closer the knife got to his face. "I-It's the gate to paradise," he explains, and the knife still gets closer. "It'll take us to Wiggly."

With that, Owen pauses, resting the blade on Gary's cheek. "Wiggly doesn't want to come here, he wants you to go to him?"

"Yes, yes," Gary gulps. "This world is destroyed. The invasion failed, so…"

The spy makes no sound. He simply removes the bloody knife from Gary's face, tossing it aside. The weapon flies through John, and he doesn't feel it.

Owen once again looks through the bag. "You had the portal built. What did you need Hannah for?"

Owen wasn't facing Gary, but John saw conflict cross his face before he once again tensed painfully. The attorney managed to croak out a noise of pain, and only then did Owen look over, a cold and unempathetic look in his eyes.

"It was funny at first, Gary, but this is getting old." He took out the black rectangle, and John's stomach churned when he saw that his hunch was, unfortunately, correct. 

It was a battery. Owen attached a couple wires and set it on the ground as he stood behind Gary.

"Here's the deal," the torturer loomed, menacing, over his victim. "You're going to tell us everything we need to know. Or you will suffer-" he emphasized his point with a harsh shock to Gary's neck, a crackle of electricity that made even John flinch, "-until you die. Understood?"

Gary gasped, tears in his eyes, heaving as he tried to regain his breath and his confidence. John could see the muscles in his neck and face twitching from the electricity shot into him. Owen seemed unsatisfied with this response, and put the wire against Gary's neck again until he screamed.

"Why did you need Hannah for the portal, Gary?" he reminded his victim of the current question.

Gary spat thick, grey saliva on into his lap, coughing. "Turn it on," he muttered, body straining. "Ne-Needed her… Powers…"

"Mr. Wiggles can't turn it on himself?" Owen mocked.

Gary shook his head, taking the question seriously. "Tried to… use the bomb. As power. ...Didn't work."

"I was going to ask why you would choose such a dangerous location as a home base. Good initiative, Gary."

The attorney didn't respond. He seemed focused on his breathing, leaning forward in the chair, sputtering.

"Next question," Owen continued without mercy. "Why did you come here today, hm?"

"I…" Gary trailed off. John assumed that Wiggly was doing something to interrupt again, but the man's posture was about as relaxed as it could be after being electrocuted.

There was a shaky gasp for breath, and Owen forced Gary to sit up. Tears ran down the attorney's face; he was sobbing.

"Help," he croaked out. "I- I need-" he was cut off with another cry of pain. His body tried to double over, but was held mostly in place by Owen, practically pinning him to the chair.

Speaking of, the man was unphased by the tears — in fact, he seemed amused. "Help? You really thought you could come here for help? After what you did?"

With a forceful shove, Owen sent the chair, and Gary, to the ground with a loud clatter. He stood over Gary, foot on the man's chest. "You must be a fucking idiot if that's true. Did you seriously think you'd get help from us when you kidnapped a member of our group?"

"I'm-"

"If the next word out of your mouth is sorry , I'm going to kill you right this very second."

Gary didn't open his mouth. Owen got off him and kicked the chair to the side. 

"You know why I'm doing this, Gary?" he asks. John figured this is more of a monologue, as the attorney is still whimpering on the floor. "See, we voted on it, and they said no, we're not going to torture him. But I decided, no. You don't deserve mercy."

Owen brought the bag over to where Gary is, dumping the contents out so he can see. John spotted a hammer and pliers that he had missed earlier. Owen picked up a syringe. "I didn't even ask what was in these. Maybe you'll get lucky and it's an anesthetic."

Gary's breath hitched and he tried to squirm away from his torturer. "I didn't- I didn't want too," he managed to say. "I just- I just wanted to get Li-Linda out of there, a-and then I could hear him. He-He doesn't like me m-much. But i-it hurts if I d-don't listen…"

As if to prove his point, Gary seized up again, groaning. Owen sat, nodding, listening intently. He pulled the chair to its proper position, and kneeled before the attorney. "Look at me, Gary." His voice was softer than it had been the entire time.

Gary did as he was requested, and in the same, soft tone of voice, Owen continued. "That is not an excuse. You have led a cult to their doom. You have worked with the Infected to hunt us down. You are easily responsible for my partner's injury, and now he hears things, like you do. Horrible, terrible things, and I don't know how to help him. But the worst thing?"

Owen grabs Gary by the neck, and the soft tone is gone. "You stole a child, who has already been through the end of the world , and ripped her from her home, her sister, the people who care about her. A girl who has already been choked out more than once, and at this point the bruises on her neck might as well be scars. A girl who has helped us more than anything, a girl brave enough to go look for her sister, to go up against the Infected. You took her, and you brought her to your nuclear wasteland, and you told her that her brother deserved to die. You let one of your followers lay his filthy hands on her, and when things got bad you disappeared like the coward you are."

Stepping back, Owen punched Gary again, bare-fisted, knocking the latter's glasses off his face. They landed on the floor and cracked. "Hannah is braver than you will ever be. And you deserve absolutely no mercy for the things you have done, for the things you could've done had Curt and I been just a bit slower."

Walking through John, Owen picked the knife up from the floor. He returned to Gary and cut his shirt open.

"I'm sure you already know you're dying," he pressed the blade to the man's lower stomach. "If anything it's a blessing for me to kill you early. You should thank me."

Gary did not thank him, and cried out as the knife was pressed into his flesh and blood oozed out. Owen was taking his time; he wanted it to be painful.

"Owen?" came Curt's voice, and all eyes looked to the door.

It was open, and in the doorway kneeled Curt, with a couple of bobby pins in his hand; he had picked the lock. Behind him was Becky, Tom, and Henry. Everyone entered, and Owen dropped his weapon. 

Curt rubbed the side of his face as if he had a toothache as he pulled Owen away from his victim. Becky was quick to look over Gary's injuries, and Tom made sure the battery was turned off. Henry stayed where he was, observing the carnage.

"Don't wanna be a Prophet," Gary was muttering, not paying much attention to the people around him. "I never wanted this."

Seeming satisfied that he wouldn't drop dead, Becky stood and stormed over to the two whispering spies.

"We agreed no torture," her voice shook with rage. "We agreed we wouldn't stoop to his level. What happened? Your hand slipped?"

"Were we really going to let him go?" Owen's voice, in contrast, was the same deadly calm it had been with Gary. "Look me in the eye and tell me we were going to let him go scott-free, no consequences for the harm he's done."

"This is too much. "

"You think he wouldn't have done the same?! Would you like to have gone to their base and stumble upon Hannah's dead body? Or Tim's?"

"Enough!" Tom yelled, getting between them. "Look, he got what he fuckin' deserved, but no more. Did you find out anything, or did you just beat the shit out of him?"

"Of course I got the information," Owen crossed his arms, "I'm not an amateur."

"Great. We'll talk it over later. Everybody get the hell out of here," Tom waved the spies and Henry away, turning to Becky. "Can you make sure he doesn't bleed out or anythin' from here, or should I move him?"

She took a moment to collect herself before sighing. "Moving him to the medical center would be better, yes. We can still restrain him there."

John left them to deal with the wounded attorney however they would, taking note of the dirty look Gary sent him before he went back through the wall. 

Hannah was where he had left her, now having thrown the blanket over her head like she was in some kind of fort. He sat beside her.

"I told you I'd be fine," he tried to sound confident, positive, but nothing could prepare him for when she lifted the blanket and faced him.

Her eyes were red and bleary, tear tracks staining her cheeks. What really hurt him at his core, however, was the look of betrayal in her eyes.

"Said you wouldn't hurt him," she growled, trembling.

"I didn't," he told her, and it wasn't a lie. He figured she must've heard the screams and explained, "Owen did, and I'm sorry I couldn't stop him. Becky is going to make sure he's okay."

"I heard you," she pulled the blanket back over her face.

"Heard me?"

"Feel lucky I can't touch you," she spoke in a poor imitation of his voice. In a happier situation, he'd have laughed.

Now, however, he just felt guilty. "I did say that," he admitted, the words dry in his mouth. "I'm sorry, Banana. He could see me, and… he got the best of me."

She held the blanket close to her face and let out a muffled scream. Finally she took it off completely, wrapping it around her shoulders. "You promised."

"I know. I'm sorry."

Hannah huffed, resting her chin on her knees. Both were quiet for a long time. When she spoke up again, she sounded more like her usual self. "Sounded… bad."

"Owen is certainly thorough," he nodded. "I understand why he did it, though."

"Why?" Hannah looked at him, tentative.

John looked back, meeting her eyes. "He did it for you. You should've heard him, he certainly ripped Gary a new one. They all care for you a lot, Hannah, I can tell."

She kept his gaze for another moment before looking away. "I don't deserve it."

"Who told you that?"

"No one."

"Well," he moved closer, and attempted to pat her, comfortingly. Of course, he merely phased through, but it was the thought that counted, right? "I can tell you that you absolutely do deserve it. You are a wonderful person, Hannah. The world would be better off with more people like you in it."

The comment elicited a smile, and for a moment, John felt the ghost of soft fabric brush against his fingers.

Chapter Text

It took a day or so before Hannah stopped being mad at John. She reasoned with herself that she would've done the same thing, probably, if their places were switched. 

It was harder to forgive Owen. She knew he had done it on her behalf, and likely for Curt as well, but she didn't want him too. She worried what else he was capable of, and she wasn't the only one.

Since the bridge, the spies had grown near-inseparable, with many of the remaining teens theorizing that they were dating again, as they had seemed too in the past. After the torture, Curt seemed skiddish around Owen, often tracing old wounds that he refused to explain. 

The torturer himself was largely averse to everyone's opinions. He was steadfast in believing that Gary deserved it, that he had done what was right. The best they had done was getting him to admit that cutting open his stomach would've been too far.

Hannah figured that was the best she was going to get, and was trying to just let it go. Gary was a bad person, everyone was rightfully mad at him, even if he didn't want to be doing this, as he claimed. She wasn't sure she believed him anyway. If he was really just doing it to survive, then he had no reason to say that Ethan deserved to die.

Owen she may be able to move past, but Gary, even if he was once a good person, was long gone. Like John had told her, he was dying anyway. It was only a matter of time.

With Alice, Deb, and Oliver gone, the teen group had shrunk to a whopping four; their bedroom and the Fun Room were barren more often than not. Ethan had let Owen take his place in the room he shared with Curt, now that Oliver was gone, and moved into the teens room with Lex and Hannah. Tim would switch between staying with his dad and staying with the other kids.

The house was lonely, cold, and grey. Maybe with the whole group it could've been more of a home, but not now. 

Lex had noticed that the dark situation had dampened Hannah's mood, and was currently sitting in front of the TV in the Fun Room with her, playing chess. John was initially standing nearby, but Lex figured out he was giving advice to Hannah and made him sit where she could see him. He continued to whisper advice to Hannah. 

At this point, the game might as well have been between John and Lex, as Hannah would continuously get distracted from the game. Most often she would stare at the TV, currently turned off, and think about the power she had discovered.

"Do you want to watch something?" Lex interrupted her thoughts, drawing Hannah's attention back. "We can just quit the rest of the game. You've got a devil on your shoulder anyway," she shot a playful glare at John, who rolled his eyes.

"Not a devil," Hannah shook her head, but didn't elaborate.

Lex did it for her. "Yeah, definitely more of an angel. He's got the wings and everything."

"Wings?" John asked, but Lex didn't hear him.

Instead, she talked over him, asking, "Did you want to watch something, Banana?"

Hannah shook her head, looking back at the TV. "Just thinking."

"About what?"

"Going in."

"...Going in where?"

"In there," Hannah pointed to the TV. 

Lex looked back and forth between Hannah and the TV. "What?"

"Powers," Hannah stood. "Went in, came out, turned off the power."

Lex stood with her. "You. Went in the TV?"

"Just mind."

"That's!" Lex gestured, looking for the right word. "Insane? How? Can I do that?"

Hannah shrugged, and Webby piped up.

"Hannah mental. Lexie physical," she explained.

John hummed. "Does it really work that way?"

"Hannah very strong, big brain!! Big powers!! Lexie strong, too, but outside."

"She was able to get the gun, albeit with quite a bit of effort…"

"Banana?" Lex interrupted. "You okay?"

"Talking, they're talking," Hannah explained. "Webby and John say… I'm mental, you're physical."

"What does that mean?"

"I… Think, hear, see. Brain stuff," she tapped her head to emphasize the point. "You're… outside. Touch, feel. Like the gun, John says."

Lex nodded, facing the TV. "Then I probably couldn't put my brain in there… but maybe my body?"

"No!" Webby shouted, causing Hannah to jump. "Dangerous!"

"Dangerous," Hannah repeated. "Don't separate mind and body."

"But you did?" Lex raised an eyebrow.

"Just a little. Went back quick."

The two fell quiet, in tandem with the house. The Fun Room was close to the center of the Professor's mansion, and often people could be heard down in the living room below, but not now. 

Hannah didn't like the quiet, and spouted the first idea that came to mind. "Could put me in the TV?"

"Huh?" Lex looked at her. "You just said don't separate mind and body and all that."

"I put mind, you put body?"

Lex looked at her for a long moment. "Would that even work?"

"Could try," Hannah rocked on her heels. She liked using her powers with Lex. It felt like she was becoming more like the Witch, able to control her powers and use them for good, or for fun. Lex made her feel safe, and normal, despite it all.

Still, Lex was hesitant. "What do they say?" She looked over to John. 

He adjusted his vest as he spoke. "If she can put you in the television, she can take you out. And if she fails but you still get your mind in, you know how to come back."

"Dangerous," Webby stated, quieter this time. "Could work."

Hannah shrugged. "Could work. Just gotta be careful."

"Well," Lex rubbed her hands together, shrugging. "Fuck it. Might as well try, right? As long as you are completely sure you're okay with it. And you can promise me you won't die or anything."

"I promise," Hannah held out her pinkie, and Lex wrapped her own around it. 

After some explaining and psyching-up, Hannah placed both her hands on the TV screen, while Lex put only one hand on it and the other on Hannah's shoulder. 

"So you said you just… push?" Lex asked, clearly apprehensive.

Hannah nodded. "Try, c'mon."

The Foster sisters closed their eyes, and Hannah felt the numbing electricity she had when turning the lights on the other day.

Sound disappeared, and when Hannah opened her eyes, she was back in the static-like place — in the TV.

Before she could get too excited, she head an "Oh, fuck!" from behind her. Hannah turned around just in time to see Lex stumbling backwards away from the TV, hands over her ears.

And through the window-like screen, she could also see John, worriedly kneeling beside Lex, who was now on the floor, as if he could help her up. Webby was perched on his head, like a replacement hat.

She also, sadly, saw herself, hands on the glass. "Static again?"

"Static again?" her body asked a moment later.

"Unfortunately," John rubbed his ear against his shoulder as he and Lex stood.

"This happened last time?" the older girl asked, walking back to the TV and turning the volume down. "You didn't go in."

"Mind in, body out," Hannah sighed. "Can try again."

She put her hands on the window and pushed. Blinking, she was back in her body. The lights flickered, but stayed on.

Hannah turned back to Lex, smiling. "Takes practice. Like with the lights."

Out of the corner of her eye, John smiled.

"You're sure you're not just messin' with me?" Lex frowned, glaring at the TV.

"I'm sure. C'mon."

Another three tries with the same result and Hannah was losing hope and patience. She didn't want to disappoint John by giving up, but there were no changes. She took a second to calm down in the static space.

Outside, Lex was equally frustrated. "Maybe I just don't have this kind of power?"

"You touch," Hannah muttered, and her body echoed.

"Yeah, but the only time it's worked I was, well… pulling, not pushing."

Lex paused mid-stride. "Hang on. Fuckin' lightbulb. Stay in there, Banana."

She hopped back to the TV and did as she had before: one hand on the screen, one hand on Hannah.

"Okay, here's the idea," she grinned. "I'll push, and you pull, okay?"

Hannah jumped up and hovered her hands over the glass. "Okay!"

"Okay!" her body echoed cheerily, and Lex began the countdown.

"Three… two… one!"

Hannah put her hands on the glass and tried to pull. There wasn't a grip to hold onto, so it was more of a mental pull than a physical one, but she felt the cold glass sting her fingertips.

With a pop , Hannah stumbled back. Her ears were ringing and everything tingled.

"Holy shit!" came Lex's voice, and Hannah pried her eyes open.

In the window of the TV screen, she saw her sister, John, and Webby — she could no longer see herself.

"Holy shit, Hannah, we did it! I did it! This is insane!" Lex laughed, amazed with herself.

"Knew you could! You're strong, Lexie, super strong!" Hannah's voice echoed in the static space for the first time since it's discovery.

"And I can hear you? Holy shit, dude, we should show Ethan!"

"Wait!" Hannah rushed to the glass, "Don't leave. Helped me in, help me out, I think…"

Lex looked at the TV. "I can kind of see you, through the static. It's kinda freaky."

"Don't leave."

"I won't. I'm not going anywhere, Banana."

Lex smiled, and for a moment, Hannah felt reassured.

"Now, let's get you out of there so we can go tell Ethan, oka-"

Hannah watched as Lex was cut off by the door to the Fun Room banging open, and everyone (corporeal or otherwise) jumped at the loud sound.

In walked the Professor, undisturbed by the jarring sound.

"Jesus Christ," Lex groaned, "you scared the shit out of me!"

"How am I supposed to kick open a door and not scare the shit out of you?" he asked, monotonous and almost mocking.

"I dunno, give me a warning?"

"Okay," he shrugged, and pulled a handgun from his jacket pocket, aiming it directly at Lex. "Here's your warning. Come with me and have a chance to live, or die here and now."

"What the fuck?!" Lex backed up, bumping into the TV.

"Hannah," she could barely see John beyond Lex, but could hear him loud and clear, "don't make a sound."

She covered her mouth and kept her eyes trained on her sister — not hard, considering she currently took up most of the screen.

"You're fucking insane," Lex spat, but Hannah could hear the fear in her voice.

"Yes, yes, everyone says that, now what's it gonna be? Do you want Hannah to find your corpse in here?" He cocked the gun. "Time-sensitive question."

"Lex," John's voice came again, "go with him. If you can hear me, go with him. We'll catch up, just stay alive. Do you hear me?"

There was a moment of tense silence before Lex slowly stepped forward, raising her hands. "F-Fine, you fucking lunatic. Just don't touch Hannah."

"Lucky for you, I don't know where she is. Come along," he gestured her forward with the gun.

Hannah bit back a sob as Lex walked towards the door, leaving her behind. John said it would be okay, and she trusted him, but if something went wrong…

At the door, Lex looked back at the TV, at Hannah. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Hannah refused to believe she was mouthing a goodbye.

The Professor, apparently out of patience, grabbed Lex's arm and yanked her through the door into the hall. He gave a glance around the room before stepping outside himself and shutting the door with another loud bang.

Then, and only then, Hannah allowed herself to cry. Her tears felt like static. Her cries sounded warbled. It made her cry more.

"Hannah," John's voice cut through the overwhelming sounds and sensations. "You need to get out of there. We need to find Lex before something happens."

He sounded urgent, and even afraid. Hannah looked up and through the screen. He took up most of the space, with Webby on his shoulder. The bright lights of the Fun Room made it look like he was glowing, a faint golden light just behind him.

"Ca-Can I leave?" she curled in on herself more. "Lexie touch…"

"Hannah can! Hannah strong!" Webby assured, reaching out to tap the screen with her legs. "Break out! Break, break, break! Save Lexie! Brave girl!"

Hannah covered her ears. "Why is it always me?" she asked the static space, voice quiet. 

"It shouldn't be," John sighed. "It shouldn't come down to you as often as it does, Hannah, and I'm sorry. But Webby is right, you are a brave girl. You are a good person. And I believe that if anyone can get out of here and save Lex, it's you. Because you are a good person, Banana. Just trust yourself."

Trust yourself. Hannah did trust herself. At least, she thought she did. It wasn't the same kind of trust she had with Lex, or Ethan, or Webby and John. She trusted herself to be protected. She didn't trust herself to do the protecting.

If things were going to keep coming back to her, maybe she should do some protecting. She could protect Lex and Ethan and John — she could protect her family . She didn't want to be responsible for saving the world, but she could do that much.

Hannah forced herself to her feet and staggered to the screen. She felt the room under her feet, almost as if it was trying to pull her deeper in. It was like walking through quicksand.

She put her hands against the window, looking up at the large form of John. "Back up."

He smiled, and did so. "I know you can do it, Banana."

Hoping his faith in her wasn't misplaced, Hannah pushed, harder than she ever had. The screen felt cold against her palms, but she did not feel the numbness as she had previously. She pushed harder, gritting her teeth.

She pushed, and pushed, and pushed, and eventually, felt heat creeping up her arms and chest.

And then, a crack.


Curt flinched at the crack, and became keenly aware of how heavy his head felt. Groaning, he pried his eyes open. When he tried to reach up and rub them, he found he could not move his arms too far.

He sighed. He knew this exact situation all too well. The question was who was responsible this time.

Looking around with bleary eyes, he spotted a few other people. Once his vision adjusted he found he recognized them, and muttered, "Shit."

To his right, across the room, was Tom and Becky, both tied to chairs that looked to be attached to each other as well. Neither were awake. To his left, well it was more like over his shoulder, was Owen. Much to Curt's surprise, his fellow spy was also still asleep.

"Guess I've got a resistance or somethin'," he shifted in his seat, testing how far he could move. "I wonder why."

His abductor wasn't even in the damn room, and he was already being an annoying dumbass. Good job, Curt.

Tom, Becky, Owen, and himself. What did they have in common? Him and Owen were the easy ones, they were both spies. If it weren't for the overall situation, he'd assume they'd been taken for information and such. But this wasn't the Cold War, it was Hatchetfield, and there was more than just him and his partner.

His first suspect was Gary. Perhaps the twink got out of his cuffs and hunted them all down, but Curt had his doubts that the man was strong enough to do that. His radiation poisoning was clearly taking a toll on him. Furthermore, he was clearly a narcissist, and he'd want to be there when they all woke up. 

So Gary was thrown out as a suspect. Hannah, Lex, Ethan, and Tim were as well, for obvious reasons. 

Ed was unlikely too; Curt had learned the man was a woodworker, but he was a bundle of nerves leftover from war, and mostly focused on Peanuts. Physically, he was capable, but emotionally? No.

Emma and Paul he could see working together. Paul was lanky, but there was some muscle underneath his lack of shoulders. Emma was small, but she was a hiker, and something of a scientist; she'd at least have the brains to put a plan into motion. 

Together they could pull off a hostage situation, but Curt still found the idea shaky. After all, Tom was Emma's brother-in-law. While the small woman didn't seem to like Becky that much, Curt didn't think she would betray Tom. 

That left Henry, but it was still weird. The Professor was… kooky, and reclusive even in his own home, but he didn't seem like a bad person.

Then Curt thought about it more. When he and Owen had first arrived, Henry was overprotective, but he was still talkative and, eventually, welcoming. He helped diffuse the situation in the dining room, when Curt nearly shot a largely-innocent Owen.

Over time, Henry had gotten quieter, more distant. Curt had written it off as the old man being paranoid, especially after he started carrying his rifle pretty much everywhere, but looking back, it seemed more like suspicious behavior.

When Bill was trying to infect Alice, he and Henry had arrived in time. They could've saved the two teens, they could've stopped Hannah from getting kidnapped, fuck, Curt wouldn't have been shot!

Henry had refused to shoot. They had heard Bill singing, it was obvious what was happening, but he wouldn't shoot. So Curt did it for him. At the time, Curt thought Henry had hesitated because he didn't want to hit Alice, like Curt had.

But, if Curt couldn't see Alice behind Bill… how could Henry have?

The more Curt looked back, the more weird shit he noticed. When Bill, Oliver, and the girls were roaming the house, Henry had nearly gotten infected — but he didn't seem too bothered by it. When debating what to do with Gary, he wanted to use him as bait. Unlike everyone else, he didn't seem to mind what Owen did to the attorney.

And everyone in the room knew how to use a gun.

Curt let his head roll back until it hit Owen's. "Fuckin' loony."

That solved that, then. Or it did in Curt's mind, at least. Now there was the matter of getting everyone out of there, awake and alive. Or at least alive. Awake would be appreciated, and easier.

Curt's train of thought suddenly stopped. Not surprising, it was a bumpy ride all the time, but there was something wrong. Straining his ears, he heard footsteps. Too many for just one person.

Curt went limp, letting his head hang back closer to his chest, and closed his eyes. He fought to not tense when he heard the door creak open and someone gasp.

"Get in," he heard Henry growl, followed by stumbling footsteps.

"What the fuck are you doing?" That was Lex, voice trembling. She wasn't nearly as skilled with weapons as everyone else in the room, but Curt figured that she would be deemed a threat because of her powers.

Which meant that Hannah surely was, too.

There was a shove, the scraping of a chair, and an "oof."

"Why are you doing this?" Lex asked, and Curt could practically hear her shuddering. 

"Many reasons," Henry huffed. "Humanity is a plague. I'm doing what needs to be done."

"What needs to be done? That doesn't make any fucking sense! What the fuck did we do to deserve this?! Us, this group specifically, give me a fucking reason you piece of shit!"

Lex's rant had grown loud, but she quieted down with a sharp gasp. 

When Henry spoke, his voice was quiet, but rabid. "You have continued to defy our gods. I know you don't hear them, Lex. I wish I could. But I know of them. When Wiggly came, I thought my theory was wrong, but no. It was beyond anything I could've ever theorized. The apotheosis and Wiggly… they're not the same, but they come from the same source. And who are we to defy them? Literal gods on Earth? Or rather, they would be on Earth if you hadn't fucked it up."

"You want the world to end? You know you'll die too, right?"

"Oh, no, no, no, Lex. I promised that if you came with me you wouldn't die. No one here will."

There was a moment of silence, and Lex connected the dots mere moments before Curt did. "Fucking Christ, you're going to infect us."

Henry laughed. "That's the hope. A new life, of happiness and pleasure, of musical, performative bliss! And if they can get off the island, then the apotheosis could give us world peace! Can you imagine it, Lex?"

"No."

"Then you must really have nothing to live for."

Lex didn't respond. Curt wasn't sure if Henry knocked her out somehow or if she was just at a loss for words.

Soon, the door opened and shut. Waiting a few more moments, Curt opened his eyes, sitting up again.

Henry had, indeed, left. Lex was awake, tears rolling down her face, and she jumped a bit upon noticing him.

"You okay, kid? I… heard."

She looked away. "Fine. Hannah's safe, that's all that matters."

"You matter too, Lex. We're gonna get out of this, I promise."

"How? He's got a gun, its his house, pretty much anyone with a brain cell is stuck in here…"

"What size shoes do you wear?"

Lex gawked at him. "What?"

He was already wiggling out of his shoes. "Do you think mine'll fit you? It'll be fine if they're a bit big, but you'll have to be more careful not to cut yourself."

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

Getting the shoe off, Curt kicked it over to Lex. "Put it on and tap your heels together. Watch your hands, a knife'll come out. Cut yourself out and hold the ropes so it looks like you're still bound."

Hesitant, Lex put the shoe on. Her legs were not as bound as Curt's and she was able to press the mechanism to reveal the knife. Reaching back, she began to cut the rope, muttering a "Fuck," when she slipped and cut her hand.

"Careful," Curt warned.

She glared at him. "I'm being as careful as I can, dude! Jeez, if you had this, why didn't you just cut yourself out first?"

Curt paused. "...God damn it."

"Did that seriously not occur to you?!"

Before Curt could defend himself, he felt Owen's head bonk against his own. Laughing, he bonked the Brit back. "About time you woke up."

Owen groaned. "Must've given y'less…"

"Aw, I forgot how cute you sound coming off of anesthetics."

"Know anythin'?"

"Henry's a loon, caught anyone he's deeming a threat, wants to infect us all."

Owen huffed. "Glad you've got it so under control."

"He gave his knife shoes to me before cutting himself out," Lex chimed, still sawing.

"There it is."

"Oh, come on!" Curt bonked his head on Owen's again. "I swear, you try and save somebody…"

Shifting from Tom and Becky drew everyone's attention to them; the nurse was shaking her head awake, and Tom was quick to struggle against his bindings. 

"Good morning," Curt chirped, relaxing in his chair. "I'm sure Henry will be back soon. Lex, once you're out, help them."

"Saving us for last, love?" Owen leaned against him.

"We've been through this, we'll be fine," Curt reasoned, genuinely unworried. "I want everybody else to get out before he comes back."

"And then we'll get the jump on him and, ideally, not die."

"Nip it in the bud, easy-peasy."

"It concerns me," Becky yawns, "how often you guys are in this situation."

"Part of the job," Curt smirks. "Doesn't mean its not annoying."

"I got it!" Lex exclaims, hands in front of her, bleeding slightly. She took off the shoe and cut her legs free, standing and rushing over to Tom and Becky.

"Where did you get that?" Tom asked, catching a glimpse of the knife-shoe.

"It's Curt's."

"...He didn't cut himself out first?"

"Jesus fucking Christ," Curt sighed, and Owen laughed.

Lex cut them out and began to do the same to Curt and Owen, when the spies told her to stop.

"Go back to your seats, all of you," Owen whispered. "Wrap the rope around your hands, pretend your bound."

"What, why?" Lex looked between them.

Curt shushed her. "Drop it, he's coming. Go!"

Trembling, Lex dropped the shoe and returned to her chair, Tom and Becky doing the same. They wrapped the ropes loosely around their legs and hands, hoping it would be enough.

Not a moment too soon, the door opened. Henry walked in, rifle at his side. He left the door open.

"Glad you're all awake. We can get the show started, then!" He cackled, pacing around. Curt tried to reach his shoe that Lex had dropped. 

"What's goin' on, Hidge?" Tom watching him pace. "You hearin' Wiggly too, like Gary?"

"No, sadly," Henry shook his head. "I am not a Prophet, nor am I psychic. I was simply blessed with a moment of clarity, some thirty years ago…"

"You got struck by lightning, Henry," Becky interjected. "Mental trauma, hallucinations, those aren't uncommon from that kind of thing."

"I predicted how the world would end," he turned to her, "didn't I? Wasn't I accurate? Wiggly failed to end the world, he destroyed much of it, but it's not gone. We're still here. The President is still here. No, the apocalypse did not come with Wiggly, it came with the apotheosis. And that is what I predicted. And you want to tell me that it was mental trauma? Hallucinations?" The rifle was in her face now. 

"Get that fuckin' gun away from her," Tom growled.

"You're not in much of a position to make demands, Tom," Henry glared at him.

"Can we skip the villain monologue?" Curt yawned. "It's so overdone. Like seriously, you're a dramatic guy, I get it, but I'd have thought you'd know a cliche when you see one."

Henry's glare moved to Curt — exactly as he wanted. "I've waited thirty years for this moment, and you're really going to ruin it by being an asshole?"

"Life isn't a musical, buddy," Curt grinned. "Dramatic moments don't magically happen."

Henry walked closer, and Curt slid his shoe back on. "You clearly have no sense of narrative. I'd write you out completely if I could, but I think spicing up your character will do."

"Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?"

He sighed, stepping closer. "You're too stupid to wrap your head around a metaphor?"

"Well, you're stupid enough to get this close to me," he chuckled, and kicked his shoe-knife into Henry's shin.

Henry stumbled onto the ground with a pained shout, taking the knife (and the shoe) down with him, a handgun falling out of his jacket pocket and across the floor. Pulling the knife out, he laughed through the pain and the blood. "No matter! None of this will matter once we're all infected."

Before getting up, he took another moment to look at the shoe. "...You didn't think to try and cut yourself out with this?"

Leaning back, he took a moment to scream out his frustrations before using his words and yelling, "For fuck's sake! Why do you care?!"

"It's the logical thing to do?"

"Fuck off!"

Leaping on the opportunity, Tom grabbed the handgun from off the floor and aimed it at Henry. "You just… You stay down there, got it?"

Henry looked up at him, shoe-knife in one hand and rifle in the other. He put two and two together and the confusion melted from his face. "You're not going to shoot me, Tom."

"Wanna bet?"

"Sure, Sargent Shaky Hands, I'm confident enough."

With that, Henry fired the rifle, barely missing Tom's head. The round ended up in the ceiling, but had done its job; Tom was startled by the sound and dropped his gun, jumping back. 

Henry tossed the shoe-knife aside and staggered to a stand, cocking the rifle. "Sit back down if you know what's good for you."

Tom, after a moment of hesitation, did so. Henry looked around to the rest of the group. "Who else is loose, huh?"

No one moved, and he rolled his eyes before turning to the door, frowning. "They're supposed to be here by now."

"You just have so little faith in the world," Owen asked, "that you're willing to kill us all yourself?"

"It's not death, it's evolution. And it's coming with or without me." Henry looked into the distance, almost dreamily. "An apotheosis… you're never lonely, in the Hive. Never sad, never troubled, never unimportant."

"I have a right to be unimportant!" Lex stood, not bothering to hide that she was free.

"You have a right to die, too," Henry aimed the gun at her, and there was a harsh scraping of chair legs on tile.

" You have the right to die, you bloody coward!" Owen had shouted, nearly knocking him and Curt over with the attempted movement. "You're out here kidnapping veterans and children who have done you no wrong because you're afraid they'll kill you first."

"You clearly haven't been listening to my reasoning at all, " Henry stomped over and kicked the pair of chairs, and the spies, to the ground.

"Yeah, because your reasoning is bullshit."

"Well, hothead, I think you just don't have very good comprehension skills."

"I think that you're a bloodthirsty slag."

Henry paused. "A what?"

"He called you a whore," Curt commented, eyes not leaving the gun that was much too close to Owen's head for his liking.

"Ah," Henry nodded, "So we're down to name calling."

"You fucking started it," Owen spat.

"Well, I have a line I've been saving for an opportunity like this," Henry grinned, raising his gun to Owen's head. "Welcome to America, you tea-taxing son of a bitch."

Curt held his breath, bracing himself, holding Owen's hand tight as a gunshot rang out. He felt blood on his face, and briefly began to spiral until a second was heard, and Henry fell to the floor, a bleeding hole in his neck. 

Owen squeezed back, and Curt heard him quietly sigh.

Across the room was Tom, holding the handgun. The second round in the rifle had missed Owen, due to Henry having been shot, and hit the wall. 

Putting the scenario together, Curt couldn't help but laugh. "Nice shootin', Tex!"

Tom lowered the gun, looking away. "Don't bring it up."

Becky stood, but before she could get far, she froze. Tom raised the gun to the door, but quickly dropped it. Curt craned his head to look.

In the doorway was a woman with curly, dusty brown hair and bright blue eyes. Her face looked familiar, though Curt was sure he hadn't seen her before. Rather… she reminded him of Emma. A little taller, maybe a bit more feminine, though that may be the fault of her painted lips. She smiled sweetly at Tom.

"Been a while, hasn't it, honey?"

"Jane?" Tom didn't move from where he was. "You're… no, you're not Jane."

"I am," she nodded, stepping further into the room. "But I am also… more than Jane. We are all more than who we once were. That's just the nature of being many."

"Many?"

Stepping in after the woman — apparently named Jane — came many other smiling, blue-eyed people. A few faces Curt recognized; Oliver, Alice, Deb, and Bill. There were at least a dozen of them, clearly infected.

"It seems Henry bit off more than he could chew," the group spoke as one. "But his offering remains a pleasant surprise."

The Infected began encroaching upon the living, two of whom were still tied up. A hum was passed between them all, reverberating through the room, as if they were communicating.

That last thought made Curt pause. They were a Hivemind, they likely communicated through some mental bullshit, right?

"Everyone cover your ears," he warned, "I've got an idea."

Tom, Becky, and Lex did as he advised, and Curt gritted his teeth as he focused on the never-ending stream of thoughts that weren't his. Voices whispering terrible things. Old, terrifying memories. Some that weren't his. A family of horrifying creatures: a spider with a human face; a furry squid-looking thing with bright, looming eyes; smiling teeth as thick as buildings; a huge, rotting goat; a giant, unblinking eye; and a sea of blue goop. 

He couldn't hear the ringing so much as he could feel it in his fingertips, like static, but judging by the reactions he could see, it was working. Tom, Lex, and Becky were holding their heads, struggling to stay standing, but they were not the only ones affected.

The Infected were frozen, mid-movement. They seemed to tremble with the sound, and the few that did move were completely separate from the rest of the group. They did not act as one; they barely acted at all.

What was unexpected, however, was that they weren't leaving . Curt had expected the sound would drive them away, but they simply stood in place.

Anxieties swirled in his head and, unknown to him, made the sound louder. He couldn't keep this up forever, doing it on purpose gave him a headache at best and a panic attack at worst. Besides, Becky had said the first time it happened that she was surprised he hadn't caused any permanent damage to people's hearing — what if they weren't so lucky this time? The longer he used this power, the more likely it was he would hurt someone.

The Infected were not moving, and neither were the living. It was a complete standstill. If Curt stopped the ringing, the Infected would recover quicker, right? If he didn't stop, would he eventually kill the living people in the room? What about the rest of the house? There were still people missing, was he reaching that far? Curt, you fucking moron, this wasn't a solution, you just made a bigger fucking problem. Because that's all you can do.

There was something around his hands. Not the scratchiness of the rope, it was stronger, warmer. Still rough, but in a more natural, calloused way.

Owen. 

Owen's hands. His hands that were tied behind his back still, holding Curt's own. And not covering his ears.

Curt felt the blood drain from his face, and the ringing stopped. He didn't really hear it, but there was a clarity, a crispness when it stopped. He had to stop. He had to know if Owen was okay. Please, he couldn't have killed him again.

Everyone, Infected or otherwise, let out a sigh of relief. The humming began again. Curt didn't care. He needed to know if Owen was okay, but he couldn't see far enough over his shoulder.

"Owen," he breathed, and then louder, "Owen! Please…"

No response, but when Curt tugged on his hands, there was a tug in response. He was alive. He was alive.

Not a moment later, the humming from the Infected stopped. Looking back, they were mere feet away, but had suddenly froze. He didn't feel the ringing anymore. What happened?

In the tense, silent air of the room, his ears picked something up. A voice, down the hall. Singing. Straining his ears, he could make out the words.

"Tomorrow will come, tomorrow won't come, will tomorrow come today? And turn the light off…"

The Infected turned towards the door, blank expressions on their faces. Curt looked through the mess of legs, and spotted someone approaching as the voice got louder.

"Do you all see what I see? What I know? What I see? Do you all see the memories tomorrow reminds me?"

As the lines are sung, Curt found he did remember something. A memory that wasn't his. A memory of the bomb from the bridge coming down, but detonating. A memory of a flash of white bright enough to melt skin. A memory of death. He held Owen's hands tighter.

"Tomorrow will come, tomorrow won't come, tomorrow come today," the singing continued. "Tomorrow will come, tomorrow won't come, will tomorrow come today? And turn the light off."

With that line, a small figure approached the door. Through the legs of the crowd of infected, he could make out overalls and a flannel shirt.

Hannah.


The lyrics she had heard before. Webby had woken her up with them almost every morning since Black Friday. The tune, however, she wasn't sure. When it first came to her after shattering the TV — literally, by the way, the screen was destroyed — she thought she may have been infected. Then the memories came. 

A stage. An audience. Bright lights. It was fake, there was music, it was for fun. A tragedy for entertainment. A world where it wasn't real.

The Infected were attracted to music. When she felt the buzzing in the back of her head, she figured it was Curt, and followed it. She saw the group of Infected, and the idea came to her. She went with it without a second thought.

Now she had their attention. They waited with baited breath for what came next. The song had more verses. More to sing.

"What if tomorrow comes to break the dawn, and take the night away? What if tomorrow-" she continued, looking from face to familiar face. "What if tomorrow comes to break the dawn, and there's no one to stay? What if tomorrow-" 

She cut herself off. That was their cue, the memories told her. They'd pick it up or leave it.

Several tense moments of silence followed, and a single woman — Jane, that was Tim's mom from before — spoke up.

"What if tomorrow?"

She spark had been lit, and the group passed the phrase around to each other, voices singing in harmony, until they all came together, stepping towards Hannah, with a resounding:

"What if tomorrow comes?"

With every step they took forward, Hannah took one back, eventually needing to turn around. They followed her closely, but glancing over her shoulder, they all seemed almost in a trance. None of them even tried to touch her.

As they sang, she led them through the house, down the stairs, to the front door. It was wide open. She walked through it.

The overlapping chorus would've sounded beautiful in any other situation. But outside, in the cold, with them all circling around her, it was terrifying.

"What if tomorrow-

What if tomorrow comes,

and takes the night

away?

What if tomorrow-!"

Finally, the group lunged for her, and she dove through the legs of an Infected Ken, stumbling to a stand and running through the door.

With a final cry of "What if tomorrow!" she slammed the door shut, bolting as many locks as she could without the keys.

For a few moments, they banged against the door, crying out as a collective. Eventually, it subsided, and Hannah allowed herself to breathe. It worked.

Running back upstairs, she was quickly met with a tearful bear hug from Lex. It didn't stop her from seeing the bleeding body of the Professor.

Beyond the corpse was the rest of the hostages, the spies now cut free. Curt only had one shoe on, and Owen had blood running down the side of his face.

"Curt, love," he was talking loudly, too loudly for a private conversation. "It's okay. It'll be okay."

Curt held Owen's face, shoulders shuddering. He was muttering incoherent nonsense that Hannah could barely hear. What she could hear sounded like apologies.

Becky was kneeling beside them, gently moving Owen's hair to look at his ears. That's where the blood was coming from. Tom stood over them, fiddling with his sleeves. He caught Hannah's eye and managed a smile.

When Lex finally pulled back, she kneeled to Hannah's height and kissed her forehead. "Never do that again."

"Don't get kidnapped again," she refuted, and Lex laughed.

"Fine. Compromise. Neither of us ever get kidnapped again. Okay?"

"Okay."

Chapter Text

Three quiet days passed after the Professor's death. He had been their leader; the group wasn't sure what to do after he betrayed them. They settled for staying inside for a while.

Hannah didn't know what happened to his body. None of the kids knew, and the adults refused to say. They just promised that they didn't put him outside, out of fear that he'd get infected.

No one wanted that, of course, but Hannah really didn't want to stumble upon his corpse somewhere in the huge house. Wouldn't it smell, anyway?

John and Webby told her it would be fine. They had been quiet, too. His betrayal was something none of them predicted.

Lex didn't want to use her powers. Hannah had asked so they could show Ethan the TV trick, momentarily forgetting that she had destroyed the TV the teens had worked so hard to find. The older girl wanted nothing to do with her powers. Ethan asked Hannah to not bother Lex about it anymore.

John confessed to Hannah that Lex barely looked at him. He had been trying to teach Lex sign language, hoping they could communicate without him and Hannah being in distress. The teen had barely responded.

Hannah had tried to pick it up when she could see John, however, because it would clearly come in handy when she didn't want to talk. Furthermore, it would help her talk to Owen.

Becky had confirmed it — the ringing Curt produced had ruptured Owen's eardrums. They didn't have the tools or hands needed to perform a surgery, but the nurse said that any hearing loss wouldn't be too permanent. It could last somewhere from two weeks to two months, with minor loss lasting longer, possibly forever if he never got them properly fixed.

Until then, Owen couldn't hear anything quieter than a shout, and Curt had taken to becoming his interpreter. The two knew some kind of sign language that John couldn't identify, and when Hannah asked, Curt admitted that it was, in his words, "discontinued."

Her best guess was that it was a spy thing, and she left it at that. The two tried not to talk about spy stuff too much. Their agencies likely didn't exist anymore, but habits are hard to break.

It was depressing, to say the least.

The adults were talking in the dining room, and Hannah sat against the wall, trying to listen in. John agreed to help her, standing on the other side of the wall, inside the room. 

Tom was tired. He had more or less been elected leader, but it was a difficult job. He had yet to continue the search for portals, or to have anyone leave the house at all.

"Last time we were out," Ed explained, "me, Ethan, and Lex saw that the market still had some stuff that was edible. And there were like, five or six portals showing up while we were there, but… none for very long."

"That still may be our best bet, though," Becky piped up. "If there's a lot of portals, one might be stable enough."

"We could split into two groups," Ed continued, "I'll lead one and Ethan or Lex could lead the other. We'll get a whole bunch of stuff, map out the whole area."

"No," Tom sighed. "The kids aren't going out anymore."

"What?" Emma sounded conflicted. "Look, I get the reasoning, Tom, but we've got eleven people. That's nine without Tim and Hannah. You take Ethan and Lex out, and that's seven."

"Seven people is enough," Tom insisted.

"Even when one of them is fucking deaf? And another is still recovering from being shot? That's five, is that still enough?"

"We can handle it," Curt interrupted, annoyed. "We're not helpless, I can tell you both of us have been through worse. Tom's right, we shouldn't be making kids do this shit."

"Normally I would agree," Paul cleared his throat, "but they want to help."

"As adults," Becky's voice was firm, "we should be making an effort to protect the kids as well as we can. Lex and Ethan are young, but they are legal adults. Personally, I don't think they should be going out, but ultimately we should let them decide."

"We've already decided," Tom struggled to keep his volume in check. "They're staying here. We've lost enough kids to this shit."

There was a long moment of quiet, and Hannah let her mind wander, gently bonking her head against the wall, the Warriors' cap in her lap. She didn't want Lex and Ethan to leave; she was worried about what would happen to them. At the same time, she knew they were capable, and careful, and that Paul was right — they wanted to help out, to get out of the house. 

Deep down, Hannah knew that the fact Lex and Ethan had survived as long as they had was pure luck. She didn't want to bet on how long that luck would last.

What they needed was to get off the island, to get out of Hatchetfield. That's why they had been tracking the portals, wasn't it? Tom should follow Ed's advice, and go looking for the ones he saw with Lex and Ethan, that was her opinion. Maybe they could find a stable one. 

Biting her lip, her mind drifted to the bridge. It was destroyed, and too difficult to cross, but that weird circle in front of the bomb… Gary had told her it was a portal. He had admitted as much to Owen, too. 

If the cultists could build a portal, why couldn't they?

"No," Webby cut in. "Couldn't. Sorry, Hannah…"

"Couldn't what?" John asked. He wasn't visible to Hannah, but she was sure he was poking his head back through the wall.

"Build a portal?" Hannah asked him, looking up where she assumed he'd be. 

Sure enough, he began to fade into existence, a thoughtful look on his face. "...It's not impossible, but we wouldn't be able to with this group."

"Why not?"

"Well, for starters, we don't have the necessary materials. Some could be scavenged, but some couldn't. That's part of why Gary's portal was inoperable. Furthermore, portals are very finicky things. We'd need blueprints for there to be even a chance of it working, and we don't have those here, either."

Hannah mulled over his words for a moment. "Don't have them… here?"

John frowned. "PEIP has a portal. The one I went through. We would still have blueprints for it, but it's impossible to get them. We have no way of contacting PEIP, or safely getting the blueprints here if we did."

Still, Hannah refused to be disheartened. "Can talk to the President? And he can tell them."

"I'm not sure the President is still in contact with PEIP. And we don't want people coming to the island and risking getting infected, remember?"

Hannah huffed. Everything always had to be so complicated.

Within the dining room, the argument continued. The adults weren't going to be agreeing anytime soon. Lex didn't want to use her powers. Building a portal was impossible. They would be staying here for the foreseeable future.

Unless.

"No, Hannah," Webby jumped in again, more forceful.

"What?" John asked again, fully stepping back into the hall, clearly a bit annoyed at Webby knowing something he didn't.

"Nothing," Hannah told him, and continued to contemplate.

Webby continued to argue otherwise. "Too dangerous, Hannah. Disappear. Leave Lexie, Ethan…"

"I could do it," she whispered.

"Hannah," John's voice was stern, but she could hear the hint of fear below it. "What are you planning?"

"Into the Black and White," Webby said for her.

"Absolutely not," John kneeled in front of her, rapidly becoming more solid. "Hannah, I know you want to help. But there is no way that you can go in there. Even with all your power, Webby's right — it's far too dangerous."

"I could do it," she said again, more confident. "PEIP has a portal. Get to theirs, get the blueprints, come home."

"It's not that simple," John told her, gritting his teeth.

"No space. No time," Webby warned. "Easily lost. Forever."

Hannah stood, eyes on John. "I could-"

"Hannah!" He cut her off, his volume startling her. He stood, taking a moment to regain his composure before continuing. 

"Hannah, I need you to understand. The Black and White is home to entities both ageless and foul — there is more than just Wiggly that can harm you there. If you found a way in, the chances of your survival are slim to nil, even if you managed to avoid the eldritch horrors that live there. Hannah..." he rubbed his eyes, sighing. "I don't want you to make the same mistake I made. I don't want you to end up like me."

She looked up at him, fear in her eyes — not fear of him, but fear for. "Like you…?"

"Trapped," he looked at himself. "Merely a spirit in the Black and White. If you were to enter without a protective suit, the same would happen to you. I understand your thought process, but it is simply not possible."

Hannah nodded. "Sorry."

"Don't be," John smiled. "You're a good person, you're trying to help. It's honorable, and I'm proud of you for trying. But this is not the way. And if it was, I still wouldn't let you go. You're too important to too many people, Banana."

She nodded again, sitting back against the wall. After a moment, John walked back into the dining room. Hannah looked up at the ceiling. 

It wouldn't work. It was too dangerous to even try. But it felt like it would work. She just needed to find a way in, and a way through. If she could follow something, like a trail of breadcrumbs, that would surely work. And getting in was as easy as finding a big enough portal that would be open for more than a couple seconds.

Hannah cut off her thoughts before Webby could tell her no and the lectures began again. It wouldn't work. It wouldn't work. 

Yelling erupted from the dining room. It wasn't going well.

She felt like a coward. People kept protecting her, and she finally had a good idea to be useful and protect other people and it won't work. 

Gary said he had been tracking the portals for longer than the Professor had. He would know where to find one. He would need a little incentive. But it didn't matter. Because it wouldn't work.

"Hannah…" Webby's voice chimed in, a warning tone.

Hannah stood and opened the dining room door. The yelling stopped, and all eyes were immediately on her — including John's.

She put the Warriors' cap on, looking at the table. "Wanted to make something to eat."

The tension relieved slightly, and Becky nodded, smiling sweetly. "Go ahead, Hannah. Sorry for being so loud. Do you need any help?"

Hannah shook her head, rushing into the kitchen. John followed her, loitering by the doorway.

She did what she had done a million times before, grabbing bread, peanut butter, a plate, and a knife. Jelly was terrible and she refused to have it. 

Everything was where it was supposed to be. She opened the cupboard, standing on her tiptoes, and got a plate. Bread was in the breadbox, peanut butter in the pantry.

Knife in the silverware drawer. She took out a butter knife, but kept the drawer open a moment longer. There were sharper knives, too. They weren't too big, or heavy, or awkward. Small, sharp little knives for cheese or something.

Hannah grabbed one and put it in her pocket before shutting the drawer.

"Hannah," John piped up, and she saw him walk closer. She returned to her unmade sandwich. "Why did you take that knife?"

She shrugged, forcing any thoughts about it out of her head. "Protection."

"You don't need a knife to protect yourself. No one in here is going to hurt you," he assured, but she could tell her excuse wasn't convincing. 

Hannah made her sandwich. She put the butter knife in the sink, still feeling the weight of the other one in her pocket. She took her plate, and her sandwich, and left the kitchen, walking through the dining room where the adults were talking quieter, and down the hall.

She went to the living room, where the radio she had found was. There was a fleeting thought that she could talk to the President, like she had before, and follow his voice through the Black and White. But there was no point in trying, of course, because she was not going to go in there.

Lex and Ethan were sitting on the couch, waiting for the broadcast as they were asked to do by the adults. They hadn't seen Hannah yet. She backed out of the room, and continued down the hall. At first she was wandering aimlessly, but when she recognized her surroundings, she knew where her feet were taking her.

"Hannah," Webby piped up, voice softer and calmer than the previous few times. "Stop. Please." She sounded like she was begging.

"Are you thinking about that again?" John asked, masking fear with anger before seeming to hold himself back. "Listen to Webby. It is an impossible feat."

Hannah didn't give either of them a response. She continued, holding her plate with her uneaten sandwich, until she arrived at her destination. 

The medical center. She hadn't been inside in a week or so. She pushed against the door with her shoulder, and stepped inside.

On the cot was Gary, cuffed to the bed frame. His cracked glasses rested over closed eyes. His breathing was slow, and she could hear every intake of breath. The air smelled like cleaning supplies and metal.

Stepping closer, Hannah sat at his bedside on a chair surely left by Becky. The nurse was the only one Hannah knew of who came in to do anything with Gary. She set the plate on the bedside table, and Gary's eyes opened. 

He turned to her, and she froze.

His eyes were not green. Rather, they weren't the sickly yellow-green of Wiggly. They were a normal shade of green, dark enough to look brown in average lighting.

For a long moment, they just stared at each other in silence. Hannah's hand crept to her pocket, and she took out the knife, pointing it at him. She flinched at the immediate shouts of distress, but kept it raised.

Gary looked at it, frowning. "Are you going to kill me, Hannah?"

She fought to not tremble. "Up to you."

His lips twitched into a smirk for a second before he laid back down. "I'm already dying. You killing me would be a favor."

Hannah frowned, but did not put the knife down. "Know where the portals are, right? You know?"

Gary blinked a few times. "Why are you looking for a portal?"

"Gonna save us. Find a way home."

"You all won't survive in the Black and White."

"Have to try!" she shouted. "We have to try. Or… stuck, we're stuck here forever. We have to try to leave."

Gary hummed for a moment before sighing. "There's no changing your mind?"

"No."

"It's not a fun place."

"Why? Why do you care?" she huffed, holding the knife closer to him. She was not very good at being threatening.

Gary laughed, but it quickly fell into coughing. When the coughs finally subsided, his breaths were closer to wheezes. "You're a child," he manages to say. "You shouldn't throw your life away."

"Life is being thrown away here," Hannah argued. She held the knife closer to his face. "Tell me where a portal is."

Gary moved closer to the knife, pressing his face against it, and she pulled it away, accidentally leaving a small scratch on his face. He smirked and laid his head back down. "How about we make a trade, huh?"

"What do you want?" she grumbled, putting the knife back in her pocket. It wouldn't do her any good with him.

"Half your sandwich."

"What?"

"You heard me."

Hannah looked at the plate and the still-untouched peanut butter sandwich. "Really?"

Gary nodded. "Half and I'll tell you what you want."

"Gary," she heard John speak up, "if you can hear me, don't do this. I don't know what you have planned, but you're right, she's a child. Don't let her do this."

Gary did not respond. Hannah frowned and, ignoring John, took a half of the sandwich in each hand and gave one to Gary. He had to stretch a bit to reach his mouth, but ate it hungrily. Hannah sat in the chair and ate her half much slower.

Finishing his half, Gary sighed, laying back, before coughing. When it subsided, he asked, "What time is it?"

Hannah didn't have a watch, but there was a clock in the medical center. "Almost twelve."

"This time of day," he wheezed, "there are a lot of portals in Pinebrook. There's one that shows up almost every day at one, right in the middle of the street, on Chestnut."

"Where does it go?"

"We don't know. That's not something we can track. The portals are different every time, from what we've gathered."

"It doesn't matter," John's voice was at that dangerous tone, "you're not going."

"You promise?" Hannah asked Gary, continuing to ignore John. It felt like they had returned to the first few weeks of knowing each other. 

"I swear on my own grave," Gary coughed out a laugh. "But no telling it'll do what you want. Besides, that bitchy spider of yours could probably just lock you out."

Hannah didn't respond to that, though she heard Webby growl before falling silent. She quickly finished the last of her sandwich and stood to leave without another word.

"Wait!" Gary called out before she got to the door, quickly overcome with another coughing fit.

"Please-" he managed to say between wheezes. "Please, I don't- I don't want to be alone…"

Hannah looked back at him. He was a mess, far from the man she used to see in commercials. Through his cracked glasses he seemed to be on the edge of tears, reaching for her with his cuffed hands.

"I don't want to be alone," he repeated, voice hoarse.

Hannah couldn't look away. John and Webby were silent. There was only Gary's labored breathing.

Hannah walked back to the chair and sat beside him. As he laid back, she took his hand in hers. Slowly, his fingers curled around hers in a weak grip.

"Wiggly is gone," he told her quietly, not by choice. "He never liked me much, anyway. Probably going to find another new Prophet… but there won't be another Linda."

"Abandoned you?" she whispered the question.

He nodded. "His power was keeping me alive. Without it-" he cuts himself off with a harsh cough, proving his point.

"I'm sorry," he wheezed. "I was… never a good person. But I didn't have… to do all this. I didn't want too. I barely remember… most of it."

Hannah held his hand tighter. "It's okay. I forgive you."

It was a lie and she knew it. But she knew what was happening, too. A broken man's last moments, and she was the only witness. He didn't deserve her kindness, but she would give it anyway. Maybe John was right about her being a good person.

He nodded, and she figured he knew it was a lie, too. "You are very powerful. Not powerful enough to defeat him, but maybe powerful enough to live. Just don't get caught, kid."

"I won't."

They were quiet for a few moments as Gary's breathing grew ever slower. Finally, he turned his head towards her, the cracked lenses of his glasses glinting and reflecting light.

"Thank you," he smiled.

The smile stayed on his face as his grip grew weaker and his breathing slowed to a stop. 

She remembers this scene. She saw it, what felt like forever ago. Gently, she let go of his hand and set it on the bed. Standing, she rubbed her eyes. She would not cry over the death of a bad man. She had a job to do.

John stayed quiet until they reached the front door. As she was putting on a jacket — one of Tom's, she was pretty sure — he spoke up, voice soft and scared. 

"Please don't do this," he begged. "Banana, Hannah, I know you want to help, but this is just going to get you killed."

Hannah paused only for a second, stubbornly ignoring him. Yet, her hands trembled. She was afraid. 

He was probably right. But there was no other way out, not with how things were going. They would all die sooner or later; with this, she had a chance to pull it off. A very slim chance, but a chance nonetheless.

"Webby, please, she listens more to you," John sighed as she opened the door.

Webby remained uncharacteristically silent. It made Hannah worried, too.

"Webby?" she called, shutting the door behind her. 

The silence continued until finally, the spider spoke. "Web."

"Web?" John repeated. "The psychic web? That's not going to help-"

"John," she cut him off, "stop. Web. Wings. Warrior."

A message; a prediction. "Web, wings, warrior," Hannah repeated, and continued to repeat as she walked down the hill the Professor's house was on. 

"You've seen something, haven't you?" John asked as they walked. 

Webby stayed quiet, but must've given him some kind of visual cue as he continued, "Care to share?"

"See soon. Be ready."

"I can't prepare if I don't know what I'm up against."

"You know."

After that, her guardians fell silent. Hannah made her way through the snowy ruins with more confidence than before. Her hands were in her pockets, and she held tightly to the small knife.

Eventually, she made it to Pinebrook. As Gary said, there were lots of portals appearing and disappearing, most too quick for her to even think of going through. A few stayed open long enough for an animal to jump in or out. One poured water onto the sidewalk before disappearing.

"Fascinating," John gaped, and she spotted him looking around. "This is certainly interesting, but very dangerous. Hannah, it's not too late to turn back."

"Street," Webby piped up, monotone. "Chestnut. Portal."

"You want her to go through with this?" John was shocked, betrayal in his voice. "Webby, she will die."

"Web. Wings. Warrior," Webby repeated, more forceful.

Hannah covered her ears. "No arguing. Been friends for so long… don't go back."

"What about you?" he asked, clearly making an effort to keep his voice level. "You've gone back to ignoring me, haven't you?"

She pulled on her braids. "Not ignoring. Just… not listening."

"Why? Hannah, why are you doing this, really?"

Hannah stood still. Down the street, she saw it; a large portal, big enough to fit her, that was staying put. She had a feeling it wouldn't stay long. 

"Have too," she answered. "I have to. For Lexie, and Ethan, and everyone. For you, too."

"If you want to do something for me, then go back home."

Hannah marched towards the portal, adjusting the warrior's cap. "Web, wings, warrior. I can do it."

Before she could be met with further protest, Hannah ran through the portal.


The portal was large and metal and cold. He really hated the look of it. When he was first told about it, he expected it to be more steampunk-ish, or at least some kind of cool Blade Runner looking thing. Not a giant circle of metal and wires.

He came here often, just to look at it. He supposed he hoped that it would turn on by itself one day, and that he would come walking out, no worse for the wear.

He sighed, scratching his chin. He'd grown a beard in the nearly two-months since Black Friday. He couldn't be bothered to cut it. It didn't look that bad. Dare he say, it was a great beard.

"Uh, Mr. President, sir?" a voice cut into his thoughts.

President Howard Goodman turned to see a young agent approaching him — one of few he actively tried to avoid. An agent he had since learned was Corey McNamara. John's son.

"Howie," he corrected with a forced smile. "Howie is fine. How can I help you?"

"Well, you… aren't supposed to be down here," Corey frowned. "I've been asked to escort you back to your quarters."

"Ah. Oh course," he shook his head. This happened quite frequently. "Does it have to be my quarters, or can we compromise for the mess hall? I didn't eat after the broadcast."

"Sorry, sir, specifically your quarters. Corporal Lee and General Schaeffer are waiting for you there."

The color drained from Howard's face. "Both of them?"

"Yes, sir," Corey nodded. "As is a civilian."

"Who?"

The young soldier hesitated. "Edward McNamara, sir."

Corey's father — his only remaining one. Howie felt sick to his stomach. 

He didn't voice his anxieties, though he was sure Corey could tell, and gave him a curt nod. "Well then. Let's not leave them waiting."

The young agent led the way, though Howard knew it well.

The McNamara's were an interesting bunch. Corey was something of a prodigy, joining PEIP so young. He turned 21 on New Years Eve, and Howie made sure he had a celebration. Ed was a baker, and since Black Friday, he (and many other civilians) had been given a sort of asylum at PEIP HQ. From his few interactions with the man, he seemed to know much more about the organization than a civilian should. But he made a mean apple pie.

Then, of course, there was John. 

The General was surely what this meeting was about. In the aftermath of Black Friday, Howard promoted Miss Jolene Schaeffer to the rank of General as John's replacement, as she was the next highest-ranked officer. John wasn't kidding with the joke he made when they first met — PEIP was a very small operation, especially in comparison to the rest of the military. 

He didn't want to replace John, but it was necessary for the organization to keep its head. She was a blunt woman, much less personable than Xander or John, but she was nice enough, not that it really mattered.

Had he known John was still alive, he wouldn't have promoted her. When he found out, he had tried to demote her, to spearhead a mission to get John back, but he was met with resistance. They eventually convinced him that it wasn't what they should focus their efforts on, at the moment. The world was still recovering from Wiggly. There were still people to be found across the country, across the globe.

Corey stopped in front of the door to Howard's room. It was one of the larger, nicer ones on the base. He couldn't help but feel guilty after he saw how many of the agents would share tighter quarters. 

"Are you not coming in?" Howard asked, trying to buy more time before facing the dreaded meeting.

Corey shook his head. "No, sir. I was simply told to escort you here."

"Ah," Howard nodded. "If you wanted to stay, maybe I could convince them-"

"Sir," Corey cut him off. "Please go inside."

"...Okay. Bye, Corey."

"Goodbye, sir."

Howard entered the room, shutting the door behind him. Xander and Ed were sitting in chairs stolen from around the room, and Schaeffer stood nearby, stiff as a board. Upon hearing the door close, all eyes were on him, and he smiled reflexively.

"Sorry to keep you all waiting," he stepped further in, putting his hands in his pockets to avoid fidgeting. "How can I help you?"

"Howie-" Xander began, standing, but was quickly cut off.

"Mr. President," Schaeffer continued to stand tall, much taller than Howie himself, and he was by no means short, "I'll cut to the chase. We're here to speak to you in regards to General McNamara."

"I figured," Howard tried not to deflate.

"We know that you go to the portal a lot," Xander explained, more delicate than Schaeffer. "We understand why. But it needs to come to an end. That is not a safe place for you to be."

"Isn't it only dangerous if the portal is on?" Howard dared to challenge.

"Not necessarily," Xander rubbed his eyes, and behind him, Ed stood up.

"Look, man, it's not about the portal. It's about John. I can't believe I'm saying this, but you need to let him go."

Ed wore owl-eyed glasses and had a nice beard. His hair had grown out since Black Friday, but wasn't nearly as long as John's. He had brown eyes that shone with a quiet rage as he spoke.

"I…" Howard backed up searching for words. "What do you mean, let him go? Do you all want to just leave him stranded out there forever?"

"He isn't out there, Mr. President," Schaeffer sighed. "You are holding on to the idea of a ghost."

"I told you, I heard-"

"-a little girl named Hannah, yes, we know. And she said John was in the Black and White."

"Howie," Xander shrugged, "you've got to understand that's not a reliable source. And all our information about the Black and White tells us it's impossible."

"What about Wiley?" Howard challenged again, beginning to lose a cool he never had in the first place. "Wilbur Cross, that fucking asshole? He's alive in there, I saw him! I identified him for you, even!"

"We suspect that Colonel Cross is merely a puppet to be used by Wiggly," Schaeffer told him, not for the first time. "That's much different."

"But John-"

"John is dead!" Ed shouted, startling everyone else in the room. "He's fucking dead, okay? And why are you mourning? You barely fucking knew him! Jo and Xander lost a friend. Corey lost a dad, I lost my husband. You lost a fucking soldier."

He took a breath, rubbing his eyes. "I know you blame yourself, and I get why. I've heard what happened a hundred times. But John is dead, and there's nothing we can do except keep living in his memory. And you, " he pointed, "Mr. President, are preventing us all from doing that. So please, just stop."

"I…" he trailed off. Not finding any more excuses, he hung his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. McNamara. For your loss, and… for my actions. I hope you and your family will continue to thrive… and I offer you my condolences."

The same speech he had given a hundred times to hundreds if not thousands of nameless, faceless soldiers. He had always meant it, but this was the first time he hated sounding so robotic.

Ed didn't seem to care. He nodded for a moment, and walked past him. "Goodnight, Goodman."

Schaeffer and Xander left shortly after, and he was once again alone. He sat on his bed and looked blankly at the wall. 

He knew he had heard Hannah. And he believed that she had heard John. A child would have no reason to know about the Black and White, there had to be something up. 

He had heard John himself, too. At first he wrote it off as trauma, but after talking to Hannah, he wasn't so sure. 

Howard stood. If no one else was going to go looking for John, he'd do it his damn self.

He waited till later in the night, when fewer people were out and about, and snuck out of his room, and down to where the portal was. A keycard was required to get in, which he had, but someone would be monitoring it. He only had so much time.

Howard slipped into a side room from the portal room where those awful spacesuits were kept. He scrambled to put one on. Locking the fishbowl-helmet in place, he went into the main room.

There was a console, with no one at it, currently. He hoped he could turn it on himself.

It took some fiddling, but eventually, the computer on the console said it was ready to open. So he flipped the switch.

With a loud alarm and a flash of light, the portal opened, a tear in the fabric of reality. Now all of the base would know. He had to hurry.

He stood in front of the ugly, metal ring, now filled with an unnamable substance that made up the portal itself. He ran towards it.

A door slammed open behind him, and he did not look back.

Chapter Text

The sensation of running and then suddenly being still, not of your own accord, was a strange one. It almost gave Hannah whiplash. 

Her vision was white — strikingly so. Any time she had dreamed of or otherwise seen into the Black and White, there had been endless blackness. Not a speck of white to be seen.

Hannah felt herself blink. When she closed her eyes, there was darkness, or colors and shapes if she squinted hard enough.

She tried to reach up to rub her eyes and was met with resistance. Something sticky was all around her — she was surprised she hadn't felt it sooner. 

Wiggling her arm up and in front of her, Hannah put the pieces together. The white all around her was touchable. It was clingy, but came apart into loose threads.

"Web," she whispered, feeling her breath close to her face. "Stuck in a web."

Hannah was suddenly very aware of how quiet it was. She couldn't hear John or Webby. She couldn't hear anything but herself.

She tried not to panic; maybe the cocoon she was in prevented her from hearing anything. The Black and White was usually so loud and… she had gotten in, right?

She wouldn't know until she got out of the web.

Remembering the knife, Hannah wiggled her arm to her pocket and fished it out, jabbing it into the layers of web. She cut as far as she could reach up and down, and as deep as the blade would go, before putting her hands into the hole she had made and opening it wider, pushing herself forward. She continued to cut and pull and move slowly forward until she tumbled out of the web and onto the ground.

Sitting up, Hannah's vision was overwhelmed with the blackness she remembered from her dreams and visions. The ground had no feel, no pattern, no distinction. It blended in with the rest of the blackness, save for the scattered webbing she had cut through.

Hannah stood, brushing herself off before turning around. There was a thick, vaguely human-shaped cocoon of web, now with a new hole down the middle. Aside from the thickness, it was perfectly her size. Made specially for her.

"Web, wings, warrior," Hannah reminded herself, her voice echoing quietly in the empty space. Still no sign of Webby or John.

...Shouldn't they be here, though?

Webby lived in the Black and White; she had told Hannah before that she couldn't leave. And John said he had been absorbed into it. He got hurt if he went too far from her. If she couldn't see or hear him, that was too far, wasn't it?

"Please don't hurt him," she sent a whispered plea into the void, not expecting an answer. Speaking was manifesting, after all.

Hannah found her resolve, looking around the endless blackness. She had to find them. At the very least, she had to find John. She wasn't sure how long he could survive without her. And without Webby, they might never get home.

As she got further from the web, however, she felt… heavy. Her hands and feet felt like they were burning, and it was getting hard to breathe.

John had warned her about this. Was she going to die here?

Beginning to panic, Hannah stumbled back towards the web, and found the sensation fading. She kept backpedalling until she reached the cocoon, sitting in it.

Slowly, the feeling went away. She caught her breath.

She was safe.

Hannah picked at the walls of the cocoon; just as before, they came off easily.

Deciding to do a little experiment, Hannah collected some of the web and wrapped it around her hand. She walked away from it again, until the sensation came back.

Her unwrapped hand burned. Her wrapped hand did not.

Hannah ran back to the cocoon. That settled it — the web could protect her. Web, wings, warrior.

But she couldn't just wrap her whole body in it. That would be impossible to move in, she might as well just go back into the cocoon. She settled on trying to just put a bit of it everywhere.

Soon, Hannah was covered in webs. In her hair, on the Warrior's cap, her flannel and overalls, her hands, her legs, her shoes, the jacket she stole from Tom. She found that it wasn't an unpleasant sensation. Sticky, but not bad.

She walked out for the third time, tentative. If this didn't work, she wasn't sure what she could do. 

She got to where she had felt the sensation before… nothing. She kept walking, and walking, and walking… nothing.

Hannah let out a sigh of relief. She realized she probably shouldn't be relieved in this place, but it was a step forward.

Having wasted enough time, Hannah gave one last glance at the cocoon she had burst from before running into the blackness.

It was hard to tell if she was moving at all, but when she finally stopped running and looked back again, she could no longer see the stark-white cocoon. It truly was endless black, now.

And where to go? There was no sense of direction in this place. Hannah wasn't even sure if she had run in a straight line. Maybe she had moved up or down from her starting point, she couldn't tell. There wasn't really any way to tell.

Trying not to panic, Hannah held tight to the Warrior's cap. She took deep breaths, closing her eyes. She thought of Lex, of Ethan, of everyone else back at the house. She thought about how she'll get to PEIP and get them to help her family get to safety.

She thought about Webby, about how she surely was the one who left her wrapped up. It was for protection. She would've known Hannah could figure out what to do. Webby believed in her.

She thought about John. She worried for him. Maybe she was too late, and he was already gone. 

She refused to believe that. She would find him, save him. They'd get through this together. He believed in her, too.

Hannah opened her eyes, reinvigorated, and pressed onward.

She had been walking for a long time, or so it felt. Maybe it had only been a few minutes. Time and space didn't exist here. Hannah had no plans on stopping, not until she found something.

And find something she did — by falling through the floor.

Up until this point it had been solid ground, but as she took another step forward, her foot fell through something that felt like water, maybe a bit thicker. She didn't have time to react before she tumbled forwards and into the puddle.

She felt like she was in water, but she could breathe. She felt like she was falling, but nothing moved.

Eventually, she landed on the ground with an oof. It didn't really hurt, or have much sensation at all, but the sudden stop was enough to get a reaction out of her.

"Whoah," someone chuckled, with a twinge of a Southern accent. "That was quite a fall there, kiddo. Are you alright?"

Hannah looked around, not expecting to find an actual person talking to her. She jumped up and fished her knife out of her pocket, pointing it at the stranger.

Before her stood a man, about John's age, but of a completely different appearance. He was taller, for one, and had dark, nearly black hair. He was clean-shaven, and Hannah wasn't sure if it made him look younger or older. His eyes were green, but not a Wiggly green. He wore a uniform similar to John's.

He looked at her knife and backed up, hands raised in surrender. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You don't gotta pull a weapon on me, I promise."

"H-How are you…?" she stammered.

He seemed to understand her question and shrugged. "I'm trapped here, like you and a million others. Came in here uninvited, unprotected… Now I can't leave." He frowns at her. "How did you get here? You're so young, I…"

"Portal," she told him, unsure whether to trust him or not. "C-Came through a portal. I-I'm not stuck."

He shook his head, lowering his hands. "You don't have a suit, kid… I came in through a portal, too. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. I'm, ah… employed by a program with a very specific focus. We deal with stuff like this a lot."

"PEIP?"

"You know about PEIP?"

" You know about PEIP?" she frowned. "Know John?"

"John… John McNamara?"

She nodded, and he smiled. "Of course. He's my apprentice. Met him when he was about your age, heh. How time flies."

Hannah sighed in relief, putting her knife away. If he knew John, he was surely trustworthy. Fidgeting with her sleeves, she introduced herself. "Hannah. I'm Hannah."

"Nice to meet you, Hannah," he smiled again, kneeling down to her height. "My name is Colonel Wilbur Cross."

He kept talking after that, asking her some question or other, but his name had her frozen. Colonel Wilbur Cross.

Bad blood. Cross. Black and White.

"Bad blood. Cross. Black and White," she repeats, almost without thinking.

The man goes silent, standing, and she slowly looks up at him, backing away. He stares down at her, deadpan.

"Now who told you all that, Hannah?" he asked, taking a step forward.

Hannah didn't respond. The green of his eyes shifted as he grinned, much less kind than before.

"It was that Itsy-Bitsy Bitch, wasn't it? Webby," he spat the name before chuckling, much more sinister. "C'mon now, Hannah, you know you can't trust her . But," he held his arms open wide, "you can trust me. I want to help you out, Hannah. Just let me."

"No!" she shouted, and the ground rippled. The man was not knocked off-balance, almost as if he was used to such a thing happening.

"No," she said again, shaking her head. "You… You're bad. With Wiggly."

"Oh," he draws out the sound, shaking his head. "Wiggly ain't so bad. You just had a bad first impression."

"Bad first impression of you!" she shouted. Immediately after, she turned on her heel and booked it away from him.

The man continued to talk, and sounded like he was right beside her, though she couldn't see him. "You can run all you like, there's no leaving here. You came in, and there ain't no way out."

"I will get out!" she yells, completely believing herself. "I will get out! I will!"

"Saying it won't make it happen, Hannah."

He appears in front of her very suddenly, some distance away, eyes glowing that sickly yellow-green she was really starting to hate seeing.

Instead of stopping, Hannah growled and ran faster, prepared to tackle him. She grabbed her knife from her pocket again and held it at the ready, shouting "FUCK YOU!" as she collided into him.

Only to find that she did not, in fact, collide into him.

She instead tumbled to the ground and, upon scrambling to get up, didn't see or hear him at all. 

What she did see was white. 

The ground she had fallen on had turned as white as snow. It wasn't sticky like the webs; it was as untextured and unfeeling as the black, just a different color. 

She reached out to where the white ended and the black began and mixed the two together until there was a spot of grey. 

The man was gone. Her knife was not bloodied, and she quickly put it away, horrified at herself for being willing to stab someone. And she swore. Lex would be very upset.

Standing, she tried to kick more of the black away, but was only able to succeed for another few feet, the black moving aside like dirt or sand. Then it stopped. Her shoes left footprints in the ground, but when she touched them, they felt no different than the rest.

She had to press on, before the man came back. He knew what PEIP was, who John was, who Webby was. Cross. He was bad news.

She walked into the blackness, not sure which direction she was going relative to where she had come from, but she was moving away from the white, presumably away from the man, and that was what mattered.

She wandered for a long time, keeping an eye and an ear out for the man, or any other signs of trouble. 

For what she was certain was a long time, she was alone. More alone than she had ever been in her life.

No Witch.

No John.

No Webby.

No Lex.

It was just Hannah, and the void.

Maybe this was a mistake.

Maybe it was hopeless.

Maybe she would die here.

Maybe she couldn't do this.

It was hard to breathe with all these doubts flooding her mind. Hannah's walking slowed to a stop and soon she was on her knees, hands over her ears, fighting back tears and trying to catch her breath.

She's going to die here.

With a cough, Hannah couldn't hold it in anymore. Tears fell as sobs wracked her body and she curled up on herself more.

"I-I-" she gasped, trying, wanting to reassure herself.

"I'm go-gonna-" a cough, a sob.

Finally, she got something out, but not the words she wanted to hear.

"I-I'm gonna d-die h-here."

The world was quiet, except for her cries.

"I'm go-gonna die here…"

She felt so small, so weak, so alone.

"...I'm gonna die here."

"You're not dead, yet!"

Hannah flinched and looked up. A man stood before her, clad in an awkward-looking spacesuit, complete with a fishbowl helmet. 

There was a light inside the helmet, illuminating his face in the darkness. He looked tired, and had a disheveled beard. His hair was dark and his face was tired, but his eyes were kind, despite a visible fear.

She backed away, wiping her face. "St-Stay away."

The man didn't move closer, but kneeled down across from her. "It's okay. It's alright, I promise. Listen… my name is Howard Goodman. I'm President of the United States of America." A pause. "Earth."

"Y-You," she cleared her throat. "Broadcast. O-On the radio."

"You've heard me on the radio?" he grins. "I… Are you…?" he leaves the question open, but Hannah can tell he's expecting a specific answer.

"H-Hannah," she tells him. "Talked before."

His grin grows, and he laughs. "Yes! Yes, I knew you were real! That means John is nearby, right? Where is he, we can get the fuck out of this hellhole!"

Hannah covered her ears. She was glad he was happy, but he was too loud. His voice echoed across the infinite space.

Luckily, he seemed to notice and quieted down. "Sorry, sorry. I… How did you get in here? Or are you from here? A-And where's John?"

"Don't know."

"You don't know how you got here or you don't know where John is?"

"J-John. Or Webby."

"Webby? Wha- Who's Webby?"

"Spider. Friend. Guardian," Hannah rubs her eyes again. "John was, too…"

"John's a spider?!"

"No!" His misinterpretation made her laugh despite the situation. Noticing his smile, she wondered if it wasn't purposeful.

"Hannah," he spoke softly, "can I come closer? Just a bit in front of you?"

Her mind brought up memories of McNamalien and Gary, and now Cross was added to the mix. She grasped at her neck for a moment, and nodded. As he stood to do so, she clarified, "Not too close! J-Just… couple feet."

"Couple feet away or couple feet forward?"

"...Away." Hannah hated how easily she trusted people.

He took a few steps forward and paused. "This okay?"

Hannah nodded, and he kneeled again. "Look. We'll find John, okay? I'm looking for him, too. It'll be alright."

Something in his eyes said he didn't entirely believe what he was saying. Hannah shook her head, looking back down. "Gonna die here. We both are."

"No," the President scooted a bit closer. "No, Hannah, I won't let you. I promise I won't let you die here. Do you believe me?"

She didn't. So she didn't react. The President frowned.

"Hannah," his voice was still soft, but it was a sterner tone than before. It reminded her of John. "Look me in the eye."

She tried too, though the helmet made it a bit more difficult. Not that she expected herself to be able to make eye contact if he wasn't wearing it.

He seemed satisfied and continued. "Good. Now listen. I want you to make me a promise, okay?"

"Promise?"

The President smiled. "I want you to promise me that you're gonna become your best self now. Because… the things in here?" He paused for a moment, searching for the right words, or perhaps trying to remember what he was saying. "They require nothing less than your absolute best. It's the only way we can get through this. Can you promise me that, Hannah?"

He offered his hand, and she looked at it as she mulled over his words. It sounded a lot like something John would say. 

Looking back at him, she caught a glimpse of hope in his eyes. 

"Warrior," she whispered, taking the hand. "Web, wings, warrior. You're the warrior."

The President shrugged. "I don't know if I'd call myself that… but you're getting off-topic. I wanna hear you say the words."

She shook his hand. "I promise."

"Good!" he grinned, standing and pulling her up. "Now. Let's find John and get out of here, huh? I'm ready to go home, but I'm not leaving without him."

"Me either," she nodded, and began walking. "Tethered. Can't go too far, or…"

"...Or what?"

"He gets hurt."

The President frowned, and gently squeezed her hand. "Let's find him quick, then. I-I don't want him getting hurt."

That she could completely agree on. Keeping their hands linked, the two continued to walk through the blackness.

The President didn't allow much in the means of silence. Hannah wasn't sure if the man was talkative, nervous, or trying to distract her. 

"So, you didn't tell me. How did you get in here?"

"Portal."

"You have a portal? I do too! Well. I don't, PEIP does. I assume you know what PEIP is if you know John."

Hannah nodded.

"Oh, good. Is your portal like theirs?"

She shook her head. "Temporary. Just appeared."

"It… appeared? No big metal structure, it was just there?"

Another nod.

"That's… they didn't tell me that was possible."

"John was surprised, too."

"Well. Then I suppose you made a new discovery," he chuckled. "You'll have to tell Xander when we get back."

"Xander Lee?"

"You know him?"

"John talks 'bout him. Theoretical physicist, field soldier. Friend."

"He's a nice guy. Real smart, too, he designed the portal. Or, I think he did. He had a hand in it, I know that much."

Hannah nodded, not knowing enough about the man to comment. The President, however, continued to ramble.

"Him and John both are just… incredible, you know? They fight all this… crazy shit, and cover it up? They're good at it, and just… God, I was such a fucking wreck when I came in here that I…"

He trailed off, growing quiet for the first time since Hannah had met him. "It's… It's my fault, you know? All of this. John being trapped, the shit with Russia, do you know how big Moscow is? That's… God, millions of lives, and it's my fault…"

Hannah tugged on his arm. "You should talk to someone."

"I talk to people," he looks away. "I talk to, uh, myself. And I'm talking to you, right now!"

She shakes her head. "Therapist."

He pouts, and continues his silence.

"...Couldn't have known," Hannah says after a couple minutes. "You couldn't have known."

The President nods. "There were two doors, not one…"

Two doors, not one. Another message she had never understood, but apparently someone had.

"Psychic?"

"Me?" He shook his head. "Uh, Xander and some others said… sometimes people who go into the Black and White get like, temporary minor abilities. But no, I'm just…" he sighed. "Crazy, maybe."

"Not crazy." She pauses. "Probably."

The President laughs, swinging their joined hands. "I was going to thank you, but now I'm not so sure."

"You're welcome," she smiled, teasing.

"Well, aren't you a wise guy, huh?"

She laughed, but was cut off with a cough. Not her cough, but someone else's. She froze.

The President clearly heard it too, as he was looking around the area. Hannah looked too, and found that the two had wandered into some place a bit more… tangible.

There were buildings. Vaguely there, hard to see since they were equally as black as everything else, but they sure looked like buildings. There was a cobblestone street, and a fountain that spewed black water.

"Hello?" the President asked the town. "Is someone there?"

After a moment of silence, the cough returned, and a door in one of the buildings opened, and out stepped a man with another cough. The President's grip on her hand grew tighter, and she moved a bit behind him, her free hand grasping the knife in her pocket.

The man who stepped out was older, a little round and a little too tall, a bit sickly-looking. His hair was mostly grey, but there were bits of black that remained. He had a beard, a nicer one than the President's. His eyes were an old and tired brown, looking intently at the President.

"Howie?" he asked, voice rough with age.

The President stared. "...Dad?"

Hannah, in her shock, echoed. "Dad? Dad?" she looked up at the President, tugging on his arm. "Dad?"

"How've you been, Howie?" the man stepped forward. "It's been ages since I've seen you."

"Dad, I…" the President stepped forward. Hannah stayed firmly where she was, holding onto his hand. "How are you here?"

The man, apparently the President's father, gave a shrug. "Well, I died. And this is where I ended up afterwards." He gave his son a sad look. "You weren't there."

"I-I wanted to be," the President took his hand from Hannah so he could move closer. "I'm sorry. I was on the campaign trail…"

The man nodded. "How'd it go?"

"Great! I'm the President! A-Are you proud of me, now?"

"Of course I am," the man grinned, and something about it unsettled Hannah. "I'm sure you've done great things for the country, son."

The President grew quiet again.

In the silence, his father looked past him and spotted Hannah, one hand in her pocket, the other lightly pulling on a braid. The unsettling grin grew wider.

"I see you've found the missing Sniggle!" he chimed, and Hannah's blood ran cold.

The President turned to look back at her. "Wh-What the hell is a Sniggle?"

"Watch your language young man," the man smacked the President's arm, glaring. "A Sniggle is a little monster. They disguise themselves as humans pretty convincingly, but they don't talk well. Short sentences at best, and lots of laughter and strange sounds."

Hannah shook her head. "Lying! He's lying!"

"Of course she wouldn't want to go back. They're animals, I tell you. Best to keep them inside the town so they can't hurt anyone."

The President didn't seem convinced. "I've been talking to her. I don't think she's a monster, literally or metaphorically."

"Well, son," the man sighed, "you never were the best at differentiating things."

"Not my fault I'm colorblind," the President grumbled.

"And the blueberries?"

"No one ever told me they were fruits, okay?!" This is clearly a conversation that they have had before. "I'm sorry that I thought berries were their own thing."

"Watch your tone," his father scolded. "But all the same. Do you really think you can tell a disguised Sniggle from a human?"

The President paused. "I… Maybe not, fine. But Hannah isn't one of them! I know she's not."

"How?"

"Ho- It doesn't matter! How are you so good at this, huh?"

"I've been living here for a long time, Howie. You learn the differences."

"Not a Sniggle," Hannah insisted, backing away. "Just a girl. From Hatchetfield."

The President nodded. "Yeah! I talked to her over the radio, we have a, uh… common friend. Maybe you've seen him? Military outfit, really nice looking hair?"

"Haven't seen him," he waved his son off. "And would you just listen to me already? She's a fake, Howie. Are you really that stupid?"

"No, Dad, she… look, I'm glad to see you, I am. But we've got someone to find, and we have to keep moving."

The President walked back towards Hannah, offering his hand again, which she took. Together they continued down the cobblestone path, but before they even got past his father, they were stopped with a bonk.

Hannah reluctantly let go of the knife and reached out. Her hand touched something solid, despite there being nothing there. Moving her hand around, she saw a brief flash of green before it returned to being invisible.

She backed up, pulling the President with her, but her back hit another wall. She looked over her shoulder — invisible.

The President walked to the left — another wall.

Hannah went to the right. Another wall.

He reached up over his head. Another wall.

Pacing around them in a large circle was the President's father, silent and glaring. "I didn't lie," his voice was suddenly twinged with a Southern accent. "I haven't seen John."

"How did you…" the President trailed off, watching with wide eyes.

Pausing to stand in front of them, the man's eyes glowed green, and with a flash, the President's father was gone. In his place was the man Hannah had met, albeit in a different outfit.

The man, Cross, was now dressed in all-denim, the faint glint of silver from a set of dog tags peeking out from under his shirt. He grinned, and Hannah held tight to the President's hand.

"I'm sure we'll be seein' him soon, though. He always did have a soft spot for people like you."

"People like us?" the President stood in front of Hannah, and she didn't mind. She didn't like that Cross kept looking at her with such evil eyes. 

"Weaklings," Cross spat. "People who'll look up to him for protection. He's got somethin' of a Messiah complex. You ain't the only one with daddy issues, Howie."

"Yeah! Well!" The President pointed at Cross, but failed to come up with anything else to say.

"Well?" Cross egged him on. "Cat got your tongue?"

"...You're a dick! And you aren't my dad!"

"Glad you figured that one out, Howie."

Cross continued to circle, clearly impatient. The President let go of Hannah's hand to try and kick down the walls, not succeeding in any way. 

Hannah sat in a corner and watched, pulling on her braids. Maybe she could use her powers to get out? But how? What power? Would she hurt the President in the process? She didn't want to do that, he was nice, and also she's pretty sure she'd go to jail for that.

Cross jumped against the corner Hannah was huddled in and she jumped, letting out an involuntary yelp. The President kneeled beside her, glaring at Cross.

"What the fuck did she ever do to you, huh?"

Cross tsked. "Howie, Howie, Howie. You have no idea what she does to you. To everyone!"

"What? Is this more of that Sniggle bullshit?!"

"No, no. That was a bit of fun, this is serious, Howie. Think about it. How long have you known li'l miss Hannah, here?"

The President thought. "Like… twenty minutes? And we talked on the radio a couple weeks ago."

"And yet you're fighting for her," Cross stated. "You're trapped in this box because you wouldn't abandon her. Hell, the whole reason you're in here is because you trusted her word, isn't it? A random little girl from some fuck-off island told you that she heard a ghost and you believed her. Doesn't that sound weird to you, Howie?"

"I…" he shook his head. "You're just fucking with me."

"I'm not. See, she's very powerful, Howie, she just doesn't know how to harness it. Hell, if she did, I would very well be dead already!"

"I'm right here," Hannah grumbled, glaring at him.

He ignored her. "She's also very lonely, Howie. You don't know the things she's been through. She wants a friend, wants people who won't leave her. So her powers do it for her."

"What?" both the prisoners asked.

Cross laughed, standing up straight. "Think about it, Hannah. The people at the house, the spies, and now the President. They didn't know you that well, hell, they still don't. Yet they're all willing to die for you. Because you want them to stay."

"No!" she covered her ears. "Wouldn't do that. I wouldn't do that to them. Don't want them to die."

"I think you know what you're doing, Hannah." Cross had returned to circling the box, eyes aglow. "You want a friendy-wend, so you make everyone around you love you. Because your parents never did, and you're scared to be alone."

"No!"

"But you are alone, Banana. That Itsy-Bitsy Bitch is gone, and John?" Cross laughed. "Well, he-"

"He's right here," a voice interrupted.

Cross and the prisoners looked down the cobblestone path, further into the town. Sure enough, there he was, in one piece, a spider the color of the cosmos perched on his shoulder.

And he looked angry.

Chapter Text

The sensation of what could only be described as teleportation was a strange one. It was made worse by the searing, overwhelming pain, starting from his chest and spreading outwards, hitting every nerve ending all the way out to his fingers.

His vision was black — strikingly so. John shouldn't have expected anything less, he had an idea for what he was getting into, what Hannah was getting into. 

He couldn't really process that thought, however, because of the aforementioned pain. He knew it well. He'd felt it on Black Friday, and when he reached out to Lex, and when he shattered the veil to save Hannah. 

And good Lord, was he feeling it now.

John had entered the Black and White standing, but within moments he was on his knees, forehead on the non-existent ground, clawing at his chest and his hair, gasping for air.

Dematerialization was a hell of a way to die.

In the back of his mind, he worried for Hannah. If this was happening, she must not be with him — so where had she gone? Was she okay? Alive?

He had warned her. The Black and White is unsurvivable without a suit. No matter how powerful a psychic she was, there was no avoiding that, not to his knowledge.

If he was dying, she must already be dead, huh?

John let himself collapse, laying, heaving on the ground. He rolled onto his back and looked up to the sky, which was exactly the same as the ground he lay on.

Hannah had become his purpose, his reason to keep fighting. No one else could see him, interact with him. She had grown stronger in the month or so since Black Friday, he had seen her do so. He liked to think he helped. 

Without her, did he still have a reason to keep living? To keep fighting? Why shouldn't he just let himself disintegrate?

He was supposed to a long time ago, anyhow.

His breathing was staggering, hitching, slowing. His death would be a slow and painful one. He hoped Hannah's was quicker, painless. That's the best he could hope for. 

"Web, Wings, Warrior," a voice echoed in his mind, through his chest. It didn't sound like Webby. It sounded like Hannah.

He tried to call for her, but it came out as a wheeze. He reached, and saw his arm — more see-through than he would've liked — but didn't feel it.

He felt nothing physically. Even the pain had subsided, replaced with an icy numbness. He felt everything emotionally.

John forced himself to sit up. He could not give up now. Not after coming so far. He could find her, he could help her. That's what he's been doing, hasn't it? Maybe it's all he's good for.

He's good at helping, so he'll keep fucking doing it. As he began moving again, the pain returned. He fought through it — he'd keep fighting through it until he was nothing but dust. 

He had to find her. Even if it was her corpse, he had too. He owed her that much. 

Staggering to a stand, he felt himself cry out, but heard no sound. He wasn't sure if it was because he didn't make any noise, or if he just couldn't hear it over the static in his ears.

Honestly, death would be easier than this shit.

And yet, onwards he went. One staggering step at a time, dragging his feet, savoring each shaky breath.

Until, suddenly, he could breathe easy. The static subsided, he didn't have to fight to stay upright. The pain went away, and the numbness didn't take its place.

John wasn't sure if he had already died, or if he was somehow saved, but he allowed himself a moment to be overwhelmed. Catch his breath. Shake out his hair, flap his hands. Just… calm down, John.

He rubbed his eyes, and looked around. Nothing but blackness…

And a single, white line, coming from his chest. No, not coming from, he realized upon touching it. It was attached to his chest, but not the source. It was a stark whiteness in a sea of black, and it was sticky to the touch; not a texture John typically liked, but any sensation was welcome at this point. 

The texture, however unpleasant, still allowed him to identify what it was; a web. A spiderweb.

Web, Wings, Warrior. 

There was a faint echo, and John was snapped out of his thoughts. He looked around, but saw nothing. Nothing except the web.

It wiggled, and glowed slightly in bursts. Every time the glow reached him, he felt stronger, stabler, more whole.

Almost entranced, he stepped in the direction of where the web came from. And then another, and another. He walked through the blackness, following a little string of white.

As he got closer — presumably, he was getting closer to the source — he heard more echoes, progressively getting louder, longer, clearer, and more frequent.

It sounded like music. Like a song.

"—point of giving love and trust for, I thought it something that was worth the fight for, and now I wonder what I worked so hard for, even thought that I could give my life for you—"

The tune, and the voice, felt familiar to John. He couldn't quite recall how, the memory felt too far gone. But it beckoned him forward, almost hypnotically.

Soon, more white entered his vision. More webs, coming together in a center point. An enormous, luminescent spiderweb, and on it, playing the web like a harp, sat an enormous, luminescent woman. Her eyes were closed, her skin was pale. She looked human, but only tangentially so. And she sang.

"If I'ma trust, I'm gonna trust in me. You may have taught me, but I'm now learning, all this time I've been untangelling!"

She gasped, paused her playing, and opened her eyes, staring off into the blackness. John spotted a few tears rolling down her cheeks, almost blending into her skin. Her eyes were pure black, though a richer black than the environment around them all.

Webby. He knew her. He remembered her, her song. Very, very faintly, but a memory nonetheless.

She continued to stare off, unbreathing and unblinking. John's revelation couldn't wait until she was focused.

"You…" his voice caught, and he cleared his throat. "I've met you before, haven't I?"

Finally, the eldritch woman blinked and looked down at him with many black, teary eyes. She took a moment to stare at him, and he found her gaze unsettling. 

Finally, she smiled, sad. "Yes," she nodded. "It was a long time ago, General."

The web on his chest led back to her. He tugged on it, and she held out a hand. "That's keeping you alive, John. I couldn't do for you what I did to Hannah, not with you split."

"Split?"

"Most of you is here, in the Black and White. But some of you is on Earth. I was able to cocoon Hannah, but not you. I'm very sorry… were you hurt too badly?"

Yes, absolutely, but he didn't say that. "Where's Hannah?" He demanded instead.

"I'm not sure exactly," Webby frowned. "I was hoping the music would attract you both. Perhaps she's too far away…"

"We have to find her and get the hell out of here!" John insisted, the authoritative voice he used at work taking over. "She never should've came in. Why would you guide her here? She would've listened to you!"

"No," Webby's voice grew cold, "she wouldn't have. She's a child, John, and she's human. She has free will, and she would've come no matter what, I saw it. I did what I had to do to make sure she'd survive the experience."

John fussed with his hair more, pacing. "Fine. We have to find her and leave. Whatever you did to protect her, it won't last forever, I'm sure."

"She was right, you know."

"What?"

Webby stepped down from her web, eyes trained on John. "This is the only way they can get home, now. The chance for other options have already passed. There are very few ways this can go."

He nodded, not entirely understanding but resigned. She knew the future much better than he did. Though, he did have another question. "You… speak differently. Is it because of the form?"

Another nod. "It's easier to communicate like this, quicker to move than as a spider. And…" she tugged on her dress. "I'm rather fond of the appearance. But it takes much more energy to keep up. I try to only use it when I need too."

With that, Webby's form collapsed in on itself, becoming a small ball of web, which grew legs upon hitting the ground. Eight legs, to be exact, and eight black eyes opened as the white of the web shifted to the color of the cosmos; largely purple, but an ever-shifting array of colors and patterns that moved as she did.

John kneeled and held out a hand, which she crawled onto and then up his arm to his shoulder, the web on his chest still attached back to her.

"Web, wings, warrior," she repeated. "First find Hannah."

"Couldn't have said it better myself," John grumbled, marching off into the blackness.

After what felt like ages of walking with no difference save for the disappearance of the web, John couldn't help but sigh, and fidget nervously. "Do you know if she's still alive?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"Feel her."

"But you don't know where?"

"Not exactly. Just general."

"Are we going the right direction?"

"Yes."

"Can you tell if we're getting close?"

"Y—" Webby cut herself off, and he felt her small form tense on his shoulder. 

John slowed to a stop, too. "Webby?" He was terrified of the implications. "What happened? Is Hannah alright?"

"Father," she spoke. "With Hannah. Be ready."

"Father? What do you—"

"Hurry! Hurry, hurry!!"

He didn't need to be told twice. John picked back up into a run, speeding blindly through the eternal emptiness of the Black and White until suddenly, to his surprise, he could hear his footsteps.

Buildings had come into view, vague and just as black as the environment, and the streets were paved in cobblestone. He only let it pause him for a moment before he continued, running through the strange city he found himself in.

"Drowsytown," Webby supplied. "Watch out."

Sure enough, from corners and windows and alleyways he spotted figures, little more than green shadows, but he could hear them cackling, chanting. It sounded like a twisted sort of music.

He kept running.

And running.

And running.

And eventually, he spotted them.

A box of sorts, with just enough of a greenish tint that he could see it, and inside was two people; a spaceman and a child. He recognized Hannah's bright yellow flannel right away, but was unsure who was in the suit. Obviously it would have to be a PEIP agent, it was a PEIP suit after all, but he couldn't see exactly who.

Circling the box was a man dressed in all denim; a man John knew all too well. He could hear the man speak, taunting Hannah.

"But you are alone, Banana. That Itsy-Bitsy Bitch is gone, and John?" Wiley laughed. "Well, he-"

"He's right here," the man in question interrupted.

All eyes were on him, and seeing the now-green eyes of ex-Colonel Wilbur Cross filled him with rage. Seeing Hannah, and one of his agents, trapped in some little box made him see red.

"Well, well, well," Wiley grinned. "So you finally made it, son. I'd like to say I'm happy to see you, but, well, I'm not a liar."

"You are a liar!" the spaceman shouted, and John once again recognized the voice. It was not an agent, like he had suspected, but the President. He wasn't sure how to feel about that.

"You are a liar," John agreed, his voice dripping with venom. "A power-hungry, cowardly liar who deceives others to get ahead."

And yet, in all his anger at the man, John still felt guilt. Sadness. Nostalgia. Wilbur was important to him.

But the denim-clad man before him was not Wilbur. Wiley dropped the grin and pouted, leaning against the box. "Is that any way to talk to your dear ol' dad? And after so long apart, too."

"No!" The President shouted, banging against the box. "He tried the same thing with me, John! That's not your dad!"

"Maybe not biologically," Wiley shrugged, "but legally, yes!"

"Father," Webby repeated. "Be ready."

"I am ready," John whispered, stepping forward. He locked eyes with Wiley and did not look away. 

"You stopped being my father the moment you stepped through that portal," he stated. "And now you'll die, like you were supposed too back then."

Wiley grinned, putting his hands in his pockets. "Son, I would love nothing more than to see you try."

Chapter Text

Hannah and the President were both pressed up against the walls of the box — had it gotten smaller, or was she panicking? It was tough to tell. John and Cross stood face to face, neither moving for a long moment. 

John's eyes flicked to Hannah, and she held her breath. They'd get out of this. All of them. She'd make sure of it.

Cross made no move, even when Webby disappeared from John's shoulder, though her web remained attached to his chest. Clenching his jaw, John took a step forward. "You aren't going to attack?"

"You aren't either," Cross shrugged, hands still in his pockets.

"Bad idea to make the first move when your opponent has the upper hand."

"Aw, you remember what I taught you! I thought you were just scared."

"Of you?" John scoffed. "Never."

Cross laughed, low and amused. "Well, everyone's afraid of somethin'. Oh, that reminds me! Hold this."

With no warning, Cross pulled something out of his pocket and threw it baseball-style at John, who instinctively caught it. He looked down at the small, yellow box and froze, staring at it.

"What…?" His voice was quiet and confused. A light radiated from the box and reflected in his eyes, that same rotten yellow.

"You're in there, Johnny, don't you see? In another world — the right world — you died here and became a Bastard. Though, I guess," he laughed again, "you always were one, huh?"

"John?" The President called, banging on the walls of their prison once more. "John, c'mon, snap out of it! What the hell is going on?!"

"He's lookin' in the Bastard's Box, that's all," Cross leaned against the prison. "Too late to get out of it now. Soon he'll be sucked in." Under his breath, he muttered an annoyed "You're welcome, Tinky."

Tinky. "Webby's brothers…" Hannah frowned, and found tears collecting in her eyes. She couldn't lose John to them, not now, not ever.

"You sick fuck!" The President roared. "That's your son! You really are insane, huh?"

"You say insane, I say enlightened," Cross shrugged. "A difference of perspective, Howie."

"I swear to God, when I get out of here, I'll—"

He didn't get to finish before the wall suddenly gave way and the President fell straight through, his helmet bonking on the ground. Hoping for the best, Hannah put a hand on the wall. Still solid.

The President scrambled to a stand, confused. Cross smiled and held his arms out wide. "You're out, Howie. What're you gonna do to me, hm? Kick my head?"

"What?"

"C'mon, Howie, don't you know your multiverse references? Yeesh." Cross reached into the Black and White, and from the blackness he pulled a knife, as dark as the environment around it, the only distinction being the glint on the blade caused by a light of an unknown source.

He swiped at the President with it, who jumped backwards, narrowly avoiding his suit being cut open.

"C'mon," he laughed nervously, desperation in his voice. "This isn't fair. You get a weapon and I don't?"

"Howie, if there's one thing you should know about me, it's that I'm a cheater." He slashed again, leaving a long scratch across the President's helmet.

Hannah watched as the President did his best to avoid his doom, and John…

John continued to stare blankly at the box in his hands, eyes a bright and somber yellow. Hannah tried to call for him, and got no response.

"Hannah," she heard Webby, and looked around. The spider was climbing up the outside of the prison, watching with her many dark eyes. "Break out, Hannah!"

"How?" she begged. "Been trying, I…"

"TV, remember? Break out! Break, break, break!"

This box wasn't a TV, but Hannah was running out of options. She saw Cross land a hit on the President's arm, a spattering of red staining the clean blackness. He yelled and stumbled to the ground, scrambling backward, away from his pursuer. 

Webby shot a line of white over to him, like the one John still had. A web that would keep him from disintegrating, but not from being killed. 

Hannah could feel the slight tingle of pain across her body. The webs were fading away, spread too thin.

"Hurry, Hannah!" Wenny called, sounding desperate.

Hannah put her hands on the wall of the box and closed her eyes, breathing deeply, trying to ignore the growing pain. She pushed, both mentally and physically. Just like the TV. She had to get out and save everyone.

There was a crack, and she felt it give way a tad. Her eyes flew open and she saw the box shatter around her. The President and Cross looked over in surprise, pausing their battle. 

Webby landed on her head. "Run! Hurry, hurry!"

"What about John?" she looked at him, still staring blankly into the Box. He was starting to look a bit too transparent for her liking.

"Can't save. Didn't know, Hannah. Can't save. Run."

"No!" She refused to believe it. He had saved her so many times, she would save him here. She wasn't leaving without him.

Reaching for the Box, Webby yelled, startling her. "NO! Don't touch! Stuck too! Don't touch!"

"Okay, okay!" Instead, she hesitantly touched his wrist. To her surprise, she didn't phase through. He was there, at least for now. Grabbing his wrists, she shook him.

"Please, John! Gotta go, c'mon! Please!"

He didn't look away from the Box. Not even a blink.

"John?" She stood on her tiptoes and waved a hand in front of his face. She couldn't feel her fingers, and John didn't react. "John! John!"

"I told ya," a hand held tightly to her shoulder and she felt the weight of Webby disappear. "No breakin' out of it now. Though it's a shame, really. I'd love to watch his face when he sees you die."

Hannah was pulled back against Cross's chest, and she saw the glint of a blade. Raising it to bring down on her skull, she screamed for the entranced General in front of her, one final time.


"Dad!" A child called. A corpse lay in front of him, surrounded by rubble. Overhead, silhouetted against the darkening sky, was a monster, huge, tentacled, and fuzzy. He flapped his hands, shook out his hair, coughed up dust and ash. Blood pooled around his father, staining his pants. His hair felt wet — he was probably bleeding, too.

The house shook as the monster roared, and more rubble came raining down around him. He curled up, not sure whether it was better to die then or hope for survival.

It was dark inside the ruined house. He wasn't sure how long he had been there. The electricity must not have entirely broken, because there was a bright, golden light just outside his vision. It was enough for him to see, faintly, but he didn't want to look. He stayed curled up, and sobbed until he had no tears left.

Faintly, he could hear a woman singing, playing a pure-white harp. He didn't want to hear anything, right then. But the universe didn't care about his wants. He heard plenty. Roars from the monster, screams of people, gunshots. So many gunshots. It was worse than thunder, worse than a chalkboard, worse than anything.

For a long while, after all the noise, it was dead silent. No roaring, no screams. A few gunshots, but not as many.

And then came the scraping of stone and metal. And light.

He looked up. Through the golden aura stood a man; dark hair and eyes, clearly exhausted, dressed in a military uniform that he didn't recognize. The man offered a hand, smiling, voice gentle.

"C'mon, kid. I'm gonna get you outta here."

Hesitantly, he took the hand. As he was pulled up, the golden aura disappeared. They left the ruined house, and the corpses inside. He never returned.

The scene melted away and turned to something different. An island town, where strange things happened. He was older, now. Still young, but older. Many new scars. Many new worries.

A young girl, not related by blood, but by their own choice, lay in a bed. She was sick. He didn't know exactly how, but she had a fever to the point of being delusional. The doctor who came thought it may have been brought on by her epilepsy, but wasn't sure.

He stayed with her. She wanted him too, initially. But now she was muttering, talking. Telling him to go. Find someone, get a burger. Help the town.

He didn't want to help the town. He wanted to help his sister. He stayed by her side for days, nearly collapsing himself once or twice.

She took his hand, and looked at him through cloudy, sea-grey eyes. Despite her sickness, she was lucid with determination and rage. Her grip was strong.

"You'll find him at the burger place. Now go."

At the burger place was a man with dark hair and eyes, with dog tags tucked into his collar. He still looked exhausted. There was no golden aura. Not until they returned to her bedside.

She looked at the man, fighting sleep and her fever. She called him a Colonel. He denied, saying he wasn't that high a rank. She said he would be, and fainted.

It melted away again, becoming a cold metal room, with a large metal circle in the middle. He stood, waiting, alongside many others, including his sister. She and him exchanged worried looks and words as the minutes crept by and the man still hadn't returned.

Finally, the man stumbled out of the portal. He tore off his helmet and gasped for air. Medics joined the siblings at his side quickly.

The man looked up, meeting his eyes. They were supposed to be dark, like his hair. They were green. A bright, vivid, unnatural green. Like the monster. It scared him.

With a twisted grin and a cackle like broken glass, the man confessed.

"I found God, Johnny."

"Dad!!"

John blinked. That wasn't his voice. It wasn't his, but he knew it. Whose voice was that? He knew her, he cared for her. It wasn't his sister, who was it? She was important, who was it?

The scene melted again. Quickly, like someone skipping through a slideshow, he saw snippets of scenes.

A young girl with braids and a baseball cap sat at a table as adults talked all around her.

Her covering her ears and tearing up at seemingly nothing until an older girl came and helped her calm down.

Sitting in front of an old man as he spoke of ascension.

Sitting with a younger man to get away from the noise a few rooms away, and jumping when someone came to the door.

Her marching through the snow, determined to find someone and finding the wrong person.

Marching back with a new friend who couldn't shut his trap.

Playing chess, moving all the pieces, but not playing against herself.

Tied to a chair in an unknown location.

Asleep in a cot, being tucked in.

Hiding in a closet under a blanket, sobbing over a broken promise.

Running into a circle in the middle of a street.

Standing in front of him, fighting against a man with a knife, calling out for him.

"Hannah." Of course. How could he forget her? She was so important to him, he could never forget her. He could never just abandon her. He hadn't done that, had he?

He felt something fall from his hands and clack on the ground. He felt something in his chest, in his head, something white-hot and burning. It didn't hurt, but the sensation was… bizarre. Something was trying to break free.

He held his head in his hands and felt himself fall to his knees. He could hear the man laughing, could hear Hannah calling out, but he couldn't move. He tried, so very hard, but couldn't stand up and fight. Couldn't save her.

Even through his tightly-closed eyes, John could see a golden aura.


"Dad!!"

She hadn't meant to call him that. But it's what he was to her. She had known for a while now, but was scared to admit it. He had a son — maybe he didn't want a daughter. Maybe he would leave. 

She didn't really have time to contemplate her word choice as she was about to die. Cross brought the blade down towards her face, and she closed her eyes. Hopefully it wouldn't hurt long.

With a yank, she felt herself falling backwards, but didn't quite make it, as she was still being held against Cross's chest. She heard him swear, and opened her eyes.

Holding back Cross's arm was the President, Webby holding on to his helmet. The President fought to pry the knife from Cross's hand, or at least to keep it away from Hannah. She resumed trying to get out of his grip, slamming her head against his chest and chin, clawing at the arm around her shoulders.

"Hannah."

She looked up. John was looking at her, seeming… a bit confused, but present. The yellow from his eyes was fading fast.

He dropped the Bastard's Box. Hannah reached and kicked it away, afraid he or Cross would pick it up again. It bounced into the distance.

However, John said nothing more. He held his head in his hands and collapsed to the ground. Hannah struggled harder. "No! John! Are you okay? Please!"

"John?" she heard the President call. "Shit, what happened?"

Hannah didn't answer. She kept her eyes on John and fought against Cross's iron grip.

Suddenly, he let go. Her momentum pulled her forward and she landed on the ground beside John with an "oof."

She pushed herself up and looked back at her former-captor just in time to see him shove the President away and stab him in the gut, leaving the blade embedded deep into his flesh.

The President cried out in pain, collapsing. Webby jumped from his helmet onto Cross's face, but he tore her off and threw her into the blackness, her thin webs barely sticking to their recipients. It was getting hard to breathe.

Cross turned back to her, a sick grin on his face, but it quickly fell. Reflected against him and the President, she could see a bright, golden aura.

For a moment, Hannah thought it was coming from her. Looking at her hands, she saw that wasn't the case; she looked as normal as ever. So where…

She heard a groan behind her. Whipping around, there he was, staggering to a stand. John almost didn't look to be breathing, his eyes screwed shut tight. Only when he was fully upright did he open them, and Hannah gasped; while no longer that rotten yellow, they were overcome with light.

And from his back, the golden aura became more solid, forming into two large, magnificent wings.

"Web, wings, warrior," she breathed. "John…"

Scrambling up, Hannah felt something in her pocket. Pulling it out, she found the knife she had brought from the Professor's house; she had almost forgotten about it.

Hannah looked at John, and then, just past him. The blackness was warped out of shape, becoming more grey. Like when she mixed the black and white earlier.

Something in her said it was the way out, and an idea formed. She just hoped it was a good one.

She grabbed John's hand and put the knife in it. He looked down at her for a moment, blank. No, not blank. He was full of rage and turmoil, she could sense it, but not at her. His hand tightened around the knife, and the blade glowed that same gold.

Hannah let go and took a step back. No sooner than she had done so, John rushed forward, lodging the knife deep into Cross's neck. She flinched, but saw no blood. Cross himself seemed unphased; amused, even.

Still, it would buy them time. Hannah ran to the President and, against his pained protests, pulled him up. He held a hand around the knife, but didn't take it out. She took his free arm and began dragging him toward the spot of grey.

"What about John?" he protested once he realized they were retreating.

"He'll be okay," she told him, reminding herself as well. "He's strong. He'll be okay. I know he will."

Behind them, the battle grew more intense, coming closer to them. Hannah and the President picked up their pace. She shoved him into the grey first, and he disappeared.

Before stepping in herself, she turned back. John was a beacon of light in the deep, black void. He'd be okay. She knew it.

Cupping her hands around her mouth, she called out. "John!! Over here!! Hurry!!"

Both John and Cross looked over, and broke into a race. Who could get to her first.

Afraid for her own life, Hannah jumped through the grey.

Chapter Text

He was shoved into a grey spot and, in a surprisingly short amount of time, landed on a hard, cold floor. It was nice to feel something, anything, but the fact that he landed face-down really didn't help his stab wound.

Pain coursing through his body, he forced himself to sit up.

"Howie?!" He knew that voice, that nickname.

"Xander?" He caught the mans' eye and good Lord, he may have cried. "Xander! We made it!"

Howard twisted off that wretched helmet; the scratch was still there, but the web that had been on his arm was not. The physicist pulled him to his feet and he winced.

Right. Stab wound.

"I told you he was there," Howard laughed, exhausted and a tad delirious. "I told you, and I brought him back."

"Howie," Xander's voice was stern, "we thought you were okay, after Black Friday, but clearly it was too much for you. I'm placing you under arrest."

"What?" He wasn't expecting a hero's welcome, but this was just insane. "No, no, I'm fine! I found John, I brought him home!"

"Look around, Howard! Do you see John anywhere here?"

Howard did, in fact, look around. There was a small crowd of PEIP agents, a few of whom he knew the names of. Schaeffer had just entered and was approaching.

There was no John. And no—

"Hannah," his search became more frantic. "Where's Hannah?"

"Who… the girl you heard over the radio? Howie, please—"

"No!" He cut Xander off, moving away. "Don't you fucking tell me I'm crazy, I saw her! She's about this tall—" he held his hand near the top of his chest, "—has her hair in braids, wears a backwards baseball cap and overalls! She didn't have a suit, she had the webs, the spider protects her and she! Knows! John!"

"Mr. President," Schaeffer began, but was interrupted.

"Sir!" An agent at the portal's control booth, Lavender James, called out. "Activity from the portal, something's coming through!"

"It's John!" Howard grinned. "John and Hannah!"

"Can we close it?" Schaeffer asked.

"No," Lavender reported. "It's almost here."

"Prepare for an attack."

"Yes, sir!" The room chimed, readying their weapons.

"What?" Howard looked around. "No, no, don't fire! It's them, I know it's them!"

"Mr. President!" Schaeffer snapped. "There is no one good coming through that portal!"

The swirling mass of energy that made up the portal seemed to both speed up and slow down, and out tumbled—

"Hannah!" Howard ran to her side. "Are you alright?"

The girl held tight to his arm and nodded, looking back at the portal with wide, worried eyes.

"Mr. President, get out of the way," Schaeffer ordered.

"No! You're gonna shoot her!" Hannah flinched at her words, holding tighter to his arm.

"It came from the Black and White. A malevolent entity, no matter how human it may seem, doesn't belong here."

" She is a human girl who has been through some shit, now put your weapons down!"

It was quiet, but after some hesitation, Schaeffer sighed. "Weapons down. But the second there's trouble, you shoot. No matter who is in the way."

The room did as she said with a collective "Yes, sir."

Hannah and Howard both let out relieved sighs, and Howard winced at the pain it caused, holding his hands around the knife, and the wound.

Hannah's hands hovered over his own. "You okay? Bad blood…"

"I'm fine," he lied. "I'll be fine. What about you, are you hurt? Where's John?"

She tugged on her braids. "Coming. John and Cross. Both coming."

" Both of them?"

She nodded. Approaching them, Xander questioned. "Who's coming?"

Hannah looked away, up at the portal. "John. Cross."

"Speaking of," Howard shifted, "why did no one tell me Wilbur was John's fucking dad?"

Schaeffer said "Classified" just as Xander was saying "It's complicated." Howard sighed.

"Help him," Hannah interrupted, looking up at the two officers. "Please. Got hurt."

"John got hurt?" Howard looked back at her.

" You got hurt."

"Oh, jeez," Xander took off his sunglasses. "The handle's so dark I could barely see it, but that's… dangerously deep. Howie, we need to get you to medbay, c'mon."

"No," he fought against Xander. "Not till John's here. I need to know he's okay."

Hannah looked again to the portal, silent for a moment. "Someone's coming."

Schaeffer looked at her. "How do you…" She trailed off, looking to Lavender in the booth.

The agent was doing something on the system, and a moment later, looked back to the General. "She's right. There's something coming through. How she knew before the system, I…"

"John?" Howard asked Hannah.

She shrugged. "Might be Cross. Might be both."

"Be ready, everyone," Schaeffer ordered. "On my mark."

The portal hummed and whistled and twirled. And finally, out stepped a figure. A man with dark hair and unnaturally green eyes, dressed in denim and blank dog tags.

"Colonel Cross," Schaeffer's voice was loud and clear. "I suggest you go back the way you came."

"Jolene," he sung the name. "What kind of welcome is that?"

Stepping down from the portal, Wiley pointed to Lavender behind the booth. "Close the portal."

"No!" Howard and Hannah yelled.

"Close the portal, soldier," Wiley's voice took on a more authoritative tone. "That's an order."

"Don't do it!" Howard yelled to her. "John hasn't come through yet!"

"Oh, John, John, ya sound like a damsel in distress!" Wiley mocked. "Or maybe… a man out to ruin a marriage?"

"No!" Howard insisted. The words hurt, but they weren't true. "I… It's my fault he's in there. It's my responsibility to bring him back to his family."

"How noble," Wiley rolled his eyes, then pointed at Lavender again. "Close the portal."

"Don't!"

Before he could continue his pleas, Howard felt a sharp, stabbing pain in his side. Groaning, he looked, and could barely make out the knife twisting. "H-How…?"

Wiley's dark chuckle made Howard look up. The man was suddenly much closer, though not close enough to touch. Many agents raised their weapons, but Schaeffer had not given word to fire yet.

Next, the knife flew out of Howard's side and into Wiley's hand, glistening with blood. The President's knees buckled and he collapsed. Hannah rushed to Howard's side, shaking him.

The knife was pressed to the back of his neck, and Wiley again spoke to Lavender at the portal. "Close the portal, or you're gonna have to find a new President."

Lavender looked to Schaeffer. The General was stone-faced, and said one word. "Fire."

Bullets went flying, the sound and smell overwhelming. Hannah curled in on herself, covering her ears, praying that she and the President wouldn't die. 

The firing stopped. She hesitantly opened her eyes. The knife was still against the President's neck, Cross was still standing. Around them all, bullets stayed midair. She gasped at the sight, and they all clattered to the ground. 

Cross pointed at her with a sigh. "This one is who you oughta be shootin' at. Last chance. Close the portal."

The President yelped as the knife dug deeper into his neck. Hannah saw blood drip around the cut. Despite it, he called out. "Don't do it! He's coming, don't worry about me! Don't close it!"

"John is dead," Cross stated. "He lost. Now shut up and close the portal."

"What?"

"Ask Hannah," he smirked. "She can hear him, can't she? If he were alive, she'd hear him."

The blade was removed from his neck, and the President sat up some, looking to Hannah with desperate eyes. "He's… you can hear him, right? Hannah?"

Hannah bit her lip and strained her ears. She had just seen him. He and Cross were both running towards her, towards the grey. He had to be coming.

But she couldn't hear him. Or Webby, for that matter. Just hers and the President's breathing. Tears formed in her eyes, and that was enough of an answer for the President.

"No," he wobbled, but managed to stand. Rage in his eyes, he grabbed Cross by his jacket. "No! You're a fucking liar! Just trying to save your ass! You wouldn't kill your own fucking son!"

With a harsh shove, the President was back on the ground. "You don't know me, Howie. You don't know how I work. John's dead, and if that portal doesn't close in the next ten seconds, you're gonna be, too."

Wiley put his foot on the President's chest, and the knife returned to his neck. "Ten. Nine. Eight."

Lavender looked back to Schaeffer, who looked to Hannah. It was her call. Why did it always come down to her?

"Seven."

If John was dead, he wouldn't want anyone else to die.

"Six."

She didn't want anyone else to die.

"Five."

She didn't believe John was dead, but she was running out of time.

"Four."

Hannah nodded to Schaeffer, who gave the order. Moments later, she and all the agents in the room watched the portal close. The room felt much stiller without the warbled hum from the tear in reality.

"No!" The President yelled. "No, God damn it, it's some kind of trap! I know it!"

"What did you come here for, Colonel?" Schaeffer questioned. "Torture the President and damper morale, or actually do something?"

"No, no, none of that," he waved her off, stepping off the President as the knife once again disappeared. "This world is a failure. Wiggly'd rather not waste his time here anymore. What we do need—" he pointed to Hannah, "—is her."

Hannah backed away, and the President kneeled in front of her, hands over his wound. "She's a child. Keep your fucking hands off her."

"She's trouble in any timeline, Howie, Lords' be damned. Keep her around, well, things are just gonna get worse."

"Don't worry," Hannah found her voice, "I'm leaving."

"Different world, right?" Cross smirked, eyes glinting. "You think whatever universe you jump into is just gonna let there be two of you in one place?"

She hadn't thought of that. Something just told her that if she and the others got through a portal, got into a new, unharmed world, things would work out. 

"I tell ya, it's not gonna end well," Cross continued, spreading his arms wide. "Might as well end it now. I promise I'll make it painless."

"No!" The President growled.

Schaeffer marched closer, a similar anger on her face. "You will not be harming anyone here, let alone a child."

Cross sighed, exaggerated and clearly annoyed. "You're doin' it again."

"What?"

"Not you," he waved off Schaeffer and looked down at Hannah. "You little coward, you're doin' it again."

Hannah backed up. "Not doing anything."

"You're afraid. You don't want to die, you want to be protected. To be safe. So you've got the President of the United States on his knees, ready to give up his life for yours. You've got a Colonel — sorry, General of a prestigious, top-secret military organization on your side, despite only knowing you for what, five minutes? I told you before. You want a shield, someone to hide behind, and you want it so bad that your powers do it for you."

"She's a kid," the President insisted. "You think we're not gonna get pissed if you try and kill a kid?"

"You know how I know?" Cross chuckled. "Because if people have to pick between their whole world and a single child that only a few people on some dipshit island even know the name of, they're gonna pick to save themselves. And yet, here you stand, surrounded by allies you have manipulated, knowingly or not."

"Maybe so," Schaeffer nodded. "That does sound plausible, and as someone possibly affected, I'm in no place to deny it. But you're forgetting something, Colonel. If you want something, then chances are it's bad for us. So I guess you can count PEIP in with the dipshits ."

"Don't worry, I have for a while," he deadpanned.

Hannah stood, fiddling with her hands. "No," she shook her head. "Not… I'm not gonna control anyone, anymore. I protect myself."

She closed her eyes, clenching her fists. She envisioned it like a spiderweb, all knitted together. She spread her fingers and the web fell apart. She opened her eyes, and somehow, her head felt lighter.

The President looked back at her, confused. He stood, shakily, still holding his stab wound.

And then he moved to stand more in front of Hannah. Schaeffer joined him, and together they made a tall wall between Hannah and Cross.

"Controlled or not," the President spat, "I'm not letting you kill a kid. Thats… fucked up."

"And again," Schaeffer stated, "what's good for you is bad for us."

The guns were raised again, pointed to Cross. Hannah tried not to cry. Despite the dangers, she felt… loved. She could almost see a white light coming from her chest, her heart, like a beacon.

"General!" Lavender shouted, and all eyes were on her. "Something's coming through the portal!"

"It's inactive, James, how is that possible?" she asked, eyes not leaving Cross. Xander ran over to the booth, and confirmed it; something was coming.

"You've gotta be kiddin' me," Cross muttered, pulling the knife, now clean, out of his pocket.

The room shook. The large, metal structure creaked and rattled. Everyone backed away as, from within the circle of the portal, the tear in reality reopened of its own accord. Unlike the swirling grey it had been earlier, the light of the portal was golden and radiant.

Before it was even fully opened, a figure flew out of the portal, just as bright, just as golden, with large wings stretching wide as the figure barreled into Cross.

Blades clashed, black against white, as the light adjusted and all could see just who had opened the portal from the other side.

"John!" Hannah grinned, and the tears finally fell. In his hand, he held the knife she gave him, though the blade had grown longer, better for a fight. 

"Well," Cross laughed, though he was clearly struggling against John's sudden power. "I always said you had wings."

John responded with little other than a snarl as he slashed across Cross's arms and chest. Cross recoiled, but then lunged at him with the black blade.

John didn't move away, but rather, moved forward. Cross's blade was buried above John's heart, but John's was plunged into Cross's sternum.

John let go of the knife and grabbed Cross by the neck, forcing him down to the ground. A bright light came from John's hands and wings, and Cross clawed at his attacker as the light spread onto him.

Hannah saw Cross's skin crack, a gold light coming from underneath it. For a moment, she thought she saw fear in his eyes — the fear of a mortal man. A few more cracks, and suddenly, the man shattered like a dropped glass. 

John pulled the black blade out of his chest and threw it to the ground. The knife, and the shattered remains, disappeared. Hannah's little knife remained on the ground, the blade having returned to its natural state.

John, however, was far from how he normally was. The golden aura had turned harsh, and most of the room was backing away. His eyes were closed tight, and his hands covered his ears as he breathed heavily, almost gasping for air.

Hannah knew the reactions well. She had experienced them herself. But her usual means of helping overstimulation or panic attacks went out the window, and she ran towards him. The golden aura hurt, but only for a moment, like a spider bite.

Without even thinking about it, Hannah wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight, tears flowing freely. She cried harder when she realized she hadn't phased through him like before — she could actually touch him. He was there.

She felt him sink down, eventually winding up on his knees. His breathing became a bit more stable, though still staggered. The golden aura faded.

Finally, his hands were removed from his ears, and he reciprocated the hug. She buried her face in his shoulder, and his chin rested on her head. They embraced in silence for a long moment.

"Are you okay?" he finally croaked out.

"Mhm," she managed to respond. "Are you?"

"Thanks to you," she felt him chuckle, and found herself giggling. Relief was a hell of a drug. John held her tighter.

"Your dad…" 

John shook his head. "Family is chosen. And he chose to abandon that role when he joined Wiggly." 

As true as it was, that didn't mean it didn't hurt. Wilbur cared for him, once. Cared for his sister, cared for the other agents. Once upon a time, he was a good man, and that was hard to forget. The memories had long turned bittersweet.

Hannah pulled back from the hug some and wiped the tears off her face. Her eyes were shining, no longer with sadness, but with joy. With relief. She nodded. "Family is chosen."

For better or for worse, she was his daughter now. He had decided, though not aloud. He knew she saw him the same way; he heard her call out in the Black and White. He wondered if Lex would be as inclined to the relationship as her sister.

Footsteps got their attention, and the pair looked towards the sound. Schaeffer and the President were approaching, the latter leaning somewhat on the former. Both were grinning, clearly relieved.

"I knew you'd make it," the President whispered. "I knew it. And I'm… God, John, I'm sorry."

"Don't be," John shook his head. "Entering the Black and White was my decision. And all things considered, it was necessary. For your survival, for the nation, and…" he looked back to Hannah with a smile. "For a few survivors on a little island."

Schaeffer kneeled, trying to look closer at John. "Is the wound… gone?"

Hannah touched where John got stabbed. No entry wound or blood, though he did wince a little. "It would seem so," he shrugged. "All the better. We don't have time for an operation."

"We gotta get back to business," the President nodded.

" You need to see a doctor."

"I'll be fine, we gotta do all the, uh. Reinstatement stuff first, right? That's more important."

John raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

The President looked back, a bit confused. "I mean… You're staying, right? Coming back to PEIP?"

Slowly, John shook his head.

"What?" The President laughed, just a hair deranged. "What are you talking about? You're their general, their leader, we need you!"

"I don't think you do," John stood, and Hannah rose with him, still leaning against his chest. "We've heard your broadcasts. You seem to be doing pretty well, all things considered." With a teasing smile, he added, "I thought foreign policy wasn't your strong suit?"

The President shrugged. "Well, sometimes the truth pays off. They had a portal, they knew Wiggly, and I guess enough of 'em broke out of the influence, so… We stopped World War Three before it got too bad. But, John, there's so much to be done. There's so much I can't do. You've gotta come back, you have to stay…"

"I'm sure," Schaeffer added quietly, "that Ed and Corey would be overjoyed to see you."

That got his attention. "They're here?"

"Of course. A lot of civilians are. Agent McNamara was quick to find his father, thankfully no worse for the wear. Unaffected by Wiggly, by the way," she added, clearly impressed by the baker.

John smiled at just the thought of his husband and his son. But no sooner than that, the portal closed. And Hannah fell through John, landing with an "oof" on the floor.

He dropped to a kneel beside her and offered a hand, but she once again phased through. The President reached out to touch John's shoulder, and did the same.

John looked at his hands. He was still solid, at least he looked to be. But he wasn't there. The hands turned to fists. "All the more reason I can't stay."

"What?" Schaeffer stepped closer, head tilted. 

He looked up at her. "I wouldn't be any help if I can't-"

She cut him off with a shake of her head. "John, I… I can't hear you."

The President and Hannah looked at her, perplexed. It was the President who spoke up. "You can't hear him? He's… What?"

Xander approached from the booth now that the portal was closed, looking John over. "It probably has something to do with psychic abilities. Hannah seems to be a powerful psychic, and Howie, well, suit or not you've been in the Black and White for four days, you're bound to have developed something temporary."

"Wait, wait. Back up," the President held Xander's shoulder. "Four days? I've been in there for a few hours, not a few days."

"No space. No time," Hannah informed. "Easily lost. Forever."

"Exactly," Xander nodded. "We're lucky you found a way back, and in… relatively one piece."

"Not luck," Webby chimed. "Guided. Welcome."

"Webby!" Hannah bounced. Many eyes moved to look at her, and she shrunk in on herself. "Spider. Friend. Black and White…"

"We know who Webby is," Schaeffer assured. "Just… surprised you can hear her. From what we know, she's very solitary."

"No," she sighed. "Focus on Hannah. PEIP doesn't need help."

"Webby says… you don't need help, so she just stays with me," Hannah relayed. The officers didn't look particularly convinced, and Hannah shrugged, looking to the floor. 

"I'm surprised you can hear her, given how… solid I am," John noted. Hannah agreed, it was a bit odd, though Webby was a little quiet.

"Close to portal. To Black and White. Easier, I think," was the answer. Even Webby wasn't omnipotent.

"Well," the President shook his head. "Look, ghost or not, you're here. And there are psychics in PEIP! They can, I dunno, translate for you! Please, John, you have to stay. I… I order you to stay! As Commander-in-Chief!" He did not at all sound confident in his order.

John looked at the President, eyes hard, but not cruel. "With all due respect, Mr. President, I believe I am legally dead. Your domain of control no longer contains me. And even if it did," he stepped closer, "I follow a higher law than any institution could decree, and that is the universal truth of love, and the strength of the human heart."

Without missing a beat, Schaeffer crossed her arms and stated, "He's doing his strength of the human heart speech again, isn't he."

"Oh so this is, like, a normal thing," the President looked between the Generals. "Okay. Okay. Sorry, continue."

John frowned, but did so. "Long story short, Mr. President, I am ultimately in control of my decisions and actions. I have done unspeakable things in service of this country, in tenure with PEIP. I try to keep them to a minimum. I help where I am needed. And where I am needed is not here. I'm needed back in Hatchetfield, with Hannah and the other survivors. I will be staying with them."

"But—"

"Howard," John rested his hand on the President's shoulder, the gesture falling short due to John not being able to actually touch him. "You're doing very well. You are helping people. Xander and Jolene will help you. They know what they're doing. And I'll be fine. I have been so far. You don't need my help."

The President looked at John for a long moment, a sad expression etched on his face. Finally, he sighed and nodded, defeated. "Okay. I understand. We'll… We'll make you proud, John."

"He isn't staying?" Xander questioned. "What about Ed and Corey?"

John hesitated. "Don't tell them I'm here. Just… let them think it was an accident. I don't want things to be harder for them."

"He says not to tell them," the President relayed. After a moment, he added, "And I agree. We'll tell everyone who isn't in this room that I… did what I do. Fucked up, ended up leading Wiley here. You managed to beat him back, and that was that."

"I'm not sure if that will work," John shrugged. "We came here for a reason, and it will involve leaving this room. At the very least, people will see Hannah."

"Makes sense. Why are you here? I thought you were trying to go to a different universe or. Something like that."

"We are, but not now. We… Well, it's Hannah's plan," he looked down at her. "Maybe she should explain."

Hannah pulled on her braids, but then cleared her throat and explained. "Eleven survivors, in Hatchetfield. But can't have anyone come to the island. Infected have taken over. Help comes… If help comes, they'll get infected, too. Spread everywhere… game over. World is broken, so… gonna build a portal. Go to a different world. All of us."

"In order to do that," John continued, "we need the blueprints for the portal, which is why we came here. We'll likely need some more particular pieces, as well. Things we couldn't scavenge."

The President was slack-jawed. Xander nudged him. "Did he say what I think he said?"

"He's… They're asking for blueprints, and materials. For the portal. They're going to build their own."

"No," was Schaeffer's immediate response. "I'm sorry, that's impossible. You would never succeed, and even if you did, that information out in the open is incredibly dangerous. And furthermore, say you did succeed in building it, and going through. Once everyone's in another world, what happens to the portal? No one would be left to close it, and others could find it and abuse that power. There is far too much at risk, John."

"I had an idea about that, actually," he looked at her.

Schaeffer looked to the President, who coughed. "Uh, he has a solution. Apparently."

"A nuclear bomb crashed into the bridge connecting Hatchetfield to the mainland. It didn't detonate, but it still is radioactive. I believe that it can still be detonated."

"What?!" The President shouted. "You want to fucking nuke yourself?"

The room erupted in noise, and Hannah covered her ears. John tensed, and sighed, shaking his head. "We won't be on the island anymore when it goes off. We can set up a delay, the last person will activate it and go through the portal. The bomb will go off, destroy all the Infected, and the rest of the country will remain safe. It won't spread any further."

"If the bomb is on a bridge, then it's gotta be at least a little close to the mainland, right? Those things have a huge blast radius, there's bound to be people in the way!"

"Then you can move them."

"What?"

"You have been going through the states, finding survivors. I've heard the broadcast. Jump forward a bit, to Michigan, along the coast of Lake Erie. Evacuate the area. You should have at least a month if we move quickly, that's enough time."

"That's barely any time!"

"Mr. President, if the Infected are left unchecked, they will find a way to the mainland. And once there, the apotheosis will spread until it is global. Listen to me," he stepped closer. "The world can heal from Wiggly, Howard. It cannot heal from the Infected."

"Wh-What even are the Infected…?"

"Pokotho," Hannah spoke up. "Infected are made from Pokotho. Came from different world, different Hatchetfield. Where they already won."

The agents in the room went silent. Schaeffer was the one to collect herself first. "Pokotho is here?"

Hannah shrugged. "Sorta. Wiggly left. Infected came."

"If they aren't destroyed completely," John continued, "then they will come back. A nuclear detonation would completely wipe them out."

"He says these… Infected, they need to be completely destroyed or they come back," the President repeated, looking around. "Is that true?"

"From what we know," Xander adjusted his glasses, "yes. A nuclear blast would work, but that would also kill the survivors. And how would we get it there?"

"There's already one there," the President sighed. "And he says they can delay it, or something. Everyone gets through the portal, bomb goes off, Infected and the portal are destroyed."

Schaeffer nods, hand on her chin. "That would work. That would work rather well."

The President sighed, rubbing his face. "Alright. Alright. Fine. You know better. I don't like it, but… Fuck, it makes sense."

"So," Hannah looked up at him, "blueprints…?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Blueprints. Let's… Let's get ready to send you home, kiddo."

"Banana," she looked between John and the President. "Can call me Banana."

The President smiled, tired. "Banana, then." He looked to Xander. "Where can we find these blueprints?"

Schaeffer swept in before Xander could answer. "You are going nowhere but the medbay. Or did you forget about that," she gestured to his stab wound.

The President looked at his hands, stained red with blood. "Oh. You know, I actually did."

"Okay, that's a bad sign." She took him by the arm and led him away. Before they left, he looked back over his shoulder at Hannah and John, and smiled. He waved goodbye, and the doors shut behind him and Schaeffer.

Xander stepped forward. "General. Miss Hannah," he smirked at his unnecessary formality. "If you'd follow me."

They left the portal room and went through an unsettling hallway and up a flight of stairs. Many eyes were on them all as they walked through the facility. Hannah heard more than a few mutters of "Is that General McNamara?" and the like.

"Seems I'm not exactly fading," John muttered, jumping from face to face in a sea of people.

"Big power," Webby said sagely. "Lasts long time. Told you so."

"Told me so? About what?"

"Psychic! Like bird!" She proceeded to make bird noises at him, and Hannah tried not to giggle.

John sighed. "I suppose you may have been right that I do have some psychic abilities, but I would much prefer not to do that again."

"Repressed powers. Adult now. Not as strong. Lost potential."

"Gee, thanks."

At that, Hannah did laugh, and Xander looked back at her, perplexed but amused.

In what she learned was Xander's office, he did, indeed, have the blueprints for the portal. He made a copy for her and rolled it up, keeping it closed with a rubber band. Next, he dug around for a few mechanical parts she didn't understand much anything about, but apparently they were vital for making the portal work, hence why the bridge cults' was a failure.

Xander also gave her a duffel bag, of which all this was put in. She slung it around her shoulder and adjusted the straps; it was heavier than expected, but she'd make do. 

"The rest we'll have to scavenge," John explained, "but that shouldn't be too difficult. The group seems to have found plenty already, and if need be, we may be able to steal from the cult."

Xander leaned against his desk. "That's… about as well as I can prepare you," he shrugged. "I just hope its enough."

John looked at his friend with a smile. "It's more than enough, Xander. I wish I could thank you."

The physicist couldn't hear him, but knew the man well enough to guess. "Make it work. That's thanks enough. And try to stay safe, yeah?"

"I'll try."

Hannah's stomach growled, and she flushed. It hadn't felt like she had been in the Black and White for four days, but it had been. Plus, all she ate before leaving was half a peanut butter sandwich. It was still embarrassing.

Xander, however, smiled. "You guys head back to the portal room. I'll stop by the kitchen and grab you something."

"No jelly, please," she pulled on the strap of the duffel bag. "Or sauce. Bad texture."

"Got it. You guys won't be able to open the door, so just wait there. I'll be back asap!" With that, he left the room.

Hannah and John left a moment later, and made their way back the way they came, though there were less agents around this time. And yet, there was still a recognition.

"John?" The voice was surprised more than anything. Hopeful. Sad. The man in question froze upon hearing it. 

Slowly, he turned around. Hannah turned too.

Two men stood still, side by side, the younger holding the older one by the arm. The younger man Hannah felt like she recognized. He had black hair, just past his ears, some of it falling into his eyes, which were covered by goggle-like glasses. 

The older man she had never seen before, but something told her he was safe and kind. He had brown hair, slightly curling, grown out nearly to his neck. He had green eyes, though not Wiggly green, behind owl-eyed glasses.

He was the one who stepped forward, slowly, hesitantly, and spoke again. "John… is that really you?"

John was silent, not that the man would hear him anyway. He nodded, the movement microscopic.

Without missing a beat, the bespectacled man let out a shaky breath and ran towards John, arms outstretched to embrace him…

And, of course, the man ran straight through. He looked around, bewildered, until spotting John again, a heartbroken look on his face, and a ghostly hand outstretched.

When the man mirrored John and she spotted a silver band on his hand, she connected the dots. "Husband."

John nodded. "Ed," he breathed, and despite it all, smiled. "I'm so glad to see you."

"I can't…" Ed trailed off, glancing down at Hannah. "Who… Who are you?"

She fought to keep eye contact. This man was important. "Hannah. I… He's glad to see you."

Realization dawned on him. "You can hear him."

Hannah nodded, and finally had to look away as she told him the truth. "Can't stay. Not… He's not really here. In the Black and White."

"He… so, what, I'm hallucinating? I…"

"No," Hannah shook her head. "Like… ghost. Like a ghost. Energy from the Black and White…" she didn't entirely get it herself, so explaining was hard.

Yet, Ed seemed to understand. "Like the force ghosts in Star Wars."

John laughed, and Hannah tried to ignore the hitch in his voice. "Yes, actually, a lot like that."

Ed rubbed his eyes from under his glasses, and the younger man came to join him. Hannah figured that this was Corey. Bug. She had seen him once before, though he was wearing a helmet then. And he was Infected. She already liked this version better.

"S-So, uh," Ed cleared his throat. "You're… Not staying?"

John nodded. "I can't. I'm sorry, Ed, Bug…"

"Has to stay near me," Hannah offered, "'nd I gotta go home. We're… Gonna build a portal. New world. He's helping."

"Can… Can't you just stay here?" Corey asked, looking between his father and the young girl. "I mean. It's safe. We can protect you, Hannah, and even as a ghost, you're still a big help to have around…"

"And you'd be here," Ed added. "Despite everything, you'd be here."

John reached out, hands hovering over his husbands, the ghost of a touch between them. He cleared his throat, and croaked out, "I'm not really here."

Hannah repeated, "He's not really here."

"I'd love to stay, more than anything."

"He'd love to stay. More than anything."

"But it isn't real. It isn't fair to you two."

"It isn't real. Not fair to you two."

"Furthermore, I am tethered to Hannah. Without her, I would be dead."

"He's stuck to me. Without it, he'll die."

"And I can't tear Hannah from her family."

"And—" Hannah's voice caught. "And he can't… take me away. From my family."

"I'm a ghost without a shell. And what I can do now is help Hannah and the others get out of here."

"He's a ghost. And he wants to help us leave."

"I don't want to leave you, Eddie. I don't want to leave Bug. But if I stay, like this, it will only be worse."

"He doesn't want to leave you. Either of you. But staying like this is worse."

"And, selfishly… I don't think I could live with having you right in front of me, but not able to hold you."

"And… he wouldn't want to live with you right here, but not able to touch."

Ed wiped his eyes. "That's not selfish. I… Fuck, man, I'm already having the same problem."

John nodded. "I didn't want you to see me."

"He didn't want you to see him," Hannah repeated, rubbing her own eyes. This wasn't her moment. She shouldn't be crying.

"John," Ed shook his head, "I swear, I'd have killed you if you waltzed through here and I never got to say goodbye. That'd be even worse."

"Even if for a bit," Corey managed a smile, "it's good to see you again. Good to know you're… okay."

Hannah spotted a few tears rolling down John's face. He wiped them away, chuckling. "You're right. It wouldn't have fared well."

"He says you're right," she informed. 

Ed smiled, first at his husband, and then down at Hannah. He kneeled to be closer to her height. "You two are staying together, right?" Hannah nodded, looking at a shiny spot on his glasses. "Will you do me a favor?"

"What favor?"

Ed looked up at John for a second, then back to her, eyes watery. "Keep an eye on him for me, okay? He's good at getting out of trouble, but he's also good at getting in it."

Hannah met his eyes. A kind green. "I will. I promise."

He smiled, relieved. "Thank you, Hannah. I hope you get where you're trying to go."

He stood, took a deep breath, and looked to John, one final time. "I guess this really is goodbye, huh? At least I get to see you off this time."

"Never thought it would be like this," Corey chuckled, humourless, masking the pain. 

John opened his mouth, and then paused. Instead of speaking, he held his fist to his chest, rotating it clockwise. I'm sorry.

He then pointed to himself, then held his fists in and X over his chest, and in a very passionate movement disconnected them, pointing to each of the men he was leaving behind.

I love you, so much.

Ed smiled, holding Corey's arm. "I love you too," he whispered. "Now go, before I jump in that fuckin' thing with you."

John did not hurry off. Rather, he stepped forward, and gave a ghost of a kiss to the forehead of his son, and to the lips of his husband. 

Finally, with a shaky breath, he looked down to Hannah. She nodded, understanding, and waved goodbye to Ed and Corey.

They waved back, and she felt like she was being sent off to war.

The two found Xander waiting at the door, a brown paper bag in hand. He looked ready to make a quip, but when he spotted the red eyes and tear-tracks, he bit his tongue, seemingly knowing what happened.

He gave Hannah the bag, and she put it in the duffel. The three re-entered the portal room.

With the signal from Xander, Lavender reopened the portal. It was back to the greyish color Hannah remembered it being.

The room shook, and she spotted her knife clattering on the ground. She picked it up and put it in her pocket before looking up at John.

Wringing his hands, he looked back at her. "Are you ready?"

Hannah nodded, and together they walked back into the Black and White.

Chapter Text

"We are not stopping our search for survivors," Howard emphasized. "We are stretched for resources, and our state-by-state search is going to slow down. A nuclear detonation is no laughing matter, and it's important we evacuate those around the coast of Lake Erie as soon as possible. We'll be sending most of our troops there, to get everyone out before the detonation. Again, we estimate we have about a month."

He took a moment, looking over his notes. That was everything. "As always, this channel is open for communication. Please, if you can hear this and you need aid, reach out. We're listening, and we're doing everything we can to help."

Another pause. There was something else to say. He could feel it in his gut, in his healing stab wound.

"And… to the survivors in Hatchetfield," he spoke, immediately getting a hard look from General Schaeffer. "If she isn't back yet, Hannah will be home soon. This is President Howard Goodman, signing off."


Hannah stepped into the Black and White and immediately fell to her knees. Her body was on fire, her vision white from the pain. John kneeled at her side, feeling a duller pain, and held her. "Hold on, just hold on, we can go back—" but the grey of the portal had already disappeared.

Hannah clung to him. "Hurts, hurts," she cried, but there were no tears.

"I know," he said, the dull pain growing more apparent. "Webby. Webby's coming. It'll be okay."

He hoped the spider was coming. He couldn't hear or see her, like he could at PEIP HQ. He prayed she wasn't too far away.

With a soft white glow and heavy footsteps, his prayers were answered. The pain subsided from both, and the pair looked up at the large, ethereal woman before them. A Lady in White.

"Webby," Hannah smiled, tired.

She smiled back, offering a hand up. "Hello, Banana. Lets get you home."

Hannah took the hand, but held onto John as well. To him, it felt like the webs had when he got close to the music; a pulse of energy and strength coming back to him. Hannah felt it, too.

The three walked, Hannah in the middle, holding a hand of each guardian. She liked to touch John, now that she had the chance. He was warm. The palms of his hands were calloused, but the backs were soft. The hands of a hardworking man; the hands of a father. She saw scars on his arms and hands, ones she hadn't noticed before. Regardless, she liked the contrast of rough and smooth skin, like a shark.

Webby's hands were cold, and strangely sticky. They were slender and porcelain white; scarless. Hannah knew Webby fought with her brothers often — she wondered if Webby had scars hidden somewhere. Hannah knew Lex did, and Webby reminded her of her big strong sister.

Hannah's hands were small and fragile. She had broken her right hand in 2nd grade, and for the rest of the year her writing was so bad she almost didn't pass. When Duke found out, years later, he asked what happened to make it break. She knew the real question was Did your mom do it? The answer was not really. Pamela had gotten mad, her and Lex were arguing, everything was too loud. So she punched a wall. It was an instinct, and the hole never got fixed. After that, Hannah started hiding more.

Her mother was gone now. So was Duke. So was most of Hatchetfield. 

If they got to a new world, would she have to hide again?

Hannah looked up at John. What would happen to him when they went through? What would happen to their connection? She didn't want to be without him. 

Funny how far they've come.

Webby suddenly stopped, staring at a point in the blackness. Hannah stared too, and she saw it — movement. A flicker of grey.

"A portal?" she asked, voice quiet.

"Maybe the way home," John suggested.

"No," Webby stated, pulling the two behind her much larger form. "Stay quiet."

Hannah held her breath and held tight to John, who kept her firmly against his chest. They were close enough to Webby that the Black and White wouldn't hurt them, but if they had to run, they were screwed. The whole thing reminded Hannah of the times she and Lex hid from her mother. At least it was good practice.

Hannah heard what sounded like a tear in fabric, and faintly saw light coming from in front of Webby.

Then, the woman spoke. "What are you doing here?" She was trying to sound neutral, rather than hostile or surprised.

It was quiet for a moment, though Hannah could almost hear footsteps, before a familiar voice spoke in an unfamiliar cadence. "I'm… investigatin', ma'am. Lookin' into this place. What… Who are you?"

"You can call me Webby," she stated. "You should not be here."

"I figure not," he chuckled, "but I won't be long. My name is Colonel Wilbur Cross of the United States military, special unit P.E.I.P.. We deal with events of a certain nature, and we believe those events are caused by entities from within here."

"You'd be correct," Webby admitted. "My brothers enjoy tormenting your worlds."

"There are others besides you?"

"Five others, yes."

"May I meet them?"

"No." Her voice was stern and loud. Hannah could imagine a stony expression. "Turn back, Colonel."

"But—"

"Do you have a family, Colonel?" Webby asked, knowing the answer.

The Colonel was quiet. "Yes. I have a son and a daughter waitin' for me. And all the rest of PEIP, too."

"Then why come in here?"

"I'm not gonna send anyone on a mission where they might die."

"So you throw your own life away instead."

"Somebody's gotta do it."

"No!" Hannah shouted, wiggling free of John's grasp and stumbling out from behind Webby. "No, you don't!"

The spacesuit-clad Colonel looked at her, bewildered. "Is this… one of the others?"

"No," Hannah shook her head. "No. I'm going home. You have to, too. Go home. Don't come back."

Webby put a hand on Hannah's shoulder and nodded. "Be with your family, Colonel. They matter more. You can observe the Black and White from outside, but traversing in is far too dangerous for the human mind. Had you run into one of my brothers…" she trailed off.

Hannah knew what Webby was implying. She knew the Colonel; this man was the one John just killed, his father from a different time. From before he met Wiggly. From before he was bad.

The Colonel nodded. "Is there anythin' else you can tell me?"

"Not now," Webby shook her head. "They're coming. Go, now! I promise, one day you'll learn more."

The Colonel gave one last look to Hannah, and then saluted Webby before running back through the grey. It faded back into black behind him. Webby turned and took one of John's hands and one of Hannah's. "We have to hurry, I wasn't lying."

"I can't imagine that they would like that you just took away their right-hand man," John muttered. "It's good he didn't see me."

"Just one version of him," Webby sighed. "The timeline split when the portal opened, not when he went in. There are plenty more like him."

A rumble of vicarious laughter erupted nearby, cutting her off. Webby hefted John and Hannah into her suddenly many arms, before dashing through the Black. John did not seem to enjoy being held, but Hannah, despite it all, felt safe in the eldritch woman's arms.

"There," she said, setting them down. "The train."

There was a platform, and a train, both difficult to see due to their color being so close to that of the environment. Easier to see were the people climbing aboard — if they could be called people, that is.

They were green and purple, mostly, with some pink and yellow and even a bit of blue. Not a mixture of the colors, each person was a solid color of their own. They were vaguely human shaped, but with the addition or replacement of limbs with tentacles, wings, and hooves. They were monstrous. Hannah held onto Webby's arm.

"They're Sniggles," Webby answered the unasked question. "Servants of my brothers."

"And you want us to travel with them?" John exclaimed. "They'll kill us before the damned thing even starts moving."

"The Sniggles are harmless without orders," Webby countered. "They won't hurt you unless you hurt them. They might be a little curious, but its safe. Many of them were victims of my brothers, coming from conquered worlds…"

There were thuds, something like footsteps. Hannah turned and saw a pair of giant, luminous eyes. They were featureless, but she knew who they belonged to. And she knew he was angry.

Webby placed a gentle hand on Hannah and John's chests. When she pulled away, there was a white mark latched on: a web. "I'll catch up with you once you're home. Now go."

John offered his hand, and Hannah took it. They ran for the station as the whistle screamed and a bearded man gave the last call. Behind them, a web formed a fence, blocking off that section of the Black and White. Webby looked up at the monstrous true form of her brother.

"We just keep running into each other, don't we, Wiggly?"

Hannah looked over her shoulder as her and John ran to the train, watching the beginnings of what would surely be a terrible battle. She only prayed that Webby would be okay.

John tugged her along, running faster as the train began to move. As they got close, he caught the grab bar, and pulled himself up onto the conductor's steps. Hannah held desperately onto his hand and ran as fast as she could as the train picked up speed. His grip on her grew tighter and he pulled her up. Her feet kicked desperately as the ground fell away from her, but soon found their place on the solid metal structure. She held tight to his vest as an electric wind blew through her braids. Afraid she might lose it, she reached up and held the Warriors cap to her head.

John moved her into the train, and followed after. The door shut behind them, and Hannah let out a sigh of relief. She trusted Webby. She would be okay, Hannah would be okay, John would be okay, and everyone would get home. All they had to do was ride the train.

The train that, she now noticed, was filled with Sniggles. John was tense, and moved to stand in front of her, though he continued to hold tight to her hand. His other hand rested on his gun which, to Hannah's recollection, was empty.

A dozen or so sets of blank eyes peered at them from the rows of seats. The train had no semblance of consistency, with the seats ranging from Harry Potter-esque booths to subway seats to recliners. The Sniggles came in all shapes and sizes and, now that she could see them clearer, certainly looked more human. A tad less scary. Some had antennae, some didn't. The predominant color in this car was green, but there was a spattering of others as well. None of them moved, other than to look at the human pair.

Slowly, John stepped forward, Hannah in tow. They walked through the rows of seats until they found an empty spot and sat; it was a subway-style seat, really only for one person, but they made it work. Hannah didn't mind being squished against John. Rather, she found it made her feel safer, sitting between all the monstrous humans.

Still, Hannah fidgeted, pulling at her braids, her clothes, biting her fingers. Lex didn't like when she bit herself, so she shoved her hands into her pockets. In one was the knife, still its normal small size. She didn't want to take that out here; Webby said the Sniggles would only attack if they were harmed, but she didn't want to seem threatening just in case.

In another pocket was something round and stretchy. Quite a few somethings, actually. She took a couple out and realized they were hairbands, the type she used to braid her hair. Braiding often calmed her nerves, but her hair was already done.

Hannah looked up at John, who was sitting straight, tensely watching the surrounding monsters. He had nice, fluffy hair. Definitely long enough to braid.

Hannah pulled on the hairbands, stretching them. She didn't want to ask him, that was awkward. What if he said no? Maybe he didn't like his hair being touched. Hannah only liked certain people touching hers.

She huffed. Why did everything have to be complicated.

The sound caught John's attention and he looked over. "Are you alright?" His voice was low and serious.

Hannah nodded, avoiding eye contact. "Nervous."

"We'll be alright," he assured, looking around the train car again. "We just have to stay calm."

"Trying," she twisted the hairband around her finger over and over. The finger started to turn blue. "I'm trying. Nothing's working. I want— I don't… Don't wanna undo m'hair."

"You don't have to undo your hair," John told her, a hint of confusion in his voice. He looked back to her, to her hands, and saw the hair ties. He gently took her hand and removed the tie from her finger, which began to return to a healthy pink color.

"Can I…" Hannah looked up at him, at his hair. "Can I braid you? Please? 'S okay if no, Lexie doesn't like em either…"

John was quiet for a moment, looking away. "I suppose. If it will help you."

He slid and sat on the floor of the train, folding his legs criss-cross. He stayed sitting up straight and tense, keeping a wary eye on the Sniggles, who continued to watch curiously.

Hannah, now with more room on the seat, shifted to sit directly behind John, also sitting criss-cross. She wrapped a couple of hair ties around her wrists with trembling hands. Shaking them out, she split John's fluffy hair into two sections. Each of those sections was split into three. She started with the right side, folding the strands over each other. She braided his hair looser than she did her own; not everyone liked the tightness.

She took her time, wanting them to be perfect and struggling to accomplish that with her nervous hands. But, as she did and re-did John's hair a couple times, she found herself calmer, her movements more fluid. Soon, John was sporting a pair of perfect braids, tied off with her usual black hair ties.

Just as she was about to whisper him a thank you, there was a noise to her left, somewhere between a psst and an ahem.

Upon looking, she was met with the stares of a pair of Sniggles, one green with short hair and no antennae, and the other purple, with eye-like antennae and longer hair. The purple one spoke first, in a wavering whisper. "Me next?"

The green one, much louder, shoved the first. "No! Me next!"

The two started a war of shoving and elbowing, and John stood, taking Hannah's arm to pull her away. She refused.

"Calm down," she told the bickering pair, and they froze, staring wide-eyed at her. "Take turns. Sit here," she pointed to where John was, "and I'll show you."

For a moment, no one moved. Then, both the Sniggles sat on the floor in front of Hannah, facing her. She gestured for the purple one to turn around.

She reached for the brownish-purple hair of the Sniggle and it jumped away from her. Hannah put her hands in her lap. "Doesn't hurt. I'll be gentle." The Sniggle still didn't move, and Hannah bit her lip.

"What's your name?" She asked.

The two Sniggles looked at each other. "I'm Snigglette," the purple one finally spoke.

"And I'm Snurt," the green one nodded.

"I'm Hannah," she smiled, introducing herself. "Will you let me braid?"

Snigglette still seemed hesitant, and Snurt scooted closer to Hannah, grinning. She patted his head, just to test, and he didn't mind the touch. She turned him around and tried to think how to braid such short hair.

She gathered what she could into a ponytail, which wasn't much, and gently braided that. She tied it off and let it go, and it promptly fell into Snurt's face. She froze, afraid, but only for a moment as he began giggling maniacally. 

"Look, look!" He showed Snigglette, and a few others who had come to watch. "It's called braid!"

There was a chorus of "Braid? Braid…" as the Sniggles pulled on Snurt's hair. One of them grabbed the hair tie and the braid fell apart. All the surrounding Sniggles gasped in horror and looked to Hannah.

"We broke it!" A pink one cried out. 

"You broke it!" Snurt corrected, snatching the hair tie out of the pink one's hands. "It was my braid and you broke it because you're jealous!"

"Can fix it!" Hannah interrupted. "I can fix it. I can… I can teach you. Teach you to braid."

She was met with immediate nodding from the group. John patted her shoulder, sitting beside her. She nodded at him, assuring him that it would be alright.

"Snigglette?" She called for the purple one from before. "Can I braid you?"

Having seen what happened with Snurt, she seemed a bit more willing and moved back to where Hannah could touch her.

Gently, Hannah took her hair and split it into the sections. "Braids are easy. Just fold over, gently, gently. Sides to the middle."

The crowd of Sniggles gathered around, some following along on each other, as Hannah braided Snigglette's hair. She closed it with a hair tie and patted the Sniggles head.

Snigglette stood up and spun around, and the other Sniggles looked on in awe as the braid didn't come undone. She pulled it over her shoulder and admired the pattern.

"You're welcome," Hannah smiled, tilting her head.

"Welcome?" the group echoed back.

"Manners!" She frowned. "You say thank you, and then you're welcome. It's polite."

Snigglette blinked and then, in a quick movement, took Hannh's hands in her own. They were prickly, like feathers. "Thank you, you're welcome!"

"No," Hannah giggled. "You say thank you. I say you're welcome."

"Oh," Snigglette nodded. "Thank you!"

"You're welcome."

A few other pairs of Sniggles did the same, thanking and welcoming each other for the braids, most of which were messy and falling apart.

Hannah reached into her pocket, and pulled out the rest of the hair ties. They were black. They'd be easily lost in the Black and White. She cupped them in her hands, closed her eyes, and tried to make them change. Become green, purple, pink, yellow, and blue. They'd be visible, and they'd match. 

After a few moments, Hannah opened her eyes and uncupped her hands. Inside, the hair ties had, for the most part, turned multicolored. There were still spots of black, but most had a mixture of the various colors of the Sniggles, and even a little white. It would do.

She offered the hair ties to the crowd of braiding Sniggles. "You have to tie the ends, or they come apart. You can have mine."

The hair ties were quickly (and somewhat unevenly) distributed among the Sniggles. Soon the braids stayed put, and were a bit less messy. John took out his braids and offered the ties to a green Sniggle with hair a similar length to John's own.

It was something of a party, and Hannah realized that she no longer felt nervous at all. Webby was right; they were harmless, at least right now. She wondered what these people were like before they were Sniggles. If they knew manners and how to braid before the Lords made them into servants.

The train came to a stop, but none of the Sniggles got off. Hannah looked out the window and saw a grey spot near the train, at which many of the Sniggles were looking with curiosity, excitement, and even fear.

This was her stop.

Hannah and John stood, and she took his hand. The gang of braiding Sniggles paused their movements and looked to her.

"I have to go," she told them. "It was nice to meet you."

"Thank you!" They clamored, a few "You're welcome!"s peppering the noise. Hannah smiled and waved, and her and John hopped off the train. Moments later, it started moving again.

"You really are a good person," John stated, tone serious. "I… wouldn't have been as kind to them as you were."

"Golden rule," Hannah swung their joined hands. "And… they should have something nice. I think. Wiggly's not very nice to them."

"I agree with you there. Try not to lose your hair ties now, though. Those are your last ones, right?"

Hannah nodded. She'd keep them on her.

The pair paused before the grey spot in the Black. "Is this… the right one?" Hannah dared to ask.

John took a breath. "I think so."

"Me too," she nodded, and together they stepped through.

Chapter Text

Hannah's knees hit solid ground for the first time in what felt like ages. She closed her eyes at the sudden harsh light, and took a deep breath: nothing hurt, nothing stung. She felt alive and warm.

"Hannah," John whispered, and she felt a gentle hand on her back. "Sit up. We're home."

She did so, and looked around. She was somewhere in the maze of hallways that made up the Professor's home. A wave of relief filled her, and she almost cried. The hand on her back patted her softly.

She looked over her shoulder and saw John, solid. She reached out to touch his vest — and made contact.

"You're here?" She asked, voice small.

"I'm here," he nodded, taking her hand. "For now, anyway."

Behind them, the portal spun; a grey tear in the fabric of reality.

"I'm surprised it's still open," John commented. "Maybe it's Webby's doing."

"Maybe it's the way out," Hannah muttered. Now was the time to get everyone together and go, go somewhere else, somewhere better. 

It's finally ending.

Hannah stood, staggering for a moment, and John rose with her. As she took off down the hallway, he kept pace. "Where are you going?"

"Get everybody!" She called back. "We're leaving!"

"Hannah, not everyone is like you! Webby won't be able to protect them all. Our best bet is to build the portal. That was your plan, wasn't it?"

"Don't care!" Desperation lined her voice. "I don't care! Change of plans!"

Hannah ran faster, ignoring John's pleas to reason, until she ran directly into the large figure of Tom.

He held her shoulders and gaped. "Hannah?"

"Hi!" She bounced. "That way, go that way! Through the portal!"

"Kid," he held tighter, "we thought you were dead, I… Is that my jacket?"

Hannah nodded. "Borrowed it, let go, go to the portal! We'll see you there!"

Tom's eyes flicked to behind Hannah and he pulled her behind him, taking out a gun from his pocket with his other hand. "Who the fuck are you, how'd you get in here?!"

Hannah struggled to see from behind Tom, but caught sight of John raising his hands. "My name is General John McNamara of the United States military, special unit P.E.I.P., we call it peep. I mean you no harm—"

"Peep?" Tom cut him off. "I was in the military, bud, I ain't never heard of that."

"We do our best to make sure not a peep gets out."

Hannah giggled, and Tom looked between the two of them. "Alright sir. How'd you get in here?"

"The Black and White," Hannah answered for him. "He's been with me. Since Black Friday. Just couldn't see him."

"Couldn't see him. He's been following us around for two months, and we couldn't see him."

"Follows me. Tethered."

Tom looked up at John. "She's thirteen , you fucking creep!"

"No!" Hannah insisted. "Good man! Helping! Like Webby! Helped Tim!"

At that, Tom paused. "He helped Tim?"

Hannah nodded. "Outside, when we got outside. Tim hurt his leg. John helped."

"I couldn't physically do anything," John elaborated, "but I could tell it was sprained. I instructed Hannah on what to do to help him, and get the both of them home."

Tom looked back at Hannah. "You said Webby helped you out."

"She helped, too," Hannah shrugged.

"Mine and Hannah's relationship… wasn't as good, then," John confessed. "And she didn't want to tell the others she was hearing a second voice."

Hannah nodded, and Tom sighed, lowering his weapon. "You're 100% sure he's good, kid?" Another nod. "...Alright. Fine. But if anything's off, I won't hesitate. C'mon, Han, let's find Lex."

"Find everyone," she insisted. "Before the portal closes, we gotta go!"

"What?"

Hannah didn't answer, instead running off into the rest of the house, with John quickly catching up.

"Hannah," came Webby's voice, halting her movements. "Portal gone. Get rest. Build new one."

"I tried to tell you," John whispered. She reached out to take his hand and phased through.

Tom caught up a moment later, ready to start asking questions again, but stopped when he saw the disheartened look on Hannah's face. Everything hit her at once, and she was exhausted. 

They still had a long way home.

Tom kneeled beside her and John, putting a hand on her shoulder. "C'mon, kid. Let's find your sister and you can take a nap or somethin', okay? Save the explaining for later."

She nodded, rubbing her face. She really should've expected this to happen.

"Got excited," Webby assured. "It's okay."

"You okay?" Hannah asked, pulling on her braids.

"Me?" Tom raised an eyebrow.

Hannah shook her head. "Webby. Fought her brother."

"Okay," Webby sighed. "One piece."

Hannah nodded, and began walking off. John followed, and Tom looked at the General, squinting.

"You look, uh… less solid," Tom said. "Like a ghost."

John shrugged. "We'll explain later. Assuming you can hear me."

"I can hear you."

John and Hannah looked to Tom in surprise. "Psychic?" She asked.

"No," Webby responded. "Big power, Black and White. Refuel."

"I suppose," John translated, "that me being more fully in the Black and White allowed me to leave it more fully, or something like that. The, ah, outburst may have had a hand in that as well." He looked down at Hannah. "It may not be permanent."

"Good for now." Hannah reached for his hand again and stopped mid-movement, not wanting more disappointment.

The trio made their way towards the center of the house, running into Becky and Tim along the way. It wasn't until they reached the living room that they found Lex and Ethan, listening to the radio.

"And… to the survivors in Hatchetfield," the President's voice came through the static. "If she isn't back yet, Hannah will be home soon."

The rest was cut off by Lex picking up and throwing the radio.

"How the fuck does he know about her! About us!" she yelled, hiccuping. Ethan pulled her close and talked to her quietly, assuringly.

"I met him," Hannah said plainly. "In the Black and White, I met him."

Slowly, the two teens turned to look at Hannah. Lex sobbed, and a moment later was crushing her sister in a hug.

"You've been gone for a week. A fucking week!" She shouted, and Hannah flinched at the volume. "What happened to our promise?"

"Didn't get kidnapped," Hannah tried to ignore the tears in her eyes. "Went on my own. Should've told you, I'm sorry Lexie…"

Lex gave her another tight squeeze before finally pulling back some. "You're grounded for the foreseeable future."

Hannah laughed, the tears finally spilling. "Okay."

"Technically, nothing in the future is foreseeable," John commented. "Every choice affects the flow of time, and you never know how it will change things."

"Jesus Christ," Lex jumped. "Don't scare me like that."

"Yeah, I was gonna ask," Ethan gave a nervous chuckle, pointing to John. "Who is that?"


Everyone could see John, to some extent. No one was sure of the correlation, but along with Lex, Owen, Becky, and Tim were able to see John as if he were right there with them. Tom and Curt could see him more ghostly, and the rest barely saw him at all. Hannah still dealt with the flickering, as before.

What got weirder was that everyone could hear him somewhat, and those who could hear and see clearly did not always overlap. While Owen and Paul both could hear him as much as they could see him, Tom and Ethan could hear him distinctly, and Curt could barely do so, everyone else falling somewhere in the middle. 

They decided there had to be some mental aspect to it, as Owen's ears were still healing and he couldn't hear much below a shout, and yet he could hear John perfectly fine.

Webby had no answer — the best she could supply was that John was more whole than before when he entered the Black and White. Perhaps he had returned more whole as well.

No one could touch him. There were moments, as the next few days passed, where Hannah managed the briefest of touch, but nothing permanent. Nothing like in the Black and White. She missed the contact, and she could tell John did, too.

But they had a job to do. The fact that everyone could hear him at some level meant that Hannah didn't have to find the words to explain the plan — everyone could just listen to him. There were questions about the bomb, and objections, naturally, but the group came around. No one wanted to pass up the chance. 

It was all hands on deck. Even Hannah and Tim had been permitted to go outside and aid in the scavenge, provided that they stayed near the adults and run at the first sign of danger. 

So far, there had been surprisingly little, both in terms of danger and in scavengable parts. John still couldn't go far from Hannah, so she often had to loiter around as people talked with John about plans. The question of going further out, or even raiding the cult came up multiple times, the latter of which John steadfastly denied. He had no intention of returning there, nor did he want Hannah to go back. The cult may have lost Gary, but they surely still wanted the Prophet to make their portal work.

Someone would have too, at some point. Xander had given them a device that could remotely detonate the bomb, but the other half of it had to be on or near it. John confessed to Hannah it was the type of thing he would volunteer to do, but since he was incapable, the next best bet would be Curt or Owen.

That was for another time, though. For now, they needed parts. 

Tom and Ethan were the primary engineers of their portal to the new world, since both had mechanical experience. Lex was their second in command, as she quickly showed that she had more out-of-the-box visions for how to build it; breaking down chairs to build the base, and hooking PEIP's engine up to one of the Professor's measuring devices to allow those without a Quantum Physics degree to read its output. 

Hannah was busy, but only because John was. Webby had joked she was his personal assistant, and she had forced a laugh. It was important work, a way home, but truth be told, Hannah was bored. She knew she should be glad that they were in the home stretch, that there was, ultimately, so little to do and so little danger around, but she wasn't.

She didn't want to do the work, she just wanted to get home already. But nothing is ever easy.

She had been home all of five days and she had been outside more times than she had snuck out. Today was no different, and Hannah was out with Emma, Paul, Becky, and of course, John. She hated to admit that she missed the days where only she could hear him.

Though, with this group, it almost seemed like it. Paul had the short end of the stick, not seeing or hearing John well. While Becky could see him, neither her nor Emma could hear him perfectly either. The three were talking over each other more often than not, and Hannah, annoyed, went and sat on a nearby rock and kept an eye out for any Infected. 

John stood near her and let the three talk. "Maybe we should set up a system," he thought aloud. "Someone who can hear me well has to come with us. Then they will argue less and won't have to rely on you."

She shrugged. "Still not here. Can't be present."

He nodded, and sat beside her. "Hopefully not for too long. Once the portal is completed, you'll get to go home, be safe."

"Not safe at home," she mumbled, pulling on her braids.

"Oh, yes," his voice darkened, "your mother."

There was a pause, and he straightened up. "Well, Lex and Ethan won't let you stay. And neither will I. You won't have to go through it all again, I swear it."

Hannah looked up at him, the question she had dreaded asking looming over her. "Are you coming, too?"

"Coming where, the new world? Of course."

"Can you come?"

That made him pause. He shifted so he was kneeling and looked her in the eyes. She fought to keep the contact, and could tell he was too.

"Banana," she felt his hand brush her shoulder, "one way or another, I will be with you. Either like this, non-corporeal, or in a living body again. If we are separated, I will find my way back to you. And I will stay, if you'll let me. Lords be damned, I'll find a way."

Hannah looked away, rubbing her eyes. She didn't want to cry. John patted her, apologetic, and she could almost feel it. "I'm sorry, Hannah. I didn't mean to upset you."

She shook her head. "No, no. I… Want you to come. Want you to stay. Please. Please."

"I promise I will. I promise I will." He repeated quietly, his fingers drumming against his leg. "Are you alright to go back to the group? We have work to do."

Hannah paused, but then nodded, standing. The two looked back to see Paul approaching. "Becky and Emma went to go look in the East part of the neighborhood, they'll meet us back here in an hour. I said we'd go look West, if that's okay…?"

He mostly spoke to Hannah, rather than John, but he was a very simple person and so she was a bit more comfortable with him. Hannah nodded again, and the trio set off, searching through houses in the West half of the neighborhood.

An hour crept by surprisingly quickly. The houses were largely empty, shells of families and lives unlived. There was one house that Paul had to rush Hannah out of — after some pestering, he admitted he found a body in one of the rooms, and hadn't wanted her to see.

Hatchetfield truly was a ghost town.

Her and Paul went back towards the center of the neighborhood to meet up with Becky and Emma, but didn't see the women there. They waited with baited breath, hoping that maybe the two had found something and were bringing it back.

The roads were largely straight, and despite the snow, they could see to the end of them clearly. There was no sign of the two.

Just as their anxieties were becoming too much to bear, there was a piercing, pained scream.

"Emma?" Paul looked for the source and ran after it. "Emma!"

"Paul!" Hannah followed, trying not to trip in the snow. The scream was high-pitched, and continued for many seconds — Hannah wasn't sure if it sounded like Emma. John looked to have his suspicions as well as he ran alongside her.

Paul continued to call out Emma's name as he ran, and soon got a response from a house up the street. 

"Paul!" She sounded afraid, and the group ran faster. Something in Hannah's gut said something was wrong — and not the expected kind of wrong.

They found the house, but the door was stuck. Paul, in a feat of adrenaline, kicked down the door and was met with the dark interior of the house. Hannah peeked out from behind him, trying to see what was going on.

The living room was empty. As they stepped inside, Paul called for Emma again, looking in some adjoining rooms. Hannah stayed in the living room, trying to see if there was anything out of place.

She heard a squelch, and looked down. There was a stain in the carpet, fresh, and she had stepped in it. Taking a step back, she kneeled down and touched it. Something came back on her hand, but in the dim light, she couldn't tell what. She walked to the window to get a better look, and once she was in the light, she froze.

It was blood. Mostly red, but a bit of bright blue as well. Hannah quickly wiped it off on the curtains, afraid that it would hurt her. 

"Paul!" John called out, too loud for Hannah's liking, but she knew he had to be so Paul would actually hear. "We need to leave!"

There was no response from Paul, but John's shout did elicit another, shorter high-pitched scream, making the both of them jump. 

"John? Hannah?" The voice was Becky's. It came from a door in the back, a sign on it indicated that it was a bathroom.

Hannah looked through the dark room and was able to see the blood she had stepped in earlier; it was a trail, and it led right to the door.

"H-Hello?" She inched towards the front door, ready to run if need be.

The door was cracked open just a hair. After a moment, it opened further, and out came Becky. In the dark, it was hard to see, but Hannah could make out her bright hair covering her face.

"Ar-Are you alright, Hannah?" She was panting, one hand against her face. "We-We have to get out of here."

Hannah nodded. "Infected?"

Becky nodded back, but before she could elaborate, there was a loud thump from upstairs. Hannah thought she could hear singing, and soon, Paul came stumbling down the staircase.

He cried out in pain, but still backed away. In the light, she spotted something blue on his shirt, and held her breath.

Coming down the staircase, slowly, dramatically, was Emma. She had long scratches on her face, from which a bright blue blood dripped, and her coffee-brown eyes had turned a similar shade.

Paul scrambled to his feet, backing up, but still did not run away. "Emma, please, I know this isn't you!"

She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Becky was frozen where she stood, and Hannah still couldn't see if her blood was red or blue. She tried not to panic as she dashed towards Paul to pull him away.

Emma's eyes flicked to Hannah but only for a moment before returning to Paul. She smiled, sickly-sweet, extending a hand to him.

"What do you think?
Come be our King

Don't leave me wondering

What we could be…"

Paul shook his head, covering his ears. Hannah felt for him — he had a visceral hatred of musicals, and his girlfriend had just become one. She grabbed his jacket and pulled, but he was rooted in place.

Each group was supposed to have a weapon. They were given a gun and a knife, but she wasn't sure who had them. There was also the question of Becky, and whether she was Infected. When Hannah looked back toward the bathroom, the Nurse was gone, and she began to panic.

Emma crept closer, like a dance. In her hand was a knife, dripping with red blood. That answered one question.

"I know you've seen my face

Beside your own at night

And I told you that

You are my light~"

"Shut up!" Paul shouted. "Please, God, stop singing!"

"So come be our King!

Not just a Prophet or a Pauper

A royal wedding and you'll walk her

To her grave!~"

From behind Emma appeared Becky, her hand and one hand still covering much of her face. She watched Paul stand, frozen, as Emma continued to approach. Both women shouted the same line—

"Paul, what are you waiting for?!"

"It's all you'd ever want and more!"

"She's not the same anymore!"

"Trust me, it'll be okay."

"You're the one with the gun, just do it!"

"We'll find a way!~"

"Are you just going to give up? She wouldn't want that!"

Paul still did not respond, and Hannah saw Becky back away. Her heart sank as she realized the Nurse was leaving them for dead. John seemed to realize the same thing, and she felt a hand trying to pull her away. She followed his lead, backing up, but kept her grip on Paul, not ready to give up on him.

Emma put her hands on Paul's shoulders, her voice rising higher and finally, afraid for her life, Hannah let go, stumbling back into the living room. 

"Come be our King!

Join the Hive and see

Who you could be…"

Paul finally snapped out of his trace and tried to get her off of him. Hannah hid under a table and covered her eyes.

She heard Paul yelling "No!" and an almost musical gurgle of pain, followed by a thump and heavy breathing.

It was quiet for a few moments, and Hannah didn't dare open her eyes.

"I… I'm sorry, Paul." Becky spoke.

"How… How did this happen?" He found his voice, though it quivered. "You were supposed to be together."

"We split up for just a couple minutes, looking at this big house up the street… I didn't even notice anything wrong until she attacked me. I'm so sorry."

"Hannah," John's voice was quiet. "It's safe."

She opened her eyes and saw him kneeling in front of her. She reached for him, but phased through. Anxiety still churning in her stomach, she got up from under the table and walked to the adjoining room.

Paul was kneeling in the doorway. It was hard to see from her angle, but blue blood was splattered across his face and chest. Becky stood over the nearly-decapitated body of a now-Infected Emma, that same blue blood leaking from the wound, soaking into the carpet. In her hands, Becky held a kitchen knife. Hannah figured she grabbed it after Paul wasn't listening to her.

Hearing Hannah approach, however, Becky looked over to her. Hannah had to bite back a scream.

There was blood all over Becky's face, matting her hair. There was a dark, empty hole where her left eye should've been. She took long, shaky breaths, and returned one hand to cover her missing eye.

"Can we go home?" Her voice was small. Hannah had always seen the Nurse as a strong woman, capable of anything, always unafraid. She had even came and apologized to Hannah for hunting her down on Black Friday, and did her best to make it up to her. Seeing her wounded and, for once, afraid made Hannah scared, too.

She nodded, and Paul rose to his feet, rubbing his eyes.

The trio, plus John, made their way back to the Professor's house. They were let in quickly by Tom, who's attention was immediately consumed by Becky and her missing eye.

"Curt? Curt!" He called as they rushed to the medical center. The spy poked his head out of the kitchen and Hannah watched as he paled at the sight of Becky. 

"Get Owen, meet me in the medbay." Tom's orders were quick, direct, and unquestioned. Becky herself was the foremost medical expert among them, but Owen, despite his own injury, had proved to have scarily good field medicine skills, and had become a big help to her.

Just outside the medical center, Tom paused, looking back at the small group who had followed him. "Where's Emma?"

No one answered. Paul tapped his fists together, breathing shaky. Looking between him and Becky, Tom seemed to put all the pieces together and his expression shattered.

"Okay. Okay. ...Okay," he nodded. "We'll… We'll talk later."

He and Becky stepped into the medical center, Curt and Owen joining them shortly after.

Hannah tried to offer Paul a hand, but he shook his head. Giving her a pat on the head, he managed a smile, and walked off to the room he once shared with Emma.

Hannah sat in the Fun Room, half-heartedly playing chess against John as he mused about safe places to search. He didn't want any more casualties. No one did.

"We just need… a lot of metal. If there were some kind of structure that we could take pieces of or something, that would make things much easier."

Hannah moved a bishop to steal one of his knights. It was a rhetorical question, and she didn't have an answer anyway.

"Like Watcher World?" A voice piped up.

The two looked over to see Tim had entered the room and was looking through a bookshelf for something, but he was now facing them. "Watcher World is like, made of metal. Because it's an amusement park."

John frowned. "I've never heard of… Watcher World."

"Been here," Hannah explained. "Long time. Never been."

"Bad." Webby interrupted, voice cold. "Don't go. Brother."

"Your brother is there?" John asked.

"The Watcher. Watcher World. Might be gone, might have stayed."

Tim walked up to Hannah, watching John seemingly have a conversation with himself. "You've never been to Watcher World? It's fun, I went with mom once."

Hannah shook her head. "No money. And… bad vibes." She pulled on her braids. "Webby says… her brother's there. Maybe."

Tim tilted his head. "Is that bad?"

"Very bad. Brother is Wiggly, and others."

Tim recoiled. "If Wiggly is there, we shouldn't go."

"Not Wiggly," Webby corrected. "The Watcher. Blinky."

"The Watcher, Blinky," Hannah repeated.

"Oh, like the mascot?" Tim smiled. "He's kinda creepy, but I thought he was fun."

"His domain," Webby sighed. "Could be safe. Could be worse."

"His domain how?" John asked.

"Others can't go. Must be invited."

"So it may be untouched by Wiggly and the Infected?"

"Yes. He might be there, others won't."

John was quiet for a moment, and the kids watched him, curious about how he would decide. Finally, he nodded.

"Tim, if your father is alright with it, then I think Watcher World is worth the risk. I doubt Blinky would want to stay in a ruined world."

Tim nodded. "I'll go ask him!" He ran off with no hesitation.

Hannah frowned at the chessboard. "Sure it's okay?"

John stared too, and then moved a rook to take Hannah's bishop. "We'll make sure it is."

Chapter Text

"This feels more like a family road trip than a big important mission," Tim noted as he helped flatten boxes. "What do you think?"

He had taken to prompting Hannah to answer questions so she wouldn't have to figure out if he was talking to himself or addressing her. She appreciated it.

In response to his question, she shrugged, setting another now-flat box into the trunk of the car.

"Did you ever go on family road trips?" He asked, handing her another, which she took.

She shook her head. "No car, till Ethan."

"Oh," Tim bit his lip. "Well, maybe in the new world, you can come with us on one. I'm sure dad would be okay bringing you and Lex along, and Ethan too." A pause. "Would John want to come?"

Hannah looked around for her ghostly guardian — he still had to stay close to her, but now that he could talk with other people, he had been venturing further from her side. She saw him through the passenger window, talking to Tom about something or other.

She shrugged. "Hope so."

"You know," Tim struggled with another box, "when you saved me from, uh, mom. You said you didn't remember your dad. Do you… want one?"

She looked back at him, confused. She didn't see how the topic was related.

He caught her eye and elaborated. "My dad, uh. Him and Lex get along well. Sometimes I think that he sees her as a daughter, and so I wondered… would you want my dad to be your dad? He's not always the best, but he tries, and he'd love you a lot—"

"No," she cut him off, shaking her head. "Not him. Your dad, not mine."

"Oh."

"Sorry."

"No! No, you don't have to be. I just didn't know what you or Lex thought about… all that."

She looked back at John through the window. "A family road trip. I-I'd want to do a family road trip. With Lexie, and Ethan, and… with John."

Tim handed her another flattened box. "Do you want John to be your dad?"

She took it and nodded. She considered him such. And he seemed to feel the same. She just… she missed when only she could hear him, see him. It was for the best that everyone else could, and it was a good sign, but she felt jealous, for lack of a better word.

"John cares," Webby told her. "Cares very much."

"I know," Hannah whispered.

"Webby cares very much, too."

That got a laugh out of her. "I know."

From around the corner came Owen, and Hannah moved out of the way so he could put even more flattened boxes in the trunk. He was much more efficient at his assigned job than the kids were, though Hannah had a feeling that he resented being sent to work with the children. Just because he couldn't hear didn't mean he couldn't help more.

Tim, upon seeing that Owen was already done with his load, hurried to keep doing his. He was a young boy — everything was a competition. Hannah sighed and continued to do her own as well.

"This is really too many," Owen said as he was walking away, probably meant to be muttering to himself. "Once they're built back up, there'll be no room."

He had a point, but Hannah didn't want to get in trouble for not doing her job, so she would continue to do so until she was done or until someone told her otherwise.

Lex and Ethan came by with tools and cords and rope, Ed, Curt, and Paul came up the hill with gas, Becky had gathered medical supplies, and Tom was helping anywhere possible, as well as making sure the car was still in good shape.

Speaking of the car, Hannah had no idea how everyone was going to fit, especially once they had all the scrap parts and metal. Ten people (and one ghost) in a car meant for a maximum of five was going to be rough.

There was also a squirrel. Peanuts followed where Ed went, no matter the situation. Luckily, he was very small.

Once everything was settled, the matter was finally brought to Tom and John's attention. 

"Well," Tom shrugged, "weird, fucked-up park or no, there's bound to be some trucks there still. The big ones, for shipping. So we'll hijack one of those and take it back, someone else can drive this one, which will also have stuff in it. As for gettin' there, we're just gonna have to pile in."

"I call the trunk," Lex raised her hand.

"We can't close the trunk if a person is in it," Tom shot her down. "If someone sits back there, it's gonna have to be somebody who won't fall off."

Curt raised his hand. "I'm good at, uh, not falling."

With a shrug, he was allowed.

After a debate, it was decided that Tom would drive, with Becky in the passenger seat and Tim on her lap. The back would be very crowded, with Ethan against the driver's side window, Hannah on his lap, and then Lex, Paul, and Ed (and Peanuts) against the passenger's side window. Owen insisted that he would not be left behind, and joined Curt in the trunk.

"What about John?" Tim asked, looking over his shoulder to Hannah. She simply pointed up.

John, being mostly-non corporeal, wouldn't take up any space inside the car, but now that people could see him, it would be a bit of a headache. So instead, he sat on the roof, as he wouldn't have to worry about wind or the car accelerating and knocking him off.

Curt and Owen, who did have to worry about such things, fashioned a sort of harness to help keep them in the trunk. Last Hannah saw them, they were clearly entertained in each other's presence. In the week she had been gone, they seemed to have re-mended their relationship some. 

She was happy for them; Curt had been torn to pieces after he realized he'd hurt his partner. For days, he seemed in a daze, like he was just a memory rather than whole. She heard him screaming in the night more than once, and felt the buzzing in her bones. Owen's ears seemed to be healing just a bit — she hoped Curt was healing, too.

With everything packed and everyone settled as best they could, they drove off, leaving the Professor's house empty for the first time in ages. This mission was all hands on deck. Hannah hoped they didn't come back to find the house infested with the infected.

Watcher World was on the outskirts of the island, and the Professor's house was deep within the Witchwood. It would take maybe an hour to drive to the other side of the island, but from Hannah's place on Ethan's lap, she was doing alright.

However, they only lasted about ten minutes before everyone got bored. It was crowded and uncomfortable, but they were all stuck with each other, more so than usual.

"We could play a game?" Tim offered. "Do you know Around the World?"

The kids in the back shook their heads, but Paul perked up. "Oh, I used to play that!"

"Do you wanna play?"

"S-Sure?"

"We need more people," Tim looked up at Becky and his dad. Tom shrugged, which was a yes for him, and Becky nodded, but said she would need the rules explained.

Tim explained that it's simple — you just have to go around the car and spell out "around the world" in country or city names. With that, the rest of the car (minus the trunk spies and roof ghost) agreed to play.

Tim began. "America!"

Then Becky, "Russia."

Then Tom, "Uh. Shit, short end of the stick."

"Dad," Tim warned.

"Sorry, sorry. Uh. Ontario?"

"Does that count?" Asked Ed.

Tim nodded. "Countries and cities. That's a city."

"Ontario's a providence," Tom corrected.

"Well, that too then. We're on U!"

It was Lex's turn and she frowned. "Um. Oh!" She snapped. "United States."

"We already did America," Becky reminded.

"Yeah. But this is the United States."

"We'll count it," Tim shrugged.

Ed came in, confidently, with "Nantucket."

"Where's that?" Asked Lex.

"An island in Massachusetts," Tom explained. "Were you on the naval base there?"

Ed nodded, but was then cut off by time insisting they stop all the chatter and continue.

It was Ethan's turn, and with the same amount of confidence, he declared "Dakota."

"What?" Tim looked at the older boy, who shrugged.

"Yanno. North Dakota and South Dakota? Dakota."

"I don't think there's really a Dakota. Like, just Dakota."

"Kids right, babe," Lex nudged him. "Try again."

Ethan rolled his eyes and looked out the window, thinking. Hannah tapped his shoulder and whispered something to him, and he went, "Uh… Denmark?"

"That's one word," Tim nodded.

Paul piped up with "Tibet!"

And Hannah followed with "Houston."

"Oh yeah," Tim smiled. "That's in Texas. Are we from Texas?"

Tom shrugged. "I only know as far back as my gran, and she was from D.C., so…"

"I mean hey," Ethan looked over Hannah's shoulder. "Do I look green to you?"

"Your eyes are green," Tim countered.

"Shit, you're right."

Hannah laughed from on his lap, and the game continued. Lex tried to say Russia a second time but pulled through with Rome, and Ethan had to finish it off with another D, and but remembered Detroit existed and saved himself. 

The game and subsequent chatter bought a bit of time, and warmed everyone up. For the rest of the drive, there was light chatter, with John even peeking in once or twice. The sight of his head coming through the roof was very entertaining and a bit jarring. They also learned he did not have a reflection, as Tom couldn't see him in the rearview.

Everyone fell quiet as Watcher World came into view. The large parking lot for the park was, unsurprisingly, empty. The place had been closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, so naturally there was no one around when all hell broke loose.

 Hannah could feel something bad in the tense air. Webby chanting "The Watcher, the Watcher," in her mind didn't help.

For a moment, everyone stayed frozen in the car. With a big breath, Tom turned to look at everyone with a nervous smile. "Let's get it over with, right? We're this close to gettin' the hell out of here."

Everyone nodded, and quietly got out of the car. John had hopped down from the roof and was looking up over the walls of the park at the structures he could see. Hannah stood beside him and watched everyone unload.

Curt and Owen were fine, and unlike the rest of the car, still energetic and completely oblivious to the bad vibes that everyone else had sensed. Since Curt was now somewhat psychic but seemed fine, it gave Hannah a bit of hope that nothing would go wrong.

John had said it before. Why would Blinky want to stay in a ruined world? Now, though, he looked more unsure.

But they were here, and there was no turning back. Everyone gathered boxes and tools and supplies, and headed inside the gates. The first obstacle was to break the chain on the gates, which was easy enough. In the two months and plenty of snow since Black Friday, it had deteriorated somewhat.

Speaking of snow, it was still late January and there was plenty of it. They had brought jackets and gloves, but it was still cold enough to shiver.

And then they entered the park, and the snow was gone. 

Watcher World was not indoors, and from outside they would see snow on the tops of the ferris wheel and a couple roller coasters, but inside it was perfectly clear. It was even a little warm. And despite the lack of power, the purple fairy lights of the park were still shining brightly.

That being said, the park was still in ruin, more so than would be expected after being abandoned for only two months. Many of the structures were collapsing, and there were small ditches full of debris. Much of the metal was covered in rust.

Ethan frowned at the sight of it and held Hannah's shoulders. "Uh, try not to get hurt, guys. This dump's a tetanus goldmine."

"Yeah, obviously," Lex muttered, glaring suspiciously at the structures. "Hannah, stay close to me."

She looked between Lex, who was reaching for her but looking away, and up at Ethan, who still held her shoulders. She pulled on her braids. "Groups?"

"That's a good idea," John caught everyone's attention. "Essentially ten of us. Looks like Hannah and I are staying with Lex and Ethan. How about everyone else?"

"Are you sure we should split up?" Tom asked, hesitant. "If there are infected in here, we could get picked off."

"If there were infected in here, we'd have seen them already," John countered. "They'd have no reason to hide in an abandoned place like this. As Ethan said, we simply have to worry about normal injuries, so just keep an eye out."

"Alright," Tom shrugged. "Tim's stickin' with me, other than that, how are we splittin'?"

The groups ended up being Hannah, Lex, Ethan, and John, Tom, Tim, Becky, and Ed (and Peanuts, of course), and Owen, Curt, and Paul as the final group. Being stuck with a couple did not seem to sit well with poor recently-bereaved Paul, but he kept his mouth shut.

"Just shout if you get hurt, and try not to move too much. I'll come as quick as I can," Becky instructed, keeping the medical supplies close. "This place is empty, so it shouldn't be too hard to hear each other."

There was a mutter of agreement, and everyone split ways, Tom's group going to the back of the park to look for trucks, and Hannah's going to the left, and Curt's to the right.

The group was largely silent as they looked for scrap to collect, and Hannah was back on box duty, this time building them back up to be filled.

Ethan was quick and efficient, used to working on cars and was able to recognize parts that were more usable than others. Lex was slower, less certain, but when she saw Ethan had already filled a box, she picked up the pace. At first Hannah thought she had recognized what Ethan was deeming usable, but then she looked closer and saw that many of the pieces she had salvaged were rusted or bent out of shape or otherwise deteriorating.

After a bit, Ethan noticed, too. "Lex," he sighed, kneeling by the box. "You can't just throw shit in here. It has to be usable. Not crumbling to pieces."

Lex gave a deep, dramatic sigh, and turned around, hands on her hips. "Well, you aren't exactly helping me. I don't work with this junk, you do."

"You could've just asked for help, now we have to go through all this."

"It's all trash," she scoffed. "Not like this dumb idea's gonna work anyway."

"Hey!" Ethan stood. "What the hell's gotten into you? This is Hannah's idea, don't you trust her?"

"Of course I trust her!" She snapped. "She's my sister, jackass, I know her better than anyone, you think I'm gonna doubt her? After everything she's been right about?"

"It sounds like that's what you're doing! And yanno, I know her pretty well too, with how often I had to stand in for you."

"Stand in for me?! A babysitter is not the same as a sibling, Ethan!"

Hannah tugged on her braids, their fighting making her nervous. "Guys…"

"Quiet!" They yelled at her, and she jumped back. They barely seemed to notice as they continued their fight.

This wasn't like them.

John whistled, and the two looked to him, falling silent, but clearly annoyed. "Calm down. There is much to be done. Quickly throw out the unusable pieces and then work together. You'll get more done that way."

"Oh, fuck off," Lex rolled her eyes. "He can do it his damn self, come on Hannah."

She gestured for Hannah to come with her, but she stood frozen in place. Lex looked at her, glare increasing. "Hannah. Now."

Hannah took a step back. This was not like her. This was not the kind sister she knew. Lex looked more like their mother than herself.

"You're scarin' her," Ethan argued, stepping towards Hannah. "C'mon, Banana, let's get away from this jerk."

She stepped away from him too, paralyzed with indecision.

Ethan scoffed. "What, now you're afraid of me, too? I'm just trying to help you, kid."

"Yeah, great job helping," Lex snarked. "You just want to take her away like fucking everyone else."

"You know," he turned around, facing the older girl. "If you actually trusted a little more, you might actually have gotten out of Hatchetfield by now."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah."

"Who should I have trusted then, great wise one?"

"How about the literal social worker you guys got, huh? Duke or whatever? His job is to get kids out of shitty situations, but you just made shit harder for him."

"Oh please, as if a government-sanctioned nanny in a leather jacket is gonna be of any help."

"You wouldn't know! You didn't give him a chance! You also didn't give my dad a chance!"

"Your dad isn't gonna do shit! He's a mechanic, what use is that to us?"

"He might've been willing to help get us out of here if you'd have told him what was fucking happening!"

Hannah looked to John, who was watching with increasing concern. "This feels wrong," she heard him mutter.

"The Watcher," Webby stated, solemn. "The Watcher. Makes them angry. Bitter. Jealous. ...Bloodthirsty."

John and Hannah looked at each other, stricken by Webby's explanation. She quickly pulled herself back together and ran up to the bickering teens, pulling on her sister's arm. "Stop, stop! The Watcher!"

"Hannah," Lex growled, rubbing her eyes. "What are you—"

"The Watcher. Blinky. Webby's brother," she pulled her brains as she hastily explained. "Wants this, he wants this. Makes you hurt each other."

"Oh, I'll hurt him alright," Lex threw a glare back at Ethan.

He scoffed. "You couldn't hurt me if you tried."

"Wanna bet, motherfucker?"

"No!" Hannah pulled Lex's arm again, holding her back. "No, no, stop it! You're not like this!"

"It's some kind of… malevolent influence," John explained, trying to get between the two despite his non corporeal form. "It probably feeds off of tension in relationships…"

He trailed off, and Hannah realized the same thing he did. All the groups had a couple. And even on their best days, all those couples had tension. 

When Lex first met this Ethan, she had a panic attack, and they had argued about money and such even before Black Friday. Curt had almost killed Owen at least twice, and from what Hannah knew, he actually did back in his own time. Tom and Becky were both widows, they had been out of each other's lives for decades, and Tom had a son he'd die for.

Before she could voice her realization, a gunshot echoed out, and everyone jumped, Hannah covering her ears.

On the bright side, the sound seemed to snap Lex and Ethan out of their argument as they looked for the source of the sound.

"Who had a gun?" Ethan dared to ask.

"The spies do," Lex swallowed. "Ed had the rifle."

"That was a handgun," John told them, voice tense. "It was one of the spies."

"We should—"

"Hurry!" Hannah cut her sister off, running towards the other side of the park. She hoped there were no injuries. Curt and Owen seemed to have been doing so well, and with Curt's powers, surely they could fight the strange energy. 

John was right at her side, Lex and Ethan not far behind. She held her breath as she entered an unfamiliar area of the park.

She soon heard loud arguing, and not long after, she found Paul, hiding behind a bench. She stood at his side and looked for the other two. "Heard a shot, a gunshot, why?"

"I-I don't know," Paul shrugged, voice flat but afraid. She spotted a gun on the ground beside him. "They were fine, but then they just… I don't know, there was a mix-up and they started arguing. Curt got Owen's gun away so I took it and ran. All I know is I'm not getting anywhere near two highly-trained and armed spies while they're having a lovers quarrel—"

Lex and Ethan approached, asking similar questions, and Hannah ignored the rest. Instead, she headed in the direction opposite of the bench, towards the voices.

It wasn't long before she spotted them. While Paul had gotten at least one of the guns away, it seemed their argument had continued. It was worse than Lex and Ethan's.

"I swear, you are the most incompetant spy I've ever heard of," Owen huffed. "You have no place as a leader, you're just going to get us all killed! And this is the perfect example!"

"You listen here," Curt was yelling louder than was probably necessary — Hannah assumed it was so Owen could actually hear him. She wondered if he was that petty, or that a part of him cared strongly enough to communicate in the way Owen seemed to prefer. "You have no right to tell me that I'm incompetant. You don't know half the shit I've been through since when you left off! I've been on my own, I've succeeded on my own, and you're gonna call me incompetant?"

"Was it really on your own? Or are you just taking credit for other people's hard work again, you lazy drunkard?"

Curt faltered, but didn't lower his volume. "I've had a little help more recently, but that does not change the fact that I've accomplished more than you could dream of!"

"Typical Curt, lying to make himself seem more palatable!"

"Typical jerk, having to dig a damn hole for me to stand in so you can feel better about yourself!"

"Now you're projecting again! I'm not the one who can't control himself enough to not deafen someone!"

"It was an accident! What would you have done to stop them all, huh?"

"Thought about it for another two seconds you fucking moron!"

"Two more seconds and we'd have been fucking dead! Maybe you'd be happier as a singing zombie, huh? I can help you with that."

"Oh please, Curt. You're an arrogant, impulsive brute, but you couldn't kill me if the world depended on it."

"Oh-ho-ho, you have no idea."

"Enlighten me, then!"

"I'll fucking do it again!" Curt reached into his jacket, and Hannah rushed forward, screaming. The two paused and she ran into Curt, holding him in a hug to keep his arms put.

"No more fighting! It's a trick!"

"Let go, Hannah," his voice was cold, unlike she'd ever heard it before. "This is your only warning."

"If you harm her at all, I promise you'll live to regret it," John snarled, and she could see Curt's eyes flick to him for a moment, the purple lights of the park reflecting in his irises.

Hannah did not let go, and he struggled against her. He was significantly stronger, and got out quickly shoving her to the side.

Hannah expected to fall just a moment and land on her butt, but she felt a moment of weightlessness and realized that was not the case. She was falling much longer than she was supposed too, and she could see a ledge.

A ledge she had fallen over.

So that's what started the argument. Someone probably almost fell in. Just like she was. The fear took a moment to kick in.

She saw John reaching for her, nearly-solid, but there were more hands than just his own. And his were not the hands that caught her.

Owen, all but jumping over the side, was the one who caught her, his iron grip on her arms leaving her wondering if he wouldn't break her bones. 

And holding onto him was Curt, torso atop Owen's legs to prevent him from falling further, arms around his waist.

Hannah looked down. While the pit was not too terribly deep, it was still at least twice her height and full of shrapnel from a fallen structure of some kind. She might've avoided death if she landed right, but she definitely would've gotten hurt.

Curt pulled Owen up, and gave Hannah a hand out. John kneeled at her side, looking her over. She could feel the faint press of his hand as he guided her how to move her arms and face.

She was less focused on John at the moment, however, and more so on the pair of spies. They looked almost confused at what had just happened. Maybe it was the angle, but Hannah couldn't see the purple light in Curt's eyes anymore.

She looked up. Above her was clear skies, no buildings. The fairy lights were strung up around the park, but they stayed close to structures, and not the more open areas like this. How was the light reflecting earlier if it wasn't even present?

The moment didn't last long, and Hannah was snapped back into reality by Owen decking Curt. "This is exactly what I was talking about! If it weren't for me, you'd have just killed a child!"

"Weren't for you?" Curt laughed, standing back up. "If it weren't for me, you'd be dead right along with her."

"Not if you hadn't shoved her in the first place, you imbecile! And why would you reach for your gun? We both know you're out of bullets, with your trigger finger."

"Well! I didn't think about that!"

"Of course you didn't! You don't think about anything! That's how you deafened me, and now you almost killed Hannah!"

"Since when have you cared about her, huh? You're just a cold-hearted memory of a man, waiting for somebody to take pity on you so you can manipulate them. It's all about Owen! Owen's plans, Owen's feelings! Well fuck you, Owen!"

There was a pause, and Hannah almost thought that the two had snapped out of it again. Then she saw the purple gleam in Owen's eye as he tackled Curt to the ground.

Hannah backed away, but then remembered the pit. She looked over her shoulder to make sure she wasn't too close to the edge and promptly froze, dumbfounded.

The pit was gone. The hole, the shrapnel, all of it. Gone. Like it was never there in the first place.

"S-Seeing things?" Hannah asked.

"Maybe?" Webby sounded unsure. "Brothers… build on lies. On doubt. On want. Blinky's realm. Maybe can change. Not sure, sorry…"

"It's okay," Hannah looked away. The missing pit gave her a bad feeling. "Doesn't matter."

"Hey!" Lex came running up, shouting. Instead of running to Hannah, like she normally would, she instead ran to the wrestling spies and kicked them. "What the fuck is wrong with you! Dumbasses, both of you! We're supposed to be collecting shit, and you're out here shooting at each other?"

"I don't see you doing much work," Curt spat, Owen pinned under him. The thinner spy shoved him off and stood.

"How about a change of pace?" He asked, louder than needed for how close Lex was. "I'm afraid I can't work with this disaster of a man anymore."

Curt stood too, dusting himself off. "Yeah, well I don't wanna be near you either, asshole! We're done!"

"We're through!" Owen shouted back. Curt flipped him off as he walked away. He didn't give Hannah anything more than a passing glance, but she saw the purple light in his eyes again.

He didn't get very far before the honk of a car horn stopped everyone. Ethan and Paul were approaching, looking towards one of the wider paths. Sure enough, a truck came around the corner, careful to avoid those in the way. 

The horn honked again, Tom smirking with pride. From the center seat, on Becky's lap, waved Tim with a wide smile. Ed sat in the passenger seat, petting Peanuts, the rifle at his side.

"At least someone has had some success," John sighed. "We need to get out of here. Even if Blinky himself isn't here, this aura, or whatever it is, seems to function without him."

Hannah nodded, defeated. They'd be stuck here a while yet.

The truck stopped, and everyone hopped out. They all seemed fine, unaffected by whatever the park was doing, though they were confused by the angry and now dirt-covered spies. 

"Doesn't seem like we've had a whole lot of collectin' happen," Tom said, looking around. "But we've done pretty well. And! We found an in-tact building. I looked inside, it looks like some kind of spare parts garage. Everybody pile in the back and we'll head on over. Hell, it might be all we need."

The duo of couples sighed, but begrudgingly agreed. Paul was hesitant, but didn't speak up.

Hannah looked at John. "Okay?"

He thought for a moment, and shrugged, standing, instinctively offering a hand that Hannah sadly phased through. "If it's as he says, then it may be worth it. Once we have all the materials, we don't have to risk leaving the base anymore, save for the planting of the detonation device."

Hannah nodded, and she and John joined the majority of the group in the back of the truck. She held tight to the bars on the side, afraid she'd fall off into some invisible pit.

It was a short, silent ride to the garage. It looked about how Hannah figured a garage in an amusement park would look. It was connected to a handful of other buildings that looked to be storage or offices, most of them falling apart. The back of the building was up against the walls of the park, leaving only one entrance and exit in the form of the large garage door, which was luckily open. Inside, Hannah could see a swinging, flickering yellow light — the only light in the park she'd seen so far that wasn't purple.

"Safe?" Hannah asked her guardians. Something about the building, the light, gave her a bad feeling. 

"It seems stable enough," John noted. "Not that the park should be in this state of disrepair after such a short amount of time."

Webby, on the other hand, was quiet. When she spoke up, she sounded confused. "Can't see."

"Can't see?" Hannah repeated.

"Can't see. Inside. Blocked?" She huffed. "Don't know. Time, space… strange, here. Like Black and White."

Hannah bit her lip and nodded. "Be quick. We'll be quick. It'll be okay. Right?"

"Right," John nodded, and she could almost feel him pat her head. She adjusted the Warriors' cap and hopped out of the truck.

Tom, Ethan, Becky, Tim, and Paul were already heading inside the garage, but Owen, Curt, Ed, and Lex were standing around, playing rock-paper-scissors. Lex lost first, then Owen, and finally Ed, leaving Curt the victory, though he didn't look happy about it. Ed handed him the rifle, and the trio went inside.

Hannah hopped up to Curt with wide eyes. "What was that?"

He fiddled with the gun, making sure it had ammo. "Tom said somebody who can use a gun had to stay out here and keep watch. We Rochambeau'd for it and," a shrug, "looks like I'm on guard duty."

She pulled on her fingers, frowning, trying to get a good look at his eyes. "Are you… okay?"

Another shrug. He was in the shadow of the building, and she couldn't get a good look. He didn't seem like he was going to say anything else, either.

John frowned, and Hannah felt anxiety building, but they left him to his job and entered the garage.

There was, as Tom said, a lot of parts and metal pieces in fairly good condition. He was already ordering everyone to sections of the garage, explaining what to look for, and so on. Hannah and Tim were assigned to smaller pieces and bolts and the like, putting them into boxes and loading them into the truck.

They had a lot of work ahead of them, but after this, they were so close to leaving. It was worth it. It was possible. And maybe everyone would feel better after leaving the park.

The yellow light swung as everyone got to work, ominously different amidst the purple of the park.

Hannah shook it off. There was work to be done.

Chapter Text

It was time-consuming work. Hannah wasn't sure if it was just boring or if the eldritch influence in Watcher World really was slowing everything down, but it felt like hours and seconds all at once. She and Tim had gotten a lot of bolts, a lot of small pieces of scrap. They had several boxes loaded onto the truck on their own.

Hannah made a habit of talking to Curt, however briefly, before returning to the garage. It was making her increasingly uncomfortable. She hoped gauging another psychic's reaction would put her at ease, or give her reason to speak up.

Curt was uncharacteristically blank. She caught him whispering to himself, white-knuckled, more than once. It made her all the more worried.

Inside was not much better. Lex and Ethan were cold to each other at best, and they had started arguing several times, most of which were broken up by a confused and concerned Tom. 

They just had to pull through. The sooner they got everything, the quicker they could get out of this terrible place. And then, hopefully, everyone would go back to normal.

The day was getting late, and the truck was getting full. Tom had estimated only another hour or so of work, if they could keep up the pace.

Hannah and Tim worked together to carry a heavier box to the truck, with John walking alongside them, looking ready to jump into action if either of them, or the box, fell. Everyone knew that it was more likely he wouldn't be able to help, but Hannah had seen him do this many a time now. It was clearly just some kind of instinct for him.

The box was pushed onto the truck, and Hannah adjusted the Warrior's cap. Tom called for Tim, and he hurried back inside. Hannah went over to check on Curt again, like usual.

"Hello," she stood in front of him, rolling up her sleeves. While the snow was mysteriously missing, the air was still pretty chill, and it was nice on her now-sweaty skin. Moving was hard work.

Curt did not respond. Hannah bit her lip. "Hello?"

After a few more moments of silence, he took a deep breath, shaking his head. Hannah briefly felt the buzzing in the back of her head before it was promptly silenced again.

Curt looked at her, something strange and menacing in his eyes. "What're you standin' around for, kid? We don't have time for talk."

His tone made her flinch, but part of her was glad that he was at least responsive again. She hurried inside the garage, John trailing behind her with a frown.

"You saw his eyes, right?" He asked her.

She looked up at him and nodded. As Curt was scolding her, there was a flash of color in his eyes. Not the purple she'd seen earlier, when he fought Owen. It was a quick, but distinct flash of yellow. A yellow she could've sworn she'd seen before.

She looked around the garage and spotted the lightbulb. It wasn't swinging anymore. The light it gave off was not the bright yellow from before, or the purple of the rest of the park, but a faint and dusty white. Like a normal, dirty lightbulb.

It popped, and Hannah jumped, covering her head from the small pieces of falling glass. At the same time, the wire holding the garage door snapped, and the large, metal door of the garage came rolling down, headed right for her.

She heard John call her name, but it was Tom who managed to grab her and pull her full in the garage before the door could land on her. She held tight to him, since she had no one else to hold on too. Tom wasn't the same shape as John — he was softer, but somehow Hannah liked it less.

After the loud crash, she looked up. She saw John beside her, but like everyone else in the room, he was looking at the now-shut door that had narrowly missed killing her.

Without the light from the bulb and the door now closed, the garage was dark. The big metal door had a few long windows at the top that let in some light, but it somehow made the area seem much more tense. The air felt stagnant, like everyone and everything was waiting for something.

There was a loud banging, and everyone jumped.

"Hello?" Shouted a voice from the other side of the garage door. Hannah sighed in relief; it was just Curt.

Lex knocked back. "Hey! Dude, you gotta help us open this thing!"

"Are you crazy?" Curt's voice was a little muffled, but obviously annoyed. "There's no way I can lift this! Isn't there a switch or something?"

"Probably, but the wire broke," Lex looked up at it. "Guess this place is shittier than we thought."

"Well, there are windows! Just climb through them!"

"They're too high up, dumbass!"

"Ever heard of a ladder, kid?"

Lex groaned. "Dude, just. Go find a crowbar or some shit. Or another way in here. I don't wanna fuckin' die here."

Owen pressed his ear against the door. "Is it Curt?" After a nod from Lex, he shouted, "Just get us out of here! I'm sure you'll find a way. Cynthia would've killed you forever ago if you weren't at least somewhat competent."

Hannah couldn't hear Curt's response, but she hoped that he was cooperating and looking for another way in. To his credit, there was probably no way they were getting the garage door open. 

She pulled away from Tom, who patted her on the head before looking around. 

Ed was also looking around, Peanuts on his shoulder. "I swear I saw another door somewhere around here. Where'd it go…?"

"Wouldn't we have seen a door earlier?" Asked Ethan, sitting on some kind of concrete slab. "Let's just find a sledgehammer or two and break down a wall."

"That wouldn't work," Lex scoffed, crossing her arms. "If this place is already falling apart, knocking a hole in the wall is just gonna make the whole damn thing collapse."

"Oh, wow, I didn't know you were an expert in structural engineering, Lex."

"That's not even a thing."

"So you admit you don't know what you're fucking talking about?"

"Are we really doing this again?!"

"Hey!" Tom yelled, shutting up the teens. "Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you two? I know this is stressful but come on—"

"Go have your fucking war flashbacks and leave us alone," Lex spat, storming off into a corner.

Tom stayed where he was, taken aback by the comment. "First of all, I don't get flashbacks—"

"Yeah, I totally believe that."

"Secondly," he pressured, "Lex, I don't appreciate you talkin' to me like that."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Houston," she turned to face him, scowling, eyes purple. "What are you gonna do, give me a detention?"

"This isn't school, kid," he growled. "If you aren't workin' with us, you're against us."

"Wait—" John tried to interrupt, but was talked over.

"Then I guess I'm against you!" Lex laughed. "The world's against me, and I'm against it! You included. Thanks for all your help, see you on the other side!"

"You know what?" Tom shook his head. "You're right. You should just give up. Because that's all you fuckin' can do, isn't it? Can't get along with your boyfriend, can't be there for your sister—"

"You don't get to talk about Hannah."

"You're just like your mother, Lex! A burnout who's too scared to try and make anything better."

"Well I'm better off than you! Mr. Peaked-in-high school! Mr. Life-ended-when-my-wife-died!"

"At least I peaked, Lex. At least I got to have a nice life for five fuckin' seconds!"

"That's enough!" John shouted louder, hoping both would hear him. Hannah hesitantly got closer so that he could, too. "We've been trapped here for just a couple minutes and you're already at each other's throats. This is not what we need."

Tom turned and glared at him, his eyes the same shade of purple as Lex's. Hannah shuddered. It was just like Black Friday, but with a different color. And he had been doing so well.

"Aren't you a General?" Tom approached, and Hannah took a few steps back. "Do you let your soldiers talk to you like this?"

John's face hardened as he looked up at Tom. "No, but this is not the army, and you all are not soldiers. This argument is baseless, and is the fault of the Lord that used to reside here. He seems to have had some sort of aura to turn people against each other, and many of us have fallen victim to it."

"Back to the imaginary friends, huh," Ethan grumbled.

"Not imaginary," Hannah insisted. "Wish they were imaginary…"

Ethan sat up and looked at her with intense, purple eyes. Normally, she didn't get nervous around Ethan, but he wasn't himself. Her gaze flicked to the slit in his eyebrow.

"You know what's goin' on, don't you?" He asked. Hannah didn't answer, and he stood, moving closer. "You just can't fucking be normal, can you?"

John stood in front of Hannah, rapidly growing more solid. "Ethan, stand down."

The boy smirked. "So the ghost is gonna stop me? Haunt me to death, possess me?"

"Ethan," he insisted, "think this through. You care for Lex, and you care for Hannah. You don't want to hurt them."

"Feelings can change."

"But yours haven't. This is all an elaborate illusion, a scheme to make us kill each other. We need to find a way out of here and get back to base."

"That's the first smart thing I've ever heard you say," chimed in Lex from her corner. 

John adjusted his vest. "I've a bad feeling that we aren't as alone as we think we are here. Something's been watching us, been inciting things for us to argue about so that tensions rise. It might've even made the garage door fall. In which case… it may be trying to harm Han—"

John was suddenly cut off. No one in the room moved. Everyone was staring at him. Or, rather, where he had just been.

Owen was the first to speak, after looking around for several moments. "I'm not the only one who stopped hearing him, right?"

"Where'd he go?" Tom whispered the question instead of answering Owen's. As the conversation continued without him, Owen huffed and went back to trying to unscrew some rather stubborn bolts to remove a piece from a larger structure.

"Hannah," Ed asked, "do you still see him?"

She shook her head, holding back her panic. "Always hear him. Lexie always see him." She looked with pleading eyes to her sister.

The older girl shook her head. "He just… disappeared."

"Maybe he passed over?" Ethan suggested. Hannah couldn't tell if he was serious or not.

"He's not a ghost," Lex said, slowly walking over to where John had just been. "Banana… you can't hear him?"

She closed her eyes and strained her ears, but heard nothing. And in that moment she had a second blood-chilling realization. "Can't hear him. A-And… haven't heard Webby. Not since… since before we came in here."

"They're both just… gone?"

"Webby said… said it was like the Black and White. Time and space… strange. Couldn't see. The future, couldn't see it."

"What does that mean for us?" Tim asked, holding onto Becky's arm. "She couldn't see what happened to us, s-so should we have even come in here?"

"Probably not," Lex sighed. "Let's just hope Curt finds that door. Are you sure you don't remember where it was?"

Ed shrugged, pulling up his hood. "I… It was near the back, but I haven't seen it in a while. Doors don't just disappear, do they?"

"Would, um, strange space constitute disappearing doors?" Paul suggested, tapping his fists. "I mean, space isn't just outer space. Maybe that's why John disappeared, too."

Hannah shrugged. "Maybe. Don't know. Can't hear. Sorry…"

"Don't be sorry," Ethan kneeled beside her, eyes a natural green. Lex joined him, hers a kind and familiar brown. "It's not all on you to figure out. We just… gotta stay in our right minds, right? That's what John was sayin'."

Hannah nodded, hugging the two of them close. She felt very alone in her mind, and she wanted reassurance that she wasn't alone in reality, too.

Tom rejoined Becky and Tim and looked around. "Why would some… eldritch creature hang out at an amusement park? Especially an abandoned one."

"Maybe it wanted to be alone," Ed suggested. "Or maybe it lures people here to eat them."

"Nooo, you've got the wrong dipshit brother there, Eddie!" A strange and almost cartoonish voice cackled. Hannah froze, feeling a shudder run down her back. 

Lex rubbed her shoulders. "What's up, Banana?"

Hannah looked up at her sister. "You didn't hear?"

"Hear what?"

"I heard it," Ed looked over, frozen in his spot. "I heard it."

"I did too," Tim whimpered. "He sounds creepy. Like Goofy."

"Goofy the dog?" Becky asked, keeping the boy close between herself and his dad. Tim nodded. "I definitely didn't hear anything like that."

"Wrong brother," Hannah pulled on her braids. "Said wrong brother. One of… I think it's one of Webby's brothers."

"Didn't she say one of her brother's ran the park or something?" Tom asked. "That's what John told me at least. But he said he thought the guy would be gone."

Hannah shook her head. "Wrong brother."

"How many brothers does Webby have, anyway?"

"Five," John confirmed. "She's the youngest, believe it or not."

"John!" Hannah jumped up and reached for him. She was surprised and relieved to not phase through him this time. He patted her head, and she tried not to cry. "Where'd you go?"

"Nowhere," he gave a wide, toothy smile. "I was here the whole time. It seems some sort of fluctuation in our connection caused me to disappear from you all for a bit."

"And now," Ethan reached out and poked him, "you're solid again?"

"For now, it seems," John nods. He looks at Hannah with a wide smile, enough to make him squint. Almost enough to hide the yellowish-blue of his irises. Almost.

"I hope you weren't too lost without me," he teases.

Hannah stands, not looking him in the eye, and nods. "We were okay." 

She had a strong gut feeling that she could not let him know she was onto him. That she had to think up a plan first, before pointing it out. The only issue was she had no idea what to do.

The imposter looked around the room. "Now. If we're all settled, Curt should be coming around soon. Shouldn't we pack what we can take through the other door?"

"Assuming we can find it," Tom shrugged, looked over his shoulder, and froze. "...Huh."

Hannah followed his line of sight, and very easily saw the door. There was almost a spotlight on it. Impossible to miss.

So how had they missed it earlier?

A few people began to rush over to it, but were stopped by John calling out "It's locked from the other side. Hence why I said we should wait for Curt."

He stood casually, smiling all the while. Anxiety churned in Hannah's stomach. She couldn't be the only one who saw he was different, right?

A gentle tug on her arm guiding her further away from her confirmed it. At the very least, Lex and Ethan knew something was up. She saw Tim, Becky, and Paul had similar concerned looks.

This imposter was not very good at replicating John. It's presence, of course, begged the question of what happened to the real John. It wasn't McNamalien, he wore his hair differently and, in a strange way, was still John. 

This, whoever this is, was not John. It wasn't something controlling him. It was something pretending to be him.

And Hannah still couldn't think of a plan. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, someone else started searching for answers.

"How do you know Curt is almost here?" Becky asked, keeping Tim behind her, her one eye gleaming with suspicion.

Not-John grinned at her, chuckling softly. "He's got a capable enough head on his shoulders. I'm surprised he's not already here."

"Maybe the way out is more complex," she argued. "Or maybe he isn't coming at all. But you sound… confident."

Not-John shrugged. "He's a man out of his own time."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Aha!" Owen shouted, triumphant. There was a wobble of metal as he removed the large piece he had been working on by his lonesome. 

Turning around, he spotted John, and raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you're back? I didn't hear you."

For a second, Hannah saw nothing wrong with that sentence, until she remembered that, inexplicably, Owen was able to hear John perfectly.

She was clearly not the only one, as Becky steeled herself against the imposter. "Who are you?"

"Johnathan Jeffrey McNamara," he idly checked his nails. Hannah found herself angry — that was not how John introduced himself.

Becky shook her head. "No, you aren't. Who— What are you? What are you doing here, where's the real John?"

She gestured for Tim to run to Ed, which he did, and she approached the imposter. Hannah had a bad feeling that she didn't have a plan either.

Not-John was quiet for a moment, biting his tongue, before he shrugged. "Do you really want to know?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Well," he rolled his neck, popping it. "Don't say I di dn't warn you, Barbie."

Before she could question the nickname, the light flickered, as if someone was struggling to pull blinds over the windows in the garage door. It flicked once, twice, and then the garage was plunged into pitch-darkness.

A yellow light flicked on, like a spotlight, illuminating the imposter, still under the appearance of John. He had his back to Hannah, presumably facing Becky.

The light flickered, like a slow strobe, or someone flipping a lightswitch on and off. As it flicked, the figure changed.

His hair grew long and matted, shifting from a golden brown to neon yellow. His skin similarly changed color, growing fur that enveloped any exposed flesh. The hair and the fur grew over his black clothes and fused into one mesh of bright yellow. Hands and feet fused into hooves, brown and chipped. A pair of long, twisted horns, the same color and level of degradation as the hooves, grew from his head. Hidden amongst the sea of yellow were patches of a moldy green and grey.

And good lord, the smell. As the fur grew, so did the distinct scent of rot and death. It hung in the air like a hanged corpse and Hannah found it hard to breathe.

She took a shuddering, gasping breath and then covered her mouth with her hands. The light was still flickering. Like a poorly-made flipbook, the creature turned, looking over his shoulder with bulging blue eyes and rectangular pupils, right at her. A tongue lolled from his mouth between teeth in varying states of decay, and Hannah swore he was smiling at her.

The light flicked again, and he was gone.

Hannah felt paralyzed with fear, alone in the darkness, with the beast now missing from where she could see him. She could go into the light, if she could make herself move, but every instinct she had was screaming not too. 

She stayed where she was and held her breath. It was just like hiding from her mother. She would hide, no one would find her, and she would be safe, just like always.

The lightbulb flickered out. It was pitch dark. She stayed where she was. She kept holding her breath. 

She felt something scrape down her back. It stabbed into her and down, as if she were on an autopsy table being cut open. She bit back a scream. It wasn't real. 

The feeling went away, replaced with a shiver as a loud, cacophonous laugh rang in her ears. "You're a brave one, Raggedy Hann. But you shouldn't save your breath! It's gonna run out someday."

Hannah's lungs felt full of lead. She pulled at her collar, her neck, hoping there was something around it, to no avail. She couldn't breathe. It was a familiar feeling, but it still evoked a primal fear.

She tried to cough, gasp, hack, wheeze, scream. Anything to get air in or out or preferably both. It wasn't long before her knees felt weak and her mind spun. 

In the second before her knees gave out, the lead was gone and she took in as much air as humanly possible. It smelled like death and she thought she might be sick.

She sat, panting, catching her breath, and the laughter returned, echoing through the darkness.

In the blink of an eye, the goat-thing was mere inches from her face, clear as day amidst the darkness, screaming and cackling at the top of his lungs, and in her terror she screamed back, hands flying up to cover her ears.

The goat screamed louder, more painful, and there was a flash of white light. And, as if Hannah had just blinked, the darkness was gone. She was right where she remembered being, behind Lex and Ethan, though she had fallen to her knees. Everyone was accounted for and seemed okay, if not a bit shaken.

Yet, the room felt wrong. The light was yellow. He wasn't gone. And John wasn't back.

Those who had weapons had them drawn. Ed was keeping Tim close, letting the boy hold Peanuts as a means of minor distraction. Lex gave Hannah a hand up and held it tight.

"What the hell is that thing?" She whispered.

"Brother," Hannah said. She wasn't sure who exactly — not Wiggly, and not Blinky. The Infected were controlled by Pokey, and she was pretty sure this wasn't him either. But she knew he was one of them. "We need to leave."

Paul was nearest the door, now that it was visible, and he turned the doorknob. Sadly, just as the creature said, it was locked. It had a window, but the glass was reinforced, and it was too thin for someone to put their hand through anyway.

"Maybe there's a key?" Paul suggested, frantic, turning to face the rest of them. "People leave keys behind all the time."

"The last time this place was open," Tom scratched his head, "would've been two days before Black Friday. They probably locked up before they left."

"Then why was the garage door open?" Becky asked. "We didn't open it, we found it that way, right? Wouldn't they have closed that, too?"

"Maybe it was a trap."

"Smart thinking, Red Ryder," the creature laughed. Everyone looked around, not seeing him, before a bad feeling made Hannah look up.

And there he was, hanging from the beams in place of the lightbulb. There was a noose around his neck, but he looked no more dead than he had before. "Listen up, toys and girls!" He chimed as he swung. "I've an announcement to make!"

The rope snapped and he plummeted to the ground. He landed with a splat, but there was no blood, and he bounced up to a standing position in a flash, like a bouncy ball. The goat struck a pose and his voice darkened. "You're not fucking making it out of here alive."

Owen fired, having gotten his gun back from Paul, and people jumped back, or hit the deck. The goat stood standing limply.

Hannah saw the bullets hit him. He was a big target, it wouldn't be too hard. And yet, he acted as if nothing happened.

He cackled, stomping a cloven hoof on the ground, and she spotted something faintly shining amidst the concrete. Reddish-brown and dusty — some of it was on his fur, as well.

Rust. The bullets had rusted into powder.

"Nice try, Tiddlywinks," the goat looked over at him, a menacing gleam in his eye. "But you're out of your own time, too."

Hannah saw Owen suppress a shiver, clearly able to hear the creature's horrible voice now, when he suddenly dropped his weapon and let out a cry of pain.

Owen collapsed to the ground, laying on his back, gasping for breath. For a moment she thought he was experiencing what she had earlier, the inability to breathe, but it looked different. His arms and legs were in tense, pained positions, and she remembered a vision of falling, of seeing Curt's face. Was he the one who's eyes she had seen through? Was he falling now?

No one else had a gun but Curt; they were at the goat's mercy now, and Hannah could tell he had very little. 

Suddenly atop the ceiling beams again, the goat walked across them, faking imbalance as if it were a tightrope. "The name is Tinky," he introduced himself. "The Bastard of Time and Space. And this world is rotting like the corpses littered across it."

He stopped walking and gave a little hop. The beam creaked and groaned, bending down. Rust particles sprinkled down like snow. "This world, this timeline is fucking doomed! It's non-canon. Things didn't go how they were supposed too. Which means," he jumped again, and the beam bent and creaked more, "it's my fucking domain, now! I am the Lord of the Lost, the ruler of rot. And how lucky for me! I'll get to add sweet little Raggedy Hann to my toybox, right alongside G.I. Johnny!" 

He gave another spine-chilling cackle and jumped on the beam a third time. Ed pulled Tim away from it back closer to the garage door. Lex and Ethan did similar, moving into the center of the room. There wasn't much space to run.

He jumped again, and again, and again, still cackling. The beam shook and groaned and bent, rusting rapidly. Hannah could've sworn it was pulling the ceiling down. She held the Warrior's cap tight to her head with one hand, the other still grasping Lex's.

Suddenly, Tinky froze, silent. He hummed, and checked a watch that had spontaneously appeared on his wrist. "He's late."

Hannah held her breath. They already had one Lord to deal with, they didn't need another.

A sudden, loud SLAM of a door hitting a wall made her jump. She looked, hoping for the best, hoping for a savior, a way out.

It was Curt; he had kicked open the door from the looks of it, and had the rifle at the ready. Just as Hannah was getting her hopes up, he looked her way, and they met eyes. Her scared brown ones, and his deep, raging purple. 

He laughed, breathless and rough, stepping further into the room. "Guess what, fuckers?" He shouted, aiming the gun at Lex. "Dumbasses never learn!"

Hannah screamed, leaping forward. She hoped it would give Lex the chance to duck, or run away. Another part of her wondered if the light would come back. The light that seemed to scare Tinky, that made the darkness go away. Maybe it would snap Curt out of it.

Ultimately, it did neither. All she succeeded in doing was startling Curt bad enough that he stumbled back, tripped, and fired the gun up towards the beam Tinky was standing on.

The goat disappeared, and his sinister cackling echoed around the room, blending with the sound from the gunshot. "Nice shootin', Sheriff!"

Hannah heard it before seeing it. The creaking, groaning, crumbling sound of the beam finally snapping. The rifle shot was the last bit it could take, it seemed.

She watched the beam snap and hang by a cord from the ceiling, much like Tinky had earlier. She watched the ceiling give way and fall, creating a large whole in the roof.

And she watched the concrete and the steel from the roof fall down, down, down onto a terrified Ed and Tim.

The collison sent up a cloud of dust and dirt. When it settled, Hannah took a deep breath. The suffocating smell and taste of the dust was not enough to cover the lingering scent of death and rot caused by Tinky. 

And now, Hannah assumed, by Ed and Tim.

Her knees gave out beneath her.

Through all the noise in her head she heard Tom scream, saw him run across the room to the rubble pile. Watched him dig at it bare-handed, calling for his son all the while. She watched Becky, and Paul, and even Lex and Ethan join in the effort. Curt, like Hannah, was watching in mute horror, until he blinked, brown-eyed, dropped the rifle, and rushed over.

Owen was still paralyzed on the floor, and Hannah was lost in her own head. A boy younger than herself had just died.

Tinky did say they weren't getting out of here alive, didn't he? She should've trusted he'd make good on his promise.

Tears welled in her eyes. Tim was a kid. She was a kid.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she shuddered. She wanted Duke. She wanted Ethan. She wanted Lex. She wanted Webby.

She wanted John.

She felt a stabbing in her back, in and down, as if she were on an autopsy table and being cut open. More real this time.

Then, her vision was filled with a faint, translucent gold.

~~~

"-nah in particular…" John trailed off. He was suddenly… somewhere else. Mid-sentence, he had gone from the garage to someplace dark. It reminded him of the black and white.

As he stood, neon yellow lines streaked through the darkness, outlining a hallway, doors, and the floor. Hesitantly, he walked down the hallway, peeking into the open doorways.

Many of them were dark, or empty with another door on the other side, but some of them made him pause.

One door, when he looked in, was the snowy landscape of Hatchetfield. He saw Hannah, raised into the air, being choked by the Infected version of himself. He watched as the world seemed to shatter for a moment, and suddenly there he was — the real him. He pulled his gun and emptied it into his imposter, making him drop a limp Hannah into the snow.

John remembered it well, as much as he'd like to forget. He pulled himself away from the window into the past and continued.

Another door revealed a cherry-tree forest he recognized from D.C.. He saw himself, dressed in his best, standing across from Ed at the altar. A young Corey stood nearby with the rings, very determined to do well at his job. John hurried from this memory faster than the last, his heart aching for his family.

Another one showed the portal at PEIP HQ. He saw it open, and a spacesuit-clad man came stumbling out. He saw himself and a red-haired woman rush to the astronaut, who tore off his helmet to reveal a deranged smile.

John didn't watch the rest. Experiencing that day once was more than enough.

There were flashes of other memories, but he didn't stop to look at them. He had to find a way out of whatever this place was. He had a sinking feeling that he had already been here for much too long.

"Hey buddy," a cartoonishly sinister voice spoke, and John spun to face it, one hand on his holster. The gun was long since out of bullets, but still made a good intimidation tactic.

The person he was faced with was not quite what he expected. It was a satyr. A goat's legs and tail, plus horns from his scalp. The fur of his legs was a mustard yellow, making it look almost fake. His human side looked mostly normal, until John looked closer and realized that his face was almost exactly John's own, save for his eyes. They were blue, with rectangular pupils, but there was enough of that same neon yellow in them to be concerning.

He was leaning against a wall casually, and snickered at the gun. "We both know it's empty, dipshit. And besides, is that any way to treat your host?"

John took a step back. "You live here?"

"More or less," the satyr shrugged. "You're welcome to be my guest as long as you like."

"I'm afraid I'll have to cut the visit short. Where is the exit?"

"Oh, yeah." He laughed, a manic chuckle. "There isn't one."

Setting his jaw, John stepped closer, standing tall, looming over the satyr. "You are not keeping me here. Either you tell me where the exit is, or I'll find it myself."

The satyr looked at him with big eyes before laughing again, louder this time, more deranged. He seemed to grow bigger and more inhuman as the laugh continued, until he was fully goatlike and towered over John.

"You're in the toybox, G.I. Johnny," the goat's tongue lolled out of it's mouth, yet didn't inhibit its speech. "You got away from me last time. Not again."

"Bastard," he jumped back. The goat cackled again.

"Exactly! Don't worry, Johnny." His grin changed to a look of gleeful malice as he again locked eyes with John. "You won't be alone for long. So just sit, back, relax. Maybe relive a memory or two. You won't be getting any more!"

The Bastard gave an ear-shattering cackle and came barreling towards John. He tried to run, but the goat was too fast, and butted him in the stomach, sending him flying down the hall, across the floor, through the doorway—

John woke up to his alarm clock going off. It felt like it had been ages since he last heard it, but he recognized the sound nonetheless. The sound that started his daily routine, and had done so for years. 

The alarm clock was its own item, bought from an antiques store. The clerk had been surprised, and asked why he didn't just set alarms on his phone. John fished the slide-phone he'd had since about 2004 from his pocket, and no further questions were asked.

Time was a precious thread in the fabric of reality, and it deserved its own unit of measurement. Ed was significantly more tech-savvy than him, but seceded that phones had kind of stopped being used as a phone. 

John wasn't nearly as retro as his sister, stuck in the 80s, but he found himself comforted that she was on the same page in this case. The more he thought about it, the more he figured it was probably their father's fault.

John had his watch; Lo had his jacket. Both gifts were given years prior to his death. It was all the two had of him, now.

John turned off the alarm and sat up. Ed wrapped his arms around John's back and hummed. "Do you have to go?"

"I was off yesterday," he reminded, patting his husband's head. Ed had cut his hair just a few days prior, in preparation for the holidays. It was Corey who had suggested he donate it, as he'd been maintaining long locks for years, and it was a good cause.

Ed looked very handsome with short hair. He hadn't seen it that length in years. It was a nice refresher.

John pulled one of Ed's hands from his waist and kissed it. "I wish I could stay, but I'll be back tonight."

"I'll make sure there's still some pie left over," Ed grinned, looking up at his husband with soft green eyes that hadn't aged in over a decade.

"I trust Corey won't take it all," he leaned down and kissed Ed's head. His husband let him go, and he went through his usual morning rituals of getting dressed and ready.

November 23rd, 2018, read the calendar. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and John had taken the day off to spend with his family. He saw Corey at work more often than not, but his son had moved out, and he liked having excuses to see him in a less professional setting. The three together had cooked a lovely dinner, with Ed's famous apple pie as the pièce de résistance.

He remembered it clearly. But as he saw the date, he remembered something else.

Wiggly. The Black and White. Hannah. Hatchetfield.

Where had they all gone? Was it a dream?

No, Hannah was not a dream. All the two had gone through was not a dream. He saw Ed and Corey at PEIP HQ; that was not a dream. And then there was the satyr—

The Bastard. The Bastard had thrown him. He had gone through a doorway, and the doorways had memories—

He walked out the door of his house and found himself in the hallway again. John hated that a part of him wanted to walk right back in and stay there, stay with Ed, forever. Relish in the moment before disaster, before everything went wrong.

He shook his head. It was a memory now. He had to be there for Hannah, and for Lex, and for the other survivors. He had to get back.

He turned a corner and the yellow outlines went away. In front of him was the Bastard, chuckling to himself. "Sure took you a while to get out of that one, huh?"

"Tell me where the exit is," he demanded.

"There isn't one!" He giggled. "But be honest. Is this really so bad? You know, normally people get fucking tortured to insanity in here, but I'm a nice guy! I gave you some nice memories!"

"I don't believe that there is no exit. I had to come in here somehow."

"You're a stubborn little splinter, aren'tcha?" The Bastard crossed his arms. "Let me guess. You're missin' little Raggedy Hann, huh? Don't worry. She'll be here soon enough."

"You will not," John raised his voice without meaning to, "lay a hand on her."

The goat laughed, much more sinister than before. "You have no control over what I do. But! Look, coming in here doesn't kill ya. It's immortality! In fact, she'd never get hurt again! That's something any damn parent wants!"

"You've already admitted you torture people here. Your word means nothing to me."

"Ohhhh," he shrugged, and before John could even blink, he had an arm wrapped around his shoulders. "C'mon, Johnny. We've got same face syndrome, you can trust me!"

Sure enough, the Bastard was now an exact replica of John, save for the eyes, and the smile. John did not grin like that. It made him cringe, and he walked out from the goat's hold. 

"If you won't tell me," John steeled himself to be rammed into again, "then I'll just find the exit myself."

The goat appeared in front of him again, back in goat form. "Hey, hey. Wanna see something fucked up?"

"No—"

John did not get a choice, and was grabbed by the shoulders. The Bastard licked John's face, and he pulled away, out of his grip, wiping the saliva from his face on his sleeve, the goat cackling all the while. 

When John opened his eyes again, he was back in the garage, standing over Owen, who was fighting to breathe, yet looked unharmed. 

The door slammed open and in came Curt, wielding the rifle, a wild look in his eye. He aimed for Lex, and Hannah screamed, making him stumble and the gun went off, shooting into the ceiling.

John watched it pierce through a rotting steel beam and then the ceiling. He watched the structure come down, right onto Ed and Tim. He watched everyone rush over to try and help.

John hovered over them for a moment, his heart breaking for the young boy, before noticing that Hannah, kind-hearted Hannah, had not joined them.

He looked around and saw her on her knees, crying. His heart broke for her, too. 

He approached and kneeled in front of her. "Hannah?" He asked, reached out to try and brush the tears away. She made no sign of having heard, seen, or felt his presence.

She wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered. John balled his hands into fists, biting his cheek. The disconnect was stronger than usual, surely the Bastard's fault, but how to reconnect?

He didn't have time to think. The Bastard was sitting across from him, behind Hannah, evil in his eyes and smile. He pressed his cloven hand to Hannah's back, and he saw her gasp. He saw the glint of blood.

"No!" He shouted, and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. As if it would do anything. But as he held her tight, as he glared at the Bastard with his own face, his vision became filled with gold. And the Bastard's cheeky grin fell into an expression of genuine surprise.

He felt a radiance within him, and could make out feathers within the golden vision. 

He remembered his father, his sister, and Lex, and Webby, and surely others all saying he had wings. He had a foggy memory of golden light in the Black and White and in PEIP HQ.

John hardened his glare against the Bastard, and the light grew stronger.

"I told you not to lay a hand on her."

~~~

Hannah felt the light solidify more than she saw it. It felt like a chest against her face, like arms wrapped tightly around her, like a head resting atop her own. She reached out and wrapped her own arms around it.

It was warm, it was solid, and she knew exactly who it was.

"John," she whimpered, holding tighter.

She felt him reciprocate the hug, speaking in a quiet voice. "It's alright. I'm here."

On one hand, she hated feeling weak. She hated hiding behind Lex and Ethan and John. She wanted to be strong like they were, she wanted to be able to protect them like they protected her. 

On the other hand, she wanted to be a kid. And kids were supposed to be protected. She wanted to feel happy and sad and anything else. She didn't want to have to put on a brave face everyday.

She heard people yelling near the rubble pile. She could hear Curt cursing himself, breathing quickly. She heard Tom talking to someone, and calling for more help. 

She should go help.

She stood up, and John stood with her, regaining color, but still shrouded in gold, with his wings wrapped around them both, a subconscious act of protection. He did not let her go, and was glaring at something over her head.

She looked over her shoulder to see Tinky, licking blood off his hoof. She tensed at the sight of him, and a spot on her back tingled.

No. No, she wouldn't back away, wouldn't hide behind John or his wings. She scared him off before; she could do it again.

She wiggled out of John's grip, much to his distress, and marched forward, standing in front of the enormous, rotting goat. The smell was suffocating, but she would not back down. She felt electricity in her palms, like when she fixed the lights, and broke out of the TV.

"Go away," she demanded, not very threatening. "You don't belong here."

The goat guffawed and loomed over her. "Oh, yes I do! Brave little Raggedy Hann, standing up to the big bad goat. What a stupid fucking storybook that is!"

"Go away!"

The goat only laughed more, and in a fit of rage and determination, Hannah stepped forward, reeling up her fist.

She swung, and hit his chest. The connection was pitifully weak — it wouldn't hurt a normal human, let alone an eldritch god. The fur felt sticky, like it was pulling her in, but the yellow of it was soon overtaken with white, and Tinky ceased his laughter.

The white spread out from the punch like a web, all across his body. He frowned. "Well, well, well. That was unexpected."

"Go away," Hannah repeated, and the web glowed. In a flash, the goat was gone. She knew, deep down, he wasn't gone forever. She hadn't killed him, merely sent him away.

And if he was a "ruler" of this world, he'd be back. They had to get moving.

For now, though, Hannah flapped her hands, and hugged John tight until he wasn't corporeal anymore. "Don't go again."

He kneeled to look her in the eye and smiled softly. Nothing like the imposter before. "I'll always come back, Banana. Always."

"Protect! Together!" Webby shouted, and Hannah jumped before being overcome with relief.

"Missed you too," she told the spider.

Webby laughed, but sounded exhausted. "Brothers blocked. Hannah broke through! Very brave, very strong!"

The reunion was cut short by a cough from Owen, who was sitting up. Whatever Tinky had done to him had worn off once he disappeared, it seemed.

The spy looked between Hannah and John, panting. "What'd I miss?"

Hannah smiled, glad to see he was somewhat okay, even if he still had fear in his eyes. She got through a bit of sending Tinky away when a  shout from Tom caught their attention.

"Tim!" He looked ready to sob with relief. "Tim, it's okay buddy, we're gettin' you out of there, just hold on."

She could faintly hear Tim shout something, but through the distance and the rubble, couldn't make out what. She saw Tom nod, and he moved closer to the rubble pile, moving his arms further into a hole he had made. "Okay, it's okay. I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying right here. You're gonna be just fine, Tim."

Hannah rushed over, John and Owen close behind. "Okay? They're okay?"

Tom looked over at them all and then back to the hole. "Ed's dead. Tim's hurt, but he's alive, we just gotta get him out of here. Can you help?"

Both corporeal people nodded, and joined the rest of the group to start digging.

They dug, but too much of the concrete and steel was too heavy to move alone, or without tools. Tim refused to let go of his dad, so they were down one member.

Midway through moving a heavier piece, a bad feeling struck Hannah to the core and she froze. She could hear something creaking.

Not seeing anything that could cause the noise on the ground, she looked up, hoping it was just a bird.

The other half of the metal beam was hanging by a thread, and looked ready to fall at a moment's notice.

She had just pointed to it when it snapped. And fell. And landed atop the rubble pile with a loud crash, crushing the entire pile down. She heard Tom scream in pain before he began to breathe frantically.

When the dust cleared, she saw his arms were trapped under the rubble, the hole he had dug having collapsed.

Becky was at his side, trying to help him calm down, wiping tears off his face.

"I can't feel him," he kept saying. "I can't feel him, Beck, I can't feel him anymore, we gotta save him, I can't feel him—"

Blood leaked out from under the rubble.

Hannah found her way to Lex and hugged her tight. No tears came to her eyes, as much as she wanted them too. Soon, she felt John's hand on her back, too. She heard Webby whispering about death and snow.

It took another hour to unearth Tom's arms. He could not move them. He could not feel them. There was minimal blood, but it was still horrifying to look at.

Convincing him to leave Ed and Tim's bodies buried there was the hardest thing anyone had done. The only thing that convinced him was the idea of seeing his son's corpse and risking having it get infected.

Curt led everyone out of the building, and they drove back to the Professor's house in silence. The snow was back in Watcher World, and Tinky's laugh echoed in her ears.

Long after it all fell silent and everyone had left, a squirrel dug itself out of the rubble and stood atop it like a solitary king. 

Queen, more accurately. Peanuts missed her adoptive father and the nice boy that was petting her, but this world wasn't fit for squirrels like her. 

With a final goodbye, she scampered off into the night.

Chapter Text

The strangest thing about it all was the silence.

When they first came to the Professor's house, there was so much noise that Hannah often found herself overwhelmed. Everyone was talking over each other, arguing, debating what to do or what not to do. Trying to figure out how to survive and keep everyone safe. She wasn't even alone in her thoughts — John was a new presence, and him and Webby argued almost daily. It was a constant headache she couldn't get away from.

Now she found herself practically begging for noise. The house was so big, bigger than she knew, and it was so, so silent.

Ken and Carol's over-the-top love, even in the face of the apocalypse.

Chris and Ed's back-and-forth debates about the "before times." Peanuts' chirps and nibbles and scratches.

Ted and Charlotte's flirting and wandering hands — sounds and sights she had always avoided but now missed.

Alice and Deb's partnership. Bill's protectiveness. An inseparable family unit, even if they fought.

Oliver's steady mind, the sanest of the teens and understandably the first of them to be allowed out of the house.

The Professor's flamboyance and passion, even when it turned to malevolent insanity.

Emma's sarcasm and steadfast personality balanced out many of the eccentrics in the group, and grounded Paul.

Tim's guitar lessons, and his nostalgic childishness — he was mature for his age, he had been through a lot, but he was still only nine. He was only nine.

She even missed Gary. He was never an ally, or even that good a person, and he had an annoying voice. But she'd give anything to hear him rambling about Wiggly again. 

Now, most of the sounds she heard in the house were mechanical. Despite their losses, the survivors had to continue on, and there was much work to be done.

The portal was being built. A hulking circle of metal and wires, put together with elbow grease and desperate hope. It looked a bit like the one in PEIP HQ, but significantly less polished. Rushed, thrown together, made of scrap parts and the blood of the fallen.

Construction was slower than the group would've liked. Between the eight survivors, only four were unscathed; Lex, Ethan, Paul, and Curt. Owen was deafened, and Curt had to take the time to repeat things to him in the sign language only the two understood. Becky had lost an eye, and the lack of vision on that side had resulted in more than a few bumps and scrapes. Hannah did her best and helped where she could, but she was still a kid.

Tom was the worst off.

Emotionally, he now lost his wife, his sister-in-law, and his son in the span of a year, the latter two within a week of each other. Most of the time he was depressed to the point that he wouldn't leave his room. Occasionally, the sadness was replaced with rage and he would yell at anyone nearby. It was never long-lasting, and always devolved back into depression.

Physically, he couldn't help build at all. At best he gave instructions, as he and Ethan had the most technical know-how of the group. Hannah knew not being able to actually build the portal wasn't helping his emotional state.

Part of her wanted to hug him, but she wasn't sure if his lack of arms to hug her back with would make matters worse.

She wasn't present for the amputation, but rumor had it that Tom stayed awake for it. He couldn't feel them past his biceps, and thats where they were cut off. Becky said the bones were shattered, and the nerves had been severed, hence why he couldn't feel.

Hearing what happened to him, still alive, made her think about what happened to Tim and Ed, who died. How horrific it must have been. She just hoped it was immediate. That they hadn't left a partially-alive Tim and Ed beneath the rubble in Watcher World.

It was getting late, and Hannah was getting tired. Becky had told her to go to bed, but she couldn't sleep, and soon she realized why; she hadn't eaten all day. She woke up late, and then went to help with the portal. She got so caught up in helping however she could that she never made food.

So she went down to the kitchen, and made a peanut butter sandwich. She sat at the table and ate. She saw John sitting in a seat near her. He had been quiet since Watcher World. She hadn't been able to touch him since, either, and he had faded for everyone.

He told her that Tinky took him somewhere. He thought that he might have been brought back into the Black and White somewhat.

Hannah didn't voice it, but she was worried he wouldn't be able to come through the portal once it was finished. Or that if he could, he wouldn't come out the other side. 

Just a couple months ago, she would've given the world to be rid of John. Now she couldn't imagine going back to life without him.

Her mind drifted to Wiley, and what he had told her back at PEIP HQ. You think whatever universe you jump into is just gonna let there be two of you in one place?

She had no idea how it would work, but she hoped that her plan wasn't just another way of dooming them all.

It had already been the death of five of their group. Led to injuries of more. All that blood spilled, and settled in Hannah's hands, stained red with guilt and naivete.

Red and blue, now that she thought about it. Aside from Emma, it had been a while since anyone had encountered the Infected. The last large group, the last "real" threat from them, had been when the Professor let them into the house. Before then, it was when Gary had kidnapped her.

It was worrying. It felt like they were planning something. She doubted they would simply give up.

Maybe Tinky chased them off. He claimed to be the ruler of dead timelines like this one. Maybe he didn't want his brothers interfering on his playground.

She wasn't sure what the better option was, or if there was one. Everything was dark, and the one bit of light in her world was a plan that might very well be the doom of them all.

"What are you thinking about?" John interrupted her thoughts. "If you're going to fall asleep, you should head back to bed."

Hannah shook her head. She took another bite of her sandwich. She didn't want to talk — she wasn't sure if she'd be able to.

The kitchen and dining room were quiet. She remembered the few group dinners they had all had together. When the Professor said they'd have a funeral, only for that plan to be cancelled. When the teens were allowed to go out. Her birthday. When Curt and Owen first came, and a shootout nearly happened.

Every time, the group got smaller. Yet she remembered where everyone sat when they were all together. The Professor at the head of the table, Emma at his right side and Paul right beside her. Tom, Tim, and Becky across from Paul and Emma. Ken and Carol beside Paul. Chris and Ed across from them, Bill and Alice and Deb beside the Davidson's. Ted and Charlotte across from them. Lex and Hannah at the other end of the table.

Now it was just her, a ghost, and a spider.

Webby, too, had been quiet, but when she spoke, it was often of the portal. She was a constant assurance that the plan would work. Hannah didn't always believe her — sometimes the spider's voice sounded desperate, like a prayer. Like she was hoping, too.

A light came from the hallway, and the door opened. In peeked Lex and Ethan, who both looked relieved when they saw her.

"Hey, Banana," Lex gave a soft smile and sat on her other side, across from John. "Try not to run off like that, okay?"

"Told you," Hannah managed. "Told you was leaving."

"Didn't say where you were going," Lex ruffled Hannah's hair gently through the Warriors cap. Hannah barely took the hat off, and never let it out of her sight. It kept her safe. The Witch even said so. 

"Sorry," she mumbled, and took another bite of her sandwich. Lex fell quiet, and Ethan rubbed her back. Hannah saw the bags under their eyes. Everything was exhausting. Everything was hard.

Everyone was ready for it to be over, and now, they were so close. It just had to work.

Everyone said they believed it would, but Hannah knew an actor when she saw one. They believed because it was their only chance, not because they really thought it would work.

Hannah hoped it would work.

"Hey, hey, Banana Split, it's alright," Ethan was suddenly at her side, gently wiping at her face. She hadn't noticed she'd started crying, but now that she was aware, sobs wracked her body and she trembled, covering her mouth. She couldn't be loud, her mother would hear. And then she and Lexie would get in trouble. They would get hurt. Everybody was getting hurt.

She was pulled into Ethan's embrace, and she buried herself in his shirt. She felt the ghost of a hand on her back, in her hair, but she couldn't tell if it was the corporeal boy she held onto, or the actual ghost in the room who'd been unable to touch her for days.

She hiccuped, and sobbed, and tried not to scream. It felt like seconds, it felt like hours. She finally let go of Ethan only to hold her head, which was spinning with a headache.

She heard Lex say something about getting a drink, and Hannah's head erupted in screams. As much as she wanted to scream herself, she found herself frozen.

"Water," Webby was screaming, chanting. "Water, water, water. Blue blood, blue water."

Hannah held her hands over her ears, held her breath involuntarily. It had been so long since Webby had been this loud. She couldn't even think of something to do, or how to decipher the message.

Ethan held her shoulders, and she could tell that he was saying something, but she couldn't hear. All she could hear was Webby's screams, and all she could see was her vision growing black.

"Stop, that's too much," John's voice cut through the madness, and the screaming stopped. Hannah took a deep breath that came out as a sob, and fell to her knees. She was so tired. She was so tired.

Ethan held her tight, rubbing her back and whispering sweet nothings. She mumbled Webby's message, but it fell upon deaf ears.

Over Ethan's shoulder, she saw Lex in the kitchen. She had a glass of a clear liquid. Hannah at first wrote it off as her teary vision, but felt a pit growing in her stomach. The longer she looked at it, the more blue the liquid looked.

She reached out a hand and tried to yell a warning, but all that came out was a croak.

Lex brought the glass to her lips.

Nothing happened. She walked towards the group and offered the cup to Hannah with a kind smile. "C'mon, you gotta drink something. Crying makes you need water and all that."

"Blue blood, blue water, blue, blue, blue," Webby repeated, still loud, but not screaming. More frantic than before.

Hannah did not drink the water. She held the cup, and whispered the message. She cleared her throat and managed to say it at a normal volume. "Blue blood, blue water."

Lex and Ethan looked at her, confused. With a smirk, Ethan reached for the glass. "If you won't drink it, I will."

She took a step back, moving the glass out of his reach. Her gaze moved to Lex, who had taken to staring off into space and taking deep breaths. Hannah found herself mirroring her.

Lex's breath caught and she coughed. Again, and again, like something was stuck in her throat. Her hands came to her neck as she wheezed, coughed, hacked, and the color drained from her face.

Ethan did his best. He tried everything he knew to stop Lex from choking, but they all knew it was too late. Hannah had been too late. It was ironic, really. The warning was the reason why she couldn't stop it.

Lex fell to the ground, not breathing anymore. Ethan tried to help, tried to call for help, she heard the frantic panic in his voice as he assured the corpse he loved her, as he tried to think of what to do.

Hannah watched the scene unfold as if she were out of her own body, with wide, empty eyes. Her sister was gone, and she would love to cry and scream as she had just been doing, but there was nothing in her.

There was so much noise in the silence. Webby was chanting, Ethan was crying, John was trying to give advice, and now Lex was sitting up and starting to sing. There was so much noise, but to Hannah it felt like static, like she was in the TV again. She felt encased in ice, helpless to try and do anything, destined to only watch as her world fell to pieces.

She was moving very suddenly, held by a strong but wiry frame in black leather sleeves. She saw a ghost following, dressed in black with fluffy hair and a worried expression. She saw a third figure behind him, her eyes now a bright and brilliant blue to match the blood that stained her lips, her long, dark hair falling in her face, but not enough to hide her vengeful expression.

Hannah saw her open her mouth and scream a note, and she felt the static shatter, as if she were hearing clearly for the first time.

"She's not your sister,

get your hands off her!

You're not her brother, anymore."

She felt Ethan's grip on her tighten as he ran through the house, calling for help.

"You said you'd love me,

and then you left me,

I wouldn't have it any other way!"

The song wasn't true. Lex loved Ethan, and he loved her. They both loved her and she loved both of them. 

The Infected made people feel weak, manipulated them. She saw it with Ken and Carol, she saw it with Curt and Owen, and she was seeing it again now.

Ethan just kept running. He slid to a stop at a dead end and turned around, holding Hannah to his chest. She managed to peek down the hall and saw Lex standing, menacing, glowing blue. With a scream, she sang out, inhumanly loud.

"What happened to California?!"

Ethan held her tight, and she saw John standing in front of them. She closed her eyes and held her breath. She didn't know whether to hope for silence or not.

She heard a gunshot and the singing stopped.

Only then did Hannah find something in her to break. Her sister, her big sister, her protector, her rock — she was gone. She was gone because Hannah couldn't warn her. She was gone because Hannah trapped them in this hell.

Ethan did not let her look. She didn't want too. The adults hurried to put her outside before she could heal and get back up.

One less person to come home.

One less person to pretend to believe her.

The strangest thing about it all was the silence.

Chapter Text

The wind whipped outside, audible even through the thick, windowless walls of the Professor's house. An angry snow storm was brewing — a terrible time for the spies to have gone out. 

The portal was finished, despite the many losses. All that was left was setting up the bomb. Tomorrow, they would go home.

All eight of them.

Hannah wasn't sure what she'd do if they lost any more people, or if John was unable to come through.

Lex's death had numbed her, and the last few days had been rough. The group discovered that, presumably while they were away at Watcher World, the Infected had apparently put some of their goop into wherever the Professor got his water, tainting it. Water from taps, showers, baths, and the like was now banned, and they were running low on bottled water, too.

They really couldn't stay much longer. It had to work.

Ethan had hardly left her side since Lex died. He was the other person hit hardest by it — it had numbed him, too.

"When she told me I had died," he confessed that final night, "I started remembering things that hadn't happened. I remembered the mall, like you guys said. I remembered getting infected. I remembered a car accident, and then coming back to life… It seems like I'm always the one dying. And I thought that this time, I'd die again. But I guess…"

He trailed off, but Hannah knew what he was thinking. It was different, this time.

She hugged him, then. "I'm glad you're not dead," she confessed. She wanted her sister, of course she did, not an hour passed without thinking of her, but she didn't want to see her brother die again, either. She still had nightmares about the first time. Bad blood.

He hugged her back, understanding.

Hours before then, they were sitting on a couch in the living room. John was pacing the area, anxious — Hannah even spotted him flapping his hands a few times prompting her to follow suit. Ethan tried to help her with her "nervous hands" and she let him, welcoming the distraction.

"Do you always get like this when your soldiers are away?" He asked John at some point.

John cleared his threat and shook his head. "Not always. Just for… big risks."

"I thought this wasn't a big risk?"

"It wasn't, before the storm came in. They're capable spies, but I'm not sure of their experience with a storm this intense, or technology of this kind. And," he brushed his hair out of his face, "they aren't my soldiers."

Ethan nodded. "At least the storm should cover them, right? And keep the Infected and the cultists away?"

"The cultists maybe, and cover, yes. But the Infected aren't human. They'd be unbothered by such a storm. It'd be perfect for a surprise attack…"

Ethan didn't try again. Hannah wiggled in her spot. "They'll be okay," she said, trying to convince herself as much as she was them. "They'll be okay."

If Wiley was right, and she did have some power to convince people, she hoped it was working. If making people believe a lie got people more hopeful, then she'd do it.

She just wished it worked on herself.

"Not kind, Hannah," Webby whispered. She had been quiet since Lex died. Hannah wondered if she blamed herself.

"I know," she whispered back. "Sorry."

"It's okay. Meant to be good," she paused. "They will come back. It will work."

"You see it?" She asked. Ethan looked at her for a moment, but seemed to realize she was talking to someone else and kept quiet.

Webby hummed, a soft vibration, like a cat purring. "Eight people enter. Can't see after."

"Why not?"

"Too many options."

"At least we know we get that far," John piped up. "As for what happens after… Well, it has to be better than here."

There was a knock at the door. Hannah and Ethan jumped up to get it, and saw that Becky and Tom were already there.

Becky had unlocked and opened the door, letting in the two snow-drenched figures, and Tom, armless, kicked it shut.

"There's no one out there," was the first thing Curt said, shivering. "No Infected, no crazy people. A few corpses, but no one living."

"The detonator is hooked to the bomb," Owen sighed, rubbing his hands together. "God, I'd kill for a good, warm pot of tea right now."

"If you can find some, we've got a few water bottles left. Might as well use them," Becky said, and Curt translated with shaking hands.

"Maybe," Owen shrugged. "Regardless, it's ready to go when we are."

"Tomorrow we finally get to go home," Ethan cracked a grin, but it quickly fell as he and everyone else remembered how many wouldn't be crossing over with them.

Chris. Ken. Carol. Ted. Charlotte. Oliver. Bill. Alice. Deb. The Professor. Emma. Ed. Tim. Lex.

The entire town of Hatchetfield was wiped out in one way or another. But eighteen survivors had been making the best of it.

Maybe it was always meant to happen. Maybe there was no other way.

Did everything in this town always end in tragedy? Were there no happy endings for them?

No, Hannah assured herself. There would be a happy ending. It was coming. Just one more night.

The wind howled outside, and Curt recounted an episode of The Twilight Zone as everyone made dinner. Their final dinner.

The radio crackled to life mid-meal. It was Tuesday— the last message they'd hear.

"This is President Howard Goodman," the President announced. "Here with the weekly broadcast. Our efforts of evacuating the area around Lake Erie have largely been a success, and we aim to resume our state-by-state search by the next broadcast. ...We are expecting a nuclear detonation within the week. We believe that we have gotten everyone out of the area that would be affected, but I must stress. If you are in the area of Lake Erie, please leave immediately for your own safety. And let's pray that this is the last nuclear detonation to ever grace the face of the Earth."

Tom's arm-stump moved, like he was reaching for the radio, before he stopped and sighed. "Turn that shit off. Please."

Paul did so, and the room fell silent.

Owen did, in fact, make tea, and shared it with those who wanted it. Becky was helping Tom eat — she had been helping him with pretty much everything, and the poor woman looked exhausted.

"I'm sorry," Tom confessed to her that night. "I'm sorry that I can't do it all myself, but I love you. I love you for helping me and I'd love you if you didn't."

She held his face, his arms. She rested her forehead against his. "It's alright. Things will be better soon. I don't mind helping, Tom. I help because I love you."

"I wish you didn't have to," he whispered. "Soon you won't have to."

"Exactly. We go through the portal, and everything's fixed. We finally… eat some good food again. Get some good sleep." A pause. "Maybe we… Maybe we'll see Tim again."

Her voice is soft and quiet, like she was talking to a startled animal. It wasn't too far off from the truth.

Tom tensed at the mention of his lost son. His breath hitched, he closed his eyes to stop any tears. Becky kissed his cheeks and muttered apologies.

"I'll see him soon," he tells her, tells himself. "I'll see him soon."

"Exactly," Becky smiles. "And… you'll get your arms back. Give him a great big hug. And I'll get my eye back. Maybe I can hug him too."

"Of course you can. He loves you. Loved—"

"It's okay."

They held each other as best they could and kissed in the darkness. Their relationship wrought with sorrow and hardship. It seemed that would never change.

In the late hours, as Becky was drifting off to sleep, she heard him whisper reassurance. "Thank you for everything, Beck. You don't have to take care of me anymore. You're gonna get a break now. You deserve it. I love you."

After dinner, everyone went to bed. The dishes couldn't be cleaned due to the no-tap-water rule, but everyone did their best to tidy up. Simply out of habit. One way or another, no one would be eating in this house ever again.

Paul was the last to retire. He stayed up, wandering the halls of the Professor's labyrinthine mansion for some time.

Everyone had lost someone, or multiple someones. It wasn't fair to compare experiences, he knew that.

But Paul had never felt so alone. As he wandered the halls by himself, it truly did feel like the end of the world. Like he was the only one left.

All the other survivors were in pairs. Tom and Becky, Curt and Owen, Hannah and Ethan (and John).

When he wandered alone, he really was alone. When he went to bed, it was in a room devoid of anyone else.

Back before Wiggly, before Emma, he didn't mind that. It was the usual, and he slept soundly knowing that the world outside his bedroom still existed, that he was not alone in the universe.

After more than two months of being with everyone, of thinking they were the only pocket of humanity left hanging on, it was different. 

He wished Emma were here. He wanted to hug her, to kiss her, to go into the new world with her.

At the same time, he was glad she hadn't been around for the last few weeks. For Watcher World. For Tim's death, Tom's amputation. They were her family.

She had already lost her sister, he didn't want her to have to deal with the grief of losing her nephew, or witness Tom's grief at losing his son and his autonomy.

His own grief was part of why he couldn't sleep, of course, but the other part was anticipation. Nerves. He wanted to get to the new world. He didn't want to be in this world anymore.

He wanted to see Emma again.

He wanted to see his friends, his boss, go to his job. He wanted to see good films and complain about musicals. He wanted to get shitty black coffee from Beanies, from Emma. He wanted to go back to his normal, apocalypse-free life.

When he finally did go to bed and fall asleep, he dreamed of his old life — perfectly normal and boring to the outside eye. Paradise to one Paul Matthews.

Also late to bed were Curt and Owen, though they retired to their room rather quickly after dinner. They had a lot to talk about.

Earlier in the day, out in the snow, there was an incident. Curt didn't trust himself with the rifle after Watcher World, and again when Lex got infected — he was the one to fire the gun. If he had a nickel for everytime he had fired that damn rifle and killed a teenager, he'd have two nickels. One for each breakdown that followed.

So Owen held the rifle, and Curt had a handgun on his belt. Not his own — his and Owen's gun had long since ran out of ammo, and they were too old for anyone to have more. But the Professor had quite a few guns, and plenty of ammunition, so he traded out his Colt 1911 for an FN Five-seveN.

True to his word, they hadn't come across any Infected, or any cultists, or anyone at all. But when the storm got bad, it got hard to see. He zipped his coat tighter, he had to cover his face for a moment, and when he looked up again, Owen was gone.

At first he was fine. They'd trained for being separated, hell, Curt had been separated from him for ages. So he calmly made his way towards where he saw Owen last, and called out for him. For the partner he had deafened.

The wind whipped and howled around him and he could barely hear his own voice, he could barely see his hand in front of him. It was so very, very cold.

As the minutes crept by with no sign of Owen, Curt tried not to panic, but felt his will slowly leaving him, blown away by the freezing wind.

Could an Infected have gotten him? Wouldn't Curt have heard? Their singing was loud and inhuman, surely it could be heard through a storm. What if it was staying silent on purpose?

Maybe he fell into a snowbank and got buried. Maybe the same could happen to Curt. He looked down to the ground as he walked through the snow, carefully testing for pitfalls.

Curt could feel the ringing building in the back of his mind. He fixed his hair, promptly blown into a mess again by the wind, and screamed out for his partner. He always thought he had done that for the last time, but it never was.

Every time he thought he'd finally moved on, something brought him back.

He couldn't lose him again. How many times would that be? Four?

Strong arms wrapped around his shoulders, and just as he was about to fight against the hold, he heard a whisper.

"I'm right here, love."

Curt turned and held Owen's face with his trembling hands and looked in his eyes. Brown. Like, honey brown, you know? Light mixed with some dark, and in the light they're really pretty.

He sighed, almost a sob of relief, and pulled Owen closer, their cold lips meeting in a kiss amidst the storm. For a moment, all seemed calm.

They took shelter to let the storm die down a little. The "shelter" was barely such; just a ramshackle little house that smelled like rotten fruit.

They sat close and held hands, listening to the window howling.

"How'd you find me?" Curt dared to ask. His voice strained at his volume. The cold did that.

Owen rubbed his thumb in circles on the back of Curt's hand. "I… heard you. Somehow. I heard you calling for me and talking to yourself. Love," he looked up, "what did you mean, then?"

Curt decided to take his hand back and sign instead of trying to shout over the storm. "What do you mean?"

"In the storm, I heard you talking—"

"I wasn't talking."

Owen pursed his lips, thinking for a moment. "Were you thinking? Maybe its your superpower. I'm sure they call it psychic for a reason, and I thought I could hear the ringing again."

"Maybe." It seemed likely, but it made Curt dread Owen's question.

"Anyhow. What did you mean when you said… you'd lost me four times? I doubt you mean lost literally."

Damn it. "It's a long story."

"We've got time," he gestured to the storm outside.

Curt shook his head. "We should get moving again."

Curt stood, and Owen stood with him, grabbing him by the arm. "You're avoiding the question. Curt, what happened?"

He paused. It was their last day in Hatchetfield. Most likely their last day together. Curt would, presumably, go back to 1963, and Owen to 1957. Back to everything Curt knows is to come. Back to his assignment in Texas.

Back to being alone.

Fuck, he didn't want to be alone again.

"Curt, " Owen's voice brought his attention back. "I know I die at some point. I told you I figured that out. But you've got me thinking that something else is going on."

"Sorry," Curt whispered, and then repeated in sign.

If only he could change things.

...What if he could change things?

"I'll tell you when we get back," Curt promised, and then reached to hold Owen's hands. He kissed them, and looked out the window. Reluctantly letting go, he repeated, "We should get moving now."

They held hands as they walked through the snowstorm. When they came to the destroyed bridge, and the frostbitten wasteland of a camp, Curt thought about the last time he was here.

The writing on the bomb — TO WIGGLY, LOVE MOSCOW — was still visible. Still frightening.

They hooked up the device and quickly left.

Things had moved quickly back at base, and "when we get back" turned into "tonight, when we go to bed."

And now it was finally time. Time to share the truth. Time to do or die.

Curt wished he could recount the story in hushed whispers, but he had to rely on his hands to be his voice, so Owen could finally understand. His hands weren't shaking from the cold, anymore.

"You died," he began.

"I know that much, love," Owen chuckled, trying to make the situation less tense, and failing.

"It was my fault," Curt gulped. "I was being careless. Barb wanted me to just take pictures, and I said to blow the building up. You said not to leave a banana peel just anywhere, and I said it didn't matter. You said set the timers for four minutes, I set them for three. And then, of course, it all comes together, doesn't it? The bombs go off, we run away. You slip on the banana peel and fall down a two-story drop. And I…"

Curt hesitates. The part he hates, the part Owen hated him for. Would hate him for.

"I ran away."

Owen was quiet, solemn. Curt didn't look at his face — part out of shame, part out of fear. When Owen spoke up, it was to ask a simple question.

"Why?"

"I thought you were dead. The compound was coming down around me. It was shock, too, probably. So I ran."

Owen pauses again. "When did — When does this happen?"

Curt wasn't sure if he should say. Something something space-time continuum, he was pretty sure he read that somewhere.

Fuck it.

"1957."

Owen nodded. "That's why you were surprised when we first met here."

"There's more," Curt laughed out of nerves.

He told Owen about the four years alone. He told him why he finally came back, about the Informant and the simple mission he was assigned. The interruption, the follow-up, the trap. The torture. The rescue. The Gala, the failure, the breakdown. Tatiana. The preparation, the plan…

"It was you," he sighed. "The man took off his mask, and it was you. Somehow, I hadn't killed you, but I left you to die. So you joined Chimera, a company or whatever that wanted to collect state secrets. It's like making everyone a spy, they just don't know it. That's what you said."

"That's insane," protested Owen, weakly.

"I don't think you cared. You wanted revenge, you wanted to hit me where it hurt. You looked me in the eye and told me you were going to single-handedly destroy everything I've ever believed in."

Owen was quiet. "Then what?"

"Tatiana and Barb destroyed the facility you mentioned. I chased you halfway around Europe. Finally met you in Russia and…"

A deep breath. Shaking hands. Reliving it again.

"I shot you in the head. Made sure you were dead for real this time."

Owen didn't say anything, and Curt continued, pretending there weren't tears in his eyes. Pretending he couldn't still remember it like it was an hour ago.

"I couldn't let you keep going. You… You weren't you anymore. You told me to move on. And I told you I'd take your advice. And then the gun went off and you hit the ground."

He wanted to keep going, but his hands wouldn't move. Why was his face wet? Was he still breathing? 

Strong arms wrapped around him and he flinched. A head rested on his shoulder and whispered "I'm here, love." He could feel the ringing in the back of his head, in the palm of his hands, in the tears streaming down his face.

"I'm sorry," he said, and hoped Owen would somehow hear. "I miss you. The real you. The you I killed in 1957, not the you I killed in 1961. I miss you."

Owen held him tighter, and Curt knew that somehow, somehow, he had heard.

"It was an accident?" He asked.

Curt nodded, and signed in front of himself so Owen could see from his shoulder. 

"I was stupid," he spat with quick hands, disdained at his past self. "I was too cocky and I got you killed. It was my fault, but it was an accident."

Owen hummed, his breath against Curt's neck. He pulled back from the hug. "I won't let it happen this time."

Curt shook his head. "There's no other way out. As much as I want there to be. I'm too stupid to stop, and the bombs saved us from being shot."

Owen kissed him quick. "I'll find a way. I promise I will."

"Owe—"

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. This Owen he trusted, yes.

"I'll find a way. Just you wait. You'll go through the portal, be in '63, and I won't be far away. I promise."

He leaned forward and pressed their foreheads together, holding Curt's face. "This will not be our last night together, love."

Despite himself, Curt smiled, and looked into his lover's eyes. He let himself have hope that it was true.

They fell asleep in each other's arms.

Hannah also fell asleep in someone's arms, but didn't stay there.

After coming up from dinner, Ethan sat in bed, and Hannah sat in his lap, with John at the end of the bed, facing away from them to give them their privacy. Hannah would've rather had him sit with them, but didn't speak up.

Ethan held her close. He told her about how he expected to die. Hannah said she was glad he didn't. He ruffled her hair through the Warrior's cap and said he was, too.

"How'd you get that hat, anyhow?" He asked.

"Gave it to me," she told him. "You gave it to me."

Ethan reached into his jacket and pulled out the same hat, dusting it off.

She shook her head. "Other you. From this world."

"Ah," he nodded. "Well. I guess we're matching, then."

"Protected," Hannah touched the hat. "Given by a great warrior. Imbued with the power of Greyskull."

"I gave you that speech, too, huh?"

She nodded. "The Witch told me, too."

"Witch?"

"Mhm. In my dream. Said she remembered you."

He nodded, looking at the hat. "I haven't thought of her in a long time. She came around when Ma died. I think I was a little younger than you, then."

Hannah hummed. Ethan didn't talk about his mom too much. When he did, it was always good things, and he said he was doing well, but she still wondered.

"Mom… good?"

Ethan laughed. "Oh, definitely. She's how I know your mom is so bad. Sure, she wasn't super happy to have a kid so quick, but she loved me and dad. And she still got her degree and all that shit. Real nice, real smart. You'd have loved her."

A pause. "I miss her. When she died, it hurt me so bad… That's why she, uh, the Witch came. Though, I don't think she's a witch."

"She is. She told me."

"I see. Well. Witch or not, she helped. But, uh. That kinda stuff… Never really stops hurting, you know? It comes in waves, she said. Good days and bad days. And as you keep going, you get more good days, and the bad days get easier."

Hannah pulled on her braids. "Will that happen with Lexie?"

Ethan paused, and held her tighter. "Yeah, Banana. It'll take a lot of time, but it will. And Lexie would want us to keep going. She told you that, didn't she? She said she'd do her best to always come back, but if she didn't you couldn't give up. So we aren't gonna give up. Right?"

She could hear his voice wavering, like he was on the brink of tears, but she didn't look to check. Instead, she rubbed her face and nodded. She remembered Lex telling her that, sometime around her birthday.

John's birthday was just before hers, and she had apologized at some point for not reminding him like she said she would. Looking back, she really wished that they had done something to celebrate John's birthday. So much had happened that it slipped her mind. He said that he didn't mind, that there was no harm done, but Hannah saw it as just another way she had messed up.

She'd heard rumors of a few other missed birthdays. Alice and Deb had said a friend of theirs — something with a Z that Hannah didn't quite catch — would've turned 18 at the end of December. Paul's was at the beginning of January, and he said that Charlotte's was at the beginning of February.

John said Corey's birthday was December 31st, and that he'd have turned twenty-one. She wondered if he would want a sister. Or two sisters, ideally. Thirteen, eighteen, twenty-one. She wondered what it would've been like to grow up with him. John had said he adopted Corey when he was eleven, so Hannah would've been two, and Lex seven. Would Corey be a good big brother? What would John and Ed be like as parents to young children?

She trusted they would be good. She knew they would.

But she was not a young child anymore. Still a child, still young, but not a "young child." She was thirteen and she'd lived a lifetime already.

"Things are gonna get better once we get through the portal," Ethan promised, yawning. "I'll pick you up, and Lex if she's there, and we're just gonna go. Take John, too, if he wants to come."

The ghost at the end of the bed looked over his shoulder. "And where would we be going?"

"California, of course," Ethan cracked a smile. "That's always been the goal. After this shit, why wait anymore. I prefer our chances down there than in any version of Hatchetfield."

John nodded. "I'd have to see what my life is like in the new world, assuming I have one. But one way or another, I'll stick around. That I can promise."

Hannah smiled, and he smiled back. Ethan yawned again. "Well, it'll work out. So long as we get the fuck out of Hatchetfield, right Banana?"

He tickled her side, and she laughed, wiggling away. "Go to sleep," she ordered.

"Oh? You're tellin' me what to do?"

"You're yawning. Gotta sleep."

"Alright, alright," he nodded. "But you gotta sleep too. Deal?"

"Deal."

They settled into bed, and Ethan was asleep fast. Hannah had no such luck.

She sat up in bed, quiet, and undid her braids. She looked over at John, visible in the darkness, a ghost in the void.

"Are you okay?" She whispered.

He looked over. "I thought you were going to sleep."

"Trying. You?"

"I don't really sleep anymore." He's told her this before, she knows it. She doesn't believe him.

She patted the mattress beside her. An invitation.

John froze for a second, then relaxed, smiling, tired. He stood and walked to the other side of the bed, and sat beside her. She moved one of the pillows (of which there were now plenty to go around, since there were so few beds and people to sleep on them) so it was upright, in place of where John's torso would be. 

She leaned against it. It wasn't as warm as John was. He wrapped an arm around her, not that she could feel. He positioned his arm as to not phase through her. 

It was a pantomime of the desired actions, but it would do.

"Are you okay?" She asked again.

John hummed for a moment. "I'm okay."

"Are you thinking?"

"Yes."

"About what?"

He paused. "I'm thinking about what will happen when we go through the portal. If we end up in another doomed world. Or the Black and White. If we don't remember any of this when we cross over…"

Hannah didn't like the train of thought. She must have made some kind of noise, because John quickly tried to backtrack. "It's unlikely. I doubt we'd remember everything, we'd probably gain new memories of a new world. But… I will be honest. I'm afraid that something will go wrong and I won't remember you. And if I can't remember you, then how will I find you again?"

"I'll find you," she tells him, immediately. "You find me, or I'll find you. Deal?" 

He laughs, quick and through his nose. "Deal."

She offered her hand, to shake, and John tried to take it, but phased through. No connection made. Both of them sighed, and Hannah pulled her arms close to herself.

"...I'm worried," she admitted.

"About what?"

"...Not able to touch. What if… Can't ever touch again?"

John frowned, but not angry, not sad. Soft, a similar worry. "I'm sure we will. Maybe when the portal opens, like back at PEIP HQ. And hopefully in the new world."

"Hopefully. Hopefully."

"Hey," John caught her attention. "We'll find a way. It'll be alright. Okay?"

Hannah thought for a moment. She looked up at John, his ghostly form growing stronger, and nodded. "Okay."

They sat in silence for a few long moments before John spoke up again. "You should get to sleep. Big day tomorrow."

"Will you sleep, too?"

"I can try."

Hannah settled into the covers and pillows more. She closed her eyes, and whispered a goodnight. She felt, for a moment, John brushing her hair aside, before he whispered, "Goodnight, Banana."

Sometime later, she drifted off to sleep.


There was a person, walking through the halls of the concrete bunker that was Professor Hidgens' home. Stumbling, not unlike the dancing zombies that were the Infected, roaming around the rest of Hatchetfield. 

The wind was loud, howling, the snow pounding against the windowless walls. The storm had settled in around midday and had not let up one bit. 

No one in their right mind would go out in such a storm. Especially not in thin pajamas, a t-shirt and loose pants and nothing else, not even socks or shoes. 

The person wandered through the house, knowing the destination, yet walking there like a drunk who couldn't remember the way home.

Eventually, the person reached the frontmost room of the house. The only door in or out. The last people to come through were the spies. A beautiful, sweet, kindhearted red-haired woman with a missing eye had unlocked and opened the door. A mess of a man with missing arms had kicked it shut. He had not locked it.

From the looks of it, no one had.

A pair of armless arms, stumps ending at the bicep, reached for the doorknob. They struggled, but eventually got it to turn. The arms wiggled the door open, and the wind did the rest, blowing it against the wall and sending snow onto the black and white checkered floor of the lobby. The wind spun around the person and screamed. It was so very, very cold.

The person looked out into the storm and thought about loss. The person had lost so much. A wife, a sister-in-law, a son, a student. There had been so much loss.

Now there was a second chance. A portal, another world.

If there was another world, was there another wife? Another sister-in-law, another son, another student? Would all who were lost return? They wouldn't be the same people. They would be copies, different versions. From another world.

The person could not handle that. The person could not stand to look at the son, with the same face, the same interests, and know he is not the same.

The cold wind nipped at the person's skin.

The person stepped through the doorway, and into the snow. The person's bare feet flinched in pain. The person did not listen to the signals from the feet and kept walking.

The wind continued to scream as the person walked into the blinding white storm ravaging Hatchetfield.


Hannah woke up with a start, feeling cold. She looked to either side of her. On the bed beside her was the sleeping, ghostly form of John — she knew he was lying about not sleeping anymore. On the other bed in the room was Ethan, also asleep.

She jumped out of bed, yelling for John to wake up, and then rushing over to shake Ethan awake. Both men jumped up, worried, and asked her what was wrong.

"The door, the door! Someone's at the door!" She ran to the bedroom door and opened it, letting in light from the hall. "Come on! Gotta stop him!"

She didn't wait for them to catch up, and ran downstairs. John caught up quick, perhaps out of necessity, and Ethan trailed close behind. She dashed down the stairs, almost tripping and breaking her ankle but catching herself in time, and slid into the lobby.

It was freezing. Snow covered the floor. The door was wide open. Hannah stood in the doorway, shivering, looking out at the storm.

She couldn't even see any footprints.

Ethan pulls her away from the door and shuts it. "Hannah, what the hell is going on?"

"Tom," she mutters, dejected. Despaired. "Tom is gone."

She found herself sitting against the wall across from the door, John sitting beside her as Ethan ran to get Becky, to hopefully confirm that it's not true.

Hannah didn't need confirmation.

Staring at the door, she reached for John's hand, and felt it. Not warm or cold or textured, but it was there. She held it tight.

"Goodbye, Tom."

Chapter Text

Morning came with one less person. Hannah was tired. Not only had she gotten little sleep after her vision, but in every other sense of the word as well. She was exhausted, she was sick of the death and despair, she was ready to go home.

Lucky her, the day had finally come. No one was expecting a wild celebration, but it had taken an even more somber mood following the loss of Tom.

Becky wore Tom's heavy winter jacket. The one Hannah stole when she went to find a portal, and the one that he had purposefully forgotten when he left the night before. Hannah hadn't seen her grieve, but she was sure it had happened. There were tear-tracks on the nurse's cheeks, and a faraway look in her eyes. Hopefully things would be better soon, but they were all still lingering on his death.

Hannah knew that freezing was terrible. Freezing to death didn't sound fun. But she had to look on the bright side. It sounded better than death by nuclear detonation.

She hopefully wouldn't experience that one.

Part of her wished she had gotten to talk to the President one last time. To tell him that the detonation was today, to thank him again for his help. Then again, Hannah would've liked to tell a lot of people a lot of things. A plea of "Don't go" to Tom and Tim. A question of "Why?" to the Professor. 

One last "I love you" to Lex.

The time for words had long since passed, but the meanings, the moments…. She'd keep them in her heart.

Now, as dawn broke outside, the six survivors, plus one ghost, stood in front of the empty portal. It was the moment of do or die — if it didn't work, they were screwed. Stuck, forever, to die in Hatchetfield. Better than dying in Clivesdale, but she would rather not die at all. She was pretty sure the rest of the group felt the same.

It was not as big or as perfect as the one at PEIP HQ. Made of scrap and a desperate dream, it looked ready to topple over at a moment's notice, but it would do. As long as it would turn on, it would do.

As they all stood in front of it, Hannah remembered how insistent Webby was that eight people would be going through the portal. It wasn't often the spider was wrong. Hannah hated that this was one of those few times.

"Listen up," John commanded before the switch could be flipped. "There has to be an order to these things. I know we all want to go home as quick as we can, but for the stability of the portal and the safety of our minds, we must go in one at a time, and we must wait about a minute between entering. And…" he sighed. "I'm afraid Hannah must be last."

"What?" Ethan was quick to jump in. "She's the youngest, if anything she should be first!"

"I agree. However, the last person in must activate the bomb, and I do not believe any of you will be able to use the technology. I am tethered to Hannah — I'll be able to guide her through it. Furthermore, I want to be certain that no one else decides they're staying behind to die here. And if there's anyone I trust who won't," he looked down at her, "it's Hannah."

The other survivors quietly ceded.

"In that case," Becky moved her hair out of her face. "We should make an order now. So we aren't clamoring over each other when it activates."

"I'll be last," Ethan stated. "Last besides Hannah, I mean." He reached for her hand, and she took it. "I'm not leavin' you behind, so you don't go leavin' me, okay?"

She nodded, and held his hand tight.

"Maybe we should go first," Owen offered, holding Curt's hand tight. "In case something goes wrong with it, then we'll be the ones hurt, and not all of you."

"That isn't fair to you guys," Becky argued. "I don't mind going first. If something goes wrong… Well, there isn't really anyone left to miss me." Her voice was quiet.

Curt put a hand on Becky's shoulder. "Me and Owen aren't from Hatchetfield. We're not from 2018. Maybe Tom is gone, yeah, but there are other people just in this room who would miss you."

Hannah nodded in agreement, and Becky rubbed her singular eye. "I'm sorry, I… I haven't thought like that in a long time, I…"

"It's alright." Curt gave her a smile, then stepped back and raised his voice so Owen would hear. "I'll go first."

"Curt—" Owen tried to interrupt, but Curt waved him off and signed something Hannah couldn't understand. Owen bit his cheek, and nodded.

"I'm second then," he decided. "That leaves Paul and Becky."

"Uh," Paul stammered. "I-I don't really have a preference, I guess? I don't mind going third, if you want, Becky…?"

Becky nodded. "I don't mind either. Fourth it is."

"Curt, Owen, Paul, Becky, Ethan, and Hannah," John recited. "Alright. Is everyone ready?"

The room gave their affirmation, and John told Ethan what switches to flip to turn the portal on.

It shook and rattled and groaned, and Hannah covered her ears. The lights flickered, and Hannah wasn't sure if it was her doing or the portal's.

The lights went out, and the rumbling stopped. Just as her stomach was beginning to drop from dread, she saw a flicker of light. A tiny hole in the fabric of reality, in the center of the portal, growing larger. The lights flickered back on as it grew and grew until it reached the edges of the portal. It wavered for a moment, swirling grey, but became stable. It looked a bit like the ocean if it was kept in one little pot; not leaking, but not still, never stagnant.

John let out a breath. "Alright. Give it a moment."

Hannah kept her ears covered, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see Curt doing the same. "Is it supposed to sound like that?" He asked through clenched teeth.

"Sound like what?" Paul looked between the two, and scratched his ear. "I can kind of hear the ringing again…"

"The Black and White is a swirling sea of psychic energy," John explained. "Perhaps that's what you're hearing."

"No," Curt and Hannah spoke in unison, shaking their heads. "No, it hurts. They're screaming."

"The dial," Webby's voice was soft. "The dial. The dial."

Hannah's eyes caught a light. There was a dial on the machine Xander gave them. Hannah reached out and put her hand on it. Curt mirrored her across the room.

"Left," Webby told her, and she heard Curt repeat. She turned the dial left. "More."

She kept turning, and turning, and turning, and— 

"Stop."

Hannah stopped, and removed her hand. The screaming had stopped. Her and Curt sighed, and Hannah sat down, breathing heavily, flapping her hands, screwing her eyes shut.

She felt hands on her shoulders. A gentle touch.

She opened her eyes and saw John. He smiled softly. "I think you might've just saved the day again, Banana."

She smiled back. She sure hoped so.

John took a step back and offered her a hand. Hesitantly, she took it, and did not phase through. He was warm, he was textured, he was there. A pure, joyous smile broke across her face and she stood. They could touch again. She'd never been so glad to feel someone in her life.

Curt, too, seemed better, and Owen kept him close. Hannah held tight to John's hand, and reclaimed Ethan's with her other.

"It should be alright now," John said. "Whenever you're ready, Curt."

The spy stepped forward, his partner at his side. He looked into the vortex, now a lighter grey, and much quieter. The two turned to each other, holding hands, and spoke quietly, or signed. They shared a kiss, and Owen let go of his hands, stepping back.

Curt faced the portal again for a moment before he spotted Hannah out of the corner of his eye, and turned to face her.

"Thank you," he said. Looking around the rest of the room, he repeated, "Thank you. You all… You're wonderful people, and it's a shame I'll never see you again. But I… If I can, I won't forget you. Or the things you've done for me." He smiled, sweet, charismatic, and genuine. He gave a wave. "Nostrovia."

With a deep breath, Curt stepped through the portal.

Hannah was worried that she would suddenly forget him the second he went through, but no such thing happened. Her memories of Curt were just as present as they had been since she met him. And she was just as grateful.

Owen stood quietly, watching the portal nervously. After it settled, he stepped forward, and he too looked at Hannah, much more serious than Curt was. In his face, she saw a whirlwind of emotion, and she saw the potential in him. The one who harmed, and the one who healed. Torturer and savior.

"You were right," he said, a little too loud. "Do you remember, back in the library? You said that Curt was good. You're right." He looked back to the portal, more determined. "And I'm going to try to be, too. I promised him I wouldn't let it happen like it did before."

Hannah wasn't sure what he meant, but he looked back at everyone one last time and smiled. "Pleasure knowing you all. Good luck."

And through he went, just like Curt. A ripple in the torn fabric, and he was gone. Hannah hoped they went back to their own times, to the right places. She hoped they got to have a second chance, too.

Next was Paul. "Uh. I guess we're giving speeches, huh?" He laughed, nervous, as he looked into the swirling portal. "I don't have much to say. I'm just… I'm glad for this to be over. I'm glad to go home, and to see Emma and all my friends again. Drink… shitty coffee at Beanies and not have to worry about if my boss is going to randomly start singing."

He shook his head, blinking the tears from his eyes. "Sorry. Uh. ...I'll see you on the other side."

He waved, and he, too, went through the portal. Hannah hoped he got what he wanted.

Becky was next. As she waited for the portal to settle, she moved her hair out of her face, revealing her missing eye. It was shown shut, but the scratches around it left scars. Hannah didn't want to be rude, but it was scary to look at.

"We're all going to be alright," she asserted. "We're all going to see each other again. And everything will be okay. And this time… this time we'll do better."

She pulled Tom's jacket tighter around herself, and looked back at the last three. "Please take care of yourselves. Be safe. And I'll see you when at home."

With a smile, she stepped through the portal.

Ethan let out a sigh. "I… I can't let you go last, Banana." 

"Ethan—" John tried to argue, but the boy shook his head. 

"Look. I'll take notes. Just show me what to do, and then go through with Hannah. I'll set the bomb and run through."

"How do I know this isn't a scheme to stay behind?" John's voice was serious, and worried. "I know you lost Lex. But you have to keep going. You have to keep going for her. She wouldn't want you to stay behind."

Ethan is quiet, but nods. "I know. I know. I'm not gonna. But I can't let Hannah stay, I just can't. I know she won't stay behind, but I can't just leave her, I…" He looked down and met Hannah's eyes. "I told your sister I'd protect you, didn't I?"

Hannah nodded. She wasn't sure what she wanted to happen.

She didn't get the chance to think.

The door slammed open, and the three remaining survivors whipped around to look. There was no one left, and there were no windows. How could the door have opened with such force?

With glowing blue eyes set deep in her glare, a healing bullet wound in her chest, and her long dark hair matted with ice and snow, Lex Foster stood in the doorway.

Hannah pulled John back, as she was still holding his hand, leaving Ethan in the front. She reached for his hand, but froze as Lex screamed and lunged for him.

"Look what happens, Nightmare Time!"

Ethan yelped and managed to catch her hands, but the two of them tumbled to the floor. John moved Hannah back and let go of her hand, joining the fray to pull Lex off of Ethan, but was met with an unexpected result.

He could not touch Lex or Ethan. The infected girl drooled blue goo that landed on Ethan's face, but he kept his mouth firmly shut. With a burst of effort, he headbutted Lex and sent them both toppling forward. Now on the bottom, Lex kicked him in the crotch and rolled out from under him.

Both stood, tense and flighty, in front of the portal. With a scream, Lex rushed forward, reaching for him. Ethan stumbled back, and tripped over his own feet — through the portal. Lex, lost in her momentum, slid in only moments after him. 

The portal rumbled and creaked, and the swirling mass itself shifted colors — grey, blue, green, purple, yellow, pink, and back to grey. It looked angry, and warbling, like the tides before a storm.

"Eight people," Webby reminded, though her voice was solemn and, dare Hannah say it, scared.

Hannah let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. John returned to her side, and she held tight to his arm. "Be okay? Will it be okay? I-Infected…"

John did not answer immediately. "...Webby?"

The spider, too, was quiet. "Can't see," she admitted. "Too many options."

Hannah bit her lip. "Has to be okay. It has to be. L-Lexie will be back, a-and not Infected…"

Her breathing was quickening, and John squeezed her hand, kneeling in front of her. "Hannah. We have to have faith. And we must get moving. If one Infected was here, others will surely follow."

Hannah nodded, and ran to the door. She shut it, locked it, and put a chair in front of it. She hoped it would last.

"Okay. Okay," she pulled on her braids and turned around. "What do we do?"

John guided her through the setting up of the bomb. A radio signal, a detonation device hooked up to the engine from Xander, and a timer. Once she hit it, she had about fifteen seconds. A close call, just to be safe. The sooner everything was destroyed, the better.

Hannah hesitated to hit it. Even as she began to hear pounding and singing outside the locked door, she hesitated.

"Hannah," John's voice was urgent. "It's time to go."

"I know," hers was soft.

She looked up at him with wide, watery eyes. "You won't leave me, right?"

John stared for a moment, and again he kneeled before her. "No, Banana. I won't. No matter what happens to me, I will find you again. I promise." He brushed some hair out of her face and smiled. "I'm not the type of man who abandons his children."

Hannah smiled, and the tears spilled. She reached forward and hugged him tight, as if the end of the world wasn't at their footsteps, as if she wasn't about to risk losing him, as if everything was normal and she was just greeting him as he came home from a business trip or a long day at work.

"I love you, dad," she whispered into his shoulder.

He held her tighter. "I love you too, Banana."

They stayed for a few moments, until Hannah finally pulled away. It would not be their last hug.

She started the timer. Fifteen seconds. Just like that day.

She took John's hand and held it tight.

Nine.

The portal rippled, waiting.

Seven.

They walked towards it, praying they wouldn't be separated on the other side.

Five.

Behind her, the door slammed open, blue-blooded musical zombies singing in rage. She did not look.

Three.

"We will not be resisted!"

Two.

She smiled. "Here comes tomorrow."

Hannah and John stepped through the portal, and the nuke on the Nantucket bridge finally detonated, decimating the tiny town of Hatchetfield, and everyone in it. The few remaining members of the cult. The Infected, making up most of the town. 

All of it gone in a deafening burst of light and heat.

After all the smoke cleared and the rubble remained, there was not a soul left singing in Hatchetfield.

A single squirrel scampered through the cracks and stood atop what remained of Professor Hidgens' home like a solitary king.

And that was all it took to wipe Hatchetfield off the map.

Chapter Text

"Sir," an agent called out; Bradley O'Brien, if he recalled correctly. "There's been a nuclear detonation off the coast of Lake Erie."

Howard snapped to attention. "Already?"

He nodded. "It went off just a minute ago."

Another agent, Julie Jackson, joined him with a tablet. "The team positioned just outside the blast radius said that they detected a warp in space-time shortly before the detonation, and that it's since returned to normal." She looked up at Howard. "In other words, it sounds like it all went to plan. The portal opened, they went through, bomb went off."

Xander clapped the two agents on the back with a bittersweet smile. "Then it's out of our hands. Great work, everyone." His eyes caught Howard's. "How about we all take a break?"

The agents went away to join a few friends for lunch, and Howard and Xander walked together to the physicist's office. Xander kept a secret supply of what was certainly the best tea Howard had ever had, and he'd been kind enough to share it on occasion. 

They sat and drank in silence. Only when Howard had drained his cup did he finally speak up. "Are wins for PEIP always this…" 

He couldn't find the right word, but Xander nodded anyway. "Not always. But a lot of the time, yeah." He took a sip of his tea. "There's always something to cover up, or someone you have to put down. Lies to the public and government alike. Oddly enough, this is actually more of a win than usual. You already told everyone the truth."

"I think it was the right thing to do."

"It was."

"I just wish I could've done more."

Xander poured him more tea. "That's always how it is, Howie. There'll always be something you wish you could've done, something you'd go back and do again differently, something that fell through the cracks. You just have to live with what you did do." He looked over his glasses and smirked. "If you focus on the could-haves, they'll just drag you down for the rest of your life. And most people don't get do-overs."

Howard nodded. "I know, I know. You're always right."

"That's my job."

He nodded some more, lost in thought, before finally picking up his freshly-refilled cup. He raised it in a toast. "Good luck to them."

Xander raised his cup to meet his. "Good luck to us."


"You still with me?" Curt asked, snapping in the man's face.

He blinked a few times, and looked at the white expanse around them. It was hard to stay focused, but the situation came back to him.

Curt looked at himself. This other him was more disheveled, more tired. His eyes seemed wilder, but also wiser. He was also, clearly, getting annoyed at this.

"I don't… understand," he settled on saying. "There's… other dimensions. And evil monsters. And I — you — can hear them?"

Tired Curt nodded. "I — We — used to just get… bad feelings, sometimes. Maybe a strange dream or two. But I had to get a blood transfusion—"

"From the girl, Hannah."

"Right. She's super powerful, and so when I got some of her blood, I got some of her powers."

"And that's how you're able to remember… this."

"And that's why it's hard for you. You don't have the same power I do."

"But," he shook his head, trying to stay in the moment. "How do you know this? If you've never had these powers before, how do you know why this is happening, a-and what you're supposed to do?"

Tired Curt scratched his head. "I don't know. I think there's just… a feeling. Kind of guiding me along."

Curt sighed. This was insane.

"Look," Tired Curt was really starting to get annoyed. "It's easy. We just have to agree to combine. Shake my hand and we're all set, we wake up at home. Back to what we were doing."

"Hunting Chimera and drinking ourself to death," Curt laughed. "I'd almost rather take your place."

Tired Curt stood quietly, and Curt looked over at him. The man wore a thoughtful expression, hesitantly hopeful.

"Owen is coming back," he said.

Curt tensed. "No. No, no, I killed him, I—"

"No!" Tired Curt waved him down. "Not that Owen. The real Owen. Our Owen, from 1957. From before the fall. He… He ended up there, too. I told him everything. And he's going to fix it."

Curt was breathless. "I… How?"

"I don't know," Tired Curt admitted. "But I believe in him. I want to believe in him. This might be my — our second chance. Do you really want to waste it?"

Curt stayed quiet, and Tired Curt offered his hand.

"The worst that could happen," he whispered, "is that it doesn't work. You wake up at home, no merging, no Owen, but nothing else new either."

Curt felt himself slipping away again, back into the white. This had gone on long enough.

He took the hand, and the white filled his vision.


Lex had had weird dreams before, even weird dreams of endless white, but nothing like this. If she dreamed of the white expanse, she was always alone, or with Hannah, or with the silent woman with the dark eyes.

Not with a half-dead version of herself, throwing up some blue shit, tainting the pristine whiteness.

The figure hadn't spoken since she found it. It just glared at her, and seemed in pain. It acted like a dying animal rather than a human person, so much so that Lex wasn't sure if it was human.

Lex tried to walk away, but her path, no matter the direction, always led back to the other her. Blue Lex.

Finally, she sighed. "What the fuck kind of dream is this."

The figure seemed to laugh, musical and cacophonous. "No ordinary dream," she sung, out of tune, out of sync with herself. "Connection. Merger. Whatever you want to call it."

"That makes no sense, dude."

Blue Lex huffed, and spat up more blue shit. "You win."

"What?"

"You win!" It roared, glaring up at her with electric blue eyes. "We lost! World destroyed! No more spreading! Gets to be brother's playground, that one. That island. That Hatchetfield. Into the toybox, no Pokotho's allowed."

Lex stepped back. "I have no idea what you're talking about, man."

Blue Lex grumbled, and offered a sticky hand. Lex stared at it, grossed out and confused. Blue Lex shook it.

"Get it over with, bitch."

"What the fuck?"

"Merger. Combination. Just do it." It sighed. "Stuck here forever, if you don't."

Lex huffed. "Can you fucking explain it to me like a normal person?! What happened, what do you want me to do here? What will happen? I don't speak crazy, asshole!"

Blue Lex was frozen, inhumanly immobile. After a few moments, it lowered it's arm and clumsily stood. This other Lex looked dead. She could even see a bullet wound, bleeding blue.

On second thought, Lex wasn't sure she wanted to know what happened.

"I am one of many," Blue Lex said. "But this body was once yours. It has your memories of before we took it over. It has our memories of after." It again offered its hand. "Those memories will go to you. You will wake up in your world."

"And what, you'll fucking be in my head?" She took a step back.

It shook its head, anger in its eyes. "This is mental, Alexandra. Apotheosis can only be spread physically. You will not be one of us," it spat. "You win."

Lex looked at the hand again. This thing, whatever it was, didn't seem to be lying. Then again, she had no idea what taking someone else's memories would entail.

"Will… Will I be alright?" She asked. "Me. My memories. Will I be… I-I don't know, erased?"

Blue Lex shook its head. "Gain some more memories. Nothing else. Soup of knowledge and personality."

Lex bit her cheek to hide a smile. "Did you just call me a soup?"

Blue Lex rolled its eyes. It shook its hand again, drawing her attention back to it. "Just get it over with."

She thought one more time about it all. It felt insane, impossible. But, if it was right, then shaking its hand was the only way out. And she wasn't about to leave Hannah alone.

She took the hand.

As her vison faded to white, she heard Blue Lex's parting words.

"Always end on a high note, they say."


John opened his eyes, standing, and knew this white expanse was not a dream. He hadn't seen it often, but he was familiar enough with the workings of the Black and White to know that he was in a place between worlds. The questions were why, and how.

He looked around to get a lay of the land and spotted himself, doing the same thing. Though, this version of him seemed worse for the wear. He seemed greyer, desaturated. Tired. His hair was tangled in places, he had lost his beret. 

He still stood tall and calm.

John knew better than to trust duplicates of himself. "What are you doing here? This isn't your place."

"That's not entirely true," said the other John, staying facing him but not looking him in the eye. "This seems to be a place of compromise. I don't think either of us will be leaving if we don't agree." He paused. "That isn't a threat."

"I figure," John frowned, staying where he was, resisting the urge to pace around. The other John did not resist, and walked calmly as he talked.

"I come from a world of ruin. I was supposed to have died, but I was saved by a kindhearted young girl. I did my best to help her, and the other survivors. She came up with a plan to get us out of there, and here we are."

"This is simply another prison."

"Until we agree to merge, yes," the other John looked up and met his eyes. He fought to not look away. "Please. We've fought as hard as we can, and I promised her that I would find her again." 

He offered his hand. Glad for the excuse, John dropped his gaze to it. "You expect me to let you possess me?"

"It's not a possession," the other John's tired eyes were pleading, but his expression didn't change. "It's a combination of our thoughts, feelings, and memories. We are simply alternate versions of the same person, we can do so without going insane. And this way both of us will live on."

That made him pause. "Both of us?"

"Yes. It wouldn't be fair of me to trade my life for yours."

He tapped his foot, fixed his hair. "And how am I to know you aren't some other being simply pretending to be me? Or that you aren't just flat-out lying? I will not endanger the world with my negligence, and I will not endanger my family, either."

"I would never want Ed or Corey in danger," he assured. "I look forward to getting to see them again. Last I saw them, I wasn't able to touch them. Our goodbye was… not great. And I know your Ed and Corey are not the same as mine, but I could not stay in a ruined world. I couldn't stay with them, despite how much I wanted too." He blinked tears out of his eyes, letting his arm drop to his side. "And Hannah and Lex are my family now, too. I promised Hannah I would find her again. And I intend to keep that promise. But I need you to say yes. To let this merge happen."

He sounded desperate. He looked at the end of his rope. John stayed steadfast, not wanting to give in to a ruse. "Who is Hannah?"

"She's a young girl who's been through more than she ever should. A very powerful psychic, protected by Webby. My soul somehow became tethered to hers after I entered the Black and White. I…" He took a breath, and came back more determined. "I love her, as if she were my own flesh and blood. And I promised her I would return to her. I would find her, somehow."

John could almost see her, though he had never met her. A young girl with twintail braids and deep eyes showing knowledge beyond her years. She seemed sweet.

"She loves us, too," the other John smiled. "She doesn't have a father in her life, but she doesn't want to lose me. To lose us. And," the smile grew, "Ed and Corey seemed to like her, too."

John paced around, thinking, wary. The other John did nothing further to convince him, only answering questions when prompted. It was his decision. He could merge, or he could find some other way out of this liminal space. Though, as he walked in endless circles, he began to think he'd never find one. 

The other John told him about the things he'd been through, the things Hannah and her sister had been through. He told him about Lex, too. Rougher than her sister, he had less of a clear image, but the other John insisted she had a good heart.

If this was a trick, it was a thorough one. And the imposter knew just how to get to his heart. If it was a trick, it would be costly. He could end up hurting his family, hurting the whole world.

Or maybe it was a mix. Maybe the other John was telling the truth about everything — except that he wouldn't be pushed out. That it was a possession, and not a merger.

There were too many risks. The reward was personal, and not even really a reward for him. It was not a deal worth taking.

But that begged the question — was he really willing to risk abandoning everything and wandering the whiteness forever?


Endless whiteness. Had Webby brought her here?

She saw herself, sitting across from her. For a moment, she thought it was a mirror, until she noticed the backwards baseball cap on her head. She'd never seen that hat before. 

So it wasn't a mirror, it was a person. She figured she should be worried, or afraid, but for some reason, she was calm. Not an ounce of anxiety in her body.

"Webby brought you here?" She asked her other self.

Hat Hannah shook her head. "Don't think so." She tilted her head. "You're from… another world?"

She shrugged. "I'm from my world."

Hat Hannah fidgeted. "My world is gone."

She wasn't sure what to make of that.

"Wiggly came. Hatchetfield was… destroyed. We stayed in the Professor's house, but Infected came. Wiggly's brother." She pulled on her braids, and Hannah didn't resist mirroring her as the story continued. "Built a portal. Blew up the island. And… here I am."

"Are you… replacing me?"

Hat Hannah thought for a second, and shook her head. "Combination. Merger. That's what… That's what I hear."

"I don't hear anything."

Hat Hannah shrugged. "I'm not lying."

"I believe you."

She looked up, eyes hopeful.

Hannah continued. "So we… we'll both remember?"

Hat Hannah nodded. "Think so. Both timelines. Similarities, differences. Good things and bad."

"And your world?"

She nodded. "Not all bad memories. Learned chess. Helped people. Made friends. And…" She smiled, wide and genuine. "Met John."

Hannah tilted her head. "John?"

She nodded. "General John McNamara of the United States Military, special unit P.E.I.P., they call it peep."

"Peep?"

Hat Hannah held a finger to her lips. "Very secret. Not a peep."

Both Hannah's laughed for a moment, filling the white space with sound. 

After a moment, Hannah thought it over again. "He's good?"

Hat Hannah nodded enthusiastically. "Very good. He's… Like a dad," she smiled. "Love him like a dad."

"Never had a dad."

"I know. But… we do now. We can now."

She thought for a moment. "And Lexie?"

Another nod. "Lexie too. She came through. She… was Infected, but she'll be okay. I know she'll be okay. And Ethan! We… We'll be a family."

"Family," she echoed. That sounded nice. "No mom?"

"No mom."

That brought a tear to her eye. Hat Hannah stepped closer, hesitating for only a moment, and pulled her into a hug.

"It'll be okay," she whispered, holding her tight. "We'll be okay now."

With a smile, Hannah hugged her back, and white filled her vision.

There was, admittedly a moment of pain. The pain of disappearing, disintegrating, and recombining as one. The overload of memories, duplicates and brand-new, until they settled into place. There were times where she didn't know how to feel - happy or sad. She didn't know what memories to believe. Good or bad. Bad or worse. Her head felt like it was splitting as the two versions merged into one.

And then, after all the dust settled, it was peaceful. She knew who she was. She remembered where she had came from — both versions. She remembered Lex, and Ethan, and her mom, and Duke. She remembered Curt, and Owen, and the Professor, and John. She remembered being kidnapped. She remembered how to play chess. She remembered the Black and White, she remembered PEIP HQ. She remembered Cross, she remembered the President. She remembered breaking her nose, and could almost feel the residual pain. She remembered Ethan giving her the Warrior's cap. She remembered the Witch in her dream.

She took a deep breath through new lungs, and opened her eyes. Tomorrow was finally here.

Chapter Text

An alarm rang, filling the room with noise. He reached up to turn it off, missed, and decided he didn't care. It was warm, and he didn't want to wake up yet.

The alarm continued to ring incessantly, and the arm around him tightened, it's owner groaning against his neck. "At least turn it off, love."

Curt smiled with a hum, reaching up to do just that. He missed again, and figured it was time to finally open his eyes. The room was yellow with the light of the early morning sun.

….Since when did he have an alarm clock? And Owen— 

The memories came flooding back, conflicting each other, and Curt knocked the alarm clock off the nightstand in his scramble to get away. He hit the hardwood floor, landing on his arm, sure to leave a bruise later. His leg was trapped in the sheets, and he heard Owen laugh, soft, amused.

The Brit pushed himself up on his elbows and looked down at Curt, smirking. "I keep telling you, if you sleep that close to the edge, you're bound to fall off sometime."

Then, he seemed to notice Curt's panic, and the smirk fell into a look of concern. With some effort, he sat up more, and offered a hand. "Curt? Love, are you alright? I'm right here."

The vision in his head of an angry, disillusioned Owen with a stony expression hiding his rage and a gun pointed to Curt's heart seemed all too real, and yet. The Owen in front of him looked the antithesis of that.

Curt reached out and touched his hand, testing to see if this was real. Owen laced their fingers together, sighing. "You had me scared for a second there, chap. But I guess it's best we wake up. You've got somewhere to be today, haven't you?"

The girl. The future. The portal. The whiteness.

Curt's eyes flicked up and met Owen's. "You're… really here?"

Owen nodded, slowly, and then froze as something seemed to dawn on him. "You're… You're back, aren't you? From the other world, o-or the future, or whatever it was. You're back."

He swallowed and fought the shaking in his hands, the overload of memories starting to settle. "I think so. How are you…"

"You told me what happened, remember?" Owen squeezed his hand. "Before we left. And… you were right, I couldn't stop it. But since I knew, I… I could believe you. That it was an accident. So, I…"

The memory resurfaced. Owen fell. Was declared dead, for a few months. The worst months of his life. He remembers when they were years.

But one day, a call came in. Cynthia, screaming at him for abandoning his partner. Owen had been found. His legs had both broken. His spine had broken in three places. Several ribs were snapped or out of place. There was a dent in the back of his skull.

He'd survived because someone had found him. A group they had no record of, that called themselves Chimera. He had managed to send out a distress signal from a phone a few months after they rescued him, and MI6 managed to sniff him out.

So the partners were reunited. Owen hadn't completely healed - he still hadn't. His legs were mostly okay, and his ribs got set, the back of his head flat but healing. His back was the issue. It resulted in him being slightly paralyzed, and he wore a large, stiff brace to keep the bones in place, and move around easier.

He was retired as an active field agent, but continued to help out in intelligence. He was still Curt's (professional) partner, and travelled with him as they tracked down Chimera. 

Curt blinked back tears. He wasn't sure if he was happy or sad. He settled on both. "A-And you can- You can hear again?"

"Yes," he smiled. "And you aren't shot. Either time. Not the… Deadliest Man, as you called him, or the alien militia."

Curt held Owen's hand tighter, leading his forehead against it and fighting not to sob. All those years of hoping he'd come back. All those years regretting his fuck-up.

"You're here."

"I'm here, love."

Curt was tugged back into bed where he held Owen as tightly as he could without hurting the man. He could finally rest. He was finally home.

Until his watch started ringing. It had fallen off the bedside table and onto the floor during his panic, and he grumbled, knowing that it must be important but not wanting to move. Owen laughed, snug against him.

"Oh yeah. You best be getting ready for your assignment, huh? So we can get the bloody hell out of Texas."

Curt laughed too, and reluctantly moved to hang off the bed and grab it. "Yeah, I'm from the South and this state kinda sucks." The first part of Owen's sentence sank in as he sat back up with the watch. "Fuck, what's the mission again?"

"I'm sure Cynthia's about to yell at you for it," he shrugged. "Don't let her see me."

"She doesn't know you're here?"

"I'm supposed to have my own room, love."

"But it's—" the train of thought stopped. It was 1963, not 2019. It'd be a long time before they could ever be out. Probably not even in their lifetimes.

But he remembered those two girls, Deb and Alice. He remembered the woman, Emma, who was born a man. He remembered her partner, Paul, who had no preference.

Maybe he wouldn't live to see it, but they would. Somehow, the thought was reassuring.

He brushed his hair back with his hand and answered the call. He did not get to speak a word before Cynthia was screaming in his ear.

"Mega! You fucking shit-for-brains, where the hell are you? You better not still be in bed, I'm not gonna hold your fucking hand through this. I'm not in the kitchen making you lunch, wishing you a nice day at school, you fuckin' dweeb."

"I'm sure it'd be poisoned anyway," he sighed. "I'm on my way."

"Don't lie to me, Mega, you don't even know where you're supposed to go yet."

Owen covered his mouth to stifle a snicker, and Curt rolled his eyes. "Alright, then where am I supposed to go?"

"Don't sass me. Texas School Book Depository. 6th floor, Southeast corner. Get there ten minutes ago or you're fuckin' dead." She hung up with no further comment, and Curt sighed. He checked the time on the watch — 11:15AM.

"How far away is that?" He asked Owen.

"I think we passed it earlier this week. Maybe twenty minutes? Thirty if you take time to get ready."

"No need to take time," he slid his legs out of bed, "I'm just shooting a guy. I dunno why she went and bugged me of all people for this."

"A nice vacation from Chimera, I suppose," he joked, sitting up. Curt's instinct was to help, but he remembered that Owen didn't need help with everything — they'd had that conversation before. 

"Who are you shooting, anyway?" He asked, snapping Curt out of his thoughts.

He shrugged, pulling on a shirt. "Eh, no one important. Some guy named Jack Kennedy or something."

Owen hummed for a moment. "... John Kennedy?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"The President?"


His phone was ringing. A custom ringtone, not musical, that went "Hey dummy, it's me, answer your phone."

Emma had recorded it and set it up after snagging his phone one night. It was the only thing she had done, aside from taking a bunch of pictures to fill up his camera roll. 

He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and answered it on the fourth or fifth repeat with a groggy "Hello?"

"Hey, Paul," Emma sounded tired, and somehow nervous. "Sorry to wake you up so early."

Paul pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment to check the time — 5:40AM. "No, no, it's okay," he scrambled to answer. "I was, uh, already awake."

She laughed, and he smiled. It was a sound he'd never grow tired of hearing. "Well, look. My brother-in-law, Tom? He asked if I wanted to come over today, to uh. Have a late Thanksgiving, with him and Tim. And I was wondering if maybe… you wanted to come with me."

"Yes," the answer was too fast, and he choked on his tongue trying to make it sound less awkward. "I'd, um. I'd be honored. When?"

"He said to be there at six."

"Okay, I'll see you the—"

"Six AM. Sorry, should've clarified."

"Ah." That explained the weird time. "Well, uh. Still. I'll get ready and see you soon?"

"I'm actually, um. Already outside your apartment complex. In the car."

Paul couldn't help but smile. She had known he'd say yes? Or she had wanted him too? "Well, I'll get ready quick then. But could we get some coffee on the way?"

"Of course. I don't think Starbucks'll be open till six, but. I'm sure Tom won't mind waiting a bit."

"Great. See you in a few."

He jumped out of bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and hurried to get dressed. It was getting pretty cold, and it was a festive occasion, so he settled on a red and white patterned sweater, as well as a red scarf. Making sure he had his phone, keys, and wallet, he left his apartment and went down to meet Emma in her car.

He saw her through the passenger window, smiling casually, waiting patiently, and all the memories came back.

It was Black Friday. Paul had been stuck with fifteen or so others for two months. Most had died. Tom had died, Tim had died, Emma had died.

But here she was. Inviting him to her brother-in-law's house, just like she had that morning. Not knowing it was a scheme to get her to babysit while he went to get Tim a—

Wiggly.

Paul felt sick. He couldn't do it again. It was hard enough the first time, he couldn't do it again.

He went through the portal so there would be a new world, with no Wiggly, but so far everything was exactly the same.

Emma gave him a weird look through the window, and he jumped into the car without thinking. Sitting, staring out the windshield, not saying a word, he prayed it wouldn't all happen again.

Emma looked at him for a moment, then elbowed him. "You really do need some coffee in ya, huh?"

He nodded, and blinked, and reflexively smiled. "Y-Yeah. Guess I'm just. Not awake yet." Maybe, if he pretended it was all a dream, it would become one. Or maybe it was all a dream, no pretending needed.

They drove to the Starbucks, getting there just as it was opening. There was already a line, and Emma groaned. "I hate Black Friday."

"Me too," he breathed, remembering. He hadn't even seen the worst of it on the actual day. He didn't intend to this time, either.

They got their coffees and were back on the road by 6:10, on time to arrive at Tom's by 6:30. Just like last time. He'd probably be mad at them again, too.

The two talked as they drove, the radio on, and Paul's stomach was doing somersaults. He was pretty sure he'd puke if he heard that damn jingle again.

But it never played. There was no jingle, there was no talk about Cabbage Patch Kids, there was no salad joke. Instead they just continued their conversation as normal, and pulled up to Tom's house without the dreadful conversation.

That was different. That was good.

Emma stood in front of the house, holding her coffee, hesitating. Finally, she sighed. "You know, I barely know them. The crash was last Christmas, and that's… not a great way to start a relationship. I just… I'm done fucking things up. I just need this to work. Okay?"

Paul patted her on the back. "It will. He invited you over, he wants you to be a part of his life! So cheer up," he smiled. "It's Christmas time in Hatchetfield. Isn't that fun?"

Emma smiled, and rang the doorbell. "Hey," he held her shoulders for a second. "Everything's going to be okay, okay?"

She nodded. "Okay."

"Okay!"

The door opened, and there stood an annoyed Tom Houston in a wife beater tank top and jeans — and both arms, firmly attached, no stitches in sight.

"You're late," he stated.

Emma looked up at him; he stood a great deal taller than her. "It's 6:30 in the morning."

"Yeah, and I said six. But I guess you had to go to Starbucks," he gestured to the coffees the two held.

After spending two months locked up with him in an apocalypse, Paul had kind of forgotten that his first meeting with Tom painted the widow as a bit of an asshole. 

He let them in without another word, and sitting on the couch in the living room was Tim. Paul felt so relieved to see him, and felt the urge to just wrap the boy up in a hug and hold him tight.

But this Tim didn't know him yet. Neither did Tom. Emma knew him, but it was different. Those two, terrible months were missing for all but him. It was his burden to carry.

So, he swallowed his pride and introduced himself to Tim. He made the same slip-up as last time, on purpose. Tim seemed to have found it entertaining after the fact, as did Emma, though it was still just as embarassing in the moment. 

He stayed silent when Tom revealed that he had invited Emma over to babysit. He stayed silent when Tom lied and told Tim he was shopping for tools. Then came the important part.

"Wow, great priorities, Tom," Emma's anger was leaking into her voice as the nine-year-old ran away. "First the tools, then the kid."

"I didn't say that," he argued.

"What are you gonna do for his birthday? Leave him at home and take the drill press to Six Flags?"

"I don't have a drill press. And even if I did, how would it fit into the Sedan?" He checked to make sure Tim had left the room before coming closer, lowering his voice. "I had to say something because I didn't want to ruin the surprise. I'm going to the mall, to get Tim's Christmas present, okay?"

Paul watched as Emma hesitantly warmed back up. "What are you getting him?" He waited for the answer with baited breath.

"I wasn't sure at first, but we couldn't win that stupid RC car at Pizza Pete's, but I remember, back, uh. Back when I was still teaching, um," his excitement died down as he seemed to be remembering bad things vividly. "Some kids told me about drones. I kinda wanted to build one, but I'm no programmer. But I think Tim'd like it, so. I'm gonna get him one."

Emma smiled, and bumped his arm. "That sounds sick, man! Drones are super cool. Not the Amazon ones though, pretty sure they spy on people."

"And," Paul found his voice, "it's something you can do together." 

Tom looked up at him, seemingly having forgotten he was here. Paul stood his ground, though he looked away slightly. Tim and Tom had grown closer after Black Friday. It was a lot of effort, and it was awkward, but it was there. The boy had even been picking up guitar.

It didn't matter what Tom got Tim — as long as it wasn't Wiggly — what mattered was they did it together. And while Paul was by no means in control, he could still give them a little nudge.

After a moment, Tom shrugged, and scratched his neck. "Yeah, maybe. If he wants."

"Well, you better get going," Emma piped back up. "I'm sure the line at ToyZone's gonna be hell."

"What are you talkin' about," Tom checked his watch. "I'll get there ten minutes before they even open."

"Yeah, but it's Black Friday. I'm sure everyone had the same idea as you."

Tom sighed, and checked his pockets. "Well, I'll be back. Don't burn the house down, and he's allergic to strawberries, but I don't think we've got any, so."

He was out the door before Emma could finish saying bye, but it was still, to Paul's recollection, a better note to leave on than last time.

Last time. He couldn't stop thinking about it. The memories were still so prevalent in his mind, and he was still tense, waiting for it all to happen again. He couldn't wait for the day to be over.

Looking at Emma, he hoped this time would go better. It was already changing. Maybe he wasn't so doomed after all.


She waited nervously in the line. She didn't have a good excuse to be in it, she just knew that it's where she met Tom last time, and so she could hope that he'd show up this time, too. And she'd get to see his smiling face again, with both eyes.

Becky heard a shrill voice talking loudly on a phone and rolled her eyes. Linda would never learn, would never change. She was surprised that the woman would even do her own shopping — though Linda actually seemed to enjoy it. She paid the man in front of Becky in order to cut the line, just like last time.

This time she didn't have the same sense of urgency as she did before, which was probably Wiggly's doing. But it was still bribery, and Linda was still annoying, so she still interjected.

"Excuse me—"

"No, Gerald," Linda continued to talk on the phone, "you cannot run across the street. I don't care if River has to use the bathroom, he can hold it like a man."

"Excuse me!"

"What?!" Linda and the man turned, and her face fell into a look of disgust. Part of Becky wanted to shoot her again. "Oh my God. Gerald," she spoke into her phone, "hold on. Becky Barnes is accosting me. ... Yes, call the police!"

The woman had always treated her like trash, even before the rest of town did. She was really sick with putting up with it.

"You can't just do that, Linda," she stayed pacifist. "You can't just cut the line."

"Oh, no, no, no, I did not cut. I bought this spot, fair and square," she smiled, and the man turned to her.

"It's alright, lady, I let her in," he smiled.

Becky wasn't going to bother with him this time. Instead, she kept her eyes on the petite blonde woman in the silly hat. "Linda. Do you really think your children are better than everyone else's?" She already knew the answer.

"In so many words, yes!" She shouted, and the line booed. She ignored them. "What are you doing here, anyway? You don't even have children, thank God."

She had no excuse, so she went with the first thing that came to mind. "I'm looking to get new toys for the hospital. And… And I'm getting a gift for a friend."

"A friend who collects toys?" Linda scoffs. "Sounds like a creep." The man in front of her turned around and opened his mouth to argue, and Linda put up a hand. "No. Turn back around. I have pepper spray and I use it more than you could ever imagine."

He did so, grumbling about a lawyer, and Becky clarified. "For the friend's son. But it's really none of your business why I'm here. Or why any of us are here!" She gestured to the rest of the line, who all avoided looking at her. 

Linda chuckled. "No one cares about your attempts at community, Becky. No one cares about the ra-ra, school spirit, cheerleader bullshit that you never grew out of."

Becky remembered what came next last time, and wanted to march right up to Linda and deck her, but found herself frozen, and not because of the cold. A second chance, and she still couldn't stand up for herself.

"It's why you stayed with Stanley, that monster husband of yours, right up until the moment he got bored and ran off."

She thought about the blood in the snow and on the knife.

"Or did you think your neighbors didn't notice you were wearing sunglasses on cloudy days? Turtlenecks in the summer?"

She thought about running away and climbing up a tree to hide. From him, from the police, from her actions.

"Well, they knew what was happening, they just… didn't care."

She thought about staying in that tree for two days, cold and afraid. 

"And that's why you disgust me. Not because you're naive. Because you're so weak."

She thought about how mortified she was that the whole town had found out, and she thought about how scared she was that they might know what she did, too.

Linda raised her phone back to her ear. "Oh, stop crying, Gerald, I wasn't talking to you!"

Becky stood, silent and still, alone with her thoughts. Until—

"Miss, you think I can get your spot in line? I've got like twenty bucks, it's really important, it's for my kid—"

His voice melted her from her frozen state and she whipped around to face him. She knew exactly what was happening, and still, she was nervous.

Tom, however, was shocked, and had taken her place in being frozen. "Becky Barnes?"

Part of her expected him to remember her. Remember the two months they spent together with the other survivors. With Tim. His last words to her hung heavy in her heart, and even with all his turmoil now, he looked better by a million miles.

But, of course, he only remembered her from high school. And this time there would be no movie theater hook-up. He seemed to regret moving so quickly, anyway, but it was the end of the world. It made sense, then. 

This time, she'd take it slow. She knew he felt the same, it just would take some time to get settled, and that was understandable. 

As he stood frozen still, and the line gossipped around them, she smiled. "Good to see you, Tom. I've missed you."


Mid-day at the Woodward house, Bill returned from shopping. He was normally very good with money, but became a bit of an impulse buyer when there were sales. At least he had most of his Christmas shopping done, now.

Sylvia followed him in, looking around the apartment fondly. They had organized a little shopping-date, and now, Bill hoped she might get to meet Alice. He'd have liked to have had Sylvia for Thanksgiving, but sadly she'd already accepted an invitation from the CEO, who seemed to have invited some of his favorite employees and their families. 

Alice, meanwhile, had a quiet Thanksgiving with Bill. She wanted to invite Deb, and Bill had even said yes, but she was stuck with her own family for the night. So they met up during the day, wandering around the mall, maybe catching a movie, running into Danny and Sof and hanging for a bit. Bill hoped they'd be home soon, and that the first meeting wouldn't be too awkward. 

The couple put everything away, hiding presents in Bill's bedroom, and shared some leftover turkey and some wine. He was so glad to have her in his life.

He didn't know it, but Sylvia initially got close to him because it was suspected he may know more than he was allowed to about CCRP. He didn't, but she had grown close to him regardless. Her job was done, but she had no intention of leaving.

At some point, the two shared a kiss, and were broken apart by a yelp of surprise. Alice had returned home with Deb, who had just walked in on them.

"Uh," she stuttered, "hi Mr. Woodward! And… lady."

Alice joined her quickly, having heard the scream, and looked between her dad and the unfamiliar woman beside him.

Bill stood, and cleared his throat. "Alice, I'd like to introduce you to Sylvia Carpenter, my girlfriend. And Sylvia, this is my lovely daughter, Alice. And, her girlfriend, Deb Daggit."

Sylvia also stood with an excited smile and offered her hand. "I've heard so much about you!"

Alice hesitantly took her hand and shook it. "Yeah, uh. Nice to meet you."

Awkward, yes, but not nearly as bad as he had expected.


Ted and Charlotte had infinitely less interesting Thanksgiving's. Ted had spent it with his brother, Peter, and they had put very little effort into making dinner. The best cooked thing was the mashed potatoes, and they didn't even bother with a turkey, but it wasn't all bad. They shot the shit together, like brothers do, and still went to bed with full stomachs.

Charlotte spent her's with Sam. She did put a lot of effort into making the dinner, but had never been too skilled as a cook. The turkey was burnt, but she supposed it was better than undercooked. Her and Sam ate in silence until he got a call, and he left for the night.

So, naturally, the two met up today. Ted had no care for shopping, but he still gave Charlotte a hand, his brash personality helping make things go quicker. He did also bring Peter, as the boy had requested being dropped off at the mall, and the two quickly split up. Peter didn't care too much about Ted's various flings. He instead met up with Oliver Green, a boy with similar interests (though considerably less horny), and secured a ride back with him.

They went back to her place, put the bags on the table, and immediately went to the bedroom. Where Sam was, Ted didn't know, nor did he care. Probably fucking some other man's wife.

It was a bad joke, and he thought of it every time, but Charlotte Sweetly sure was sweet.


The Davidson house was empty on Thanksgiving — Ken's boss had invited him and his wife to a celebration at his house, and everyone ate, drank, and was merry. 

The next day, Ken and Carol did some Black Friday shopping at Lakeside. Or, more accurately, they window-shopped and got hot chocolate, staying out of the cold and away from the lines. They didn't really need anything, or want anything. Sure, they sneakily got each other some presents for Christmas, but they didn't need anything big.

They already had each other, after all.


Ed Woods was perhaps a little too focused on keeping his squirrel son, Peanuts, in his pocket. He was getting older, bigger, more rambunctious. Much like a typical teenager, to his knowledge. These truly are the hard years of parenting. The struggle to connect with your child, and keep them safe without restraining them so much that they run away from you as adults… It was a difficult balance.

It was also difficult to keep your balance when you slam into someone. Peanuts gave a squeak of displeasure at the abrupt movement. 

Ed turned and glared at the person he walked into. "Watch where you're going!"

The man was Chris Hartly, dressed in a bright red sweater. He returned the glare. "Hey, you bumped into me. It's not my fault."

"You could've moved."

"Well you could've been looking at the world around you and now… what is in your pocket?"

Ed looked — Peanuts was poking his head out, sniffing up at Chris. Ed gave him a scratch on the chin. "Peanuts."

"The Peanuts?" Chris gaped. "Why are you taking him out here? Isn't it… dangerous? For a squirrel?"

"I didn't want to leave him alone," Ed shuffled. "And it's fine if you don't go bumping into people."

Chris sighed. "Look, man—"

"Excuse me!" A nasally voice interrupted, standing between the two. He offered his hands to shake. "Gary Goldstein, attorney at law, is something the matter here?"

Ed took the offered hand without really thinking, but Chris backed up. "No? He just bumped into me, not that big a deal."

Gary turned to Ed. "He could've hurt our city's biggest celebrity, sir. And as Peanuts' caretaker it is your responsibility to set things right! I'd gladly represent you."

Ed could not back away, as Gary still had his hand. He cleared his throat and fixed his hood with his free hand. "No, he's right, it's not that big a deal. And Peanuts isn't hurt, so…"

"So you're going to let just anyone walk all over you and your precious little squirrel?"

Ed blinked. "Are you desperate for new clients or something? Don't you work for Linda Monroe, and the Young family?"

Gary paused, and after a moment he stole his hand back and fixed his glasses. "I'm tired of all the big wigs. I'd like to help the little folk too, you know."

Ed and Chris both stood taller than Gary, but that wasn't the point. Ed put his hands in his pocket and gently held Peanuts. "I think that I'm alright, thanks. Not looking to sue anyone."

Gary sighed, and shrugged. "Suit yourself. Law suit! Ha! Just a bit of attorney humor for you. Here's my card," he tucked it into Ed's collar, "happy holidays!"

The attorney left in a hurry, probably to find other angry customers willing to hire him. Ed shared a confused look with Chris before laughing. "Uh. Sorry."

"It's alright," Chris smiled. "Just keep an eye out."

"Yeah, I will. Good luck shopping."

"You too!"


Professor Henry Hidgens did not bother to celebrate Thanksgiving. He had no one to celebrate it with, and he didn't want to cook a huge meal just for himself. So he simply did his usual dinner routine and spiced it up by sharing a bottle of wine with Alexa and Siri, and playing them some of Workin' Boys.

The second it turned midnight he looked up the best sales online and got supplies he needed, both for his classes and for his personal projects. He also found a really nice hairdryer.

He also had assignments to grade, but. Who really cared. He could just give them all B minuses and be done with it. 

Maybe he'd actually grade Emma's. She was his favorite because she didn't care but she still tried, and also she brought him groceries sometimes. She wouldn't help him with Workin' Boys , but she was tolerable. 

Speaking of, that British Duchess should be coming to visit sometime soon to look for the Ape-Man. He had to work on that plan, find some loser willing to hang around naked and seduce the poor woman.

But that would mean leaving his house. Ugh.

Maybe he'd just put up a Craigslist ad or something. That should be fine.


"Nanners!" A woman shouted, slamming open her bedroom door. Hannah bolted upright, awake and confused. Standing in the doorway was her mother, Pamela, looking pissed. "Get up, gremlin, your nursemaid's here."

Hannah looked across the room at Lex's bed — she wasn't in it. She must have already left for work. 

Suddenly, she remembered. Somehow, the memory calmed her. It was Black Friday again. Lex had to open at ToyZone, she'd get off at noon. Then the two of them and Ethan would leave for California.

In the old world, Lex was going to steal a Wiggly and sell it. In this one, she was going to steal money from the register.

Hannah's heart pounded. Wiggly was bad, but her new plan was still dangerous. She remembered, faintly, a world where her and Ethan got arrested for selling pills. 

She hurried and got ready, pulling on her overalls and her flannel and tying her braids. She looked for the Warriors' cap, before remembering she didn't have it here. At least, not yet.

Hannah stood in the center of her room, lost in thought. This wasn't right. She was supposed to be away from her mother, now. She was supposed to be safe. She was supposed to be with—

"John." Hannah looked around the room, strained her ears. She couldn't see him. She couldn't hear him. "John?"

The only thing her calling summoned was Pamela, who shouted "What are you goin' on about in there?!" from the living room. 

"I'm sorry, Hannah," she heard Webby, and felt the ethereal presence manifest beside her. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and saw the white of her web-like dress. "He's not here anymore."

"Came through, didn't he?" She looked up at the spider woman. "Must have merged."

Webby nodded. "I'm sure he did, but he's not from Hatchetfield, Hannah. If he merged like you did, he's probably back home."

"Said he'd find me. Find us. He's got too." She pulled her braids. "Can't leave. Can't go to California."

"Hannah!" Pamela shouted, and she looked to the door. Webby rubbed her shoulders.

"Go with Ethan. It'll all work out."

She disappeared, and Hannah slunk out of her room and then out of the house. Ethan was waiting outside in his jalopy, and she climbed into the passenger seat and buckled her seatbelt. Ethan was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

"So," he drew the word out as they began to drive away. "Is today a good day or a bad day?"

She didn't know. There was no Wiggly, so that was good. But Lex could get arrested for stealing, and if they left for California, John might never find them.

"We can't go to California," she decided to say. 

Ethan looked over at her for a second. "Why not? That's been the plan since forever, Banana."

"Have to wait for John," her voice cracked, and she covered her mouth. 

Ethan slammed on the breaks, and Hannah held her breath. He looked at her fully. "John? The General guy, that John?"

"You remember?"

"You finally remember!" He grinned. "It-It's been a week, I thought maybe I was goin' crazy, or I had dreamt it all or… I don't know. But you remember now!"

Hannah thought about it for a second. "Must have… gone back to when you came from. When you came through the portal."

He nodded, moving his hair out of his face. "I guess so. And I guess that means the spies are back in the 60s."

Hannah nodded. "Gotta wait for John."

"Did he come through?"

Another nod. "He'll find us."

Ethan took a breath. "Alright. Alright. I believe you." He started driving again. "But if Lex doesn't remember, it'll be tough to convince her."

"Lex went through. Went through Infected, but went through."

"I haven't seen her today," Ethan shuddered. "I hope she's not spreading that blue shit around or something."

"Merger is mental, not physical. She's okay." Hannah hoped she was okay.

They pulled up to the mall and parked, and walked to the back of ToyZone to meet up with Lex. She was smoking, and Hannah and Ethan spotted a tall man in a heavy jacket running off, a Sedan parked in the loading zone.

Hannah nearly cried at the sight of her sister, alive and well and the same as she always was. She ran up to the older girl and hugged her tight.

"Whoah, hey," Lex laughed, and patted her head. "You okay, Banana?"

Hannah looked up at her sister through her bangs. "You remember, right?"

Lex looked back, her face softening, her own eyes welling up with tears too. She nodded. "Yes. Fuck, Hannah, I—"

Hannah held her tighter, and Lex returned it tenfold. Ethan joined in, holding them both, and there the trio stood, together again at last. The moment was ruined when Lex's boss came to collect her, as it was time to open. He chased off Ethan, but Hannah grabbed Lex's arm and held her back.

"Don't do it. Wait for John. It'll be okay," she warned.

Frank gave her a weird look, and Lex patted her on the head. "I'll be okay. I'll see you later."

The sisters were split, and Hannah had to hope that Lex would listen. Ethan came and took her hand, and they walked through the mall to the cineplex.

Hannah sat on a bench while Ethan tried to barter with the ticket-taker. So much was different, but so much was familiar. Sure, this time there was no Wiggly, there were no riots, there was no death, no bad blood. But there was still the line at ToyZone, and here came the security guard to tell off Ethan, and Santa Claus is Goin' to High School was still playing. 

Last time, the security guard was going to take Ethan to the mall jail or whatever, so this time she hopped up off the bench to take his hand and lead him away. They couldn't go to California, but she still didn't want him to get in trouble.

Instead, they walked around the mall and window-shopped. She saw Ed and Chris arguing, and Gary insert himself into the conversation. She tensed at the sight of him, but this Gary was not under Wiggly's influence. He may be a bit sleazy, but he wasn't going to kidnap her.

At one point they went into Starbucks to get a coffee for Hannah and hot chocolate with whipped cream for Ethan. As they waited for their drinks, she saw Ken and Carol Davidson, sitting together at a table, happy and in love. 

She saw Bill and a red-haired woman coming out of a clothes store, and she saw Alice and Deb in a cooking store only a block over. She saw Oliver and a boy a bit younger than him walking and talking. She saw Ted and Charlotte half-arguing over shopping bags and the time. She saw Linda and her sons, and a man who was presumably her husband eyeing the Cinnabon.

She saw Becky and Tom talking quietly, holding bags from ToyZone. Tom looked nervous, flustered, but Becky looked calm. They both seemed happy, and she was happy for them. She figured Becky remembered, too.

At noon, they returned to ToyZone and picked up Lex. She looked exhausted, and Frank was reluctant to let her leave, but Hannah and Ethan wouldn't take no for an answer.

She had not stolen the money. Hannah was relieved. Now, they just had to wait for John.

"How about," Ethan suggested once they were all in the car, "we get some KFC or somethin' and have a little picnic. Oakley Park's prolly not busy."

"It's almost December, Ethan," Lex pointed out. "It's probably gonna be freezing out there."

"Eh, it's too cold then we go inside. No big deal." He looked over his shoulder to Hannah. "What say you, huh?"

Hannah had a good feeling about that park, and nodded. Lex seceded with a shrug, and Ethan drove them to KFC. It was chicken, not turkey, but it didn't really matter.

Lex was right, the park was cold, but the good feeling only strengthened, and she was determined to stay. The trio ate their lunch, and Lex and Ethan talked quietly while Hannah kept an eye out for John. He had to be coming. 

After a while Hannah went to use the bathroom. It was less that she had to, and more that she was getting cold and just didn't want to admit it. If she washed her hands with warm water, she would hopefully feel better.

As she was walking back, a voice called out. "Excuse me?"

It was an older voice, kind and warm. She had heard it before, somewhere, but she couldn't quite place it. Hannah turned and saw a man with a beard and owl-eyed glasses approaching her. He gave her a gentle smile. "Are you Hannah Foster?"

The glasses connected it. She nodded. "You're Ed. Ed McNamara."

He chuckled, and nodded, seeming impressed. "I guess he wasn't lying. I mean, I didn't think he was, but it was quite a tale, so—"

"Is John here?" 

Ed nodded again. "We split up. I'll go find him, you, uh. He said you have a sister?" Hannah pointed over towards where Lex and Ethan still were, at their little picnic. "Okay, you go back to them, and we'll meet you there."

Ed and Hannah hurried off in their separate ways, and she flapped her hands all the way back.

"John's coming!" She told them, trying not to shout. "He's coming, he's coming!"

"Where?" Lex looked around, but saw nothing but the open field, and the trees that lined the outer border of the park.

"Saw his husband! He's coming!"

"He has a husband?" Ethan asked.

Hannah paced around, looking for any sign of the couple. Minutes passed, and there was still nothing. She wouldn't lose hope. Ed said he was around. He had to be coming. 

There was movement from the treeline, and Hannah held her breath. The trio watched, and out came a man with a beard and owl-eyed glasses. Ed waved and smiled, looking back over his shoulder.

She almost didn't recognize him.

His long hair was partially pulled back into a ponytail, the rest still loose around his shoulders, looking brighter and fluffier than ever. He wore a warm-looking red jacket, but his cheeks and nose were still kissed pink by the cold air. He wore jeans, but his boots were still what Hannah would call military. 

He locked eyes with Hannah, and neither looked away. Step by step, they approached each other, never looking away, waiting with baited breath to see if this was real.

They stopped less than a foot apart and made no further moves for a moment. Finally, he swallowed and took his hand out of his pocket, offering it to Hannah. She reached up and touched it.

She did not phase through. His hand was warm, and his palms were calloused. The hands of a hardworking man; the hands of a father.

John dropped to a kneel, and the two fell into a tight hug.


"I don't know how to convince you," the other John sighed. "You can't fight your way out. And I can't fight you, I wouldn't want too. The only way out is together."

"There is never only one way," he argued.

"Usually, yes. But things don't work the same way here."

"The more you tell me, the more I'm inclined to disbelieve you."

"Well you aren't going to figure it out for yourself," the other John scoffed. "Clearly you aren't hearing what I hear."

"You're right, I'm not. Because I am not a psychic."

"Yes you are. I thought the same thing until I had this… psychic burst of energy. It's only happened twice, but we wouldn't be here if we weren't at least a little bit psychic."

"Then why do only you hear these directions?"

"Because I'm the one who has to get permission. I'm only informing you. The merger is your decision. You have the control here."

"But if there's only one choice to make, then it doesn't matter who's in control."

The other John sighed and turned away. "This is going nowhere. We're never getting out of here."

The argument stopped by nature of both of them shutting up. They paced around separately, contemplating the endless whiteness of their prison.

After who knew how long, John heard something. A faint whisper, he couldn't quite make out. Then again, and again, getting louder, clearer.

"Merge. Combine in the new world, or perish in this one. Merge. She's waiting for you. Merge."

The voice wasn't loud, or angry, or even that sudden, but he still felt the urge to cover his ears. The other John looked over at him. "Do you hear it now?"

"Yes," he admitted, voice shaky.

"Then you know I'm not lying."

"Yes, but…" he thought of Ed. He thought of Corey. He thought of his friends, his family. "I don't want to disappear. I know you're looking for the girl, but I don't want to be erased."

The other John looked at him for a long moment, and then walked up to him. He put his hand on his shoulder.

"You will not disappear. Neither will I. We will become one, both of us existing together, neither erased or replaced. I'm sure it will be more difficult than it sounds, but we won't be gone. You won't lose them."

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. As he released the breath, he nodded, and the whiteness claimed them both.

John woke to his usual alarm going off — it was five in the morning, the sun was still hours from rising, and the air smelled like baked goods.

Last night was Thanksgiving. And in bed beside him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, was Ed, his hair freshly cut short just earlier that week.

John turned off the alarm and sat up. Ed wrapped his arms around John's back and hummed. "Do you have to go?"

He remembered this conversation. He remembered so much.

He turned around to face his husband, and tears nearly came to his eyes. "Yes. But I'm not going to work."

Ed raised an eyebrow. "Tell me your not Black Friday shopping, John. That's gonna be a nightmare."

"No, no," he shook his head. "No, I have to go to Hatchetfield."

"Hatchetfield?" He sat up. "Don't you hate that place?"

"I have to find Hannah and Lex," he took a shaky breath and tried to calm down. The influx of memories was overwhelming, but he knew he had to find them. He promised he would find them, he would help them. He felt Ed take his hands and squeeze them, and John looked back at him. "How do you feel about having daughters?"

Ed blinked. "Uh, fine? Who are Hannah and Lex? Can you… explain this a little better, Johnny?"

Explain it he did. They sat in bed for an hour and a half as John explained Black Friday, and Wiggly, and being connected to Hannah, and the two months in Hatchetfield, and the merger. Explained that he was not entirely the same John he knew. 

Ed listened, asked questions when he needed. At the end, he let out a long breath, shaking his head. "This is… not what I expected to hear on a Friday morning."

"I'm sorry."

"No, don't be," Ed cupped his face. "I believe you. You do so much crazy shit, I mean. I'd be stupid not to believe you."

"I'm sorry that I'm not the same man. Not fully, at least."

"You remember me, right?"

"Of course."

"Do you love me?"

"Forever and always."

Ed smiled. "You sound the same to me."

John kissed him then, happy to finally be able to. Ed smiled into it, but pulled away after a few moments. "We should get going."

John tilted his head. "Going where?"

"To Hatchetfield? To find the girls?"

"You want to come?"

"Hey, you're the one who asked if I wanted daughters," he grinned. "It'd be wrong of me to not help find them."

The two men hurried to get ready. John knew he wouldn't be able to get away with using PEIP resources in order to fly to Hatchetfield, so he asked Ed to see if he could get them tickets. John knew how to work PEIP's technology just fine, but was a bit inept when it came to things like cell phones. Though, he was able to call and let someone know he wouldn't be coming in today — but there was no threat of Wiggly in this world. There was less risk.

Part of John felt odd wearing different clothes. He remembered wearing his uniform for two months, never changing, never dirtying. It had started to feel like a second skin.

Now he was in a pair of jeans and a button-up flannel. He kept his work boots, as they were his most reliable pair of shoes, and since he was now corporeal again, he needed a jacket to stay warm. Corey had gotten him a nice, thick red one last Christmas, and he'd hardly worn it. He didn't often wear bright colors, but it was nice and snug. Plus, a bright color might make him stand out more. Easier for the Foster's to spot.

He still felt awkward.

He grabbed his wallet, his keys, his cigarettes, his medication. He didn't have anything to take it with, and he preferred taking pills with something to drink, so he went to the kitchen to find one.

"Howdy, John," Wilbur smiled, handing him a cup of coffee. "Ed said you two're off to Hatchetfield?"

John took the cup, and nodded. He was halfway to raising it to his lips when the memory returned. Wilbur was dead. A servant of Wiggly, and John had killed at least a version of him.

He dropped the mug, and it shattered on the kitchen floor, coffee splashing both men's legs. Wilbur looked at it, confused, and John reached for a gun that wasn't there. His memories conflicted, and try as he might, he was panicking. He backed away. If he could get back to his bedroom—

"John?" Wilbur reached out, worry evident in his features. "Son, are you alright?"

"How are you—" He cleared his throat. "How are you here?"

"You invited me last night, I stayed the night. Are you feeling okay?"

John blinked hard, and took a better look at the man before him. He was definitely Wilbur Cross, or some version of him. His hair was mostly silver, and he had deep wrinkles around his face. He wore his dog tags around his neck, displaying his name and rank. His eyes were brown, and full of a fatherly concern.

More memories returned. Wilbur had gone into the portal that fateful day in 2005, and came out quicker than anyone had anticipated. John and his sister rushed to meet him, and he said that a woman in white told him to turn back, to stay out. That a child was with her, and urged him to heed her.

There had been more tests on the Black and White, more expeditions, and they had lost some lives — but no one had allied themselves with the monsters that lurked within. Not Wilbur, not anyone else. 

John now outranked Wilbur, who had steadfastly refused to leave the active field, but he was now in his 60s, and finally getting ready to officially leave PEIP at the end of the year.

John almost started crying. His friend, his mentor, his father was back. Alive. Sane.

He stepped forward and hugged the man tight. Wilbur chuckled a bit in surprise, but wholeheartedly returned it. 

Remembering the mug, John reluctantly pulled away and kneeled to pick up the glass. He threw it away and started to look for the mop before Wilbur stopped him.

"You and Ed best get goin'," he said. "I'll take care of it. Or I'll make Corey do it, heh heh."

John nodded, and took a breath. He grabbed a new mug, filled it with coffee, and took his meds.

"John," Wilbur put a hand on his arm. "Is everythin' alright?"

He looked to the older man, and couldn't help but smile. "Yes. Everything is good. And if this goes well, it will only get better." He patted Wilbur's shoulder. "I hope your ready for granddaughters."

"Oh?"

John merely winked, and left the room. He drank the rest of the coffee as he looked around the little house for Ed, finding him with Corey near the guest room. The young man had clearly only woken up recently — he was a good soldier, but it was a holiday. He was more than allowed to sleep in.

The pair noticed John and looked over. Corey fixed his glasses. "So, what made you want to have more kids?"

"You'd rather stay an only child?" John tilted his head.

"I didn't say that." 

"We can tell you the whole story when we get back. You're welcome to stay until then, by the way." He pulled Corey into a quick hug. "But we better get going."

The McNamara's said goodbye, and off they went. Four hours later, around noon, they landed in Hatchetfield, and John realized that he didn't know where to look. In the two months they had spent together, the group was staying in the Professor's house — they wouldn't be there now. 

He recalled that Lex worked in the mall, at a toy store. That was where he'd found her last time, so that was where they'd start.

The place ended up being called ToyZone, but they didn't find Lex or Hannah there. Instead, they found the owner of the store, a charming salesman named Frank Pricely.

His face dropped when the couple admitted they weren't here to buy anything, just looking for Lex.

"Well, she got off at noon," Frank admitted. "Why, is she getting arrested again?"

"Again?" Ed started to wonder what he'd agreed too.

"No," John stated, blunt as ever. "It's none of your concern. Do you know where she went?"

"Her sister and her boyfriend came and got her when she got off," Frank shrugged. "Don't know where they went after that."

"It's lunchtime," Ed noted, turning to John. "Maybe we look in restaurants or something?"

It was a start. They looked around the mall, but saw no sign of the Fosters or Ethan.

As they continued to search the town, John found himself drawn towards a certain area — Oakley Park. Something about it gave him a good feeling, and he told Ed as much.

The two split up, and after maybe twenty minutes, Ed came running up to him. "I met Hannah. She looks just like you said she would, and she recognized me! She's so sweet, reminds me of you a little," he smiled. "Her and the other two are back that way a bit, they're having some kind of picnic."

The news was good, and John was excited, but somehow he was nearly too nervous to move. She wanted to see him. He wanted to see her. He hoped Lex would feel the same. He hoped everyone would get along.

So Ed took his hand and led him out of the woods. And John stood in his red jacket opposite Hannah and her overalls.

The hug he received from her was not the first he'd gotten that day, but it was the first he finally shed a tear over.


There was one thing left to do; go home. Lex and Hannah had little in the way of possessions, but there were still things to collect, and the girls' mother to deal with. John insisted on telling her what was going on, lest he be charged with kidnapping.

So, the group went back to the Foster trailer. Ethan rode with Lex in his jalopy, leading the way, and Hannah rode in the backseat of John and Ed's rental car, chatting with the two all the way. She was nervous to face her mother, but happy to leave. 

They parked and found that there were already two cars out front; an old station wagon, and a 1987 Pontiac Firebird. Hannah only recognized one of them, but Lex beat her to the punchline. "Shit, was Duke coming today?"

John looked over. "Who's Duke?"

"He's our social worker," she shrugged. "He… tries his best."

"Good man," Hannah said. "Wants to help. But… Mom's sneaky."

"If we told him, things probably would've gotten worse for Hannah, so…"

John nodded. "I'd hate for you to end up in the system, or apart."

"Good thing that won't happen," Ed smiled. 

"But, uh," Ethan pointed to the Pontiac. "Who's the retro?"

"I dunno," Lex squinted. "I don't recognize the car."

The group walked up towards the house, and it wasn't long before they heard shouting. Hannah took John and Lex's hands and held them tight, nervous.

"Pamela," a man's voice, Southern-twinged, was speaking, clearly trying not to lose his temper. "This is it. You are negligent to the point of abuse, you are relying on your teenage daughter to support you and her sister, and the state of your house and your mind show clear signs of child endangerment. I'm sorry, but I'll be contacting the court and having your custody of them revoked. Lord knows I should've done that ages ago."

"You can't do that!" A more obviously-Southern woman had no problem being loud. "They're my babies, Duke, they need their mother!"

"They need a responsible adult, that's what they need."

Soon, the pair was in sight, just a bit past the cars. Also with them was someone leaning against the Pontiac. Their back was to them, but they had long, bright red hair that Hannah could've sworn was familiar.

Unfortunately, Pamela was the first to spot them, and gave an exaggerated gasp. "There they are! Oh, my poor dears, I've been worried sick!" She made quite the show of running up to the girls, but when she got close enough, she flashed them a threatening look.

That was when John stepped forward, standing in front of the sisters. He wasn't much taller than Pamela, but his presence certainly was. She took a step back and glared.

"Who the hell are you?" She spat. "Get away from my girls! Pervert! Duke, this is who you should be lockin' up!"

The man in question had followed, and looked between the group, giving Ethan a small wave. He adjusted his jacket. "Thank you for bringing them here, sir. Could I ask your name?"

He stood straight and firm, like a tree. "General John McNamara of the United States military," he stated, stopping himself before mentioning PEIP. "I'm glad you're here. I hear you're a social worker?"

"Ah, yes. Doug Keane," he offered his hand, which John shook for longer than may have been necessary.

"Good to meet you, Mr. Keane. I intend to take custody of Lex and Hannah."

"Pardon?"

"He means," Ed chimed in, "that we're looking to adopt the two of them."

Pamela scoffed. "They aren't for sale."

"Adoption isn't a sale," Ed spat back, and John took his arm. No need for a fight.

"Uh," Duke fixed his hair. "I'm… not sure if it's that simple, Mr. McNamara. Or, General—"

"Johnny?" A third voice asked. Again, Hannah was certain she'd heard it before.

Everyone turned to see the red haired figure from before approaching. John blinked in surprise. "Lo?"

Hannah took the woman in. She had big hair, and a denim jacket. She was short, but drew attention, almost like magic.

It clicked, the memory resurfaced, and she bounced. "Witch!"

Duke tensed at the accusation, but the woman merely smiled. "Hello, Hannah. You finally made it."

"You know each other?" Duke asked. "Actually. Wait, hang on…" He tried to wrap his head around it, but the Witch assured him with a pat on the arm.

"Duke, this is my brother, John. And you, little miss," she turned to Hannah, "can call me Miss Holloway."

The Witch, or rather, Miss Holloway, shook Hannah's hand before looking back to John. "Surprised to see you here."

"You know about the other world, I assume?" He asked. She nodded, and he mirrored her. "Me, Hannah, Lex, and Ethan all came from it. As well as a few others, who I'm sure are scattered around town."

"I met Hannah in a dream, there," she explained. "I'm glad you're all safe."

Duke and Pamela both looked somewhat lost, and Holloway shrugged. "We can explain more later. For now, let's get this whole adoption thing settled, hm?"

"Now you wait just a damn second," Pamela snapped out of her stupor. "I ain't lettin' some military man take my daughters away."

"You're losing them one way or another," Duke reminded. "And I don't think you'll have much say in where they go. It might as well be to someone who, uh. Already knows and cares for them."

"No!" Pamela all but screamed. 

Holloway, clearly annoyed, put a hand on Pamela's arm and stared deep into her eyes. "Why don't you go lay down for a while, hm?" Her voice echoed in the open space, quiet, soothing, hypnotic.

After a bit more persuasion, Pamela went back into the trailer to do just that. Holloway put her hands in her pockets, and Duke looked at her for a moment with an expression of pure love.

"Perhaps I'll be attending your wedding someday," John later whispered to her, only half joking. She responded with a blush and elbowed him in the side.

At the end of the day, after the lengthy explanation of how the McNamara's knew the Foster girls and how Holloway knew Hannah, Duke managed to pull a few strings and allowed the girls to leave with John and Ed, back to DC. They may have to return for a court hearing, but at least for now, they could leave.

"Though I gotta say, I'll be sad to see you go," Duke gave them a smile. "But it's for the best. Hatchetfield's nice, but there's not much room to grow."

"I'm sure you'll see them again," Holloway smiled, and looked at John across the table. "I'm sure we'll be in better contact now, hm?"

"I'll do my best," he promised. "But you're a hard woman to get ahold of."

 "I'll give you my address, we'll be penpals."

The plane ride back was long, and Hannah slept for most of it. She sat between Lex and Ethan, the latter of whom was merely helping them move, and reluctant to leave his girlfriend and sister who he adored.

John and Ed's house was dark and quiet when they arrived, early in the morning on Saturday. It only really dawned on Hannah that it was Saturday until just then.

Black Friday was over. There was no war, not riots, no nukes, no death. No Wiggly. 

She took John's hand, and held it tight. There was no badness here, no evil.

She was with her family. She was home.

Hannah slept on the couch that night, beside John and Lex. It was the best night's sleep of her life.

And once everyone was in bed, a kind, ethereal presence joined them, tucking them in with a blanket made from spider's silk. She kissed Hannah on the head, and disappeared back into the Black and White.