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Bad Blood

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and you thought the lions were bad/well, they tried to kill my brothers

On some level, Joan always knew. As much as she swamped that intuition in logic and reasoning that some parts might be bad but we’re the good guys, there was still a niggling sense that something was not quite right.

Owen listened earnestly to her concerns and then kissed them away. He told her that there was nothing at all untoward happening at the AM, Joan. Of course there isn’t, don’t you trust me? Don’t you trust us?

Ellie was much the same, though in a more professional way, of course. She listened, a touch impatiently, and assured Joan over and over that everything they did was for the greater good. We’re here to help atypicals, Bright. Of course we are, don’t you trust me? Don’t you trust us?

Of course she did. Joan trusted Owen and Ellie with everything she had right up until the moment that she saw her brother in captivity. It only took one glance into those pleading eyes, the eyes of her little brother that she knew so damningly well, to know the truth that she had always somehow known. The AM lied, Ellie lied, even Owen lied.

Everything changed from that second. How could she depend on anything again when the ones she put her faith in the most had betrayed her? They had her brother. She had known that the AM did some underhanded things but she had never thought this. That they would kidnap Mark and keep him from her all the while comforting her as she searched for him and reassuring her that everything was alright.

Nothing was alright after that day. Her thoughts constantly bounced from horror to planning to sadness to anger. Sometimes she had fleeting thoughts that maybe they were right, that it was for the greater good that Mark was being held. She hated herself for those thoughts. No matter what, they had no right to keep Mark in that place. Not her goofy little brother, not him.

She held on to that picture of Mark in her mind; the kid brother who still couldn’t spell the word definitely and loved to take pictures of her when she wasn’t looking. She hung onto that image as her hope, as her goal. This was what she was striving for, this was what she worked for. Bringing Mark home and out of that place.

She used the memory of his smile to block the memory of his terrified eyes. She read through the notes from their childhood when she started to think too deeply on long nights with Owen or coffee and conversation with Ellie. Those were things she would never have again. They had used her and thrown away her trust like so much garbage. They didn’t deserve her sorrow or regret. All that mattered was Mark now.

And if she cried at night, her tears were for Mark’s life lost, never her own. Only ever Mark.

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oh I feel overjoyed when you listen to my words/words are all we have when we’re talking

In the past, all they had were their words. Without touch, without a way to go back, they simply stayed beside each other and spent the time talking and listening. For both of them, for separate reasons, it was a novelty. To speak and be listened to, that was a rare gift.

For Sam, having been alone much of her life, it was a joy to speak and be heard by someone outside herself. She talked to herself and to Darwin, just to hear something, but now there was someone to speak back. A human person, with two legs not four, who understood her and did not shy away from her ability or her trauma.

Someone she did not hurt, could not hurt, because she could not touch him. Her ability couldn’t harm him here, in 1810. It was selfish, she knew, to be glad somehow that he was trapped in time just out of reach But if it gave her the opportunity to know him without fear and for once, to speak, then it was some kind of blessing.

Mark did not only hear her words, but he listened to them. Everything that she told him was received like water to a dying man and it only made her want to tell him more. He made her feel wanted and safe and not afraid anymore. She wished only that she could hold his hand and remove his loneliness.

For Mark, having been in isolation for so long, it was sanity saving to finally be able to have another person hear him. Being outside of the world for all of this time had brought forth a lot of talking to himself just to hear something, feel something. But now there was someone else.

Someone who spoke into the emptiness that had been within him since long before the time lock. In the AM, no one spoke to him as a person. He was a commodity, a lab rat, an experiment to be addressed only in terms of that experiment. No one listened to how much he wanted to go home, much less listened to what his top three favorite birds were. But Sam did.

Sam listened to everything he had to say, truly heard his words in a way he found uncommon. All of his words were a delight to her, no matter how inane the chatter. He told her only things that made her smile, no unhappy thoughts. When she was gone the silence stretched before him in interminable waves, so there would be no sadness when she was there. His arms ached to hold her.

But there could be nothing between them but words and understanding. And sometimes, when the words ran out, there was silence. But it was different from the silence when they were alone because now that silence was filled with the presence of another mind, another heart, who understood. They wished so much to have more than words but for now, words were enough.

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found yourself a path upon the ground/you ran into the night you can’t be found

It wasn’t as if he’d never thought about it. Of course he’d thought about it; what else does one do in captivity but dream about escape? He had run countless scenarios over and over again and thought of one hundred different ways that it could happen. There was the air raid, the SWAT raid, the FBI raid. And of course the 007 one where he woke himself up, vaulted out of the window onto the back of a horse and rode into the sunset.

The one scenario he hadn’t considered was this.

Now there was just one smiling man in the quiet, holding out his hand. And in that moment, staring up at the face of his rescuer(?), Mark froze. He had no idea what to do. Suddenly the possibility that it could be over, that he could be out, was all too real. Was this truly finally happening?

The surreal feeling stuck around throughout the extraction process. They were just walking out of the building, as casually as if they had every right to leave. Which of course they did but when was the last time anyone recognized that. Mark’s rights as a person had been checked at the doors.

The doors that they passed through with no trouble at all. No one stopped them. No one even questioned them. There were no dramatic chases, no alarms, no running, no shouting, no shots fired. It was nothing at all like he had imagined it would be. They just. Left.

Suddenly he was outside. Real life outside, not that half-life outside he had been a part of for more than a year in 1810. There was asphalt under his feet, still cooling from the sun of the day, there was wind in his (too-long) hair, there was free air in his lungs again. There was his heart, thundering in his ears, and there were his hands, clinging to someone solid at last. It was truly finally happening.

Mark looked up at the dark building that had swallowed him up for so long. It loomed like a sleeping carnivore, still unaware that he had finally escaped its dread clutches. And yet, all of a sudden that didn’t feel real either. Was this what Lazarus had felt like, called forth unexpectedly from a seemingly inescapable fate?

The weight of what he had endured seemed lifted for this odd moment of reflection, as if everything had happened in a film or in a dream. It would hit him soon, he knew, but now, everything was just happening so-

Damien placed a steadying hand against Mark’s waist. “The van’s over there. Can you make it?”

Mark took one last glance at his home, his prison, his hell, his only frame of reference for two years. Then he turned his back on the place, turning toward home, life, happiness, and everything he had been missing. Mark gave his rescuer(!) the biggest smile he could manage.

“I think I can now.”

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but if you close your eyes/does it almost feel like nothing changed at all

In the past, there was only so much to do. It was mostly looking around; looking at stars, looking at trees, looking at the world going by without touching you at all. There was nothing else. There was so much nothing else that it was mind-bending. Sometimes Mark felt he would go mad with all the vast emptiness and only himself for company.

In the present, there was too much to do. It had only been two years there, but everything was so unfamiliar. After so much nothing, now there was too much… everything. Mark had thought that when if he got home he would do so much, be so much.

But now he was at loose ends. Free and on his own, there were suddenly too many options where once there were too few. There was too much to go over, too much to pick up to have any idea how to start. Particularly when it came to his sister.

With Mark gone, Joan had only been focused on one thing. Getting her brother back was the driving force of her life. She knew who she was looking for and she even knew where he was. There was a purity of purpose to every action. Everything in her life was geared toward the single goal of getting Mark home.

Now that Mark was home, Joan felt adrift. Like a rubber band suddenly released, the tension in her life was resolved, her brother home again safe. But a new tension was in its place. That brother was not the same, would never be the same, and it was inescapable that some of it was her fault. She tried to be normal around him, but what was normal anymore? Mark wasn’t, that was sure. She wasn’t either.

They were together again, but there was a feeling between them like ships passing in the night. They were around one another but rarely connected in more than a glancing way. Neither knew how to relate to one another anymore, how to address the gulf of years that lay between them. Should they build on the old, on shared childhood memories? Should they start exactly here and address the trauma looming large in the room? Should they bypass all of the expanse of history and simply start again?

Each option felt worse than the last. Each sibling looked at the other and felt their foundation crumbling, with no notion of how to patch it again. Everything was falling, but how do you pick up the pieces of so much lost time?

But there were times, just sometimes, when it was different. When for a moment it was like before, just Joanie and Mark against the world. Laughing at a dumb joke or making hot chocolate or watching a much-debated film. In those times it was almost easy to just close their eyes and believe it could always be like this. That nothing had changed, everything was okay. Just for a little while.

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that is what they all say/you’ll drink yourself to death

In the aftermath, Mark and Damien went their separate ways. And yet, they ended up going down very similar paths. Both of them were faced with a future they did not expect, and neither knew what to do with it.

For Mark, it was a result of being kidnapped and imprisoned for years. That sort of gap tends to do a number on your life goals. Any expectations that Mark had had for his life were placed on hold indefinitely. At a certain point over the last years, he had come to understand that the future he had imagined was no longer feasible. It was not giving up, per se, it was only being realistic. But now an entirely new future stretched far before him, and it seemed too daunting to bear alone.

For Damien, it was a result of the one thing that had driven his life being suddenly taken away. He had built the entirety of his adult life around his ability; this thing that made other people want to listen and obey him. He had never had to be charming or kind or work hard, things just happened because he wanted them. Now no one listened. And no one cared.

Now, bereft of purpose, both of them were hurtling toward the ground side by side. Mark was falling from a situation designed to destroy him, Damien from a situation that had long worked to his benefit. But at this point, distinctions no longer mattered. They just fell.

Both turned to alcohol to help with the adjustment. Alcohol was an umbrella when they needed a parachute but it was better than nothing when everything felt out of sorts. With a drink, Mark could let go for a little while. With a few drinks, Damien could forget for a moment. Even small comfort was comfort, in the end.

But Mark, at least, had something more substantial to grab. Even if he did not have a place to stand he had something to hold onto that was stronger than alcohol and stronger than fear. The difference between Damien and Mark was that Mark was not alone. There was Sam and Joan and Chloe and Caleb and all the rest. Whether he leaned on them or not, they were there alongside him every step of the way. They buoyed him up when it seemed certain he would sink and held onto him when his own parachute failed. Even when he fell, he did not fall alone.

Damien just sank. There was no one to come alongside him when even the small comfort of strong drink failed and he began to fall again. Lower and lower, clawing toward the surface until the dark swallowed him entirely. The bright lights of his old life moved further away every day until he had nothing left. Damien tried to cling to Mark, to Green, to alcohol, to something or anything that would keep him safe. But there was nothing to grab. And he sank alone.

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this is just another night/and we’ve had many of them

Home is an ambiguous concept at the best of times. As a child, home was not challenging to find. Home was the house you grew up in, the street where you lived, the things that you knew. Home was family. Mom, dad, siblings. As long as you were together, everything was alright.

But time grew long and finding home became less and less simple. Accidents happen, fights break out, and people grow apart, naturally or unnaturally. Add in trauma and fear and the general sludge of life and it was easy to get lost. Even in places that should be home, even in places that were home, the feeling of home was far away.

When they met, in that meadow in 1810, Mark and Sam thought they had found a home again. The foundation seemed to spring forth naturally, and they seized and built upon it. Slowly and piece by piece that foundation became a home and a haven for them both. They built a life on their clasped hands and as their friends came alongside, home became real once more.

But there were still nights and times.

At first those moments were just that: moments. Every so often the darkness would loom but it was alright because they were together. When one would fall the other would pull them up again The home they built was still a shelter in those far-between moments of despair.

And then moments became hours and days. There were longer nights and darker times. When Mark drank too much to fend off the flashbacks and nightmares. When Sam vanished for hours to reappear in a blind panic. When the feeling of home was swept away by a tide of doubt and fear and gloom so deep it seemed to have no end.

In those times, even when they were together, the little home they built was no more. They longed to find their way back again, but how? When the feeling of home is gone even though the building is present, when the comfort and safety goes missing even though the person you love is right next to you, where is there to go?

The answer, they discovered, lay in each other. Even Hansel and Gretel held hands while they wandered in the forest and Mark and Sam could do no less. If they could no longer pull one another out of the dark, they could at least stay together in the darkness. When everything was grim and the shadows surrounded to seize the heart and take away joy, all the two of them could do was hold on to one another. Side by side, finding home in that touch, insisting on home in that touch, whether they felt it or not.

They held onto the hope that one day home would come easily again and that they would soon no longer need to hold on so tightly. But until then, home was found in two people sitting together in the dark, lost but never alone.

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do you like the person you’ve become/under the weight of living

Recovery was a process. Patience was a virtue. These are things that Joan knew well, but knowing was far different from practice.

It was perhaps too much to call what happened to Mark good in any capacity. But one of the most important things Joan had ever learned was the ability to hunt the good stuff, to find advantages even in the darkest of times. For instance, in her estimation, there was one major advantage to this whole tragedy.

On the one hand, Mark had been out of the world for five years. His entire person had essentially been scooped out of him, picked apart, and slapped back together in a haphazard approximation of normal. But on the other hand, Mark had been out of the world for five years. He now had the opportunity to remake himself into anything he wanted. He could go anywhere, be anything, do things he’d always wanted because any hangups from his previous life were gone.

Unfortunately, she seemed to be the only one who saw this as any kind of an advantage. Mark’s previous hangups had been replaced by new and worse ones. Kidnapping tended to do that to a person. Mark was reclusive, aimless, drunken and afraid. He was a different person than she had known, which was to be expected. But somehow, even though she should have known better, Joan had expected him to bounce back differently.

Mark had always been a vibrant person. As a child he was the first to run ahead and try everything, far ahead of his more cautious and studious sister. Now, after everything, that person was all but gone. Sometimes Joan could still see flashes of the kid he used to be, but in those five years, Mark had grown old. Now he had sunk into himself. The vibrancy of his spirit came through only in short moments, shadowed by the ghosts of the past.

As a therapist, Dr. Bright wanted to tease out his issues, uncover each of the problems hiding under his veneer of ‘doing okay’ and teach him how to fix them all. The doctor in her wanted to spur him on toward recovery and coach him every step of the way. As his sister, Joan just wanted him to be okay. There was an understanding that Mark was doing his best; he’d been through massive trauma and it wasn’t his fault. The heart of her bled for his pain.

Still, other times she just wanted to shake some sense into the man. Even in her empathy Joan struggled to balance it with her frustration at the pace of his recovery. It was understandable and on one level she did understand. But she did wonder, in her private thoughts. Questions she could not, would not, ask, with answers that Mark probably could not articulate even if she did ask.

Do you like the person you’ve become? Don’t you want to be something more? Don’t you want to get better? Are you happy?

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these are the things we lost in the fire/do you understand that we will never be the same again

There were so many things that Mark had wanted to tell Sam in person. Before, he had just repeated them to himself to remember until she reappeared. When they were separated, when he was with Damien for all of those days, he began to write them down. He scribbled thoughts on napkins, on motel notepads, on the backs of car sales advertisements.

When he arrived at Joan’s and began to unpack his meager belongings, he found many of those scribbled thoughts missing. Mark knew immediately that Damien had taken them. There was an instant flash of white hot rage, that Damien had had the audacity to take even that privacy from him.

Damien didn’t seem to understand that Mark owed him nothing. Mark owed Damien no confidence, no affection, no anything. Damien felt entitled to Mark’s presence in his life and when Mark did not give it Damien took it, even unto his most private communication. Mark’s already deep anger grew even hotter as he began cataloguing which precious pieces of paper Damien had stolen.

Mark had jotted the notes so that he would not forget, and he had not. He knew each one by heart and as he counted through the little notes, his heart sank. It was no random handful that Damien had stolen. It was all of the notes that talked about his affection for Sam. ‘Say how much you like her jokes’, ‘tell her you like the way her nose wrinkles when she laughs, ‘Katie McGrath is the celebrity she looks like’.

‘You miss her, don’t forget you miss her.’

‘She’s real, she’s real and she saved you.’

‘I love you.’

It’s the last one that burns him the most. He remembered writing it. It was the first time he’d written it down, but not the first time he’d thought it. Mark didn’t think he’d forget that one, but it felt too big to say out loud. So he’d penned it on a diner napkin while Damien was in the bathroom and tucked it in his sleeve. Jealous bastard couldn’t even let him have that much. Mark seethed as he finished gathering up the little scraps of himself he’d kept for Sam.

And yet, still, there was that feeling. Damien had invaded Mark’s privacy, hijacked his mind, and kept him against his will after years of being kept against his will. He had kept Mark away from his family and Sam and his safety and yet. Still. There was this feeling that Mark could not shake that for a second, just for a second before Mark found out the truth, he and Damien had had something. Something that could have been real.

But that was over now. Damien deserved none of his thoughts or time and Damien would get none of them. They sure as hell had nothing now and that’s how it would stay. Should stay. Would stay.

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your albatross/let it go

Mark Bryant had been through a lot. Captured, held prisoner, tortured and experimented on by a secret shady government organization, to name a few. These traumatic experiences and more came with problems untold, with new issues being discovered at every turn.

And it was all Joan’s fault.

Oh, of course Wadsworth was also to blame, that was unquestionable. Wadsworth and Green and the rest of the AM had an undeniable hand in the whole sorry affair. But essentially, Joan was the one who had let it happen. Or at least, that was the priority of blame in Joan’s own mind. He was her brother, she was supposed to look after him. And she left him there. She should have done something sooner, something more than just spend months building a plan that might work. Thankfully it had, but the time it had taken was inexcusable.

Mark did not excuse it, not in the least. However, the emphasis that she placed on her own guilt was beginning to wear on him. It wasn’t that he didn’t blame her. That would be giving too much credit to his forgiving nature. But she was still his sister and he still loved her even though he was angry and hurt. He worked toward forgiving her every day, toward letting go of the residual anger and betrayal that he still felt. It was right that he should have these feelings, but he also realized that his entire relationship with his sister could not be built on blame. They couldn’t make it right but they could at least make it better in order to move on in their lives.

Joan could not seem to come to a similar realization. Not that she was not at least partially responsible, but the magnification of her guilt colored every interaction that she had with Mark. The weight was a lot to place on their fledgling relationship and it began to creak and groan against the strain.

Mark got it, he did, the whole situation was messed up. But shouldn’t he be the one to dictate how much Joan was to blame? This constant self-flagellation she put herself through was not productive and honestly Joan should know better. She was supposed to be the therapist, she should know how to deal with self-blame and accurate placement of responsibility. Mark realized the irony of trying to get Joan to move past her issues while he had a host of his own, but if she was not going to work on things, someone had to do it.

Unfortunately it seemed that while Joan seemed to be able and willing to help everyone else work through the problems that seemed to abound among her social circle, she was unable to help herself. Mark could not be responsible for her healing, but neither could he bear up under the strain she placed on their every interaction. Somewhere, something had to break. He could only hope that it would get better rather than worse.

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all this bad blood here/won’t you let it dry

There were so many times on the road that Damien had felt that he and Mark truly had something special. That wasn’t just his ability talking either, this went beyond that. As two people searching for something, he and Mark had clicked. Sometimes Damien even forgot about his ability. That’s how natural it felt to be around Mark.

Those were the good times. The twilight hours they spent drinking together and watching the stars come out, the nights laying in hotel beds and talking without looking at each other, the quiet days listening to the radio and driving under the trees. Damien and Mark had been so alone for so long, and it was in those quiet times together that Damien, at least, felt at last like he was no longer alone in the world.

They’d shared secrets in that time. Damien had told Mark things that he had never told another living person, about his childhood and family. Mark had told Damien things too, about his time in captivity that he would never say aloud again. Damien almost felt bad about that one, but he’d wanted to know. He’d wanted to share everything with Mark. Those were good days. He missed those quiet days and nights more than anything.

But now the sounds of their shared past were so very loud that no one seemed to remember the quiet days anymore. There were times that he wanted to scream at everyone that it hadn’t all been bad. The time he and Mark had shared was not the horror-soaked nightmare that Doctor B and Sam and the rest made it out to be. There were plenty of good times. From long before Mark even showed up, everyone always painted him as the bad guy. But it wasn’t all bad! There had been good times, he had been good, he had helped! Didn’t anyone remember that? There could be good times again.

There would be good times again. If only everyone would just wait. Time healed even the worst of wounds, and if there was bad blood between them, it was only for a little while. If everyone would stop picking at the wounds, stop probing and uncovering every single little piece of healing that tried to start, it would get better. They could all move on together.

Damien had already moved past it, after all. What had happened, happened and now it was over. Looking ever backwards was no way to get ahead in life, couldn’t anyone else see that? He knew he had done them wrong; Chloe and Mark and Doctor B and Sam and everyone, sure he had. But he was sorry for it and it was done. He was ready to start again. He was ready to have friends again. He was ready to have Mark again. If the others would let it rest for a while, they would be too. It was only a matter of time.

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dig them up / so nothing’s left unturned

There is a difference between talking about problems and Talking about Problems. One of the things Sam and Mark had always been very good at was talking about problems. They had met under the auspices of one of those problems, there wasn’t really a way to get around it.

Mental health issues were a dime a dozen among them. When serious things loom for so long, they become familiar and their bite can be mitigated with laughter. If you can’t avoid the bad times, might as well joke about them. Fun nicknames for nightmares, one-upping one another with coping mechanisms, and even alter egos like Anxiety Girl and Repressed Trauma Boy all served to lessen the sting.

It was never all fun and games, but at least they could be open about their problems to each other. Neither had ever had a relationship (in Sam’s case, full stop here) in which they could share these parts of their minds with one another. On the surface, it seemed like the ideal mutual support scenario. They were always very proud of the openness of their emotional landscape.

But all the talking about problems in the world could not make up for the fact that they would not Talk about Problems.

They were open with each other about their own problems, but in their small circle, everyone had such problems. Chloe knew more of Sam’s damage than Mark did. Joan knew the extent of Mark’s trauma better than she wanted to admit. It wasn’t the problems of their own lives that needed opening. It was the problems they had with each other.

Sam couldn’t bring up that Mark’s drinking scared her, or her maddening desire to know what had happened to him in that place, or that she was so afraid of the future that it felt like her chest was caving in. Mark couldn’t bring up the itch under his skin to get out of this city, couldn’t bring himself to tell her about the blackest parts of his time away, and he certainly couldn’t articulate his bone-deep fear that one day Sam would Travel and just. Never come back.

Opening the Pandora’s box of trauma and laughing about your own issues is one thing. Being able to discuss your personal problems with your partner is a must in any good relationship. But neither Sam nor Mark could bring themselves to look further than the shallow grave, for the deeper bones.

Any attempt to dig only resulted in a fight. It was too vulnerable; too much like attacking a loved one when they are already wounded to say that there was a problem between them. There are enough problems, are we not meant to stand together against them? Repressed Trauma Boy and Anxiety Girl against the world? And besides, any troubles between them surely would go away on their own before they became too large to ignore.

Wouldn’t they?

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I won’t show my face here anymore/all that’s left behind is a shadow on my mind

It was strange, being in the city again, after everything that had happened. Because it wasn’t like he and Mark had ever spent time here together. But at the same time, Mark seemed to haunt every corner. Places that had been familiar since he was grown were suddenly colored by this...whatever he was feeling toward Mark now.

It wasn’t like he missed the guy. Damien didn’t need anyone, particularly Mark Bryant. So what if his heart jumped every time he saw someone in a crowd that vaguely looked like Mark? So what if every time he saw a 7-11 he smiled at the memory of Mark’s lips turning blue from his blue raspberry slushie? It didn’t mean anything.

And now he was being told to leave town over this nothing feeling. Dr. B and Chloe and the rest were threatening him if he didn’t pick up and move out of the place he had lived all of his adult life. And for what, because he was still too close to them for their comfort? Too close to Mark?

Well, he wouldn’t go, Damien decided firmly. They had no right to drive him out of his home. So here he would stay. This was his town as much as theirs and if they didn’t like it, well, tough. He had just as much right to be here as the rest of them, maybe more.

And yet.

And yet, as hard as he denied it, that feeling was still there. The gaping hole where his ability had been ached, but the space where Mark had been ached more than he had thought it would. He tried to ignore it, to shove it aside and go on about his life as normally as he could.

But still he passed the Motel 6 and remembered those nights laying on cheap beds watching old movies with Mark. He passed the local diner and thought of how Mark grinned like a kid when they got chili cheese fries. Even small things like park benches he would pass and smile before even realizing he was doing it. Over and over again places that had been familiar all of his life were suddenly populated with memories of Mark, thoughts of Mark, hopes of...something.

Before he realized it, Damien was running. Mentally at first, but the rest of him caught up soon enough. He ran until he was out of town entirely. Damien ran without thought, without packing, leaving everything behind. That part of his life was ended. His home, his ability, and every friend he’d ever had had been ripped from him without warning and without even asking him how he felt about any of it.

Well, he felt bad. It was worse than anything he’d ever felt and so he ran. Damien ran far from anything that would remind him of what he lost. As if maybe if he went away far enough, the sorrow would go away as well.

If only it worked that way.

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are you going to age with grace/are you going to leave a path to trace

“Don’t go where I can’t follow.”

The first time Mark said it, they were snuggled on the couch in the aftermath of a panic attack. Sam, comfortable and calming down in his arms, was brought up short. She wondered how to nicely explain the whole ‘sometimes I accidentally time travel’ thing all over again, but he corrected himself quickly before she even opened her mouth.

“Not like that. I mean. Mentally. Don’t shut me out. Don’t go into that dark place, because I can’t follow you there. Please. Stay.”

Sam hugged him and promised to at least try. There were still times, not often, but sometimes, when she went down and it could not be helped. She went to dark places where sorrow overwhelmed her and depression laid her low. Therapy helped, having someone there to talk helped, but there were still days. And yet, each time things got bad, she tried at least to hold out a hand. And Mark was always there to take that hand. When all the ground around her was sinking sand, Mark was a solid ground that painstakingly pulled her to the top again.

She returned the favor, of course. Sam did not have a monopoly on bad days and Mark had plenty of his own. But they had learned that they could rely on each other and when he needed it, she took his hand. Not that she was the steadiest rock to hold to, but some solid ground was better than none. She held onto his hand and he held fast to hers.

The problem arose when Mark stopped taking her hand. Slowly, so slowly that at first she didn’t notice, he began to drift. He began to drink more and come home less. He never said anything, but she could tell when it was getting bad for him. Worse for him. The alcohol numbed the darkness for a while, but it still loomed. Sam tried to reach out for him but he pulled away from her.

Finally, on a bad night when nightmares woke them both, she said it back. They had been laying in silence, barely touching, each consumed with their own thoughts that were too big and too damning to articulate. Sam turned on her side and concentrated on picking out his profile in the low light. He blinked up at the ceiling, just breathing, and waited for her to speak

“Don’t go where I can’t follow,” she said quietly

He rolled over to face her. Sam waited for him to pretend ignorance, to ask her what she meant, or to laugh off her concern, or kiss her, or do something, anything, to make her feel any better about how far they were drifting. But Mark didn’t speak. He just reached over and took her hand in his, physical contact when the emotional connection was too heavy to take.

He tried. They both did. But trying isn’t always enough.

Chapter Text

tell me a piece of your history that you’ve never said out loud/pull the rug beneath my feet and shake me to the ground

Is it a right or a privilege to tell your own story? The ability to share one’s own story is the ability to voluntarily share large pieces of the self. It ought to be a right, to be able to curate the story of one’s own life.

Unfortunately, for some, telling their own story is a privilege and a dream. Mark Bryant did not get to choose what he told to the AM, or to Damien, or to anyone for far too long. There were things he would never have chosen to tell anyone, but that choice was taken away. Every secret, every thought, every private opinion he had ever had was pulled out of him and put on display for anyone to look through and pick over. His ability, pieces of his mind, and even physical pieces of his body were taken from him with no regard for his personhood.

But now that nightmare was over. And, for the first time in a long time, Mark was finally able to reclaim the right to tell his own story in his own words. No words or emotions dragged from him, only the things that he chose to disclose, or not. Mark told many stories about the times that he had had, both in the AM and in 1810, but he kept many more to his chest. He had that right and he claimed it unashamedly.

That right should have been inalienable. Especially here and now, among friends and family that he could trust. Trust is built on the foundation of not only sharing stories but respecting those stories not shared. For someone to go behind the back of the storyteller to glean those stories that had not been told….

It was not an exaggeration to say that that betrayal rocked Mark to the core. Sam had been the one person he should have been able to trust and now she had, by deception, taken and shared pieces of his history that should never have been spoken, much less seen. Eventually he may have worked up to telling her some of those hidden things but now that choice was gone from him. He had not been ready for it, and now he would never have the choice to be ready.

Sam tried to explain, tried to say she was sorry, tried to make up for the mistake. But Mark couldn’t even bring himself to look at Sam once he knew, much less have a rational adult conversation about the whole thing. He had no words that would do the debacle justice. So he did the next best rational adult thing and started to avoid her entirely.

If Sam wanted to take his story, then he would write a new one. Maybe with her, maybe without her, but for right now this new story would be his own. For too long others had been responsible for Mark’s narrative. But now it was no one’s story but his own.

Chapter Text

i’ll see you in the future when we’re older/and we are full of stories to be told

In a sheep meadow on the hills of England, tourists milled about along the road, snapping pictures of the countryside. Unnoticed among them, a man stood frozen, seeing ghosts among the windflowers. Slowly he walked toward a tree, reaching out a hand as if afraid he would pass right through it. The other tourists stared as the man folded in on himself, weeping, as his hand met the solid bark of the ancient tree.

At a concert in Milwaulkee on a brisk fall night, a man stood at the edges of a jumping crowd, watching. The band was vibrant and the music was probably okay if you liked that sort of thing, but the man was not watching the band. He watched instead the concert photographer, laughing in the front rows as he took photo after photo of the playful duel between lead guitarist and bass player. The photographer felt eyes on him and turned to scan the crowd sharply. But the watching man was gone.

In a park across from an office with a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window, a smiling woman pulled a younger man into a crushing embrace, fussing in his ear about how long it had been and how he had clearly not been eating enough. They laughed together and they walked side by side toward their favorite restaurant. He showed her pictures of his times on the road and she showed him pictures of her time at home, of celebrations and art and new life. She ordered Scotch. He ordered water.

At a diner serving the only pancakes on this side of the highway, a man and a woman met, just to talk. It had been a while. Far too long. He told her about traveling long roads through deserts of silence and sand, about loud music that drowned out louder thoughts. She told him about Traveling through centuries to observe holy men and those called saints for their abilities, about board meetings and reports written. They did not tell each other stories of the past. She reached across the table to take his hand. He did not pull away.

At a home that had not been a home for many long days, a small family reunited. The empath and his beloved shared stories of new life at college with the telepath who had gotten very good at listening with her ears rather than eavesdropping on minds. The painter showed his latest work to the time traveler, who gushed over the colors with comic sincerity. The doctor and her brother stood in the doorway, watching the people that they loved reunite in happiness. Fear and suspicion had no place among them, only peace.

Everything changes. Seasons come and go, people change and grow. Friends become family and family never truly passes away. Bonds forged in blood and fear are not easily broken, even if the people of the bond are far away from one another. Love can change, but does not die.

“Welcome home.”