Nothing There But Me


mara2_icon.gif bf_odessa2_icon.gif richard_icon.gif

Scene Title Nothing There But Me
Synopsis Mara takes Odessa to the one person she thinks might know what's going on…
Date June 13, 2018

Raytech NYCSZ Housing

The hiss of a shower is a soft white noise that fills the air. Running water, electricity, and air-conditioning are all things that are luxuries in the New York City Safe Zone. That's why Raytech Enterprises prides itself as a beacon of what the post-war world can become.

Raytech’s housing is extravagant for the Safe Zone outside of Yamagato Park, with power provided by solar panels, water from a well, and air-conditioning courtesy of a decent housing budget. That the company’s CEO lives in the same block housing as the rest of his employees might have made the pages of the New Yorker before the war. But now, it's seen as a practicality, rather than a model of an excellent CEO.

Richard Ray sometimes needs that running water, the heat from the shower. Sometimes the aches and pains of a lifetime of fighting are just too much. Steam issues out in billowing clouds from the bathroom door, phosphorescent in the otherwise dark apartment. The Safe Zone beyond the large windows is mostly dark at night, the shadows deep and blue.

When the water turns off, when the steam begins to subside and the white noise dissipates and Richard Ray comes out of the bathroom, he finds himself not alone in his locked apartment.

Des is here, sitting on the sofa, split lip and hair tied back in a messy bun. Standing between she and Richard is a six foot tall woman in slacks and a white button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up and boxing tape around her hands. Her suspenders hang loose at her hips rather than on her shoulders, and there is something familiar about her eyes that Richard can’t shake.

This wasn't how he planned on spending Wednesday night.

There’s a beat of several moments. They should feel accomplished, there’s not much that can put Richard entirely off his mental track and into just blank staring for long. Then he takes the towel slowly down from where he was drying off his hair and wraps it carefully around his waist.

“Uh… hello, there,” he greets in careful tones, gaze sliding to Des, then back to the other woman, sizing her up for a moment before asking uncertainly, “Are we… boxing? If we’re going to box, do you mind if I get some pants on, first?”

It’s definitely not how he planned on spending Wednesday night.

Odessa Woods doesn’t know Richard Cardinal. By extension, she doesn’t know Richard Ray either. She politely averts her gaze from his naked form, even if it does look more like a sneer and a roll of her eyes.

This is your man?” Blue eyes now size him up with the towel in place. Not that she didn’t get the measure of the man a moment ago. “This had better be good.”

Mara looks down and over to Odessa, one brow raised slowly. She's forgotten how accustomed her daughter was to the non-relativistic nature of her ability and how this transition wouldn't be jarring to her. Looking back to Richard, Mara only has one thing to say:

You knew me.

As though it were a magic phrase, there is a sense of vertigo that causes Richard’s head to swim. Doors in his mind open, recalling events he had no way to experience. He sees this woman as Sera Lang, as though a veil had been lifted from his eyes. He sees how she swapped places for the “real” Sera for a time, and has a vague sense of deja-vu on seeing her now.

“This isn't Des,” Mara explains with a motion to Odessa with one taped hand. “This is Odessa.” The implication remains harrowing, but certainly no more than what follows.

My daughter.

A low grunt of disorientation comes with that sudden - and literal - revelation, Richard’s hand coming up to press the pad of his thumb in against the orbit of his eye as if to push back an abrupt headache. “Ah,” he finally mutters, looking back up to the pair, “Ms. Price. That explains what’s been off about Sera, at least…”

Then he’s looking from one, to the other, eyebrows raising sharply as he focuses on ‘Mara’ and asks even more sharply, “Did she come through the Looking Glass?”

A small reddish kitten hops up onto the couch, padding slowly over to rub himself against Des’s arm, or try to at least. Kittens don’t understand nonlinear dimensional shifting.

At least we should all hope they don’t.

“Do I look like Alice in fucking Wonderland?” Odessa scoops up the kitten and holds him in her arms like a proper supervillain, petting him absently. At least one thing is consistent between the two versions of the woman so far.

“I’m not here to piss in your cornflakes, Mister. I just want to take my mother and I want to go home.” Dark brows raise as if to ask is that okay with you? “Are you going to be able to help with that?”

Odessa,” is delivered by Mara in a particularly motherly tone. Don't make her turn this house around.

Looking back to Richard, Mara exhales a slow sigh. “I don't know what that is,” she professes. “We were sparring on Staten Island, and I tried to show her a shoulder throw. She flipped me onto my back and… everything went topsy-turvy.” Scientific, of course. “Her mind seems to… to have been overwritten by my Odessa.”

The implications.

“My name is Kara Price,” she explains, and by that truth opens a vulnerability in her ability even she doesn't understand. “I'm not from around here. Back in 2011 I was a part of a Pinehearst scientific research team on Mount Natazhat in Alaska. We were studying particle physics, I believe. I was a technician, assisting the scientists. There was… there was an accident.”

Kara’s brows furrow, head tilting to the side. “I saw a man in a black snow parka for a moment. Then heard some sort of automated security alert that didn't come from our facility, then…” Kara looks away, blue eyes distant, “then I was here in some ruins in the same place in Alaska.”

Looking back to Richard, Kara exhales a steady sigh. “I don't know how I got here, really, or how Odessa is here now. But I thought…” she looks to Odessa, “given your addictions, you might know something.”

“You look more like Dorothy, actually,” Richard quips in a voice as dry as dust as he turns to walk over towards his closet, sliding the door open to go through his clothes. He’s not just going to stand around in a towel, it seems.

“I knew you were Kara Price,” he adds more quietly but more seriously, “I was hoping that, at some point, you’d feel comfortable enough to talk to me. I wasn’t about to push you on it.”

A pause, then, and he looks back over his shoulder. “A black— huh.” His brow furrows, and he turns back to the closet, snagging a pair of slacks, reaching to grab a pair of boxers from a shelf within the closet to go along with them. “That was me that you saw. I suppose the— incident was worse than we thought, if it fucked things up that badly. Fucking hell.”

He drops the towel, bending a bit to pull on the boxers first, then his slacks. He has no shame. He spent time in jail. “Pinehearst,” he mutters, “Wonderful. You would be from Arthur’s string.”

While her mother explains what happened, she pretends to be more interested in giving affection to the red ball of fluff in her arms. In truth, she’s hanging on every word, trying to make sense of a situation that doesn’t. Dipping her head down and being distracted by little Richelieu means no one can see the brief look of sorrow on her face.

Odessa sweeps an errant curl away from her forehead, self-conscious when she’s compared to Dorothy Gale. “Can you help us?” There’s no pleading in the voice. There’s no softness like Richard would expect from Des. Odessa merely wants the facts. Can he help them or not?

Kara’s brows furrow, sending Richard’s animosity to Arthur. She doesn't press the issue, instead stepping away and scrubbing one hand at the back of her neck. Her mannerisms are different than Richard remembers, she's not as weird. Instead there's a taciturn strength and in spite of not really being any taller, feels larger.

“I want to know if you… understand what's happening.” Kara say, withholding any judgment she may have regarding Des’ presumed betrayal of her secret to Richard. Who else could have possibly known?

“Because now that we’re together, now that she's here…” Kara looks to Odessa and back. “If you know about where I'm from, you know she's not prepared for what's out there.” That comes with an ominous motion of one hand to the windows. To the ruins. To a world after war.

“I.. don’t know, Odessa,” is Richard’s reply, pausing in the act of getting dressed, “I’ll do what I can.”

Slacks are drawn up, a shirt selected from the rack and pulled on as well. There’s no need for him to get fully dressed in his own apartment, when it’s clearly bedtime, but it’s his way of asserting some control over the situation, and his own life.

The kitten, meanwhile, happily purrs and wriggles in Odessa’s arms, because as far as Richelieu’s concerned this is the same woman he knows.

Richard knows better.

“I’ll answer that for you, Ms. Price,” he says quietly, and with a bit of tension, as he shrugs on his suit’s jacket, “Once you tell me what happened. Exactly. From your point of view, that is.”

I don’t know isn’t the answer Odessa wanted to hear, but she can’t say it isn’t the one she expected.

“Wait…” Now that he’s got clothes on, Odessa gives Richard one more look over and recognizes him from her dream. A vague recollection of a meeting through the haze of cigarette smoke and memory. “What the… Hell.”

The kitten is set aside on the couch so Odessa can rake her nails over her own scalp and try to fit the pieces together. “I had a dream about you,” she tells him, like that means something to anyone else. What it means to her is that maybe he is important.

“Sorry,” Odessa demures with a small shake of her head, deferring to Mara. “Go ahead. I’ll… I’m fine.”

“In Natazhat,” Kara explains, “we got an error in the particle accelerator saying it was primed to fire when it was idle. I… I was having a talk with my friend Josiah, then went down to the accelerator and talked to the researchers there. We went into the access tunnel to check on the loop.”

Kara looks down to her hands. “I felt… dizzy. Like my ability was malfunctioning. I didn't feel… stable.” She looks over to Odessa, then back to Richard. “There was an alert that the accelerator fired, but nothing was happening on our end. That's when I saw… I suppose, you. Not long after there was an explosion of light.”

Kara starts to pace, running her fingers through her hair. “I woke up under debris, buried in the snow by what was left of stairs. I came up and… and the facility was gone, but there was a spiral-shaped aurora in the sky. I'd never seen anything like it.”

And Odessa knows there was an aurora just like that when the Natazhat on her side disappeared, when her mother went missing. The Cambridge bus, Arthur putting together a task force, his fear about an invasion… everything is suddenly lining up.

“Okay.” Richard is silent until he finishes tying on his tie, calming down inner tumult with the familiar movements of fingers and fabric.

Then he turns, stepping over and easing down into a loveseat. “So there's a lot to unpack here… you'll have to give me a few minutes to go over it all,” he allows wryly, “First, let's go over what happened on Natazhat.”

“It didn't belong to Pinehearst, here,” he explains with a guarded glance to Odessa, “It belonged to a group called the Commonwealth Institute. It— well, the politics don't really matter right now. A long story short, the particle accelerator went into overload while a gravity manipulator collapsed himself into a singularity and someone else directed what I'm pretty sure was his attempt at a time machine into the mess, trying to send a message to the past.”

“I'm not surprised that there were spatio-temporal ripple effects,” he admits, “Not from… all that. Especially during a solar storm.”

“The aurora effect you described is a natural phenomenon generated by the very unnatural event of creating a bridge or portal between two superstrings - in other words, travel from your world into ours, or vice versa, or another world entirely,” he explains, “I'm assuming that all of the factors somehow interacted with your ability and pulled you here.”

A look over to Odessa, “Your daughter, meanwhile, has a… connection somehow to herself in all of the five local timelines. Maybe it's related to her ability, or— everything that happened to her when she was a kid. I don't know. That explains the dreams, at least. I think she was having them too.”

“I heard about that,” Odessa says quietly about the aurora, frowning thoughtfully. Much of her initial surliness has drained away. She is thoroughly out of her element on this one, and she’s going to need this man in order to find her way home, it appears. He seems to understand what’s happened and what’s happening better than anyone in the room at the moment, somehow. It’s infuriating, but Odessa has had years of practice biting her tongue when the situation calls.

“So you think this time machine and my mother’s ability interacted and caused the entire facility to shift strings?” It sounds outlandish to her, but makes more sense than any other theory so far. It’s less spontaneous this way. “And what about… Cambridge?” Strange events happened there too. There has to be some kind of connection. “How does something that happens in Alaska have an effect on an unrelated situation there?”

Pacing back and forth, Kara folds her hands behind her head as she walks. “I don't like this, I don't like being stranded here. Your world is an awful and cruel place.” Kara’s blue eyes track to Richard “I've never even imagined so much suffering could be possible. I just want to get back to my own world, with my daughter, so she can be with her husband and I can have my life back.”

After that outburst, Kara exhales a sigh and drags her hands down the back of her head to her neck, leaving her fingers laced there. She slouches, eyes drifting from side to side as she looks at her own reflection in the windows. “I don't mean to… be that way. Mara is— she's got a fire.” Briefly, Kara levels an apologetic expression on Richard. “We just want to go home.”

“Our world is— “ Richard lets out a bark of cynical laughter, “You don’t even know, do you?”

He looks between the two, his hands spreading a little, “Do you have any idea what a monster Arthur is? Either of you? Do you even know what they did to Odessa and Mateo?” Disbelief in his gaze as he sweeps his attention between the two, “She’s got at least ten years of missing time, and we don’t even know how many of her memories are manufactured. Not to mention, Arthur was a murderer hundreds of times over in our world— “

Flatly, “I can only imagine how many zeroes he’s added in yours. Your utopia is built on a bed of bones. I know. I’ve seen the bodies. Things might be awful in our world, but at least we’re free. You all live with Arthur’s boot on your throat. And you thank him for it.”

Odessa is on her feet in a flash and it’s only her mother standing between her and Richard that keeps her from lashing out. “Our world is safe because of him.” She’s seen, briefly, what the world looks like outside. Staten Island is a broken husk masquerading as a place for people to actually live and the so-called Safe Zone isn’t much better. “This place is a shithole.

Her world is green. And it may be built on a foundation of bones she helped lay into place, but utopia doesn’t exist like it does in the fairy tales. Sometimes bad things have to happen for the greater good. “Arthur told me all about my— ” Her voice hitches as she remembers the things Mateo Ruiz said to her only one day before. It feels like a lifetime ago now. “All about what happened to me as a child. He hasn’t lied to me.”

But she still feels like she’s looking to her mother for confirmation.

“Part of me wonders what everyone who died during the civil war thinks of the freedom they earned.” Kara adds, bitterly, but she's trying to backpedal from a moral debate. “We’re happy where we’re from. It's not perfect, things need to change, but neither is this place. But we’re at least at a better starting point. But who knows what's happened while I've been away.”

“It's been seven years,” Kara says, and that revelation does not compute to Odessa, from 2013. “I've been here long enough, I just want to go home and leave you people to your lives. I just… now that I know she found a way, whatever that was, I was hoping you could help us figure out how to reproduce it. To get from point A to… the other point A.”

The claim that Arthur has never lied to her earns Odessa a rather scornful look from Richard, his head shaking slightly, although he doesn’t push the matter into an argument. He’s said his piece there.

“We all make our sacrifices, whether they be in blood or our own souls,” is his last word on the matter, shrugging it off, “As for reproducing the overlay…”

He grimaces, then, bringing a hand up to rub against the side his face, “It’s not easy. Michelle LeRoux was a hypercognitive. Smartest woman in the world. She’s the only one ever to manage it technologically, nobody’s ever managed it since. The Institute may have records of their attempts at using it, it…” He pauses, glancing between the two, “Four people appeared recently, clearly from another timeline. They’re rabidly attempting to destroy any hint of that technology and the knowledge that it’s even possible to cross over… but they got here somehow. They aren’t talking, mostly because they want me dead because they think I’ll eventually crack that little secret.”

One brow arches, “Now a question for you two. Where the hell is Desdemona?”

Seven years. As much as she’s itching for a fight, Odessa sits back down again and takes a moment to catch her breath and gather her thoughts. “It’s obviously possible. We just… Maybe if we can just come close enough to the right answer, with Kara’s ability we could…”

Odessa sighs heavily. She doesn’t know where to even begin. Then Richard asks the $64,000 question. “I have no idea. Maybe we swapped. Maybe I’ve taken her place and she’s just… in the background?” Which doesn’t make any sense at all, but neither does what happened to Sera Lang.

“What year is it?”

Kara offers a look over to Odessa. “It's 2018.” Then, puzzled, she tilts her head to the side and crosses her arms over her chest. “What year do…” she can't finish the sentence. Instead, her eyes track over to Richard with one brow raised. “I— don't know if where Des went is as important a question as… when Des went.”

Richard leans forward, his elbows resting on his knees and both hands coming up to briefly cover his face before slowly dragging downwards. “Are you telling me,” he asks in a perhaps dangerously calm voice, his eyes closing, “That you sent Des… to an unknown superstring… at an unknown point on it, Ms. Price?”

“And now,” he continues, “You want me to replicate my mother’s insanely complicated machine to send you both home, to a dimension where you’re happy to work for a fascist that’s re-written your lives probably far more than either of you know, risking being murdered by a bunch of dimension-hopping fanatics out to destroy any trace of this technology, and apparently risk waking up some sort of eldritch lovecraftian entity with golden eyes that apparently once possessed your daughter and killed a whole lot of people.”

He brings his hands up to rub against his temples, “Is— is that, generally, the gist of this conversation? Because if it is I think I’m going to need a lot of alcohol.”

Odessa’s jaw drops, shaping her mouth into a soft ‘o’ of surprise as she looks to her mother and processes the answer. 2018. One hand comes up, shaking like a leaf in a storm to cover that gape of surprise. Her eyes glisten, but tears don’t fall just yet. She stares down at her lap and listens to Richard.

Suddenly, her eyes snap up, hands balling into fists in her lap, and she looks her own brand of dangerous that he’s seen on Des before. The kind of dangerous she only gets when she feels she’s backed into a corner and she’s prepared to fight for her life. “Then you better get started. If I’ve already lost five years I’m not going to lose more.

“I couldn't have sent her anywhere, my ability doesn't work like that.” Kara explains with a touch of defensiveness. If she could have sent herself back home she would have, right? “And if some insane machine is what it takes to get us all back home, then that's what it takes, but I'm not married to the idea. I just want to get my daughter back to her husband, and myself back to where I belong.

Looking over to Odessa, Kara rests a hand on her shoulder, then looks back up to Richard. “You're the one we turned to, because after everything I assumed you'd be the one who would understand. You'd be the one willing to look at a big picture, and see what there is to see.”

Brows furrowed together, Kara shakes her head. “I don't know you where I'm from. All I know is the you that's here, and he seems like a good person.”

“I’m definitely going to need more alcohol,” Richard murmurs, and then he pushes himself back up to sit straighter, offering Kara a faint, rueful smile, “I try to be. I don’t know what happened to me over in your world — probably Arthur finished the job after he cut my goddamn hand off, or something, I don’t know.”

He gestures slightly with his hand towards them, “We’re in a period of heavy solar activity, which brings the superstrings closer together… there’s overlap in certain ways. I recommend that both of you be careful with using your powers until the solar storm ends. Okay… okay, ah…”

Slumping back in his chair, he regards the two, “As it happens I’m already looking into this, but actual travel is a long way off, unless somehow I find a notebook with my mother’s calculations hidden under a couch somewhere. She’s dead, and the only other source of information is a man named Caspar Abraham that’s apparently working with a bunch of lunatic evil scientists. Which means that I can’t do anything right now, but possibly I’ll eventually be able to.” He pauses, “If worst comes to worst, I know where a Looking Glass portal is going to be opening on Christmas, but let’s hope we can manage something before then.”

He looks over to Des, then to Kara, “Have you— ah, briefed her about her situation here?”

Odessa scrubs at her face and swallows back a wave of emotion. She doesn’t want to appear vulnerable in front of this man. She doesn’t know him. “So we figure out where he is, and I can go in there and drag his ass out.” It sounds so simple when she puts it that way. “Get me Roger Goodman and they’ll never know what hit them.”

The fingers of one hand tap restlessly against her thigh, the other feels for something intangible at her side. Something is off, and she can’t determine what it is. “What situation?”

There are going to be a lot of bad surprises for her when that full briefing comes down.

“Goodman’s dead. So is Canfield, Josiah’s husband Verse, all the Ichiharas, Peter…” Kara’s voice grows quiet. “Woods.” She furrows her brows and looks away, “They're all gone.” That said, she steps away from Odessa and toward Richard, offering out a bottle of vodka with one hand and a glass in the other. There's the faintest of distortion in the sound of clinking glass when she hands both to Richard. There's already a full glass with ice in Odessa’s hand.

“As for you,” Kara looks back to her daughter, frowning visibly. “The reason you're on Staten Island is because you’re in hiding from the government for… for your involvement as a member of Humanis First during the war.” Her eyes divert to the floor. “You're wanted for crimes against humanity.”

“Mhm.” Richard rubs a hand against the side of his face, “I’m not so sure about Hokuto— how can you kill a dream?— but yes, the others are all dead. I’m sure a lot of people that are dead in your string are alive in this one, too…”

Then he nods, chin dipping slightly, “I… was working on that, on getting her name cleared, or at least cleared enough. I was calling in favors. Yo— she was hiding on Staten for now, until we worked that out. Which is a mess, because after Peter destroyed New York — twice — there’s not a lot of habitable space anymore. Staten’s a hive of wretched scum and villainy, to quote, and..”

He pauses, “Mnm. Maybe you should know this. Eileen Ruskin, Iago Ramirez, Emile Danko, and Joshua Lang are here. They’re from another string too, although they’re pretty close-mouthed about which — but don’t expect any help. If you tell them you’re trying to get back there, they’ll just fucking kill you. They’re doing everything they can to destroy all information about superstring travel.”

It isn’t until her husband’s name is mentioned that Odessa finally breaks. She curls in on herself and lets out a ragged sob. Her friends are dead, and her husband. This world, by her estimations, is terrible.

The sobbing doesn’t last for long. Or maybe it does and Richard is none the wiser. She brings the glass to her lips and drinks deep. “So my friends are gone, the Vanguard are kicking, and I’m wanted for treason?” She takes another drink. “What the fuck is wrong with your world’s version of— What is wrong with her?” Disgust writes itself into her features. “She sided with the humans in your civil war? That doesn’t make any fucking sense.”

If she didn’t want the liquor so bad, she’d throw her glass across the room in frustration. “Fantastic. I can’t even pretend to live a life here.”

There’s no recognition on Kara’s face when the names of Vanguard members are listed, just a puzzled look to Odessa when she seems to recognize them. After a moment she looks back to Richard, “Choices make changes,” she says flatly and distastefully. “A man named Hiro Nakamura said that to me before he kidnapped my daughter and stranded her in the past. I guess he was right, in a way.”

Stepping away from the conversation, Kara takes her hands through her hair. “December,” she exhales, then looks over her shoulder. “Are you sure about that? How do you know?” There's hope, at least. December isn't that far away.

There’s a flicker of pain in Richard’s eyes for a moment as Odessa has her brief breakdown, and he looks away. She isn’t his Odessa, but it still hurts seeing someone that looks exactly like her breaking down like that.

“Des… did what she needed to, to survive,” he says quietly, explains in a way, “She spent her life being coerced and threatened into one group or another… she didn’t even believe me initially when I offered her a position here without threatening her. Without holding a Sword of Damocles over her head. Don’t judge her so harshly. You and her just had a different playing field.”

“Nakamura’s an arrogant prick,” he opines, then, a harsh judgement after he just suggested one not be passed, “And he doesn’t know the first thing about the consequences of his actions. I know about the Glass opening on Christmas because I have two prophecies and a probability analytic’s say-so, and all three sources have been proven to rarely be falliable. Between Eve, Else, and Edward— “ Huh, all E-names, he never realized that before, “— I can be pretty confident about this. As a last resort, if we can’t find anything else for you before then.”

Agreeing to help, in his own way, even if he truly has no reason to.

“I wonder where she went wrong,” Odessa mutters under her breath. Where did the two diverge? She may have been inclined to be more charitable toward her other self if she wasn’t stuck with her mess.

Blue eyes watch as her mother paces away. Her lip stings faintly, which seems to help her keep some focus. “So there’s a precognitive prediction that there will be some kind of… dimensional portal in, what? Six months?” It’s better than never, but six months seems like an awfully long time to be trapped in this place, in another woman’s life.

“Kjelstrom?” Kara chimes in, distractedly. “Actually— that's not important.” Waving one hand dismissively, Kara walks back over to her daughter and rests a hand on her shoulder.

“So we either figure something out early, or…” Kara inclines her head to the side, “we wait for a Christmas miracle.” Her brows lower, then raise as a dry laugh comes over her. “Okay,” she admits reluctantly, “that's just weird enough to be our luck.”

“And try not to get yourself killed, or arrested or anything,” says Richard with a frown, looking at Odessa, “You aren’t my Odessa but if you get switched back, or whatever, and she’s in a worse position…” There’s something almost possessive in the way he says that. Protective, certainly. “I’m going to keep working on clearing her name, so just… try and lay low until we have something. If I can accomplish that at least you won’t need to worry about being arrested.” And hung.

He looks to Kara, then, thoughtful, “You were studying particle physics over there, you said. Idle question, just a shot in the dark - do you happen to know the frequency of the sun in hertz?”

“I'm acausal, not Google.” Mara quips with a whirl of one brow.

At least he didn’t say November 8th.

If she weren’t feeling so sombre about her situation, she’d have a quip for that his Odessa line. As it stands, Odessa just quirks one corner of her mouth and shakes her head. “Believe me, I don’t have any desire to be arrested, and I’d like to keep on living. You just keep on doing what you’re doing for her, and if it benefits both of us, then that’s just fine, I think.”

Odessa rests a hand on her mother’s hand at her shoulder and sighs. “A Christmas miracle,” she echoes. “That would be just like us.”

Breathing in deeply, Mara rakes one hand through her hair and closes her eyes. “I’ll keep an eye on Odessa and make sure she stays safe,” comes with a slant of Mara’s eyes over to her daughter, then back to Richard. “Which I guess leaves us with…” she dithers, looking around the dark of the room for a moment. “When do we start clapping our hands…”

“…and saying we believe in fairies?”

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