Sitting cross-legged in the grass near the pier that led out onto the lake in the Atherby camp, Tabbris bit her lip while using one finger to draw a random symbol into the nearby dirt. It wasn’t a symbol that meant anything, simply random doodling. Sniffling a little as her eyes watered too much to actually see what she was doing, the Seosten girl closed them and gave a little shudder.
She’d run away. After what Mr. Cha… Mr. Cham… Fa… Da… After what he had said back in the cabin, Tabbris had just… had to get away. It was too much to try and handle. After everything she’d been through, after all her hopes and dreams and… and wishes seemed to be coming true, all she’d been able to do was run away. Excusing herself, apologizing frantically and desperately, she had fled the cabin where everyone was eating. Her last words had been to say that she needed a minute and to please leave her alone. Leave her alone. She had told her family to leave her alone.
It wasn’t true. She didn’t want to be left alone… did she? She had been alone for so long, and now she wasn’t. But it was moving so fast. Everything was moving so fast. She’d always had so much time alone, and now… now… what was wrong with her? What was wrong with her? Was she some kind of freak who didn’t even know how to be happy when good things were happening? Why was she crying because Mr. Cham–Flick’s da–her… her… why was she crying because he accepted her? What was wrong with her?
She should have been happy. She was happy. But… but… she was also overwhelmed.
At least she had repressed the urge to jump into Flick herself and hide. She was still herself. She just… had to step out, had to go away and sit down where she could breathe. It was too much to take in all at once. So, she’d run. She had run out here to sit down by the lake just to catch her breath. And then she’d become too embarrassed about ruining everything to go back.
“Pretty heavy stuff, huh?” The voice came from behind Tabbris, as Flick moved to sit down next to her.
Cringing, the young girl hunched in on herself while quickly stammering, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just- I couldn’t… I didn’t mean to ruin–”
“Hey.” Flick’s hand found her shoulder, squeezing a little bit. “Tabby, you don’t have to explain anything. It’s okay to be overwhelmed sometimes. Even a lot of happy things is still a lot of things. It’s a lot to deal with. Trust me, it’s alright.” She rubbed the girl’s head a little and smiled at her. “No one‘s mad at you for needing to get away for a minute. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You know, while we wait for the others to finally show up.”
Swallowing, Tabbris leaned against the older girl. “I’m happy,” she admitted in a trembling voice. “I am really, really happy. I mean, I didn’t know it was possible to be this happy. But I’m scared. I’m so happy that I’m scared. What if it goes away? What if something ruins it?” Looking down again, she mumbled, “I guess it’s just dumb.”
Flick’s head shook. “It’s definitely not dumb.” Putting her fist up against Tabbris’s shoulder, she gave her a little push while winking at her. “But you know whatever happens, we’ll deal with it, right? We’ll deal with it together. Because what are we?”
“Partners,” Tabbris answered in a tiny voice, biting her lip as she turned her head to look up at Flick.
“Damn straight,” The other girl confirmed. “But not just that. We’re partners and sisters. And that means that whatever happens, we’re in it together.” She coughed then, looking thoughtful for a moment. “Which sort of reminds me, there’s a lot more people who know about you now. Which means they’ll want to talk to you sometimes. You know, since you’re brilliant and amazing. But you can’t just go jumping out of me at any old time. So I think it’s time we actually did something about that since we’re back here on Earth now.”
Blinking up at that, Tabbris gave her a curious look. “What do you mean?” she asked hesitantly.
“I mean,” Flick replied, “we need some signals. We talked about it a little bit back on Athena’s base. And we’ve got that whole system for fighting together. Which, if I do say so myself, makes us even more incredibly badass. But we don’t really have a good system for letting you talk through me when you need to. Which, like I said, we need now that people know about you.”
Eyes widening, Tabbris stared at the older girl, taken aback by the suggestion. “Talking through you?” she echoed in a stammering voice. “You mean like taking control just to talk?”
Flick was nodding as if it was the most simple and obvious thing in the world. “Of course. I mean, you’re part of the team. And they’re going to know about you. The ones who don’t already, I mean. So, if we’re going to do this, they need to be able to know when you’re talking and when I’m talking. You deserve the right to have actual input. Especially with everything that’s going on. I want everyone to know just how cool and smart you are. But I guess I’ll settle for just our friends. You know, the most important people.”
While Tabbris gaped at her for a minute, not knowing what to say, Flick continued. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m pretty sure I have a good idea about how we can let people know that you’re talking instead of me. I’ve got my hair and face shifting power, you know? The one from the Rakshasa.”
When Tabbris hesitantly nodded, unable to find her voice, the other girl went on. “I’ve been messing with it a little bit since I got it. You know, messing with my hair here and there. It’s fun. But I think it could be useful for this too. See, what I was thinking was, I could start changing my hair color and length and all that a lot more. Just randomly changing it in the middle of conversation. Doing it a lot so that people don’t think anything‘s weird. But, here’s the thing. We could reserve a couple different colors just for you. That way, when you’re saying something, you switch my hair to one of those colors and people who know about you will know that you’re the one talking.”
Gulping audibly at that, Tabbris offered a tentative, “But, I could just keep relaying messages through you. I don’t need some kind of credit or anything. Who cares?”
“I care,” Flick insisted. “And trust me, you deserve to get a little bit of credit where you can. I guess I can’t make everyone understand how awesome you are, but I can do this much. We’ll just let the appropriate people know that when my hair is certain colors, you’re the one talking. And then, when we’re in a conversation and you have something to say, you can just, you know, say it. Simple, right?”
Tabbris’s eyes had somehow found a way to get even wider than they had already been, while a tiny squeaking noise escaped her for a second before she managed to speak actual words. “You mean just start talking with your mouth without making sure you’re okay with it?”
Flick met her gaze evenly at that. “Tabby, if you’re stuck in my body, you deserve to be able to interact with people as much as we can manage. All you need to do is maybe let me know that you’re gonna say something. I don’t know, like maybe say me or something inside so I know you’re about to talk. Or maybe a better codeword. I dunno, exactly. Just so that I don’t start saying something and then interrupt myself, you know? We still need to be subtle about it and make sure no one figures out what’s going on.
“The point is, you’ve earned a voice. Actually, you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than that. But a voice is the least I can give you. So, what colors do you want to be yours? We should probably make it more than one so that it’s harder to pin down you saying specific things with one color.”
Tabbris still wasn’t sure about the whole situation, but she hesitantly answered, “Um… white? White and um… pink?”
Flick grinned at her. “White and pink it is. Those can be your colors. And…” Stopping, the blonde girl tilted her head a little, clearly thinking for a few seconds before snapping her fingers. “Actually, now I have an idea. Watch this.”
As Tabbris obediently did so, the girl who had become her big sister in every way that really mattered seemed to focus for a moment. A second later, one of her eyes turned pink while the other became totally white without any visible pupil.
“It won’t work when we’re in a large group where people can’t really see my eyes very well,” she conceded, “but for small groups, we can mix things up a little. Switch between hair and eyes so that it’s even harder to keep track for anyone on the outside.”
Despite herself, Tabbris found a smile. “We should mix up the colors sometimes too,” she pointed out. “You know, change them every couple weeks or so, or something like that. Just so that it’s even harder to, um, notice.”
To be completely honest, she still wasn’t sure how she felt about this whole idea. But she did know that she trusted Flick without any question. And she would do everything she could to help make the plan work. Besides, maybe being able to talk sometimes and have people know it was her would be kind of nice?
Wait, was that selfish? Wanting credit, wanting to interact with people and have them know it was her, was that going too far? This was a slippery slope, which was part of why she was so afraid of it. Terrified, really. She didn’t want to become the kind of monster that so many of her species were, those who didn’t see other people as anything more than puppets to control. She never wanted to be like that. Never.
Flick was nodding. “Good point, yeah. We should change the colors every once in awhile just to be on the safe side.” She gave the other girl a wide grin. “And see, now we’ve got that settled. So we can talk about you walking around Crossroads.”
Tabbris did a quick, startled double take at that. If she’d had a drink, she would have sprayed it all over. “I can’t walk around Crossroads,” she blurted. “Maybe there’s some problems with the security, but I think most of them would notice a little kid like me. Even if I am invisible to their security spells. Which, actually, would probably make them even more suspicious.”
Flick giggled. “Uh, yeah, probably. but that’s my point. You don’t walk around as yourself. You walk around as me. You know, my body.”
Tabbris stared at her as though she had grown six new heads, each of them spouting complete gibberish. “Y-you mean t-take over your body and walk around? Like, when we’re not fighting, just, just… to walk around?”
“What I really want,” Flick informed her while meeting the younger girl’s eyes with her own, which had returned to their natural brown, “ is for you to be able to walk around as yourself. I want you to be free. But, this is the next best thing, for now. Sometimes, I can just, you know, tune out. Go inside my own head and daydream or whatever. Maybe you could work out a way with your mom about getting me in one of those virtual reality things to hang out while you have a chance to do your thing. Walk around, feed the sharks, go for a walk or go swimming. Hell, maybe just play video games with the others. You might be better at them than I am. You know, just do whatever you want to do.
“Like I said, you’ve earned it. After everything you’ve done for me, the least I can do is let you take over for an hour or two each day. I’ve already got a bunch of extra hours in the day thanks to that Amarok. You can use at least one of them for yourself.”
Tabbris said nothing for a few long seconds. Instead, she simply stared at the other girl with big, round eyes that grew gradually more damp before she couldn’t see through them anymore. Blinking back those tears, the Seosten girl finally managed a weak, “Y-you… you don’t have to do that.”
Shaking her head, Flick corrected her. “It’s not about what I have to do, Tabby. It’s about what I want to do. Like I said, you deserve to be more than a prisoner while you’re hanging out in my body. And it’s not like I can’t trust you. Remember? You spent years proving that I can. You could’ve taken me over any time you wanted to. But you didn’t do anything more than you absolutely had to in order to protect me.” Reaching out, she touched Tabbris’s hair lightly. “I trust you, partner. And if the best way to let you hang out and do something you want to do while we’re at Crossroads is to let you borrow my body for a little bit, then you’re welcome to it.”
Once again, Tabbris had no words. Her mouth opened and shut a couple of times as she fought to find her voice. But nothing came. In the end, all she could do was lean over, wrapping her arms tightly around the older girl to hug her.
Flick returned the embrace just as tightly, smiling down at her. “Besides, I’m pretty sure we’re basically officially sisters now, and sisters are supposed to share. This is just… a little more sharing than normal. But since when was anything about either of us normal?”
The two sat together like that, quietly embracing. Tabbris pulled herself up into Flick’s lap, and they remained silent for a moment. Each was content to simply look out over the lake as its waves gently lapped up against the shore, quietly contemplating the situation that they were in and the lives that they had led up to that point.
“Flick?” Tabbris started quietly, almost reluctant to break the peaceful quiet.
The other girl’s voice was just as soft, “Yeah, Tabby?”
Swallowing, the Seosten child leaned back into her adopted sister. “Our… Our dad is really cool.”
The smile was audible within Flick’s voice. “Yeah. He really is.”
“Our family is really weird.”
“… Yeah. It really is.”