There’s something familiar about the little girl- Hazel. It’s right there, on the tip of Amelia’s tongue, but she is utterly incapable of placing it. It is there in the way she looks up at Grace like she hung the moon and the stars. It is there in the way she perks up at the mention of eggs. It is even there in the inexplicable fondness Amelia cannot help but feel for her.
And then she brings up Amelia’s pancakes, and everything begins to make sense. Hazel has a smile like a hole in the universe. She even hugs like him- like maybe, if she holds you tight enough, she can make everything okay. With Alrick, Amelia had almost been able to believe it. Because when she was with him, everything was okay. But this isn’t Alrick. Alrick is gone and he’s never coming back and-
(“Neither of us can go back to the way things were," had said One’s most beloved passenger. “We have to adapt to the changes in our lives. It’s the only way things can get better.” )
“We’re here for you,” Hazel says with her ghost’s smile. Alrick would have liked her. He probably would have liked Grace, too. She has a charisma to her that he would love; the kind that would have the two of them following behind her as she walked ahead while they chatter on about some book he would have realized they’d both read.
He was always better with people than her. So instead of smalltalk, she sits and answers Grace’s questions while her little toy soldier leans against a wall and makes snide comments.
“Are you a prisoner of One-One… er- One?” Grace eventually asks.
Amelia can’t help but laugh. “Prisoner? Of that little peanut?” Her smile falls. “No, I’m making amends. Maybe one day, I’ll even get off this train.”
(Amelia’s first car had been a never-ending basketball game played by raccoons. Her next had been a submarine operated by lizards with too many arms. Going home had never occurred to her, back in the beginning. There had been nothing left for her there. And then once she realized that maybe the train could help her bring back Alrick…)
“Who in their right mind would want to get off the train?!” Grace’s toy soldier explodes.
Hazel isn’t the only ghost Amelia has met today. She’s never seen Simon smile, and there is a tenseness to his shoulders like he's just itching for an excuse to either bolt or try and attack her again. More than anything, though, Amelia knows that look in his eyes. Like his world is beginning to crack under his feet, but if her degree in engineering means anything it means that she will-
He. It means that he will not be stopped by a little bit of unstable ground.
She’s seen that look before. Alrick would have described it like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know how it is going to end, but somehow you can’t bring yourself to look away before the impact.
Amelia would like to remind him that she’s currently busy trying to stop a train wreck. Simon will simply have to sort out his own problems. Her job is to deal with her cars, and his is to stop shouting all the time. Honestly, he’s starting to give her a headache on top of everything else. “You know why you’re here, don’t you?”
“To… get the highest number,” Grace says.
Amelia sighs- what does she think this is, a video game? - and shakes her head. “The whole point of the train is to work through your problems. The worse you do, the higher your number goes. Until you get it down to zero… you’re trapped.”
(Her number had never gone down. It just kept climbing up and up and at some point she stopped paying it any mind. By the time she had put her plan to reach The Engine in motion, it had already reached her elbow. )
“Lies!” He pushes off from his place at the wall. “The train is our right!”
Grace gives him a sharp look. “Simon, stop!”
(“If you won’t make a car for me,” Amelia had said to One, “then what is even the point of having all of that power?” )
“No!” There’s a dreadful whine in his voice as his head drops into his hands. “She’s brainwashing you, Grace! She said it herself- she’s working with the False Conductor!”
“Simon, listen to me. She was the False Conductor,” says Grace, ever the sensible one.
“Well- well, even if she was, she’s lost her way!” He turns his glare back onto Amelia, and takes another threatening step towards her.
Amelia did not survive for thirty-three years on a train from hell to cower before a teenager with lipstick smeared across his nose. “Whatever way you think I’m on was never my way ,” she tells him. “Have you ever considered that you’ve been wrong?”
("Fine.” Her hands closed around the control panel. “If you won’t bring Alrick back…” Her fingers dug into the wiring. "Then I’ll do it myself!")
She jabs a finger into his chest and lets herself laugh. “Of course not, you’re a child.”
Something in him snaps at that. “Say it again!” He goes in for the punch, and her shield sends him to the ground. He’s already fighting to his feet before he’s even caught his breath. “Take off that shield belt and say it again!”
(In the end, removing One from the train hadn’t even been that hard. And after that there was nothing for thirty years. Nothing except for trial and error and turtles.)
“You have until the count of three to stop or I’ll put you down,” she warns.
But the brat clearly doesn’t know when to quit, judging by the growl building in the back of his throat.
He kicks uselessly at the shield, like a child throwing a tantrum.
(Like a woman thirty-three years Amelia’s junior who had lost everything she’d ever loved in an instant. And instead of moving on and adapting, she’d chosen to kick and scream and destroy things until the universe brought itself into alignment and made sense again.)
Grace tries to stop him, but he wrenches his arm out of her grasp. Not even Hazel’s shrill voice insisting that he "stop it! Stop it! ” does anything.
“Simon!” Grace shouts. He digs the toe of his shoe into the shield, and it actually bends at his weight.
(Amelia knew that look in Simon’s eyes. He just wanted everything to go back to the way it was supposed to be. The way it was before, where everything was safe and happy and there was not a hole where his other half was meant to be. It had taken her thirty-three years to shake that look from her eyes.
She wonders how long it will take him. She wonders if it's something she's meant to care about.)
A shriek splits the air and-
Always with the turtles.