The following is a commissioned interlude, thanks go to the commissioner.
With a resounding crack, Sarah Lucas (formerly Mason and more commonly known as Scout) used the wooden bat she was holding to send the baseball she had just tossed into the air sailing out far into the distance across the park-like field in the middle of the housing neighborhood that she and other students her age had been assigned to. There were dozens of others in the park, most of them hanging out in pairs or trios here and there. Sarah was alone, watching as the baseball sailed away. Once it came down and rolled across the grass, she focused on a fairly new power she’d been working out over the past couple days. Kneeling, the brunette girl thrust one hand (her normal, flesh and blood hand) down through the grass and dirt at her feet. At the same time, her hand emerged up out of the grass right next to the ball. She grabbed it, then pulled her hand up, watching as her hand in the distance went down, then came out with the ball in her grasp.
It was, obviously, a strange feeling. Essentially, she could put any of her four limbs (as well as anything she was holding) through any surface and make them emerge out of any relatively identical surface within her line of sight. She’d needed a way of practicing with it, as well as a way to take her mind off of… things. And hitting baseballs out was a good way of doing both.
As she was rising to her feet to hit the ball again, a voice called, “Hey, Scout!” Tristan Moon, coming into her line of sight, winced and gestured with realization. “Right, sorry, Sarah. Hey, Sarah.” The blond boy flashed a brief, perfect little smile. He looked like one of those teen heartthrobs who belonged on a poster taped to the walls of any number of young girls’ bedrooms. At least, that was what Sarah had heard more than one of her Bystander-kin classmates say. They also said that it was as if the boy (and his twin sister) had been artificially created in a lab to be incredible crush-fodder. Which was just how being part-Seosten went, she supposed.
“Hi, Tristan,” she answered simply, voice quiet as she watched him curiously. “Are you okay?”
His mouth opened, before the boy stopped. He took a moment to collect himself, heaving a heavy sigh. “You mean am I okay that it’s now three days until Flick’s birthday, she’s been missing for weeks, and that pretty soon she’s going to end up being a prisoner of the same psychotic fucking piece of shit who’s been holding her mother prisoner for a decade and who also caused the Black Death?” After saying all that, he sighed, looking down. “Sorry. I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant to say, it just started slipping out and then I couldn’t stop it.”
He looked over to her then, adding, “I guess I’m just feeling like… if we hadn’t taken off that anchor spell, I’d still be connected to Flick. Then, when she was taken like that, maybe I would’ve been yanked along with her. And if I was, maybe Fossor wouldn’t’ve been expecting me, and we could have taken him by surprise. At least enough to escape, you know?”
Sarah blinked, blinked again, and then spoke up in a flat voice. “Don’t be stupid.” She said it outright, loud enough to be heard while looking straight at him. Which might not have seemed like much, but it was more than she might have done a year earlier. Just being able to speak audibly with others, to be out here alone without her sister, was testament to how much had changed. For years, Sarah had essentially behaved as little more than Sandoval’s shadow. The trauma of what had happened to their mother had left Sarah barely able to function. She’d needed to withdraw, had needed to fold in on herself and allow her sister to speak for her, only able to whisper to her. Every time she had tried to be more vocal, the horrific memory of hiding from that monster on the boat, having to be completely silent while it taunted her with her mother’s voice, had resurged.
But now, her mother was back. Her mother was alive. And more than that, Sarah was stronger. She knew what the monster who had attacked them was. She knew who the woman who had saved her was. Namely, Sariel Moon, Tristan’s mother. And yes, it was technically also Sariel whose scent the Fomorian had followed to the ship in the first place. But even if the Seosten woman hadn’t been there, the Fomorian just would have attacked any other given Heretic in the area at the time instead of waiting for the Seosten he had smelled. The Fomorian was already in Crossroads waters. Either he would have stayed there and hunted down any students or staff who wandered out in the ocean, or he would have found his way onto the island itself.
It may have been Sariel’s scent that made the Fomorian attack then, but eventually he would have attacked someone regardless. Maybe it would have been when Sarah and Sands were playing down at the beach. Maybe Sarah would have lost her sister forever, or other friends. Or even herself. Maybe they would’ve lost an entire class to that monster before he was stopped.
The point was, there were plenty of ways it could be worse. And dwelling on all that, holding grudges for things that weren’t intentional and couldn’t be changed, was a waste of time and effort. There were plenty of people who deserved to be hated. Sariel Moon had been doing the best she could at the time, and had already suffered far more than Sarah would ever have wanted. Sarah herself had spent too much time worrying that Sariel would be angry with her for being a helpless child who distracted her from focusing on protecting Sarah’s mother.
Which just went further to prove that wasting time on ‘could have beens’ and grudges was stupid. What mattered was the future. And that was why she had said what she said.
Tristan, for his part, was staring at her. “Stupid?”
Sarah nodded firmly, using the end of the bat to push against the boy’s shoulder. “You wouldn’t be able to escape. You’d just be another prisoner. Actually, you’d probably be dead. Fossor wouldn’t have any reason to keep you. He didn’t want you. You’d be extra. He’d kill you and then Flick would feel even more guilty. And your family would be broken again.”
Taking all that in, Tristan flinched. “Right. Yeah, I know. I know, it’s dumb. I just…” He trailed off into a heavy sigh, folding his arms across his stomach while his brow furrowed into a frown. “I spent years with Flick being this… hero to me. I met her when I was still a little kid, and she was awesome. Her and Shiori both. She was brave and strong and… and everything. For years, that was the memory I had of her. Then I came back. I got back to Earth and she was the same girl. Because it was only like a month later for her. She was the same person, and I just… I had a crush on her for awhile. I got over it. But I still always thought that I’d be able to help her when she was in trouble. She helped me get my family together. More than once, actually. She helped get me to Grandpa Nick and being linked to her brought me back to my sister, and she helped bring our mom and dad back. She just… Flick did a lot and I wanted to be there for her when she needed me. I wanted to help her the way she helped me.”
“So be there,” Sarah replied simply. “Be there when you can actually help. Be ready to help any way she needs you to. Flick’s not dead. She’ll need help later. So be ready later.”
“Yeah, I…” Tristan hesitated, glancing at her. “You’re pretty smart, you know? I mean, you always were. I just… you’re like… wise. I just–” Interrupting himself with an embarrassed cough, the boy rubbed a hand across his face. “I’m glad I have you to talk to.” The words sounded awkward coming out of his mouth, as if he wanted to say one thing, but wasn’t sure how, so he said that instead.
The fact that he sounded awkward made Sarah feel awkward. She hesitated, staring at him for a long moment before remembering what she was holding. “And play baseball with?” she finally managed, holding the bat out to him just for an excuse to actually say something.
The boy’s charming smile returned, clearly an automatic reaction, as he took the offered bat. “Sure,” he replied easily. “And play baseball with. That… that thing a second ago with the whole sticking your hand through the ground thing, that’s new, right?”
Sarah confirmed that with a short nod. “Yes. I… It was a hunt that Sands and I went on with our mom a couple days ago.” She perked up a little then, smiling slightly while adding, “Sands can make mushrooms.”
That was enough to make Tristan do a double-take. “Err, ‘make mushrooms?’”
Despite herself, Sarah couldn’t help but snicker a little at that reaction. “Yeah, mushrooms. She says it’s like… water droplets on the tips of her fingers. When she shakes them off, the droplets can grow up into mushrooms wherever they land. She can make little ones or big ones. I mean really big ones. Like… she made a mushroom as big as we are, but it took like a minute.”
“Giant mushrooms,” the boy echoed. “And they’re like… are they edible or what?”
“The normal ones are okay,” Sarah informed him. “They don’t really taste like anything, but they’re not bad for you and they have a lot of nourishment. But Sands can make them really bouncy or really hard too, like rubber or steel. You can bounce on the rubber ones, it’s fun.”
“That I… that I really have to see,” Tristan murmured, chuckling a little despite himself before blinking at her. “Shit. It feels bad to laugh right now.”
“Laughing doesn’t mean forgetting there are bad things,” Sarah reminded him. “We can worry about Flick and also keep going at the same time. When there’s a chance, we’ll help her. We’ll be there. Right now, we keep going. That means living. That means knowing that there are still good things too.”
Tristan was… looking at her. It made her shift a little uncertainly, realizing that he had been staring at her throughout all of that. Which got worse as the boy murmured, “Yeah, you’re right. There’s definitely good things to focus on.”
Both of them stared at each other briefly, Sarah searching desperately for something to say before finally blurting, “Baseball!” Even as the word leapt from her mouth, she was blushing, pivoting to walk away quickly. “Baseball,” she repeated, as though that actually meant anything. Only once she had taken a few steps did the girl manage something vaguely more coherent. “I’ll throw the ball for you. Pitch. I’ll pitch it.” Crap, crap, what was wrong with her? This always happened when it came to trying to talk to Tristan. She started out okay, talking about other, unrelated or innocent things. Then one of them would say something that made them both think about… not-so-safe things and the rest would just come out jumbled. She’d forget how to talk, how to think, or anything useful. Half the time she babbled something incoherent and wandered off.
Ugggghhh, what was her problem? She liked him. She knew she liked him, had known it for awhile. But every time the words or even thought came to her while actually standing there with the boy, it got all twisted. She got nervous, she babbled, or even forgot how to talk. She could fight. She could calmly shoot monsters in the middle of a battlefield, keeping track of where all her friends were to provide support when they needed it. So why couldn’t she do this? Why couldn’t she just tell the boy she liked him?
Maybe because if he rejected her or something went wrong with their relationship, she couldn’t just shoot him. That was a terrifying thought. Because if she told him she liked him and he shot her down, that would be bad. Horrifying, really. She’d be embarrassed, but she’d move on. If, however, he accepted it and they… and they dated for awhile before breaking up, how would that change things?
That was the problem. That was the biggest problem. Because Sarah had seen the way her mother and father were torn apart. Her mom and dad… her dad was on the wrong side. She loved her father. She didn’t like him right now. She wanted to punch him in the face repeatedly. But he was still her dad. And yet, she knew that her father and mother didn’t belong together. And after seeing what happened with them, how they were enemies now, how could she ever deal with being that close to someone and then being their enemy?
How could she be that close to anyone and not lose herself in the background of them the way she had lost herself in the background of Sands? That wasn’t Sands’ fault. It wasn’t. Her sister had always been there for her. She had been what Sarah needed–what Scout had needed. and yet, now that she had grown out to be her own person, a part of Sarah was terrified of ever being an ‘and Scout’ again. She had spent years letting Sands speak for her, years being ‘Sands and Scout’, that the very thought of being in someone’s shadow, of being more known for being a part of someone else than her own person, made her reject it.
“Sarah?” Tristan called from his position with the bat. “Um, are you okay?”
Realizing she had been standing there lost in those thoughts for the past few seconds, Sarah quickly nodded. Shoving those thoughts aside, she took up her position, eyed the boy for a moment (that was a bad idea, given the thoughts she was trying to ignore), then wound up and pitched the ball to him.
For awhile, they continued that way. She would pitch the ball, he would hit it (or miss), and Sarah would use her new power to retrieve the ball wherever it ended up. They did that for twenty minutes or so, before both decided to stop. Together, the two headed for the house they shared with Sands and Vanessa, along with Koren, Aylen, Gordon, Jazz, and Eiji.
About halfway there, Tristan spoke up. It sounded like he’d been trying to say something for awhile. “Hey, ahh, Sarah, I was thinking about what you said back there. You know, about how we should remember to keep living and that there are still good things and all. And uhh, that just, I was wondering if you might ummm…” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I’m still trying to catch up on movies that came out while I was lost in space, and since there’s a lot of movies you haven’t seen either thanks to that whole raised by Heretics thing, I thought maybe you might want to find one we both haven’t seen. And watch it. Together. At the same time. Just us.”
By that point, Sarah had stopped walking. She stood there, looking at the boy as he stopped as well. Her mouth opened, shut, then opened again as she managed, “You mean… together?” A brief pause, then, “Like a date?” That was hard to say. Because as obvious as it might have seemed that that was what Tristan meant, the worry about how embarrassed she would be if it wasn’t what he meant was almost more than she could bear. And yet, she needed to ask. Because she had to be absolutely certain about what this was supposed to be.
Tristan, in turn, swallowed audibly. He was bouncing on his heels a bit, giving a very tiny laugh before suddenly looking openly horrified. “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to–I mean I wasn’t trying to laugh at–it was just–yes. Yes, I was trying to ask if you wanted to watch a movie like a date. I–I think you’re really awesome. Which is totally duh because of course you’re awesome, you’re amazing and smart and pretty and really tough and wow I need to stop talking.” Reaching up, the boy shoved his own mouth shut. Then he opened it once more to quickly blurt, “I like you and I’d like to spend time with you.” That much added, he deliberately pushed his mouth shut again before pantomiming zipping it.
After a moment of indecision, Sarah started by quietly explaining what she had been thinking about. She didn’t immediately agree or reject him. Instead, she told him her fears. She told him about being worried over what would happen to their relationship if things didn’t pan out. She told him about her issues with what had happened to her own parents’ relationship, as well as her fear of becoming someone’s shadow again.
Tristan listened to all of it. When she was done, he took her hand and squeezed it. “Sarah, first, I… I think you should talk to someone like Klassin Roe about all this too. I think you should have someone… someone neutral who can listen to all of this and help you understand it better than I can. You’ve been through a lot of bad things and… and you should have someone you can talk to about it who actually knows what they’re doing.
“That said, I meant everything from before. You’re awesome. You’re pretty. You’re smart. I would love to hang out with you, I would love to… to be whatever you want this to be whenever you need it to be that.” Settling on those words, he interlaced their fingers. “I really do want to watch a movie with you. And then another movie sometime. And then another movie sometime after that. If one of those movies turns into something more than that, great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. Because you’re awesome, and any time I get to spend with you is better than any time I could spend somewhere else.”
Sarah’s mouth was dry, a thick lump in her throat making it hard to swallow. Finally, she managed it, finding her voice with some effort. “Okay, Tristan.
“Let’s watch a movie.”