"What you did to Clarice is wrong, Dreamer, and you know it. You need to be the one to tell her, not me." Johnny turned on his heel and left.
"But I saved your life!" Sonya called after him, to no avail. It was very frustrating: normally he understood that the work needed to be done even if someone got hurt on the way, but this time he was whining and crying over it. She'd meant to reverse what she'd done right after the rescue, but Clarice had been exhausted from using her powers and gone to bed, and then it was the next morning and Sonya could see that she was so happy around Johnny and… It had got out of hand. That was the real problem.
She waited until Clarice next walked by, carrying an armload of second-hand sneakers.
"Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Hang on, I'll be back." She dumped the sneakers downstairs for sorting and came running up the stairs to Sonya.
"Okay, I want to say first that I'm really sorry, but –"
"You mean making me think Johnny loved me? Can you even imagine how humiliating that was?" Clarice snapped. "You have no right to do that!"
"I needed to save his life and you wouldn't get off your self-pitying butt to do it!"
Clarice took a step forward to yell in her face. "Don't talk to me like that, you creeper!"
Almost on instinct, Sonya breathed out, and her purple smoke wreathed Clarice's face. Having someone in her face, shouting at her, was scary and stirred bad memories.
Clarice stayed still, swaying slightly, a gentle, foolish smile on her face. Her mind was completely open. Well, Sonya had done it now, she might as well make the most of it. She floated backwards through Clarice's memories to see if there was anything dangerous there, but it appeared that Clarice was pretty much who she seemed to be: visible mutant, foster kid, street kid. Her control over her powers after working with Johnny – thanks to Sonya's help – was better than it had ever been. That annoying flatscan nurse had been telling everyone that having a full stomach and a good night's sleep would contribute, but what would she know?
It was easy for Sonya to see where she had interfered previously, and she carefully removed those stray false memories, following down the connections that Clarice had made to newer memories and erasing those too, though it would be too hard to remove her general sense of fondness towards Johnny at this stage. That would take a lot more time than Sonya had, and it wasn't harmful to anyone, was it? Clarice's more recent feelings of anger and betrayal were very strong, but Sonya gently attached them to older events: her family abandoning her, anti-mutant idiots threatening her, a fellow street kid getting shot by the police and taken away. It was easy enough to plant the thought that living with so many other mutants was stirring up old feelings. With that done, all that remained were the specific memories of confronting Johnny and Sonya over the implanted feelings, and with Clarice's anger directed elsewhere, they were easily smoothed over. Sonya was shaking and cold: this was more complex work than she had done in a long time, but she had to finish it up. She sat down hard in her rickety office chair and popped in the memory of Clarice walking by and coming in to see if she was okay. There. Done.
"Are you okay?" Clarice leaned over her, looking worried. "I was just walking past and I saw you sit down really fast."
"I used my powers a lot yesterday," Sonya told her, surprised at how shaky her voice was. "Sometimes it leaves me really drained. Would you mind helping me downstairs so I can go to bed? The last thing I need is a fall down the stairs."
"No problem!" Clarice put an arm around her and they carefully negotiated the stairway down to the bunks, and settled Sonya into her narrow bed. "There you are. Should I tell that nurse or something?"
"Thanks, but don't worry. This happens sometimes. Rest will fix it."
Clarice beamed at her. "Well, sleep tight!" She kissed Sonya on the forehead, much to Sonya's surprise, and pulled across the curtain that separated her bed from the next.
Later that day, after a good nap and a grilled cheese sandwich that some kid was making between his heated hands, Sonya tracked down Johnny.
"So, I told her."
"Was she mad?" Johnny put down the block of concrete he'd been hauling over to reinforce the gate barricades.
"She'd already figured it out, so yeah, she was mad. But we discussed it, and I removed the fake memories."
"Good. I mean, Clarice is great and I want her to stay, but not like that."
"Not because she's so damn useful?"
"Not only that. Thanks for actually talking to her."
"No problem," Sonya said, feeling a little uncomfortable. Still, she hadn't lied to Johnny, and everything was okay with Clarice, so that was fine.
Sage stuck her head out of an upstairs window. "Hey! Dreamer! I've been looking for you everywhere! Come help me!"
"Sorry!" Sonya hurried into the house without looking back at Johnny.
Sage was at her computer terminals as usual, but this time Clarice was with her.
"Hi, Dreamer!" Clarice said cheerfully.
"Hi, guys! Sage, what did you want me for?"
"A couple of Sentinel Services soldiers were injured when we rescued Lorna. I've managed to track down the address of one who broke his leg and is recuperating at home."
"Why?" Clarice asked.
"I get it: he'll be up to date but not hidden away inside a base," Sonya explained. "So I might be able to get some useful information out of him. Is he high rank?"
"Unfortunately no, but he drives the prison transfer vehicles so he's a good bet for information about Trask or whatever they're doing at Baton Rouge."
"Okay, that's worth a try," Sonya agreed. "I got a lot out of Turner and I only had a few minutes with him. Who's available to drive today?"
"I can!" Clarice offered. "Well, I can't drive very well, but I can open a portal there."
Sonya was ready to object, but Sage nodded. "Okay. You need practice in non-life-threatening situations. If I get you a nice, clear Google Maps shot can you go straight there?"
"Street View is better, but yeah, if it's close enough. I used to go to the library and look up all these crazy places I could go around the world."
"Where did you want to go?" Sonya asked her, touching her arm.
"Oh, um, the volcanoes in Hawaii and Mount Fuji and Disneyland and the Eiffel Tower. Amazing places."
"Why didn't you go?" Sage asked.
"Range, mostly. I've never been able to open a portal that far away. And of course I want to help out here, not run away."
Sonya kept a hand on her arm. "And we appreciate it."
"Should we take someone fighty? What if we run into trouble?"
Sage quickly ran through the scenarios. "Stealth is better. Clarice, get yourself some sunglasses and a hoodie."
"No problem! See you soon, Dreamer," she said and hurried off to the storeroom.
Sage gave Sonya the side-eye. "She's kind of young, even for you."
"Oh, come on, Sage, it's not like that! We had an argument and we sorted it out, so we're both feeling kind of positive. Just because my power doesn't work on you, you don't need to be suspicious."
"Uh huh. You still seeing Johnny?"
Sonya shook her head. "We broke up. Permanently, this time."
"Can't you just…" Sage mimed blowing dust into his face.
"If I did that, I wouldn't be dating him, I'd be dating myself."
"You're no help!"
Sonya dressed up in a skirt suit – it was cheap, but that was okay – and printed out two registered Red Cross collector badges. Sage had a whole file of them, but Sonya thought a guy who had recently been in hospital might go for Red Cross more than, say, the Sierra Club. Clarice stuck her head around the door of the closet – actually a full room with clothing for various ages and sizes – wearing oversized sunglasses and a hoodie.
"How do I look? Human enough?"
"Only if you're a human planning to rob someone. Go with the sunglasses – lots of people dye their hair."
"Not as many as there used to be. They don't want to get mistaken for us."
"It's mostly teenagers who dye their hair, so you'll look like a totally normal teen rebel."
"Normal seems a lot to aim for." She sat down next to Sonya. "So, what's the plan?"
"I've done this routine before, but not with a teleporter to help out! Okay, so you open a portal to get us there, and we go in to collect money and pledges for the Red Cross. I need to speak to this guy face-to-face so I can use my powers, so if someone else opens the door I want you to check out as much of the inside of the house as you can so we can get in later. You don't need to do any talking, or get up close: hold the donation tin and look sulky like I dragged you into this."
"Ha, no problem! And this really works?"
"Sure. The only time I've had a problem is when the poor guy whose mind I went into was off his meds, and I got stuck there for half an hour. No fun for either of us, let me tell you."
"That sucks. So what if something does go wrong? Maybe he recognises one of us or, I don't know, is super paranoid or in traction or something and won't answer the door?"
"If he recognises us, we get away from the house then you open a portal. If he won't answer the door, look through the windows then you can take us inside."
"I guess that's good. You ready to go?"
Sonya made sure that she and Clarice had their badges on, and that she had the collection tin and clipboard. Fully prepared, she stood up and took a deep breath. "Let's go."
Clarice concentrated hard, opening one of her glowing purple portals in midair. Through it, they could clearly see a couple of pine trees, with suburban homes off in the distance.
"Is that it?" Sonya asked.
"It's the playground at the end of the street. Sage worked out that it was the best cover in the neighbourhood."
"Great. And if it's not right, you can bring us straight back."
Sonya stepped through first, always slightly expecting to be cut in half by one of those portals closing, but instead she walked from concrete floor to pine needles and dirt. Clarice followed, shutting the portal behind them.
"This is it!" Sonya told her, pointing to a house diagonally across the street. "You're awesome, Clarice!"
"Aw, thanks! I'm getting a lot better, training with you guys."
The two women peered through the trees and down at the playground, which was on the corner of two streets, with a fenced area around the equipment. There were two bored-looking mothers there, chatting while their small kids jumped on and off some brightly painted old tyres inside the fence. They didn't seem to have noticed anything, so Sonya gestured for Clarice to follow her and they walked down the opposite side of the playground so it would seem as if they'd walked around the corner.
"Hi!" Sonya called out as she walked by them. "I'm collecting for the American Red Cross. I'd love to tell you about our programs!"
Clarice rattled the tin sullenly and the two women quickly handed over a few dollars to avoid having to hear Sonya's spiel.
"You're doing great work!" one of them told her.
"Thanks! You too!" Sonya told her, glancing over at the children. She had found everyone tended to be positive towards people who complimented their kids, no matter how mild the compliment or how bratty the kid. They'd remember a nice white lady in a suit, not be convinced by the cops that there was a dangerous mutant terrorist in their neighbourhood.
They crossed the road and knocked on the house next to their target.
"Is this for our cover?" Clarice whispered.
"Yes, always better to have a reason to be somewhere if you can. Look like you belong."
"Whoa, okay, I guess I never really thought I could blend in, so I never tried."
"I used to be sort of ashamed of myself, being able to pass so easily, but now I can put it to good use. I'll never get over wishing I had blue skin or purple hair or something, though."
Clarice laughed. "Like you said, you can always dye it!"
There was nobody home at the house on the corner, so they moved to the next house, their target. Sentinel Services officer Cory Jamison and his wife, youth parole officer Holly Chapman, lived there. No kids, only pets some fish in an aquarium, Sage had said, after checking their Facebooks. That was good, quite apart from the risks of a protective dog: pets creeped Sonya out with their unreadable minds and constant demands for affection. Fish were a much better pet.
Sonya knocked on the door and waited patiently.
"Hang on, I'm on my way!" a male voice called out. Sonya could locate him by his mind as he came into her annoyingly small telepathic radius, though she couldn't influence him until she could use her dream dust. He was low to the ground, perhaps in a wheelchair, and from the awkward shuffling and a couple of attempts at opening the door, he wasn't used to it.
Jamison finally got the door open and he was indeed in a wheelchair, with a cast on the leg awkwardly stuck out in front of him. He checked out their badges and squinted up at their faces.
"Sir, we're with the American Red Cross, and-"
He sighed. "Ah, whatever. I'm stuck at home and bored out of my skull. Come in, but I can't fix you a drink."
"I could make you one?" Sonya smiled at him and he smiled back.
"Yeah, thank you, I'd appreciate that." He awkwardly rolled away from the doorway, making room for Sonya and Clarice to enter. The wheelchair and his elevated leg meant that it was hard for Sonya to get close enough to use her power on him, but she was pretty sure that if she bent over him to give him his drink, she'd be set.
He jerkily turned himself around in the hallway and headed into the living room, where the furniture had been pushed to the walls to give him space.
"Close the door, will you? Kitchen's right opposite, if you don't mind. Coffee maker's on the bench but I can't reach the damn thing. Can barely get into the kitchen, to be honest."
Sonya headed in there and Clarice followed, taking in all the details of the room so that she could easily make a portal later. The coffee maker was one of those pod ones, easy enough to use, so Sonya set it going while Clarice absorbed details.
"Could you tell me where the cups are? And how you take it?" she called out.
"Right above the coffee maker, sorry I can't get in there to show you. Uh, cream, no sugar, thanks."
"Oh, it's no problem!" Sonya found the cups and retrieved the milk from the fridge. There were a dozen get well cards stuck to it with magnets, and a picture of what must be his Sentinel Services team, standing around a barbecue and raising beers. Sonya quickly took a photograph of it with her phone, shutting the fridge to cover the noise as she did so. Sage might find that useful later.
"This feels kind of invasive," Clarice whispered as Sonya poured the cups. "We're making him coffee and looking at his photos in his home, aren't we betraying him?"
"We won't hurt him and he won't remember a thing," Sonya assured her.
Clarice nodded, but she still looked reluctant. To be fair, she knew nothing regarding Sonya's power but her botched job on Turner. She'd understand better once she saw her work properly.
"Here, you take your own cup, and I'll take the other two."
"Okay!" Clarice juggled the collection tin and coffee cup and got balanced.
Sonya took the other two mugs into the living room, but as soon as she got within sensing distance, she realised something was wrong.
Jamison must have seen her pause, because he pulled a gun from under his jacket and pointed it at them. "Yeah, I know who you are, mutie. Sentinel Services are on the way, so don't you move a fucking-"
Sonya threw the coffees at his face and dove to push Clarice down. He fired blindly and missed them both. Clarice swung the collection tin up and thumped his broken leg with all her strength. He screamed and pushed the chair back, but he still had the gun. Remembering her training with Lorna, Sonya leapt forward to get inside his reach, and shoved his gun arm aside. He was much stronger than her, and resisted, but that distracted him enough for her to practically climb into his lap and breathe into his face. While he was frozen in place, she quickly put the safety on the gun and dropped it on the floor.
Cory Jamison, to Sonya's surprise, wasn't a mutant hater. He really had no strong opinions on mutants except that he hated being surprised by someone who looked non-threatening then could flip a car or something. He'd worked as a prison guard before taking this job, though, and he'd seen plenty of what he termed "weird shit". His wife, Holly, held concerns over mutants being locked up, because she understood that you can't rehabilitate someone out of having a mutant power, but Cory had the vague idea that mutants could maybe be cured.
"Clarice, keep a lookout and be ready to make a portal," she ordered, but she couldn't take her focus away from Cory to check what Clarice was doing.
Sonya followed the line of thought on mutants being cured. Cory had some idea that there was a doctor working out of Baton Rouge where they sent the really dangerous mutants to be cured. Unfortunately, he hadn't actually met this Doctor Campbell, but he did have a vague idea of his work schedule, which Sonya memorised. He had no idea how the mutant terrorists – he had a separate category for them, apart from regular mutants – had found out about the prison transfer, but he was confident that Turner would find the leak.
She did manage to grab some more details on the type of vehicles and restraints used, and the horrible shock collars. She also found that they either took mutants to other states if there was a warrant for them there, or to Baton Rouge. Sometimes the drives took Cory away from home for days: nobody wanted to put a mutant on a plane, even if they had the collars on. Cory had heard from another Sentinel Services officer that they used to transport mutants by plane long-distance while sedated, but that had gone wrong and killed three officers and the prisoner, so they didn't do that any more.
"Dreamer!" Clarice poked her in the arm. "I can hear them coming."
"Okay, give me a sec. Get the portal ready."
Sonya carefully blurred the details identifying herself and Clarice. Their fingerprints and DNA were already in the database, so Sentinel Services would know who had been here, but they wouldn't learn anything new from Cory. As a final gift, she tied his wife's concerns over Sentinel Services into his very personal feelings for his football team; now, whenever he watched a game or even saw a jersey, he'd feel a little worm of uncertainty about the job he was doing. Perfect.
"Come on!" Clarice grabbed her arm harder this time.
"All done! Let's go!"
They jumped into Clarice's portal and appeared on the driveway outside the house.
"Whoo!" Clarice pumped her fist. "That was awesome! You're so badass!"
"Not really – but I have trained with Lorna. You should listen to her, she teaches us self-defence, and not just with your powers. And you hit the guy in his broken leg, that was genius!"
"It was right there in front of me, I couldn't miss!" Clarice high-fived Sonya and they both laughed, over-adrenalised.
Johnny dashed out of the house. "You two okay?"
"We're fine!" Sonya said, at the same moment that Clarice spoke.
"Did you get the information you needed?"
"Yes, but he was onto us and called Sentinel Services then tried to shoot us. We shouldn't try that again – Turner has briefed them all."
Johnny nodded. "Okay, great, good to know. Go down to first aid, just in case."
"We're fine, though!" Clarice protested.
"He's right, Clarice. Sometime you don't realise you're injured, or you've wrenched something, until the adrenalin wears off. We should check in as soon as I've given this information to Sage."
"Good mission, guys, well done." Johnny gave Sonya a hug, and, after a moment to check she was okay with it, hugged Clarice, too. She didn't go moony over the physical contact like she would have a few days ago, so Sonya was pretty sure that her changes had stuck. Not that she had doubted it: undoing what she herself had altered was the easiest thing she could do.
Clarice put her arm through Sonya's. "We make a great team."
"We should probably go for a little more stealth next time, but yeah, you were great."
Sage was the only person who would voluntarily let Sonya use her powers on her, and that was because Sage's brain was so impeccably organised that she would immediately notice any alteration. Sonya had tried, once, experimentally changing Sage's memory of her breakfast from oatmeal to bread and peanut butter, but Sage had only raised an eyebrow and said, "I think you'll find I prefer oatmeal." Sonya had never tried again.
In the absence of an actual telepath, Sonya's power was a good way to transfer information. She dropped everything she knew from Cory Jamison straight into Sage's memory.
"Thanks, Dreamer. I'll get Reed in on this, too – with the database he might be able to work out which mutants were transferred interstate and which were sent straight to Baton Rouge."
"Reed?" Sonya asked, confused.
"Reed Strucker, prosecutor guy we rescued."
"Oh, I didn't realise we were on a first-name basis."
Sage rolled her eyes. "Don't be shitty with me. He's provided good information and he's making himself useful. He may be a flatscan but his kids aren't, and he cares about them."
"It's more the way he locked up Lorna and, you know, dozens of other mutants that bothers me."
"Well, catch up, Dreamer, he's not doing that anymore."
Clarice pulled Sonya away and they headed down to the closet to get changed. "I don't trust him, either. I mean, he genuinely wants to help, but he'd return to his old life in a second if he could take his kids with him."
"Yeah, he would."
As they got changed in the big concrete room, Clarice leaned over and kissed Sonya.
"Maybe it's adrenaline, okay, but I like you," Clarice told her.
Sonya frowned, then surprised herself by saying, "Look, sometimes when I've been in close contact with someone, they end up sharing feelings with me. And you're brave and tough and cute, but I don't want…the last person I dated started dating me after we made a connection that way. And I could never work out what was what."
Clarice took her hand, but she didn't kiss her again. "Okay, I get it. Like I was worried that Johnny only wanted me here because my power is useful."
"Johnny's a sucker, he'd bring everyone here if he could, protect them all."
Clarice laughed at that. "Yeah, that's true, I know that now. What if I cool off for a few days then see how I feel? And totally apart from that, I liked working with you."
"So did I, but my powers make it easy for me to take short cuts and maybe I've done that too many times." Sonya could hardly believe she was saying this, but the words kept coming out. Maybe it was more true than she'd thought, about adrenaline messing things up. Still, talking to Clarice like this seemed a lot more real than it had before, more tangible than actually touching her arm had been.
"I can give you time. But either way, let's do more missions together. It was fun!" Clarice blew her a kiss and sauntered off, dressed in a worn band t-shirt from some ancient band she'd probably never heard of.
Sonya sat down on a plastic container full of kids' shirts and rested her head in her hands. She still hadn't really told the truth to Clarice, and she didn't plan on doing so, so why had she rejected Clarice's overtures? She'd certainly never turned Johnny down, when they were dating. She sighed. It had felt kind of hollow, though, knowing that his initial interest sprung solely from a too-close connection. Not that she'd turn down sex with Johnny, but he'd got angry at her at random moments, and she wasn't always sure he even wanted to be there. And again, that had never bothered her before Johnny. Until mutants became better known and hence under more suspicion, she'd had a great life, flitting from rich man to rich man…and yes, remembering that hiding and dishonesty felt bad, as well. The volunteer work she'd done with her spare time hardly made up for it. Maybe ethics was a sexually transmitted disease that she'd caught from Johnny!
Later that night, she saw Kate the flatscan nurse sitting on the stairs, leaning against the bannister. She looked exhausted.
Sonya sat down beside her, cautiously. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I guess. It's more that…I'm trying to put together a better ER kit and every time I write something down I remember that we're going to be stealing it from some underfunded hospital."
Sonya shrugged. "We could always steal from rich cosmetic surgeons. They always have a ton of painkillers and surgical stuff lying around, and their security's not as tight."
Kate laughed abruptly, and grinned at Sonya. "You know, I hadn't thought of that! I guess I'm not a very good fugitive yet."
"Neither was I, at the start."
"Well, I guess that's encouraging. Or not. I think the kids have taken to this a lot better than I have."
Sonya sighed. "They've left less behind than you have. I used to…date a lot of older men, and they hated change. They had this perfect image of themselves and anyone that didn't live up to it, they just dumped. Wives, cars, girlfriends, kids, whatever. So I guess you're doing a lot better than most since you didn't abandon the kids and go on with your perfect life."
"Who would –" Kate started in outrage, then stopped herself, remembering that a large number of the refugees here had had exactly that happen to them. "I'm sorry you had to live that way."
Sonya was going to wave her hand and say it was fine, but instead she felt a lump in her throat. "I only – it's hard to tell which feelings are real. I once met a telepath who had retreated into his own mind, deciding that everything was fake and he may as well make his own world."
"It must be confusing, since you can change how we remember things. Does your power work on yourself?"
"Ha, no, it doesn't. I get to remember things as they really are. It's everyone else that makes me wonder."
Kate paused for a moment, then put a comforting arm around her, even though she couldn't possibly be old enough to be Sonya's mother. "Look at yourself. Even though you're feeling that everything's fake, you're hanging out with the most insanely sincere and motivated people on the planet. Except for maybe some of the environmentalists I hung out with in college. They were pretty hardcore. And you're risking your life to help everyone here, and all the kids, my kids, rely on you. I can't think of many things more real than that."
Sonya managed a wobbly smile.
"There you go, that's better. Is it possible, maybe, that when you're changing minds around you, that you're picking up on their worldview, too? Living around those old men you described has to make you pretty cynical. Maybe living around these guys is keeping you honest. Honest and brave."
"You don't think dating those rich guys was the easy way out?"
"Nothing's the easy way out. There's always a cost, even if it's not obvious right away. I helped Clarice and stopped her destroying the building, but if that hospital had any more mutants admitted that night, before they found that the hypercortisone-D was missing? Big problems. Maybe what you call the easy way out had a price, too, one you're only seeing now."
Sonya sat still for a while, Kate's arm resting across her shoulders, remembering Clarice blowing her a kiss. It felt that Clarice was standing on shaky ground, except that Sonya was the shaky ground. It felt…unfair. Sonya was really not used to thinking that way, certainly not about herself.
Kate yawned and got to her feet. "Oh, that's it, I'm going to bed. Sleep well – should I say sweet dreams? You've probably heard that a thousand times before."
"Well, yeah. But the same to you."
Sonya went to bed too, in her little curtained cubicle, remembering Clarice's kiss goodnight, soft on her forehead.
The next morning was training with Lorna, so Sonya had no time for anything other than surviving the next minute. Lorna was especially mean today.
"Seriously, Lorna! Clarice and I took down an armed Sentinel Services officer in his own home!"
"Yeah, an officer with a broken leg." Lorna grabbed Sonya's arm and tried to twist it up her back, but Sonya managed to turn with the movement and pull Lorna off balance. It was a brief respite, because Lorna got her footing and instead dragged Sonya to the floor and pinned her. "You're getting better, Dreamer. You don't wait for an opening any more. You make one."
"Thanks, I think," Sonya groaned, rubbing her sore shoulder where she had hit the linoleum. "I knew what to do on the mission, though. Clarice improvised well: are you training her yet?"
"Starting today. I want to get those portals working right, but I also want her to defend herself when she can't get them going. The more confident she feels, the easier the portals will be."
"I agree." She got up and gave Lorna a quick hug. "And, hey, I'm glad you're back. Everyone was going crazy without you."
"Nah, I bet you didn't go crazy."
"Yeah, even me. I did dumb stuff I shouldn't have done."
Lorna gave her a calculating glance. "You going to fix up whatever you did?"
"I thought I had, but I guess I haven't, really."
After the permitted three minute shower – up from two minutes since that ice-generating kid had cleaned out some clogged pipes – Sonya got dressed again and went looking for Clarice.
Clarice was helping Lauren and another girl unpack a crate of food that Marcos had picked up from a supporter this morning.
"Vegetable soup…and chunky vegetable soup!" Lauren handed cans across to Clarice to stack on the shelves.
"Great, I'll put that next to the hearty vegetable soup!" Clarice saw Sonya at the door. "Oh, hi! Lorna said she's going to train me this afternoon, how scared should I be?"
"The first session she'll go easy – all she'll do is assess you and then throw knives at you, so maybe a 9 out of 10?"
Clarice laughed. "Is it too late to portal on out of here?"
"I'm afraid so. But, listen," Sonya realised her hands were shaking, so she put them in her pockets. "I wanted to talk to you about something."
"Okay, sure. Outside?"
They walked out into the overgrown gardens, littered with the occasional chunk of concrete or stone that had been blasted off the main building. Clarice climbed up on one and sat, dangling her legs over the edge. "So, what did you want to say?"
Sonya swallowed hard. "I haven't been entirely honest with you."
"Okay…" Clarice tilted her head to the side and watched her closely.
"Remember how I told you that people in close contact with me can end up sharing my feelings?"
"Well, it's actually if you're in contact with my powers. I changed some of your memories."
Clarice froze. "What memories?"
"Remember how you went with me to rescue Johnny and you made a portal big enough for the car?"
"Was that not real?"
"That was real. But I motivated you by making you think you were in love with Johnny. Then I took that away again."
Clarice looked puzzled. "Johnny's a good guy, but I'm not in love with him. You can make changes that big?"
"Well, you might have fallen out of love with him later. I couldn't control how the feelings would develop. And I dated Johnny, so it was easy to add some very real experiences there."
"Was that what you meant about people sharing your feelings?"
"Yes. I hadn't really experienced someone falling out of love with me, not anyone I cared about. Part of why I'm trying to be honest with you."
"You don't really have a lot of experience with that, either, do you?" Clarice said, sharply, jumping down from her perch.
Sonya shook her head.
"So what else did you to with my brain?"
"I made you forget about the whole thing with Johnny, from start to finish, so you wouldn't be mad at me."
"Seriously? You went to all that trouble just to avoid me being angry? God, I didn't know I was so scary."
"I only wanted to –"
"You only wanted to smooth things over, I get it. But that's not up to you. That's up to me."
"Do you hate me now?"
Clarice clenched her fists. "Is that what matters to you? Everyone liking you? Yesterday we did a mission together and nearly got shot! Last week we rescued a whole lot of kids! You can't do that kind of badass stuff then be all, ooh, does she like me?" She glared at Sonya. "Everyone should respect you!"
"I guess that, well, if people like me, they're not going to leave me."
"And how has that worked out for you?" Clarice didn't wait for an answer, but walked off. Before she was completely out of sight, she turned around and stared at Sonya, challenging. "I don't hate you. That's my own feeling, whatever happens next. And you know what? I respect that you told me."
Clarice stomped away towards the house, and Sonya leaned against the damaged stone and cried. Not for very long, though: Clarice respected her, Clarice didn't hate her. That was, at least, a clean start, and she hadn't really felt clean in a long time. She dried her eyes and started back towards the house herself. There was always work to do, and she was ready to do it.