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A Nightmare

The silence was getting to Lily. She sighed, just to make a noise.

It wasn't actually that quiet. And she could have turned the TV on, but it wouldn't actually have helped, just switched out the source of her annoyance. She wasn't bored, not exactly. She had found being bored did wonders to turn all kinds of garbage on the screen entertaining. This was something she couldn't quite put a finger on.

But it probably had to do with having five fingers less to put on things.

Lily sighed again. It was weird to not be able to move her left arm at all. She was worried it was going to be permanent, because how couldn't she be? Apparently her chances of full recovery were very good, but she would accept that when it happened. Or at least when she wasn't still stuck on the hospital, on painkillers.

Lily felt very unlucky, which wasn't really helped by knowing she was in fact preposterously lucky. She could have died. Frankly, she should have died, thinking probabilistically. She took a bullet. It could have hit closer to the target, since he probably wasn't aiming for her shoulder. He could have missed about as bad but hit an artery instead of 'just' a major nerve cluster. The people could have run away without calling an ambulance, and left her to wake up in excruciating pain, slumped against the wall, maybe not able to call herself. She could have passed out sooner and not been able to scare the guy with the gun into leaving. She could have been unable to control the stuff that bled out of her tentacle at all, and not stopped the man from taking another shot. She could probably stop thinking about ways she might have died already.

Even given her survival—which, it was fully hitting only after she stopped, was not a fun thing to have questioned—she was lucky. She would likely eventually have full function in her left arm again, or close to it. If not, there was a chance for surgery. That felt lucky, at least. But even if she didn't... Well, four oily black tentacles each longer than she was tall wouldn't exactly be the most convenient replacement for the use of an arm. But they would be better than nothing. And there was probably more she could do with them, if the way that puddle had changed shape was any indication.

But the luckiest thing of all was that she hadn't gone through all that, wasn't going through recovery right now, for nothing. She had no idea why, with the perfect opportunity they had, but neither of those people had taken Portia. Apparently the Maxwell guy had stayed to talk to the paramedics and the cops. He lied, of course he lied, but he lied that Portia's terminal was her laptop, or something like that. She was putting the pieces together after the fact. Portia was at her house—her grandparents' house. It would have been nice to have her in the hospital, to have someone to talk to not constrained by visiting hours, but she wasn't sure if she would be allowed to have a laptop. Or an artificial intelligence program, for that matter. She wouldn't want to save Portia just to get her wrested away as evidence or some kind of men in black contraband. Still, she wanted to check in with Portia to see if she was okay. And, really, to find out what she was like.

She had spilled the beans about what Portia was to her grandparents already. One of the first things she did, when they first visited, because she wasn't going to lie about how she got shot. They didn't believe her at first, she was pretty sure, no surprises there. But they had come around by the second time. Probably because they had taken possession of Portia, and found out she could talk. So at least that was working out.

They had been very distraught, after all how couldn't they be? They were upset at whoever had shot her, upset at her, probably upset at themselves as if her recklessness was somehow their failure. But sorting all that out could come later, when she was back at their... Lily sighed. When she was back home.

She looked up at the ceiling. She didn't feel better. The weird, nasty feeling wasn't going away. It wasn't going to go away, that wasn't how it worked. There was no easy, instant solution. She couldn't think her way out of it, nothing she could realize or admit would give enough catharsis to cut the knot. And there wasn't going to be any magical solution, no miracle to solve the awful mess she had made. She would just have to suck it up and muddle through it. So she would do that. She turned the TV on, and tried to find a tolerable channel.

It was somewhere around twenty minutes later when a nurse came in and mentioned she had a visitor. Lily didn't know who, since her grandparents had already visited, and Aster had school. Maybe her aunt Rosemary or uncle Donovan? But they'd be busy too, and it would just seem a bit weird if they came without Aster. She wasn't exactly close to them in any real sense.

And then her mom walked into the room.

"Hello, Lily. Oh my god, I am so sorry."

Lily didn't know what to say. She couldn't say anything. She couldn't even start crying. It just had her suddenly all in knots.

"Are you okay? God, I'm so so sorry. About everything, but this... What happened? How?"

Lily tried to speak up, and it was more like a croak. She made herself swallow, and managed to get her mouth to behave.

"Mom. Oh my god, you're here. I almost can't believe it."


"Yeah. Are you okay? Does it hurt?"


"It's... fine. Painkillers. I don't really feel anything in my shoulder. Actually don't feel anything in my arm. I, uh. I can't believe you're actually here."


"Of course I'm here, pumpkin."


"Of course... Yeah. But... Where were you, mom? Where the fuck were you!? Did it take someone trying to murder me for you to—"

Her mother made a face like she had just been stabbed and Lily's voice caught in her throat. All the wind fell out of her sudden outburst, and she was still angry, but now it was just at herself for being such a monstrous bitch out of nowhere. She hadn't meant to say that, but obviously she must have, since she did. Tears started to well up in her eyes, or had already started and she now only just noticed.

"Mom, I'm sorry, I—I didn't mean that. I just got angry and... You didn't leave me on purpose, right?"


"Of course I didn't. Lily, I would never. But I'm so, so sorry it looked like I had... It's not your fault you're upset about that."


"Yes it is. I knew better. But I kept thinking that anyways, I couldn't make myself stop. Like I wanted to think it. Like I wanted to hate you, or to hate me, or something. Because I'm an awful idiot. And now you're back finally and worried sick over your dumb daughter having been shot, and the first thing I do is scream at you!"


"Lily, Lily, it's okay. It's okay to feel upset, I know I would. I know I do, and you had this worse. But... Can you calm down? You... don't want to disturb anyone else in the hospital."


"Oh. ...You're right."

She took a deep breath. It didn't help her feel better, but it did something, because she started sobbing. She couldn't stop, couldn't help it at all. She just had to bawl her eyes out. She didn't know if it was the stress, or something with the medicine, or if it really was just this gutwrenching to finally see her again. It was too much. At least it felt real. If it was only a dream...

Her mother looked just the same as she remembered. And, yes, obviously, it hadn't been that long. But she looked exactly the same. The same hairstyle, the same clothes, in as much detail as she could remember from that one last time together. A little too exact, almost suspicious, but... It was making her think of something, but Lily couldn't put a finger on it.

"Okay. I'm good. I think."


"I really wish I could give you a hug, honey."


"Hah, yeah. Um. What happened?"


"Yeah, I... I don't know. I know that's an awful answer but—"


"But it's the truth."


"Yeah. I was driving home, and I came up on two guys in the road? One of 'em looked hurt. I pulled up, asking if they needed help or something, and the one guy runs up to my car. And then all of a sudden it was daytime. And then I found out it wasn't March anymore. I'm so sorry I just disappeared for—"


"It's okay. Well, no, it's not okay. But it's not your fault. Um. Is today... when you got back?"


"Right. I found out everything that's been going on, and then that..."


"Sorry. I'm really sorry about this nasty surprise I've sprung on you."


"Lily, what happened? Mom—your grandmother wasn't very clear. It wasn't something at school—"


"No. Thank god."

Lily took in a deep breath. This was it. Paying the price for it, the way she should have, not some awful unfairness like the gunshot.

"Okay. I'm not going to make anything up, okay? Believe me on that."


"Of course, pumpkin."


"I went looking for you. Because someone else had gone missing too, and then they found their car in a street later. I thought it was related, that I could find something. I don't know what I was expecting. But I overheard some guy talking and it sounded like there was somebody being held hostage."


"Lily..."


"So I came back later and shoved my nose in it. And I heard somebody who needed help, so I trespassed, and found a talking computer. And she, um the computer was a she, asked me for help. And I managed to get her out, but I got caught, and the guy in charge gave this whole dumb spiel. And I tried to run away, but then he just shot me. I know this sounds like nonsense."


"...Yeah. But I know you aren't making it up."


"Yeah?"


"Yeah. If you made this up, it would have been more dramatic."

Lily laughed. She hadn't really given it a dramatic telling.

I did save that computer, you know."


"Uh-huh?"


"Grandma and grandpa have her right now. She's named Portia. I'm... I'm not making her up. She's real, you can talk to her. So... I didn't totally fuck up for no reason with nothing to show for it. Just, you know, totally fucked up for no reason but got one good thing from it I probably shouldn't have managed."


"Oh."


"Want to know the kicker? The dumbest part of this whole thing?"


"I definitely want you to tell me."


"I'm pretty sure that I was on the right track. Totally pointlessly, but... That guy I overheard was there, talking about making stuff disappear, and being in trouble because it was coming back. Said... He said it would be a problem, because the guy who shot me expected that guy could just disappear my corpse. I think he was why you disappeared. And so I did all of that, I somehow found it, when I absolutely shoudln't have. But it was just totally pointless anyways, because you randomly came back today. I should have just waited."


"You really, really should have. I'll spare you the lecture, but..."


"Yeah. I got that lesson. You can still give me that lecture if you need to later, but best not to disturb anyone else right now, yeah? Oh, um, I'll probably get the use of my arm back, they say."


"...That's good."


"Honestly, I'm still pretty scared that I won't. But... That's not what matters. There's still more I want to say. And not just all the mushy stuff I have no idea how to word. I am so happy to see you, mom. I love you so much and I was so worried I'd never get to say that, and..."


"I love you too, Lily. More than anything else in the world."


"I'm glad. It means a lot to hear that. I... I'm sorry I used to doubt that. Um. Did you know? I used to think maybe you hated me. So when you disappeared, I..."


"Oh, Lily, my poor darling. You thought I... Why? What did I do to make you think that?"


"You didn't do anything! I'm just broken."


"That's not how it works."


"It feels like it. I didn't have a good reason to think it. I knew it was stupid the whole time. But I couldn't make myself stop feeling it."


"Feelings are like that."


"Yeah, I guess. I just, I don't know where it came from. ...Well. I guess I do. A part of it, anyways."


"Do you want to talk about it? We can always do this later."


"I do want to talk about it. I've put it off enough times. Uh..."


"Take your time."

Lily took a deep breath. She hadn't really thought about how to ask the question, not for a while. Not while expecting she would actually get an answer, at least.

"Okay. Mom, who was my dad? Do you... know? Nobody ever talks about him. I feel like if he was just dead it wouldn't be such a taboo. So, was he... Did he abandon us? Or..."


"Oh. I'm sorry. I'm sorry you never had a father, Lily. But it's for the better he's not in your life."


"Okay, yeah. But... It's not that I wanted a dad. I don't know how I feel on that, but... Well I don't have one, and that's okay. But... Do you hate him? Was he just a deadbeat, or a one night stand, or did he... I mean..."


"...Yeah. Worse than a deadbeat or a fling."


"I'm really sorry."


"It's okay. It's history, Lily."


"But is it? I mean, I'm not. Don't I make you think about—"


"No, Lily, no. You don't. You make me think of how I have such a wonderful daughter, inventive and witty and brilliant and stubborn and too clever for her own good. I'm sorry I left you worrying about that for so long."


"...Thank you, mom. I love you more than I think I can really say. But I want to try and say it anyways."

It was a massive relief. It shouldn't have been, but at least she could lay those nasty feelings to rest now. Maybe they'd come back eventually, but they'd never have the same sting, now. Lily was crying again before she knew it. She wanted to hold her mother close and not let go until she had made up for all the years she had been unnecessarily distant, upset, scared she was hated. As if that was something that could be made up for at all, much less by a hug. But she couldn't, she wasn't allowed, and even if she stupidly ignored that it would be too awkward, and, and—

And then she was holding her mother. Not with her arms. Her mother had gasped in surprise and looked frightened, because of course she did, a monstrous tentacle had just wrapped around her, however gently. Lily quickly pulled it back, but couldn't focus enough to dismiss the four extra limbs suddenly sprawling out of her back, clambering for space where she was sitting.

"Sorry! I didn't mean to—Um."


"Lily, that's... you?"


"Yeah. I mean, uhh, sometimes they act on their own, but they're acting on my feelings or something. And I can control them. I... I took your disappearance pretty hard. Enough to get superpowers. I, oh god, I smashed our house up a little bit, because of that."


"Okay. Okay. This is... a lot."


"Sorry."


"No, it's alright. All of this has been a lot. That was just... actually seeing it... Plus, well, suddenly getting grabbed by some kind of tentacle is a bit weird, it turns out."


"I can imagine. But try having some."


"Heh. I... Holy shit, Lily, I don't know how long it's going to take to actually process all this. But, I'm just glad I'm going to be here for it again now."


"Yeah. I really am, too. I love you so much, mom."


"I love you too."


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